By Ryan Fleming
It’s an understatement to say that this weekend’s prime meeting between Arsenal and Manchester City means a lot. This is the type of game that can define a season, turn things around, or solidify a team’s standing. Both teams, starting the season on two different paths, now cross at a time when both teams are surging, much like how they both kicked off the season, on different roads.
By Ryan Fleming
Few are more important to their team than Robin van Persie is for Arsenal. The Dutch striker is leading the surge for an Arsenal team that started the year off 2-1-4, capped by an 8-2 thrashing at the hands of Manchester United and a 2-1 loss at cross-town rival, Tottenham.
Since then, the Gunners are undefeated, trouncing opponents and playing with a certain sense of flair, grit and outlying passion the team lacked for the first handful of games this season. The turn-around has the team at 7-1-4, good for seventh in the league table, and tied on points (19) with Liverpool. And Van Persie is getting much of the acclaim for the difference in play that has supporters and plaudits praising manager Arsene Wenger as a common hero rather than a goat.
By Ryan Fleming
Obviously it isn’t true. Each team wants to win each game, be the best in its division and play in Europe next season. It’s pretty simple. What’s also just as easy, is watching Tottenham and Arsenal and how they both seemingly don’t want to do well. Of course, both of the North London clubs have aspirations to succeed and it has shown earlier this year (ie: Totts’ run in the Champions League and Arsenal’s impressive Dec/Jan run).
As of late, though, acting like their in cahoots, both clubs are playing down to to their competition, refusing to be the bullies, and instead getting picked on themselves. Arsenal’s downfall is basically lack of experience and, at least in my eyes, a definite lack of motivation and emotion. In the Gunners’ case, at least their manager owed up to the club’s seemingly two-month downfall.
By Michael King
As Arsenal manager Arsene Wegner sorts through the aftermath of Tuesday’s Champion’s League loss at Barcelona, there are of course few positive takeaways. Yet one, involving his young English midfielder, remains promising. Though his team was thoroughly outmatched Tuesday, Jack Wilshere continued to prove his versatility and quality as a midfielder for a top club.
It’s unclear if Wilshere himself felt he had something to prove entering the return leg at the Camp Nou, but he certainly played like he did, even if his teammates did not.
Barcelona headman Pep Guardiola now infamously singled-out the Englishman earlier in the week, claiming Wilshere lacked the ability to play for the Catalans and was only fit for the reserve team. Even more disparagingly, Guardiola suggested that Barca had many players of Wilshere’s ability.
There seemed to little motive behind the manager’s verbal attack, and even less factual support for his claims. In actuality, Wilshere has rapidly developed into an excellent midfielder, one whose importance is increasingly critical to his team.
By Jonathan Gold
About the only thing Arsenal fans can take away from the awful joke that has been the last 72 hours of English soccer, the Gunners are still just four points behind Manchester United – and with a game in hand, no less.
Without trying to excuse in any way the horror that was this year’s League Cup final, let me point out that it was, in fairness, the League Cup final. It’s cold comfort, of course. There’s no getting around the fact that it’s far and away the least prestigious silverware that top-flight clubs regularly contest.
Manchester United, however, might not have lost in such a hands-over-faces horrifying way, but their loss to Chelsea could very well be a lot more important.
By Jonathan Gold
This, ladies and gentlemen, was a triumph. This was a season-definer, one of Arsenal’s biggest wins in years. A comeback victory over probably the greatest professional soccer team ever assembled. It was truly astonishing.
And yet, it was also a demonstration that Arsenal really is its own worst enemy.
It looked to be going precisely how I and everyone else in the sane world predicted when David Villa took advantage of a mistake by Clichy to beat the offside trap and finish with his usual precision before the half-hour mark. I’d been mildly encouraged by the early pressure from Arsenal, but I’ve seen them flounder time and again after getting my hopes up in big games. All too often, the Gunners come out blazing and fade down the stretch.
This close to the game, I’m not able to describe the tactics used to you with any sort of precision, because my brain is not functioning correctly. But soccer’s collective punditry has apparently decided that Wenger’s genius had a lot to do with the team’s unbelievable fightback against what still must be described as superior opposition.
By Ryan Fleming
It makes you think that maybe, just maybe these managers know what they are doing. A week after acquiring £24 million man Darren Bent from Sunderland, Aston Villa not only played with Manchester City, but beat them thanks to Bent’s first-half strike, not to mention impeccable keeping from American international Brad Friedel.
Personally, I have a soft spot for Sunderland, so after seeing him go, and the way it all happened, I was rather disgusted to see that outcome, but it got me thinking.
Perhaps Gerard Houllier does know what he is doing and maybe Steve Bruce, despite losing his No. 1 scoring threat can still get things done. Aston Villa had to dig deep, but they picked up Bent to assure that the club would remain above the relegation zone. My initial thoughts were skeptical. How could one player ensure that a club doesn’t go off the deep end and begin next season in the Championship? At least for now, the ex-Liverpool manager is looking pretty smart.
By Joe Meloni
He wasn’t entirely invisible on Monday night. He dressed for the game, and I’m pretty sure he touched the ball once or twice. He must have – he played 76 minutes.
If you missed Robin van Persie in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Chelsea, don’t worry about it. You weren’t the only one.
In the day-old afterglow of Arsenal’s improbable three points, Arsenal fans refuse to discuss anything even remotely negative. They’re not wrong to savor the Kool-aid as long as they can. Big wins haven’t come easy for Arsenal in recent years – especially those against Chelsea and Manchester United. No one really cares which player scored the clinching goal or made the decisive defensive play. Arsenal has three more points than it did when the game started. Moving on.
Still, one of Arsenal’s talismans, van Persie, faded into the background, while the new guys, Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott, led the Arsenal offense.
For years, Arsenal fans and their beloved boss, Arsene Wenger, spoke of van Persie’s health like a mythical creature. No one’s ever seen it for any extended period of time, and we go years without sightings. When we see it, though, it’s pretty amazing.
By Jonathan Gold
Arsenal may not win the league, but the United game won’t tell us either way
I’ll admit it, it still makes me grin a little bit each time I think about the fact that Arsenal lead the English Premier League. That happiness is tarnished only a little, however, to know that by the time most of you read this, they might not be any more.
There’s a certain sense of fatalism among Arsenal fans when Manchester United comes to London. While Fergie’s mob haven’t had it all their own way, there haven’t been too many occasions in recent seasons for wild celebrating among the Gooner faithful.
Given how evenly matched the teams are on paper, it’s difficult not to come away with the impression there’s just a little bit more steel and composure about Ferguson’s teams, which frequently shades the fact that Arsenal is a bit more talented most of the time. It’s still awfully close, of course. Age probably has something to do with it.