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Arsène Wenger says talks with Bacary Sagna ‘are not progressing’

Powered by article titled “Arsène Wenger says talks with Bacary Sagna ‘are not progressing'” was written by David Hytner, for The Guardian on Friday 25th April 2014 09.24 UTC

Arsène Wenger is not confident about keeping Bacary Sagna at Arsenal, despite the club having offered the Frenchman a three-year contract. The manager said that an impasse remained over Sagna, with his current deal set to expire in the summer and the full-back considering a Bosman transfer to one of several interested clubs, including Manchester City.

"At the moment, the talks are not progressing," Wenger said. "We know what we want from him, he knows what is on the table, and that’s where we are."

Wenger was asked whether he was now less confident about the 31-year-old agreeing to stay at his club of the past seven years. "Yes," he replied. "The ball is not in our camp any more. It is in his camp, and he needs to come back to us."

Wenger is extremely keen to retain Sagna, who has been one of his most durable and consistent performers this season, even filling in at centre-half on occasion and the manager has pushed for the club to break their general policy of granting only one-year extensions to players in their 30s. Arsenal had offered Sagna a two-year deal but after City indicated a readiness to give him three years, the London club have followed suit.

Sagna, who earns £50,000 a week, has long argued that he is worth a three-year contract and it is a worry from Arsenal’s side that he has not yet agreed to the one that they have proposed. The France international is also wanted by Internazionale, Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain and Galatasaray. Wenger could face a defensive rebuild in the summer, with the centre-half Thomas Vermaelen and the back-up goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski also considering their futures.

Vermaelen is unhappy with his place behind Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny in the central-defensive pecking order while Fabianski, who is out of contract in June, has been frustrated too by his lack of regular football.

Wenger prizes continuity and he expressed his sadness that David Moyes had not been given more time at Manchester United; instead, Moyes became the Premier League’s 10th managerial casualty of the season when he was sacked on Tuesday.

"I’m sad that he wasn’t given more time and I wish him well," Wenger said. "It’s just part of what the modern game is now. There is no time available for people to do their job and that is a big threat for our game. If you want quality people in any job, you need to give them time to develop or people with the quality will not come into our job any more.

"The average [managerial job] expectancy at an English professional club at the moment is 11 months and that is quite unstable. Every guy who is married and has a family will have a big hesitancy before he goes into that game. That means the quality of the coaching and the quality of the managing is under threat, because it will not attract quality people any more."

Wenger said that he could not remember a Premier League season in which there had been so many dismissals. Nine of the division’s clubs have changed their manager, with Fulham having done so twice. Wenger feared that the situation could get worse.

"If you get to the point where you sack your manager with every defeat, the guy who comes in will lose games as well," Wenger said. "We are living in a society now where it is every time quick. After the game, it is quick sanction, quick judgment and there is no distance any more with the event. The clubs, internally, need to be much stronger to resist that immediate pressure."

Wenger said Kieran Gibbs would not be fit for Monday night’s visit of Newcastle United because of groin trouble while the luckless Abou Diaby suffered a minor groin injury in a 45-minute run-out on Tuesday for the under-21s against Chelsea – his first appearance since he ruptured cruciate ligaments at Swansea City on 16 March 2013.

Wenger hopes to have Jack Wilshere back in contention for next Sunday’s home game against West Bromwich Albion after a foot problem.

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Arsenal’s stars have contrasting fortunes at Euro 2012

With the final of the Euro 2012 championships looming on Sunday, a raft of Arsenal’s players have been utilised for their countries over the last three weeks in Ukraine and Poland. The tournament has seen some of the Gunners’ summer signings showcased also as the squad looks to be bolstered ahead of the 2012-13 Premier League campaign.‘s odds and predictions have been impacted by the presence of some of the Emirates Stadium side’s players; here is a breakdown of how they have faired this summer.

Per Mertesacker – The experienced centre-half had to watch on as Joachim Low preferred Bundesliga pair Holger Bastuber and Mats Hummels. An inconsistent start to his time at Arsenal may well have played a part in the defender losing his spot in the team.

Laurent Koscielny – Initially overlooked for the starting line-up, Koscielny deputised for the suspended Phillippe Mexes in France’s quarter-final against Spain. Despite Les Bleus putting in a limp performance against the world champions and being eliminated, Koscielny did nothing to hurt his chances of further inclusion in the future.

Tomas Rosicky – Had a strong second half of the 2011-12 season with the Gunners, but struggled with injury throughout the Euro 2012 campaign. Despite this he acted as a senior figure both on and off the pitch to help a transitional Czech Republic team to the knockout stages.

Robin van Persie – Arsenal’s captain did not live up the expectations place on him after a wonderful 2011-12 domestic season. Netherlands were poor throughout the tournament, with a lack of potency in front of goal the reason for this; RVP must harbour some of this criticism despite scoring against Germany.

Wojciech Szczesny – One of the most high-profile players for co-hosts Poland, Szczesny got sent-off against Greece in the opening game after conceding a penalty. Suspended for the rest of the competition as the Poles were eliminated in the group stages.

Theo Walcott – Not fully given a chance to star by Roy Hodgson, Walcott had to make-do with substitute appearances for England. Played a pivotal role in changing the game against Sweden in the Three Lions’ favour by scoring one and setting Danny Welbeck up to score the winner in a 3-2 thriller.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – Again was limited to cameo appearances for England, but did start the opening game against France. The Ox put in a promising performance against Les Bleus, and the experience of an international tournament will only benefit the gifted youngster.

Nicklas Bendtner – Unlike Van Persie, the Danes’ best performances seem to be saved for his country rather than club. The Gunners fringe forward bagged a brace of headers for the Scandinavians against Portugal, but was also fined for revealing his underpants with a betting sponsor on them. Will have done enough to stoke interest in him this summer, as a transfer looks likely.

Andrei Arshavin – Sent back to Zenit St Petersburg on loan by Arsene Wenger in January, Arshavin looked sharp and match-fit for Russia in the tournament. Although the eastern European powerhouses were eliminated in the group stages, the playmaker did enough to suggest that he could still potentially have a role to play in north London.

Lukas Podolski – One of Germany’s most experienced campaigners, Podolski was expected to be a driving force in the side’s quest for glory. Started all games except the quarter-final against Greece, and scored against Denmark but did not show the scintillating attacking ability that prompted Arsene Wenger to buy him this summer.

Olivier Giroud – Had to play second fiddle to Karim Benzema for France, but did still get opportunities to occasionally play. Showed enough to suggest that he could well be an important player for the Gunners next term and can take a chunk of the side’s goalscoring responsibilities away from Van Persie.

Andrey Arshavin deserves Arsenal fans’ respect, says Arsène Wenger

Arsene says our frustrating pocket Russian still deserves to drink freely from the milk of human kindness.

And who could argue with that…

Powered by article titled “Andrey Arshavin deserves Arsenal fans’ respect, says Arsène Wenger” was written by Jamie Jackson, for The Guardian on Friday 3rd February 2012 23.02 UTC

Arsène Wenger has told Arsenal fans to show some respect to Andrey Arshavin after the midfielder was booed when he came on for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 2-1 league defeat by Manchester United last week.

Wenger, whose side have lost three of their last five league games, backed the under-fire Russian, who has been vilified by some fans for his inconsistent form this season.

He said: “At the moment we play a little bit under difficult circumstances but we have to realise that we have to support our players. I personally have a huge respect for Andrey Arshavin and if you would see him behave every day you would have one as well. I understand everybody’s frustrations because I’m quite tolerant – but there is still a difference between frustration and lack of respect.

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Arsène Wenger: Manchester City’s Roberto Mancini is ‘out of order’

Arsene objects to Manchester City’s public pursuit of Samir Nasri

Powered by article titled “Arsène Wenger: Manchester City’s Roberto Mancini is ‘out of order'” was written by David Hytner at the Meihu Sports Centre, Yiwu, for The Observer on Saturday 16th July 2011 16.39 UTC

There was a storm before Arsenal brought the curtain down on their Asia tour, featuring thunder, lightning and torrential rain, yet it was nothing like the one afterwards, when Arsène Wenger raged at a familiar slight.

The manager has digressed regularly from the real business here, which has been to promote the club’s brand to the captive audience in Malaysia and China, to insist that the captain Cesc Fàbregas and Samir Nasri are staying put in north London. Fàbregas, who has not been in Asia because of injury, is dancing once more with Barcelona, while both of the Manchester clubs want Nasri, who is into the final 12 months of his contract.

Wenger began the tour by declaring his determination to keep Nasri this summer was so absolute that he would be prepared to lose him on a Bosman free transfer next year, and he ended it with a stinging rebuke to his Manchester City counterpart Roberto Mancini, who has said that he still hopes to sign the midfielder by the end of the month.

“This comment is out of order,” Wenger said, before addressing the issue of its disrespect. “I cannot say otherwise. These comments are not allowed. They are against the basic rules of football and he should be informed [of that].

“I don’t know what should be done. I don’t spend my time worrying about what other people say because we are focused on our game. But what we want is respect and we don’t make these comments about players who are under contract at other clubs. It’s time football in England came back to these basic rules.”

Nasri was the focal point at the outset even if, in between the explosive weather and post-match quotations, the match was something of a damp squib. He was again handed an advanced midfield role in the middle of Wenger’s 4-1-4-1 formation, strengthening the impression that, if Fàbregas were to leave, Nasri might be asked to step into his boots.

The story of the first half was the pace and incision of Hangzhou Greentown, the Chinese Super League team, together with some dreadfully sloppy Arsenal defending. Thank goodness it is only pre-season. Sébastien Squillaci got another dishonourable mention.

Greentown had the first chance with just 90 seconds on the clock, Wang Song breaking clear only to be denied by Vito Mannone’s legs, and Paulo Pezzolano hit the post shortly before the opening goal after being given too much time to line up a curling shot. A minute later they scored through Sebastián Vázquez’s close-range finish, and there were soon sightings of Wenger’s outstretched arms on the bench. Carlos Vela’s bundled equaliser on 45 minutes, after Andrey Arshavin and Robin Van Persie had combined, had scarcely been signposted.

It felt strange to see Arsenal turn out in a neat-and-tidy athletics stadium, given the clamour from the fans in China to see them. The capacity was 45,000 and it was significantly under half full, although virtually everybody was supporting Wenger’s team. For Arsenal, though, the live broadcast rights to the game across China were everything. Rather more watched from their armchairs.

Arsenal’s marketing department has been excited at how the tour has helped to make the club more visible in China and increase their reach. One of many remarkable statistics was the one million users who logged in to a web chat with Vela and Aaron Ramsey, whose nickname in these parts is Mr Handsome.

There is no doubt that Arsenal have felt the love from the locals. They have choreographed their tour to perfection, making capital from even the little touches. The players’ names on the back of their shirts here were in Mandarin.

Wenger made 11 half-time changes, the arrivals including Ramsey and Theo Walcott, and his new-look line-up dominated the second period. Yet they spurned a stream of chances to win, with Walcott the chief culprit. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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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)

To take part in the Fans’ Verdict, email © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Theo Walcott sees no point in sulking over Newcastle shambles

Powered by article titled “Theo Walcott sees no point in sulking over lost points or tough breaks” was written by Dominic Fifield, for The Guardian on Monday 7th February 2011 23.01 UTC

The Arsenal players had been in a hushed state of shock as their plane departed Tyneside on Saturday but, as they taxied on the runway upon arrival back at Luton airport later that night, the chorus of mobile phone alerts trilling through the cabin heralded consolatory news.

The frenzy of Twitter and text messages confirmed Manchester United’s unbeaten record was no more. “It changed the mood, the boss’s mood as well,” said Theo Walcott. “Everyone had grins on their faces. Suddenly it was a point gained and something we can build on.”

A much needed positive spin had been applied to a traumatic occasion. Arsenal’s title challenge and sense of conviction remain intact.

Some psychological scars will inevitably have been inflicted by the concession of a four-goal lead and Arsène Wenger’s side may yet tremble should Wolves rally against them on Saturday with their wounds still so fresh from the debacle at St James’ Park. Yet Walcott’s honest assessment of their failings, even as victims of the contentious refereeing decisions that so infuriated the manager, should stand them in good stead. The winger hopes to take out his own lingering frustrations on Denmarkon Wednesday while his club-mates are apparently united in a desire to learn from their mistakes.

“You have to give credit to Newcastle, who taught us a lesson and showed us how to play against 10 men,” said Walcott. “We are known for keeping the ball and we just didn’t in that second half. It just didn’t click and, when their second goal went in, it hit us quite a bit. We’ve been reduced to 10 a few times this season and managed to keep the ball well enough but we couldn’t do it on Saturday. Newcastle switched it well and opened us up and their set pieces took us by surprise. None of us wanted to look the boss in the eye afterwards, that’s for sure. It was such a disappointment: when you are 4-0 up and want to win the league, it shouldn’t happen – even if you go down to 10 men.

“Newcastle did very well, taught us a lesson, albeit with a bit of help from a couple of penalties. But there’s no point sulking on it now. We have the character in the team to recover from that, people who will stand up to be counted.

“There are so many people in our side who will respond in the right way but even the boss would have gone home thinking it’s a point gained in the end. We can build on it, particularly after the first-half performance. That was the best first half I’ve been involved in since I’ve been here. And, really, it is looking good for us. We are only four points behind and United have still got to play Chelsea twice.”

The winger still considers this season as his best opportunity yet to win silverware as an Arsenal player – “This is the year we need to,” he acknowledged, with the side still contenders on four fronts and his own form compellingly persuasive. His initial flurry of goals has been checked by the ankle injury sustained with England early in the victory over Switzerland back in September, but there has been a consistency to his game in recent weeks to suggest growing maturity.

The opener on Saturday was the 11th goal of his most productive season yet and his importance to Arsenal grows more evident with each week. Fabio Capello will hope his influence is as significant with the national side, starting in Copenhagen where the player will hope a 16th cap would yield a first goal since the hat-trick in Zagreb which sparked England’s World Cup qualification campaign back in 2008.

Walcott offers the Italian bite and balance on the right and, while he has started four of his country’s five games since the start of the season, he clearly still feels he has a point to prove after his omission for the tournament in South Africa.

While Walcott, like his club-mates, had been wary of catching Wenger’s eye on Saturday evening, he had sought out Capello prior to the Euro 2012 qualifier against Bulgaria back in September to get an explanation for missing out on the summer squad.

“I didn’t want be too eager and in his face straightaway, so I waited until the Bulgaria game and spoke to him after training, literally on the training pitch,” Walcott said.

“He’s the sort of man you can go up to and ask anything and he will help you, and I wanted to know why I hadn’t gone. I’ll keep what he said between us.

“I was happy with his answer. I had moved on – I didn’t want to dwell on missing out because that would have killed me. I needed a mental break as well as a physical break and it has helped me out. I looked at myself and my game and tried to see what I could do to improve.

“I guess it’s nice the manager has come out himself since and said he made a mistake not taking me. It’s in the past and I just want to make sure it never happens again. It’s time to take my England career on to the next level.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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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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