The 2014-15 season has come to a close in strong fashion for Arsenal as we ran riot against West Brom in a 4-1 win. Theo Walcott got a confidence boosting hat trick and Jack Wilshere scored a thumping goal as we shook the cobwebs loose as we prepare to defend our FA Cup glory for another year. A clash at Wembley against Aston Villa will give us a chance to win a trophy in two successive seasons.
Prior to the West Brom match, Arsenal were not as effective going forward and we looked sluggish as we managed a few unconvincing draws that caused us to lose grip on second place and slip unceremoniously to third place. It was incredibly frustrating to watch as we generated chances but poor finishing would see us miss the chance to take home three points. Our players looked tired and every touch, pass and shot expressed this. Wenger rarely changed his squad but against West Brom he did make a few changes and it was because of these changes that we were able to get the win.
Wenger sent in Walcott in place of Giroud and Wilshere in place of Ramsey. In my last post I talked about Walcott's place in the squad and my conclusion was that he doesn't have a place in the starting XI week in and week out but could still serve a purpose from the bench. He is at an age where he will be looking for regular football and I don't think he will get that at Arsenal. In the West Brom match he showed what he is capable of as a squad player when you must rest other starters. His movement was good and he had shooting boots on, which is something that we have been lacking recently. It was the kind of match that he needed in order to give Wenger something to think about for the cup final and for the coming season as we enter the transfer market. Walcott was helped by a lackadaisical West Brom side that showed up in body only but their heads weren't in the game. That suited us just fine as we dominated from start to finish. They showed a little life in the second half but 4-0 at halftime, it would have been a long shot for them to get even an equalizer.
Wilshere, Ox and Gabriel also got minutes as Wenger continued his rotation in preparation for the cup final. Wilshere was his usual tenacious self and showed why Wenger rates him highly. He loves taking on players and taking a shot when others would look for a pass. He too was assisted by the weak West Brom outfit but it will do wonders for his confidence. Gabriel was effective replacing Koscielny as was Gibbs who was in for Monreal. It was clear that Wenger was resting as many players as possible. While this was the case, I think it showed how necessary it is for a manager to rotate his squad and keep players fresh. We played the same squad for so many matches it was predictable to play against. Throwing a few new players into the mix really gives the opposition something to think about. West Brom were not able to handle the rotated players because it added a different dimension to our game. Now if we continued with that lineup for a few more matches than a new rotation would be needed. Wenger has built a squad with many talented players who can play multiple roles (except Coquelin, we still defensive mid backup) it is ridiculous for us to continue with the same line up every week when we have the ability to change it up. Of course this is all something to ponder for next season as we are out of matches.
It does bring up the question as to who plays Villa in the final. I think Wenger will stick with the same players he played the majority of the season. Giroud will start up top, even though Walcott had a great game, Giroud is our main striker and barring an injury, he will start. If Welbeck were fit I think he would have a chance to start as well but this is not the case. Alexis will continue to hold his place and Ramsey will play out to the right. Ozil in the center attacking mid spot ahead of Coquelin and Cazorla. Pretty standard setup for us and one that is predictable which is why I think attacking subs will be critical for us to see out this match. Walcott, Ox and Wilshere will need to be prepared to play like they did Sunday. In defense we will see Monreal start with Koscielny and Mertesacker. Bellerin will retain his place at RB as well. Just like last season the goaltender will be up in the air. Opsina or Szczesny? That is the question.
My gut says Szczesny will get the start, of course is said that last season and Fabianski started so I will probably get this wrong too. Ospina has taken the league matches away from the Pole and that makes Szczesny the cup keeper. On top of that Szczesny didn't get to play last season in the win so I think Wenger will start him even if it may be a little risky playing a keeper who hasn't started a match in a month. Since this is the second year in a row we have had this dilemma with our keepers and given our poor track record of consistency in the keeper position, it is clear that this summer we need to sort out our starting keeper even it means getting a new one to replace one of the two we have. I plan on looking closer at the numbers between Ospina and Szczesny to see who is the better option but for now lets all just hope Wenger makes the right decision and our keeper doesn't us a trophy.
The pub will be packed on Sunday as the Queen City Gooners will be in full voice showing why Arsenal has the strongest support in the US.
Come on you Gunners!
They say all good things come to end and our undefeated run came to an end Monday against a resilient and stubborn Swansea side. As the match wore on it was clear that we weren't going to find a way through the stubborn defense and we should have settled for a point but we ended up conceded a very late and soft goal to see 2nd place to removed from our hands and placed firmly in City's.
I am not going to say the sky is falling and all hope is lost but we need City to drop points and every game becomes a must win for us to finish 2nd. A lot of finger-pointing occurs after a match like this. Wenger, Giroud, Ramsey and Ospina all contributed to the loss if you believe everything you read in social media. Frankly, I just contribute it to a bad day at the office from a team standpoint. Our finishing was off, the defense had a lapse for the goal and Ospina should have gotten onto the ball a bit quicker. We were bound to suffer a match like this eventually, however we need to win these kind of games in order to be a title contender. That is what concerns me. We need to start finding a way to see these matches through and get the points.
We can analyze the match all day but in the end we lost and have to move on. What I wanted to discuss are the players in the squad, particularly Walcott. My opinion on Walcott is a strong one. I like him and I think he offers something to this squad but at the wages he is on, it isn't worth it. My main issue with him is his decision making. Walcott has never seemed to break out of the habit of running the ball to the goal line or touch line and out for the throw or goal kick. He doesn't cross or pass backwards. If he was playing FIFA he uses two buttons: sprint and shoot. Sometimes that is enough to break down a fullback but more often than not it just creates a lack of options something this team doesn't need.
He has several players ahead of him in the pecking order, Giroud, Welbeck, Ramsey, Cazorla, Alexis and Ox when fit. Of those players, all but Giroud are capable of playing out wide and provide more than just quick feet. The vision they possess is all far superior to Walcott and are able to play more passes centrally to Giroud for the hold up play. Walcott just doesn't do this. He does offer a goal threat but so does almost every player in midfield and attack. I am having a hard time finding out where Walcott fits into the starting XI. Nobody except for Welbeck can offer what Giroud does in the striker role as Walcott doesn't have the strength and control for hold up play. Out wide Ox will take on players and Alexis is Alexis, no need to say more. If Walcott isn't starting over a half-fit Ramsey I don't think that Wenger will start him at all.
Walcott's strength is his pace and to a tiring defense, this is terrifying but how much have we needed that this season? Not much. We weren't losing or drawing games this season because we were missing Walcott. We suffered due to a tired, injury-riddled defense and over worked midfield. Giroud's finishing wasn't a problem as his proficiency in front of goal since his injury spell has been terrific. During his absence Welbeck did the job pretty well and when fit and they share the bench, Welbeck comes on before Walcott. I think that speaks volumes for the player and his abilities. Being able to run and shoot isn't enough for this squad anymore. He also has a weakened bargaining hand since we have acquired Ozil and Alexis since the great player migration. Walcott was able to get a large wage and playing time because needed to stop the exodus of starting players and he knew that. Now that isn't the case. Losing Walcott doesn't put us at a huge disadvantage as it would have 4 years ago.
I do want him to stay because he is an option but I don't think he is OK with sitting on the bench game after game while he gets passed over for Welbeck. Podolski was in the same boat and he is on loan at Inter and is almost certainly gone in the summer. If had to choose between the two I would take Podolski simply because his finishing is better and that makes him more of a goal threat than Walcott (of course I am biased in this matter, but the point had to made). I am not saying that I want Walcott gone or that he is a bad player, just that our squad has evolved past him and his injury has stunted his ability to follow suit. It was an unfortunate that he suffered such a damaging injury to Spurs last season. He lost serious development time and time to gel with our new refined squad. This team is so different to the one he last played with. Bellerin, Coquelin, Monreal all getting starts with Cazorla playing deeper. Our balance is getting better and Walcott may not help that balance. Frankly it sucks because he is a player I truly like and want him to fit in. It may be too late for him though. Hopefully the manager will do the right thing and find that something special in him as we all know Wenger can. I am glad that Wenger has to make the decision and not me. It would be too tough. I know Walcott has a lot of fans and there are those who will read this and instantly disagree with me but just remember that I want Walcott in the side but not at the expense of our balance.
This weekend we play Manchester United and I think we will get the win at Old Trafford as we bounce back from the Swansea loss. This is also the weekend of the Carolina Goonerfest so check out the schedule of events on our Facebook page and sign up quick. We get to show off the best group of Gooners in the country to our fellow Carolinians.
Come on you Gunners!
So I would to start this off by apologizing for the lack of a blog last week. Work and life kept me busy and by the time I got a moment to sit down and write it was late in the week and I thought, what is the point? Everyone knows that the match against Chelsea was nothing fantastic and frankly it had already been talked about to death so I didn't want to beat that dead horse. A long weekend of no Arsenal football ensued as we had to wait until Monday to see another match.
I hate Monday matches (or any weekday matches for that matter), because I am unable to watch at the office so I have to resort to reading commentary and watching highlights later. Hull have given us some problems in the past but given our recent run of good form I was betting that we would take home three points and take them we did with a masterclass midfield performance. Wenger has tinkered and toyed with this squad almost all season and it appears that we have found a great balance in the middle of the pitch.
At the start of the season we knew the sheer number of midfielders would create a problem for Wenger week in and week out, but injuries to various key players has caused Wenger to experiment with more creative set ups and this tinkering has given us a very tough and attacking midfield formation with Ozil, Cazorla and Coquelin. Add in the flanking attack of Alexis and Ramsey with Giroud leading the line and you can see why we have been picking up so many points since that defeat to that other team in North London.
Ozil has really been showing why we broke the bank to bring him to the club. His ability to find the feet of another player in a crowded defense has been needed for some time. Obviously the flick in the Hull match shows the skill he has but we have all known that he is capable of brilliance on the pitch and it has been increasingly frustrating to see him struggling at times in the past season. It has taken some time for him to get acclimated to Arsenal and we are now seeing the fruits of that dedication. Ozil takes some flak for looking disinterested or lackadaisical at times but he was never the player to be overtly flashy in his play, even at Real Madrid. What he does is play clever, intelligent passes in congested areas. His play is more efficient and that is what is valuable in him. As his confidence grows with his teammates, his flashier play has begun to rise and since he knows the movement of his squad mates better, the passes will be more precise and sublime. That flick says it all. It took him a while to get back to fitness after the World Cup and sustaining an injury but with him at full form, we are seeing why Madrid valued him so highly for years and why it was a fools move to get rid of him.
Ozil and the rest of the midfield dominated Hull so soundly because of the sheer quality that we have. I will say that our midfield is the best in the League. We have quality replacements of the bench and the starting midfielders all seem to flow fluidly as they control the play with quick passing. The Hull defenders were often frozen in place as we passed through them. This doesn't and won't always work against all teams but our midfield can dictate the tempo and allow players like Alexis, Welbeck and Ramsey to get forward. Giroud benefits from our strong midfield by his holdup play can allow more of them to join the attack. Earlier this season we struggled in some matches to control the play and I think this came down to the lack of a strong defensive midfield player. Arteta is more of an attacking player and Flamini is good for a rough tackle against the orcs from Mordor but they don't fill the defensive mid role that Coquelin has provided.
Coquelin has been instrumental in our quest to get top four this season. He has matured quickly since he was called from his loan spell by Wenger. I am still amazed how quickly he settled after we all were pretty convinced his time at Arsenal was over. His form has been a breath of fresh air for us as he acted as the lynch pin of the midfield. Nobody saw his effectiveness coming and if you did you are a liar. We still need back up in that role however as it is the only position where we don't have a second player to do that job. Flamini is most likely gone this summer and Arteta won't play as many games in the future as his age catches up to him. I think in some matches a midfield two of Coquelin and Arteta could provide extra stability while only sacrificing a little attacking fluidity. I definitely think Arteta still has a role to play in the squad even if it is a diminished one. Coquelin has done nothing to give Wenger a reason to drop him from the club. Arteta can come in and still play defensively while providing an attacking threat. He provides a solid balance of attack and defense. With so many options in midfield I am eager to see what we do this summer to strengthen this squad. We clearly have the players to mount a title challenge and hopefully we get the win in the FA Cup final and avoid the Champions League qualifier (a pretty sure bet at this point).
Once again we have a Monday match as we face Swansea City. A tough match but with our recent run of form I think we will get the win and pressure City for the second place spot. We can't take any matches for granted as the season comes to a close.
The Carolina Goonerfest is coming up and I encourage all Queen City Gooners to get involved as we host the Carolina Branches of Gooners. We have a full schedule of events planned for the weekend so check it out on the Facebook page. We would love to see the pub in full voice and show our Charlotte hospitality to the other groups.
Until Next week,
Come on you Gunners