Get out of Birthday Jail Card used

Last night Arsène Wenger must have played his invisible ‘Birthday Get Out Of Jail’ card, because after what we all watched in Belgian last night, there are not many people who have a physical or emotional stake in the club that will argue that we didn’t get quite fortunate, by picking up the 2-1 win.

I suppose the counter-argument is that fortune would be a back pass that the ‘keeper shanks into his own net, where as our goals were entirely of our own making through our play, but if you watched the game in the same way I did I’m sure you’d agree too that we were fortunate.

We never ever really got going. Perhaps the warning signs were there early on, when Santi was fed a delightful ball by the stand-out performer Alexis, only for the Spaniard to shin one right into row z. In the opening exchanges of a game you think to yourself as a fan “that’s ok, it’s good we’re getting into those positions, so we’ll get another chance”, but you don’t expect to see the opponent ‘keeper not worked for the vast duration of the game thereafter.

Some way through the second half, it occurred to me that this felt very much like the Hull game, which was a real worry. We were laboured, lacklustre and lethargic all rolled into one and the quick interchanges of passing between players that has typified Arsène Wenger teams done the years just wasn’t there. I pointed out to The Management how static we were part-way through the second half. As if to help me prove my point, I was able to show her six passes in a row that were to players standing still. Successful football teams move into spaces, create gaps, pull teams apart and work at creating openings to fashion chances. I saw none of that for the duration of yesterday’s match from Arsenal players. Paul Merson had said at half time that it was as if none of the Arsenal players wanted the ball. For a change, I agreed with him.

The goal we conceded felt to me as if lessons had clearly not been learnt from the weekend. Another floated ball into the middle, another defender caught under the flight (this time it was Chambers), another half-decent header from a half-decent attacking player. DeJa Vu and Arsenal another goal down to a side that we really should have been out of sight against.

Let’s be honest, I don’t want to seem like I’m being disingenuous to our opponents of the evening, but that was a distinctly average Champions League side that we came across yesterday. You could tell from their build up play and potency in the final third that they were not a side that would trouble 95% of teams in the competition. But they troubled us. They troubled us quite a lot actually.

Midfield was virtually anonymous I have to say. Yes, the defence was at fault for us going behind, but our midfield had an evening to forget. Jack and Rambo hardly impacted the game at all and, whilst he has come back from injury only recently, I hope that it was his lay-off that caused another average display from Ramsey and not a sign of a dip in form. We want to see the Ramsey from last season, not a regression into the player that tried flicks and long passes to the frustration of everybody. Again, let’s put it down to regaining his fitness for now, but I didn’t see any real penetration from the midfield. There are a lot of people in the media world that wonder what Özil does, but without wanting to put an injured player on a pedestal, that is exactly the sort of game we needed him in. I saw about three or four very good forward runs throughout the game in which it only needed a good pass from a player with vision to see, but instead we chose the simple five yard sideways pass and chose to build up play slowly again. Mesut Özil is a great player because he sees those types of passes, and it was that cutting edge from a player with vision that we missed last night.

But for all of this anguish, for all of my assertions in other blogs recently that we have not ‘clicked’, perhaps I should give a smidgen of credit to the players for ultimately securing a vital victory that one hopes is essential in rebuilding what appears to be a fragile level of confidence amongst the players. The goal from Gibbs was an absolute pearler and Lukas Podolski showed exactly what he is – an absolutely deadly finisher – Benjy and Steve had to be virtually broken apart via Whatsapp last night!

So the job is done and the wounds are minor and repairable. But there needs to be a vastly improved performance against Sunderland on Saturday afternoon.

See you tomorrow.

 

Anderlecht preview: Victory to build momentum

Champions League Matchday 3 sees us make the short trip along the Eurostar to Belgium, where we line up to face Anderlecht tonight. But before I go into some thoughts on the game, a little rant, if I may…

This morning I was up early driving back from the inlaws (Management has broken her wrist and so she is being ferried to and from her work by Senior Management) when I heard full chapter and verse about the “amazing atmosphere at Anfield tonight. The Real Madrid players will have played all over the world, but this will be special” and I wondered ‘is there any other club that enjoys so much hyperbole thrown at it in relation to atmosphere as much as Liverpool?’. I would love to see what Liverpool do differently to us when we’ve entertained Bayern or Barca in the past. I’d wager little. But this media soft-spot for Liverpool is borderline nausea-inducing.

Anyway, moving swiftly on and towards all things Arsenal, who face a tricky – but not insurmountable – away trip to Anderlecht. It’s been made all the more testing by the fact we’re missing both first and second choice ‘keepers, as well as our first choice centre half and right back. It will mean a somewhat unfamiliar and rather raw look about our back five this evening, but even so this is a game that Arsenal really have to be looking at to win tonight.

If it’s true what Arsène says, that 10 points is a minimum target that usually achieves progression into the next stage of the competition, then this is the sort of game that can help to put a foot in the door of the next round. An away win followed by a home victory against the. Belgian champions will leave us with nine points and will probably mean that a draw in our final two games will at least see us progress. Of course we want to win the group, but qualification is the first hurdle to try to overcome. Defeat, or even a draw, will probably mean that we have to beat Dortmund at home and that is by no means a given seeing as we’ve already been beaten by them once this season and defeated last season on home soil.

But let’s not be fooled into thinking that we’ll sweep aside Anderlecht tonight. They will be in the mood for an upset and, having seen Arsenal labour the point on Saturday, I’m sure they will be looking at Hull’s performance and thinking they should be able to get something from the game. We are yet to fully fire on all cylinders in any competition (even against Galatasaray and Villa there were cracks) and that will give enough fuel for their belief.

I’ll confess that I have very little frame of reference when it comes to tonight’s opponents, as the Belgian League is not one that makes my ‘must see’ list. Save for Anthony Van Den Borre (once of Portsmouth) and Stefan Defour (not bad on Football Manager), I know few of their players and am not sure of the style of football the ‘Purple and White’ will produce tonight. But without wanting to be accused of the type of arrogance that is labelled at Wenger when he doesn’t analyse an opponent, I suspect that we’ll see a team that will want to start the game quite tight, keep Arsenal at bay for the first 15 minutes, then up the tempo gradually as they build their confidence.

Of course, because I do little research of note on our opponents, I could be completely wrong and we could see them try to catch us off-guard by coming flying out of the box. Our defeats to Dortmund this season, Chelski and Liverpool last season, we’re built on a foundation of speed and blitzing us in the first 15 minutes, so if Anderlecht do adopt that tactic it could stun us enough to leave us as docile as a sloth. At the weekend after both goals we looked a little shell-shocked for at least ten minutes after each goal, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Anderlecht managed tell his players to adopt the same tactic.

Of course that is not without it’s risks. Last season saw an Arsenal side that could be pressed high from the front to the back without fear our quick counter attacks. This season we have injected notable pace in Welbeck and Alexis and playing a high line to squeeze space between attack and midfield, as well as midfield and defence, would leave a lot of grass for our forward players to play with.

So whilst our back four will have a makeshift feel about it, the attacking side of the team will look a lot more polished, certainly on paper anyway. They may have looked rather lacklustre on Saturday, but the Champions League often brings a more expansive brand of football to it, so you’d hope that we can find more space for midfield and attack in tonight’s game than we did in the Premier League at the weekend.

Although Walcott is back, there’s no way he’d start (I probably should have checked to see if he’s in the squad, but my internet connection on my phone has just gone down as I’ve just entered a tunnel, so I’m out of options there!) tonight after such a lengthy injury, so I think we’ll see Alexis, Welbeck and The Ox as our most forward-lying players, with Santi, Jack and perhaps Arteta playing in the middle of the park. Arsène could go for Ramsey and Wilshere if he thinks that we’ll spend most of the game on the front foot, but with a rather youthful looking defence (Chambers will surely come in for Monreal), I think Arsène will consider giving the captain the nod in the hope that there is more protection for the back four.

Tonight is a game that could prove quite significant. After stuttering at the weekend, victory tonight will ensure we to into this weekend’s game against Sunderland off the back of victory and hopefully some added confidence. We have a run of winnable games (in theory) and we need to start building momentum now.

Come on you reds!

Galatasaray: eventful

Well that evening was certainly not without event, was it?

In terms of activity it was certainly a hum-dinger of a European night, with goals galore (thankfully almost all for The Arsenal) as well as a sending off and for those of us who didn’t manage to catch the Southampton Capital One Cup game, even a first sight of the Colombian stopper Ospina. Who has a very fitting surname that works well with a slow build up of noise before he takes a free kick or corner. I must say that I approve.

The night started off with trepidation, if I’m honest, because so far this season we’ve seen a lot of huff and puff from the team but the blowing down of the house hasn’t quite happened frequently enough for our liking as fans, wouldn’t you say? The nerves pre-game seemed to be more around whether or not Arsène would persist with what could be called ‘Project 4141′ (although I’m still yet to be convinced there is a massive difference other than personnel to last season), or whether or not he would recognise the impact of a centrally located Mesut Özil or not.

Thankfully for us all, the starting line-up seemed to be pleasing enough for the masses in the Tollington, as Le Boss’ decision to field a midfield of Flamini, Cazorla and Özil had craft, guile and an attacking set up to it to warrant the early domination our play deserved. With the Ox and Sanchez sitting either side of Welbeck we added directness and pace to our side that, right from the off, troubled a clearly inferior Galatasaray team.

Before the game I’d pondered with http://www.twitter.com/educatedgooner whether or not we should really be worried about a Galatasary side notoriously travel sick on their Champions League jaunts; I needed have worried, because the only spark that the Turkish side had came from their vociferous away support, who had decided that Guy Fawkes night would be just over a month early by lobbing flares into the amassed Arsenal fans standing in the beer garden outside.

We had the last laugh though. Or rather, Danny Welbeck had the last laugh on our behalf, as he noticed up his second, third and fourth goals of the season to claim to match ball and possibly the man-of-the-match award to boot. I say ‘possibly’ based purely on the fact that there were so many good performances:

The Ox
Direct running, pace, trickery and vision, perfectly exemplified by his superb nutmeg for Welbeck’s hat trick.

Alexis Samchez
Tireless running and pace that troubled the Turks all sending. A well taken goal that brings him up to five for the season and all of those media eyebrows after two games without a goal need to be lowered considerably. And slammed into a humble pie for consumption.

Mesut Özil
Another strong display. That’s three in a row people. But you won’t hear that from any of the hacks out there, because that doesn’t fit the media rhetoric, so expect him to be omitted from any commentary. But he was efficient in distribution, busy throughout and just does not lose the ball when he’s on form like that. Like, ever.

Lauren Koscienly
Strong in the air, pacey, composed and, for someone supposedly carrying a knock, is as robust as you’re going to get.

I could go through the whole team, because there wasn’t a single performance that was less than seven out of ten in my book. If you want to be harsh and criticise Szczesny for the sending off, then be my guest, but his replacement looked more than adequate and based on the short showing I saw it will be good for him to get some game time in Europe.

I hope Arsène sticks with what he’s got right now. He may have had it enforced upon him due to injury, but it worked, so I hope he sticks with it. We need all the help we can get with the game at the weekend, so to have the players in buoyant mood leading up to this game can only be a good thing, so let’s hope that the comprehensive victory does wonders for the confidence. Lord knows we’re going to need it on Sunday.

See thee in the morgen.

Pressures on, but enforced changes may be a blessing

Big game today boys and girls, big game indeed. Not least because a consecutive defeat in the Champions League will make qualification from the group stages look very precarious. It seems quite amazing that at Matchday 2 out of six in the competition we are already worrying about an early exit, but such is the importance of getting yourself up and running on Matchday 1, that it immediately puts pressure on you to win your next game.

Arsène knows this, saying as much when he spoke to the press yesterday about tonight’s game, in which he effectively set out his blueprint for advancement to the next stages: win all of your home games and pick up at least one point away from home. Ten points is usually enough to see sides navigate these early parts of the competition and his – and our – experience of managing, watching or playing in this competition tells us that he speaketh the truth.

But a defeat, or even draw tonight, means that you have to win one and draw one of your two remaining away games in this stage. It doesn’t really afford much margin for error. Which is why we’ve usually been alright and already won our first game of the group stages by now. It takes the pressure off. But no matter, we have the chance to get up and running against Galatasaray, plus we can all be under no illusions that on paper the hardest group game came first with the away trip to Dortmund.

In terms of team news it’s as expected really. No Arteta and Ramsey, but Wilshere makes the squad having trained yesterday. With Jack’s record and Arsène’s gambling ability akin to Paul Merson’s skills at the bookies, I’d be inclined to save Jack for the bench in today’s game. In Dortmund he picked up a knock to his ankle which he looked to have exacerbated in the NLD, but thankfully he seems to have recovered well enough, but I’d still be inclined not to risk him if a few more extra days training and rest will help.

Whether Arsène adopts the same mindset is anybody’s guess. If he doesn’t, I’d expect to either see Rosicky slot in to that box-to-box role instead of Jack/Rambo, or Santi come in to play wide left. That would move Mesut into the centre, Alexis on the right and The Ox in the middle of the park. I didn’t watch the game against Southampton last week, but by the sounds of it Tomas had an evening to forget, so on that basis I wonder if Arsène will look to see if The Ox can replicate his excellent performances of last season against Crystal Palace and Bayern Munich, in which he played in the centre of the park and was arguably the man-of-the-match in both.

At least Arsène has choices in the middle of the park that won’t have us cursing our injury record, because let’s face it, defensively we have enough to worry about. Rumours are rife that Koscienly is carrying a knock and has done for a few weeks, but Le Boss’ failings to strengthen are putting him under pressure to remain fit whilst both Debuchy and Monreal are sidelined. It also puts a lot of pressure on Chambers to be consistent at right back and, with still only a handful of first team appearances under his belt, it does seem quite unfair to place such a burden on a 19-year-old. But that is that path that we have chosen as a club and we have to hope that all remaining defenders can remain ready, willing and able to fight for the cause. Starting tonight.

The Galatasaray threat will invariably come from the trickery of Wesley Sneijder who, despite my own assumptions that he was clearly past it having toodled off to Turkey for an extended holiday for a few years, has shown for the Dutch national team that he still remains a very good player. I don’t know Galatasaray very well – well, apart from what Champions League games I’ve watched of them – but I do know that the old stereotype of Turkish teams not travelling too well is still in existence. Their vocal away support will be at it’s raucous best, but we have to quieten them down by asserting our dominance early. That means we have to start like we did against City and also the Spuds, albeit getting a better result, but we need to put them on the back foot early.

How do we do that? Hopefully by reverting to 2013/14 Arsenal and playing Mesut through the middle. He doesn’t have to stay there, but it gives him licence to roam as he sees fit and there’s something that feels a bit more balanced about having a player with a free role in the middle of the park. I’m no tactical expert, so can’t really tell you why (perhaps it just looks better and easier to explain when you look at a formation, a la Championship Manager), but it just feels like it makes sense to have Özil dictating play from behind Welbeck.

Who knows, maybe the forced change Arsène would have to make through injuries would be a blessing in disguise, with Wenger realising that last seasons Arsenal was a more successful blueprint for him to work from. But then again, we do all know he’s a stubborn old mule at the best of times, so let’s not hold our breath.

Having missed the Besiktas game, I’ll be at The Emirates tonight and it’ll be exciting to get our Champions League campaign underway in my eyes, so I hope the performance matches my hopes and expectations for the evenings frivolities.

Up The Arsenal.

Arsène needs to use all of his shoes

Arsenal must really hate it when their own news gets filtered through the press before they even have a chance to proof read it, pick the right images and get it on the official site. It doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad news, in today’s society with the access to information that everybody has (and is therefore invariably an expert), we get exposed to things waaaaay before the club intends it to be so.

When it’s good news I bet the PR team are all “ahhhh, we wanted to tell you guys'”, where as when it’s bad news they are probably less enthused about releasing it, but at the same time they realise that when it’s out before they announce it, it makes the official site look dated before they’ve even had a chance to brief the press. It must be like the kid at school who always finished your sentences so you used to deliberately tell the little blighter the wrong answers so he’d get them wrong. Then you’d make sure you booted the ball at him extra hard at lunchtime when he was in goal after headers & volleys and he was in for the last person in so had to be subjected to the Death Shot.

Transfers is the most obvious example – not of the Death Shot, but of when news is old before released – but the example that is most recent is the news regarding the latest spate of injuries that we seem to have sustained. Arsène will no doubt assume the position for his pre-match press conference today and I’m sure he’ll confirm what multiple news sources are already reporting: Ramsey is out for a month, Arteta is out for three weeks, Jack is touch-and-go for tomorrow but should be fine for the weekend, oh and Koscienly is suffering from a knock that should probably mean that he’s rested, but the whole ‘ it buying enough defenders in the summer’ thing has reared it’s ugly head and we’re down to first team bare bones before September has waved goodbye.

It means that Twitter and the rest of the world has already had it’s chance to react, which includes a scary looking image from The Telegraph about all of the injuries we’ve had in the last eight years. The scary parts are the number of ankle and hamstring injuries. That’s 107 banjaxed hammy’s and is a little worrying, especially when you work out that it’s 13 every season, or more than one every month throughout the course of the last eight seasons. That makes you question the medical team at Arsenal for sure, because hamstrings are the ones that go when overworked. I know it’s not as simple as that all of the time, but you see figures like the one shown last night and it does make you worry that this problem isn’t going away any time soon, which makes the decision to leave us so short defensively all the more baffling.

Impact injuries and ones like the Ramsey or Eduardo broken leg can be explained away as unfortunate, as they already have ad nauseum, but it’s those injuries that come as a result of wear and tear through excessive use and lack of rest that are the most frustrating.

At the heart of this, Arsène needs to at least try to undertake more rotation than he likes to in the league and cup games. There’s no need for tinkering on a large Ranierian scale, just a tweak here and there for players that look like their suffering from form and fitness. We don’t need round pegs put in square holes because they are expensive round pegs that came diamond encrusted and sold to us by a beautiful maiden with heaving bosom’s. We just need to try other pegs when the best pegs we have need a bit of recovery time. Or something.

It’s like a nice pair of black shoes, Arsène. You can wear them all the time if you like, but they’ll probably be knackered in nine months, so you’re far better to get a second pair of black shoes to wear every once in a while to extend the life of your favourite shoes.

Don’t go out and buy a whole new wardrobe of shoes Arsène (you only need one or two new pairs in January), just make sure that you use all of the ones in your wardrobe, and you’ll find that they’re all just as comfortable and some even look as good as the ones you’re wearing all the time.

Anyway, that’s enough feet-based metaphorical chitter-chatter for one day. Have a good one Gooners.

Villa: a reaction is essential

Aston Villa is always a funny game. And by funny I mean in no way ‘ha ha’ funny. Rather, I mean peculiar, because despite having a clearly superior team over the last five to ten years (and beyond but I’ve wiped my memory banks of all except the happy memories beyond ten years ago), we’ve found ourselves unstuck quite a few times against the Midlanders both home and away.

So under normal circumstances I’d look at the Villa team and expect us to win comfortably. However, there are rarely ‘normal’ circumstances with The Arsenal, so I recognise that anything could happen come 3pm this afternoon. Indeed, when you look at the form of the two respective teams, it will be Aston Villa fans who will probably be more buoyant than The Arsenal ones. Having smashed and grabbed three points last weekend against Liverpool and having not conceded in their last three games, Villa sit second in the league and will be full of confidence.

What will be interesting about today’s game is how Villa approach the game. With a few wins and momentum under their belt, as well as a home crowd that will be looking for more points and something to cheer about, you could be forgiven for thinking that Villa will come out and attack Arsenal today. However, Villa got their victory against Anfield by defending deep, leaving little space and hitting on the counter. As the home side, they may feel that the onus is on them to press higher up the pitch, which is what I hope happens today because that will play into our hands.

Against Palace and Leicester, Arsenal struggled with a team sitting deeper, so there wasn’t a lot of space for the attacking players to get in behind. That changed with City, who came out and attacked Arsenal more and made for more success for the pointy end of the team, so a higher pressing Villa team will hopefully mean more of the same.

Regardless of how Villa set up, there needs to be a marked contrast in the lethargy of the performance against Dortmund, which is the least we’ll all expect today. Everything was off in Germany, from the passing, to the pressing and the desire too. We looked like rabbits in headlights. I’ll have none of that today please boys.

The selection choices the manager must make today must be questioned. One would expect him to shuffle his pack slightly in midfield certainly, but Arsène will not want to ruin the confidence of someone like Özil, so I still think he’ll play. I also think he’ll carry on with his captain Arteta and Ramsey too. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to see an unchanged team (minus Bellerin for Chambers) from the one in midweek. Personally, I’d rather see The Ox given a chance in the front three along with Sanchez and Welbeck, which would mean a place on the bench for Özil. Jack’s form dictates that he should still start and Rambo has already scored goals this season, so that’s the main change I’d like to see. I’d be surprised to see it happen though. Arsène has been on the Özil defensive this week, which would be at odds with his rhetoric, so I expect he’ll keep his faith in the German.

I really couldn’t call this one today. I’d like to this that Villa will come out and leave space for our pacey front men, but as we saw against Dortmund, that doesn’t mean we’ll change our style and fire more long balls in behind the Villa back four, so if we play our way out from the back when pressed high again, we’ll be in trouble. But I hope that there is a reaction from the players today. I hope they have been wounded from the Champions League defeat and that they’re massively up for it today.

We shall see.

Up the Arsenal!

The SUPER-AWESOME-MEGA-POSITIVE Arsenal blog!!

By now I’m sure you’re all still feeling from the lacklustre performance of yesterday evening. I know I am. I’m hurting today and I’m sure you and I feel the same.

You’ll know doubt be reading the carnage that will be many a post-match review from journos and bloggers alike. It won’t make for pretty reading I’m sure. After all, we were so many levels of pants, there’s nothing more we can expect than a media and blogger savaging. However, in an unprecedented and hopefully unusual step, the remainder of my blog today will focus purely on positives after the 2-0 defeat to Dortmund in Germany. You don’t need me analysing the game and player performances. There are plenty of other people out there who will do a better job.

So…the positives…here goes…

Not many injuries!!
Yes folks, having gone through every game this season picking up knocks after knock, we finally managed to get through 90 minutes of football with only one player on the pitch getting injured! Get in there!

Diaby’s back!!
He seems to be back and, although he didn’t feature yesterday, he’s sure to have an injury-free season now, right? RIGHT?!

Wenger knows how to make subs before 75 minutes!
He hooked Özil and Rambo off on the hour mark, so maybe he’s realised he’s allowed to do it with more than 15 minutes remaining in a game? Happy days!

We don’t have to play Dortmund away in the group stages any more!!
Last year we smashed and grabbed, this year we just got smashed, but we can be safe in the knowledge that for the remaining five games we definitely won’t have to go to the Westfalenstadion. Get in!

Arsenal are saving money by sharing shinpads!!
Poldi and Mesut shared a pair of pads, which means we’ve saved probably about £7.99, which means there’s more money in the coffers in January for a new centre half!! Come on!!

I got dispensation to drink lots of rum last night!
The performance was such that, due to the extenuating circumstances, I was afforded a free pass to undertake some lovely spiced rum drinking to numb the pain! It was yummy!

We’ve lulled Villa into a false sense of security
There’s no don’t Paul Lambert will have been watching his former team rip us to shreds, probably smiling and thinking “another three points on Saturday, ace”, so hopefully Villa will try and come and stick six past us and give us space to pick them off! Clever Arsène, very clever.

Szczesny’s kit doesn’t look as terrible as the outfield kit!
As a former goalkeeper, I’ve become used to being in between sticks wearing something that a Unicorn shat out of its backside, so I’m pleased for Woj that he doesn’t look like he’s been handed the poo-stick by wearing that monstrosity of a shirt. Although his does look like someone has whacked some hieroglyphics on to it.

Work seems like a welcome distraction
I have a busy few days coming up, which means I’m very pleased for a changed to be able to focus on that and not on Arsenal. Yay me.

Jokes about United can help
Hey, at least we’re in the bloody competition, am I right? Am I right?

The kick up the arse?
We have not played well all season and last night we were finally humbled for it. Maybe that will provide the same wake up call that the Spuds away defeat did two seasons ago. Nay, in the spirit of this mega positive blog, it DEFINITELY will. Definitely. Maybe.

This weekend is a quadruple £13million ‘must be won’ rollover
And if I win it. I’ll give you all £20 so that we can all drink rum together and be merry!

That’s pretty much all I’ve got for today folks. You have a super happy day, I know I will!

Underneath my happy facade, is a sad, sad clown.