Cech/Koz/Coq/Santi ALL MOTM; Mustafi at Home; Perez Promising: Review and 8 Positives

Three very welcome points is very important, of course. And there is no doubt that we needed a dollop of red and white luck to get them against a resilient and good footballing Southampton.

Arsene made three changes from our win against the Hornets and it is fair to say we did not start brightly. The team lacked energy and drive, despite playing three fast players up front with the Ox, Perez and TheO, and playing two play makers in Santi and Mesut. The latter two started very quietly and the former three hardly had any of the ball in the first part of the first half. The Saints looked calm and in control, playing some easy on the eye football with plenty of penetration and danger up-front – just like they did against the Mancs a few weeks ago. Especially Tadic, Redmond and Rodriguez, supported deeper by the excellent ex-Chav Romeu, were very comfortable on the ball and we did not make it hard enough for them.

They scored from a well taken free-kick that needed a big dollop of luck though, as Cech scored his second career own goal with his back pushing the ball over the line. You would have expected Arsenal to up the tempo after the goal but we still lacked collective drive, with Santi being pushed back too much and the four of Ozil, Ox, Theo and Perez not involved in the game enough.

The game needed something special and it came from one of the two Arsenal birthday boys: King Koz.

Our CB scored a brilliant overhead kick that will have ha the approval of Zlatan, no doubt. We did not do enough until then to deserve the equaliser but Laurent has a knack of scoring very important goals, as he did four times last season.

That goal gave us back our mojo, at least in terms of playing football in the Saints’ half rather than ours. All of a sudden the Saints were happy to park the buss and we could push forward both Mustafi and the energetic Coquelin to help the attackers. Yet we missed sharpness, movement and creativity, and this especially from Ozil and our mid-wingers. We also missed the goal threat of Giroud and/or Alexis up-front which made the team look like it was missing its normal focussed and aggressive identity.

For some reason, the combination of players in our starting eleven did not work well yesterday. Was it perhaps too much to ask of Perez to start with the Ox next to him rather than Alexis or Giroud? Theo and Ox are the sort of players who have good moments in a game but do not add enough to the team to be picked together in the starting eleven imo. One of them is more than enough, and then I still think Iwobi, or indeed my personal favourite Joel Campbell (now out on loan unfortunately), would serve the team better on many occasions.

The second half started not much better. Tempo too low, movement too predictable, Ozil not involved enough, and Perez struggling to translate his presence in the box into clear cut chances and a goal. Luckily, Santi was getting into the grove now, working hard to get the team going by finding gaps and getting as close as possible to the Saints’ D’.

It was clear though that we needed to bring on Giroud and Alexis to lift the game and get that extra bit of quality into the box, even though we started to play a lot better from around the 55th minute. Perez worked hard and you can see how he could fit into the team, it will take a bit of time though.

As soon as we brought on the Frenchman and Chilean we looked sharper, but we also gave a way a couple of quite big chances that could have cost us dearly. And that tells you all about the risks and opportunities associated with substitutions, and why Wenger often waits longer with them than most of us want him.

Luckily, we got the penalty and Santi was cool enough to convert it.

Eight positives:

  1. Mustafi settled in quickly and looked solid and composed. Really good to see him drive forward regularly as well. Need to see him more games but that was pretty impressive in front of the home crowd;
  2. Birthday boy Koz had an outstanding performance and scored a superb goal – so happy he is still a Gooner and let’s hope he will be signed up to end his career at THOF;
  3. Le Coq had his pecker up and was awesome throughout the game, both in defence and supporting the attack. Xhaka will have been rested for Tuesday’s game no doubt – and I expect us to play Perez, Theo and Alexis up front for that one so Xhaka can help us beat the Parisian Oilers on the break – but yesterday we needed the steel and defensive discipline of Francis Coquelin. And boy did he deliver;
  4. Santi moving forward in the second half made a big difference in terms of our attacking intent. Ozil was not at his very best today and he needed Santi to add creativity. On top of all his fine passes and crosses, he produced a calm and venomous penalty that left the time wasting Foster picking the ball out of the net. 🙂
  5. The spine of Cech, Koz(Mustafi), Coq, Santi, and eventually Giroud, held strong and delivered a performance worthy of the Arsenal. Cech, Koz, Coq and Santi were altogether my men of the match. And Ozil and Alexis added the necessary quality to get us over the line, even though the former did not have his best day ever;
  6. The full backs were driven once again and added a lot of width to the team, but both still need to improve their final ball into the box. Good to see them both taking chances themselves as well, and especially Bellerin was pretty close to scoring a Theo-esque diagonal daisy-cutter;
  7. Cech’s presence saved us at least two points today, making Shane Long rush and waste his two good opportunities in the second half;
  8. Perez’s movement and hunger and sheer guts to take on the CF role at the home of football was awesome. I liked his energy and willingness to run and run and get into any available spaces. I rate this Saints’ team highly and reckon they will finish in the top 7-10 this season once they get going. Especially defensively, they are very good and made it hard for our attackers. So not an easy start for Lucas, but more is surely to come.

Up next are the Parisian Oilers. Let’s load the Canon. 😉

By TotalArsenal.

Alexis out-stings the Hornets, Xhaka and Ozil pure Class, Holding Firm: 8 Positives

Watford 1 – 3 Arsenal

We desperately needed a win more than anything else today. But we also needed to play some very good football the Arsenal way’ to get the supporters properly excited again… and luckily we got both against the Hornets. On top of that we had verbal confirmation that two new players, Mustafi and Lucas Perez, will be added to the squad, so every reason for us Gooners to be happy. And if not you may want to give the Samaritans a call… 🙂

It was of course a game of two halves, to use the nr.1 cliché in football. Arsenal were full of life and brutally lethal in the first the half and we saw out the second half with a few bumps but nothing too drastic. It would have been great if the boys had continued in the second half with the same intent and tempo of the first half, but it was also important to not get more injuries. Therefore, taking the foot of the gas and making some timely tactical changes and substitutions in the second half, was just what the doctor ordered.

Eight positives from a vital win:

  1. Alexis was superb especially in the first half. I love the ‘second’, alternative away shirt the boys wore today and especially Sanchez looked like the mini-hulk in it. Our Chilean firecracker was unstoppable through his movement and aggression all over the pitch. Two assists and a goal are a fantastic return for his efforts but it was also his overall team play that impressed me a lot. Supported by Theo and the less effective Ox on the wings, he offered great movement and availability to which the Watford defenders had very little answer. We will need more end product from the Ox and Theo going forward as Wenger is playing Alexis not like a typical super CF but more of a mixture between Giroud and say Aguero – a combination between hold up play and speedy penetration. The signing of Perez makes a lot of sense therefore, as he will add goals (and assists) on a regular basis, which is needed to make the system a success;
  2. Mesut Ozil scored! He also had the ‘assist’ for the penalty given early in the first half: a superb ball aimed at the space in front of Alexis from which he surely would head the ball home. Alexis was hacked down before he could score and the referee awarded the penalty after some initial confusion on the pitch. Santi took it well and that was a relief to us all. We need more goals from midfield this season and Mesut made a Lampardesque run into the box to head home with venom and precision. Great stuff and let’s hope there will regular goals to come from our midfielders this season.
  3. Xhaka carved the hornets nest open without mercy. I reckon Wenger is building a team that can add a few dimensions to their football. As per my first ‘positive’, we need goals from a number of attackers rather than rely too much on the one super CF. But we also need key passes and assists from a number of players, and playing Xhaka, Cazorla AND Mesut clearly gave us that. Xhaka did this regularly from deep, allowing us to attack with speed and precision and not give the Watford defence a lot of time to regroup. Some of Granit’s through-balls and diagonal thunderbolts were sublime today, getting the balls into the pockets like the best snooker player…
  4. Arsenal played a very attack minded formation today. I cannot remember the last time we played with so many quality, attack-focussed players: Xhaka sat deep but was constantly feeding our attackers; Santi sat also deep(er) but was mainly focussed on attacking Watford, and then there were the foursome of Ozil, Ox, Theo and Alexis attacking relentlessly, whilst being supported from behind by the Spaniard and Swiss geniuses! On top of this the full backs, especially Bellerin, kept bombing forward to support the attack. As a result, we saw an awesome black and yellow attacking machine, especially in the first half. Theo played with aggression and intent and produced a peach of an assist for Alexis’ goal – the all important second goal for us.
  5. Good substitutions. Of course such an attacking formation only works well if the tempo is high and we manage to keep our opponents hemmed in in their own half. In the second half we dropped the tempo and discipline a bit and gradually we allowed them back into the game. We sat too deep and allowed them to have players in and around the box and this led to a number of half-chances for the Hornets. They scored a typical ‘lucky pinball goal’ for which I cannot blame the defence too much. But after that we allowed them more chances and looked a bit vulnerable at times. Luckily, Wenger had good options on the bench and gradually both Jack and Elneny were able to bring a bit more calm and control back in to our play. It was really good to see Jack back on the pitch and let’s hope we will gradually see more and more of him. Elneny was great – what a player!
  6. Cech was solid. He made some good instinctive saves and oozed confidence and calm in our defence. Nothing more to say about him.
  7. Holding and Koz had another good game and could have had a clean sheet if a little bit more lucky. Our young England CB looked in control throughout the game and his height and strength were great assets today. Wenger will have to decide whether to keep playing him for a while and then introduce Mustafi gradually or to establish the French-German CB pair asap. I am really pleased for Holding and I hope he will get twenty of game time this season.
  8. The final ‘positive’ is for Wenger. He has had to work hard to get the signings he wanted and he has succeeded. There was also a lot of pressure on him to win this away game and he delivered in style. I have said before that we should make the first proper analysis of our chances to win the league after ten games, and I now believe we have everything in place, bar a lot of bad luck on the injury front, to fight for three points in every game and push upwards in the table. Let’s see where we are in a few months time.

Happy Interdull! 🙂

By TotalArsenal.

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

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

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

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

Rob Holding celebrates scoring

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

Here are my eight observations:

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

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

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mesut Ozil

What are your observations?

By TotalArsenal. — Thanking The Mirror for pictures.

 

 

 

El-Super-Neny MOTM, Giroud-Welbeck the Future, Alexis’ Last Game? Arsenal v Norwich Afterthoughts

Happiness is a warm, yes it ihihihiss, Gunner!

Mohamed-Elneny-Arsenal

While for some, especially the lazy side of the media, this was about ‘the protest’, for many others we were playing a crucial game for staying in the top four and secure Champions League football once again.

I have nothing against fans protesting and demanding change as long as it is done appropriately. Doing it in our very own stadium and when we need to win is, in my opinion, not appropriate but at least it was done in a tasteful way. I am also aware that there are not many good opportunities to protest, so I understand why it was done yesterday, even though I don’t agree with it. The sense of a lack of progress and seeing patterns being repeated every season has made a lot of fans hungry for change. However, I never doubt Arsene’s and the players’ passion to win and give their all to win silverware, and as long as that is the case I will back them all.

Would I be adverse to a new manager for next season? NO, but I am just as happy to see Arsene try to get us the shiniest silverware once more. After four cups in two years this is a disappointing year, but let’s keep things in perspective…. we are still a very, very good team with tons of potential for improvement from within as well as cash to spend to add super quality. There is no need for despair.

cid211305_Arsenal_NorwichVI01_1180_580x310

The game was predictable as in Norwich parking the bus and us trying to find a way through with blood, sweat and tears. What is worrying is the number of chances we keep giving away even though we dominated possession and were in control of the game for large parts. Teams seem to counter easily against us and a bit of pressure on our defenders often leads to defensive mistakes and embarrassing moments in front of our goal. 69% possession only led to three shots on target (out of 14 shots) – the same as Norwich (from 12 shots). We won 1-0 but it could easily have been different, and that has been the story of our game since the start of the new year.

There is no doubt in my mind that we are struggling to break down the PTB teams due lack of cohesion within the attacking team. I cannot put my finger on the exact reasons for this. The lazy, one-dimensional supporters just want to point their fingers to Giroud. If only he was replaced by Aguero, we would be winning the league by ease, they keep telling me. For me it is more complicated than that. Ollie is definitely not himself at the moment, but he also is getting quite poor service by his fellow players. Furthermore, fellow attackers are not playing near enough to Ollie to benefit from his hard work to make space for, and connect with, them. He may be Wenger’s number one CF but some fellow attackers may see it differently; at this stage of the season, we should see a lot more joined-up attacking play between Alexis, Giroud, Rambo and Ozil but it looks like they are four talented individuals not conversing in the same footie language.

Welbeck’s arrival brought new energy to the team and his running hurt the tired Norwich defenders and midfielders a lot. But Danny was also keen to work with Ollie in setting things up and he was rewarded for this by a fine lay off from the Frenchman that led to the only goal of the game, worth a priceless three points. I reckon there is very little cohesion between Alexis and Giroud, and this seems a structural problem; and I would not be surprised to see Wenger start Welbeck and Giroud together in the last two games of the season, as this will give us the best attacking balance and potency.

Alexis, who had another game in which the quality of his passing and final ball is not matched with his enormous energy and willingness to come for the ball, did not have much impact on the game. I had lost count of the number of times he misplaced a pass, which clearly is not his strength, even though he never stops trying. Just a handful of PL assists (4) is not good enough for a player in his position and of his stature, and his lack of accurate passing, especially with his final balls, is probably the cause of this.

Wenger also needed to strengthen the midfield as we needed to get a better balance between going for a second goal and defending our slender lead. To take Alexis off and bring on Coquelin made sense, but Alexis clearly thought differently. This is fine, but given the circumstances of this match it was very poor of him to ignore the beleaguered manager and stomp off for an early shower. I would not be surprised if we see Alexis start on the bench during the next few games and possibly not play part at all anymore. It would also not surprise me if we see Arsenal cash in on the 27 year old Chilean this summer, although I sincerely hope that is not the case.

I loved what Danny brought to the game and I am happy he found the net again. Was he MOTM though? Not for me. The best player on the pitch was Elneny – closely followed by Mesut, Cech, Koz and Danny – who did half of Rambo’s box to box job as well as his own deeper DM role. He hoovers up around his fellow players continuously with unrivaled energy and passion; he keeps it simple yet always wants to move the ball forward when he can and with seldom or never making a mistake; he fills important gaps in our defence but also penetrated the opposition’s box regularly, and was very close to scoring yesterday with a fine, composed effort. What a beast of a player and the thought of him working with a fit Jack or Santi, or Le Coq when we have to play more compact, is mouthwatering. It is early days but this seems to be as good a midfield signing as Mesut Ozil was a few seasons ago.

I was also proud of Ozil, Koz and Petr, and indeed the rest of the team, for their drive and fight during the entire game. Mesut never stopped trying, Koz was beastly in defence and brought the ball forward well and Petr’s saved us a few times when required.

Three points and the supporters doing their job by supporting the team and the manager during a meaningful game and a crucial period of the season. Plenty of positives but also lessons to be learned from our recent games, and getting the balance right against Citeh next weekend will be paramount to where we will end up in the PL table. Let’s give the Northern Oilers a proper game!

Arsene having the final dance? 🙂

By TotalArsenal.

COME ON YOU FOXES!! 😀

 

A right-winger, DM cover and CF short of Victory: Arsenal v Barcelona Afterthoughts

The morning after the night before, and I cannot help but feel a bit melancholy. The head says the boys gave their all and we were beaten by a stronger team, but the Gooner heart is bleeding nevertheless. For seventy minutes we played well, as in we were disciplined and stuck to the un-Arsenal-like game plan. And then we became ourselves again, wanting to play the sort of football that our opponents do and which is so ingrained in our on-field philosophy. Self-denial can only last so long.

I cannot really blame the crowd and the players to forget themselves – or should that be ‘become themselves again’? – after seventy minutes of holding back our instincts, only then to get cruelly punished for it by the three-headed strikers’ dragon (at a vulgar street value of say £250m!).

cid206765_BarcaVI02_1180_580x310

We all knew that Barcelona getting the vital ‘away goal’ – an archaic rule that should be scrapped immediately – was a hammer blow we were unlikely to recover from. To get caught on the break like that, after seventy minutes of disciplined defending and careful attacking, is just nasty. It is easy to blame somebody for it, but it looked like the whole defence and midfield cocked up badly. I wish Koz had taken one for the team when he was dealing with Suarez early on of that counter-attack, but it is easy to say this in hindsight. Not long after that, Flamini, not even on the pitch for a minute, conceded a penalty after being short-changed by the until then immaculate, omni-present in the box, BFG, which Messi did not mess with.

0-2 with only little time to get back into the game, and, in fact, it could have got worse for us as our opponents were pushing hard for a third goal. A harsh and hard reality check for the Gunners and Gooners, but, on the plus side, we got a good demonstration of what we are still missing to make it to the very, very top of world football – and with us the other 99.9% of football teams in the world.

It could all have been different if we had taken our big chance when the ball fell to the Ox just three yards from the goal line and enough time to take a touch and focus on a clinical finish. Unfortunately, he did not make a good contact and played the ball meekly into Verstegen’s grateful arms. It seems typical of games like these that the best chances fall to the least strong attackers – remember Flamini’s recent chances against the Chavs?

It should have gone in but it did not, and when we play opponents like last night’s it always feels like a double miss when this happens – remember Ozil’s missed penalty against Bayern at home? I don’t want to blame the Ox too much for this as he is still at an age when these sort of opportunities often get wasted. I don’t think Wenger should have combined Ox and Bellerin, two promising youngsters, on the right wing, though. Against this sort of opponent experience and confidence is key, and one youngster on that wing was risky enough; two was asking for trouble imho.

That right mid-wing position is clearly still an issue at Arsenal. If Wenger feels that neither Campbell, Theo or Danny should start ahead of the Ox in a game like this one, we have some shopping to do in the summer.

On the left wing, we had Nacho and Alexis and I expected more from this duo. Nacho did very well defensively and tried to help out Alexis whenever he could. The Chilean firecracker really struggled to get a grip on this game and produce the sort of magic we know he is capable of (but we have seldom seen in 2016). That was one of the biggest disappointments of the night for me.

I thought Giroud did okay and worked hard to make things happen for the team, but it is fair to say that he also did not excel on the night. In our system, Giroud is not meant to be the lethal CF but a good CF and an excellent link-up attacker, who creates and scores in equal measure. In last night’s game we needed something special from our strike-force, and Alexis, Giroud, The Ox and Theo (who replaced the Ox early on in the second half) all played below par to make that happen.

There were plenty of positives though. Rambo played phenomenally well, showing us all what a great b2b he is and what an engine he possesses. The combo of Coq and Rambo were very disciplined and really were effective in stopping Barca play for 70 minutes or so; and how many teams can do that? Ozil was lively and always looking for attacking opportunities but was let down by the ball control and (lack of effective) off the ball running of many of his fellow attackers. Belerin had a fabulous game and so did Cech and Monreal. The BFG-Koz CB combo held out well for a long period of the game but suffered badly once the team discipline went out of the window – for which they are to blame as well.

In summary, we are still a little short of the very, very top level of football. There should be no shame in this: we are building a top, top team and this needs to take time, and our opponent are on a crest of long-term success, doped by continuous quality purchases that we cannot afford and/or attract as much as they do. In order to reach the European/World top level, we need to build further on the good basis of this team and we can do that by spending our money carefully in the summer. First we need to win the league and then establish a platform of squad quality and depth, confidence/belief and experience to beat the likes of Bayernlona, Barca or Madrid.

I don’t think it will be easy to achieve this but it is not impossible either – and we should not underestimate how much the German and Spanish Giants are ahead of the rest of Europe right now. We are lucky that we have the football ground – how fantastic were those aerial helicopter shots of THOF last night? – the financial structure and income, and a very decent, relatively young and still developing squad to make the leap forward.

But it also requires vision, guts and investment by the BOD, and, if last night’s game made anything clear, then it is where Wenger needs to strengthen the squad in the summer: a right winger/midwinger of Alexis’ caliber, possibly another CF (depending on the system Wenger wants to play), better DM cover/challenge for Le Coq and a quality CB to gradually take over from the BFG. On top of that, we need more leadership so we can last ninety rather than seventy minutes. Some will come from within and some will have to be bought.

But we don’t have to play one of the European super top-three teams every day and against Manure I expect us to bounce back to do the shirt proud. 🙂

“This is no time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure” W. Churchill.

Bring on the Mancs!

By TotalArsenal.

 

 

Danny is Well-back, Giroud MOTM, Theo Delivers: 8 Positives from Arsenal v Leicester

Eight Positives from a potentially pivotal win.

I will need to watch the whole game again to do a proper tactical analysis. Such was the intensity of the battle with the Foxes, I was unable to analyse the match coolly at the end of it. So more tomorrow or Tuesday.

Wenger jubelt na gouden wissel: 'We zijn helemaal terug'

However, there are many initial positives  I can think of:

  1. Energy and desire: the Gunners were up for this game and matched the Foxes’ intensity in every area of the pitch. Especially our spine is full of hard working, passionate players. You would expect this but it is not always a given (as sorry Man City demonstrated once more today) and it is what earned us at least two points today. Ozil, Rambo, Giroud, Koz, Sanchez and the full backs were our turbo engines today;
  2. Cech kept us from an early setback with a crucial stop from Vardy’s header at the start of the game – helped a bit by Bellerin who put the Foxes’ striker off by jumping into him. He oozed calm and control as always;
  3. Giroud was  magnificent, with the only thing missing a goal or two. He gave the fine Leicester CBs constantly something to think about, linked up very well with his fellow attacking players and created space and chances for others. The Theo lay-off was clever and well-placed and his defensive interventions all over the pitch were exemplary. Is Aguero  a better finisher than Ollie? Yes no doubt about it. But, as today’s key PL games showed once again, when the Argentine does not score Man City often drop points, whereas we will often win games even if Ollie does not hit the net. Giroud’s has so much to offer to the team and for me he was the MOTM.
  4. Super substitutions by Wenger. Theo had not scored for a while so it was not without risk to put him into the team after sixty minutes, but he made a difference straightaway with positive, confident attacking play that was crowned by a very fine, super important goal. But the stuff of dreams was surely bringing on Danny Welbeck with less than ten minutes to go and for him to score the winner in the very last minute of the game. It worked out well for Wenger and I wonder how often we will see all of Alexis, Theo, Giroud and Welbeck together on the pitch. It all proved too much for the sorry Foxes in the end.
  5. Alexis’ work rate. Our Chilean firecracker is still shedding the rust of two inactive winter months, but he worked his socks off and always gave the Foxes’ defence something to think about. On a better day he would have scored a hat-trick but he never allowed his head to drop and that goes a long way for me.
  6. Ozil’s free-kick for the winner. Mesut gave his all again: always looking to add attacking value to the team by effort and invention. When he had to take the last kick off the game, he knew it had to be perfect and it was. He has produced many assists but this one was worth six points.
  7. Le Coq’s empathy for Nacho after Vardy converted the penalty that the Spaniard had given away. It was a harsh penalty to concede as Vardy, who had had a bad first touch, ran into Nacho and his outstretched leg to earn a penalty. More about Atkinson and his bafflingly poor refereeing tomorrow, but the pen was given and converted and Monreal had the weight of the world on his shoulder. It was really nice to see Le Coq console Nacho-man as a stadium can be a very lonely place at such moments. A touch of class.
  8. Our ability to get behind the Foxes defence. We all know that Leicester are solid in the middle and very hard to penetrate. Kante, especially, is a very fine DM and Drinkwater is also pretty impressive. When a team is set up like the Foxes, it is so important to use the flanks and get in behind them, and we did this time and again. Our FBs, Nacho and Bellerin, were a constant threat and Ox and Alexis were able to take on players and create chaos and space in their defence. We played a high tempo as well and this enabled Ozil and Rambo to keep finding players on the flank who then got in behind to create chances for us. We had 24 shots (six on target) which is a good indication of how many chances we created, and I reckon the use of the flanks was key in this, as this heat map of Arsenal (on left, on the right is Leicester’s – source BBC) shows:

Arsenal v Leicester heat maps

I am sure there are many more positives and I invite you to share them with us.

By TotalArsenal.

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

Sweet Sixteen for the Sweet Sixteenth Time in succession!

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

Wenger in zevende hemel na onvergetelijke avond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By TotalArsenal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Arsenal have a B2B mid again, Majestic Mesut, Nacho the Winger: 8 Positives

Arsenal v Sunderland-Premier League

A hard fought win, three invaluable points, no further injuries and Rambo is back. There are still people out there who believe there are easy games left in the Premier League, and how wrong they are. Bournemouth beating the Chavs at the Bridge… City getting hammered by the Orcs… Manure not able to score a single goal against the Hammers at home… and that is just this week’s pick of giant killing and bodily harming.

Arsenal knew they had to fight for the goals and a win today, and our winning spirit combined with team cohesion and camaraderie, go a very long way. On top of this, the players and the manager are one, and you only have to look at MU and the Chavs to realise that this is not always a given.

There are concerns about injuries and players available going into this very busy December month, and rightly so. But the area in which we have all players fit and available, our defence, we are currently underperforming the most…. Football is a strange, unpredictable game at times. Our back-five looked all over the place at times and we got away with some bad defending today, due to Sunderland not being very familiar with finding the net these days and, of course, the Cech factor. I reckon Bellerin is missing the support from Ramsey on his flank a lot; on the other hand, I wonder whether Hector Vector should play a bit more like a conventional FB, as Nacho is currently offering the strongest wing support of the two anyway…. We definitely need to play more compact and organised at the back on Wednesday, if we want to go through to the next round in the CL.

Luckily we had our shooting boots on and managed to score three goals: that is three more than MU, the Chavs and MC today, who all could not find the net despite massive player investments over the last few years. And we got those goals, despite sexy Alexis and Danny Champion of the World being injured, and Theo only playing for twenty minutes or so.

Eight Positives From the Game:

  1. Ozil: what is there to say that has not already been said: Mesut is in top form, on top of the world and carrying the team through a difficult mini-period. His vision and speed of thinking and acting are unsurpassed and his passion for football is never in doubt, even though he does not always show it on the outside. If you are about to have a baby-boy… call him Mesut, is all I am saying. 🙂
  2. Rambo is back: did you see how many times he arrived in time in the box to finish off an attack, or help to make the most of one? That is what Aaron brings and what you would expect of a B2B midfielder. Yes, he still had rusty moments and he needs to find a better balance between defence and attack (together with his DM partner the Flame), but we needed his energy and link up play so badly today (especially with both Santi AND Alexis missing). And a goal and assist make up for a couple of iffy defensive moments, don’t you think?!
  3. Nacho: what a drive and passion this guy has! Especially in the second half he just looked like an orthodox winger at times. Is there a more complete Wing-Back in the country?
  4. Giroud delivers again: unfortunate with the OG at the end of the first half, for which I won’t blame him at all, but he made up for it with a well-timed run and a fab finish that could have easily gone past the wrong side of the post. He also had the ‘pre-assist’ for the all-important first goal, with a classical lay-off to Ozil, who then found Campbell with a superb through-ball.
  5. Theo came on and added real zest to the team: really good to see him back and he got the pre-assist for the third goal, so not a bad cameo.
  6. Cech was awesome and kept us in the game, both with his saves and his persona/aura. What a signing, Arsene, what a fecking brilliant signing! How many points has he saved us already this season…?
  7. Campbell made a very good run and finished calmly for our first goal. We all had high hopes for him initially, but it is now clear that he needs a bit of time and support from us, to play himself into the team. And his all-important first goal of the game will do him good. The one that will be worried most about Campbell’s gradual progress is the Ox, who once again did not convince and did not get on the assist or score sheet today. I have a feeling that the coming four weeks might determine his future at Arsenal… This is your ‘Le Coq’ moment, Alex..
  8. No further injuries, as it stands, so happy days.

By TotalArsenal.

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

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

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

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

Ratings (1-10):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By TotalArsenal.

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

Arsenal-v-Everton-Barclays-Asia-Trophy

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.

gun__1437236159_Cech_BAT_711

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

By TotalArsenal.