Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Newcastle 1 Arsenal 2

Although we had to hang on to see out our narrow victory over Newcastle, it was an important away win to tighten our grip on a top-four finish. With Man City comfortably seeing off West Brom earlier in the day and a chance to extend a gap over either Liverpool or Man U or both on the following day, three points were imperative. The Gunners' display was not as convincing as we had expected against a depleted Newcastle side – all the same the result mattered in the race for the Champions League qualification.

Arsene Wenger made three changes from the side that started in a bittersweet 2-0 triumph over Monaco on Tuesday night. Calum Chambers and Gabriel replaced Hector Bellerin and Per Mertesacker, respectively. Aaron Ramsey came in for Mesut Özil, who missed out on the trip to the Tyneside due to a slight illness. Wojciech Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs, Mathieu Flamini, fit-again Tomas Rosicky after illness, and Theo Walcott occupied the subs' bench alongside Bellerin and Mertesacker.

Although some rotation was expected after midweek exertions in Monte Carlo, the team selection raised some eyebrows. We prefer Bellerin over Chambers in the right-back position, but it was understandable that the boss did not want to overuse the young Spaniard, who turned 20 only this week. Gabriel, who travelled to Monaco after recovering from a hamstring injury, had a valuable playing time to give Mertesacker a rest. These two changes made sense, but what baffled us was the absence of Theo Walcott in the starting lineup. The England striker has hardly been overused this season, featuring in the Monaco game only for the last 20 minutes, and also had as good a goal-scoring record against Newcastle as Olivier Giroud's 6 goals in his previous 5 games. Nonetheless, Walcott sat out this game, while both Welbeck and Alexis started again on the wings. As his contract talks stall, the rumours suggesting Theo's exit from Arsenal were fueled after this game.

Going into this game, Arsenal boasted  fine form despite their exit from the Champions League, winning 13 games out of 15 game in all competitions since the New Year's Day. On the other hand, John Carver's side was riddled with a number of injuries on top of their two key players suspended, with only 13 outfield players available for this game. Although St James' Park is a tough place to go, where Chelsea famously suffered their first defeat of what was once dubbed as an invincible season, even Newcastle supporters were expecting Arsenal's emphatic win, say 4-0 to Arsenal.

The first-half showing supported that expectation. Arsenal were seemingly heading for a comfortable afternoon. They were playing some good football at their fluent best, but over-elaborating the final ball at times when a simple shot at goal would do. As it turned out, goals came from simple set-pieces. Giroud continued his fine goal scoring form, hitting the net twice within four minutes in the first-half.

Newcastle started the second half on the front foot. We knew that Arsenal would take their foot off the gas at 2-0 and invite pressure on themselves. We have seen enough 2-1's this season in those situations. Just as we had said that, Sissoko put his 14-yard shot back of the net. It was less than 3 minutes into the second half and now another torturous finale was waiting for us.

As the game wore on, the Gunners started looking leggy. We called for the introduction of fresh legs. Arsene Wenger answered  the call by making double substitutions in Rosicky and Flamini in the 70th minute to replace weary-looking Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez. But still no Walcott. Tired Giroud valiantly battled against Newcastle defenders to hold the ball up, while Welbeck's pace posed a counter-attack threat. Arsenal were holding on thanks to a couple of crucial saves from David Ospina and a resilient defence led by Laurant Koscielny, who took over the captain's armband from Santi Cazorla. When Arsene Wenger made a final change in the 88th minute to replace Welbeck for Bellerin, the Frenchman's intention was clear that Arsenal were all out to defend the narrow lead. Having said that, Bellerin looked dangerous with his pace, going forward. After the final whistle, Arsenal went back to London with a big three points.

After the game asked if he was concerned by the difference between his side's first and second-half displays, Wenger answered "No, not all. We played one game in Manchester, one at home to West Ham, one in Monaco on Tuesday and now here so that's three away games in two weeks. I'm proud of the performance we put in today". We take the same view. Our second-half performance was greatly affected by a fatigue factor. Hopefully, when our players come back from the international break, they will be fresh physically and mentally and re-focus on their Premier League campaign.

On Sunday, Chelsea showed how unpredictable the Premier League could be after their hard-fought 3-2 victory at Hull. Manchester United beat in-form Liverpool at Anfield. With 8 games remaining, the Premier League dynamics could change quickly. Arsenal will welcome fifth-placed Liverpool at the Emirates in a lunch-time kick-off on 4 April, which could be a potentially pivotal match for our pursuit for a Champions League spot.

Players ratings

Ospina: 8
Made a couple of superb saves, which were vital for the three points.

Chambers: 6

Stats-based Whoscored.com was heavily criticised by many Arsenal fans for its rather high rating of 8.48 on Chambers, making him the second best player on the pitch only after Olivier Giroud. The high rating seemed to have been based on his good defensive stats, 6 aerial duels won, 9 tackles, 4 interceptions and 4 clearances made. However, we think he was beaten on our right flank too often and lost possession easily in a dangerous area. 

Gabriel: 6
Mertesacker's passing success rate is usually window-dressed by his back and sideway passes, but at least the German centre-back keeps possession better. In comparison with him, Gabriel's 77.4% passing accuracy looks poor even on the day when the team average was significantly lower than usual at 77%. On the other hand, he made 1 tackle, 7 interceptions and 11 clearances. Perhaps, a higher rating for him across the media 
compared with his central defensive partner comes from these stats.

Koscielny: 6
Made 2 tackles, 4 interceptions and 7 clearances. 

Monreal: 6

The fact that he retained his place in the starting XI despite having played a full 90 minutes against Monaco and with fully-fit Gibbs available shows that now the Spaniard is our first-choice left-back. Made 3 tackles, 5 interceptions and 6 clearances.

Coquelin: 6
He has rarely had a bad game since his return from his loan stint in December, but this was his worst game. His passing left something to be desired and he was outmuscled too often by Newcastle midfielders. But we feel sorry for him as his nose took another battering in this game.

Ramsey: 6
He had a great chance to score when Giroud's flick found his run into the box, but scuffed a shot wide. On another occasion, not only did he inadvertently block Alexis' cross for Giroud, but he also gave away a foul as the cross hit his arm. 

Cazorla: 7

Not his best game, but he still produced one assist and was heavily involved in the first goal by delivering a perfect corner for Welbeck to flick onto Giroud. Replaced by Mathieu Flamini in the 70th minute. Hope he gets a well-deserved rest with the Spanish national team.

Alexis: 6
He hasn't been at his best for some time, but he still worked hard and made 2 key passes. Hopefully, he will come back refreshed from the international duty.

Welbeck: 6
Had 3 shots, one of which was on target. Provided an assist for Giroud's first goal. Made 2 tackles and 5 interceptions. Although his work-rate cannot be faulted, his finishing and touches need to improve. His passing accuracy rate was particularly poor in this game at a measly 66.7%.

Giroud: 8
Continued his fine goal-scoring form by netting two goals in 4 minutes. He did well to hold back his marker to direct his header into the net for his second goal. He was deprived of his chances to complete a hat-trick by Ramsey and a wrong off-side decision.


Flamini: 6
Replaced Cazorla in the 70th minute.

Rosicky: 6
Came off the bench to replace Alexis in the 70th minute.

Bellerin: 6
Came on in the 88th minute to replace Welbeck. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Monaco 0 Arsenal 2

Arsenal were eliminated from the Champions League in the round of last 16 on away goals. It was heartbreaking even though we all acknowledged that it was a mountainous task to overturn the 3-goal deficit as we came so close to making history. Nonetheless, we take heart from our players' valiant effort in the second leg. They never gave up their hopes and gave everything to their cause to the final whistle. After all, we beat Champions League group winners 2-0 on their home soil, where they have an excellent defensive record.

Arsenal Wenger made three changes from the side that started in a convincing 3-0 win over West Ham on Saturday. Hector Bellerin, who was rested in the London derby, replaced Calum Chambers at right-back, while Santi Cazorla, who started from the bench three days ago, came in for Aaron Ramsey in central midfield. Danny Welbeck started at the expense of Theo Walcott. The travelling squad was virtually identical to the one that faced West Ham, except for the inclusion of Gabriel who had recovered from a hamstring injury with Chuba Akpom left at home as a result.

For the first 15 minutes, we were frustrated with the slow temp, knowing that we had to score three goals in the next 90 minutes. However, it was understandable that the Gunners started the game in a cautious manner, which they should have done in the first leg. The visitors upped the tempo and started commanding possession. Koscielny turned a free-kick onto the Monaco cross bar, but it was adjudged off-side wrongly. Finally, Arsenal grabbed the lead in the 35th minute when Giroud smashed the rebound with his weaker right foot into the roof of the net after having his initial attempt saved by Subasic.

Welbeck was unlucky not to score when his effort hit Abdennour, who was left on the floor without knowing where the ball was. The ball eventually trickled wide, but it could have ended up anywhere, such was the luck of Monaco. In another incident, we might have said that it would have been a soft penalty if we had been awarded a spot kick when Alexis was fouled in the box, but the Chilean receiving a yellow card instead for diving was a massive miss-justice.

In the second half, we continued our attack, seeking for two more goals. Özil's free-kick forced Subasic a finger-tip save. The introduction of Aaron Ramsey, who appeared to have hit some form against West Ham after his return from a hamstring injury, injected energy and purpose. Minutes later, Özil had a glorious chance on the edge of the box, but his shot flew just wide. The second sub of the night, Theo Walcott hit the post from Monreal's cross. Fortunately for us, Kurzawa only cleared the rebound as far as Ramsey, who coolly slotted it home.

As the visitors mounted pressure in their search for a third goal to seal their qualification, they had another great chance. Giroud almost steered Özil's free-kick into the far post only to be denied by Subasic's superb save, although the France striker might have been better off leaving it for the better-placed Alexis. In the end, we could not find the elusive third goal and our Champions League campaign came to an end for this season.

Prior to the match, the Arsenal fans' mood was mixed. Some were optimistic based on the encouraging number of chances we created in the first leg. On the other hand, there was this ominous statistic in which no team had ever overturned a deficit of 2 goals or more in the second leg away from home. We thought what mattered most would be how we played in Monaco regardless of the result. It was paramount that we maintained our momentum and not let the outcome affect the rest of the season negatively.

We take courage from our performance this night. The team learnt from their mistakes in the first leg. Our wingers provided width and pace, which lacked at home. Our players were mentally sharper, more focused and hungrier than 20 days ago. Overall, it was an impressive display. Hopefully, we will also learn from our experience in the last 4 seasons when our disastrous first games cost us dearly (this does not apply to the Barca game, in which we beat them 2-1 at home in the first leg).

The encouraging thing is that Arsene Wenger refused to let himself get down and his side seemed to follow his suit. Both Mertesacker and Ramsey emphasised their strong run in recent weeks, with their focus seemingly having already moved onto the domestic fronts. We still have a good chance of retaining the FA Cup and finishing second in the league is not beyond our reach, given our current form and Man City's recent wobble. Let's focus on the must-win game at St. James' Park this weekend.

Players ratings

Ospina: 6
As Monaco registered only 3 goal attempts and no shot on target, he had little to do.

Bellerin: 7

Made 5 tackles, 5 interceptions and 3 clearances.

Mertesacker: 7
Made 3 tackles, 3 interceptions an 1 clearance.

Koscielny: 8
Had a good game with 5 tackles, 2 interceptions and 10 clearances.

Monreal: 7

His run into the box and cut-back to Walcott led to Arsenal's second goal. Replaced by Gibbs in the 83rd minute. Hope he didn't get injured.

Coquelin: 7
Made 3 tackles, 1 interception and 1 clearance. Replaced by Ramsey in the 63rd minute.

Cazorla: 8
Made 3 tackles, 2 interceptions and 122 passes with a 86.9% accuracy. All-round impressive performance. 

Alexis: 7

He has to curb his tendency to dribble into trouble, needing to release the ball early to suit Arsenal style of football.

Özil: 7
Had 2 shots, one of which was on target. He needs to take more shots. Created 2 chances, while making 101 passes with a 84.2% passing success rate. His performance this night seemed to have totally split opinions among the fans and journalists. He may have lost too many balls for some fans' liking, but he also showed a glimpse of his brilliance in passing, skills, vision and ability to find space in the compact Monaco defence.

Welbeck: 7
Unlucky not to get on the scoresheet. He works hard, but needs to improve his ball control especially in the final third. 

Giroud: 8
Had 7 shots, of which 4 were on target. Scored 14th goal of the season, 9th in his last 11 starts.


Ramsey: 8
Replaced Coquelin in the 63rd minute. Made an immediate impact after his introduction and scored Arsenal's second goal.

Walcott: 6
Came off the bench to replace Bellerin in the 66th minute.

Giroud: 6
Came on in the 74th minute to replace Welbeck

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Manchester United 1 Arsenal 2 (FA Cup Quarter-final)

It was a fantastic result on so many levels. Arsenal have finally won at Old Trafford after 9 years and 11 attempts. The victory saw us through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup, as well as making a big statement in which we can win in big games, in particular, away from home against big clubs. Danny Welbeck proved a point against the manager who deemed him as surplus to requirements. In fact, the man who he gave way to, Radamel Falcao, did not even feature in the game of this magnitude. As we mentioned in the last post, everybody in the footballing world (apart from Man U fans) wanted the Red Devils to be found out after they had picked up so many results without playing well. They were finally beaten by deserved winners.

Arsene Wenger made five changes from the side that started in a hard-fought 2-1 victory over QPR five days ago. Wojciech Szezesny recovered from illness in time to feature between the sticks in place of David Ospina. Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal replaced the injured Gabriel and Kieran Gibbs, respectively. Monreal was passed fit after missing out on the win at Loftus Road through a back pain. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came in for Tomas Rosicky. Above all these changes, what most surprised us, perhaps as much as Louis Van Gaal, was the deployment of Danny Welbeck in a centre-forward position at the expense of Olivier Giroud. Arsene Wenger explained his selection, stating that he thought the England striker would be ideal as the Frenchman's side could have counter-attacking chances.

It was Monreal who scored a fine goal (only his second) after some excellent interplay between Ozil and The Ox. Danny Welbeck's first touches were atrocious in the first half, unable to control any balls when he received them. However, he worked hard tirelessly and put pressure on the home side by pressing high up on the pitch. He capitalised on Antonio Valencia's error and took his chance brilliantly. Wenger provided a chance for him to show what he was capable of if he was given chances to play in his preferred position.

When Welbz was taken off in the 74th minute, he was relatively well received by the whole audience, despite some jeers from a section of Man united fans. There was a question after the match as to whether he was right to celebrate his goal against his former club where he spent so many years. However, it is wrong to question his loyalty. After all, it was his old club and its new manager that have decided that he was not up to its required level. All he wanted to do was to prove that decision wrong and he has every right to show his delight for what he had just done.

Another major talking point of this game was officiating. Michael Oliver earned plaudits for his brave decisions from the broader base of football fans. He never surrender himself to the intimidation of the crowding Man U players or the home crowd and demonstrated his uncompromising attitude towards divers. Initially, we thought he was just like other referees in charge at Old Trafford in the past, when he showed a yellow card for Hector Bellerin's seemingly innocuous foul within the first 3 minute. On the other hand, Marouane Felleini escaped a yellow card for 58 minutes after 5 or 6 potentially bookable offences. Some argue that Arsenal had a genuine penalty claim when Welbz was tripped in the box, but we weren't surprised when the referee simply waved it off as we knew it just would not happen at Old Trafford against the home side. We feared the worst when Michael Oliver pulled a yellow card out of his pocket when Bellerin's challenge was deemed illegal. Fortunately, the young Spaniard remained on the pitch until Wenger decided not to chance on his borrowed life any longer and replaced him with Calum Chambers in the 66th minute. We were further impressed when he booked Angel Di Maria for simulation and sent him off within 30 seconds of the incident for a second bookable offence when the Argentinian manhandled the referee. Then, when we heard the home crowd shouting for a penalty, the ref actually booked Adnan Januzaj for diving. Replays showed that it was an unashamed simulation. Michael Oliver's performance this night was pleasantly refreshing, especially considering that so many wrong decisions have been making headlines this season.

The result saw us through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup. This time around, the draw was also kind to us, with Bradford or Reading to face us at Wembley. We know neither of them should be underestimated, especially Bradford who beat us in the Capital One Cup in the penalty shoot-out. However, we know we are going into the game as heavy favourites because of our club ranking and our title credentials as the current holders. But that's more than a month away. We have more urgent issues of cementing our place in the top three and dealing with the second leg of the Champions League against Monaco.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 6
Although he made a couple of fine saves in the first half, he still hasn't eradicated his rash decisions to come out of his area while his two centre-backs were in control of the situation, or his desire to play the ball on his feet when Rooney was lurking.

Bellerin: 6

Made 3 tackles, 1 interceptions and 4 clearances.

Mertesacker: 6
Made 2 tackles, 3 interceptions and 7 clearances. For Rooney's goal, the two centre-backs were too far apart, allowing the England striker to run in between them too easily.

Koscielny: 7
Made 3 tackles, 4 interceptions and 4 clearances. Won 7 aerial duels.

Monreal: 8

Scored his second goal for Arsenal. Took his goal excellently with the side of his left foot.

Coquelin: 8
Bravely battled against Fellaini. Made 4 tackles, 1 interception and 1 clearance.

Cazorla: 8
Unlucky not to get on the scoresheet when his well-taken volley was denied by De Gea's superb save in the second half. Had 3 shots, 2 of which were on target. Made 6 tackles.

Oxlade-Chamberlian: 8

Stats-based Whoscored.com's Man of the Match. Provided an assist for Monreal's opener by cutting in from the right flank, jinking his way through defenders to the middle before he slotted a perfect pass into the Spanish left-back's path into the box. It is a shame that he will have to endure another spell on the sidelines after suffering a hamstring injury.

Özil: 8
His recent work-rate stats should silence his critics. He was linking Arsenal's midfield and front line, by tracking back, winning the balls and pressing. He was also taking on two Man U defenders to himself in the build-up to Arsenal's opener to make space for his team-mates.

Alexis: 8
Unlucky not to score when his shot was finger-tip-saved by David De Gea (we thought the Chilean skewed his shot at the first glance). Had 5 shots, 3 of which were on target.

Welbeck: 8
Worked hard and reacted quickly to the opponents' defensive error. Replaced by Giroud in the 74th minute. Had 2 shots, both of which were on target. However, his touches need improving.


Ramsey: 6
Replaced the injured Ox in the 50th minute. He had to take a yellow card to stop Man U's break.

Chambers: 6
Came off the bench to replace Bellerin in the 66th minute.

Giroud: 6
Came on in the 74th minute to replace Welbeck

Friday, March 6, 2015

QPR 1 Arsenal 2

Arsenal claimed important 3 points on the night when all their rivals won. As a result, the north London club remained third in the table and amid a hotting up debate as to who will finish in the top four, they seemed to have become firm favourites among the pundits.

Arsene Wenger made two changes from the side that started in a 2-0 victory over Everton 3 days ago. To our surprise, Per Mertesacker came in for Laurent Koscielny, proving that the World Cup winner's drop to the bench for the previous game was merely a valuable rest given by the boss rather than punishment for his poor showing against Monaco. Francis Coqulin was passed fit after suffering a broken nose during the Everton game and started at the heart of Arsenal's midfield with a protective mask on. Tomas Rosicky, who scored our second goal against the Toffees, coming off the bench, got the nod ahead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who in turn was dropped to the bench.

On the subs' bench, surprise omissions include Wojciech Szczesny and Nacho Monreal due to illness and a slight back pain, respectively. Arsenal welcomed the return of Aaron Ramsey from a hamstring injury. The remaining places on the bench were occupied by Emi Martinez, Calum Chambers, Koscielny, Danny Welbeck, and Theo Walcott. Since his return from a lengthy injury layoff, Walcott has been deployed sparingly, which mystifies us.

The hosts were a more energetic side in the first 20 minutes or so, which came no surprise, given their advantage of extra days off after their weekend match against Chelsea was postponed. On the other hand, this game was our third game in 8 days. We struggled to keep possession and did little when we went forward during the period. In contrast to the number of half chances they created, we had no goal attempts to show. It was frustrating especially for those who thought this game would be a walk in the park, but we were happy that the boys did not rush their game. In fact, their patience was rewarded in the second half.

Arsenal, especially Rosicky, started the second half in a vibrant manner. In the post-match interview, Wenger pointed out that QPR's hard pressing and physical approach took its toll in the second half. Especially, it was too much for Sandro who had just come back from a knee injury that he suffered in November. After the Brazilian midfielder came off the pitch, Arsenal found more fluency in their attack. The first goal came from Arsenal's sweeping counter attack initiated by Cazorla's tackle on Kranjcar just outside the Arenal box. After quick passing from Cazorla to Özil, then to Alexis, Olivier Giroud was sharp enough to get onto Gibb's deflected effort.

The second goal followed in 5 minutes. To our delight, Alexis finally got on the scoresheet for the first time in 8 matches. Aresenal continued their ascendancy and nearly added another to their goal tally when Mesut Ozil's deflected effort hit the post.

But as usually, we had to endure another tense finale to the game as Koscielny and Gibbs combined to allow Charlie Austin have a shot at our goal, which went past Ospina. However, Arsenal held on for the remaining 12 minutes and came away with all 3 points to stay third.

A section of fans are not totally impressed with Arsenal's performance, especially their inability to close the game out, but if you look at top seven teams' performances this night (and the night before for Southampton), nobody claimed a convincing win, including the league leaders, Chelsea.

Having said that, Arsenal could have won more comfortably had the referee, Kevin Friend, made a correct decision, when Özil was tugged back by Karl Henry as the German playmaker ran onto Rosicky's low cross. Replays showed Özil's claim was legitimate, with a BBC commentator shouting for a penalty. In addition, Rob Green's magnificent form (as he usually is against us whoever he plays for) kept the scoreline tight.

We take heart from some good football and fluidity the team showed in the second half. Quick counterattacks leading to both goals should be a platform to build on for the future games. Furthermore, Arsenal's recovery from the Monaco nightmare seemed to have convinced the media that the Gunners have what it takes to achieve a top four finish mentally. In the past seasons, one bad result could have triggered the collapse of form to end their title hopes. The last two results ensured that Arsenal are back in their impressive form of 2015. In fact, this marked their first back-to-back away victory this season. They were resilient in this game. Although QPR stopped them from playing their passing game with physicality and long balls, Arsenal did not give up.

Now we face a stern test in the FA Cup tie with Manchester United on Monday. Our record at Old Trafford or against this particular opponent, for that matter, does not bode well, but it's about time we should beat them, isn't it? They have been playing badly and keep getting results this season. Everybody wants them to be found out (apart from the Man U fans, of course). It's a massive match with our hopes of retaining the FA Cup at stake. We can also make a big statement in our push for a top-four finish by winning a big game.

Players ratings

Ospina: 7
With QPR registering 3 shots on target, there was little to do, but he was alert whenever he was called upon.

Bellerin: 7

Made 2 tackles, 3 interceptions and 2 clearances. Going forward, made 5 crosses, none of which were accurate. 

Mertesacker: 7
Did his job on his return from the bench.

Gabriel: 7
This was his first physical test in the Premier League, in which many match reports concluded he struggled due to his inexperience. However, he made 12 clearances in his 36 minutes of action and won 8 aerial duels. He received some knocks and bruises from Bobby Zamora and had to be withdrawn in the 36th minute due to a hamstring problem. According to Wenger's initial prognosis, he could miss 21 days. Hopefully, he will get better soon. He proved himself a capable cover who can give Mertesacker and Koscielny a valuable rest every now and then.

Gibbs: 8

Provided an assist for Giroud's opener and combined well with Alexis on the left flank. On the defensive front, he made 4 tackles, 7 interceptions and 14 clearances, winning 7 aerial duels. Stats-based Whoscored.com's Man of the Match (although some claim that's because the site overrates the number of aerial duels won and dribbles). He was as culpable as Koscielny for Austin's goal by running away from the QPR striker.

Coquelin: 8
Another gutsy performance. We were a bit worried that the protective mask could restrict his sight, but it had no effects on his performance whatsoever.

Cazorla: 8
Had a great chance in the first half after a beautiful build-up, but his shot was parried by Green.

Rosicky: 8

Lively especially in the second half. Had 3 shots, 1 of which was on target. 

Özil: 7
Had 3 shots, 1 of which was on target. In addition to the incident involving a penalty claim, he was unlucky not to be on the scoresheet when his deflected shot hit the post. Created 5 chances for his team-mates. Covers more ground than any other player.

Alexis: 8
Sky Sports' Man of the Match. Scored his first goal in 8 matches to end his goal drought. His goal came after 2 missed clear-cut chances, including a one-on-one with the keeper. It was one of those goals the Chilean was scoring earlier this season during his prolific goal scoring run: deceiving the keeper into believing that he was aiming for the far post and shooting at the near post with no back lift, after twisting and turning his markers. The effect of the goal was obvious. He was brimming with confidence afterwards. The goal answered to an argument as to whether Alexis and 
Özil can play together. Alexis was effective in this game as he played with more positional discipline. He and Gibbs often overlapped on the left flank, with the former Barcelona man finding the left-back more often and using Gibbs' runs forward more. Giroud's goal came from one of those exchanges.

Giroud: 7
Scored his 10th goal in the league this season, continuing his impressive form domestically. Hopefully, he has had his Monaco misery behind him by scoring two important goals in two successive games.


Koscielny: 7
Replaced injured Gabriel at centre-back in the 36th minute. Overall solid, but he was at fault for Austin's goal by not closing him down.

Ramsey: 6
Came off the bench to replace Rosicky in the 86th minute. Good to have him back in the squad.

Welbeck: N/A
Came on in the stoppage time to replace 
Özil probably to just take the sting out of the intensity of the QPR attack. Had only 1 touch.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Arsenal 2 Everton 0

On Sunday, Arsenal were back in the battle for a top-four finish in the league after a disappointing performance and result midweek. They needed a strong response to the poor display, but three points were an even more urgent agenda after both Manchester United and Liverpool won earlier this weekend, while Southampton further stuttered, dropping all three points against West Brom.

The Gunners' performance in this game may not have impressed everybody, but they did what was required and a clean sheet and two goals to further improve their goal difference were a bonus. After we had suffered heavy defeats in big games last season, our first objective was to stabilise our defence and the results immediately after those games were always draws. So, coming away with all three points shouldn't be sniffed at only 4 days after such a devastating result.

Arsene Wenger made two changes from the side that started in the 3-1 loss to Monaco on Wednesday night. Gabriel replaced Per Mertesacker in the central defence. The World Cup winner was under fire after the poor performance against Monaco, with his lack of pace brutally exposed. As Wenger had already suggested some rotation, the change did not come as a surprise. The other change was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming in for Danny Welbeck. Welbz was lucky not come under severe criticism after the Monaco game as Olivier Giroud took all the stick because of his missed chances. We thought this change was another good decision by the boss. Perhaps, what surprised most  people was changes that he did not make.

There were calls for Olivier Giroud to be axed, but we think that Arsenal play a lot better with the French striker in the team. The best example was the reverse fixture earlier this season. Arsene Wenger started Alexis Sanchez as a centre forward, but the boss had to replace the Chile international for Giroud at half time. The French striker made a clear difference in the second half and went on to score a late equaliser to rescue a point. Another change in personnel some wanted to see was in the goal keeper position. Although David Ospina might have little to do with the three goals we conceded against Monaco, he didn't exactly cover himself with glory. Some called for the reinstatement of Wojciech Szczesny in goal, but Wenger stood by the Columbia international just as he did with Giroud and his faith in both were repaid.

Arsenal started in a cagey manner with the midweek debacle heavily on their mind. They had to withstand a period of Everton's domination in possession. However, Olivier Giroud's brave effort (although he should have scored) encouraged the team to up the tempo and the Frenchman eventually got his shot on target 6 minutes from the end of half time. Arsenal finished the first half on a high, but they were to allow Everton on the front foot again in the second half. That said, we think Arsenal dealt with Everton's attacking threat relatively well. Eventually, Rosicky's late goal sealed three points for the north London club and we were able to enjoy the rest of the game relaxed.

The ball retention was still a problem for us and a 45.8% possession rate indicates this was not Arsenal's typical home game. Arsene Wenger pointed out that his side could have done better with the ball, but he also emphasised the importance of the result. Indeed, the three points sent us back to third in the table, a point above Man United, 3 points ahead of Liverpool, with Southampton now trailing us by 5 points. Tottenham were engaged in the Capital One Cup competition this weekend, allowing us to stretch the gap further to 7 points. However, the big development this weekend was that we suddenly found ourselves just 4 points below second-placed Manchester City after their defeat to Liverpool earlier on the day.

Most of the media seem determined to give no credit to Arsenal's performance, but there are quite a few positives to take away from this game. Ospina reasserted his claim for the No.1 shirt, while the new boy, Gabriel, put in a promising performance after recovering from an early mistake. Olivier Giroud redeemed himself with a well-taken goal, while Mesut Ozil provided assists for both goals. Captain on the day, Santi Cazorla continued his sparkling form.

It was a good win to put behind the bad result on Wednesday. Hopefully, we can extend the winning streak in the league come Wednesday night.

Players ratings

Ospina: 8
Made a couple of superb saves to keep a clean sheet, especially a finger-tip save to deny Lukaku's effort. His decision was spot-on when Gabriel made a misjudgment of the long ball. His subsequent tackle was also impressive.

Bellerin: 7

Had 2 key passes and a shot, contributing to attack.

Gabriel: 8
He recovered well from an early mistake and went on to make a perfectly-timed crucial tackle on Lukaku. He grew into the game. Made a tackle, 6 interceptions (a stat that convinced Arsene Wenger to bring him in in January) and 10 clearances. His pace impressed, too.

Koscielny: 7
For the Monaco game, Mertesacker was made scapegoat, but Koscielny was not in a great form, either. He was a bit shaky in this game as well. Gabriel covered him brilliantly when Lukaku escaped the French centre-back.

Gibbs: 8

Made 4 tackles, 5 interceptions and 11 clearances.

Coquelin: 8
Brave committed performance. Made 4 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 8 clearances. Especially, he covered the far post in the set-piece defence and did the job very well. Let's hope he will not need an operation on his broken nose and return to the pitch as soon as possible.

Cazorla: 8
Had a good game. Had 3 shots, 1 of which was on target, but we liked his positive approach. Made 5 tackles, 2 interceptions and 2 clearances.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7

Made 2 key passes, but his passing accuracy was poor at 78.8% (the team average was also lower in this game at 81%, though). 

Özil: 8
He should have scored when he had a clear sight of goal after the Ox delivered a through ball to him. That said, he does not deserve criticism. He created 5 chances for his team-mates, including 2 assists.

Alexis: 7
The dip in his form is somewhat concerning, but he worked hard. Perhaps, the opponents started finding out his movements.

Giroud: 7

He was a man to prove a point and his determination spoke volumes for that. He had 6 chances to score in this game (6 against Monaco as well), but scored just one goal. His conversion rate is poor, but the number of misses suggests he is always in the right place at the right time. 


Rosicky: 7
Replaced the Ox in the 82nd minute. Scored a deflected goal. It may have been a lucky goal, but we like his positive attitude. Great to see players taking their chances. Had 2 shots, both of which were on target.

Welbeck: 6
Came off the bench to replace Alexis in the 87th minute.

Chambers: 6
Came on in the 88th minute to replace Coquelin, who could not carry on playing due to a bleeding nose. Made 1 tackle and 5 passes with a 60% accuracy, stats that don't read well.