Arsenal – Liverpool: Time for Theo or Same 11? Line-Up | Preview

Another Must-Win and a Chance to Win Back the Home Support

Early season at the Emirates is ALWAYS a testy time.  The narratives regarding the transfer window are never done and dusted if it’s August, after all.  Add in a traditional and always difficult opponent–Liverpool–unbeaten and yet to give up a goal, plus the disappointment supporters are feeling after a flat opening day performance, and it all makes for a potentially volatile situation.  All that ‘dry powder’ only needs a spark to set it ablaze.

On the other hand, rekindling the rivalry with one of England’s biggest clubs is perhaps exactly what Arsenal–and our home support–need to galvanize the Gunners–and the Gooners–to give their very best.  “You’ll Never Walk Alone” will be the song of the traveling support and a fine one to make them sing–in defiance–as they absorb a defeat at the hands of our club.

That was certainly the refrain back in April, when this fixture was last contested.  In that one, although Arsenal missed a couple of gilt-edged chances–and allowed one at the other end–once the breakthrough was made, it turned into romp.  Width was the answer, and, once we found it, the floodgates opened.  Aaron Ramsey, roaming freely from a wide-right starting berth, put in his fullback, Hector Bellerin, for the first goal.  Mesut Ozil soon doubled the advantage with a stunning free kick and Alexis Sanchez put the tie out of reach with the third goal of the half.  Liverpool supporters had to walk together just for their half-time refreshments.

Given that we don’t play until Monday night, here’s the long version…

That was a fun day out but it hasn’t always been so easy nor so definitive, of course, and we shouldn’t expect anything less than a true challenge under the Monday night lights.

In fact, it was only 4 short years ago, in another early season showdown, that Liverpool put the hurt to us.  I’m remembering the very desultory nil-2 home loss back in August of 2011, Samir Nasri’s last appearance in an Arsenal shirt, and memorable for Emmanuel Frimpong’s sending off.  Frimpong, like Carl Jenkinson and Ignasi Miquel, who had to come on when Laurent Koscielny hobbled off early in the match, were ALL making league debuts and it was a period of great transition at the club.  Soon it was overshadowed by the 8-2 drubbing at Old Trafford.  Football is a game that is always in flux.  We’ve come a long way as a club in those 4 years, yet the old wounds are never far from the surface.

Give this one a watch if you want to see the other side of the coin. The homemade quality of the vid, I think, adds to the sense of just how badly we were feeling our way through the darkness of those times…

This time around, Liverpool are the team in transition.  With two victories and two clean sheets, however, it’s ‘so far, so good’ for our opponents, making it a great test for BOTH teams.

With that mentality they should be both unpredictable and playing with little to lose.  This time, instead of Nasri off to Man City, the big move in that direction is that of Raheem Sterling.  He was likely the most dangerous player in the April match and took away our clean sheet by winning a penalty against Bellerin.  With the absurd money earned from the Sterling transfer (and saved from the departure of Steven Gerrard and his big contract), manager Brendan Rodgers has bought the big Belgian center-forward Christian Benteke from Aston Villa while also acquiring James Milner from the Northern Oilers on a free.  Those two will be at the center of the new Liverpool attack as will Brazilian Phillipe Coutinho who probably has created Pool’s best moment of the young season, scoring a late winner with a shot from distance in their opener at Stoke City.  As we’ve given up goals from outside the box and at set pieces, testing our still settling central defense and new keeper, Petr Cech, with similar shots will surely be on the cards.  We should also be on the alert for attacks down our left side from young winger Jordan Ibe and/or the fullback behind him, another new signing, Nathan Clyne, picked up from Southampton.

As such, Arsenal might need to keep our own wide players leaning just a hair towards defending our own goal before allowing their attacking instincts to take over.  On the ball, it will be important to keep the pitch spread while working hard so that we can win the battles in the center of the pitch.  This is where Liverpool might be most vulnerable as they attempt to replace the presence of their iconic leader, Gerrard.  New Captain Jordan Henderson has been given that charge but he usually requires a bit of help, often in the form of the very competent (but ever cynical), Brazilian Lucas Leiva.  Both, however, are fitness doubts going into the match, meaning Rodgers might have to re-jig and use players like Emre Can to fill in or, perhaps, Milner or Adam Lallana in a deeper than usual spot.

Given these limitations Rodgers might also opt for 3 central defenders.  Martin Skrtl and Dejan Lovren are solid defenders but could possibly use the help of Mamadou Sakho (who played ahead of our own Laurent Koscielny in France’s World Cup squad) or former Gunner, Kolo Toure.

It makes sense to me, given that our attack had periods of real menace in our 2-1 victory at Crystal Palace.  I believe Arsene Wenger will set out an unchanged 11, but, you never know, and this could be a spot where Theo Walcott gets a chance up front alone or as part of a front 3 with Alexis and Olivier Giroud.  Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a starter in the opening match, is another option, wide right.  The partnership of Ramsey, starting from that spot but clearly in a free role, though with an eye to combine with Bellerin–and help him at the defensive end–doesn’t fit with many fans more rigid ideas about positions and formations, but, I think, serves our purposes best, especially in these tougher, tighter matches.  Here then is the team I believe Wenger will put out.

Bench = Ospina, Debuchy, Gibbs, Gabriel, Arteta, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain

Of course, Wenger may have some other tricks up his sleeve and he might be keen to try out some other options just to avoid being seen as too predictable too early in the season. Could there be some changes elsewhere in the line-up?  Might Captain Mikel Arteta–who looked a calming force late on at Palace–get a start in place of Coquelin?  Could Wenger change things up in the back line or try something really off the wall?  Your guess is as good as mine, but–even if we’re not quite firing on all cylinders–I believe this line-up, which, except for Cech in as keeper–is the same as we played in April, seems unbroken enough to avoid fixing.

But, that’s just me.  What say the (other) Would-be-Wengers?  Is this a time to keep to a conservative approach (and line-up) or is it early enough in the season to give it a real go and show the players and fans that the opener was just a one-off and that we can take it to a bigger club like Liverpool?  Should the manager stick with tried and true or go younger and deeper (not to mention faster and harder… 🙂 …) from the opening kick?  Have at it… After all, somehow we have to make it through the rest of the weekend and all the way to Monday night before we see the real thing.

by 17highburyterrace

Theo and Nacho for Welbeck and Gibbs: Preview & Predicted Line-Up

Arsenal – Everton  Match Preview

The Show Must Go On 


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Every time Arsenal disappoints a portion of our Gooners souls are crushed.  In drawing AS Monaco in the round of 16 many Gooners believed we finally had a chance to get a bit deeper into the Champions League eliminations.  If we could beat them in a bit of style, draw a team in the quarters who maybe didn’t quite have their feet totally under themselves, well, who knows, anything is possible in football.

Wednesday night may have proved that adage, but not as expected.  Hopeful Gooners didn’t see it coming, but we witnessed a nervous performance and a capitulation which took us aback.  Moderate early dominance led to a realization that our opponent was well organized and difficult to break down.  A lucky (and deflected) strike from distance gave them the away goal and the upper hand in the tie.  There was no initial panic but we made no headway as we played out the first 45.

After halftime there seemed increased desire but still no equalizer.  We pushed and we pushed but maybe we pushed too much.  A simple loss of possession high up the pitch led to missed tackles and chasing on the break.  2-nil.  More chances, many rushed, all squandered, until, finally, substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got one back.  Those who had stayed in the stadium had a little something to get excited about.  Except they didn’t.  Too eager from the kickoff, the Ox made another dash at goal but left the ball behind.  Again the break was on and Monaco finished it, and most likely our Champions League hopes, in ruthless fashion.

Now, with just three days of rest to find perspective and regroup, Arsenal face always tough Everton in front of our none-too-happy home support.  It will not be an easy match. In fact, we haven’t beaten this club (in the league) in our last 5 attempts, but a reaction is necessary.  Arsenal need a result and a performance, both to maintain their position in the league and to restore a bit of belief amongst the players and the fans.

It could be argued we’re playing Everton at a good time.  They actually come into the match on even less rest due to their Europa League exploits.   At least they will be riding a wave of confidence, having beaten BSC Young Boys (Switzerland) 3-1 and completing a 7-2 aggregate win over two legs.  For winning that they will face two more Thursday matches against Dinamo Kiev, one of which will require travel to war-torn Ukraine.  All of that will be only for a chance to get to the quarter-finals of the Europa League.  Still, given that they’re in the bottom half of the league table, winning that tournament is their best chance of getting into next year’s Champions League.

It’s a far cry from the scare the Toffees gave us a season ago, when losing to them in a desultory 3-0 at Goodison Park in April shunted them into (and us out of) the top four Champions League places.  We were able to win our remaining six matches (including the FA Cup final) while they stumbled, but it still remains an indication of the threat posed by the Blues.  Roberto Martinez’ team may need to prioritize their progress in Europe but they will surely do so fighting for every scrap of confidence they can find.  Nothing would help more than a composed performance and stealing points against wounded Arsenal.

As such, I expect a composed and committed performance from Everton.  Can we match it?  In my opinion, composure is what we lacked in the mid-week loss.  Some might have seen a lack of spirit or passion in that performance, but I saw players, if anything, trying too hard, rushing their chances and losing their discipline, especially when it came to positioning as the match wore on.  Monaco was playing us to absorb our attack and spring on the counter and we obliged by stepping into the trap.  A similar dynamic will likely play out in the Everton match.  As much as we need to make a statement in front of our home fans, it must be done in methodical fashion.  Patience, never the long-suit amongst Gooners, could be a watch-word.

Everton’s most recent league match, at home, against attack-minded Leicester City, showed that they can be broken down.  In that one, the visitors, despite going behind against the run of play, scored two goals in the 2nd half and were unlucky to leave Goodison with only a point, a late own-goal rescuing the draw for the home team.  They may switch things up against us, but their rearguard, featuring American keeper Tim Howard and all British back four (Phil Jagielka, John Stones or Sylvain Distin , Leyton Baines and Seamus Coleman) can be breached.  Martinez typically allows the fullbacks freedom to get forward but then packs the center of the pitch with midfielders known as much for their defending as their attack.  Gareth Barry is the most notorious for his cynicism but James McCarthy and Muhamed Besic, while possessing a bit more trickery and pace, are players who play with commitment and defensive focus.  Ross Barkley, the talented but hot-tempered English youngster can be dangerous, both in getting forward on the dribble and spotting the through-ball.  Up front, the focus is on the big man Romelu Lukaku, but keying on him comes with the peril of ignoring more consistent finishers like Stephen Naismith and Kevin Mirallas.   Despite their struggles this season and their likely desire to focus on Europe, we should not believe that Everton will be pushovers.

How will Arsene Wenger try and get our boys up for this challenge and who will he pick to do the job?  While some Gooners will call for wholesale changes after the Monaco match, I seriously doubt Wenger will answer those calls.  Many are pointing fingers at David Ospina and want Wojcheik Szczesny back in goal.  Others are still having nightmares from the failures of our two tallest (and slowest?) players, Olivier Giroud and Per Mertesacker, and wish to leave them out.  Still others lament over the work ethic (or lack thereof) of Mesut Ozil, or the fact that Santi Cazorla was unable to put a definitive stamp on the CL match.  Sorry, I don’t see any of them being dropped.

Time for the god of speed  to step it up.
Time for the god of speed to step it up.

Instead, I believe our indiscipline was mainly at the full-back positions so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nacho Monreal in for Kieran Gibbs.  Hector Bellerin may also make way for Calum Chambers, although he may be seen as the better alternative for containing Baines.  With Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini still unavailable and Jack Wilshere undergoing a minor surgery, Francis Coquelin will have to reprise his role in defensive midfield.  Oxlade-Chamberlain, who came on in his stead on Wednesday, is unlikely to get his spot.  While he got us on the board in midweek, his over-eagerness also was at the heart of Monaco’s late killer.  On the other hand, Theo Walcott, who came on for the ineffectual Giroud, I think, may finally get a start.  If he does, my bet is that it’s at the expense of Welbeck rather than big Ollie, who helps so much in giving our offense its shape and defending at set pieces.

Here then is my best guess at our first 11.

ars v everton Feb 15

(Subs = Szczesny, Gibbs, Gabriel, Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Welbeck)

As matches following tough CL games go, Everton is not a great opponent to face.  Additionally, while a home tie would seem to favour us, the hostility of the disappointed support will always be lurking and ready to rear its ugly head should we concede early or even look less than fully in control.  We need to start the match well and make early chances count.  Full focus will be expected and required.

Can we get the needed reaction and all three points? 

Will Wenger go with a largely unchanged group or try out some of his more rested players? 

Is this a time to rotate or does he wait for Wednesday at QPR? 

Who would you play and why?

This is a big one.  We have no choice but to get right back on top of the horse which bucked us off.   We simply must.  Go on then…

By 17highburyterrace

Theo in Trouble: Would he make Arsenal’s Best-11?

A nightmare on Arsenal's wing

My previous post (in which I pointed out our need for improvement) was inspired by performances such as that against Crystal Palace. We were very lucky to leave with three points and in my opinion, given the squad we have, these aren’t words that should be coming out of my mouth – much less against such opposition. Anyway, the important thing is we got the three points and I’m hoping we have taken the lessons from that game.

My post today comes from a very curious place. I have noticed that Welbeck & the Ox have been getting the nod over Theo despite the fact that he is one of our team’s best finishers. Interestingly, when I watched Welbeck play against the Spuds, I thought to myself that Theo is in a very precarious position right now. I didn’t think anything of it at the time but the more I see how our team is playing the more I fear for him.

Apart from Sanchez, I doubt there is a better finisher in our team than Theo. The problem is he offers very little when we are chasing possession. You watch how hard the Ox, Welbz, Alexis (obviously), Santi & even Ozil work to win back possession, and you begin to see Theo in a new light. In truth, he doesn’t work hard enough for the team. When we don’t have possession Theo is more of a ‘lurker’. He lurks around waiting for one of his team mates to win back possession and he sparks into life. Mesut Ozil learned the hard way but is now one of our 4 top performers.

What makes this situation even more ominous is that these days we aren’t the Arsenal who used to dominate games from minute zero to 90. In a game like against Crystal Palace, Theo’s shortcomings would have been laid bare for all to see. On top of that, he would be playing opposite Alexis whose work rate would put him to shame. When we signed Alexis we signed someone who would take our team to a new level. He is simply an inspirational character. That is why some of our players have taken their games up a notch.

To be fair to Theo, he missed a whole year of football. Arsene Wenger said (and rightly so) that the pre-injury Theo was the best he had ever seen and that is why I am still backing him to regain his place in the starting 11. That said he can’t afford to rest on his laurels. When Theo got injured he left a team that was to some extent dependent on him and his goals, but he returned to find a team with stars everywhere on the field. He no longer can waltz into the team like he used to.

I still believe that Theo will get back to his best and reclaim his place. He will find that doing that isn’t as easy as he may have imagined. And who can complain when everyone in the team is making each other better?


Thanks Voetbal International for picture
Thanks Voetbal International for picture

By Marcus

Theo/Ozil represent 0.6 goals & assists per game: Season starts here!


Unless absolutely everything goes our way in the next four months, I reckon this will become a season of which we will ask ourselves what could have been if we had not had so many injuries during the first half of it.

Now that Koz is back and back-up has been brought in (Paulista), Coquelin is 99% close to signing a new contract, Ramsey is getting back to the engine we know him to be and Super Jack is back in training, we are looking strong at the back and in the middle of the park.

Furthermore, and even more excitingly, our attacking options are back to full strength now, with Ozil and Theo fully back and Giroud having totally settled back in again. Our superstar Alexis has been phenomenal and held the fort whilst the others were recuperating. Of course, he had help from the likes of Welbeck and Ox, but they are both work in progress, especially when it comes to the bread and butter stats of goals and assist.

We know that these are all very good players, but the beauty is that Wenger can now choose from his very best attackers, both in terms of producing assists and scoring goals.

These are the assists v games played ratios (data from 2009/2010 season to now, source ‘Whoscored’):

  Total games / Assists Assists per game ratio
Walcott 162/34 0.21
Ozil 222/90 0.41
Giroud 176/21 0.12
Alexis 205/45 0.22
Carzola 213/43 0.20
Ramsey 161/21 0.13
Welbeck 157/12 0.08
Ox 95/10 0.11
Rosicky 149/13 0.09
Wilshere 130/16 0.12

So, in terms of our strongest team in attack from an assists producing point of view, we would aim to field Walcott, Ozil, Alexis, Santi and Ramsey in our five directly attack-involved positions.


And these are goals v games played ratios (data from 2012/2013 season to now, source ‘Wiki’).

  Total games / goals Goals per game ratio
Walcott 67/28 0.42
Ozil 103/19 0.18
Giroud 111/46 0.41
Alexis 131/51 0.39
Cazorla 126/25 0.20
Ramsey 102/24 0.24
Welbeck 99/19 0.19
Ox 83/7 0.08
Rosicky 69/8 0.12
Wilshere 84/8 0.10

So, in terms of our strongest team in attack from a goal scoring perspective, we would aim to field: Walcott, Giroud, Alexis, Ramsey and Cazorla.

Surprise, surprise almost the same players who produce the most assists per game also score the most goals per game, with Ozil producing significantly more career assists than Santi, and Santi scoring a tad more goals per game than the German. Between them, these five to six players produce on average 1.17 assist and 1.66 goals per game.

Our current PL goal tally is 39 from 22 games, 1.8 goals per game and that includes the entire squad of course. I predict that we will see a steep improvement in goals per game in the last four months of the season: by possibly a third, meaning an average goals per game ratio of 2.4.

The thing is Ozil, Theo, Alexis, Santi, Giroud and Ramsey are now all fit to play together, and there is every chance that between them they will improve each others contributions, in terms of assists and goals, even further. And the longer they play the more effective they can all become.

You can also see from the stats above that the return of Ozil and Theo is absolutely paramount to the success of the team: together they can contribute 0.62 assists and 0.6 goals per game. It will take a bit of the pressure away from Santi and especially Alexis, and give us far more balance in terms of spreading assists and goals throughout the team.

The stats also show why we should expect (and want) the likes of Ox, Welbeck and Rosicky to provide back up rather than be first choice. Rosicky is of course a very strong option to have on the bench, and both Ox and Welbeck are still young and hopefully will develop strongly in the next season or two. Jack might also struggle to get back into the team as a regular first starter once he is back.

Let’s hope we can see these five to six top assists and goals producers play together very regularly from now on, so the fun can really begin.

By TotalArsenal.

Ozil & Theo pure class | Rosicky true Gunner | Szczesny is BACK | BFG missed: Eight positives from game

Thanking Voetbal International for picture. Theo is BACK!
Thanking Voetbal International for picture. Theo is BACK!

We are through to the next round after a typical FA Cup battle against a first meek, and then resurgent, Brighton & HA.

Our football during the first half was very, very good. Wenger had opted to play Giroud central, with a beautiful variety of midfielders and the king of speed behind and around him. The Seagulls’ pitch looked very large on TV and we really knew how to use the space. Of course the very early goal helped to settle our nerves, as we could strut our stuff with flair and confidence. Rosicky was rampant and Ozil majestic, Rambo was motoring and Theo looked indeed like a brand new, shiny signing.

We played like the Arsenal we know and love and I guess the only thing missing was the all important third goal. In a cup game there is always a chance that the opponent gets an unexpected goal and then hell breaks lose…. and so it did.

A wild clearance by Rosicky puts Chambers in trouble and the young Englishman’s response is not strong enough; O’Grady smells his opportunity and skins Flamini far too easily; his shot is instinctive, hard and well placed: Koz, on the unfamiliar Right CB side, cannot block it and Szczesny has absolutely no chance. 1-2 with forty minutes to go: not good.

Luckily, we score the all important third goal within 10 minutes of O’Grady’s and all seems under control again. But another piece of bad collective defending leads to a good through ball which Baldock chipped impressively over Szczesny, who once again had no chance. A game like this helps us all to see how important the BFG is for this team: his organisation and leadership skills and reading of the game were badly missed today.

2-3 with 15 minutes to go, and, given this weekend’s freak results, this does not feel good. Luckily, Arsene can bring on fresh blood and both Akpom and Alexis succeed in taking the pressure away from our brittle, makeshift looking defence and midfield. We have a few more good chances for a fourth goal, but the game finishes without any further goals.

Arsenal are through and survive the FACUP-apocalypse. Reason for collective happiness? Ahhh not so in spoilt Goonerland..

Eight Positives:

  1. How good is Rosicky? A fine, measured assist for Ozil and a brilliant goal to take us to the fifth round. It is such a bonus to have him in our side and I hope he will stay a few more years at least. He drove us on and made such good use of the fantastic movement of his fellow attackers. What a player.
  2. Ozil looked very good, especially given his lengthy absence. His goal was very well taken, with a great first touch and using both of his feet very well to get the shot away. Is there a slicker looking, more intelligent midfielder in the country? Pure class.
  3. Theo was hungry and healthily selfish, and his goal was sublime: a superb first touch, followed by a quick turn and razor sharp shot into the corner. WOW! He had great energy and thrust and once fully up to speed, he will be unstoppable, especially if he can find a balance between selfishness and VCC.
  4. All three goals were beauties. We have seen Liverpool, Man City and Man United play 90 minutes against lower league opposition and not score a single goal this weekend. We score three and all of them are very well taken goals; and we could have had more. And today our usual goal scorers, Giroud and Alexis, did not even get on the score sheet. Having our goals spread across the team is just brilliant.
  5. Szczesny had a faultless return to the team and played with great concentration. I was particularly pleased to see he had no rush of blood for Brighton’s second goal: rather than diving desperately in front of Baldock, he just made himself as big as he could to put the striker off. It did not pay off but at least he did not cause a penalty and a red card. I am not the biggest fan of Wojciech but he impressed me today.
  6. Akpom is no Giroud and will never be, as they are two different types of centre forwards. But his cameo impressed me. There was plenty of space for him of course, as Brighton & HA were taking more risks at the latter stage of the game, which suited him well. He ran well at defenders and helped to release the pressure on our defence a lot, and I liked his confidence.
  7. Giroud played really well for the team and gave great shape to our attack, especially in the first half. How important has he become? His goals and assists tally per game is very impressive this season, but he is also happy to play for the team and work hard to create space and opportunities for others. Is there a better holding striker in the PL? Top man and vitally important.
  8. Last but not least, is the strength of our squad right now. When we had to dig deep, we brought on Alexis, Akpom and Coquelin, and there were other options like the BFG and Cazorla on the bench. At the business end of the season, it is great to have such strength in depth and let’s hope that Paulista, if indeed his signing for Arsenal goes ahead, can stand in for BFG, as we are desperate for a proper left sided back-up CB in the short term.

An intriguing game with the desired outcome and plenty of positives to take to our next game: bring on the Villians! 🙂

By TotalArsenal.

The Coquelin Miracle, Streetwise Alexis, Koz is back: Eight positives from game.


How easy was that? Easiest win of the season as the Orcs were scared into submission with all that bright light and unattainable football quality at the home of football.

They tried to rough us up for a while but Koz and Alexis put them to the sword with great ease, and that was it: job done. The only thing I regret is that we let the Debuchy injury go unpunished: sometimes I wish we were more streetwise and show the rest of the PL that we will not be messed with.

Eight Positives from the game:

  1. Alexis keeps delivering and was totally unimpressed with anything the Orcs threw at him. He is very streetwise and fantastic at avoiding contact with opponents when it is best to do so, yet he is not scared of any one and made of granite. His assist was simple and effective: just a case of quick thinking and good delivery; his first goal was very clever: he gave the keeper the eye, indicating he would once again opt for the far  corner (just before that Begovic had made a fine safe from a similar attempt) and then steering it precisely into the near corner; and then there was the free-kick: a touch of luck but great capitalisation on the Orcs’ nerves. What a Player!
  2. The triangle of the disciplined Coquelin, the wise Rosicky and the creative Santi. It worked very well again (as Gerry and others have already pointed out). Key is Rosicky’s understanding of the role, which is all about finding the balance of defensive support for Coquelin and adding attacking impetus by giving Santi support. Rosa did this very well. Coquelin was composed and strong and excelled in keeping it simple: what is happening all of a sudden….. a mini miracle in my opinion! Santi played with zest and passed the ball round incisively: our Spanish maestro seems to accept/understand that he is better suited in creating chances/key passes for others this season, rather than desperately being at the end of them all the time. With the likes of Alexis, Giroud and now Theo up-front we have very good goal scorers and what they need is silver service, and Santi’s is delivering it very nicely indeed right now.
  3. Koz looked sharp and played well for the whole game. We all know how important he is for this team, not just in his own role but also in terms of getting the best out of the BFG and the LB position. It looks like we are going to miss Debuchy for a while but if we can get Koz involved, fully fit, for the rest of the season then that is a huge plus.
  4. Ospina dealt well with the little threat he had to deal with, but, more importantly, he seemed to fit well with the back-four. They all seemed relaxed and trusting of Ospina and that is a good sign for a goalie that has played so few games for Arsenal. I had a feeling The Colombian would start (as per preview), but it appears that Wenger did not tell Wojciech his decision to not play him till just before the start of the game. I am sure this will be continued and let’s hope Szczesny senior will keep his gob shut.
  5. Bellerin did really well at RB and is progressing on a par with his blistering speed. Ox showed lots of energy and thrust, and is getting closer to meaningful contributions (goals and assists). Nacho played with real bite and lots of healthy aggression. Giroud battled well and played in the service of the team, and he also did well to stand above the Orcs’ attempts to provoke him.
  6. Ozil and Theo are back. Bliss.
  7. We are above the Spuds and gained three points on the Mancs.
  8. Clean Sheet.

So, a good, easy win with plenty of positives to take from. And the perfect preparation for the battle with the Northern Oilers? 

What did you make of the game?

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Debuchy CB, Theo Starts, Coquelin for Ox? Liverpool Preview & Line-Up

Let’s get cool in the pool: Preview & Line-Up

Time for Le Coq to shine?
Time for Le Coq to shine?

After two great results and fine attacking football, in Istanbul and THOF, confidence levels are high and so are our expectations. Pool are a shadow of their former self and have become a team without bite: last season they scored for fun and now they hardly get more than one goal per game. We could be on the up now and Liverpool are struggling. Losing out to Basel for the CL will have hurt them badly and  their league position is even worse than ours (given expectation levels at the start of the season for both clubs).

Yet, I am nervous about this one. I guess the ‘good’ thing is we got an awful hiding from them last year, which will help Wenger to point out the importance of defending well in this game. We remain vulnerable at the back though, especially with Koz still unavailable. In a way, Liverpool have nothing to lose and will still have the sweetest of memories of last year’s encounter. This combination, further fuelled by a loyal and vociferous home crowd and a good away win mid-week, could be a dangerous one for us. Let’s pray they don’t score early and the team suffer from a horrible deja-vu experience.


I have seen Arsenal a few times at Anfield. It is a great, traditional stadium with a fantastic atmosphere, and there is a lot of respect for Arsenal, both for our football and the way the club is managed. It was at Anfield where I first saw Cesc Fabregas in action. He played next to Vieira and opposite of another great midfielder, Gerrard. I will never forget that game for Vieira’s and Gerrard’s goals, and especially for Fabregas’ incredible ability to read the game and anticipate where the ball would be in the next few seconds. I knew straightaway he would become a great footballer.

I also will never forget how Thierry Henry got a standing ovation from the Pool and away supporters at the end of the FA cup game that we won there (1-3). He had scored the last goal in real style, out-pacing and out-smarting Jamie Carragher from the centre of midfield with a fabulous run and a very composed finish. It was so great to witness this with my own eyes.

Liverpool is a fine football city and nowhere in the country, other than the good parts of North-London, is there more respect for good football – and therefore Arsenal – than in Merseyside.

But tomorrow we will play there a very important game and for ninety plus minutes there is no time for sentimentality. A win would put a lot of distance between them and us and would be a perfect start to the congested Christmas schedule.  We have a bit of momentum now and it is important to keep it going.

In order to do so, we need to stay cool in the pool. I reckon Wenger will opt for 4-2-1-3 or even ‘6-4’, with a split in responsibilities between the ‘6’, mainly responsible for defending, and the ‘4’, mainly responsible for attacking. Only the FBs will have a bit more freedom to support the attack – one at a time – but the rest of the ‘6’ will be tasked to keep it tight – at least for the start of the game. Wenger really does not want to give Pool any encouragement that we will leave a lot of space for them to attack us. We want to control that game, and with our superior strike-force we can and should be patient, as our chances will come.

My predicted line-up is:

Ars v Liverpool Dec 14

I reckon Le Coq will play instead of Ox, unless the latter is fully fit. Even then Wenger might opt to play the Frenchman next to his fellow countryman, Flamini, against Pool. Arteta is still not available and Ramsey is out too, and Coquelin comes closest to Arteta’s style of play (and has more experience that the popular options on this blog of Chambers or Hayden).

At the back, I reckon Wenger will stick with Debuchy as CB partner to the BFG, with Chambers (available again) replacing Bellerin as RB. With Chambers, BFG, Szczesny and Gibbs we have four out of five players playing in their best positions, and only MD is out of position. Debuchy is versatile and experienced and I reckon he is the better option at CB than Chambers (or Hayden). It is not ideal but it will have to do…

Up-front is where it really gets exciting. Theo could be back, but I don’t think he will start. It would be great to see him on the bench though. Cazorla picks himself for the hole position and I reckon it will be Welbeck and Alexis on the wings, with OG in the middle.

Wenger will pick his strongest team after they all had eight days of rest and this surely is the biggest test of the festive season (with the Hammers away game coming close though). He is also likely to opt for the above mentioned initial division of a defending and an attacking team, in order to keep it tight and calm, whilst waiting for our opportunity to pounce. Not everyone will like a more defensive approach but I reckon anything else is likely to cost us badly.

I expect it to be tight with one to three goals, unless one of the teams scores early….. and let’s hope it will be us if this were to be the case.

Come On You Rip-Roaring Gunners – Let The Canon Roar!

Written by: TotalArsenal.


Walcott start, Sanchez in hole, Hayden DM? Arsenal v Burnley Preview

The Burnley Preview

Will we see the Pod?
Will we see the Pod?

For once, I think this is all about us, and how well we play, which makes this preview a lot easier to write. Not that we can just dismiss Burnley out of hand. If we play badly we could easily lose. They may be a bit suspect at the back, but they are a ‘team’, and will play like one.

Apart from that, they are capable of scoring, given the opportunity. It is up to us not to give them that opportunity.

Not unusual this season, we go into the game with injury doubts over Jack Wilshere and Keiren Gibbs. The latter is clearly the one that will call for a bigger reshuffle, even if he is only on the bench. But with Kos already out, the back 4 probably picks itself.

The most likely scenario is: Bellerin, Chambers, Mertersacker, and Monreal.

In midfield, I think Arteta and Ramsey are the likely back pair, but after the first 10 minutes or so, I expect Ramsey to get forward in the B2B role regularly.

Whilst the attacking trio, without Wilshere, will be: Ox, Cazorla, and Alexis. Or will it?

Leaving Welbeck up front.

The Bench will be interesting if you follow this list of possibilities, because apart from Martinez, the remainder all have a prefix of ‘Could start’:

Flamini, Hayden, Rosicky, Podolski, Walcott, Campbell, and Gnabry.

Now this is where we get to play musical chairs with ‘could start’s’?

Supposing, if you take the base listed above, and AW wants to repeat the DM base of Arteta and Flamini….. Ramsey could then displace Cazorla or the Ox?

Hayden starting throws up all sorts of permutations. At CB he could indirectly displace Bellerin by having Chambers go back to RB? At DM he could partner Arteta, and have Ramsey repeat the above. Indeed, he could displace Arteta and partner Ramsey? That would probably mean he would have to fly solo some of the time, and that would be an interesting experiment?

Rosicky? Whilst possible to put him deep, I would think he would more likely displace the Ox; which makes the OX available for the ‘fresh legs’, and he seems to pick up the pace of the game quicker than Rosicky does these days?

Podolski has a good chance of giving Welbeck a back seat, although that might take a tweak in the formation to a 4-3-3? And as a surprise element it might work, but maybe a step too far? However, still replacing Welbeck in a reprise of the Sunderland game, partnering Alexis up front could be a better option?

Walcott.. is this really on? Well yes, because AW has been saying he is fit enough, just needs to get used to the knocks. Burnley are a solid enough side to give him a stress test; so a real runner, excuse the pun.

The big question who he might replace? Ox is the obvious one, unless he moves over to the other wing, and Alexis takes over the playmaker role from Cazorla?

Campbell? Only if Ox is jettisoned for Walcott, and Alexis moves inside as above, thus making space down the left, but he is equally capable of switching wings with Theo. So although an outside possibility, it still has some merit?

Finally Gnabry. Now, I think he would be a straight swap for Welbeck, but clearly the Ox/Walcott slot would be another possibility? If not this week, then some time soon I can see him lining up alongside either Alexis or Danny?

Now whilst that was a bit of fun, you could repeat the same exercise if Gibbs is declared fit.

Compared to the importance of the CL match coming up, where his pace will be vital, I don’t think his absence here will make much difference.

However, I would say if he plays, the twin pivot is more likely. Monreal will not get forward that much, and may not need to, given the above options on that wing?

Actually, it is a bit like a Chinese meal, you can take one option from one area and another option from another, if they are compatible, and mix and match.

Key questions:

Sanchez in the No 10(advanced), in place of Cazorla?

Walcott to start?

Hayden in the DM slot? Or CB?

Bellerin at RB, with Monreal at LB?

Who would be a manager, eh?

Whatever side is chosen, and we can all have our own ideas, I think we should just be too strong, provided we ‘keep it simple(stupid)’ or a KISS for jgc, pass and move, keep our width, and be more clinical with our shooting …

Is that too much to expect?

For the record, my team would be this:

Arsenal v Burnley

With Campbell and Walcott eager to impress out wide, Alexis pulling the strings up front, and Poldi not coming back to defend. DM pairing putting up an effective barrier, and either of them pushing forward to make the extra man. Speed out of defence: from Bellerin to Walcott or Hayden to Campbell; and Alexis down the middle and Poldi to get a brace, Walcott to set up an Alexis hat-trick, and Campbell to open his account …. SIX NIL I hear you cry…

They could, you know?

Keep the faith.

Written by: Gerry.

Theo in – Jack or Aaron out? Yeah right!

How will Wenger fit Theo in?

The time for experimenting with our attacking line-up might soon come to an end. As soon as Theo returns, I reckon Arsene will start lining us up with DAT attack: Danny, Alexis and Theo. If you are not excited about seeing these three heading our attack, it is time to pay your GP a visit, or simply book a one-way ticket to doctor GLIC in award winning Cornwall.

The return of Theo the final piece in the jigsaw?
The return of Theo the final piece in the jigsaw?

Danny – Alexis – Theo: DAT Attack to Conquer the PL

We all know what a fit Theo brings to the team, and we have missed him a lot since he was carried off the pitch sticking two fingers up to the Spuds supporters. Theo adds thrust and fast counter football and of course goals and assists.

But he is not the only one: both Welbeck and Sanchez are also fast and direct, and the three together will be a threat to any team in the PL and Europe.

Of course, an abundance of pace works best with plenty of space, and when we play the park the bus teams all that pace might become less influential. There is no doubt in my mind that Alexis can work in both attacking scenarios (pace and space or intricate and tight) and that Arsene will further develop Danny to become a fully rounded attacker – and the first signs are very encouraging. Theo, we know, is less effective when we face park the bus teams, but with the likes of Mesut, Jack or Santi spreading the balls, he could still be effective even in those situations.

But, just to illustrate the depth we have now in attack, if Theo does not hack it in such a game, we can bring on Santi, Ox, or eventually, Campbell who can all operate well in tight spaces. We are simply blessed with attackers.

If we start with ‘DAT attack’ will Arsene change the formation?

It would make sense to revert back to 4-2-1-3 and play either Ozil or Jack in the hole, and for now, play a combo of Flamini, Ramsey, Arteta and Diaby (or Jack) in the double DM-pivot.

However, it looks like Wenger will stick with his 4-1-4-1 formation, which means that either Theo or Alexis gets the free role, either supporting the striker or the ‘nr.10’ a lot. With Danny or, eventually, OG playing CF, we would have just three spaces left. And as per my post a few days ago, I would not be surprised if Aaron – or as 17HT suggested, Jack – is moved into the deeper DM role, leaving the two central midfield roles for either Ozil, Rambo and Jack.

So a midfield and attack of:



Theo—Jack/Rambo—Ozil— Alexis


Many will argue that Flamini or Arteta will play in the deeper midfield role, and that either Jack or Rambo will be benched. But I just cannot see that happen. Once Theo is back, and all midfielders and attackers are fit, Wenger will have to make a choice, and I reckon the above will become Arsene ‘best six’.

But what do you think, FFGs: what will our team look like once Theo returns?

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Losing Theo is a disaster! Really?!

Don’t worry about Theo, our core team will see us through.

Theo out is a knock, but it will allow others to shine!
Theo out is a knock, but it will allow others to shine!

It looks like Wenger is still looking for his best formation and ideal eleven starters. Will we continue with a holding striker who enables the midfield to get closer to the goal and produce their magic, or will we start playing more and more with a fluid- three up-front, or even move to a 4-6-0 sort of formation?

We do of course need a lot more than eleven players to make it through a season, but I reckon most if not all teams work around a core of 11 to 15/16 players for most of the matches. Every team needs a strong unit around which it builds its style of football, its confidence and ultimately, if all goes well, its success. The rest is there mainly for cover and future potential.

Now that Arsene is finally in a position that he can keep hold of the talents he develops and has money to add top talents and established quality players, we will see the team grow from strength to strength. Theo’s injury is painful but in a way also interesting as it gives a few ‘fringe players’ a unique chance to nestle themselves into the very core of the team.

Wenger’s current core eleven players appear to be Szczesny, Sagna, BFG, Koz, Gibbs, Flamini, Ramsey, Ozil, Jack, Santi and Giroud. His core 16 players are the core eleven plus Vermaelen, Nacho, Arteta, Rosicky and Podolski. I have a lot of confidence is these 16 warriors. It is a mixture of talented youth and experienced players in their late twenties and as a team they are developing quickly.

If Theo had not got injured he would have been in the core eleven, probably at the cost of Ramsey, Jack or Santi. With Ox coming back and Gnabry starting to make the headlines there is healthy pressure on the core team to keep performing well. It is clear that the defenders and goal keeper feel very little of such pressure and the midfielders are also without much threat, as there are plenty of games for all of them to play regularly.

Some say we need another attacker, but with Pod, Giroud, and hopefully soon again Bendtner we have three good front men and, with our midfielders now scoring regularly as well, you have to wonder whether another striker is our first priority right now. We can get goals from Podolski, Giroud, Ozil, Santi, Ramsey, Bendtner, Jack, Rosicky, and hopefully Ox and Gnabry will also get regularly on the score sheet. It would be nice though.

I reckon we are most vulnerable to an injury to either Mertesacker or Flamini, and it is in these areas were we should spend our money first. You could even argue that getting a quality right back is Wenger’s biggest priority as it would free up Sagna for the Mertesacker role. Sagna could also be our beast of a DM and even Vermaelen could be developed into one; in which case we need to buy another CB for cover.

Let’s keep it solid at the back and in front of the back five, and hopefully we’ll buy some more quality steel this January. Key is for our attacking midfielder and front men to find more cohesion between them and to get more value out of our full backs in the attacking third of the pitch. Sagna is doing really well and Gibbs and Nacho are getting close to becoming a real force on the left.

The goals will keep coming and there is a lot more stretch in this team with regards to this. Santi is hitting form, Ox is soon fully back, Ozil can do better, Pod is raring to go again, Jack is starting to score, Ramsey is soon back, Bendtner might have turned a corner, Gnabry is showing real promise and Giroud will be back with a vengeance.

Yes, it would have been really nice to have Theo as well, but our strong core will see us through. The likes of Ox, Santi, Rosicky, Gnabry will fill the gap for us: plenty of competition!

Do you agree?

What is your core eleven?

Is our core eleven enough to win us the title?

Where would you strengthen the team if we could only get one player this January?

Up The Arse!


Written by: TotalArsenal.