Thoughts from Wembley: Torturous afternoon’s Final flourish


I don’t know about you, but I remembered reaching an FA Cup final as a good deal more fun. Don’t Read more

Everton 3 - 0 Arsenal: Is it over?


Is it over? Not the title race. That’s been over for a while. Not the “race for fourth”, either. That’s Read more

Arsenal must find a way to replace Theo Walcott’s goals


It’s rare that a piece of Arsenal news shocks me. We live, lest we forget, in a world where Read more

Video: Arsene Wenger sings Cee-Lo Green hit to Robin van Persie


Alright gang. I've done another one of my silly songs. This time, my slightly strange brain has got Arsene Read more

Arsenal 2-0 Marseille: Wilshere wings it as Arsenal edge closer to qualification

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Champions League, Match Reports |  

This was a 2-0 thrashing…
Arsenal had eight attempts on target and should have scored at least two more goals. Mesut Ozil was denied from the penalty spot, while Aaron Ramsey will have been shocked not to have scored from close range. Marseille rested several key players and simply couldn’t keep pace with a dominant Arsenal midfield.

Arsenal showed off their strength-in-depth…
Arsene was able to make three changes to his starting XI without compromising its potency. Monreal, Flamini and Rosicky came in and were every bit as solid as you’d expect. There can’t be many better reserve full-backs in Europe than Monreal, while Rosicky must be the only 33-year old who actually increases the tempo of whatever team he’s picked for. When Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla were introduced from the bench, the mounting options at Wenger’s disposal became starkly apparent.

I like Wilshere on the right…
I saw him make his debut there as a 16-year old. Back then, Wenger pushed him out wide to protect him from the hurly-burly of the middle of the park.
The unfortunate truth is that, given his injury problems, he still benefits from that protection. His future might be as a deep-lying midfielder but at presents he’s best when liberated from the congestion and conflict of the centre.
His goalscoring record at youth level was sensational and typically that returns to a player’s game once they hit their early twenties. Fabregas was exactly the same, and Ramsey is showing signs of emulating that progression. If Wilshere can do so too, Arsenal will have a midfield to reckon with for years to come.

The missed penalty might be the kick up the back-side Ozil needs…
As he stepped up to take the penalty, every fan around me watched on in grim anticipation of what was to come. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a German look less likely to score from the spot.
By his own excellent standards, Ozil came in to the game in the midst of something of a slump. Hopefully that penalty miss was his nadir, and this can be a turning point.
After the spot-kick was saved he immediately looked more energised, buzzing around the penalty area with the bristling resolution of a player determined to make amends.
His assist for Wilshere’s second goal was the sort of telling pass we became accustomed to seeing during Ozil’s first few games for the club. I expect the embarrassment of the penalty miss will spark an upturn in form for the mercurial playmaker.

Arsenal look set to survive the supposed “Group of Death”…
Anything other than a heavy defeat in Naples will see us progress. Given the strength of the group, it’s a remarkable achievement – I’d argue it’s every bit as impressive as our domestic form.

Further Reading:

ESPN: Arsenal’s victory over Marseille shows off growing strength in depth
BR: Jack Wilshere is on the right path on the right wing 

Olivier Giroud and Arsenal profit from Boruc balls-up

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League |  

After losing at Old Trafford in their last Premier League outing, Arsenal needed a response to reassert their credentials as title challengers. Thanks to a dogged and determined display, they did just that.

Prior to the match, Arsene Wenger would have been cursing the fixture list that his team found themselves up against Mauricio Pochettino’s Southampton, flying high in the table and collecting plenty of plaudits and points along the way.

A year ago, this was a routine home win for the Gunners. Then, a Southampton team managed by Nigel Adkins shipped six goals and looked doomed for relegation. Even Gervinho belittled them with a brace.

However, since then, the South-Coast side have been radically transformed. Now, drilled by the impressive Pochettino, they have their eyes on Europe. Pochettino’s team have already won at Liverpool and drawn an Manchester United in a promising campaign.

The Argentine spent much of the build-up to the game lavishing praise on the legacy Arsene Wenger has built at Arsenal. However, there is much for Wenger to admire about Pochettino’s Southampton. He has quickly created a distinct football culture, harnessing the attacking talents of the likes of Lallana and Lambert, and introducing a relentless pressing game.

Wenger might have feared the worst. Last season, Arsenal were beaten at home by a Swansea team who employed a similar combination of polished passing and persistent pressure. With Tomas Rosicky not fit enough to start and Mathieu Flamini suspended, Arsenal were arguably missing the two midfield players best suited to cope with the Saint’s high-tempo style.

However, the Gunners were determined to show that they were up to the test.

Giving Southampton’s proficiency at pressing, there was a certain irony about the way Arsenal grabbed the opening goal. When Artur Boruc collected a simple back-pass, no danger was apparent. However, the industry of Olivier Giroud allowed Arsenal to create a chance out of nothing.

Giroud hassled Boruc, enforcing an effort in the Polish goalkeeper’s footwork before pick-pocketing the ball and poking home in to the unguarded goal. Boruc was embarrassed; Giroud elated.

Southampton have only conceded seven league goals this season. One of those was a freak effort from Asmir Begovic where the ball was caught by the wing and Boruc was caught out of position. Were it not for the Pole’s errors, Southampton’s defensive record would be even meaner.

Nevertheless, Giroud was a grateful beneficiary.

The brace put a positive end on to a mixed week for the forward. He was dropped for France’s decisive play-off against the Ukraine, but was comforted by the consolation of World Cup qualification. Away from the pitch, he lost his grandfather. After nicking the opener, he pointed to the sky in a moment of poignant reflection.

He also stepped up to stroke home the penalty that sealed the game, grabbing the ball as soon as the referee blew the whistle. That self-assurance is a far cry from the Giroud of last season. Almost exactly a year ago, Giroud opted not to take a last-minute penalty when on a hattrick against Fulham. Arteta subsequently missed, and Giroud was roundly criticised.

Now, however, his confidence is on a high. In 19 games this season he has already scored 10 goals and made five assists. He has become integral to Arsenal’s play.

His defensive work is superb. Giroud is vital when it comes to defending set-pieces, and as the opening goal shows is excellent at closing down defenders – he almost bought himself a goal from a similar situation against Liverpool.

However, you can’t keep up those effort levels for 90 minutes. The work that Giroud did in the 22nd minute to win the opening goal is impossible in the latter stages of a draining game. Subsequently, Southampton’s centre-backs were allowed more and more time on the ball, and the Saints grew in to the game.

That’s why Arsenal need to sign a striker in January: they need someone who can come on for the last twenty minutes and replicate Giroud’s presence in both boxes. He can’t be expected to continue like this without incurring physical repercussions.

This was a really good win for Arsenal against a very solid team. The Gunners avoided the banana skin, but Boruc didn’t. Roll on the next game.

Man United 1 – 0 Arsenal: Anticlimactic end to a good week

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League |  

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This felt like an anti-climax…
Arsenal had an opportunity to do something special, and didn’t take it.

Given our momentum going in to the game, I fancied us to turn United over. Having witnessed their workmanlike but uninspiring display, I’m convinced an in-form Arsenal could have done just that.

Sadly, we were far from our best. In the first half, Arsenal looked sloppy and sometimes sleepy. We improved in the second half, but still lacked imagination and energy. One wonders if, after draining ties with Liverpool and Dortmund, this was a big game too far.

I’m not too keen to dissect the goal…
Yes, Aaron Ramsey could have done better at the near post. Kieran Gibbs did drift from his position on the line, but without being a foot taller I’m not sure how much he could have done regardless of where he stood.

Every goal can be broken down in terms of errors. If defences were perfect, every game would end 0-0.

Sometimes you just have to take your hat off to a great delivery and a great leap.

RVP is welcome to celebrate…
Do you want his respect? His pity? I know I don’t.

There is no love lost between Robin and Arsenal. Why disguise it? Pretending otherwise is just silly.

United are an interesting case study for the theory that “strikers win games”…
It’s my firm belief that Arsenal had the stronger XI going in to this match. Our midfield compares particularly favourably with United’s.

However, the old adage goes that strikers win games, and so it proved. One moment of combination between Rooney and Van Persie was enough for United to secure the three points.

United’s midfield was also weak last season, but Van Persie was able to bail them out time after time, and they ended up as champions. A world class goal-getter can mask many deficiencies.

As good as Olivier Giroud has been this season, I think we’d be getting ahead of ourselves to suggest he’s in the same bracket as United’s front two. However, that’s not a fixed situation. As Wenger often says, you should never put limits on any player’s potential. If Giroud continues to improve at his current rate, that hierarchy might soon change.

What’s preposterous is that we have so little support for Giroud. Introducing Bendtner at Old Trafford, on the day he has made public his displeasure with Arsenal and Arsene, felt absurd.

Strikers win games. And we don’t have enough.

I think we’re right to expect more from Ozil…
Let’s be honest: he hasn’t played particularly well since the Norwich match on October 19th. In the six games since then he has struggled to impose himself on the game, often being forced to drift out to the right just to find space.

That’s partly due to tight marking. Teams are wise to his threat and are shutting him down.

Granted, he is still adapting. Ozil is encountering new problems, but he has the intelligence and the talent to overcome them. Arsenal need Ozil to start finding solutions.

We really really need players back now…
To go to Old Trafford with young Isaac Hayden on the bench tells you just how thin our squad is in some areas. An injection of width and pace from Theo Walcott will be very welcome indeed, whilst the efficient finishing of Lukas Podolski can not be far behind.

Arsene said afterwards that a draw would have been fair…
He’s right, really. However, the same would also be true of our midweek win over Dortmund. The truth is that top-level games are always decided by the finest of margins. In mid-week Arsenal were hailed as heroes; tomorrow they’d be ridiculous as flops. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in-between. While our failure to beat our major domestic rivals is frustrating, the numbers don’t lie: we have been the best team in England this calendar year.

There’s no need for despondency…
The wider results this weekend were generally very kind to us. We’re still top of league; still exceeding expectations. We’re on course to qualify from the group stage of the Champions League, and have plenty of players on the way back.

If there’s one thing that’s certain this year, it’s that the eventual Premier League winners will lose several games along the way.

It could still be us. Nothing I saw at Old Trafford made me think otherwise.

Further Reading:

Video: Arsene Wenger sings Cee-Lo Green hit to Robin van Persie

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Featured |  

Alright gang. I’ve done another one of my silly songs. This time, my slightly strange brain has got Arsene Wenger belting out a version of CeeLo Green’s hit “F*ck You” at his former charge Robin van Persie. I thought it might be timely ahead of Sunday’s game. Enjoy:

As regards the Dortmund game, apologies for the lack of blog. I’ve got a few pieces I’ve written on it floating around the rest of the web though:

Cheers all.

Arsenal 2 – 0 Liverpool: Arsenal win by 2 goals and £1

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League |  

Brendan Rodgers over-thought this game…
I think Rodgers is a good manager. He has improved Liverpool dramatically. He seems to have an eye for a player and a creditable core philosophy.

However, he does have a tendency to over-think things. He seems to regard himself as an ingenious tactician, constantly seeking to reinvent the wheel.

Going in to a game against Arsenal with an outdated 3-5-2 formation was suicide. Liverpool’s wing backs – who, it should be pointed out, happen to be among the worst players in their squad – were isolated and overwhelmed.

At half-time, Rodgers switched to a conventional 4-4-2 to try and bring more stability to the side. However, Steven Gerrard has not been capable of playing in a central midfield pairing for some time. Even Rafa Benitez infamously fielded him wide on the right when selecting a midfield four, and that was years ago.

Rodgers’ tactical tinkering contributed to Liverpool’s downfall.

Mikel Arteta was outstanding…
Going in to the game, there was much wailing about the absence of Mathieu Flamini. However, Mikel Arteta covered for his absence with a superb man of the match display.

Arteta has been a little taken for granted this season. Flamini’s best performances came while the Spaniard was missing through inure. Given our excellent start, some fans wondered aloud whether Arteta had become obsolete.

Yesterday he demonstrated just why he’s such an essential member of the squad. His tackling was exemplary and his use of the ball typically intelligent. What’s more, he’s a leader. Throughout the game he could be seen marshalling Arsenal’s midfield, cajoling team-mates in to position and berating them if they neglected their defensive responsibilities.

Arsene Wenger deserves more credit for Arteta’s transformation…
Arsene used to be renowned for converting players to different positions. Indeed, in this match Arsenal came up against Kolo Toure, who had played on both wings for Arsenal before Wenger elected to use him as a centre-back.

Arteta arrived at Arsenal as a creative playmaker and has been refashioned in to a holding midfielder. The move has prolonged Arteta’s career and made him invaluable to the squad.

What’s happening to Aaron Ramsey feels almost supernatural…
In the week of Halloween, the Welshman is truly playing like a man possessed. His goal was the sort of thing you only attempt when your confidence is sky high. I’ve long thought Ramsey’s energy levels and shooting prowess were reminiscent of a young Steven Gerrard. The manner in which Ramsey dominated Gerrard in this match suggested a passing of the torch.

I was pleased for Thomas Vermaelen…
The club captain came on as a late substitute for Kieran Gibbs, and I was delighted he was involved in a great win. Vermaelen remains an important figure in the squad and the best reserve centre-half we’ve had in some time. It’s vital to keep him happy.

Confession: I only really care about the league…
Arsenal face a crucial Champions League tie with Dortmund this week, but I’d gladly swap victory in Germany for three points at Old Trafford next Sunday.

The Premier League campaign feels all-encompassing and all-consuming. The irritation felt at dropping out of the League cup was banished by beating Liverpool.

Arsenal are currently five points clear. There is a growing sense that Arsenal can mount their first serious and sustained title challenge since 2007/08. Nothing – not even European progression – would excite me more.

Arsenal 0 – 2 Chelsea: Arsenal understudies fluff their lines

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, League Cup, Match Reports |  

Match report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

The top story is: Chelsea’s reserves are better than Arsenal’s reserves…
I’m not sure there has been a squad in Premier League history as grossly bloated with talent as this current Chelsea group.

For this match Jose Mourinho was able to make 10 changes, yet the side he fielded would stand every chance of challenging for major honours. To have the likes of Juan Mata in reserve is beyond luxury and bordering upon absurdity.

The signing of Willian was symbolic of Abramovich and Mourinho’s tendency towards excess. When Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil, it was said that the Gunners didn’t “need” the German. Such an argument is plainly nonsense when held up against the Willian deal. Chelsea truly didn’t need the Brazilian. They signed him because they could, and because they feared his acquisition would strengthen a rival.

Wenger would never do that – even if he had the financial resources. He’d worry about congesting his squad, or allocating such a huge proportion of the club’s budget to a player who will not feature frequently.

Mourinho, on the other hand, is too short-termist to care, and Abramovich too rich. They build and build and buy and buy and now they’ve got a squad that contains at least two teams – maybe more. It might not be ethical but it’s pretty effective.

By contrast, Arsenal’s reserves are just that: players who fall a little way short of the standards expected of the first-team. Against Chelsea, it showed.

It would be disingenuous to blame it all on the stand-ins…
Arsenal fielded the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla in midfield, and none of those players hit the heights usually expected of them.

However, Carl Jenkinson had a shocker…
The opening goal exposed his major weakness: his aerial ability. First he was indecisive, then ungainly. It was a dreadful mistake to make.

Unfortunately for Jenkinson, even the areas of his game that are consistently positive, such as his crossing, were uncharacteristically poor.

He’s not as bad as he looked last night. However, it’s becoming clear that he may not be as good as he looked in the early part of last season.

Jenkinson’s current ability level lies somewhere in between the two poles: he is a good prospect with plenty to learn. He is not yet close to taking over as Arsenal’s first-choice right-back.

The sooner Bacary Sagna gets a new contract, the better.

Nicklas Bendtner looked as rusty as you’d expect…
Nothing stuck to the big Dane, and he even looked timid in front of goal. Believe it or not, the man with who turned the self-esteem up to 11 in his psychological profiling test looked short of confidence.

However, I refuse to believe he didn’t try. What would he have to gain from that? You’ve got a guy here who knows he’s on his last chance to make it with a big club, and whose contract expires this summer. He has every incentive to do well. Everyone agreed he seemed motivated and energised against Norwich. Now, all of a sudden, he doesn’t care? I don’t buy it.

The simple truth is he lacked service. A conventional target man like Bendtner is dependent upon supply.

Lacking in fitness? Certainly. Lacking in quality? Arguably. But those things, rather than a lack of will, were his principal crimes. And how booing him is supposed to help matters I have no idea.

Ryo Miyaichi is an odd one…
The coaching staff seem convinced he’s a gem, but he always looks more of a perfectly pleasant but inspiring pebble to me. Quick, with decent technique, but nothing special. I’m sure he’ll prove me wrong in time but I do wonder how great a toll all those injuries have taken.

Criticising Wenger’s selection policy is missing the point…
He didn’t have a huge amount of choice.

I’m convinced that had Serge Gnabry, Gedion Zelalem, Yaya Sanogo and Thomas Eisfeld been fit to start they would have been involved tonight. However, the crop of youngsters Wenger considers most appropriate to blood were almost entirely unavailable.

Wenger will have been disappointed that he was forced to use Ramsey, Wilshere and Cazorla, especially having failed to pick up a positive result. However, he’d gladly trade off Capital One Cup progression for three points against Liverpool on Saturday. That match is taking on more significance by the day.

For further reading follow me on Twitter @gunnerblog. More reaction to come throughout the day.

Crystal Palace 0 – 2 Arsenal: Gunners slip past greasy Chamakh

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Premier League |  

I never expected this to be walkover…
After their hammering on Monday, and with the cavalier Ian Holloway no longer in charge, Palace were always likely to have a conservative approach to the game.

So it proved. They sat deep and looked to frustrate Arsenal, occasionally launching a counter-attack with the pace of Jerome Thomas. An early goal would have forced them to change their strategy, but Arsenal initially looked sluggish despite dominating possession.

Gnabry was an intriguing introduction…
When Mathieu Flamini pulled up with a groin problem after eight minutes, I expected Arsene Wenger to replace him with Jack Wilshere.

However, Wenger had already read the pattern of play, and opted for Serge Gnabry to provide an injection of pace and width.

Gnabry’s introduction proved to be integral to Arsenal’s victory. He won the penalty with a darting run in to the penalty area, and tracked back tirelessly until he himself was replaced with 20 minutes to go.

Caz-ozil is not yet working as anticipated…
Arsenal fans waited for six weeks to see Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil play together. Thus far, the combination has failed to live up to its understandably starry billing.

In this game, Cazorla looked some way from his best. His touch was unusually erratic and his passing wayward. It’s almost certainly merely a question of match practice. Ozil, meanwhile, will surely benefit from a rest for the Capital One Cup tie with Chelsea.

Arteta’s sending off seemed harsh…
Even if you deem it a clear goalscoring opportunity, I’m not certain it was a foul. Chamakh initiated the challenge, needlessly bundling in to Arteta.

For Arsenal fans, it was a piece of familiar cowardice from Chamakh, who would rather go to ground than muster the courage to actually take on a shot.

Arsenal were able to rely on some outstanding defensive performances…
Wojciech Szczesny has been nothing less than excellent since the opening day defeat to Aston Villa. In this game, he produced two phenomenal saves to deny Palace when the game was precariously balanced at 1-0.

In front of him, the back four were all solid, but Bacary Sagna was particularly good. Sagna seems to relish these “backs to the wall” performances. The challenge brings the best out of him, and in this match he was simply unbeatable.

Arsenal needed a win today…
Our next four fixtures see us face off against Chelsea, Liverpool, Dortmund and Manchester United. This clash with Palace was all about getting three points – by any means.

It’s often said that winning while playing poorly is the mark of a title-challenging side. I’ll hold off from such proclamations until we are able to assess Arsenal’s performance in the difficult games ahead.

Arsenal 1-2 Dortmund: Lewandowski gives Arsenal the elbow

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Champions League, Match Reports |  

Giroud vs. Lewandowski…
…was an intriguing comparison. In the first half particularly, Lewandowski was imperious. His hold-up play is immaculate.

Giroud’s performance was a little more uncouth, but just as effective. Robbed of the service Lewandowski received, Giroud made his own luck, working the channels tirelessly.

Arsenal have been linked with Lewandowski, but for my money he’s too similar to Giroud to be ideal. Arsenal would be better served signing someone who provides an alternative rather than a replica. Plus, Lewandowski is obviously off to Bayern.

A red card for the Pole would have been harsh…
The elbow Lewandowski swung at Koscielny was certainly reckless. However, according to the laws of the game, a yellow card is the appropriate response for “reckless” behaviour. It is violence or the use of excessive force that warrants a straight red.

Lewandoski’s elbow looked to be dangerous but not deliberate. A yellow seemed about right.

Jack Wilshere struggled again…
Anyone hoping that his switch to the right and fabulous goal against Norwich might provoke an immediate upturn in his form will have been sorely disappointed. According to the official UEFA stat-pack handed at the end of the game, Wilshere completed just 15 of 30 attempted passes – a shockingly poor 50%.

By comparison, his replacement Santi Cazorla managed to complete 90% of his passes in his 30 minutes on the field.

There are two ways of interpreting those figures. The first and most lenient reading is that Wilshere was on the field during Arsenal’s poorest spell, hence the skewed numbers. He wasn’t the only player guilty of poor passing in the first half, and Cazorla may have benefited from facing a tiring Dortmund.

The alternative inference is that Wilshere directly contributed to Arsenal’s first half struggles, and that the introduction of Cazorla was actually the catalyst for Arsenal’s improvement.

Arsenal couldn’t get Mesut Ozil in to the game…
…until the last 20 minutes. After an anonymous first-half, he spent the second half drifting from flank to flank looking for space. Eventually he found some joy on the right-hand side, and almost created a spectacular goal for Santi Cazorla, who was denied by the crossbar.

Arsenal were guilty of chasing the win…
After last season’s home defeat to Swansea, Wenger told the assembled press conference: “If you can’t win the game, don’t lose it”. He will have been disappointed to be forced to repeat the mantra in the wake of this defeat. Arsenal sensed their growing superiority against a tiring Dortmund and went for the jugular. Unfortunately, the Germans countered with a classic sucker punch.

Qualification will be difficult now…
Arsenal are in the unenviable position of requiring a favour from Marseille to avoid having to win at either Dortmund of Napoli. Given the French side have thus far failed to pick up a point, that seems unlikely.

Unfortunately, Marseille are so far adrift at the bottom of the group that if Arsenal fail to qualify they will more than likely drop in to the energy-sapping Europa League.

That, for me, is the worst case scenario.

But there’s no need for too much negativity…
In Dortmund, Arsenal lost to a side that is better than any they will come up against in the Premier League. What’s more, we were unlucky to lose.

This is a bump in the road rather than the end of it.

Arsenal 4 – 1 Norwich: 700 words on THAT goal

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League |  

It began so simply.

When Jonny Howson swung in a ball from the right, Mathieu Flamini did what he has done  so effectively ever since returning to the Arsenal team. With a minimum of fuss, he intercepted the ball and passed it to one of his many more gifted team-mates.

That man, as we all now know, was Jack Wilshere.

Arsene Wenger recently said he views Wilshere’s best position as a deep-lying midfielder rather than a number 10. In this glorious move, we saw why. Although ostensibly playing as a right-winger, Wilshere collected the ball in a central position just yards outside his own penalty area.

Almost instantly, Wilshere was confronted by the bruising figure of Leroy Fer. Wilshere drops a shoulder, hurdles over Fer’s arboresque right leg, and sprints  in to space.

Suddenly, Norwich have three players caught upfield, and Arsenal are on the break.

Wilshere raises his head, his periscopic vision scanning first right then left. Mesut Ozil is free just a few yards away, but Wilshere instead opts to lay the ball in to the path of the overlapping Kieran Gibbs. And then keep going.

As Gibbs crosses the halfway line, Wilshere continued to race upfield, leaving Howson in his wake. Seeking to continue the moves rapid vertical velocity, Gibbs plays the ball down the line in to the path of Santi Cazorla.

It’s at that point that the move dramatically shifts gear. A promising counter-attack transitions to a penetrative assault, as Cazorla puts his head down and drives infield. Outside him, Gibbs continues his dash towards the byline, simultaneously opening up space in the centre.

Cazorla glances to his right, and lays the ball, left-footed, in to the feet of Jack Wilshere, now some thirty yards from goal.

Faced by the imposing frame of Alex Tettey, Wilshere instantly controls the ball with the outside of his left boot before nudging it back to the Spaniard. And he keeps going.

Cazorla already knows what he will do with the ball when it returns. The moment he gave it to Wilshere, he looked up to identify the position of Olivier Giroud. As the ball comes back to him, he instantly turns it on to the French forward, positioned with his back to goal on the edge of the Norwich area.

On the half-turn, Giroud can see Wilshere out of the corner of his eye, darting towards goal. Rather than slow the move by bringing the ball in to his body, he flicks it with his outstep towards Wilshere.

It’s arguably the only slight inaccuracy in this almost-perfect move. Giroud slightly misjudged Wilshere’s trajectory, and the ball floats behind the Englishman. However, Wilshere is able to recover with a stunning piece of improvisation, using his heel to retrieve the ball from behind him and knock it back to Giroud. What Wilshere does is not just good football – it’s a circus trick. And he keeps going.

Giroud does not need to look to know where Wilshere will be. There is no imperfection in his next pass. Stabbing his left foot towards the ground, he allows the ball to roll up off his boot and float impishly to his team-mate’s path. It’s audacious and beautiful, bisecting four Norwich defenders perfectly. Tettey, who has dutifully tracked Wilshere’s pitch-length run, is disorientated and drained. Red-and-white synapses crackle as Arsenal’s pin-ball plays out to perfection. Hours of training ground practice, small-sided games and exacting ball-control drills collide in a moment of sheer magnificence.

The ball arrives on Wilshere’s right foot, and he places a perfect volley in to the far corner. No power is needed. The finish, like the rest of the move, is all guile and grace. When he sees the ball hit the net, he allows himself a roar of exhalation.

He knows it’s special. The Arsenal fans do too, reacting with an upwardly-inflected combination of awe and disbelief. And he keeps going, jogging towards the fans before sliding on his knees in celebration.

Wilshere finally rests. 20.34 seconds, five players, nine passes, and 28 touches have come together to create one masterpiece.

There’s surely no greater tribute to Arsene Wenger’s 17 year reign at Arsenal than this one extraordinary goal.

Further reading: Match report | Highlights | “Arsenal’s Magical Midfield Tortures Norwich” – BR Football

Tomas Rosicky can no longer afford to gamble with his fitness

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Sponsored Posts |  

Tomas Rosicky has not met up with the Czech squad for this international break. It’s an eminently sensible decision. Rosicky has only just returned from injury, and with the Czech team’s hopes of qualifying for the World Cup all but gone, he’d be wasting his time trekking to Prague. For a man as vulnerable to injury as Rosicky, it’s an unnecessary gamble.

Last week, Rosicky turned 33. In football terms, he is an old man. It’s difficult to believe when you look at him. Like his doppelganger Mark Owen, time’s ravages seem to have no influence over his youthful visage. Rosicky’s performances, too, bely his advancing years. During the game against West Brom, I remarked that he can look more sprightly than players who are more than a decade his junior.

Rosicky’s nick-name in Germany was “Little Mozart” after the gloriously gifted melodist. However, he’s more a conductor than a composer, setting the rhythm of the Arsenal midfield. There’s a certainly irony about the fact that the player most capable of lifting Arsenal’s tempo is also the oldest man in the squad.

Rosicky must start looking after his best interests – and those of his employers. Every time he goes away with the Czech squad it feels like a game of roulette – and one wherein landing on black lands Rosicky with another troubling hamstring problem. Arsene Wenger would prefer Rosicky did his gambling somewhere like the bwin casino than on the playing field.

Arsenal need Rosicky. Even with the addition of the £42.5m man Mesut Ozil and the emergence of lauded youngsters like Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, Rosicky brings something unique to the Arsenal set-up. He combines the drive and feistiness of Mathieu Flamini with the flair of Arsenal’s more celebrated midfielders. His use of the ball is rarely spectacular, but never less than intelligent. His style is characterised by a smooth efficiency.

The good news is that well-informed sources in the Czech Republic indicate that Rosicky has been offered a new deal. Despite competition from clubs in the MLS, Rosicky is said to be keen on the idea of ending his career with Arsenal, and is likely to extend.

While he’ll never be offered more than a one-year rolling contract, he could pick up several more of those before retirement beckons. The example of Giggs shows what is possible given careful preparation and delicate management. However, the rigours of international football are hazardous. Giggs, under pressure from United boss Alex Ferguson, called time on his Wales career at the age of 33.

Rosicky would be wise to follow suit.