Why are Arsenal so Inconsistent? Or, The Eight Negatives

Editor’s Note: Gerry, in his inimitable way, ponders the question posed by this break for International matches.  Looking back–but also forward–he asks: Why can’t Arsenal get the job done in all competitions and against all opponents?  

Well, I do not think the answer is that difficult to find. Particularly if you follow the ‘Perfect Storm’ model, whereby several different ingredients combine to create something much more threatening–something that would otherwise be unthinkable.

Here are what I consider to be the ‘ingredients’ that have led to this situation Arsenal have had–seemingly from the opening game of the season–and which sadly will continue, I predict, until more of these ingredients change.

We begin by going back to the successful end of season run which included retaining the FA Cup and capturing 3rd spot in the Premier League, our highest position for several seasons. We let several players leave during the summer, but basically kept our core squad. However, despite an impressive pre-season, the first hint of problems were on the very near horizon.

1:  Two key injuries which should have been cleared up in the summer break have turned into long term problems.  Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck will be out of contention for the next 4 months.  Adequate cover was available or so it seemed.  But, as you read on, you will find how these injuries added to the overall problem.

2: Next came the unavailability of players who would have been key signings in the transfer window. I say ‘unavailability’ when it should read more as ‘unavailable to Arsenal.’ Arsenal–whether through policy, timing, or being attractive enough to sway players to want to come–signed no outfield players. That is how the window ended and it became another ingredient that will continue haunt our progress in games to come.

3: Finally, the last thing fate threw at us from the summer was Alexis Sanchez’ progress through the Copa America tournament. Few people in Europe can appreciate just how big an event that was for a single player, let alone the team or the country as a whole. To put it in perspective, think of a Europe wide tournament where one of the smaller footballing nations, like Switzerland or Ukraine, got to the final and won…then add in a highly talented, driven individual, one who has risen to the highest level in his profession, playing a major part in all the preceding rounds, stepping up to take a vital penalty and scoring it. That player was, of course, ‘our’ Alexis Sanchez.

Credit Arsene Wenger for knowing how difficult it would be for the player to come down from such an emotional high having seen it the previous year with our German players winning the World Cup. So, he gave Alexis extra time off.  Unfortunately, that was negated by the pressure from the player himself who ended up playing in early games this season without proper preparation.  Alas, his early form was a shadow of the player we knew.

The good news is–he’s back!

It took a game on the bench to click the switch in his head which unlocked that desire again. I am sure just watching, and seeing how hard his team mates were trying without him, triggered something in his emotions, which, in turn, helped him recapture that sharpness.

This was the first ingredient to change. But others still remain.

4: Apart from those mentioned above, there has been the long running struggle to get the best out of the players we have. In midfield, accommodating Ramsey (along with Cazorla and Ozil) has been an issue but one which has been partially solved by giving him a ‘free role’ from the right. In effect this means he only visits that wing when there is space and opportunity. At times this can be very effective, but at others it simply adds a layer to the inconsistency.

5: Loans.  Due to factors 1 and 2 above, we have limited choice among strikers and we particularly miss Welbeck. It is not for us to say the manager was wrong to send Chuba Akpom (in particular) out on a season-long loan as at the time Welbeck was hoping for an early return. I happen to agree with the manager that this season was probably a season too early for Chuba to take on the responsibility in ‘must win’ games. I’m slightly less inclined to agree with Isaac Hayden departing to the same club (Hull City) as I feel he is a player more ready to help us, but both needed regular game time.

6: Goals.  Our goal scoring really suffered with the Alexis hangover, Olivier Giroud having a near meltdown of confidence and Theo Walcott on a steep learning curve as our best option at striker. All of which was only emphasised by the stats which said we were on a 6% conversion rate of opportunities, mostly provided by our midfield pair, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla.

Given that Walcott is now looking more like a central striker–providing he can do what he did against Manchester United on a regular basis, despite not scoring himself–and that Alexis has netted 6 goals in the last three games, one could be forgiven for thinking the worst is over.

7:  Alas, all oppositions are not the same. We are somewhat predictable in how we line up.  Whether it is Giroud or Walcott up front, teams set themselves up to cut off the supply lines once we cross the half way line. Space is denied to Walcott, Alexis finds a posse surrounding him, and the center spaces, invariably, are well manned too.

Throw in the lack of goals from Ramsey–at the moment–and the fact he does not supply width when he moves in field, that job being left to Hector Bellerin. That in itself is not a problem until a side like Swansea, who have Jefferson Montero (he of blistering pace), counter in an instant, or West Ham United, with Dimitri Payet, put our defence under all sorts of pressure.

This brings me to the final ingredient of our ‘perfect storm’ development: The defence.

8:  We have made changes enforced by the illness to Mertesacker, and injuries to both Coquelin and Koscielny, which has had a knock on effect in midfield. Even before the last few games we have made changes–some in the name of rotation–which did not work out too well, no matter who was in goal.  Rotation is important long term, so there’s no point in thinking we can send out the same 14 players to do their stuff when games come thick and fast.  The same is true over the next 6 weeks because the squad will be crippled by the time the Christmas mayhem will occur. That, may I remind you all, is where we often have a downturn, before we start off on a run in the New Year, both in the FA Cup and league which gives us a decent finish.

So this is why, in my opinion, we have had the roller-coaster season so far.

Our talisman, Alexis Sanchez, is back to scoring and driving the team forward.  We are beginning to see the potential of Walcott, ‘the striker,’ being fulfilled. We have even got the huge confidence boost from not just winning against a top 3 contender but absolutely obliterating them in just 20 minutes, not to mention the strong pairing of Mertesacker and Gabriel as cover for the absent Koscielny.

Despite all of these major pluses, we still have some familiar weaknesses:

a: The biggest one is maintaining the fitness of Coquelin.

b: We have to find a sustainable balance to be able to rotate in a way that keeps more players fit and sharp without destroying our continuity.

c: We need a Plan B for when games are not fitting the criteria for our attack.  This is nothing new.

d: Finally, we have to find formations which can get the best out of the players we have available and which also keeps the fine line between over-commitment going forward and our defensive frailties at the back.

The victory over Manchester United will give every side in the land good reason to fear us. As long as we remain committed to the basics and don’t get so over-confident that we believe just turning up gives us a victory (as has happened to some extent in the past) I think we can have a decent run in the league this side of Christmas.

I’m not sure our victory will have done us any favours regarding Bayern Munich, though. They will certainly not take us lightly and the blistering form they have been in–playing at such a high level–will be a real test of our strengths and weaknesses.

So, I will leave it up to you as to how much you put our inconsistency down to poor management, poor tactics or just individual player errors.

Instead, I have set out the background details with which Arsene Wenger has had to deal, without necessarily subscribing any blame. When such factors combine there is very little a manager can do about it…without hindsight, of course.

So, as we are still a ‘hostage of fortune’ regarding injuries, please consider (in your deliberations) how you would handle worst case scenarios prior to the return of Koscielny, Welbeck and Wilshere.  In my opinion, in order of severity, injuries to Coquelin, Alexis, Walcott, Mertersacker, Gabriel, Ozil, Giroud and Cech are our major worry.

But what say you, fine fellow Gooners?  Are we past the ‘perfect storm,’ or is the ManU win (and this break for International matches) just the eye of the hurricane?

by Gerry

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Crushing ManU was Great! — How Does Arsenal Take the Next Step and

Start Churning Out Consistent Performances and Results?

Regular contributor FLO8 wrote the following comment in the last thread.  We reprint it here because it asks all the right questions and proposes some interesting answers. 

Going forward, as we must, we have to wonder, was the performance and result vs United a one-off or could it be an indication that Arsenal have turned a corner?

FLO8 wrote:

Despite a great outcome versus Man U, I still have my reservations about the effectiveness of our style of play against those sides that like to sit deep, defend in numbers and generally play on the counter attack.

Our last two EPL opponents play a notoriously open style of play – Leicester attack on numbers with swift forward movement; Man U – a little like ourselves – attempt to patiently monopolise possession in their opponent’s half and try to capitalise on any openings they are able to create or the opposition provide them with.

Positively the side appeared to have matured to a point were they are willing to adapt their playing style (i.e. use a counter attacking style as opposed to the normal patient possession hoarding approach) to take advantage of the opposition’s openness.

Not many teams in the Premier League play with such openness though, so my doubts about our general attacking effectiveness still lingers.

That said our first goal was a great template of how Arsenal can and should attack if we are to persist with our possession hoarding approach. In that instance Arsenal overloaded their right hand side of attack with Coquelin, Ramsey, Ozil, Bellerin and Walcott all within a small area on the right edge of the opposition’s penalty box. Coquelin, Ramsey, Ozil all quickly exchanged passes and Ozil, Bellerin and Walcott subsequently provided off the ball attacking options for Ramsey to choose from. Ramsey was able to pick out Ozil (thanks largely to Walcott and Bellerin’s presence).

The effect of the right sided overload was that Alexis (Arsenal’s best finisher) became Arsenal’s central striking option and rest was simple.

I’m really hoping that Arsenal’s noticed the effectiveness of that particular overload strategy and it’s natural alignment with our normal possession hoarding approach. It’s a strategy Arsenal could regularly employ with success when facing sides that like to sit deep, defend in numbers and generally play on the counter attack.

Great comment, Mr. FLO!  Getting that first goal, by overloading and successfully pressing United into a deep turnover, of course, had the effect of making them need to come out and try to equalise.  The 2nd goal was a beautiful pounce with Ozil, the goal scorer, taking the central position as we attacked down the other (left) side.  If Ozil had wanted, he also might have played in Ramsey who was quickly moving into a strong position on the right.

My point–and the one which I believe FLO8 is making–is that we have the players to pull defences out of shape, i.e., to one side or the other, with overloads which create the space needed to get shots away from good central positions.  Our third goal started on the right but worked because of Theo Walcott’s fine control and even better pass (with his left foot, no less!) which found Alexis in space on the left.  He did the predictable thing, touching it back to the middle.  Defender Mateo Darmian must feel hard done by that his attempted tackle bounced up perfectly for our man to blast into the top corner of the net.  Regardless, it still emphasizes what can happen when our play creates enough space for those lucky bounces to occur.

Of course, it’s all a bit different at nil-nil and against teams who would be happy with exactly that result.  Overloads are hard to create if the other team is conceding possession.  At that point it becomes more about creating those overloads and pressing teams to the point where if they try to play their way out, we can pounce on them.  For me, it’s all about movement.  If our players in the #9 and #10 roles (Theo and Ozil these days) can press a team into a corner, backed up by the FB and wide attacker on that side, it becomes very difficult for the opponent.  Simply put, instead of trying to play the ball out, Daley Blind probably should have put his boot through the ball (on the first goal) instead of giving Francis Coquelin a chance to keep it in play.

For fun and because we don’t get to play again for 10 days, here are all the goals.  (Please pardon the ad…)

It’s ironic to believe that it’s actually harder for this Arsenal team to defeat the lesser teams, but it may just be true.  If, however, we just keep up this level of flexible movement, with and without the ball, I think we can start breaking down the parked buses.  Olivier Giroud, of course, doesn’t move as quickly as Walcott, but–as long as he is inspired to keep moving–his presence can work in similar ways AND offer both an improved target for crosses and a powerful protective presence with balls at his feet, around which our quicker attackers (Alexis, Ozil and Ramsey) can circulate.

In my opinion we missed Giroud–badly–in both Champions League matches. In the first, at Dinamo Zagreb, too many complaints and demands for ref protection led to two yellows and Arsenal playing a man down.  We got the one goal back, but the 2nd (where we might have missed him at the set piece) was the killer.  It was 11 v 11 at home vs Olympiakos but the Giroud suspension means our best weapon against parked buses was missing.  Again, goals at set pieces were our undoing and his presence there might have helped.  Going a goal behind (3 times) and not having him at our disposal proved too much on the night.

That’s just my take on matters, and likely there were other issues in trying to rotate deeper into our squad.  Are we a little less aggressive (and thus effective) with our pressing and possession play when we bring in the likes of Debuchy, Gibbs and Oxlade-Chamberlain?  Ospina in goal stands out as a rotation which backfired, but it could go deeper than that.

What say you, fellow BK contributors?  Is it Giroud we need?  Can a better team dynamic, i.e., more movement and being unafraid to overload parts of the pitch and fill for each other–no matter who plays–be the answer?  Maybe it’s both… If you’re a reader who doesn’t comment, why not give it a try?  We always try to be friendly here at Bergkampesque, but we’re likely at our very nicest here in the wake of the ManU result… :D

Breaking down teams who have set up to thwart us is less fun than playing in open matches.  Still, it just takes that first goal and then they have to come out at play… How then do we get it?

by FLO8 and 17highburyterrace

Posted in Uncategorized | 19 Comments

Team Player Theo, Ozil’s Magic, The Cech-Factor, Fans Superb, The Wall of CoCa: Eight Positives from Game

It was coming for a while. We beat the Mancs already at Old Trafford this year, but the press wanted to focus on our lack of wins against them in the PL prior to our game today. In the last twelve months we beat all fellow top clubs including Man City and the Chavs, but it appears still fashionable to portray us as too weak to beat our fellow title contenders. A shift is taken place (which coincides with our ability to finally hold on to our top players and add quality sensibly…rocket science hey?), and I guess today’s empathic victory over our modern history bitterest rivals will go some way to shut the red tops up for a while.

The mini-hulk is back, back, back!!!

The mini-hulk is back, back, back!!!

74 seconds of Gunners’ blitz, leading to two very fine team goals finished by Sanchez and Ozil, and the job was more than half done, with not even double figures on the clock. How often have we seen Arsenal play tentatively against the Mancs over the last few years: not knowing whether to go full on attack or whether to sit back and stay compact, inviting pressure on to us and handing the initiative to them? Not so today. Arsenal came out of the blogs as if they had not been fed for days. The Gunners smelled blood on the Mancs and never gave them a chance to get into the game, even though Arsenal only had 38% on average for the whole match. Although 2-0 was great, we all knew we needed a third to really feel relax about this game. And we got it 12 minutes later from another blitz attack, finished empathically by our red hot Chilean.

Eight positives from VICTORY

  1. Possession where it does not hurt versus having the ball in the final third and being super-efficient: is this the new Arsenal?! How the roles of both teams have changed! Arsenal played like Red Nose’s MU and Van Gaal’s ensemble played like Arsenal from a few seasons ago. With Walcott in attack and Sanchez playing in effect as another free striker, we have bags of speed and penetration, and we play effectively 4-4-2. With Sanchez getting back a lot and helping out defence we are often in a 4-5-1 formation too; and to some extent we can say we play 4-3-3 with Ozil joining Alexis and Theo in attack continuously. It is all very fluid. We now invite the competition on to us much more, with the aim to do quick turnarounds and blisteringly fast counterattacks. Today it proved deadly and the Mancs had no answer whatsoever. Well done, Arsene.Twenty minutes of deadly football were followed by 70 minutes of composure and calm, which is, even though less exciting, equally important. It shows how mature this team has become: what a contrast with the previous eras!
  2. The supporters were great today. They really were behind the team and turned the Emirates into our true home on the day: just what the boys needed and deserved.
  3. The wall of CoCa. Coq and Cazorla were awesome today. They helped each other and especially the Spaniard impressed with his all-round midfield play. Both were at the basis of the first two goals. Le Coq won the ball back from the Mancs not far from the D with a strong physical interception from what looked like a fizzled out attack: the turnaround was instant and deadly as a result, with Ramsey finding Ozil and the German passing precisely to Sanchez, who fooled de Gea rather easily, but the execution of his side-heel was exquisite. The second one was started by Santi, with a quick forward pass to Ozil, who found Theo and then the Englishman found Ozil who slotted away very coolly. But there was a lot more to both players than initiating attacks. With their slick passing and energy as well as their excellent reading of the game, they outclassed the MU midfield. It should be said that they did not do this on their own, as Ramsey did a lot of very important running and linking up with his fellow midfielders. In fact, the whole team helped with dominating the midfield but at the base of it all was the wall of CoCa.
  4. Theo was awesome. He was ‘present!’ in this game throughout. He had two assists today and they were both a result of him playing as a team striker. His first assist for Ozil was unselfish and very well executed; the second was created with him playing with his back towards the goal whilst moving the ball swiftly on to the free Sanchez. The latter still had a lot to do, but Theo’s quick thinking and acting were key. Theo no football brain….. another red top cliché ready for the bin.
  5. Ozil is in his element. Counterattacking football with quick turnovers and fast and willing runners suits him best it seems. Ozil always plays well, always, but not many seem to see what he adds to the team, on and OFF the ball. Expect the critics to become more and more silent if we continue to play this sort of football going forward, and his magic finds willing, quality outlets like it did today.
  6. The Cech-factor. Petr was a force today. His safe just before the break from Martial’s attempt, who fouled the BFG to create his free shot on goal, was crucial but it is his persona, positioning and zen-like calm which settles the team down and puts doubt in the opposition’s attackers, that makes such a difference. What a signing!
  7. The CB-duo of Mert and Gabriel, supported by the full backs, were great today. The BFG was calm and positioned himself well throughout the game and Gabriel was pretty solid too. Bellerin did great and his biggest compliment on the day was the withdrawal of Depay, who had been firmly in the Spaniard’s pocket, at half time. Monreal was great too, as he always is. What a committed professional and what a great passion he has when he plays: one of my favourite Gunners in the whole squad.
  8. The mini-hulk is back and angrier than ever. Six goals in three games is powerful stuff. It has taken a while and some were starting to say that Alexis was maybe ‘found-out’ by the opposition, but our mini-hulk is made of stern stuff and has such a love for the game and scoring goals. If he plays well the whole team tend to play well, with the Olympiacos game as a rare exception. Let’s hope he continuous this form for the remainder of the season – it could make all the difference.

It is early days but being second with now just two points behind MC, after we played MU, the Chavs and Liverpool already this season, is promising stuff. Watford away is up next. Bring it on!

By TotalArsenal.

Posted in Uncategorized | 27 Comments

Arsenal – Manchester United. Match Preview, Predicted Line-Up. English Football’s Greatest Rivalry or

Just Another Match?

I go with the former.  If we look past the Sheiks and Oligarchs pouring money into smaller clubs for fun and vanity, these are–BY FAR–the biggest clubs in our game.  All that oil (and natural gas) money has changed things, but, to me at least, our matches against ManU are one of the biggest measures of our progress as a team and as a club.  Tomorrow they come to our stadium–a stadium built so that we could compete with them when they had by far the biggest one.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  This is a VERY big match.

It’s even bigger because it’s early season and neither team has fully convinced.  Thanks to recent stumbles in the light blue part of their town, United, amazingly. are top of the table.  Not only is it the first time up there since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down as manager, it’s also something nobody would’ve expected from the way they began the season.  Nervy 1-nil victories vs Spurs and at Aston Villa but failing to score at home vs Newcastle and then losing (after scoring the first goal) at Swansea, did nothing to make them appear a title contender back in August.

It got better, however, as they both splashed the cash for teenage attacker Anthony Martial AND bungled the paperwork on the transfer everybody expected–David De Gea to Real Madrid.  De Gea took the failed move professionally and–with the exception of losing their CL group opener at PSV Eindhoven–they’ve been perfect in September, notching league wins at home against Liverpool and Sunderland and on the South Coast at Southampton.

Arsenal, the strongest team in the 2nd half of last season, came into the new one on the back of a perfect pre-season–including winning the Community Shield–with very high expectations.  We’re they too high?  Perhaps.  Re-calibration began immediately with an opening day loss to West Ham, in front of the home crowd no less.  It’s been better since–in domestic competition at least–but it’s also been a campaign which has clearly not lived up to our high hopes.  Goals have been very hard to come by, at least until the 5 goal barrage at Leicester City a week ago which doubled our league total up to that point.  Coming off a home defeat to Olympiakos in a Champions League match in midweek, this showdown looms even larger.

And, truth be told, Arsenal have not had much success against United in our new stadium.  Since the move in 2006, Arsenal have only beaten ManU late in that first season (as United were cruising to the league title) and in November 2008.  The league win that season was overshadowed the following Spring when United beat us 3-1 in the 2nd leg of a Champions League semi-final (4-1 on aggregate), a win which sent them to the final in Moscow where they beat Chelsea on penalty kicks.   The only victory since then was an end of season 1-nil in 2011.

The biggest humiliation of all might have been welcoming United at the end of Ferguson’s final season and having to perform the “guard of honour” for their team which had already secured the league title.  Having to greet Robin van Persie–the Judas who had left us the previous summer–in this fashion and then only being able to eke out a draw despite the motivation of fighting a big uphill battle for 4th place and Champions League football.  It was a match which showed the gulf–at that time–between the two clubs.

Van Persie, now playing in Turkey, is one who has fallen victim to current Manager Louis van Gaal’s revolving door policy.  Van Gaal, burning through a pile of money (nearly half a billion pounds in just two seasons), has also moved on other older expensive players, notably Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao–players he brought in himself–choosing instead to invest in younger players like Martial and Memphis Depay.

In attack at least.  At the rear of midfield (and for not much less money) the investment has been in older, more established players.  Bastien Schweinsteiger (31 years old, 275,000 pounds/week) and Morgan Schneiderlin (25 years old,  27 million pound transfer) are supposed to anchor the attack and create a secure bridge to the rearguard.

It seems reasonably promising, but it’s also clearly a work in progress and Van Gaal still seems to be ironing out his ideas.  Veterans like Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney seem back in favour, but others, like Maroune Fellaini and Ashley Young, both of whom LvG relied upon heavily last season, seem more peripheral figures.  Defence seems the iffiest part of the scheme, especially with injuries to Luke Shaw and Marcus Rojo.  De Gea in goal is a bonus and Daley Blind has done quite well as a utility defender filling in at FB and CB, but the newer generation of English defenders, notably Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, haven’t quite established themselves as automatic choices.

Do Arsenal have enough to stand up to this version of United and finally get a home win against them?  The answer likely depends on who you ask and, in fact, can only be truly answered by what we see after the match kicks off.

Further questions loom.  Will the mid-week loss make Arsenal hungry to right the wrong or will the confidence that was beginning to grow with victories at Spurs and Leicester be reduced to zero?  Will Gooners come to the stadium (having payed the big money to watch the “A” level match) and be completely behind their players?   Old narratives which appear after each stumble–that manager Arsene Wenger has been too long at the helm and too prone to bad selections and tactical gaffes–might be on the tips of tongues.  Can the fans, the players and their beleaguered manager come together for a big performance and result this Sunday?

How should Wenger and his team try and get one over on United and Van Gaal?  Will he expect LvG to set out to absorb pressure and hit on the break–a tactic proven quite successful, especially against us in our home stadium–or should Wenger expect Van Gaal to come at us a bit?  What should we expect and how should we set up?

Due to injuries to Laurent Koscielny, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini, (and the longer term absences of Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky) our team, I think, almost to a man, picks itself.  There could be a question up front, given that Olivier Giroud should be well rested having sat out the Tuesday match due to suspension.  Theo Walcott, however, has scored in his last two outings and seems more involved in other parts of our attack so dropping him seems unlikely.  Aaron Ramsey likely steps in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in his free role from the right.  I guess some are asking about who plays in goal, but, to me at least, the minor calf problem which saw Petr Cech take only a bench seat vs Olympiakos was nothing more than a classic Weng-jury Rotation Ruse (copyright pending…), transparent as a well rolled sheet of phyllo dough.

Here then is the Arsenal set-up I would predict:

Bench: Ospina, Chambers, Debuchy, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Campbell, Giroud

Personally, I’d love to see Walcott AND Giroud from the opening whistle in this one and I’d choose to sacrifice Coquelin and move Ramsey central.  Most analysis of the Olympiakos match suggests that we looked immediately stronger in attack when Rambo came on for Le Coq and his play helped get us the equalizer.  Coquelin’s presence, however, might’ve been missed as the Greek team–almost from the  ensuing kick-off–sliced through our half and scored the winner.

To me, using Coquelin suggests trying to control a low scoring match; going with Theo and Ollie–and Alexis–as a fluid front three, backed up by Ozil, Santi and Rambo, would seem a hell-for-leather, we-believe-we-can-outscore-you, sort of approach, even if it might leave us very short of attacking options from the bench if we were to need a goal or lose a player to injury.  Still, it’s what I’d prefer as I think we need a definitive and aggressive showing heading into the international break.

What do you guys think?

Let’s go for it, I say.  Much as I believe LvG’s United are a work in progress, so too is this Arsenal team.  Until we can stride out onto our own pitch and confidently play OUR game against this sort of competition we remain an embodiment of nervous potential rather than any sort of realized excellence.  We have to see these matches as opportunities to lay down a real marker rather than worrisome stumbling blocks.  Indeed, another home loss would be devastating, but, at the level to which we aspire, that’s always the case.  We play these games in order to win them and make our home stadium into a real fortress.  In the end, these are the matches, which, if won in style, assert our place in the sport and make for great memories.


by 17highburyterrace

Posted in Uncategorized | 46 Comments

Philosophical Friday – What losing to Olympiakos did to me!

Henry dog 008

So that was a kick in the ballsocks. Not yet a Greek tragedy, but we will need a small miracle to get out of this group alive now. It makes the Bayern double, first home and then away, a ‘three to four pointer’. Maybe this is a good thing; maybe we just have to show to ourselves and the rest of Europe what we are worth, what we are capable of. And if we cannot win at least one of those two matches, why should we be in the competition much longer anyway?

I actually don’t care much about the Champions League. It should be a tournament for league winners and any other high finishers should play in the Europa League; but that honourable principle went a long time ago. It is now a competition for the very rich football clubs, and it is all about making sure that the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. The competition is set up in such a way that the risk of dropping income is as low as possible for the rich clubs. And with these high additional CL incomes, the rich clubs can buy the cream of their national competitors thus strengthening themselves and weakening their local CL gravy train competitors in one go. The romantic days of Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, or even historically really big European clubs like Liverpool or Ajax winning the ‘cup with the big ears’ are long, long gone. Top European football has become predictable and boring, especially the group matches. It does not take a genius to predict the winners and runners up of each group; it is also pretty certain that one of Bayern Munich, Barcelona or Real Madrid will win the CL for the next five to ten years, with maybe one of Italy’s, France or England’s top clubs winning it, based on a lot of luck, once in a blue moon. It just sucks.

It should be said that Arsenal have established themselves as one of the rich clubs, which is a great achievement of the BoD and our loyal manager Arsene Wenger. We are not at the very, very top of wealth and power, but we are definitely one of the clubs that have made it through to the European sub-top. So who am I, or we, to complain: we are one of those teams who could claim a CL title against the odds, whereas many, many other clubs will not even come close. I guess it is the romantic in me; I like to think that any club could at one point get it all right: the BoD’s focus and capability, the manager, the player purchases, the style and strength of their football, the passion and the success they crave for – and all of this combined with a healthy, and very necessary, dollop of undiluted luck. Shouldn’t this be the very principle, the essence, of the beautiful game?

It’s gone in the CL but it is not much better in the PL either. There is a top four of clubs who will normally finish in the PL top four. Now and again, another team might finish in the CL entrance places, but they will not sustain it, unless, of course, they find themselves a very rich money-burning in-their-pockets, mega-rich owner. How did we get in to this situation? How did we manage to let our beloved game become so predictable and so fundamentally unfair: where is the sportsmanship?

I reckon Arsenal have done everything the honourable way. We increased our income fairly, developed our own players as well as spend money on quality when we could afford it and are financially sound. This makes us compete and gives us a chance to win our own league, or maybe even the CL in the future, yet it will not make us capable of dominating the league for many years, financially outmuscling all our competitors. And that is how it should be: because what is life without romance, hey?! :)

By TotalArsenal.

Posted in Uncategorized | 18 Comments

Arsenal-Olympiakos: Match Preview, Predicted Line-Up. Time to Get Our CL Campaign Back on Track.

The games just keep coming and this one feels like a must-win given the points dropped in round one at Dinamo Zagreb.  The Greek Champions, 5 times over, in fact, also lost (nil-3) to group favorite Bayern Munich in their opener, so they’ll be looking to spoil our plans.  Getting something from this match is critical for them too or they’ll be well pinned to bottom of the group table.

As such, Manager Arsene Wenger has to tread carefully.  As much as he’d like to rotate players and rest them ahead of a Sunday showdown with league leaders Manchester United, he probably will need to ask several stalwarts to come back on just two days rest.

Matters are complicated by Olivier Giroud, who picked up two yellows in Zagreb, being suspended for this one.  Additionally, both Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta picked up muscle strains in the 5-2 win at Leicester City on Saturday.  Francis Coquelin, who hyper-extended his knee at Chelsea the Saturday before, was rested for the Leicester match and the Capital One Cup win at Tottenham, but has been training and may be forced into action.  In the pre-match press conference, Wenger also noted that he might choose to rest Aaron Ramsey who, with the exception of Per Mertesacker, is the only Arsenal player looking at his 3rd (full) match in 6 days.   My hunch is that Ramsey will start but that Coquelin might relieve him around the hour mark if we’ve staked ourselves to a lead.

How might we get to that point?

It could be tempting to try another start for Joel Campbell.  After all, he played with the Greek Champions, on loan, during the 2013-14 season, scoring a memorable Champions League goal for them against Manchester United.  Unfortunately he’s yet to score one wearing an Arsenal shirt.  Instead, I’m thinking we’ll see a front three of Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

That would allow Aaron Ramsey to shift back into his preferred central position alongside Santi Cazorla and for the two of them to interchange freely with Mesut Ozil, who nominally at least, will be tucked in behind the front line as a #10.  He was frustrated at Leicester because he failed to take some good scoring chances, but here’s a video of his entire performance up there, showing exactly his level of mastery in an open match.

Olympiakos will want to do whatever they can to stop Ozil (and the rest) from playing like that and they should be keen to doing what they can to compress our attack.  Manager Marco Silva will likely borrow a page from Dinamo’s performance and be happy to concede possession and pile bodies behind the ball hoping to hit us on the break.  We’ll need to be alert to that threat, especially if Wenger opts to rotate extensively in his back 4.  My hunch is that we’ll see Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs back in at fullback but that we’ll stay with the center back pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker who might enjoy one more match together before we host ManU.  David Ospina seems to be our man between the sticks for cup games.

Here then is the predicted line-up:

Bench: Cech, Gabriel, Bellerin, Monreal, Chambers, Coquelin, Campbell

That’s about all I can tell you, and, as always, I’m just guessing at the line-up and bench squad.  We’re awfully light on attackers so maybe one of the defenders gives up a bench seat for 19 year old Alex Iwobi, who also suited up for the North London Derby.  What would you do for this one, fellow Gooners, if you were wearing the manager’s shoes?

No matter who plays, we need a fully focused performance.  Wenger has made the point that these matches are tougher on players who play in the Premier League with its great depth in talent.  Olympiakos is dancing through their own league matches, winning all of them thus far this season.  Still, if we can embrace the challenge I’m confident our superior quality will show through.  Olympiakos has never beaten an English team on their travels in this competition, but there’s always a first time, so we must stay vigilant and not believe just showing up wins us the points.

What say you?

Confident?  Worried?  Already looking ahead to United’s visit on Sunday?

Have at it; don’t be shy; etc., etc., etc.

Cheers and enjoy the match!

by 17highburyterrace

Posted in Uncategorized | 50 Comments

Alexis copies Bergkamp, Cech awesome, BFG back, Ozil and Theo purr: 8 Postives from game

Leicester away will always remind me, and I am sure many more Gooners, of the wonderful Bergkamp hat-trick back in 1997 at Filbert Street. Who does not remember Bergkamp’s third, a goal Dennis believes to be his best ever? 18 years later, it is Alexis who hits the net trice in Leicester, albeit in a different stadium. It was the well-earned fruit of his hard labour, good positioning and great hunger for goals. The Alexis hat-trick will not be remembered anywhere near to the Bergkamp one, but the Chilean’s one might be a defining moment in our season nevertheless. To win the PL we need our strikers to be hot and we need our goals to be shared between them all. We all know that we needed Alexis to start scoring again to lift the weight off Ollie and Theo’s shoulders; and today he answered his (few) critics with an empathic display and three fine goals.

Eight positives from the game

  1. This was in a way another cup game. It certainly was played like one. The game was incredibly open and both teams wanted to attack, attack and attack. Between the teams there were 42 shots on goal, with 19 (12 for Arsenal) on target. Leicester had nothing to lose and were definitely not going to park the bus; and we had been given a great opportunity to close the gap with the Northern Oilers who had lost earlier in the day to the Spuddies; so the team were up for it. And the team ‘being up for it’ is my first and main positive. We fought like lions and even going one behind early on did not affect us negatively. We only have to look at the Chavs who did not manage to match the home side’s desire and energy to win today, resulting in dropping two very costly points.
  2. All our strikers scored today and Ozil and Arteta produced the key assists. The one thing that has been missing is Arsenal scoring enough goals. Today we doubled our PL tally in one go, and with Olympiakos and MU coming up next, this is just what we needed.
  3. Without Le Coq, and Santi more drawn to attacking than defending, we looked vulnerable at the back at times, whether it was with Flamini or Arteta as our DM. Luckily, our CBs were in great form, with the BFG being very glad to be back in the first team. On top of that, Cech was very alert and as calm and in control as I have seen him in an Arsenal shirt. They did not prevent two fine goals by Vardy but did enough in this open game to bring home the three points.
  4. Ollie the super-sub? The Giroud haters may well get their wish, but not all teams will play this open; and against the PtB teams we will still need him to crack them open. I am warming to the thought of Theo starting games as our CF, though, and OG does well coming on later in the game. If we tell ourselves that he will miss the first big chance but will take the second one (usually less easy), it will save us a lot of unnecessary anguish.
  5. Wenger took real joy in his team’s performance today. Having been in the job at Arsenal for so long, it is still great to see that he celebrates our key goals like one of us.
  6. The FBs, Bellerin and Nacho, were once again great in supporting the attack. They are so important in our system in terms of providing thrust and width.
  7. With all the movement in front of him, Ozil was purring, especially in the second half. His assist for Sanchez’s second was sublime. But Theo’s constant movement and running was also very special today. They were both in their element today and provided a lot of space and movement for Sanchez to shine more than anybody else.
  8. The final ‘positive’ goes to the engine, our Welsh Rolls Royce. Ramsey, supported by Cazorla and Ozil, is key for our transitions and his reading of the game and interceptions, combined with his fabulous running, are soooo important for the success of the team. It is a shame he is not scoring at the moment, but let’s not forget the enormous amount of dirty work he does for the team.

These are my eight positives FFGs. Bring on the Greeks!

By TotalArsenal.

Posted in Uncategorized | 27 Comments