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

Match analysis and afterthoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come On You Gunners!!!!!

 

Written by: Marcus

Plucky, Plucky Arsenal – Szczesny, Koz and Mertesacker win us three points

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I missed the first 25 minutes or so of today’s top;three game the Saints. So apparently, I missed our best period of football; but I don’t mind as I liked what I saw in the 65 remaining minutes of the game.

A clean sheet, a mature performance, scoring the second goal to kill off any remaining threat, and looking in control for most of the game was music to my eyes. How long have we been waiting for this sort of maturity: not playing well in terms of attacking football but just being able to see a game out professionally? That is what champions-to-be need.

I thought as a team we worked well, even though one or two individual performances were not at their usual level. But the real strength of a team is measured by its ability to compensate for any individual blips in form, and today we saw good evidence of just that.

You have to give some credit to Southampton, though. It takes some guts to come to the Emirates and just play their football, and at times they dominated us with very good combination and pressing football. In the end, two avoidable mistakes cost them badly and luckily they had these against us…. The Chavs will face a determined, highly motivated team – of that I have no doubt.

Being totally honest about our performance, I felt our midfield missed some necessary cohesion and fluency in their passing. We have some distance to go in terms of getting the likes of Cazorla, Ozil, Arteta, Ramsey and Wilshere to fully gel with each other. But the good thing is we have a solid defence, and against a team like Southampton we naturally sit back a bit more and keep things solid. At home this is not a bad thing as it makes us less vulnerable to counterattacks. In away games we do this regularly and it’s one of the reasons we have done so well on our travels.

Our back-five performance was very impressive and something special is growing between these players. All have made progress this season, even the wily Sagna. And all five players have both strengths and one or two weaknesses, but somehow they have found a way of maximizing their combined strengths and minimizing the weaknesses.

BFG slowness and lack of ‘turnability’ is compensated for by Sagna and Koz’s speed and last-ditch tackling ability. Koz’s occasional hot-headedness needs the BFG’s organisational and calming skills, etc etc.

But special praise should go to the triangle of Szczesny, Koz and Mertesacker, who were as good as impenetrable today. Arteta did not have one of his best games against the Saints, but neither was he awful.  Nevertheless, Koz and Mertesacker coped very well with any threat through the middle, which is considerable as there is a lot of strength in Southampton’s midfield.

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The team playing deep really seems to suit Koz and Mertesacker, and if they are in control it really helps Szczesny to stay calm and composed as well. I reckon, other than the hard work of the entire team, that’s what won us the game today. They also worked well together when defending corners and free-kicks which was good to see.

If we are going to win the league we will need a solid defence – a solid back five really – and the boys did us proud today. And I reckon there is still more to come.

It is great to see the team bounce back from the Manure defeat straightaway, and that despite not having had much time together during the latest interlull.

Three more points and a more solid position at the top, and plenty of evidence that this team has backbone and belief. Bring on the Frenchies – OGAAT! 🙂

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Is it time to hand Per Mertesacker the armband?

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Leadership, whether in sport or business, is a fascinating topic. Some believe teams do not need to have one leader; that all can lead together. I guess the latter is true as long as things go well. The football equivalent to the Harlem Globetrotters, from the city with the beautiful horizon, did not seem to need a leader, as trophy after trophy was won with breathtakingly beautiful post-total football. But then Guardiola left and slowly it became clear who their real leader had been; and when Barcelona was being humiliated by Die Lederhosen, home and away, there was nobody who stood up and ordered the troops to fight back.

 

I am not going to be entirely popular on my own site by stating that Wenger has been quite poor in choosing his leaders for the team, especially in recent times. I reckon this is because he does not really rate the captaincy of his team, as he expects the whole team to lead itself, rather than just one individual doing it.

 

I also believe there should be more than one leader, so that when things are not going well on the pitch various people stand up and fight for the cause. The best test of our leadership ability is when we play our most loathed opponent in recent history, the Mancs. Last year, the first year of the traitor at Manure, was so poor in terms of leadership, epitomised by Vermaelen’s early, painful capitulation by meekly handing that boy-man the ball on a silver plate.

 

Two weeks ago, our leadership on the pitch was a bit better, but it still was not brilliant. We played with too much respect for our opponent and did not really play with the belief we would be able to turn things round. Flamini and Arteta did their best to get the troops going but it was not enough. 

 

Watching Mertesacker operating as the captain for Germany made me think again what a fine captain he would be for Arsenal. I have written a few posts over the years stating that Wenger should never have made Vermaelen our captain but have handed the armband to our BFG instead. Vermaelen has become a worse player as a result of the captaincy, as for me he is a specialist rather than a natural leader, who needs to focus hard on his own role rather than also having to think about team management as well. Why he is still the captain is beyond me and can only be explained by Wenger’s apparent belief that it does not really matter who captains our team.

 

Yet, Mertesacker’s strengths are organisation and leadership and I reckon we would still get a lot more out of him by HONOURING him with the armband. The longer he has been with us the more I believe he is our new Tony Adams, and there have not been many good leaders as Adams has been for us in recent history.

The BFG is not just a brilliant reader of the game and excellent organiser of his defence – just like Adams was; he also has that bit of mongrel in him, that real desire to win and put his heart and soul into every performance. He loves Arsenal and the rest look up to him.

I love all these qualities in Mertesacker and for me it is time to hand him the armband; to make him our captain, our leader. It will give him wings and the team the leadership it craves for. 

But what do you think, fine fellow Gooners? 🙂

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Mozart shows his metal – BFG-Koz solid – Rambo’s knock-out – great team performance

Another Rambo Knock-Out by our Welsh Wolf :)
Another Rambo Knock-Out by our Welsh Wolf 🙂

Dortmund – Arsenal analysis and afterthoughts

After lacking a bit of luck a fortnight ago at the Home of Football, last night we definitely had it back on our side. As expected, both teams played chessball in the first half in which all players moved along like chess pieces to deny the other pieces space, and at the same time desperately trying to gain some themselves.

We defended really well as a team, give or take a moment or two. If you watched the simple demolition by Dortmund of Stuttgart on Friday, you will agree with me that our team did really well to deny die Gelb-Schwarzen space and time on the ball in the area where it could hurt us. To see our team play with such discipline and maturity, AND with such sacrifice to ‘our style’, was very satisfying. They still managed to create a few very good chances, but mainly from set-pieces, and it is fair to say we rode our luck at times.

I felt our weakest area was our left side of defence. BD are very dangerous from their right side of attack and they put a lot of pressure on Gibbs, Koz and our ‘DM’s from that area. Cazorla did his best to help out, but defending is not his strongest point and a fit Jack Wilshere would have been the better option last night.

The first part of the second half was more of the same. As in the first half, our attackers did not seem able to hold on to the ball for long in the areas where they could hurt Dortmund. We were not able to play close enough together to play our triangles and move forward with possession and sharp passing, and this tells us all about how good Dortmund are: they forced this on to us with their chasing and excellent positioning, which not many teams are able to do.

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However, gradually the game opened up and the chess-positioning lessened, and we started to play some better midfield/attacking football. Arsenal’s first, and directly deadly, chance of the game came out of nothing. Ozil floated in a ball towards Giroud; the Frenchman won the aerial battle and laid the ball off to Rambo – who scores when he wants – and he wanted it badly: 1-0 to the good guys and game on!

And boy did it take the bounce out of Germans – Scheiße! hahaha 🙂

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But Dortmund were not allowed back into the game by the collective ‘concordia’ of Arsenal. They did manage to produce a few half-decent chances but so did we, and it could as easily have been 2-0 as 1-1 at that stage of the game. Ramsey had a good opportunity to score a brace, after a perfect cross from our multi-functional CF; and the BFG launched himself in the air towards the ball like a B52 Bomber from an Ozil cross from the sidelines, but just could not reach far enough for what would have been a certain goal.

The team battled on and everyone gave what they had left in them to secure the win. Every single player deserves praise, but I would like to bring to light our CB-pairing and Rosicky’s performances.

No team will ever win something meaningful without a solid CB partnership, and the Koz-BFG partnership is developing into something special with now three clean sheets in a row. They are not fully there yet, and there will be a new test for them at Old Toilet, but boy are we lucky to have them playing together right now.

And then there was Rosicky, of whom I said he seldom performs well two games in a row. Yesterday, he proved me wrong with a MoTM performance against his former club after having played against the Chavs and Pool in an eight day period. TR7 was absolutely brilliant in all areas of the pitch and his defensive play and ‘professional meanness’ were outstanding. He put his body on the line for Arsenal and gave his all, and it is this hunger, passion for the club, talent and experience that make him such a valuable player for Arsenal. I hope he’ll stay fit and at Arsenal for a long time, and develop into our very own Ryan Giggs.

All in all a fantastic, and much needed, win in Europe and TOTT. These boys are making us SO PROUD. Same eleven against the Mancs…

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Szczesny – BFG – Flamini – Ozil – Giroud: spine of a champion in waiting?

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I love our spine: it is full of character, experience, ‘position experts’, and it oozes quality throughout. One Pole, two Germans, and two Frenchies; and we have some fine Spanish, German and English talents to add to it and support it.

Arsenal might be building a team around a British core in the mid to long term, but for the foreseeable future the core has not a single Brit in it. Jack and Rambo might well play themselves into the core sooner or later, and especially the Welshman has made a very impressive start to the season, but for now the spine is non-British.

You could argue that the wider spine should be taken into account, as we play with two CBs and two deeper laying midfielders who all play centrally. But for the sake of this discussion I would rather look at our narrow spine of Szczesny, Mertesacker, Flamini, Ozil and Giroud.

There are three questions that come to my mind when looking at our spine:

  1. Can we improve further on it?
  2. How will we cope with injuries?
  3. Is it the spine of an imminent champion?

I welcome your views on this today, and this post is just a means for discussion/sharing of views.

In order to give the debate some added substance, I will quickly give you my views on the above questions.

Can we improve further on the spine?

Yes we can to some extent. We could get a more experienced and established goal keeper as Wojciech is not yet the finished article; and maybe there is a CB out there who has the BFG’s ability to organise the defence and read the game as well as he does, but is faster and more agile than the German giant. But despite his lack of speed and ‘turn-ability’, I love the guy and it would be hard to find somebody who would be a like for like improvement in all the aspects he brings to our team.

Other than that, I reckon Flamini and Ozil are totally cut for our spine, and the same goes for Giroud who plays the ‘modern’ holding striker role sublimely for us this season.

How will we cope with injuries?

That is the big question, isn’t it?

For Szczesny we have two options and I rather would have an experienced PL goal keeper as our nr.2, although we still have to see Viviano in action and he might well be the bee’s knees.

For Mertesacker we have Sagna, who has been very good in the CB role when played there recently. But Sagna is also our nr.1 RB and is played constantly by Arsene and in the French national team. However, if the BFG is injured I reckon Sagna is a more than decent replacement.

For Flamini we have Arteta. It is not a like for like replacement as Flamini is better at the physical part of midfield defending, but Arteta is experienced and can play well in the deepest midfield position. In an ideal world, though, we would strengthen in this area as soon as possible. Our main transfer priority this winter?

For Ozil we have Jack, Rosicky, Santi and Rambo. Enough said.

For Giroud we have Bendtner and Sanogo and maybe Akpom. The Dane did not take his opportunity on Tuesday and it looks like closed curtains for him now. Sanogo could become a revelation but we just have not seen him play yet, and Akpom is one for the future.

Of course, we also have Theo and Pod who could play centrally but neither of them are capable of playing the specialist holding striker role anywhere near as well as the Big Ferocious Frenchman. I reckon a long term injury to him is our biggest potential weakness in the spine; if there’s one thing we have learned from our defeat against the Chavs, it’s this…

Is it the spine of an imminent champion?

Thanking The Guardian for this great picture!
Thanking The Guardian for this great picture!

It all depends on fitness and being able to play together as much as possible, especially during the big games. It is also important that Szczesny turns into a more consistent ‘safe pair of hands’ this season. So with a bit of luck, we could well have the spine of a champion in waiting this season.

But what do you think, fine fellow Gooners? And who would be your one purchase to further strengthen the spine?

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Who turned Arsenal into EPL title contenders?

Well, it is not just Ozil!

Happiness is a warm Gunner!
Happiness is a warm Gunner!

Over the last month or so, ever since we made Mesut Ozil our record signing for the club, not a day goes by without some sort of news or article regarding how Ozil has transformed the fortunes of a struggling team and how we have been taken from being consistently ‘in crisis’ to ‘oozing class’.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m loving the attention that having a true world best (and he is the BEST play maker in the world, period!) brings to Arsenal, but it made me think that it should not be taken for granted that a solid backbone of a team existed in which Ozil has seamlessly slotted in. Cast your mind back to right before Ozil’s signing, the loss against Aston Villa. Hell had descended and it seemed to be the end. Apparently Arsene had “dithered” and “dilly dallied” and the result was only one free transfer and a seemingly long barren season up ahead.

The point I’d raise here is that we still had a good squad, a squad that had topped the table based on points collected since Jan 2013 till the end of the last season. Arsene had sorted out our best defensive partnership, he had sorted our Rambo’s position and form, Rosicky was back playing at a good level, and Jack was fitter than he had been in the last few seasons (the last one is still relative, since I personally don’t think Jack is as fit as he can be, but at least he has been able to get a solid preseason behind him). Tactically, Arsene had also more or less figured out a good way to utilize our best players and it was working. We were solid and we were winning.

Going into the summer, the need seemed to be a CF and a DM in priority, followed by perennial need for a GK and CD. The need was also to get rid of the fat of the squad. A number of people pointed out at this point that a couple of good signings would transform our squad from being solid to being contenders. Unfortunately as the summer progressed and the frustrations increased, the narrative changed back to Arsenal having a weak squad, loads of money in the bank and Arsene having no clue. Bring on the Villa loss and we were a club at war with itself.

Mesut Ozil wasn’t what we needed, but he was that someone who Arsene has always talked about, the player who improves a position, and in turn the squad, and no doubt he has. He has the Va Va Voom that we loved to talk about when Thierry used to score goals for us. Add to the Ozil signing the genius signing of Flamini and we have a central midfield core that any team in the world can be fearful about. More than anything, Ozil changed the narrative around the club, gave the fans and players confidence and showed the world that we meant business. But let’s take a look at some of the players he’s joined in… just so we can remind ourselves of our squad!

In defense we have Szczesny, he who was once touted as the most promising GK since the days of Seaman and Lehmann. After going through a bit of a self searching phase, he began to reach his best towards the end of the last season, and has begun this season brilliantly (barring the Villa horror show). Behind him we have Fabianski and Viviano, good solid backups.

Then we have the indomitable pairing of Kos and Per, both phenomenal defenders who compliment each other’s game brilliantly. I would go as far as to say that they’d be up there as the best defensive pairing in the EPL right now, Per with his uncanny reading of the game and ability to organize, and Kos with his pace and tackling. We have TV on the bench, the club captain who is rearing to prove himself again! What has been heartening has been the fact that TV has been quite happy to take his chance when it comes. I had for a while thought that maybe he may want to move on (there was some interest from Barcelona at some point) if he couldn’t have games here, but I’m glad he’s still with the club.

Gibbs, Monreal, Sagna and Jenks; four absolutely terrific players who compete with each other and the result is an improving standard of play. Monreal in particular, I feel is hugely responsible for pushing Gibbs to be better than he had been. Sagna is a rock, I hope he gets a new contract. The only weak link (if I can call it that) is Jenks, who still needs to work on his game in order to be a regular starter, but the boy has great potential.

Centrally we have terrific options, and even before Ozil we had fantastic options. We have versatile midfielders who can play a variety of positions in Arsene’s 4-2-3-1 formation. We have Rambo in the form of his life (the boy really deserves all the praise he’s getting), we have Rosickly, Santi and Ozil, all players who could be playmakers or drift in from wide centrally to make the killer pass or even play off the CF. We have Arteta and Flamini, the passer and the tackler, and we have Jack, who is slowly getting back to his best. If this was not enough, we have Theo and Ox who can give us pace from the wings, and Poldi who will score goals coming in from either flank. Oh yeah, we also have Gnabry!

Up front we have Giroud, who last season I said would be a superstar to anyone who would listen, and he is showing his class. The thing that I love about Giroud is his sheer hunger to succeed and to help and to score goals. He wants to be the greatest at the club and he is working hard to get there. You couldn’t ask for more. His hold up play and his finishing have improved fantastically this season. As back up to Giroud we are perhaps a little short, but we do have Theo and Poldi who could potentially play in that position, as well as Apkom, Sanogo and Bentdner. Ideally if Sanogo had been fit I would have loved to see him start the Capital One Cup matches. Don’t forget it was the same competition in which Giroud found his feet (or head) last season.

But the thing that I love most about the squad (pre and post Ozil) has been the togetherness, the camaraderie and the hunger to succeed. It’s such a pleasure to see Instagram or twitter photos of players celebrating together. Poldi, despite being injured, seems to be the chief cheerleader. The big players such as Per, Flamini and Arteta seem to be stepping up to guide the younger players. Even TV in a recent interview alluded to the fact that a club captain can do much even if he’s not playing.

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So going forward I would love for this bunch to succeed, because in a long time I finally see the fruits of a long barren hard period coming to the fore. Win or lose, they will try, of that I’m sure, and as a fan I could not ask for anything more.

Let’s hope we have a terrific November and come Christmas we are still in a position to fight for the title.

Would love to know what you guys think!

Written by: Umair Naeem

Report & Ratings: Orcs slain, Rambo does it again, Özil is unbelievable

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After a tough midweek away fixture in France, Arsenal faced a visit from Stoke this weekend. Today was set to be Özil’s home debut and the fans would not be disappointed by what he had in store.

The game today saw Arsenal start out strong but become tired in the second half and start to drag a little, before some late substitutions brought some life back into the game.

One interesting note about our starting line-up today: Theo Walcott was set to start the game on the right wing, before a change was made about 10 minutes before kick off and 18 year old Serge Gnabry made his first Premier League start for Arsenal. From what Wenger said, Theo had an abdominal problem and should be fine.

All three assists today came from our record signing, Mesut Ozil. And surprisingly, we put three goals past Stoke through set pieces! This truly shows how good Özil’s delivery is.

Özil showed off his excellent delivery for the first time today after just five minutes. The German had a wonderful shot from a free kick just outside the box. Begović dove and managed to palm it away, only for the man of the moment, Aaron Ramsey, to fire the rebound coolly into the net.

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Then in the 26th minute the Orcs would get lucky. A decent ball was hoofed in the box by Orc #1. Per was unable to keep up with Orc #2 and Orc #2 fired a shot against the post. Had it been on target, Szczesny likely would’ve gotten to it, but it cannoned of the post back to Orc #3, who put it in the net. Not much can be blamed other than Per’s lack of pace. Maybe someone should’ve been tracking Orc #3, but I’ll put this goal down to luck because the ball could just have easily hit the post and gone out, or bounced to Szczesny or anywhere but back to a Stoke player.

Özil would then show his class again, delivering a corner in to Per who flashed it across goal with his head, only for it to be cleared of the line. However, Özil and Per would repeat this in the 36th minute and this time Mertesacker’s looping header would find its way just inside the far post. It was an excellently placed header for the second time that game from our BFG. He looked thrilled to score for the Arsenal again, and it’s always great to see the goals coming from all over the team.

After half time the team seemed to tire. Playing three fixtures in a week really seemed to take its toll, especially on Jack and Aaron. I would’ve liked to see Ryo come on for Jack around the 60th minute to keep the team fresh and to protect Jack from the vicious Stoke players, but the subs would come eventually.

Özil would deliver his final assist in the 72nd minute, again off a set piece. He curled in a cross from the left side if the field and this time it would be Sagna to put a looping header over Begović. As far as I know, this was Sagna’s first goal since he played his part in the first 5-2 against Tottenham. We really need to get that lad signed up on a contract extension, even if he has to make the move to centre back permanently as he ages and his mobility leaves him. He knows the Arsenal style of play and has experience and talent; we really do need to keep him.

The game, once again ended 3-1 to the mighty Arsenal. The only real complaint being that we didn’t keep a clean sheet. However, we are once again top of the league and this time we will stay there.

Player Ratings:

Szczesny: 7/10; Had a rather average performance. Wasn’t at fault for the goal and did well smothering a low cross late on.

Sagna: 7.5/10; Also had a rather average performance, but did well to score the goal. Still looking solid in old age and needs to be resigned.

Mertesacker: 8/10; Was an animal at the heart of our defense today. Jumped on Jones’ bad touch when he was nearly through on our goal and scored an excellent header to put us ahead.

Koscielny: 7/10; A quiet performance, but sometimes that’s what you want from defenders. Just went about his business, did well to distract Begović on Per’s goal and it’s good to see him being less rash and not giving away penalties.

Gibbs: 6.5/10; Also quiet, but seemed quite tired. Didn’t do much going forward and Flamini seemed to be covering at the LB spot a lot, implying that Gibbs was out of position a bit too often. He did have his moments though.

Ramsey: 7/10; Was in great position to score the rebound off the first free kick, but tired quickly after so many games in such a short time.

Flamini: 7.5/10; Had fantastic distribution and did well covering for the tired Gibbs when he was caught out of position. He continued to show his value to the team and his signing looks to be a stroke of genius.

Özil: 9/10; Had fantastic delivery from set pieces. Four especially notable ones, including the three goals and Per’s first header.

Gnabry: 7/10; Had some good moves down the field. Could’ve been through on one occasion, had Huth not leveled him. Also looked strong defensively. Looked great for an 18 year old and hopefully he gets more chances soon.

Giroud: 7/10; Had a rather average game. Tried an acrobatic effort late on, but really didn’t do much creating chances for others or himself. However, was helpful defensively and won more than a few free kicks.

Wilshere: 6.5/10; Was clearly targeted by Stoke. Had his moments in the first half, but tired quickly and should’ve been taken off sooner.

Substitutes:

Ryo: 6.5/10; Came on late for Gnabry. Didn’t do much, but added some pace to the team towards the end and did well to keep the ball in once down the right wing, but had a terrible cross. Overall, needs more time. I expect him to play midweek.

Monreal: 7/10; Shored up our defense at the end. Subbed on late for Wilshere.

Arteta: 7/10; Made his return from injury. Subbed on late for Özil in his more natural attacking midfield position. Will likely play midweek for fitness.

Note: This is my first time doing player ratings, at the request of JB. Please tell me what you think and if you would like me to continue doing this.

For now I’ll leave you with some questions:

  1. What did you think of the team’s performance today?
  2. How important is it for Arsenal to sign Sagna to a new deal?
  3. Do you think Wenger is responsible for the team’s good form and togetherness?

Thanks for reading. 😀

Written by: Dylan.

Could Arsenal be in a better position right now to end trophy-drought?

A new era for the mighty red and white?
A new era for the mighty red and white?

Towards the end of last season, I wrote about the five things that Arsenal would need to look at if the club wanted to be serious in its pursuit of silverware.  A solid start to the new season (including a win against the “strongest ever” Spurs – which for some reason made me so very very very happy!!) and one harrowing, frustrating and ultimately exciting transfer window later, it’s a good time to go back to those five points and reassess where the club stands:

1 – Sort out the squad by the middle of July, have a consistent first team and timely rotations

When the transfer window started, the club had three objectives: a) get rid of the deadwood, b) keep our good players at the club, and c) bring in new players who would add value to the squad, ideally a superstar or two. Ivan Gazidis went out and put the cat amongst the pigeons by saying Arsene had a huge kitty to spend from, that we’d get in our players nice and early and that we could afford the likes of Rooney etc. Cue, huge expectations.

Did we achieve those objectives? A categorical yes to a) and b). We did very well with the deadwood, and we retained all of our core players. As far as bringing in new players was concerned, I felt the club struggled. Key areas to be strengthened were ST, GK, DM and defense.

Sanogo came in early, and was a victim of being a free signing. I rate him, but he is at best a third option striker, so the ST position still needed to be strengthened. Links with Higuain and Rooney arose, and Higuain was all but signed. Then came Suarez, and from what I understand, we were led up the garden path by his agent regarding the 40 mn + 1 offer. The only good thing that came out of that was a statement that we were willing to spend huge money.

Flamini came in next, again on a free, after being linked with Gotze, Fabregas, Cabaye, Fellaini, Gundogan, Illarmendi etc. At the time, I felt that Flamini was a brilliant and shrewd signing, but underwhelming when you compare him to the likes that we were being linked too. A word on Flamini before we move on: he should never have left. He was brought in to replace Viera and for a while did a great job. Seeing him back against Spurs really made me happy, because he’s one of those players who can take the bit between his teeth and push everyone around him to be better. He’s a shouter, an organizer, a tackler… and Gosh, how we have missed someone like that.

Then came the deadline day and we ended up with Oh My God… Ozil! And in that one signing Arsene showcased that he is still well respected around the world and an attractive option to superstar players. Remember, Ozil did not want to leave Madrid or come to Arsenal, he had an offer from PSG and unconvincing interest from Man U, but he signed for us after Arsene convinced him that we mean business. You can’t ask for more than that. And in doing so, Ozil became the 3rd most expensive British signing and the most expensive German ever signed. 42.5 mn… wow! Arsenal paid that!

So was the first point achieved? Yes in the sense that the team remained stable, no players important to us were sold and our first team is gelled and ready (unlike others who have spent 100 mn +) and that was on show in the last 4 games that we have played and particularly against Spurs. Spurs on the other hand looked disjointed at times and will take a while to gel.

However we did go off-track in the sense that despite ending up with Ozil, we could have planned the window a bit better, and gotten good players in early. I still find it head-scratching that we couldn’t get a striker. I’m not going to pretend to understand how a lot of things work in the transfer window between clubs, but surely in two months you can sign one striker.

Ozil should have been a bonus (he still is), the cherry on top of 4/5 players that we needed to strengthen. Having said that, we did strengthen, and the only place I feel we are light now is the ST position.

I would point out that this was the first window where Wenger, Gazidis and co. could spend big money, and talk to big players (hopefully we should have a similar kitty in upcoming windows), so to an extent it may have been a learning process for all involved. I feel Higuain and Suarez could have been handled a lot better.

Having said all of that at least we didn’t end up paying 5 mn extra for a player who could have been signed a few weeks before via the get-out clause in his contract! Guess who I’m talking about!

2 – A strong vocal performing captain

In my article I had put forward Arteta as one possible option. Arteta has been our spiritual leader in many ways, and a player that the team can look up to. Unfortunately, along with TV, Arteta too is out for now and the mantle of the captaincy has fallen upon the BFG! And I’ll tell you what, he has done a bang up job so far in terms of organizing and leading the team. However, I do not feel he can be a long term solution.

It is clear that Arsene plans on keeping TV as the club captain, so it becomes vital for a) TV to recapture his old form and force his way back into the side, and b) for all of our other leaders to make their collective mark and push the team forward. I’m referring to Per, Arteta and Flamini.

3 – Capture the fans imagination, change the press narrative

Oh how well we have achieved this is: absolutely utterly phenomenal! Not since Bergkamp has such a superstar been signed. Arguably the greatest playmaker in the world, Mesut Ozil! Dear oh dear… I still get goose bumps! However, we need to keep in mind that we were very close to ending the window with a narrative that would have been worse than where we started from. I do believe that Arsene had his eye out on a big signing, and delivered accordingly.

The narrative is now exciting, the fans are now excited! We are a team that is intent on making a statement, we are a team that is together and gelled, we are a team that has just trebled its record transfer in one go, signing the best in the world; and we are a team led by a man who may be flawed, who may be misunderstood, but one who is still well respected and who still, in my opinion, is something of a genius!

Could we possibly be in a better position right now to mount a challenge on ending the barren trophy run?

 

4 – Be strong against the top six, and clinical against lower half opposition

We have started off OK. A loss to Villa was a perfect example of everything going wrong, but since then we have been solid and we have been strong. That is very heartening. Add to that the incomparable form of Ramsey, Kos, Per, Scez, Ollie and Santi, and we are looking good. The win against Spurs was all about positive work going forward and being solid at the back, and as a supporter you can’t ask for more. I recall thinking during the last five minutes that I can’t really fault them even if Spurs get an equalizer, even though we deserved to win. But we pulled through… in many a season ago that win might have been a draw or even a late loss, but our team ran themselves to the ground and won the game. It may be a big statement, but its matches like these rather than 5-0 thrashings that define a championship/cup winning team and breeds the winner mentality.

5 – Do the basics right and have clear objectives

So what do we expect from this team and this squad? As much as I would love to believe that with Ozil we can challenge for the title, I feel that may be a step too far. For me in the premiership we should finish second (although we are dark horses for sure). I firmly believe that with the squad Arsenal have, we should win both the League Cup and the FA Cup, if not one of them. The Champions League we can only take one step at a time, and for now the biggest challenge is to get through the group.

Bottom line though, if someone tells me right now that we win one cup at the end of this season, I will gladly take it! If nothing, that would make the narrative more positive and enhance the winning mentality with which we can look to win the league next season, with the possible addition of a couple of more quality players.

I would love to hear what you guys think!

Written by: Umair Naeem

Szczesny commands, Per & Kos top class, Giroud a cut above, Flamini the grinder: player ratings!

Togetherness has no price tag! With thanks to The Telegraph for photo
Togetherness has no price tag! With thanks to the Telegraph for photo

So 107 million pounds later we are still better than the spuds…Anyway straight to business, the player ratings.

Szczesny (8.0) – I have to say today he looked like the keeper we want to have between the sticks. Commanded his area expertly, fantastic communication with his defenders and made vital saves that made sure that three points remained at the Emirates. Top performance.

Gibbs (6.0) – By his standards he had an average game. Didn’t have much in him going forward and struggled a bit against Townsend. That said, he won his fair share of duels against him and slowly settled into the game as it wore on, especially with the introduction of Lamela. Finished the game strongly.

Per (7.5) – Powerful display by our BFG. Commanded the skies with his height, read the game well to make vital interceptions and most of all, controlled the game from the back. We now see why he has the armband albeit for now.

Kos (7.5) – As we have come to expect from the French man, top class display. Managed to keep Soldado out of the game and even managed to cover for Gibbs when he bombed forward or lost the ball. At the end, was at the heart of that fantastic Arsenal defence which stifled out the frustrated Spurs.

Jenkinson (6.5) – Was a surprise inclusion but he did put in a shift at right back. Showed good tackling but struggled a bit against the strength of Chadli in the opening stages. Settled as the game wore on.

Wilshere (5.0) – Was taken off before half time because he is ‘ill’ and it showed. Wasn’t his normal energetic self but did manage to carve out some decent chances. Hope he has a quick recovery over the international break.

Ramsey (7.5) – He really is coming of age. Energetic display all round, showing that right now no one is as committed to the cause as he is. Chased down every single ball and was always looking to instigate attacks. He needs to work on his final balls and decision making in the final third but other than that, wonderful performance.

Rosicky (6.5) – Put in a sublime performance, always looking to run at players and play dangerous balls behind the defence. Picked up a yellow card with a stupid challenge on Capoue though.

Cazorla (7.5) – Was his usual majestic self, always looking dangerous when on the ball. It is obvious that his technical ability was a class above everyone else. His movement was a bit subdued though, as a result of being played on the wing. Took two dangerous free kicks with the second one agonizingly close to making it 2-0.

Walcott (7.0) – His pace behind the defender was always a constant threat and this paid off when he swung in a low cross for Giroud to slot home. Would have piled more misery if it wasn’t for the outstanding Hugo Lloris.

Giroud (8.0) – Man of the match for me. Continued his goal scoring exploits making it 3 goals in 4 games with a wonderfully poked finish from Walcott’s cross that fooled everyone. Showed fantastic skill, composure and movement to score the goal. His work rate overall was amazing, despite the fact that we played a conservative game in the second half, making him a secluded figure upfront. Still won his aerial duels and chased down players. Needs to work on his pace on the ball. Sometimes his mind is sharp but his execution lets him down.

Flamini (6.5) – Looked like he lacks match fitness but still put in a decent performance. Made an interception that would have led to a goal chance if Ramsey hadn’t rushed his decision making. Received a yellow card for a crunching tackle on Paulinho.

Monreal (6.0) – Came on for Rosicky and should have put away a chance from a Walcott shot that was spilled towards him by Lloris. Otherwise was solid defensively and helped us see out the game.

Sagna N/A – Came on very late for Walcott. Didn’t have much time to influence the game though he made some important aerial clearances at the end to see out the result.

For me the most eye catching thing about our win was the collective team display. Everybody worked hard for each other tirelessly and gave nothing away.

It is always a good day when the Spurs kneel before our superiority. COYG!!!

Written by: Marcus

Fulham Preview: Podolski’s last time to shine – OG on bench?

craven-cottage

Intro:

Here we are again, one week after our disappointing season opener. Tomorrow Arsenal head off to Fulham, in a game that we really should, and have to, win. A victory tomorrow will put us back on track and help shake the “team in crisis” tag the media has been quick to label us with.

This fixture last year:

Last year, away to Fulham, Arsenal scraped out a 1-0 win. Sidwell got an early red card that would later be followed by a late Giroud red card. However, it was Mertesacker who scored the winner on the day: Kos headed the ball across goal from a set piece and Mertesacker ‘tapped it in’ with his head from close range.

Ironically, Mertesacker is our only recognized centre back eligible to play tomorrow. Let’s hope he can repeat last season’s feat and score a winner at Craven Cottage.

Here is my expected line up for tomorrow:

PredictedvsFulham

I think Wenger will replace Giroud with Podolski. Perhaps he’s been resting him specifically for this game, as Giroud didn’t have a great game last time we visited the Cottage. Maybe Wenger thinks that Podolski’s speed will help the team break down Fulham’s defense easier than Giroud’s style of play. After all, Riise, Hangeland, Senderos, and Amorebieta are all very slow defenders and the pace and intelligence of Walcott, Santi, Rosicky, and Podolski should be able to open them up.

As for the defensive midfield pairing, we don’t have much choice. Aaron and Jack will have to do, but I honestly don’t dislike this pairing as much as others do. The Fenerbahce game showed us that this pairing can work defensively as long as Aaron and Jack communicate properly, which it appears they are learning to do.

In the defense, I expect Wenger to give Monreal the start ahead of Gibbs because he should be nearly fully fit now, and Santi works better on the left with Monreal than with Gibbs. I also expect Sagna to play LCB and Mertesacker RCB, because Sagna is far more comfortable with his left foot than Mertesacker is.

Key Battles:

Walcott vs Riise: Walcott will either have an easy time or a long day down the right flank. Theo needs to be prepared to use his pace to run past Riise and receive the ball over the top. Theo will easily outpace him, but trying to split the defense on the ground may be difficult. Theo should prepare to do a lot of running in behind the defenders. If he does this, he should find himself with a load of scoring or assisting opportunities.

Mertesacker vs Berbatov: Berbatov is a lethal striker on his day and he will make us pay if we don’t keep a close eye on him. Mertesacker will have to do what he does best and position himself well to stop Berbatov from getting open shots at goal. Neither players involved in this battle are very quick, but both are intelligent players and this battle will be more of a chess game, with positioning being key.

Podolski vs Wenger: Podolski has been a noticeable absentee from both of our games so far this season. He was featured heavily in Arsenal’s training pictures today and I expect Wenger to give him his chance up top again. Poldi needs to take this game with both hands and make it his. He can’t be passive and wait for opportunities to arrive; he needs to step up and try to make opportunities for himself and others around him. If Wenger really is considering letting him leave (whether it be on loan or permanent), this may be Poldi’s last chance to prove he has a spot in this squad and I hope he does. That being said, if Poldi doesn’t start tomorrow’s match I fear the worst. The worst would be him being kept safe from becomming injured ahead of a possible move away from the club.

Casualties of War:

WengerWincing

Arsenal: Arteta, Diaby, and Ox will all miss out on this game due to their long term injuries. Vermaelen is back running, but is still a few weeks away from match fitness. Ryo is also likely to miss out, but isn’t far away from being match fit. Nacho is back to match fitness and will be in the squad this week.

Fulham: Richardson, Amorebieta, and Stekelenburg will all miss our match against Fulham. We need to capitalize on Stekelenburg’s injury especially as Fulham is likely to have their second string goalkeeper in net.

Predictions:

I’m hoping for a high scoring game with the Gunners winning 3 or 4 to nil and Jack, Podolski, and Santi opening up their scoring accounts for the season. It will likely be an open game that will be won or lost based on how our team responds to last weekend’s loss. The team needs to be physical (but not overly physical) and not be pushed around. They need to mature and not let Fulham’s physicality run the game like Villa’s did. I predict a tense game with the possibility of a sending off just like last year! Especially if we can frustrate Fulham and get a three or four goal lead.

Here’s a link of last season’s encounter between Fulham and Arsenal at the Cottage:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdINlfBSZbc

Questions:

  1. What’s your preferred line up?
  2. Will Podolski win his spot back?
  3. What are your predictions?

COYG! Let’s set Craven Cottage ablaze!

Please note: This is my first match preview and I’d love suggestions for how to improve for next time! 😉

Thanks for reading. 😀

Written by: Dylan.