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.

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!

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!

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.

Training begins in Austria

Shad Forsythe has now he held his first fitness session with the players. His appointment is one of the biggest we could have made for the club going forward. Tony Colbert was extremely outdated and didn’t adapt to the modern game demands. To have, arguably, one of the best fitness coaches in the world now working with our club, it is rather exciting. As he gets to know the players and work out their individual plans for prolonging their careers, we will hopefully see us get rid of that December injury period that plagues us.

Joel Campbell has been enjoying his time with the first team squad. I am sure we will see him at the Emirates Cup and in the Capital One Cup (Or whatever they will change the name to), although I’d also like to see him play in some of the league games. He shows no fear when he plays and could be someone to throw on in an act of unpredictability.

Morgan Schneiderlin has had an outburst on his Twitter account, which I am surprised that his agent / PR haven’t taken down.

If I was being sold to Spurs I would also be extremely upset. I think the main issue Schneiderlin has is that he has seen the squad he was part of for the last six years just blown apart within two months. Southampton was an extremely entertaining team to watch last season and had a good footballing philosophy but everything they worked hard to build has been destroyed. He has seen all his friends and teammates move to other clubs and he no longer wants to stay yet he is being forced to. I’d love us to snap him up if he is available now but I am not sure we will with our current targets for midfield.

Olivier Giroud has been offered a two-year extension. I have no issues with this as he has improved greatly since his initial season up front with us. He has increased his strength and puts himself about a bit more which has led to him winning the ball in the air and great hold up play. We all know he isn’t a world beater, and I’m sure he knows this himself, due to his limitations but he is a very decent striker and works in our current system. Plus he is very good looking.