Our Midfield Crises is Over: Arsenal ROX again!!!

Ever since Santi Carzola’s injury Arsenal’s performance has dipped considerably. That dip is traceable to a more labored and less efficient progression of the ball from the back to the forward areas. Wenger prefers the 4:2:3:1 formation and so the job of progressing the ball is on the two players in front of the back four. The pairing of Coquelin and Carzola looked ordained in heaven. They complimented each other perfectly, Coquelin the destroyer, Carzola the transitionist. And what a ball transitionist Carzola is. Unsurpassed in spatial awareness, Santi is the best skilled in the team. Completely two footed, and at home in small spaces as well as the large spaces, the crown of his assets is a wonderful eye for the well weighted pass. Added to these he gives to the team something very unique. Coquelin plays better with him, Ozil too, Monreal, Giroud, the team. Had Carzola not been injured we would have been singing a different song today. I must mention, he is such an affable person also.

When injury hit our Santi, there were no loud groans from any quarters. After all, for the double pivot positions we still had Coquelin, Xhaka, Elneny, and Ramsey to choose from and anyway, Santi, we thought, was to be sidelined for a mere couple of weeks only. By the time of his injury Xhaka was still a bit of an unknown quantity though his Bundesliga reputation had convinced us that he was the ultimate destroyer with an incredible range of passes. In other words that he was Coquelin and Santi rolled into the perfect one. That belief helped put us at easy with Santi’s injury. Soon after, Wenger hinted that Xhaka is more of a box to box. Candidly most queried if Wenger was out of his mind. Anyway the juggling began. Coquelin/Xhaka. Xhaka/Elneny. Xhaka/Ramsey, Elneny/Coquelin  ………. until the the whole 4 combination 2 were tested out, over and over again, yet the Cocazola formula remaine elusive and we couldn’t rediscover our early season form. Thanks to further injuries it soon became 5 combination 2 when Oxlade was also drafted into the midfield. Some combinations were better than others, but all lagged the Cocazola combo.

Bayern overran our midfield (one of the juggled combos) and trashed us 5-1 at the Allianz Arena. At thr return leg we abandoned the combination 2 opting for a combination 3 of Ox/Xhaka/Rambo in our midfield. For 53 minutes, before we went one man down, our midfield dominated the almighty Bayern Munich’s midfield. We deployed in a 4:1:2:3 formation. The 1 was Xhaka shielding the back 4 and creating from deep. The 2 were Ramsey and the Ox. The set up suited Ramsey to the tee. With his incredible engine he motored relentlessly up and down creating overload when upfield, this time, without  us being undermined defensively as Xhaka and the Ox patrolled the spaces. Then there was the Ox, arguably, as at this moment, the biggest thing in our squad if his tender age is factored in. I hope he is given a bumper new deal at once because the world have taken notice. He defended with pace and power. He sprayed passes. He left the “Warrior” Aturo Vidal for dead equaling the Champions Leaguue record of 10 dribbles in a match. He cut through the Bayern midfield, not once, not twice, like a knife through butter, with the ball at his feet. He raged, his eyes spitting fire when the referee blew unfairly for a foul against him. He was our man of the match.

What a midfield trio. Alchemy it can be called: Rambo, Oxlade, Xhaka (ROX) combo is gold. The magic of Cocazola was resurrected in that game. With only about 10 weeks to go this season, Wenger should stick with them as his middle 3, in as many matches as is feasible so they can gel more with themselves and with the team. We already have a settled back five. We should make this combo our settled middle three. All the numbers in the front three are good, Walcott, Ozil, Welbeck, Perez, Giroud, Iwobi, and of course Sanchez. I-T…I-S…G-A-M-E…O-N!!!  Manchester City at home just had a goalless draw against Stoke. Expect plenty more twists and turns on this home stretch. A gooner never says die.

By Pony Eye.

Posted in Uncategorized | 80 Comments

This Gooner will not be watching CL football anymore

Referee Anastasios Sidiropoulos from Greece, thank you. Thank you for spoiling a very decent game. Did you see how our boys fought for their honour and pride in the first half? Did you see how they tried to overturn an impossible deficit? Did you not realise that giving a penalty against us for a debatable foul on Lewandowski would evoke some strong emotions? But what you surely will have realised is that by giving our rock in defence Koscielny a red card, you killed the game there and then. Now you were the hero.

Who at EUFA decided to put an inexperienced hot-head of a Southern-European referee in charge of such a big game between Western-European top teams? The red card was totally uncalled for and spoiled a good game for good instantly. I have had it with CL football. It is obvious that for the next five to ten years either Bayern, Barca or Real will win the competition, so what is the fun in watching it? If on top of this we have jokers of referees on the pitch in the supposedly biggest club competition on earth, it is time to no longer watch any of it. I am done with it.

Well done the boys for fighting so hard and you were close to a second goal which would have given you wings to go for more. It was not to be, and the capitulation after king Koz was sent to the showers was painful and embarrassing, but I cannot fault you for giving it a real go before it went all very wrong.

By TotalArsenal

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments

Just go for it Arsene: Xhaka deep, Ox box to box, Perez, Iwobi, Alexis and Ollie in Attack.

Arsenal – Bayern Preview

What can we say about this game? We should be excited to welcome one of Europe’s best teams, currently as well as historically, to the home of football. But we are not. The season held a lot of promise but it has almost all fizzled out, and a big reason for this is the second half humiliating drumming by the Germans a few weeks ago.

We have a more than decent defence and plenty of excellent attackers but Arsene cannot get the midfield right, and this seems a structural problem. Would a fit Cazorla have made all the difference? Should we have kept Jack Wilshere? Would Rambo have turned our season round if he had played without recurring injuries? Who knows. Fact is that we are weakest in our midfield and that is where we are losing the battles with the big teams, and sometimes the smaller teams too. It sucks like a drain.

What is Wenger going to do tonight? Try and avoid further humiliation by defending deep and play on the counter? Attack, attack, attack from the start and go for it? Or a balance between secure and adventurous? Je ne le sais pas. But I reckon Wenger has not much choice in the matter… his midfield options are very, very limited without Santi, Elneny and a surely not fit enough (read too rusty) Rambo. Other than a youngster in the centre of midfield, which is not a good idea, he can only play two out of Coq, Xhaka and Ox. The first two are too similar in terms of wanting to be the anchor of midfield, so it has to be one of the them. That is Xhaka for me. So Xhaka and Ox, our attacking (b)ox to (b)ox for the night, is the duo to go for imo.

The rest is a matter of individual confidence and hunger, and I reckon Wenger will pick the strongest team, even though he knows the game is up for us, and possibly him. The game will still be watched all over the world and pride (and avoiding further humiliation) is at stake.

Predicted Team for tonight:

———Ospina———–

Bellerin – Mustafi – Koz – Nacho

—– Xhaka—————-

————Ox to Ox——-

Perez——Iwobi——-Alexis

——-Giroud————-

Theo or Welbeck could start instead of Perez or Giroud, or come on later to make a difference. Rambo could replace the Ox in second half to put new energy into the midfield.

Let’s go and attack them and just go for it. Entertain the fans and regain some pride, even if it means risking another drumming. Es gibt viel zu tun, packen wir es an.

COYGs

By TotalArsenal.

Posted in Best Arsenal 11, match preview | Tagged , , | 40 Comments

Danny is Well-back, Ox is no Ozil but Iwobi could be, Fullbacks are failing us: 8 Observations

Liverpool away is never easy, and last night’s encounter with the Reds proved this once more. Arsenal did not start badly, as we so often do against our main competitors, but the boys were 1-0 behind in no time and after that it was an uphill battle all day long. We lacked intelligence and patience in midfield and there was no link up with our isolated attackers. Some will say we played the wrong attackers, but it does not matter who we play upfront if we do not have the ingenuity and skillset of Ozil and/or Santi on the pitch. The first half we did not look any better than Swansea or Bournemouth playing at Anfield, which of course is not good enough for Arsenal. They scored a second, very well-worked goal and the game seemed over.

The second half saw us not only take the initiative again but play with more structure and intelligence too. The main  reason for this is dropping the Ox deep to be the B2B, Xhaka playing deeper than all midfielders and Iwobi – our best youngster by a mile – to play in the hole. What a difference that made. Alexis added energy on the left and produced the assist from which Welbeck scored a Bergkampesque-superb, goal. We had some good chances in the second half for a deserved second goal, but it was not to be. A few months ago we WOULD have scored the equaliser and possibly more, but our belief has suffered some major blows since then. Pool broke up play and then played a quick and well-worked counter-attack to score their third in extra  time. Wenger needs to build further on our second half ‘draw’ performance for our next games.

Eight Observations:

  1. Danny is Well-back. He lasted well into the second half and scored a very fine goal. Fingers crossed he can get fitter and fitter going forward.
  2. Coq and Xhaka combo does not work. One of them is the deeper midfielder and they both need to play with a box to box player  next to them. The Xhaka-Ox combo in the second half was promising.
  3.  Ox is no Ozil but Iwobi could become one. The difference is that, at the highest level, Iwobi keeps his head up and the Ox doesn’t.
  4. We need a new left back. I love Nacho and Gibbs, but we need to improve on both of them this summer. Our left side of the defence is time and again the area that gets penetrated and goals are produced from. Nacho’s awareness of the danger around him seemed non-existent yesterday, with devastating consequences.
  5. Bellerin is going through a rough patch. As always he got himself in dangerous positions from which we could and should have hurt Pool. But his first touch and final ball often let him down badly, and it cost us. He is also not at his best defensively at the moment.
  6. Theo is not a super-sub. His impact on the game when he came on was once again unimpressive, to say the least. Can we really carry a player who can only be launched into space but has very limited capability to make space for himself and others? No.
  7. Set-piece delivery and crosses into the box are a shambles at the moment. When we finally saw a perfect cross into the box, it was small Perez at the end of it rather than Giroud, so it went begging. Need to improve on this pronto.
  8. Despite the negativity in most of the above mentioned observations, I still saw enough in the second half to believe we WILL give Bayern a decent game on Tuesday. The deficit we need to overcome is of course too big, but we can still take the game to them and show what we are made of. With Ozil, Alexis, Welbeck/Giroud and Perez in attack, we can hurt them. Key is to have more power and ingenuity in midfield, so a return of Ozil and hopefully Rambo is required (with Xhaka our deep DM).

By TotalArsenal. 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 28 Comments

Liverpool-Arsenal: Crunch Time Battle for a Top-4 Spot and Another Referendum on Wenger’s Future

Arsenal return to action after a 12 day break since their last outing.  In fact, it’s been a full three weeks without a league match, that one being a 2-nil win over Hull City.  Of course, before that, Arsenal had lost at Chelsea (3-1), and, even more distressingly, at home to Watford (1-2), effectively ending any dreams about a league title this season.  After the win vs Hull it’s been all about cup competitions.  The devastating result at Bayern Munich (a 5-1 drubbing in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16) was hardly mitigated by an only somewhat convincing 2-nil win at non-league Sutton United to advance to the quarter-finals of the FA cup.  Now, as the break concludes, we have to wonder if Arsenal will be able to regroup for the final three months of the season.  A trip to Anfield, as it always is, will surely be a stern test.

That it comes against a similarly beleaguered Liverpool squad only raises the stakes.  Jurgen Klopp’s team–who began the season with a 4-3 win over Arsenal at the Emirates–looked very strong in the first half of the campaign.  Free from any European obligations, there was even talk of a title run.  Since the turn of the calendar year, however, it’s been a downhill slide. The misery of home league losses to Swansea and Southampton has been compounded by more recent away capitulations at Hull and Leicester.  This is on top of being put out of both domestic cups by way of a two-legged semi-final loss to Southampton in the League cup and and losing at home to Wolverhampton in the FA Cup.  On the brighter side, Pool have had better results against the bigger clubs, including draws at Manchester United and at home with Chelsea; a 2-nil win vs Spurs three weeks ago has been by far their best result in the new year.

As such, Klopp, while not under the extreme pressure faced by our own Arsene Wenger, must motivate his troops to try and get up for a top 4 finish in the one competition in which they remain.  For Arsenal, even if it’s the “same old, same old” routine of trying for a similar finish, finding motivation will be even tougher.  There’s no famous Anfield atmosphere to provide comfort for Wenger’s men and then there’s the looming prospect of a home leg vs Bayern on Tuesday night.  Needing a 4-nil scoreline to go through, it’s virtually a dead-rubber and sure to feature a hostile environment with plenty of “Wenger Out” sentiment on display.  If Liverpool can beat Arsenal tomorrow they will jump ahead of us on points, although we do have a game in hand.

Such a result would only compound Arsenal’s current misery.  In a statement that is sure to anger those who only want to see his backside, Wenger has said that he will decide about a new contract sometime in March or April while also suggesting he’s not particularly interested in other jobs, including the impending vacancy at Barcelona.  Center forward Olivier Giroud claims that the squad is 100% behind the manager, but will that be enough?  Surely a good result at Liverpool is an essential first step for the manager and his team in this extremely difficult moment.

How then does Wenger set up to combat the Anfield atmosphere and a wounded Liverpool team that will see this one as an opportunity not only to gain points in the top 4 race, but also to right their own listing ship?

It’s very difficult to say given the two weeks since the most recent game and the fact that the first team struggled so badly in Munich in the one before.  Wenger probably has been watching his players closely in training and assessing who might be ready and who might not.  Team news suggests that Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny are in full training after injuries.  The only first team regular definitely out (if you don’t count Santi Cazorla who appears likely to miss the entire remainder of the season) is Mohamed Elneny who was hurt at Sutton.  Mesut Ozil, supposedly nursing a virus, should be available, but could also be spared for this one (and the Bayern return leg) after being the focus of so much extreme consternation from the loudest and most critical Gooners.  Wenger also reported that Danny Welbeck could be in line for a start even if he was left out of the squad at Sutton with concerns about the plastic pitch and his ongoing recovery from a long term knee injury.

The success of the lesser teams against Liverpool suggests that a strong strategy is to take away their defensive pressing from the front by giving them more of the ball and trying to play on the break, a style I believe Arsenal have been cultivating since losing Cazorla.  Playing in that manner could lead to a very open game and might call for pace up front with starts for the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and, perhaps, Welbeck or Lucas Perez instead of Giroud.  It might also suggest that Francis Coquelin returns to his deep lying midfield role despite his difficulties in Munich.  Who might pair with him in the double pivot?  Granit Xhaka seems the likely choice though the extra running of Ramsey or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain might be better suited for quick counters.  Further back, Petr Cech comes in for “cup-keeper” David Ospina while at least most of the back four probably picks itself.  Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi and Koscielny will likely start, but who plays at left back?  Kieran Gibbs was given the call at Bayern but Nacho Monreal might be poised for a return to the first 11.  Facing Klopp’s very pacy group of Liverpool attackers–he can choose from Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Phillipe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum, among others–the Arsenal rearguard will need to be on full alert, especially if trying to play mostly on the break.  At least Daniel Sturridge is suffering from (yet another) injury.

Here’s my best guess at the first 11:

Cech

Bellerin–Mustafi–Koscielny–Monreal

Coquelin–Xhaka

Walcott–Ozil–Welbeck

Alexis

Substitutes: Ospina, Gabriel, Gibbs, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lucas, Giroud

Who do you think Wenger will pick, and, for those of you who believe you know better than the manager, who would you choose?

No matter who starts, Wenger has made note that the team can ill afford a slow start or a hangover from the long period with no matches.  The Anfield atmosphere and Liverpool’s own struggles will surely make for a very well-motivated opponent.  Can Arsenal match their intensity and do we have the quality to prevail?  It’s a crucial match for both sides and both will desperate for a good result.  Perhaps the famous words from another Anfield clash almost 28 years ago sums it up best: “It’s up for grabs now…”

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 83 Comments

Rodgers, Flores and now Ranieri and Why Arsenal are Better than that

I am a huge Wenger fan and will always be thankful for the football he made Arsenal play, the successes he has given us and the unparalleled loyalty he has shown to the club over the last 20+ years. If he stays another year, I will support him with the same enthusiasm as always. But getting a new manager excites me too and, I must admit, a bit more than the prospect of Arsene staying on, right now.

We have been very lucky to have had a steady, high performing manager for more than two decades now. A manager needs to fit the club’s philosophy and values and we all know that Arsene has actually shaped these himself and then stuck to them religiously. For me, really good organisations are based around a fit-like-a-glove philosophy and values. Because of these an organisation will withstand easier the hard times and flourish more during the good times. And it will also attract and then retain the best talent.

But this does require that a club stands by their manager and maintain a long term vision, rather than sack them after a spell of disappointing results. Wenger, almost single-handedly, has, through his loyalty, dedication and miracle-working during the really lean times, transported the club to the highest financial  echelon of world football. And the added, indirect contributions to the beautiful game in this country should also not be underestimated. Without Wenger football in England would be much poorer now, and in more than one sense.

Yesterday’s sacking of Ranieri is a sad day for football. It actually really puts me of football at the moment. What crazy Claudio has achieved with that club in such a short space of time is simply magnificent. He even got LC a more than acceptable result in the CL this week, with a decent prospect of making it into the last eight. Yet the club sacked him unceremoniously because they can, and they don’t care.

Like their most famous fan, Lary Gineker, I find this very shocking and most of all stupid. What a lack of vision and stamina by the board; what a lack of people management skills and PR handling! But LC do not stand on their own.

Watford’s gutless decision to not prolong the contract of the beautifully named and impressive football manager Quique Sanchez Flores, comes to mind. He had only been given a one year deal but still convinced his ex-wife and children to come and live with him in London…. Ten months later…he is told to Flores off.

And then there is the forever restless Liverpool who got rid of a manager that got them closest to the title in a very long time and made them play football that at times was better than Arsenal’s. In fact, some of the best football I have watched in recent years was when Rodgers came to the home of football with Liverpool and played us totally off the pitch for the first 45 minutes. Miraculously, they did not score though. 🙂

And of course there are many more ludicrous manager-sackings to report on.

Why do clubs not stick to these visionary and successful managers a lot longer but sack them as soon as there is a dip in performance? Where is the vision and with what sort of values do these clubs operate?

Wenger out or in is of course a big question. But whatever happens next, our class, philosophy and values of the club will be at the base of all our key management decisions, and we will see another long period of stability and sustained success, based around sexy football. It may not be another twenty-plus-years manager, though… 😉

By TotalArsenal

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 43 Comments

Giroud and Alexis up-front, Holding and Mustafi CBs, Coq and Xhaka to get new chance: Preview

Sutton United v Arsenal – FA Cup fifth round Preview

I am not sure whether to spend many words on this must-win game. Sutton United deserve all the plaudits for getting through to the fifth round by eliminating Leeds United. they will play us at their stadium, the Borough Sports Ground, on their artificial surface and will want to give us a game of course. And what is there to lose for them? These are the sort of games the players and supporters dream of, and even if the former lose handsomely against us, the latter will still see them as heroes. And if they were to manage to beat us tomorrow night, the local hospitals’ midwifes will be in overdrive come November this year. 🙂

Arsenal’s only real enemy are themselves. After that utterly demoralising second half against BM last Wednesday, there is a chance of a lack of focus or appetite for tomorrow’s game. That would of course be unforgivable, so it is quite unlikely that the boys Wenger will select for tomorrow’s game against the U’s will not be really up for it. This is about pride for the shirt as much as anything else. And with a more than doable home tie against Lincoln City next up, there is an additional incentive to play well and make winning the FA Cup a big priority for the remainder of the season.

Wenger finds himself in a difficult and dark corner right now, but he knows that nothing more will bring back the light than winning games again. He also needs to re-balance the team as to get back a better spine and resilience, which should form the basis of a strong run towards the end of the season in both the league and FA Cup. I am not sure he has the players for this right now, but by playing Elneny and Xhaka in the DM-pivot and playing a bit deeper and more compact, we should see a much needed improvement. Well, that is what I would do, but not necessarily against Sutton. Reintroducing Giroud, who luckily cannot be blamed for our recent disasters this time round, seems also a good idea. Welbeck played today so is unlikely to play again tomorrow.

Looking at the training pictures on Arsenal.com, I reckon this could be the line-up:

Iwobi and Alexis are likely to swap positions and fill the space in the hole. Ox (or maybe Theo instead) will also be allowed to move into the hole regularly, and Giroud will become a strong central pivot to create space for the team and connect with fellow attackers as much as possible. As Sutton are likely to park the bus, we also need Ollie’s aerial presence to add variety to our attacking play.

As long as our attackers play with a high tempo, passion and concentration, which means helping out midfield and defence as much as possible, we should create plenty of chances and then the goals will come.

Let’s get behind our team once more. COYRRGs!

By TotalArsenal

 

Posted in Best Arsenal 11, match preview | Tagged , , , | 55 Comments