Arsenal v Liverpool review: Great 0-0 but why did Arsene take Giroud off?

Now that was a game of football – one of the best Harry Potter nose-bicycles I have ever watched live. We did not win and we did not deserve to either, despite a very good goal being cancelled unjustly. However, our second half display was more than good enough to win the game after all, and this gives us plenty of hope for the season ahead.

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We all know how expectations can ruin our enjoyment of the game. The loss against the Hammers has turned us in to grumpy, nervy supporters already with just three games of the season played, as we are treating every game now as a ‘must win’. This is unhealthy and, to be blunt, idiotic. It also does not help the team at all as they are already tense enough to realise their own ambition of going all the way to win the title. Take a chill pill rather than frantically indulging in criticising Wenger or the team; or, by all means, dream yourself champions by adding loads of super expensive players; but whatever you do, stay behind the team and try and enjoy the football on display.

I always feel privileged to watch our team at the home of football: what is better than watching a game live with the real Gunners right in front of you? I sat next to Pete who told me about his mate Simon being unable to come to the game due to him still recovering from a long illness that kept him many months in hospital. It made me realise once again how much we need to appreciate our health and being able to go to the game – one day it might not be possible any more. Get well soon, Simon. The stadium was packed to the rafter and it was a feast of white and red colours everywhere I looked: it promised to become a great game from the start.

When Pete told me the news that both the BFG and Koz would not be playing, I told him he was taking the urine. But soon I realised that we were indeed trying to defend our goal with the untested combo of Gabriel and Chambers…

The first half was for Liverpool. The combination of playing with no concerns – having won the first two games, they were doing well, and nobody expected them to win this difficult away game – and well prepared tactics, gave to Scousers wings. The essence of the first half, as well as the second half (but that is for later) was compactness and numbers where it matters; and this is where the ball happens to be.

Liverpool were a determined six-pack and we were wobbly all over the place in first 45 minutes. We could blame young Chambers for a lot of our trouble but that would be unfair on him to a large extent. Pool boxed us in in our own half and made sure that whoever had the ball had only risky options to release himself from it. We lacked movement (which Pete rightly pointed out several times), especially for springing a counter attack or breaking through the ranks in our own half; and Pool, it has to be said, played with great discipline. And when we had the ball our passing was not sharp enough and our ability to break free from the Pool pressure not strong enough: they constantly outnumbered us in relatively small areas. The result was continuous loss of possession and many good chances against us by the opponent. Coutinho, and the rejuvenated and very impressive Milner, bossed us between our ‘D’ and the half way line. They played some fabulous football at times, occasionally reminiscent of our own team in the early parts of the last decade.

We did manage to create some half-opportunities and were very unlucky with the Rambo goal being disallowed, but Liverpool could have been in-front by two or three in the first half. Luckily, fortune was on our side, as the sound of leather slapping metal poles was heard regularly, and Petr Cech was in world class form. I saw all his saves right below me, and especially the low dive save at close range from Benteke’s effort was out of this world. I knew, I felt, I sensed it in my bones it would go in but somehow the long in the teeth Cech anticipated the next semi-second action earlier than anybody else, including the stunned Belgian, thus keeping out a certain goal. We hung on and the second half could not come soon enough.

Wenger proved once again how much difference he can make during the break…. And without taking players off. The team looked transformed in the second half as we effectively reversed roles from the start. We now kept them in their own half by playing compact and not allowing them out of our collective grip. We matched their numbers, and sometimes outnumbered them, when we attacked Pool and tried to break through their ranks from the left, with Ozil, Alexis, Giroud, Santi, and occasionally Rambo applying constant pressure with intricate passing and penetrative balls. It was great to see this all in front of us, which makes a big difference when watching it on TV, as it looks so much harder to break a defence then most of us imagine.

I was convinced we would score sooner or later, as the Pool defence would surely buckle and our lack of sharpness in front of goal could surely not continue. It reminded me of a typical high-quality chess game, after say 15 moves each: you are attacking a solidly defended corner of the board and are amassing more and more pieces to break through the wall; but the opponent allocates their pieces there as well and the variables of risk and opportunity multiply rapidly… something has to give but who is going to buckle?

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Just as I thought we would definitely score that goal before our time was up, Arsene surprised me with taking off Giroud and putting Theo in. I wanted Theo or Ox to join the ‘chess game’ as we could do with more pressure from the right, or somebody coming into the box to add an attacking variable from there, but not instead of Ollie. Ollie had missed a few good chances, but so did Alexis, and it was clear that they were very close to scoring a few times, and were very keen to make the breakthrough.

Once Giroud was off, the game changed dramatically. By removing OG from the chess game, we were no longer able to play our triangles and break through their ranks as we missed the linchpin. We effectively let them off the hook.

The game became open again and Pool even got a few decent counter opportunities to steal the game from us, which would have been very bitter. We also managed to create a few opportunities, but they were harder ones and the Pool defence and defensive midfielders were well prepared to deal with this. Theo is not super-sub material and, although he tried hard, he did not add much to our attack during his cameo.

I felt it was a missed opportunity and would have loved to ask Arsene why he did not take Coquelin off for Theo rather than OG as his first sub (Coquelin was replaced by the Ox not much later in the game..), and pile on the pressure even more to finally get our goal.

However, the way Wenger and the team turned the game round in the second half and the number of chances we created as a result of this, are very encouraging signs for this Gooner. The team and manager that beat Man City twice, Man United away and the Chavs at Wembley in the last twelve months, will come good this season; I have no doubt about this. Whether we will win the title remains to be seen but we definitely have all the qualities for it and that is all that matters to me.

Every game is a mini-journey, and why should we bother ourselves with worrying whether we can/will win the title at the end of the season? I confidently predict six points out of our next two games and that will put us right there with Citeh. But next up is Newcastle and I for one cannot wait to enjoy the next mini-journey. We are on the road to nowhere, come on inside! 🙂

By TotalArsenal.

Ozil dictates like a captain, Monreal MOTM, Giroud is back, Alexis the daredevil: 8 Afterthoughts!

Three big, fat, juicy away-points fought for with blood, sweat and tears; and they were well deserved in the end. The boys did us proud today and showed us all their bounce-back-ability. Clearly, we are missing sharpness upfront, and once this comes our way we will put these sorts of games to bed after 20 minutes. At times, our combination football was breath-taking, literally and figuratively. I love our ability to create chances, both when the opponent park their bus and when we turn them over in our own half. There is a good balance to the team in this respect, but we just need to add that little bit of composure to our final ball and chance-conversion. It will come but in the meantime we need to grind results out, and that we did all right!

Some will point out that we were lucky, and yes we were. Le Coq could have received a double-yellow red card and Wickham was unlucky not to score at the start of the second half – did the presence of Cech win us a few points today?

With Cazorla playing next to Francis, and the FB bombing forwards so aggressively, there is a lot of pressure on the Frenchman to keep things tight; and his game is all about having presence, for which he needs to be physical in a composed way. Like many other players, Le Coq is still searching for the right balance and he will have learned a great deal from this game. We will need him to be at his best against Pool in eight days, and luckily the referee, Lee Mason, realised that the fouls he made were, in total, not worthy of a sending off (and I agree with Wenger that his only yellow card was a bit harsh in the first place).

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Giroud and Sanchez (with a deflected goal from a daredevil header) made the difference in attack, and let this be the first game of many in which our deadly duo collectively find the net and win the game for us.

And our defensive play…. Needs to tighten up rapidly…

Eight observations from the game:

  1. Monreal has been the player of the season so far for me. He has hit the ground running and offers a brilliant balance between defensive and attacking duties, which is so vitally important in the system that we play. He is always available as an outlet and does not waste any time in going forward and offer added thrust and healthy defensive aggression to the team. His final ball is pretty good too, although there is still room for improvement. But his drive and composure on the left flank add a lot to our team right now.
  2. Ozil had a great game. He offered the much needed composure but his fellow attackers were not always on the same page. I reckon Mesut is becoming a little bit more extrovert and, as such, appears to be more ‘in the game’.. there were it really matters. If he continues like this he might get the armband soon. I would be all for it.
  3. Sanchez – the Chilean mini-hulk – is back! He is still missing sharpness and on another day he would have scored a brace or a hat-trick for us. But his drive and thrust were welcome additions to our attack and the rest will follow. Let him get cool against the Pool. 🙂
  4. The triangle of Cech-Koz-BFG and square of Koz-BFG-Coq-Carzola are not working yet. The way these work separately, and in conjunction, is of vital importance to the solidity of our defensive performances. We conceded three goals out of as many attempts on goal, if I am correct, and they are all related to not playing as a tight, ‘in-tune’ unit, which is a worry at the moment. Ward’s daisy cutter was very well executed and I reckon Cech was not at fault this time, but we gave this opportunity away too easily. There was no support from the second deeper midfielder and Koz was left exposed; and something similar happened for the second Hammers goal. I hope we can find our defensive solidity before we meet the Scousers on the 24th!
  5. The crowd – home and away – were great. What an atmosphere, with great responses to all the key events of the game by both sets of fans. An advert for the game.
  6. Arteta brought the much needed composure at the end of the game. He read the play very well and made some important interceptions, helping us see out the game.
  7. Ollie is on the score-sheet with a well-taken goal. It was a great ball from Ozil from the left wing – good proof that our system does not necessarily need a proper winger anymore – but OG had a lot to do with the ball slightly behind him. Dare I say it: Bergkamp would have been proud of such a finish! Ollie worked hard and his presence and link up play in the middle was key to us creating so many opportunities.
  8. The Ox added fresh legs and was a constant menace to the CP defence, and with a bit more luck could have been on the score sheet.

So fine fellow Gooners, plenty of positives from a game in which we started off with some scintillating football and finished with grit and determination. That is the old and more contemporary Arsenal in one for you! Bring on Pool. 🙂

By: TotalArsenal.

Arsenal – West Ham afterthoughts: Lack of composure cost the Gunners

Well there you go: high expectations and playing a relatively beatable opponent is often a recipe for disaster for Arsenal, as it was today. However, the notion that we were complacent, as some seem to suggest, is of course rubbish.. it was the total opposite: we were firing on all cylinders like Gunners possessed and did not know how to control the tempo of the game. We have seen us play such season-openers before: the adrenaline is pumping, everybody is super keen and the opponent must be destroyed as soon as possible. A few seasons ago, the Ox broke his leg in a similar break-neck-speed first game of the season, and we lost that one as well… Villa anyone?

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We did create plenty of chances but very few were great ones. We just lacked that bit of composure for the penultimate as well as the final ball. And when the Hammers scored against the run of play, at a sensitive period of the game, we even became more desperate to force the ball into the goal. It has to be said that the Hammers played well as a unit and had huge bags of energy; and with a fine goalie between the poles in Adriano, and a good central pairing in defence, they were able to frustrate us time and again. For this they deserve credit.

I hated the crazy tempo with which we played today: it just felt like it was not going to work out for us all day long; and that is exactly how it turned out to be. It’s great when it pays off and leads to an early goal, but we never controlled the game; and although we created chances with this approach, our desperate tempo kept us from finishing them off. A lot of passes went astray and many a first touch was too heavy. It should also be said that we lacked a bit of luck in this game as the ball just did not want to fall right in the box today.

I reckon we need to take this one on the chin and the boys will need to find a way to start playing with more intelligence and composure. Some will say that a better striker would have made a difference today, and maybe they are right. For me, it was the lack of leadership in the middle of the pitch that made the difference. Ozil had a very good game in my opinion, even though he also got caught up in the wild tempo of it at times. Cazorla and Ramsey were very keen to force through our attacking game but I reckon at least one of them should have played a bit wiser – aiming to dictate the tempo and make sure WH would remain hemmed in around their ‘D’ area. I will have to watch the game again to see how much the Hammers’ midfield deserves credit for our lack of controlling the tempo. They definitely made it harder for us than we expected.

We missed Bellerin today, even though his replacement, Debuchy, did not play badly. Our Spanish RFB just has that bit more energy and thrust in his game right now. Having said that, Ox played well on the right wing and provided more than enough thrust there (if only we could keep him up there and away from our defence.. 😦 ) . On the other wing, Nacho was very keen and one of the most composed players on the pitch. So we had plenty of width and created many an opening from the sides, but a combination of below par finishing and positioning, and very good defending by WH, did not give us what we wanted and deserved.

Our opponent managed to do the absolute opposite with their first two opportunities: they took them both and our goalkeeper will feel a bit disappointed with letting them in. He saw the danger for the first one and decided to come out to either get the ball or put his opponent off: it backfired, but hey, at least he did not foul Kouyate and get sent off 🙂 . The second one should not have gone in, but Petr’s vision was blocked somewhat and he gambled towards the wrong corner with his bodyweight, leaving him unable to shift it in time towards the other one.

We put on Theo and then our mini-hulk, Sanchez, but they also lacked the composure and cold-bloodedness to get us back into the game. It seemed to be one of those days.

There was nothing wrong with our attitude and Arsene put out a fine team; there is absolutely no reason to ask for big changes or to start criticising the team, individual players or the manager. As a team Arsenal pitched this game wrongly and were never able to fully control it. When you go a goal behind against the run of play, the first priority is to fight for the equaliser in a composed way, rather than to up the tempo even further and end up with eleven headless chickens on the pitch. This is the lesson we need to heed from today’s encounter: more control of the tempo and space in our opponent’s half, and much more efficient use of our resources. For this we need to look at our central midfield leadership ability, but with the likes of Ozil, Ramsey, Cazorla, Coquelin and Arteta at our disposal, we should be able to fix it.

The team is back on earth after beating the Chavs a week ago: we might have to thank the Hammers at the end of the season for giving us back our grounded-ness at the very start of it – the dreaded unbearable lightness of being has evaporated away: blood, sweat and tears are required to get us to the very top. The season begins next week: bring it on.

By: TotalArsenal.

Santi/Ozil dictate, Cech adds PRESENCE, Ollie and Theo create havoc: Eight positives from a ‘friendly’

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Arsenal – Everton: 3-1 (Theo, Santi, Ozil – Barkley)

Wow, I did not expect that. I went to the pub to watch the game, and, like in a tacky dream, nobody was there, except the barman, who did not even know the Arse were on. The pub can easily hold 200 guests and especially during rugby matches the place can be heaving. But there I sat with a pint of Kronenbourg 1664, a packet of C&O crisps, and the single best seat in the pub, watching the Arsenal.

What I did expect to see, was a relatively slow, well-polished performance with plenty of possession, and both teams showing lots of mutual respect and having some decent chances, with the game finishing 1-1 or so.

How wrong I was. Arsenal meant business, and just as Villa had been outplayed during our last meaningful game, the Toffees were not given a chance (other than a ‘gift’ by the Ox) during the entire match either. The boys played with hunger and focus, and above all a maturity and togetherness I have never witnessed before during our previous preseasons. It is early days of course, but the first signs are very promising.

Here are my eight positives from the game:

  1. Giroud and Theo were played together and it added another dimension to our play. Together with Wilshere they moved all over the attacking part of the pitch and made it very hard to defend against us. We had a holding pivot in Ollie and a deadly penetrator in Theo; but they were also prepared to switch roles – Giroud even did a bit of impressive wing play, getting past his man and getting the ball into the box on more than one occasion. Our midfielders had options when in possession and initiating attacks, and it must have been a nightmare for the Toffees to defend against a ‘three-dimensional’ Arsenal today.
  2. Santi Cazorla was fantastic. The deeper laying role suits him very well, and with two fine assists – especially the first one was an exquisite, perfectly weighted ball over the top from the centre of midfield for the eagerly anticipating Walcott – and a clever goal, he was without any doubt the man of the match.
  3. Ozil’s face at the end of the match said it all: knackered but very content with his own performance. A fine, coolly taken goal and a dynamic, hungry finish to the game will have done him a world of good. Together with Santi, and Ramsey and Wilshere, he powered the midfield on and dominated the sorry Toffee midfield for ninety minutes. He was inventive with his passing, always looking for the best possible next move; and to me it looked like his fellow players are starting to read his intentions better… even though rusty first touches and finishes kept us from getting more reward from the dominance and creativity in our attacks. It was also good to see our Captain, Arteta, back.
  4. Cech in goal: calmness, character, confidence, and a brilliant reflex-safe from what looked a certain goal (even though it was offside). Bigger test will come, but having Petr in goal is the equivalent to playing with an extra man at the back.
  5. The FBs, Bellerina and Gibbs, provided the team with great width and penetration, allowing the multi-disciplined midfielders to combine with them and get them, or themselves, behind the Everton defenders, as well as stretch and penetrate them with fine, deadly triangles that led to very good opportunities throughout the game. Our FBs will play a great role this season and we are blessed with four very fine players in these positions.
  6. Chambers had a good, calm game next to our first warrior Koscielny. Again, bigger tests will come but it was nice to see him play well again. Ramsey played with discipline and high levels of energy to protect the defence and link up with our attack: a very impressive performance.
  7. Ox, despite a (still characteristic) costly loss of possession that led to the only Toffee goal – a fine, diagonal, long-distance shot by Barkley – added renewed thrust to our team when he came on. He had the guts and confidence to take players on at high speed and create good opportunities inside the opponents’ box. The final ball still needs improving, but the hunger and focus were there for all of us to see: good signs.
  8. The team cohesion, hunger and professionalism were a joy to watch. Even more than the individual performances highlighted above, this is what we should get really excited about. There was a collective ‘presence’ in the team: a strong focus with high levels of concentration and determination. The Gunners played as a team that wants to become champions this year, seemingly realising that every game needs to be treated with that goal in mind. We now also have healthy competition for places in all areas on the pitch, but yet there appears to be ever-so-vital togetherness, perhaps based on the realisation that we need a fit, wide squad in order to compete for the PL, CL, and indeed the FA Cup again, this season.

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Still early days, but this was a very impressive ‘friendly’ performance by the Gunners. Bring on the Chavs in two weeks! 🙂

By TotalArsenal.

Giroud and Le Coq Pull Arsenal Through: Match Afterthoughts

Well that was another very important win and a fantastic performance, given this was our fourth game in just twelve days.

Best all-round CF in the PL, Giroud bags two more goals! Thanking The Guardian for picture.
Best all-round CF in the PL, Giroud bags two more goals! Thanking The Guardian for picture.

We qualified for the semis of the FA cup against the Mancs, got six points from the Hammers and Magpies, and almost did the impossible against Monaco: four wins, nine goals scored and just two conceded. Arsenal are red hot right now. Are the fans ecstatic, full of pride and proud of the team, though…? We Gunners are a peculiar lot; let’s leave it with that.

The performance against Monaco was one of the most mature I have ever seen of Arsenal. We controlled the game throughout and all Gunners, including the subs, played with a concentration that made me proud. We needed a bit of luck to complete a miraculous turnaround and that was the only thing missing.

Today, against the Barcodes, the team started once again with a mixture of passion and professionalism; and our ability to score again and again has just been amazing over the last few months. I expected the team to tire at some point, so a good start was vital and the team knew that. Giroud was once again pivotal for us, literally and figuratively. His all-round CF game has become so good: he reads the game in a flash and his strength to hold of players, combined with his excellent first touch and passing ability are simply invaluable. People will rate Giroud now for his goals, and nine in nine games is indeed fantastic, but there is so much more to his game that deserves undiluted admiration.

Sanchez and Santi looked knackered; Ramsey was a bit fitter but did not have the best of games; Danny was the fittest of the four but did not impress me in the one to ones, positioning in the box and with his finishing. But they all worked their socks off and stuck to the team plan and that made all the difference. Koz and Gabriel worked well together and you can see that they could become a very strong partnership going forward.

Chambers is clearly still a work in progress but he has added a lot of value to the team given his young age. Monreal was mostly solid, with just one or two wobbles, and really seems to have found his groove at the Grove now. Ospina did not have much to do, but he stayed calm and made the right decisions, and that is all we can ask for.

The man of the match was Le Coq, even though Giroud played very, very good too. Coquelin read the game and positioned himself so well and his interventions were all firm but fair; and his fitness levels never seem to fade either. He made a huge difference today and let’s hope the two weeks of rest will help to heal his well-battered nose again. What a player he has become!

Yes we rode our luck a bit in the second half and had to dig deep to go home with all three points. But let’s not take away anything from the resilience and team spirit our boys possess: absolutely priceless attributes, especially at the business end of the season.

So, count me a very pleased and proud Gooner. To be just four points behind the Chavs, even though they have two games in hand, is just great given where we were a few months ago. Ooh to, Ooh to be…..

By TotalArsenal.

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

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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.

Gabriel & Coq Beastly, Giroud & Ospina Decisive, Ozil Delivers: 8 Positives from Game.

A messy Coq au Vin, yet the sheet remained spotless!

Well that was a hard-fought and very necessary win. Both teams sat deep and played it safe in the first half, and not so much happened in front of goal. The tempo was low and neither team had the ball long in the areas that matter: it was at times more of a chess game than a football game. But Giroud had his shooting shin-pad on when the ball reached him from a Mesut corner; and that was all it took to go in the lead.

To be fair to Everton, they kept going and gave us a hard time to get out of our defence. Le Coq, and to a lesser extent Cazorla, battled like tigers to regain control of the midfield. Sanchez and Ozil helped out were they could but struggled to get their attacking game going. Ox was more active in our attacking play but his final ball was mostly not good enough, with the exception of the late ball into the box for Ozil that could easily have been an assist for him.

Koz had an off day, not looking his usual self. But both Gabriel and Ospina came more than once to the rescue with finely timed and hard-but-fair interceptions and saves. Together they kept the sheet away from any Toffee smudges, amply helped by their direct colleagues and fine team defending.

The 1-0 lead was defended to the end and then came the Toffees hammer blow. A brilliant, archetypal Ozil pullback from the sideline to just in front of the opposition’s ‘D’ was slammed home by super-sub Rosicky. This time it was Arsenal who had the lucky deflection: the once again impressive Jagielka did not deserve to be the involuntary deflector, but it was the goal we had all been hoping for. It sealed the three points for Arsenal and allowed us to nest warmly in the top-four. Northern Oilers look behind you, the Cannon is on fire!

Eight Positives from the game:

  1. Gabriel put a smile on our faces. Yes he had a bit of rough start and had to be helped by Ospina to save his blushes, but once he got in his stride he was eating toffees for fun. Lukaku is advised to drink a strong whiskey before he goes to bed tonight…
  2. Coquelin matched Gabriel in beastliness. Some believe he is not physically strong enough but on today’s performance I reckon we have the new Silva in our midst. If and when we play deep and organised, Le Coq is a joy to watch. I also was very pleased with Santi’s disciplined performance: he sat deeper and put in a great shift from a defensive point of view.
  3. Giroud worked his socks off for the team and was rewarded for his efforts by an important goal. There are still a few Gooners out there who do not rate him, but there is no player out there who more fulfils the entire content of his job description than OG. Ollie drew blood twice and le Coq will be feeling it tonight, but this was just the sort of response we all expected from him.
  4. Bellerin had a strong game, both in defence and attack. He had struggled on Wednesday but to see a nineteen year old lad come back so strongly today, fully committed and yet playing intelligently throughout the game, is very impressive.
  5. Ozil’s added two more assists today and that is what he was bought for. He might not be as physically committed as some other Gunners, but he puts in a shift nevertheless; and then he is also that one player who can produce that little bit of magic such as his fabulous diagonal pull-back into the danger area that found Rosicky for our second goal.
  6. Ospina was in very fine form and showed why he is preferred to the lonesome Pole. His decision making and concentration levels were perfectly balanced towards the games defensive requirements. He read the game so well and his Lukaku safe midway through the second half was fabulous… and probably won us the game.
  7. Wenger’s substitutions were very effective today. He was right to keep Le Coq on as he was the embodiment of our resistance in the team today. Taking him out could have changed the balance in the game dramatically. But in the end he had to go and Chambers was the right choice. I also thought that Rosa for Ox was spot on. The latter had run out of steam a bit and Rosa replenished the blood supply. The Czech helped to release the pressure from the Toffees and his drive gave a new boost to the team.
  8. Alexis did not have a great game from an attacking point of view but boy did he work his socks off for our team! He is so effective in all aspects of the game and his work rate is really rubbing off on his fellow players. What a signing!

A few days rest before we face another London derby, but I reckon the boys want to play that game tomorrow; that’s how good they are feeling after a very professional yet passionate win.

Third now and just four points behind the Northern Oilers: The boys stood tall and made us proud today.

By TotalArsenal.

Arsene Wenger’s biggest challenge is in midfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COYG

Stand Tall And Make Us Proud Again.

By TotalArsenal.

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

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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).

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

 By TotalArsenal.

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.

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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.