How do you write a preview for an already won match?

Arsenal – Reading  FA Cup Semi-final

I jest, of course, but in the wake of (finally) beating Manchester United at Old Trafford in the previous round and then avoiding Premier League competition in the draw for the semis, many Gooners reflexively believed our path to the final was assured.  The match has finally come and now it must be played.  In other words, believe it or not, we are NOT through to the final.  Not yet, at least.

Reading FC stand in our way and a cursory look at the form of both teams would suggest that it would be a remarkable story if they could find a way past us and into the final.   Since winning their replay vs Bradford City they have not notched another victory and they currently sit 18th in the Championship–35 teams stand between the two clubs if the PL table is placed atop theirs.  By contrast Arsenal’s win at OT was just one in a run of 8 (in all competitions).  In fact, since the low point of the first half of our season, shipping 3 first half goals at Stoke City in mid-December, Arsenal have won 20 out of 24 matches played.

They say, however, that form goes out the window in the cup matches and many will remember how Arsenal struggled in this same match vs lower league competition (Wigan) a year ago, needing a late goal from Per Mertesacker to take the match to extra time and penalties.  Others may also remember needing extra time the last time we played Reading in a cup match.  That one, in the league cup in Autumn 2012, featured an even worse first half than the one mentioned above, with Arsenal shipping 4(!!) first half goals.  It took a crazy 2nd half comeback and then more goals in extra time to advance.

It’s no wonder then that manager Arsene Wenger is emphasizing a strong start in this match.  He’s also mentioned that the experience at Wembley from a year ago will also help the team come into the match with full focus.

Meanwhile, Wenger’s opposite, Steve Clarke, has taken a different tack with a one liner exuding confidence but also hinting at a psychological conundrum facing his squad.  “When we beat Arsenal, we have to wait four weeks after our last league game to play the Cup final.”  Many are focusing on the “when” (not “if”) part of the quote, but I would look at the 2nd part.  While Arsenal players would rather (or additionally) be playing tournament football for a place in a final in Berlin on the 6th of June, they will not mind the earlier date (May 30) of the domestic cup final–and, ideally, another parade through Islington the following day.  Clarke’s statement is clearly an admonishment to his players to avoid taking the easy path to putting a less than satisfying season behind them prematurely.   They are 8 points above the relegation places (with 6 to play) so they still have a measure of work to do.  Still, beating a big team at Wembley and making the cup final would be an outsized accomplishment and the perfect stepping stone to a happier summer and real promise for the coming season.  We’ll have further mind games next week vs Chelsea, but these, from another former Chelsea man, aren’t bad.

If Reading can get past that (small) psychological hurdle all the pressure shifts back to Arsenal.  This article, written by a Reading FC fan–cheers to Gerry for pointing us to it, http://thetilehurstend.sbnation.com/2015/4/16/8419577/reading-fc-v-arsenal-tactics-previewwritten details some vulnerabilities in our squad and the tactics and players Clarke might use to exploit them.   It’s a very interesting read and highlights the need for positional discipline and solid defense down our flanks, which is extra interesting as I think it’s in this area where we might see some rotation from Wenger.

There were no injuries from the Burnley match, but Wenger has hinted that a couple of players coming off long term injuries might be available for the semi-final.  Mathieu Debuchy and Jack Wilshere sound as if they will be named to the squad (Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby will “be short”), but will they make the first 11?  (There have also been hints at slight knocks or illnesses, i.e., “Weng-juries,” for defenders Hector Bellerin and Gabriel Paulista.)  I think Debuchy is the more likely starter as he did not play in the midweek Under 21 match.   Wojciech Szczesny has been our FA cup keeper and surely will get another go.  Kieran Gibbs played at right back at Brighton in the round of 16 but Nacho Monreal got the call at Old Trafford, where he scored the critical first goal, and has become first choice in this position.  That one’s a toss-up.  Could this also be a chance (finally) for Theo Walcott?  There’s been so much speculation around his contract negotiations that it’s hard to know if they are affecting his selection.  Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were favored in the previous round, with Walcott warming up but then getting recalled to the bench after the Ox went off with a hamstring strain.  How much longer can he go without a chance?  Many players have done nothing particularly wrong, notably Welbeck, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini, so, other spots could be up for grabs too.  Still, I don’t see Wenger rotating more than a few players from the successful teams which started vs Liverpool and at Burnley.  Subs could be more important than usual given that the match could go 120 minutes (and then to penalties), and, for a nice (but harsh) change, some fit players will not even make the first 18.

Predicted first 11:

Szczesny

Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs

Coquelin, Cazorla

Walcott, Ozil, Alexis

Giroud

(Predicted subs: Martinez, Monreal, Bellerin, Rosicky, Ramsey, Wilshere, Welbeck) 

That’s only my best guess and other Gooners may have different ideas.   By playing Debuchy and Gibbs (with his ferocious recovery pace), and perhaps demanding greater positional discipline from them, we may be able to afford Walcott on the right and Alexis more focused on attack.  Being able to punish Reading on the break would be a real treat and might actually work to inhibit them getting too many players forward when they do have the ball.

Being a former defender himself, Clarke has always emphasized that part of the game.  Thus, getting the first goal could be critical as his teams tend to be strong when defending a lead.  We cannot afford to go behind as we did in our two most recent trips to the national stadium.  Take the match seriously, start brightly–and with full focus–and, finally, be willing to absorb whatever Reading, referee Martin Atkinson and all other fates throw our way and we’ve got a great chance to make the final for a 2nd time running and (a record) 19th time since the competition began.

Go on then..

By 17highburyterrace

Posted in Uncategorized | 69 Comments

How Arsenal can win the league, featuring Manchester United, Pardew and Pulis

The double for Arsenal - a pipe-dream? :)

The double for Arsenal – a pipe-dream? :)

….With the help of our modern-day fiercest rival and two newly found friends

Seven, and potentially three additional points, are a big, big gap at the start of the season, let alone with just a handful of games to go till the end of the season. It would require a small miracle to overcome the current PL leaders and claim the title, with a large dollop of luck as well as total professionalism by our boys; but there is a justified cause for optimism.

Maureen’s Blues are hanging on and squeezing through games with the smallest of margins at the moment. Arsenal, on the other hand, are flying and look utterly reinvigorated.  And there is another team that has found a second wind this season: the modern day biggest foe, Manchester United. And both teams will play the Chavs in their next PL games and can take six points of the self-adoring one and his synchronized divers. This, of course, will not be easy and we can expect Maureen to apply his typically calculated approach of going for a 0-0 or 1-1 draw in both games. His paymaster might not be happy with it but no way will the Portuguese master of self-love run the risk of being embarrassed by either the by him much-loathed Wenger or his former master Van Gaal.

I reckon that IF Van Gaal and Wenger manage to take all six points from the Chavs we will get very, very close to beating them to the title. Yet, even if both teams manage to win, with their game in hand the Chavs will still be four points ahead. So, we need some help to steal those points from the Chavs and for this we need strong characters that are not afraid of Maureen and have the passion to take him on.

I am putting my hope in Wenger’s newly found friends, the impressive and talented Alan Pardew and Antonio Pulis. Pardew already took three glorious points from the West-Londoners when in charge of the Barcodes and his style of football is the perfect antidote to Portuguese catanacio. Can he do it again….. with lady luck smiling on the nation, it might well happen.

Still, that leaves a gap of at least one point and we are running out of games; and Arsenal need to win everything to keep the pressure on, of course. Despite Arsenal being in great form, and the squad being fit and in full competition with each other, this is still a big ask. We are buoyed by recent results but we still need a lot of luck to keep getting three points in all remaining matches.

But who else can take points from the Chavs…. My bet is on Pulis’ West Brom. Pulis and Wenger recently joined forces against the FA’s Dyke’s proposal to make it a lot harder to recruit foreign footballers, and since the Welshman left the much-loathed Orcs at Stoke, the relationship between the two managers appears to have improved. Again, The Baggies know how to play the game against the Chavs, as Pulis has set them up to defend well first and for all. The leaders will need to keep winning so will have to attack which leaves space for West Brom counters, whilst there will also be opportunities from set-pieces.

There are other games in which the Chavs could drop points: Leicester away and Pool at home will not be easy either, and neither will be Sunderland at home for them if they are still in relegation battle at the last game of the season.

If the Mancs take three points from the Chavs this weekend, it will get very exciting indeed. For football it would be great if the teams that have lit up the premier league since the start of this year would battle it out for the title in the penultimate PL game of the season at Old Trafford, with a glorious late winner by Danny Welbeck to bring the cup back to the home of football.

Will pigs fly? Stranger things have happened. J

By TotalArsenal.

Posted in Uncategorized | 22 Comments

Ramsey and Coquelin shine at Turf Bore

Sean Dyche before the game: ‘The red hot Gunners are here and the last thing I want is getting smashed by them. Let’s face it, we want to win but it is going to be hard. Let’s sit back and allow them no space in and around their box, and hopefully we can nick a goal from a counter or set-piece. Remember, the last thing I want is getting smashed today’.

Arsene before the game: ‘We are on a good run and need to win today. They might sit back and play on the counter so Francis needs to play disciplined in front of the back-four, and as a team we need to keep them hemmed in their own half. Start strong and focussed and get a goal as soon as possible, after that control the game and get a second, but just make sure they cannot get back into the game first and for all

That is what I image both managers said before kick-off and it was not necessary a recipe for an entertaining game: and let’s be honest it was dire at times.

We started strong and after just twelve minutes we found the net. Ramsey was incisive after consecutive missed attempts by Alexis and Mesut. Burnley fought a bit back after that but the referee booked Duff and (the impressive) Mee in quick succession which showed the home team he would not take any nonsense today. We sat back and defended with good discipline and never really got in trouble in the first half, except for a few shots that were saved routinely by Ospina.

The second half saw a couple of decent chances for Burnley to get back into the match, especially the one when Mee fooled Bellerin too easily but Boyd failed to make good contact with the former’s well-picked cross. Burnley came out a bit more and we did not really play adventurous and incisive enough to punish them on the break.

But I was impressed with Arsenal’s ability to keep the ball and not get bullied; and if and when we lost the ball we got it back really quickly, with our MOTM, Coquelin, reading the game so well and making a number of important interceptions. We were always looking for a second but in such a way that there was little chance to get surprised on the break which was really pleasing. Burnley defended really well in and around the box, it has to be said, and we could not crack them open for a second time.

But we did not need to and secured the all important three points, and have again closed the gap with the Chavs, who will play QPR tomorrow, to four points (albeit with two games in hand). That is all we needed to do and we did it. So well done the Gunners and Come on You Hoops! :)

By TotalArsenal.

Posted in Uncategorized | 56 Comments

Welbeck and Gabriel to start | Can we make it eight in a row? Burnley v Arsenal Line-Up and Preview

Burnley – Arsenal —  

It Would Be Great to Get Number Eight

Wins, in the league, in a row, that is…

Turf Moor

Turf Moor

And, as much as Arsenal are clearly in their best run of form in many a season, and a full 16 places separate the teams in the table, the trip to Turf Moor cannot be taken as a guaranteed three points.  Burnley need the points as much (or even more) than we do, finding themselves two points from safety at the bottom.  Moreover, even if they can’t get a result, they still have far too much to play for to give anything less than their best.  Another good performance against another big club and they might conjure the confidence needed to climb out of the relegation places and stay up.

As such, any suggestion that they might be better served resting some of their best players or otherwise reserving their best play for other opponents, will find no traction.  Why would they, having held Tottenham a week ago to gain another precious point while taking all three from Manchester City a couple of weeks before that?  All told, they’ve claimed 18 of their 26 points in home matches.  Our trip up there will be no walk in the park.

A primary reason is the physicality and commitment to the cause which Burnley present.   We should remember that, in the reverse fixture, Burnley held out until the 70th minute before succumbing to quick goals from Alexis Sanchez and Calum Chambers.  In the end, it was a bit of a romp–and the best 10 minutes we’ve seen from Theo Walcott and Lukas Poldolski in recent times–Alexis added a third goal in injury time.   In front of their home crowd, Burnley will surely be even more resolute.  Unlike other teams in that part of the table, Burnley did not go crazy with the riches distributed through the Premier League television contract.  Instead, they’re an unsung group who are attempting to hang together through good times and bad.  Only leading scorer Danny Ings (whose next goal will be his 10th of the season) gets much in the way of back page transfer speculation.

By contrast, the media (including the most active blog-o-sphere in English football) love to torture Arsenal supporters.  Activity in our circles has already jumped to summer transfer speculation and early denouncements on how FA Cups and late rallies in the league are just further variations on the Groundhog’s Day theme; another example of Wenger and his “specialization in failure,” as a certain Chelsea manager has intimated.  Still, despite an identical record from a year ago (31 played, 19 won, 6 lost, 6 drawn), I doubt we’ll see in-match comments punctuated by calls for “Wenger Out”, as we did last year in a similarly timed match at Everton (which we lost 3 nil).  In truth, we’ve come a long way since that nadir and, for the closer observer at least, the future looks a whole lot brighter.

No, Wenger seems on solid footing and getting as close as possible to Mourinho’s team seems a worthy goal, although, of course, any wobble will bring out those who have staked themselves to the alternative viewpoint.  We play Chelsea in two weeks time, which will be the true test, but they also face an always tricky West London Derby against QPR this week and a match with Manchester United before ours.  It’s true, we can only play the team which lines up against us, but we must use every trick we can to maintain focus.

Wherever people would like to point the finger of blame (or credit), Gooners must rue a difficult first half of the season and the big disappointment of our recent play–our untimely exit from the Champions League, based on a panicky showing in the first leg, vs AS Monaco.  Early on, it was mostly down to the health of our squad–injury ridden in the first half, but now almost fully restored–but, just as it could also be argued that the manager was responsible during the darker times, it might also be suggested that he has done his part to keep the collective together and foster a fine group dynamic.  As the results have come our way, we also find an extremely stiff (but healthy) competition for places.   At Arsenal the work of the team always comes first, but these final matches may have a real bearing on many players’ futures.

Given that only Alex Oxlade Chamberlain is definitely out with a groin problem (which may require surgery–ouch!), Wenger has almost the entire first team to choose from.  Laurent Koscileny faces a “late test,” while Mathieu Debuchy will be “just a bit short”: Wengerspeak for “will not be in the squad at the weekend,” but it is still a very crowded group.  This makes me very curious who will make the first 11 and the substitutes bench.   My hunch is that the team that beat Liverpool will be largely unchanged, but a player or two returning from long term injury may get a boost by being called into the substitute ranks.  Here then is my call for the starting 11.

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Substitutes:  Szczesny, Gibbs, Chambers, Wilshere, Rosicky, Cazorla, Walcott 

Even this group of 18 leaves out several players I’d love to see on the pitch or even just in uniform, including Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby (and I know others have a hankering to see Serge Gnabry).  My feeling is that this match will give hints as to how Wenger will rotate for the FA Cup semi-final, next weekend, where surely more players will get a chance to impress before the bigger (or, at least, more symbolic) one vs Chelsea.  All told, even if we don’t drop points (or struggle vs Reading in the cup match), it could be an interesting couple of weeks as in suggesting how the squad is shaping up for the longer term.  This is how it should be: a privilege to wear the shirt, and a responsibility by our players to take chances as they are given.

Or not.  As always, I am not privy to how the mind of the manager is actually working.  Perhaps he sees some tired players amongst his regulars and will rotate more this weekend while sporting a stronger squad for the cup match.  What say you, fine (or fickle) fellow Gooners?  Anything to generate a bit of banter, I say, and a ton (or is it tonne?…) more fun (and a bit more subtle…) than “Wenger Out” (or “Ozil is a lazy lady-part”) or other, more typical, one liners the tweeters (or tweakers…) seem to enjoy with each comment… Let’s hear it from the WBW’s (Would-Be-Wengers) and anybody else who cares about the Arsenal…And, let’s hammer them up in North Lancashire…

Go on then…

:D

By 17highburyterrace

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 51 Comments

10 things that “matter”: Liverpool 1 – Arsenal 4

Wenger

The following are my thoughts or perhaps 8 things, from the match, after watching it and reading all the follow-on (primarily) dross in the various web news pages.

  1. Style Matters: If you look good, you feel good, or so it was said on SNL in my youth!

We played 2 games or styles in this one. We opened pressing slightly – not heavily as was often said – in more of what I would call a “contain” approach. The second, in the second half particularly, was sitting back and more of a relaxed countering approach mixed with our usual ball control when / where possible.

This matters a lot. First, because it shows we are getting all our top teams and players together well enough to: a) play different tactics for different teams and situations; and b) able to do 2 in one game. Second, because it shows we can attack to get the result and then switch to close the game out – oh to have had this ability in game 1 vs Liverpool, where despite a less than spectacular performance, we were set for all 3 points and snatched 1 from its jaws.

  1. Pressure Matters: All the pressure was on Liverpool. Win and “perhaps in”, lose and “swim with the poos” if you can’t make the Europa league. No question that this hurts Liverpool’s hopes a lot, but that’s not the pressure I am on about.

No, we didn’t press heaps. It always looks like it when you look at Alexis. Instead, we contained their defenders attempting to pass out of the back (as one should try to do!), and left them only poor options for passes. They gratefully (?) took them and then passed badly as well. We did not press and take the ball too much, instead simply upping the interception count for our players.

To me that is mild pressure or containment and the interceptions led to many opportunities and first half dominance, and much; but not all of our goals came off the resulting defensive pressure we put them under.

Overall, let’s avoid discussion of pressing and taking the ball to revert to the subtler ideas around applying pressure, both with and without the ball.

  1. Speed and Position Matters: Because all that pressure came in part from two things. One, getting to the player in a flash and shutting down passing angles quickly when the ball turned over. OG, Alexis and Ozil were all good at this. Second, and equally, how you do it, and the position you take, matters.

The second is more important, IMO. The position to intercept matters a lot. The position to close out angles matters even more, and, finally, the position to keep team shape and not over chase  the ball (into pressing and disruptive football) matters most when you do get the ball. You have got to have all three of these latter things all together to make it work. Ozil in particular did this really, really well, and it led to his apparent greater impact defensively.

  1. Ozil Matters: This type of game suits him to a “T”. His positioning and off the ball running are his major strengths defensively. This approach in the first half made him look all the more a hero defensively, when, to my eye he did little different than other games.

It especially allowed the first all important goal, where Ozil dropped back, some cutting off a pass, took a quick outlet form the poor longer ball, swept it to AR and the rest was easy enough. Lazy isn’t lazy when it leaves you in the right position with the passing skills to make that beauty cross field ball. Is it?

The team playing well in all the positioning allowed Ozil to shine and show that he can matter a lot. He also created the second goal, and scored it when he took the free kick…

  1. Coquelin Matters: Everyone here knows, I like Ozil and I like distributors even more, see above; but, Coquelin was positioned and running everywhere perfectly to break up so many Liverpool adventures forward. Sliding to deflect passes, interceptions, forcing balls wide from positioning that would have preferred to be straighter to better utilise their speed up front. With and without the ball, he was a force. A very fit AR or Schneiderlin besides him is a very intriguing rock to posit against teams next season (or later this one!)

Coaching / Arsene Matters: I say this with one example, or two. Beyond all the tactical bits and changes, of a team coming healthy and together, has anyone noticed how good and solid Monreal has become, especially going forward? I think that is a result of great coaching and the self-belief of a great coach to stick with players and develop them.

I think it bodes very well for the future when one considers Gabriel, Bellerin, Gnabry and Chambers… Think on that!!

7. Thinking Matters: Where this is about keepers. Ospina starts and Szcz isn’t on the bench. Ospina is not the stronger keeper physically or in pure natural skills. But, generally, he is thinking. Equally, when we talk of Szcz, and we know some here are rather not his fans (JB!? :) we don’t talk about a lack of physical skills and promise.

However, when one sees that choice vs Liverpool, you know that AW is saying, “I may lose if Ospina isn’t good enough (eg the almost save on the penalty), but I know that I wont get beat when I don’t deserve to be because of ‘brain farts’ from the keeper”.

This raises very interesting questions that will matter after the season!

  1. Selection, and not Money, Matters: Not just in the game but in the TW, as noted just above. Look at Spurs and Liverpool just now. Both had 80-100M paydays for player sales. Critical losses yes, but spent on what? Of all Liverpool’s purchases, only Mignolet paid off yesterday, and he was just not enough. Balotelli wasn’t even there, and onward. Same for Spurs on a day when they were not looking flash (the day after this game), all their purchases with their Bale Windfall, have not replaced Bale…

In contrast, Ospina, Alexis, Ozil, added to OG, Gabriel, and Chambers (tho not in this game). All our major purchases of recent times see game time and see good outcomes. Only Podolski seems destined to not make it. Selection matters! … And not money as we did not spend nearly so much over those many years, or per year, to get them…

Revenge and/or Closure Matters: It matters because we can cleanse the demons of last year’s games vs top teams. It matters, because strikers are form and confidence players, and Alexis scoring shows that he and OG might hit form together with Ozil and others in a solidifying team. These are all critical things.

Especially, as think about how Arsenal are heading towards Man United and Chelsea down the road in a final seven games, as well as critical FA Cup games.

Even more when you consider we are now a solid 2nd …. Even if 1st is likely a bridge too far, one can always remember that…

10. Miracles Matter: even if one shouldn’t expect them, they occasionally matter, and we can always hope going forward for the type that would bring Chelsea back to us!

So, that’s my take. What matters to you??

By JGC

Posted in Uncategorized | 35 Comments

Arsenal – Liverpool: A Defining Moment in the Progression of Two Big Clubs?

cid179551_SanchezVI06_1180_580x310

Finally this break for international football is ending and we can get back to real football–Arsenal football–and the final 8 matches of the Premier League season.  Not only that, but we do so with a highly anticipated match in our home stadium.  Liverpool, on exquisite form–at least until their most recent match vs Manchester United–were looking a real threat to grab a coveted top 4 position and try and do a bit better with another go-round in the Champions League.  With that 2-nil defeat at home, and the loss of two real leaders in Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtl to red card suspensions, they find themselves very much on the outside, looking in.  Five points is not an insurmountable number but failing to get a result against either of their two nearest rivals (ManU and now us) could prove a psychological hurdle.

As such, I expect Pool, despite their depletions, to bring full commitment to the task and a nothing-to-lose attitude.  After an even worse early season than our own, with many calling for changes in management, Liverpool regrouped around defensive solidity.  Their matches haven’t been easy on the eyes and their fall out of Europe was rather spectacular (they failed to make it out of their CL group and lost over two legs to Besiktas of Istanbul), but they have also risen steadily up the English table.  Their away form has been particularly impressive and this match will represent an attempt to add to their amazing total of six consecutive away clean sheets.  If they could do that–and perhaps nick something in the other direction–they could be right back in the fray.

Arsenal, however, should be ready for this one.  Our squad is deeper, we haven’t suffered too badly over the international break, and we even have additional players returning to full fitness for the run in.  Competition for places has not been stronger at the club in recent memory and several players are hitting top form as the season comes to its climax.  This match could move us further towards a return to CL football, and set the stage for our next, even more massive, home match, two weeks hence, against Chelsea.

Of course, anything can happen on the day, so, as always, focus and patience will be watchwords.  I believe Arsenal have the quality to win this one, but commitment to overcoming whatever the opponent–and fate–have on offer will  be the true task.

Unlike our match at Anfield, which finished with a very disappointing draw from an injury time Skrtl header, I don’t believe Arsenal will set out to defend.  In that one, Liverpool had 73% of the possession in the first 15 minutes and had the better chances as the half wore on, but it was not until a Phillipe Coutinho effort in the 45th minute that they took the lead.  Arsenal responded instantly to equalize from a scrambled set piece, with Mathieu Debuchy getting the final touch.  In the 2nd half, still playing on the break, Arsenal took the advantage with a well executed counterattack: Olivier Giroud finished the goal through keeper Brad Jones’ legs after a calm 1-2 with Santi Cazorla and good work from Kieran Gibbs to spring the play forward.  Arsenal defended stoutly and Liverpool were further weakened when substitute, Fabio Borini took two yellow cards and reduced the home team to ten men.  It appeared we would escape with all the points, until a late corner was conceded and defenders missed their assignments and Skrtl powered home the demoralizing equalizer.

It should be noted, however, that Liverpool are a changed and much improved side since that match which served to open the festive period.  Simon Mingolet has been outstanding since returning to the #1 position.  Coutinho, in addition to some spectacular goals, has learned the value of a pass.  Raheem Sterling, mooted in the press as a future Arsenal player (or perhaps swapped with our own Theo Walcott) might be keen to impress.  Even Mario Balotelli has added beyond the presence of his physicality (and reputation).  Jordan Henderson has been given the armband by manager Brendan Rodgers and improved his play substantially, which will make the loss of Gerrard less damaging.  Adam Llalana might also play in a deeper mid-field role if he can recover from a groin injury.  Skrtl may be harder to replace but Kolo Toure, who might be given the job, will be keen to show Arsenal fans that he’s still a solid defender.  Rodgers may also opt for a central back 3 with wingbacks.  Players like Emre Can, Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno can get forward quickly and still be dangerous from these deeper positions.  Given the way the other match ended, set pieces will always present a problem.

I doubt Arsenal will sit back as they did at Anfield and will rather try and take the game to Liverpool.  Alexis Sanchez, a man who only can play at full effort, needs to recover quickly from disappointing international displays with the Chilean National team.  If it had only been the 1-nil defeat to Brazil (at our own stadium) I would not be concerned.  Losing 2-nil to Iran, however, along with his struggling for form since the new year is more worrying.  Still, I think this is too big a match to rest him.  On the other hand, Mesut Ozil has been talking big about winning a future Balon d’Or, and perhaps paces himself better for the long haul.  He’ll be keen to back up such a bold claim with assists or goals.  Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey will also want to return strong.  Olivier Giroud, who continued his run of goals on duty with France, has stated a goal to finish ahead of Alexis as high scorer at the club this season.  In other words, despite Alexis’ difficulties and the fact that Danny Welbeck took a knock on duty with England, confidence in attack should be strong.

Defence may present some selection issues.  There’s no reason to drop David Ospina between the sticks, but Arsene Wenger may have a decision to make at center back.  Laurent Koscielny will surely play, but, Per Mertesacker, to many, is too slow and represents our past, while Brazilian Gabriel Paulista, fresh off his debut with the Selecao, will likely represent the future.  Mathieu Debuchy has recovered from his second major injury of the season but likely will wait at least a match before slotting back in at right back, having played in a mid-week Under 21 match.  This means Hector Bellerin likely plays in that position.  Fellow Spaniard Nacho Monreal seems to have made the left back position his, but Kieran Gibbs, having played and practiced with the large Liverpool contingent on the English National team, might also get the call.  Ahead of the back line, Francis Coquelin seems un-droppable.  It’s amazing to think that it was his late appearance as a sub in the reverse fixture which served as his first in Arsenal colours since his return from a loan spell at Charlton.

Here then is my call for the starting 11:

 

arsenal v pool April 15

Subs: Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Flamini, Rosicky, Walcott

What do fellow Gooners think?  Might Wenger try and go a bit deeper into the squad or, like me, will he want his absolute strongest group out there?  In addition to the ever-present need to get a result and perform well in front of the always nervous home support, beating Liverpool would also bode well for our chances in the FA Cup.  They still have a replay in the quarterfinals (and a semi-final to win if they get through) but they are by far the highest rated opponent we could face at Wembley.  All in all, it’s a great chance for the team to make a real statement against another big club.

Go on then…

 

By: 17highburyterrace

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Schneiderlin, a new CB, and Lloris or Begović: Bring on 2015/16

It seems like the transfer speculation is heating up again, so I started this post with the intention of provoking some heated arguments about transfer options and choices within our own squad and consequent team selection.  However, my initial trolling efforts were curtailed quite early on as my thoughts developed from an instigative nature to more of a declaration of stability and a welcomed familiarity towards squad structure which reminds me of the glory days here at Arsenal.

This post still offers up suggestions for change, don’t get me wrong, especially since summer is just around the corner; but rather than my usual call for wholesale changes to the core of our team, this post quickly became about trimming the squad down to a clear group of players and a hierarchy of selection well defined within that group.  The type of clear definition we used to have back when the Invincibles graced our screens, back when it was a regular occurrence to be able to predict the starting line up each week, just as 17HT is very accurately doing so at the moment.

It seems strange that such a crazy season could instil a level of stability leading into next season, but this is how I see things developing for the 2015/16 effort: (let the arguments begin lol)

The starting XI has three areas which need to be addressed in my opinion;

A new DM

In the mould of our captain Arteta: providing calmness, security and excellent passing ability but with a higher level of mobility and fitness.  This new DM along with Coquelin will provide the Flamini / Arteta partnership version 2.0 and fully refresh an area of the pitch which has been lacking in recent seasons.

Suggestion:

  • Schneiderlin, fits the requirements perfectly.

A new CB

Again mobility is the main factor to be improved on here and in particular pace although finding a player with the height, strength and experience of our big German whilst contributing pace as well is a tough ask but one worth throwing the money at.  Koscielny is in my opinion one of the best CB’s in world football; its time to partner him with equal quality, splash the cash Wenger!

Suggestions:

  • Varane, developed and trained by the best, plays in a top league for a top club and is now the captain of France: he has pace, height and unbelievable quality, what more do you want?

 

  • Hummels, what more do I need to say really?

 

  • Van Dijk, his pace is not quite as good as Varane’s and his experience is nowhere near Hummels (or Varane for that matter), but his price reflects this and this may be one of those bargain deals that temps Wenger, especially as he has the potential to perhaps rival the other two in time.

 

A new GK

The sense of uncertainty, panic and almost inevitable brain-fartery we as supporters have come to expect from Szczesny may be accepted in a third choice reserve keeper, but, from the supposed number 1, this surely shouldn’t be the case – a situation only compounded further when compared to the calm, assured presence Ospina brings in contrast.   I think its time we find a new number 1 here at Arsenal (and I know I have at least one supporter in this – JB lol).

Suggestions:

  • Hugo Lloris, hahaha how great would that be lol, with Koscielny, Debuchy and Varane we would have nearly the entire French back line lol, never going to happen so just ignore that suggestion.

 

  • Asmir Begović, I admit I don’t know too much about goalkeepers but this guy seems to fit the bill and is most likely on the move this summer.

Many of the other players we have been linked with recently seem like bonuses to me and not really essential to our squad; if anything, they may disrupt it.  Reus would simply be yet another attacking right footed midfielder to add to our collection – Sanchez, Walcott, Ramsey, OX, Gnabry etc etc.  Kane is never going to move from Spurs to Arsenal, so you can forget that and with Sanchez banging in the goals first of all, and now Giroud taking over on his hot streak with Theo still waiting to continue his goal scoring tally, I’m afraid I see Cavani as yet another bonus – a £60M bonus at that lol, I don’t see it happening tbh.

The only player I would like to see added (as a bonus mind you) to the first team is Dybala, as I feel he brings a left footed option that Wenger has failed to develop with Podolski and Campbell (both of whom have been pretty dire in their loan performances).  A quality left footer, who could cut in from the right or cross from the left with quality, is something we have been missing for a while; although, I’m still not sure if Dybala is a scoring winger or simply an out and out striker.

The second string team within the squad is largely made up of youth players as it should be, with an additional spine of pure footballing class and experience left within the squad to support either team when needed and provide wise heads in and around the dressing room.

The only addition I could think of making to this second string team would be the signing of Draxler, who is an U21 and would slot nicely into the number 10 role, with OX taking up a wing position; but again, this is only a bonus signing and definitely not essential.

With regards to the starting XI there would be a few additional subs to the XI on the pitch that would in my mind be a prerequisite to changing the dynamics of the team, should tactics dictate; the other spots would be chosen from what is left from the squad.

Coquelin would be able to replace Ramsey to shore up midfield if needed, and, like the Flamini / Arteta duo before them, I am sure the Coquelin / Schneiderlin pivot would be a force to be reckoned with.

Cazorla would be able to replace Ozil and provide the dancing, dribbling silky smooth skill that I am afraid Ozil no matter how good you think he is just does not have in his locker: think a more messi-esque number 10 option rather than Ozil’s pass master contribution – a great tactical move to be able to play.

Welbeck would be able to replace Giroud if we needed a more pacer option up front or maybe needed to close down quicker from the front.

These are the three subs that I think would completely change the dynamic of the starting XI should we be faltering and need to change things up; add to them the reserve GK Ospina and they would be the four mainstays of the bench for me.

First xiI hope this illustrates things a bit better:

first XI new

Second xi

second XI (1)

The “Spine of Experience”

exp spine

24 over 21’s and 5 U21’s which would still leave a spot open for one of the bonus signings

Instead of annoying everyone, as was my first intention, I think I actually ended up cementing a first team that everyone is pretty happy with at the moment. And I am suggesting to add only what is necessary, to propel what we already have to its fullest potential.  At the same time I, as an avid supporter of the youth, would be more than happy to see that second string team waiting in the wings to prove just how good they are (in some cases better than their first XI counterparts imo), whilst also providing probably the best Capital One Cup team I can remember for a long time.  The very best of the experienced players also remain at the club which would be a massive bonus for all those concerned.

So, could it be after all the craziness of this season that I have finally arrived back where I started last year, just hoping for a new DM and CB signing from the summer transfer season lol?

How many of you agree, are we really only a couple of essential players away from being complete?

Would we really miss any of those eight players I have suggested we let go?

If you don’t agree then who else would you bring to the club and why?

Would this clear squad hierarchy bring more stability to the club with everyone knowing their roles, positions and route into a starting place?

Discuss, shout, b*tch and moan – lets get some comments going! :)

By: Steve.

 

 

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