Nothing like putting Tottenham in their place, offset the overall foul mood that was permeating the air after the losses to Zagreb and Chelsea. The injustice served at Stamford Bridge was cruel to the Arsenal and no amount of bans to a certain Chelsea cheater and or unfair red card rescinded to our player can fix that we may have lost out on getting three points away at Chelsea. I don't want to dwell on the result of that match as it was changed drastically changed but he sending off and at this point everyone has had their say.
Following the horror show that was the Chelsea match, we had to travel to White Hart Lane to taken on the scum down the road. I was pretty confident that despite the previous two losses, we would get the win and advance to the next round of the Capital One Cup. My only concern was the team selection Wenger was going to use. With Gabriel's red card rescinded, he was now eligible to play center back but was given a rest, which was probably needed in the aftermath of having to deal with Diego Costa's cheating ways.
Wenger normally treats this competition as a chance for young and fringe players to get valuable game time. With that inexperience usually means we crash out early and we just write off the competition altogether. This was different however, as we just came of the back of two bad losses. We couldn't afford to simply through out youngsters this time. Not only did we need a win to right the ship, but it was against that horrible lot down the road. A loss to them would be utterly unacceptable. No matter the competition, we must win against the scum. As such, Wenger did rotate, making ten changes to the squad which is a gamble but the squad looked more than capable of sending the Spuds home crying into their Bale-shaped pillows.
With the injury to Coquelin during the Chelsea match, it was down to Arteta and Flamini to fill the defensive mid positions normally occupied by Coq and Cazorla (who was out due to his red card). Ramsey was slotted in the attacking mid position with, Giroud in place of Walcott and Ox and Joel Campbell getting the starts out wide. Bellerin was rested for Debuchy and Gibbs on for Monreal. Mertesacker is finally over his illness and he paired with Chambers in front of Ospina in goal. Not a bad selection, some rusty legs but overall experienced players. Flamini was a wild card, as he usually is but he was the surprise of the match as no one expected him to score not, one but two goals. The goals were both well taken and the second was highlight reel worthy as he took the volley first time and hammered the shot home with power and accuracy. I often joke about how when I play FIFA, Flamini always manages to pop up near the goal and skies a shot that could have been put in. This was not FIFA, the real life Flamini scored a brace at Shite Hart Lane and sent the Spuds fans home crying. I would love to meet the guy who bet on Flamini to score two goals. He walked away from the bookie with a fat wallet.
The match overall was a good one with several players looking like the cobwebs are finally being shaken off. Debuchy didn't do himself any favors and it is hard not to feel sorry for him as he hasn't looked like the solid player we signed from Newcastle. His long injury spell only gave Bellerin the time to develop into the starter he has become. Debuchy is still a good player and I expect him to play more matches when we need to give Bellerin a rest. I am confident he will get back to his best and continue to challenge Bellerin for the starting right back position. Gibbs was effective on the left both defensively and offensively and it looks like Monreal taking the spot from him has kicked on his drive. Competition for positions is a necessity for a competitive squad and in the defensive positions we have that competition. For once I am not that concerned that our defense will be the reason we lose goals. We have two capable keepers in Cech and Ospina, three if you could Szczesny on loan, 3 starter quality center backs and one young player who looks like a player can go on to do great things.
Our main issue is still the lack of goals. As great as Flamini's goals were, it shows that we don't have that goal scoring catalyst right now. Alexis still isn't the monster game changer he was last season, Ramsey spends more time out of position and shooting the ball out of the arena, Giroud hasn't kicked on and Walcott isn't winning the contest for clinical finisher. We know the goals are there as we are near the top of the league in chances created. Our striking confidence is low and the sooner we correct that behavior the better. We all wanted that twenty goal scoring machine to come in the transfer window but it didn't happen and we may be suffering from the consequences. Welbeck being out injured hasn't helped either. We manage to keep winning, even without the contribution from our main goal scorers and that fortune will only carry us so far. We need the strikers to score, it's as simple as that.
Leicester City is our next match and they have had a decent start to the season. I would like to see Wenger have the squad watch the video of the Stoke match and show them that we have plenty of pace and skill to run riot against the opposition defense. We just need to put the ball into the net after a chance is created. Easier said than done but once again if you look at the stats from last season, our current squad can do it. I would expect Wenger to return to the same XI that faced Chelsea, with the exception of Mertesacker returning for Gabriel and Giroud will start over Walcott. I still back Alexis to score a goal to get his game going and if he keeps getting closer to notching his first goal of the season.
A win on Saturday will be a fine way to keep the good vibes going from the win against Spuds.
Come on you Gunners!
Arsenal, we just do things the hard way don't we? I am writing this on the back of a frustrating 2-1 loss to Dinamo Zagreb and a relatively good performance against Stoke this past Saturday. But a win is a win and we headed into the match against Zagreb in relatively high spirits knowing that a decent result in the Champions League will put us in the right mind for our trip to Chelsea this weekend. The result was not what we needed.
As we approach the match on Saturday we have to reflect on our current run of form. We have been winning with the exception of the match on opening day and against Liverpool where we got a pathetic draw against a team that is utter garbage right now. We have been winning with some fortunate own goals and our leading scorer only has 2 goals. Walcott has chipped in with one goal and got one in the match against Zagreb. What is alarming is the sheer number of chances we created against Stoke on Saturday and only ended the match at 2-0. Wasteful isn't a strong enough word to describe how pathetic our goal scoring form is currently. We all keep hoping that Alexis is going to get a run going and score buckets of goals but the Chilean is still not looking one hundred percent and frankly he tries too hard by himself each match to make the difference. You have to admire his tenacity but wish the rest of the squad would match that energy.
To be fair, The Stoke match was actually a fairly good one despite our lack of goals. We were tearing through their defense and they simply looked lost as our midfield dominated them with clever passes and excellent runs. We couldn't find the back of the net no matter how hard we tried. Despite this I enjoyed how fluid we looked and I really wanted that fluidity to continue with the exception of adding more goals to the mix. The match against Zagreb was not this. Wenger rotated several positions and it looked as if our chemistry was not right. I have wondered why Wenger doesn't rotate more and maybe this is a reason. Of course it appears that Wenger rotated more than he needed to as he clearly has his focus on the match against Chelsea. I would be lying if I said I didn't agree with putting our effort and energy to the weekend but I do wish we could rotate on a larger scale and not throw our balance so far off.
Wenger has often been accused of ignoring tactics and playing to the opposition in favor of the free flowing and pass heavy game that he prefers. While we all like a nice attacking performance where we play with such precision and ferocity, we have to adjust then things are not going as planned. Our opponents often know that we will attempt to dribble the ball into the net rather than shoot from anywhere. Against Stoke, the squad overall seemed more likely to shoot, even from distance (Kos' shot was a beauty) and this really messed with Stoke's game plan to try and crowd us out. They over-committed and often left holes that were exploited by our faster players. With some clinical finishing that match would have been 5 or 6-0. I have often mentioned how Wenger gives his players free reign to play their way on pitch and while our squad can do this as the match against Stoke was an example, but sometimes it never looks as it it will happen and we give up stupid goals, see the match against Zagreb as an example.
I truly wish Wenger would give more direction to the players on the pitch instead of standing there with his arms crossed and that sullen scowl on his face. I know Wenger wants his players to have the belief in themselves to make it happen but sometimes you have to take the initiative and give direction. Give orders or make a damn substitution before 75 minutes would be a good start. Wenger's stubborn attitude infuriates me to no end. When we are winning 3 or 4-0 and the swift counterattacks and one-two passes are ripping defenses to shreds, than keep it up but stop if we are losing the ball in dangerous areas or are being stretched and exposing our defense. How many times have we watched us play a high line and lose the ball near the center circle because a cute pass was off the mark or we physically get knocked off the ball and before we can react, the ball is nestled in our net and our players are pointing fingers as to who is to blame.
A lot of people have been talking about how badly Chelsea have started the season and as funny as it is you know that Saturday's will be anything but routine. Mourinho isn't going to roll over and let us win because they have been terrible. We need to dust ourselves off from the midweek loss and come back ready to take Chelsea to the cleaners. Our defense has been relatively solid and I expect Coquelin to be back in defensive midfield. Kos and Gabriel will be the center back pairing as Per will not be ready. Bellerin and Monreal as the fullbacks. Ramsey was rested so expect him in the right with Walcott up top and Alexis on the left. Ozil will center and Cazorla alongside Coquelin will probably complete the starting XI. Of course, none of it will matter if we can't find the back of the net. Walcott and Giroud need to be on the training ground practicing their finishing or else we already know the end result.
I could on and on about my frustrations but nobody wants to read that so lets hope that Wenger has a meaningful team talk and our squad is ready to beat Chelsea.
Come on you Gunners. See you at Ri Ra's bright and early.
So the transfer window has been closed until January and once again we watch the chance to strengthen the squad slip away for another season. I don't count the January window because lets face it, as much as Wenger doesn't like the transfer window extending into the season, he has absolute disdain for the January window and the best we will get out of that is an injured midfielder. I didn't have high hopes that we would sign anybody anyway but I was desperate to be proven wrong.
That being said we did sign Petr Cech from Chelsea, liberating him from that hellhole like a POW out of a prison camp in a World War II movie. Mourinho and his lieutenant John Terry must have been getting worse as Cech seemed all too eager to join our club. With his acquisition, obviously it means that either Ospina or Szczesny must go either on loan or permanently and Szczesny was sent out to Roma on loan. He has played well there and our future number one will get valuable experience in another league while Cech helps us win the Premier League. I can dream, plus I would love to rub it Chelsea fans' faces as their former star keeper hoists the Premier League trophy aloft with our far more classier squad.
A lot has been made of our start to the season and no it has not been stellar. We have a loss, 2 wins and a draw. That doesn't seem so bad but the manner of those results is very disconcerting. We have been playing like we already won the title and are just coasting through he final few games of the season. After the Community Shield win over Chelsea, it would seem that our luck was turning and this was going to be our season to finally get back to winning the title but then the horrid match at home against West Ham that slapped that idea out of our heads. We walked out like West Ham would open a path to the goal and we could line up and score as many goals as needed. That didn't happen and we were made to look like chumps. Follow that by a less than convincing win over Palace followed by a lackluster draw against Liverpool. This past weekend saw us get a classic one-nil win over Newcastle. I lied. It was anything but classic.
With Giroud on the bench and Ozil out, Walcott started up top as the lone striker. Not a horrible prospect but I would have preferred Giroud as he fits our game more than Walcott in that position. At 16 minutes Newcastle dropped to 10 men over a reckless tackle and from there one would think, “finally a break and a chance for us to hammer Newcastle and get a deserved convincing win.” That is not what happened. A shot from the Ox did get deflected and in for an own goal to open the scoring but surely we had more to follow. Not at all. Walcott was often nowhere to be found and if he did get the ball he wasn't in a scoring position. Our only striker never truly got a good sight of goal. What is even more frustrating is that this is the type of situation that Walcott should be excelling at. Down to 10 men, we should have been out passing Newcastle, making them run and chase the ball like chickens with their heads cut off while Walcott makes a run to connect with a pass and slot it home. This never happened. We instead played long balls to a striker who is not known for his heading ability or hold up play. When Giroud finally did make it onto the pitch, he made an immediate impact and I thought we might score but that did not happen either as his support was not great and the few chances he had were not on target.
It is unfair to place all the blame onto just Walcott and Giroud. Frankly the whole team was a mess and has been since the opening kickoff against West Ham. Ox has played brightly as has Coquelin and Bellerin for the most part. But those players cannot do everything. Alexis continues to look like he is not fully ready for the season so his magic touch isn't quite there yet, but I have faith we are about to see him get going again. Our midfield has been a concern as they just don't seem to be gelling like last season. Ramsey continues to do whatever he wants on the pitch and frankly I wish Wenger would bench him once Ozil is fit, while leaving Ox on the right. I know that won't happen because ever since Ramsey had that stellar season a couple years ago, Ramsey has been the golden boy, an untouchable player who must always remain on the pitch. Wenger is hoping that Ramsey will have another great season so he can say his normal “I told you so” speech. Enough. Ramsey hasn't had that kind of performance and he is never where he needs to be on the pitch.
This goes for all of our midfielders minus Coquelin who has to stay back. Wenger gives all of our midfielders far too much freedom during the coarse of the game. I am so sick of seeing Alexis cut from the left and look for our right winger to play a pass too and he is nowhere to be found because he is too busy hanging around in the center of the pitch. We have no width most of the time because all of our players minus the fullbacks are crowding the center trying to replicate that Jack Wilshere-Norwich goal. Counter attacks end up being so much more effective against us because our fullbacks have no support down the wings. To their credit, Monreal and Bellerin are stable in the back line and do what is asked of them. We all know that our defense is shaky, so why are so obsessed with making them as exposed as possible. Coquelin cannot cover the entire pitch by himself and more often than not he has to do everything to stop an attack. If our players would stick to a slightly more rigid structure some of the idiotic goals we concede would go away.
This squad has not changed much since last season. We gained a superb goalkeeper and cut some of the dead weight from the squad who weren't playing anyway. This is the same squad that had an excellent second half of the season to see us win the FA Cup for the second consecutive year. Our young fringe players have established themselves as starters and we have an overall more capable team. We are still light on depth and our injury record is atrocious. An injury to Coquelin, Giroud or Alexis will severely hamper our performance even more and we needed a few players to fill the holes in our depth chart. Wenger's refusal to play ball has left us in a critical position. Just like last year, the pressure is on every player to stay fit and play out of their skins every match for one slip is costly. We have the resources, and the allure, but our stubborn manager and board may have screwed us again.
This squad can do it. We can win the league, but it will require a lot of good fortune and perfect players every week. The top teams all have a plan B. We have plan A and only plan A. No use complaining anymore as the transfer window is closed. Only thing left to do is to keep supporting the Arsenal that we all love and just hope that we won't be snake bitten.
Que Sera, Sera
PS, Thanks to all who showed up for the opening match at Ri Ra's. The turnout was exceptional and the voices were loud. Let's keep that up throughout the season!
The summer is drawing to a close and with it means the Premier League season is underway. Technically it started last week with the match against West Ham United but I am going to pretend that match never happened. The real season began with the 2-1 win at Crystal Palace which saw us play so much better than opening day, you would have thought it was two different squads that took the pitch. Excellent performances from Ozil, Coquelin, Bellerin, Alexis (who still isn't fully ready) and Giroud say us take three points in our first trip away from home this season.
While the match had plenty of talking points I would like to start with our current number one striker: Olivier Giroud, the HFB. His opening goal was part side volley, part bicycle kick that was so expertly taken, you can see why Wenger sees him as our number one striker. After that goal hit the back of the net I thought to myself “he really can score a phenomenal goal”. It made me think of some of the wondrous goals he has scored for us in the few seasons with the Gunners. Reading forums and message boards, you would think that Giroud is not worth the money we paid for him and he is a mediocre player. All I can say is that while he isn't the best striker in the league, he is improving each year. It took him so long to find the back of the net in his first season that there were fans calling for his head in only a few short months. 19, 23, 19 goals in all competitions in each year he has been with us. Lets not forget he missed a large portion of last season to injury and still managed to knock in 19 goals. A fully fit Giroud is instrumental in keeping pace with the league leaders unless we sign another striker to give him a rest every now and then. It has been discussed before but our style of play gives Giroud more importance because we look to use his power and hold up play to draw defenders while players like Walcott, Alexis, Welbeck, Ox and Ramsey can get in behind. Our weakness, which has been discussed to death, is the reliance on that single system. Nonetheless Giroud is our guy to lead the line unless we pick up a new striker signing.
A lot was made about the performance of our new number one keeper from Chelsea last week. Petr Cech did little to bathe himself in glory after a couple of relatively soft goals in the opening match but I am willing to let him slide slightly as the defending was utter garbage and left him him and dry. Same for the goal we gave up against Palace it seemed like a soft goal and it was but from a defending standpoint as no one closed down the attacker and he was free to shoot to the far post. Cech may have been slow to get down but you have to expect your defenders to make an effort to get in front of the shot. In any sport that uses a goalkeeper, whether it is football or hockey, the goaltender has to have the confidence that his defenders will at least make it difficult for the shooter to get the shot off. More shots in hockey are blocked by defenders because they are trained to stop a shot before it gets to the goaltender. A shot that is blocked doesn't have a chance to go in. Basic defending would serve us well in the coming weeks especially since we have a match against Liverpool coming up.
I would consider the match against West Ham a fluke performance, one that was built out of a squad that was not prepared to deal with the threat that West Ham provided. We went into the match against Palace knowing that another lazy performance would be punished and their was a sense of nervousness in the fans but as the minutes ticked on it was clear that we were not treating this Palace side with the same lack of respect. There were moments of danger from them but in the end we dealt with it well and I think we can build off of that as we head into the match next Monday against Liverpool.
Liverpool are a team that have won two games with a brilliant goal from one player and a poor linesman decision. Liverpool have not been convincing in their games but collected three points from each match. We have not played our best football but I can see that the summer cobwebs are being shaken off and we are man for man better than Liverpool. Those players need to step up and deliver because this is the first test we have to face in our title challenge. Liverpool do have a blessing and a curse against us: Brendan Rodgers. I think he is absolute madman when it comes to managing sometimes as he puts outs a bizarre team selection. I do not know if he simply does this to confuse the opposition of if he truly believes that Jordan Henderson is the best player in the Premier League. Whoever he decides to play against us will be facing an Arsenal team that knows that all eyes are on them to perform and they must now cast off the doubts to prove we belong in the title hunt. I know we have a lot of matches to go but we have to move onto the title after our back to back FA Cup wins.
In local news we are now calling Ri Ra's Irish Pub the new home of the Queen City Gooners. I would like to thank Big Ben Pub for their hospitality over the last several years and it was not an easy decision to move on from that relationship. The people involved in this decision want nothing more than the best fan experience we can get here in Charlotte and Ri Ra's has been very generous in their bid to have us call their pub home. There were many factors that lead to this decision and we are calling all the loyal Queen City Gooners to come out for our first official match on August 29th against Newcastle. We are looking to grow our brand here in the city as we are the biggest group for the sport in Charlotte and the largest Arsenal branch in NC. Congrats to all of you Gooners for keeping the Arsenal alive here in our great city. We have competition with other groups but let's face it, We are the Arsenal and we are the best, so f*** all the rest.
Any questions about the new move can be made to the Queen City Gooners Facebook page, twitter, email or even to me and we will be glad to address your concerns.
Looking forward to great season with the incredible QCG. I apologize for the short first blog of the year but it has been a busy few weeks. I will look to expand on the blog in the coming season. I hope to see all of you at Ri Ra's!
As always: Come on you Gunners!!!
Arsenal are the 2014-15 FA Cup Winners. I don't get tired of saying that. After the intensity of the season and everything it brought with it, including watching Mourinho and that pack of rabid dogs called Chelsea lift the Premier League trophy while their plastic rent boy fans gripe, I am so proud to be a Gooner as we played real football en route to winning a record 12 FA Cups including 6 captured by Wenger.
Leading up to the match the team selection was the main topic of conversation. I was convinced that Wenger would start the team that has led him far with the exception of Szczesny in goalie. My prediction was half right. Ramsey returned and Szczesny did start in goal but Wenger opted to start Walcott as the lone striker in place of the struggling Giroud. Despite Walcott's great match against West Brom, I thought Wenger's predictability would precede him. I was wrong and to be honest I was annoyed at Walcott starting. I thought his performance was a one-off against West Brom and that Wenger was trusting too much in a player that has not played much this season in a big game. Needless to say I wanted Walcott to prove me wrong and prove me wrong he did.
It took a while into the first half for us to score but it felt like the goal was inevitable Aston Villa were toothless and our defensive line was solid. They effortlessly brushed aside any attacking play that Villa could muster, leaving Szczesny with little to do. Our attack was pressuring the Villa goal but poor shooting and last ditch defending saw attack after attack go wanting. With a few minutes to go a cross in the box was headed out wide to the left by Alexis. The ball was allowed to bounce into the path of the running Walcott whose one-time, left-footed finish threaded the needle and found the back of the net. It was a beauty of a goal and one that showed that Wenger made the right decision to include him in the squad. It also proved that I was wrong. Walcott turned at the perfect moment because it was looking like we were unable to break down the Villa defense. The tension was growing at the pub and I could sense that going to halftime even was not going over well. The goal revitalized the crowd both locally and at Wembley. Walcott's celebration and emotion was shared by all and the optimism came back to the crowd. We went in at halftime leading by one goal but it should have been three or four at least.
The second half started brightly with Arsenal picking up where we left off. The free flowing offense started creating more chances and it was getting to the point where a second was coming and we could feel it. Then came one of the greatest goals in FA Cup history. Alexis, a player who at Barcelona, was known for taking a cracking shot from distance and often on target, sent a shot from thirty yards out that kissed the underside of the crossbar and into the net. The Villa keeper could do nothing but swat at air. The shaking head and slight smile from the keeper said it all: he had no chance at all. I have watched that goal probably one hundred times now and every time it amazes me. I always feel like we spend too much time and waste opportunities while waiting for the perfect pass when sometimes all it takes is a bit of space and some luck. There was no luck to Alexis' shot. That was the skill and confidence of a player that is a winner and one that wanted us to win that trophy. It is no doubt that Alexis is the flashy star of this team and for good reason. We would not be where we are without him. We have gained a player that can win us a game or earn a point in a tough draw. Like Walcott's goal, Alexis' wonder strike came at a time where we were all wondering if this game was going to be a nervy contest. That incredible goal put the game to bed. Villa were shell shocked and the next two goals were a result of that.
Mertesacker and Giroud earned their goals as a result of poor marking and half-assed defending by Villa. Mertesacker was nearly unmarked on a corner and his tall frame connected with the ball sending it bouncing into the corner. A fellow Gooner whom I was sitting with predicted a defender to score and sure enough one did. I was glad it was Per. His celebrations are simply the best. He just runs and falls down in a state of pure shock and joy. It is was a goal and celebration very befitting of a player that truly understands what it means to be a Gunner. As a side note, Koscielny's kit was pulled up over his head, hockey fight style and his eyes peering through the neck hole was hilarious as he was looking for a penalty not realizing that his partner just scored.
Our final goal was scored by Giroud and it was great to see him get back on the score sheet. His goal was so very Giroud too. A nonchalant side foot just redirecting the pass from Ox into the short side of the net. We have seen so many of those flicks and redirections from him this season that we shouldn't be surprised anymore. He has come a long way in a few short years. He caught a lot of flak for not being a proficient enough scorer but he has proven that he can get a good goal with the best of them. He may not being the 30 goal a season scorer that everyone looks for, but he can score and score well.
The final whistle came shortly after Giroud's goal and the crowd and our pub erupted into celebrations and singing. Hugs and high gives abound as we all watched our club lift the famous old trophy. It was a stellar performance on the day and one that we can all be proud of. Arsenal comfortably won at Wembley after struggling last season against Wigan and Hull and this season against Reading. We strolled onto the pitch with the conviction of a team that knew they were better and proved it. Man for man we were better and every player on that pitch for the Gunners showed it. Ozil was making defender splitting passes and his movement was so subtle but effective. Our surprises of the season, Bellerin and Coquelin did their duties so well and played well above their age. I can't imagine the confidence they must have going into next year having taking their chance so well. It is the kind of game where you wish every player could have come on because they all pretty much had a hand in getting us here.
My man of the match was probably Coquelin or Alexis, not just for the game itself but for what their performances have meant for us this season. Alexis was unstoppable early this season and that was when he was still learning a new system with a new team. With a full season under his belt he will be key for us to have further success next year. Coquelin's solid impressive play has been exactly what this squad has been missing and it is no surprise that the moment he came in to the squad we went on our undefeated run. A defensive midfielder was so important for us and we have been missing that type of player. We still need another but that is a topic for another day.
Silly Season starts soon so I will be keeping tabs on that but for now lets all continue to celebrate a season of progress and another trophy.
Oh to be a Gooner!
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
Getting to Wembley hasn't been easy for us in recent memory but after a few tough matches we are going to the final to face Aston Villa on May 30. After the nine year drought we won the FA Cup last year and this year we have the chance to win it again. We won the cup two years in a row in 01-02 and 02-03 and we will enter the final as the favorite just as we did last year but as last year showed us, you just never know what can happen in a cup final.
Similar to the match against Burnley, our semi-final against Reading was not exactly a game that will go down as a thriller. Both sides struggled to get a handle on the match and it was unclear who was going to be off to the final. It was fitting that Alexis was the player to get us trough. His two goals was enough to put the match to bed even if it took 120 minutes to get there. I was simply glad that the match didn't go to penalties. There is nothing worse that losing a place in the final due to a fluky penalty system like we nearly experienced against Wigan last season.
The lack of attacking threat may have been due to the changes Wenger made to the starting lineup. Debuchy and Gibbs started over Bellerin and Monreal. Welbeck was on in place of Giroud as the lone striker. Debuchy looked as rusty as the Tin Man in a swimming pool and Gibbs wasn't proving to Wenger that he deserved to start over Monreal. I fully expected Wenger to make a few changes to the squad as he often does when the cup matches come around. We know he will play the back up keeper as that seems to be status quo now. I should not be surprised that he changed the fullbacks but I am as the length of time after the break was sufficient enough to give the usual starters a full run out. Debuchy is clearly the first choice right back due to his experience but after a couple of lengthy absences because of injury I thought he would have been subbed if he did start. Playing the full 120 minutes was good for him to get back to full match fitness but his lack of pace and poor decision making was obviously a detriment to our forward play. Bellerin has been playing at the position for so much of the season that our forwards and midfield seem adjusted to him even if he shows his youth and inexperience from time to time. Wenger obviously trusts the Spaniard but wants his first choice to get more match time as the season closes.
Welbeck over Giroud was not much of a surprise because we have seen him start in the match against Manchester United and in other cup matches this season. Wenger also gave Sanogo a game over Giroud this time last season and Welbeck is ahead of Sanogo in the development department. Giroud however has been on fire and is always good for a goal especially in a game like this. His goal scoring aside, it was his hold up play and intelligent passing was missed up front on Saturday. When he came on, we looked far more likely to get the go-ahead goal. It was Alexis who took the headlines with his brace though.
Alexis, like most of the team, wasn't playing to their full potential that we have seen this season but his tenacity and never say die attitude are what makes him such a world class player. When Ozil sent that pass into his path I was certain that it would be a goal. His control of the ball to line the shot up with so little time is exactly what was needed in this match. The second goal was from a tight angle and it took a howler from their keeper for it find the back of the net. Despite this, you can never rule the Chilean out and any defender who gives him too much space puts their team at risk as he is more than capable to finding the back of the net from what seems like anywhere on the pitch.
I have to give the Reading keeper an honorable mention because he really did have an outstanding game. Without those incredible saves on Mertesacker, Gabriel, Ozil and others he kept his team in sight of the final but this was always going to be a match that took a mistake to gift the game to the opposition and it was unfortunate to happen to him. I don't lose sleep over it, as I am ecstatic that we made it past Reading but as someone who enjoys the keeper position, I cringe to see a keeper in such good match form to give up that kind of goal. It happens from time to time and our sympathy won't change that but we should be respectful to teams like Reading who put up one Hell of a fight and aren't total classless scum like Spurs, Chelsea, Stoke etc. They made us play a tense game and of course we would have loved to have a 3-0 match, we knew that Reading wouldn't roll over and die. They came to play and play they did. Winning tough is just as important if not more so than winning with ease. It is a far greater learning experience and will prepare us to face a Villa side in the final that has been rejuvenated by a comical Tim Sherwood.
Speaking of Villa, how hilarious is it that Liverpool lost to Villa with all the hype that the Liverpool supporters put on facing us in the final. They were so confident that their captain would get a lovely send off by winning the FA Cup on his birthday in his final game. They started their celebrations a bit prematurely didn't they? It would have been pretty funny to beat them in the final but I would be lying if I said they would be an easy opponent even though we destroyed them a few weeks ago. Villa is a team that we can and should beat in the final just like Hull was last year but like Hull we will need to be on our guard as Villa won't simply give the trophy to us. This is one of their few chances to get a trophy as they are nowhere near title contenders so they will be playing like their season depends on it because it does. We cannot take them for granted or treat them like a League Two side.
Coming up is the match against Chelsea and I am nervously looking forward to it. I believe we will win. I do not know why, but I just feel it in my bones that this will be our year to remove the Mourinho monkey from our back and beat him to death with Gabriel's terrifying face.
Until next week,
I have one question to ask you:
What did she wear?
An interesting thing occurs when Arsenal play well and the wins keep coming one after another: a lot of the hate and vitriol begins to disappear and smiles accompany the optimism in all of us gooners. Yesterday I sat down at my computer to write this and I found myself at a loss for words. Unsure of what to write, I began to rattle my brain for ideas and talking points and I wasn't coming up with anything. Eventually the thought came to me: everything is ok,. A top four place is within our grasp, we play a semi-final in the FA Cup and we look like a solid squad. Everything is fine.
Not to say that I am complacent, I just have a slight calm in my nerves that I haven't felt when watching this team play over the last several years, or even earlier this season. How many times have we watched a match similar to the one against Burley last weekend only to have the script tell a different ending. We have watched us concede a soft goal to see the opposition tie the game then in the dying minutes we gift them another goal off a set piece or penalty. A winning position turned on its head and we were left trying to figure out just what happened.
Not this time. Against Burnley, while it wasn't the most interesting match, we never looked like we would give up the lead. Burnley had a couple of chances throughout the match but most of the time it was a thorough, methodical defensive display. We started well and that early pressure gave us the goal we needed to win. Now I would be lying if I said that initially I wasn't nervous, but I was. The fear of giving up a stupid goal fills us all with dread but that fear is slowly withering away. My confidence grew to the point where I felt it was a boring match. Our squad was dealing with everything Burnley could muster and our attack didn't need to exert itself trying to find an equalizer or a late winner. It was a comfortable performance, one that we should expect when facing such opposition.
With that calm, assured performance last weekend, it should put us in a good mindset this weekend. I know the cliches of mental strength, taking it one game at a time etc are usually said by Wenger and the squad but as long as we don't underestimate Reading and the remaining teams we face this season we will have built a great foundation for next season. I know we still have to face Chelsea and Manchester United this season and those are generally not matches that we have performed well in recent memory. Despite this I have remained confident that this is the season that we will put the doubt to bed. Twice this season we dealt blows to Manchester clubs and we took most of the wind out of Liverpool's sails as well with that thrashing two weeks ago.
I want that monkey removed from our back and thrown back at Chelsea. Hopefully that monkey is Donkey Kong and he ties Mourinho to a post and throws barrels nonstop at him. The media loves mentioning Wenger's record against Mourinho led Chelsea teams and it less than flattering. Chelsea are not the invincible side that Talksport would like everyone to think they are. That goal last week against QPR was a lucky break and I do feel it handed them the title but they are beatable. We have the confidence and the run of form to do it, just like the Manchester clubs. Like before our defense will need to be up for the task and our productive forwards will need to be ready to capitalize on any chance. From head to Coquelin we will need to want that match more than them. I am looking forward to it with that same calm I mentioned earlier. We walk into the match still as underdogs and that is a good thing. Chelsea has the title and they won't need to risk more than they have to. Of course, Mourinho loves to throw backhanded comments about Wenger and Arsenal, especially when we lose so it is time for us to win and instead of gloating, we walk on, finish the season and stick it to them next year.
It is nice to be optimistic about our squad for once instead of griping about how we need this or that. Sure we have a few holes in the squad that need to be plugged with a quality player or two but if there is one thing this season has told us is that never discredit anything. If you would have told me at the start of the season that Coquelin would be indispensable, Bellerin would be challenging Debuchy for the top right back spot, Monreal would play better than Gibbs, Giroud having a high finishing rate, and Welbeck would score the goal that knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup, I would have fixed your tinfoil hat and fashioned a straitjacket for you as I loaded you on the Hannibal Lecter hand truck. Anything can happen in this sport, be it good or bad, and right now it is looking good for the Gunners. A few more matches are left in the season and we can look ahead to the future, but first we must take on Reading in the FA Cup at Wembley in a semi-final match. One win sees us in the final defending our cup against either Villa or Liverpool (hopefully Villa).
So lets smile and sing songs of the Arsenal as they take on Reading, Chelsea, Manchester United and the rest of the clubs we have to face in this final run of the season. I will be watching intently at both FA Cup matches this weekend and maybe the football gods will smile upon us as we win and Liverpool lose or maybe not. Maybe it would be better for them to win and we can beat them again in the final.
Whatever happens, I remain confident and optimistic.
Come on you Gunners.