Ramsey and Monreal to start, FlamTeta to add solidity? Southampton preview

st_marys_stadium_panoramic

Tomorrow night sees a return to midweek Premier League fixtures and another test for Arsenal, this time at Southampton.  Our form has been very nice.  In fact, we haven’t dropped a point in our last 5 league matches (7 wins in all comps) and we’ve only conceded 2 goals along the way.  The only caveat would be that these (league) matches have all come against teams in the bottom 11 who are currently separated by a mere 6 points(!) and are ALL candidates for relegation this season.  Southampton are in another bracket, a full 7 points ahead of the relegation battlers, and 13 points above the drop zone itself.   Already this season they’ve taken points off both Manchester teams and won at Liverpool.  They will not be pushovers and to earn full points Arsenal must play at our best.

Starting 11

This period of more winnable league fixtures and FA cup matches has presented an opportunity for the manager to rotate players and allow others to rest, recover from injury and re-integrate into the team.  18 year old Serge Gnabry has performed exceptionally well over this period as has Jack Wilshere.  Both, I believe will be rested tomorrow, the latter having picked up a knock in the FA cup match vs Coventry City on Friday.   At his pre-match press conference Arsene Wenger suggested that Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Vermaelen (left out of the squad vs Coventry) are all back and available.  Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, whose last league start was on opening day vs Aston Villa, is still not 100% fit (according to the manager) and might also only merit a bench spot having played 70+ minutes vs Coventry.  Being a product of the So’ton youth academy, I’d expect him to receive a warm welcome when he (surely) comes on as a sub.  Finally, Kieran Gibbs, who played the entire match on Friday, might also need a breather as it was his first one back from a minor layoff.  As such, my guess for the starting line-up is as follows.

ars v southampton

It’s also possible that Ramsey might start in one of the “doublé-pivot” spots (alongside Arteta or Flamini) allowing Poldolski to reprise his successful (2 goal) outing from Friday.  Given that there seems to be greater acknowledgement that his fitness issues are long term, I suspect, however, that he only gets a bench spot.  Another player unmentioned in the press conference was Tomáš Rosický.  Hopefully he’s just getting used to his new face (after the nose break vs Aston Villa two weeks ago)…If he’s fit, he’s an excellent bench option but it might be nice to allow him further recovery time if it means a protective mask is not needed when he finally does play.

Scouting the Opponent—Biggest Signings Missing

Southampton, much like the current iteration of Arsenal, are a team built on defense but very capable in attack.  As such, I expect a tight match with both teams being cautious about committing too many resources forward.  The Saints will be buoyed by the return of starting goal keeper Artur Boruc even if he was at fault for the goal which turned the reverse fixture.  Unfortunately they will be missing £8.5 million CB Dejan Lovren.   Additionally, £12.5 million DM Victor Wanyama is listed as 50-50 in returning from a long-term leg injury.  Regardless of who starts in the defensive half—I would expect ALL of them to be a bit less cavalier with the ball this time around!

http://www.heavy.com/news/2013/11/olivier-giroud-goal-southampton-arthur-boruc/

In attack Southampton’s offense revolves around one of this season’s most improved players, Adam Llalana.  Capable of driving the team forward quickly, Llalana’s final ball has also made him plenty capable of notching both goals and assists.  He won’t have record signing (£15 million) Danny Osvaldo at his disposal after a practice-pitch fracas has brought his So’ton future into question.  Instead, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriquez will be Llalana’s most likely partners up front.   Another previous record signing, Gaston Ramirez, is also missing with an ankle problem.  Still, Arsenal will need to be well aware of precocious talents James Ward-Prowse and Luke Shaw who can both move the ball quickly from back to front and wide to central.

As strong and in-form as Arsenal is, this match represents a moment of moderate crisis for Southampton.  In addition to the troubles with Osvaldo and the injuries to their other big money players, Chief Executive Nicola Cortese has left the club and many believe manager Mauricio Pochettino could go next.  Additionally, while still clear of any relegation troubles, So’ton have been struggling with results.  They come into the match with a day less rest than us after beating Yeovil Town (2-nil at home) in the FA Cup but their league form has dropped off.  While they were getting points from teams above them earlier in the season, they themselves have dropped points in their most recent league match (2-2 at Sunderland) and wins over West Brom and Cardiff have been balanced by a home defeat to Spurs and a 3-nil at Chelsea.

Last Match Before the Transfer Window Closes

In his press conference AW played down any transfer talk including speculation about contract extensions.  Bacary Sagna’s contract situation was raised but the manager, while not saying the matter was settled, suggested that the player was fully committed to the cause.   In previous pressers, reports about fees being agreed between FC Schalke 04 and Arsenal for forward/winger Julian Draxler have been met by denials and smiles, which seems more promising than denials and frowns (or tirades).   Southampton have their own issues and it appears they might try and offload Osvaldo to West Ham (on loan) while they’ve had to beat back Chelsea’s attempts at tapping up FB Luke Shaw.  As soon as the final whistle goes, I would expect pointed questions about the transfer window directed at each manager.  This may be a match preview but feel free to discuss all things new and shiny… (As well as parsing each and every word/report/facial expression in regards to transfers and contract extension…)

Predictions?

None for me, but feel free.  This is another (and perhaps the sternest) in a great series of nerve testers before the (very) tough series of Liverpool away,  ManUnited home league matches, followed quickly by home matches vs Liverpool in the FA Cup and Bayern Munich in the Champions League Round of 16.  I’ve pointed out some of the promising features leading into this one, so I’ll predict a full 3 points for the Arsenal.  Anything less would have to be seen as a slip-up, but Southampton, their momentary troubles notwithstanding, should not be underestimated.   Given their comfort as a defense-first team, the first goal will be critical.  Go on you Gunners, Up the Arse, etc., etc., etc….

What do you think?…

 Written by: 17highburyterrace

Do Arsenal have any DMs left: The Options. Chelsea – Man City: best result?

312304_heroa

With Flamini probably out for a few weeks and Arteta at least suspended for one game, the question we are all asking is: who should we play in our double-DM pivot against the Chavs?

Although the League Cup does not really matter too much, I still would like us to put out a team with the full intention of winning it. We don’t know whether Maureen will take this game serious – as in fielding his strongest team – but we can be assured he does not want to be beaten by us either; and with a strong squad he should not find it too difficult to field a team that has a good chance of doing so.

Wenger will want to rest a few players, though, and I expect the likes of Mertesacker, Sagna, Gibbs, Ramsey, Ozil and Giroud to get a well-earned rest on Tuesday.

The starting eleven for the encounter with the Chavs is likely to be: Fabianski, Jenkinson, TV, Kozzer, Nacho, Rosicky, Gnabry, Cazorla and Bendtner – as all these players really need a(nother) game; but what is not so clear, is who is going to play in the double-DM pivot come Tuesday.

I have a feeling Jack will start in this game, and he might even play in the deepest of the two DM-pivot roles: the Flamini or Arteta position, if you want. Jack can actually defend very well and his positioning and anticipation skills are good too (especially, if taking into account his young age). But he is still a bit frail and will need to put his body on the line if we are to beat the Chavs, and it remains to be seen if he can do that for 90 minutes.

So, it would be good to add some proper steel next to Jack in the DM-pivot and the question is who that should be. I would say, Frimpong is a strong option, but then I don’t know how fit he his and whether Wenger still has plans for him. It looks like he is not going to make it at Arsenal, but I could be wrong. Frimmers would definitely add steel but the combination of a lack of games and proneness to get himself booked is not great right now.

Then there is the very promising, Chelmsford born, Isaac Hayden. I have not seen enough of him to decide whether he would make a good DM partner for Jack on Tuesday, but I welcome your views.

We also have the Leytonstone born, multi-skilled, Nico Yennaris, who really could do with a game and who really impressed me during a Norwich-Arsenal Reserves games I watched a year ago.

We could also chose for more experience in the middle and put Ramsey or Rosicky next to Jack, and if Jack is not fit enough to start, I would also not be surprised if Ramsey and Rosicky will start both in the DM-pivot against the Chavs. But Ramsey could do with a break and Rosicky is needed in the hole…. Not easy at all.

Finally, Arsene could do something left-field and put Nacho, Sagna or TV in midfield for this one….. Nacho would mean Gibbs needs to play another game, but that should be fine as he missed out on playing in the England games. TV would mean playing BFG as a CB, which is not ideal as he did play in Germany’s International games…. And Sagna could do with a break for the same reasons….

Really hard to say what Wenger will go for but still good to see we still have a few options for the DM-pivot on Tuesday.

Southern Oilers v Northern Oilers: ideal result?

Today’s game between the Oil-drugged clubs should be watched by Gooners with interest. Whoever wins this one will come out of it with a strong belief they are the bee’s knees this season, and whoever loses will suffer a setback. A draw would not be too bad for either and would probably help us in terms of having a mini-gap with both teams before we go into a couple of more challenging games.

In one way,  I want a draw but I would love to see the Chavs properly beaten today. I still feel they are our main competitors for the title this season, and we could really do with a morale deflating result today. Citeh are likely to continue dropping ‘easy’ points in away game this season, and I feel we have a good chance of beaten them in our direct encounters with them.

But what do you think: who should play in the double DM-pivot and what is the best outcome in today’s battle of the Oilers?

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Arteta leads, Szczesny stands up, and Ozil, Rambo and OG pure class

But above all, another great TEAM performance!

The captain answered his critics once more...
The captain answered his critics once more…

Well, Well, ToTL with 22 points and a fine goal difference of 11 after just nine games! The boys did us proud today. Chris Foy tried his best to ruin it for us, but even he could not stop us.

I thought before the game this would either be very easy or we would have to dig deep; and as we all know, it became the latter. Just as against Norwich, Flamini had to leave the game very early, but this time it seemed a groin injury rather than a reoccurrence of his concussion. And just as last week, we lacked a bit of shape and rhythm once he had gone, although Arteta impressed with not just his positioning but also his willingness to put his body on the line.

The pitch was very slow and the Eagles defended resolutely, but we also played at too low a tempo and often not close enough to each other. And when we did play a bit closer together, our triangles did often not work out, due to inaccurate passing and under-par first touches. However, the boys managed to get into the box a few times and got close to scoring with chances for the (still very rusty) Cazorla, Rambo and Giroud.

To be fair on Palace, they played well in the first half and created a few good chances themselves, as once again we allowed them to play football in the space in front of our ‘D’ and were opened up a bit too easily. Part of their strategy was to get easy free-kicks in put-the-ball-into-the-box areas, and Foy easily obliged to support this ploy. But we also were a bit naïve in giving away such free kicks too willingly, making it easy for the 13th man to have his influence on this game. Luckily, we defended most of these free-kicks (and corners) resolutely, which was a welcome sight.

0-0 was a fair score to go into the break with, and it was clear we had to up the tempo of our passing and make better runs into the danger area, if we were to get the three points from this game.

We did not have to wait long for a break. Gnabry, who plays with such an incredible maturity and composure for his age (born in 1995, the same year Dennis arrived at Highbury!), found himself in the box with the ball – after good, patient and incisive triangle-combination football by Arsenal – and he cut the ball back superbly, denying the onrushing Guedioura any opportunity to control his adrenaline surge before it was too late. As a result, the Algerian fouled the young German in the box and this time Foy could not get away with denying us a penalty (we could have had one in the first half).

Up steps our captain, and you kind of feel if he misses this one we will not win today. But his penalties are as sharp and immaculate as his haircut and bionic stare, and he makes it 1-0 to the good guys with an unstoppable effort.

The game can now truly begin, as Palace will need to come out of their defensive setting to get anything out of it. We press and play with a lot more swagger and it seems only a matter of time before we will score the all important second goal. But Foy was still part of the ploy and he grabbed his opportunity with both hands when Arteta and our former Moroccan Gunner collided about a Boeing 747 away from our goal. The gel-man tried to compensate a characteristically bad first touch (his feet have never been his strength) from what was a very promising through-ball with barging into Arteta: they both went to the floor and Foy sends our captain to the showers. It is easy to be resolute if you know what you are doing…. 😕

Arsenal now had to defend and Arsene made excellent substitutions with bringing on our best all-round midfielder Wilshere and safe pair of hands Nacho for the tired Cazorla and, the tactically sacrificed, Gnabry.

We have discussed the need to keep a clean sheet more regularly if we want to beat the Chavs (and others) to the title this season, and today we really needed it to clinch all three points. Up steps our Pole in goal; first denying a beautifully executed shot by Joel Ward with a full stretch, ever so slight fingertips-touch onto the crossbar; followed by a strong, one handed match winning save from Jedinak venomous volley from just outside the box. Szczesny remains a work in progress but today’s performance, for which he was given the MoTM award, will help him tremendously – and he needed it.

The team looked tired but ALL worked hard to fight for the three points. I loved the way Ozil picked up balls in and around our own box and kept it to win time and space, and what a fine, strong balance he has. Jack was able to keep the ball under pressure and move forward with it, not allowing the Eagles to sustain their attacks. Nacho did great work on the left wing, both defensively and in attack, and almost scored a Theo-esque goal late on.

I looked at Giroud and Rambo and they seemed exhausted; the game against Dortmund and the 10-men second half efforts against Palace clearly taking their toll. But they never gave up and dug very deep into their reserves, and this is what we should remember when either of them has a less effective game: these boys really care about Arsenal – the absolute opposite of mercenaries!

And it came as no surprise that the final word of this exhilarating game was for our finest work horses. Giroud collects the ball in midfield with his back to the opponent’s goal – who is currently better in the PL at doing this?…. – and passes to Rambo, who is still able to accelerate past a few Palace players into the box, and somehow finds the composure to produce a measured ball onto the head of the onrushing Frenchman, who places the ball just above Speroni’s left shoulder, leaving him no chance to save it: 2-0 to the mighty Gunners and game over.

A hard fought win, three points, ToTL, and more evidence that this team has real backbone: Ooh to! Ooh to be! Ooh to be A Gooner! – Ooh to! Ooh to be! Ooh to be A Goooner!

http://www.fcsongs.com/Arsenal_FC_-_Ooh_To_Be_A_Gooner.html

Bring on the Oilers! 🙂

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Who will replace Flamini and who will start on the ‘wings’?

Thoughts on the game tonight

A 'rare' start for Nacho?
A ‘rare’ start for Nacho?

So tonight we really get to see whether this imperious form we’ve been in was down to a lucky fixture list or do we really have the stuff of champions. Arsenal play their toughest game so far this season against last years champions league runners up. There’s a lot to be said about this fixture so I’ll get down to it.

Arsenal go into the game on the back of an incredible unbeaten run, confidence sky high and with the squad looking healthy and raring to go. Flamini has been ruled out of the tie and I think he’s going to be a big miss. However, I think Ramsey should be a no brainer to start alongside Arteta in the centre of the park with Ozil in front of them. On the left flank, I expect Cazorla to get the nod and on the right i’d stick with Jack. I expect Rosicky to get some game time and probably Gnabry and Bendtner too. The latter’s involvement dependent on how the game goes. The only change I’d make would be to give Gibbs a rest and play Monreal tonight.

Dortmund on the other hand have had a shaky start to their Bundesliga campaign but I can assure you that it will count for nothing if we do not play our A game. In fact Jurgen Klopp has gone as far as branding BVB the underdogs of the tie which I don’t believe is true, but then again what do I know? They have their fair share of injuries but still have an incredible team. They miss Ilkay Gundogan but have Marco Reus back. Dortmund have 4 players whom I think must be marshalled. Lewandowski is obviously a no brainer but the more dangerous ones (for me) will be Reus, Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan, especially for counter attacks. Ramsey must continue his form and will be called upon to help out Arteta, especially once we lose the ball. Wilshere too must be ready to defend when needed.

I expect this to be an open game so the tactic should be to try to strike early and decisively. By this I mean, if we can take a 2 goal lead into the half we will force BVB to come out and go for it which will swing things in our favour. BVB, despite having two very good defenders in Hummels and Subotic, aren’t known for their collective defensive capability so I’m hoping we can take full advantage of that.

Sagna and Gibbs/Monreal will have to be at their best because choking out Aubameyang and especially Reus will be a necessity if we are to keep BVB at bay. Reus is an incredibly talented, incredibly mobile player so there will have to be clear communication and coordination between our defenders if we are to stop him. The two are Lewandowski’s main supply lines, and so this is a priority.

Finally, if we can impose our game on them and dictate proceedings (and not just for a period of the game but for the full 90 mins) I feel we can get the points. Wenger must know that if the team takes the foot off the pedal for even a few minutes, BVB can and probably will punish us. I will not predict the scores or outcome of the game but all I will say is that I feel good about it. This is a game the neutrals will enjoy as it features two of the best attacking sides in Europe.

Come on You Gooners!!!!

Written by Marcus

Monreal & Gnabry instead of Gibbs & Jack? Ramsey to win it for Arsenal?

Arsenal vs the Orcs Pre-Match Report

ORCS (edit)

That’s right the Stoke City Orcs have landed at Ashburton Grove, and this time it’s without their goblin manager Tony Pulis leading the charge. Under Pulis, Stoke played some absolutely deplorable football, so much so that their FIFA 2013 controls looked a little something like this:

stoke playstation controller

This would be very annoying to any Stoke fan playing the game because an attempt at a low through ball would result in a sky ball hoof up to Crouch. But when you kill one, another equally evil manager, grows in their place…Mark Hughes. Mark Hughes has got them playing better football which would please the Stoke supporters. It’s something that should please Arsenal supporters as well because their old approach was our Achilles heel (RIP Delap’s towel). They are still a very dangerous team so Arsenal will need to be at their best today if they want to come away with the three points.

Let’s get in to it shall we:

Missing in Action:

Diaby sick bay

Arsenal: Podolski (Hamstring), Ox (Knee), Arteta (Thigh), Diaby (Knee), Rosicky (Hip), Zelalem, Santi (Ankle), and Sanogo (back).

Bear with me here, now my theory is Santi is not in fact injured but he has been given time off. It’s not the first time Arsene has done something like this in the past. It is strange that Santi played the full 90 minutes against Chile and showed no sign of injury. It was also very strange that nothing was said about him until after the Sunderland game. Santi had a busy off-season with limited time off, so perhaps Arsene is being cautious and doesn’t want to run him into the ground this season. Arsene is also renowned for suggesting certain players are injured, in an effort to shelter them from reports suggesting they’ve been dropped. Now call me a conspiracy theorist all you want, but it does seem awfully coincidental that Santi goes missing right when Jack is fit and Ozil has been signed. Arsene would prefer the ‘injured’ story over endless stories and questions about Jack or Santi being ‘upset’ about dropping to the bench. I think if Ozil or Jack picked up an injury, Santi would make a miraculous recovery. Rested or injured? You decide!!!

Stoke City: Whelen (Hamstring), Muniesa (Groin/Pelvis), and Ness (Hip/Thigh) will miss this fixture.

Predicted Line-up:

starting line-up (11)

I’m a bit torn for this game to be honest. We’ve got a good thing going at the moment but I’m a bit worried about some of our players entering the infamous ‘red zone’. Gone are the days where you could rotate your squad a little against lesser opposition. You can’t really get away with it anymore because every game is tough in the premier league. Gibbs has been in red hot form this season but based on his previous injury record (coupled with the ferocity of Stoke), I’d go with Monreal at left back. I’d give Jack a rest and put Gnabry out on the left. It may be a drop off in quality but that boy can play and could be an unknown quantity for Stoke. He scored a double midweek playing as a striker; add that to the match winner he scored last week and he’s in blistering form. I wouldn’t change much else though (partly because we have that many injuries so our options are limited, and I wouldn’t want to unsettle the squad too much.)

Previous Encounters:

Arsenal v Stoke 1-0

It took a deflected free kick from Lukas Podolski to see us over the line in this fixture. Although we were dominant in periods, Asmir Begovic denied us numerous times thanks to some brilliant keeping. We saw the emergence of newly signed LB Nacho Monreal, and based on the hype HH created from his excellent post Nacho did not disappoint. Shawcross did his best to intimidate the ref in an effort to overturn the goal (also thought he would have a go at Arteta to show just how big a w*nker he really is), but he did not succeed.

Have a look at the goal and aftermath here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKObQFVnq4M

Stoke v Arsenal 0-0

We were held to our second consecutive goalless draw. We defended well but despite taking over the game for large parts we were very toothless in attack. Santi was mesmerizing and Giroud nearly pinched it late with a magnificent lob attempt. You can see the highlights below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNvp9hQoisQ

Form Guide:               Arsenal:  : WWWWW        Stoke: DWWWL

We’ve won 5 in a row now and seem confident in getting results when the heat is on (quite the change from previous seasons). Arsenal will be in a confident mood for this one.

Stoke have had a good start under Mark Hughes. They were unlucky to lose against Liverpool, they beat West Ham away, and they held ManchesterCity to a goalless draw.

Arsenal Archive (1)

This week I’ve dipped into the Arsenal Archive and pulled out this video clip. It’s the 1970-71 FA Cup semi-final against stoke city. Those old enough to enjoy it saw Peter Storey drag Arsenal back and force a replay (which we eventually went on to win!!!). Have a look at this article detailing how Arsenal denied Stoke FA Cup success in the 70s

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3Sl5tmzbuM

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/stoke/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8472000/8472714.stm

One to Watch:

Former Blackburn midfielder Steven N’Zonzi. I’ve found him officers; he’ll be at the Emirates on Sunday. Those who haven’t heard N’Zonzi is ‘being hunted by police for his connection with a roadside altercation with a cyclist.’ You can read all about it here:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2418523/Steven-Nzonzi-hunted-police-roadside-altercation-cyclist.html

I for one am glad I will not be at the Emirates for this one. The thought of getting mugged in the stalls by Pennant or N’Zonzi haunts me in my sleep. Those going to the game should jump on Arsenal direct; they’ve got a special on now for this game, here’s an image below:

Arsenal riot gear

In all seriousness though, N’Zonzi is a bulldog in midfield. Although he handed in a transfer request in the summer, he’s put his head down and stuck to the task. He won man of the match honours against both West Ham and ManchesterCity this season. He shackled Yaya last week…this week he has Ozil to deal with!

This week’s one to watch has to be AARON RAMSEY. I can’t say anything more about his season thus far that hasn’t been said already. He’s a menace all over the pitch thanks to his endless gut running, and more importantly he’s becoming a constant danger to the opposition. His importance to this squad can’t be exaggerated enough at the moment. With Giroud in top form (5 goals from 6 shots on target this season) and World Class Ozil on the pitch, we could fall in to the trap of becoming too over reliant on them. That sort of over reliance can easily be targeted by opposition managers. Aaron Ramsey isn’t allowing that to happen. Both he and Walcott will not allow opposition players to double or triple team Ozil. Bring in Santi and you have a nightmare scenario for any opposition manager. It’s the sort of situation which could see more and more teams drop off in the second half (good prediction midweek Alcide) as their press is stretched all over the pitch by Walcott, Ozil, Santi, Giroud, and Ramsey.  We all know Ramsey’s history with Stoke so there is no need to explain why Aaron will be fired up for this one…and he’ll have a crowd full of supporters backing him every step of the way!

Key-Match up:

Arsenal vs Asmir Begovic

Before Begovic signed from Portsmouth in 2010 he was a keeper I wanted to see playing for Arsenal. While I am very happy with Szczesny, but Begovic is a top quality goalkeeper (probably not well liked in England considering he’s keeping Butland out), and he has proved it time and time again against us in the past. If he makes a couple of good saves early on, you’re going to have to pull something special out to get past him for the remainder of the game. Begovic could be the difference between a win or draw so let’s hope he’s having a bad day.

Pre-Match Finger:

kid finger

This week’s finger goes to penalties!!! Like Szczesny they are getting on my nerves! It’s as though the umpires guess their decisions half the time because they aren’t in the correct position to be 100% certain. Please for the love of Christ (Dennis) get some 3rd umpire technology. It’s not like it’s going to the slow the game down that much (some games you won’t even need to use it). Plus if you are going to overlook players rolling around on the ground and diving…it’s the least you can do! It’d kill two birds with one stone because we’d be almost 100% certain on the decision, and the refs can decide whether or not the person involved dived. It’s not fair that commentators can say “every forward does it”…it’s CHEATING!!!! The game should be doing all it can to cut it out and strengthen its image. I’m sick and tired of hearing “Man U won because player X went down in the box and player Z was sent off”. I don’t want to hear fossils whinge about the game changing either…it’s an improvement! The technology is there, USE IT!!!

Pre-Match pat on the back:

pat on the back

This week’s pat on the back is going to Arsene Wenger. It may be early days but he’s got the squad looking in tip top shape again. I don’t think there has been a manager in recent history that has copped as much flack as Arsene has.  Once upon a time Arsenal fans adored Arsene, but as trophies dried up the supporter base began to turn. He’s not perfect, he’s not without fault but he’s still got his magic hat! He deserves to go out on top, and I hope this Arsenal team can start delivering for him!

arsene-you-shall-not-pass

Ask the opposition (5)

‘Ask the opposition’ returns again this week. It is designed to get some friendly banter from our opposition fans and get their insight for the match ahead.  This week the answers were kindly provided by Jowlermonkey and Waddos_Legends (both from the StokeCity board on www.not606.com . Let’s see what they’ve written for us this week:

1) You cleared out quite a few players during the transfer window. How do you rate your transfer window (ins and outs)?

JOWLERMONKEY: Glad to see the back of some players, fantastic that we now have a left back, needed to buy another striker.

WADDOS_LEGENDS: Our transfer window was quite good with the exception that we did not address one of our weakest positions and that is we needed two fresh young fresh strikers. Marko Arnautović was a great signing and he looks a beast so I’m really looking forward to what he can do in front of goal. We have another one coming in January from the USA, Juan Agudelo but we needed another sooner as we cannot score goals.

I was pleased to see a lot of the “Pulis Deadwood” players moved on and also pleased we at last bought in a recognised left back in Erik Pieters. Stephen Ireland was another great signing and the retention of Jermaine Pennant was another good piece of business. Loaning out Cameron Jerome for me to Crystal Palace was a mistake.

 

2) How is Mark Hughes travelling? Will he take you places? Better than Pulis?

JOWLERMOONKEY: I didn’t want Mark hughes, but said i’d give him his chances to hang himself. much better than Pulis.

WADDOS_LEGENDS: Early days yet to see if Hughes will take us places but we are certainly playing better football under Hughes than we ever did under Pulis. i actually feel confident going into certain games now especially away from home as before I looked on all away games as we were going to lose. Our current league position and points tally does suggest we are on the up!

The football under Tony Pulis was dire and towards the end he lost the Stoke crowd. The attendance is still suffering now and it will take a few seasons to change this back.

3) What player/position is your weakest?

JOWLERMONKEY: Strikers, neither good or hungry enough.

WADDOS_LEGENDS: As mentioned above our weakest position is in front of goal and Jon Walters as probably cost us 4 points so far this season so I would have to say him. Missed a 88 minute penalty at Liverpool this season away and 2 clear cut chances on Saturday against Manchester City.

The player just loaned out to Wigan Ryan Shotton is Stokes worst player now that is still technically on the books!

4) Which Arsenal player would you like and why?

JOWLERMONKEY: Wilshere, fast dynamic, good feet.

WADDOS_LEGENDS: The only Arsenal players I would like to see in the Stoke shirt would be either Ozil or Santi Cazorla, as I don’t think any other player would slot into our style of play and these 2 players are top players.

5) Which player/position do you feel is our weakest?

JOWLERMONKEY: Defence.

WADDOS_LEGENDS: I feel Arsenal are weakest at the back, can’t name one player in particular but this is definitely an area you struggle in hence why you brought in the ex-Stokie and old school friend of mine ” Steve Bould”.

6) Özil, will he live up to the hype?

JOWLERMONKEY: Fantastic player. Will need to be protected but has always produced the goods.

WADDOS_LEGENDS: Ozil already is showing his brilliance and will definitely live up to his reputation as a class act!

7) What is your prediction for the match?

JOWLERMONKEY: Hoping for a draw but you should beat us comfortably.

WADDOS_LEGENDS: Stoke have yet to get anything from the Emirates in the duration of our stay in the premier league. Again as i have said above I’m more confident this season and I predict a close game with 1-1 being the outcome and us picking up our first ever points there. No doubt Ryan Shawcross will be booed from start to finish as per for the “Ramsey Incident” but this helps him to lift his game and fire up his sparring partner Robert Huth!

Prediction:

Stoke have had an impressive start to the season but I do not see them troubling us at home. We’ve beaten them 5/5 at the Emirates, and Mark Hughes has lost his last 6 games at the Emirates (in that time he’s managed Blackburn, ManCity, Fulham, and QPR…how on earth does he keeping getting jobs??). Crouch will be isolated up front so they’ll only get joy out of set pieces (we’ll have to lift our game in this department because we let Marseille have a couple of cheapies midweek). A comfortable and assured performance should see Arsenal victorious 2-0.

shawcross scared

For this week’s psychic prediction I contacted ‘Eagle Star’ for the third week. He better lift his game though otherwise I’m going to have to consult our very own Jgc-damus. Here are his responses:

Oz: Will Arsenal beat the Stoke City Orcs?

Eagle Star: Hmmmm 1-1 I feel.

Oz: The way they play it wouldn’t surprise me if they went for the draw. Will we concede from a set piece?

Eagle Star: Dangers…yes, score…no!

Oz: Can you please put a curse on Ryan Shawcross. I’m not sure what but maybe some Paranormal Activity type scares when he’s at home.

<insert Shawcross Scared pic>

Eagle Star: That’s not my area of expertise Oz but I can contact someone who is.

Oz: You’re a star Eagle…get it????

Eagle Star: <disconnected…and blocked>

 

What is your prediction?

Theo or Giroud…who will score?

Will we shut down their set piece game?

Written by: Oz Gunner

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Gibbs, Nacho, Sagna, Vermaelen: who could be our ‘New DM’?

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Do Arsenal already have a new ‘Beast of a DM’ in their midst, and will he break up the wall of RamTeta?

With Coquelin on loan, Frimpong disappeared in to the background, and no news of a new signing, we are looking rather thin in the double DM-pivot at the moment. Wenger said this week there was a lot of competition for the midfield positions, but I cannot agree with him from a skill-set point of view; how many of our midfielders can actually defend?

The wall of RamTeta is likely to form the core of our midfield once again next season. Many are not entirely happy with this, and want a typical beast of a DM to boss the midfield whilst the rest join our attack as much as possible. Although I would really like to see how Ramsey and Arteta will fare next season, I also want us to get a proper, yet capable of football, DM this summer.

We have discussed the external options in previous posts and we might well still get a DM: your guess is better than mine.

But as others have mentioned on BK in previous comments, there are one or two, or even three or four potential internal options for this crucial position. I am looking for a player who can defend first and for all: strong on the ground and in the air; he also has a fine engine with tons of stamina; has Presence!; reads the game, and positions himself, well; is a decent to good passer of the ball; and ideally has a fantastic long distance shot too.

My four internal candidates are:

  • Gibbs
  • Nacho
  • Sagna
  • Vermaelen

Gibbs

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Our young English LB is a versatile player with plenty of scope for growth. Both Gibbs and Nacho are too good in my opinion to be back-up for each other, and I would not be surprised if we see them play together regularly in the future. I can see Gibbs do the DM position, although I reckon he might miss presence and be too injury prone for such a ‘body on the line’ position. But he could be further developed into a DM by Arsene…

Nacho

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Our one and only January signing has really impressed me, even though he is not the fastest of LB’s I have seen. I love his toughness, defending skills, ability to read the game, and general attitude. Monreal would have the Presence! to put fear into the opposition and he is a tough tackler and battler in the air; he is also a good passer of the ball and very organised/disciplined. It remains to be seen, though, whether he can read the game, and position himself effectively, in midfield.

Sagna

Will we see more of Mr Reliable as one of our CBs on Friday?

Our French monsieur Reliable is a tough defender who reads the game well. He has plenty of Presence! and stamina and, as he has shown in recently friendly games, is a good communicator. Bacary is also a decent passer of the ball and offers forward thrust if needed. Is it time to move him into a more central position i.e. CB or DM?

Vermaelen

Thomas+Vermaelen+8N_ZJzLQjSOm

Many on BK have suggested to make TV our DM. Apparently, Wenger has said that TV will remain our captain, and as a captain needs to play, and Koz and BFG seem to be our first choice CB-pairing, it makes you think whether the Belgian could be turned into a DM…. Tommy has everything for it, it seems: great defender and tons of Presence!; reads the game well and is a good passer of the ball; he also has plenty of thrust and a great long distance shot. A captain needs to play and we need a beast of a DM; is TV the answer?

And there is one more question: if Arsene were to turn one of these four players into a DM, should they take the first team place of Arteta or Ramsey this season?

Plenty of food for thought, I hope! 

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Monreal or Gibbs, or both? And what to do with Santos?

Nacho: 'you talking to me'.
Nacho: ‘you talking to me’.

Please note: this is a discussion post, containing a short intro in which I aim to give a bit of background info on the topic, in order to stimulate a wide-ranging debate.

The left back/ wing back situation has not been a settled one ever since the departure of Gael Clichy. Some might argue that the Frenchman was actually never at the required level for Arsenal, but I reckon this would be a bit harsh. He was never anywhere near as good as Cashley Cole, but he did more than ok in most of the seasons for Arsenal.

Not many of us were really sad to see him go, though, and if Gibbs had stayed fit for a (number of) sustained period(s), we would probably have been fine in the LB area since Clichy left. But he didn’t, and Arsene opted for additional cover with the last minute buy of Andre Santos from Fenerbahce.

Santos was full of confidence when going forward, and my favourite Santos moment was his cool  and professional away-goal against the Chavs the season before last. However, defensively he showed some weaknesses in terms of positioning, fitness levels/speed, one-on-one defending and disciplined, defensive team play. He had a number of dodgy performances this season and it became clear the Brazilian had lost a lot of his confidence. Arsene acted decisively by buying Nacho Monreal last January, and sending Santos out on loan simultaneously.

If Kieran Gibbs could stay fit for most of the coming season, Arsene will be faced with a very-nice-to-have-dilemma: who should he play at LB: Nacho or Kieran.

For me, this is a hard decision to make. The Spaniard is more level headed and appears to be built stronger, but he struggled at times with getting used to the tempo and ferocity of the PL. It is fair to say that Nacho will have to improve further to make a real claim for the LB position.

Once Kieran gets into the groove, he can be fantastic, both defensively and going forward. He quickly developed a good understanding and cooperation with Podolski, and for a while we were most dangerous on the left wing of the team. However, as he gets injured regularly, he often struggles to play at the required level straightaway, and his positioning and concentration levels are often under par during these periods.

If both players are fully fit, it seems to be a shame to place one on the bench, and this raises the question whether we could play them both on the left of the team, say in a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation. Nacho could be our LB and Gibbs or LW. This could only work though in a four-in-midfield formation, and our still young Englishman would have to improve his crossing in the box significantly. Or perhaps, it should be Gibbs at LB and Nacho as our LW…. Let us know your views on his.

And finally, what to do with Santos: is there still a space in the squad for him, or should he be loaned out for the season again?

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Nacho/Cazorla or Gibbs/Pod – Rosicky or Wilshere – Pod or Theo: Wigan preview.

Santi Cazorla celebrates after scoring against Reading

Ten days without an injection of Gunners footie, whilst having to watch the rest in action, is not easy.

We know the results this weekend did not go our way, but we should not forget that the most important result was achieved a week ago, when the Spuds failed to beat the Chavs, and as a result, our destiny was left in our own hands, or should that be, twenty-two feet and eleven heads.

Wigan have sometimes been brilliant over the last few months: one of the very few shining lights in what has been relatively a dull PL season, especially in 2013. And it all reached an almost unthinkable crescendo last Saturday, when they claimed their first ever serious title in their history, and against all odds. An unbelievable achievement, and one of which the Wigan fans will live for a long time.

Despite Wigan’s considerable gap with those above them, and just two games left to play for them now, the Latics have also still their faith in their own hands. A win against us and then against Villa at home, and they will play PL footie again next season. Benteke moments of madness could yet cost the Villans dearly and see Wigan survive.

Of all the teams who are not entirely safe at the moment, there is no doubt I would prefer Wigan to survive. But faith has it that we need to beat them in order to have the best possible chance of securing CL footie next season, and we cannot afford to indulge ourselves in sentimentality.

We need to win, and ideally with a large margin – five goals would be nice! – in order to have a better chance to finish third (a win against NU and a Chelsea draw against Everton would then see us finish above the Chavs). Before the visiting Latics fans start biting my neck off, let me state that I do not expect us to win with such a margin, and that I am more hoping for, then simply expecting, a win tomorrow.

Both teams like to play football but the Latics like to absorb pressure and pounce on the counter: something they are very good at.

Wigan’s strengths are predominantly in midfield. In the away fixture they made life very hard for us in the middle of the pitch. They kept it narrow and stopped us from passing the ball around; as a result, we often lost the ball and found it hard to get it back again. During that game it became painfully obvious we were missing a beast of a DM to help us contain and regain the ball better in midfield. We won the game after being rewarded a softish penalty – which Arteta put away with great composure – and Wigan wasting a number of good chances which were mainly created through sharp counter-attacking football.

So the script for this game is straightforward: both teams need  to win and it will simply be another cup-final tomorrow. Great for the neutral spectator, nerve-racking for Gooners and Latics!

How will we line-up:

I reckon it will be Szczesny, Sagna, BFG and Koz in defence. The only big question is: who will Arsene play at LB: Nacho or Gibbs?

This will depend on how much he wants to attack from the left wing. If he wants to attack a lot from there, I reckon he’ll combine Gibbs and Podolski: our best partnership if both are fully fit. However, if Arsene wants to remain less adventurous, and there is a very good reason for this against Wigan, he is likely to go with Nacho (and Cazorla on the left wing); and I believe that’s what he will do.

In midfield, I believe Arsene will stick with our  Welsh-Spanish double DM-pivot and the big question is once again: who will play in the hole? Will it be Rosicky, Cazorla or Wilshere. I am going to choose Rosicky, as his experience, and Jack potentially still not being fully fit/ in form, would make him the safest bet.

In our attack, I am  going to go for the usual suspects. I would love to see us play a bit of wing-football again, but I reckon that our most capable players for the wing, Ox and Gervinho, will start on the bench, and that Arsene will go for a ‘fluid-three’ of Cazorla, Podolski and Theo. All three have scored a lot of goals this season, and so it makes sense to have them start against Wigan tomorrow.

Let’s hope Podolski is fully fit, or at least fit enough for this crucial game, and that the team will have been practicing a lot over the last ten days to get the best value out of him in the central position. A lot will depend on it. Let’s also hope Theo will continue to get back to his best and Cazorla’s ambidextrous shooting boots will find the net tomorrow.

Predicted Line-Up:

Arsenal are likely to start with the same eleven as ten days ago against QPR
Arsenal are likely to start with the same eleven as ten days ago against QPR

We all know what this game means and what needs to be done. Nobody can say they are not warned about Wigan’s ability to cause a major upset. Let’s hope the boys are focussed, fully fit, start strong and never look back.

We need a passionate and yet professional performance by our boys: time to play  for the shirt and for the future once more. And let’s hope the crowd will reflect that passion with their levels of support tomorrow.

Let’s get the three points and move above the Spuds again: Let’s give them a sniff of the mighty red and white Arse!

CoYRRG!!!!!!

Written by: TotalArsenal. 

Third time lucky for Jack – Pod or Giroud up-front – Nacho/Santi & Sagna/Theo on wings?

Will the Pod get a start tomorrow?
Will the Pod get a start tomorrow?

Our third game in seven days is another cup-final. Win this one and we have our momentum back; lose it and the proverbial will properly hit the fan in Gooner-world.

We have not won at Craven Cottage since December 2010 and without much doubt it will be a difficult game again tomorrow. In one way the game is pretty similar to our recent away games against Swansea and WBA; Fulham are safe and nothing really to fight for other than a best possible position in mid-table. But they were properly beaten by their bitterest local rivals in midweek and will not want to face another humiliation in front of their home crowd. I expect them to come out fully pumped up and we will need to be ready for this tomorrow.

The Cottagers welcome back former Gunner Sidwell and I reckon he will fight some tough battles with Wilshere, Ramsey and Arteta. But other than that, there are some good, sophisticated footballers in this Fulham side, who will want to play football, which should suit us. Emanuelson and Berbatov are quality and Ruiz is finally starting to find his feet in the PL.

I also hope we see Senderos play for Fulham tomorrow. It is really nice that our former man has found his home at Craven Cottage, but let’s hope he does not have a super-day against us.

So, how are we going to line-up on Saturday?

Defence

Same as Tuesday but I reckon Nacho will start so he can form a trusted partnership with Santi on the left. Three games in seven days would probably be too much for Gibbs and unless Wenger is keen to play Podolski on the left, which would then probably mean he would be linked with his English football twin, I cannot see Gibbs start again tomorrow.

Midfield

Little doubt we will be once again anchored in our double-DM pivot by Arteta and Ramsey. These two are forming a solid, but not necessarily very exciting, partnership which is getting better steadily from game to game.

It will be key to keep a clean sheet, or not concede more than one goal tomorrow, if we want to win the game. So, we should expect Ramsey and Arteta to play conservatively and relatively close together with the main aim of forming a solid, movable mini-wall in front of the back-four and providing the four attackers with straightforward supplies of passes.

This leaves us with the attacking four players, one of which will be our most advanced midfielder. It sounds like Rosicky will not play as a result of a ‘touch and go’ hamstring problem. It also looks to me that Arsene does not want to play Cazorla ‘in the hole’, which makes sense to me as he is both too slow for the drive and thrust this position requires in a 4-2-1-3 formation, and he seems to prefer playing very close to the box, where he is also most effective for us. With Arteta and Ramsey needing to hold back a lot, somebody needs to drive the ball forwards to the three attackers and both Rosicky and Wilshere are ideal for this; Ox is also a possibility, but probably one for the future.

So to cut a long story short: I reckon Jack will play in the hole again and prove one or two doubters wrong tomorrow.

Attack

I would like to see Gervinho and Podolski start in this game, but I don’t think they will. I reckon, Arsene will go with Cazorla on the left – well, on paper, as he will move centrally constantly, leaving the wing-play to his fellow countryman; and start Theo again on the right – who will also move towards the middle a lot and leave the wing duties to Sagna for large parts of the game. The risk of this will be a lack of effective wing-play/width and trying too much through the middle; although, as this is not a home game, we should get enough space in the middle to play our intricate  passing game.

Giroud only scored one of his eleven PL goals away from home and Podolski is chomping – or is it champing 😛 – at the bits to start a game. But Giroud does so much in terms of giving our attacking game shape, drive and physicality that I cannot see Arsene changing it at this crucial stage of the season. We all might want to try out playing the Pod up-front, but not at the risk of losing valuable points.

The dilemma for Arsenal is that Podolski is better at converting chances, but Giroud is better at co-creating them and being there in the first place. So, it is Giroud up-front again, I reckon.

Predicted – not necessarily preferred! – Line-up:

Arsenal v Fulham April 13

Come on Arsenal, let’s make it 25 points out of our last 10 PL games and put some real pressure on the Spuds and Chavs who both have some very tough fixtures on Sunday!

CoYG – Give your all for the pride of the shirt!!!

Written by: TotalArsenal.

If you have a few spare minutes, you should also have a look at a very good pre-match report by Wigan Gooner; a good friend of mine, who writes fantastic posts on his own site ‘WiganGooner’:

http://www.wigangooner.co.uk/rosicky-must-start-in-crucial-match-against-fulham/

 

Nacho Monreal: arguably the best Left-Back we’ve had since Ashley Cole

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During the January transfer window one thing was clear, Arsenal needed signings. More so, due to Kieran Gibbs’ unfortunate but rather inevitable (as we have come to expect) injury. The thought that we would have to depend on Andre Santos at left back for any amount of time was one that nobody who holds Arsenal dear was willing to entertain. Luckily though, Arsene Wenger was on the same wavelength as everyone else on this. He quickly raided Malaga for the second time in less than a year, and brought in Nacho Monreal.

I must admit I had never heard of him before, which is annoyingly typical of many Arsenal signings over the past few years (see Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny etc). The only consolation I held was that Malaga have emerged as one of the teams in Europe that seems to churn out world class talent on a constant basis. That said though, I still had my doubts and even youtube at the time did not have any comprehensive coverage of him. However due to the Gibbs’ injury, Santos ineptitude, and nature of the transfer (deadline day and all), I did not have to wait long to see him play. He made his debut in the fixture at home against StokeCity, 2 days after his arrival and boy what a performance he produced.

In whatever perspective you want to look at it, Nacho still comes out on top. First of all, this was a game where we had to improvise defensively following a last minute injury to Koscielny, so you wouldn’t have expected the back line to run with any sort of cohesion. Secondly, it was against Stoke (the premier league bullies). Thirdly, not only was this his debut, the transfer was so sudden and hurried that he hadn’t even said goodbye to his former teammates. He was still very much in transition. Yet despite all this, he put in a performance that wowed even the deepest sceptics around. From the first contribution he made in the game, it was clear that we had struck oil.

I can confidently say that Nacho is arguably the best left-back we’ve had (defensively) since Ashley Cole abandoned us for the blues. I have watched every game he’s played since he signed for us and his attributes are there for every one to see. The trait that sets him aside from the plethora of left-backs who’ve tried to succeed Ashley Cole, is his positional discipline. Nacho knows that he is a defender first and that forms the basis of his game. Even when he attacks, he has his system geared to tracking back in case our opponents counter attack. This is massive for us, because he knows when to go forward and when to hold his line at the back. As a result he has completely shut our opponents out on that left wing. Against Aston Villa, Cazorla who played on the left did not have to support him defensively even once. That is how good he is.

Another impressive attribute is his strength in the air. All I will say about this is that Nacho is 5’10 and he absolutely dominated the game against Stoke aerially. If that doesn’t speak for itself then maybe everything I have known since I evacuated my mother’s uterus is wrong, and Spurs are actually champions of Europe. Then there is his tackling, an area which he is decidedly outstanding.

Against Aston Villa there is a tackle he made on the left touch line (I can’t quite remember against who) to keep our attack alive. I was left in awe. I only saw such feats from Roberto Carlos. His ability to dispossess players on the tackle without committing fouls is positively shocking, to say the least. I am inclined to believe that that particular tackle earned him a place in goal.com’s team of the week.

Finally, his attacking threat: let us not forget that his assist earned us three points last weekend. I can’t yet say he is as good as Gibbs when going forward but Arsene seems to believe that this side of his game will come out eventually. Even if it does not, he still has earned the right to be our first choice number 3 even when Gibbs is fit. Nacho has turned the tables in the sense that in a position where we were woefully lacking, we now have two of the best in the league.

The cherry on the cake is that we acquired him for around 8.4 million pounds. That is about 2 million pounds more than we got Santos for. Incredible! Plus he only turned 27 recently so he still has a good 6-8 years of service to the Arsenal. Save for the signing of Cazorla, this is the first time Wenger has got it right in a while.

In times when we are in turmoil and constantly under siege, Nacho is one of the few things that remind us we are the Arsenal and not just some mid table team struggling to get by. With a few right moves in the market to complement him, we could build a team that will rein havoc on the likes of Spurs for years to come.

COME ON YOU GOONERS!!!

Written by: Marcus