Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Brighton & HA 2 Arsenal 3 (4th Round of FA Cup)

Arsenal are through to the 5th round of the FA Cup after beating a Championship side, Brighton & Hove Albion 3-2. After a series of shock results on the previous day, nothing is taken for granted. The defeats of Chelsea and Man City by lower-division clubs on Saturday coupled with Man U and Liverpool's struggle against a League 2 and a Championship sides, respectively, served as a stern warning to any complacency. With Tottenham and Southampton also eliminated from the competition by the hands of relegation-battling Premier League teams, Arsenal are the highest-ranked club guaranteed for their place in the 5th round of the FA Cup. We are now one of the strong favourites to win the Cup.

Arsene Wenger rang 7 changes to the side that started in their impressive 2-0 win over the reining Premier League champions a week earlier. Calum Chambers and Kieran Gibbs came in for Hector Bellerin and Per Mertesacker, which meant Nacho Moreal was paired with Laurant Koscielny in the heart of defence with Chambers and Gibbs in the full-back positions. Wojciech Szczesny replaced David Ospina in goal, starting for the first time since the defeat at Southampton on the New Year's Day. In midfield, Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky replaced the two stand-out players in the previous week's victory, Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla. Theo Walcott and Mesut Özil, who had both just come back from long-term injuries, gained valuable playing time. Cazorla, Alexis, Mertesacker, and Coquelin were on the bench, just in case that the game did not go along the boss' gameplan, while Chuba Akpom occupied one of the the remaining places ahead of Joel Campbell, who were reportedly set to go on loan to Villarreal in a swap deal for in-bound Gabriel Paulista. Prior to the game, Hector Bellerin (ankle) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (inflamed groin) were major doubts. The former only made the bench, while the latter did not even travel.

We all knew that the defensive game against Man City was a tactical change to Arsene Wenger's football philosophy and his side proved it right. Arsenal came out of the blocks quickly and they took advantage of Brighton's poor defence, taking the lead just in 89 seconds through Walcott's composed finish. Their attack was breath-taking at times, taking the game under control throughout the first half. Özil's first goal since September was the icing on the cake. We were heading for a comfortable late afternoon.

However, in the second half, a series of individual errors led to Brighton's 50th-minute goal. Rosicky's sliced clearance put us under pressure. Chambers did not even try to win the ball, expecting a free-kick to be given for a foul on him. Flamini was not close enough to put off O'Grady. However, Arsenal restored the 2-goal lead 9 minutes later through Rosicky's sublime volley from the edge of the box.

We question the timing of substitutions. OK, Walcott wouldn't have lasted a full 90 minutes. The England forward was physically struggling by his own admission after a 12-month layoff. Arsenal looked to be in control before the double substitutions in Alexis and Akpon, but the changes seemed to have upset the team's focus and it took time for the team to adapt themselves to the changes in personnel. Again, Arsenal's slack defending gave Brighton's chance to get back into the game. Baldock chipped the ball past onrushing Szczesny after slipping through Arsenal's sleeping backline. Brighton rallied, but Wenger brought on Coquelin in place of Özil and the team started to regain stability. Despite the precarious scoreline, we were the side that was more likely to add to the goal tally. Alexis was unlucky not to score from free-kicks, twice denied. Chuba Akpom and Alexis created two good chances on the break. Rosicky's superb lofted pass found Ramsey perfectly in the box, but the Welshman lacked composure and shot it high and wide.

Tomas Rosicky was the star of the show this day. All of our members named him the Man of the Match, except one who picked Nacho Monreal. What's pleasing is that Wenger rested last weekend's man of the match, Santi Cazorla on the bench, but we still produced a very strong attacking performance. Without Santi and Alexis, the starting XI still looked impressive with quality players such as Theo and Özil. With Welbeck still to recover from a thigh problem and the Ox left at home, we have plethora of attacking options. Jose Mourinho rued Chelsea's lack of depth in the squad after his much-changed side had succumbed to an "embarrassing" 4-2 loss to a League 1 outfit Bradford at the Stamford Bridge.

The only weak department in our set up is defence, but this should be rectified soon with the imminent signing of Gabriel Paulista from Villarreal. A section of fans are disappointed with the new addition as the Brazilian centre-back is not a big-name as they hoped. However, it is unlikely that world-class players become available in the January transfer window and what we need is a back-up centre-back in case Per or Kos get injured (which is highly likely in light of Kos' chronic Achilles tendon problem). Capable of playing across the back four, including the left-back despite being right-footed, Paulista's versatility is a strong attraction, considering our injury record.

Chris Hughton complained about their penalty claim turned down, but the prevailing view is that the referee, Michael Oliver made a right decision when he waved off the handball claim. Replays showed that the ball hit Chamber's left arm in the box, but it was a close-range shot and the England defender could not do anything about his arms which were held down. We had a stronger case earlier when Walcott's shot was blocked by a Brighton defender's arm. In any case, it is a trend these days in which fewer handball claims end in penalties. We would also like to point out that the referee turned a blind eye to a string of fouls on Alexis and one of them might have resulted in a sending-off.

Following the impeccable defensive display against Man City, it was disappointing to see the all familiar defensive frailty come back in this game, allowing two goals from only two shots on target Brighton managed. But in a cup competition, all that matters is the result. We are glad to see Arsenal go through after those shock results a day earlier. Now the 5th round tie against Middlesbrough awaits in three weeks' time. Man City have proved us that the Championship title contenders are anything but a pushover. Arsene Wenger will no doubt have examined closely the DVD of their triumph over the the Premier League title holders before the clash. A home tie is an advantage for us, as well, as we have an excellent home record in the recent seasons.

With the victory over Brighton, the Gunners are on a run of 4 consecutive wins in all competitions. It has proved to be a difficult season for us to get some momentum, but now we have hit some form. Hopefully, we can extend our winning streak next weekend by beating Aston Villa at the Emirates.

Players ratings

Szczeny: 6
With Brighton registering only 2 shots on target, he did little to do. Some say that he was not at fault for either of the goals, but surely his rushing out for Brighton's second goal should be questioned. He doesn't possess Ospina's calmness.

Chambers: 6

Set up a goal for Walcott with a perfect cross after a strong run on the right flank, but he was a guilty party in the build-up of Brighton's first goal (perhaps it's part of the learning curve). In the absence of Debuchy, it is likely that he and Bellerin will share the responsibility at the right-back, but Bellerin is a step ahead because of his recovery pace when he has made a mistake.

Koscielny: 7
3 tackles, 7 interceptions and 6 clearances, but looked uncomfortable at times. Perhaps, he misses Mertesacker or the left-sided centre-back position.

Monreal: 7
Another solid performance as a centre-back, growing into the position. 

Gibbs: 7

Made 3 tackles, 3 interceptions, 2 clearances, and 1 key pass.

Flamini: 6

Guilty of Brighton's first goal. Made 2 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 1 clearance. Conquelin seems to have better positional sense and steel.

Ramsey: 7

He made his trade-mark bursting runs and got in great positions, but lacked composure and accuracy in his finishing. That said, he was unlucky not to score when his goal-bound shot was diverted by a Brighton defender. 

Rosicky: 9
Scored a sublime goal and set up another for Özil. His skill set was highly praised across the footballing world. According to Walcott, Rosicky does those "no-look" passes all the time on the training ground. 

Özil: 7
Scored his first goal since September with great composure. Created 3 chances for his team-mate.

Walcott: 7
Had 2 shots, both of which were on target, including the first goal for more than a year. But made a wrong decision when Rosicky was better positioned on his right-hand side and waiting for his pass. He later apologised to the Czech international, though.

Giroud: 7
Provided an assist for Rosicky's goal with an inch-perfect pass. He combined with the midfielders very well. Replaced in the 69th minute by Akpom. His hold-up play was sorely missed when he came off the pitch. 


Alexis: 6
Came in for Walcott in the 69th minute. Had 3 shots of which 1 was on target. Unlucky not to get on the scoresheet.

Akpom: 6
Replaced Giroud in the 69th minute. he brought more directness and counter-attacking threat to the side. His shot from a tight angle forced David Stockdale a fine save.

Coquelin: 7
Came off the bench in the 79th minute to replace Özil and see out the victory.

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