Monday, December 31, 2012

Arsenal 7 Newcastle 3

It was hilarious that Arsenal supporters at the Emirates were signing "Boring Boring Arsenal" at the end of the game. Being Arsenal supporters, we are often treated to entertaining games (perhaps too thrilling for our liking) and this was nearly as crazy as the 7-5 Capital One Cup win over Reading.

Most of pundits seemed to have predicted an Arsenal win, primarily based on a home side's advantage of extra days' rest thanks to a postponed Boxing Day clash with West Ham. Also, the form guide suggested the same outcome as Arsenal were looking for a fourth consecutive league win, while Newcastle were yet to win a game away from home. On the other hand, Arsene Wenger stated that he would have preferred playing in order to keep the momentum going on the back of three Premier League wins on the bounce. Besides, Newcastle still had a good team despite an injury crisis to their key players, including creative midfielders Cabaye and Ben Arfa, as well as the suspension of their centre-back, Williamson. Tiote's return after serving a one-match ban was also a worry for us. All Arsenal fans knew that this was not going to be an easy game.

Arsene Wenger only made a forced change to his side who started in their 1-0 victory over Wigan at the DW Stadium. Lauren Koscielny came in for Per Mertesacker due to the German's illness. Theo Walcott continued in his preferred central striking role.

Giroud's introduction was always on the card after he recovered from illness, which prevented him from taking part in the last game. The boss said that Theo's playing up front would add to his game, combined with his experience in playing on the wing. When the France striker came on the pitch, Wenger's words were confirmed. Giroud's 74th-minute introduction was not a straight swap with Theo. The Ox came off the pitch instead, which signalled the 23-year-old Englishman's shift to the right wing. Walcott provided two assists for Giroud from the right flank, one of which was a pin-point cross. He went on to score his third goal of the night to show that he has those attributes required for playing up front, e.g., tenacity, skills to beat defenders, composure, and clinical finish.

Walcott contract saga is no longer a matter of one player's future at the Club, but is now regarded as an important statement by the Club regarding their direction and ambition. Losing another key player and our current leading goalscorer would send a detrimental message to the inside and outside of Arsenal FC. Although if he is worth 100k a week or changing the Club's wage structure remains a question, the Club need to make him sign a new contract.

Arsenal went in front three times and every time Newcastle came back. At 4-3 with nearly 20 minutes left to play, we thought there would be plenty of time for a few more goals for either side at this rate. Fortunately for us, Newcastle seemed to have run of energy to come back one more time and goals arrived on our side. With Giroud's introduction and two more goals added to the scoreline, the game became a lot easier for us. Walcott's hat-trick was the icing on the cake.

The change in Arsenal's game we hailed in the West Brom match was present again. Wenger's men tried to break quickly with no more pondering and probing passes around the edge of the box. To our surprise, Arsenal's possession rate was a mere 44% in this game. Some fans say that they've had their Arsenal back, but the stats tell us it is more like we have a new Arsenal.

When RVP left us in summer, everybody questioned Arsenal's goalscoring ability. Since the beginning of the season, we have scored 63 goals in 28 games in comparison with 50 goals from 30 games at the same time last season. Our three new signings produced a total of 25 goals (Cazorla: 7, Podolski: 9 and Giroud: 9) in all competitions, while Theo has already scored more goals (14) than he did in the entire last season (11). This game highlighted the fact that we have plenty of firepower in our current squad.

The only negative from this game was three goals we conceded. We need to address the defensive shortcomings, for which the two full-backs were largely culpable.

Arsenal ended a very difficult year on a high. Let's hope they will continue with their good run of form. They should be full of confidence after four straight league wins, but hopefully they will not be complacent against the next opponents who failed to move out of the relegation zone on Saturday after allowing Stoke to come back from 3-1 down to share the spoils. It will be a different game to their earlier encounter this season at the Emirates which ended in Arsenal's 6-1 win.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 7
His goal-keeping was relatively sound, despite being beaten on three occasions, but his distribution left something to be desired.

Sagna: 6
His needless foul on Obertan brought a free-kick, which subsequently led to Newcastle's first goal. The France international, who used to be known for giving 100% in every game, didn't appear his old self in this game. As his contract issue crops up on the paper, it makes you wonder if he is already on his way out.

Koscielny: 7
Did OK.

Vermaelen: 7

Gibbs: 6
Good going forward. Nearly scored, but he was guilty for both of Newcastle's second-half goals. He wasn't even aware where Demba Ba was. Hopefully, he will learn from his mistakes, but we really need another left-back who challenges Gibbs' place in the starting XI. Santos is not the answer.

Cazorla: 7
Although he didn't score, he often made parallel runs with Walcott, one of which could have been more fruitful only if Walcott had made a decent pass to him. Made an effort which drew a powerful save from Krul.

Arteta: 7
Consistent as usual.

Wilshere: 8
We thought he was unlucky to divert Ba's free-kick into his own net at the time, but post-match analyses told us that he should have charged the ball down instead of turning his back to it. On the positive side, he made good runs, one of which led to Podolski's goal. Overall, he had a good game.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 8
Scored his first league goal since February from the edge of the box. Glad to see him score. He has been trying to take shots in the recent games and we like his direct approach. This goal should boost his confidence and encourage him to continue his effort.

Walcott: 9
He scored three classy goals. If his first goal was Henry-esque, his third was a Messi-style goal.

Podolski: 8
Had a good game. Worked hard both defensively and offensively. Set up Walcott's first goal by picking him up on the left-hand side and scored a goal from the close range, which was a kind of goal Arsenal were missing.


Giroud: 8
Made a difference when he came on the pitch in the 74th minute by scoring two goals. He is labelled as a static striker because of his role as a target man and a lack of pace, but he was mobile in this game and his movement is usually good with or without ball.

Ramsey: 7
Ramsey haters, you cannot fault his performance for this game. He made two key passes, one of which could have led to a goal, if Giroud's shot hadn't hit the cross bar. His passing success rate was 100% (although he only made 6 passes in his 8-minute-plus-injury-time appearance).

Coquelin: 6
Replaced Cazorla in the 86th minute to see off a victory.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Wigan 0 Arsenal 1

It was hardly a vintage display from Arsenal, but this kind of wins are crucial for Arsenal to secure a Champions League spot. It has been a stop-start season, as illustrated by a fact that Arsenal has only registered three wins in a row for the first time.

On paper, this was supposed to be a routine win for Arsenal. Wigan lay in the relegation zone despite some brave performances earlier this season, including the defeat of Tottenham at White Hart Lane. The injury-ridden squad, which was already small to start with, has been reduced to field midfielders in their typical formation of the back three. Everything seemed to have pointed to Arsenal's comfortable win, but we all knew by now that things were not as easy as they looked. Every club tries their best to make it as difficult as possible for you and Wigan was no exception. We were lucky in the last game because Reading were more generous in that aspect.

The stats painted a totally different picture to Monday night's Reading clash. Arsenal's overall possession was 49.6% against Wigan's 50.4%. Our passing success ratio was 83% vs Wigan's 87%. Arsenal registered total shots on target of 11 against Wigan's 14, with 4 shots on target, vis-a-via Wigan's 3. One may argue that Wigan deserved a point, based on these stats. In fact, if they had been more clinical in their finishing, the result could have been different.

Team selection was once again a major talking point prior to the match. The focus was on whether Walcott would continue with the central striking role. As it turned out, Olivier Giroud was left out of the squad due to a cold, which eliminated the other option. We didn't think that Walcott did particularly well in that role in this game. One can argue that he didn't get enough service, but he had some decent chances. Especially in the game like this away from home, Walcott's inability to hold the ball up and lack of physical presence and strength frustrated us. Arsenal need attacking options depending on whom they play against and he is one of them. He should understand that and stop insisting on the central striker position.

Arsenal's substitutions were also baffling. Ramsey came on for the Ox, who was Arsenal's best player on the pitch and only player that provided creative sparks as our midfield trio were tightly marshalled by Wigan's packed midfield. Ramsey's introduction in place of the Ox in the 75th minute seemed to have killed off Arsenal's attacking intent. Until then Arsenal appeared to look for their second goal to ensure them all three points, but the substitution was a cue for the final 15 minutes to be dedicated to defending the narrow lead. Subsequent two substitutions, namely Coquelin in the 79th minute and Koscielny in the injury time, further confirmed Arsenal's defensive focus.

We must admit that we were disappointed with the negativity at that time as we hoped that Arsenal brand of free-flowing fooball was back and here to stay, following their stellar performance against Reading. However, there were only a few players who played well on this day. Considering that fact, the decision to protect the slim lead and ensure we came away with all three points might have been reasonable. Had the result had gone in a wrong way, they would have certainly been criticised heavily for their gung-ho approach.

Also, we didn't have many attacking options on the bench. As Giroud and Rosicky both had fallen victim to colds, options available were limited to Arshavin and Gervinho. Both of them are notorious for their lack of efforts to track back, it would have been self-destructive if we had chosen to go down that road.

As the only goal came from a penalty, we were once again in the middle of controversy. Some question whether there was a contact in the penalty incident, but replays clearly showed that Walcott was clipped by Beausejour in the make-shift left-back's clumsy challenge and there was little protest from players.

Also, there were two handball claims from Wigan at the death of the game. We watched instant replays on the TV, and even with a help of video cameras, it was difficult to tell. In one of the incidents, the Arsenal player (either Gibbs or Vermaelen) had his arms tucked into his chest, turning his back to the ball. It was hard for the referee to make a decision in a second.

In contrast to those cases, most of the media seem to agree that Wilshere was wrongfully penalised for his perfectly timed tackle on Maloney. The England midfielder won the ball cleanly. Jonathan Moss seemed to have given in to pressure from the four Wigan players who converged on him and the home crowd.

The biggest positive to take from this game was naturally three points. The hard-fought points allowed us to go into the festive period in top four. Another positive was a clean sheet. Away games like this in a cold and wet afternoon in north used to see us end up with a draw or worse in the past, but we didn't give in to physical and mental pressure Wigan mounted on us and held on for a vital three points.

We weren't great in terms of performance, but it was a valuable win.

Player ratings


Szczesny: 7
Made a couple of excellent saves. Did well in a one-on-one situation againt Kone.

Sagna: 7
Drawn into the middle defensively too often for our liking. However, with the most touches (104) and an 82% passing success rate, he didn't do too badly.

Mertesacker: 6
Gave away unnecessary corners. With him in the back four, Arsenal's playing a high defensive line was suicidal in the first half.

Vermaelen: 7
Solid. Led the defence with determination.

Gibbs: 7
It wasn't his best game, but he didn't do anything wrong.

Cazorla: 6
Almost man-marked by McCarthy, allowed little space. But managed to deliver a couple of incisive passes.

Arteta: 7
Kept his cool and scored his fourth goal of the season from the spot.

Wilshere: 7
Worked hard and showed his passion despite tough treatment by Maloney and McCarthy and the harsh decision by the referee.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 8
Our Man of the Match. He was one of the five British young players who committed their futures to the Club last week. It's good to see Arsenal tying down their young talents' futures early before their contracts run down. His performance today was very encouraging. He was strong and capable of running at defenders. Good performance on the right wing.

Walcott: 6
Did little apart from winning a penalty.

Podolski: 6
Fired a couple of powerful shots. Was not influential in attack, but worked hard to help out Gibbs defensively.


Ramsey: 6
Came off the bench in the 75th minute to replace the Ox. Change for worse. The Ox is capable of defending as well.

Coquelin: 7
Replaced Poldi in the 79th minute to shore up the defence and did a good job.

Koscielny: 6
Came on for Cazorla in the 90th minute to fend off Wigan's last-ditch attack and did his job.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reading 2 Arsenal 5

It was a relatively quiet night at Las Mimosas bar, especially with quite a few of our members already gone back to the UK for Christmas and some of the others still recovering from pre-Christmas parties the night before. We didn't know what to expect from Arsenal XI after the heartbreaking exit from the Capital One Cup by the hand of a League Two side, but we all knew how important it was to us to bounce back quickly and get all three points to climb up the table.

Arsene Wenger brought Mikel Arteta back to the starting line-up after the Spaniard sat out on the bench to see his side knocked out of the Capital One Cup. Gervinho, Coquelin, and Ramsey, who played in last Tuesday's defeat, were dropped to the bench. The Ox started on the right-wing, while fit again Walcott was given a role as a central striker, for which his desire is well-documented. To much of our surprise, Giroud started on the bench despite having recovered in time from the knock on his back sustained during the WBA match. Wenger explained his decision as he judged that the Englishman was ready for the role, having seen him in training. The team selection turned out to be spot-on. The open nature of the game gave an advantage to the pace of the front three. In fact, it was not only the forward trio that enjoyed time and space Reading gave, but also the midfield trio. They excelled again, just like they did against West Brom nine days ago. Santi and Jack delivered passes that made most of tonight's pacy strikers.

As soon as the game had been kicked off, we noticed a difference in Arsenal's approach with a pleasant surprise. Their attack was quick and the players chose to take a shot rather than passing around.

The only negative from this game was conceding two cheap goals and failing to keep a clean sheet. Gibbs' loose pass led to Reading's first goal, which Mertesacker still could have done better to prevent.  Five minutes later, Reading found the net for the second time this night. Mertesacker was at fault for this as well. At this moment, we were recalling Newcastle's historical comeback against us. Arsene Wenger was in the same thoughts, admitting in his post-match interview "at 4-2, I saw your headlines coming". However, Arsenal managed to regain control of the game. We were ruthless again. Just as we did against Tottenham, when the opponents thought they could get back into the game, we scored. Walcott's 80th-minute goal extinguished any hope for Reading's comeback.

This game was refreshing in that positives far outweighed negatives. All five goals were from open play without a hint of controversies. 26 shots, of which 13 were on target, highlight that we have created a number of chances and finished half of them clinically. Other stats, including a 67% possession and an 88% passing success rate, indicate that Arsenal's free-flowing football was back. The 5-2 scoreline was the repeat of the north London derby, but this time it was against 11-men, eliminating all the ifs and buts. Although this night's Reading side may have been as poor as last week's West Brom side, but the Berkshire team offered more going forward than West Brom did. Many are still sniffy about our second consecutive league win because of Reading's current league position. They might have only managed one win so far this season, but it was a shock defeat of a good Everton side, whose early-season form was a revelation this season and is still in the mix for top-four finish. The Royals also gave Manchester United a good run for their money before falling to a 4-3 loss.

There were some encouraging signs. Building on the outstanding performance against West Brom the weekend before, the midfield trio seemed to have gelled together. Understanding between Poldi and Gibbs on the left flank appeared to have come back after a disruption caused by Gibbs' lay-off. Poldi and Santi combined well just like earlier this season when we were playing well.

Overall, it was a convincing win and vital three points, which saw us move up the table to fifth, just two points off third-placed Chelsea, who have a game in hand, and fourth-placed Tottenham. This game may not be a testament that all our problems have been solved, but it certainly helped lift the fans' mood. We are back in winning ways and hopefully we will get a good run of form this time around.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 6
Mixed performance. Some good saves and decisions, but also had a hairy moment by missing the ball completely.

Sagna: 7
Effective both offensively and defensively.

Mertesacker: 5
He was switched off for Reading's two goals.

Vermaelen: 7
Made a crucial intervention and covered well for Gibbs when the England left-back went forward.

Gibbs: 6
Great going forward, providing two assists, but his mistake cost us a clean sheet.

Cazorla: 9
Hat-trick hero. Set up a goal for Walcott, as well. He demonstrated his class.

Arteta: 8
Made most of space and time he had and led Arsenal's midfield dominance.

Wilshere: 8
Battled hard to win the ball. Glad to see him pick himself up every time he had received physical challenges from Reading players. On the receiving end of one kick, every man in the bar went "Ow..!". The yellow card was a decision difficult to understand.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
Some good efforts.

Walcott: 8
Took his goal well, but also squandered a glorious chance in a one-on-one situation with the keeper, which any "deadly" striker should have buried.

Podolski: 8
Provided two assists and scored one goal. Good to see him influential in attack and get on the scoresheet again.


Ramsey: 6
Came off the bench in the 74th minute to replace the Ox. Although he was involved in some attacking moves, he had little impact.

Coquelin: 6
Replaced Cazorla in the 82nd minute.

Giroud: 6
Came on for Walcott in the 85th minute. Had a chance to score, but the Reading keeper Federici did well to smother the ball.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

2012 Christmas Dinner

Arsenal Playa Flamenca Supporters Club's Christmas party was held on 11 December this year at the same venue as last year, Pablo's bar in Playa Flamenca, Spain. We were forced to restrict the sales of tickets to just members and their partners in order to ensure an ample space for dancing and entertainment. As a result, the number of the guests were fewer than last year, but 38 guests enjoyed festivity and comradeship.

The party kicked off at 7:30 pm. As is customary with PF Gooners' Christmas Dinner, Arsenal's glorious 126-year history was shown in videos compiled by Ricky, with Arsenal songs played through the evening. Unfortunately, the date clashed with Arsenal's Capital One Cup quarter-final against Bradford as the League Cup tie was re-scheduled to accommodate the TV station's needs. Fortunately, however, we had a pre-recorded message from none other than Le Prof, himself, which was shown on the screen with English subtitle, while we were enjoying traditional English Christmas dinner.

For the second year running, Arsenal trivia quiz took place. Questions were read out again this year by Mabel the Quiz mistress. The contest proved to be very close and Tony and his team won the top prize of Arsenal Quiz Champion Cava with 13 points. Les and his team came last to be presented with a booby prize of Arsene Wenger's photo in the Arsenal frame.

Following Chairman Mo's speech, raffle was drawn, which saw eight winners receiving prizes, including Arsenal polo shirts, as well as the Supporters Club raising about €104 in their fund. A football scratch card was sold expertly by our Football Card Manager, Cheryl. Tonight's winner was Brian, who generously donated €5 to the Supporters Club to add to the proceeds from the sale of the scratch card. Collections were made for Pablo's bar staff, who provided good food and friendly service.

With Arsenal's exit from the Capital One Cup the only damper, another Christmas party ended in great success.

Here are some of pictures from the party. Please visit our Facebook site for more photos.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Arsenal 2 West Brom 0

After the disheartening home loss to Swansea last weekend, Arsenal were desperate to turn things round. According to Mikel Areteta, the players demanded extra training. The vice-captain also said prior to this match "We need to win games, it doesn't matter how".  And Arsenal did exactly that.

We failed to score from open play to win the game more convincingly, but we were clearly the better side. It is a shame that two issues surrounding this game took the shine off the most important thing in this game, which is the result. We desperately needed a morale-boosting victory following a run of four win-less matches in all competitions. After the last week's defeat which saw us slip to 10th of the Premier League, we needed three points to put us back on track for top-four finish.

Obviously, the biggest talking point was whether the first penalty should have been awarded. Most people believe that there was no contact, based on replays, and were quick to conclude that Santi Cazorla cheated. We also took the same view as we watched replays in Las Mimosas bar, but after watching replays of some of Sunday's decisions even in logically more obvious cases, we felt that video evidences are not as conclusive as people think. In his post-match interview, Arsene Wenger said he asked the Spaniard just before the interview if there was a contact and the Spanish midfielder answered that he had been touched and lost his balance. Whether there was a contact or not, the decision was given. Sometimes it's given and sometimes not. They say that the referees' decisions level out over years. In fact, Santi had a stronger case for another penalty later in the same game, which was waved off. Incidentally, West Brom were not totally innocent, either, as one of their players attempted a blatant dive.

West Brom protested against the second penalty as well. It may have been disputable whether the Ox committed a foul while dispossessing Popov, but Brunt's foul on the Ox in the box left no room for argument.

There was another lucky decision, not as much talked about as the first penalty incident. West Brom claimed a penalty against Mertesacker who seemingly handled the ball, but the German had been hauled down by Olsson beforehand.

The second issue was lack of clinical finish. We created so many chances with a few clear-cut ones, but we couldn't convert them. In the post-match interview, Arsene described this as "the only negative of the day" and concluded that the lack of composure was a factor behind it. Maybe that is the case for players like Podolski, who is a renowned clinical finisher but was thrown into the game two minutes from the end of normal time. However, we still believe something should be done to improve finishing.

We feel that not only the press, but also a section of Arsenal fans are attaching an unreasonable emphasis to the negative side of the game. Many people are sniffy about the win only because the the match decider came from a dubious penalty decision. However, there are a number of positives to take from this game other than the result and the players deserve credit for the victory.

Arsenal may not have been quite at their best yet, but their performance was a lot better than it had been in the recent weeks. Attack was quicker and passing was more purposeful. The tempo was high and Arsenal put serious pressure on their opponents. You cannot fault our players for their determination to win, which has been under criticism recently.

Our midfield was outstanding. We hoped that the midweek rest would be a solution to rejuvenate Arsenal. It clearly did the midfield trio good. Cazorla dominated the play in the middle of the park. His movement caused West Brom all sorts of problems and they couldn't cope with him, which led to the first penalty. Jack Wilshere had his best game after his return from injury, excellent both offensively and defensively. Arteta kept his composure to score from the spot-kick twice.

Some say we only won against a lacklustre West Brom side, but you can only play against whom you are facing. What has been a criticism against this season's Arsenal side was that they made the opposition look good, whoever they played against. Even the bottom-table team, QPR looked good against us, prompting Wenger to say that they wouldn't stay at the bottom of the table very long and look where they are now. So, making the opponents look lethargic must be some improvement. West Brom didn't pose much threat, but that may be the result of our midfield's dominance in the middle of the park.

A clean sheet was another positive product of the game, which should boost our defenders' confidence. Also, it was great to see the fans behind their team. Arteta revealed the team's concern about how they would be received following the disappointing home defeat last weekend, but he praised the home crowd for their whole-hearted support.

It is safe to say that the better side won. Although one of the penalty decisions was controversial, nobody can argue that we deserved to win. It was a comfortable win as West Brom offered very little going forward. If all we wanted to turn things around is confidence, this game didn't do any harm. Overall we think Arsenal played well and got the job done. Three points saw us climb up the table to seventh, just two points off the currently fourth placed Everton. Suddenly things no longer look too bad. Hopefully, Arsene Wenger will field a reasonably strong team against Bradford City on Tuesday night to keep the momentum going and the hopes for a trophy alive.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 7
With only one shot on target registered by West Brom, it was a quiet afternoon for the Polish keeper.

Sagna: 7
He was a major doubt before the match. Glad he made it. After the match Wenger revealed the French right-back played through injury. Hopefully, Jenkinson will prove a capable deputy in the Capital One Cup match on Tuesday night so that the Frenchman can have a rest ahead of the Reading game.

Mertesacker: 7

Vermaelen: 7
Took leadership in defence.

Gibbs: 7
Good going forward.

Cazorla: 8
Dominant in the middle of the park.

Arteta: 8
It must have taken tremendous courage and nerves to take two penalties after the miss (actually saved) in the Fulham game.

Wilshere: 8
Jack is back with his "burst". Arsene Wenger admitted Jack's progress is faster than his anticipation, which was for the England midfielder's fitness to reach a peak in Februrary next year.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
Lively. Although his finishing and some of his deliveries left something to be desired, this was arguably his best game this season. Provided a good cover for injured Theo Walcott.

Gervinho: 6
He found himself in a great position on more than one occasions, but wasted those opportunities with poor finishing.

Giroud: 7
His work rate was impressive, though he didn't make most of half-chances he had.


Coquelin: 6
Came off the bench in the 78th minute to replace the Ox. Did his job.

Rosicky: 7
Replaced Gervinho in the 81st minute. He should have come on earlier.

Podolski: 6
Came on for Cazorla in the 88th minute. Missed a sitter. He was a major doubt before the match and only made the bench. It is a relief that his hamstring problem proved to be such a short term.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Olympiakos 2 Arsenal 1

Another loss in three days didn't help lighten the mood of the Arsenal fans. If the team of fringe players had grabbed an away win to secure the top place in the group, what a lift it would have brought to the fans and the Club alike. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be.

Some fans are critical about Arsene's team selection, but we think it was the right decision to rest key players ahead of an important league match against West Brom this weekend. Walcott and Podolski had a knock during the Swansea game, while Arteta, Cazorla, and Mertesacker had played many games this season and could have done with a breather. Wilshere and Gibbs had just come back from injury and playing four games in two weeks could have led to an injury setback. If fatigue is one of the major factors behind Arsenal's recent slump in form, there was no reason why we shouldn't have taken advantage of the luxury we had. We had already qualified for the knockout stage in the Champions League. Although we could have finished top in the group and thus got a better chance to be drawn against a theoretically weaker opposition for the next round, it doesn't seem to make much difference whether you win the group or finish as runners-up as most of the runners up are as good as the group winners such as Real Madrid and AC Milan.

The decision to leave out key players was not bad, but the problem was that our second-string players were not good enough to even beat an average Olympiakos side on the day. Arsenal had acres of space, which is rarely seen in the Premier League games, but still couldn't covert those chances they created in the first half. Gervinho, who had a good pre-season and start to the season, looked clueless, apart from his pin-point pass to Rosicky, which led to Arsenal's only goal. The Ivorian has been very frustrating this season. The Ox, who made a sensational debut to the Champions League in last season's home match against Olympiakos, was ineffective in this game and his recent form suggests that he has gone backwards since the promising start to his Arsenal career last season. Chamakh might as well not be on the pitch. Ramsey has been struggling to get back to where he was before his horrific injury or even to reproduce his best performance this season against Manchester City.

The corner kick which led to Olympiakos' second goal was disputable, but even if it was wrongfully awarded, we should still have been able to defend it. Poor defence was to blame.

We talked about Arsenal's passing game in the last post. Here is Rosicky's observation on Arsenal's recent performance: "Sometimes we don't keep the ball as we used to. It is definitely a matter of confidence. You can see there are more back passes than we used to do. "

There are some alarming stats for this game: Arsenal's overall possession was 46.9%, while their passing success rate was 80.3% against the hosts' 82.4%. The passing success rate was way below the north London club's average. The decline in possession, as Rosicky pointed out, was not only highlighted in this game, but also in the season so far. Arsenal's average possession in the league is 59.3%, down 8 percentage points from the last season's 60.1%. Hopefully, it is nothing more than a confidence thing, as Rosicky claimed, and  as soon as the team has got back in winning ways, their game will come back to them. However, chances are that it will be extremely difficult to get the result as long as Arsenal stick to their style of play, while their passing is not up to scratch.

On a positive side, Rosicky's first start of the season saw a great success. He has reminded us what a classy player we have been missing this season until now. He pulled the strings in the heart of Arsenal attack and his finish was a different class. Indeed, he was a class above those players he played with this night and the scoreline told the whole story.

Another positive was Jernade Meade's performance. Arsene Wenger was pleased with the 20-year-old left-back's display, stating the youth player was his "pick". Despite seven youth players included in the squad, he was the only starter among them. He didn't have fitness to compete for a full 90-minutes at this level and still have lot to learn, but he made an encouraging debut in first-team action.

This game did not mean too much to us in the first place. Our entire focus is on this weekend's Premier League game against West Brom. Getting back on track and starting catching up with the mix for the top-four finish are our top priority at the moment.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 7
Another busy game. Made some fine saves.

Jenkinson: 7
Did OK, but made a defensive mistake, which nearly cost us a goal.

Squillaci: 6
It is a mystery why he was selected ahead of Djourou.

Vermaelen: 6
In the last two games, he looked as if he had started getting his confidence back, but this game has undone the improvement. No leadership on the pitch.

Meade: 7
Did OK.

Rosicky: 8
Classiest player on the pitch. As previously arranged, he only played a half. It is a bright outlook what he can bring to the first team when he is fully fit.

Ramsey: 5
Missed a great chance to score by miskicking. Olympiakos' first goal, in which Ramsey had a hand, summarised the miserable night for the Welshman. Last season he often got in a great position, but his finishing let him down. And his finishing has still not improved. Ex-Arsenal player, Charlie Nicholas questioned Arsenal's coaching system. Why can't players like Ramsey and Gervinho get a help for improving their finishing?

Coquelin: 5

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6

Gervinho: 6
Apart from a fine cut-back to set up Rosicky's goal, did nothing.

Chamakh: 6
This game did him no favours.


Arshavin: 6
Came off the bench at half time to replace Rosicky. Had two good chances to score, one of which forced a fine save from Roy Carroll.

Angha: 5
83-minute substitute for tired Meade.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Arsenal 0 Swansea 2

Santi Cazorla said that Arsenal need to be more consistent, but it appears to us that they have been consistently performing below par since their elating defeat of West Ham, bar the north London derby. We have been through bad patches a number of times over the recent years and we found them just a blip rather than a crisis afterwards, but this time we feel a problem may lie deeper than those. Trying the same thing week in week out and just hoping for a better outcome may not be an option this time around.

A draw with Aston Villa was disappointing, but the condition may be to blame for Arsenal's lacklustre performance and poor passing. A draw at Goodison Park seems to be a good point earned after the title holder, Manchester City, only drew on their home soil against a good Everton side. Given the similar style of play between the two teams, journalists were quick to conclude that Swansea beat Arsenal in their passing game, but this is not exactly true.

Swansea passed well and retained ball well in the first half as the stats show with a 54.5 % possession, but Arsenal started well in the second half and was in ascendancy for a long period. Their second-half and overall possession rates of 59.6% and 52.6%, respectively, suggest a different story to what the media believe (one article claimed that the home side's possession was 40%). What won the game for Swansea was not their passing game, but a quick break. When the game looked destined for a goalless draw, Swansea took advantage of the home side's mistakes and broke quickly. Fortunately for them, Michu's finish was more clinical than ours.

Some question the quality of players, but we think that's not the case. On paper, we have a good team, which consists of international players, apart from Arteta, who unfortunately happens to be a Spanish midfielder. The problem is that they haven't played to full potential. Fatigue can be one of the factors and if so, it should be solved before this weekend as the majority of key players are rested from the midweek Champions League match. However, something more drastic may be required to start getting results.

The other problem is that Arsenal haven't played well as a team. Arsenal's attack is not clicking. In this game, when they didn't have Giroud on the pitch, they were putting high crosses in. Two good chances in the first half came from crosses, which were wasted on Gervinho. When the 6 ft 3 in striker came on, Arsenal were in the middle of their usual passing game and crosses had already stopped coming in. There was no movement in the box, with nobody trying to drag Swansea defenders out of shape. They were static.

We think it is time to move away from Arsenal brand of football, beautiful passing game. First of all, we are not playing it very well at the moment. It only works when all the players are able to deliver quick and crisp passes. Secondly, our new signings have different traits to Arsenal's style. Giroud has found his strength in the air (apparently, only one of his 21 goals last season for Montpellier was header). Podolski is a direct player. Cazorla is a dribbler rather than a passer like Fabreagas, as Jack Wilshere pointed out. They are all quality players, if not world class. The traditional Arsenal style of play does not get the best out of these players.

Arsenal need to find a solution quickly, even if it is only temporary. There are so many game which could make a difference to our position in the Premier League table between now and the January transfer window that we cannot afford to waste them. Seeking a solution in the January transfer window could be too late. Our top priority is to get the result and it has to start this weekend.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 8
Arguably our best player. His double save was stunning. Had it not been for him, the scoreline could have been embarrassing. It is good to see our No. 1 organising the wall, etc. for set-pieces. We have really missed his authority in the box during his spell on the sidelines. He is not a perfect keeper yet, but given his age, he has a massive potential.

Jenkinson: 7
He had a good game until the second-half injury time, when his indecisiveness led to Swansea's second goal. Otherwise, he looked more than a capable deputy for Sagna, who had a poor game against Everton. Made good crosses.

Mertesacker: 6
A bit sluggish at times.

Vermaelen: 7
He started to find form after a decent game against Everton. Made a crucial challenge. Even leading the attack at one time.

Gibbs: 6
His positioning sense seemed to have gone backwards after the injury. He was often dragged to the middle and caught out of position.

Cazorla: 8
He was lively and our major threat at the beginning of the second half. All meaningful goal attempts seemed to have come from him.

Arteta: 6
He hasn't been playing very well for the last few weeks. Perhaps, adapting to his new role as a deep-lying midfielder started taking its toll? He has been giving away cheap fouls recently.

Wilshere: 7
He was clearly not fully fit, but did OK.

Walcott: 5
His corners were poor.

Gervinho: 5

Podolski: 6
We want to see him more in the central striker role. Replaced in the 67th minute. We felt that Walcott should have been replaced instead of him, but later Wenger admitted that Walcott and Podolski missed out on the Olympiakos game due to injury, so a fitness issue might have been behind the substitution.


Giroud: 6
One of the 67th-minute double substitutions to replace Podolski and Gervinho. Got involved in attack immediately after he came on and had a decent shout for a free-kick on the edge of the area.

Oxlaide-Chamberlain: 6
The other one of the 67th-minute double substitutions to replace Podolski and Gervinho.

Rosicky: 6
Replaced Jack Wilshere in the 80th minute to provide a creative spark to Arsenal's attack. First apperance this season after recovering from a tendon problem. He should have done better at least to deter Michu from having a shot in injury time.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Arsenal 5 Tottenham 2

A goal fest was widely expected prior to the match by the way the two teams were playing and from the recent history of north London derbies. Proceedings in last season's corresponding fixture in February were still fresh to our memory, especially for those who went to watch the game together in Benidorm. The game made our annual Benidorm trip very special. We hoped that Arsenal would repeat the feat, but who would have expected the same scoreline?

The both teams went into the derby in an equally indifferent form. Tottenham had as long an injury list as ours. However, our expectations were not high following the disappointing result for the weekend before and there was little time to rectify the defensive problems due to the midweek international break.

Arteta (hip), Giroud (hamstring/calf), and Sagna (fatigue) were all declared fit, as well as Szczesny, Walcott, and the Ox, who all passed fitness tests on Friday. Vermaelen continued to play as left-back with Santos once again on the bench. Szczesny was back in goal for the first time since our 6-1 win over Southampton in early September. Wilshere started after serving a one-match ban against Fulham. Apart from the left-back position, Arsenal's starting line-up was pretty much the strongest side.

There is no doubt about the sending off of Emmanuel Adebayor had a big impact. How a Tottenham side was affected by the sending-off was remarkable. Sometimes a 10-men team plays better and goes on to win the game. Tottenham could have sat back deep and protected their lead. But losing their main man, who was lively from the beginning, seemed to have been too much for AVB's side.

As far as Arsenal were concerned, it was imperative to take the lead before half time. We found an equaliser as Per Mertesacker headed home 6 minutes after the Togo striker's dismissal. Arsenal relentlessly attacked the 10-men Tottenham's defence, creating a number of chances. They had to make the most of the numerical advantage and take the lead before half time in order to stop Tottenham from coming back and prevent self-doubt from creeping into their own mind. And Arsenal did that, and even better they ended the first half with a two-goal cushion.

Tottenham reorganised themselves in half time, with the two full-backs replaced by centre-half Dawson and the injection of Dempsey at the start of second half. It made a difference, but Arsenal extended the lead on the hour through an excellent link-up play. At 4-1, some of us were still not totally relaxed even against a 10-men team, after Arsenal had surrendered a 2-0 goal twice recently. And they were right. Tottenham scored a goal, taking advantage of our sloppy passing and lapse of concentration in defence. However, as the clock was ticking away and Spurs failed to take a chance, Arsenal regained their control and even found enough time to add a fifth to their goal tally in the injury time.

The biggest positive from this game was the result obviously. We desperately needed a good result to boost our confidence and we got it.

Another positive was that five goals were scored by five different players. Especially, it is good to see our three strikers have their share of goals. After RVP's departure this summer, how he could be replaced was a major concern. A player who scored 39 goals a season is difficult to replace, but his 39 goals can be replaced. Here is an interesting stat. Our goal tally at this time of the last year was 37 goals after 20 games played (we played two extra games last season as we had to go through play-offs against Udenese in the Champions League.) We have scored so far this season 6 more goals (43) after two fewer (18) games. Do we miss RVP?

We might have needed the numerical advantage, but Arsenal's attack has finally clicked. It appears now there is some understanding in attacking.

Hopefully, this game will spark Arsenal's form as last season's corresponding fixture did.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Arsenal 3 Fulham 3

It was an entertaining game for neutral football fans' point of view, but the result was very disappointing for Arsenal fans' perspective. Even more disappointingly, this was the second time this week we have failed to build on a 2-0 lead. Also, with Arsenal squandering a glorious chance to win at the death, it was just like deja vu. This game was only more trilling as neither team would ever settle for a draw at any stage of the game.

The starting line-up had just one change to Arsene Wenger's side who faced Schalke on Tuesday night. Jack Wilshire was replaced by Francis Coquelin due to suspension. It looked that Andre Santos, our back-up left-back, was finally dropped to the bench on a permanet basis, as Vermaelen once again started as left-back.

One minute's silence to mark the Remembrance weekend was observed at Las Mimosas bar, as well. It appeared to be a good day for Gooners as Giroud headed home from Walcott's corner in the 11th minute and the lead was doubled by Podolski's tap-in 12 minutes later. Apparently, this was the first time Arsenal had scored within the opening 30 minutes of a Premier League match this season, which partly explains how difficult it has been to be a Gooner especially this season. It was a dream start to the game. Although it is nice to see goal-scoring responsibilities are shared across the board, these two strikers were exactly the players whom we wanted to rack up goals.

However, the dream didn't last long. Fulham equalised ten minutes from the break and took a lead for the first time in this game 25 minutes into the second half. But Fulham's lead didn't last long either as Giroud found the net again just two minutes after Berbetov's penalty. With the last kick of the game, Arsenal were given a penalty for Reither's handball. All our hopes were riding on Arteta's penalty kick. What an ending to the exciting game it would have been if the vice-captain had converted it. But it wasn't be.

After the match, we were scratching our head, wondering why our solid defence at the start of the season is now so vulnerable. The stats show we have conceded more goals in our last four games than we did in the thirteen games prior to them. That's an alarming fact. Now our urgent issue is defence rather than goal scoring. Situations change quickly in football within a short space of time.

The result sickened us obviously, but it does not warrant a knee-jerk reaction. There are positives to take from this game. Firstly, Olivier Giroud had his best game in his short time as an Arsenal player. He had to prove that he is a worthy player for the much-desired position, now even Podolski has made himself clear that he wants to play a central striking role. We were quite sure that the France striker would become an important player for us one day, and this game confirmed our belief. Both his holding-up play and link-up play are good. He imposes physical pressure and aerial threats to his opponents, while he clears corners with his head to evade opponents' threats. His work rate is admirable. Previously he was not getting enough service, but now other players, such as Theo and Sagna, have started to play on the Frenchman's strength, delivering good crosses for him. He is a type of centre forwards we haven't had in recent years. It's interesting to see how Arsenal's game will develop, now the Frenchman is in form after scoring four goals in the last four games. Hopefully, he will continue his good run of form after the international break.

Another positive was urgency and intensity the team showed in the last 20 minutes. We expressed our concern about Vermaelen's quality as a leader in the last post. Since he was made captain upon the departure of RVP, his performance has been far below his standards. Some suspect that responsibility as captain may be too much for him. The Belgian is not a vocal leader by his admission, but he led the team in their intense fight to claw back a victory by example, thrusting forward. The same purpose and desire were seen in Theo and Giroud's performance, as well.

We have a massive north London derby next weekend. But before that, here comes another international break. How pointless these midweek international friendlies are. Players don't have enough time to prepare or gel together and results are irrelevant. The only good thing for Arsenal is that Jenkinson's call-up to the England senior squad. This should be a confidence boost for the ex-Finland U-21 player. Also, it will provide him valuable playing time, which has been limited since Bacary Sagna's return to the first-team. Considering the fact that we lost our momentum after the last international break and still haven't rediscovered it, this mini international break worries us. There is likely to little time to sort out our defence before weekend. Let's just hope all our players will come back in good shape.

Player ratings

Mannone: 6
He should have come forward for the cornder that led to Fulham's first goal and could have done better to prevent Kacaniklic's header from going in, but he made some good stops as well.

Sagna: 6
He always made himself available down on the right flank. Had a difficult time defensively, though.

Mertesacker: 6
Not at his best.

Koscielny: 7
Made a few crucial tackles.

Vermaelen: 6
Went forward more often than in the game against Schalke.

Cazorla: 7
He linked up well with his team-mates on attack, but he hasn't been as influential as at the start of the season. Perhaps the number of games he has played for his club and country has started taking its toll. If he gets a call-up for Spain's friendly match presumably to be played in Panama, it may be a good idea that he starts from the bench against Tottenham. Thank God, Arteta is not a Spain international. Fortunately, Rosicky started training last week and if all goes well, he could be in contention against Tottenham. Rosicky, Wishere and Areta don't look a bad midfield. Cazoral could do with a breather, especially ahead of a crucial Champions League match against Montpellier next Wednesday.

Arteta: 7
Mixed display by a usually consistent performer. Set up a goal for Podolski by a clever run. Then robbed possession by Ruiz in the own box, he gave away a penalty. It seems to have been the Arsenal entire team's recent tendency to try to do too much with the ball when they are in possession around the edge of their own box. His penalty kick was saved by Schwarzer to deny Arsenal's last-grasp chance to grab a win. Some fans question the Arsenal players' confidence, assuming that nobody else stepped up to take the penalty. However, Wenger's post-match interview suggested otherwise. Cazorla wanted to take the penalty, but since Arteta was a designated first-choice penalty taker, the responsibility fell on the vice captain. We felt that Giroud should have been given a chance as he was on a hat-trick, but Giroud's post-match reaction also confirmed that Wenger's penalty list gave Arteta priority. Giroud also stated that Arteta really wanted to score to make amends for giving away a penalty. So Arteta's taking of the penalty was not the indication of the Arsenal players' negative mindset after all.

Coquelin: 6
Failed to take a chance to show how he can make a difference to Arsenal's midfield. Replaced by Ramsey in the 55th minute.

Walcott: 8
Looked dangerous all the time. Had a good game. Provided assists for Giroud's both goals. His free-kick was awful, though. Wenger revealed after the match that the England winger sustained a buttock muscle problem and the boss considered replacing him at half time, but decided to leave him on. The gamble seemed to have paid off as far as this game is concerned. He provided another assist for Giroud in the second half with a pin-point cross before substituted by the Ox in the 84th minute. Hope his injury is not too bad and he will be fit to play this weekend. He proved that he deserves a starting place.

Podolski: 7
Glad to see him on the scoresheet again. He really needed that goal. On the other hand, his defensive display left something to be desired, giving away a pointless foul in a dangerous place.

Giroud: 8
Our and Arsenal fans' Man of the Match, not only because he scored two goals, but also because his desire and determination to do well for his Club were outstanding.


Ramsey: 6
Replaced Coquelin in the 55th minute, presumably in order to step up Arsenal's attacking play, but was little improvement on Coquelin. Although he was involved in attacking move, he gave away silly free-kicks and was lucky to stay on the pitch.

Oxlaide-Chamberlain: 7
Came off the bench to replace Podolski to play on the left-wing in the 77th minute and eventually moved to the right-wing after the introduction of Andrey Arshavin. Lively. Got involved in attack and showed his strength and agility. It was great news prior to this match that he passed late fitness tests. He has been one of Arsenal injury mysteries as he had been on the injury list for two weeks since he reportedly had a 60:40 chance to play against QPR. Hopefully, he will be fully fit against Tottenham now he has been left out of the England squad for the midweek friendly.

Arshavin: 7
Made a difference after the 84th-minute introduction into the middle of Arsenal's frenetic attack.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

FC Schalke 2 Arsenal 2

Before the match if we had been offered a 0-0 draw, we would have happily taken it. A 2-2 draw is even better, but after having led the game 2-0 for 20 minutes and having had a glorious chance to make it 3-2 to snatch a victory, the final whistle left us with disappointment at Las Mimosas bar.

If Walcott had better dealt with the one-on-one situation with the keeper at the death, what a goal it would have been! Three points from the Vetlins Arena against arguably the strongest opponents in the Champions League Group B! But it wasn't be. After spending a large part of the second half under pressure, probably the draw was a fair result for us. The game could have gone either way. If we hadn't conceded a goal just before half-time, it could have been a totally different story. The timing of that goal was crucial when the game was played in front of the passionate home crowd. The goal gave the team hopes and momentum for fight-back.

However, we still have all to play for. There are six points up for grab with two games to be played and the top three teams are within three points. The media are trying to put a negative spin on last night's result, with headlines such as "Arsenal's hopes hang in balance". If we beat bottom-side Montpellier, whose chance of progressing to the next round is virtually none and whose domestic league form has also been suffering this season, and Schalke beat Olympiacos, (which is a highly likely scenario since the both English and German clubs have already beaten their respective opponents in away games), we will secure our place in the knock-out stages alongside with Schalke with a game to spare.

There were four changes to Arsene Wenger's side who started in the 2-0 defeat at the Emirates: Aaron Ramsey was left in England with a groin injury he sustained in Saturday's match against Manchester United, while Theo Walcott started on the right wing after passing late fitness tests that morning. Carl Jenkinson was replaced by fit-again Bacary Sagna. Also fit-again Jack Wilshere, who will miss this weekend's clash with Fulham due to his suspension, took Francis Coquelin's place. Andre Santos was dropped to the bench with Vermaelen moved to the left-back and Koscielny slotted into the centre-back position. Santos' omission from the starting line-up was widely reported in newspapers prior to the match. Some attribute it to the boss' displeasure about the Brazilian's shirt swap at half time at the Old Trafford, some simply blame it for the left-back's poor performance against Schalke and Manchester United.

In fact, we thought about this back-four line-up ahead of the QPR game, but when somebody pointed out how short Vermaelen's performance fell as a left-back during our full-back injury crisis, we abandoned this idea. This game once again reminded us of the make-shift left-back's performance last season. He tends to be dragged into the middle and Schalke's second goal highlighted this problem. He should have been closing down Farfan on the left flank. That said, Vermaelen looked a better option than Santos in that his presence seems to have given Podolski more assurance. Following Saturday's defeat, Arsene Wenger said that his players had forgotten how good they were. One of the players he meant by that must have been Lukas Podolski. The Germany international was more influential in Arsenal's attack last night than he had been in recent weeks. Playing Vermaelen as left-back is not ideal, but is a temporary solution till Gibbs comes back. According to the Daily Mail, Gibbs' return has been pencilled in for the Fulham game. If this is the case, it is a huge boost for Arsenal.

Arsenal went into this game with a lot of questions to answer. The focus was more on their attacking rather than their defence. The North London club seemed to have lost their flair and traits of attacking football in the last few weeks, creating few chances. In this game Arsenal registered 6 shots on target with two off target, scoring two goals, both from open-play. Although it was not classic Arsenal football, with 42.7%  possession and a relatively low 80.5% passing success rate by the Club's standard, improvements are obvious in those two goals. Especially the second goal was one of the positives to take from this game. After well-worked link-up play (although Cazorla's pass to Giroud was poor), Podolski delivered a superb cross which swerved around the Schalke left-back, while Giroud left his marker dead to meet the cross with a diving header.

Although Arteta has been doing well in the deep-lying role this season, we miss Song's doggedness and strength in physical and tough games like this. The only midfielder that could directly fill his shoes among the current crop of players is Manny Frimpong. He has physical strength and the right mentality required for a holding midfielder when he is fully fit and sharp. Coquelin is ahead of him in the pecking order because of his experience after his season-long loan spell at Lorient and deployment as a utility player last season, but he doesn't have enough physical strength for a holding midfielder.

Whatever the media say, we still have a good chance to qualify with a home game against a bottom side next. If anybody is sniffy about the point we came away with from Gelsenkirchen, they are underestimating a Shalke side. We may be no longer in the driving seat for winning the group, but our fate for qualification is still in our hands. We are confident that Arsenal will go through to the knock-out stage.

Player ratings

Mannone: 7
He probably got his angle wrong for Schalke's first goal. Made a number of fine saves. Szczesny's return seems to be imminent as he was training with the squad this Monday. We are sure that Wenger wouldn't mind this kind of headaches.

Sagna: 6
Some good defensive display, but he was partially culpable for Schalke's second goal. He shouldn't have allowed Affelay to deliver a cross.

Mertesacker: 6
Mixed performance.

Koscielny: 6
Better defender amid Arsenal's fragile defensive performance.

Vermaelen: 5
He slipped again! He is the main culprit for Schalke's second goal.

Cazorla: 6
He was in a great position to score, but squandered the chance by hitting the ball high.

Arteta: 7
Along with his team-mates, some of his clearances were poor, but he made a match-saving clearance with his shoulder at the near post.

Wilshere: 6
Showed his commitment. Although he faded in the latter stages of the game, the fact that Jack has completed the full 90 minutes of a highly competitive game unscathed was another positive from this game.

Walcott: 7
Score the opener, but his loss of possession led to Schalke's first goal. However, Arsene Wenger is sure it was a foul by Affelay on the England winger.

Podolski: 6
Provided an assist for Giroud's goal. He had a much better game than he had played for the last few weeks,  with more enthusiasm. He would certainly have scored a goal, if the referee hadn't stupidly stopped the game after the Schalke left-back fell over. Instead he was given a yellow card for kicking the ball away after the whistle.

Giroud: 7
Scored Arsenal's second goal with a beautiful header, showing his strength in the air. He had a good chance to score from Cazorla's free-kick, but his header was straight at the keeper. He could have done better with another chance he had, but signs have been encouraging in the past week for him to come good.


Santos: 5
Came on the pitch to shore up the Arsenal defence in the 90th minute for Podolski.

Coquelin: 6
90th-minute substitute for Cazorla. Outmuscled by Schalke defender at the edge of the Schalke box. He definitely needs to toughen up himself. Provided a superb pass for Walcott at the death.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

2012 Christmas Dinner

This year's Christmas Dinner will be held on the evening  of 11 December at Pablos Bar (same as last year). Unfortunately, this will clash with Arsenal's quarter-final match against Bradford City in the Capital One Cup. We are currently negotiating with the Cup organisers so that the game can be played on Wednesday night instead, but should our efforts fail, we will do everything to get live score updates during the dinner.

Tickets will be 10 euros per head and will be restricted to Club members and partners. Tickets will be on sale shortly.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Manchester United 2 Arsenal 1

One thing we knew before the match was that it was not going to be an 8-2 again. The scoreline of the last season's corresponding fixture was exaggerated due to Arsenal's weakened line-up and a sending-off. An Arsenal side last season was reduced to only a few first-teamers and inexperienced understudies as a result of the illness of Sagna, injuries to Vermaelen, Wilshere, Diaby, and Gibbs, and the suspension of Song, Frimpong and Gervinho, following the departure of Fabregas and Nasri. Since then, Arsenal added five new signings on the transfer deadline day last August and three quality signings this summer, while they saw RVP and Song leave the Club over the summer this year.

Among Arsenal's starting XI on Saturday, only Ramsey had started in the last season's defeat. Arsenal's starting line-up looked much stronger than the last season's, but our worry was that the team hadn't played to their full potential since the international break.

A certain Dutchman was naturally in the heart of media attention, after his move from the Club he served for eight years (which some says was virtually only one good year). However, at Arsenal Playa Flamenca Supporters Club, this wasn't really an issue. We have moved on. Some criticise Arsenal FC for selling their star striker, but our view is that Arsenal had no option but to let him go after the Dutchman published his intention not to sign a new contract on his official website, which was not a commendable way to repay the faith and patience the Club had had in him during his injury-ridden eight-year service.

We may have been lucky to end the game with a reasonably respectable scoreline of 2-1, considering the fact that the Old Trafford was a difficult place to come away with points (and even more difficult to get favourable decisions). On the other hand, we were unlucky to get Jack Wilshere sent off, which virtually killed off any chance of the visitors' comeback. It was Jack's ball to start with and also it was not as bad as Tom Cleverly's earlier foul, which the Manchester United player got off with. There was no consistency in Mike Dean's decisions.

Following the defeat which marked Arsenal's worst start to the season in the last 16 years, some fans have started calling for Arsene Wenger's sacking, but you cannot blame a manager for players' individual mistakes, such as Vermaelen's slip. In fact, our captain haven't had good games this season. He doesn't look very confident. His commitment and determination to win a game earned him a nickname "the Verminator" among fans a few years ago. He started showing his leadership quality from the early days in his Arsenal career. Arsenal have been criticised recently for the lack of characters on the pitch, but the Belgian showed his character and led us to victories last season, most notably against Newcastle. We really need our captain to find his confidence again, although fortunately we have another leader on the pitch in the shape of Mikel Arteta.

Arsene Wenger cannot be faulted on individual mistakes which could have avoided losses (Mannone's goalkeeping error against Norwich was another example), but he needs to address a problem we have been facing for the last three weeks. The problem is that our attacking has not been clicking. Manchester United's defence has been suspect this season, shipping 14 goals so far in the league games alone. (Incidentally, Arsenal have conceded fewer goals than any other Premier League club with 8). If we had mounted pressure on their defence like we did relentlessly against Reading midweek, we could have scored more goals. However, we didn't look dangerous in the final third and failed to threaten Man U defence.

Another underperforming player these days is Lukas Podolski. His recent drop in form coincides with Gibbs' absence. The Germany international is a proven goalscorer and world-class player. We must get the best out of him again. If Gibb's return is not imminent, tactical changes may be required.

On a positive side, Cazorla scored a stunning goal in the last second. He hasn't been at his best for a few weeks because of the opponents' close marking, but in this game, he was pulling the strings once again in the heart of Arsenal attack when he had the ball. He managed to find more chances to get on the ball in this game than in recent games. Unfortunately, there was nobody in front of him to produce end products. The Spanish playmaker showed that he is capable of creating chances when he is given spaces to operate in. His goal also highlighted that Arsenal still have a player who can create a goal out of nothing.

Another bright spot was the performance of Per Mertesacker, who was outstanding in our defence. He reads the game well and his positioning sense is excellent. He is always where he should be. Prior to this game, there was a debate among the fans which centre-back should form a partnership with Vermaelen. Some thought Koscielny was a better option against Man U's counter-attack, but we cannot drop in-form Mertesacker and his performance on Saturday confirmed this.

We have another massive game on Tuesday night. We already know how good a Shalke side is and this game could be a crucial one for our qualification. Hopefully, Arsene Wenger will come up with solutions and improve the team's performance quickly.

Player ratings

Mannone: 7
He might have done better to deal with RVP's goal, but he made a few superb goals to keep the goal margin as small as possible. He went for the right direction for Roony's penalty and he probably saved it even if it had been on target.

Sagna: 7
Kept Ashley Young at bay reasonably well.

Mertesacker: 7

Vermaelen: 5
His mistake cost us dearly. After giving away a cheap goal to Manchester United or RVP of all players so early, the game was always difficult.

Santos: 5
He actually did better than expected (perhaps only because our expectations were low), but struggled to cope with Valencia and Rafael. He just hasn't got quality at a required level as an Arsenal player. His swapping shirts with RVP at half time caused a controversy. Arsene Wenger put it all down to cultural differences, but he was clearly not happy with the Brazilian left-back's conduct and assured it would not happen again.

Cazorla: 7
Had a better game than the last few games. His goal showed his class.

Arteta: 7
He was in the heart of Arsenal midfield as usual, but was allowed little space to influence the game.

Wilshere: 7
He was one of our best performers, when the whole team performance was below par. In the post-match review, Wenger admitted that he had thought about taking the England midfielder off in order to protect him from a second bookable offence, (like Sir Alex Ferguson did to Cleverly) but limited options on the bench did not allow him to do so. (After Ramsey, who could have moved to central midfield, came off the pitch, only Coquelin was a recognised central midfielder on the bench and he was not an attacking option.) Wilshere's sending-off was a blow without doubt, but it may be a blessing in disguise. Jack's premature departure from this game resulted in saving him for Tuesday's Champions League game, for which he is eligible. He will miss the Fulham match, but it is probably a good thing for him after playing Tuesday night.

Ramsey: 6
Apart from making a good run to the byline in the first half, struggled as the right-winger. Replaced by Walcott in the 52nd minute. At the time, we thought this substitution was a part of plans as Walcott was always expected to come on as an impact sub, after his heroics against Reading in midweek, but the truth was that a groin injury forced the Wales midfielder's withdrawal.

Podolski: 5
Anonymous. Did not help Santos very much defensively, either.

Giroud: 6
Had two of our best chances, but could not take them. Looked tired towards the end of the match.


Walcott: 5
Came off the bench in the 52nd minute for Ramsey to take the right-wing position. Made little impact. After played in by Cazorla's delightful pass, he blasted the ball high. Those who demanded that Arsenal should give him 100k a week after the Capital One Cup tie, where are you now?

Arshavin: 5
81st-minute substitute for Podolski. Made little difference.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reading 5 Arsenal 7 (AET) Capital One Cup 4th Round

It was a crazy game of football, which was hailed by many as the greatest match they had ever seen. Both teams deserve credit for their parts in this game, but Arsenal's comeback, in particular, should go down in history.

Arsene Wenger made wholesale changes to the starting XI who faced QPR last Saturday, which was widely expected not only because of his well-known policy to use the League Cup competition for the development of his young players, but also because he needed to rest key players after tough weeks including the international break and keep them fresh ahead of this weekend's crucial clash with Manchester United.

The starting line-up was usual mix of fringe first-teamers and youngsters. Although Arsene Wenger made it clear in the AGM that this trophy lied at the bottom of his priority list, Arsenal's impressive track record of progressing in this competition indicated that the boss has always aimed to field a good enough team to win each game.

Perhaps, this unfamiliar mixture of players was behind Arsenal's disastrous first 37 minutes. We couldn't understand how our last season's best defender, Koscielny, and our best defender two seasons ago, Djourou, could play so badly. Miquel was clearly struggling in his less familiar position, making Andre Santos look like the best left-back in the world. Even in-form Jenkinson looked somewhat rusty, after having been left out of the first-team starting line-up for the first time this season last Saturday.

However, the poor collective performance was blamed for Arsenal's defensive frailty as well as the defenders' individual mistakes. Walcotts' misplaced pass and Chamakh's failure to clear the line resulted in the two of Reading's first-half four goals.

On the attacking side, passing was slow with no urgency or purpose, resembling the first-team's recent performances. Everything seemed to have gone wrong for Arsenal, apart from a lucky escape in the third minute, when Morrison's header came off the woodwork and then hit our keeper Martinez's head (who probably didn't know much about it), ricocheting to the safety. At Las Mimosas bar, we all agreed that this was the worst Arsenal performance in years, even worse than the last couple of games.

However, Arsenal seemed to have finally woken up from Halloween spells after conceding four goals in 37 minutes. In a quick counter-attack, after Arshavin intercepted a lobbed pass, Walcott clipped home, providing us a glimpse of hope in injury time of the first half. The goal gave Arsenal a lifeline.

We were disappointed to see no changes to the team at half time. The game resumed at 4-1 and after Arsenal weathered Reading attack, it was Arsenal's turn to storm back. In the 62nd minute, Wenger had finally decided to make changes. Much to our delight, Giroud and a promising 19-year-old, Thomas Eisfeld, came off the bench in exchange of Gnabry and Frimpong. We expected Giroud to replace Chamakh, who hadn't impressed us up to this point, but the boss' decision to leave the Morocco international on the pitch proved to be spot-on later on.

Giroud provided our much-awaited second goal just two minutes after he came on. He injected some energy and a spark to the team. However, no more goals came until a minute before the end of normal time, when we started conceding that we were going out of the competition before making quarter-finals for the first time in ten years. Although our hopes were fading, we were happy that at least Arsenal tried and showed what Arsenal's style of football is like. The amount of chances they created in the second half only pleased the fans as they have been few and far between them these days. It would be a bonus if Giroud, who will become one of our main players in one day without doubt, could take courage from his performance and the impact he made in this game.

As time was about to run out with only two minutes left in normal time, Koscielny redeemed himself by scoring at the right end this time round. Then, with what was going to be the last kick of the game, Arsenal grabbed an equaliser through Theo's shot. It was debatable at the time whether the whole of the ball crossed the line, but what mattered was that Arsenal snatched an equaliser at the end of stoppage time. There was no room for argument for that as Jenkinson stabbed the rebound into the back of the net to make doubly sure. The goal scorer was later confirmed and Theo was awarded Arsenal's fourth goal. (I wouldn't have minded a bit, if, Jenkinson, a life long Arsenal supporter, had been on the score sheet for the first time for his beloved club).

13th minutes into extra time, Chamakh had finally woken up from his 13-month slumber to score a goal, putting us in front for the first time. Then Pogrebnyak equalised 12 minutes later for Reading, but Theo got a winner to complete his hat-trick and Chamakh added to his goal tally to finish off the incredible night in the last minute of extra time. All football fans were treated to amazing dramas in the eve of Halloween.

Although only Giroud and possibly Walcott out of this team are likely to start against Manchester United this weekend, hopefully the whole first-team will be inspired by the never-say-die spirit shown by this night's side.

6,000 travelling supporters also attracted media attention. We are proud of our fellow Gooners who stuck behind the team. They were louder than the home fans. On the other hand, some of the travelling fans got stick for leaving the stadium at half time. We understand the feeling of those fans as well. Sometimes it is too hard to watch your team when they are playing awfully. One particular Arsenal supporter was caught on camera as he was leaving his seat before half time, but he defended his action by stating he was just going to get a pint, which understandably he needed. Apparently he remained at the ground thoroughout the game to witness one of the most amazing football match.

We also praise those fans who gave Giroud and Coquelin their shirts back before extra time. The two Arsenal players thought there would be a replay and didn't realise they had to play another half an hour until one of the Arsenal subs went to tell them. Newspaper reports say that Arsenal FC are now looking for those fans, examining CCTV footage, in order to present replica Giroud and Coquelin shirts to them. Arsenal always do things properly, don't they?

Player ratings

Martinez: 4
He has been sitting on the bench with the first-team this season due to injuries to the two keepers top of the pecking order. He didn't put his foot wrong in the previous round of the Capital One Cup (he couldn't do much about Coventry's only goal), which warranted his starting place in this match. He looked like an amateur keeper this day. He was guilty for Reading's third goal. He made a few fine saves afterwards, but he looked shaky.  Towards the end of extra time, Wenger was furious about him taking a goal-kick too quickly before his team-mates were ready. His Capital One Cup campaign may be over as Szczesny is very close to his return, which means Mannone will soon be taking over the Cup keeper role.

Jenkinson: 7
Despite his slow start, he was all over the pitch (in a good sense) in the second half, delivering some good crosses. He stayed focused and kept his cool in the goalmouth melĂ©e to make sure his team got an equaliser.

Djourou: 5
Had a poor game. He was beaten by Reading players too easily.

Koscielny: 5
He was simply dreadful in the first half.

Miquel: 4
Although we have to take into account the fact that he was played out of position, he was still poor. He played at the left-back a few times last season as we were going through the full-back injury crisis, so we expected better from him. Got injured and stretchered off in the 105th minute.

Frimpong: 5
We like his combative approach to games, but he was ineffective in this game and taken off in the 62nd minute.

Coquelin: 5
His passing was very sloppy and he looked as if he hadn't cared in the first half.

Walcott: 8
Put in some good crosses and scored hat-trick. His finishing was very good.

Arshavin: 8
He was given a chance again to play his favourite position just behind the central striker. He looked eager to show what he could contribute to the team, giving 100% for the full 120 minutes. Made three assists, including his powerful effort that led to Walcott's match-winner.

Gnabry: 5
Despite hypes about the 17-year-old Germany youth international prior to the match, his performance was disappointing. He had a couple of good efforts, but his defensive contribution was non-existent, apart from one crucial block early in the second half, which didn't help the make-shift left-back, Miquel, at all.

Chamakh: 7
Scored two goals, but his first-half performance was as bad as others'. Difference from his previous appearances was that he was more mobile in this game. His first goal epitomised this. In the build-up to it, he passed the ball to Giroud and made a run to collect the ball from Arshavin, who received a pass from Giroud. Hopefully, this will boost his confidence and re-ignite his Arsenal career.


Giroud: 8
Replaced Frimpong in the 62nd minute. Super sub who made a big difference. This experience should give him a huge confidence boost or at least a feel-good factor.

Eisfeld: 7
Came on in the 62nd minute for Gnabry. We were really looking forward to seeing him in first-team action. He had a sensational pre-season and has scored a couple of good goals in the U-21 game recently. He is a real bright prospect for Arsenal. And we were not disappointed when we saw him play (we WERE disappointed when we didn't see his name in the starting XI). He made good runs, causing problems for Reading defence, forcing fouls and winning free-kicks at the edge of the box. We think he is readier and more all-round than Gnabry. The ex-Dortmund man's stellar performance seems to have gone unnoticed by many amid the other players' eye-catching displays (he still won praises from a section of fans, though), but introducing the talented young German to a senior-team game was definitely one of many positives from the game.

Meade: 6
Substituted injured Miquel in the 105th minute.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Arsenal 1 QPR 0

It was an unconvincing victory, but a win is a win. What mattered was that we took all three points we desperately needed. If we could have done it in a convincing way, it would have been ideal, but at the moment scraping a win seems to be the best we can do and we did just that. Also, the clean sheet was a notable achievement (although it was threatened for a number of times), considering the fact that we have conceded first goals six times in the last eight games in all competitions, which has made the games very difficult for us.

Our attacking was still not clicking to produce goals, but we have created a lot more chances than the last two games put together. Contrary to Mark Hughes' claim that Arsenal created nothing apart from Cazorla's chance, the stats showed that Arsenal had 9 shots on target and another 9 off target, in comparison to QPR's 2 shots on target with 2 off target. Had it not been for Julio Cesar's heroics, we would have scored 4 or 5 goals. It wasn't typical Arsenal style of football which is easy on the eye, but things are definitely getting better.

As usual, major talking points prior to the match were about team selection, and this week its focus was on whether Wilshere would play. He was expected to be included in the squad once again after making the bench against Norwich and playing another 90 minutes in the U-21 game earlier that week, with his eye-catching performance. However, it seemed to us that this game may have come too soon for Jack to start. Based on this notion, we thought Francis Coquelin would get the nod for the remaining midfield starting place on the back of his committed performance against Shalke. We kept a watchful eye on team news, but it looked that the boss was going to leave his final decision until last minute. In fact, after the match, the boss revealed that he told the England midfielder his intention to start him at 10:30 am on the match day. Jack's inclusion in the starting line-up came as a welcome surprise to us.

Jack Wilshere was still not 100 per cent match fit, according to Arsene Wenger's pre-match comments, but the players and the supporters alike desperately needed a morale boost after the back-to-back defeats. Playing Jack in a league game for the first time in 17 months could have been a gamble, but Wenger's decision paid off. Not only did his presence give us a lift, but also his performance was impressive, giving the team much-needed creative sparks. He also ran at defenders and took on them. The effect of his long-term injury was not visible at least in a psychological aspect. Santi Cazorla, who usually orchestrates our attack, has been deprived of freedom and space in the recent games against Chelsea, Norwich and Shalke. It will be difficult for the oppositions to shackle both Santi and Jack all the time. Jack's presence is likely to free up space for Santi.

Jack was always going to fade later on and he retired in the 67th minute, but it seems safe to say his first Premier-League adventure was successful. There was an anxious moment when he had a knock on his ankle, but he carried on playing. During Jack's 67-minute appearance, we had a glance of what could be Arsenal's best midfield combination this season in the shape of Santi, Jack and Mikel. This was a totally new partnership for Jack, but it looked that it would't take too long to gel together and find a new attack-defence balance, just like it took Cazorla no time to acclimatise himself to Arsenal style of football.

Bacary Sagna also made his return from a long-term injury. Dropping in-form Jenkinson was somewhat surprising for us, but it showed that Wenger's faith in Sagna as a first-choice right-back and the France international did not let the boss down. He played as if he had never been away.

We fancied Giroud up front for this game and as expected, the french centre forward led the line. We think he has now reached adaptation stages where a striker benefits from more playing time. He should start more often.

Following Andre Santos' calamitous performance against Shalke, we wanted to see Vermaelen playing as the left-back with Santos dropped to the bench and Koscielny and Mertesacker in the centre-back partnership. However, we also anticipated that Wenger would always prefer playing a specialist full-back whenever they are available and we were right about Wenger's inclination as Santos took the left-back position once again. In fact, he didn't play too badly despite QPR targeting his flank just as Shalke did.

Prior to the match, it looked that both Theo Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain were out, which meant the right-wing position open to Gervinho and Ramsey, who were both heavily criticised for their poor performance during the midweek game. Ramsey started on the right wing, which didn't make some of us happy. Gervinho was understandably dropped to the bench. The team sheet revealed Walcott's inclusion in the squad. He only made the bench, but his return to the squad admittedly excited us.

We may have been a bit lucky as the boss admitted, as Stephane Mbia was sent off for a moment of madness. However, the referee's decision was nothing to do with luck. Everybody reckoned that Mbia's senseless conduct left no choice for the referee but to show him a red card, except for Mark Hughes who doubted any contact between his player and our captain. The numerical advantage certainly helped us to unlock QPR's dogged defence. On the other hand, QPR were lucky not to get Granero sent off for the second bookable offence, when the Spaniard fouled Arteta. We could have been one-man up for a longer period.

Mark Hughes also claimed that Arteta's winner was off side. The ref's reasoning of his decision is that a QPR defender, Ryan Nelson ran beyond the goalline at the time of the initial header, which played Arteta on side.

At the final whistle, there was no elation at Las Mimosas bar that is usually accompanied with an Arsenal victory, but just a relief. We could not afford to fall further behind our rivals and a third consecutive loss would have had a catastrophic impact on the players' confidence. Saturday's win saw us temporarily move up to fourth in the Premier League table. After all the weekend results, including Man Utd's defeat of Chelsea, we are currently 6th of the table, trailing the league leader, Chelsea, by 7 points and two Manchester clubs by 6 points. The gap now looks a little bit more manageable.

The scrappy win didn't inspire us with too much optimism, but the hard-fought win was certainly encouraging and the team's performance definitely showed some improvement from the last two games. This victory should give Arsenal a base to build on.

Player ratings

Mannone: 6
He had a relatively quiet game in comparison with his counterpart, Julio Cesar, but he did well when it mattered. He punched away Granero's free-kick to the sideline and blocked Mackie's close-range shot in the injury time to secure Arsenal's win.

Sagna: 6
Made his first senior-team appearance in 5 months. He is back physically.

Mertesacker: 6
Mostly solid. Unlucky not to score with his header.

Vermaelen: 6
Some good clearances and tackles.

Santos: 6
He was still caught out at times, but he went forward more often and get involved in attack.

Cazorla: 7
A player with his calibre should have buried a chance like the one he had.

Arteta: 8
His tenacity earned the goal.

Wilshere: 8
Bright spot for us.

Ramsey: 7
His looping header was a good effort, which hit the top of the cross bar. His shot forced a fine save out of Julio Cesar.

Podolski: 5
His work rate improved, compared with the poor level against Shalke, helping Santos more defensively. On the offensive side, he failed to make his mark in this game. Is it time to review his position as a left winger?

Giroud: 6
Julio Cesar was only able to parry the Frenchman's powerful header, which eventually led to the winner. He was unlucky not to score as his shot from angle was saved.


Walcott: 6
67th-minute substitute for Jack Wilshere. Added some pace to the game, but did not make as big a difference as we hoped.

Gervnho: 5
Replaced Podolski in the 71st minute only to be substituted 12 minutes later by Arshavin. Suffered an ankle injury and was stretchered off. We didn't see any improvement in his performance during his cameo appearance.

Arshavin: 7
Came on in the 82 minute to replace injured Gervinho. He played a crucial role in the build-up to the valuable goal as his chipped cross back from the by-line found Giroud. He also had a chance to score himself in the death of the game, but he couldn't get a decent touch. He looked hungry and raring to go.