Boom Boom Giroud is Back, Alexis Sanchez Baby, Coq-Elneny our New Wall? Sunderland – Arsenal Match Review

Oliver Giroud celebrates after he scores his second goal and Arsenal’s third.

After a two hour drive through foggy hills of the very sparsely populated west-to-east very north of England, we ended up in sunny Sunderland with an hour to spare. After parking the car close to the seaside we made our way to the ground via the beautifully named Roker Avenue. The street had seen better days and the level of  littering was quite a surprise (thought those days had gone), but it is always nice to see local supporters of all shapes and sizes wearing the home and away shirts, slowly making their way to the ground.

Sunderland is a football city, let there be no doubt about it, and the Stadium of Light is a pretty perfect football ground, especially when the sun is out and sparkles everything into bright colours and the playing service looks like snooker-cloth. You would expect there to be a lot of unhappiness given the miserable position in the league table and the dire football on display, but the Black Cats supporters are thick-skinned and used to being in this position. They clearly were looking at this game as a bonus of some sort, already anticipating that bigger – my Sunderland supporting ex-colleague even used the word ‘harder’- games lay ahead for them. With that they mean games that they are supposed to win if they want to survive in the PL this season.

I said to my father in law that the warm weather is a blessing for us as it will make the game significantly less ‘up-northy’ for the players. In fact, the north east had about the warmest weather of the whole of the UK on Saturday afternoon and the Gunners were red hot from the start. After a minute silence, immaculately observed by both sets of supporters which in itself gave me a warm and teary-eyed feeling, the game was kicked off. Sunderland set back and tried to disturb our flow of passing but also tried to hem us in in our half by playing a high line at times.

We became sharper in our passing as the game went on and Alexis was steeling the show with his energy and creativity. He set the scene for us in the first minute by chasing the keeper down and getting the ball wacked into his face from close range. The Chilean is our dynamo, our first soldier in attack, who gets everybody going. It was no surprise that it was him who opened the score, even though it was with a Giroudesque header from a classical, speculative cross from around the corner flag. When the Ox put the cross in we did not expect anything else but a clearance but when you have the energy and anticipation levels, combined with bottomless confidence, of the Chilean, anything can be turned into a goal. How he got in front of the defender I still don’t know, but his header was brilliantly directed into the far corner leaving the keeper with no chance. We all went berserk and 5000 or so supporters sang the never tiring ‘Alexis Sanchez Baby’ song. Sunshine and smiles everywhere.

To be fair to Sunderland they did not sit back totally after that and tried to breach us on our left side. Everybody in the world knows there is no way through on Arsenal’s right side of the defence with Coquelin, Bellerin and Mustafi bossing the area, but on the left side we have shown vulnerability time and again this season. Wenger is giving Gibbs a chance now whilst our fantastic Nacho man is nursing a ‘Wenger-injury’ in his head. Fair play to Kieran who looked really up to the task and for the first time I saw a man on the pitch rather than a promising talent.

Kieran got some support from the regularly alternating ‘mid-wingers’ but it was Eleneneny who became his closest defensive friend, next to the beastly Koz of course. The beauty about Elneny is his awareness of space and filling the gaps intelligently with his runs and presence; and when he has the ball he is calm and passes it on with simplicity and efficiency. During the first half we still had some defensive breaches on our left but we looked less vulnerable than in other games, and during the second half we were very much a solid defensive unit. The combo of Coquelin and Elneny might not be as sexy as it can be to many, but it was perfect for this game. They bossed the midfield and kept the Black Cats in their own half most of the time and they fed the attackers with simple and efficient passes constantly.

Unfortunately, Arsenal did not push on enough for the all important second goal. Ozil could have had another hat trick yesterday and others, such as Iwobi and Ox, missed composure and technical control to kill off Sunderland for good. Nobody cared too much about Ozil’s wastefulness as the supporters’ favourite song on the day was without any doubt ‘Mesut Ozil, Mesut Ozil, I just don’t think you understand….’. We were missing another regular/natural goal scorer with Theo out and Giroud bench-grooming his beard. Luckily the latter was regularly warming up along the sidelines and the away support warmed him up further with the ‘Nananana’ song, which he really appreciated.

And then came the expected unexpected… we gave away a penalty out of nothing and the score was level. We should have had a penalty a minute earlier and it took an uncharacteristic mistake – was it a slip? – by the German man-hugger Mustafi, to somehow let them back into the game, but we did it to ourselves… and that is what really hurts.

Luckily, the ‘here we go again ‘glass half empty supporters’ favourite train of thought was quickly derailed with a blitz-krieg brace by super-sub Ollie. First he resolutely connected with his left thunderbolt foot with a fine wing-cross by Gibbs from around the edge of the box to put us in front, and a couple of minutes later he put the game to bed with the finest, almost delicate, of diagonal headers over the scrambling keeper from a fine corner by Mesut. 1-3 to the mighty Red and White North Londoners, and then Alexis added another with some very cheeky close control and finish right in front of the goalmouth.

The Sunderland support had enough and we wished them a good homecoming with the ‘cheerio’ song. The added ‘your f*cking sh*t’ song lacked collective levels of empathy and wasn’t for me, but there you go. We should have scored more after that but 4-1 was a pretty fine result that sent us top of the league, which we reminded the most loyal Black Cats supporters of with gusto of course.

On the way back, my FIL and I listened to the radio and were amazed and well pleased that both Spuds and Manure did not manage to take three points from their home games. The return of the fog around the hills did not dampen our spirits one iota. It is quite telling that those who some see as our biggest competition for the title, Citeh and Pool, also managed to thump their opponents with four away goals. Still early days of course, but after ten games we are joined top of the league with those two teams and have a very similar goal difference: are the three of us, all committed to good, attacking football, going to fight it out for the title?

This week we have two more big games to play. Away to Ludogorets FC we will need our full focus to get three points and probably qualify for the next CL round – a not to be expected but never impossible loss there, is to be avoided at all cost. And then of course we play the NL derby for a six-point gab opportunity and to go into the November interlul break with the warmest of feelings. Ooh to be…

By TotalArsenal.

Wenger has Turned Alexis into a Lethal Mixture of these two PL Giants

More or less a quarter of the PL games have been played this season, and slowly but steadily we can start making some conclusions on how the mighty red and white are doing.

The big, obvious conclusion we have to make is that we started the PL season slowly, dropping five points in the first two games, but then recovered very strongly to now be joined top with Pool and Citeh after nine games. This is some achievement we can be really proud of. With Citeh winning game after game, it looked like we were in a bad position until a few games ago, but Pep’s team has lost its fizz, and the Gunners, bar a tired game against Middlesbrough, have lately been firing from all cylinders.

I will post a number of early-season-conclusions over the next week or so, starting with Wenger upgrading our approach to creating and scoring goals to a multi-facetted and disciplined attacking machine.

Conclusion nr.1: Wenger has turned Alexis into a lethal mixture of Giroud and Aguero

Last season we struggled to average two goals per PL game – in fact at the end of the season we only managed to score 1.7 goals per game – but this season we are finding the net at about 2.1 goal a game – 2.4 before last weekend’s draw. It is great to get goals from a variety of scorers: from Koz to Xhaka, from Santi (penalties) to Ozil and from Theo to Alexis, etc. There are also a great number of assist producers, and what this all does is that it makes us unpredictable and highly effective. I love this more than anything else.

The big change Wenger made here is replacing Giroud with Alexis. Regular BKers know that I am a big fan of the bombastic Frenchman, but I can also see that Alexis as our main CF is an improvement for Arsenal – especially when teams allow us space rather than park a bus full of stubborn defenders. Actually, I suggested last season on more than one occasion that if Wenger wanted to have ‘an Aguero beast of a CF’ he did not need to look further and just move the Chilean firecracker to the middle.

What I like about Wenger, who is, contrary to what many like to think, always reinventing the ultimate ballgame, is what he did with Alexis this season. He did not turn him into a ‘pure’ Aguero after all; he made Sanchez better than his fellow South-American. Arsene turned Alexis into a total, multi-disciplined and dimensional attacking machine, who also offers the work rate, constant willingness to occupy central defenders, and ability to create space and key passes for others that Giroud has to offer.

Alexis already has four goals and three assists and produces 2.1 key passes per PL game; Aguero, who to be fair played less PL minutes than Alexis, scored five but produced no assists and only manages 0.9 key passes per game. The Argentinian is a top quality predator-finisher who needs to be serviced and brought into striking range constantly, whereas our South-American wildcat takes and gives in equal amounts, thus allowing the likes of Iwobi, Ozil and Theo to not only support the goal production efforts but also be at the end of them.

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=ozil+goal+against+swansea+youtube&view=detail&mid=05125335C93D64D916D805125335C93D64D916D8&FORM=VIRE

Alexis revels in the dirty work of chasing defenders and never letting them rest – he is such a hyena; Alexis also has an eye for a pass that kills a whole defence in one stroke (Mesut is still licking his lips from the Chilean’s diagonal Bergkampesque ball over the top against Swansea – see above); Alexis has the composure and technical ability to finish from anywhere in and near the opposition’s box, and against any opposition; and Alexis has the engine to keep going, and with his energy and passion he motivates the entire team from game to game. He has simple added another dimension and more intensity to our attacking play, and for that I applaud both him and Wenger.

There are still some doubts whether Alexis is also our best option if and when we play stubborn and ultra-disciplined ‘park the bus’ teams like Middlesbrough last weekend; and once Giroud is fully back to fitness we will have to see who will get the CF slot for these sorts of games. But there is no doubt in my mind that Wenger’s move to play Alexis as an all round, multi-disciplined CF has made the whole team less predictable and more deadly up front. And long may it continue!

By TotalArsenal. 

This midfielder’s Return Will Complete Arsene’s Arsenal Revolution

I don’t know how many times I have seen fellow bloggers write, less on BK but regularly on other blogs, that Wenger needs to be replaced by a younger manager with a modern and fresh style of play. There seems to be a belief that older managers cannot be inventive and ‘fresh’, like Klopp or Guardiola for example. The opposite is true.

Wenger is always innovating the way we play; in fact, I sometimes wish he would stick longer with a certain system of play rather than moving on too quickly. Having said that, I am very excited about Arsene’s change of style this season.

He seems to opt now for speed and movement by all 11 players, rather than have a few players in the spine around whom the game is played i.e. the BFG at the back, Cazorla in the middle and Giroud up top.

It is still early in the season of course and Arsene may well revert fully back to the system of play of previous seasons, but the success of the last few games, both in terms of style of play and results, may have encouraged him to stick with it now. And there is a buzz around Arsenal now that nobody will want to lose anytime soon, and especially not Arsene.

Mustafi has been a revelation – see also last post. He adds speed and bite to the defence and is already one of the top ten most successful passers in the PL. Up front, Wenger has made a personal wish come true by turning Alexis into a beastly, all conquering CF.  This has added speed and mobility to the attack, whilst Sanchez is also pretty good at coming for, and holding on to, the ball ala Giroud. Alexis is supported by pretty alround ‘midwingers’ who add  bite, speed, creativity, assists, and goals: Theo scores when he wants and Iwobi is in the top three of PL assist makers, and long may it continue. And Perez, and sooner or later Welbeck, are ready to compete with them for first team places.

The final piece in the speed-mobility jigsaw is pairing up Rambo with either Xhaka or Coquelin.

We need a player who connects defence with attack, supporting the deeper sitting DM  and our nr10 with continuous horizontal and diagonal runs, slick passing, interceptions, assists and goals, etc. That player is Rambo: the quintessential box-to-box midfielder. This does not mean there will be no first game time for Cazorla or Elneny. Santi can be played regularly as second midfielder in the DM pivot, or as Ozil’s best mate in an occasional 4-1-2-3 formation; indeed, Santi can also replace Mesut in the nr.10 position, if and when required. The Spaniard could become our super-sub and as such a very important player for the season. And Elneny is also a very useful player to have for a number of positions.

But once Rambo is fully fit he will most likely get regular starts to complete Arsene’s revolution based around speed, energy and mobility, and I cannot wait to see this team take to the stage once all are available:

submit football lineup

By TotalArsenal

 

 

What to do with Olivier Giroud in the ‘New Arsenal attack’?

Does Giroud still feature in the new, Alexis-as-CF, Arsenal?

Ollie G is an interesting case, because I don’t see him as a starter at all. This isn’t because he’s not good enough, as he certainly is. Instead, it’s because our style of play has changed to be based around an attacking quartet of players who are all mobile and interchangeable. The first choice seems to be Iwobi/Sanchez/Ozil/Walcott, with all of them flying around the opposition half attacking from different angles with rapid interplay. It’s hard to defend against this style of play.

Ollie G, on the other hand, is suited toward a style of game where a strong CF acts as an attacking focal point, a fulcrum around which attacks are launched and goals come from headers, knockdowns and late runs from supporting attackers. That’s how we played last year and teams were becoming adept at playing against it.

Looking at our bench for a reserve attacking quartet, we would be better to have a combination like Ox/Perez/Welbeck/Ramsey where again there is a plenty of pace and finishing ability, but, more importantly, they can play the same attacking system and maintain the same understanding with our attacking fullbacks and midfield duo. We have to play with one system and become incredibly efficient at that system, if we are to match Man City and the European giants this year.

Giroud’s role in both of these teams is not as a starter in my view, but perhaps as a very different plan B to have available when for some reason we are unable to break through with plan A. Whether or not it is generally feasible or effective to attempt a shift from a plan A to a plan B mid-game is of course up for debate – I suspect it is not.

I sense that our team has evolved, and that the next step up for us is to make our combinations so rehearsed that they become intuitive, almost instantaneous, and able to withstand the loss of one or two individual players. But I also feel a bit sorry for Oliver Giroud because he is being, and perhaps must be, left behind by all of this.

What do you think fellow Gooners?

By davydavy

Arsenal don’t Need a Super CF: Giroud, Alexis and Perez can score 50 PL goals and win us the Title

“Behind what hills does happiness hide, to lurk and plot its return?” Andrew Greig.

With Lucas Perez Arsenal have added a very interesting player. This is a bit of a Wenger gamble but if Lucas can add similar league goals (17) and assists (8) per game as he did in Spain, he could make the difference this season… and the difference is not finishing second but first.

We missed about 10 goals last season to clinch the title, and although I am aware that every season has its own dynamics, I feel we will go one higher if we keep our defence as tight as last season, or ideally a bit tighter, and score about a dozen more goals.

Wenger can now mix and match his attack per game if he so wishes, only to get to a regular strongest three up front eventually. Will it be Alexis – Perez – Theo, or Perez – Alexis – Theo, or will it be Perez – Giroud – Alexis?

It is also quite possible that the likes of Iwobi, Welbeck (once he is back), Akpom, the Ox or even Willock will play themselves in to the starting three up front. And then regular blogger Shard will, quite rightly so, point out that we also have Sanogo who seems to be good cover for Giroud’s holding/enabling CF role.

I know some wanted a super CF up front but I am really happy with the options we have in attack now. For sure, Wenger will change the starting three sometimes to deal with the tactics and strengths of the opposition and to keep everybody happy, but he will also be keen to combine the strongest three as much as possible. I reckon that would have to be Alexis, Ollie and Perez, and if together they can get 45-50 PL goals we will win the league this season. The rest will come from the other attackers, midfielders and defenders.

Although this firepower up front has the mouth water running, I am just as excited about the service they will be receiving from four super midfielders: Xhaka, Cazorla, Rambo and Ozil.

Normally only three of these four midfield maestros will play, unless Wenger opts to play one of them on the wing in tight games against strong opponents. With these midfielders anything is possible, and Coquelin and Elneny will add the necessary steel and composure if and when required.

Xhaka can turn the game from defence to counter attack with one diagonal long distance pass from deep. Rambo and/or Santi can add the integrate play to dominate the midfield and creatively find the gaps and passes to launch deadly attacks. Furthermore, Rambo adds his engine to connect the defence with midfield, and midfield with the attack. And Mesut is our third dimension of finding space and time to instigate the winning attacking formula time and again. Which other team has such a talented group of creative, visionary midfielders that add a number of dimensions to our attacking play?

Of course we will have to see how this will work out in practice now. But I reckon our options up front and in midfield are now very strong and will make us very unpredictable and thus hard to play against. Rather than a predictable, one-dimensional feed the super striker game like they prefer in Manchester, we will go for the title by spreading the goals amongst three or four attackers and feeding them from all angles.

Whether it will work out remains to be seen, but that is what the seasonal football journey is all about! 😉

By TotalArsenal

Mahrez, Giroud, Alexis and Ozil: The Dream Attack to Win the Title

50 goals from our first choice attackers and nr10:

surely enough to win the title?!

I reckon we lost the league last year because it was the Foxes’ year. Leicester Cinderella City became the neutrals’ favourite to win the title: a collective wishful thinking on and off the pitch made it happen, and there was little that could have been done about it, it seems. Yet, we have to look at ourselves and judge where we could have done better to at least come a lot closer than the ten point gap the Foxes managed to establish between us and them.

LC scored only three more goals than us (68) and conceded the same number of goals (36), yet they lost only three games whilst we were on the losing side seven times. They won 11 of their 19 away games whereas we only managed to win eight away from home. Both teams won the same number of home games but Arsenal lost three times whereas the Foxes only lost the one game at home… the one that matters most to us, though 😉 .

Losing four more games than LC is what made the difference of course, and this had all to do with efficiency. The goals for and against are almost the same, but the Foxes’ shift towards a more Italian, defensive style of play in the second part of the season saw them collect points on a massive scale through a mean defence and a spluttering but still not totally dead attack. Most importantly, they had two major goal threats in Vardy (24 PL goals) and Mahrez (17 PL goals), and when one was struggling to find the net the other would not; how different from Arsenal in the second part of the season!

We also needed to be more secure in defence; especially in the second part of the season we gave away too many winning positions, or made it really hard for ourselves by conceding first through careless defending, which cost us dearly. But that is for another post.

When Ollie went through a drought, the likes of Alexis, Ozil and Theo did not fill the gap, and that is what needs to be addressed this season. Ozil is of course our assists king and with six PL goals and 19 assists (121 PL minutes between goals/assists on average), I am just hoping he will score a few more and replicate the assists tally in the coming season.

Alexis had a relatively quiet season with 13 goals and four assists (144 PL minutes between goals/assists on average) but yet he did his part to some extent. Giroud did his bit to a large extent in the role of ‘Holding Striker/ attack enabler and finisher’ with 16 goals and 6 assists (110 PL minutes between goals/assists on average). Unless Wenger decides to play a different system of football, which I very much doubt, Ollie will be leading the line once again with the same job description he was given in the last few seasons (it never stops to amaze me how very few people seem to [want to] grasp this, especially in the media, but there you go).

We all know that it stops there, with neither Theo (5 goals and 2 assists/ 196 minutes between goals/assists on average), or Danny, Ox or Joel delivering the goods from the right (or centre), due to a variety of reasons. Rather than choosing a beast of a traditional CF, I reckon Wenger will be looking to strengthen the right side of our attack as to get more balance in the team and reach a total of say 50 PL goals from our three first choice attackers and nr.10. He may be tempted to hope either Iwobi, Ox or Campbell will break through but this is a big risk to take; and he knows it.

The rumours re Mahrez continue and it is obvious why Wenger would like to add this gem of an Algerian to the first team. He can play on the right and with 17 goals and 11 assist (109 PL minutes between goals/assists on average) he would help us to re-balance the attack and make it a lot more lethal. If Ozil, Giroud and Alexis score the same number of goals next season as they did in the previous one, and Mahrez manages to score 15 for us, we would score 50 PL goals from our first choice attackers and nr.10. Surely that would swing things in our favour massively? You may say Mahrez will not have another season like that, which may be true, but I also reckon that Alexis is capable to come close to 20 PL goals in the coming season, which would balance things out.

Whether it will be Mahrez or another player who can complete the attacking ‘dream team’ remains to be seen, but it just feels like the Algerian is the perfect fit for our team. The likes of Iwobi, Campbell, Ox and possibly Theo will play a role in the wider squad but, ideally, we add a proven PL goals and assists star to the team to avoid periods of goal droughts and improve our chances to win the title dramatically.

By TotalArsenal.

‘Giroud is rubbish!’ Why Wenger will not buy a ‘proper CF’

ArsenalTeam

Every time, good old Giroud misses a few chances and we do not win a game, you can count on supporters demanding Arsenal to buy a ‘proper striker’. Many of these supporters do not want to hear about Ollie’s very impressive stats because they want to trust their own eyes, and these simply witness a striker not taking ‘easy’ chances, and then we draw or lose the game and there is only one conclusion to pull: Giroud is not worthy of the Arsenal shirt. Get rid of him you tight-arsed Wenger – spend some fecking money!

Sadly, fans love to focus on Ollie’s limitations rather than his qualities and attributes he brings to the team. They have a certain picture in their mind of what a centre forward at Arsenal should be like. Wenger has worked with and developed some of the finest CFs we have seen in this country: from Wright to Anelka, and from Henry to Van Persie. So, you wonder why he is sticking with Giroud as one of his key CFs in the team?

This season, he is giving Theo a chance up-front, and it even looks like Ollie has become our second choice CF. Theo got injured during the Sheffield Wednesday game, and OG12 has stepped up for us, getting goals against Swansea and Bayern away; but a goalless display against the much despised Spuds was enough to criticise him once more.

So what is wrong with Wenger: why does he keep his trust in Giroud? Why doesn’t he get a ‘typical’ Arsenal striker who can score 25+ PL goals per season? Why does he keep rolling the coins in his richly filled trouser pockets?

I reckon Arsene knows better than any of us what a top quality ‘classical’ CF should be like, and he also knows that Giroud is not one of them. But you might remember Gazidis saying back in 2012 that Arsene allowed Van Persie to go for technical/footballing reasons. Many of us, including me, pooh poohed that comment back then, believing we were simply not able to keep him any longer and did not want to lose out on £24m by forcing him to serve out his contract. With hindsight, I reckon the footballing reason was with reference to our over-reliance on a top quality CF, and the risks that come with this.

In the 2011-12 season, we had become very dependent on Van Persie to win us games. The Dutchman loved to be the centre of attention and he revelled in the responsibility he was given. But Wenger, who at the time had very few alternatives for scoring goals on the pitch and on bench, will have realised that our overdependence on him could have easily ended up in catastrophe. An injury to Van Persie, or a sustained loss of form, could have been disastrous to our (minimum of) top four target. He bought Podolski before Van Persie was sold, and he brought Giroud to replace the Dutchman after the latter had fallen for the beauty of old Red Nose.

Since then we added Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck to our attack, let Podolski go and gave Campbell a chance to proof himself after a number of loan spells. None of these players, nor Theo, are typical CFs in the Henry or Van Persie modes. But what we do so much better now, is spread the goals between a number of players. Giroud (in 620 PL minutes) and Alexis (in 957 PL minutes) have each six PL goals, Theo has two (in 503 PL minutes), Koz has two and then there are a few players with a single goal for the team. Not a bad return for 12 PL games, and we also now know that if one of our key goal scorers has an off day or is injured, you can count on another one filling the void.

This is so much better than being over reliant on one top CF, like Man City were to a large extent last season: once Aguero got injured they quickly became toothless and ended up winning nothing. The same goes for Manchester United, once Van Persie lost his shooting boots two seasons ago, the club struggled to get back to anywhere near the PL top, and Van Gaal still has not got the balance right.

None of our main competitors in the PL have a genuine top, 25+ CF anymore, other than MC, it seems. However, even the Northern Oilers have brought in a number of attackers to spread the goals as well, with Bony, De Bruine and Sterling all joining the club for £100m+ in 2015. Despite this, they only scored two goals in their last three PL games (after netting 24 in just 9 PL games) when they had to manage without the Argentinian firecracker, drawing against MU and Villa and just outscoring Norwich at home with the one goal. Furthermore, MU’s top goal scorer is Mata (!) with four goals currently, and the Chavs do not even feature in the BBC PL top scorers’ list 🙂 . The Spuds have Kane on six goals (in 1040 PL minutes). The question to ask ourselves is, is it really that hard to find a top quality CF or are clubs moving towards spreading the goals over more than one or two players, thus reducing their dependence on the one top quality CF?

Some might say it is simply a matter of having a good replacement on the bench in case your top CF gets injured; but, loose from the fact that top quality CFs are in short supply currently, a quality CF will simply not accept a second fiddle role. Instead, it is far better to spread the goals within the team: we become less reliant on the one individual and our competitors have a far more difficult job in isolating our goal-threat.

Finally, what Giroud, Alexis, Welbeck and Theo all have in common is that they have stamina and work their socks off (yes even Theo is doing this now) – something Podolski could not offer for 90 minutes, and I reckon this was the main reason for letting him go this summer. They are also different attackers with individual strengths that the team is utilising better and better. And together they get the job done, being both unpredictable and highly successful in getting the ball into the net in almost all games we play. I like to believe this is all part of Wenger’s bigger plan.

So, next time we do not win a game, make sure you do not focus on the one individual but realise that it is a collective failure. Times have changed, and the classic 25+ PL goals per season super CF may well be a thing of the past.

By TotalArsenal

The CoCa wall – with Rambo, Ozil, Alexis behind OG: Hull Line-Up | Preview

A Monday Night in May. Where Does Motivation Come From as the Season Winds Down?

A trip to Hull. On a Monday night. The League Title celebrated the day before in South London. Can this Arsenal team find the motivation to play professionally and put the hurt to a team playing for survival? It’s a real question but one which I think we can answer in the affirmative.

Hull-Citys-KC-Stadium-001

Let’s make no bones about it, Hull will test us. Their recent wins at Crystal Palace and, in their own KC Stadium, against Liverpool, have stopped their late season fall towards the relegation zone. The teams looking for a way up and out of that part of the table have targeted Hull and their very difficult final matches, including this one. With those wins, however, Hull have reversed their slide and now look a good bet to stay up. They can afford to drop points to us, but why should they? The easiest time to play well–and spring another upset–is when you’re already doing so. If you can do it in front of your home support, all the better.

Luckily, Arsenal have enough experience playing Steve Bruce’s team to take nothing for granted. Last season, in this same fixture, also played late on, we survived an early (mostly) aerial onslaught and then won 3-nil on a goal from Aaron Ramsey and a brace from Lukas Poldolski. Hull brought a similar style to the FA Cup final at Wembley and their two early goals from set pieces meant Arsenal needed goals from Santi Cazorla and Laurent Kolscielny to level things in regular time. That got us to extra time, where Aaron Ramsey was able to slot home so that Arsenal could lift its first trophy in almost a decade.

While those matches might be a template for Hull’s approach to Monday’s match, they’ve also shown that they can hurt us from open play. In the reverse fixture played back in October, Arsenal were lucky to escape with a single point. It looked like it might be an easy one, but, after an early Alexis goal, Hull were able to equalize quickly through Mohamed Diame and then frustrate us for the remainder of the first half. Taking advantage of slack defending immediately after the half time talk, a quick cross from Ahmed Elmohamady found the head of Abel Hernandez to make it 2-1. From there, Hull proved extremely difficult to break down and only a 91st minute goal, made when Alexis was able to break through their lines to find Danny Welbeck, grabbed us the consolation point.

That match was a real low point for Arsenal this past Autumn, and we were missing several players who have now become fixtures in our first 11. Since the beginning of 2015 things have been much better and we were able to beat Hull in rather routine and convincing fashion (2-nil) when the finalists faced each other in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Already, at that time, Bruce seemed to be girding his group for the relegation battle they now face. With their two recent wins they sit on 34 points and cannot fall into the bottom 3 no matter the result of this one. For this we should be grateful. Their fine recent play has come through patience and commitment along with the emergence of a new scoring threat in Dame N’Doye. They will not be easy to break down and we must beware their threat on the break.
They are also very good at frustrating through their use of the entire pitch. Former Spurs Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore can control the ball from deeper central positions and Elmohamady is always dangerous on the wing. Beware also experienced players like Gaston Ramirez and Sone Aluko. We may catch a break as Diame and Nikita Jelavic are listed as injury doubts and the imposing defender Curtis Davies is definitely out. What Hull might lack in pace they make up for in size and graft; they will look to slow the match through set pieces and take advantage of the lack of height our current #1, David Ospina, presents at these opportunities.

Arsenal, by contrast, and for the first time in several seasons, do not seem in particular danger of relegation from our own minimum standard: qualification for next season’s Champions League tournament via a top-four finish. Currently, we sit six points clear of 5th place Liverpool with this match to play and an additional game in hand. With another FA Cup final on the horizon and in a tight race for 2nd place with the two Manchester teams, Arsenal would be well minded to play with full professionalism to find a way through another team set out to stop us.

It’s tempting to believe that doing so against Hull might prove easier than in our last match vs. Chelsea. We must, however, bring a similar effort and not let our guard down, thinking Hull will be a pushover. Against Chelsea, and in other matches against stout defenders, notably AS Monaco in the Champions League, we’ve had trouble maintaining spacing and remaining patient in attack. I think we’ll go with a largely unchanged line-up but there must be a full commitment to using the entire pitch with players moving smartly to cover for others going central or forward in attack and then taking the chances as they are offered. High balls in to our focal point, CF Olivier Giroud, should be alternated with tighter combinations and balls to his feet. Most of all, our remaining attackers must keep running, chasing the loose balls and filling spaces to pounce on opportunities, while remaining committed to preventing Hull from moving with the ball in the other direction. Using the full backs and deeper lying midfielders with intelligence and an eye for getting back quickly will be key.

As such, my guess is that we’ll go with an unchanged line-up from the one used in our previous three league matches, though we may see early subs if Hull are able to frustrate us or if we fall behind. Ideally a couple of early goals might allow a chance to work in players coming off long-term injuries who might need a chance to prove themselves as the run-in continues.

First 11:

ars v hull May 15

Subs: Szczesny, Gibbs, Gabriel, Flamini, Wilshere, Welbeck, Walcott

As always, that’s just my best guess. Could Arsene Wenger, fearing a let down after the Chelsea match, ring the changes to perhaps suggest that nobody’s place is safe? I believe our ability to play a consistent group has been a key in our improved form this winter and into the spring. Still, given our reasonably secure position in the table, it may be time to start thinking more deeply about the future and give players a chance to contribute ahead of the Cup final, not to mention the summer transfer window. My hunch is that such rotation begins next week, at our home stadium, against a mid-table team with nothing to play for (Swansea).

My opinion, of course, matters exactly the same as other Gooners’, and not at all compared to Wenger’s. Other Gooners may have (very) different ideas: Please share yours. Hull away, I think, is an opportunity to further refine our solid balance between defending and attacking and continue to grow understanding and connection amongst our core group of players. Finishing as high up the table as possible is important, as is preparing in professional fashion for the FA Cup final and showing the best that Arsenal can be.

Go on then…
By: 17highburyterrace

This is not The Arsenal I have been supporting for 15 years

First I think I have to start with the game against Monaco. It has been a while since I was so furious, and this was when we were still at nil-nil. The performance was lackadaisical, complacent and lazy, and any other term you can think of. Tentative, SLOW passing, no effort to win the ball back when we lost the ball, which is fast becoming an Arsenal trade mark. Even after we concede twice, not much changed until the 89th minute. Honestly the less said about that game, the better.

Then there was the victory against Everton. A game which we won, but were dominated almost throughout. I mean we won yes, but I wasn’t impressed at all. This is not the Arsenal I have been supporting for a decade and a half. We cannot hold on to the ball in midfield to save our lives. Our passing is slow and laboured. That movement we had off the ball that allowed us to play the slick fluid game we were so well known for has vanished into thin air. Watching us try to force passing moves in a congested Everton box just wore my patience thin. Something has to change.

From where I sit, I feel like we need to go back to basics. Simply training harder on passing & more importantly moving. Training our technically gifted players on how, where & when to move in order to receive a pass and open up space for the rest and keeping the rhythm going.

So far it is like when Santi/ Ozil/Sanchez receive the ball, the rest watch him and wait to see what they will conjure up. Result? Dispossessing Arsenal has become like taking candy from a baby.

It is worth noting that another consequence of this is that every time we approach the opposition box, the player on the ball (usually Santi/Ox/Sanchez) is left to try something on their own, which again usually ends up one of three ways; wayward shots or shots directly at the keeper, losing the ball or passing backwards. There is an instance against Everton where I was watching Sanchez & Santi at the edge of the penalty box trying to pick a way into the opposition box and almost screamed. All the players around them were static so passing was slow and tedious, nobody had ideas and the result was just frustrating.

Many argue that teams sit deep and defend against us but those are just excuses IMO. Don’t they do the same against MCFC, CFC, LFC, even the Spuds? Haven’t they been doing that since we won the league unbeaten? So then why is it that because this current squad is struggling against those tactics it all of a sudden has become an issue? If you ask Cesc, Hleb & Rosicky what they had to contend with back in 2007, they will tell you the exact same thing. Defences parking buses in front of them. Somehow though, that never stopped them.

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I feel like a broken record saying this but I will say it anyway. With the kind of players we have, this is the last thing I should be talking about.

I am not sure playing Ozil & Santi together is working. Why isn’t TR7 ever on the first team line-up? When he plays, we look more assured in possession. When he comes on we look more dangerous, more purposeful. I am not a coach so I won’t try to tell Wenger how to do his job but we do need to see results. And soon. Otherwise, we’ll just start losing our stars like we did for so long.

We surely can do much better.

COYG!!

By Marcus

Theo in Trouble: Would he make Arsenal’s Best-11?

A nightmare on Arsenal's wing

My previous post (in which I pointed out our need for improvement) was inspired by performances such as that against Crystal Palace. We were very lucky to leave with three points and in my opinion, given the squad we have, these aren’t words that should be coming out of my mouth – much less against such opposition. Anyway, the important thing is we got the three points and I’m hoping we have taken the lessons from that game.

My post today comes from a very curious place. I have noticed that Welbeck & the Ox have been getting the nod over Theo despite the fact that he is one of our team’s best finishers. Interestingly, when I watched Welbeck play against the Spuds, I thought to myself that Theo is in a very precarious position right now. I didn’t think anything of it at the time but the more I see how our team is playing the more I fear for him.

Apart from Sanchez, I doubt there is a better finisher in our team than Theo. The problem is he offers very little when we are chasing possession. You watch how hard the Ox, Welbz, Alexis (obviously), Santi & even Ozil work to win back possession, and you begin to see Theo in a new light. In truth, he doesn’t work hard enough for the team. When we don’t have possession Theo is more of a ‘lurker’. He lurks around waiting for one of his team mates to win back possession and he sparks into life. Mesut Ozil learned the hard way but is now one of our 4 top performers.

What makes this situation even more ominous is that these days we aren’t the Arsenal who used to dominate games from minute zero to 90. In a game like against Crystal Palace, Theo’s shortcomings would have been laid bare for all to see. On top of that, he would be playing opposite Alexis whose work rate would put him to shame. When we signed Alexis we signed someone who would take our team to a new level. He is simply an inspirational character. That is why some of our players have taken their games up a notch.

To be fair to Theo, he missed a whole year of football. Arsene Wenger said (and rightly so) that the pre-injury Theo was the best he had ever seen and that is why I am still backing him to regain his place in the starting 11. That said he can’t afford to rest on his laurels. When Theo got injured he left a team that was to some extent dependent on him and his goals, but he returned to find a team with stars everywhere on the field. He no longer can waltz into the team like he used to.

I still believe that Theo will get back to his best and reclaim his place. He will find that doing that isn’t as easy as he may have imagined. And who can complain when everyone in the team is making each other better?

COYG!

Thanks Voetbal International for picture
Thanks Voetbal International for picture

By Marcus