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Arsenal 4 – 1 Wigan: Our Great Escape is still on

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 596 Guns

Arsenal 4 – 1 Wigan
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

One win from completing a redemptive rally…
There was no ‘Great Escape’ for Wigan, but there may yet be one for Arsenal.

Arsenal now know that a win at Newcastle on Sunday will confirm our top four spot. Considering where we were languishing after losing to Spurs a couple of months back, it’s a hell of a turnaround.

I think we’re all agreed that qualifying for the Champions League will never replace the ecstasy of winning a trophy. However, it would enable us to put a conciliatory gloss on what’s otherwise been a painful season.

What’s more, it would allow us to laugh at Tottenham. Again.

Theo Walcott was at the races…
…and when Theo is racing, no-one is going to catch him. Walcott’s critics occasionally accuse him of self-interest; they say he plays to please himself rather than the team. If that’s the case, Theo plainly really doesn’t want to play in the Europa League, as from the first minute to the last he hared up and down the pitch like a man possessed.

I prefer to think this performance was a consequence of Walcott’s continued maturation in to one of the side’s senior figures.

His stats this season are quite incredible. In just 30 starts he has now amassed 22 goals and 15 assists. You will struggle to find a wide player with more impressive numbers in world football.

Wojciech Szczesny won’t have been pleased about Wigan’s equaliser…
…especially because anyone who’d seen Maloney’s identical goal against QPR knew exactly what the Scotsman would do. It was a fantastic strike but Szczesny ought to have anticipated where Maloney would look to place it. In his defence, the goalkeeper would point to Lukas Podolski’s failure to jump in the wall. Speaking of whom…

I’m not convinced about Poldi at centre-forward…
Despite his two goals tonight I would favour an instant recall for Olivier Giroud for the game at Newcastle. There’s no doubting Podolski is an outstanding finisher, but he doesn’t yet share Giroud’s ability to link the play. He may develop those attributes in time, but time is not on our side. At several points in the game I was baffled by Podolski’s reluctance to burst in to the box to meet crosses from either flank.

He may wear the number nine on his shirt, but he’s far happier as a number ten.

Kieran Gibbs learnt from Gael Clichy’s mistakes…
The former Arsenal full-back was given a torrid time by Callum McManaman at Wembley on Saturday. In this match, Arsene opted for Gibbs over Monreal to cope with the tricky winger, and the youngster coped admirably.

He was coached through the game by Steve Bould, who regularly passed on advice to Gibbs from the touch-line. It paid dividends, as McManaman was mostly subdued. Gibbs’ positional play and anticipation were as good as I’ve seen him produce.

Aaron Ramsey’s goal was thoroughly deserved…
Ramsey’s season is in some respects a microcosm of Arsenal’s own: a dreadful first-half followed by a spirited and encouraging return to form.

This wasn’t his best game – his passing was occasionally wayward – but it’s impossible not to admire his sheer energy.

I ought to mention Santi…
…simply because it would be remiss not to. Four assists in one game is some feat. The Premier League is lucky to be graced by a player of his outrageous ability.

I stayed to applaud Wigan off…
I wasn’t alone. The Arsenal fans gave a rousing ovation to Shaun Maloney and a warm farewell to the Lactics, and I don’t think it was borne out of pity. It saddens me to lose a side as attractive as Wigan from a Premier League still containing the likes of Sunderland, Norwich and Stoke.

For half an hour of this match, before fatigue and familiar errors set in, they had us on the ropes. However, ultimately this season has proved an escape too far.

Bye-bye Bacary?
When the players departed on their awkwardly titled ‘Lap of Appreciation’, Bacary Sagna traipsed behind, accompanied by two of his children and dishing out lingering waves to the crowd. It doesn’t take a genius to decode the message: this may well have been Sagna’s final Emirates appearance.

If he does leave, he ought to remembered as a fine player and a tremendous servant. Some of his performances this season have been below par, but then how many players suffer two broken legs in their career and return to their previous level?

-

Further Reading: Rating the Arsenal Players Against Wigan for Bleacher Report

Wigan Preview: A relegation six-pointer

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Previews, Premier League | 671 Guns

As a man once said: it’s squeaky bum time.

I’ll confess: I don’t really know what that means. Not literally. It could refer to the squeaking sound created by edging forward on your seat in excitement, or the flatulence created as a consequence of anxiety. I haven’t got a clue. I’m not sure anyone really knows. People just accepted it and laughed, because that’s what you did if you wanted to stay on Alex Ferguson’s good side. More of him later.

Figuratively, I know what it means. It refers to the unique tension experienced at the business end of the season. It’s a tension all too familiar to both Arsenal, as they chase a Champions League spot, and tonight’s relegation-threatened opponents Wigan. This ought to be a hell of a game. Anything other than a win for Wigan will see the Lactics effectively relegated. Anything other than a win for Arsenal will hand Spurs the initiative in the race for the Champions League. It’s a straight-up shoot-out. If I were looking to put a bet on in a place like Unibet in this game, I’d be scouring the live betting odds for more than four goals in the game.

Going gung-ho will suit Wigan, who are more comfortable in possession than under pressure. They will be buoyed by the weekend’s FA Cup Final victory over Manchester City, and with good reason: few sides in the bottom half of the Premier League could take the game to City with the ebullience and effervescence Wigan displayed. The attacking trio of McManaman, Maloney and Kone would grace teams far higher up the table.

The Wembley turf is famously energy-sapping, and Arsenal will be hoping to exploit those tired legs tonight. The permutations could not be plainer: Chelsea’s win at Aston Villa has all but secured them a top four spot. If Arsenal win both their remaining games, they are guaranteed to join them.

If Arsenal do relegate Wigan tonight, I’ll be sorry to see them go. Few teams in this league play football with more ambition and artistry. However, I’d far rather see Wigan go down than see Arsenal effectively relegated from the top four – especially if Tottenham were to benefit.

Arsene Wenger faces several selection dilemmas. The return to fitness of Lukasz Fabianski threatens the place of Wojciech Szczesny, while the manager must also choose which of Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal is best suited to cope with the trickery of Calum McManaman. In midfield, Jack Wilshere will be pushing for a recall, while Lukas Podolski’s inert performance at QPR could see his claim to the central striking role come under threat from Theo Walcott and Gervinho.

Whichever side Arsene names tonight ought to be good enough to secure three points, but we’ve been here before. In this fixture last season, Arsenal were foiled by a tactical masterclass from Wigan. It won’t be easy.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t think it would come to this. I didn’t expect Chelsea and Spurs to pick up quite so many points from the run-in as they have. Last season, it felt as if no side wanted the Champions League spots. This side, no-one wants to give them up. It would be cruel and painful to miss out so late in the day.

A word on Fergie. Whatever your opinions of the man, it’s hard not to have an enormous amount of respect for what he’s achieved in the game. As I watched him bid farewell to an appreciative Old Trafford yesterday, I couldn’t help but hope that we’re eventually able to give Arsene Wenger a similarly warm send-off.

Two wins this week would help make that a little more probable.

 

QPR 0 – 1 Arsenal: No point playing the blame game

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 827 Guns

QPR 0 – 1 Arsenal
Match report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This ought to have been a good weekend for Arsenal.

A fixture against relegated QPR presented an opportunity to stamp our authority on the race for Champions League qualification. It was a chance to comfortably secure three points, and perhaps even surpass Chelsea’s goal difference advantage.

Chelsea themselves were set to travel to Old Trafford. If they were to slip up in any of their remaining four league games, this was surely the one.

As it turned out, Arsenal scraped to an unconvincing 1-0 win at Loftus Road, turning in their worst performance in weeks. That in itself is no bad thing: at this stage of the season results are everything.

However, Chelsea’s unexpected triumph at Old Trafford darkened the mood and precipitated a flurry of finger-pointing. If Spurs were to win at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, it would be truly out of our hands.

Let me be clear: if Arsenal finish fifth, it will not be the fault of Manchester United for losing to Chelsea. It will not be the fault of Alex Ferguson for fielding a weakened team. It will not be the fault of Robin van Persie for failing to put them to the sword.

Nor will it be the fault of Bacary Sagna for his mistimed lunge on the Dutchman at the Emirates, or Olivier Giroud for missing several presentable opportunities in the home game against Everton.

This will not have been decided by one incident, or one game. If Arsenal falter in their final match against Newcastle, that will wrongly be remembered as the day Arsenal lost the Champions League spot.

The truth is it would have been lost long before, as a consequence of systematic summers of failure and a season of dreary disappointment.

The fact we’re even in the running for the top four is the consequence of an extraordinary and anomalous run, but that good form should not allow us to overlook everything that came before.

The final league standings will be the consequence of 38 games. Unfortunately for Arsenal, the first 28 of those games yielded just 13 wins.

I enjoy the race for fourth, because it provides the illusion of genuine competition. As a supporter, you crave contesting something until the last second of the season. The thrills and spills of that kind of topsy-turvy battle are what make being a fan such an enthralling experience. However, it’s not a real trophy. It’s a surrogate.

What’s more, the margins are so fine that I’m not sure they allow us to make any valuable judgements. I’m not sure that if Arsene Wenger finishes a single point ahead of Andre Villas Boas it makes his season that much more successful.

As it stands, all we can do is sit and wait. By the time we play our next game against Wigan we should have a much clearer idea of exactly what’s required. Wednesday night’s clash between Spurs and Chelsea will be critical.

You’ll have to forgive me for feeling a little ambivalent about the whole thing. I hope we make the top four, but fundamentally I am more interested in why we finish 20 points behind United than whether we finish two points ahead of Chelsea.

Arsenal 1 – 1 Man United: Disappointed Love

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 1,448 Guns

Arsenal 1 – 1 Manchester United
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

After the game, Arsene Wenger described Arsenal fans’ hostility towards Robin van Persie as “disappointed love”. It strikes me that this explains much of the animosity and in-fighting among our own supporters. We all desperately want the same things, and the strength of that desire spills over in to frustration and anger.

Today, however, we can surely be unanimous that this was a positive Arsenal performance. For the first time this season we imposed ourselves upon a top four side, taking the game to United from the first few minutes. Indeed, we even nabbed an early lead, with Theo Walcott racing away to open the scoring. Those who chose to miss the guard of honour probably also missed our opening goal.

If there’s any negativity today it surrounds United’s equalising goal. Bacary Sagna gave the ball away with a sloppy back-pass before chasing back and felling Robin van Persie. As expected, the Dutchman converted the penalty with typical efficiency.

Sagna’s mistake came in the midst of an uncertain performance from a man who was, for several seasons, Arsenal’s most consistent performer. At his peak, he was twice voted as the league’s best right-back by his fellow professionals. However, this season his powers have visibly waned, and the moment his slide tackle made contact with Van Persie rather than the ball probably represents his Arsenal nadir – his ‘Eboue’ moment, if you will.

Just moments before Sagna had almost been responsible for conceding another goal. Released on the right by Tomas Rosicky, he dallied on the ball and was dispossessed, leaving him well out of position for United’s surging counter-attack.

There was a lack of conviction to Sagna’s play at both ends of the pitch. He vacillated between uncertainty, as when handed the opportunity to cross, and over-compensation, as when throwing himself wildly at Van Persie.

Some will relate his decline to the cloud over his contract situation. It certainly can’t help. Personally, I suspect it has far more two do with suffering two broken legs in the past year or so. The physical and psychological effects of that kind of trauma can’t be underestimated.

Anyhow, on balance, a draw seems a fair result. Arsenal may have dominated the play for long periods, but only occasionally did their possession convert to clear-cut chances.

This is largely down to the absence of a real-life centre-forward. For all Olivier Giroud’s flaws, he is at least a central striker with the physicality to pose a threat to the likes of Ferdinand and Evans. Lukas Podolski had neither the fitness to drag the defenders out of position, nor the willingness to attack the six-yard box. Arsenal played with a false nine, but not on purpose.

United, however, were consistently dangerous on the break. Even before Van Persie converted the spot-kick, he ought to have had a goal and two assists. First Wojciech Szczesny spread himself brilliant to block a goal-bound header with his face – then Phil Jones twice conspired to head wide with the goalkeeper rooted to the spot.

In the second half their counter-attacking threat only increased as Arsenal chased a winner. With a better final ball, United could have scored three of four times – only a last ditch block by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain prevented Ryan Giggs from adding an ugly gloss to the score-line.

Although United’s final pass was sloppy, there’s no doubt they came to win. Fergie picked his best side and was chasing a record points tally and validation for a team he still finds himself defending despite a convincing championship win. Arsenal matched them for ninety minutes, with Aaron Ramsey’s remarkable energy levels the key to our unusually intense display.

A midfielder is usually judged on his success in the 50/50s. At the moment, Ramsey is winning the 30/70s. His improvement in the last few months has been dramatic, and Rambo now looks ready for war.

I would’ve taken a draw beforehand and I’m more than satisfied with it now. A point against the the Manchester teams is never a bad one. We’re left with three games against QPR, Wigan and Newcastle. If we can’t take nine points from those, it’s hard to argue that we deserve a place at Europe’s top table.

And if you’re angry at dropping two points against England’s champions, perhaps you need to calm down. Remember: it’s just disappointed love.

Man U Preview: Let’s win for our own sake

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Previews, Premier League | 730 Guns

A lot of pre-match chat will surround how Arsenal fans should react to United entering the field. There is debate over how exactly we should greet the return of Robin van Persie. Some pundits suggest respect is due; most fans are preoccupied by revenge.

Frankly, I think it’s soap opera nonsense. There is something far more important at stake today: three points.

It doesn’t really hurt me to welcome United as champions. It would hurt far more if they’d won it at our expense, but it’s not as if they pipped us to the post. We were never in contention for the prize.

Seeing Van Persie return as a champions is uncomfortable, irritating and a touch embarrassing, but we’ve got to remember our priorities. Right now we’re embroiled in a battle to for Champions League qualification with Spurs and Chelsea, and this is a great opportunity to tighten our grip on third place.

As it happens, I wouldn’t be surprised if Van Persie was left on the bench today. Alex Ferguson left Wayne Rooney out on his first return to Everton, and perhaps the United manager will be mindful that including the Dutchman will work the Emirates crowd in to a frenzy.

It’s our responsibility to create that atmosphere regardless. United have little to play for; Arsenal still have their season at stake. On our home turf, we should have every chance of causing an upset.

Manchester United arrive today expecting to receive a guard of honour. Let’s make them run the gauntlet instead.

Arsenal Transfer Requirements 2013/14

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season | 1,323 Guns

If you’ve played Football Manager or FIFA 13, you might think you know how the transfer window works.

You’d be wrong.

The common perception is that it is an activity led by the clubs. They identify the players and then make an official approach to the appropriate chairmen.

In reality, it is rarely such a streamlined process. Transfers are conducted primarily through agents and middle-men. Take the case of Robin van Persie’s protracted move to Manchester United: the finer details of his contract would have been all but agreed before there was any official contact between United and Arsenal themselves.

Even the occasionally naive board at Arsenal are savvy enough to understand the way things work. That is why they, along with almost every other Premier League club, issue a ‘Player requirements’ list to Europe’s major football agents on the eve of every transfer window.

Each summer, the offices of agents are laden with spread-sheets and post-its detailing the individual needs of every Premier League club. They then play cupid, matching players with itchy feet to clubs with bulging budgets, and taking their 5% off the top as recompense.

Sometimes Arsenal are able to rely purely on the work of their extensive scouting team. Sometimes they are prepared to take a punt on a player proposed by an agent. It varies year on year, but the briefing they have put out ahead of this window gives us an insight as to what might happen this summer.

It’s another hugely important transfer window for the club. When United took Van Persie, the gap between them and us United widened agonizingly, like a freshly-cut Chelsea smile. Seeing them celebrate winning the Premier League last night, crowned with a Van Persie hat-trick, was agonizing. The Dutchman will face a cauldron of hate at the Emirates on Sunday, but will wear the armour of triumph and conviction. If we’re to stand any chance of reeling United in any time soon we need to improve the squad significantly.

My understanding is that Arsenal’s list reads very simply:

  • CENTRE-BACK
  • CENTRAL MIDFIELDER
  • STRIKER

My immediate reaction is surprise that the list doesn’t include a goalkeeper and a right-back. Perhaps Arsene Wenger has more faith in Wojciech Szczesny than we think, and perhaps Bacary Sagna is closer to a signing a new contract than we previously imagined.

It’s equally possible that these positions haven’t been mentioned as Arsenal have already identified and approached the players they wish to bring in to fill those roles.

What we can gather is that Arsenal are looking for a new spine.

CENTRE-BACK 

This one shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Arsene Wenger is fond of telling anyone who’ll listen that we have three top quality centre-backs. However, one of those (Thomas Vermaelen) has had such a poor season that he isn’t trusted to start despite the fact he is supposedly the team’s captain. Furthermore, beyond the trio of Vermaelen, Koscielny and Mertesacker, we are woefully short of depth.

Johan Djourou and Sebastien Squillaci are likely to depart the club in the summer, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Vermaelen join them. Typically, Arsenal lose at least one major player each summer, and this year could be Vermaelen’s turn. The Belgian’s stock is  still high enough for him to earn a move to one of Europe’s glamour clubs, and Arsene might see this as an ideal time to cash in on a player who has under-performed for more than a year now.

I have no idea who Arsenal will look to bring in. Ashley Williams has been mentioned and would certainly make sense, although I suspect he’ll be reunited with his former boss Brendan Rogers at Liverpool. A player with that kind of Premier League experience would be useful though. Wenger must surely regret not going the extra mile to secure the signature of a young Gary Cahill from Bolton two years ago.

CENTRAL MIDFIELDER 

When Arsenal sold Alex Song to Barcelona, Arsene Wenger elected to replace him with a repositioned Mikel Arteta and a rehabilitated Abou Diaby.

While Arteta has generally been consistent in the ‘pivote’ role – only Santi Cazorla has started more games this season – Diaby has spent the majority of the season injured before tearing an anterior cruciate ligament at a crucial point in one of his many ‘come-backs’.

The good news is that Arsene Wenger has already identified his replacement. My understanding is that preliminary talks are taking place as early as this week between Arsenal and representatives for the Lyon midfielder Maxime Gonalons.

Gonalons is a 24-year old France international, who was made Lyon captain by former-Gunner Remi Garde this year. Garde and Wenger are still close, and it seems that the former may have a given Gonalons a glowing reference. He’s been linked several times in the press, but from what I’m told this has developed beyond the usual transfer tittle-tattle.

This is certainly one to watch as the summer approaches.

STRIKER

Our greatest need is for a new centre-forward.

Olivier Giroud has had a good first season in English football, but it’s clear we require an alternative to the powerful Frenchman. With Giroud hoping to kick on in his second campaign, it will be tempting for Arsene to bring in someone who can play second fiddle to the handsome target man.

However, as I said on last week’s arseblog arsecast, my ideal would be to bring in a marquee name. A big signing would help fill the aching void still left after Van Persie’s departure, and transform the atmosphere around the club. As for Giroud: if he is going to develop in to the player we need him to be, he will respond to the increased competition and fight for his spot.

Stefan Jovetic is the name being linked most frequently in the press, and you can understand why. He is a different type of forward to Giroud – mobile, inventive and technically-gifted. He offers a similarly diverse threat to that of Luis Suarez, only without the biting.

Manchester United have shown the value of adding a star striker to your ranks. Let’s hope Arsenal follow suit this summer.

Fulham 0 – 1 Arsenal: Thoughts on red cards, Giroud, and Suarez

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 644 Guns

Fulham 0 – 1 Arsenal
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This was a dismal display from Arsenal…
…but it really doesn’t matter. At the end of a season, you’ll often hear managers saying they face “five cup finals”, or some such guff. And here’s the thing: no-one remembers who played well in a cup final. They remember who won.

Arsenal’s record in the seven games since the North London Derby reads six wins and one draw.  It’s a remarkable run. Prior to Spurs, we’d won just 46% of our league games. Since then, it’s 83%.

Steven Sidwell couldn’t really argue with his red card…
Partly because a card is an inanimate object incapable of discourse. Also because the tackle was more clumsy than calculated, but it was still dangerous. Arteta was lucky to escape without injury, and Sidwell had to go.

Arsenal failed to impose themselves upon the ten men…
The attacking trio of Giroud, Walcott and Cazorla were particularly poor. Walcott spent much of his time charging in to crowded central channels when he would have been better off stretching an outnumbered Fulham defence by providing width on the overlap.

It was satisfying to finally score from a set-piece…
Our failure to convert more of our corners and free-kicks is inexcusable. If the brain-dead orcs of Stoke can manage to rehearse and execute a few set-pieces, we should be able to as well. Watching Santi Cazorla fire a corner in to the first defender is like watching Picasso fail to draw a stick man. In this instance, Theo Walcott’s lofted free-kick was neatly converted by the combination of Koscielny and Mertesacker.

Giroud has little chance of an appeal…
Even though his tackle had all the force of a Gervinho shot at goal, his foot was clearly over the ball. Even if Arsene Wenger goes back on his post-match assertion that a red card was fair, Giroud has little chance of being let off.

Perhaps Arsene’s readiness to accept the referee’s decision is borne out of concern that Giroud may be burning out. The Frenchman was particularly poor at Craven Cottage, and taking him out of the firing line may be no bad thing. It is maddening, however, that we have no obvious replacement for the central striker role. I will forever regard Arsene’s reluctance to bid for Demba Ba as one of the most baffling decisions of his reign to date.

Results elsewhere…
…didn’t go exactly as we hoped. With Spurs facing City and Chelsea at Liverpool, this was a weekend on which we could have reasonably expected both of our rivals to lose. Instead, Tottenham came from behind to comprehensively beat City, while Chelsea were pegged back to earn a point at Anfield.

It makes the race for the top four incredibly tight. It’s important to remember that Spurs and Chelsea’s game in hand is against each other, so they can’t both take maximum points. At this stage, my gut instinct is that Chelsea’s fixture list is simply too tough to navigate without dropping points, so the North London clubs have the advantage for now. Three wins from our remaining four games will probably be enough for us, barring an extraordinary sequence of results from the other two.

The first of those games is against Manchester United, who could well be Champions by then. I’d certainly rather face a side hungover from a title-winning party than a side on the verge of winning the league at the home of a rival club.

On Luis Suarez…
Luis Suarez is a despicable human being. We’ve known that for some time.

In the aftermath of his latest transgression – biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic – he has been widely criticised by the football media. The same football media who have spent much of the season praising him and may have already voted for him as the Football Writer’s Footballer of the Year.

Gary Lineker has begun a campaign last night to see Suarez removed from the PFA Player of the Year Shortlist. I can’t help but think: isn’t it strange that it’s his behaviour today that has precipitated this reaction, rather than Suarez’s past behaviour?

Don’t exclude him from a shortlist because he bit someone. Exclude him from all shortlists – exclude him from English football entirely – because of his racist behaviour. It’s a thousand times worse; a thousand times more significant. I’ve been sickened and disappointed by how easily English football seems to have forgiven Suarez for his proven abuse of Patrice Evra.

Pundits will queue up to ask what kind of example Suarez biting Ivanovic sets to kids. I’d ask them instead what sort of example their season-long praise of a man guilty of proven racist behaviour sets.

I recognise that Suarez is a fantastic footballer. But that, like the biting, is something of a red herring.

This season, some Premier League players chose not to wear t-shirts that bore the slogan ‘Kick it out’. It saddens me that the stark and important message of that campaign seems to have been forgotten.

Arsenal 0 – 0 Everton: Giroud misfires in stalemate

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 798 Guns

Arsenal 0 – 0 Everton
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

I’ve seen this hailed as a great match…
I’m not sure I necessarily subscribe to that point of view.  The first half was stodgy, made more turgid by some poor refereeing. Neil Swarbrick allowed Everton to get away with a few too many physical challenges – Darron Gibson in particular was lucky to stay on the field after two hacks at Theo Walcott – and Arsenal’s passing game lacked the fizz to escape Everton’s clutching and cleaving.

The second half was a marked improvement as Arsenal finally began to build up some momentum. However, we were unable to capitalise and a tiring Everton escaped with a draw.

The three best chances fell to Olivier Giroud…
…and arguably, the Frenchman should have walked away with the match-ball. First he stretched to meet an Aaron Ramsey cross but poked his effort wide. Then a goal-bound effort from close-rage was diverted away by some superb defending from Sylvain Distin. Finally, he fired over with his right-foot after creating space inside the penalty box.

I’ll be kind and say he was unlucky in front of goal. However, the very best forwards don’t rely on luck. Giroud is a good player, but he is not exceptional. It’s clear to me that acquiring a world-class centre-forward is one of the most obvious ways in which Arsene Wenger can improve the squad this summer.

Giroud is popular among the fans, but that oughtn’t disguise our need for someone superior. His defenders will point to the 17 goals he has scored, and with some justification, but I’m reminded of Emmanuel Adebayor in 2007/08. The Togolese totem-pole racked up 30 goals, but was rebuffed in most quarters with cries of, “Well how many should he have scored given the chances he’s missed?”.

The same is true of Giroud. For every goal he’s scored, there’s another he’s let slip by. What’s more, unlike in 2008 we don’t have an Eduardo or Van Persie on the bench to support him.

Jack Wilshere struggled again…
Perhaps it’s just a fitness issue. Perhaps not.

In the past two games Arsene Wenger has deployed him in the number ten role. He’s done it to compensate for the absence of Tomas Rosicky and maintain continuity with a midfield shape that’s proved successful in recent weeks. However, I’m beginning to wonder just how suited to that position Wilshere is.

Wilshere is a player with immense vertical drive. He can burst past two or three players in succession. That quality is best deployed deeper in midfield, where he can open the game up with a moment of skill and acceleration.

In the more advanced role, the sole flaw in his game – his one-footedness – becomes painfully clear. His turning circle is relatively wide, and he becomes surprisingly predictably as he is constantly forced back on to his favoured left-foot.

Tomas Rosicky is admittedly similarly one-footed when striking the ball – his preference  for the oughtside of his right over his left-foot is infamous – but he is a tighter dribbler than Jack. He turns on a six-pence. Jack’s spin is still very tidy, but requires space more akin to a ten pence piece.

It was notable that Arsenal managed to build up much more momentum when Santi Cazorla switched in to the number ten role. His two-footedness lends a genuine unpredictability to the Arsenal attack – he can go both inside and outside his marker. He’s also more comfortable dropping in to wide areas, which enables us to create an overlap and get crosses in to the box.

On the night, Wilshere ended up being outshone by Aaron Ramsey, who was again outstanding. He’s playing with confidence now, and it manifests itself in a busy physicality that makes me think he could have a genuine future as a first-team starter.

Szczesny should re-think his kicks…
In this game he lumped the ball up toward Giroud time after time. However, the Frenchman was superbly marshalled by the towering Fellaini. He barely won a single flick.

I don’t know why we’ve abandoned the policy of kicking towards Sagna that was so successful last season. The right-back would win knock-down after knock-down for Theo Walcott to race on to. Against the diminutive Baines and Pienaar, it seemed like an obvious ploy to use.

One for Arsene to come back to.

Arsenal looked tired by the end…
The likes of Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey and Cazorla were shattered. It’s been an exhausting period for the Gunners, but they’ve come out of it well. This result is not a bad one by any means, especially if coupled with a win at Fulham on Saturday.

The five fixtures we have remaining produced four losses and one draw last season. Arsenal will need to turn that round entirely if we’re to secure a top four spot.

 

Arsenal 3 – 1 Norwich: Arsenal set for a sprint finish

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 698 Guns

Arsenal 3 – 1 Norwich
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Anyone expecting an easy ride had clearly forgotten last year…
When these two sides met at the Emirates in May of 2012, Arsenal’s Champions League destiny had finally fallen in to their own hands – their butter-clad, slippery hands. Arsenal slumped to a 3-3 draw, and only the remarkable incompetence of Tottenham Hotspur allowed us to wrest back control of the race for fourth place.

Yesterday was very nearly the same story. Norwich took the lead through a brilliantly-executed set piece, and Arsenal toiled for much of the game.

However, eventually we managed to drag ourselves back in to the lead – and unlike last year, we held on to it too.

Arsene Wenger deserves credit…
For long periods of the game I found myself wondering how  Chris Hughton had managed to draw such impressive performances from a decidedly average XI. By contrast, Arsene’s Arsenal were performing well below the expected standard of a fleet of internationals. In terms of motivation and organisation, Hughton appeared the clear winner.

However, Arsene has enough experience to know when it’s not working. He is occasionally criticised for being too inflexible with his substitutions, but on this occasion he called for Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski as soon as Norwich took the lead. He was brave enough to withdraw the out-of-sorts Jack Wilshere, and later gambled by switching Aaron Ramsey to right-back and deploying Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the centre.

The conviction Arsene showed to make those changes ultimately won us the game.

Lukas Podolski is among the very best players in this Arsenal squad…
Each of the subs made a crucial impact. Walcott grabbed an assist and should have been awarded a penalty and The Ox’s direct running created the crucial second goal. The real game-changer, however, was Lukas Podolski.

No player in the Arsenal squad represents such a consistent menace to the opposition goal. On the ball, Podolski is our best finisher and ruthlessly efficient in the penalty area. Off the ball, his movement is intelligent and he shows a real willingness to play off Olivier Giroud.

Although Podolski is comfortably one of Arsenal’s best eleven players, he has not always been in Arsene Wenger’s best XI. Some whispers suggest his spell on the sidelines is explained by an ankle problem that requires surgery.

If that is truly the case, cameos like this explain why the club have decided to wait until the summer before proceeding with an operation. Podolski can make a vital contribution between now and the end of May.

Let’s credit the officials who get it right…
The penalty given to Arsenal has been described by the Norwich management and a host of pundits as “controversial”. Not because it wasn’t a foul: no-one can deny that Olivier Giroud was wrestled to the ground as he went for the ball.

Instead, the supposed controversy stems from the fact it was the linesman, rather than the referee, who awarded the spot-kick.

This shouldn’t matter a jot. The referee had a stinker of a game, and the linesman should be commended for making an immaculate call from such a distance. It’s absurd that the question of whether or not a linesman should be allowed to make such a call has become secondary to the more important question of whether or not he got it right.

He did, so hats off to him. They’re called assistant referees for a reason.

Time for a sprint finish…
If Arsenal beat Everton and Fulham this week, we could be seven points clear of Spurs before they play their next game. They’ll have games in hand, of course, but it’s always better to have the points on the board rather in deal in hypotheticals.

The match against the Toffees will be a difficult one, but Arsenal have some serious momentum now.

The cannon is rolling in to position. Time to blow away the opposition.

WBA 1 – 2 Arsenal: Rosicky the run-in expert to the rescue

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 1,102 Guns

WBA 1 – 2 Arsenal
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Tomas Rosicky is a bit like Wigan. Or blossom. Come spring, he comes to life.

It’s freezing in England. Going by the weather, you’d be forgiven for thinking we were still gripped by midwinter. A more accurate calendar is created by the form of Wigan and Rosicky. The changing of the seasons is more reliably marked by the sight of an energetic Czech midfielder darting about the Premier League than it is by any shift in weather patterns.

If Rosicky ever does leave Arsenal, perhaps he should consider joining Roberto Martinez’s side. With their powers combined they could probably go from relegation strugglers to title-challengers between March and the end of May.

For now, Arsene Wenger is eager to keep him. It’s easy to see why. Arsenal have players with greater technical gifts, but few who marry those gifts with such a degree of hard work and commitment.

Goals have been hard to come by for Rosicky, but the double he scored at the Hawthorns showed a rare predatory instinct. His first was a diving header to divert a wild strike from Gervinho. The Ivorian received praise from some for an ‘assist’, which I think might be putting it a bit strongly. Whilst Gervinho’s direct style and clever footwork certainly contributed to the goal, only Rosicky’s intervention transformed a miscued shot in to an effective cross.

His second goal was also reliant on lightning reactions. Aaron Ramsey broke well and crossed to find the number seven. After his first shot was saved by Ben Foster, Rosicky raced on to the rebound and fired smartly in to the corner.

From that point on it should have been a comfortable Arsenal victory, but that’s just not our style. With 20 minutes to go, Per Mertesacker was dismissed for a clumsy tackle as the last man. James Morrison converted the resulting penalty, and suddenly Arsenal found themselves very much under the cosh.

In their panic, Arsenal were completely incapable of retaining possession. Arsenal invited West Brom on to them, and only luck and last-ditch defended prevented the Baggies from finding an equaliser. This fixture was our final game of last season, and will be remembered for Arsene Wenger clinging nervously to Pat Rice. This game was every bit as finely balanced, and you could have forgiven Arsene for seeking a hug from the far less cuddly Steve Bould.

The last passage of the game was summed up by the final few seconds of stoppage time, as Ben Foster was allowed to dribble fully forty yards up the pitch unchallenged before launching a long ball in to our penalty area.

Fortunately, Arsenal survived. Few wins this season have been as satisfactory. It was gritty, it was grubby, and it was great. The three points take us in to the top four, with the onus now firmly on Spurs and Chelsea in their games tomorrow.

The continuing progress of our rivals in the Europa League means this pattern will be repeated between now and the end of the season. We will have more opportunities to take the initiative and crank up the pressure on the other two London clubs.

Since losing the Derby at Spurs, Arsenal have won four games, scoring ten goals and conceding just two. We have the momentum, and we have Tomas Rosicky.

The omens are good. We just need to keep it going.