Thursday, 22 March 2012

Everton 0-1 Arsenal: 'One nil to The Arsenal' song returns!

Despite recently great times at Arsenal, we haven't heard the famous 'One nil to the Arsenal' song from the Arsenal fans much lately, as Arsenal have kept coming from a goal down to win their last four games.

And yet it was sung with such passion and joy last night after Thomas Vermaelen (perhaps one of the best goalscoring centre halves of all time) glanced in Arsenal's winning goal with 8 minutes gone.

I was sat next my Everton supporting Dad in the Everton crowd last night and he was berating Everton's start to the match, claiming Arsenal could have been 4-0 up after about 10 minutes. Aaron Ramsey failed to finish off a nice move early on and Arsenal had a lot of possession, looking like the Arsenal we've been used to seeing in recent years, playing fabulous football; stylish, comfortable and confident. And it was another Ramsey effort that deflected out for the corner that led to Arsenal's goal, Van Persie wipping a corner in from the right hand side of the Glawdys Street end with his wand of a left foot, right on to the head of our super Belgian defender Vermaelen who glanced it in to the far corner. Cue music to my ears as the nearby away end cheer and celebrate the goal before choruses of 'Thomas Vermaelen' and 'One nil to The Arsenal'.

Arsenal were terrific for the first 20- 30 minutes, their keep ball and defending were both very impressive, and they created the odd chance or effort on goal too. One of the big surprises of last night was that Robin Van Persie didn't score, who had great chances to make it 2-0, the first of which was shortly after we went 1-0 up, after a delicous move, and a couple of efforts in the second half, one hitting the post and another slicing over the bar with about 6 minutes of normal time remaining, where he appeared to unfortunately lose his balance a bit.

In the second half we backed off a bit and allowed Everton to build up a bit of a head of steam, but to be fair, we remained solid and resilient and Wojchiech Szczesny didn't really have many saves to make. The back four was very resolute and solid, much like a red and white brick wall.

I was enjoying the sound of our noisy away fans throughout the game, as well as our solid defending and pretty football. The main aspect of last night's game was probably the back five. Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen and Gibbs were all very solid, and even a threat going forward. Gibbs bombed up and down the left flank, leaving Royston Drenthe chasing shadows, much to the annoyance of my Dad. This was perhaps an intelligent tactic, making the most of Drenthe's lack of tracking back, as Arsenal looked dangerous down that side in both halves.

Vermaelen was my man of the match though, heading and clearing away every ball in sight, as well as staying positionally sound and getting the all important winning goal. Laurent Koscielny was also fantastic, bringing the ball out of defence very well and defending very well himself, making a fair amount of clearances himself and making his great reading of the game a pain the the backside for Everton's attackers. The centre back pair were everywhere whenever Everton attacked. Sagna was his usual solid self and, he too, provided a threat going forward. Alex Song in midfield was also maginificent, so good at the pass and move side of our game as well as being so good at the defensive side of the game, as usual. He was probably the best midfielder on the pitch last night; dominating, authoratative, solid, strong, with very good positional sense and maturity, and his attacking attributes were all there too; his passing was very good, he looked creative and he kept the ball very well and just showed overall what a fabulous midfielder he is nowadays.

If we can keep that back five fit and playing together, we could achieve a lot over the coming seasons. All of the them are very solid, resilient and mature, and have goals and creatvity in them (apart from Szczesny of course, in terms of the goals and creativity!) And we weren't coming up against numpties last night, Everton are a good side, with plenty of threatening players, and let's not forget that they've beaten Man City, Chelsea and Tottenham in their last three league home games without conceding a goal. Whereas we went there and won without conceding a goal ourselves, which backs up the point that our defensive unit is very strong at present.

We additonally played excellent football last night, kept the ball very well for most of the game and created chances with our nice football, which was even being admired by Everton fans. It was like the Arsenal of old and a great thing to see. Whenever Van Persie got on the ball, we looked dangerous and the likes of Rosicky, Ramsey, Song and Arteta dominated the midfield very well and kept the ball excellently. Even the centre backs looked extremely stylish and comfortable in possession, Laurent Koscielny almost dribbled his way through nearly the whole Everton team at one point.

Match Of The Day seemed to make it look like a lucky win, but we created plenty of chances for an away game and dominated the first half, while having the majority of possession, therefore we played very well and deserved the win. Maybe if we had the chief pundit's best mate as manager, we'd get more favourable punditry.

Overall, it was a very good win and a near perfect night- Arsenal winning, Chelsea and Liverpool losing and Tottenham dropping points. All that propels Arsenal up to third, above Tottenham and 6 points clear of 5th placed Chelsea. We are also 8 points clear of Newcastle and 13 points clear of Liverpool. So things are looking very good indeed.

So it was a classic case of 'One nil to The Arsenal', perhaps quite ironic after our recent record breaking run of four games of coming from being 1-0 down ourselves to win. Also, the form of this ever- improving Arsenal team was maintained with great effect last night. Let's keep it up with three points on Saturday!

Come on you Gunners!

Match Ratings:

Szczesny 7
Sagna 7+
Koscielny 8
Vermaelen 9
Gibbs 8
Song 8
Arteta 7
Rosicky 7
Ramsey 7
Walcott 6
Van Persie 7

Gervinho 6+
Djourou 6

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Wembley Waits, and Melted Butter Crisps

I was hoping to be excited about a trip to Wembley by now. However, Sunderland have denied me, and several thousand other people, that wish. Everton drew with Sunderland 1-1 in what was an enjoyable day, with a very good, entertaining first half.

I'm not too optimistic about Everton getting to the semi- finals now, as I'm not too convinced that they will win at Sunderland in the replay. They might, but I don't particularly fancy them at this moment in time. Both teams are on a par with each other really, roughly at the same level, and home advantage could be the decider of the replay. Form could also come into play, which doesn't bode well for Everton- their games prior to the replay with Sunderland being Arsenal (H) and Swansea (A) whereas Sunderland's are Blackburn (A) and QPR (H) so they have the easier games on paper and I would expect them to be going into the Everton game on better form than the Toffees.

But all is not lost and they are in the draw tomorrow, which is the main thing. It's not exactly like going to Barcelona and getting a result, it's only Sunderland, so Everton have a decent chance of pulling off a result that would make me, my Dad and many other Evertonians very happy.

Also, I was pleasantly surpirsied by our seats for today's game, a good view and not too far back at all. Just at the right level actually. The only problem was a pillar blocking part of the goalmouth/ penalty area of the Park End, but overall, they were good seats compared to what I was expecting.

Another little glitch on them was that they happened to be right next to the seat where a young girl was sat, eating some awfully smelling crisps! I don't why, but they seemed to smell like melted butter, which was horrible. It might not have been them, some wierdo behind us could have been eating a bar of butter, but I suspect that's unlikely and that the girl was the culprit! She had a bag in the first half, then another (or maybe she was still on the first one) in the second. Very smelly. It made the Bovril smell I've sometimes complained about at the football smell like a bunch of roses.

Anyway, our much eagerly anticipated trip to Wembley is on hold. How long for? Hopefully just a few weeks, rather than a year or few, or more. There's perhaps a 40% chance of us getting there, but who knows what the result will be in the replay with Sunderland? Especially in the cup.

In conclusion, Wembley is still possible this season.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Everton v Sunderland: Does Wembley beckon for the Lee's?

This is a big game. Not for Arsenal. But for me, and my Dad. We are both desperate for another trip (or two!) to Wembley this season. In four weeks time, I could be writing an article here about a semi- final at Wembley, involving Everton. I hope I will be.

I was very confident about Everton progressing until Liverpool beat them 3-0 on Tuesday night. That has raised doubts in my mind about a trip to London in a few weeks, as I'm sure it has to many Evertonians. Also, Sunderland are a decent team, although I think Everton are better, and with home advantage, Everton should win this, particularly considering their good record at home to Sunderland in recent times. Then again, Martin O' Neill has a very good record against Everton, including at Goodison Park. So it's going to be interesting.

Everton have a near full strength team available and Sunderland have Stephane Sessegnon out, so that's good news for Everton. Heitinga and Jelavic (aka 'Jellyfish') should return to the side and given Everton's recent home form, I'm reasonably confident they'll at least be in the draw on Sunday.

On a personal note, I'm quite excited about tomorrow. I like the occasional lunch- time kick- off. It means I get to get up early and set off early. I like that, Saturday's longer and it's nice to get straight into it when my day begins. A nice drive over, get to my Grandparents' house and have a lovely brunch. Sausages, bacon, beans, hash browns, you get the idea. I'm getting hungrier just thinking about it! Then a drive to Liverpool and walking to the ground.

I'm not too happy about the seats tomorrow, not getting our usual seats, which have a great view. Instead, we have been rewarded for our loyal support by being displaced into the main stand, several rows further back than usual and one of our seats being an 'obstructed view', which I'm not too keen about because a lot of unobstructed view seats in the ground are actually partially obstructed. Plus, I've never sat in an obstructed view seat before so don't know what to expect.

But anyway, I'm still looking forward to the game. The seats can't be that bad... can they????? Aslong as Everton win, I'll be happy though. For once, that's what it's about tomorrow. If ever I've wanted Everton to win, it's tomorrow's game. I'd like it to be entertaining too, but that's just a preferance.

I'm eagerly anticipating this one, cup atmosphere, plenty at stake, and for some reason I fancy there to be a fair few goals. We are due a thriller at Everton after all!

Looking forward to it! 3-2 to the Toffees I'm saying!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

'Relentless' Arsenal too much for Newcastle

The word 'relentless' was used by Arsene Wenger after the game last night, and I think it was a good choice of word. Arsenal WERE relentless and Newcastle couldn't live with them. The intensity, the resilience and the quality were all there in abundance last night, and it showed what a very good side this Arsenal team can be on their day.

Things just seem to be going for us at the moment, and it's one of those rare times as a football fan where this is happening for your team. And it's great. Even when we went one nil down last night, I immediately still felt confident that we would turn it around. And that equalising goal straight away summed us up at the moment.

The team just came out of the blocks from the first whistle and showed Newcastle no mercy. It was great to see from an Arsenal fan's point of view. I liked how the intensity and pace of our game has increased in recent weeks, and I believe this has been  a big factor in our recently superb form. The pace of our attacking is quite irresistable and
But there are other times, like the second half against Tottenham and last night, where he looks unstoppable. His pace is a priceless asset, but he seems to be using it much better now. His crosses into the box and decision making last night were top class. He set up two goals and might have set up more had it not been for poor finishing from other players. He was all over the place, top class and deserved his man of the match award. Let's hope he can just add consistency to his game and keep this form going. He could be a massive weapon for Arsenal in the closing stages of the season.

Monday, 5 March 2012

UnSong Hero

Alex Song is the unsung hero of Arsenal. I think he gets a lot of praise from Arsenal fans and Arsenal players, but outside the club, he doesn't seem to get the credit he deserves. If Luka Modric, Steven Gerrard or Paul Scholes had played some of the passes he's played this season, pundits and the media would be raving about it like mad.

Some of his passes and assists this season have been terrific this season. We've had two good examples over the last week, with his assists for Walcott's second goal against Tottenham and Van Persie's second goal against Liverpool. They were both magnificent passes and his creativity has been key to Arsenal this season. He has really stepped forward this season as more of an attacking force, more and more as the season has gone on, and he should only get better at this side of his game as he gets older over the next few years.

One thing he can be frustrating with is holding onto the ball too long. Sometimes he gets the ball and stalls too long, or takes too many touches before passing and that often ends up in us losing the ball and the opposition building an attack, so he needs to work on that.

But, to be fair, he's generally very solid defensively. He's strong, quick, fit and is a good tackler. But this season he has added this creativity and attacking mentality to his game. I do think this had negatively affected the defensive side of his game, as more gaps seem to be appearing between the defence and midfield, especially on counter- attacks. So, what he and the coaching team and manager need to do at Arsenal is find the right balance with him and instruct him when to go forward, and when to stay back and cover the defence. He can also have a shared, well communicated responsibility with his fellow midfielders, like Arteta, so we always have one midfielder sitting in, protecting the back four.

He is generally a marvellous player, who has come on leaps and bounds since around 2008 when he actually looked quite dozy. He is one of the Premier League's finest midfielders now and I geuinely wouldn't swap him for a lot of players most pundits would have you believe are better than Song, such as Modric. What can Modric do that Song can't?

And, did you know that Alex Song has more assists this season than Luka Modric and Scott Parker combined? He is a fantastic player that Arsenal need to tie down to a longer term contract as soon as possible. People talk about sorting out Van Persie's contract, but Alex Song's contract situation shouldn't be much further down on the priorities list. (His contract runs out in the summer of 2013, like Van Persie).