Saturday, December 24, 2011

A View from the Sidelines

So I think The Beautiful Game is gonna be taking an extended winter holiday.

  On Monday December 19, 2011 our twin baby girls came into the world!!  We got to bring them home Wednesday after all the adoption paperwork was finished.  Needless to say, the past few days have been a whirlwind!  Feeding, wiping, and not sleeping are the new normal.  But we've been waiting for these girls forever and Chloe Justice and Mercy Dawn absolutely amazing.

Since two little babies are now bossing the show, that leaves little time for the soccer blog.  Not to worry though, the girls already have their first soccer ball (their first present, btw) and it won't be long before they're watching games with Dad and even coming to Battery matches.  But for now, its reading the match reports not writing them and catching highlights when I can.  Its a view from the sidelines, but thats alright with me.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Catching Up with the Charleston Battery

I know in recent weeks its been exclusively Arsenal here at The Beautiful Game, but honestly, the offseason for lower division soccer clubs is usually pretty quiet.  There has been some transfer news and the Carolina Challenge Cup has been set, so its time to share what's been going on with the Battery in past few months!

First, a few player updates:

Cole Peverley
After completing the 2011 season with Charleston, the midfielder returned home to New Zealand and signed with Canterbury United.  Peverley has featured in every game so far for the Dragons, and his team sit at fourth in the table.  The ASB Premiership season runs from late October to mid-March.  The New Zealand international is expected to return to the Battery after his spell with Canterbury but will likely miss out on the CCC.

Brandon Massie
His fellow Battery midfielder, Brandon Massie has enlisted with the Norfolk Sharx in their first season in the Major Indoor Soccer League.  Also in the squad is the Richmond Kicker's and USLPRO leading scorer Matthew Delicate.  The Sharx are still looking for their first win, but Massie has played an important role already, featuring in every game for Norfolk this season.  He is also expected to return to Charleston in the spring.

Nickie Patterson 
Brandon Massie won't be the only Battery player to grace the MISL however.  Scottish international Nickie Patterson has joined the Baltimore Blast.  So far, the Blast have exhibited stunning form on the road but have been unable to find victory before their home fans.  Patterson looks to rejoin the Battery in their upcoming season.

Mike Zaher
As per Rochester's press release at the close of November, Battery left back Mike Zaher has signed with the Rochester Rhino's for the 2012 USLPRO season.  Having sported the black and gold for the past two years, his experience and defensive resolve will be certainly be missed in the coming year.  Charleston will be hard pressed to fill his shoes when it comes to new signings.

And speaking of new signings...

Recruiting in Jamaica
The Jamaica Gleaner reports that a delegation from the Battery has their eyes on a handfull of young athletes in Jamiaca's Red Stripe Premier League.  Coach Anhaeuser and President Mike Bell have been scouting again and plan to invite several Jamaican footballers to the player trials and possibly Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston.

Carolina Challenge Cup
And speaking of the Carolina Challenge Cup, the teams and dates have been announced!!  This year, Charleston will host D.C. United, Chicago Fire, and Columbus Crew!!  I'm sure another exciting round of the Coffee Pot Cup awaits and it will be great to see former Battery striker Tom Heinemann as he returns with his new club, the Columbus Crew.  The dates are Feb 25 and 29, and March 3!!  See you at the 'Baud!!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Happy Birthday Arsenal!!! Arsenal 1-0 Everton

Arsenal have cracked the top four for the first time this season and the Gunners picked a fitting day for the accomplishment as it was the 125th Anniversary of the club.  Emirates was in a festive mood and the pregame party and unveiling of monuments honoring Chapman, Adams, and Henry set the tone for an incredible celebration.  The latter of the three was in attendance and a joyful participant in the days festivities.

Pushing to preserve a substantial unbeaten run in the league, Arsenal's main concern was with the role of full back.  With the injury to Santos, it was Vermalen, Mertesacker, Koscielny, and Djourou, all center halves for a back line.  Everton started brightly, challenging the hosts in the opening quarter hour.  This was an important game, not only for commemorative purposes, but in its Premier League implications as well.  The Gunners grew in confidence and soon took the game to the visitors.  Walcott instigated nearly early good chance for Arsenal and his contribution to the game should not be understated.  Early on, he received a good ball from Arteta and made haste down the right side.  Sensing opportunity, the young Englishman crossed in for Ramsey and Gervinho but an intruding defending just managed to break up the play.  Arsenal surged and it was Walcott leading the charge.  Ramsey had a good crack at twenty-nine minutes and Gervinho tried his luck a moment after.  Arsenal were moving in the right direction, but had little to show for their progress.  Walcott would continue to break away and cross in for the remainder of the half, but it would finish scoreless.

The second half repeated the first as Walcott continued to pull from his limitless supply of crosses.  Vermalen had a respectable long range effort, but it would take a bit of magic to best Tim Howard this afternoon.  Everton were reduced to only breakaway efforts, but with each attempt the visitors looked more likely to score.  The tension was building and at the hour mark Everton made a defensive substitution.  Everton nearly scored, and almost immediately, but a patient Arsenal were able to keep calm and carry on.  Koscielny found Song who lifted a searching long ball downfield.  And finally...that bit of magic had come.  In a graceful sweep, Robin Van Persie volleyed and majestically sent the ball sailing, unstoppable, into the lower right corner of the net.  The Arsenal skipper has had his fair share of wonder goals this season, (only one shy of the club's calendar year record by the way) but this was something special.  It was a top-drawer finish from a world-class striker on a momentous occasion in celebration of 125 years of glorious football.  Credit to Everton, restraining themselves from taking to the locker room at that moment.  This match was struggle but that goal certainly sapped the fight from a previously dogged opponent.  And that jewel of a goal was enough to see Arsenal through and enough to break into the top four of the EPL.  It was a great day for the club, and a memorable milestone for Arsenal fans far and wide.
A great day and a great goal!
A week's repose and then the dreaded trip to Manchester City.  It will be interesting to see the result of the Chelsea-City game and I can only hope it will work towards the Gunner's advantage.  We'll have a few key players missing for the fixture but no big surprises.  Arsenal will be determined to leave with a good result, and perhaps will be the first team to give Citeh' a number in the 'losses' column.  They're no Invincibles, thats for sure and Arsenal will be more than happy to play the spoiler!!  Come On You Gunners!!

Oh, and a Happy Birthday to my wonderful Mom today too!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gutted in Greece, Olympiacos 3-1 Arsenal

Its a rare thing in football to have a match you don't need to win.  Arsenal had previously secured the top spot in Group F of the Champions League and its a good thing because they absolutely got thrashed by Olympiacos on Tuesday.  Despite their vibrant display, the Greek champions were eliminated due to Marseille's late comeback in Dortmund.  So the loss proved a disappointment for both sides, but at least the Greeks had the satisfaction of a job well done.

The evening at a glance...
Arsenal fielded a side not unlike their Carling Cup lineup, with a mix of experienced and younger players.  One real plus from the match is that the starting XI were given the opportunity for some much needed R&R.  Wenger celebrated his 200th match in European competition, but I've no doubt he'll be wanting to forget that milestone.  The crowd of 32,000 within Karaiskakis Stadium boasted a volume equal to perhaps twice their numbers and one could quickly grasp this team were fighting for a European lifeline.  The hosts did not disappoint having a chance gone wide in under the first minute of play.  Arshavin countered with a shot of his own, Mirallas for the home side, then Santos and Frimpong for the likes of Arsenal.  A back and forth rhythm was developing.  The game was not a pretty one, but it was fast and intense.  And then, the goal.  Squillaci and Djourou attempted to clear the same ball but they had instead hand delivered it for the onrushing Djebbour to scoop up.  Deftly rounding Fabianski, Olypiacos were a goal to the good with only sixteen minutes on the board.  Two more strikes and moments later, Fabiaski was stretchered off, the injury resulting from a collision with Djebbour.  So at twenty-five minutes, third string Vito Mannone took the field.  The Ox and Benayoun combined to nearly level the deficit, but the recovery remained incomplete.  With thirty-six minutes gone, Manonne came off his line with a fine headed clearance, but Fuster gathered the ball thirty yards out and had a crack at goal.  Sadly, Manonne misjudged his position and attempted a kick-save when he could have used his hands.  It was the second fortunate goal for the hosts and they showed no signs of stopping.  

There was little improvement from the Gunners after the break.  Instead another injury to report, as Santos limped to the byline after only six minutes.  Miquel took his place and would soon take part in the Arsenal goal.  Just before the hour, Miquel's cross was chested down by Chamakh and confidently finished by Benayoun.  A good strike but far too early to celebrate.  The goal did seem to take the edge off Olympiacos and Arsenal crept back into the game as Rosicky came on in the seventy-fourth minute.  The Gunners nearly equalized as Benayoun fed 'Super Tom' who was narrowly quenched by the GK.  The hosts soon found their footing and renewed their attack.  The Greeks had an argument for a penalty with a handball in the box late in the game.  That third goal would come however, with a minute to spare as a ball headed off the bar was neatly tucked in by Modesto.  So too had the game and resulting Group F standings been put to bed.  
Would that it had gone in...
Now its not all bad news, several youngsters put forth strong performances in their Champs League debuts.  Miquel, the tenacious Frimpong, and of course the Ox all had good showings.  Far less can be said of our reserves between the sticks, but it would be a difficult situation for any keeper, much less one with very little first team experience in recent months.  Szczesny just can't get hurt, thats all.  The injury to Santos may prove costly in coming weeks as the backline had finally seemed to work out all the kinks.  Another encouraging note from the game was Benayoun's involvement as midfield maestro.  His experience will be called upon with our fixture congestion the rest of the month as our top players will need rotation.  Also, the blow is considerably softened when viewed from the angle of Manchester, England.  Both the red and the blue will be kicking about in the Europa League come the new year, and I'm sure this loss will be long forgotten.  Looking forward, Arsenal awaits a favorable draw for the knockout round as AC Milan, Napoli, and Bayer Leverkusen, by no means unbeatable, are perhaps the stiffest opposition to progress.  Saturday is Everton and the 125th anniversary match at Emirates Stadium.  This opponent is no push-over, but it should be all three points this weekend.  Also, if Chelsea fall to Man City, we're back in the top four, and who knows? maybe even the title race!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gunners Cruise, Wigan 0-4 Arsenal

The Gunners achieved a fine victory on Saturday, one they've had coming for some time.  Scoring from all angles, it was a complete performance and showcased the style of vintage Arsenal.  Granted, their opponents have been locked in the cellar of the Premier League for most of the season, Wigan were lifted by their 2-1 win over Sunderland.  And in recent memory, this fixture has been an occasion of stolen joy for Arsenal.  Although certainly the underdog, Wigan were unlikely to bow out of this contest, especially in front of a testy crowd at the DW.

The hosts opened the affair with pluck and had Arsenal penned in early on.  The Latics were on the offensive and congested the visitors final third for a solid twenty minutes.  Six minutes from the start, Wigan were pressing for the opening goal.  A dangerous cross was swatted away but Szczesny but fell kindly for Jordi Gomez.  Were it not for a superb block by Santos, the Gunners would be left to chase a very early lead.  Shortly after, the Latics' attack petered out and Arsenal asserted dominance.  The change of play was telling; the entire Arsenal squad had moved up the pitch and effectively camped there for the rest of the match.  Wigan's tactics were curious, when the Gunner's backline had possession, their forwards refrained from the slightest challenge on Arsenal's defense.  This allowed Arsenal to defend from the front, and once it developed, the result was in little doubt.  With more of the ball Arsenal began chipping away, and the goals would soon arrive.  Mikel Arteta found a bit of space and seeing the keeper just off his line, fired a brilliant shot that kissed the keeper's gloves and powered its way into the top left corner of the net.  Almost as impressive was an RVP corner, taken hardly a minute later, that was expertly headed home by defender Thomas Vermalen.  Two goals in two minutes and with twenty-nine gone, the game was all but over already.  Another corner and Walcott nearly capitalized from a scramble in the box.  Fluid passing gifted Van Persie with a shot that was also narrowly saved.  It was a tale of two very different sides at the break, and I'm sure Wigan were more than grateful for fifteen minutes' respite.

Astonishingly, Arsenal were denied a blatant penalty early in the restart as it could be said the officiating was a touch neglectful on the afternoon.  Wigan looked refreshed and attempted to claw their way back into the match.  However, the surge was short lived; on sixty minutes, Van Persie worked into space and forced a save from Al Habsi...and the rebound was bundled home by Gervinho for his third of the season.  The Ivorian was having a breakout performance and may have just outshined his Dutch counterpart.  Either way, the two were unstoppable.  Arsenal had several more chances and with goals flowing this freely, Van Persie was destined to score.  With ten minutes to play, Walcott broke down the right wing and faced the keeper in the box.  He could have elected to shoot himself, and may well have scored from that position, but there's an unbeatable understanding between he and the Arsenal skipper, and cutting the ball back, Van Persie smashed the goal home.  Captain 'Vantastic' was quick to award his teammate with the glory, and such a partnership remains unrivaled in the League.  Arsenal would nearly have another as Benayoun had a crack that was narrowly nudged away.  The Gunners were left to content themselves with four as they had virtually undone a submissive Wigan side.

A big win is always a boost, but on the heels of the draw with Fulham and Carling Cup loss to Man City, the rout was important to keep the momentum going.  Arsenal are now unbeaten in seven League games and face Everton next.  This was a very strong all-around performance from the Gunners.  Perhaps the only complaint could be with Aaron Ramsey's finishing.  He's unquestionably a valuable midfield asset, but his poor finishing often seems to result from poor decision-making: taking the shot or playing the ball.  Gervinho, on the other hand, produced (in my opinion) his finest display in an Arsenal shirt.  He was all over the place, plaguing the Wigan defense with his own efforts but also by supplying his teammates.  This striker has already greatly improved since moving to North London and we can only hope for more greatness to come.  Along the same lines, Van Perie + Walcott = incredible.  At times it seems the two are simply scoring for fun!  There's a chemistry in this squad thats been missing for many months and this truly is a dangerous Arsenal!  Come On You Gunners!!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Honorable Exit, Arsenal 0-1 Manchester City

I regret to announce that Arsenal have finished their Carling Cup campaign this season.  The lads of North London put on a tremendous display at the Emirates Tuesday evening and although they were defeated, sent the clear message that money can't buy quality football.

A sellout crowd welcomed Mancini's line-up of football mercenaries and it was strange to see the names Toure and Nasri among those listed on the "Away" roster.  The Professor elected to field a youthful side, as is his custom in this tournament and the Arsenal youngsters would outshine them all by the game's finish.  This was a big game and the both sides tested each other early on.  Within ten minutes, Arsenal had what would be one of their best opportunities of the game.  Chamakh worked wide and played on Coquelin whose low cross was met by Park at the far post.  The Korean ratcheted a good shot but the keeper managed to claw it away in the nick of time.  Right at thirty minutes, the Ox delivered a fine shot towards the top corner and again Man City's GK was somehow equal to the task.  The first half became a showcase of attacking football, but the break left both sides goalless.  Forced to chose between the two, perhaps the Gunners produced a more convincing display.  

The second half picked where the first left off; the teams exchanged shots but the scoreline was unaffected. Halfway through, Gervinho was brought on for Park, shifting Benayoun to a more central role.  Arsenal immediately gained the advantage.  Chamakh had another go and Frimpong was beastly in his midfield play.  His dogged possession and grit allowed you to forget that Nasri was his midfield oppostion.  Gervinho closed in on goal only to be squeezed out by Toure.  Vermalen was brought on with ten minutes remaining.  Someone had to win the contest, it might as well have been Arsenal!  With everyone thrown forward, Djourou's misallocated cross came at precisely the wrong time.  Once the Citeh' regained the ball, their counterattack developed in a flash.  The opponent surged forward, easily slipping through a threadbare defense.  It was a heartless goal.  The home crowd lifted their team, knowing it was hardly a fair result.  With moments remaining, Gervinho sent in a perfect cross.  However, Chamakh failed to commit and the chance went begging.  Loss in the Cup, and at the hands of Man City...certainly a tough pill to swallow.  But our boys can hold their heads high; this was a job well done.  

Implications:  it was certainly a fine show by a young Arsenal squad.  They looked better than their opponents and there's comfort in knowing what is effectively your second string outplayed the most expensive lineup in the Premier League.  In about two weeks, Arsenal face City in the League...what could we see here??  Arsenal's current League form is incredible and if they hold pace, should give City a good run for their money.  The missing element of the Carling Cup loss was a lack of killer instinct in the final third.  But here's the thing: Man City can't front a much stronger line-up, Arsenal sure as heck can!!  So, its a trip to Wigan over the weekend.  This one's not in the bag, but Arsenal should expect all three points from a team battling relegation.  Greece and Olympiacos at midweek; Arsenal has already locked top of the group, even with a loss here.  That'll be a good opportunity to rest some starters, good experience for the fringe players, and then...a rematch!  Let's see how those moneybags hold up in two week's time!!  Oooh To Be a Gooner!!!!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Arsenal 1-1 Fulham...It'll Have to Do

It proved a frustrating night for the Gunners as goals from Thomas Vermalen on both ends saw the Cottagers escape Emirates with a point.  The draw has checked the progress of Arsenal's upward gait but all things considered, it could have been worse.

Arsenal controlled the pace early on, with Arshavin netting an offside goal around four minutes.  Dempsey & Co. countered with efforts of their own and the Fulham midfield proved bullish on the evening.  Walcott soon ignited a burst of pressure from the hosts but the Cottagers were able to cope.  A Fulham strike five minutes from time forced a full-stretch save from Szczesny and Arsenal responded with a ball headed just wide at the half.  It was not convincing football from Gunners and the visitors began sniffing for all three points, discontent with the prospect of sharing them.  

The American nearly found the net ten minutes after the break but Dempsey's touch was weighty.  Van Persie leveled a good cross on the hour but a tight defense soon scurried it away.  The midfield tangle had abated and Fulham found themselves a goal to the good, thanks to a ill cleared ball whiffed right into the net by Vermalen.  The Professor shifted to attack mode and curious fans were left wondering what could have been as Schwarzer greedily quenched several good chances by the Gunners.  Santos had been a touchline threat all evening and at 80 minutes combined with Gervinho to supply the resident Dutch wonder.  Surprisingly, Van Persie's trademark touch had abandoned him tonight and he hacked the ball skyward.  Encouraging signs at least, and a goal to follow.  The persistent Walcott lifted a powerful cross that smacked clean off the face of Vermalen besting Schwarzer in the process.  It was a villain to hero performance for the Belgian whose countenance glowed red even after the final whistle, attesting to the ferocity of Walcott's cross.  Arsenal should've been awarded a penalty in stoppage time as an obvious handball in front of goal was casually dismissed.  Such was the quality of officiating on the night, but the Arsenal pressed the offensive to the final whistle.  It wasn't enough and the Gunners were forced to settle for a point a piece, Fulham at least earning their share of the spoil.  

No time to sulk, its two games a week til Christmas and the Gunners go toe to toe with Man City in the Carling Cup.  Next is a trip to Wigan in the League on Saturday.  A feverish pace, but thats how it is in the quest for four different trophies.  Come on you Gooners!!  Teach Mancini's men a thing or two!!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Gunners Ditch Dortmund, Arsenal 2-1 Borussia Dortmund

Its on to the Knockout Round of UEFA's Champion's League!!  Wednesday's win over the German champions make it 12 successive seasons that the Gunners have progressed to the final stage of the tournament.  In a classic battle, the two sides determined the fate of Group F as Robin Van Persie lifted the Arsenal once more, his brace sealing the doom of this top-notch Bundesliga squad.

Dortmund were still high from their big win over Bayern Munich and their confidence showed.  Right away, Lewandowski managed a fierce shot followed in quick succession with an effort by Shinji Kagawa. The visitors allowed Arsenal no breathing space and Klopp's boys were out for blood.  The Gunners could muster little more than a determined defense in the first half, their only offensive foray being a sparkling run  by Theo Walcott.  Dortmund regrettable lost the services of Sven Bender and Mario Gotze early on, but they did not seem inhibited in the least.  No goals, but plenty of pace.  So ended the first half.
Determined defending won the day

Dortmund began right where they had left off, several strong chances with Kagawa leading the charge, but the Arsenal's defense was again matched with the challenge.  Then came a moment of brilliance that would certainly decide the match.  Ramsey hit a wall in the midfield and poked the ball back for Alex Song.  In what certainly became the most inspired assist of the season to this point, Song zipped down the left side losing one marker, danced in the heart of the Dortmund defense, shook several more defenders and chipped a cross to the waiting Robin Van Persie.  The Dutchman nodded in his 16th of the season, that goal proving perhaps the most decisive to date.  Arsenal looked to bury the fixture on the hour, but some last-ditch defending by Hummels robbed Gervinho of a spectacular goal.  Arsenal pressed to extend their lead as Song began yet another triumphal march downfield.  It was all there but the finish as Walcott fired wide, missing by inches.  With all the pressure from both sides, there were certainly more goals to be had.  An Arteta corner kick was moved on by Vermalen, allowing Van Persie to continue his flawless form, grabbing another with four minutes left to play.  Dortmund were sapped but Kagawa snatched an opportunist's goal once the Arsenal back-line had effectively switched off.  The goal would prove the last kick of the match.
Van Persie strikes again!
Arsenal are through and with Marseille's loss clinch the top spot.  The higher seed will likely ensure easier opposition in the next round.  Its disappointing to Dortmund's run come to an end, however.  They're a very entertaining side and have a great deal in common with Arsenal.  With little time to savour the victory, Arsenal host Fulham in the League and then the infamous Manchester City in the Carling Cup.

Well done Arsenal!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Surging Gunners Cast Off Canaries, Norwich City 1-2 Arsenal

A dominant Arsenal side added to their winning streak and goal getting wonder Robin Van Persie added to his tally as the Dutchman's brace completed an exciting comeback at Carrow Road.  Newly promoted Norwich City have looked every bit a consistent, resilient Premier League veteran rather than a promotion side this season.  The East Anglia club are characterized by tradition and grit, proving their mettle so far in the current campaign.  However, for all their spirit and pluck, the Canaries were outdone by the Gunners as the world looked on in the first big football match since the international break.

Good show by the Canaries
As the fixture commenced, it was Arsenal who asserted themselves early.  Norwich were proud and gracious hosts, boasting a record-breaking attendance of 26,801, City's most impressive crowd in the modern era.  The Gunners spurned a host of early chances and the Canaries capitalized quickly.  At the quarter hour mark, City's Morison bundled over Per Mertesacker (no small feat!) in the penalty box and banged home a goal for the hosts.  Arsenal regained control of the match and Gervinho took turns with Van Persie testing the Norwich goalkeeper.  With a firery cross in the 27th minute, Theo Walcott put the ball into a mad mix in front of goal.  The Dutchman promptly side-footed the tap-in, then celebrated kn style practicing his golf swing with his Arsenal counterparts.  The pace was soon drawn from the game but Arsenal were still commanding the affair.  Gervinho would watch another driven effort fly wide as the visitors failed to capture the lead before the break.

The Dutchman proves too much
With only minutes gone from the second half, there was already a bag-full of would-be Arsenal goals.  With a touch more accuracy and composure, the Gunners might have accomplished an embarrassing rout.  On the hour, Ramsey was felled at center stage.  Making the most of the advantage played, Alex Song quickly converted to attack and helped his onrushing striker to an insightful through ball.  One on one, Van Persie drew the keeper just so before expertly chipping over a wonder goal that sealed the fate of the home side.  Norwich revived for a moment, sparking chances of their own, but ended the game on the back foot struggling to cope with Gervinho's repeated efforts on goal.

The Arsenal are firing at deadly pace and with Liverpool turning over the Blues Sunday at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea, the Gunners, Liverpool, and the Spuds are level on points behind 'Toon and the Manchesters in the table.  Arsenal will need every bit of that form when they host Dortmund midweek in the Champions League.  The reigning German champs blanked the Bavarian giants, Bayern Munich one goal to nil at Allianz Arena over the weekend and will challenge Arsenal in every aspect of the game.  Wenger must keep his wits about him, knowing a win here will surely take the group and book their spot in the upper half of the next round.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Its Time for the MLS CUP!!

Well, the playoffs are over and Sunday night the LA Galaxy will host the Houston Dynamo at the Home Depot Center for the MLS Cup Final.  The International break has only added to the anticipation of the big game.  In an earlier post, I recapped the wild card playoff matches and the 1st leg conference semifinals.  If you're wondering how things progressed, we'll catch you up to speed:

Sporting KC 2-0 Colorado Rapids

Predictably, Sporting saw off a depleted Rapids side in a sloppy affair before a rain-drenched sellout crowd at Livestrong Park.  Both goals came from Zusi freekicks, about half way through the first and second periods.  A strong performance by the hosts, and a repeat of the first leg.

Seattle Sounders 2-0 Real Salt Lake

Alonso ignites the Emerald City
In a thrilling second leg victory, the Sounders battled ferociously to overturn the deficit from the previous leg.  Two second half goals frenzied Centurylink field however, the Emerald City was unable to produce the needed miracle.  Both goals came from former Charleston Battery players as Osvaldo Alsonso converted a penalty kick in the 56th, and Lamar Neagle netted the second six minutes later.  A valiant effort, but not enough to continue Seattle's postseason dreams.

Houston Dynamo 1-0 Philadelphia Union

The Dynamo finished off the Union in a game that was anything but spectacular.  Brian Ching, the perennial Dynamo hero, netted the only goal deep into first half stoppage time.  Philly made at triple substituion at 66 minutes and it sparked an immediate offensive threat.  The visitors however, were unable to turn the tide.  The Union can be proud of an excellent second season and notching an incredible finish as a newer expansion franchise.

LA Galaxy 2-1 NY Red Bulls

The Red Bulls struck first in the fourth minute, looking to make history as the first visiting team to leave the HDC victorious.  The game was a tense, back and forth match, with everything to play for despite LA's advantage.  The Galaxy leveled the score as Mike Magee headed home a deadly Beckham corner kick.  New York would have more opportunities in the second half, but a penalty decision and Donovan goal iced the game in the 75th.  A great series between the two MLS giants, the aggregate ending 3-1.

The Conference Championships:

Sporting KC 0-2 Houston Dynamo

Sporting boasted a record 20,839 fans for this playoff fixture.  The hosts came out guns blazing and nearly scored in the second minute.  The Dynamo suffered a critical blow as MLS MVP candidate Brad Davis was seriously injured and taken off in the 35th minute.  Sporting took advantage and bullied their guests till the break.  The second half was very different from the first and the Dynamo scored from some set piece pinball at 53 minutes.  KC was grasping at straws and had several good opportunities, not to mention an appeal for a PK.  However, the result was no longer in doubt when Carlo Costly seized on a through ball, making use of the post as he ended Sporting's successful season, three minutes from time.

LA Galaxy 3-1 Real Salt Lake

This game was expected to be quite lively and both teams delivered.  RSL took the pitch with something to prove and dominated the opening quarter hour.  A slackened pace allowed LA to take back momentum and a 21st minute Donovan PK shifted the pendulum in their favor.  The claret and cobalt responded quickly, as Saborio level less than two minutes later.  Robbie Keane nearly edged LA ahead but instead hit the post before firing wide moments later.  RSL had some good chances in the closing stages of the first half as Beckerman rattled the upright just before the break.  Right away the Galaxy had two near goals, but the RSL defense was able to cope.  However, the visitors soon caved to the pressure as David Beckham and Mike Magee combined to score for the third time in three matches.  The pair are in unstoppable form at present.  Nearly leveling immediately, RSL's Espindola clanged off the bar and it seemed Real could hit every part of the goal except the net.  As RSL pressed to equalize, they exposed their defense and Robbie Keane was quick to punish the error.  The game was all but finished as he found the net on a counterattack in the 68th minute.  The visitors rallied and forced some excellent saves from Josh Sauders, but the damage was already done.

...and so that brings us to Sunday!  The LA Galaxy face Houston at the Home Depot Center!!  The match will be broadcast at 9:00pm and is airing on ESPN, Galavision, and TSN 2.  The Galaxy are the heavy favorites and will expect to preserve their unbeaten record at home this year.  The LA threat will come from several angles as the Beckham/Magee show searches for a memorable Season Finale.  Also, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan will surely test the Dynamo's defense.  LA's defense on the other hand has proved to be nearly unbreakable, and the resolution of the home crowd will only bolster their performance.  Houston have their work cut out for them, and with great form finishing the season and some unlikely playoff results under their belt, they are certainly capable of an upset even without star Brad Davis.  It looks to be an exciting match however you slice it, and I'll be sure to follow up with the postgame report next week!  Enjoy!!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gunners Bounce Baggies, Arsenal 3-0 W. B. A. (Plus Norwich Preview)

The Gunners provided another confident performance in last Saturday's win against West Bromwich Albion.  This resurgent North London side have continued to climb the table are displaying impressive form on nearly every front.  The predictable hero was of course Robin Van Persie as he opened the scoring and assisted the other two goals.  Emirates beamed with unique flair boasting a sellout crowd and special banners from a fan competition.

Events began with a minute of silence in recognition of Armistice Day.  From the first whistle the Arsenal controlled play and the visitors seemed content to defend against the onslaught.  However, their tight defense/counterattack style would not work against these Gunners.  The first quarter hour was all Arsenal and you simply knew the goal was coming.  Just after twenty minutes, Walcott sprinted down the right flank and posted a dangerous shot that was half saved by Foster.  "Half saved" meaning Robin Van Persie gobbled up the rebound and smashed it into the net.  Van Persie again, in the 39th minute, cut back for Thomas Vermalen who bundled home his first goal in a year and a half.  Arsenal was cruising while the visitors had failed to tally a shot in the first half of play.

In the second, it was again the Van Persie-Vermalen combo that nearly put the game to bed.  A corner whipped in by the Dutch striker and off the head of the "Vermanator" nearly found the promised land.  There was a shadow of a chance for West Brom shortly after but Chris Brunt karate-kicked the ball into the stands.  With an hour gone, Gervinho and then Song tested Foster, but the Baggies' keeper held firm.  At 70 minutes, Walcott supplied Van Persie who fired just over the bar.  It was time to finish things off.  Wenger brought on Rosicky and Benayoun...and thats exactly what happened.  Renewed midfield dominance allowed Van Persie to dictate and feed Arteta who scored the final goal of the day with a quarter hour left.  Credit to West Brom for not packing up, their best run of play was the final 10 minutes, however, things had already been decided by that point.

Another brilliant result for the Gunners, and thankfully everyone's come home healthy from the international break.  Arsenal travel to Norwich City Saturday but the newly promoted Canaries should not be taken lightly.  They've put on an impressive display in the Premier League so far and will be looking to impress their home crowd.  Defense will be the key to locking this one down.  Arsenal will score goals, there's little doubt there, but we must be solid in the back, eliminating mistakes and loose play in order to secure all three points.  We're entering a critical stretch in the season and must start this run on the right foot.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Group Stage Stalemate, Arsenal 0-0 Marseille

Realizing this post comes a good week late, I still wanted to cover this Champions League draw.  A point a piece for Arsenal and Marseille with Dortmund's win over Olympiacos means its still an open field in Group F with Arsenal sitting on top by a point.  In their next Champs fixture, the Gunners host Dortmund and a win there would guarantee they progress to the knockout stage for 12 consecutive years.

In the weeks since their last matchup, Marseille had come into good form and were looking to take their chances at the Emirates.  The Ligue 1 side bossed the show in the opening minutes, and it was soon obvious the Gunner's line-up was less than the side that walloped Chelsea.  The visitors showed pluck and made several chances but the combination of Mertesacker and Vermalen at center back left Marseille with a  rather imposing challenge.  Arsenal had wrestled back control of the match by the half hour mark and both Ramsey and Park had seen a shot go wide.  At the break, however, nothing would separate the two.

The second half would be less remarkable than the first, and but was Marseille again who tried to make an impact early on.  Half way through the second period, Wenger subbed in Rosicky and Van Persie in an attempt to secure progression to the next round.  No such luck.  RVP had one decent chance but it was the visitors who dominated the final moments of the fixture.  At the whistle, the Marseille players were clearly happy with their performance, while the home sides showing was at least a decent outing.
A microcosm of the evening's events

There's hardly much to show from this game, but its important that the Gunners are still on top.  Its not a bad result all told, and honestly, its the first time this year that Arsenal could've afforded a draw.  The defense played well despite being tested by a quick Marseille attack.  As the campaign progresses, confidence and chemistry continue to grow on Arsenal's back line.  The Dortmund game will be a big one and the Gunner's must focus on that match before they can dream of the knockout stage.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Stamford Bridge is Falling Down! Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal

In what has been hailed as a "derby classic" and "the game" of the Premier League season so far, the North London rivals put on a show as the game finished with a remarkable eight goals!  The Flying Dutchman, Robin Van Persie, continued his immaculate form scoring a hat-trick as he led the Gunners in putting their derby foes to the sword.

Classic Derby Grit
It was truly a thrill-a-minute match, and every fan knew this was a critical test for Wenger's Arsenal.  You rarely see such an open game between two colossal teams but this was end-to-end stuff from the opening whistle.  Chelsea held the early advantage with Fernando Torres registering a big miss early on.  The Blue's Daniel Sturridge was key in their offensive buildup but the home side failed to connect early on.  Walcott instigated a response from the Gunners with a clever cross but Gervinho recorded a glaring miss of his own.  Minutes later it was Van Persie who missed the target with a hard shot flung just over the bar.  As soon as the Gunners had gained their footing, Chelsea gained the lead.  Juan Mata put in a fine cross and Frank Lampard headed home.  From the outset, both defenses had been poor, but this was rather against the run of play.  With thirty minutes gone, Szczesny rescued morale with a fine save.  Then Gervinho weaseled through a high back line and found himself alone with Petr Cech.  Waiting just until the keeper committed, the Ivorian deftly passed to a crashing RVP who slotted home to an empty net.  It was 'as you were' and Arsenal dug in to weather more heavy pressure from the hosts.  Nearing half time, the exciting pace had slowed ever so slightly and it seemed the break would find them level.  However, an injury time corner and some shameful positioning allowed John Terry to bag a goal just before the whistle.

Arsenal came back more confident than at first and Van Persie forced a fine kick save within a minute of resuming play.  Chelsea were on the back foot, and a lively Gunner midfield took advantage.  Song drifted a ball out to an attacking, unmarked Santos who guided his shot past the keeper, leveling the game once more.  At 55 minutes, Arsenal climbed up to the driver's seat when Walcott scored his fourth of the campaign.  The England winger was brought to the pitch, but his speedy recovery caught the drowsy Chelsea defense unaware.  A slick shot and control of the game had gone to the visitors.  Appropriately, the visitors section erupted and on the afternoon it was the traveling Arsenal fans who set the tone at Stamford Bridge.  Even from the telecast, you could clearly hear the familiar Arsenal chants throughout most of the match.  The goal brought on another heavy bout of Chelsea pressure and after fifteen minutes, the boss decided on a double substitution: Rosicky & Jenkinson on, Walcott & Djourou off.  Chelsea leveled the game almost immediately.  A fine strike from Juan Mata eluded the defense and as time evaporated, there was precious little left for a response.  The match was not over and the indomitable Gunners would recapture their lead with only five minutes remaining.  On a routine back-pass, John Terry lost his footing and the ever-present Van Persie snatched the ball and strode down the final third by his lonesome.  Exhibiting trickery, the Dutchman danced around Cech restored the Gunner's lead.  With the story all but told, RVP sliced home another in stoppage time to complete his hat-trick, leaving Stamford Bridge in disarray and ruin.
Three goals for the Flying Dutchman!!!

Arsenal are back. Undeniably, unmistakably back.  This was a monumental test, and the Arsenal passed with flying colours.  The Gunners continue climbing the table and cutting the gap creating by the season's disappointing start.  Next on the docket:  Marseille visit the Emirates in the Champions League. This is yet another crucial test for the rebounding North London side.  A win here will almost secure the group and their recent form forecasts a strong showing this evening in the Champs League encounter.

Monday, October 31, 2011

MLS Madness: Playoff Update!

If the regular season was any indication of what to expect this year in the MLS Cup Playoffs, the weekend's games proved to be even crazier and more unpredictable than most pundits and fans would have guessed.  If you missed any of the action, we'll catch you up to speed.

The Wildcards:

FC Dallas 0-2 New York Red Bulls
In a cagey, high-tempo matchup in Dallas, the Red Bulls eliminated the Hoops as Joel Lindpere hit the deciding goal from close range.  Thierry Henry iced the cake with another seven minutes into stoppage time.

Colorado Rapids 1-0 Columbus Crew
The Rapids were able to ride Omar Cummings' goal to victory as they put forth a solid defensive performance against Columbus, delivering the Crew's ticket home two years running.

Down to Business:

Real Salt Lake 3-0 Seattle Sounders

Wow...definitely a result that no one predicted!  RSL looked a completely different side that was winless in the last month and a half of the regular season.  And Seattle were uncharacteristically taken apart in their visit to the Rio Tinto.  With goals just before and just after the break, and another just before the final whistle, the Sounders, arguably the most versatile and talented side in the league, will have their hands full crawling out from under such a deficit.  However, if it can be done, Seattle would be the team to do it, as they boast broken records for attendance and goals scored in their home matches this year.  The second leg of this one should be a cracker!

New York Red Bulls 0-1 Los Angeles Galaxy
Certainly the most high-profile matchup so far, the game itself did not disappoint, and there were postgame fireworks to boot!  Galaxy wonder-boy Mike Magee, nudged his side ahead with only a quarter hour gone.  Frustration is a mild term for the emotions experienced by the Red Bulls for it seemed they were simply not supposed to score.  The Galaxy's  Josh Saunders worked miracles between the sticks and singlehandedly preserved LA's lead.  In a furious melee after the final whistle, Rafa Marquez and Juninho were both shown red cards for inciting a hockey-style brawl.  It may prove well for the Red Bulls because Marquez's season long dramatic tirades and antics are more befitting to a third division benchwarmer than a top flight player, not to mention the Mexico National Team captain.  New York will have to make history by winning at the Home Depot Center, but this replay will also be a VERY exciting match.
"Oh, we're just getting warmed up!"
Philadelphia Union 1-2 Houston Dynamo
The Union played host in their first ever playoff match as the Dynamo played spoiler in their first ever win over Philly.  The action was all in the first half, Houston netted seven minutes on and Sebastian LeToux retaliated two minutes later.  The Dynamo completed the win with another goal in the 30th.  The teams will finish the appointment at Robertson Stadium in Houston.

Colorado Rapids 0-2  Sporting Kansas City
Teal Bunbury's brace saw off the Rapids at DSG Park, and the home side was hit heavily by injuries.  An already spread thin Rapids squad will be hard pressed to overturn the scoreline when they travel to Livestrong Park to face an increasing dominant Sporting at home.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Carling Comeback, Arsenal 2-1 Bolton

It doesn't have to be pretty...
The 'Carling Kids' have done it again!  Arsenal dispatched Bolton Tuesday with a brave performance and have progressed to the Carling Cup Quarterfinals.  In an odd twist of fate, Bolton's goal came from a former Arsenal Academy player, Fabrice Muamba.  The competition may stiffen from here on out, but the cup run looks promising as Arsenal await the drawing this Saturday.

All told, the first half was pretty tame stuff.  Perhaps the best news for Gunners fans was the return of center-back Thomas Vermalen a.k.a. 'The Vermanator' into Arsenal's starting lineup.  As usual, it was a youthful side put forth in the cup from the hosts.  Arshavin was given freedom to roam behind the lead striker, much like his role in the Russia national squad.  Arsenal enjoyed most of the possession in the early stages and Ju Young Park had several sharp cracks at goal in the first half.  Darren Pratley led the charge as Bolton briefly asserted themselves but when as the rain began to fall, the hosts resumed dictating the pace of the match.

A wet but content crowd of almost 57,000 vocalized their support throughout the match and they were certainly given more to cheer about in the second half.  However, two minutes from the restart, it was Fabrice Muamba of Bolton who would draw first blood.  It would be interesting indeed to discover Wenger's thoughts as he watched the ball pop into the roof of the net, having come from the boot of a former Arsenal Academy lad.  A sparkling goal and individual effort to be sure...thankfully, the Wanderer's lead would last only five minutes.  Arshavin orchestrated the attack from his free-form position culminating with a retaliatory strike that leveled the game.  The ever-smiling Russian shared the ball and the joy five minutes later when he fed the ball to a crashing Ju Young Park whose clever timing had kept him onside.  The South Korea skipper looped a swerving shot round Bogdan that just squeaked in the far post.  The Professor's face revealed his pride (and relief) but Arsenal were soon forced to defend their lead.  Gary Cahill, the summer's would be Gunner, provided a constant goal threat despite his defensive role in the lineup.  As Bolton pressed to tie the game, Fabianski was tested on several occasions.  Bolton swapped in Chris Eagles and Robbie Blake (both signings Owen Coyle brought along from his Burnley side) and Arsenal countered with Ryo Miyachi and Oguzhan Ozyakup.  Promising runs by each team, but the story of the match had already been told.

Its on to the next round for Arsenal, with eight teams left in the competition.  The selection draw takes place on Saturday and odds are the Gunners will draw a stiff Premier League rival.  That tie falls short of top priority at the moment, however.  Saturday, the Battle for North London commences as the Gunners travel to Stamford Bridge in the London Derby, and then host Marseille Tuesday in the Champions League.  Come on You Gunners!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

MLS Cup Playoffs Underway!! FCD 0-2 NYRB

Last night, in an action-packed wildcard playoff match, the New York Red Bulls traveled to Pizza Hut Park to face FC Dallas in the first postseason game of the 2011 MLS season.  New York just notched their playoff berth with a win over Philly in their final regular season game last week.  Dallas on the other hand were gasping for air after their unimpressive slide in recent weeks.  Either way, both sides had been good enough to make it and both sides looked hungry for a win.

The home town crowd did their part in lifting the Hoops and the first half hour was all FCD.  Dallas had several chances to go in front but the finishing was missing from their play.  New York finally switched on and were clearly happy to have their resident legend Thierry Henry back in the lineup.  Big shots and feverish pace characterized the first half but neither team could shake their opponent.

Lethal Lindpere
The second half proved more exciting than the first and Dallas looked to score by means of a set piece but free kick missed the target by inches.  So many shots in this game would be tortuous to witness as a fan in the stands.  Often when the ball slams into the side netting, without the perspective of instant replay, you're convinced you've got a goal.  This playoff fixture was filled with such attempts, serving to ratchet up the intensity of the crowd's participation.  FCD surrendered the ball cheaply in the 61st minute and Joel Lindpere, NY's clutch man, rifled a shot almost immediately.  The effort was stuffed but Red Bull's Dane Richards collected the rebound and passed to Ballouchy who dangerously slid the ball into the box.  Lindpere would not be stifled twice and easily converted the goal from close range.  Dallas nearly netted an equalizer moments later, but New York's defense was able to hang tough.  With ten minutes left in the game, the Red Bull's had a player sent off for a dangerous challenge and FCD took advantage of the red card.  Try as they might, Dallas could not find the leveler and seven minutes into stoppage time, it was Thierry Henry who put the match to bed.  Seizing on a long ball, the Frenchman strode goalwards and assaulted a threadbare Hoops defense.  His initial shot was blocked, but the front man's quickness allowed him to easily tap in the rebound and effectively silence Pizza Hut Park.

Wildman & Co take on Rapids
The good news is that this is just the beginning!!!  New York play host to the LA Galaxy Sunday (Oct 30th)in the first of a two leg aggregate series.  Tonight in another HUGE wild card showdown, the Columbus Crew face defending MLS Cup Champs the Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. The healthy Columbus side boasts some terrifying offensive options including our own former Charleston Battery forward Tommy Heinemann.  The game can be viewed via for FREE!  Look for another spectacular matchup and don't forget the MLS Cup final in Nov 20th!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Vintage Arsenal Stifle Stoke, Arsenal 3-1 Stoke City

3-1.  The scoreline itself is a tonic to those questioning Arsenal's Premier League credentials.  Not a close scrape, not a last gasp winner, but a solid, confident three goals and three points.  The Flying Dutchman scored yet another brace, this time from the bench.  The tally gives Van Persie 7 on the season and it seems the striker can't keep from scoring at the moment.

Van Persie: Goal Machine
The opening of the game was a quiet one.  A spurned chance here and there but the tone was decidedly in Arsenal's favor.  The quickness of Gervinho had whispered of the impending goal.  Arteta made a move downfield and eventually, the midweek hero Aaron Ramsey scooped a pass over the Stoke defense.  Gervinho collected and brought the goal home.  He showed a good bit of skill to beat the offside trap.  Seven minutes later, the Gunners were guilty of a similar sluggishness.  A seemingly innocuous free kick was dropped into Arsenal's box and Stoke's quick pinball passing resulted in Peter Crouch finding the net.  Throughout the season, that leveling goal has been the Arsenal's undoing.  The break came at a good time for them and the players were able to respond to the familiar situation positively.

Coming from the tunnel, Arsenal exhibited a more attacking edge.  A pair of dangerous crosses signaled the host's intent and once Robin Van Persie took the field, the offensive machine clicked into gear.  Six minutes later Arshavin's introduction only heightened their sense of urgency.  The Gunners were rolling and the goals were on the way.  At 73 minutes, Gervinho slipped a clever cutback to RVP who stabbed home from close range.  It was a lead, but this inspired side were not quite finished.  A close call resulting from Stoke's offensive substitution sobered Arsenal and it was time to complete the task.  With pace, Gervinho glided down the left wing, and again with a slick cutback passed to Van Persie who put the game beyond doubt with eight minutes to play. 

The Arsenal are developing well and are continuing to climb the table.  Gervinho's form in this match was fantastic as he more than adequately played the role of striker and supplier.  Despite its grim beginning, Arsenal's Premier League aspirations are looking better with each match.  Well Done Gunners!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gunners Down Marseille with Late Strike, Marseille 0-1 Arsenal

Snatching victory through injury time, the Arsenal have topped Group F in the UEFA Champions League. A hard-fought match on foreign soil seemed destined to remain scoreless, but the Welsh Wonder dubbed "Rambo", Aaron Ramsey, broke the deadlock with seconds to spare.  With two of their three remaining group fixtures at home, Arsenal are in the driver's seat and look to finish group play with a top seed in the knockout round.

The Stade Velodrome boasts one of Europe's most spirited (and vocal) atmospheres and 1400 Arsenal fans skipped the channel to find themselves in the midst of a fiery cauldron of Marseille support.  Dismantling Dortmund 3-0, the French side were looking to bide their time and use counterattack technique to undue the Arsenal.  Early on, Jenkinson looked impressive down the right flank for Arsenal, spending more time in Marseille's half than ours.  The first half was full of intensity from both sides and thirty minutes into the fixture, either squad had reasonable appeal for a penalty.  Neither would have their complaints heard and for all the back and forth football, it was nil-nil going into the break.  

Jubilant Gunners celebrate 'just-so' victory
The second half was much like the first.  All buildup, no result.  Substitutions on both sides.  Seemingly no avail.  Despite the scoreline, it was an encouraging performance by the Gunner defense.  Undoubtedly, the achilles heel of recent Arsenal performances, the backline was showing a determined solidarity.  It was good play by the hosts and visitors alike, unfortunately nothing could separate the two.  The draw looked inevitable as injury time ticked away and then, out of nothing, a goal!  Second half sub Johan Djourou sent a searching ball into the box.  Nudged ever so slightly by Gervinho, another second half installment, the ball wound up at the feet of Ramsey.  Without a moment's hesitation, the ball was flitted into the net and the match was over.  

The win gives Arsenal 7 points and command of the group.  This side is on the rise and look more dangerous with every game.  The Gunners 'never say die' attitude brought home all three points in this crucial Champions League game.  Look for them to grow stronger as the campaign continues.  Cheers Rambo!!  Come on You Gunners!!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Workhorse Win, Arsenal 2-1 Sunderland

Not every win will be glamourous and glorious.  Not every victory contains the stuff of legend.  However, the workhorse wins and "ugly points" are what it takes to win championships.  Arsenal earned themselves such a win Sunday afternoon.  Those three points lifted Wenger's men out of the cellar of the Premier League and Arsenal are finally sitting at the top half of the table.

Every fan loves goals, there's no doubting that.  But players like Robin Van Persie cause loyal fans problems, leaving supporters kicking themselves for missing by moments the opening of the game.  The goal was scored in the first minute, but lets be a little more accurate:  the goal was scored before 30 seconds had ticked off that big clock on the wall of Emirates!!  The official had barely finished with the opening whistle when Gervinho slipped a delicate pass to RVP who cooly fired the Gunners ahead long before the sellout crowd had even taken their seats!!  Clearly football is a team sport, but in the opening quarter hour of the match, Van Persie was taking on the visiting Sunderland side almost singlehandedly.  On twelve minutes, the Dutchman scuffed the inside left post with a chip reminiscent of his preceding Arsenal legends.  The ball drifted haplessly square across the goal line and was regrettably cleared by a scrambling Sunderland defence.  Arsenal, with tempo and possession were quickly hemming them in.  Three minutes later another RVP strike ripped by the upright.  But this game was not without twists.  With half an hour gone, Sunderland had become the beneficiaries of a handball called against Arteta.  It just so happened that Sebastian Larsson is set piece specialist and given the chance he tied the game by putting the freekick beyond Szczesny's reach.  The effort was laudable, however, it hardly seemed just that the two were on level terms.  Sunderland looked to capitalize on their momentum and pushed for the second goal.  The Gunners left the pitch looking rather sheepish as the first half concluded.

Thankfully, Emirates witnessed a stronger more determined Arsenal emerge from the tunnel.  The home side began to dominate once more and the Professor's attack minded substitutions added aggressiveness.  The tone was set, the roles defined.  The hosts played at arsony, and Sunderland were left desperately putting out flames. The visitors gifted Arsenal a free kick just outside the box with only seven minutes remaining.  The resident clinical finisher took his place and Van Persie confidently scored his seventh of the campaign.  The final minutes featured surprisingly end-to-end football and perhaps both were relieved by the final whistle.  Arsenal had eventually found a way to victory and the unimpressive win certainly nudged them in the right direction.

Onwards & upwards in the EPL!
The win and the points were a relief, but it was the start of a big week for Arsenal.  Wednesday held a trip to Marseilles and a crucial group stage tie in the Champions League.  With confidence and a few more able bodies back from injury, the Gunners toasted the win but began preparations for entering enemy territory.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Dismal Derby, Tottenham 2-1 Arsenal

Well, the international break has given me a chance to catch up a bit, as well as some other things.  During the break, there were some spectacular matchups and a few big upsets as well.  I hope to get to those in a later post, but for now let's take a look back at the infamous North London Derby.

The Spurs could smell the blood in the water and were looking to pull one over on their weakened rivals.  White Hart Lane was rife with anticipation and the hosts took the pitch with confidence.  Coming off a nervy Champions League win at midweek, the Gunners looked timid, fully aware of the test that lay before them.  Tottenham were poised to strike and easily controlled the opening play.  There were faint glimmers of Arsenal brilliance but communication was lacking and the passing was sloppy.  With half an hour gone, the Spurs' Defoe fed Van der Vaart with a lovely cross and the Dutchman forced a save from the Arsenal keeper.  Nerves were subsiding and the Gunners began making good runs forward.  Gervinho edged a shot wide and then it was Walcott's turn to miscue his strike.  The shots were off target but they were finally moving in the right direction.  All that would end in just a moment's notice.  On the 40 minute mark, former Gunner Adebayor lifted a ball over the defense to the waiting Van der Vaart who chested the ball before placing it out of reach in the top corner of the net.  There were several appeals for handball but the play stood.  It was the goal the crowd had been waiting for and the celebrations were uninhibited.  Tottenham surged, looking to finish the tie.  However, after the break momentum had swung in the visitors favor.

Sensing the urgency, the boys in red responded.  Minutes after the restart, Alex Song exploded in miles of space down the left side.  He swung in  a cross at the near post and Aaron Ramsey smashed home the goal.  Until the score, the Welshman had had a disappointing game to say the least.  Arsenal were back in it with the scores level and everything to play for.  Applying more pressure, the visitors were nearly stung by a Spurs counterattack.  Adebayor somehow managed to find himself alone with the keeper, but in a twist of delicious irony, the no-longer Arsenal forward could not find the net against his former team.  Szczesny had one more to add to his bag of fine saves on the afternoon.  Unfortunately, the failed attempt inspired the hosts and they renewed their offensive.  Wenger subbed in Jenkinson for the injured Sagna and installed Benayoun to help protect the young back.  His experience however, was not enough to prevent another Tottenham strike.  Song blocked an effort by Modric, but the ball fell to the Spur's Walker who ripped his shot past an off balance keeper.  Advantage Spurs.  Arshavin was enlisted to aid the comeback with even Mertesacker and Szczesny crowding the box for a pair of corners deep into stoppage time.  It was not enough and Tottenham would see their lead through to completion, taking advantage of a young defense.

Keep it coming!
The win gives Tottenham two in succession over their North London rivals.  Last season the Gunners lost at home to the Spurs for the first time in a decade.  Arsenal did not seem themselves in the match.  There's at least one fan hoping the Gunners can regroup and refocus during the break and finally get the Premier League campaign on track when they host Sunderland at the Emirates this coming Sunday.  A bright side on the day, is that this match was broadcast in the US on Fox immediately following an NFL game.  Ratings numbers were good and this is a promising development for EPL fans stateside.  There is another Fox Sunday afternoon game slated for November 27th featuring Liverpool and Man City at Anfield.  Lets keep those numbers up so we can see more EPL games on regular television!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Seattle Three-peat, USOC Final: Sounders 2-0 Fire

The Sounders have done it again!  Defeating the Chicago Fire 2-0, Seattle claimed the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup for the third consecutive year.  The game had all the makings of a cup final classic, including a record crowd of 35,615.  The two sides are no strangers to the cup and their experience was evident as the teams took the pitch.

Seattle Three-peat!!!
The first half yielded no goals but the Chicago GK Sean Johnson would be happy to shoulder the blame of that statistic.  Seattle's Mike Fucito created several scoring chances for the Sounders throughout the first half but the Fire's defense weathered the storm.  The half ended as Freddy Montero clanged a shot off the bar, but for all their effort, the teams were level at the break.

It was Fucito who looked to ignite the crowd only minutes into the second half, but his effort struck the post as Chicago dodged yet another bullet.  A goal was in the offing and the raucous rave green mass could sense it.  The Emerald City boasts perhaps the most terrifying atmosphere anywhere in the U.S. and the Fire were feeling the pressure.  The Sounders began the barrage and it was simply a matter of time until the levy broke.  With each shot and save the intensity and volume continued to skyrocket.  The Sounder's Erik Freiburg sent in a corner which was met by Brad Evan's on target header.  Once again, Windy City shot-stopper thwarted the attempt, but only to deliver the ball to Seattle's familiar Colombian hero, Freddy Montero.  Needless to say, the Sounder's frontman ripped the ball into the net as the expectant crowd erupted in jubilation.  In desperation, the Fire made a pair of substitutions and began to fight for their equalizer.  Surprisingly, the visitors forced a miraculous save from Keller, but the effort was adjudged to be offside.  Deep into stoppage time, former Charleston Battery player Osvaldo Alonso weaved through a weary Fire defense and slotted home to ice the cake and the game.  The whistle sounded seconds later and the Seattle Sounders made cup history with the 2-0 win.

The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is the oldest cup competition in the country and one of the oldest competitions of its kind in the modern sports world.  Seattle are on of only three sides to ever win three consecutive USOC titles.  Sounder's GK and former US National Captain, Kasey Keller, has said the team are far from finished as they rush towards the MLS Cup playoffs and have progressed to the knockout stage in the CONCACAF Champions league.  Seattle are certainly the most exciting team to watch and will undoubtedly exhibit some fantastic football in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gunners Edge Greeks, Arsenal 2-1

The Professor was in the stands for the second time this campaign.  Coming off the draw in Dortmund, Arsenal needed a strong performance at home to solidify their position in the group.  The "Ox" got the nod, and the stage was set for an important battle.

Plenty of Greek Londoners were in attendance and soon made their presence known.  The game begin quickly and as many were still finding their seats, in the 8th minute Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain had already found the net!  The Ox became the youngest Arsenal Englishman to score in the competition!  He seemed to surprise himself with the effort and no doubt delighted the sellout crowd.  Arsenal were looking dangerous, controlling the game with Mikel Arteta to thank for it.  With twenty minutes gone, Santos was released from the back and went ripping down the left flank.  In moments, the Brazilian had slipped a ball in from a very difficult angle to score his first goal in red and white.  The visitors had conceded but not capitulated.  Seven minutes later, the visitors had halved the deficit and were intent on overtaking it.  Scoring from a corner, the Greek champions displayed tenacity as they battled for the upset.  At the break, Arsenal had the lead but were not controlling the game.  Olypiacos had left the pitch as the more dominant side.  
'The Ox' leads the charge
The second half was more nervy than the first and the Greek champions nearly leveled at the restart.  Arsenal defended their slender lead but the play soon became end to end football, a little too reminiscent of the Dortmund game...The Gunners backline looked as comfortable on the field as Arsene Wenger did in the stands.  After an alarming close-call that left the crossbar trembling, Wenger's stand in, Pat Rice knew it was time to make changes.  Robin Van Persie replaced Chamak who had played an impressive game up front.  Aaron Ramsey came in for a tired Oxlaide-Chamberlain.  Finally Gibbs relieved Arshavin, joining Song who was filling in on defense.  It was a tense game to be sure, but the Gunners withstood the pressure and won the match.  

Santos' first goal for Arsenal!
Although we got the right result, it was a little disappointing to see the Gunners on the back foot against what should have been our easiest competition in the group.  Also, our next two Champs League games are against Marseille who trounced Dortmund 3-0 in matchday two.  The outcome of those two fixtures will have a tremendous effect on result of Group F.  Arsenal may not have played with full conviction today but we still hold second place with four points against Marseille's six.  However, the margin for error is becoming smaller and smaller as the tournement progresses.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Gunners On the Move, Arsenal 3-0 Bolton

Arsenal are moving up the table thanks to a solid win before a near capacity crowd at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.  The day marked Robin Van Persie's 100th goal for the North London Gunners and it seems that the Arsenal have made great strides to improving their form as of late.  The win comes at a good time as the Gunners prepare for their Champion's League match against Olypiacos on Wednesday.

There was nothing exceptional to report from the first half.  Bolton looked to grab a quick goal in the early minutes, but as time wore on, the hosts began to dominate possession.  At the break, neither side had reward for their efforts but that would soon change.

RVP scores 100 for the Gunners!
It was a scant forty seconds after the restart and Robin Van Persie had found the net!  Gervinho lay felled at midfield but the official allowed play to continue.  Moments later, the Flying Dutchman pinpointed the ball just between the keeper and the post.  It was the beginning of a trying second half for the Wanderers.  Van Persie would have several more good looks at goal, but his century for the club came in the 72nd minute.  Walcott stormed the right flank, as he has a habit of doing, delivered a textbook cross, and all the Arsenal skipper had to do was shin the ball into the net.  It was an important moment for the striker, but equally important were the implications for the entire team.  The pressure had been released and the Gunners were free to fire away.  Song added the icing on the cake in the final minute of regulation.  Sagna did the tricky footwork then laid off to his teammate who curled the ball into the top corner of the net with a fantastic shot.

It was a good day for Arsenal and a proud moment for captain Robin Van Persie.  The forwards had freedom to attack uninhibited because of a consistent defensive performance that has been lacking recently.  Laurent Koscielny had a particularly impressive game and contributed a great deal in the 3-0 result.  Arsenal will score goals.  Those goals will win matches when they are paired with equally impressive defensive solidarity.  Next up, the Gunners host Greek Champions Olypiacos at midweek.  This may be their easiest assignment in group play.  Thats why a big result with plenty of goals is what will be required.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Silver Lining At Last, Arsenal 3-1 Shrewsbury Town

It was a day of first at the Emirates this afternoon.  As usual, Wenger used the Carling Cup tie as an opportunity to give Arsenal's young talent a first team debut.  In a nervy first half, the League Two Lions were first to nick the scoresheet and the young guns were lucky to have kept them at bay.  The Shrews ousted Derby and Swansea to book their ticket to Emirates and there was an upset brewing in the early stages.  However, the Professor and his youthful crew held on and staged a resilient comeback to liven the fans and silence some critics.  Its on to the next round!!

Shrews draw first blood
After a pair of Arsenal chances in the first five minutes, it was all Shrewsbury and they stole the lead in only the 17th minute.  The North London youngsters were looking shellshocked as the traveling Shrews fans made themselves heard.  With less than 47,000 in attendance, Emirates was not its usual self this evening.  However, the Shewsbury end was euphoric.  As the minutes ticked away, the host's backline were finally able to settle down and see off the pressure of the Lions attack.  That patience would be rewarded.  In the 34th minute, it would be two Arsenal defenders responsible for leveling the game and restoring some much needed confidence.  A well timed cross came in from Jenkinson on the right and Kieran Gibbs was there to bury his header into the net.  In 57 games for Arsenal, the goal was Gibbs very first.  The score gave the hosts confidence to build on, but the visitors were hardly abated.  A young Arsenal set to work, intent on reaching the next round.

Young Guns fight back
After the break, it was Arsenal who emerged from the tunnel the stronger side.  Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain had been the most promising young gun on the pitch for most of the evening.  In the 58th minute, he secured his status as man of the match.  From a distance of about 25 yards, he collected a short pass, then let loose a screamer of a shot.  Shrewsbury keeper Smith was able to get across, but the shot proved too hot to handle.  "The Ox" was into the books and onto the scoresheet with his first senior debut.  Ryo Myachi was subbed in with nearly twenty minutes to play.  Yossi Benayoun ended the competition by slotting in Arsenal's third goal with only ten minutes of regulation to play.  All three goals were the first recored by the Arsenal players.  At full time, the hosts had seen off a fiery display by the visitors from Shropshire.

The youthful Arsenal squad played well and responded accordingly to early pressure from Shrewsbury.  Oxlaide-Chamberlain was wonderful to watch and is well on his way to a regular first team spot.  Also, Francis Coquelin put on an impressive show.  The only complaint from Arsenal fans may be that Ryo was given only 20 minutes in his debut, but i'm confident we'll see more from him in the future.  Give credit to Shrewsbury Town.  They certainly scared and silenced Emirates early on, and stunned the hosts with chants of "Are you Wrexham in disguise??"  The Lions gave Arsenal plenty to do and the League Two side should be proud of their performance.  Hopefully, Emirates will host them again before too long.  Well Done Shrews!!  And best of luck in the League!!

More Carling Cup News:
Man U trounced Leeds United 3-0.  Stoke bested Tottenham 7-6 on penalties.  Newcastle fought off three Notts Forrest comebacks to win 4-3.  Bolton bettered Aston Villa 2-0 at Villa Park.  The Wolves thumped Millwall 5-0 and Burley came back to beat MK Dons 2-1.

In today's fixtures, Championship Brighton take on Liverpool.  The Bluebirds of Cardiff City battle Leicester City.  Chelsea duel with Fulham and West Brom travel to Everton.  Finally, the Manchester Millionarios take on cup holders Birmingham City.

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