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

Sutton United v Arsenal – FA Cup fifth round Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By TotalArsenal


Beastly Giroud Powers Arsenal into Fourth Round | Iwobi MOTM | Player Ratings

To use the football king of cliches, this was a game of two halves. What can we say about the first one? It was dire, the worst half of Arsenal football I have seen in a long while. We were disjointed throughout the team and collectively we had no fighting spirit whatsoever. Wenger left the normal leaders at home for  various reasons but there were plenty of players on the pitch who should have stood up and be counted: the likes of Ramsey, Ox, Giroud and Monreal were all not setting the example and were an insult to the shirt during those nasty first 45 minutes.

All our football pairs were not working as one, most notably the CB-pairing of Mustafi and Gabriel: it looked like they had never played together before and left our defence all over the place. The CB-FB pairings did not look much better and Ainsley had very little support from our right winger throughout the game. And then the midfield pairing of Rambo and Xhaka was disjointed, failing to dominate proceedings anywhere on the pitch. The Welsh wizzard had left his magic wand at home and the Swiss time master looked lost on the Deepdale pitch. Up-front, Ollie was isolated and our wingers, hard working Perez and day dreamer Ox, were not working close enough to him or provide him with the required service to hurt the Lilywhites. Iwobi looked lost like a jaguar on a float and all together we played absolute pants.

I was looking for leadership on the pitch: the one to three players in the spine who take initiative and set the tempo. Nobody did this but it was luckily  very different in the second half, after Wenger no doubt will have injected peppered carrots in 11 well-deserving Arsenals.

We were only one goal to the bad as a result of some woeful defending, but we all knew we were lucky not to be 2-0 or 3-0 behind. Preston had played with a high tempo and played some good football and they will be feeling quite sick to not have earned a replay at least.

With a higher tempo and a clear instruction for the midfielders to push up and dominate the opponents deep into their own half, the game changed immensely in the second half. We came out like a possessed team – the carrots had an immediate effect – and within a minute we scored the equaliser. Some very composed work by Iwobi around Preston’s ‘D’ led to a shooting opportunity for Ramsey just outside the box. The Welshman did not snatch at it but allowed himself to have a very soft touch in order to then unleash the venom in his right foot with devastating effect. It was a beautiful and powerful shot which left the keeper with no chance – Ramsey’s first goal of the season and boy did he, and we, need it.

After that, we kept up the tempo and played much more like a team. We did not create too many good chances but we also kept our opponents from causing us any danger. And then the Lilywhites started wilting and the Gunners came into the golden last ten minutes of the game phase – as Lewis Hamilton would call it: Hammer Time.

The boys increased the tempo and the attackers were now working with and for Giroud to give us the breakthrough. It was wonderful to see Welbeck joining the attack during this period and I reckon he made a difference straightaway. Rambo pumped one into the box and Ollie managed to direct the ball to Perez. Lucas was crowded out by defenders with his back towards the goal near the byline, but he managed to find his new mate Ollie with the deftest of back-heels. Ollie smelled his chance and a very, very powerful left leg got the ball over defender and goalkeeper by sheer willpower to win the match.

Image result for manowar band images

Giroud knows how much the away supporters love him and he scored that goal right in front of 6000 warm and happy Gunners. The goal meant so much to him and this time he did not celebrate with the copy of his scorpion kick but by thumping his Arsenal-logo-embroidered heart with the force of an insane Manowar warlord. He may not have the slickness and athleticism of our Gunner-Gods of Henry or Bergkamp, but what Ollie has done for us in the last few weeks is simply outstanding. For me he is very close to playing himself into my favourite Gunners team of all time. Beauty of spirit goes a long way.


Ospina: 8 – calm, focussed, safe pair of hands.

Ainsley MN: 7 – too many times unsupported, but oozed calm and control for his age

Mustafi: 6 – more willpower than experience on show, not calm enough

Gabriel: 6 – same as Mustafi

Nacho: 6 – same as Mustafi

Rambo: 5 – fist half 2, second half 8 average = 5. Time to become a Manowar warrior…

Xhaka: 5 – looked lost but better second half. Not sure whether Rambo partnership works

Iwobi: 8 – never gave up trying, much better 2nd half due to Wenger’s team adjustments. MOTM

Ox: 4 – no more excuses for Alex

Perez: 7 – struggled at times but better 2nd half and what an assist!

Giroud: 8 – see above.

By TotalArsenal.

Holding/Mustafi CB pairing, Iwobi nr10, Ox and Welbeck to Feed the Scorpion? Preston v Arsenal Preview


Those who are hopeful to see a lot of youngsters against Preston on Saturday will get disappointed. The FA Cup is Arsene’s Cup and he will field a strong team against the beautifully named Lilywhites. We also will want to keep momentum after a strong comeback against the Cherries and a big game in Wales following our FA Cup game. This is not a good time to play a weakened side and hope for the best at Deepdale: just like Man City did tonight against the Hammers, we need to play with a high tempo, passion and strong focus.

This is the side I reckon Wenger will field tomorrow:

Koz, Bellerin, Sanchez and Ozil to be rested or start on the bench. Holding to join Mustafi and Gabriel to play on the right. Gibbs is still out so another start for Nacho, I reckon. Rambo and Xhaka to get another chance to get used to each other and hopefully a start for either Perez or Welbeck on the left, depending on fitness. Ollie CF, Iwobi in the hole and Ox on the other wing.

Let’s hope the boys do us proud tomorrow.


By TotalArsenal


2015 Arsenal Highlights: FA Cup Super-Champions, Ox’s bullet against Chelsea, Ozil Assists King, Cech’s a Gunner


2015 was a very good year for Arsenal. The hard stats say it all: we played 38 PL games in the calendar year and won 25 of them: three more than MC, seven more than MU and eight more than Chavs. In total we gained nine more PL points than Citeh, 17 more than MU and 20 more than last season’s champions. Arsenal conceded least goals of all the PL teams: 31, compared to MC 41, MU 34 and Chavs 47.We are the second highest PL scorers in 2015 with 70 goals – MC had nine more goals but we still managed a better goal difference. And we are currently joined TOTL with Leicester.

Here are my ten highlights of the past calendar year.

  1. The absolute highlight was of course winning the FA Cup for a record 12th time – no other club has more FA cups than Arsenal now. We blitzed sorry Villa in the final and played some superb football with especially sexy Alexis in top form on the day. Beating MU away on our way to the final was possibly the biggest FA highlight; especially Monreal’s cool finish will not easily be forgotten.
  2. Finishing third to automatically qualify for the CL, followed by qualification for the last sixteen for an amazing 16th time in December were also highlights. I will never tire to appreciate our boys playing at the highest level of club football year in year out. We had a bad start against Zagreb and Olympiakos, but then we started to turn it round with a superb home win against Die Lederhosen, followed by a good home win against Zagreb and a wonderful, mature performance against the Greeks in their cauldron to get through once again.
  3. But just as important for me was our gradual growth during the year, becoming a stronger and more settled team. For a long time we were not able to beat our direct silverware competitors, but in 2015 we beat MU and MC, home and away, and Chavs at Wembley. Add to that our win against Bayern and the belief in the qualities of this team will only grow. We also have a first team that will grow further with many individuals yet to reach their peak years or being smack-bang in the middle of them. This team will only get better in the next 2-3 years.
  4. Ox’s thunderbolt against the Chavs in the Charity Shield match was another fine highlight: Wenger finally beating ME!rinho when the world was watching was just what we needed to kick-start the season.
  5. Cech signing for Arsenal. Ospina had done very well for us in the second half of the previous season and with Szczesny we have a talented young goalie that can mature into a very fine one, but a top team needs a solid, experienced keeper who oozes calm and class. Petr offers all of this and his PL record of clean sheets will further enhance his reputation and experience, both on the pitch and in the dressing room. I saw him live a few times but his first half performance against Liverpool at home will never be forgotten. He made some super-human saves to keep Pool somehow from scoring as the rest of our team had no answer to their superior attacking football in the first half. What a signing!
  6. Ozil king of assists and goal scoring opportunities. Enough has been written about the genius and importance of Mesmerizing Mesut (just check out our recent posts about him by TA and 17HT).
  7. Flying Spanish full backs: Nacho and Bellerin: both have come to the fore so strongly in the last 12 months. They are a menace for every opponent, especially in terms of the support they give to our attack, adding width and speed to our front players and giving us an extra dimension in the process. Hector Vector still needs to improve his defending a bit but that surely will come. They are both great, likeable professionals with an intrinsic motivation to do well for Arsenal. You gotta love them!
  8. The wall of CoCa: who would have thought at the end of last year that Coquelin and Cazorla would make such a fine double DM pivot for us. They found the right balance between defending and supporting the attack with Le Coq a great protector of our defence, and Cazorla a great feeder of our attackers, giving our attack that extra dimension together with Ozil.
  9. Sexy Alexis: he carried the team for a while with his energy and drive and crucial goals, peaking at the FA cup final with a superb display of all he has to offer. I never tire looking at him and the thought of playing him with Giroud and Theo up-front and Mesut and Rambo/Santi feeding them all makes me do one of those Jurgen Klopp mad smiles… Cech, Ozil, Alexis: three signing in three years that have helped tremendously in moving Arsenal to a higher echelon.
  10. Meeting up with the 17HT family in Sheffield in October. It was a dire game but to meet up with the Tiger of Tahoe, his lovely wife and son and talk proper football face to face was definitely one of my Arsenal highlights of the year. An added bonus was meeting the Sheaf family at the hotel I stayed and talking about their son’s development at the club.

These were my highlights but what are yours?

By TotalArsenal.

Wishing you a Happy, Healthy and a Gooner-Glory-Full 2016!

17HT and TA.

Soccer - FA Cup - Arsenal Winners Parade
How nice would it be for Arsene to win the league in 2016?!

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


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.

Coquelin & Rambo DMs, Alexis & Ozil on Wings: MU v Arsenal Preview and Line-Up

Manchester United-Arsenal — FA Cup Quarterfinal —

Match Preview

Tine to Defend the Cup and Make a Statement

Arsenal's English midfielder Jack Wilshe

On the back of our most dominating performance of the season, a sumptuous 2-nil victory over Championship leaders and Man City beaters, Middlesbrough, Arsenal drew Manchester United, away, in the quarter-final round of the FA Cup.  It didn’t seem like a just reward at the time and, as the match approaches, its significance only increases.

Whichever team prevails in this one will be favoured to win the next two at Wembley and raise the cup.  Additionally, as the clubs are separated by only a point in the Premier League standings, the result tomorrow will surely set a tone for the ongoing battle there as well.  United Manager Louis van Gaal says he would trade cup progression for a top 4 finish in the league, but there’s no reason, given their lighter, Europe-free schedule, that United will not give everything they’ve got.

Arsene Wenger has similarly noted the tightness of the race for Champions League qualification, but he too will understand the wider implications of getting a result at Old Trafford–including a draw which would force a replay back in North London.  While both managers have gone to pains to play down the importance of this one, the FA Cup surely represents the most realistic chance at silverware for both clubs this season.

Our record in traveling to Old Trafford does not make for pretty viewing.  In our last 10 matches we’ve drawn only once, losing all the rest, and we actually haven’t won there since the Autumn of 2006.  During this run we’ve played there twice in the FA Cup.  In 2008, we were leading the league, but played a much changed team and were well beaten, 4-nil.  More recently in 2011, in this same quarterfinal round, we lost 2-nil.  To be clear, even if we’ve taken the more recent trophies in this competition, winning a year ago and in 2005, on penalties over the Red Devils at Wembley, (Man U most recently raised the cup the year before in 2004) United have dominated us in this period, finishing above us in the league every single year except the most recent one.

Even as they transition out of the Sir Alex Ferguson era and attempt to rebuild under Van Gaal, we have yet to actually assert our superiority in head to head battle.  Last year, during the disastrous season with David Moyes at the helm, ManU beat us 1-nil in the league match-up at Old Trafford, while the reverse fixture was a desultory nil-nil at our home ground.  This season, in our one meeting, at the Emirates, although dominating play early on, United scored with their first shot on goal.  Suicidal pressing forward in desperate search for an equalizer resulted in a 2nd breakaway goal which sealed our fate.

But that’s all history, of course, and tomorrow’s match represents a chance to wipe the slate clean and prove ourselves the superior team.  With the exception of our 2-1 loss in the North London Derby, 2015 has shown that Arsenal can travel to hostile environs and still get results, the blueprint being the trip to East Manchester and the 2-nil victory at Man City.  We only had a third of the possession in that one, but still managed to control the match and prevail.   Yeoman efforts from more attacking players like Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla helped protect less experienced defenders; Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin, to create a dominating defensive display.  David Ospina, newly established in goal for league matches, hardly had a save to make.

This being a cup match, however, there will be changes in personnel.  Wojciech Szczesny, demoted from the league matches, if passed fit after a midweek illness, will get his chance between the sticks.  Gabriel Paulista most likely would have started in one of the center back positions, as he did vs Boro in the previous round, but a mid-week hamstring pull rules him out, meaning our Big F**king German, Per Mertesacker, and Laurent Koscielny will surely get the call.  Spaniard Nacho Monreal seems recovered from a mild back strain so he likely pairs with his young countryman, Bellerin, at the other fullback position.  Coquelin, broken nose protected by an ominous looking white mask, surely will go at defensive mid.

The more difficult calls are up front.  It seems impossible to sit Olivier Giroud, who has scored the opener in our two most recent matches and brings so much shape to our attack while also presenting a real target when we have to kick out of our own half.  Likewise, Alexis Sanchez, who finally broke a 6 match goal drought in midweek at Queens Park Rangers, brings too much energy for a bench seat.  Santi Cazorla, sitting deeper in that match, also seems the key figure linking our rearguard to our attack.  Mesut Ozil, at the heart of the action in recent matches, also appears undroppable.  This leaves a single starting position open and my call goes to Aaron Ramsey.  Back from a recurring hamstring problem, his ball carrying and greater physicality looked the part in settling the result in midweek after QPR pulled a goal back.

This starting line-up does seem harsh on others who have been playing well, including Tomas Rosicky, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck, who is returning to Old Trafford for the first time since his deadline day transfer away last summer.  Theo Walcott has also been a contributor, especially at the sharp end of our attack, and it’s always possible that Wenger might mix things up and start him.  Still, this is the 11 I think will start.

ars v manure March 15

(Subs: Martinez, Chambers, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Walcott, Welbeck)

Man United will also go with a very strong line-up and will likely stay with their most valuable player this season, goalkeeper David De Gea.  Despite the tactical innovations for which Van Gaal is famous, most notably playing 3 at the back this past summer in getting a weaker than usual Dutch National team to the semi-finals of the World Cup, experiments with similar tactics have not yielded good results at United.  If ever there was a match to go back to that plan, however, it might be this one, given that center back Johnny Evans begins the first of 6 matches out, suspended for a spitting incident.  Luke Shaw, the young left back bought from Southampton over the summer, is also nursing a hamstring strain, so it may actually be difficult for Van Gaal to field four defenders.  Traditional wingers like Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have, at times, at least, been used as wing-backs, and I suspect they might be deployed in similar fashion for this one.  If they are, a deeper lying set of mid-fielders, two of Michael Carrick, Daley Blind and Ander Herrera will likely back up a front three of Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Wayne Rooney.

Unfortunately, for all who like more than a bit of pantomime (or real) villainy, Robin van Judas, er, Persie is injured for this one.   Adnan Januzaj, Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini are also attacking players Van Gaal might choose in his first 11 or bring off the bench if United needs goals.

Despite the high stakes in a cup match of this sort, I expect a cagey battle with both teams looking to assert control in midfield and not unhappy to let the other group have possession.  United should be the team more determined to attack in front of their home crowd.  While neither team would relish a replay, I think Wenger will be at greater pains to suggest to his squad that such a result is not a bad one and that fore-aft balance is critical given all the skill players United can throw at us.  In other words, I doubt this one will be hell for leather from the outset.  An early goal, especially if Arsenal can get it, might open things up considerably.

But my voice is just a single one.  How do other Gooners feel about this cup tie?  Who do you think will play and how will the match play out?  What would you do if you were in charge?  Is this match as critical as I’m portraying it or just another in a long line of tough ones?  Should we go all out for the cup or keep our focus on the league and the very difficult return leg of the Champions League eliminations at Monaco in less than 10 days time?  These questions (and others you might frame) need answers… Go on then…

By 17highburyterrace

8 Positives from Game: Ozil & Santi Gel, Giroud’s Balance, Gibbs is Back

The cannon roared and the parked Boro buses were left in smouldering ruins; and the smoke could be seen all the way from Stamford Bridge. Arsenal were ruthless today and only Boro’s excellent goalie Mejias Osorio saved the Smoggies from a giant walloping.

This is how we all like Arsenal to play when facing teams that play defensive – impressively only conceding three goals in their last ten games: attack relentlessly and never give them time to settle, with pressing them as high as possible up the pitch. The tempo of the whole team was very high and we passed the ball round fast and with real intent. There was structure and plan to our game today.


The first goal was very well worked and a pure team goal involving the likes of Alexis, Welbeck, Gibbs, Santi and OG. It was a well deserved and necessary goal, as we had had lots of possession and a number of decent untaken chances until then, and we had to make this dominance count.

And before the Smoggies could find back their breath, OG found the net again: a quickly taken corner by Alexis and a clever run by the Frenchman to the near post was enough to unsettle an ill prepared Boro defence…. and Ollie’s finish was Poldolskiesque. Boom Boom: 2-0 and potentially game over. To really have made us feel at ease the boys needed to score a third goal, and there were very good opportunities to do so, but the Boro defence and the impressive Spaniard Osorio defended their reputation of solidness at the back with pride and determination.

Eight positives from the game (in no particular order):

  1. Giroud: he has found the perfect balance between his two roles given to him by Arsene: that of enabler of others and creator of space and that of classical centre forward play, including scoring goals. Enough said.
  2. Gibbs is back: Kieran was a great support for the team’s attacking endeavours today. He provided width and penetration from the left flank for 90+ minutes. His assist for OG’s first goal was very sharp this time round; and delivering dangerous balls into the box is just what he needs to add to his attacking game if he really wants to become a super quality, modern left back. Top stuff.
  3. Santi and Ozil CAN play together, even when played centrally. Santi played very well in his deeper role and Ozil was in his element in the free role behind the attackers. Furthermore, with Alexis mixing it all up by coming centrally and deep to get the ball as well, the Spaniard, Chilean and German provided a multi-dimensional creative attacking force today. Together they made our attacks unpredictable and their relentless energy and attacking thrust was simply too much for Middlesborough. They were a joy to watch.
  4. Gabriel’s first game led to a clean sheet and he had a good all-round performance. He looked at home next to Koz and really seemed to enjoy playing in the shirt in front of the home crowd. We need to see him tested in more difficult games but he impressed with his speed, reading of the game and tenacity. I also loved the unorthodox way in which he collected a yellow card for the team!
  5. We did not miss the BFG today. The tactics to push Boro high up the pitch and not let them get into play suited two fast CBs today, as we played a high line for which we need fast defence players in case the opposition spring a counter-attack on us or play one over the top. We might well see Wenger swapping between different styles of play depending on the opposition going forward, with him choosing two out Koz, BFG and Paulista to suit a particular style/ tactics… TBC.
  6. Chambers had a good game both defensively and from an attacking point of view. His final ball when assisting the attack needs to improve further but for a nineteen year old this is to be expected. I loved his drive and strength in the one to ones especially.
  7. Alexis’ defending is just so good. Nobody makes more tackles than Alexis in the team and he reads danger so well for an attacker. He is a constant menace to the opposition and his drive and energy are so contagious to the rest of the team: he applies the whip and leads literally from the front. He also played very unselfishly for the team and he was rewarded by another assist. He was also very unlucky not to score from Santi’s free-kick with an unbelievable header (given his size between the giants).Top, top player.
  8. The football we played today was us being back to the future. I love that we played deep against Citeh and Spuds, but this is the sort of footie that makes us all purr. Wenger’s tactics were spot on and the team’s attitude was fantastic, and the resulting football was a compliment to the eye. More of this against Palace please! 🙂


By TotalArsenal.

Paulista first start | Theo, Santi, Ozil, Rosa behind OG: Preview & Predicted Line-up

Arsenal – Middlesbrough FA Cup 5th Round Match Preview

Minimal changes or Roll the Dice?

What Would Constitute a Win?

Paulista could make his first start against Middlesborough
Paulista could make his first start against Middlesborough

Following on from the last post on this fine blog, I thought I might try my hand at a little Haiku.  Here goes my attempt at 17 ‘syllables’:

It’s just a game, right?

Misery is in the eye

Of the beholder

Arsenal host Middlesbrough in the marquee time-slot (Sunday, 16:00) of Round 5 of the FA Cup, as they continue in their attempt to defend the trophy they won a season ago.  With so many top clubs already out of the competition a home draw against a club from a lower division seemed a good one.  But is it?

By drawing Middlesbrough at home, a team that got there by beating the Premier League Champions, Manchester City–on their own ground–in the previous round, Arsenal are now the hunted scalp.  To a neutral this is a mouthwatering cup tie and a classic David vs Goliath affair.  To Arsenal supporters it is something altogether different.  Can Arsenal actually “win” this sort of tie?  What sort of match–in terms of result AND performance–will it take to satisfy our support?

Most certainly the 2-1 league win in midweek vs Leicester City, winners of the Championship a year ago but currently sitting bottom of the Premiership, was not enough.  Consensus suggests that we rode our luck in that one and were dominated by the smaller club in the 2nd half.  Injuries to key players Alexis Sanchez (already coming off a couple of missed matches) and Aaron Ramsey added to the sense of gloom.  The three points were nice, but having lost that same quantity to arch-rivals Tottenham at the weekend, they seemed far from sufficient to restore full confidence.

Middlesbrough have no such issues.  They are currently in the exact position Leicester finished a year ago.  They’re top of the Championship and have won six matches on the trot and haven’t lost in ten.  They say that winning is a habit, so my hunch is that our opponents will come believing they can get one.  Simply remaining unbeaten in the calendar year would work a treat as well.   A draw would mean a replay up on Teeside and an additional mid-week fixture.  While Boro would prefer going straight through to the quarterfinals, a tough midweek trip to the Northeast is the last thing Arsenal need, given that the Champions League elimination matches begin later this month.

Moreover, Middlesbrough have been winning by defending first.  In 30 matches this season they have conceded only 20 goals.  In these last ten matches, only three.  Manager Aitor Kananka, a disciple of Jose Mourinho, has got his players working as a group, looking to defend from the front and counterattack at pace.   It worked at the Etihad, so why not at the Emirates?  Winning the match, on the scoreboard alone, may be tough enough.

Beyond the pressure to outscore the opponent there is pressure to rotate players.  Typically, Arsene Wenger uses the domestic cup matches as a chance to rest a few regulars and give others a chance.   No matches until the weekend and the fact that it is our trophy to defend, however, may alter the calculus.  Still, as results and performances fail to satisfy, would-be managers suggest things would be better if we only played _____.  Others, sharper with their tongues and their keyboards, suggest that certain players who have failed (in their eyes) need to be rested, if not benched entirely (or sold).

It makes sense, of course.  After all, something new and something different are what we hope for when gifts are wrapped and sitting under the tree.  The festive season is not so far behind us, after all, nor is the season of giving to ourselves–the January transfer window.  We’ve got a big Brazilian defender all ready to go and surely he’ll get his debut.  If Gabriel Paulista comes in to spell the aching Achilles tendons of Laurent Koscielny and plays in tandem with Per Mertesacker, ahead of our dropped (or merely disciplined?) keeper, Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal will have one of the tallest central defences in all of football.  Not many have seen Gabriel in action so some may have their doubts.  Will he be a compliment to the other big men or will it be too much of the same (tall, thin) thing?

If those changes are the obvious ones, how many more can Arsenal afford?

Not too many, I think.   It appears that Spaniards Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin have nailed down starting roles as fullbacks, just as Francis Coquelin seems to have done at the defensive midfield position.  Will those three go again or will any (or all) of Kieran Gibbs, Calum Chambers or Mathieu Flamini be given the nod?  Up front, Olivier Giroud only came on as a sub vs Leicester, so he likely goes straight back in to the first 11 in place of Alexis.  Theo Walcott scored in midweek but many were unimpressed by the remainder of his game.  Is this then a chance for Danny Welbeck?  Some have even suggested that Chuba Akpom might get his first start.   And who will fill out the midfield?  Mesut Ozil is in fine form, but Santi Cazorla’s seems to be on the wane.  Jack Wilshere has been training with the first team for several weeks and should make the bench at least.  Could he go straight into Ramsey’s spot or will Tomas Rosicky, who started there on Tuesday, reprise the role?

My point is that calling the starting 11 is anybody’s guess.  Here’s mine:

ars v middlesbrough Feb 15

(Predicted subs: Ospina, Chambers, Gibbs, Flamini, Wilshere, Welbeck, Akpom)

That’s only three changes from Tuesday.  Personally, I think too many more would be too much.  In my opinion, against such an in-form opponent, consistency and predictability are needed.  Players knowing each others’ games and preferences can be a precious commodity.  With only minimal changes the new players can step in, based on what they’ve observed in their teammates.  Needing goals against a team poised on the counter, our ability to balance attack with defending could be the difference maker.  Too many changes might compromise that critical element.

What sort of line-up would you expect and/or prefer?  Also, what would constitute a “win” for you in this cup tie?

In my opinion, and carrying on from my Haiku, too many Gooners, perhaps spoiled by the memories of past glories, seem in it only for the larger triumphs.  Personally, I have faith that further glory lies ahead, but even if it doesn’t there are games to be played and enjoyed.  This season has been a struggle, but, with players coming back from long term injury and the emergence of some real quality in the youth ranks (Chambers, Bellerin, Akpom) and some squad players making claims to starting spots (Monreal, Ospina, Coquelin) we seem on the up.  Gabriel has yet to be seen in action, but his transfer filled a real hole in the squad.  Additionally, we put to bed the notion that Arsenal can only play one way and are always at risk of a drubbing against the bigger clubs.   The very well fought win of our own up at Manchester City less than a month ago, where we had only a third of the possession (but all of the goals), we hoped, seemed a real  turning point.

To be at the highest level, the level to which a club like Arsenal aspires, means that matches against the smaller clubs are expected to be won–and won in style.  Still, they must be played; meaning the result–and the experience–must be risked.  Can a journey with uncertainty and risk be enjoyed or can it only produce anxiety which is then laid to rest only until the next one?  In other words, have supporters gotten to the point where only the destination can be enjoyed?  I would hope the twists and turns, ups and downs, and memories made along the way can be just as satisfying as the moment the trophy is lifted, the confetti flies and the bubbly is uncorked.   Maybe the journey itself IS what it’s all about…

That journey continues tomorrow afternoon at 4, in our stadium, against Middlesbrough, in the 5th round of the FA Cup.  Go on…

By 17highburyterrace

Ozil & Theo pure class | Rosicky true Gunner | Szczesny is BACK | BFG missed: Eight positives from game

Thanking Voetbal International for picture. Theo is BACK!
Thanking Voetbal International for picture. Theo is BACK!

We are through to the next round after a typical FA Cup battle against a first meek, and then resurgent, Brighton & HA.

Our football during the first half was very, very good. Wenger had opted to play Giroud central, with a beautiful variety of midfielders and the king of speed behind and around him. The Seagulls’ pitch looked very large on TV and we really knew how to use the space. Of course the very early goal helped to settle our nerves, as we could strut our stuff with flair and confidence. Rosicky was rampant and Ozil majestic, Rambo was motoring and Theo looked indeed like a brand new, shiny signing.

We played like the Arsenal we know and love and I guess the only thing missing was the all important third goal. In a cup game there is always a chance that the opponent gets an unexpected goal and then hell breaks lose…. and so it did.

A wild clearance by Rosicky puts Chambers in trouble and the young Englishman’s response is not strong enough; O’Grady smells his opportunity and skins Flamini far too easily; his shot is instinctive, hard and well placed: Koz, on the unfamiliar Right CB side, cannot block it and Szczesny has absolutely no chance. 1-2 with forty minutes to go: not good.

Luckily, we score the all important third goal within 10 minutes of O’Grady’s and all seems under control again. But another piece of bad collective defending leads to a good through ball which Baldock chipped impressively over Szczesny, who once again had no chance. A game like this helps us all to see how important the BFG is for this team: his organisation and leadership skills and reading of the game were badly missed today.

2-3 with 15 minutes to go, and, given this weekend’s freak results, this does not feel good. Luckily, Arsene can bring on fresh blood and both Akpom and Alexis succeed in taking the pressure away from our brittle, makeshift looking defence and midfield. We have a few more good chances for a fourth goal, but the game finishes without any further goals.

Arsenal are through and survive the FACUP-apocalypse. Reason for collective happiness? Ahhh not so in spoilt Goonerland..

Eight Positives:

  1. How good is Rosicky? A fine, measured assist for Ozil and a brilliant goal to take us to the fifth round. It is such a bonus to have him in our side and I hope he will stay a few more years at least. He drove us on and made such good use of the fantastic movement of his fellow attackers. What a player.
  2. Ozil looked very good, especially given his lengthy absence. His goal was very well taken, with a great first touch and using both of his feet very well to get the shot away. Is there a slicker looking, more intelligent midfielder in the country? Pure class.
  3. Theo was hungry and healthily selfish, and his goal was sublime: a superb first touch, followed by a quick turn and razor sharp shot into the corner. WOW! He had great energy and thrust and once fully up to speed, he will be unstoppable, especially if he can find a balance between selfishness and VCC.
  4. All three goals were beauties. We have seen Liverpool, Man City and Man United play 90 minutes against lower league opposition and not score a single goal this weekend. We score three and all of them are very well taken goals; and we could have had more. And today our usual goal scorers, Giroud and Alexis, did not even get on the score sheet. Having our goals spread across the team is just brilliant.
  5. Szczesny had a faultless return to the team and played with great concentration. I was particularly pleased to see he had no rush of blood for Brighton’s second goal: rather than diving desperately in front of Baldock, he just made himself as big as he could to put the striker off. It did not pay off but at least he did not cause a penalty and a red card. I am not the biggest fan of Wojciech but he impressed me today.
  6. Akpom is no Giroud and will never be, as they are two different types of centre forwards. But his cameo impressed me. There was plenty of space for him of course, as Brighton & HA were taking more risks at the latter stage of the game, which suited him well. He ran well at defenders and helped to release the pressure on our defence a lot, and I liked his confidence.
  7. Giroud played really well for the team and gave great shape to our attack, especially in the first half. How important has he become? His goals and assists tally per game is very impressive this season, but he is also happy to play for the team and work hard to create space and opportunities for others. Is there a better holding striker in the PL? Top man and vitally important.
  8. Last but not least, is the strength of our squad right now. When we had to dig deep, we brought on Alexis, Akpom and Coquelin, and there were other options like the BFG and Cazorla on the bench. At the business end of the season, it is great to have such strength in depth and let’s hope that Paulista, if indeed his signing for Arsenal goes ahead, can stand in for BFG, as we are desperate for a proper left sided back-up CB in the short term.

An intriguing game with the desired outcome and plenty of positives to take to our next game: bring on the Villians! 🙂

By TotalArsenal.

Szczesny back, Nacho & Chambers CBs, Rosa, Ozil & Ox starts? Brighton Preview & Line-up

Some ground and with the best pies.... :)
Some ground and with the best pies…. 🙂

A very good friend of mine is a devout Brighton Supporter, so I asked him if he wouldn’t mind putting together a short piece on his beloved team ahead of the cup tie. To protect his anonymity, I am going to refer to him as Asad (Arabic for lion).

For many years Asad and I trawled the Middle-East, visiting clients and prospects.  In countries where we could, we would often share a beer in the evening and talk about our teams.   If ever Asad saw a rich Arab he would suggest we asked him if he would like to invest in the ‘Seagulls’.  At the time Brighton were playing in a rented athletics stadium, and I had the pleasure of attending a couple of games and it was pretty grim.

Asad and I often visited Abu Dhabi and he was a little upset to hear that they were investing in Manchester City.   By chance, Brighton were playing City in a Carling cup match and Asad decided to convince Abu Dhabi they had made the wrong decision.  The following may sound a little far fetched but it is true (I have photographic evidence). With the help of some Arab friends posters were designed in Arabic, saying things like “you bought the wrong club”, and Brighton supporters are better looking than City supporters.   These were then paraded around the ground by Asad and the Brighton cheerleaders shortly before the City game kick off.   99 per cent of the stadium would have had no idea what the posters said, but Asad was reaching out to the Abu Dhabi party who were visiting.  It had some effect because lowly Brighton beat City and kicked them out of the Carling cup.

That night a plan was hatched to wind Asad up.   With the assistance of our friends in our Middle-Eastern office, the following morning Asad arrived at his desk and received a call from one of our Abu Dhabi office telling him that having 1) seen the posters 2) noticed the result and 3) discovered that the City sponsors would be Etihad ( Abu Dhabi’s new airline), it had been decided that Etihad, which translates to ‘Unite’, wasn’t appropriate for City shirts.   The deal was in danger and maybe Brighton would be considered.  They also told him the Abu Dhabi press had got hold of the story and it was causing quite a stir.

A number of us told Asad that we had also heard about it and poor old Asad was jumping with joy.   He telephoned a number of his Seagull supporting friends to tell them the exciting news, while we sat behind him with tears rolling down our faces.  He then decided he would call the Brighton press office to alert them to the news.  An executive decision was quickly made that we would have to end the fun and tell him it was a wind up…….he wasn’t happy.

I have to be honest, I don’t consider to be much of a tactical genius but in order to stimulate conversation this is the way I expect our team to line up on Sunday.

Predicted Line-Up

Keeper. Szs.   I don’t want to give Brighton any clues, so this will be ‘for your eyes only’, but I understand Szs will be given a ‘Licence to Kill’.    Hopefully, he won’t ‘Die Another Day’, but let’s face it, you ‘Only Live Twice’, and If Brighton try the long ball Szs is well equipped to deal with the ‘Skyfall’.

Full backs. Bellerin and Gibbs.   I’d be tempted to rest the BFG and Kos and pair Nacho and Chambers; this might tempt fate, but a BFG rest is long overdue and I get the impression that Kos needs to look after his injuries.

Double DM Pivot. Le Coq is a must for me with Rambo alongside.   It worked so well against City, its got to worth another shot.  Dependent on the way the Seagulls line up, Rambo would be given permission to roam

In midfield. I would go With Little Mozart, the Ox and Ozil.    Rosicky and Ozil need game time and the OX is still in need of a confidence boost.

Giroud up front.


So, now I hand over to  my good friend Asad for an honest appraisal from a Seagull. With TA’s permission I will invite Asad to join the debate to answer any questions etc.

The Mighty Seagulls versus the Gunners.


So, a giant killing this week on the cards? Especially after our surprising victory over Ipswich midweek?

Speak to most Brighton fans and you will find they are more realist than optimist.

This is more of a showcase for our new ground, our wonderful hospitality and don’t forget the pies (best in the League). Brighton supporters will be the ones purchasing the half and half scarves as a reminder that matches like this can happen.

Any Arsenal supporter with a ticket will have a wonderful day and can expect progress into the next round. What can Brighton offer ? We are recovering from an inept Manager and now hopefully a better one that will set us on the correct path. Our goal is not to be relegated and return to playing enjoyable football (dare I say the Arsenal way?).

Key players left the club last season and joined the elite in the Premiership (Upson /Bridcut/Ujjoa / Buckley / Barnes). Their replacements have not been good enough for the third push in succession into the playoffs, but our hopes have risen of better times with the return to the side of young Rohan Ince (he is a Vierra type player- you will like him and perhaps ask like us why he wasn’t picked by Hyppia).

Our top scorer is our centre half which says a lot for our forwards. Craig Mackail-Smith has all the endeavour of Sanchez except he cannot score. Miracles do happen, and perhaps Wenger may field a reserve team but please enjoy the day, the match, the pies, the local ale (Harveys). Come into the North stand at the end of the match and have a drink with our supporters (this really does happen most weeks), and go away hoping we can join the Premiership as it is a great place to come back to again.

Ohhh, forgot my match prediction:

Sadly for the Seagulls, Arsenal will knock The Living daylights out of them.   Two nil to the in form Gunners, with a thunderball from Rambo (sorry wrong film).   Szs to perform like an Octopussy.

Written by: Retsub and Asad.