Arsenal 2-2 Hull City: Fragile Arsenal Falter Again

welbeckhull

This was one of those draws that seemed like a defeat…
There were only a few minutes between Arsenal’s equaliser and the final whistle, but it was enough time for the air of relief to sublimate in to regret. This match fell somewhere between a ‘should-win’ and a ‘must-win’. By the time the fans trudged out of the Emirates Stadium, Danny Welbeck’s goal felt like a mere consolation.

We lacked a little bit mental strength…
In fact, we lacked a lot mental strength. Arsenal started the match well, but seemed completely thrown by Hull’s controversial equaliser. The referee should have blown, but that doesn’t excuse the way in which we allowed it to affect us. That kind of adversity used to galvanise Wenger’s teams. Against Hull, it saw the handbrake yanked and the performance ground to a horrible halt.

After the game, Arsene Wenger was fulsome in his praise of his players’ effort. However, in the same breath he admitted that Hull’s second goal was down to a lack of focus. If they can’t concentrate, praising their commitment seems perverse. I’m loathe to celebrate a fight-back necessitated by sloppiness.

Being a superhero is hard…
The comic books and films tell us as much. Spiderman is always stressing, Batman is invariably grumpy — the less said about the Hulk the better. With all that power comes a good deal of responsibility. It’s surely not long before Arsenal’s own superhero, Alexis Sanchez, starts feeling the strain.

Without Alexis, Arsenal probably don’t get anything out of this game. He created both goals out of nothing, and his effort levels were nothing short of supernatural. At times, he seems confused that his team-mates can’t match his relentless running. He’s like a young Superman on school sports day, wondering why everyone else is so far behind in the sack race.

Things could get nasty…
Remember winning the FA Cup? Gauging the atmosphere out there in the wild web, it seems that not many do. It’s amazing how quickly that fuzzy, fluffy feeling comfort of a trophy win can evaporate.

I understand the frustration. We’re visibly regressing at a time when we should be kicking on. For the manager, excuses are running thin. We’re spending big money again. Expectation is higher than ever. Last season has not sated the fans’ appetite for success.

Rather than buying Arsene time, winning a trophy has simply removed another potential defence: the hurdle should be cleared, the dam should be bursting. Instead, we’re backsliding. The same old barriers and blocks appear to be in place.

The next few weeks are vital. Arsenal need to pick up points to stop this season’s uphill struggle from becoming too steep.

Some thoughts on Chelsea and Mesut Ozil

Shad Forscythe

Another match away to a top team, another defeat. A few days have passed since events at Stamford Bridge but it doesn’t feel any better. I’m not exactly OptaJames, but I believe I’m right in saying we haven’t beaten a good team for more than a million years.

I’m not inclined to dwell on refereeing decisions. It seemed to me that the incompetence of this particular official extended to both teams. Gary Cahill should undoubtedly have been sent off, but so too should Danny Welbeck. Arsenal might well have had a penalty, but arguably Laurent Koscielny should have been dismissed for conceding the spot-kick that was given.

I’ll run through some thoughts now. To avoid repeating myself, I’ll link to a couple of a pieces I’ve published elsewhere too.

The primary difference was that their stars delivered…

Although we didn’t get any points, we did see some progress. Arsenal were more compact, more combative, and stayed in the game for much longer than last season. Admittedly, that’s not difficult. I don’t know about you, but I was watching the game in 5 minute increments, delighted as each segment passed without the concession of a goal. Mathieu Flamini was particularly good, hurling himself in to tackles and generally making a nuisance of himself.

Ultimately though, the game was decided by two moments of attacking brilliance. The first was that superb slalom from Eden Hazard. The second comprised of two pieces of play of outstanding quality: a lofted pass from Cesc Fabregas, and an emphatically efficient demonstration of control and finishing from Diego Costa.

Mesut Ozil, on the other hand…

…was desperately disappointing against Chelsea. As ever, many leapt to his defence, but I thought he was undeniably poor. During the latest episode of the Arsecast Extra, I described him as being a bit like modern art: people keep telling me I should see things there that I can’t quite make out.

Arsenal Player Ratings vs. Chelsea | ESPN

Mesut Ozil, 4 – It’s difficult to understand just how Ozil managed to avoid being substituted against Chelsea. Deployed on the right flank, he was woeful. Not only was his passing shockingly erratic, but he seemed to shrink in the face of Chelsea’s physical approach. He must toughen up if he is to influence these big games.

Anyhow, it seems his form is no longer of any great concern. As I sat down to finish off this piece, the news broke that Ozil could miss as many as three months with a ligament problem.

Many will tell you it’s a blessing in disguise. I think that’s a bit strong – you never want to lose your most talented players for a prolonged period. However, Arsene has struggled to find a way to fit Ozil, Wilshere, Cazorla and Alexis in to the same XI. Perhaps the German’s absence will simplify the task of arranging his midfield, at least until January.

In these big games, the first goal is so crucial…

Arsenal somehow need to find a way to get the first goal in big games on a more regular basis. Having taken the lead, Chelsea were able to execute their preferred game-plan to perfection, sitting deep before picking up on the break.

In Alexis and Welbeck, we have players who offer a real threat on the counter. Had Chelsea been forced to come out in search of a goal, we might have been able to exploit the space in behind. As it was, we found ourselves banging against a blue wall.

According to Orbinho, The last time Arsenal came from behind to beat a top four team was against Liverpool in March 2012. Since then, there have been 20 such fixtures played. In each of Arsenal’s three wins, the Gunners got the first goal. The big teams simply don’t let leads slip. You can’t afford to give them a headstart.

On Wenger vs. Mourinho | The Mirror

Time after time, Mourinho’s pragmatism has overcome Wenger’s purism. The Frenchman is gripped by footballing ideals that define his tactical philosophy. Mourinho does not seem burdened by the same romanticism.

Wenger is known as “The Professor”, but can’t shake his artistic tendencies. In reality, it is Mourinho who is the clinical scientist.

Fore an audio dissection of the match and Arsenal’s start to the season, check out the live edition of the Arsecast Extra.

Arsenal 4-1 Galatasaray: Danny Welbeck’s pace and potential light up the Emirates

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Well, that was very enjoyable indeed. I’m on holiday at the moment, so forgive me if this entry is a little shorter than usual.

Thank God we got Danny Welbeck…

It hasn’t been the subject of much discussion, but Yaya Sanogo has missed every Arsenal match since transfer deadline day with injury. Had Welbeck not been secured at the 11th hour, Arsenal would have been strikerless for the entire month of September.

I felt Welbeck had enjoyed a solid enough start to his time with us. Last night, however, his Arsenal career exploded in to life. The England international notched the first hat-trick of his career to dispatch Galatasaray and earn us our first three points of the Champions League campaign.

After the Tottenham match, Wenger insisted that if our collective game was good then Welbeck would score. That hypothesis was validated last night, with Welbeck flourishing at the point of a slick Arsenal attack.

Welbeck is fast. Faster, it transpires, than any of us – including Arsene Wenger – initially thought. Ever since Welbeck signed, we’ve wondered how we might terrify defenders by partnering him with the equally quick Alexis and Walcott. Last night, we got an idea, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain performing admirably as Theo’s understudy.

Welbeck’s second goal was the one that sticks in the mind. Latching on to a loose defensive header, he raced away from his marker, showcasing speed and muscularity, before opening up his body to sidefoot in to the far corner. There was an audible gasp from the Emirates Crowd. For a split-second, the Arsenal fans thought they had seen a ghost.

He’s not yet at a level where he can produce this kind of performance every week. However, it’s a glimpse of what he can produce. It’s not what he is, but it’s what he might be. It’s very exciting.

In the week Olivier Giroud agreed a deserved new deal, Welbeck delivered a devastating demonstration of why I believe he could be a superior option as our centre-forward.

I’m not going to join the naysayers…

…who’d have you believe that our victory was down purely to Galatasaray’s incompetent. I’ve seen us fail to beat plenty of incompetent sides in the past – last weekend, for example. This win is significant because it was one of the few times this season that Arsene got our attacking alchemy right. The combination of pace up top and Ozil central is something we need to stick with.

There was one down-side…

Wojciech Szczesny’s sending off was silly. He didn’t need to go charging out at the feet of the attacker in such reckless fashion.

Tempting as it is to come down hard on Szczesny’s impetuous nature, it’s worth remembering that the great Jens Lehmann was guilty of similar moments of madness. That didn’t stop him remaining first-choice keeper throughout the unbeaten season. The best goalkeepers are often slightly eccentric. The balance between talent and temperament is a difficult one to find.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain deserves special mention…

Over the past month, The Ox has played himself in to the first XI. He is an example to any player currently out of favour. He made a positive impression with a series of energetic cameos, and when handed the opportunity to start games has made himself undroppable. Lukas Podolski & co could learn a thing or too from that.

Arsecast Extra 35: Derby Day Edition

I’m interrupting my holiday on the stormy isle of Mallorca to bring you the latest Arsecast Extra, recorded between Dublin and the wee town of Pollensa.

Unsurprisingly, the focus is primarily on that slightly underwhelming 1-1 derby draw. We discuss the bizarre team selection, Flamini’s costly error, and our feelings about a slightly disappointing start to the campaign. It’s a barrel of laughs.

Don’t forget, you can subscribe to the Arsecast Extra on iTunes by clicking here. Alternatively, if you want to subscribe directly to the feed URL you can do so too (I’m told this spares you the dastardly delays from iTunes).

Haven’t had time to put together a proper blog on the game – I actually missed a good chunk of the first-half due to delayed flight – but here are some other bits and pieces I wrote for it.

On Alexis Sanchez, for ESPN:

Alexis calculates that his drag-backs and dribbles are a chance worth taking. In future, Wenger must show similar courage in his team selections.

And on a potential solution to our midfield injury problems, for Bleacher Report:

Oxlade-Chamberlain was excellent against Tottenham, with his powerful running posing a constant menace to the Spurs defence. However,Wenger has long insisted that the England international might develop into a top central midfielder. The spate of injuries could be a chance to test that theory once again.

Galatasaray tomorrow. A win is needed. Come on Arsenal.