Match Review: Reading 2 – 5 Arsenal

Great Determnation

Great Determination

A decent away win for Arsenal, though a clean sheet was carelessly thrown away. We were once again guilty of not firing straight out of the blocks, causing some early shaky defensive moments before settling into our rhythm and dominating possession and the match. Reading made this easier for us by producing what was probably their worst 45 minutes this season in the first half and I’m sure United’s players are wishing this was the Reading they played the week before when they escaped with a 4-3 win. One has to wonder if that 7-5 defeat in the League Cup was maybe preying on their mind as Reading showed Arsenal far too much respect, allowing our midfield trio of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla far too much space to move and pass the ball and in return they rightfully ripped Reading’s defense apart.

Wenger sprung a bit of a suprise in his team selection, starting Oxlade Chamberlain on the right wing and placing Walcott as the Center Forward. In my Match Preview I mentioned that Reading’s defense had conceded more goals from counter-attacking and thru balls than any other and what better way to exploit that than with the fastest player in the Premier League? Add to this the fact Giroud had a minor injury and Gervinho is in the naughty corner after his efforts against Bradford and it’s easy to see why Wenger would select Walcott in this role. Nevertheless I can see the headlines forming about “Arsenal bending to Walcott’s contract demands” and all the other conspiratorial Bullshit. The combined pace of Walcott, Podolski and Oxlade Chamberlain proved deadly against Reading however so full credit to Wenger for this change in tactics.

Playing Walcott in this role also had an effect on our formation. Instead of our usual 4-4-1-1, Arsenal played a 4-5-1 but I was quite impressed with the fact Walcott continually dropped deep to help build the attack. The trio of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla that we waited so long to see is starting to build nicely with a significant increase in passes between the three of them, suggesting they are starting to get on the same wavelength. The buildup for Cazorla’s third goal was a perfect highlight of this understanding with all of them involved and Podolski providing a good assist also. That goal to me was classic Arsenal, a quick incisive pass from midfield, good buildup play with runners on the edge of the box before a perfectly placed low cross was tapped in at the far post. It was also really good to see Podolski getting far more involved than he has been in previous weeks, making me wonder if perhaps he’s been playing with a niggling muscle injury or similar. While Cazorla will rightly get Man of the Match for his hattrick and great attacking play. he owes a lot of this to Podolski’s great movement. Time and again as Arsenal broke forwards, Podolski drew 2 or more defenders before either releasing Gibbs or passing back inside to our unmarked players, of which Cazorla was the man who best understood how to exploit the space. Looking at the stats, Podolski and Cazorla combined for 10 key passes, 4 goals and 3 assists between them, truly a magnificent performance and partnership by them and the best I can remember since our 2-0 win when we made Liverpool our bitch.

The other reason for Podolski’s resurgence might be Wilshere, who has given this side what it has lacked since Diaby hobbled off against Chelsea and went back to banging the nurses in our hospital ward. Wilshere’s taken it on himself to drive the ball forwards out of midfield, something he shouldn’t really have to do all the time but has managed to do anyway. Rosicky did this last season from a more advanced position and it’s what Cazorla needs to start doing also. The man is magic with the ball at his feet but he needs to stop dropping so deep and be available as a diagonal pass for Arteta or Wilshere, in order to bring the ball forward with Wilshere running off him and giving the opposing defense too much to deal with. In this game, Cazorla performed this better but in previous matches I believe this has been a factor of Podolski’s limited influence on matches by drawing Cazorla further away from him, making those exquisite tika taka style passes we saw at the start of the season from them, much harder.

This shows how our shape should’ve looked both when we have possession and when we don’t.setupars

You can see how this brings Cazorla and Podolski closer together and it’s this factor that is crucial to Arsenal’s success of late. Every match that they have linked up in, Arsenal have been impressive. Essentially we should be trying to play a sort of 4-1-4-1 when attacking, with either Arteta or Wilshere staying back as an anchor and the other 2 mids(usually Cazorla and Wilshere) pushing forwards, becoming left and right attacking mids and running into the channels in and around the box, overloading the opposition’s defense like the Arsenal of old. You’ll notice that this isolates Chamberlain somewhat but in this match it didn’t matter as he was able to single-handedly rip up Reading’s defense regardless and if not for some poor finishing, would’ve certainly bagged a goal.

So on to the bad bits. We were not as defensively solid as we have been in our past few matches, for the first 10 minutes of the match Reading looked dangerous and we were slow to close them down and deny space. We also conceded two more rubbish goals to add to the collection, one from a terribly lax pass from Gibbs, who was caught out several times in this match playing Reading onside. And a second from Podolski tracking a runner back past the offside trap which I put down to inexperience. He’s not a defender so he’s less familiar with staying in line with the last defender than any of our back 4. Two technical errors, two rubbish goals and not good enough for Arsenal. The renewed fight in Reading during the second half had a lot to do with McDermott changing their formation from 4-4-2, to a 4-5-1 in order to put an extra man in midfield to try and cope with our wonderful trio. Wenger bringing on Ramsey for Chamberlain ended this revolt by having Ramsey drift inwards towards Wilshere and once more stacking the midfield numbers in our favour. It also forced Reading to come further forward to try and win the ball and resulted in the inevitable counter-attack for Walcott’s goal. Walcott was reasonably impressive playing as a striker sitting on the last defender but he lacked finishing quality for his chances. He could’ve had a hattrick in this match and while he’s a great plan B in the absence of a real striker, I think I still prefer him on the wing at this point.

On a final note, the stats from both this game and the one against West Brom reveal a very interesting fact. The average Arsenal player has managed a passing accuracy of about 86-88% this season with Arteta, Mertesacker topping the charts with 92.6% each. As these two are the men who pass the ball out from the back and start our attacks this is unsuprising but what does stand out is that in the last 2 matches, with the exception of these two that passing accuracy has dropped to about an average of 83%. Yet Arsenal have managed more possession, created more key passes and looked far more dangerous in these two matches, which suggests to me that we’re trying to be more incisive with our passing and taking more risks in order to create chances. This is really good news as nobody wants to see a toothless Arsenal knock the ball around for 90 minutes with hardly a shot in anger and I’d put a lot of it down to the increasing chemistry of our midfield trio, who have the ability to be one of the best midfield combinations in the Premier League.

We travel to Wigan next so there’ll be more rousing choruses from our incredible away fans. Let’s hope this is the start of something good heading into Christmas. Let’s do what we did to Reading and leave Wigan feeling like they’ve been kicked in the balls…WILSHERE-NUTSHOT

And of course the goals.

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Match Review: Arsenal 2 – 0 West Bromwich Albion

I've never seen someone look happier about scoring a penalty

I’ve never seen someone look happier about scoring a penalty

Well done gunners! That’s my first impression after this match. After several disappointing results recently and constant reassurances from players, the manager and the club etc the fans demanded a response and truth be told West Brom didn’t look the easiest target to try and pick on given their season so far so full credit goes to our lads for delivering on their promise.

On the whole our play looked light years better than it has in recent weeks and while fatigue certainly has to stand up and accept it’s fair share of the blame, I chalk up a lot of our resurrection to Jack Wilshere’s constantly improving level of fitness. He was superb in this match and while lacking a bit technically speaking, he provided the surging runs from deep midfield that we’ve lacked since Diaby sneezed too hard and injured half the muscles in his body. As a result our midfield was able to keep it’s shape and not over-commit players forward, resulting in a much more consistent looking Arsenal display. It’s funny reading comments that Cazorla appeared more lively and “fresher” in this match. While fatigue may’ve indeed played a part it was more the fact that Jack’s bursts in midfield created an extra threat for their defense and therefore they weren’t able to closely mark Cazorla, giving our brilliant Spaniard more space to be creative. Oxlade Chamberlain on the right wing was similarly industrious and worried the West Brom defenders all game, producing one of his finest matches in the red and white jersey.

Taking a second to tactically analyse West Brom’s approach to this match, I believe they played into our hands somewhat by choosing to play deep. West Brom curbed their usual attacking enthusiasm and played to hit us on the counter. However this meant less pressure on key players Vermaelen, Arteta and Wilshere, who were able to pass the ball out defense comfortably before beginning our attacks. This wasn’t so much a defensive mistake or indeed a choice by West Brom, as it was a direct result of our pressing midfield play early in the game. Arsenal essentially won the battle for midfield supremacy(largely thanks to Jack) and West Brom were never able to exert their influence and play the free flowing attacking football that has shamed many a team so far this season, so effectively we didn’t allow them to play their natural game which is a nice switch since that’s what many teams have been doing to us lately. It’s nice when the boot’s on the other foot for a change…

There were two unsavoury things to take out of this game, firstly the penalty claim by Cazorla. I’m pretty certain by now most people realise that it was a dive so I won’t make a big deal about it. Diving is something that Wenger’s really not a fan of, despite having had several olympic class ones in the past, most recently Chamakh and no diving team would be complete without mentioning Robert Pires’ efforts. Suffice to say it’s something Wenger usually removes from their game whether that be through simple instruction, forced listening to Justin Beiber, or by chasing the player around the training ground with a big stick, I’ll leave entirely up to him. Secondly and much more frustratingly, the finishing displayed by our attackers. One has to wonder if both Podolski and Gervinho put their boots on the right feet before they played with 2 efforts that will be standing strong in the charts for worst miss of the season. Wilshere although having an otherwise excellent game, also managed to miss an empty net from 5 yards. I think it was unfortunate that Giroud hurt his back early on because he just didn’t have the same impact after that and with him fully fit we might’ve converted a few more. I am however a great believer in the law of averages. If you do the right thing, enough times in a match eventually you will be rewarded and whether by open play, set piece or penalty, I think it was inevitable that we would score and win the game. Just looking at the end stats, Arsenal had 19 shots, with a pathetic 3 on target while West Brom had 9 shots and 1 on target and although this simply isn’t good enough, the sheer amount of attacks and chances we created meant we deserved the 3 points.

Once again our defense was solid, Szczesny had a quiet game in goal but made a good save when he was called upon. His continued solidity at the back, coupled with ice cold displays from Vermaelen and Mertesacker give real hope for the future and the many clean sheets that await us. It’s easy to see the impact Wilshere’s improved performance had as it meant that we were once again playing a true 4-4-1-1 formation, defending in 2 banks of 4 and restricting our opponents movement. In all it looked much more like the Arsenal we saw in the early season, not suprising really when you consider that this is the first time our double pivot pairing has worked perfectly since Diaby’s injury. The increased amount of passes between Wilshere, Arteta and Cazorla is also really encouraging although I believe the best is yet to come. It was always going to take awhile for this formidable trio to get going but these early signs are all we could’ve hoped for. Vermaelen’s increased confidence and defensive display is also a massive boost for the team, as is Chamberlain’s performance in light of the increasing shadow of doubt being cast over Walcott.

Overall, a very well deserved win for the Gunners and hopefully a sign of things to come, provided our players can stay fit and injury free! Hopefully Giroud’s injury is minor and Koscielny will be back from his thigh injury soon. With Rosicky returning to fitness and rumours of Thierry Henry wanting to play for Arsenal till the remainder of the season, the future is positively mouth watering. Bradford City are our next opponent in an important Quarter Final match for the League Cup. While it may only be the Mickey Mouse trophy we all know too well the repercussions for losing in the final stages of the competition, whereas it might provide a springboard and a well of hope and belief for the team and fans if we were to triumph. So let’s take it seriously and field a strong enough team to get the job done,

Come On You Gunners!

Oh and just a teensy morsel to whet the appetite on watching our midfield maestros in the near future…

tikitaka

Match Review: Arsenal 5 – 2 Tottenham, A Red Letter Day in North London!

Well we can’t really complain about that! Although why can’t the Emirates be that loud every home game? Imagine that crowd support cheering on our lads each match, imagine what that could do for our confidence issues! It’s always nice to get one over on Spurs and to do it by the same 5-2 scoreline as last time is just, delicious. While Wenger deployed the lineup I had anticipated in my preview, Villas Boas pulled a few suprises firstly by choosing to play a 4-4-2 formation to give more width and apply pressure on Arteta and Wilshere man to man, then also by benching Dempsey for Adebayor and Friedel for Lloris while bringing Vertonghen central and starting Naughton on the wing. The biggest problem for us initially however was how physical Sandro played in the center, bullying our midfielders and committing many cynical fouls to break up play and destroy any rhythm we were trying to build. I can’t fault him for doing this we have our own smiling assassin in Arteta who’s a master at giving away cheeky innnocent fouls without being booked and effectively stopping the opposition’s attacking opportunity. Speaking of Arteta, he was once again targeted and closed down to an extent before the red card which changed the game and this double pivot still needs a lot of work before we get it going. I do believe if Adebayor hadn’t been sent off then Sandro may have found himself on a yellow pretty early in the match and this would’ve definitely impacted his influence in this match and allowed Arteta more freedom.

It’s also getting increasingly annoying to watch our team take to the field as if they just rolled out of bed. Once again we conceded early on thanks to this, Sagna was caught too high up the pitch and Mertesacker was easily turned by Defoe. Looking at the match, Koscielny and Mertesacker while being an effective pairing, played very much as a left and right Center Back, meaning they rarely crossed over. I think it was a tactical error to do this as it meant that Defoe could use his pace and trickery to target Mertesacker as a weakness. In most games Koscielny plays as the interception player and Mertesacker as the anchor and offside marker but for some strange reason this didn’t happen. If instead Koscielny had been given the task of man-marking Defoe I believe we could’ve prevented the 1st goal as he would’ve had the pace and agility to track Defoe’s movement, while Mertesacker vs Adebayor would’ve been a ‘battle of the tallest‘. These heat charts show what I mean by saying they kept to one side.

It’s almost a shame that Adebayor was sent off(and rightfully so) because I think Arsenal were beginning to get into the game. I’d feel more sorry for him if the idiot hadn’t once again jumped over the barriers to piss off the Emirates crowd after scoring the opener. His sending off was to blame for the 1st goal we scored certainly since there’s no way Mertesacker would’ve ventured that high up the pitch to score from a header if there’d still been an extra man on the pitch to mark but whether they had 11 or 10, Giroud’s movement upfront was excellent and gradually undid the discipline in Spur’s backline. He either bullied them or pulled them out of position with his intelligent movement as if they were puppets on strings and at times he was damn near unplayable for the likes of Gallas,Vertonghen and Dawson. Theo Walcott’s movement and determination on the right was also great although a lot of credit must be given to Sagna for his support role. Sagna had a poor game defensively but going forwards, Naughton was simply overrun on this wing and not at all helped by the fact Gareth Bale refused to drop deep to help defend and seemed content to sulk on the half way line when not in possession. Adebayor being sent off made it hard enough for Spurs without Bale making it seem like they only had 9 players in defense. Vermaelen on the left wing also played a very solid game at left back, aided by Podolski’s defensive efforts and in general he kept Lennon pretty quiet throughout the match. It’s really encouraging to see Vermaelen play well there as I fear that with Gibbs’ injury now pronounced “long term” we will be seeing him play there a lot. The fact that in this match he started to play wide makes me optimistic for the future that he might just be able to work in this role and with a growing chemistry with Podolski, turn the left wing once more into the major attacking threat it was at the start of the season. It will also mean that Koscielny remains partnered with Mertesacker in the center and that can only be a good thing.

The major worrying thing in this game that was very noticeable in the second half was Arsenal’s inability to simply CLOSE DOWN THE MATCH. I’d rather win 3-1 than concede another bloody goal. Wilshere was a necessary driving force in the 1st half but I breathed a sigh of relief when Wenger subbed him off for Ramsey after we conceded yet another goal. It seemed blatantly obvious that at halftime AVB chose to switch to a 3-4-2 and chase the game back to a draw. Tottenham were now setup to press and counter-attack us and while it may have blown up in his face, the tactic worked to a certain degree and had it not been for those late goals before halftime we may have been in for a close match. When the opposition has an explosive player like Gareth Bale you simply cannot play full throttle the way Arsenal chose to. They were queuing up to score and meanwhile leaving massive gaps in the defensive lines, one of which Bale took advantage of with a good finish. Arsenal needed to keep their heads and simply keep possession in midfield, pass the ball around without trying to force a chance on goal and keep Spurs chasing shadows.Wilshere was still pushing ever forwards instead of dropping back to help Arteta keep possession(the impetuous nature of youth!)  and Wenger bringing on Ramsey who is embarrassingly almost a veteran player for us at 21 years of age, was a tactical masterstroke that calmed the midfield down and helped us keep our heads. Some will complain that he slowed our attack down and cost us more goals but that’s exactly what Wenger wanted, further reinforced by taking off Giroud and signalling the end of the attack, even if Chamberlain didn’t take the hint and pushed too hard. For the ones still moaning that we could’ve scored more goals if not for players like Ramsey and Santos coming on, slowing down our play and keeping possession is the reason we scored a 5th. Spurs were forced to chase the ball, come out of their defensive shell and make mistakes which we then effectively counter-attacked them on when Chamberlain stole the ball for Walcott’s final nail in the coffin goal.

So overall I’m happy with the team performance, Giroud was a beast(my MOTM) and just gets better with every game like a rough cut diamond that you just keep shaping and polishing to greater levels of perfection. Wilshere worked fairly well in the double pivot with Arteta but still isn’t dropping deep enough to help Arteta with his defensive duties for my liking although with Spurs a man down and still returning to fitness I can understand this to an extent. Arteta meanwhile was his usual metronomic self despite being obviously targeted by Spurs and every other team we’ve faced recently and he still had 118 touches to Wilshere’s 45 with a higher passing accuracy of 89% to 81%. Perhaps we should spend this summer’s transfer budget on a shiny cybernetic body for Diaby? He really was the perfect compliment to Arteta in the pivot. Vermaelen showed promising signs in the role of left back, finally playing wide(although not all the way  to the corner flag yet) and allowing Podolski to shine as an inside winger once more. Santos also acquitted himself well in the left winger position, something I’ve been trying to encourage for awhile now and Walcott continued to make his case for a higher wage with a great performance. Koscielny was his usual beasty self at the back, ice cold with no mistakes and I think the entire back line drew confidence from having Szczesny back in goal, already achieving a better distribution accuracy than Mannone has managed, although Vermaelen’s heavy backpass in the first half was a bit concerning! He nearly bloody scored..

So I’ll leave you with some happy images from the game and videos of the goals while we look forward to our mid-week appointment with Montpellier to automatically qualify from our Champions League Group. Until then enjoy the win and COYG!

Tito Approves

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 Schalke 04

Redemption. That’s what this match is. After a disgusting display vs Norwich City away, this is a chance for the team to prove their credentials against the toughest team in their Champions League group. I don’t even mind if they lose as long as they give it everything they have this time.  Schalke at the Emirates on paper looks to be an exciting game. Both teams are capable of explosive attacking displays and also horrendous defensive errors. Schalke tend to play a 4-2-3-1 formation, though against strong teams they’ve been known to play a 4-1-4-1 also. However in a game of this importance I believe Huub Stevens will go for a familiar approach and play 4-2-3-1.

Out of form or not, Arsenal have a fearsome record in the Champions League at the Emirates, having not lost a match since 2003 and Schalke will find us tough to beat regardless of our current injury woes and defensive lapses. They are a team that plays possession football and prefer to attack on the counter either through the middle via Lewis Holtby, or down their right wing through Jefferson Farfan. Due to this style they are defensively a very compact team, tough to break down in the final third. Up front they have tricky attacking players who are good at beating a defender and creating chances, while defensively they are strong at defending set pieces but do tend to give away silly fouls and  technically proficient wingers can get in behind them and cause trouble.

Unfortunately for Schalke they will have to do without the promising young attacking player Julian Draxler who is out with a broken wrist as well as two of their best defenders Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Christoph Metzelder which will make commentators breathe a sigh of relief since by the time they’ve pronounced his name he no longer has the ball. “Papadop… Papadolopous, Papado fk this”.. Schalke do however have decent players to cover these losses in particular Affelay is quite the attacking threat in Draxler’s absence. As for Arsenal’s injury woes, Wilshere and Sagna will not feature just yet and the ongoing injury saga of Diaby will keep him out of the side(till 2020). The biggest loss however is Gibbs being out injured for 1 week, meaning Santos will deputise at Left Back and as I’ve mentioned in my review of the Norwich travesty, Podolski was rendered useless by the positioning of Santos. Whether this can be ammended in this game is anyone’s guess but it’s a headache Wenger will certainly have to deal with.

Now the good news. Schalke don’t defend aggressively, preferring to stay compact. What this does is create less pressure on our midfield and in particular Cazorla who will hopefully be able to use the extra space to our advantage. As I mentioned, Schalke attack primarily through the middle so it will be critical that Arsenal control this area of the pitch more than any other. Starting Coquelin next to Arteta in the double pivot and Ramsey at Right Mid should create a more defensively robust midfield, effectively refusing the right flank as an attacking option and concentrating our strengths on the middle and left wing attack. The big conundrum is up front, Gervinho or Giroud? In this game I would favour Gervinho as his movement and dribbling is exactly what Schalke don’t like to defend against. This game will probably be decided by our midfield trio and to this end I’d like to see Cazorla playing deeper than usual and really forming a midfield triangle with Arteta and Coquelin in order to dictate play. Coquelin’s defensive instincts may also allow Arteta to surge forwards and become more involved in our offensive movements and I’m sure we’d all love to see that.

Defensively for us I’d like to see Vermaelen benched after all his recent mistakes and the fact that Koscielny is fit to start once more. Mertesacker will be key for us since he knows the German League very well and knows what to expect from Schalke. Also Schalke’s primary scoring threat Huntelaar isn’t exactly the fastest striker around and our BFG should have no problem tracking his movements around the pitch. Stopping Schalke from scoring relies on Mertesacker denying Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Koscielny or Vermaelen effectively breaking up the close passing play between Holtby and Huntelaar. Holtby in particular loves trying through balls and we will need an alert Center Back to nip in quickly and prevent these sort of balls.

Schalke 04 Danger Men: Their front 4 are a real threat, Affelay,Farfan,Holtby and Huntelaar. In particular, a lot of their attacking play flows through Holtby while Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is one of the most feared strikers in the German League.

Result Prediction: After the last match vs Norwich who knows? If the boys come out and prove themselves I predict a 2-1 win for Arsenal but this could easily become 2-2.

Expected Lineup: 4-2-3-1 formation – Mannone, Santos, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Jenkinson, Arteta, Coquelin, Podolski, Cazorla, Ramsey, Gervinho.

Conclusion: The players have a lot to prove after the atrocity at Carrow Road. Expect to see the gunners come out firing and attack with purpose. It’s a match that should be very exciting and very close. Make no mistake Schalke will not yield easily but I have faith in our boys and our home record in the Champions League to get a win in this one.

Norwich City 1-0 Arsenal: As it happened…

Matches like this one are exactly why I hate international breaks. The players took to the field with all the enthusiasm of a 16 year old boy asking a girl to dance at the school prom. While it’s not accurate to blame the entire thing on players being flown half way across the world to compete in bruising national pride affairs it certainly must put it’s hand up and take a fair share. Vermaelen was sloppy, Mertesacker didn’t look interested, Ramsey was lethargic, Cazorla looked tired which was evidenced in his statistics and Gervinho was downright hopeless. But on top of that, thanks to these stupidly placed internationals Arsenal also had to do without Koscielny and in particular Walcott, who’s pace against Norwich’s aggression could’ve proved valuable. If you wanted to go even further we could also add that both Diaby and Rosicky’s injuries were either caused on international duty or aggravated enough to become an issue so it’s fair to say the international breaks can go to hell.

Okay rant over, let’s look at what Norwich did well and what Arsenal did poorly in order to lose this game. The goal that won the game was frustrating, a decent effort from range was parried into the path of Holt. Mannone maybe should’ve done better and either caught it or palmed it anywhere but where he did. A world class keeper would probably have saved it but Mannone has still done quite well for us in the absence of a better option. I think it’s safe to say though that moments like this one are why Szczesny is deservedly our first choice keeper. Questions should also be asked both of Vermaelen’s marking of the player taking the initial shot and of Santos standing so far back that he played Grant Holt onside for the tap in. Perhaps Santos was lured by a spectator waving a hamburger at him and Vermaelen may have been yawning at the time. There were several other chances afforded to Norwich later in the match due to Vermaelen falling over twice and this has to stop. He’s the captain now, he shouldn’t be making these kind of mistakes. Overall it’s hard to really argue that Norwich didn’t deserve the 3 points anyway as they showed far more desire than Arsenal and any one of about 3 dangerous chances could’ve ended in the net.

Tactically speaking, Norwich pressed up aggressively, yet they still lost possession making plenty of individual errors and our uncharacteristically lazy midfield and wingers just couldn’t keep possession long enough to make them pay for simultaneously being so bold and so clumsy. Norwich did however look far more composed and organised than in their previous matches where they were destroyed by Chelsea and Liverpool, another classic case of a team learning it’s lesson and then playing us with a revised gameplan. Cazorla looked awfully isolated this game due to players passing to him and then not following up by moving into space for him. As a result the majority of the time we were left pinging long balls forward to Giroud who won his aerial duels well winning 6/8 and nodded it down for an Arsenal player each time. However Norwich swarmed these players and we never really threatened from this tactic. To understand the biggest issue of why we failed to score however, we need to look at a heatmap and I’ve marked the diagram for you.

This is a comparison of Gibbs vs Westham to Santos vs Norwich. It’s easy to see that Santos very rarely if ever made the wide run to the corner area in order to stretch the Norwich defense or whip in a cross, preferring instead to cut inside. This means Podolski was forced to play wide instead and as I’ve mentioned in a previous article Evolution of Arsenal’s Gameplay Podolski does not play well in wide positions. The key to Arsenal’s attacking success so far this season has been Gibbs playing wide, allowing Podolski to drift inwards and link up often with Cazorla. The two of them have been involved in most of the goals Arsenal have scored this season. Andre Santos did not do this for us, Cazorla was isolated and double marked without Podolski available to aid him, often having no option but a back pass and tactically speaking, this is the key reason why we were unable to score and lost the match.

Arsenal’s players were also guilty of a large amount of individual errors yesterday. Mannone’s ball distribution clearly needs work as his passing accuracy has been down in the last few matches but the key feature for me is Cazorla’s passing accuracy which is never this low in other matches he’s played. The reason it’s so low is the amount of hopeful balls forward(minus 6 failed corners) he was forced to play in an attempt to create a scoring opportunity and it again highlights the importance of his link up play with Podolski in order for Arsenal to be effective in the final third. Giroud’s accuracy can be forgiven somewhat as most of the balls he was receiving and trying to pass off were delivered to him while being closely marked or airborne. Ramsey’s passing was disappointing also although it was more his lack of running that was an issue. He failed to provide the kind of bursts and surges forward that may have provided us with a few chances of scoring.

Once again our crossing absolutely stank the place out, managing 4 accurate crosses from 25 attempts, only 1 of which came from a winger or fullback. This has been an issue for several seasons now and not one it seems is likely to be fixed soon, although Gibb’s crossing ability has helped with that. Likewise our shooting needs to improve, Cazorla gets in good spaces at times but he needs to hit the target more often. One other worrying thing noticeable in this game was our lack of ability from corners with 6 of our 10 corners going to a Norwich head before our own. This is something that desperately needs addressing and is echoed in our poor clearances from set pieces also, thus hurting us at both ends of the pitch.

Overall though despite this bad result I don’t think there’s any cause for panic just yet. The players will come out firing once more in their next game against Schalke and prove their desire to wear the red and white shirt.  Looking at the lack of energy levels shown on the pitch however I have come up with an alternative solution after each international break. Since Del Bosque has his head firmly lodged up his ass and is unwilling to allow Arteta even a cameo appearance for his national Spanish team, we will just tie everyone to Arteta and let him tow them around the pitch, thus saving their energy levels and allowing them to contribute more. This man plays his heart out no matter what and in a match where the entire team was poor, he was still THE ROCK of the team. Alternatively we could simply field our under 21’s squad or wander down the local park to recruit some kids as I’m quite certain they could’ve shown more desire to win a match than Arsenal did yesterday. This loss has left a bitter taste in the mouth like that time you were young and unwrapped that beautifully wrapped Xmas present under the tree to find an old pair of your dad’s socks..

One plus was that we got see Serge Gnabry come on for the injured Chamberlain and he looked lively and energetic, making 1 key pass and blasting a shot just wide. So come on Arsenal, show us why we love you so much! Show us that you’re worthy to wear the jersey and earn our applause! And send Schalke back to Germany with their tail firmly between their legs.