Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 0

Arsenal's winning run finally came to an end after a goalless draw with the league leaders Chelsea. At the Arsenal Playa Flamenca Supporters Club, we felt the north London side should have won the game with a few chances of nicking it. However, we took heart from our team's performance, which proved that there is little between the two sides. On the top-four finish front, a point saw us move a step closer to securing a Champions League spot this weekend, when 7th-placed Southampton and 6th-placed Tottenham played out a 2-2 draw, with 5th-placed Liverpool also ending up with a goalless draw with West Brom, while 4th-placed Manchester United was defeated 3 goals to nil by Everton earlier on Sunday. We now sit third in the table below Man City on goal difference and 2 points clear of Man U, having played a game less. We are still well-placed for a top-two finish.

Arsene Wenger made four changes from the side that started in the FA Cup semi-final against Reading last Saturday. As expected, David Ospina replaced Wojciech Szczesny in goal, while Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal came in for Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs at the full-backs, both of whom in turn dropped to the bench. Per Mertesacker was rated 50/50 previously for his involvement in the clash due to an ankle injury he sustained during the semi-final, but passed fit thanks to Arsenal medical team's devoted efforts. Olivier Giroud started at the expense of Danny Welbeck. After the match, Martin Kewon stated that the England striker should have started in place of the France international, but Welbeck was ineffectual in the reverse fixture this season. Giroud's stat of 10 goals in his 12 games backed a claim that he was a striker on form at the moment. Although he had never scored against Chelsea, his big-game stats significantly improved this season, scoring against Man City away, Man U at home, and Liverpool at home and away. The remaining bench places were occupied by Mathieu Flamini, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott.

If we have a complaint about the team selection, it's for a wide position rather than the centre-forward. We would have done better with a proper winger playing on the opposite side to Alexis. Aaron Ramsey kept vacating his duty on the wing, making defensive work easier for Chelsea, especially their left-back, Azpilicueta. We need to stretch the opponents' defence in this kind of tight games. When Walcott was brought on in the 83rd minute, Chelsea had already started sitting deep, with no room for the England forward to run in behind the defence.

We all knew before the match that Jose Mourinho's side would play for a 0-0 draw. John Terry's reaction at the end of the game spoke volumes for that. They came to the Emirates to earn a point and they did just that. We are proud that at least Wenger tried to play our brand of football. The Frenchman made two attacking changes (although we didn't necessarily agree with taking off of Coquelin instead), in contrast to Mourinho replacing Fabregas for a defender Zouma.

Their fans and the media heaped their praise for Jose Mourinho's tactics and his side's execution as if they had won the game, but let's not forget that it was a draw at the end of the day. We could not score a goal, but nor did they. Chelsea did not outplay us by any means.

We thought we played well in the first half. Passing was crisp and build-up plays were fluent with a high tempo. The intensity dropped a bit in the second half, but in the last 20 minutes, we regained it and created a few clear-cut chances. As Wenger stated in his post-match interview, decisions on the final ball let us down. He also admitted that his side might have been too conscious of Chelsea's counter-attacking threat, which inhibited their play in the final third. In addition, we did not have enough players in the Chelsea box when needed.

On top of Arsene Wenger's unflattering stats against Mourinho, Fabregas' return had been another topic of the game since the fixture was published last summer. Intriguingly, Wenger said that the conditions regarding the resigning of Fabregas were not as "clean" as people think. We will be interested to read the T&C's of the deal some day when Wenger's memoir has come out. Meanwhile, despite Wenger's plea to respect the ex-captain, the Arsenal fans' reception was mixed. For us, we acknowledge that the Club has moved on to build the team around Santi Cazorla as a deeper-lying central midfielder and Mesut Ozil as a central attacking midfielder.

Another talking point was the referee's decisions. Michael Oliver was refreshingly brave and brilliant in the FA Cup quarter-final encounter between Arsenal and Man U, but he became the centre of controversies because of his refusal of penalty claims on four occasions. In the first incident, Oscar went down too easily. Bellerin may have tripped him afterwards, but he was on his way down as soon as the Spanish right-back had touched his shoulder. For the second incident, we cannot deny that on another day, another referee may have sent off the keeper, but Michael Oliver was right to play advantage as Oscar's effort was already heading for goal, when Ospina crashed into him. Once Hector Bellerin had cleared the shot off the line, it was difficult for the referee to pull back the play and award Chelsea a penalty. Some argue that the Colombian keeper could have been sent off, but a red card would have been a wrong decision as Bellerin's subsequent clearing header testified that Ospina's challenge did not deny Oscar's goal-scoring chance. Michael Oliver's decision was correct again. On the third occasion, Fabregas was booked correctly for his simulation. Then, Arsenal had a legitimate penalty claim when Santi's goal-bound shot was blocked by Gary Cahill's raised arm. We know that these days hand-balls in the box are rarely punished, but on the previous day, QPR were awarded a penalty when West Ham defender, Collins committed an identical foul in the box. Furthermore, the sending-off of Ivanovic should have been well due when he finally went into the book in the 71st minute as the Serbian right-back's heavy challenges on Alexis went unpunished a few times in the first half.

Although we were still unable to defeat Mourinho's side at our 13th attempt, we take positives from the closely-contested draw. The biggest positive was the clean sheet. As much as the Chelsea supporters are proud of their defenders, in particular, John Terry, we take heart from our defensive display. Our defence kept the newly crowned PFA Player of the Year, Eden Hazard, quiet. We also kept in check the physical threat of Didier Drogba, who scored 8 times in 11 Premier League appearances against us in those days when the Chelsea supporters accused us of light-weight defence.

We'd like to think that Arsenal did enough to suggest they could compete with the champions-elect next season at the top level. The Gunners' slightest hopes (created by the media) of winning the title may have extinguished, but we still have plenty left to play for this season, including the FA Cup final at the end of the next month. Fortunately, our players seem to remain upbeat despite having not found the net for the first time since the New Year's Day at Saint Mary's. Our catch-up weekends continue with next Monday's away game against Hull City. It's going to be a must-win fixture as we could be 4th by the time we play this game, after Man U and Man City have taken on West Brom and Tottenham, respectively (we will be probably cheering on for our north London rivals just once for this one).

Players ratings

Ospina: 6
His rush challenge on Oscar was our most anxious moment, but made a smart save for Ramirez's effort. 

Bellerin: 7

He was quick to rescue his team-mates, saving Oscar's certain goal with a clearing header. Going forward, he did well to cut the ball back to Santi, whose goal-bound shot was blocked by Cahill's arm. Made 3 tackles, 1 interceptions, and 4 clearances. Kept Hazard quiet. Playing a part in such a big game ahead of fit-again Debuchy indicates his meteoric rise this season. Aresnal fans' chosen Man of the Match.

Metesacker: 7
He took charge of dealing with most of Chelsea's long balls. Made 1 tackle, 2 interceptions and 5 clearances, winning 5 aerial duels. When the rebound from Özil's shot fell in front of him, he should have at least put his effort on target. That said, this was one of his better games.

Koscielny: 7
Made 2 tackles, 2 interceptions and 6 clearances. Made a marauding run on the left in the latter stages of the game and found Santi with space at the edge of the box, but the Spaniard hooked his shot wide. Recovered well after being kicked in the head by Willian.

Monreal: 7

Assured defensive display. Made 1 tackle, 2 interceptions and 4 clearances. His offensive work was instrumental in Arsenal's late chances. 

Coquelin: 7
Made 2 tackles, 5 interceptions, and 1 clearance. Another good game. He shouldn't have been sacrificed for an attacking option unless the collision with Drogba affected him physically. Replaced by Welbeck in the 76th minute.

Cazorla: 8

Made thrusting dribbles from deep. Had 3 shots, none of which was on target. Orchestrates everything from centre midfield.

Ramsey: 6
He showed a glimpse of his technical brilliance, but he lost the ball too often for our liking. He dropped deeper and more central after Coquelin was taken off. Made 2 tackles and 3 interceptions. Obviously, Wenger rate the Welshman as one of our match winners, but the right wing is clearly not his best position.

Özil: 8
Continued his fine form. Had 2 shots, one of which was on target. He had a glorious chance in the closing stages of the game, but the ball went through his legs. Nevertheless, it is noticeable that his body language has largely changed for positive. He smiled and acknowledged the cross to his team-mate. Created 3 scoring chances, making 5 dribbles. Made more passes (77) than any other player on the pitch, with an impressive 92.2% accuracy.

Alexis: 7

Fouled 5 times. Involved heavily in Arsenal attack especially in the first half when most of attacking movements took place on Arsenal's left flank, but his final ball was not quite there.

Giroud: 7
Won 5 aerial duels. If he had stayed on and been given the same glorious chance Welbeck had, he would probably have flicked it into the net. He was tightly marshaled by John Terry, but we still think the team play better with him as centre-forward.


Welbeck: 6
Replaced Coquelin in the 76th minute. His pace made an impact, but he should have taken his chance.

Walcott: 6
Came off the bench to replace Giroud in the 83rd minute. Had only 2 touches.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Reading 1 Arsenal 2 (AET, FA Cup Semi-Final)

Arsenal are through to the FA Cup final for the second year in a row and a record 19th time in the history of the competition. Going into the semi-final, the north London side were odds-on favourites on the back of their scintillating form with eight league wins on the trot, while Reading were yet to win a game since they reached the semi-finals in March. At Arsenal Playa Flamenca Arsenal Supporters Club, some of us were confident that our team would comfortably dispatch the Championship outfit, while the others knew that it would be a tough game as Wigan Athletic proved in this round of the competition last season. Although we had an excellent record against the Royals when they were in the top flight of English football, including a thrilling 7-5 victory in a league cup meeting, they are a well-organised defensive unit now under Steve Clarke. Besides, you can always count on Arsenal for never doing things in the easiest way.

As we said in the last post, we knew that complacency would be a problem for this season's Arsenal team, but we were worried if Arsene Wenger could resist the temptation of giving some players valuable playing time against the lower-division side. Although the Frenchman dismissed our suspicion in his pre-match press conference, stating he would put the balance of the team first, his clear indication of the appointment of Wojciech Szczesny as a "cup keeper" left us with some concern.

As it turned out, the Frenchman made four changes from the side that started in a 1-0 defeat of Burnley 8 days ago. As he said in the pre-match press conference, Szczesny replaced David Ospina, who in turn dropped to the bench. Mathieu Debuchy made his first start in a competitive game after 3 months out, while Kieran Gibbs earned a rare start ahead of Nacho Monreal. Despite the recent fine form of 20-year-old Hector Bellerin, Debuchy is our first-choice right-back with abundant experience, while Gibbs is an able England left-back. On paper, these two full-backs should be capable of handling a championship side and these like-for-like changes looked the best way to keep all the first-team players competitive without upsetting the balance of the team. Nevertheless, we thought these were risky moves due to their lack of game time in recent months. Wenger's post-match interview revealed that he also thought it was a bit risky, but the Frenchman decided to rest Bellerin, who played recent games with some ankle problems, since Debuchy was fit and ready now. According to Wenger, the France international had cramps after normal time. We are relieved that the gamble did not backfire because we could not use a valuable substitution on another defender after Mertesacker had already been replaced due to an ankle injury. Physical fitness aside, both Debuchy and Gibbs looked rusty, especially with the lack of sharpness evident in their slow decision-making and dwelling on the ball.

Another change was Danny Welbeck leading the line in place of Olivier Giroud. The England forward scored the winning goal against Man U in the last round and knocked his former club out of the competition. On top of that, perhaps Wenger was expecting the same sort of the game to Arsenal's last outing against Burnley, in which Giroud's impact was negated by close marking on him. The remaining places on the subs' bench was occupied by Nacho Monreal, Gabriel, Mathieu Flamini, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, and Giroud.

It wasn't a classic performance from the Gunners, but a typical semi-final game in which mental factors played a larger part than the quality of football. The FA Cup holders started the game brightly, with Mertesacker's early effort from a corner-kick drawing a fine save from Adam Federici. As our frustration grew at Doolan's Irish Bar, six minutes from the break, Alexis' brilliance finally broke the deadlock after Mesut Özil had spotted the Chilean's clever run into the box and delivered an inch-perfect pass from 25 yards from goal.

However, Reading were level 9 minutes into the second half. Debuchy allowed Pogrebnyak to get to the byline. Santi could not stop the Russian from delivering a cross to McCleary at far post, whose run behind Gibbs was not covered. Although McCleary's volley took a slight deflection on the Arsenal left-back, Szczesny should have saved it.

Mertesacker was replaced by Gabriel, which was a big blow. We needed to save fresh pairs of legs as long as possible for possible extra time and attacking options preferably. Gabriel immediately found a chance to score with his powerful header only to be fingertip-saved over the bar. After the game, Santi Cazorla admitted that they lost organisation in the second half. Arsenal had a tough period. Arsene Wenger brought Giroud on for Welbeck with 20 minutes left. Gabriel spurned a chance as his free header flew over the bar. Ramsey found himself through on Reading's goal after his first effort was blocked and his second attempt cannoned off the post. At the other end, Pogrebnyak had only Koscielny to beat with Jamie Mackie in support, but the French centre-back made a just enough touch on the Russian's shot and the ball trickled into Szczesny's hands.

The semi-final went into extra time for the second time in two years. Football is cruel. Federici had made a number of great saves by this stage of the game. In fact, had it not been for his heroics, Arsenal would have wrapped up the game at normal time. However, all the headlines were on his mistake. Meanwhile, Alexis claimed a winning goal, with Ozil credited for another assist for the Chile international. For the remaining 15 minutes, Reading threw everything, including their third substitute in the shape of Yakubu, but Arsenal held on to book their place in the final.

It was hardly Arsenal's best performance. Their passing was not as crisp as usual. Wenger pointed out his side's lack of sharpness in the final third in his post-match analysis. Nevertheless, they still commanded 72% of possession and managed 9 shots on target despite Reading making their best to make it difficult for the Premier League side. The Wembley final against Aston Villa awaits in the merry month of May, but before that, we have to make sure we finish second in the league. Our focus shifts to this weekend's massive clash with the league leaders, Chelsea, at home.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 5
Although the Reading goal was the result of combined errors from a few Arsenal players, Szczesny should have done better. He also messed up a clearance or two. We never felt comfortable with him in goal. He may be a talented keeper, but Wenger should reconsider the Pole's status as our cup keeper before the final. 

Debuchy: 6

Played his first competitive game since he dislocated his shoulder during the match against Stoke on 11 January. Not up to the speed or intensity of competitive games. By his admission, he was not 100%. That said, with 3 tackles, 3 interceptions, 7 clearances and 5 aerial duels won, stats-based Whoscored.com rated him higher (at 7.95) than Koscielny (7.53).

Metesacker: 6
Made no tackle, 1 interception and 3 clearance in his 63-minute action. A twisted ankle forced him into an early retirement from the game, replaced by Gabriel. Wenger is not sure how long he will be sidelined, but the Frenchman admitted that it did not look too good as the BFG was limping badly.

Koscielny: 7
Made 3 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 9 clearances. Rock of our defence. Wenger praised the French centre-back by stating that he had an outstanding game.

Gibbs: 6

His first start since the QPR game on 4 March. He was caught on possession a few times, clearly looking rusty. 

Coquelin: 8
Did his job. Made 5 tackles, an impressive 9 interceptions and 2 clearances. Gave way to Theo Walcott 10 minutes into extra time.

Cazorla: 7

Pulled the strings from now familiar deep-lying position. Made 4 tackles, 3 interceptions, 2 clearances, 113 passes with a 91.2 % accuracy. Took over the captain's armband from an injured Mertesacker, leading the team to a victory. 

Ramsey: 7
Got into great positions on a few occasions, but failed to make it count. It's beyond us how he did not score in the dying minutes of normal time with only a defender on the line to beat after his first attempt was blocked by the keeper. This is the third game in which he was deployed as a right winger, a role that he clearly does not enjoy playing in. Thanks to pacy Bellerin and the Welshman's positional discipline in the previous games, he did well in this position, in particular against Liverpool, but this game may have been a game too many. Maybe it's time to play a specialist winger (probably, neither of Walcott nor Welbeck is happy to be labelled as a specialist winger, though) on the right flank at the expense of one of Cazorla, Ramsey or Özil.

Özil: 8
Great performance. Made 9 key passes and provided assists for both Alexis' goals with astute passes. Even made 2 tackles and 1 interception. Made more passes (114) than any other players on the pitch (with Santi closely following with 113 passes)  with a 90.4% passing success rate. His free-kicks and corner-kicks were excellent as well.

Alexis: 8

Absolutely worth the money we paid for him. His brace put us through to the final, while his first goal in an Arsenal shirt saw us qualify for the Champions League group stages. Had 4 shots, 3 of which were on target, as well as creating 3 chances for his team-mates. 

Welbeck: 6
Had one shot which was on target. He wasn't quite as effectual as we hoped. Replaced by Giroud in the 72nd minute.


Gabriel: 6
Replaced Mertesacker in the 63rd minute. Should have scored when he had a free header
. His mistake in the 86th minute nearly cost us a goal. Made no tackle, 2 interceptions and 12 clearances. His passing accuracy improved at 92.1. 

Giroud: 6
Came off the bench to replace Welbeck in the 72nd minute. Had 4 shots, one of which was on target. He should have scored when 
Özil's pass released him behind the defence in the left-hand channel in extra time, but his effort hit the post.

Walcott: 6
Replaced Coquelin in the 101st minute as Arsenal searched for a winner. Added a new dimension to Arsenal attack by providing the width and speed, when he came on. Earned a free-kick on the edge of the box in the death of extra time.


Martin Atkins: 6
No major controversy, but he allowed too many rough challenges from Reading.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Burnley 0 Arsenal 1

Arsenal's battling performance on Saturday night was a stark contrast from the previous week's slick passing and fluid movements against Liverpool, but the three points were equally important for the Gunners to ensure that they would remain second for another week on the eve of a Manchester derby. As the 1-0 victory at Turf Moor extended our winning streak to eight consecutive league wins, a feat that no other team have achieved this season in England's top flight, it may have been an even more significant win than the defeat of the top-four rivals a week ago. It was another bonus that we came through such a physically fierce contest without any injury to our players.

Arsene Wenger named the same starting XI who faced Liverpool last Saturday. Laurent Koscielny was passed fit after shrugging off a thigh problem, while Aaron Ramsey also overcame a knock he picked up during the Liverpool game to make his 150th Premier League appearance. Incidentally, this was also Santi Cazorla's 100th Premier League game. Wojciech Szczesny returned to the bench after recovering a rib (or hip, according to Arsenal.com) injury, but Gabriel missed out on the trip to the North West due to illness. Calum Chambers replaced the Brazilian defender on the bench. The remaining places on the bench were occupied by Kieran Gibbs, Mathieu Flamini, Tomas Rosicky, Theo Walcott, and Danny Welbeck. Those players who had just made their return from injury were all left home. Roy Hodgson was spotted on the stand, but he would have been disappointed if he had been there to watch Arsenal's England players in action as none of our England internationals were included in the starting line-up. However, with Gareth Southgate sitting alongside with him, the England senior national team coach's aim might have been to check an England U-21 international, Danny Ing's progress.

Arsenal started brightly and controlled the large part of the first half after taking the early lead through Ramsey's 11th-minute strike. The build-up to the goal was instigated by Francis Coquelin's interception. Arsenal turned defence into attack quickly. The French holding midfielder's pass found Alexis on the edge of the area, whose effort was blocked, but fell to Özil on the left side of the area. The German playmaker's fierce shot was denied by Heaton, but the rebound fell to Alexis, whose effort bounced off two defenders. Ramsey fired the loose ball into the roof of the net. It was a rather scrappy goal by Arsenal's standards, but the main thing was we made sure that we took our chance.

The hosts began the second half on the front foot. As long as the scoreline stayed 1-0, we never felt totally comfortable, especially with Mike Dean in charge, who could give a big decision against us at any time of the game. Although defensive fragility seems to be the thing of the past these days, in a tight game like this, that blunder between Koscielny and Szczesny in the League Cup final still came back to our memories.

However, Arsene Wenger's men held on to their narrow lead. We could have lost this kind of game in the past, an away from home up north against a physical side on a cold Saturday night. In fact, according to Rambo in his post-match interview, the Gunners "felt pretty comfortable defending", although he admitted that this was one of their tougher games. Such was the progress that this side have made in the past years. Arsenal defended the slim lead by dominating in possession. Despite occasional threats from the home side, Arsenal commanded an impressive 69% possession. The Gunners have won games with a variety of game plans and tactics this season, including the most notable example against Man City, and their performance on this night added to those variations. They defended well without conceding possession.

The man behind Arsenal's gritty performance this night was Francis Coquelin without doubt. In fact, the French holding midfielder is the integral part of the north London club's impressive run of form in 2015. The media opinions were split regarding the identification of the Man of the Match. Sky Sports and the Mail on Sunday named Aaron Ramsey their MOTM, while whoscored.com gave Alexis Sanchez their highest rating of 8.42, hence the Chilean being their MOTM. However, Arsenal named Coquelin their fans' chosen MOTM. It's good to see the French midfielder's quiet work finally recognised officially in that way. 

There was little attacking flair but it was a professional performance from the Gunners. They were patient, disciplined and kept their calm. The 1-0 victory over a battling Burnley side saw us further strengthen our prospect of next season's Champions League football. Moreover, we are now 12 points clear of Tottenham thanks to their shock defeat to Aston Villa at White Hart Lane earlier on Saturday. The eighth straight win in the Premier League confirmed that Arsenal are officially the most in-form club in Europe. This only boosts their confidence, going into the FA semi-final against Reading this weekend. With their strong record against lower-division teams and top flight's bottom-table sides this season, we don't think complacency is a problem for this team.

Players ratings

Ospina: 7
Not hugely tested, but made a couple of good saves to deny Vokes and Trippier.

Bellerin: 6

After last week's stunning attacking performance, this game tested his defensive prowess. Did OK. He was probably told not to bomb forward and followed the instruction.

Metesacker: 7
Solid. Made 1 tackle, 3 interceptions, and 12 clearances.

Koscielny: 7
Made 2 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 10 clearances.

Monreal: 7

Reassuring performance. Made 5 tackles, 1 interception and 4 clearances. His improvement this season is impressive, totally keeping Gibbs away from the starting line-up.

Coquelin: 8
He was immense, with 2 tackles and an amazing 11 interceptions. Snuffed out any danger in front of the back four. His passing was good, including 2 key passes with a 85.7% accuracy.

Cazorla: 7

Unlucky not to score from a free-kick, which narrowly missed the target. He made more passes (83) than any player on the pitch with an impressive 92.8% passing completion rate.

Ramsey: 7
Scored his 9th goal of the season (in all competition). He got in great positions and one of those occasions provided the goal for him. He was also in an ideal position when Özil's perfect pass found him 10 yard from goal, but he decided to take a touch, which gave Ben Mee a time to block his effort. We were surprised with him not volleying instead because he would have done so last season when he was top of his form. 

Özil: 7
Quiet game, but still created 4 chances for his team-mates. Not getting bullied in this sort of game may be a sign of his adaptation. Made 1 tackle and 1 interception. Covered 11.6 km, only second to Aaron Ramsey's 12.4 km among Arsenal players.

Alexis: 7
Worked hard, making 3 tackles and 3 interceptions. Had 6 shots, 3 of which were on target.

Giroud: 6
Tightly marked by Burnley's two defenders constantly and didn't get much joy going forward. Still won 5 aerial duels and contributed to the team by occupying two defenders all the time. Only had 48 touches before he was replaced by Welbeck in the 81st minute. It's good that we can win a game even when our in-form striker does not score, which is the difference to Tottenham at the moment. It is encouraging that somebody else can score a decisive goal even when the main striker doesn't get enough service, while the team can keep the clean sheet.


Welbeck: 6
Replaced Giroud in the 81st minute. Made an immediate impact, offering something different to Giroud, but missed a glorious chance to make it 2-0 by shooting wide from 
Özil's pass.

Chambers: N/A
Came off the bench to replace Alexis in stoppage time. Totally pointless change when we wanted to wrap up the game as soon as possible. Had only 3 touches.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Arsenal 4 Liverpool 1

We are still buzzing about Arsenal's emphatic win over their top-four rivals and their mind-blowing performance. This was a massive game potentially crucial for  the race to win a Champions League spot. It was probably more so to our opponents as another loss to the top-four contenders could possibly put Champions League qualification just out of their reach. For us, a convincing win over one of the big clubs would boost our credentials for next season's title challenge and three points would tighten our grip on a top-four finish. Liverpool were without their club captain Steven Gerrard and a defensive linchpin, Martin Skrtel through suspension, in addition to uncertainty over the fitness of key attacking players. Arsenal went into this game as odds-on favourites, backed by their recent fine run of form and a home advantage.

All our players returned from the international break unscathed, except for Danny Welbeck who missed out on England's 1-1 draw with Italy after sent back to the club for treatment for his injured knee. The England forward was only passed fit to start from the bench and as a result, Aaron Ramsey was deployed on the right flank. This was Arsene Wenger's answer to his team-selection conundrum: how to accommodate all of his three in-form midfielders; namely Mesut Özil, Santi Cazorla, and Ramsey. Arsene Wenger made three changes from the side that started in Arsenal's 2-1 defeat of Newcastle two weeks ago. Hector Bellerin came into the starting lineup at the expense of Calum Chambers at the right-back, while Per Mertesacker replaced Gabriel in the central defence, paired with Laurent Koscielny. Özil, who missed the trip to Newcastle through a slight cold, started in place of Welbeck. A 20-year-old goalkeeper, Matt Macey was on the bench after Wojciech Szczesny was ruled out due to a rib injury he sustained in training (and our third-choice keeper, Emi Martinez is out on an emergency loan to Rotherham for the rest of the season). Kieran Gibbs, Mathieu Flamini, Theo Walcott, and Tomas Rosicky made up the other substitutes. Although Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Debuchy, Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby made their return from injury in a friendly match against Brentford on Tuesday, this game came too soon for them.

Arsene Wenger's tactics were spot-on and his players were on the same page. Wenger's side were physically sharp enough to execute his high pressing high-tempo game plan precisely. The Frenchman praised his players after the match.

Arsenal started the game with high intensity, harassing Liverpool's back-line, giving them no time on the ball, and inviting mistakes. Alexis and Santi went close to score in the opening minutes, with Aaron Ramsey clean through on goal, but we were unable to capitalise on our dominance in possession in the early stages. Brendan Rodgers' side steadily began to grow into the game. Just as we started thinking that we might regret later that we didn't take our opportunities when we were on top, Bellerin curled a left-footed shot into the bottom corner after collecting Ramsey's pass and dodging two defenders. It was a brilliant strike from an unexpected goalscorer with his weaker foot.

Minutes later, Özil doubled the hosts' lead by delivering a sublime free-kick after Cazorla had been flattened just outside the area. On the stroke of the half time, Alexis' clever footwork evaded Kolo Toure's marking and the Chilean sent a piledriver into the roof of the net. Arsenal were 3-0 up at half time. It was a great day for us, Gooners. It had been a long time since we saw our team play so well.

What was encouraging was that Arsenal did not take their foot off the gas in the second half. They continued to search for more goals, while they defended as a team when Liverpool attacked. The visitors were reduced to trying their luck with opportunistic shots from distance. It was a pity that we couldn't keep a clean sheet. Bellerin's unnecessary challenge on Sterling led to a penalty, which Jordan Henderson converted, giving Liverpool hope of a comeback.

However, Emre Can's sending-off in the 83rd minute extinguished any hope of Liverpool's comeback after he had brought down Welbeck for his second yellow card. As Arsenal still looked for a fourth goal to kill the game, Santi hit the woodwork in the 89th minute, but Olivier Giroud found the net in stoppage time with his beautiful curling effort, restoring the 3-goal advantage.

After the emphatic victory, Arsenal moved up to second in the table temporarily, 9 points ahead of the Merseyside club. Now we are in a great position to finish in the top-four, extending our formidable winning streak to 7 consecutive games in the league, which put us joint top of Europe's form table with Lazio. However, the Gunners' performance on this day was even more pleasing than the result. Especially, their first-half display was breathtaking both in the tempo and intensity. If we can continue producing these levels of performances for the rest of the season, we can finish at least third and retain the FA Cup.

The convincing win is a testament to this squad's progress. Last season, they suffered a few heavy defeats by the hands of their top-four rivals. This year, they proved that they could beat Man City, Liverpool, and Man United in a convincing way. A clash with Chelsea still remains as a big test, but hopefully, the Gunners can prove their critics wrong.

Now our focus shifts to the evening kick-off against Burnley on Saturday. Three points will be imperative on the weekend when Man U and Man City play each other.

Players ratings

Ospina: 7
With Liverpool only registering 2 shots on target, there was little for him to do, but he saved Can's effort superbly, just missing Henderson's penalty kick by an inch.

Bellerin: 8

Scored his second goal of the season and handled Sterling very well until the penalty incident, which highlighted his inexperience. He should have just stayed close with the Liverpool player as he was on the right side of him. Hopefully, he will lean from experience. Wenger described the 20-year-old as "one of the surprises of the season". His emergence is a big positive for Arsenal. Now Debuchy is fit, it is interesting to see how Wenger will rotate the squad.

Metesacker: 7

Decent game. Coped well with Liverpool's pacy and nimble forwards. Made 3 tackles, 6 interceptions and 7 clearances. 

Koscielny: 7
Made 2 tackles, 1 interception, and 3 clearances. Replaced by Gabriel in the 49th minute due to tightness in his thigh muscles. In his post-match review, Wenger revealed that the injury is a small one (which usually ends up in a 3 to 4 weeks' lay-off at Arsenal). Keep fingers crossed.

Monreal: 7

Contained Markovic and Coutinho well. Made 2 interceptions and 3 clearances. Solid defensive display.

Coquelin: 8
Helped the team immensely in the period when Liverpool had upper hands in the first half. Made 4 tackles, 6 interceptions and 1 clearance.  Unlike Arteta he doesn't give so many fouls when making his tackles.

Cazorla: 7

Heavily involved in Arsenal's first-half onslaught. Made more passes (61) than any other Arsenal player with an impressive 90.2% accuracy (although one of his misplaced passes to Coquelin nearly gifted Liverpool a goal). Unlucky not to score in the opening minutes when his shot drew a fine save from Simon Mignolet. Hit the post in the closing stage as well.

Ramsey: 7
Should have scored when he was clear through on goal after Kolo Toure's mistake. On the other hand, he provided assists for Bellerin's goal and Alexis' goal. Constantly available on the right side his crossing leaves a bit to be desired though. Replaced by Flamini in the 61st minute due to a knock to his ankle.

Özil: 8
The tide was slowly turning for him in his resurgence after his return from injury and after this game, he has finally earned all the plaudits he deserved. Especially, he has silenced those critics who claimed that he cannot deliver in big games. Scored his 5th goal of the season with a exquisite free-kick from 20 yards. Made 3 key passes. Replaced by Welbeck in the 73rd minute. He looked absolutely exhausted when he came off the pitch to a standing ovation. In the post-match interview, Wenger revealed that he was torn between Özil and Sanchez as to which to take off in the second half as both of them played two games during the international break and came to a decision to withdraw the German international as he was on the edge of being injured. 

Alexis: 9
Barclays Man of the Match. Scored his 20th goal in his impressive first season in English football. Glad to see him get on the scoresheet again after the recent drop in his form. It was obvious how desperately he wanted a goal in his reaction to the goal. Provided an assist for Giroud's stoppage-time goal, as well.

Giroud: 9
He led Arsenal's high pressing from the top. Had 5 shots, 4 of which were on target. Continued his fine goal-scoring form by scoring his 10th goal in his last 10 games. Apparently, there is a competition going on between the France striker and Alexis for the club's top goalscorer this season and he jokes about it with the Chile international in Spanish. Both scored their 14th Premier League goals this day.


Gabriel: 6
Replaced injured Koscielny in the 49th minute. Did OK, making 1 interception and 2 clearances. Helped Monreal when he was caught out of position.

Flamini: 6
Came off the bench to replace injured Ramsey in the 61st minute. Made 2 tackles, 3 interceptions and 4 passes with a 50% passing completion rate. 

Welbeck: 6
Came on in the 73rd minute to replace 
Özil and looked lively. Had 3 shots, one of which was on target.


Anthony Taylor: 5
No consistency in his decisions, with some questionable decisions as well.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The 2014/15 Fixtures Update

The following is an up-to-date 2014/15 fixture list as of 2 April 2015, reflecting all the changes made to the fixtures up to the end of the season as a result of TV selections. All times are UK times. 


Sat 4th12.45Barclays Premier League
Sat 11th17.30Barclays Premier League
Sat 18th17.20FA Cup Semi-Final
Sun 26th16.00Barclays Premier League


Mon 4th20.00Barclays Premier League
Hull City
Mon 11th20.00Barclays Premier League
Sun 17th16.00Barclays Premier League
Manchester United
Wed 20th19.45Barclays Premier League
Sun 24th15.00Barclays Premier League
Sat 30th17.30FA Cup Final
Aston Villa