Liverpool Down, Spurs To Go

Personal commitments have gotten to Arsenal Station this week but as a busy week grinds to a close, we look back at the week that was and ahead to the match we’ve all been waiting for.

In Arsene’s 750th match in charge of the club, Arsenal advanced to the quarterfinals of the Carling Cup with another solid Carling Cup performance. And, while it wasn’t quite the all-youth lineup we’ve come to look forward to in recent years, the two players who really shined were youngsters, Aaron Ramsey and Fran Merida.

Fran MeridaMerida let loose  a rocket from just outside thSe box with that precious left foot to give Arsenal the lead early and, following an quality equalizer from Insua and some nifty footwork in a tight spot in the box, Bendtner gave Arsenal the lead for good just after the break.

Rumours abound about Merida now returning to Spain in the summer. He can leave on a free in the summer should he not be able to complete the current negotiations with the club to further his stay.The Sun valuates the youngster at £10m, which hardly matters should he leave on a free.

According to my friend, Jamie, and his always-reliable Young Guns, Merida’s agent has confirmed that they have so far turned down a 5-year deal from the club and that he is currently being monitored by both Atletico Madrid and Sevilla.

Wenger has claimed that he is close to breaking his way into the first team, and that is why he resisted loaning him out again this year despite an offer from Spanish club, Levante. Merida, himself, said he would rather stay with the club than go out on loan again.There is no doubt that the club needs to do whatever they have to to tie Merida down for the foreseeable future.

Both Bendtner and Eduardo had very good matches as supporters were treated to the kind of Carling Cup passing and movement we have come toNicklas Bendtner expect. Kerrea Gilbert showed alot of potential as did Craig Eastmond. Samir Nasri had a very encouraging return to the first team as well.

Of course, it’s not all good news. Fabianski is out again for three weeks with a thigh pull. Meanwhile, Wilshere, Walcott, Rosicky, and Denilson remain unavailable for the North London Derby on Saturday.

Spurs come into the match having won only two of their last six matches in the Premier League having beaten Burnley and Pompey but they also drew away to Bolton, and suffered successive defeats to Chelsea and United.

The clubs are level on 19 points but Arsenal hold third place with a game in hand on goal differential as Tottenham’s flying start seems to have been grounded for the moment. Arsenal will look to rebound from their disappointing 2-2 draw at West Ham last weekend, while both clubs are coming off victories midweek in the Carling Cup.

Déjà Vu, All Over Again

Robin van PersieAs always, highlights are below and are also archived on the right sidebar. Don’t forget to click on “see all videos” at the bottom of the widget for the rest of the highlights from this season and preseason.

Last week, following our last-minute capitulation to AZ Alkmaar, I wrote a post entitled, “Déjà Vu,” which talked about how the result was reminiscent of all those draws, many nil-nil, from last season. I could essentially just copy and paste that entire article only a few days later to describe the highly disappointing draw at West Ham Sunday afternoon. However, I am not quite that lazy (though close). Being days later, I only wanted to talk about the disappointment of the draw and what, if anything, it may tell us about the side, especially when coupled with the draw in Holland five days previous.

The most disappointing aspect of the draw is the fact that we lost the chance to gain three points on United and Tottenham, and two on Money City. Yet, despite the draw, we still found ourselves higher up the table sitting in third place, level on points, ahead on goal differential and a game in hand over fourth-place Spurs. We are also three points behind second-place United but also with a game in hand. That game in hand is home to Bolton and tentatively scheduled for December 2, unless we should advance past Liverpool in the Carling Cup tonight. In that case, we would play the Carling Cup Quarterfinal and the Bolton match would be rescheduled, likely for some time long after the new year.

Emmanuel EboueDodgy decisions abounded at West Ham, not the least Song’s foul on Cole. But also a foul, and penalty, was not given on van Persie’s header in the box where the defender was practically piggy-backing him as he went for the header. There was also a handball not given in the first half. The foul which led to the free-kick and the first goal was just as questionable. However, had we gotten the third goal, the match would have been killed off and even these mistakes would not have changed the result.

For most teams that defend well, “killing the game off” means getting that second goal, or two-goal lead. However, with a defense that has only five clean sheets in its first fifteen matches in all competitions, killing the game off means getting the third goal. We have done it for much of the season, and so this week seems to be something of a anomaly. Whether it will stay that way or Arsenal will lapse back into their 2008-09 form remains to be seen.

However, I don’t think it will. I genuinely think the side has turned the corner in regards to finishing teams off and that this week will prove to be a momentary blip rather than a portent of things to come. Had West Ham’s goals come through more legitimate means, I might not be so quick to make that statement, but, as it stands, it took a few very generous decisions for them to get back in the match. Of course, the decisions in no way excuse fundamental errors from Mannone not parrying the ball away from goal, and Song not carelessly kicking out at a striker with his back to goal, however innocuously, in the box with a late one-goal lead.

So, it’s Liverool tonight in the Carling Cup at the Emirates. Arsene has named his side:

Wojciech Szczesny, Lukasz Fabianski, Philippe Senderos, Kyle Bartley, Mikael Silvestre, Kieran Gibbs, Kerrea Gilbert, Fran Merida, Francis Coquelin, Craig Eastmond, Emmanuel Frimpong, Aaron Ramsey, Mark Randall, Samir Nasri, Eduardo, Gilles Sunu, Nicklas Bendtner, Sanchez Watt

The absence of Vela is the biggest puzzle especially considering that he was interviewed about the match two days ago on ArsenalTV Online. Samir Nasri is expected to get his first competitive action since breaking his leg back in July, and we are also likely to witness the return of Lukasz Fabianksi, not a moment too soon, in my opinion. I’m looking forward to seeing Coquelin and Merida as well as Emmanuel Frimpong. I expect a mixed side from Liverpool as well.

After this midweek diversion, it is back to the Premier League and Spurs at the Emirates on Saturday. There will be plenty time to build up to that match starting tomorrow, but I just wanted to let all my fellow-American readers know that Saturday morning will be the first time Arsenal have ever been broadcast in the United States in High-Definition on ESPN2HD.

Arsene at the AGM

The most glaring difference between this and the last AGM is not the shareholders’ attitude. It is Arsene. His demeanor was completely different this time around, and with good reason. Though that reason may not be down to results entirely.

Arsene Wenger StatueOf course, we still get Arsene’s standard lines about “belief,” the “real spirit in the team,” etc…. But this time around he seems to genuinely mean it. I can’t remember an Arsenal side in all the 12 years I’ve been watching them have as much inner turmoil as last year’s side. It all began with the departures of Flamini and Hleb but subsequent rows between Gallas and Toure and between Adebayor and the supporters. Something obviously wasn’t right, no matter how many times Arsene talked about “spirit” in his post-match interviews and pre-match press conferences.

And he has said that last year was the most stressful of his tenure. It was also the season of least returns as far as his workload was concerned. He worked harder than he had in most seasons but only received more grief and stress as a result. After the way he was treated by a small faction of supporters and the media, it should not have been surprising had he made the pact with el diablo, Real Madrid.

But Arsene’s supreme confidence in this team won out. And he has been rewarded with a very good start to the season and a new outlook from many fans who were highly disgruntled last season at this time. In contrast, Rafa Benitez finds himself in the same position as Arsene last year, having lost 4 of his first 9 league matches. And the pressure is on him now.

Especially considering that Arsenal retained their Champions League place due to a big turnaround on our part and a collapse by the unprovenArsene Wenger in the crowd Villa. Benitez and his Champions League place, however, are being chased by Money City and a revitalized Spurs side and they won’t let Liverpool off as easy as Villa did Arsenal last season.

But Arsene has stuck through another rough patch and the team, despite the pundits insisting that Arsenal are not a contender, is ready to put in a serious challenge for the league and the Champions League. Last season was a bitter experience for all of us but it was like an unnecessary growing pain necessitated by half our midfield deciding to leave for “big clubs.” A setback like that in a team’s development could only take some time to overcome. It was a hiccup, a speed bump, on the road to the complete realization of Arsenal’s third side. And that is what we are watching now.

Arsenal face off against a West Ham side that is winless in their last six Premier League matches with 4 losses and 2 draws. Gianfranco Zola is under pressure considering his side have only 5 points from their first 8 matches and currently sit in the middle relegation spot between Portsmouth and Hull City. Fabianksi, Eduardo, and Senderos are available but Tomas Rosicky’s knee did not come through in time to get in the squad. Bendtner was awaiting a late fitness test yesterday and seems likely to at least be included in the squad. Come on you Gunners!