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 West Brom 4-1 on final day of PL season, goals came from Walcott (x3) & Wilshere - match report now up!

Monday, 25 May 2015

Theo Walcott scores hat-trick as Arsenal win on final day

Arsenal finished their 2014/15 Premier League campaign in style on Sunday afternoon, as they beat West Brom 4-1. A hat-trick from Theo Walcott and a stunning strike from Jack Wilshere sealed the points as McAuley grabbed a mere consolation goal for the Baggies. After the disappointment of previous results in the weeks leading up to the game it was a great win, and it was especially pleasing to see us score goals after a rather barren spell at the Emirates in recent weeks. It was a win meanwhile that should bring great confidence a week before the FA Cup final against Villa. Arsene Wenger made three changes from the side that drew to Sunderland in midweek as Coquelin returned, Gabriel replaced Koscielny, and Walcott started up front. Kieran Gibbs meanwhile retained his place at left back.
Jack Wilshere was in fine form as Arsenal beat West Brom
In a way, this was an extremely impressive win. It wasn't against a top side but it was a top performance from Arsenal. Against Tony Pulis' sides we usually struggle and they provide us with a tough opposition. However yesterday afternoon we dominated and put in a very convincing performance. Especially considering the circumstances; we hadn't scored in our previous three games at the Emirates whilst West Brom were coming off the back of a win against champions Chelsea. However a couple of outstanding goals gave us victory to end the Premier League season in great fashion. It was our 22nd win of the season as we finished the campaign in third place, not the dreaded fourth position, as we ended on 75 points.

It was a game that certainly made up for the past few matches when we've failed to score and it certainly sets us up nicely for the final. The performance does however, also give Arsene Wenger a selection dilemma in the form of Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere who were both outstanding on the day.

Walcott's hat-trick was well deserved and timely if you consider his recent run. Although he hasn't been granted a lot of playing time hopefully this will send messages going into the close season. It was great to see him finally get his chance, and indeed up front too, a position he wishes to play in more often. His first goal especially was of extreme quality as he smashed the ball home from an angle into the far corner. His second meanwhile was a typical Walcott goal in my opinion. He dinked the ball over the defender before comfortably finding the net by poking the ball home. He then rounded off the hat-trick after a flowing team move inside the area. Wilshere linked up well with Sanchez before Cazorla's ball across goal found Walcott who was left with a tap in.

On any ordinary day Walcott would be guaranteed the man of the match award. However Jack Wilshere was equally as impressive against West Brom. Wilshere was a constant threat and despite playing on the right he drifted inside on a regular basis and offered a different sort of attacking play to Aaron Ramsey who has been utilised on the right in recent weeks. He linked up well with numerous players and for the most part was absolutely outstanding. It was a match that showed us signs of the player he was and we hope he still can be when he first burst onto the scene at Arsenal. His drive from midfield gave us much needed impetus, a sense of energy that's been missing in our goalless matches. His goal was meanwhile one of the best seen this season as he absolutely hammered the ball into the net from outside the box.

It was meanwhile interesting to note Santi Cazorla's involvement in the game. He was a lot more involved than he has been lately and after a rather quiet spell he notched two assists as he was able to get forward more than previous. He was perhaps unlucky not to score himself, as he saw a deflected effort bounce wide and then Myhill saved well from a curling effort in the second half. Myhill could not have done a lot about the goals scored but apart from conceding the amount that his side did, he did well to keep it at just the four with some good saves.

Our goalkeeper David Ospina didn't have the greatest of games despite the win though. He made a mistake for their goal as he failed to claim the ball from a corner and consequently Gareth McAuley got up above him to head into an empty net. In the dying moments he then allowed a shot to go through his hands and onto the bar from an effort which should have resulted in a straight forward save. Ospina has come under scrunity recently and it will be interesting to see which keeper starts at Wembley next weekend. Szczesny has been our cup keeper but you still feel as though Ospina would be the most comfortable bet between the sticks.

Ramsey was meanwhile very good in the middle when he came on late in the game as he hit the post twice. It proved that Wenger does indeed have a very nice selection dilemma for the final next weekend. Saying that, Aaron Ramsey is likely to start and it'll probably be the same side that started for 7 straight games recently. Olivier Giroud hasn't scored in 8 games though and for that reason Theo Walcott could start down the middle in the final. However you get the feeling that Wenger will stick by the Frenchman.

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Coquelin(68), Cazorla, Wilshere(76), Ozil, Sanchez, Walcott(68).
Subs: Szczesny, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Ramsey(68), Oxlade-Chamberlain(76), Giroud(68).

West Brom: Myhill, Olsson(51), Dawson, McAuley, Lescott, Morrison, Yacob(60), Fletcher, McManaman(54), Brunt, Berahino.
Subs: Palmer, Baird(60), Gamboa, Roberts, Gardner(54), Ideye, Anichebe(51).

My man of the match: Theo Walcott.

Referee: Robert Madley.
Attendance: 59,971.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Poor performance costs Arsenal in goalless draw

Arsenal's distinctly average form continued at home to Sunderland yesterday evening as we drew 0-0. It was yet another game in which we failed to hit the ground running and for the most part was very similar to the game against Swansea the other week; we had plenty of possession but met a side who were determined to 'park the bus'. Sunderland came to do a job, and that job was successful as they achieved the point they needed to secure their safety. At no moment did we look entirely threatening and that we'd break them down. In my opinion, it's inexcusable how you can't score against Sunderland at home, especially after failing to score in our previous two games at the Emirates too. In terms of our line-up, we made two changes from our previous games. Jack Wilshere made his first start in over 6 months as he came in for Coquelin whilst Gibbs returned for his first League start in over 2 and a half months, replacing Nacho Monreal.
Wilshere made his first start for over 6 months as Arsenal drew 0-0
Once again there was a noticeable lack of intensity and pace in the final third. Barring Hector Bellerin we barely had anyone who was willing to take their man on. Because of that we made life easy for Sunderland as we played right into their hands by playing far too narrowly in attack. Alexis Sanchez in the past few matches has been the player we've needed to drive us forward in those types of areas but he didn't have a particularly good game. It was the third game in a row now where we've been poor in the first 45 minutes. A part of that could be the fact that we can be found guilty of trying to over play on a regular basis. There was a lot of opportunities when we got on the edge of the area and instead of shooting we played another pass. Saying that, our finishing was absolutely woeful in that first half.

I don't mean to make certain players scapegoats but it hasn't helped that Olivier Giroud is currently on a very barren spell. He appears low on confidence and if we're to start playing well then we really need Giroud to start finding form again. The problem for him is that he's not even getting in the right areas, and that was particularly evident in the first half when he kept coming short and passing up opportunities rather than shooting. If he starts playing more to his strengths then we'll find that the goals in the team will start to come again. However he did come alive a little more in the second half as he saw a flicked effort from his favourite near post saved by Pantilimon, who like Fabianski against Swansea, kept his side in the game.

Although we didn't score, the second half was greatly improved, as it was against Manchester United. We created a lot more as the game opened up but the primary reason behind why we created a lot more was because of Theo Walcott's introduction. Wilshere had had a decent game on the right but his first start since returning hadn't brought much joy. That did give Ramsey the chance to move back into his preferred central position though and his and Walcott's link-up play, as it was against United, was brilliant. When Theo was on the pitch we got in the wider areas more and we started to look more threatening. It's just a shame that he didn't start because after the impact he made at the weekend I thought he'd finally earned his chance.

One of our best chances did indeed come from the Ramsey and Walcott combination. The Welshman slid a perfect through ball into Walcott but his dink over the keeper just didn't quite have enough legs to find the net. For me, this game against Sunderland showed exactly why he should start against West Brom, and possibly even the FA Cup final. When he came on he showed strong signs of returning to his best; at point point he took on his man, burst beyond the defender and struck a shot which was well kept out. It was a typical Walcott piece of play, and hopefully we'll start to see it more often again from now on.

I also feel as though it's worth mentioning David Ospina's performance. His displays in recent weeks have come under a bit of scrutiny but against Sunderland he made a few important saves. Especially from Fletcher in the second half when one-on-one as he put the ball wide and out for a corner.

The performances of Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil, along with Alexis Sanchez's, were a bit concerning. Cazorla has dropped off a bit in recent weeks compared to his form earlier in 2015, whilst Mesut Ozil slowed our game down a little when we needed that quick impetus. However you can't blame him when the movement for most parts of the game in the forward positions was non existent. In my opinion, if the German is to be a proper success in the Premier League then he needs to become more lively and energetic in the final third due to the pace of the English game.

The most concerning aspect right now though is the run we're on. We're without a win in 4 matches which after being unbeaten in 9 games is hugely disappointing, especially ahead of a Cup final. In my opinion it's vitally important for our confidence that we finish on a high at home to West Brom on Sunday in our final league game.

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Ramsey, Cazorla, Wilshere(67), Ozil(81), Sanchez, Giroud.
Subs: Szczesny, Gabriel, Monreal, Coquelin, Flamini, Rosicky(81), Walcott(67).

Sunderland: Pantilimon, Jones, O'Shea, Coates, van Aanholt, Cattermole, Larsson, Johnson(74), Wickham(45), Defoe, Graham(45).
Subs: Mannone, Vergini, Reveillere, Rodwell(45), Giaccherini, Buckley(74), Fletcher(45).

Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Attendance: 59,987.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Late own goal rescues point at Old Trafford

A draw in recent times against Manchester United would be a good result; such is our form in the League at Old Trafford that we still haven’t won there in nine years in the Premiership. However we have every reason to be disappointed with only managing a 1-1 draw, especially after beating them in the FA Cup at Old Trafford a few months ago. What makes the last two games especially frustrating though is that we’ve squandered the chance to finish second in the League. A defeat to Swansea and now a draw with United has put a halt on our end of season form which had been so promising. The Gunners had again been unchanged in the 1-1 draw, as Aaron Ramsey once more started on the right with Coquelin and Cazorla in the middle.
Walcott came off the bench to play a part in the equalising goal
Our first half performance at Old Trafford was arguably the reason we didn’t win the game. It was laboured and slow, and we failed to have a single shot on David de Gea’s goal. Our passing was poor and we lacked intensity all over the pitch. I wouldn’t say that no one was up for the game but considering the magnitude of the match it was a very disappointing game from an Arsenal point of view. Even Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla were having poor games which didn’t help our cause. The usual fast flowing way with which we play our football was seemingly not on show.

It summed up our first halves display that we conceded a rather tame goal for the second game running. Ashley Young was causing numerous problems for us (a phrase that probably hasn’t been used much this season) and his crossing to the back post towards the likes of Fellaini was proving a constant threat. However it was Ander Herrera who broke the deadlock. The ball was crossed to the back post and for some reason Herrera had been left alone to consequently side foot the ball home. Even after the goal we didn’t really wake up.

One of the reasons for our moderately average displays in the past few weeks has arguably been down to the team selection. For once we have a near fully fit squad but Wenger simply isn’t rotating at the moment. I’m not saying that the team put out there isn’t good enough because it is, but against United especially, it was visible that with Ramsey on the right, we hadn't set up in the right way tactically. Time and time again down the years we’ve seen Ramsey utilised in that position and it hasn’t worked at all. The same can be said in the past few weeks. Besides the game against Hull, his performances have been average to say the least. In the first half of the United game he offered nothing on the right once more and he rarely touched the ball or made an attacking run.

Aaron Ramsey’s second half display was far and away better though as he played a pivotal role in our revival. He made a lot more runs in behind and when moved centrally, a role which he should be playing in if he’s to discover his best football, he was excellent. He looked a lot more confident in that role and our football became more fluid, especially when he was alongside Jack Wilshere in the middle of the park. Arsenal’s situation was also helped by Theo Walcott who after a series of poorer performances off the bench had a real impact which was very pleasing to see.

Both of Ramsey and Walcott's roles in the equaliser exemplified their roles in the side perfectly. Aaron Ramsey played a lovely long ball into Walcott, who got at Tyler Blackett before firing a cross across goal which took a deflection off the young defender and spun into the net. On merit for their second half performance it was probably a deserved goal for the Gunners, and on the balance of play a 1-1 draw was probably right. Man United dropped a little in terms of their intensity in the second half which allowed us to get back into the game when we changed our set-up with a series of substitutions. To me it came as no surprise that we actually looked threatening with an actual winger on the flank. Finally we had a man getting at the defence down the right hand side, and it resultantly ended in a goal.

To add to that we may well have been able to actually win the game. Olivier Giroud is on a barren spell after being in such a good run of form previously but he had two chances of particular note that were wasted. One of them was a move where Ozil played the ball into the Frenchman at the near post but his sweeping effort was put wide from a position we've seen him score so regularly from. Another move saw him use great strength to get to the ball ahead of Rojo but de Gea came out to smother him and he couldn’t get a meaningful contact on the ball. You can’t blame Giroud for the defeat, but what we did lack was a person willing to run in behind until Theo Walcott came on. You can’t help but feel that in order to challenge next season we need a top class striker that can make things happen of his own accord.

The game at Old Trafford was a rather dull affair but it goes without saying that it was important not to lose the game despite our game in hand over Sunderland on Wednesday. The draw stopped Louis van Gaal's men from over taking us for the time being and the point we gained has now pretty much all but guaranteed a place in the top three. 

The team's line-ups:

Manchester United: de Gea(73), Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Rojo(73), Young, Blind, Herrera, Fellaini, Mata, Falcao(61).
Subs: Valdes(73), Blackett(73), McNair, Januzaj, di Maria, Wilson, van Persie(61).

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin(73), Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla(73), Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez(90), Giroud.
Subs: Szczesny, Gabriel, Gibbs, Flamini(90), Wilshere(73), Rosicky, Walcott(73).

Referee: Mike Dean.
Attendance: 75,323.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Wasted chances cost Arsenal in defeat to Swansea

For the first time in 10 Premier League games Arsenal have suffered defeat. Two weeks ago against Chelsea was expected to be the stumbling block, rather than against a Swansea side who seemingly have nothing to play for but a place in the Europa League next season. It wasn't our best performance of the season, and neither was it our worst. However after a series of chances went begging we lost the game in the last five minutes with some lackluster defending and goal line technology giving the Swans the win. Swansea have been good against us at the Emirates in recent times but this was predicted to be a routine win, particularly with the great run of form we've been on lately. For the fifth game in a row we were unchanged but that didn't have a massive effect on proceedings despite losing 1-0 in a game we should have won if you base it on chances and possession stats.
Ospina was criticised for not stopping the goal
In my opinion it was always going to be one of those days. A dusky sky at the Emirates on a Monday evening gave the vibes that it wasn't going to go right. Why did I sense that? Well, from the distinct lack of atmosphere in the ground. Typically, as it usually has been against Swansea in recent times, it was indeed one of those nights. The Swans now remain unbeaten in their last three games against us at the Emirates which is bitterly frustrating. It was a match of bad omens as only for the second time this season we failed to score at the Emirates in the League after the 0-0 with Chelsea two weeks ago. It was meanwhile the first time we've failed to score in back to back home games for 4 years. It was a poor night all round in all honesty.

In a way it was an Arsenal performance we've become accustomed to over the past few seasons, and indeed from our early 2014/15 form. It brought back rather dim feelings of the same old Arsenal. It was a story of wasted chances, over committing men and then conceding from poor defending. It was a poor game, a poor performance and a poor result but we must remember that we've been excellent in the past few months. It goes without saying though that it was a hugely disappointing way to stall after such a good run of form.

The first half was a pretty dull 45 minutes of football. Arsenal were intent on keeping the ball and remaining patient. Swansea meanwhile were extremely well drilled and resolute. They came to the Emirates with a game plan and it was organised well. They managed to overcrowd our attacking players in the final third well, especially in the first half when they looked to counter each time they won the ball back. It wasn't until the second half that we did open up their defence when the game stretched out more. However the amount of wasted opportunities was something we haven't been used to in the past few months. We've been scoring regularly so for us to not mange to put the ball in the back of the net was very frustrating.

It was perhaps one of Alexis Sanchez's poorer games in an Arsenal shirt so far. He was rather ineffective and was not his usual creative self. Late on in the second half he had an excellent chance to put us 1-0 up but instead he stuck it straight at Lukasz Fabianski. The former Gunners keeper was awarded the man of the match award, and in truth most of the saves he made were routine. Still, he kept his side in the game and showed the form he produced during our FA Cup triumph last season. Our play in the second half compared to the first was much better though. There was a faster intensity and we created a lot more. However when chances fell to the likes of Monreal, Sanchez and Walcott when he came on, they were all met with saves from the Polish keeper.

What I did feel we lacked once again was width, as well as a driving force from midfield. Aaron Ramsey has been up and down in recent weeks. I mentioned last week against Hull that he did indeed have a very good game but in home games I think we need someone that can drag the play out more in the wider areas. Ramsey doesn't provide that but does offer a good option away when we're trying to squeeze the play more and playing deeper than we would at home. Yesterday I don't think he had a particularly good game, especially against a side that were intent on playing defensively. Ramsey's been average out wide and if Wenger wants him to produce his best football he needs to play him in the middle again. With Walcott in poor form too, Oxlade-Chamberlain can't come back quick enough.

I mentioned the lack of a driving force from midfield. In my opinion that's what Ramsey is good at, but only when he is played in the middle. At the moment it's difficult to displace Cazorla and Coquelin. The game was tender made for Jack Wilshere who after impressing after coming on last week didn't do as well when he came on against Swansea. Nothing was really happening in the forward areas though as a result of a lack of width; the only person who was getting in promising areas was Alexis Sanchez who made the odd run in behind.

However Arsenal's lack of impetus going forward despite the creative outlets in the team wasn't the worst part of the night. Instead our defending for the goal was. Swansea weren't playing with a central striker until the last 15 minutes or so. In my opinion taking Francis Coquelin off at 0-0 was critical in terms of us conceding. Once he went off there was a noticable gap and there was less cover for the defence. However the goal stemmed from errors in the build-up. Monreal had had a good game up to the goal but he allowed a simple one-two to go by him. The cross in wasn't great but it came out to Montero on the opposite flank. For some reason both Mertesacker and Koscielny went for the same man which left Bafetimbi Gomis to out jump Nacho Monreal. Gomis on Moneral meant it was almost identical to Gomis' goal at the Liberty in November. However this goal could have been further prevented. Ospina got down slow and was in a poor position as the cross came in. Originally it didn't look as though it had crossed the line but goal-line technology rightly said it had gone over.

Although the goal could've been prevented and the game should've been won before that moment, it reaffirmed what pundits have been saying about the fact that we need a top quality keeper in order to compete properly at the top. Not much has been made of Ospina, he's been comfortable in goal but nothing to write home about. However I do agree that we need a goalkeeper, a player that we haven't really had since the days of Jens Lehmann and David Season. For example David de Gea has won games on his own for United this season. It does beg the question though of who is actually available. I can't think of anyone off the top of my head, especially as Chelsea won't sell us Cech whilst rumours continue to circulate about Iker Casillas who appears likely to stay at Real Madrid.

The loss, despite not having a huge effect on the season now, did have a lot of talking points, and it quickly brought us back down to earth. These games are shock results, but we do need 2 or 3 signings to really challenge for the title next season. As for the present, we need to focus on the remaining three games in the League and that starts with Manchester United next Sunday.

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin(67), Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud(69).
Subs: Szczesny, Gabriel, Gibbs, Flamini, Wilshere(67), Rosicky, Walcott(69).

Swansea: Fabianski, Rangel(60), Williams, Fernandez, Taylor, Cork, Ki(73), Dyer(79), Shelvey, Montero, Sigurdsson.
Subs: Tremmel, Richards(60), Grimes, Britton, Barrow(79), Emnes, Gomis(73).

Referee: Kevin Friend.
Attendance: 59,989.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Sanchez and Ramsey score as Arsenal beat Hull

Arsenal were at the free flowing best on Monday night as they overcame relegation threatened Hull 3-1 at the KC Stadium. The Gunners had had to wait quite a long time since their last game, a 0-0 draw with Chelsea while the hosts Hull were coming off the back of a 1-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield. Therefore it was a surprise to see Hull dominated quite so badly if you look at how well they played against Liverpool. However the Gunners football was brilliant and thanks to a double from Alexis Sanchez and a goal from Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal moved level with Manchester City in second place. From the previous game Arsenal were unchanged as Ramsey continued on the right. The only change was on the bench where Welbeck missed out with a supposed knee injury as Rosicky came into the squad.
Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey were at their fluent best
Arsenal's form recently has been nothing short of phenomenal. They're unbeaten in their past ten games with the Gunners only blip coming against Chelsea last week. We came close to beating them but yesterday night we were back to winning ways, and back amongst the goals after a 0-0 draw. In my opinion it was up there with one of our best away displays of the season. Our football was outstanding and Hull couldn't contain our fast attacking football. In attack we looked comfortable all game, especially in a first halves display that saw us score three times. We know Arsenal's link-up play can be exceptional but yesterday just exemplified that.

Despite the opening two goals taking deflections our second and third goals were of extreme quality as Sanchez took his tally to 24 this season. The first goal came from a free-kick which he was able to draw himself. He has scored some excellent goals this season but this one was rather fortuitous as his free-kick took a deflection and wrong footed Harper in the Hull goal. Our other goals were brilliant though. The second was assisted by Spaniard Santi Cazorla who was outstanding in the middle of the park with his array of passing. He ran the game in the midfield and set up Aaron Ramsey with a perfectly waited long ball into the Welshman. Ramsey however still had a lot to do, as his touch was perfect before firing into the corner via a deflection. For the third Ramsey turned provider, playing a great through ball into Sanchez who took it round the keeper before firing into the empty net.

I must admit I criticised Arsene Wenger's decision to start Aaron Ramsey on the right hand side again. It's not that I don't think he shouldn't be in the team, because he's a brilliant player but in recent games he hasn't offered a lot on the right flank and has been getting dragged inside on too many occasions. That did happen a few times against Hull but he proved why he was starting with a brilliant display. He was at the centre of most of the good things we did as he took his goal tally to the season into double figures. I'd like to reiterate a point made my Jamie Carragher on MNF last night on Sky that he is easily becoming one of the best midfielders in the Premier League; down the years the Premier League has had its fair share of goal scoring midfielders from Lampard and Gerrard. However they both took penalties so for Aaron Ramsey to be scoring as many goals as he has in the past two seasons is quite incredible. He really has taken his game to the next level in my opinion this season despite not scoring on as regular a basis.

I meanwhile thought Mesut Ozil had a very good game too. Some of his touches were outstanding and at one point he played a ridiculous flick into Sanchez in the final third of the pitch. He doesn't assist goals as much as he did at Real Madrid but he's had a very positive impact on the way we've played so far in 2015. He looks a lot more confident and assured on the ball than he did when he first joined us and he always looks keen to really show for the ball.

Injuries have plagued our midfield over the past two seasons but we're finally getting those players back and Jack Wilshere's performance after returning from injury exemplified the wealth of luxuries we have in that position. It was Jack's first game for the first team since 22nd November and it was brilliant to see him make such an impressive impression when he came on. His classic drive forward was in operation and his return will be a bonus going into the end of the season.

The only negative aspect of the game was the way we conceded the goal. Koscielny was down and had arguably been fouled by Meyler but nonetheless the referee allowed play go on. That meant that there was a gap in defence which Hull managed to exploit as Quinn popped up to head home. Apart from that the defence had had a relatively untroubled night. On occasion Mertesacker was caught out by the pace of N'Doye but ultimately Hull lacked quality in the final third and they didn't really have a final ball.

The team's line-ups:

Hull: Harper, Elmohamady, McShane, Dawson, Chester, Brady, Livermore(45), Huddlestone, Quinn(81), Aluko(65), N'Doye.
Subs: McGregor, Bruce, Rosenior, Robertson(65), Meyler(45), Hernandez, Jelavic(81).

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ramsey(67), Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud(85).
Subs: Szczesny, Gabriel, Gibbs, Flamini, Wilshere(67), Rosicky, Walcott(85).

My man of the match: Santi Cazorla.

Referee: Lee Mason.
Attendance: 23,628.

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.