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.