Match Preview: Reading vs Arsenal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Match Preview: Bradford City vs Arsenal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Match 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

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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: 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: Aston Villa vs Arsenal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

Match Preview: Arsenal vs Queens Park Rangers

Ok so 2 losses in a row and the mood in the Arsenal camp desperately needs to change by beating QPR. We host them at the Emirates which is a shame seeing as I think our enthusiastic away fans might just motivate the team a bit more than the dreary old men that make up our home support, eating scones and erupting into polite applause whenever we score before going silent once more and sipping their tea.

Queens Park Rangers are currently last in the league so let’s keep it that way! I really don’t want to see another lack lustre performance like we witnessed vs Norwich, at least the players tried a bit harder against Schalke even if they were unsuccessful. On paper this match is quite intriguing since both teams play quite similar styles. QPR setup in a 4-4-2 formation and tend to attack down their right wing through Shaun Wright-Phillips before teeing up Bobby Zamora, while on their left flank, QPR deploy Park Ji Sung on the wing and he tends to play inwards releasing Fabio from fullback to provide width, much like our own combination play by Gibbs and Podolski. So with this in mind it’s quite likely Wenger will place Ramsey at right wing to stifle Park’s movement and since the two of them like to drift inwards it’s quite likely the pair will nullify each other, meaning play must come from our left wing or though the middle. One plus side for us is that Park Ji Sung is 50/50 to play in this one with a recovering knee injury.

To this end I think Arsenal should attack through the center to be succesful, I have full confidence in the ability of Arteta and Coquelin to outplay the combination of Granero and Faurlin in order to dominate play. On the left wing however I fear for us yet again with Kieran Gibbs reportedly still out injured for this one, meaning Santos will once again play at left back. As explained in previous match reviews, Santos and Podolski on the left is a bad combination and I would dearly love to see Giroud at left wing for this match while Podolski who has played almost every minute for us this season, could probably do with a match off to rest.

Defensively this is a good game to regain confidence and keep a clean sheet. Zamora is a threat we need to watch carefully and Granero is fond of putting through balls to him. I live in hope that Koscielny will start the match next to Mertesacker but it’s more likely that Vermaelen will be the other center back next to the BFG. Vermaelen will have to be on his toes to intercept the passes from Granero and unlike against Schalke, he’d better keep an eye on Zamora at all times as he’ll be too quick for Mertesacker to successfully track. QPR are also fans of shooting from range so let’s hope we avoid any more annoying tap ins like the goal that sunk us when we played Norwich. Mannone will have to be on his toes and our defense will have to close players down quicker when they move into dangeorus shooting positions.

Queens Park Rangers Danger Men: Shaun Wright Phillips and Bobby Zamora

Predicted Result: I’m being optimistic here since the players are still going to be fatigued from all the recent matches. If we play decently we should win. Arsenal 2 – 0 QPR.

Expected Lineup: 4-4-2 formation – Mannone, Santos, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Jenkinson, Podolski, Arteta, Coquelin, Ramsey, Cazorla, Giroud. I cannot stress enough how much I hope I’m wrong about this lineup, this will destroy our left wing attack as it has in the past 2 games. Podolski needs rest and Giroud should deputise for him at left wing.

Conclusion: A game that we should win if the players put in the effort. QPR’s away record is abysmal but they have shown signs of improvement and have held both Chelsea and Everton to a draw so far. Our players are going to be fatigued from the recent match congestion and this will affect our chances. I think if Arsenal try to attack through the center it’s our best chance of pulling off a win, this will come down to how well Coquelin can function as a defensive anchor, allowing Arteta to influence the match closer to Cazorla.

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.

Match Preview: Norwich City vs Arsenal F.C.


So, off to Carrow Road to play out of form Norwich City after this incredibly dull interlull and I must say, I think this is the perfect team to be playing against after the break. A team that we should be able to punish and blow out the international break cobwebs against provided our team turns up on the day. So let’s look at what we can expect to see from this one.

Norwich are currently 19th on the table and have shipped more goals than any team in the league conceding 17 in just 7 games. They typically set up in a 4-4-1-1 formation similar to our own and prefer a short passing game, usually attacking down the right wing through the combination play of Jackson and Snodgrass before crossing the ball into the box often to try and create chances and smother the goalbox clearances. They are a team that is not shy about shooting and have scored a couple of decent range goals, although happily the majority of their efforts fly wide, averaging only about 25-30% of all shots on target, their lead scorer Grant Holt has only 2 so far. The best news for our defense however is that they haven’t scored any goals from set pieces which our team is particularly vulnerable to.

Offensively we can hurt them a lot. Norwich play an offside trap which quite frankly, is suicide against the pace of our team even with Theo Walcott currently injured. Despite their lack of success Norwich are a team that likes to come out and play rather than park the bus and cower in their own half (particularly when playing at home) and this will play into our hands. Our lightning fast counter-attack play should be easily able to give them a torrid time. Norwich are not a physical side and are poor at retaining possession averaging only 42% possession so far and prone to individual errors which also benefits us and I would expect our midfield to completely control the game and dictate play through Arteta and Cazorla. So far this season they have been largely hurt by attacks down the wings so expect to see our potent left wing attack up to it’s usual tricks, the downside of this being that Kieran Gibbs will most likely not feature due to the injury sustained against the brutes of West Ham United.

Formation-wise expect to see Arsenal in their shiny new 4-4-1-1 setup with most of the usual suspects in place. As I mentioned Gibbs is doubtful for this encounter so expect to see Santos at Left Back provided he’s not booked for speeding on the way to the stadium(take the bus mate).  Let us hope he can provide the attacking sting that Gibbs has given us recently. Koscielny like-wise may be recovering from the small knock he took while on international duty and coupled with his dip in form in his last two matches, he’s unlikely to feature in this one. With Szczesny still injured Mannone will continue as first choice Keeper and with Diaby still out the third midfield position is up for grabs. Norwich are rather poor at preventing shots from range so I’d like to see the combination of Arteta, Cazorla and either Ramsey or Chamberlain (2 players not afraid to shoot) to give us an extra scoring option if the opponent is proving stubborn, however Wenger may choose to put his faith in Coquelin instead. Also, owing to Giroud’s excellent efforts for France (sticking it to Spain) and the fact that Norwich are weak at winning aerial duels I’d like to see him given the nod at Centre Forward to muscle up on their defence and dominate the opposition’s goalbox. Gervinho has been excellent in the Center Forward role but with Walcott not on the subs bench I’d like to see him start at Right Wing. Lastly, I’m sure I’m not the only one who would LOVE to see Jack Wilshere given 10 minutes or so towards the end of the match if his fitness is up to it.

Norwich City Danger Men: Jackson, Snodgrass and Holt.

Result Prediction: Conservative because of the interlull: 1-3 Arsenal. More goals and defensive shutout if our team plays well.

Expected lineup: 4-4-1-1 formation – Mannone, Santos, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Jenkinson, Podolski, Arteta, Ramsey, Gervinho, Cazorla, Giroud.

Conclusion: This is a game we should win and win well. I will be doing a post-match breakdown of the game after the weekend, till then let’s get behind the team. COME ON YOU GUNNERS!