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, 26 January 2015

Arsenal through on weekend of shocks

This weekend threw up what was perhaps one of the most exciting of FA Cup weekends in the competitions long history. Chelsea and Manchester City were both dumped out by lower league opposition whilst Liverpool and Man United face replays. However, Arsenal marched through in what turned out to be a tougher tie than had first thought. The Gunners returned to the scene of their victory over Brighton in 2013 in which they ran out 3-2 winners. The same result occurred this time around too. Goals from Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil and Tomas Rosicky sealed Arsenal’s passage to the fifth round despite two Brighton goals that kept things interesting. Arsene Wenger made seven changes from the win over City as Szczesny, Chambers and Gibbs came in with Ozil, Flamini, Walcott and Rosicky.
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Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil were back amongst the goals
It wasn’t the most convincing of Arsenal displays, but after a 2-0 win at the Etihad last weekend we were full of confidence. This was shown in how quick we took the lead. It was a blistering start and after what we’d seen on Saturday afternoon it was great to get off to such a brilliant start. Theo Walcott’s progression back into the first team has been a slow one since his injury but he hit the ground running against Brighton, scoring just moments into the game. Calum Chambers got down the right before delivering the ball into Theo who steadied himself before finding the far corner. Theo’s performance in the first half offered us a constant threat and it was great to see him in full flow once again. His last FA Cup goal had come against Brighton two years ago, and he almost came close to grabbing his second of the game later on but showed signs of rustiness with a poor touch.

Tomas Rosicky was the star of the show though, supplying the second and scoring what proved to be the winner with our third. We have an array of attacking midfielders, and at the moment they all seem to be playing their part. Santi Cazorla’s performance against Manchester City was sublime and he’ll need to continue that after both the Czech and Mesut Ozil showed promise against Brighton. Ozil’s return has been met with excitement and he took his goal very nicely. Rosicky’s though was a cracking finish. He played a no look pass into Giroud before the Frenchman played the ball back to him to volley beyond Stockdale in goal. Rosicky was at the heart of everything Arsenal did; his assist was exquisite and the finish for his goal clinical.

Olivier Giroud’s performance proved pivotal, linking up well with the players around him as usual and it was almost a complete performance but for a goal. In all fairness, he didn’t have any chances.

The defensive display wasn’t that convincing though as we rang the changes. Wojciech Szczesny returned in place of David Ospina which I thought was a bit of a weird change and despite Brighton offering very little they scored two goals that were easily avoidable. Chambers wasn’t strong enough for the first and Koscielny failed to get close enough to O’Grady who found the back of the net past a despondent Szczesny.

Szczesny was then arguably at fault for the hosts second goal, scored by Sam Baldock who made himself busy all afternoon. Nacho Monreal stepped up instead of keeping the line with Koscielny which allowed Baldock a run at goal. Szczesny then came haring out of his goal instead of letting Koscielny attempt to block the shot. Resultantly Baldock dinked the ball over the keeper to set up an interesting final fifteen minutes.

In order to aid Arsenal’s chances in the final few minutes Francis Coquelin came on to shore things up after another distinctly average display from Flamini. With him at the base of the midfield we seem to panic whenever we lose the ball and there appeared to be no sense of organisation.

Arsenal’s other subs also made themselves busy. Alexis Sanchez was brought on and hit the bar from a deflected free-kick. He tried to weave his magic throughout the final exchanges but when he came on the Brighton players proceeded to foul him as much as possible. Chuba Akpom though showed great signs of promise and had a chance to score himself. He was a little selfish but his ability to run at defenders caused danger. With Sanogo and Podolski out on loan, and with Campbell rumoured to be joining Villarreal on loan in an exchange for Paulista, Akpom's chance could come now.

The team's line-ups:

Brighton: Stockdale, Greer, Bruno(63), Dunk, Bennett, Holla, Calderon, Ince, O'Grady, Forster-Caskey(82), Baldock.
Subs: Walton, Hughes, Rea, Chicksen, March(63), Mackail-Smith, Colunga(82).

Arsenal: Szczesny, Chambers, Koscielny, Monreal, Gibbs, Flamini, Ramsey, Rosicky, Walcott(69), Ozil(79), Giroud(69). 
Subs: Martinez, Mertesacker, Bellerin, Coquelin(79), Cazorla, Sanchez(69), Akpom(69). 

My man of the match: Tomas Rosicky.

Referee: Michael Oliver.
Attendance: 30,278. 

Monday, 19 January 2015

Arsenal pull of surprise win against City

Arsenal put in one of the best performances we've seen from them in recent years as they overcame Manchester City 2-0 at the Etihad on Sunday afternoon. In a spirited, composed and tactically astute performance, the Gunners put in a display worthy of beating anyone. It was far from a typical Arsenal performance but that didn't matter, because we finally managed to beat a top team on the road for the first time since 2011. For me, I haven't felt that happy and buzzing as an Arsenal fan since the FA Cup final. What's more though, we managed to pick up a vital three points in the race for Champions League football as we leapfrogged Spurs once more.
Santi Cazorla was the star of the show as Arsenal beat city
If you told me we'd be unbeaten against Manchester City at the start of the season I would've told you to get your head checked, especially after last seasons displays against the top sides. However, after a Community Shield win over them, followed by a 2-2 draw at the Emirates and now a 2-0 victory away to the Champions I am heavily satisfied. That's not to ignore our form in the League so far this season because its been average at best. However, the result against City yesterday offered a respite for Wenger, who had previously come under heaps of pressure.

Indeed it was Wenger who took the initiative and changed his tactics around. After our performances away from home against the big sides in 2013/14, something needed changing and against City that finally happened. In the form of Coquelin we had a player in front of the back four who broke play up brilliantly whilst fullbacks Monreal and Bellerin kept their position and didn't expose the defence when going forward. They were cautious and there was only one period of time at the beginning of the second half in which they did leave us exposed at the back. It meant for a brilliant display of counter attacking football - exactly the style you need to play when against the big teams away from home, and it worked a treat. The overall performance of the team was brilliant though. Monreal has been heavily improved of late whilst Bellerin just gets better and better.

All the pre-match talk had been about Sergio Aguero and Alexis Sanchez, but the outstanding performers where Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin. Thierry Henry, who was making his Sky debut mentioned in the build-up that Cazorla would be the man at the heart of things, and he was correct. Cazorla played probably his best performance in an Arsenal shirt, let alone his career. The penalty decision was perhaps a bit dubious in the fact that Monreal went down too easily but Cazorla slotted home from the spot with ease. He then played in the free-kick which Giroud headed home our second goal from.

It's difficult to put into words just how good Santi's performance was but the fact that Ozil is likely to stay on the bench proves how good he was. He was tracking back, made some important tackles and blocks, and wasn't afraid to get stuck in. That side of his game hadn't been seen before but it really was a complete performance from the Spaniard. Long may it continue too!

The other outstanding performer, as said, was Francis Coquelin. It's easy to get ahead of ourselves but since the Frenchman has returned from his spell on loan with Charlton he hasn't put a foot wrong. That was the same against City as he managed to keep David Silva out of the game and prevented the hosts from finding those pockets of space in and around the area. He made life easy for Koscielny and Mertesacker who didn't have a lot to do because of the protection Coquelin offered. His contract is up at the end of the season but he surely deserves a new one.

The defence went relatively untroubled but did show resilience when tested early in the second half when we had to withstand a heavy band of Man City pressure. However we kept our shape and Ospina managed to keep his third clean-sheet in a row. The only thing he really had to do was make a good save from a deflected Aguero effort. It was remarkable how well the defence played, especially after last years disaster. Hopefully this performance will now lay down a real blueprint for future games against the big sides.

City were missing Yaya Toure but I think our performance was that good that we still would have achieved a result even if he was playing. We managed to isolate their two best players, and as a result won the game. It certainly was a fantastic win, and one that should bring us huge confidence going into the coming weeks.

This could well be a result that changes the context of our season, if we can maintain the sort of performance we showed yesterday then there is no reason why we can't go onto have a very good end of season. Brighton in the FA Cup lies ahead next.

The team's line-ups:

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Fernando, Fernandinho(63), Navas(76), Silva, Milner(45), Aguero.
Subs: Caballero, Mangala, Sagna, Kolarov, Lampard(63), Jovetic(45), Dzeko(76). 

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey(84), Oxlade-Chamberlain(66), Cazorla, Sanchez(84), Giroud. 
Subs: Szczesny, Chambers, Gibbs(84), Flamini(84), Rosicky(66), Ozil, Walcott. 

My man of the match: Santi Cazorla.

Referee: Mike Dean
Attendance: 45,596 

Monday, 12 January 2015

Sanchez stars again as Arsenal beat Stoke

Clean-sheets have been a rarity for Arsenal this season, so for the Gunners to achieve back to back wins involving clean-sheets is a sign that things are finally on the up. Although starting off 2015 in the worst possible way at Southampton, we have responded with two very convincing displays against Hull, and now against Stoke yesterday afternoon. A brace from Alexis Sanchez and a goal from Laurent Koscielny sealed a 3-0 win at the Emirates. It was a very good performance, and with players returning there is every reason to be positive at the moment. There were changes from the FA Cup as expected. Debuchy and Koscielny came back in for Bellerin and Chambers whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain was re-called. Albeit Debuchy was forced off after just 13 minutes. Walcott, Ozil and Ramsey were all on the bench whilst Ospina retained his place in goal.
Alexis Sanchez now has 12 Premier League goals
After the horror show at the Britannia last month, it was vitally important for Arsenal to get off to a quick start and really get stuck into their opponents. Despite kicking towards the North Bank, rather than the clock end in the first half, the Gunners got off to a great start. Stoke were immediately pegged back as Sanchez went close early on before he provided us with the first goal of the afternoon. Laurent Koscielny's return to the side was crucial over the festive period, with our only real blip coming against Southampton and he popped up with the opener yesterday. Alexis swung the ball in and Koscielny was allowed to head home unmarked from close range. It was a simple goal, but a vital one.

From then on in the tone had been set for the rest of the match. In truth Stoke were never really in it and the match was a huge comparison to that of the one in the Potteries. Ryan Shawcross and Peter Crouch did their best to unnerve the likes of Giroud and Mertesacker but whilst that was happening Alexis Sanchez was busy carving the Stoke defence to shreds. He was able to add the second goal of the game after playing a lovely one-two with Rosicky who has really come into his own after being out of the side in the first half of the season. The Chilean managed to weave his way into the box before wrong footing Begovic and finding the corner at the near post, rather than going towards the far post which looked the obvious route.

It's impossible to not talk about Alexis Sanchez at the moment. He's been incredible in his first season in English football and looks to be getting better. Arsenal added a third shortly after the restart in a rather fortuitous manner. Sanchez's free-kick from the edge of the area came off Begovic, onto the post and then rolled over the line with slight help from the keeper. Nonetheless it was his 18th goal of a remarkable season.

The little Chilean wasn't the only one to put in a shift though. Oxlade-Chamberlain was his usual self and impressed hugely down the right again. His drive, energy and strength offers us something different and he went close in the first half to scoring. He meanwhile won the free-kick from which we scored from. Cazorla and Rosicky were very good too, and continued their encouraging form.

Francis Coquelin is a man who has got a lot of attention recently and has won quite a few plaudits for his efforts in that defensive midfield area. It's clear that we need someone of distinct quality in that role but the Frenchman has done a brilliant job in my opinion since returning from a loan spell with Charlton. He's been a revelation and it's clear that Wenger trusts him. Rightfully so too, he didn't put a foot wrong against Stoke.

The defence went relatively untroubled but now alongside Koscielny, Mertesacker looks to be back to his best after good displays in the FA Cup against Hull, and on Sunday against Stoke. Debuchy went off early in the first half with a dislocated shoulder - the only frustration from yesterday, but Hector Bellerin came on and showed the heavy strides he's made forward in the last few months. The defensive aspect of his game is growing game by game and he looks set to become a very good player. A clean-sheet is always encouraging and that will please David Ospina who was making his Premier League debut after featuring last week in the Cup.

Another huge positive was the return of Mesut Ozil who entered the fray to a huge applause. Ramsey being on the bench was another positive whilst Theo Walcott continues to make his comeback. The winger perhaps could have added a fourth late on but skewed a shot wide after Sanchez had played him in.

Although the win against Stoke was hugely convincing, we'll face a whole different proposition in the form of Manchester City away next weekend. It'll be real test of Arsenal's resolve but here's hoping for a better defensive display at the Etihad than last season!

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Ospina, Debuchy(13), Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain(67), Cazorla, Sanchez, Giroud(67).
Subs: Szczesny, Bellerin(13), Flamini, Ramsey, Ozil(72), Campbell, Walcott(67). 

Stoke: Begovic, Cameron, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters(45), N'Zonzi(45), Whelan, Walters, Bojan(72), Arnautovic, Crouch.
Subs: Butland, Muniesa(45), Wilson, Adam, Sidwell(45), Ireland(72), Moses.

My man of the match: Alexis Sanchez.

Referee: Jonathon Moss.
Attendance: 59,956.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Mertesacker and Sanchez goals take Arsenal through

There was a weird sense of excitement to see Arsenal back playing in the FA Cup. It gave us the chance to take our minds off what has been a torrid time in the League and flash back to our FA Cup triumph last May. It's a tournament that clearly gave the players a renewed sense of belief as a repeat of last years final saw Arsenal win once again as they beat Hull 2-0 in what was the third round. It was a more convincing display from previous weeks and it was great to see us move on into the fourth round of the tournament. A tournament that we simply have to win once again. There were plenty of changes from the defeat to Southampton as Ospina came in for Szczesny, whilst Bellerin, Chambers, Monreal, Walcott and Campbell came into the side. Walcott's return being the most significant.
Per Mertesacker put in a captain's display as Arsenal beat Hull
You'd be forgiven for thinking that Arsenal's defeat on New Year's day meant they might have been quite hesitant against Hull but they actually showed a glimpse of confidence which must have been something to do with playing at home. The Emirates was significant in last year's cup run, and it looks to be playing it's part in the early stages this year. There was a new found optimism as we got to focus our attentions elsewhere and that's what made it such an enjoyable Arsenal performance despite what was quite a boring second half. Arsenal dominated the opening exchanges and Joel Campbell who was making just his third start of the season had a brilliant chance. He played a one-two with the ever impressive Sanchez before stick a shot straight at the keeper. The Costa Rican should have scored but it showed his willingness to impress.

Campbell's performance was overall quite average and like against Galatasaray in his last start you could tell why he doesn't play more often. Lukas Podolski's loan move to Inter Milan should open up more game time for him though. What was encouraging was his efforts tracking back. On several occasions he tracked back and made some very good tackles on both sides of the pitch. You can see the potential is there and he will surely get better as the campaign goes on.

It was Per Mertesacker that opened the scoring though. The big German has come under heaps of criticism in recent weeks but against Hull he was heavily improved. He was able to easily header Sanchez's corner down and into the net to open the scoring twenty minutes in. The fact that we managed to score from a corner was most surprising but nevertheless we lead. Mertesacker and the defences performance was much better compared to the shambles that occurred at Southampton. They weren't really tested that much but you can tell Bellerin is improving whilst a clean-sheet for Calum Chambers after a tricky spell in and out of the team should give him great confidence. David Ospina also looked comfortable in goal. Whether or not he'll replace Szczesny in the League remains to be seen though.

The second goal of course came through Alexis Sanchez who was once again sublime. Although we could've have done with some height, Sanchez's display improved as a lone striker from the previous game and his movement and finish for the goal was top quality. Santi played it into him before he turned and placed a lovely shot into the bottom corner. The Chilean was offered a rest by Wenger but wanted to play, and you could tell why through the performance he put in. His confidence showed in some of things he tried and was unlucky not to have more than one. He cleverly dinked a shot just over the bar before rounding the keeper only to see his shot blocked on the line by McShane.

Coquelin put in a resolute performance in the middle of the park again and although he does the simple things well it was a good display. One or two strong tackles could've clouded his performance but it's good to see someone in the midfield with the ability to do that for a change. Rosicky's drive and Cazorla's interplay were also exceptional.

One of the most positive outcomes apart from reaching the fourth round was Theo Walcott's first start in a year. He looked somewhat off the pace and his finishing and first touch were lacking but his runs in behind were a constant threat and it's only a matter of time before we see him back to his best. Roll on round four!

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Chambers, Mertesacker, Monreal, Coquelin, Rosicky, Walcott(76), Cazorla, Campbell(90), Sanchez(84).
Subs: Martinez, Koscielny, Debuchy, Zelalem, Maitland-Niles(90), Oxlade-Chamberlain(76), Akpom(84).

Hull: Harper, McShane, Maguire, Davies, Figueroa, Quinn, Huddlestone, Ince, Brady, Sagbo(68), Aluko(61).
Subs: McGregor, Dawson, Bruce, Elmohamady(61), Livermore, Meyler, Hernandez(68).

My man of the match: Alexis Sanchez.

Referee: Robert Madley.
Attendance: 59,439.

Friday, 2 January 2015

New year but same old problems for Arsenal

Arsenal's start to the new year was not a happy one. 2015 started off for Arsenal in the worst possible fashion with a defeat. The Gunners traveled to the south coast in search of their third win on the trot but as a place in the top four beckoned they blew it in typical Arsenal style. For once we had our best four defenders on the pitch but that didn't make a different as mistakes littered our performance as Southampton beat us 2-0 in relatively comfortable fashion. The fixtures recently have been very hectic but fatigue wasn't the problem, we were quite frankly rubbish, and deservedly got punished. The line-up saw three changes from the win over West Ham as Gibbs, Rosicky and Chambers who started in midfield, came in for Monreal, the injured Welbeck and Flamini receptively.
Wojciech Szczesny was at fault for both of the hosts goals
Many fans would be forgiven for thinking that Arsenal's catastrophic way to start 2015 was because of our midfield. Those that watched the game though would have noticed that it wasn't because of Coquelin and Chambers having to play in the holding roles. It was instead our first choice back four. We've waited ages to see Koscielny return to the defence and when we finally look to have a solid platform we crumble at the back. A host of errors led to both Southampton goals, goals that saw us suffer a disappointing loss, especially after two wins over the festive period. It was a huge missed opportunity to gain on Manchester United and also pass Southampton in the race for Champions League football next campaign.

The blame for the goals could be put on two or three players but the main cause for concern was Wojciech Szczesny. He looked in top form against West Ham a few days previous but his performance against the Saints was as far from convincing as you could get. For the first goal he decided to race out of his goal and leave the net exposed after Mane had brushed off Koscielny. The Senegalese international then chipped the ball over the keeper and beyond Mertesacker who in all honesty did a pretty bad job at trying to prevent a goal by clearing it off the line. The second was also very poor defending. The ball in from Davis wasn't cleared by Debuchy and then Szczesny gifted the ball to Tadic who effectively had an open net to fire into. Although the Gunners slipped up late against Liverpool a few weeks back, they had been resolute in their defending late on in their previous two games. Southampton was a completely different story though.

It's impossible to pick out any positives from this game, and the start to 2015 was horrendous. Santi Cazorla was in fine form over the festive period and he had a great chance in the first half to open the scoring but instead stuck his chance straight at Forster in goal who also made some top saves to deny Sanchez. I suppose the only positive was Theo Walcott playing half an hour towards the end but even then he had little impact on the game, and our late exchanges which saw Santi fire over and Coquelin hoist a pass out of play summed the day up.

Arsenal's fate may have already been sealed before today though. Despite the defensive problems we offered very little in attack. Welbeck was out injured which meant Alexis had to lead the line and became very isolated, just as he did in the opening weeks of the season when he had to play there. Of course the other absentee was Olivier Giroud whose red card on Boxing Day possibly cost us yesterday's game and is why our fate had already been sealed. Without him, or a recognised striker our link-up play was not at its best and we didn't have a focal point to aim for in attack. We were heavily outnumbered on the height front too. 

Lukas Podolski missed out through injury, and he looks set to be on his way to Inter Milan this month but the fact we had to bring on 17 year old Chuba Akpom in the dieing moments to bring us a goal  summed up our arduous season so far. No disrespect to Akpom but we shouldn't have had to have brought him on to try and save the game when you're a club of our size.

Hull City in the FA Cup looms this weekend and we'll have to be heavily improved if we want to progress and defend the trophy we won last year. An event that seems a long time ago now.

Southampton: Forster, Alderweireld, Fonte, Gardos(71), Bertrand, Wanyama, Davis, Ward-Prowse, Mane(42), Tadic(84), Pelle. 
Subs: Davis, Yoshida(71), Targett, McCarthy, Isgrove, Long(84), Reed(42). 

Arsenal: Szczesny, Debuchy(84), Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Chambers(60), Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Cazorla, Alexis.
Subs: Martinez, Monreal, Bellerin, Maitland-Niles, Campbell, Walcott(60), Akpom(84). 

Referee: Craig Pawson.
Attendance: 31,492.