Since the introduction of the 3:4:3 formation, Arsenal have played six matches, winning five and losing one.  The only loss was away to in-form Tottenham, playing on their small pitch which suits their high intensity style. We will wait to see how they fare on the big Wembley pitch next season,.  Meh I guess.  Arsenal’s last two performances have been their best so far in this formation, indicating that they are growing into it.  I lament that it has come rather late in the season, but still, it is a source of cheer, and–you can bet–a source of hope also as the FA Cup final approaches.  The 4th place trophy is now tantalizingly close.  The formation clearly has enhanced the performance of some players while diminishing the importance of a few.  For the team as a whole, it has been a resurrection; the team has come back from the dead.


AARON RAMSEY: Top of the list of those the formation has benefited is Ramsey.  Ramsey has always been a versatile and hard working player.  As a member of the double pivot in the 4:2:3:1 formation, however, he exasperated no end with his seemingly total disregard for the defensive shape of the team as he foraged upfield with every attacking move, invariably leaving the team exposed defensively.  A 3-man defense guarantees greater security thereby affording Ramsey a lot more latitude to join the attack.  This freedom maximizes his peculiar gift of a monstrous engine which permits him to operate in one breath as a central midfielder and an auxiliary attacker without undermining the overall shape of the team.  Thanks to the 3:4:3, the talents and tendencies that made him a liability now make him an asset.  A Frank Lampard, one of the loveliest ever, has come into our midst.

GRANIT XHAKA:  Maybe because of his square and powerful looking jaw lines, many can’t get it out of their head that Xhaka is not a beast of a defensive midfielder, crunching tackles and all.  Xhaka is a deep lying playmaker with good spatial defensive awareness–full stop!  If we envision a 3-man defense as a 2-man defense in which a defensive midfielder has dropped deeper to fall in line with the back line we immediately recognize that the need for a classical defensive midfielder is diminished. This takes some load off Xhaka’s shoulders so he can concentrate more on what he does best.  The Xhaka for whom Wenger paid so much money emerges in the 3:4:3 and, partnered with Ramsey, the central midfield crises that had vexed us since Santi’s injury are resolved.

OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN:  He seems to have shaded Bellerin and moved inward from the periphery of the team.  Ball on his feet, he is threatening to be world class or is he already?  He needs to include runs without the ball in his game.  Also, with a 3-man defense, it’s easy to imagine him playing in the central midfield with Xhaka or Ramsey and holding his own.

NACHO MONREAL: Possibly the most experienced player in our squad, it is this quality that allows him to fit smugly into different positions: full back, wingback, central defense and–you bet me–central midfielder as well.  At left back in the 4:2:3:1 one thing worried, his pace against speedsters like Adama Traore and Antonio Valencia.  With a 3-man defense there is better security for a trailing Nacho in the wing back position. As insurance for him, now that he is on the wrong side of thirty and being a such a versatile player, the 3:4:3 has flung wide open another space as a central defender.  We wish him many more years in the Arsenal fold.

PETER CECH. The back 3 gives Cech better protection but not only because it allows fewer attempts at goal. The presence of an extra central defender has mathematically reduced the time the opponents have to steady themselve to shoot at goal by an average of about 17%. In other words, shots at goal on average are more hurried, bettering the chances of the keeper saving those that are on target. Also, the extra man has afforded Cech an additional option for playing the ball out from the back and his pass success rate has gone up dramatically.  We have a new Cech since the 3:4:3 came to town.

KIERAN GIBBS:- The 3:4:3 has favored him in the sense that with Nacho deployed as a central defender, the left wingback is automatically his.  (Aould that continue when all our central defenders are fit?)  I love his runs without the ball but he has to improve his game in the final 3rd of the field.  On the other hand, Wenger might persist with Nacho in central defense because he is the only left footed defender in the squad.  So, hurrah Kieran!  Just don’t cut in, cross the ball; you hobble on one leg, you must always remember.

ROB HOLDING:- The demand for an extra man in the central defense has opened the door for Holding to showcase his talent. And has he taken it.   After his back pass error in the United match, he remained composed, corrected himself, and, without any sign of panic, has continued ever since to deliver solid back passes to the keeper.  With ice cold nerves, he appears a boy who learns fast.  Compared to Gabriel, who, after giving away the penalty against Spurs, looked too scared to make even the simplest tackles, Holding is loaded with well sourced confidence.


THEO WALCOTT:  Walcott’s main strength is staying wide and running off the shoulders of the defenders.  In the 3:4:3 the wide areas are for the wingbacks.  That robs Walcott of about the only strength in his game.  I Am convinced Wenger keeps him on the bench in case a need for the 4:2:3:1 arises if we must chase the game.

OLIVER GIROUD.:  The 3:4:3 is tilted towards a counter attacking style.  Conte’s Chelsea have perfected it, using the pacy trio of Hazard, Pedro and Costa.  Even though Wenger has experimented with Giroud leading the line in four of the six games, everything points to the fact that he is not a good fit for the formation.  He is too slow and prefers to play with his back to the goal. However against teams that sit back, encouraging a high defensive line from us, Giroud might have a role in the crowded opposition defensive area.  Bang! A goal by Olivier against So’ton.  See what I mean?

BELLERIN:  He is only affected because the Ox just about shades him in the right wingback role.  But, for what is left of the season, fate seems to have smiled at him.  I’ve got no doubt he would keep the smiles Ox has given us on our faces.

FRANCIS COQUELIN:   A 3-man defense diminishes the need for a defensive midfielder whose passing skills are limited.  Count on the flying block, however, whenever we want to kill a game.

ALEXIS SANCHEZ:- In the 3:4:3 Alexis remains an important member of our starting eleven.  The question was whether he would remain our most influential player in the new formation.  In the 4:2:3:1 he stays out wide, cuts in and still has that left corridor to operate in. In the new formation he is tucked in at the inside left forward position, and, when he cuts in from there to put his marker off the goal side, it takes him away from that left corridor. He quickly runs into the crowded central areas, far away from the left wingback who has made a run.  Alexis has first to extricate himself and quite often loses possession.  Since we went to the 3:4:3 his performance seems to have gone one notch down.  I am of the school of thought that wants Ozil and him to interchange their lateral positions.  An inside right forward position might give Sanchez more directness to goal and create a better connection with the right wingback.  On the other hand, it could be argued that the deeper lying Ozil operates better from our right side of the field. As a compromise, on-field interchanging of the lateral positions between Ozil and Sanchez should be encouraged.  I know I must be sounding like a perfectionist indulging his art. The pragmatist would say “Why fix it if it ain’t broken”. Meanwhile, let time itself halt so we can celebrate Sanchez’s curtain raiser against So’ton.  It was luscious.

A new system must come with its faults.  The Important thing is that the team has started to rediscover itself in a new shell; may we have peaked by the time the FA Cup final arrives.  And may our new found proclivity for mathematics hit fever pitch as this weekends results cascade in.  Who says there is no 4th place truphy!

by Pony Eye

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Southampton-Arsenal: Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. Saints Took Points at Anfield as Arsenal Must Take Them at St. Mary’s.

Thank you very much, Southampton, for your work over the weekend.  Drawing nil-nil at Liverpool a couple of hours before we were able to eke out victory vs Manchester United improves our slim chances of a Top-4 finish.  A special shout-out should go to goalkeeper Fraser Forster for his save on this spot-kick by James Milner.  Well done, Indeed.

Now we must hope that Forster and the Saints have had their fill of these sorts of heroics and ask that they welcome Arsenal to St. Mary’s Stadium on Wednesday night with slightly more generosity.  While we remember fondly our last trip there–a 5-nil win over a much-rotated So’ton squad in the 3rd round of the FA Cup back in January–we must also know that Southampton is unlikely to present such an easy challenge this time.

The deep rotation for that game was due to Southampton’s congested schedule and their focus on getting to the League Cup final–which they managed to do, again at Liverpool’s expense.   This one will surely see a much stronger squad and a fully determined effort as the Saint’s try to extract themselves from a large group in mid-table and get up for another strong league finish.  They’re currently sit 10th in the table on 42 points, but, like Arsenal, they have two make-up games in hand, and, should they be able to secure enough points, an 8th place finish seems well within reach.  Such a finish would cap a strong first year for Manager Claude Puel and suggest more to come next season.

Arsenal, of course, are even more focused on finishing their league campaign as best they can.  The Gunners need to keep winning their matches while hoping either Liverpool or Manchester City stumble sufficiently to allow them into the Champions League places.  A strong finish would also bode well for that extra game at Wembley, the FA Cup final against the presumptive league champions, Chelsea.  Meanwhile, the futures of Manager Arsene Wenger and our two most expensive buys, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, will be determined over the summer.  Surely the results of these remaining matches will go a long way towards creating an atmosphere that might tilt some of the big decisions at hand.

As always, we can only play them one at a time and this match appears plenty daunting.  To begin with, Arsenal have not won a league match at St. Mary’s since 2003.  In the reverse fixture back in September, we needed a penalty in stoppage time to take the full points.  If anybody doubts what Southampton are capable of on their home turf, they need only remember the result of this same fixture last season–a 4-nil drubbing and a performance that was at least as one-sided as the scoreline.

So, how do Arsenal set up and try to take down the stubborn Saints?  Will Wenger try to build upon Sunday’s 2-nil win over Manchester United by using the same three at the back formation and the same players who got that result or will the tight fixture list–five matches in these final two weeks of the season–force some rotation?

Keeping the formation, which has garnered four wins from five matches, seems a no-brainer.  And, unfortunately, I believe the pressure on the manager allows few, if any, changes to the starting 11.  Acting captain and defensive anchor Laurent Koscielny faces a late fitness test and Wenger expressed worries about his availability.  The manager was much more upbeat about Granit Xhaka, however, despite the deep-lying midfielder having to be substituted in our two most recent matches.  These two represent the spine of the new formation and are also responsible for much of the ball distribution when we try to play it out from the back, not to mention Xhaka’s fortunate goal that proved to be the winner vs United.  Continuing on the winning run without them, I think, would be very difficult indeed.  As such, and with fingers crossed that the pair are fit to play, here’s the starting group I think Wenger will choose, unchanged from the one that faced ManU.





Substitutes: Ospina, Gabriel, Bellerin, Coquelin, Iwobi, Walcott, Giroud

Once again, I don’t feel very confident putting these names out, especially as I only got 8 of 11 correct last time and thought Wenger would revert to the 4-2-3-1 formation he had used most of the season.  In other words, your guess is as good as mine and the manager certainly has options.  Beyond the fitness issues with Koscielny and Xhaka, Wenger might choose to freshen up at the front and save some of the starting attackers from Sunday’s win as bench options.  What about players like Shkodran Mustafi, Per Mertesacker, Mathieu Debuchy, Mohamed Elneny and Lucas Perez, all of whom are in full training?  Could one or more of them take up a bench seat or even jump into the first 11?  Last time I opted for twist and I was wrong; this time I think the manager will stick.

No matter who gets to put on the full kit as one of the first 11 (or 18) they must give their all for the shirt.  As our recent record indicates–at least for league matches–traveling to St. Mary’s is never easy.  On Sunday we put to rest some hoodoos vs ManU with Wenger finally beating a Jose Mourinho team and ending the Red Devils lengthy undefeated streak.  We need to do likewise at Southampton and take full points back to North London with a committed performance and a victory.

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace


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Arsenal-Manchester United. Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. Desperate Times Call for Nothing Less Than a Win.

Despite proclamations that peace is in the air, Jose Mourinho once again brings a team to the Emirates trying to extend his remarkable run of 11 league matches undefeated against Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, a streak that surely must end if the Gunners have any hope of a top-4 finish and another go in the Champions League next season.

The inability of Wenger to get a win against Mourinho is the first daunting figure.  Next comes the fact that it’s been 24 games and over six months since Manchester United last lost a league match.  Finally, there’s Arsenal’s lack of confidence, in both results and tactics, coming into this one.  Playing three at the back–a fairly desperate tactical change to begin with–yielded three wins, albeit on the back of less than convincing performances, before a real drubbing at Tottenham.  The 2-nil scoreline in the North London derby could have been much worse if goalkeeper Petr Cech hadn’t had his best performance of the season.

Somehow the Gunners must bounce back from that defeat and begin their extremely difficult run-in of five matches in the remaining two weeks of the league campaign by ending Mourinho and United’s remarkable streaks.  A quick glance at the Premier League table shows that nothing less will suffice.  In addition to winning those five matches, either Liverpool or Manchester City must drop at least four points in their remaining three games.  If Arsenal can get the win vs United, they will at least have the upper hand for 5th place, assuming, once again, that they keep winning their matches.

We can only take them one at a time, however, and there could be a few mitigating factors that might favor the Gunners.  Mourinho has been open about the fact that he will be rotating players for the game given that his priority–and another path to Champions League football next season–is winning the Europa League.  United inched closer to the finals of that tournament with a 1-nil win in the first leg of the semifinals at Celta Vigo this past Thursday.  The quick turnaround from that match plus the lengthy list of United players out injured suggests that Arsenal–if they can play anywhere near their best–have a very good chance in this one.

It’s a task that is easier said than done.  Will Wenger continue with three at the back?  Is a must-win match the time to switch back to the more attacking 4-2-1-3 formation used for most of the season?  The manager has options, especially considering that his big off season buys, Shkodran Mustafi in central defense and Granit Xhaka, the anchoring midfielder who hobbled off at Spurs, were back in full training and appear available for this one.  The 3-4-3 formation seemed a desperate measure when it was first employed at Middlesboro three weeks ago even if it eked out a decent run of results.  Stick or twist seems to be the question.

I’ll go out on a limb, albeit with very scant confidence, and say twist.  Back to the old formation and with four changes to the team that started at Spurs.






Substitutes: Ospina, Gabriel, Gibbs, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi, Giroud

I’m really just throwing darts here–blind folded and in the dark.  To me, the must-win nature of the run-in matches combined with the stodgy performances, despite the promising results that the 3-4-3 produced, demands a shake up.  Removing Gabriel Paulista–who gave up a penalty to set up Spurs second goal–and the ineffective trio of Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud–might spark a bit of a revival.  Of course, there were other players who didn’t perform well in the last match who might also be slated for a bench seat, but those are my picks.  What would be yours?  Who do you believe Wenger will pick and how will he try to get the best out of his players?

The terms are stark.  Mourinho, despite the vanity he must surely possess due to his record over Wenger, has downplayed the importance of this match and will enter it with a nothing-to-lose attitude that will contrast greatly with the immense pressure Wenger’s teams always carry as they try to buoy their beleaguered manager.  Both managers have taken it on the chin and come into this one as wounded warriors at the tail end of very difficult and disappointing seasons.  They have shown they are willing to fight, however–witness the photo at the top.  Let’s hope that Wenger and his team are fully up for this one and come out as winners.

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace

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Director of Football: The Sensible Wenger Compromise

On Sunday Tottenham defeated Arsenal by 2-0. Less the brilliance of Peter Cech, the score line flattered Arsenal’s performance. Spurs outplayed Arsenal in every department of the game. They were faster, stronger, hungrier and more purposeful. They knew their script, and went about their job with confidence stiffened by determination. Arsenal ran around for 90 minutes fruitlessly seeking the gear that would make it a contest. Viewed against the backdrop of the Invincibles, the team was a pathetic sight. Alexis gave the ball away 20 times. Same too Chamberlain. Ozil sought the spaces not exclusively for creative purposes but also for escaping the responsibility of having to press or fight to regain possession from the opponent. Giroud didn’t have a clue how to engage and the game passed him by. Ramsey fought gamely but punctuated his effort with regular exhibition of his total lack of knowledge of his limitations. Gabriel confirmed everybody’s hidden fears. Only Peter Cech was at the North London Derby.

Every now and then, from the dugout, Wenger opened his palms questioningly. What wasn’t clear was what he was questioning. Steve Bold?  The defence? The officials? The 3:4:3?  Meanwhile Steve Bould and Skipper Koscienly continued in their vow of silence. Solution was not coming from anywhere. I had thought the 3:4:3 was the solution but it’s beginning to look like it’s a try-your-luck gambit. Is there a deep understanding of and real belief in it? 3:4:3 demands a more direct and quick offensive play. And to think the team can attack with pace and directness with slow Giroud as the anchor man is not to think at all. Sanchez’s limitations positioned as an inside left forward, which the 3:4:3 demands, was apparent. It compelled him to cut inside which not only negated the need for verticality but also landed him in the crowded central areas where he repeatedly lost the ball. 20 is the number of times he turned the ball over to Spurs! Meanwhile the third offensive player Ozil, who is always seeking vacated spaces, dropped deep. The sum effect of these three forward players was an impotent attacking force.  Against Spurs, Wenger kept looking puzzled while Bould stoically maintained his vow of silence. Pochettino never stopped licking his lips.

Our 3:4:3 has given us three very uninspiring victories and a pathetic loss. I am convinced that the selections and positionings, particularly in the forward areas, don’t bring the best out of the formation. Sanchez aught to be switched to the inside right position for more directness. Iwobi runs the left channels very well. Oxlade forward runs would also be very effective there. Both Welbeck and Perez have pace, but the latter has more directness and would be my first choice striker. Yes, Ozil is missing in this 3:4:3. If he has to show up, he shows up exactly the way Fabregas shows up in Chelsea’s 3:4:3, that is in the midfield. It’s not by coincidence that Fabregas who has many things in common with Ozil now sits on the bench a lot of the time. By the way, the 3:4:3 suits Ramsey’s box runs to the tee. When Arsenal attack, his runs restore the offensive numbers to four and this time around the team’s defence remains secure through the existence of the back three.

Luckily the Arsenal fans have gotten as ‘immuned’ to losses as the fans of the middle of the table Stoke City, and  Sunday’s non contest has failed to pollute the fandom air any further. This weekend, Arsenal will square off against Man U at the Emirates. A victory there will not assure the now coveted 4th place trophy. But all the same, a victory there, any victory anywhere is a little trophy so the fans are still up and hoping. That’s what it takes to be a Gooner, every game matters irrespective of current history.

How have Arsenal gotten themselves down to the basement floor? Where does the blame lie. For sure not with the fans. There have been pains and pains and pains and my bet is that there is not one fan that has not cracked at one point or the other to lash out at something. I hear there have been a number of unlucky dogs and cats whose only crime was that they where at the right place at the wrong time. Hearteningly, no Gooner on record has quit – not to talk of jumping ship.

Kroenke and the BoD have gotten a handsome dose of the lashing and Wenger must be very much punch drunk sucked directly into the vortex of the storm. There are signs that the Board is split. As amongst the fans, there seem those of them who cannot accept the present state of affairs. They argue that Arsenal has the 4th most expensively assembled squad in the league and that there is no reason the team should be trailing ‘minnows’ Spurs by 17 points, Chelsea by 21 points and the 4th placed team by 5 points albeit with a game in hand. To this group, Wenger’s time is due. Again like it is amongst the fans, it is believed that there are those who factor the past into the equation and urge that the Board make haste slowly. They warn that history shows that nations where power has been concentrated in one hand for a long time, are most liable to fall into anarchy at the sudden exit of the maximum ruler. It is important, they argue, to begin to put supporting structures in place to cushion the exit of Wenger who has held so much power in the club for so long.

Amongst the structures that is rumoured they want to put in place is the appointment of a Director of Football. What must be a bone of contention is what the powers of this Director of Football should be. Would Wenger tolerate loosing the powers to shape the playing philosophy of the team which naturally goes with the responsibility of recruitment of players? That in effect reduces him to a field manager. I don’t see that happening. Would the Director of Football, who need must be an experienced footballing man, be there to understudy Wenger and the club with a view of establishing reasonable continuity when Wenger leaves? Or would there be a middle tier arrangement to introduce checks and balances to the powers of one man about to exit? I suspect the Board is split not into two but into fragments, which maybe is the reason for the great silence.

The truth, if it has to be told, is that Arsenal Football Club has been a marvellously run club. The management is committed to sustainability, to long term visions, and to remaining faithful to the long term goals irrespective of hiccups along the way. I trust that they would come up with the best decision all things (short and long) put together. If I should hazard a guess I would say a Director of Football who essentially would be Wenger’s understudy for one season.

As for Tottenham whose team brushed the Arsenal team away on Sunday, they are where Arsenal FC was 14 years ago. Aberration happens in nature but never endures. So expect the Spuds to regress to their real level as quickly as Leicester has done. I cast my vote for a well thought out baton change.


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Tottenham-Arsenal. Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. Biggest North London Derby in a Decade?

Let’s cut right to the chase.  The North London Derby is always a big match but this one is even bigger.  Spurs are going to finish above Arsenal for the first time in over 20 years, and, if they can show they are truly superior to their neighbors in red with a win in this match, they will be able to legitimately continue their battle for the league title with Chelsea.  Moreover, they will also put a massive dent in Arsenal’s hopes for another go round in the Champions League next season.  Simply put, Spurs winning this match would leave no doubt which team in North London is on the up and which one is faltering.

On the other hand, if Arsenal could take all three points in the final derby at White Hart Lane, it would be a massive boost in our battle for the top-4 while likely ending Spurs title hopes.  While the mathematics suggest we cannot catch them in the table, we would be poised to see this season as a mere blip in our long-standing dominance over our arch-rivals, with the promise of a return to regular service next season.  After all, Spurs will be playing their home matches at Wembley while their new stadium is under construction.  That, plus their Champion League burdens, will make life much harder for them next year.  An Arsenal victory in this derby could–quite easily and very definitively–mark the high point of Spurs football and the beginning of their downward slide.

It’s easier said than done, of course.  They say that form goes out the window in the derby.  Let’s hope so.  Spurs have won eight league matches on the trot, scoring 23 goals to their opponents’ four, while keeping five clean sheets along the way.  We have to look all the way back to 11 February to find their most recent league loss, a 2-nil at Liverpool.  A week ago, however, they also lost to their title rivals, Chelsea, in the semi-finals of the FA Cup at the stadium that will be their temporary home.  The bigger teams may be more difficult for them, but we shouldn’t pretend that this Spurs team isn’t extremely well oiled and running on full power.

Arsenal won the other semi-final at Wembley over Manchester City even if it took extra time to do so.  That was the 2nd match in which manager Arsene Wenger deployed his new 3-4-3 formation.  It wasn’t a glorious Arsenal performance by any stretch of the imagination, but it yielded the correct result.  The two league matches that also featured the new formation, at Middlesbrough and home to Leicester, found Arsenal similarly stodgy in attack but also able to eke out the wins.

In my view, the added emphasis on defending has likely come with this match circled on the fixture list.  Keeping Spurs’ attack under wraps has to be job one, but it is closely followed by refusing to concede at set pieces and avoiding getting caught out on the counterattack.  In the three matches played with the new formation, Arsenal have conceded a pair of goals, both scored when we’ve pushed the ball well forward, turned it over and then failed to defend adequately as the other team broke on the counter.  It’s a trap we cannot afford to fall into at White Hart Lane.

As such, I picture a relatively cagey match despite the intensity of the derby atmosphere.  I also believe that Wenger will put out the same 11 he used at Boro and Wembley, having rested a few key players in the midweek home win over Leicester.  My predicted first 11 looks like this:





Substitutes: Martinez, Gibbs, Bellerin, Coquelin, Iwobi, Walcott, Welbeck

Of course, there could be some tweaking of the line-up.  Danny Welbeck offers less of a target for high balls but more movement up front than Olivier Giroud.  Theo Walcott started instead of Giroud in midweek and forced a save from Leicester’s keeper, one of the very few shots we put on target.  Might he go again?

Hector Bellerin, Kieran Gibbs and Francis Coquelin also started on Wednesday night.  Of the three, I thought Bellerin looked the most effective and the young Spaniard might have to go again if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t recovered from the knock that saw him leave Wembley on crutches just a week ago.  Laurent Koscielny, after he hyper-extended his knee late on vs Leicester, is also an injury doubt.  Wenger suggested that Lolo had a 60-40 chance to play.  My hunch is that he will be there to anchor the rearguard.

There’s also the chance that Wenger will jettison the new formation completely, perhaps to spring a surprise on Tottenham.  Spurs Manager Mauricio Pochettino has also been switching between three and four at the back and there could be an element of one manager trying to out-guess the other.  I don’t see it happening, but other observers may have different ideas.  What do you think?

Regardless of the playing personnel and the formation in which they’re set out, Arsenal will need to master the cauldron-like atmosphere that this final derby at White Hart Lane promises.  Spurs and their supporters will believe that this is their chance to make a definitive statement against their rivals from the other end of the Seven Sisters Road.  The Gunners–and Gooners–need to believe the obverse and make it happen.  The opportunity is there, and, as Wenger says, “We have one advantage, the advantage of clarity.”  Clearly we need a result from this one and getting one against our arch rivals in the final derby at White Hart Lane would be all the sweeter.

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace

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Arsenal-Leicester City: Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. Back to League Play But With a Bump.

Can confidence gained in this past Sunday’s win over Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinal carry over into league play?  Tonight’s match vs defending champions Leicester City will be the first step in answering that question.

With a spot in the FA Cup final booked, Arsenal must get back to the difficult task of trying to get up for a top-4 finish and another go at the Champions League.  On only three days rest, the Gunners face another must-win match that could pull them to within 3 points of Manchester United and 4 points of Manchester City, clubs that will face each other on Thursday night, meaning at least one of them will drop points.  A win would also see Arsenal climb to within 6 points of Liverpool but with 2 games in hand.

It won’t be easy.  Leicester–with a full week to prepare for this match–are coming off a draw with Atletico Madrid in the 2nd leg of the Champions League quarterfinals.   It wasn’t quite enough to put them through to the semis, but they went further than any other English team and did not look out of place at that level.  Before that they drew at Crystal Palace, a revived team that thoroughly man-handled Arsenal just 16 days ago.

That 3-nil loss was a real nadir, the most recent of many this season, and it was enough for manager Arsene Wenger to decide to switch formations and playing personnel.  Playing three at the back has yet to yield a clean sheet but it has been sufficient to see out a pair of 2-1 wins, first at Middlesbrough and then at Wembley.  Are those results enough to suggest Arsenal have turned a corner?  Will the 3-4-3 be used again and is it the right approach against a Leicester team which won the league last season by being happy to concede possession and play on the counterattack?

Of course, this season has been very different for Leicester.  Drifting toward the relegation places, club chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha made the bold and controversial decision to sack manager Claudio Ranieri and replace him with his assistant, Craig Shakespeare.  It appears that it was the right move.  Shakespeare turned the team around, winning his first five league matches.  They’ve cooled off slightly since, losing at Everton before the draws with Palace and Atletico.

So, in form and well rested–and featuring players like Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez who terrorized the league a year ago–Leicester present a formidable challenge for the Gunners, but one they simply must surmount.

As much as Leicester’s playing on the break would suggest a more attacking formation, I believe Wenger will stick with the 3-4-3 and the same starting line-up that helped win the last two games.





Substitutes: Martinez, Gibbs, Bellerin, Coquelin, Iwobi, Walcott, Welbeck

It could well be argued that, on such short rest, playing the same 11 is a bad idea.  Players like Danny Welbeck and Hector Bellerin were effective as substitutes at Wembley and could be considered for starting spots.  Welbeck, in particular, gave the Manchester City rearguard new problems when he came on for Olivier Giroud.   Isolated and mainly used as a target for Petr Cech’s goal kicks, Giroud was mostly ineffective.  By comparison, Welbeck’s movement seemed to enliven the attackers who began to interchange positions more freely.  Although he wasn’t able to score a goal of his own, Welbeck made good chances for himself and others, and it was his standing foot (the kicking foot found nothing but air) that must be credited with the assist for Alexis’ unstoppable blast which sealed the win in extra time.  If Wenger makes one change to his starting group, Welbeck for Giroud would be the logical choice.  A second change might be Bellerin in for the Ox, who was seen leaving Wembley on crutches.  Wenger suggested, however, that it was a precautionary measure only, and that there were no real injuries coming out of the cup match.

Of course, Wenger might choose this match to switch things up a whole lot more.  Using the full depth of his squad and/or reverting to the 4-2-3-1 formation might make sense given the tight schedule and Leicester’s tendency to concede possession.  I’m less than fully confident, but my hunch is that the formation and line-up will continue as long as it keeps getting good results and the same 11 are available.  Your guess is as good as mine, however, so have at it.

No matter what, this match will be a tough one.  After the recent wins, the home crowd, perhaps recognizing the importance of the match, might more readily do their part and act as a real 12th man, getting fully behind the team.  Hopefully that–plus the burgeoning confidence those results have inspired–will be enough to see the Gunners through to win another one.

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace

Posted in Uncategorized | 29 Comments

FA Cup Final: a Reward for Humility and Sacrifice | Plus Player Ratings

Unless you are a diehard Wenger-Out Campaigner, you will have liked that win as much as I did. It was not pretty; in fact, it was humbling. The manager and team sacrificed style and reputation for attitude and result, and they delivered. It was a weird, schizophrenic sort of experience: Citeh played like the old Arsenal: better and more dominant football but leaving new Wembley empty-handed with nothing else left then finishing in the top four. Guardiola will be philosophical about and he can afford to do so, given that it is only his first season at Man City. But for Arsene this was about survival: avoiding humiliation and fighting tooth and nail to get through to the final.

I was critical about starting with a 3-4-3 formation but it somehow did the trick. We kept our shape well when pressed back, and when we captured the ball  we were regularly able to escape the press. Giroud was not really into the game and neither were Alexis and Ozil, but as a team we kept fighting and, helped by a few dollops of luck, we somehow got there. Luck is such a big factor in a game and yesterday we enjoyed a lot of it: they hit the woodwork twice and the ball bounced back kindly; and they also had a goal disallowed that could easily have stood. Yet, I feel in footballing terms, we had the better chances in the second half and in extra time. There was something about this game that told us we would end up victoriously, and indeed we did. Maybe it was because our players were more hungry, or should that read desperate?

It was a true team performance and the likes of Nacho, Gabriel and Koz fought like their lives depended on it. In midfield, Xhaka was the organiser and excellent reader of the game and Rambo the connector. The Ox added verve from the flanks and, in my view, played his best game in an Arsenal shirt yesterday. What really made the difference was the introduction of Welbeck. Giroud tried hard but he lacked strength and was well-marshalled by the MC CBs. Welbeck was wasteful with his chances and opportunities to play in others, but his energy and mobility was too much for our opponents. To me he made all the difference without playing anywhere near his best.

Player Ratings (excluding subs):

Cech: 8 – made it too easy for Aguero for their goal but his fingertip save from Toure’s stunning effort on goal was superb

Ox: 8 – great going forward and not bad defensively – he was regularly an outlet and took on the MC midfielders and defenders time and again

Holding: 8 – calm head and reads the game well, with excellent positioning and good distribution of the ball

Koz: 8 – mean and energetic – fine captain

Gabriel: 8.5 – attitude, grit, aggression but also intelligence and calm – best performance in an Arsenal shirt by him until now

Nacho: 9 – gives his all and scored a potentially season-defining goal – just loves to score against Mancs in the FA Cup

Xhaka: 9 – quickly growing into the pivotal player in midfield. The team should use him more to get the full value out of him, but that was a fab performance nevertheless.

Rambo: 8.5 – it takes Aaron a while to get going but the Rambo Royce engine is purring again, and when he does those box to box runs he adds value everywhere. Superb second half

Ozil: 7.5 – always making good runs and looking for a key pass, but he lacked sharpness at times

Alexis: 8 – an extra half point for the composure for the goal, and he worked hard again. His passing is too predictable and inaccurate and I don’t rate his wing play, but he keeps scoring the important goals and that goes a long way in football.

Giroud: 7 – This was not his day but he also was left too much isolated up-front by the likes of Ozil and Alexis.

Wenger: 10 – turned a tentative team performance in the first half into a more confident and dominating performance in the second half and then again in extra time.

By TotalArsenal

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments