What a wonderful Sunday to be an Arsenal supporter. Our beloved Arsenal traveled to Manchester to take on Manchester City and we won. If that has finally set in, then think about how we won relatively comfortably and the ref wasn't completely terrible. Hard to believe but it is all completely true. The monkey is off our backs as we won away from home to a top four side.
I am positive that many Arsenal fans were nervous about this match. Sure we all wanted a win and if asked we would have confidently stated that we would trounce City and win the league. Yet, in our hearts and minds, the fear of losing to another top four team was at the forefront of our thoughts. Last season we lost 6-3 in a match that was mostly back and forth. Individual defensive errors cost us but in reality the match was a lot closer than the score line showed. The horror that was the matches at Chelsea and Anfield are the reason why we are nervous when facing top four teams.
The match started off in a way that we expected: a Koscielny yellow card with only a few minutes on the clock. The stage was set for a 50th minute 2nd yellow to red and we would have to defend for forty minutes and concede a late goal to lose. Yet, that doomsday prophecy never manifested itself. What we got instead was an organized defense from front to back AND a purposeful attacking threat. It was something we haven't seen in a long time with this Arsenal.
The tactical setup will be touched on a bit later but the goals we scored were decisive in that they were scored at very important moments of the match. City started pretty well and were getting into our half but we were drowning out their time after time. A fast break saw Alexis play the ball to Giroud who held up the ball played it in front of the onrushing Monreal who was fouled in the box. The ref pointed to the spot and Cazorla sent the ball to Hart's left. He guessed right but the shot was too clever for him to stop.
A lot has been made about that penalty from Pellegrini saying it “wasn't a penalty” to “Monreal dived”. My take on it is that it was a penalty all day. Monreal was impeded in a goal-scoring area. That is a penalty. Kompany did not make an attempt of the ball as the ball was already away from him thanks to the vision and skill of Giroud, who I do not think gets enough credit for his almost “eyes in the back of his head-like passes to players moving through on goal. Monreal's movement was straight towards the ball. It was Kompany who threw a leg in Monreal's path. His intentions were clear to stop him and he did but it was in the box and therefore a penalty. For once, the ref got it right. It was our turn to get a call right. How many handballs in the box or shirt-pulls that drag our players down have we seen that did not get called and may have cost us a match? A lot. This wasn't a controversial call. It was the right call. 100%.
The second goal came after City began putting on pressure and it seemed like an equalizer was inevitable. A free was awarding in City's half and Cazorla sent the ball over the defense to an unmarked Giroud who headed the ball with purpose. How City's defense did not pick up his run was bizarre but watching the replay you saw three Arsenal players attacking the ball with no defenders following them. Hart was alone with a Giroud header, so he had little chance to save it. That goal took the remaining wind out of City's sails and we set off for the win with excellent defending.
Arsenal looked organized from front to back and that is what won us this match. It is hard to attribute a win like this to only one player but a lot of credit has to be given to Francis Coquelin. The young defensive midfielder was the true link between attack and defense. With Arteta out for the season and with Flamini's fluctuation between good and bad form, Coquelin is the only true defensive midfielder we can use. He has played a few solid games over the last several weeks but Sunday was the first game where he stepped his game up and maybe gave us a glimpse of what his abilities are. It is easy to get excited over a young player who has come through the youth system to play in big match. Very few players get this kind of chance and prove themselves but he has earned his place and it is his to lose. A few things to note on his performance was his intelligence and his vocal leadership. A few times in the match when the players in front of him looked disorganized he quickly was there to intercept the ball or make the tackle and then reset his teammates. It is rare to see a young player playing with that kind of confidence. I love seeing our young players improving. Does it mean that Coquelin is our answer, not necessarily, but it is a start and it shows how important a true defensive midfielder is to our game.
In a time when Wenger is generally under a lot of fire for his tactical set up, it is great to see him try something different and see it work against the top clubs. In his press conference after the match, when asked why he didn't do this sooner, he just gave his usual wry smile and said they did. Maybe the team talk before a lot of matches involves trying to get them to play that way but it doesn't pan out. Whatever the reason, it worked and worked well. Sure we may have lost a bit of the possession game but it didn't matter. City had plenty of the ball but weren't ever able get any real threats on goal. Their main attacking outlet has been David Silva and he was cut off almost all match. Without Silva to set up Aguero, City was toothless. We forced their play wide and dealt with their crosses and plethora of corners. I want us to play that way against all the top clubs and start taking the scalps of teams like Chelsea, United and Liverpool. If we can consistently get results against those teams, we will get back to challenging for the title.
This Sunday we face Brighton in the FA Cup. I expect a bit of rotation in the lineup to give some of our players a rest. We may see Alexis get a rest, as well as Ramsey and Cazorla. I expect Walcott and Ozil to start or get major minutes to get back to full fitness. I also think Ospina will continue in net. He has proven he can perform well and until he messes up, the starting job is his, just like Coquelin. I think we have more than enough to deal with Brighton but we cannot underestimate them. We have been burned like that before.
Until next week,
Up the Arsenal!
How does a comprehensive win over Stoke City sound? Good right? What about minutes for Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott? Also good. All this and more occurred when Arsenal defeated Stoke City Sunday. We seem to moving forward while slowly making progress to getting back our winning form that we experienced early last season. It has been a long and arduous road and as the old cliché says “take it one game at a time.” We are continuing to do that as we look o the tough test against Manchester City this weekend.
Sunday saw the Orcs from Mordor climb out of their hovels and march on North London where the forces of good fought them back in a great 3-0 win. Arsene Wenger made a few changes to the lineup. Giroud returned to the striker position after his suspension. Coquelin, Ox and Rosicky all got the start as well. A surprise (or maybe not) replacement was see Szczesny replaced with David Ospina. The best news was seeing Ramsey, Walcott and Ozil on the bench, all of whom we hope can remain healthy for the rest of the season.
The match started well with Arsenal getting plenty of the ball and shots on target. It was clear that Begovic was heading for a good match and it would take quality to beat him. It was little surprise to see that Alexis was involved in the first goal. From a corner the ball was cleared but not far enough from Alexis, whose cross connected with the head of Koscielny. Koscielny headed the ball into the net. 1-0. Disaster struck a few minutes later as Debuchy was jogging near the goal line, the ball was out of play and Debuchy was shoved in the back by Arnautovic and proceeded to crash into the advertising boards. His shoulder was clearly the issue and sideline diagnosing showed what may be a dislocated shoulder. As of writing this the only information available is surgery is needed to set the shoulder so this injury could see Debuchy out for 2 months or more. Once again, our injury problems manifest itself.
Bellerin came in for the injured Debuchy and did the job well. It would be harsh to be overly critical of a young player being thrust into the first team in the Premier League without adequate higher level experience. Bellerin has worked hard and has shown that he does have the skill to perform, but he still is pretty raw. The other option we have is Chambers, but he is more trusted in the center of defense alongside our BFG. Our lack of adequate defensive cover is no fault of the young players being called up to the first team and as such we cannot expect them to perform at the same level. What we can do however is be supportive as fans and encourage them. If Jenkinson and Bellerin continue to improve, we may have duo of defenders that we can rely on in the future.
Arsenal continued at the same tempo even with the loss of Debuchy. Giroud and Alexis each had their share of shots on goal but were well met by Begovic who was having a fine match in goal for Stoke. At thirty-three minutes however, Alexis took advantage of a Stoke mistake and played a set of passes with Rosicky before side-footing the ball into the net at the near post. The finish was superb. Every time I think he can't outdo himself, he finds a way to put the ball in the net in a better way. I really liked that goal because it showed how he has ice in his veins. It seems that no matter the angle or distance, Alexis can finish. That kind of form will no doubt cause goalkeepers a lot of problems.
Alexis would get his second goal early in the second half as his free kick was through the wall and the bounce it took threw off Begovic and he bungled the ball into the net. Not the prettiest goal, but another deserved goal for our main man. A few blogs back I mentioned how there aren't enough surperlatives to describe him and that trend continues. His tireless work rate continues with every match and like the Energizer Bunny, he keeps on going. We will need him to continue that strong form as the season begins to enter the final stages.
This match may have cost us Debuchy for the better part of the second half of the season, but Ozil and Walcott received valuable minutes. Since Alexis is carrying the weight of the entire team at times, it will great to have him sharing the load with our other top players. I want to see Alexis, Ozil and Walcott scaring defenders with pace and creativity. This was what we were all hoping for once Alexis joined the club in the summer but various injuries hit and killed our fantasy. Now we are closing in on making that dream a reality. We got a glimpse of that threatening attack late in the match against Stoke, when Alexis played a through ball to the rushing Walcott who then went 1 on 1 with the keeper and sent the shot wide. It was a disappointment but Walcott is still not 100% but is approaching that mark. We just have to be patient which is a tough ask given our fluctuating form this season.
Coming up this weekend is a very tough away match against Manchester City. I expect roughly the same line up we saw against Stoke to start again. I think Chambers will start at right back instead of Bellerin. It is nothing against Bellerin, but I think Wenger will opt with experience as ironic as that is when deciding between two young full backs. Flamini may return in the defensive midfield role but i would like Coquelin to continue his run there. I think he has earned that spot for the time being alongside Ox, who has continued his fine form. Alexis will start with Giroud as the sole striker. We won't see Ozil or Walcott start on Sunday, but I do expect an appearance from both. Who starts in goal is the biggest question. Does Wenger put Szczesny back in or does Ospina get the nod? I dont think Wenger will change and his punishment of Szczesny will continue. Wenger has a policy of sticking with goaltenders until they do something to disaapoint them. Szczesny's poor showing at Southampton coupled by his smoking shenanigans means that Ospina is almost guranteed to start. Ospina also has not done anything to warrant being dropped. He didn't have much to do against Stoke but he didnt make any mistakes either.
As we all know, Wenger is capable of throwing a curve ball so who truly knows? Sunday will be a tough test but hopefully we can continue our rising form with a good result against.
Until next week,
Come on you Gunners!
Before I start I would like to wish all my fellow Gooners a Happy New Year and good fortune in the coming year. Hopefully that good fortune will also include Arsenal winning the Champions League as every media outlet in England's collective skulls explode like in “Scanners” because the overwhelming shock of Arsenal doing well is just too much for them to take.
It has been a few weeks since my last post and the Christmas period was as busy for me as it was for the Arsenal. My computer also was not cooperating, but I have since rectified that issue and am back in front of the keyboard ready to rant and rave about our beloved Arsenal. A lot has happened over the Christmas period and we have quite a bit to discuss.
The results have been mixed. A 2-2 draw at Liverpool, a 2-1 win over QPR at home, a 2-1 win over West Ham, a horribly disappointing loss to Southampton on New Years day and a 2-0 win over Hull City in the FA Cup. Seven points out of twelve out of four league matches isn't terrible but the manner of the dropped points is concerning as it has been all season. Not every match was disappointing but the dropped points are what matters as we continue to stagnate.
The match against Liverpool saw us leading the game with a few minutes left to play. The outrageous amount of stoppage time saw Liverpool get the header they needed as they drew level. It wasn't a game that we necessarily deserved to be leading in or even win, but it is the type of match that Arsenal need to close out to show improvement. This season has been like that though. We lead the game or go down a goal early, only to take the lead but lose it late on. Wenger always uses the same rhetoric about mental strength and confidence building but after it happens so many times in one season, it begins to fall on deaf ears. We are so far off the pace this season it is sickening. You can cite so many reasons for the poor performances this season but all of the excuses do not matter to the fans. All that matters is that we keep losing and drawing games and continue to stumble behind the top four.
The wins were deserved ones, no doubt in that. Both West Ham and QPR gave us a few problems but we had the goals and a relatively stable defense to see out the wins in those matches, but they are matches that we should be winning regardless. The talking point in the QPR matches was the Olivier Giroud red card that he stupidly received. I use the term stupidly to describe it for two reasons: the reaction by Giroud was completely unnecessary, and the QPR player made the most out of the contact and flopped on the ground like a fish. Contact was made but Giroud did not headbutt the player like the commentators would have you think. He simply pressed his forehead to the QPR man in anger and once the contact was made he fell down in a heap like a pile of boiled spaghetti. Giroud should never have put himself in the position to have the ref make that call in the first place. At that point in the game, the tables were tilting toward Arsenal and we were applying pressure trying to put the game away. Giroud's red card put us on the back foot for the remainder of the game. This meant a full effort on defense, which is cause for concern. Anytime we are forced to defend, I end up pacing in front of the TV for the remainder of the match. I have a rut being formed in my living room carpeting.
The low point of the Christmas period was the New Years Day loss to Southampton. I will not take anything away from Southampton because they were clearly up for the match on the day but Arsenal were abjectly awful. Arsenal gave us a way to stop the New Years Eve hangover by making every Gooner around the globe pick up a drink and continue where they left off. Arsenal's threadbare squad is the talking point as we continue to see players injured and taking stupid red cards. The defense still doesn't look like it is up to the task. Per has played in almost every single match and the rest of the defense is mostly a selection slot machine filled with whomever is healthy on the day. Even our midfield and attack is starting to dwindle in numbers. Coquelin is starting matches now after being recalled from his loan. He is actually filling the role rather comfortably, given the task asked of him. I am not hard on young players who are asked to start during difficult matches or periods of the season because it is not their fault that they are in this position. Every one of them wants to impress and do well but sometimes the climb is difficult. Instead of getting on their backs we need to ask why they are asked to start in the first place. In Coquelin's case it is because both Arteta and Flamini are injured and it leaves us with no DM option. Wenger could play any of the other midfielders there but they too are filling roles by absent players.
Our main concern for this season, as it is for many seasons, is the lack of rotation and depth due to injury. The Arsenal squad is routinely reduced to the squad and fringe players because our main starters are injured. Luckily for us, Walcott is getting minutes and Ozil is nearing full fitness. We need these players back asap in order to give the current starters a break every once in a while. Alexis plays our of his skin week in and week out, so eventually this will take a toll on the Chilean and if we lose him to injury we are screwed on offense. Alexis continues to be the catalyst for goals, both in scoring and setting up plays. His tireless work rate and speed, coupled with his natural finishing make him a terror just as Suarez was for Liverpool (albeit without the cannibalism). With Giroud out to injury for most of the season and Ramsey falling short of his goal scoring record we saw last season and now Podolski being sent on loan (also the speculation of Sanogo going out on loan) we are running the risk of over-playing Alexis and diminishing our attacking options. I like what Welbeck has brought to the table but his finishing is not quite there, but the talent and ability are present, it just needs a bit of finesse. Campbell doesn't seem to have the faith of the manager, like Podolski, he will only see a few minutes at the end of the match, but never truly be expected to do anything with it in such short time. This leaves the injury prone Giroud and Walcott to take up the scoring for us. Should any combination of Walcott, Giroud or Alexis go down for weeks and it is curtains for us.
These injury worries and the over-reliance on Alexis makes me wonder what the manager is thinking when it comes to Podolski. He was clearly a clinical finisher and could also set up a goal with a well placed cross but he was criticized most heavily for not being up to the task defensively. I understand the need to be adept at both ends of the pitch but I fear we were overly concerned with the defensive aspect of our attackers game. It is not up to just the attackers to defend, but the entire team as a collective. Arsenal have problems defending as a unit and blaming Podolski for not defending is like blaming Mertesacker for not scoring enough 30 yard bombs. Podolski was not managed properly by Wenger. He had his shortcomings for sure, but he was good for a goal when he got more than 10 minutes of playing time. I will miss him at Arsenal, he was a good ambassador to the fans and a public representative of the club but he signed on at the wrong time and was a victim of Wenger's enigmatic selection process and tactical blunders. He will most certainly be gone for good at the end of the season and it is not a surprise, I just hope that we aren't going to regret not having that left-footed shot in the box during an important game. He wanted more playing time, something that wasn't going to be given and I am positive this move was started by him. He is a talented 29 year old attacker and deserves his shot. I just wish it was still with the Gunners. No use crying over spilled milk as what is done is done. I know he creates a lot of division within the ranks of Gooners and this debate may rage on through the remainder of the season.
Moving on to our next match against the orcs as they invade North London from Mordor, I mean Stoke City. Arsenal need to get a win against those foul-heavy neanderthals ( I apologize to any neanderthals as this comparison is harsh on them). Stoke will most likely be ready to embarrass us again and we have to do anything to stop it. The horror of going 3-0 down to lose 3-2 will still be fresh in all of our minds and it doesn't take a doctorate in sports psychology to see the effect it will have on moral to lose to them again. I am not going to even remotely guess at our starting lineup but I will assume Alexis, Mertesacker and Coquelin will be starting. All I want is a win, whether it comes in the form of a 1-0 nail biter or a 5-0 slaughter, makes no difference, but I want it to be comfortable as my floor cannot take any more pacing.
So Happy New Year Gooners and lets hope for a strong finish to the season.
Side note: Let's hope Szcznesy got his bizarre match blunders out of him against Southampton, I can't take watching garbage goals scored against us because our keeper is committing howlers.