Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Crystal Palace 1 Arsenal 2

Arsenal have finally got off the mark for the season after they came away with hard-fought three points from Selhurst Park on Sunday. Many supporters feared this could be an even more trickier encounter than the West Ham game at home last weekend. Crystal Palace has made ambitious signings this summer and they are a good counter-attacking team.

Arsene Wenger rang two changes from the side that started in a 2-0 defeat to West Ham on the opening weekend. Fit-again Hector Bellerin replaced Mathieu Debuchy at the right-back, who dropped to the bench. Alexis Sanchez made his first start of the season on the left wing. We were surprised to see Aaron Ramsey retain his place in the starting XI at the expense of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after the Welshman's lackrustre performance in his preferred central position the week before. Meanwhile, Santi Cazorla reclaimed his more familiar deep-lying central midfield role next to Francis Coquelin, a move that came as no surprise. Olivier Giroud was preferred over Theo Walcott once again. Among the substitutes were David Ospina, Gabriel, and Mikel Arteta.

The boss demanded a response from his players after the disappointing loss at home. If they succumbed to another defeat, the consequence would be detrimental to their belief and title credentials, but Wenger got what he wanted, a strong response.

Both sides started the game with blistering pace. Arsenal were a different team to the one a week ago with crisp passing, sense of purpose and penetration. We saw glimpses of Arsenal at their fluent best. For the neutrals, it was a quite entertaining game, with all the ingredients for a good football match. Both teams were excellent in counter-attacking and the game was played with high tempo. Even the scoreline swayed to make it even more interesting. In the second half, as Wenger admitted, his side could not keep the high temp (but he assured us that it would come later in the season) and neither could their opposition. The game started looking more like a war of attrition, where mental strength and tactical changes spoke volumes rather than the quality of performance. Although Palace pushed hard for an equaliser, the Gunners looked more likely to add another goal to kill off the game.

The major talking point after the game was whether Coquelin should have been sent off. Views across the football fans and media seemed to be split on this issue. To be honest, at the time, we feared the worst. The north Londoners were 2-1 up, but having had to protect the lead for the remaining 30 minutes with 10 men would have been extremely difficult, especially with the hosts psychologically boosted by the numerical advantage. After being let off with just a verbal caution, the French holding midfielder was clearly agitated by the home crowd's hostility, which left Wenger no choice but to take him off the pitch. The Ox came on in his place, with Rambo moved to the central midfield alongside Santi. With 15 minutes to go, Wenger decided to close down the game rather than chasing a third goal, with the result that he sent Arteta and then Kieran Gibbs on.

Immediately after Coquelin was called back from Charlton, he was shown a yellow card every game, but eventually he ironed out fouls from his game and made himself indispensable in this Arsenal team. He has not rediscovered last season's form yet, but hopefully he will hit the ground running soon. On a positive note, the club captain, Mikel Arteta, made his first Premier League appearance since November last year and had a decent game.

Nacho Monreal said prior to the game that they needed to play a perfect game to get their Premier League campaign back on track. It was not a perfect performance by any means, but at least it was convincing enough to make the media believe that the West Ham game was nothing more than a blip.

Despite the improved performance, we still have a lot to learn. We need to learn how to keep the possession in our own half. The players seemed to have been encouraged by their resilient defensive display, but when they win the ball back in their own box, their second ball has always been disappointing. Misplaced passes put them straight back under pressure. If they can manage to retain the possession in dangerous areas and control the game even when they are holding on to a narrow lead, we can watch them play more comfortably. The game might have been "nice for the suspense" (according to Giroud) for neutrals, but the supporters cannot endure this all through the season.

It was a good win and great to put points on the board finally. Liverpool at home is not an easy game, but certainly winnable as our recent home record against them indicates. They don't come to the Emirates to play for a goalless draw like other teams, so it will be another open game. By beating one of big clubs, hopefully, we can make a big statement.

Players ratings

Cech: 7
Could have done little to stop Ward's effort going in.

Bellerin: 7

Coped well with the pace of Crystal Palace wingers. Made 5 tackles, 1 interception, and 4 clearances. Provided width for attacking by going forward. Could have claimed an assist if our second goal had been given to Alexis instead of Delaney's own goal.

Metesacker: 7
Made 8 clearances, but no tackles or interceptions. 

Koscielny: 7
Made 2 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 7 clearances. Claimed Whoscored.com's second highest rating for the players on the pitch of 7.86, but he was at least partly guilty for Ward's goal by turning his back to it.

Monreal: 7
Made 2 tackles,1 interception and 5 clearances. Delivered some good crosses (4 in total) and overlapped well with Alexis. He failed to spot the run  behind him  in the build-up for the Crystal Palace goal, though.

Coquelin: 6
Made 6 tackles, 1 interception and 2 clearances. Probably lucky to stay on the pitch.

Ramsey: 7

Apparently, he was told to try and get in between the lines, not stay outside, to come inside by the boss. So, the Welshman coming inside in this game was a tactical move rather than his tendency. Got in dangerous positions. Unlucky not to score when his clever effort drew a fine reflex save from McCarthy. Had 4 shots, 2 of which were on target, creating 4 chances. Made 4 tackles as well.

Cazorla: 7
He was Sky Sports' Man of the Match. Was excellent when he had the ball, but less than impressive when he did not have the ball. Had 2 shots, one of which were on target. Made 4 key passes.

Özil: 8
Most of the media named him the Man of the Match. Wenger praised his performance, describing him "magnificent". Made 55 passes with a staggering 98.2% accuracy, including 5 key passes. In fact, he only misplaced one pass out of 55 he made. Claimed an assist for Giroud's goal with his superb cross, one of 10 crosses he delivered. Wenger pointed out that he started making runs behind the defence. Unfortunately, one of those runs were adjudged off side, but it is good to see him trying to add new dimensions to his game.

Alexis 7

First start of the season and nearly claimed a goal. His desire led to Delaney's own goal. It was clear that with Alexis in the team, Arsenal are a better side, but he also showed some rustiness in his slow decision-making. Apparently, Wenger said that "sharper" Alexis would have scored 5 or 6 goals this day. Made 7 attempts at goal, 2 of which were on target. Withdrawn in the 75th minute. 

Giroud: 7
Scored a stunning goal. Great finish, but we prefer him scoring scrappy or simple goals more often rather than wonder goals sparingly. Still, he worked hard in particular defensively.


Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
Replaced Coquelin in the 64th minute. Had a great chance towards the end of the game, but failed to convert it.

Arteta: 6
Came off the bench to replace Alexis in the 75th minute. Made 4 tackles, including a crucial tackle in the box.

Gibbs: N/A
Sent on in the 83rd minute for Özil to see out the victory.  

Monday, August 10, 2015

Arsenal 0 West Ham 2

It was a devastating defeat on so many levels. This was not a start to the new season that we expected. After a very encouraging pre-season, especially on the back of the long-awaited victory over Mourinho's side last weekend, we were full of optimism for the coming season.

Arsene Wenger made two changes from the side that started in last Sunday's 1-0 victory in the Community Shield. Mathieu Debuchy made his first Premier League start since January to replace Hector Bellerin, who was out with a thigh injury. Olivier Giroud was named in the starting XI in place of Theo Walcott. Although the right-back selection was a forced one, these changes suggested that the boss opted for physicality over pace. A surprise inclusion in the squad was Alexis Sanchez. Although Wenger had never ruled out the possibility of the Chile international's involvement, after the Frenchman's comment that it would take another 10 days for Alexis to regain full match fitness, we were surprised to see him on the bench. With Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky still sidelined, coupled with Jack Wilshere's recent ankle injury which is likely to keep him out of action for four weeks, Wenger's attacking options were fairly limited. He must have hoped that he wouldn't have to resort to bring Alexis into action so soon. David Ospina was on the bench following his late arrival at pre-season training after international duty in the Copa America tournament. Gabriel, Kieran Gibbs, Mikel Arteta, and Calum Chamgers were among other subs.

Our optimism and the media hype for the Gunners' title challenge were largely based on the signing of a world-class goalkeeper, so conceding two goals from the keeper's mistakes had a detrimental impact on our confidence. The Czech international was supposed to be worth 15 points a season, so the fact that his mistakes cost us 3 points in the opening game came as a great shock to us.

The first goal was registered as Cech's error, but our defenders who left Kouyate unmarked should share the blame. It was a predicament for Cech, but once he had decided to come off his line, he had to get to the ball. Arsene Wenger refused to single out the Czech international when he analyised in his post-match interview what went wrong for the first goal. The Frenchman blamed the defensive line too far from their goal against Payet's free-kick which allowed too much distance to run into (and for Cech to come out, as well). He was particularly disappointed with his experienced back four. Combined with Cech's title-winning experiences, Arsenal's back line should have coped with any set-piece threat. Whoever organises defensive lines against set plays, hopefully he will make sure that there will be no space to exploit in front of our keeper next time.

On the record, the Ox was guilty for the second goal, after his heavy touch laid the ball for Zarate to have a shot, but getting beaten at near post was extremely disappointing for the keeper of his calibre.

Our attacking was as disappointing as our defensive display. Despite 22 goal attempts and a 60.6% possession, we could not score a single goal. We looked sharp in those pre-season games, but West Ham were sharper in this game. Just like we pointed out in our post about the 2015/16 fixture list, Wenger was also aware of the east Londoners' advantage in preparations ahead of the Premier League opening game. West Ham's season started as early as at the beginning of July due to their involvement in the Europa League qualifying from the first round. They had 6 competitive games under their belt before this match. Although Slaven Bilic was made to pay for his decision to rest the first-teamers ahead of the Premier League opening game on their exit from the Europa League, his decision was vindicated this day.

Wenger was critical about the tempo and incisiveness of his side's passing in the first half. A number of passes went astray with quite a few behind the targeted players. It was not the slick-passing Arsenal we witnessed in pre-season. They did not show real intent until they went a goal down, either. Once we were 2-0 down, it was too easy for West Ham to defend. Wenger defended his timing of bringing Theo Walcott on. Probably, he wanted to make the change before West Ham scored the second goal. Actually, we saw Theo getting ready to come on well before Wenger's usual substitution time. With a two-goal cushion, Bilic's side packed their defence, ensuring that there was no space for Theo to run in behind.

Most of teams, including Chelsea, come to the Emirates to play for a goalless draw, hoping to nick a goal on the break. We need to find a way to break down those stubborn defences and score an all important first goal. This day, we did not have the edge to do so. Instead, all we saw was the same old Arsenal who tried to pass into goal.

It was a most disheartening opening game, but we still have 37 games to play. After the match, Arsene Wenger blamed nervousness for his team's below-par performance rather than complacency. Hopefully, with the opening game under their belt and valuable lessons learnt, this game will serve as a wake-up call for the team. We need to kick on quickly to avoid repeating last season's poor start. Another tricky London derby awaits us next weekend, but hopefully, this will be a lot different from the last one.

Players ratings

Cech: 4
Nightmare Premier League debut in Arsenal colours.

Debuchy: 6

Made 1 interception and 1 clearance, with 1 shot and 1 key pass. Little contribution, but we think he did OK. Replaced by Alexis in the 67th minute as Arsenal pushed on to find at least a goal.

Metesacker: 7
Put in a crucial tackle to deny Sakho in the first half. 3 tackles, 4 interceptions and 2 clearances with 1 shot on target.

Koscielny: 7
Nearly gave us a heart attack when he made a careless back pass. Fortunately, Cech was more alert than him on this occasion. 2 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 7 clearances.

Monreal: 7
Made 1 tackle and 4 clearances. Went forward as often as possible to help attack. Booked.

Coquelin: 6
His passing left much to be desired in the first half. Replaced by Theo in the 58th minute.

Ramsey: 6

His passing was also disappointing in the first half. His deflected effort hit the bar. 

Cazorla: 7
Played on the left flank in the absence of Alexis at the start, then moved to his usual central midfield position after the introduction of Alexis. Unlucky not to score when he met the Ox's lofted cross with a volley, which flew onto the roof of the net.  Had 2 shots, 1 of which was on target, creating 5 chances for his team-mates and making 76 passes with a 93.4% success rate.

Özil: 6
Özil haters had a field day, going on about how 16-year-old Reece Oxford kept the World Cup winner in his pocket, but the German playmaker still created 4 chances for his team-mates. It may have been a quiet game by his standard, but he was in the centre of some good movements. We hope to see him take more chances and have shots this season.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7

He was arguably our best player in the first half. His drive and skills were a joy to watch. His volley just missed the target. Had 3 shots, none of which were on target, with 4 key passes and 9 dribbles. He was guilty for the second goal, though. Needs to learn how to defend and keep possession in a dangerous area as this is not the first time. This mistake reminded us of the Monaco first leg and the Everton game in Asia Trophy at most recent. After Debuchy's coming off the pitch, he was moved to the right-back. Perhaps Wenger was hoping the Ox could play a Hector Bellerin role with his pace, but the England international did not look too comfortable in that position. Still he went close to score in the later stages of the game with his effort that hit the side-netting.

Giroud: 6
He had 2 glorious chances to score, which he spurned. Took 5 shots, 2 of which were on target. Some of our members are crying out for a new striker as they think "Giroud is not the answer!"


Walcott: 6
Replaced Coquelin in the 58th minute. By the time he came on the pitch, the game had changed its aspects. Failed to make a difference. Made 2 shots, none of which were on target. Made 5 passes with a 60% accuracy. 

Alexis: 6
Came off the bench to replace Debuchy in the 67th minute. Had 3 shots, 2 of which were on target, although they did not have enough power to trouble Adrian. Did not make an impact we hoped.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Arsenal 1 Chelsea 0 (Community Shield)

Arsenal won the Community Shield for the second time in as many years after defeating Chelsea 1-0 at Wembley on Sunday. In fact, this was the Gunners' fourth trophy in just over 2 months. It may only be a pre-season friendly, but there is no doubt that their defeat of the Premier League reigning champions will help boost their belief ahead of a new campaign. For us, supporters, beating Mourinho and Chelsea was simply priceless. We are also happy for Arsene Wenger as he finally ended his winless run against the Portuguese tactician after 13 unsuccessful attempts.

Arsene Wenger fielded a strongest possible side against Chelsea in the absence of Alexis Sanchez, who was still on holiday after his involvement in Chile national team's successful Copa America campaign. One of intriguing points in the team selection was that Hector Bellerin now comes in front of experienced Mathieu Debuchy. Perhaps, the young Spanish full-back was chosen for his pace up against Eden Hazard. Theo Walcott got the nod ahead of Olivier Giroud, who dropped to the bench. Wenger explained his selection by stating that he wanted to use Theo's pace to go in behind the Chelsea defence, but we thought that Giroud would be picked for exactly opposite reasons, given that the Chelsea bus would be unlikely to leave any space to run in behind. Jack Wilshere did not even make the bench as he suffered an ankle problem in training the day before, which triggered the media's knee-jerk reaction. However, the boss played it down as he stated the injury is a matter of days. The more worrying thing for us is, though, Danny Welbeck's knee injury, which has been keeping him on the sidelines since the end of April. As a result of these injuries to attacking players, combined with his encouraging showing in the Emirates Cup against Lyon, Alex Iwobi earned his place on the bench alongside with Emi Martinez, Gabriel, Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs and Mikel Arteta.

Above all these talking points, the major focus was on Petr Cech's first encounter with his old club. He was untroubled for the large part of the game as Chelsea registered only 2 shots on target, but when he was called upon he made a stunning save to deny Oscar's goal-bound free-kick. Wenger acknowledged Cech's influence on his ex-team mates, stating "they felt that to score against him they had to score the perfect goal. When you have that sometimes you want to try too hard. It happened especially with Eden Hazard when he had that chance in the box." The new signing's experience and calming and commanding presence in the box were also highly appreciated by his new team-mates. He was an absolute steal for £10 million. We have started to believe what John Terry said. Cech could be worth 15 points a season for us.

Arsenal went into the game on the back of their fine pre-season form. They looked sharp and fit for this time of the year, so this game was somewhat disappointing for us. However, after all, we were up against the champions who conceded fewer goals than any other Premier League team last season. Besides, the Gunners' trade-mark one-touch passing was breath-taking in patches. One of those moves ended with the Ox's wonder strike.

Mourinho accused us of sacrificing our attacking football for the win, stating that Arsenal had left their football philosophy in the dressing room, but do we care? Arsene Wenger brought on Arteta in the 77th minute and Gibbs in the 81st minute to replace the Ox and Özil, respectively. Although one of the reasons behind these defence-oriented substitutions was that we did not have many attacking options left on the bench after Giroud was introduced in the 65th minute for Walcott, Wenger's intention was clear to see out the victory. This was our best chance to overcome Chelsea in a few years. If this had been a league game during the season, Wenger's side would have been highly praised for their dogged performance, with everybody citing the cliché that grinding out the result is champions' trait. (They could have defended better, though. They lost possession  in a dangerous area too often for our liking.) In past years, all the outfield players would have been bombing forward in their search for a second goal to kill off the game, thus making them vulnerable to counter attacks. We were happy to see their more mature approach to the game. Stats depicted a different game to our typical style of passing football based on dominant possession, with Chelsea holding a larger share of possession at 57% and superior passing accuracy (80% against our 75%). However, we had more shots on target (5) and we had better chances with both Cazorla and Gibbs through on goal. 

Another positive was the Ox's development. He was named Man of the Match by the majority of the media (except stats-based Whoscored.com, which gave Laurant Koscielny the highest rating of all players on the pitch). He has been our game changer in this pre-season. His performances have been lacking one factor, end-products, up till the end of last season. He had only 3 goals to his name last season and amazingly, all of his previous 13 goals came at the Emirates, but signs are encouraging ahead of the new campaign.

The media largely remain sceptical about the claim that this win has boosted Arsenal's title credential. It is true that last year's comfortable 3-0 victory over Manuel Pellegrini's under-strength side turned out to be a false dawn. However, all the players have been singing from the same hymn sheet since the end of last season, emphasising that they will not repeat last season's poor start. We are hopeful that they will get off to a strong start this time around.

Players ratings

Cech: 7
Kept a clean sheet. Bossed his area well and made an excellent save from Hazard

Bellerin: 6

He was often dragged into the centre and caught out of position.

Metesacker: 7
Did not put a foot wrong.

Koscielny: 8
Kept Remy, Hazard, and Falcao in his pocket throughout the game. Made an amazing 16 clearances.

Monreal: 7

Made 1 tackle, 6 interceptions, and 6 clearance. Assured display.

Coquelin: 7
Played an integral part of the team. Booked.

Ramsey: 7 

Had a good game in his preferred central position. Got in great positions, but unfortunately no end-product. Unlucky his follow-up effort was blocked. Made 3 tackles.

Cazorla: 7
Had 2 shots, one of which was on target. Made 2 key passes.

Özil: 7
He showed a glimpse of his skills and vision and was at the heart of our attacking movements, but did not make an outstanding impression. Still created 3 chances, though.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 8

Widely regarded as Man of the Match. Scored the decisive goal. His passing success rate of 89.5% was impressive when the team average was lower than usual at 75%. Had 2 shots, both of which were on target. 

Walcott: 7
Did not get enough service to make impression, but claimed an assist for the Ox's goal.


Giroud: 6
Replaced Theo in the 65th minute. Nearly made a difference with his first touch, when the Ox's low cross found him at far post, but the angle was too tight when he made a contact with the ball. Had another glorious chance in the 6-yard box, but he was out of balance. Had 3 shots, none of which was on target. 

Arteta: 6
Came off the bench to replace the goalscorer in the 77th minute. His display in this pre-season has been unconvincing to say the least. We need a better cover for Coquelin.

Gibbs: 6
Replaced Ozil in the 81st minute. Had a one-on-one chance with Courtois, but his shot was easily saved by the keeper.