Monday, March 31, 2014

Arsenal 1 Manchester City 1

If the Swansea game was a match for which the result mattered most, this was a match in which the performance was most important. And Arsenal delivered the performance the supporters wanted.

Arsenal have been criticised for their mental frailty and lack of leaderships when it comes to big games. The way they completely submitted at Anfield and Stamford Bridge (in our opinion, the 6-3 defeat at the Ethihad Stadium is another story. We could have won the game 6-5, if all the decisions had gone our way) raised serious questions about the Gunners' mental strength. In that sense, this clash with one of title contenders was a stern test.

Arsene Wenger made only one change to the side that started in a 2-2 draw with Swansea on Tuesday night. It came as no surprise as there was no change on the injury front. There were no fresh injury concerns, while nobody on the lengthy injury list had made a comeback. Lukas Podolski came in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was dropped to the bench.

Man City started brightly. Arsenal had to weather their attack, but gradually settled into the game. Rosicky had a penalty claim when he was tripped by Zabaleta, but if it was a 50:50 chance, you knew that Mike Dean would give us nothing. When we thought we had lasted longer than against Chelsea, Man City broke the deadlock in the 19th minute. Poldi was dispossessed in midfield and Silva broke quickly. Silva fed the ball to Dzeko, whose shot bounced back off the post to the feet of Silva. It was another unlucky goal we conceded, although Silva deserves a credit for being in the right place and right time. The difference to the Chelsea game was that we battled back after going down 1-0. At half time, we were quite happy to see the determination of our team. Although the TV panels and most of the media seemed to think that Man City controlled the game in the first half, we thought Arsenal also had their moments and made the game very difficult for Man City.

The pace and intensity of the game stepped up in the second half. Arsenal grabbed a deserved equaliser in the 52nd minute through Flamini's sweeping shot into the far corner. Minutes later, Podolski had his goal-bound shot deflected by Hart. Man City also had chances to win the game, but Arsenal ended the game on top. It's safe to say that they were the better side in the second half.

It was an encouraging and decent point against the arguably best team in the Premier League. If we had been offered a draw prior to the game, we would have happily taken it. Man City were odds-on favourites and after two setbacks Arsenal suffered in the recent week, we didn't expect them to get anything out of this game, especially immediately after Man City came out of a Manchester derby with a comfortable 3-0 win. However, what we were pinning our only hope on was the fact that we were unbeaten at home since the opening day of this season's Premier League. Six of the current top 7 teams came here this season and we beat Liverpool 2-0, Tottenham 1-0 and drew with Chelsea 0-0, Everton 1-1, and Man U 0-0. Arsenal's lack of character in big games have come under the spotlight recently, but our home record against these top teams have been fairly decent this season. Considering how we ended the game on the front foot, some even felt that we were unlucky not to come away with all three points.

There are a few positives from this game, but the biggest one is the team's desire and passion. Everybody showed their commitment. After trailing so early, Arsenal demonstrated their resilience, trying to get back in the game.

Secondly, this was Arsenal's best performance we have seen for a while. Injury to key players took its toll on the football they play and the depleted squad haven't played very well for some while. A section of fans even started questioning the quality of the players we currently have. However, all the players put in impressive performances in the second half in particular. They showed that the team has enough quality to match the title favourites even without a number of influential players.

Also, it was encouraging to see that the Vermaelen-Mertesacker partnership worked just fine. In addition, the Flamini-Arteta central midfield partnership offered the right balance on the day. Many fans complain about Wenger not giving the French midfielder enough playing time, but earlier this season, the Flamini-Arteta partnership was not successful as it made the set-up too defensive. However, in this game, both players went forward, covering each other effectively. Flamini even made a Ramsey-esque run through middle just like a box-to-box player and scored a goal.

After the disappointing draw with Swansea on Tuesday night, both Arsene Wenger and Carl Jennkinson predicted that there would be a few more turns and twists before the end of the season and they were right. Earlier on the day, Chelsea suffered a huge blow to their title aspiration by the hands of a relegation-battling Crystal Palace. If Man City were to win this game, they would leapfrog Chelsea and go top on goal difference with two games in hand. Winning the Premier League title is still a long shot for us even after Chelsea's second shock away defeat in a row, but the media started including us back in the title race after the draw against Man City. Then Everton beat a bottom-table Fulham 3-1 on Sunday and the media started hyping Eveton's chance of qualifying for Champions League at the expense of us. Football does change quickly in a short space of time.

The draw with Swansea was definitely two points dropped, but we would like to think that this was a point earned. Prior to the match, the scenario written by the media was that Arsenal would visit Goodison Park with 3 points lead over Everton and if the north London club lose, the Blues could overtake them on possibly improved goal difference after their victory over Fulham. The point from this game at least prevented the scenario.

Now the pride and confidence have been restored, the Gunners should be able to take on Everton in a positive mindset next weekend. This is going to be a massive game as our more realistic target in the League is to finish fourth (at least to start with). After this game, we have a relatively easy fixture schedule in comparison with Everton's, which include Manchester United and City at home and Southampton away. Also, we should have some of key players back from injury for the last five games. If the team can produce the same performance as this from now till the end of the season, they will secure the 17th consecutive year's Champions League football without doubt.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 7
Made some good saves.

Sagna: 7
Delivered an excellent cross which only needed a contact to put it at the back of the net.

Mertesacker: 7
Did not check Dzeko's run leading to Man City's goal (or was it Sagna' responsibility?), but otherwise solid.

Vermaelen: 7
Didn't put his foot wrong. Won 8 aerial duels.

Gibbs: 7
Man City targeted his flank in the first 20 minutes. He was caught out of position, but that's because he didn't get much defensive help from Poldi. After the early difficult period, he settled well. Had a hand in the equaliser.

Areta: 7
Did his job well. Made 2 key passes, 2 tackles and 4 interceptions.

Flamini: 9
Scored an equaliser. Instilled steel in the team.

Rosicky: 8
Showed his physical and aggressive side in this game. Our best player in the first half.

Cazorla: 8
Sky Sports and's Man of the Match. Orchestrated attack. Had 1 shot on target, Made 3 key passes, 72 passes with a 79% accuracy and 3 tackles.

Podolski: 7
He was guilty for Man City's goal by allowing himself robbed of the ball and didn't help Gibbs enough in defence, but improved his defensive efforts in the second half. Picked out Flamini in the great position and delivered a perfect cross for him. Unlucky not to score himself immediately after the equaliser.

Giroud: 6
His hold-up play and control of the ball improved in this game, but finishing was poor. Had 3 shots well off  target. If he had shown more aggression in front of goal, he could have latched onto the end of Sagna's brilliant cross.


Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
Replaced Poldi in the 79th minute. Lively. 

Sanogo: 5
Came on for Giroud in the 85th minute. Had only 6 touches and made 4 passes with a 50% passing accuracy.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Arsenal 2 Swansea 2

It was a such a disappointing night for Arsenal. This was our game in hand over Chelsea. A victory would have seen us narrow the gap to the current league leaders to four points. Arsenal had to turn up with a strong performance in order to reply to their meek display at Stamford Bridge. But we didn't mind if they had won it ugly or unconvincingly. All that mattered was three points.

After going down 1-0 early in the first half and being frustrated for more than 70 minutes, Arsenal equalised and then went ahead within 66 seconds. We thought we got the three points in the bag. This season, when Arsenal took a lead in the latter stages of the second half, they tend to shut up shop and protect the lead. They have ground out the result in this way so many times this season. Although Arsenal's defensive confidence was shattered on Saturday, we were fairly confident that the Gunners would see out the victory after they took the lead in 74th minute. Then, at the end of normal time, something incredibly unlucky happened. OK, Arsenal let Leon Britten burst through, which they shouldn't have, but the following sequence of events were just so unfortunate. Mertesacker took the ball off Britten, whose touch was too heavy, and then Szczesny tried to clear the ball with his feet. Then the ball hit the shin of onrushing Flamini, who came to help clear the danger, and the ball went into the empty goal. It was such a heartbreaking end to the difficult game. When we thought we had cleared the possibly last danger of the night with Mertesacker's tackle and Szczesny's block, we threw away a win.

Prior to the match, Wenger suggested that he would make several changes to his side as the game came only three days after the tough game at Chelsea and ahead of Saturday's massive clash with Manchester City. The media also reported that Giroud, Arteta, and Szczesny would be dropped to the bench. A section of fans were also hoping for as many changes as possible after the disastrous Chelsea game. We expected the Ox to have a breather and Gnabry to start instead after the German youngster's stellar performance and his first senior goal against Swansea earlier this season. As it happened, the boss made only two changes. One of them was a forced change as Koscielny suffered a calf injury during the Chelsea game. The club captain Thomas Vermaelen replaced him in the central defence. Lukas Podolski was dropped to the bench, while Mathieu Flamini got the nod for this game to slot into the central midfield next to Mikel Arteta. As a result, the Ox moved to the right wing. After the match, Wenger explained his team selection by stating that he relied on experienced players in such a difficult time under so much pressure. Hector Bellerin was named in the squad as we have no fit first-team defenders with Monreal and Koscielny both sidelined, but ended the game as an unused sub.

The injury crisis further deepened this week after Koscielny's injury, which was initially thought to be a minor calf problem. Now he is likely to miss a few games, most certainly against Man City and Everton and possibly the FA Cup semi-final against Wigan, as Wenger described the length of his lay-off as "for a while". Wenger reckons that it will be at least two or three weeks before Mesut Ozil returns. The closest to return of the three is Aaron Ramsey, who had a further set-back that is expected to keep him on the sidelines for another two weeks. Our injury situation is scandalous. All the injuries have turned out longer than the prognosis and most of those injuries are muscular problems. There is something seriously wrong with Arsenal's physio team.

As for the match, Arsenal were too predictable and looked tired and static at times. When they showed some mobility, moves were intricate in and around the edge of the box and it was so easy for a Swansea side to defend. Many were expecting or hoping for an entertaining game because of both sides' style of play. Swansea boast highest possession in the league at an average of 59.3% and a joint-highest pass accuracy of 86.1% alongside Man City. In contrast to their renowned style of positive passing football, Gary Monk set up his side for sitting deep, letting Arsenal keep the ball possession and attacking on the break. The young player-manager who has no coaching experience did his homework very well. Meanwhile, our seasoned coach, who has just celebrated his 1000th game, stuck to his philosophy of possession and passing football. It was a surprise as we thought he would put his priority on restoring the defensive solidity. Fielding Flamini next to Arteta might be the testament to that intention, but our defence was far too vulnerable to counter-attacks.

Swansea didn't even try to press us. We were allowed time and space in midfield. It looked a lot easier than against Chelsea or Bayern who pressed us hard, but we couldn't make most of our freedom. In the second half, Arsenal looked more purposeful. Gibbs started to play like a winger, bombing down the left flank. Upon Podolski's introduction on the left wing, the England left-back's attacking effort had finally borne fruit in setting up the German striker's goal, after making a fantastic run through the box. Poldi turned a provider 66 seconds later by delivering a low cross for Giroud to slot it home at near post. But our second goal was a cue for Swansea to pour forward. Wenger brought on a January signing, Kim Kallstrom, to shore up the defence on 79 minutes and Giroud was replaced by Sanogo. It looked like we were heading for the victory and at the end of normal time, we were denied the win.

The result was very disappointing, but there are some positives. After going down 1-0 so early, they managed to come back and turn the game around. The team showed their fighting spirit in the second half, pressing the Swansea players hard. Scoring 2 goals are another positive since we haven't managed more than one goal since the FA Cup against Everton earlier this month.

Things change very quickly in football. After the triumph in the north London derby 10 days ago, we thought we had nailed the Champions League qualification. Now, a loss and a draw later, we suddenly started to worry about finishing in top four as fifth-placed Everton narrowed the gap to us to 6 points with a game in hand after their fourth consecutive league win in midweek. Even most optimistic Arsenal fans do not expect anything out of the Man City game, but hopefully our team will stand firm against one of title contenders this time around. Another crashing defeat could have a profound effect on the team's performance for the remainder of the season. If we can come through this game with our heads held high regardless of the result, it will set up a positive mindset going into the Everton game, which could draw a conclusion to the top-four finish debate.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 6
He could have done anything about the first goal. However, he could probably have done better against Swansea's second goal if he had judged the situation better.

Sagna: 6
His crossing was poor.

Mertesacker: 7
Unlucky not to score with a header from a corner.

Vermaelen: 7
He was out-jumped and out-powered by Bony for Swansea's first goal.

Gibbs: 8
Arguably Arsenal's man of the match. He was excellent going forward. Made 5 tackles and 4 interceptions, showing his grit.

Areta: 6
Failed to close down on Taylor, who was allowed a long uninterrupted run down their left flank and delivered a perfect cross for Bony. Made 95 passes with a 92% passing success rate.

Flamini: 6
His own goal was a freak accident, but he was partly guilty by failing to track Britten's run in the first place.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 5
Unlucky not to score with a skillful shot early in the game, which forced a superb save from Vorm. He gave away the ball too often for our liking. His passing success rate of 69% is extremely poor, considering the fact that we were not even under pressure. Replaced in the 57th minute.

Cazorla: 7
Made 4 key passes and had 1 great shot on target. Unlucky not to score.

Rosicky: 7
At heart of creativity. Created 3 chances. We couldn't envisage that Rosicky would start two games in four days. It just goes to show how our injury situation is desperate. Hope limited rotation will not deteriorate the situation 
further .

Giroud: 7
Had a few good moments in the first half and scored a goal. 


Podolski: 8
Replaced the Ox in the 57th minute. It was an awkward angle and height, but he took his goal very well. Then made a great run on the left flank and delivered a perfect cross for Giroud.

Kallstrom: 6
Made his debut for the club in the 79th minute to replace Rosicky in an attempt to shore up the defence. Made 2 good tackles and 2 passes with a not-so-impressive 71% passing success rate. 

Sanogo: 5
Replaced Giroud in the 88th minute. Little time to make an impact.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Chelsea 6 Arsenal 0

After the match, Wenger admitted full responsibility for Arsenal's capitulation against Chelsea as he spoke to BBC. Was it a tactical error? Or should the players be to blame? There was no usual post-match press conference afterwards and Wenger even cancelled a Monday conference ahead of Tuesday's clash with Swansea. So we have to make a guess as to what was Wenger's gameplan.

We think that Wenger got his gameplans wrong. Arsenal should not have gone out to attack from the beginning of the game. This game being his 1000th game, did Arsene Wenger's desire to play faithful to his philosophy of attacking football cloud his decision on tactics? Or had last season's slow and cagey starts to matches against the big clubs changed his approach to those games? Arsenal should have stayed cautious until they settled into the game. Chelsea pressed well and didn't give the Gunners much time to retain the ball possession and dictate the pace of the game. This was the Liverpool game at Anfield all over again. Arsenal played a high defensive line with a slow centre-back and a holding midfielder who are not blessed with pace. Both full-backs pushed high up on the pitch. The whole shape of the team was too open. Giroud had a similar goal-scoring opportunity that could have changed the dynamics of the game, but failed to convert it. Chelsea and Livepool are both well known for their strength in counter-attack. This was the worst possible tactics against those teams.

As we said in the previous post, this group of attacking players are better suited for counter-attacking football. Wenger fielded the same starting XI from last weekend's 1-0 defeat of Tottenham and tried to play Arsenal's trademark possession football. This was the second tactical error. Many fans argue that Flamini should have started. His fighting spirit and presence as a vocal leader, as well as his willingness to do dirty work, may have at least made the scoreline look more respectful. Wenger faced the same question after the above-mentioned Liverpool game and simply answered that the French defensive midfielder started in the 6-3 defeat to Man City. We will never know whether Flamini's start alone may have made a difference, but it is a valid argument whether we should have started Flamini alongside Arteta to see how the first half would pan out.

In fact, we should have played a goalless draw like Chelsea did at the Emirates, considering the current injury crisis. A point would have done more favour to Liverpool and Man City rather than us, but the result wouldn't have been detrimental to our title challenge, keeping the current league leader Chelsea within our reach. More importantly, our title credentials and confidence wouldn't have been dealt such a big blow. Apart from occasional goal leaks against top teams away from home, our defensive record has been very good and our defence might have just managed to hold Chelsea to a goalless draw.

There is nothing much to say about the team's abysmal performance. In the Liverpool game, Özil's two errors directly led to goals, while in this game, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla, and Tomas Rosicky all contributed to the downfall of the team through sloppy passing. Arsene Wenger insisted that they had a good preparation in the week running up to the game. However, the team lacked concentration and focus, as well as commitment. In the interview he gave on Monday, Wenger stated that he was puzzled over why the players did not turn up. With plenty of motivation on the boss' 1000th game, we don't understand why the team turned up with such a meek display. In the run-up to "the game of the season" (according to Wenger), all the focus was rather on the celebration of the Frenchman's achievement over the past 18 years. Did it work as some kind of distraction to the players? We cannot afford this kind of performance in the latter stages of the season, whether the oppositions are title rivals or not. 

The major talking point, which is still rife in the footballing world, is the sending off of Kieran Gibbs. Andre Marriner officially apologised for the case of mistaken identity on Saturday evening. Arsenal lodged appeals against mistaken identity and wrongful dismissal on Monday. After a hearing at an Independent Regulatory Commission, the red card for Gibbs was rescinded and this was transferred to the Ox. Arsenal's second claim regarding the wrong dismissal of the Ox was upheld as his handling of the ball was not regarded as denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity in light of the fact that Hazard's shot was heading wide anyway. Now both players have been cleared to play their parts in the next game against Swansea. The decision was totally wrong whichever way you look at it.

Even more questionable than the mistaken identity, but largely overlooked is the fact that Marriner did not see the incident but he still took action. The mistaken identity suggests that none of the other officials did have a clear sight of the incident. Andre Marriner appeared to have been bullied into the sending-off decision. This is not the first time that Marriner has made a wrong decision in favour of Chelsea. Mike Riley, referees' chief, had to issue an apology to West Brom for the same referee's controversial penalty decision which cost the Midland club two points and kept Mourinho's unbeaten record at Stamford Bridge intact. In the London derby, a penalty was indisputable, whether the reason was a handball (which is a yellow card offence) or preventing a clear goal-scoring opportunity. Nevertheless, the sending-off was a wrong decision whichever the alleged offence was and Arsenal had to play with 10 men for 70 minutes.

In the team news ahead of the Swansea game, Wenger stated that he would make a decision whether he would include the Ox after the ruling. The Ox is probably still struggling to get over his dreadful performance and stupidity to handle the ball, so it may be a good idea to drop him from the starting XI (we wouldn't call it a punishment though). Especially, now he has got off without a punishment, there is a backlash against his handling of the ball, with some calling him a cheat. Although we have few options in midfield at the moment, if we are to face Swansea without the Ox, Arteta and Flamini play together. Alternatively, it is also interesting to see how Kallstrom will perform alongside Arteta or Flamini.

On the positive note, an opportunity for the team to redeem themselves will come as early as on Tuesday night. Immediately after the Liverpool game, Arsene Wenger's priority was on tightening up at the back and restoring the team's confidence in their defence. This effort resulted in a goalless draw against Manchester United, but hopefully, we can snatch a win against a struggling Swansea side this time round. We have been in this position before and every time we had disappointment, the team came back with a positive response. So hopefully, they will do in again.

We have to concede that after the defeat to Chelsea, our chance of winning the league looks pretty slim now. The fact that the other title contenders produced convincing performances in their respective games at weekend didn't help either. However, if we can finish as high as possible in the league (and secure next season's Champions League football, needless to say) and win the FA Cup, it will make a strong platform to build on next season with a few reinforcements in the summer. Getting involved in the title chase until mid-March is a huge improvement over last season and the Club proved that they can challenge for the title.

We need to bounce back quickly. The Swansea match is now crucial. Hopefully, Saturday evening's clash with Man City at home will turn out to be a whole lot different affair to the lunch-time kick-off against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. (Mertesacker has concluded his analysis that our hefty defeats against top teams all came away from home in lunchtime kick-offs.)

Players ratings

Szczesny: 7
Although he made an error leading to a goal, he pulled off a number of fine saves. The scoreline could have been a lot worse without those saves. 

Sagna: 6
Started at right-back and ended the game at left-back.

Mertesacker: 6
Struggled with Arsenal's high defensive line. With the full backs bombing forward both Mertesacker
and Koscielny were left very exposed.

Koscielny: 6
Poor display after last week's Man of the Match. Taken off at half time due to a calf problem. He will have a scan on Monday to determine how long he will be out for. Another injury is just what we need.

Gibbs: 6
Mistakenly sent off in the 23rd minute, but he should have been where the Ox was. He was unnecessarily high up on the pitch and caught out of the position. His positioning has been questionable recently.

Areta: 6
Seriously lacked pace against the quick Chelsea midfield and some of his positioning was questionable. But then Arsenal shouldn't have played such a high defensive line.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 5
Woeful display. Recently he told that the boss had been telling them to track back and win back the ball quickly when they have lost the ball. He has been doing it and did it in this game, but Eto'o was too good for him. The lesson is do not give the ball away in the first place. Some overreactive fans insisted that he should be dropped to the bench for the rest of the season, but anybody who watched him play as a box-to-box player against Bayern Munich in Germany recognises his huge potential in that position. Inconsistency is one of common shortcomings among young players and part of the learning curve.

Rosicky: 6
Culprit for the fifth goal by giving the ball away, but had two shots, both on target, created 4 chances, and made 5 tackles.

Cazorla: 6
Guilty for the second goal by giving the ball away.

Podolski: 6
Quiet. Sacrificed in the sending-off incident. 

Giroud: 6
Had a great chance to score when Rosicky's defence-splitting pass released him behind the Chelsea defence, but failed to make a clean contact. 


Vermaelen: 6
Replaced Kieran Gibbs at left-back in the 23rd minute and then moved to the centre-back position on the withdrawal of Koscielny at half time.

Jenkinson: 6
Came on at half time to replace Koscielny and slotted into the right-back position. His touches were suspect. He had a goal-scoring chance late when a rebound from Cech's save fell for him, but ballooned it.

Flamini: 6
Came on at half time to replace the Ox. Worked hard.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tottenham 0 Arsenal 1

Going into this game, neither side was clear favourites to win. Tottenham was in a poor run of form, suffering a 4-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge and a 3-1 thrashing at home in the last 8 days, but the way they got beaten was more of a problem. Tim Sherwood publicly criticised the lack of character after the capitulation against Chelsea, but he did not seem to have the response he wanted from his side on Thursday night. But the form-book goes out of the window when it comes to a derby day. If a north London derby win didn't motivate players, what would ? Despite the Red side's dominance in north London, having finished above their local rivals for the last 18 years, they have won none of the last 5 Premier League north London derbies at White Hart Lane (W0 D2 L3). Another worrying piece of stats was our win ratio when Mike Dean, this day's referee, took charge of our games.

Above all, our biggest worry was our squad depth. Özil was added to our lengthy injury lists after Arsenal's trip to Munich. Wenger revealed that the German playmaker was likely to be sidelined at least three weeks through the hamstring injury he sustained just two minutes into the Bayern game. In the same injury updates ahead of the north London derby, the boss also informed the press that Aaron Ramsey, whose return was scheduled for this game, was in fact still not available. The Club had to put back his rejoining in full training due to some "difficulties" in his rehab. The Welsh midfielder's come-back was delayed for further two weeks.

Arsene Wenger made three changes to the starting XI in their 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich in midweek. Szczesny, who was suspended in the Champions League, replaced Fabianski. Amid the injury crisis, the only bright spot was a left-back situation. Both Gibbs and Monreal recovered from their injuries in time for this game and the former started in place of a make-shift left-back, Thomas Vermaelen. Tomas Rosicky replaced the injured Mesut Ozil. The bench was much improved from the Bayern game in terms of defensive options, but offered very little offensively. Young Gnabry and Sanogo were all the attacking choices we had on the bench. Kallstrom is now back from his back injury and could have made his debut to the Premier League, but as it turned out, he didn't even make the bench.

Tomas Rosicky's goal in 72 seconds gave us a lead. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a glorious chance to extend the lead. On the back of two disheartening results and disappointing performances of late, the home crowd could have turned against their team, which could have in turn triggered a similar capitulation to those in their previous two games. Unfortunately, the Ox miscued his chipped effort wide when he had so many options and time in his hand. The same player had sight of goal again in the first half, but his effort was deflected wide. With the players available amid the current injury crisis, Arsenal had to play counter-attacking football. This was not a bad idea as Tottenham played a high defensive line in order to congest midfield and press high on the pitch, but we were missing one important player to play this style of football - Theo Walcott. Nevertheless, we still looked dangerous all the time especially in the first half and created a number of chances on the break. Podolski was especially effective in getting behind the high defensive line on the left flank as well as the goal scorer, Rosicky. The Ox was also a threat especially when he won the ball in midfield.

A section of fans were not happy with Arsenal's negative approach. But we tried to add to the goal tally and after failing to put the game beyond Tottenham's reach in the first half, the team was right to decide to protect the lead. We couldn't afford to lose this game or even draw. Besides, there were little attacking options on the bench.

We must admit that Arsenal were far from their fluent best. A mere 74% passing success rate speaks volumes for that. Rosicky admitted that they have to improve offensively if they want to win the league. Paul Merson was even harsher by stating that Arsenal would not win the league by sitting back and riding their luck till the end of the game after scoring an early goal as a better side than Tottenham would not let them get away with it. Riding our luck? Our defence was magnificent. Tottenham couldn't find defense-splitting balls, ending up with an incredible number of crosses, which our two centre-backs dealt with admirably. In the past seasons, Arsenal would have never dreamed of playing this kind of football when they could not play their brand of free-flowing football. This team has grit and solidity in defence to grind out a result in this kind of games and that's the main reason why we are still where we are this season.

Tim Sherwood's comment after the match that Tottenham outplayed Arsenal caused controversy. Credit to them, Tottenham delivered a strong performance, a big improvement over the recent weeks that the young English manager must be happy with. They dominated in possession (59%) and put us under pressure for a long spell. However, we had more clear-cut chances. Spurs had 17 shots in total, but only 2 were on target, whereas the Gunners had 3 shots on target out of 7. Tottenham's best chance came only when Szczesny made a mess of clearing a cross, but our two centre-backs put their bodies in front of Chadli and blocked his close-range attempt. The Gunners should have had a penalty when Vertonghen held Koscielny in the box with his arm around the French defender's neck and pulled him back. For some reason (perhaps Mike Dean didn't see it), it went unpunished. In the latter stages of the game, Mertesacker delivered a low drive from Santi's free-kick only to be denied by a superb reflex save from Lloris.

The result was massive. The win did not only brought us the bragging right (north London is red again! In fact, for the third time this season), but also put us back in the thick of the title race. After Chelsea's shock defeat to Aston Villa early on Saturday and Man City and Liverpool both winning their games earlier at weekend, pressure was on Arsenal, but they battled hard to win with a traditional "1-0" score line. At the same time, we have virtually put the final nail in the coffin of our north London rivals' hopes of finishing in top-four and above us. One writer pointed out that Arsenal are now most likely to have secured a Champions League spot. This point went largely unnoticed among the Arsenal fans because this season Champions League qualification is no longer our "trophy", not at the moment anyway. Although we are outsiders, we are still in the Premier League title chase. Also, we have a good chance of winning a real trophy in the FA Cup.

We are now 4 points behind the current league leaders Chelsea with a game in hand. At the moment, Chelsea are in a strong position as we cannot leapfrog them even if we win our game in hand. But if we can beat them in the next game, the whole dynamics of the title race could change. It's going to be a real 6 pointer.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 7
Thanks to Tottenham's profligacy in front of goal and our back-four's solid protection, the young Pole had only one save to make. His failure to clear the cross could have cost us dearly.

Sagna: 7
Kept Eriksen quiet. Assured display.

Mertesacker: 8
Made 20 clearances and won 7 aerial duels.

Koscielny: 9
Marshalled Adebayor very well. Made 3 tackles, 2 interceptions and 15 clearances, including last-man tackle and clearance. His passing success rate was an impressive 94% when the whole team's accuracy was significantly low by their standard. Sky Sports and whoscored. com named him the Man of the Match.

Gibbs: 7
He was unaware of Townsend's runs on a few occasions. He was the main culprit for Arsenal's poor passing success rate with a 58% accuracy rate.

Areta: 7
Did his job OK. Made more passes (51) than any other Arsenal player with a 88% passing success rate.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
Set up Rosicky's goal through a fortuitous touch. Had two good goal-scoring chances, but he failed to convert them. On the other hand, he made 5 interceptions and 1 tackle. Always a threat for counter-attack. Replaced by Vermaelen in the 85th minute.

Rosicky: 8
Scored a stunning goal. Made 2 key passes. He is an absolute Gunner, loving north London derbies and scoring two great goals against Tottenham this season. Replaced by Flamini in the 69th minute.

Cazorla: 7
Made 4 tackles and 3 interceptions.

Podolski: 7
Made a few good runs on the left flank in the first half, but faded in the second half. Replaced by Monreal in the 77th minute. 

Giroud: 6
Not his kind of game. 


Flamini: 6
Came on in the 69th minute to replace Rosicky. Made 1 tackle and 3 interceptions.

Monreal: 6
77th-minute substitute for Podolski to shore up defence.

Vermaelen: 6
Replaced the Ox in the 85th minute to safely see out a 1-0 victory.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bayern Munich 1 Arsenal 1 (Last 16 of Champions League)

Arsenal have been written off for any chance of progressing after a 2-0 home defeat three weeks ago and all the goal-scoring stats for Bayern Munich didn't bode well, either. Overturning the two-goal deficit was a mountain to climb. Even optimistic Gooners did not expect their club to qualify prior to the game. So we are not hugely upset, although we are out of the Champions League now officially. We can only take courage from the team's gutsy performance this night.

The media reaction was profoundly mixed. Pundits like Trevor Francis heaped their plaudits for the Gunners' gallant performance, insisting that they can be proud of their effort on the night. On the other hand, anti-Arsenal journalists couldn't help reminding us that the Champions League was another trophy we couldn't win this season and described every aspect of the match with a negative spin on it as if they had been watching a different game.

Before going into our version of events, we start with the team selection as usual. Arsene Wenger made three changes from the side that started in their 4-1 win over Everton in the FA Cup 6th Round. The fit-again Koscielny played alongside Mertesacker in the central defence, while Vermaelen was moved to cover the left-back position in the absence of fit natural left-backs. Nacho Monreal was still struggling with injuries. Good news is that Gibbs' ankle problem seems to be a short-term one as he has a chance to play on Sunday, according to the manager's injury updates prior to this match. Mathieu Flamini was dropped to the bench. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started in the central midfield alongside Mikel Arteta, who missed the first leg through suspension. Lukas Podolski was deployed on the left wing, while Olivier Giroud started in place of Yaya Sanogo who didn't make a trip to Germany due to a foot injury.

The bench looked scarce in number as well as quality. Ryo Miyaichi travelled with the squad only to find himself ineligible due to an administrative mistake, which anti journalists didn't miss the opportunity to include their match reports. Wenger explained it in his post-match conference by stating that the Japanese forward had been removed from the list of players for the Champions League following the boss' decision to loan him out. Third-choice keeper Emiliano Viviano, Carl Jenkinson, and an 18-year-old defender, Issac Haydon sat on the bench as well as Tomas Rosicky, Mathieu Flamini, and Serge Gnabry.

The team selection showed Arsenal's intent to have a go at the reigning champions, but the hosts' pressure from the start did not allow the visitors to exert their attacking prowess. Obviously, the German side had learnt what Arsenal were capable of from last season, or even the opening 15 minutes of the first leg. In the end, we had to defend hard and try to snatch something on the break. Some criticise the attack-oriented set-up for its vulnerability against counter-attack, but we were chasing at least two goals. Wenger's selection made sense. This group of attack-minded players did well to cope with all the pressure from a high-pressing Bayern side and put in a valiant performance until its weakness was exposed. Our most eminent attacking outlet was the Ox. He tried to drive forward from a deep position in midfield whenever he could. If Roy Hodgson was watching him dribbling through four Bayern players, the England midfielder will surely be on the plane to Brazil.

We had to be content with 0-0 at half time as Arsenal spent the majority of the first half on the back foot. In the second half, the parity was finally broken when unmarked Schweinsteiger through the middle met Ribery's square pass from the left-hand channel with a close-range shot. Bayern's goal meant we had to score three goals to qualify. But before even this cruel reality sank in, Podolski equalised for us. The game burst into life. From there anything looked possible to us, Gooners. As we expected, the first goal opened up the game and we looked dangerous, or Bayern's defence looked vulnerable. We created a few chances through the Ox' run down on the left flank and Gnabry's run on the right wing, but the final ball lacked quality.

Whatever the haters say, we think that Arsenal's valiant efforts and determined performance deserved plaudits. There is no shame in a 1-1 draw with the reigning European champions on their home soil. In light of the Bavarian club's recent goal-scoring stats and their dominance in their domestic league, the north London club proved their worth in the Europe's elite competition. Besides, we are still undefeated at the Allianz Arena over the two years. In fact, we are unbeaten in Germany (P6, W3, D3).

What's more important than the opinions of journalists or us fans is the players' take on this game. Obviously, they are disappointed with the fact that they couldn't do enough to get the result they wanted and that they were knocked out of the competition. However, they seemed to have taken heart from the commitment and work rate they put in. The Ox's post-match interview suggested that the 20-year-old had already moved on and looked forward to the north London derby this weekend. With decisive games still to come and 10 games left, we are still in the hunt for the Premier League title. With Manchester City eliminated from the FA Cup competition, we have a great chance of winning the Cup this season to end our nine-year trophy drought. Still fresh in the memory of the same group of players, last season's feat at Bayern Munich spurred them to go on an unbeaten run of 10 games to secure a top-four finish from fifth place 7 points behind Tottenham at this stage of the season. This season, we are third 7 points adrift of the league leaders Chelsea with a game in hand and still in the FA Cup. Hopefully, the Gunners will find confidence and belief in themselves from their battling display this night.

Players ratings

Fabianski: 8
Made a few brilliant saves and a spot-on decision to come out of the box. It was amazing to see the ball spinning on the line after the Polish keeper saved Muller's penalty with his legs. He recovered in time to smother the ball to help us hold onto the 1-1 draw. It would be great if we could keep him at the Club. 

Sagna: 7
His positioning was questionable at times, but then he didn't have a proper right winger to cover him defensively in this game.

Mertesacker: 8
The tower of our defence. Made 3 interceptions and 11 clearances.

Koscielny: 7
Robben is a well-known diver, but he fell for the Dutchman's trick a little too easily. We were shouting in front of the screen at him not to give Robben a chance, but it didn't need anything more than the slightest contact for the Dutchman to collapse in the box.

Vermaelen: 7
Coped well with Bayern's tricky wide players despite playing out of position (we all know that he hates to play there). Encouraging performance.

Areta: 7
Had a decent game as our sole holding midfielder. Made 5 tackles and 1 interception. Given a yellow card, though.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 8
One of big positives from this game is his dynamic performance. Demonstrated his skills, technique, and infectious positivity. Bayern Munich defenders could not cope with him without fouling him. Completed an impressive 10 dribbles before he was substituted by Mathieu Flamini in the 84th minute. He gave 100 percent. His passing success rate was poor at 74% (although the team average was substantially lower than usual at 74%) and probably he should have tracked Schweinsteiger's run as a deep-lying central midfielder. Nonetheless, he looked promising as a box-to-box player.

Cazorla: 7
Worked hard.

Özil: 6
Replaced by Rosicky at half time due to a hamstring injury. 12 passes with a meagre 58% passing success rate. Didn't do enough in this game, but some of the criticisms on him are over the top. Some newspaper articles even suggested that he was withdrawn at half time because of his poor performance and the injury was a cover-up. He made 1 key pass in the fairly quiet first half when the entire team were on the back foot. Also, he delivered a great corner kick, from which Giroud nearly scored. Wenger reckons that the injury is likely to keep the German playmaker on the sidelines for at least a few weeks, which is a huge blow to us. Our injury list is just getting longer and longer.

Podolski: 8
Scored our only goal. Although he fouled Lahm in his run leading to the goal (even Wenger admitted it), it was a superb shot from the sharp shooter. He sprang out of the shell after Bayern's scored a goal and led the attack afterwards.

Giroud: 6
Had a hard time as he was constantly subjected to physical challenges by Dante. 


Rosicky: 7
Came on at half time to replace injured Özil. 

Gnabry: 6
77th-minute substitute for Arteta to provide a fresh pair of legs and increase attacking threats. Got in a great position and made a few good runs, but his finishing let him down.

Flamini: 6
Replaced the Ox in the 84th minute to see out a 1-1 draw.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Arsenal 4 Everton 1 (FA Cup 6th Round)

Arsenal responded to their limp performance last weekend with a passionate display in the FA Cup tie and got the result they deserved. We are going to Wembly!!

Arsene Wenger rang 6 changes to the side that started in their shock defeat by the hand of Stoke last weekend. Fabianski, our designated Cup goalkeeper this season, started in place of Szczesny, who is suspended for the midweek game against Bayern Munich. On-loan keeper, Viviano was on the bench. Fit-again Thomas Vermaelen came in for Lauren Koscielny who sat out France's midweek friendly against Holland through a hamstring problem. After the match, Wenger stated that the French centre-back should resume training on the following day and has a chance to play in the Champions League match. Mathieu Flamini replaced Jack Wilshere who was ruled out for 6 weeks due to a hairline fracture to his left foot he sustained during international duty. The Flamini-Arteta central midfield partnership often leaves a gaping hole between the back four and the forward as they both lie deep, often proving too defensive, but there was very little to choose from in midfield as a result of injuries to Wilshere and Ramsey. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was an option for this position, but Wenger chose to deploy him on the right wing, and rightly so. Under-fire Mesut Özil started for the first time since his penalty miss against Bayern Munich. Yaya Sanogo led the line in place of Olivier Giroud.

Arsenal took an early lead after Santi Cazorla capitalised on a slip from McCarthy and laid a perfectly-weighted pass into the path of Özil, who then coolly slotted it home. Everton equalised in the 33rd minute from a quick counter-attack after Arteta's effort was blocked just outside the Everton box. The huge difference from last weekend was the Gunners' desire. The game was played with high tempo and intensity, which lived up to expectations for a Cup tie. The Ox's enthusiasm represented the whole team's determination to win. The England midfielder gave away the ball twice, but each time he got back to win it back or make a last-ditch tackle in the box. He was one of our outstanding players on the day.

All square at half-time. Despite all the chances Arsenal created in the first half, we couldn't see another goal coming from them as long as Sanogo played up front. Giroud's introduction was eagerly awaited and on 61 minutes entered the French striker. The change had a positive impact on the team and Arsenal took a lead once again through Arteta's penalty after the Ox was clipped by Barry in the box. The penalty was arguably the decisive moment of the game. Apart from Roberto Martinez, the decision was widely regarded as indisputable. Giroud's two late goals within three minutes virtually put the game to bed.

It was a great win that not only booked our passage to the semi-finals of the FA Cup, but also gave us a much-needed morale and confidence boost after the disappointing defeat at the Britannia Stadium. There are a few positives to take from this game, but the biggest one is arguably the team's spirited performance.

Another positive was Özil's stellar performance. The German international has been under severe criticism of late, but he answered his critics by scoring a goal, minutes later tracking back to our goal line and tackling Mirallas then providing an assist for another goal. In fact, his contribution as a playmaker should never have been questioned. Prior to the Sunderland game, he had created more chances (73) than any other player in Europe's 5 top-flight leagues this season. He created more chances (6) than any Arsenal or Everton player in this match.

On another point, Arsenal proved their critics wrong. They have been accused of their lack of pace since the loss of Theo Walcott, but the Ox impressed with his tremendous acceleration. As a team as well, all the three goals from open play came at the end of sweeping movements. Especially, Arsenal's fourth goal came from a quick counter-attack, which is considered as their trademark attacking movement, but hasn't been seen lately. Cazorla robbed the ball and his long pass found Rosicky on the right wing. Rosicky in turn spotted Özil's run through the middle and Özil laid an inch-perfect pass for Giroud to coolly finish. Hopefully, an Arsenal side will build on this day's performance and we will see more goals like these in the remaining games this season.

As well as pace and movements, width was lacking in our attack against Stoke, which made it easier for a Stoke side to defend against us. In this game, the front three players, Özil, Cazorla, and the Ox (and later Rosicky) kept interchanging their positions, but they tried to keep the width whenever they played wide.

Stats highlight Arsenal's directness and creativity in attack in comparison with the Stoke game. Arsenal had 17 shots in total, of which 9 were on target in this game, while they registered only 2 shots on target out of total 10 shots against Stoke. They made 439 passes with a 84.3% accuracy in this game, compared with 550 passes with a 85.1% passing accuracy against Stoke. Their possession was slightly down on their average at 52.3% in this game vis-a-vis 56.7% in the Stoke game. One may say that Arsenal were more efficient with their ball possession. The Gunners also worked hard to complete 16 interceptions and won an impressive 94.4% of their tackles.

Now Wigan await in the semi-finals of the FA Cup after the Cup holders knocked Manchester City out of the competition. We have learnt from our own bitter experiences last season that lower-division clubs should not be underestimated and Wigan's shock defeat of the Manchester giants is a fresh remainder. But that's in a month's time. Before that, we have to negotiate our tricky run of games in March and the mammoth task of overturning a two-goal deficit against Bayern Munich looms on the horizon.

Players ratings

Fabianski: 7
Apart from a couple of questionable decisions and miscommunication, he did a good job. 

Sagna: 7
Provided Giroud with an assist for his first goal. Worked hard going forward, but he was slow to get back when Everton broke, which may be to blame for Everton's equaliser.

Mertesacker: 7
Kept Lukaku in check.

Vermaelen: 7
Apart from an unfortunate slip, which nearly cost us a goal, he didn't put a foot wrong.

Gibbs: 7
Solid defensively, good going forward. Replaced by Jenkinson during the closing stages of the game due to a calf problem. Hopefully, he will make a trip to Munich as Nacho Monreal has been struggling with a foot injury since he came off the pitch at half time against Sunderland two weeks ago.

Flamini: 7
Worked hard to provide more protection and a cover for the back four. After an early booking, he did well to keep his discipline and stay composed

Arteta: 8
Played a more offensive role and higher up on the pitch than his usual position. Kept his cool to score from the spot despite having had to retake the penalty. He received some criticism from Everton fans for celebrating his goal against his former club, but it was such a pivotal moment and it's understandable that he was so worked up after the penalty retake. Besides, he's been an Arsenal player for nearly 3 years and is vice-captain of the club. Probably it's about time he was allowed to show some loyalty to his current club.

Cazorla: 8
At the heart of the creativity. Energetic performance. Unlucky not to score when his fierce drive forced a superb save from Robles.

Özil: 8
"Regenerated" Özil produced a strong performance. He was even tracking back on Everton's counter-attack. Hopefully, his form has turned a corner and it only gets better.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 8
Very lively and a constant goal threat. Made 3 shots on target, which forced good saves from Robles. Made 5 tackles and 4 interceptions. Good all round performance, apart from some sloppy passing. It seemed a strange decision to take off arguably the Man of the Match in the 78th minute unless Wenger was planning to start him against Bayern Munich on Tuesday night. Always more effective when he starts rather than coming off he bench.

Sanogo: 6
17 passes with a 64% passing success rate. Not much involved in the game. Replaced by Giroud in the 61st minute. 


Giroud: 8
Scored two well-taken goals to seal a victory. His intelligent movement in the box leading to his first goal showed his quality as a striker, which some of the fans have started doubting lately. Unlucky not to grab a hat-trick.

Rosicky: 7
Replaced the Ox in the 78th minute on the right wing. He was part of the superb build-up play leading to Arsenal's fourth goal. He still has plenty of pace at the age of 33.

Jenkinson: N/A
Replaced Gibbs in 88th-minute at left-back. Just 1 pass and 2 clearances.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Stoke City 1 Arsenal 0

It was a lacklustre and turgid performance from the Gunners. That performance hurts us more than the result. This was a must-win game for us before a tough run of the March fixtures really kicks in. Considering the importance of the game, if that's all the performance the team could put in, our hopes of lifting a trophy is pretty much doomed.

We don't often criticise the boss, but it is difficult to ignore his responsibility in this game in two aspects. First of all, the team selection was wrong. Secondly, he failed to motivate the team. We were still in the hunt for the title prior to the game. There was all to play for, but what the team came up with was such a tepid display, which was very disappointing. There was no desire to win nor urgency to find a first goal. We just didn't understand. We were still hoping at half time to see Arsenal come out of the blocks quickly in the second half, but it wasn't to be.

Arsene Wenger made just one change from the side that started in Arsenal's emphatic win over Sunderland last Saturday. Kieran Gibbs replaced Nacho Monreal, who did not recover in time from the foot injury he sustained during the first half of the Sunderland game. Considering the fact that Gibbs was reportedly set to miss the second leg of the Champions League game through a buttock injury and that we might have had to resort to playing Thomas Vermaelen, who had just returned from an almost 2-month lay-off, out of position, Gibbs' earlier-than-expected return to the starting XI was nothing but a boost. On the other hand, what raised eye brows was that the exclusion of Mathieu Flamini. Both Match Preview and Stats Zone on the site highlighted the importance of Flamini's role in this game, which was expected to be a physical contest. So when we saw the teamsheet, we could not believe the absence of Flamini in the starting line-up. It was not only his physical strength that was sorely missed, but also his presence as the "motivator-in-chief".

Just one forced change to the last weekend's starting XI may be explained by the assumption that Wenger expected Stoke to try to play their new style of passing football. How wrong it was to be. If they had tried to play their new style of football, we would have had a good chance to win this game as we have better quality players to execute passing football. The best example was the reverse fixture earlier this season. We "outStoked" the Stoke side at the Emirates by scoring 3 goals from set-pieces. However, Mark Hughes has already sussed out that he could not get results by playing easy-on-the-eye football with the same personnel under Tony Pulis. The return to their old style reaped a reward in that they beat Chelsea and Man U and held Man City to a goalless draw at the Britannia Stadium.

Another omission from the starting line-up that bemused us was that of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Once again this explains that Wenger expected that this game was going to be a passing contest rather than a rugby match. The Ox is a more direct and strong player with pace. Wilshere's style of play invites physical challenges and he can be easily bullied by those approaches. As soon as the Ox had come on, he injected the much-needed urgency and pace as well as width.

As we said last weekend, the Sunderland match was the right kind of game for the right group of players. Wenger fielded almost same starting XI against a Stoke side. We might have been still able to produce a result, but without desire or spark, it was extremely hard. The lack of pace in our passing was detrimental. If Arsenal want to play a passing game, they have to deliver it with high tempo.

The talking point of the game is arguably the referee Mike Jones' controversial penalty decision. There is an argument that it was a soft penalty as this is a case of ball to hand rather than hand to ball. Certainly it was not deliberate, but we have seen quite a few cases where penalties were given in similar or even more unavoidable situations. Beside, if it had happened to the opposition, we would have claimed a penalty for sure. To us, the penalty decision was almost irrelevant. The major point of the game was Arsenal's toothless attack.

There is no denying that our title credentials were severely dented after the loss. Not only did we lose ground in the title race by allowing Chelsea to extend their lead to 4 points and Liverpool to leapfrog us to second on goal difference, but also this kind of performance seriously question our capability to remain in the tightest ever title race. However, we think that calling for Wenger's head or blaming the lack of transfer activity in the January window is a knee-jerk reaction that takes us nowhere. First of all, there is no better person to take over the charge of the Club. Secondly, there were no top-class strikers available in the past transfer window. We just have to keep the faith in the Frenchman till the end of the season.

Some say that if you cannot beat a team like Stoke, there is no chance of winning the title. Yes, our results against the bottom-table clubs have been consistent this season, which was the main reason why we were still at the top end of the table despite our poor results against top teams. So losing to a bottom-half club is a worry. But remember, both Chelsea and Man City dropped points at the Britannia Stadium and they are considered as title favourites. We can only be happy to have this tricky game out of the way.

Our next game is the FA Cup 6th round tie against Everton at home on Saturday. The midweek international break is meaningless and nothing but a pain, but hopefully we can regroup and refocus on the next game when our players have come back from international duty. By now Arsenal have proven enough times that they can bounce back. The FA Cup may be our only chance of winning a trophy this season. Arsenal have been producing some gutsy performances in this competition this season. Hopefully, they will replicate those performances against Everton.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 7
Made a superb save to deny Whelan's effort in the first half.

Sagna: 7
With no width on the right flank till the Ox came on, he had to go forward to help attack on that wing.

Mertesacker: 7
Kept Peter Crouch at bay most of time.

Koscielny: 7
Solid until he gave away the penalty.

Gibbs: 7
Decent display, but didn't find Podolski enough on the left wing.

Arteta: 7
Did his job.

Wilshere: 6
Failed to create a spark. Ineffectual.

Cazorla: 6
Involved in one of few quick attacks, but took a wrong decision to go himself when Poldi was ideally positioned on his left side.

Rosicky: 6
Lacklustre performance. Attempted some bold passing, but the lack of accuracy let him down.

Podolsiki: 6
He was the only starting player that could have provided much-needed pace, but his team-mates just did not find him often enough. Had only 31 touches. When Arteta found him running down the left channel, he fired it into the side-netting. Replaced by Özil in the 67th minute. 

Giroud 6
Had a tough game, constantly targeted by Stoke's niggly fouls, most of which went unpunished. Charlie Adam could have broken his leg with his stamp on the French striker's shin.


Özil: 6
Came on for Podolski in the 67th minute. His shot across the face of goal from the left channel missed the target agonizingly closely.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
Made an impact immediately when he came on for Rosicky in the 74th minute. He should have started.

Sanogo: 5
81st-minute substitute for Wilshere. His touches left a lot to be desired. Missed a guilt-edged opportunity when the Ox's cut-back found him with acre of space in the box.