Four Attackers to Make 2016 a Happy New Year

THE GUNNER’S SONG AT CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR

Well done gunners, 2015 belongs to us. This might not give us an emotional high, but we still have to stand up and raise our hats to our TEAM. We overcame all odds. The pundits placed their curse on us. Non gave us a chance. Injuries showed up at every turn strengthening the chant, including that of those of us of little faith, that we are doomed being the only club in the top flight European leagues that never bought an outfield player. Only the bravest of us stood firm against the deluge.

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Meanwhile on Ozil’s face a smile played, belying the fire burning in his belly. Santi chuckled, knowing very well what he has got in his bag. Little Bellerin kept lacing his boots, mindful of the work at hand. Coquelin had plugged his ears, a fixed gaze in his eyes, his heart beating a determination that the recent course of history must change. Giroud lay by the beachside, seemingly lost to the world, muscles un-tensed, the breeze lapping up his sinewy frame. Arms akimbo, Wenger looked approvingly at his flock, as a sculpture at his work newly finished and quietly muttered to himself, “THE TIME IS COME”. He then swiveled walking briskly away, back to his study, to light the midnight candle. The time has come and he cannot let it go. The moon shone brightly.

Halfway through the 2015/2016 season, we are sitting on top of the pile. On 2nd January we start the 2nd half campaign at the Emirate in a match against Newcastle, but first a look at the 2015 calendar year table of the top five teams.

Pos——-Tm———Pl——-Gd——- Pts
1———-Ars———38——39——–81
2———-M.C——–38——41——–72
3———-Spur.——-38——23——–68
4———-Leic——–38——17——–67
5———-M.U——–38——17——–64

Arsenal atop the table, 9 pts above 2nd placed Man C, 17 pts above Man U, Chelsea erased from the map, nowhere to be seen. How ’em times have changed. Top of the table after 38 matches shows a consistency that gives plenty of hope for the 2015/16 crown. It gives hope, but demands tons of sweat from all, the fans inclusive. Wenger has giving us the cue. We only need to focus on ourselves, meaning that if we work diligently, not counting the cost, we will reap all the fruits in season’s due.

Check our squad list. In spite of our long injury list at every juncture of the campaign, we have remained well stocked. At least that is what our performance says. Injuries wise we seem to have hit a dynamic balance. As the injured trickled back, those holding the fort trickled out. It happens that I am a believer in the statistical law of the regression to the mean. High time therefore that the tricking back supersedes the trickling out so we can regress to the epl mean. Please I am focusing on ourselves, am not invoking this law on those on our tail who have been very lucky with injuries. A law though, is a law.

Yes, the law of the regression to the mean is poised to favour us, but we must remember what we were told in our childhood that the gods help only those who help themselves. That is exactly why, for the next two months plus, the schedules of Ramsey and Ozil have to be managed most intelligently. The two represent our creative spine which is where injuries have hit us hardest; the brain box Santi Carzola out, same the little ‘Mozart’ Thomas Rosicky, the nearly forgotten budding maestro Jack the Wildfire, and not forgetting our captain, the impeccable Mikel Arteta. How I love his hair.

Wenger’s game is built on his team playing out from the back. That is why he loved Vieira, loves Arteta. That is also why Santi remains incomparable, weaving out of those tight spaces, laying passes with his left foot, equally with his right. I call Santi the first note in our offensive melody. For the same reason of playing out from the back, Ramsey is deployed as the replacement of injured Santi. Though not a Santi incarnate he compensates adequately with his Rolls-Royce engine. By the way, we gunners seem to see Mertersacker only as the slow-train-approaching. We do not see that he is our best creative passer from the rear. A quality Mr Wenger values so much.

If Santi is the brain of the team, and Ramsey our V8, Ozil is that pure intelligence that only a point of stillness can awaken, the point of the eye of the storm, the nothingness of the Big Bang, that gave birth to you and I and the beautiful game. Nine chances created in the match against Bournemouth. That is ridiculous. Courtesy of 7amkickoff, more assists by him alone than eleven teams in the epl so far this term. Ridiculous.

Ozil please tell us ……..who are ya!? Mars or Neptune or Mercury? Obviously not Pluto which is a dwarf world.

Permit me to digress a little bit. A few years ago, Wenger said that Walcott’s off the ball runs were better than Messi’s. He must be kidding, I remembered thinking. I have since grown to know better. Walcott’s off the ball runs are without equal. Four times he was one on one with the Bournemouth keeper. Well, he did not create those opportunities, neither did Ozil. Those prime chances were created by the union of the two. That union is a match made in heaven.

The ball comes to Ozil, instantly Walcott spots a space and is in motion, but even before Walcott’s drama had begun, Ozil’s incredible field of vision in time and space had witnessed it. He executes in stillness and the ball well weighted in speed rendezvous with Walcott, one on one with the keeper, all Bergkampesque. If only the Ox (he’s got speed) will learn movement at the feet of Walcott, with his high technical ability and Ozil around, he would rule the world. Young, Ox has got time, but the likes of Ozil prime at 27 appear once in a long, long time, our Ox must recognize and hasten.

Giroud represents power, Sanchez speed, Walcott movement, Ozil intelligence. What a front four. The time is come for a cup of cinnamon tea and a full-throated song, for I am finally home and dry. Happy New Year gunners.

By: Pony Eye

The Cech Factor, Mesmerising Mesut, Spanish Bull Backs, Rambo Dynamo: 10 PL positives until now.

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12 games played in the premier league and now joined top with Citeh: who would have thought this after our first six games? We had a measly ten points and trailed the Northern Oilers by five points, and we had big games against Manchester United (H), Leicester (A), Swansea (A), Everton (H), Spuds (H) and Watford (A) ahead of us. Six games, and sixteen points, later and we caught up with the early season high flyers, and are now an amazing 15 points ahead of the self-adoring one and his spoiled Chavs, who were, let’s not forget, the absolute favourites to win the title again this season, in August. We are also the London PL table leaders with five points more than the Spuds and the Hammers. So far so very, very good; and we should be very proud of our boys.

There is of course still a very, very long way to go and the principle of OGAAT – one game at a time – remains an absolute necessity if we are to win anything this year. Looking ahead to our next six PL games, we have a good chance to stay top and even take a bit of distance from Citeh and other competitors. But this can only be achieved by focussing on each and every game like it is a cup final.

Next up is West Brom away, never easy, especially after an international break; then it is Norwich away, Sunderland at home and Villa away: all teams that need points and will fight us with all they have got; then we play Citeh at home, followed by Southampton away, which are both very tricky fixtures. In the middle of these we have to play two CL fixtures, and especially the away game against Olympiakos – in between Sunderland at home and Villa away – could require a hell of a lot from our team (but only if Bayern manage to beat the Greeks before then in the first place).

So OGAAT it is and let’s see where we are after our Boxing Day fixture against the Saints. Key is to get our team back to strength as injuries have once again depleted our squad in the last few weeks. There is, however, reason for optimism based on our first twelve games in the PL:

  1. We are so much more solid at the back, especially when we play at least four out of Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koz and Nacho. Only MU conceded less goals (8) and we are equal with Citeh (9 goals conceded each), and we have already achieved six clean PL sheets this season. There is still room for improvement and especially the CB pairing could be subject to improvement in the next few months.
  2. Cech, after a rough start against WH, has improved the squad considerably. Perhaps less exciting to many, but his impact on the team is on a par with the previous arrivals of Santi, Ozil and Sanchez. Petr is the sort of goalkeeper we needed for a long time to make real progress in the league.
  3. Santi – Ozil – Sanchez give us the creative magic virtually all our competitors are missing right now. It is very hard for competitors to eliminate our creative force: if they focus on shadowing Ozil then Santi or Alexis will find the gaps instead; if they press hard on Santi, Alexis and Ozil will help him and together they find the space and the passes to hurt the opposition in a flash. We are now a team that at any moment and from almost any place on the pitch can produce a through-ball that will hurt the opposition instantly.
  4. Coquelin is now even better than last season. Some predicted that he would have a disappointing ‘second season’ as our deepest DM, but Francis has fully established himself in the team. He always gives his all and has found the right balance between aggression and control; and quietly he is developing in one of our key leaders.
  5. Goals are being spread between the team, with OG and Alexis having each scored as many PL goals as Aguero (6) and Theo showing a lot of promise too (2 PL goals currently). I love the variety we have in attack and that Wenger is using our attackers flexibly. Just as with our creative play, we have an extra dimension to our attack. However, getting Theo back as soon as possible is much needed to avoid burnout of Giroud, and especially, Alexis.
  6. Ozil is currently totally in the zone: 10 assists in 11 PL games is quite something and he is making our play now more than ever. He benefits a lot from Santi’s and Alexis’ presence and loves to work with the likes of Giroud, Alexis and Theo to produce his mesmerizing magic.
  7. Our Spanish full backs – or Bull Backs – are our power boosters and add sooo much to the team right now, both defensively and in attack. Nacho and Hector Vector are the complete package and play with great energy and passion. Wenger has turned these two into fabulous players and we are reaping the benefits now!
  8. Ramsey the connector, the gap filler, our dynamo: for me Rambo is the ideal box to box player next to Coquelin, but Wenger is a genius for making him play on the right, in a free role. He is great at almost all aspects of midfield play and so important for allowing others to shine. And he will shine himself now and again as well. The goals are still missing this season, but let this not take away from how pivotal his overall midfield performances are for the team.
  9. Our ability to go for the kill when it is on offer has been great. How many times did we score a second goal very soon after we scored the first goal in a PL game? The team now seem to pounce on weaknesses much better and this reminds me a lot of our Bergkamp/Henry/Pires Arsenal days.
  10. Resilience: we are much better in seeing games out now and not expose ourselves unnecessarily (the CL games, bar the Bayern home game, are the exception though). I loved our second half against MU as much as the first one: never gave them a chance to come back; I also loved the way we clawed back a draw against the Spuds, and even fought for a later winner, yesterday.

With almost a third of this season’s PL campaign behind us, we can be very positive of where we are and what makes this team special. There is no doubt that the many injuries can hurt us but until now the impact has been minimal, and with a couple of weeks’ rest, and hopefully no further injuries, we should be able to push on till after Christmas, when I will do another term review.

By TotalArsenal.

Arsene holds appraisal with his King of the Key Pass: Mesut Ozil

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Gutentag Mesut, wie geht’s mein Sohn?

Tutti Paletti, Arsene, einfach Spitze! Und Sie?

Well, Mesut, I feel wunderbar!

Wonderbra?! J

Mesut, always thinking about the Madchen, hey?! So we are here today to do your seasonal appraisal: how do you think you performed?

Well Arsene, I think I did well since I recovered from my injury, but I don’t think the fans appreciate me enough.

Why do you think that? You are the master in my midfield, creator of space, you run like a gazelle and are the King of the Key Pass in the PL with 3.1 per game – better than Cesci, Silva and Hazards. You won the World Cup with Die Mannschafters and held up the FA Cup twice in twelve months….. You are the dog’s ball-logues mein Freund!!

Ahh Arsene, the fans don’t seem to see it that way and then there are those commentators like that arschloch Owen and Scheisskopf Murphy who keep saying they ‘want more from me’ and that I am ‘not justifying my transfer fee’.

Well, Mesut, they have to say something don’t they. They suffer from small-winkle-syndrome and have to live with a very ‘hard’ reality.

What reality is this?

Well…They have been lucky enough to play in the PL but they realise they were never as good as you are now – their careers are over and they would suck at managing a team…. What is left for them is talking about current players…. And you, mein Sohn, are rubbing it in in each and every game you dance on the live stage. Unwittingly, you are torturing them and they are not having it….The only way to deal with it is to watch the game in silence: mute the brute! J The problem is, the English want to see your bleeding heart pumping outside the shirt, they want blood, guts and tears, with 12 Ray Parlours on the pitch!

Who is he, Arsene?

You never heard of the Pele of Romford?! Mesut, das ist eine Schande! You will need to watch some old footage then. Think of Flamini x 10! Voll mit sturm und drang! But you are never going to be like him, as you are an introvert, a quiet assassin, a schemer and strategist; and I like it! Let’s have a look at your listed objectives for last season.

HMmmm, it only says: ‘Be more Ozil’. What the heck did I mean with that, Mesutski?

Arsene, I thought you were really clever last year when you said that, and now you cannot remember it anymore!

What did I mean with it then?

Du bist einer alter knacker, Arsene! You said ‘Be more Ozil’:

  1. O for Omnipotent: use my eyes that can see all, work my body into a fortress and move all over the pitch to add attacking value everywhere and at any time;
  2. Z for Zealous: show more enthusiasm on the outside, show that I care… Happiness is a warm Gunner and all that Scheisse! [Arsene blushes when hearing this]
  3. I = I: be more selfish: love to assist and love to be assisted: make the net, just like my eyes, buckle by being selfish!
  4. L = Love Mesut…. Be kind to myself…. What the Scheisse ever that meant!?!

Well remembered Mesut and four big, fat teecks. Nice to see you again, have a great summer!

But Arsene, you did not set me any objectives for next season?! I want to be the European King of Assists, and more!!

Well Mesut, be, once again, more Ozil and you’ll become even better. And I suggest you learn a little Owen/Murphy dance for next season every time you produce a King of the Key Pass beauty! Ask Alexis to raise his leg and you’ll do the Limbo for our diminutive, sour commentators… that would be a laugh, hahaha!

Any specific targets, advice, Arsene…please?!

Okay, okay Mesut, I will give you a quote that you will need to learn by heart and repeat to yourself every time one of the dumkopfs feels they can voice their free-like-an-arschloch opinions about you. It is by Robert M Pirsig, from his wonderful book ‘Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance’:

The way to see what looks good and understand the reasons it looks good, and to be at one with this goodness as the work proceeds, is to cultivate an inner quietness, a peace of mind so that goodness can shine through’..

Pffff, Arsene, I get it… be more Ozil.

Yep, Mesut, that is all there is to it.

By Total Arsenal.

Arsenal’s Best 11 in 2015

Since Arsenal beat Manchester city, they look like a team capable of going very far this season.

Arsenal v Queens Park Rangers - Barclays Premier League

There are many reasons for this change in fortunes, however, I believe that the key reason is that we now have competition for places. It has been well over a decade since we had this level of squad depth. Not only that, I can’t remember the last time when Arsenal had only two guaranteed first team starters (Sanchez & Koscielny).

At the moment, only those two players can walk into the team with their eyes closed. Every other position is being fought for, tooth and nail. Even at RB, Bellerin and Chambers have both impressed enough to make life uncomfortable for Debuchy when he recovers. At LB, Gibbs & Nacho are arguably equally as good. Sure, Nacho has been less than impressive at CB but when he plays at LB he really does play well, especially going forward.

At DM is where, at the moment, Coquelin is undeniably the best. Flamini has been appalling. In fact, in my opinion he was at fault for both goals against Brighton & HA. For the first goal Chambers may have had a poor touch but Flamini gave the opposition too much space. Same goes for the second one: he just offers no protection to our back four and I think his time is up. As for Arteta, he is past his sell by date unfortunately. It is the one position we are short.

From attacking midfield going forward, we have more quality players than the American flag has stars. I wonder how Arsene is to choose between TR7,Ramsey, Wilshere, Ox, Theo, Sanchez, Gnabry, Ozil, Cazorla, Welbeck and Giroud for only 5 spots. He could field 11 attackers! If only in that mix we had a truly world class no. 9, say Eddie Cavani or Karim Benzema.

Given this situation, picking a best 11 is quite the challenge. The only two players in the team guaranteed a starting berth when fit are Sanchez & Koscielny. Even then, the signing of Gabriel means that while he is undoubtedly first choice, Kos still has to look over his shoulder.

That said, only 11 players can be fielded at once. So given that everyone is fit and firing, what would be your best 11? 

I’ve put weeks of thought into this and the only solution i came up with is this: there is none. Bear with me for a moment. I think the first choice should be chosen based on two things: our opponents & the form of our players. For example:

When playing opponents who will force us to defend (like at the Etihad), I would start Theo & ozil on the bench.

Based on current form, our first 11 should look something like: Ospina, Bellerin, Per, Kos, Monreal, Coq, TR7 Santi, Alexis, Ox/Theo, Giroud.

Arsenal best 11 2015

However you choose to look at it, we are on the path to EPL/UCL glory.

COYG!!!!

By Marcus.

Evaluating Arsenal in 2014: Which of 10 Wishes Came Through

We finally got our super quality player on the left wing - one of ten wishes! :)
We finally got our super quality player on the left wing – one of ten wishes! 🙂

It is the time of year to look back and make wishes for the future. On 31 December 2013, I issued a post with wishes for the coming year: 

https://bergkampesque.com/2013/12/31/happy-prosperous-new-year-fellow-gooners-ten-wishes-for-2014/

My ten wishes for 2014 were:

  1. A top-two finish, and hopefully us being crowned champions in May.

Well we know we finished fourth, so this wish did not materialise. Things looked good for us back then and a really good finish was in our grasp, but once again we did not see a good start through.

  1. Full integration of Ozil into the team, and finding the right balance between our options in midfield and attack.

It is fair to say that this has not happened as yet. Ozil has been out with injuries a lot this calendar year, both in our last and current seasons, so we have to give it more time. Hopefully he is back imminently as it is time for him to properly shine again for Arsenal. We also have not found the right balance as yet, but this is more due to the number of new players bought in attack and the large number of injuries (sigh).

  1. Somebody to properly claim LM/LW, either from the current squad or through buying super quality in January or summer.

Well this materialised with the signing of the mini-Hulk. Alexis can of course play in different positions but playing him on the left seems to suit him best, especially if he is given licence to roam centrally occasionally.

  1. The arrival of a beast of DM with footballing qualities to strengthen the double DM pivot and provide cover and competition for the ageing Arteta and (sooner or later) Flamini.

Did not happen and the need for a very good DM is still a main priority in my, and many fellow Gooner’s, opinion.

  1. A home win against Bayern, and hopefully us beating the Germans over both legs – after that anything is possible! 🙂

Did not happen, but…. We started the home game sooo strong and if Ozil had put away the pen and Szczesny had kept a cool head instead of getting sent off it could have been so different.

  1. Cesc to return to the real home of football.

Did not happen, but COULD have happened and, in my opinion, should have happened. Seeing Fabregas getting directions from Maureen is still so sickening. How many assists has he produced for the Chavs FFS! 😈

  1. Wilshere to find his form again and have a great season and World Cup.

There have been glimpses in 2014: short periods of good form and dominant play. His goal and assist against the Northern Oilers seemed to be the moment of breakthrough…. but it was not to be, as the monster of injury kept hitting him hard time and again.

  1. Sagna to sign a new contract and to play more regularly as a CB; Jenkinson to claim the RB position or move on this summer (and us finding a great replacement).

Partly happened. We did not hold on to Mr Reliable and Jenks did not claim the RB position, but we signed Debuchy and Chambers who both have had fantastic starts to their Arsenal careers.

  1. To keep hold of all our key players whilst adding quality were required – and a few youngsters to make significant progress.

We did this, except for holding on to Sagna. Ospina, Chambers, Debuchy, Welbeck, Alexis are all quality signings. Whether youngsters have made significant progress is up for debate. Bellerin is a positive, but not many others have been given a chance… Martinez did reasonably well and should get more playing time if and when possible.

  1. Dennis to join us.

Sigh… 😦

The highlight of 2014 is of course Arsenal winning the FA Cup: not explicitly wished for but a much, much needed achievement by the team which will hopefully create a mental and sporting platform for adding more trophies in the near future.

In the new year I will issue my 10 wishes for 2015.

What did you make of Arsenal in 2014? 

Written by: TotalArsenal.

 

 

Arsenal Season Review: Four Improvements and Three Negatives

It has been a whirlwind of a season for Arsenal this year. The poor start to the league before the incredible run of form that saw us lead the league table for a mighty long time followed by the collapse in the league and finally the FA cup triumph that ended the trophy drought. For many observers, this seems like a typical Arsenal season and sure enough in some aspects that is the case, but I have seen real progress in this team this term. Of course the proverbial monkey is off our back now that we won the cup, the biggest testament to this growth.

Soccer - FA Cup - Arsenal Winners Parade

One of the biggest strides we have made this season (if not the biggest) is the assembly of the rock solid defensive unit of Szczesny, Koscielny and Mertesacker. For me Koscielny is the best defender in the league. Mertesacker is Mr. consistent and Szczesny’s golden glove prize says everything I need to. Bac has been phenomenal for us too, but i hesitate to dwell too much on him as his departure is all but rubber stamped. This defensive unit (barring the humiliation at the hands of Chelsea, Liverpool and city) was the best in the league. The aforementioned defeats are a result of our poor tactical nous at the middle of the park but I will get to that in a bit. Defense has been a major achilles heel for Arsenal since the pairing of Campbell and Keown but that is now a thing of the past. In Szczesny, we have a true heir to David Seaman’s throne.

Secondly, has been Arsenal’s ability to grind out wins, which is a testament to the brilliance of our defense. Before when Arsenal took an early lead you always felt nervous at 1-0 because we would eventually crumble and either draw or lose. This season however we have learned how to ‘win ugly’ as many would put it. Perfect examples are the wins against Spurs, Dortmund away and many more.

Thirdly, there is the coming of age of some of our players. Biggest of them all, Aaron Ramsey. I mean we all saw his potential before his leg break but nobody could have predicted what we saw this season. He has been nothing short of phenomenal. He has consistently put in match winning displays when fit, sometimes showing lashes of skill that the likes Ronaldinho and Zidane would be proud of. Another has been Theo Walcott. Though he has been injured for the most part, he has shown that he can be the 30 goal a season player we always thought him to be. It’s a shame we lost both at such crucial times of the season.

Last but not least, is the fact that Wenger has finally shown us that he is willing to spend money on world class talent. With the acquisition of Ozil, Wenger has proved that he is willing to spend big on the right players, something he will need to do more of if we are to build on our recent FA cup success. I find it hard to believe that our first trophy in years after we brought in a world class player is pure coincidence.

There have been a few negatives that saw us surrender the league title to Man City. They can all be summed up in one sentence; Wenger’s lack of tactical prowess. This comes out in a number of ways.

First and most frustrating of all is his inability to manage his squad effectively. Arsene Wenger simply does not know how to rotate his squad. He will play his best 11 week in week out until they either get injured or lose form due to fatigue. In my opinion apart from Theo Walcott, all the other injuries we got this season could have been avoided. Allow me to explain. When we started the season, we had Wilshere and Theo injured but were coming back. Wilshere’s had been long term and Theo’s short term. This meant that Ramsey got his chance to play, along with Gnabry. However, not long after Theo returned, regaining his place on the right meaning we had a midfield of Arteta, Ramsey, Ozil, Walcott and Santi (our best line up). So they played until Theo was injured again. But Wilshere soon returned. Note that with his well documented injury issues, he needed to be eased back in. Wenger would have none of it. He was played, even at times on the flank leaving a fit Ox and Gnabry on the bench. His worst performances came from the flank mind you. This team played on until both Ramsey and Wilshere (both of who thrive on the B2B role and would have shared the responsibility brilliantly) were injured due to the sheer amount of games they played. All this while, the Ox, Gnabry and Rosicky on the bench. Same to Mesut, a player who needed to be carefully introduced to the English game. He was played until he lost form and ultimately got injured yet Tomas sat on the bench unused. Look at players like Mertesacker and Bac who played almost every single game this year when TV5 was left unused. Podolski, one of our best players played a very small part in our league campaign despite being our best finisher. The examples go on and on. What is the point in having a big squad if the boss won’t use it?

Secondly I feel that our traditional beautiful game has been compromised. Our lack of pace makes what used to be scintillating displays in slow, labored, boring football. Our quick paced passing was seen in flashes like in that fantastic goal vs Norwich but majority of the time it was that slow passing that was at times difficult to watch. This made defences harder to break down, a major reason why we seldom won by big margins. We need some pace in that team.

Finally, Wenger’s lack of a midfield plan. Gary Neville said that at times it is like Wenger picks his midfield and asks them to play as they feel. For most parts I tend to agree with him. He has managed to assemble a very talented midfield but they are all too similar, especially when we lose the ball. There is no positional discipline, no tactical defensive shape, no coordinated pressing of the ball. This leaves the defense open and vulnerable to attacks. This explains the routs we received. Wenger, at the very least, needs to bring in a proper DM who shields the back for properly. Arteta’s lack of pace and aging legs have been exploited more than once this season.

Arsenal players celebrate with the FA Cu

All in all, it has been a good season. The lads have tasted victory and now it is up to Arsene to bring in 3-4 world class players ( a world class DM of the Javi Martinez mould, a pacy, goal getting left sided winger and a 30+ goal a season striker) to elevate us to title and UCL contenders. At this point, no Gooner is willing to go back to the trophy-less years – rather would see our glory days return.

 Written by: Marcus

2013-14 Arsenal BUMPER Season Re-Cap – Don’t Miss it!

Opportunity Squandered or Progress Made?

GibbsMiss

 

With the FA Cup victory almost a week old it seems time to ask these and other questions about the season just completed.  Pardon the length of this post and the lack of bullet points to guide those who might not want to read it all.  I’m still buzzing from the lifting of the FA Cup even if it was a faith-testing, come-from-behind experience on the day.   One for the (positive) memory banks, too…

Arsenal players celebrate with the FA Cu

But that’s just the final match of the season.  How do Gooners feel about the season as a whole? 

In my opinion this past season presented a real opportunity with managerial changes at Chelsea and both Manchester clubs, as well as a recalibration with our neighbors to the immediate North, who had pushed us in recent years for our Champions League place.  (Spurs were losing their best player, but they were also spending the money from his sale even before it was finalized.)  As such, nobody could quite be sure WHAT was going to happen.   We had to expect that all these teams would be strong but we also hoped that Arsenal would be in the mix.

Of course, with the summer winding down, the press (and management) blaring on about our “money to spend” and only a young player (Sanogo) in on a free transfer, it was all up in the air as the season kicked off.  Luckily it was an easy one on a sunny August day.  LOL.  When that match ended, in a 3-1 home loss to Aston Villa, it appeared even the air was gone.  Certainly, any momentum or positivity from our strong finish the year before eroded in an immediate tidal wave of dissatisfaction and doom.   The ship was righted somewhat, with convincing wins in the CL qualifiers, and another free signing of a guy we knew had quality (Flamini), and in a gutty home win vs Spurs, practically on the eve of the transfer deadline.  The really big move, bringing in Mesut Ozil in a transfer deal more than doubling our previous record came the next day making the first break for internationals more than bearable.

Since then we’ve seen so much.  In the Autumn we dominated our (not so difficult) early season league schedule, made it through “the group of death” (with both some stunning and naive performances) in the Champions league and watched a few players, notably Aaron Ramsey, make some marked improvements.  Ozil brought a certain level of pace and precision to our game which augured well.  Unlike in previous years, we weathered the early storm and found ourselves top of the table as others had much slower starts.

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As the “darker days” of Late Autumn and Winter came, we suffered some set-backs, going out meekly in the league cup in our stadium and losing to a very disjointed Manchester United team.  We also suffered our first “big loss” to a title rival, a 6-3 defeat at Manchester City which shook confidence.  The congested “Festive Period,” saw us regroup with a solid home nil-nil in ugly weather against even uglier (and very cynical) Chelsea team.  From there, even though we were winning our matches, we lost key players Theo Walcott to a season ending knee injury (after having already missed a couple of months due to another surgery) and Ramsey to a muscle problem.

20 weeks of holiday, at least! :)

Those two injuries would prove crucial, the latter because it was supposed to be short term but went on and on, and the former because he was not replaced in the January transfer window. “Internal” attacking solutions–Poldolski, Sanago and Bendtner, though offering a measure of promise, never truly brought what Theo might have in the biggest matches and most critical moments.  At least we never suffered (much feared) injury to our big man up front, even if his off-field antics hit the press at the very worst of times.

For a big player, who relies on power and has far too many head in hands moments, we still wouldn’t have guessed that Olivier Giroud’s worst would come when he was exposed in a very different manner.  The underwear shot (a photo tweeted by a woman who was not his wife) proved nothing, argued Ollie, but many would say the same about some of the shots he takes on the pitch.  That its release coincided with our first period of brutal fixture congestion (Sanogo started critical FA Cup and Champions League matches) made it far less comical.

Does Thierry know what Arsene's plans for the summer are? :)

Still, we got through against Liverpool (who, earlier at Anfield, had handed us perhaps our worst defeat of the season, a 5-1 loss which featured 4 goals conceded in twenty minutes) and we looked bright early vs Bayern Munich.  Ozil’s penalty miss and having to play with 10 men (after Szczesny was lured into fouling the floppiest bald man in the world, Arjen Robben) was a killer.  Losing two-nil and knowing that the holders would not make the same mistake two years in a row in the return leg, was another crushing blow.

Additionally, Ozil’s miss created a firestorm of bad press for the record signing.  Manager Arsene Wenger attempts to rest him–vs Sunderland, but more critically at Stoke City–backfired, when, in his absence, our offense stuttered and we lost the latter match.  Ironically, in the 2nd leg at Bayern we would lose Ozil to a hamstring injury suffered 2 minutes in and likely made worse by soldiering on through the entire first half.   Although we had advanced to the FA Cup semis (and then had the great fortune of seeing Wigan defeat Manchester City after we had drawn the winner), our league chances, given all the injuries, seemed tenuous at best.  We got past Spurs at White Hart Lane, holding a 1-nil lead (secured by a Rosicky belter) for 90 minutes.

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But then, in Wenger’s 1000th match at the club, our title hopes were crushed in a 6-nil defeat to Chelsea.   Beyond the horror scoreline and the comedy element (Kieran Gibbs was sent off for Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain’s early handball on the goal line–on a shot going wide!?!), we also lost another player to injury: our best defender, Laurent Koscielny.

The injuries and the psychological devastation of the Chelsea match (on top of the other away losses on big scorelines) led to consecutive home draws against Swansea City and Manchester City.  By this time, our squad was a shadow of itself, both in confidence and available, match-fit, personnel.  In a final blow, we traveled to Everton, got soundly beaten there and dropped below them and out of the Champions League places.

Many Gooners were calling for the head of Arsene Wenger, who noted (in a French interview) that with all the injuries, his team was “only average.”  With Kim Kallstrom as our only January signing, on loan from a Russian club, and having made only a minimal contribution due to fitness issues of his own, there was plenty of hindsight, most of which put the manager squarely in the cross-hairs.

Luckily, at that point, the schedule got easier and this “average” team did enough to win their remaining matches.  At first it wasn’t pretty, with the darkest moment coming at Wembley, as we came within 10 minutes of being eliminated by Wigan in the FA Cup semi, before beating them in a penalty shootout.  From there, we secured 4th place with relative ease as Everton struggled with a far more difficult schedule.  In fact, we ended up 7 points clear of them, the exact number we finished behind eventual league champions, Manchester City, who couldn’t beat Liverpool at Anfield.  Unfortunately for them, ‘Pool couldn’t contain Chelsea in their home ground nor hold a 3 nil lead at Crystal Palace, and, in essence, handed the title back to the Sheik and his Citizens.  All we could do, however, was win our remaining matches and watch from the sidelines of the mathematically eliminated…

It all culminated in the FA Cup final, a microcosm of both our frailties and our strengths.  Playing a goal-keeper (Fabianski) and a defender (Sagna) who were winding their contracts down in order to seek greener pastures, we started in a stupor and fell behind by 2 goals, only avoiding a 3rd, when wisely placed Kieran Gibbs used his head in another manner to clear a looping attempt which had Fabianski well beaten.  Fortunately, the smallest player (with the biggest heart?…) Santi Cazorla took the team forward, won a foul and converted the resulting free kick. The comeback was on.  Goals by Koscielny (risking injury as he scored it) and Ramsey, the season’s most stunningly improved player (and perhaps its best?), and we (finally) have our trophy.  The joy amongst the team, the manager and the Gooners who had all stayed the course was fantastic.

Arsenal's English midfielder Jack Wilshe

Now what?  How do we kick onwards and upwards? 

In my opinion, despite the struggles of the season (cheers for actually reading the synopsis for those who did…) we have much we can take from it.  There is great potential in the squad up and down the pitch.  Moreover, as a team, we have shown a certain level of resolve and focus.  The clean sheets and solid results against the lesser teams were the best in England.  Obviously, we had huge stumbles, especially in away matches to the other top teams.  Still, the “team,” at its core, is as solid as I’ve seen it for years with more upside than down.  We did not, again, in my opinion, “over-perform” this season and thus, if the spirit stays intact, we should improve.  Of course, our rivals will be trying to do likewise but that’s another matter entirely.  While I believe our greatest asset is our work as a unit, it being the close-season with the torture, er, transfer window unofficially open, an examination of the current squad, position by position is in order.

Keeper:  Wojciech Szczesny gained another season of experience and showed great focus to compile the incredible statistic of 20 clean sheets in all competitions (22, if you include the two CL qualifiers).  Yes, he still makes mistakes with the Red Card + Penalties vs Villa and Bayern standing out.  Nonetheless he commands his area well and makes most of the saves you would expect him to make.  He may well have benefitted from the consistent push of his countryman, Lukas Fabianski, whose contributions in the FA cup run were nothing short of outstanding, even if he might be somewhat faulted for the leakiness early (and the moment of insanity late on) in the final.  While I would love to retain him as a more than capable #2, I don’t begrudge his decision to seek first team football elsewhere.   Of course, he will need to be replaced.  We should be able to afford an older, very experienced keeper who might be happy to help Szczesney on the finer points of his game while being more than ready to deputize if necessary.  Damien Martinez, as our youth team keeper has perhaps shown enough to deserve promotion to the first team as our 3rd choice?

Defence:  Obviously, losing Bacary Sagna will be a major blow.  What a professional and what a servant to the club.  Additionally, he essentially held down two positions.  As such, we will need to buy (or promote) at least two players to replace him.  Players like him simply cannot be replaced in a like for like fashion.  A senior right back seems essential unless we really trust Carl Jenkinson and/or Hector Bellerin.  Additionally our style of play will need to change given that Sagna was such an accomplished header of the ball.  It could, however, be an opportunity for a pacy player of great stamina, one who can get forward on offense and circle around the tall (but not so mobile) presence of Mertesacker at the defensive end.  In many ways, I think, replacing Sagna sucessfully will be one of our greatest challenges but also one of greatest opportunities.  Given Wenger’s desire to have as many “footballers” in the squad, the huge hole Sagna will leave could actually be seen as a chance for several players to make their mark.

Central defense is as solid as it’s been in years.  The partnership of Mertesacker and Koscielny is the best in the league.  The back up of Captain Vermaelen is troublesome, but also reassuring, given that so many of us thought he was the best defender on the team just a couple of years ago.  Injury problems have hurt him, but he’s been a model professional.  That he can also play left back, where our first options have injury issues of their own, makes him even more valuable.  Still, I expect him to be the subject of endless transfer speculation and he might be one leaving the club.  A younger, more speculative prospect, especially one who has played a bit as a defensive midfielder, might also be seen as a positive change.

Kieran Gibbs, when he’s not hurt (or being sent off for another player’s handball…) seems firmly established as our first choice left back.  He’s got great pace and athletic ability and his defensive positioning and offensive contributions are improving over time.  He seems one who, if he could have a full season injury free–and this season was closer in that regard–might really take a major step up in quality.  Ignacio “Nacho” Monreal, who is perhaps more comfortable on the ball than Gibbs, is an able back-up.  At times, Nacho appears a bit lacking athletically (in comparison to the “sneaky” athleticism Gibbs possesses) but also has some sly moves.  I particularly admire his high-angle pull backs when he drives forward, but think he might need to put away his full turns (away from the attacker and the ball) at the defensive end as they (sometimes) leave him trailing his man and badly out of position.  If we can retain Vermaelen, who brings real defensive stoutness (but is not as much as a typical touch line runner going forward) this position seems very well covered.

Midfield:  This is our obvious strength–an embarrassment of riches to the point of begging the question of how we keep everybody happy.  There is also a question about our ability to use our possession game to protect our back line, i.e., is there trouble at the back?  Ramsey, Ozil, Cazorla, Wilshere, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain (or is he a forward?) Arteta, Flamini, Diaby.  Wow, it’s a mouth-watering bunch of names, but it’s also a group which had more than its share of injury troubles.  Additionally, the guys we assume would lay back and protect our defensive line are not getting any younger.

Many feel that we need reinforcement at “defensive midfielder” and I would agree.  However, I also think that Wenger doesn’t look at it this way and wants his deeper lying mids to bring great skill and composure on the ball, rather than act as the prototypical “beast” many desire.  Mikel Arteta’s physical limitations will only become more glaring as age does its inevitable thing.  Still, trying to replace or complement him with a more physical presence, if he doesn’t bring similar on-the-ball skills, can be a double edged sword.  The initial contributions of Flamini (especially his vocal organization of the players in front of him) seemed very welcome, but the loose tackles hurt us as the season wore on and he never seemed the sort of player who could keep things “ticking over.”  Abou Diaby has the height and (as I recall) the ball skills to be a great contributor in this part of the pitch, but even discussing him, given his injury record, seems as thinly naive as his ankles.  As such I would expect every deep-lying mid in world football to be linked with a move to Arsenal this Summer, though I would also suspect that this is an area where Wenger might gamble on players staying fit, performing above expectation or (even) slotting in a player who is more nominally a defender.

He could also do likewise by (nominally) moving players back.  Wilshere, Ramsey and Oxlade Chamberlain have all taken turns, usually alongside Arteta, in what some observers label a double pivot.  Again, I don’t think Wenger views it in this manner, and would prefer a group of 5 midfielders (3 central, 2 who start on the touchlines as wingers) changing position freely and covering spaces for one another.  In moments when it works, it positively buzzes.  It can, however, lead to periods where we struggle against deeper lying teams and leave ourselves open to trouble on the break (and those freak scorelines against the better teams).  Ball retention, i.e., possession and pace of play are everything in Wenger’s approach and a stable group (fewer injuries) seems essential.  Overall, however, the players we have, I believe, perhaps with the exception of Arteta and Rosicky, are ALL poised to have more productive seasons.  Wilshere, Ozil and Ramsey looked very good but also had injury issues and trouble in the biggest matches.  I expect their output (assists and goals) to increase.  Santi Cazorla, expected by many to step into the #10 spot and make up for the output of those three, was a disappointment to many, but I see him as a guy whose true genius sparkles in filling the holes (on the pitch rather than the team-sheet).  With his range of passes (and shots) he needs teammates occupying defenders because he’s simply too small (and lacks that real burst of acceleration) to get away on his own.  I may have too much faith in the little Spaniard, who is also approaching the big 3-0, but I think his output (goals and assists) could go up the most of any of our midfielders.

Attack: obviously, this is an area of worry but also one of some serious promise.  Losing Theo Walcott was a massive blow as many expected him to kick on from his previous (and best) season with a 20 goal (or more) contribution.  Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with maybe a touch less pace (but a lot more touch…) is also an extremely promising player who can be very direct and loves attacking the box.  Both guys, if they can just get a bit calmer in their finishing could go from (near) zero to (super) hero.   Serge Gnabry also appears to have a real eye for goal and a desire to work on his complete game and is still only 18 (!)  We should expect greater contribution from him as well.

This past season, however, Olivier Giroud had to carry the load.  He did quite well, especially against the lesser clubs racking up impressive numbers (22 goals) and showing a tireless ability to wear down defenders (in opposition to his annoying time-wasting antics feigning injury on the turf).  His younger French counterpart, Yaya Sanogo, also contributed, in a somewhat similar manner, even if he has (still) yet to score his first Arsenal goal.  Size matters in English football and those guys are targets at set pieces.  Not quite as big (unless you count his smile…), Lucas Poldolski brings so much experience and one of the most powerful left boots in world football but remains a puzzle.  When he scores he’s brilliant, but he also looks out of place as a total footballer.  He seems to enjoy drifting deeper and helping out with the possession work, but also appears a step slow in that part of the pitch.  Closer in, his striker instincts (to shoot or cross) seem positive but not always in-sync with his teammates.  Is it a lack of pace or on the ball skills or just too much time playing in a slower paced setting?  Regardless, he’s on a massive salary so, unless he makes a (surprise) splash for the Germans in Brazil and attracts some transfer interest, I would expect the enigma to continue next season at Arsenal.

World Cup

So that is my summation of the squad and what I perceive as the potential for the season ahead.  Who am I missing?  Also, speaking of Brazil:  we got a world cup to enjoy.  As a neutral I enjoy watching Arsenal players contribute and seeing who can and cannot handle the immense pressure of the situation, even if, in my opinion, the game is slower and (until the final rounds at least) generally at a lower level than the club game.  Compared to most of the top English teams we are not sending too many players who will play major minutes but, with our “vast” reserves of money to spend, ANY player who does well at the tournament will surely be linked with a move to our club.  In that way, if you have the right attitude, it could be fun to watch.

Arsene Wenger

But, of course, I’ve been accused of having a bad attitude.  In truth, I believe that Arsenal supporters are suffering more than a bit of an existential crisis and are overly divided into deeply entrenched camps, which brings me down immensely.  Right now, on the back of the FA Cup win–and the ease with which we clinched Champions League football, support has swung back towards Arsene Wenger continuing as manager.  Latest reports suggest he will sign a 3 year deal at 8 million pounds per year–essentially the same salary as our highest paid player (Ozil).  I believe the manager, while not always correct in every decision, is one of the great stories and maybe the greatest asset the club possesses (and, as such, deserves this new contract).  Many, however, disagree, or, at least, have tired of him as the face of the club and desire change.  But that’s an entirely different issue and one which we might discuss in more detail as the Summer wears on.  Unfortunately, due to his immense presence, our stance on the manager clouds ALL discussions about the club.  My hope is that we can trust in him (as we would with ANY manager) while realizing he’s human and appreciating that he has linked his personal legacy to that of the club.  It’s probably too much to ask, so, if (god forbid) we actually lose a match (we didn’t, in the league, at least, a decade ago–i.e., he made his own high standards)…it’s “Wenger Out” all over again.  It’s a pressure that’s (probably) too hard to bear, and one which, frankly I could live without.  Still, the times being what they are (the 24 hour “blame” cycle of the internet…) somebody must do the job.  At least Wenger seems willing to bear it, so I salute him.

Victory

Your views

OK, enough said.  What do you guys think?  Are we poised to kick on (and up)?  Can we expect improvement from a majority of squad members?  Who do you think might REALLY kick on?   (As opposed to the more typical, who must we REALLY replace?…)  Is the future so bright that we need to wear shades or is it so grim that we need to draw the shades (or curtains) and hide?  Many will be focused on the transfer market and all the links that come with our status as a “big club” (with money).  Others might lament that we (still) can’t hold onto our best players even if they’re on the older side (Sagna).  Where do you come down?  Is this a Summer of appreciation and hope or dissatisfaction and despair?…

Written by: 17highburyterrace

Six PL games to go: where will Arsenal finish?

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Technically, the double is still a possibility, but even the biggest optimist will have given up by now.

If it was not for the incredible bonus of still being in the FA-cup, with a great chance to win it this time round, we would feel quite deflated right now. Having been top of the league for so long, it looks like we have to battle it out for fourth place once more; and our game against the Toffees this weekend will be another game of the season event.

For me and many other Gooners, it is this annual déjà-vu experience that is so frustrating: the realisation that we once again are not able to push through to the next level – that feeling that we are standing still. Whether we win the FA-cup or not, deep down we know that we are still short of breaking into the very top of national and international football. As such, it constantly feels we are not making much, if any, progress.

This, however, does not take away the importance of winning the FA cup this season. For all the young guys in this team it is just the tonic they need. I want the likes of Ramsey, Gibbs, Ox, Wilshere (hopefully), Jenkinson, Szczesny, and one or two others who form our long-term future, to experience winning something; and they will not get a better opportunity to do so.

The optimists – often also Wenger-loyalists – point towards key injuries and/or the fact that transition takes time. The doomers point towards lack of tactical qualities of the manager, or lack of player purchases and/or lack of investments – having ‘real balls’ – by our major shareholder. I said last season that I would give Wenger one more season to start making real progress, and will leave it till the end of the season to pull my conclusions.

Looking at our remaining six games, they are all winnable; and if we beat Everton this weekend it might well spur us on to get 18 out 18, which would leave us with 82 points at the end of the season. Now, where would that leave us?

Remaining games of current top four:

Arsenal: West Ham, Newcastle United and West Brom at home; Everton, Hull, Norwich away.

Liverpool: Man City, Chelsea and Newcastle United at home, West Ham, Norwich, Crystal Palace away.

Chelsea: Stoke, Sunderland, Norwich at home; Swansea, Liverpool and Cardiff away.

Man City: Southampton, Sunderland, West Brom, West Ham and Aston Villa at home; Liverpool, Crystal Palace, Everton away.

Current League table:

Liverpool: Played 32, 71 points (GD 49)

Chelsea: Played 32, 69 points (GD 38)

Man City: Played 30, 67 points (GD 67)

Arsenal: Played 32, 64 points (GD 19)

Everton: Played 31, 60 points (GD 18)

Liverpool are on a role, but I predict it will come to an end soon. I can see them drop points in at least four of their remaining six games and we might well still catch up with them.

The Chavs have the easiest run-in of all of our competitors and they remain the favourites to win the league. I really hope they don’t, but I reckon they will. They might drop points against Liverpool but should be able to win the rest…. We need another surprise away loss by the Chavs to catch up with them and let’s hope there will be a couple of Welsh Whirlwinds blowing….

Man City are only three points ahead of us but have two games in hand. With five winnable home games they should be uncatchable for Arsenal, although they could drop a lot of points against the Liverpool clubs and CP. If they were to drop two to four points at home, we could still catch up with them, but let’s face it, this is highly unlikely.

So, in fairness, the PL title is a battle between the current top-three, and unless all three slip up disproportionately we will not win the league, even if we were to win all six remaining games. However, there is still every incentive to try and win each and every game, both to secure a top-four finish and see whether we can still finish third or even higher.

Let’s continue to OGAAT and finish as strong as possible: fight for every point till the end.

COYG! 🙂

Just for fun, a few questions for debate:

Who will win the league and why?

Other than Arsenal, who would you like to win the league and why?

What will be the top-five at the end of the season?

What was, according to you, an acceptable finish for Arsenal at the start of the season?

What is an acceptable finish for Arsenal as things stand now?

Do you feel the club has made progress this season and why?

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Ten games in: ToTL, and the best is yet to come!

Will Arsenal improve further once Pod and Theo return?
Will Arsenal improve further once Pod and Theo return?

First of all (of course) I’d like to begin by congratulating the team on an awesome performance against the other in form premier league team in the league. I’ll single out Arteta, Cazorla, Sagna and Ramsey for special praise for Saturday’s performance. They went about their duties in spectacular fashion. It’s good to see that Sagna is getting back to his best AND has learnt to put in a decent cross. Ozil had a quiet game yesterday but still managed an assist thanks to Rambo’s screamer. That’s the mark of a world class player.

Anyway, my focus isn’t just on yesterday’s game. We have reached the ten game mark of the season and there is plenty to be discussed so I’ll get on with it. Firstly, the premier league table speaks volumes on the leaps and bounds that Arsenal has overcome this season. We look a class above everyone else, especially in the league. Top of the table with a 5 point cushion is very significant in a league where competition is cut throat. Of course we have tougher fixtures coming up against Chelsea and ManCity but so far so good. Also, this season has marked the return of our swagger. We play such beautiful football that I could be stuck in the middle of the ocean and still find a way to watch our games.

We still haven’t hit top gear yet as we still don’t show consistently the dominance we should, considering the talent we have in our ranks. This is a good thing because we will still get better. I also think we don’t score nearly as many goals as we can but like I’ve just said, all in good time. There have been a lot of improvements in our team but the one that has impressed me most (and I attribute it to our form) is our spirit. These days Arsenal is a big team, pure and simple. Our ability to win on off days, hold on to a lead, secure points against the run of play and quickly recover from losses has reassured me that, barring a spectacular injury crisis, we are very much title contenders. The win at palace and the recovery at Liverpool are prime examples.

Again I’d like to remind you all, fans and rivals alike,that we are playing this way yet we still haven’t had a full strength side all season. We still have Theo, Podolski and the Ox who are yet to return to the side. I expect the former two to greatly improve our goal output once they return to full body and match fitness. I also expect to see much more from some of our players such as Theo and the Ox.

Another great positive we have on our side this season is the fact that we no longer are dependent on one player. In previous seasons we’ve had players like Van Persie, Cesc and Thierry Henry, whose performances kept us above the surface. Now we have Giroud, Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey, Walcott, Wilshere, Podolski, who have all shown that they have the ability to win us games. It’s almost like with every game, a new hero steps forward.

Aside from all this though there are concerns that have risen in these first ten games that I feel must be addressed. My biggest concern as per now is the fear of some players suffering burn out. The players in particular are Giroud, Ramsey, Koscielny and less so, Ozil. As Bendtner showed against Chelsea, Giroud has no able deputy, especially with Walcott and Poldi still out. He has played virtually every game for us and an injury to him now would be monumental. Ramsey and Koscielny too have been piled with games because of their influence. Once this tricky run of fixtures is over, Wenger really should give them breathers.

My final concern lies within our football. We have been playing well but I feel the team doesn’t do enough when not in possession. Our pressing has improved, I must say, but still isn’t up to par. When we lose the ball in midfield we let the opposition run at us too easily, especially in Flamini’s absentia. There are players I have to commend for their tireless work rate off the ball and these are Giroud, Ramsey, Rosicky and Flamini. When we lose the ball, they are always the first to dive into challenges in a bid to win the ball back and I really rate them for that.

However, pressing can’t be the job of a few individuals but a team effort. There are players who are a bit lazy when we lose possession. Ozil and Cazorla mainly. Wilshere too is developing this but I suspect it has to do with his injury. These two players will rarely chase down the ball even if it is they who lost it in the first place. I sometimes find myself screaming at the TV when they casually escort our opposition players into our danger area.

This has proven very costly because whenever we’ve met teams that are ready to hustle, we struggle. Against Dortmund, we could only conjure some few minutes of possession in the second half, and for a team whose credentials are being questioned at every turn, this is just not good enough. It is something Arsene has pointed out twice so far so I’m hoping he is working tirelessly to improve.

In conclusion, I have to say that we have every reason to be positive. If we can navigate these two months without too many nasty surprises and in January bring in a Lewandowski or two, then the title will be ours to lose. For now, all we can do is take it a game at a time, keep the focus and showcase our premium brand of football that makes every match day worth the wait.

Come On You Gunners!!!!

 

Written by: Marcus

The one ingredient Arsenal have and our competitors are missing

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After we lost to the vile Villains, who would have thought Arsenal fans would feel so upbeat just one month later? Don’t worry though; I am not getting carried away, YET.

I know for sure that I am not the only Gooner who was getting worn out by consecutive seasons of transition. At one point, it started to feel we would never come out of transition, as Arsenal appeared to be unable to hold on to its best players season after season.

But this season appears to be different: all key players stayed, even Vermaelen and Sagna! And instead of losing quality players, we have been able to add, but without overdoing it. The latter might be key: too many new (quality) players mean time and effort is required to fit them into our first team, and that would have meant another transitional year. We only have to look at the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and ManCity, and indeed ourselves, in recent years to know that buying loads of players in one go does not lead to instant success.

Looking back at our recent hard-fought wins against Spuds, Sunderland and Olympique Marseille, there is something about this Arsenal team that our competitors are missing; and long may it continue!

Arsenal have resilience and cohesion: we battle as a team and look like we are in February rather than in September, if you know what I mean.

The media have not picked up on this yet, but it will come sooner or later. I expected ManCity to be in transition, and to some extent, Manchester United, but definitely not Chelsea. My wife always tells me not to repeat a good experience by going there, or doing something, again (holiday resorts, restaurants, climb the same mountain etc), and it usually turns out she was right.

Could the same go for the Chavs:  is the reunion with the ‘happy one’ destined to fail? I certainly hope so, but let’s not get lulled into a false sense of security, yet. It is too early to say whether Maureen can get his team firing on all cylinders again and a period of adversity might just be the thing he needs to get this team focussed again.

For me, they remain our main competitors for winning the league and the more we can create a gap between us and them now, the better. The Chavs play Fulham at home (derbies are never easy) and then Spuds away, and let’s see how they get through these two games.

In the meantime, we just need to focus on our own games: one game at a time (OGAAT). Although I believe we are ahead of our competition right now in terms of team cohesion and competitiveness on the pitch, I will not get carried away as yet.

There are a few areas that need attention:

  • We concede goals too often, and too many in total;
  • We defend too deep, with our midfield often unable/willing to push the opposition back;
  • The lack of back up for Giroud and our increasing reliance on him.

The first point is just an observation right now; let’s wait and see how our defence/team defending will fare over the next five games. We could really do with a couple of clean sheet to get the ‘back five’ properly settled.

The second point seems more of a theme right now. In recent games Arsenal have been pushed back by the opposition during periods of the game, with our midfielders opting to play close to the defence and not allow any space between the lines. This allowed the opposition to get too close to our box and we have been left exposed at times. We got away with it until now, but I hope that Flamini and Ramsey, Ramsey and Jack, Jack and Flamini, or whichever players are positioned in the double DM pivot, will be able to readdress the balance.

There is a theory (Gerry?) that Arsenal sit back deep on purpose – similar to what Chelsea and Manchester United like/liked to do: absorb pressure, and as soon as the ball is won back, counter attack with speed and direct, incisive passing – and this could well be true. But I reckon, we need to work hard on keeping the opposition ten to fifteen yards further away from the box, as it is likely to cost us against the better teams. It will be interesting to see whether we will be able to push the opposition a bit more away from our box if and when Areta returns to the first team.

We have spoken about our over-dependence on Giroud in previous posts. This is not only about his goal and assist contributions which simply have been fantastic until now; it is also about his ability to be our central hub – our ‘holding’ striker – in attack. Let’s hope he’ll last the whole season somehow and that we get reinforcement in January’s transfer window.

But there are quite a few positives for us Gooners at the moment: Giroud’s and Ramsey’s fine all-round form and ability to find the net; the ease with which both Flamini and Ozil have slotted into the team whilst giving us additional robustness, spirit and creativity; the imminent return of the Verminator and Zorro; and the general focus and battle-readiness of the team.

All of the above will be needed but most importantly we need to take it OGAAT! Arsenal are a team in the groove and the next cup-final is on Sunday.

Written by: TotalArsenal.

OGAAT 🙂

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