Thursday, January 30, 2014

Southampton 2 Arsenal 2

Although there is an argument if we were lucky to come away with a point or a point was a fair result, there is no denying that we dropped two points. But more than the result, we are disappointed with Arsenal's performance.

Arsene Wenger made 6 changes to the side that started in a 4-0 victory over Coventry City in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Szczesny and Giroud replaced Fabianski and Bendtner, respectively, while Bacary Sagna and Nacho Monreal came in for Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs at the full-backs. Fit-again Arteta and Flamini came in for Oxlade-Chamberlain and the injured Wilshere. While the England pair looked too offensive in the Coventry match, Flamini-Arteta partnership looked too defensive. We desperately missed Ramsey, Rosicky or Wilshere, who can drive forward from a deeper position. In the press conference prior to the match, Wenger stated that Vermaelen and Arteta would be back in the squad, but they were unlikely to start. Despite the Frenchman's intention to ease Arteta back into action, the Spaniard was included in the starting line-up. With Wilshere and Ramsey not available, choices for the central midfield were limited. Poldi was dropped to the bench, much to our dissatisfaction.

Arsenal were a second best side throughout the first half. Southampton deserved to be in the lead at half time, even though their goal came from a free kick they shouldn't have had. Credit to the Saints, they executed their style of pressing game in an energetic fashion. They didn't give us much time on the ball and dominated in possession. However, as much as Southampton looked good, Arsenal were poor. Some cite tired legs for their lacklustre display as Arsenal coach only arrived at St. Mary's 45 minutes before the kick-off, having got stuck in traffic. Wenger didn't give his analysis on the reasons behind his side's poor display, only stating "We had some problems to get into the pace of the game", but we all know that pressing and closing down on their opponents high up the pitch is Southampton's tactic. We have to say that Wenger did not set his side well for the game. Flamini and Arteta left a big gap between them and the front four, which was exploited in a number of times by the outnumbering Southampton midfielders.

Considering their domination, Southampton deserved the lead, but their opener shouldn't have happened. The build-up to the goal was initiated from a free-kick which shouldn't have been given as Mertesacker won the ball fair and square. Then, Jose Fonte committed a foul on Monreal when he connected a cross from the left flank with a header. We were extremely unlucky with these two key decisions. Then, there was a strong penalty case against Fonte's handball.

On conceding an equaliser so soon after taking the lead, Wenger explained that misunderstanding on the long ball between Sagna and Mertesacker led to it, but also admitted that his side might have switched off. Having two experienced defensive midfielders in Arteta and Flamini to protect the back four, this was very disappointing. Arsenal back four's solidity was also questioned. Previously they conceded more than one goal a game in the league only once (Man City).

Wenger was seemingly relatively happy with his side's comeback in the second half. However, he expressed his regrets on conceding the second goal immediately after his side took the lead and having had to play with 10 men in the last 10 minutes, which made it extremely difficult for Arsenal to push for a winner.

Bad news was revealed after the match in the Frenchman's interview that Aaron Ramsey had an injury setback during a Monday training session. According to the boss, the Wales midfielder damaged the same muscle (thigh) a bit again, which ruled him out for the this game and some more weeks. Some reports claim that Ramsey has suffered a tendon problem, in which case he will be out for much longer. Combined with Flamini's three-match ban, Ramsey's longer-than-expected lay-off is a huge blow. In the absence of Ramsey, Jack Wilshere's return cannot come any sooner. The England midfielder, who suffered an ankle problem from the Coventry game, is set to miss the next game against Crystal Palace, but should be back for a clash with Liverpool in the following week. We were also worried about Rosicky's fitness status. On Thursday, Wenger revealed that the Czech midfielder had problems after surgery on his nose, but he could be fit for Sunday's game against Crystal Palace, which is good news.

Amid the injury problems ahead of a tough February fixture schedule, Wenger suggested that Arsenal are hoping to sign new players. Hopefully, we will see a new signing or two to strengthen depth before the January transfer window closes on Friday night.

The two points dropped is not the end of the world. Especially, after Chelsea dropping two points against West Ham at Stamford Bridge, our result does not look too bad. But what is more important than the result of the game is now how Arsenal will respond to this disappointment. So far this season, they have done it brilliantly, most notably after the opening-day defeat to Aston Villa. Hopefully, their first-half performance was just a blip. After Man City defeated Tottenham 5-1 at White Hart Lane, we dropped to second. But we can reclaim the top spot if we get the three points on Sunday before Man City and Chelsea play each other on Monday night. Depending on the result (as long as Man City don't win), we could stay top. In anyway, we will be still very much in the title hunt.

Players rating

Szczesny 7
He could have done better to stop the first goal going in. Made a couple of fantastic saves late to earn us a hard-fought draw. Made a last-man tackle after coming out of his area.

Sagna: 6
Provided an assist with his low shot cum cross for Giroud to nudge a back heel. 

Mertesacker: 6
Wasn't his usual reassuring self, but still made 5 interceptions and 12 clearances

Koscielny: 6

Not his best game.

Monreal: 6
Although it is harsh to blame him for the opener, he didn't have a great game. He had a great chance to score as well, but he dragged it wide. Some of us insisted that Gibbs should have started, but after Monreal had performed admirably in the past games, it is now difficult to tell which is our first-choice left-back. Monreal's weakness was his lack of pace, but he seemed to have overcome that. One thing sure is that we have no problem with the left-back position, having two good players in Monreal and Gibbs.

Flamini: 5
Made a last-grasp tackle. Shown a red card for his two-footed tackle. Maybe a little harsh because it was not dangerous at all, but he should have known better. Despite his hard-man image, this was his first red card in the Premier League. Most of the media reported that he would be suspended for the next four matches, based on the assumption that another fixture would be added to a regulatory three-match ban for a straight red card as he has already served one-match ban this season after collecting 5 yellow cards. Actually, he will miss
 the next three fixtures against Palace (H), Liverpool (A), and Man U (H).

Arteta: 5
Perhaps his worst game ever. He was not up to the speed after resuming full training only the day earlier. He needs to sharpen up quickly in the absence of Flamini. The number of his passes (54) tells the whole story about how Arsenal did not play their football. Still, his completion rate at 91% was not bad.

Gnabry: 6

His consistency has been impressive for his age, but he probably could have done with a breather for this game.

Özil: 7

Set up a goal for Santi. He broke with the pace from his own half, driving through Southampton defence, but his shot deflected off Fonte before looping over Boruc onto the crossbar.

Cazorla: 6

Scored a well-taken goal from just outside the area. However, he was dispossessed 4 times and some of his passing was sloppy. His 78% passing success rate was poor, even when the team average was worse than usual at 80%. Withdrawn in the 86th minute, reportedly due to an injury.

Giroud: 7
Scored his 10th league goal with a cute back heel. He also worked hard defensively, keeping us in the game.  



Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
70th-minute substitute for Gnabry.

Gibbs: 6
86th-minute substitution to replace Cazorla. Slotted into his familiar left-back position, with Monreal moving forward in turn. It was a bemusing substitution to us, especially with Poldi still on the bench, when we were chasing for a winner, but with a man down, probably Wenger's intention was already "if we cannot win the game, don't lose it".

Podolski: N/A
Replaced Giroud in the 90th minute. Little time to make an impact. We want to see him play alongside Giroud, not instead of him.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Arsenal 4 Coventry City 0 (FA Cup 4th Round)

Arsenal went into this game as heavy favourites, priced at 1/10, even though it was uncertain what sort of team Arsene Wenger would field. The north London club had an extra day to recover before they face their next opponents, Southampton, who were to play a day later. In addition, with the return of Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey imminent, the boss did not need to worry about rotation in midfield. Nicklas Bendtner's earlier-than-expected return from his ankle injury meant the Frenchman had an option  up front.

In the end, Arsene Wenger named a young but strong side, making 6 changes from the side that started in a 2-0 victory over Fulham 6 days ago. This season's cup keeper, Lukas Fabianski was called up again, while Carl Jenkinson replaced Bacary Sagna at  right-back. Kieran Gibbs came in for Nacho Monreal. Wenger revealed a reason behind his selection of a central midfield paring in the post-match conference, stating that Flamini was "not available" (without citing the reason) who was dropped to the bench. Jack Wilshere and fit-again Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were fielded in the central midfield. This line-up looked a little too offensive and our fear was confirmed at the beginning of the second half. Lukas Podolski replaced Santi Cazorla on the left flank, while Bendtner led the line in the place of Giroud.

There were a few anxious moments at the beginning of the second half, when Coventry had changed their tactics and decided to have a go. They pressed Arsenal higher on the pitch and their quick attack exposed our back-four as we did not have a true holding midfielder this night. Although Wenger seemed to be happy with the central midfielder partnership, stating "they could be a good partnership in the future for England as well", Wilshere and the Ox left a gap between the defence and the midfield. We know that Wenger sees Jack Wilshere's future as a deep-lying midfielder and distributor, but he has a long way to go to match Mikel Arteta's calibre in that role. Also, a box-to-box player is the Ox's destination Wenger envisages, but he is far behind Aaron Ramsey, who has made a huge step forward this season, in terms of goal-scoring and defensive contribution. Wenger blamed his side's fatigue for a drop in the pace in the second half, in particular, of those who haven't played for a long time, presumably the Ox and Poldi. However, the absence of a holding midfielder may be attributed to Arsenal's struggle for the first 20 minutes in the second half. When Coventry defended deep in their own half in the first half, the Wilshere-Ox partnership worked fine, but as soon as they  came out to press higher up  the pitch, Arsenal found it difficult to cope. If Coventry players' finishing had been better, we might have conceded a goal or two. Arsenal are not used to the system without a holding midfielder.

It was a regulation win for Arsenal, but having learnt from the last season's bitter experiences of the cup exits at the hands of Bradford and Blackburn, they looked very professional this night. They made it sure to score goals when they were on top and kept their concentration. One of the positives from this game was Poldi scoring two good goals. Amid the speculation that the German striker may be used as a part of a Julian Draxler deal with Schalke, we strongly oppose the idea of letting him leave the Club. He is hugely popular among his team-mates and fans alike and he has just showed how he could help Arsenal's title aspiration.

The game itself may be one of those matches that will not stay in the fans' memories very long, but there were a few incidents that this FA Cup tie may be remembered with. There was a partial floodlight failure in the first half and spectators helped the lighting with their own mobile phones. We feared that this game might be abandoned with Arsenal going 2-0 up. A re-match would have been the last thing we wanted to be added to an already tough-looking February fixture list. Fortunately, the problem was solved during half-time.

For us who watched the game on the TV screen, the reason was not clear at the time, but the game was disrupted as one of the protesting Coventry fans invaded the pitch as we learnt later. We felt it annoying at that time because Arsenal were in a great position with Özil just about to trigger another ingenious attacking move. However, those Arsenal fans at the Emirates were sympathetic and supportive towards the situation the Coventry supporters are in. They earned the plaudits across the broad football fan base.

While the media are lamenting over the loss of the FA Cup's glamour, Arsenal showed they value the world's oldest football competition by fielding a strong side against a lower-league team, as well as Liverpool and Manchester City. Now Liverpool at home awaits in the fifth round the FA Cup. With a few lower-division clubs still left in the pot, we could have got a better draw, but if we can go through this tie, there is a good chance of going further this season, hopefully all the way, as either of Man City or Chelsea will be eliminated in this round. Arsenal have already beaten Liverpool at home once this season, so hopefully they will replicate the superb performance once more. But we have to say the February fixture schedule looks even tougher now.

Players rating

Fabiaski: 7
Made a couple of superb saves. On the other hand, he made a mess of a simple kick.

Jenkinson: 7
Lively on the right flank and delivered a number of excellent crosses. He was quick and created many chances, going forward in this game. His effort was parried by the goalkeeper into Santi's path, leading to Arsenal's fourth goal. If he cuts out silly defensive errors and finds consistency in his performance, he will be a good cover for Sagna.

Mertesacker: 6
Provided an assist for Poldi's second goal by flicking Gnabry's corner perfectly to the far post, but less convincing than usual on the defensive side of his game this night.

Koscielny: 8

He was a beast.

Gibbs: 7
Set up for Giroud to score in the 86th minute through his cutback.

Wilshere: 7
Left a gap in front of the back four. Shown a yellow card.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
Obviously short of match fitness. Looked rusty and lacked sharpness. He was robbed by Moussa with the result that Coventry hit the post. Apparently, captain on the night, Mertesacker gave him an earful, which the Ox took positively. Replaced by Zelalem in the 71st minute.

Gnabry: 6

Not an eye-catching display, but he did OK.

Özil: 7

Provided an assist for Poldi's first goal with a perfectly-weighed pass to his compatriot. His stoppage-time effort hit the post. There was an argument that he should be rested for this game because of an apparent dip in his form. But as Wenger usually does to his out-of-sorts players, such as Aaron Ramsey last season, he kept Özil in the starting line-up and played him for a full 90 minutes.

Podolski: 8

Great finish from a deadly finisher. Scored his first goal from a tight angle after rounding the goalkeeper and the second with a header. Replaced by Giroud in the 79th minute.

Bendtner: 5

At least he offered good entertainment value through a couple of air shots. Static. Lucky we didn't have to regret his missed chances. 



Cazorla: 7
71st-minute substitute for Bendtner. Continued his scintillating form by scoring his third goal in two games. 

Zelalem: 6
The 16-year-old made history by making a senior debut as the first Arsenal player born after Wenger took charge of the Club. Looked comfortable on the ball. Some fans heaped praises for his performance, but we didn't see anything special in his display this night.

Giroud: 7
Scored a goal within 6 minutes of his coming on the pitch. Good finish, but we didn't see the point of the substitution. Wenger should have left him on the bench to keep him fresh for the Southampton game, but in the hindsight, perhaps scoring the goal has done his confidence good.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Arsenal 2 Fulham 0

Despite the fresh injury scare from Monday night's clash with Aston Villa, Arsene Wenger named the unchanged side from those that started in the 2-1 victory at the Villa Park. Nacho Monreal was a major doubt prior to the London derby after suffering a twisted ligament in his foot, which was initially feared to be a broken metatarsal. The Spaniard recovered in time and kept his place in the starting XI ahead of the fit-again Kieran Gibbs, which demonstrates how much confidence the Spanish left-back has earned from the boss over the past few weeks when the England defender was sidelined. The same story goes to Jack Wilshere. Playing his preferred central midfield role week in week out helped the English midfielder come back to his best while Aaron Ramsey was injured.

Another doubt was Tomas Rosicky who had a broken nose in two places during the Aston Villa game. The Czech went through  surgery and passed fitness tests in time to make the bench. If he were to come off the bench in this game, he would be playing with a protective mask on. Mikel Arteta (calf), Aaron Ramsey (thigh) and Thomas Vermaelen (knee) had been ruled out of this game and the boss thinks that they will also miss the FA Cup tie against Coventry on Friday night, but should be available for the next league game against Southampton. Flamini retained his place in the holding midfield role. Although Arteta's calmness and immaculate distribution have been missed at times, the French midfielder has been doing fine in his absence.

We must say that it was a poor display from the Gunners in the first half. You may praise Fulham's stubborn defence, which welcomed back their experienced leader Hangeland and the goalkeeper, Stekelenburg, after their lengthy lay-offs, but Arsenal also made it difficult for themselves, just like in the second half of the Villa game. They were far from their fluent best with so many unforced mistakes in passing. Their passes struggled to find their own players. That said, their overall passing success rate came to 91.1% at the end of the game, an impressive figure even by their high standard.

At Rendezvous bar, we were all frustrated by Arsenal's lacklustre performance in the first half, rather than Fulham's resilience. When Wilshere tried a chipped pass in the box, our frustration exploded in the bar. Arsenal's style of football is easy on the eye when it's successfully executed, but otherwise, it just stretches your patience to the limit. But finally, just before the hour mark, Arsenal had started to show some urgency. After Laurent Koscielny failing to net the rebound in the goalmouth scramble, a goal always looked to come. Santi Cazorla's well-taken effort found the back of the net after a lovely build-up play involving Olivier Giroud and Jack Wilshere, initiated by Santi himself. Five minutes later, another goal arrived through the same player's low drive. This was Santi's fourth goal of his injury-ridden second season in English football.

An encouraging difference from the previous games this season was that Arsenal kept attacking to look for more goals after they scored two goals. It may be down to their maturity or confidence in their improved defence, but this season, the team tended to shut up shop and defend when they went 2-0 up. In this game, however, the team kept going in search of a third goal. Arsene Wenger encouraged the move by making two attacking substitutions, bringing on Lukas Podolski for Serge Gnabry and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Mesut Özil. In fact, we were unlucky not to be able to add to our goal tally as Poldi went very close to score goals.

We were disappointed that Arsenal didn't win this and the last games more comfortably. These two oppositions were both struggling to hit form, fighting against relegation. Meanwhile, the title favourites, Manchester City are scoring for fun. However, this is the Premier League. Nothing can be taken for granted. As their performance against us suggested, Aston Villa were on the up. They gave Liverpool a good game this weekend, unlucky not to come away with all three points from Anfield. Three points, that's all that matters.

Quite a few fans feared that Theo Walcott's injury might have the same impact on our title challenge as the horrific injury to Eduardo did on our 2007/8 campaign. Arsenal had been top of the table since September, extending their lead to 5 points in February, but after that fateful Birmingham game in late February (which was also remembered by Gallas' controversial protest), their form collapsed. The north London club ended the season third. So far Walcott's injury seemed to have had no psychological impact on the team. It is partly because the current team is more mature in comparison with the group of those young players 6 years ago. Even younger players of the current team, such as Ramsey and Wilshere, have already experienced their own career-threatening injuries, more serious than Walcott's in terms of the length of their lay-offs, and have both successfully come back to their best since then.

Walcott offers totally different qualities from anybody else in the team and in that sense he is a valuable asset for the team. Gnabry was slotted into the void the Englishman left. Although the 18-year-old was also a talented sprinter when he was younger, Gnabry is a different player to Theo. He is more a dribbler who tends to cut inside rather than run onto through balls. The Ox is also expected to cover the absence of Theo as a pacey direct wide player, but Wenger admits his future is in the central midfield as a box-to-box player, stating he is a "Ramsey-type" player. Arsenal managed to crack Fulham's resistance eventually by keeping playing their brand of passing football, but against top teams, we might come unstuck without Theo's speed to get behind the defence.

Players rating

Szczesny: 7
Made a great save to deny Sidwell's screamer. Timed perfectly to come out to save at the feet of Dejagah and Kacaniklic. On the other hand, he fumbled the ball but gathered it back just in time when two Fulham players were ready to pounce on it.

Sagna: 7
Some of his passing in the first half was appalling. On the other hand, he found himself in great positions and had two shots on target. Unlucky not to score.

Mertesacker: 7
Assured display.

Koscielny: 7

Missed a great goal-scoring chance. On the defensive side, he made 4 tackles, 5 interceptions and 11 clearances.

Monreal: 7
Joined attack whenever he could.

Flamini: 7
Did his job well.

Wilshere: 7
Provided an assist for Santi's first goal through the exchange of incisive passes with Giroud. Made 106 passes with a 91% success rate and created 3 chances.

Cazorla: 8

Took two goals superbly. Created 5 chances.

Özil: 6
Unlucky not to score when his effort beat the goalkeeper, but then was blocked by Hangeland. Made 3 key passes. 
It was a subdued display from the German playmaker this afternoon. Some fans argue that Cazorla and Özil cannot play together as they both seem to thrive in the No. 10 role. One may eclipse the other's performance, but for us, as long as the team get three points, who takes the centre stage does not matter. Özil always plays for the team, creating spaces for his team-mates by engaging defenders. That's not a bad attitude for a £42.5 million star. Hopefully, Özil will shine in another game.

Gnabry: 7

Looked dangerous and nearly scored. This was his third start in a row and he has been putting in a decent performance every game. The consistency is encouraging for his age. His defensive display was also impressive for his age.

Giroud: 6

Missed a great chance when Gnabry's pass found him in a great position in the first half. However, he was always involved in Arsenal's attack and cleared a Fulham effort off the line as well. 



Podolski: 7
71st-minute substitute for Serge Gnabry. He nearly scored with his first two touches and his powerful shot forced a finger-tip save from Stekelenburg, which subsequently hit the post.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6

Came on in the 85th-minute to replace Özil. Had a glorious chance in close range after Santi crossed the ball at the far post, but headed it over the bar. Gave away a foul in a dangerous area in the dying minute.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Arsenal 2 Tottenham 0 (FA Cup 3rd Round)

It may have been a comfortable win in the end, but clashes with north London rivals are always very tense affairs for the Gooners.

Prior to the game, Wenger's intent for this cup tie was clear. He stated he would treat it as one of the league games. With the next game as far as 9 days away against a struggling Aston Villa side, there was no reason why the Frenchman should rotate largely. From his 17-year experience in the job, the boss knew exactly what was at stake when it came to a north London derby. He said that he would only rest those players who were on the verge of getting injured. The teamsheet revealed that there were four changes from the side that started in a 2-0 win over Cardiff. Fabianski came in for Szczesny, who dropped out of the squad, with Viviano on the bench. The club captain, Thomas Vermaelen replaced Per Mertesacker, who started from the bench. Rosicky came in for Flamini, who was also dropped to the bench. Some newspapers reported that Gedion Zelalem could make a debut (he had a great preseason and is a bright prospect, but we didn't think he would be ready for such a big match yet), but it was another German teenager who got the nod. Serge Gnabry was slotted into the right wing. In turn, Theo Walcott took over the centre-forward role from Lukas Podolski, who was dropped to the bench. Nacho Monreal kept his place as Kieran Gibbs continued his recovery from a calf strain. Olivier Giroud didn't even make the bench after falling ill despite recovering from an ankle problem. Bendtner started a period on the treatment table after suffering an ankle sprain, which will keep him sidelined for up to a month, according to the boss.

Although Tottenham were on a decent run of form, especially fresh from a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford, Arsenal went into the game, generally considered as favourite. Many pundits feared for the Spurs that Arsenal's 5-men midfield would overrun them in  the middle of the park, if Tim Sherwood stuck to his 4-4-2 system, which had proved successful since his taking office. And it turned out just as they predicted. The new Tottenham coach withdrew one of his frontmen, Soldado, and reinforced their midfield by introducing Chadli in the 63rd minute. After the match, Sherwood was still defending his tactics, insisting that the substitution was a forced one as a result of injury to the Spanish striker. Not only did Wenger's side win the game, but the Frenchman also came out on top in the tactical battle. The media attributed the victory to his experience. Also, Rosicky praised the team's tactical discipline in his post-match interview. The team executed Wenger's tactics very well.

We think Mark Clattenburg did a decent job this evening. The referee has attracted the newspaper headlines recently, but his decisions were consistent and he let the game flow, although he may have some post-match reporting to do later on. We don't know how Walcott's hand gesture could put him trouble. It was neither offensive nor abusive (he was generous enough to inform Tottenham fans of the scoreline in case they might have missed it). He was not even aggressive towards them as he was smiling, carried on a stretcher. It is not accurate to say that the gesture was provocative as Tottenham fans had started throwing coins before he made the gesture, according to the reports. Even Tim Sherwood said that it could be a banter. After all, it was just another entertaining episode to be added to a perfect evening. Theo made a lot fans among the Arsenal supporters. On the other hand, Bentaleb's stamping on Monreal's arm and Dembele's clash with Wilshere may trigger the FA investigations. Tottenham fan's conducts will certainly need to be looked into.

The game clearly demonstrated Arsenal's superiority in all department. Our centre-backs kept the in-form Adebayor quiet throughout the game. After Walcott was stretchered off, we were reduced to 10 men with 9 minutes to go, but the players didn't panic and held firm. We even nearly got a third goal through Ozil's fine low cross-shot, which forced a fine save from Lloris. It was an accomplished team display all over the pitch.

Any win is great against Tottenham, but totally outplaying them is extremely satisfying. Now the busy festive period is over. After an Arsenal-free weekend, we have a clash with Aston Villa on Monday night. 

Players rating

Fabianski: 7
With Tottenham registering only 3 shots on target, there was little to do, but deflected Eriksen's shot off the line to rescue his side from early threat. His distribution was a little suspect at times, but generally he did OK.

Sagna: 7
Always on the right flank to help when needed.

Koscielny: 8
Great defensive performance with pace.

Vermaelen: 7

Solid. Replaced by Mertesacker at half time due to a kick on the knee (looked like a cut, hopefully, he will recover in no time.)

Monreal: 8
Another good performance from the deputy left-back. Now Wenger must be reconsidering the pecking order. We thought he would struggle against pacy wide players in Lennon and Walker, but he coped well and even posed a threat going forward.

Arteta: 7
Protected the back four well from Tottenham's counter-attack, mopping up loose balls in front of them. Good positioning. Replaced by Ozil in the 75th minute.

Wilshere: 7
Good vision.

Cazorla: 8

Budweiser Man of the Match (selected by Andy Townsend). Scored his second goal of the season via a powerful drive. Another energetic performance. Hopefully, he will hit form as he gets a run of games under belt.

Rosicky: 8

Another contender for Man of the Match. He has been pressing the opponents' defenders hard when he did not have the ball and efforts were paid off handsomely in this game. He robbed Rose of possession and made a spectacular 40-yard run to finish it with a chipped effort past Lloris. He must have had an idea as to how to finish it, which was executed brilliantly. Classy play from a classy player.

Gnabry: 8's Man of the Match. The 18-year-old's performance was sensational. He set up Santi's opener by driving forward across the area before feeding Cazorla a perfectly weighed pass. Cazorla did not even need to have a touch. He did some good defensive work as well. Good to see a youngster coming through a big match like this with a stellar performance. He should be given more playing time. 

Walcott: 8

He played well in the central striking role, always occupying two defenders. He was a constant threat to Tottenham's slow centre-backs. On the other hand, he missed a few chances with poor finishing. He must start scoring when one on one with the keeper, he's missed a few this season. Wenger is not sure whether the Englishman suffered a stretched ligament or just a kick. Keep fingers crossed that it's not serious. Giroud should be fit for the next game against Aston Villa. Meanwhile, Gnabry proved himself as a competent right winger.



Mertesacker: 7
Replaced the injured Vermaelen at half time. Solid.

Flamini: 7
71st-minute-substitute for Jack Wilshere to shore up the defence.

Ozil: 6
75th-minute substitute for Arteta. A strange substitution. Maybe to restore the defence-attack balance after Flamini's introduction, but it looked an unnecessary substitution. It may be a hindsight, but Wenger could have used it when Walcott was stretchered off. Glad to see him fully recover from his shoulder injury, but some of his passes were wayward and as a result he had to foul, giving away a free-kick in the dangerous area. On the other hand, he nearly scored a goal in latter stages.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Arsenal 2 Cardiff 0

Arsenal had to dig deep to get a result, but they never gave up. We, the supporters, nearly conceded that this game was destined to be a goalless draw as so many chances went begging. Cardiff may have defended very well, but Arsenal were wasteful. Mertesacker had a couple of free headers, one of which flashed wide when no defenders were at the posts, the other hit the post. Theo should have been on target on a couple of occasions. Wishere's powerful effort at an angle cannoned off the post. However, a crucial goal arrived in the 89th minute from a surprising source in Nicklas Bentdner. Then Cardiff had to come out, which was a cue for Arsenal to attack on the break. Theo Walcott's goal in stoppage time sealed three points.

Prior to the game, Arsene Wenger's injury updates caused huge concern. Aaron Ramsey was ruled out for three weeks due to a thigh strain. With some of the newspaper reports claiming that he was likely to be sidelined for at least a month, the news came as a relief rather than a blow. Özil was seen by a specialist the day before, but the Club was yet to receive the report on his shoulder injury. Later on, it was revealed that Özil had received the all clear. The specialist thinks he could feature in Saturday's FA Cup tie against Tottenham, but Wenger believes that he will be short of fitness for Saturday. What is certain now is that he shouldn't miss more than one game. Olivier Giroud and Kieran Gibbs were definitely out for this game as they both picked up an ankle problem and a calf strain during the Newcastle game. Walcott (shoulder), Wilshere (ankle), and Rosicky (calf) all received knocks and were doubtful. The involvement of Vermaelen and Monreal, who both missed out on the trip to the Northeast due to illness, was also uncertain. The busy festive period was already taking its toll.

In the end, all the doubts came through training session on the New Year's Eve. Arsene Wenger made just two changes from the side that started in the 1-0 win over Newcastle. Lukas Podolski led the line in place of the injured Olivier Giroud. While Tomas Rosicky was dropped to bench, Wilshere started in the No. 10 role. Arteta started in the central midfield alongside Flamini. Monreal came in for the injured Gibbs at the left-back.

Wenger attributed Poldi's lacklustre display to the lack of match fitness as the German international made his first appearance in four months on Boxing Day, but we think that the problem is that the team tried to play the same way as they do with Giroud as a lone striker. Poldi is not a type of striker who plays with his back to goal.  No wonder the team clicked when Nicklas Bentner came on in the 65th minute and eventually produced a long-awaited goal. The Dane is a direct replacement of Giroud. (We have to give credit to the other substitute, Tomas Rosicky, though). The team had to adapt if Poldi or Theo is going to take over a centre-forward role. Also, these two pacey strikers are best deployed in the counter-attack. Cardiff came to the Emirates, like most of the visitors, to get a draw by sitting back, which was not suited for the counter-attacking tactics.

The major talking point during the match was a controversial decision. Most people, including commentators, agree that Wilshere had a strong case for a penalty when Medel clipped him in the box. I don't know what has to happen for Arsenal to get a penalty, but we are just not getting those decisions at the moment. If we had been given a penalty for the foul on Wilshere in the 25th minute, the scoreline would have been a lot different as all we needed was a first goal to open up the game.

It was a largely frustrating game, but in the end, we got the well-deserved three points. We needed a response, as Man City had leapfrogged us earlier on the same day by beating Swansea 3-2 and Chelsea and Liverpool were winning their respective games at the normal kick-off time. This was a kind of game in the past that we ended up with a draw or worse, conceding a goal on the break, while pushing forward too hard in search for a goal. The team kept applying pressure on a well-organised Cardiff side until last minute. The 2-0 win over Cardiff sent the Gunners back to the top of the league on the New Year's Day. A clean sheet, two goals and three points. Great start to 2014.

Players rating

Szczesny: 7
As Cardiff didn't offer much offensively with only 2 shots on target, he had little to do, but he had to be alert all the time, with Cardiff looking dangerous on the break.

Sagna: 7
He was in the goal-scoring mood this day. Stepped forward to take a rare free-kick, which was not great, but he met Monreal's deep cross with a powerful header, which forced an outstanding save from Marshall, only for Bendtner to pounce on the rebound and smash it at the roof of goal.

Mertesacker: 6
Missed a couple of great chances.

Koscielny: 7

Reassuring display. 

Monreal: 8
Made 2 tackles and 5 interceptions and he was a threat going forward as well.

Flamini: 7
Did his job. Replaced in the 65th minute to make way for Rosicky, a more attacking option.

Arteta: 7
Made 93 passes with a 96% passing success rate, a top accuracy alongside Flamini. 2 key passes.

Cazorla: 7

Had 6 shots, of which 2 were on target. Full of inventive ideas.

Wilshere: 8

Sky Sports site's Man of the Match. In the absence of Özil, he was slotted into the playmaker role and took his chance. He should have been given a penalty when he made an excellent run into the box. Set up a goal for Walcott with a clever flick that released Walcott behind the tight Cardiff defensive line.

Walcott: 8's Man of the Match. 
Took his goal very well. Excellent finish, but he failed to convert a couple of chances earlier.

Podolski: 5
Disappointing display, but in all fairness to him, he didn't get his kind of chances. On a sole chance when he had space, facing the goal, Walcott chose to have a shot himself only to blast it across the goal. 
Hopefully, we will see the best of Poldi when he plays against Tottenham as the game is expected to be open.


Bendtner: 7
65th-minute substitute for Podolski. After all he said about himself and the Club, we were not big fans of his, but credit to him, he played well. His movements off the ball were good and he held the ball up well. He looked like a capable deputy of Giroud. It is a shame that he is now likely to be sidelined for a few weeks after suffering a sprained ankle in scoring that crucial goal.

Rosicky: 7
Replaced Flamini in the 65th minute. Added urgency to the game and drove the team forward.

Vermaelen: N/A
Replaced the injured Nicklas Bendtner.