Archive for the ‘Matches’ Category

Up against the wall, Wenger’s warriors show their worth

Arsenal’s north London derby day fixture had the potential to destroy the club’s season, and hand an added emphasis to Spurs’ achievements this season, and after half an hour it didn’t look good for Gunners fans. However, when faced with adversity, Arsene Wenger’s men showed a will to win, determination and a drive that has been missing for large portions of the season, and defied the Betfair football odds to claim a well-deserved 5-2 victory.

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AC Milan vs Arsenal preview: Difficult first leg in Italy could make or break tie

Arsenal travel to take on AC Milan at the San Siro on Wednesday night, and Arsene Wenger will be hopeful of getting a similar performance and result to the one recorded the last time The Gunners visited the Giuseppe Meazza. The north London club beat Milan 2-0 away from home at the same stage of the Champions League in 2007/08, and there is no reason why those lucky supporters traveling to watch Arsenal play in Milan won’t witness a similar outcome this time round.

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Andrey Arshavin strikes to complete glory night

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How Arsenal can beat Barcelona

Powered by article titled “Three lessons for Arsenal before they take on Barcelona” was written by Sid Lowe, for The Guardian on Tuesday 15th February 2011 08.00 UTC

1 Internazionale

Champions League 20 Apr 2010

Much is made of José Mourinho’s ultra-defensive approach to the semi-final second leg against Barcelona last year but Inter did actually lose that game and, but for a poor decision from the referee in the final minute, would have lost the tie. A far better performance came in the first leg at San Siro – the first time Guardiola’s side had been beaten by more than one goal. Mourinho’s team combined tight defending with physical pressure, quick counterattacking and an awareness, above all, of the space behind both Barcelona full-backs. They were helped though by Barcelona’s marathon coach trip to Milan


Internazionale 3 Barcelona 1

2 Sporting Gijón

La Liga 12 Feb 2010

As David Villa put it: “Sporting managed to do to us what no one else has done to us and stop us playing.” “It can be hard,” Pep Guardiola said, “when a team puts nine or ten men behind the ball and denies us space.” Manolo Preciado built two solid lines, close together, ceded territory and possession and funnelled Barcelona into traffic. They had not so much parked the bus, one newspaper noted, as parked the airbus. Sporting got the opener on a swift break from the edge of their area but were pinned back in the second half. Barcelona were also stymied by the absence of Sergio Busquets and, in the first half, Pedro


Sporting Gijón 1 Barcelona 1

3 Real Madrid

La Liga 29 Nov 2010

On the morning of the game at the Camp Nou, Gonzalo Higuaín could be seen hobbling round the team hotel. Most assumed that Mourinho would take the opportunity to replace him with an extra defensive midfielder and play deep. Instead, emboldened by Madrid’s results until that moment, his team played high. But they did so without the pressure that makes that approach work and, once Barça got the first, they were sunk. Lionel Messi sliced them open, finding space behind for David Villa to punish them. Madrid couldn’t get a kick. Of the ball or, even, of their opponents’ legs


Barcelona 5

Real Madrid 0 © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Jack Wilshere says Arsenal are ready for Barcelona challenge

Powered by article titled “Arsenal will give Barcelona a tough test this time, says Jack Wilshere” was written by Dominic Fifield, for The Guardian on Sunday 13th February 2011 22.30 UTC

Jack Wilshere believes Arsenal have learned the lessons from their chastening Champions League elimination by Barcelona last season and has called on his team-mates to “be a bit nasty” by “getting in the faces” of the Spanish team during a daunting tie, which begins at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

Arsène Wenger’s side are set to be boosted by the unexpected availability of Samir Nasri, arguably their most consistently impressive player this season, with the France international having recovered from hamstring damage sustained in the FA Cup fourth-round win over Huddersfield. His return would add to Arsenal’s attacking options, though Wilshere and his team-mates will be just as intent on nullifying a Barça team who have scored 71 times in La Liga already this campaign and won 6-3 on aggregate in last year’s quarter-final.

“I was at the Emirates Stadium for the first game against Barcelona last season and they were brilliant, especially in that first half,” said Wilshere. “I was in Bolton [on loan] for the second match and watched on television but I remember we basically played our game, passing it around. This year we have to get in their faces and show them what we’re all about. When we have the ball, we’ve got to keep it as well as they can. We’ve got to change our game a bit to play against Barcelona – we’ll learn from last year, but we need to get in their faces and, if you like, be a bit nasty, in a footballing sense, to get the ball back.

“We have to press them as a team – there’s no point just one of us going after them, so we have to close them down as a team and get the ball back from them. But we’ll go into the game on Wednesday looking for the win still. It’s important we get that to take to their place for the return match.”

Although the teenage midfielder acknowledged a need to tweak the team’s approach, Wenger retains faith that his players can unsettle Barcelona by tapping into their own strengths, albeit if they can secure possession for themselves. Arsenal claimed an unlikely 2-2 draw against these opponents in last season’s first leg despite being without key players, and with Cesc Fábregas’s domestic season ended by the injury picked up converting the hosts’ equaliser from the penalty spot. Yet there is strength in depth this time around, with Nasri’s potential return particularly timely.

The French midfielder has excelled, scoring 14 times, and had been expected to miss the first leg at the Emirates Stadium. He will have further tests on his hamstring tomorrow and Tuesday before a decision is made, though there is optimism that he will be able to feature against the Spanish champions.

“I will not take a crazy gamble, but physically he is ready,” said Wenger. “There is just a risk of him suffering a setback, so we will test him medically and physically. There are other important games coming up – we have Leyton Orient in the FA Cup, and the Carling Cup final, and the return game in Barcelona in three weeks. So it is important not to be stupid.

“I personally believe we go into the Barcelona game in better shape than last year. We had so many uncertainties last season – Robin [van Persie] was injured, William Gallas went off in the first game, Andrey Arshavin went off after 27 minutes, we had no Alex Song or Fábregas in the second game … The team, for me, had less confidence and we have matured since then. We can certainly compete technically better with them. It will be interesting to see whether we play with belief.

“You can wonder whether we need to change the way we play at the Nou Camp but, at home, we will try to play to our strengths. We will try to attack the other team. If we just play in the final third defensively, that would not be our natural game and we would not be happy – we’d come out of the match thinking we hadn’t played. But if we can escape their pressure, then we can be dangerous. We will create chances if we can put them under pressure. We have to think about how we do that.”

The size of the task awaiting Arsenal was put into perspective by Fábregas who acknowledged the Catalans are “the best team in the world” at present. “We have a young team but one with a lot of quality and energy,” he said. “We are very motivated. They are such a good team that, even if you know everything [about them], they have so many quality players that they can make the difference. We don’t have to worry too much about them. We have to play with no fear. Last season in the first half [of the first leg] especially we respected them too much. We just have to play our game and that is it.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Robin van Persie double beats Wolves

Powered by article titled “Robin van Persie double helps Arsenal cruise to victory over Wolves” was written by Paul Doyle at the Emirates Stadium, for The Observer on Saturday 12th February 2011 17.27 UTC

Having curtailed Manchester United’s unbeaten run last week Wolves arrived here intent on boosting their survival chances and, in the process, Sir Alex Ferguson’s title ambitions. If Mick McCarthy had harboured any notion that that task might be facilitated by Arsenal’s mind-set, which could have been jolted either by last week’s collapse at Newcastle or the prospect of challenging Barcelona on Wednesday, it did not take long for that hope to be crushed.

Wolves began with the composure of a team whose record against the top sides this season has been perversely positive and, with Jamie O’Hara and Nenad Milijas probing with precision, the initial signs were that this was going to be a close contest. Yet the reason Wolves are in the relegation zone is that for all their bright play this season they have been tainted by haplessness, sudden outbreaks of ineptitude sabotaging otherwise accomplished performances.

It was no surprise then to see George Elokobi standing off Cesc Fábregas in the 14th minute, almost advising the Spaniard to take his time and pick out the cross of his choice. Fábregas duly clipped the ball towards the penalty spot, where Richard Stearman had lost track of Robin van Persie. The striker volleyed past Wayne Hennessey and into the net.

Having thus sunk their teeth into Wolves, Arsenal proceeded to tear them to shreds. Jack Wilshere, the 19-year-old whom Fabio Capello has acclaimed as the brain of England’s midfield for the foreseeable future, masterminded the dismemberment.

Five minutes after the opening goal he made another incision, serving Andrei Arshavin with a superb long pass from deep. The Russian jinked past Ronald Zubar and cut the ball back for Theo Walcott, whose shot from eight yards was clawed away by Hennessey. Fábregas followed up and fired low towards the corner but Stearman, covering his goalkeeper, cleared off the line.

Two minutes later Arsenal cut through again, Wilshere this time outfoxing the Wolves’ defence with a sweet dink towards Fábregas. Hennessey scampered off his line to prevent the midfielder from applying a fatal touch.

Hennessey denied Fábregas again in the 37th minute and had to produce two more fine saves from Van Persie before the break to keep the deficit to a single goal. Wilshere was showing the poise and vision that has enraptured Capello, but in the 46th minute he demonstrated that he still has scope to improve.

After waltzing through the defence he teed up Walcott for a simple tap-in, only for the winger to slash his shot wide from eight yards. Such wastefulness remains a persistent failure for Walcott despite the clear progress that he has made this season, but Wenger preferred to point out that Wilshere could have scored himself.

“He had a very good game but there is just a hesitation sometimes to finish himself,” said Wenger of Wilshere, who has scored twice this season. “At the moment he always chooses to give the ball to someone else. Cesc [Fábregas] was like that for a while. When he is a bit more confident he will score more goals.”

Walcott should score more goals, too, but at least he showed that his decision-making and execution are not as unreliable as they once were by creating Arsenal’s second goal in the 56th minute. After being released by Fábregas he played a perfect square ball to Van Persie. The Dutchman finished emphatically, rifling past Hennessey from the edge of the area.

At no point did Arsenal look like repeating their capitulation against Newcastle, partially because Johan Djourou, who had been forced off with injury at St James’ Park, remained immaculate throughout and partially because Arsenal, without going gung-ho as in the past, mostly kept Wolves on the back foot.

Walcott was given the best opportunity to make the victory more emphatic but mis-controlled when put through by Fábregas before recovering to curl a shot wide from an acute angle. Two minutes from time the winger combined with the substitute Marouane Chamakh to rip Wolves apart anew but again he erred at the finish, shooting straight at Hennessey.

“I can’t say we were unlucky, there was a murder going on out there and there was nothing we could do about it,” McCarthy said. The Wolves manager added: “But for Wayne Hennessey we could have lost by six, seven or eight. To get better we have to admire that performance by Arsenal and aspire to it.”

Wenger, meanwhile, aspires to beating a team that, he concedes, are currently at an even higher level than Arsenal and believes this victory will help. “We are playing certainly the best team in world [Barcelona] so it is important to go in with confidence and in a strong situation in the league,” he said. “We have the hunger to do well in all competitions and we showed here that we can focus on one at a time.”


CHRIS TENNANT, Observer reader We played really, really well. We looked competent throughout and although Wolves gave us a good game we didn’t look vulnerable against them, we just got on with our game. There were, however, quite a few opportunities that we should have made more of and Hennessey made some freak saves. But after half-time, you knew we wouldn’t make the same mistakes as we did last week against Newcastle. I don’t expect us to overtake United but today we looked like a team that was capable of doing so. Overall a cohesive team performance.

The fan’s player ratings Szczesny 8; Sagna 8, Djourou 8, Koscielny 8, Clichy 8; Song 8, Wilshere 8 (Denílson 6) Fàbregas 8; Walcott 8, Van Persie 8 (Chamakh 6), Arshavin 8 (Bendtner 6)

LOUIE SILVANI, It was a bit of an anticlimax after last week’s win over United. We didn’t do too much going forward until the last 10 minutes but the game was over at that stage. It was the right team that started for us and I don’t think we played that badly but Arsenal were just really good. They were on another level, especially Wilshere and Fábregas. Hennessey made some fantastic saves and Henry had a good game too. We’re bottom of the table now and we’ve two massive games coming up against Blackpool and West Brom. We need to get four points from those.

The fan’s player ratings Hennessey 9; Zubar 8, Berra 7, Stearman 7, Elokobi 6; Hammill 7, Henry 8, O’Hara 6; Milijas 7 (Ebanks-Blake 6), Jarvis 6 (Foley 7); Doyle 7 (Fletcher 6)

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Phil Dowd inspires Newcastle to remarkable comeback

Two splendid Robin van Persie goals in a sparkling four-goal first half turned out not be enough as Newcastle roared back to level in a stormy second, thanks largely to some baffling refereeing from Phil Dowd.

Powered by article titled “Cheik Tioté completes remarkable Newcastle comeback against Arsenal” was written by Paul Wilson at St James’ Park, for The Observer on Saturday 5th February 2011 17.21 UTC

Send for the cliche police, this was the ultimate game of two halves. Arsenal laid out their title credentials in the first 45 minutes – actually make that the first 10 minutes – then one interval and one sending-off later exposed their own defensive brittleness and allowed Newcastle to claim a seemingly impossible point.

Arsenal went in at the interval four goals up and believing they could be champions, or at least Manchester United’s closest challengers. They went in at the end with 10 men, two points dropped and a furious Arsène Wenger waiting to speak to the referee. “We were very unlucky with some decisions that went against us,” the Arsenal manager said. “I could not argue with Abou Diaby’s red card, but I believe Joey Barton should have been sent off for the original tackle. My opinion is not important, though. We panicked a little bit in the second half, we have dropped two points, but psychologically the damage is bigger. We have a very disappointed dressing room.”

No one could possibly have imagined such an outcome at the start of the game, when Arsenal looked deadly and Newcastle looked dead and buried. Striking even more quickly than Wayne Rooney had against Villa, Theo Walcott put Arsenal ahead after a mere 42 seconds, running into space behind the Newcastle backline to pick up Andrey Arshavin’s flick from the centre circle and easily holding off Fabricio Coloccini to score. Anyone who imagined Newcastle could not have made a worst start was swiftly proved wrong. When Arshavin sent over a free-kick from the left, Johan Djourou was permitted a free header from six yards out to put Arsenal two up after three minutes. “You might as well go home,” chorused the travelling supporters in the Leazes End.

It appeared the Newcastle defence already had. Pre-match speculation centred on how much the home attack would fare without Andy Carroll and Shola Ameobi – on his way to his radio commentary position Malcolm MacDonald lost count of the number of times he was asked whether he had brought his boots – yet the upshot of recent events seemed to be a complete loss of confidence throughout the team and an almost scandalous lack of concentration at the back.

Walcott had the pace and penetration to exploit the situation and he set up Arsenal’s third after 10 minutes, skipping round José Enrique with embarrassing ease and crossing for Robin van Persie to stab a shot past Steve Harper. When the same player made it four inside half an hour, heading home Bacary Sagna’s cross after neat interpassing on the right, Alan Pardew began to come in for sustained abuse from supporters immediately behind the dugout. The comments were audible because it was just about the only noise the home fans were making.

Cesc Fábregas and Van Persie brought saves from Harper before the interval, before the game turned on a meaty challenge by Barton a couple of minutes after the restart. Though Diaby was the injured party, Phil Dowd had little option but to take a dim view of the Arsenal player grabbing hold of his opponent by the scruff of the neck afterwards and flinging him to the floor. “The referee’s decision was fair,” Pardew said. “It was an aggressive tackle, that’s all. I told the players at half-time I wanted aggression. We needed to show we cared. They went out and played like lions.”

Newcastle got back into the game thanks to their remarkable supporters, as well as a penalty conceded by Laurent Koscielny and converted by Barton. As soon as the first goal of the fightback went in the grumbling ceased and the home side were roared forward. Arsenal crumbled with a suddenness that did not augur well for their title aspirations.

By the time Leon Best scored Newcastle’s second he had already seen a goal chalked off for a borderline offside and, with Arsenal unable to subdue either Newcastle or their fans, more mistakes and more goals became inevitable. If Wenger could not see what the second penalty was awarded for he was not the only one. Neither Koscielny nor Tomas Rosicky appeared to do anything wrong, but Barton gratefully accepted his second invitation to score from the spot. The stadium was rocking by now and when Cheik Tioté brought the scores level, with a sumptuous volley after a Barton free-kick was only half-cleared, it duly exploded.

“Our fans will remember this for a long time,” Pardew said. “When we went four goals down I thought the house might come down, but in the end we sent 51,000 Geordies home relatively happy. We were even a bit unlucky, because I thought we scored five good goals.” Newcastle rarely managed that with Carroll, so perhaps they are not relegation fodder after all. And perhaps Arsenal will not be champions.


TOM HARBORD, It was an unbelievable game. In the first half Arsenal were fantastic and we were awful, but it all changed after. Strangely it was disappointing from a footballing point of view, but very good for us. Their passing and movement were lovely to watch. Then once they were 4-0 up I think they thought they had it won and they totally lost discipline. All they had to do was sit back, really. But then we went at them – it was the attitude of the whole team but Barton and Nolan got things going and they were all pushing forward and having a go. Tioté looked good and is probably our best player at the moment.

The fan’s player ratings Harper 5; Simpson 6, Williamson 6, Coloccini 7, José Enrique 7; Barton 8, Tioté 9, Nolan 7, Gutiérrez 5; Best 6 (Guthrie 89 n/a), Lovenkrands 6 (Ranger 73 7)

BEN LOVER, Observer reader That was absolutely devastating. Even if you’re down to 10 men – down to five even – it’s just inexcusable not to be able to protect a 4-0 lead. Our play in the first half reminded me of the invincible team, dangerous on every attack, with pace and creativity, looking like we could take on anyone and win. Then the second half – at least one penalty looked very harsh, but that doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse to lose all organisation and intelligence. It’s not the first time – we were up 2-0 against Spurs earlier in the year then lost 3-2. It’s hard to take and understand, and a real blow to any title hope.

The fan’s player ratings Szczesny 6; Sagna 6, Koscielny 5, Djourou 6 (Squillaci 48 3), Clichy 5; Walcott 7 (Eboué 79 4), Wilshere 6, Diaby 4; Fábregas 6, Arshavin 6 (Rosicky 69 4), Van Persie 7

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Unconvincing Arsenal scrape through thanks to Cesc penalty

Powered by article titled “Cesc Fábregas seals Arsenal victory over Huddersfield from the spot” was written by David Hytner at Emirates Stadium, for The Guardian on Sunday 30th January 2011 14.50 UTC

The FA Cup demonstrated its enduring flair for romance, as it threatened to make heroes of League One Huddersfield Town and, in particular, the journeyman striker Alan Lee. But when the dust had settled, it was its capacity for cruelty that provided the over-riding emotion.

Lee Clark’s players had covered themselves in glory by stretching Arsenal to the limit and when Lee conjured the equaliser, it was easy to see Town going on to win or, at the very least, holding out for the replay, such was the exuberance of their football. It was Lee’s first goal for the club on his 26th appearance after his £500,000 summer transfer from Crystal Palace. Talk about timing.

Arsenal had been reduced to ten men by the 42nd-minute dismissal of Sébastien Squillaci for a cynical block on the debutant Jack Hunt, who was one of the many to epitomise Town’s fearless approach. Squillaci will be suspended for Tuesday night’s Premier League fixture at home to Everton, although the manager Arsène Wenger said that the setback would not accelerate his search for central defensive cover. He does not expect to make a signing before the transfer deadline.

The situation after Lee’s goal compelled Wenger to bring on Cesc Fábregas and, not for the first time, the captain dug his team out of a hole. Only four minutes remained when Nicklas Bendtner got the wrong side of Jamie McCombe inside the area and he went down when the defender put an arm around him.

The penalty award felt slightly soft but Clark had no complaints. “As soon as I saw Bendtner go down, I thought it was a penalty,” he said.

Fábregas stepped up and, after a stuttering run, he sent the goalkeeper Ian Bennett the wrong way. He had scored Arsenal’s last-minute equaliser from the spot as a substitute in the previous round against Leeds United to force the replay and his team once again made heavy weather of opposition from Yorkshire.

The Spaniard won himself no friends by gesturing for McCombe to be sent off – the defender, who was the last man, escaped with a yellow card – and, moments later, Fábregas was booked himself for ungentlemanly conduct. He can sometimes blot his copybook by becoming embroiled in petty spats.

“Cesc thought it was a red card [for McCombe],” Wenger said. “We had a player sent off so the same punishment should occur, although in the box, I am personally more lenient than outside.”

Arsenal had started brightly, creating plenty of chances, and they fashioned the opening goal midway through the first-half. It was not without good fortune. Bendtner was still stewing about miscuing a volley moments earlier and being ridiculed by the Town support when he fastened on to a through ball from Marouane Chamakh. He struck a low shot that was heading wide but a deflection off the Town captain Peter Clarke brought it back inside the far corner.

It had to go down as an own goal but Bendtner nevertheless opted to get his own back on the 5,000 travelling fans by running in front of them and cupping his hand to his ear. It was not the classiest thing to do.

Clark could be proud of the football that his team played. They established a foothold and they began to create chances, none better than the free header for Anthony Pilkington in the 39th minute that he glanced wide. Arsenal were unconvincing at the back.

The red card followed further positive Town play. The right-back Jack Hunt surged past the disappointing Kieran Gibbs and inside Laurent Koscielny and he might have got past the last man Squillaci, too, if it were not for the body check. Wenger claimed that the decision was “harsh” but it was difficult to agree with him.

The second-half was golden for Town and the equaliser had been advertised. Andrey Arshavin needed to make a last-ditch tackle on Gary Roberts; McCombe glanced inches wide and Lee’s header forced Manuel Almunia into a flying finger-tip save. From the ensuing corner, the excellent Joey Gudjonsson shot just past the post.

Arsenal were clinging on. There did not seem to be two divisions between the clubs and Town’s moment came when Lee tussled with Abou Diaby at a corner before getting up to thump a header past Almunia.

Yet Arsenal would rally and the penalty broke Town hearts. They surely deserved better. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Lee Clark wants to copy Arsène Wenger at Huddersfield

Powered by article titled “Huddersfield’s Lee Clark puts Arsène Wenger’s philosophy to acid test” was written by Louise Taylor, for The Guardian on Saturday 29th January 2011 09.00 UTC

Lee Clark closes the laptop on his impressively tidy desk and concedes he has changed. “In the past I didn’t know if I’d be able to get on with new technology,” says the Huddersfield Town manager. “But I’m always using it now. I’ve got all the computer programmes, I’ve tried to embrace it.”

At one time many people would have been astonished to see Clark choreographing both a League One promotion campaign and an FA Cup adventure with Arsenal from the manager’s office at the Galpharm Stadium.

The former Newcastle United, Sunderland and Fulham midfielder was, unfairly as it transpires, widely deemed a daft Geordie lad who, whisper it, did not seem the sharpest tool in the box. If such theories gained currency when his stint at Sunderland came to an abrupt end after he was pictured attending the 1999 Newcastle v Manchester United FA Cup final wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Sad Mackem Bastards”, they have been thoroughly undermined in West Yorkshire.

These days Clark is regarded as a potential high-flyer whose insistence on Huddersfield playing a smooth, thoughtful, passing game has persuaded Arsène Wenger to loan him Arsenal’s England youth international striker Benik Afobe.

While Afobe will not feature at the Emirates tomorrow Clark, also missing his injured leading scorer, Jordan Rhodes, can expect a warm greeting from the sometimes sniffy Wenger.

“It’s a big boost to me that we’ve had players loaned here from not just Arsenal but Liverpool and Manchester United too,” he says in his soft Tyneside accent. “It’s very complimentary that top Premier League managers want their players to come to Hudderfield. It’s important for me to win games and get out of this league but I intend to do it playing the way I want, with a good passing ethos.”

Kevin Kilbane, the much travelled Ireland international, recently arrived on loan from Hull and believes few managers do more assiduous homework. “Lee’s attention to detail and analysis are unbelievable,” Kilbane says. “He’s also a very good coach; I can certainly see him going higher up the management ladder.”

For the moment all Clark can think about is the most glamorous game of his two years at Huddersfield. “Trying to get out of this league and into the Championship is the biggest test,” he says. “But playing at Arsenal is my toughest and most exciting challenge. The style Arsenal play is what I aspire to. My dream as a manager is to get to that level, to have a team like that. As a club and a manager Arsenal and Arsène Wenger are a yardstick.”

A chat Clark enjoyed with Wenger at a coaching seminar remains a treasured memory. “I remember our conversation word for word and I keep going back to it,” he says. “Those type of things are worth their weight in gold to young managers like me.”

At 38, he remains relatively inexperienced but benefits from having served under an eclectic assortment of managerial mentors including Ossie Ardíles, Kevin Keegan, Peter Reid, Jean Tigana and Graeme Souness. “I’ve been lucky in that I’ve enjoyed working for all of them so I don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and ask for their advice,” he says.

An epiphany came when he played for Wenger’s compatriot Tigana at Fulham and suddenly appreciated that an apparent fixation with players’ fitness and diet “enabled you to sell your wares better”. By then realisation had also dawned that there really was life outside Geordieland. “Leaving the north-east was tough at first,” Clark says. “But within a month I knew I’d made the right decision. Once I’d settled in to life down south I loved it. The lifestyle my family and I had living in Surrey was great; we had a magnificent time.”

Nonetheless, Newcastle still exerted a powerful pull and, not long after returning to St James’ Park in a junior coaching capacity that involved helping develop Andy Carroll’s academy skills, Clark was confronted with another big choice.

This time Glenn Roeder called, offering the post of assistant manager at Norwich. “I didn’t want to leave Newcastle, it was where I wanted to be,” he says. “But I knew if I was going to make my mark in management Norwich was an offer I couldn’t turn down.”

The decision to listen to his head rather than his heart was vindicated a year later when Huddersfield made him manager after hearing through the grapevine that Roeder had hired one of the brightest young talents in England’s coaching pool. His seemingly natural, attention-grabbing poise and authority in a tracksuit were not acquired overnight, however.

“I got my first coaching badge at 23,” says Clark who, early in his playing career, helped coach Walker Central boys club where Newcastle’s Shola Ameobi was harbouring hopes of turning professional. “It gives me a lot of pride that I had a little bit of impact on Shola and Andy Carroll. But I always knew I wanted to be a manager. I didn’t just want to be a coach, I wanted to be the one making the decisions.”

Although he is doing precisely that at the club Bill Shankly managed before taking charge at Liverpool, Huddersfield has lately been regarded more as a poisoned chalice than a stepping stone. After all the 1922 FA Cup winners and three-times League champions have not resided in English football’s top two tiers for 10 years now. Clark is their seventh manager in 12 seasons.

Yet with the team third in League One and anxious to atone for last spring’s play-off defeat against Millwall, there is cautious optimism that his partnership with the club’s wealthy new owner, the greetings card magnate Dean Hoyle, will finally end an era of instability.

It is not merely Clark’s habit of artfully knotting a blue and white scarf around his neck on matchdays that has earned him the “Roberto Mancini of League One” sobriquet, but a perception that Huddersfield are, à la Mancini’s Manchester City, now capable of financially outmuscling their divisional rivals.

“This is a huge club,” says an increasingly suavely groomed and smartly dressed manager who does not care to contemplate “what my Geordie mates might say” about that now hallmark scarf.

“Not so long ago Huddersfield were in administration but we’ve just bought land to build a training facility which will be of Premier League quality,” says Clark.

“The owner wants to see this club competing at the highest level and my ambition is to get us there. Reaching the Premier League is a dream but teams like Wigan and Hull have shown it is an achievable dream.

“Sunday at Arsenal will whet the appetite. We’re massive underdogs but I’ve got some gifted young players … and the FA Cup is all about shocks.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Superb Bendtner breakthrough derails Ipswich

Powered by

This article titled “Nicklas Bendtner clears Arsenal’s path to Wembley as Ipswich crumble” was written by Kevin McCarra at Emirates Stadium, for The Guardian on Tuesday 25th January 2011 23.41 UTC

A win over visitors from a lower division ought to have met with no more than a nod of recognition for a simple task undertaken competently. The mood at the Emirates was nothing at all like that. It is far too late, with six years gone by since the last trophy, for Arsenal to do anything than revel in a result that sends them to Wembley for a Carling Cup final with Birmingham City or West Ham United.

Ipswich Town, 1-0 winners of the first leg, did much to contribute to the feeling of achievement in the ranks of Arsène Wenger’s side. There are exceptions in players such as Gaël Clichy, Cesc Fábregas and Robin van Persie but this is largely a squad still wondering what success with Arsenal would feel like. That is an asset if it means that they meet Carling Cup games with more than a yawn.

The one gesture towards nonchalance by Wenger was eye-catching. Samir Nasri, the outstanding performer in both Arsenal’s ranks and perhaps those of the entire Premier League, was not involved in this tie until the 85th minute last night but there had been a tell-tale adjustment. While he was on the bench this time, there had been no place for him at all in the earlier game.

The emergency that would have warranted his early introduction at the Emirates never occurred. There is no blame in that regard for Ipswich. They resisted with both steel and calm. Their new manager, Paul Jewell, could have asked for little more from his team. This side had survived 151 minutes of the tie before they were breached at last. Robin van Persie, with half-a-dozen goals in his past three appearances, was stifled in this return leg.

Ipswich were broken entirely at the Emirates only when Andrey Arshavin put Cesc Fábregas through for the third goal in the 77th minute but the team seldom lost the accuracy or, tellingly, the tempo of its passing. The influence of Jack Wilshere’s distribution was also notable and few 19-year-olds can have participated to such an extent over the course of a campaign without looking depleted. He was at work here because his presence matters, particularly when Wenger deemed that it was Nasri who had to be protected.

Any degree of difficulty was increased by early vexation for Arsenal. Gareth McAuley, the visitors’ centre-half, went unpunished by the referee, Mark Halsey, in the 10th minute when the official declined to give a penalty for a shove on Fábregas.

There was a different type of blow to Arsenal when the goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny collided with Bacary Sagna while defending a free-kick. The right-back soon had to be replaced by Emmanuel Eboué. That sort of distraction could not stop Arsenal from mounting attacks but they did not always have the effortless poise of the usual showings at the Emirates.

Ipswich somehow did better for a long time here than most of the Premier League visitors. That, of course, did not mean they were at ease. Since the defeat of Arsenal in the first leg Jewell has enjoyed two wins in the Championship. His side is not remotely comparable to Wenger’s in talent but they had a morale in the tie that would be a match for anyone.

Glaring opportunities were not as common for Arsenal as anticipated. The most tempting before half-time came in the 35th minute as Wilshere found Fábregas but the midfielder’s finish went wide. A mood of contentment remained in the crowd, although the jollity that lay in the news that Manchester United were behind to Blackpool in the Premier League was not to last as Sir Alex Ferguson’s team resolved the problems at Bloomfield Road.

Arsenal fans will still realise that Wenger, in contrast to all other managers in England, retains an interest in four tournaments, from the Carling Cup to the Champions League. That is no accident and he has a splendid collection of footballers, yet there is also a gnawing question about their ruthlessness. It was as pertinent as ever while Ipswich maintained their morale.

Arsenal were still losing a tie that was three-quarters of the way to its conclusion but they did bring it under control in the end. Sheer talent made the difference after 61 minutes. Wilshere’s excellent pass found Nicklas Bendtner on the left and he cut inside Carlos Edwards before placing a right-footed shot into the far corner of the net.

The tempo as much as the talent was taking its toll of Ipswich. Three minutes later the goalkeeper Marton Fulop could not cope with an Arshavin corner and the centre-half Laurent Koscielny headed home. If that sort of method is not usually associated with Arsenal, it will please Wenger to know that his men had come up with a way of polishing off a dauntless Ipswich.

“For us it is the perfect night,” said Wenger. “Our season depends on our performances, our results and our consistency. We do not have to focus on Manchester United or anybody else. We are a team that have taken off a while ago and are consistent now.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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