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

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Arsenal – Everton: 3-1 (Theo, Santi, Ozil – Barkley)

Wow, I did not expect that. I went to the pub to watch the game, and, like in a tacky dream, nobody was there, except the barman, who did not even know the Arse were on. The pub can easily hold 200 guests and especially during rugby matches the place can be heaving. But there I sat with a pint of Kronenbourg 1664, a packet of C&O crisps, and the single best seat in the pub, watching the Arsenal.

What I did expect to see, was a relatively slow, well-polished performance with plenty of possession, and both teams showing lots of mutual respect and having some decent chances, with the game finishing 1-1 or so.

How wrong I was. Arsenal meant business, and just as Villa had been outplayed during our last meaningful game, the Toffees were not given a chance (other than a ‘gift’ by the Ox) during the entire match either. The boys played with hunger and focus, and above all a maturity and togetherness I have never witnessed before during our previous preseasons. It is early days of course, but the first signs are very promising.

Here are my eight positives from the game:

  1. Giroud and Theo were played together and it added another dimension to our play. Together with Wilshere they moved all over the attacking part of the pitch and made it very hard to defend against us. We had a holding pivot in Ollie and a deadly penetrator in Theo; but they were also prepared to switch roles – Giroud even did a bit of impressive wing play, getting past his man and getting the ball into the box on more than one occasion. Our midfielders had options when in possession and initiating attacks, and it must have been a nightmare for the Toffees to defend against a ‘three-dimensional’ Arsenal today.
  2. Santi Cazorla was fantastic. The deeper laying role suits him very well, and with two fine assists – especially the first one was an exquisite, perfectly weighted ball over the top from the centre of midfield for the eagerly anticipating Walcott – and a clever goal, he was without any doubt the man of the match.
  3. Ozil’s face at the end of the match said it all: knackered but very content with his own performance. A fine, coolly taken goal and a dynamic, hungry finish to the game will have done him a world of good. Together with Santi, and Ramsey and Wilshere, he powered the midfield on and dominated the sorry Toffee midfield for ninety minutes. He was inventive with his passing, always looking for the best possible next move; and to me it looked like his fellow players are starting to read his intentions better… even though rusty first touches and finishes kept us from getting more reward from the dominance and creativity in our attacks. It was also good to see our Captain, Arteta, back.
  4. Cech in goal: calmness, character, confidence, and a brilliant reflex-safe from what looked a certain goal (even though it was offside). Bigger test will come, but having Petr in goal is the equivalent to playing with an extra man at the back.
  5. The FBs, Bellerina and Gibbs, provided the team with great width and penetration, allowing the multi-disciplined midfielders to combine with them and get them, or themselves, behind the Everton defenders, as well as stretch and penetrate them with fine, deadly triangles that led to very good opportunities throughout the game. Our FBs will play a great role this season and we are blessed with four very fine players in these positions.
  6. Chambers had a good, calm game next to our first warrior Koscielny. Again, bigger tests will come but it was nice to see him play well again. Ramsey played with discipline and high levels of energy to protect the defence and link up with our attack: a very impressive performance.
  7. Ox, despite a (still characteristic) costly loss of possession that led to the only Toffee goal – a fine, diagonal, long-distance shot by Barkley – added renewed thrust to our team when he came on. He had the guts and confidence to take players on at high speed and create good opportunities inside the opponents’ box. The final ball still needs improving, but the hunger and focus were there for all of us to see: good signs.
  8. The team cohesion, hunger and professionalism were a joy to watch. Even more than the individual performances highlighted above, this is what we should get really excited about. There was a collective ‘presence’ in the team: a strong focus with high levels of concentration and determination. The Gunners played as a team that wants to become champions this year, seemingly realising that every game needs to be treated with that goal in mind. We now also have healthy competition for places in all areas on the pitch, but yet there appears to be ever-so-vital togetherness, perhaps based on the realisation that we need a fit, wide squad in order to compete for the PL, CL, and indeed the FA Cup again, this season.

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

By TotalArsenal.

Full-Strength Back-4 | Theo-Sanogo-Alexis Up-Front? Hammers v Gunners Preview and Line-Up

Super Alexis (and Rosa) save Giroud's blushes... But will there be more damage down the line?
Super Alexis (and Rosa) saved Giroud’s blushes… But will there be more damage down the line?

After yesterday’s bizarre match against The Hoops, in which we almost spectacularly self-imploded, a (on paper) tougher encounter awaits us at the Boleyn Ground. The Hammers are on-Song (and no doubt with Song tomorrow) under the management of Fat Sam, and they will be looking forward to playing us at their own stomping ground.

We are getting good to very good players back every week now, and things are looking up. Unfortunately, Giroud let himself and the team down with a hot-headed action yesterday, which means he will miss out on the next three games. This could turn out to be a very costly mistake by Ollie, and Wenger will have to make the right choice in how to replace him: Welbeck back to the middle or Sanogo to keep our shape and system going?

The Hoops game had been very one-sided until our French senior CF saw red mist. Giroud’s sending off gave QPR an unexpected lease of life; and if Rosicky had not scored his cool goal (after excellent work by Beast of the Match, Alexis) for the all important 2-0 need, it could have finished differently (and it almost did anyway…. Deep sigh).

Enough said about that match: we got the three points and let’s just move on. A win tomorrow would really put the wind in our red and white sails and I have a good feeling about this one. There are four reasons for it:

  1. The team know that the Hammers are in fine form: I prefer our players to be fully focussed rather than underestimate an opponent;
  2. We have a good track record there recently;
  3. Our defence could be at full strength tomorrow for the first time a long while;
  4. We have Alexis, and Theo could start his first game which would be an enormous boost.

For me it is key to stick to our formation and style of play, and I reckon Wenger will start Sanogo. Welbeck really needs a break to rest, refocus and get his form back, as he has been very ineffective for a few games in a row now. Wenger could decide to play Danny in the middle for this one, but my gut feeling tells me he will play Sanogo. The junior French CF is our best copy of Giroud; and, with Alexis and Theo on the wings, he could play a very important part tomorrow.

I saw Sanogo against Dortmund and especially in the first half he played a very effective game. His finishing needs to improve significantly of course, but his link up play is very good for his age, as he reads the game well and acts very quickly and incisively. This is more important than his ability to clinically put the ball in the net in our system. The goals should come from Alexis, Theo, Santi and Rosa, and Sanogo always carries a goal threat himself.

Back-four is sorted; three up-top is sorted (although Wenger could start Welbeck and/or Pod in this one); and I reckon Arsene will play the same three in midfield: Flam, Rosa and Santi.

I reckon with this team we will Gun the Hammers down tomorrow:

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Time to start the engine as JB would say. 🙂

Let The Cannon Roar!

COYG!

Written by: TotalArsenal

Arsenal might finally have the new Bergkamp, Henry, Pires and Ljunberg

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The new season is almost upon us, and with new signings coming in fast now there is plenty of reason to be positive. I reckon Giroud will once again be the first ‘attacker’ on Wenger’s team sheet this season, but I will devote a separate post to this at some point this week.

This post is about the possibility of a serious plan B, if not a future plan A: the reintroduction of 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1 without a ‘holding centre forward’. We now have the players who can come close to the most magnificent combo of attackers I have ever seen at Arsenal, if not in any team: the Invincibles of Bergkamp, Henry, Pires and Ljunberg. The main reason I feel so positive about the possibility to resemble these ferocious, fabulous four is the arrival of Alexis Sanchez: he holds the key.

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Alexis = Dennis in the making

For me Alexis is a player who comes very close to what the one and only Iceman once had to offer to us. I watched the Holland – Chile game again this week and studied Sanchez closely. As many know, he is a very good finisher and winger, but he can also play centrally, either up-front or, ideally, in the hole – ala Bergkamp. He can play with his back to the goal, can turn quickly and attack space and/or players with menace, has great ball control and composure, and he can also spot and execute a killer pass at the blink of an eye. On top of all that, he has a great shot and can be a fox in the box too. Sanchez in two words is ‘attacking versatility’ – just like DB10 was – and that is just what we need at Arsenal right now.

So for me Sanchez could be our new Bergkamp. This might take time, but he has the right attitude and in Wenger the best tutor to get there.

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Mesut = Robert in the making

Now this will not be universally supported, but I reckon Ozil best position is in the ‘free role’ on the left. Ozil needs freedom and movement and does not naturally hold the area between the opposition’s ‘D’ and the middle line. He still does well at Arsenal in the hole and this is partly because Giroud is so good at holding onto the ball in the middle, allowing Ozil to roam freely; but this is for a different post.

I would prefer Sanchez, or even Jack, in the hole as they both are more natural in owning the area. Ozil is a great player who will ALWAYS add value to a team, with his movement and immaculate positioning and passing, and for me he will be most effective if played on the left with a licence to roam – including into the hole. As such, I can see Ozil developing in our very own new Pires, who was also not a typical left winger. Mesut will always produce assists (and penultimate assists, for a lack of a better word), but in this new system there will be space and time for him to start scoring towards 15 PL goals a season. The beauty of both Mesut and Sanchez is that they can interchange positions, which will make it really hard for opponents to eliminate our ‘creative force’.

Theo soring against Udinese

Santi, Alex and Theo = Freddie in the making

On the right, we need the ‘new Ljunberg’ and this place is up for grabs for the likes of Santi, Ox and of course Theo (and maybe Gnabry eventually). Santi is possibly to slow and lacks defensive discipline at times, and Theo lacks the close ball control skills Freddie possessed, but they both can produce the assists and goals the Swede once produced for us. I reckon Ox come closest to a Freddie-esque player but he would have to work hard to get there; maybe Santi or Theo could play there until he is ready? And there is still scope for Santi himself to work hard and become our very own new Freddie.

The Ox: ready to add the extra spark next season?
The Ox: ready to add the extra spark next season?

Theo, Joel or Alex = Thierry in the making

But who could be the new Henry? At this stage, I can see three options: Theo, Campbell and, my favourite, the Ox. I need to observe more of Campbell’s talents to be sure whether he has all the attributes to develop into a Henry-esque all-round attacker, but what I have seen until now is very encouraging. He has good close ball control and speed, he possesses a great shot and finishes well in the box, but most importantly, like Henry he comes for the ball all the way to the middle, and makes things happen once he has got it. He has presence and attitude and a good engine, despite having to improve his fitness a bit more. He is comfortable with the ball, and also makes good runs with or without it, and he can also pick a good pass. Of course, he still has a lot to learn but he is a very exciting prospect for us, and I hope we hold on to him this season (which is really not a given right now).

I reckon Theo could be lethal in the ‘free central forward’ position, IF played in front of Sanchez, with both Ozil and Santi/Ox on the wings. Key in all of this is Sanchez being our central anchor, who can play with his back to goal and orchestrate our attacks from the area in front of the ‘D’. The one limitation of Theo is attacking players in front of him with the ball (in tighter spaces): Theo needs to be released into space to be at his best and he is not so comfortable with the ball as Henry once was. I find him still more suited to the wing than centrally up-front, but would like to see more of him there with the right players around him.

And that brings me to the Ox. For me he comes closest to what Thierry Henry offered us for so many years. He also needs Sanchez to be in the ‘Bergkamp role’ as to have the freedom to make runs with and without the ball and not have to be the holding man (ala Giroud). Jozefos2013 excellent post yesterday, about the many options for the Ox, has made me realise even more that his best position might well be the Thierry role. Ox is brilliant with the ball when attacking space and/or players: that is his strongest skill. As such, he can play on the wing, just like Henry once used to do. But there is a real thrust in his play: a power and determination to make it to the goal and score, and for this he has the physique, the stamina, the speed and the close ball control/dribbling skills. The Ox also has a good to great shot and a good eye for a through-pass too. I would love him to be played up-front with Sanchez behind him; I reckon he would be revelation there.

I know I am dreaming when I write this, but the prospect of Ramsey and a beast of DM/Diaby (everything that sticks out crossed he stays fit for a long period!) in the double-DM pivot, supporting Ozil, Sanchez and Theo/Santi up-front with Ox/Theo as our furthest forward gradually growing into our new ‘Henry-Bergkamp-Pires-Ljunberg foursome’, has me very excited!

I doubt strongly whether Wenger has these sorts of plans for the team, at least not in the short run. And that is okay, but the prospect of having a really attractive plan-B potentially in place, and that we might have the players now who have the talents and could reach the heights of our former super-attacking Invincibles, is just fecking exciting!

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Posts come out at random times: if you want to know straight-away when a new post has been issued you can subscribe to a free email service (see right hand side of the blog). Bergkampesque is an inclusive blog and new bloggers are always welcome as long as comments are decent and constructive. 🙂

Zelalem even better, Arteta true captain, light in defense: MR

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Here are my thoughts on today’s pre-season friendly against Nagoya Grampus.

In today’s match, Arsenal came up against much tougher competition than we have faced so far this Asia Tour. We had another quick start with another good goal from Giroud, but the Japanese side showed their class and held us for a while after that.

Our first goal was an excellent cross from Rosicky to an unmarked Giroud, who headed it calmly past the near post. I have to say, the unsung hero of this pre-season has been Rosicky. His most memorable moments being his assist to Olsson, his assist for Giroud’s first in the Vietnam game, and this cross today among other things. If he can stay fit all season, he will be big for us. He seems to be someone in the squad who connects well with everyone, and I hope when he decides to retire he will go and get his coaching badges and stay with Arsenal.

It took until the 25th minute for Arsenal to break through again. Theo picked up the ball and brought it down, slipping it past the defender to Giroud with the outside of his foot. Giroud saw he had no space and as he was slid, tried to lay the ball back for Ryo.

Many people are saying it wasn’t a penalty as Giroud was never really hit by the tackle. They are correct, BUT the penalty was NOT called for a foul. It was called for a handball by the player who slid at Giroud, therefore the call was correct. Arteta stepped up like a real leader and let our young Japanese winger take the penalty in his home country. Ryo stepped up and put a powerful penalty just inside the left post. It was a fantastic penalty and he, the crowd, and the Arsenal players were thrilled for him to score in his home country.

At halftime Arsene made only a few changes. Wilshere came on for Rosicky; Zelalem came on for Mikel; Podolski on for Giroud; and Gnabry came on for Ryo. It was after these changes that Arsenal picked up the pace. Gnabry made a few good runs on and off the ball, and had a couple of chances. Theo also had a few shots and the team looked far better. I will put this down to Zelalem.

Zelalem came on and looked even better than before. His normal composure and desire to do well was there, but coupled with good movement from Walcott and Chuba, he had a few defense splitting balls that left the opposition’s defense standing in awe.

One of these through balls led to our third and final goal. Zelalem picked up the ball, saw Theo, and placed a pass with pace, on the ground, between three or four defender, and Theo took a good touch and chipped the keeper from close range.

A few more changes were made throughout the game with Miquel coming on for Gibbs, Aneke on for Ramsey, and Akpom on for Theo. After Miquel came on for Gibbs we must note that there were no defenders on the bench. Wenger really ought to think about buying a new defender, preferably one that plays centre back, but can play as a right back as well. This would mean we have two full defensive lines, as well as a CB who can play left back and a CB who could play right back. Two defensive injuries and an absence should not leave us with only four first team defenders, especially when one is playing out of position.

Nagoya Grampus’ goal was poor marking by our defenders, but Fabianksi really should’ve had the relatively weak header Kisho Yano put in.

Overall, the team played well today, but we need to test ourselves against an EPL strength team to make sure we’re truly ready for the season.

For now I’ll leave you with a few questions;

  1. What did you think of today’s friendly?
  2. Does Arsene need to bring in a new defender? If so, what position/positions should they play?
  3. Will Rosicky be a key player for us this season?

Thanks for reading. 😀

Written by: Dylan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defence

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

Midfield

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

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

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

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

Attack

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

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

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

Predicted – not necessarily preferred! – Line-up:

Arsenal v Fulham April 13

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

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

Written by: TotalArsenal.

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

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