Winning doesn’t get much better than it did on Saturday against Chelsea and here I am midweek, still smiling and laughing every time I think about highlights from that game where we crushed Chelsea into dust. It may not have been a 7-0 drubbing, although it certainly could have been, but 3-0 at home against a team that has been a real thorn in our side is a massive victory and boost to morale. The entire team played so well it was hard to even pick a man of the match. Follow that victory with a 2-0 win over Basel in the Champions League, another match that was a masterful performance. One can really get used to winning like this.
The way we played both matches is exactly the kind of football we expect out of Arsenal especially with the amount of squad talent we have. Going into the match with Chelsea, I knew this game was going to be a test of how far we were and what we needed to improve. One could argue that the Liverpool match showed us that and to be fair that is true but Liverpool doesn’t have the animosity or the recent history of being a hurdle for us. With their Russian billionaire owner spending millions of pounds a year and Mourinho’s antagonistic style of play and baiting we have failed to show that the Arsenal way could overcome it. Finally we have shown that our style can work against them and we ripped them to shreds in the first half. Every pass, tackle and movement was nearly perfect. A true joy to watch. As we dominated them in possession and attacking chances, we were so solid in the back that I never felt like they were going to score. The ONE clear cut chance they had we snuffed out by the sprinting and well timed challenge of Hector Bellerin.
The match against Basel was the same. We were dominant and assertive as we controlled the game. Walcott in particular was outstanding in both matches. I single out Walcott not just because of the goals but because of his overall play has been to a new level that we have not seen out of him. Those who know me will tell you I have been on the “sell Walcott” side of the transfer speculation and if he plays like this all season I would be so glad to be wrong. I have often described of having only two modes: run and shoot. The last few matches he has showed us something new. He made defensive tackles, was effective in passing and made dangerous crosses. His decision making was superb and he made himself a presence throughout the match instead of fading like we expect him to do. Because Walcott was a better right winger, I feel like Sanchez is playing a better striker role as a result. I do not want to get carried away, obviously two matches isn’t a large enough sample for us to get an accurate conclusion but all the signs of a more cohesive attacking lineup are there. The drive needs to remain as we head into the weekend match against Burnley.
We made Chelsea look mediocre, we comfortably handled Basel, now comes another test: lower opposition. As a team we should smash, Burnley pose a threat to us because of how comfortable we have looked for the last few matches. We must not get ahead of ourselves and stroll onto the pitch as if we already won. To do so, would likely kill all the hard work and progress we have made. It is unrealistic to assume we will put 3 or more goals against every opponent this season but as long as we win and look strong in the process I think this squad this year can do something special. We just need to take each game slowly and build upon the successes of the previous matches. We still have to face the league leaders, Manchester City and it pains me to write this, Tottenham. If we continue this form we are on then I do not see why we can’t defeat them as well. City under Guardiola are dangerous for sure but we are showing what we can do as well. Tottenham are Tottenham, on their day they can play well but are just as capable of blowing up as we have been, ie final game of the season where they completely fell apart. I made a comment last week at the pub that if we continue our current form then the November 6th North London Derby is going to be a huge match for us. One that we cannot take lightly. It’s too early to worry about it now especially since we got other important matches ahead of it plus Goonerfest this week here in Charlotte.
Goonerfest weekend is this Saturday and Sunday. If you haven’t listed yourself as going to any of the events on Facebook yet, please do so, as we need a relative headcount. We have 3v3 street soccer hosted by Street Soccer 945, Footgolf at Sunset hills golf course and a brewery crawl on Saturday and the match on Sunday. We have visitors coming from many of the Carolinas Supporters groups. It’s going to be a great weekend.
Come on you Gunners!
A Wealth of Options
In the dying minutes of the match against Hull City Saturday, the usual events occur: paying for your tab, saying bye to our fellow Gooner friends all smiling because we are about to win in a comfortable manner, etc., then without warning Xhaka cracks off a 30+ yard shot that sails into the top corner of the net. The explosion of cheers was deafening. What was even more humorous was the multitudes of those who looked down for a minute and missed it because it happened so quickly. It was one of those late goals that are essentially meaningless on the day but yet mean so much in context of the faith of the fans and the state of the club.
Arsenal are a big club that can attract big talent no matter what our harshest critics say. We have players like Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Koscielny, Xhaka and Mustafi and talented players still developing like Bellerin. I said it during the Facebook live show a few weeks ago that our squad looks almost complete for the first time in years. We have experienced veteran leadership and young players that are working hard to prove themselves. This provides competition for all positions on the pitch. For too long we have had the staple starting XI players that never changed no matter what. A lot of the time it was down to not having any players to switch too. It became frustrating to watch players fail to perform and get picked week in and week out. I often single out Aaron Ramsey as an example of the “safe from being benched” clause.
Ramsey is an enigma of a player. One who showed signs of brilliance early but has never paid off. This is partially due to his horrific leg break he suffered at the feet of the brute Ryan Shawcross. Ramsey’s critical development was stifled due to that injury and with the exception of two seasons, has never scored more than 6 goals. His peaking season was in 13-14 with 16 goals where it seemed like the Ramsey that Wenger had always promised was finally here at last. Not so. The following season he scored 10 goals, then 6 and now he is back injured again. He isn’t a bad player, he just hasn’t worked out like we would like him too and frankly we often shoehorn him into the squad regardless of his current form. Wenger picks players in slumps and hopes they will play their way out of it. Rarely does this work. Sometimes a bit of ruthlessness goes a long way. That being said our squad has been light on options and the alternatives haven’t always been promising either.
The lack of options truly has been our downfall over the last several years. During the exodus of our top players, we struggled to replace them with equal talent. The scramble to replace RVP, Fabregas, Nasri, etc., created a real vacuum in the squad. We signed Giroud, Podolski, Park Chu Young, Santos, Arteta and Mertesacker. Of those only Giroud and Mertesacker are left and Mertesacker is injured. Arteta was a leader but his aged performances showed that while his brilliance was still there, his best years were behind him. Giroud has been a solid acquisition as he plays the style that Wenger wants out of his strikers. He holds up the ball well and is an aerial threat (something that is horribly lacking without him). His goal threat is ever present as he does have a knack for scoring the acute angle difficult shot but standing over a simple shot on goal, you always wonder if he will miss. Despite his flaws in speed, Giroud is a good player and one that we need in this team. For too long however the goal burden rested on his shoulders and he was never going to be a 20 goal per season striker. We needed a backup to give him a break. Danny Welbeck was looking to be that player but once again injuries have hampered his career as well.
Every other player on our squad capable of scoring goals isn’t a striker. Sanchez, Walcott and Ox are all wide players. Wenger has tried to play Walcott up top, but his poor first touch and tunnel vision often means he loses the ball when he should be holding onto it since that is the style we like to play. Sanchez can hold the ball well but his stronger qualities are when he is facing the goal and attacking, using his dribbling, passing and shot skill to his advantage. Like Walcott, with his back to the ball he doesn’t perform up to the level required. Both of these players are better out wide where their speed can be a danger since we often don’t utilize speed in the center of the pitch. With the signing of Lucas Perez, perhaps the squad can be set up to give Giroud the ability to be an option and not always the rule. We saw Perez perform very well against Nottingham Forest in midweek and while not Premier League level, it may have been just the kind of match he needed to get going. As the season wears on and the injury threat ever looms, we need players who can take pick up the torch and see out the race.
I keep using the word options because that’s what we want to see at Arsenal: options. No longer do we have a thin injury prone squad that will need luck to see out a title campaign. Depth is finally a reality after we have been begging for it for so long. The time for excuses is over. Performances are all that matter now. We have a Premier League title and a Champions League crown to win. These need to be priorities and without depth they were mirages that faded away as we got closer. I try to avoid getting too excited but it’s hard not to be. We beat Hull 4-1 and Nottingham Forest 4-0. I know they aren’t the best teams but they are the kind of teams we used to draw 1-1 with or lost 2-1 due to late blunder goal. To really state our case as a title contender we need to put Chelsea to the sword this weekend.
One of the monkeys on our back is the now Mourinho-less Chelsea squad who at times look strong and at others weak so the jury is still out with them. Now is the time to pounce and use the momentum generated by two back to back emphatic wins to really crush that mug Diego Costa and his band of Cobra Kai thugs. They had a toothless squad last year and we couldn’t beat them. That is unacceptable. We need to put the past behind us and really have a go of it Saturday. A big win at the Emirates could really help the mentality of the team and give the fans a lot of confidence moving forward.
Another cracking Xhaka long shot wouldn’t hurt either…
Let’s all hope that we continue our run of good form this weekend. Also don’t forget about Goonerfest coming up on October 1st and 2nd and please hit “going” on the Facebook event pages if you plan to attend the festivities.
Until next week, come on you Gunners!
If you watched the Queen City Gooners Facebook Live Show before the match against Southampton, you saw how excited we were that Arsenal made some late signings at the close of the transfer window and we were eager to see them play their first match in that famous Arsenal red. It's hard not to be excited when we finally spent some money on players, and ones that are designed to fill holes in our squad. My prediction of 3-0 was optimistic and probably overly so, but I was hoping that our new boys would get off the ground running and start our title chase against Southampton.
What resulted wasn't what a lot of us were looking for but it was expected coming into the first game back from an international break and with a game against PSG looming the distance. It wasn't exactly a bad performance but it wasn't a stellar one either. It was alarming that it took another penalty from Cazorla to win the match but hey a win is a win. Our midfield looked lost as Cazorla, Coquelin and Ozil weren't on the same page at all. The forwards drifted around without much purpose and weren't getting the service from midfield. Our defense was solid however, and really only let a few chances for the Southampton offense. The goal came from a set piece and it unluckily came off of Cech so I am willing to write that one off. Aside from an early horrible pass, Mustafi played well alongside Koscielny and our fullbacks were on point. Kos' work rate is phenomenal and he deserved that amazing overhead kick goal. If you haven't seen it, stop reading, look it up and come back. I'll wait...
I didn't watch the match against PSG because I am unable to watch at work and I forgot to DVR it according to the reports I read, it wasn't worth my time anyway. I read a lot of angry posts from fans but as annoying as not winning is, a draw away to a team like PSG is not a bad result. We will have to bring our A game against the remaining teams in the group stage and avoid another fiasco in the group stages that leaves us second and facing Barcelona or Bayern Munich. Just like the league, Arsenal are more than capable of winning it but we cannot afford to make stupid mistakes or take a mental holiday. Wenger likes to boast about making the Round of 16 every year but we never advance, its like a formality, even a joke sometimes. For once, can we make a statement? Players like Ozil, Alexis, and Koscielny don't play to make the round of 16. They play to be competitive in the big stage and Arsene needs to realize that his experiments don't always work and forcing them isn't going to get us anywhere.
Watching Alexis at striker is a prime example. All of the things we like about Alexis are wasted when he plays striker. We don't play to his strengths in that position. I have said this before that we always play our strikers as if Giroud is there. Alexis is not a “hold the ball and wait for attackers” kind of striker. He is a dribbler and a shooter, he plays better facing the goal, not with his back to it. As such he moves too freely and we are often left with a gap in the center that nobody fills. The free roaming Alexis is why we like him. Walcott suffers from this same problem as did Podolski. These are players that are not suited for the role that Wenger expects out of our strikers. I am hoping that with the signing of Perez, Wenger is planning on altering our attack strategy when Giroud is not playing. Having several attack styles is beneficial because our opponents may not be set up for one or the other. Too often we have seen our attack fail, because we focus on the passing game and trying too hard to replicate all those perfect pass goals like the Wilshere goal against Norwich. Throw in a shot from an acute angle or a 25 yard shot outside the box. Work the keepers more. You cannot score if all you do is pass and never take a shot. I am not condoning shooting all the time, but we often bang our heads on the table at the pub as we watch a scoring chance dissipate because we tried a pass across the mouth of the goal instead of just shooting.
Another gripe I have been seeing is the anger over the lack of Xhaka's place in the starting XI. I agree to an extent. He is a player bought for a very important role and to not see him play is aggravating. If you weren't going to utilize him in the match against the Saints, then why didn't he play against PSG? He is fit enough to be on the team sheet, then he is fit enough to play. At the same time, we get irritated when Wenger experiments too much so if the team changes too drastically and we lose, then he will be blamed for not picking the normal starters. I am not letting Wenger off the hook, I am simply playing devil's advocate here. I do agree that Xhaka should be playing but Coquelin and Cazorla are not bad players and should be able to do more. This is a team game and the team is at fault too. If we tossed a 16 year old kid in the defensive midfield role and he makes a mistake that is one thing, but these are experienced players who we know are can play well. Cazorla has been monumental and Coquelin's arrival really helped us out. He is a veteran player now. Xhaka will have to fight for his place to start and Coquelin, El Neny and others will have to fight to earn their spot as well. This is a good thing for the club. We have not lost since opening day. We drew to the champions and to PSG. The sky is not falling yet. These signings will have their day and due to the midweek game, I am pretty confident Xhaka will make an appearance against Hull this weekend. We have to be patient and that's a hard ask for Arsenal fans. We have been asked to be patient for a long time now. We want results and we want them now. The season is still young.
Sorry for the short post but as I missed the Champions League match I just want to get back to the league and see our Gunners get on scoring form.
Goonerfest is around the corner. So please keep an eye on the Facebook group and your email if you are on the mailing list. If you are not please go to our website www.queencitygooners.com and sign up. We have a bunch of fun events planned with groups across the Carolinas attending to make this an amazing event. Be a part of the fun!
Also we have the Facebook Live Show, starting 30 minutes before each match so if you can't be at the pub, tune in and send questions that we can answer live on air. We also like the live audience so if you do come down to the pub, feel free to sit down and have a listen.
Come on you Gunners!
Transfer Deadline Thoughts
A win and two transfers in just a few days? I don’t believe it. Seriously, I feel like I am going to wake up and see Almunia in goal and Chamakh as striker. Now I know our situation isn’t that bad but after the less than stellar start to our season it was starting to border on absurd that we were going to go into the season without reinforcing the squad in key areas again. Xhaka was welcome as was Holding but we were still so light in options, both on offense and defense, that gooners everywhere were imploring the club to spend money. With the transfer window closing we got two more players, Lucas Perez and Shkodran Mustafi. The Mustafi chronicle was one I honestly was going to leave us burned as the deal appeared to be dead in the water when Valencia said he wasn’t for sale. Perhaps, losing Mertesacker and Gabriel to long term injuries or shipping four goals in our opening match was the catalyst we needed to get the wallet opened and money spent. At £35 million, he is our most expensive defender to date. Unfortunately for the club this was going to be an area we had to spend big. While Holding is a capable backup player, his inexperience at the top level means he needs to be eased in the squad. Chambers looked lost in the opening match and a loan spell at Middlesboro will do him some good. Regular first team football will hopefully get him to the place that Wenger wants him. Sending out a defender is a gamble but Wenger is clearly looking at a Mustafi/Koscielny center back pairing with holding as a backup. Mertesacker and Gabriel will come back when healthy but at least this was we have reliable cover and won’t have to rush anybody. Just as important as a defender was a striker and after several seasons of failing to sign the elusive 20 goal scoring striker, we nabbed Lucas Perez from Deportivo la Coruna. Grabbing 17 goals in 36 appearances last season was obviously the main draw for him and we will hope to see him continue that form into our season. An older player at 27, he looks to be a capable and reliable squad player. We have yet to see how Wenger will line up our forwards after his acquisition but I look forward to seeing how he will be utilized. With Theo’s effectiveness waning, Perez will give us options not just in the number 9 role but also on the wings. I would like to Wenger divert from his usual 4-2-3-1 formation and try a 4-4-2 with Perez/Alexis and Giroud as a striker pairing. I feel like we can be predictable in our line up and having multiple game plans can throw a wrench in the opposition setting up against us. We have players like Sanchez, Theo, Ramsey (when fit), Ox and now Perez, who can play in a couple different positions and give us options to set up differently. The more we are effectively creative, the better we will be at dealing with various teams. Only the manager knows how he will employ his players and we can only hope that they are used effectively. With the new signings also comes the news of Jack Wilshere being sent on loan to possibly Bournemouth or Roma. When this is published I am positive that loan deal will be completed to one of them. Wilshere is a great player, and one I rate highly for his tenacity and skill but also a player I feel is going to be surplus soon. Jack has been around a long time as an academy player. Wenger and the fans clearly want him to succeed. I am not so sure that this Arsenal team fits him anymore. For so long Wilshere has been the player that was promised to be a midfield dynamo, a future captain and more. Unfortunately he spends so much time on the operating table and on the injured list that the team has moved past him. He cannot improve his game because of the major setbacks that his injuries creates. I often compare him, unfairly at times, to Abou Diaby. Diaby was a midfielder who looked to be a real driving force for years, but suffered so many injuries that he was never able to get back to form and continued to cost us money while not contributing as a player. Jack is approaching that level in my opinion. He appears in bright flashes, reminding us the player that is there, but never staying healthy long enough to make a difference. Another reason Jack is such a fan favorite is because he is one of us, a gooner doing what 99.9% of us never get to do, play and score goals for his team. It’s something we can vicariously live through so it is special to see a player like that come through the youth system and really connect with the fans in a way some players can’t do. It’s moments like the now infamous bus chant singing along with gooners about what we think of T*ttenham that endear a player to fans and make them a favorite. Wilshere’s talent only makes us want him to succeed more and be a homegrown player that is a leader. As the years have gone on, he has stagnated slightly. Since 2010 he has made 101 appearances in the league and scored 6 goals. His appearances have dropped consistently since 2010-11. 0 in 2011-12, then 25, 24, 14 and 3 in the following seasons. So yes, he has played more than Diaby but each season his involvement gets smaller and smaller. It’s sad to see because there isn’t a gooner around who doesn’t like him but I have a hard time seeing where he will fit in the squad if he can’t stay healthy. Should Wenger leave at the end of the season and Wilshere misses games at his loan club due to injury, it may be the end of his career at Arsenal. I hope that doesn’t happen but he is going to need a big season to help him maintain a place at Arsenal. So with the exception of Wilshere going out on loan, the transfer window will close without much shock. Gnabry signing a permanent deal at Werder Bremen was a bit of surprise to me as I liked him a lot and thought he had potential but his potential was wasted on the bench and with players like Ox ahead of him it was tough to see him getting higher in the pecking order. I wish him luck in Germany and hopefully we will see good things from him in the future. International break being in full swing means there is not much else going on. So we will have to wait a bit to see our new signings in action wearing the red and white. Oh to be a Gooner.