Tuesday, December 30, 2014

West Ham 1 Arsenal 2

Arsenal ended 2014 on a high with their second win of the festive period, leapfrogging their opponents to the fifth place, level on points with fourth-placed Southampton. It has been a stop-start season with the Gunners struggling to put more than two wins together, but the hard-fought win brought some optimistic feeling back to the fans.

We were bracing ourselves for a stern test prior to the game. The bookies gave us shorter odds to win this game, but we were not outright favourites. If we can manage to mess up a straightforward game, like a home clash with a QPR side whose away home has been woeful this season, anything could have gone wrong in a game against in-form West Ham, who have already beaten Liverpool 3-1 and Man City 2-1 at Upton Park. The only source of our hopes was the Gunners' excellent stats against the east Londoners. Arsenal have won 10 and drawn 2 in their last 12 Premier League games against West Ham, having won the last 7 games in a row. Upton Park has been the Gunners' happiest hunting ground since the start of the Premier League.

Arsene Wenger made 3 changes to the side that started in a 2-1 win over QPR less than 48 hours ago. The team welcomed a fit-again Laurant Koscielny, which meant that Nacho Monreal moved to his more familiar left-back position as Kieran Gibbs started on the bench. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was passed fit to play on the right wing, coming into the side for Olivier Giroud, who started his 3-match ban after mindlessly headbutting Onouha in the last game. Francis Coquelin was given his first league start since January 2013 to replace Tomas Rosicky, who impressed in the game against QPR. Wenger revealed that Rosicky had cramps in the calves and hamstrings when he was replaced in the 83rd minute of the QPR game. As a result, Little Mozart was given a full recovery day. On the bench, David Ospina, Lukas Podolski, Joel Campbell, Calum Chambers, Theo Walcott, and Chuba Akpom occupied other places.

The boss admitted that he took a gamble on handing Coquelin a start. Rotation was inevitable in the busy Christmas schedule, but balance was the key. The deployment of the young French midfielder alongside Mathieu Flamini looked a little bit too conservative, but it was Wenger's tactics to give extra protection for the back four against West Ham's aerial threats. West Ham have been impressive this season with their free-flowing football and the change to more attractive style won back their fans' support for Sam Allardyce. However, Wenger's tactics were spot on this day as Big Sam had decided to adopt his old Bolton-style approach against us.

Talking about tactics, the fans' opinions were divided on Wenger's defensive-minded substitutions for the last 3 games in a row. After the Liverpool game, in which 3 defenders and 2 defensive midfielders could not help stop the Mersey-side team equalising from a set-piece in stoppage time, we expected Wenger might think twice on holding onto a narrow lead by bringing on more defenders. On contrary, the Frenchman resorted to the same tactics against QPR once we went down to 10 men. We ask ourselves if Theo Walcott and/or Lukas Podolski might have given us a goal that would have relieved all the pressure in these games, especially when we looked so dangerous on the break even with 10 men.

The significant moment of the game was arguably ex-Gunner Alex Song's disallowed goal. The assistant referee deemed one of the three West Ham players who were in off-side positions, namely Andy Carroll, to have obstructed Szczesny's view. As none of those West Ham players did not seem to have touched the ball, West Ham supporters and Sam Allardyce alike were extremely unhappy with the decision, however if a player lets the ball go through his legs he is in effect 'playing' the ball. We must say that we were lucky in that the linesman took the view that he did in this case as it does not always happen. That said, the decision was perfectly legal and the fact that Szczesny did not move at all backs the linesman's reasoning.

We had to endure another tense ending to a game as the scoreline stayed 2-1 for as long as 40 minutes, but Arsenal stood firm defensively for the majority of time. It was a pity that they allowed West Ham to score just after Per Mertesacker expertly cleared the ball under the pressure from Andy Carroll. On the attacking side, it was Arsenal who had better chances. Like against QPR, they created so many chances on the counter-attack, but finishes left a lot to be desired or wrong decisions were taken on the final ball at times, while on a few occasions, Adrian pulled off amazing saves. Santi's penalty in the 40th minute was virtually our first shot on target, but we managed 8 shots on target throughout the game.

The stats paint a totally different picture to Arsenal's typical games. Arsenal's dominance in possession was absent in this game with a mere 42% possession. Their passing success rate was also meagre at 65%, bringing down their average rate in the Premier League to 84.1%. After the match, Wenger admitted that you have to sacrifice your creativity for physical battles at times as it is a part of English football. His side coped well with West Ham's long-ball approaches. In his post-match interview, Santi Cazorla emphasised the importance of winning the second ball, which appeared to have been Wenger's instructions. Each player knew their part and played it well as a unit.

After the well-deserved 2-1 victory, Arsenal are just outside the Champions League spot with only the goal difference keeping them out of it. 6 points from the Christmas period is not a bad return, considering that Van Gaal blamed fixture congestion during the festive period for his players' lack of sharpness after Manchester United's goalless draw with Tottenham.

Games come thick and fast at this time of the season. Arsenal will face 4th-placed Southampton on New Year's Day. The game offers a great chance to climb the table, but it is going to be another tough test.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 7
Unusually came out to claim the ball on every opportunity. Failed to get the ball on only one occasion towards the end, but did well overall. Helped the defence immensely. On the other hand, his 26.5 % passing success rate indicates poor distribution, which is something he has to improve on.

Dubuchy: 7
Lower ratings have been seen for him because 
he was out-jumped by Kouyate and had a hand (or head) in the West Ham goal, but he put in a very combative display overall. Andy Carroll's elbow in the early stages of the game did not stop him playing. Combined with the Ox well at times to pose a threat going forward.

Mertesacker: 7
A lot more courageous display from a much-maligned defender. Made 4 tackles 3 interceptions and 9 clearances. On the other hand, poor passing (72.7% accuracy) from a normally assured passer.

Koscielny: 7
Glad to have him back. His 52.5% passing accuracy was shocking, though, even considering the pressure he went under.

Monreal: 6

Flamini: 6
Did OK.

Coquelin: 7
Made 4 tackles and 4 interceptions. As Wenger said, he faded in the last 20 minutes, but he put in a decent performance overall.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 8
Provided an assist for Welbeck's goal with a pin-point low cross. He was dangerous on the break.

Cazorla: 8

Pulled the strings at the heart of Arsenal attack. He was the most creative player in the entire Premier League on this day with 8 key passes. Made no mistake from the spot after earning a penalty. Had 4 shots, 3 of which were on target.

Sanchez: 7
Usual hard working self, but not his best game. Had 7 shots, of which only 1 was on target.

Welbeck: 7
It was good to see him back on the scoresheet, but he could have scored 2 more goals. One attempt was denied by Adrian's superb save, while he blasted high when he only had Adrian to beat after gifted a loose ball.


Gibbs: 6
Replaced Welbeck in the 83rd minute.

Chambers: 6
Replaced the Ox in the 90th minute.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Galatasaray 1 Arsenal 4

Although Arsenal still had a chance to win  Group D and get a favourable draw for the next round, with their place in the knock-out stages already secured, Arsene Wenger's priority was clear as he left Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck, Kieran Gibbs, Laurant Koscielny, and Santi Cazorla at home to give them a breather. Maybe the Frenchman's estimate of 10% was right for Arsenal's chance to go through as the top of the group. Dortmund losing at home was almost inconceivable, while it looked an unlikely scenario that the Gunners would beat Galatasaray in Istanbul by six goals or more, combined with a draw between Dortmund and Anderlecht. For this final group stage fixture, the focus was thus on Arsenal's performance rather than a result, following their shocking defensive display in the first half against Stoke three days ago. The team needed to put things right, while some players had a point to prove.

Arsene Wenger took the unusual step of revealing his starting line-up 24 hours before the game. There were 5 changes to the starting XI that played in the 3-2 defeat to Stoke. Wojciech Szczesny, who missed 3 games through a hip injury and sat out one, replaced his deputy Emi Martinez, while Mathieu Debuchy made a much-awaited return after a 3-month lay-off through a damaged ankle ligament. Hector Bellerin was moved to left-back in place of rested Kieran Gibbs. Apparently, the 19 year-old Spaniard did play at left-back at times when he was with Watford on loan, so he was not totally unfamiliar with the position. Lukas Podolski, Joel Cambell, and Yaya Sanogo came in for Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez, and Olivier Giroud. Six young players were on the bench, including Alex Iwobi, Chuba Akpom, and Glen Kamara.

The game started in a contrasting way to last weekend's clash with Stoke. Arsenal took the lead just 3 minutes into the game through Poldi's powerful shot from the left-hand channel. Ramsey's composed finish from inside the area and his breathtaking left-footed volley from 30 yards out put us in a comfortable position within 30 minutes of kick-off. Arsenal looked dangerous and purposeful every time they went forward, which was quite refreshing. In Germany, Dortmund and Anderlecht finished the first half goalless. At half time, an idea suddenly dawned on us that we might be able to win the group. A six-goal margin looked impossible prior to the game, but we were half way there.

At half time, Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini were withdrawn due to a tight hamstring and a calf problem coupled with a yellow card, respectively. After the match, Wenger assured us that they should be OK for Saturday's match. Gedion Zelalem and Ainsley Maitland-Niles were introduced in their place, but the withdrawal of the two senior midfielders clearly led to the loss of momentum in attacking. It is impossible to replace Aaron Ramsey when he is playing at his full potential. On top of that, those who were not used to play full games, such as Poldi and Campbell, visibly faded midway through the second half.

On the defensive side, as Galatasaray came out brightly in the second half, the memory of allowing Anderlecht to come back from 3 goals down might have come across our defenders' mind.

Galatasaray had an opportunity to give their home fans something to cheer about through Sneijder's free-kick. The Spanish referee gave Galatasaray the free-kick in a dangerous place as Mertesacker was adjudged to have handled the ball, but it was a harsh decision as he was turning his back to the ball and there was nothing he could do to avoid the ball hitting his arm in the close range.

There was still time left, though, for Arsenal to add the fourth goal. Poldi shrugged off two defenders to collect the ball back from Sanogo and slotted past the goalkeeper with his weaker right foot. It was virtually the last kick of the game.

It was a perfect response to the disappointment on Saturday. An Arsenal side proved that they are not a one-man team. Without Sanchez, they still produced 4 superb goals. There were encouraging signs that suggested Aaron Ramsey might have rediscovered last season's form. He was outstanding with his all-round display. He made an important and perfectly-timed tackle in the box, while he instigated the swift movement leading to Poldi's first goal by making a thrusting run from deep and set up the German striker for the goal with an incisive pass. His two goals demonstrated the different aspects of his finishing: accuracy, composure, technique and confidence. All of these were the traits of his peak performances during last season. Especially, both his goals came from his weaker left foot, which suggest that his confidence is back. Hopefully, he can build on from this night's performance.

Ramsey's second goal not only won plaudits from the pundits, but went viral. Interestingly, Arsene Wenger revealed that he wasn't impressed with the Welshman's decision when he saw him taking a shot from 30 yards out. We must say it was extraordinary luck for any Arsenal shot to hit the back of the net after evading all those bodies. It doesn't happen to us very often.

Another positive was the return of Mathieu Debuchy. The French right-back showed what we were missing for the last three months and his return will no doubt solidify our defence.

In addition, Poldi and Campbell had a rare full game. Their performances underlined Arsenal's depth of the squad in attack. After the match, Wenger was adamant that Campbell was not leaving in January.

Unfortunately, the 4-1 victory was not enough to win the Group D, but the team can take encouragement from their impressive first-half performance. In  hindsight, surrendering the 3-goal lead against Anderlecht cost us dearly. However, they have achieved the primary target for this game, which was to restore their pride and boost morale for the forthcoming Premier League games. The north London club await Monday's draw to find out who they are going to face in the next round of the Champions League, but before that, we have a massive game against an in-form Newcastle side.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 6
There were a few evidences of the lack of communications with the defenders. He doesn't command his area strongly enough.

Dubuchy: 8
Great to see a strong performance on his return after three months on the sidelines. Made 3 tackles, 6 interceptions and 5 clearances. Replaced by Stefan O'Connor in the 77th minute. Hopefully the game served as a good run-out for him ahead of a big match against his former club.

Chambers: 7
Much improved display. 4 interceptions and 9 clearances. This night's performance must have helped him to restore his confidence.

Mertesacker: 7
Looked solid. Made important blocks.

Bellerin: 6
Did OK in a relatively unfamiliar position.

Flamini: 7
Marked Sneijder well, but was shown a yellow card. Made 22 passes with an impressive 100% accuracy. Replaced by Ainsley Maitland-Niles at half time.

Ramsey: 9

Sky Sports and Arsenal fans' Man of the Match. Scored 2 goals and set up another. Replaced by Gedion Zelalem at half time.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 8
Provided an assist for Aaron Ramsey's first goal. The Daily Mirror named him Man of the Match. Made 3 key passes and a total of 61 passes with a 90.1% passing success rate.

Campbell: 7

Looked dangerous. Unlucky not to score when he was released behind the defenders only to be denied by a superb save from Bolat.

Podolski: 8
Had 4 shots, of which 3 were on target, and also hit the crossbar. He even tracked back. One of those gutsy efforts (to be honest, another referee could have given Galatasaray a free-kick for that) led to Ramsey's first goal. 90.6% passing success rate was impressive for a striker.

Sanogo: 6
His holding-up play left a lot to be desired.


Zelalem: 6
Replaced Ramsey at half time.

Maitland-Niles: 7
Replaced Flamini at half time. The 17-year-old winger made his first-team debut. Wenger's instruction for him was to mark Wesley Sneijder tight, and he did a good job. Made 3 tackles and 1 interception.

O'Conner: 6
Replaced Debuchy in the 77th minute at right-back. The 17-year-old centre-back became the second player to make his first-team debut this night. Made 3 interceptions and 3 clearances.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Stoke City 3 Arsenal 2

Arsenal almost completed a great comeback after falling 3-0 down at half time. Our defence was shambolic in the first half, but we take heart from our spirited fight-back in the second half.

Arsene Wenger made three changes from the side that started in a hard-fought 1-0 win over the second-placed Southampton on Wednesday night. Kieran Gibbs was fit again in time to replace an injured Nacho Monreal. Laurant Koscielny was not risked for a third game in a week after an 8-week layoff through Achilles tendinitis. Calum Chambers was moved to the central defence, while Hector Bellerin started in his second Premier League game at right-back. Wenger seemed to have been very reluctant to play two 19-year-old defenders together, but the injury crisis at the back left him no option. Danny Welbeck, who needed a breather as well as suffering a minor groin problem, was replaced by Olivier Giroud. A 19-year-old defender, Semi Ajayi and a 17-year-old forward, Ainsley Maitland-Niles were among substitutions, along with Koscielny, a fit-again Wojciech Szczesny, Lukas Podolski, Welbeck, and Joel Campbell.

We had been calling for the deployment of Chambers and Bellerin as a CB and a RB, respectively, rather than playing Moreal and Chambers out of position. We thought Wenger was just too stubborn to listen to the others, but at least he proved in this game that he was right to be reluctant to play two inexperienced defenders together. Another draw-back of this back four was Per Mertesacker playing as a left-sided centre-back, which we had already been aware of. It seemed to have totally confused his positional sense. In fact, after the match, Mertesacker admitted "sometimes when you’re not used to a position, you can find yourself one or two yards from the right position". On top of that, when Mertesacker tries to play Koscielny's role in the central defensive partnership, i.e., anticipating and winning the ball as high up on the pitch as possible, his lack of pace always lets him down as he cannot get back in time to cover for the other centre-back. It's impossible for him to replace the French centre-back. Koscielny was sorely missed.

Arsenal went into this game on the back of three straight wins and three clean sheets. Previously, Wenger had admitted their defensive fragility earlier in the season and said that it was very difficult to win a football match if they conceded two goals every game. Never mind two goals, it proved to be just too big a task to overcome a three goal deficit. The improvement in defence was a major factor behind Arsenal's recent revival, so it was quite disheartening to see poor defensive performance again in this game. The problem was largely attributed to injury to key defenders, but Wenger has only himself to blame. He started the season with only 6 defenders for 4 positions (obviously, Bellerin was not fully in his plan), which was totally inadequate given our injury history.

There were two significant  points in this game. The first one was Olivier Giroud's miss when he had a free header only to beat Begovic, but he couldn't even put it on target. At that time, we were only 1-0 down. A quick equaliser could no doubt have changed the game. The second significant point was when Alexis Sanchez hit the post after waltzing past Shawcross and rounding Begovic. We never doubted for a second he would find the net in this situation as he repeatedly did it even from more difficult angles. However, it wasn't to be.

After the defeat, Arsene Wenger was under even more pressure from the fans, but he deserves credit for his bold decision to replace Bellerin for Welbeck at half-time. He was criticised after the Swansea game for not adapting his tactics even though Chambers was clearly struggling to cope with Swansea's pacy left winger. His substitution was spot on as Welbeck made an immediate impact. On this occasion, the Frenchman even changed the formation as well as personnel. With three centre-backs at the back, Arsenal pushed for goals.

Another talking point was the referee's decisions. Antony Taylor made some poor decisions. This was the referee whose two wrong decisions cost us three points on the opening day of the last season against Aston Villa. To point out a few, Alexis was fouled on the left flank, but instead of showing a yellow card, Taylor gave a free-kick to Stoke. It was baffling why Charlie Adam was allowed to stay on the pitch after he was witnessed with his arm tightly around Alexis' neck.

Calum Chambers was sent off after shown a yellow card for his innocuous looking foul. Peter Crouch was allowed to commit far worse fouls all through the game, but got away with just one yellow card. Danny Welbeck was tripped by the Stoke right-back when the England striker was about to get behind the Stoke defence, latching on to a long ball. Not only the stoke defender escaped a booking, but the referee gave a throw-in to Stoke.

The biggest positive to take from this game was undoubtedly the character the team showed. Their spirited fightback sent Stoke into panic and they finished the game on front foot despite a man down.

Another positive was the goal sources. Santi Cazorla stepped up to take a penalty in the absence of Mikel Arteta, the first-choice penalty taker and scored his first goal of the season. Aaron Ramsey was also back on the scoresheet with his superb shot.

Our day could have been better if the Gunners had completed their comeback, but still it was not the end of the world. Chelsea's unbeaten run was ended earlier in the day, which meant the Invincibles' record remained intact for another season. Tottenham and Liverpool only drew, while Everton lost.

We are glad that Arsenal have already qualified for the knock-out stage of the Champions League. Although we still have a chance to win the Group D, Wenger is unlikely to risk any key players on the edge of getting injured for this game. For example, he has already made it clear that Alexis would not travel to Turkey. Koscielny is also ruled out for Tuesday's game, but expected to be back in contention for the next Premier League game against Newcastle after being rested. Chambers will serve his suspension against Newcastle, but the timely return of Mathieu Debuchy should mitigate the situation. Wenger suggested that the French right-back might even be included in the squad against Galatasaray. Hopefully, with the return of Koscielny and Debuchy, our defence will be much improved. Wenger will strengthen the defence in January without doubt.

Players ratings

Martinez: 6
He had strong performances in the last three games and was given another chance even after Szczesny was fit again, but he looked a little shaky at times.

Bellerin: 4
Couldn't cope with the intensity of the game, getting dispossessed too easily. On the other hand, he made a good run, making the most of his well-known pace, and delivered a perfect cross from the by-line. Replaced by Welbeck at half time.

Chambers: 5
At fault for Stoke's first goal by missing his header to attack Nzonzi's cross and for the second goal by not checking Bojan's run.

Mertesacker: 6
Not the same without Koscielny. He should have shown more leadership as team captain and most experienced defender in the back four.

Gibbs: 6
He was culpable  in the build-up of the second goal by letting the cross in.

Flamini: 6
Earned a penalty with his run into the box. He was moved to right wing-back in the second half. His crosses left much to be desired.

Ramsey: 7

It was a difficult game for him as Stoke fans constantly booed him for having his leg broken. He couldn't match the Stoke midfield in the first half, but he took his goal very well. We hope to see him more in that situation, popping up in the box unexpectedly.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
Made 3 key passes, had a shot, which was off target.

Alexis: 7

Worked hard and influential in our attacking play as usual, but missed a gilt-edged opportunity. Made 4 key passes, had 4 shots, of which 2 were on target and 1 hit the woodwork.

Cazorla: 7
His performances were rather disappointing in the last two games after we thought he had finally hit his best form against Dortmund and West Brom. Scored form the spot.

Giroud: 5
He should have at least hit the target.


Welbeck: 7
Made a big impact when he came on at half-time. Looked dangerous. 

Podolski: 6
Replaced Giroud in the 62nd minute. Had 1 shot, which was on target.

Campbell: N/A
Replaced Gibbs in second-half stoppage time. No time to make difference.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Swansea 2 Arsenal 1

After their surrender of a 3-0 lead midweek, we hoped that our beloved club would have regrouped themselves by this game only to be disappointed with their inability to hold onto the lead again and defensive fragility.

Arsene Wenger only made a forced change from the side that started in the disheartening 3-3 draw with Anderlecht at the Emirates on Tuesday night. Mathieu Flamini came in for Mikel Arteta, who suffered a grade-one hamstring strain during the midweek game. Theo Walcott continued to start from the bench, alongside the young keeper Emi Martinez, Hector Bellerin, Lukas Podolski, Yaya Sanogo and Jack Wilshere, who had recovered from illness which ruled him out of Tuesday's clash with Anderlecht. It is a baffling question why Yaya Sanogo, who still has no goals to his name apart from his 4 goals in a pre-season friendly against Benfica, comes ahead of Joel Campbell in the pecking order.

While we have been without a few key players, Swansea had their own injury problems in addition to the suspension of Jonjo Shelvey. Without the pacey wingers in Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge, combined with injury to their first-choice centre-back, we felt that this could be our lucky day. However, they grew in confidence as Arsenal took a cautious approach at the beginning of the first half. The first half was a fairly even affair, although Arsenal finished it strongly, starting to look more threatening going forward.

Arsenal continued where they left at the end of the first half, and Arsenal's pressure finally told in the 64th minute, when the Ox broke at pace on the right flank, did very well to stay on his feet, and found Danny Welbeck who cut back inside and picked out Alexis, who made no mistake to slot it home. However, in the 75th minute, Wojciech Szczesny couldn't do anything about Sigurdsson's sublime free-kick. Now Swansea had a momentum behind them and Arsenal were losing midfield battles. In the 78th minute, Calum Chambers, who had been struggling against Montero all afternoon, was beaten again, letting him deliver a cross to Gomis, who rose higher than Nacho Monreal to beat Szczesny.

Once again, Arenal's defensive solidity was questioned as well as tactical awareness. It's easy to say that this has happened to Arsenal time and again, but last season, we were fairly solid in such cases. The best example was the Napoli game at home. Arsenal outplayed the Serie A side throughout the first half with attacking flair, but they shut the shop in the second half and concentrated on keeping a clean sheet. The two league north London derbies last season were another example. After an early goal, Arsenal defended resolutely against Tottenham's waves of attack. Sometimes the team seemed to have made their own decisions to shut the shop, while on other occasions, Wenger sent Vermaelen and Monreal/Jenkinson on the pitch to shore up the defence and see out a victory for the last 10 to 15 minutes. We have no such  luxury this season with our lack of defensive cover.  OK, we were a bit unlucky on the injury front as we lost Mathieu Debuchy as early as early September to a long-term injury. But starting the season with just 7 defenders in 4 positions was a madness rather than a gamble if we were to compete on 3 different fronts (4 if you included the Capital One Cup). Not signing a centre-back cover upon the departure of Vermaelen is expected to come back to haunt us again this season, considering the chronic nature of Koscielny's Achilles injury.

In the post-match interview, asked about the timing of substitutions, Wenger defended his decision not to bring on any substitutions until 80th minutes by stating that he had no experienced player on the bench, after admitting that he had recognised their struggle on the right side. If Wenger doesn't trust Hector Bellerin, then why did he send Carl Jenkinson on loan? Bellerin may lack experience and defensive edge, but at least he has been playing as a right-back at the U-21 level for some while. Besides, the 19-year-old Spaniard has great pace, which saw him break Theo Walcott's club sprint record. He definitely deserves more chances rather than playing Chambers (watching his games in both roles, by now we know he is more of a CB rather a RB) and Monreal out of position repeatedly and hoping for the best.

Another position in which we desperately need reinforcement is a defensive midfielder. We, the fans, were crying out for the signing of a defensive midfielder all through the summer, but Wenger did nothing about it. After the match, he admitted that losing some challenges in the middle of the park (but not necessarily at the fault of midfielders, but defenders' and strikers', he added) allowed Swansea to get back into the game. If we had a physically strong defensive midfielder who likes to defend, this wouldn't have happened. Now that we have great pace collectively up front, it would be a great situation if we had such a defensive midfielder to break up opponents' attacks and turn them into quick counter-attacks. All in all, we think that the current shambles in our defence has stemmed from Wenger's stubborn refusal to attach more importance to the defensive side of the game.

It was a further demoralising end to Arsenal's dismal week. Manuel Pellegrini, whose side has also been on a bad patch, has welcomed the international break, but we could also do with a rest. Let's hope our players will come back from international duty in 2 weeks time healthy and hopefully confident, while the other who will stay at Club will have a refreshing week and then return to training with renewed focus because we have two tough home games against Manchester United and Dortmund coming up after the international break.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 6
Was helpless to save Swansea's two goals.

Chambers: 5
Had a torrid time against Montero and Taylor. He was beaten too easily. 

Mertesacker: 6
He helped Chambers when he could, but still beaten.

Monreal: 5
Lost aerial battle against Gomis for the goal, but he is not a natural centre-back with no physical attribute for it either.

Gibbs: 6
He was caught out in Swansea's counter-attack and had no choice but to foul Barrow. The subsequent free-kick triggered Swansea's come-back.

Flamini: 6
Worked hard, but some of his tackles were perhaps lucky not to be punished. Shown a yellow card.

Ramsey: 5

We expected a spirited performance from a Cardiff boy in his personal South Wales derby, which came after he reportedly received criticism from Wenger on his recent performances, but we were disappointed with his lukewarm display on this day. That said, he had our best effort in the first half as his volley went tantalisingly close. 

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
Our best player in this game. He posed a threat every time he had the ball, but gave it away too often. His passing accuracy of 75.7% left much to be desired. He was great going forward, but he should have helped Chambers more.

Alexis: 7

Clinical finish, but not his best game as Wenger stated. He lost the ball too often, illustrated by his passing success rate of a meagre 70.7%.

Cazorla: 5
Yet to hit his best form

Welbeck: 6
Unlucky not to score when he hit the target only to be denied by Fabianski's superb reflex save. Made a few wrong decisions on the final balls. Provided an assist for Alexis' goal.


Wilshere: 6
Replaced Flamini in the 80th minute as Arsenal chase an equaliser. Little impact. 

Walcott: 6
Came off the bench in the 80th minute for Ramsey. Had a half-chance when he was released behind the defenders, but failed to control the ball. 

Sanogo: 5
Replaced Chambers in the 90th minute. Don't understand why he is ahead of Campbell 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Arsenal 3 Burnley 0

Paul Merson said it was about time Arsenal had ripped somebody apart and he was predicting an emphatic 5-0 home win. But were we, the supporters, as optimistic as the former Gunner? The north London club have been struggling to find their trademark fluidity and form. In fact, the last weekend's 2-0 triumph over Sunderland was their first back-to-back win this season following an unconvincing victory against Anderlecht. The Gunners were strong favourites, going into the clash with bottom-of-the table Burnley, but we never expected a victory to come so easily. Pre-match reports suggested that the Turf Moor side was likely to sit back like all the visitors (even Chelsea) do at the Emirates. We were ready for another frustrating afternoon.

With Kieran Gibbs (hip) passing a late fitness test, Arsenal's starting XI remained intact from a 2-0 win at Sunderland last weekend. The more conservative Flamini-Arteta partnership in midfield raised some eyebrows, but a clean sheet still seemed to be the priority for Arsene Wenger. On the back of the success at the Stadium of Light, Alexis Sanchez was awarded a free-roaming No. 10 role again in this game. A fit-again Theo Walcott was on the bench once again, alongside Aaron Ramsey, Emiliano Martinez, Hector Bellerin, Lukas Podolski, Tomas Rosicky, and Yaya Sanogo who had recovered from a hamstring (or back, according to some sources) injury.

We always knew that once we had got an all-important first goal, the flood gate will open. It took us 70 minutes to break Burnely's resistance. The man to break the deadlock was once again Alexis Sanchez. Meeting with Calum Chamber's cross, the 5'7" forward rose high between the two Burnley centre-backs to head the ball past Tom Heaton. Arsene Wenger heaped praises for Alexis' desire and determination later, describing his first goal as "an English forward's goal".

Two minutes later, Calum Chambers converted the rebound from Welbeck's close-range shot to mark his first senior goal. In injury time, Alexis added the 10th goal of the season to his tally, almost walking into goal after collecting Gibbs' low cross from the left-hand channel.

Arsenal's onslaught in the closing stages was just breath-taking. We had finally seen our Arsenal at their fluent best. One of the differences in this game was the use of width. The two full-backs were excellent going forward, with Chambers and Gibbs both providing assists for Alexis' goals. Perhaps the fact that Burnley did not stretch our defence helped the full-backs join the attack more freely. The Ox also made runs to the by-line, whipping a few good crosses into the box. When Theo replaced the Ox, the England striker took over the responsibility and nearly made an assist through an inch-perfect cross to Poldi, whose powerful shot was denied by the post.

Our defence still looked fragile at times, but they were in a much better shape than before. According to Welbecks, they were told to press high up on the pitch prior to the Sunderland game. They continued to do so in this game, perhaps encouraged by Alexis' two goals against Sunderland.

One of the biggest positives from this game was Theo's return to action for the first time since 4th January. It is an exciting outlook for the future Arsenal line-up once the England striker gets up to the speed. But who would you drop for him?

Another positive aspect of the game was the number of shots we had. Arsenal registered 32 shots, more than any other Premier League team in a single game this season. One could argue that 3 goals are a poor return on the home side's overwhelming domination and the number of shots on target (12), but it is an encouraging sign as we are always screaming at them to shoot, while watching them play on the TV screens.

They say it's getting harder and harder to get a penalty these days, the fact that was highlighted in the Manchester derby this weekend. We had a legitimate penalty claim turned down in this game, too. Boyd handled the ball in the box, with his arm in the air in order to change the direction of the corner. With this incident happening in early stages of the game, its outcome could have undoubtedly changed the course of the game.

For the first time this season, we didn't want the game to end. We imagine that the dressing room must have been equally buzzing after the match. Arsenal's attack seemed to have clicked finally. Hopefully, the team will build on this performance, going into the crucial home game against Anderlecht on Tuesday night. Our win combined with Dortmund win or draw against Galatasaray will ensure our place in the knock-out stage with two games to spare.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 6
With Burnley registering only 2 shots on target, he had little to do. His decision and concentration level were severely questioned after he needlessly rushed out despite the situation perfectly covered by Mertesacker, who actually made a tackle to avoid the danger.

Chambers: 8
Scored his first senior goal and provided an assist for Alexis' first goal. Went forward more often to support the Ox. 

Mertesacker: 7
Solid. Made a last-man tackle.

Monreal: 7
Had a steady game. He has been improving in an unfamiliar role game by game.

Gibbs: 8
Great going forward. Made an assist for Alexis' injury-time goal.

Flamini: 7
Made a mistake in the first half, but made up for it with the two crucial last-ditch interceptions. He snuffed out any attack instigated by Burnley in midfield. Solid game.

Arteta: 7
Quietly did his job, but he should have done better, when he had a clear sight of the goal, rather than shooting hastily with his weaker left foot. Replaced by Ramsey
 in the 63rd minute to give more attacking impetus.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 8
Lively. Created 4 chances. A better passing accuracy of 82.9% in this game.

Alexis: 9

Unanimous Man of the Match. Worked tirelessly and rewarded with two goals.

Cazorla: 6
Created 5 goal-scoring opportunities and had 6 shots, one of which was on target. Made 5 key passes with an impressive 95.6% overall passing success rate. Although some of his efforts were good and close, his finishing needs improving. He should have scored at least a goal out from a number of opportunities he had.

Welbeck: 6
Worked hard, but largely ineffective, although he was unlucky on some occasions. On other occasions, his final decisions left much to be desired. Had 5 shots, one of which was on target.


Ramsey: 6
Replaced Arteta in the 63rd minute to add attacking impetus. Had 3 shots, one of which forced a superb save from Heaton. 

Walcott: 6
Came off the bench in the 80th minute for the Ox. Great to see him on the pitch again. Looked sharp. His shot drew a fine save from Heaton and nearly made an assist.

Podolski: 6
Replaced Welbeck 10 minutes from time. Had 3 shots. He was unlucky not to score, with his two powerful efforts denied by Heaton's sublime save and the woodwork.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sunderland 0 Arsenal 2

This was the match Arsenal had to take maximum points from, following the disappointing 2-2 draw with Hull at home last weekend. Meanwhile, Sunderland suffered a humiliating 8-0 defeat at Southampton last Saturday. We didn't know how it would affect them on the day. Their confidence must have been shot, but they needed to respond strongly in front of the home crowd. Many speculated that Sunderland would ring quite a few changes if not wholesale, but options were limited given the depth of the squad. Arsenal went into the game as favourites, but a few pundits predicted a 1-1 draw, taking into account the Gunners' recent poor performances and Sunderland's possible response.

Arsene Wenger made three changes from the side that started in a dramatic 2-1 win in Brussels in midweek. Wojciech Szczesny replaced Emiliano Martinez in goal after serving a European ban. Mikel Arteta made a first start since his return from a calf injury he suffered in the north London derby, while Aaron Ramsey dropped to the bench after completing 90 minutes for the first time since his return from injury on Wednesday night. Jack Wilshere was suspended after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season against Hull. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came into the side instead. These two changes in the midfield indicated Wenger's focus on defending, with two defence-minded midfielders as double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 formation. This would release Sanchez into a more attacking role. The Frenchman has been emphasising the importance of clean sheets by stating that it is difficult to win a football match by scoring more goals than conceded, when you let in two goals every game.

The surprise inclusion in the squad was Theo Walcott, who made the bench for the first time since he was stretchered off with a ruptured cruciate knee ligament in the FA Cup third round against Tottenham at the beginning of January this year. In his pre-match interview, Wenger ruled him out of this match due to lack of competitive match time and assured the media of the Englishman's involvement in the next week's clash with Burnley. We suspected that Wenger's intention was to give Theo a run-out if Arsenal were cruising with no pressure in the closing stages of the game. Martinez, Bellerin, Rosicky, Campbell and Podolski occupied the remaining seats on the bench.

Arsenal enjoyed a large portion of possession in the first half, which was as much as some 70% in the opening 10 minutes or so. However, they struggled to find clear-cut chances as Sunderland defended deep, which was a natural reaction to such a big defeat that they have suffered recently. Then, Arsenal took the lead out of nothing. Alexis capitalised on Wes Brown's mistake and kept his cool to dink the ball over the former Gunner, Vito Mannone.

Falling behind, Sunderland came out to attack after the break, but this also presented us with opportunities to attack on the break at the same time. If our final balls had been better, especially Cazorla's finishing had been clinical, Arsenal could have won the game by a bigger margin, but we had to wait for a second goal to be completely relaxed until the third minute of stoppage time. We had to feel for Mannone who spent 8 years with Arsenal. At Doolan's Irish Bar, our goal celebration was rather subdued, but the final whistle brought a big cheer.

The two goals came from the opponents' errors and there is no denying that the Gunners were still far from their fluent best. However, we got the result we wanted and more importantly a clean sheet. Prior to the match, Per Mertesacker's comment that he lacked "motivation" after the Word Cup infuriated a section of Arsenal fans. However, as one of the fans pointed out, he probably meant "focus" rather than "motivation" and his "focus" in this game was spot on. His sliding challenge on van Aanholt was crucial as the subsequent clearance led to Brown's mistake and then our first goal. The clean sheet should help our defenders' confidence. When Gibbs was replaced after being injured the defence was reorganised and looked better balanced with Monreal playing in his proper role as left back, Chambers moving to the middle and Bellerin taking over at right back.

Looking back at the weekend results, winning all three points was imperative as Man City lost to West Ham at Upton Park earlier on Saturday, while Liverpool dropped two points to Hull at Anfield in a Saturday normal kick-off. Tottenham suffered a shock defeat to Newcastle at White Hart Lane at Sunday lunch-time, while Chelsea's victory was denied at the death by RVP's equaliser at Old Trafford on Sunday evening. It would have been great to see Chelsea's unbeaten run ended, but on the other hand, we didn't want to see Man U go a point ahead of us and gather momentum for their top-four finish aspiration.

We wouldn't like to repeat the old cliche used so often last season, "grinding out a result when you are not playing well is champions' trait". As we learnt last season from early February onwards, poor performances will eventually catch up with you. Arsenal need to start playing well quickly. Hopefully, we can build on this win now that our run of winnable games continues. The one thing for sure is that fifth place is closer to where we want to be than we have been this season.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 6
Rushing out unnecessarily in a situation well covered by our defenders, the Pole headed the ball straight at van Aanholt as he thought he was about to step outside his area. Thankfully, the full-back's attempt flew wide as Mertesacker ran to cover the goal. Other than that, he did his job all right against 3 shots on target created by Sunderland.

Chambers: 6
Struggled to contain Sunderland's attack on their left flank. Moved to the centre-back position on the departure of Kieran Gibbs in the 73rd minute and looked more comfortable in that position.

Mertesacker: 7
His concentration level was up to scratch in this game.

Monreal: 7
Made an impressive 5 interceptions and 9 clearances. Stood strong against a physical Sunderland side, but it was clear that he preferred playing as a left-back. He made a great run forward as soon as he had replaced an injured Kieran Gibbs at left-back.

Gibbs: 6
Picked up a knock (according to Wenger, it's a hip problem). He doesn't seem to be able to play 3 games running without getting injured and sidelined for a couple of weeks afterwards. Shame.

Flamini: 7
Tenacious. Made 6 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 66 passes with an impressive 95.5% passing accuracy.

Arteta: 7
Kept the ball well. Made 84 passes with a 89.3% passing success rate.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
Quiet game. His passing completion rate of 67.7% was extremely poor. Doesn't seem to be able to put consistent performances together.

Alexis: 9

Where would we be without him? His persistent chase forced mistakes from Wes Brown and Vito Mannone. Had 5 shots, 3 of which were on target, and made 2 key passes. On the defensive side, the Chile international was also impressive with 5 tackles and 2 interceptions. He was Whoscored.com's Man of the Match with a 9.7 rating.

Cazorla: 5
His finishing was woeful. Despite time and space he had with a clear sight of goal, some of his finishes were utterly appalling.

Welbeck: 6
Made 4 key passes. Had 2 shots, 1 of which was not too far off the target. Can anybody explain why he was shown a yellow card?


Bellerin: 6
Came on the pitch in the 73rd minute for an injured Kieran Gibbs. His first contribution was giving the ball away, but he tracked back quickly and won it back. Made a good run, but his cross was poor.

Ramsey: 6
Replaced Arteta in the 87th minute. Made a great breaking run. Had 1 shot and made 1 key pass.

Podolski: 6
Replaced the Ox in the 89th minute. No time to make an impact. Made just 1 touch.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Anderlecht 1 Arsenal 2

Arsene Wenger turned 65 this day, but the birthday did not help ease the pressure on him. Arsenal fans have been increasingly unhappy with their club's season so far, many of whom blamed the Frenchman for the disappointing start to the season. Their discontents are centred around his failure to sign a defensive back-up upon the departure of Thomas Vermaelen, struggle to find the best team and formation to get the best out of his side and inability to rectify the persistent injury problems.

The birthday boy made three changes to the side that started in a disappointing 2-2 draw with Hull City on Saturday. A 22-year-old Argentine, Emiliano (formerly known as Damian) Martinez started between the posts in place of Wojciech Szczesny, who was suspended after a needless sending-off last time out. The back-up keeper, David Ospina suffered the recurrence of a thigh problem, which is likely to keep him on the sidelines for two to three months (this could have been avoided had it not been for the Pole's poor decision as Ospina's rushed return into action without proper warming up seemed to have triggered the recurrence of the injury). A fit-again Aaron Ramsey started in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Calum Chambers replaced Hector Bellerin at right-back after serving a domestic ban. This raised  eyebrows as we expected Chambers to partner Per Mertesacker at the heart of the defence and Hector Bellerin to retain his place at the expense of Nacho Monreal. Although what caught Wenger's eyes was his performance as a right-back at Southampton, Chambers' best performance in Arsenal shirts so far came from the centre-back position, while Bellerin didn't put a foot wrong defensively against Hull, demonstrating his pace going forward, too. Besides, Monreal is not comfortable in the central-back position by his own admission. For all these reasons, we thought Bellerin at right-back and Chambers paired up with Per would be a better solution in the absence of Laurent Koscielny. 

In his pre-match interviews alongside the boss on the eve of the game, Jack Wilshere claimed that Arsenal's performances so far had warranted more points. If that is the case, perhaps they got more points than they deserved in this game for a change. Throughout the game, the Gunners did not create many chances, which allowed Anderlecht to grow in confidence as the game wore on. They had a good game plan against us (which is so difficult these days) and executed it well. We obviously lacked width, which made defending easier for the Belgian side. The deployment of Santi Cazorla on the left wing did not help keep the width, while the combination of Wilshere and Ramsey just crowded out the central channel. We were crying out for substitutions, in particular the injection of width and penetration through the Ox, who has also a good positional discipline. Nevertheless, that change did not come until we went 1-0 down in the 71st minute. Wenger seemed happy after the match that his "gamble" paid off, but he could have made changes before falling behind without weakening the defence.

Although it was an unconvincing display, we got all-important three points. In comparison to the Hull game, which we drew despite all the superior stats, one might say that it was a very efficient performance. However, there is something missing in an Arsenal side at the moment. Confidence? Hopefully, this game has provided it. At the Doolan's Irish Bar, we endured so much frustration during the game as none of our players tried to shoot. They need to be more direct. Theo Walcott's return cannot come soon enough for us, but who is going to feed him in the absence of Mesut Ozil.

There are still problems to be addressed. However, hopefully this win will serve as a springboard for the forthcoming run of winnable games. The one thing for sure is that the victory in Brussels has strengthened our chance of getting out of the group. Another win against Anderlecht at home should secure our qualification.

Players ratings

Martinez: 6
He had little to do in the first half, but made a fine save when called upon in the second half. 

Chambers: 6
He was guilty for the goal. Maybe due to lack of communications, both Flamini and Chambers marked the same player, leaving the other in the box free to head the ball into the back of the net. On the other hand, he provided an assist for Gibbs with an inch-perfect cross from the right flank.

Mertesacker: 6
Is it a World Cup hang-over or lack of consistency in the central-defensive partnership? He still hasn't hit his best form yet. He has been caught cold on too many occasions this season.

Monreal: 6
In the build-up to Anderlecht's only goal, he let Dennis Praet deliver a cross too easily. 

Gibbs: 7

Stats-based Whoscored.com's Man of the Match. Scored an important late equaliser with a sublime volley. Made an impressive 9 tackles and 4 interceptions. 

Flamini: 6
Replaced in the 74th minute by the Ox. Let Anderlecht counter-attacks bypass him. 

Ramsey: 6
Had a quiet game apart from one attempt, which flew wide of the near post. He has been playing far too forward in a 4-1-4-1 formation this season, which doesn't suit him at all. He needs to make runs from deep to arrive in the box last minute without drawing defenders' attention. Also, we haven't seen his defensive prowess this season, which earned him a reputation as a complete midfielder last season. That said, it's good to see him complete 90 minutes for the first time since his return from injury.

Wilshere: 6
Held the ball too long. His passing success rate of 78.4% is disappointing when the team average is 89%. 

Alexis: 8
Usual hard-working self. Had a good chance with his goal-bound header. His grit led to Poldi's winner, when he decided to carry on playing instead of falling down on the floor. Had 4 shots, 1 of which was on target, and made 4 key passes. He was at the heart of anything good coming from Arsenal. He appears to be our only player that consistently puts in a good shift  heart and soul every game.

Cazorla: 6
Spurned a good chance in the first half after running onto Alexis' cut-back.

Welbeck: 6
Had 2 shots and only 34 touches. Shown a yellow card. Perhaps he could have done better when he met Alexis' right-wing cross with a header. Replaced by Campbell in the 74th minute.


Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
Came on the pitch in the 74th minute to replace Flamini.

Campbell: 6
Also came on the pitch in the 74th minute to replace Welbeck. Not as influential as in the Hull game.

Podolski: 7
Replaced Wilshere in the 83rd minute. Had only 6 touches, but made an impact by scoring an injury-time winner. 1 attempt, 1 shot on target, 1 goal.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Chelsea 2 Arsenal 0

Arsenal suffered their first defeat of the season by the hands of the current league leader, Chelsea, but the game was a much closer contention than the last season's corresponding fixture.

Arsene Wenger made just one changes from the side that started in a 4-1 victory over Galatasaray in midweek. Jack Wilshere started at the expense of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who was dropped to the bench, as the former was fully fit to play for 90 minutes after recovering from an ankle problem he suffered in the north London derby. A fit-again Nacho Monreal made the bench as well as Campbell, Podolski, Rosicky and Coquelin. Damian Martinez was also on the bench in place of David Ospina who had a "slight" thigh problem (the Colombia international only played half an hour on Wednesday night and has already injured himself. Hope he will be fit by the time of the first Anderlecht match).

The omission of the Ox from the starting line-up caused some discontent among the fans. Against Galatasaray, many fans thought Arsenal had found a winning formula, but Wenger couldn't resist to re-introduce Jack Wilshere as soon as the England midfielder was fit enough to start. With the plethora of quality midfielders, whoever Wenger picks or drops, it is bound to raise criticism from some section of fans. In fact, Wilshere turned out to be one of our best players, but it was obvious that this team selection was poorly balanced. In the recent interview, Alexis revealed that his most preferred position is on the left flank so that he can cut inside and run at defenders as he is right-footed. Cazorla shares the same tendency when played on the left flank. Both Wilshere and Ozil are left-footed and prefer playing through the middle and drift towards the left wing. It's difficult to tell in what formation this Arsenal side was set up as they kept interchanging their positions, but it was clear that the starting line-up lacked a right-sided forward/midfielder.

On  Match of the Day 2 Extra prior to the game, Martin Keown confirmed our suspicion that Arsene Wenger does not have tactics tailor-made for the opposition. The Frenchman had a philosophy, but in the former Gunner's days it was the players who tweaked the details of the master gameplan according to whom they were going to face. Keown suggested that Flamini was likely to take initiative of organising the defence for this match, but we thought Per Mertesacker could be the man in charge as the vice-captain suggested that they would approach the game in a different way to the last season's 6-0 defeat.

A Sky Sports pundit, Chris Kamara took a positive view on Arsene Wenger taking into consideration the opposition, but does the Frenchman deserve the credit? We don't know, but it was good to see Arsenal rectify the last season's shortcomings and approached the game more cautiously, tightening up the defence. In fact, the two centre-backs kept Diego Costa quiet for the majority of the game, while Gibbs contained any attack on Chelea's right-hand side very well.

The flash point of the game was arguably Martin Atkinson's decision to not send Gary Cahill off for his challenge on Alexis in the 20th minute. The referee only showed a yellow card to the Chelsea centre-back. Jose Mourinho argues that three Arsenal players should have been sent off in the three incidents: Koscielny on Hazard, which led to a penalty and the Frenchman's booking; Calum Chambers' foul on Schurrle after a yellow card early on and Danny Welbeck's lunge into Fabreagas. However, Martin Atkinson set the tone for the rest of the game by not sending Cahill off. Also, in the Koscielny's case, more and more referees in England tend to opt for a yellow card and a penalty these days rather than the sending off of the offender on top of a penalty.

Besides, the possible sending off of Cahill could have changed the whole complex of the game and none of the aforementioned incidents might have happened at all subsequently. The loss of the centre-back might have led to the all important space Arsenal were craving for.

Arsenal also had a legitimate penalty claim when Fabregas slid in with both arms up to block Wilshere's effort, but the referee only gave the Gunners a corner kick.

The result was disappointing (even though we half expected it) and we are still to beat any of the big teams. On the bright side, there was an improvement from the last season. It was a lot more even game. There was not much between the two sides and it was clear in how much respect Chelsea paid to us. They made every effort to disrupt our rhythm by fouling us. Martin Atkinson failed here too, by allowing Oscar to stop our flow by repeatedly fouling our players for so long without being punished. The difference between the two sides was moments of individual brilliance. Eden Hazard's mazy run led to the penalty. After going down 1-0, there was always a risk of conceding another as we pushed forward for an equaliser. Then Fabregas spotted a chance and his brilliant long pass found Diego Costa. The Brazilian-born Spain striker took his goal superbly. We didn't have the quality in the final third to match these moments on this day.

Now our tough fun of fixtures is over. We had Everton away, Man City, Tottenham, and Chelsea away in the last 7 games. Apart from Everton, none of our rivals has faced as many as four other top-four contenders yet. Hopefully, we can put more points on board after the international break.