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.