Reflections on Milan and Wenger Addresses “Cesc-gate”

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So, just a few thoughts on the Milan match…

Nasri continues to shine in the middle of the park. So far this summer we’ve seen him create and score goals, play high and deep, and generally show consistent creativity. He looks a much different, much better player than when he arrived two summers ago. At the moment, if there need be such a thing, he looks every bit the heir-apparent to Cesc.

Koscielny put in the most reassuring performance of the day. He showed intelligence with good positioning and timing, something necessary to overcome his sleight frame. I still don’t know if he’s first XI material right now, but he seems able to do at least do a job for us.

Also, I just don’t understand how some people have said Vela should be sold. Ever since his introduction in the Carling Cup, it’s been obvious, to me at least, that Vela has as much potential as any other young player at the club. In fact, with a full La Liga season wide left, he’s probably more developed than our other young players. He’s always a threat when he’s on the ball and he is a player who can create goals and make something out of nothing as we saw in his move today.

I also have to single out Wilshere and Frimpong. I could say the same thing about Wilshere’s performances this summer as Nasri’s. Arsene said in the press conference afterward that Wilshere stands to play some games this season. Frimpong was maybe the victim of overzealous officiating but showed he has the motor and tried to show he has the aggressiveness to be a suitable backup for Song.

Finaly, in what has been our most extended look at Chamakh, I have to say I was impressed. He seems more a fit with the side than I had previously thought. His drag-back, back heel  to Arshavin was brilliant and his goal was extremely well-taken.

All in all, I think we put on a good display for the first 75 minutes. After that, subs changed around the formation, finding Djourou at defensive midfield, and Milan finally put together some real pressure. The defending on the free-kick is less upsetting than familiar, which makes it downright disturbing.  Still, for me, there was more to be positive about on the pitch than negative.

In the press conference following the match, Arsene once again was forced to address questions about “Cesc-gate.” In what were his most forceful statements yet, Arsene said that only Cesc could clear the air and stop the inquest upon his return on Thursday. He then said that Barca had “given up for some time.”

That statement makes me wonder whether he means that they had given up some time ago or for some time. The latter doesn’t seem too unlikely considering Wenger keeps speaking about the five years Cesc has remaining on his contract. When asked if he believed Barcelona “had a case to answer for” due to their conduct this summer, the Boss said, “Yes.” It is obvious that Wenger is resolute in keeping Cesc even beyond this season and that he is disgusted with the behavior of Barca’s players in the media especially Carlos Puyol, whom he singled out during the press conference.

The Dream is Still Alive!

…and the march goes on. A last-gasp winner from Nicklas Bendtner removed millions of Arsenal supporters all over the world from the precipice of despair and ruin. I, personally, had spent the last 5-10 minutes of the match mentally preparing myself to accept the end of our title challenge. And then… Denilson was able to get a shot from over 35 yards on goal and with enough movement to trouble a mediocre keeper who then ridiculously made the simplest of keeping mistakes… don’t parry the ball back in front of goal. But there were a ton of talking points and controversial moments on a day when Arsenal refused to let our title dreams die.

Arsenal started very brightly with the first goal coming inside the first 15 minutes, a rare occurrence this season. A very fluid string of passes eventually led to Arshavin being able to take on two defenders into the box and produce a great finish with his laces. Hull had no handle on the match whatsoever, until the referee handed it to them.

The Offiside Penalty Dive

Let’s be honest… have you ever seen a player looking more for a penalty than Vennegoor of Hesselink? He made no attempt to play the ball, only to get directly in front of Sol and, when there was not the immediate contact he anticipated, plopped face down. He only lucked out that after he was already going down Sol gave him the slightest of contact with his raised knee from behind. On the replay, you can see that he was so much more concerned with getting in a position where he could go down than with playing the ball because his movement in front of Sol found the ball on the BACK of his neck. As Alan Shearer said on Match of the Day, a man with the ball on the back of his neck and falling down is hardly enjoying a “clear, goalscoring chance.”

So I don’t see how Phil Brown can claim Campbell should have been sent off. Especially considering that Vennegoor of Hesselink was offside to begin with. Brown is complaining about a missed call on a run of play that only materialized because of a missed call. Ironic, idiotic, or just unattractively desperate? You decide.

The Sending-Off

I also don’t see how there could be any complaints over either of Boateng’s bookings. The first came after he put his hand in Bendtner’s face twice. The second after that ridiculous tackle on Sagna. The challenge was so high and mistimed that, if it wasn’t malicious, you really have to question the player’s overall ability. The commentator said it was a “silly” challenge, but that kind of language trivializes the tackle. It was dangerous, pure and simple. Had Sagna’s leg been planted, he could have sustained serious damage to his knee. Andre Marriner let some tackles go early on and these kinds of challenges are the direct result of both the culture of the English game and that type of officiating. I am not saying it was malicious, but it was reckless.

Sol’s Tackle

Apparently, Jon Champion was claiming that Sol should have been sent off for his challenge on Zayatte. The same people whose main occupation last week was “Defender of Ryan Shawcross” and the English game are the ones complaining about Campbell’s challenge. Sol’s tackle was strong, well-timed enough to get the ball first, and perfectly fair. His feet were on the ground, his studs were down, and he was completely playing the ball. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t that what everyone was saying they loved so much about the English game only a week and a half ago? The media’s double-standard against Arsenal is sometimes subtle, but, at other times, is just blatantly obvious-as this blog often points out.

Sol was caught for pace a few times, as he has been in every match so far and will be in every match to come, but he has made up for it with a combination of intelligence and experience. Yesterday, he was forced to deal with Hull’s loan-striker, Jozy Altidore. I have watched Altidore since he was 17 and the kid is fast and strong. Yet, Sol did his best and kept Altidore to only one real half-chance, which he dragged wide of goal early on. The signing of Campbell can now be seen as, if not a masterstroke, then certainly a very prescient decision by the Boss. Campbell is what we didn’t have last year when Gallas went out injured at almost the exact same time of the season. Then we were forced to play Silvestre, whose inability due to to age to be able to deal with Drogba cost us our FA Cup run last season. And while we would all rather have a fit Gallas back there with Vermaelen, the situation is not nearly as desperate as it was last season.

The Dream Continues

Somehow, we have done it again. No team has scored more goals than Arsenal in the last fifteen minutes of the match. We had a similar dynamic in 2007/08 when we snatched results in the dying moments on an almost regular basis beginning right with the very first match of the season home to Fulham. It shows a level of fitness, determination, and spirit when a team regularly snatches results from the jaw of fate. There are 8 matches remaining and we are now level on points with Chelsea, though they have a game-in-hand. United play later today and the pressure will be on them to match the results of us and Chelsea. We now face West Ham at home, who Chelsea just beat 4-1, and then Birmingham City away before the Champions League Quarterfinals. Sandwiched in between those two legs will be a visit by Wolves. Make no doubt about it, the Birmingham City match will be anything but straightforward as they have punched above their weight all season and despite a recent run of indifferent results, will be buoyed by their result against Everton yesterday.

The paths to the title and the European Cup are laid out right in front of us. We can just about see the trophies peeking out over the horizon. 13 mountains, though, stand in our way and we must climb them one at a time. We have the confidence, we have the momentum, and, most crucial of all, we have the belief.

NOTE: Since my primary guest contributor, Ted Harwood, has accepted an offer to write an Arsenal blog for SBNation, I am looking for a new guest contributor, preferably an American Gooner, but I will consider anyone that can write well. Also, I have fixed the videos by replacing those that had been deleted from their respective host sites.

Arsenal Rely Too Much on Samir Nasri

Obviously the title is a swipe at those “pundits” whose favorite criticism of Arsenal for the past two or three months was that Arsenal relied too much on Cesc Fabregas. As if it’s a bad thing to have Fabregas playing the best football of his career. I said it a hundred times in the last few months but, in no way, do Arsenal rely on Fabregas in the way that United over-rely on Wayne Rooney, especially considering that the club’s second leading goalscorer behind Rooney is the other team… own goals!! That is pathetic. Even Chelsea look just better than average when Drogba isn’t on top-form, as witnessed over the last 4-6 weeks.

Arsenal showed up to play last night and they hit the bricks running, playing some of the quickest and deftest football of the season in the first half. And all without Fabregas. Samir Nasri gave a glimpse of what Arsenal’s post-Fabregas-era might look like. He took control of the Burnley match after the skipper went off and picked right up where he left off. His hold-up play, distribution, vision, and sheer industry was just magnificent. The goal itself was beyond magnificent. It was absolutely stunning. It really says something about the depth of this side that despite a number of significant injuries they continue to not only win but win in their usual style.

Nicklas Bendtner shrugged off the criticism of a few days ago from nearly all corners to give Arsenal a 2-nil lead within the first half-hour. Like I said after the weekend, Bendtner had just had “one of those days” against Burnley and the most encouraging thing about his performance was how he didn’t let either his performance at the weekend or the criticism of it affect his self-confidence. That is a sign of a growing maturity on Bendtner’s part. He has been criticized for his cockiness, but that is exactly what allowed him to step back on the pitch only 3 days after the events against Burnley and score a hat-trick in the most important European match of the season so far.

This Arsenal side continues to go from strength to strength. The freak events of the first leg were responded to with an emphatic performance to overcome a first-leg deficit in Europe for the first time since 1978. Belief and confidence continues to grow throughout the side and their is a commitment and togetherness that we haven’t seen in a while, certainly not at all last season. We are through to the Quarterfinals of the Champions League and four straight wins find us 2 points off the top of the Premier League. We are still very much alive in both competitions and no one questions whether or not this Arsenal side have the desire and the talent. Now we have the opportunity to finally turn it into silverware.

ARSENE WENGER POST-MATCH INTERVIEW