Match Review: Reading 2 – 5 Arsenal

Great Determnation

Great Determination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And of course the goals.






Match Preview: Bradford City vs Arsenal


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 2 – 0 West Bromwich Albion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come On You Gunners!

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


Match Review: Arsenal 0 – 2 Swansea City


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


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 Preview: Everton vs Arsenal

Off to Goodison Park for a midweek clash with David Moyes’ Everton, a team that started red hot and is suddenly struggling for results. This fixture always makes for an interesting tactical battle and with both teams experiencing a dip in form I expect high drama once again. Everton have uncharacteristically for a change, started the season really well and sit just above us in 5th place. Winning this game would mean moving up the table and potentially boosting our morale for the relatively light run we have into the end of the year before all hell breaks loose in January with our rather frightening match schedule.

Everton will unfortunately be able to rely on the services of their well rested and fully fit attacking midfield beast Fellaini, who’s just returned from a suspension but they are missing several key players in Coleman, Mirallas and their stalwart captain Phil Neville. This season they have favoured a similar formation and strategy to our own in that they play in a 4-4-1-1 and like to attack down the flanks, particularly the left wing of Baines and Pienaar. Their winger and fullback duos are very aggressive and favour overlapping runs and triangles with Fellaini in order to create space for crossing opportunities, something our fullbacks will have to be very aware of as they create many scoring chances from these crosses. Everton have a tough physical midfield that likes to keep possession in the opponent’s half with short sharp passing and constant lateral movement, testing the defense on both sides. In this game however they may be slightly more predictable without being able to field their usual right wing duo of Coleman and Mirallas which could make them far easier to defend against by focusing their attack only on the left. They are in a sense, very much like Arsenal in that they have a brilliant starting eleven but lack the depth to play convincingly when one or two of their starters are out injured. One thing we will have to be very mindful of is conceding silly, pointless freekicks in dangerous areas as Everton have scored 22% of their goals this season from set pieces and given our weakness at defending them, this is a very real threat. They are also not at all shy about having a go from range, the majority of which come from their central midfielders so our defense will have to stay alert and close down players before they have an opportunity to shoot.

From an attacking point of view, Arsenal will be best off attempting to press their midfield, not easy with the likes of Fellaini and Osman in the center but if we do not and we allow Everton time and space on the ball, it will go very badly for us. Everton’s main weakness is the high defensive line they like to play. With Baines and Coleman always pushing up this allows for wingers to beat the offside trap often and a clever center forward making lateral and diagonal runs may be able to pull their Center Backs out of position and allow a midfielder to run into the space created between them, something a player like Wilshere excels at. Theo Walcott who’s been pronounced fit once more for this match will be against it vs Leighton Baines who’s probably the best left back in the league but this may still prove to be the best avenue for our attacks. He has the pace to beat their high offside trap and his wide runs should help to really stretch the isolated center backs and create scoring opportunities for Giroud, Cazorla and Wilshere. Given that this match will most likely be decided by this battle on our right wing it is critical that both Sagna and Walcott start as their chemistry makes for one of the best pairings in the league and our best hope of gaining this tactical edge.

The combination of Gibbs and Podolski on the left is more of a lucky dip attack avenue as lately with Podolski you’re never sure what you’re going to get. The fact that Vermaelen was rested for the match vs Aston Villa suggests to me he may well start at left back in this one, particularly since Gibbs is still returning from a lengthy injury and probably still lacks match fitness after playing just 3 days ago. I think the biggest worry for Arsenal however is how fatigued Cazorla and Arteta will be for this match, both looked quite lethargic vs Villa and now just 3 days later they face a much sterner test. Arteta will undoubtedly be out under constant pressure by Fellaini and it may prove disastrous for us. We may see early subs for either player in the form of Ramsey and Coquelin and if we’re really lucky our little Mozart Tomas Rosicky, who’s fresh returned from a long injury spell and it will be interesting how these players fare in these key positions. Overall I remain cautiously optimistic of our chances given that we have a better track record against Everton than pretty much any other team in the Premier League and although Everton can be tenacious, our players always seem to be up for this one, home or away.

Everton Dangermen: Fellaini, Jelavic, Baines, Pienaar, Jagielka

Result Prediction: With the disappointing result vs Aston Villa the players will really want to prove themselves and coupled with our results history against Everton and the spirit we usually display against them I’ll say a tight win for us in a real nail biter, 2-1 Arsenal.

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

Conclusion: Everton will bring it, they always do. They will look to attack us through the wing of Baines and Pienaar with support from Fellaini, befor whipping in crosses for Jelavic. They will also try to punish us from set pieces and corners. Arsenal will try to press back their midfield and nullify Fellaini’s man marking of Arteta while playing triangles through Cazorla and the wing of Walcott and Sagna. Giroud will make lateral runs to both stay onside and pull their Center Backs out of position for Wilshere and Cazorla to run into the channels of space created. Wilshere’s involvement both in attack and defense is key in this match.

We may well get a really pleasant and welcome suprise by seeing Tomas Rosicky back in the side today off the bench and this would do wonders for our season ambition as well as finally allowing Santi Cazorla some rest! Time to get behind the team and listen to those crazy away fans of ours again, Come On You 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: North London Derby!

Here we go again, our lily-white nemesis is coming to the Emirates to enjoy our hostilities for the duration of 90 minutes. The best thing about the long standing hatred between the two sides is that our home crowd support might actually make some noise for a change and incite our team into a great showing. This derby is somewhat marred by the sheer amount of players on both teams that are set to miss out on playing through injury. Arsenal have Gervinho, Rosicky, Diaby and importantly, Gibbs all out for this clash while Walcott, Giroud, Szczesny, Chamberlain, Arteta and Sagna all face late fitness tests and this could have a big impact on our performance. Arsene Wenger this week pronouncing Gibbs’ injury as “long term” fills me with dread and suggests we should start looking for a solid left back replacement since neither Vermaelen or Santos have really impressed in his stead.

The news is no better for Tottenham however with several key players out injured the biggest being Dembele who is capable of radically altering any Spurs match efforts. But they are also missing Parker, Kaboul and Assou Ekkoto while Defoe, Walker and Lennon all face late tests to see if they will feature so in a way this normally intense North London Derby is a ‘battle of the less wounded’. That’s not to say it won’t be a fierce contest it always is, even if we had to field nothing but our under 21 reserves they’d still go out there fueled by a burning desire to smash Spurs all the way back to White Hart Lane. Spurs are a very different team from the one we trounced 5-2 last season, ‘Ol Arry’ has departed along with the danger men in their midfield like Modric and Van der Vaart, only that young upstart Bale remains of their winning formula and Villas Boas has changed their tactics somewhat. Spurs usually setup in a 4-2-3-1 formation and play a fairly high line, choosing to counter-attack as their main offensive, something that a speedy player like Theo Walcott may be able to exploit. The 3 man midfield means that Arteta and Wilshere will be under pressure all match and may mean that Cazorla has to drop deep to modify our formation to a 4-5-1 instead of our preferred 4-4-2, isolating Giroud a bit up front.

Spurs have leaked a fair few goals so far this season and Arsenal’s defense lately has resembled that of a pub team so we may in for a high scoring affair from both teams. Given that without the partnership of Gibbs and Podolski our left wing is fairly ineffective as an attacking avenue, I think one of the key matchups will be Walcott vs Vertonghen on our right wing. With Spurs playing their 3 man midfield this may prove to be our only solid means of scoring goals with Walcott crossing for Giroud in the box and so it’s crucial that our inconsistent star player actually delivers in this match. Defensively speaking I believe we can handle any threat Spurs can bring, Sagna vs Bale is always a good contest to watch but their main issue in recent games has been Clint Dempsey playing as a passenger in the secondary striker role, rather than getting involved and almost every promising counter-attack they’ve had has been broken down by his slow passing reactions just in front of the midfield. Since with Dembele out he is the main man to link up any attacking thrust this will help us immensely to defend against them. The other main threat that will need containing will be Defoe’s poaching up front. He’s been in decent form and is their leading goal scorer, although he does face a late fitness test and may not feature which of course would mean fielding that old target of the crowd’s abuse, Adebayor…

So it’s really down to the players in the end. Wilshere in particular is key to our midfield working properly, so far nobody save Diaby has managed to play properly in the double pivot next to Arteta and it’s about time this changed. Wilshere’s drive and box to box mid style of play would seem an ideal match to Arteta’s disciplined approach it just comes down to how fit the lad is since he’s still returning from injury. We need Jack to be running back deep in defense to allow Arteta to push forwards at times and crucially, shake his marker that Spurs are sure to employ in the form of Dempsey. If  we can do this we stand a very good chance of winning this match comfortably, our overall player quality is more than enough across the pitch to give Spurs hell, plus we have great options off the bench such as Arshavin, Ramsey and Chamberlain, although I wish to god that Tomas Rosicky was available as an impact sub after his performance for us in this fixture last year. I believe we will score goals but defending against Spurs comes down to 4 key things.

1. Theo Walcott vs Jan Vertonghen
2. Wilshere’s energy and understanding of his role in the double pivot.
3. Laurent Koscielny’s marking in and around the box of Jermain Defoe.
4. Vermaelen and Podolski containing the left wing.

Tottenham Danger Men: Defoe, Sandro and Bale. Lennon although he’s doubtful to feature.

Result Prediction: I can’t imagine either side will keep a clean sheet but Szczesny hopefully back in goal we should be able to keep the tally down, whereas AVB’s mysterious decision to play Friedel in goals rather than the newly bought Hugo Lloris should see a few goals scored. 3-2 Arsenal.

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

Conclusion: Tottenham will look to press our midfield of 2 with their 3 man advantage and try to hit us hard on the break. Arsenal will look to contain any thrusts on our left, drive hard at their center to utilise Wilshere’s enthusiasm and hit hard through Walcott out wide putting low crosses into the box for Giroud to finish. Podolski will also be used as a counter-attacking option on our left wing. Should be a great match up as always! COYG!

Match 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!

Norwich City 1-0 Arsenal: As it happened…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Evolution of Arsenal’s Gameplay

The Invincibles are gone, they’ve parted ways and chosen their futures. Some have gone on to rot on benches, others to try new prospects. As the dust settles Arsenal’s style of play has changed from the impressively successful 4-4-1-1 employed by the Invincibles side to a 4-5-1 formation for the modern game built around 1 man, Cesc Fabregas.  But as time went on the big teams learnt how to deal with this amazing playmaker and Arsenal’s offense looked more and more unimaginative and while it was at times, dazzling to watch, the majority of games saw us passing the ball around on the edge of the opposition’s goal box without ever taking a shot or looking threatening. As more and more teams cottoned on to the fact that they could stand off Fabregas(who rarely shoots) and simply man mark all the target players he would pass to, we also started to see how often and easily we could be undone on Counter-Attacks as the team got more and more aggressive, committing more and more bodies forward and leaving our back 4 very exposed in our desperate search for goals, despite having the self proclaimed “World’s best striker” Nicklas Bendtner, on hand to hit the target, or chair row Z, or simply put his shot out for a throw in.

The Diagram shows a fairly standard scenario from a few seasons ago when we still adopted this style of play and it’s easy to see the problems with what we were doing back then. Fabregas naturally plays fairly advanced and with the other midfielders pushing up in support you can see the huge gap it leaves in between our lines between Song and the Center Backs, that can be exploited by teams with a quick long ball to a target center forward who can then run at the defense or really stretch us if they have speedy players flying down the wings, like say United. By ignoring Fabregas, Player A intercepts a pass from Fabregas to Bendtner, hits it long to Player B who lays it off to Player C and then we’re screwed. You can clearly see how Song is outnumbered, Sagna is caught high up the pitch, Clichy is overlapped and the result is an attack with width running at our two Center Backs and the hapless keeper beyond.

Now,  jump forward to last season. Fabregas is gone, Na$ri(who?), Clichy(who?)  also and Wilshere is injured indefinitely. In their place Arsenal has Rosicky,Gibbs, Gervinho and Arteta. Now while these players are being utilised the same way there are some important differences. Firstly Gibbs is much more of a winger style player than Clichy ever was, Clichy was a no-nonsense Fullback who pushed forwards at times whereas Gibbs is more often further up field than his Left Winger. This has created the occasional problem defensively but weirdly it has also solved a big problem for Arsenal. Clichy was often found to be playing attackers onside resulting in a heart attack inducing 1 on 1 with “gulp” Almunia. Whether because Vermaelen is too aggressive or because Clichy was just useless at staying in line with his Center Backs is up for debate but since Gibbs is so eager to go forward this problem no longer exists.

Gervinho and Rosicky added some much needed energy to our offense, both have great workrates however the best thing that Rosicky inadvertedly did is get the other players involved. With their crutch Fabregas gone from midfield the other 10 players on the team started to take on more responsibility on the pitch and even though a certain Dutch traitor who we shall refer to as “Voldemort ie “He who can not be named”  was banging in the majority of our goals, the assists were coming from everywhere. In the later half of the season once the excellent Arteta had firmly stamped his mark on a midfield position in our side, the trio of Arteta, Song and Rosicky started to show their potential and with this new confidence we started to see a shift in formation, when attacking from the normal 4-5-1 to a very fluid 3-5-2. In possession, Gibbs would bomb down the left wing providing width, Gervinho would slide inwards into a secondary striker role and the Center Backs would adjust their position to compensate for this. This gave Arsenal an extra attacking option and allowed one of the best crossers on the team, Gibbs to show his attacking potential. With the speed of Theo Walcott on the Right Wing, Arsenal were able to not commit Bacary Sagna at Right Back forwards too much and still provide an attacking threat from both wings, crucially stretching the oppositions defense.

It’s a shame Rosicky is too old these days to always start as he did a fantastic job in Attacking Midfield when we really needed someone to step up. While all this was happening Arsenal also shored up their defense with the arrival of Per Mertesacker and the development of our young Keeper Wojciech Szczesny.  Mertesacker in particular was becoming a key player for us as he asserts his authority and experience on the back 4 and provides much needed organisation. Arteta likewise in midfield became more important than anyone save maybe Arsene Wenger could imagine as his performances are just so damn consistent it’s like having a machine in midfield. You program it to your specifications and then watch in awe as he carries out your instructions with unerring accuracy.

Present Day

So fastforward to this season and predictably the season started with  several players being sold.  While the article on this site written by Threkstari explains why this is necessary it is no less damn annoying. So adios to Song who suddenly discovered he had Barca DNA, while Voldemort has definitely turned to the dark side as he joins Manchester United. Wenger brings in Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud as his key signings, as well as promoting a young player by the name of Carl Jenkinson in place of the currently injured Bacary Sagna. Happily unlike last season the new recruits bed into the starting eleven much quicker than expected and Arsenal only drop a few points at the start thanks to not having a proper pre-season warm up to familiarize with each other. Cazorla proves a revelation in midfield and Podolski who struggled to play well in Bayern Munich’s 4-3-3 play wide formation quickly strikes up a great partnership with both Gibbs and Cazorla. Giroud impresses early also but fails to get the goals his performances deserve and loses his starting position to Gervinho who after looking rather unimpressive last season as a Left Winger, really seems to have hit his stride in the Center Forward position. But the most impressive thing about all these early signs is what we start to see in the formation.

That’s right, a return to the 4-4-1-1 formation that was the staple of the most glorious days in Arsenal’s history and we have the players to make it work, we have a sexy beast of a Center Forward with brilliant positional awareness and the attitude to get on the end of a cross regardless of if he’ll break his foot doing it.  Meanwhile we have Cazorla pulling the strings and the metronomic Arteta as the midfield anchor. Perhaps the most crucial change to this formation is the doing away with a traditional Defensive Midfielder. Instead we have in it’s place the double pivot of Arteta and Diaby ensuring 1 player(usually Arteta) is always covering the back 4 and eliminating problems we had in the past with 2 defensive lines of 4 players, thanks to the workrate of both Podolski and Gervinho on the wings.

While this is Arsenal’s standard formation now it’s worth noting that in offense we switch to a 3-5-2 due to Gibbs bombing down the flank and I think this is what utilises Podolski’s potential. It’s clear on the pitch he doesn’t like playing wide so having Gibbs provide the width and Podolski slide inside to become a secondary striker is perfect. This also moves Podolski closer to where Cazorla is playing and allows the great linkup play and intricate give and goes we’ve seen them play this season, most notably when Cazorla scored vs Liverpool and when they tore Southampton apart.The starting eleven is almost cemented with maybe 3 or so players who can give it a nudge. Players pushing to get into the starting team is great for promoting good performances from those on the field however and even though Wenger has to decide on which two Center Backs to start and which player should be at Right Wing etc these are decisions that are much preferred to not having any options at all.

Looking to the Future

This current Arsenal squad looks to have loads of potential with far more steel in the side thanks to the veteran players that have been introduced and the willingness of the players to defend and attack as a team. I think we can look forward with hope and belief that this is a team that can win consistently. There is still room for much improvement, particularly our defense on set pieces and also the tendency of a certain newly promoted captain to make rash tackles and press forwards too much but the team chemistry is looking stronger every week. Add to this current crop the fact that our young prodigy Jack Wilshere is soon to return from injury as well as other solid players such as Bacary Sagna and Tomas Rosicky and the future looks positively mouth watering.