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, 21 April 2014

Ramsey and Podolski fire Arsenal to victory over Hull

Arsenal appear to be a team on a roll again. Aaron Ramsey's return to form signaled that and it was no coincidence we strolled to victory with him back amongst the goals. It was an impressive and comfortable display against the team we'll be playing in next month's FA Cup final at Wembley. Lukas Podolski once again bragged a brace after notching twice against West Ham in the week. After Everton lost to Crystal Palace on Wednesday night we now have the advantage in the race for fourth as we sit one point ahead of the Toffees going into the final three fixtures. Our line-up for this game was the best we've had for as long as I can remember. The subs bench was filled with options, something we've lacked in recent games. Ramsey and Ozil both started whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rosicky were both amongst the substitutes.
Aaron Ramsey returned to form as Arsenal beat Hull
Where would we be had Aaron Ramsey stayed fit for the whole season? That is the main question that is being asked at the moment. Sunday's game showed Ramsey as though he had never been away. His class outshone everyone else on the pitch as he bagged a goal and two assists. The goal he scored was typical of him this season. He broke into the box before assertively finding the net. Had he been fit all season then we may well be still in the hunt for the Premier League title. However, as injuries have so often plagued us this season, it looks as though it was never meant to be. Ramsey's return to full fitness, and to form is a big relief, especially at such a crucial period of the season when no points can afford to be dropped.

Mesut Ozil played an hour on his return from injury but it was another German that got us talking. That man was Lukas Podolski who found the net another two times after his two cracking strikes against West Ham. His first goal was as good as the pair he scored in the week. Giroud played a lovely ball into Ramsey who chested it into the path of Podolski who vollied home. His second was one of the easiest finishes he'll ever get. Cazorla pulled the ball back to Ramsey whose shot was saved, but the German was there on the rebound to tap the ball into the back of the net. That's four goals in two games now for the clinical forward.

It was certainly no coincidence that with Ramsey and Ozil back in the side we were a much improved team. It brought out the best in Cazorla and Giroud who have been a bit quiet towards the back end of the season. Giroud should've added to his 20 goals this season though against Hull. Steve Harper was caught out by the Frenchman from a back pass but after winning the ball, Giroud fired an effort against the bar from a tight angle. However tight an angle, he really should've made it four though.

Mikel Arteta was much improved despite losing his front tooth in a clash with a Hull player. His passing was more assured and he drove forward a couple of times. Compare that to a few weeks ago when he seemed to always be caught in possession and didn't have many options around him. However, what Ramsey and Ozil seem to do so well is always make an option for a team mate and are always looking to get on the ball. That has been a key figure of our season when the pair have played. It makes such a massive difference having them back!

Next up is Newcastle at the Emirates. They're a side that look as though they just want the season to end and hopefully we'll witness another routine win. However, Alan Pardew's Newcastle always seem to step up their game when playing Wenger.

The teams lineups:

Hull City: Harper, Elmohamady, Chester, Davies, Rosenior, Meyler, Huddlestone, Livermore, Boyd(84), Long(45), Jelavic(69).
Subs: Jakupovic, Figueroa, Bruce, Koren(84), Quinn(69), Fryatt(45), Sagbo. 

Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Ramsey, Arteta, Cazorla, Ozil(60), Podolski(84), Giroud(73).
Subs: Fabianski, Jenkinson, Flamini(60), Kallstrom, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain(73), Sanogo(84).

My man of the match: Aaron Ramsey

Referee: Jon Moss.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Arsenal U18's vs Chelsea U18's; FA Youth Cup

A few times this season I've featured a number of Arsenal's youngsters in the blog. Arsenal's U18's playing over on ITV4 last night gave me a chance to see some of the players play a full ninety minutes for the first time. In terms of watching the youth team play I've been restricted to highlights packages and hearing and seeing stuff about the players. Watching them last night gave me a good idea of who we hope will make the first team, or go a at least a bit further in their development as a footballer. It was a game that was played at the Emirates. A great experience for all involved but the young Gunners suffered a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Chelsea. The result meant that they failed to reach the final of the FA Youth Cup, losing 3-1 overall on aggregate after being defeated 2-1 at Stamford Bridge last week.
Josh Vickers impressed despite being at fault for the goal
I haven't been able to write as many articles on this site as I would've liked to but so far I have featured Hector Bellerin & Jon Toral, Kris Olsson, Chuba Akpom and Gedion Zelalem. The latter of the five players I've just named played in this game. Perhaps the two most known too and the biggest prospects within the youth team. Chuba Akpom has been on the bench in the last two of the first team's fixtures and scored a great goal in the first leg against Chelsea last week. He was perhaps Arsenal's brightest spark looking to set the play up and run at the defence. The type of striker that Wenger seems to be looking for at the moment, for example Yaya Sanogo against Wigan.

Gedion Zelalem's season has been interrupted with injury despite appearing on the bench this season for the first team. He even won a first team appearance against Coventry in the FA Cup. He didn't really get to showcase his talents as much as he'd like too but we know he has the quality from seeing him in previous matches. One player the Arsenal U18's really missed over the course of these two legs was Serge Gnabry. He's been out injured recently and in my opinion, had he been fit, would've played a big bearing in both games. Danny Crowley came on with about half an hour left and gave the side a much needed urgency going forward, playing behind the striker. The way he played was similar to that of Aaron Ramsey in the way he drifts forward, and turns past players cleverly.

We tend to hear a lot about the more attacking players in the youth teams but a mention has to go to the defenders and goalkeeper. Josh Vickers made two brilliant saves in quick succession in the first half but then made an error for Chelsea's goal as he allowed Colkett's effort to squeeze through his legs. Overall, the young keeper had a very good game though. Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill continued his spell of games at left back and showed to be a threat going forward. He reminded me a little of the way Kieran Gibbs plays. He's developing well and it wouldn't surprise me if he ended up getting a chance in the first XI in a few years time. Pleguezuelo, a boy who came from Barcelona in the summer has been much talked about since his arrival. He recently signed his first professional contract and looked pretty solid up against the pace of Chelsea's attackers.

As I said, it was a rare chance for a lot of fans to watch some of our youngsters play live. It was the first time the youth team have lost at the Emirates in eleven attempts but they can take plenty of heart from reaching the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup. Overall though, it was a pretty poor effort on the night and we didn't really test Chelsea whatsoever.

The teams lineups:

Arsenal U18's: Vickers, Moore, Siemann(67), Pleguezuelo, Ormonde-Ottewil, Maitland-Niles, Zelalem, Kamara(85), Jebb, Iwobi(59), Akpom.
Subs: Huddart, O'Connor(67), Crowley(59), Mugabo, Lipman(85).

Chelsea U18's: Beeney, Dabo(59), Christensen, Clarke-Salter(67), Aina, Houghton, Colkett(80), Loftus-Cheek, Kiwomya, Solanke, Dasilva.
Subs: Collins, Ssewankambo(59), Palmer, Mitchell(80), Brown(67).

Attendance: 9675

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Arsenal return to winning ways in the league

Following the euphoria of reaching the FA Cup final at the weekend, the Arsenal players were thrown straight back into action. Tuesday night saw us take on West Ham in the League, another must win clash in our bid to reach the top four. Win was exactly what we did though. That was despite going behind as Podolski scored a brace whilst Giroud also popped up with a goal. If we're going to reach the top four then we'll surely have to win every game left we have in the league this season. However, it's all in Everton's hands at the moment. The 3-1 victory over the Hammers lifted us back into the top four of the Premier League which was crucial after slipping into fifth at the weekend.
Lukas Podolski scored twice as Arsenal regained fourth place
In terms of the line-up Wenger was forced into making more changes. Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal were both injured, again, so Vermaelen deputised at left back whilst Laurent Koscielny returned at center back. Tomas Rosicky was also back in the squad along with Szczesny and Giroud who replaced Fabianski and Sanogo respectively.

The fact that we went 1-0 down to a header from Matt Jarvis summed up our current league form. However, what we realised from the FA Cup semi-final was that this team do in fact have some fight in them. They displayed exactly the same fight to get themselves back into this game and pull off in the end, what was a fairly comfortable victory. When West Ham scored I thought it was going to be another one of those nights but like we had done at the start of the year, we managed to come out the other side with all three points.

Each of our goals were of high quality. Lukas Podolski scored twice as he played a rare 90 minutes. The first goal was brilliantly set up by Cazorla with a reverse pass before the German fired home at the far post. His second meanwhile was emphatic as Ramsey's cushioned header found him before he hammered the ball literally into the roof of the net. Giroud's goal meanwhile was a touch of genius. He had spurned a great chance in the first half which made his strike to put us in the lead, even more remarkable. Vermaelen lumped a ball forward and the Frenchman plucked the ball out of the air before finding the net via his weaker foot. Giroud had received a lot of stick for his performance in the first half, but his goal certainly shut the critics up for a short period of time.

Kim Kallstrom started his first game in an Arsenal shirt and put in a fairly encouraging performance. He was perhaps a little slow to get out to Nocerino for the goal and there were a few misplaced passes here and there but he showed he was willing to take risks. He showed against Swansea that he has a fantastic passing range whilst he also scored in the shoot-out at the weekend. As expected he hasn't played a huge part yet but without him we would perhaps have risked Ramsey. 

It was meanwhile great to see Laurent Koscielny back in action. He's up there as one of the best defenders in the Premier League this season and his partnership with Mertesacker looked as sturdy as ever. Vermaelen was also solid at left back. As for Santi Cazorla, he played his best game in ages, a performance which earned him the man of the match award.

Up next is Hull City in a dress rehearsal for the FA Cup final this weekend on Easter Day. Another must win game!

The teams lineups:

Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Arteta, Kallstrom, Cazorla(88), Rosicky(72), Podolski, Giroud.
Subs: Fabianski, Jenkinson(88), Bellerin, Ramsey(72), Oxlade-Chamberlain, Akpom, Sanogo. 

West Ham: Adrian, Demel, Tomkins, Reid, Armero, Nocerino, Noble, Downing(78), Diame, Jarvis(78), Carroll(84).
Subs: Jaaskelainen, McCartney, Johnson, Cole(78), Taylor, Vaz Te(78), Cole(84). 

My man of the match: Santi Cazorla. 

Referee: Kevin Friend.
Attendance: 59,977.  

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Arsenal overcome troubles to reach FA Cup final

Arsenal have done it. They have reached the final of the FA Cup, but only just. Wigan proved to be a much stronger test than we ever hoped they would and it paved the way for the most tense game I've witnessed in recent seasons. Jordi Gomez fired home a penalty that I must say left me fearing the worst. After all of our frailties it wouldn't have surprised me if we did lose the game. Back we came though and we have Per Mertesacker to thank as he headed home with nine minutes remaining. His strike took the game to extra time, and then penalties in which we triumphed 4-2 after some heroics from Fabianski in goal.

The celebrations summed up how desperate the players are to end their goal drought, but it was more of a sign of relief after nearly crashing out to a Championship side. Having waited to until the second semi-final to write this, we'll be playing Hull City in the final. Another tense game awaits.
Fabianski was the hero for Arsenal, saving two penalties in the shoot-out
The team selection that Wenger went for threw up a few surprises, but after a few weeks of criticisms in that department it showed he was willing to take risks. Aaron Ramsey and the Ox passed late fitness tests whilst Kieran Gibbs was only fit enough for the bench. Meanwhile Yaya Sanogo started up top as Fabianski continued as our 'Cup keeper'. Thomas Eisfeld and Chuba Akpom were both amongst the substitutes due to Rosicky not being fit and Flamini's suspension.

On reflection, the team that was picked was probably the right one, however much we struggled. Yaya Sanogo gave us an extra burst of pace going forward and got in behind a few times. He had the most chances of any player in the entire game which was encouraging. Had he had a better touch then the game could've been over before extra time. Another player that gave us some added energy was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He had a brilliant game and was a key factor of our explosive start. He linked well with Sanogo who had a header saved well by Carson.

Aaron Ramsey also had a good game and showed what we've been missing in terms of his drive going forward. He wasn't fully up to speed as you could tell but he still gave us something different.

Overall it was a hugely frustrating tie. I watched with a raging heart rate when we conceded that penalty. It was not good for the nerves at all, but we eventually got the job done. Mertesacker dived in on Callum McManaman for the penalty which due to an injury to Monreal, wasn't taken until about three minutes later. Jordi Gomez managed to convert well and Arsenal had to stage a comeback.

Bacary Sagna had a great chance in the first half and then hit the woodwork in the second. Kieran Gibbs, who replaced Monreal, also had a great chance brilliantly saved and then cleared off the line. It was beginning to look as though it wasn't going to be our day. However a shot into the ground from the Ox managed to find Per Mertesacker at the back post who headed home to make up for giving away the penalty.

Extra time threw up more tense moments. Chamberlain managed to find something extra despite having cramp to thump a shot against the bar. Meanwhile Nick Powell gave Vermaelen the run around down the opposite end and slid an effort wide. The game went to penalties. Bizarrely though Jordi Gomez was due to take last, but didn't get the chance. Fabianski saved twice from Caldwell and then Tomkins as Arteta, Kallstrom, Giroud and Cazorla scored to take the Gunners into the final next month.

It was a vitally important result for not just the team, but also Arsene Wenger. Had we lost the game then serious questions, if they had not already been asked, would've been fired in the direction of a man whose given so much to the English game.

The teams line-ups:

Wigan: Carson, Perch, Boyce, Ramis(86), Crainey, Beausejour, McEachran(64), McArthur, McManaman(68), Gomez, Fortune.
Subs: Al Habsi, Barnett, Caldwell(86), Espinoza, Collison(64), Maloney, Powell(68).

Arsenal: Fabianski, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal(63), Arteta, Ramsey(112), Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski(68), Sanogo. 
Subs: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Gibbs(63), Kallstrom(112), Eisfeld, Akpom, Giroud(68).

My man of the match: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. 

Referee: Michael Oliver
Attendance: 82,185   

Monday, 7 April 2014

Arsenal suffer another defeat as persuit for top four halters

A few months ago we were top of the table and fighting on all fronts for the Premier League title. At one point we were even seven points clear at the top. Now, we're in a fight for actually finishing in the top four. I was in Tuscany, Italy last week and therefore missed Arsenal's best result in a while with the draw against City. It was typical that I was away and couldn't write up about it. I came back though and my mood was immediately ruined by another shocking performance from the Gunners. We've picked up 13 points from our last 33 available. We've had players injured but that's no excuse for the kind of form we're in.
Arsenal were dealt another blow with defeat at Goodison
We knew our tough run throughout February and March would determine our season, and that's certainly what's happened. We've still got an FA Cup semi-final to look forward to but I'm seriously starting to worry about whether or not we'll get Champions League football next season. Everton have a game in hand but the tougher fixtures. Each of our last five games we should easily win and with the Toffees having to play City and United hopefully it'll be us playing in next season's Champions League for the 17th successive campaign. One thing's for sure though, where we finish in the league is out of our hands.

One key difference from the game with Manchester City was that Nacho Monreal was playing instead of the once again injured Kieran Gibbs. Nacho Monreal started his career at Arsenal in early 2013 in great form and looked to be a very good rotation option along with Kieran Gibbs. However this season he's been a different player, and not in a positive way. He's struggled for any consistency and whenever he's played I've been worried. He gets targeted by players and therefore a lot of the goals we've conceded start off down that left hand side. His partnership with Vermaelen yesterday was terrible. They failed to close down properly for the first goal whilst Nacho got dragged in too much for Lukaku's goal which then led to Vermaelen putting in a rather tame challenge.

Thomas Vermaelen has put in some solid displays this season but looks out of depth next to Mertesacker. Laurent Koscielny was one of the main reasons we were challenging for the title and he formed a formidable partnership with Mertesacker. The pair conceded hardly any goals apart from against the big teams as we know only too well. Against Everton though Per and Vermaelen looked as though they'd never played a game of football with each other. They have had limited time together in the side but they seem to have no chemistry and it appears as though they're confused as to who should take control of the back line. In Vermaelen's absence that was Mertesacker's job to organise the team but now that the club captain is back, it's disrupted the team's flow a little.

It looked as though this season we'd finally sorted out the defensive problems but it's clear from several games this season that it still needs addressing.

The blame for these types of defeats can't be heaped on the defence though. Wenger has picked the wrong line-ups and wrong tactics far too often. There hasn't been a change in formation for as long as I can remember. That's something that makes it so easy for the big teams to defeat us. We don't keep our opponents guessing and we only have one game plan. To pass the ball around and hope that it'll get us into some dangerous areas in the penalty area. Liverpool are doing well this season, not just because of their players but because of the excellent management of Brendan Rodgers. He's changed his tactics around and when something isn't working then he'll change the formation. Not every game for them is set up in the same way and that's one of the reasons they've been so successful as they're keeping their opponents guessing.

The age old debate has been brought upon us again of whether or not a mass change is needed at the club. I've said before that the FA Cup could decide Wenger's future. He has yet to sign a new deal and it's becoming increasingly likely that this could well be his last season at the club.

One individual I'd like to pick up on again is that of Mikel Arteta. In the FA Cup fixture against them a few weeks back he was brilliant and deserved his goal. However this season he's been way off in terms of quality. He was a good signing but is aging and it could be time to replace him with someone younger in the Summer. He gives the ball away too often and it summed up his afternoon that he scored an owl goal back at his old club. This is being a little harsh but the most productive thing he did all game was wave his finger at Baines and Barkley.

The only positive from the game was that of Aaron Ramsey's return to action. He added a much needed drive to the game that was missing. Someone with driving runs has been missing for a while with the likes of Ozil, Wilshere and of course Walcott our injured.

West Ham, Hull, Newcastle, West Brom and Norwich are our remaining fixtures. Drop points and we can say goodbye to a top four finish for definite.

The teams line-ups:

Everton: Howard, Coleman, Stones, Distin, Baines, McCarthy, Barry, Naismith(81), Osman(9),  Mirallas, Lukaku(87).
Subs: Joel, Hibbert, Garbutt, Alcaraz, McGeady(81), Barkley(9), Deulofeu(87).

Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal, Arteta, Flamini(66), Rosicky, Cazorla, Podolski(66), Giroud(71).
Subs: Viviano, Jenkinson, Bellerin, Kallstrom, Ramsey(66), Oxlade-Chamberlain(66), Sanogo(71).

Referee: Martin Atkinson.