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.
As most of you know I am not a fan of the international breaks that interrupt the season fill the sports news outlets with meaningless scores and stats as our players get whisked to all parts of the globe to participate in friendlies (or in this case, Euro qualifiers). As a gooner this is more frustrating because our players like to end up on the wrong side of the physicians table after these matches and we are down several good players for extended periods of time. Fortunately, this did not occur and we got to see a wonderful spring match against Liverpool on Saturday.
A fine 4-1 win over Liverpool is always a joy to watch but this match had a lot riding on it. As the years have passed we have been constantly ridiculed for being unable to take points off of teams in the top four. I know Liverpool isn't in the top four but they finished in the top four last season and are a team that we got demolished by at Anfield. 4-1 is as close to replicating the reverse score last season without matching it and man for man, we played like the better team. We were dominant almost all match and with the exception of a fifteen minute stretch in the first half, we controlled every moment. Liverpool did that to us last season and it was nice to return the favor.
We know how important those top four positions are and a win over Liverpool essentially solidified our place in the Champions League. With City crashing to Palace on Monday, we have a damn good chance to finish as high as second, but no lower than third. Not only did we book our place but we may have ended any others chances of getting in. Liverpool do have a chance still but it is a long shot at this point and it requires United to drop a lot of points in the final weeks. Frankly, I don't really care what happens to them as long as we stay in the Champions League.
The match itself was fantastic and we are seeing the makings of a strong team that can truly challenge for the title next year. After a season of trying to get many new players to fit in and gel, we are hitting our stride and showing the league what the Arsenal are all about. Wenger has gotten us back to playing the style of football we all want and expect at Arsenal. From front to back we are playing with the grace and confidence of a winning side. Beating City away earlier in such dominant fashion was a massive catalyst for our winning run. With the exception of the Southampton and Sp*rs losses, we have been positive to great in our matches. Sure we have had a few nervy games here and there but overall we should be pleased with how our progress is coming.
Progress describes our season as a whole from a results standpoint and from a personnel standpoint. As I stated earlier we have had our problems with the top teams. United, City, Liverpool and Chelsea always seem to have our number and it has become a forgone conclusion that we will choke against them. Not this season. We have taken points away from Liverpool, and beaten both City and United away from home. Chelsea still remain at large but as the match approaches I am feeling confident that we will win. I said the same leading up the FA Cup match at Old Trafford and I will say it again. We have the confidence and the momentum to finally wipe that smug smile off of Jose Mourinho's face. It would be better to steal the title from them but even a Chelsea team that is off the pace at the moment won't give up the title so close to the end. If we had a few more matches left in the season then I would suggest that it is possible, not this time though.
It is hard not to look back and suggest that our progress isn't as great as we may think. The early part of the season was littered with draws to lesser opposition and to make matters worse, most of those matches we were leading and then conceded stupid goals. My response to that is as the season went on we began to seal the leaks in the top four while Alexis was busy scoring goals and keeping us in the fight for the top four. Our back line didn't look solid because it was hard for them to stay healthy. Thus we had a rotating door of players filling in. Debuchy, our starting right back who was to replace Sagna, was injured long turn immediately forcing our hand to play a young Chambers. Then an injury to Koscielny forced Chambers center and a young Bellerin at right back. Two young players in our starting defensive lineup? Not a great proposition but the two ended up working out to varying degrees. I wont fill this space with superlatives for Bellerin but as you know I am a big fan of his, especially his speed and cover on the right. Playing with Alexis is paying off as he is replicating Alexis' never say die attitude and now seeing the young Spaniard at right back isn't a worrying sight. Also, that goal against Liverpool, a real beauty from a defensive player and the run leading up to it was excellent as well.
Our squad as usual, gets hit hard by injuries in more than just defense and the loss of Arteta was a big one forcing Flamini, Ox, Ramsey and more to fill that defensive midfield role. At the January transfer window we were all clamoring for a DM acquisition but a new shiny player didn't signed. Instead we pulled a player who looked like he was on his way out, Coquelin, into the first team. A gamble by Wenger that has paid off. Coquelin looks like a man possessed and at this point, is one of the first names on the team sheet. Like Bellerin, I will not fill this post with superlatives but needless to say his impact has been instrumental in our run to the finish. Giroud, also suffered a long term injury but luckily we had Alexis to fill the goal scoring gap but upon his return, Giroud is one of the most clinical finishers in the second half of the season. This burden being lifted from Alexis is good for the Chilean as he was clearly carrying the weight of the team. Giroud has taken a large chunk of that load off of him and after that goal against Liverpool, Alexis is looking back to the player we had at the start.
With seven matches remaining in the season we look to close out strong. Chelsea and United are the last big tests we have and as the old cliché goes, just take it one match at a time. Our progress is clear, we have made up in strides as the season went on after hitting an injury stumbling block early on. Lets close out with wins finish second (or first if Mourinho finally snaps and holds Stamford Bridge hostage and threatens to blow up the moon with a giant laser).
Until next week,
Come on you Gunners!
Saturday came and went and with it saw us get a win at St. James Park against Newcastle. It is a ground that has been relatively good to us lately and I approached this match with a fair bit confidence, even if the commentators mention the infamous 4-4 draw every few minutes. Despite this, the squad was up for the challenge and we got a tough but deserved win.
After the match in Monaco mid-week, it was natural for Wenger to make a few changes to the lineup. Gabriel came into the defense, Ozil was left out due to illness and Chambers was selected in place of Bellerin. Overall the match wasn't too bad. We played well in the first half and Giroud kept his excellent scoring form going with two well-taken goals. We should have had a few more if Welbeck could have found his shooting boots and if Ramsey would have gotten out of Giroud's way. I was getting slightly irritated by him taking the ball and doing nothing with it when Giroud was in a good position. One instance in particular saw the ball come from the left and was destined to find Giroud open for his hat trick goal and instead Ramsey jumped in the way and scuffed the chance. 2-0 at halftime wasn't bad at all but I felt we left a lot on the table.
Sure enough the second half was what Newcastle needed to get on the scoreboard. An early goal saw us on the back foot for the rest of the match. You felt like another goal was coming but we did enough to keep the lead intact. Wenger brought on more defenders to get the 3 points and it worked but it was not the most comfortable second half of football we ever played. Clinical finishing in the first half would have been nice and would have kept us all from nearly having heart attacks.
It is easy to criticize the team for not scoring enough but it says a lot about the strength of our squad when we can get a lead and hold for the match. Newcastle put on the pressure for sure but it wasn't like they were creating the best chances. How many times in the past have we been unable to hold onto a lead? It is statistically impossible for us to win comfortably every game so we have to deal with a sluggish match every once in a while. Monaco was a draining experience. We came very close to advancing and that was tough mentally and physically. To come to a tough ground like St. James Park immediately following must have called for serious motivation and drive from the players. We are not out of the race for the title (although we would need a momentous collapse from Chelsea) and the FA Cup is still ours to lose.
We know that if we win our remaining games, we will have another chance at the Champions League next year and keep us in the running for the title. Winning at Newcastle was a great start to finishing our season strong. After the interlull, I expect the lineup to return to its roots as the squad is beginning to click. Alexis is no longer being forced to play the hero in every match and the burden has been lifted off of him. It doesn't take an expert analysis to see that his take is nearing empty but I think Wenger continues to play him every week because a team with a tired Alexis is still better than a team with no Alexis. Hopefully this international break will be good for the Chilean. He deserves a rest so he can come back and play like he did at the start of the season. Even while tired, Alexis tries to do everything he can to turn the match. His first season will go down as a successful one no matter what happens from now until the end.
Playing Alexis every week while Walcott doesn't even make the bench is an alarming sight. We all know that Walcott's contract is expiring and the club must make a decision on what to do with him. His injury a year ago has not done him any favors in the development department and we have a world class player in Alexis that starts ahead of him. Ox when healthy is also higher on the pecking order than Walcott and with Walcott on high wages it becomes clear that it is not economical to the club to continue to pay a player that kind of salary only to sit on the bench. We had that problem with Bendtner and we do not want that again. I am not saying that Walcott will go and make sexual advances to a taxi cab but having a player sitting on the bench with a large wage doesn't make a lot of sense. The injury was a tough one and it is quite possible that Wenger is still nursing him instead of rushing him back into the side. With Alexis, Ox and Cazorla all capable of playing that the right wing role, Wenger doesn't have to play him every week. This very well could be the reason for the lack of involvement on Walcott's part, or maybe the contract discussion isn't going as planned and the player may be somewhere else next season. I don't know and I won't pretend to know.
I like Walcott and I think he offers a lot to the club but we made his last deal on the back of losing the dutch skunk and I believe he was to be the main man in the aftermath of that debacle. In the following seasons, other players have stepped up and signings have been made, Giroud, Ozil, Alexis and Welbeck have severely reduced Walcott's importance to the squad. I remember a lot of fans calling for Walcott to start over Giroud a while back and you aren't hearing that now. The starting spot was his to lose and in his absence he lost it. Time will tell what happens to him but I have a feeling that he will not be with us next season. He is at a point in his career where he wants to be play every week and not sit on the bench. The club won't give him the same wages as Alexis or Ozil and he won't be playing every week. That is usually the makings of an exit.
The international break will give me a break from football so I won't be writing until after the Liverpool match. This is a must win for us as it will put us nine points clear of them. It would effectively end their top four hopes unless City or United stumble. Although if Gerrard continues to make petulant, schoolboy actions on the pitch, they won't make top four on their own. I won't gloat though because we haven't solidified our place yet. A win in a couple of weeks will make sure of that.
So until I write after the Liverpool, let's just hope that our players return from international duty injury free and we continue our winning ways.
Come on you Gunners!
So that is it. Arsenal are out of the Champions League again at the round of sixteen. It was a strong performance from a team that is on a run of form at the moment. Normally a 2-0 win away in the Champions League is generally a great night for us, but since we went out of the competition despite the win, it doesn't get the celebration it deserves. We can go through all the what-if scenarios about how we could have gone through but in the end it is the first leg that sank us.
At home, we should not be conceding in the fashion that we did but yet we did and have done constantly in this competition. Looking back at the last several years, we have lost to Barcelona, AC Milan, Bayern Munich (twice) and now Monaco. To make the trend worse is that we always choke in the first leg and put in a hard fought gutsy second leg. Barcelona: won 2-1 at home, 3-1 loss away (our only recent first leg win). AC Milan: 4-0 loss away, 3-0 win at home. Munich, 3-1 loss at home, 2-0 win away. Munich: 2-0 loss at home, 1-1 away. Monaco: 3-1 loss at home, 2-0 win away. See the pattern? We lose these match-ups in the first leg. Had we not lost these first legs in such disappointing fashion we would moving on to the next round and who know where it would have taken us.
I am not saying that we would have won. We may have been just delaying the inevitable but the fact is we are better than that. We should be challenging the top teams and instead we crash out to a team like Monaco (even AC Milan, who were and still are a shell of their former selves). Nothing shameful about losing to a team like Bayern Munich or Barcelona, they have so much money that their napkin dispensers are full of euros. They attract they top players from across the world and as a result they created super teams that can destroy anyone. Despite this, we are capable of playing just as well on our night and we can beat them home or away. We just don't do it in the first leg.
I do not know what causes us to lose our concentration in such glorious fashion. Wenger always laments “mental strength” after one of these losses. It is hard to pin this on any one cause. Is it the manager? He is the one who sets the starting XI and establishes the tactics. Is it the players? They are the ones who actually play the matches. It is the manager's job to get the players motivated and set the tactics, and from there it is the player's duty to play to the best of their abilities. However, with poor set up the team may be doomed from kick-off. We never seem to get our footing and in the end we concede stupid goals and we are out of the competition. Against Monaco, at 2-1 with a late goal to keep things manageable, everything didn't seem too bad and getting a 2-0 win at Monaco would have seen us advance. What we got instead was Monaco walking down the pitch and scoring the goal to make it 3-1, thus ending any real chance we had at advancing.
Our stumbling in the Champions League could also be attributed to not winning the group. Getting the top spot in the group stage doesn't necessarily guarantee an easy match in the knockout stages but it does help your chances. With that top spot, you generally avoid playing teams like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich etc, in the round of sixteen. Sure you will end up facing them later but at least you can delay it and make it further in the competition. A downside to this is we seem to underestimate our perceived weaker opposition. How thrilled were we to get Monaco in the draw? Against all the other teams we could have drawn, this was our best option. I was delighted as I watch a bit of French football and know that while Monaco are tough, they are absolutely beatable even by a team as inconsistent as we are. Then we go ahead and lay an egg at home and that was that. Frankly there are so many ways that we could avoid this fate it would take too long to list them all.
Eventually we will find the winning formula to win this competition and add that coveted trophy to our trophy cabinet, next year perhaps. Until then we have to work on securing Champions League football next year. In order to do that we have to continue our run of good form. We are only a point behind Manchester City in second and seven behind Chelsea. It is too much to think we will take Chelsea and win the league without a monumental collapse from them but Manchester City are not looking like the team that won the league last season. Our squad is starting to gel at the right time to see us through the final stretch of the season. Giroud is scoring regularly, Ozil, Ramsey and Cazorla are really starting to create and Coquelin is bossing the DM role. Obviously, we have to avoid injuries to our key players but as long as we keep playing our game we will get top four and another chance at the Champions League. Let's not forget that we are still in the running for the FA Cup so lets focus our efforts in adding that trophy and call it a season. The end of the season is fast approaching.
We head to Newcastle on Saturday. This is a match that we can and should win. I expect some changes to the lineup that faced Monaco. Welbeck will head back to the bench as Wenger will go back to his more defensive minded setup. I think Alexis may get a break as well so Walcott may get a start.
Until next time,
Come on you Gunners!
There really is nothing quite like beating a team like Manchester United on their own turf. Watching the smug smiles get erased from their fans faces as they leave the stands in disgust to cry into their Ronaldo shaped pillows may be a sure case of schadenfreude but I could care less. That team of over-hyped mongoloids seems to get ninety-nine percent of all calls in their matches and climb higher in the table than they rightly deserve. This match could have easily gone right into the hands of United and see us lose again but that was not in the cards.
The main talking point of the pre-match was the inclusion of Danny Welbeck over Olivier Giroud. Giroud, with the exception of that Monaco match, has been in terrific form and one would assume that against a team like United he would start. Wenger decided to go with Welbeck, a player who has given us some good goals but lately has been quiet. Whether or not that has anything to do with being utilized out wide is a debate for another day. Maybe Wenger was trying to stir up emotion on the pitch but sending out a player that Van Gaal publicly insulted when he was sold or maybe Wenger simply wanted to see how Welbeck would do. Whatever the true reason, the experiment didn't seem to be panning out at first.
Welbeck took several heavy touches and couldn't get onto the end of anything. The squad wasn't playing poorly by any means it just appeared to be an off night for Welbeck. Thankfully, several players were up for the task, Ox, Coquelin, Bellerin and Monreal in particular. We dictated the flow of the match early on despite the fact that Van Gaal saw it fit to send Fellaini as a battering ram though our midfield. We got to watch foul after foul go completely ignored by the ref. Fortunately Ox was unfazed by the uncultured tactics of the Mancs as he powered his way to the edge of the box where the diagonal pass down the left cut the defense in half (Valencia was no where to be found) as Monreal pounced onto it. He curled a shot from a tight angle to make it 0-1 to the mighty Arsenal. I was elated and struggled to contain myself at my desk. That happiness didn't last as Rooney's hair-plugged basketball he calls a head sent a header over Szczesny and into the net. Once again we shoot ourselves in the foot. A penalty appeal not given as Welbeck was dropped in the box and the sides went level at the break.
The second half started as the first ended, with United fouling and getting nothing. Eventually Fellaini got the yellow card he deserved even if it was eight fouls too late. Despite the lack of football being played by United, we started to grow into the match. The ref wasn't falling for United's diving and we began string passes through their midfield where we completely outclassed them. Welbeck, Alexis, Cazorla and Ox(who was replaced by Ramsey after his hamstring went) really started to ramp up the pressure and it was through this pressure that we got the second goal.
After a terrible back pass from Valencia, De Gea tried to meet the ball. Welbeck's quick acting feet drove him aggressively toward the ball. He clipped the ball around the stranded keeper, corrected his balance and set the ball into the open net. All eyes were upon him as not only did he score against his former club, but he celebrated the goal with his new teammates. United looked shellshocked and tried again to turn the tide by diving and fouling. The ref wasn't buying it and with 20 minutes to go United shot themselves in the foot.
Di Maria hit the dirt like he was leveled by Manny Pacquiao. Ramsey did touch him slightly and by slightly I mean a fingertip or two may have grazed his arm. The ref promptly gave Di Maria a yellow card and that seemed to be that. In a bizarre twist, Di Maria got up and grabbed the ref's shirt in a final act of defiance and displeasure. The red card was shown and United were down to ten men. Naturally I was ecstatic for two reasons, United was down to ten men and it robbed them of one player that legitimately could have got them level. They instead turned to using Fellaini as an even more lanky mongoloid Peter Crouch. Fellaini sat at the edge of the box and watched ball after ball get cleared by our defense. Whenever he did manage to get his mop onto the ball it did little to frighten us. United tried a few more dives but in the end we walked away with the win and a ticket to Wembley.
The post match interviews went as expected from the managers. What I found interesting was Welbeck's interview. He wasn't asked about the goal or his emotions about starting. No his first questions was about his celebration. To his credit I think he handled it well by saying United is a club that means a lot to him and that he wasn't celebrating to spite them but that he was celebrating scoring a goal with his teammates in the heat of an intense match. I believe what he said. He grew up a United boy and played for them for his whole career but Van Gaal turned his back on him and showed him the door. It was probably tough to walk back into that ground wearing our kit but he did what was needed of him from an Arsenal standpoint. He played into the match and got the winner, all to a cacophony of boos from their fans. Not every player who dons our kit grew up as a fan of our great club. It would be nice if they all were Gooners, born and bred, but that is unrealistic. Not every player/fan is loyal, the dutch skunk proved that. As Gooners, we need to keep this in perspective. Welbeck may have been a United boy, but we can make him love our club too by showing the support that they aren't giving him. The traveling fans showed him a lot of love that night. Let's continue that trend. Welbeck may not be the ultimate striker or even the best player and he may not be here for the long term, but for as long as he wears our red and white, he will be a Gunner. He has shown himself to be a respectful player that looks to be willing to show what he can do so let's treat him as one of our own. No matter what happens, a young, former United player, sent them home and out of the FA Cup through a tenacious goal. Nothing can take that from him.
We face West Ham United this weekend. We should be flying high after the win against United so I expect a win, but anything can happen. Football can be as cruel as it joyful.
Until this weekend, sing with me:
Who the (expletive removed) are Man United?
The debacle against Monaco is still fresh in all of our minds, I am sure. I am equally sure that it is still on the minds of the players and Arsene Wenger. Watching the matches against Everton on Sunday and the match against QPR on Wednesday, it was abundantly clear that whatever mental and physical wrinkles that reared their ugly heads in that Monaco game, have not been ironed out. The difference, however is that we managed to get wins instead of a terrible loss. Ugly wins are still wins and no manner of anti-Arsenal media can take that from us.
As the season begins to come to final stages, we need all the points we can get. Winning emphatically and winning ugly still produce the same 3 points. There aren't any bonus points for style. I know we all love a great attacking performance but in the midst of a rough patch sometimes we can lose sight of the real goal: getting maximum points from every match. Looking at the results you will see a 2-0 win and 1-2 win. Let's just keep it in perspective.
There were a few good points to discuss. Olivier Giroud notched two goals to continue his good scoring run. He caught a lot of flak after the Monaco match and with fairly good measure. He missed a few chances that he should have buried. He got a lot of the blame for that loss and I think that is unfair to him as he has been picking up the scoring where others have dropped. He had a poor game and he admitted that but he is not the only player capable of getting a goal. The team let themselves down that day.
Another good talking point is our young players: Coquelin, Bellerin and Ox. Ox has always shown promise and has been in and out of the first team for a few years but I thought he was stagnating slightly but he is showing why we acquired him. He always looks to drive to the net and he is tough to knock off the ball. Like Alexis, his energy levels are high and he never seems to tire.
I have mentioned before how much I like Bellerin. He continues to grow in confidence as the matches pass. While he is still prone to a rookie mistake every now and then, I am no longer nervous when I see him on the team sheet. Debuchy is still the first choice right back but we are seeing a capable back up emerging. His crossing is excellent when in attack and he can make up ground quickly in defense when tracking back. These are qualities you want in a right back. He isn't doing anything to warrant being replaced in the line up and our only other option is another young player, Calum Chambers.
There are some stats floating around that show that Coquelin is one of the best defensive midfielders in the league. I am not doubting those numbers but I do not like touting a young player as the best player or comparing them to a legendary player so I won't. What I will do is say that he has taken a tough situation, and made the most of it. There is already enough pressure on these young players to perform like a veteran player without over-hyping them. Necessity is the mother of invention and young players need experience. The situation is not ideal for us as fans but these players are getting valuable first team experience in the best league in the world.
Moving ahead to the FA Cup match against Manchester United on Monday, I expect Wenger to take this very seriously as the defenders of the Cup. The problem is we are coming to this match on the backs of sub par performances and United come into it as the luckiest team in the Premier League. We will have to be at the top of our game at a point in the season where we have been struggling. Wenger has the difficult task of motivating this squad to perform to a higher level, a level that we can hit with the talented players we have, and a level that we have seen before this season.
We have a squad of incredibly skilled players that together are going through a slump. What better way to get back on track then by beating United at their own ground to advance to the next round in the FA Cup? United are not the invincible team of the 90s that they wish they were. We have struggled there because we give them too much respect and play timidly. This is exactly what they want us to do. We need to go for the throat immediately. We need to dictate the tempo from kickoff. Easier said then done I know. I am confident (probably stupidly) that we will win. Frankly we are due for a win against not just United but at Old Trafford. Plus how great would it be to beat both Manchester clubs away from home?
In order to beat them, Alexis, Ozil and Cazorla must be at their best. Hopefully since we have five days to rest after today, Alexis will be able to get to recharge his batteries. Despite how good he is, he still looks tired after every match and I think some of his decision making comes down how hard he plays every week and how many matches he plays in. He is so influential that it is hard to drop him for even half of a match. He and Ozil haven't clicked quite like we would have expected but I think some of that comes down to the extended injury absence that plagued Ozil for most of the season. Another problem is that due to Cazorla's form in the center attacking mid role, Ozil has played more on the flank instead of center so there is less of a direct route for the two play off of each other.
No matter the lineup, we have a tough task ahead of us on Monday. Weekday games are the worst especially for those of us who work in offices that block streaming sites or frown upon screaming at a monitor when we give up a goal. Plus if we lose, Monday's suck enough without that hanging over our heads. So let's hope Arsenal can advance get back to Wembley.
Come on you Gunners!
Side-note: I hope everyone got to watch the Invincibles documentary that aired after the match against Everton. It was well done even if it was a bit short. That was a legendary team that will go down in Premier League history as one of, if not the best team.
So I waited an extra day to write this blog so I could get the result of the match against AS Monaco in the Champions League. We lost the match 1-3. We were at home too. If I had paid money to see that match I would have demanded a refund. Monaco put 3 goals past us which means we have to score at least 3 goals and get a clean sheet in order to advance. Given our record in the Champions league lately means that we are essentially done. Is it still possible? Of course, but anything is possible. It is very unlikely that we will be able to advance now but my fingers are still crossed. It was a pathetic performance from front to back and if we play that way again, we will lose. We play Everton on Sunday so lets just hope we actually turn up for the league matches. As a bonus the Invincibles documentary will air on NBCSN after the match.
That's all I can manage this week. I can write all day about how bad the performance was but I will not. Lets just chalk this up to a bad day at the office and look forward to the weekend. We will see what happens. Stay warm and safe Queen City Gooners as this winter storm moves through.
Let's all find a distraction until the next match: music, video games, reading, alcohol etc. Maybe they can take the pain and sadness away.
If you like folk metal, then the band Korpiklaani has the best suggestion:
Arsenal treated us to nice and relatively easy win over the weekend in FA Cup. We love a good win and after our past few games being a mixed bag of results it was great for us to come out of the gate looking to win instead of just coast past a lower level opponent. A win leaves us with a quiet week as we move forward to face Crystal Palace this weekend.
Wenger changed the lineup as we expected he would. He gave a several players a rest, including, Mertesacker, Bellerin, Monreal and Ospina. This meant that Gabriel received his first start in an Arsenal shirt. I was eager to see what he could do and how he performed with Koscielny. In a match were we were dominant it can be difficult to judge a defensive player but I think he did his job well and should ease the pressure off our other defenders and our minds. He made several tackles include a much needed last ditch one in the box to clear a goal scoring chance. He also picked up a defenders yellow when Middlesbrough broke through our midfield and he took out the player. Sure, we tend to get mad at opposition players when it happens against us but you do want your defenders to do that every once in a while to establish a strong presence.
Continuing with the defense, our fullbacks played well, particularly Gibbs who was starting over the rested Monreal. For starters, his pass to Giroud was perfect for the Frenchman to slot home for the opening goal. He was a threat all match with his crossing and he even managed to get into the box for a couple shots on goal. He was clearly making his case to win the starting spot back from Monreal. Chambers was also solid and excusing a few young player/rusty mistakes should be applauded for his performance. When, or more appropriately, if or players get fully fit we have a great selection players from front to back for Wenger to decide on when selecting our starting XI.
Ozil and Giroud have both come back from injury looking better than ever. Giroud, while not the fastest player to ever put on boots is showing why Wenger continues to show faith in him with his positioning and passing ability. Giroud has caught a lot of flak from fans in the past for his lack of pace and for good reason. We tend to play through balls to players like Walcott, Ox and Rosicky who are known for going to the direct route and beating players with more speed. Giroud, frankly, couldn't outrun a parked car on some days and playing a quick through ball just ends up being collected by the keeper or cleared by a defender. His strength is his size and positioning. Watch both goals from the weekend again. Giroud moved into open space when the defenders were focused on other areas. Alexis, Cazorla and Ozil draw attention because they are the threats on the ball if you isolate them then they can't play the passes to our attackers. This plays into our hands because it allows for Giroud to get into spaces between defenders. He set up both his runs by using the focus of the defenders to his advantage. He slipped into the space and finished from tight angles for both goals. Also on display was his strength to hold the ball up, which has always been Wenger's favored method for playing him centrally. He can receive the ball at the edge of the penalty area and set up passes for onrushing midfielders like Cazorla or Ramsey.
We started on the front foot and established dominance early. I was pleased with how we weren't content to let Middlesbrough have the ball and set the tempo. We took the game to them and played on our terms. With Wenger's latest defensive tactics, we have shown the opposition plenty of the ball and this has led to some nervy games but also one of our best with the win over City. I am not advocating the abandonment of our new defensive set up. I am giving Wenger credit for setting up his team to the opposition rather than sit with a standard set of tactics and forcing them in every match no matter who we are playing against. What works against one team may not work against another. The same applies with players as well, some players don't always work well together when in various positions. It may be too early to tell but it looks like the stubborn Wenger may finally be adapting to the progressive style and flow of the game.
Wenger will always be loved in the hearts of fans but his unwillingness to change his setup has been a point of contention to a lot of fans. The lack of a “plan B” in games where our ticky-tacky passing plays are not coming off has been incredibly frustrating. I feel like after the City game, we were all commending Wenger for playing City in a new, smarter way. Then we go full throttle against Villa and it works. After that is the match against our scummy neighbors and it doesn't work even though we played our defensive minded game. The more attacking style worked to a mixed degree against Leicester and finally the attack first tactic works against Middlesbrough. What we are seeing is Wenger toying more with the setup against various opponents. The defensive experiment failed against Spuds because the sat off too much and gave them too much respect. This allowed them to grow into the game and establish their tempo. When we play the defensive game, we need to be the dictators of the tempo because without controlling the game we end up just chasing it even when we lead. Games against lesser opposition we are playing with a more cavalier style letting Cazorla be the playmaker. Hopefully we are seeing a new Wenger and a new Arsenal as we set up for the final leg of the season.
Coming up this weekend is the match away at Crystal Palace, where I hope to see Wenger set up again with the confident, aggressive mindset. A win is a must. Before I end this though I have to mention our next opponent in the FA Cup: Manchester United at Old Trafford. They beat Preston with some questionable goals and dive called for a penalty. I know it is not the most ideal match up but I think our confidence is high right now and let's face it, we are due a good win over them and what time better than defeating them on the way to Wembley?
Stay safe and warm Queen City Gooners. I know this winter weather isn't loved by all of you but I quite enjoy it.
It has been a while since my last entry but I have a valid excuse. I was trapped in Ohio. Not really. I went there of my own free will. Visiting family and all that. While enjoying an actual winter for once in northeastern Ohio, I got to watch a great match between Brighton and Arsenal in the FA Cup. I was hoping to get to Cleveland to watch the match with the Cleveland Gooners but family plans took precedent so I had to watch the match on my phone. Getting back mid-week threw me in a jam as the next match was close so I decided to hold off and wait until after the match against Villa. That was a treat by itself. All this and a couple signings in the January window means I am one happy Gooner.
Going into the FA Cup Match, the outlook on our chances of a Cup repeat looked exceptionally good on paper. Several key losses to the top clubs remaining in the competition. Chelsea lost, Manchester City lost and Tottenham lost. Liverpool and United still remain but I think we can handle them as our form is improving by the match. Lazy defending made the scoreline seem closer than it really was. 3-2 with goals from Walcott, Ozil and Rosicky (his goal was superb) made the day a good one as we advanced to the next round where we will face Middlesbrough at home. A great chance for us to continue our quest for another trophy to add to the display case in the Emirates.
The starting XI against Villa say a start for Walcott and Ozil, a first for them in a while as Alexis was rested while nursing a mild injury. Bellerin also kept his spot at right back. Arsenal dominated the possession almost from start to finish and it was from this strong possession that saw us get the opening goal. Giroud's clip over Guzan was excellent but the true beauty of the goal was from the assist. If you have not seen it (what are you waiting for?!), then you missed an exquisite pass from our record signing. The ball was played to him in the air and he expertly flicked the ball with a no look pass on the side boot right into the path of the onrushing Giroud, who had broken past the defenders. Giroud's first touch was good, the second not so much and you almost feared that he was going to lose the chance. He didn't as he chipped the ball over Guzan to make it 1-0. More Arsenal possession ensued and very little attacking threat from Villa as well which resulted in the halftime score being 1-0 although we should have had a few more goals had it not been for the good work of Guzan in the Villa goal.
The second half saw a bit more Villa possession but not much came out of it. The defending was solid on our part and we dug in to mount another attack. Giroud returned Ozil's favor with an assist as he played Ozil beyond the defense. Ozil took a touch and sent the ball a long way into the far post. You could say Guzan should have gotten more on it but it would harsh to the keeper who did his best to keep them in the match. 2-0. Arsenal got the third with a wonderful goal from Walcott who normally I criticize his first touch, but this one was great as he split the defenders and curled the ball around the keeper in the box to make it 3-0. 4-0 was not far off as Chuba Akpom (on for Giroud) drew a penalty from the Villa keeper. Cazorla sent his shot slightly to the keepers left but had too much power to stop as it nestled in the side back netting. The final goal came from Bellerin, his first, as he was played the ball by Cazorla. He side footed the worm burner of a shot from a decent distance and the ball hit the post and went in. 5-0 A good goal and one that was well deserved by the young right back.
It was a great confidence builder for us as we head into the match this weekend against Sp*rs at Shite Hart Lane. Five different goalscorers and no Alexis hopefully shut up the pundits and doubters who said we are a one main team. The credit goes to the whole team. Coquelin continued his good form with his tackling and distribution of the ball from the defenders. Bellerin also continues to improve every match and looks to developing his own style with his pace and crossing in attack and his ability to close down attackers. He still makes the usual young player error but I am feeling confident with him in the squad, deputized for the injured Debuchy. With Chambers set to be a center back, it is good to see our other young defender showing what he can do with the experience presented to him. He and Coquelin are really making cases for themselves for the future. Maybe not at Arsenal, but they are turning out to be fine players. I truly hope that they have a place in the future of this team because at the moment they deserve their places in the squad and until they show they can't handle it anymore, they should stay in the starting XI.
It should be noted that we spent money in this January transfer window. We purchased a young midfielder by the name of Krystian Bielik from Legia Warsaw in Poland. I do not know anything about the player except that Wenger seems to rate him highly and that he may push for the first team. Not the defensive midfielder we may be needing at the moment but with Coquelin performing well, I don't think we are in too much danger. Of course with our injury record that may not be smart.
The biggest transfer news was the signing of Gabriel Paulista from Villareal in Spain. I am not an avid watcher of Spanish football so I do not know much aside from the few highlights that popped up after we made the deal. He appears to be a solid player who will instill a bit of fear into our opponents attack. The Brazilian seems suited to playing at either center back position so it frees us up to rotate Mertesacker more and give Koscielny a rest to avoid any more injury flare ups. This signing I was most pleased about because we all know how much not having defenders has cost us this season. With Debuchy out for the long term again and Koscielny's reoccurring injury we truly needed some depth in out back four and we got it. I expect we will see Gabriel start soon to give a reprieve to either Mertesacker or Koscielny.
Arsenal got shafted with the early start time this weekend at White Hart Lane as we take on the shadow dwellers themselves. We passed them in the table as we sit in fifth. A win and a United loss could see us sitting third by the end of the weekend. Of course we need to outscore Southampton or see them drop points as well. I think we can do it. We need to displace United or Southampton and hold onto the top four places. Chelsea are probably too far out of reach and it would take a miraculous drop in their form to see us be able to catch them. I expect Alexis to start if healthy but Walcott loves a goal against the chicken shite scum as does Rosicky so I expect an appearance, starting or otherwise from each of them.
Time once again to show those rabble-rousers down the road that we are the ONLY team in north London. I ask you all one question:
What do we think of Tottenham?
What a wonderful Sunday to be an Arsenal supporter. Our beloved Arsenal traveled to Manchester to take on Manchester City and we won. If that has finally set in, then think about how we won relatively comfortably and the ref wasn't completely terrible. Hard to believe but it is all completely true. The monkey is off our backs as we won away from home to a top four side.
I am positive that many Arsenal fans were nervous about this match. Sure we all wanted a win and if asked we would have confidently stated that we would trounce City and win the league. Yet, in our hearts and minds, the fear of losing to another top four team was at the forefront of our thoughts. Last season we lost 6-3 in a match that was mostly back and forth. Individual defensive errors cost us but in reality the match was a lot closer than the score line showed. The horror that was the matches at Chelsea and Anfield are the reason why we are nervous when facing top four teams.
The match started off in a way that we expected: a Koscielny yellow card with only a few minutes on the clock. The stage was set for a 50th minute 2nd yellow to red and we would have to defend for forty minutes and concede a late goal to lose. Yet, that doomsday prophecy never manifested itself. What we got instead was an organized defense from front to back AND a purposeful attacking threat. It was something we haven't seen in a long time with this Arsenal.
The tactical setup will be touched on a bit later but the goals we scored were decisive in that they were scored at very important moments of the match. City started pretty well and were getting into our half but we were drowning out their time after time. A fast break saw Alexis play the ball to Giroud who held up the ball played it in front of the onrushing Monreal who was fouled in the box. The ref pointed to the spot and Cazorla sent the ball to Hart's left. He guessed right but the shot was too clever for him to stop.
A lot has been made about that penalty from Pellegrini saying it “wasn't a penalty” to “Monreal dived”. My take on it is that it was a penalty all day. Monreal was impeded in a goal-scoring area. That is a penalty. Kompany did not make an attempt of the ball as the ball was already away from him thanks to the vision and skill of Giroud, who I do not think gets enough credit for his almost “eyes in the back of his head-like passes to players moving through on goal. Monreal's movement was straight towards the ball. It was Kompany who threw a leg in Monreal's path. His intentions were clear to stop him and he did but it was in the box and therefore a penalty. For once, the ref got it right. It was our turn to get a call right. How many handballs in the box or shirt-pulls that drag our players down have we seen that did not get called and may have cost us a match? A lot. This wasn't a controversial call. It was the right call. 100%.
The second goal came after City began putting on pressure and it seemed like an equalizer was inevitable. A free was awarding in City's half and Cazorla sent the ball over the defense to an unmarked Giroud who headed the ball with purpose. How City's defense did not pick up his run was bizarre but watching the replay you saw three Arsenal players attacking the ball with no defenders following them. Hart was alone with a Giroud header, so he had little chance to save it. That goal took the remaining wind out of City's sails and we set off for the win with excellent defending.
Arsenal looked organized from front to back and that is what won us this match. It is hard to attribute a win like this to only one player but a lot of credit has to be given to Francis Coquelin. The young defensive midfielder was the true link between attack and defense. With Arteta out for the season and with Flamini's fluctuation between good and bad form, Coquelin is the only true defensive midfielder we can use. He has played a few solid games over the last several weeks but Sunday was the first game where he stepped his game up and maybe gave us a glimpse of what his abilities are. It is easy to get excited over a young player who has come through the youth system to play in big match. Very few players get this kind of chance and prove themselves but he has earned his place and it is his to lose. A few things to note on his performance was his intelligence and his vocal leadership. A few times in the match when the players in front of him looked disorganized he quickly was there to intercept the ball or make the tackle and then reset his teammates. It is rare to see a young player playing with that kind of confidence. I love seeing our young players improving. Does it mean that Coquelin is our answer, not necessarily, but it is a start and it shows how important a true defensive midfielder is to our game.
In a time when Wenger is generally under a lot of fire for his tactical set up, it is great to see him try something different and see it work against the top clubs. In his press conference after the match, when asked why he didn't do this sooner, he just gave his usual wry smile and said they did. Maybe the team talk before a lot of matches involves trying to get them to play that way but it doesn't pan out. Whatever the reason, it worked and worked well. Sure we may have lost a bit of the possession game but it didn't matter. City had plenty of the ball but weren't ever able get any real threats on goal. Their main attacking outlet has been David Silva and he was cut off almost all match. Without Silva to set up Aguero, City was toothless. We forced their play wide and dealt with their crosses and plethora of corners. I want us to play that way against all the top clubs and start taking the scalps of teams like Chelsea, United and Liverpool. If we can consistently get results against those teams, we will get back to challenging for the title.
This Sunday we face Brighton in the FA Cup. I expect a bit of rotation in the lineup to give some of our players a rest. We may see Alexis get a rest, as well as Ramsey and Cazorla. I expect Walcott and Ozil to start or get major minutes to get back to full fitness. I also think Ospina will continue in net. He has proven he can perform well and until he messes up, the starting job is his, just like Coquelin. I think we have more than enough to deal with Brighton but we cannot underestimate them. We have been burned like that before.
Until next week,
Up the Arsenal!