Newcastle Preview: Which Defensive Pairing?

After a below standard start to the season we head up to Newcastle, who have also not had the best of starts to the league. After this we head into the dreaded international period, where we seem to always pickup more injuries. Speaking of injuries, there is a rumour that Mesut Ozil, who has been one of our best players so far this season, is out for 6 weeks with an injury picked up in training. Whether this is true or not I do not know.

Team news ahead of today’s early kick off is that Per Mertesacker is still missing from the squad through illness but there is a chance Koscielny may make it. Do we risk playing Koscielny and Gabriel or do we continue with Chambers and Gabriel? I thought despite a shaky start in the first half against Liverpool the former Southampton player improved in the second half. Gabriel is just a warrior though and I have no worries about seeing his name on the team sheet.

Other than that I can’t see Wenger making many other changes. The one change everyone wants to see is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain get a start out wide instead of Ramsey. The dilemma this causes thought is that one of Ramsey or Cazorla has to be sacrificed, unless Ozil really is injured. Arsene Wenger loves to the trio of Cazorla, Coquelin and Ramsey behind the front 3.

A lot of hate is also coming Giroud’s way after a few ‘head in hands’ moments against Liverpool. I know we all want a shiny new world class striker but it is easier said than done. If we don’t do anything in the final days of the transfer window then we have to back the squad we have rather than turn against it, because frankly there is nothing else we or the club can do. We still have Welbeck to return to the squad who could bring a new dimension up front, he did well centrally last season whilst Giroud was out.

We need to start this game with intent, aggression and take control. If we can score early on and settle our nerves we can then force Newcastle to attack us and we create space in behind for Alexis to run into. Let’s get those 3 points today lads, hopefully sign 1 or 2 players we need then get through the international break unscathed.

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.”

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!

Stoke Preview: In Need of a Win

With certain results going our way yesterday we have the chance to leapfrog Spurs back into 5th position. Also depending on the Southampton result later in the day against Manchester United we could be level on points with the former.

This time of the year in the season always feels slightly weird as we play some teams twice in short succession, in today’s case it is Stoke. We always struggle when we play Stoke away, and this season in particular was one that was embarrassing, but our record at home against Stoke is fairly positive. We have every chance to win today and hopefully the players seize the opportunity to overtake the Middlesex club in the table.

We have several players back in contention today. Ozil, who I feel we have missed more than we care to admit with his creativity and ability to retain the ball when we need to keep it, and Ramsey. The Welshman has had a woeful season thus far, not just with injuries but his form when fit has been the Ramsey of old. He just can’t seem to keep the ball or tries to do too much. After his antics last season he seems to want to be the player going forward and scoring all the time, of which there is no harm in that but only when done at the correct time.

I’d personally leave Ramsey on the bench today as last time he played against Stoke he pulled out of a lot of crucial challenges and puts the team at risk. If we want to  beat Stoke then we need a team who will get stuck in and play as a collective unit. I’d like to see a midfield consisting of Coquelin, Cazorla and Rosicky but Wenger will probably play Ramsey of the Czech.

Up front Giroud returns from his, extremely silly, suspension and will be flanked by Alexis Sanchez. Will Theo play on the other side? I’m not quite sure if this is the type of game he should be starting after just returning from a lengthy injury. Or will he start Ozil on the left or even Cazorla to make room for Ramsey? We’ll have to wait and see.

Defence picks itself for me with Gibbs, Koscielny, Mertesacker and Debuchy. The biggest question of the day is who will start in goal? After all the speculation around Szczesny’s smoking antics and alleged dressing room “bust up”, Ospina is the obvious choice but I think Wenger will bring Szczesny back in. Mainly because he has played against Stoke before and knows what sort of antics he’ll be up against.

Brief one today as we kick off at 13:30 and I’ll be leaving soon. I’ll do a news and transfer gossip summary soon for all you chin waggers out there.

Aston Villa 0 – 3 Arsenal: Review

After my blog post yesterday, questioning the set up of the squad in previous matches and, offering out a suggestion of how I feel we should play, it got put into practice. The exact formation I wanted to see, with Ramsey playing deeper alongside Arteta, was put out to play at Villa Park.

lineup vs villa

 

The back five pick themselves, currently, and we had the two deep-lying midfielders. There was more than one reason I suggested that Ramsey should play this role, other than to help provide cover for the defenders. It was to allow him to get into the game more as it suits his playing style. He would get on the ball more and be able to make things happen without being caught too far up the pitch.

Danny Welbeck, up front, was a given and after his last two matches you just knew a goal was going to come very soon. Behind him we the trio of Ozil, Cazorla and Chamberlain. Alexis Sanchez is not injured, he was simply rested as he looked off the pace against Dortmund. Chamberlain provides pace, energy and directness that Alexis also offers so no complaints.

The star of the show yesterday was Mesut Ozil. Why:? Because this formation allows him to shine and pull all the strings. Constantly interchanging with Cazorla allows him to bamboozle Villa’s marking and make it harder to keep track of him. Everything we did yesterday was through Ozil.

Villa looked threatening in the opening stages of the game, but once we settled and managed to get our passing together, it felt less uneasy. Although Szczesny made some great stops, he also carried on his awkward kicking, this season. The ball skimmed along the floor to Delph who played a neat one-two and fired in a low shot.

Then came the magic 3 minutes and 12 seconds. The first goal was a thing of beauty and sheer relief. Danny Welbeck picked the ball up and played a ball through to Ozil, who was running through the middle off the last defender, to calmly slot the ball around Guzan.

Just moments later, Ozil turned provider. He drifted out left, into the space created by Cazorla coming in centrally and played a low ball across the area to be met by Welbeck.

Villa, feeling left out, wanted to get on the score sheet too. So they did, by turning in an own goal from a scuffed Gibbs shot. Cissokho saw the onrushing Chamberlain and was under pressure to knock the ball out of a corner. Fortunately for us, it was into his own net.

The second half was very quiet. Pretty much nothing happened, which makes a change. It was good to seal the win in the first half and then play the game out without any nerves or capitulation in the second.

What can we take from this? The manager has now surely noted that this formation is far more effective with the players available. Playing two deep-lying midfielders allows them to get involved in the game more, as well as providing the extra security for our defence. As I stated yesterday, a clean sheet would do wonders for our defenders’ confidence, especially in the run up to the Spurs and Chelsea matches.

Ramsey playing in the deeper role allowed him to play his game, even though at times he was extremely poor again, it will hopefully get him to play his way out of his current rut. There was one back pass, under no pressure what so ever, went straight out for a corner. A few poor touches, passes and decision-making can all change with that magic ingredient, confidence.

Another benefit of playing two players deeper, is that it allowed Ozil and Cazorla much more room to dictate play. Instead of having four players around each other, in close proximity, causing them to play short intricate passing, whilst being tightly marked.  It allowed the playmakers space and time on the ball to be able to look up and play the correct balls and make the correct runs.

Personally, Wilshere should be starting ahead of Ramsey, due to his poor form of late. But he is the sort of player who plays his way out of it. Some players need to be benched and have take heed of some advice from the coaches, whereas others need to just play it out of their system. It’s a tough call to make, as Wilshere is the player in form but Ramsey on his day is one of the best in that position. Either way I think the team plays better with one or the other on the pitch, at the moment.

Kieran Gibbs also deserves recognition for his game yesterday, as he is extremely underrated. He does his job so well that it often goes unnoticed. He was positionally aware, more so than Monreal, and got back when he had to as well as up the field to attack.

Capital One Cup action this Tuesday against Southampton. This will be a very tough game, regardless, but I think we’ll see a very different team line up. Quite a lot more youth and players who we haven’t seen much of will probably start. Bellerin, Coquelin, Podolski, Campbell (I hope), Rosicky, Diaby, Zelalem, Akpom and our new goalkeeper, Ospina. Oh and don’t forget Sanogo.