The Week Before the Week Before: Arsenal Monday Musings

Two preseason tournaments, two cups lifted.  So far, so good.  Goals aplenty, clean sheets, players looking fit and in form, youngsters impressing… Check, check, check, check…Oh and Cech… :D

With less than a fortnight before the season begins I thought I’d throw out some thoughts for discussion.

Pre-Season:  Just how important is pre-season?  They say you cannot win the title in the autumn but you sure can lose it.  Well, it’s not even August yet so what CAN we take from what we’ve seen in July?  It’s been such a short off-season (given our participation in the FA Cup and the early start to this new one) and we seem to have picked up right where we left off.  Of course we have a bigger test in the national stadium against the league champions and their manager who (famously) claimed the Community Shield amongst his trophy count when he departed his first stint as manager over there in South London.  How important is it to Gooners?  What should we be looking for in that match, now only 6 days away?

Moreover, what can we take from the matches we have (perhaps) been watching?  Over here, in the States, the coverage has been poor.  At the moment I’m working on improving my internet and television service (to balance quality vs obscene pricing) but had no high-definition big screen access to the matches.  I watched what I could (highlights from Singapore, streams from the Emirates Cup) and I know I’m feeling good about many elements in the team.  The group seems united and happy, players look fit and ready and the competition for places which characterized the close of the season seems to be working a real treat.  The only missing first choice player, Alexis Sanchez, has hardly been mentioned and will be only value-added when he returns to the squad.  As it is, plenty of good players will be left out of the squad for that final pre-season friendly.  We’ll have time to discuss it later in the week, but surely the group picked for the Community Shield will be revealing.

With that match in mind, how about a quick look up and down the squad.

Goalkeeper:  Cech in, Wojciech off to Roma.

This one took me by surprise and I thought instead I’d be saying adios to my Colombian amigo, David Ospina.  Arsene Wenger has said some nice things about Szczesny and how it’s only a loan.  With an option to buy (according to reports) and a chance to shine with a Champions League club, I cannot see a way back for the guy who has made over 200 appearances for Arsenal.  That was one killer cigarette there on New Years day in the showers at So’ton…

Speaking of amigos and good-byes… Have a happy day, James Bond… Those of us who defended our Pole in Goal surely feel a bit as if the rug has been tugged (from beneath us) but it’s hard to argue we’re not looking MUCH stronger in the position with Cech, Ospina and Martinez.

Defenders:  Bellerin, Debuchy, Monreal, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Chambers, Koscielny, Gabriel. Those are 8 healthy defenders competing for 4 spots.  Compared to a year ago, when the departure of Bacary Sagna opened two of those spots, Mertesacker was recovering (from being dropped) from his World Cup winning run and Koscielny was nursing two tender (Achilles) tendons, this seems a world of improvement.  Debuchy and Chambers were new signings, Bellerin was strictly a youth team player and Nacho Monreal, nobody’s favorite at left back, was our 3rd choice center back?!  Talk about your duct tape and baling wire… Wow.  Some may still questions members of the group (I’ll go out on a limb and say that my 8th of the 8, at the moment at least, is Gibbs…) but at least we’ve got all of them fit and fighting with–and for–each other.

Midfielders:  Here’s where it could get really interesting.

Francis Coquelin (who I noticed went straight to the dressing room after being subbed on Saturday) seems nailed on as our man ahead of the back line–at least in the tighter matches where a draw is a satisfactory result. Flamini, his backup down the stretch last season, could be the latest player from England looking to extend his contract in Istanbul, while our Captain, Mikel Arteta, got his extra year and appears the fillip.  Do we need more in this area or can others, notably Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, do what Santi Cazorla did and morph their attacking tendencies into more ball control and linking between back and front?  Isaac Hayden, after a troubled year fighting injuries in the reserves, looked a decent enough deputy for Le Coq over the weekend and might just get himself fit enough to be the guy who can fill in here (and as a CB) if the injuries start taking a toll.  Do we need to buy in this area or are we strong enough?

Further forward versatility plays a role too.  Wilshere, Ramsey and Ozil all want to play that hole role, the #10, and many see shunting them out wide as a disservice to the players–if not outright stupidity on the part of the manager.  I don’t see it this way at all.  With such skilled players it’s all about movement and doing the small bits–sometimes without or away from the ball.  Just a little defending to start counterattacks–or to just herd play towards our stronger areas; taking one touch (or a dummy) and moving play on rather than slowing play with dribbles or going stationary with 1 v 1s; a willingness to work overloads away from starting positions or switch areas with ones mates–these are the often unnoticed pieces which can turn fine players into great ones.  Having all these guys fit opens so many options but they must give the manager reasons why they cannot be dropped.  There’s a larger gap to some of the youngsters who might fill a spot down the road (Gideon Zelalem, 18 and Jeff Reine-Adelaide, 17) but no one will mind seeing them in some Capital One Cup outings.  What about Tomas Rosicky–a guy almost twice the age of some of the younger ones– who also got another year on his contract?  Can we prise one more “football year” out of him–or is he next summer’s Abou Diaby?  He’s hurt now, but maybe can fill a spot if the others take a niggle or look sluggish.

Finally there are the two Alexes or Alexis or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexis Sanchez. Will the one fill in for the other, early season at least, and is this the season the Ox can make a place on the pitch his own?  With plenty of pace, power and technique he looks another one where injury and indecision (with his final ball or on the part of the manager) can be the only thing to hamper him.  At still just 21 (he turns 22 on August 15) but with over 100 appearances for the club he’s got that great combination of youth and experience and will surely be given his chances.  Now he must take them (rather than emulating his less successful mates…i.e., no cigs in the shower whilst contemplating what might have been)…

Forwards:  Giroud, Walcott, Welbeck.  Is that enough or should we spend (or promote)?   With Walcott we’re being tantalized–again–by another round of “will he or won’t he” and “as soon as something happens we’ll let you know.”  Just sign the ‘ting, I say.  After all, any place you would hope to go will have the money so at least you won’t be leaving us in the lurch.  Theo, in my opinion is a very useful player entering his best years (again we must cross our fingers regarding injuries), but isn’t quite in the position to hold the club to ransom.  If he wants out, he will miss Arsenal more than we would miss him (as we’ve grown so accustomed to doing through the injuries).  It would probably force our hand in the market–never a good thing with so few truly class strikers out there hoping for a move.  More money means more pressure, which is why the names mentioned have swaths of supporters at their current clubs ready to see their backsides.

Giroud might fit that bill or at least not be every Gooner’s favorite donkey (or Shrek)… Clearly he brings a certain physicality to the proceedings and appears to be a late bloomer and looking an imposting presence and fit enough as the new season awaits.  That picture from the pool in Singapore reminded me of my own days in the “buns of steel” calendars.  Sorry, fellas, that was pre-internet and all the “hard-copies” were lost when our house burned down… :D

Consider me worried about Welbeck (re: injuries and taking his chances) but he might be another to fill in as the weather worsens and the matches start coming more steadily. Akpom and Iwobi (that was a well taken goal the other day) might be loan candidates but could also be kept around if needs must.  Anybody else?  (Surely somebody will mention Wellington Silva and/or Joel Campbell–please give a look at their goal totals on loan before their highlight reels…)  Strikers, however, can sometimes make the leap from promising to clinical faster than the supporting characters.  Sometimes it can be just that tiny bit of physical or psychological maturity which puts them over the edge.  Then again, as maybe we saw with the return of Nicklas Bendter yesterday, sometimes that edge is really a shin…

My overall feeling about the squad is strong.  I’m a good deal more concerned, in fact, with the support.  How will Gooners react to the first hiccup, the first sign of frailty?  You can’t win them all, but that’s not the expectation cycle these days, nor the happy ending people want when they plunk down for tickets at the Emirates.  If we get past Chelsea in that last pre-season match, invincibility will be on everybody’s tongue (or touch-screen) even though it will still be preseason.  Right now, I’d take no injuries, a well-fought draw and maybe a win in a penalty shootout.  Happy face: Cech! Overall, I’m just happy we’ve got the football happening and glad we’ve got the long August, minus those pesky qualifiers, as well as all those ducats in the bank, just in case.

What say you, fellow Gooners?  Are you ready for some football?  Or should we recognize that a good pre-season is just that.  Do we enjoy this fine fettle or fear failure (or at least a let down) as the matches turn from fun to ones which count?…  Do we have gaps in the squad which need filling in the final month of the transfer market?  What do you think of the big move in (Petr Cech) and the moves out (Szcz, Podolski, Flamini, Diaby, who am I forgetting?)  What about the kids? Will we see another Bellerin this season or is there another Le Coq out there on loan who we’re all ignoring?

Have at it, please…

by 17highburyterrace 

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Cech behind Gabriel and Koz | Le Coq behind Jack, Mesut and Santi: Lyon Preview – Line-up

Arsenal’s home cup friendly against Lyon promises to be another fine test. I will be checking on the team’s ability to dominate the game around the Southern France’s team ‘D-area’, as we have been so impressive in doing this in the cup final, and recently, against Everton.  The Toffees were simply played off the pitch, but maybe this was down to fitness issues or a lack of hunger. The Gunners were hungry all right, which, as described in the match review, was a very nice surprise for me.

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Against Lyon, managed by former Gunner Garde, we are likely to be tested a bit more. I have not seen Lyon play a lot recently so cannot give you much insight on our opponent.  I expect us to play another 4-5-1 or 4-1-4-1 formation, with the aim to play our attack minded midfielders as near to the Lyon box as possible and with high levels of possession of the ball.

We will want to dominate and try out our intricate passes to penetrate the Les Gones’ defence with real menace. The FBs, take your pick from Gibbs, Nacho, Bellerina and Debuchy, will provide the width, and therefore threat, to go behind the defence and add that much needed dimension to our attacking play. It is this interplay between the four central midfielders, the CF and the FBs that will be the basis of our attacking success against those teams that want to sit back, or indeed, are forced to do so. And Wenger is right to want to see more goals from the rest of the team and believe that we are capable of scoring ten more goals in the PL – from 71 to 81 – in the coming season (see Arsenal.com). This is a point I have been making for quite a long time now: forget about Wenger wanting to buy a super striker and replace Giroud; our goals need to come from all over the team, which makes us unpredictable/hard to plan against.

Furthermore, I am interested in how we will line up at the back and in central midfield. It would be good to see a bit more of Gabriel, either with Koz or the BFG. I guess Wenger will play a near full strength team tomorrow, so Cech is a near given and Coquelin will be our holding DM; unless of course, Wenger wants to experiment with two all-round midfielders, who are not as good defensively as Francis but add more from an attacking point of view (see also 17ht fine post on this topic). I need my DM fix and would always play with one in front of the defence, but Jack-Rambo combo would also be nice.

Alas, we can over analyse this; it is just a friendly and Wenger will use it as a way for players to get match fitness, with maybe one or two youngsters being thrown into the mix, either at the start or later on. So here is my predicted starting eleven:  Cech, Debuchy, Gabriel, Koz, Nacho, Le Coq, Santi, Ozil, Jack, Rambo, Giroud.

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We could see Theo instead of Le Coq, with Ramsey moving into the deeper midfield role.

Enjoy the game fine fellow Gooners.

By TotalArsenal.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 87 Comments

Do Arsenal Even Need Defensive Midfielders? Talking Tactics Tuesday

Is Coquelin enough or must we buy?  Can Santi, Rambo and Jack (Mikel el Capitan, Flamini le Veteran or Rosicky the rambling man…) do the job?  Or, are there other ways of looking at the problem?…

As preseason begins and–the transfer merry-go-round reaches full velocity– Centripetal (or is it Centrifugal?) forces push us towards external solutions or other ways of thinking about how we can get the best out of our squad.  Some of our rivals–including a couple who are doing the most transfer business this summer–will likely be trying formations with 3 (or is it 5?) at the back.  Could this be something Arsenal should consider? Would it allow a greater chance for our midfielders (and our full or “wing” backs) to do their thing?  Is it about personnel or could it be more about formation?  In other words, what should Arsene be thinking?

Maybe we already know.   According to reports–see previous post–the team looked GOOD taking down Everton in Singapore.  Petr Cech sure looked happy holding a cup festooned with ribbons sporting the Barclays name–and even better in an Arsenal shirt!  Arsenal are starting the season where they hope to be ending it.  If only it were in London in May rather than Singapore in July!

So far, Cech (and a few players out) has been our ONLY summer business.   His purchase and some minor tweaks (including finding a replacement keeper) over there at Stamford Bridge are some of the only business being done by the big teams down in London–in stark contrast to what’s happening up in the greater Manchester area.

Up there, Manchester United manager, Louis van Gaal, buoyed by getting his club back into the Champions League, is buying (and selling) players almost as if it were a bodily function.  His most notable buys are a pair of deep lying midfielders–the S-C-H brothers, Schweinie and Schneidy, Bastien Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin.  Memphis Depay was secured before the previous season even ended and surely there will be others to replace departed forwards Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao.  They’re dragging it out, but all signs point to goalkeeper David De Gea heading off to Real Madrid, while Angel Di Maria could also be swapped for even more big money–and thus big money players.  It’s enough to make one’s head spin.

Across town at Manchester City, where Manuel Pellegrini persists uneasily at the helm, a calmer approach is prevailing.  Younger English players with a measure of attacking verve seem to be in favour.  Pellegrini has nabbed two of the hottest in Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph. With the money at his disposal Pellegrini surely isn’t done either.

Meanwhile at Liverpool, where Brendan Rodgers sits on a similar hot-seat, the manager has taken an older Pellegrini cast-off in search of more playing time–James Milner–amongst many others.  Spending the (absurd, obscene?) Sterling money is his next task and he must make no mistake with it.  Should he splash on a big man up front (Christian Benteke) or look to find a replacement for Steven Gerrard towards the back of his midfield?  Maybe he too needs a keeper upon whom he can really count. Luckily, City spent so much on Sterling that Rodgers can probably improve his squad in multiple positions.

Fitting all these players into first 11s or figuring out what the managers are thinking is too much for me and, frankly, I cannot wait to just get the games going.  When the transfer window finally shuts–or even earlier, with the start of the season–we will likely see some of the more subtle differences in approach. .

With all the personnel changes at ‘Pool and United I’m wondering if those clubs may also be contemplating a more dedicated 3 defender look.  Van Gaal and Rodgers have experimented with (and relied upon) these approaches in the past and there’s a belief that these formations can bring solidity in the tighter matches and in helping to protect less than fully confident goalkeepers.  Playing a sitting pair of midfielders ahead of 3 central defenders–while allowing wing-backs to work the wide spaces–seems a great way of spreading the pitch to give plenty of space for attackers to do their business further forward.

In lieu of such an approach, Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City protect their keepers and central defensive pairings by employing a midfielder (or sometimes two) who organize with an eye to defending–while hoping that rampaging fullbacks can get back to help as needed.  Francis Coquelin, a player who has never scored a goal for Arsenal, was nonetheless our revelation of the season.  His organizational shouting up at Man City and the repeatedly broken nose he thrust towards the elbows of Maroune Fellaini in a pair of matches at Old Trafford will not soon be forgotten.

Still, on the back of the recent–and sumptuous–final performance in Singapore where Coquelin only came in late on, it’s tempting to believe that players with more attacking intent–including Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey–might be exciting options in their favoured central positions.  Mesut Ozil, who Wenger has said will be playing in the #10 role, has also been known to happily drop deep and do more of the mundane possession work himself while routinely clocking the highest running totals on the team.  And then there are the veteran players–all who prefer central roles–Captain Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini.  Can these guys dust off the rust and do a job directly ahead of our center backs?  I won’t even get into the youth team prospects some observers see as being ready (or nearly ready) to contribute.  For all the regular mention guys like Isaac Hayden and Krystian Bielik get from the youth watchers, those focused on the first team probably will be happy enough to hold off on their inclusion–for now at least.

The question, for me at least, is how–in a very competitive league–managers should be thinking about these positions.  Is it defense first and giving space to the attack which the 3 defender, 2 sitting mid approach of Van Gaal or Rodgers would seem to suggest, or is it all about one (or two) more cynical and ball controlling midfielders–I’m thinking about Coquelin for us, Nemanja Matic or John Obi-Mikel at Chelsea and The Brazilian pair–Fernando and Fernandinho–at Man City–ahead of a more traditional back 4?

With Coquelin, it seems we have a guy who can see the value of playing for a draw or at least sacrificing his offensive game to try and keep the clean sheet, even if that seems the last thing our manager would ever consider.   Mourinho at Chelsea, although he was fired for his negative brand of football in his first stint there, seems uncompromising in his approach, while Pellegrini at ManCity suffered more by way of injuries to key down-the-spine players like Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure.  Do these coaches need to consider an occasional switch to a back 3 (or 5) or is the (new) tradition of a back 4 with (alternately) bombing fullbacks solid enough?  Which approach is most flexible and allows teams to turn 1 point into 3 (or none into 1).  Personnel is critical, of course, but does one (or the other) approach allow teams to switch more quickly into a more attacking mode without becoming too open at the back?  Does 3 at the back signal that it is more important to avoid losing?  Does playing with a flat (or not so flat) back 4 mean teams are always ready to go for the win?

My take on these questions is that confidence in attack can mask a LOT of issues and save (and grab) a lot of cheap points.  If the goal is a top 4 finish, getting plenty of wins against the lower teams is the way to do it.  Real confidence to absorb pressure and keep clean sheets (against the best in the league and on the continent), however, is what wins championships and those pesky (and sometimes two-legged) ties at the business end of the season.  Bottom line: I think we can safely try these more attack minded combos in the earlier home matches and easier away games but we must pull off the results.  Any slip-ups and conservatism must almost surely creep in, much as it did with the unchanged line-ups–with Coquelin likely the first name written down–near the end of last season.

We need to use the great depth of players who prefer these central postions, but how much can we rotate in the center of our midfield–and perhaps at fullback–where younger, more attack oriented guys like Hector Bellerin and Kieran Gibbs might need to give way to more experienced guys (who’ve also slotted in at center back) like Mathieu Debuchy and Nacho Monreal?  Do we need even more experience in these critical areas or should any further transfer business be done more with an eye to the future (in this area) or to getting goals by buying further forward?

When push comes to shove does experience (and defensive poise) trump attacking potential and technique in these key positions?  Are Van Gaal and Rodgers onto something with their newer (but perhaps more conservative) formations?

Sorry for prattling on as I have (but thanks for reading!)… Over to you, fine fellow Gooners (and would-be-Wengers).  Fill us in on your faves (and fears) for formation fun (or fright)… Or take me to task and talk tactics and transfers…

:D

by 17highbury Terrace

Posted in Uncategorized | 57 Comments

Santi/Ozil dictate, Cech adds PRESENCE, Ollie and Theo create havoc: Eight positives from a ‘friendly’

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Arsenal – Everton: 3-1 (Theo, Santi, Ozil – Barkley)

Wow, I did not expect that. I went to the pub to watch the game, and, like in a tacky dream, nobody was there, except the barman, who did not even know the Arse were on. The pub can easily hold 200 guests and especially during rugby matches the place can be heaving. But there I sat with a pint of Kronenbourg 1664, a packet of C&O crisps, and the single best seat in the pub, watching the Arsenal.

What I did expect to see, was a relatively slow, well-polished performance with plenty of possession, and both teams showing lots of mutual respect and having some decent chances, with the game finishing 1-1 or so.

How wrong I was. Arsenal meant business, and just as Villa had been outplayed during our last meaningful game, the Toffees were not given a chance (other than a ‘gift’ by the Ox) during the entire match either. The boys played with hunger and focus, and above all a maturity and togetherness I have never witnessed before during our previous preseasons. It is early days of course, but the first signs are very promising.

Here are my eight positives from the game:

  1. Giroud and Theo were played together and it added another dimension to our play. Together with Wilshere they moved all over the attacking part of the pitch and made it very hard to defend against us. We had a holding pivot in Ollie and a deadly penetrator in Theo; but they were also prepared to switch roles – Giroud even did a bit of impressive wing play, getting past his man and getting the ball into the box on more than one occasion. Our midfielders had options when in possession and initiating attacks, and it must have been a nightmare for the Toffees to defend against a ‘three-dimensional’ Arsenal today.
  2. Santi Cazorla was fantastic. The deeper laying role suits him very well, and with two fine assists – especially the first one was an exquisite, perfectly weighted ball over the top from the centre of midfield for the eagerly anticipating Walcott – and a clever goal, he was without any doubt the man of the match.
  3. Ozil’s face at the end of the match said it all: knackered but very content with his own performance. A fine, coolly taken goal and a dynamic, hungry finish to the game will have done him a world of good. Together with Santi, and Ramsey and Wilshere, he powered the midfield on and dominated the sorry Toffee midfield for ninety minutes. He was inventive with his passing, always looking for the best possible next move; and to me it looked like his fellow players are starting to read his intentions better… even though rusty first touches and finishes kept us from getting more reward from the dominance and creativity in our attacks. It was also good to see our Captain, Arteta, back.
  4. Cech in goal: calmness, character, confidence, and a brilliant reflex-safe from what looked a certain goal (even though it was offside). Bigger test will come, but having Petr in goal is the equivalent to playing with an extra man at the back.
  5. The FBs, Bellerina and Gibbs, provided the team with great width and penetration, allowing the multi-disciplined midfielders to combine with them and get them, or themselves, behind the Everton defenders, as well as stretch and penetrate them with fine, deadly triangles that led to very good opportunities throughout the game. Our FBs will play a great role this season and we are blessed with four very fine players in these positions.
  6. Chambers had a good, calm game next to our first warrior Koscielny. Again, bigger tests will come but it was nice to see him play well again. Ramsey played with discipline and high levels of energy to protect the defence and link up with our attack: a very impressive performance.
  7. Ox, despite a (still characteristic) costly loss of possession that led to the only Toffee goal – a fine, diagonal, long-distance shot by Barkley – added renewed thrust to our team when he came on. He had the guts and confidence to take players on at high speed and create good opportunities inside the opponents’ box. The final ball still needs improving, but the hunger and focus were there for all of us to see: good signs.
  8. The team cohesion, hunger and professionalism were a joy to watch. Even more than the individual performances highlighted above, this is what we should get really excited about. There was a collective ‘presence’ in the team: a strong focus with high levels of concentration and determination. The Gunners played as a team that wants to become champions this year, seemingly realising that every game needs to be treated with that goal in mind. We now also have healthy competition for places in all areas on the pitch, but yet there appears to be ever-so-vital togetherness, perhaps based on the realisation that we need a fit, wide squad in order to compete for the PL, CL, and indeed the FA Cup again, this season.

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Still early days, but this was a very impressive ‘friendly’ performance by the Gunners. Bring on the Chavs in two weeks! :)

By TotalArsenal.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 56 Comments

Cech between the poles, Toral LM, Walcott RM: Arsenal v Everton Line-Up & Preview

Preview for Arsenal vs Everton (KickOff  Saturday 8.30pm SGT, 1.30pm BST, 8.30am EST) 

Thanks to www.Arsenal.com for training picture

Thanks to http://www.Arsenal.com for training picture

Most likely line-up for Arsenal:

Arsenal v Everton July 15

This match will be an important one for Le Prof to win, as he gears his team to two more games in the Emirates Cup before the Community Shield; thus, he will field the strongest team possible.

I believe that Everton will do the same, and Martinez had started his first team on Wednesday, thus they are better prepared (albeit more tired) whilst our first team (minus defenders) would play the first game of the season.

So this will be a tight match, and I feel that we are better equipped with Santi (definitely fantastic with his on the pool heading skills) and Ozil taking the playmaker roles, and the playful Giroud leading the front-line.

Everton were not that good in the midfield area on Wednesday, from what I saw in the second half against a Stoke team less resilient than they usually are. If they manage to shake off the cobwebs and the passing mistakes, it will be a good test for the Gunners. Stones and Tim Howard are the better Everton players in my opinion.

Back to our lads. On the left midfield area we are a little short: I am not sure about Wilshere starting as he played quite a fair bit on Wednesday. Toral has a good left foot and vision, thus he might be given the nod.

As this is a must win game for the lads (to get momentum), I expect a faster game from the first team, and hope that the cobwebs stuck to the Everton players stick to them for the whole game.

Your turn guys :)

By JK

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Iwobi, Akpom, Ox Impress: Singapore Select XI v Arsenal Review

Singapore Select XI v Arsenal Match Experiences: JK Was There!

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Singapore Select XI: Izwan Mahbud (C), Nazrul Nazari, Madhu Mohana, Baihakki Khaizan (Shakir Hamzah 81’), Shaiful Esah (Faris Ramli 53’), Safuwan Baharudin (Fazrul Nawaz 80’), Izzdin Shafiq (Zulfahmi Arifin 65’), Nicolas Velez, Shahdan Sulaiman (Shahril Ishak 72’), Sirina Camara, Khairul Amri (Rodrigo Tosi 58’).

Arsenal Formation: 4-5-1: Emiliano Martinez (Wojciech Szczesny 46’), Mathieu Debuchy (Hector Bellerin 73’), Per Mertesacker (C), Gabriel Paulista, Nacho Monreal, Francis Coquelin, Mathieu Flamini (Chris Willock 64’), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Gedion Zelalem 64’), Jack Wilshere (Dan Crowley 64’), Alex Iwobi (Jon Toral 73’), Chuba Akpom.

The underlined players are the ones that did not feature in my starting line-up: I was 3 players wrong wow!

The game started strongly, with both sides playing fantastic football. The foreign Singapore Select XI players were impressive, while the local players, still in their Ramadan fasting month – meaning they did not have any lunch – were good in the first half; but, all had their tyres punctured (local lingo) in the second half.

Fast flowing football was the first half. Second half was more about Arsenal keeping the ball, as both teams were tired: Arsenal from the heat, Singapore team from the fasting month.

Players who showed that they are good, include: Nicolas Velez, Izwan (Izwan is his given name, Mahbud is his father’s given name), Baihakki Khaizan, Madhu Mohana, Faris Ramli (he did well when he came on and managed to get the only shorts on goal) and Sirina Camara from Singapore team. Iwobi, Akpom, the all-conquering defence, Ox, and Mathieu played well for Arsenal. Ox showed us how fast he can be, and, together with the trickeries from other players from both teams, this made the game an entertaining one. Pity that Shaiful Esah, the left back from Singapore, went off injured as his pace and left foot is on a par with Monreal.

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Zelalem came on late in the second half and had a decent game, with his known pin-point passes, speed and trickery. When Bellerin came on to play at right wing, the game became faster for a short while; but after that, the game became a training and walking game with occasional bursts of speed.

Overall, the atmosphere was quite electric in the first half, and quiet by the last 15 minutes, with more than half the stadium filled (about 30,000 spectators watched the match live in a 50,000-seater stadium). We had occasional Arsenal chants and the Kallang Wave, which is similar to the Mexican wave.

As a Singaporean I am proud of how the Singapore team played attractive football in the first half; and as an Arsenal fan, I am proud to see the lads play exciting football just a week back in training.

That’s all from me. :)

By JK

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Better than Schneiderlin, Leiva, Fernand(inh)o| equal to Matic: Wenger already has a top DM

Francis-Coquelin-579487

Why we should all love Le Coq! :)

For the last few years, I, together with many fellow Gooners, have been banging on for the need to sign a top class DM, but not this time round. Arsene grew his beast all by himself: our very own Francis Coquelin. I knew he is a good player but delving a bit deeper into his key stats – and comparing him to fellow DMs at our main competitors – he impresses me even more. Francis Coquelin really now is our Beast of a DM we have been longing for for so long. Since he, quite miraculously given his loan spell at lowly Charlton till December, established himself in the team, Arsenal have done extremely well in the second part of the season. This was of course not all down to him, as Ospina, Giroud and Ozil, and indeed the rest of the team, also played a major part in our fine turnaround in 2015.

The stats below sum it all up perfectly for the Le Fab Coq.

DM Pass Success % Aerials won per game Tackles per game Inter-ceptions per game Blocks per game Clear-ances per game
Coquelin 85.9% 2.5 3.2 3.7 0.4 3.1
Schneiderlin 89.3% 1.8 3.7 2.6 0.2 1.7
Wanyama 84.1% 2.2 2.9 1.9 0.2 1.6
Leiva 87.2% 1.6 3.9 1.6 0.3 2.3
Matic 86.4% 2.1 3.6 2 0.2 3.3
Carrick 89.6% 0.8 1.4 1.7 0.6 2
Bentaleb 86.8% 1.4 2.3 2.5 0.3 1.9
Fernandinho 88.5% 1.3 2.8 1.8 0.2 1.4
Fernando 91.1% 1.6 1.4 1.6 0.4 1.8
Le Coq’s Position 8th 1st 4th 1st 2nd 2nd

PL performance data only – all data from ‘Whoscored’

So, amongst his peers, other than Francis’ pass success rate, he is doing very well. He is the best in the air, even better than the beasts Wanyama and Matic, and in a league of his own in terms of making interceptions, producing almost twice as many of these compared to Matic. In a head to head Coquelin wins three disciplines and Matic also wins three: a draw; but all other DMs above lose out against him. That is how good our man is, and it fully explains why Wenger is not looking for a replacement this summer.

Arsene wisely signed up Coquelin before the end of the season and nothing is nicer than seeing a youth player making it to the big stage. I must admit I did not think Francis was going to make it, but he did; and I hope Oz Gunner, one of my all-time favourite bloggers on BK, is reading this post, as he was the one who always stood behind the Frenchman and will be very pleased now with Le Coq establishing himself properly within the first team.

There is a decent argument for getting a back-up for Coquelin, though. We don’t have another equally good DM at the moment. Having said that, Wenger has many options and will feel that he can take the risk of Coquelin losing form, or getting injured. Arteta and Flamini are (currently) still around and on the day they can do a decent job. Wenger also has options to develop Debuchy or Chambers into a backup DM, or try one of the youngsters. Would I welcome another dedicated DM? Yes of course – and steeling the very young and promising Bentaleb from the Spuds would be very nice indeed – but it is definitely no longer a priority: with Fab Francis we finally have our Beast of a DM. Yippee! :)

By TotalArsenal.

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