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.

Monday, September 19, 2011

And...Two Steps Back, Arsenal 3-4 Blackburn

It was a dark and dreary day at Ewood Park, much like the football fortunes of Arsenal as of late.  The Arsenal attack showed some real promise, having nearly pulled level in stoppage time.  However, two own goals was simply too much to overcome for the visitors.

On paper, it looked to be a simple confidence building exercise for the Gunners.  Blackburn were dead last in the table and Arsenal were fresh off a frustrating but solid draw at Dortmund in the midweek.  Things were beginning to look up and the first half reflected such.  With only ten minutes gone, Gervinho scored a brilliant goal.  Opting for touch over power, the Ivorian slid a trickling ball past the keeper inside the far post.  Almost a mirror image of the previous strike, Blackburn's Yakubu delivered a creeping ball past Szczesny to pull the hosts level.  Arsenal maintained possession and pulled in front once again.  Ramsey found room on the right of the final third and picked out Arteta in the box.  The Spaniard punched the ball high into the roof of the next.  The Gunners now played with intent and sought to kill off the fixture.  Try as they might, the two goal lead evaded them going into the break.

The second half seemed extracted from an entirely different game and the Arsenal squad looked an entirely different team.  Within four minutes, Blackburn were chomping at the bit having equalized for the second time.  A deep foul allowed the hosts a well placed free kick and an indifferent Arsenal defense watched the ball come off Song's knee and go quietly into their own net.  Before the hour mark, Blackburn pulled ahead as Yakubu netted his second on the day.  While replays certainly indicated the Rover man was offside, it doesn't really matter if the line judge didn't call it.  Arsenal responded immediately, but the offensive led to a Rover's counterattack...which led to another Arsenal own goal.  Blame it on the weather, blame it on the new signings and team chemistry, it doesn't matter what you blame it on: there is never an excuse for two own goals.  To their credit, the Gunners responded well.  Song made way for Chamakh and he found the net after four minutes.  A lifted cross from Van Persie was all he needed to push his header through.  A frenzied finale saw two excellent chances by Van Persie and Mertesacker thwarted by Robinson.  The comeback was not to be.  Blackburn escaped with all three points, whether the result had been earned or gifted. And the North London Gunners had certainly earned theirs.  

It was just that sort of day...
Its gone from bad to worse for Arsenal in the Premier League.  The loss marked a record-breaking poor start for the Gunners in the domestic campaign.  Thankfully, next on the docket is League Two's Shrewsbury Town in the Carling Cup.  A win here could be a shot in the arm for the ailing Arsenal side but the hosts had better not take the Shrews lightly.  Both clubs celebrate their 125th anniversary this season and it should be a lively tie.  In recent years, Wenger has opted for a youthful side in this competition, but since wins have been in such short supply, we could see an experienced XI take the field at Emirates Tuesday afternoon.  It should be a good match and hopefully Arsenal can regain some lost confidence ahead of Saturday's match against Bolton.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

And So it Begins, Arsenal 1-1 Dortmund

UEFA Champions League is underway!  Yesterday, fans witnessed some spectacular matches between European giants in the first round of group play.  Chelsea trumped Leverkusen and Porto dismissed Shaktar with a missed penalty to boot.  In dramatic fashion, AC Milan and Barcelona finished 2-2.  Pato silenced Camp Nou 30 seconds into the match but the Rossoneri would be a goal down shortly after the half.   Stunning the Catalan's and stealing a point, Thiago Silva's equalizer came late in the second minute of stoppage time.
Arsenal travelled to Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund for their most difficult appointment in group play.  As of late, there are very few teams on the Continent who have stepped onto that pitch and not been victimized by a footballing master-class.  The BVB Stadion is one of the most difficult places to play in Europe with a sellout crowd of over 80,000 hardcore Dortmund fanatics present at nearly every single match.  To escape the grounds without suffering a loss is indeed an accomplishment.
In the opening stages of the match, the visitors absorbed heavy pressure from the Dortmund offensive.  Gervinho had a good shot blocked not five minutes in, but the hosts soon settled in and attacked relentlessly.  The young Japanese ace, Shinji Kagawa proved lethal in front of goal in Dortmund's title winning season last year and his form has only improved.  Mario Gotze nearly broke the deadlock in the 10th minute, but a last gasp clearance by Bacary Sagna saw the ball off the line and kept the Londoner's in the match.  Arsenal gained ground and possession but were forced to fight for every inch.  As the half was drawing to a close, Robin Van Persie robbed the Dortmund defense with an incisive slide tackle, cleverly slotting the ball to a waiting Walcott center-field.  The two were clearly on the same plain; in moments the Dutchman raced forward, receiving a perfect through ball, and stung the net before Wiedenfeller had even read the play.  
The fans were no less vocal in the second half, almost in defiance of the goal deficit.  Some brilliant link up play saw Gervinho fall just short of what would have been the decisive goal in the 59th minute.  A Dortmund resurgence was not enough to penetrate a determined Arsenal defense whose stingy back-line was a salve to many ailing Arsenal fans.  The boys in Red and White had bent without being broken.  It seemed that Dortmund were spent and the Gunners had pulled it off...almost.  Four minutes from time, the hosts were awarded a free kick.  The initial effort was blocked, but in a sublime volley, Dortmund's Perisic found the absolute top corner of the net with a shot you couldn't help but admire.  In the final seconds, Szczesny snatched a critical save and preserved a point for Arsenal.
The draw was certainly a disappointment for Wenger's men, given the run of play.  However, the match as a whole was a colossal success.  Arsenal's defense showed some real grit and consistency in the face of a difficult opponent and a tough stadium.  The group should get easier from here and Arsenal will look to secure the top spot and easier draw in the next round.  For now, its time to refocus on the domestic campaign and prepare to face Blackburn at Ewood Park on Saturday.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Champions League Preview!!

As always, the Champion's League group stage throws out some tantalizing match-ups.  This season's fixtures are no exception.  The draw seems to be quite balanced this go-around and soccer fans will enjoy some fiery competition.  
Uefa Champions League Group Breakdown:
• Group A
Bayern Munich | Villarreal | Manchester City | Napoli
The "Group of Death" might be Group A with Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich, big spending Man City, Spanish contenders Villarreal, and Italian side Napoli all in the mix.  Barring a major upset, Bayern and Man City will likely see off their competition.  The winners of this group are bound to make a deep run in the competition.

• Group B
Inter Milan | CSKA Moscow | Lille | Trabzonspor
Having completed a treble-winning season two years ago, Inter Milan will be the favorite in Group B.  There is a considerable amount of talent in the remaining teams; expect fierce competition for the second spot.

• Group C
Manchester United | Benfica | Basel | Otelul Galati
The Red Devils have certainly lucked out and find themselves in the most plush group of the tournament.  Benfica should progress from the group but may go no further in the knockout round.
• Group D
Real Madrid | Lyon | Ajax | Dinamo Zagreb
This should prove another exciting compilation.  Expect Real to carry the group.  Its difficult to peg the second spot.  Ajax typically specialize in young talent, Lyon are Ligue 1 leaders, and Zagreb bring Eastern European flair to the table.  Definitely a group to watch.
• Group E
Chelsea| Valencia | Bayer Leverkusen | Genk
Chelsea are the predictable favorites.  We could see a slugfest between Valencia and Leverkusen to make it to the knockout round.  A champion from Group E?  Probably not.
Dortmund's Fortress: Signal Iduna
• Group F
Arsenal | Marseille | Olympiakos | Borussia Dortmund
Another lively group, this one should be fun to watch.  Arsenal/Dortmund will have the first two spots.  Both could have a great run in the tournament.  Arsenal need to turn Emirates into a fortress to succeed; Dortmund already have that reputation.  Marseille may put up a fight, but will have to overcome great odds to progress.  
• Group G
FC Porto | Shakhtar Donetsk | Zenit St Petersburg | APOEL
Portuguese Liga & Europa Champs FC Porto should dominate the field.  With increasing European experience, this side may dream to achieve something more this season.  The remaining sides are relatively soft, Zenit will likely grab the second berth.

• Group H
Barcelona | AC Milan | BATE Borisov | Viktoria Plzen
Barca are definite favorites to lift the trophy again.  An icon of the European football landscape, the Rossoneri look to make their mark again this year.  BATE have shown quality in recent years but have a tall order to escape the group.  The Czech champs face a grim outlook, given a tough group draw. 

A Step in the Right Direction; Arsenal 1-0 Swansea

Arshavin's trademark celebratory smirk
Arsenal's win over Swansea at the Emirates this weekend was shaky, but three points are three points.  The Gunners opened the match brightly and had several good scoring opportunities early on.  Five minutes from half time, the Swansea keeper misjudged a clearance throw and tossed the ball into his own defender.  Like a hawk, Arshavin snapped up the loose ball and found the net from an impossible angle.  After the break, the hosts struggled to kill off the tie.  Give credit to Swansea; the league's new boys played with spirit.  And while the closing minutes were rather nervy, in the end Wenger's men finally got the right result.

Wojech Szczesny looked solid in goal and the Professor will be happy to have last season's goalkeeper issues at bay for the moment.  The goal was certainly a boost for Arshavin who has been quiet as of late.  Arsenal's new signings proved their mettle, with Mikel Arteta looking particularly sharp in the midfield.  It will still take some time for the many new signings to gel with the established squad and program at Arsenal but the win was certainly a step in the right direction.  Arsenal fans will agree, Saturday's match was the true start of Arsenal's EPL campaign and look to leave August's embarrassing results in the past.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Deal Is Done!

So the transfer deadline is over, and the international break has given us the opportunity to take a look at some this summer's important trades. We'll analyze the top few transfers with a particular focus on Arsenals many transactions in the offseason.

1. Cesc Fabregas.  The young Spaniard was certainly the center of attention this summer and his move from North London to Barcelona crowded the transfer headlines and rumors.  In a deal that cost the Spanish giants 34 million euros, the former Arsenal skipper returns to home to the club that trained him in his youth.

2. Samir Nasri. Quickly following his teammate, the talented Frenchman has stepped across the Premier League table to ply his trade for Mancini's men at Manchester City. The midfielder's services were purchased for 25 million euros.

3. Sergio Aguero. Athletico Madrid's young breakout forward has made the switch to Manchester City as well. Deadly in front of goal, the lad looks to be a possible replacement for Carlos Tevez. The change was made for 38 million euros.

4. Samuel Eto'o. The Cameroon international surprisingly moved to Russian side Anzhi from Inter Milan. The outstanding striker moved east for 28 millions euros.  With 37 goals in Inter's last campaign, finding the net can only get easier for Eto'o in the Russian league.

Forlan moves to Inter
5. Diego Forlan. Selling team Athletico Madrid dispensed of the Uruguayan for only 5 million euros.  Inter Milan snapped up the 2010 WC Golden Boot winner and expect him to fill the shoes of recently departed Eto'o. Fresh off a Copa America title, Forlan looks to make an excellent start with his new Italian club.

6. Maarten Stekelenberg. Holland's top goalkeeper is also headed to Italy. Roma snagged the Ajax man for a bargain at just over 6 million euros. At 28, the Dutch keeper is in his prime and should serve Roma well.

7. Manuel Neuer. Germany's No. 1 has made the switch from Schalke 04 to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich. It may take some time for the fans to warm up to him, but his talents between the sticks will make it pretty easy. The fee was 18 million euros.

8. Arturo Vidal. The young Chilean is moving to Juventus for 10.5 million euros.  After four years at Bayer Leverkusen, the dynamic defensive midfielder will look to establish himself in Serie A.

9. Nuri Sahin. Turkish international and lynchpin to Dortmund's title-winning side, Sahin will be expected to bring home the trophies with his new club Real Madrid.  The Spanish powerhouse aquired him at only 10 million euros.

10. Gervinho. As Arsenal look to boost their title-winning chances, new signing Gervinho could be an important piece of the puzzle.  The Ivorian frontman comes from French side Lille at a cost of 13.5 million euros.

11. Javier Pastore. Big spending PSG look to solidify their position in Europe with their latest acquisition. 'El Flaco' has moved to the Parc des Princes from Palermo for no less than 42 million.

12. Juan Mata. The Valencia man will look to add some bite to Chelsea's offense; making the switch for 26 million euros.

More New Faces at Arsenal:

Miyachi makes 1st team
1. Rio Miyachi.  The promising Japanese youth is listed as a striker but has proved skillful in numerous different positions. He makes his debut with the first team after being on loan with Dutch side Feyenoord.

2. Per Mertesacker.  The acclaimed German defender could be the perfect solution for Arsenal's persistently leaky back line. Switching from Werder Bremen, this last minute signing could be crucial this year.

3. Mikel Arteta.  This Spanish midfielder brings a wealth of European experience to the Emirates. Most recently from Everton, Arteta has featured for Barcelona, PSG, Rangers, and Real Sociedad.

Santos joins Gunners
4. Andre Santos. The Brasilian defender comes to North London from Fenerbache, having playing extensively in his home country as well. Santos has excellent defensive qualities but can be expected to spark attack runs as well.

5. Yossi Benayoun. The Chelsea man is on loan with the Gunners for the year.  The Israeli international has played for Liverpool and West Ham as well.

6. Carl Jenkinson. The English defender comes from the League One side Charlton Athletic. He joined Arsenal at the beginning of the summer and has done well throughout the preseason.

South Korea captain joins Arsenal strike force
7. Park Chu-Yong. The South Korea skipper leaves French side Monaco. His experience will prove valuable in the upcoming campaign.

8. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Coming from Southampton, the young forward is quick on his feet and a perceptive passer. As he continues to develop he could see a long career at Arsenal.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Battery Standout Makes Name for Himself in MLS

There are good games.  There are great games.  And if you're lucky, you may happen to witness some dazzling jewel of a football spectacle.  Last Saturday at Centurylink Field in Seattle, there occurred such a match.  By the billing alone, it was destined to be an incredible 90 minutes as Eastern Conference leaders the Columbus Crew looked to upset the streaking Seattle Sounders, one of this season's west coast powerhouse sides.  History was not in Columbus's favor and by the end of the afternoon, fans and pundits alike would be overawed with the glut of goals and shattered records.

Things began quickly for the hosts as the former Charleston Battery striker and USL-2 League MVP Lamar Neagle made the most of a quick throw in, jetting past the Columbus defense.  With barely three minutes off the clock, Neagle fired an honest, powerful shot that proved too much for the grasp of William Hesmer, the Crew goaltender.  An already rampant Emerald City crowd were given more cause for celebration as Mauro Rosales tacked on another in the 16th.  The goal resulted from an unlucky penalty decision against Columbus's Balchan who had already had a bad day.  Five minutes later Neagle bagged his brace as the hometown hero executed a skillful volley from a long cross.  It had been all Rave Green up to this point...and the trend would continue.  On the forty minute mark, Mike Fucito netted his first of the season and Seattle broke the MLS record for first half goals scored, ending an almost perfect 45 minutes.
Triumphant Sounders Trounce Columbus
Things began to look just a little better for the visitors in the second half...but only just.  Another penalty decision gave Jeff Cunningham opportunity and he converted to break yet another MLS record.  With the goal, Cunningham now has 134 in his MLS career, passing Jaime Moreno of DC United.  Assuming the black and gold had reason to celebrate, Neagle's hat-trick in the 70th demolished that notion.  Unequivocally his best goal of the day, an inspired shot from distance punished the crossbar, touched just past the line, and then soared back out of the net.  The lad had just marched into the history books with nearly 37,000 fans chanting his name.  Three minutes later, the Crew would score from a free kick just outside the box and in bizarre irony Josh Gardner would negate his own strike with an own goal less than a minute later.  Ending 6-2, the game proved a picture perfect example of the thrill and tradition of Major League Soccer.  So ended a historic day for the Emerald City and a superlative display by the unstoppable Sounders.
Congrats Lamar!!

It was a fantastic day for the Seattle Sounders, a feather in the cap of Major League Soccer, and career day and world class performance for Lamar Neagle.  The young forward began the season fighting for a roster spot and has continued to impress and grow throughout the season.  Number 27 has started 9 games and appeared in 21, logging 869 minutes this season in all competitions.  Neagle has scored six goals and registered one assist.  The match was certainly Seattle's brightest of the season so far.  Pushing for another record, the Sounders will appear in the US Open Cup Final against the Chicago Fire on Tuesday October 4th.  Should they win, they will be the first team to win the USOC three years on the bounce.

We Battery Fans congratulate Lamar on a fantastic day and an incredible achievement, wishing the best from the Palmetto State.

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