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.