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.