Spurs beaten & 1000 not out for Arsene

Any kind of derby win is welcome…
In these games, performance is secondary to result. Arsenal may have been on the ropes at times, but ultimately it was our hand that was lifted aloft at full-time.

The truth is that, as they have done all season, Spurs struggled to convert their dominance in to presentable goalscoring opportunities. 70% of their attempts at goal came from outside the box, which is something of an inevitability for a team including the trigger-happy Andros Townsend.

Tottenham’s best chance came from a Wojciech Szczesny error, but Mertesacker and Koscielny were on hand to rescue the Pole. Arsene Wenger has had some great individual defenders, but I’m not sure he’s had such an effective partnership as these two since the 1998 stable of Keown, Bould and Adams.

For more on whether Arsenal can win things playing like they did at Spurs, read my piece in The Mirror. 

Tomas Rosicky is becoming the scourge of Spurs…
He’s not known as much of a goalscorer, but two of this three goals this season have come against our local rivals. This one was a spectacular strike, and the sort of goal we might have imagined him scoring more regularly after watching him during the 2006 World Cup.

Arsenal’s need for a new striker crystallised at White Hart Lane…
With the team pegged back, we desperately needed an outlet up top. A bit of pace would have been invaluable. Sadly, Olivier Giroud does not even have “a bit”. He isn’t one-paced. He’s no-paced.

For more on the North London Derby, have a listen to this week’s Arsecast Extra.

Chelsea’s defeat at Villa changes things…
This was a game Arsenal had to win. However, it’s arguably now one we simply mustn’t lose. With that in mind, I expect Mathieu Flamini to come in to shore up the midfield, most likely at the expense of Lukas Podolski.

1000 up for Arsene…
What an incredible achievement. Now seems an appropriate time to share an anecdote from an agent friend of mine who recently went for a meeting with a member of the Arsenal recruitment team at London Colney. Although he didn’t meet Wenger, he was struck by the fact that his presence was evident everywhere. Every inch of that training ground is designed to his specifications.

That influence extends beyond Hertfordshire to North London, where the Emirates Stadium stands as monument to Wenger’s ambition and vision. The agent said his two hours at Colney left him with a deep respect for the remarkable transformation Wenger has enacted in North London. As Arsenal fans, we don’t need to look behind the curtain to understand his importance.

I don’t think Arsene is perfect. He’s arrogant, occasionally myopic, and infuriatingly stubborn. He’s human. However, as humans go, he’s pretty special.

The longer his contract remains unsigned, the greater the chance of him walking away at the end of the season. Arsenal fans are being made to contemplate the daunting prospect of a team without Wenger at the helm.

Let’s enjoy him while he’s here, and honour him as he deserves.

Thoughts on FA Cup, Bayern & Spurs

There is a strange pressure about being FA Cup favourites…
It’s an unpleasantly familiar sensation, much like the one we found ourselves in at this stage 2011’s Carling Cup.

Surely, the lessons of that disastrous final have been learnt. We’re more experienced, more determined and more professional. We ought to do it. There are no excuses.

I was pleased with the Bayern result and performance…

In my opinion, the tie was effectively dead after the first leg result. If I’m honest, I’d pretty much resigned it as soon as the initial draw was made. However, 1-1 at the Allianz Arena was a creditable result that allowed us to continue our campaign with the semblance of gathering momentum. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was absolutely superb: in the continued absence of Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott, he must be one of the first names on the team-sheet.

The penalty save felt significant…

Not only did it ensure we left without suffering a dispiriting defeat, but it also felt like the moment that Lukasz Fabianski guaranteed his place in the FA Cup semi-final side. In this form, his departure on a Bosman in the summer feels like a significant loss.

Spurs are on the ropes…

Their fans are as unsettled as they’ve been for some time. Speaking to Spurs supporters, it seems there’s a sense that the club lack direction and purpose. They feel little to no affinity with the players, and are worried they’re trapped in a purgatorial prison. A “negative spiral”, you might say.

However, derby day is a real equaliser. We know only two well how quickly the trajectories of the two north London clubs can be reversed. Arsenal will need to ensure their focus is absolutely right if they’re to come away with three points.

We need those points pretty badly. Although the increased probability of FA Cup success has made that the focus, we still have a good chance of winning the Premier League. It would take an extraordinary run, but then title wins usually do.

Arsenal 4-1 Everton: Giroud is comfortably our best striker

Arsenal 4-1 Everton
Match report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Arsene gambled with his team at either end of the pitch…
When it came to selecting his team, Arsene Wenger made two big calls at the extremities of the pitch. First off, he allowed Lukasz Fabianski to continue in his role as Arsenal’s cup goalkeeper. At the opposite end, he selected Yaya Sanogo to start ahead of Olivier Giroud.

Given the result, Wenger will feel justified in his decisions. However, if Arsenal ultimately reach the FA Cup Final, I’ll be screaming for Szczesny to start. There is little room for sentiment when there is silverware at stake.

The goal was an important moment for Mesut Ozil…
The fist pump he gave when the ball hit the net was as expressive a show of emotion as we’ve seen from Ozil since he arrived on these shores. The fact that every single outfield Arsenal player joined him in celebration seemed significant, too: this was a clear show of support for a player who has been under fire.

This was Ozil’s first goal for three months, and his best performance in a while too. Afterwards, Wenger described him as “regenerated” after a recent rest.

He’s certainly found the season hard going. I’ve heard that Arsene believes this is a particularly difficult year for Ozil to have moved to the Premier League. Six teams are battling for Champions League qualification. Another 10 face the possibility of relegation. Every time you face one of those teams, you’re engaged in a high-intensity battle. At Madrid, Ozil simply didn’t encounter that ferocious level of competition on such a regular basis.

It’s been a steep learning curve. Hopefully this match represents something of a turning point.

Flamini’s booking made life hard…
Mathieu Flamini was booked after 23 minutes. It’s no coincidence that it was around that time that Everton began to pose a consistent threat on the counter-attack. His ability to break up the play was severely hampered. On Everton’s equaliser, there was a clear moment of indecision where Flamini was reluctant to put in a tackle and face a red card.

Giroud is the best striker we have…
I must confess I find Arsene Wenger’s faith in Yaya Sanogo somewhat baffling. He’s big, strong and willing, but miles away from Olivier Giroud. I’m not even convinced that he’s better than Nicklas Bendtner.

Giroud’s two goals showed he’s still the top man. He now has 18 in all competitions — one more than he managed in the entirety of last season. He’s far from perfect, but he’s also comfortably the best striker we have.

Two wins from glory…
I’m not a fan of hosting the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley, but it ensures a good day out and a sense of occasion. If we can win there and book a place in the final it will ensure a dramatic end to what’s been, on the whole, a positive season.

It was great to see some familiar faces at the Emirates…
Before the game, Theo Walcott was out on the pitch. It was encouraging to see him walking unaided – I’m told he’s begun doing rehab on a zero-gravity treadmill. Disappointingly, this does not teach him how to fly, but instead allows him to run without putting significant weight on his joints.

Then, at half-time, Pat Rice came out to thank the fans for their support in his battle with cancer. Pat’s a real fighter and a true Arsenal man, and it was genuinely heartwarming to see him looking so well.

All in all, a very good day.

 

Stoke 1-0 Arsenal: Gunners fall to familiar foe

In truth, Arsenal couldn’t really afford to draw this game, let alone lose…
In isolation, a draw at Stoke is a decent result. However, this game was not played in isolation. It was played in the context of a title race, and all our other results. A draw would not have been good enough, and a defeat is a disaster.

There were only so many times we could afford to drop points between now and the end of the season. Given that we face the most difficult fixture list of any of the four title-challengers, this was a game we probably had to win.

I know Stoke’s not an easy place to go. However, when we dropped points at home to United, it effectively narrowed the margin for potential error. Some hailed that as a good result “in isolation”. I wonder if they still think so now.

We have now won just two of our last six Premier League games.

Do I think Chelsea could slip up? Maybe. Do I think that Chelsea, City and Liverpool will pick up less points than us in the run-in, given our respective fixture lists? Probably not.

I know some will consider this an unnecessarily grim assessment. After all, we might go and beat Tottenham, Everton, Chelsea and City in succession. However, given the evidence of our performances against our biggest rivals thus far this season, such a run seems improbable at best.

Our title challenge has been mounted upon our capacity to put away the lesser teams. Today, we failed to do that. It looks costly.

Saying all that, the penalty award was incredibly harsh…
I’m not sure how the referee can possibly give that as a deliberate handball. Still, it seems that The Curse of Laurent Koscielny has struck again. That was the sixth Premier League penalty he’s given away in his time at Arsenal (h/t @OptaJoe). However well he’s playing, he can’t seem to escape those big controversial moments.

You could question the line-up…
I can understand leaving out Mesut Ozil. Tomas Rosicky was outstanding against Sunderland and didn’t really deserve to be dropped.

However, was Jack Wilshere really better equipped than Mathieu Flamini to cope with the tumult of the Britannia’s midfield battle? I’m not sure. This was one of those games in which Wilshere seemed to spend more time on the floor than his feet.

I’m also surprised that Wenger didn’t see the need to start with The Ox. Against Liverpool, he showed that his penetrative running is invaluable to a side desperately missing Theo Walcott. A rest against Sunderland made sense, but there was no reason for him to be left out today.

That late Yaya Sanogo miss felt telling…
When we desperately needed something to rescue the game, we turned to an unproved 21 year-old without a Premier League goal to his name. I’m by no means holding young Sanogo accountable, but he way he scooped that late chance over the bar reminded me of our inexplicable failure to recruit a new attacker.

The priority in January was to find a striker who was better than Bendtner and Sanogo. I refuse to accept that was an impossible task.

The FA Cup feels massive now…
Arsenal are still just three wins away from winning a trophy. I pray that we don’t witness any rotation against Everton. Our league hopes hang by a thread, but the FA Cup remains a very real possibility.

To end on a positive…
Congratulations to @bentayloruk for winning the Bergkamp print – I’ll be in touch shortly about your prize. If you missed out, you can use the discount code ‘GUNNERBLOG’ to get 10% off any Arsenal canvas print.

Thoughts on Sanogo, Sunderland + Win a Bergkamp Canvas Print

I’ve been away…
…in Amsterdam. Working. No, not like that. I did manage to catch all our games while I was there, but given the demands of the job I was doing the Liverpool, Bayern and Sunderland matches had to remain blogless. I’d apologise, but I know that in this day and age you’re spoilt for choice. I’m sure you all got your fix elsewhere.

The Yaya Sanogo thing…
…caught me somewhat off-guard. I was mildly surprised to see him start against Liverpool, and truly shocked that he played against Bayern. It’s clear his opportunity has come about primarily due to non-footballing issues. Giroud’s off-field misdemeanours are well-documented, while Nicklas Bendtner is finally beginning to be frozen out.

Having been thrown in at the deep-end, Sanogo did enough to stay afloat. However, to continue the swimming analogy, I’m not yet convinced he’s the next Ian Thorpe. Nor Eric The Eel. Basically, he’s quite good at swimming. And football.

The criticism of Mesut Ozil…
…was way over the top. Anyone can miss a penalty.

That said, some people are more likely to miss than others. I have to say, I would never choose Ozil as a penalty taker. He simply doesn’t have the requisite ruthlessness in front of goal. He’s now missed two out of two for Arsenal. I’d be surprised if we see him take another.

Nevertheless, you can read about my hopes for his return over at ESPN.

Arsenal were excellent against Sunderland…
…and Tomas Rosicky rightly took plenty of the plaudits. Some argue we look better with just one of Ozil or Santi Cazorla in the team. I’d suggest the truth is that we simply look better because Rosicky is invariably the replacement for either player. We’re better with the Little Mozart in the team. It’s just a shame he’s not ten years younger.

Stoke away doesn’t hold as much fear as it used to…
Given the fixture list we face, this is actually one of our easier games. Three points is a must.

Competition time…
As you’ll know, last weekend Dennis Bergkamp’s statue was unveiled outside the Emirates Stadium. Obviously I can’t start giving away full-size bronze replicas of the non-flying Dutchman. However, thanks to the guys at Canvasartrocks.com, we have got one of these excellent Canvas Prints to give away.

Winning one is pretty simple. All you need to do is Tweet the answer to the following question, including the hashtag #DB10canvas.

Q. Against which club did Dennis Bergkamp score his last Arsenal goal?

The winner will be chosen at random and announced in the weekend’s post-Stoke blog. If you don’t fancy your chances in the competition, you can buy this and many other Arsenal-themed canvases here – use the discount code ‘GUNNERBLOG’ to get yourself  10% off any purchase.

Good luck!