Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

England: Are Wenger and Arsenal doomed to fail yet again?

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on March 9, 2011
Arsenal FC

From cheers to tears: Arsenal FC lost yet again to FC Barcelona

This was supposed to be the season when Arsenal FC was to benefit from Arsène Wenger’s policy of matching limited spending with upholding the ethos of giving youth a chance. Only a couple of weeks ago Arsenal fans were quietly hopeful that anything from a single League Cup triumph to an amazing quadruple of Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Champions League could be on the cards as the club was progressing well in all four competitions. Sadly for all Gunners fans it seems that the club could slowly be losing momentum at a time when they should be gaining it and their latest elimination from Europe’s top club competition by FC Barcelona could hit them harder than they think.

Arsenal FC haven’t won a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup final triumph against Manchester United and have yet to lift silverware since playing in the Emirates Stadium, their home since 2006. For a club who have made great investment off the pitch the fans are starting to become impatient at the lack of investment and reward on the pitch as manager Arsène Wenger sticks to his guns in refusing to splash the cash on big name players, preferring to place faith in youth players either developed or bought from other clubs. But despite the progress of players such as Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Niklas Bendtner the Gunners are lacking strength in key areas. The absence of a top class centre half, a warrior in the heart of the midfield, a prolific goalscorer and a world class keeper are the key concerns for a club who are vastly underachieving.

Fans of most other clubs would be desperate to have the sort of team that Arsenal possess with their football being some of the most impressive in European football but it was they who were put in their place on Tuesday night by an FC Barcelona team who have made an art form out of possession football and who can press any team to death when they don’t have the ball. Having won the first leg 2-1 in London, Arsenal FC were hoping to go into the second leg having learnt the lessons of twelve months earlier when Lionel Messi inspired his team to a crushing 4-1 win over Arsenal in the Camp Nou. Sadly for the North London outfit they hardly saw any of the ball with virtually all of the action taking place in Arsenal’s half of the field. The home side had 20 shots at goal whilst Arsenal didn’t have a meaningful shot all night; indeed FC Barcelona even had the good grace to score a goal for them. Following Messi’s opening goal on the stroke of half-time Arsenal restored parity on the night to 1-1 in the 53rd minute after Sergio Busquets put through his own net to allow the visitors to restore an aggregate lead of 3-2. Arsenal’s night would get difficult however when Robin Van Persie was sent off having been shown a second yellow card in the 56th minute after he shot the ball when failing to hear the referee’s whistle following an offside call. Despite Arsenal’s bad luck on that occasion it was only a matter of time until Barcelona ran them further into the ground with goals from Xavi and Messi (pen) in the last twenty minutes putting paid to the Gunners’ Champions League hopes for another year.

Birmingham City

Birmingham City won the English League Cup this season defeating Arsenal FC

But it wasn’t the manner of the sending off that should concern anybody connected with the club it was the manner of how Arsenal, for the second consecutive year, went to the Camp Nou and were taught a lesson in keeping possession and breaking down defences in a way which they usually do to teams back home. Despite regular UEFA Champions League football the club is forever failing in Europe and, without a meaningful European trophy in Arsène Wenger’s sixteen years in charge, some fans are now starting to publicly question whether it is time to finally replace the man at the helm. On the domestic front Arsenal just can’t seem to overtake league leaders Manchester United despite the Old Trafford club losing three times in their last five games. Arsenal also recently lost the first big cup final of the season after a defensive calamity between keeper Wojciech Szczęsny and centre half Laurent Koscielny gifted Obafemi Martins the winning goal and saw Arsenal go down to a 2-1 reverse at the hands of Birmingham City. With the FA Cup quarter final match to Manchester United iminent the priority for Wenger is to go to Old Trafford and get a result and, at the same time, strike a psychological blow in the race for the Premier League title. Should Arsenal lose to United on Saturday then that could be the ultimate hammer blow to their chances of any success this season.

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Champions League – Group Stage Round-Up: Part Two

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 10, 2009
Fiorentina v Liverpool

Gamberini (left) competes with Liverpool's Fernando Torres in Fiorentina's 2-0 win on Matchday 2

In the second half of our look at the Champions League group stage “Stoppage Time” focuses on groups E-H:

GROUP E (OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS, FIORENTINA, LIVERPOOL FC, DEBRECENI)

The biggest disappointment in this year’s competition, without any doubt, was five-time European champions Liverpool. After the opening group match against Hungarian champions Debreceni the Reds were caught short against group rivals Lyon and Fiorentina. Too many mistakes at crucial times proved Liverpool’s undoing and this was emphasized in the last minute of Matchday 6 where Alberto Gilardino was able to capitalize on a defensive error to give Fiorentina the three points needed to top the group. Lyon were impressive throughout especially in their games against Debreceni, against whom they scored eight goals without reply in two matches. Fiorentina finished top on fifteen points, two more than Lyon, whilst Liverpool have to be content with a Europa League place finishing on a dismal seven points in a group they were widely expected to qualify from. Debreceni’s maiden Champions League finished, as expected, in last place but no doubt their team would’ve enjoyed the experience.

GROUP F (FC BARCELONA, INTERNAZIONALE, RUBIN KAZAN, DYNAMO KYIV)

This was the most open group in the Champions League. All four teams harboured hopes of qualification to the Round of 16 prior to Matchday 6. In the end the big boys, FC Barcelona and Internazionale, managed to qualify but they were made to work hard for their place. Jose Mourinho’s Inter had the upper hand in their final game at home against Russian champions Rubin Kazan thanks to goals from Samuel Eto’o and Mario Balotelli whilst European champions FC Barcelona had to come from behind to beat Dynamo Kyiv in Ukraine 2-1. Goals from Xavi and Lionel Messi were sufficient for the Catalans to finish top of the group, two points clear of Inter. Rubin Kazan’s first season in the Champions League provided much drama, the 2-1 win against Barcelona in the Camp Nou was one of the highlights of the tournament so far. However they just didn’t have enough killer instinct to put the group to bed but at least they can be content with a Europa League place. For Andriy Shevchenko and his Dynamo side it’s another disappointing exit from a European campaign but they should be back next year barring a dismal second half to the domestic season in Ukraine.

GROUP G (SEVILLA CF, VfB STUTTGART, UNIREA URZICENI, GLASGOW RANGERS)

Sevilla were the clear winners of the group remaining undefeated through the campaign. Their 4-1 win over Rangers at Ibrox Park on Matchday 2 was their most convincing of the tournament thus far. The chase for second became a Matchday 6 “cup final” between VfB Stuttgart (who fired coach Markus Babbel and replaced him with Christian Gross in the weekend prior to the game) and Unirea Urziceni (coached by Chelsea legend Dan Petrescu). The German side started like a train and were 3-0 up inside eleven minutes. Despite Unirea pulling a goal back early in the second half the Germans managed to preserve their lead and the three points allowed them to overtake the Romanians into second place. Unirea go into the Europa League whilst Glasgow Rangers must swallow their pride and be hopeful that they can be back next season.

GROUP H (ARSENAL, OLYMPIAKOS, STANDARD LIEGE, AZ ALKMAAR)

Arsenal were comfortably the best team in the group and had already qualified for the Round of 16 when they went to Greece to play Olympiakos on Matchday 6. They played a young team with an average age of 21 but Arsene Wenger’s men couldn’t maintain their unbeaten record in Athens going down 1-0. Zico’s Olympiakos finished second thanks to some good results earlier in the tournament against Standard Liege and AZ Alkmaar. The third and fourth placed teams came up with some drama of their own on Matchday 6 in Belgium. Dutch champions AZ took the lead in the first half through Jeremain Lens and they held on to their advantage until five minutes into stoppage time. A free-kick was whipped in at pace and among the crowd of players in the penalty box was Standard’s goalkeeper Sinan Bolat who headed home to gain the ‘Liegeois’ a precious point and a place in the Europa League.