Tag Archives: Blackburn

Birmingham. Bradford. Blackburn. Bayern…Boro?

Over the last few years, we’ve had more than our fair share of run-ins with lower sides who have given us more than a run for our money. Heck, they’ve taken the money and run. In 2011, Birmingham cruelly snatched away the League Cup. In 2012, it was Bradford’s turn, this time in the League Cup semifinal. Let’s add in the 2013 FA Cup fourth-round scare we got from Brighton; a few weeks after that, in the fifth round, Blackburn knocked us out. Collectively, we could call them the Killer B’s. The B-List. Could Middlesbrough—Boro—become an honorary member on Sunday?

We’ve had some rough draws over the last few years in almost all of the competitions, whether they range from the lowly League Cup to the mightly Champions League: the aforementioned Bayern (twice). Borussia Dortmund in the 2012-13 Champions League group-stage, and them again along with Napoli in the 2013-14 Group of Death. Chelsea in last season’s League Cup. Almost the entire 2014 FA Cup. Southampton in this year’s League Cup, before anyone really knew how good Southampton would be (“we lost to Southampton before losing to Southampton was cool!” Meh. Doesn’t quite work as a rallying cry yet).

Finally, after several years of drawing some intimidating opponents, we’ve drawn a few “softer” ones, such as the aforementioned Brighton, but also down-on-their-luck Hull, and, in the Champions League, a Falcao-less AS Monaco. Progress, in other words, has seemed assured. This weekend, we’ll face Boro when we might have drawn in-form Liverpool (with just one loss in their last 14 outings, and that a hotly contested one against Chelsea in the League Cup) or Man U (with just one loss in their last 17 outings, to Southampton…). Are the cup-draw fairies finally smiling on Arsenal, or do they just have a twisted sense of humour? Yes, we’ve dodged Blackburn and Bradford, who face Stoke and Sunderland, respectively, but we’ll come up against a wolf in sheep’s clothing in Middlesbrough. They may not qualify for the B-List by their proper name, but we’d do well to be wary of them all the same.

After all, they did just dismantle Man City at the Etihad in this competition’s fourth round, they sit atop the Championship, and they’ve conceded a league-lowest 20 goals to date. Anyone want to place bets on whether they’ll be a bit tougher to beat than lowly Leicester, sitting last in the Prem? On paper, of course, we’re supposed to trounce Boro, but if these competitions were played on paper, well, we wouldn’t have to play on the pitch.

Make no mistake: Middlesbrough will hardly be content to play the role of countrified rubes who show up and goggle at the tall buildings and sophisticated people of London. They mean business. Our own lacklustre form in our last two outings should serve warning enough that we’d better be on our best behavior. Membership in the B-list might ordinarily be restricted to those clubs whose names officially start with a B, but I’m sure they’d be willing to admit Middlesbrough should the Smoggies upend us as they did Man City.

Let’s hope we can repeat if not improve on the last time we faced this club—a 2-0 win way back in 2009.  In that match, a 19-year old Theo Walcott had a fair few chances at finding the back of the net but was spurned each time. Something tells me he’ll help us forget those wasted moments, not to mention the wasted chances against those other B-list clubs…

What was Arsenal's worst loss of the season?

I hope it’s not too much of a buzzkill to dredge this subject up, but I thought I might maybe sneak this in while we’re still celebrating Champions League qualification, St. Totteringham’s Day, and all the rest. A spoonful of sugar, perhaps. Last year, we had to deal with the 8-2 debacle at Old Trafford, a humiliating destruction that hung over us for most of the rest of the season. This year, thankfully, we never conceded more than five goals (to Reading? at least we won…) or lost by more than two. Improvements, to be sure, but more to be done. In the absence of such a shocking scoreline this year, what, then, sticks out as the worst loss, either symbolically or strategically?

At first, I was drawn to the 3-1 loss to Bayern. It was a home-loss, it all but ended our European adventure, and it was the first time a German team won in England. It echoed last year’s 4-0 loss at AC Milan in many ways. However, as soon as we drew Bayern, we all but knew that it spelled our demise. After all,  Bayern had terrorized the Bundesliga and are hell-bent on winning the Champions League after falling short last year and in 2010. In fact, because we answered so famously in the second leg, the sting of that loss is all but forgotten. The long-shot nature of progressing here or beyond inure us against feeling too much lingering bitterness.
No, instead, there are two losses from the year that are going to chafe at the taint for a while, and both of them ended our best chances at actual silverware this year, extending The Drought for yet another year. By now, I’m sure you’re thinking along with me: the quarter-final loss to Bradford in the Capital One Cup and the 5th round loss to Blackburn in the FA Cup. Both were embarrassing at both levels (symbolic and strategic). We lost to far-inferior teams despite fielding full-strength squads, crashing out of competitions in stunning fashion. Which one is worse, though?
At first blush, the Bradford loss stands out. We must have a dozen players who each out-earn the entire side. We sent out Szczesny, Sagna, Per, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Coquelin, Podolski, and Gervinho against a League Two club and lost. By contrast, in the previous round, we featured Martinez, Djourou, Miquel, Frimpong, Gnabry, and Chamakh and won 6-1. If we had hoped to intimidate Bradford, it seems only to have backfired. That we needed a last-gasp goal from Vermaelen to even get to extra time, much less penalties, is ridiculous (no disrespect to the Bantams). Lastly, heaping even more misery on ourselves, Chamakh and Vermaelen missed, and Cazorla had his shot saved to concede the game infamously to Bradford. Had we won, assuming that the next-round draw had remained the same, we would have faced Aston Villa and would have gone on to face Swansea in the final. Both of these would have been eminently winnable games.
Our other option is the Blackburn loss. The gap between the two of us is not nearly as considerable as it is between us and Bradford, but it’s still quite large. They were relegated to the Championship this year after ten in the Prem, and they’d even won the league championship in 1995. However, this was another game we really should have won with ease. Even if we did have one eye on the Bayern match three days later, we again sent out a squad full of first-team regulars with Szczesny, Monreal, Koscielny, Vermaelen,, Diaby, Rosicky Arteta, Ox, Coquelin, Giroud, and Gervinho. The fact that we went on to lose to Bayern seems to have deflected attention away from this one somewhat as it became “just” the first of two losses in a row, and there was barely enough time to feel its sting before we had to prepare for Bayern. However, we had to go in knowing it was our best last-chance at a trophy. Had we won, all other things staying the same, we would have faced Millwall, then Wigan, and then Man City in the final. Perhaps not quite as winnable as Swansea in the Capital One final, but still well within reach.
We might have simply written off the Capital One Cup as beneath us, and even winning it might not have offered us much consolation even if it would have ended The Drought. Even if some among might sneer at the Capital One Cup, a trophy is a trophy. Winning it might have been nice, if only to get the monkey off our backs and allow us to relax just a little. It’s more than a shame to have let it slip through our fingers when it could have been so easy. It should have been. We could have exacted some revenge on Swansea for the earlier 2-0 defeat. We simply underestimated Bradford and the Cup, thinking that the name “Arsenal” should be enough to win games for us. Lesson learned.
Or it should have been. Instead, we went into the Blackburn match knowing that the FA Cup was the only silverware within reach. We were 21 points behind Man U in the Prem and would have to beat Bayern, then Dortmund, Real, or Barca in the UCL. In one of my first-ever posts,  I lamented this loss bitterly. This, even more than the loss to Bradford, cut me to the quick. It seemed to slam shut a coffin-lid whereas the Bradford loss merely slammed shut a door. I’m not ashamed to admit that I wept–but it was “manly” stuff: a tear or two rolled down my cheek, jaw clenched, etc. I didn’t even care how we would  do against Bayern. My mood darkened anyway, as that loss rolled into the 2-1 loss at White Hart Lane. 
However, we all know how the story unfolds. Yeah, we’ve gone another year without a trophy, but we finished famously. For as depressed as I got back there, I’m going to savor the celebration at the end of the season more than I’ll rue the maelstrom in the middle.

Arsenal 0-1 Blackburn: A Bitter Pill

Theo, I wanted you on from the first minute.

I’m vexed. Fuming. I don’t know what to say. For the second time in a season, we’ve crashed out against a team we should have rolled like an R in French 101. Instead, we’ve been dumped like someone’s second cousin taken to prom. It started with a side notable for a number of exclusions–Sagna, Wilshere, Walcott, Ramsey, Cazorla, and Podoslki all started on the bench. For a man who claimed that we take the FA Cup seriously, I’m not sure I understand Wenger’s intentions here. I respect Diaby, Rosicky, the Ox, Coquelin, and Gervinho, but I do not necessarily want all of them on the field to start in a match we claim that we need to win. If I’m blessed to start in a game like this, I do look around and wonder, “why am I playing instead of Walcott or Wilshere? Maybe this game is less important than Tuesday’s match.” I can see resting one or two regulars, but six? The message is all too clear–let’s get through this match with our fingers crossed.

Rosicky in particular was an odd choice, given how rarely he’s played. He’s among my favorites, but he had to be a little rusty. And there’s something about Gervinho; as wonderful as he apparently is for Cote D’Ivoire, he’s horrid for us, evinced yet again by his howler in the 36th when he had just the keeper to beat. As it is, this all amounts to the proverbial rearranging of deck chairs on the Titanic. We now go into a Champions League match against Bayern, not that I care. Even if we had won this match, I see progress in the Champions League as a distraction from other goals, reduced though they now may be to finishing 4th or higher in the Prem.

Blackburn came out and did exactly what we might expect an “overmatched” team to do–they parked the bus and soaked up our pressure, pressure that we ourselves released undermined by spurning chances. Yes, we took 26 shots (12 on goal) to their 6 and 3, but that’s not what it seems. Sure, strategy usually dictates that a team outshoot, and thereby outscore, the opposition. Not so when the opposition’s strategy is to put as many men between ball and goal as possible and hope for the occasional counter. This strategy makes all the more sense when you consider that all of the pressure is on Arsenal, and that we are not particularly well-known for knuckling down. The more time that passed, the more nervous we seemed to get, and the more nervy Blackburn got. Faced with circumstances like these, it almost seems as if a bit of reverse-pyschology might have been clever–instead of pouring forward relentlessly, trying to score through a thicket of 10 or 11 defenders, why not give the ball away a bit, letting Blackburn stretch themselves across the field, to invite ourselves on a few counter-attacks of our own? Yes, it’s true–passing a ball around seven or eleven times at a stretch amasses certain statistics, but there are no trophies for time of possession.  Surely, Podolski or Cazorla or Walcott might have enjoyed and exploited a few openings left in Blackburn’s back four better than Gervhinho or Coquelin?

Indeed, by the time Wilshere, Cazorla, and Walcott joined the fray, the team’s nerves must have been wound tighter than Gatsby’s before meeting Daisy in private. The dread that had built up over 70 minutes must have been nerve-wracking, made all the more-so by Blackburn scoring mere minutes after they came on. Now, it’s been twenty-odd years since I played competitive soccer, and it was American high school soccer at that, so I know full-well that my next comment comes with that, um, context. When we would go go a goal down, I would react with grim determination, pride, and rage. I reacted as if my mother, my sister, my ethnicity, and my height (what little there is) had been insulted. Whoever had scored wasn’t trying to win a soccer game; they were trying to take and destroy all that I cherished. Aside from Jack, I didn’t see anything similar from this bunch. Too many–Arsene included–treat a surrendered-goal as a calamity from which recovery is impossible. Sure, there was an frenetic uptick, but, as Ernest Hemingway once said, “never mistake motion for action.” Yes, we were kicking the ball and running around and bumping into people, but it lacked purpose or definition. On one hand, this marked the first period of the game when something akin to urgency could be measured. On the other, it resembled far too much the urgency of a chicken after its head is lopped off. Sadly, this must have been Blackburn’s plan from the start: sit back, wait, and hope something happens. Even if we do little else but parry, eventually, Arsenal will crack under the pressure.

Yes, I know full-well that this pressure is something that you and I and all of the other Gooners out there have helped to build up. We demand and cajole and beg and condemn. For a glorious period, we were spoiled by some of the best and most-beautiful soccer around, winning accolades and trophies. Now, we have gone through a bit of a weaning, and it has been difficult. The FA Cup is gone. The Champions League is a dream. The only binky we have now is 4th place in the Prem. Let’s crash out of the Champions League (with dignity) and then go after each remaining Prem game with the cold-hearted determination that each match will demand. Bayern, do with us what you will. I’m looking ahead to Aston Villa and, yes, Spurs, upon whom I hope we unleash the all of the fury that this defeat has inspired.

Blackburn vs. Arsenal Preview

Tomorrow’s match invites Blackburn in for a 5th round FA Cup match. We haven’t seen them since last year’s 7-1 thrashing because they were relegated. I faced Blackburn last night on the Wii and did quite well, with Walcott netting twice and Giroud once. Final score, which I’ll offer as a prediction for tomorrow’s match: 3-0. Alright, alright–I know it’s not quite the same. After all, I haven’t earned enough points to purchase Szczcezczny yet, so Almunia’s in goal, but it still serves as a decent proxy, I believe.

Wilshere blows past the Rovers’ D…on the Wii.

In real news, Vermaelen will be back, as will Gervinho, and we may see some rotation. I’d like to see Wilshere rested after his injury against Sunderland, and Kos might still sit to rest his calf. Here then is who I’d like to see: Giroud, Walcott; Podolski, Cazorla, Ramsey, Arteta; Sagna, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Monreal; Woj. Gervinho had a nice run in the Africa Cup, so I would like to see him come on, probably for Walcott if only because they’re fairly similar in their skill-set and approaches. Time will tell.

On the Blackburn side, they seem to have a number of issues. The Rovers will also be missing a number of players: Josh Morris (cup-tied from time at Rotherham and Campbell), DJ Campbell (on loan from QPR), and then a bunch of injures: Dunn, King, Hanley, Best, Etuhu. I don’t know these players all that well, but having seven players out makes us look like we’re positively fit as fiddles. Leading scorer Jordan Rhodes broke his nose but did play in their Wednesday match, so we’ll almost certainly see him.

Both teams are on tidy little 5-game undefeated runs, and one of those will have to end tomorrow. Apologies to Blackburn, I do with you well in your battle to earn promotion from the Championship, but my goodwill ends there. The Gunners will, I pray, finish this before it even gets a chance to start. See you in about 24 hours…

Blackburn vs. Brighton: Prelude to an FA Cup-tie

Tuesday’s match between Blackburn and Brighton should be interesting in that it gives us one last look at Blackburn ahead of Saturday’s 5th round FA Cup match. We met and beat Brighton in the 4th round of the FA, thanks to a late goal from Theo Walcott (see vid with thanks to arsenalist).

Blackburn has been on a bit of a run lately, having three wins, two draws, and a loss coming into the match against Brighton. They’re on their third manager of the year in Michael Appleton, who seems to have righted the ship somewhat since a very shaky start. Of particular note would be their striker Jordan Rhodes, who has scored 19 goals in all competitions this year, which includes a streak of seven six consecutive games with a goal (broken in last weekend’s against Ipswich when replays changed his goal to an own-goal against the Ipswich keeper). Last year’s January transfer window had him going to Spurs, Everton, or Newcastle (before we scoff, Newcastle was in the thick of things last year) when he had 29 goals in 33 games for Huddersfield. Simply put, he seems to have a nose for goal. Replicating that success on Saturday is an open question but not one to take lightly given our recent encounters with the likes of Bradford and Brighton.

Overall, Arsenal has won 58 of 119 matches against Blackburn with the two sharing 31 draws (leaving 30 wins to Blackburn for those of you slow on the math). The two met twice last year, one a 3-4 loss at Ewood that included own goals from Koscielny and some guy named Song and that left us in 15th place after five games, and the other a 7-1 thumping at the Emirates that put us in 5th place after 24 games, two points behind Chelsea.

As of this writing, it’s Blackburn 1-0 at halftime thanks to a goal from defender Scott Dann. Once highlights are available (for some reason, American cable just doesn’t cover second-tier British soccer), I’ll skim through ’em to see if there’s any meaningful previews beyond what can be gleaned from various youtube clips  in which Mr. Rhodes scores goals set to insipidly inspirational music.