Monday, November 10, 2014

Swansea 2 Arsenal 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Players ratings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ramsey: 5

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

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

Alexis: 7

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

Cazorla: 5
Yet to hit his best form

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Arsenal 3 Burnley 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Players ratings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexis: 9

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

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

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


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

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

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