Arsenal Fan Protest – Norwich Thoughts

Yesterday’s home game against Norwich, which was frustrating viewing, has been overshadowed by the ‘Time for Change’ protest. I’m going to jump straight in here and give my thoughts on the whole thing, whether some of you agree or disagree is totally your call.

The aim of the protest was to show the club’s owner and directors the discontent felt by the fans at how our club is now being run. It has now been 12 years since we have won the Premier League and every year we show promise, up until December/January, then capitulate with the same consistent failings.

When the owner comes out and states in a publication, “If you want to win championships then you would never get involved.” then clearly something is wrong. Try telling that to Roman Abramovich. It was clear from the outset that he only bought Arsenal FC for the investment, which yes it has paid off if he decides to sell, but at the fans expense. Prices have gone up, we pay the highest ticket fees in Europe for football that is no longer beautiful to watch or competing for titles. We have won two successive FA Cups in the last 9 years, which was a great achievement, but we should be competing on all fronts. Winning mentality stems from the top and it is clear we don’t have an owner with a winning mentality and settles for mediocrity. This trickles down into the board, who get richer every year, the manager, who has less pressure on him, and the players.

Stan ‘Silent’ Kroenke is also the first ever shareholder  to take a dividend out of the club. He refused to speak to fellow shareholders at the AGM, which to me shows huge disrespect, and refused to explain what the annual £3 million “consultancy fees” were actually for. At least be honest and say it was a dividend rather than treat us like we are too stupid to understand.

The march before the match was one I did not fully agree with. You had grown men, and boys, targeting Wenger directly and wishing death upon him. This is just wrong, you do not wish death someone, especially one who brought us such great success during the first half of his employment. This is what the media will pick up on more rather than the real meaning of the protest as it makes for a more sensational headline and also makes us a laughing-stock.

The protest inside the stadium demonstrated how divided our fan base currently is and was met with a chorus of boos and chanting. Firstly, I think fans have a right to express their opinions and views openly, as long as it is not mindless abuse like the above example. It doesn’t matter if you pay £50 for a game, £1000-£3000 for a season ticket, own a £16000 share, we are all fans, we are all entitled to an equal opinion, we are the club, without fans the clubs are nothing.

When the A4 pieces of paper were held up I heard a lot of abuse being thrown at the people protesting e.g. “SUPPORT YOUR CLUB” and “SIT DOWN YOU C*NT”. The people who decided to take part in holding up the ‘Time for Change’ signs do support the club and they love the club, the reason they are protesting is because they care about how the club is being run and it hurts to see the decline from the high standard we used to have.

When the chanting started for “We love you Arsenal”, “Arsenal till I die” etc. the people holding up the signs were singing along as much as anyone as it’s the club they love. Now, when the “One Arsene Wenger” chant started, and the protesters of course did not join in, I felt a lot of people in the stadium didn’t quite understand the core reason behind it in the first place. As I’ve already stated it was to make the hierarchy at the club aware that the fans are fed up with how the club is run, a money leeching owner, lack of investment, poor performances and consistent failings. It was not designed to target Wenger or harass him out of the club but for the club as a whole to change their mentality.

One question I do have is why isn’t Ivan Gazidis getting questioned? Ultimately he is CEO of Arsenal and Wenger’s boss so why is he not being held accountable? He turns up to the fan group meetings and gives his spin and deflects questions left and right but isn’t being questioned on why he isn’t putting pressure on the manager or relaying back to the board the need to buck up ideas rather than increase social media marketing.

If people want to protest then they are entitled to, it is their right to express themselves. Before the game, after the game it’s all good but during the game I have a mixed opinion. There are two sides of the coin, you risk unsettling the players whilst we are still fighting for 2nd-4th but it is also when the protest will get the most attention as it is  being televised. Either way the team always gets full support when they are on the pitch.

Was the protest a success? Yes and no. It has gained media coverage and awareness, which is a plus for those protesting. The negatives are that the media will twist it into a Wenger witch hunt and the fact only a handful of people took part. I’m sure there will be a lot more to come regarding protests in the future if nothing changes. I personally believe the board, especially Kroenke, won’t even bat an eyelid as long as people are still paying to sit in the stadium. Why would they care as long as the person holding up a piece of paper has paid them to do so.

As for the match, what is there to say? For some reason we started Giroud, who has no confidence and is out of form, and Ramsey. The game was crying out for pace and someone to run in behind the Norwich defence. Ramsey did his usual, slowed the game down, took too many touches and lost the ball. I’d much rather see Coquelin partner El Neny and allow the Egyptian to go box to box knowing he has cover behind.

Everyone was crying out for Welbeck to come on and inject some pace into the team, especially with how poor Giroud was again. When he did come on it was met with resounding boos as Iwobi made way for the England international. Wenger was then vindicated only 3 minutes later as Giroud and Welbeck combined to score the only goal of the match. Giroud then came alive after 60 minutes of falling over and losing headers. The whole team started to play football but we still let Norwich have chances and we have Petr Cech to thank for making some big saves.

There’s not much else to say about the match that hasn’t already been said over the last 4 months so I’ll leave it there.

Enjoy your bank holiday weekend if you don’t have t work!

Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal: Weak Referee and Cheating Costa

Yesterday’s match has sparked all kinds of debates and what ifs, all because the actions (or non actions) of two men. The first is Diego Costa, a known bully, cry baby, wind up merchant and cheat. He loves to dish it out but as soon as he is touched in any way then he cries to the ref like a petulant child.

It started as soon as the third minute. The ‘hard man’ dived then waved an imaginary card to Mike Dean. I thought that behaviour had been clamped down on? I always thought if a player starts waving invisible cards to the ref then they should be booked themselves.

The main incident that sparked all the controversy yesterday involved three players. Koscielny was marking Costa, who put both his hands on his face then followed up with a wild swing. Koscielny, to his credit, did not rise to the bait of Costa’s antics but he was then chest bumped to the ground. Where was the referee to take control of the matter? Oh too busy imagining what headlines he could make for himself the next day.

Gabriel got involved, which we all loved to see, and confronted Diego Costa but then it went too far. Costa scratched Gabriel round the back of the neck, like a little girl would do, resulting in both players receiving a yellow card. I could understand both players getting booked for that incident but what about the entire build up and the fact Costa tried dismantle Koscielny’s face?

The next stage of the incident is where it demonstrated a lack of a leader in our team. Where was the captain or leaders on the pitch to take hold of Gabriel, move him away from the snide cheat and calm him down? Instead Gabriel let Costa’s games get inside his head which saw him receive a straight red for flicking out a boot. Silly behaviour. But in his reluctance to leave the pitch, Kurt Zouma grabbed Gabriel around the throat. Surely this is also a red card? Oh…and guess who was the first around the pathetic Mike Dean complaining and trying to get our players sent off? Cesc Fabregas, the player our fans gave a standing ovation to previously. He doesn’t give a monkey about your respect and every “fan” who stood and clapped him has no respect from me.

I feel our team are too nice and honest. If you know that Costa is on a yellow card and just evaded multiple sending off offences, with his head still hot, surely you’d get your players to rile him up for to retaliate back and get him sent off in turn? Nope our overly friendly team just got on with their game. It’s great to see one of our players finally stand up for another one but where was everyone else? Where was another player to back up Gabriel? Where was our leader to defuse the situation?

I don’t get how the linesman managed to see the flick of Gabriel’s boot but not the 4-5 incidents from a single player building up to it. Mike Dean is an incredibly incompetent referee and even Garth Crooks had some truthful words about him.

Mike Dean ruined what was a pretty even game up until that point. I thought we could come away from Stamford Bridge with a point until the melee unfolded and Mike Dean could not take charge of a situation and miss clear evidence of violent behaviour.

In the second half it got even worse. Santi Cazorla saw a second yellow for a late challenge on Fabgregas, who made the most of it (surprise surprise) but you couldn’t argue against it. Oh look, Diego Costa evaded yet another second yellow, or even a straight red, for flicking his boot out at Chamberlain. Not even a foul? Superb double standard Mike Dean….superb.

We did have a chance to equalise, before Hazard made it 2-0 in injury time, through Alexis Sanchez but he put it wide. I don’t know what has happened to the Chilean, he seems a shadow of the player he was last season. Ramsey also had a terrible game constantly giving the ball away.

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The inevitable also happened during the first half. Coquelin went down clutching his knee and the physio had to come on to give him treatment. Hearts were in mouths as we knew this was going to happen eventually but just not this soon. Whispers are that he will be out for around 1-2 months so we now have to put up with old man Arteta in the holding role. I think the Spaniard is a great professional and a great man but on the pitch he is done as a top-level player.

I was also disappointed to see the players pat the Chelsea players on the back and shake their hands after the game. You would never have seen that during the Adams or Vieira era. As I said previously we are too nice and honest. How can they stomach congratulating them after what they did?

The blame for the state of our squad, now we have encountered the inevitable injuries to key players, can only lie with the board and Wenger for not reinforcing out squad. We all knew Coquelin needed cover but we didn’t buy anyone. I bet Schneiderlin for £25m is looking good now isn’t it. We all saw how we played with Arteta in that role against Zagreb.

Wenger had the following to say about the match:

“He can do what he wants, and he stays on. He will do same next week, and week after, and get away with it. In every game there’s aggravation, he gets away with it because referees are weak. We are also guilty because we reacted to it, but every time somebody touches him he goes down like he has been killed.

I wouldn’t like to be Mike Dean tonight, I can’t understand how he dealt with the situations. I am very disappointed by Mike Dean’s performance”

 

Can’t argue with Wenger’s comments but you can definitely argue the summer transfer policy and lack of cover in the squad. No striker, no one to rotate with out of form players, no one to cover Coquelin.

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Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal: Scrappy Victory

There were many that were shocked when they saw Theo Walcott starting ahead of Oliver Giroud against Newcastle, but many were applauding the inclusion of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. I know the game was extremely tough and we didn’t create too much but I believe it was the right squad 11 vs 11.

We had Laurent Koscielny back in central defence alongside Gabriel, two rather similar players but absolute warriors. Not long into the first half we should have had a penalty when Bellerin was brought down in the box by Newcastle newboy Thauvin. The only reasoning I can conceive as to why it wasn’t given is due to the referees line of vision being impaired.

Newcastle then opted to play rugby for the remainder of the first half with some ludicrous fouls in quick succession. Sissoko picked up a yellow for going studs first into Monreal’s shin, then not long after Mitrovic decided to do the same to Coquelin. He was shown an instant red card. The referee showing he was card happy in order to reduce the amount of dangerous challenges. This was not to be the last of it though, especially on Coquelin.

Our game plan was obvious, lure the Newcastle players out of position and play Theo in behind the defence, and utilise the pace of Alexis and Chamberlain outside him. This game plan went out the window when the red card was shown as it changed the entire dynamic of the game. Newcastle were going to sit deep with the objective to not lose and try to hit us on the counter if possible. This does not change the fact that we need a new striker, as in my opinion Theo Walcott is not a central striker. Walcott, in my mind, is an attacking wide man.

Frustration grew throughout the entire first half due to the fact we got the edge of the penalty area then either passed it sideways, backwards or just gave the ball away trying to thread it through 5-6 Newcastle players. Everyone knows that against a defensive 10 man team you need to be patient but we were trying the same thing over and over again with no positive outcome. There was a lack of drive, urgency and effort. We were trying to pull players out of position but we were playing far too slow to do so.

We eventually managed to go 1 nil up thanks to a deflected Chamberlain effort shortly into the second half. Then the game resorted back to more of the same of the first half. There was a great chance at the end for Giroud, when he came on, which saw him try to be too clever and lob Krul but it was an easy save. A top striker should be finishing that chance.

People were moaning that we lack creativity without Mesut Ozil but we managed to create 22 attempts at goal and 9 shots on target with the team that played. The problem is our finishing and ruthlessness in front of goal and converting those chances/efforts. We attack as if we know we will get another chance and it doesn’t really matter if we miss, which is totally the wrong attitude. If we want to be true title contenders then we need to be converting our chances. What if we don’t get another goal scoring opportunity in the game? What if we get a red card? Make the most of the chances and be ruthless, we lack that killer up front.

Here are Wenger’s comments after the match:

You play away from home, 11 against 10, and you know that they will play 15 yards deeper, you play 10 against nine in the final third, the crowd is behind their team which puts pressure on the referee, and then it’s very difficult. We didn’t find the space. They defended well and they’ve shown why they didn’t concede at Manchester United as well. We are happy to have the three points and to win 1-0.

 

On whether we will be active in the transfer window:

“We are open and we are in the transfer market. If we find an exceptional player in any sector, we will do it. At the moment I don’t know if something will happen or not. We’re working on it, I’m not any more or less optimistic than I was last week. You always want more goalscorers, but it’s unpredictable.”

 

I really hope we do sign a player in a position that is lacking, such as a defensive midfielder or a striker.  But be prepared for disappointment as you know how transfer windows are for us Gooners. It wouldn’t just be great for the squad but it would lift the fans and lift the squad morale.

Crystal Palace 1-2 Arsenal: Ozils Majestic Vision

Arsene Wenger went with the suspected lineup I posted yesterday, and after much criticism from fans on social media regarding Ramsey playing on the wing, it worked out in our favour.

Alexis Sanchez was brought back in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right, even though he is not fully fit he was fully committed and gave it his all. Hector Bellerin returned to right back and that extra pace was needed against Puncheon and Zaha.

A lot of fans were calling for Chamberlain to start ahead of Alexis after his previous performances, and due to the Chilean not being 100% match fit yet, but his work rate is unquestionable and I’m sure it lifts the rest of the team. Chamberlain is a good player to bring off the bench, much like Theo, against tired legs due to his pace and direct play.

Straight out of the gate we dominated possession and dictated play, we were superior all over the pitch. We nearly scored early on from a counter from a Palace corner. The end of the move saw Ozil feed Alexis, who hesitated for a split second, and scuppered the chance to put us a goal up. In a couple of weeks I expect to see a fully fit Alexis burying them chances.

We didn’t have to wait long after though to get our breakthrough and what a goal it was. Ozil, the creator again, whipped a ball into the box just behind a waiting Giroud who turned and hooked the ball into the corner of the net. A very agile move for the big Frenchman.

Unfortunately the lead didn’t last too long. The ball bounced its way out to the edge of our box and Ward fired low into the bottom corner. Cech had no chance as it was so precise and his view was obscured, it could have potentially been prevented if Koscielny didn’t bottle the block.

Not long after the second half started we nearly went 2-1 down after a Connor Wickham shot hit the post from the 6 yard box. We looked like we were lacking width and pace with Ramsey out wide, this led to calls for Chamberlain to make an appearance. With Coquelin also on a yellow it was clear that Zaha and Puncheon were targeting him and trying to get him sent off. Fortunately Wenger subbed him for Chamberlain and added a new threat to our attack, Ramsey came slightly more central.

We managed to scrape the win through an Alexis Sanchez header, from a Bellerin cross, which deflected off Delaney into his own net. Arteta and Gibbs came on to help out with the defensive duties and we held on. It wasn’t a comfortable game but it’s a win and three points, our first of the season. Something to build on.

Arsene Wenger had this say:

“We had a good, fluent game in the first half and when they came back to 1-1 it was a mental test to see how we could respond. We managed to find a second goal and after that in the second half of the game we just had to dig in, fight, and we did it as well. I’m pleased because we have shown many different aspects that will be very important in the season.”

 

I thought Ozil played exceptionally and pulled all the strings, this should be the benchmark for his performances this season and aim to improve consistently. Wenger had this to say on the German:

“He was magnificent. He works harder than people thinks he does. He is not spectacular in his defending but he wants to do the job, he wants to help the team. What I liked in his game today was he made many runs without the ball behind the defenders, which is a bit new as he likes to come with the ball. Today he mixed up his game better.”

Arsenal 0-1 Swansea: Where Have the Goals Gone?

As we all know with the invincibles, you will eventually lose and unfortunately that was last night. Let’s just hope we got the poor performance out the way before we play Manchester United and up our game. We had 12 attempts on goal last night, with 9 on target, yet we couldn’t convert any of them. Swansea ended up scoring with their first real effort.

What made it more gutting is that it came 5 minutes (9 including injury time) from the end when it looked like a draw was the correct result. At first glance it appeared that Ospina had kept it out but goal line technology prevailed and the ref was alerted by his watch.

I can’t remember anything from the first half as it was that dull. Ozil played some great passes, Alexis kept running, Ramsey tried to make things happen but other than that nothing really stood out. We kept possession and passed it about whilst trying to break down an organised Swansea team.

The second half we injected a bit more urgency and took the game to Swansea. Most of our efforts were thwarted by our former Polish keeper Fabianski. Giroud had a great chance to score after being setup by Ozil but couldn’t finish. Alexis and Ramsey both had efforts that hit the side netting.

It was one of them games where you just knew a former player was coming back to haunt us. Wilshere came on for Coquelin to add some drive to the midfield and run at players. This is something we have really missed during some of our games, we don’t have players who take others on and try to beat them. Most notably down the right hand side ahead of Bellerin, you feel we lack a traditional right winger.

Theo came on for Giroud and played through the middle. He really ought to have scored when Alexis has his effort saved, which he also should have scored. Gomis, the player who scored the winner against us earlier in the season, came off the bench and produced the same again.

Montero went passed Bellerin and got his cross away and it was met by the head of Gomis and despite Ospina’s best efforts he couldn’t keep it out. Swansea’s first effort on goal and guess what….it was a goal. Typical. There was too little time for us to try and get the draw and we suffered our first defeat in a long time.

Wenger had this to say:

“Overall I was encouraged by the quality that we showed in the second half, but it’s frustrating. We rushed our finishing because we had plenty of chances in the second half. It was just a question of scoring a goal”

Let’s hope we have got this bad match out of our system before we play Manchester United on Sunday. A victory there should help alleviate the pressure of finishing in the top 3, rather than ending up in the dreaded 4th spot again.

 

Hull City 1-3 Arsenal: Majestic Midfield Performance

What I thought may be a tough game due to Hull City dangling just above relegation turned out to be one of our best performances this season. The side, as expected, was unchanged from the one that played Chelsea and they wanted to show how exciting they are, as well as effective. Even though the match ended 3-1 it could have been 5-1.

The shape of the game unfolded within the first 10 minutes with Arsenal having plenty of possession and passing the ball around, whilst Hull got physical and a few ex Spurs players tried to kick lumps out of our players. One notable challenge was by Tom Huddlestone on Aaron Ramsey. Somehow Huddlestone looked like he kicked Ramsey’s ankle, shin and knee in a single movement but the Welshman managed to continue.

Not long after this incident we scored our first goal and it was scored by none other than Alexis Sanchez. Ozil played in Alexis and he was brought down by, yet another ex Spurs player, Jake Livermore and earned a free kick just outside of the box. Alexis stepped up and skilfully, of course, aimed at Dawson’s head (3rd ex Spurs player) to fool the keeper and scored.

It only took us 5 minutes to score our second. Santi Cazorla, who has been one of our stand out players of the season, spotted Aaron Ramsey running into the space left in the centre of the pitch and performed a quarterback-esque pass straight into his feet. Ramsey’s first touch killed the ball and allowed him to turn and get his shot away. It was deflected by the defender and looped into the goal.

We nearly had our third when Cazorla split the Hull defence with a precision pass to Alexis but he just couldn’t manage to finish the chance. He didn’t have to wait long though as Ramsey played Alexis in behind with a great ball and he rounded the keeper and slotted into the empty net. We went in at half-time 3-0 up, not as hectic as the Liverpool game but extremely enjoyable.

The second half we were content to hold on to the ball and pass it round but we still managed to fashion chances. Hull managed to pull a goal back after Quinn headed home a ball into the box. The Arsenal players were not happy at all as they felt Koscielny was fouled in the build up to the goal. I thought it was a foul as well but there was no amount of complaining that would have changed the outcome.

It felt like we were playing with the handbrake on, bar the odd opportunity that was too good to pass up, and we could have taken it off at any point. We were comfortable though and there was no need to take risks due to how in control of the match we were. The moment that made Twitter explode though was Mesut Ozil’s no look flick, it was a thing of beauty.

 

There was a rare appearance for Jack Wilshere as he replaced Aaron Ramsey. You could tell he really wanted to make an impression and prove his worth again. There was one point where he done a classic Wilshere burst through the middle and then was brought down on the edge of the box. He’s a player you want to do well at the club but you can’t help but think he knows his time may be coming to an end soon unless he can up his game. Jack nearly managed to make it 4-1 but his shot was blocked by an arm and should have been a penalty.

Another forgotten man came on at the end, called Theo Walcott, and also ought to have scored but fired wide. It’s a shame we signed this British core to a lengthy deal and now they can’t get a look in due to how well our current first 11 are performing. The performance was an accomplished one and also what you would expect from a team of our quality. Let’s hope we can continue our good form and consistency to the end of the season.

Here are Arsene Wenger’s comments on the match:

I’m very happy with the performance because we had a fluent game, [we were] pacey, created many chances. The amazing thing is that the [first] two goals we scored were deflections and the clear cut chances we had we didn’t score. Overall, you can see we have a good dynamic in the team and that our game was very good.

 

Also something to note is Alexis Sanchez’s goal tally. He now as 24 goals in his debut season and is just 2 short of Thierry Henry’s debut goal record, of 26. I’m confident he can break this with the remaining 3 league games and FA Cup final coming up. Wenger had this to say about our explosive Chilean:

“Yes [I’m surprised], because I expected him to be more of a provider than a goal scorer. Especially as well because I play him on the flank where you have less chances. He has the timing and the quality of his runs are very good. He gets into good areas to finish”

Onto Swansea on Monday.

Oh……and HAPPY ST. TOTTERINGHAM’S DAY!

Arsenal 3-0 West Ham: Momentum

Arsenal have now won 11 out of 13 matches since New Years Day, which includes 7 out of 8 in the league. The gap between us and second is now only 1 point, thanks to Burnley, and, depending on the result of the Chelsea vs Southampton match later today, we could even throw down a late title challenge.

The first half yesterday could be summed up as typical Arsenal. We kept knocking on the door, chance after chance, only for the opposition to hoof the ball up to their striker who, if he had a bit more quality around him, punished us. We started brightly and could have scored within the opening 5 minutes. Theo was put through only to be tackled at the last moment.

Theo, who got his first start since coming back from injury, was the point of frustration for the Emirates yesterday. He started well by making runs and getting into goal scoring opportunities but quickly showed why he wasn’t being picked. His laziness did not sit well with the fans in the stadium. He didn’t track back down the right to provide cover for Chambers. He didn’t move into space down the right whilst Chambers was bringing the ball forward and reduced our options. He kept coming central and hiding in well occupied areas. He was jogging up and down the field, constantly being passed by other plays busting a gut.

Ozil, on the other hand, has been outstanding since his return from injury, especially in the last week. Since being moved more central he has flourished and even chases down the ball. Earlier in the season he was not up to his expected standard and people were frustrated with him, which is what you expect when you shatter your transfer record for a player of his quality. When he is clearly performing well, people just try and find every reason to continue hating on him. He can’t win. The one criticism I have of the German is that he needs to shoot when he is in a goal scoring opportunity more. He was one on one with Adrian and he decided to play it to Theo over the other side of the area was crazy. Shoot across the keeper and force him to make a save which could bounce to one of our players to tap in.

We finally managed to break through at the death of the first half with a brilliant Giroud goal. He is such a great player for us as he does a lot more than just score goals. He is up competing for every ball in the air, holding off players and involved in most of the build plays.

Ramsey also came in to the first team to replace Cazorla. I have been critical of the Welshman this year as he has not continued his form from last season and has been over complicating his game. Yesterday he was back to his best because he kept it simple. He didn’t try to force the play or try too many flicks and overcomplicate things. He was rewarded with a goal after some brilliant interlinking with Giroud. The Frenchman sold a defender a dummy, from a throw in, then Ramsey played a one-two with him before finishing first time.

There were two moments of togetherness between the Arsenal and West Ham fans as they started singing “Stand up if you hate Tottenham” and we joined in. Goes to show everyone hates Tottenham. Another was the rather humorous “You’re not fit to referee” as Chris Foy had to be substituted for Anthony Taylor. We also had a giggle when they started singing about “Alex Song left because you’re shit”.

Wenger made some subs and one of them, being Flamini, scored within a minute of his introduction. Once Welbeck and Cazorla came on I felt it added more of an outlet down the wing. Their energy and fast pace demonstrated that by being involved in the latter 2 goals. Welbeck was also unlucky not have scored himself, from a header, forcing Adrian into a good save.

Wenger had this to say after the match:

“It’s a good performance. We controlled the game in the first half, created many chances but couldn’t score. In the second half I felt we were a bit short of energy coming out of the dressing room for a while and West Ham were on top for that period. After, in the final part of the game, we always looked dangerous and capable of scoring goals. We had to patient, organised and steady. Overall we scored great collective goals like we love to play.”

What a week this has been for us Arsenal fans. Beat QPR, beat Manchester United away and finally getting the result we deserve up there as well as booking our place in the FA Cup Semi Final at Wembley (for the second year running) and now beating West Ham. Could we…..just could we go to Monaco and produce a ‘miracle’? We nearly done it in previous years against Bayern Munich (2-0 to us away) and AC Milan (3-0 to us away) but can we do it this year? We’ll find out Tuesday!

Brighton 2-3 Arsenal: Riveting Rosicky

If you watched that match with no prior knowledge of Rosicky would you have believed me if I told you he is 34? The Czech, dubbed Little Mozart, was tearing around the pitch as if he was 24, let alone 34. He was a joy to watch.

After Saturday’s results we had to take note and be cautious of being over confident with our opposition. In the preview I wrote about wanting Theo Walcott to get his finishing back to the clinical precision it was prior to his injury. So what did he do? Goes and scores within the first 2 minutes of the match.

It was atrocious defending by the Brighton defenders for our opening goal but the difference in class should be slightly expected. We could have scored 3 within the first 20 minutes but we spurned several chances. I said to my old man that we need to go in at half time at least 2-0 or 3-0 up.

Not long after, Mesut Ozil popped up to score his first goal in a long while. Walcott spotted the German in the box and played him in. Ozil had time and space to turn and get a shot away at goal which nestled nicely into the back of the net. So we went in at half time 2-0 up, despite knowing we would probably need 1 or 2 more goals to kill the game off, we were comfortable.

Brighton managed to pull a goal back after Chambers showed his inexperience. But then up popped Rosicky. He started the move with a no look pass out wide, the ball was crossed in but it bounced back into his path and he hit a sumptuous volley. What composure from the Czech as it would have been so easy to blast it over the bar.

Brighton then went on to pull another goal back but it didn’t matter. Alexis Sanchez and Chuba Akpom made late appearances and the latter looked very impressive. Akpom was aggressive, quick and powerful and if he managed to get his head up and pass the ball he could have set up Alexis for our fourth goal.  Alexis was simply Alexis, being marked by 2-3 players, pulling players out of position and getting fouled constantly.

After the match, Wenger had this to say about Rosicky:

I believe our performance was good and there was room to score more goals with the chances we created. Overall what you want first is the quality of the performance and to go through. They had two shots on target. When you play away from home and the other team had two shots on target – overall I think we produced the performance I expected.

 

We also welcome our new defensive signing, Gabriel Paulista, from Villareal:

“He is 24 years old, good size, good pace, he is a good defender. He’s only played one year in Europe, so maybe there are some things to work on, but the potential is there.”

Onto City next week, a game I am actually feeling confident we can get a victory.

Man City 0-2 Arsenal: We Can Defend

Many fans across the country were expecting a rout by Manchester City due to our abysmal performances away to the big teams. What we got was a very disciplined Arsenal team defending as a single unit and finishing their chances. As good as the win was over Stoke it was rather dull and routine, as it should be. The game against City was much more thrilling due to Arsene Wenger finally adapting his game to sit, defend and counter rather than go toe to toe.

To be fair, I did read before that Wenger had set the team up similarly in other big games but the fact we conceded so early changed the entire game plan and forced us to attack, which also left us horribly exposed. One of the major differences in recent weeks is the revelation that Francis Coquelin is a good player. The loan spells at Freiburg and Charlton have done wonders for his progression as a player and I loved his passion of barking orders at the senior players on the pitch. He is also a responsible player and instead of going for the ‘Hollywood ball’ he would aim to keep possession and not needlessly give it away when we were ahead.

Ramsey claimed afterwards that the plan was to drive the City players wide and force them to cross, from this we would then be able to hit them on the counter. This was clearly evident in the post match statistics as City had 42 crosses and only 6 were successful but had no thread whatsoever. Corners and set pieces in general has been a weak point for us in recent years and has caused much frustration with our zonal marking system. Again, we managed to successfully defend City’s 16 corners. Is the system flawed or is it the players not understanding the system?

Manchester City without Nasri and Toure still had enough quality to beat most teams in the world and Wenger set the team up to nullify their creative threats. David Silva just couldn’t get a foothold in the game and dictate play, Aguero wasn’t allowed the freedom to run when he dropped deep or make his runs in behind. The pace of Bellerin countered Jesus Navas etc. It was perfect.

Our first goal came about from a penalty after Vincent Kompany stepped across Nacho Monreal and brought the player down off the ball. Up stepped Santi Cazorla, who has taken up the penalty mantle in Arteta’s absence, and dispatched it past Joe Hart. I thought it warranted a yellow card but couldn’t argue as we were 0-1 up against the Champions.

The shape we kept so disciplined in the first half seemed to slightly fade as we opened up the game and tried to attack. I felt it was a risky tactic because if Manchester City managed to score one goal then I feel we may have imploded, again, and went on to lose. After 10 minutes of going back and forth we managed to shore up again and the discipline was back. I assume the idea was that City needed to press for an equaliser and if we let them attack, rather than keep the ball in their half, we would be able to catch them on the counter easier.

Our second goal came from a free kick. Santi Cazorla floated in a delightful ball, Giroud bamboozled Fernandinho with his run and nodded the ball past Hart. For once I felt we would hold onto the lead after looking defensively assured for so long in the match.

Wenger even made an early substitution due to the amount of work the players were putting in. The experienced and wonderful Tomas Rosicky came on for the exhausted Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 66th minute. Literally just before we scored our second. Then came the customary late game substitutions to help kill the game off and waste time. Gibbs came on for Alexis Sanchez to add even more protection down the left and Flamini on for Ramsey, who had just come back from a lengthy injury.

The entire team was outstanding and functioned as a unit, something we had not seen for a long time. Bellerin looked outstanding again, showing again that Chambers is more suited to the central defensive role. Our first victory away against a top four team. We are now sitting in 5th place with 3 points between us and 3rd. If we can maintain this momentum and discipline then we should be able to take 3rd this season, or 2nd if you want to be overly optimistic. The only time I thought we looked a bit shakey was at the start of the second half when Ramsey started to wander forward rather than sit, but that changed as we settled.

Wenger’s comments after the game:

“We scored the first goal today and it was much easier for us to control them. We always looked dangerous when we won the ball but we had a good solidarity level and a good compactness, and the regret of the day is that we didn’t always take advantage of the situations we created in the final third. There was room to maybe score more goals.”

And on the importance of the win:

“Time will tell. What is for sure is that it increases the level of belief and confidence. We have five months in front of us that are very important in the lifespan of the team and what you make of that will decide our season. Games like that can help you to do very well.”

We play Brighton in the FA Cup next and it is a good opportunity to give some players a rest, such as Alexis, and bring in some players who need game time, like Ozil and Theo Walcott.

Southampton 2-0 Arsenal: Same Old Arsenal

Just as everyone was thinking we had turned a corner going into the new year, Arsenal decide to bring us back to reality. After consecutive 2-1 victories we travelled to Southampton feeling optimistic, especially since Southampton had entered a bad patch of form. Instead we shot ourselves in the foot with a calamitous display of defending and goalkeeping.

Everyone was talking about Chambers coming in to play at defensive midfield alongside Coquelin, who has been a positive since returning to the club. Could it be the start of something special? Nope, well at least not in this match anyway.

Up front we had no ruthlessness or clinical players. As I said the other day, we get into goal scoring positions then shoot direct at the keeper or over the bar. Santi Cazorla had a superb chance to make it 0-1 but shot straight at Forster, you feel that if it was a player at another club then he would have buried it.

Welbeck was missing through injury, Giroud missing through his stupidity and Podolski missing because he is finalising his deal to Inter Milan. We ended playing Alexis Sanchez as our central striker, which can work in the correct style of play, but we didn’t utilise him. We kept playing it out wide to fire high balls into the box. Why? Why are we crossing high balls to a 5 foot 6 striker with no one around him?

We looked lethargic as the team ran about with a lack of energy and passion. Chamberlain had a few bursts but very rarely did he manage to keep the ball or lay it off. Alexis Sanchez busted a gut trying to chase down everything but was getting nowhere. With the Manchester United result going out way, earlier in the day, we had a chance to go one point behind them. You’d think the team would be eager to make up that ground.

Wojciech Szczesny, after coming out the week before that he now feels more confident and in control of his area, showed us why he is not ready to be number 1 at a top 4 club yet. Koscielny lost a battle of strength out wide with Mane and Szczesny came charging out to close down the angle. Again I have to ask why. Why would you come charging out like that when your defender still had him along the byline. Before Szczesny could get back in goal Mane had curled it into the empty net.

Mertesacker tried to make a (slow) dash back to the line to clear the effort but was just couldn’t make it. Here’s another thought, why didn’t Mertesacker see that Szczesny was out of position and head straight for the goal line to cover his keeper? Yes there was a player in the box that Mane could have crossed to but if he was on the line he then could have come and attacked the cross.

The players heads then went down, apart from Alexis, and no one looked up for the fight. This shows the clear lack of leadership on the pitch as no one wants to be the one who stands up and shakes the players up. Where was the encouragement going to come from? Wenger rarely stands up on the touchline and shouts at the players as he believes in leaving the players to play their game. This only worked with previous squads because they had leaders / strong characters in the mix.

If you thought the first goal was shambolic then it was only about to get worse with the next. Southampton cross into the 6 yard box which Debuchy cut out, then our defenders just seemed to stop. Instead of Debuchy just hoofing the ball clear Szczesny decided to flick his leg at the ball and it trickled straight to Tadic who made it 2-0.

There was 20 minutes left to play, plus injury time, but we didn’t bring on our striking options in Akpom and Campbell, until the 84th minute. It was as if Wenger had given up and accepted the defeat already. Fans were going mental with frustration at our lack of urgency and scripted subs. Theo Walcott came on early in the second half but didn’t get a touch of the ball until after 10 minutes of wandering about.

After the dismal performance, Wenger said:

“We did not defend well enough in the final third, and we paid a heavy price for it today. I am disappointed because there was at least a draw in the game, and if we were better defensively we could have won it. We have given a lot, I cannot fault the attitude of the team but we were again haunted by the ghost of what we seen since the start of the season.”

 

“There was at least a draw in the game”, really? There could have possibly been a draw if we made our offensive changes earlier in the match as our team were clearly lacking up front. We are plagued with injuries and it has been destroying our results, more than previous seasons.

“Cannot fault the attitude of the team”. Their attitude looked poor and uninterested at times. As I said above, we concede and heads go down and all morale is lost, that is not the attitude of title contenders or cup winners. Show some bottle.

We signed Ospina, in the summer, to compete with Szczesny and not just be a number 2 goalkeeper. These are Wenger’s quotes from back n August

“‘You know at the start Szczensy will be the No. 1, then again we’ll be down to performances and, if Ospina shows that he is better, he will play”

I think it’s time for Wenger to back up that statement and drop Szczesny for Ospina for the foreseeable future, until the Pole shows signs of improvement, and not just wish a selfie stick. Over the last 8 years we have had atrocious goalkeepers coming through. Almunia and Fabianski being the main culprits but now Szczesny is showing similar flaws. There’s only one common denominator and that is the dinosaur of a goalkeeping coach Gerry Peyton. Think it may be time for a fresh approach there too.