It’s Happened Again

*Blows away the cobwebs*

Ten games, two months, twenty-one days, and however many hours and minutes since I last put my lazy pen to paper. I’m sure you’ve missed me like a hole in the head.

All in all it’s been a positive absence. Five league victories, the highlight of which was the 4-1 thumping of a pathetic Liverpool side which I very much enjoyed watching in the company of my Liverpool supporting in-laws, culminating in us celebrating St.Totteringham’s Day for the twentieth, yes TWENTIETH, season running.

St.Totteringham's Day

And of course there was the small matter of our record 19th FA Cup Final, emphatically won 4-0 against Aston Villa to secure a record 12th FA Cup triumph. Never have I witnessed such a one-sided, comfortable cup final victory. It was heaven.

The Arsenal - FA Cup Winners 2015

We’re now in the depths of summer (or winter for those of us down under), where, from a football perspective, you essentially have three options: reflect on the season that was, debate the summer business required to improve next season, or watch international football.

Looking at the first of those, reflecting on the season that was, and the debate of did we make progress? For me the answer is yes. We finished one place higher (avoiding a Champions League qualifier), retained the FA Cup with a display in the final of greater maturity and composure to that of last year, our end of season form was second to none, and for once our injury list went down in numbers instead of up.

Some have challenged these views, in particular raising the question of points vs. places. To those on the side of points, I’ll ask you this – which of the following league seasons was your favourite: 1997/98, 1998/99, 2002/03, 2004/05, 2007/08, 2013/14?

I’m guessing your answer was 1997/98 given we won the league title and in the other five seasons listed we did not. And yet, in those five other seasons we finished with the same number of points (78) or more than we did in 1997/98. If you still prefer points, that’s fine, but I’ll be sticking to places.

The Arsenal - League Champions 1997-98 - Places, Not Points

But for some mitigating circumstances, some of which were unavoidable and some of which were self-inflicted, I fully believe we’d have challenged for the title. The key is to learn the lessons of the self-inflicted issues and avoid them from happening again because the hope of last summer has been replaced by expectation this. Arsene’s record suggests we have stronger league campaigns in seasons following a vacant summer, so with no European Championship and no World Cup to disrupt our preparations next season feels like it could finally be our time again.

On that note I seem to have reached our second option for the summer, debating what’s required to improve next season. Whilst preferred transfer targets may differ there appears to be some consensus on the areas of the field that need addressing, with goalkeeper, defensive midfielder and strikers on most people’s lips.

Between the sticks I’m open to improvement. Since Seaman and more recently Lehmann we haven’t had a top quality keeper. But the struggle I have here is identifying a realistic target that is significantly better than Szczesny.

Who's Your No.1 - Szczesny or Ospina

Good goalkeepers are few and far between, so those of the highest calibre are already at top clubs. Petr Cech is the name generating the most noise right now, but I’m far from convinced he still has the quality displayed during his heyday. If he does, of if Arsene has an alternative option in mind then great, but if not I’d be quite comfortable sticking with Szczesny. My only concern there of course is whether Wojciech remains left out in the cold, but I’ll leave the Szczesny vs. Ospina conversation for another day!

With regards to defensive midfield Coquelin has been a revelation and, hopefully, has made Arsene realise just how pivotal his role is to the team. The defence need protection and our creative sparks need the freedom to play. But Coquelin is just one man. Injury or suspension is likely to occur at some stage, as is fatigue. Having a suitable back-up could prove fundamental to just how successful we are next season.

The third area of improvement, for many, is up front. Podolski, Sanogo, and Campbell will, most likely, be sold or loaned out again and rightly so on all three counts. What leaves us with Walcott, Welbeck, and Alexis as alternatives to Giroud, but all three have their limitations.

The Best of Both Worlds - Walcott and Giroud

Walcott has frightening pace and movement, but doesn’t offer the physicality, hold-up play, or aerial ability of Giroud. Welbeck can offer some of those components, plus Walcott’s pace, but never quite to the clinical level required. And Alexis is an absolute gem who is devastating from the wide position, so why play him through the middle where he’s outnumbered and lost in a sea of bodies?

What would therefore be great is to have another option that provides the combined physicality, touch, electric pace, and finishing of both Giroud and Walcott, but with greater consistency than Welbeck. Does such a player exist? If so are they a realistic target? Hopefully Arsene knows the answer.

And finally that brings us to summer option number three: watch international football. There are friendlies, European qualifiers, the Copa America, and the Women’s World Cup. Personally international football really isn’t for me. If it’s the quarter finals onwards of the Euros or World Cup then maybe, otherwise I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. That England has lost only 1 of their last 33 qualifiers yet can’t even come close to making their first semi-final since 1996 tells you all you need to know. So as I say, unless it’s the latter stages of a major tournament I’m happy to give it a miss, but fair play to those who can find enjoyment from it.

So there you have it, options 1, 2 and 3 for the summer with my view on each. The countdown for the new season has well and truly begun, with Arsenal unveiling our new home kit. And for me personally the countdown has even more significance than usual this year because for me, in 46 days’ time, on the Community Shield weekend, I’ll be marrying the girl of my dreams. I can’t wait.

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Awesome Olivier

NEWCASTLE UNITED 1 ARSENAL 2 (Giroud x2)

The Arsenal continued their fine run of form with a hard-fought 2-1 victory at St James’ Park against Newcastle United in what was a text-book example of a game of two halves.

The first half saw a dominant display with two fine finishes from Olivier Giroud. The first an instinctive prod with his knee to divert Welbeck’s flick on into the bottom corner and the second a fine header from a Cazorla corner having held off Williamson exceptionally well.

Olivier Giroud scores Arsenal's second goal against Newcastle in the Premier League matchpton

Newcastle were well and truly on the ropes and but for some poor finishing from Olivier’s front line counterparts we could have been three or four goals to the good at the half way mark. Whether it was John Carver’s rousing half time team talk, us taking our foot off the pedal, or heavy legs from our midweek exploits in Monaco is anyone’s guess (note: I suspect it was a bit of all three), but regardless of the cause Newcastle came out all guns firing in the second half, pressing high and snapping into tackles.

Just minutes into the second half it was 2-1, with Sissoko pulling one back for the home side after we switched off down our left hand side, and after that we really struggled to get our passing game going again. In the end though a combination of tame finishing, excellent defending (Gabriel and Koscielny were impressive) and some good saves from Ospina (in particular one with his feet following a double deflection) saw us over the finish line, with another vital three points secured in the race for the top four.

Giroud celebrates his opener with his team mates

In his post-match interview Arsene was understandably happy with another away win:

We have played four games in two weeks and three away games at Manchester, in Monaco and here today, and we’ve won all three. The last 40 minutes were difficult because our legs had gone a little bit and Newcastle played very well in the second half, but we had an outstanding first half going forward. We had a fluent game by creating chance after chance and in the second half we just had to show different qualities and hang on.

I’ve heard many being critical of the second half performance, but if you can’t acknowledge the exceptional efforts (both mentally and physically) of securing a victory from a third tough away game in quick succession then you’re going about this “football supporting” thing all wrong.

A word for Olivier Giroud too. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard people claim we’d win the title if we had a world-class striker and it leaves me wondering just what games they’re watching because clearly I’m watching different ones.

During his Arsenal career Giroud has made 124 appearances (98 starts and 26 as a substitute). Across these 124 appearances he has scored 56 goals. That’s roughly a goal every other game which, but my reckoning, is pretty good going. Especially when you consider how his goals to game ratio will have improved this season compared to his first, for example.

Olivier Giroud - Playing for the cannon on his chest

Olivier has continuously improved year on year and this season has a goal to game ratio (in the Premier League) which is better than anyone else. Better than Aguero. Better than Costa. Better than the inbred clown who plays for that lot up the road, who the English media can’t get enough of. “Is there any striker out there in better form?” they shriek whilst pitching their tents.

Well, yes… yes there is. And his name is Olivier Giroud. 9 goals in his last 9 games for a team that has won 21 of their last 26 matches in all competitions. And it’s not just the goals. There’s assists, hold up play, intricate link up play, a fantastic work rate, defensive headers from opposition corners, and much more. He’s an all-round striker who has risen to the challenge of the arrivals of Welbeck and Alexis and has, without doubt, cemented his place as Arsenal’s first choice striker.

It will be all quiet on the Arsenal front for a couple of weeks now thanks to an international break. When Premier League action resumes on Saturday 4th April we’ll be playing host to Liverpool who will be licking their wounds after defeat to United. As well as the usual motivating factors involved in this fixture there is also the knowledge that victory would create a 9 point cushion between ourselves and Liverpool, so there will be plenty to play for. But for now it’s boring internationals, during which I’ll be keeping all of my fingers and toes crossed that everyone returns fit, healthy, and ready to pick up where they left off.

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Glorious Glory, Glorious Failure

All in all it’s been a positive week for The Arsenal. Three games, three wins. Seven goals scored, only one conceded. Third in the league (only a point behind second) and through to the FA Cup semi-finals. Unfortunately, however, the third of our three victories wasn’t enough to progress in Europe, with the widely predicated “glorious failure” coming to fruition.

But with 20 wins from our last 25 games it’s hard not to be pleased (and excited) by the progress made in recent weeks and months, despite our European exit. Yes there are still a few creases that need to be ironed out, but this squad of players has me feeling very optimistic at just the right time of the season.

MANCHESTER UNITED 1 ARSENAL 2 (Monreal, Welbeck)

I said before the game I was quietly confident. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the exact reason why, but needless to say I was delighted to be proved right. We witnessed fantastic performances from one to eleven and kudos to Wenger as well; he’s often criticised for his tactics and substitutions, but on this occasion got both spot on.

The first goal was a wonderful move; from the quick interchanges on the left, to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s mazy run from the right, through to Monreal’s cool and composed finish. As for the second, another example of why Welbeck gets the nod ahead of Walcott, with anticipation and hard work allowing him to take advantage of a short Jones back-pass. He made the finish look easier than it was and it was great to see him celebrating with his team-mates too, rather than any of that respecting your former club bullshit.

Welbeck celebrates his winner at Old Trafford

And so the defence of our FA Cup continues, with Reading our semi-final opponents on Saturday 18th April. What did she wear? She wore, she wore, she wore a yellow ribbon…

ARSENAL 3 WEST HAM 0 (Giroud, Ramsey, Flamini)

There was only one challenging thing about this game – picking your favourite goal; all three were things of beauty! For the first, delicious one touch football rounded off a Giroud thunderbolt in off the far post. For the second, some quick thinking and clever movement from Giroud and Ramsey as they one-two’ed their way to a fine finish for the Welshman. And the third, substitute Flamini scoring with his first touch after an incisive move carved the Hammers open.

Giroud smashes in our opener off the far post

Allardyce likes to blow his own trumpet, including many rants about how he knows the secret to beating Arsene. But that’s 13 games for Fat Sam as an opposition manager at Highbury and The Emirates and he has now amassed a grand total of zero wins. Your Bolton thugs may have got the better of us for a few years running at the Reebok, Sam, but on our turf you’re very much Arsene’s bitch.

So, three lovely goals and three lovely points which, coupled with Man City’s defeat at Burnley, saw us retain third spot and close the gap on City to just one point. If the league had started on October 25th we’d be top of the league by three points. It’s such a shame that 7 draws and 1 defeat in our opening 10 games, which resulted in 17 dropped points, has cost us so dearly. Never say never, but I think it’s fair to say we’re running out of games to catch Chelsea.

MONACO 0 ARSENAL 2 (Giroud, Ramsey)

Everyone hoped for a #MiracleInMonaco but in the end we got what many of us anticipated; “glorious failure”. To qualify for the quarter finals of the Champions League would have been amazing, especially given the circumstances, but deep down we all knew the most realistic outcome was to simply continue our fine run of form with another strong performance. And that’s exactly what we did.

Ramsey made it 2-0 on the night to give us a glimmer of hope

Defensively we were solid, with Monaco failing to register a shot on target. Going forward we looked very lively, with two goals, various other chances for a third, and key players producing impressive performances; Mesut Özil in particular was outstanding.

But the damage had already been done in the first leg. Not for the first time in recent seasons Arsenal have paid the price for thinking a two legged tie has to be won inside the first ninety minutes. Hopefully lessons will have been learned this time because once again we’ve proved capable of getting a result on the road, so why do we always attempt to kill the tie at home? Granted it’s a mission we achieve, it’s just that we kill the tie for ourselves rather than the opponents!

It’s another exit on the away goals rule and everyone will therefore point to, and remember, the third Monaco goal. And I can totally understand that; it was utter stupid and unforgivable for players at this level. But equally this tie was lost in the final third. 33 attempts at goal across the tie, with only a third of them on target. At home Giroud could have had a hat-trick and Welbeck should have scored when he blasted over via Walcott’s arse. In the away leg Giroud had a header go narrowly wide, Koscielny hit the crossbar, Welbeck had a great chance blocked, and Alexis may have scored the third but for Giroud almost taking his head off.

Another glorious European failure for The Arsenal

Don’t get me wrong, the three goals we did score should have been enough to progress; Monaco should never have been allowed to score three goals, let alone three away goals. But even with our atrocious first leg performance and amateur defending we still could (and should) have scored 8 or 9 goals in order to progress.

But these things happen unfortunately. As I mentioned in opening, 20 wins out of our last 25 games is an impressive run of form. It’s just a shame we picked the North London derby and the first leg against Monaco to have our momentary blips!

Next up on Saturday is Newcastle United at St James’ Park. Here’s hoping we make it 21 wins from 26. Up The Arsenal.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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