Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Besiktas

August 27, 2014

The second leg of the Champions League qualifier could be Arsenal’s biggest game of the season. Barring the case of winning either the Premier League or the Champions League, both in the realm of possibility but not the most likely of events, the huge financial boost received from entering the group phase of Europe’s elite competition could be the Gunners’ most valuable achievement this season. That income as well as the knowledge of Champions League involvement might also affect some business that Wenger might be able to do before the transfer window closes.

Bilic knows all the pressure is on Arsenal. His side have nothing to lose. This could liberate them to play as aggressively as they did in Turkey last week. The intensity of their play will be the key to their chances. Arsenal have quite a few players missing and the visitors will want to make it hard for the hosts to establish their style of play. Sitting back and inviting pressure would be counter-productive for them. Pushing up and chasing every ball would be the best approach. Try and force mistakes in the middle of the pitch, and utilize the individual qualities they have in their attacking players who can dribble, run, combine, and finish, particularly when they have space in the attacking areas. In the Croat’s boots, I’d want my team to try and isolate the wingers against the Arsenal full-backs or Demba Ba against/behind the central defenders. The performances of some of the German teams at the Emirates should provide the template.

They do need to be careful with the physical play and ensure their players don’t pick up early bookings. Avoiding errors seems like a very obvious thing to do but is often not that easy when the game is played at a frantic pace.

Wenger has to do the opposite. He has to preach control. Arsenal have, in the recent past, dismantled a couple of Italian teams by playing at a very high tempo. I’m not convinced the players at the manager’s disposal, given the limited understanding they have at the moment, can reproduce that tempo. This means a vertical battle could be detrimental to the home side’s cause. They don’t want to leave a slow-ish defence exposed with big gaps between the lines. Arsenal have to establish midfield superiority and push the opponents back. Besiktas are a good side but they aren’t exactly experts at parking the bus. As we saw in the first leg, if the Gunners get to the attacking third they will see some openings. Of course, the finishing and the final ball will have to be much better.

With Arteta and Giroud injured and Ramsey suspended, the choices for the starting line-up are somewhat limited. Playing the German twice in a short period would be a risk but it’s one that I think Wenger will take.

We might see,

Szczesny – Debuchy, Chambers, Metesacker, Monreal – Flamini, Özil, Wilshere – AOC, Alexis, Cazorla

That’s not exactly the strongest midfield but I can’t think of a better combination based on availability. Özil and Cazorla have  to take extra responsibility and make sure they don’t lose the ball carelessly.

Sanchez as a striker didn’t quite work in the game against Everton but he should surely get more time there. At the moment, I’d go with the Chilean if Sanogo is the only other realistic option. Changes can always be made at half time. Then again, that argument works for starting the French youngster too.

Rosicky hasn’t seen much game time and that has been a surprise. I don’t know what to expect. Campbell is another player who will be hoping for a better chance to show what he can do. Will this be the game? Doubtful.

Is Koscielny injured? I didn’t see him in the training pictures on the Arsenal website.

From the players available, the individuals in the line-up above have played the most minutes. It’d seem best to go with these guys and expect them to show better understanding in the attacking areas. Arsenal will have a very good chance of qualifying as long as they can keep the goal protected. Set-pieces have been a problem area and the team have been troubled by pace. Space on the right side was a problem area against Everton and in the first leg of this tie. Sorting those issues out could prove vital in the first must-win game of the season.


Everton 2 – 2 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

August 26, 2014

Often it’s difficult to judge if a team seems dominant because they’re playing well or due to the weaknesses of the opponent. But unless you can determine the dynamic that is driving the patterns on the pitch, any analytical process will return a flawed output at best.

I was expecting a low to average quality game between two sides that are yet to hit their stride and that’s what we saw. For most of the game, and particularly in the first half, it appeared that the hosts were playing well but they will really have to up their game if they want to have any realistic hopes of challenging for the Champions League spots.

Everton

Their attacks were mostly limited to long balls played down their left wing and that controversial counter-attack for the second goal. In total, we can count three very good attacks from Martinez’s side. Two resulted in goals and the third was a chance for Mirallas. Apart from that they created little in terms of quality chances even if there were a few threatening moments (Baines getting to the byline, Mertesacker slip letting Lukaku run at Chambers, etc.)

Their combination play was extremely limited and very little came down their right side. See the following comparison of their attacking third passes with the corresponding fixture from last season. Notice the density of the smaller lines that represent short passes which are an indication of combination play.

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Their individual moments of quality were also limited. For instance, they had fewer dribbles or take-ons

Everton Takeons

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They weren’t able to bring Lukaku, Naismith, or Coleman into the game as often as they did in April. The two strikers received about two-thirds of the passes they did in the previous game. Naismith was involved in a lot of short passing when the Toffees won but this time he seemed more a target for vertical balls in a limited role. He had almost no involvement on their right flank. Coleman rarely saw the ball in the attacking third in this game as against his very influential attacking contribution from the last one.

Lukaku Passes Rcvd

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Naismith Passes Rcvd

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The impact of this can be seen from the quantity and quality of chances they created. The Toffees managed a number of shots from central areas and inside the box when they won but in this game they created fewer chance and nothing of note except the three big ones mentioned above.

Everton Shots

They also completely faded away in the second half. It was similar to their drop in performance against Leicester. Comparison with last season’s game illustrates this further.

Everton 2n Halves Compared

Recall that we’d talked about controlling the ball as one of the key aspects of defending. 113 passes out of 158 is something one would expect from a mid-table side.

Arsenal

Wenger’s choices for the starting line-up were somewhat surprising. I understand that some fans have been hoping for more pace in the side, particularly with the inclusion of Oxlade-Chamberlain. Alexis as the central striker is also a choice many wanted to see.

It bombed.

In theory, the Gunners could have produced some very fluent football with six players capable of playing the pass-and-move game. In practice, Arsenal were rudderless and failed to create much, despite the opponents lacking some of their usual defensive qualities. Wenger’s side managed five shots in the first half. All were taken by Oxlade-Chamberlain. All were off target.

Sanchez was not on the same wavelength as his teammates, was often isolated, and never saw the ball in actually dangerous areas. It seemed like he was too mobile for his own and the team’s good.

Giroud’s arrival made a big difference. He became an excellent focal point for the team. But we must also note that Everton really dropped in quality in the second half. Giroud played most of the game there in April and wasn’t half as influential. So it wasn’t just about the Frenchman’s physical presence or other qualities, it was a combination of things, chief among which was the hosts’ poor performance. This culminated in absolutely abysmal defending for the goals, particularly the first one.

Goals

Arsenal were not really tested in defence, except for many balls played down their right flank. Chambers or Debuchy got around to dealing with most of these. But if you keep leaving that space open, sooner or later the opponent will capitalize.

Arsenal conceded their first goal from a well-worked set-piece. While the hosts deserve credit for the clever use of space and ball, it’s hard to keep track of the number of mistakes Wenger’s side made.

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Arsenal have 7 players in the defensive line against 3 attackers. Even then Naismith is sort of free. Oxlade-Chamberlain is in a pointless position. Everton have two players free wide on the left and acres of space. AOC could easily have been near Osman with Ramsey a little higher and central. I don’t really understand what the thinking was here. Alexis is the sole guy chasing the ball. This is a classic example of what I’ve called “Crowd the centre” tactics from Arsenal. Get enough bodies in central areas in front of goal and it’ll be very hard for opponents to score.

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Once Barry plays the ball wide, we see Debuchy and Oxlade-Chamberlain moving towards the right flank. They’re too late and have little chance of making a difference if Everton played quick passes (which they obviously did).

It’s interesting that Sanchez is in front of Barry but he is also caught ball watching and doesn’t notice the Englishman sneaking past him into the space on the edge of the box.

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The Gunners went deeper into the box when the ball went wide and then tried to push up when it was passed to the assist provider. Chambers was not able to push up in time but this probably would not have mattered because Coleman was anyway onside.

Özil made the obvious mistake of not tracking the run of the full-back. But I simply don’t see the point of giving one of your key attacking players such a role. If anyone in this team can be excused for not having enough defensive awareness, it’s Özil. Note that I’m not condoning the error, just saying that it was the most understandable one and should be avoided by altering the roles.

Szczesny was in a bad position because once again his first instinct was to go towards the ball.

Szczesny Goes To The Ball

The forward steps that he takes eat up valuable time. This meant he wasn’t in position or well balanced when the header was struck, and that in turn meant he was late in getting his arms up.

Szczesny Still Getting into position Arms used for balance Ball already on its way

The above snapshot was taken when the ball was already halfway towards him after the header by Coleman. Szczesny is still in the process of moving to his left and his arms are just trying to provide balance to that motion. By the time he gets that left foot down and tries to move his arms up it’s too late.

This was a header I’d expect a good goalkeeper to save. The Pole made a very similar mistake against Southampton last season when he conceded at the back post.

Counter-Attack

Everton’s second goal came from a brisk counter-attack. There is genuine reason to blame the referee for this one. Even if the foul on Mertesacker is considered debatable, there was no question about the off-side and the assistant was well placed to make the decision.

That said, there are a few aspects worth noting and areas where Arsenal will have to improve.

  • Lukaku did not track Monreal. Everton left him higher up the pitch (along with Naismith and Mirallas to an extent) and made sure they defend well with seven players. You don’t want to see your best attacking players forced to track back all the time. This is something Arsenal have to learn to do.
  • Chambers made a very rash decision to dive in. Had he stayed on his feet and slowed Lukaku by showing him out wide, the sprint back by Özil could have resulted in an extra body enough to limit the threat.
  • Flamini, the destroyer, wasn’t able to break play up. Far too many people simply assume a tough tackling player will prevent counter-attacks. It just doesn’t work that way.

Szczesny conceded through his legs. It was just awful. I remember a lot of such goals scored a decade or so ago when many one-v-one situations led to goals between the Keeper’s legs. It shouldn’t happen in the modern game.

The opponent should be forced to beat the goalkeeper over one of his legs. This is important because if the ball goes between the legs it’s guaranteed to go in goal. But if you tuck one knee in and close that gap, chances are the opponent will either hit your knee or can miss the target when going for the corners.

Again, Arsenal’s current first choice goalie has previous with such errors. It’s just very bad goalkeeping.

Ramsey’s Tap-in

Arsenal’s first goal came out of nothing. Everton had 7 players in and around the box but they just all went to sleep. No one went to close Cazorla down and Ramsey’s run wasn’t tracked. Osman, Baines, and Coleman could all have done better. Very poor defending.

Cazorla’s composure and accuracy of pass should be appreciated. Ramsey’s ability to keep going and his instincts in the attacking area are also worth commending.

Giroud’s Equalizer

When you have a big striker you expect him to score some really physical goals. Bully the defender and just knock the ball in. The Frenchman doesn’t do this often enough but in this case it was perfect execution. Monreal’s cross was well directed too. Nonetheless, any manager would be disappointed if his team conceded such a goal.

On the whole, I felt the hosts were well below their best all over the pitch. It’s also the reason this game seemed like one that Arsenal should have won. The title race is long and ruthless. There will be enough games that are really tough and a few where luck simply won’t go Arsenal’s way. This wasn’t one of them. Dropping points in such games, irrespective of what happened here last season or what will happen to other teams on this ground once the Toffees rediscover their mojo, is something the Gunners can ill-afford.

Based on his decisions this summer and thus far in the season, I have a feeling Wenger has taken a big gamble on the young British talent at his disposal. And if this game is anything to go by, Wilshere and AOC are a long way from deserving starting spots in an Arsenal side that wants to contend for the major titles. Both possess a fair amount of individual qualities and potential but lack the ability to make the right choices that’d make the whole team better.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: Terrible (as discussed above).

Debuchy: A lot of attacks came down his flank and at times he was a little higher up the pitch than necessary. There were also times when he was caught in a situation where Mirallas was moving in while Baines was running down the flank without being tracked. The Frenchman made the right choices for the most part and that limited the number of chances that could be created from that flank. Didn’t get on the ball often enough for my liking and understanding with AOC or Sanchez could have been better.

Chambers: Had to cover behind Debuchy quite often and he did that well. Passing was quite composed. I really like the way he stayed with Lukaku when the striker ran across the face of the box after Mertesacker slipped and fell while trying a back pass. Bad choice to dive in as discussed above. Also has trouble with balls played behind him. For instance, when Naismith headed that ball in behind, the youngster turned 270 degrees from his right to face his own goal and chase instead of a simple 90 degrees to his left. That suggested he lost his bearings for a bit. In defence, that can be the difference between a clean tackle and a foul or even a goal.

Mertesacker: Had a tough time when isolated one-v-one but that happened rarely. Not sure if he was supposed to be organizing the team for the set-piece. There was less action on his side of the pitch.

Monreal: Was more involved on the ball than his teammate on the other flank but had significantly less work from a defensive point of view. I was surprised the hosts didn’t try to isolate his against Lukaku or Coleman. Good assist.

The defenders had a few tough moments to deal with and they did alright for the most part by limiting spaces to the wider areas and quickly covering for each other when the ball reached the final third. As a result the goal wasn’t exposed as often. The second goal should have been ruled out but the team needs to learn it’s lessons. Set-piece defending was again poor but it’s not just limited to the back four. The whole team and the coaching staff have to take responsibility.

Flamini: Passing was reliable but he should have been a lot more involved in ball circulation. That’s one of his major weaknesses. His tough tackling style wasn’t really useful as he made just two tackles. Five fouls, while not in the Chamakh category, is still a bit too much. As the deepest midfielder in the 4-1-4-1 of the first half, he wasn’t quite sure whether to stay with Naismith dropping deep or to cover the right side.

Ramsey: Tough game, wasn’t able to influence the attack or help with the defence nearly as much as he can. Came up with a big goal.

Wilshere: This was another game where he didn’t make any obvious mistakes but just couldn’t help make the team better. Needs much faster speed of thought if he has to play in the centre with a guy like Özil on the flank. Completed 1 of his 5 attempted take-ons. Will be much better if he starts using his passing array a lot more and limits the whole “driving at opponents” bit to a few carefully chosen moments.

Özil: Stuck on the left and just his first game of the season yet seemed like the best player on the pitch. Error for the goal aside, it’s hard to find any faults with his performance. Played a lovely through-ball for Wilshere, set-up AOC with a good cut-back, another chance for Chamberlain came when one of his through-balls for Monreal forced a panicky clearance from Coleman, and many other small moments of quality all over the pitch. Deserved better support and intelligence from his teammates.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: Somewhat wayward and wasteful with shooting. Ran into crowds quite often. Created a good chance for Giroud early in the second half. Was lax with tracking Baines. Disappointing performance on the whole.

Cazorla: Had only a few minutes on the pitch. I liked his professionalism and focus. Excellent weight on the pass for Ramsey.

The midfield was all over the place in the first half. The movement itself was decent but understanding and speed of passing was not up to scratch which constrained the quality of attacks they could build. Promising moments in the final third were squandered by poor choices or execution.

Defensive support was good. Covered the central areas well, except one or two cases.

Sanchez: Had only one touch in the opposition box. Wasn’t on the same wavelength as anyone else. Wenger talks about physical fitness but to me it seems more a case of role definition. He’s another player who’s trying too hard and needs to simplify things. Let others do bulk of the work and focus on getting into the vital attacking areas. I did enjoy the time he tracked Mirallas all the way back to prevent a counter-attack after losing the ball through a bad touch.

Giroud: Looked hungry and got into very good areas. On another day he could have scored more. That goal against City and this one show the kind of qualities he has. But there have been a few false starts so I’m waiting to see if these can be replicated. News of his injury, if true, is disheartening.

Campbell: Only had a few touches, overhit a couple of passes, just good to see him get his Arsenal debut.

Wenger: Still searching for his best eleven. Has clearly put faith in some of the younger players and his reputation could be at stake more than ever before because big players have been available and Arsenal have fewer financial restraints.


Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Everton

August 23, 2014

In many ways, this season is going to be a bigger test for Roberto Martinez than last year. He did well in taking Everton to 72 points, their highest tally during the Premier League era. But now he has to show he can do it again or even better it. This won’t be easy because a lot of other teams now know how his side play and will be better prepared.

Speaking of being better prepared, we’ll have to see just how well Wenger has readied his side. While Arsenal had three very different results against the Toffees last season, they were all very tough encounters.

In their win in the corresponding fixture last year, Everton found a lot of joy down their left flank and capitalized on numerous errors by the Arsenal midfield and defence. Baines and Pienaar have developed a very good understanding, while others who sometimes play there, like Mirallas, also combine well. The movements of their striker and the player on the right synchronizes well with attacks building down the left.

Given that Debuchy has been taking up very aggressive positions, this area could again be the key attacking zone for the hosts. Arsenal will have to keep it in control by – 1) Debuchy picking his moments carefully, 2) Central defender on the right side being more aware to the threat, 3) One of the midfielders scooting over to provide cover consistently. Not losing the ball carelessly in the first place, and avoiding half-hearted pressing in the Everton half will also make a big difference.

Lukaku against Monreal could be another difficult battle from an Arsenal perspective. Some people might prefer to see the Belgian centrally but given his obvious advantage against the full back, it’ll be very strange if Martinez indeed made that choice. If he does, I’d expect Lukaku to drift into the channel and towards the left. Otherwise he’ll look to cut across from the left and bend his runs before going in behind.

During the course of the game I expect both of the wide players that Wenger picks will have to put in some defensive tracking. Any laxity there could make life for the defensive players much tougher.

The battle in the centre of midfield will also be very interesting. Without Arteta, the Gunners could struggle with the build-up play if pressed diligently and coherently. This could lead to very threatening transitions.

On the other hand, Everton have had a winless preseason and were held to a draw by Leicester on the opening day. So far their players haven’t quite found the groove again. The Gunners have a chance to capitalize on their rustiness. Since Arsenal aren’t quite firing on all cylinders either, this could be a relatively low quality game decided by mistakes.

When in form, the Toffees defended the central areas very well. Barry and McCarthy formed a very effective central midfield partnership even though neither is physically imposing or fast. Direct passes into the central areas could be ineffective and the Gunners might have to work their way into the threatening zones by combining in the wider areas. Leicester got some joy on set-pieces and Stones wasn’t always in a good position at right back. I wonder if Coleman will be brought back to the right back spot for this game. Irrespective of who starts or the hosts, getting a chance to run at either of their full backs in a one-v-one could lead to very promising moments in attack for the visitors.

Patience could be a handy virtue and the first goal could be absolutely vital again. Arsenal scored first in 24 out of their 38 games and recorded league best 2.79 PPG in these fixtures. They conceded first in 12 ties and only managed 0.83 PPG. The corresponding PPG numbers for Everton are 2.63 from 22 leads and 0.83 from 12 leads conceded.

While the Gunners did turn the game around against Crystal Palace, I don’t think it’d be wise to expect too many such reversals.

Wenger has a few options in team selection with the return of the Germans. However, I’d be very surprised if he started any of them because they haven’t had any match practice (Not sure if any behind the doors friendlies have been arranged, but even those have limited utility).

He’ll have to substitute them around the hour mark if the Germans start or he risks overextending them right at the start of the season. While there is always a chance that he could take a gamble and get away with it, I’m not sure it would be a clever choice. Of the three, if really needed, Mertesacker could be the one to start because central defence requires less physical intensity than a role that Özil would play. Anyway, it’s hard to judge because each player could have different preparation levels.

In midfield, Flamini for Arteta seems like the safest option. Some might suggest Chambers, given the current wave of hype, but I would find such a choice extremely risky. Passing the ball when there is limited pressure at the back is one thing, playing in midfield when there is constantly someone snapping at your heals quite another. It would be best to try him in that role in one of the relatively easier home games where the opponent is more likely to sit back.

Cazorla hasn’t produced the output we know he can so a strong argument exists for dropping him from the side. At the same time, Ramsey and Wilshere in central midfield don’t really make the team performance better. I’d be tempted to leave Wilshere out and bring Cazorla into the attacking midfield role while switching Ramsey to the left of centre and Flamini to right to cover behind Debuchy.

However, since the manager believes so strongly in the young Englishman, and has talked about his performance improving with a run of games, it’s very unlikely that Wilshere will be left out.

Chamberlain for Cazorla would be a popular change. If Chamberlain plays on the right, it’ll be interesting to see his understanding with Debuchy. The best solution would be for the full back to stay deeper for majority of the game and let the youngster hug the touch line. Things could get complicated if both start getting into the same areas out wide.

We might see,

Szczesny – Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal – Flamini, Ramsey, Wilshere – AOC, Giroud, Alexis.

Chambers might start ahead of Mertesacker if the German is not ready.

Alexis through the middle and Chamberlain for Giroud is another option. I’m sure some fans will also like to see Campbell get a start. These don’t seem like the kind of choices Wenger would make though.

It’s hard to predict the result between two teams that are still some ways away from their best. Everton could have a slight edge because they didn’t play in the middle of the week and are at home. Arsenal have a chance to show they can do better than last season.


Besiktas 0 – 0 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

August 21, 2014

Arsenal returned from Turkey after a below par performance that was still enough to get an acceptable result. A win would have helped but a goalless draw is by no means a disaster.

I thought Besiktas worked very hard in this game and played close to their full potential. The pitch helped them a little as did the fact that Arsenal didn’t seem to be on the same fitness levels as the hosts (understandably so). With that in mind, it’s reasonable to expect better quality from the Gunners in the return leg and the visitors should find it tough at the Emirates.

That being said, a few very obvious and oft discussed problems were patently discernible in the Gunners’ performance. These have been covered so often that I’ll just list them in bullet point form rather than discussing the details

  • Playing Ramsey and Wilshere in central midfield makes the team output weaker.
  • Very few runs in behind the defence
  • Failure to establish midfield dominance against a team that pressed with energy and passion
  • Inability to press coherently in the opposition half
  • Inability to defend the centre line/force turnovers leading to counter-attacks form that zone
  • Not getting enough bodies in the opposition box
  • Inefficient attack with many promising moments squandered

This game can be a classic case study for what I’d said should be the first law of football – Defending is significantly easier than attacking.

Look at the amount of final third action on both sides of the pitch. Sure, we can blame Giroud, but what about Demba Ba’s missed chances? Arsenal were irrefutably inefficient, but can you then really praise Besiktas who missed just as many chance, if not more?

Decisive quality in the attacking third makes a huge difference. Neither side had it. The defensive players had a good game but also rode their luck. The percentages worked in their favour.

The game was played at a very fast pace, which worked well as far as knocking Wenger’s side out of their rhythm was concerned. The Gunners should be able to go into such games and establish control over the central third through their technical skills irrespective of the pitch conditions or fitness (relative difference was marginal). They couldn’t do it, just as they struggled in many games last season.

The difference was that this time they didn’t really sit back and defend with as much assurance as we saw last year. They also weren’t able to produce that small 5-10 minute period where they went up a couple of gears to score a goal or two. Many games were won last season on the back of such details.

In this game, it seemed to me that Arsenal were tactically unsure. They were trying to defend the centre line but weren’t really doing a great job. It was adequate most of the time but not sharp enough to result in transition opportunities.

The attacking ideas were chaotic too. At times, Sanchez was trying too much on his own down the right flank. Giroud was erratic and many moves broke down due to poor touches or choices by the Frenchman. Ramsey wasn’t getting into the areas he usually does to support the forwards. Wilshere wasn’t either. Santi has been ineffective during the first two games of the season and I have a feeling it’s linked with the unbalanced midfield. They don’t find him when they should, nor does their movement bring the best out of his passing. Arsenal’s left side was almost non-existent from an attacking perspective.

The hectic nature of the game meant that the gaps between the lines were often too big and the midfield was neither able to join the front line in any purposeful manner, nor did they protect the back five consistently.

The main positive for Arsenal is that despite all the problems the game still ended on even terms. It’s hard to imagine Wenger’s side doing worse at home so they should sneak by. Of course, Arteta’s injury and Ramsey’s suspension will make matters tough. Nevertheless, the Gunners should still be favourites to progress as long as they don’t make any serious errors to gift away goals.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: Was almost caught out straight from kick-off but he had a decent game after that. Didn’t really have to make any difficult saves but he looked confident with the things he did have to deal with. Was lucky Ba missed on the near post as he was well beaten.

Debuchy: Almost everything came down his flank and he did well. I like the fact that he’s been able to increase his involvement with play and passing accuracy numbers. Delivery and choices in the final third could have been a little better, but he was by no means the worst on that front. His high positioning did put a little more pressure on Chambers.

Chambers: Worked hard and got into the right places most of the time. Good composure and an excellent performance for his age and experience levels. But it’s important to not forget those qualifiers. Made two bad mistakes that could have led to a goal and the whole tie would be looking very different had either one or both gone in. One was obvious for the Demba Ba chance, but I also thought he was out of position and unaware of the threat when the ball was played past him early in the second half for that clear sight of goal for Sahan. Even the other Demba Ba shot came when the striker pulled away from him. Did he also miss a chance from a corner towards the end? The hype machine is in overdrive but I’d advise caution in building up expectations.

Koscielny: There was less action on his side. Wonder if Besiktas made a conscious decision to target the youngster playing next to him. Probably the player who performed closest to his potential.

Monreal: He is a better player in the attacking half than he is in the defensive one but hardly ever got forward in this game. Passing was uncharacteristically unreliable as Arsenal struggled to build anything from the left. This was at least partly related to poor movement from teammates on that side. Luckily, he didn’t have much to do defensively and practically no one-v-ones to worry about.

The defensive players did well. Some of it was down to their quality and effort while the rest was down to the opponents missing the target. As I said earlier, the percentages worked in their favour.

We’ll have to keep an eye on that gap between Debuchy and the right sided central defender. The Frenchman stays so high up that soon opponents will start targeting that zone as Besiktas almost successfully did in this game.

Arteta: Was having a steady game before his injury. Wasn’t able to set the tempo for the Gunners and did look a little troubled at times when the distances between the lines increased.

Ramsey: Towards the end of last season and earlier in preseason I’ve said that Ramsey will lose form and struggle to keep his place as a guaranteed starter if the decisive moments stop happening for him. This game was a good example of the kind of problems he can face. The point is not that he isn’t playing well or lacks quality. He just doesn’t always make the right choices, which are often the simpler ones. His sending off was harsh but it came from an unnecessary moment of trickery when a simple pass to the right was available. Playing with Wilshere also makes things tough, particularly when Alexis is also new to the system and still adapting. Hopefully, the frustrating moments won’t build up and the decisive ones won’t dry up all at the same time.

Wilshere: Just looking at him play, it’s hard to say the youngster has done much wrong. Like Ramsey, he is another who doesn’t lack quality or desire. But he does lack tactical maturity and an understanding of the details that make the team perform better. At the moment I feel both Ramsey and Cazorla are underperforming because Wilshere is not quite connecting with them as Özil did last season. His off the ball movement, choices in possession, and defensive thought are all suboptimal. One example was the horrible high pass he played back to Koscielny that eventually led to a booking for Monreal.

Cazorla: At the moment, Santi has the biggest gap between quality possessed as against output produced. It’s very hard to put a finger on the exact cause for this. He’s never been quick and you don’t expect him to run past players to make things happen so a lack of that cannot be a reason to blame him. The problem is probably more with the level of understanding with others and the dynamic of the pass-and-move game not quite working out.

Sanchez: He was simultaneously the guy who was making something happen for the Gunners and the guy who was running into cul-de-sacs and squandering promising moments by missing opportunities to combine. I’m not quite sure what Wenger has asked him to do. It seems very odd that instead of playing up against the defensive line and using his intelligent off-the-ball runs, the Chilean is playing more like a midfielder and also looking for the ball to come to his feet rather than going into space.

Flamini: Got booked for an unnecessary tackle, squared up to opponents when things got heated up after a Wilshere challenge, decent job in front of the back four where, rather strangely, he wasn’t really tested.

The midfield failed. It was their job to control the ball and territory. Everything would’ve flowed from that but it never happened. The opponents gave them very little time and the pitch wasn’t perfect, but they have to overcome such challenges for there will be many more in the course of the season.

Giroud: Poor. Touches were disappointing, finishing left a lot to be desired, let his teammates down more often than I can remember. Sometimes having a player with exceptional final third quality can bail you out when the team is otherwise having a bad day. Giroud never looked like he’d deliver. Another player who is a long was off his best. Let’s hope much of that has to do with fitness.

Wenger: Far too many age old problems still exist. There will always be a reason – Opponent played deep, pitch was bad, players were tired, etc. – but none of those qualify as a valid excuse anymore. I have said this for at least three years now – the single most important change Arsenal can make is an addition to the coaching staff. The team has to learn to press higher up the pitch more coherently, they have to be a lot more competitive and threatening when defending the centre line, and they have to find alternate attacking modes when the regular game isn’t working.


Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Besiktas

August 19, 2014

For the second year running Arsenal have drawn a Turkish opponent in the final round of Champions League qualifying. Last season the Gunners made light work of a tricky game against Fenerbahce so they are favourites to go through at the expense of a team that finished the season 12 points behind the winners of the Super Lig.

I have only seen parts of their impressive preseason that includes wins over Chelsea and Fenerbahce, as well as an aggregate 5-2 victory over Feyenoord in the previous qualifying round. Slavan Bilic’s side come into this game high on confidence and with a strong defensive record. Their main strengths will be their organization, physicality, and hard work. Counter-attacks and set-pieces will be the main offensive weapons.

This could be the kind of game which suits their recently acquired striker as Demba Ba thrives in games where he gets space in the central attacking areas. Karin Frei, Gokhan Tore, and Olcay Sahan are quick, skilful players who can run at defenders and make a decisive contribution in attack. Ozyakup, the youngster who spent a few years with the Arsenal academy, is another talented attacking option at the manager’s disposal.

In order to keep them in check, and to counter the passionate and vociferous home crowd, the Gunners will have to control the ball and play with confidence. Any sloppiness/hesitancy in possession or errors at the start can completely change the dynamic of this game. In a way, this challenge is not very different from playing some of the mid-level Premier League sides except that the Turks have better final third quality and slightly better technical/tactical skills.

Once again, patience in attack, set-piece defending, and sharp tempo could be the key to winning the game. Wenger’s side don’t really need three points from the away leg but a good result here will help them generate some momentum before a tough test at Goodison Park.

It’ll be interesting to see if the manager goes for some changes to his starting eleven. Given the personnel he has, the entire front six could be different from those that started the League opener.

For instance, Wenger could go with – Flamini, Rosicky, Coquelin – Campbell, Giroud, Ox. Still looks pretty strong.

However, I don’t think wholesale changes are needed or advisable. Two or three changes are sufficient to maintain freshness without sacrificing continuity. The Arsenal manager has learnt from previous seasons that a strong line up in away games is the better choice. More changes can be made at home, particularly in a two-legged encounter in which the Gunners hold the advantage after the first game.

Giroud will most probably start as Sanogo has not travelled with the squad. Monreal will be another forced change. Both did well as substitutes in the previous game. One more change may come in the form of Chamberlain starting in place of Wilshere or Cazorla.

I’d like to see,

Szczesny – Debuchy, Chambers, Koscielny, Monreal – Arteta, Cazorla, Ramsey – Chamberlain, Giroud, Alexis.

Some might say Santi has not been in the best of form and should be left out. Many fans might prefer to start Campbell in the attacking trio. Ox or Rosicky can also be considered for a central midfield role.

The defence remains the only real area of concern from a depth point of view. Hopefully, we won’t see any injuries.

Wenger has many options and there isn’t one outstanding choice. You can form four or five starting elevens that can do the job and the bench should also hold a couple of quality players in every case. In that sense, it’s more down to the players to perform on the pitch rather than choices of the manager.

P.S. If you’re interested, Youtube has full match videos of their home game against Feyenoord as well as friendlies against Chelsea and Fenerbahce through this beIN Sport Channel.


Arsenal 2 – 1 Crystal Palace: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

August 18, 2014

The start to the Premier League was always going to be tough for the Gunners, as indeed it was for many other teams. Manchester United lost at home despite numerous seemingly strong performances in preseason. Everton drew, Tottenham got lucky, and the top two from last year had to fight very hard for their wins.

In that sense, and with the knowledge that the Gunners are missing key players, the result against Palace was a welcome one. As Wenger often says though, we must step back from the result and analyze the game without taking it into consideration.

It wasn’t a great game of football from the Gunners. There’s no denying that. At the same time, no one should turn a blind eye to the mitigating circumstances and the difficulties faced by other teams that are fighting for the same prizes. Our analysis must, therefore, differentiate between the problems that were understandable and excusable, and those that need to be addressed urgently.

I’d have easily accepted the reasons (insufficient preseason, key players missing, new players still adapting, etc) for the below par effort had this been a one-off performance. But look back at last season objectively and you’ll recall quite a few game against mid to low level teams where Arsenal had to grind out a result. Playing ugly and winning can be a good thing, but only when it’s a rare occurrence in an otherwise dominant run. Last season the Gunners had successful periods but they weren’t dominant ones. And that was the reason I wasn’t too excited about the title challenge. You could see it crumbling once the big games came around. The first blip came in December and then it was all over by the end of March.

Teams that have to consistently fight very hard to beat the smaller clubs will not be able to repeat those performances against the big sides who offer a much more potent attacking threat and are, as an extension, more secure at the back. So, while we should acknowledge the issues that affect the team, it’s very important to also realize there are certain deeper problems that offer genuine cause for concern.

1) Too slow in the central third

I was expecting Palace to sit a little deeper with their two lines right on top of each other with a gap of around 5-7 meters. For a while, thus, it surprised me when they seemed to be pressing around the centre line. Closer observation made things clearer.

Palace were really just sitting back, about 10-15 yards inside their own half, while maintaining good spacing from a defensive point of view. The Gunners had the ball around the centre line but instead of moving it around quickly, too many players were looking to make something happen all the time. Their desire and spirit were admirable but their tactical maturity and game intelligence were not.

When pass-and-move works as it’s supposed to, the opponents are constantly chasing the ball and have very little time to catch their breath. But sometimes the players in possession don’t make the simple pass that’s become available due to a teammates movement and instead wait for another opportunity for a better pass further forward. This discourages the teammate who’s showed for the ball while the others up front are waiting because they have very little space in a congested area. The rhythm of the possession game is disrupted and the opponent gets a chance to close the ball down higher up the pitch.

This explains how the Eagles were able to press the ball in the centre. They were not very good at it though and committed many fouls. They committed 19 fouls in this game and 12 of those came in the central third of the pitch.

12/19 fouls in the central third

12/19 fouls in the central third

Better teams would have a few successful tackles there instead of the fouls and these would lead to very dangerous counter-attacking opportunities.

To an extent, Arsenal’s problem was understandable. The two players on the right flank were debutants and the midfield combination, with Wilshere and Ramsey in box-to-box roles, isn’t the usual one. Sanogo hasn’t played too many games at the centre of the attack either. It’s hard to find fluidity under such circumstances.

Most of Wenger’s teams played their best football when the players get a run of games together and there is some stability. While it is completely understandable, it’s also not good enough to win the major titles anymore. Injury problems, need for rotations, fixture congestion, and other factors mean that the same line up cannot play bulk of the games. It is, as a result, absolutely imperative that Wenger finds a way to develop the tactical level of his players so they can find the fluidity irrespective of the starting eleven and other circumstances.

They have to rely on their passing and movement to create pockets of space rather than waiting for space to appear in which they can play the killer pass. It can be tedious, but the degree of precision and efficiency they achieve in this process will have a direct bearing on where they finish the season.

2) Defensive thought and set-piece preparation

Palace were resolute in defence and worked very hard. Credit to them for that. However, it’s impossible to say they offered any offensive threat whatsoever. Despite that, the Gunners some contrived to make mistake after mistake in gifting them a goal. This is another major cause for concern.

It started with a poor pass from Chambers. Part of it is excused by his youthful exuberance and inexperience. We can also appreciate that he was trying to do something positive. This though, was another case of a player taking unnecessary risk when many simpler options were available. It is very important that defensive players (Centre Backs, Defensive Midfielders, Full Backs in defensive positions) are constantly aware of the shape of the team at any given moment and work very hard to ensure they don’t lose the ball. And never in a central area because that completely opens the game up for the opponent.

Once Chambers gave the ball away and the counter-attack was on, the second mistake came from Szczesny. He’s been trying to play the sweeper, as was obvious from a couple of preseason games, but he clearly doesn’t know how to pick the right moments. I thought Koscielny was in a good position to deal with the ball and the Pole could have stayed back without any problems.

Having decided to charge forward, Szczesny again betrayed his inability to assess danger as he lumped the ball forward into a very dangerous area where there was no teammate to challenge a grateful opponent. I don’t know whether he was trying to play a pass-cum-clearance, in which case it was poor execution, or if simply didn’t think about what he was doing. The best option for the ‘Keeper in such cases is to put the ball out of play. This gives everyone a chance to get back into position. Obviously, he’d have to adjust his body shape as he arrived at the ball in order to hit it towards the touchline. Time would not have been a problem had he been clear about it from the moment he sensed danger.

The errors by Chambers and Szczesny show a lack of defensive thought that has repeatedly plagued the Arsenal defence over the years in one form or another.

Koscielny made a good block (although the shot was probably going wide) and then a good tackle as the ball went out of play. The danger should have been averted but for Arsenal’s set-piece vulnerability.

There must have been some analysis in the summer that suggested that the Gunners didn’t need a man on any post. Maybe there is merit to it, which will be proven in the long run. This is something we should keep an eye on.

The main problem in defending that corner seemed to be a poor understanding of roles.

For instance, Sanogo was at the near post. Usually strikers are needed there and do a good job of clearing such balls. However, when Chamakh made a run and took up a position just in front of him, the youngster seemed confused. Koscielny then pointed, and presumably said something, after which the lanky forward went a couple of steps ahead to mark one of his predecessors. That little movement probably meant the ball was able to float over his head and drop perfectly for Hangeland.

The goalscorer’s run and Arsenal’s response to that also showed the problems with the requirements of the system as understood by the players. Initially, it was Sanchez marking the giant defender. In fairness, the Chilean was simply marking a zone (probably pre-assigned in training) that the Norwegian was occupying. At first Alexis went with the run of the former Fulham man, as if by instinct. And then, confused, he let him go, glancing back with a worried look to check if his zone had been compromised. All this while, Koscielny was not aware of his counterpart’s movement and it was too late by the time he reacted.

A lot of these things came together for that goal to materialize. Had Arsenal put a man on the back post, or if Sanogo had held his ground, or if Sanchez communicated to Koscielny the moment Hangeland made that run, this goal could have been averted or at least made much harder to score with pressure on the header.

Mertesacker’s return should help things but I think a lot more work is needed on the training ground.

3) Too many take-ons

The Gunners attempted 37 take-ons and lost most of them.

Arsenal Take-ons

Alexis was successful with 3 of his 10 attempts. Ramsey managed 1 out of 6. Sanogo had a fifty percent success rate from his four attempts and Cazorla did just better with 5 out of 8 (although he lost a couple that broke promising moments down).

This numbers are too high and corroborate the tendency to do too much as discussed earlier. When things are not going your way it’s better to revert to the basics and keep things simple. I’d rather they lost possession trying intricate combinations with quick touches, or when making more runs in behind, or via intercepted through-balls rather than lost take-on attempts.

That said, we should see some improvement on this front once the players get their sharpness back. Nevertheless, it would be better if they’re aware of their sharpness levels and make appropriate choices based on that.

The Positives

Apart from the result of course, there were a few other details that were appreciable.

The equalizer was well worked and Koscielny’s header was clever because it was a tough angle.

I also liked the way the team kept going till the end. Wenger made good substitutions. Their concentration levels right at the end were excellent and I also enjoyed the way Koscielny and Giroud directed their headers purposefully.

Debuchy took up really aggressive positions and that can lead to threatening moments if used well.

Some other positives are covered in individual analysis.

This section is much smaller than the problem areas discussed above but don’t take that to be a ratio of the bad and the good from this game. Areas of concern need some elaboration and thus that write up is much longer. We expect Arsenal to win such games, which in turn implies the team is really good. There is no need to explain the strong points we see every day.

Individual Performances

Szczesny: Was a spectator for long periods. Handling was good when the ball did come at him. Didn’t have any saves to make. The lack of defensive thought discussed above is a concern. Could he have done more to organize the defence for the first corner?

Debuchy: Saw a lot of the ball and used it well. I loved his shot on the swivel in injury time and the positions he took up in the box when the ball was on the other flank. Wasn’t really tested in defence. I’m not sure if his aggressive positioning was just natural or part of the game plan. Will have to keep an eye on this in other games and see how it changes based on the opposition. It’s important that the full back doesn’t lose sight of his defensive duties or get in the way of his more talented teammates.

Chambers: One mistake, bad as it was, shouldn’t take too much away from an otherwise assured outing. Was confident on the ball, got tight to the attackers and made tackles when he had to, didn’t commit unnecessary fouls and was wise enough to make one when the opponent got away from him (we’ll have to see how he handles better and faster opponents). Had these moments of stepping out of the defence with the ball, but they seemed hesitant. He can do more with the ball but it’s only fair that some time and experience is needed.

Koscielny: Excellent goal, great block and tackle, good helping hand (or head) for the winner, could probably have done something more to prevent the goal, reliable distribution, seems like he’s picked up where he left off last season.

Gibbs: Was a lot more conservative when compared to his teammate on the other flank, which was a safe choice. Passing could have been better. Seems a little bit off his best at the moment.

Monreal: Was very good in the attacking areas with his positioning, runs, and passing. Gibbs could learn form that. His weakness in one-v-ones was not tested.

Apart from the mistakes discussed above, the defensive players had a very comfortable game. There were times when the full backs were diagonally opposite in the opposition half with Debuchy near the penalty area and Gibbs around the centre line. I’m not sure if this was a conscious tactical choices based on their qualities or if it just worked out that way.

Arteta: Typical game from Arsenal’s captain. Helped with ball circulation constantly, kept things simple and brought others into the game, got into good defensive positions, I liked the way he dropped back at times to let Chambers step up.

Ramsey: Another player who saw a lot of the ball and worked hard constantly. That said, it wasn’t a particularly good performance. He really needs to simplify his game and learn to pick his moments. I don’t know how long these decisive moments are going to last and it’d be a shame if the team dropped points when players are trying too hard.

Wilshere: Was a foul magnet. Played deeper than Ramsey and didn’t venture forward as much. A decent outing but passing could have been crisper/quicker.

Cazorla: He hasn’t looked at his best all through the preseason and this game wasn’t very different. Just seems a little off-the-pace and a couple of promising moves broke down when he was tackled. Movement is good and I think he will do better if the central midfielders and the wide player on the right make full use of his vision and technique. Wenger will probably give some thought to starting him in a central attacking midfield role while Ozil finds fitness.

Sanchez: Saw so much of the ball he seemed more like a midfielder than a forward. Came inside all the time and made a few runs in behind. I’d have preferred it if he spent more time on the defensive line threatening the space behind. Passing needs some calibration. His dummies, the angles on some attempted through-balls, and general movement highlight a great football brain. Now Wenger has to get it to synch with others in the team. Had some interesting moments when playing on the left. I think he can do better from there if he wants to keep coming inside because that provides a more natural passing angle for him as a right-footed player.

Chamberlain: One powerful run that lacked end product. Steady effort otherwise. I think his running on the right and Sanchez on the left can be very interesting in some games.

Crystal Palace completed 123 passes in the game. Arteta was on 100, Ramsey 92. The midfield was in complete control of the ball and territory. But they have to convert that control into greater incisive threat.

Sanogo: His technique is poor and that will limit the contribution he can make, particularly in games where space in the attacking areas is very tight. Also showed his immaturity at times. For instance, he had a great chance to play a one-two with Sanchez and get in-behind but he went for a wildly ambitious shot from outside the box.

Giroud: Had greater presence than Sanogo and was a lot more involved. Good header in the build-up of the winner. Had a couple of other moments in the box that could have troubled Speroni on another day.

Wenger: Some of the problems mentioned above are not new ones, even if the players are new. He’ll have to solve these issues if any sort of a challenge has to last the distance.


Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Crystal Palace

August 16, 2014

I want to start by saying many thanks to everyone who took the time to share their feedback, and such an overwhelmingly positive one at that, on my article about defending being significantly easier than attacking. Such articles get notably fewer visitors but as long as I know so many people find it useful, I remain motivated to develop the series. Since we’re all back in the mood for Arsenal and the football we love, I’ll hold off on the other articles in that series till the next international break. For now it’s Crystal Palace at Emirates and the buzz is palpable.

The visitors are coming into this game on the back of some turmoil with the departure of their manager Tony Pulis. Their concentration levels during the game could be affected if the players are distracted but we won’t know for sure till we see the performance.

Talking of performance, I won’t be surprised if we again see a very basic system with two banks of four. Keith Millen might even go with 5 across the midfield as he did last October in a similar instance when he was the caretaker.

The idea is pretty simple. Protect the areas most threatening to the goal, i.e. the penalty box and the central areas in front of it. This is done by letting the opponents have the ball in their own half or around the centre line but passes into centre of the pitch are contested and/or discouraged by the presence of the defensive players. Marking in these areas is tight and can get physical. Spaces in wider areas are more readily available for a pass. It’s pretty standard and we see a lot of sideways and backward passing from the side in possession, which is not a bad thing in itself.

One team will defend with the ball while trying to open up spaces through their pass-and-move combinations. The other will defend without the ball but look to rapidly break forward using quick and tricky wingers and/or a strong central striker who can hold up and link play.

The decisive moments for the possession side usually come when the combinations force a mistake or a defensive player switches off. Things are easier if the opponents are a little disjointed and leave more spaces between the lines while being a tad tardy with their tracking. They’ll always have multiple layers of security in front of their goal so breaking through could require patience.

It is vital for the attacking side to make as many runs behind the defence as possible. This can be done in many ways. A through-ball from the central areas, combination play in the wide areas with a delicate ball slid in-behind, and late runs into the box with chipped passes can all lead to promising attacking situations. One-twos are always handy but move involving three or more players are better.

Arsenal don’t always have players who make such runs and that can slow things down. In the pre-season, Alexis Sanchez came central and to the ball more often than he made darts in behind. Hopefully, this will change in this game, although his movement to the centre can open up space for Debuchy who times such runs well.

Wenger’s choice of centre forward could also make a difference. Sanogo will look to go in-behind a lot more than Giroud does.

The team defending without the ball has limited attacking options unless they are extremely proactive and energetic in pressing around the centre line. For the most part, they have to hope for transition opportunities where the side in possession has made some poor tactical choices (and technical mistakes) leaving the defence exposed to runners. Other than that it’s just about gaining territory through long balls and hoping for set-piece chances.

It is quite possible that Wenger will go with Ramsey and Wilshere in midfield with both having the license to go forward at times (in their so-called box-to-box roles) while Arteta offers some protection to the defence. In Millen’s position, I’d be tempted to have two very quick players on the flanks as well as a sharp centre forward instead of Chamakh. Gayle, Bolasie, and Frazier Campbell could be interesting choices that can test Arsenal’s tactical solidity, particularly with a rookie in the centre of defence and a relatively slow defensive midfielder. If they can occasionally leave Bolasie up the pitch, to take one example, when Debuchy takes up an advanced position, the visitors will give themselves a genuine chance to trouble Szczesny. Of course, in order to execute this while protecting their goal, they’ll need impeccable organization and decision making from the two defensive lines. Frustrating the Gunners through resolute defending and forcing ambitious attacking choices is also a way to gain counter-attacking opportunities.

Given their current situation, I feel the visitors will be happy with a point and anything more will be a bonus. Arsenal have not done well in opening fixtures over the last few years. Part of this could be linked to a lot of overseas tours and disrupted pre-season training. This season that training has been affected by the World Cup and it’s understandable that Wenger’s side are not quite at their best yet. Palace have a chance to cause an upset if they play with genuine desire and resolve. Aston Villa’s opening day upset last season offers them an excellent blueprint to copy.

The Gunners are the better side and even without the first choice starting line-up Wenger has enough talent at his disposal to get the three points. With Arsenal, in the recent years, there have always been two questions – Can they win? And will they win? The answer to the first is almost always in the affirmative but the second one has proved to be a stumbling block, often of their own making.

The pairing of Wilshere and Ramsey in central midfield makes me nervous because of their defensive limitations. Hopefully, Arteta will be able to run the game and one of the two will take up good positions to support him at the time of transitions. If they attack well, the need for defending might be eliminated altogether.

The central defence is also an area of concern because Mertesacker is not yet ready and there exists the possibility of Koscielny being played when giving him a rest would be better. I don’t know all the facts of the current situation but the past choices of the manager do justify the worries. Monreal in central defence could lead to problems if Chamakh starts for the visitors, or if any of their quick attackers gets a chance to run at him.

We might see,

Szczesny – Debuchy, Chambers, Koscielny, Gibbs – Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere – Alexis, Sanogo, Cazorla.

It’s the starting line-up that produced an entertaining and decisive first half against City in the Community Shield and seems fairly well-balanced. I hope they start on the front foot with that pesky no-trophy-in-x-years monkey off their backs. The energetic, fast-paced game that we saw against City could be enough to secure an early goal or two, which will really get the crowd going and open the spaces up.

I know a lot of Gooners are extremely gung-ho about this season in general and this game in particular. While I can fully appreciate the reasons for such feelings, at a personal level I am still taking the cautious optimism route. There are some details that I want to see resolved. It could happen very quickly but I’m going to watch the first couple of months to see how things develop before I join the excitement bandwagon.

P.S. After reading the responses here and on twitter, I’m now completely confident that anyone who likes the pre and post match analysis on this blog will really enjoy the article linked to the first paragraph. Do take a few minutes (Pretty long and detailed) to read it if you haven’t done so already.


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