9 Dec ’15: A New Star is Born, Ollie’s First Hattrick, Mesut silences Athens! Match Review

Sweet Sixteen for the Sweet Sixteenth Time in succession!

Last night’s performance was not one of the best ones ever, but it certainly was close to it. Olympiakos are not strong enough an opponent to qualify last night’s victory as truly ‘great’. Nevertheless, it was a very fine, passionate and professional performance by Wenger’s men, and we have every right to be proud of them. Yesterday the Gunners completed the trilogy of our great escape: two splendid, hard-fought-for wins against Bayern and Dynamo Zagreb was followed by the demolition of the Greek champions in their own bastion; and it us not them who still have a chance to make it all the way to the final in Milan.

Wenger in zevende hemel na onvergetelijke avond

In previous encounters against the Greeks, we had already qualified for the next round of the CL, and we more than once treated the final CL group game against them as an opportunity to blood some youngsters and rehabilitate some of our (many) injured. This, combined with Olympiakos’ hostile environment and no necessity to win, often led to bad performances in which we left all three points in Athens.

This time round, we needed to score at least two goals but ideally three to make it through to the next round. We also had to make sure that they did not score, as we then really needed three or more goals to go through. Our tactics and focus for last night’s game were great and that made all the difference. You could clearly tell we were the team that qualified for the last sixteen in the CL fifteen times, and that our opponents had no experience in getting there. Olympiakos really struggled with how to approach the game as a win, draw, or even ‘a small loss’ would have been enough for them: too many options can easily lead to a lack of focus and team cohesion… and it clearly did last night for them.

We started a bit nervous, though. Olympiakos had come out to attack and get that all important goal that would force us to score at least three in order to go through. We were vulnerable in defence initially, especially on our RB side. Bellerin was often left exposed by his colleagues and Olympiakos forced through a few effective attacks from their left wing.

We did well enough not to concede a goal and especially Koz was superb in our defence from the start. After twenty minutes or so, we started to turn the game around. It started with a classic Arsenal attack, involving Giroud as our holding pivot in attack, Campbell as our winger who made an aggressive run and produced a perfect pull-back, and Flamini as our box to box midfielder arriving just in time to slot the ball into the net… a deflection and the bar prevented us from getting our first goal.

This fluent attack gave us confidence, and after it we never looked back. Soon Ozil found Rambo with a beautiful defence splitting pass on our left wing. Rambo had indicated were he wanted the ball with a quick hand wave and Ozil reacted super fast with a superbly measured ball. Aaron picked out his mate Giroud – a friendship that has needed no time to be rekindled – and Ollie made the best of not an easy header. The goalie should probably have done better but well done Ollie for being positive and make the goal keeper work. It paid off handsomely – the luck of the good-looking?

We held on to that score till half time without pressing too hard for the second. This was very impressive of the team; it showed their maturity and confidence that it would all come good. If the first goal did not have the purists purring, the second one surely would do it. Ozil played a quick high ball towards the box where Campbell was anticipating his pass. Joel had plenty to do with that Mesut ball, but he killed the ball in one go with his upper-leg superbly. He then meandered with the ball through the Olympiakos defence to spot, and then find with a precisely measured ball, the onrushing Giroud. Ollie could not miss this one and was rewarded for his involvement at the start of the attack and his great run into the box. But surely, the big plaudits should go to Joel for one of the finest non-Ozil assists we will see all season.

Two nil and almost there. What should we do: barricade ourselves in front of Cech or go all out for the third goal? The team handled this very well: we did not expose ourselves much in defence and yet we kept attacking, although at a lower tempo. Another fine attack saw Nacho shooting the ball diagonally from the box that was stopped by an Olympiakos arm: penalty, and a great chance to put the game to bed. Up stepped man of the brace, Giroud, and he scored the pen with great calm and control to complete his first ever Arsenal hat-trick. 3-0 and game over: job done with 23 minutes to go. The defence held out without too much trouble and our fine attackers helped out nicely. At the same time, they were able to unwind and relax their muscles for our clash with the desperate-for-points Villains on Sunday.

This game was a great show of maturity and professionalism, and the much used cliché, teamwork. If you had written the dream-script for this game, you would have wanted a goal within the first thirty minutes and then two more in the next forty minutes, and a clean sheet of course. You would have wanted our stars to deliver and the rest to work hard; the whole team to play as one and to play with passion for the shirt; and you would also have really wanted a new star to be born: and last night, 9 December 2015, Joel Nathaniel Campbell Samuels, born 23 years ago in San Jose, Costa Rica, was reborn a Gunner in divine Athens. And Arsene and his men totally delivered the dream-script last night!

Here we come again Europe: in the last sixteen in the Champions League for the sixteenth time in succession!  Start booking your flights to Milan, fine fellow Gooners, cause I have a funny feeling we might make it all the way to the final this time round.

Ooh to, Ooh to be, Ooh to be a GOONER! 🙂

By TotalArsenal

For completeness, here are the player ratings again I published yesterday:

Cech: 8 | Not much to do for large parts of the game, but always in control and he just oozes calm and control. Had a couple of routine saves to make which he did faultless.

Nacho: 8.5 | Great going forward and mostly solid at the back. He collaborates so easily with fellow defenders, midfielders and attackers. The complete full back, with a great engine and passion.

Koz: 9 | Total Warrior, whose drive, reading of the game and interceptions are an inspiration to the entire team. Great partnership with BFG tonight.

BFG: 8.5 | Left us sometimes a bit exposed with his positioning, but very strong second half. Master in the air and some very good interceptions.

Bellerin: 7.5 | Struggling a bit to get his game going, both defensively and offensively, but improved a lot in second half. Hector Vector is missing Ramsey as his steady right wing partner.

Flamini: 8 | Solid shift with more defensive discipline than at the weekend. Unlucky not to score after a fine run into the box in the first half.

Rambo: 8.5 | Great all-round midfield play, linking up midfield with attack and defence brilliantly. Just kept on motoring, and great run and cross for the first goal.

Campbell: 8.5 | Needs to toughen up to win more defensive one to ones, but great attacking game with a sublime assist for Ollie’s second: what a calm in the storm he has, and what great vision and technical ability to pick out Ollie amongst all those defenders. Continued to have a great attacking drive and helped out in defence too.

Ozil: 9 | Superb pre-assist for the first goal, launching Ramsey with the perfect through ball: how did he see that one? Led the team in all areas, always making himself available and winning vital seconds for the team on the ball.

Theo: 7 | Very rusty with his passing and ball touches, but a constant menace with his runs, creating space for others and putting pressure on the Greek defence constantly.

Ollie: 10 | A master class of total CF play: harassed the opposition constantly, brilliant hold up play to allow the team to breath and link up with him, fine defensive cover during set pieces, great runs into the box, and a hat trick. He also had the cool head to slot the penalty in, after which the game was over.

 

 

Mesut/Alexis MOTM | Nacho Perfect | FlamCar in Control: Player Ratings | 8 Positives

Well that was just what the doctor ordered: high tempo, crisp passing, fine combination football and the stars of the show shining at their brightest! Not much time, but here are my eight positives of the game.

  1. Ozil and Sanchez’s energy and creativity were too much for Zagreb: three goals and one assist between them is a very good return for all the hard work. Seeing Ozil score almost twice with his head tells us a lot as well. He is making more runs into the box now to be at the end of a chance rather than only creating them, and that is just what we need currently, as we have been lacking goals from central midfield.
  2. Nacho was awesome, both in defence and in attack. A great assist for Sanchez’s first goal, but he could have had more. What a great wing-back we have in Monreal.
  3. Giroud worked hard to create space and chances for others. He did not score this time round, but he carries so much goal-threat that defenders have to stay with him, and this opened them up for sharp-shooter, Alexis and smooth operator, Ozil.
  4. The Flam-Car DM pivot worked well tonight: they bossed the midfield defensively and made good contributions offensively. Santi offered a lot creativity and pushed the team on from the back: he had a really good game.
  5. Campbell had a great assist and had some good spells, especially at the start of the game. Like the Ox, he tends to drift in and out of the game – the very opposite of the continuously driven Alexis – but he produced the goods when it mattered.
  6. Bellerin had great drive once again and as a result we could use the whole width of the pitch. We were really strong from the wings today and this is due to the creativity, drive and speed of the full backs and our ‘midwingers’ Alexis and Campbell.
  7. A clean sheet was very welcome, even though our defending was not always top notch. Something to build on now, and I hope Arsene will play the same back four and Cech against Norwich.
  8. The return of Ramsey was very welcome. He clearly looked rusty but coming on with no pressure and just being able to ease himself back into the first team will have done him good. In hindsight, I am glad Wenger did not start him.

Man of the match was SanOzil: both Sanchez and Ozil were magnificent and it would be wrong to choose between them on tonight’s performances.

Ratings (1-10):

Cech: 8 | Solid close save at the end of the game/ calm and in control.

Bellerin: 7.5 | Very driven going forward, one or two defensive mishaps

BFG: 7 | Calm and controlled, kept it simple and effective

Koz: 7.5 | Full of drive and healthy aggression – best game in a while

Nacho: 8.5 | Great runs and balls into the box – solid at the back too

Flam: 7.5 | Solid and confident – allowed others to play and good interceptions when we lost the ball

Cazorla: 8 | Good partnership with Flamini and a creative force all over the pitch

Ozil: 9 | Great on the pitch leadership and he made the team dance with his fine runs, fabulous control of the ball and passes – scored the all-important first goal

Alexis: 9 | Two goals and a fine assist – never gave up fighting and his link up play with Ozil was a joy to watch

Giroud: 7.5 | No goals or assist but did a lot of dirty work today to create space and opportunities for others

Campbell: 7.5 | Periods of great drive and creativity in which he takes the game to the opponent – need to become more consistent, but fine, fine through-ball for Sanchez’s second goal

By TotalArsenal.

No Danny OR Theo but AR, AS, MO, SC and OG to live the dream? CL Match preview

AS Monaco – Arsenal  Match Preview

2nd Leg–Champions League Round of 16

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To Dream the Impossible Dream or Tilting at Windmills?   Sancho Panza says, “Let’s Just Play Our Game, OK, Don Quixote…”

Belief (confidence) is a lovely thing, but sometimes it needs to be pushed aside and a game of football must simply be played.  As much as Arsenal are attempting to pump themselves up for an unprecedented come from behind 2nd leg against AS Monaco–where we will need no less than 3 goals in their stadium–it may be better to just play football and see what happens.

If only we had done that in the first leg...

So many Gooners, I believe, went into our round of 16 match-up with Monaco believing that the draw would give us a respite from those early eliminations we’ve experienced in recent years.  More than anything, I think, fans (and players perhaps) just wanted a reprieve from what I call Arsenal’s Champions League Conundrum–the fact that qualifying for a tournament we are (probably) not good enough to win is our primary objective each and every season.  Perhaps, having drawn one of the easier group winners, we might beat them and then ease ourselves into the eliminations.  A couple of more good draws, a bit of confidence and, who knows, anything can happen in tournament football.  It was a hopeful thought, at least.

Hope is not a plan, they say, and what did happen in the first leg happened at our expense.  Perhaps overly determined to give the home fans the experience they were seeking, Arsenal pushed too many men forward, found their own attacking spaces clogged, yet still made chances.  Those, however, were rushed and missed, mostly by our very in-form, center forward, Olivier Giroud.

Monaco slowly worked themselves into the game and found possession and space in our midfield.  A speculative effort from 35 yards by Geoffrey Kondogbia found our Captain, Per Mertesacker, unable to completely block nor completely remove himself from deflecting and the net bulged past our wrong footed keeper David Ospina.  The stadium was rocked–but not in a good way.  We played out the half but still could find no real pattern to our attack.  Monaco happily allowed us possession but still there was no space in the final third.  We can sort it at the break, thought the manager and players, perhaps.

Committed ideas about how to do so, however, may have been drowned out by the disappointment of the home crowd and their deep-seated desire for a better result.

In the 2nd half the pattern continued and, again, with too many men pushed forward, we were punished, this time by the vampire of White Hart Lane, Dimitar Berbatov. In retrospect, we were perhaps architects of our own downfall.  After all, a scoreline of nil-1 would have made tomorrow’s match far more manageable.

Even 2-nil would have been a better scoreline than what we face.  Still, it is not the job of the home support to realize that their role would end only at half-time of the 180 minute tie.  They wanted Arsenal to get some goals back and our tactics and substitutions suggested manager Arsene Wenger wanted the same.  It took even more spurned chances and all the way into injury time before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, in for holding midfielder, Francis Coquelin, got Arsenal on the board.  Nice.  1-2, and a hint of momentum to end the first leg.  Close up shop and get some goals at their place.  Instead, with hardly any time left, we wanted to reward the faithful who had stayed.  It was, maybe, a psychological trap and we fell right in.   In a blurred moment, our lads only saw positive outcomes and negatives were ignored.  Credit, however, must be given to the veteran Joao Moutinho and the young Monaco substitutes, Bernardo and Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco, who executed the counter-attack to perfection.  A stronger hand from Ospina might’ve spared blushes.  Instead we face a 3 goal mountain to climb.

But face it (and climb it) we must.  Play our game, keep moving in attack and use the technical abilties of our best players to try and get some goals.  In my opinion, there can be only one game plan and that is it.  We can give a goal and extend the match by half an hour, so, strangely enough, this one is not, necessarily, a defend-first sort of affair.  It’s a daunting task, no doubt, but clearly not beyond the realm of the possible.

It should be recalled, however, that Monaco are the stingiest of teams.  Since the beginning of December, in Ligue 1, they have conceded no more than 1 goal in any match, having done so only twice, keeping clean sheets in all the rest.  Before that, they qualified as winners of their CL group conceding only once.  Perhaps our best bet is that they’re so unfamiliar with allowing goals, that their confidence might be dented if they had to pick a ball out of their net.  Do it twice and it’s a double dent.

Now, I fear, the dream is on… Back to hard, cold reality.

For a change, reality at Arsenal isn’t all that bad.  It’s even possible we’ve turned a corner by coming back from that disappointing night with victories in the Premier League over Everton, QPR and West Ham, and with our FA Cup victory over Manchester United in their stadium.  In that stretch, using a group of 21 different players, the most important element has been a collective focus to get the job done.  It hasn’t always been perfect nor pretty, but it has worked.  Bring a similar focus, play our best group and don’t give up.  What more can we try?

For this one I would go with the following players: 

ars v monaco march 15

Subs: Szczesny, Chambers, Gibbs, Flamini, Welbeck, Walcott, Akpom

To me, those are our best players, although I can imagine that many would-be-managers will have strong contrary ideas.  Theo Walcott’s pace might be the answer for some.  (Personally, he seems the ideal sub, late on, if we can narrow the deficit.)  Others might call for the tireless pressing of Danny Welbeck which worked a treat at Old Trafford and yielded the winning goal against his former club.  The drive and experience of Tomas Rosicky would be another, but I wonder if he’s fully fit, given that he failed to make the bench vs West Ham just a couple of days ago.  Others might stump for Kieran Gibbs at left back given his superior pace.  (The lovely opening goal at ManU from Nacho Monreal, however, tips the balance towards the Spaniard, I think.)  A wilder call would be to restore Wojchiek Szczesny to keeper given that our need for goals will surely find us exposed once or twice and he’s modelled his “sweeper-keeper” game on Mertesacker’s international team mate, Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer.

No matter who plays, Arsenal will need to keep the pitch spaced and somehow find a way to open up the well disciplined opponent.  Some longer attempts early on might be needed to suggest that Monaco cannot simply funnel our play towards a clogged middle.  Our preferred style of 1-2s near the top of the box , or less charitably, our penchant for wanting to “walk-it-in,” has to be alternated with pot shots from distance or selective use of a bit of wide play aimed at the towering hair of Olivier Giroud.  Monaco were very successful in the first leg playing a flat back four which worked to eliminate our wider options and encourage our over-eager attackers (including our fullbacks) towards the penalty box where central midfielders and defenders were waiting, leaving us overly exposed on the counter.  Given no real call to score they could even throw more bodies into the defensive mix.  There will be an urgency to get an early goal but we cannot get frustrated if the chances are difficult to come by.   If there’s any call for belief, it would be in believing that they will come.  When they do, taking those chances and getting on the scoreboard seems the more important bit.

I’m curious what others feel on this account.  As much as I’d like to believe that belief itself is what might allow us this opportunity to make a bit of history and go deeper in the tournament, I’m also content to put all that aside and just try and play our football–the thing we will actually need to do as we continue in whatever competitions we’re in.  Arsenal have strong players, and, if they play at their best, they can’t help but create a level of belief that even very fine teams can be broken down.  Fans want success so much that failure, oftentimes at least, is associated with not wanting it sufficiently.  The massive task we face, I think, is at least partially a result of too much desire in the first leg.  Now, needing 3 goals against a team which rarely gives one, simply “wanting it” will not do the trick.  Nope, in this case (and all others, in fact) we actually have to do it…

Go on then…

By 17highburyterrace

 

Theatre of Screams, Maureen gets humiliated, Arsenal almost second and progress in FA Cup: What a Week!

Coquelin1

What a brilliant week for Arsenal! The much desired win against MU at the stadium of screams – dives need sound-effects after all – kicked it all off. The boys were still a little nervous, especially in attack, but as soon as the coolest cowboy in town – of all Gunners! – put the ball past his fellow countryman, they knew they could do it. Nacho, I will never forget that goal: you, senor, have balls! And how sweet was it to see Danny the Gunner put the winner past his old team mates in front of 65000 Mancs and 9000 away-Gooners? Making it to the last four of the FA cup and finally overcoming the non-oil funded Mancs was just brilliant.

And then came Wednesday, when the self-adoring one saw his bridge-babies go out to PSG, despite having the ref in their pocket, playing 60 minutes (excluding extra time) with 11 against 10, and going in the overall lead eight minutes before the end! The much overrated Chavs saw their dark tactics turn on them and they did not just lose their chance to progress in the CL, but also damaged further their brittle reputation. Maureen will almost certainly win the PL this year; but with all those draws against fellow competitors, inability to progress in the CL and a reputation of diving and general bad sportsmanship, his paymaster might soon be wielding the axe again. Wouldn’t that be nice?!

And then, to take all three points from the Champions, came Boyd’s daisy-cutter for Burnley. Arsenal had already put the Hammers to bed with a 3-0 thumping and had come within a point of second spot. A calm and disciplined performance saw us once again produce double figures of shots on target, eventually leading to three of the finest goals of Wengerball quality. The perfect preparation for a little encounter on Tuesday…

We had all expected a response by the Northern Oilers but they went out meekly against a bottom-three club. They now smell the mighty Red and White Arse-breath right behind them, and who would have thought this possible just two months ago? And if we can do it to the Northern Oilers, we might also do it to the Southern ones….

Speaking of which, they were held today by the Saints and dropped a further two points. The gap is still too big, but they need to go to relegation threatened Hull next and big Brucer will fancy given Maureen a bit of a game, don’t you think?

Of course, it is OGAAT for us, and we have a never easy away game against the Barcodes on Saturday. But first we will aim the red and white hot cannon on the tax avoiders of the Cote d’Azur. With Ozil, Alexis, Giroud, Theo, Santi and Ramsey we will be able to field a team which has plenty of goals in them – Wenger will need to leave at least one of these fine attackers out of the starting eleven, as the likes of Welbeck and Rosicky might also still claim a starter spot. It won’t be easy against Monaco, but we can do it: let there be no doubt about it. We can even afford to concede a goal, as we need to score three anyway…. and if we manage to score three, we can also score a fourth.

Some say we should take a planned approach and aim to score a goal in each third of the game, but I reckon we need to play at an insane tempo with tremendous pressure on the Monaco defence: the way we took Milan on a few years ago, when we almost did the impossible. It is all about finding their weakest spot(s) and cracking them open like a ripe walnut: and once we are in we need to pounce again and again. With Alexis’s tenacity and pure quality, Ozil’s genius, Theo’s speed and ability to finish cold-bloodedly, Giroud’s all-round ability, Santi’s wizardry and Ramsey’s engine and finishing ability, we have the weapons to take revenge. On top of that, our confidence is high and we now know how to win tough games.

Arsenal had a great week, but reaching the final eight of the CL would surely top it all. You are taking the urine I hear you say: a glass half full of it, is my response.

Come on you Rip Roaring Gunners – Time to load the Cannon once more! 🙂

By TotalArsenal.

Arsene Wenger’s biggest challenge is in midfield

Having had some time to reflect on our painful defeat on Wednesday, I am feeling a bit more positive now. I reckon it was a reality check for almost all of us.

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We are still a team that is looking for its true identity: some days we are brilliant, many days we are adequate and some days we are rubbish. And on Wednesday, as a team, we were bad, especially after we conceded the first goal. As long as Arsene does not get the midfield right, we will continue to have mixed performances.

We started slow but we were in control. There was a certain caution in our game and, given Monaco’s Portuguese style of play, which focuses hard on defending and breaking out quickly as soon as the ball is regained, that made sense – especially when we play a slow CB in the centre of our defence. I would have liked us to play a higher line and put more pressure on Monaco, with fast CBs – which would exclude Per on this occasion – as the best cover for their counter attacks; but leaving the BFG out of this big game was unlikely to happen. I would also have been happy with us playing deep and inviting them to come and attack us, for which Per would have been great of course. In the end we got a bit of both and it did not work out.

However, there is always an element of luck which determines the outcome of games: they scored with a deflection and we had our own man (Theo) blocking a sure goal from Welbeck. The Konogbia shot might have gone in without the deflection, but it was a big slice of luck for Monaco nevertheless. When you play a counterattacking team, nothing is worse than conceding the ‘away goal’ as the first one in a two-legged match. Playing in front of the home crowd means that sooner or later more risks will be taken, and that is exactly what the opponent was waiting for: and they punished us in style, it has to be said.

It was, of course, also a master class of how to play deep and on the counter; and, as we also witnessed when Monaco played against us in the Emirates Cup, their players are fit and strong, play with excellent team discipline and game plan, and are not afraid to make cynical fouls. As others have mentioned, the game had that horrible Mourinho feeling about it: it is the sort of football – not alien to us any more either – that sucks the life out of you, looks for your weaknesses and punishes you remorselessly. And they did.

Our game plan, a mixture of sitting semi-deep and pressing semi-high, did not work out. Wenger was right to have a go at our defending and we were also unlucky that Giroud had a bad-hair-day, as it could have been very different had he found the net early on, but I hope our long-in-the-teeth manager will also see that his game tactics did not work. I guess it is the fear of conceding an away goal against a strong defensive team that kept Arsene from going all out on attack; and I also reckon it is the belief in our own attacking strengths and qualities that kept us from playing the Monaco brand of footie.

On top of that, we just have not got the mix in midfield right to know what we can expect and deal with any opponent/tactics effectively. The Monaco midfield out-powered and out-witted ours and it was not the first time that we lost the battle in this crucial area this season. All our midfielders are great but getting the chemistry right in our 4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1 formations is proving to be Arsene’s biggest challenge again this season.

Ox scored the goal of the night and it could still be a very important one. But the way we conceded the last one, with our young Englishman at the root of it, was the most painful moment of this season for me. Now we have to score at least three times to go through, which is really one too many. But this result also forces Wenger’s hand in three weeks time; it allows our team to play to our natural instincts and playing culture. It is about all out attack and giving them hell: never time to settle and show them what the Arsenal are all about. It probably will not be enough to go through, but there is something else at stake here: our spirit, our backbone, our reputation, our pride.

COYG

Stand Tall And Make Us Proud Again.

By TotalArsenal.

Santi and Coquelin in DM-pivot, Welbeck and Alexis on wings: Line-up & Preview

Arsenal-AS Monaco  

Champions League Round of 16, First Leg

No Changes from Saturday?

The past and present are coming together for Arsene on Wednesday night.
The past and present are coming together for Arsene on Wednesday night.

There’s something about being a supporter of Arsenal which is strange.  Maybe it’s the same with all football clubs and all teams in all sports, but I would doubt it.  For Gooners, there’s the game, but there’s also what it means.

Nothing means more than the elimination rounds of the Champions League, the biggest trophy (literally and figuratively) in all of club football.   Arsene Wenger, the longest serving manager of an English club by approximately a factor of 10, has gotten his teams to this stage of the competition every year since the second group stage was eliminated.  It’s a feat which represents an amazing consistency and, as they say, if you’re not in it, you can’t win it.  Still, as so many of Wenger’s detractors might argue, we haven’t won it, so what’s so great about always being in a competition we DON’T actually win?

The answer, of course, is money, but that’s a topic that (ideally) will not be on our minds as our supporters take up their (most-expensive-in-all-of-Europe) seats to watch their team play AS Monaco tomorrow night.  Those same fans will know that just about anything can happen.  Four years ago, in this same round and in memorable fashion, Arsenal came from a goal down to beat FC Barcelona on the strength of goals from Robin Van Persie and Andrey Arshavin.  More recently, in the group stage last Autumn, Arsenal blew a three goal lead vs Anderlecht FC, and, with it, the chance to win our group.   “Anything at Arsenal,” (or it’s converse, “No Such Thing as a Sure Thing…”) maybe ought to be our mantra…

Drawing that latter match meant coming 2nd in the group and a possibility of drawing the three tough Spanish clubs (Atletico and Real Madrid and Barca) or Bayern Munich (for the third straight season) or AS Monaco–clearly the most promising option for progressing further.  For once, a bit of luck came our way.

Ah, Monaco…the tiny principality on the French Riviera which conjures up so many images.  For people from the States like me (of a certain age) it will always be the home of actress Grace Kelly who became Princess and later died tragically in a car crash.   Marry that to the image of James Bond playing Baccarat at the Monte Carlo casino and the romance of the tiny tax haven is extreme.  It is this tax-exempt element which has allowed the football club to punch above its weight.  It was a launching point for our manager some 25+ years ago and for one of our greatest players, Thierry Henry, not long after Wenger had departed.  More recently, it has been a gathering place for some very talented (and expensive) footballers.  This past Summer saw the exodus of Colombians Rademal Falcao and James Rodriguez, but Monaco still boasts pedigreed players like Joao Motinho, Ricardo Carvalho, Jeremy Toulalan, Martin Steklenburg and Dimitar Berbatov.  These players are attracted by the relatively higher salaries (or amounts they–and their agents–can keep due to lower taxes) as are younger prospects like French U-21 sensation (and the defensive midfielder many wanted at Arsenal) Geoffrey Kongdogbia, Portuguese mid-fielder Bernado Silva and the exciting Belgian speedster Yannick Ferriera Carrasco.

With players like these, Monaco didn’t win their group with luck alone.  And, even though manager Leonardo Jardim insists his team is not all about defending, surely they will set out to limit our offensive threat and play on the break.  Why shouldn’t they, given that they came only a single goal shy of keeping a perfect record of 6 clean sheets during the group stage of this tournament and are unbeaten in their last 17 matches in all competitions having conceded only 3 goals?   In their most recent match, despite playing with only 10 men for over half the match, they kept a clean sheet and prevailed over Cote d’Azur rival Nice, poaching the winning goal with pressing from the front.

Breaking down such a formidable opponent will not be easy even if Monaco may have to shift personnel due to injury and the suspension of Toulalan.

Arsenal, by contrast, in recent matches at least, have been scoring early and then defending those leads with somewhat mixed results.  In our own league the clean sheets have dried up and a one goal lead at Spurs was not enough.   Against teams closer to the bottom, Leicester City and Crystal Palace, scoring twice in the first half has been a recipe for success even if we haven’t appeared fully convincing defending those leads and seeing them halved as the matches wore on.

Perhaps the best blueprint for this match was the last time we played against a team from another league.  Against Middlesbrough, leaders of the English second division, Arsenal played its most beguiling football of the season and two goals (scored in the space of just a couple of minutes) were enough to add punctuation to a pattern of dominance.  Our reward is a big quarterfinal match-up at Manchester United in the FA Cup.  Monaco tomorrow night represents a big step up in competition, but with the away goals rule in place (a clean sheet being the first priority for the home side) it may also suggest how Arsenal wants to approach our play in these cup ties.  A platform of strong defence, aggressive play from our full backs and dominance in midfield (to carry into return legs) will be the priorities.  As they say, you cannot win the tie in the first leg, but you sure can lose it…

Fitness news suggests all who played at Crystal Palace are available for this one and there are no new injuries in the squad, except that Jack Wilshere (an unused sub at the weekend) will be “short” for this match, even though “he did not have a setback.”  Hmmm.  Amongst the several languages Wenger speaks, “injury news” is the only one which does not have a translation dictionary.  My guess is that Wenger will not change much, if at all, from the weekend.  Here then is my best guess at the line-up.

arse v Monaco Feb 15

(Subs: Szczesny, Gabriel, Gibbs, Flamini, Rosicky, Walcott, Akpom)

Keen observers (those still reading…) will note that this is an unchanged line-up from Saturday with the only change being Flamini in Wilshere’s bench seat.  Boring. boring Arsene…

Of course, what (the f**k) do I know?  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Theo out there instead of Welbeck or Gibbs (who was very effective, especially in attack vs Boro) in at left back.  Has Hector Bellerin been dropped or is he truly carrying a knock?  His experience with continental referee styles might be helpful.  There was some suggestion that Szczesny might come back in for Ospina, who seemed hurt in the Palace match before carrying on, but I cannot see that happening as long as the Colombian does enough to keep winning matches.   We have matches coming thick and fast (after this we play Everton on Sunday then QPR next Wednesday), but exerting full dominance in this home leg, including, ideally a clean sheet plus a goal or two, might allow for more rotation in the future.

What do you guys think?  Will Wenger go for the same line-up or is this a chance to ring in the changes?

Regardless, this is as fine a chance to get off on the correct foot in the elimination rounds as we’ve had in several seasons.  The squad seems healthier, deeper and stronger even if the names of the clubs in the final 16 appear as daunting as ever.

Can we get past this round (for the first time in 5 seasons)?  How far can we go in the tournament?  So many questions and the answers start tomorrow night.  Go on, then…

By 17highburyterrace

Wenger and Ramsey Are Teaching Us a Lesson

Yesterday’s game against the team with five As in its name was very pleasing on the eye. It was obvious that Galatasaray did not care much about the match as they attacked without vigour and defended without much care. There was so much space and time to play the ball round for us, and for once the team had their shooting boots on from the start. Alexis will have been nodding his head sagely from the comfort of his couch, massively encouraged by the quality of the finishing by his fellow team mates.

Happiness is a warm Gunner, bang-bang-shoot-shoot, and both the Pod and the Ram showed the Turks where to put their post stamps from now on with stunning technical shots into the left-hand corner of the goal. The game was over in no time, with Ramsey’s beautifully placed pile driver sealing it once and for all.

There is a balance to be held in our Arsenal team: one of hard workers on the one hand and high technically skilled stars on the other. Flamini, BFG, Giroud, Sanogo, Nacho, Welbeck, Koz and one or two others are the hard workers, and the likes of Ozil, Wilshere, Ox, Diaby, Walcott etc are the truly gifted ones. The latter group will have to put in a shift as well in order to become first teamers in Arsene’s regular eleven, but this is not their natural strength.

Of course, we also need players who have a lot of both, grafters and craftsmen in one if you like; and we all know who they are: Alexis, Gibbs, Debuchy, Chambers (still needs developing though), Arteta and Ramsey. Arteta is getting on a bit now and will need replacing, although he should be retained in the squad for a few years to come.

Getting the balance right is key and for that Wenger would love to have his whole squad available. Hopefully soon, we will have a fully fit (or there about) squad available and then we can truly judge the quality of our team compared to other top teams.

The spine of the team is so important, and in the middle of the spine we need a good DM AND the engine….. the box to box midfielder, the linker between attack and defence.

And for this, Ramsey is very, very important (and so is Wilshere but that is for another post). It looked for a while that he just was not able to get back to his fantastic form of last season, as if the b2b-Beast potion he had swallowed back then had finally ran its course. His passing was heavy and his goal attempts were rubbish, and it just looked like he would continue to struggle for a long time.

Many fellow Gooners felt he should be benched and other players should be given a chance. But, as I have explained on a few occasions, Wenger does not work that way. He knows that Aaron is out of form, but also that he has not lost his qualities or drive.

It was simply a matter of having trust in him and giving him confidence. This is not done by benching a player and showing him the competition is ready to dump him on the bench for good, or worse. Management by fear and sanctions is not Wenger’s style: he is a Y-manager and not an X-manager, using McGregor’s classification of managers. He believes in players being self-motivated and keen to succeed and that they need support and confidence in order to do so. Carrots and strokes rather than sticks and ridicule.

It may have taken a while and cost us a few points, but Arsene’s patience and trust in Aaron is paying dividend now. Three goals and two assists in the last three games are very encouraging: let it be the start of a glorious remainder of the season for both Ramsey and indeed the team as a whole.

cid177701_PodolskiRamseyVI01_1180_580x310

 

If Ramsey is on a role, Arsenal’s motor is purring, and boy was it a joy to listen to it during the first half v Galatasaray.

‘I’ll take 50% efficiency to get 100% loyalty.’ Samuel Goldwyn.

‘The thing I was attracted to as a little girl was Kirk, Bones and Spock, and their utter loyalty. There’s nothing more powerful than that.’ Jolene Blalock.

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Galatasaray v Arsenal: CL Match Preview & Line-Up

….Youth to Shine, or More Rain on Arsenal’s Parade?  Dead Rubber or More Salt (To Rub) in the Wounds?….

Early morning here and I’ve got to make hay before the snow flies, or something…There’s a big storm coming, they say, so my only real request is that my power stays on through the Toonie game, or is restored in time for it…The power company never came and cut down the 100′ (standing dead) pine they said they would… Fun times coming… Here’s the official forecast…http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?lat=38.91504178864869&lon=-119.99451907389545&site=all&smap=1#.VIb8oTHF_Ct

But just as the weather changes from sunshine to rain and back again, so too can the fortunes of the Arsenal… Can it get any darker in the red part of North London…Oh yes it can… 😀 😦

I gotta say, I love the attitude of Gooners who want all kids all the time.  Normally the manager would try and balance that with results and maybe, for this one, he is… He’s front-loading today’s team with older players but bringing a bench full of kids.  I like it.  Stamina comes with physical maturity, so, while many would like a chance to assess these up and comers, asking too many of the 17 year olds to try and play a full 90–in such a(n?) hostile setting seems a recipe for disaster.  Letting a few run at full pace late on seems the right balance (to me)… Set up as we are, we’ve got to hope (in my opinion) that none of the regulars does anything requiring a youngster in for an overly long stint… After all, this game does NOT matter… (Toonies at home, does, in an huge way, I fear…)

Except, of course, that–like every match–it DOES… Any chance to deepen the division between Gooners and/or throw yourself on the dagger that Wenger hath wrought will surely be taken… The manager is clearly sending a message by bringing the team he is bringing and announcing the starters beforehand.  That message reads,.. “Lower your expectations…”  Still, a less than completely embarrassing scoreline is required, we have our pride, don’t we?  If some of the up and comers and outcasts can make a mark, it will be both a positive (another arrow for the quiver?… Another war-head in the arsenal?…) and a negative (“‘E should’a been playin’ all along, ‘e should ‘ave…”)  My money would be on Campbell (with all that experience in the next country to the west) to break his duck…Unfortunately it (my money…) is in the markets which are tanking like our team did in the first half at Stoke… Greek equities smashed through a technical barrier and are down today over 10%, they’re reporting… More fun times coming my direction, with the US markets opening soon…

But that’s just a trading opportunity–if you look at it positively… In football, the window only opens in January… Speaking of Greeks…Big match there for the Kostas who got away, not too mention the bald man with the extensions, nobody swerves like the Gerv… Up the Ursas, I say…Go on you Romans…

Back to our match…

The Line-Up for tonight:

Ars v Gala Dec 14

The hope has to be that Galatasaray will be merely going through the motions on this one and whatever technical mastery they possess can be stopped by a performance worthy of a true #1 between the sticks… In other words, a repeat of this… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oO1XlraNDfQ  At the very least, a good performance from the keeper would eliminate starting vs Newcastle as a talking point…

I know some here have some fun saying it’s all Wojo’s fault, but I will take my hope where I can… If the Taxi Driver (Debuchy) has been touched by Jesus–or even the Welsh Jesus–and actually does a little Lazarus thing…Well, that seems promising, too… Likewise if the man with the beard can run the show and make good things happen in a midfield full of kids and do a bit of the savior (saviour?) business on the pitch… all the better…

The fear, however, is that the Turkish outfit wants to show a bit of pride and take some revenge for a rather thorough drubbing at our place.  The Istanbul clubs always seem a mix of (once proud) older guys and younger ones using the relatively bigger spotlight to try and shine.  They are the biggest clubs in all of Asia and playing at the very “Gateway to Europe,” after all…If they set out a strong team inspired to play at their best…it will be a substantial challenge for our guys…

So, Gooners, enjoy a glimpse of the future, relish the fact that we’re already through and in the draw later this week, OR sharpen your farming tools and ready your lighting devices… 😀

Written by: 17HighburyTerrace

Sexy Alexi, Sanogo the Shaper, and Terry Adonis: Match Day Report

Arsenal 2 – 0 Dortmund – a match day report.

Sexy Alexi a joy to watch! :)
Sexy Alexi a joy to watch! 🙂

Blogging, in some ways, is a weird phenomenon. You can be ‘in contact’ with people for years but never actually meet in person. Yet, virtual friendships develop and we get to know each other quite well, even though we often do not even know the real name of the persons we are blogging with on a daily basis.

To then meet two fine Bergkampesque bloggers in person, before and during the match against Dortmund, is special. It makes supporting Arsenal a whole lot more human, if you know what I mean.

Nik, who looks like a mixture of the BFG and Fernando Torres, is based in Germany, not far from Dortmund and has been a Gooner from a very young age. He has written a few posts for the site and has watched the Arse live both in Germany and London. He is in his early twenties and is into sports science, and boy does he know his football.

Terry Mancini Hair Transplant – ‘Terry’ in short – looks like a short-haired, Greek John Travolta, and he has teeth that blind you and could bite through a mahogany table with ease. He has never written a post, but we all know him for both his many very funny anecdotes and his love for Arsenal and Arsene (not just platonic, I fear!). He also really knows his football.

Nik does not know a fellow Gooner in the small town he lives in, whereas Terry, who lives in North-London and has literally split his house in two to live separate from his estranged wife, is totally surrounded by fellow Gooners: two very contrasting ways of supporting Arsenal, whereas I sit somewhere in the middle. However, what unites us all is of course the love for Arsenal.

I drove from Norwich to London wearing the mighty red and white. It was two hours before darkness would set in, but the sun never came out and the sky was deep grey, which made the shirt stand out more. Driving from Norwich – a very small ‘city’ – to the metropolis of London offers the perfect mental preparation for the game. There is nothing between the two places but woods and agricultural land, and about 200km of it. What else can one think about but our beloved team?

Once I got to Cockfosters, I felt ‘at home’ straightaway. The colours of the mighty Arsenal can be seen everywhere, even as early as 5pm. There are smiles on people’s faces and there is a buzz in the air which only an imminent home game can bring about. If you love football, you know what I mean. I was a bit early for meeting Terry and Nik, so walked around Finsbury tube station for a while. All of a sudden I heard a collective, guttural sound and before I know I am confronted by an enormous and very load yellow and black caterpillar. A few thousands of Dortmund fans were making their way to the ground, whilst onlookers were taking pictures of, or filming, the ‘experience’. It was pretty awesome to watch.

Terry, Nik and I met up at the Arsenal shop under the shirt of AR16 and went straight for something to eat and drink. A Turkish restaurant looked clean and tidy enough to suggest we would not end up with an icky belly. There were plenty of fellow Gooners inside and as soon as we entered all the women looked up. For a split second I thought it was me who created those expectant looks, but then I realised it was Terry’s ‘ray of light’ smile that was the babe-magnet.

Terry got spotted!
Terry got spotted!

We had a great chat about footie, Arsenal, life and women and then we walked to the ground. Terry walked with a wobble and made us believe he had a dodgy knee. However, it was clear that he held us back with his rubber-necking and touching up of every woman that walked past us. It was a pleasure to watch the Adonis at work, finding his many Aphrodites in the crowd; and Nik was eagerly making notes of the master’s endeavours.

Thanks to Terry’s dodgy knee, we entered the ground late: too late for both Terry and me to watch the first goal, but young Nik jumped up the stairs, four flights at a time – the BFG would have been proud of him – to just see Sanogo put it away. Good on him.

As soon as we took our seats we realised we were surrounded by both Gooners and BVBers. We sat not far away from the away supporters, and as expected they made a real racket, with a pre-medieval drum and more guttural sounding Dortmund songs. The sound and movement of the away fans were very impressive and it drowned out most Gooners’ singing around us.

The game was good to watch and we played well in the first half. However, it was clear that Dortmund played with their foot off the gas, as it seemed they were not too bothered about the outcome of this game. They hardly pressed as a team and when in possession there was not enough movement in front of the one with the ball to be able to hurt us. The tempo was often low and Cazorla, our playmaker, regularly found himself in space he would normally not get. 

I guess the early goal was a tonic for us and sedated further Die Gelb-Schwarzen and then set the scene for the rest of the game. It was good to see Sanogo giving us structure and his hold-up play and passing was good and reminiscent of Giroud. He also had good positional awareness and passed on the ball quickly and often accurately; and more than once he managed to start an attack from receiving the ball with his back towards the goal. He makes it look simple, but yet it is so effective; and the whole team benefited from his game.

We all laughed a bit when Sanogo wasted a good chance to make it 2-0, as his movement and control of the ball looked comical. He still has a lot to learn but he is a very interesting prospect for us: let there be no doubt about it that he is a great talent.

Both Ox and Alexis were active on the wings and the FBs were a great help in making things happen. We won most of these ‘two or three against two or three’ battles on the flanks this time round – a strong contrast with the return game a couple of months ago. Santi, often with time and space, moved the ball round well and was a joy to watch. This would have been a great game for Rosicky, but his time must be up now (unless he is injured). Arteta and Ramsey had been industrious and effective, but were also given an easy time given the lack of pressing and movement by Dortmund.

Dortmund had just a couple of chances and Martinez – totally in bright orange to have a strong presence, which I liked – made an excellent safe at a crucial moment.

During the break, Terry seduced a few more women, leaving Nik and me to analyse the game in peace – good man! 🙂

The second half was more of the same, with Arsenal controlling the game and Dortmund not giving enough to be able to hurt us. The Ox hit the bar with a fine volley just before THE moment of the game. Alexis received the ball, from a very alert Santi, outside Dortmund’s right side of the box: he looked at the goal and placed a brilliant, diagonal, curling shot to the keeper’s left side, leaving him no chance whatsoever: a moment of supreme skill that finished the game off for good.

With a sex god next to me – attracting gorgeous women all around us 😉 – and sexy Alexi on the pitch, what had started as the dullest of days ended up bright and positive. A two nil win – three out of three wins for my Emirates visits this season! – fine company, lessons in the art of seducing the other sex, and a brilliant goal by Alexis….. days don’t become much better than that.

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Message to all Regular Bloggers on Bergkampesque

Blogging on here is of course free and there are no nasty, intrusive adverts spoiling your blogging experiences. I earn nothing from running this blog and pay for the admin costs myself, which is fine with me.

I have chosen the Willow Foundation as the site’s chosen ‘Charity of the Year’. Bob Wilson, an Arsenal Great, is the president of the foundation and it offers truly fantastic help to those who have become seriously ill at a young age.

Willow is the only national charity working with seriously ill young adults aged 16 to 40 to fulfil uplifting and unforgettable Special Days. These Special Days enable them and their families to reconnect and refocus on each other while enjoying an activity of their choosing. A day for them, a day about them and a day that will create memories they will all treasure forever. – See more at: https://www.willowfoundation.org.uk/about-willow-0#sthash.dZZ2e9Od.dpuf

Please make a donation to the Willow Foundation – whatever you can afford. 🙂

See:

https://www.willowfoundation.org.uk/

Click on ‘Donate’ on the right hand side.

Many thanks and best wishes,

Frank, aka TotalArsenal.

Rosicky to the Rescue: Preview and Line-Up v Dortmund

Rosa and Ollie to shake us up!
Rosa to shake us up!

TIANG – YANG!

Sometimes it is hard to support the team whilst NOT being in isolation, especially if, like me, you run an Arsenal blog. The sort of stuff I read can make me so angry, but I just have to keep telling myself that everybody has a different way of letting out their frustrations. And losing to the horrible Mancs is always a disappointment, even when we played them off the pitch for most of the game, and are still winning the war over them – rather than this particular battle. Myopia is rife.

This is the bit that irritates me most: the inability by many (of wanting) to notice that we played much better than Manure on the day. We lost through a rush of blood by the goalie and unlucky deflection into our own goal by a dazed Gibbs. The defending after that was risky, and yes, also inadequate, and it cost us a second goal and therefore the match. We were not clinical enough up-front, which is something I have been pointing out for a while now. Jack should have done better with his chances, but at least he is getting now into those situations more; and it is just a matter of time before he starts putting them away for fun. And with Ollie and Theo joining the strike-force now, we should be hopeful of a step improvement being imminent.

It should not come as a surprise that the better playing team did not win – that’s football – shit/Manure happens. In two games we will have caught up with the Mancs again, and from there on we will leave them in our trails. Us is winning ze War.

Let’s live by the principle of TIANG – YANG: There is always next game – Yes always next game! 🙂

And I am very, very lucky to attend it at the home of football. Despite all the winching and moaning and one-dimensional dribble I have been reading on the blogs, I am so looking forward to seeing our boys in action against Dortmund; and to do so with fellow bloggers THMT and Nik is even more special. TIANG –YANG! 🙂

So how are we going to line up against Dortmund? Same back five probably as there are very few alternatives right now. Wenger gambled pre-season on Chambers and Monreal being cover for the FBs AND CBs and let’s face it, it is not working. So we are likely to remain vulnerable at the back, which means we need protection in front of them. I reckon we will see Arteta combined with Aaron again, as both had an improved performance on Saturday. Once more, the DM position is where we should have strengthened during the summer, but hey TIANG -YANG!

In the hole it has to be Rosicky for this one. Everybody Loves Rosicky. And against his former team he will be extra motivated to do well. He has the thrust and ball control of Wilshere and his passing and through-balls are also of a high standard. He will also help out defensively, so a must start for me.

Up-front, I was so hoping Ollie would start, with Alexis on the left and one of Ox or Welbeck on the right. We need our structure back and Ollie holds up the roof. BUT he is not eligible as he was not registered for the CL squad this time round… 😦

My predicted Line-Up:

 

ars v dortm nov 14 improved

My preferred line-up includes Ollie’s best replacement – in terms of structure to the team and best fit:

Ars v dortmund nov 14 preferred

COYG!

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Message to all Regular Bloggers on Bergkampesque

Blogging on here is of course free and there are no nasty, intrusive adverts spoiling your blogging experiences. I earn nothing from running this blog and pay for the admin costs myself, which is fine with me.

I have chosen the Willow Foundation as the site’s chosen ‘Charity of the Year’. Bob Wilson, an Arsenal Great, is the president of the foundation and it offers truly fantastic help to those who have become seriously ill at a young age.

Willow is the only national charity working with seriously ill young adults aged 16 to 40 to fulfil uplifting and unforgettable Special Days. These Special Days enable them and their families to reconnect and refocus on each other while enjoying an activity of their choosing. A day for them, a day about them and a day that will create memories they will all treasure forever. – See more at: https://www.willowfoundation.org.uk/about-willow-0#sthash.dZZ2e9Od.dpuf

Please make a donation to the Willow Foundation – whatever you can afford. 🙂

See:

https://www.willowfoundation.org.uk/

Click on ‘Donate’ on the right hand side.

Many thanks and best wishes,

Frank, aka TotalArsenal.