KosMus: The Arsenal CB Pairing that Rule Time and Space

Until recently, I have always believed that a good defence consists of a centre back pairing of an organiser type and a wild ‘kuitenbijter’, a carve biter, type. One has the overview and organises their defence and the other one operates as the first soldier of the defence, with ferocious energy and an unrelenting desire to win balls in the air and on the ground, and defend the box area with whatever it takes. The former is usually calm and tall and physically very strong and the latter is simply an energetic, fast, beast of a defender.

We all know the Arsenal pairings we have come to love over the years. For me the dream couple was probably Campbell-Toure from the INVINCIBLES (see below) but Adams-Keown were also brilliant of course. I am sure those who go back a lot longer than me will come up with some other fine Arsenal CB pairings. 🙂

Arsenal "The Invincibles" XI

In recent years, we have struggled to get the CB pairing totally right. The BFG-Kos combo did come close to a King’s couple of CBs, as they fitted the above mentioned short role descriptions to a large extent. Especially if and when we played in a more compact formation and game plan, Koz and BFG made us look solid and in control for many a game. Unfortunately, the BFG’s extraordinary ability to read the game and organise his defence was occasionally undermined by his Achilles’ heel: his slowness in turning around his own axis and lack of recovery speed. And Arsenal are not the sort of team to sit back a lot and absorb pressure: we love a high line and hemming the opponent into their own half.

The downside of this style is of course the space left behind the highline which makes us prone to deadly counterattacks/balls over the top; and boy have we suffered from this at times in the past. Last season, I regret to say, the BFG was our weakest defender in for example the key seasonal games against Chelsea and Barcelona at home. This is what Wenger, who will never directly name and shame a player, had to say after the Barcelona game: “Barcelona is a great team, we knew that. Nothing new. We put a lot of energy in the game. Technically we were very average. Once we look like we dominated the game in the last 20 minutes we gave the goal away, similar to Monaco. Very naive. Two goals makes it realistically very difficult if not impossible. We will have to go out there and fight. There was room to score but we didn’t. And they are lethal. One thing we could not afford – and we knew before the game – was to let them counterattack”.

I had a feeling back in February that Per’s time as first choice CB would be up in the new season. We don’t really know what Wenger’s plans were regarding the first choice CB pairing for this season, but the bad injuries to first the BFG and then Gabriel, before the season even had started, forced his hands in the transfer market anyway. He had already bought Holding – ‘one for the future’ – in the summer, and the young Englishman impressed us all with some fine performances. He also gave Chambers a few  games to show him that he could be ready for regular PL starts, but Calum was not up for the task unfortunately.

Wenger then bought Mustafi from Valencia and rushed back Koz to make them his first choice CB pairing. And what a difference they have made. They have played five times together now, two CL games and three PL games, and conceded just two goals in total. Of course, it is still early days and we have to give it at least 20 games before we can say that KosMus are the perfect rulers of space and time, but the first signs are very promising.

And this is not just reflected in our fine, post-Liverpool, defensive record – to which Holding has contributed as well – but also in the style of play it has allowed us to play as a team.

Neither Koz nor Mustafi are the embodiment of Campbell or Adams; it is more like playing two perfect Koscielnys, or two beastly Toures, with both players happy to push up high and having enough confidence in their recovery speed and ability to intercept and deal with any counterattacks coming their way. Together they organise their defence very well, lead the team all over the pitch, and give away very few chances: they have been in control, sometimes in total control, in almost all games, except the PSG game perhaps.

It is fair to say they also get great help from the full backs and the deeper laying DM (Coq or Xhaka) for which they deserve massive credit.

There are promising signs that KosMus is the CB pairing for the future: the rulers of space and time Arsenal have been needing for so many years.

By TotalArsenal

Ozil, Theo, Alexis behind Giroud | Koz back | Xhaka/Elneny DMs: Big Guns to blow the Foxes Away

After a week of navel gazing,  dreaming of new signings and analysing the Liverpool defeat to death, it is time to look forward to the next game. In the end there are 111 points to play for, yet some make you believe it is already doom and gloom with Arsenal. There is no doubt in my mind that we will learn from last Sunday’s game and that the team will also sooner or later accept that they were simply blitzed in a short period of time. This sometimes happens in the game and overanalysing the, in the end, narrow defeat does nobody any good.

Upwards and onwards, and time to get the big guns out and make a statement.

The Foxes have two players it appears we have been interested in, and they both decided to stay with their club. An admirable decision in many ways as loyalty is such a rare thing nowadays, but it is now up to our boys to show them once and for all what they have missed out on.

I am all for giving players a rest, but after seeing the BFG get badly injured after a whole summer of no football, we have to conclude that avoiding injury is no hard science. We often rest players for a long time and then they still get injured almost as soon as they appear on the pitch.

What we do not want to do is send out a team that has confidence issues, and we need to give a strong performance on Saturday evening as well – and ideally come away with three points – so it is time to bring out the big Euros’ Guns and fire from all cylinders at the Foxes.

This would be my team for Saturday: 

submit football lineup

It is time to re-establish the Nacho-Koz partnership on our left hand side, as it was there where we were penetrated at will and which cost us very badly. Of course, I am worried that Koz might get injured but, as per above, there is no guarantee that he will not get injured straightaway if we rest him one or two more weeks.

On the right hand sight, I would keep Holding as he seems more assured and stronger in the air than Chambers. I also feel that the former Southampton man is struggling to make it at Arsenal and the next game is not one to grand him for gaining more confidence and form. I would also be happy to start Debuchy next to Koz, and this may well happen.

In front of the defence I would opt for the wall of Elneny and Xhaka, with the latter playing deepest and Elneny giving us extra protection whilst supporting our attackers as much as possible. Wenger may well opt to play Coquelin again, but I would love to see Granit start and spread his diagonal balls with the finest Swiss precision.

Up front it is time for Sanchez – Ozil – Theo and to put Giroud back as our holding CF. From a fitness point of view this might not be our strongest eleven to start with, but it would give the whole team a psychological lift from the start. And that is what we need more than anything else. After 45 or 60 minutes we can take off Ozil and Giroud and replace them with either Akpom, Campbell or Santi (moving Theo central); and if Koz gets tired we can bring on Gibbs and move Monreal into the left CB position.

That is what I would do, but I am not sure Arsene will go down the same path. However, I don’t think I will be far off.

What would your first eleven be for Saturday’s crunch game against the Foxes?

By TotalArsenal

Koz, Gabriel, BFG: Three Great CBs, but what is the best pairing?

The BFG: Passion and Brains - you got to love him! :)
The BFG: Passion and Brains – you got to love him! 🙂

Arsenal are blessed with three fine CBs and long may it continue. Koz and the BFG are still Arsene’s first choice CB couple but Gabriel Paulista is pushing hard to get in there. I love all three of them and am increasingly unsure what the best CB pairing is for us.

Koz is the most complete CB and his tenacity and excellent reading of the game are second to none in the PL imo. The BFG is a great organiser, reads the game supremely well and always plays with the right attitude. Unfortunately, Per turns like an oil tanker and is not particularly fast; he has managed very well to reach the very top of football despite these disadvantages. Paulista we know less well: he resembles more Koz than the BFG and he adds a healthy aggression much needed in our team. He is also pretty complete as a CB and a beast at tackling all over the pitch.

These Whoscored? stats show us how well all our CBs do (based on this season’s PL games – all stats are average per game):

Name Tack-les Inter-cep-tions Fouls Clear-ances Blocks Aer-ials won  
Per 1.7 2 0.3 6.3 0.5 2.8
Gabriel 2.2 2.2 0.3 4.8 0.2 2.5
Laurent 1.7 4.3 0.7 5.9 0.8 2.8

There is not that much between them. Per is the absolute champion in clearing the ball, but Laurent still does well in this discipline too. Gabriel is our tackling beast and is pretty good in the air but is behind Per and Laurent in terms of blocks and clearances. Koz is the king of interceptions and blocks and is as strong in the air as Per, but he also makes more fouls than the other two: making those blocks and interceptions comes with a (small) price.

In terms of CB pairing, I favour the combination of two types of defenders.

One needs to be a calm but brutal organiser of the game, who can read the game well and is master in the air. Ideally, they are also great at tackling and fast as a tiger, but the ability to organise and lead the defence and to remain calm under pressure is key. Tony Adams and, especially, Sol Campbell were great specimen of this kind of CB. Per is not that far behind but I reckon Koz, and possibly Gabriel, are less suited for this.

The other one needs to be fast, aggressive and excellent at interceptions and blocks, a great reader of the game and the first soldier in the team. Martin Keown and Toure are good examples of this type of CB, and with Koz we probably have the very best of them all right now. I have no doubt that Gabriel can do this too and he could possibly become as good as Laurent.

But, going forward, what is the best pairing?

I guess it depends on what sort of game we are playing and which team. Our current preference to sit a bit deeper and kill teams with a combination of quick turnovers and possession football in the opponent’s half, seems to suit our best (statistical) pairing: Per and Laurent. However, when we play teams that park the bus and we play predominantly ‘possession and strike’ football in their halve, we could do with two very fast and aggressive CBs who are very good at blocks and interceptions and are quick to recover the ball when being threatened by a counter-attack. In these sort of games, the Koz-Paulista CB pairing looks the strongest.

And then there are the games against fellow PL title and CL trophy contenders: how should we pair up against them in central defence? Well, I guess we will get the answer tomorrow when we play Bayern away. I reckon it will be Per and Koz, but Wenger might go for the Koz-Gab – the Vault of KoGa – combination. The BFG played full games on Tuesday and Saturday and I am not sure Wenger will play the 31-year-old for a third time in eight days. We will need Per’s organisation skills, calm and experience, but, on the other hand, the power and energy of the Vault of KoGa might be more effective in stopping the intricate passing game in and around our box by Bayern, and instigate the better turnovers….. All exciting stuff if you ask me and I cannot wait to see the CBs in action again tomorrow.

I am still not sure what our best pairing is but Paulista’s arrival on the scene is giving us options and healthy competition. With three such great CBs we have options to vary our game in accordance with the strengths and style of play of our opponents, which is great news.

By TotalArsenal.

Cech behind Gabriel and Koz | Le Coq behind Jack, Mesut and Santi: Lyon Preview – Line-up

Arsenal’s home cup friendly against Lyon promises to be another fine test. I will be checking on the team’s ability to dominate the game around the Southern France’s team ‘D-area’, as we have been so impressive in doing this in the cup final, and recently, against Everton.  The Toffees were simply played off the pitch, but maybe this was down to fitness issues or a lack of hunger. The Gunners were hungry all right, which, as described in the match review, was a very nice surprise for me.

untitled1

Against Lyon, managed by former Gunner Garde, we are likely to be tested a bit more. I have not seen Lyon play a lot recently so cannot give you much insight on our opponent.  I expect us to play another 4-5-1 or 4-1-4-1 formation, with the aim to play our attack minded midfielders as near to the Lyon box as possible and with high levels of possession of the ball.

We will want to dominate and try out our intricate passes to penetrate the Les Gones’ defence with real menace. The FBs, take your pick from Gibbs, Nacho, Bellerina and Debuchy, will provide the width, and therefore threat, to go behind the defence and add that much needed dimension to our attacking play. It is this interplay between the four central midfielders, the CF and the FBs that will be the basis of our attacking success against those teams that want to sit back, or indeed, are forced to do so. And Wenger is right to want to see more goals from the rest of the team and believe that we are capable of scoring ten more goals in the PL – from 71 to 81 – in the coming season (see Arsenal.com). This is a point I have been making for quite a long time now: forget about Wenger wanting to buy a super striker and replace Giroud; our goals need to come from all over the team, which makes us unpredictable/hard to plan against.

Furthermore, I am interested in how we will line up at the back and in central midfield. It would be good to see a bit more of Gabriel, either with Koz or the BFG. I guess Wenger will play a near full strength team tomorrow, so Cech is a near given and Coquelin will be our holding DM; unless of course, Wenger wants to experiment with two all-round midfielders, who are not as good defensively as Francis but add more from an attacking point of view (see also 17ht fine post on this topic). I need my DM fix and would always play with one in front of the defence, but Jack-Rambo combo would also be nice.

Alas, we can over analyse this; it is just a friendly and Wenger will use it as a way for players to get match fitness, with maybe one or two youngsters being thrown into the mix, either at the start or later on. So here is my predicted starting eleven:  Cech, Debuchy, Gabriel, Koz, Nacho, Le Coq, Santi, Ozil, Jack, Rambo, Giroud.

arsenal v lyon

We could see Theo instead of Le Coq, with Ramsey moving into the deeper midfield role.

Enjoy the game fine fellow Gooners.

By TotalArsenal.

Coquelin’s bite, Giroud’s deadliness, Welbeck improving: Eight Positives from Game.

Coquelin1

Well, that was another game in which we scored easily and just enough goals to claim all three points. This sitting deep and beating opponents on the counter is most definitely our ‘plan B’ this season… it is not for the faint-hearted, though. Just as we did against the Spuds, we were unable/unwilling to push up and release the pressure on our defence, and we almost paid for this again.

For a long time, we looked in control though, and we should take heart from this; and had Alexis converted the fabulous team counter we produced mid-through the second half, it would have been a lot easier for us. Arsene’s subs did not help at all but I was happy he took off both Ozil and Alexis to avoid a late injury to them: we will need them even more on Wednesday.

Why we were unable to release the pressure by pushing The Eagles back again, or by keeping the ball better, or by more effective counter football, is hard to explain. I guess the boys were in doubt whether to defend the lead or to add to it, and Pardew’s men did a good job at pressurising our central midfielders. Since the former Barcodes manager arrived, Palace have won many games and this showed in the confidence with which the Eagles played.

As a team we need to learn from these games so we can improve our plan-B further. Nothing wrong with that, though, as long as we learn fast…

Eight Positives from the game:

  1. Welbeck was far more effective in this game than in his previous ones, with better reading of the game and positioning. He earned the penalty by putting pressure on the CP defence and he made a strong and direct run into the box, anticipating Alexis’ through-ball; and his subsequent attempt on goal had plenty of venom, which forced the keeper to parry the ball into the danger zone.
  2. Giroud scored his fiftieth Arsenal goal and that in just 116 games, giving him a 0.43 goals per game average in a red and white shirt. We know how important his overall role is in the team, but Ollie is now adding regular goals to his game as well, with 10 goals in less than 900 minutes this season.
  3. Coquelin added the necessary bite to the team and he did a great job in shielding the defence on Saturday. He still needs to control his tackles a bit, but at times he was simply sublime, with great reading of the game and effective interceptions, as well as confidently passing the ball out of our half.
  4. Ozil and Alexis helped out our defence really well. This is not Mesut’s natural game but he was often deep to support his full back and the same goes for Mesut, who is great at coming back to regain the ball and move it forward again. I felt we lacked this support almost as soon as they left the field.
  5. Our win today was helped by a large dollop of luck, but I will not be complaining about it! With Manure dropping all three points at the Jacks, the Spuds drawing and the Saints losing, we have made a big leap forward. With Everton home and QPR away as our next games, we have a decent opportunity to hang on to our third place and produce a little gap with some of our main competitors for the CL places.
  6. Santi has taken over from Arteta the role of secure penalty convertor. Mikel was a safe pair of hands for this and it is great that Santi has fully and successfully embraced this important role within the team.
  7. Squad depth: being able to bring on fit and experienced players like Rosicky, Gibbs and Gabriel, with Jack and Theo on the bench as well, is just great. They did not make a big difference on the day, but having a strong bench at this stage of the season is simply fantastic.
  8. Per and Koz defended very well, especially with regards to the continuous high balls into the box. It was really good to see us so demanding in the air for almost the entire game; eliminating the threat of Palace’s strong wing-play to a large extent (the FBs Monreal and Chambers were truly tested and sometimes found wanting).

Olivier-Giroud-AFP_3208367b

Now bring on the Principality and give them some old fashioned Wengerball! 🙂

 By TotalArsenal.

Paulista: More Koz than Mertesacker?

The new Martin Keown? :P
The new Martin Keown? 😛

Still no official news re the signing of Gabriel Paulista which is a bit worrying given the comment by Arsene on the 25th January, saying the club was close in completing the deal: ‘”It’s on the line and I think we’ll get over the line tonight and tomorrow”.

But let’s assume Paulista will join the club, and ask ourselves what sort of CB he is and whether he is more of a BFG or Koz type of defender.

A good defensive pairing is of course crucial, and so are the triangular relationships: backwards with the keeper and forwards with the DM(s). Furthermore, the partnerships between the CBs and their nearest FB, as well as the whole line of four, are equally important. A good fit of skills and balance are paramount for a well functioning defence.

In an ideal world, we play one CB with strong organisational and leadership skills and one ‘first soldier’ type of CB. Adams, Campbell and Mertesacker are excellent examples of the former and Martin Keown, Toure, Vermaelen, and of course, Koz were/are all brilliant first soldiers. Two BFGs do not work, but neither do two Kozs…

I am a big fan of the BFG. He is a world cup winner and plays for the best team in the world by focussing hard on his strengths rather than letting his few weaknesses grind him down. This takes a lot of strength as it is so easy to succumb to the critical voices out there and inside your head. And in our society: at school, in families and at work, we love to focus on (improving) weaknesses rather than building strongly on core strengths and talents, and this is so often holding people back left, right and centre. In this respect alone, Per is a hero to me.

Mertesacker also loves playing for us and always gives his all. He reads the game very well and organises his defence excellently. We rely on this heavily, as was demonstrated again against Brighton & HA last weekend, when our defence looked brittle without him. Wenger of course knows about Per’s ‘lesser strengths’ for which he needs to compensate within the team. He will always need a fast, energetic, yet composed, strong in the air, and brilliant tackler of a CB next to him (and good protection on the flank and in front of him). Koz is such a player and together they make a bloody brilliant pair. Without Per Koz often looks out of sorts, lacking composure and control to some extent: together they are awesome.

We have missed Koz this season when he was injured, and let’s hope he will play most of the remaining games this season. He is a very fine first soldier as we saw once again against Citeh, when he played an absolute blinder next to the BFG, who also had a very good game. Monreal has been Koz’s main back up this season and he did okay, with clear room for improvement. I reckon Nacho has potential to become a decent back up, as I agree with Wenger that he reads the game well. But surely, this is a work in progress and we need him as our (back up) left back…

We also need a good back up for the BFG and maybe we could/should even improve further on him in the long term. This is easier said than done, as good CBs with leadership and organisational skills are hard to find, especially if we also want them to be fast, great tacklers and a beast in the air. I reckon Debuchy has quite some of the required skills and Chambers has good potential too; but ideally, we strengthen our squad for this key position this year.

So, what sort of player is Paulista and for which position has Wenger bought him?

Well hard to tell at this stage, and I welcome bloggers to give us their views if they have seen him play a lot in either Spain or Brazil. The ‘Whoscored?’ stats give an interesting picture.

Paulista compared to Mertesacker and Koz on key defence stats:

Paulista Mertesacker Koz
Games Played 25 21 14
Total Minutes 2147 1890 1196
Tackles per Game 1 1.1 1.3
Interceptions per Game 3.9 1.9 3.7
Fouls per Game 0.8 0.2 0.6
Offsides per Game 0.6 0.8 0.6
Clearances per Game 4.2 6.8 4.9
Blocks per Game 0.4 0.8 0.6

These stats are interesting and indicate that Paulista might be closer to Koz than the BFG as type of defender. Gabriel has slightly fewer tackles per game but also slightly more interceptions than Koz, and he has fewer clearances and blocks per game, but this is not significant. There are quite a lot of similarities between the two.

Paulista has double the number of interceptions per game compared to the BFG, but commits more fouls per game – an area in which Per excels – and has significantly less clearances per game – Per is a lot taller than Koz and Paulista (185cm). Another important stat is that this 24 year old Brazilian has remained fit this season, already clocking up 25 games and 2147 minutes of first team football.

Of course, stats are just stats and we need to see Gabriel in action, if indeed his signing is completed and he is granted a work permit. Wenger might also have other plans with him: DM or even LB/RB, who knows?

But from what I can tell, Paulista will be Koz’s first replacement and might be used in other positions as well. I cannot wait to see him in action, and we should be all happy that the club has now strengthened in central defence: Bring on the rest of the season! 🙂

What do you think, fine fellow Gooners?

By TotalArsenal.

Ramsey Improving, Giroud and Koz Back: Finally Structure & Purpose

West Brom – Arsenal Afterthoughts.

Saturday’s victory against the Baggies was hard fought and, in many ways, a joy to watch. We looked a lot more organised and better structured and were in control of large parts of the game. It is hard to say what exactly is making a big difference: is it the return of Koz at the back, or our holding striker Giroud up-front, the combo of Flamini and Ramsey, or the nr.10 performances of Cazorla, or is it playing with two wingers now?

Let’s just say we will wait a bit before we pull our conclusions, but I am really glad we have our shape back in the team. We looked a lot more solid and like we are playing football with a plan now. Of course, we rode our luck a bit with the offsite decision early on in the second half, as that could have been a potentially costly goal against us. It is also true that we need to get our three ‘CFs’ up-front to work better together, and we also need to improve the service they get from midfield and the flanks (FBs especially). But if we play solid at the back and in midfield, then the front four (including Cazorla) can really get to know each other a lot better and still score enough goals each game to claim all three points. And at some point a team will get properly spanked with this highly attacking approach.

With the return of Giroud and Koz, and Ramsey slowly hitting a bit of form, we should be able to play the same style of football and team structure for a while. Soon, we will also have Theo and Debuchy back, which should further strengthen our ability to play in the same way time and again.

Key is that Giroud plays in the holding striker role, albeit fluidly, which means he will interchange with both wingers on a regular basis. This will make us unpredictable and yet there is structure to our play, which has been missing for so long. Giroud is the one to hold on to the ball and get either Ramsey or Cazorla involved in the attack, or his ‘CF colleagues’ Welbeck and Alexis. With Theo and Ox we have two very good alternatives for the wings; and Welbeck, Alexis, or Sanogo, can also play in the ‘Giroud’ role. Ollie is my favourite for it and then comes Sanogo, who is a naturally born holding striker imo (even though he still has a lot to learn).

Ramsey is also key. Now that Wilshere is out for a long time, Aaron is the one to be our beast of a box to box midfielder again. He needs to find the balance between helping Flamini (or Arteta when he returns) to keep it tight in front of the back four AND providing the four attacker with key passes and supportive runs into the box. IF Aaron can find his form again, we could have a very good remainder of the season. There were glimpses of him getting  there on Saturday.

It is also important that the back five (including goal keeper) now find a defensive rhythm again and become more and more solid. There is potential for this with Koz now back and Debuchy returning soon. Chambers has played himself into the defensive super-sub role, and Nacho (hopefully his injury is a small one) has also developed a broader skill set – although the Spaniard still seems more at home on the left flank. Gibbs staying fit is also very important as this should be his proper breakthrough year. Two clean sheets in a row is something to build further on.

We know we need to strengthen in defence and the DM position but we cannot be thinking about this at the moment. It is now about getting this team to play better and better together and start collecting three points on a regular basis. The games come thick and fast and with a bit of momentum we could be third or even second within no time.

From what I saw against Dortmund on Wednesday and West Brom on Saturday, we might just be turning the corner now. But bigger tests come this Wednesday and then away to Stoke at the weekend. Bring them on – Time to get into sixth gear and trust the system and shape of the team! OGAAT! 🙂

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Poor Left Wing, Sanogo ignored, Lack of Pressure from Midfield, Ramsey’s Revenge: Arsenal – Palace Afterthoughts.

Henry dog 008

When I was a kid I once got a football for my birthday. It must have been my ninth or tenth birthday: there was no present for me in the morning but my mum took me on a long bike ride, from one end of my home town to the other end, to buy me a football in a sports shop. At that time, I knew nothing about Arsenal, or even English football. My home town team were Roda JC in the Netherlands, and they play in yellow and black. The ball I chose was white and red: more white than red pentagons, and I loved it for a long time: in fact, I can still smell and picture it today, almost forty years on.

Red and white are great colours, and of course those of our beloved Arsenal. And yesterday, the North of London was red and white all right. From the moment I arrived at Cockfosters’ tube station, I was surrounded by it. The sky was blue, most people were wearing The Shirt, and the sun warmed whilst spreading a golden glow over us. It was a truly beautiful sight. And the closer I got to the Highbury and Islington tube station the more intense it became.

There was a strong sense of anticipation in the air yesterday: a positive buzz of good things lying ahead; and the reason for this is of course the high hopes felt by many Gooners after some astute signings by the club this summer. And the one that epitomises this positivity is of course Alexis, as everywhere I looked on the way to the home of football I could see his first or second name reflected on the backs of many, many fellow Gooners. Sanchez has become the embodiment of our hopes for further progress and the shiniest silverware, and with good reason.

The stadium looked extra glorious yesterday. The early evening, August sunlight lit up the East Bank warmly and there was a sea of red and white everywhere – more than I have ever seen before, somehow.

First Half

No diaby, not even on the bench, but both Ramsey and Arteta in the double DM pivot. Jack in the hole, as hoped and predicted, and Santi and Sanchez on the wings, with not OG but Sanogo as our ‘holding striker’: not a formation I would have chosen, but definitely one capable of taking three points from the well supported Crystal Palace team.

The start was good and it looked a matter of time before we would score a goal. Jack was conducting play and there was plenty of movement in the team to find good passes and create opportunities. But we lacked cutting edge as our combinations just did not produce clear cut chances: was it rustiness or nerves, or was the ghost of Pulis still hanging around our ground like a bad smell?

Pulis’ ex-team were definitely playing like one of his infamous Stoke teams: well set-up, physical, cynical serial fouling, time wasting; and they made it really hard for us, especially after we lost some of our initial zip and thrust in the second part of the first half. Gradually we lost control of the midfield: nobody was using Sanogo anymore to hold up play, and the only one moving IN their designated area, other than Yaya, was Sanchez. We still managed to set up some attacks from the right, with both Alexis and Debuchy, although still getting used to each other, combining well to penetrate the CP defence. Unfortunately, when they did so, Sanogo was often isolated as neither Jack, Ramsey nor Santi were supporting him in the box enough.

On the left we were very weak. Santi did not hold his position and Gibbs was, understandably, holding back a lot. This did not help us in stretching the CP defence and midfield, and it became really easy for our opponents to stem our attacking intent. Jack searched and probed for opportunities but there was very little for him to set up (I could see this really well from the Upper Tier in the North Bank). We also played quite deep, and both Ramsey and Arteta did not push up enough to populate the midfield in front of CP’s ‘D’. Add to that the continuous fouling and the referee’s unwillingness to punish this, and you can see why we were not able to dominate the game more in the latter part of the first half: lack of width, lack of pressure on their midfield, lack of movement, too low a tempo and not enough pressing.

The supporters became restless, and then on top of all that, they score – so typically – from a corner. It is fair to say we did not defend the corner well, but it was also a pretty good ball into the box. Without three of our four best set-piece ‘defenders’ from last season – BFG, Giroud and Sagna – we looked vulnerable during CP’s corners…. and we paid for it.

Luckily, the man who only scores important goals for us, it seems, came to the rescue once again – and from a set-piece of our own. Violently happy, Koz we love you! – Bjork’s tune – went through my head, and we could all breath again. 1-1, just before the break, was just what the doctor ordered. And the stadium regained its positive vibes again.

Second Half

However, things did not improve much initially. Nacho brought more drive and aggression than the substituted and apparently injured, Gibbs. But Santi remained all-over the place, which is fine as long as he adds value to our attacking play, which he did not do enough imo. Jack lost a bit of his composure and precision in passing the longer the game went on, and Sanogo never really got into the game (for which he was little to blame IMO). Luckily, Wenger did not wait long to bring on the much more trusted Giroud for Sanogo, and, a bit later, Ox for Jack. Where Giroud added a lot from the moment he started; Ox’s input was less effective. However, Wenger moved Sanchez to the left which added a bit more thrust to our attacking play, and Arteta and Ramsey pushed the Palace midfield a lot harder in the second half.

I thought all our midfielders and attackers, except for the simply fantastic, albeit not fully perfect, Alexis, had under-par performances in this game, but the introduction of Giroud helped them all to improve their game gradually. It did not seem enough, however, to score the much needed winner. The team kept pushing but CP held strong, albeit with some unsporting behaviour, in terms of time-wasting and continuous fouling, which the frustrating, pie-gobbling referee Moss was far too lenient about. Puncheon’s dismissal was well deserved but seemed too little too late…

But luck was on our side, and it was the sweetest of ways to send Stoke-South-of-the-Thames home empty-handed: by scoring a Pulisesque late winner from a set piece by nobody other than Aaron Ramsey. It was ugly, but it was hard fought for, and we all did not care one iota. A giant, collective sense of relief swept through the stadium and we all sang the Ramsey song with real gusto.

We got away with this one; and with three points in the bag, we can afford the lessons learnt from this performance. If and when another park the bus team comes to the home of football, we need to push up more and conquer the midfield, we need to spread our opponents by using the wings on both sides wisely and run more intelligently, and, most importantly, we need to trust our CF to hold on to the ball and allow the rest of the team to feed of him.

On the way back I listened to Talk ‘Sport’ for a while (was desperately trying to find out the scores of the afternoon games). We know that most of the pundits there are opinionated simpletons, who like to stick to simple mantras in order to rile their mostly gullible audience. Stan Collybore just kept saying Arsenal needed to buy a SQ CF if we wanted to push on. He had actually been at the match and this was the main thing he kept repeating. A striker can only score if he gets the service, whether it is Sanogo, Giroud, Falcao or Cavani. Sanogo worked hard but did not get the ball anywhere often enough to set up attacks, produce assists or hit the net himself. Maybe one day, Collimore will realise that Arsenal have actually moved on and do not play with a classic CF anymore….. or maybe not.

We spread our goals throughout the team and with a goal by Giroud, two by Ramsey, one by Cazorla and one by Koscielny in the last two games, we are doing just fine. And we ain’t seen nothing yet: once this team starts clicking together properly, and we add a SQ DM/B2B (and a CB of course) to the team before the TW shuts, the Canon will roar and roar.

Sanchez was a joy to watch and I feel privileged to have seen his first game at the home of football.

My last word is for Chambers, whose reading of the game and interception skills were very impressive again yesterday. What a signing by Wenger – chapeau! 🙂

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Sanogo the difference, last game for Pod & other post FA cup thoughts

Post FA CUP Final observations by Gerry.

Good morning all. And what a fine day it is to be free of the … ‘not having won a trophy in X number of years’tag. Such relief. Congrats to all the team, who played as a team when they needed to. Job done … The hard way, of course?

Wenger

I have spent the last hour reading all the comments, and I went with that flow too. I missed the equalizer (dog), but managed to see it out to he end. Annoyingly, the high pressure that brings us all the fine weather also gives me an occasional weak signal, thus rendering my recording a bit of a waste. Luckily, switching channels to watch it ‘live’ resulted in an upturn in our fortune on the pitch as well.

Just a few observations:

Starting with Geoff’s point in previous post (@01.39). Having a player close to Giroud makes him look a far better player with that extra yard or two of extra space. And that is saying something when it is a raw kid like Sanogo who still has so much to improve upon, can do that? Imagine what somebody with experience would do?

Sanogo. So, so very unlucky not to have broken his scoring duck by now. A wrongly disallowed goal in an earlier game. Finger tip touch in this with Giro-esque twist-turn-and shoot that might well have gone in off the post in this, along with other half-chances. If he can get his feet to do what his brain tells them to do, he will be something special. At the moment his first touch is clumsy to say the least. He has that long leg Diaby-like stick ability in tight situations, and can often come away with the ball when he has no right to it. But for all his flaws and limitations, he was the player we needed in this game, for his pace, effort, movement, and that occasional successful stickabilty that led to the winning goal. If they give out points for pre, pre, assists, then his part in that goal will be seen time and time again, with endless replays on the television, as a very special moment. I hope he will come good in years to come, and does not get drowned out by the clamour for that big signing.

Podolski. He suffers when he cannot start his play from the halfway line, imo. Guilty for the first goal for walking away before the danger was cleared. Not even playing the guy he was leaving off-side because Gibbs remained at his post on the goal line. But that is what you get when you play a forwards who is not naturally defensive minded? In the end his forward threat his lost from his starting position. Even young Yaya above, never shirked the defensive duty when needed, and had the pace of youth to get back up in attack.
Thank you Poldi for all your great goals, but I think you have probably played your last game in an Arsenal shirt?

Ozil. Criticism will come his way, but unfairly imo. The one thing Ozil needs is movement round him. Until Sanogo came on there was very little. Thus his passing game was made redundant. You can praise Hull’s tactics for much of this. They had a man on Arteta to keep him back. They were quick to pounce on Giroud when anything came his way, fairly and unfairly, it got the same result. Ramsey was kept back deeper because of the numbers they had in midfield, and Podolski rarely had a chance to run with it either. Luckily, as has been mentioned in comments above, he is a team player, and he will keep going for the team throughout the whole 120 minutes.

Cazorla. Worked his magic on the free kick. perhaps the goalie was at fault for not entirely trusting his ‘wall’ to do its job, as when he saw who had taken the kick, he took a half step to his right. which meant he was caught out by both the pace and accuracy of Santi’s shot. Where 9 times out of 10 going to where the keeper is, they will get saved. This one was one that didn’t. That apart, Santi worked hard against a disciplined defence, and few opportunities. occasionally his free roaming meant he was crowding out the space that Ramsey might run into, but overall a solid game, without too many decisive moments.

Arteta. I thought he had one of his better games, given the limitation of his pace, or the lack of. He was the main outlet ball out of defence, when played short, and was there to for Gibbs, as he was closed down quickly early on. However, he is another who will find game-time in short supply if the TW goes our way? Suggest he spends time getting his coaching badges?

Gibbs – Roundly criticised for missing the sitter, but that does not take away from his overall contribution. Nor should it be forgotten that he got in that position to miss the sitter, which, by rights, should have been a Poldi/Ramsey/Cazorla option? And let’s not forget his clearance off the line that saved us from going 3-0 down. He made numerous, and often unused runs down the left. Had a couple of half chances to feed a pass into the box, but failed for one reason or another. Where he excelled was being the last defender back on our set pieces. And also, when Fab went ‘Flappy’ near the end of the 120 minutes, he made another 30 yard dash to cover the open goal shot that ended up going wide. Should he ever get an injury free season, and all the experience that goes with it, he will be every bit as good, if not better, than Ca$hly got to be, and unlike him, he is a Gunner for life.

Koscielny. Kos had a typical Kos-type game. Sound in defence .. for the most part. Always a threat in our set pieces. Scored with his feet! And then nearly threw all the praise away with a blunder at the death. Still our best 50% pairing though.

Mertersacker. Poor old Per. An absolute rock for 119 minutes, then slips, and it could have ended in disaster for him. Slow to get up? Well apart from being a big guy at the tail end of a highly disciplined performance, he had a right to expect Sanga or even Kos to be covering as he was up against ‘fresh legs’ Aluko? Fortune favoured him with the latter’s misplaced shot, after Fab made a fruitless attempt to save the day. Let that not take away from an otherwise strong leader’s game.
Fortunately, he will not be departing any time soon!

Sagna. Oh Bacary. Yes you could leave on this high note? But you could also stay? Hard to find a fault in an otherwise tireless game. Few opportunities to get decent crosses in, but put in a real shift, as always. If economics decides it, he will be hard to replace. perhaps never, in like for like.
If common sense prevails. and team unity, loyalty, and a true class player are properly rewarded, Bacs will get what he really wants?

Fabianski. Deserved his place in the side, and fully deserves his medal. At fault for either goal? Not really. The first was a well worked routine that came back into the box at pace. For the second he was somewhat let down by the defending(Poldi), that allowed his initial save to come off the past and bounce to the scorer. In commentary it was suggested that diving into the goal meant he was in no position to save the second attempt? That is a bit harsh, give the angle he was going for the ball. As it was he only narrowly missed injuring himself, so another foot or two to the right and he almost certainly would have clattered the post, and that could have been far more costly? He did make another really good save that got a slight deflection of a heel(Arteta?) down to his right which made the difference between a finger tip touch or a full hand to it, but he still turned it around the post. Like Per, he was lucky late on, but overall another sound game.

Subs Wilshere and Rosicky had the same effect that the Hull subs did, by giving energy and focus to an otherwise tiring attack. And it made the difference for us, but not quite for them. Coming on for the last 20minutes of normal time might have been the obvious time, but we may well have lost our eventual goal scorer? Playing from the start is another question entirely, and one I do not intend answering.

Written by: Gerry.

Has Lukaku found a way out of Koscielny’s pocket yet?

Match analysis and afterthoughts.

Best CB-pairing in the league
Best CB-pairing in the league

Well that was one of the most exciting games I have watched all season. Credit to Roberto Martinez for building such a potent side. It was end to end stuff practically the whole game. In the end we shared the spoils which was maybe the fairest result anyone has had all campaign. Being an avid Gooner, my focus of course is on the Arsenal side. As such, there are a few observations I would like to make.

First of all, how good are Per, Kos and Szczesny this season? It is because of them that we have the best defense in the league. I mean can someone tell me if Lukaku has found a way out of Koscielny’s pocket? The two have formed a defensive partnership that no one in the EPL can match. At least not at the moment. And what of Szczesny? He makes saves that Oliver Khan would be proud of. The three (along with Sagna) have been nothing short of world class. Which brings me to the left back position. I feel (and have always felt) that Monreal is a better defender than Gibbs.

The few games he has played continue to reinforce my stance. Yesterday, Gibbs had an below average game defensively and he may have cost us 2 points. He did not close down Deulofeu for the goal and considering he was in our penalty box, I find it a bit hard to forgive. Gibbs is good at making interceptions but his positioning at times and his one on one defending leaves something to be desired. Maybe he is jaded from all the games he’s been playing, but either way I feel it’s time Monreal got his chance.

Secondly, there is the midfield conundrum. In a previous post I mentioned that having so many options to choose from can sometimes be negative. In this case it is. I feel that Wenger should find space for Walcott in that side one way or another. Wilshere has been outstanding the last 3 games and Ramsey is one of the best players in the league this season. That said, playing them all takes away not just our width but also our killer instinct. We play so well but once we get to the opposition box there is no one willing to enter the box. Ironically, playing so many creative midfielders has restricted the number of clear cut chances we create because we pass and tease at the edge of the box but it so often ends up breaking down as there is no one willing to makes runs into the box, or shoot.

The omission of Theo has also made our counter attacks toothless. When we win back the ball and we have a chance to counter, the ball lands to Ozil or Santi and you feel like crying because everyone else either isn’t willing to make runs or just isn’t quick enough to make it count. Many people call Theo a one trick pony but when that one trick is being supported by Ozil and Cazorla, it is a devastating trick. Even on Ozil’s debut, that potential partnership showed from the go. The fact is, Walcott will greatly increase our goals. Since his return, we have scored every time he is brought on.

Thirdly, if the Everton game showed us one thing it is that we need a killer striker to really take us to that elite level. I have always said Giroud is a fantastic player but he doesn’t have that ruthlessness that Suarez, Cavani, Falcao, Lewandowski, Aguero and RVP have. There are games (like yesterday’s) where having a striker who takes his chances makes the difference. Yesterday towards the end of the first half we came alive and with a more clinical striker, could have gone into the half 2 nil up effectively ending the contest. Wenger must really make this a priority when entering the market in January.

In conclusion, I feel that the game against Everton was the hardest we’ve played all season. The draw was a very fair result but because I know we can do better, it came as a disappointment to me. More so, because we really needed that 7 point cushion going into the double header against City and Chelsea. Now we have to make sure that we win at least one of those two games which will be no easy feat. That said, we are THE Arsenal and we are more than capable of doing so.

In other news, I am glad Podolski is back and we are almost at full strength and now we can begin to see how good we really are.

Come On You Gunners!!!!!

 

Written by: Marcus