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.

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Match Review: Arsenal 0 – 2 Swansea City

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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

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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: 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!