One Word: Alexis
It has been a crazy, weird week of football for the Arsenal. We played Anderlecht on Wednesday and faced off against Sunderland in the Stadium of Light on Saturday. While both matches were wins, the manner of both wins was unconvincing to say the least. I am thrilled we took the points from both matches but we still seem to be far off of the standard of footballing excellence we expect from Arsenal.
I am unable to watch the matches in midweek live because I am in the office, so I generally keep tabs using Arseblog’s Liveblog, which is a great tool from Andrew Mangan at Arseblog. BBC Sport usually is full of anti-Arsenal chowder heads who claim to be experts as they spout out their hateful drivel. So in the little downtime I get at the office, I check the score and read comments and commentary about how well we have been playing. All I kept reading was how dreadful we looked and how we were going to lose. 1-0 down heading to the 89th minute and it looked like this was the case. Then Gibbs showed up with that wonderful volleyed goal. It was a really well taken strike from the left back and suddenly we were level. I was happy with the equalizer and then after a quick phone call I see the words appear on the screen “Podolski!” “2-1!”
I fell out of my chair and yelled out in joy. I threw my hands to the sky and said to my coworker (a Liverpool fan, sad right?) Podolski scored. He was in just as much shock as I was. Of course it was a win, a lackluster, pathetic showing but we got the points. Podolski was the hero of the day with the match winner, and I felt that it was good for him that he walked away with that goal because I always feel that if he gets a chance, he will take it. There is no hesitation from him to shoot first, which I feel is lacking from our game right now. Wenger doesn’t want to play him lately but the gamble paid off and I am ecstatic for it.
Moving to the weekend, the match against Sunderland was a relatively dull affair as well. I hate saying that because we got 2 goals and a clean sheet. How can that be bad? To be fair, it isn’t. Our thin defense was actually solid, Monreal wasn’t looking out of place in the center and both full backs were making good runs and tracking back well. Mertesacker may be finally clearing the cobwebs and oiling the joints because he appears to be the organizer again. This time it was the attack that was guilty of not doing enough, bar one player: Alexis Sanchez.
There aren’t enough superlatives in the world to describe how good he is right now. I may have to make up a few new words. So if anyone has any ideas, email me or send me a message on Twitter. The Chilean superstar has not appeared to suffer any World Cup setbacks. He is tenacious, fast, tricky and can score from anywhere. Both goals he got because of that ability to hound defenses into making errors. Wes Brown and Vito Mannone both were victims of the Sanchezinator. Every match that comes and goes, with the exception of a couple, we can pick apart the team and say why every player is playing like they are in quicksand, but Alexis is the one player who works his short shorts off. He is a winner, through and through. He never gives up, on a tackle, dribble or shot. He is doing everything in the power to keep this team afloat as we sort out or injuries and defensive woes.
Alexis is the kind of player that can pull you through a bad performance and put the icing on the cake of a great one. Our problem is that we aren’t supporting him enough to make our performances great. Wenger continues to rotate our attacking players almost as if he has a dart board with the players’ pictures on it and one by one, throws darts at them, blindfolded, to determine the staring line up. The squad doesn’t seem to have the chemistry that we would think they would have. Many of these players have been together on the same team in some capacity for several years, barring the new ones. Yet, we cannot string together any number of convincing performances. Injuries have been a problem, I know that, but we have experienced players in almost every position to field a decent team.
We can argue and gripe about how bad we look after every match until we can’t speak anymore, but I would rather take a step back, look at the matches with a cooler head and try to take whatever positives out of it we can. Lately, it is just Alexis, but a positive is a positive.
We have Burnley this weekend and that is a match we should be winning. Alexis will have to step up again, but hopefully after two poor to average performances where we took away maximum points, we can start to get some consistency in our game and not struggle to beat teams lower than us in the table. I am banking on a 3-0, call it the blind optimism that I have about this team but even the naysayers can’t deny that we are more than capable of beating Burnley. That being said, we could easily be the instrument of our own destruction. Onwards and upwards.
Come on you Gunners!
PS: Sorry for the shorter blog this week, but I have been a bit under the weather these past few days and my writing brain is blocked with sinus congestion. I will have an improved blog next week when we beat Burnley.
Watching the match against Hull City, it was glaring that Arsenal have several bad habits that have plagued them for a few seasons. You can talk all day about mental strength and the ability to fight back into a match but frankly I am sick of this football doublespeak. Arsenal are now 11 points behind the leaders and with the talent in this squad that is inexcusable.
The first half from Arsenal was looking exactly what doctor ordered: Loads of possession with good shots testing the keeper and an early goal from our Chilean goal machine Alexis. Sure the score was several a few minutes later but Arsenal continued to press and make chances. I was still confident that we could get three points from this match. The Hull goal was really poor, but a lot can be said of the foul not being called on Flamini when he was clearly fouled. No sense complaining because these things happen in matches and you have to deal with it and play to erase the error that led to the scoring chance. After their goal Arsenal pressed hard to make it happen but we couldn’t find the breakthrough.
The first half showed that even if injuries limit our options we still have a lot of talent in this side. We started Welbeck, Cazorla, Alexis, Wilshere, Ox and Flamini in attack and midfield. Our defense is light with a 19 yr old Bellerin starting at right back, joining Gibbs at left and Mertesacker and Monreal in center of defense. It was ridiculous that we need to start a 19 yr old at RB and a LB at CB. Defensive problems aside, we have Podolski, Rosicky and Theo (coming back soon hopefully), Arteta and Ramsey, all are capable of making the first XI and are players who are class. For some reason this season, Wenger is having trouble fitting the pieces of the puzzle together in order to get a consistent run of well played, good results.
We been subjected to watching a team struggle to draw matches let alone win. The second half of the Hull match is exactly this. 40 seconds in and Hull get a second goal and from there it was nothing more than watching grown, well-paid men, struggle to pass a ball straight 10 feet towards the opposition goal. We fell back into the old bad habits. The one in particular that infuriates me is the desire to get the perfect goal, when it clearly is not working. Arsenal have become very predictable to teams trying to shut us down for a draw. We pass and pass and pass around the 18 yard box with no runners making a move. Defenders simply wait for the one pass that is slower or less accurate and clear it or intercept and head for counter. Every time we attack, we look like we are trying to replicate the goal against Norwich last season. Against certain teams we can do that, but against most we fall into a frustrating rut.
Another bad habit and one that I noticed developing from the last few years is the inability to play well unless we are a goal down. This didn’t manifest itself in the Hull match because we looked like poo until Alexis played Welbeck for the goal to draw level. I am so tired of watching this club play for a draw against lesser opposition. Where is the killer instinct that used to be the mark of Wenger’s teams? The first half of last season, Arsenal were monsters playing great football and getting the good results, but after Christmas, the old habits resurfaced, including the inability to play well unless a goal down. The difference between last season and this one is that last season we would go down a goal and then win. Now we are scraping by with these draws and losing ground in the title hunt.
Our fixture list has been challenging but not cruel as it has been in the past. The matches against the top four are relatively scattered and littered with opposition that we should be beating but we just aren’t doing that. Hull are no slouches and they proved that in the FA Cup Final last season but we are man for man a better side. We are not playing like it. I stated last week that we should be getting maximum points from teams that are (generally) below us in the table. I am having hard time convincing myself that we do it. All is not lost as I still feel like we can make up some ground but we simply cannot accept any more draws.
It is easy to focus on the negatives on a poor performance but let’s look at some positives, not of the match per se but in general. Bellerin, in the Hull match played well defensively and got forward well. I was pleasantly surprised by the young RB and I think with more first team match time, he may develop into a class RB. Obviously way to early to tell, but he was a bright spot Saturday. Welbeck and Alexis, again were excellent and have continued to be the players that we can rely on to get goals. I was slightly disappointed that we got him, but pleased when Man U fans were upset so I took that as a good sign. The #Welbzisdatguy on Twitter really gives me a laugh because he is “dat guy” right now. The only criticism I could give him is he disappears for portions of the match, but so does a lot of other players right now, so I won’t hold that against him. He clearly likes a goal and is willing to prove Van Gaal wrong for talking trash about him when he left. I support the lad and hope he does well because it will drive a dagger in the heart of Manchester United fans to see one of their boys succeeding at Arsenal. Alexis, par for the course this season, is the main man in the early parts of this season. A true quality acquisition from Wenger and a player that is guaranteed to give you 110% or more every match.
This is the main problem a lot of fans seem to have with our players right now if commitment. Özil in particular, is one who is criticized for falling out of the match during the latter stages. Podolski suffers from this as well, two players with quality but have the reputation of being lazy or disinterested. I don’t think any true Gooner will doubt the quality of both these players or their commitment to the cause but it is hard to watch either of them give up on a pass or track back to hunt down a lost ball.
Those who know me well also know that it is no secret for my love of Podolski. He is a player who I followed as I was getting into the sport; he is close to my age and has a great attitude for the club and fans. It pains me to watch him get blasted but sometimes I have to agree with some who say he looks lost. I feel this is a combination of Wenger’s playing him out of position and Podolski’s shoot first, ask questions later style which clashes with Wenger’s pass-pass-pass-shoot style. He may be gone in January or the summer, but right now he is an Arsenal player and one who can relieve some pressure off of Welbeck and Alexis in the coming weeks as our main starters remain injured. He is good for a goal (when he plays more than 10 minutes) and clearly loves the club. If he leaves I want him to go out on a good note. I hope Gooners saw his Tweet regarding the nonsensical rumor of him going to Spurs. He said “hell would freeze over before that transfer would happen” Say what you will about him, but you have got to love that commitment.
We take on Anderlecht and Sunderland before I write again. So as always, here’s to 3 points in both matches with plenty of goals for the Arsenal and a couple of clean sheets.
Come On You Gunners!
Week 2 of the international break continues and I frankly, can’t wait for it to be over. I used up my interest in the international game with the World Cup and I will renew it when the Gold Cup comes around again, followed by the Euros, but until then I will sit impatiently and watch the new NHL season which is getting underway. Of course, as a Carolina Hurricanes fan, that usually causes my blood pressure to rise. It is not good for my health to be a fan of both Arsenal and the Hurricanes. Add into that deadly cocktail, equal parts Cleveland Browns and Indians and I will be surprised if I make to my 30th birthday.
This blog will be shorter than usual as I do not have much to say in this interlull, but let’s get the important talking points nailed down:
Injuries: Mesut Özil, Laurent Koscielny and Tomas Rosicky were added to the list that is now pinned with a ka-bar combat knife to Shad Forsythe’s door in London.
Daily Fail: English media is at their old tricks again, (no surprise there) with the rumor that Özil is unhappy at Arsenal and is looking for a switch to Bayern Munich.
Defense: still light in defense and in defensive midfield
Starting with injuries and the defensive problems, our squad is now missing: Arteta, Rosicky, Welbeck (should be back for Hull), Ospina, Özil, Ramsey, Sanogo, Giroud, Debuchy and Walcott. After typing that list, it may have just been easier to list the players who are healthy. Arsenal has always seemed to have an injury problem but this season has been absolutely ridiculous with not just the number of injuries but also the severity and length of absence. What compounds the problem is that we are already light in defense and two of our starting defenders are on that list. I said that loaning Jenkinson to West Ham would come back to haunt us and it seems that prophecy is coming true. We are down to the bare bones in defense and we could have used the experience he had to get us through this rough patch. Now we have to rely on the youngsters in the reserve side to do a job that will not be easy.
It would be unfair to lie this at Shad Forsythe’s feet and blame him for our injury woes. We could gather pitchforks and torches and storm London looking for him like the villagers after Frankenstein’s monster or we could act like adults and try to analyze what is it that Arsenal are doing that causes these issues. It could be the training methods or the lack of a clear break between the World Cup and the start of the season. No matter what we believe it is, we just don’t know and the uncertainty is more terrifying than the reality.
Finally the media is stirring up the transfer rumor soup by announcing a story that Özil is unhappy in London and wants a move to Bayern Munich, plus Arsenal are willing to sell him at a loss. I don’t know whose idea it was to print this but the track record at Daily Mail (Fail) is not good. He may not be in the best form but to suggest that Arsenal are willing to offload Özil to Bayern at a loss after a season and a half is ludicrous. That is not the Arsenal way and it is especially not the Arsene Wenger way. Wenger is loyal to players that he believes in and he trusts Özil immensely. We all should know that this is nonsense but it goes to show you just how moronic the media gets over transfers and non-issues. This has been a slow news week for the sport and the media needs to stir the pot to get readers on their website and print. What better way to do this than to print loads of garbage about Arsenal.
Arsenal seem like an easy target based on our trophy record over the last 10 years, plus the amount of players that have left, and the injury woes we face every season. We endure this drivel every year and frankly I have had enough. We need to break out of this rut and prove to everyone that we are the top club that we truly are. What better way than to get a nice win against Hull this weekend. We can then follow it up with several wins to get our season back on track and show the fighting spirit in this team. Let’s light the fuse on that cannon and fire the warning shots across the premier league.
Come on (what’s left of) you Gunners!
The international break is now upon us and we gooners enter an unfortunately familiar territory: entering the interlull after a tough loss. For those who follow me on Twitter will know how much I wanted to beat Chelsea at the weekend. The ghost of the previous loss at Stamford Bridge haunts my thoughts and dreams and causes me to wake in a cold sweat some nights. The monkey on the back of this Arsenal team continued this past weekend and it appears that it won’t leave for some time now.
I will have to admit that I did not get to see the final 30 or so minutes of the match as I was heading to Bank of America Stadium to watch the Panthers in a bizarre but ultimately thrilling game of American Football but I followed the match on Arseblog and Twitter. It seemed that I didn’t miss much. I was glad to get out of the house however as my roommate is a Chelsea supporter (seems like an episode of the Odd Couple, I know). I knew that a second goal was coming and I knew it would be Costa, so I wanted to be far away from that. Little did I know that wearing my Arsenal shirt to the Panthers game would also cause some hostility from a random stranger, berating me that “Arsenal sucks.” I promptly defended my Gunners and in the heat of the moment (my Cleveland Browns were losing to the Titans, in addition the Chelsea result, so I was in no mood), I resorted to using choice words that are inappropriate for my family friendly blog. I did look around for fellow Gooners, but they were nowhere to be found that day and I normally see several.
I will fight for the Arsenal as a supporter because it is in my blood. I can no longer imagine life without the equal parts joy and heartache that comes from being a supporter and fan of such a great club. I said in an earlier blog that we Gooners are a special group. We all came to the Arsenal family for different reasons I am sure, but in the end we found a club that represents the quality of football, class and history a great club requires. Watching the Arsenal this season has been more ache than joy, especially since all the hype and positive air after the FA Cup win. The match against Chelsea really personified this sentiment.
At the start of the match, the players seemed genuinely up for it and I was confident that we could get a result. We possessed the ball and got into dangerous areas but we never seemed to generate a clear shot on goal or even half a chance. Wilshere had a moment that could have leveled the score but a heavy, uncontrolled touch saw the keeper collect and ended our best chance of the day. In our end of the pitch, poor defending saw Hazard dribble into our box who was brought down by Koscielny and the penalty converted to make it 1-0. The nail in the coffin saw Fabregas, had to be him, pass over the top to Costa who finished well. My confidence was misplaced.
The difference on Sunday between Arsenal and Chelsea was Chelsea’s top players performed and ours did not. There were positives to be had, Wilshere was excellent and I thought Welbeck looked equally lively, but was isolated by a midfield that couldn’t get him the passes he needed for a chance. Özil became a major talking point, as he has been all season. While he wasn’t alone on the pitch, it is games like these that he needs to be at his best. This team can be unstoppable with him at the top of his game but we are not seeing the Özil who was the top assist man while at Real Madrid. We are seeing a player who is dancing the line between brilliant and frustrating. He made a few good passes but was weak on the ball and lost possession.
I am not going to go into a tirade on Özil in this post but he needs to find form and quickly or this season will not end well. He is our main man, the player we paid a fortune to get and the man Arsene is counting on to change the game. We didn’t pick up Fabregas because of him. I love Özil and I want him to lead this team in his quiet stoic way. He is not vocal or even flashy. At his best, he is calmly efficient, a terror for opponents to see on a team sheet, the player who will appear out of nowhere with a pass so good it was like he could do it with his eyes closed. We need that Özil.
All is not lost. We have a run of games coming up that are all winnable and should see us pick up points and jump start this dead jalopy of a season. These run of matches goes all the way to Christmas which sees us face Man United and Liverpool. We need to pick up as many points as possible. By that I mean win. I am done accepting draws against weaker competition. We have this tendency to not turn on until we sit a goal down at half time. We need to play the game at our speed and dictate possession. We have speedy players in Alexis, Welbeck, Ox, Wilshere and Walcott. It is time to unleash that speed on the competition and put opponents to the sword.
I firmly believe that we have a squad that could compete with the best in the Premier League. We may be light in defense due to injury and without a true DM but we have quality in all parts of the pitch. Wenger needs to find what the best set up is and run with it. We are approaching the sweet spot of balance and aggression but we aren’t there yet. We have seen glimpses of it at Villa and at home to Galatasaray, and even for parts of the match against Chelsea. Wenger has to keep dialing in this squad. We have quite a few new players that are still finding their feet in this team and hopefully soon will gel into a well oiled football playing machine.
I couldn’t end this without mentioning the incident between Wenger and Mourinho. I for one loved the passion that Wenger showed. Cahill flew into a dangerous, reckless, and inexcusable tackle on Alexis that could have really hurt the Chilean, and it was equally inexcusable for the ref to only show a yellow card for the incident. Wenger as a manager who is concerned for his player’s safety, went to check and was barricaded by that pompous, arrogant, Batman villain of a manager. He was pushed by Wenger in a very assertive, non-specialist in failure kind of way and the look on Mourinho’s face was hilarious. He looked surprised and a little nervous. Mourinho reminds me of the Sensei of the Cobra Kai Dojo in Karate Kid. He calmly pulled the entire Chelsea squad together in the tunnel, and said “you all should collectively sweep the leg”, Cahill in his mongoloid wisdom, took it to heart and nearly broke Alexis’ leg. Wenger being the more level headed of the two managers may have lost the “high ground” according to the media, but he showed he won’t be bullied by Mourinho anymore.
Say what you will about Wenger, but you can’t fault his love for this club and that is something that we should all never forget. Wenger is in a lost class of managers that truly adores Arsenal and wants to see it perform well, the right way, with the right group of players. We can question his judgment in not spending money on this player or that player, or how one player is not being played in one position or the other but we should be proud of a manager who doesn’t give up on the club or the players.
The interlull will last for two weeks let’s try to all be positive and remember to laugh at Mourinho’s surprise when Wenger stood up to him:
Gotta love that!
Until next week, pray to the football gods an injury free interlull.
Oh to be a Gooner!
A weekend has come and gone and yet again Arsenal draws a match that we should have won. After the convincing win over Aston Villa last week, spirits were high that we could face the Spuds at home and leave the day with three points. I for one was jumping at the bit to watch this match and I had a dilemma to contend with.
I am not a superstitious person at all. I don’t believe in bad luck or anything like that, yet on the morning of the match I decided that I should stay home rather than go to the pub. For every match I viewed at home so far this season, Arsenal got a decent or good result and every match at the pub resulted in a terrible performance. So I put on my Arsenal shirt, made breakfast and played my pre-game FIFA 15 match of Arsenal vs. Sp*rs. A 3-0 win with goals from Cazorla, Sanchez and Ramsey gave me a stupid false sense of confidence as the minutes ticked towards kick off. Needless to say, what resulted was anything but that video game performance.
Isn’t it humorous how we can assign value to intangible, unrelated actions of an individual, miles away from a game of randomness played on a pitch with humans completely incapable of knowing that you are performing said action? My decision to stay home made no difference in the outcome of the match and my video game result makes no mark in how a team can play in real life. Yet somehow in my mind, it gave me solace and a sense of control no matter how asinine it appears others. It reminds me of a beer commercial (not sure if it is Bud Light or Miller Lite) which shows various fans performing superstitious actions in hopes that their team will win. It is not like those players knew that I stayed home, or another fan didn’t wash his lucky jersey, etc. Ox didn’t wake up and say, “Brandon in Charlotte, NC isn’t going to the pub today. We must win now.” Crazy I know, but it goes to show the desire to feel connected to the team and hope that in some small way, you have an impact in how a collective group performs on the day.
The match itself wasn’t anything really to commend. We had plenty of possession, especially in their half and 15 corners, that barring a good header from Mertesacker that Lloris saved quite well on the line, we didn’t appear like we would score. We went down a goal because of poor play from Flamini. Szczesny played the ball quickly to Flamini who was bundled by Lamela and Chadli finished making it 0-1. As usual, we were the instrument of our own destruction and again we were down a goal to the oppositions first shot on target. Ox got a goal to make the game 1-1 later but we couldn’t find the game winner. 1-1 was the final and not good enough at home to a weak Sp*rs side.
The result wasn’t event the worst part. We have lost Arteta and Ramsey to injury and Wilshere almost added to that growing list of injured players taped to Shad Forsythe’s door. Arteta is expected to be back for the Hull match but Ramsey will be out for at least a month. It is alarming that players rested in midweek were the ones who got injured. Luckily we have players in midfield that can come in and do the job. The ultimate question is: can we play a match without suffering an injury to a key player?
Debuchy, Giroud, Arteta, Ramsey, Walcott, Diaby (it is only a matter of time), Sanogo, Monreal and Gibbs are all players who have been out for this season so far at some point and we are just 6 matches in. We cannot afford to have players out injured continuously all season. Last year, these injuries cost us the title and as it stands now, we are already off the mark. Injuries and draws are only going to put us further behind the title contenders.
Another alarming trend is the decision to keep playing Özil out left, where he has been ineffective for us, rather than centrally. Against Villa, it was Özil who was the maestro of the Arsenal orchestra and he performed so well that I was positive that Wenger would make the same move again. Instead he put him out left and voila, another lackluster draw. Of course, we can’t place all the blame on Özil. It has to fall on Wenger, who also left out Sanchez in favor of Ox.
Ox played very well. I will not take that from him. He is one of our only players right now who looks willing to take a shot from anywhere. He also makes runs at players and forces mistakes from defenders. Despite this, this is a match that Sanchez should have started. He is no stranger to tough derby. Barcelona and Real Madrid play El Clasico every year and it is one of the most watched matches in the world. His inclusion late on changed the match completely. We looked more likely to score the equalizer and get a winner with him on the pitch. Leaving him out was an incredible blunder from Wenger and a baffling move.
We have a match against Galatasaray and Chelsea at the weekend, which are two matches that are not looking good as we stand now. Galatasaray at home should be winnable, but our threadbare squad makes me nervous. We cannot commit too much midweek if we expect to get a result this weekend against Chelsea. I cannot stress how much I want to beat Chelsea this weekend. I almost want this win more than a win over Spuds (I said almost) because of how badly I want to put last seasons result to bed. The 6-0 loss was hard to take.
We have to start making up points in the league. We cannot keep dropping points to inferior opposition like Spuds and Leicester. We need to make a stand against Chelsea, and have this squad play like I know they can play. We saw glimpses of a dangerous attacking side against Manchester City, Villa and even parts of the Sp*rs match but until we can start stringing those performances together and grind out wins, we will continue to lose ground to the league leaders and see our season over before it truly began.
Here’s to a win against Galatasaray and Chelsea. I will make sure to ignore any superstitious ideas in my head like I normally do and go back to my usual Arsenal viewing routine: cheer on twitter than vent like crazy for 90 minutes while I avoid having a heart attack because a poor back pass gifts Chelsea a goal.
Until Next Week,
Up The Arsenal!