Welcome

Welcome to my Arsenal blog for the 2014/15 season. Here you can check out my thoughts on every Arsenal game as well as other important matters at the club.
Latest News: Arsenal beat Newcastle 2-1, goals came from Olivier Giroud (x2) - match report now up!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Giroud double secures win over Newcastle

I may as well get the cliché out the way at the beginning; our game against Newcastle was very much one of two halves. In the first half we put in a good attacking display but in the second we spent the majority of the half pegged back. Luckily though Arsenal managed to hold on thanks to a brace from Olivier Giroud. Out of our most recent matches domestically it was probably the least convincing performance I have seen from this team. We looked very comfortable in the first 45 minutes but Newcastle came after us and managed to exploit what weaknesses were on show. Vitally though, we came out with three points to ensure we remained in third place. Unsurprisingly changes were made after the Monaco game in the week. Chambers replaced Bellerin, Gabriel came in for Mertesacker, and Ramsey started over Mesut Ozil who missed the game through illness.
Giroud now has 17 goals in 26 games this season
Arsenal can be hugely thankful of Olivier Giroud for their victory yesterday as he played a pivotal role in aiding the win. The Frenchman has been in incredible form of late and he can't seem to stop scoring. Whenever he has an exceptional game I feel obliged to go back to that first leg against Monaco and stand corrected. That night he was abysmal and in my comments after the game I was perhaps a little harsh on him. However for all the criticism he has received in an Arsenal shirt he's just got out there on the pitch and given his all. Therefore big credit has to go out to him because he's bounced back in phenomenal fashion. One can only begin to imagine the goal tally he would be on if he hadn't had a long spell out through injury.

I think it's safe to say that Olivier Giroud is one of the most under appreciated players in this Arsenal side and in the Premier League. His finishes against Newcastle yesterday were both very instinctive and they showed exactly why he's in the form of his life. Both goals weren't really Arsenal type goals but nonetheless Giroud found the positions and duly obliged in front of goal. The first was from a Cazorla free-kick. The ball was flicked on by Welbeck and then Giroud stuck out a knee to find the back of the net. Four minutes later Cazorla's corner found the French striker who muscled off Williamson to head home. They were two very well taken goals and hopefully he'll continue it to the end of the season. He now has 8 in 6 against Newcastle and 9 in his last 9 outings in all competitions. His form really has been paramount in 2015.

I feel as though that praise from me for Olivier Giroud has been long overdue but unfortunately we have to move onto the negatives. It was a very intense first half but we managed to go into the break two ahead. Because of the amount of effort we had put into our second leg against Monaco in the week I think the players lacked that extra burst of energy required to convincingly get us over the line. Instead we just about made it to the final whistle with all three points.

We were pegged back massively and that didn't help by conceding almost immediately after the break. Ryan Taylor and Remy Cabella were allowed all too easily to link up down the right hand side and then find Sissoko who was bizarrely unmarked on the edge of the area. He consequently slotted the ball past Ospina. From that moment on it was an upward struggle. We couldn't get a hold of the ball and if it wasn't for some desperate defending and some crucial Ospina saves then we probably would've drawn the game. I don't think we were necessarily bad in defence but Calum Chambers was definitely a weak spot. Hector Bellerin needed to start for me but for the first time in a while both full backs seemed to be exposed. Monreal didn't have the greatest of games by his standards recently whilst Chambers continues to be vulnerable out wide rather than in the centre. I did think Gabriel had a good game though and he made himself busy, especially in the opening exchanges.

One aspect of the way Newcastle got back into the match though was through seemingly over crowding the midfield. From my point of view it was the first time in a long time that we exposed ourselves in that area of the pitch. Francis Coquelin had his customary good game but Aaron Ramsey's return to the starting line-up today brought about a number of problems. Santi Cazorla has operated well beside Coquelin and they have formed a very good partnership in the middle of the pitch. However yesterday away from home when both Cazorla and Ramsey were trying to get forward it left a lot of space in the middle of the pitch.

Ramsey was a very frustrating figure yesterday. He had scored in consecutive games before this match and when he offers that kind of option he has a good game. Yesterday it was a different story though. He can perhaps be guilty of over playing at times and trying too hard to do something rather than going simple. His late runs offer a lot but when it goes wrong, like it did yesterday, he denied what could have been Giroud's hat-trick by taking the ball on instead of letting it run for his team-mate.

Saying that, I don't think we need to dwell on performances like Ramsey's yesterday too much. We're in good form and we managed to hold on for a good three points even when we weren't at our best. We now head into the international break off the back of 9 wins in our last 10 Premier League matches. Liverpool at home awaits and here's hoping all our players come back from the break fit and fighting.

The team's line-ups:

Newcastle: Krul, Taylor, Janmaat, Williamson, Colback, Sissoko, Anita(70), Gouffran, Cabella, Ameobi(88), Ayoze.
Subs: Elliot, Satka, Kemen, Obertan, Gutierrez(70), Riviere, Armstrong(88).

Arsenal: Ospina, Chambers, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monrael, Coquelin, Ramey, Welbeck(88), Cazorla(70), Sanchez(70), Giroud.
Subs: Szczesny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Bellerin(88), Flamini(70), Rosicky(70), Walcott.

My man of the match: Olivier Giroud.

Referee: Mike Jones.
Attendance: 50,544.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Arsenal bow out on away goals

For the fifth season in a row Arsenal have failed to qualify for the last eight of the Champions League. Time and time again it's been so close yet so far and it doesn't seem to matter who the opponents are. I was very angry after the final whistle went, simply because of the naivety of the performance in the first leg. We went into this tie full of positivity; at last we had dodged the bullet of a Barcelona or Bayern Munich but because of our first leg performance we were left ruing what could have been after beating Monaco 2-0 in the second leg last night. Yes it was a very good display last night but I was struggling to find words when people were claiming it was a spirited performance.
Santi Cazorla tried to work his magic on a night Arsenal crashed out of Europe
Of course Arsenal did well to score two goals against a side that rarely concede this season but how long is it until we do actually advance beyond the last 16? For me that's the main concern here. We consistently do well in the league to reach this competition but at the end of the day what's it been for? To be knocked out in the last 16 for five years in a row? That shouldn't be the case at all. This team are a lot better than that and we should expect a lot more.

It remains to be said that there were plenty of positives to take though. I can't say I'm proud because at the end of the day the tie was over two legs and in my opinion the right team deserved to go through on the balance of 180 minutes of football. I perhaps overreacted at the final whistle, after all we have the FA Cup semi-final to look forward to whilst we're in great form in the Premier League. We have set ourselves up very well for the back end of the season so to go out at this stage in the Champions League is hugely frustrating.

Arsene Wenger's tactics in the first leg were questionable. At 2-1 down we were fine in terms of leaving something for us get at it the second leg. However, had we not conceded a simply ludicrous third then we'd be in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. In the return leg yesterday we were of course a lot better. Not that he had much choice though as we attacked from the off. We were perhaps a little timid in our approach in the opening 20 minutes or so but once we got going Monaco found us very hard to deal with. Danny Welbeck once again proved his selection and he was very lively down the right, he set up Giroud for the first goal and showed good pace to beat Kurzawa at left back on a few occasions. Aaron Ramsey's exclusion was the only doubt as only one change was made from the first leg; Monreal in for Gibbs.

Olivier Giroud certainly atoned for his first leg performance to some extent. Since his awful night in front of goal that night at the Emirates he's been in great form and he added to his tally for the season with an emphatic finish last night. It was his first and only Champions League goal of the season after being injured earlier in the campaign. Welbeck sent him through and after Giroud saw his shot saved he fired home the rebound into the roof of the net.

This Arsenal performance was exemplarly of us under Arsene Wenger in the last couple of years and was almost predictable. Score a goal at a vital time, go for it in the second half, score with little time remaining to give us hope and then fail to score the most crucial goal that would've taken us through. Because of that it remains hugely frustrating as it's an all too similar feeling. Aaron Ramsey's introduction in the second half gave us a bigger impetus from which to perform from. He completely changed the game when he came on and gave us an extra drive from midfield. He scored at the weekend and added the second in this game, comfortably slotting home after a lapse in defence from Kurzawa. The return of the Welshman from injury who looks to be firing on all cylinders is a huge positive and he will produce a real selection dilemma going into Newcastle on Saturday.

The most disappointing aspect of the second leg last night was the performances of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil; neither really offered a considerable goal threat throughout the tie. Sanchez was trying his best but on too many occasions he tried to overplay and instead of passing the ball ran into the man and wasted possession. It's harsh to lay into him but for me he didn't have a good game and when you pay that sort of money for a player you expect them to be able to play a bigger role in the tie than he did. Sanchez has looked to be tiring recently and he is due a rest. On his day he's an exceptional talent but in the last few matches, excluding QPR, he's looked off the boil.

A similar sort of thing can be said for Mesut Ozil who didn't come alive until the final quarter of the game. Some begged to differ over the German's performance and said he played well. It wasn't his worst game but he repetitively gave the ball away in certain situations when an easy ball was on. He did however offer something we haven't seen from him in the past, and that is why many are saying he had a good game. Instead of petering off in the latter stages of the game he was willing to track back and work hard for the team. His body language for a change was a very positive one and you can tell he loves this competition. Lets hope he can now transfer that into Arsenal's domestic games.

The defence were improved from the first leg, but they didn't have much to do. Mertesacker against the pace of Martial and Carrasco still seemed to struggle whilst Monreal wasn't always as solid as we've come to expect of him in recent months. Laurent Koscielny however was outstanding again and he played a similar role to the one against West Ham.

As said, it is very annoying to go out at this stage but there's plenty to remain positive about. We're in the semi-final of the FA Cup whilst we remain just a point of second placed Manchester City in the Premier League.

The team's line-ups:

Monaco: Subasic, Fabinho, Abdennour, Wallace, Kurzawa, Toulalan, Kondogbia, Moutinho, Dirar(86), Martial(59), Berbatov(69).
Subs: Stekelenburg, R.Carvalho, M.Carvalho, Silva(69), Ferreira-Carrasco(59), Elderson(86), Toure.

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal(83), Coquelin(63), Cazorla, Welbeck(71), Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud.
Subs: Szczesny, Gabriel, Chambers, Gibbs(83), Flamini, Ramsey(63), Walcott(71).

My man of the match: Laurent Koscielny.

Referee: Svein Oddvar Moen (NOR).
Attendance: 17,263.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Arsenal maintain form with win over West Ham

Arsenal maintained their excellent form in the Premier League on Saturday with a comfortable win over West Ham. Such is the form that we've now won eight consecutive League games at home for the first time since 2005. Earlier in the season we managed to overcome the same opposition at Upton Park when they were in form. However they're now in poor form and we took advantage of that to stay in third place and rise to within a point of City after their defeat to Burnley. After the game against Manchester United the team were full of confidence and you could see that with some of the play and the way with which we moved the ball around. Arsene Wenger did however have Monaco in midweek in mind as we made a few changes from the game against United. Ospina returned in place of Szczesny whilst Chambers was recalled ahead of Bellerin. Walcott earned a rare start whilst Giroud replaced Welbeck. The other change saw Cazorla rested as Aaron Ramsey started.
Aaron Ramsey scored and assisted a goal as Arsenal beat West Ham
What was most pleasing about this Arsenal performance was the quality of the goals we scored. We had to remain patient in the first half and chances went begging through Walcott who had a brilliant chance early on. However remaining patient is what Arsenal under Arsene Wenger has been all about. The goals though epitomised Wenger's Arsenal. West Ham had set-up to frustrate us, their back four sat deep whilst their midfield left barely any room for our midfield to break though. For that reason it was going to take something special to break the deadlock but that was exactly what happened. Ozil, Ramsey and Giroud all interlinked brilliantly with one touch fast paced football which accumulated in the opening goal. Ramsey set the ball back to Giroud who got the ball out of his feet before hammering the ball home. It was an extremely clinical finish from a man who looks to be in the form of his life.

Olivier Giroud was vital in the win, and his flicks and delicate touches lead to a host of Arsenal chances. I mentioned the Walcott chance above, and it was one he really should have scored. However in the build up Giroud played a lovely flick into Theo. Giroud was also to play a similar role in what turned out be the third goal, turning the ball round the corner for Cazorla who had a brilliant second half cameo when he came on. The Spaniard played the ball across goal for Mathieu Flamini to tap home for a rare goal. It was his first goal since March 2014. That only added to Giroud's contribution to the game though as he assisted the second goal of the game, scored by Aaron Ramsey. Giroud feinted out the way of the ball before Ramsey played a one-two with him and then slotted home on his left foot.

Aaron Ramsey was indeed another of the game's outstanding performers and his goal was greatly deserved. He's struggled with injuries this season but on occasions has shown signs of his form in 2013/14. Yesterday against West Ham he certainly showed the qualities he displayed last season. Ramsey provided a brilliant partnership with Coquelin in midfield and his late runs into the penalty area caused the Hammers defence all sorts of problems. The Welshman was unlucky not to open the scoring in the first half, seeing a close range volley saved well by Adrian. Of course Ramsey would go onto get his goal in the second half, but he also supplied Giroud for the first. It was a brilliant display from the midfield man and hopefully now he can kick on as we head into the final stretch of the season.

Not just was our attacking performance convincing but so was the defensive side. I thought Laurent Koscielny was absolutely outstanding at the back and he dealt well with the threat in behind of Diafra Sakho. Koscielny played brilliantly as he effectively acted as a sweeper, clearing balls out and getting in ahead of the opposition on numerous occasions to prevent goal scoring chances. Per Mertesacker was improved and put in a solid display, as did the ever improving Nacho Monreal. Calum Chambers was good in attack and set up a few chances but he still remains a defensive vulnerability at times. On occasion he let Jarvis go but West Ham's end ball into the box always seemed to be lacking which meant for a relatively easy afternoon for Arsenal's defence.

Arsenal's subs all played a role in helping to extend the lead when they came on though. Danny Welbeck was very lively when he entered the fray and he definitely offered more than Theo Walcott. I must admit I've had my doubts over Welbeck's inclusion over Walcott in recent games but yesterday exemplified why Welbeck has been starting more. Theo seemed quite rusty and had quite a poor game by his standards. He should and could have had two goals but he lacked that clinicalness in front of goal. I mentioned Cazorla's cameo when he came on too, grabbing an assist for Flamini who's goal should give him a boost of confidence after returning to the side.

Our passing game throughout was absolutely exceptional. On numerous occasions the midfield and attack interlinked brilliantly which was shown with the extreme quality of the goals and how easy we made them look. We could perhaps be guilty of not scoring more as both Ozil and Walcott spurned chances. One improvement I noticed from recent weeks was that we looked a lot more calm and composed on the ball, something that we'll have to maintain as we go to Monaco in the week.

Results since that first leg defeat have given me confidence that we can indeed go there and reach the quarter-finals but I can't help but feel we've left ourselves with too much to do. Only time will tell but this squad has immense confidence at the moment so a miracle could happen!

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Ospina, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Walcott(71), Ozil(83), Sanchez(65), Giroud.
Subs: Szczesny, Gibbs, Bellerin, Flamini(83), Cazorla(71), Welbeck(65), Akpom.

West Ham: Adrian, O'Brien, Kouyate, Collins, Cresswell, Song, Noble(83), Jarvis(75), Nolan, Downing, Sakho.
Subs: Jaaskelainen, Demel, Onariase, Cullen, Poyet, Amalfitano(75), Nene(83).

My man of the match: Aaron Ramsey.

Referee: Chris Foy (Replaced by Anthony Taylor mid-way through second half)
Attendance: 60,002.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Welbeck scores against former club to take Arsenal to Wembley

Arsenal are through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup after a fantastic 2-1 win over rivals Manchester United. The Gunners put in a very professional performance that drew comparisons to our win over Manchester City not so long ago. Goals from Nacho Monreal and Danny Welbeck back at his old club ensured we reached Wembley for the second season in a row as our dreams of retaining the FA Cup remain very much alive. Arsene Wenger's team selection was a brave one; Szczesny came back in for David Ospina whilst Welbeck started ahead of the inform Giroud up front. They were the only two surprise inclusions but Welbeck especially justified his selection as Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanchez started on the wings with Ozil beside them.
Welbeck scored the winner against his old club as Arsenal advanced in the FA Cup
After the debacle against Monaco you'd be forgiven for thinking that Arsenal would crumble under pressure against Manchester United last night, especially considering our recent record against them. However to bounce back in a game as big as this so soon after what happened in the Champions League was incredibly satisfying. I said how after that game we hadn't learnt our lesson from last season's exploits. But with victories away from home against both Manchester clubs this season it shows that Arsenal are indeed progressing forward, and slowly learning what they have to do in order to beat the big clubs.

We set up in a similar fashion to the game at the Etihad with the defence for the most part playing very solidly with Coquelin supporting them in the holding role. It worked a treat as we kept a solid line and didn't commit too many forward. The majority of our attacks came with us moving the ball quickly forward and with the pace of Alexis, Welbeck and Oxlade-Chamberlain Arsenal were able to hurt a team that seem to have been troubled by pace previously this season.

However our first goal was to come from a very unlikely source; Nacho Monreal. We moved the ball quickly down the left before play opened up for Mesut Ozil. Instead of running towards the penalty area he found Chamberlain who tip-toed his way brilliantly to the edge of the area. He was then able to pick out the unmarked Monreal who finished with the composure of a striker for only his second Gunners goal. It was a vital goal in the context of the game as like with the game against City we had taken the lead and had something to hold on to.

Albeit what we did have to hold on to didn't last long. One thing we can be found guilty of from last night was not getting tight enough to Angel di Maria. He hasn't been in the best of form this season but still has that extreme quality. Monreal had dealt well with him for most of the game but this was one instance in which him or Coquelin could have done more to close him down. The Argentine's ball was perfect for Wayne Rooney who headed home the equaliser. After that it seemed as though United ran out of ideas though.

Their man game plan was to get di Maria on the ball or pump it long to Fellaini. Not many chances came of that though in what was a hugely solid performance from Koscielny and Mertesacker, and also from Monreal who I thought was our man of the match.

We managed to press well at the right moments in the game and sat back when needed, much like the game against City. Danny Welbeck's work rate was brilliant all game which is expected and that's what brought him what turned out to be the winning goal. Valencia's back pass was seized upon by Welbeck and he knocked it past de Gea before sliding the ball into an empty net. It was a deserved goal and one that marked huge significance coming against his boyhood club and the team he once played for. It brought a huge sense of elation for Arsenal fans who for too long have seen former players come back to haunt them. The names of which won't be mentioned because for now we deserve to celebrate.

Mesut Ozil's form instantly after returning from injury was brilliant and he has peter'd off in the last couple of games. However for me we shouldn't be concerned about that. He played a vital role in the first goal and his work-rate of late has been outstanding. He's covered a lot of ground and although he hasn't offered much in terms of goals/assists in the last few matches the way he has covered the ground has made up for it. A similar sort of thing can be said for Alexis Sanchez. He scored against QPR and his work rate against United was also exceptional and he did well in helping out Monreal down United's right flank. He was at the heart of most our attacks and caused Valencia all sorts of problems. He was only denied a goal late on by a brilliant de Gea save.

Goalkeeper de Gea has been Manchester United's outstanding performer this season and Santi Cazorla who played very well alongside Coquelin again, had a volley superbly kept out by the Spanish keeper. His ball retention was excellent and he drove us forward well. Our task of course was made easier by di Maria's sending off but our performance up to then had been brilliant.

This game was of course an FA Cup tie so to get the win in what is most likely our only remaining chance of achieving silverware this season was crucial. We hadn't beaten United at Old Trafford in years so to finally get the monkey off our back shows how much progression this team is making together. We're now off to Wembley where we'll face either Bradford or Reading who are due to replay each other, in the semi-finals.

The team's line-ups:

Manchester United: de Gea, Valencia, Rojo(73), Smalling, Shaw(45), Blind, Herrera(45), Fellaini, di Maria, Young, Rooney.
Subs: Valdes, Jones(45), Rafael, Carrick(45), Mata, Januzaj(73), Falcao.

Arsenal: Szczesny, Bellerin(66), Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain(50), Ozil, Sanchez, Welbeck(74).
Subs: Martinez, Chambers(66), Gibbs, Ramsey(50), Walcott, Akpom, Giroud(74).

My man of the match: Nacho Monreal.

Referee: Michael Oliver.
Attendance: 74,285.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Sanchez ends goal drought as Arsenal beat QPR

A week ago Arsenal suffered one of the worst nights in Europe in the club's history. A week later they took on a very different opposition in the form of relegation threatened QPR. The hosts made life difficult for us in the first half but we came alive in the second as goals from Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez sealed all three points despite Charlie Austin's late goal. The win means we remain in third position in the league table with the battle for the top four hotting up. At one point it looked as though we were going to extend our lead over Manchester United but a late goal in their game over Newcastle saw them keep the gap to just one point between them in fourth and us in third. Changes were expected and Wenger obliged. Tomas Rosicky came in for Oxlade-Chamberlain whilst Mertesacker returned to the starting line-up in place of Koscielny. Ramsey was back amongst the subs whilst Monreal missed out through a slight back strain and Szczesny through illness.
Sanchez returned to form against QPR
Arsenal had taken a while to get going against Everton at the weekend and the story was similar against QPR. I wouldn't say it was one of the worst halves of football I've seen from us this season but without the likes of Welbeck, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott in the starting XI we lacked pace. For that reason it probably explains why we lacked any energy in the first half and why it was a very uneventful 45 minutes to start the game off. The hosts weren't afraid to battle and they did make life hard for the defence at times. Gabriel had to go off early with an injury, but up to then Charlie Austin and Bobby Zamora had done very well at physicalising the forward line for QPR. They acted as focal points from with which they held the ball up well and kept us out the game. Because of the lack of pace it meant that when we got the ball we didn't have anyone to really drive the team forward. Ozil is a very good player but sometimes his transitional play can be quite slow compared to the quicker and more livelier players in the side.

Now I'm not criticising Ozil there because I thought he had a very good game. Most of his play looked effortless and the majority of the attacks seemed to flow through him in the final third. The attacking players can be accused a little in the first half of not getting at their man enough and the only player that really did test their fullbacks was Hector Bellerin. Bellerin I thought was outstanding and he is quickly becoming a key player in this side; so much so that I think he'll keep Debuchy out of the team when he returns from injury.

It was when we finally got players at their back line that we eventually scored. Alexis Sanchez's second half performance was brilliant compared to the first, and when he got up against the young Furlong at right back we looked very dangerous. It was down that left hand side that both our goals came from. Kieran Gibbs was very lively in attack and he assisted each goal. His ball was blocked inside the penalty area and then Olivier Giroud was left with a simple task of finding the net from a matter of yards out for the first. The Frenchman's form in front of goal, excusing Monaco, has been brilliant since the turn of the year.

As mentioned Alexis Sanchez had a very good second half, and he was to score what proved to be the winning goal. Moments before his strike, he looked to have squandered a chance to put the game to bed. Giroud dispossessed Hill and the Chilean ran in on goal before attempting to square it to Ozil. Sanchez had taken too long however and Green was there to thwart him. If there was ever a sense of doubt over Alexis' quality he answered it minutes later. He had gone eight games without a goal until now but he didn't show any indication of that when he did indeed find the back of the net. Gibbs layed the ball into him and then he performed a mazy run into the penalty area before wrong-footing the keeper at his near post.

Arsenal's defence had gone relatively untroubled and it was only Charlie Austin who was really causing a threat. It was indeed Austin who found a way back for QPR, albeit a mere consolation in the end. He had shown on numerous occasions that he had the capabilities to shoot from range and we failed to close him down which resulted in a powerful effort beating Ospina. Similarly to the game against Palace it was disappointing to concede late on but thankfully we managed to hold on for a crucial three points.

Francis Coquelin played with a mask after passing doubts over whether he would feature after breaking his nose against Everton. That didn't seem to upset his rhythm though as he had another fine game in front of the back four.

Aaron Ramsey came off the bench late on which was encouraging and it would be a real bonus now if he could find some form after returning from injury. It is worth noting the quality of the Arsenal bench last night; the likes of Welbeck, the Ox, Walcott and of course Ramsey were all on it.

Our next game is arguably our biggest of the season; a trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. It's a massive clash and because the game is on Monday night we have quite a bit of time to recover after our midweek exploits at Loftus Road. Our games against United in recent season's have been awful from our point of view but the fact we're one of the most inform sides in the League should give us encouragement to go there and get a result. Fingers crossed!

The team's line-ups:

QPR: Green, Furlong, Caulker, Onuoha(45), Yun, Phillips, Sandro(56), Henry, Hoilett(72), Austin, Zamora.
Subs: McCarthy, Hill(45), Isla(72), Kranjcar(56), Wright-Phillips, Vargas, Zarate.

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Gabriel(36), Gibbs, Coquelin, Cazorla, Rosicky(86), Sanchez, Ozil(90), Giroud.
Subs: Martinez, Koscielny(36), Chambers, Ramsey(86), Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Welbeck(90).

My man of the match: Hector Bellerin.

Referee: Kevin Friend.
Attendance: 17,977

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Arsenal bounce back with win over Everton

After the shambles in mid-week against Monaco it was crucial that Arsenal responded at the weekend against an Everton team who had also played during the week. It was important that the defeat in the Champions League hadn't left the team without confidence and despite a timid start we managed to retain our spot in 3rd place after United's win yesterday. Olivier Giroud opened the scoring before Tomas Rosicky scored late on to ensure all three points in a top four race that is incredibly tight. Changes were inevitable after such a poor performance against Monaco and they came at the back and also in attack. Gabriel started in the Premier League for the first time, replacing Per Mertesacker, whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain came in for Danny Welbeck.
Olivier Giroud was back among the scorers against Everton
As I said, our start to the match was very timid, and you can't really blame them after the horror show last time out. Against Monaco everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. However this time we bounced back with a very professional performance. There were a few moments that left me with similar feelings as to the ones I bitterly felt in the week but overall it was a very pleasing display. Those feelings only came in the first 20 odd minutes though. Gabriel let a ball bounce instead of clearing it which almost lead to an Everton goal and we were also misplacing passes all over the place. It was a very slow start to the game and it seemed as though Everton could get a result. Giroud and Rosicky made sure that wasn't going to happen though.

Olivier Giroud was on the end of some ruthless comments after his display against Monaco; he continued to get in the right positions before proceeding to stick the ball wide or high of the target. Today was a different display though, it showed exactly why Wenger shows so much belief in his French striker and also why he's been in such good form for the majority of the season. My previous two blogs have showed varied viewpoints from myself on Giroud, both praising and criticising him. Against Palace I commented on his conversion rate improving which was hugely ironic after he played so poorly against Monaco. Today against Everton though he bounced back brilliantly and indeed showed why he's so important to this side, steering home well from a Mesut Ozil corner. He also showed great strength inside the penalty area and held the ball up well which lead to a few chances. That's not to say we don't need a top class striker that can do it all though.

Mesut Ozil was non-existent against Monaco, but like Giroud, he bounced back positively against Everton. At times he was carried through the game by Santi Cazorla who controlled the game nicely but the German managed to bag himself two assists. He of course supplied the corner from which Giroud scored, and then set up Rosicky as we sealed the points late on. Rosicky wasn't on for long but showed great willingness to involve himself in play. The finish did take a deflection but it capped off a lovely little cameo from the Czech midfielder. He could well play against QPR on Wednesday night.

David Ospina came under some scrutiny for his performance against Monaco and also against Crystal Palace slightly. He started off his Arsenal career in fine form after he replaced Szczesny almost two months ago now, but that form has begun to slightly peter out. He potentially could have tipped Carrasco's effort which led to a goal in the week wide of the post but like numerous other players he bounced back brilliantly against Everton and was one of our key players in the win. After Gabirel let the ball bounce instead of heading clear in the first half, Ospina managed to race out and deny Lukaku what probably would've been a goal. He also made another vital stop from Lukaku in the second half and was brave coming out of his goal to meet crosses.

Despite Gabriel Paulista having a shaky start to today's match he actually had a very good game in what was his first Premier League start. Arsene Wenger claimed that the reason Mertesacker was left out was due to the amount of games he's played this season, but after his display against Monaco you wouldn't excuse Wenger for leaving him out on that basis. Gabriel made a vital tackle in the first half to deny Lukaku before putting himself about well in the second half. His acquisition in January could prove vital, especially after our failure to sign a recognised centre half last summer cost us points during the early parts of the campaign.

Hector Bellerin also deserves a mention. He was dragged in far too much against Monaco and therefore left Martial with a lot of space but against Everton he was back to his usual best. What I like about him is if we lose the ball down that right hand side he's quickly snapping on the heels of the opposition to win the ball back. He has great determination and that's why he's quickly becoming a fan favourite.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was meanwhile at the heart of most our attacks. He marked his return from injury in the week with a goal and was a real bright spark down the right. Chamberlain's energy, drive and willingness to take on a man make him a very tricky player to deal with and he really does deserve more goals and assists to his name than he already has.

This part of the season is absolutely vital, and after QPR in the week we face Manchester United in the FA Cup; a huge clash.

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Gibbs, Coquelin(89), Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain(82), Ozil, Sanchez(87), Giroud.
Subs: Szczesny, Mertesacker, Chambers(89), Monreal, Rosicky(82), Welbeck(87), Walcott.

Everton: Howard, Coleman, Stones, Jagielka, Garbutt, McCarthy, Barry(84), Besic(76), Barkley, Mirallas(62), Lukaku.
Subs: Joel, Alcaraz, Osman, Gibson(84), Lennon(62), Naismith(76), Kone.

My man of the match: Olivier Giroud.

Referee: Andre Marriner.
Attendance: 59,925.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Arsenal suffer first leg defeat to Monaco

It’s almost impossible to begin to think of what to start with when writing this. To put it simply though, it was the worst Arsenal performance I have seen in a very long time. To make matters worse, I was in the ground for this game and from the very beginning we didn't even look like a side that wanted to win the game. The whole match was littered with errors but we must give credit to Monaco who played very well. Arsene Wenger was tactically outdone by his ex-club who showed exactly why they've been in such solid form this season. We only breached their defence late on in a game that saw our defence more naive than I've ever seen them be.
Arsenal players stand dejected after another poor performance in the last 16 of the Champions League
Monaco came to the Emirates and set up brilliantly well, their midfield out did ours, they were sharp on the break and resilient at the back. If this sort of result had happened once you could forgive them but this error stricken game is something that has happened for numerous seasons now. We’re on the verge of crashing out of the Champions League last 16 for the fifth year running. Arsenal’s lack of progression is quite staggering, as is their inability to turn up in the big games. At the moment the victory over Manchester City seems a freak result, we played well but Manchester City didn't really trouble us. Something at the club desperately needs to change.

We went into this game being given the easiest draw we could've hoped for. We’d finally dodged the Barcelona and Bayern bullet that has so often seen us falter. AS Monaco would offer a different proposition but it was a challenge we fell desperately short of. None of our big players turned up and no one looked as though they believed they could win the tie, you could see it on the players faces. It was a desperate performance from a side that has actually been in pretty good form of late. The performance was as frustrating as it was disappointing and it was the naivety of the defence that cost us the game, not to mention Olivier Giroud’s shocking finishing.

I mentioned at the weekend how Giroud’s conversion rate had become higher this season, and how he was in good form. After the Monaco game on Wednesday night I have nothing but criticism for him. He missed a great chance in the first half before skying an open goal into the stands in the second. His night was summed up by being brought off on the hour mark to a chorus of boos. It’s hard to work out why the belief wasn't there, but you have to look to one man in the equation and that is Arsene Wenger. Until he goes I can’t see this club progressing much further than the FA Cup victory last season. A triumph that seems years back now. After the Man City game I thought the defence had learnt, and I know you have to be attacking at home but the amount of space we continuously gave Monaco's wide-men and central midfielders was ridiculous. Their midfield completely overran us and Kondogbia was at the heart of that. He scored a deflected effort to open the scoring and it was all downhill from then on.

The line-up Wenger played has worked to some degree in the past but it’s far too attacking and that was seen on Wednesday night. Coquelin seemed to get dragged into going towards the man too often and as a result their midfield players found pockets of space on regular occasions and were able to dictate the tempo. At the end of the day Coquelin does all the simple things right, but on a big Champions League night can he do it? From the looks of it the answer is no. The worrying thing to me is the lack of World Class players that were non-existent. Mesut Ozil was rarely in the game whilst Sanchez showed glimpses but on too rare occasions. I had genuinely forgotten they were even playing at points. Santi Cazorla was also poor in the middle of the park whilst Danny Welbeck offered little. 

It wasn't until Oxlade-Chamberlain came on that we had some urgency in attack. Up to that point there was nothing; no drive, no urgency, no impetus and most of the players looked disinterested. Chamberlain brought Arsenal back into the tie with a brilliant effort from outside the box but then gave the ball away as Arsenal conceded a farcical third in the dying moments. There was no defence and the substitute Carrasco ran in on goal and found the net via the far post. If you're looking for even more to moan about then Ospina's attempt at saving the ball was a pretty poor one. He seemed rooted to the spot rather than being ready for the shot to come in.

We were products of our downfall, and the defensive display was very alarming. Hector Bellerin had continued to give pacey winger Martial space down the left throughout most of the game and he was where the second goal came from. It was similar to Monaco’s third. Laurent Koscielny was the only defender back and they countered leaving Berbatov to fire home comfortably. Santi Cazorla’s reaction summed it up. He had raced back and was effectively last man as he tried to put the Bulgarian striker under pressure. As the ball rippled the net Cazorla proceeded to lean on the advertising hoarding with a face of frustration and dejection. It was an extremely sorry sight.

The incompetency of the defence was beyond belief. Why on earth where we chucking everyone forward in the first leg? It was beyond ridiculous and it’s hard to describe exactly how I felt as I walked out the ground. That third goal has all but put the game to bed. We’ll have to go to Monaco and score three to go through. That’s three against a team that rarely concede. I had an ounce of belief after the Ox’s goal but that third from Carrasco destroyed the fans, and will also have destroyed the player’s morale.

Dimitar Berbatov said after the game that Monaco wanted it more, and he couldn't have been more right. No Arsenal player looked in the game. Everton is at the weekend and I’m expecting a huge response. These are the months where our season has been known to slip. Please don't let it happen again Arsenal!

The team’s line-ups:

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Coquelin(68), Cazorla(81), Welbeck, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud(60).
Subs: Szczesny, Gabriel, Chambers, Monreal, Rosicky(81), Oxlade-Chamberlain(68), Walcott(60).

Monaco: Subasic, Toure, Tavares, Abdennour, Echiejile, Santos, Kondogbia, Moutinho, Dirar(81), Martial(84), Berbatov(75).
Subs: Stekelenburg, Kurzawa(81), Diallo, Carvalho, Silva, Carrasco(75), Traore.

Referee: Deniz Aytekin (GER)

Attendance: 59,868