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!

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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: 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.

Arsenal 0 – 2 Schalke 04: Nutella with Nutella doesn’t work…

Apologies for the late review. All the authors had their life say “LOL TIME MANAGEMENT?!” and none of us had the time to write something up (sadface). In all honesty I was hoping I didn’t have to say this but the game panned out similarly (read: exactly like) as it did at Carrow Road. We didn’t keep our width and got punished for it…hard. We knew before the game that Schalke have players who are capable of utilizing space in the middle of the park so we sacrificed our right wing in order to have more players in the centre of the field. Why the right wing? The answer is twofold:

  1. Jenkinson prefers sticking back unlike our leftbacks
  2. We had our first choice LW (Podolski) fit while our first choice RW was out injured

Enter Ramsey. If you guys recall we had a similar tactic versus Southhampton when Ramsey was played at RW so we have superiority in the middle. This broke down their parked bus quite well as the defenders didn’t know who to pick out: Cazorla or Ramsey. However it only worked because Gibbs did his job of stretching the defence on the left side allowing Podolski to cut in, essentially giving 2 targets for Ramsey and Cazorla. As pointed out in the Norwich Review piece: Santos is not Gibbs. Now this does not mean Santos is a bad player it merely means that we cannot utilize the Podolski-Santos duo on that left wing. Why? Simple: if you already have Nutella you don’t need more Nutella. You need bread. Look at our first choice Right wing: Sagna – Walcott. It works because the players’ styles complement each other (Walcott is the Nutella and Sagna is the bread).

I hope I made myself clear that I don’t want to see Santos playing behind Podolski. It’s torture that only Jigsaw would want me to watch. Instead I’d like to add some bread to our Nutella so here are possible left wing options we could try when Gibbs is unavailable:

  1. Bread/LB: Meade; Nutella/LW: Podolski – Promote Meade from our Reserves. If you watch our U21 games you know how he like to play wide when going forwards (which he does a lot) and if he cuts in he only does so near the line which would create space for Podolski to utilise as Meade drags the defender wide. Some might even say Miquel could play LB, but that wouldn’t quite work out as he is a natural CB and because of this he doesn’t venture forward enough to create space for Podolski. However there is a risk that Meade can’t handle the pressure psychologically and we would be back at square one.
  2. Bread/LB: Vermaelen; Nutella/LW: Podolski – The positive of this scenario is that none of the players play for the reserves. Another positive is that we can play Mertesacker, Koscielny, and Vermaelen at the same time (sure both Koscielny and Vermaelen had made some mistakes nowadays but wouldn’t it be an awesome backline with Koscielny and Vermaelen on a good day?). The negative of this pairing is that we play Vermaelen out of position and he would be automatically targeted by the opposition.
  3. Bread/LB: Santos; Nutella/LW:Giroud – You are probably thinking “Giroud on LW? You’ve lost it Threkie!” to which I would reply: “I’m not crazy! My mother had me tested!” (Big Bang Theory anyone?). Giroud actually played LW in our Pre-season game versus Köln (when we were experimenting with Podolski at CF) and I gotta admit he did better than I expected in that position going wide and stretching the defence. Giroud’s LW playing style naturally lends itself to a LB who likes to cut in and take a shot which is Santos!
  4. Bread/LB: Vermaelen or Meade; Nutella/LW: Santos – I guess you all saw this coming. Santos at LW since he is a defensive liability (to keep it politically correct) when paired with a LW that likes to cut in as well.

So the lesson from this game was: Never mix Nutella with Nutella…and that we don’t have a backup LB that is compatible with our first choice LW.

Match Preview: Arsenal vs Schalke 04

Redemption. That’s what this match is. After a disgusting display vs Norwich City away, this is a chance for the team to prove their credentials against the toughest team in their Champions League group. I don’t even mind if they lose as long as they give it everything they have this time.  Schalke at the Emirates on paper looks to be an exciting game. Both teams are capable of explosive attacking displays and also horrendous defensive errors. Schalke tend to play a 4-2-3-1 formation, though against strong teams they’ve been known to play a 4-1-4-1 also. However in a game of this importance I believe Huub Stevens will go for a familiar approach and play 4-2-3-1.

Out of form or not, Arsenal have a fearsome record in the Champions League at the Emirates, having not lost a match since 2003 and Schalke will find us tough to beat regardless of our current injury woes and defensive lapses. They are a team that plays possession football and prefer to attack on the counter either through the middle via Lewis Holtby, or down their right wing through Jefferson Farfan. Due to this style they are defensively a very compact team, tough to break down in the final third. Up front they have tricky attacking players who are good at beating a defender and creating chances, while defensively they are strong at defending set pieces but do tend to give away silly fouls and  technically proficient wingers can get in behind them and cause trouble.

Unfortunately for Schalke they will have to do without the promising young attacking player Julian Draxler who is out with a broken wrist as well as two of their best defenders Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Christoph Metzelder which will make commentators breathe a sigh of relief since by the time they’ve pronounced his name he no longer has the ball. “Papadop… Papadolopous, Papado fk this”.. Schalke do however have decent players to cover these losses in particular Affelay is quite the attacking threat in Draxler’s absence. As for Arsenal’s injury woes, Wilshere and Sagna will not feature just yet and the ongoing injury saga of Diaby will keep him out of the side(till 2020). The biggest loss however is Gibbs being out injured for 1 week, meaning Santos will deputise at Left Back and as I’ve mentioned in my review of the Norwich travesty, Podolski was rendered useless by the positioning of Santos. Whether this can be ammended in this game is anyone’s guess but it’s a headache Wenger will certainly have to deal with.

Now the good news. Schalke don’t defend aggressively, preferring to stay compact. What this does is create less pressure on our midfield and in particular Cazorla who will hopefully be able to use the extra space to our advantage. As I mentioned, Schalke attack primarily through the middle so it will be critical that Arsenal control this area of the pitch more than any other. Starting Coquelin next to Arteta in the double pivot and Ramsey at Right Mid should create a more defensively robust midfield, effectively refusing the right flank as an attacking option and concentrating our strengths on the middle and left wing attack. The big conundrum is up front, Gervinho or Giroud? In this game I would favour Gervinho as his movement and dribbling is exactly what Schalke don’t like to defend against. This game will probably be decided by our midfield trio and to this end I’d like to see Cazorla playing deeper than usual and really forming a midfield triangle with Arteta and Coquelin in order to dictate play. Coquelin’s defensive instincts may also allow Arteta to surge forwards and become more involved in our offensive movements and I’m sure we’d all love to see that.

Defensively for us I’d like to see Vermaelen benched after all his recent mistakes and the fact that Koscielny is fit to start once more. Mertesacker will be key for us since he knows the German League very well and knows what to expect from Schalke. Also Schalke’s primary scoring threat Huntelaar isn’t exactly the fastest striker around and our BFG should have no problem tracking his movements around the pitch. Stopping Schalke from scoring relies on Mertesacker denying Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Koscielny or Vermaelen effectively breaking up the close passing play between Holtby and Huntelaar. Holtby in particular loves trying through balls and we will need an alert Center Back to nip in quickly and prevent these sort of balls.

Schalke 04 Danger Men: Their front 4 are a real threat, Affelay,Farfan,Holtby and Huntelaar. In particular, a lot of their attacking play flows through Holtby while Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is one of the most feared strikers in the German League.

Result Prediction: After the last match vs Norwich who knows? If the boys come out and prove themselves I predict a 2-1 win for Arsenal but this could easily become 2-2.

Expected Lineup: 4-2-3-1 formation – Mannone, Santos, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Jenkinson, Arteta, Coquelin, Podolski, Cazorla, Ramsey, Gervinho.

Conclusion: The players have a lot to prove after the atrocity at Carrow Road. Expect to see the gunners come out firing and attack with purpose. It’s a match that should be very exciting and very close. Make no mistake Schalke will not yield easily but I have faith in our boys and our home record in the Champions League to get a win in this one.

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.