Welcome to my Arsenal blog for the 2015/16 season; here you can check out my thoughts on the current goings on at the club.
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Thursday, 12 December 2013

Arsenal out of the group of death, but only just

Arsenal are through to the next round of the Champions League, but only just. We had one job in order to come top, get a draw or win the game. Being Arsenal though that didn't happen and of course we lost the game. Napoli beat us 2-0 whilst Dortmund won in France against Marseille meaning for yet another year we've finished second in the group. We'll now face a much tougher opponent in the last 16 than we would've liked but had you offered me second place in this Group of Death when the draw was made I would've taken it in a heart beat. The most important thing though is that we still remain in the competition, and as long as we're still in it we've got a chance of going all the way.
Mikel Arteta, the Arsenal skipper, was sent off as the Gunners lost to Napoli
The game saw us make a few changes and adopt a more defensive approach for the game. Flamini and Arteta were both holding whilst Gibbs started ahead of Monreal, a more attacking minded player. Walcott had been expected to start, but instead Cazorla and Rosicky played whilst Ramsey and Wilshere dropped to the bench. Arsene Wenger was criticised hugely after the game, perhaps a little harshly considering how well we're doing this season. Praise was heaped upon Wenger after the game against Everton on Sunday after making a game changing triple substitution. However yesterday against Napoli we set up extremely defensively and caused little threats going forward, something that we've done a considerable amount of times this season and its very rare that we don't score. The fact that we set up defensively but still lost 2-0 was a worrying sight. We've been very good defensively of late so it was especially surprising to see us concede two in one game. Even when Higuain scored we didn't want to go for it and try and get top spot, bringing on Monreal outlined that.

I thought before the game that when Arteta and Flamini play together we don't seem to play as well. I said a few weeks back that it was either one or the other in terms of who starts. Arteta, despite playing in a more attacking role whilst at Everton, is so used to playing in the deep lying role for us that he seems to forget that with Flamini holding back, he can get forward more. That in turn effects our play when it comes to dictating the game. Mikel Arteta was even sent off, his second of the season and another debatable and perhaps harsh decision. That was to disrupt what had been up to then, a solid but far from convincing performance.

The goals were sloppily conceded as well. Higuain was allowed to turn too easily and then find the net whilst Callejon somehow managed to get in behind in the dying embers of the game and lob Szczesny. Carl Jenkinson, who had put in some confident displays over the past 2 games whilst Sagna is out injured, looked a little dodgy and Napoli took advantage of that. Instead of focusing on a striker in January that could potentially upset the rhythm of the team, I think we need a right back. Sagna is yet to sign a new deal so getting a player on board in that position I think is key. That would mean we could then send Jenkinson out on loan for some valuable consistent game time. Santi Cazorla was another man that didn't have a great game. He's looked a different man to last season and apart from glimpses against Dortmund and Liverpool at home he's been far from his best, I really do hope that he doesn't suffer from the dreaded 'second season syndrome' which is looking likely now. He is being played out wide rather than in the middle but even so, that's where he operated so successfully for Villarreal and Malaga previously.

It's incredible to think that 3 teams all finished on 12 points in our group and more incredible that a team with that number of points in the group stages have crashed out of the competition. It truly was the Group of Death. Poor old Marseille is all that's left to be said, finishing on 0 points as they lost every game. 

More importantly though is Man City at the weekend. All of a sudden I'm feeling less confident that I originally was for this weekends game. Man City have been in formidable form at the Etihad this season so it'll be a very tough place to go and get a result from. I really hope that the players don't suffer mentally from last nights defeat. They're a close knit group though and knowing they qualified and are still top of the Premier League should put any doubts out of their mind going into Saturday's game.

The teams lineups:

Napoli: Cabral, Maggio, Fernandez, Albiol, Armero, Dzemaili, Pandev(57), Behrami, Callejon, Mertens, Higuain.
Subs: Colombo, Uvini, Britos, Insigne(57), Cannavaro, Inler, Zapata.

Arsenal: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Arteta, Rosicky(75), Cazorla(67), Ozil, Giroud.
Subs: Fabianski, Vermaelen, Monreal(75), Wilshere, Ramsey(67), Walcott, Bendtner. 

Referee: Viktor Kassai (HUN)

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