Match Preview: Arsenal vs Manchester City

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Ok so we kick off our formidable fixtures list with a home game against City. Last time around at the Etihad in a 1-1 draw we were treated to a game of 2 halves, in which both teams stamped their authority on the match at different times. Let’s not sugar coat this, it will be a tough match for Arsenal to win and here’s hoping our tremendous record against City at home, continues to ring true.

This is however possibly the best time we could have to play City since they have many of their players out, both with injury and suspensions and also the African Cup. City will have to make do without Nasri, Kolo Toure, Aguero, Yaya Toure and Maicon. Unfortunately this does leave their defense pretty much intact but takes away from their physicality in midfield and creativity and finishing quality in attack. Arsenal meanwhile will have to make do with Gervinho which will be a terrible loss I’m sure and unfortunately maybe also Giroud who has a nasty cut over his knee thanks to a Swansea player stamping on him. Last time around it was very much a game of who could counter-attack better and somewhat amusingly, both goals were scored against the run of play. This time without the presence of Yaya Toure in midfield and the threat of Nasri on the wing, I would expect Arsenal to be able to assert some form of dominance over the middle and force City to play on the counter, rather than their usual tactic of short passing and possession in their opposition’s own half.

The defensive pairing for this match will be a big decision for Arsene Wenger and could play a crucial part in this match. On one hand we can play Mertesacker for his organisational abilities at the back, governing the offside trap and starting each attacking play, or we could bring in Koscielny since City possess players with good dribbling skills who could turn the slow German inside out, much like Aguero did to him last time. Given that City have scored over a quarter of their goals this season from set pieces, I would choose a partnership of Koscielny and Vermaelen, both for being able to stop tricky dribblers and because for some reason, both of these shorter players are better in the air than Mertesacker. I also think aside from the set pieces, one of the biggest threats we will face in this match will be Tevez’s movement and spontaneous shooting, so two players who are able to get tight to their markers and prevent shots on the turn will be ideal.

Attacking-wise, last time Wenger chose to use a striker with pace in behind their defensive line and deployed Ramsey at right wing to drift inwards and gain a man advantage in the midfield battle. I don’t expect this to change, though I feel Ramsey might be on the left wing this time, with Podolski coming off the bench in the second half, hopefully in the same explosive form as he was against Swansea City. With Giroud in doubt for this match, I expect Wenger to use Walcott as our striker and it remains to be seen if he’s physically tough enough to deal with the attentions of Nastasic and Kompany. I would expect Arsenal to attack mostly through the middle with Oxlade Chamberlain cutting in on the right at times to mix things up. I almost hope I’m wrong though as I’d like to see Podolski start this match, partnering with Gibbs and Ramsey on the right wing, with Oxlade held in reserve to use his pace and trickery to our advantage late in the match. The midfield trio is the key to success in this match, Arteta and Wilshere will surely have their hands full with Silva drifting in off his wing, looking to exploit any space and two volatile forwards like Balotelli and Tevez moving in and around our lines. Yet Cazorla can do the same at the other end of the pitch and unless City commit a Center Back to his movements, the City midfield may have a busy day as Cazorla is at his best, moving around and finding space even out on the wings and there’s no way he’ll just stay central in a match like this.

So overall, we have a good chance at this one, the real game changer in question is whether Mancini starts in a 4-5-1 as expected or his much-experimented 3-4-1-2, as this would change the entire dynamic of the game, for better or worse. It’s unlikely though and in the expected system this game would look to be a real arm wrestle in the center with neither having great options on the wing. Gibbs could be a deciding factor with his pacy bursts forward and Wenger’s decision on both his starting Center Half pairing and whether to start Podolski or hold him in reserve will dictate the tempo of the match, particularly in the first half. The other telling factor will be how well we deal with any set pieces they have, which also means not giving away fouls in dangerous areas of the pitch and defending corners properly.

Manchester City Dangermen: Well they’re all dangerous but the biggest threats will most likely be Tevez, Balotelli and Silva. And also Dzeko who I would expect to sub on in the second half and can be a real game changer.

Result Prediction: The similar pressures in midfield from the two teams, suggests a draw to me, I’d say 2-2 but hopefully we can nick a late win.

Predicted Lineup: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Chamberlain, Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Walcott

Conclusion: Both teams will compete early for control of the middle, which could be quite a high tempo start. Expect only a few clear cut chances created by either side and a rather cagey affair until the first goal is scored with City playing on the counter and Arsenal breaking their teeth on City’s defensive line. Impact subs in the second half have the potential to blow the game wide open and make it a very exciting last 25 or so minutes. Who knows, maybe Giroud will be fit enough to sub in late and make an impact along with Podolski.

If you live near the Emirates, get down there and show the timid home support how to REALLY cheer on our team as it plays a major part to a team’s performance in a big match such as this. It will be a huge 3 points if we get them and considering the fixtures that await us, a real momentum boost. Come On You Gunners!

 

Match Review: Swansea City 2 – 2 Arsenal

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Well once the dust had settled neither side emerged victorious and to be honest it was that kind of game. On the face of it I can understand how people could be quite bored watching the game until the second half when the game exploded into life, thanks to the injection of Michu into the match. But for me it was an enthralling tactical battle and one that we didn’t do so badly in as it may have appeared. Wenger sprung some real suprises with the starting lineup and while I have my doubts on why the great lumbering Mertesacker started against a team who like to attack via thru balls, I can’t fault the rest of his tactics. Ramsey may be playing out of his comfort zone as a left mid but there’s no denying he was effective at cancelling out Swansea’s usually dangerous right wing attack and also helped to keep possession in midfield. As a direct result of this, Swansea were unable to use their normal tactic of slowly pushing down the right and instead chose to fire in dangerous diagonal long balls to any of their 3 attackers. Arsenal meanwhile kept possession and played high up the pitch while Swansea sat deeper and counter-attacked.

And this is what undid us for their first goal. To put it simply, we took the bait. We were pressing forwards, playing a high line defense while Swansea happily sat back absorbing the pressure, made easy by the slow tempo of the match and then they brought on Michu. And suddenly they had a speedy attacker getting in behind our high positioned defense and the first of these diagonal long balls was pounced upon and finished off by the Spanish talent. Playing Mertesacker as the last man is always risky when playing a high line in my books and while I guess one can argue he was playing to add defensive height in the box, there is more to being good aerially than just being tall and I tend to think both Koscielny and Vermaelen are better aerial defenders than him and should’ve started this match as he had no chance of catching Michu in a foot race. What suprised me most of all is that Swansea didn’t try targeting Sagna at right back who was left isolated and unsupported by Walcott for the majority of the game and as a consequence, appeared to play poorly. Aside from looking tired I don’t think he did much wrong except for the usual lousy crossing attempts. Offensively Walcott’s movement was so random he often didn’t know where to pass to and defensively he was basically left to deal with everything thrown at him on that wing and managed the majority of it with a minimum of fuss, only helped out occasionally by Koscielny.

Our attacking formation throughout this match was uncharacteristically narrow. With Ramsey playing on the left and Walcott drifting inwards, outwards and wherever the hell he damn well pleased there was only Gibbs left to stretch Swansea’s defense even a little bit and this made our attacking efforts much harder. Little wonder then that we had very few clear cut chances in the first half and didn’t really explode into life until the second half where we suddenly started moving the ball around much quicker. Swansea’s midfield went from comfortably passing the ball around and having time to pick a pass, to being aggressively pressed and making individual mistakes as a result of the pressure. This is where we started to dominate, even before Podolski was subbed on and turned the match on its head, Swansea started panicking, lost their midfield composure and dropped deeper still to try and defend their 1-0 lead. Big mistake. Inviting that much pressure from Arsenal when you’re a top team is a bad idea. When you’re a mid-level team like Swansea it can be catastrophic and quite frankly, they were lucky we didn’t blow them completely off the park. Gibbs who had been an attacking threat all match, suddenly became a deadly force with the introduction of Podolski and Swansea’s defense buckled almost immediately. Giroud was unlucky not to bury a good chance but we never looked like not scoring and 2 in quick succession looked to have the game won, if not for some good old crappy Arsenal defending from a corner. People will blame zonal marking for the goal but really it was a lack of effort to win the ball that caused it. Szczesny did his best to make the goal bigger for Graham to score in by going to ground far too early but it doesn’t change the fact that, like the first goal this one was soft and could’ve easily been avoided with a little more enthusiasm in defense.

So overall I don’t think we did too badly except for not putting away the chances at the end that could’ve made the score a complete blowout. Gibbs was fantastic all game and together with Wilshere’s driving runs forward they spearheaded the attack. Cazorla looked a bit fatigued and could probably do with a match off and Walcott’s positioning was also a little odd for me. I don’t know if Wenger gave him free reign to roam where he pleased but against a more dangerous team, if he leaves Sagna alone like that we could be in real trouble and with Manchester City coming up it’s not something I want to see more of. This is more or less the formation we used and the blue arrows illustrate the way Swansea chose to attack.

swansAs you can see, as a result of our pressing, Swansea were reduced to bypassing our midfield trio and using the width and their pace in behind our defense. This is something to be wary of but reflects well on our midfield.  You can also see the lack of width in our attack and the lack of a forward passing option for Sagna, who unsuprisingly racked up quite a few long ball pass attempts in his match statistics. In the second half when we sped our passing up, Swansea enjoyed even less of the ball and sat deeper as they ran out of ideas, inviting the 15 minute onslaught that was made worse by the introduction of Podolski on the left wing, who drove the ball forward and allowed Gibbs to decimate their back line. We scored twice and should’ve scored more. Since many people are complaining about Bould’s preference of Zonal marking I thought I’d also cover that in this review by demonstrating the system. So let’s have a look at that moment when victory was snatched away in true smash n grab style.corner1So if we take a look we can see how the zonal marking system works. Swansea are setup pretty basically with a near receiver to flick on the ball(next to Podolski) and 3 runners who have the task of pushing into the Arsenal goalbox once the flight of the ball is determined, meaning where they have to be to attack the ball. Arsenal have a man on either post and 3 men setup in zonal formation to block the incoming runners, challenge them aerially etc. At this point I’m a bit critical of the two men standing forwards of all this, Arteta and Walcott, since they should really be a part of the blockers wall with only 5 minutes left to play. It’s worth noting here that it is our midfielders that are closer to the goal than the defenders. There are two reasons for this. Firstly to speed up the quick counter-attack by advancing the positioning of the defenders and allowing the midfielders to pass to somebody as they sweep forwards once Arsenal have cleared the danger. And secondly to play a higher offside trap incase a player should accidently misplace a pass and leave an opposition player right in front of our goal with the ball at his feet. This goal however was just unfortunate, the red arrow on the photo shows where Podolski’s glancing header ended up and the green arrow shows the safe heading option that would’ve secured the game for us. Nothing to do with zonal marking, just a missed clearance and subsequent poor defensive work by the blockers who made no move to shut down the runners’ movement, resulting in the goal.

In conclusion this is a game we should’ve won but didn’t do anything terribly wrong in. We lacked some energy in defense and fell for a very good sucker punch when Michu scored but overall we got the basics right, successfully upped the tempo when necessary and passed the ball around better than we have in previous weeks despite the deceptive appearance of the game. If we play like that in the replay I am confident of blowing Swansea City out of the water and for now I’m content to simply look forward and await the match against Manchester City.

And finally, one more look at this, what a beautiful lobbed pass and volley!

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Match Preview: Swansea City vs Arsenal

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FA Cup time! And a must-win match for Arsenal against a Swansea City side that quite frankly we didn’t turn up against last time we played and lost 2-0 to them. So assuming the players aren’t too exhausted from their disappointing match against Southampton(where they didn’t appear to use any energy) we should be in for a better contest this time around. Looking at Swansea’s recent form and efforts this season in the league it would be reasonable to expect a game in a similar mould to the recent one against Newcastle, although without the ridiculous scoreline. Let me explain.

Swansea play in a 4-2-3-1 formation, opting to attack down their right wing and through the center,  prioritising thru balls as their chosen method of breaking through defenses to score. This is similar to the style Newcastle employs in attack and like them, Swansea also like to play possession football in their own half with short sharp passing and don’t heavily pressure their opponent. Where this game will differ is that Swansea have the majority of their starting eleven fit for this match and are far better at both keeping possession and holding onto a lead once they have it. And this is the biggest problem we will face against them, stopping them from scoring first. If we look throughout the season, Arsenal have done best against teams that have played somewhat erratically. By that I mean teams that have come out swinging, tried to score goals and allowed us to play counter-attack and in general, they’ve been games that are very open with end to end action, and Arsenal have simply outscored their opposition. So it stands to reason that if we manage to stop them scoring first we could do some real damage. Teams like Swansea with thru ball strategies and slightly shaky defense lines are far better suited to playing counter-attacking football so to take the lead against them would really be grabbing the initiative in this match.

Defensively is where they are weakest, Swansea have struggled to prevent teams from creating scoring opportunities this season, which is in sharp contrast to their impressive home record of last season. Their biggest weakness unfortunately for us is allowing teams to get in good positions to take long shots and conceding from set pieces, neither of which we are very good at, unless the likes of Arteta or Cazorla decide to have a ping from range(and I hope they do), so we’ll be much better off exposing the other weaknesses they have, which are winning aerial duels and dealing with tricky, skillful opposing players. To this end I think we’ll see Giroud starting at Center Forward for this one with Walcott’s pace and trickery utilised on the right wing. Swansea’s left wing isn’t particularly geared towards attacking so the chances of Walcott getting in behind their back line will be less and I would expect the game to therefore be decided from the left. Assuming Arsenal mean business in this match I’d expect Podolski and Gibbs to be too much for Swansea’s right wing to handle and although their midfield is strong, Cazorla should still be able to link up well with these two and create enough chances for Giroud to do some damage. The fact that they have trouble defending aerially will just play into Giroud’s hands all the more and I expect him to play an important role in this match.

Overall our lineup is likely to be similar to previous weeks with the exception of Walcott playing at right wing instead of center forward.  However we may see a change at the back also, given that Swansea are fond of thru balls and their rather deadly player Michu is no slouch I wouldn’t be suprised to see Koscielny partnering Vermaelen at the back instead of the slower Mertesacker. I would also expect Arsenal to really come out of the blocks tonight as I believe Wenger would be most keen on giving some rest to key players like Cazorla with the match against Manchester City looming just around the corner. A tactic of going out guns blazing, taking a solid lead and then consolidating by bringing on a holding player like Ramsey may well be Wenger’s tactic for this one.

Swansea City Dangermen: Without a doubt it’s Michu. The 2 million pound Spanish wonder has been scoring goals for fun in the Premier League with 13 already and last time we played them and sat back in the final minutes he made us pay. Their right winger Hernandez must also be kept quiet.

Result Prediction: Assuming Arsenal come out to play this time I’ll say 3-2 Arsenal

Predicted Lineup: 4-4-1-1 formation – Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny,Vermaelen, Gibbs, Podolski, Arteta, Wilshere, Walcott, Cazorla, Giroud

Conclusion: This has the potential to be a really open ended game, both teams boast attacking firepower and questionable defensive flaws. A game where if either team doesn’t come out firing and put in the effort, the other team could really humiliate them on the scoreboard. I think Arsenal will pinch it but I’m expecting a high tempo, mistake-riddled match and a real nail biter. Fortunately this is an away match so we can rely on our mad away fan support to cheer the boys on to victory, Come On You Gunners!

Match Review: Arsenal 7 – 3 Newcastle United, A Krul Day for Newcastle..

Arsenal v Newcastle United - Premier League

Oh god, it’s in the net again!

Wow, what a cracking match! While we may have just witnessed some of our best and worst football that we’ve played this season, there’s no denying that it was entertaining. As I discussed in my match preview, Newcastle unsuprisingly changed their formation to a 4-5-1 to better deal with the threat posed by our midfield trio. Before the 1st whistle this showed the respect they had for the capabilities of our midfield and as a direct result of the middle being stifled, both teams opted to attack through the wings, with much of Arsenal’s offense channeled through Podolski and Gibbs on the left. Weirdly both teams stood off each other and gave the players room to play and despite an early chance for Chamberlain, Newcastle had the better of the chances in the first half, while Arsenal were reduced to playing counter-attacking football and managed to take the lead with a good run and finish from Walcott after Podolski picked out his run. Podolski in particular was a constant threat to Newcastle but for all the movement down that wing it was still Newcastle creating more dangerous plays with the exception of their final passes.

Most uncharacteristically of late, both our fullbacks had a bad game defensively, with Sagna and Gibbs both caught out on multiple occasions. Koscielny also looked rusty after his time off injured and coughed up the ball several times, while Vermaelen by contrast was pretty consistent throughout. The goal we conceded before half time from a set piece, will go down as Wilshere’s fault for ducking and turning his head but with the recent head trauma suffered by Van Persie who can blame him? Wilshere’s a brave lad but he must’ve been fearing for his life after Ferguson’s revelations early in the week on the danger of a ball striking a players face. Clearly Newcastle’s players should be arrested for attempted manslaughter, first Van Persie, now Wilshere, who’s next? Back on topic, Szczesny’s setting of the wall could’ve been far better and this contributed to the goal along with Arsenal’s penchant for using the shortest players in the wall. Oh and maybe Wilshere will just cop the hit next time.

So on to the second half and this is where the game’s tempo suddenly jumped. Wenger must’ve told the players at half time to get tight to Newcastle’s players and deny them room to play because that’s exactly what they did and suddenly the momentum shifted. If not for some poor decision making from Wilshere and Walcott in the final third, Arsenal could’ve been out of sight within 15 minutes. Newcastle to their credit, refused to go quietly and despite 2 good goals from Arsenal the drew level twice, the first time through the most shambolic Arsenal defending I’ve seen in a while and the second time through a defensive error and a great finish.The most interesting stat in this match was the lack of involvement by Arteta, who had only 59 touches, his lowest all season. The other more worrying stat was the lack of support given to their fullback by either winger which contributed to the goals conceded. Offensively speaking though, Arsenal were irrepressible, Newcastle were on tired legs after playing United 3 days earlier but instead of empathy, Arsenal were ruthless. The sharks smelt blood in the water and went into a feeding frenzy.

Now while I’ve mentioned that the lack of early goals was partly to do with Wilshere and in particular Walcott’s poor choices in the final third, not all of this is his fault. With Walcott up top, Arsenal were playing a 4-2-3-1 and with Cazorla playing too far from the double pivot, Arsenal were not keeping possession enough in the middle of the pitch to create the sort of chances Walcott needed and in turn, Walcott was not dropping deep enough to help win the ball and dominate the midfield battle. That’s because if you were to typify Walcott in a forward role you would say he’s a Striker, not a Center Forward and therefore isn’t accustomed to dropping deep into the midfield from a central role. When Giroud was subbed on late, the effect was immediate. With Giroud dropping deeper and aiding Cazorla, Arsenal suddenly looked like a new team. Factor in Newcastle’s tiredness and it’s no wonder we ripped them apart in the final minutes and I wish to god Giroud’s third shot had gone in rather than hit the post but still, 6 touches of the ball for 3 shots, 2 on target and 2 goals is not a bad return for our sexy frenchman. But it was Walcott who will grab the spotlight for his hat-trick and 2 assists and it’s hard to argue with the quality of finishing(and 1 beautiful cross) on display for those 3 goals, though the same can be said for Giroud. There’s no doubt in my mind that Podolski’s technical solidity, workrate and attacking efforts in the first half wore Newcastle down but in the end the flood gates opened once Walcott shifted to the right wing and along with Giroud, their combined movement completely confused the defense and had Newcastle chasing shadows in the final phase of the match, ultimately destroying them. All in all this was a strange match with Newcastle playing the possession football and Arsenal for a change, playing a deadly counter-attacking strategy.

I realise it’s hard to criticise a team when they score 7 but with matches against both Manchester City and Chelsea looming in the New Year I feel I should highlight some problem areas made apparent in this game. Firstly the 2nd goal scored by Newcastle was catastrophically poor positioning in defense. This in-game shot shows you everything you need to know. Even before Sagna is beaten far too easily, Wilshere is caught out jogging back slowly rather than realising the problem and getting tight to the player in the middle Gibbs is marking and Gibbs is unaware of the unmarked player at the back post who scores a tap in uncontested.

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For the 3rd goal Gibbs was guilty of again leaving a player unmarked at the back post and despite a wonderful first time volley from Demba Ba, no striker should be given that kind of freedom. So onto the attacking errors we made. Or rather, the poor choices. The choice the player made is marked in red, while the green shows the choice they should’ve made and the player they needed to work with.

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It may not matter missing these chances when you stick 7 past your opponent but against a tougher team where chances are fewer, these kind of poor decisions will often hurt you on the scoreboard. Overall I think the players tried a little too hard to give thru balls to Walcott, Podolski sent several balls that resembled a missile in pace, whizzing his way, while Arteta made a few 50 yard long balls to him and in general the tactic didn’t work. The chemistry on the wings is also questionable. While Gibbs and Podolski doubtless work well together I have my suspicions about Chamberlain and Sagna as a partnership. I couldn’t help but notice during the match how Gibbs and Podolski would either give a back slap, high five or yell encouragement to each other whereas on the other wing when Chamberlain played a pass to where he thought Sagna would run he was rewarded with a “what the fuck” stare instead. I’m still not sold on Walcott up front despite the hat-trick and if anything I believe he is a good plan B to have. Wilshere’s lack of determination to shoot was frustrating yet again and our defensive efforts need to sharpen up a bit before we take on the big boys. I also feel it’s important that we keep Walcott during the summer transfer window, both for his ability and to prove that we can hold onto our players. Whether it be for playing as a striker or in his proper role on the right wing, I don’t care. Just sign the damn thing.walcott

Finally I’m disappointed that after 3 wins in a row, the home crowd were just as silent as ever. The sooner these useless yobs are thrown from their seats and replaced with boistrous, thunderously loud fans the better. Time now for the team to get ready for Southampton and dish out another thumping, Come On You Gunners!

And as always after a goal-fest, enjoy…

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Finally, is anyone else disturbed by this? :D

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Match Review: Reading 2 – 5 Arsenal

Great Determnation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And of course the goals.

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Match Preview: Reading vs Arsenal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Match Review: Arsenal 2 – 0 West Bromwich Albion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come On You Gunners!

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

tikitaka

Match Review: Arsenal 0 – 2 Swansea City

Arsenal-vs-Swansea-City-preview,-English-Premier-League-96280

After a slightly disappointing draw against Everton I was hoping for a better result against Swansea but in my mind I knew that given the level of fatigue on our players, we would have a hard time against an impressive Swansea side. That we kept them at bay till the 88th minute is a credit to our back 4 and goal keeper, more than a team performance. Arsenal enjoyed more possession, dominated the aerial duels and had a higher passing accuracy than Swansea, why then did Swansea create more chances and have more shots? The answer is actually pretty simple, the majority of our passing was lateral ie sideways. This wasn’t the fault of the midfield either. While it’s certain that both Arteta and Cazorla are suffering from being overplayed, they were still the best players on the pitch for us and Wilshere also did a good job in the pivot with Arteta. But our attackers were dismal. They were so lazy that our formation actually changed from our usual 4-4-1-1 system to a 4-3-3, that’s how far forwards the wingers Walcott and Podolski were playing. This was also the cause of the many thru balls in this match, our midfield had to play further forward in order to try and link up with the lazy front three, which in turn meant that Vermaelen played in a more advanced role to keep the link to the midfield and this created space in behind that Swansea exploited. Our wingers also offered very little in the way of defensive support for their fullbacks, Podolski had a paltry 22 touches all game while Walcott appeared to be more industrious with 44 touches. However to the trained eye Walcott’s performance had all the hallmarks of a player who doesn’t give a toss and it’s clear to me he will be leaving either in the transfer window or the end of the season. Heatmaps never lie and it shows that our usual wide playing winger, drifted inwards towards the Swansea defense. Why would he do this? Because he doesn’t want the ball. Drifting close to the defense appears as if you’re being industrious and wanting the ball when in actual fact you’re ensuring that your team mate sees that you’re heavily marked and therefore not an option. There was plenty of space for Walcott out wide, he just chose not to use it. As for Podolski I’m not too sure what his problem is. Gibbs is back in the side playing wide for him so that’s not the issue and leads me to speculate as to whether he’s carrying some sort of injury or if he’s just not fit enough for the Premier League. He’s starting to remind me a little of Chamakh, starting the season red hot and just petering out into invisibility. God help us if he visits the same Swedish hookers that destroyed Chamakh’s confidence…

Just look at these heatmaps

heatmap1

Which leads me to Gervinho. I’ve never been a great fan of this guy, I think he has the decision making ability of a kamikaze pilot and the gentle touch of a rapist but on occasion he does do well. Sadly this was not one of those times. Gervinho is very different to Giroud in that he creates space for himself whereas Giroud creates space for the team. The difference is that Giroud’s movement can pull defenses apart like we saw against Tottenham. Gervinho however will only run into space to score goals and allow the oppositions defense to remain organised throughout the match. Swansea’s defense for the most part marked him tightly and prevented passes from Cazorla reaching him, resulting in only 27 touches of the ball but the Arsenal players still picked him out with a few crosses and his finishing efforts from these were simply not good enough. I’m not saying that each time a free cross is received from 8 yards he should score but he damn well should be getting his header on target and forcing a save. It just shows more and more that we really do need a secondary option for Giroud and if Chamakh once again can’t make the bench for this game then his time at Arsenal really is over and we need to look at realistic replacements. I see Gervinho as a cover for the right wing and nothing more, certainly not a viable replacement for Olivier Giroud and I can confidently say that if Giroud had been on the pitch we would’ve won the game.

On to the positives. Our back 4 did a good job of limiting Swansea’s chances although Vermaelen and Gibbs were on occasion caught out of position. Podolski bears some blame here for not dropping back and picking up the wide option, leaving Gibbs to do the job and isolating Vermaelen 2 on 1 with a player in front of him and a wide runner, which was perfectly illustrated during one very dangerous thru ball and shot in the first half that Szczesny dealt with expertly. Szczesny was excellent in this match, producing several fine saves and deservedly earning Man of the Match. Vermaelen’s advanced position was slight cause for worry with several dangerous thru balls nearly allowing Michu to score but thankfully he had the pace to make up for his lack of positioning. I will however still breathe easier when Koscielny is back in the starting lineup as he is far more solid. Jenkinson showed vast improvement from his efforts against Aston Villa, making far more attacking runs to the corner flag and whipping in several dangerous crosses, just as Gibbs does on the left wing. The other great positive to come out of this is the return to fitness of Rosicky which will hopefully mean much needed rest for Cazorla, to allow him to return to his best for us.

So basically a combination of fatigue for our key players in Cazorla, Arteta and Podolski prevented us from creating more chances to score as well as a very lack lustre front 3. Gervinho in particular is just not the type of player we required on the pitch to drop deeper and link up play, he tended to drift towards the left nearer the tired Cazorla, rather than the middle where Wilshere was. This is why we saw so little direct passing throughout the match. While I understand Giroud has a knock and needs rest his presence was sorely missed for this one. The late loss I contribute to Wenger refusing to lie down in this one and continuing to go for the win in the dying minutes, something that every manager knows is a dangerous premise since players are generally tired and more prone to mistakes at the end of a match, epitomised in the easy thru ball Michu latched onto to score the winner. I certainly hope the irony of the draw against Everton isn’t lost on those fans who cried out that the manager “didn’t know what he’s doing” when this time instead of a defensive substitution to protect the draw result, Wenger opted to bring on the offensive and not fully fit Tomas Rosicky instead and lost the game in the dying minutes. Suddenly that 1 point looks quite attractive when that happens.

So with Olympiacos next and group qualification assured I’d like to see a very young side start with the likes of Arshavin and Chamakh in there providing experience. Having seen Wenger’s named squad for the match I’m extremely pleased to see that Arteta, Cazorla, Wilshere, Podolski, Giroud and Mertesacker are all absent for this one. Wenger’s comment post-match about “There are many players who need a rest, because they are on the verge of getting injured. Some played with knocks today.” scares the hell out of me. To me it smacks of the hamstring injury that plagued Cesc Fabregas during his time with Arsenal that was caused by overplaying him. We need to avoid this at all costs, even if it means playing a weakened side and losing the occasional match. 1 or 2 poor results or a terrible season? Your choice..

Time to see what our young Gunners can do, hopefully they show some of the older players what it truly takes to earn the right to wear the red and white jersey, Come On You Young Gunners!

Match Preview: Everton vs Arsenal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Match Review: Aston Villa 0 – 0 Arsenal, Our lack of depth exposed

I feel your pain mate…

Yet another frustrating result for those of us who bleed red and white. And yet another bitter reminder that there are no easy games in the Premier League regardless of ladder position. So what went wrong? Why do we continue to struggle against teams in the relegation zone after the top teams have pounded them flat just a week ago? The key answer is in our squad depth, or rather the lack of. While the likes of Manchester City and United can afford to bench their superstars in favour of other excellent talents being paid an obscene amount of money to sit on a bench each week, Arsenal’s bench is brimming with considerably less talent, which was highlighted very late in the game when Giroud who’d picked up an injury, was substituted for the defensive-minded Coquelin. Now whether Giroud was fading or Wenger wanted to ensure we didn’t concede a late goal and simply accept the draw result, only he knows. A tough fixture against Everton just 3 days after this one prompted Wenger to rest several key players, most notably Wilshere who is still recovering from his long term injury and shouldn’t be overplayed. But the problem didn’t stem from this, it stemmed from the injury to Walcott and the decision to play Jenkinson and not Sagna at Right Back. It must be noted that Wenger’s hand was forced here due to Sagna still recovering from a lack of fitness due to his broken leg.

In fact the key players that required more rest than anyone else, played 90 minutes, Arteta and Cazorla. Both looked quite lethargic in this game with Arteta uncharacteristically slow in his movement and rather tellingly having less touches on the ball than his Central Midfield partner Aaron Ramsey and also Santi Cazorla. I can’t recall another game this season where Arteta has failed to manage more touches and passes than any of his team mates so this is a real indicator of his level of fatigue, also backed up by the fact he made around 15/69 of his passes back to our Central Defenders. Annoyingly the movement in the double pivot was actually very good for a change, Ramsey acquitted himself very well in the role, both in his defending and attacking play, ensuring Arteta was free to move around and couldn’t be man-marked. Aston Villa played an extremely aggressive pressing game that pushed our midfield pairing back towards our defense, thus separating the link to Cazorla and Giroud. Giroud’s frustrated response to this was to drop deeper and try to become the link in the advanced midfield, leaving no player up top to press their defense and this made our transition from defense to attack ie when we won the ball back to counter, even harder. Villa also tried to expand this problem for us by having Benteke man-mark Koscielny, leaving Mertesacker as our only passing option out from the back but the big German absolutely shone in this task and managed to distribute the ball to Arteta and Ramsey easily throughout the match.

But where we truly failed to capitalise on the risky aggressive game Aston Villa was playing was on the wings. While the potency of Gibbs and Podolski on the left is a constant threat for any team, it’s no good if you don’t pass there. Podolski looked fairly uninterested in this match and was again substituted(god knows why he’s so tired) although bringing on Gervinho instead is not something I’m a fan of. But this does little to mask the fact that we didn’t attempt to pass to them each time we looked to counter attack. This is due to Arteta’s fatigued performance and the winger’s poor positioning. Ramsey was situated on the right of central midfield and since he was the main man trying to create any kind of attacking play, it’s logical he would pass to the closest wing, being the right. But the inexperience of our right wing duo, Oxlade Chamberlain and Jenkinson, meant we wasted chance after chance to score on the break. The pair managed only 1 successful cross from 11 attempts and with Cazorla clearly fatigued and less influential than in previous games, this proved catastrophic as we were unable to create much in the middle(not aided by the heavy rain throughout the game making quick passing more difficult) and therefore crossing balls for Giroud seemed to be the best route to goal for us. Jenkinson is more of a defensive-minded fullback and I can only imagine the frustration that Ramsey must’ve been feeling every time he passed for Jenkinson to run onto it and take the ball to the corner to whip in a cross, only to have it passed straight back to him. Oxlade-Chamberlain also failed to make any impact filling in for the injured Theo Walcott and is yet to show his potential this season. Andrei Arshavin did come on for him late in the match and looked great, creating one good chance to steal the game from under Villa’s nose but in all honesty it would’ve been a “real smash and grab” style victory and not at all earned by our performance.

With Arteta playing poorly on the left of central midfield the service to Podolski was limited and is the main reason why our counter-attacks weren’t launched down the more potent left wing for Gibbs to whip in a cross for Giroud. I think it’s a rather telling stat that our best chance for a goal came from Giroud making a run down the left wing before delivering a low cross which Koscielny hoisted over the bar. Perhaps if we’d made a few more crosses from this side we would’ve gone home with 3 points. But the wingers did both Ramsey and Arteta no favours by playing too far forward, meaning that the passing distance was increased and becomes a less attractive option with the possibility of interceptions, mis-placed passes etc. If the wingers had realised this and dropped deeper to allow for a safer pass I am confident that our passing would’ve been faster and we would’ve made Aston Villa pay for their bold approach to shutting down our attacks early.

On to a huge positive! Despite the disappointing draw and lack of goals, our defensive shape throughout this match was nothing short of excellent. The continued confidence flowing from the back 4 is a very good thing to see, Szczesny had a quiet game but once again when called upon, he responded in style by making a brilliant fingertip save to parry a 25 yard screamer from Brett Holman onto the bar. Mertesacker was dominant at the heart of our defense and Koscielny once again excelled as his partner in crime. Gibbs looked lively and had a good game returning at left back and Jenkinson was solid in defense despite his lack of attacking impetus. It’s also worth noting that although obviously fatigued, Arteta did a good job of screening the back 4 although the real credit must go to Ramsey who’s workrate in this match was phenomenal.

So what do we do from here? Well clearly we need an extra striking option as Gervinho is inconsistent and if Giroud is injured we may find ourselves in real trouble. If Maroune Chamakh can’t even make the bench for this match then I’m afraid he’s finished at Arsenal. Tomas Rosicky back and fit would be very welcome so that Cazorla can have a well earned rest and I’d like to see Ramsey doing the same for Arteta once Wilshere is fully fit and established in the starting eleven. Looking at the rotation in this match, clearly the boss isn’t underestimating Everton but it’s a real shame about our lack of depth because I feel that with both Sagna and Walcott available for this match, Aston Villa would’ve been destroyed. I also think that despite Ramsey’s solid performance in Wilshere’s role, we need to look at getting a player that can cover for Wilshere as I truly believe that Ramsey is an understudy for Arteta and that one day in the future we will see a double pivot comprised of both Wilshere and Ramsey as the starting choice. Perhaps someone like Moussa Sissohko? Or another utility style midfielder who can play anywhere like Lewis Holtby.

So here’s hoping that Walcott and co are fit to play against Everton and we field a really strong team despite the fatigue to certain key players. I’ll leave you with a picture of hope, good to see him back in training finally. Now we just need him to be fit enough to start a few, Come On You Gunners!