Match Preview: Arsenal vs Manchester City

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Ok so we kick off our formidable fixtures list with a home game against City. Last time around at the Etihad in a 1-1 draw we were treated to a game of 2 halves, in which both teams stamped their authority on the match at different times. Let’s not sugar coat this, it will be a tough match for Arsenal to win and here’s hoping our tremendous record against City at home, continues to ring true.

This is however possibly the best time we could have to play City since they have many of their players out, both with injury and suspensions and also the African Cup. City will have to make do without Nasri, Kolo Toure, Aguero, Yaya Toure and Maicon. Unfortunately this does leave their defense pretty much intact but takes away from their physicality in midfield and creativity and finishing quality in attack. Arsenal meanwhile will have to make do with Gervinho which will be a terrible loss I’m sure and unfortunately maybe also Giroud who has a nasty cut over his knee thanks to a Swansea player stamping on him. Last time around it was very much a game of who could counter-attack better and somewhat amusingly, both goals were scored against the run of play. This time without the presence of Yaya Toure in midfield and the threat of Nasri on the wing, I would expect Arsenal to be able to assert some form of dominance over the middle and force City to play on the counter, rather than their usual tactic of short passing and possession in their opposition’s own half.

The defensive pairing for this match will be a big decision for Arsene Wenger and could play a crucial part in this match. On one hand we can play Mertesacker for his organisational abilities at the back, governing the offside trap and starting each attacking play, or we could bring in Koscielny since City possess players with good dribbling skills who could turn the slow German inside out, much like Aguero did to him last time. Given that City have scored over a quarter of their goals this season from set pieces, I would choose a partnership of Koscielny and Vermaelen, both for being able to stop tricky dribblers and because for some reason, both of these shorter players are better in the air than Mertesacker. I also think aside from the set pieces, one of the biggest threats we will face in this match will be Tevez’s movement and spontaneous shooting, so two players who are able to get tight to their markers and prevent shots on the turn will be ideal.

Attacking-wise, last time Wenger chose to use a striker with pace in behind their defensive line and deployed Ramsey at right wing to drift inwards and gain a man advantage in the midfield battle. I don’t expect this to change, though I feel Ramsey might be on the left wing this time, with Podolski coming off the bench in the second half, hopefully in the same explosive form as he was against Swansea City. With Giroud in doubt for this match, I expect Wenger to use Walcott as our striker and it remains to be seen if he’s physically tough enough to deal with the attentions of Nastasic and Kompany. I would expect Arsenal to attack mostly through the middle with Oxlade Chamberlain cutting in on the right at times to mix things up. I almost hope I’m wrong though as I’d like to see Podolski start this match, partnering with Gibbs and Ramsey on the right wing, with Oxlade held in reserve to use his pace and trickery to our advantage late in the match. The midfield trio is the key to success in this match, Arteta and Wilshere will surely have their hands full with Silva drifting in off his wing, looking to exploit any space and two volatile forwards like Balotelli and Tevez moving in and around our lines. Yet Cazorla can do the same at the other end of the pitch and unless City commit a Center Back to his movements, the City midfield may have a busy day as Cazorla is at his best, moving around and finding space even out on the wings and there’s no way he’ll just stay central in a match like this.

So overall, we have a good chance at this one, the real game changer in question is whether Mancini starts in a 4-5-1 as expected or his much-experimented 3-4-1-2, as this would change the entire dynamic of the game, for better or worse. It’s unlikely though and in the expected system this game would look to be a real arm wrestle in the center with neither having great options on the wing. Gibbs could be a deciding factor with his pacy bursts forward and Wenger’s decision on both his starting Center Half pairing and whether to start Podolski or hold him in reserve will dictate the tempo of the match, particularly in the first half. The other telling factor will be how well we deal with any set pieces they have, which also means not giving away fouls in dangerous areas of the pitch and defending corners properly.

Manchester City Dangermen: Well they’re all dangerous but the biggest threats will most likely be Tevez, Balotelli and Silva. And also Dzeko who I would expect to sub on in the second half and can be a real game changer.

Result Prediction: The similar pressures in midfield from the two teams, suggests a draw to me, I’d say 2-2 but hopefully we can nick a late win.

Predicted Lineup: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Chamberlain, Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Walcott

Conclusion: Both teams will compete early for control of the middle, which could be quite a high tempo start. Expect only a few clear cut chances created by either side and a rather cagey affair until the first goal is scored with City playing on the counter and Arsenal breaking their teeth on City’s defensive line. Impact subs in the second half have the potential to blow the game wide open and make it a very exciting last 25 or so minutes. Who knows, maybe Giroud will be fit enough to sub in late and make an impact along with Podolski.

If you live near the Emirates, get down there and show the timid home support how to REALLY cheer on our team as it plays a major part to a team’s performance in a big match such as this. It will be a huge 3 points if we get them and considering the fixtures that await us, a real momentum boost. Come On You Gunners!

 

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Match Preview: Swansea City vs Arsenal

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FA Cup time! And a must-win match for Arsenal against a Swansea City side that quite frankly we didn’t turn up against last time we played and lost 2-0 to them. So assuming the players aren’t too exhausted from their disappointing match against Southampton(where they didn’t appear to use any energy) we should be in for a better contest this time around. Looking at Swansea’s recent form and efforts this season in the league it would be reasonable to expect a game in a similar mould to the recent one against Newcastle, although without the ridiculous scoreline. Let me explain.

Swansea play in a 4-2-3-1 formation, opting to attack down their right wing and through the center,  prioritising thru balls as their chosen method of breaking through defenses to score. This is similar to the style Newcastle employs in attack and like them, Swansea also like to play possession football in their own half with short sharp passing and don’t heavily pressure their opponent. Where this game will differ is that Swansea have the majority of their starting eleven fit for this match and are far better at both keeping possession and holding onto a lead once they have it. And this is the biggest problem we will face against them, stopping them from scoring first. If we look throughout the season, Arsenal have done best against teams that have played somewhat erratically. By that I mean teams that have come out swinging, tried to score goals and allowed us to play counter-attack and in general, they’ve been games that are very open with end to end action, and Arsenal have simply outscored their opposition. So it stands to reason that if we manage to stop them scoring first we could do some real damage. Teams like Swansea with thru ball strategies and slightly shaky defense lines are far better suited to playing counter-attacking football so to take the lead against them would really be grabbing the initiative in this match.

Defensively is where they are weakest, Swansea have struggled to prevent teams from creating scoring opportunities this season, which is in sharp contrast to their impressive home record of last season. Their biggest weakness unfortunately for us is allowing teams to get in good positions to take long shots and conceding from set pieces, neither of which we are very good at, unless the likes of Arteta or Cazorla decide to have a ping from range(and I hope they do), so we’ll be much better off exposing the other weaknesses they have, which are winning aerial duels and dealing with tricky, skillful opposing players. To this end I think we’ll see Giroud starting at Center Forward for this one with Walcott’s pace and trickery utilised on the right wing. Swansea’s left wing isn’t particularly geared towards attacking so the chances of Walcott getting in behind their back line will be less and I would expect the game to therefore be decided from the left. Assuming Arsenal mean business in this match I’d expect Podolski and Gibbs to be too much for Swansea’s right wing to handle and although their midfield is strong, Cazorla should still be able to link up well with these two and create enough chances for Giroud to do some damage. The fact that they have trouble defending aerially will just play into Giroud’s hands all the more and I expect him to play an important role in this match.

Overall our lineup is likely to be similar to previous weeks with the exception of Walcott playing at right wing instead of center forward.  However we may see a change at the back also, given that Swansea are fond of thru balls and their rather deadly player Michu is no slouch I wouldn’t be suprised to see Koscielny partnering Vermaelen at the back instead of the slower Mertesacker. I would also expect Arsenal to really come out of the blocks tonight as I believe Wenger would be most keen on giving some rest to key players like Cazorla with the match against Manchester City looming just around the corner. A tactic of going out guns blazing, taking a solid lead and then consolidating by bringing on a holding player like Ramsey may well be Wenger’s tactic for this one.

Swansea City Dangermen: Without a doubt it’s Michu. The 2 million pound Spanish wonder has been scoring goals for fun in the Premier League with 13 already and last time we played them and sat back in the final minutes he made us pay. Their right winger Hernandez must also be kept quiet.

Result Prediction: Assuming Arsenal come out to play this time I’ll say 3-2 Arsenal

Predicted Lineup: 4-4-1-1 formation – Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny,Vermaelen, Gibbs, Podolski, Arteta, Wilshere, Walcott, Cazorla, Giroud

Conclusion: This has the potential to be a really open ended game, both teams boast attacking firepower and questionable defensive flaws. A game where if either team doesn’t come out firing and put in the effort, the other team could really humiliate them on the scoreboard. I think Arsenal will pinch it but I’m expecting a high tempo, mistake-riddled match and a real nail biter. Fortunately this is an away match so we can rely on our mad away fan support to cheer the boys on to victory, Come On You Gunners!

Match Preview: Arsenal vs Newcastle United

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So the Toon Army is coming to the Emirates! And on the back of 3 wins in a row this is another must-win to get 3 valuable points before we head into an extremely torrid list of fixtures in January where it’s reasonable to expect we will drop a few points. By contrast to our recent form, Newcastle are not currently enjoying their season and with our team well rested thanks to a screwup with the trains at Christmas and with an energy sapping 3-4 loss to Manchester United just 3 days ago for the toons, now is the perfect time to hit them hard.

Newcastle’s suprisingly poor form this season owes a lot to what I call “Arsenalitis”. This is a condition where the team lacks proper depth and suffers injuries to several key players right when they go up against tough opposition. This usually leaves the team with less offensive power and a shaky back line. In Newcastle’s case they are missing the defensive solidity of Steve Taylor, the playmaking skills of Yohan Cabaye and the star quality of Hatem Ben Arfa on the left wing. So what does this mean for Arsenal? Well let’s look at how they like to play first of all. Newcastle have been favoring playing through the middle with Arfa out injured, they like to retain possession in their own half and attack fairly quickly, using either long balls or thru balls. I think the most telling factor in this match will be whether Alan Pardew opts for playing Newcastle’s standard 4-4-2 formation or the occasionally used 4-5-1 with Cisse on the right wing. Very few teams have dared to play more than one striker against Arsenal this season and most that have learned quickly that it is a mistake. Reading changed to a 4-5-1 after half time to stem the goal flow and even Manchester United who are the undisputed kings of playing 4-4-2 in the Premier League, changed to a 4-5-1 with Rooney dropping deeper to pick up Arteta and make life hard for our midfield.

The only team thus far this season to play a 4-4-2 against us somewhat successfully was Spurs and Adebayor’s stupidity ended that problem for us pretty early on. So if Newcastle do end up playing a 4-4-2 against us I predict that they’ll realise their error fairly early and switch to a 4-5-1 to try and nullify the effectiveness of our midfield trio. This isn’t bad news for us either way as it would mean taking Cisse away from our goalbox and leaving Demba Ba as the only main threat. It’s likely that the combined skills of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla will be too much for Newcastle’s midfield without Cabaye and I would expect their reaction to be sending even more long balls than normal towards Demba Ba, which is why it is vital to have either Vermaelen or Koscielny man-marking Ba and the wings and this provides a selection headache for Wenger. With Koscielny fit and rested, does he stay with the combination of Mertesacker and Vermaelen? Or does he instead play Vermaelen and Koscielny at the back. Newcastle have enjoyed good success this season by playing thru balls for Demba Ba and although they haven’t been great at beating a well organised offside trap, it only takes one to make you pay the price. Per Mertesacker’s greatest weakness is his lack of pace and against a team utilising this tactic he may not be the best choice at the back. He was caught out last match against Wigan in this manner, which we very nearly paid the price for and with Demba Ba taking the shot we probably would pay dearly. Mertesacker is also not as good in the air as Koscielny and since Newcastle will be attacking both with the aforementioned thru balls and also long balls I don’t see him as a great choice for this encounter although Arsene Wenger does suscribe heavily to the theory of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” when it comes to his defensive selections. This would be an even more dangerous selection if Newcastle choose to play a 4-4-2 and have both Cisse and Ba looking for thru balls.

Looking further forwards we can analyse where the potential for Newcastle’s destruction lies. Steve Taylor may be out but their defense are still a physical bunch and due to this I would expect Giroud to start up front, using his power and intelligent movement to break up their defense. Meanwhile on the right wing I would expect Walcott to start although this may not be our best avenue of attack, since he’ll be facing off against Davide Santon, a youngster who I regard as one of the best left backs in the league and certainly their most consistent defender. Without Ben Arfa supporting him the wing will be less dangerous to defend and if Walcott keeps a high line it’s possible he can be exposed but I think it’s far more practical to target Danny Simpson on the other wing and to this end I would hope to see both Gibbs and Podolski heavily involved in this match, particularly if they play the attack-minded Papiss Cisse as Simpson’s support in a 4-5-1 formation.

There’s no reason why we can’t also attack through the middle but I expect Newcastle to try and stifle the center since that will be their own avenue and as a result Cazorla will drift towards Podolski where the space will hopefully be. Defensively Newcastle have been poor of late and Wilshere’s bursts forward can certainly cause problems for them but the majority of play should be centered on crosses from the left wing unless Walcott decides to have “one of those days” and rip Santon apart. Overall I think both teams will score but as we tend to make less individual errors, have much fresher players and a tighter defense than Newcastle at the moment, I would expect Arsenal to emerge victorious at the final whistle. If Newcastle prove to be too fatigued to make a match of it, this is a game where Walcott’s pace in behind from the right could prove devastating. If the defense doesn’t get tight to him they will pay a hefty price.

Newcastle United Dangermen: Demba Ba and Cisse. Ba has been a big goal threat this season with 11 goals already and Cisse has the ability to turn on the skills at any time. Neither player must be underestimated or left unmarked in the box for a second.

Result Prediction: I think Arsenal’s offensive capability and lack of injuries to key players will give them the edge in this one. Both teams will probably score so  I’ll say 3-1 Arsenal.

Predicted Lineup: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Walcott, Arteta, Wilshere, Podolski, Cazorla, Giroud

Conclusion: Newcastle are tired from battling United just 3 days earlier. The Emirates crowd have been louder of late and on the back of 3 wins in a row, they should spur our boys on well. Expect an early battle for control of the middle with occasional wing attacks from Arsenal and thru balls towards Demba Ba. Once the game’s tempo is decided, Newcastle will most likely opt for a long ball game while Arsenal concentrate the majority of their attacking through the left side of the field. Right then, let’s get behind the team and enjoy the match, Come On You Gunners!

Match Preview: Reading vs Arsenal

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OK so here we go again in this roller coaster season we’re having. On paper Arsenal should have no trouble travelling to Reading and knocking the stuffing out of them but how often do things actually pan out the way they should? So let’s take a look at what Reading bring to the plate since the last time we played resulted in an epic 7-5 victory for Arsenal in the League Cup, which is unlikely to happen again…

Brian McDermott’s Reading side attacks in an interesting and innovative way. They use the width of the park to stretch the defense and create crossing opportunities much like Arsenal do but then they utilise their forwards to pull the defense out of position by drifting wide and working the channels, taking the Center Back with them, before pulling the ball back for their midfielders to score from the edge of the area. While this is their primary tactic they also field strong independent strikers in Roberts, Hunt and Le Fondre. Their standard formation of 4-4-2 includes 2 of these threats for Arsenal’s Center Backs to contain, as all three are quite capable of bringing the ball down on their own and turning a defender to shoot. Whichever Center Back pairing Wenger chooses will have to be very alert and quick to shutdown any long range shooting from both the strikers and midfielders if we’re to win this game comfortably.

Looking at the last time we played them and the way that we were shockingly down by 0-4 before halftime is actually quite comforting. The primary problem in this match for Arsenal(besides appearing to be hungover) was the weak secondary defense of Jenkinson, Djourou, Koscielny, Miguel and Martinez, that we fielded for the league cup and boy did I feel sorry for Koscielny having to be paired with that lump. Yet Reading deployed their strongest team and still managed to blow a 4-0 lead. This suggests that they are not good at holding onto a win, evidenced further with their 3-4 loss to United the other week and the fact they’ve lost their last 5 matches. A lot of Arsenal’s problems last time stemmed from having a poor defensive line and Martinez(our 4th choice keeper) in goal. Reading found it incredibly easy to run overlaps past our fullbacks and deliver crosses for Roberts to create chances from. Against the likes of Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen and Gibbs this is far less likely to happen. Particularly with Szczesny also in goal, so we can expect to concede far less stupid goals like the one’s Reading scored that day. I tend to think the primary threat that Reading carry is their scoring from set pieces, 37% of their goals this season have come from this and given Arsenal’s poor record at defending these it’s something we need to be very wary of. While it’s true that Arsenal have become much more solid at defending corners over recent times, freekicks from dangerous positions still fill me with dread. United learnt just last week how deadly Reading can be from these and I believe this will be the main test for Arsenal to maintain a clean sheet.

The best news for Arsenal is that while Reading can score goals, they can’t defend them to save their lives. In particular their penchant for playing possession football in their opponent’s half, coupled with their inability to retain possession for long periods of time makes them extremely vulnerable to counter-attacking football, something that Arsenal do very well. Despite being good at defending set pieces their defense isn’t as organised as it should be leading to a vulnerability against through balls and rather suprisingly a weakness for winning aerial duels. With this in mind I really hope Giroud is sufficiently fit enough to start this match, we saw in the League Cup match against Reading how he changed things after subbing on, quickly ripping their defense to shreds with his intelligent runs off the ball and sending them into disarray for Walcott to take advantage of. This may also be a game for Podolski to redeem himself somewhat in the eyes of Arsenal fans since the last few matches he has appeared invisible on the pitch for unknown reasons. The talent is there for all to see but the desire and hunger seems to be lacking, which I suppose goes for almost the entire team at the moment.

Overall I believe this is a game we should win and win well, which will be dictated by how Reading approach this game. Will they respect Arsenal’s attacking firepower and sit deep in 2 defensive banks of 4 hoping to hit us hard on the counter-attack through the speed of their wingers? Or will they try to play their possession game in our own half despite going up against one of the toughest midfields in the Premier League and having one of the lowest average match possession stats in the league of 41%? The former seems more likely and while on the counter Reading carry an offensive threat, with Vermaelen increasingly looking like the “Verminator” again and not a mouse and the ever impressive Mertesacker, we should have a strong back line further reinforced by the in-form Szczesny. Reading didn’t have to deal with the likes of Wilshere, Arteta and Cazorla last time and I truly believe we carry too much firepower for them to prevent us scoring a few goals. Just don’t let Gervinho start at Center Forward… And for the love of god, please let us have an offensive option on the bench just incase, not Gervinho!

Reading Dangermen: Roberts, Hunt, two offensive threats up front that warrant close attention but the biggest threat is Nicky Shorey, the defender responsible for delivering Reading’s dangerous set pieces.

Result Prediction: I don’t see either team keeping a clean sheet unless Arsenal produce a vintage performance. I’ll say 4-2 Arsenal.

Predicted Lineup: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Walcott, Arteta, Wilshere, Podolski, Cazorla, Giroud

Conclusion: Playing away to Reading means our mad away supporters will get behind the team just like they did in the League Cup match. Arsenal should possess to much firepower for Reading to deal with, there are doubts on if Walcott will start but Oxlade Chamberlain has looked impressive lately and should do a fine job. Overall this should be a good match for our team to gain some confidence from by securing the 3 points. Come On You Gunners!

 

 

Match Preview: Bradford City vs Arsenal

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So a trip to Valley Parade to play league 2 Bradford City in the Capital One Cup Quarter Finals! With any luck the lads will be still be on a high after the great win against West Brom and we can move past this round with little difficulty. Mind you I’m sure that’s what Wigan Athletic were thinking last round and look what Bradford did to them, so it’s safe to say we should not take this match lightly. Arsene Wenger was quoted saying “we want to win in normal time” which is good to hear because I don’t think my heart can take another 7-5 win in extra time like in the last round of the Capital One Cup vs Reading.

Looking at how Bradford play and their recent track record they could prove a difficult obstacle to dislodge, they’ve won 10 out of their last 11 matches and progressed to this fixture by beating Wigan on penalties. Against Wigan they basically parked a big fat bus right on their goal box and Wigan simply didn’t have the means to unlock their defense and score. Against us this will be a much bigger risk. While it’s true that Arsenal have been having trouble scoring recently, most of that is due to teams pressing our midfield(particularly Arteta) and not allowing us to build up our nice flowing passing from the back. Bradford play in a 4-4-2 formation which I believe they will deploy rather narrowly against us in an attempt to stifle the midfield with the sheer amount of bodies. But if Bradford choose to play defensively and not even offer a decent counter-attacking threat trying to hold on for a draw and penalties, then i feel that Arsenal will rip them apart even if we play our second string squad players. The likes of Gervinho, Chamberlain, Jenkinson and Rosicky will too much for their defenders to deal with all match if they invite the pressure by playing defensively and by standing off and giving space to our midfielders, the chances will come. One issue we will have to contend with will be the quality of a league 2 football pitch, making passing more difficult but overall I expect us to score a few.

Looking at the players available it will be interesting to see who Wenger selects for this match. There will be the experienced players in the mix like Rosicky, Arshavin, Squillaci and with any luck, Koscielny but also I’m hoping a few of our promising youngsters like Gnabry, Eisfeld and Meade might all start this one. Coquelin is another player who may feature as well as Ramsey, we may even see a midfield of Coquelin, Ramsey and Rosicky starting this match, it just depends how much of a threat Wenger sees Bradford as. The last conundrum will be who starts at Center Forward. Despite some appalling  misses in the last match vs West Brom I think Gervinho should be the one up top, partly because I think he could do no worse than his efforts on the wing and partly because I believe Wenger has very little faith in Chamakh to start this one.

Overall I just hope he chooses a solid defense after that shocking 1-4 result at half time vs Reading last round. Bradford City have a very traditional-style pairing up front in James Hanson and Nahki Wells. Hanson is tall and strong in the air, while Wells is small, pacy and a decent striker from range, meaning long balls forward and the subsequent knockdowns are something that our defense must be wary of. I really hope Koscielny is fit enough to start this game as I feel he is the best player we have when it comes to aerial defense and interceptions. I’d also really rather see Szczesny in goal to Mannone as the memories of those weak save attempts vs Fulham come flooding back and the fact that Nahki Wells has scored 14 goals this season already, is cause for real concern.

Bradford City Dangermen: Nahki Wells, James Hanson and Nathan Doyle who is an ex-player from the Premier League at Hull City.

Result Prediction: Tough to call but I think we’ll manage a solid win. Wells can’t be underestimated so 4-1 Arsenal.

Predicted Lineup: 4-4-1-1 formation – Mannone, Jenkinson, Squillaci,Vermaelen, Meade, Chamberlain, Ramsey, Coquelin, Arshavin, Rosicky, Gervinho. Expect young prospects like Gnabry and Eisfeld on the bench.

Conclusion: This is a Quarter Final, Mickey Mouse Cup or not and Wenger will hopefully take it very seriously. If we field a decent strength squad we should break through their blockade eventually and win the match but be prepared for a frustrating game unless we score early, in which case all hell will break loose as Bradford chase the game.

Match Preview: Everton vs Arsenal

Off to Goodison Park for a midweek clash with David Moyes’ Everton, a team that started red hot and is suddenly struggling for results. This fixture always makes for an interesting tactical battle and with both teams experiencing a dip in form I expect high drama once again. Everton have uncharacteristically for a change, started the season really well and sit just above us in 5th place. Winning this game would mean moving up the table and potentially boosting our morale for the relatively light run we have into the end of the year before all hell breaks loose in January with our rather frightening match schedule.

Everton will unfortunately be able to rely on the services of their well rested and fully fit attacking midfield beast Fellaini, who’s just returned from a suspension but they are missing several key players in Coleman, Mirallas and their stalwart captain Phil Neville. This season they have favoured a similar formation and strategy to our own in that they play in a 4-4-1-1 and like to attack down the flanks, particularly the left wing of Baines and Pienaar. Their winger and fullback duos are very aggressive and favour overlapping runs and triangles with Fellaini in order to create space for crossing opportunities, something our fullbacks will have to be very aware of as they create many scoring chances from these crosses. Everton have a tough physical midfield that likes to keep possession in the opponent’s half with short sharp passing and constant lateral movement, testing the defense on both sides. In this game however they may be slightly more predictable without being able to field their usual right wing duo of Coleman and Mirallas which could make them far easier to defend against by focusing their attack only on the left. They are in a sense, very much like Arsenal in that they have a brilliant starting eleven but lack the depth to play convincingly when one or two of their starters are out injured. One thing we will have to be very mindful of is conceding silly, pointless freekicks in dangerous areas as Everton have scored 22% of their goals this season from set pieces and given our weakness at defending them, this is a very real threat. They are also not at all shy about having a go from range, the majority of which come from their central midfielders so our defense will have to stay alert and close down players before they have an opportunity to shoot.

From an attacking point of view, Arsenal will be best off attempting to press their midfield, not easy with the likes of Fellaini and Osman in the center but if we do not and we allow Everton time and space on the ball, it will go very badly for us. Everton’s main weakness is the high defensive line they like to play. With Baines and Coleman always pushing up this allows for wingers to beat the offside trap often and a clever center forward making lateral and diagonal runs may be able to pull their Center Backs out of position and allow a midfielder to run into the space created between them, something a player like Wilshere excels at. Theo Walcott who’s been pronounced fit once more for this match will be against it vs Leighton Baines who’s probably the best left back in the league but this may still prove to be the best avenue for our attacks. He has the pace to beat their high offside trap and his wide runs should help to really stretch the isolated center backs and create scoring opportunities for Giroud, Cazorla and Wilshere. Given that this match will most likely be decided by this battle on our right wing it is critical that both Sagna and Walcott start as their chemistry makes for one of the best pairings in the league and our best hope of gaining this tactical edge.

The combination of Gibbs and Podolski on the left is more of a lucky dip attack avenue as lately with Podolski you’re never sure what you’re going to get. The fact that Vermaelen was rested for the match vs Aston Villa suggests to me he may well start at left back in this one, particularly since Gibbs is still returning from a lengthy injury and probably still lacks match fitness after playing just 3 days ago. I think the biggest worry for Arsenal however is how fatigued Cazorla and Arteta will be for this match, both looked quite lethargic vs Villa and now just 3 days later they face a much sterner test. Arteta will undoubtedly be out under constant pressure by Fellaini and it may prove disastrous for us. We may see early subs for either player in the form of Ramsey and Coquelin and if we’re really lucky our little Mozart Tomas Rosicky, who’s fresh returned from a long injury spell and it will be interesting how these players fare in these key positions. Overall I remain cautiously optimistic of our chances given that we have a better track record against Everton than pretty much any other team in the Premier League and although Everton can be tenacious, our players always seem to be up for this one, home or away.

Everton Dangermen: Fellaini, Jelavic, Baines, Pienaar, Jagielka

Result Prediction: With the disappointing result vs Aston Villa the players will really want to prove themselves and coupled with our results history against Everton and the spirit we usually display against them I’ll say a tight win for us in a real nail biter, 2-1 Arsenal.

Predicted Lineup: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Walcott, Wilshere, Arteta, Podolski, Cazorla, Giroud

Conclusion: Everton will bring it, they always do. They will look to attack us through the wing of Baines and Pienaar with support from Fellaini, befor whipping in crosses for Jelavic. They will also try to punish us from set pieces and corners. Arsenal will try to press back their midfield and nullify Fellaini’s man marking of Arteta while playing triangles through Cazorla and the wing of Walcott and Sagna. Giroud will make lateral runs to both stay onside and pull their Center Backs out of position for Wilshere and Cazorla to run into the channels of space created. Wilshere’s involvement both in attack and defense is key in this match.

We may well get a really pleasant and welcome suprise by seeing Tomas Rosicky back in the side today off the bench and this would do wonders for our season ambition as well as finally allowing Santi Cazorla some rest! Time to get behind the team and listen to those crazy away fans of ours again, Come On You Gunners!

Match Preview: Aston Villa vs Arsenal

So off to Villa park to play a side that has really gone downhill in recent years. Aston Villa were once considered a very tricky fixture, capable of upsetting many top teams but these days they find themselves in the relegation zone. With 4 points in their last 5 matches and having received a 0-5 hammering from Manchester City last weekend we’ll likely be playing a side that’s desperate to turn it’s luck around and this may make for a decent contest. The Gunners are flying high after their recent form so let’s hope it continues in this fashion for us.

Looking at their style of play, Aston Villa have the potential to cause us problems. They favour an aggressive, pressing approach in a 4-2-3-1 formation, preferring to not allow their opponent time on the ball and this has the potential to disrupt our flowing passing game. However this is a very different Aston Villa team to the one of previous years that was filled with large physical players. The majority of their team is relatively young and against Manchester City the other week they simply bounced off of their midfield when they attempted to play this way. While we don’t have a rampaging beast like Yaya Toure in our side, this still may actually be one of the few matches where our relatively light midfield isn’t simply out-muscled and enjoys some solid possession as a result. But while I do believe we can dominate in the middle and control the game, the real danger will come from Villa’s tactic of playing long balls to their forwards, something that is bound to keep our defense pretty busy. On top of this they have the likes of Agbonlahor on the wing and Darren Bent upfront who’ve both enjoyed some decent games against us in the past. So all in all it’s set to be a busy afternoon for our back 4 and it will be interesting to see who Wenger favours with Gibbs fit and ready to play at left back once more and Koscielny fast returning to his ice-cold best form. As well as this we play the in-form Everton 3 days after and both Sagna and Wilshere are still returning from injury and may struggle with playing so many fixtures.

Offensively we have plenty of players who can hurt Villa. The match just the other week against Manchester United showed their lack of composure, losing the match 2-3 after being up 2-0 at half time, while against Manchester City they were undone time and again by counter-attacks and dominant play through the middle. Their forwards were also caught offside a lot so a well run offside trap may pay dividends against their long ball strategy. I’d like to see Arsenal play slightly conservative early on in this one, keeping possession and exposing any over-eager pressing from the opposition. Even with Walcott out injured we have the players to really hurt them on the fast break in Gibbs, Gervinho and Podolski and this would seem to be an effective way to play without conceding any stupid early goals. A tricky, direct player like Gervinho might also be useful for running into the box and drawing the foul, since they’ve put in plenty of clumsy challenges this season and gave away 2 penalties vs City last week. Overall with Villa’s poor goal-conversion rate and suspect defense, I’m fairly confident we’ll score enough goals to win this match and would much rather see the emphasis on our defense to keep another clean sheet and maintain building confidence in our team from the back.

Expect a bit of rotation in this match from Mr “I don’t rotate my starting eleven” Wenger. Everton cannot be underestimated and since we play them in 3 days time I’d expect Wilshere to be subbed early on for Ramsey and possibly either Vermaelen or Koscielny, as well as Sagna to be rested.

Aston Villa Dangermen: Aston Villa rotate their starting eleven a lot so it’s hard to say who’ll play. Benteke is a powerful goal threat despite only having scored 2 so far this season. Likewise Agbonlahor and Darren Bent can never be underestimated if they start.

Result Prediction: It’s vital we continue our good form and don’t struggle against a team in the relegation zone. I’d expect a fairly strong lineup despite the mid-week appointment vs Everton and this should see a comprehensive victory for us. 3-0 Arsenal.

Predicted Lineup: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gervinho, Arteta, Wilshere, Podolski, Cazorla, Giroud

Conclusion: Aston Villa will attempt to press us high up the pitch and hopefully be reduced to chasing shadows in the middle if our team is focused from the very first minute. Arsenal will attempt to control the game through the center and use Cazorla’s creative nous to create opportunities, while also looking to exploit their aggressive nature by hitting them hard on the break through Podolski. Our defense will try to stay organised and deal with the many long balls forward and it’s vital to not give them space to shoot. Arteta’s steady disciplined presence in the heart of our midfield will be a potential game changer.

Right then, time to get behind the team for this one, looking forward to hearing our mad away fans drowning out the Villain’s home crowd. Come On You Gunners!

On track and forward: Arsenal vs Montpellier preview

After a fabulous game against our neighbors that put them firmly in our shadows we now turn to a game which will determine our qualification into the next round of Europe. Oh hey, look its Olivier Giroud’s old club that we have to beat again. Since the first time we faced them Montpellier have settled down as a team compared to before and look like a threat that can cause problems for us anytime of the week. Let’s take an in depth look at this Montpellier team which is in good form recently:

For Montpellier, there is no way for them to qualify for the next round but there is still a chance that they can get third place and secure a position in the Europa league. How would this be achieved? By beating Arsenal and Olympiacos losing to Schalke, though the chances of something like that occurring are very slim as Arsenal are very tough at home. For obvious reasons we have to look at the previous fixture and think of Montpellier as a formidable opponent as they were able to outplay us for large periods of the 2nd half in the first game we played in France. But looking as to why that happened we have to look at the formation and the players of Montpellier in general. Cabella played on the RW in that game and he ran rings around our first choice Left Back Kieran Gibbs. To do that against our most consistent Left Back was an achievement in itself since Gibbs has covered the left hand side so deftly this year. It was a worry to see and is something that could haunt us in this fixture as well. Apart from Cabella we may now have to deal with Charbonnier on the wings (who was not in the squad vs Arsenal in the first fixture), a tricky winger who can cause trouble for any sides and has a fantastic eye for goal. Also this time Arsenal may have to deal with Herrera from the get go, a player who caused significant problems in our defensive formation last time with his presence in the box.

Montpellier also have been in good form in Ligue 1 this month in general, going 5 games unbeaten in their last 5 (2 wins and 3 draws) which brings up the question are they an easy team to beat? No, they’ve vastly improved their defense from the previous games that they’ve played. They’ve employed a bit more of a defensive style which helps them sit back and counter but in their countering they use the pace of their wingers rather than have everyone push up (which they use to do before). Montpellier are clearly out for some pride at this point with virtually no chance of progressing to the final 16 and this makes any team a dangerous prospect. Montpellier typically setup in a 4-3-3 formation(although this does sometimes switch to a 4-2-3-1 mid-game) with Herrera up top and the dangerous wingers Camara and Charbonnier either side. Their biggest threat however, has to be Younes Belhanda who sits behind the striker in midfield and plays a no.10 role in the team. He likes to get forward often and isn’t afraid to try his luck and is a player that the likes of Mikel Arteta will have to watch closely. In general Montpellier will attempt to keep the ball in midfield, moving the play from side to side before pushing up to the edge of the box to attempt either a through ball or a long shot to hopefully force either a defensive or keeping error.

Now for the good news. Montpellier are quite vulnerable to crosses into the box on counter-attack and they don’t deal with tricky skillful players very well. This means the likes of Gervinho, Gibbs and Giroud should be able to cause some damage to their defense. I would assume that due to their aggressive nature it would benefit Arsenal to play somewhat cautiously and keep possession in midfield and try to expose them if they commit too many bodies forward. Counter-attacking would seem the ideal way to achieve this and if Arsenal can score an early goal I’d love to see this approach taken. I believe our midfield is superior to theirs and should be able to keep possession for decent spells. Patience and using the width of the pitch might be the best way to frustrate Montpellier into losing their defensive shape and hitting them hard when they do. I’d expect Giroud to have decent success vs their Center Backs in the air so the more crosses swung in the better, it’s just a shame Theo Walcott is unavailable to play this one.

Looking at our own lineup for this game we are blessed and cursed at the same time. On the positive side we have Gibbs and Gervinho(err I think that’s positive..) returning to the side and on the negative we have Walcott who’s been in such fine form, nursing his shoulder injury from the match vs that ‘other team in North London’ and Santos unavailable also(probably ate too many burgers or got booked for speeding). Even with Gibbs back and available I would expect Wenger to operate on the side of caution and use him only as a sub in this one, keeping him fresh and fit for the Premier League match this weekend vs Aston Villa. In Walcott’s stead I would expect seniority to rule the vote and therefore Gervinho should start over Oxlade-Chamberlain. The rest will most likely be the victors from last weekend, applying the old adage of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

Montpellier Danger Men: Belhanda, Herrera or Cabella(whichever plays) and Camara.

Result Prediction: This is a must win and Wenger knows it so he won’t be fielding a weak side. If the crowd at the Emirates are anywhere near as loud as they were for the North London Derby the team should play well and we may just get our first clean sheet for awhile. 3-0 Arsenal.

Predicted Lineup: Szczesny, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Sagna, Arteta, Wilshere, Podolski, Gervinho, Cazorla, Giroud

Conclusion: A game that we are capable of winning and winning well. Montpellier will try not to over-commit forwards and hit us on the counter. Arsenal only need to keep their composure and pass the ball around patiently to invoke Montpellier’s self destructing nature. Should be a tight game unless we score early in which case anything could happen.

Right then, let’s get behind the team and show em what they mean to us! Come On You Gunners!

Match Preview: North London Derby!

Here we go again, our lily-white nemesis is coming to the Emirates to enjoy our hostilities for the duration of 90 minutes. The best thing about the long standing hatred between the two sides is that our home crowd support might actually make some noise for a change and incite our team into a great showing. This derby is somewhat marred by the sheer amount of players on both teams that are set to miss out on playing through injury. Arsenal have Gervinho, Rosicky, Diaby and importantly, Gibbs all out for this clash while Walcott, Giroud, Szczesny, Chamberlain, Arteta and Sagna all face late fitness tests and this could have a big impact on our performance. Arsene Wenger this week pronouncing Gibbs’ injury as “long term” fills me with dread and suggests we should start looking for a solid left back replacement since neither Vermaelen or Santos have really impressed in his stead.

The news is no better for Tottenham however with several key players out injured the biggest being Dembele who is capable of radically altering any Spurs match efforts. But they are also missing Parker, Kaboul and Assou Ekkoto while Defoe, Walker and Lennon all face late tests to see if they will feature so in a way this normally intense North London Derby is a ‘battle of the less wounded’. That’s not to say it won’t be a fierce contest it always is, even if we had to field nothing but our under 21 reserves they’d still go out there fueled by a burning desire to smash Spurs all the way back to White Hart Lane. Spurs are a very different team from the one we trounced 5-2 last season, ‘Ol Arry’ has departed along with the danger men in their midfield like Modric and Van der Vaart, only that young upstart Bale remains of their winning formula and Villas Boas has changed their tactics somewhat. Spurs usually setup in a 4-2-3-1 formation and play a fairly high line, choosing to counter-attack as their main offensive, something that a speedy player like Theo Walcott may be able to exploit. The 3 man midfield means that Arteta and Wilshere will be under pressure all match and may mean that Cazorla has to drop deep to modify our formation to a 4-5-1 instead of our preferred 4-4-2, isolating Giroud a bit up front.

Spurs have leaked a fair few goals so far this season and Arsenal’s defense lately has resembled that of a pub team so we may in for a high scoring affair from both teams. Given that without the partnership of Gibbs and Podolski our left wing is fairly ineffective as an attacking avenue, I think one of the key matchups will be Walcott vs Vertonghen on our right wing. With Spurs playing their 3 man midfield this may prove to be our only solid means of scoring goals with Walcott crossing for Giroud in the box and so it’s crucial that our inconsistent star player actually delivers in this match. Defensively speaking I believe we can handle any threat Spurs can bring, Sagna vs Bale is always a good contest to watch but their main issue in recent games has been Clint Dempsey playing as a passenger in the secondary striker role, rather than getting involved and almost every promising counter-attack they’ve had has been broken down by his slow passing reactions just in front of the midfield. Since with Dembele out he is the main man to link up any attacking thrust this will help us immensely to defend against them. The other main threat that will need containing will be Defoe’s poaching up front. He’s been in decent form and is their leading goal scorer, although he does face a late fitness test and may not feature which of course would mean fielding that old target of the crowd’s abuse, Adebayor…

So it’s really down to the players in the end. Wilshere in particular is key to our midfield working properly, so far nobody save Diaby has managed to play properly in the double pivot next to Arteta and it’s about time this changed. Wilshere’s drive and box to box mid style of play would seem an ideal match to Arteta’s disciplined approach it just comes down to how fit the lad is since he’s still returning from injury. We need Jack to be running back deep in defense to allow Arteta to push forwards at times and crucially, shake his marker that Spurs are sure to employ in the form of Dempsey. If  we can do this we stand a very good chance of winning this match comfortably, our overall player quality is more than enough across the pitch to give Spurs hell, plus we have great options off the bench such as Arshavin, Ramsey and Chamberlain, although I wish to god that Tomas Rosicky was available as an impact sub after his performance for us in this fixture last year. I believe we will score goals but defending against Spurs comes down to 4 key things.

1. Theo Walcott vs Jan Vertonghen
2. Wilshere’s energy and understanding of his role in the double pivot.
3. Laurent Koscielny’s marking in and around the box of Jermain Defoe.
4. Vermaelen and Podolski containing the left wing.
 

Tottenham Danger Men: Defoe, Sandro and Bale. Lennon although he’s doubtful to feature.

Result Prediction: I can’t imagine either side will keep a clean sheet but Szczesny hopefully back in goal we should be able to keep the tally down, whereas AVB’s mysterious decision to play Friedel in goals rather than the newly bought Hugo Lloris should see a few goals scored. 3-2 Arsenal.

Predicted Lineup: Szczesny, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Sagna, Podolski, Arteta, Wilshere, Walcott, Cazorla, Giroud

Conclusion: Tottenham will look to press our midfield of 2 with their 3 man advantage and try to hit us hard on the break. Arsenal will look to contain any thrusts on our left, drive hard at their center to utilise Wilshere’s enthusiasm and hit hard through Walcott out wide putting low crosses into the box for Giroud to finish. Podolski will also be used as a counter-attacking option on our left wing. Should be a great match up as always! COYG!

Match Preview: Arsenal vs Fulham

So after a frustrating mid-week in Germany we host Fulham at the Emirates. Fulham have 1 win in their last 5 and are in worse form than we are. They’ve had little trouble scoring in their games but defensively they’ve been very poor so considering that we’ve had trouble scoring lately and been reasonably solid in defense, it is on paper an interesting contest. Fulham have been particulalry vulnerable to attacks down the wings this season and it’s a real pity that Gibbs will not feature in this match as their right back Riether is a weak point that can be exposed and Damien Duff infront of him is susceptible to giving away fouls and making errors. During our mid-week game Santos was benched in favour of Vermaelen at left back and while he offered nothing going forwards, he did help tighten up our defense a little. But this will not help us to expose Riether so we must look to the right wing where Walcott vs Riise promises to be an intriguing battle. In the center is where Fulham are strongest although that’s not to say we can’t outplay them here as well, I just think it’s more prudent to attack down our right wing with the combination of Sagna and Walcott.

The center poses quite the conundrum in this game since Fulham’s strongest play is through the center. Our own midfield is diminished with Wilshere suspended and Ramsey doubtful. On top of this Cazorla needs rest and has been less effective in recent matches although a lot of this is due to teams pressuring our play-linking players like Arteta. I think Wenger will deploy Coquelin next to Arteta in the double pivot and the interesting part of this is that Coquelin is more defensive minded, tending to hold his position and use long balls to the forwards and wings for his passing output. To this end I’m hoping it will allow Arteta to advance further forward and influence the play and if this happens, Fulham could be in a very hard afternoon since his vision and passing is second in the team only to Cazorla. The idea of seeing Arteta playing closer to Cazorla is quite mouth watering, with Walcott running into space behind the lines. I am however a little worried about how effective Giroud will be up front since their defense is ideal for stopping him, they win the balls in the air a lot but do tend to stand off a bit and for this reason I’d like to see Giroud drop a little deeper to his normal positioning and shoot fron range a few times. Likewise Cazorla should put their keeper under some pressure with some long range attempts.

Speaking of long range attempts, Fulham are fans of this approach as well and with the likes of Berbatov and Rodellega up front I’m sure they’ll be doing plenty of that. Our defense will really need to be on their toes and Mertesacker in particular will have to close down players looking to line up a shot, a bit quicker than he normally does. Fulham also pose a threat off corners although I’m less and less concerned about this these days, Duff and Hangeland are big threats in the air that will need to be marked on corners and set pieces however. Fulham are known for being clinical with their chances so if we’re not keyed up in defense expect our team to be punished. I’m rather hoping Wenger puts Szczesny back between the posts for this one since I feel any loose balls spilled by Mannone from their long range attempts could be gobbled up by a predatory striker like Berbatov.

Fulham Danger Men: Rodellega, Berbatov, Hangeland(from set pieces).

Result Prediction: Unlikely we’ll keep a clean sheet but the players will keen to improve from mid-week and Fulham are pretty horrid at protecting a lead. If we score one we’ll get another so I’ll say 3-1 Arsenal.

Predicted Lineup: Mannone, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Sagna, Podolski, Arteta, Coquelin, Walcott, Cazorla, Giroud.

Conclusion: Fulham will look to keep the ball in their own half and hit us hard if we commit too many bodies forward. Arsenal will look to control the middle without over-committing, the weak combo of Vermaelen and Podolski on the left should ensure that our play is channeled through the right wing of Walcott. Expect a pretty stale contest until the second half when the game should open up.

An added bonus this week will be that we hopefully get to see Tomas Rosicky return to the team as a sub. Oh and as always,

Come On You Gunners!