Friday, December 11, 2015

Olympiacos 0 Arsenal 3 (Champions League Group Stage)

Asked if he could see the result coming in the post-match interview, Petr Cech answered that the team could see it, but most of pundits had written us off even before the first whistle was blown mainly because of the injuries to key players, most prominently Alexis Sanchez. Arsenal needed to beat the Greek champions by two clear goals or by any margin with them scoring at least three goals. Olympiacos' impressive stats against English sides did not bode well for us, either. Scoring two goals without reply in one of the most hostile atmospheres in Europe looked a daunting task for the north Londoners. Their proud run of qualification for the knock-out stages since 2000 was in a serious jeopardy. In our part, as fans, what we dreaded most was dropping to the Europa League.

Arsene Wenger made only one change from the side that started in a 3-1 defeat of Sunderland at the Emirates on Saturday. The Frenchman had little choice in the wake of Arsenal's annual injury crisis. Theo Walcott started in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, after coming off the bench in the 70th minute against Sunderland to return to the pitch for the first time since 27th October. In the absence of Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla, who are both set to spend the next 3 to 4 months on the sidelines due to knee ligament damages, Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey continued their partnership in central midfield. Among the bench were David Ospina, Mathieu Debuchy, Gabriel, Kieran Gibbs, Calum Chambers, the Ox and a teenager, Alex Iwobi.

In the pre-match conference, Arsene Wenger talked about their preparations for this game and how his sides had gone through all the possible scenarios ahead of the crunch game. However, the bottom line was simple: score two goals and concede none. The Gunners knew exactly what was required. On the other hand, as Wenger pointed out, it was more complicated for the hosts. We expected the Greek side to sit back and defend as a draw would have been enough for them to go through.

Despite our anticipations, the hosts started the game aggressively. It looked to us that we were heading for a long night, but the visitors slowly settled down and took control of the game. Walcott and Campbell, who started on the right and left wings, respectively, swapping the sides significantly helped the team get into the rhythm. Arsenal took the lead through Olivier Giroud's powerful header in the 29th minute after Flamini's deflected shot had hit the crossbar.

We were quite satisfied, going into half-time with a 1-0 scoreline, despite having to score at least another goal. The Gunners did not rush themselves. As long as they could keep a clean sheet, another goal would arrive eventually. Fortunately, we didn't have to wait too long after the game had resumed. It was a great build-up. Özil's high pass found Campbell, whose first touch was superb. The Costa Rica international held off his marker and delivered a perfect through-ball into the path of Giroud, after spotting the Frenchman's run. Giroud put it into the right-hand bottom corner with great composure. Now half the job was done.

The Greek side had to come out to score now. However, they had their work cut out when Omar Elabdellaoui was adjudged to have blocked Monreal's shot with his hand. We have to say we were a bit lucky in this decision, but we have had more than a fair share of bad luck in this Champions League campaign, so we happily took it. According to Wenger, Giroud was listed as the first penalty taker (in the absence of Arteta and Cazorla), followed by Theo (second) and Rambo (third). Giroud stepped up and scored from the spot to complete a hat-trick.

It was now Olympiacos that had a mountain to climb. They had to score three goals in the remaining 20 minutes plus stoppage time. It was game up for them and gave us some time to enjoy the game, knowing that we would be in the pot for the round of the last 16 come Monday noon.

It was a thoroughly professional job from the Gunners. They knew exactly what they had to do and executed it very well. On the other hand, Olympiacos looked to be in two minds, unable to make their mind up on whether to push for a win in front of enthusiastic home supporters, or to hold on for a draw. That indecisiveness made their defence vulnerable.

Arsenal are through to the knock-out stage of the Champions League for the 16th season in a row. The fact that the feat was achieved without our talisman Alexis is encouraging, as well as a clean sheet. The committed and efficient team performance this night should become a platform for the rest of the season.

Players ratings

Cech: 8
Made a couple of crucial saves. Wenger has also learnt his lessons. He has never dropped Cech since Ospina's howler against Olympiacos at home.

Bellerin: 7

Made 3 tackles, 2 interceptions and 3 clearances. Better defensive performance than in the past weeks.

Mertesacker: 7

Made 2 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 5 clearances.

Koscielny: 8

Made 2 interceptions and 8 clearances. When his clearance flew over his own crossbar, our hearts stopped, but he had to interfere with the cross. Solid performance.

Monreal: 7

Made 2 tackles, 3 interceptions and 5 clearances. 

Flamini: 7

Made 2 tackles, 5 interceptions and 3 clearances.

Ramsey: 7

Shown an early yellow card for a clumsy challenge when he was caught out of position. On the other hand, he made a clever run on the left flank and delivered an inch-perfect cross for Giroud's first goal.

Campbell: 8

Impressive performance at both ends. Made 3 key passes, including a sublime pass for Walcott. Growing in stature every game. Glad to see him step up his game in the absence of Alexis.

Özil: 8

Relieved to see him on the pitch after a calf strain, which forced him to miss Tuesday's training. Didn't claim an assist this night, but he was at the heart of creativity. For the first goal, he held off two Olympiacos players and delivered an astute pass in behind defenders for Ramsey. For the second, his incisive pass released Campbell.

Walcott: 7

Lacked match sharpness. Spurned a glorious chance by shooting wide when Campbell was better positioned unmarked. Still good to have him as an attacking option.

Giroud: 9
Excellent performance with commitment (he was on the floor in agony a few minutes before scoring his second goal) and skills. He may not be top-quality striker, but it's great to see him turn up with a big performance when it mattered (and score more than one goal in the same game). Had 4 shots, all of which were on target.


Gibbs: 6
Replaced Walcott in the 72nd minute. Had 17 touches. Made 1 tackle and 1 interception.

Oxlade-Chamberlian: N/A
Replaced Campbell in the 90th minute. Only had 4 touches.

Chambers: N/A
Came on in stoppage time for Giroud. Only had 2 touches. Made 1 interception.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Arsenal 1 Tottenham 1

Premier League's top two in-form sides met at the Emirates for the second north London derby of the season. While the white half of the north London thought this was their best chance in years to finally overcome their local rivals away from home, the fixture could not have come at worst time for the red half. Prior to the game, we had 10 players on our injury list, which was the second longest in the Premier League after Newcastle (11) according to Spuds may have had a day fewer to rest after their last game played (what we call Spursday night football), but it can hardly compare to the exertion of travelling to Munich and playing 90 minutes against one of Europe's best teams.

Arsene Wenger made only one change from the side who started in a 5-1 thrashing by Bayern Munich on Wednesday night. Laurant Koscielny, who sat out the defeat due to a hip problem, was declared fit to play, which meant that Gabriel was dropped to the bench. Both David Ospina and Mikel Arteta came through their first full training after injury on Friday to make the bench. Among substitutes, Alex Iwobi was the only attacking player on the bench, which spoke volumes for our desperate injury situation.

As if Wenger hadn't had enough selection headaches –of a totally different nature to the one he had earlier this season–, there was an early scare about Santi Cazorla's health. The Spanish midfielder took the field, while Mathieu Flamini started warming up from the first whistle. In the post-match interview, Arsene Wenger cited Santi's condition as "dizziness" and "he couldn't move". That was the biggest factor behind our first-half struggle as our two-man midfield was outrun by the visitors' three midfielders. According to Wenger, Santi was at 30% of his potential. If we had had Ramsey in the squad, the Frenchman wouldn't have dreamed about taking a chance on Santi's fitness. In fact, the Spanish magician may have been afforded a rest a couple of games earlier, had our squad not been so stretched. Ramsey's finishing may leave much to be desired, but we sorely missed his work rate. There was no surprise in a wide gap in distances covered by both sides. We only had 9 fit outfield players against their 10 in the first half.

In fact, the hosts started the game better than we anticipated. They had a promising chance early on, but decided not to shoot and wait till other team-mates joined. The Gunners looked dangerous when Özil got on the ball in the final third, but as Wenger said, the German playmaker was often isolated without Santi making a run forward.

Then, the visitors took the lead through Kane's composed finish. It was very disappointing that we made the same mistake twice in four days. This time the culprit was our best defender, Koscielny, who tried to play an off-side trap, or perhaps he was in two minds, with another Tottenham player on the other side as well.

At the start of the second half, Mathieu Flamini replaced Santi. Then, Campbell's powerful shot drew the first meaningful save from Lloris. Giroud hit the crossbar with his header in the 53rd minute. Without pace up front, Arsenal seemed to have resorted to scoring from set-pieces. Özil was the architect of our attack, delivering excellent corners and free-kicks into the Spurs box. At the other end, Cech had to be at his best to stop Alderweireld's header.

In the 73rd minute, Wenger brought in Kieran Gibbs at the expense of Campbell. Normally, the England left-back comes off the bench to shore up the defence to see out a victory, but in this case,Wenger chose him as his "most offensive" player on the bench. And it worked. He stretched Tottenham's defence with his pace and got a very important goal after running into Özil's floating cross. We now had a momentum to get all three points. Giroud volleyed another excellent Özil corner over the bar and forced a save from Lloris, but a winner didn't come.

It was disappointing not to win a north London derby at home, especially when we had a chance to go two points clear at the top of the Premier League after the Manchester City dropped points against the league-bottom Aston Villa earlier on the day. However, given the number of injuries we had, getting over this tough period without losing a game in the league cannot be sniffed at. At least we did not lose any ground to Man City and remained joint top of the league.

We never felt an international break this welcome before. Arsenal are confident of having Bellerin, Ramsey and the Ox back from injury after the break. Santi was already feeling better by the end of the game. Thanks to Joachim Loew's decision to omit him from the Germany squad, Özil will be given a well-deserved breather. Monreal, Mertesacker, and Coquelin will also have a good rest. Unfortunately, Alexis Sanchez was called up for Chile's World Cup qualifiers, expected to play 180 minutes in South America. Let's hope that those who go out with their national teams will come back unscathed. We need to get back to winning ways quickly.

Players ratings

Cech: 7
Made match-saving stops.

Debuchy: 7

His much improved display proved that he is getting up to  speed after a couple of games under his belt. Made 7 tackles and 2 interceptions. According to Wenger, he took the French right-back off with 12 minutes left on the clock because Debuchy was tired (not due to the knock on his knee) after two consecutive starts following a long period with no game time.

Mertesacker: 6

Poor game. His pace is not going to improve, but his positioning should have been better. Made 3 tackles, 1 interception, and 5 clearances. 

Koscielny: 7

He was culpable for the goal, but after the mistake, he kept Kane pretty much quiet. Made 3 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 8 clearances.

Monreal: 7

He shouldn't have left Eric Dier unmarked at far post in Eriksen's free-kick.

Coquelin: 7

Added a bite to our defence. Made 6 tackles and 2 interceptions. 

Cazorla: 5

Withdrawn at half time. This day's poor display may be explained by his illness, but he has not been playing to his full potential for a few games by now, which worries us. Hopefully, he will get rotated when Ramsey comes back. 

Campbell: 7

Decent showing. Unlucky not to score. 

Özil: 8

Man of the Match chosen by Arsenal fans and stats-based Tottenham midfielders, Dier and Alli, won praises for their defensive work, but they could not stop Özil without fouling him. Özil was fouled 5 times in this game, suffering more fouls than any other Premier League player this weekend but he still created 7 chances for his team-mates and set up our equaliser for Gibbs with an astute lofted pass. Set a new Premier League record of the most consecutive assists in the same season (Cesc Fabregas made the same number of successive assists for Arsenal and Chelsea, but the feat was spread over two seasons 3 years apart) by making an assist in the 6th game in a row. If Giroud's finishing had been more clinical, the German playmaker could have claimed a few more assists. He was also the first player in Europe's top flights to make double-digit assists this season. He has started delivering on a regular basis, which is a big positive for our title challenge.

Alexis: 6

He was so out-of-touch in this game. We know what he is capable of when he is on form. Hopefully, we can give him a breather after the international break when we get some players back from injury.

Giroud: 6
Missed 3 gilt-edged chances. Had 5 shots, including one that hit the woodwork and one that flew agonisingly close to goal. 


Flamini: 6
Replaced Cazorla at half time. Was definitely an upgrade on a 30% Santi as we looked better with him in the team. Moved to the right-back position when Debuchy was taken off.

Gibbs: 7
Replaced Campbell in the 73rd minutes and made a huge contribution by scoring an equaliser. 

Arteta: 6

Made a cameo apperance after coming on for Debuchy in the 78th minute. Made 10 passes with an 80% accuracy, no tackle nor interception. Little impact.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Bayern Munich 5 Arsenal 1 (Champions League Group Stage)

Arsenal went into the game with renewed hopes of qualifying after an impressive 2-0 victory at the Emirates. Bayern Munich's recent goal-scoring form at home may have been frightening, but the north Londoners' recent results at Allianz Arena were encouraging enough with a 1-1 draw in March last year (the 2013/14 season) and a 2-0 win in the 2012/13 season. However, this night's damaging loss, combined with Olympiakos' victory over Zagreb which was secured by a 90th-minute winner, dealt a hefty blow to our ambition for qualification.

Arsene Wenger made two changes from the side that started in a 3-0 defeat of Swansea on Saturday. Both of them were forced ones, where Gabriel came in for Laurant Koscielny, while Mathieu Debuchy replaced Hector Bellerin. The French centre-back travelled with the squad only to be found just hours before kick-off not fit enough to play due to a hip injury. The Spanish right-back was ruled out the day before, suffering a "small" groin injury. We were underwhelmed with the prospect of Debuchy deputising him in such a big game, but the ironic thing is that we felt exactly the same about Bellerin ahead of the opening game of our Champions League campaign last season against Dortmund when Debuchy was out with a long-term injury. Arsenal's injury list has now extended to 10 first-team players, including Koscielny (hopefully, this was just a precaution). The desperate situation saw Jeff Reine-Adelade added to the travelling squad, fresh from the U-17 international duty with France, along with Alex Iwobi on the bench.

First and foremost, it was a very poor defensive performance from the Gunners. They didn't put any pressure on the ball. Mertesacker reflected that they were not brave enough in their defending. The vice-captain and captain on the night was one of those who stood off Bayern players and let them play. In fact, one of the first-half goals took deflection on him, which beat Cech at near post. Even when we had won the ball, we gave it away too quickly.

The injury woe arguably played a big part in the thrashing. If we had Bellerin and Koscielny fit for this game, the result could have been different. At least, Bellerin would have shown his newly-found defensive resolution again.

Joel Campbell impressed in our victory at the Liberty Stadium, stepping up his game in the absence of the Ox and Aaron Ramsey, but he looked out of his depth against the European Giants. One may say that Wenger's faith in the Costa Rican backfired. Campbell was withdrawn in the 58th minute to give way to Kieran Gibbs, which prompted Sanchez's move to the right wing. There is an argument whether Wenger should have done the other way round. The shocking defensive display may be attributed to individual players' mistakes and under-performance, but if the manager had set up his side more defence-oriented and we had gone into the half time at 0-0 , we might still have had a chance. Conceding a goal so early was detrimental.

Wenger's tactical options were extremely limited due to injuries. What was effective in the home game against the Germans was the switch of strikers. The counter-attacking tactics worked well with the pace of Theo Walcott and when Olivier Giroud came on, Bayern defenders could not cope with changes in the style. When Giroud was taken off in the 84th minute after scoring a spectacular goal, we took it as Wenger's focus had already moved to Sunday's clash with Tottenham.

At Doolan's Bar, we had an outburst of criticism about Wenger's transfer policy during Bayern's first-half onslaught. Injury crises are annual affairs for us. Year after year, our title challenges have been hampered by injuries. We have to improve our squad depth. 

We wondered what could have happened if Mesut Özil's goal had stood. It would have at least boosted the team's morale. The referee was giving the goal, but the additional official ruled it out for handball. Replays on the TV seemed to us that the German playmaker's shoulder made a contact with the ball. The BBC match report thinks Arsenal had a legitimate cause to question the decision as Özil kept his arms by his side. On the other hand, the match report on site, which normally puts positive spins for obvious reasons, stated "Özil used his elbow to divert the ball past Manuel Neuer". We rest our case.

We take positives from our second-half performance in this game. We should have scored a few more goals, had we been as clinical as we were fortnight ago at the Emirates. The team did not let their heads drop, but kept looking for chances. We were totally beaten and outclassed on the night, but we know our best side can beat any team on our day, including Bayern Munich, which was proven two weeks ago.

Our chance of qualifying looks marginal now. We need to win both of our remaining matches, hoping that Bayern Munich will beat Olympiakos in the next game. Apparently, Mertesacker had already had a word with some of Bayern Munich players, who assured him that they would do everything they can do to win the next game. Reportedly, Pep Guardiola also assured Arsenal fans that Bayern would not settle for a stalemate, which will be enough for both sides to go through. By the look of their performance this night, we can trust them for defeating the Greek champions at home. Then, we still need to beat Olympiakos in Greece by a better scoreline than 2-3.

Before the famous win at the Emirates, qualifying for the knock-out stage was almost a lost cause for us. We thought that the exit from the Champions League might not be such a bad thing after all as we rarely progress beyond the round of Last 16. By being eliminated from the Champions League, we may be able to manage our Premier League and FA Cup schedules better with our small squad. The worst thing that could happen is finishing third in Group F and being demoted to the Europa League. It's difficult for us to envisage ourselves travelling miles away on Thursday nights and playing league games on Sundays or Monday nights.

We need to move on and focus on Sunday's north London derby. We are still joint top in the Premier League with Manchester City and this season could offer us the best chance to win the title in years with Chelsea already out of the frame.

In the post-match interview, Wenger revealed that we will be without Bellerin again for the home clash with Tottenham. Hopefully, Debuchy will finally deliver against the noisy neighbours. After all he is an experienced international player who played in the last World Cup. Also, keep fingers crossed that Koscielny will be fit to start. Mikel Arteta and David Ospina will join full training on Friday and could be in contention for the north London derby. After the international break, Ramsey and the Ox, then shortly afterwards, Theo Walcot could be back. It is a tough week and the north London derby could not come at worse time, but hopefully we have enough resources to keep pace with the title contenders. We believe in Arsenal's bouncebackability, expecting them to show the similar response to the one when they faced Man U at the Emirates after the disappointing loss to Olympiakos.

Players ratings

Cech: 7
With Bayern Munich registering 13 shots on target, it could have been even more emphatic scoreline, had it not been for him.

Debuchy: 5
Looked off the pace. He was culpable for one of the goals by losing his marker and letting him deliver a cross, but at least he made a Bellerin-esque last-man tackle when Robben had just got round Cech.

Mertesacker: 6
Responsible for the team's poor defensive display.

Gabriel: 5
He was guilty for Bayern's first goal by pushing up to try playing Lewandowski off-side. He was too slow, allowing the Poland international on side to get a free header. 

Monreal: 6
Struggled to contain Cowman. Slipped (or some claim that he tripped over his shoe lace) in the box when he was through on goal.

Coquelin: 6
Worked hard, but with no help from Cazorla or Özil, it was a hard task. His back pass that fell short nearly gave us a heart-attack. Delivered a fine cut-back for Cazorla in the second half, which the Spaniard spooned in the close range.

Cazorla: 6
Had a shot straight at Neur after going clean through. On another occasion, he got in a great position after a great team movement, but spurned the glorious chance. One of Bayern goals stemmed from him getting outmuscled and dispossessed. 

Campbell: 6
Disappointing performance. When he got chances to go into the final third at the beginning of the first half, he wasted them. Was withdrawn in the 58th minute.

Özil: 7
He kept his head up and always looked for a killer pass. Made more (51) passes than any other Arsenal players with a 94.1% accuracy when the team's average passing rate was 78%. It might not be his best performance, but he certainly didn't disappear.

Alexis: 6
Had 2 shots, none of which were on target. Provided an assist for Giroud's goal. He kept the ball too long only to be dispossessed. His attempts to dribble into Bayern defenders annoyed us.

Giroud: 7
Scored an exquisite goal with a scissor kick. Created 2 chances for his team-mates. 


Gibbs: 6
Replaced Campbell in the 58th minute. His introduction seemed to have given an impetus going forward.

Iwobi:  N/A
Replaced Giroud in the 84th minutes.

Chambers: N/A
Came on for Cazorla in the 87th minute.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Swansea 0 Arsenal 3

Arsenal needed to leave behind a shock 3-0 defeat at Hillsborough quickly and re-focus on their Premier-League title quest. What was more disheartening for us was to learn the lack of depth in the squad and the way the team played, with no desire nor leadership, rather than the exit from the Capital One Cup itself. Besides, the injuries to the Ox and Theo were bigger blows than the result.

Despite the mounting injury concerns and criticism against the medical team following the midweek game, the only forced changes from the side that started in a 2-1 win over Everton last weekend was the one for the right wing position. Another change was in the central defence, where Per Mertesacker, who missed the Everton game through illness, was restored at the expense of Gabriel. Giroud led the line as expected, as we no longer have a luxury of rotating the strikers depending on the opponents or our tactics.

Prior to the game, the big talking point was who was going to start on the right flank. Aaron Ramsey had been playing there out of position for some time, but he succumbed to a hamstring injury during our 2-0 defeat of Bayern Munich. Now we are without the Ox as well, who looked set to enjoy regular playing time in the absence of the Welshman. Wenger suggested that he could play Santi Cazorla, with Mathieu Flamini next to Francis Coquelin. However, he was reluctant to do so as the little Spanish magician has been a revelation in a deep-lying role and his presence there has been instrumental to the team's quick transition from defence to attack. The boss also weighed up the options of deploying Joel Campbell or Alex Iwobi in the position, but after their underwhelming performances against Sheffield Wednesday, we preferred the idea of Hector Bellerin playing there with Mathieu Debuchy behind him. However, at his pre-match press conference on Friday, Arsene Wenger appeared to be inclined to hand Campbell his first Premier League start. The Frenchman praised the Costa Rica international's hard work in training and was convinced that he was ready to step up to the next level.

We expected a tough game. Swansea has proved to be our bogey team in recent years, having done the double over us last season. Although the Welsh side is currently far from enjoying  fine form, the Liberty Stadium is a difficult place to go for any team. The game started with a slow tempo. The hosts saw more of the ball, while the visitors were tentative going forward, with few committed into the box. We were clearly second best in the first half and it was crucial not to concede a goal in this period, for which we largely owed Bellerin's last-ditch tackle to deny Gomis' seemingly inevitable goal-scoring chance.

However, the second-half was a different story. Arsenal stepped up the gear and it only took 4 minutes to take the lead. Giroud scored from an Özil corner. This was the Gunners' 2000th goal under Wenger's just-over-19-year reign. Then, the tide had turned. We were in the ascendancy.

Our second goal might have been unusual rather than controversial. Koscielny did not commit a foul in his challenge on Fabianski. The French defender clearly ducked down to avoid interfering with the Swansea keeper getting to the ball, but unfortunately for the former Arsenal keeper, he couldn't get a firm hold of the ball, which fell kindly for our centre-back. Apparently, Olivier Giroud, the closest bystander, said to him that he could take a shot, which Koscielny did. We were surprised to see the goal given only because goalkeepers are always favourite in this kind of decisions.

The third goal was more typical of the north London club. Özil and Sanchez exchanged the ball near the edge of the box and the German playmaker, who made a run into the box through the left-hand-side channel, picked Campbell at far post with his low cross. The Costa Rican took a touch and slotted it into the far corner. It was a great finish to cap his impressive performance on his first Premier-League start.

In the end, it turned out to be a comfortable win for us. We still had enough time to threaten the Swansea goal on a few more occasions, which was a worry for some of us whose wagers were on a 3-0 to Arsenal. Wenger could even afford to do some experiments in playing Gibbs and Chambers in midfield and giving Alex Iwobi game time.

All in all, it was a brilliant afternoon for us, filled with encouraging signs for the Gunners' title challenge. They have turned around the game after the sluggish first-half and imposed themselves in the second period. We could have lost this kind of games in the past or drawn at best. Giroud continued his fine goal-scoring form (with the midweek game considered to be a blip due to the lack of service). Koscielny scored his second goal as many games. Mesut Özil added two more assists to his tally of 9 as the leading Premier League assist providers. However, the most encouraging sign of all was Joel Campbell's energetic performance. His work rate was phenomenal both defensively and offensively. We thought he was not skillful enough to get into the first team by the look of him playing against Sheffield Wednesday, but he looked the part on this day. Arsene Wenger hopes that he will turn out to be a Francis Coquelin or a Hector Bellerin of this season, who both grabbed their chances last season, when first-choice players were out through injuries, and established themselves as regular starters. Hopefully, Joel Campbell will successfully fill the Ox's boots (or even more).

Arsene Wenger regarded the victory as progress from the last season. This fixture has seen Gary Monk gain the upper hand in terms of tactics in recent years. Most famously, the Arsenal boss was heavily criticised for leaving Calum Chambers to be roasted by Montero on the right wing last season. This season, the Frenchman successfully turned around the game at half time and the comfortable scoreline even allowed him to give the young English defender a chance to exorcise his traumatic experience.

The three points ensured that we kept pace with the league leaders, Manchester City, who are level on points with us but have a superior goal difference. Three goals without reply narrowed the gap in the goal difference to 4 goals. Our title challenge continues.

Players ratings

Cech: 8
His presence had a big part in putting Gomis off. On the one-on-one with the Czech Republic international, the French striker tried to go round him, which gave Bellerin time to catch up with him. Made a couple of fine saves as well.

Bellerin: 8
His last-man tackle in the first half was arguably the turning point of the game. He also made a brave save off the line, crashing into the post. Although Andre Ayew was adjudged off-side, it highlighted his resolve and progress as a defender. Struggled to contain Jefferson Montero in the first half, though, even with his pace.

Mertesacker: 6
His positioning was questionable when Gomis was through on goal. Replays showed that he handled Sigurdsson's free-kick in the area, which was missed by everyone, including the ref and Swansea players.
Koscielny: 8
Scored a back-to-back goal. Made one tackle, 5 interceptions and 6 clearances.

Monreal: 8
He rarely puts a foot wrong. Made 4 tackles, 5 interceptions and a clearance, winning 4 aerial battles. Solid display.

Coquelin: 7
Quietly did his job. Made 6 interceptions.

Cazorla: 7
Quiet game by his standard, but made more passes (76) than any other Arsenal player with an 89.5% accuracy.

Campbell: 8
Made 3 tackles 2 interceptions and a clearance. Helped out Bellerin on a few occasions to cope with Montero in the first half. Had 4 shots, 2 of which were on target (and another was not far off, either). Scored his first goal in Arsenal colours.

Özil: 8
Widely regarded as the Man of the Match. Set up the first goal from the perfect delivery of a corner kick and the third with a low cross, creating 5 chances in total. Had a shot on target.

Alexis: 7
Had 4 shots, none of which were on target, but he worked hard as usual, making one tackle, one interception and 2 clearances. Created 3 chances for his team mates. 

Giroud: 8
Claimed his 6th league goal. He pulled Mertesacker back to make space for himself and shrug off his marker and placed his header perfectly. He had more (15) headed goals than any Premier League player since his debut, a fact that underlines his development, given he only scored one headed goal for Montpellier in the year when he was named as the joint top Ligue 1 scorer.


Gibbs: 6
Replaced Giroud in the 83rd minute. Made 3 passes with a 66.7% success rate and one shot blocked.

Chambers: 6
Came off the bench to replace Campbell in the 83rd minute. Arguably the slowest winger in the Premier League, but somewhat managed one key pass. Made 2 tackles.

Iwobi:  N/A
Replaced Alexis Sanchez in stoppage time. Had 2 touches.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Arsenal 3 Manchester United 0

Just four days after suffering a shock 3-2 defeat to Olympiakos on  home turf, Arsenal needed to answer their critics with a convincing performance and they did just that by beating their old foes, Manchester United, by three clear goals. It was a superb all-round display. They put right everything they did wrong on Tuesday night.

Arsene Wenger made four changes from the side who started in the devastating loss that made Arsenal's progress into the knock-out stage extremely difficult. Petr Cech came in for David Ospina, naturally, after the Colombian goalkeeper's howler that gave away an easy second goal to the Greek Champions. Per Mertesacker started in place of injured Laurant Koscielny to form a central defensive partnership with Gabriel. Nacho Monreal was restored in the left-back position, while Kieran Gibbs returned to the bench. Aaron Ramsey replaced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Tomas Rosicky, Danny Welbeck, and Jack Wilshere are long-term absentees, while Mikel Arteta (dead leg) and Mathieu Flamini (hamstring) joined them in the treatment room after last weekend's trip to Leicester.

To our surprise, Arsenal went into the game as odds-on favourites, albeit slightly. Manchester United were fresh from their 2-1 victory over Wolfsburg on Wednesday night, starting the weekend as Premier League leaders. We had a poor track record against them, too, failing to beat David Moyes' men at home who were dubbed as the worst-ever Man U side two years ago. One encouraging fact was that Arsenal have always bounced back from disappointments without fail. Mark Lawrenson cited the fact as an underlying basis for his 2-0 prediction in favour of the north London club. That said, we, the Arsenal supporters, were not in a very confident mood prior to the game.

Arsenal started the game with the high tempo, passing with pace and pressing high on the pitch. It did not take them very long to be rewarded for their dominance. The first goal came in the 7th minute in the shape of Alexis' flick at the near post, which was followed by Mesut Özil's first-touch shot and Alexis' sublime strike. The Gunners were 3-0 up in the opening 20 minutes. Aaron Ramsey could have made it an even more embarrassing scoreline for Man U when he had an easy opportunity to break his duck this season. However, the game looked truly beyond the Manchester club's reach when Petr Cech made a crucial save with his left foot to deny Anthony Martial's point-blank-range effort just before half time.

In the second half, Arsenal conceded possession to the visitors and spent long periods on back foot, hence their overall possession of a rather miserly 38%. However, the hosts looked more likely to score every time when they attacked on the break. Giroud had a great chance on one of those occasions, but he made a wrong decision to go on his own with his weaker right foot. Fellow substitute, the Ox did a little better than him to hit the crossbar in stoppage time.

Some Gooners might be disappointed that their team did not press forward to add to their goal tally, but we think that keeping a clean sheet was more important for the team's confidence after their defensive weakness was brutally exposed on Tuesday night.

In this game, the whole team were quick to get back into the defensive shape once they had lost possession. The Gunners were accused of the lack of willingness to defend on Tuesday night, even by the opposition striker. Some of the players, including Özil and Cazorla, were also criticised for their lack of desire. As Theo Walcott praised the team, the Gunners showed their desire and commitment for this fixture.

All in all, this was a completely contrasting display to Tuesday night. Even Arsene Wenger was applauded for his selection and tactics. Choosing Cech in goal was no-brainer and probably in his plan even before the Tuesday fixture. However, picking in-form Theo ahead of Giroud and opting for counter-attacking football at home was refreshing. Fortunately, Man United played into our hands by being forced into playing possession football, which was not helped at all by Louis Van Gaal's decision to play two over-thirty midfielders in the shape of Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger and leave Morgan Schneiderlin on the bench. LVG's tactics were further questioned during the game as he deployed Marouane Fellaini in a playmaker role rather than up front after the Belgian replaced Memphis Depay at half time. The game was Wenger's tactical victory over LVG, too.

After demolishing the Manchester giants in a convincing way and moving up to second in the table just 2 points behind the league leaders, Manchester City, there was obviously more optimistic atmosphere among Arsenal supporters. We know our team lacks consistency, but who else isn't? The reigning champions Chelsea have been struggling for form ever since the beginning of the season, while the current league leaders had suffered back-to-back defeats before hitting six this weekend. Man U had been getting results without a convincing performance and have now been found out. Nobody is consistent at the moment. The title is still wide open, not surprisingly as the season is only 8 games-old. This day's display proved that at least we can challenge for the title, given there will be no more injuries.

It was a great result ahead of the international break and an ideal occasion to put things right after the disastrous European night. Hopefully, we can build on this day's performance when our players have come back from international duty.

Players ratings

Cech: 8
He had little to do for most of the first half, but made one vital save at the end of the first half. It was a quality save as well. No lapse of concentration after a long spell of inactivity is the difference between Cech and Szczesny. He made further important saves in the second half when our defenders were beaten. Hopefully, Wenger has realised that the Czech international should not be dropped in the future, whenever he is fit to play.

Bellerin: 8

Provided width, going forward, but his defensive contribution was especially notable in this game. He won 2 aerial battles of his with brave headers.

Mertesacker: 8
Made 3 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 10 clearances. Beaten by Martial on a couple of occasions, but made a last-man tackle.

Gabriel: 8
Solid display. Encouraging as we might have to do without Koscielny for the next couple of weeks.

Monreal: 8
Marshalled the right-hand-side of the Man U attack very well. Joined Alexis in attack to torment Darmian in the first half, who was withdrawn at half time.

Coquelin: 8
Made 5 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 3 clearances. Assured performance, apart from a rash challenge on Rooney, which saw him booked.

Cazorla: 8
Made 55 passes, including 1 key pass, with a 89.1% accuracy. Worked very hard on his defensive duties.

Ramsey: 7
Good defensive contribution with 4 tackles and 5 interceptions, but he should have buried his chance. Arguably our only underperforming player on the day when the team produced a superb all-round performance. Yet to reach the height he achieved two seasons ago. Has missed quite a few goal scoring chances recently.

Özil: 9
Not asserting himself in big games was one of criticisms against him, but he was instrumental to this day's victory. Scored a goal and set up another.

Sanchez: 9
Scored 2 goals. Hope his groin injury is not too serious. 

Walcott: 9
Although he did not score, he set up 2 goals for his team-mates. Worked extremely hard.


Giroud: 6
Replaced Walcott in the 74th minute. He should have done better when he had a glorious chance to score.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
Came off the bench to replace Ozil. He nearly set up a goal for Giroud and was unlucky not to score when his shot hit the crossbar.

Gibbs:  N/A
Replaced Alexis, who had a groin problem, in the 80th minute to see out the victory.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Totttenham Hotspur 1 Arsenal 2 (Capital One Cup 3rd Round)

It's been a tough week for us. Following back-to-back defeats in Croatia and at Stamford Bridge, there was huge pressure on Wenger's side. Although the Capital One Cup might have been our lowest priority, another loss would have been detrimental to the players' confidence. With another away league game and a must-win Champions League game at home against Olympiacos on the horizon, getting back to winning ways as quickly as possible was an urgent requirement.

Arsene Wenger made it clear prior to the game that he would field an experienced side despite his traditional approach to the League Cup of blooding youngsters. The major reason was that he still had plethora of second-string first-teamers (although he refused to use those expressions, "second string" or "fringe") who desperately needed playing time despite a few injuries. Besides, promising talents, including Chuba Akpom, Gedion Zelalem, Jon Toral, and Dan Crowley are currently all loaned out.

The Frenchman made 10 changes from the side who started in a 2-0 defeat against Chelsea on Saturday. David Ospina replaced Petr Cech, while Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs came in for Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal, respectively. Fit-again Per Mertesacker and Calum Chambers formed a central defensive partnership in place of Laurant Koscielny and Gabriel. Although Gabriel was available after his three-match ban was rescinded, the Brazilian defender did not even make the bench. Mikel Arteta replaced injured Francis Coqulin, while Mathieu Flamini came in for suspended Santi Cazorla. Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain and Joel Campbell were deployed on the wings. Olivier Giroud got the nod ahead of Theo Walcott who started on the bench. In fact, Aaron Ramsey was the only player that kept his place, starting in a No. 10 role. Among those on the bench were a 21-year-old goalkeeper, Matt Macey, Bellerin, Monreal, Alexis, Mesut Ozil, and Alex Iwobi.

The team performance was not entirely convincing. It was not a typical Arsenal game by any means. Our possession was 45.9%, while the average passing success rate of 72% was very poor by our standard. Our goals, both provided by an unlikely scorer, Flamini, came almost against run of play. Although the game had typical attributes of a north London derby with emotion, intensity and commitment, it was not an easy-on-the-eye game, apart from Flamini's stunning goals and the Ox's mesmerizing skill-set.

This was a massive win ahead of another tough game at the King Power Stadium. Arsene Wenger is likely to recall his first-choice players for Saturday's game, but the north London derby victory should give a much-needed morale boost to this group of players and the rest of the squad. We had to weather enormous pressure from Tottenham for the large part of the game, but it was us who were more likely to add to the goal tally in the latter stages of the game. Hopefully, we can carry on in the forthcoming games where we left off in this game.

Players ratings

Ospina: 7
Made a couple of great saves. Unlucky to concede a goal as he had Chadli's cross perfectly covered.

Debuchy: 6

Stats read favourably for him with 6 tackles, 4 interceptions and 5 clearance, but his positioning was suspect. No wonder he has fallen in the pecking order. Had a wild shot at goal.

Chambers: 6
Conceded an own goal again but otherwise a decent game.

Mertesacker: 6
Made his first appearance since August 16 after recovering from a chest infection.

Gibbs: 7
He has the knack of making crucial off-the-line clearances in important games. 

Arteta: 6
Shown an early yellow card, which could have been red on a bad day. Completing 90 minutes is a positive, but it makes us worried that our campaign could be jeopardised if Le Coq's injury proves to be a long-term one.

Flamini: 8
He was reportedly on the verge of leaving Arsenal this summer and he has struggled to get in the squad so far. Took those two goals very well, but making those runs was even more impressive. He certainly proved his critics wrong in this game. Hats off to Mathieu Flamini, it was not easy to come into the team and perform immediately. Unanimously chosen Man of the Match.

Campbell: 6
Spurned a glorious chance by heading off target the follow-on of Giroud's effort. Although he worked hard to track back, he did make little impact, going forward. Replaced by Alexis in the 67th minute.

Ramsey: 6
Ineffective. His misplaced pass triggered Spurs' counter-attack, nearly costing us a goal.

Oxlaide-Chamberlain: 8
He looked dangerous all the time and demonstrated his technical ability, but his final ball, whether passing or shooting, let him down. That said, his stinging shot led to Flamini's first goal as it was so powerful that Vorm was only able to parry it. Made 7 dribbles.

Giroud: 6
Anonymous for most part of the game. Nonetheless, he was involved in the build-up to our first goal by laying the ball for the Ox and won 10 aerial duels.


Alexis: 6
Replaced Campbell in the 67th minute. His introduction immediately gave us an impetus, but couldn't find the net.

Walcott: 6
Came off the bench to replace the Ox who was suffering from cramp in the 89th minute. Had a guilt-edged opportunity towards the end of the game, but he dragged his shot wide when he had other options.