Sunday, 17 March 2013

Boo-boys favourites combine to clinch win -Vermaelen off? -Szczesny needs new coach?

Morning Gooners.

It's been a few days since I last posted. Prior to heading to Germany I had expectations that my trip would be fun on a social level but that I'd be left ultimately disappointed with the 90 minutes of football I was going to see.

I expect most people who went never thought we would win the match - after all Bayern hadn't been beaten at home by an English club in two decades and after the tonking we got in the first leg, winning didn't seem like it was an option.

But then we scored the early goal and that changed the momentum of the tie. Of course we all know now we were undone by the goals we conceded in the first leg. We went out on the away goals rule having kept a clean sheet in Munich, a first for a club at the Allianz Arena this season.

While we didn't progress, I left the stadium proud of my team. They'd been written off by their critics and had shown up with a mature performance which they needed to build on for yesterday's trip to Wales.

Arsene Wenger stuck with Lukasz Fabianski in goal after his assured performance on Wednesday night. He switched out Kieran Gibbs after his solid 90 minutes in midweek and replaced him with Nacho Monreal to ensure there was no reaction to his recent injury. The rest of the defenders remained unchanged - Carl Jenkinson at right back with Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny in the heart of the defence.

In the middle of the park Mikel Arteta was joined by Abou Diaby, the Frenchman replacing Aaron Ramsey. While the only change in the attacking three saw Alex Oxlade Chamberlain come in for Tomas Rosicky. Theo Walcott remained on the right, with Cazorla switching to the middle and The Ox starting his first game in a month on the left. Olivier Giroud retained his place leading the attack.

The first half highlights were two shots from Oxlade-Chamberlain which hit the woodwork. It appeared the youngster had the bit between his teeth and was out to impress. I loving it when a player has a point to prove and the 19-year-old has been in and mainly out of the team this season. Yesterday was his 11th league start of the campaign.

At the back there was one scare of note. Had Michu's shot been on target, Fabianski would have had no chance of saving it. However while the first 45 might have been dull, it left us with a solid base to build on in the second half.

Cazorla was of course in the thick of it. What I love about the Spaniard is that he won't be bullied. His team mates aren't afraid to pass him the ball in tight areas because they can trust him to come out of a tackle with it still glued to his feet.

It wasn't until after Wenger made a double substitution - Oxlade-Chamberlain and Diaby replaced by Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey - did we score our first. Cazorla of course was the architech, dribbling to the left of the goal, pulling the ball back for Giroud who played it back for Monreal to score his first for the club.

It took what seemed like an age for the ball to hit the back of the net. The strike was not clean but that might have hindered Michel Vorm in attempting to save it as it came through a crowded penalty box.

With the goal coming in the 74th minute, we had time to shoot ourselves in the foot. But the defence held firm and we managed a second on the break in the first minute of injury time. Ramsey breaking with Gervinho on the Swansea goal. The Welshman seemed to have fluffed his pass to the Ivorian, but Gervinho checked his run to take the ball in his stride and didn't make a mistake striking the ball low and close to Vorm's feet and into the goal.

The win gives me hope and optimism that we can achieve our goal of finishing in the top four. Three points and the second clean sheet of the week. We now have to hope that both Chelsea and Spurs slip up today.

Afterwards Wenger praised his team. He said:
"The attitude of our players and our team was outstanding. Even when the legs were a bit less fresh, we kept going and refused to drop points. We knew before the game what was expected, and we gave absolutely everything until the end. 
"What we did in the last three days is always difficult to do for any team. To win away in the Champions League and win straight away three days later in the Premier League is very difficult. I would like to congratulate the players for that."
While Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain told the official site:

"The Swansea result is a good start. But we can’t look back, we have to look forward at what we can achieve. That will be important for the run-in. So it is a matter of taking it step-by-step. 
"We knew it would be a hard game. But we had to take everything from Wednesday’s win at Bayern and use it in this game."
I do sense that Wednesday night's result has had a big impact on the team. Prior to it I've felt we've not had the self-belief and confidence in big games. There are nine of those left this season and all but one are against sides who are lower than us in the table. We can't take winning against them for granted and I think that finally something has clicked and the players seem more focused on what we need to do to achieve a top four finish this season.

On Wednesday night - even from the third tier - it was noticeable how vocal the team were. And Theo Walcott has said that it's not about having a go at one another but better communication among the players.

He told the official site:

"We have definitely been too quiet in the past, we have been afraid to tell each other what to do at times but we did that [against Bayern].  
"It is not about having a go at each other, it is speaking out when it is needed."
One can only speculate what happened at the training ground after we lost the north London derby but it appears that several things were said between the players, coaching staff and the manager.

Wenger's ruthlessness with dropping both Wojciech Szczesny and Thomas Vermaelen has left every player in the squad in no doubt that poor performances will lose them their place in the starting line up whether or not they are first choice goalkeeper or club captain.

It will be interesting to see what happens to the starting line up once the players return from the international break. Wenger may be forced to make some difficult decision which some players may not like.

A quick round up of the Sunday papers to finish off with. Most of the news revolves around Wojciech Szczesny's future at the club. The Mail on Sunday report the Poland international has become "grown frustrated with the training regime at the club". That issue is echoed in a Sunday Mirror story which claims a new goalkeeping coach - a role which Jens Lehmann and David Seaman have been tipped for - could join the back room staff in the summer.

Meanwhile the Daily Star Sunday report Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes has made Arsenal his first choice club to join when he leaves the Camp Nou.

And the Sunday People report we're chasing Swansea keeper Michel Vorm - a player we've been linked with on several previous occasions. They also linked us with Vorm's team mate Ashley Williams and Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel, if Thomas Vermaelen moves on in the summer.

That's it for today. I'll be back with more tomorrow.

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