Holding & Akpom Give Arsene Headache, Ox Draws Goat’s Blood, Debuchy Fights for Survival: 8 Friendly Observations

Chivas de Guadalajara v Arsenal Pre-season Friendly: 1 – 3

Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Bellerin, Chambers, Holding, Monreal; Xhaka, Coquelin; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Iwobi; Walcott

Subs: Martinez, Debuchy, Bielik, Gibbs, Zelalem, Elneny, Campbell, Willock, Reine-Adelaide, Akpom

Rob Holding celebrates scoring

It is hard to review a match watched between 2 and 4am on a small Ipad screen, but let’s try to analyse the game and see whether we can pull some more conclusions.

Here are my eight observations:

  1. Holding continues to look very promising. Part of me thinks he is too young to play a big part in the coming season, and another part feels he is the Max Verstappen of our team: level headed, confident, fearless and very, very talented. He will be 21 next month so he is not that young anymore, and if he were to play with the likes of Cech, Koz and Nacho, who can guide and coach him, he could do really well from the start of his Arsenal career. Arsene says he wants to add experience in the CB position but young Rob will be adding a lot of food for thought for him at the moment. Holding did not have a perfect game but his composure, passing and drive are very exciting; and he scored a fine goal to get us in front early on  as well. Stuff of dreams right now and let’s hope he will keep it up.
  2. The return of Cazorla, combined with Xhaka and Coquelin behind him, was a joy to watch. He clearly was enjoying himself and produced some fine attacking passes. It was surprising to see Xhaka play quite high up the pitch regularly, and he also produced some excellent through-balls, especially to our full backs. At times I struggled to see whether it was Santi or Xhaka who produced the through-ball or classy forward pass, but it is really good to see that we had more than one creative provider on the pitch with the King of Assists still not in action.
  3. We are blessed with excellent goalkeepers. Cech is such a calming influence and his experience on and off the pitch is vital for us. But Ospina is not far behind and I hope Wenger can keep him motivated to stay at least another year. Ospina, just like Cech, may let in the odd stoppable goal, but his presence and professionalism have a calming impact on his fellow players and that goes a long way. Martinez also looked tidy in the second half.
  4. Ox scored a peach of a goal, the sort of cracker we know he is capable of. We have to see whether he can score regularly against tougher competition but this is a very promising start to the pre-season for AOC. At the moment, he is winning the battle for the other ‘midwing’ position – Alexis will of course take one as soon as he returns – from the likes of Iwobi and Campbell. The latter two looked a bit flat, or maybe I should say ‘ineffectual’, against Chivas. I remain skeptical about the Ox’s chances to claim a first team spot this season, but his attitude, directness and fitness levels have been impressive. Campbell and Iwobi have to raise their game.
  5. Theo positioned himself a lot better, just a shame his finishing was well below par once again. It must have been a dagger in the heart for him when Akpom scored so soon after he came on. Akpom did not necessarily impress that much either last night, but he did the thing that matters most in football and that is of course putting the leather over the line. I see Akpom as a traditional CF who looks more towards getting on the goal sheet than helping out the team constantly ala Giroud. But he has an eye for goal and the coolness to take his opportunities, which we cannot pooh-pooh…. another headache developing for Arsene: include in squad or send out on loan again? Theo, on the other hand, needs a goal, or at least an assist, very, very badly right now.
  6. I liked our aggression in midfield. Especially in the first half, there was a fierce and welcome battle in a congested midfield between the Chivas and Arsenal midfielders. Both Coq and Xhaka were strong and fought aggressively for midfield dominance. Francis and Granit were still a bit rusty and gave away too many free-kicks, but I really liked the physicality of their play. This is just what we will need in the PL to dominate teams in the midfield area. Add Elneny to the mix, who had another fine 45 minutes, and we have a really strong midfield that will provide the axis around which our game can flourish.
  7. Debuchy played with passion and aggression, which  brought us a goal and cost us a penalty. I don’t mind the latter. I want to see Matthieu give his all and fight for his position and that is exactly what he was doing yesterday. Good man. And the assist for Akpom’s goal was very good: well placed and kept on the ground to make it easy for the CF to finish. I want him to stay and fight with Bellerin for the FB position.
  8. Mesut was in da House. I know we are all desperately scanning the sport websites for news about new signings, but let’s also not forget the importance of keeping this continuously improving squad together. Seeing Mesut supporting the boys in the stands put a smile on my face. I want him to be well rested before he starts playing for us again, but I cannot wait to see him back and work alongside the likes of Xhaka, Elneny, Coquelin and Santi, to name but a few.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates scoring Arsenal's second goal with Chuba Akpom, Alex Iwobi and Mohamed Elneny

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mesut Ozil

What are your observations?

By TotalArsenal. — Thanking The Mirror for pictures.

 

 

 

Ozil King of Assists, Gibbs Glows, Debuchy is Back: 8 Positives from NLD

Mesmerizing Mesut - King of Assists!
Mesmerizing Mesut – King of Assists! (thanking The Guardian for picture)

The Spuddies came to the home of football to show us how much progress they have made and that they are ready to fight for the title, or at least a top four finish. We all know that they have a good mini-phase every season, only to implode towards the end of it. Having said that, they gave us a good game based around a physically strong central midfield and a few players who can play more than a bit of football. It was not hard to motivate our players for this one, but with the large number of injuries and a challenging schedule over the last few weeks, it was clear that many were running on their last legs.

It has to be said that the Spuds also had a busy schedule, but missing out on the League Cup 12 days ago will have allowed their players to rest that little bit more. Against Sheffield Wednesday, we lost Ox and Theo and we also played Mertesacker, Cech, Campbell, Giroud and Debuchy; and they played two more big, taxing games after that. Today, Alexis, Campbell, Mertesacker and Cazorla all looked like they were playing one game too many.

For the first thirty minutes it was an even battle, but we were easily beaten by a decent ball by Rose to Kane on their left flank, who slotted calmly past our enormous Petr Cech, after Koz was unable to play him offsite or get back in time to put in a block (not helped by the BFG being out of position, though). This setback had a negative impact on the players as we were unable to fight back during the rest of the first half.

In the second half, we tried to take the game to them and we had a few good chances, with especially Giroud being unfortunate/lacking sharpness to capitalise on these. But the Spuds, to their credit, were able to escape our periods of pressure regularly and be dangerous themselves; and it took some fine saves from Cech to keep the score at 1-0. Wenger took off the knackered Campbell and brought on Gibbsy, who moved to the left wing as Alexis moved to the right. Almost immediately, Ozil found him with a perfectly weighted diagonal cross and Gibbs took his first opportunity, reminiscent of a super-fit, inform Alexis.

Cold of the bench but Gibbsy Glows straightaway!
Cold of the bench but Gibbsy Glows straightaway!

1-1, and now we smelled victory: oh how we wanted to mash those very well cooked spuddies! We fought hard to get a winner but it was also clear that we were grateful to have gotten the equaliser and that we had given a lot to achieve it. The Spuds did everything to not end up losing the game; and a draw was a fair result in the end.

Eight positives from the game:

  1. Ozil’s tenth assist in 11 PL games and sixth in a row: he never plays a bad game for Arsenal, but he is leading the team for us more this season, and he clearly has become a lot more effective with almost an assist per every game. We are lucky to have him and let’s show him (more) appreciation (and that includes you lazy TV pundits – bandwagon heroes)!
  2. Gibbs’ winner was very well taken after great positioning, and I like the impact he had from the start. On another day in which Alexis is not in form and Giroud is not delivering either, we needed players to step up, and Gibbsy did.
  3. Debuchy looked so much sharper than in his previous games. To play his third game in 12 days, after being out for so long, cannot have been easy, but Matthieu was in the zone and defended very well. I loved his passion and pride today.
  4. Cech was a calming influence once again. He has such an aura and his reading of the game and interceptions are so important for the team. He also does not make mistakes often, or has a rush to the head that puts the team in danger. He is making such a difference for us right now and we are lucky to have him.
  5. Giroud gave his all, and although he missed a few decent opportunities, he was in the right place at the right time regularly and that goes a long way for me. I am a huge Alexis fan but he was not in this game at all – Giroud was, but was not able to score this time round.
  6. The Crowd was great and I am really happy we played at home rather than away, given the injuries and team fatigue. The boys needed the home support badly today, and the fans really helped us to get back into the game. Especially, the atmosphere after we equalised was electric.
  7. Wenger’s substitutions: Flamini for Cazorla helped us with getting the balance right again, as the Spuds had dominated us with three physical, defence minded midfielders in the first half. Normally, Santi and the fabulous Coquelin can deal with this, but without Ramsey on the right to add to the midfield axis, and Alexis and Campbell being more attackers than midfielders, we needed to add a bit more steel next to Coquelin. Furthermore, Gibbs for Campbell was a gamble by Wenger, but it worked out very well: miraculously well!
  8. Seeing Arteta on the pitch again. Wenger kept players like Arteta, Flamini and Rosicky to help us see out games (like these) and to give our first players a rest now and again. This season, we have not had much fun out of either Arteta and Flamini, and none out of Rosicky, but getting these players back to their best will be key for the remainder of the season. Welcome back Mr Lego-Hair! 🙂

By TotalArsenal.

Debuchy CB, Theo Starts, Coquelin for Ox? Liverpool Preview & Line-Up

Let’s get cool in the pool: Preview & Line-Up

Time for Le Coq to shine?
Time for Le Coq to shine?

After two great results and fine attacking football, in Istanbul and THOF, confidence levels are high and so are our expectations. Pool are a shadow of their former self and have become a team without bite: last season they scored for fun and now they hardly get more than one goal per game. We could be on the up now and Liverpool are struggling. Losing out to Basel for the CL will have hurt them badly and  their league position is even worse than ours (given expectation levels at the start of the season for both clubs).

Yet, I am nervous about this one. I guess the ‘good’ thing is we got an awful hiding from them last year, which will help Wenger to point out the importance of defending well in this game. We remain vulnerable at the back though, especially with Koz still unavailable. In a way, Liverpool have nothing to lose and will still have the sweetest of memories of last year’s encounter. This combination, further fuelled by a loyal and vociferous home crowd and a good away win mid-week, could be a dangerous one for us. Let’s pray they don’t score early and the team suffer from a horrible deja-vu experience.

images

I have seen Arsenal a few times at Anfield. It is a great, traditional stadium with a fantastic atmosphere, and there is a lot of respect for Arsenal, both for our football and the way the club is managed. It was at Anfield where I first saw Cesc Fabregas in action. He played next to Vieira and opposite of another great midfielder, Gerrard. I will never forget that game for Vieira’s and Gerrard’s goals, and especially for Fabregas’ incredible ability to read the game and anticipate where the ball would be in the next few seconds. I knew straightaway he would become a great footballer.

I also will never forget how Thierry Henry got a standing ovation from the Pool and away supporters at the end of the FA cup game that we won there (1-3). He had scored the last goal in real style, out-pacing and out-smarting Jamie Carragher from the centre of midfield with a fabulous run and a very composed finish. It was so great to witness this with my own eyes.

Liverpool is a fine football city and nowhere in the country, other than the good parts of North-London, is there more respect for good football – and therefore Arsenal – than in Merseyside.

But tomorrow we will play there a very important game and for ninety plus minutes there is no time for sentimentality. A win would put a lot of distance between them and us and would be a perfect start to the congested Christmas schedule.  We have a bit of momentum now and it is important to keep it going.

In order to do so, we need to stay cool in the pool. I reckon Wenger will opt for 4-2-1-3 or even ‘6-4’, with a split in responsibilities between the ‘6’, mainly responsible for defending, and the ‘4’, mainly responsible for attacking. Only the FBs will have a bit more freedom to support the attack – one at a time – but the rest of the ‘6’ will be tasked to keep it tight – at least for the start of the game. Wenger really does not want to give Pool any encouragement that we will leave a lot of space for them to attack us. We want to control that game, and with our superior strike-force we can and should be patient, as our chances will come.

My predicted line-up is:

Ars v Liverpool Dec 14

I reckon Le Coq will play instead of Ox, unless the latter is fully fit. Even then Wenger might opt to play the Frenchman next to his fellow countryman, Flamini, against Pool. Arteta is still not available and Ramsey is out too, and Coquelin comes closest to Arteta’s style of play (and has more experience that the popular options on this blog of Chambers or Hayden).

At the back, I reckon Wenger will stick with Debuchy as CB partner to the BFG, with Chambers (available again) replacing Bellerin as RB. With Chambers, BFG, Szczesny and Gibbs we have four out of five players playing in their best positions, and only MD is out of position. Debuchy is versatile and experienced and I reckon he is the better option at CB than Chambers (or Hayden). It is not ideal but it will have to do…

Up-front is where it really gets exciting. Theo could be back, but I don’t think he will start. It would be great to see him on the bench though. Cazorla picks himself for the hole position and I reckon it will be Welbeck and Alexis on the wings, with OG in the middle.

Wenger will pick his strongest team after they all had eight days of rest and this surely is the biggest test of the festive season (with the Hammers away game coming close though). He is also likely to opt for the above mentioned initial division of a defending and an attacking team, in order to keep it tight and calm, whilst waiting for our opportunity to pounce. Not everyone will like a more defensive approach but I reckon anything else is likely to cost us badly.

I expect it to be tight with one to three goals, unless one of the teams scores early….. and let’s hope it will be us if this were to be the case.

Come On You Rip-Roaring Gunners – Let The Canon Roar!

Written by: TotalArsenal.