Arsene, what’s the French for déjà vu?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

When Charles Dickens wrote ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ he would have been blissfully unaware of just how accurately it would sum up The Arsenal and in particular our recent form. Domestically it has been the best of times, with a 2-1 victory away to Palace followed up with a 2-0 victory at home to Everton and another 2-1 victory on the road, this time at Loftus Road against QPR. But sandwiched in amongst that domestic delight was the worst of times and it was the age of foolishness; a 3-1 defeat at home to Monaco in the first leg of our last sixteen tie.

CRYSTAL PALACE 1 ARSENAL 2 (Cazorla, Giroud)

Before the game I had a really horrible feeling about this one. A small stadium, tight pitch, poor playing surface, and an opposition showing marked improvement since the arrival of their new manager with whom there is no love lost.

Cazorla gives us the lead from the penalty spot against Palace

Thankfully we got off to a great start, with Welbeck winning the ball high up the pitch and being brought down in the penalty area. Cazorla stepped up to slot the ball home from 12 yards; one-nil to The Arsenal. Many have questioned the exclusion of Theo Walcott in recent weeks, but this goal was the perfect illustration of why Welbeck is getting the nod, especially away from home. He may be less clinical in front of goal compared to Theo, but his work rate and team play is far superior. Walcott would never have been closing down the defender in a million years thus forcing a foul in the area.

And Welbeck was involved again for the second. Just beating the offside trap he struck his shot firmly across goal, with Giroud following in for the rebound after Speroni had saved Welbeck’s effort. It was perfect timing; right on the stroke of half time.

The second half was a rather drab affair, with Palace’s impressive efforts and the very poor pitch making it tough to get going; a narrow Alexis miss aside we didn’t really create much. It could have cost us as, in true Arsenal style, we managed to allow Palace a 94th minute goal and a 95th minute header onto the post, but thankfully we held on for three valuable points.

ARSENAL 1 MONACO 3 (Oxlade-Chamberlain)

Where to begin? It’s not easy to identify a starting point when we were completely abject in defence, midfield, and attack. Not one component of the team, hell not even one individual in the team, can claim to have had a good night.

In goal there are questions marks over Ospina for the first and third. The defence covered itself in little to no glory. The midfield was overrun and out powered from start to finish. And up front Olivier Giroud couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo.

It was a night to forget against Monaco

Unfortunately these things happen in football. Some would argue far too often for The Arsenal, but they happen. What was inexcusable to me was how we lost our heads. You can struggle to perform, but keep our heads and we leave the field with perhaps a 0-1 defeat or by miracle a 1-1 draw. Or even with how events did unfold a 1-2 defeat. Instead we were rattled. We forgot that this game was the first of a two-legged tie; just 90 of 180 minutes. And so, at 0-1 down and again at 1-2 down we went chasing goals in a manner akin to children running around after the ball like headless chickens on a Sunday morning. And even then, that’s offensive to the children!

Losing comprehensively to the likes of Barcelona, AC Milan, and Bayern Munich is one thing. Being caned at home to Monaco is something else altogether. It was embarrassing. It was inexcusable. And it asked serious questions of this squad’s mentality at the highest level, of the manager’s preparation of his players, and has left the fans asking just why we get so stressed about finishing in the top four every season just to witness more humiliation in the Champions League last 16? Here’s hoping the away leg in Monaco provides us some kind of divine answer!

ARSENAL 2 EVERTON 0 (Giroud, Rosicky)

Both Giroud and the team provided the perfect response to our midweek fiasco. After a slow start we finally got a foothold in the game and then never looked back against a toothless Everton side, whose away form is rather shocking! That said, we required some great goalkeeping and a wonderful last-ditch tackle from Gabriel to keep the scores level.

Goalscorers Giroud and Rosicky celebrate Little Mozart's strike

But after Giroud swept home confidently from an Özil corner it was largely one-way traffic. Rosicky provided the cherry on top with a couple of minutes left on the clock to avoid the panicky finish experienced at Selhurst Park eight days earlier. How can you not love Little Mozart?!

QPR 1 ARSENAL 2 (Giroud, Alexis)

The domestic bliss continued with another crucial three points at Loftus Road on Wednesday night. Another goal from Olivier Giroud (it only seems to be in Europe that he has the heebie-jeebies!) and an exceptional near post finish from Alexis Sanchez secured the victory.

Britain Soccer Premier League

It was a much better team performance too, with Özil, Bellerin, Gibbs, and Coquelin all having standout performances, but equally in true Arsenal style we gifted them a consolation. It was a fine finish from Austin, but not surprising given we allowed him the freedom of the park. However, on this occasion it really was just a consolation, with QPR creating no further chance and Arsenal seeing it home fairly comfortably.

FA CUP SIXTH ROUND

Next up on Monday night we continue the defence of our FA Cup with a trip to Old Trafford to face United. Excluding the lunacy of the game being scheduled on a Monday night it’s a fixture that certainly wets the appetite.

Considering our atrocious record against United of late I’m surprisingly confident. Perhaps it’s due to being defending champions. Perhaps it’s due to our decent domestic form and them stinking out the league with their rank awfulness. Who knows?

I’m sure many will point to the fact United have been shithouse ever since Ferguson left and yet all we’ve managed against them in that time is one draw and two defeats. But fuck it. If you can’t be excited by a fixture of this magnitude and have belief in your team’s ability to get the job done as defending FA Cup holders then you’re approaching football in completely the wrong way. Here’s to proving the cynics wrong. Come on you Gunners!

arsenal-cannon

Round Up & FA Cup Progress

It seems to have become somewhat of a (bad) habit that I don’t get to write as often as I like. Once again, for one reason or another (this time including a trip to Melbourne for the Australian Open tennis) I have been unable to put pen to paper regarding recent Arsenal matches. Today is catch up time, so here goes:

Brighton & Hove Albion 2 Arsenal 3 (Walcott, Özil, Rosicky)

Due to my visit to Melbourne for the tennis I’ve only seen highlights via Arsenal Online. But from what little I saw it was a largely comfortable and professional performance, orchestrated by Tomas “Little Mozart” Rosicky whose fine volley, our third, secured the victory.

Little Mozart

Arsenal 5 Aston Villa 0 (Giroud, Özil, Walcott, Cazorla, Bellerin)

Having destroyed Villa’s high line with a resounding 3-0 victory at Villa Park earlier this season it would seem Paul Lambert had not learnt his lesson because once again Villa’s ridiculously high line was picked apart with ease, resulting in an emphatic 5-0 victory. Özil was sensational, getting a thoroughly deserved goal and setting up our first with a quite delicious flicked through ball to Giroud. Lambert somehow hung onto his job after this debacle, but not for too much longer; the bloke from Boreham Wood, who ain’t no fucking good, is now in charge of the Villains.

Sp*rs 2 Arsenal 1 (Özil)

It was a North London derby to forget, with a disappointing 2-1 defeat. Despite taking an early lead, through a wonderful Özil finish, we never really got going. With the intent of mirroring what we did at City we sat deep and defended in numbers, but on this occasion we were extremely poor in possession and it cost us. Only the 7th victory for them in 46 matches against Arsene Wenger, it’s safe to assume the DVD is in production as we speak.

Ozil Celebrates His Goal Against Them

Arsenal 2 Leicester 1 (Koscielny, Walcott)

Following our North London derby defeat it was a somewhat nervy response, but three points are three points, and thanks to goals from Koscielny and Walcott that’s exactly what we got. It meant that the “North London power shift” lasted only a few days, with this victory taking us back up to fifth.

Arsenal 2 Middlesbrough 0 (Giroud x2)

Our defence of the FA Cup continued in impressive fashion, with a 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough, with both goals coming from Giroud. The first an example of ‘total football’, with all eleven players involved, and the second an example of improvisation and genius, as a quick corner from Alexis and a wonderful near post finish from Giroud saw us through to the next round.

Giroud Opens The Scoring Against Middlesbrough

There were some favourable draws to be had, but unfortunately we’ve been drawn away to Manchester United. Our recent record against them is nothing short of abysmal. However, the last time we went to Old Trafford as FA Cup holders we won 2-0, with Wiltord and Jeffers up front and Giggs missing an open goal. So stranger things have happened!

The Week Ahead

It’s back to Premier League action this weekend with a tricky trip to Selhurst Park to face an Alan Pardew rejuvenated Palace. Given the tight confines, the iffy surface, their likely approach to the game, and so forth I’m expecting a tight and unattractive tussle.

It will also be interesting to see what starting elven Arsene goes with. Will he risk a Cazorla / Özil central partnership like he did against Boro? Are Wilshere or Oxlade-Chamberlain available again? Does he introduce the industrious Rosicky? And most interestingly of all, should Theo Walcott be starting?

I was always a defendant of Walcott, due to his unique quality of pace. For all his flaws, both on and off the ball, you could forgive him as he was a much-needed outlet; his pace, his runs behind, and more often than not his efficient finishing. However, with the improvement of Oxlade-Chamberlain and the arrivals of Alexis and Welbeck his pace is no longer unique and therefore other aspects of his game are called in to question. And in my mind there is no doubt that his technique, link up play, and work rate are all of a lower standard than his three rivals for a starting spot out wide. With his contract expiring this summer it will be interesting to see what the future holds for Theo.

What does the future hold for Theo Walcott

But one thing is for sure this weekend, which is that this match will be much like the Leicester game in terms of it being as much about the three points as it is the performance. Only six points separate Southampton in third with Liverpool in seventh, so it’s fair to say the race for the top four will be exceptionally tight. On the plus side, we’ve already played 12 of the top 14 teams away from home (with only United and Newcastle remaining) so I fully agree with Arsene’s assessment that where we finish will be down to our home form. Given we’re on a run of nine consecutive home wins (in all competitions) I remain hopeful that third place, and automatic Champions League qualification, is very much ours for the taking.

And talking of Champions League football, it resumes on Wednesday (Thursday morning for those of us down under) with the visit of Monaco. I don’t really follow French football (bar checking the results of Dad’s team St Etienne) but from what I’ve heard their form has improved since the time of the draw being made. That said, it’s still a favourable draw, especially compared to what could have laid in wait, so let’s make sure we put an end to our Round of 16 eliminations.

arsenal-cannon

Santi Slays City

An outstanding 2-0 victory was accomplished at the Etihad Stadium, home of reigning champions Manchester City, with a thoroughly impressive performance that demonstrated defensive shape and discipline, work rate and tenacity, combined with intelligent and clinical finishing. Everything was of the highest quality.

Man of the Match Santi Cazorla is mobbed by his team mates

Wait, wait, wait… come back! Why are you leaving? No, there hasn’t been a mistake. This really is an Arsenal blog and that opening paragraph really is the start of an Arsenal match review. And no, a pig has not just flown past your window!

Yes, that’s right Gooners; The Arsenal thoroughly outplayed, out-thought, and out-fought Manchester City on Sunday afternoon, securing a fully deserved 2-0 victory. And it was impressive on so many levels.

Tactics

Our approach was perfect. Defensive shape and discipline, proving that it’s not just about the back four, but how we defend as a team, how we move in unity to protect our goal. Possession, whilst a much lower percentage than usual, was used wisely; quick, crisp passing to navigate away from City’s pressing and intelligent, well-timed counter attacks.

Victoria Concordia Crescit

Game Management

I’ve been very critical of our in-game management this season, none more so than after the defeat at Swansea. But on this occasion it was exemplary. From Koscielny having to play 88 minutes (plus injury time) on a yellow card to adapting to City’s change of formation at half-time we responded perfectly. In addition, I thought Arsene’s substitutions were spot on. It’s an area for which he is often criticised, so credit where it’s due.

A disciplined Laurent Koscielny

Collective Performance

Every single player was outstanding and performed to the highest level. Everyone had a job to do and everyone stuck to it. There was clear fight and desire; nobody wanted to let their teammates down, they were going to fight for each other from first whistle to last.

Individual Performances

After the game I said on Twitter that it would be churlish to name individuals after such an incredible team performance, however there are a few who deserve a mention. In defence we’ve come to expect Mertesacker and Koscielny to perform well as a pair (yes it’s been lacking this season, but we know it’s there). However for Monreal and, to a lesser extent Bellerin, there have been serious question marks, but both were exceptional. Monreal has improved immensely this season and Bellerin took his game to a whole new level and, as I said in my match preview, I feel more comfortable with him at right back (compared to Chambers) due to his recovery pace.

Bellerin keeps Milner at bay

In front of the back four Coquelin was superb. I, like many others, acknowledged his recent good performances, whilst accepting they were not against the most challenging of opposition. Sunday was always going to be a true test of his capabilities and he passed it with flying colours. He’s a lovely balance between Arteta and Flamini; he can distribute the ball well, building from the back, whilst also snapping into tackles and barking orders. And at the age of 24 he has considerably more pace and energy, seemingly covering the ground with much more ease. For me Arteta very much has a role still to play at Arsenal Football Club (off the pitch as much as on), however with the recent performances of Coquelin and the imminent signing of Bielik you do have to wonder what next for Flamini.

In midfield Ramsey’s energy was unbelievable, given he’s only just returned from a long injury lay-off. Chamberlain’s powerful bursts penetrated City’s defensive lines, pushing them back towards their own goal. Alexis was a constant threat. And Rosicky, when introduced, was his usual industrious self and at one point made a delightful scooped pass with the outside of his right foot, in a way only he can. But it’s fair to say things never fully clicked (from an attacking perspective) for all of these players; the final touch, pass, or finish was just slightly off at the crucial moment. Things always felt so close, but yet so far.

Man of the Match Santi Cazorla gives Arsenal the lead

However, there was one man in midfield for whom everything did click. Santi Cazorla was breathtaking. Both with and without the ball he was world-class. His quick feet are sublime, as demonstrated when he wiggled his way the length of the field. His work rate and tackling were fantastic, as demonstrated by his ‘Pires on Vieira’ style hook tackle in the second half. And of course he scored our first from the penalty spot and got the assist for our second. I’m reliably informed that City fans chanted “you’re just a shit David Silva” to Santi at the start of the game. The volume of egg on their faces come the final whistle must have been immeasurable.

And finally, the focal point of the team. Olivier Giroud was fantastic. Perhaps he was not as obvious or as noticeable as others, but his hold up play, link play, aerial dominance, and of course his crucial goal that gave us a two goal cushion, all demonstrated that he is, without doubt, a top class centre forward.

Olivier Giroud

Of course such a performance raises questions as well as answers, with the most fundamental being why do we see such a performance so infrequently? Arsene has proved he can have tactical and defensive discipline. In the 1998/99 season we conceded only 17 league goals. In the Double season of 2001/02 we were unbeaten away from home in the league. In 2004 we took it to another level, completing the entire league season unbeaten. And in 2006 we reached the Champions League final off the back of a record ten consecutive clean-sheets, many of which were achieved with a make-shift defence.

More recently, with this group of players at Arsene’s disposal, we went on a resolute run of results that started with an impressive 2-0 victory away to Bayern Munich, a result achieved in very similar circumstances to Sunday’s win at the Etihad. So again I ask why do we see such a performance so infrequently? Granted it’s not a style or approach that is needed for the majority of our opposition, especially domestically, but that we went 16 games without victory away to Chelsea, United, and City prior to this weekend is incomprehensible when you consider the achievements listed above.

However, that question (and any others this victory may have raised) can wait for another today. For today is about enjoyment. It’s about acknowledging a wonderful performance and result, under immense pressure. Not just the pressure or fear of failing away from home against a big side (again), but also the pressure of having watched all our rivals win on Saturday. And for that both Arsene and the team deserve great credit.

arsenal-cannon

Sensational Sanchez

It was a positive weekend for The Arsenal, with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over the Orcs of Morder and the returns of Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey, albeit with a substitute appearance for the former and remaining a spectator on the bench for the latter.

Koscielny opens the scoring against Stoke

We started very brightly, with Alexis and Rosicky both bringing good saves out of Begovic. But the Bosnian keeper was soon beaten when Koscielny headed home from a perfectly timed and weighted cross from Alexis. The lead was doubled before half-time when Alexis pounced on a loose ball, played a quick one-two with Rosicky, and twisted and turned the Stoke defence inside out before firing in at the near post. It was a fantastic finish from the Chilean; low, powerful and deceptive in direction with many (myself included) expecting a curler to the far post.

The game was wrapped up early in the second half when Alexis bagged his brace with a free-kick from the edge of the area. A strike made all the sweeter by the fact the Stoke wall refused to retreat ten yards, the referee failed to force them, and that the Stoke wall then walked in front of the foam line.

It means Alexis has now been involved in 19 goals (12 goals, 7 assists) in just 20 Premier League appearances, which is quite phenomenal. Plus of course he has another 6 goals to his name in all other competitions (4 Europe, 1 FA Cup and 1 League Cup). Not bad statistics for his debut season.

Alexis celebrates his first of two goals against Stoke

And it’s not just his statistics in the goals and assists columns that provide the wow factor. His finishing, vision, technique, speed, movement, work rate, and tenacity are all of the highest quality. He’s a born winner. Even on a bad day you notice him; he doesn’t hide away or shirk his responsibilities. He’s an absolute gem, and to have finished the game with him playing number 9 and Mesut Özil behind him in the number 10 role was a bloody marvellous sight.

Whilst Alexis has been the stand out player of the season he is, of course, also part of a team. And credit must be given to those around him, who in recent weeks have really started to raise their game. I thought Chamberlain, Rosicky, and Cazorla were outstanding on Saturday and Koscielny once again proved how vital he is to our back line. Even Monreal, belittled often and by many, continued his fine form this season with another solid display.

The disappointment of the weekend was the injury to Debuchy, which has resulted in surgery and a three-month recovery period, his second of the season. I really feel for him and I find it astounding that the FA have refused to take further action, and that the media (or Arsene for that matter!) have not created more of a storm. It was a clear shove in the back by Artamovic that caused the injury; a sly and needless challenge that has caused serious consequences. Once more an opposition culprit walks away while we’re left to pick up the injury pieces.

Debuchy is needlessly fouled resulting in a dislocated shoulder

The club confirmed that Mikel Arteta has also undergone surgery, on his problematic ankle, and he too will be out for three months. If a central defender and holding midfielder weren’t already on the shopping list then I’d imagine they are now…in underline and bold. And if they’re not then they bloody well should be. Arsene said in his press conference he was hoping to make “one or two signings” this January, so fingers crossed we’re all on the same page!

For now though everyone’s transfer cravings will have to feast on 17 year-old, Krystian Bielik. The Polish defensive midfielder, and his current club Legia Warsaw, have both confirmed he’ll undergo a medical at London Colney this Friday. As Arseblog has rightly pointed out, the signing of promising young talent and much-needed senior reinforcements don’t have to be mutually exclusive; we’re allowed to do both. It may be a little frustrating, the thought that time spent on Bielik could have been spent elsewhere, but deals have to be done as and when they’re ready. If his was ready before the defender or more senior defensive midfielder we need then c’est la vie.

Returning to matters on the pitch, and this weekend we have the rather daunting task of a trip to the Etihad Stadium to take on champions Manchester City. Although, I say daunting, in reality it’s probably the most optimistic I feel going into one of the big away games. Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge seem to deliver déjà vu performances and results, whilst Anfield always seems like a tough one to call. But, despite their recent wealth, we don’t have that bad a record against City (home or away) and even in the games we have lost (including last season’s 6-3 defeat) you often sense we were at least in the game, or had half a chance.

Arsenal will be looking for another positive result against Man City

That said, it will still be a very tough game and a very big ask to get the three points, even with Yaya Toure and new signing Wilfred Bony away on African Cup of Nations duty. From our perspective I’d like to see Bellerin continue at right back. I’m not yet sold on Chambers as a right back, and whilst Bellerin may also be prone to youthful errors I at least have the comfort factor that he has the pace to get him out of trouble.

The rest of the defence picks itself (depending on the fitness of Gibbs), whilst you’d imagine Ospina will continue in-goal. In midfield I’m expecting to see the return of Ramsey alongside Coquelin (despite the recent fine form of Rosicky), with Chamberlain, Cazorla, and Alexis providing the attacking support for Giroud. But regardless of who Arsene decides to go with, everyone needs to be on their game. Anything less and it will be another fruitless visit to one of our top four rivals.

arsenal-cannon

Festive Fixtures Round Up

The fast and furious festive period is now behind us, and it’s been navigated in a mostly positive manner with three wins and a draw from our five games since I was last able to put pen (fingers) to paper (keyboard).

As is often the way the disappointment of a late equaliser at Anfield and the defeat at Southampton will take most of the attention and generate the most comments from online Gooners, but the victories over QPR, West Ham, and Hull City should not be overlooked.

Rosicky celebrates his winner against QPR

I don’t want to take too many backward steps, so just a brief word on the Liverpool game. Overall it was rather disappointing; with a poor performance against what is a poor Liverpool side. Yet despite our short comings we still found ourselves in a winning position with only injury time to play. So needless to say, conceding from a set piece was very frustrating and while many pointed the finger at the flinching BFG I myself would question why Chambers let his man go and why nobody was on the post. Unfortunately these things happen, with the timing on this occasion making their equaliser feel more like a winner.

It made the Christmas fixtures all the more important and victory over QPR was crucial. In true Arsenal style we went from coasting along nicely to making life very difficult for ourselves, in no small part thanks to Olivier Giroud’s stupidity. One of these day’s he’ll realise that all his finger wagging and head-to-head reactions is exactly what the opposition want and that the more he does it the more they will target him. He’d be well advised to just ignore the sly pushes and niggly challenges, demonstrate that it doesn’t bother him, and focus on scoring. The minute you react they win and all you need is a pathetic reaction from Onouha and you’re taking an early bath.

Arsenal v Queens Park Rangers - Premier League

It’s a red card that not only made hard work of the final 40 minutes against QPR, but also cost us an extra forward option in two tough away games against West Ham and Southampton. We got away with it at the Boleyn Ground, with an impressive 2-1 victory that could and should have been more but for some poor finishing. However, it cost us dearly at St. Mary’s, with limited front line options and two crazy moments from Szczesny seeing us fall to a 2-0 defeat.

Due to the lack of forward options it was imperative we keep a clean-sheet, to help secure a 0-0 draw at the very least which, given we had our first choice back five for the first time this season felt plausible. However, the fact it was their first game together was telling, with rusty moments from Koscielny, Mertesacker, Debuchy, and of course Szczesny resulting in their two goals. With another two attempts hitting the woodwork and one-off the line for the Saints it could easily have been worse. As Arsene has rightly pointed out, none of the teams who had two away games on the 28th and 1st (which included ourselves, Chelsea, and United) came away with all six points, so perhaps expecting to do so was asking a little much. However, much like the draw at Anfield it’s the nature of defeat at Southampton that hurts most, as opposed to the result itself.

Thankfully you don’t have to wait too long to respond at this time of year, and we had the opportunity to do so in my favourite fixture of the holiday period, the FA Cup Third Round. While the opposition conjured up memories of our cup final victory in May the performance and result were thankfully a little smoother sailing, with a comfortable 2-0 victory. The goals came courtesy of a Mertesacker header (from a corner no less!) and a lovely finish from who else but Alexis Sanchez (the man is a goals, assists, and running machine!). Into the Fourth Round we go, where we face a potentially tricky tie away to Brighton & Hove Albion.

Alexis Sanchez secures our spot in the FA Cup Fourth Round

For some the FA Cup has lost its prestige, which the FA’s ridiculous fixture scheduling of ties across five days and at stupid kick-off times does little to help. However, for me it will always be a wonderful competition and a major trophy. So many precious memories; Andy Linighan’s last gasp header in 93, Overmars in 98, it’s only Ray Parlour in 2002, super Robert Pires in 03, Vieira’s last ever kick in an Arsenal shirt in 05, and last season’s dramatic comeback when “two nil down, three two up, Aaron Ramsey won the cup”. How can you not love the FA Cup? And that’s without mentioning our many other classic cup victories for those of an older generation…I’m looking at you Goonerholic!

Finally for today, a word on the atrocious level of officiating we’ve seen so far this season. During the festive fixtures alone we saw the ridiculous penalty awarded against Debuchy versus QPR, the lack of red card when Alexis was clean through against Southampton, Burnley’s offside goal against City, Cahill not seeing red for violent conduct against Sp*rs, Hull being awarded a free kick for a foul clearly inside the area, Rob Green not being sent off for clearly handling outside the area, and Liverpool’s two ridiculous penalties against Leicester. And these are just the incidents that spring to mind.

Arsenal v Queens Park Rangers - Premier League

In many instances technology would have quickly and efficiently helped, and the sooner the governing bodies realise that the better. However, a large percentage were also a result of highly incompetent and arrogant officials, with Anthony Taylor the worst of the bunch; he is an absolute disgrace. And what do you expect when the head of officiating is Mike Riley, the useless and spineless fool who failed to show three obvious red cards against United and then awarded them a penalty for a blatant dive to end our famous 49 game unbeaten run.

Too many poor decisions are costing teams results and ultimately it costs them the title, a top four finish, or sees them relegated, all of which have significant financial impacts in today’s game. I guess all we can do is pray for a better day and hope we eventually get some competent officials who have the aid of technology for key situations. Alternatively pigs might fly.

I guess that’s more than enough for one day. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and I wish you all a very happy, healthy, and prosperous new year. And of course, up The Arsenal!

arsenal-cannon

Thank You, Thierry

It’s been an extremely good week for The Arsenal, with two 4-1 victories and a favourable Champions League draw providing exactly the kind of boost to morale required as we head into the busy festive period, which kicks off with a visit to Anfield this Sunday.

Ramsey lets fly against Galatasaray

The first of our 4-1 victories came in Istanbul, with a comprehensive win over Galatasaray. Both Podolski and Ramsey bagged a brace, with the German’s first (a thunderbolt strike from an acute angle at the near post) and the Welshman’s second (an outrageously sweet volley from 30 yards) staking their claim for goal of the season. The comfortable nature of proceedings also allowed Arsene to make some youthful changes, with the introductions of Zelalem, Maitland-Niles, and O’Connor which was also great to see.

So a positive end to the group stage, albeit not enough to secure top spot. However, top spot has proven to be irrelevant on this occasion as a favourable draw (for once) has seen us handed a tie against AS Monaco. Of course the French side must be respected, not taken for granted, etc. But when you consider the level of opposition we could have been drawn against (Madrid, Barcelona, and Bayern) and when you consider that group winners Chelsea and Dortmund have drawn PSG and Juventus respectively, then you have to be pretty pleased.

Arsenal vs. AS Monaco

People say to be the best you have to beat the best, but why do you have to beat them now? At this stage of the competition I’d much rather be facing Monaco; the big guns can wait a little longer. And who knows, what if we beat Monaco and then draw and beat the winner of the Basel vs. Porto tie? All of a sudden you’re in a Champions League semi-final, without having met any of the true European giants, dreaming of what might be. I know that scenario involves a lot of ifs, buts, and maybes, and I’m in no way saying “oh my God, we’ve drawn Monaco so we’re going to win the Champions League!”. But after years of difficult draws and early exits it’s nice to being feeling positive and optimistic about the knock-out stages of the Champions League.

Our second 4-1 of the week came at home to Newcastle, with another set of braces – this time bagged by Giroud and Cazorla. I didn’t get to see the game in its entirety as I was away for the weekend, but from what I saw it looked an impressive performance and it was important to get back to winning ways in the league after our disappointment at Stoke.

I particularly liked the look of the front three of Giroud, Alexis, and Welbeck. Giroud is a key component of our attack, holding the ball up and linking so effectively with others. Any issues with Giroud last season seemed to be related to fatigue (due to overuse) and lack of runners (following the injuries to Theo and Ramsey). But having spent most of this season injured and with Alexis and Welbeck now flanking him, neither fatigue nor isolation appears to be an issue. It’s still early days, but the signs are encouraging.

Giroud scores his second against Newcastle with a delightful near post flick

Other positives include the return of Debuchy this week, the performances of Oxlade-Chamberlain (especially in a central role), and Bellerin starting to find his feet. While on the flip side, the news of Ramsey’s injury, just as he appeared back to his best, and the ongoing concerns with Koscielny’s Achilles are a blow. From a Koscielny perspective, let’s just hope we can muddle our way through to January when reinforcements must be made!

Finally for today, a few words for the legend that is Thierry Henry. Yesterday he announced his retirement from playing football and confirmed he will be returning to London to take up a role in the Sky Sports studio. I feel truly blessed and honoured to have watched every one of Thierry’s home games in an Arsenal shirt, plus so many on the road too.

He is not only an Arsenal great but a football great. His two league titles and three FA Cup winner’s medals with The Arsenal sit alongside league and cup medals from France (with Monaco), league and Champions League medals from Spain (with Barcelona), not to mention the small matters of the World Cup, the European Championships, and the Confederations Cup at international level with France. And all this whilst scoring phenomenal goals, at a rate of one every other game, plus a lifetime worth of assists.

But for us, and for Thierry, he will always be Arsenal. Favourite goals that spring to mind include the volley over Barthez against United, his solo efforts against Sp*rs and Real Madrid, and the back-heel against Charlton to name but a few. But his hat-trick against Liverpool and his four against Leeds (both at Highbury) during the unbeaten season are without doubt his stand-out performances in an Arsenal shirt for me. For his fourth against Leeds I love how Gary Kelly tried to foul him, but how Thierry (despite falling to the turf) still managed to stretch out a leg and guide the ball into the net. He was, quite simply, unstoppable.

Henry's Greatest Games

His stand out season will always be 2003/04, the year of The Invincibles. That season Zidane was voted World Player of the Year and Nedved European Player of Year. As extraordinarily talented as those two players were, especially Zidane, neither was a patch on Thierry at that time and to this day I still can’t believe he didn’t receive the world recognition his talents deserved. But we knew we had a very special player in our ranks and Highbury was often treated to a chorus of “We’ve got the best player in the world” and “Thierry Henry, Thierry Henry…”.

One of the greatest players in our club’s rich history – our record goal scorer. So many fantastic memories. And a statue of bronze outside The New Home of Football in his honour. Thank you, Thierry.

IMG_2302

Cannons Must Face Outwards

It’s a good job I shave my hair so short because if it was any longer I’d be tearing it out on a far too frequent basis. Everything about Arsenal right now is painstakingly difficult; it’s a sad state of affairs. For every step forward there is another disaster lurking around the corner to bring us back down to earth with a bang.

On Wednesday night we made it three wins and three clean-sheets on the spin with victory over Southampton. From very early on it appeared a single goal would prove decisive, so it was great to see a measured and assured performance to ensure we’d be the beneficiaries. We controlled the game throughout, restricted the Saints to only one real effort on goal, while working Fraser Forster into a man of the match performance.

Unfortunately for him, but thankfully for us, a goal finally arrived. It was far from Alexis Sanchez’s best performance in an Arsenal shirt, but once again he was tireless and popped up in the right place at the right time to steer home Aaron Ramsey’s cut back for the 1-0 win.

Arsenal v Southampton - Premier League

Fast forward to Saturday and all the good work and promise from those three victories and three clean-sheets was wiped away with a diabolical display at the Britannia Stadium. 1-0 down after 19 seconds. 3-0 down by half-time. And what made it all the more depressing is that at no time did I think Stoke were particularly good or for that matter out-playing us.

Some will say that’s the view through my rose-tinted glasses, combined with my strong hatred for the Potters and their despicable manager. But I honestly feel we gifted them that victory, as opposed to them winning it. I’m certainly no fan of Stoke’s style, but I’ll hold my hands up and admit it’s been effective against us; there’s a reason we only have 1 win in 9 visits since their return to the top flight. But under Hughes their stereotype style has been replaced by an attempt to actually play football, as illustrated by the excellent Bojan.

It made for a more open game, for greater opportunities, for less set pieces being flung into the area. Yet three of the crosses that did make their way into our area led to goals. For the first Chambers should have headed clear, but missed the ball completely. For the second, Ramsey and Flamini inexplicably fail to track the run of Bojan. And the third, from a corner, saw five players challenge for the same header, leaving Walters unmarked at the back post. What was surprising was to hear that it’s Stoke’s first set-piece goal of the season. Not so surprising is that we’re the team who conceded it.

It was another bad day at the Britannia Stadium

The lack of accountability is appalling. Arsene must take responsibility for leaving us ridiculously short of numbers in defence, for having such heavy reliance on Koscielny when he knew he wasn’t fit, and for the lack of midfield muscle. In turn, the players must take responsibility for their performances, the lack of consistency, and for both individual and collective mistakes.

There are far too many defensive errors, which are then compounded by missed opportunities. How did Wilshere fail to score against United? How did Giroud not make it 1-1 on Saturday? Why has it required a penalty for Cazorla to score a goal? This weekend even saw Alexis draw a blank; it’s cruel of me to comment, given how magical our Chilean marksman has been, but I’m still baffled as to how he hit the post after rounding Begovic.

Stoke Brutality

Anthony Taylor gave the most incompetent refereeing performance I’ve seen in a long time. Chambers received two yellows for only two fouls, yet Crouch remained on the pitch despite two forearm smashes and numerous other offences, while Charlie Adam remained on the pitch despite trying to strangle Alexis. Normally such a refereeing performance would be the source of my frustration and blame, but this time we were so woeful ourselves we could have had the world’s greatest referee and would probably have still lost.

I’m usually glass half full. Through all our battles for fourth I’ve been able to see a silver lining or would look to identify why things would be ok. But with every passing game I’m left with more questions and concerns than answers:

Goalkeepers: Szczesny has been questionable on occasion compared to last season’s high standard. Ospina has barely been fit. Martinez is still a rookie.

Defenders: why do we have so few? Why is Mertesacker so poor without Koscielny? Gibbs and Monreal pick up injuries too often. Chambers is promising, but will continue to make mistakes. What level will Debuchy be after a significant injury?

Midfielders: where’s our Vieira, our Petit, our Gilberto? Arteta, Wilshere, and Diaby suffer too many injuries. Will Ramsey rekindle last season’s form? Can Özil have more of an impact on his return? Can Cazorla and Chamberlain provide greater consistency and end product?

Forwards: how much longer can Alexis be expected to carry this team? Will Giroud and Welbeck ever be prolific enough? Why are Podolski and Campbell taking up squad spaces and wages if Wenger doesn’t want to use them? When will Walcott return and can he stay fit?

Manager: why does he leave so many holes in an already thin squad? Why does he seem so content with déjà vu?

????????????

And these are just some of the questions regarding the players and the manager, there are many more. You then have questions about the back room staff, the board, club ownership, off field issues such as ticket pricing, and so on. The list of questions and number of doubts seem endless. I’m struggling to find the answers and the light at the end of my tunnel is fading, BUT…

The Arsenal is my club and Arsene is my manager, the greatest in our club’s proud history. So to challenge and question is one thing, but to fight and show disrespect is another. Whether its fans physically fighting amongst themselves or whether it be abuse towards Wenger, neither is acceptable. Call me cliché if you wish, but I believe in Victoria Concordia Crescit. I always have, I always will. The only way we’ll find the answers we’re all looking for is to stand together with our cannon facing out.

arsenal-cannon