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.
Latest News: Arsenal draw 3-3 with Liverpool, goals came from Ramsey and Giroud (x2) - match thoughts to come!

Monday, 29 December 2014

Arsenal end 2014 with win over West Ham

Arsenal followed up their Boxing Day win with victory over West Ham at Upton Park on Sunday afternoon. Goals from Santi Cazorla and Danny Welbeck sealed the points as the Gunners managed to hold off a late surge from West Ham to eventually win the game 2-1 after a second half goal from Kouyate. It was a more convincing display from Arsenal than we've been used to in recent weeks but we made the most of our first half chances to go into the break two goals to the good. What made it better for Arsenal fans was that Alex Song had a goal ruled out at the beginning of the match. It's open to debate as to whether the Gunners have been the same since Song left the club but Flamini and Coquelin did their best to extinguish any memories of Song's time at Arsenal. Coquelin was one of three changes as he replaced Rosicky whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain came in for Giroud. The other change saw Laurent Koscielny return from injury as Gibbs was rested.
Santi Cazorla opened the scoring from the spot
Although we were pegged back in the opening exchanges of the game, it was actually one of our most convincing first halves display in a long time. On Boxing Day we had QPR pegged back but we didn't really take our chances. However, against West Ham it was two shots on target and two goals. It was very pleasing to see us clinical in front of goal for a change. Our first half may have been clinical but the second was far from it. We had numerous opportunities to kill the game in the second half but we didn't take use of them. Thankfully, a renewed defence under Laurent Koscielny managed to hang on for another vital three points. Three points that took us level with Southampton in fourth who we play on new years day.

For the second game running we were awarded a penalty. Winston Reid brought down Santi Cazorla and the Spaniard was the one to take it. Alexis missed his penalty against QPR so there was no doubt over who was going to take this one after scoring penalties against Stoke and Newcastle. Indeed Cazorla fired the penalty home as he sent the keeper the wrong way. Cazorla's form of late has been excellent. At the start of the season he was extremely poor but in the last few months we've seen the Cazorla we saw when he first joined the club. He has his confidence back and everything we seemed to create against West Ham yesterday came through the Spanish international. He could've had another goal too if it wasn't for an outstanding display in goal from Adrian.

Adrian managed to keep the scores tighter than they should've been, denying Alexis and Oxlade-Chamberlain late in the second half. It was Chamberlain that created our second goal just before the break though. He exchanged passes with Debuchy before driving to the byline and sliding the ball across goal for Danny Welbeck to tap in. It was a goal that should bring extra confidence to Welbeck who will enjoy playing as the lone striker again now Giroud is suspended.

Welbeck's performance was brilliant though. Although Giroud has improved our play since his return, without him in the squad Welbeck gets a lot more room to run into it seems, and that was exemplary in his second halves display. He never stopped running and there was a particular moment when he picked the ball up on the left and then showed great pace to burst into the box before firing wide. Welbeck perhaps hasn't hit the ground running as we would've liked and his finishing does need improving but he's proving to be a good asset to a club that was lacking pace last season with Walcott out injured.

Arsene Wenger's team selection was an interesting one with Flamini and Coquelin starting at the base of the midfield but it worked. Flamini often comes under criticism for his performances, and that was deserved against Liverpool but he's put in two much better performances in the last two games. Francis Coquelin was excellent in my opinion though. He was making his first Premier League start for two years having spent loan spells at Freiburg and Charlton and he showed a great determination to get stuck in. He broke up the play well and showed just how important a proper defensive midfielder that is willing to be physical in the middle of the park is. His stats of 4 tackles, 5 interceptions and 7 clearances show just how important he was to our win at Upton Park.

At last we have all of our defenders fit and that showed with a more resolute performance. Although the fullbacks do need to close down the wider areas more to prevent crosses coming in we managed to hold out well in the dying moments of the game. Koscielny made our defence more solid and was very convincing in his aerial duals with Andy Carroll. Overall it was a much improved defensive display with Koscielny back in the side. Lets hope he stays fit now!

The games are coming thick and fast but with more players getting back to full fitness after injuries that gives us a better chance of getting results into the new year. As said earlier our next game is against Southampton. Another massive fixture and if we win we'll be in the top four. Promising times potentially lie ahead.

The team's line-ups:

West Ham: Adrian, O'Brien(77), Tomkins, Reid, Cresswell, Song, Kouyate(77), Amalfitano, Downing, Sakho(62), Carroll. 
Subs: Jaaskelainen, Collins, Demel(77), Noble, Nolan(77), Cole, Valencia(62). 

Arsenal:Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Coquelin, Sanchez, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain(89), Welbeck(84). 
Subs: Ospina, Chambers(89), Gibbs(84), Campbell, Walcott, Podolski, Akpom. 

My man of the match: Santi Cazorla.

Referee: Neil Swarbrick. 
Attendance: 34,977.  

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Arsenal record win over QPR despite Giroud red card

Goals from Alexis Sanchez and Tomas Rosicky meant Arsenal came away with all three points against QPR on Boxing Day despite a ridiculous red card for Olivier Giroud and a missed penalty. It was a fairly comfortable display until the red, but the Gunners still managed to score with 10 men. It was a penalty for QPR that changed the momentum of the game as after Charlie Austin slammed home from the spot it left for another nervy finish. Unlike against Liverpool though we managed to hang on for an important three points. The Gunners made two changes from the draw at Anfield at the weekend as Monreal replaced Chambers in defence whilst Rosicky made his first start of the campaign in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Arsenal's goal scorers celebrate
It was fair to say that Arsenal dominated the first halves display against QPR at the Emirates on Friday evening. It was a hugely improved performance in terms of ball retention from the game against Liverpool but so it should be against a team that hasn't won away from home all season. Harry Redknapp's side were intent on sitting back and making it as hard as possible for us to break them down. We did seem to break them down on numerous occasions but very few of those chances led to a goal. We almost had the perfect start too as early on former Gunner Traore slid in on Alexis and gave away a penalty. However it was a tame penalty from the man who won it as Green saved relatively easy. It begged the question as to why Cazorla, who had scored a penalty against Stoke and Newcastle didn't take.

However Sanchez was to avenge his penalty miss by scoring and assisting. It was a typical determined display from the Chilean who found the net through a well directed header from close range after a ball in from Gibbs. He managed to drag us out of tight situations a few times and that led to the second goal. He broke away brilliantly, dragging three defenders with him before sliding the ball into the path of Rosicky to fire home. It was an overall display from Arsenal that typified them this season but the three points were absolutely vital in what is such a busy festive period.

Tomas Rosicky has been out in the wilderness rather this season, through injury and being stuck on the bench but he certainly made his mark with his goal. He linked up well with Cazorla and drove us forward going well, adding massively to our play. I know I've said this numerous times, and so have many others but it is remarkable how he is 34 years of age. Despite just returning he already looks as though he could play a vital part in the second half of this season, just as he did in 2013/14.

The defence didn't have a lot to do and therefore Nacho Monreal's inclusion at centre half didn't really worry me. The penalty decision on Debuchy was a little controversial but thankfully it didn't cost us. We were a lot more resolute in defence from last time out which was encouraging. That's not to say that Laurent Koscielny's return can't come quick enough!

Between the two Arsenal goals a moment of madness ensued. Olivier Giroud reacted badly to what looked like a push from Onuoha into the goalkeeper and he was consequently sent off for a slight headbut. Although it didn't cause any damage it was violent conduct and there were no excuses for such a moment of stupidity. What's especially annoying is that he was starting to find some form and will now miss our next three games. Three vitally important games against West Ham and Southampton who are both ahead of us, and also Hull City in the Cup.

With such a busy period it is important we rotate a little. I agree that will be a difficult task considering our injury situation, and the importance of the games but we can't afford some of the players to burn out. Giroud's suspension will probably allow Podolski some game time, and judging by his record against West Ham we don't have anything to worry about in that sense. It'll be a tough, yet very interesting end to 2014 and start to 2015.

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs, Flamini, Cazorla, Rosicky(83), Sanchez, Welbeck(87), Giroud.
Subs: Ospina, Chambers(83), Bellerin, Coquelin(87), Campbell, Walcott, Podolski.

QPR: Green, Isla, Caulker, Ferdinand, Onuoha, Traore(62), Henry(72), Kranjcar, Mutch(71), Vargas, Austin.
Subs: McCarthy, Hill, Fer(62), Wright-Phillips, Phillips, Hoilett(62), Zamora(71).

My man of the match: Alexis Sanchez.

Referee: Martin Atkinson.
Attendance: 59,947.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Late Skrtel header denies Arsenal win

Arsenal eradicated memories of that 5-1 defeat at Anfield last season by earning a 2-2 draw with Liverpool yesterday evening. It was the home side that took the lead before goals from Debuchy and Giroud saw the Gunners take the lead. However, it was bitterly disappointing to drop 2 points as Skrtel headed home a late equaliser deep into injury time for the hosts. Arsenal were dominated in the first 45 minutes and because of that most fans would've been happy with a draw going into the break but it wasn't to be as we lost concentration late on once again. There was one change from the side that beat Newcastle last weekend as Chambers returned from suspension in place of Hector Bellerin.
Olivier Giroud scored his fifth league goal of the campaign
You'd be forgiven for accepting a draw against Liverpool, but such is the position of Arsenal in the table that three points are a necessity at the moment. We hadn't deserved to be winning the game at any point, we'd played terribly and we had struggled to retain possession all game. However, when 2-1 up against ten men (Borini had been sent off) in the seventh of nine added minutes on due to a head injury you shouldn't then drop points. Skrtel was the reason for the nine minutes of injury time due to a head injury, and it was inevitable that he would score the equaliser with a matter of moments left. It was just typical of Arsenal to concede in the manner that they did. Every man was back defending the corner, but Mertesacker ducked out the way, Gibbs wasn't on the post and no one challenged Skrtel who powered a header home.

Why were we dominated for large parts of the game though? The answer is simple, the lack of a calming influence and a ball retainer was heavily missed. Fans can harp on all they like about the need for a central defensive midfielder but the pairing that played at the weekend of Flamini and Chamberlain were heavily outnumbered by the 5 Liverpool played in midfield. There was far too much space in the middle of the park for Coutinho and with Chamberlain committing forward Flamini had his work cut out. It didn't help that the Frenchman received a yellow card so early on either. Mikel Arteta is hugely missed in these types of games. Although he's getting older and he doesn't suit that deep role we're craving his ball retention and composure on the ball. That's not to say that Francis Coquelin didn't have a very positive impact when he came on though.

Those that watched the game would've recognised the amount of times we gave away the ball. I'm unsure of the number of times we did but I hadn't seen an Arsenal side struggle to keep hold of the football for such long periods. The first goal came as a result of the ball being given away down their right hand side and there were chances spurned from the likes of Markovic and Coutinho despite the latter scoring Liverpool's first.

The form of Per Mertesacker this season is particularly worrying. It remains to be seen whether that form has dropped as a result of Laurent Koscielny not being beside him but the best players should be able to adapt. Twice this season he's ducked out the way rather than putting his body on the line, as well as against Liverpool it happened versus Stoke and cost us a goal. The defence had looked a lot better last time out against Newcastle so it can be queried as to why we changed the team around. Hector Bellerin looked excellent at right back against the Magpies so to drop him in favour of Chambers was a little harsh in my opinion. Calum Chambers had such a positive start to his Gunners career but has struggled in recent months. Montero caused him problems against Swansea, and Markovic and Sterling ran him ragged on Sunday.

There were positives though and what was encouraging was Olivier Giroud's goal. He's been a revelation since returning from injury and our overall play has improved massively since he's been back. He's been criticised for not finishing the big chances but he buried the only chance he had at the weekend after a brilliantly sweeping move that saw the French striker combine with Cazorla. Despite conceding two Wojciech Szczesny also returned to form, making some important saves late on. Mathieu Debuchy heading in his first Arsenal goal despite a poor first half from Arsenal showed great resilience too.

I noticed a few people after the game moaning about the substitutions Wenger made. I personally had nothing against seeing Monreal and Coquelin come on. We were winning by a slender margain and we needed to protect our lead; it was typical that we did exactly the opposite of that. Giroud coming off was a bit of a bizarre change considering he is the best header of the ball in the team and had he been on the pitch then perhaps Skrtel's goal could've been prevented. In terms of criticism for defensive substitutions rather than trying to get a third, had we held out then the subs would've been herald as brilliant. Instead, Wenger was used as the scapegoat for the dropped points when it was the defending that let him down once again.

It's a busy Christmas period and with so many out injured it could be difficult to rotate. We face QPR on Boxing Day before a trip to West Ham on the 28th and then Southampton away on New Years day. The latter two of the three are huge games considering both are ahead of us in the table at the moment. Come the first round of the FA Cup we could well be back in the top four. Fingers crossed. 

The team's line-ups:

Liverpool: Jones, Toure(81), Skrtel, Sakho, Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard, Lallana, Markovic(73), Sterling.
Subs: Mignolet, Enrique, Manquillo, Moreno, Can, Borini(73), Lambert(81).

Arsenal: Szczesny, Chambers, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain(90), Cazorla, Alexis(90), Welbeck, Giroud(82).
Subs: Martinez, Monreal(90), Coquelin(82), Maitland-Niles, Campbell(90), Walcott, Podolski.

My man of the match: Santi Cazorla.

Referee: Michael Oliver.
Attendance: 44,703.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Giroud and Cazorla goals seal win over Newcastle

Arsenal convincingly beat a high flying Newcastle side on Saturday as a brace each from Giroud and Cazorla saw the Gunners run out 4-1 winners. It was a surprising but comfortable win, especially after the defeat to Stoke last weekend, but the win in midweek over Galatasaray had clearly been something of a morale booster. The performance was a vast comparison from the one last weekend which was extremely encouraging, but Arsenal's line-up wasn't that different; only Debuchy and Welbeck came in for the suspended Chambers and injured Ramsey.
Santi Cazorla scored twice as Arsenal beat Newcastle
To put it simply, Arsenal couldn't have avenged for the defeat last weekend in any better fashion, apart from keeping a clean-sheet but lets not get ahead of ourselves just yet. The turn around from the Stoke defeat was quite extraordinary. Our opposition beat Chelsea last weekend so to get the victory over Newcastle on Saturday was even more satisfying. Our season has been stop start to say the least, but after arguably our most convincing win of the season at the weekend hopefully we'll kick on into this busy December period.

Coincidentally it was two players that were rested for the midweek game who scored Arsenal's goals. Olivier Giroud scored twice as he sealed a sixth goal in five games against the Magpies. The other two goals meanwhile came from birthday boy Santi Cazorla who added to his goal against Stoke with a brace after going a long period of time without one in the League.

Giroud's return to action has been timely in the past month and has added his fair share of goals. With the Frenchman out we were over reliant on Sanchez to bring us the goals but that burden now appears to have been lifted. It was Alexis though who provided the assist for the opening goal. He lifted a ball into Giroud who leaped brilliantly to plant a header into the corner. His second meanwhile was a beautifully flicked finish as he converted the ball from a near impossible angle with the way he was standing.

Our forward line of Alexis, Giroud and Welbeck has been very convincing in the matches they've played together and that looks like a tactic Wenger will continue to play in the coming weeks. They linked up well on several occasions similarly to that of the game against West Brom and we could have had a lot more than the score line merited. Welbeck had a goal ruled out for an apparent foul on Janmaat despite lifting the ball over Alnwick brilliantly.

Santi Cazorla's form seemed to have dipped earlier in the season when forced to play out wide but since his return to the middle of the pitch he has been a revelation. His performances in recent weeks have been much improved and that was signified by the quality of his goals. His first was a beautifully measured chip into the far corner before he dinked the ball down the middle for his penalty; two goals that showed the new found confidence of the Spaniard.

Arsenal have been plagued with problems at the back this season and the game against Newcastle was no different. With Koscielny still struggling, and Chambers suspended, Mathieu Debuchy had to play at centre half against his former club. At first it was a worrying proposition but he looked assured in the central role and we looked far more convincing. Meanwhile Hector Bellerin had by far his best game in his short Arsenal career so far. His attacking play has always been good, but against Newcastle he displayed all the qualities of a modern day full back; you could tell the boy was from Barca! However what was most encouraging was his defensive play which until the weekend had been far from convincing - against Newcastle he contributed to all phases of the play and stopped the crosses from coming in on a regular basis. It was a stark contrast to last week.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is seizing his chance in the team at the moment and despite not offering a lot in terms of the goal scoring department he's been a constant threat going forward. I mentioned in my Galatasaray thoughts that the boss sees his future in the middle of the park, and his display against Newcastle exemplified that. When Wilshere is out injured we lack a sense of urgency in the middle of the pitch, and his drive has been a key theme of the Arsenal midfield for a while now. Chamberlain playing in the middle offers us a similar proposition, and despite being a lot more physical than Wilshere, he's looked aware and moves the play on quickly from defence to attack. 

We now have a week's break before we face Liverpool next weekend who play in midweek in the League Cup. They haven't been in the best of form lately either so hopefully we'll take advantage of that when we visit Anfield.

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Szczesny, Bellerin, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain(90), Cazorla, Sanchez(86), Welbeck, Giroud(73).
Subs: Martinez, Ajayi, Coquelin(86), Maitland-Niles(90), Campbell, Podolski(73), Sanogo. 

Newcastle: Alnwick, Janmaat, Williamson, Coloccini, Dummett, Tiote, Colback, Ameobi(56), Gouffran, Cisse(56), Perez(82).
Subs: Woodman, Haidara, Anita, Vuckic, Cabella(56), Riviere(56), Armstrong(82).

My man of the match: Santi Cazorla.

Referee: Lee Mason.
Attendance: 59,949.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Arsenal defeat Galatasaray in final group game

Arsenal were back in business on Tuesday night as they avenged an embarrassing defeat to Stoke at the weekend with a 4-1 victory over Galatasaray in Turkey. The Gunners had already qualified for the final 16 of the Champions League, but a win here and a defeat for Dortmund against Anderlecht would've seen us finish top of the group, rather than second which is where we actually finished. That means that for another year we will have to face one of Europe's 'big boys'. Had we scored six with a Dortmund draw then we would've finished top. Football is often a game of slim margains, which makes that 3-3 draw with Anderlecht an even more bitter pill to swallow. However, after a torrid time at the weekend it's time to focus on what little positives we can find in this Arsenal side at the moment.
Arsenal easily won their final group game of this season's Champions League
Obviously reaching the last sixteen of the Champions League is a huge achievement, but the Gunners will have to fight incredibly hard if they're to qualify for the same competition next season. We haven't seemed to gather any momentum this season but by scoring 4 in the week, it'll hopefully bring a new found optimism to the side going into Newcastle at the weekend.

Arsenal's display against Turkish outfit Galatasaray was hugely impressive, but with the amount of space they gave us in the middle of the park it came as no surprise that we won in a relatively easy way. We rested a number of key players but each goal was very impressive as both Lukas Podolski and Aaron Ramsey scored twice. The form of Aaron Ramsey has heavily improved in the last two games, and his displays are very timely with both Arteta and Wilshere out injured. He scored a controlled volley against Stoke on Saturday and then assisted and scored twice against Galatasaray. The first was rolled into the far corner with his left foot and then his second was simply brilliant. The ball was headed clear from a corner and from 30 yards out the Welshman unleashed an amazing effort on his weaker foot which flew into the top corner.

Lukas Podolski opened the scoring after just three minutes and then sealed the win with the last kick of the game. For the first he unleashed a thumping effort that flew past the keeper, before hitting the bar from a similar angle later in the half. The German then played a one-two with Sanogo before burying the ball for his second of the night. It was a performance that sent a message to the manager. Podolski has been stuck on the bench all season but his finishing on Tuesday displayed why he has to play more; a yard of space inside the box and he'll score.

The performance of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the middle of the park was also encouraging. Arsene Wenger has said he sees his future in a more central role, and after scoring just two in twenty four appearances this season you can see why. The Ox's displays this season have been very impressive. Playing out-wide he has offered a constant threat with his pace and directness but his drive from a more central area is what we miss when Wilshere is out injured. Mathieu Debuchy's return from injury was meanwhile a big positive.

Joel Campbell was given just his second Arsenal start against Galatasaray and was very positive in attack. Like Oxlade-Chamberlain he is very direct and always looked to take on his man. You can see why he doesn't play as often as some fans have been calling for though; his attitude and work rate don't seem to be particularly impressive and he is actually quite wasteful in possession. If he's to make it in this Arsenal side then he'll need to get his head up more and look for a pass more often than he did in midweek.

Three players made their Champions League debuts, which for two of them it was their full senior debuts. Gedion Zelalem featured in the FA Cup last season against Coventry and the game against Galatasaray gave him a chance to show what all the hype about the youngster is about. He was extremely composed on the ball, and typified that of an Arsenal midfield performance, completing 90% of his 44 passes.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Stefan O'Connor were the players to make their full debuts though. Both are just 17, and didn't have a lot to do in all honesty. Maitland-Niles looked assured but didn't get to show the directness he brings to the Academy sides in what was a second half of a much slower intensity. O'Connor looked a little out of his depth, slotting in at right back. He's a centre back by trade and he looked a little nervy out of position as Galatasaray had a late surge, but overall he did fairly well in the little time he had.

With the draw to happen on Monday, here's hoping we get Porto or Monaco, rather than the likes of Bayern and Real Madrid.

The team's line-ups: 

Galatasaray: Bolat, Telles. Balta, Camdal(45), Kaya, Melo, Sneijder, Colak, Bangna(77), Yilmaz(45), Bulut.
Subs: Iscan, Sari, Ozcal, Kurtulus, Oztekin(45), Altintop(45), Adin(77).

Arsenal: Szczesny, Debuchy(77), Chambers, Mertesacker, Bellerin, Flamini(45), Ramsey(45), Oxlade-Chamberlain, Campbell, Podolski, Sanogo.
Subs: Martinez, O'Connor(77), Kamara, Zelalem(45), Maitland-Niles(45), Iwobi, Akpom.

My man of the match: Aaron Ramsey.

Referee: David Fernandez Borbalan.
Attendance: 20,590.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Arsenal bounce back with win over West Brom

A solitary goal from Danny Welbeck ensured Arsenal returned to winning ways in the League as the Gunners defeated West Brom 1-0 at the Hawthorns. It was a display that saw Arsenal build on the small positives from the United game, and then the win over Dortmund to seal all three points. It was a much changed team that saw Koscielny and Giroud return as Welbeck started out-wide. Meanwhile Monreal started at left back over Gibbs as Cazorla replaced the Ox from the defeat last weekend.
Welbeck and Giroud linked up well as Arsenal beat West Brom
Despite the slim margin of victory, Arsenal were heavily improved from recent weeks, especially in the defensive area of the pitch. We know we can score goals, at least when we take our chances, but having kept two clean-sheets in two now, it's a huge positive. Laurent Koscielny's return yesterday gave the side an extra solidity and we looked far more comfortable defensively.

Per Mertesacker looked back to his best alongside the player he formed such a formidable partnership with last season. Nacho Monreal was given a surprise start at left back which was good to see. What wasn't good to see was the fact the Spaniard limped off with an injury midway through the first half. The solid defensive partnership ensured that Emiliano Martinez had a relatively untroubled display in goal, but like Dortmund in midweek, he was assured in everything he did.

However, it was Danny Welbeck that made the crucial difference on the day. His displays in an Arsenal shirt since signing have been encouraging but he perhaps hasn't scored as many goals as we would've liked. It was very interesting to see him play alongside Olivier Giroud for the first time. Welbeck was given a wider role than he has been used to at Arsenal, but he appeared to interchange positions quite nicely with both Giroud and Sanchez who completed the attacking trio. Indeed it was Danny Welbeck who scored the winning goal with a great leap to power home a header.

Olivier Giroud's return has also signaled an extra physicality in this Arsenal side that has perhaps been missing. Although his first touch wasn't really up to scratch yet, he put himself about and after his screamer against Manchester United last weekend, you can see there is plenty more to come from him in the next few weeks. The may not start together every week, but there were lots of signs to suggest that Giroud and Welbeck could form a very strong partnership together.

Santi Cazorla provided the assist for the goal in what was another impressive display. His performances this season have been widely criticised but after starting in a favoured central role against Dortmund, and against West Brom yesterday he has looked back to his best. He ran the show at the Hawthorns and was at the heart of most attacks. He had a few attempts from outside the box that were blocked or at the keeper but his assist showed immense quality. He managed to get past Wisdom with ease down the left before getting to the byline and supplying the cross for the goal.

The one concern from the game was Aaron Ramsey though. His form compared to last season has been pretty dire. His performances in 2014/15 have been reminiscent of the ones he would put in two seasons ago, losing the ball and trying to over complicate things. It's important he gets back to the basics, and starts to rediscover the form that made him a star player last term. Especially considering Wilshere and Arteta's injuries. On too many occasions against West Brom he was guilty of trying to do too much instead of looking for the man. As a team though, Arsenal were much improved.

Next up is a tough match against Southampton in the week. It'll be a big test of our resolve, and hopefully after wins in our last two matches in all competitions, we'll be able to keep that run going against a side that have been performing well above what is expected of them this season.

The team's line-ups:

West Brom: Foster, Wisdom, Dawson, Lescott, Pocognoli(73), Gardner, Mulumbu(64), Dorrans, Brunt, Sessegnon(76), Berahino. 
Subs: Myhill, Baird, Gamboa(73), McAuley, Ideye, Anichebe(64), Samaras(76). 

Arsenal: Martinez, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal(23), Flamini, Ramsey, Cazorla, Welbeck, Sanchez, Giroud(78). 
Subs: Macey, Bellerin, Gibbs(23), Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain(78), Campbell, Podolski. 

My man of the match: Santi Cazorla.

Referee: Chris Foy. 
Attendance: 24,228. 

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Win over Dortmund secures path to the knock-out stages

Arsenal bounced back from back to back league defeats to both Swansea and Man United with a crucial Champions League victory over Borussia Dortmund. An injury plagued squad managed to overcome an under performing Dortmund side to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League. A first goal for Sanogo and then an effort from Alexis Sanchez secured a 2-0 win at the Emirates in front of a crowd that needed desperately cheering up.
Yaya Sanogo scored his first Gunners goal as Arsenal beat Dortmund
To put it bluntly, Arsenal simply haven't been good enough this season. However, a win over a Dortmund team who were cruising through this Champions League group should give the Gunners renewed hope. It was a hugely intelligent performance from the Gunners, who showed both an attacking prowess and a more conservative approach between the defence and midfield's link-up play.

Too often over the past few seasons we've started well in the big games but failed to take our chances. Bayern last year and Man United at the weekend are prime examples of that. Against Dortmund though, our fortunes seemed to change. Yaya Sanogo opened the scoring with his first goal for the club within just two minutes. He exchanged passes with Santi Cazorla before firing under Weidenfeller much to the delight of the Frenchman.

Sanogo hasn't been shy of big game experience, he had to lead the line towards the back end of last season when Giroud was injured, and with him and Welbeck both missing, he did a good job up front. With Sanogo upfront we appeared to change the way we played. There were a lot of occasions where we looked to go into Sanogo to hold the ball up rather than in behind and it worked to great affect.

Alexis Sanchez looked a little fatigued at the weekend, which was understandable considering his international schedule, but against Dortmund the Chilean had a spring back in his step. His finish was precise as he curled the ball home from outside the area. It was an exceptional finish from a player who now has 13 in 20 this season.

Another man who had a spring back in his step was Santi Cazorla. He provided the assist for both goals and looked a lot more assured and confident on the ball. It came as no coincidence that he played a lot better in a more central role, compared to the wide one he's been used to this season.

The defence meanwhile went relatively untroubled, but when called upon, Emiliano Martinez in goal had a comfortable game. He replaced Szczesny who was injured at the weekend, and showed no signs of nervousness in what was his Champions League debut.

There were negatives though. Once again we suffered injuries and the main one fell to Arteta who looks set to be out for a number of weeks with a calf problem. The Spaniard has been a calming influence in the side this season so he'll be a big loss, especially with Wilshere's injury. Sanogo meanwhile limped off late on so here's hoping Welbeck and Giroud will be fine for the weekend.

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Martinez, Chambers, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs, Arteta(66), Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain(89), Cazorla, Sanchez, Sanogo(79).
Subs: Huddart, Koscielny, Bellerin, Flamini(66), Rosicky, Campbell(89) Podolski(79).

Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller, Piszczek, Subotic, Ginter, Schmelzer, Bender, Gundogan, Aubameyang(60), Mkhitaryan, Grosskreutz(78), Immobile(60).
Subs: Langerak, Hornschuh, Durm, Kehl, Jojic(78), Kagawa(60), Ramos(60).

My man of the match: Santi Cazorla.

Referee: Viktor Kassai
Attendance: 59,902.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Poor form continues as United defeat Arsenal

I honestly have no idea what we have to do in order to beat United. From the first whistle we dominated them and I cease to believe how we lost the game. I also cease to believe what has happened to Arsenal Football Club in 2014/15. Over the past decade many of the fans frustrations have been taken out on Wenger, some of it has been deserved, but a lot of it hasn't, and that was shown on Saturday as we were defeated 2-1 by Manchester United.
Giroud scored on his return as Arsenal were beaten by United
The loss at the weekend has indicated that it is indeed the players fault. They have a lack of bottle and always see to throw it away when in control. The players Wenger sent out to play at the weekend were good enough to beat this United side. It was a United side that was down to the very bare bones. Okay we've had our injury problems this season but compared to Man United's we've been quite fortunate in comparison. They were forced to play Blackett, McNair and Smalling in defence, and when Shaw had to go off they had Valencia and Young as wing-backs. How on earth it took us until injury time to score a goal against a very inexperienced defence was simply unbelievable for us Arsenal fans.

It's easy to rant, and it may seem like we lost the game to a much larger score-line, but the truth is, it felt like we had. Jack Wilshere passed up one of the best opportunities to score I have ever seen midway through the first half. Had he scored that then it would have been a very different game. Arsenal were in the ascendency and were dominating United to a great extent. For once I thought we had the upper hand against them, but it was typical of us to go 1-0 down through a calamitous own goal with them yet to have a shot on target. Young's floated ball was punched away into the path of Valencia who after Szczesny and Gibbs had collided, drove the ball off Gibbs and into the net.

Szczesny as a result had to go off, and Martinez came on. Arsenal had effectively thrown everyone forward late on and were of course caught out on the counter attack. It seems as though we're destined to never learn from our mistakes, and the players just don't have that mental edge over their opponents. Rooney clipped the ball over Martinez for their second and Di Maria almost did the same but sent the ball wide in a similar situation.

In truth, Arsenal didn't look that bad at the back. A lot of the time the defence get the blame and rightfully so, but at the weekend it was the attackers fault. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was perhaps our only threat and the majority of shots we had were straight at United keeper David De Gea. Alexis Sanchez's impact was minimal too, and it wouldn't surprise me if he was rested for Dortmund despite the magnitude of the game, after a busy international break with Chile.

In Olivier Giroud, Arsenal were brought a glimmer of hope. The Frenchman has been missing since September through injury and immediately showed the passion and determination we seemed to be lacking through the game. He almost scored with his first touch of the ball (a header) and then did find the net with an absolute screamer. Arteta played the ball over the top, and Giroud unleashed a brilliant half-volley. It's worth mentioning the performance of Mikel Arteta further though. Despite the defeat he controlled the game well and made sure that the supply line to Rooney, Di Maria and van Persie was restricted throughout the game.

Too many of the attacking players chose to have a poor game though, and that, alongside the lack of bottle the players seem to have, ultimately lead to our downfall.

We've had a lot of frustrating results this season but this one has to be up there as one of the most frustrating, and bitterly disappointing. I can't remember a game that we've controlled more against one of the top sides in so long, and to then go and lose the game given the circumstances is inconceivable.

The team's line-ups: 

Arsenal: Szczesny(59), Chambers, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey(76), Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere(55), Sanchez, Welbeck.
Subs: Martinez(59), Bellerin, Flamini, Rosicky, Cazorla(55), Podolski, Giroud(76).

Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia, Blackett, Smalling, McNair, Shaw(16), Carrick, Fellaini, van Persie(75), Rooney, Di Maria.
Subs: Lindegaard, Fletcher(88), Young(16,88), Herrara, Januzaj, Mata, Wilson(75).

Referee: Mike Dean.
Attendance: 60,074. 

Monday, 10 November 2014

Defence exploited as Arsenal slip up again

When will it all end? Season after season we see the same problems occurring, and season after season we fail to see those issues addressed. We can harp on about it all we like but something needs changing. The problems that could be seen from the Swansea game were nothing new for Arsenal and after the result against Anderlecht in the week you can only imagine how the fans reacted. It was inexcusable to lose a 3-0 lead in midweek at home, let alone to throw away another lead in the League in the same week.
Oxlade-Chamberlain showed glimpses of promise for Arsenal
Never have I been so annoyed as an Arsenal fan within the last week. There has been times of frustration over the last decade and that's putting it lightly. The FA Cup triumph of last season appears to all be a distant memory now. The summer signing of Alexis Sanchez was meant to benefit the squad, and it's done just that. 12 goals in 18 this season speaks for itself. However it's clear to see even for non-Arsenal fans of what we were crying out for in the transfer market. A defensive midfielder - a stalwart in the middle of the park that can protect the back four. Too many times we've seen the back four being left with absolutely no protection.

Against Swansea we were in effect left with a back two. We had started the game slowly but either side of the break we managed to up the tempo and scored a great goal on the counter through Alexis. However the problem that then arose was our lack of game management and sense of tactics. It's normally against the top sides that we get punished but the weekend saw Swansea take advantage. Before the game Wenger claimed we were getting the balance right between defence and attack. Those claims are simply laughable if you consider the way in which we conceded the first.

Swansea broke and with more than half of the Arsenal team forward they took advantage. Gibbs had to make a foul on the edge of the area as Mertesacker and Monreal has been heavily exposed by their lack of cover. As a consequence Sigurdsson curled the ball home from the free-kick.

I mentioned the lack of game management and simple tactics. Jefferson Montero was tearing Calum Chambers apart at right back and nothing was done to prevent that. Whether that was by getting the pacey Bellerin on at the break or getting Oxlade-Chamberlain to sit back. None of that happened and after Chambers had been booked it was going from bad to worse. Resultantly the winning goal came from that left hand side. Montero provided the cross and Gomis got up ahead of Monreal to head home.

The defensive frailties were once again there to be seen. In attack we had been good. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was providing the spark whilst Sanchez popped up with yet another goal. However had we replaced Vermaelen in the summer then perhaps we wouldn't be having to play a 5ft10 player at centre half. Wenger can't do anything about the injuries but our lack of squad depth has been a problem for many years now. Chambers and Debuchy came in but nothing more. Another option in the middle of the back four was needed, and with the injuries that is now evident. Koscielny is due back after the international break and his return couldn't come sooner.

Chambers could've been a viable option at centre back for the Swansea game. Especially after Monreal's showing in midweek. Chambers had played brilliantly in that position earlier in the season and you would've assumed that after Jenkinson was loaned out that Bellerin would be ready to play. However that doesn't seem to be the case and perhaps we've paid for it considering our last two games.

We'll have to come back after the international break all guns blazing. Our first game back is against Manchester United and a defeat there will mean Wenger is really under pressure, and it will also guarantee a lot of unhappy fans. As if they aren't already unhappy enough.

The teams line-ups:

Swansea: Fabianski, Rangel, Bartley, Williams, Taylor, Ki, Carroll(86), Emnes(66), Sigurdsson, Montero, Bony(76).
Subs: Tremmel, Amat, Tiendalli, Britton(86), Fulton, Barrow(66), Gomis(76).

Arsenal: Szczesny, Chambers(90), Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs, Flamini(80), Ramsey(80), Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanchez, Cazorla, Welbeck.
Subs: Martinez, Bellerin, Wilshere(80), Rosicky, Walcott(80), Podolski, Sanogo(90). 

Referee: Phil Dowd.
Attendance: 20,812. 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Arsenal up to fourth with win over Burnley

Arsenal achieved back to back wins for the first time in the League this Saturday as they comfortably saw off the challenge of Burnley. The visitors originally frustrated but goals from Sanchez and Chambers were enough to see us move back into the top four. It was a dominant display from start to finish that once again saw Alexis star for the Gunners. He started in what was an unchanged line-up from the win over Sunderland the week before but Sanogo was back on the bench in place of Joel Campbell.
Alexis Sanchez now has 10 in 16 this season for Arsenal
Arsenal were always going to dominate this game with Burnley immediately looking to sit back and soak up the pressure. It was something they did well and Heaton in the Burnley goal had a great game and made sure it took longer than anticipated to get the first goal. It took until 70 minutes for us to finally break the visitors down in what had been a much improved attacking display from us considering the amount of chances we created compared to previous weeks.

Alexis Sanchez was at the heart of everything and could've had a first half hat-trick. He got the goal he deserved though in the second half. Chambers delivered a peach of a cross in from the right and Sanchez got up ahead of his marker to power a header home. The Chilean has been outstanding this season and although this game was against the team bringing up the table in bottom he showed what a class act he was. His trickery and ability to run at players and create chances was incredible and his form in recent weeks has seen us start to gain momentum. Sanchez also helped himself to a second in the dying moments of the game too. Gibbs slid the ball into the box and Alexis took the ball into his stride well before finding the net.

I mentioned that Chambers had a part in the first goal and he had a brilliant game and is beginning to mature into quite a player, credit to Wenger for snapping him up in the summer. Arsenal didn't particularly have much to do at the back but Chambers was solid and offered a constant threat down the right hand side with Oxlade-Chamberlain. This was of course backed up by his assist, but he also got on the score-sheet shortly after Sanchez's first. He managed to poke the ball home for his first senior goal after Welbeck's effort had originally been blocked.

The defence have been much improved in the last couple of games and that's despite not having both Debuchy and Koscielny. Monreal has slotted in at centre half and has coped well in the past two weeks and put in another assured performance against Burnley.

One of the biggest positives from the game was Theo Walcott's return to action after almost 10 months out. He injured his ACL against Spurs in January and he made his return to action with 10 minutes remaining. He didn't show any signs of rustiness and created a few chances and also made one or two for himself. Lukas Podolski came onto the field at the same time as Walcott and showed why he perhaps deserves to play more. He almost helped himself to two goals, one being brilliantly saved from close range and the other cannoning back off the post.

There's reasons to not get ahead of ourselves because we were playing a team that hadn't won all season, but it's great to see some of our players finding form and that as a team, we're finally beginning to build up ahead of steam in the Premier League.

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs, Arteta(63), Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain(80), Sanchez, Cazorla, Welbeck(80).
Subs: Martinez, Bellerin, Ramsey(63), Rosicky, Walcott(80), Podolski(80), Sanogo. 

Burnley: Heaton, Trippier, Shackell, Duff, Ward, Marney(80), Jones, Arfield, Boyd, Ings, Sordell(69).
Subs: Gilks, Mee, Chalobah(80), Wallace, Keane, Kightly, Jutkiewicz(69).

My man of the match: Alexis Sanchez.

Referee: Craig Pawson.
Attendance: 60,012.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Sanchez at the double as Arsenal see off Sunderland

Alexis Sanchez was once again the star man for Arsenal as he scored twice to give Arsenal a 2-0 win over Sunderland on Saturday. Both sides were low on confidence and it was an extremely scrappy game, especially after the hosts had lost 8-0 last weekend. The Gunners meanwhile were searching for their first league win in over a month and they got that thanks to some horrible individual errors at the back from Sunderland. Sanchez capitalised twice on mistakes to ensure that after this weekends football we sit fifth in the league. Calum Chambers was back in league action after being suspended for the Hull game last weekend whilst Jack Wilshere sat out as he himself served a suspension. Arteta came in for him, otherwise it was an unchanged line-up from last week. Meanwhile, Szczesny was back after missing out against Anderlecht through suspension in the week. The game also saw the return of Theo Walcott who was on the bench after nine months out.
Nacho Monreal improved heavily as Arsenal beat Sunderland
None of Arsenal's victories this season have been very convincing and that was again the case this weekend. We looked dangerous around the penalty area but a lack of end product was evident as we didn't create many clear cut opportunities all game. However it is encouraging that we do look dangerous and do look like scoring goals. It was no surprise to see Alexis grab another two goals as he has been the driving force behind this Arsenal side so far this season. His hard work and willingness to never give up was shown in the way he pressured Brown and Mannone for his goals.

It had been a sloppy start to the game and it was difficult to see where a clear cut chance was going to come from. However Wes Brown aided that, he attempted to play the ball back to the keeper from near the half way line but made a hash of the pass. That allowed Sanchez to steal in and run in on goal before dinking the ball over the despairing Vito Mannone. Mannone, a former Gunner had won Sunderland's player of the season in 2013/14 but he can be heavily embarrassed about the second goal in which he conceded. The ball was passed back to him but his touch was poor and Sanchez was allowed to tap into an empty net.

It was one of the more bizarre wins I think I've seen in recent times from Arsenal, and it was only our third victory in the League in 2014/15. It was a vitally important win though as we gained ground and extended our lead over the teams in front of us and behind us respectively as all of the top sides excluding Arsenal dropped points.

It was extremely encouraging to see us get a clean sheet. We've had some defensive worries this season and that looks set to continue after Gibbs limped off with yet another injury. However we're just about coping at the moment but had we signed more cover in the summer then you feel we wouldn't have these problems anyway. Koscielny is due back after the next international break though. I questioned Monreal's ability to play at centre half after the draw with Hull but he impressed me this weekend. He looked a lot more confident and assured now that he's adapting to the role in the middle. Against the big teams Nacho playing there would be a worry and he may look a little suspect at times but he'll improve in the role as time goes by as he is already showing.

The form of Santi Cazorla is quite a worrying situation and in my opinion he had a pretty average game against Sunderland. He always looks good on the ball but compare his form to his first season at the club and the goals and assists have dried up. Since 2012/13, a Premier League campaign in which he bagged 12 goals and 13 assists, he has only got 4 goals and 9 assists in 36 games. He looks like a player short of confidence and with Walcott returning and Podolski waiting on the wings he'll need to improve if he's going to keep his place in the side. His lack of confidence and composure was shown late on when he wasted two good opportunities as he blazed the ball over on both occasions.

It was great to finally win again though, and hopefully we can kick on now and really start to maintain a challenge at the top end of the league. Next up is Burnley at home which with no disrespect to them, should be a comfortable win and will therefore hopefully bring us added confidence.

The team's line-ups:

Sunderland: Mannone, Vergini, O'Shea, Brown, van Aanholt, Cattermole, Rodwell(74), Johnson(73), Larsson, Buckley, Fletcher(49).
Subs: Pantilimon, Reveillere, Mavrias, Bridcutt, Gomez(74), Wickham(49), Altidore(73).

Arsenal: Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs(73), Arteta(87), Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain(90), Sanchez, Cazorla, Welbeck. 
Subs: Martinez, Bellerin(73), Ramsey(87), Rosicky(90), Walcott, Campbell, Podolski. 

My man of the match: Alexis Sanchez.

Referee: Kevin Friend.
Attendance: 44,449. 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Late Welbeck goal rescues point

Arsenal's search for a first Premier League win in almost a month continued on Saturday as they dropped points at home to Hull. It was a completely different game to the FA Cup final in May as Danny Welbeck scored late on to rescue the Gunners a point in what was an extremely poor team display. It was a performance that we've become accustomed to this season though as we sit sixth in the League with only two league victories to our name all season. Only losing once is a thing to be encouraged by but we haven't hit top gear all season and it's extremely worrying. Arsenal were forced into making defensive changes after Koscielny's injury over the international break meant Monreal had to deputise at centre half due to Chambers suspension. That also meant a first league start for Spanish right back Hector Bellerin.
Alexis Sanchez was once again Arsenal's stand out performer
If you're looking for positives out of what was an extremely frustrating game then look no further than Alexis Sanchez. Once again the Chilean was the star for Arsenal as he got on the score sheet and also assisted the other goal. Since signing Sanchez has been a revelation and has added an extra liveliness to the side which was missing last season. He is exactly what was needed with Walcott being out injured and with Theo to return soon we can look forward to some exciting wide play. Most of Alexis' goals have been of real quality for Arsenal and his strike to open the scoring against Hull was no different as he fooled Davies with a step-over before firing into the far corner.

The performances of Danny Welbeck is also something to be encouraged about as he added his fifth goal in Arsenal colours to rescue the game for the Gunners. Sanchez went on a brilliant run to cap off a superb individual display before working the ball to Welbeck who found the net.

Arsenal had had five players in the England squad and two of the players that had impressed heavily were Jack Wilshere, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. However, they failed to really transform their international form into Arsenal colours on Saturday and we're still lacking in midfield despite having some fantastic options in that area of the pitch. The final piece of the jigsaw is a midfield enforcer, a defensive midfielder that will sit and break up the play as they please. We had the money in the summer and ignored a clear position we've needed for a number of years now. Needless to say, injuries is what is faltering our progression at the moment.

It's difficult to put the blame on anyone in particular for why we've been so below par in 2014/15 as there are a number of reasons for our apparent downfall at the moment. Our defence haven't been nearly as good as last season whilst injuries have haunted us. However, had we signed a few more players in the summer then perhaps the injuries wouldn't have hindered us as much due to the fact we'd have able replacements.

I've got nothing against starting Hector Bellerin at right back but he's had a baptism of fire into the first team this season and still looks a little vulnerable. Meanwhile the decision to keep Nacho Monreal as a back-up centre half is a bizarre one. Wenger tried it in pre-season and he doesn't convince me in my opinion. Saying that, it was Flamini and Mertesacker that were at fault for the two goals.

There looked to be an initial foul in the build-up to Diame's goal and Hull's equaliser in the first half as he had his arms all around Flamini. It's easy to criticise the referee for not giving a foul but Flamini just stopped playing and turned around to have a go at the referee. It was a goal that could've been easily prevented and that's happened on a number of occasions now this season. Meanwhile Mertesacker was caught out for their second goal as he allowed Abel Hernandez to get up in front of him to head home.

It was a poor way to resume after the international break but a game against Anderlecht in the Champions League will hopefully bring us a chance to rediscover ourselves and begin to gather some momentum going into Sunderland at the weekend.

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Szczesny, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs, Flamini(62), Wilshere(68), Sanchez, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck. 
Subs: Martinez, Ajayi, Coquelin, Arteta, Ramsey(62), Rosicky, Campbell(68).

Hull City: Harper(42), Elmohamady, Chester, Davies, Dawson(84), Diame, Robertson, Livermore, Huddlestone, Ben Arfa, Hernandez(62).
Subs: Jakupovic(42), Bruce(84), Rosenior, Brady, Quinn, Ramirez(62).

My man of the match: Alexis Sanchez. 

Referee: Roger East.
Attendance: 60,004.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Arsenal warm up for Chelsea with midweek win

Arsenal put a laboured performance against Spurs behind them on Wednesday night as they comfortably beat Galatasaray in the Champions League. Danny Welbeck scored a hat-trick whilst Sanchez added to his tally this season as the Gunners sealed a relatively easy win at the Emirates. It was refreshing to see us play with so much confidence and looking ahead to Chelsea at the weekend it should give us a boost going forward.
Danny Welbeck is quickly becoming a fan favourite at Arsenal
Danny Welbeck has given Arsenal a different option since he joined the club. He's the polar opposite of Giroud and showed that with his goals in midweek against our Turkish opponents. Each goal was taken with great assurance and showed our ability to now get players in behind. It meanwhile showed the willingness of Welbeck to impress and assuming he can now kick on he'll prove to be a great addition to the side. The first was a lovely reverse ball from Alexis into the English forward, the second showed great strength and determination to get away from Melo whilst the third was a little dinked finish over the keeper.

Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have rarely played with each other so far in Arsenal colours but Wednesday showed exactly why they should be playing more often with each other. Ozil was deployed in his favoured number 10 position, where he was against Villa, so it comes as no great surprise that both of our best performances this season have come with Ozil playing in the free role behind the striker. The German provided the assist for Sanchez's goal who stuck his chance away in familiar fashion. It reminded me a lot of a Barcelona type goal he'd score and that made it even more pleasing on the eye.

Alexis Sanchez has been quite brilliant since his arrival in the summer and is already proving why he was worth the fee to bring him to the club. The Chilean now has 5 in 11 games and both his assist and goal were of real quality.

The only negative from the game was the red card to Wojciech Szczesny. Arsenal had looked fairly comfortable for most of the night so to conceded was disappointing. The Polish stopper came racing out of his goal but brought down Yilmaz who was denied a goal scoring opportunity and therefore Szczesny saw red. It was then Yilmaz who sent sub Ospina the wrong way to make it 4-1.

With Chelsea at the weekend I'm trying not to get ahead of myself. We've struggled to find any real consistency this season and draws have been an issue. Saying that, I'd happily take a draw at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. It'll be very interesting to see how we line-up and whether Wenger finally changes his tactics for a big game or not.

As seen with last season's trip to the Bridge, we got completely thrashed as a result of our fullbacks pushing on and us not having a defensive midfielder. Flamini was average against Galatasaray in the week whilst Arteta is out injured. I'd like to see Diaby played there as I think it could be interesting to see what he could bring to that defensive minded midfield role. I think he'd suit it perfectly and providing he's fit enough to play, he could be the midfield enforcer we've been looking for in these big games.

I'm feeling more positive for the Chelsea game due to the win in the Champions League in the week but if we don't change things up tactically we could be on the end of another drubbing. One thing's for sure though, we definitely won't suffer the same sort of embarrassing score-line, and the players will desperately be seeking revenge!

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain(67), Ozil(76), Sanchez(60), Welbeck.
Subs: Ospina(60), Bellerin, Coquelin, Wilshere(67),  Rosicky(67), Campbell, Podolski.

Galatasaray: Muslera, Chedjou, Melo, Kaya, Sari(67), Kurtulus(45), Sneijder, Dzemali, Telles, Pandev(69), Yilmaz.
Subs: Bolat, Bulut(67), Camdal, Bangna(67), Altintop(45), Adin, Balta.

My man of the match: Danny Welbeck.

Referee: Gianluca Rocchi.
Attendance: 59,803.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Arsenal come from behind to draw in North London derby

Arsenal's far from convincing start to the season continued at home yesterday as they had to come from behind to draw 1-1 with Spurs. It was a hotly contested North London derby which both sides could've won had they taken their chances. It was perhaps the most equal derby between the two in recent times but Tottenham will no doubt be more happier with the point than Arsenal. With Chelsea next week, winning this weekend would've given us a real platform to go forward. Especially with a Champions League game in the week too. In terms of the line-up, Sanchez weirdly dropped to the bench whilst Wilshere came back in from Villa in place of Cazorla.
Oxlade-Chamberlain rescued Arsenal by scoring the vital equaliser
Not beating a rival always throws up a fair amount of frustration amongst a fan base which is why I'll try and keep my moanings to a minimum this week. Many things could be found wrong with the way in which we drew to Spurs on Saturday evening. Those who watched the game will know too well of what went wrong. First things first, it felt like a loss, which immediately brings us into a depressed mood, especially when we've failed to beat our rivals at home. Four draws in our previous five Premier League games have led to a few becoming quite worried.

The continued draws have been because of numerous reasons, and I'm not trying to berate Wenger here because we are actually still unbeaten in the League. However, in order for us to kick on and start winning more games you feel as though the tactics have to be changed. The way we set up against Villa with the 4-2-3-1 formation worked perfectly and as a result we came out of the game with our most convincing performance this season. Therefore it was a bit bizarre to then turn our attentions back to the dreaded 4-1-4-1 formation that has very rarely worked this season, as proved against Spurs yesterday.

It meant that Mesut Ozil, despite his outstanding display with Danny Welbeck last week, was shunted back out wide in order to accommodate Wilshere in the middle. Playing with the four across the middle as we have done so often this season means the edge of the area gets very crowded and we have little space to work our creativity. Compare that to the Villa game, where we had a lot more time and space on the ball as a result of playing 4-2-3-1. I see it as an incredibly weird manoeuvre tactically from Wenger.

It goes without saying though that we did create our fair share of chances against Spurs and that was a positive. Most of them were restricted to being from outside the box but we did test Hugo Lloris in the Spurs goal more often that not it seemed. Ramsey's and Arteta's injuries were massive blows but it did allow Ozil to play more centrally in the second half and that enhanced our performance massively.

The way in which we conceded was very much a negative. Mertesacker played the ball into Flamini who was muscled off the ball by Eriksen and then Lamela played in Chadli who fired home. It was further evidence of our need for a defensive midfielder, something that should without a doubt have been addressed in the transfer market. Wenger has said something about Diaby been tried in that role and it would be a role I'd love to see the Frenchman adapt too. It's just about keeping him fit now but I'd definitely start him against Chelsea next weekend.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was been pretty isolated on the right hand side throughout the game despite linking up well with Chambers. However, it was the Ox who popped up with the vital equaliser with about fifteen minutes left to play. Welbeck made a hash of Cazorla's ball into the box which allowed Chamberlain to follow up and smash the ball into the roof of the net for his first goal since February.

From an Arsenal point of view, our better performers came in the shape of Ozil, Koscielny, Gibbs and Chambers. The defence looked fairly comfortable throughout the game and Kieran Gibbs put in a brilliant display defensively and also did well going forward. The same goes for Calum Chambers who has adapted to life at Arsenal fantastically. He was very assured and confident for his first North London derby and seems to thrive under pressure. Before Wilshere went off he also had a very good game and his drive forward was something we lacked when he was substituted. It was precautionary after he had gone down with an ankle injury in the first half.

From what I've just said then, it is clear that we drew based on our tactics. There were enough good individual performances from the players which was encouraging. Especially when you consider many of our players have gone missing in the bigger games in recent times.

We don't necessarily have a solid platform to build on as of yet which could be a problem against Chelsea. Galatasaray will be a challenge in itself and then we'll look to go the Bridge and avenge for the thrashing we received last season!

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta(28), Ramsey(44), Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere(62), Ozil, Welbeck.
Subs: Ospina, Coquelin, Flamini(28), Rosicky, Cazorla(44), Sanchez(62), Podolski. 

Tottenham: Lloris, Naughton, Kaboul, Vertonghen, Rose(83), Capoue, Mason, Lamela, Chadli(80), Eriksen(62), Adebayor.
Subs: Vorm, Fazio, Dier(83), Bentaleb(80), Lennon(62), Townsend, Soldado. 

My man of the match: Kieran Gibbs.

Referee: Michael Oliver.
Attendance: 59,900  

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Arsenal knocked out after disappointing performance

Arsenal suffered a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Southampton on Tuesday night as the Gunners exited the League Cup in the third round. Sanchez's free-kick wasn't enough as a Tadic penalty and a thunderbolt from Clyne meant Arsenal failed to reach the fourth round for the first time in twelve years. It wasn't necessarily a poor performance but we struggled to create chances which ultimately led to our downfall. Wenger ringed the changes as expected, as Ospina made his debut whilst Bellerin, Isaac Hayden and Coquelin started at the back. Diaby played for the first time since May whilst Joel Campbell, Podolski and Rosicky all came into the team.
Although Arsenal conceded two, U21 captain Isaac Hayden looked assured at the back
Despite the defeat on Tuesday, a lot was discovered from the game, both in a positive light and in a more negative way. The first thing of note was the performance of Alexis Sanchez. He was different class to everyone else on the pitch and that was summed up by his goal. It was a beautiful free-kick that was sent over the wall and right into the top corner. The Chilean now has four in his last four games for the Gunners.

What was a little less encouraging was that we hardly created any chances all night and that was shown by the fact our goal came from a set-piece which is a rarity in itself. Podolski was tasked with playing upfront and he told us what most Arsenal fans already knew, that he can't play centrally. His work rate was poor, he didn't make many runs in behind and when he did get a chance he failed to stick it away. It was a lazy performance and the situation that he got himself in when in front of goal was encouraging but he wasn't his usual clinical self. The fact we only scored one was backed up our by our lack of penetration going forward. Sanchez didn't stop running all night whilst Campbell showed glimpses of his potential but overall it was a pretty average performance from the Costa Rican.

It was an average night for most of the side as many of the fringe players failed to step up and show why they warrant a starting place. I've already mentioned Podolski and Campbell but another player who didn't have the best of nights was Tomas Rosicky. His work ethic was still good but his ball retention wasn't what we expect from him and our midfield play overall was quite sloppy.

A big positive from the game was that Abou Diaby managed over an hour on his return to the team after missing all of 2013/14 but the final game against Norwich. He added a much needed presence in midfield that we haven't had and he has all the credentials to perhaps become our defensive midfielder. He's usually more of a box to box type player but with work, and staying clear of injuries, he could become a fantastic player in that role for us. After all, he can't be much worse than what Flamini and Arteta have been lately. He's a force in midfield and can carry the ball brilliantly with his strength. Something that not many of our midfielders have the ability to do.

Despite conceding two, the defence actually had a pretty solid game. We were sloppy to concede a penalty whilst Clyne's strike from outside the box was virtually impossible to keep out. A few claimed Ospina was at fault for the goal but at the rate the ball was traveling it would have been some stop to prevent it from going in. Bellerin again looked a little vulnerable defensively, as he did against Dortmund. As for Isaac Hayden, he did nothing to warrant any criticism. He put in a very solid shift, looked confident and assured on the ball and was very strong physically. After his performance against Southampton he may well be promoted into being our fourth choice centre-back considering the lack of options we have in defence right now.

Not a lot of the players involved in this game will be come the weekend though. The likes of Chambers, Sanchez and Wilshere all definitely will be as Arsenal welcome Spurs to the Emirates on Saturday evening for the North London derby!

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin(85), Chambers, Hayden, Coquelin, Diaby(66), Wilshere, Campbell(71), Rosicky, Sanchez, Podolski.
Subs: Martinez, Mertesacker, Ajayi, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain(71), Cazorla(66), Akpom(85).

Southampton: Forster, Clyne, Fonte, Gardos, Targett(83), Schneiderlin, Wanyama, Davis, Tadic, Mane(71), Pelle.
Subs: Davis, Bertrand(83), Cork, Reed, McCarthy, Long(71), Mayuka.

My man of the match: Alexis Sanchez.

Referee: Keith Stroud.
Attendance: 59,621.  

Monday, 22 September 2014

Arsenal return to form with win over Villa

Arsenal ended their run of four games without a win in all competitions on Saturday by defeating Aston Villa 3-0. After 3 draws in the League it was important to finally show our true colours as the Gunners put in an assured performance against an in form Villa side. Welbeck scored his first for the club whilst Ozil grabbed a goal before an own goal sealed the points. It was extremely pleasing to see the side playing with such freedom after a few sloppy performances, particularly that of Dortmund in the week. Arsenal made a few changes from the game against City as the side was rotated. Chambers came in for the injured Debuchy whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cazorla replaced Sanchez and Wilshere respectively.
Danny Welbeck and Mesut Ozil's link-up play was very much a positive
Arsenal's goals came within minutes of each other as all three goals came in the space of about four minutes. It was incredibly encouraging to see us be clinical in front of goal and kill a game off sooner rather than later. The first two goals were both very aesthetically pleasing. Mesut Ozil's form has dropped dramatically over the last couple of months being stuck on the wing. However, on Saturday he reverted back to his favoured central position and he repaid the manager with a goal. Welbeck played the ball through to the German who comfortably slotted the ball past Guzan. Ozil was to then turn provider as he put the ball on a plate for Welbeck who tucked home his first goal in Arsenal colours from a couple of yards out. The third goal was all Villa's undoing though as Gibbs fired a ball across goal and Cissokho found his own net.

Arsenal's quick fire goals were a big positive and showed that when we play the right way we can be extremely efficient. Wenger left behind the 4-1-4-1 formation in favour of the old 4-2-3-1 which saw us have a lot more freedom in the final third of the pitch. Ozil being back in the centre added something to our game that we haven't seen all season. A lot more space and time was created as a result of the German and he made our play look a lot more fluid, a performance that saw him earn the man of the match award. Ozil's been criticised a lot this season but back in the formation we used so often last campaign, everything seemed to click more than it has done in 2014/15 so far.

The performances of Welbeck have been a bit of a mixed bundle since he arrived from Manchester United. He's had some brilliant chances in his first two games but failed to find the net. Therefore, it was very pleasing to see him finally score against Villa. Hopefully now he can kick on and start scoring on a regular basis!

The 3-0 win meanwhile signified our first clean-sheet of the season. Kieran Gibbs adds an extra solidity to the back four whilst Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny look to be finding their feet after slow starts to the season by their standards. Wojciech Szczesny didn't have a lot to do but that was made easier by the defensive line in front of him who looked very solid. Compared to Dortmund in the week, the performance especially of the defence, was a vast improvement.

I mentioned the need for the players to get the Dortmund result out of their system in my last report and that's exactly what they did. Improvements still need to be made in the middle of the pitch you feel, as particularly the performances of Aaron Ramsey have been a little below par this season. Ramsey scored in the Community Shield and against Palace and Everton but since then he seems to perhaps be over complicating things too much. He needs to look to play a much simpler game or we could see Wilshere starting over him within the next couple of weeks. Many may be worried about the Welshman's form considering the amount of goals he scored last season but I have every confidence in him to get back to his best.

Spurs await us in the first North London derby of the season next week but before that we face Southampton in the League Cup. A chance to rest a few of the big names and bring in a couple of youngsters perhaps.

The team's line-ups:

Aston Villa: Guzan, Hutton, Clark, Senderos, Cissokho, Sanchez(86), Cleverley, Delph, Richardson(77), Weimann(45), Agbonlahor. 
Subs: Given, Okore, Lowton, Westwood, Grealish(45), Bacuna(86), N'Zogbia(77).

Arsenal: Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey(77), Cazorla, Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain(78), Welbeck(77).
Subs: Ospina, Coquelin, Diaby, Wilshere(77), Rosicky(78), Sanchez, Podolski(77).

My man of the match: Mesut Ozil.

Referee: Mike Jones.
Attendance: 40,013.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Dortmund dominant as Arsenal fall to first defeat

Tuesday night saw Arsenal embark on their 2014/15 Champions League campaign after successfully fending off the challenge of Besiktas in the qualifying stages last month. It wasn't a welcome return though as the Gunners were defeated 2-0 at the hands of German side Borussia Dortmund. It was one of the worst Arsenal performances in recent years and signaled our first defeat of the 2014/15 season having been unbeaten up to now.

In terms of the line-up Arsenal made three changes, two of which were forced. Debuchy and Monreal were both out with injury whilst Chambers had tonsillitis. Defence was the place we didn't want any injuries and being Arsenal that is of course the area we now seriously lack in. Debuchy's injury and Chambers not being 100% meant Bellerin came in for his first start whilst Gibbs returned at left back. The other change saw Arteta come in for Flamini.
It was a bad day at the office for Arsenal who were wearing their new blue kit for the first time
It's difficult to know where to start with Arsenal's performance in Germany yesterday evening. It was filled with a lot of flaws, and not a lot of positives, if any. At the moment there appears to be an open debate over whether to blame the players or the tactics of Wenger for our performances recently. It can be argued that there is a bit of both involved but one of the most frustrating things at the moment is the managers inability to not change his tactics.

Many a pundit recently has picked up on our inability to change our game when we come up against the big teams. It appears as though we approach every game with the same game plan and so far this season 4-1-4-1 just simply hasn't worked whatsoever. Our full-backs bombing forward seem to be the main issue at the moment, but that wouldn't be an issue if we had an enforcer in the middle of the park. Whether Wenger tells the full-backs to effectively play as wingers or whether they chose to do it themselves remains an unanswered question but our centre-backs are being left with no cover. Last season we got opened up against the big teams on the counter attack and against City and Dortmund it's been no different.

That was evident with the goal Ciro Immobile opened the scoring with yesterday. He exploited the gap in midfield and drove into the space where the left back should be. Although he perhaps got a little lucky with a touch to take him away from Koscielny he still provided a confident finish. The second goal meanwhile was a ball in behind and after Szczesny came racing out of his goal, Aubameyang stole in to fire into an empty net.

It was an extremely poor defensive performance which wasn't helped by Mikel Arteta's inability to keep the ball in midfield. Our new skipper is definitely not the answer to our defensive midfield woes and at the moment I'm finding it difficult to find a solution to that role. It amazes me how we failed to sign a player in that position despite having the funds available. Flamini, despite being a bully in midfield isn't the type of player that we're looking for to break up play and move it on throughout the different phases. Until that problem is addressed I can't see Arsenal doing particularly well in the big games, which comes as no surprise really.

On a more mundane level Hector Bellerin had an average game on his first start for the club. His attacking play was good but he looked a little vulnerable defensively, an area which I've already touched on.

Despite Dortmund's dominance throughout the game, Arsenal did have chances in the game and all of them seemed to fall to Danny Welbeck. Despite the fact that Dortmund probably should've won the game by a much bigger margin we did have our chances. In the first half Welbeck dragged a similar chance to the one he had against City wide, before in the second half blazing a chance over the bar after turning nicely past Sokratis. It's difficult to judge him after two tough games and I'm sure he'll improve but from first sightings he does look as though he needs to improve his composure, something that was picked up on during his spell at Man United.

The players will need to get this result out of their system quickly and move on and hopefully put in a much different performance next time out. Arsenal will be looking for their first win in four matches on Saturday as they travel to the Midlands to face a high flying Aston Villa side.

The team's line-ups:

Dortmund: Weidenfeller, Durm, Subotic, Sokratis, Schmelzer(79), Kehl(45), Bender, Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, Grosskreutz, Immobile(85).
Subs: Langerak, Bandowski, Ginter(45), Amini, Jojic(79), Kagawa, Ramos(85).

Arsenal: Szczesny, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta(77), Ozil(61), Ramsey(61), Wilshere, Sanchez, Welbeck.
Subs: Ospina, Chambers, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain(61), Rosicky, Cazorla(61), Campbell, Podolski(77).

Referee: Olegario Benquerenca.
Attendance: 65,851.