On track and forward: Arsenal vs Montpellier preview

After a fabulous game against our neighbors that put them firmly in our shadows we now turn to a game which will determine our qualification into the next round of Europe. Oh hey, look its Olivier Giroud’s old club that we have to beat again. Since the first time we faced them Montpellier have settled down as a team compared to before and look like a threat that can cause problems for us anytime of the week. Let’s take an in depth look at this Montpellier team which is in good form recently:

For Montpellier, there is no way for them to qualify for the next round but there is still a chance that they can get third place and secure a position in the Europa league. How would this be achieved? By beating Arsenal and Olympiacos losing to Schalke, though the chances of something like that occurring are very slim as Arsenal are very tough at home. For obvious reasons we have to look at the previous fixture and think of Montpellier as a formidable opponent as they were able to outplay us for large periods of the 2nd half in the first game we played in France. But looking as to why that happened we have to look at the formation and the players of Montpellier in general. Cabella played on the RW in that game and he ran rings around our first choice Left Back Kieran Gibbs. To do that against our most consistent Left Back was an achievement in itself since Gibbs has covered the left hand side so deftly this year. It was a worry to see and is something that could haunt us in this fixture as well. Apart from Cabella we may now have to deal with Charbonnier on the wings (who was not in the squad vs Arsenal in the first fixture), a tricky winger who can cause trouble for any sides and has a fantastic eye for goal. Also this time Arsenal may have to deal with Herrera from the get go, a player who caused significant problems in our defensive formation last time with his presence in the box.

Montpellier also have been in good form in Ligue 1 this month in general, going 5 games unbeaten in their last 5 (2 wins and 3 draws) which brings up the question are they an easy team to beat? No, they’ve vastly improved their defense from the previous games that they’ve played. They’ve employed a bit more of a defensive style which helps them sit back and counter but in their countering they use the pace of their wingers rather than have everyone push up (which they use to do before). Montpellier are clearly out for some pride at this point with virtually no chance of progressing to the final 16 and this makes any team a dangerous prospect. Montpellier typically setup in a 4-3-3 formation(although this does sometimes switch to a 4-2-3-1 mid-game) with Herrera up top and the dangerous wingers Camara and Charbonnier either side. Their biggest threat however, has to be Younes Belhanda who sits behind the striker in midfield and plays a no.10 role in the team. He likes to get forward often and isn’t afraid to try his luck and is a player that the likes of Mikel Arteta will have to watch closely. In general Montpellier will attempt to keep the ball in midfield, moving the play from side to side before pushing up to the edge of the box to attempt either a through ball or a long shot to hopefully force either a defensive or keeping error.

Now for the good news. Montpellier are quite vulnerable to crosses into the box on counter-attack and they don’t deal with tricky skillful players very well. This means the likes of Gervinho, Gibbs and Giroud should be able to cause some damage to their defense. I would assume that due to their aggressive nature it would benefit Arsenal to play somewhat cautiously and keep possession in midfield and try to expose them if they commit too many bodies forward. Counter-attacking would seem the ideal way to achieve this and if Arsenal can score an early goal I’d love to see this approach taken. I believe our midfield is superior to theirs and should be able to keep possession for decent spells. Patience and using the width of the pitch might be the best way to frustrate Montpellier into losing their defensive shape and hitting them hard when they do. I’d expect Giroud to have decent success vs their Center Backs in the air so the more crosses swung in the better, it’s just a shame Theo Walcott is unavailable to play this one.

Looking at our own lineup for this game we are blessed and cursed at the same time. On the positive side we have Gibbs and Gervinho(err I think that’s positive..) returning to the side and on the negative we have Walcott who’s been in such fine form, nursing his shoulder injury from the match vs that ‘other team in North London’ and Santos unavailable also(probably ate too many burgers or got booked for speeding). Even with Gibbs back and available I would expect Wenger to operate on the side of caution and use him only as a sub in this one, keeping him fresh and fit for the Premier League match this weekend vs Aston Villa. In Walcott’s stead I would expect seniority to rule the vote and therefore Gervinho should start over Oxlade-Chamberlain. The rest will most likely be the victors from last weekend, applying the old adage of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

Montpellier Danger Men: Belhanda, Herrera or Cabella(whichever plays) and Camara.

Result Prediction: This is a must win and Wenger knows it so he won’t be fielding a weak side. If the crowd at the Emirates are anywhere near as loud as they were for the North London Derby the team should play well and we may just get our first clean sheet for awhile. 3-0 Arsenal.

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

Conclusion: A game that we are capable of winning and winning well. Montpellier will try not to over-commit forwards and hit us on the counter. Arsenal only need to keep their composure and pass the ball around patiently to invoke Montpellier’s self destructing nature. Should be a tight game unless we score early in which case anything could happen.

Right then, let’s get behind the team and show em what they mean to us! Come On You Gunners!

Advertisements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tito Approves

Match Preview: North London Derby!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Match Preview: Arsenal vs 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 Review: Arsenal 1 – 0 Queens Park Rangers

Victory at last! But it didn’t come easily. Queens Park Rangers put up a decent fight before Mikel Arteta’s winning goal in the 84th minute and it’s quite fitting that the player who has given 100% in the games we’ve lost recently should be the one to get us the victory. Arsenal started a bit slow in this match and looked a little lacklustre but they certainly kicked into overdrive in the 2nd half with chances coming often and if not for Julio Cesar having one of the games of his life it could’ve easily ended 4 or 5 nil to the gunners despite still looking a bit out of form offensively. Cesar showed why he’s Brazil’s no. 1 keeper with a string of world class saves denying Giroud, Mertesacker and Ramsey from making QPR pay for poor defending.

Tactically speaking the game panned out rather predictably, Wenger deployed Ramsey on the right and used him to help dominate play through the middle helped in no small way by the energy of the returning Jack Wilshere. However unlike in previous matches we also had Sagna back who did a great job of pushing forwards, staying wide the whole time and adding an extra element to our attack that Jenkinson has been unable to provide so far this season. Much like the combination of Gibbs and Podolski on the left, this allowed Ramsey to move into a secondary striker role without compromising the width of our attack and QPR were clearly stretched. With Wilshere driving forwards in midfield and linking up with Cazorla it was inevitable we would score and if not for some sub par finishing at times the game would’ve been won a lot sooner than it was. Mbia getting a straight red for lashing out at Vermaelen was the death knell for QPR and a goal always looked likely. QPR threatened mostly through Shaun Wright-Phillips down our left and while it would appear that he often got by Santos, our 2nd choice left back never really let him swing in any dangerous crosses and for the most part contained QPR’s most dangerous player rather well.

In fact Santos had a solid game for us, he made several good crosses and key passes and unlike in the previous 2 games he actually made an effort to stay wide and allow Podolski to drift inwards, linking up with Cazorla. Looking once again at a heatmap comparison we can clearly see the difference in Santos’ game in just 1 week. Whether Wenger has asked for this change of play from him or not I don’t know but it’s certainly encouraging to see after the previous results. I think Santos’ biggest problem now is his stamina, Gibbs is far fitter than he is and much more suited to surging forwards in aid of the attack before pelting back again to defend. Lay off the burgers mate and hit the running track.

Match Stats: Pretty much what you’d hope to see apart from the crosses. Tackles, intercepts, and good passing accuracy from the Defense,  Dribbles from Wilshere and Ramsey, Shots on target from Giroud and key passes from the midfield and fullbacks.

Defensively both Santos and Vermaelen put up some good numbers keeping possession and passing very well, while making 9 interceptions and 5 clearances between them which goes some way towards redeeming their lack of effort in the games vs Norwich and Schalke. Sagna also looked like he’d never been out injured and was rock solid at the back containing the energetic and inventive Taraabt while Mertesacker was his usual quiet efficient self, managing the back line and offside trap for us. The only worrying moments defensively for me were at the end, particularly when Granero shook off Arteta and then proceeded on a hero run into the box beating Vermaelen far too easily and scuffing his chance from point blank range thanks to Vito Mannone. The other was from a chipped ball over the top that almost beat the offside trap but thankfully the QPR player’s were just out of tune. Being caught offside has been a feature of their season and it continued against us.

Wenger’s substitutions were decent also, Gervinho made little impact and went off injured but it was quite a relief to see Walcott back on the pitch after suffering cracked ribs from a San Marino thug and he looked good attacking down the right wing and swinging in some truly deadly crosses, why can’t he do that more often? It is truly alarming that Arshavin can come onto the pitch for 5 minutes and do what nobody else could do up to that point, beat a defender and put an accurate cross into the 6 yard box. If not for a brilliant save from Julio Cesar, Giroud would’ve scored but luckily Arteta poked it home. For those still doubting Giroud I would hope this game is a reminder of his talents, he had 2 headed chances both brilliantly saved and in general gave QPR’s defence a torrid time, winning just about every aerial ball that came his way. He is truly a great target man.

Improvements Needed: Our crosses as always were quite poor with Sagna the main culprit making 1 accurate cross in 9 attempts but the most worrying thing I took away from this match was our freekicks, we had no less than 4 in dangerous areas and failed to force the keeper to make a save. One could argue the referee failed to keep the QPR wall back 10 yards but with players like Arteta, Podolski and Vermaelen available to take them this is still not good enough and serious improvement is required. Our shooting likewise, needs to improve, Cazorla missed a great chance while 2 many shots on target were close to the keeper and it’s somewhat annoying that we didn’t score until QPR were reduced to 10 men. Despite looking a bit shoddy in attack i think we deserved to score a few more.  Also after scoring the winner our players got a bit complacent and sat back to play counter-attack rather than playing their natural possession game and this allowed QPR space and they almost made us pay the price late into injury time.

Final Thoughts: Welcome back Jack! He looked great surging forward like a natural box to box midfielder and his energy was much appreciated. He didn’t get into the game as much as we would like having half the possession of the other 2 midfielders but that’s to be expected upon returning from 17 months out! Santos did a much better job in this match but I’ll still breathe a sigh of relief when Gibbs is fit again as I believe his chemistry with Podolski is much stronger and Podolski again disappeared a bit in this match. Here’s hoping Gervinho’s injury isn’t too serious as it would be nice to have our whole squad fit for once, his form has been inconsistent but extra options are always nice to have. It does allow Giroud a string of games up front for us so hopefully this will allow his team mates to learn how best to utilise his abilities. It seems a lot of the time we’re still playing under the pretense that Van Persie is up front and they are very different players. Lastly I’m keen to see if Walcott will be given more starts at Right Wing now that Sagna is back at last. Only time will tell though and for now, let’s enjoy the win(scrappy or not it’s 3 points) and look forward to seeing our youngsters playing in the League Cup this week. Oh and Jack’s welcome back applause at the Emirates wasn’t even close to loud enough. Come on you Gunners!

Welcome back Jack. Hope he never ends up biting his tongue…

Match Preview: Arsenal vs Queens Park Rangers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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