Arsenal 2 – 0 Wigan: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

November 30, 2010

I guess this was as easy a game as Arsenal will play all season. If it had been a non-Arsenal game I’d have stopped watching after 10 minutes or so. But because it was Arsenal I had to struggle through a shaky and hazy stream at the risk of enduring a headache later, which is now and I have a bad one.

I’m not sure if there is any point in analyzing a game like this so I’ll just mention some top of mind thoughts.

Arsenal could have scored a dozen goals in this one if the attackers, particularly Vela, had been clinical in front of goal and the officials hadn’t decided that this game will not have penalties.

Wigan will be in serious trouble come May if they don’t show a drastic improvement on what they did on the pitch in this game.

In the first half every big moment came through Van Persie who was on a different plane compared to everyone else. The Dutchman laid it on a plate for Bendtner and Vela who messed up the simplest of chances. Perhaps it was the weather.

The first goal came late in the first half from a good corner taken by Walcott.  None of the Arsenal players got a touch but their movement did enough to distract the Wigan Captain Alcaraz who turned it into his own net. I was impressed by Theo’s delivery from set-pieces.

After the first goal the game opened up a lot more and Arsenal created chance after chance in the second half. Van Persie and/or Wilshere were at the heart of most of the good moves. Vela’s movement was excellent but his finishing was just the opposite.

The second goal cushion was secured in the 67th minute. Van Persie slid it out to Vela whose cross found Bendtner at the back post. The Dane bundled it in, somehow.

Wigan tried to go forward but Arsenal did well collectively. On the other end chance upon chance was squandered and it saved the visitors from going back with a humiliating score line.

I don’t want to dwell on the missed chances or the lacklustre opening half hour. There were too many changes to the team and some players were clearly lacking match practice and confidence. This was a good result made even better by the spanking received by United. I think the home and away factor made a big difference in both games. Hopefully, we’ll get the second leg at home in the semi-final.

Individual Performances

Szczesny: Didn’t have much to do. Swept well and one good punch is all I can recall.

Eboue: Looked a bit casual and struggled against Moses. Not convinced he has the focus needed for this level. Almost gave a goal away with a terrible and careless back pass. Nothing worth noting in terms of attacking or defensive contribution.

Djourou: Read the game well and looked composed on the ball. Good physical presence. Covered the right side well behind Eboue.

Koscielny: Pretty much like Djourou. Excellent tackling.

Gibbs: Had some good moments on both ends of the pitch but also had a couple of wobbles at the back. Lacked match sharpness but looked promising.

On the whole the defence wasn’t really tested. They won’t find another team with such a weak and uncoordinated attack again this season.

Denilson: Had some weak moments on the ball but did well mostly. Stayed close to the defence for large parts of the game and kept the ball moving.

Wilshere: Pretty much like Denilson in the first half. Came up with some delightful balls in the second half after the game opened up.

Van Persie: Arsenal need him fit for the rest of the season, no doubt about that. Incredible vision and execution. Still not close to his best so will only get better with games. If RvP plays, I’ll be much more confident in the big games in December. Had an injury scare early in the second half!

Overall the midfield did alright but not as well as I’d have liked. We should have kept the ball better, moved it faster. They did a good job of supporting the defence and I won’t be surprised to hear that Arsene had a safety first policy.

Walcott: Had an on and off game. Good delivery on corners, not so good on crosses. Good movement but didn’t find enough space. Finishing lacked composure. Was double teamed by the defenders every time he started running with the ball.

Bendtner: Scored a goal but didn’t play anywhere close to his potential. Needs to do more on and off the ball.

Vela: If we leave the missed chances out the Mexican had an excellent game. Put in some good crosses, one led to the goal, another should have led to a penalty. His movement was excellent as was his positional sense and defensive contribution was decent. But he missed so many chances that it’s difficult to ignore them. Clearly lacks confidence and was probably thinking too much about impressing.

Subs: Nasri didn’t have to do much but missed a glorious chance, Eastmond did much better than he’s done recently. JET didn’t really know how to get involved.

Take Carling Cup Seriously? Yes Wi Gan!

November 29, 2010

Right now Arsene Wenger has too many players who need a game. That’s not been a case in most of the recent seasons and touchwood lest I jinx it. Le Boss has no choice but to take Carling Cup seriously! Of course, that’s not the only reason but you get the drift.

Wigan will visit the Emirates tomorrow for the quarter-final that seems like an easy win. Well, I’m sort of on a jinxing spree here but I promise I won’t mention anything about winning in pre-match posts for the rest of the season if we botch up the game tomorrow.

On a more serious note, I think a great deal will depend on the starting eleven. We’ve seen in Europe and even at the end of last season, when we have 7-8 first choice players missing we can find a way of losing almost any game. And I have no doubt we will have more than half our first choice players either on the bench or not in the squad.

Wigan on the other hand, have a relatively smaller squad. Like Chelsea, they submitted a list with only 19 senior players in their Premier League squad. Obviously, that is all they have because I don’t see any reason for them to keep some players out of that list. The Latics do have some youngsters like Moses, Di Santo, McCarthy, and others but overall they don’t have a big enough squad to make wholesale changes and compete.

I’m not sure if Roberto Martinez will risk his best players in this game given the relegation battle he has on his hands. If that turns out to be the case Arsenal will cruise through and I don’t even have to be superstitious about it.

Nevertheless, Arsenal must go out with full focus and start the game like they’d done against Villa and Tottenham. And we need to finish it better than we did in those games. Sounds pretty simple, eh!

As I mentioned at the start, many Gunners need games. Walcott, Bendtner, Vela, RvP, Denilson, Djourou, Gibbs, and Eboue are some of the senior players who deserve a start. Szczesny, Nordtveit, Eastmond, and JET will also feel they should get a game. Somewhere in the dressing room even Almunia must be wondering if he will get another chance.

Leaving the Spaniard out, that’s twelve players. In effect, Arsene could change the whole starting line-up if wanted to. Just for the sake of discussion we could put out a team that looks like this,

Szczesny – Eboue, Nordtveit, Djourou, Gibbs – Denilson, Eastmond, RvP – Walcott, Bendtner, Vela.

Even then JET would be hard to fit in. While this list is just for the sake of discussion, I do feel we will have at least 7-8 of those players in the starting line-up tomorrow.

I’m not sure how fit Eboue is. So we might see Nordtveit on the right with Koscielny coming in his usual central defender role. I also expect a stronger midfield as RvP can do the creative part of that advanced midfield role but I can’t see him do the defensive bit. Rosicky should continue in his role as Captain and advanced midfielder.

That will mean either RvP goes to the bench or one of the front three sits out. Vela might be the most likely to miss out if Van Persie is fit to start.

To be perfectly honest, I’d also like to see Wilshere or Song play instead of Eastmond. The youngster makes me nervous with his body language and he was part of that capitulation against the same opponents towards the end of last season. Not pleasant memories and I’m not sure if the Latics won’t get a confidence boost on seeing him in the starting eleven.

Having said that, I’ll be surprised if Arsene doesn’t play him. There are some decisions Le Boss makes that I can never understand and his faith in Eastmond falls in that category. If the youngster does play I hope he puts in a performance to banish the ghosts of that disaster.

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

Szczesny – Nordtveit, Koscielny, Djourou, Gibbs – Denilson, Wilshere, Rosicky – Walcott, RvP, Bendtner.

This team would be a little weak on the right defensively but should make up for it with a relatively strong midfield. It should also be strong enough for any Wigan side and not only the changed one that we’re likely to see.

I hope Szczesny has to make a couple of good saves but is able to keep a clean sheet. On the other end a goal each for the front three should do, although the man I’d most like to see on the score-sheet is Rosicky.

Here’s to a momentum building win and a morale boosting performance, especially defensively.

Arsenal Must Learn To Deal With The Errors Of Match Officials

November 28, 2010

In the game against Villa, we all saw that a blatant offside decision against Carew, that led to the first goal for the home side, was not given.

I assume most readers know the ruling well enough so I don’t have to explain in detail why the Villa striker was offside. As we can see from the following image, Carew was blocking Fabianski’s vision and thereby interfering with play. The fact that he was injured does not have any bearing on the decision.

The most surprising part of this goal was that the linesman’s flag never went up. As I said in the match report, I can’t quite understand why that was the case. It’s not his job to judge whether a player in an offside position is in front of the goalkeeper or not. From his viewpoint there is no way a linesman can make that call. The correct thing for him to do was raise the flag and let the referee decide. As we can see in the image above, the ref was in a good position to see that Carew was right in front of Fabianski.

The most disappointing part of this goal however, was that no Arsenal player complained about the offside. It was as if they just didn’t have the presence of mind at that moment.

Now let’s look at the third goal for the Tiny Totts. The light and dark shades of grass make it easy for us to see difference between the location of the foul and one where the free kick was actually taken.


It’s clear from the above images that Van der Vaart stole 10 yards or so and created a much better angle for himself.

Obviously, the responsibility to ensure that such a freekick is taken from the right spot is with the match officials. But if they don’t get it right, surely some Arsenal player must be alert to the situation and to the dangers of allowing the opposition to sneak forward?

These are small issues but they can make a big difference at the end. If the Villa goal had been disallowed that win might have been a lot more comfortable. If Van der Vaart had delivered from a different angle we might have defended it better. If it had been 2-2 with five minutes to go, who knows what the final result might have been.

I’m trying to think of why Arsenal fail to focus on such issues. It’s not because the players are dumb or don’t care. That’d be a stupid argument. I feel the following explanations make some sense.

Firstly, there is a problem with the language. I’m not sure players like Arshavin, Song, Rosicky, Chamakh, and some others can talk to the ref in fluent English. That would make it very difficult for them to express their opinion. But this might be an excuse for other issues, it cannot be an excuse for the above two cases where they just had to say offside or point to the correct spot for the freekick.

Secondly, there is a general problem of perception against the Arsenal players. If they’re seen talking to the ref I see a lot of criticism in the media whereas other players get away with it all the time. This also affects the refs and sometimes our players are unnecessarily and unfairly punished when they try to talk to the ref or his assistant. This, when combined with the first issue, might be preventing them from approaching the referee.

Thirdly, there is the problem of confidence. Right now, after some poor results at home and in the Champions League, Arsenal players seem too concerned and hesitant when they’re under pressure. This undoubtedly affects their speed of thought in situations like the ones I mentioned above.

When Cesc is on the pitch he does a decent job of talking to the ref but even he is not really cut out for such a role. Sol Campbell was IMO excellent at this. But right now we don’t have many players who can just keep chatting with the ref and ensure that the men in black aren’t making any glaring mistakes.

In some ways we have to live with the fact that the officials will make mistakes and more often than not the decision will be against Arsenal rather than the opponent. I don’t think this can be completely eliminated. But if we have a couple of players on the pitch who can maintain their focus on refereeing decisions and develop the art of talking to the referee, it could make a vital impact on our title challenge.

Aston Villa 2 – 4 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

November 28, 2010

Arsenal needed heroes. Arshavin and Chamakh answered the call with great support from Nasri and Rosicky. I think in terms of moving the ball and creating chances, this game was amongst the best we have played so far this season. As I’d mentioned earlier, the injury to Cesc looks like a blessing in disguise.

The first half was all Arsenal. Villa had a solitary half-chance at the back post and even that might have been offside. The home side tried playing the ball out from defence and just couldn’t do it. O’Neill has left them in such a poor state that Houllier will need a great deal of time and patience to change their style. I’m not complaining because that made it easy for Arsenal to dominate the play.

Arsenal could have scored four or more in the first half. Rosicky was a little short of confidence and composure in the box and Nasri missed an open net. Thankfully, Arshavin had his shooting boots on and we got the bit of luck that we needed.

The first goal came when a clearance from the back was completely missed by Luke Young and Collins as the Villa defenders got in each other’s way. Arshavin picked the ball on the left and was able to charge at the goal. The Russian magician dropped his shoulder to create half a yard of space and smashed his shot that went in between the legs of the defender and despite a touch by the Keeper.

I wonder how people would have reacted if an Arsenal Keeper got a hand to the ball but couldn’t keep it out. But that’s a thought for some other day.

The second one came from a bit of creativity on a set-piece. Yes! At long last we did see some variation on a corner even if it was a simple one. Arshavin lobbed the ball deep towards the edge of the box and Nasri got his volley on target. It went in off a deflection but the goal was well deserved.

2-0 lead at half-time, chance to go top of the league, Villa had to get a goal. They got it but only because of some sloppy play by the midfield and a howler by the linesman and the ref. Carew was offside and right in front of Fabianski when Clark shot towards goal.

Ideally, if I know the rules right, the linesman should have raised his flag. He had no way of knowing whether Carew was interfering with play or not. The ref would then have to decide based on his position. Why the flag never came I do not know.

Surprisingly, the Arsenal players were more interested in expressing their disappointment and frustration rather than being alert to the offside. Even the Keeper, who was clearly impeded, didn’t complain to the linesman. Disappointing.

I think that was down to the fact that they’ve been under pressure for far too long and it’s difficult for them to keep their focus at such a time. Should they’ve received a shout from the bench? I’m not sure because a delayed appeal is not likely to have much impact. I would love to see such a goal being given against United.

It didn’t matter much because this time Arsenal had the perfect response to the goal. Arshavin collected the ball on the flank at the halfway line. He held off his man and found Rosicky who turned his marker and split the defence for Chamakh. The Moroccan finished with an intelligent toe-poke.

After the third goal Arsenal did stop playing for a while and allowed Villa to push forward and gain some confidence. The defence was exposed as the midfielders and attacking players didn’t move well enough and that made it difficult for the backline to pass the ball forward. They were forced into hoofing it forward and it came back in no time. Villa were able to sustain a spell of possession and created some pressure.

It paid off when they scored the second. Clark was left unmarked in the box as Song and Koscielny were watching the ball. Fabianski and Clichy on the line couldn’t do much as the ball crept in off the underside of the bar.

Arsenal back five had to hold firm as the front six just couldn’t keep the ball for long. Credit to the defence for limiting the chances Villa could create.

Arshavin moved into a central position and Rosicky moved to the left to help Clichy who was being double-teamed time and again. Arsenal moved to a 4-4-1-1 kind of system in the final 15-20 minutes. It wasn’t enough but at least that’s a sign of some tactical change. I’d have preferred if we’d brought Djourou on for Arshavin after the third goal. Wilshere could have moved into an advanced role and Djourou could have played as a second DM. The Swiss defender would have provided us with some much needed physical and aerial presence.

In the final five minutes Arsenal brought on Denilson and Gibbs for Arshavin and Nasri. Rosicky moved to the right and Gibbs provided better support to Clichy. Wilshere got into an advanced position. This allowed him get in the box in injury time and get a well deserved goal, his first in the League for Arsenal.

Some of the long standing problems are still there and I don’t expect them to disappear overnight. Nonetheless, it was great to see Arshavin and Chamakh back to their best. I have no doubt the rest worked wonders for them. Now the team selection against Braga doesn’t look so bad, does it?

Individual Performances

Fabianski: third game in a row, not much to do and couldn’t do much about the goals.

Sagna: excellent all over the right flank. Put in some good crosses.

Squillaci: untroubled in the first half. Could have done a bit better in the second. Dealt with Carew’s strength really well.

Koscielny: read the game really well. Looked solid while tackling. Could have done a little better for the second goal.

Clichy: superb. Took their winger out of the game for long periods. Was often under pressure when he was double-teamed in the second half, but dealt with it really well. Made some excellent interceptions.

On the whole, I don’t have many complaints against the defenders. They were exposed when the forward players reduced their off the ball movement.

Song: Played deeper and much closer to the defence and did a good job of moving the ball in the first half. Switched off a bit in the second and seemed unsure of his role.

Wilshere: Very similar to Song. Went missing for a while in the second half when Villa created some pressure but did well for large parts. Finished his chance with class. Looked threatening whenever he got into advanced areas.

Rosicky: top class performance in the central attacking role. A goal would have been good for him but his finishing let him down. Was involved with most attacks and created the third goal with a wonderful through-ball. Good defensive contribution in the final half hour.

The midfielders played a key part in Arsenal’s domination of the first half. I was a bit disappointed in the second half as the midfield didn’t do enough. Surely either Song or Wilshere should have been close enough to the defence to block the shot by Clark.

Nasri: excellent runs, good finish, decent defensive effort, good work rate.

Chamakh: close second in my MOTM list. Exceptional work rate, good goal, top class assist, looked fresh and hungry.

Arshavin: My MOTM. Was involved with almost everything going forward. Scored the all important first goal with an individual effort. Good defensive shift, good communication with teammates.

Subs: didn’t have much time on the pitch, but Gibbs and Denilson did their part.

The attackers were excellent for large parts. There was some hesitation in their off-the-ball movement in the second half and just like the midfielders they should have done better.

I don’t think it’s a problem with individuals but more a mental issue and Wenger will have to find the answer. Hopefully, the win will be good for the confidence.

Arsenal Need Heroes Against The Villains

November 26, 2010

This preview is another article on the road so I’ll try to keep it short and to the point.

I don’t have to tell anyone reading this blog why this game is bigger than it would normally have been. I also have a feeling it will be much tougher than it has been in the past, even though a trip to Villa Park is one of the hardest in the League on most occasions.

Arsenal need a hero or heroes to rise up. Fans need to see some players taking up the gauntlet. We’ve surrendered two games where the opposition should have been annihilated. Now we must see a dominant and decisive display.

Aston Villa are in a phase of transition from the boring, tactical approach of O’Neill to the more continental style of Houllier. They also seem to be adapting to the Arsenal style of blooding some talented youngsters.

The Villains drew with United even though they had a midfield comprising in part of kids like Bannan, Hogg, and Albrighton. If Fergie says he doesn’t know how United didn’t lose the game, you can be sure the opposition did really well. There is no doubt in my mind this will be a massive challenge.

Obviously, that makes Wenger’s team selection very important. In the absence of Cesc, a blessing in disguise I feel, we will have to see who leads the side out. I have a feeling it will be Rosicky and I’m hoping Little Mozart does as good a job as he is capable of.

There will be changes to the defence that lost at Braga. Sagna and Clichy should get their spots back. Will Arsene pick Koscielny over Djourou? I hope not. My choice would be to pick Koscielny over Squillaci but I’m not sure Arsene will agree with that.

In the middle Song should come back in the side and Wilshere should keep his place. I also want to see Rosicky get a game in the advanced role but many, including Arsene, might play Nasri there.

Up front, the trio that was so dominant in the first half against Spuds should be back. Some might say that Walcott on the right with Nasri in the middle is a good option. I don’t have an argument against that but right now I prefer Nasri on the right and don’t want to see him moved around a lot. He’s doing well there and a run of games in a fixed position will give the Frenchman a chance to step up a gear.

My starting eleven would look like,

Fabianski – Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Clichy – Song, Rosicky, Wilshere – Nasri, Chamakh, Arshavin.

I don’t want to make predictions as some games that I thought should be easy wins have turned into defeats. In this case I think we have a team capable of getting a positive result but we need someone to step up and take charge. It won’t be hard to notice if they do. Let’s wait and watch.

Just Some Thoughts And Facts All Gooners Should Consider

November 25, 2010

Before I proceed apologies to those whose comments were stuck in moderation. I’m travelling and wasn’t able to access the internet yesterday. Haven’t quite gotten into using the mobile for internet 🙂

Now onto some facts I wanted to mention,

In 01-02 – the fantastic double winning team with the likes of Henry, Bergkamp, Adams, and other legends didn’t do particularly well in the Champions League.

Group Stage P6 W3 D 0 L3 F9 A9 – if I’m not mistaken they lost all three away games to the likes of Panathanaikos, Mallorca, and Schalke. In the second round, that was a group phase they finished third with W2 D1 L3 F8 A8. Great players, atheletic, fast, shooting when they get a chance, can dribble, can defend, plenty of leaders, and all that … no output.

In 02-03 with many of those legends in the team we lost 4 straight in october including games against Everton and Blackburn. And again if I’m not mistaken (don’t have the time to check all the facts) we finished with something like 78 points that season, not much different from last season was it?

In 03-04 the invincibles were fantastic in the league. In Europe? Group stages P6 W3 D1 L2 F9 A6 – 10 points – something the present team is on the verge of emulating.Once again the great players, with all the skills that the present squad supposedly lacks, didn’t go too far in the champions league.

People make it sound as if the present squad is useless and the golden bunch never lost anything. I’m not saying those teams were great, just that we need to be sensible while criticizing the players and the manager.

Take a look at these comments made after a team threw away a 2 goal lead at half-time,

Once again, we have thrown a game away,” he complained. “We did that in ********** and we did that against *********** too, and now we have done it again. It is incredible because we had played so dominantly.

“Maybe we lost concentration in the second half, but it is not on that we conceded a goal just four minutes in, after we had a corner. That is not possible”

One could easily be describing Arsenal. Throwing away a lead, conceding on the break from a counter after a corner, conceding early in the second half … all signs are there.

These comments were made by Bayern coach Louis Van Gaal after his team threw away a 2 goal half-time lead against Roma. You can replace Monchengladbach and Leverkusen for the places where I’ve put stars. Bayern were Champions League finalists last season. They beat United on the way to the final. They have plenty of big names in their squad. Right now they are 8th … yes 8th … in the domestic league!

Sh*t happens.

To me the basic problem seems to be that far too many people get stuck in the “no title for five years” web. It’s a painful fact but we cannot truly analyze pertinent issues by generalizations.

To me Arsenal are at a stage where the club needs its fans more than ever before. The fans can really make a positive contribution that can lift the players to a couple of results and they will, I’ve no doubt, carry it from there. Obviously, that also means the fans can drag the club down if the negativity keeps increasing.

I’ll cover that in detail later along with some other issues I’ve in mind but right now I just wanted to type these thoughts out. I don’t want to tell you what to think but you need to ask – is the criticism, negativity, and the general gloom benefiting the club in anyway?

Apologies in advance for any errors in this post as I’ve typed it out mostly from memory. And please bear with me if your comments is held up for moderation. I’ll try to look at the moderation queue as often as possible but it’s difficult to predict.


SC Braga 2 – 0 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

November 23, 2010

Firstly, let me just say congratulations to Braga for believing in themselves, playing with a plan, and taking their chances. It was an excellent display of disciplined defending and counter-attacking football by the home side that fully deserves the three points.

Secondly, I’m a bit concerned that refereeing in Europe is slowly going the English way in terms of tolerating dangerous physical play. The ref in this game was astonishingly pathetic and his assistants, especially those behind the goal-line were either blind or really stupid. I don’t say this to take anything away from Braga or to defend the Arsenal performance but just as a fact worth noting.

With that out of the way I can concentrate on Arsenal for the rest of this post.

I was very surprised and concerned when the starting line-up was announced. There were far too many changes for my liking and the starting eleven lacked balance.

With Walcott on the right and Bendtner up front we were always going to have a problem with our pass and move game because neither of them was going to contribute much to that. Theo is good at running with or without the ball but not at the tippy-tappy game. Bendtner’s touch and work rate means he cannot contribute as much as Chamakh does.

In order for us to creatively dominant we needed a strong midfield. By playing Wilshere and Denilson behind a struggling Cesc Arsene made sure we had a very weak midfield. It was compounded by having two full backs who have not played often enough and don’t have the same level of understanding with their teammates as Sagna and Clichy do. Song and Sagna should have started this game.

The result was that Braga were able to press Arsenal high up the pitch and the Gunners couldn’t bring the ball out of their defence in a meaningful way. Wilshere and Denilson struggled under pressure and Cesc did not have the work rate that we’ve come to expect. It could be the effect of his hamstring or a mental issue, I don’t know. The simple fact was that Fabregas rarely dropped deep and that meant most of our passing was square and backwards in the middle third or defensive areas.

The only person who showed any kind of urgency or desire in the first hour of play was Rosicky and it was a shame that he was stuck out on the wing for large parts. Every time Little Mozart came in the middle Arsenal looked more threatening as he was able to hold off the pressure and turn his man.

Walcott’s pace or Bendtner’s height were never really used as the midfield couldn’t create any space.

The first half had some interesting moments but either side failed to create any chances. Braga never really threw too many men forward and one could see they were happy to wait for their chance with the priority being a clean sheet. I don’t blame them; in fact I’d say it was a good tactical decision because if they’d conceded early and had been forced into going forward, Arsenal might have opened them up a lot more often.

Even in the second half I barely recall Arsenal creating anything in the first twenty minutes or so. In contrast, the hosts were gaining in confidence and were looking a lot more threatening on the break as the Arsenal players showed signs of desperation and lack of concentration.

The first horror moment for the Gunners came around the seventy minute mark when Cesc stretched for a ball over the top and immediately signalled for a substitution. I don’t know how long he will be out but I’ve a sneaky feeling this could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

Wilshere took on more responsibility after Cesc went off and Arsenal looked a lot more threatening. Walcott put Rosicky in behind on the right but his cross was weak and was cleared before it reached an unmarked Bendtner in the six yard box.

A few minutes later Vela was booked for what the ref deemed was a dive. Everyone else watching the game could see it was a clear penalty. That proved to be the turning point as a goal at that time would have put Arsenal in a comfortable position.

Nonetheless, there is very little justification for what followed.

Eboue was injured by a clumsy foul and had to go off. That left Arsenal with 10 men on the pitch. Not surprising giving the referees impotent attitude towards the physical game.

The free kick was in a decent position just inside the Braga half and it was launched towards Chamakh at the back post. The Moroccan wasn’t able to direct is across goal and the ball went behind him towards the touchline. There was no Arsenal player there and the defender was able to find his teammate half way inside their own half. From there, a long ball over the top saw Matheus clean through and he finished with aplomb.

Once again it showed how dumb Arsenal are with their set-pieces. When the ball was going to the back post how can we not have someone on the edge of the box who can attack the clearance or at the very least close the pass down? What’s the point of having Denilson in the middle of defence when he just doesn’t have the pace to chase the runner? Why wasn’t the quickest player, Gibbs, in the defensive line? To me the problems stem from a criminal negligence towards set-pieces, the result of which was there to see all game long.

The ten men had a mountain to climb after the goal with very little time remaining. Most of it was spent hoofing the ball forward without a real plan and Braga were never under pressure.

The game was settled in the final minute of injury time when Matheus was able to break once again. The challenge from Denilson in the centre was really weak. Even then, Gibbs had enough pace to cover and it seemed that even Squillaci got back in time. Unfortunately, the three Arsenal players who got back never really tried to win the ball and Matheus had the talent to place it in the corner to complete a solid win.

Arsenal had 71% possession but it was all “Denilson quality” possession meaning the ball went sideways or backwards with very little genuine threat or penetration.

With two pathetic performances Arsenal have put qualification for the second round in jeopardy and there is a good chance we will finish second in this group even if we win the next game. On the basis of the last two outings I can’t say we deserve any better.

Individual Performances:

Fabianski: Once again didn’t have much to do and couldn’t do much for the goals.

Eboue: not very good. Was embarrassingly nutmegged on a couple of occasions. No real contribution in attack. Sagna would have helped us move the ball better and faster.

Squillaci: Looked solid for an hour but the pressure started to tell after that as the midfield went further forward and left the defence isolated. Almost gifted the opposition a goal with a daft header. Not sure if he played Matheus onside for the first goal. If he did it would be a massive mistake.

Djourou: Superb. Can’t really blame him for this performance. Looked very calm and composed, tackled well, won headers, good distribution.

Gibbs: had a couple of exciting moments in the final third but the final ball was lacking. Did a good job of defending the left wing with a safety first approach. Should have done better for the second goal but I can’t say that affected the result.

On the whole, I can’t really blame the back five except a bit for the second goal, which was academic given its timing. The midfield couldn’t carry the ball forward but the defenders did a decent job except one or two mistakes that happen to every team.

Denilson: Was good at defending and intercepting in the first hour when he was playing close to the defence. Was woeful in bringing the ball out of defence and failed to deal with the pressing. Was clueless when Matheus made the run behind him and didn’t have the pace or willingness to chase. If he’d been sprinting back it might at least have put the striker under pressure to rush his shot.

Wilshere: struggled under pressure initially. Misplaced a number of passes. Did well in the final 15-20 mins.

Cesc: lacklustre and uncharacteristic. Doesn’t matter whether he has a physical or mental issue, he should not be playing if he is struggling so much.

The midfield was easily the biggest problem area. We could rarely bring the ball forward with purpose and incisiveness. A substitution should have been made at half-time or early in the second half. Of course one can argue that if the penalty decision had been correct the same team and tactics would have succeeded. My point is that this game should have been a lot more comfortable and should not have come down to one penalty decision so late in the game.

Walcott: was boxed in a corner for most of the game, his runs were rarely picked. Can’t blame him much.

Bendtner: had to drop deep far too often but his positioning in the box and desire to attack the ball can be questioned. Still he didn’t do too bad given the appalling lack of service.

Rosicky: My man of the match if one can be given in such a game. Looked confident, always positive on the ball, decent defensive shift.

I don’t blame the attackers for this result. They rarely got any service and only reason Rosicky looked lively was down to the fact that he dropped deep and came into midfield. Can’t really expect that from Walcott and there wasn’t much Bendtner could have done.

Subs: Chamakh won some balls in the air, Vela looked lively, Nasri didn’t get into the game that much.

Forget The Hara-Kiri Concentrate On Braga

November 22, 2010

I was not able to watch the highlights or read any articles about Arsenal over the last two days. When I said, “…not able to…” I didn’t have a problem with means or opportunity, the problem was with my mental state. Arsenal snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and the response has been predictably intolerable. I got a headache just scanning the headlines.

Thankfully I did find a couple of headlines that made me want to read and I’m glad I did. If you’ve not already discovered them, this article by Mean Lean on ArsenalVision and this one by Paul Fowler on Untold are excellent reads.

Mean Lean has done an excellent job of collecting the rants of Chelsea and United fans. It corroborates my own observations as I’ve browsed around some other club blogs to see how their fans react to poor performances. Let’s not forget the Tiny Totts were booed by their own fans on at least a couple of occasions recently and City have some nasty fans of their own. Bottomline – Every club has a few idiotic supporters who go over the top after some bad results.

Having said that, I’d like apologize to the positive supporters if I came across as a touch too harsh in my match report. As I’ve often maintained I can understand the frustration and don’t have a problem with criticism but it should be fact based and constructive. I try to implement this but sometimes feelings take over. To me, Arsenal were very poor in surrendering the lead so the last couple of days have been that of extreme heartache but now it’s time to move forward.

We’re two points of the top in the Premiership and have everything to play for in the Cups starting with the visit to Portugal. I’m confident the fans going to Braga will continue the excellent support we usually get from the travelling contingent.

As far as the game goes I’ve not seen Arsene’s press conference or interview so I don’t know many details. One thing I do know is that Van Persie, Clichy, and Arshavin have not travelled to Portugal and Cesc will be assessed on the morning of the game just like he has been in the recent games.

It’s important to remember that we’ve not won in Portugal and will need to be close to our best if we have to win this game. Tactically I don’t see this game to be very different from the Spuds game as Braga have a decent side but they probably don’t have the quality in the final third that hurt us so much on Saturday. Nonetheless, the players cannot afford to switch off in this game (in any game for that matter but for now let’s just take one match at a time). If we can keep our focus for 90 minutes we should win and secure qualification.

Clearly, there will be some changes to the starting line-up. Gibbs will get a well deserved chance as Clichy has been left back.

It will be interesting to see if Arsene continues with the same central defensive combination that we saw in the NLD. In the absence of Vermaelen, I think the two Frenchmen are Arsene’s first choice pairing and I’ve a feeling they’ll get another chance to play together. I’d personally prefer Djourou who has been excellent recently but Arsene has his own methods and I trust him to be meticulous about these decisions.

On the right I’m hoping Eboue is not picked ahead of Sagna because I’m not convinced Eboue is in the right frame of mind these days and we should not take a risk in such a game.

In the middle, I hope to see Wilshere back in the starting line-up ahead of Denilson. Song and Cesc should complete the trio. If El Capitan is not fully fit we could play Wilshere in an advanced role and Denilson behind him. Similarly, if young Jack is not ready we could go with the same midfield that played two days ago.

Up front I hope to see Walcott on the right, Bendtner down the middle and Rosicky on the left. Nasri surely deserves a rest and so does Chamakh. They can come off the bench if we need to turn the game around.

The starting line-up in my mind is,

Fabiansi – Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Gibbs – Song, Wilshere, Cesc – Walcott, Bendtner, Rosicky.

A win will ensure qualification while a loss could put us in serious trouble going into the final round of group games. I feel we have a strong enough side to get a result but a lot will depend on the mental state of the players rather than their talents.

Everyone at Arsenal should just forget what has happened so far this season and look forward with a positive approach. We have everything to play for and there is no real reason to feel despondent. There have been enough positives and we just have to build on them. Qualification from the group stages with our first win in Portugal will be an excellent start.

Arsenal 2 – 3 Tottenham: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

November 20, 2010

Absolute Shambles.

I don’t know how a team can concede one, leave alone three, against a Spuds side as toothless as this one was. But as it is, Arsenal have gifted their bitter rivals three soft goals to throw away a two goal lead.

That old enemy, losing concentration and desire midway through the game, came back to haunt the side that looked like it could run away with the game and score 4 or 5 in the process. I’m not furious we lost this game. I’m incensed that a 5-0 turned into a 2-3.

The only credit I can give to the Tiny Totts is that they had quality in the final third and took their chances when the gifts were presented to them.

The first half started brightly. Spuds got a corner early on and Bale attempted a lame back-heel that was easy for Fabianski. After that it was all Arsenal.

Nasri’s opener came from a delightful ball over the top by Cesc that found the run of the Frenchman. Nasri’s first touch was not perfect but Gomes couldn’t control it and Samir was able to nick it away and squeezed it in from the narrowest of angles.

Arsenal created a number of half chances after that. The best one fell to Cesc who shot wide when he had a clean sight of goal.

The second goal cushion arrived when a quick break allowed Fabregas to run at the Tottenham defence. He found Arshavin on the left and his ball was turned in by Chamakh.

After this Chamakh had another golden chance when he was clean through. But instead of taking charge of the situation he waited for a foul or for a teammate. Neither came and the chance was missed. The Moroccan would go on to make a similar mess in the second half.

In the first half you could see Arsenal were completely on top. The Tiny Totts were limited to set-pieces and couldn’t create a single clear chance. Arsenal players maintained a good shape, read their attacking moves well, never allowed Van der Vaart or Bale any time on the ball, and kept finding spaces in the Spuds half.

You could sense that the first ten minutes or so of the second half would be very crucial. If Arsenal can maintain the same discipline they should not have any problems despite Redknapp bringing Defoe on for the ineffective Lennon. If anything it should have opened up the midfield for Arsenal.

Five minutes into the second half disaster struck. It’s known as the classic Denilson disaster. Arsenal were camped in the opposition half for a set-piece. Assou-Ekotto launched a long ball forward that was won by Defoe whose flick-on found Van der Vaart. The Dutchman was allowed to control the ball and roll it to an onrushing Bale as Denilson simply jogged alongside. Even Sagna was guilty of ball-watching and not putting enough pressure on the only real creative player in the opposition. Once the ball went past Denilson to Bale he had a clean run on goal and there was very little Fabianski could do.

Arsenal lost their composure for a while but it seemed like the players regained it around the hour mark. Once again it was simple football with neither side creating much except the chance for Chamakh.

The second disastrous moment for the equalizer came out of nowhere. First Dowd gave a dodgy free kick just outside the penalty box. Then, inexplicably, Cesc raised his arm in the wall and the ref pointed to the spot. Now there can be an argument that Fabregas was not looking at the ball and his arm wasn’t above the head of Chamakh so the ball would anyway have hit Chamakh. But the simple fact is that there was no need for raising his hand in that extended manner and if you give the ref a chance to screw you, he will.

Van der Vaart put the spot kick away with ease and it was anyone’s game now. I call this the classic Arsenal disaster. Unlike the one with Denilson where the Brazilian does something stupid or shies away from a key challenge, this one is spread across the team. Any Arsenal player is capable of making a rank amateur mistake in the penalty box. That’s the classic Arsenal disaster. That’s why Arsenal need clear focus on defensive training and a tough, new coach who can freshen the drills and bring some belief in the way Arsenal defend set-pieces. Just putting numbers in the box doesn’t always work.

We saw the dreadful impact of this five minutes from time when the turnaround from complete domination to abject surrender was finished. Koscielny fouled Bale as the Tinies were on a break. I thought Spuds stole 10-15 yards for that free-kick. This gave Van der Vaart a brilliant angle to deliver. His ball found the back of Kaboul’s head as Van Persie made a lame challenge. The ball, as we all feared it would, snuck into the corner of the net.

Between the second and the third goals Arsenal did create a couple of chances. Gomes kept a Cesc strike out with a brilliant save and Koscielny missed a golden chance as he headed over the top with the goal gaping.

After the third goal Arsenal couldn’t really muster anything as the team lost all composure and ended up hoofing the ball all too often.

A number of recurrent problems were again highlighted by this game.

First was the lack of a leader on the pitch. Arsenal heads dropped every time a goal went in and they took a few minutes to recover. After the third goal we wasted 10 minutes as no one was there to take charge of the team and bring some order to the chaos. It’s difficult to criticize most of the players because you could see they were trying hard. The problem is, when the Arsenal system is broken, the players can’t do much even if they work like donkeys.

Second was the lack of tactical substitutions and decision making, an area where I’ve always maintained Arsene needs some help. The first goal gave the Tinies a lot of belief and we needed a substitution by the hour mark at the latest. Denilson should have been taken off, Walcott brought on the wing, with Nasri coming in the middle, Cesc dropping deeper, Song sitting in front of the defence with discipline. We had a man advantage in the middle anyway. It should have been used. Denilson was completely useless in the second half. Arshavin should also have been taken off around the hour mark.

I thought Van Persie, Walcott and Rosicky were the right players to bring on but the latter two came on too late in the game. I don’t pretend to know more than Arsene but we see the impact of substitutes in many games and for Arsenal it’s not as strong as it should be given our bench. A good reshuffle would also allow us the moment we need to take a breather and get the composure back.

Finally, there was the case of Denilson. He just gives up. I don’t know what to say to that and why we haven’t sorted it out. If he is a good reader of the game he should have put a slide in to intercept the ball from Van der Vaart. There was only one pass for the Dutchman and it wasn’t that difficult to read. There are times when it seems Denilson thinks that just by running back and being in front of the box his job is done. That is not acceptable.

Individual Analysis:

Fabianski: Didn’t have much to do and couldn’t have done much for the goals.

Sagna: Was superb against Bale for most of the game. The Welshman was hardly in the game until he was gifted the goal. Can’t fault him for the defeat.

Squillaci: decent for most parts. Read the game well, swept up everything that came in behind Sagna, should have contributed more on set-pieces at either end. Conceded some needless fouls around the box.

Koscielny: very similar to Squillaci. His foul led to the third goal but it was really high up the pitch so can’t really blame him. Should have scored with the free header.

Clichy: had Lennon in his pocket. Defended really well. Spuds rarely had anything down their right. Can’t fault him for the performance.

Song: excellent work on the right flank, especially in the first half. Passing wasn’t very good in attacking areas. Should have stayed deeper when the team lost its composure. Showed a lack of maturity and decision making at those moments.

Cesc: Completely ran the game and was head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch. Gave away the penalty in a moment of madness. Couldn’t bring the team’s focus back when a leader was needed.

Denilson: I’ve said enough in criticism but he was decent in the first half as he is when the opposition isn’t putting us under pressure. Not good enough.

Nasri: Scored a great goal, worked really well on the right, couldn’t have asked for more except better deliver on set pieces.

Chamakh: scored a fantastic goal, made some superb runs, excellent work rate, but bottled it at big moments.

Arshavin: had a couple of sparks, created the goal for Chamakh, tracked back often enough, but I thought it was the wrong choice to start with him.

Subs: Van Persie’s delivery on set pieces was good, his movement was quality, but he didn’t get the ball often enough. Rosicky was energetic but his decision making wasn’t very good. Walcott didn’t have the composure in tight areas.

As I’ve said in the past, there is no point talking about title chances after every game. There will be good runs and there will be games that are complete disasters. At the end of the season we will see which is more. Right now the disaster column is leading.

Wenger really has to get a grip on things. Right now his players are not delivering to their potential and the buck stops with the manager.

Top Of The League Or Extreme Heartache: What Will It Be?

November 19, 2010

It’s that time of the year again. The most overhyped bunch of players and manager in the Premiership visit the most undervalued lot at the Emirates for a game that stretches the boundaries of passion.

We can say all sorts of things for this one. The cautious ones might say the Tiny Totts have some good players and Arsenal will have to be close to their best to win. The optimistic fans will be confident that the visitors are just too mediocre when going away against the big sides to cause any serious problems. And there are plenty of thoughts in between.

I can understand and appreciate all the opinions but to me this game will be down to a few factors.

First and most important is the attitude with which Arsenal players come out on the pitch. If we see the same fighting spirit that we saw in the last two away games, Spuds will be in for a hard time. If we come out with the approach we had against WBA or Newcastle, this could turn into a disaster. The Tinies are certainly at least as good as West Brom or Newcastle.

Second will be the individual battles. Sagna will need to be on top of his game because he will be coming up against a quick opponent who has had a week’s rest and time to work on his tactics. Arsenal will also have to win the individual battles for the second ball because the Crouch – VdV axis will be the only other attacking option that Spuds have. Last year we did this really well and made them look like a harmless side.

Third factor, and this is the most unreliable one, is the referee. Based on this outstanding analysis on Untold Arsenal, we’ve done rather well in games when Phil Dowd has been in charge. My only concern is that he is a somewhat temperamental referee and not as consistent as we’d like. So a team might commit some fouls and he might let it go and then book the other team players for similar offences (just my opinion, no statistical evidence to back it up). He is also a ref who doesn’t mind showing red cards and I have a feeling we could see one tomorrow, probably from two yellows rather than a straight red. As long as he doesn’t unnecessarily screw one of our players it should be a good game.

Finally, a lot will depend on the tactics of the two managers. Will ‘Arry have the guts to play two strikers at Emirates in the 4-4-2 system that works so well for him? I seriously doubt it but if I were the Tiny Totts’ manager I’d throw all caution to the wind because their away record against the big sides is so abysmal it really can’t get any worse even with a spanking. On the flip side a positive result could make a big difference to the player and supporter morale. Let’s see what Twitchy has in store for us. Last year when he came with long balls and ten men behind the ball, Van Persie, Sagna, and Fabregas destroyed them. Even at home, against an Arsenal side missing 6-7 first choice players, the Tinies put ten men in defence but got a win on the counter.

I will be really surprised if they don’t defend in numbers and hit a plethora of long balls to Crouch or diagonal ones to their wingers. Using pace when Arsenal are attacking is their only real hope apart from a blunder from the ref or a set-piece.

As far as Arsenal are concerned, Wenger will have some selection headaches he must really be enjoying.

I expect Koscielny to come back into the line-up and I hope he plays alongside Djourou who has been in top form recently. We will need the aerial presence of the Swiss Centre Back. The Full-Backs and Keeper should keep their starting roles. I don’t think Gibbs has played enough after his injury to start him in such a game.

In the midfield Cesc and Song should be certainties. I hope Fabregas does better in this game than he has done in the last few games for club and country. I expect the third choice to be between Wilshere and Denilson and I’ll go with the Brazilian. Wilshere has played a lot and wasn’t fully fit during the week. In a high intensity game it’s better to go with a player who is fresh and fit.

The biggest decisions for Le Boss are in attack. If RvP is fully fit he should start but I’m not sure he is. In that case it would be best to start with Chamakh in a central role.

I’d also like to see Walcott on the right as it will give us a good threat against Assou-Ekotto who is error prone. I certainly don’t want to see Nasri on the right because that will leave us with two players who’ve just played 90 minutes for their country on the same wing as the opponents’ biggest threat.

On the left I think Rosicky will be a good choice because Arshavin has also played the full game for his country.

The team I’d like to see is,

Fabianksi – Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Clichy – Song, Cesc, Denilson – Walcott, Chamakh, Rosicky.

Arsenal could go top with a win and with Chelsea facing a tricky trip to Birmingham we could stay on top after the weekend, but I have a feeling this game will be a draw and the ref will play a big part in it.

Update: Since it’s derby day and many of the readers here are Johnny Foreigners like me,  I recommend these articles that present facts about the events of 1915, 1919, and earlier. In this article Tony highlights the suspicious promotion of the Totts in 1909 despite coming 7th in their league. In this one the bias of the media and Tiny propaganda is analyzed and rebuffed. For more authentic, well-researched Arsenal history pieces, in case you haven’t already done so, do check out the History of Arsenal FC blog by Tony Attwood of Untold fame.