Sunday, 20 March 2011

Costly Blunder Against Baggies

So by now you have surely seen that Arsenal failed to come away from West Brom with a win, and had to settle for a 2-2 draw yesterday. In a match we really needed to win to keep up with Man United at the top of the league, Arsenal typically had to do things the hard way.

West Brom took an early lead after some bad defending from a Baggies corner in the 3rd minute, Steven Reid climbing high to head home. Going 1-0 down that early in the game is never a good way to start the match, especially when you're away from home against a team battling relegation. But things got worse, when Manuel Almunia decided to leave his area in the 58th minute in an "attempt" to clear the ball from danger. It was probably the worst decision of his professional career, and there have been plenty of horrors in the past to compete. There was no need for Almunia to rush out and try and clear the ball, no need at all. Squillaci had Peter Odemwingie close to him, but not so close that it was a clear goal-scoring opportunity and Odemwingie was so far away from goal that the danger was minimal even if Squillaci messed things up. If Almunia had just allowed Squillaci to deal with the ball on his own, the disaster that followed would never have occurred. Instead, Almunia sprinted out to meet the ball, thus getting in Squillaci's way and letting Odemwingie collect the ball and slot home into an empty net. 2-0 West Brom and Arsenal's season effectively over.

Luckily the Gunners didn't crumble from this setback like they have before so often throughout this campaign. Arshavin soon pulled a goal back with a fantastic effort, showing nice control and accurate finishing. It wasn't long until Arsene Wenger's men managed to tie things up when a deep cross came off of West Brom's post/part of Bendtner and fell to Abdoulaye Meite who failed to clear the ball and van Persie pounced. In a weird tackle-but-shot-kind-of-thing the Dutch star connected with the ball enough for it to roll over the line and level the score. Arsenal had a chance to win it late on (Clichy's low shot narrowly pushed around the post) but could have lost it too were it not for a terrific last-ditch block from Squillaci. It finished 2-2 which is a fair scoreline given the events that happened during the game, but for a team challenging for the title, this wasn't good enough yet again.

Ever since Almunia supplanted Jens Lehmann as the Gunner's number one keeper, he has hardly endeared himself to the Arsenal faithful. When Almunia first took over from Lehmann in the 04/05 campaign, he started well enough but made too many mistakes to ever be a reliable choice. Almunia ousted Jens once again in the 07/08 campaign, this time for good, but again he was hardly convincing and ever since fans have cried out for Wenger to buy a new keeper in each transfer window since Lehmann left the club. Now 'Mad Jens' is back, all 41 years of the crazy German, and Almunia has fucked himself again with his performance yesterday. Jens was obviously just brought in as a backup, since Fabianski and Szczesny are going to miss a long time, but now Lehmann is in a position to see serious playing time. Almunia, gifted another chance to prove he belongs at this club, has fallen at the first hurdle and even his most ardent supporters will struggle to defend him for much longer. Wenger now has a dilemma on his hands; to stick with the sometimes-brilliant but often clumsy and error-prone Almunia, or chuck the baby out with the bath water completely and start the wise but elderly veteran Lehmann. Either way, surely Almunia's days at the club are numbered and the gloves must be handed over permanently to Szczesny and Fabianski in the summer. We can't keep throwing games away because our keeper is the weak link, and Wenger has let this problem grow for far too long.

Arsenal take a bit of a break now due to the internationals coming up, and don't play again until April 2nd when Blackburn visit the Emirates. In Gunners-related news, lasagnechef over at The Cannon has posted leaked photos of what is apparently going to be our new home shirt for next season. I have long heard the rumours that we are going to celebrate our 125th anniversary next year, and I've seen a different pic of this design before. Its extremely hard to know if this recent batch of photos are of a fake design because it looks pretty real to me and so far I like what I see. I agree with The Cannon, some red and white stripy socks would go well with that shirt. We'll probably have to wait until May/June to find out what the official design will look like but I reckon it won't be much different than what we are seeing below (click on the image to see it bigger).

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Same Old Story For Sorry Gunners

In typical Arsenal fashion of late, the Gunners slumped to another defeat this evening, this time in the F.A Cup, losing 2-0 to Man United at Old Trafford, crashing out of yet another competition in disappointing circumstances (familiar eh?). It was a game we really should have won - there won't be another chance to catch a United side this weak for a while.

Despite Wenger putting out a strong team nothing went Arsenal's way tonight. Van der Sar rolled back the years and had a fantastic game in the United goal, turning every Arsenal effort away with ease. We had 11 shots on target tonight and just couldn't get one past the Dutch master. He deserved his man of the match award, no doubt. The thing that annoys me about Man United is they somehow, despite what I believe is a pretty shit and one-dimensional team, manage to grind out wins every year and take home trophy after trophy. This season has seen Ferguson's weakest and poorest United squad in a long, long time (in my opinion - they haven't been the same since Ronaldo left). I know they still have Giggs and Scholes etc. but they aren't the same players they once were. Speaking of Scholes, he should have at least been booked, if not sent off for two reckless and classic Scholes tackles late on in the game. That guy will never learn... Anyway, it just astounds me this Arsenal side could not beat a team tonight with the likes of Darron Gibson and John O'Shea out there patrolling the midfield. We are unlikely to have a much better chance at beating the old enemy for a while.

So that's Arsenal out of the F.A Cup, the Carling Cup, and the Champions League, all within the space of two weeks. It feels like these systematic collapses occur every year now, and its getting depressing to watch us limp out of competitions that we could realistically go on and win. Tonight, it looked like Wilshere and Nasri were the only guys really pushing it, the only guys who cared. I love that Jack is out there, every game going 100% trying to win the ball, trying to push forwards. When Cesc eventually leaves us for sunnier pastures (I don't want this, but come on, its probably just a matter of time), I'd love to see Wilshere as captain - he'd be ideal, he just embodies all that is good at Arsenal. But Wilshere's determination and effort is somewhat lacking from other members of the squad (don't get me started on Diaby, I've had just about enough of his lackadaisical play). To rub salt into the wounds, Johan Djourou had to be stretchered off towards the end of match, with a dislocated shoulder that will rule him out for the rest of the season. This means we all get to enjoy the Koscielny - Squillaci partnership once again - YAY!!! At least there was one bright spot from tonight; seeing Aaron Ramsey make his return to the first team was brilliant, and I thought he looked good for the 20 or so minutes he was on the pitch. A class act that guy, I hope he can perform well for the rest of the season.

I'm not gonna run through a play-by-play of the game, you no doubt already know the story by now. We completely dominated possession but we typically switched off when they counter-attacked and that was the difference tonight. I still think we have a better team, and probably deserved a lot more, but you have to give credit where its due and United were absolutely clinical, making the most of their chances. It was disheartening to see us camp outside their penalty area and fail time and again to break them down - it's the same old story now, and I don't know what's going on, in defence and attack, but something is not working. The sad thing is its been this time of year the last few seasons where we've completely collapsed, and its been the same old story in 2011.

Next up is a trip to West Brom in a weeks time, a crucial league game on the 19th March. Since we spectacularly lost to them at home earlier in the season I'd like a really convincing win at the Hawthorns and three important points for the Gunners. Given recent events, I'll take a smash-and-grab 1-0 and no new injuries... got to hope for the best!

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Can I Have Last Night Back Please?

Well what a complete waste of time that turned out to be. I didn't really expect us to win last night, at best I hoped we could hold on to an aggregate scoreline that would take us through, but to lose like that was complete crap. There is no doubt that van Persie's sending off changed the game. Yes we were being dominated before his dismissal, but trying to keep Barca at bay with 10 men is a lot harder than having all 11 out there. Robin's second yellow card was a complete joke, and the referee seemed to have some motive behind his decisions all night. What I don't understand is he gave RVP a yellow for something silly like kicking the ball away after the whistle, but what about when Messi controlled the ball with his arm later on in the game? The whistle was blown for the handball (despite it appearing to hit Messi's shoulder) but there was no yellow card for that was there? Another example is Abidal wrapping his hand around van Persie's throat. Did the French defender receive a caution for it? Of course not. I hate seeing games when the officials are so ridiculously inconsistent with their decisions - Busacca completely ruined any chance of last night being a great game.

Once RVP was off, Messi and co. took advantage of the extra space and carved open chance after chance. If it wasn't for Almunia, who played surprisingly well coming on early for the injured Szczesny , the scoreline would have been huge. I don't want to talk about the game too much, Arseblog has a fantastic summary of the match, but it's just frustrating to see us play so well in the first leg and then be completely dominated last night. I don't think we actually had a single attempt at goal the entire game, which is ridiculous. I don't know what Wenger's gameplan was, but it didn't work in the slightest. There was a moment of hope with minutes left in the game, when Wilshere stole the ball in midfield and played a perfect pass into the path of Bendtner, who typically took a heavy touch and wasted a fantastic opportunity to send us through to the quarter finals. Things just haven't been going our way lately.

Anyway, we must put the Champions League exit behind us now and focus fully on the prospect of going to Old Trafford on Saturday. United are still licking their wounds after losing to Chelsea and Liverpool in the league, so if we are to ever win against them, there is no better time to do it. The match is a later kickoff, so I should hopefully be able to make it home in time from work to watch it. The Premier League should be the team's focus from now on, but if we can dispatch United on Saturday we have a great chance to go far in the FA Cup. What will be will be I spose...

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Why The Change?

You may have noticed by now that this is no longer the home of Escape To Forest City. I decided to change up the blog a little bit for a couple of reasons:

1) Its become increasingly difficult to write and report about things going on in the States when I don't live there and I don't have easy access to watching the games. It was great having NBA League Pass for a month or two, I could watch as many Cavs games as I liked, but since my subscription ran out its very hard to write something meaningful based on 2 minutes of highlights. The same thing occurs with the Indians and Browns. I just don't have the time or money to focus on my Cleveland teams, not enough for a blog that would be worth reading.

2) Its much easier to write about Arsenal because the English sporting media have football related news 24/7 now and I've lived Arsenal stuff the majority of my life. I know the club, I know the squad, I know the league and so on. It's just a lot easier to write about something closer to home if you understand that. I found myself writing more about Arsenal than any of my Cleveland teams combined, so I made the decision to switch the blog's direction into Gooner-mode for the foreseeable future.

The only reason it's taken this long to swap is because the internet is already overrunning with Arsenal blogs, and I felt the web didn't need another one, especially not from a university student who really ought to be spending more time on his dissertation rather than writing quick 500 word pieces about last night's game (me). So from now on, Escape to N5 will be the home of my rants and raves about Arsenal and football in general. Maybe from time to time I will go back and touch upon my Indians, Cavs and/or Browns but I think it's better if I just remain a fan of those teams for now, rather than try to write about them.

So if you're still reading then thanks for staying on board. It means a lot.


p.s. I hope everyone enjoys the new face-lift I gave the blog - I think the new colours and header look smart.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Chance To Close The Gap

Today's game against Sunderland is a huge turning point in Arsenal's Premier League season. Win today and Arsene Wenger's men crawl to within 1 measly point of league leaders Man United. Steve Bruce's Sunderland are all that stand in the way...

I haven't posted for a while because I've still been mourning from the events that occurred last weekend. I don't begrudge Birmingham the win, I think they deserved it to be honest, but I am still so annoyed at how we threw that game away. The game could have gone either way at 1-1 and I think if we went into extra time we would have emerged victorious. But to lose like that makes me sick, especially when its a cup final. The 5-0 win over Leyton Orient on Wednesday cheered me up a bit, setting up a tasty battle against United at Old Trafford. I think if we have our guys healthy, we can beat them.

Anyway, attention must first turn to the game at 3 o'clock this afternoon. Sunderland have been pretty awful of late, losing their last 4 league games so they are there for the taking and we must ensure we get the win today, because anything less will be considered as a disaster especially in the wake of United's loss at Chelsea; this is a glorious chance to put our mark on this title race and keep the pressure on Fergie and his boys.

The big news is that Aaron Ramsey has returned from his latest loan spell at Cardiff and is in the squad for today's game. Its exciting to think he could make a big impact today and I hope he gets some game time this afternoon, it would be brilliant to see the Welsh wonder run out at the Emirates. I'll be at work so will miss the game as per usual but I'll be keeping a close eye on the scoreline once 3 o'clock rolls around. Massive day for the Arsenal, just gotta hope they can deliver when it matters...

Thanks for reading.