Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hull City 0 Arsenal 3

Prior to the match, this game was referred to as the dress rehearsal of the FA Cup final. However, the two sides had their different targets, going into this league game. The hosts were not entirely safe from relegation, hoping another win would take them to the safety, while the visitors were looking to extend their lead to four points over their closest top-four finish rivals before Everton's game against Manchester United kicked off. They say that Cup finals were totally different from league encounters, but Arsenal's convincing win must have given them a psychological edge for the May date with the Tigers.

Arsene Wenger made 3 changes from the side that started in a 3-1 victory over West Ham on Tuesday night. Fit-again Nacho Monreal replaced a makeshift left-back Thamas Vermaelen, who picked up a late "minor" (we will see how this "minor" turns out) hamstring problem. We acknowledge that Monreal is a specialist left-back, but in the hindsight, as Hull used so many crosses and also due to the physical nature of the first half an hour of the game, Vermaelen might have been a better choice, should he have been available (a thought for the FA Cup final team selection). Aaron Ramsey made his first league start in nearly 4 months in place of Kim Källström. Mesut Özil's return was the major talking point prior to the game. He was widely expected to start from the bench, but Wenger opted to start the German playmaker. As a result, Tomas Rosicky dropped to bench. In central midfield, we expected Mathieu Flamini to start alongside Ramsey as the French midfielder would be fresh after missing out on 2 games through suspension. However, Mikel Arteta kept his place despite the fact that the 31-year-old have played 210 minutes of football in the last 8 days. The Ox was again left on the bench.

Hull started brightly, putting the visitors on the back foot for some while, but Arsenal started to find their passing game as they gained more ball possession. Overall, Arsenal were more clinical in the final third and that decided the result. The stats speak volumes for that, with Hull registering 13 shots in total against our 12, 4 shots on target in comparison with Arsenal's 6. Both sides hit the woodwork once. Steve Bruce regretted the referee's decision to not award them a free-kick when Arteta seemingly tripped Jelavic, but replays indicated there was little or no contact between the two players as Arteta strove to stop himself running into the back of Jelavic. The fact which received less attention was that Arsenal had two legitimate penalty claims. Özil's foot was swept away by Elmohamady in the early stages of the first half, while the Ox was clipped in the box.

The game saw three great team goals and a clean sheet with crucial three points away from home. It couldn't have been better in terms of the result. As Wenger pointed out in his post-match conference, the return of Ozil and Ramsey gave us a cutting edge in the final third and made a difference to our recent performances away from home which have often been described as toothless. Arsenal's away stats have been dismal since the Liverpool game in February with 16 goals conceded and a mere 3 goals scored in all competition. It is encouraging that the team started scoring goals away from home, while they kept a clean sheet for the first time since a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane.

Following the match, so many people asked the same question: what if Aaron Ramsey had stayed fit all season? We have to be positive. With 3 league games and a Cup final left, the Welshman may still have the say in this season's Young Player of the Year award and more importantly, will play a crucial role in the Gunners' top-four finish aspirations and their quest for silverware.

Since a penalty win over Wigan in the FA Cup semi-final, Arsenal have been building up their confidence gradually. The return of Özil to fitness and Ramsey to his best, combined with Poldi's newly found form, have lifted the whole team and instilled much-needed self-belief. We are convinced that Arsenal has turned the corner and will push on for a top-four finish to the end of the season. Unfortunately, the lead over Everton was closed again within 2 hours as the Merseyside club beat a lacklustre Manchester United 2-0, but our fate is still in our own hands. If we can reproduce this day's performance for 3 more times this season, we should be able to claim another season of Champions League football.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 7
Solid, especially when Arsenal were under pressure early in the game. Made some good saves and handled crosses very well.

Sagna: 7
Strong in defence and helped attack.

Mertesacker: 7
Solid defensive display. Unlucky not to score from Santi's free-kick with a header which flew just over the bar. After receiving an early yellow card, he disciplined himself well.

Koscielny: 7
Made 5 interceptions and 14 clearances.

Monreal: 7
Looked a bit insecure in the early stages of the game when Arsenal were on the back foot, but settled into the game. Joined in the attack more often in the second half and got involved in the build-up leading to Arsenal's third goal.

Areta: 7
Coped with physical battles well despite losing a front teeth.

Ramsey: 9
He was at the heart of everything good Arsenal did. Had 104 touches, 4 shots in total, 3 of which were on target, made 77 passes with a 87% success rate and 2 key passes. He also covered more distance (a whopping 12.76 km) than anybody else on the pitch. Scored an opener after a great run through midfield into the box and with a composed finish. Had a hand in both Poldi's goals. He provided an assist for Poldi's first after chesting Giroud's cross into the path of Poldi and fired a first-time shot which Harper saved well but could only present Poldi with a simple finish, leading to Poldi's second. We didn't expect him to rediscover his early-season form on his just second start. Deserved Barclays' Man of the Match. Great to have him back.

Cazorla: 8
Provided an assist for Ramsey's opener with an inch-perfect pass into Ramsey's path. Created 4 chances. His passing was as incisive as ever, but his defensive contribution has been attracting attention these days. Made 3 tackles, but often he gave away the ball after he had made such an effort to win the ball back. Apparently, he was an Arsenal player who benefited most from the return of Ramsey as the duo found each other 35 times in this game, the highest number of passes between two players on the pitch.

Özil: 7
His stats didn't look great, but his influence was obvious in this game. Arsenal's midfield have been criticised for the lack of mobility, but his incisive movements and passing created spaces for himself and his team-mates to exploit.

Podolski: 8
Scored two good goals that highlighted his ability as a deadly finisher. Had 3 shots, all of which were on target. He may have started the game as a left winger, but he ended the game as a centre forward before he was replaced by Sanogo in the 84th minute. It doesn't matter where he plays as long as he gets into great positions to shoot. Also, he won as many (3) aerial duels as Giroud did. 4 goals from the last 2 games. Great to see him hit such a great form.

Giroud: 7
Held up the ball well, while his link-up play with the midfield was also good. Unlucky not to score when he took the advantage of Harper's mistake. Did well to take a shot from an acute angle, which unfortunately hit the underside of the crossbar.


Flamni: 7
Replaced Özil in the 61st minute to see out a comfortable 3-0 victory.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
Came on for Giroud in the 73rd minute. Lively and caused the Hull defence all sorts of problems. Should have had a penalty.

Sanogo: 6
Replaced Poldi in the 84th minute. Little impact.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Arsenal 3 West Ham 1

It was an important win for us to keep the pace with Everton in our battle for the last Champions League berth. After a hard-fought 3-1 win over West Ham, Arsenal were back in fourth place at least for 24 hours.

Arsenal's focus turned to the Premier League Tuesday night as they trailed Everton by 2 points for fourth place. Some fans seem to think that the north London club's aspiration for a Champions League place is solely motivated by a financial reason. However, the Champions League football is also a big attraction to lure world-class players with and keep star players within the Club. Arsene Wenger has also emphasised its importance for the development of young players. Besides, we, Arsenal fans, all love to watch our beloved club play against Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barca, etc. rather than in a Thursday-night second-tier European football league, don't we?

After the gruelling 120 minutes plus mentally-testing penalty shootout of the FA Cup semi-final, understandably the recovery of those players who played in the game less than 72 hours ago had been a cause of concern prior to the match. There were so many uncertainties surrounding the fitness of players for this match. Mathieu Flamini was still suspended as well. After much speculation, Arsene Wenger made 4 changes to the side that started in Arsenal's penalty shootout win over Wigan. Szczesny came back in goal in place of the Cup hero, Fabianski. Fit-again Koscielny formed a central defensive partnership again with Mertesacker after missing 3 games. Vermaelen was a stand-in left-back as neither of Gibbs nor Monreal (dead leg) was available. Kim Källström made a first start in an Arsenal shirt as Aaron Ramsey was only fit for the bench after suffering tight muscles in the aftermath of the FA Cup tie. Tomas Rosicky started in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who only made the bench after complaining of muscle tightness. Olivier Giroud came in for Yaya Sanogo. In fact, this line-up was the oldest starting XI Arsene Wenger fielded since May 2003 with an average age of 29 years and 188 days.

There was an argument after the Wigan game as to whether the performance overshadowed the result, but as far as this match is concerned, we are happy with both display and outcome. The team showed their full commitment and desire. They really wanted it. Especially, they showed their character when they went 1-0 down. They responded quickly. Källström drew a fine save from Adrian with his powerful shot, while Santi quickly got the on end of Downing's poor clearance and delivered an incisive pass through three defenders to find Poldi before the German striker turned and fired a shot into the far bottom corner of the net. The equaliser came at a crucial time, 4 minutes after they had fallen behind and just before half time.

The three sublime goals from Poldi and Giroud demonstrated their class. The two strikers both had a point to prove. After the FA Cup tie against Wigan, Poldi expressed his disgruntlement over being repeatedly substituted, but he completed 90 minutes in this game with two superb goals to cap his stellar performance. Much-maligned Olivier Giroud scored his 20th goal of the season, which was reminiscent of Arsenal hero Bergkamp. According to Wenger, the French striker was deeply disappointed with himself at half time after missing a couple of good chances, but he picked himself up and scored an exquisite goal, even had a hand in the build-up leading to Poldi's second goal. Hopefully, confidence and encouragement from this game will propel his form for the remainder of the season. Having runners beyond him again in the shape of Ramsey and Ozil, Giroud's form is likely to improve.

The team's resilience coming from behind to win only 3 days after a draining FA Cup semi-final convinced quite a few people of Arsenal's capability to secure a Champions League spot once again, combined with their relatively straightforward run-in compared to Everton's. Following Everton's shock defeat at Goodison Park by the hands of Crystal Palace on Wednesday night (Everton's tricky fixtures was not supposed to start until this weekend when they host Manchester United), Arsenal has got the control of their own destiny. The Gunners are now a point clear of fifth-placed Everton, having played the same number of games. We are obviously buoyed by the development. Last season we went over a period that we couldn't lose any more and produced an unbeaten run of 10 games. With four league games remaining, hopefully we can replicate the same performance and commitment. Also, we will have players back in the next couple of weeks, including Ozil who should be available for the next game. If we can win the FA Cup and finish in the top four, it will be a successful season for us.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 7
Probably could have done better against West Ham's goal, but with West Ham registering only 2 shots on target, he was largely untested.

Sagna: 7
Always available on the right flank.

Mertesacker: 7
Kept Andy Carroll contained. Won 5 aerial duels. 

Koscielny: 7
Some shaky moments in the first half, but stepped up his game in the second half like everybody else.

Vermaelen: 7
The absence of Gibbs and Monreal might have been a blessing in disguise. The Belgian centre-back seemed to have been a better option against a physical West Ham side than the two specialist left-backs (certainly much better than Moreal). Won 5 aerial duels and made an important block to Nocerino's shot. He set up Giroud's goal through a long lofted ball. Went forward as often as he could.

Areta: 7
Is he to blame for West Ham's goal for not tracking Matt Jarvis' run through the middle? He allowed Diame a little too easy to run through the middle.

Källström: 7
Helped balance the team between defence and offence with his good skills and intelligent reading of the game. Made 5 tackles and 1 interception, more passes (84) than any other player, even Arteta. Some passes went astray, but a 83% completion rate was as bad as some people think. Made a good run deep into the box, which we have missed in the recent games, and his powerful left-footed shot drew a fine save from Adrian.

Cazorla: 8
Barclays' Man of the Match. Provided an assist for Poldi's first goal through his astute pass threading through three West Ham defenders. He even displayed a dogged defensive performance. Unlucky not to find the net when his curling effort only just missed the goal. He always wanted the ball.

Rosicky: 7
Created a great chance by making a run behind Giroud, but couldn't get firm control of the ball. Energetic display in the first half, but faded in the second half and replaced by Ramsey in the 72nd minute.  

Podolski: 8
Took his two goals very well. After scoring his second, he even tracked back and started running into spaces. 10 goals from 15 starts is an impressive stat. Hopefully, he will produce more of this kind of passionate performances.

Giroud: 7
For his goal, he used his upper body strength to shield the ball from two markers, controlled the ball with a perfect touch with his left foot and clinically finished to put the ball through Adrian's legs with his weaker right foot. He showed his class in his goal and 16 league goals is not a bad goal tally, but his poor conversion rate vis-a-vis the number of chances he gets still left a lot to be desired.


Ramsey: 7
Replaced Rosicky in the 72nd minute. Made a difference through his dynamic runs and set up Poldi's second goal with his deft header to release Poldi behind a West Ham defence. How much we have missed him! It was encouraging to see him try a long-range shot, which indicated that his confidence is back. 

Jenkinson: 6
Came on for Santi in the 88th minute to see out a victory. Lively on the right flank. Delivered a fine cross to Ramsey.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Wigan 1 Arsenal 1 (2-4 pens, FA Cup Semi-final)

It wasn't a vintage performance from the Gunners by any means, but it doesn't matter how we got there. We are in the FA Cup final.

At O'Neills Bar, we celebrated the win just as wild as the other Gooners all over the world. Some journalists have interpreted the sheer scale of Arsenal players' celebration as the desperation of the club that have not won silverware for 8 years. Probably they are the same people who criticised the north London club's celebration for a top-four finish last season. This game was arguably more important than the final itself in terms of repercussions that its outcome may have. If we had lost this tie, the result would have further undermined the players' confidence and belief and could have had a detrimental effect on the remaining 5 league games with nothing to look forward to. Finishing in the top four would have been a consolation goal for the disappointing season and the pressure to achieve that target would have increased even more. It was a joy to go through to the final as well as a huge relief for us.

Going into the semi-final, Arsenal's injury situation deteriorated further. As many as 12 first-teamers could be missing this match. The tie came too soon for Laurant Koscielny (calf) and Mesut Özil (hamstring), while Jack Wilshere (foot), Abu Diaby (knee) were still on their way for recovery, with the season already finished for Theo Walcott (knee) and Ryo Miyaichi (hamstring). Serge Gnabry and Nicklas Bendtner remain on the sidelines. Mathieu Flamini began a two-match ban from this game. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin), Tomas Rosicky (thigh), and Kieran Gibbs (ankle) were all doubtful.

As it happened, Arsene Wenger made four changes from the side that started in a devastating 3-0 defeat at Goodison Park, which came as no surprise to us. The designated cup keeper, Fabianski replaced Szczesny. Aaron Ramsey started for the first time since Boxing Day in place of the suspended Flamini. The Ox overcame his groin problem, starting on the right wing, while Rosicky didn't even make the bench. Yaya Sanogo replaced Olivier Giroud, who had been looking increasingly tired of late.

The Gunners started the game brightly. Yaya Sanogo had the best chance of the first half with his powerful header, which he managed to direct downwards, but unfortunately it was straight at the keeper. We had a few more chances, including Sanogo getting in behind the Wigan defence, but lacked a cutting edge in the final ball.

In the 63rd minute, Mertesacker gave away a penalty. We cannot argue the decision, but we were so unlucky. In the build-up leading to the penalty, Monreal was injured, resulting in McManaman exploiting the vast space behind him and the Spanish left-back was stretchered off with a dead leg. As Arsenal mounted pressure in search for an equaliser, Sagna's header hit the woodwork. Gibb's goal-bound header was diverted wide by Scott Carson's hand. When we started thinking that this could be one of those days when everything goes against us, the illusive equaliser arrived in the 82nd minute, when Mertesacker got behind Wigan defence and steered the Ox's effort into the back of the net.

In extra time, the Ox hit the woodwork among other chances. The tie was heading for a tense ending by penalty shootout. Fabianski heroically saved the first two spot-kicks to give his team-mates a massive advantage. Arteta, Källström, Giroud, and Cazorla made no mistake. The Gunners were deadly in their penalty taking.

After the match, quite a few people were sniffy about how Arsenal beat Wigan on penalties, but did Manchester City walk over Wigan? Wigan may be a Championship side, but they were the cup holders and have beaten one of the best teams in the country to get this far in this competition.

This tie came at a very difficult time for Arsenal. Their confidence was completely shot last weekend. Despite their faltering form, they went into the game as strong favourites, which mounted extra pressure on top of the hopes of ending their 8-year trophy drought. The ongoing injury crisis meant that personnel were limited to play Arsenal brand of free-flowing football, which also requires solid confidence for sharp and positive passing.

Some criticised Arsenal's approach in the latter stages of normal time, which resorted to long balls to the two tall strikers, claiming that it spoke volumes for Arsene's desperation. I wonder if they could be the same people who accused of the Frenchman's rigidity over tactics and lack of a plan B last weekend. After the bright start which saw Arsenal attack with pace through the Ox and Sanogo, Arsenal fell into the usual predictable passing game with "sterile possession". They looked to have run out of imagination, but the switch to a more direct approach after Wigan's goal certainly changed the game. Arsene Wenger even changed his formation to a kind of 4-1-3-2 system. Whether you may call it a desperation or not, it was a breath of fresh air and good to see Arsene try something different.

Arsenal may not have played easy-on-the-eye football, but they created enough chances worthy of a victory, with total 27 shots, 9 of which were on target with 2 hitting the woodwork. Meanwhile, Wigan were reduced to just 2 shots on target one of those was the penalty. They didn't look like scoring from open play.

Regardless of performances, going through this tie was crucial to us. Having negotiated the tough semi-final at a very difficult time, we now look forward to the final against Hull City on 17 May. We should have all Koscielny, Özil, and Wilshere (and even Diaby) back from injury by then, while Ramsey will be fully match fit and hopefully have rediscovered his earlier form. The team should have enough quality to beat Hull and hopefully, will be able to win the cup by playing beautiful football with renewed confidence by then (although we wouldn't mind if they won it ugly again). Now our focus shifts to the Premier League as the battle for the top-four heats up.

Players ratings

Fabianski: 8
Had only 2 saves to make in 120 minutes. He was unlucky not to save the penalty in normal time as he guessed the right way. He was superb in saving the first two penalties, helping Arsenal's cause a great deal.

Sagna: 7
Arguably our best defender. Had a good chance to score after Cazorla's corner was nodded on by Vermaelen, but he shot it wide from an acute angle. Unlucky not score when his other effort hit the woodwork.

Mertesacker: 7
Made an uncharacteristic error, bring down McManaman. The Wigan midfielder did not have the close control of the ball and Bacary Sagna was perfectly placed to cover for him. There was no need for the German centre-back to slide in. Later on, he made amends by scoring an equaliser. 

Vermaelen: 7
Solid display.

Monreal: 6
Struggled to contain McManaman at times. Replaced by Gibbs on 63rd minutes after suffering a dead leg on a heavy challenge by McManaman, which led to the penalty.

Areta: 7
Did his job quietly, making 6 tackles, 1 interception, and 75 passes with a 89% accuracy. Kept his nerve firmly as our first taker in penalty shoot-out.

Ramsey: 7
Playing 112 minutes on his first start in three and half months was a hard task. Made 4 tackles, had 1 shot and created 2 chances. 

Cazorla: 7
Not eye-catching, but did his job. Made 3 key passes. Scored an all important winning penalty.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 8
Man of the Match. Provided an assist for Mertesacker's equaliser. Had 5 shots, one of which was on target, and created 5 chances. His passing success rate was better than usual, at 85%.  

Podolski: 6
We know he is our best finisher, but he needs to get into better positions.

Sanogo: 6
His touch let him down when he had a glorious opportunity to score after getting in behind the defence. Had 9 shots, 5 of which were on target. His control of the ball and finishing need to improve. He created 3 good chances for his team-mates, but we desperately need a goalscorer.


Gibbs: 7
Replaced injured Monreal in the 63rd minute. Made an impact through his attacking contribution and didn't put foot wrong defensively either. Unlucky not to score with his brilliant header.

Giroud: 6
Came on for Poldi in the 68th minute. Forced a fine save from Carson. Cool penalty.

Källström: 6
Replaced Ramsey in the 112nd minute. Little impact during extra time apart from having 2 shots off target, but the experienced Sweden international scored a good penalty with great composure.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Everton 3 Arsenal 0

A good side cannot turn a poor side overnight, can they? Arsene Wenger named more or less the same starting line-up as the side that started in a 1-1 draw with Manchester City last weekend. The only change was a forced one after Kieran Gibbs was ruled out due to an ankle problem. Nacho Monreal recovered from a foot injury in time to replace the English left-back. In the absence of Koscielny, Vermaelen continued in the centre-back position alongside Mertesacker. The Flamini-Arteta partnership remained in central midfield. As Wenger explained his team selection against Swansea, he relied on experienced players once again in difficult times.

After another comprehensive defeat by the hands of a top-five team, the media have decided this was a pattern rather than an "accident", as which Arsene Wenger described the humiliation at Stamford Bridge. The media also tried to identify Arsenal's shortcomings commonly seen in those big matches, but it's difficult to blame the team selection. After the Chelsea match in question, fans and journalists alike questioned Arsene Wenger's decision to leave Mathieu Flamini out of the starting line-up, but the French midfielder started in this game. The same man was inspiration for Arsenal's spirited comeback (well, nearly) against Man City, too. Santi Cazorla pulled all the strings against the Manchester club last weekend, but unfortunately, he was the shadow of his old self in this match. It was not just Santi, but our players were slow and static in all departments, while Everton players were quick and energetic and seemed to know exactly what they were supposed to be doing. If the Arsenal players performed at their best and imposed their game like they did against Man City, they might have still got something out of this game.

Besides, we had little option in terms of team selection. Ramsey was no where near match fit enough to start as he only started full training on three days earlier after a 3-month lay-off. Källström would have been too big a gamble for the game of this magnitude. The Ox on the wing might have been the only viable option (Remember, the last time when he started in central midfield, he had a nightmare against Chelsea).

Most of criticisms go to Arsene Wenger's tactics or the lack of them. While Roberto Martinez earned plaudits for his flexible approach to tactics to exploit oppositions' weakness from a broader football observer base, Wenger's stubbornness to stick to his philosophy and lack of plan B became the centre of criticism from the fans. In Wenger's defence, we have to admit that he had a plan B in the shape of Theo Walcott, who offers something different to Arsenal brand of possession and passing football. However, we cannot deny the claim that the Frenchman lacks tactical flexibility to accommodate opponents' strengths and weakness in his gameplan and Arsenal's attack has become too predictable. He never changes his 4-2-3-1 formation depending on opponents or personnel available. When they cannot play their game, facing with opponents' high-pressing strategy or resolute defence, they struggle. Sometimes even experienced players are left without wits. Not only on the offensive side, but Arsenal's defensive vulnerability against counter-attacks have become obvious, too. If Wigan have sussed out by now how to stop us playing and snatch a goal, we expect the Gunners to have a tough, long evening on Saturday.

Another criticism was again about Arsenal's mental frailty. We thought Arsenal showed some grit or character, whatever you call it, in the last game against Man City. People have a very short memory and this accusation is likely to come back again and again every time we lose. We think that it is more down to confidence rather than mental strength, in particular, when they play away from home.

It was a disheartening loss, but there were a few positives. The biggest one was the return of Aaron Ramsey. He had been out for 3 months through a thigh injury since his 23rd birthday, but he played as if he had never missed a game. Probably it is too much to expect him to hit a form immediately, but in his 25-minute appearance, the energy and quality he demonstrated was encouraging. His drive through midfield, incisive passing, and runs into the Everton box certainly gave us something to cheer about. Whether he likes it or not, Wenger may have to start the Wales midfielder in the next two games as Flamini will be suspended for those games after picking up his 10th yellow card of this season.

Although Wenger's substitutions came too late, after we were already 3-0 down, substitutes made a difference. The introduction of the Ox injected much-needed pace to the side. He dribbled through Everton's midfield and had a powerful shot from just outside the box, which forced a superb save from Tim Howard before hitting the woodwork. Yaya Sanogo was also an upgrade from Olivier Giroud in this game. Although his goal, which was ruled out wrongly for off-side, would have only been consolation, what a boost it would have given to the confidence of the young French striker.

This was a six-pointer for the top-four race. Everton had to win it, while Arsenal must not lose it. The defeat against fifth-placed Everton put a top-four finish out of our hands. They are a point behind us, having played one game fewer. However, Everton have a more difficult-looking run-in, including Man U and Man City at home and Southampton away. In light of our current form, our fixtures are not necessarily easier, but if we can beat Wigan this weekend, the win and the prospect of the FA Cup final could serve as a springboard for the remainder of the season. Keep fingers crossed that Everton will drop points and we will get maximum points out of the remaining games. It looks like we are heading for the very familiar ending of the season, a nervy scrap for the last Champions League berth. It is a disappointing end to the season which has looked so promising until mid-March.

Wenger is hoping a change of competition will help Arsenal rediscover their confidence. We wouldn't be surprised if he made a few changes to his side this weekend. He has fielded different attacking units to his conventional starting XI so far this season in this competition. Walcott was excellent in leading the line with Gnabry on the right wing against Tottenham in the 3rd round, while Bendtner, Poldi, Gnabry, Özil were the attacking quartet against Coventry City in the 4th round. The counter-attacking trio, Sanogo, Poldi, and the Ox, shone in a tough 5th-round tie against Liverpool. Sanogo, the Ox, Cazorla and Özil started in a 4-1 victory against Everton in the quarter-finals (Sanogo was in fact ineffectual in this game and it was Giroud who made a difference when he came off the bench).

With our current form, lack of confidence is likely to be more of a problem than complacency against Wigan. We should have Koscielny back from a calf injury this weekend. The game will come too soon for Özil, but his return is imminent, could be as early as next week.  Hopefully, Arsene Wenger will lift his players and make them believe in themselves once again before Saturday. A win at the Wembley this weekend could kickstart our run-in. At least, the semi-final is not a lunch-time kickoff, so we have a half chance for our players to turn up with a decent performance this time around.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 6
For the first goal, he did well to block Lukaku's effort only for the rebound to fall for Naismith. Probably he could have done better. On the other hand, he couldn't do much about the second goal largely because his sight of the ball was blocked by Naismith who was in an off-side position. For the third goal, he beat Naismith to the ball, but our defenders were slow to deal with the rebound. Only Arteta just beat Mirallas to put the ball into the back of the own net.

Sagna: 6
His dithering on the ball and subsequently being robbed of the ball by Mirallas led to the third goal. He had a tough game without a right winger to help him out offensively or defensively on that flank.

Mertesacker: 6
He was exposed so often in this game for his lack of pace, but the team should have played better to cover his well-known weakness. He must have missed Koscielny sorely alongside him.  

Vermaelen: 7
He was arguably our best defender, having made 2 tackles, including a last-man tackle, 4 interceptions and 3 clearances and won 5 aerial duels. He also showed his determination in some of his solid challenges, but his positional awareness was questionable for the first and third goals. Easily beaten by Lukaku for the second goal.

Monreal: 5
Had a torrid time defensively, outmuscled and outplayed by Lukaku, who were moved to the right flank from his familiar centre-forward position. We don't know if Martinez saw our weakness in this position or simply because Lukaku didn't have much joy against Koscielny in the previous two encounters, but the Spaniard's tactics to play the Belgian striker on the right wing worked. Offensively, Monreal did not do too badly, creating 2 chances.

Areta: 6
He cut a frustrated figure, booed by a section of home fans and scoring an own goal against his old club. Not his best game.

Flamini: 6
He had a fierce shot from 20 yards to draw a fine save from Howard. But this game exposed his technical weakness. His touches let him down a few times and one of those occasions resulted in his committing a foul, which earned him a yellow card. But at least he showed some steel.

Rosicky: 6
Didn't create very much.

Cazorla: 6
He still created 4 chances, but he didn't look up for it until the latter stages of the game.  

Podolski: 6
Had 5 shots, one of which were on target. We loved his direct approach, which was one of brighter sparks in this game.

Giroud: 6
When Coleman made a sloppy backpass to the keeper, the French striker was too slow to react to capitalise on the mistake. When Sagna made a great run on the right flank and delivered a perfect cross for Giroud to beat his marker, the French striker shot it wide.


Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
Replaced Poldi in the 66th minute. Made a positive impact. 

Ramsey: 6
Came on for Flamini in the 66th minute. Encouraging performance on his comeback.

Sanogo: 6
Replaced Giroud in the 71st minute.

Monday, April 7, 2014

2013/14 Fixtures Update

The following is an up-to-date 2013/14 fixture list as of 11 April 2014, reflecting all the changes made to the fixtures up to and including 5th May 2014 as a result of TV selections. All times are UK time.

April 2014
Sun 6th 13.30 Barclays Premier League Everton A - Sky Sports 1
Sat 12th 17.00 The FA Cup Semi-Final Wigan Athletic Wembley - ITV 1
Tue 15th 19.45 Barclays Premier League West Ham United H - Sky Sports
Sun 20th 14.05 Barclays Premier League Hull City A - Sky Sports 1
Mon 28th 20.00 Barclays Premier League Newcastle United H - Sky Sports 1

May 2014
Sun 4th 13.30 Barclays Premier League W.B.A. H - Sky Sports 1
Sun 11th 15.00 Barclays Premier League Norwich A
Sat 17th 17.00 The FA Cup Final Wembley - ITV 1