International Break – Gunner Recharge!

The international break which started from Monday, October 4, 2010 has been a welcome one for all the Gooners ( My assumptions are based on my own feelings, so the previous statement might not be 100% accurate) One wouldn’t even bother asking why. 3 EPL games. A maximum of 9 points at stake. The opponents, Sunderland (Away- The Stadium of Light), West Bromwich Albion (Home- The Emirates Stadium) and Chelsea (Away- Stamford Bridge) And what do the Gunners do? Come away with only 1 point, dropping 8, 5 out of which were wholly unnecessary.

But enough of the whining. I have already vented my frustrations about the first two matches of this infamous trip and so I should turn to the temporary Champions League respite before tackling (Pun unintended!) the blue heartbreak at Stamford Bridge.

Arsenal 3, Partizan Belgrade 1. Location: The FK Partizan Stadium. Definitely a night to smile for the Gooners, esp. after the Sunderland and West Brom games. Arsenal fielded a squad missing their talismans Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie, as well as important first-team players like Thomas Vermaelen, Theo Walcott etc. Samir Nasri, another player who has been in fine form for his club side this season, was on the bench, giving company to Gael Clichy, Laurent Koscielny, Emmanuel Eboue and Carlos Vela. However, the 11 men that walked onto the pitch in yellow and redcurrant that night, were far from inexperienced. And after a shaky start, also involving the temporary loss of floodlights, they definitely showed their intent and hunger to win.

It was a game that had everything. 3 penalties, penalty misses, great saves from both goalkeepers, 4 goals, smiles for the away fans, and of course, some entertaining football!

The win was also a relief ahead of a tough encounter with the West London Blues on their home ground. For the past few seasons, Chelsea has been the hurdle Arsenal has not been able to clear successfully, their last win against their local London rivals coming in the November of 2008 – a memorable 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge. Since then, however, the Gunners have seemed woefully inadequate to deal with the sheer physical might and presence of the current title holders. And just the name ‘Didier Drogba’ is enough to put fear in the hearts of the Gunner faithful. The Ivory Coast hitman has become a nemesis to such an extent that he has put 12 goals in 13 games (including the match in question) past the Gunners and he seems to personally relish every match against the Arsenal.

Chelsea 2, Arsenal 0. That was the final score at Stamford Bridge on the 3rd of October, 2010. But there was something else that didn’t quite fit the ‘same old story’ scenario. Another ingredient that made, even the realist in me, smile. Through the heartbreak and frustration of that Sunday. When we let slip chances faster than sand can slip through a closed fist.

Thoughts from that week?

– It was a very important away win in Belgrade. Not just for the 3 points and to keep on par with joint group leaders Shakhktar. But for the Arsenal morale and confidence.

– I couldn’t be more pleased to see Arsenal scoring more goals through headers. It has been one lacking skill in our armoury in the past seasons and I am happy to see this change, especially with the entry of the tall Moroccan Chamakh. Nice to see Squillaci open his Arsenal account as well.

– I have to say that I was happy to see Lukas Fabianski put in a superb performance. Aside from letting Cleo score that initial penalty, he made some excellent saves and made up for that conceded penalty by saving the second one. His reflexes definitely kept Arsenal in the game and prevented Partizan from grabbing a point or making life uncomfortable for the Gunners.

– It was even more heartening, despite the 2 conceded goals, to see Fabianski put in a much improved performance against his personal demons against Chelsea. He was confident, assured and though not completely water-tight, he showed quite a few glimpses of the talent and potential Wenger saw in him when he signed him.

– Don’t get wrong though. I am in no way saying that either Almunia or Fabianski are going to turn out to be top-notch, world class keepers. But consistent perfomances like in those 2 matches and they can help save more points for the team, than they concede. And to be very honest, performances like these, combined with a more solid defensive show can certainly help the Gunners from dropping crucial points and challenging for the title. Yes, we do need a world class keeper in the ranks of Shay Given or Maarten Stekelenburg. But lack of defensive support and protection has also played a part in making Almunia and Fabianski appear a lot worse than what they really are.

– Did we miss RVP and Fabregas in the Chelsea match? Of course we did. Both of them are top-class players that would be missed in any squad in any part of the world, whether their team won or lost. But I don’t think that is an excuse for our loss.

– Arsenal retreated into their old habits of missed chances and this was not a consequence of missing any injured players. The Gunners had two amazing opportunities to score in the first TWO minutes, and basically get a solid lead and mental boost. And they wasted them. Missed chances that definitely came back to haunt them. Once when Didier Drogba pounced on mistakes by the back four to slot in against the pole. And the second time when Alex scored a scorcher of a free-kick that left Fabianski rooted to the spot.

– However, in stead of being depressed about yet another loss to the men in blue, I made myself get some distance and saw some of the definitey positives.

– For one thing, Chelsea did not overpower or outplay the Gunners. Wenger’s Boys (and Men) were able to hold their own physically and even defensively for most of the game. This is a certain improvement from last season’s fixtures.

– So much has been said and written on the subject that all I can do is hope for Arsenal to get back to winning ways against Birmingham City this weekend. A Champions League game against joint Group H leaders Shakhtar (and a return for Eduardo) as well as tough trips to the Eastlands to play the currently 2nd placed Manchester City, and to St. James’ Park to play Newcastle United in the Carling Cup, await.

Till next time then. This is the Gooner Girl signing off on yet another busy week!

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