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.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Arsenal and Chelsea held in bore draw

It was inevitable really wasn't it. A scoreless draw against a Chelsea team who never really had their sights on winning the game. Such was the result that John Terry came out afterwards and said all they were looking to do was ensure we dropped points. Of course as they so often do in these big games, they hold themselves well and ggt a result. Arsenal still remain 10 points off Chelsea but if there was any hint of a challenge from Arsenal that has been severely dented by the Blues who can now win the League next weekend providing they beat Leicester in mid-week. Despite the lack of goals it was a good performance from Arsenal though who looked far more comfortable this weekend with the team selection differing from the one at Wembley. Ospina, Bellerin and Monreal returned whilst Mertesacker was fit despite an ankle injury last weekend. Olivier Giroud meanwhile came in for Welbeck as the rest of the team was unchanged.
Hector Bellerin was impressive at right back.
The game was one of two halves, but not in a sense that one dominated the other in each 45 minutes. It was more of a matter of how the game panned out. The pace and intensity of the match early on was one of the quickest I've seen in recent times. It was end to end, free flowing and the passing was extremely fast. The second half was like a different game from the first half though and it was in stark contrast. Despite us pushing hard in the final five minutes for a winner it was a dull and slow second 45 minutes of football. In the first half we moved the ball quickly going forward but in the second we never really got going until we introduced pace into the game in the final quarter of the match.

The game was pretty much set-up for a 0-0 draw from the first whistle, it was inevitable really but what we did do well was restrict them when they got forward. Chelsea were very hard to play against; proving resolute and strong in defence. Such was the importance for them to come away with a result that they celebrated a scoreless draw. It merely summed up a Jose Mourinho team. They were pretty boring to watch and in all honesty we really should have won the game. We didn't quite do enough to grab the win though but neither did Chelsea. Therefore a draw was merited but it was a frustrating result against a team we just can't seem to beat.

Previously against the big sides we've had chances early on that have potentially swung the game which made defeats in the past bitter hard to swallow. However today there wasn't really a moment where the game hinged on a specific chance in front of goal. We did have our chances, but then again Chelsea had two shouts for a penalty. Whichever team you support you're bound to have conflicting opinions but nevertheless none were given. Oscar had two shouts waved away, Fabregas was booked for diving on a hard return to the Emirates with plenty of boos, whilst fellow Spaniard Cazorla had a shot blocked by the arms of Cahill inside the area.

Both sides defended extremely well though and John Terry and Laurent Koscielny who in my opinion have been the best two centre-halves in the division this season were at the heart of the 0-0 draw. Koscielny sweeped brilliantly throughout whilst Terry was first to every ball, whether it be clearing the ball away at the near post or heading clear. Chelsea didn't cause a huge amount of threat going forward but when we came forward their defence dealt with it fairly easily.

What was most frustrating for us was that when we got into good positions in the first half we seemed to make the wrong final decision when a chance could have arisen. Alexis Sanchez was probably our brightest spark up top but even he made the wrong decision on occasion. We were at our best when we moved the ball quickly but our best chances didn't fall until the final minutes of the game. Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott came on late on which showed Wenger was willing to go for it for a change. They added something we hadn't had all game; an option in behind. It was Welbeck who should have scored to win the game though. Monreal got to the byline and squared the ball towards the Englishman but somehow he failed to make any meaningful contact. That was before Cazorla had skewed an effort on his usually reliable weaker foot wide with 15 minutes remaining. For Giroud though it was a game of little chances and he proved a very isolated figure as he has been in recent weeks. Saying that though his presence up top was important and was utilised well when we looked to build an attack.

Our performance, although better than last week against Reading was similar in a few ways when we went forward. Again Mesut Ozil was at the heart of most things when we got the ball in the central areas but he wasn't helped by the lack of movement in the wider areas. Again Aaron Ramsey was playing on the right but he drifted in far too centrally. When he did find space out-wide though we looked threatening and direct. The Welshman once more had a fairly average game but did show some brilliant touches and brought others into the game well.

One of the players Aaron Ramsey often brought into play was Hector Bellerin who as usual was a threat down the right and tracked back well. He also denied a probable goal by heading clear after Oscar had lobbed Ospina. The progression he's shown since the beginning of the season is remarkable. In my opinion his rise has been similar to that of Francis Coquelin who himself had a good game again. Last season Bellerin was playing in the Championship for newly promoted Watford but now he's one of the best young talents in the Premier League. Although he isn't as solid as Debuchy in defence he typifies what a modern-day full back is and in an Arsenal side that love to go forward he's becoming ever more important.

This result won't have any bearing on what will happen this season but it does offer encouragement for 2015/16 with Arsenal looking to build into the new campaign and really challenge for the title. Next up for the Gunners is a trip to Hull City which isn't until Monday 4th May. A break of 8 days which hopefully won't upset the rhythm of the team as we look to continue this unbeaten run we're on and make second place our own.

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin(76), Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud(83).
Subs: Szczesny, Debuchy, Gibbs, Flamini, Wilshere, Walcott(83), Welbeck(76).

Chelsea: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Matic, Fabregas(90), Ramires, Willian(90), Hazard, Oscar(45).
Subs: Cech, Filipe Luis, Zouma(90), Mikel, Loftus-Cheek, Cuadrado(90), Drogba(45).

My Arsenal man of the match: Hector Bellerin

Referee: Michael Oliver.
Attendance: 60,066.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Sanchez double fires Arsenal into the final

Alexis Sanchez scored twice on Saturday evening as Arsenal managed to fight off Reading at Wembley. For the second successive season the Gunners had managed to reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup, and after a 2-1 victory after extra time last night, marched into another final. It was a difficult game and one we should have been able to win quite comfortably considering the opposition. Reading are near the bottom end of the Championship but they put up a great fight as we put in a similarly poor display to the semi against Wigan last season as the Royals made it extremely hard for us to play. However rather fortuitously, we managed to score the winning goal in the first half of extra time.
Alexis Sanchez scored twice as Arsenal reached the final of the FA Cup.
If you consider Arsenal's recent form then you'll realise that Saturday's semi-final was far from what we've become accustomed to lately. Our build-up play was slower than usual and we lacked width, especially on the right hand side. We struggled to get any sort of rhythm going throughout the match but we did create the better chances throughout the game and due to that we deserved to go through. Reading impressed me heavily. The last time the two sides met it was that famous 7-5 result in the League cup and although there was no repeat of that this time round they did look dangerous. Similarly to Burnley in our previous game, they looked to get the ball to their wide players and put balls in to the penalty area. Meanwhile with the work rate of Jamie Mackie, the defence had to be vary.

However one of the reasons I think we struggled, despite Mertesacker's lack of pace when Reading put the ball in behind, was the team selection. Undoubtedly those Arsenal players selected have quality way above that of the Reading players, but a few players hadn't played in a while and that could be told. Wojciech Szczesny did himself no favours in goal with a slight error for the goal. He hasn't played since our last cup tie and after failing to stop Gareth McClearly's effort, he reaffirmed why David Ospina has been playing lately. I don't think the defence necerssarily had a bad game but it didn't help changing around what had been a solid back four in the League. Debuchy had to play 120 minutes in his first game for three months whilst Kieran Gibbs was shaky at left back after a month on the bench. Hector Bellerin has been playing brilliantly recently so it was a bit bizarre that he wasn't in the squad at all. Changes were expected and I can understand those that were made but it seemed to upset the rhythm of the team a little.

The other change was Danny Welbeck in for Olivier Giroud. Welbeck scored against United in the last round and despite Giroud's incredible form he was on the bench. Many slated Welbeck's performance and it wasn't the best but he was always looking for the ball. He appeared to be in the areas where Reading were crowding us out though and that's why he had little impact. Giroud came in on the second half and was able to give us a more direct presence after struggling in the second period as we had to withstand constant Reading pressure.

It was an extremely poor performance and that was down to not only the changes to the side, and the way Reading played, but because we lacked width. Over the last few games Aaron Ramsey has been playing out on the right and has struggled a little despite his goal against Burnley. In the semi-final though he was ineffective. He got dragged inside too much and slowed our play down and at times we were playing without a right winger. With Hector Bellerin making overlapping runs it works but with Debuchy who is a lot more defensive we had no presence down that right. In my opinion Ramsey had a poor game which was summed up by him smacking the post from a matter of yards out when it looked easier to score than miss. Thankfully on the left we did have width though, and it came as no surprise that that was where the goals came from.

Alexis Sanchez has been brilliant this season and celebrated his PFA Player of the Year nomination with two goals at Wembley. The first was of great quality. Mesut Ozil picked out Sanchez who was brilliantly composed to calmly slot the ball between Federici's legs. The second goal was rather fortuitious though. Federici in the Reading goal had had a brilliant game, most notably he'd made a great save to deny Gabriel in the second half but his error cost his side the game. Alexis cut inside and then fired a tame effort towards goal but the Australian keeper let it through his legs and into the net. It wasn't a nice way to win a game but when you're in the semi-final you don't care how you get through.

The quality of our attacking play was quite poor but when we did look good it was because Mesut Ozil was on the ball. Everything that we seemed to create came through the German and it was one of his better displays in an Arsenal shirt. He assisted both goals, with the first being of excellent vision. Instead of finding the simple ball he looked up and played a lovely ball into Sanchez. He almost scored a free-kick and twice set-up Gabriel who almost helped himself to two goals. Such was the performance of Mesut Ozil that the compilation below is effectively a match highlights package from the game if you exclude the Reading goal.

Whether Arsenal deserved to win is arguable. Neither side created any significant danger to each other but Reading gave us too much space and that consequently led to both goals as Sanchez was allowed to drift inside and make runs off the ball leaving us with space for chances to be scored from. Francis Coquelin didn't have the best of games on what is a very large Wembley pitch and the midfield on occasion were quite sloppy. Regardless of that though we managed to reach the final in which we'll face Aston Villa after they beat Liverpool on Sunday.

Before that though we need to finish strongly in the League. Chelsea will be our biggest test in recent months and hopefully we'll able to continue our winning run and extend our lead over Manchester United next weekend by beating Jose Mourinho's side.

The team's line-ups:

Reading: Federici, Gunter, Hector, Pearce, Obita, McCleary, Williams, Chalobah(105), Robson-Kanu(90), Mackie, Pogrebnyak(111).
Subs: Andersen, Kelly, Cooper, Norwood, Karacan(90), Cox(106), Yakubu(111).

Arsenal: Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker(63), Koscielny, Gibbs, Coquelin(101), Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez, Welbeck(72).
Subs: Ospina, Gabriel(63), Monreal, Flamini, Wilshere, Walcott(101) Giroud(72).

My man of the match: Alexis Sanchez.

Referee: Martin Atkinson.
Attendance: 84,081.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Ramsey strike enough to seal points for Arsenal

Aaron Ramsey's early first half goal was enough for Arsenal as they beat Burnley 1-0 on Saturday evening. The Welshman's goal was the only real bright spark of the game as the Gunners managed to hold on for a hard earned three points. After the convincing win over Liverpool last weekend this one was far from that. It wasn't our greatest display this season but nonetheless it was a victory that made sure we remained in second place for the time being. Wenger's line-up was unchanged from the previous game, as we made it eight successive victories in the Premier League; the first team to do so in the League in 2014/15.
Aaron Ramsey's early goal gave Arsenal the win
This season Burnley have been a team full of fight, they've pulled off some brilliant results against the bigger sides in the division and that was a reason for us to be wary as we traveled to Turf Moor. However despite us being on an incredible run of form we didn't win as comfortably as we would've liked against a team fighting for survival. That meant it was a test of the team's mentality and thankfully they managed to pass that. It wasn't convincing, nor was it flooded with quality, but we got the job done and at this stage of the season that's all you can do.

It was typical of the game that it's only goal was an extremely scrappy one. Mesut Ozil originally saw a shot saved before Sanchez's effort was blocked. Then among the bodies, Aaron Ramsey managed to find the net for his fifth league goal of the campaign. Last week's goals against Liverpool had all been of extreme quality but there was perhaps a slice of luck about today's one as the ball rebounded off a Burnley defender before bouncing to Ramsey.

Arsenal's play for the most part was quite sloppy though. We did look incisive on the break away but we didn't create an awful lot in terms of goal scoring opportunities which was the only real negative from the match. However they didn't have many clear cut chances either. The most frustrated player on the pitch probably would've been Olivier Giroud who didn't manage to extend his scoring run this evening. It wasn't the Frenchman's day at all and his only impact was as a focal point for the long balls we had to pump forward as Burnley continuously pressed us backwards. Giroud didn't have any chances of note and was a rather isolated figure up front. Welbeck made a more positive impact when he came on though and almost extended the lead late on.

For the second game in a row Aaron Ramsey was deployed on the right flank. In my opinion he didn't have the greatest of games outwide but at the end of the day he got the goal that won us the game. It is a bit bizarre that with Walcott and Welbeck on the bench that one of them didn't start out wide but in Aaron Ramsey we have a man who has a knack of picking up vital goals. I would prefer to see Ramsey utilised centrally and I'm sure others would too but due to us having an almost fully fit squad it's difficult to fit him in the midfield. Especially with the way Cazorla and Coquelin have both been performing. One of the most positive aspects at the club right now is the fact we have practically every player fit. For once we have a real competition for places and it's a great luxury to have.

A key part of our win as usual was Francis Coquelin. He had a great game in front of the back four and broke up the play brilliantly. He was able to stop Burnley advancing with the ball and that was evident in the fact he made 11 interceptions; 6 more than anyone else in the match. He seems to be able to seek out the danger with relative ease and he has been a revelation in 2015 for us. The only danger Burnley did cause though was from balls from from the wide areas into the box but both Mertesacker and Koscielny dealt with that confidently.

Alexis Sanchez was our brightest player going forward and he is beginning to show signs of getting back to his form from earlier in the campaign after a little dry spell before last weekend. His desire is phenomenal and his drive aided us significantly in the final third. I also want to give a mention to Hector Bellerin  who seemed to be everywhere. He was rampaging down the right hand side on numerous occasions and although looked a little shaky once or twice in defence, he had a very good game offensively. His pace is truly breathtaking!

Our form at the moment has been nothing short of brilliant and with Reading in the FA Cup semi-final to come next weekend, we look in a good position to reach the final once more if we play like we have been recently.

The team's line-ups:

Burnley: Heaton, Trippier, Duff, Shackell, Mee, Boyd, Arfield, Jones(90), Barnes, Vokes, Ings.
Subs: Gilks, Keane, Ward, Ulvestad, Taylor(90), Kightly, Jutkiewicz.

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez(90), Giroud(81).
Subs: Szczesny, Chambers(90), Gibbs, Flamini, Rosicky, Walcott, Welbeck(81).

My man of the match: Francis Coquelin.

Referee: Mike Dean.
Attendance: 20,615.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Arsenal up to second with win over Liverpool

Arsenal put in a brilliant display against Liverpool to earn themselves a 4-1 victory on Saturday afternoon. It was a magnificent attacking display as the Gunners got revenge for their crushing defeat at Anfield last season. Bellerin opened the scoring before goals from Ozil, Alexis and Giroud sealed the win as we moved up to second in the table with Man City still to play this weekend. It was pleasing to see us do so well after returning from the international break, as we'd been in such good form before hand and I was worried that it would ruin our momentum. However that was far from what happened as we thrashed Liverpool. From the win over Newcastle two weeks previous, Wenger made three changes as Bellerin, Mertesacker and Ozil came in for Chambers, Gabriel and Welbeck.
Mesut Ozil scored the second goal from a free-kick
At first it had seemed as though it was going to be one of those days where it doesn't quite happen. We started the game incredibly brightly and after Ramsey failed to score a one-on-one with Mignolet I thought we had spurned it in a similar way to the game against Man United earlier in the season. It was inevitable that after a dominant spell at the beginning of the game and after a wasted chance that Liverpool would come back fighting. We were lucky not to actually fall behind after Markovic just over played the ball for Sterling who would've had an open net. Instead we managed to fire on all cylinders thanks to an explosive end to the first half.

It was from an unlikely source that we did break the deadlock though as Bellerin curled the ball home after finding space inside the area. The Spaniard has been fantastic of late and is proving his worth to the side with some ever improving displays. Apart from bringing down Sterling for Liverpool's consolation penalty late on he had a very good game which was shown with the quality of his goal. He managed to cut inside Moreno before bending the ball into the far corner for his second Gunners goal.

The second goal of the game was to come from Mesut Ozil who I thought was Arsenal's best player on the day. I've said numerous times since his return from injury near the beginning of the year that he has been very good. He's sometimes been a little inconsistent but he was at his fluid best against Liverpool and lead the majority of the attacks. He played a lovely ball out wide into Ramsey which lead to the first, and then scored a beautiful second. He lined up a free-kick before placing it brilliantly in to the same corner as Hector Bellerin did. It was sumptuous strike from a man that is finding real form in 2015. Much of the creative spark this season has come from Santi Cazorla but today it was Ozil and everything seemed to come through the German. At times he was unplayable, jinking and feinting past players in order to find space to lead away an attack.

The third came from one of Arsenal's outstanding contributors this season; Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean has been a little off the boil in recent months but after the international break showed no signs of fatigues as he blasted home the third goal moments before the break. Alexis has scored a host of fantastic goals this season but today's strike has to be up there with one of his best in an Arsenal shirt. Bellerin played an incisive pass to Ramsey before the Welshman found Sanchez. Toure slid in which then allowed Sanchez to find space and then hit a lovely effort into the roof of the net.

A heavy lead going into the second half usually means that games peter off, and that indeed did happen at the Emirates. Daniel Sturridge came on for Liverpool at the break and made a positive impact. One has to ask why he didn't start the game in the first place. Sterling did well running into the channels but he didn't offer a focal point and as a result, their attacking play was limited in the first half. They were much better when it came to their attacks in the second though. That goes to say that they didn't still actually create a lot barring their goal from the penalty spot. Despite the quality of Arsenal's goals Liverpool were painstakingly bad at the back. Skrtel was missing through suspension and the sending off of Emre Can late on summed up the visitors day. Kolo Toure had a particularly poor afternoon and it was no surprise that Arsenal dished out a thrashing.

The win was to be brilliantly finished off in injury time. Sanchez found Olivier Giroud and instead of playing in Cazorla, he cut inside and curled the ball past Mignolet for another exceptional Arsenal goal. Giroud is in fantastic form, and the March player of the month celebrated in perfect style with three points and another goal. He now has seven in his last six Premier League games. The Frenchman hadn't had the best of matches until his goal and his usual link-up play wasn't required due to the brilliance of the Gunners' strikes. However he took matters into his own hands with a lovely finish to round things off with the fourth goal.

The only downers from the match were the fact that Koscielny and Ramsey had to be taken off with injuries. However after the game, Wenger claimed that they weren't serious so hopefully they'll be fine for the Burnley game next weekend. In the week it was the first time for a considerable amount of months or even years that we had everyone fit and in training. Diaby, Debuchy, Arteta and Wilshere had all played in an Arsenal XI game in the week and a few of them will all be vying for places after long spells out in the not too distant future. I don't want to put a curse on things but Arsenal Football Club are in a very good place as it stands.

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny(49), Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey(62), Cazorla, Ozil(73), Sanchez, Giroud.
Subs: Macey, Gabriel(49), Gibbs, Flamini(62), Rosicky, Walcott, Welbeck(73).

Liverpool: Mignolet, Henderson, Can, Toure, Sakho, Moreno, Lucas, Allen, Coutinho, Markovic(45), Sterling.
Subs: Jones, Lovren, Johnson, Manquillo, Brannagan, Borini, Sturridge(45).

My man of the match: Mesut Ozil.

Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Attendance: 60,081.

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, Ramsey, 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.