Friday, October 24, 2014

Anderlecht 1 Arsenal 2

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

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

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

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

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

Players ratings

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

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

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

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

Gibbs: 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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