Pass, Pass, Pass Or Shoot At Sight – What Should Arsenal Do?

October 26, 2010

Gooners all over the world know that a common criticism of Wenger’s team is that they try to pass the ball into the net and over complicate matters. This was used even after the impressive win against City.

To be honest, I completely understand why some might feel that way about Arsenal. There were a couple of moments early in the second half when we passed the ball in and around the opposition penalty area when many expected, or should I say demanded, a strike on goal. I get it, it can be frustrating.

Before I go further, let’s look at a couple of facts.

  • Arsenal with 134, have the most shots on goal in the Premier League so far this season. Chelsea are second with 133 and no one else comes within 20 shots of that number.
  • Last season Arsenal scored the most number of League goals from outside the box. I’m writing this from memory so I might be wrong, but I think it was 18 goals.

These facts seem strong enough to refute the argument that Arsenal don’t shoot enough, or the subsidiary argument – don’t shoot from distance. Nevertheless, we all have seen moments in many games when we felt a shot was on but wasn’t taken.

Considering these thoughts, the truth seems to be somewhere in between in a gray area.

It’s not surprising. Football is a simple enough sport to watch but when we get down into the details it can get quite complex. Players have to make split second decisions and even the best don’t always get it right.

We can assume that most who play for Arsenal have the technique to shoot from distance so let’s leave that out for the time being. Inside or on the edge of the box, a player would have very little time to consider many factors.

The most important would be the angles available to him. When we see a player running into space we feel he has a clear shot. Often, a defender sees that and throws himself in front of the strike. On other occasions the defender is already there.

If you’ve played football you’ll know that having a man a couple of yards in front of you takes away a lot of shooting options because the chances of a block are very high. This is similar to the reason goalkeepers try to come a yard or so out of their line while defending a penalty, it narrows the angles and allows them to block a wider range of shots.

For instance, let’s look at the opportunity Chamakh created after winning a physical tussle with Boateng. When Cesc got the ball there was a defender in front of him and the Keeper was in a good position. If he’d taken a shot the chances of scoring would have been minimal.

Naturally, given the fact that Arsenal are a team that doesn’t like to give the ball away cheaply, Fabregas found Nasri on top of the box. In the above image it seems like Nasri is in a lot of space. But by the time he gets the ball, the defender has done a good job of closing him down.

Once again, chances of scoring with the defender right in front of him were quite low. The Frenchman created some space with a quick dummy and found Cesc who was now free. El Capitan did get his shot away but couldn’t quite get it right. It happens.

Similar analysis can be done for other situations as well.

To me the key here is that Arsenal don’t play a low percentage game. We are good enough to create clear chances. No team takes all their chances so sometimes it doesn’t come off. On other occasions the opposing defenders do well.

When it does come off we score amazing goals like we’ve been doing for years. If you think back to the three goals against City, you’ll notice that there was no defender between the ball/striker and the goal/goalkeeper for all three of our goals. This was quite evident in the goals by Nasri and Bendtner but even when Song got his shot away, the defenders were to the side and he had a clean sight of goal making it a high percentage chance.

Of course a team can have a different approach. Consider Carlos Tevez in the last game. He tried to shoot at our goal on two or three occasions. They were lame efforts from distance and didn’t really trouble Fabianski. In the end all he achieved was giving possession over to us. But that’s his style and he scores a lot of goals by doing that. Some would say he’s a striker and that’s his job.

The only problem is that such a striker often hogs the goal scoring charts but his teammates don’t get enough chances. It could happen that team ends up relying on such a striker and struggles when he is out of form or injured.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of a team’s philosophy and the choices made by players on a given day. We have Arshavin who does try his luck from distance quite often. It could be that the manager encourages him because he has the best technique as we’ve seen on countless occasions. In the same vein, it’s quite possible that Wenger wants players like Cesc and Nasri to control possession because they can do that even in tight areas and have the vision and talent to create better chances.

In conclusion, I’d say I understand why fans can get frustrated, there are times when I share that feeling. Commentators don’t help either as they belt out one cliché after another. But taking that frustration and making a theory that Arsenal don’t shoot enough seems a touch too harsh. Taking that theory and pretending that it is gospel, unduly criticizing players and the manager in the process, is naive and daft.

The game is played at a really fast pace and the players have to make difficult, instinctive choices. We should respect the fact that they are doing the best they can.

On an unrelated side note, how many noticed that Arsenal scored the third goal with 2 passes? Fabianski to Nasri to Bendtner and Goal!


Man City 0 – 3 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

October 24, 2010

Wooo Hooo!

What a performance! This is the kind of game that gives an Arsenal supporter a high like no other. It’s been coming for a while but we couldn’t really know for sure unless it arrived. Now that it has, we can say a mental barrier has been crossed. It’s not the final frontier but a major challenge nonetheless.

It wasn’t a perfect game but it didn’t have to be. That just shows how much better we can get.

The game started at a high tempo. City created the first chance in the opening minute when Tevez got in behind down the left and squared it. Silva made an excellent run and got a great flick towards goal. Fabianski made a superb save. We knew at that moment this game was going to be fun.

City had some joy down the left in the opening minutes while Arsenal were trying to play down the middle. I thought Arshavin was harshly flagged off-side early on when he made a run past Boyata. The big moment however, came in the fifth minute when Chamakh timed his run brilliantly and was found by Cesc with an inch perfect ball. Boyata lunged and the ref had no choice but to send him off.

I know there will be many Arsenal distractors and City apologists who will point to this moment and say it made it easy for Arsenal. I don’t buy it. When you play a youngster at this level there is always the risk of a big moment going horribly wrong. As Arsenal fans we know it all too well. The fact that City were forced to do so just shows spending big isn’t always the solution. If a team spends crazy money on a big, strong, English defender like Lescott only to realize that he’s not good enough, one cannot have much sympathy towards them.

The game clearly changed after this moment as Yaya Toure was moved into a central defensive role and this gave Arsenal a numerical advantage in midfield. From this point on the hosts were always going to struggle against the passing and movement of Arsenal.

We had a lot of the ball but Barry and De Jong were doing a good job of closing us down. Some cynical fouls and the ref giving them almost all the 50-50 decisions helped.

The first goal came almost out of nowhere. Nasri had the ball on the edge of the box. Arshavin, who was inside the penalty area, came towards him and played a delightful one-two. The finish from the Frenchman was the definition of clinical and composed.

It was interesting to note that Yaya Toure looked like a joker in central defence as he didn’t close the Russian down and allowed the ball to go through his legs for the one-two. What a waste of money! Yes it wasn’t his best position, but how many times have we seen Arsenal players being criticised even when they’re playing out of position? At this level, and with the kind of hype around him, he should have done much better.

City did try to come back into the game after that. Arsenal, for a while, looked confused. We didn’t know whether to go for the kill or to hold back. That meant players were not in perfect sync and we kept giving the ball away.

Luckily for us, Mancini’s team didn’t have any creative threat except Silva, and were restricted to taking the ball out wide and crossing. Our defenders did a good job of dealing with the balls in the box.

We should have established some comfort level when Kompany conceded a penalty with a daft tackle on Fabregas. But the hesitancy in our play was also evident in the way El Capitan went for his penalty. It was a decent strike but he almost telegraphed it to Hart who made a top class save to his left.

City got some heart from that and came forward. Arsenal dropped deep and defended with numbers to see out the game till half time.

Straight after restart we had a good chance when Chamakh outmuscled Boateng. The Moroccan found Cesc who exchanged passes with Nasri in the box but his finish was not of his usual standard. There was another moment a few minutes later when we overcomplicated things around the edge of the box.

We could see that Arsene had calmed the team down at half-time and we were doing the right thing tactically. If there is any time that can be considered a good time to play tippy-tappy football, this was it. In the second half we did it well and made City chase the ball.

Meanwhile Adebayor had come on in place of Tevez who might have picked up an injury. City had a few minutes of sustained pressure on either side of the hour mark. Most of the times, they were trying to play the ball wide and then get in behind. Arsenal didn’t do a very good job of reading these situations but dealt with it by having enough numbers behind. On the odd occasion when the hosts did get in, Fabianski handled the situation with a save from a Silva strike standing out.

Song was moving forward quite often. We weren’t exposed because Cesc and Denilson did a decent job of covering for him and we had a man advantage. The Cameroonian finally made an impact with an exceptional finish. The ball was played in towards Chamakh who almost got in but Bridge intercepted with a toe poke. Song was first to react and smashed it into the far corner with one swift movement.

After the second goal, City looked almost clueless as Arsenal players made them chase the ball. We created some chances but didn’t score the third. Mancini’s side were tiring and didn’t have any creative edge. Their only hopes were some balls over the top but our defence dealt with them fairly well. Fabianski came up with an excellent point blank save from an Adebayor header but we all knew the striker would be off-side. It’s what he’s best at.

Wenger brought Rosicky on with twenty minutes to go and it helped us control the ball even better. You could sense the moneybags had given up. Even then, in such situations a goal can lift the struggling side and we did extremely well to maintain our focus for the duration of the game.

Le Boss introduced Bendtner and Walcott for Cesc and Chamakh, both of whom had put in an incredible shift. The Dane got his reward with a couple of minutes to go. Nasri controlled the ball just on the touchline and played him through. Bendtner scored with another superb finish.

City has some late pressure as Arsenal took it easy but we always had enough players back to protect the goal.

Individual Performances

Fabianski: Excellent. Was on top of his game from the first minute. Made some good saves, swept well behind the defence. In the preview I mentioned that it will be nice if he is forced into action and delivers. That’s the perfect way to get the confidence high.

Sagna: Back to his solid self. Excellent defending on the right. Made some good runs forward. Put in a couple of top class crosses (Djourou should have scored from one).

Squillaci: Did everything he had to do. His positioning was excellent. When Richards had a good chance it was his positioning that forced the shot wide.

Djourou: Looked a little shaky at times. Got turned on a few occasions but did well to cover up. He has to improve his reading of the game and the way he stands. Did well against the balls over the top, won almost everything against the midget Tevez! Good covering on the left when Clichy was outnumbered.

Clichy: Good game. I know City created some moments down the left but that was mainly due to more numbers. Rarely lost a one-v-one, and ran back well to cover when he did. Very important in terms of our possession game and put in a couple of good crosses.

Song: Big game. Unbelievable work rate, excellent defensive reading and tackling, good contribution in attack and a fantastic goal. He did make a couple of rough tackles early on but controlled himself well after the booking. Another guy we know will get better and better.

Cesc: his performance was a classic example of pulling the strings. Was all over the pitch, dropped deep when Song went forward. Picked some excellent passes. Maintained his composure despite being on the end of some deliberate rash tackles. Worked hard defensively. Penalty miss was the only blot.

Denilson: I was surprised he was picked for such a big game as he’s rarely played. Did the simple things well. Understated performance, but that’s what we needed with an extra man in the middle.

Nasri: It took some time for him to get in the game but made a huge impact once he did. Amazing work rate, good defensive tracking, always looked like a threat, beautiful finish. Assist for Bendtner showed he was alert and focused even at a late stage. My man of the match, just ahead of Song and Cesc.

Chamakh: insane work rate, excellent run that got us the man advantage, tracked back quite often and made some good interceptions as well.

Arshavin: started off slowly but got involved as the game went on. Wonderful assist for Nasri, also did some good defensive work when Clichy was up-field. In a way you could say his work rate meant the man advantage was not that big but Arshavin is not in the team for doing the donkey work. As we’ve seen, De Jong, Barry and others did a lot of that but to no avail. The first goal is so important and most often in big games, the Russian provides the inspiration.

Subs: Rosicky kept it ticking, it was good to see Theo tearing down, Bendtner’s finish was heart-warming.

It’s funny pundits are already saying the score-line wasn’t a true reflection of the game. We had 65 percent of possession, created more and better chances, scored three wonderful goals but it’s just not enough for the distractors.


Man City V Arsenal: Can We Finally Cross The Line?

October 24, 2010

I’m not sure how I’m feeling about this game. Before some games I’m a big anxious, before others there is complete confidence, but right now I just don’t know. Perhaps, a better way of putting it would be to say that I’m shuffling between various states.

I guess it’s down to the fact that there won’t be many surprises in this game. We know how it will be played out. City will be compact, defensively strong, and looking for counter attacking opportunities. Arsenal will play the possession game as usual. The only point I’m not certain of is whether the hosts will be happy to absorb pressure in their final third or will they come out in the central third.

If this goes like the way the game progressed at Stamford Bridge, and it should considering the fact that big clubs have been successful against us with that tactic, we can expect an early battle in the middle of the park. Once again the first goal will be very important because it will determine how much space we get. I don’t expect City to concede easily or early against us. That would mean we also have to keep things tight at the back.

Interestingly, out of the eight games both sides have played, Arsenal have kept one clean sheet and City only failed on two occasions. That those two occasions were their last two games can be considered as a good sign for us but let’s not kid ourselves, scoring at the City of Manchester stadium will not be easy by any stretch. After all, Chelsea with all their quick attacking, physical presence, crossing, heading, set-piece talents, shots from distance, and goal-machine Drogba couldn’t score a single goal and barely troubled Hart.

I’ve a feeling we will need a clean sheet if we are to win this game because I don’t see us scoring two or more unless Cesc, Theo and Arshavin are in peak form.

Needless to say, mistakes at the back will be extremely costly against the likes of Tevez. We also have to do keep the likes of Adam Johnson and Silva in control. The hosts haven’t really dominated any of their games so far but have been doing enough to get results. Part of that is down to the fact that guys like Tevez never give up and are always ready for even a half-chance. That means we will need unwavering focus and all-round awareness from kick-off till the final whistle.

It will be interesting to see the starting eleven that Arsene picks. Amongst the back five there isn’t much choice. If Sagna is fully fit he will surely start. I suspect he’ll start even at 70-80 percent fitness. On the other side some would like to see Gibbs but I can’t see Clichy being rested for such a game. To be honest, I’m hoping Fabianski is really tested on a couple of occasions and comes up with good saves. He’s been doing well in the last few games but nothing affects the mood and confidence as much as a performance that has a big impact on the result.

Will Arsene pick an attacking front six or a balanced bunch? Frankly, I’ve no clue. My best guess is that Diaby will drop into a deeper role alongside Song and Cesc will be in his usual attacking position. This will give us some physical presence against the likes of De Jong and Toure.

Arshavin will probably get his place back with Chamakh central and Nasri on the right. A lot will depend on whether Theo is ready to start or not. If he is, I would prefer Theo on the right and Arshavin/Nasri on the left, difficult to pick between the two. One gives us more of an attacking edge while the other provides more balance.

I’d like to see the following starting line-up,

Fabianski – Sagna, Squillaci, Djourou, Clichy – Song, Cesc, Diaby – Nasri, Chamakh, Arshavin.

Keep it tight till the final twenty minutes and then bring on Theo.

A win tomorrow will be a massive result and should not be taken as par for the course. A draw, while not good in terms of the gap at the top, will not be a bad result. A loss, especially one with mistakes at the back in a game that we dominate, will once again raise some serious questions about what this team can achieve. I have a feeling this will be a 1-1 draw or a 2-1 win for the side that takes its chances.


Mature Szczesny Backs Fabianski, Sounds Like The Real Deal

October 22, 2010

As many of you will recall, there was a story about Szczesny a few weeks ago when he gave an interview to a Polish paper. In that he came across as unsettled and many assumed it was because he didn’t like being behind Almunia and Fabianski in the pecking order. From what I saw on the internet this was probably the only blog which highlighted the fact that the youngster believed Fabianski should have been No. 1 right from the start of the season.

In the latest interview with ATVO the Pole once again had some nice words about his senior colleague. When asked whether we are seeing the best of Fabianski he said,

I still think there is more to come from Fabianski, he is a very good goalkeeper and I personally believe him.

I have known him for quite a few years and we have gone through that learning process together and I know he is a very good goalkeeper.

He has got his confidence back and he is doing quite well. I think if his confidence grows even more he will be a world-class goalkeeper.

Based on what Arsene and the coaching staff have said about Fabianski, and the comments of Szczesny, I’ve no doubt the Pole has what it takes to be a fantastic Keeper. He needs a run of games and many of us thought he could use a spell at another club but now that he’s had his chance at Arsenal I’m hoping he’ll deliver. Szczesny seems to have a similar opinion,

Definitely, I think that was Lukasz’ problem last year when he played one game every month or so. Then it’s hard to get your rhythm going, whereas (now) he’s got a good run of games. I think he’s played in five or six games now and you can see he’s more confident, his decision making is much better, and it looks like he’s enjoying himself.

When asked about the feeling in the squad about the visit to City and whether they thought they could get a draw or a win but won’t lose there, the youngster had this to say,

At this club there is only one name of the game and we want to win it. We don’t think of going to tough places and getting a draw. We always want to win and I’m sure that will be the attitude before the game.

Someone should tell him Arsenal don’t have a winning mentality!

I was impressed with the confidence he showed when speaking about his preparations before a game.

I just keep working hard throughout the week. That’s the only way to do it. As I said to you before, I’m not nervous; I don’t need to do any relaxation stuff. I just work hard and make sure I’m in good shape for the game.

At his age and in a role as tough as the Keeper that’s a fantastic attitude. I’d say most youngsters would be quite nervous before a big game and only the special ones have this innate confidence.


Wenger Explains Key Decisions In AGM Speech And Q&A

October 22, 2010

I enjoyed listening to Wenger’s speech and Q&A at the AGM. Le Boss was honest and forthcoming in his usual charming style and covered some important topics.

Firstly in his speech, Arsene acknowledged the fact that we have room for improvement.

I don’t say we don’t have any weaknesses. We are conscious of that but we work very hard on it.

It’d be naive bordering on stupid to think that AW is blind to the problems but many continue to believe that. Arsene pre-empted the questions about a goalkeeper with a fairly clear explanation.

I get many advices that we take on board, but for me it’s very difficult to come out on any specific position on any player. Why? Because if I say, “I wanted him I didn’t get him”, it is basically a message to my player who plays that you’re not good enough and you’re there because we didn’t find a player who is better than you.

I think that’s as much as we should expect to get from him. It’s clear we tried signing some big names but it didn’t materialize. I’d not be surprised if at a later date it comes out that Liverpool and Lyon were among the clubs who refused to negotiate with us on this matter.

Then there are those who like to believe that an extra 2 million would have seen us get Schwarzer but it’s extremely difficult to have a rational debate with someone who takes unreliable media rumours as gospel. Similarly, what can you say to a random, meaningless statement like, “anyone is better than Almunia”?

My best guess is that Arsene must have discussed the goalkeeping position with experts in the field and identified some players who can do better for us. We tried to get them but it didn’t work out in a difficult market. I can understand why clubs like Liverpool, Lyon, or Ajax would have been reluctant to let a big player leave. I’m also quite confident that we’ll continue to monitor the situation and make a move if the status changes.

Then a gentleman, white hair experienced looking and all, asked him a question about playing with a dedicated holding midfielder alongside Song. I’m sure this is a thought most fans have had and many have been wondering why we don’t do it.

I considered it and did it already. We have many players who can be defensive and offensive, for example Jack Wilshere. When a player is good technically, like Diaby or Denilson, they’re both sides of players. But if you look at their defensive record and you compare them with defensive holding players in the whole league, then you’ll see that the number of balls they win, the number of balls they intercept is as high if not higher than typical holding midfielders. And when they have the ball they can play as well.

We do not restrict our players when we win the ball back and that’s why maybe some people think we do not play with two holding midfielders. In “Holding” you’ve the word “Stay” that means do not attack, that’s not the way we play and sometimes you can be exposed but what people forget it’s one of our strengths as well. When we score five or six goals it’s because we have the potential to attack and to restrict players who have that potential is to take their qualities away.

In our sport you never say never, but the most important is to be faithful to the principle and to find the balance. If we do not attack you’ll quickly be bored here and people will say, “Come on man, we pay a lot of money to watch your games, we want to win the games but we want to see goals as well”.

I think the keywords here is ‘balance’. We have to find the right balance and with someone like Wilshere in the team we are getting close to that. Ramsey seems like another one who can do just as well as Wilshere has been doing. I’ve also seen a conscious effort by the midfielders to swap positions and to cover for each other. That seems to be the key to achieving the right balance. We end up in trouble when this understanding is lost.

Normally, when Cesc is on the pitch he reads the situations well and often drops deeper when the opposition is pressing us and we’re finding it difficult to move the ball forward. Others who play in the advanced role will have to learn from Fabregas and that should allow us to do better even when El Capitan is missing.

Interestingly, I’ve not seen many people acknowledge the fact that Jack Wilshere is as good as any big midfield signing we could have made this season. Instead of being on loan, if he had been a Bolton player we would not have been able to sign him for less than 20M in my opinion and that makes him a world class signing. Just because he has come through the youth system, we should not take him for granted or undervalue the youngster.

I highly recommend listening to this speech and this Q&A session on ATVO. If you don’t have ATVO I’d recommend signing up, it’s more than value for money.


Rooney & Fergie, Cesc & Arsene: Class Difference?

October 20, 2010

I’ve been enjoying the stories coming out of Manchester United in the last couple of days. Right from the start of the season we could sense that something was not right at Old Trafford and now we’re getting a good idea why.

First it was Fergie who came out with some very harsh comments about Rooney. I don’t know what went on between them but from a distance I didn’t see any need for the United manager to make the whole story public and in a manner that painted Rooney in a very negative light.

Certainly, accusations by Fergie of Rooney disrespecting the club seem to be baseless. Granted the striker contradicted his boss on the injury issue but I can’t see any way in which Rooney showed disrespect towards United.

I’m not trying to defend the man most of us dislike (to put it mildly), but the facts are there for all to see. He’s had some personal issues and there could be questions over his morals and stuff like that but what has Rooney done to disrespect the club?

I just thought Fergie was shocked and couldn’t handle the fact that his biggest hope for winning anything this season wanted out. His words seemed like those of a man not in control. On one side he was having a go at his player and on the other he was talking of leaving the door open. We all know how badly they need him but I can’t see Fergie doing United any favours by washing the dirty linen in public.

In response, Rooney has come out with his own story. Of all things, I never expected him to leave because of lack of ambition at United. It’s a preposterous excuse and one, I feel, that has been made up to cover up the real reason, which could be that his head has been turned by money on offer elsewhere or he wants to escape the English media.

I’m not a fan of players doing the job of managers, and when they start questioning the signings or the way the team plays and stuff like that, a top manager has to take a firm stance.

Football is a complicated business and most big managers have to balance a number of factors. Unlike some clueless fans and pundits think, the football aspect and financial aspect of a club cannot be seen individually in isolation. Players can never understand the complexities and should just focus on their jobs. Even more at a club like United who won the Premiership for three years before losing it by just a point last year.

On a side note, such player behaviour and thinking could be the reason most clubs want to support the UEFA financial regulations because they will get genuine reasons to end the spending madness.

As I was laughing at the way things were playing out at United, I couldn’t help comparing this situation to the one we faced all through the summer. Fabregas wanted to leave; he confirmed it in public and had discussions with Arsene. Wenger helped him focus on the World Cup and then stood firm under extreme pressure. For his part, El Capitan accepted the decision of his manager and the club, and has been giving his all on the pitch.

At no point did the details of their talk come out in the public domain. Neither of them showed disrespect towards the other, the club, or the fans.

Interestingly, the Fabregas story lasted all summer and it’ll be fun to see how this one develops considering the fact that we have over two months to go before the January window.

To be honest, I’m not at all surprised by these developments. I see Fergie as an autocratic, functional manager, albeit an excellent one; while Wenger is more of an artist with a vision who lets the talents flourish.

The fall out with Rooney is not the first time for Fergie. He’s had a tough time with other stars in the past, most notably Beckham, Keane, and Nistelrooy. In contrast, players like Pires, Campbell and even United’s Beckham come to Arsene Wenger when they want to train and need help! I can’t think of a single player who has played for Wenger and has not had a good relationship with him. Even someone like Adebayor says only nice words about Arsene.

I’m just hoping United don’t get to sell Rooney for crazy money as that could help them strengthen. Given their present state the longer this mess exists the bigger their woes will be. Ferguson has said he’ll settle the issue in 24 hours. I’m not sure what he means by that but if it provides more entertainment, I’m not complaining.


Arsenal 5 – 1 Shakhtar Donetsk: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

October 19, 2010

What a game! I don’t think I’ve enjoyed any other game this season as I enjoyed this one. The wins against Blackpool and Braga were fantastic and there were some other entertaining displays but I felt this game was the best exhibition of football.

For this I must congratulate Shakhtar for their contribution. I thought they were excellent defensively in the first half except for the mistake by the goalkeeper. The visitors showed how to defend by excellent pressing and reading the game. They denied us space in their half and limited the number of chances we could create.

I was also impressed by their attempts to play the ball on the ground. The composure shown by their defenders and the keeper while passing the ball amongst themselves was worth appreciating. In the same vein, Arsenal’s pressing high up in the visitors’ half was a joy to behold.

I know many pundits in England don’t often get the beauty of the game. Unless the ball is fizzing around in the penalty area it seems to them that the attacking team isn’t doing anything. Similarly, a lack of flying tackles makes them feel that defending has been easy. Perhaps this led many to comment at half time that the game was being played at a slow pace and nothing was happening. The commentator was also surprised by the possession stats because he failed to notice how much Shakhtar were trying to play and how effectively Arsenal were negating their efforts and vice-versa.

But if you love proper football you’d have seen this was an exciting game played at a high tempo. This is reflected in the passing statistics. Arsenal completed 598 out of 699 passes while the visitors completed 502 out of 610. You can’t get those kind of numbers without excellent technical quality and a high tempo. I’ve no doubt Shakhtar will provide a much sterner tests in the comfort of their stadium with their fans behind them.

In the end, I thought Arsenal’s superior quality in the final third and a little hesitancy on the part of the visitors made a big difference. The scoreline was flattering but they players will tell you it wasn’t an easy win by any stretch.

I was quite happy with the patience we showed in the first half. Shakhtar were working hard defensively and we were probing, waiting for a mistake. The first goal came from a corner and it was good to see us get value from a set piece. Nasri’s delivery was quite good and I think it was Squillaci who got the first header and directed it to the back post. The Keeper stretched to collect when his defender was about to clear and dropped the wet ball. Djourou was on hand to poke it away from the Keeper and Song finished, albeit with some luck.

This is the kind of luck you make with constant pressure. I’d also give credit to Djourou for being alert and to Song for being opportunistic. The Cameroonians first attempt was an ambitious back-flick (not really sure how to describe that attempt). I think he tried that because he didn’t have time to land on his right and swing his left foot at the ball, which was to his left and behind his left foot. The defender made a sliding block but unfortunately for him, the ball hit Song and bounced over the line.

The game didn’t change much after the goal. Arsenal continued to probe and Shakhtar maintained their discipline. The second goal came from another forward run by Song, this time on the right flank. His cross was deflected towards Nasri at the top of the box and the Frenchman showed good control with his right foot before finishing with a blast from his left.

After the second goal Arsenal relaxed a bit and it became easier for the Ukrainians to bring the ball out. I was happy with our defensive shape and the way we limited their chances. I don’t think Fabianski was tested even once during the first half.

We got the third when Luis Adriano did what he might have seen countless times in Premier League games. He wrestled Djourou to the ground. This being a group game in Champions League the penalty was rightly given. Had it been a Premiership game or the later stages of this competition (as Chelsea found out against Inter last year), such a rugby tackle might have been deemed acceptable. Fabregas scored with a perfect strike giving the Keeper no chance even though he guessed the direction.

The best goal was the fourth one. Chamakh played a deft flick into the path of an onrushing Wilshere who exchanged a quick one-two with Rosicky before dinking it over the Keeper. Chamakh got the reward for his hard work when he was found by a delightful chip from Nasri. The Moroccan couldn’t believe he was onside but had enough time to glance over at the assistant before finishing the job. In this case the commentator was right; he should have finished first and looked at the linesman later. But I’m not complaining.

It looked like we were going to keep the clean sheet and I was really happy about that, even more than the goals we’d scored. But we conceded late from a crisp Eduardo finish that was applauded by both sets of fans. I thought Squillaci could have done better there. He tried to close the gap between his legs but a sliding block would have been a better option.

This result should all but confirm qualification and another home win over Partizan will probably secure top spot. Hopefully, Wenger will be able to rotate his players for the remaining two away group games.

Individual Performances

Fabianski: One decent save, couldn’t have done anything for the goal, not much else to do.

Eboue: Decent defensive shift, made some forward bursts, and contributed to the shape of our team. I was a little worried when he made runs from right back to the centre and then down the middle or even the left side.

Squillaci: Might have done better for the goal we conceded. Fairly strong defensive performance on the whole.

Djourou: Vital contribution for the first goal. Good defensive presence.

Clichy: Excellent. No mistakes at the back, some driving runs, a couple of good crosses, nice interceptions and tackling.

Song: Another game where he kept darting from box to box. Worked hard, scored a good goal, created another, good interceptions and defensive presence. I thought he also made a couple of mistakes. His slip in a dangerous position led to the Fabianski save. On another occasion he wasn’t aware of the ball at his feet right on the edge of our box.

Wilshere: Continues to impress. Good off the ball movement, passing, reading of the game, and great goal. Must curb his tackling instincts. Many will surely give him MotM. I’ll put him second.

Cesc: Was the key to our first half. Dropped deep often and controlled the game. Didn’t have any of his trademark defence splitting passes but that was more due to the excellent work by Shakhtar. Attempted 78 passes in 64 min. That shows how important he was against the visitors who were putting us under pressure. My man of the match, even though it was not an eye catching performance, it was a critical one.

Rosicky: Wanted to impress and did just that. Good work up and down the flank, did his share of defensive tracking, neat passing and movement, some excellent turns. I also liked the runs he made from right to the centre. Got the assist for Wilshere goal, could also have won a penalty in the first half.

Chamakh: I’m getting tired of saying how good he was. This is his sixth consecutive Champions League game in which he’s scored. Excellent work rate, good presence in and around the box, lovely flick that led to the fourth goal.

Nasri: Did well on the wings although I’d have liked a little more directness, supported Clichy well, good corner and a couple of good crosses, well taken goal and a delightful assist for Chamakh.

Subs: Denilson was energetic and did a good job defensively, Theo and Arshavin didn’t get many chances. I was surprised Arshavin was even sent out on the pitch. I’d have preferred Gibbs getting a few minutes.


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