The easiest thing to do is blame Wenger

Chelsea 3 – 1 Arsenal

Is it all over now? A gap of 12 points between the league leaders and the good guys is surely too big to overcome, isn’t it? Of course it isn’t. All of the Chavs’ remaining 14 PL games are potential slip ups and sooner or later they will go through a bad spell. It will happen. The thing is though, Arsenal do not look like a team that will find back their spirit, confidence and obvious class anytime soon.

What is there to say about yesterday’s game? We started with good intentions but lacked the intensity and belief to really hurt the Chavs. They sat back and absorbed our pressure with relative ease and were just waiting for an opportunity to kill us on the break. Wenger had opted for the young ones Bellerin, Ox and Iwobi when he had more experienced options to pick from, especially in defence and attack. He also opted for the warm/cold Walcott on the right and for Alexis as our CF. This should have meant lots of movement and speed in our attacking play, but they and Ozil did not gel and were pretty toothless for large parts of the game. I dreaded this line-up before the match had started, but actually, I thought they did relatively well initially.

Then came Alonso’s assault on Bellerin that led to injury  and a goal that never should have stood. 1-0 to the Chavs with hardly any effort made and even less now required. Just keep sitting back and play on the break – what a lovely gift to Stamford Bridge by Atkinson. We still tried but just lacked the intensity and belief to turn the game round. We started the second half without much new confidence, purpose or ideas and soon the game was over. Chelsea’s very own Manneke P*s decided to go on a run and beat our midfield, defence and goalkeeper with a mazy run that humiliated us and sealed the faith of our team in the game, and possibly for the remainder of the season. What followed after that I don’t want to talk about, even though Giroud did well to score a consolation goal in extra time.

Image result for manneken pis

Something is missing in this team and I will write about this on another day.

The easiest thing to do now is to blame Wenger. But he cannot improve the quality of refereeing in the league; he cannot do the tackling for Coq and the blocking for Koz and Mustafi at the crucial moment; he also cannot do the passing and running for Alexis etc, etc. He also cannot be blamed for injuries and other reasons for unavailability of four big players in the pivotal DM positions: Ramsey, Santi, Elneny and Xhaka.

I am not saying Wenger goes without blame and, as I said above, I did not think the line up was strong enough to (have the confidence and quality) to beat the Chavs. But that is just my keyboard-hero opinion, which I can have from the comfort of my seat all day long. Opinions are as free and easy as trumps. I may have opinions but will never be delusional to think that I actually know better than the man who passionately and successfully led the team for 20+ years; and neither should you. I am also not saying that Arsene should stay or go, even though the idea of a new man at the helm is attractive right now. Managing successfully in the PL is very hard, just look at Klopp, Guardiola and Mourinho; Wenger is not doing worse than them but nobody wants to give him any credit any more.

The future is unclear, and we need to know what the club’s plans are regarding the team management position(s), so we can all get our head round what is likely to happen for the remainder of the season, and afterwards. But I also want our players to meet up and have a clear the air meeting, knock their heads together and take responsibility for a number of under par, uninspiring, unworthy of the shirt performances. I want them to vow to give everything to the fans AND their manager in the remaining 14 PL games and cup games and do the shirt proud – and to get as close as possible to the Chavs. And anybody who does not give us their blood and guts should sod off right now.

Next up Hull; let’s give them hell.

By TotalArsenal.



Posted in Uncategorized | 52 Comments

Chelsea-Arsenal Match Preview: Desperate Measures for Desperate Times Or Remember September?

Things have changed since we blew by the Blues on 24 September and this match will be played at their place instead of ours.  Still, as Gooners grasp for straws of hope, we should not forget how our most recent meeting turned out.

Back then, Antonio Conte’s group were still reeling from the woeful end to Jose Mourinho’s 2nd stint at Stamford Bridge.  Early season results had done little to suggest that Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea–despite its steroid driven economics–was ready to rise up from mid-table mediocrity.

After that fine day, however, Conte switched things up in a big way, notably going to a formation that featured three central defenders and a pair of wingbacks.  Out went stalwarts like John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and, further upfield, guys like Oscar and former Gunner Cesc Fabregas.  In came pacier players like Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso (as wingbacks) and freer roles for a front three that has featured Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, Pedro and Willian, all anchored by a group of central players including Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta in the deeper roles and a pairing of Nemanja Matic and a guy we wanted, N’golo Kante, just ahead.  Last season’s woeful showing means that Chelsea have no European distractions.  Playing fewer games has allowed the main group to stay fit and fresh, the result being a run of 13 matches without dropping a single point.  Finally, with a 2-nil loss at Spurs, and, most recently, a 1-1 draw at Liverpool, their momentum has been dented.  Nonetheless, they still hold a commanding nine point lead in the league table.

In the same intervening period Arsenal have struggled.  A home draw to Middlesborough might have been seen as a one off but it was soon followed by poor performances and a series of draws against Spurs, Manchester United and a pair against Paris St. Germain in the Champions League.  A slow start at Ludogorets, also in the Champions League, was rescued with late heroics by Mesut Ozil, but then leads–and matches–were lost at Everton and Manchester City.  Instead of keeping pace with Chelsea we fell back.  Over the festive period and carrying into the new year the slow starts returned.  Wins were rescued vs West Bromwich Albion and Burnley in league play–and at Preston North End in the FA Cup–but shipping three goals at Bournemouth netted us only a draw despite a massive fightback.  This past Tuesday it finally caught up to us with a home loss to a team well down the table; Going two goals down to Watford proved one goal too many and all three points were gone.

Luckily, the other top teams (except Manchester City) all drew but it was still a killer blow.  Instead of winning and coming into this one only six points down, the margin is nine.  Moreover, we approach it with our confidence shattered and all the criticisms of manager Arsene Wenger’s team fully resuscitated.  Yesterday was Ground Hog Day here in the States and that feeling of “here we go again” (as per the Bill Murray film of the same name) cannot be escaped.

So, how to get back on track and get a result at Stamford Bridge?  We cannot quite play the same line-up as we did so successfully back in September.  The lynchpin of our midfield, Santi Cazorla, is likely out for the season after an ankle injury and a pair of surgeries.  So too are a slew of would-be replacements including Granit Xhaka (suspended), Mohamed Elneny (still with his Egyptian team who are playing in the final of the African Cup of Nations) and Aaron Ramsey (injured).  Francis Coquelin, who went off early in the September match, is just back from an injury of his own and even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain faces a late fitness test.  The Ox looked quite commanding in a deep midfield position a week ago in the FA Cup match at Southampton, so, if he’s passed fit, he’ll likely be the guy who steps into the Cazorla role, much as he did on Tuesday when Ramsey hobbled off.

Also facing a late test will be center forward Olivier Giroud, a player who divides opinion as much as any other Gunner.  In the September match he was only given a bench seat and a few minutes as a substitute with the match already well in hand.  Should he be dropped again for this one?  Many Gooners believe we are a better attacking team with Alexis Sanchez at the center forward spot despite big Ollie’s fine goal-scoring record.  Theo Walcott–who scored one in the September match–is fit again and had a hat trick at Southampton.  So too is Danny Welbeck who scored the first two goals in that game.  Then there’s Lucas Perez, a player many would like to see finally given a start against a big rival.  We don’t lack for options up front.

Because he was able to soldier on while Giroud was subbed at halftime vs Watford, I believe that the Ox will play but that Wenger will opt to play the other ten available guys who won so convincingly in the earlier match.  As such, here’s my best guess at his line-up:






Substitutes: Ospina, Gabriel, Gibbs, Maitland-Niles, Lucas, Welbeck, Giroud

Such a line-up represents three changes from the squad that started vs Watford on Tuesday.  It may not be enough change for some supporters, while it could also be too much for others.  Some (see previous post) believe we’re strongest with Giroud up top and would prefer a more attacking approach with guys like Lucas and Welbeck in the mix from the start.  Other Gooners want even more radical changes like benching Ozil (who often appears a very frustrated figure in many of our disappointing matches) or starting some of the youngsters (Maitland-Niles or Jeff Reine-Adelaide) who did so well at Southampton.  New formations with different personnel have been mooted.  In the end, of course, Wenger picks the team and must get his men to play well enough to get the result.  Nine points back could be cut to six and our season could get a much needed infusion of oxygen; anything less does not bear consideration.

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace




Posted in Uncategorized | 57 Comments

How to win on Saturday: Alexis and Ozil behind Welbeck-Giroud-Perez

Last Tuesday’s unexpected setback against the Hornets hurt us, but not as much as it could have done. Virtually all our competitors for the title also dropped points, so in the end not much damage was done. Of course, it was a golden opportunity to close the gap with the league leaders and put more distance between us and our other title rivals, but the team were poor in the first half and then could not make amends in the second half, despite a valiant effort.

Of course this is just what football is like sometimes; how many times have we experienced such a game – in which we lose to the underdog – in our lives?! It is also what makes football exciting, even though it is nasty to be on the losing side. But we Gooners are just so desperate for success that losing a game is always experienced as a catastrophe, and our response is seldom philosophically: we need victims and we want to see changes. And ideally somebody gets sacked. What about using adversity to galvanize the troops: change nothing other than our focus and passion for the next game? That is what good managers do. Show believe in your team and utilise the available energy to get back to winning ways.

Well, Wenger and Bould will not  be feeling great right now, but the last thing they will do is give up, blame some of their players, or totally change their philosophy. As per 17HT’s fine comment yesterday, the real challenge they are facing is sorting out the double DM pivot. Yet most fellow Gooners, here and on other blogs, are desperate to see Giroud benched and us to go back to speed and mobility in attack. I can see where you are coming from but scoring goals is really not anything for the management to worry about right now. We produce many chances and score plenty of goals, much better than last season.

No, the real issue is making us more compact in defence and far more impenetrable from the midfield area. Le Coq and Rambo have not been a successful combo in the DM pivot in recent games, and it looks like Aaron will be out again for a while. Wenger could opt for the Ox but that would be very unwise in my opinion. Playing against a third string Saints is very different from playing the Chavs at the Bridge. The ideal man, and in my opinion the most modern and allround defense-minded midfielder in our squad, Elneny, will unfortunately not be available. Santi would also be pretty ideal but is not available.

Wenger could either go for Ox, or a more robust but less experienced option in Maitland-Niles, or he could opt for moving Debuchy, Gibbs or Monreal into midfield. This would add defensive steel but would deprive us from extra attacking power from midfield.

It would also indicate to the rest of the team and our opponent that we are scared of them. Fact is, we need to win to get our title challenge back on track and reunite the fanbase.

So let’s go for all out attack, I say. Allow Coquelin to sit deep with the CB’s and play 4-1-2-3, which often looks more like 3-4-3, or even 3-2-5. I would like us to attack the Chavs with conviction and not sit back to play them on the break. Only then I reckon we have a good chance to win this six-pointer.

This is the line-up for it:

Yep, Alexis and Ozil behind Giroud to work with and off him and to force the league leaders deep back into their own half. Welbeck and Perez to add fire power and close ball control from the wings and in the box, and press the Chelsea FBs right back where they belong. With Giroud, Alexis, Perez, Ozil and Alexis we have total variety in attacking ability and power, and with Nacho and Bellerin we can offer additional width. Yes we will be vulnerable to counter attacks, but so be it. We have the speed, athleticism and strength in the team to deal with it. But most importantly, we take the game to them and never let them breath until the job is done. We can play like this and what have we got to lose. Let’s play football the Arsenal way.

That’s what I would like to see. What about you?



Posted in Arsenal Analysis, Attacking football | Tagged , , , | 33 Comments

Arsenal-Watford: Midweek Momentum Builder or Potential Hornets’ Nest?

Can Arsenal build upon our drubbing of Southampton in the FA Cup or will Watford–who knocked us out of that competition last season on our home ground–prove that everything is different in the league?

It’s back to business in league competition against 14th place Watford, a team that sits 8 points above the relegation zone.  With that sort of gap they may not be desperate for points against 2nd place Arsenal but surely they’ll be coming to the Emirates with a nothing-to-lose attitude.  And, even though they were just knocked out of this season’s cup–losing 1-nil to a late goal at Millwall–they’ll remember fondly how they won themselves a trip to Wembley against a strong Arsenal squad some 10 months ago.

In that one, Arsenal played our best attackers–Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud–but the team could make no headway against a resolute Watford squad in the first half.  After the break, Watford looked the superior side and broke the deadlock with an Odion Ighalo goal.  Ighalo went close a couple of times after scoring, but it was Adlene Guedioura who doubled Watford’s lead.  Late on, substitute Danny Welbeck pulled one back for the Gunners, but Watford held out in the frantic dying moments to avoid a replay and end Arsenal’s chance of winning a third consecutive cup.  Going out at home to a team well below us in the table was one of the lowest moments of the season.

Unfortunately for Watford, they may be without Ighalo this time around as it appears he’s been sold to a Chinese club for a fee in the 20 million pound range.  Given all the misinformation at the close of the window I’m loathe to say it’s a done deal.  At that price, however, Ighalo, who was a rampant goal-scorer when Watford were in the Championship, might find other suitors.  Either way, it’s very likely he’s played his last match for the club.

Of course, the Hornets have other weapons including Troy Deeney, a player often linked with a move in our direction.  Another player whom Arsenal scouted, M’baye Niang, is on loan from AC Milan, and could make his Watford debut against us.  Yet another new face is Mauro Zarate.  The Argentine was just bought from Fiorentina but Gooners may remember him from his time as a forward at West Ham United.  The turnover at the club may be unsettling, but whoever plays will surely want to impress manager Walter Mazzarri.

The Italian’s first priority will be to stop Arsenal’s attack.  Former Spurs Etienne Capoue (midfield), Younes Kaboul (center back) and Heurelho Gomes (goalkeeper) will likely form part of the spine of the team designed to keep us out.

How does Arsenal go about breaking it down and beating Watford?

On the back of the big scoreline in our FA Cup match, manager Arsene Wenger may have some choices to make.  Theo Walcott got a hat trick, Danny Welbeck scored two and Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain did a fine job sending balls in from a deeper midfield position.  Lucas Perez made a sublime assist to start the scoring and demonstrated plenty of quality throughout the match.  Could any (or all) of them get a starting spot?  Given the slow starts Arsenal has made in other recent matches, mixing it up, especially in attack, might be something for Wenger to consider.

I don’t, however, believe he will, and I think we’ll see much of the same squad that started the previous league match vs Burnley.  It’s a bit of risk as critics may take him to task if the league regulars cannot produce a similarly lopsided result.  Nonetheless, I think it’s what Wenger will do as he generally seems keen to try and bring even more players into the ranks of the confident and ready-to-go.  Here’s the line-up I think he could use which would represent 9 changes to the squad that started at Southampton.






Substitutes: Ospina, Gabriel, Gibbs, Oxlaide-Chamberlain, Welbeck, Walcott, Lucas

As per usual, that’s just my best guess.  What do you think?  Who would you play?

With the Saturday match at Chelsea looming, getting off to a good start and securing the proper result seems even more important than usual.  Against a bottom half team like Watford, nothing less than a win will do.  If we could marry it to a performance that enhances our confidence ahead of the trip to Stamford Bridge, all the better.  (And if Liverpool could take some points from the league leaders, it would be an even happier Tuesday night).

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace

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Saints 0 – 5 Gunners: A Lovely Training Session

Last Saturday’s game v Southampton was the total anticlimax. I was really looking forward to a proper Saints v Gunners battle and hoping that we would finally crack them. They have become a bit of a bogey team to us, especially in away fixtures. I don’t rate Alan Shearer as a commentator at all but have some sympathy for him regarding his statement that managers are not taking the FA Cup seriously anymore. Virtually every PL team made a high number of changes, which is a strong indication that the FA Cup does not really matter to them.

The Football Association did not help matters by scheduling PL games for tomorrow and Wednesday. Survival in the PL is crucial for a lot of clubs and winning the FA Cup appears to have become far less important nowadays. I reckon this is a real shame, and it will be hard to change things round for the FA.

We won 5-0 and there were some good individual performances by our Gunners, but it is impossible to take anything from it. The Saints were never in this game and wanted it to be over as soon as Welbeck scored his and Arsenal’s second. It was was so obvious that they would put nothing in our way that I lost interest pretty soon after we scored our third. At the end of the game I felt more melancholic than euphoric, hence no full match review.

Perez produced a very fine assist and two Ozil-worthy pre-assists; the Ox showed what he can do when given space and time and being played in a central position; Theo showed us all the value of taking a chance with the first touch (and that he has still got it); Welbeck showed us all what Plan C in attack would look like, and especially the first goal was a beautiful, Henryesque finish, and; Alexis got to come on late to claim two very well timed and placed assists, so he is also a happy bunny.

The defence can boast a clean sheet and Holding will be pleased with an assured, although hardly challenged, performance. Mustafi kept his Arsenal unbeaten record and led by example, and the full backs and keeper put in a decent shift (but nothing to write home about).

The only real beneficiaries of this encounter were M-N and Jeff: they actually played at their current level v the Saints and shone throughout the game.

But who knows how they all would have done IF the Saints had actually turned up to give us a game. They did not and it became a very easy-on-the-eye training session for our boys. Luckily, we will get to see the real stuff again against the Hornets tomorrow. They also made numerous changes and got kicked out of the FA Cup, so will be ready to sting us right in the Arsenal.

By TotalArsenal.

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Southampton-Arsenal, FA Cup 4th Round: How Badly Do We Want This?

Arsenal, still alive with chances to win in three competitions, face red-hot Southampton in the 4th round of the FA Cup at St. Mary’s park.  The Saints, having just booked a trip to Wembley by winning both legs of a League Cup semifinal over Liverpool, may be less rested, but should still provide formidable competition for the Gunners.

Although Arsenal are undefeated in six matches in all competitions they have been getting off to slow starts.  Of the 14 goals scored in those matches only 2 have come in the first half.  Southampton promise to be just as tough to break down; Liverpool seemed to run out of ideas on Wednesday at Anfield despite the Saints being without the center back pairing of Virgil Van Dijk (injured) and Jose Fonte (transferred to West Ham).  Instead, Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens played just ahead of Fraser Forster, a goalkeeper who has been notoriously stingy when playing against the Gunners.  Oriol Romeu and Steven Davis were also key in controlling Liverpool’s attack from their deep midfield positions.  Dusan Tadic had a big first half chance and Nathan Redmond looked the best attacker on the night even if it was the veteran Republic of Ireland forward Shane Long who scored the lone goal late on to seal a place in the final.

Manager Claude Puel may, of course, choose to rotate his squad a bit given the short turnaround from Wednesday’s match.  So too might Arsene Wenger who will have to watch this one from the stands as he begins a four match touchline ban due to his foul language and physical contact with the 4th official in the crazy final moments of our 2-1 win last Sunday vs Burnley.

Three weeks ago, in our 3rd round cup match at Preston North End, Wenger chose to give full rests to stalwarts Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Laurent Koscielny.  Will he choose to rest these guys again, keeping an eye on the next league match vs Watford on Tuesday night and the big showdown with league leaders Chelsea next Saturday?  Frankly, I’m not sure he can afford to play without them, but my hunch is he might try and get away with doing just that.  If he does hold them back, however, it could provide opportunities for the likes of Lucas Perez, Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck.  Theo Walcott is also back from injury and available for selection.

Changes might also come at the back.  Hector Bellerin is fit again and Per Mertesacker and Kieran Gibbs are both back in training.  David Ospina will surely reprise his cup-keeper role.

The only area where Arsenal are really short is in midfield.  With Granit Xhaka suspended for four matches due to his red card vs Burnly, Santi Cazorla out injured and Mohamed Elneny’s Egyptian team through to the knock out stages of the African Cup of Nations, the rear of our midfield will almost certainly be manned by Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey.  Wenger mentioned that Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Alex Iwobi could also play there if necessary.  In his pre-match press conference Wenger suggested that one or two younger players might feature but that, overall, it would be a first team squad.  Wenger must be remembering that a much changed team in the quarter final round of the EPL Cup was thoroughly outplayed by Southampton and defeated 2-nil on our home pitch.

With all that to consider, I must say that I don’t feel at all confident in putting out a perspective line-up, but here goes.  (And, on top of that, the football formation graphic doesn’t seem to be working for me today:)






Substitutes: Martinez, Holding, Gibbs, Maitland-Niles, Reine-Adelaide, Walcott, Giroud

Playing a team such as the one above and giving full rests to the likes of Alexis, Ozil and Koscielny is one thing at Preston North End but another at a club like Southampton.  If he does go for such a line-up it might suggest that Wenger wants to prioritize the league and wouldn’t mind being done with the FA Cup. To my mind, losing this one would set a bad precedent ahead of very important league matches and the two legs of our Champions League round of 16 battle with Bayern Munich.  Arsenal have been teetering as it is, relying on last gasp heroics seemingly in match after match after match.  What we need is a convincing performance, ideally with some first half goals, and a win.  Losing, or even playing to a draw, which would set up a mid-week replay on 7 or 8 February, would only add to our burdens and undermine what seems like an already very fragile confidence.

Who would you like to see play and who do you think Wenger will choose?

Personally, I’d much prefer to see a stronger line-up with many of the regulars we use in league play. Yes, we have ostensibly more important matches on the near horizon, but I think Wenger should respect the cup and play his strongest team.  It also might help the manager and his assistants in getting used to the touchline ban if we go with the tighter squad. Rotation and getting a bigger group ready for first team action is necessary, but nothing can replace the confidence of a good performance and result.

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace



Posted in Uncategorized | 89 Comments

In three Games Arsenal will be Top of the League

Well that is what I would tell my players, if I was Arsene Wenger. Everywhere you look, there are disgruntled and glass-half-empty Gooners at the moment. It is like a red and white pest that is taking over the entire Goonersphere. Some are naturally wired like that: low expectations is the key to happiness, is their mantra. Others are guided by the poisonous deja-vu experiences they are having: they have seen it all before and believe Arsene is just not good enough anymore to win us the title. Others are just plain Wenger haters and want him out asap. And then there are those who need to project their personal negativity onto something other than themselves; and Arsenal and Wenger are perfect objects to aim all their disappointment and anger at. There are also many fans who secretly believe they know much better than Wenger; and by not doing what they want him to do – buy a ‘proper’ CF for example – they simply don’t believe we will win anything any more.

The players and managers will also sense this general negativity: in the street, on-line and in the grounds. There is no doubt that negativity breeds negativity, and a collective sense of doom will often lead to doom, even if there was a good chance of it not happening in the first place. In times like these, we need honey-sweet optimists. The most famous optimist I am aware of is of course Winston Churchill: aided by alcohol and an incredible gift of the gab, he steered a nation through a most frighting and demoralizing time. Modest as he was, he said he had nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat, but it was his ability to reach deep into the hearts of people, both in the UK and abroad, that really made the difference. Of course, he had other crucial qualities such as strategic planning and making allies, to name a few, but his ability to give continued hope to people was paramount.

“Never give in – never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy”: this is one of my favourite WC quotes, and one that I would have painted on the walls in the dressing room.

And I am hoping Arsene is saying something similar to his troops right now. We are entering the crucial stage of the season and now is the time to believe and not give in. The way the players have fought to win recent games, is very promising for the rest of the season; so there is a good basis to fight all the way to the PL title. We have a great squad both in terms of quality and experience. We won our CL group and are currently second in the league.

The Chavs are going to Pool, then play us and then go to Burnley: every chance they will drop points, possibly even eight or nine. If we win our next three games, we will get close to the Chavs, if not overtake them. That is what I would be telling the players.

Come On You Rip Roaring Gunners!

By TotalArsenal.



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