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.

Vela and Wilshire Shine Again… As Usual

Jack Wilshere and Carlos Vela

Jack Wilshere and Carlos Vela have done it again. And is anyone surprised? Wilshere controlled the match and was, by far, the best player on the pitch in last night’s 2-nil victory over joint-leaders of the Championship, West Bromwich Albion, in the third round of the Carling Cup. The youngsters’ Carling Cup campaign opened at the Emirates and though not sold out, there was a sizeable crowd there as always eagerly anticipating a look at the Arsenal starlets.

The first half ended scoreless despite a few great chances by West Brom which forced equally good saves from Wojciech Szczesny. The number of chances gotten in and around the box may be a bit worrying considering Senderos and Silvestre, two players who will no doubt get minutes in the first team this season, were the starting center-back pairing. Senderos missed two completely unmarked headers from successive corners by Wilshere in the first few minutes of the match.

West Brom looked ready to take the fight to the kids but Jerome Thomas’s temper got the better of him around the hour mark. A scrap for the ball that got a bit rough with Wilshere was followed by a kick-out by Thomas and then a slap to Wilshere’s face. Wilshere’s histrionics were a bit disappointing especially considering he had dove outside the penalty area without any contact a few minutes before, but those are just mere blemishes on what was an otherwise impressive performance by England’s new Great White Hope.

Jack WilshereWilshere looked strong on the run, in his dribbles, and his passing, as always, was visionary. We have gotten used to seeing this kind of stuff from Wilshere but what most impressed me last night was his spirit and his strength. Wilshere’s strength has increased dramatically and he was involved in some really rough fights for the ball, including the one with Thomas, and he was never just brushed aside. His determination both on and off the ball and in attacking and defending last night was exceptional and with each performance he looks more and more mature and on his way to being a really complete player.

Despite being a man up since the half-hour mark, Arsenal continued to struggle to break West Brom down well into the second half due to sloppy passing, mistimed runs, and an overall lack of cohesion. The giveaways in midfield left them constantly vulnerable to counterattacks, as well. This was not the Carling Cup side of 2008-09, that was for sure. Yet, on a night, when they didn’t have their game working, they continued on with their shoulders to the wheel.

The introduction of Carlos Vela, making his season debut, at the hour mark changed everything. Arsenal immediately looked more threatening. Coquelin, who showed industriousness but suffered from the malaise that ran through the side, also came off for Randall. The breakthrough came in the 68th minute as Vela, with his back to goal, took the pass and turned his man clearing enough space for quality left-footed drive that was pushed aside by Kiely only to bounce right to Sanchez Watt who finished easily.

West Brom’s defense and spirit was broken at this point and Arsenal began to look like the side that everyone had paid 10 quid to see. The second goal came less than ten minutes later when a deft, and unexpected, chip by Randall came down off the crossbar and Vela snuck in to take the backpass and nudged it over the line. An excellent effort by Randall but Vela deserved a goal for changing the match.

The most impressive thing about both Vela and Wilshire, and this is how they most differ from Ramsey at the moment, is their remarkable consistency. Wilshere and Vela have impressed almost everytime they have stepped onto the pitch. One cannot help but continually marvel at the possibilities that lie in a side that would contain these two a few years down the road in their prime. Both are cheeky, in a good way, supremely confident, and unflappable.

Carlos Vela

I see no reason why Vela should not be used as much as possible in the first team this season once he regains full match readiness. Though I suspect we will seem in Theo Walcott’s former role as impact sub for much of this season. But surely there can be no question of his readiness for regular Premier League football. I thought he was ready for a bigger role last season having proven himself as a regular starter in La Liga.

The same goes for Wilshere. Vela can play on the left of the front three and he could also play down the middle and I suspect he would be equally productive in either spot. Wilshere can play straight across the midfield as well. With these two, Wenger has positional options and you wonder just how long it will be before his hand is forced to get them on the pitch in the more meaningful fixtures.

A slight disappointment for me last night was seeing Nacer Barazite start on the bench. He did finally come on for Traore, whose speed was blinding down the left, in the 70th minute, but it wasn’t really enough time for him to find a rhythm in the match. Barazite is a superb player and the arrivals of Wilshere, Vela, and Ramsey in the past two years have obscured the young Dutch attacker a bit. Barazite is technically gifted and his work in the Reserves and on loan in the last two seasons has certainly merited him a large role in this year’s Carling Cup campaign.

I would hate to lose out on Barazite simply due to a lack of playing time. He is only 19 but he’s been at the club for over three years and I can’t help but wonder if he may be getting impatient seeing Mark Randall and Gilles Sunu consistently getting opportunities in the first team ahead of him.

Overall, not what we had maybe hoped for from the youngsters but a solid win against what is essentially a relegation-level Premier League considering that West Brom look like coming right back up from the Championship. Like every Arsenal supporter, and even though I watch the Reserve and Under-18 matches, I find myself anxiously awaiting the Carling Cup ties and I can’t wait for the fourth-round.