Reaction to Olympiacos defeat: “Are you free Thursdays?”

Dear dear. What a night. Here are a couple of written pieces in reaction to a truly awful result:

  • The Mirror: ‘Arsenal’s Champions League failure is down to attitude, not ability’
  • Unibet: ‘Why Arsenal can’t afford to be sniffy about the Europa League’

All very familiar. On to the next one: Manchester United on Sunday.

 

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

welbeckgala

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.

Arsenal 1-2 Dortmund: Lewandowski gives Arsenal the elbow

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.

Olympiacos 2 -1 Arsenal: Nothing to see here

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

I really don’t have anything very interesting to say about this game…
I watched it, and it was relatively entertaining.  But I couldn’t take it seriously.  Arsene patently wasn’t too bothered himself, and so it was very hard to get emotionally involved in it.  I enjoyed elements of our performance and the goal we scored – this was certainly a better display, even with a weakened XI, than we saw against Swansea or Villa – but it never felt truly competitive.  It’s a shame not to win the group, but there are dangers on either side of the draw.

Tomas Rosicky was probably our best player…
…so it speaks volumes about how much of a priority the match was for Arsene that he took Rosicky off at half-time.  Perhaps he’s considering throwing the Czech in for the game at West Brom – he adds some much-needed tempo to our game.  I’d consider including him as part of the trio behind Olivier Giroud.

Jernade Meade was impressive again…
I liked the little left-back’s cameo at Reading, and he did extremely well on Tuesday considering he was making his first start in senior football away from home in the Champions League.  I’m told he’s a full three inches shorter than Santi Cazorla, which is frankly ridiculous, but he stood tall on the night with an energetic and confident display.  He was helped by the performance of Thomas Vermaelen  alongside him, who has shown a significant improvement since returning to centre-back.

We’ll be seeing a lot of these players again within a week…
I’m sure many of these guys will be in action again in the League Cup tie with Bradford City.  They can’t afford to lose then – that looks by far our most realistic hope of a trophy this season.

Montpellier 1 – 2 Arsenal: Resilient Arsenal keep Montpellier at bay

Montpellier 1 – 2 Arsenal (Belhanda (pen) 9, Podolski 16, Gervinho 18)
Match Report | Highlights | Steve Bould’s reaction

There was less rotation than we anticipated…
I suspect there a few major factors in Arsene’s mind. First of all, the injury to Wojciech Szcesny meant that changing more of the backline any more could have resulted in real unfamiliarity. The central partnership of Mertesacker and Vermaelen has been excellent thus far, and disrupting that would be unhelpful at this stage. Lastly, I think he saw the value of getting off to a good start in the group stage, and wasn’t prepared to do anything to jeopardise that.

Arsenal were a bit impetuous early on…
Abou Diaby got himself booked after just twenty-one seconds, and their was an edginess about us in the early part of the game. It came from a good place; from wanting to get the game won as soon as possible. However, it almost cost us the match, with Thomas Vermaelen giving away that penalty after only nine minutes.

The penalty decision was 100% correct…
I find it slightly tiresome Arsenal fans contesting every decision that goes against them. This was a nailed on penalty: Vermaelen failed to get the ball, took down the man, inside the box. Simple. Our complaints are made all the more silly by the fact that many other referees would have punished us with the award of a second penalty right at the end of the game after Abou Diaby hung a leg out in our own box. As for Vermaelen, this was a little sign of his immaturity as a defender: he will learn that the conservative option of shepherding his man is often safer then diving in to a well-intentioned tackle.

Going behind was a test…
We had not been in that position thus far, and I wondered about the psychological ramifications. Our response, however, was fantastic.

Podolski is an unerring finisher…
Speaking after the game, Steve Bould said:

“Podolski has made a real impact. I have to say, I’ve not seen many finishers as good as him – ever.”

Big words from a man who played alongside the likes of Ian Wright. On the early evidence, however, it’s easy to understand why Bould was impressed. Last night, he was calm enough to take a tough, dummy the keeper, and slot home. What I thought last night was this: it is hard to think of a presentable chance he has missed. Long may that continue.

Jenkinson is improving fast…
I’ve long banged the drum about how Carl Jenkinson is the club’s best crosser, and his assist for Gervinho won’t have me putting my drum down anytime soon. His all-round play continues to improve, and his fitness levels are astonishing. His dad was a distance runner, and I’m told that he’s possibly the best stamina athlete at the club too. I thought Arsene might field Coquelin in Sagna’s absence, but his decision to go with Jenkinson has thus far been hugely vindicated.

Giroud was better than lazy pundits would have you believe…
As Giroud was subbed off for Aaron Ramsey after 75 minutes, Alan Smith called it “a night to forget” for the Frenchman. I’m not sure I agree: he was involved in the moves both for goals, provided an assist for Podolski, and worked hard throughout the game. We will need him this season; he gives us shape and a focal point. Playing with a guy like Gervinho at number nine is all very well when you control possession, but sometimes we’ll need to deploy a player who can win it in the air and hold the ball up. Giroud is that man.

The second half was all Montpellier…
Their manager has since admitted that their second half display was the best form they have shown this season. Finally, we saw why they were French champions last year. They played with real tempo and verve, whilst we looked leggy. I found it hard to understand why we didn’t make more changes earlier, but perhaps Steve Bould was loathe to make subs without Arsene’s say-so.

All in all, this was a good night…
The performance wasn’t at the same level as Southampton and Liverpool, but the result is very good indeed. There are no new injuries and our confidence is unharmed. Now the players need to rest up before a massive test on Sunday.