Arsenal ace Theo Walcott takes top award

January 15, 2007 at 4:59 am (Events)


Theo Walcott has been named the BBC’s 2006 Young Sports Personality Of The Year in a cermony at the NEC in Birmingham.

In the past twelve months Theo has gone from terrorising the Championship with Southampton to mesmorising performances with Arsenal in the Premiership, as well as the infamous summer visit to Germany with the England Squad.

This year the footballer went one better, to end a fantastic year in which he transferred to Arsenal and went to the World Cup with England.

Though nominated, Theo missed out on the award last year to Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, making this years victory even more sweet.

Walcott finally made his bow in the top flight in August, coming on as a substitute in the 1-1 draw at home to Aston Villa. The winger has since featured regularly in both the Premiership and Champions League, impressing boss Arsene Wenger while excelling for the England Under-21 side and playing an integral part in their qualification for next summer’s European Championships.


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Arsenal recorded a victory

January 14, 2007 at 5:18 am (Events)

Remember when Arsenal were accused of being unable to win in the North-West? These days they can win there with 10 men.

A performance brimming with class and character saw off Blackburn despite a red card for Gilberto after just 12 minutes at Ewood Park. Many teams would have buckled under those circumstances but Arsenal rolled up their sleeves, stayed true to their footballing principles and ran out worthy winners.

Kolo Toure nodded them ahead nine minutes before the break and Thierry Henry secured the points with a vicious strike 19 minutes from time. Rovers had their chances but they could hardly complain about the result. Arsenal were up against it all day but conjured their third win in eight days in this part of the country and their fifth victory in seven North-West trips this season.

More importantly, Arsenal’s gutsy win takes them up to fourth in the Premiership, a point behind Liverpool and two ahead of Bolton. They remain well on course for a Champions League place.

Arsène Wenger made eight changes to the side which won that astonishing Carling Cup tie at Anfield on Tuesday night with only Cesc Fabregas, Toure and Justin Hoyte keeping their places. Julio Baptista, scorer of four goals in the 6-3 win against Liverpool, dropped to the bench. He was joined on the sidelines by Emmanuel Adebayor, back after a thigh injury.

A gusting wind was always likely to make conditions difficult at Ewood Park but, as kick-off approached, driving rain made it even more unpalatable. It certainly affected the opening stages as both sides struggled to find their rhythm.

Rovers were first to show, Lucas Neill finding space on the left after eight minutes and sending in a cross which skimmed off Hoyte’s head and flew precariously close to Jens Lehmann’s upright before going behind for a corner. Morten Gamst Pedersen delivered a teasing ball from the right but Matt Derbyshire, unmarked at the far post, failed to direct his header on goal.

Arsenal had barely got going when they were reduced to 10 men. Robbie Savage hacked away at Gilberto as he shielded the ball and fouled the Brazilian again for good measure. Gilberto span around angrily and kicked out a leg, Savage fell to the ground in a crumpled heap and Rob Styles dusted off his red card. A yellow for both men would have been fairer.

Mathieu Flamini started warming up and it seemed odds-on that he would replace either Henry or Robin van Persie. Wenger had other ideas. Perhaps wary of conceding the initiative so early in the game he moved Tomas Rosicky inside to partner Fabregas and kept two up front. It was a brave move and it certainly paid off.

Blackburn, despite their man advantage, were rather tentative. Pedersen forced Lehmann into one smart tip-over with a fierce drive after Brett Emerton had drifted in from the right and found the Norwegian in space just inside the area. Other than that, Rovers offered little going forward before the break.

Not so Arsenal. Despite the loss of Gilberto, they kept the ball well. And nine minutes before the interval they broke the deadlock. Henry flighted in a free kick from a central position 40 yards from goal, Toure stole in front of his marker and his powerful header bounced in off the post past a static Brad Friedel.

Savage’s header a yard wide was the closest Blackburn came to equalising before half time and, as expected, their manager made changes at the break. Mark Hughes took off Aaron Mokoena and brought on Tugay. Surely the Turkish playmaker would open up this resolute Arsenal side?

For a while nothing changed, although Benni McCarthy fired into the side-netting just before the hour after looking suspiciously offside when he received the ball inside the box. Shabani Nonda, scorer of two goals at Emirates Stadium last month, came on to add ballast to Blackburn’s attack but he could only head wide after a decent cross from Pedersen.

Rovers tried to crank up the pressure and Derbyshire scuffed a gilt-edged chance at the far post after Neill had worked his way to the byline on the left. It was a miss Derbyshire and Rovers would rue.

Flamini had just replaced Van Persie, a hint that Arsenal were going to shut up shop, when the visitors doubled their lead in style. Henry took the ball down the left flank, hugging the touchline. He played it inside to Fabregas and continued his run to receive the Spaniard’s return pass 20 yards out and slightly left of centre. Without breaking stride, the Arsenal captain flashed a shot into the top corner. Friedel got a fingertip to the ball but it wasn’t enough to deny Henry another classic to add to his portfolio.

Rovers were stunned. Henry could have wrapped up the points a few minutes later but, after controlling Rosicky’s flighted pass from the right, he fired over the bar. It didn’t make any difference. Arsenal held on to record a victory that owed as much to graft as it did to craft.

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Arsenal without breaking stride

January 13, 2007 at 1:17 pm (Events)

Four-nil? This could have been anything. Arsenal may have ended 2006 in the doldrums but they started the New Year in style with arguably their most comprehensive victory of the season.

Thierry Henry was the architect on his long-awaited return to the side. The captain rolled in a first-half penalty after Osei Sankofa had been sent off for hauling down Robin van Persie. With their opponents reduced to 10 men, Arsenal ran riot.

Justin Hoyte collected Henry’s cute pass to score his first goal for the club on the stroke of half-time. Robin van Persie lashed home another penalty 15 minutes from time after the skipper had been brought down and the Dutchman grabbed his second in the closing seconds.

Still, the home fans will have left Emirates Stadium wondering how Charlton kept the score down. Philippe Senderos and Henry saw efforts cleared off the line, Tomas Rosicky and Henry hit the post and Scott Carson was outstanding in the Addicks goal.

This win takes Arsenal above Bolton and into fourth place, while they remain unbeaten at their new home. In his programme notes, Arsene Wenger wrote of his desire to “get 2007 off to a great start”. He got exactly what he wanted.

If Arsenal supporters needed a pick-me-up after Saturday’s depressing defeat at Sheffield United, news of Henry’s return was the perfect tonic. Niggling injuries had restricted the captain to a watching brief for the previous eight games. He certainly cut a dash on the touchline in that black overcoat but it was good to see him back in red and white.

Henry was one of three changes from the side which lined up at Bramall Lane. Cesc Fabregas, a substitute at the weekend, returned to central midfield and Alex Hleb shrugged off a shin problem to take his place on the flank. Out went Mathieu Flamini, Jeremie Aliadiere and the injured Julio Baptista.

Arsenal struggled to find their rhythm on a sticky, uneven surface at Bramall Lane; on the Emirates carpet it’s a different matter. Their passing and movement was significantly slicker from the first whistle.

Dennis Rommedahl fired the opening salvo – or rather a blank – after just 26 seconds but Charlton were soon on the back foot. After revving up their engine, Arsenal went into overdrive in the 10th minute. Van Persie found Hleb on the right, he returned the favour and the Dutchman’s snap shot was deflected wide. Senderos met the resulting corner with a firm header but his effort was nodded off the line.

Charlton didn’t have time to pause for breath. Seconds later Hleb’s crossfield pass found Van Persie lurking inside the box. He lifted the ball cleverly over his marker and into the path of Fabregas. The Spaniard’s shot was fiercely struck but Carson demonstrated just why Wenger raved about him this week with a brilliant reflex save.

Fabregas was finding his range in the middle of the park too. His understanding with Henry is one of Arsenal’s most potent weapons and on 13 minutes they combined again. Fabregas’ floated pass picked out the Frenchman’s run but his downward header struck the outside of the post.

Charlton stemmed the flow for a while but they were pretty much toothless without the injured Darren Bent. The England striker has scored more than half of the Addicks’ Premiership goals this season and, while Marcus Bent worked manfully as a lone striker, Rommedahl’s pace and unpredictability was the only support he received.

If Charlton’s prospects looked slim at that point, they diminished even further just before the half-hour mark. Rosicky found Fabregas just outside the area and his hopeful shot looped up off a defender. Carson backpedalled and managed to tip the ball against the bar but the keeper was stranded as Van Persie raced in to convert the rebound. The Dutchman never got there. Sankofa bundled Van Persie to the ground, Mike Riley pointed to the spot and rubbed salt in Charlton’s wounds by sending the defender off.

Henry rolled in the spot kick and, grinning from ear to ear, he jogged to the sidelines to embrace Adebayor – a mirror image of the Togolese’s celebration after scoring in last month’s North London derby.

After easing himself into the game, the Arsenal captain was now in full flow. Six minutes from half time he was right on the button with a curling free-kick from his optimum position, left of centre and 25 yards out. Carson proved his worth yet again with a flying tip-over.

The on-loan Liverpool keeper had kept his side in it but another goal seemed inevitable. It duly arrived but from the most unlikely of sources. Hoyte, an effervescent presence throughout, burst down the right and found Henry in the inside-right channel. The captain clipped a perfectly-weighted return into Hoyte’s path and he sidefooted past Carson. It was his first senior goal for Arsenal and few strikes have been celebrated as joyfully. What’s more it was now effectively game over.

The 10 men showed signs of life at the start of the second half and Darren Ambrose forced Jens Lehmann into a low save. But it was only a temporary reprieve for Charlton. Before long they were under siege.

Rosicky was the next to go close. Henry’s wayward pass was deflected into the Czech international’s path and his low shot bounced off the outside of the post. Then Hleb burst through after another flowing move and squared for Henry to roll the ball into an empty net. The captain was behind the ball when it was played to him but an offside flag cut short his celebrations.

The one-way traffic continued. Van Persie was next to waltz through a bewildered Addicks back line. He left Carson on the floor and picked out Henry again. This time a defender cleared off the line. Then Carson denied Rosicky with a good block and dived full length to push out yet another Henry effort. It wouldn’t be stretching the truth to say that the skipper could have had five or six goals himself.

Henry’s generosity cost him one chance to add to his tally. With 15 minutes left Souleymane Diawara pulled down the Arsenal captain and, as is customary when he is fouled in the box, Henry passed the responsibility to a team-mate. Van Persie strode forward to find the top corner.

A flurry of substitutions gave Denilson, Aliadiere and Flamini some time on the pitch but the chances dried up until Flamini found Van Persie in stoppage time and the Dutchman lifted the ball over Carson and into the net. It was no more than Arsenal deserved.

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January 13, 2007 at 1:15 pm (Image)


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Arsenal smacked liverpool

January 13, 2007 at 1:09 pm (Events)

No, you didn’t mis-read the scoreline. It really did finish Liverpool 3 Arsenal 6. This was an incredible game and an incredible night for Julio Baptista.

The Brazilian arrived at Anfield without a goal to his name in English domestic football and, some might say, with plenty to prove. He left Merseyside a few hours later with the match ball and an enhanced reputation after his four-goal salvo propelled Arsenal into a Carling Cup Semi-Final showdown with Spurs.

The outstanding Jeremie Aliadiere got the ball rolling in the 26th minute. Robbie Fowler levelled but Baptista curled home a sumptous free-kick to restore Arsenal’s lead and added another seconds before the break after Alex Song had broken his duck. Jerzy Dudek saved Baptista’s penalty early in the second half but the Brazilian soon completed his hat-trick. Steven Gerrard and Sami Hyypia scored to hint at a Liverpool comeback but Baptista put the seal on a famous victory with his fourth – and Arsenal’s sixth.

Baptista’s goals grabbed the headlines but this performance spoke volumes for the quality and depth of Arsenal’s squad. From front to back they were excellent. For Liverpool though this was a humiliation. They haven’t conceded six at Anfield for 77 years and are now licking their wounds after two Cup exits at the hands of Arsenal in just four days. Rafa Benitez must be sick of the sight of them.

As expected Arsène Wenger made wholesale changes from the side which won so impressively here in the FA Cup. In came Cesc Fabregas, Baptista, Denilson, Song, Johan Djourou, Aliadiere, Justin Hoyte, Armand Traore and Theo Walcott. Manuel Almunia kept his place in goal while Toure took the captain’s armband for the first time in the absence of Thierry Henry and Gilberto. And on the bench sat Henri Lansbury, a 16-year-old who joined Arsenal’s academy at the age of nine.

With Liverpool equally unrecognisable from the side which succumbed on Saturday, it took a while for the game to get going. In fact much of the opening stages were taken up by a nasty injury to Mark Gonzalez, who was stretchered off after a seemingly innocuous tackle on Fabregas.

The Spaniard’s misfortune made for a muted atmosphere around Anfield, in stark contrast to the booming noise which accompanied Saturday’s tie. The home fans were even quieter after Aliadiere gave Arsenal the lead.

Toure showed good vision to pick out the French striker’s diagonal run, Aliadiere beat the offside trap and a fantastic first touch gave him the chance to test Dudek as the keeper rushed out. His first effort bounced off Dudek’s chest but Aliadiere rolled in the loose ball. One-nil to the Arsenal.

Until then Liverpool had been the better side. Stephen Warnock looked sharp on the left and tested Almunia with a handful of whipped crosses. Craig Bellamy, offering the pace the home side lacked on Saturday, looked menacing. Gerrard lashed a low shot straight at Almunia and Toure made a vital interception after Bellamy and Danny Guthrie linked up well on the right.

Given their early pressure, it was no great surprise when Liverpool equalised five minutes after falling behind. Song was penalised – somewhat unfairly – for a tackle on Fowler, Fabio Aurelio fired in the free-kick, Almunia parried, Luis Garcia showed good presence of mind to cut the ball back and Fowler netted his 12th goal in 16 games against Arsenal with a cheeky backheel.

Arsenal had to dig in as Gerrard took a brief grip in midfield but six minutes before the break the visitors restored their advantage. Aliadiere won a free kick 25 yards out; Baptista and Toure plotted while the Liverpool wall formed. Dudek, apparently expecting a piledriver from the Arsenal captain, shuffled to his left. Baptista curled the ball into the net to the keeper’s right. Not a bad way to open your domestic account.

Wenger would have taken a 2-1 lead at the break. In the event his team led 4-1, scoring twice in the six minutes of stoppage time which was added on, ironically, because of Gonzalez’s injury. Song grabbed Arsenal’s third in fortuitous fashion as Hyypia’s attempted clearance bounced in off the midfielder after Fabregas’ corner had cleared a bunch of players at the near post.

Then, in the final seconds of the first half, Aliadiere broke the offside trap again and sensibly squared the ball for Baptista. The Brazilian tapped in and the away fans celebrated again, hardly believing what was unfolding in front of them.

Baptista, finally showing the promise which tempted Wenger to bring him to Emirates Stadium, had a chance to complete his hat-trick 10 minutes into the second half after Aliadiere had been tripped by Hyypia. Dudek, who knows a thing or two about saving spot-kicks, pushed Baptista’s penalty away. But the Brazilian was soon celebrating again. Aliadiere, growing in confidence with every minute, picked out Baptista with a fizzing pass and he fired low into the corner. An hour gone, and Arsenal were 5-1 up. Incredible.

By now Benitez had brought on Xabi Alonso and the Spaniard, alongside Gerrard, started to exert his authority in midfield. It wasn’t long before the Liverpool comeback began. With 67 minutes on the clock Hyypia headed the ball into the Arsenal box. It was half-cleared and a fortunate ricochet took it into the path of Gerrard, lurking on the edge of the area. The England midfielder executed a perfect volley to give Liverpool hope.

That hope turned to something approaching expectation when Hyypia nodded in Gabriel Paletta’s cross with 11 minutes left. Surely Arsenal couldn’t throw this away? No, they couldn’t. With seven minutes left Aliadiere got to the byline again and squared for Baptista again. The Brazilian scored again to end Liverpool’s resistance.

So, six goals, a place in the Carling Cup Semi-Finals and, just as importantly, a substitute appearance from Abou Diaby after eight months on the sidelines with a fractured and dislocated ankle. It was good to see the Frenchman back and he looked assured during his nineteen-minute cameo.

But the night belonged to Baptista. As the Anfield crowd streamed out at the final whistle, a recent hit by The Automatic was played over the tannoy: “What’s that coming over the hill, is it a monster?”. Not exactly. It was The Beast.

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Arsenal were going to shut up shop

January 13, 2007 at 1:08 pm (Events)

Arsène Wenger strode into his pre-match press conference on Friday brandishing a piece of paper.

As moments in history go it was not quite up there with Neville Chamberlain’s flourish after the Munich Agreement but it said plenty about the Arsenal manager’s attention to detail.

A week ago Wenger spoke forthrightly about ill-discipline in English football and the disparity between teams who try to play and those who try to spoil. When a sheet of Opta stats backing up Wenger’s view landed on his desk, he felt duty-bound to show the journalists with whom he had debated the issue.

Sure enough, Wenger’s sheet showed that Arsenal had committed the fewest fouls in the Premiership this season. When the Frenchman had made his point, a helpful member of the press pointed out that Saturday’s opponents lay at the other end of that particular table.

Arsenal have certainly had some bruising encounters with Mark Hughes’ side in recent years – Robin van Persie took a forearm in the face during the 2005 FA Cup Semi-Final – but Wenger is expecting more than just a physical challenge at Ewood Park.

“They are still very committed,” he said. “You do not expect to go up there on the motorway with nobody on the road. It will be congested but we are prepared for that, we know what we will meet.

“But Blackburn are also a side which plays good football. You cannot play Tugay in your team and not play football. They have good players – Bentley, Savage, Pedersen, Tugay, McCarthy, Nonda – they all try to play. You expect commitment because that’s normal for the Premier League but you expect as well quality in their game.”

Rovers have shown plenty of quality since capitulating in the final 10 minutes at Emirates Stadium two days before Christmas.

Hughes’ depleted side had held their own until a late flurry of goals earned Arsenal an emphatic 6-2 win. Wenger is no stranger to six-goal salvos – he enjoyed one at Anfield in midweek – but he’s not expecting a repeat performance on Saturday.

“I feel the first result was a little bit flattering because they were late goals and it was quite a tight game until the end when we made the difference,” he said. “But it was a difficult game.

“We want to go there and try to win the game of course but Blackburn is a good side and since then they have responded very well. They won at Everton, they won all their games since losing to us, they beat Liverpool so it will be a big challenge.”

It is a challenge Wenger will have to face without a quartet of injured players. William Gallas (thigh) is at least a fortnight away from fitness after suffering a setback in his recovery, Freddie Ljungberg (hamstring) and Emmanuel Eboue (ankle) are hoping to return for the visit of Manchester United next Sunday and Lauren who is still struggling with a minor toe injury.

Meanwhile, Emmanuel Adebayor’s return to the squad presents Wenger with something of a selection dilemma. Thierry Henry and Van Persie are also fit while Julio Baptista and Jeremie Aliadiere excelled at Anfield on Tuesday. The Arsenal manager will ponder long and hard before naming his team.

“At the moment I have five strikers available and Adebayor has only had two days training so I am tempted not to start him,” he said. “They all deserve to play but I can only play two and sometimes I only play one. But that is good because with so many games coming up that is a position we have to rotate and that is really good for us.”

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