Wednesday, 26 January 2011

We're Going To Wembley!

The 3-0 win against Ipswich last night sends us through to the Carling Cup Final, where we'll play either West Ham or Birmingham. This is the best chance in years to end our trophy drought. I've already booked the 27th of Feb off work just for the occasion. Bring it on!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The Cleveland Cavaliers Make Me Sad

For some considerable time now, the Cleveland Cavaliers have played bad basketball. Really, really, awful basketball, getting blown out night after night and the team has looked disjointed and lacking NBA quality. Despite this, on the 20th December I purchased myself a month's subscription of NBA League Pass in an attempt to watch as many Cavs games as I could and possibly write some long overdue Cavs stuff on here. It hasn't exactly worked out, in every way possible.

Since I bought League Pass my beloved Cavaliers have not won a game. Not a single game. I have lost count of the losing streak now (I think its around 13 losses in a row) and with every Cavs game I have managed to watch, there has been absolutely nothing, nada, zero to motivate me to write about them (don't get me started on that horror show in L.A). The last time the Cavs tasted victory was two days before I got League Pass, beating the Knicks 109-102 on the 18th December. Just my luck...

The reasons for the demise of this Cavs team has been well documented by my fellow Cavs bloggers so I'm not going to waste too much time reiterating the problems. But at the heart of this predicament is a very simple reason; your 2010/11 Cleveland Cavaliers are not a very good basketball team, in fact they are the worst in the NBA and quite possibly one of the worst teams in league history. Byron Scott's team is a mix up of journeymen veterans (Jamison, Parker, Moon) and previously castaway youngsters who still need a lot of time to develop (Harris, Samuels, Eyenga), and the sad thing is that none of these guys are going to garner much interest in the trade department, so I expect we'll be stuck with most of them for a while yet. The Cavs can't defend to save their lives, especially around the perimeter where opposition teams shoot the 3 at will, and make what seems 99% of their attempts. Actually, this Cavs team might be even worse trying to defend the paint, where the big men of the NBA fill up their stat-sheet on a nightly basis. Its amazing to see a team that, under Mike Brown, prided themselves on their defensive prowess. Now obviously with Lebron, Big-Z, Shaq, and Delonte West taking their talents elsewhere during the summer, the defensive chemistry of this Cavs squad was going to take a significant hit, but to go from first to worst so quickly has been astounding. Granted, the team has been plagued by injuries this year and its gotten even worse recently with the news that Andy Varejao is going to miss the remainder of the year with a torn ankle tendon. But these are professional NBA players on this Cavs team, and should be able to put up more of a fight than what they've been showing. For the majority of the season its been more like watching a team of high schoolers out there rather than NBA calibre players, the cream of the basketball crop. Nothing seems to be working and it doesn't look likely we'll see a solution any time soon.

Tomorrow night the Cavs welcome Steve Nash, Vince Carter and the rest of the Phoenix Suns to the Q, which marks the beginning of a brief two game home-stand before Byron Scott's team are back on the road again, with difficult trips to Chicago, Boston, Orlando and Miami before the month is finished. Oh yes, things aren't going to get any easier. My League Pass subscription is nearly up so I reckon the game against the Suns will probably be my last chance to watch the Cavs for some time, while I deliberate whether or not to waste another £15 to watch this awful team (well, it has been brilliant watching some of the other teams as well, so not a total waste). So all I would like to see is a Cavs win, just something else other than this miserable losing streak. I don't expect to have my wish granted, but maybe the Cavaliers will surprise me... then again, maybe not.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Glorious Gunners Hammer The Irons

Arsenal cruised to a win at Upton Park this evening as they comfortably beat West Ham 3-0 in what appears to be Avram Grant's final game in charge. Van Persie scored two goals, with Walcott getting one too, as the Gunners strolled to another away win and a crucial 3 points.

There isn't much point in doing a full match review as Arsenal were dominant for the entire 90 minutes, something I honestly wasn't expecting before the match. I still thought we would, and should, win the game but going to Upton Park and coming away with a win isn't an easy task, as Man United found out this season in the Carling Cup. So it was a relief to see us win with such ease and in some style too, as West Ham pretty much rolled over for us and the Hammers are in total free-fall right now. The board, the players, the staff and the manager are a complete mess so I'm glad Arsenal took advantage of the situation and didn't slip up. We need to beat the teams lower down the table if we are to stand any chance of competing for the title, so it's good to see Arsene Wenger's men get the job done.

It was fantastic to see van Persie get on the scoresheet, with a goal from open play too. In the 13th minute Robin connected on Walcott's low cross with his right foot (after a nice dummy by Nasri), smashing the ball past Rob Green into the corner for an early 1-0 lead. Exactly the start to the game we needed, and it settled some early nerves for sure. Just before half time, van Persie squeezed in a cross from the byline across West Ham's penalty box, and Theo was quick enough to get on the end of it before the defence could react. He blasted the ball into the roof of the net to make it 2-0 and it was pretty much game over then and there. In the second half Arsenal continued their dominance and never let the home side into the game. To be fair, the 3-0 scoreline could have been a lot more, if it weren't for some fantastic saves by Green (the save from Wilshere towards the end of the game was just one example). In the 77th minute, Walcott was brought down in the box by Wayne Bridge and van Persie converted the spot kick to end the game for good, sending a lot of unhappy West Ham fans home early as the stadium started to empty out.

Arsenal needed this result after some rather limp performances against Championship opposition recently, and it feels good to win again. Up next is Leeds on Wednesday for the 3rd round replay in the FA Cup. Hopefully this evenings win should give the Gunners a boost of momentum ahead of the trip to Leeds, where I'm expecting a much better performance from Arsenal than what we saw at the Emirates a week ago. It is crucial we stay in the competition as we can't afford to pass up a chance at a trophy so easily. I'll be hoping to watch it, but the Mrs might be dragging me to the cinema... we'll see eh?

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Leaving It Late With Leeds

Arsenal escaped an FA Cup disaster this afternoon at the Emirates, battling to a 1-1 draw with Leeds United. I said it yesterday, that it would be stupid to underestimate our lower league opponents and it came true as Leeds thoroughly deserved their draw and replay to be scheduled at Elland Road at later date.

Arsene Wenger chose a stronger team than what was maybe expected, with the inclusion of Song, Chamakh and Arshavin in the starting eleven. The announcer at the Emirates informed the crowd the game was a 60,000+ sellout but there was a lot of empty red seats for a 'sellout'. This annoyed me greatly, because if I lived closer to North London and had the cash, I'd have been there! (though given the final score, its probably better that I wasn't) The game started pretty slowly and in the 10th minute Arshavin wasted a fantastic one-on-one opportunity after a great through ball by stand-in captain Rosicky. The little Russian had acres of space to score but shot right at Leeds keeper Kasper Schmeichel, a disappointing effort. For the majority of the first half Arsenal failed to get into any rhythm at all and were sloppy all over the pitch. The chemistry in the squad was reminiscent of the Wigan game not long ago - crap. However, with roughly 15 minutes left before half time the Gunners notched things up a bit and turned up the tempo. In the 27th minute Chamakh nodded the ball back to Arshavin who hit the ball nicely on the volley but it was straight at Schmeichel and out for a corner. From the resulting set-piece, the ball ping ponged around the box and was finally cleared off the line by a Leeds defender before Denilson forced a good save from distance at Schmeichel. Arsenal had definitely raised the bar and Leeds were struggling to cope. Defender Alex Bruce, who had a tremendous game in the Leeds defence, cut out a dangerous pass by Arshavin intended for Bendtner which would have had Leeds in trouble. From the resulting corner, Chamakh headed straight at Schmeichel wasting another good opportunity. Just before the end of the first half, Bendtner jinked his way into the Leeds penalty area before unleashing a low shot which was comfortably saved by Schmeichel yet again. Arsenal just couldn't get that crucial goal and it was the visitors who left the pitch at half time the happier.

The Gunners started the second half brightly, piling more pressure on Leeds - it only looked a matter of time before Arsenal converted one of their many chances and took the lead. But then disaster struck, as it often has at the Emirates this season. In the 53rd minute against the run of play, Leeds winger Max Gradel was upended by Denilson in the box and referee Phil Dowd (whom I despise) had no option but to point to the spot. Robert Snodgrass stepped up to take the penalty and narrowly squeezed it under Szczesny's left hand to make it 1-0 to Leeds. A nightmare upset was suddenly on the cards for the home side and Arsenal really had to step things up to avoid humiliation. A few minutes after the visitors took the lead, Fabregas was brought on to replace Song and ten minutes later Theo Walcott was introduced, replacing Chamakh. It was all or nothing now for Arsenal, but it was Leeds who nearly took a two goal lead when Becchio forced a stunning save from Szczesny, who palmed away the Leeds man's powerful header. Arsenal were banging their heads against the brick wall of the Leeds defence, constantly looking dangerous yet not really looking any closer to scoring that all important equaliser. With ten minutes left, Arsenal were getting desperate and things got a bit crazy; Bendtner blazed over a good header, Theo wasted a great chance when he hit it right into Schmeichel's hands. With only a couple of minutes left, madness ensued when Phil Dowd appeared to reward the Gunners a penalty after Walcott was tripped, only for Dowd to change his mind when the linesman signalled that Bendtner was apparently offside. The problem was, the trip on Walcott happened before Bendtner was offside so the penalty should have stood! But the outrage at the ref didn't last long as Theo was pulled down again in the Leeds penalty area only seconds later, and this time Dowd whistled for a REAL spot kick. Cesc stepped up to take it and dispatched the ball right down the middle, past the diving Schmeichel, to make it 1-1 and save the home team from a famous cup upset at the hands of Leeds. There was still time for a winner in injury time as Arsenal wasted more chances to finish the opposition off and put the tie to bed. Bendtner sliced a decent chance with his left foot (really horrible miss), Denilson nearly won it but for an amazing save from Schmeichel (man-of-the-match from the Leeds goalie), and finally Walcott narrowly missed a making it 2-1, hitting the side netting from a tight angle. The final whistle blew and a sigh of relief was heard all over the stadium - at least we didn't lose...

Obviously most Arsenal fans expected a win and with all the chances we had there really should have been only one outcome. However, we are still in the competition and that's what really matters. I don't particularly like the idea of a replay at Elland Road, especially when we already have a hectic schedule of games in the near future, but it is what it is and we must go there and beat them on their home turf. A match we are more than capable of winning - if we can't then we don't deserve to be in the FA Cup for much longer, simple as that.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Cup Fever & The Return Of Rambo?

Arsenal get their FA Cup campaign under way tomorrow against Leeds United at the Emirates in what's set to be an interesting game. There is no doubt Arsene Wenger will rest some of his key players against the Championship opposition but I'm sure whatever side the boss puts out will be looking to give Leeds a real run for their money.

Despite being the underdogs, it would be unwise to underestimate the Whites in this FA Cup tie. Leeds are currently sat in 5th place in the Championship, which is pretty impressive for a team that only got promoted from League One half a year ago. So it would be a good idea for Arsene to choose a team that isn't too different from what we see most weeks. I expect Nasri and van Persie will be rested, and probably Cesc too; in a match like this, with the quality of players we possess, there is no reason we shouldn't beat Leeds with whatever team the boss picks, but football games aren't won on paper and we recently saw what happened when you play a team of guys who don't get much match-time (at Wigan). Eboue will be filling in for Sagna, who starts his suspension after the clash with Zabaletta in the City game on Wednesday. Kieran Gibbs has returned to fitness so expect him to replace Clichy at left back. Other than that, I don't expect there will be any more drastic changes. Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny will probably replace Fabianski in goal, as he normally does in the Carling Cup, so it'll be another opportunity to see our potential future number 1 in action again. Up front, players like Bendtner and Rosicky will be given the job of leading the attack against Leeds, players who have more than enough in their locker to win games like these.

The exciting news ahead of tomorrows clash is the return of Aaron Ramsey. The Guardian have reported that the Welshman is set to be included in the squad and possibly make his triumphant return to the Gunner's starting eleven. The 20 year old Wales international, if he plays, will be making his first appearance for the Arsenal since that fateful day against Stoke on the 27th February 2010, where we all know what happened with a certain Ryan Shawcross. Since recovering from his broken leg, Aaron joined Nottingham Forest on a short loan deal but didn't get much playing time thanks to the ridiculous British weather we've had. Anyway, he's back where he belongs now and probably itching to prove he's still got what it takes at the top level. It'll be nice to see Ramsey run out at the Emirates in the red and white again, after such a long time out, even if the boss just gives him 10 minutes towards the end. Let's hope he can recapture the form he was in just before that nasty injury, when Aaron had forced his way into Wenger's team with some fantastic performances. Fingers crossed.

So I'll be looking to watch the Leeds game tomorrow, as luckily I don't have to work and the game is on ITV, so I should be able to watch it live. After Leeds, we have the now manager-less Ipswich to play on Wednesday night in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final, and I'll be looking to watch that too. I have officially caught cup fever.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Keeping The Pace

Arsenal kept their title bid alive last night by beating Birmingham 3-0 at St Andrews. Goals from Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, and a howler from City's Roger Johnson secured all three points for the travelling Gunners. Arsene Wenger and his men didn't succumb to Birmingham and their impressive home record against the top clubs (despite City's struggles this season), and are still very much in the mix for the title.

Arsenal needed maximum points last night after their slip up against Wigan mid-week, and Wenger's men managed to deliver. I had the displeasure of watching that performance at Wigan, and it was pretty frustrating to see the team play in such a sloppy fashion. I understood Wenger resting some key players during this busy Christmas/New Year schedule, but the side he put out were obviously out of sorts and couldn't gel on the pitch at all, leading to a disappointing 2-2 draw. Thankfully the boss learnt from his mistake and started the strongest team possible against Birmingham, the same eleven that dispatched Chelsea so convincingly just a week ago.

I'm not going to go into too much detail about last night's game as you can read a match review on the wealth of other, and more detailed, Arsenal blogs around. Overall, we played well for the entire 90 minutes and created so many chances that the 3-0 scoreline was a bit flattering in the end. Fabianski only had one real save to make all game and it was fantastic to see him record a clean sheet, that elusive statistic he'd prefer to have more of. It was also great to see van Persie play a full game and get on the score-sheet as well, even if it was a deflected free kick off Lee Bowyer. Nasri took his goal well in the second half after some typically stylish Arsenal build-up play with El Capitan, Cesc Fabregas. It really was a nice strike by the in-form Frenchman, who has now increased his tally to 13 goals this season. The Gunner's 3rd goal came minutes later thanks to some more brilliant passing by Cesc and Nasri, the latter's beautiful pass setting up Fabregas who forced City keeper Ben Foster into a save. Unfortunately for the home side, the ball ricocheted off of Foster into the Birmingham defence, finally hitting Roger Johnson, before trickling over the line for an embarrassing own goal. Game over and Arsenal managed to hold on for the win and three crucial points, keeping the pressure on the opposition.

This was a massive game and one that Arsenal had to win. Our away record this season has been sublime and we need these results every week to ensure we are up there at the top, battling for first place. Now Arsenal face Manchester City on Wednesday, another important match in this topsy turvy Premier League season. The blue side of Manchester will fancy their chances when they travel to the Emirates this week and we'll have to beat them to distance ourselves in the title race. Here's hoping we get the result and put those Manchester City playboys back in their place.

Thanks for reading.