Chelsea vs Arsenal Preview: Muted Performance or Goals Galore?

After yet another predictable and uninspiring performance in the Champions League, against Zagreb, we jump back into Premier League today against Chelsea. As we know, Chelsea have just come lost back to back games and we were looking the more threatening team, but after the mid-week games it feels like they may have some confidence back.

I feel this game will go one of two ways. It will either be a game that neither team wishes to lose and will be content to sit, be patient and possibly play for a draw if they can’t nick a win. Or it will be an explosive game and goals will fly in from both sides.

We all have grown accustomed to Wenger’s traditional excuses when we lose and the ‘mental strength’ cliché but in yesterday’s press conference he said he will not use the tired from travelling excuse:

“Chelsea play as well and it is part of our job. I don’t think it will be a massive problem for us, but we will see. I think we have gone down the way where we have to accept that television decides when you are going to play. We have to accept that.”

 

After the baffling team selection against Zagreb we should be back to full force today. Petr Cech returns for his second match against his former club, replacing Ospina. Bellerin, Monreal and Ramsey will come back into the team. I know people complain about Ramsey on the right, I am one of them, but Wednesday’s performance by Chamberlain demonstrated why he has been played ahead of him. When he has an off day then Chamberlain gives the ball away far too much, but on his good day he is superb.

Wenger has also commented on Cech starting against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge for the first time:

I just want him to focus on this game and not be influenced by that. You can’t go there and wonder if you’re standing in the right goal or not. He is so experienced that I don’t need to talk to him about that. Our individual performances will be more important than what he knows. There is no massive secret in that.

 

I think Wenger will start Theo Walcott ahead of Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman’s head is down and his confidence is shot. He has the French fans, Arsenal fans and the media on his back and it clearly showed on Wednesday that it is affecting him. But then if it was constantly being drilled into you that you are not good enough to lead the line for Arsenal from all angles, especially from Thierry Henry, then it will have a detrimental affect on your mindset.

The lineup I would love to see us play eventually would be:

my perfect Arsenal

But Theo Walcott only seems to want to play as striker currently which, in my opinion, is not his best position. He scores far more goals from coming inside from a wide position as there is more space to exploit and, most importantly, his back is not towards the goal. Of course you could swap Walcott out for Chamberlain but Walcott is the more established player at this moment in time.

I just hope we don’t kick-start Chelsea’s season with an embarrassing performance. Previous to the midweek game I would have thought we could win the game, and we still could, but currently I would take a draw before kick off. Let’s hope it is the former though.

Dinamo Zagreb Preview + Wilshere debate

We kick-start out Champions League campaign tonight away to Dinamo Zagreb. Let’s just hope we fare better than the two Manchester clubs last night. City has been shocking in Europe, I believe they have won 2 out of their last 11 Champions League matches. As for Manchester United, they bought PSV’s best player and still lost to them. You have to feel for Luke Shaw though, the guy just got over his weight issues and started making good strides in his game only to suffer a double fracture.

Speaking of injuries, there was news that Jack Wilshere will now be out for 3 months due to a hairline fracture of his fibula. It’s incredibly frustrating and disappointing as he is a player I enjoy watching, we all love him as he’s Arsenal through and through, but will he ever make it? Every time he starts making progress he suffers a lengthy lay off through injury.

Here are the comments from Wenger and, our captain, Arteta respectively:

“This kind of injury is not career-threatening. I am not a specialist, but this was just an accident. It is a bone injury. It is not linked with the injuries he had before.”

“He has an enormous talent and support from every department of the club, and from the players because we feel sorry for him. He has an amazing career ahead of him. We are responsible for putting that into his head every day and to not allow him to fall down because, at some stage, that is the danger; that he does not believe in himself or his body and he needs to trust himself.”

In regards to team news for tonight’s match, Aaron Ramsey and Hector Bellerin did no travel and will be replaced by Mathieu Debuchy and probably Oxlade-Chamberlain. I suspect the players may have a slight niggle and the manager doesn’t want to risk them for the big game against Chelsea at the weekend. Will we see any other changes with this in mind? Will Gibbs get a rare start?

Let’s try to not make this difficult for ourselves again and finish second.

Arsenal vs Stoke: Clinical Finishing and Team Backing

After the boring international break, which has never made sense to 3 games into the new season, we are back with the nitty gritty stuff. Today we play Stoke in a game that I would normally feel confident about but currently I am not too sure.

So far this season we have been creating chances for fun but we are just not finishing them. In my last post I spoke about this very issue, we seem to take our chances as if we know we will get another one. We need to take our chances as if we won’t get another one.

Stoke have made some very good signings lately and are starting to play better football rather than their long ball rough house antics, although they are still fairly physical but that’s part of the game. The fans need a pick me up as do the players and the only way for this to happen is with a good performance and a positive result.

Fans love players that try hard and put in a shift, it gives encouragement and starts chants which in turn lifts the players’ spirits and this leads to better performances, in theory.

Even though Giroud is in poor form, and his head is all over the place, I still expect him to start. He is a good focal point for our team and we lose a lot of impetus when he isn’t on the pitch as a target man. Wenger has been speaking about wanting goals from other players in the squad but we still need to be clinical in those moments.

“We will have to spread the goals through the squad. I think Giroud, Walcott and Alexis can get around 20 goals without any problem. Sometimes you have to trust your players and play them. I would rather have Ramsey 15, Ozil 15, Cazorla 10. Otherwise, if you have only one player who scores, when he is injured you don’t know who will score.”

The rest of the team picks itself.

Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Ramsey, Coquelin, Chamberlain, Alexis, Cazorla and Giroud.

Let’s have a confidence boosting performance and 3 points please.

Arsenal vs Liverpool Preview: Emirates Record Starts Anew

I can’t stand Monday games. You spend all day at work then you have a lull between finishing and getting to the game, as well as the journey home in the early hours. Anyway onto today’s preview against Liverpool. We go into tonight’s match having lost our opener against West Ham and look to start a long  undefeated run at home.

Last season we were very strong at home and to challenge for the title you need to make your ground a fortress. Arsene Wenger has acknowledged this:

“If you want to have a successful season you want to be strong at home. Normally we are strong at home. This is an opportunity to show that. We missed our first game and we had to look at ourselves, and we responded very well. Now we need to come back to our usual strength that we have at home.”

 

I think we’ll pick the same team that beat Crystal Palace with the only potential change being Walcott for Giroud. Hopefully we can finally start firing on all cylinders and give some encouragement to the fans, as well as boost the players’ confidence. Maybe the threat of playing a team like Liverpool will give us the focus we need.

We’re in the stages of the season where teams are still finding their feet, as seen over the last 3 weeks, and there is no consistency yet. The only team, so far, who seems to be firing is Manchester City. Even though Liverpool have won both their games and United have won 2 drawn 1 they aren’t looking great, yet.

A win tonight will take us into the top 6 and other than that there’s not much else to ask more, apart from a positive goal difference.

Regarding transfer news, there is a lot of buzz around Karim Benzema, Grzegorz Krychowiak and  Edinson Cavani still. Personally I think if we are going to sign any of them it would be the latter 2, even then it’s hopeful we’d get both. I know everyone wants Benzema and he is the dream but would you take him for £50m over potentially the other 2 at £60m?

Wenger has announced that he is ready to make a gamble in the transfer market if the correct players are available:

“There is always time to take a gamble and we are not against taking a gamble,’ said the manager. But what you want is to take a gamble in a market where the opportunity is there.

I believe this squad is ready to fight for the title and has a chance to do it given that we are continuing to develop as a team. That is the first thing. Internally we have the resources to do that and it is also important that we don’t have too many major injuries like last year.

I said before that I don’t know how good the other teams will be. Man City started especially in an impressive way but the season is long.”

 

Crystal Palace preview: prove last week was a blip

After last week’s debacle against West Ham, we really need to bounce back and prove it was just a blip. West Ham lost 2-1 yesterday and had their keeper sent off, which saw Jenkinson banter off Leicester and go in goal. As mentioned previously, West Ham were the better team on the day but they aren’t a better team over the course of a season.

Onto Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace. I suspect we’ll see Hector Bellerin return to the starting lineup, in place of Debuchy. The Frenchman is good but he doesn’t quite have what Bellerin brings to the table. The young Spaniard made the right back position his own when called upon to deputise for the injured Debuchy.

The rest of defence picks itself with Cech – Bellerin – Koscielny – Mertesacker and Monreal being our first choice players. In midfield I think we’ll see Coquelin, Ramsey and Cazorla. This trio didn’t have the best time against West Ham but I feel they are Wenger’s go to midfield as they have previously proven to be reliable.

Our forward line is where it gets interesting. Does the manager drop Oxlade-Chamberlain for Alexis Sanchez already? Does Ozil stick to the left hand side? Will he mix it up and put Alexis Sanchez and Chamberlain/Walcott on either wing? I suspect he’ll be desperate to bounce back strong and opt for Ozil on the left, Alexis on the right and Giroud central. Against a physical team like Crystal Palace you need to play Giroud, rather than Theo Walcott, up front as he’ll be competing in the air a lot. My main worry, which I am sure many among us share, is are we bringing Alexis Sanchez back into the mix too early?

The manager had this to say about the importance of bouncing back after a defeat:

“It is always about how you respond and our game is hugely important. Sometimes, we are maybe too nice. If you want to say our aggression level against West Ham was not big enough, then I would agree with you. I’m confident we will be stronger at Crystal Palace. They’ve tremendously progressed and the consistency of their results has been impressive but we have a good record there and we want to maintain it.”

 

Pardew will have watched his former team beat us and try to take aspects of their game into this. Wenger will be aware of this and our quality should lead us to a hard-fought victory today. We need to rebuild our momentum as we can’t allow the other big teams to build a lead over us this early in the season.

I will take a guess at 1-0 or 2-1 to the Arsenal.

Arsenal v West Ham preview: New Season New Optimism

We go into this new season on a high, full of confidence, after a successful tour of Singapore, winning the Emirates Cup and victory over Chelsea in the Community Shield. The players look sharp, fit and should be ready to begin the new Premier League season.

After the results yesterday, Manchester United scraping a win by an own goal and Chelsea getting a draw, we need to take advantage and start strong. Although it does show that the first game of the season can be unpredictable and focus has to be maintained.

I expect we’ll see the same lineup as against Chelsea but with Giroud starting up front in place of Theo Walcott.

Cech – Bellerin – Koscielny – Mertesacker – Monreal – Cazorla – Ramsey – Coquelin – Ozil – Giroud – Chamberlain.

West Ham have a new manager who the fans are fond of and had a successful stint at Besiktas. You always have to be wary of teams that have recently had a new manager appointed as enthusiasm to impress is dangerous for opposition. Billic threw away their chance at European football in the Europa Cup by fielding a reserve team so they can focus on the domestic competitions.

Wenger is aware of the danger and the necessity of starting strong:

“One of our targets is to start strong. We had a good preparation and that should give us the needed confidence. The Premier League is a fight in every single game so we have to prepare ourselves mentally for that and come out of the blocks straight away against West Ham.

Our ambition is to win the Premier League but we have to sustain that by performance and fighting spirit in every single game.”+

 

With all the rumours circulating about Arsenal attempting to sign a striker, namely Benzema, the boss has tried to instil belief in his current squad by asking for the entire team to chip in with the goals:

“We have to develop our collective game. I think we have to depend less on one guy who comes in and then scores all the goals, and continue to develop our players and the collective aspect.

I don’t see why a guy like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should not aim to score 10 or more goals. Alexis can score goals and Ozil has to fix himself a target of at least 10. Five for a guy who plays behind a striker, you want more goals from him. We can share that a bit.”

 

It was great to see Alexis Sanchez back in training already but I hope we don’t call upon him to play before he is ready. It’s going to be a great feeling being back the Emirates this year, if pre-season is anything to go by, but getting that first win in the league is vital.

Arsenal vs Sunderland preview: Rotation?

A win tonight guarantees us a minimum position of third. If we win both our remaining games and Manchester City lose to Southampton on Sunday then we can sneak second. As mentioned before, I would not be disappointed at finishing third and, hopefully, winning the FA Cup as it means we don’t have to play in the dreaded Champions League qualifiers.

I expect we’ll rotate a few players tonight given that we are coming towards the close of the season and we want to maintain freshness for the FA Cup final and avoid any last minute injuries. The rumours that Koscielny may have flu seem to be exaggerated as he was in the training photos yesterday and will probably be rested, with Gabriel filling in.

Will we see Kieran Gibbs and Calum Chambers starting on the flanks tonight? Possibly the former but not so sure that we’ll make three changes to the back four.

In midfield I think we’ll see Santi Cazorla rested, who appeared to be slightly burnt out against Manchester United, and Aaron Ramsey taking up his role in central midfield. Coquelin will probably continue in his defensive role but a second half sub, depending on the score, to be replaced by Flamini is also on the cards. Could Jack Wilshere finally get a start?

One player I do think needs to be rested tonight is Alexis Sanchez. I’d play Theo Walcott in his position as he should be raring to go and fresh, as opposed to the Chilean who has played 50 games this season. Our lack of pace and width has been evident in our last few matches with the absence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck.

In the presser yesterday, Arsene Wenger was asked several times about his interest in Raheem Sterling.

“At the moment we are not in a transfer mode. We want to finish our season well. We have put massive effort in since the start of the season to come back into a potentially good position in the Premier League, and now we need to focus on finishing well. We have put so much effort in that it would be stupid not to finish the job well. The transfer period comes after the FA Cup final.”

 

Wenger was then questioned on Coquelin and whether we would still consider buying a defensive midfielder now the Frenchman has shown his ability:

“He is ready for a fight – even if somebody comes in. Even if somebody else comes in, he will stay here. I extended his contract. That means I believe in him. Coquelin has shown he has the capacity to play for us and play a big part in the success of the team.”

I personally believe that we do need to sign another defensive midfielder, such as Schneiderlin, not only to provide competition to Coquelin but as an extra option and cover. These comments regarding the quality of Coquelin vs the price paid for a player was interesting:

“The world has changed. The appreciation today of the quality of a player is just down to the money you spend. If we had bought Coquelin at Christmas for £40m, everyone would say ‘What a signing!’ I am sorry he didn’t cost any money, (but) he is still a good player.”

 

Manchester United v Arsenal preview: Can’t Afford to Lose

We go into this match after a very disappointing defeat to Swansea at home. As I said in the review of that match, let’s hope we have got the bad game out of the way and we will bounce back stronger looking to make amends.

I expect we’ll name an unchanged starting XI with the following:

Ospina, Bellerin, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal, Cazorla, Coquelin, Ramsey, Alexis, Ozil and Giroud.

I would be nice to have another appearance from Danny Welbeck from the bench but I am not sure if he has fully recovered from the knock he received. Jack Wilshere is available though, who I felt played well against Swansea.

Manchester United are without Wayne Rooney, supposedly, today who has always been a thorn in our side when he has played. We must take advantage of any weaknesses in their game we can as a loss is not acceptable today. A draw wouldn’t be too bad but obviously a win would put breathing space between us and Man Utd for third.

If we go into this game knowing how they played against us in the FA Cup and exploit the frailties shown in match, as well as taking note of several players’ antics, then we should be able to frustrate them and come away with the win.

Wenger had this to say about the match:

“To win at Old Trafford again would convince us that we have the strength and help us be stronger next season. We feel we have made progress. Only one thing shows you have made progress and that’s the continuity in your performances.

We want to bounce back from our defeat against Swansea and put in a good performance. Any positive result, a win or a draw would be great. Mathematically we can put distance between United and us in the top four and secure a top-three place.”

 

In other news, Wenger has also spoken about how Manchester United are chasing every player that he has been offered and will cause some issues in the transfer market with their massive expenditure.

“I expect Manchester United to be active in the transfer market,” Wenger told reporters. “Every player I am offered, Man Utd are already on his case! He[Louis van Gaal] has shown that he has the personality to be at a club of that size. We expect them to buy some strong players.”

 

Let’s get the win today boys and show our FA Cup victory over them was not a fluke. We can also ease the pressure of finishing top 3 with a victory today. COME ON YOU RIP ROARING GUNNERS!

Hull preview: Opinion on Giroud comments

It’s been an awfully long time since I last posted a blog but I am hoping to get some consistency going again. Tonight we take on Hull and if we take 3 points then we guarantee a top 4 position. It’s hard to see us not getting top 3 this year and I truly believe we will finish second.

I expect we’ll go into this match with pretty much the same squad as previous games. Debuchy is a doubt with a slight hamstring strain, Arteta and Chamberlain are still not ready. There is no real need for the manager to make changes to a winning formula. We are unbeaten in the league since February 7th.

Jack Wilshere has been included on the bench for the last couple of games and he may yet have a role to play in the final few games but it is hard to see how he will fit into the starting lineup. Our midfield has found their groove with the combative Coquelin, energetic Ramsey, precision of Ozil and the tricky Cazorla. If we buy the extra defensive midfielder in the summer, hopefully Schniederlin or Gungodan, then his chances of breaking back in are further shortened.

Arsene Wenger had this to say about Wilshere:

Every week he is stronger, he is getting back to the level now. This week was the first week he is sharp again. His strength is in the final third, offensively. That is where he really expresses his talent. It is difficult to get in this team, I don’t deny that. If you consider any individual case you can say you are sorry that he doesn’t play.

 

For everyone expecting us to go to Hull and turn them over, I personally think it may be a bit tighter as they are barely above the relegation zone, of course I could be wrong. I don’t mind what the score is as long as it is in our favour and we get the 3 points.

There has been a lot of commotion over Thierry Henry’s comments about Olivier Giroud lately and even Wenger has got involved. The legendary talisman said:

“I think they need to buy four players – they need that spine. They need a goalkeeper, they still need a center back, they still need a holding midfielder and, I’m afraid, they need a top, top quality striker to win this league again.”

 

Okay, I can accept we may need another goalkeeper, preferably Cech. Center back is questionable with Koscielny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Gabriel but would make sense if Mertesacker is nearing the end of his Arsenal career. Holding midfielder is a given. But to say Giroud is not a top quality striker and won’t win the league with him is a bit silly.

Giroud has scored 18 goals in 29 games this year and that is after missing 3 months at the start of the season. We were having to play Yaya Sanogo up front, before purchasing Danny Welbeck. He may not be ‘World Class’ but he is defintely more than capable and performs extremely well, not only as a goal scorer but as a focal point and holding the ball up to create chances.

Wenger had this to say about the matter:

“I think he’s wrong. I can accept that’s an opinion but the comment on Giroud was a bit more wrong. Especially because I heard the same thing being said about Nicolas Anelka, about Thierry Henry himself and about Robin Van Persie. And they all became world-class players themselves. It doesn’t cost to say that.

We know all the system now of the modern media, especially on TV. I know how it works. They push you to be controversial because they give you a lot of money. He’s paid for that.”

 

Let me know your opinions on Giroud in the comment section below and COME ON YOU RIP ROARING GUNNERS!

Tottenham preview: North London Derby part II

After a very disappointing result in the home fixture against Spurs I hope to see a more dominating and confident Arsenal take the field today. We have been playing extremely well of late, comfortably beating Stoke 3-0,  City 2-0 away, demolishing Aston Villa as well as booking our place in the next round of the FA Cup. But this is the North London Derby and as most people should know form goes out the window for derbies. It’s all about who wants it more on the day.

The club from Seven Sisters will desperately want to beat us as it would mean they leapfrog us in the league. This is why we should look at the Manchester City game as our game plan. They will leave themselves exposed as they try to constantly attack through Christian Eriksen. If we can take the Danish playmaker out of the game then we should be able to frustrate our opposition into making even riskier plays for us to capitalise upon.

The big discussion over the last couple of days was whether Alexis Sanchez would be fit to play or not. Arsene Wenger said in his press conference that Alexis is in the red zone and will be rested, returning against Leicester. Others have been suggesting Wenger is playing mind games ahead of the derby. I think we’ll see Alexis on the bench as a ‘break in case of emergency’ scenario.

One player who can fill in for the Chilean is Danny Welbeck, who returns from injury. Welbeck is a player who also has tremendous work ethic and always chases back. But could throwing him into the NLD for his first game back be too much? Possibly. Tomas Rosicky, who was rested against Villa, is another player who loves playing, and scoring, against Spurs. Could he return to the lineup?

The back five pretty much picks itself for me. Ospina to continue in goal after keeping 3 clean sheets. He also instils confidence in the players in front of him. Bellerin has to continue at right back after his recent performances. Koscielny, Mertesacker (who also isn’t adverse to scoring against the scum) and Monreal will complete the defence.

Whilst on the subject of our defence, Aaron Ramsey had this to say:

“We’ve learnt from last season when we left ourselves a bit too open in the big away games and teams picked us off. We’ve proven that against Manchester City – sometimes you have to sit in and get bodies behind the ball to try and frustrate them. I thought we did that really well against City.”

 

Our midfield will consist of Coquelin, who has been integral to our recent turnaround in results and will have a major role to play in keeping Eriksen quiet today. Santi Cazorla, the Spanish magician, who has hit some major form lately will be trying to unlock that woeful Spurs defence. Aaron Ramsey will be the engine in midfield who gets stuck in and also tries to keep play moving. One criticism I have of Ramsey lately is that he slows our game down too much when there are great options to choose from. Let’s hope that’s not the case today.

Our forward line will be led by our handsome battering ram Giroud. Now this is where it gets interesting, who will play either side of the Frenchman? Will Wenger keep Mesut Ozil out left after his confident performances or bring in the more battle hardened Tomas Rosicky? I think we’ll opt for the Mesut Ozil in the absence of Alexis with Theo Walcott on the right.

I’m going for a 3-1 win (to Arsenal of course..duh!)

In other news, it has now officially been confirmed that Chuba Akpom and Francis Coquelin have signed contract extensions, after snubbing several clubs. Chuba Akpom definitely looks a talent up front and is exciting to watch, he offers far more than Sanogo for me. It will be interesting to see what happens with Sanogo once his loan at Palace is over. Francis Coquelin has also deserved this extension after his recent performances and could even be regarded as the spark that turned our form around.