Archive for March, 2013

Arsenal 4 – 1 Reading: Arsenal win on Gervinho roulette

1,263 comments March 31st, 2013

Gervinho shows off his Paolo Di Canio impression

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

Fair play to Arsene…
I raised my eyebrows when I first saw the line-up he’d selected, but the result redeemed him. The two surprise inclusions were Gervinho and Bacary Sagna at the expense of Carl Jenkinson and Lukas Podolski, but both players demonstrated their worth with impressive displays.

Let’s celebrate Gervinho when he’s good…
…because we’re certainly quick to criticise him when he’s bad. The Ivorian was terrific in the wide attacking role usually occupied by Theo Walcott. Like Walcott, he was clearly encouraged by the manager to dart inside and support Olivier Giroud whenever possible. While the Englishman is undoubtedly a better finisher, Gervinho’s movement and dribbling ability is probably superior, and provided a constant headache for the Reading defence. We’re used to seeing Gervinho cause chaos on the pitch, but rarely for the right reasons.

I don’t expect this performance to mark any kind of pivotal moment in Gervinho’s Arsenal career. I don’t think he’s about to embark on a long run characterised by reliability and consistency. The goals and assists will always be accompanied by glaring moments of miscontrol. The flaws in his technique mean he will always remain unpredictable and erratic. However, every so often it will click and work out for him. When it does, we should be grateful and gracious.

Santi Cazorla was far too good for Reading…
Watching him, I began to worry that if we continue our gradual decline he will soon be too good for Arsenal as well. Since moving to England, he has been selected for the Spanish national team with increasing regularity. Among that group of players he represents something of an anomaly as he does not play for either Barcelona or Real Madrid. Not yet, anyway. I wouldn’t be surprised if Arsenal were eventually tested by a bid from one of the La Liga giants. Cazorla is a rare gem, and the twin powers of Spanish football know it.

Regardless of what happens down the line, I’m determined to enjoy him while I can. If you love football, you love Santi.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s form is on an upwards curvature at last…
Until recently his season had been full of frustration. His potential is undoubted, but we’ve only seen flashes of his ability during this campaign. However, after an ebullient performance for England against San Marino, this cameo was full of the powerful running and energetic effervescence which built Chamberlain’s reputation as one of the brightest young talents in European football.

The table…
…is a little misleading, due to our game in hand. Currently, Chelsea are just two points ahead, with Spurs a further three in-front.  However, our North London rivals have played a game more.

It’s incredibly close, and all we can do is continue to win our games and hope for more slip-ups from Tottenham and Chelsea. Both clubs are competing on more than one front, while Arsenal are have the advantage of a single and solitary focus. We know what we need to do. Yesterday was certainly a step in the right direction.

Reading Preview: Is this thing on?

199 comments March 30th, 2013

One-two… one-two… is anyone out there? Is this thing on?

Football is back. It feels like it’s been away for an eternity. We had that international nonsense, but that’s not ‘football’ as I understand it. It’s essentially an elaborate cover-up for a conspiracy to maim as many members of our squad as possible.

This time round we lost Theo Walcott to an injury picked up while away with England. Fortunately for Theo and Arsenal, it’s not too serious and he should be back in the next couple of weeks.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for Abou Diaby: Arsenal’s worst injury news was reserved for a player who hadn’t actually gone away on international duty.

Diaby has torn his left anterior cruciate ligament while training at London Colney, and will subsequently miss the remainder of 2013. It’s unsurprising, but still terribly sad. There’s no doubting Diaby’s talent, but it seems injury problems will prevent him from ever fulfilling it. I don’t want to write him off prematurely, but even if he recovers from this injury and is fit and healthy for the remainder of his career, the years he has lost mean he will never be the player he threatened to be.

By the time he returns from this injury he will be 27. He should be at his peak, and yet his career has never really started. I would curse his luck, but I’d far rather curse Dan Smith: the man responsible for the horror tackle that precipitated his decline.

Arsene Wenger had previously earmarked Diaby as someone who could player an important part during the run-in. However, the manager will now have to do without his French midfielder, starting today against Reading. Despite an intervening fortnight gap, I expect the line-up to show some continuity from the ones which triumphed over Bayern and Swansea. That means the defensive trio of Lukasz Fabianski, Carl Jenkinson and Laurent Koscielny should continue at the expense of messrs Szczesny, Sagna and Vermaelen. In midfield, Arteta and Ramsey will provide a defensive platform for Santi Cazorla to weave his magic. Olivier Giroud should keep his place upfront, and Arsene will then have to choose two wingers from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho and the fit again Lukas Podolski. I’d like to see a recall for the German, who was devastatingly efficient in the reverse fixture back in December.

This is a game Arsenal must win. It’s also, with respect to Reading, a game Arsenal should win. Tottenham travel to Swansea who are certainly no pushover. The right results today could see Arsenal within a point of their North London rivals with a game in hand. After the derby defeat, it catching Spurs felt unthinkable.

Now, Arsenal fans everywhere are wondering: is this thing on?

Come on you Gunners. Let’s make it happen.

Bayern 0 – 2 Arsenal: A template for the rest of the season

495 comments March 14th, 2013

Well how wrong was I. After predicting before the game that Arsene Wenger had all but given up the ghost, Arsenal went on to secure a rousing 2-0 victory and almost pull of the comeback of all comebacks.

It’s very reminiscent of last year’s tie with AC Milan. Just like last year, the damage was done in the first leg. And just like last year, Arsenal escape with their pride soothed and their fixture list lightened. There’s no good way to go out of the Champions League, but this is as close as it gets. Arsenal emerge redeemed and reinvigorated to focus on the all-important task at hand: returning to this stage by reaching the top four.

Contained within this performance was the DNA of an Arsenal team capable of hauling its way back in to the Champions League. Arsene Wenger must play John Hammond, extract it and bring it back to life before our very eyes, starting this weekend at Swansea.

The components are clear:

  • Hard work
  • Disciplined defending – not just from the back four, but the entire team
  • Efficiency in attack

This was a display that was hugely unlike Arsenal. It was based on a grim determination to keep a clean sheet, and a ruthlessness when occasionally afforded the chance to attack. The two goals Arsenal scored were impressive, but it’s the nil they conceded that marked out a stark improvement.

Intriguingly, Arsenal put together their most cohesive defensive display of the season without their captain, Thomas Vermaelen. Vermaelen’s recent form has not just been questioned, it’s been water-boarded, and after his disastrous display at White Hart Lane he was taken out of the firing line for this match with Bayern. On the strength of Mertesacker and Koscielny’s display, it’s hard to see how he’ll get back in.

All too often this season we’ve seen Vermaelen retain his place on the strength of his status as captain rather than the strength of his performances. For the good of the team, that can not be allowed to continue.

There will be calls to retain Lukas Fabianski too, after the Pole produced a surprisingly composed display in the Allianz Arena. I’d be less hasty to subscribe to propose that. His positive performance is relatively anomalous in his Arsenal career. Szczesny retains my backing – until the summer at least.

I’m glad for Arsenal fans. Particularly for those that travelled to music, but also those watching from afar. Our team gave us reasons to be proud, and reasons to believe. Like Hammond’s dinosaurs, there is life in us yet.

Arsene has declared this a dead rubber

193 comments March 12th, 2013

If Arsene Wenger thought Arsenal had any realistic chance of progressing against Bayern Munich, Wojciech Szczesny would be playing tomorrow.

If we had designs on producing a remarkable comeback, surely we’d be selecting the man most likely to keep a clean sheet. Conceding would take the chance of victory from implausible to impossible. And yet we’re preparing to select one of Lukasz Fabianski or Vito Mannone: a pair of keepers not entrusted to play against the likes of Bradford and Blackburn in the domestic cups, with Szczesny “rested” at home.

You don’t “rest” players in the biggest games. The decision suggests that Arsene has declared tomorrow a dead rubber and is focusing attention upon an increasingly important domestic campaign. On balance, it’s hard to argue with that point of view. Even the most optimistic Gooner will struggle to make a case for Arsenal being in the hat for the quarter-final draw.

If the tie were a bit closer, I have no doubt that Szczesny would play. I suspect Lukas Podolski, left at home to nurse a niggling ankle problem, would also be in the side. As thing stand, Arsene is being pragmatic. Reaching the Champions League quarter-finals is less important than being in the group stage next year.

Arsenal don’t need to progress tonight, but they do need to restore a modicum of pride. We travel to Swansea on Saturday for a difficult and crucial league game. Restoring some confidence with a creditable result in Germany would be a huge boost, especially for a squad which will be rattled by the loss of the inspirational Jack Wilshere.

We’ve got a huge battle on between now and the end of the season. My delight at Liverpool’s victory over Spurs at the weekend was tempered by the knowledge that Brendan Rogers’ side are now making significant ground on us. Arsenal need to fight for fourth and yet are in real danger of slipping to sixth.

The Bayern game is about finding reasons to believe, for players and fans alike. Let’s hope we get some.

Tottenham 2 – 1 Arsenal: The Defending is Indefensible

849 comments March 3rd, 2013

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

Those Arsenal supporters who defend Arsene Wenger most vehemently occasionally insist that he is a victim of circumstance: a selfless man who has martyred himself for an economic cause. He works, we are told, with one hand tied behind his back – and presumably it’s the hand he signs cheques with.

That might well be true. I find it hard to believe that Arsene is somehow prohibited from using the vast reserves of cash at the club’s disposal, but I’m prepared to entertain the idea. It’s a potential explanation of an otherwise baffling transfer policy.

If it’s possible to defend Arsene Wenger’s work in the transfer market, it is far harder to excuse his work on the training ground. Yesterday Arsenal were undone by some truly dire defending. Having dominated the early stages, we conceded two goals in as many minutes to hand the initiative and with it the game to Tottenham.

Arsenal’s defensive line looked like it’d been drawn on a spirograph. Playing a high line against the likes of Bale and Lennon is always a risk, but doing so when your defence is bereft of any kind of organisation borders on masochism.

The mistakes were so basic, so fundamental, and so frustratingly familiar. We’ve been here time and time again, and yet the defence don’t learn their lesson. My conclusion has to be that it’s a lesson they’re simply not being taught.

All of these players have a distinguished defensive record with their former clubs and international sides. Only at Arsenal do they appear so flawed. My impression is that for too long the defensive side of the game has not been a priority for the manager.

For a time, we got away with it. Wenger’s early sides inherited the famous back four from George Graham. The Invincibles could rely upon the protection provided by Vieira and Gilberto and the extraordinary recovery pace of Toure and Campbell. What’s more, both sides were balanced out with an irresistible attacking threat. Even last season, we could rely on Robin van Persie to dig us out of the holes we created for ourselves.

No more. We now have a porous defence, and a plain poor attack. Arsenal dominated the midfield for huge swathes of this derby, but came up short at both business ends: Giroud’s laboured display upfront neatly paralleled the slapstick at the back.

Tottenham weren’t great, but they’re organised and determined. That counts for a lot. This win takes them seven points clear of us and hands them a huge advantage in the race for Champions League qualification.

It’s not quite over. Their fixture list gets a lot trickier over the next six weeks, and we also have the possible boon of a Chelsea implosion to look forward to. Arsenal can still make the top four, but if we do it’ll be in spite of our own self-destructive tendencies.

Arsenal now face ten days of brooding and self-examination before a daunting trip to Bayern Munich. Respite is likely to be in short supply. It’s a gloomy time to follow the club, made gloomier by the stark fact that of 28 league games this season, we have won just 13.
Unless that record improves dramatically, it will be hard to argue we deserve a place at Europe’s top table.

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