Match Preview: Arsenal vs Fulham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come On You Gunners!

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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.