It’s Time To Step Up

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It’s January 30th and up until yesterday we were top of the league. Throw in the FA Cup and the Champions League and that’s 3 trophies that we’re still competing for… not bad considering seasons past. So far this year we’ve gone about our business without as much pressure. With everyone writing us off from the beginning, and expecting Chelsea or City to take the league it’s taken the pressure off of us somewhat and left us to play our football, which we’ve done pretty damn well so far. But, there comes a defining point in every team’s season that can either make or break their hopes of achieving their goals for the season. For Arsenal, this defining moment of the season is right now.  Will it be the point that our season starts to crumble or that crucial event that led us to win the trophy?

We’ve got our most important and difficult run of games coming up against some very big teams in all three competitions all the while Chelsea and City are putting a lot of pressure on us to win every match now. They’ve been barking up our behinds all season but now one of them has managed to get in a toe ahead of us…for now. Anyway, coming up we’ve got some intense matches in falling within 11 days:

Liverpool – League

Man United – League

Liverpool – FA Cup

FC Bayern – Champions League

To top that off were running a bit short with the squad, especially in the midfield.

Besides Walcott being out for the season we’ve also got issues with:

Flamini – Suspended

Rosicky – Injured

Wilshere– Injured

Ramsey – Injured

That leaves us with just Mikel Arteta in the middle of the park, who’s a fantastic player but to be honest looked lacking of some fitness last match. It’s ironic to think that the area of the pitch that we were most comfortable in and didn’t need any strengthening might be our downfall this season.

So, it’s time for the Arsenal to step up their game in this defining moment of the season.

Players coming back from injury like Oxlade-Chamberlin, Bendtner (*gulp), are going to have to step up and get back in the groove quickly. Someone is going to have to make up the goals that Walcott would have provided.

With only one day left in the transfer window Arsene Wenger is going to have to step up and sign a striker (although it’s highly unlikeley). How long can we go on depending on just one recognized striker?…it didn’t work last year, or the year before…it’s not going to work now.

And weather or not we sign someone Podolski is going to have to step up and be more consistent. He has one of the most powerful shots I’ve ever seen, and Wenger claims that he’s one of the most lethal finishers he’s ever worked with. Coming from a man who was worked with players like Anelka, Henry, and Wright, that’s a big statement. In one match he’s scoring two goals and providing assists while in another game it’s like he’s a ghost on the pitch… and his fellow compatriot Ozil’s been looking rather lethargic as well.

It’s also a chance for Gnabry and newcomer and freshly fit Sanogo to show what they can do and contribute to this magnificent season were having. Gnabry has been quite impressive so far when he’s ben called upon, let’s hope Sanogo follows his lead.

So, let’s see if Arsenal are up for the challenge. We’ve got a match at home against Crystal Palace and our old friend Chamakh (I still think it’s a shame it never worked out with him after the great start he had). After that…the onslaught begins. We’re spread quite thin at the moment and it’s going to be a big challenge, but I do believe that we can make it through this tough period  with a strong position in at least 2/3 of our competitions…probably the league and FA Cup … I mean c’mon it’s  freakin’ Bayern...again!!!

A Tale of 2 Matches

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This blog is a double header analyzing our midweek match against Hull and our weekend fixture versus a tough Everton side.

Arsenal vs. Hull City

Quick start:

We managed to score in the first 2 minutes of the match, which put us on the front foot for the rest of the match. In past seasons Arsenal have been found guilty of overplaying and trying too hard to create the perfect chance. This results in much frustration for the players and fans as the minutes tick away towards the end of the match with no goals scored. Eventually Arsenal start to get desperate in the last 15 minutes and leave themselves open at the back and vulnerable to the opponent who often punish us with a goal they didn’t deserve.

 Luckily this season things are different, were more direct when creating our chances and more importantly, WERE SCORING EARLY! Here’s a list of all the early goals (25 min or less) that we’ve scored so far this season which helped us see out a win.

 Giroud vs. Fulham                         ‘14

Ramsey vs. Fenerbache                ‘25

Giroud vs. Sp*rs                              ‘23

Giroud vs. Sunderland                  ‘11

Ramsey vs. Stoke                            ‘5

Ozil vs. Napoli                                  ‘8

Wilshere vs. Norwich                  ‘18

Cazorla vs. Liverpool                    ‘19

Giroud vs. Southampton              ‘22

Wilshere vs. Marseille                   ‘1

Bendtner vs. Hull                            ‘2

We need to keep this up to ease the pressure off of ourselves in matches, because we all know that Arsenal tend to fold under intense pressure.

 

First Goal: Jenkinson came in for the injured Bacary Sagna and did a fantastic job both offensively and defensively. His sublime cross in the 2nd minute set up Nicklas Bendtner to head home his first goal of the season for the Gunners. It was great positioning from Bendtner who’s strongest quality is his aerial threat in my opinion. It will definitely help his confidence, which is good for us, but to be honest I’m not quite convinced yet that he has what it takes to be a Gunner. He’s let us down soooo many time in the past that I feel like unless he manages to score 15 goals this season, I don’t see any future for him at Arsenal (Especially if we win the league this season).

* On the topic of Bendtner scoring, Chamakh has also managed to score a goal in his last two games helping Palace get 2 victories. Seems like the whole universe has gone topsy-turvy.

 

Second Goal: Monreal kept the ball in play from going out for a throw-in, which seemed to catch the Hull defense off guard as they thought it was out and switched off for the few seconds leading up to the goal. El Mohamady was standing around doing absolutely nothing when Ramsey gave a killer pass to Ozil who calmly slipped the ball into the net. Ramsey’s pass completely fooled the defense as he was looking one way but passed across his body in the other direction.

 

All in all, a good match which we were expected to win, a convincing performance, and all 3 points.

 

Arsenal vs. Everton

Many of our players (Flamini, Wilshere, Szczeny) seemed to agree that this was our toughest match of the season so far. Everton sit 5th in the table having lost only one match so far. They’ve always been a very tough side to break down but with Moyes out of the picture now Martinez has been putting his own stamp on the squad making them more interesting to watch and more dangerous offensively. Before the match we would have been happy with a draw, but after we scored with only about 8 minutes left to play we should have seen it out to get all three points. Unfortunately they came back and scored right at the end, credit to them, they worked hard and deserved it.

 

They dominated the midfield, with their 3 midfielders completing more passes than our three. (How often does that happen to Arsenal?)

They out passed us 403 -515

They were also more accurate with 78% to our 84%

Everton’s energy and fluid movement was very hard to defend. Arteta had a big challenge against his old club, as he wanted to stand in front of the back 4 and screen all attempts of service to Lukaku. But, at the same time he had to stay near Ross Barkley who was floating around leaving Arteta in no-man’ s land and getting dragged into areas he didn’t want to occupy. Thus, they were able to pass around Arteta on occasion, which is how they create their attacks. This just illustrates how important he is and how proper cover of the back 4 is essential…it’s the key to our tight defense and quick transitions to offence. Just look at Man United, their lack of quality this season in midfield means that they are conceding many goals as well as lacking goals up front because they can’t transition smoothly.

 

Man of the match: Koscielney

He was an absolute beast and  handled Lukaku well. He wasn’t afraid to move the ball forward and assist in our quick transitions to offence. He worked fantastically well with Mertesacker and produced a top class performance.

 

We’ve been consistent with our results and that gives you belief. You could see that with Everton too. Had they lost 5-0 at Old Trafford last week, they wouldn’t have played like they did on Sunday. But because they won 1-0 at Old Trafford, they came to Emirates Stadium with nothing to lose.

The weekend results shows that it’s gonna’ be a tough Premier League season and that consistency in the end will be rewarded. On a weekend where almost all of our rivals dropped points it would have been great to take advantage and increase our lead at the top but in the end at least we gained a point and took another step forward. Consistency is they key to us winning the league this year; it’s the only way it can happen.

People have been writing us off all season, saying that we’ve only faced easy teams and that we haven’t proved that we can take on the big clubs. Coming up we’ve got Napoli, City, and Chelsea, so this is a chance for us to shut everyone up and prove that we are truly title challengers. If we beat City and Chelsea (the only 2 teams likely to challenge us for top spot come the end of the season) then the confidence in the squad is gonna’ be something scary.

We’ve also been drawn against Sp*urs in the FA cup third round (tell me football isn’t fixed)….I’m not angry, because I know we can destroy them, and the victory will be even sweeter after knocking out our most hated rivals from the cup.

On to Napoli…

COYG!

MECHARTETA!

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Arsenal went away to Cardiff last weekend in what was entertaining and fruitful match. Although the score line was 3-0, it could have been very different if a couple of moments had gone Cardiff’s way as they put on a really great display. It’s refreshing to see smaller teams actually trying to play nice football against the bigger clubs and give their all on the pitch to win not just draw. I’m talking about teams like Swansea, Southampton, Norwich, and Cardiff. There’s nothing entertaining about a team who just thumps the ball up the pitch and fills its squad with thugs to bulk up defense in order to scrape a few points here and there. I wont mention any names…cough..Stoke..cough…(Well at least without Pulis they’re trying to change their style a bit this season).

Koscielney and Mertesacker did a great job in the heart of the Arsenal defense, however it was Arteta who was the unsung hero of the night. He shielded the back four excellently and diffused any oncoming danger in front of our box. He stuck like glue to Frasier Campbell and snuffed out any attempt to give him service via air or land with laser precision. Blocking shots and tackling like it was child’s play, he truly was a MECHARTETA!  It was no surprise when Campbell was subbed off in the 65th minute after a hellish first half against the handsome Lego-haired Spaniard.

Something very interesting about this Arsenal side, which was evident against Cardiff was that this team has what people call, “football intelligence”. There is only so much a manager can do, in the end he cannot play himself and it is up to the 11 men on the pitch to use their instincts and skills to do the rest. Luckily, Wenger has a very smart team that he can depend on to get the job done. It is marvelous to watch the way the players move around and create space for each other, constantly interchanging positions and confusing the hell out of opponents. This worked masterfully against Liverpool, and now again versus Cardiff. They were fluid and flexible, you never knew which player was going to pop up where. This is what made Arsenal’s play so unpredictable and almost impossible to defend.  I think this was illustrated perfectly by Flamini popping up into a gap in the middle to score the second goal. With Wenger giving his creative players freedom to roam around without much restriction, along with a solid back four to cover them; this Arsenal team can really do some beautiful things on the pitch.

Szchesny managed to get another clean sheet, which is great for us and for his confidence. He’s been excellent recently, probably the best I’ve ever seen him in an Arsenal kit. His rating even hit the 80 mark in FIFA 2014 a couple of weeks ago for the first time, that’s gotta’ mean something…right? He made a fantastic save from a header right on the goal line when the score was 1-1. Had he not made that save it could have been a very different match. You should never under estimate the importance of having an excellent keeper between the sticks…something all champions have, but arsenal have been lacking in recent seasons. But, if Szczesny keeps playing like this I don’t see how he can be beaten. I kind of feel sorry for Viviano, he seems like a decent keeper but at this rate he’ll never get a chance to play. Oh well, as long as were winning I’m happy.

A final note on Ramsey…playing against his old club I’m sure there was a lot of pressure on him with lots of friends and family watching. But, he did well, kept his cool, and managed to score two great goals. He didn’t celebrate either of them out of respect to his old club (unlike some ungrateful Dutch skunks), which just shows that he’s a good lad too. He has a lot of character and I feel like no matter who you support you really want him to succeed especially after the career he’s had so far.

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We play again tomorrow in midweek against a Hull side that’s on a high after taking out Liverpool last weekend. Who better than to bring them back down to reality on Wednesday?

COYG!

Arsenal Weekend Wrap-up

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It was a great weekend for Arsenal fans as the Gunners managed to secure a tough win against Southampton. To top that off, Man United dropped two points versus Cardiff in the final minutes of their match (thanks to substitute Kim Bo-kyung’s stoppage-time header), and with Man City’s 6-0 thumping of Sp*rs as the cherry on top, it was truly a delicious weekend.

This victory was not a typical Arsenal win by any means. Southampton came to the Emirates boasting the best defensive record in the league. They were disciplined, organized, and very tough to break down. As a result, they restricted Arsenal from playing the free-flowing football that the like to. Luckily, as disciplined as Southampton were, Arsenal were even more so. Even though things weren’t going as planned the Gunners still managed to get two goals and grind out a win, a trait reminiscent of Man United in past seasons that Arsenal have lacked since the Invincibles of 2003-04. Arsenal were patient and waited for their chances while our midfielders were being careful not to all venture too far forward and leave themselves exposed at back. Southampton only really made two mistakes the whole match and unfortunately for them we capitalized on both of those mistakes. The first was a ridiculous attempt by Boruc to dribble the ball before Giroud closed him down and pressured him into fumbling over before the handsome Frenchmen calmly tapped the ball in. The second mistake was a silly penalty given away by a blatant shirt pull on Mertesacker…up steps Giroud again to calmly put us two ahead and secure the win. We were very tight defensively and team’s collective fighting spirit was evident throughout the match as they battled together and helped each other out when needed. Cutting out many of the errors that proved costly in past seasons is down to concentration and discipline, but there is also a strong feeling in the squad that you don’t want to let down your teammates. Although it’s something less tangible in terms of concrete attributes of a team, it’s something that is definitely there this season and is needed to be on top of the table after a long and tough season.

 Things That Stood Out For Me:

Giroud: Worked hard as usual and deserved the first goal for his awareness and constant effort. Players need to give 110% every time they play because mistakes happen all the time. Applying constant pressure and capitalizing on those mistakes can be the difference between a win and a loss. And when you’re playing in a league as tight as the Premiership, every match is vital one (Flashback to City’s victory on the last day of the season in 2011-12).

Ramsey: Produced a backheel volley in the 18th minute which hit the post. It was very clever and showed his great technical ability, but more importantly, it showed that he’s playing with confidence. Ramsey is the hottest player in the league right now and when you see him doing things like that it’s clear that he’s playing with a level of confidence that he never experienced before. He isn’t afraid to take a chance and create something out of nothing, which can only be good for Arsenal (as long as it’s not in our own box, que Mkhitaryan’s goal away at Dortmund).

Ozil: We haven’t been seeing much from him in the last couple of matches. His form seems to have taken a small dip since the start of the season, but he’s still new to the league and I’m sure he’ll improve as the season progresses…let’s just hope it’s a little faster as I definitely expect much more from him. At this rate I don’t see him reaching his best form (like he was at Madrid) till next season.

The Gunners did a great job to bounce back from the disappointment against Man United and get back the confidence in the squad ahead of our match at home vs. Marseille in the Champions League. With Walcott getting a few minutes under his belt, Podolski back in training again, and Flamini returning from suspension, things are starting to look even better for the Gunners. If we manage to win the next three matches coming up, which we should, then we’ll be in a very strong position in the table come Christmas time when we face some of the bigger teams and real title challengers, (no offence to Cardiff, Hull, and Everton).

5 Reasons Arsenal Need to Buy a Striker in January

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With the January transfer window approaching in just over a months time, there’s been a lot of talk in the media about whether Arsenal will be able to keep their place at the top of the table in the second half of the season. With only one real attacking option in Olivier Giroud, it’s no secret that Arsenal are  lacking some firepower up front.

1. They’re hanging on by a thread.

With only one striker to rely on Arsenal are living dangerously close to the edge. Simply put, if Arsenal don’t invest in a new striker and Giroud loses for form, or worse gets badly injured, then their season is essentially over. Can anyone honestly see Bendtner or the unproven Sonogo stepping in to fill the void and lead them to the title?… I wouldn’t bet on it.

2. Competition in any position is a good thing.

Although it can sometimes be a challenge to keep players happy when there’s several great players fighting for one spot, competition brings out the best in players and keeps them sharp and on their game. Being guaranteed a position in the squad can make a player complacent and not motivate them to give that 110% needed in every match and training session to be at the top of their game. You could clearly see the improvement in Szczesny’s once he came back after losing his spot to Fabiasnski in the Champions League last season. Vermaelen also looked much sharper than in recent times when he replaced the BFG against Man United after having lost his place in the squad to the impregnable Mertesacker/Kosciely duo.

3. More attacking options.

Since Arsenal don’t really have any other options, they’re stuck relying on Giroud all the time. Don’t get me wrong, Giroud’s a great player, he’s strong in the air, has good link up play, holds the ball well, and tirelessly tracks back in defense. But, he doesn’t have much pace and lets face it, he’s not the most creative of strikers. He’s the type of player that gets into good positions, but needs someone to feed him the ball. Give him chances and he’ll score, but he’s not exactly the type to create those chances on his own (Like a Suarez or Van Persie type). By buying different style of striker in January, Arsenal can give themselves more attacking options in terms of squad choice and style of play. For example, if Giroud isn’t doing particularly well against an opponent, the manager want’s to be able to put on someone who can try a different approach and change the match. In addition, when Arsenal play teams like Stoke who are big and strong defensively and like to crowd the box, Giroud’s style might not be the most effective. So, another type of striking option would mean that Arsenal could adapt their game depending on their opponent.

4. Giroud needs a rest.

In the end, as good of a player as he is, Giroud is in fact human not a cyborg. Between the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup, and the Capital One Cup (which they’re already knocked out of), that’s a whole lot of games for a striker to play alone. Just like any other player, he can’t start every match and is gonna’ need a rest here and there in order to avoid injuries and not burn out. With a particularity intense period of the season approaching around Christmas time, as well as many players out injured and a lot of matches left to be played this season, Arsenal are gonna’ need to do some serious squad rotation in order to survive at the top till May.

5. Arsenal need to show more ambition.

With tensions rising this past summer around the Emirates, the fans were starting to lose hope after so many seasons without silverware. In the past few seasons it has been very hard as a Gooner to watch their best players being sold year after year without bringing in any big name replacements. The supporters needed Arsenal to show a sign of ambition this summer in order to prove to the fans that they were not content with simply making the top 4 and that Arsenal truly wanted to be back on top. And this act of ambition came in the form of signing Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid. The transfer created a lot of buzz, as it was the first time in a while that Arsenal really made a big impact in the transfer market. Wenger did the first part right by signing a player who would make them a better team, but now that they actually have a chance of winning the title Wenger needs to build on that progress and sign a new striker to push them across that line. It would be foolish of Arsenal not to take advantage of their strong position in the league this year and sign that one player who can bring them a trophy, especially when it seems that there’s only one piece missing from the puzzle to reach success.

Van Traitor: 1 Arsenal: 0

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Looks like the Dutchman got the better of the Gunners once again. Since leaving Arsenal last year for one of our biggest rivals he’s scored in all 3 league matches against us giving them 3 wins and a draw. It seems that every time we’re pitted up against him he’s left us Gooners with egg on our faces. As of now, the game I’m most looking forward to is our next match against the Red Devils at the Emirates. Hopefully then we can save some face and get the win…and if Flamini just happens to break both Van Persie’s legs in the process I wouldn’t complain. (Clearly I’m not bitter at all!)

With quite a few of our player still out with injuries, Arsenal were hindered further by the absence of Mertesacker who was suffering from a virus.  But, with Wilshere and Gnabry coming back from injury, and Flamini finally making it back from his concussion, Wenger had a few new options this week when it came to choosing his side.

Now let’s talk about how the Gunners did.

Vermaelen:

The BFG was ill, giving Vermaelen his first start of the season. We all know he didn’t have the best season last year and it can’t be easy losing your starting spot (especially as the skipper), but he has really worked hard to regain his best form. He never complained and instead patiently kept his head down and worked hard for his opportunity to come. He knows that it’s about the team and the bigger picture. He did an outstanding job today and I was really pleased to see him play like the Verminator again. If he plays this well all the time then we’ll really have some strong options to choose from in the CB position.

Gnabry:

Came on in the 83rd minute and although he didn’t get much game time he did well and showed signs of his quality. He was confident on the ball and his movement was also good, which helped us get the ball up the pitch for an all out attack in the final minutes. He even made a couple of good passes into the box which could have easily been pounced on by one of our strikers. This guy has real potential and I can’t wait to see what he does for Arsenal in the future. I’m happy he decided to stay with us this summer as I feel like Wenger has unearthed another gem.

Wilshere:

Made a difference when he came on. He had that hunger and drive that helped us move the ball forward and flip the switch from defense to attack. He’s not 100% match fit yet, but I feel like once he gets there he’ll be devastating to opponents because he really is a game-changer.

Bendtner (a.k.a The Greatest Striker Who Ever Lived):

What can I say? Yes he hasn’t played much football recently, yes he needs more game time to regain his form, blah blah blah blah. I don’t buy it. I’m not exactly expecting him to score a match winning overhead kick in the dying minutes, but at least learn to pass, dribble, and hold the ball (the basics). In the end you are a professional athlete who gets paid millions, shouldn’t you at least be half-decent with a ball at your feet? He could’ve got a touch on a Sagna’s cross to win the game for us and be the hero, instead he did nothing and once again ended up as a zero. Time for the Dane to hang up his boots and open up the greatest pastry shop that ever was, somewhere far far away from North London.

Ramsey, Ozil, Cazorla, Giroud:

Ramsey, Cazorla, and Ozil all seemed a bit flat and looked like they were getting a bit tired from starting so many matches.

Ozil in particular just didn’t seem to have that hunger or drive. There was one overhead lob pass in the match where Ozil could‘ve thrown his body to get a touch on the ball and would’ve almost certainly scored. If Giroud would have been in that same position you know that he would’ve at least tried to go for it. He’s never scared to put his body on the line and we see this all the time as he dives for header, tries overhead kicks in the box, and tirelessly tracks back every time we lose the ball.

Giroud gave a lot of effort in this match but he wasn’t given much to work with as United were tight at the back and rarely allowed a ball to reach past the back 4. I’m worried that he’s going to burn out soon having to start all of these matches and being relied upon so heavily for goals as our only decent striker. We absolutely need to buy a striker in January if were going to seriously compete for the title since clearly Bendtner and Sonogo are not the answer.

Sagna:

Was absolutely fantastic, one of his better games in an Arsenal shirt. His ongoing battle with Evra was great to watch and you could tell that he’s really pushing himself to reach his best form again. He whipped a couple of deadly inswinging crosses into the box that could’ve both easily resulted in a goal had anyone just got a touch on it. His hunger is definitely back this season after last years not so great one.

In the end, although Arsenal are still top of the league for the first time in a while, it’s still deja vu for the Gunners. Once again Van Perise gets the upper hand and Ferguson ends up with a big smile on his face. (Even if it was from the stands this time)

We now go into the international break, until we play Southampton at home on the 23rd. I usually hate the international break but this one is welcomed by me as we’ve had a long month against top teams and it’s about time we took a mental break from the league to regroup, especially after such a devastating result where we really didn’t deserve to lose. Hopefully we’ll get back to our winning ways of recent against a fantastic Southampton team that’s definitely been the underdog story of the season so far.