Match Preview: Bradford City vs Arsenal

brad

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 Review: Arsenal 0 – 2 Swansea City

Arsenal-vs-Swansea-City-preview,-English-Premier-League-96280

After a slightly disappointing draw against Everton I was hoping for a better result against Swansea but in my mind I knew that given the level of fatigue on our players, we would have a hard time against an impressive Swansea side. That we kept them at bay till the 88th minute is a credit to our back 4 and goal keeper, more than a team performance. Arsenal enjoyed more possession, dominated the aerial duels and had a higher passing accuracy than Swansea, why then did Swansea create more chances and have more shots? The answer is actually pretty simple, the majority of our passing was lateral ie sideways. This wasn’t the fault of the midfield either. While it’s certain that both Arteta and Cazorla are suffering from being overplayed, they were still the best players on the pitch for us and Wilshere also did a good job in the pivot with Arteta. But our attackers were dismal. They were so lazy that our formation actually changed from our usual 4-4-1-1 system to a 4-3-3, that’s how far forwards the wingers Walcott and Podolski were playing. This was also the cause of the many thru balls in this match, our midfield had to play further forward in order to try and link up with the lazy front three, which in turn meant that Vermaelen played in a more advanced role to keep the link to the midfield and this created space in behind that Swansea exploited. Our wingers also offered very little in the way of defensive support for their fullbacks, Podolski had a paltry 22 touches all game while Walcott appeared to be more industrious with 44 touches. However to the trained eye Walcott’s performance had all the hallmarks of a player who doesn’t give a toss and it’s clear to me he will be leaving either in the transfer window or the end of the season. Heatmaps never lie and it shows that our usual wide playing winger, drifted inwards towards the Swansea defense. Why would he do this? Because he doesn’t want the ball. Drifting close to the defense appears as if you’re being industrious and wanting the ball when in actual fact you’re ensuring that your team mate sees that you’re heavily marked and therefore not an option. There was plenty of space for Walcott out wide, he just chose not to use it. As for Podolski I’m not too sure what his problem is. Gibbs is back in the side playing wide for him so that’s not the issue and leads me to speculate as to whether he’s carrying some sort of injury or if he’s just not fit enough for the Premier League. He’s starting to remind me a little of Chamakh, starting the season red hot and just petering out into invisibility. God help us if he visits the same Swedish hookers that destroyed Chamakh’s confidence…

Just look at these heatmaps

heatmap1

Which leads me to Gervinho. I’ve never been a great fan of this guy, I think he has the decision making ability of a kamikaze pilot and the gentle touch of a rapist but on occasion he does do well. Sadly this was not one of those times. Gervinho is very different to Giroud in that he creates space for himself whereas Giroud creates space for the team. The difference is that Giroud’s movement can pull defenses apart like we saw against Tottenham. Gervinho however will only run into space to score goals and allow the oppositions defense to remain organised throughout the match. Swansea’s defense for the most part marked him tightly and prevented passes from Cazorla reaching him, resulting in only 27 touches of the ball but the Arsenal players still picked him out with a few crosses and his finishing efforts from these were simply not good enough. I’m not saying that each time a free cross is received from 8 yards he should score but he damn well should be getting his header on target and forcing a save. It just shows more and more that we really do need a secondary option for Giroud and if Chamakh once again can’t make the bench for this game then his time at Arsenal really is over and we need to look at realistic replacements. I see Gervinho as a cover for the right wing and nothing more, certainly not a viable replacement for Olivier Giroud and I can confidently say that if Giroud had been on the pitch we would’ve won the game.

On to the positives. Our back 4 did a good job of limiting Swansea’s chances although Vermaelen and Gibbs were on occasion caught out of position. Podolski bears some blame here for not dropping back and picking up the wide option, leaving Gibbs to do the job and isolating Vermaelen 2 on 1 with a player in front of him and a wide runner, which was perfectly illustrated during one very dangerous thru ball and shot in the first half that Szczesny dealt with expertly. Szczesny was excellent in this match, producing several fine saves and deservedly earning Man of the Match. Vermaelen’s advanced position was slight cause for worry with several dangerous thru balls nearly allowing Michu to score but thankfully he had the pace to make up for his lack of positioning. I will however still breathe easier when Koscielny is back in the starting lineup as he is far more solid. Jenkinson showed vast improvement from his efforts against Aston Villa, making far more attacking runs to the corner flag and whipping in several dangerous crosses, just as Gibbs does on the left wing. The other great positive to come out of this is the return to fitness of Rosicky which will hopefully mean much needed rest for Cazorla, to allow him to return to his best for us.

So basically a combination of fatigue for our key players in Cazorla, Arteta and Podolski prevented us from creating more chances to score as well as a very lack lustre front 3. Gervinho in particular is just not the type of player we required on the pitch to drop deeper and link up play, he tended to drift towards the left nearer the tired Cazorla, rather than the middle where Wilshere was. This is why we saw so little direct passing throughout the match. While I understand Giroud has a knock and needs rest his presence was sorely missed for this one. The late loss I contribute to Wenger refusing to lie down in this one and continuing to go for the win in the dying minutes, something that every manager knows is a dangerous premise since players are generally tired and more prone to mistakes at the end of a match, epitomised in the easy thru ball Michu latched onto to score the winner. I certainly hope the irony of the draw against Everton isn’t lost on those fans who cried out that the manager “didn’t know what he’s doing” when this time instead of a defensive substitution to protect the draw result, Wenger opted to bring on the offensive and not fully fit Tomas Rosicky instead and lost the game in the dying minutes. Suddenly that 1 point looks quite attractive when that happens.

So with Olympiacos next and group qualification assured I’d like to see a very young side start with the likes of Arshavin and Chamakh in there providing experience. Having seen Wenger’s named squad for the match I’m extremely pleased to see that Arteta, Cazorla, Wilshere, Podolski, Giroud and Mertesacker are all absent for this one. Wenger’s comment post-match about “There are many players who need a rest, because they are on the verge of getting injured. Some played with knocks today.” scares the hell out of me. To me it smacks of the hamstring injury that plagued Cesc Fabregas during his time with Arsenal that was caused by overplaying him. We need to avoid this at all costs, even if it means playing a weakened side and losing the occasional match. 1 or 2 poor results or a terrible season? Your choice..

Time to see what our young Gunners can do, hopefully they show some of the older players what it truly takes to earn the right to wear the red and white jersey, Come On You Young Gunners!

Match Review: Aston Villa 0 – 0 Arsenal, Our lack of depth exposed

I feel your pain mate…

Yet another frustrating result for those of us who bleed red and white. And yet another bitter reminder that there are no easy games in the Premier League regardless of ladder position. So what went wrong? Why do we continue to struggle against teams in the relegation zone after the top teams have pounded them flat just a week ago? The key answer is in our squad depth, or rather the lack of. While the likes of Manchester City and United can afford to bench their superstars in favour of other excellent talents being paid an obscene amount of money to sit on a bench each week, Arsenal’s bench is brimming with considerably less talent, which was highlighted very late in the game when Giroud who’d picked up an injury, was substituted for the defensive-minded Coquelin. Now whether Giroud was fading or Wenger wanted to ensure we didn’t concede a late goal and simply accept the draw result, only he knows. A tough fixture against Everton just 3 days after this one prompted Wenger to rest several key players, most notably Wilshere who is still recovering from his long term injury and shouldn’t be overplayed. But the problem didn’t stem from this, it stemmed from the injury to Walcott and the decision to play Jenkinson and not Sagna at Right Back. It must be noted that Wenger’s hand was forced here due to Sagna still recovering from a lack of fitness due to his broken leg.

In fact the key players that required more rest than anyone else, played 90 minutes, Arteta and Cazorla. Both looked quite lethargic in this game with Arteta uncharacteristically slow in his movement and rather tellingly having less touches on the ball than his Central Midfield partner Aaron Ramsey and also Santi Cazorla. I can’t recall another game this season where Arteta has failed to manage more touches and passes than any of his team mates so this is a real indicator of his level of fatigue, also backed up by the fact he made around 15/69 of his passes back to our Central Defenders. Annoyingly the movement in the double pivot was actually very good for a change, Ramsey acquitted himself very well in the role, both in his defending and attacking play, ensuring Arteta was free to move around and couldn’t be man-marked. Aston Villa played an extremely aggressive pressing game that pushed our midfield pairing back towards our defense, thus separating the link to Cazorla and Giroud. Giroud’s frustrated response to this was to drop deeper and try to become the link in the advanced midfield, leaving no player up top to press their defense and this made our transition from defense to attack ie when we won the ball back to counter, even harder. Villa also tried to expand this problem for us by having Benteke man-mark Koscielny, leaving Mertesacker as our only passing option out from the back but the big German absolutely shone in this task and managed to distribute the ball to Arteta and Ramsey easily throughout the match.

But where we truly failed to capitalise on the risky aggressive game Aston Villa was playing was on the wings. While the potency of Gibbs and Podolski on the left is a constant threat for any team, it’s no good if you don’t pass there. Podolski looked fairly uninterested in this match and was again substituted(god knows why he’s so tired) although bringing on Gervinho instead is not something I’m a fan of. But this does little to mask the fact that we didn’t attempt to pass to them each time we looked to counter attack. This is due to Arteta’s fatigued performance and the winger’s poor positioning. Ramsey was situated on the right of central midfield and since he was the main man trying to create any kind of attacking play, it’s logical he would pass to the closest wing, being the right. But the inexperience of our right wing duo, Oxlade Chamberlain and Jenkinson, meant we wasted chance after chance to score on the break. The pair managed only 1 successful cross from 11 attempts and with Cazorla clearly fatigued and less influential than in previous games, this proved catastrophic as we were unable to create much in the middle(not aided by the heavy rain throughout the game making quick passing more difficult) and therefore crossing balls for Giroud seemed to be the best route to goal for us. Jenkinson is more of a defensive-minded fullback and I can only imagine the frustration that Ramsey must’ve been feeling every time he passed for Jenkinson to run onto it and take the ball to the corner to whip in a cross, only to have it passed straight back to him. Oxlade-Chamberlain also failed to make any impact filling in for the injured Theo Walcott and is yet to show his potential this season. Andrei Arshavin did come on for him late in the match and looked great, creating one good chance to steal the game from under Villa’s nose but in all honesty it would’ve been a “real smash and grab” style victory and not at all earned by our performance.

With Arteta playing poorly on the left of central midfield the service to Podolski was limited and is the main reason why our counter-attacks weren’t launched down the more potent left wing for Gibbs to whip in a cross for Giroud. I think it’s a rather telling stat that our best chance for a goal came from Giroud making a run down the left wing before delivering a low cross which Koscielny hoisted over the bar. Perhaps if we’d made a few more crosses from this side we would’ve gone home with 3 points. But the wingers did both Ramsey and Arteta no favours by playing too far forward, meaning that the passing distance was increased and becomes a less attractive option with the possibility of interceptions, mis-placed passes etc. If the wingers had realised this and dropped deeper to allow for a safer pass I am confident that our passing would’ve been faster and we would’ve made Aston Villa pay for their bold approach to shutting down our attacks early.

On to a huge positive! Despite the disappointing draw and lack of goals, our defensive shape throughout this match was nothing short of excellent. The continued confidence flowing from the back 4 is a very good thing to see, Szczesny had a quiet game but once again when called upon, he responded in style by making a brilliant fingertip save to parry a 25 yard screamer from Brett Holman onto the bar. Mertesacker was dominant at the heart of our defense and Koscielny once again excelled as his partner in crime. Gibbs looked lively and had a good game returning at left back and Jenkinson was solid in defense despite his lack of attacking impetus. It’s also worth noting that although obviously fatigued, Arteta did a good job of screening the back 4 although the real credit must go to Ramsey who’s workrate in this match was phenomenal.

So what do we do from here? Well clearly we need an extra striking option as Gervinho is inconsistent and if Giroud is injured we may find ourselves in real trouble. If Maroune Chamakh can’t even make the bench for this match then I’m afraid he’s finished at Arsenal. Tomas Rosicky back and fit would be very welcome so that Cazorla can have a well earned rest and I’d like to see Ramsey doing the same for Arteta once Wilshere is fully fit and established in the starting eleven. Looking at the rotation in this match, clearly the boss isn’t underestimating Everton but it’s a real shame about our lack of depth because I feel that with both Sagna and Walcott available for this match, Aston Villa would’ve been destroyed. I also think that despite Ramsey’s solid performance in Wilshere’s role, we need to look at getting a player that can cover for Wilshere as I truly believe that Ramsey is an understudy for Arteta and that one day in the future we will see a double pivot comprised of both Wilshere and Ramsey as the starting choice. Perhaps someone like Moussa Sissohko? Or another utility style midfielder who can play anywhere like Lewis Holtby.

So here’s hoping that Walcott and co are fit to play against Everton and we field a really strong team despite the fatigue to certain key players. I’ll leave you with a picture of hope, good to see him back in training finally. Now we just need him to be fit enough to start a few, 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: Schalke 04 vs Arsenal

Ok here we go again, Schalke vs Arsenal take two! Lights, Camera, Action!  Since I’ve covered Schalke in the reverse fixture last week I’ll make this brief. The main differences to this occasion as opposed to the last game are that we’re playing away in Germany and the players available are different this time around. Looking at the amount of midfielders unavailable to use, Wenger’s options in this game are quite limited so I think we’ll see a lineup which aims to attack from the right and through the middle, while offering a counter-attacking opportunity on both wings. Schalke’s gameplan is to control the midfield and stay very compact in defense. Last time they played a rather unique diamond shaped midfield with Neustädter covering the back 4 making their formation appear as a 4-1-3-2 with their most influential player Holtby, playing at the point of the diamond and linking up with Huntelaar and Farfan.

I fear for our defense a bit, Vermaelen is playing really poor at the moment and honestly should be benched for Koscielny to pair with Mertesacker at the back. Last time we played them the combination of Santos and Podolski on our left proved disastrous with Podolski not tracking back in defense, leaving Santos exposed 2 on 1 for most of the game and vice versa, Santos not using the width or aiding Podolski on offense. Sadly Gibbs has not made the trip to Germany so I it’s likely we’ll see this combination on the left side yet again. This means we should look at other means of attacking Schalke without opening ourselves to a counter-attack which they showed in their 2nd goal last game they are quite capable of punishing us on. If we do opt for attacking down the left I think we’ll come off second best and with Ramsey also out injured we can forget about trying to outnumber them in midfield and perhaps use the potent combination on the right of Walcott and Sagna instead. Wilshere in midfield is also something we lacked last time we played them and hopefully this extra attacking threat will cause Schalke to play with slightly more caution than last time. Wenger also has a last ace up his sleeve in this match in the form of Arshavin who while looking as lazy as ever in defense has recently shown some long overdue promise in the offensive capacity.

Defensively they may be tougher to break down since last time we had Gervinho as striker and this time we’re using Giroud. Schalke’s defense is more suited to stopping the likes of Giroud than a tricky manouverable player like Gervinho, they are tall and strong in the air, well disciplined positionally and take a very no-nonsense approach to the task meaning they will gladly just clear the ball out and remove the danger, rather than try anything intricate. Hopefully Walcott’s pace can create space in behind their fullbacks and create some low crosses for Giroud to get on the end of. Schalke’s compact non-pressing approach to defending may also help Cazorla to find some space to work in and hopefully he’ll take a few long shots.

Offensively they offer the same threat as last time. Huntelaar takes his chances well and should be properly marked this time by Vermaelen. Draxler is still out so Affelay will deploy on the left wing again while Farfan(the man who destroyed us last time) will be on the right wing. All their play flows through Holtby and Farfan so we must be really diligent in our defending of our left side this time, meaning Santos and Podolski will have to figure something out or it may go badly for us a second time. I have full confidence in Sagna to deal with Affelay on the other side.

Schalke Danger Men: Farfan, Holtby, Huntealaar.

Result Prediction: Playing away in Germany will be tough although Schalke have struggled mid-week losing to bottom placed Hoffenheim. With Gibbs still not in the side our defense may suffer but I’ll say an optimistic 2-2. Just be prepared for a possible narrow loss.

Predicted Lineup: Mannone, Santos, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Sagna, Arteta, Wilshere, Podolski, Cazorla, Walcott, Giroud.

Conclusion: The players have a lot to prove both to themselves and the fans after the disappointing match vs Manchester United. Hopefully they come out firing and not looking as toothless as recent times. Our defense could make or break this match for us, let’s just hope that Santos and Podolski find some sort of system, if not going forwards at least defensively. And if god forbid Vermaelen starts he damn well needs to show us why he’s wearing the captain’s armband. Come On You Gunners!

Match Review: Manchester United 2 – 1 Arsenal

The moment the comeback was off the cards

Well what a disappointment. I can’t say I’m suprised about the result except that it was low scoring. Given the players we had available this one was always going to be tough to get a result from but I think this match in particular highlighted our lack of depth and reliance on players who’re constantly injured. While I place no blame on Wenger for this(and plenty on the board) it sure would’ve helped to have players like Gibbs, Diaby or Rosicky able to play. Looking at it on paper I think Wenger had accepted the mountain he had to climb in this match to get a result and subsequently he chose a lineup designed to keep the scoreline tight until later on when he could introduce players like Walcott and Arshavin to give our offense a bit more punch and throw caution to the wind. Wenger must surely realise the incompatibility of the players on the left wing and I think Podolski was supposed to play slightly more defensive than normal. The other evidence of this cautious approach by Wenger was that we set up in a 4-5-1 formation not 4-4-1-1, Cazorla dropped deep and  isolated Giroud up front who was there to simply pin United’s Center Halfs back.

However in order to play like this you need to not concede inside 3 minutes… I understand that Vermaelen was probably falling over as he attempted that clearance but I’d honestly rather he’d missed it altogether since Mertesacker had Rooney covered. The simple fact is that Vermaelen was out of position in the first place, too far up the pitch and backpeddaling so quickly that he made the error. Is this what we expect from our captain? Hell No. It didn’t help that after this massive cockup he then proceeded to disappear into his shell, feeling sorry for himself instead of trying to rally the troops and inspire them. It’s times like this we need to him to step up and show why he’s captain, all he did however is show why he shouldn’t be. He was at fault for the second goal also, failing to get goal side of Evra(one of United’s shortest players) and allowing a free header from 6 yards, although Mertesacker may’ve mistimed his jump and missed his clearance attempt as a result also.

Andre Santos once again copped a lot of blame but it’s really not his fault that he’s playing with a winger he’s incompatible with. It’s like telling someone off for being left handed, it’s natural to them. You can put a real spin on it by saying why on earth can’t Podolski play wide as a left winger should? The end of the day it’s neither players’ fault and simply unfortunate. What we do need to be looking at however is a left winger option who will fit with Santos’ style whenever Gibbs is unavailable to start. Vermaelen likewise isn’t very compatible with his style since he kept pushing forwards and left a lot of space in behind Santos which Valencia and Rafael exploited. I can’t say I blame Santos for surging forwards either, at least he was trying to make a difference.

Jack Wilshere was also a focal point in this match. It’s hard to place too much blame on the lad since he’s still coming back from injury. He went in rashly on a few tackles and I think his first yellow was far worse than the second where it appeared that he hadn’t regained his fine touch on the ball yet, had it roll too far from him and caught the player stretching for the ball. A lot of fingers have been pointed at Wenger for not subbing Jack off, particularly since Ferguson showed good judgement in removing Cleverly who was also on a yellow. However Ferguson was not in Wenger’s position of being 2-0 down and needing to attack. Since there were no offensive midfielders available on the bench his option was to bring on the more defensive Coquelin and blunt our offense. Sometimes you have to take a risk and this time it didn’t pay off. It’s worth noting that after half time we switched to a 4-4-1-1, aided by the fact that Rooney was too tired by that point to keep on pressing Arteta. This allowed Cazorla to position himself further up field, linking up better with Giroud. Walcott was also introduced for Ramsey and we looked dangerous for about 10-15 minutes before Wilshere was sent off which effectively killed any comback attempt. It’s a real pity that Ramsey had already subbed off at this point as Wenger could then have safely subbed Wilshere off, brought on Walcott to Right Wing and moved Ramsey into Wilshere’s position, thus retaining an attacking midfield and placing Ramsey in a more natural position now that we were chasing the game.

One other noticeable thing when you look through the passing stats is the amount of passes from Mertesacker(101 passes) compared to Vermaelen(73 passes). In most matches they have about the same, the reason they are so different is due to Van Persie shadowing Vermaelen when not in possession, forcing our passing to channel through Mertesacker instead, just one more thing that United did right to make life harder for us. In the end they outplayed us and outfoxed us. Mannone made some great saves to keep the scoreline down and had a good game while Arshavin also showed promise after coming on and being the catalyst for Cazorla to score a really solid goal but it wasn’t enough this time.

Conclusion and Improvements: I think the two biggest things to take out of this loss is that we really need better squad depth rather than relying on injury prone players to help us out when we’re a bit stretched. This of course is difficult with our limited budget but should be a longterm aim for the club. Secondly, we’re new to playing the double pivot midfield and it shows. Arteta being man marked and pressed hard by the opposing attacking midfielders is a game changing problem we need to learn how to solve. Both Chelsea and United have now made us pay for this with Arteta being so key for our passing out of defense. The other midfielder, in this case Wilshere needs to help out by dropping deeper and becoming our anchor, allowing Arteta to push further forwards. That’s how a double pivot works, Chelsea have done it well for years through the likes of Essien, Lampard and Mikel and it’s something we need to learn as well, though it will take time.

Lastly Koscielny deserves a chance as the starting Center Back next to Mertesacker, who was once again outstanding. Vermaelen has made many mistakes this season, he was responsible for both goals vs Chelsea, the 1st goal vs Schalke, both goals in this match etc. If any other defender made these errors they’d be crucified but because he’s our captain he’s cleared of blame? If anything he’s more culpible and really needs to lift his game. He’s an excellent defender when in form but at the moment he’s costing us dearly. As for Wilshere’s send off, he’s young and just back from injury. He will learn from this experience.

Match Preview: Manchester United vs Arsenal

The stage is set! Sharpen your pitch forks and light the torches! As we begin the journey to Old Trafford with last years result burning in our mind, 1 year of pent up frustration and embarrassment will be unleashed over 90 minutes plus “Fergie time” of fuel filled rivalry. Aside from the unsanctioned rape of last year this has always been a classic feature and I think it’s more of a battle between 2 men, rather than 2 teams. Wenger and Ferguson have locked horns over a decade now and both of these men know their counterpart inside out. However, sadly I must admit that in recent times Ferguson has had Wenger all figured out tactics-wise and I don’t expect to see much tactical deviation from the way these matches are usually fought. There will of course be the extra prickly situation of a certain dutchman playing against his former club but the less the players focus on this the better as it could be the distraction necessary for Arsenal to lose focus.

Traditionally Arsenal have gone all out attacking against United who generally sit back, soak up the pressure without conceding and hit hard on the counter-attack through one of their wings. Looking at United’s team I’d expect the same sort of scenario and I think one of the key battles in this will be whoever wins the lucky dip of playing Left Back and having to defend vs Valencia. The guy can be a certifiable nightmare to deal with and his accurate crosses into the box where Rooney and Van Persie will be waiting will be something Arsenal must be very wary of. I’d imagine Santos will be playing in the Left Back position and while defensively he possesses the physical strength if not the technical ability to make life difficult for Valencia it is the attacking side of things here that is far more worrying. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles the combination of Santos and Podolski on our left wing is far less potent than the combination play and chemistry that Podolski has with Gibbs playing behind him. The problem is however that the majority of Arsenal’s goals this season have come from this very partnership. So in a sense playing in our usual style of attacking down the left could see United punish us severely on the break. United may also employ the likes of Thomas Cleverly to man mark Arteta and try to pin him back deep in his own half and deny Arsenal the means to pass the ball out from defense, disrupting their flow. This is something that Chelsea did very effectively to us through Oscar and is definitely something to watch out for.

To this end I’d rather Arsenal attack United through the middle where traditionally they’ve simply clogged up the play and prevented us from playing our slick passing game so as to destroy our  rhythm. Unfortunately since Walcott played 120 minutes vs Reading in that 12 goal thriller I think he’ll be to tired to start so that really only leaves Ramsey to play in Right Mid and his role is much more of a holding player designed to disrupt the opponents play on this wing rather than to create scoring opportunities so that really only leaves the center option with Ramsey drifting inwards and linking up with Cazorla, backed up by Wilshere’s runs forward from his double pivot role with the ever reliable Arteta. While I’d like to see something as radical as playing Cazorla at Right Wing and Ramsey in a Central role I don’t expect Wenger to deviate from his current setup and given this layout I’d expect us to attack through the middle rather than the suicidal option on the left. I’d also like to see Vermaelen placed at Left Back to stop Valencia in his tracks but again I don’t expect this and it will most likely be Santos that is given the nod.

The left wing coincidentally if we were to place an attacking player there, is far less of a consistent threat than the right. Ashley Young can have good games and then others where his positioning lets him down and ruins a promising United attacking move. Likewise Patrice Evra has his moments where he’s brilliant and ones he’d rather forget. This would allow us to play out the inevitable stalemate in the center and focus our attack on a single point. Once more this is unlikely but it’s worth considering and could make for a very unpredictable Arsenal attack. Manchester United have also been conceding plenty of goals with  a defence that seems to be leaking despite looking quite solid on the face of it. I contribute most of this to the ongoing injury saga of their best defender Vidic and the fact that over the last year or so United have been going through a transition of very slowly phasing out the old veterans which have been stalwarts of the club for so many years and gradually introducing fresh young talents who are bound to make the odd mistake as they cement their positions in the team. Hopefully Giroud’s physical presence up front will add to these errors.

Manchester United Danger Men: They’re all dangerous but in particular we should watch Valencia, Van Persie and Rafael very closely. Van Persie is leading goal scorer and a huge threat regardless of how we feel about him. Cleverly in midfield can also be a suprise package and source of scoring opportunities for United.

Predicted Result: I think this will be quite close, both teams have strengths and weaknesses that can be exploited by the opposing team’s usual playing style. United have a great offense but lack a little defensively whereas Arsenal have a solid midfield but are lacking some offensive power and are having to rely on a 3rd choice keeper yet again. I’d say if United score first they have a strong chance of winning but otherwise I’d say a 2-2 draw with either team capable of a late 3-2 winner through impact subs like Arshavin,Walcott for Arsenal and Hernandez,Nani for United.

Expected Lineup: 4-4-2 formation – Mannone, Santos, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Sagna, Podolski, Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Giroud

Conclusion: On paper, a mouth watering match which has the potential to swing either way. I’d be a lot more confident if Gibbs were playing at Left Back not because Santos is a bad player but because of Gibb’s understanding with Podolski. I’d also feel much more comfortable if Szczesny were in goal. This is a game that Arsenal can win but they will need luck on their side and to turn up at Old Trafford playing their best. Amid the hostility of United’s fans, the Van Persie situation and the memories of last year, I think a lot of the Arsenal players will be up for this game in the sense of unfinished business and professional pride and this may just help tip the balance in our favour. Come On You Gunners!

Match Review: Reading 5 – 7 Arsenal… WTF did I just witness???

Frimpong: “Hey Koscielny it’s your shout bro! Giroud’s too busy picking up chicks to buy me a beer.” Koscielny: “Nah man it’s Arshas.” Frimpong: Yeah but he’s passed out the little lightweight. And he told us Russians could hold their alcohol..” Koscielny: “Fine I’ll get it then”. Walcott: “Hey guys we’re playing in like 5 hours time”. Djourou: Relaaax man, it’s just Reading. What’s the worst that could happen?…

This is the image that springs to mind when I think about the first half performance of our team, the players out on a bender till the early hours of the morning before waking up in their own vomit, having a cold shower and getting on the bus to Reading. They simply must’ve been wasted or high because some of their mistakes would’ve shamed a pub team. There’s no reason to go into any tactics about how Reading managed to cut us apart because quite simply, they were playing against the worst performance our team has shown in a very long time. 2 goals were created by shockingly easy overlaps on the wing and a simple yet accurate cross to an unmarked striker. The 2nd goal that Koscielny scored for them was a comical mistake and then if that wasn’t enough, our goal keeper Martinez decided he wanted to win the award for the dumbest error and after Djourou decided to stand and watch the attacking player shoot rather than try to block, he proceeded to attempt to punch away one-handed a well struck shot that ended up in the net. That was seriously the silliest attempt at a save I’ve seen in years. Still he’s young and hopefully he will learn to NEVER TRY THAT AGAIN.

At 0-4 it looked like the world was coming to an end, I’ve seldom seen such sloppy play or stray passes from Arsenal and even though Walcott produced a lovely chip on half time it was hard not to feel like tearing your hair out, going on a rampage or simply drinking until you forgot. But nothing could’ve prepared us for what happpened in the 2nd half. What was said at half time by a furious Arsene Wenger is anyone’s guess. Perhaps he threatened to make Almunia the starting keeper for the rest of the season? Or maybe to lock them all in a room for 24 hours with Justin Beiber and Rebecca Black singing a duet? Or even to send the lot of them on loan to the Australian A-league for a season, or perhaps he just knows a fantastic cure for a hangover. Whatever he did worked although at first you had to wonder why no changes were made to the lineup, clearly things were going so well at this point that there was no need. But however unlikely, Arsenal started looking lively, their heads rose and the difference in their body language was obvious. Arshavin who up until then had attempted a lot of ambitious passes without success and not bothered to help defend suddenly looked like he’d drunk too much red cordial and chased and challenged everything. Our passing from defense to midfield looked crisper even if it still wasn’t at our top standard and when promising youngster Eisfeld and Olivier Giroud were introduced in place of Gnabry and Frimpong, Arsenal looked very dangerous and Reading could hardly win the ball.

Walcott in particular was looking extremely lively and after Giroud scored from an excellent headed corner he always looked likely to score his second. Reading’s defense simply couldn’t handle him and with Giroud winning everything as well as dropping deep into the midfield to link up play(the guy’s workrate is phenomenal) Reading started having doubts. Eisfeld put on an excellent performance in his debut and Arshavin became increasingly involved in every attack causing Reading many headaches before Koscielny headed in our 3rd on the 90th minute from another corner. Reading had their heads well and truly down now and I think it’s fitting that after wasting as much time as they could, the ref allowed the game to continue slightly longer for Walcott to tie things up at the death, literally willing the ball to cross the goal line before Jenkinson slammed it in to be doubly sure. An unbelievable comeback we’re not likely to see for another 10 years. A couple of Arsenal players were so excited they seemed to lose track of the score, believed they’d won and proceeded to throw their shirts to the fans, who very sportingly threw them back so they could play the extra time.

You’re gonna need those guys

In extra time Reading were pretty much broken and despite scoring a 5th goal never looked like beating us. They must have truly believed the apocalypse was on it’s way with the way things were going, a fact confirmed when Chamakh of all people drilled in our 5th from 20 yards thanks to a good leading ball from Arshavin. Walcott followed up soon after with a well earned hattrick and the game was done and dusted. Reading threw every man forward in the last desperate minutes(why wouldn’t you?) and were duly punished by Chamakh(again?) lobbing the keeper from 30 yards.

The Verdict: An amazing turnaround, one I still can’t quite believe happened. It’s like we had a nightmare while we slept that became a wet dream and we haven’t woken up since. Arsenal have always been responsible for giving us heart attacks but this time they outdid themselves. Overall Eisfeld looked really impressive on his debut and is a player I’ll be keeping my eye on. As did both Miquel and Meade. Arshavin showed glimpses of brilliance although he gave up possession a lot to do it. Walcott looked great, a hattrick and a general menace for Reading. Chamakh showed us he still has an eye for goal with 2 nice finishes and an all-round spirited performance. Lastly Giroud came on and changed the game with his presence up front.  The most alarming thing I’ll take out of this game however is that I’m an Australian and Reading’s keeper Adam Federici is our national starting keeper…

Oh and Walcott, please please, “sign da ting!” 

Manchester United next, Come On You Gunners!

Match Review: Arsenal 1 – 0 Queens Park Rangers

Victory at last! But it didn’t come easily. Queens Park Rangers put up a decent fight before Mikel Arteta’s winning goal in the 84th minute and it’s quite fitting that the player who has given 100% in the games we’ve lost recently should be the one to get us the victory. Arsenal started a bit slow in this match and looked a little lacklustre but they certainly kicked into overdrive in the 2nd half with chances coming often and if not for Julio Cesar having one of the games of his life it could’ve easily ended 4 or 5 nil to the gunners despite still looking a bit out of form offensively. Cesar showed why he’s Brazil’s no. 1 keeper with a string of world class saves denying Giroud, Mertesacker and Ramsey from making QPR pay for poor defending.

Tactically speaking the game panned out rather predictably, Wenger deployed Ramsey on the right and used him to help dominate play through the middle helped in no small way by the energy of the returning Jack Wilshere. However unlike in previous matches we also had Sagna back who did a great job of pushing forwards, staying wide the whole time and adding an extra element to our attack that Jenkinson has been unable to provide so far this season. Much like the combination of Gibbs and Podolski on the left, this allowed Ramsey to move into a secondary striker role without compromising the width of our attack and QPR were clearly stretched. With Wilshere driving forwards in midfield and linking up with Cazorla it was inevitable we would score and if not for some sub par finishing at times the game would’ve been won a lot sooner than it was. Mbia getting a straight red for lashing out at Vermaelen was the death knell for QPR and a goal always looked likely. QPR threatened mostly through Shaun Wright-Phillips down our left and while it would appear that he often got by Santos, our 2nd choice left back never really let him swing in any dangerous crosses and for the most part contained QPR’s most dangerous player rather well.

In fact Santos had a solid game for us, he made several good crosses and key passes and unlike in the previous 2 games he actually made an effort to stay wide and allow Podolski to drift inwards, linking up with Cazorla. Looking once again at a heatmap comparison we can clearly see the difference in Santos’ game in just 1 week. Whether Wenger has asked for this change of play from him or not I don’t know but it’s certainly encouraging to see after the previous results. I think Santos’ biggest problem now is his stamina, Gibbs is far fitter than he is and much more suited to surging forwards in aid of the attack before pelting back again to defend. Lay off the burgers mate and hit the running track.

Match Stats: Pretty much what you’d hope to see apart from the crosses. Tackles, intercepts, and good passing accuracy from the Defense,  Dribbles from Wilshere and Ramsey, Shots on target from Giroud and key passes from the midfield and fullbacks.

Defensively both Santos and Vermaelen put up some good numbers keeping possession and passing very well, while making 9 interceptions and 5 clearances between them which goes some way towards redeeming their lack of effort in the games vs Norwich and Schalke. Sagna also looked like he’d never been out injured and was rock solid at the back containing the energetic and inventive Taraabt while Mertesacker was his usual quiet efficient self, managing the back line and offside trap for us. The only worrying moments defensively for me were at the end, particularly when Granero shook off Arteta and then proceeded on a hero run into the box beating Vermaelen far too easily and scuffing his chance from point blank range thanks to Vito Mannone. The other was from a chipped ball over the top that almost beat the offside trap but thankfully the QPR player’s were just out of tune. Being caught offside has been a feature of their season and it continued against us.

Wenger’s substitutions were decent also, Gervinho made little impact and went off injured but it was quite a relief to see Walcott back on the pitch after suffering cracked ribs from a San Marino thug and he looked good attacking down the right wing and swinging in some truly deadly crosses, why can’t he do that more often? It is truly alarming that Arshavin can come onto the pitch for 5 minutes and do what nobody else could do up to that point, beat a defender and put an accurate cross into the 6 yard box. If not for a brilliant save from Julio Cesar, Giroud would’ve scored but luckily Arteta poked it home. For those still doubting Giroud I would hope this game is a reminder of his talents, he had 2 headed chances both brilliantly saved and in general gave QPR’s defence a torrid time, winning just about every aerial ball that came his way. He is truly a great target man.

Improvements Needed: Our crosses as always were quite poor with Sagna the main culprit making 1 accurate cross in 9 attempts but the most worrying thing I took away from this match was our freekicks, we had no less than 4 in dangerous areas and failed to force the keeper to make a save. One could argue the referee failed to keep the QPR wall back 10 yards but with players like Arteta, Podolski and Vermaelen available to take them this is still not good enough and serious improvement is required. Our shooting likewise, needs to improve, Cazorla missed a great chance while 2 many shots on target were close to the keeper and it’s somewhat annoying that we didn’t score until QPR were reduced to 10 men. Despite looking a bit shoddy in attack i think we deserved to score a few more.  Also after scoring the winner our players got a bit complacent and sat back to play counter-attack rather than playing their natural possession game and this allowed QPR space and they almost made us pay the price late into injury time.

Final Thoughts: Welcome back Jack! He looked great surging forward like a natural box to box midfielder and his energy was much appreciated. He didn’t get into the game as much as we would like having half the possession of the other 2 midfielders but that’s to be expected upon returning from 17 months out! Santos did a much better job in this match but I’ll still breathe a sigh of relief when Gibbs is fit again as I believe his chemistry with Podolski is much stronger and Podolski again disappeared a bit in this match. Here’s hoping Gervinho’s injury isn’t too serious as it would be nice to have our whole squad fit for once, his form has been inconsistent but extra options are always nice to have. It does allow Giroud a string of games up front for us so hopefully this will allow his team mates to learn how best to utilise his abilities. It seems a lot of the time we’re still playing under the pretense that Van Persie is up front and they are very different players. Lastly I’m keen to see if Walcott will be given more starts at Right Wing now that Sagna is back at last. Only time will tell though and for now, let’s enjoy the win(scrappy or not it’s 3 points) and look forward to seeing our youngsters playing in the League Cup this week. Oh and Jack’s welcome back applause at the Emirates wasn’t even close to loud enough. Come on you Gunners!

Welcome back Jack. Hope he never ends up biting his tongue…