I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t nervous ahead of the match against Aston Villa. The dreadful match versus Dortmund didn’t exactly fill me with confidence and to be honest our overall game has been lacking so far this season but the players seemed up to the task at kick off. The main headline when the starting lineups were announced was Mesut Özil was starting at the number 10 spot.
Last week I said that Özil must play even if his form was dwindling. A player like him needed confidence and support and to be played in the position that he is most comfortable. I was ecstatic to see that he was starting in the center of the midfield. Once the match started Özil showed he was up for it.
Arsenal had lots of possession in the early stages of the match but weren’t really clicking in the final third, despite Özil having Ox and Welbeck running onto his passes. Unfortunately Villa should have been ahead when Szczesny cleared a ball straight to Delph who shot but our keeper made a fine save to keep it level. Arsenal pressed for the lead but Welbeck and Ramsey shots were off target and it appeared that this was going to be another one of those games. Villa again attacked and won a corner which was played to Clark whose header was stopped at close range by Szczesny who made a blindingly quick move to the far post. Still level.
Next on the script was a wonderful 180 seconds of pure footballing joy for us all to celebrate. Welbeck played a pass to Özil who was running close to the defense and ended up with a bursting run that Welbeck spotted. The pass was perfect and Özil slotted home to make it 1-0 to the visitors. Seconds later Özil turned provider as he was freed on the left to play a cross to Welbeck who side-footed the ball high into the net. 2-0. Again Arsenal pressed the attack and Villa was left on their heels as Gibbs scuffed a shot from the left that appeared to be heading into the path of a rushing Ox but Sissokho knocked the ball into his own net while trying to clear the shot. Seemed to be a goal either way and while I would have preferred Ox to have it added to his tally, an own goal works too. 3-0 at the break.
Arsenal started the second half in complete control and 45 minutes of dull, slow controlling play followed. We Gooners are far too accustomed to having to watch Arsenal give up late goals and play with fear as the opposition press the attack. We draw up every time a set piece is delivered into the box. Not this time however as Arsenal seemed content to control the play with accurate passes and smart movement. I will take that boring style of football every time as long as means we win matches. My heart can’t take the pressure of watching us nearly lose a game due to a corner at 90 minutes. 3-0 was the final score and Özil and Welbeck were easily the star players on the day. If those two find a partnership for the remainder of the season, this Gooner won’t complain especially if it means Welbeck puts 3 past United when we face them at Old Trafford while Van Gaal goes mental on the sidelines.
In the aftermath it was discovered that Monreal will be out until mid-October and Debuchy will be out for three months. This is not news we needed. Gibbs, Chambers, Mertesacker and Koscielny are now our only defenders healthy. Bellerin will be getting matches now. Wenger may have to shop the reserves for substitutes in case the unthinkable happen. Enough said about that.
We played Southampton in the Capital One Cup yesterday, a match that ended 2-1 to Southampton. Alexis scored a fantastic free kick that was neutralized by a penalty. Nathaniel Clyne scored a 30 yard belter that Ospina couldn’t be blamed for not stopping. We just didn’t seem to have enough to win the match. Part of me thinks that this was because we have to focus on the match against Spuds next week, a match which is far more important. We need to keep our league form up and I think the Capital One Cup can be sacrificed in favor of league results. Besides we lost to a Southampton side that should be credited with going for it even when they were 1-0 down away from home. It was a fair result in the end.
Coming up this weekend is the match against the scum themselves: Spurs. I don’t have to stress the importance of this match especially at home but Tottenham hasn’t been performing well and with our fine win over Villa, we should be eager to put our “rivals” to the sword. I am eager to watch this match, with cautious optimism, but I believe we may have seen the start of something special with Welbeck and Özil last Saturday and I hope that trend continues this weekend. It’s a late start and against our rivals so I feel the pub will be rocking with Gooners in full voice. I expect to be there as I have been unable to be there for the last couple of matches.
That’s all I have to say for this week. Once again I am trying to avoid discussing the lack of defensive cover we have as our players continue to drop like moths in a bug zapper. It makes me far too angry. As I have stated there isn’t anything we can do except pray to the football gods that no more players get injured.
I am hoping for a quick week of work so Saturday can get here faster. The North London Derby is on my list as the best rivalry game to watch and I am always psyched when we face them. Have a great week Gooners
Answer me this question:
What do we think of Tottenham?
To Özil or Not to Özil?
I sat at my desk at work checking the various live updates for the match against Borussia Dortmund. “Arsenal getting dominated” and “Only a matter of time until a goal” were just a few of the updates from various outlets as the minutes ticked on. Mertesacker caught out and desperate defending was the norm as well as misplaced passes and lost possession. 2-0 was the final score and the internet exploded with negativity.
Just a few days from a positive match against Manchester City and Arsenal lay an egg away from home in a tough stadium against a top team. It was if we forfeited the match before kickoff. Last season we won this match and with roughly the same players (in defense and midfield at least). Koscielny and Mertesacker were two of the best defenders in the Premier League and flanked by Gibbs (Monreal also) and Sagna, they put up excellent overall defensive numbers, barring the obvious losses.
Now, in the aftermath of the closing of the transfer window, we sit with only 4 healthy defenders: Mertesacker, Koscielny, Chambers and Gibbs. Monreal didn’t travel to Germany and Debuchy will be out for at least 2 months, which in terms of an Arsenal injury means 3-4 months. Chambers wasn’t healthy enough to make the start for Dortmund which means a young Hector Bellerin was deputized to start at right-back. After seeing the highlights, which you cannot call them that from an Arsenal perspective, it is clear that not purchasing adequate back up in defense and defensive midfield could prove to be costly as our players start dropping like flies with injuries and illness.
Frankly, I have had enough of the defensive chatter. We all know that we are short on depth in the backfield. The real debate comes from our £42 million midfielder: Mesut Özil. A player that signaled a change at Arsenal, and a player that we paid big money for to kick start a new age of success. Yet after his first season, he still doesn’t appear to be completely comfortable in the squad.
I remember his first few games and the buzz of excitement that was generated from the fans on twitter and in the stands during the matches. As he took the pitch we all expected assists to come pouring forth like water from a fountain. The passes he played to Walcott in that first match (which Walcott wasted I might add), were wonderful, exactly what we were looking for. It did not last through the season to the degree we all wanted. Last season he scored 5 goals and created 9. Those are not terrible numbers for a new player in a new league, yet a player like Özil should not have too much trouble adapting to a new system.
Ramsey on the other hand was a player who in 12/13 was on the chopping block by fans. His every touch was proceeded by boos and jeers, he was applauded as he left the field when being substituted. Everything he did was wrong and was an example of Wenger’s failures to develop a player. Suddenly last season, he came to life. Scoring crucial goals and getting the assists as well to help Arsenal head to the top of the table. His explosion helped ease some of the burden off of Özil. As the season came to a close, the goals began to dry up as we lost Ramsey and Walcott to injury and Giroud just wasn’t getting the help he desperately needed. We fell out of the title hunt as a result.
This season Özil has mainly been played out wide on the left, a spot normally reserved for Cazorla and Podolski. His influence in matches since the start of the season has been relatively non-existent. As the form of Cazorla, Wilshere, Ramsey and Özil fluctuates, it appears that Wenger is desperately trying to fit all of our midfield players into one team, even if it means playing them out of position. Özil has stated he prefers playing in the middle and it shows. In the few matches we have played this season, he has not made a difference from the left.
Wenger believes that because Germany played him out wide, that it will work for Arsenal. I don’t see that being case. Germany is a squad that contains more attacking talent and a stronger defensive midfield. Özil isn’t the main man in that squad and it allows him more freedom to roam and dictate a game quietly, which I feel is his best attribute. The pressure is far greater in this Arsenal team for him to perform and that pressure is getting to him. Three matches and he hasn’t notched an assist or a goal, his passes are wayward and his defensive ability is gone. With all of this, Wenger continues to play him in the hopes that something happens.
It is a tough decision to drop a player of his obvious quality. Özil looks as if he is walking on a confidence tightrope and each match he gets closer to falling off. Despite all of the problems I don’t think we should bench him from the team. He just needs to be moved back to the center of the midfield, where he is most comfortable. When and if the form returns, then move him to the left if the conditions dictate it but for now he needs that special consideration. We are not short of attacking options, particularly in midfield. Ramsey, Cazorla, Ox, Alexis, Podolski, and Rosicky are capable of being rotated in the wide positions to some degree. Leave Özil in the center where he belongs and give him the encouragement to dictate the forward play. He will find his form again. It is just a matter of time, but he needs special attention. Most importantly, he needs the support of us, as fans.
Players are people too; they have feelings and emotions just like everyone else. I would not be happy if a total stranger walked up to me and called me a c***. This is especially true if a fan wearing the same kit that the players wear on the pitch, insults them. Sure being in the spotlight should train them to be able to separate themselves from those fools, but I am sure that it gets to them over time.
Arsenal is a special club and creates a special breed of fans. We as Arsenal fans should be above of the name calling and the typical low life actions of a club like Chelsea, Stoke or Manchester United. We are the Arsenal, with class players like Henry, Vieira, Pires, Bergkamp, Adams, Seaman etc, we should be respectful to the players as long as they wear the red and white of Arsenal. Don’t get me wrong, we should be allowed to voice our opinions on players, especially when they are not living up to the potential, but do so in a manner that shows we are above everyone else. I have my concerns with players (Sanogo, for instance) but it boils my blood to read on twitter, a supposed fan celebrating the injury of one of our players in the hopes that Wenger will buy player X or player Y now gets a chance to play. That is not what we do. Let other clubs fans be the petulant children while we act like adults.
We all love the Arsenal and we love the players that put on the kits. Our support can drive them on, just look at the FA Cup final last year. They need us just as we need them. So let’s criticize the decision to leave or squad light in defensive midfield and in the center of defense. But let’s give our support to the players that still remain, who were left in that precarious position. They did not make that decision. Results are tough for us right now and we are impatient and distraught but those players like Özil, are class players and we should be there to give them a boost. They may surprise us, just like Ramsey did.
Until next week,
Come on you Gunners!
So round one of the international break is coming to a close this week and we can all rejoice and be glad that Arsenal football is about to start back up. Several Gunners were out and about representing their country as the Euro 2016 tournament qualifying is getting underway.
The first international break always seems out of place to me. The new seasons for the European leagues are now underway and the transfer window has just closed making international football a distraction and a meaningless one at that. The World Cup just ended, relatively speaking, and as much as I love the World Cup and my disappointment that was the Mexican campaign ended by the Netherlands best diver, I was ecstatic to see the Premier League start back up. Seeing all the new signings donning the new Puma red kits and the initial optimism of a new title hunt on the back of the FA Cup win gets me fired up more than the World Cup.
Maybe it’s because I know Mexico had about as much of a chance to win the World Cup as I have winning the lottery or maybe it’s because that being a Gooner, I have more of a connection to the team. Whatever the reason may be, I headed to the pub on opening day ready to see Arsenal go undefeated again and win every major trophy. Delusional I know, but hey a guy can dream.
With the transfer window closed and the overall disappointment of the window as a whole, the international break pretends to gloss over the problems in our squad like an antibacterial ointment over a stab wound. It gives us a slight reprieve, but only slightly. The upcoming match against Manchester City looms over the horizon like a hurricane heading for Cape Hatteras.
Who will start in this, our test of our resolve and unity, is the ultimate question that Arsene Wenger will have to ponder. Gibbs, Giroud, Arteta, and Walcott are all still listed as injured on the Arsenal injury report. Gibbs and Arteta are close and could feature but not as starters I would think. There is also the fear that Özil is injured and could miss as the City match as well. That being said, I think the back four of Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker and Debuchy will remain unchanged, largely because Chambers is the only defensive player we have for cover should the worst happen and his youth and energy will be important if that fear manifests itself.
In midfield, some changes will need to be made if Özil is forced to miss the match through injury. Özil played on the left seems to be a waste of his abilities or he is not comfortable in that position. His distribution is much more limited and without that killer ball he can play, our attack fizzled out against Leicester. I know Germany played with him out left as well and I still felt he was largely ineffective, barring the moments of brilliance that he is capable of creating. If fit, I would play him centrally behind the striker. If not fit, than Cazorla should start in the central midfield position.
The defensive midfield position should be left to Flamini (preferably Arteta if healthy) and Ramsey should start along side him offset and slightly ahead to capitalize on the runs that he is capable of performing. However, there is some concern for Ramsey after he suffered an apparent injury at the end of the Wales match Tuesday, however early reports suggest he will be fine for the weekend. Wilshere’s performance in the England match against the Swiss may make a case for him starting in midfield or on the left but his inclusion in the qualifier will more than likely put him on the bench.
In attack, left should be Cazorla and right Sanchez. Podolski could play left and Ox left or right but I feel that Wenger will stick with the usual suspects. Up top, Welbeck should be the automatic starter over Sanogo. I don’t have much faith in the young Frenchman to get a goal against City when he could barely get a shot off on Leicester. Welbeck has more experience, and more goals in the league. That should be enough to guarantee the top spot since Giroud is injured but I have been wrong before.
Podolski came out and said that he had a conversation with Wenger over his place in the team and his importance. The conversation (supposedly) emphasized Podolski’s goal scoring ability. I value Podolski highly for his ability to get a goal but for this to happen he needs more than ten minutes at the end of a match. One of my favorite attributes Podolski has is to shoot first and ask questions later. He finds the target well and with so much power. Watch the goal against Bayern last year and see how Neuer’s first reaction is to get his head out the way for fear he may lose it. Podolski causes much debate due to his defensive responsibilities and pace. His mind usually seems to have one track and the minute the ball is lost he tends to pull out than defend. The same can be said for Özil however, and I think both players could benefit from showing the drive to defend.
Manchester City will be a test of our resolve and hopefully all of our players escaped the international break in one piece. The defending champions make me nervous anytime we face them especially when looking back at the results we had last year against the top four teams. A 1-1 draw at home and a 6-3 away loss last season should be fresh in our memories. Flamini’s second half equalizer at home gave us the draw. The away match at the Etihad was much more interesting. A match where you score 3 goals away should normally mean a win however defensive lapses and a penalty saw us give away the match. I truly felt that this was the one match last season where, despite our losses to the top 4 teams, we actually had a good chance of securing the draw or even a win. All of our solid defensive work last season was gone that match and it resulted in a shootout. Unfortunately for us, a shootout against a team with Aguero, Dzeko, et al, means a loss and that is what happened.
This match, while far from a must-win, is one where we must turn up and perform. A win away against the title holders will do wonders for our confidence as a unit. It is time to prove the naysayers wrong and show that we are title contenders. I know we all worry about our defensive depth and goal-scoring ability, but once again we have the players to get job done. Time will tell.
Until next week,
Cheers and Come on your Gunners!
At the end of last weeks’ blog, I said we had a busy week ahead of us and here, at the end of transfer deadline day, I feel that was an accurate assumption. We had a match against Besiktas in midweek, the Champions League group stage draw on Friday, a match against Leicester City on Sunday and the drama of transfer deadline day to test the strength of our hearts. I apologize for the length of this entry but there is quite a bit to discuss.
Let’s go ahead and start with the good news. Champions League group stage was assured with a 1-0 win over Besiktas last Wednesday. All in all, it was a good performance from the Gunners with Alexis Sanchez leading the line for the injured Olivier Giroud. With Ramsey out with his away leg red card meant that Wilshere saw a start alongside Flamini. It has to be said that Wilshere had (roughly) his best game I had seen him play in a while. He was direct made quick, accurate passes and was a menace on defense. That being said, he still plays with a brashness that can be on the side of reckless more often than not and I feel like despite his clear skill, he can be a liability. He made a tough tackle in our box which could have meant a penalty and a vital away goal to Besiktas. I think the tackle was fair, but you never want to give the ref a reason to give a penalty. We dodged a bullet there.
On the opposite end of the pitch, Alexis was stellar as the main striker. He was active both offensively and defensively with runs into the box and tracking back well to win the ball. As he gets further acclimated to the Arsenal style, I think Alexis will be a regular goal-scorer and worth every bit of his transfer fee. Since Giroud is injured, we may be seeing him in that central striker position more than once, especially when Walcott returns to match fitness.
Overall, the Besiktas match was a positive response after the tough Everton match. Wilshere, Alexis and Ox played particularly well. The one bad note was the Debuchy red card. I don’t think anyone can contest the first yellow, but the second was harsh as he made contact with the ball. His absence in the first match against Dortmund will be test of our defensive strength. I will touch on that in moment.
To continue with the good news, I think we received a fairly favorable draw in the Champions League group stage. Dortmund, Galatasaray, and Anderlecht are tough teams but not ones that we haven’t faced before (I am talking about you Dortmund). We have plenty of experience playing in Turkey with Fenerbahce and Besiktas, and we have faced Dortmund twice in the last three years. Anderlecht was last faced in the 1969/70 Fairs Cup final (took some digging for that one). Galatasaray was last faced in the 2000 UEFA Cup final, a 4-1 (on penalties) victory for Galatasaray. The event was marred by rioting from fans of both sides which resulted in 19 injuries and 60 arrests, so let’s hope that never happens again. There will be tricky away matches for sure but all in all we have the experience to handle the pressure and finish top of the group. The only caveat will be our squad depth, which brings me to the part of the blog I have been dreading: the bad news.
Starting off is the horrendous display against Leicester City on Sunday. The less said about this match the better. Start to finish, it was a pathetic performance by the Gunners. Leicester gave Everton and Chelsea trouble in their respective matches but on paper you have to look at the sides and say that we should have been the class of the field. Instead was a confusing mismatch of squad selection that left a lot to be desired.
After seeing how well Alexis played up top against Besiktas, I was surprised to see Sanogo starting as the main striker and Alexis on the right. I am trying my hardest to give Sanogo the benefit of the doubt but he plays like a lost puppy sometimes. He is not up to the level of the Premier League yet. He drags too long on the ball and his decision making is atrocious. The goal we scored is a prime example of this. The ball got played to him over the top and I couldn’t tell if he was trying to shoot or pass. Luckily for Arsenal, Alexis was there to clean up the mess and give us the 1-0 lead. Yet as soon as we had the lead we lost it.
Koscielny took a hard hit to the head previously and was taken off for treatment and returned with what looked like a swimmers cap on his noggin. The Leicester goal was a direct result of Kos not following through with his marker. His head injury clearly was the first thing on his mind and his health is more important than anything else as we do not have much cover in central defense. He should have been subbed immediately for Chambers but this was not done and just like that it was 1-1.
Arsenal continued to press and try to get the game winner but nothing was working. Cazorla, Özil, and Alexis were constantly drifting from their starting positions. I am not sure if this was intentional or not but I kept asking myself “Is that Alexis on the left?” or “What is Özil doing on the right?” It was not the right game plan because our attacks never amounted to much, especially with the inexperience of Sanogo up top.
Continuing down the ranks, Ramsey had a pre-13/14 match for sure. He was simply too selfish on the ball. In the end, it resulted in misplaced passes, poor shots and frustration from the players and fans. We can appreciate his attitude to try and turn the tide of a match, but the tactics were all wrong and not even our Welsh Jesus could save us. Podolski came on late for Sanogo but frankly with only 10 minutes of game time in a game where we were playing like a rec-league team, there wasn’t much he could do. His one moment that stands out was when he received the ball on the left edge of the box and normally you think he is just going to swing that left foot as hard as he can and hope for the best. Not this time, his touch was heavy and it was cleared by the defense. He had a chance to become a hero but the criticisms continued for the Prince of Hashtags. In the end, a draw against Everton was positive but a draw against Leicester was a cause for alarm.
With a bitter taste in the mouths of Gooners worldwide, we entered transfer deadline day. The past few matches and our glaring away defeats to the top four teams last season meant we are still short several players. Giroud being out until January compounded the depth problem further. All day I kept checking Twitter for any news of a CB, DM and striker signing. We have six defensive players and two of them are injured. A long term injury to Koscielny or Mertesacker means that Chambers and Monreal would have to play center back with Debuchy right and Gibbs left. That’s four fullbacks playing center, or swap Flamini in for an absolute worst case scenario that would leave me terrified if we faced Man City or Chelsea with that set up.
The hours ticked by as I ran errands, checking Twitter with such frequently that I am surprised my phone didn’t explode. The general consensus was that DM and CB was the most important positions to fill and yet there wasn’t a single mention of a link to those players. A few “Nastasic to Arsenal” lies popped up but nothing from a concrete source. Then there was a hint that we were trying to sign Danny Welbeck on loan from Manchester United. He was training at London Colney with the England team and was going through a medical. Seemed like another bogus rumor but it turned out to be the only signing we made. A permanent move, not a loan, for £16 million, but only after Arsenal needed an extension.
Welbeck was not exactly the player we needed to fill the gaps in our squad. However, there are some positives to the signing. I like the fact that he has goal-scoring experience in the Premier League. Whether or not this means he will start over Sanogo has yet to be seen. If the stories are to be believed, he snubbed Tottenham for us. If correct, that already gives him a bonus in my eyes. Now, Manchester United fans seem to be relatively irate with us getting Welbeck, despite (to our horror) the fact they got Falcao from Monaco. Add this with Di Maria and the Dutch Skunk and now United begin to worry me. Chelsea has Costa, Remy and Drogba. City has Jovetic, Dzeko and Aguero. Liverpool has Sturridge and Balotelli. We have Giroud, who is injured for four months, Sanogo, and now Welbeck as strikers. Alexis can play the role, as can Walcott in certain matches. As much as I like our forwards, including Podolski, we still lack that game changer 20+ goal scorer, and as great as it would be to have that player, that may not been our weakness.
As I mentioned last week, our top goal scorers last season were Giroud, Ramsey and Podolski. Ramsey had the best season of his career last year and he can’t fly under the radar, which increases the pressure on him to continue that form, 10 or more goals are possible from him for sure. Podolski had some of the best finishing numbers of any player last year, 12 goals from 27 appearances, .44 goals per appearance, which edges Giroud by .01 ( 22 goals from 51 app., .43 goals to appearances) but bested by Ramsey at .47 goals per appearance (16 goals to 34 app.). Podolski was injured from August to December and made almost all of his appearances in the second half of the season. Ramsey was injured for a portion of the second half of last season and we lost his goal scoring. Add into this mix was the Walcott injury, who at the time, was turning up and scoring. Injuries have been critical in stopping our goal scoring. Giroud was the only forward that was healthy throughout last season.
I don’t necessarily think that striker is the area that was most needed in this transfer window. We may not have that player like Costa or Suarez, but we have the players to get goals, they just have to be distributed more amongst many players versus one. It presents a tougher challenge but one that can be met with the right setup. We were top of the league for a long time last season, more than any other team, but fatigue and injuries (attributing to lack of depth) killed it.
Defense and defensive midfield is where we are lacking the most depth. Arteta and Flamini just don’t provide the cover for Mertesacker and Koscielny. Flamini is reckless and Arteta isn’t the fastest player and being ahead of Mertesacker usually means that any type of pace opens us up, especially when we play a high line. Making Arteta the captain pretty much cancelled any hope of signing a DM. I was most surprised by the lack of signing of a CB. Once again we are playing Russian roulette with our options. One or two injuries and we are facing a defensive selection migraine.
All in all, I truly felt we were fine up top for goals, a world class striker would have been nice but we aren’t going to spend that kind of money on a player like Cavani or Falcao. We needed some defensive cover and it never came. If injuries hit, it could be trial by fire for Hector Bellerin or Isaac Hayden, a prospect which may give us a heart attack.
For now, let’s welcome Welbeck, and pray or offer sacrifices to the football gods that we don’t suffer any more injury setbacks because frankly we can’t afford it. We have the international break to suffer through which puts us on the injury red alert before our match against Manchester City. Let that sink in for a minute.
Until next week,
Oh to be a Gooner!