Posts filed under 'Match Previews'

Everton Preview: My glass needs refilling

Add comment April 6th, 2014

I’ve seen our draw with Manchester City cited as vindication of our abilities against the top teams. I can see why one might think that: it was a valiant fight-back against a team in rampant form who are still in the thick of the title race.

My glass, however, is half-drained. I’m more inclined to observe that we haven’t beaten either of Manchester City or Chelsea, home or away, all season. The aggregate scores aren’t pretty. We secured draws in the home games, but they were draws the opposition were more than happy to take. The point suited them far more than us.

Those results are ultimately what have knocked us out of title contention and in to a customary battle for a top four finish. Today we face Everton in what is being called a “six pointer”. Arsenal hope to have an FA Cup Final to look forward to, but this is undoubtedly Everton’s cup final. Lose, and they face an unexciting trudge towards the Europa League. Win, and they will believe they can overhaul us and reach the Champions League.

This is undoubtedly a huge game. However, it’s only become a huge game because we failed to win any of the other huge games. Everton are striving to climb the mountain; Arsenal to arrest the slide.

Given Everton’s challenging fixture list, a point would be fine. I think Arsenal might set up more conservatively than usual. If we avoid defeat today, our run-in looks manageable.

Come on you Gunners.

Thoughts on the Derby & Deadline Day

3 comments September 2nd, 2013

Derby Day victory…
Felt as good as it ever does. Arsenal needed this win more than Tottenham, and it showed.

It was fitting that this game marked the return of Mathieu Flamini to Arsenal: our display was cast in his image, occasionally lacking finesse but full of commitment and courage. Our passing game wasn’t firing on all cylinders, but we were certainly fired up.

Spurs looked like a side who haven’t yet worked out their attacking strategy. They don’t seem to know what sort of service Roberto Soldado thrives off – for all their possession, they didn’t create many clear-cut chances.

They had similar problems last season but got out of jail time after time thanks to one Gareth Bale. Fortunately, they no longer have that trump card at their disposal.

Conversely, Arsenal seem to be developing a fairly coherent tactical set-up. As against Fulham, once ahead they dropped deep behind the ball, using the lung-busting running of Walcott and Ramsey to launch rapier counter-attacks.

If it weren’t for the alert goalkeeping of Hugo Lloris, Arsenal could have won by another goal or two.

Mesut Ozil is a game-changing signing…
Assuming it goes ahead, it’s massive. I would never have believed that we’d be capable of signing a marquee talent of this level.

All the other big names we’ve been linked with this summer have had some slight against them. Higuain never convinced in Madrid’s biggest games. Suarez is a bitey racist rat. Conversely, Ozil was a Real regular and is arguably in the world’s top ten players.

Ozil is genuinely one of my favourite footballers. I’ve been infatuated with him ever since the 2010 World Cup. I can hardly wait to see him play.

However…
I hate to gripe on what is a undoubtedly momentous day for the club, but I’m staggered that Arsenal are going to go in to the season with Olivier Giroud as the only senior centre-forward.

Giroud was superb against Spurs, but by the end of the game was exhausted. It’s a feeling he’ll have to get used to in the coming months.

Right. Now it’s time to get this deal announced. Less than an hour to go. Come on Arsenal.

Newcastle Preview: Jubilation or Recrimination?

931 comments May 19th, 2013

It’s tempting to compare this to cup final day: a one-off game to decide the destiny of the sole remaining prize on the table.

Typically of Arsenal, however, we’re talking about a cup without a trophy; a prize without a medal. Champions League qualification is rightly a priority for the club, but it brings with it no formal garlands.

Nevertheless, it’s important. Supporters are generally united in their desire to see Arsenal flex their financial muscle this summer; European qualification makes that infinitely more likely. It’d also us to avoid the significant heartache to be pipped up at the post by our neighbours and rivals, Spurs.

It’s in our own hands. Victory at St. James’ Park guarantees fourth place; perhaps even third if Chelsea slip up at home to Everton. Tottenham know they must beat Sunderland at home to stand any chance of leap-frogging us in to the Champions League.

Arsenal ought to have enough to secure three points today. In these end of season games, the side who needs victory more generally takes it. Footballers are hard to motivate at the best of times, and Pardew will have a job getting his lacklustre Newcastle side at the races for a game that matters little to them.

News broke last night that Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has offered a £1m bonus to the non-playing staff should they beat Arsenal. That doesn’t change much. Incentivising the dinner ladies is somewhat redundant when the dinner ladies are unlikely to be playing. I suspect the circulation of this story is a PR move designed to counter Alan Pardew’s ridiculous assertion that he “didn’t care” if the Toon Army got tonked now they’re safe from relegation.

As far as the team goes, I’d stick with the same back four that started against Wigan. Nacho Monreal has generally started the away games, but this is no time for rotation, especially at the back.

Olivier Giroud has returned from suspension and I’d favour immediately reintroducing him to the side. Podolski finished well twice against Wigan but his contribution to the rest of our play was minimal. Giroud provides a focal point and could prove useful for set pieces at both ends.

Finally, if there’s any way at all we can Mikel Arteta on the pitch, we should. Even if he can only manage an hour, it could be vital. He is the de factor captain of the team, and there is no direct replacement for him within the squad. If he picks up another knock and has to come off, he has several months to recover. One thing is certain: Arteta himself will be desperate to play.

When Arsenal take to the field at 4pm, I’ll actually be at work. I’ll finish at almost exactly the same time as the match, and log on to furious recriminations or wild jubilation. It seems absurd that a 38-game season can be decided on one match, one point, one goal.

That’s because it can’t. Whatever our final league standing is come 6pm, it’s important to remember that’s not so much down to the events of today as it is the story of the entire season.

Whatever happens, a backwards step will be required to assess this season properly. There’ll be time for that next week. For now, it’s time to cross all available digits and hope for the best. Come On You Gunners.

Wigan Preview: A relegation six-pointer

672 comments May 14th, 2013

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.

 

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

731 comments April 28th, 2013

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.

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