Is this Bench the Best in the Premier League? Arsenal’s Dizzying Squad Possibilities!

It is all about backbone, leadership and squad depth…. and plenty of pairs of these of course! 🙂

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Like many, I don’t like international breaks but the good thing is it gives Arsene and the team an opportunity to work towards a deadline and then take stock. In the last few weeks post the September interlull, Arsenal have been solid and moved up  the table considerably. There are still important games to come: Basel at home and Burnley away. And after a very encouraging, successful game against the Chavs, we now have to be careful not to underestimate our opponents and work really hard to get vital wins before the next break.

Whether we will depends on the maturity and ability to focus by the players as much as anything else.

The team to beat is, of course, Pep City. Some believe he is only as good as the players he had at his disposal, which of course have been the pick of the world or there about ever since he started to coach, but I am a firm believer that the vision to develop a system/style of football and then be able to get the players to execute it, is what really makes a great manager. In the short term, a manager can take over a great team and have success on the basis of what was established by their predecessor, but in the mid to long term it is the manager’s ability to implement a competitive system of football and gather the required players to execute it which will make the difference. And Guardiola is already having an added positive impact on what is mostly Pellegrini’s squad.

Of course it is early days and MC have not had a hard start to the season in terms of the teams they have faced, other than MU away of course. We will have to see how they will fare against Liverpool, Chelsea and Leicester and if they can win all those games than they are further then us right now.

We are five points behind and that really is a few too many to feel comfortable at this stage. We need them to drop points and let’s see whether it will happen against our North London rivals this weekend. I am not underestimating the Spuds this time round, even though they are very capable of farcically imploding towards the last six weeks of the season once again. So I am not wanting a Spuds win against the Northern  Oilers: a draw would be just fine.

But as always, we need to focus on our game and try to get as many wins as possible by the OGAAT principle: one game at a time. To achieve this we need a strong backbone and leadership in the team, and we also need squad depth. 

The question is whether Arsenal have this now. The best way to establish this is to see how we will deal with adversity, but other than the first game of the season against Pool we did not really have to deal with much of it. Although it is fair to say we did well when Arsenal went behind against PSG and somehow managed to get back in the game in the second half, helped by Lady Luck it has to be said.

What really encouraged me was the way that Koz and Mustafi, supported behind them by the cool and experienced Cech and in front of them by the beastly Coq, controlled the game, both technically AND psychologically. And when le Coq went off injured, Xhaka did very well in replacing him both technically and in terms of presence on the pitch. And the latter is as important as anything.

Mesut Ozil

On top of this, we had Ozil and Alexis leading the attack with both intelligence and a guttural hunger. And our wing-backs, Nacho and Bellerin, were also dominating proceedings with their feet and their personas. To complete it all, Santi, Theo and Iwobi had strong presence and hunger without ever looking to hide behind their team mates. That is what I loved more than anything else about our team on Saturday.

Our first team against Chelsea:

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These players now more or less are our first team players, and after the Chelsea demolition there is good reason to believe we have the backbone and leadership to go all the way this season in the PL, and maybe even in the CL. However, we all know that fatigue, injuries and possibly suspensions will affect our team.

Just as well then that Wenger did not sell anybody whilst still adding to the squad, which will allow him to rotate and also deal with unexpected setbacks, like this Saturday when Coquelin had to come off. This is just as important as having a strong core of leaders and winners in the team.

Yesterday we had Gibbs, Perez, Giroud, Ospina, Ox, Holding and Xhaka on the bench: seven players who all deserve to be there if not a place in the starting eleven.

Ramsey, Gabriel, BFG, Elneny, Debuchy and Welbeck were not on the bench, and they are all fighters for the cause with leadership qualities. Once they are fit, our options for the bench are mouth watering; and can you imagine what availability of all would mean for Wenger’s possible strongest first eleven team?

Our bench could be, when all are fit: Perez, Giroud, Welbeck, Ramsey/Xhaka, Gibbs, BFG/Gabriel and Ospina!! Would this not be the best bench in the premier league?!

So there you are, we have a strong core with backbone and leadership skills and a squad depth that makes you dizzy with first team selection possibilities. As dizzy as looking at the ceiling of the wonderful Sagrada Familia…

Bring on our next opponent is all that’s left to say!

By TotalArsenal

 

 

8 Positives from Arsenal v Man City: Our Victory Is No Fluke

Eight positives from Arsenal v Man City – and why it is no fluke that we beat them!

 

Laurent Koscielny celebrates his goal against Crystal Palace but he is an injury doubt for Tuesday's
Koz was my man of the match – for players ratings see previous post!

In a way, this game can be summarised in a few lines: there were thirty minutes of probing by each team and showing too much respect to each other; then Man City had a very decent chance to take the lead but they didn’t; this miss woke Arsenal up and within no time we were one up; as so often, Arsenal kept pushing for a second and before half time we got it; in the second half, Man City pressed forward more, making it easy for us to play on the counter; we had very good chances to score a third and put the game to bed… but we didn’t; City scored a late goal and it all got a bit hairy..but we held on.

However, there was of course more to this game and why we won it, and I will summarise these in eight positives:

  1. Ramsey beat Yaya Toure, with a bit of help by Wenger. They are similar players and Yaya is one of those players who could fit in any team, whereas Aaron is on his way to become a great player. But on the night he was more disciplined defensively, whereas Yaya lacked this throughout the game, and this made all the difference. Ozil had tonnes of space and was able to control the ball in front of the opponent’s ‘D area’, mainly because Yaya did not give enough protection to their defence and leaving his partner to cover too much ground. Mesut always finds space but he did not have to look hard for it yesterday. Ramsey, on the other hand, held back and formed a strong defensive midfield line with Flamini, therefore not allowing the creative midfielders of City to get near our ‘D’. He did this most effectively in the first half, and in the second half he was able to get more forward as well, which left us more exposed but also gave us great opportunities to score a decisive third goal.
  2. Theo and Ollie each took their first proper chance, whereas De Bruyne missed his. In top games, scoring the first goal is very important and for that we need confident, quality players who rise to the occasion. Theo took his chance brilliantly and it was a big sucker punch to City: after that we never looked back, except for the last ten minutes or so.
  3. Ozil is in the form of his life, whereas Da Silva only just returned from injury. Furthermore, as per ‘Positive’ one, Ozil was given freedom to roam whereas Da Silva was tightly marked by Flamini. Ozil’s second assist was a great example of how quickly he sees a scoring opportunity and is able to execute it. Giroud deserves credit as well for his anticipation of Mesut’s ball: it was all done in a flash and the game was more or less decided after that.
  4. Giroud is a more complete striker than Aguero. The Argentinian is the more lethal finisher, but Giroud offers more in terms of hold up play, defensive duties, aerial threat and getting other players involved in the attack. I have written many posts about Giroud’s importance for this Arsene/Arsenal team and last night you could see once more why our manager values him so much.
  5. Cech is better than Hart. Petr puts doubt in attackers’ minds; Joe gets bullets fired at him. Enough said.
  6. Koz and BFG is a settled pair of CBs whereas Otamendi and Mangala are not (yet) gelling, and enough has been said about the importance of Kompany in City’s team. The BFG might have a few weaknesses but his strengths are very important to Arsenal; and Bellerin, Koz and Monreal compensate these very well. Together they are a unit with the Koz-BFG core offering a great combination of defensive disciplines and skills. Of course it also helps Per when we play deep and compact, as we did yesterday for a large part of the game.
  7. Monreal and Bellerin outperformed Sagna and Kolarov all night. In our system, the full backs, or wing backs, are very, very important. They provide the extra width and penetration from the sides but also need to be fast and robust enough to recover quickly when out of position. Most importantly, they need to read the game well and make sound decisions on whether to support the attack or not, time and again. Our Spanish full backs where once again awesome.
  8. Togetherness, hunger to win, collective joy… call it what you want, but we wanted it more yesterday. Just watch the way we kicked off the first half and then how City kicked off the second. Our players had a spring in their step from the moment the ball was allowed to roll. They sensed the occasion, the opportunity to make a statement, and this was not just represented in one or two players, but the entire team. I thought City did well in the last twenty minutes and there is definitely enough team spirit to rival us on this front, but we still ‘out-togethered’ them yesterday, which is arguably the biggest ‘positive’ of them all.

So plenty of positives in our team, and many of these are of a structural nature. And let’s build on these when we play the Saints on Boxing Day. UTA, COYRRG, OGAAT and all that..!

Merry Christmas fine fellow Bergkampesquers! 🙂

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By TotalArsenal.  

We all know better than Wenger

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Last night’s defeat against Dortmund was a painful one: we were ‘out-systemed’ by Klopp and throughout the ninety minutes we had no answer to it. The Germans played with a great tempo and gang-pressed our players continuously: outnumbering them around the ball almost constantly. We were unable to build our attacks from the back and pass the ball round in midfield, and we also could not thump it forwards towards a holding striker. They played in concentrated units of three/four/five players around the ball, whereas we stuck to our positions and spaces a lot more. The crowd whipped the home players up and we looked stunned and apathetic from the start.

I really think our players were up for this though, but we just could not handle Dortmund’s system of football, the high tempo and pressing football. It was embarrassing but it might provide the team with some valuable lessons: ‘Oh the sweet uses of adversity’ as Shakespeare once said.

The responses by fellow Gooners have been varied, yet predictable: some want to change the formation and some the players, and there is merit in all of it. We all have our hobby horses, and especially when we lose we like to get them out of the stable. My head buzzes with thoughts like:

  • For 4-1-4-1 we do not have the right DM: so why play this formation?
  • Why did we not buy a proper, footballing DM this summer?
  • What has happened to BFG and Koz’s fine partnership?
  • Should we adjust our system to get the best out of Welbeck?
  • Am I mad and almost everybody sane by disagreeing about Ozil’s ‘best position’?
  • Why has Wenger changed from 4-2-1-3 to 4-1-4-1, and why did it work okay against the Nothern Oilers and not against Dortmund?
  • Etc, Etc.

Like many others, I have some reservations about Wenger’s approach to our football at the moment – formations, style of play, player purchases, etc – but we should be careful with jumping to conclusions. It is early season and the preparations for the new season were short, due to many international players returning late and CL qualification needing to be secured against a tough opponent. We did qualify but drew one or two games too many, and now we have been outplayed/out-thought by a rampant German team.

Dortmund are capable of this, as the money-no-object team in Madrid will testify. Many regard the self-adoring one as a great manager, but also he had no answer to the Deutsche Welle two seasons ago. Sometimes you just have to hold your hand up and say: we were second best and well done to the opponent. Key is to not make too much of it and move on, especially so early on in the season. It is a defeat we can afford after all.

In football, and life in general, you can always respond to a disappointment or set-back in three ways: do nothing, make changes, reinforce your belief in the road you have chosen. We are all fantasy football managers who can instantly suggest what Wenger needs to change in order for Arsenal to become a trophy-winning side. We can have these opinions and utter them without a care in the world.

But Arsene is the manager and he has an entirely different weight on his shoulders than us arm-chair managers. When he lay there on the beach in Brazil a few months ago, he day-dreamed of winning silverware with 4-1-4-1 and he got Sanchez and Welbeck, Debuchy and Chambers to make it happen. Let’s give him a chance to see this new formation and style of football through, and not jump to conclusions yet.

Keep the faith.

Written by: TotalArsenal.

When Football Doesn’t Matter—Why Then Do We Post?

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Another post from 17HT in the wake of events beyond football.  New readers (or those confused…) please see the comments from the past two posts.

Author’s note:  The ongoing tribulations of poster “James Bond” combined with my own personal life experiences have led to the following reflections…

We live in a wondrous and modern world, and yet the essential problems remain.  Human relations have changed and yet they haven’t.   Our world (at its very best…) still revolves around Love.  If we risk love we risk losing that love.  In fact, in our heart of hearts, we KNOW that we WILL lose the object(s) of our love.   As such, it is an act of great bravery to do so—to engage with each other and give ourselves, wholly and without reservation, to one another.

The internet is a different ball of wax (as we say, over here in the States)…  If you don’t like what’s on one page, click on another…If somebody says something you don’t like, you can disappear for a few days (or forever…), gather your thoughts, and come back when you’re ready. Or (more commonly…) you can respond instantaneously from behind the safety of your screen and keyboard.    Hell, if you’ve got nobody to talk with, you can even create multiple personalities and carry both sides of the argument.  😆

Following Arsenal on the internet (for me) has shown some of the worst and some of the best elements of this new world of human communication.  No matter what, the football goes on, as does the conversation about it.  No matter what’s going on in our personal lives, we can go on-line and exult (or complain) about our team.  The usual characters–the manager, the players, the owner, the other posters– will be there for us.   With the latter group we can argue positives to the gloomiest of gloom-mongers or bring down the most positive optimist.  The important thing, maybe, is that it’s different from our day-to-day.  In many ways, it’s an extension of the old way—trudging down to the stadium and supporting (or having a go at) the lads and sharing a cheer or a moan with your mates…

And best of all…None of it matters.  Or maybe… ALL of it matters…

Here on Bergkampesque the assumption, I think, is closer to the ALL of it matters.  Yes, people come on to hate and denounce, and certainly venting happens.  Some have to be banned, others chased off.   The regulars, however, are bonded by (nothing less than some strange form of…) kinship or tribalism or shared affection for something bigger than ourselves.   To varying extents, we idealize the club, the players (when they perform to our liking), and (some of us at least…) the manager.   Certainly the player for whom the site is named conjures an ideal of intelligence and teamwork.   And the man himself pursued it with an unparalleled professionalism.  If we can bring these qualities to our support, we can (almost…) believe that we too can enhance the club.  Of course, even Dennis had his moments of frustration.  If we can forgive him his, we should likely forgive ourselves our own…

One of our own, a guy we’ve never met and whose real name we are unsure of, is going through a VERY (very, very…) tough time.  We pray that he is getting the face-to-face support and love that he needs. That he turned to us to share his experience speaks volumes.  That we’ve tried, in whatever way we can, to offer our words in return speaks to the fact that we have created an environment where that is okay.

The tragedy of poster “James Bond” has affected me.  As I said in the comments, his story hits home for me even if the memory of its immediacy is a long way back.  It’s nothing more than words on a screen, but it IS more.

Strange, but true.  It’s also true that I can switch it off and watch a match or get outside or just turn my thoughts to my own issues.  That’s human nature.  A better part of human nature is to share with others.  Pain is the flip side of Joy, and it could be argued that you cannot have the one without the other.  Our culture tries to sell us pain-free Joy, but we know (in some deep place) that the truth is different.  To the extent that Bond has shared his pain with us, I want to thank him.  Feeling it (attempting in my own small way to absorb the fullness of it) makes me a better person.  To the extent that I can help him feel less alone (and it’s a very, very, very puny extent…) in this brutal moment, I would like him to feel less alone.

The rest of the world including Arsenal and your fellow BKers are here for you, 007, whenever you’re ready… From personal experience, I know that it’s good to have places you can go that are away from the bigger issues.  This may or may not be such a spot.  You’ve shared a lot, and those of us who’ve been with you through this will always know you differently.   In my opinion, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with knowing people more completely and more deeply, even if you never meet them.

Finally, from your comments earlier, I know that you would like us to pivot back to our shared love, Arsenal Football Club.  I believe Gerry and Dylan have posts related to yesterday’s match, and I think Total will be publishing them as the week moves on.  For now, having watched some up and down matches of mayhem (I’m talking yesterday’s Liverpool-Aston Villa 2-2 and today’s wins by Spurs and Chelsea, as well as highlights of other matches, notably the Man City-Cardiff City match…) I’d like to talk a little football myself.

I’d direct people to the league table.  There’s separation there and a gap to the top 3 teams: Arsenal-51, Manchester City-50, Chelsea-49.   I couldn’t be prouder of my football club right now.  Through spirit, grit, collective play, and continuity we’re competing with clubs who have owners literally (or is it “figuratively”…?) burning money to keep warm.  Those “assembled” squads are right on our tails, point-wise, and they will be (exquisitely) tough to beat as the season grinds on, but they are nowhere near what we have created as a team.  It may seem outmoded to suggest such things, and the difference between players who cost £50 million (Torres, who didn’t even play today…) vs. those who cost €50 million (Özil) is very slight, but there IS a big gulf between players who work together as a team (and a manager who has committed HIS future to his club’s future) vs. the merely hired ones.  Maybe it’s similar to blogs that merely “tolerate” comments vs. one that is hoping to build a community of like-minded supporters of a beautiful club playing a beautiful game and where it’s (even) acceptable to believe that results (and tables) don’t always tell the whole story.  Maybe that’s why we have to write about it (even if it’s” just” in the comments, like Mr. Bond)…

So (as an aging American hipster–such as I–might say…), “Right On”….or (better yet), “WRITE ON”…007, and everybody else, on whatever topic you wish, including the title race, yesterday’s match, or the bigger issues…

By 17highburyterrace

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.

What is the score The2-0 Wal2-0tt? Reflections on 12 tough days

ARSENAL v TOTTENHAM

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A reflection of a demanding 12 days

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Due to a mis-communication, the review is somewhat later than might have been the norm for such an important game like an NDL. But maybe we needed some time to celebrate the victory, without analysing the various aspects that went to produce such a stunning victory.

Perhaps Jack Wilshere summed it up best when he said … ‘Arsenal have clicked’?

So let me just roll the clock back to where our Christmas schedule began: December 23rd, a home-tie against Chelsea. We had not won a match since December 4th. We drew 1-1 in a very open game against Everton, Then lost away at Napoli in the Champions League, but it was enough to get us through to the group stages. Then came the dour home game with Chelsea that finished 0-0. Not surprising, given how few shots on target by either team. But that point is the difference between us and the rest of the chasing pack right now. It might have been a disappointment at the time, as a win would have pushed us 7 points clear, but less so now?

Three days later we travelled the short distance to West Ham. This was the game where we lost Aaron Ramsey, and welcomed the return of Podoski from the bench. Two goals from Theo Walcott and a sealer from Lukas Podolski, meant we ran out comfortable winners in the end. For Theo it was an impressive return to his best, after being shut out against Chelsea. It also got us back to winning ways.

Three days later we make the long trek to Newcastle, who were in impressive form themselves. Another game remembered for injuries and sickness before the game, and big ones in it: the changes that were made because Vermaelen and Monreal did not travel through sickness. Ozil was left behind because of a shoulder injury. Then, both Gibbs and Giroud came off with injuries that would mean they would miss the next two games at least.

Despite starting the stronger of the two sides, it took until 65th minute for Olivier Giroud to have a glancing header and thus break the deadlock. It left it for Newcastle to dominate the final 20 minutes, but our defenders stayed calm and we secured a 0-1 victory. Those three points took us back to the top of the table going into the New Year, but it was MOTM performance by Tomas Rosicky that gave the team the drive and determination that helped maintain this winning sequence.

Yet another 2-day break before we took on Cardiff at home. Nacho Monreal recovered enough to replace Gibbs, while Jack Wilshere replaced Rosicky, who had a slight injury from the previous match. But it was over to Lukas Podolski, making his first start as the central striker, replacing the stricken Giroud, with Waclott continuing on the right and Santi Cazorla on the left. This game needs little in the way of refreshing the memory, it being the most recent. There was the disappointing return of Podolski as the main striker; and Cardiff seemingly able to keep us out. So it was no surprise to see him being replaced Nicholas Bendtner in the 65th minute, along with Tomas Rosicky, after Flamini was withdrawn.

Almost immediately the balance of the team looked better, as Arsenal lay siege to the Cardiff goal. The dramatic concluding minutes will long remain in our memories? A nice interplay with Cazorla and Monreal and his cross to the far post, Sagna sees his header saved by the ‘keeper, but only to witness Bendtner arrive and rifle in a bullet across the goal and into the far corner.

1-0, but the drama did not end there. Nicky B landed on his right foot and it got caught under the diving keeper. Yet another injury, out for 4 weeks minimum with a sprained ankle. But he had barely made his assisted walk around the pitch to the much relieved fans applause, when a quick breakaway saw Walcott dink a second goal. His first home goal of the season. 2-0, and still TOTL!

That was the backdrop to this FA Cup and NLD match.

I felt it was worth taking that in, to place this fixture in context if you like. It was not just any Cup game. It was not just any NLD. It came on the back of some extreme physical effort from the entire squad that took part, and could be forgiven if the whole thing suffered because of it.

However, nothing could be further from the truth – apart from the opening few minutes when Spurs moved the ball about nicely, and a misplaced clearance by Koscielny went straight to Ericksen. He got first run on Sagna and only had Fabiansky to beat, but delayed too long and Fab blocked it away for a corner. Thereafter it was Arsenal who made the quick passes, got the better chances, and really dominated the game with ease.

We were superior in virtually every department. Spurs had moments of individual skill, but Arsenal had the collective skills, and it was that which proved decisive. Perhaps also, it was the speed at which we could move the ball forwards. No surprise then, that it was another master class from Mr Endeavor himself, Tomas Rosicky, who provided much of that, and for once he got his reward with a goal he created by that very tireless running that I speak of now. That was an individual moment which he thoroughly deserved.

However, in the collective spirit he was ably assisted in the running of Walcott, the interplay with Cazorla and Wilshere, but special mention has to go to Serge Gnabry. 18 years old, playing in his first NDL, indeed, having his first start since September, and he positively shined. His interplay with Walcott was great. The perfect pass for Cazorla’s goal was sublime. He made a couple of others of equal merit, and had a snap shot from the edge of the box that skimmed over the bar. If it was somebody’s first visit, they would not have known he was: a, not a regular team member; or b, just 18 years old, such was the mature performance he put in.

The second goal came about after Danny Rose thought he’d be clever and twist away from the rapidly closing Rosicky. So, in failing, and being the last defender, he doubled his ignominy when Rosi darted away for a one-on-one with the keeper, and delightfully chipped him with a sand wedge instep.

It was not a game without flashpoints. Wilshere squaring up to Bentaleb, the Spurs youngster, but the ref dealt with that quietly. Chiriches clipped Wilshere late, but advantage was played and he escaped a booking. Indeed, he escaped a ‘second’ one where he caught Walcott on the foot when he had no chance of getting the ball. A couple of penalty shouts, both denied.

Other things like injuries did not leave us alone though. First Vermaelen was replaced at half time with a cut just below the knee. Then, after we had changed Arteta and Wilshere for Flamini and Ozil – nice to have replacements like that? -Walcott picked up a knock, accidental this time, and had to be stretchered off.

This led to one of the photo moments of the game, as he was carried past the Spurs fans who, it is reported, sang some distasteful songs at him while he was being treated, to which, two fingers and a zero reminded them of the score. One for the album without doubt, but the unfortunate stretcher bearers received more missiles than some of their counterpart did at times in WW1.

Very sensitive, and no sense of humour these Spurs fans?

So the final 10 minutes or so we were down to 10 men. But even then the Spurs could not muster a worthwhile shot on goal.

It was expected to be a tough encounter, but with the ease that Spurs were brushed aside, I think we can safely say … …. ARSENAL HAVE CLICKED!

Discuss: Key battles?; Does 4-3-3 always beat 4-4-2?; Overall tactics?; Greater loss – Giroud or Walcott?; MOTM… majority say Rosicky, and I agree.

But remember what the squad has achieved over this short period is nothing short of a miracle, built on sheer hard graft and a collective desire to win, and keep winning. 

Written by: Gerry.

Gnabry and Zelalem to start, Santi and Theo in middle? Match Preview.

Arsenal vs Spurs Preview: Road to the FA Cup Final

Intro:

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It has only been a few days since our breathtaking last minute surge against Cardiff. Now we face a big test: a North London Derby. In a cup no less! A loss here is far worse than any normal loss in a NLD, as it means elimination from a cup that we really have a shot to win this season. We need to win here. We just need to put up a strong fight and play without fear. We are the better side and deserve to win. This game is for bragging rights and progression in a cup that we want to win.

This fixture last time:

The last time this fixture occurred was earlier this season. It was a massive turn around after a terrible loss to Aston Villa. It was a simple 1-nil to the Arsenal. Giroud scored a cheeky outside of the foot, near post shot against Lloris. Walcott swung in a great cross for him and Giroud took his chance well, on the one touch finish. Sadly we are missing Giroud this time, but we do have Theo and a strong squad.

Here is my expected line up for tomorrow:

PredictedvsSpursFA cup

I think Gnabry and Zelalem will be making a huge start. Theo will fill in at striker, seeing as Podolski wasn’t great there against Cardiff. Podolski will then slide back on to the wing and Santi will take up his best position in the center. Monreal will fill in for the injured Gibbs at left back.

Key Battles:

Sagna vs Eriksen:

Eriksen is an incredibly creative player (a player I wish we’d bought), but due to Spurs new two- striker system, they don’t have room for a true CAM. Therefore Eriksen is being played in more of a Santi role, as a CAM playing LW. He could punish us, as he did Manchester United, if we’re not careful. However, I have faith Mr. Reliable will shut him down.

Podolski vs Walker:

Walker is a class right back who will do everything in his power to shut down our service from the wing. Podolski will have to be 100% and ready to run his socks off to beat Walker’s work rate. He will have to be prepared to dribble around Walker and swing in quick crosses to avoid being shut down. I think Podolski will struggle with this for a while, but if Santi begins to drift to the left more, he will have the support to break him down.

Zelalem vs Expectations:

I don’t know about everyone else, but I have huge hopes for Zelalem in the future. He just has to make sure that he doesn’t screw up and become a scapegoat on his debut. Debuting against Spurs could put him in the history books. If he just focuses on not losing the ball and taking the opportunity to try the occasional tricky ball, he might just get an assist and put his name in our history books.

Casualties of War:

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Arsenal:

Bendtner, Gibbs, Ramsey, Diaby, and Ox are all definitely out. Ozil and Giroud both face late fitness tests, and Wenger says it is likely both will be out. It’s unfortunate that we will be without our two out and out strikers, who are both in great goal scoring form, but we do have Theo, Poldi, and Gnabry who can all play striker. I’ve wanted to watch Gnabry play there, but it’s unlikely as Theo is in incredible goal scoring form. If Ozil was fit, I’d actually be tempted to try him there and see if he could really be like Bergkamp, but that’s unlikely.

Spurs:

Vertonghen, Paulinho, Kaboul, and Sigurdsson will all be out. Holtby, Defoe, and Townsend are all just returning from injury and are unlikely to play. Adebayor also faces a late test, but claims he is fit to face us. Let’s all secretly hope he’s not fit so he can’t score against us.

Predictions:

I predict a shock 3-0 to Arsenal. We will come out firing on all cylinders and Spurs will be cocky after their away victory over Manchester United. I think Walcott will score a great goal, as he has been in fine finishing form. This goal will likely be assisted from Lulu on the left. Next, I think Gnabry will score a simple tap in from a one on one, assisted by Zelalem. Finally, in the dying minutes Zelalem will score a self-assisted screamer, and put his name in the hearts and memories of Gooners everywhere.

Questions:

1. What are your predictions for the game?

2. What is your preferred line up?

3. What do we do about our striker situation?

COYG! Let’s win another NLD!

Thanks for reading! 😀

Written by: Dylan.

Cardiff review: Arsene’s trust in Bendtner pays off

Arsenal 2 – Cardiff City nil — Never a Doubt… 😆

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Having missed the request to write a match preview, I wrote the following hoping that our fearless leader (on holiday in Scotland) might be available for a late post. Alas, it didn’t happen. But still, some of the questions seemed prescient (if I say so myself, and I do… 😉 )

(Preview Title…) Are We Deep Enough to Cope with Injuries and Illness and Rotation as We Enter 2014?

Arsenal, the best team in England in calendar year 2013, begin the new year top of the table but with question marks. Cardiff City, in our home ground, with only a caretaker manager, and coming off a very disappointing late draw vs Sunderland, would seem an automatic three points, but, in the English Premier League, nothing can be guaranteed.

Our most productive midfielders, Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey, are missing, as is our workhorse up front, Olivier Giroud. Many have argued that the only reason we’re still top of the table has been the remarkable production of those three players. Can we cope without them and will our offense create the chances necessary to see off a team which might be compared to a wounded animal?

Late reports suggest Ole Gunnar Solksjaer will be taking the Cardiff job. Will the players selected today be auditioning in a merely technical fashion for the new manager or will they be showing that they’ve got the grit and drive to steal a result from a weakened Arsenal team? Finally, the weather to start the year in London appears on the heavy side. It might not be as bad as it was for the Chelsea match 9 days ago and the Cardiff defense is probably not as tight, but our offense has been known to stutter when conditions aren’t ideal. Can we still make chances and goals with our re-arranged attack or will this one be another close, low scoring affair?

Today’s line-up appears a strong one, given the injuries–plenty of attack with both Poldolski and Walcott (carrying a knock?) in there. The bench offers options as well with Bendtner and Gnabry as well as Rosicky and Ryo Miyachi available if we’re still chasing a result. Still, by opting for both Arteta and Flamini as cover ahead of the back four, it appears that Wenger is thinking “defense first.” Can this be achieved against a Cardiff team with “nothing to lose?” Can the offense click without its spearhead Giroud? And I don’t refer only to his hair…

Bergkampesque welcomes your comments on these questions as the match plays out as well as afterwards. Please join us… 😀

Well, that’s what I was hoping to post, plus the (confirmed) line-ups…Instead we had to continue with only Gerry’s match report from the 1 goal victory at Newcastle… So, what transpired? Did any of the questions (above) get answered?

Hmmm…

I could do the minute by minute thing (to remind us of our frustrations) but instead I’ll talk about patterns and try to answer my own questions (comment writers please add yours!…)

The weather WAS heavy and comments on my television feed suggested that there was ample wind to go with the rain. And, similar to the Chelsea match, basic mistakes were on display. An early pattern was set with long (and misplaced) passes to Theo Walcott being the principal area of attack, mostly from deeper lying Santi Cazorla, ostensibly starting from a left wing position. Arsenal appeared happy to cede possession to Cardiff and there was very little pressing from the front, with both front man, Poldolski, and “hole” player, Wilshere, happy to follow Cardiff passes at a trot.

This strategy seemed almost uniquely ill-suited to match conditions but so too did the more intricate passing that seemed on tap as we tired of losing possession with the longer ones. Cardiff time wasting seemed more and more effective with each passing minute and served to subdue the home crowd. That Cardiff were able to draw the only save of the half, albeit a basic one at the near post from Szczesny, did not help to buoy our hopes. As the half drew to a close Poldolski dropped deeper, almost as a midfield outlet while frustrations in basic play from Walcott, Wilshere and Cazorla continued. The dual pivot of Flamini and Arteta were largely untroubled by the Cardiff attack (a single point clearly would have been seen as a huge victory) but we created not a single shot on target in the first period and only 2 corners from which we also didn’t threaten.

I guess I should mention the penalty shout where Wilshere kept his feet as Medel missed the ball and likely got Jack with not one but two swings. The fact that our man kept his feet for the first tackle probably undermined his claim as he fell on the second. I didn’t hear boos as the players left the pitch, but the home support was clearly underwhelmed; 63% possession was the only sign of any sort of dominance. We most certainly didn’t look like league leaders, to my eye at least…

The 2nd period began much as the first: bad weather, bad football from Arsenal. The pitch was taking pace off the ball but it was also lacking in our movement. With little speed (beyond Theo) or size, early calls for the likes of Rosicky and Bendtner seemed obvious.

Wenger, as any oddsmaker would have predicted, allowed the first group to persist until the 65th minute before those subs were made. The supporters, less patient by nature, twisted in the wind (and rain) and tried to create a sense of greater urgency. In the smallest of ways they were rewarded as more of the match was played closer to the Cardiff goal with shots and corners starting to come and fewer balls out of play. Our better play in this part of the match was down our left (Poldolski, Cazorla and Monreal working well together), but still we were constrained to high angled shots. Wilshere also did well from the same side during this period, forcing corners and having a shot hit the post. Still, Cardiff was able to run the clock down whenever they could.

Finally, keeper Marshall finally got a yellow card in the 60th minute for his time-wasting. A talking point was an uncalled handball by Monreal (in the 54th) very close if not in our own 18 yard box. Little Gary Medel, charged with marking the center of our attack got his yellow card in the 58th and was soon after withdrawn, which perhaps was a key. Wilshere certainly looked better immediately. One thing I will say is that the time wasting (very well executed by Cardiff) only served to antagonize the home support. Perhaps it’s a hardier bunch who brave the bad weather after the midnight merry-making (and against the lowly, and lower priced, C-ticket class opponent)?…

When the subs did come the urgency notched up just that little bit more and the increase in size up front and pace in MF made our attack more familiar looking. A clearance from Monreal which Bentdner got an awkward (Giroud-esque?) head to was well cheered as it kept our forward move alive. Frustration, however, continued, with not one but two Mertesacker headers put wide of the left post. Overall, however, there was extra bite in our counters and the threat from the 10 2nd half corners we earned was increasing. Merely having an extra big target (Bendtner in addition to Mertesacker) seemed to stress the Cardiff back line.

Nonetheless, we were still having trouble of our own and as the match moved past the 70th and then the 80th, it seemed we might leave frustrated. Mistakes in midfield didn’t help, even if Cardiff were not very potent when they did occur. Koscielny made a couple of key blocks after Arteta couldn’t get to a loose pass, though the 2nd one lead to a corner and a sequence where Arteta again mis-controlled. Luckily, Caulker’s shot was blasted well over.

The definitive spell of pressure began in the 83rd minute. A cross from Theo to Bendtner looked a sure goal but there was a hint he might have left it for a phantom teammate just behind him. Just before that, the big guy had delivered one himself to Sagna whose looping header was cleared off the line. Overall, Bendtner’s presence up front and solid ball work coming back was having a positive effect. Still, frustration seemed the order of the day as individual runs from Rosicky and Cazorla created danger but only lead to blocked efforts. When Theo blasted over from a difficult angle in the 86th some air went out of the crowd.

Fortunately, there was no giving up in the side and the knowledge that there had to be plenty of injury time wouldn’t have hurt. FINALLY, in the 88th the goal came. An intricate move featuring great control from Cazorla, a layoff from Walcott, a cross from Monreal to the head of Sagna (forcing a save) and a tightly angled first time smash from, of all people, Nicklas Bendtner, and the match was ours!

The irony is that it cost the man who used to wear his weekly salary upon his shirt. Replays showed the Marshall landed on Bendtner’s standing foot, causing what looks like ankle ligament damage. Finally Arsene’s huge gamble on the much maligned forward gave a bit of payback. Such a shame that he won’t get a warm welcome for the FA cup match against Spurs, on Saturday…

One-nil is nice, but two-nil is nicer. In injury time, a long ball from Szczesny (contested well again by Sagna) fell to Rosicky. A controlling pass and quick (and perfect) pass allowed Wilshere to flick onto Walcott, who chipped Marshall. The keeper got a finger to it but only caused the ball to hover for a moment before dropping into goal. A late save by our keeper, the only one seemingly aware that Cardiff were sending in a free kick, preserved the clean sheet. Relief AND reward for 95 minutes of hard work…

So, questions answered or do they remain?

Much depends on the injury situation. Poldolski, unfortunately doesn’t present the commanding (if somewhat technically lacking) figure that Giroud does. Wilshere and Cazorla though industrious seem to lack that little bit of acceleration and physicality which Ozil and Ramsey bring. With Bendtner supplying the winning goal, but then going down injured, our issues in attack remain in the spotlight. He likely benefited from coming on with Cardiff defenders already tired (much as Poldolski did at West Ham 6 days ago) but he may not be available even for late cameos. Clearly, we have nobody to offer us an hour or more as a lone striking option. I probably don’t need to point out that at least the timing is right given that the transfer window opened today. ..

Regardless, we’ll have one more: a cup match against the ancient enemy on Saturday. They will be lifted from their victory at Manchester United but perhaps also content and happy to drop out of the competition. Remember, they still have home and away games to play in the Europa league, as well as teams to catch if they hope to get back onto the bigger European stage. My thought is that Sherwood will have to rotate to see which (if any) of AVB’s purchases might come good. I wouldn’t expect as smooth or spirited a performance as they put on today at Old Trafford. Still, like Cardiff today they’ll come with nothing to lose. We’ll need even more spirit (if not bandages, duct tape and baling wire) to subdue them.

It should be noted however, that all 4 of our “questionable” players played today (3 of them for all 95 minutes). Perhaps the others nursing “injuries” might be a presence on the bench at least. After that one we have another 9 day mini-break for getting bodies healthy before matches that become increasingly more daunting as January passes into February.

All told, while today’s match (and other recent ones…) may not have been easy on the eyes, we got the result without a few of the players who carried us through the early season. The bodies may be weary but the spirit was (and IS) not lacking. If that’s our low-mark, 2014 offers a measure of promise…

Written by: 17highburyterrace

Happy & Prosperous New Year Fellow Gooners: Ten wishes for 2014.

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Last year I issued a post with ten wishes for 2013, these were (in no particular order):

  1. A top-three finish: both the Chavs and the Northern Oilers are there for the taking and we can finish in the top-three, no doubt about that!
  2. The team to keep its mojo now and to find the perfect balance between a mean defence and attacking football;
  3. A Diaby miracle: he is fit again apparently and I am hoping he will stay fit for most of the remainder of the season to help us finish as high as possible in the league;
  4. Theo to commit long term to Arsenal and the purchase of an additional, quality winger;
  5. A beast of a DM (see previous post for reasons why);
  6. Change of captaincy: TV is a great player but not a great captain. In fact, the captaincy makes him weaker, and there are good potential captains in our team: Mertesacker, Arteta, Wilshere, Szczesny;
  7. A good cup-run either in the CL, or FA-cup. It would be great to beat Bayern Munich, and if we do, this team can get far in the CL. In a way, the same goes for the Swansea away game: a win there could mean the start of a great FA-cup run;
  8. No return to a busy sick bay: it is absolutely fantastic that we have all key players fit and available now, and long may it continue – our bench is looking very strong now;
  9. Holding on to all our key players for once this summer. Arsene to be given full support by the BoD to continue building a top-team by not selling any of our key players, and giving him sufficient funds to strengthen where needed;
  10. Dennis to join our coaching staff and to get a statue at Ashburton Grove!

We did not get one and three, and two is still a work in progress; nevertheless progress has been made and Flamini and Ozil have been a big plus for us in the new season – one in defence and the other in adding an attacking dimension we had been missing.

Four came true and that was probably the turning moment for us in terms of being able to hold on to players again – a big moment, and as a result, nine came true too! Five came true as well, as Flamini has been brilliant for us; but it remains to be seen how long he can play such a major role for us.

Six did not come true officially, but practically Vermaelen has seldom or never been our captain in the new season. Seven… best not to speak about this one. I was at the Blackburn FA cup home game and it was the single worst game I have watched Arsenal play live.

Eight seems to be our faith as once again we have been missing many a key player during the year, especially in the new season. And ten remains a dream. 🙂

My ten wishes for 2014:

  1. A top-two finish, and hopefully us being crowned champions in May.
  2. Full integration of Ozil into the team, and finding the right balance between our options in midfield and attack..
  3. Somebody to properly claim LM/LW, either from the current squad or through buying super quality in January or summer.
  4. 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.
  5. A home win against Bayern, and hopefully us beating the Germans over both legs – after that anything is possible! 🙂
  6. Cesc to return to the real home of football.
  7. Wilshere to find his form again and have a great season and World Cup.
  8. 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).
  9. To keep hold of all our key players whilst adding quality were required – and a few youngsters to make significant progress.
  10. Dennis to join us.

Wishing all BK writers, regular commenters and readers a fabulous and healthy 2014, with many Arsenal highlights! 

COYG: Let’s make 2014 a special year!

Victoria Concordia Crescit! 🙂

TotalArsenal.

Newcastle v Arsenal match review + player ratings and MotM

NEWCASTLE v ARSENAL

Theo Walcott

Brief summary:

Arsenal started very brightly, and with some very slick one touch passes, they moved the ball about with great authority. But as often happens, very little in the way of clear openings.

Krull was a bit slow to clear and Rosicky forced a poor kick and Arsenal were again passing the ball around in the final third. In the 7th minute Walcott got body checked by Tiote when on a one-two run at goal, but the ref ‘did not see it’, but it should have been a yellow card for Tiote.

It took a great pass from Cabaye to Debouchy, who got first run on Gibbs to bring Newcastle into life, but that cross was cleared comfortably enough. Much of our attack was going down the left wing as either Rosicky or Wilshere were working that side with Gibbs. However that proved to be a weakness for Arsenal as Debouchy was able to exploit the space behind, with Gibbs playing catch up. Both Sissoko and Remy had some joy down that wing in the first half, but mostly each side cancelled each other out when it came to scoring opportunities.

In the 9th minute, Rosicky had had a great strike on target, but straight at Krull’s midriff. On the 20 minute mark Arsenal won their first corner after another bright piece of slick passing, but was finally cut out as Walcott ran to the byline. Nothing resulted from the corner though. Giroud got booked, rightly, for tripping Tiote, rightly, as Tiote was breaking forwards, but injured himself when it appeared he tweaked his other ankle on the following run through. Meanwhile, Cazorla was still on the ground from the previous tackle where they had won possession, but no foul was given?

Newcastle finished the half with a flourish after a Cabaye attempt was touched over by a fully stretched Szczesney. From the corner a few dodgy moments, but finally the ball was cleared. 

So honours even, and the half-time score remained at 0-0.

The second half started much the way the first had been. Some occasional nice bits of play which eventually led to one misplaced one and the resulting lost possession, and this from both sides. It looked like neither side would break this pattern, and it was Newcastle who turned to Ben Arfa for the first substitution, although Arsenal had Podolski, Gnabry and Jenkinson warming up.

There were a few more tackles going than in the first half, and Tiote escaped a booking for doing what Giroud had done in the first period. Then came the free kick which Walcott sent a beautiful aimed ball in from about 35 yards out from just left of centre. It was a not too high curler that was on target, but one that Krull would probably have saved. However, Giroud made a perfect run across his defender, and from the camera shot from behind the goal you could see Krull saw him coming and went fractionally to his right, expecting Giro’s header to go across him. Instead it was a little glancing header to his left that meant his previous movement the other way left him so that neither outstretched leg and hand could prevent the goal. Fair play to Giroud, because in the last few matches such a touch might have easily gone agonisingly wide, but he kept faith and was duly rewarded.

That seemed to spark Newcastle into the more physical stuff that got them some joy in the first half. It was Cabaye who got annoyed at Rosicky who just pushed him away. No card on this occasion, but when Rosicky tried to nip possession of him a few minutes later, Cabaye made an agonising cry of pain, although the replay clearly showed that it was Cabaye’s shin that hit Rosicky in the calf. No surprise that Rosicky waved that one away too. But when the much bigger Tiote came up to remonstrate, Rosicky looked him in the eye and told him ‘to go forth and multiply’, in the abbreviated form. The ref booked him, it appeared on the topping up procedure, rather than the tackle itself.

It was a late tackle on Gibbs on the sideline that seemed to catch him on the top of the foot. Not dissimilar to the one that caused all his metatarsal problems a few seasons back. However, I noticed on the next Newcastle attack Gibbs had a definite limp. Whilst I don’t think it is too serious, a crunch toe may be? So it was no surprise that he was subbed by Ateteta, although the Arsenal fans were caught a little bewildered. As indeed was the defence. Flamini thought Sagna would come across to left back and he would go to right back position. Instead, Flamini dropped in at left back, given the absence of Vermaelen from the bench. This confusion arose again with Jenks coming on for Walcott, and played ahead of Sagna. Later on, after Newcastle had brought on all of their subs, Bendtner also came on to give Giroud a well deserved rest.

In between these actions there was a bit of goalmouth activity at both ends. A delightful chip pass by Cazorla for Walcott inside the box; he lobbed the onrushing Krull perfectly, only for Debouchy to clear with a top class piece of defending, heading from under the crossbar to clear it. It came back out to Walcott, whose second shot Krull saved, but he too only pushed it out to Giroud. He hit it with his right foot back across goal and it was cleared. To be fair to Giroud, the ball came at him quickly from only a couple of yards and he was in no position to turn his body around to make it a shot from wide of the post, and even less time to get it on his left foot.

At the other end, a sharp ball into the Arsenal nearly ended badly. The target for the cross was dealt with by Sagna’s low header to Mertersacker, but Szczesney had made the decision to come for it, but would not have made it had Sagna left it to him. In the confusion that followed Sagna taking his own goalkeeper, the ball was cleared.

In another instance, Szczesney came to make a routine clearance, kicking the ball out of his hands, saw Remy closing him down, changed his mind at the last second from clearing up the middle, to going to his left. He did not get the height, but did get Remy full in the face. Luckily for him, the rebound went wide. He was visibly furious with himself … but it may cost him his place in the next game?

With all the subs that Newcastle brought on being of an attacking nature, it was a bit desperate in the last few minutes. Even Krull came up when they had a couple of corners. Which led to a couple of Arsenal possible replies. Cazorla had a cheeky 90 yards pop at goal of the season from the near touchline. Alas, it only went about 60 yards and was easily stopped by the retreating Krull.

The second one involved Bendtner, who managed to get a throw in off the only defender back, with Krull still struggling to get back in goal. Bendtner moves to the middle of the pitch, screaming at Jenkinson to do the throw in, as a quick ball in would have had Bendtner one-on-one with the keeper. But Jenks was not thinking that quickly, and by the time he got the ball, turned around, the moment was lost.

Finally, for the third time Krull went forward for a corner, deep into injury time, instead of hanging deep for a far post knock back, he made for the middle, for Szczesney in fact, but a good solid punch saw the Gunners home.

We expected a tough match, and it was a tough match. Three points gratefully received.

We also had 53% possession, more shots on target(thanks to Ben Arfa?), Newcastle made more fouls but we got 3 yellow cards. The referee Lee Probert lived up to his pre-billing then?

 

Thought and reflections:

In the opening few minutes I thought our midfield had recaptured that enterprising play that saw off teams early on in the season. The trio of Rosicky, Wilshere and Flamini seemed to understand the role of one of the remaining at the back. The fluid inter-positioning and quick passing got Newcastle completely confused. However, they had enough quality players, like Cabaye with his passing range, Debouchy both in defence and attack, Tiote, like him or loathe him, he does a solid job? So it was no surprise that they got back into the game. Arsenal, overall, had the better chances, so the win was not undeserved, even if they had to fight for it.

 

Player by player performances:

SZCZESNEY: Two potentially dangerous errors, two equally great saves. That sort of sums up his game? It has been a demanding run of games, but he will be very pleased with the clean sheet.

MERTERSACKER: Yet another commanding performance. No highlights, just a solid professional day at the office.

KOSCIELNEY: His normally imperious defending was only marred by a sloppy pass that went straight to an attacker. That returned, resulting in him having to make a customary last ditch tackle. unfortunately that ball squirmed out to a Newcastle player, but the danger was cleared. That episode should not take too much off his overall performance, or the excellent partnership with Per Mertersacker.

SAGNA: He had yet another tough day. For the fourth time in a row he has come up trumps. Why he is not worth a decent new contract is anybody’s guess, but performances like these put him in a strong bargaining position? Rarely put a foot wrong, got forward when he could and handled all that Newcastle could muster. Top class from Mr Reliable!

GIBBS: Mixed fortunes for Gibbs. Got forward really well, got some decent crosses in, and was involved in all the early play. Defensively he was not so sure footed. Even in position, Debuchy seemed to have his measure, but often it was the quality of the passing that meant Gibbs was playing behind the runner. His injury late on will probably give him a well earned break. For the amount of running he has done in the last for games it is understandable that a little sharpness was missing?

FLAMINI: He worked across the middle of the park like a sheepdog rounding up the flock. In fact, nipping at the heels go him a booking, but overall a solid game. Very few chances came Newcastle’s way via him. In a game where he specialises in rolled up sleeves, he does not disappoint.

WILSHERE: Definitely one of his better games. He was part of most of our attacking moves going forward in the first half, and was defensively responsible dropping back if Flamini was going forward. Faded a little in the second half, but that was partly due to Newcastle pressure. noticeably did not get uptight or argue in the ref’s face. Solid game, and will do him no harm if he can repeat this next time.

ROSICKY: Oh, a TTM from me Tomas Top Man. Ran the pitch like a man possessed. Never gave up fighting for the ball. His ‘F* Off!’ to Tiote was priceless. If we could bottle his spirit and drip feed it to some nameless others we would not need new players, just a padded cell for them to calm down in. Without him in the side we would not be ToTL right now.

MOTM no question …

CAZORLA: I know many will share my disappointment that Santi could follow up his previous superb game performance. However, for me, it tends reinforces my own opinion of this being another ‘Arshavin-esque’ situation. He needs to be the hub where things evolve from, and his game disappears somewhat when he is a part of another’s creation. I am not meaning he is not a team player, far from it. But when he plays for the team, as he did in the second half, when clearly told to support Gibbs more in defence, he did so. But at the cost of his creativity, where he can bring others into the game. In the first half we saw glimpses of it. In the previous game, when Ozil faded he came into his own. Here, he not only had to contend with Rosicky with ‘Duracell’, but also Wilshere being in the spaces he can operate much better in … when allowed to? I feel this will be an ongoing problem, and not one easily resolved?

GIROUD: The Hero. The Villain. But whatever your view, you simply cannot deny that Giro is the ultimate team worker. The most important thing though, is the players understand the latter to a man. He works his socks off in every game, and even this one, on the back of some slim pickings, near misses, soft chances not taken, he was still in there, putting every last ounce of effort in.

So boy did he deserve his goal today?

Whether he can kick on from here, or take a short break, like Ozil, until the Villa game, remains to be seen. The second half of the season is going to be equally tough, so if I were him I would take a ‘chill out’ break if it is offered.

WALCOTT: He too was not as effective in this game as he was against West Ham. I think that was mostly down to better defending. He did not have the space to work in, when he did early on and he got fouled and that might have put him off his game? But when he was in space passes did not reach for one reason or another. However, he will be remembered for that one piece of magic that gave him the assist for the goal. You often hear commentators say ‘…it only needed a slight touch and ..’? Well this one got it, and did it make everybody in the Arsenal camp relieved?

His other chance to double the score was very cleverly saved by a goal line clearance, and he rebound shot was pushed aside by the keeper. But I think overall he can be happy he made the difference?

Finally, to those who think we should go for Berbatov, I say if you want the team to play with 10 men and somebody up front, then ask the players who they want?

Mertersacker says ‘We need to buy the RIGHT players to help win the title’ … I agree.

Written by: Gerry