Thursday, October 31, 2013

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 2 (4th Round of Capital One Cup)

The media was very quick to jump to conclusions that Arsenal cannot beat big teams as they couldn't wait for the opportunity. All the negatives were inflated out of proportion, while the positives are hardly talked about.

At Arsenal Playa Flamenca Supporters Club, we are obviously disappointed with the result. Losses always take something from your heart and when it's against Chelsea, it hurts. However, everybody knows that the Capital One Cup has always been Arsenal's lowest priority and we have more important three games coming up in the next 12 days. Some of the members argued that the substitutions were too late, while others thought Giroud and Özil could have been left on the bench to keep them fresh against Liverpool and free from injury. One thing we all agreed was that we needed rotation. We knew that Chelsea have an advantage over us in terms of depth in the squad and it was proved.
 Both sides saw a number of changes in their starting line-ups from the weekend. For Arsenal, only Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, and Laurant Koscielny kept their places. In fact, we expected more extensive deployment of youngsters as Wenger spoke about Serge Gnabry, Isaac Haydon, Gedion Zelalem and Thomas Eisfeld in his pre-match conference. Ryo Miyaichi started on the right wing, while Nicklas Bendtner took the lone-striker position. Serge Gnabry failed to pass fitness tests through a knee problem, while Zelalem and Eisfeld were ruled out due to the lack of match-fitness and a back injury, respectively.

Emmanuel Frimpong found himself in trouble before the match after posting an alleged racism claim on the Twitter. After the match, Wenger explained that the Ghanaian said his tweet was a joke. Frimpong was mysteriously ruled out of the squad the day before the match due to the shortage of "competition" (how can a player gain match-fitness without being given playing time?). In his post-match conference, Wenger also played down Frimpong's exclusion from the squad, by stating that Frimpong was in fact listed as a 19th player for this game, but when he was called up in the morning, he was sick. U-21 players, Haydon and Yenarris, were left on the bench.

What we have learned from the game. (1) We desperately need a quality striker. Bendtner's performance was woeful. He could not hold up the ball. His off-the-ball moves were very poor. His movement was so slow. In fact, Arsenal looked most dangerous in the first half when Ryo played through the middle (although the Japanese international's finishing left much to be desired). The Dane had a mere 28 touches in 67 minutes, while Olivier Giroud made 14 touches in his 23 minutes-plus-stoppage time appearance.

(2) The Ramsey-Wilshere central midfield partnership does not provide the right balance of defence and attack. The combination limits the both players' attacking capability. But we didn't have any option in this game because of Flamini's injury and Arteta's suspension. Haydon was out of his depth against West Brom in the holding midfielder role, while we are not sure that Yenarris would have coped with Chelsea's attack. Fortunately, this conundrum should be solved before the next game when Arteta is available again. Flamini's return from his groin injury cannot come soon enough for us.

(3) We have a selection headache for the left-back position. Nacho Monreal's discontent has been well documented, having had to spend most of time on the bench due to Kieran Gibbs' current form. Our preferred left-back has been the Englishman, but the Spaniard presents very strong competition after his commendable performance this night.

(4) On the other hand, Carl Jenkinson is not totally reliable as Bacary Sagna's deputy yet. His positioning was questionable again in this game after the previous round of Capital One Cup. He can be easily dragged into the centre. Poor Ramsey had to cover him so often. Jenkinson was regarded as a sole culprit for the first goal, but we think that Fabianski and Wilshere might have also had a hand in it. Confusion among the three was to blame, but very few deny that Jenkinson had a terrible game. Crossing has been regarded as one of his strengths over Sagna, but it was also all over the place this night.

(5) Theo Walcott's pace has been sorely missed. Against a well-organised defensive-minded team, we need Theo's pace to get behind the defence line.

(6) There was not as much as the media want to talk up between the two sides. On the contrary to the SkySports match report, Arsenal had livened up themselves after conceding the first goal. We applied pressure on Chelsea defence in the beginning of the second half and Özil and Giroud's introductions sparked Arsenal's revival. The stats indicate Arsenal's slight dominance in overall possession of 53% with a slightly better passing success rate of 86% against Chelsea's 84%. Chelsea had 14 shots on target, of which 3 were on target, while Arsenal registered 12 shots with 1 on target. It was a tight game as Wenger described it. It could have gone either way but the result was decided by tiny details as usual. We were punished by the lapse of concentration and we didn't have a moment of individual brilliance that matched Mata's sublime shot.

(7) Koscielny and Vermaelen can play together. These two are so similar (similarly too adventurous) that the fans have not been so keen on the paring so far. However, this game proved that the partnership between these two is a feasible option.

Some say that the exit from the Capital One Cup competition is a blessing in disguise. It's true that an opportunity to win one of the silverware this season has gone, but at least the exit means that we have no mid-week fixtures in the last two weeks of a busy January (and a week in December). Also, we have Theo, Poldi, and the Ox to come back, which should add our depth in the squad soon.

Oh, and how hypocritical Mourinho is. He criticises the opponents' time-wasting in one game, but it is OK for his three players to simultaneously start having cramps and lie down on the ground.

It is more important than the result of this game that Arsenal will show a great response against Liverpool on Saturday evening. Hopefully, our first XI will do just that.

Player Rating

Fabianski: 6
Could do nothing to stop Mata's goal. Apart from the two goals, he only made a comfortable catch. 

Jenkinson: 5
Very poor game.

Koscielny: 7
Made 4 interceptions especially high up on the pitch and darted forward.

Vermaelen: 7
Made 8 clearances and 1 last-man tackle. Solid.

Monreal: 7
Created a good goal-scoring chance from his own interception. Defensively solid as well.

Ramsey: 6
Made 4 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 3 shots off target. Not at his best. We thought he would be given a breather for this game. Taken off in the 82nd minute.

Wilshere: 6
Made a couple of good runs. 

Rosicky: 7
Was at the heart of Arsenal attack, and had a generally good game

Cazorla: 7
Completed his first 90 minutes since his return from injury. 

Miyaichi: 5
Had a glorious chance to score in one-on-one situation with the keep after getting behind the Chelsea defence, but failed to convert it. Made some good runs on the right wing, showing his pace in the first half when Arsenal played long balls. In the second half, he was often muscled out by Chelsea defenders and was replaced by Özil in the 64th minteu. 

Bendtner: 5
Little quality, no commitment. 


Özil: 6
Replaced Ryo in the 64th minute. Showed his class in flashes. 

Giroud: 7
Made a difference immediately after coming on the pitch in the 69th minute, drawing the first save of the match out of Schwarzer.

Park: 5
82nd-minute substitute for Ramsey. Made 8 passes and 10 touches with a 100% passing success rate. No notable contribution.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Crystal Palace 0 Arsenal 2

Spanish sunshine is sometimes a pain for some. To be honest, those who took seats on the terrace of the Rendezvous Bar, our new venue, couldn't see much of the game.

Ahead of a series of tough fixtures against our league title rivals in November, this was a must-win game for us. We also needed to bounce back immediately from the disappointing defeat to Dortmund on Tuesday night. In addition, winning this lunch-time kick off would guarantee that we stay top of the Premier League for another week, no matter how other results would turn out this weekend.

Arsene Wenger made only two changes from the side that started in the 2-1 defeat to Dortmund. Mathieu Flamini was back in the starting line-up after a five-day rule governing concussion injuries prevented him from playing Tuesday night. Jack Wilshere was dropped to the bench after suffering an ankle injury during the Dortmund match. Tomas Rosicky gave way to Santi Cazorla.

Arsenal started brightly. A clear-cut chance fell on Giroud in the 3rd minute, when Sagna's brilliant cross found the French striker, but his header was just wide. For the first 10 minutes, Arsenal's dominance was phenomenal, but did not have the edge to break down well-organised Palace defence.

The deadlock was broken just after half time. Serge Gnabry won a penalty, which was converted expertly by vice-captain Mikel Arteta. Replays showed that the German teenager should have been awarded a penalty before half-time, too. The referee didn't only get this one wrong, but made another mistake when he showed a straight red card to Arteta. The Spaniard tangled up with ex-Gunner Maroune Chamakh and the both fell to the ground 40 yards away from the Arsenal goal. The decision was arguable in so many ways. Whether Chamakh was the last man or not can be debatable as another Palace player and Koscielny were running in the middle parallel to them. It was not a clear goal-scoring chance as the incident happened far away from the goal on the right flank. One can also argue that it was a shoulder to shoulder challenge. It was a harsh decision, if not wrong.

Wenger would have appealed if Arteta had been suspended for more than a game, but the boss said that an appeal is unlikely as he was going to rest the vice captain for Tuesday's Capital One Cup match anyway. Whether the sending-off was injustice or not, we shouldn't have put ourselves in that situation. Arteta had to stop Chamakh because the Spaniard was the deepest defender as the whole team pushed high up. How many mistakes of this kind have we made in the past? We have conceded goals from our own corners on more than a few occasions.  There is no need to dig up the archive footages. As recently as four days ago, we conceded Dortmund's winner from their quick counter. We have to rectify our vulnerability to counter attacks.

On the other hand, we like the team's resilience to grind out the win in the end. We could have capitulated a few seasons ago after such big blows like losing Flamini, a combative midfielder, to a groin injury so early in the game, and then another holding midfielder in the 65th minute. As soon as Arsenal's metronome had been given his marching orders, the Eagles smelled blood and mounted pressure. Szczesny pulled off two world-class saves within a couple of minutes. Then, when Ramsey broke on the left flank, he timed his lofted cross perfectly for Giroud's run. Giroud's header met the cross and went under Speroni's arm into the back of the net. The second goal relieved the huge pressure off us. We, the Gooners, could finally enjoy the rest of the game.

As Wenger admitted, Arsenal were not the sharpest. Asked whether he was worried about fatigue, the Frenchman answered "Sometimes when you play every three days you look tired and then in three days you are flying again. It goes a bit in cycles." Let's hope that players will recover quickly before the gruelling early November fixtures.

The next match is a Capital One Cup home tie against Chelsea, but at the Arsenal Playa Flamenca Supporters Club, many people's focus is already on next weekend's clash with Liverpool. Although we have an advantage of one more day rest over Chelsea, they have more depth in the squad. We don't know what sort of team Wenger will field, it will be difficult to overcome Chelsea to advance, especially if the Frenchman wants to give a breather to the key players. We think Arsenal should prioritise their league campaign.

Players rating

Szczesny: 8
Barclays Man of the Match. Made a couple of match-saving stops.

Sagna: 7
Delivered two brilliant crosses for Giroud.

Mertesacker: 7
Commanding display.

Koscielny: 7

Gibbs: 7
Not troubled.

Arteta: 6
Scored a first goal from the spot. Unlucky to be sent off.

Flamini: 5
Started well, but sustained a groin injury and was replaced in the 8th minute. Hope the injury does not sideline him for long because he is such an important player for us.

Özil: 7
Looked tired, but made runs when needed.

Ramsey: 7
Had a shot on target saved. Set up a goal for Giroud.

Cazorla: 6
Quiet game.

Giroud: 8
Scored his fifth league goal of the season.


Gnabry: 7
8th-minute substitute for Flamini. Earned a penalty and should have been awarded another. Replaced by fellow substitute Wilshere in the 69th minute when pressure piled on.

Wilshere: 7

Replaced Gnabry in the 69th minute. Kept Arsenal ticking in the absence of Arteta. 19 passes with a 100% passing success rate.

Monreal: 7
Came on for Cazorla in the 72th minute on the left flank. Had a dribble and shot, which was saved unlucky not to score, popped up in the centre forward position a couple of times

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Arsenal 1 Dortmund 2 (Champions League Group Stage Matchday 3)

The critics said that this would be the first stern test for Arsenal. We had already heard those words before we faced Napoli on the Matchday 2. After the Napoli game, we thought Arsenal's totally different, but equally impressive performances on either side of half time had effectively silenced them. Now those critics are triumphant after just one loss in 13 games against the last season's Champions League runners-up.

Arsene Wenger was unusually critical about his side's performance after the match, which probably reflected his massive disappointment on his 64th birthday. On the strength of the home game and the current form, we were expecting three points from this game, which would have then required only a draw to guarantee our place in the knock-out stage. Although Wenger seemingly didn't give any credit to his side's display, a loss was too harsh a result for the home team. In fact, they deserved at least a point.

Lewandowski, who went on to score the winner, could have been set off if Koscielny had fallen down to the ground and rolled about at the time. Rosicky's shot was cleared off the line in the first half. Ramsey's goal was mysteriously disallowed. One can only guess it was because the whistle was blown a second earlier when the referee adjudged that Koscielny pushed a Dortmund player in the set-piece melee. Santi's curling effort was denied by the woodwork. If we hadn't conceded the second goal at the very time we did, an energetic Dortmund side could have started showing signs of fatigue (because that's how we have won games in the past).

We don't need to cite these potentially game-changing incidents to highlight how delicately balanced the game was. The stats show that the two sides were level in all aspects. Arsenal registered 9 shots, of which 2 were on target, with one hitting the bar and two blocked. On the other hand, Dortmund had 8 shots in total with 3 on target. Other stats indicate that Arsenal were, in fact, a slightly better side, including a 58% possession, a 83% passing success rate against Dortmund's 79%, and 65% aerial duels won vs Dortmund's 35%. In light of these figures, ex-Tottenham Glen Hoddle's remark, "Dortmund were the better side", appears a little feeble.

Wenger lamented naivety and lack of maturity, stating that Arsenal forgot that "when you cannot win the game, you don't lose it". It is disappointing to see some of the positive signs this team started to show disappear in this game. When they struggled to beat an organised and resilient West Brom side, they tried not to lose the game after coming from behind to equalise. Against Swansea, we didn't create many chances, but when we went forward, we scored two goals in a short space of time to win the game. Three days ago, we scored the crucial second goal when Norwich was in the ascendancy. This season, up till this game, we had had no error directly leading to a goal, a major cause behind so many points dropped last season.

We missed Mathieu Flamini in the game. Arteta played well, but the devoted defensive midfielder would have made it sure that we were well covered against any quick counter-attack. Also, the 29-year-old ex-AC Milan player would have reminded his team-mate that not losing this game was as important as winning it. His steel and maturity were sorely missed.

Despite the disappointing result, there are many positives to take from this game. Santi is back. After returning from injury in the last game, the Spaniard started from the bench. When he came on the pitch for Wilshere, he turned the game around. With Özil struggling to find space, doubled or sometimes tripled-up by Dortmund players, Santi's creativity was crucial for us.

It was encouraging to see Arsenal get back into the game and score an equaliser before half-time, after a slow start to the game and conceding the first goal in the 16th minute.

In contrast to Wenger's accusation that the team pushed too hard, some journalists praise Arsenal's bravery. They took the game to Dortmund despite the German side's every effort to stop their opponents playing their football and never gave up looking for an illusive winner.

In a way, we are glad that the team made these mistakes at the group stages and early in the season. All teams lose at some point in the season (unless you are the Invincibles). These are a group of ever-improving players, so hopefully, the boys will learn the lessons and they can only get better.

Two mistakes cost us dearly, but there was very little in it between the two side. Dortmund are underrated because of their slow start to their Champions League campaign after their poor display against Napoli on Matchday 1. However, this game showed how good they are, after all we are in the game's elite competition.

Coupled with Napoli's 2-1 defeat of Marseille in France on the same night, the result opened up the qualifying race in the Group F among the three teams. Now Arsenal, Dortmund and Napoli all sit top of the group with 6 points. It looks a lot tougher now to qualify from this group than three weeks ago, but we think it can be done. Last season we still qualified after we had lost 2-0 at home against Schalke on Matchday 3. Also, it is not impossible to beat a German team in Germany as our victory over Bayern Munich proved. Furthermore, we have the upper hand over Napoli in case the two teams finish on the same point, as the head-to-head results prevail over the goal difference. Having already beaten Napoli once, a draw in Naples will guarantee a place in the knock-out stages if we are on the same points as Napoli going into Matchday 6. That said, it is only half way through the group stage and there are still nine points to play for, it is too early to calculate permutations yet.

Players rating

Szczesny: 6
With Dortmund registering only three shots on target, he had little to do. Couldn't do much about the two goals.

Sagna: 6
He was caught out of position on Dortmund's counter-attack and slow to get back. We understand that in the absence of wide players such as Theo, the Ox, and Poldi, Sagna and Gibbs have a massive task of going forward to help add width to the offence, but the veteran Sagna should be able to cope with that.

Mertesacker: 7

Combined with Koscielny, kept Lewandowski quiet at most of time.

Koscielny: 7

Made 5 interceptions and 6 clearances.

Gibbs: 7

Made a good last-ditch tackle as well as 7 interceptions and 5 clearances.

Arteta: 7
Made 11 tackles and 2 interceptions. 

Ramsey: 6

Entirely guilty for Dortmund's first goal. He was too confident when he tried to dribble through Dortmund players on the edge of the Arsenal box instead of simply clearing the line and subsequently he was robbed of the ball by Reus. The in-form Welsh midfielder was not as sharp as usual. Replaced in the 87th minute.

Özil: 7
Difficult game as he was shackled by two or three Dortmund players throughout the game, but showed a glimpse of quality here and there.

Rosicky: 7

His effort beat the keeper only to be cleared off the line by Hummels.  

Wilshere: 6
Struggled to get behind the Dortmund defence. He was another player who was not as sharp as in the last game. An ankle injury saw his game curtailed in the 59th minute. With hind sight, Cazorla should have replaced him earlier.

Giroud: 7
Scored a goal. One of the differences this season is that he is more aggressive in the box. When you attack the ball, you have a half-chance to score as the keeper or defenders may make mistakes. Sagna's cross was hardly a pin-point delivery, but because Giroud attacked the ball, Dortmund centre-back and keeper made a mix-up, which led to the goal.



Cazorla: 7
Replaced injured Jack Wilshere in the 59th minute. Made an immediate impact and his powerful shot hit the crossbar. 

Bendtner: 5

87th-minute substitute for Ramsey. Only made 1 touch.

Gnabry: 5
90th-minute substitute for Rosicky. Only made 3 touches around the Arsenal box.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Arsenal 4 Norwich 1

After the long two weeks' wait, the Premier League was back. Ever since the transfer dead-line day, the Arsenal fans have been entertaining the thought that Mesut Özil and Santi Cazorla would play in the same team. Santi's ankle injury during the September international break meant that we had to wait for our dream to come true for seven weeks. Then when it was finally going to materialise, Özil suffered a knock on the knee during Germany's 5-3 win over Sweden, which saw the German playmaker limping off the pitch with a few minutes remaining. After a nervous wait, the good news arrived that he was fit to play against Norwich. We were excited with the prospect of the two technically-gifted creative midfielders on the pitch at the same time for the first time. The combination of Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil was simply mouth-watering for the supporters.

Arsene Wenger made two changes from the side that started in the 1-1 draw with West Brom two weeks ago. The team welcomed back the fit-again Bacary Sagna in place of Carl Jenkinson. The omission of in-form Aaron Ramsey from the starting line-up came as a surprise, but considering that the number of games the Welshman has played for the Club and the country so far this season and the fixture list ahead of us, it made sense. Santi Cazorla made his first appearance since September 1 in the Welshman's place.

Arsenal started brightly with some good moves, but Cazorla's shot was not powerful enough to test John Ruddy. However, in the 18th minute, the hosts strung together ingenious one-touch interplay, which Wilshere started and finished coolly. The team effort took some technical quality, quick moves, and improvisation, involving Cazorla and Giroud as well as the English midfielder. Arsene Wenger described it as one of the best Arsenal goals he had seen.

Norwich had their moments on either side of half time. Arsenal's second goal came against the run of play. Giroud's lofted delivery was met with Özil's header. It was the French striker's fourth assist this season, already one more than the whole of last season. He hasn't found the net for the last few league games, but his contribution to the team has been tremendous.

12 minutes later, Norwich got a goal back as Howson took full advantage of Mertesacker's half-clearance and blasted the ball into the bottom corner of the Arsenal goal. It was also a fine goal, which Szczesny could do nothing about.

A couple of season ago, this could have put an enormous pressure on Arsenal defence and they could have caved in. However, we had confidence in this team and couldn't see any other result but a home win. The team responded positively as Arsene Wenger brought Nicklas Bendtner on for Giroud instead of making a more defensive change in order to protect the now narrow lead.

Aaron Ramsey's exquisite solo goal in the 83rd minute put the game to bed, followed by Özil's second goal at the end of a beautifully worked-out movement in the 88th minute.

It was not as comfortable a win as the scoreline might suggest, but we played some good football. Some of the moves were breathtaking, especially the build-up to the first goal and finish. It was a delightful afternoon for us Gooners. The team have belief in the quality within the team and are enjoying playing football at the moment. If they can keep playing in that way, their attractive football should entice world-class attacking players from all over the world in the future.

Players rating

Szczesny: 7
Wasn't tested too much, but made a couple of good saves when needed.

Sagna: 7
Joined attack often. Solid defensively.

Mertesacker: 7

His inadequate clearance led to Norwich goal.

Koscielny: 7

Kept the opponents at bay.

Gibbs: 7

Made a great run and nearly set up a goal for Giroud with a perfect low cross. Made 5 tackles, one of which was a crucial last-man tackle.

Flamini: 6
Had a good game until he suffered a concussion and double-vision through the collision with Tettey. The head injury may explain some of his wayward passes after the incident (still an impressive 94% completion rate, though).  The rules governing concussion injuries (5 day break) will sideline him against Dortmund on Tuesday night.

Arteta: 7

Had a couple of shots from outside the box. Made 94 passes with a 95% success rate. 

Özil: 9

Scored two goals.

Cazorla: 7

He was heavily involved in Arsenal's good attacking moves, but some of his decisions indicated his lack of match-fitness. Substituted in the 59th minute, which was probably planned.  

Wilshere: 8
Scored his second goal in two consecutive games and first league goal at the Emirates. Improved performance as his decision-making was a lot quicker and didn't hold onto the ball too long.

Giroud: 8
Provided two assists through brilliant flicks for the first and perfectly-weighed cross for the second goal. Unlucky not to get on the scoresheet himself when his one-touch finish at the near post was denied by Ruddy's superb save.



Ramsey: 9
He was initially meant to be rested, but came on the pitch in the 38th minute in the wake of Flamini's injury. Scored a great solo goal with composure, after waltzing through Norwich defence in the box. Set up a goal for Özil with a fine cut-back. Made 5 tackles as well. 

Rosicky: 7
59th-minute substitute for Cazorla. His cross from the left to Ramsey at the far post led to 
Özil's second goal.

Bendtner: 7
78th-minute substitute for Giroud. Had a decent game, involved in the build-up for 
Özil's second goal.

Monday, October 7, 2013

West Brom 1 Arsenal 1

Arsenal went into this game as favourites to win on the back of their stunning performance against Napoli on Tuesday night, looking to extend their winning streak to 11 games and set a new club record of 13 straight away wins. However, their opponents were also enjoying a surge in form since a 3-0 win over Sunderland at home, followed  by their shock defeat of Manchester United at Old Trafford last weekend. The two teams were full of confidence, both making an amazing turnaround from their disappointing opening of the season.

Arsenal made only two changes from the side which started in their comprehensive victory over Napoli, one of which was a forced one. Carl Jenkinson deputised for Bacary Sagna at  right-back. The French defender picked up a hamstring injury during the Champions League game on Tuesday night, which is expected to keep him on the sidelines for three weeks (hopefully, he will be back as soon as the international break is over, although "three weeks" include the next Premier League game against Norwich). In the midfield which tore apart a Napoli side five days go, Jack Wilshere replaced Tomas Rosicky. Considering the fact that the Czech played 63 minutes after just one day of full training following his return from an injury, the change appeared reasonable. Flamini and Arteta kept their places in the deeper midfield, with Ramsey once again starting on the right wing.

The same formation worked well against Napoli, but West Brom had the better idea about how to keep Ozil quiet. The Midland club crowded the central midfield, leaving virtually no space for the German playmaker nor the two wide players who prefer playing in the middle. In fact, West Brom were well organised defensively, while posing a constant threat going forward. Overall, the Premier League mid-table club mounted a bigger challenge than the 2nd-placed Serie A side.

A 1-1 draw looked a fair result in light of the fact that the both teams had chances to win. We were lucky not to lose as Anelka had two clear-cut chances to double their lead before Jack Wilshere scored the equaliser. On the other hand, we were disappointed we couldn't find a winner in the last 15 minutes when we were mounting pressure, while we also felt that we did well to fend off the counter-attack threat West Brom posed in the same period.

Conceding a first goal was a new experience this season and was a test for the team. They showed character to come from behind to earn a point, but the bench highlighted that Arsenal were still lacking game changers. Asked about being light on the bench after the match, Wenger stressed the quality of the bench, but Monreal and Vermaelen are defensive options when we are wrapping up a win and neither of Bendtner or Gnabry is capable of changing the game. On the other hand, Rosicky actually came off the bench and made an impact as soon as he had come on the pitch, but it was not enough to win the game. Incidentally, Miyaichi was also on the bench, but Wenger didn't mention his name.

There were two talking points in this game: one was the referee's decisions, the other Wilshere's mixed performance. First of all, we think Lee Mason did OK. He may have been a little too lenient on fouls, but he was at least consistent throughout the game. Some say that Koscielny was lucky to stay on the pitch for his push on the back of a West Brom player in the box and we agree. We have seen penalties given on similar occasions. On the other hand, we had a legitimate penalty shout for Billy Jones' foul on Jack Wilshere. (No, not the one against Mulumbu. Replays proved the ref made a correct decision, hence no complaint from us). Although Wilshere shot it high, Jones did not make a contact with the ball, but with the Englishman. That could have been a penalty on another day. As for other fouls outside the box, our players were lucky to get away with some heavy tackles, while West Brom players were let off for so many physical challenges on Wilshere without giving away free-kicks. If they call it "letting the game flow", Lee Mason did a good job as it was a good game between the two good sides. As long as his decisions are consistent, we have no problem with the referee.

The second point is Wilshere's performance. Even before the game was kicked off, all eyes were on the 21-year-old for the wrong reason. He was caught smoking outside a night club by camera. After the match, Wilshere admitted that he made a mistake and had spoken to the boss and they sorted it out. Jack Wilshere's inclusion in the team confirmed that the issue was solved between them. The boss also showed his faith in the England midfielder by sticking to him throughout the game, even when he had had a poor first 45 minutes. He lost 11 duels in the first half. He was even given a yellow card after frustration got the better of him. Wenger's faith seemed to have been repaid when Jack scored. Having said that Wilshere is being played out of position and it doesn't suite his game.

When Rosicky came on for Ramsey in the 58th minute, Wilshere was subsequently moved to the right wing, a switch that seemed to have improved his performance. He clearly struggles every time he plays on the left wing. Wenger hoped that playing in the wide position would get best out of him, making most of his "burst", which is only possible from the deeper midfield or wide positions, not the number 10 role. In our opinion, Jack Wilshere holds on to the ball too long, which invites tackles. If he releases the ball quickly like the passer-type Arsenal players do, he can stay free from those heavy tackles and challenges he often gets.

Hopefully, Cazorla's return should solve these problems. Although he also has inclination to cut inside, Santi is better suited to the left-wing position as he is comfortable with both feet. Santi had the same problem as Ozil had this day, when he played the central midfield role last season. However, moved to the left flank, the Spaniard found more space to operate. In the game like this, it will be very difficult to contain both Santi and Ozil at the same time. The Spanish midfielder's return cannot come soon enough for us.

The hard-fought point sent us back to the top of the league, ahead of Liverpool by the number of goals scored. A few years ago Arsenal would have lost this kind of games immediately following an exhilarating win in the Champions League. Wilshere's comments in the post-match interview suggested that our players had realised that there is no easy game in the Premier League. They know that they cannot simply turn up and win a game. Hopefully, they will retain their focus on the next league game against Norwich at the Emirates and get back to winning ways.

Players rating

Szczesny: 7
Made a brilliant save when Berahino's shot was heavily deflected by Flamini.

Jenkinson: 6
He was always the weak link in the defence West Brom were likely to exploit. Although he coped relatively well, there is a lot room for improvement. That said, Sagna's absence is a good chance for him to gain some much-needed playing time. Hopefully, he will make most of it.

Mertesacker: 7

Not his best performance.

Koscielny: 7

He has to cut out those mindless fouls inside the box.

Gibbs: 7

Did OK. Blasted a shot over the bar on a very good chance. Maybe he should have crossed to Giroud who made a run at the near post.

Flamini: 7
Worked hard as usual. Given a yellow card.

Arteta: 7

Made 73 passes with a 97% passing success rate. Had a shot blocked by Giroud.

Ozil: 7

Quiet game, but he did very well to battle for the ball, keep it in play on the right flank and found Giroud with a superb long ball in the build-up to Wilshere's goal.

Ramsey: 6

Unlucky not to score. His goal-bound low shot from outside the box drew a fine reflex save from Myhill.  

Wilshere: 7
Mixed performance. Scored his first league goal in nearly three years. He had three more brilliant chances to score, which he failed to convert. 

Giroud: 7
Worked hard for the team. In the build-up to the goal, he held the ball well until other players arrived. Had a great chance to score late, but couldn't beat the keeper. Probably he made a wrong decision, should have taken a shot immediately.


Rosicky: 7
58th-minute substitute for Ramsey. Made an immediate impact and provided an assist for Wilshere's goal.

Bendtner: 5
Replaced Giroud in the 85th minute. Only had 3 touches.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Arsenal 2 Napoli 0 (Champions League Group Stage Matchday 2)

For those who were yet to be convinced by Arsenal's win over Swansea, this game was supposed to be an acid test as to whether Arsenal are genuine title contenders. Their opponents are currently top of the Serie A table, having not lost a game, enjoying a fantastic run of form just like the north London club. An open, but tight game was expected with many predicting high-scoring draws. However, it turned out to be a comfortable win by the Premier League leaders. Arsenal's convincing defeat of a Napoli side seemed to have finally silenced the doubters.

Arsenal made two changes from the side who started in the 2-1 win at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday. Rosicky came in for Wilshere, recovering from a hamstring injury, while Arteta started next to Flamini in the central midfield. The central midfield partnership looked too defensive, but it reflected Wenger's cautious attitude towards Napoli's counter-attack. Flamini was assigned for a special mission to keep Hamsik quiet and did a superb job of it. Ramsey started on the right wing in place of Saturday's fellow goal scorer, Serge Gnabry, who was left on the bench. The Welshman's poor performances as the right-back, except the one against Manchester City last September, made us sceptical about his position. In fact, he didn't find his form until he started playing alongside with Arteta in the central midfield. Despite our concern, our advanced midfield trio, Rosicky, Ozil, and Ramsey, kept swapping their positions, which made it hard for Napoli to contain them. Walcott's injury has opened the door to Gnabry, which is a like for like option. In addition to that, this night's display confirmed that Ramsey on the right wing was a more than feasible option.

Arsenal's first-half performance was outstanding. Their passing was quick and crisp, with their movements on and off the ball at their fluent best. We thought we hadn't seen Arsenal play like that for a long time. After the match, both Wenger and Szczesny expressed the same view. It was their best display for a long time. Ozil grabbed the headlines for his vision and skills, but Ramsey and Giroud were equally impressive.

However, many praised their second-half display even more for their professionalism. We wanted the team to go for a third goal to kill off the game completely because one goal conceded could immediately turn a comfortable game into a difficult one as we saw  against Swansea. Instead, the team had decided to keep a clean sheet and focused on their defence. Credit to them, Napoli showed some attacking intent in the second half which was really their only option, having gone 2-0 down as early as  the opening 15 minutes, but we didn't allow them to get into our box and they tended to be restricted to long range shots which Szczesney coped with easily

Some may say that the brilliant performance was only against an underperforming Napoli side. However, there is no doubt that Arsenal's outstanding display made the Serie A leaders look average. They were reduced to just a bunch of haircuts under the Premier League leaders' authority. The Italian side may have missed Higuain's quality, (we were also missing a few players) but even if he had been on the pitch, Arsenal's defence would probably have cut off supplies to him like they did.

Six points out of the first two games in the group stage put Arsenal in a strong position to qualify for the knock-out stage. It's still early days, with 12 points remaining to play for, but when the draw was made, who would have thought we would be in this position. Wenger reckons that 10 points will secure the qualification (more precisely 10.2 points). With a win out of the forthcoming double header against Dortmund, we could secure our place in the knockout stage as early as on 22 October, provided other results go our way.

Players rating

Szczesny: 7
As he said that he was bored in the first half, he had little to do in this game. However, he came off the line to claim the ball more often in this game. A good sign of improvement.

Sagna: 7

Reliable defensively, helped attack. Picked up a hamstring injury, which is expected to keep him sidelined for three weeks. Would this be an excuse to exempt him from the international duty? It is a blow as the Frenchman seemed to have come back to his best before the double ankle breaks, but it will give Jenkinson a chance. The Englishman should be capable enough against West Brom and hopefully, Sagna will return after the international break.

Mertesacker: 8

Top passer of the team, making 80 passes with a 96% accuracy.

Koscielny: 8

Unlucky not to score. 

Gibbs: 7

Didn't put foot wrong.

Flamini: 9
Outstanding. He even tried a couple of shots, one of which was on target, but what makes him so special is his determination and fighting spirit.

Arteta: 7

As well as Rosicky, he also looked a little short of sharpness. On the other hand, his passing rates got back to his standard, making 75 passes with a 95% success rate.

Ozil: 9

Opened his account with a sublime goal in the 8th minute and set up a goal for Giroud by cutting back from the by-line.

Ramsey: 9

Set up a goal for Ozil with a pin-point pass, after making an overlapping run to receive the ball from Giroud on the right flank.  

Rosicky: 7
He looked understandably rusty as he only had one day of training after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Giroud: 9
His hold-up play and movement on and off the ball were excellent throughout the game. Scored his sixth goal of the season.


Wilshire: 7
63rd-minute substitute for Rosicky. Nearly set up a goal for Giroud in stoppage time. When Gibbs laid the ball for him to get behind the defence line, he failed to make a run. If he feels his goal-scoring stats "embarrassing", he shouldn't miss this kind of chances.

Monreal: 6
Replaced Ramsey in the 88th minute to see out the victory.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Swansea 1 Arsenal 2

Arsenal visited Swansea for the tea-time kick-off on Saturday after their rivals had all dropped points earlier on the day. The two Manchester clubs both had sustained defeats at the hands of the Midland clubs, Aston Villa and West Brom. (After watching Man U beaten by West Brom, we thought our kids didn't do too bad a job mid-week after all). The second-placed Tottenham were held to a 1-1 draw by Chelsea. We really needed to win this game to take advantage of the rivals' slip-ups.

Prior to the day, all the pundits reckoned that this could be a stern test for Arsenal to prove their credentials as title contenders, with many expecting an open game because of the two clubs' similarly attacking style of play and predicting score draws as a result. The Liberty Stadium is always a difficult place for any team to come, but Arsenal managed to seal a win to equal the club-record of 8 consecutive away wins in the Premier League, which was set when they won the 2001/2 title, and extend it to 12 in all competitions. Incidentally, the win marked the 17th anniversary of Wenger taking charge as Arsenal manager amid the speculation that he is to sign the extension of his contract which expires next year.

Wenger fielded unchanged starting XI from the side who started in the 3-1 win against Stoke. To our surprise, Serge Gnabry kept his place after completing 120 minutes and penalty shoot-out midweek. This speaks volumes for the boss' faith in the 18-year-old German, which was rewarded as Gnabry became the second youngest Arsenal player to score in the Premier League after Cesc Fabregas.

The first half saw little of decisive action with no shots on target registered for the either side. Swansea looked more lively than us. However, we were more purposeful in the second half. Arsenal had three good chances after fluent movements and excellent team efforts and scored two goals out of those three clear-cut chances within just 5 minutes, with Ozil's effort denied by the Swansea goalkeeper between the two goals. This is the significant difference in this season's Arsenal team from the past. They finish when they get goal-scoring chances. Their league-top conversion rate of 20% demonstrates it. We are more clinical than before.

This game saw another unusual side of Arsenal's game, with a mere 42% of possession. This is probably because of changes in Arsenal's tactics in the second half, as Aaron Ramsey explained after the match. They let Swansea have the possession of the ball and tried to attack on the break. We are not bothered about the lower possession, but a passing accuracy rate of 78% is well below our standard and needs to be rectified.

It was very disappointing that we failed to keep a clean sheet. In fact, we have only kept one clean sheet so far this season, apart from the Champions League play-off games against Fenerbahce. Fortunately, we managed to hold on to the one-goal lead, but the late goal allowed Swansea to get back into the game and made it very difficult for us. Although the goal was very cleverly taken with Ben Davies' astute run, we have to cut out these kinds of mistakes.

Some say it is too early to say that Arsenal are legitimate title contenders before facing so-called big clubs. (These people obviously don't count Tottenham as a big club. Fair enough). It may be too early to start talking about the title at this stage of the season, but things certainly look bright for us. We are in a great run of form without quality players, like Rosicky, Cazorla, Podolski, Walcott and the Ox. (Oh, and don't forget Abu Diaby.) Gnabry stepped up and took his chance to break into the first team while Theo is sidelined. With these players coming back from injuries, Arsene Wenger will soon have multiple attacking options. Arteta's return is already causing the boss a dilemma with Flamini flourishing in the partnership with Ramsey in the central midfield. Who would have thought Arteta would have trouble getting into the team?

Players rating

Szczesny: 7
Made a few good stops, but his decisions are still questionable. Had a moment of madness which Michu nearly capitalised on in the first half.

Sagna: 7


Mertesacker: 7

Solid, but he should have checked Ben Davies' run and reacted more quickly.

Koscielny: 7

Assured performance. 

Gibbs: 7

Solid defensive display, good going forward as usual.

Flamini: 7
Committed performance.

Ramsey: 8

1 assist, 1 goal and 7 tackles. Overall man of the match performance. Enjoyed a fine goal in front of booing Swansea fans. Good on him!

Ozil: 7

Had a quiet game by his standard. Landed a great chance to open the goal-scoring account after collecting Ramsey's incisive pass only to be denied by the keeper.

Wilshere: 7

There is some criticism about his performance as the left-winger as he let the Swansea right-back exploit our left flank too often. However, he did well, considering the fact that he has been played out of position. His determination to win the ball and make a run led to our second goal. On the other hand, his casual back pass to Gibbs at the edge of the own box nearly allowed Bony to score a goal in the 75th minute. 

Gnabry: 8
Scored his first Premier League goal. Did some good defensive work as well.

Giroud: 7
Set up a goal for Ramsey with a superb back-heel pass. Should have converted a glorious chance at the end of the first half, but shot it wide. Hasn't scored for two games, but worked hard for the team.


Arteta: 6
78th-minute substitute for Gnabry. OK, he made only 6 passes during his short appearance, but his passing success rate of 50% is shocking by the high standard of last season's Premier League top passer.

Monreal: 6
Replaced Ozil in the 88th minute.

Jenkinson: N/A
Stoppage-time substitute for Jack Wilshere. Totally pointless substitution.