Match Preview: Bradford City vs Arsenal

brad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 Review: Arsenal 3 – 3 Fulham, What went wrong?…

So close but in reality quite far from the polished performance we were hoping for. Fulham controlled the first half adopting their typical style of keeping possession in their own half with the occasional forray up our left wing, tempting Arsenal to come and get the ball. It worked but not the way that Fulham had hoped as we managed to score twice against the run of play, the first off our only attack forward and the resultant corner(a case of quality over quantity) and the second from catching a player in possession deep in his own half. However it didn’t last and it’s notable that once again the mistakes came from our left wing where Vermaelen was at left back. Podolski once again failed to track back properly giving Vermaelen too much work to do on numerous occasions and the inevitable crosses found their mark and cost us dearly. Podolski also gave away the foul(and a string of others!) for their first goal and in general didn’t have a great game despite scoring.

On the second goal I really feel that Mannone should’ve kept that out, a header from 15 yards out can only travel so fast and he had plenty of time to react to it and make a proper diving attempt rather than falling sideways and fumbling at it and I will be very glad when Szczesny is back between the posts for us. If I was too get overly critical you could say he should’ve also come for the corner that Berbatov scored their first from as it was in the six yard box which is the keeper’s territory on corners. Defensively speaking though, it’s clear that teams recognise our left wing as being the more vulnerable area to attack us from, hopefully the return of Kieran Gibbs into the side will help to change this. In the middle Arsenal looked a little dis-jointed with Fulham applying plenty of pressure on us, Ruiz in particular was a large physical problem for the team to deal with and it would’ve been nice to have Diaby available to manhandle him a little. I’ve chosen to use heatmaps in this review to really illustrate the problems we had in this game and why we didn’t have a better result.Firstly a comparison of the way our two wings operated in this match and the 1st thing I notice is the lack of effort in defense by both wingers. Walcott in general tracks back well and helps out Sagna and in the first half of the season Podolski did this also. In this match however Walcott was purely offensive playing high up the pitch, pinning back Riise and trying to beat the offside trap while Podolski was content to stay pretty much in midfield and not make strong runs to the corner. The comparison between Sagna and Vermaelen shows the difference between a truly professional fullback and a center back playing out of his comfort zone. Sagna ran up and down the wing tirelessly all game, creating overlaps for Walcott and covering his marker in defense, whereas Vermaelen tried to stay near the halfway line and influence play from there, occasionally cutting inwards in attack and dropping very deep in defense. Looking at the charts it’s probably a good thing that Fulham didn’t try to expose our right wing as well as the defensive performance that Walcott usually produces(and makes up for his attacking inconsistency!) was sorely lacking in this match.

Now for the game changer and the reason why we looked far better once Ramsey came on despite scoring goals in the first half, Coquelin’s movement, or lack thereof. In this game I was expecting that with Coquelin in midfield, given that he’s defensive minded Arteta would be able to push further forward and influence play more by linking up closely with Cazorla. I could not have been more wrong. The heatmap shows it plainly, rather than staying deep and defending the back 4, Coquelin chose to hold position on the half way line and remain static. This resulted in Arteta having to run back and forth all match, both influencing play in attack and defending deeper than the supposedly defensive minded Coquelin. Coquelin’s lack of involvement in this match borders on criminal when you compare the stats above. This is not how a double pivot works and this is why we failed to control the midfield and create more chances in the first half. Add to that Cazorla was again forced to drop deep to get the ball because of this and we went back to playing in a 4-5-1 isolating Giroud somewhat and it’s to Giroud’s credit that his massive workrate allowed him to still be such a focal point up front for us in the center forward position. A lot of people will say that Ramsey made mistakes and was dispossessed often but what he did do right is give us drive going forwards, even if it didn’t win the game for us. He provided the offensive thrust that Coquelin just couldn’t do and eased the workload on Arteta.

Ok so that takes care of the negatives for this match apart from Arteta’s penalty miss which to be honest was a harsh penalty in the first place. The inconsistency of the refereeing in this match was laughable however it was balanced ie bad towards both teams. Podolski could’ve easily seen red in the first half for about 4 poorly timed tackles that went unpunished and it was hilarious for me when Phil Dowd reached to his back pocket(where the red card is) to send off Sidwell for a second yellow, only to realise that he was THE ONLY PLAYER on the pitch that he’d bothered to card despite the challenges flying in and changed his mind last second, issuing Ramsey a yellow instead for holding the man on the ball. The handball at the end was similarly poor judgement as the player had his arms by his side and didn’t play at the ball so if it had been scored it would’ve been harsh on Fulham. The fact that Arteta missed was no less than we deserved in this game although 3 points would’ve been nice and I don’t blame him for the miss either as it was well struck and Schwarzer produced a very fine save to keep it out. Schwarzer is quite well known for saving penalties so it didn’t come as a huge suprise. The thing I truly loved about both the penalty given away and the one missed is the grief-stricken reaction from Arteta. This guy truly bleeds red and white and really loves the club. If half the players on the pitch felt the same way we wouldn’t have these problems to begin with.

So on to the positives. Gibbs is returning to the side next week and with opposing teams targeting his wing as our biggest weakness it will be nice to have a true fullback to influence the attack and defense again. His chemistry with Podolski can also not be overlooked and hopefully Podolski will return to the sparkling form he showed us at the start of the season when most people thought he was the best thing since sliced bread. Szczesny in goal again will likewise boost the side, giving confidence to our back 4 as well as putting a stop to cheap goals being conceded(he definitely would’ve saved goal no.2). Ramsey and Chamberlain have both recovered from knocks and add much needed depth to our team and the other bonus is Wilshere returning from suspension and the man who lifted us last season, Tomas Rosicky reportedly fit to play again at long last. In this match, Arsenal seemed to regain their scoring ability somewhat and a lot of it is down to Giroud up front. This man just keeps getting better and better for us and the more the players learn his style of play, the more he will continue to impress us. Walcott in particular should be able to make good use of him with low dangerous crosses whipped into the six yard box.

Overall I don’t see the need to panic just yet, we managed to score two goals while being outplayed in the first half and then failed to win the game when we played better in the second which is more amusing than anything else. Gibbs impact on the team cannot be underestimated and I expect us to play a lot better next week when we host our lily-white nemesis in the form of Tottenham Hotspurs. I do think however that players like Arteta, Podolski and Cazorla(our absolutely key players!) are in much need of a few matches off to rest. The fatigue of having played nearly every minute for Arsenal so far this season is clearly showing in their increased errors and less dominant performances and is key to getting our season back on track. Lastly Koscielny and Mertesacker did quite well in this match despite the goals conceded and with Gibbs returning at left back I’m rather hoping that Vermaelen doesn’t replace him in the center back position once more as it’s clear which one is in better form at the moment. Nevermind the captain’s armband, rest Vermaelen and give the armband to Arteta!

A much need weeks rest and then Spurs next, let’s give em hell and show them there’s only one club in North London!

Come On You Gunners!

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!

Match Review: Schalke 04 2 – 2 Arsenal

One Frustrated Man

I hate draws, they’re like kissing your sister.. errr so I’ve heard. But in this case I’ll gladly take the point on offer as truth be told we were a bit lucky to get that. Schalke came out firing and had everal decent half chances early on until almost against the run of play, we scored the opening goal. A poorly judged headed clearance fell kindly for Giroud and after he had in truth made a bit of a mess of this gift, Walcott managed to nip in, bobble the ball past the defence and tap in to an empty net. This goal was not so dissimilar from the one Schalke scored against us from Coquelin’s misjudged clearing header in the first match. That one was personal error but the second one was a decent counter-attack starting at Walcott and switching to the other wing for Podolski to swing in a decent corner which Giroud threw his whole body at to successfully head into the net. I simply love this action by Giroud and it reminds me of just what a star player we have gotten ourselves. Not only does he show intelligent movement on and off the ball, good technical ability, aerial dominance and physical strength, he’s willing to do anything to get on the end of a cross to score for us. It’s reminiscent of the English strikers of old, nose to the grindstone determination, something Arsenal has lacked for a long time.

We once again showed our lack of depth by playing Vermaelen at left back for the injured Gibbs and much like Santos, he didn’t do anything of note. He may be a little more defensively sound than Santos since he’s a natural Center Back but going forwards, he wouldn’t play wide and overlap Podolski and we didn’t carry any real threat on the left wing. With Ramsey missing from the side we also had difficulty in the center of the pitch, allowing Schalke to control the tempo of the match and so our attacking threat came from the right wing of Theo Walcott who looked rejuvenated after sitting on the bench for so much of the start of this season. He managed on several occasions to get in behind his markers and in general provided a constant hazard for Schalke, also having a part in both goals we scored. However after 2 goals we seemed to switch off as a team and Schalke really brought it. The first goal by Huntelaar was a great strike, although if there’s one small gripe I have about Mertesacker’s defending it’s that he doesn’t close down the shot option very quickly and that’s what allowed the goal, even though it all happened pretty fast from a slip by Cazorla.

The 2nd goal was inevitable due to the pressure being applied by Schalke, fingers were pointed at Vermaelen for helping the ball into the net but it was going in anyway and if anything Mannone was beaten a little too easily from a tight angle.We had a great chance right at the death to snatch 3 points but unfortunately Walcott was unable to either shoot properly or pass to the unmarked Giroud who was screaming at him. All in all it could’ve been late and great but I’ll happily take 1 point against a very good Schalke side on German soil. Holtby was again the architect in midfield pulling all the strings for them while our own maestro Cazorla, looked a bit tired at times and would definitely benefit from some rest. Defensively we have some work to do Schalke had 22 attempts on our goal so I’m rather glad their conversion rate was poor or we could’ve been in real strife. Hopefully Koscielny continues to partner Mertesacker at the heart of the defense as he’s in better form than Vermaelen and with Gibbs returning soon we should see both a stronger overall defensive line and a much larger attacking threat down the left wing like at the start of the season. Our no. Keeper Szcznesny is also due to return which is great news since although Mannone has made some good saves in his absence, he is still not very consistent for my eyes and both Szczesny and Fabianski are better options.

Fulham next so look out for my preview on Saturday. With a lot of players injured and Wilshere suspended this might be a tricky fixture but is certainly one we can take 3 points from. Till then Come On You Gunners!

Match Preview: Schalke 04 vs Arsenal

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

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

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

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

Schalke Danger Men: Farfan, Holtby, Huntealaar.

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

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

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

Match Review: Manchester United 2 – 1 Arsenal

The moment the comeback was off the cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Match Preview: Manchester United vs Arsenal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Match 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.