Monday, 27 January 2014
Saturday, 25 January 2014
It was good to get a routine win in the FA Cup against lower league opposition and our club's name into the hat for the fifth round. There were none of the symptoms witnesses against Blackburn last night, which I think goes a long way to show the mentality of the club has changed.
I was slightly surprised to see Mesut Ozil and Serge Gnabry in the starting line up. Arsenal's mega-money signing, making his first start in the world's oldest cup competition, has played in 26 of the club's 34 fixtures this season and I was expecting him to start from the bench last night. But Wenger, who is clearly taking our involvement in the competition seriously this season, played him for the whole game.
Gnabry was also a surprise inclusion in my eyes. He's started three fixtures back to back following Theo Walcott's untimely injury. And although he's only played in 12 games this season, I'd expected the manager to give him a rest ahead of Tuesday's fixture with Southampton.
However it was another German who impressed with a brace of goals. When Lucas Podolski came on against Fulham following his injury, the left-footed forward had a point to prove. Almost immediately he made the difference with a fantastic shot. He looked hungry for the opportunity to impress the manager. Last night he got his chance from the start.
Arsenal were camped in the opposition half for a good period of the first half. Probing away and attempting to find an opening. Jack Wilshere, playing the more deeper role in midfield last night than he's used to, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain combined well to deliver the ball to those players ahead of them. But I thought Carl Jenkinson at right back was providing some excellent balls which on two occasions we should have done better to convert.
It was the King of the Assist Ozil who found the right pass to open up Coventry. The German opened the door to his compatriot Podolski on 15 minutes and the 28-year-old took the ball passed the goalkeeper and found the back of the net from an acute angle.
The pressure was continued and the Gunners would not allow Coventry out of their own half. The home side's second goal of the night coming from a set piece. Gnabry delivering a perfect corner from the left which was flicked on at the near post by Captain Per Mertesacker to an onrushing Podolski at the back post. A classic German one-two-three for Arsenal.
Lukasz Fabianski had a pretty uneventful first half in the Arsenal goal, making only his fourth appearance of the season as the club's chosen domestic cups keeper. But he was called into action when Coventry Captain Carl Baker brought the ball out of this own half and proceed to run at the Arsenal goal pretty much unchallenged. When he reached the Arsenal box, his fierce shot was palmed over the bar by Fabianski.
Podolski had opportunities to complete his hattrick in the first half, one of those gifted to him on a plate by a wonderful Jenkinson cross, but the left sided attacker couldn't take it. A power failure in the minutes leading up to half time took out some of the flood lights but it didn't daze Arsenal's attacking play and Wilshere had an opportunity to add to our lead as the half concluded, but he fluffed his lines.
As the remaining flood lights returned after half time, Arsenal took time to recover their first half control on the game. It was the away team who had been sent out with a brief to press the Gunners higher up the pitch and it had an impact. Arsenal were under pressure and Coventry created two good chances for Leon Clarke, one of which had Fabianski beaten but hit the outside of the keeper's left hand post and went wide.
It was after that Wenger's men once again took control of the game. Oxlade-Chamberlain was pushed to the floor in the box, but wasn't awarded a penalty. Another chance fell to Nicklas Bendtner but on his return from injury he looked rusty and his shot was wide when you would have expected him to score.
Another highlight of the first ever Friday night game at the Grove came when Wenger brought on 16-year-old Gedion Zelalem to debut. The teenager is the first player the Frenchman has handed a first team appearance to who has been born after Wenger took charge in the red half of north London. He took the place of Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Santi Cazorla came on for Bendtner.
And Zelalem took to the pitch and graced it like the a player beyond his young age. It will be interesting to see how much more game time the manager will give him this season given our fight for the Premier League and Champions League is in full swing. I guess that question will be answered by who we are drawn against in the next round of the FA Cup.
Olivier Giroud replaced Podolski with 11 minutes to go. And the Frenchman fancied his chanced to add to the scoreline. Just five minutes after taking his place on the field, Arsenal's number 12 found the back of the net with a well executed left foot shot after good work from Cazorla and Kieran Gibbs.
And it was the little Spaniard who put the cherry on top of the cake with one minute of normal time remaining. Jenkinson's vicious shot from the right was parried into the path of Cazorla who made no mistake with a first time shot.
A routine performance against a spirited Coventry side, who's fans were fantastic.
Many of the post match questions for Arsene Wenger were about Arsenal's interest in Schalke's Julian Draxler. He played it cool and said that a deal for the 20-year-old was an illusion in his post match press confernce, but I'm sure I've seen that cheeky grin he gave in the post match TV interview somewhere before.
Arsene Wenger refuses to give anything away when asked if Arsenal have reached agreement with Schalke for Julian Draxler?
Friday, 24 January 2014
Arsenen Wenger says the FA Cup is a very prestigious competition and it's one which he has won the most as a manager. It means tonight's game with Coventry is one he'll take seriously as Arsenal look to end their trophy drought.
Last season no one will forget our humiliating defeat to Blackburn. Tonight against League One opposition it will be different. I think in a way it's a blessing this fixture has been moved to an evening kick off. It will be played in front of a sell out crowd and I think that will give us more focus.
As for the team he'll pick, I think we're likely to see a few changes from the side which picked up three points against Fulham last Saturday. It will be chance for some of the squad players to get some minutes and allow Wenger to rest a few players ahead of our trip to play Southampton on Tuesday night.
I'd expect a cup competition line up, with a couple of youngsters either starting or on the bench. Earlier in the season we saw Isaac Hayden handed his first team debut in the league cup match against West Brom. I think tonight is another opportunity for the manager to offer his best youngsters a chance to play.
I think the starting line up could be:
Fabianski, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal, Wilshere, Flamini, Miyaichi, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski, Bendtner
Substitutes: Viviano, Sagna, Gibbs, Hayden, Zelalem, Ozil, Giroud.
Others available: Szczesny, Gnabry, Cazorla, Park, Eisfeld.
Injured: Vermaelen, Arteta, Ramsey, Rosicky, Walcott.
We're four games from a Wembley final. In our best seasons under Arsene Wenger we've done well in the FA Cup. I hope that continues again with a win tonight.
Monday, 20 January 2014
For all the recent attention directed at Arsenal’s record £42.5 million signing Mesut Ozil in recent days, weeks, months, etc. and his apparently – for want of a better description – less forceful displays in his debut season, Arsenal have quietly trudged along at the top of the table with five different match-winners in their last five league games.
On Saturday, it was the turn of Santi Cazorla to come to the fore. The two-footed Spaniard hit twice with either foot in four minutes to turn an erratic Arsenal performance into another valuable three points as the Gunners continued to set the pace for the chasing pack.
Cazorla had the second-most touches (after Jack Wilshere) of any player on the pitch and completed the third-most passes (after Wilshere and Ozil).
As usual, Cazorla started on the left of Arsenal’s front three but naturally drifted inside to combine with Wilshere and Giroud as the Gunners threatened at times in the first half to score another ‘wengerball’ goal as against Norwich earlier in the season.
Ironically, when Cazorla drifted inside Arsenal looked their most dangerous but also began to look vulnerable on the counter-attack down their left-hand side with Ashkan Dejagah and Dimitar Berbatov both finding space behind the Arsenal defence.
In the second half, however, Arsenal remedied this. The Gunners’ pressing game went up a gear, and Cazorla himself made three interceptions in the second half (to his one first half interception) and doubled his number of ball recoveries to four.
More importantly, Cazorla twice left his wide berth and twice found the back of the net to end any hope the away side had garnered of getting a result.
The former Malaga and Villarreal midfielder, who has himself had his critics this season after struggling for form since his return from injury, proved the value of having a player of his quality even when perhaps not at his best.
Cazorla’s two goals were typical of the emphatic turn of pace, piece of trickery or finish from very little that he is so capable of when he has his moments, and further evidence that once again Arséne Wenger had got it right, with the 5 foot 6 playmaker come winger getting the nod in the starting XI over an apparently disgruntled Lukas Podolski.
But it wasn’t only his goals that impressed, as he picked up a perfect 10 rating from whoscored.com and was also the highest rated Premier League player this weekend on squawka.com.
The Spaniard’s five key passes, 93% pass accuracy and four successful dribbles suggest a complete performance rather than a one-off, and with the fixtures that lie ahead Arsenal could do with more of the same as the season progresses into a key stage with several ‘six pointers’ that could make or break the Gunners’ title chances.
Wednesday, 15 January 2014
I think many of us knew the statistic about our results when Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny completed 90 minutes together before Sky showed it on Monday night. But it is always worth repeating because it is so extraordinary.
CLEAN SHEETS 16
It really is a remarkable combination which has put us in the box seat at the top of the Premier League this season and for all our fantastic attacking play at times, it is our defensive stability which has won us games. Being able to see out the final 15 minutes at Villa Park on Monday playing with 10 men behind the ball has shown how far we've come.
We currently sit on top of the table for the best defense in the Premier League having conceded 19 goals from our 21 games. If you take out the results against Villa at home and Manchester City away where we conceded nine goals, we've conceded 10 goals from 19 games, which I find truly remarkable.
I'd like to put all the plaudits for our mean defence at Per Mertesacker's door. But that would be unfair on the other players in the team, because they all have their part to play in making sure we have done as well as we have so far. Plus Wojciech Szczesny has certainly stepped up this season.
And the midfield have worked a lot harder to ensure that we don't allow shots on goal. Attack has really become our first line of defence.
The change in mentality of Arsene Wenger as well has ensured we aren't over exposed at the back. In past seasons when we've been in a winning position, the manager would put on another attacking player in an attempt to increase the score. That's gone out the window and usually this season the first change the Frenchman will make is a defensive one or a like for like swap.
Some readers complained at the start of the season that I was being too precious about ensuring we kept clean sheets. But it's defenses which win you titles. In recent seasons the team with the best defensive record come May pick up the title. And that's why I want to see us concede as few goals as possible.
We know that Arsene Wenger sides can produce fantastic attacking football. But with the loss of Theo Walcott for the remainder of the season there is a hole now left in our team. Although the England international has only started nine games of his 13 league appearances for us this season, we do look a different team without him.
The manager has 17 league games remaining. An FA Cup clash against Coventry City and a last 16 tie in the Champions League with Bayern Munich to worry about. If we are going to bring someone in this transfer window then we'll probably only need them to contribute for 15 games.
I am of the opinion there is no point in signing a player who won't be part of the manager's long term plans. If we are going to bring someone in, I'd rather go all out to sign a player the manager really wants.
The Daily Mirror reports a deal Julian Draxler could be done this month but it is more likely to be completed come the summer. I think if the manager has identified the 20-year-old as someone who could come in an have an immediate impact on our title challenge, then the should do everything in its power to bring him to north London as soon as possible.
Tuesday, 14 January 2014
History would suggest that this time last year, or almost any of the last five or six years, a mood-changing goal conceded in the last 15 minutes on a cold, wet night somewhere north of Oxford would have led to a different result.
But this team has matured, grown physically and have dealt with this situation enough times now to know not to panic.
So too has Jack Wilshere. Handed the number ten jersey last season after the sale of Robin van Persie, Wilshere has been the subject of huge faith from Arséne Wenger – just as Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky, and Kieran Gibbs have been – after injury threatened to hamper his still fledgling career in 2011.
However, there has also been expectation from the manager, and still more from the fans who saw him burst onto the scene as a 16 year old at the Emirates Cup in 2008, and it’s not always been easy to deal with for the now 22 year old.
Now he finally seems to be growing into his role at the club and country as he continues to grow in importance for both camps.
The midfielder is now likely to be Arsenal’s only representative for England at the World Cup this summer after Theo Walcott’s injury and big things will be expected of him next season too with valuable experience under his belt.
After failing to entirely convince in his comeback season in 2012/13, Wilshere has this season had to contend with the form of Aaron Ramsey and record signing of Mesut Ozil, with competition for places proving tough.
According to whoscored.com, Wilshere has been played on the right of the Gunners’ attacking quartet six times, on the left five times and behind the striker twice, with only four appearances in his preferred central midfield role (starts only).
Nevertheless, the tenacious midfielder has shown his maturity in difficult circumstances by reacting in the best possible way – with goals and performances that gave the manager food for thought.
And against Aston Villa, Wilshere seized on a rare start in the middle of the park with a well-taken goal and equally well-provided assist 59 seconds later.
But it was Wilshere’s commanding overall performance that impressed most, as he controlled the game throughout and refused to fall victim to a physical game in which two teammates were taken off with suspected breaks.
With 14 minutes left after Christian Benteke’s late goal gave the home side renewed hope, it was Jack Wilshere that stepped up and provided the cool headed example for all to follow with a good balance of controlled possession and a positive view to break forward when opportunity called.
It’s fitting that it was at this ground in November 2010 that Wilshere recorded his first Premier League goal for Arsenal in a topsy-turvy 4-2 victory that sent his side to the top of the table, even if only for a couple of hours. If they’re to stay there this time, more of the same is needed from players like Wilshere.
Wednesday, 8 January 2014
So as we call come to terms with the season ending injury to Theo Walcott, Arsene Wenger must be thinking about what he should do next to ensure that this Arsenal team doesn't fall away in the race for the title.
My immediate reaction was one of disappointment for Theo. Since signing his new deal with the club last summer, the England international has been in fantastic form for us. This season has seen him make a slow start in the league though goal scoring wise, with his first two of his five goals coming in the defeat to Manchester City at Middle Eastlands.
He didn't trouble the score sheet in the Gunners opening 16 games of the campaign, seven matches he missed through injury. It would be therefore fair to say he's not hit the heights of last season's impressive 14 goal return from 32 appearances.
However it would be silly to downplay his importance on this team. He's 24 now and has made 281 appearances for Arsenal following his move from Southampton eight seasons ago. He's become a key player for us and I would argue, just about to hit an age when we'll see his top form.
What this team will miss is not only his goals but his counter attacking skills. For a player who isn't a played at centre forward, Walcott is clinical in front of goal as his shots to goal ratio prove. He also makes opposition team sit deeper than they usually would because they are scared of his pace.
These are all attributes which Arsene Wenger will have to consider when deciding on how to replace him in the team.
People will be quick to suggest Serge Gnabry will be able to fill Walcott's boots following his most impressive performance to date in an Arsenal shirt against Spurs in our FA Cup win. But asking the 18-year-old, who has made just two league starts this season, to step up and produce week in, week out, would be too much to ask in my opinion.
Then there is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who is back in full training following his knee injury. The 20-year-old has been out for pretty much all of the season after picking up his injury in the opening day defeat to Aston Villa. He will need time to find his form and will hopefully get a few games for the under-21s to ease his transition back into the first team.
Those two are our most skillful pacey attacker who could fill Walcott's boots from inside the club. I'm not even considering Ryo Miyaichi who hasn't even started a league game this season and would be better off leaving on loan to grab a piece of first team action elsewhere.
So although I've played down Gnabry and Oxlade-Chamberlain as Walcott alternatives, I'm not sure we really need to look outside the club for someone to play on the right of our attacking three. We have Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil who have all played there.
Where we have need to strengthen is up front where Olivier Giroud and Nicklas Bendtner are our options.
The Daily Mirror report that we have made a move for Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata, in a bid to bring the 21-year-old on loan for the remainder of the season.
They also say we're looking at:
- Bayern Munich's Mario Mandzukic
- Manchester City's Edin Dzeko
- Porto's Jackson Martinez.
- Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa
- Manchester United's Wayne Rooney
- Schalke's Julian Draxler
- Rubin Kazan's Salomon Rondon
- Monaco's Lacina Traore