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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!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Arsenal stun Bayern to reignite European campaign

Readers of my blog may have realised that I haven't had too many opportunities to write my thoughts on games this season, commitments elsewhere have swung that. However the game against Bayern Munich presented me with a chance to write about one of the Gunners best wins in recent seasons, as Giroud and Ozil were on hand to grab a vital win.

My last musings on here was after the win over Liverpool, since then Arsenal have endured a good run in the League, but not such a good period in Europe. Three consecutive League victories over Leicester, Watford and most notably Manchester United have seemingly rejuvenated this Arsenal side after defeats to both Olympiacos and Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League. However an incredible 2-0 win over Bayern on Tuesday night for Wenger's men has installed new belief into their exploits in Europe this season.
Ozil showed his class as Arsenal beat Bayern.
There was an aura of optimism from the Arsenal fans before the game. Some sensed that their current Premier League form and the need to win on Tuesday night would spark a performance worthy of a great night of European football. Indeed Arsene Wenger's side provided exactly that. The possession stat of Bayern's 70% to Arsenal's 30% tells you all you need to know about how the Gunners have changed their mentality and style in big games in 2015.

It's a credit to Arsene Wenger who for all the criticism he has received for the management of his side in games such as the United and Bayern ones, that Arsenal are now pulling off big results, and on a regular basis. Yes there's been that inconsistency but with Alexis Sanchez now fit and firing (although not scoring against Bayern) the Gunners are playing their best football again.

A part of that has been the rejuvenation of Mesut Ozil. Everyone knows what he's capable of but so far in 2015/16 we're seeing the very best of a play-maker that's finally beginning to show why he was worth every penny Arsenal paid. His influence on games is growing as time goes by and that's summed up by the 6 assists and 2 goals he has in 11 games this campaign. Among those two goals was the one scored against Bayern. Hector Bellerin produced an unbelievable burst of pace to leave Alaba behind before squaring the ball to Ozil. The German just about found the goal as the fifth official ruled it had crossed the line despite Neuer's best efforts to claw it away.

Ozil's performance against Manchester United was definitely the best he's had in an Arsenal shirt, and perhaps with that penalty miss against Bayern two seasons ago in mind, he certainly made up for it on Tuesday night. Every time he got on the ball you expected something to happen. It's an aspect and noticeable difference in comparison to his early Arsenal days where he was being criticised, sometimes fairly, and sometimes unfairly. However he's now oozing in class and his confidence shows. Form it temporary, and class is very much permanent.

Mesut Ozil's play has also benefited from Theo Walcott playing in a striking role. The fact that he makes runs in behind and plays on the shoulder of the defence and pushes them back, means the German has more space in which to operate. It's space that isn't perhaps there when Giroud comes short for the ball and holds the play up.

Needless to say it was Olivier Giroud who opened the scoring. Theo Walcott had done himself no wrong with his display. Had it not been for an unbelievable stop from Manuel Neuer then Theo would've put the Gunners 1-0 ahead. He stretched the play and made the Bayern Munich defence drop off which aided the likes of Alexis and Ozil as they gained more time and space on the ball. However as said, it was Giroud who grabbed the opening goal, just a minute after coming on.

Santi Cazorla floated in a free-kick which was followed by a rare mistake from Neuer. He came flying out of goal, failed to claim the ball, and Giroud was left with a chance he couldn't miss. Arsenal's goals are really being shared around this season and Wenger can raise one hand to the many (including myself) who wanted the addition of a quality striker. Wenger's utilisation of both Walcott and Giroud this season has been very good, with the latter making a habit of scoring goals from the bench. It was timely reminder to Arsenal fans of the qualities Olivier Giroud brings, especially with his threat from dead-ball situations.

One of the key things from the game was the influence of Petr Cech. But for an error on the opening day against West Ham he's had a very good start to life in North London. He kept Arsenal in it against Bayern for large parts of the game, making some vital stops. One of which was a great save to deny the inform Robert Lewandowski from scoring just a minute before Arsenal broke the deadlock themselves.

It was a display that only proved further why he should've been in goal against Olympiacos when David Ospina spilled the ball into his own net. The qualities of Petr Cech have been evident since his arrival and the presence he has in goal has definitely benefited the Gunners back line, keeping three clean-sheets in Arsenal's last three games.

Another thing to pick up on was that of Arsene Wenger's tactics as got things spot on. Bayern were making life tough for Arsenal in the opening half hour of the game, with Douglas Costa targeting Bellerin and Monreal being dragged inside on the other side of defence. That meant that Sanchez and Ramsey had to do a lot of tracking back and therefore our attacking play was hindered. However a deliberate move from Wenger to move Ozil deeper worked wonders for Arsenal's counter attacking play. Sanchez and Walcott now had more freedom in the attacking areas of the pitch as their pace really started to hurt the Bayern defence late into that first half.

It was a display that not many expected. We've seen on occasions that Arsenal can do it, and scoring two unanswered goals against Bayern Munich sends out a huge message, not just to the Premier League but to the rest of Europe. If the Gunners can get over their inconsistency and keep players fit then Arsenal fans have every reason to believe that this may just be their year, especially with Chelsea faltering in the League. However, how many times have we continued to say that down the years?

The team's line-ups: 

Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ramsey(57), Ozil, Sanchez(82), Walcott(74).
Subs: Macey, Chambers, Debuchy, Gibbs(82), Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain(57), Giroud(74).

Bayern Munich: Neuer, Lahm, Alaba, Boateng, Bernat, Vidal(70), Alonso(70), Muller, Thiago, Costa, Lewandowski.
Subs: Ulreich, Martinez, Rafinha(70), Kirchhoff, Gaudino, Coman, Kimmich(70).

My man of the match: Mesut Ozil.

Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (TUR).
Attendance: 59,824.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Cech stars as Arsenal draw with Liverpool

Monday night's game against Liverpool presented me with my first opportunity to write about an Arsenal game in depth this season. I was unfortunately busy during the first three weeks of the new campaign, including the Community Shield and therefore the 0-0 draw against the Reds yesterday night was the first time I'd been able to properly catch a game. My focus in the previous few weeks has been on the cricket, and enjoying another England home Ashes win. My priorities have been away from football and because of that I haven't been able to properly enjoy a Premier League weekend since the new campaign got underway. Now having watched Arsenal fail to score once more at the Emirates, I'm puzzled by our prospects for this season. Nonetheless, the game presented quite a few talking points to us Arsenal fans.

It's clear to see that we haven't set the world alight with our early season form. Many had tipped Arsenal to be right up there this season, especially with the acquisition of Petr Cech, but a lack of further signings and tactical 'arrogance' as quoted by Gary Neville on MNF last night, is perhaps halting Arsenal in their progress. Their pre-season form was excellent, and that was backed up by a fantastic 1-0 win over Chelsea in the Community Shield. However that win seems a long time ago now with the Gunners taking just four points from a possible nine out of the opening three games of the new season.
Petr Cech starred for Arsenal as he kept his side in the game
The performance against Liverpool more or less summed up the Arsenal side of last season, and you can't help but feel something is missing again. The story in this particular fixture may well have been very different had Petr Cech not been playing though. He made mistakes that proved costly on the opening day but more than made amends against Liverpool on Monday night. He made a string of fine saves that kept Arsenal in the game during the first half. He made a top save at point blank range from Christian Benteke who should've scored before making a great diving save to his left hand side to tip Phillipe Coutinho's shot onto the post.

Cech would not have been convinced by the defence in front of him. Both of our first choice centre halves were missing as Per Mertesacker had an illness and Koscielny a mild back problem. Therefore the unfamiliar pairing of Calum Chambers and Gabriel started in defence. Gabriel had a pretty good game in defence and you can see that the potential is there for the 24 year old Brazilian. This was probably his biggest test in an Arsenal shirt yet and I thought he dealt pretty well with the threat of Benteke. He showed his pace as being one of his strongest assets, an attribute that showed shades of a game similar to that of Laurent Koscielny. He meanwhile looked decent physically too. Calum Chambers didn't have the greatest of games though and he contributed in a negative way to Arsenal's poor first half performance where we seemed all over the place defensively. Monreal did well down the left which doesn't come as a surprise anymore whilst Bellerin still looked a little vulnerable.

A part of that poor first half performance was the lack of chances we created. We didn't have a clear cut chance and continuously gave the ball away in promising areas. It's a trend that's become too frustrating in recent times for Arsenal. Olivier Giroud hardly saw any of the ball and was very isolated up front alone. It's been clear for a while that we do need a better striker, and one that can create moments of magic alone. However, I can't see where any type of signing will come from in the remaining few days, especially with Benzema now looking very much set to stay in Madrid.

You'd probably look at me in a very weird way if I said Arsenal lack creativity; especially with Cazorla, Ozil and Sanchez all playing. However that's what Arsenal have lacked in the opening few games of the season. A part of that is because of Wenger's tactics. Much was talked about the midfield pairing of Cazorla and Coquelin on Sky Sports in the build-up to the game but they worked last season. However Wenger's continued desire to field Aaron Ramsey on the right hand side is hindering us in attack in my opinion. After Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's form in pre-season and his performance against Chelsea in the Community Shield I think it's absolutely ridiculous how he can't start on that right hand side at the moment. He showed signs of what we'd been missing against Liverpool when he came on, immediately running at the young Joe Gomez and causing problems for the visitors.

Aaron Ramsey didn't necessarily have a bad game but he likes to come inside which I talked about a lot last season and therefore we lack an outlet on the right flank when he's supposedly playing in that position. Ramsey in fact was the only player to put the ball in the back of the net on the night. Cazorla played a lovely ball into him before he beat Mignolet at his near post. Unfortunately though the goal was ruled out for offside despite him looking marginally onside. If Wenger wants to get the best out of Aaron Ramsey though he may have to sacrifice Santi Cazorla's place in the side and get him back in the middle where he placed so well two season ago. It seems ages ago now that Ramsey was the star of our team but the manager is going to have to switch the pack around a bit if we're to find a winning formula going into our next few games.

Arsenal's second half performance was a lot better though, and it came as no surprise that once Mesut Ozil got involved in proceedings more we looked a better outfit. We created a lot more chances and could've actually come away with a victory despite on the balance of the whole 90 minutes, a draw being the fair result. Alexis Sanchez had a very good chance, and it was one that had he'd had a pre-season he may well have scored. Olivier Giroud also had a big chance, one which was saved by Mignolet as the Frenchman looked to be pulled back by the defender as he went to shoot.

Next up for Arsenal is a trip to Newcastle which has the potential to be another tough game, especially as the Magpies drew 0-0 with United in their previous encounter. You can never be too sure of which Newcastle side will turn up but it's vitally important that Arsenal start winning now, rather than later when it could already be too late. Another slow start like last season and the Gunners could find themselves out of the title race before they've even built up ahead of steam. Let's just hope they've learnt from last season in regards to this specific aspect.

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Chambers, Gabriel, Monreal, Coquelin(82), Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil, Alexis, Giroud(73).
Subs: Ospina, Debuchy, Gibbs, Flamini, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain(82), Walcott(73).

Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Skrtel, Lovren, Gomez, Can, Lucas(75), Milner, Firmino(63), Coutinho(88), Benteke.
Subs: Bogdan, Sakho, Moreno(88), Rossiter(75), Ibe(63), Origi, Ings.

My man of the match: Petr Cech.

Referee: Michael Oliver.
Attendance: 60,080.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Arsenal thrash Villa to retain FA Cup

Arsenal have done it again. For the second year in a row the Gunners have achieved success in the FA Cup. The Gunners managed wins over Hull, Brighton, Middlesborough, Manchester United, Reading and Aston Villa as Arsene Wenger guided his team to a twelve FA Cup success with a 4-0 win at Wembley in the final. It was a brilliant Arsenal performance as they dominated from start to finish against a Villa side who were never in the game. Goals from Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez, Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud rounded off our 2014/15 campaign in style as we achieved back to back FA Cup successes.
Arsenal won the competition for a record twelfth time. 
It was a near perfect performance from Arsenal who never looked in trouble. Their task was made easier by the display from Aston Villa though who never really got going and didn't cause many threats, if any at all on Saturday evening at Wembley. Christian Benteke was outlined as their main attacking threat but he was isolated as a solid defensive display ensured we kept them at bay. That defensive performance though coincided with a ruthless attacking display as we lifted the FA Cup once more to make it two trophies in two years after that dreaded drought came to an end last year.

One of the biggest credits I have to hand out from the final goes to Arsene Wenger though. In order for us to play to our potential in this final and cause Villa somewhat of a shock, we needed to stray away from the familiarity of our usual team this season. That was done by placing Theo Walcott up front. Last week against West Brom he bagged a hat-trick and most of the pre-match talk leading up to the final from an Arsenal point of view was about whether it would be him or Giroud to start up top. For me picking Giroud, and the same XI that started over that period of unbeaten matches a few weeks back would've been the safe option. Picking Walcott however would be a brave decision and would show we were really willing to try something in the final. Giroud hadn't scored in eight before coming off the bench late on to score but Walcott's selection in that central role was justified perfectly throughout the game. Against a slow defence with the likes of Okore, Hutton and Vlaar in the Villa side Walcott was the perfect man to cause problems, and indeed that's what he did. His goal exemplified all the true poachers instincts as he gave us a deserved lead in the final. In my eyes it was a brilliant move, Monreal's ball picked out Sanchez who leaped brilliantly to head back into the path of Walcott who volleyed the ball home on his weaker foot.

Theo Walcott has been talked about quite a lot in recent weeks, he arguably hasn't been getting the game time he deserves but in our final games of the season he has shown great form. It's form which is hugely encouraging going into next season as he looks set to 'sign da ting' again. Walcott however could've had more than the one. Before the deadlock was broken in the first half he had a near open goal blocked brilliantly by Kieran Richardson before misfiring later on in the game when the match was already wrapped up.

It was a hugely impressive display from Arsenal, but the platform had been solidly laid from the first half. I mentioned Walcott's chance but Laurent Koscielny also had a header brilliantly kept out by Shay Given early on in the tie. For me though the Gunners stand out player in the first half of the final was Mesut Ozil. For ages we've been crying out for him to put in a performance when it's mattered and on occasion this season he has done that in what has been a solid campaign from the German World Cup winner. However the first half displayed everything good about him. He, along with Santi Cazorla, was at the heart of most of the good things Arsenal did from central areas. What was really prominent though was his tendency to drift past players with constant ease which made our football very pleasing to watch.

It was Alexis Sanchez that grabbed us the goal that effectively put the tie to bed and allowed us to relax in the second half. The Chilean live wire has had a fantastic first season in English football but his goal in the final was probably his best goal yet in Arsenal colours. Tim Sherwood's men had originally come out fighting in the second half but Sanchez's goal simply knocked the stuffing out of the Villains. Nacho Moneral's run down the left flank allowed the space to open up for Sanchez in the middle as he let fly a swerving shot from distance which hit the underside of the bar and went in. Given in the Villa goal had absolutely no chance with it. It really was the perfect way for Alexis to finish his debut season in England.

You could tell from then on in it was most certainly Arsenal's day. The score-line could've been a lot worse for Aston Villa if four isn't already bad enough but strangely enough for us we had created a healthy amount of chances from set-pieces in the game. This was caused by Villa's lackluster defending at times which clearly didn't help their cause. It was therefore no real surprise to see us actually grab a goal from a corner. The ball was swung in and Per Mertesacker escaped the clutches of Benteke before heading home from close range. It was a strike from a player, whom like Sanchez, loves a Wembley goal. He scored in the semi-final win over Wigan last year, and also for Germany in an international friendly against England.

Olivier Giroud can count himself quite unlucky not to have started the final but he made an impact when he came on, and offered a different proposition to the one offered by Theo Walcott for the majority of the game. For his goal the two subs combined as Oxlade-Chamberlain played the ball in and Giroud flicked the ball into the back of the net. It was a typical near post goal from the Frenchman who this campaign has had his best goals to game ratio so far in a season for Arsenal; it was his 19th in 36 games. Whether or not he'll still be our main striker come the start of the next season remains to be seen.

I also feel as though it is important to pick up on Wojciech Szczesny's performance. One of the main selection dilemmas before the game was whether he or David Ospina would start. Indeed it was Szczesny who played, as for the second year running Wenger kept faith in his 'cup' keeper for the final. Although he didn't have a real save to make he was decisive off his line and made some important decisions to claim the ball instead of letting Benteke perhaps out jump the defender and have an effort on goal.

It was a brilliant team effort, and it was great to see the celebrations unfold again at the final whistle. It didn't quite feel as special as last year but it certainly put a smile on all Arsenal fans once more after a slightly disappointing Premier league campaign. All that remains to be said is that here's to next season being even more successful than the previous two!

The team's line-ups: 

Aston Villa: Given, Hutton, Okore, Vlaar, Richardson(68), Delph, Westwood(70), N'Zogbia(52), Cleverley, Grealish, Benteke.
Subs: Guzan, Baker, Bacuna(68), Sanchez(70), Cole, Sinclair, Agbonlahor(52).

Arsenal: Szczesny, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil(77), Sanchez(89), Walcott(77).
Subs: Ospina, Gabriel, Gibbs, Flamini, Wilshere(77), Oxlade-Chamberlain(89), Giroud(77).

My man of the match: Alexis Sanchez.

Referee: Jonathan Moss.
Attendance: 89,283.

Monday, 25 May 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The team's line-ups:

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

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

My man of the match: Theo Walcott.

Referee: Robert Madley.
Attendance: 59,971.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Poor performance costs Arsenal in goalless draw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The team's line-ups:

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

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

Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Attendance: 59,987.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Late own goal rescues point at Old Trafford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The team's line-ups:

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

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

Referee: Mike Dean.
Attendance: 75,323.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Wasted chances cost Arsenal in defeat to Swansea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The team's line-ups:

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

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

Referee: Kevin Friend.
Attendance: 59,989.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Sanchez and Ramsey score as Arsenal beat Hull

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

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

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

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

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

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

The team's line-ups:

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

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

My man of the match: Santi Cazorla.

Referee: Lee Mason.
Attendance: 23,628.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Arsenal and Chelsea held in bore draw

It was inevitable really wasn't it. A scoreless draw against a Chelsea team who never really had their sights on winning the game. Such was the result that John Terry came out afterwards and said all they were looking to do was ensure we dropped points. Of course as they so often do in these big games, they hold themselves well and ggt a result. Arsenal still remain 10 points off Chelsea but if there was any hint of a challenge from Arsenal that has been severely dented by the Blues who can now win the League next weekend providing they beat Leicester in mid-week. Despite the lack of goals it was a good performance from Arsenal though who looked far more comfortable this weekend with the team selection differing from the one at Wembley. Ospina, Bellerin and Monreal returned whilst Mertesacker was fit despite an ankle injury last weekend. Olivier Giroud meanwhile came in for Welbeck as the rest of the team was unchanged.
Hector Bellerin was impressive at right back.
The game was one of two halves, but not in a sense that one dominated the other in each 45 minutes. It was more of a matter of how the game panned out. The pace and intensity of the match early on was one of the quickest I've seen in recent times. It was end to end, free flowing and the passing was extremely fast. The second half was like a different game from the first half though and it was in stark contrast. Despite us pushing hard in the final five minutes for a winner it was a dull and slow second 45 minutes of football. In the first half we moved the ball quickly going forward but in the second we never really got going until we introduced pace into the game in the final quarter of the match.

The game was pretty much set-up for a 0-0 draw from the first whistle, it was inevitable really but what we did do well was restrict them when they got forward. Chelsea were very hard to play against; proving resolute and strong in defence. Such was the importance for them to come away with a result that they celebrated a scoreless draw. It merely summed up a Jose Mourinho team. They were pretty boring to watch and in all honesty we really should have won the game. We didn't quite do enough to grab the win though but neither did Chelsea. Therefore a draw was merited but it was a frustrating result against a team we just can't seem to beat.

Previously against the big sides we've had chances early on that have potentially swung the game which made defeats in the past bitter hard to swallow. However today there wasn't really a moment where the game hinged on a specific chance in front of goal. We did have our chances, but then again Chelsea had two shouts for a penalty. Whichever team you support you're bound to have conflicting opinions but nevertheless none were given. Oscar had two shouts waved away, Fabregas was booked for diving on a hard return to the Emirates with plenty of boos, whilst fellow Spaniard Cazorla had a shot blocked by the arms of Cahill inside the area.

Both sides defended extremely well though and John Terry and Laurent Koscielny who in my opinion have been the best two centre-halves in the division this season were at the heart of the 0-0 draw. Koscielny sweeped brilliantly throughout whilst Terry was first to every ball, whether it be clearing the ball away at the near post or heading clear. Chelsea didn't cause a huge amount of threat going forward but when we came forward their defence dealt with it fairly easily.

What was most frustrating for us was that when we got into good positions in the first half we seemed to make the wrong final decision when a chance could have arisen. Alexis Sanchez was probably our brightest spark up top but even he made the wrong decision on occasion. We were at our best when we moved the ball quickly but our best chances didn't fall until the final minutes of the game. Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott came on late on which showed Wenger was willing to go for it for a change. They added something we hadn't had all game; an option in behind. It was Welbeck who should have scored to win the game though. Monreal got to the byline and squared the ball towards the Englishman but somehow he failed to make any meaningful contact. That was before Cazorla had skewed an effort on his usually reliable weaker foot wide with 15 minutes remaining. For Giroud though it was a game of little chances and he proved a very isolated figure as he has been in recent weeks. Saying that though his presence up top was important and was utilised well when we looked to build an attack.

Our performance, although better than last week against Reading was similar in a few ways when we went forward. Again Mesut Ozil was at the heart of most things when we got the ball in the central areas but he wasn't helped by the lack of movement in the wider areas. Again Aaron Ramsey was playing on the right but he drifted in far too centrally. When he did find space out-wide though we looked threatening and direct. The Welshman once more had a fairly average game but did show some brilliant touches and brought others into the game well.

One of the players Aaron Ramsey often brought into play was Hector Bellerin who as usual was a threat down the right and tracked back well. He also denied a probable goal by heading clear after Oscar had lobbed Ospina. The progression he's shown since the beginning of the season is remarkable. In my opinion his rise has been similar to that of Francis Coquelin who himself had a good game again. Last season Bellerin was playing in the Championship for newly promoted Watford but now he's one of the best young talents in the Premier League. Although he isn't as solid as Debuchy in defence he typifies what a modern-day full back is and in an Arsenal side that love to go forward he's becoming ever more important.

This result won't have any bearing on what will happen this season but it does offer encouragement for 2015/16 with Arsenal looking to build into the new campaign and really challenge for the title. Next up for the Gunners is a trip to Hull City which isn't until Monday 4th May. A break of 8 days which hopefully won't upset the rhythm of the team as we look to continue this unbeaten run we're on and make second place our own.

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin(76), Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud(83).
Subs: Szczesny, Debuchy, Gibbs, Flamini, Wilshere, Walcott(83), Welbeck(76).

Chelsea: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Matic, Fabregas(90), Ramires, Willian(90), Hazard, Oscar(45).
Subs: Cech, Filipe Luis, Zouma(90), Mikel, Loftus-Cheek, Cuadrado(90), Drogba(45).

My Arsenal man of the match: Hector Bellerin

Referee: Michael Oliver.
Attendance: 60,066.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Sanchez double fires Arsenal into the final

Alexis Sanchez scored twice on Saturday evening as Arsenal managed to fight off Reading at Wembley. For the second successive season the Gunners had managed to reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup, and after a 2-1 victory after extra time last night, marched into another final. It was a difficult game and one we should have been able to win quite comfortably considering the opposition. Reading are near the bottom end of the Championship but they put up a great fight as we put in a similarly poor display to the semi against Wigan last season as the Royals made it extremely hard for us to play. However rather fortuitously, we managed to score the winning goal in the first half of extra time.
Alexis Sanchez scored twice as Arsenal reached the final of the FA Cup.
If you consider Arsenal's recent form then you'll realise that Saturday's semi-final was far from what we've become accustomed to lately. Our build-up play was slower than usual and we lacked width, especially on the right hand side. We struggled to get any sort of rhythm going throughout the match but we did create the better chances throughout the game and due to that we deserved to go through. Reading impressed me heavily. The last time the two sides met it was that famous 7-5 result in the League cup and although there was no repeat of that this time round they did look dangerous. Similarly to Burnley in our previous game, they looked to get the ball to their wide players and put balls in to the penalty area. Meanwhile with the work rate of Jamie Mackie, the defence had to be vary.

However one of the reasons I think we struggled, despite Mertesacker's lack of pace when Reading put the ball in behind, was the team selection. Undoubtedly those Arsenal players selected have quality way above that of the Reading players, but a few players hadn't played in a while and that could be told. Wojciech Szczesny did himself no favours in goal with a slight error for the goal. He hasn't played since our last cup tie and after failing to stop Gareth McClearly's effort, he reaffirmed why David Ospina has been playing lately. I don't think the defence necerssarily had a bad game but it didn't help changing around what had been a solid back four in the League. Debuchy had to play 120 minutes in his first game for three months whilst Kieran Gibbs was shaky at left back after a month on the bench. Hector Bellerin has been playing brilliantly recently so it was a bit bizarre that he wasn't in the squad at all. Changes were expected and I can understand those that were made but it seemed to upset the rhythm of the team a little.

The other change was Danny Welbeck in for Olivier Giroud. Welbeck scored against United in the last round and despite Giroud's incredible form he was on the bench. Many slated Welbeck's performance and it wasn't the best but he was always looking for the ball. He appeared to be in the areas where Reading were crowding us out though and that's why he had little impact. Giroud came in on the second half and was able to give us a more direct presence after struggling in the second period as we had to withstand constant Reading pressure.

It was an extremely poor performance and that was down to not only the changes to the side, and the way Reading played, but because we lacked width. Over the last few games Aaron Ramsey has been playing out on the right and has struggled a little despite his goal against Burnley. In the semi-final though he was ineffective. He got dragged inside too much and slowed our play down and at times we were playing without a right winger. With Hector Bellerin making overlapping runs it works but with Debuchy who is a lot more defensive we had no presence down that right. In my opinion Ramsey had a poor game which was summed up by him smacking the post from a matter of yards out when it looked easier to score than miss. Thankfully on the left we did have width though, and it came as no surprise that that was where the goals came from.

Alexis Sanchez has been brilliant this season and celebrated his PFA Player of the Year nomination with two goals at Wembley. The first was of great quality. Mesut Ozil picked out Sanchez who was brilliantly composed to calmly slot the ball between Federici's legs. The second goal was rather fortuitious though. Federici in the Reading goal had had a brilliant game, most notably he'd made a great save to deny Gabriel in the second half but his error cost his side the game. Alexis cut inside and then fired a tame effort towards goal but the Australian keeper let it through his legs and into the net. It wasn't a nice way to win a game but when you're in the semi-final you don't care how you get through.

The quality of our attacking play was quite poor but when we did look good it was because Mesut Ozil was on the ball. Everything that we seemed to create came through the German and it was one of his better displays in an Arsenal shirt. He assisted both goals, with the first being of excellent vision. Instead of finding the simple ball he looked up and played a lovely ball into Sanchez. He almost scored a free-kick and twice set-up Gabriel who almost helped himself to two goals. Such was the performance of Mesut Ozil that the compilation below is effectively a match highlights package from the game if you exclude the Reading goal.

Whether Arsenal deserved to win is arguable. Neither side created any significant danger to each other but Reading gave us too much space and that consequently led to both goals as Sanchez was allowed to drift inside and make runs off the ball leaving us with space for chances to be scored from. Francis Coquelin didn't have the best of games on what is a very large Wembley pitch and the midfield on occasion were quite sloppy. Regardless of that though we managed to reach the final in which we'll face Aston Villa after they beat Liverpool on Sunday.

Before that though we need to finish strongly in the League. Chelsea will be our biggest test in recent months and hopefully we'll able to continue our winning run and extend our lead over Manchester United next weekend by beating Jose Mourinho's side.

The team's line-ups:

Reading: Federici, Gunter, Hector, Pearce, Obita, McCleary, Williams, Chalobah(105), Robson-Kanu(90), Mackie, Pogrebnyak(111).
Subs: Andersen, Kelly, Cooper, Norwood, Karacan(90), Cox(106), Yakubu(111).

Arsenal: Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker(63), Koscielny, Gibbs, Coquelin(101), Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez, Welbeck(72).
Subs: Ospina, Gabriel(63), Monreal, Flamini, Wilshere, Walcott(101) Giroud(72).

My man of the match: Alexis Sanchez.

Referee: Martin Atkinson.
Attendance: 84,081.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Ramsey strike enough to seal points for Arsenal

Aaron Ramsey's early first half goal was enough for Arsenal as they beat Burnley 1-0 on Saturday evening. The Welshman's goal was the only real bright spark of the game as the Gunners managed to hold on for a hard earned three points. After the convincing win over Liverpool last weekend this one was far from that. It wasn't our greatest display this season but nonetheless it was a victory that made sure we remained in second place for the time being. Wenger's line-up was unchanged from the previous game, as we made it eight successive victories in the Premier League; the first team to do so in the League in 2014/15.
Aaron Ramsey's early goal gave Arsenal the win
This season Burnley have been a team full of fight, they've pulled off some brilliant results against the bigger sides in the division and that was a reason for us to be wary as we traveled to Turf Moor. However despite us being on an incredible run of form we didn't win as comfortably as we would've liked against a team fighting for survival. That meant it was a test of the team's mentality and thankfully they managed to pass that. It wasn't convincing, nor was it flooded with quality, but we got the job done and at this stage of the season that's all you can do.

It was typical of the game that it's only goal was an extremely scrappy one. Mesut Ozil originally saw a shot saved before Sanchez's effort was blocked. Then among the bodies, Aaron Ramsey managed to find the net for his fifth league goal of the campaign. Last week's goals against Liverpool had all been of extreme quality but there was perhaps a slice of luck about today's one as the ball rebounded off a Burnley defender before bouncing to Ramsey.

Arsenal's play for the most part was quite sloppy though. We did look incisive on the break away but we didn't create an awful lot in terms of goal scoring opportunities which was the only real negative from the match. However they didn't have many clear cut chances either. The most frustrated player on the pitch probably would've been Olivier Giroud who didn't manage to extend his scoring run this evening. It wasn't the Frenchman's day at all and his only impact was as a focal point for the long balls we had to pump forward as Burnley continuously pressed us backwards. Giroud didn't have any chances of note and was a rather isolated figure up front. Welbeck made a more positive impact when he came on though and almost extended the lead late on.

For the second game in a row Aaron Ramsey was deployed on the right flank. In my opinion he didn't have the greatest of games outwide but at the end of the day he got the goal that won us the game. It is a bit bizarre that with Walcott and Welbeck on the bench that one of them didn't start out wide but in Aaron Ramsey we have a man who has a knack of picking up vital goals. I would prefer to see Ramsey utilised centrally and I'm sure others would too but due to us having an almost fully fit squad it's difficult to fit him in the midfield. Especially with the way Cazorla and Coquelin have both been performing. One of the most positive aspects at the club right now is the fact we have practically every player fit. For once we have a real competition for places and it's a great luxury to have.

A key part of our win as usual was Francis Coquelin. He had a great game in front of the back four and broke up the play brilliantly. He was able to stop Burnley advancing with the ball and that was evident in the fact he made 11 interceptions; 6 more than anyone else in the match. He seems to be able to seek out the danger with relative ease and he has been a revelation in 2015 for us. The only danger Burnley did cause though was from balls from from the wide areas into the box but both Mertesacker and Koscielny dealt with that confidently.

Alexis Sanchez was our brightest player going forward and he is beginning to show signs of getting back to his form from earlier in the campaign after a little dry spell before last weekend. His desire is phenomenal and his drive aided us significantly in the final third. I also want to give a mention to Hector Bellerin  who seemed to be everywhere. He was rampaging down the right hand side on numerous occasions and although looked a little shaky once or twice in defence, he had a very good game offensively. His pace is truly breathtaking!

Our form at the moment has been nothing short of brilliant and with Reading in the FA Cup semi-final to come next weekend, we look in a good position to reach the final once more if we play like we have been recently.

The team's line-ups:

Burnley: Heaton, Trippier, Duff, Shackell, Mee, Boyd, Arfield, Jones(90), Barnes, Vokes, Ings.
Subs: Gilks, Keane, Ward, Ulvestad, Taylor(90), Kightly, Jutkiewicz.

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez(90), Giroud(81).
Subs: Szczesny, Chambers(90), Gibbs, Flamini, Rosicky, Walcott, Welbeck(81).

My man of the match: Francis Coquelin.

Referee: Mike Dean.
Attendance: 20,615.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Arsenal up to second with win over Liverpool

Arsenal put in a brilliant display against Liverpool to earn themselves a 4-1 victory on Saturday afternoon. It was a magnificent attacking display as the Gunners got revenge for their crushing defeat at Anfield last season. Bellerin opened the scoring before goals from Ozil, Alexis and Giroud sealed the win as we moved up to second in the table with Man City still to play this weekend. It was pleasing to see us do so well after returning from the international break, as we'd been in such good form before hand and I was worried that it would ruin our momentum. However that was far from what happened as we thrashed Liverpool. From the win over Newcastle two weeks previous, Wenger made three changes as Bellerin, Mertesacker and Ozil came in for Chambers, Gabriel and Welbeck.
Mesut Ozil scored the second goal from a free-kick
At first it had seemed as though it was going to be one of those days where it doesn't quite happen. We started the game incredibly brightly and after Ramsey failed to score a one-on-one with Mignolet I thought we had spurned it in a similar way to the game against Man United earlier in the season. It was inevitable that after a dominant spell at the beginning of the game and after a wasted chance that Liverpool would come back fighting. We were lucky not to actually fall behind after Markovic just over played the ball for Sterling who would've had an open net. Instead we managed to fire on all cylinders thanks to an explosive end to the first half.

It was from an unlikely source that we did break the deadlock though as Bellerin curled the ball home after finding space inside the area. The Spaniard has been fantastic of late and is proving his worth to the side with some ever improving displays. Apart from bringing down Sterling for Liverpool's consolation penalty late on he had a very good game which was shown with the quality of his goal. He managed to cut inside Moreno before bending the ball into the far corner for his second Gunners goal.

The second goal of the game was to come from Mesut Ozil who I thought was Arsenal's best player on the day. I've said numerous times since his return from injury near the beginning of the year that he has been very good. He's sometimes been a little inconsistent but he was at his fluid best against Liverpool and lead the majority of the attacks. He played a lovely ball out wide into Ramsey which lead to the first, and then scored a beautiful second. He lined up a free-kick before placing it brilliantly in to the same corner as Hector Bellerin did. It was sumptuous strike from a man that is finding real form in 2015. Much of the creative spark this season has come from Santi Cazorla but today it was Ozil and everything seemed to come through the German. At times he was unplayable, jinking and feinting past players in order to find space to lead away an attack.

The third came from one of Arsenal's outstanding contributors this season; Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean has been a little off the boil in recent months but after the international break showed no signs of fatigues as he blasted home the third goal moments before the break. Alexis has scored a host of fantastic goals this season but today's strike has to be up there with one of his best in an Arsenal shirt. Bellerin played an incisive pass to Ramsey before the Welshman found Sanchez. Toure slid in which then allowed Sanchez to find space and then hit a lovely effort into the roof of the net.

A heavy lead going into the second half usually means that games peter off, and that indeed did happen at the Emirates. Daniel Sturridge came on for Liverpool at the break and made a positive impact. One has to ask why he didn't start the game in the first place. Sterling did well running into the channels but he didn't offer a focal point and as a result, their attacking play was limited in the first half. They were much better when it came to their attacks in the second though. That goes to say that they didn't still actually create a lot barring their goal from the penalty spot. Despite the quality of Arsenal's goals Liverpool were painstakingly bad at the back. Skrtel was missing through suspension and the sending off of Emre Can late on summed up the visitors day. Kolo Toure had a particularly poor afternoon and it was no surprise that Arsenal dished out a thrashing.

The win was to be brilliantly finished off in injury time. Sanchez found Olivier Giroud and instead of playing in Cazorla, he cut inside and curled the ball past Mignolet for another exceptional Arsenal goal. Giroud is in fantastic form, and the March player of the month celebrated in perfect style with three points and another goal. He now has seven in his last six Premier League games. The Frenchman hadn't had the best of matches until his goal and his usual link-up play wasn't required due to the brilliance of the Gunners' strikes. However he took matters into his own hands with a lovely finish to round things off with the fourth goal.

The only downers from the match were the fact that Koscielny and Ramsey had to be taken off with injuries. However after the game, Wenger claimed that they weren't serious so hopefully they'll be fine for the Burnley game next weekend. In the week it was the first time for a considerable amount of months or even years that we had everyone fit and in training. Diaby, Debuchy, Arteta and Wilshere had all played in an Arsenal XI game in the week and a few of them will all be vying for places after long spells out in the not too distant future. I don't want to put a curse on things but Arsenal Football Club are in a very good place as it stands.

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny(49), Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey(62), Cazorla, Ozil(73), Sanchez, Giroud.
Subs: Macey, Gabriel(49), Gibbs, Flamini(62), Rosicky, Walcott, Welbeck(73).

Liverpool: Mignolet, Henderson, Can, Toure, Sakho, Moreno, Lucas, Allen, Coutinho, Markovic(45), Sterling.
Subs: Jones, Lovren, Johnson, Manquillo, Brannagan, Borini, Sturridge(45).

My man of the match: Mesut Ozil.

Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Attendance: 60,081.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Giroud double secures win over Newcastle

I may as well get the cliché out the way at the beginning; our game against Newcastle was very much one of two halves. In the first half we put in a good attacking display but in the second we spent the majority of the half pegged back. Luckily though Arsenal managed to hold on thanks to a brace from Olivier Giroud. Out of our most recent matches domestically it was probably the least convincing performance I have seen from this team. We looked very comfortable in the first 45 minutes but Newcastle came after us and managed to exploit what weaknesses were on show. Vitally though, we came out with three points to ensure we remained in third place. Unsurprisingly changes were made after the Monaco game in the week. Chambers replaced Bellerin, Gabriel came in for Mertesacker, and Ramsey started over Mesut Ozil who missed the game through illness.
Giroud now has 17 goals in 26 games this season
Arsenal can be hugely thankful of Olivier Giroud for their victory yesterday as he played a pivotal role in aiding the win. The Frenchman has been in incredible form of late and he can't seem to stop scoring. Whenever he has an exceptional game I feel obliged to go back to that first leg against Monaco and stand corrected. That night he was abysmal and in my comments after the game I was perhaps a little harsh on him. However for all the criticism he has received in an Arsenal shirt he's just got out there on the pitch and given his all. Therefore big credit has to go out to him because he's bounced back in phenomenal fashion. One can only begin to imagine the goal tally he would be on if he hadn't had a long spell out through injury.

I think it's safe to say that Olivier Giroud is one of the most under appreciated players in this Arsenal side and in the Premier League. His finishes against Newcastle yesterday were both very instinctive and they showed exactly why he's in the form of his life. Both goals weren't really Arsenal type goals but nonetheless Giroud found the positions and duly obliged in front of goal. The first was from a Cazorla free-kick. The ball was flicked on by Welbeck and then Giroud stuck out a knee to find the back of the net. Four minutes later Cazorla's corner found the French striker who muscled off Williamson to head home. They were two very well taken goals and hopefully he'll continue it to the end of the season. He now has 8 in 6 against Newcastle and 9 in his last 9 outings in all competitions. His form really has been paramount in 2015.

I feel as though that praise from me for Olivier Giroud has been long overdue but unfortunately we have to move onto the negatives. It was a very intense first half but we managed to go into the break two ahead. Because of the amount of effort we had put into our second leg against Monaco in the week I think the players lacked that extra burst of energy required to convincingly get us over the line. Instead we just about made it to the final whistle with all three points.

We were pegged back massively and that didn't help by conceding almost immediately after the break. Ryan Taylor and Remy Cabella were allowed all too easily to link up down the right hand side and then find Sissoko who was bizarrely unmarked on the edge of the area. He consequently slotted the ball past Ospina. From that moment on it was an upward struggle. We couldn't get a hold of the ball and if it wasn't for some desperate defending and some crucial Ospina saves then we probably would've drawn the game. I don't think we were necessarily bad in defence but Calum Chambers was definitely a weak spot. Hector Bellerin needed to start for me but for the first time in a while both full backs seemed to be exposed. Monreal didn't have the greatest of games by his standards recently whilst Chambers continues to be vulnerable out wide rather than in the centre. I did think Gabriel had a good game though and he made himself busy, especially in the opening exchanges.

One aspect of the way Newcastle got back into the match though was through seemingly over crowding the midfield. From my point of view it was the first time in a long time that we exposed ourselves in that area of the pitch. Francis Coquelin had his customary good game but Aaron Ramsey's return to the starting line-up today brought about a number of problems. Santi Cazorla has operated well beside Coquelin and they have formed a very good partnership in the middle of the pitch. However yesterday away from home when both Cazorla and Ramsey were trying to get forward it left a lot of space in the middle of the pitch.

Ramsey was a very frustrating figure yesterday. He had scored in consecutive games before this match and when he offers that kind of option he has a good game. Yesterday it was a different story though. He can perhaps be guilty of over playing at times and trying too hard to do something rather than going simple. His late runs offer a lot but when it goes wrong, like it did yesterday, he denied what could have been Giroud's hat-trick by taking the ball on instead of letting it run for his team-mate.

Saying that, I don't think we need to dwell on performances like Ramsey's yesterday too much. We're in good form and we managed to hold on for a good three points even when we weren't at our best. We now head into the international break off the back of 9 wins in our last 10 Premier League matches. Liverpool at home awaits and here's hoping all our players come back from the break fit and fighting.

The team's line-ups:

Newcastle: Krul, Taylor, Janmaat, Williamson, Colback, Sissoko, Anita(70), Gouffran, Cabella, Ameobi(88), Ayoze.
Subs: Elliot, Satka, Kemen, Obertan, Gutierrez(70), Riviere, Armstrong(88).

Arsenal: Ospina, Chambers, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monrael, Coquelin, Ramsey, Welbeck(88), Cazorla(70), Sanchez(70), Giroud.
Subs: Szczesny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Bellerin(88), Flamini(70), Rosicky(70), Walcott.

My man of the match: Olivier Giroud.

Referee: Mike Jones.
Attendance: 50,544.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Arsenal bow out on away goals

For the fifth season in a row Arsenal have failed to qualify for the last eight of the Champions League. Time and time again it's been so close yet so far and it doesn't seem to matter who the opponents are. I was very angry after the final whistle went, simply because of the naivety of the performance in the first leg. We went into this tie full of positivity; at last we had dodged the bullet of a Barcelona or Bayern Munich but because of our first leg performance we were left ruing what could have been after beating Monaco 2-0 in the second leg last night. Yes it was a very good display last night but I was struggling to find words when people were claiming it was a spirited performance.
Santi Cazorla tried to work his magic on a night Arsenal crashed out of Europe
Of course Arsenal did well to score two goals against a side that rarely concede this season but how long is it until we do actually advance beyond the last 16? For me that's the main concern here. We consistently do well in the league to reach this competition but at the end of the day what's it been for? To be knocked out in the last 16 for five years in a row? That shouldn't be the case at all. This team are a lot better than that and we should expect a lot more.

It remains to be said that there were plenty of positives to take though. I can't say I'm proud because at the end of the day the tie was over two legs and in my opinion the right team deserved to go through on the balance of 180 minutes of football. I perhaps overreacted at the final whistle, after all we have the FA Cup semi-final to look forward to whilst we're in great form in the Premier League. We have set ourselves up very well for the back end of the season so to go out at this stage in the Champions League is hugely frustrating.

Arsene Wenger's tactics in the first leg were questionable. At 2-1 down we were fine in terms of leaving something for us get at it the second leg. However, had we not conceded a simply ludicrous third then we'd be in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. In the return leg yesterday we were of course a lot better. Not that he had much choice though as we attacked from the off. We were perhaps a little timid in our approach in the opening 20 minutes or so but once we got going Monaco found us very hard to deal with. Danny Welbeck once again proved his selection and he was very lively down the right, he set up Giroud for the first goal and showed good pace to beat Kurzawa at left back on a few occasions. Aaron Ramsey's exclusion was the only doubt as only one change was made from the first leg; Monreal in for Gibbs.

Olivier Giroud certainly atoned for his first leg performance to some extent. Since his awful night in front of goal that night at the Emirates he's been in great form and he added to his tally for the season with an emphatic finish last night. It was his first and only Champions League goal of the season after being injured earlier in the campaign. Welbeck sent him through and after Giroud saw his shot saved he fired home the rebound into the roof of the net.

This Arsenal performance was exemplarly of us under Arsene Wenger in the last couple of years and was almost predictable. Score a goal at a vital time, go for it in the second half, score with little time remaining to give us hope and then fail to score the most crucial goal that would've taken us through. Because of that it remains hugely frustrating as it's an all too similar feeling. Aaron Ramsey's introduction in the second half gave us a bigger impetus from which to perform from. He completely changed the game when he came on and gave us an extra drive from midfield. He scored at the weekend and added the second in this game, comfortably slotting home after a lapse in defence from Kurzawa. The return of the Welshman from injury who looks to be firing on all cylinders is a huge positive and he will produce a real selection dilemma going into Newcastle on Saturday.

The most disappointing aspect of the second leg last night was the performances of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil; neither really offered a considerable goal threat throughout the tie. Sanchez was trying his best but on too many occasions he tried to overplay and instead of passing the ball ran into the man and wasted possession. It's harsh to lay into him but for me he didn't have a good game and when you pay that sort of money for a player you expect them to be able to play a bigger role in the tie than he did. Sanchez has looked to be tiring recently and he is due a rest. On his day he's an exceptional talent but in the last few matches, excluding QPR, he's looked off the boil.

A similar sort of thing can be said for Mesut Ozil who didn't come alive until the final quarter of the game. Some begged to differ over the German's performance and said he played well. It wasn't his worst game but he repetitively gave the ball away in certain situations when an easy ball was on. He did however offer something we haven't seen from him in the past, and that is why many are saying he had a good game. Instead of petering off in the latter stages of the game he was willing to track back and work hard for the team. His body language for a change was a very positive one and you can tell he loves this competition. Lets hope he can now transfer that into Arsenal's domestic games.

The defence were improved from the first leg, but they didn't have much to do. Mertesacker against the pace of Martial and Carrasco still seemed to struggle whilst Monreal wasn't always as solid as we've come to expect of him in recent months. Laurent Koscielny however was outstanding again and he played a similar role to the one against West Ham.

As said, it is very annoying to go out at this stage but there's plenty to remain positive about. We're in the semi-final of the FA Cup whilst we remain just a point of second placed Manchester City in the Premier League.

The team's line-ups:

Monaco: Subasic, Fabinho, Abdennour, Wallace, Kurzawa, Toulalan, Kondogbia, Moutinho, Dirar(86), Martial(59), Berbatov(69).
Subs: Stekelenburg, R.Carvalho, M.Carvalho, Silva(69), Ferreira-Carrasco(59), Elderson(86), Toure.

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal(83), Coquelin(63), Cazorla, Welbeck(71), Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud.
Subs: Szczesny, Gabriel, Chambers, Gibbs(83), Flamini, Ramsey(63), Walcott(71).

My man of the match: Laurent Koscielny.

Referee: Svein Oddvar Moen (NOR).
Attendance: 17,263.