Arsenal Beat Villa to Keep Up Good League Run

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Arsenal beat Aston Villa 2-1, with a brace from Santi Cazorla. The second of which came just 6 minutes from full-time to the relief of Wenger and the fans. The Spaniard brought his total for the season to 11, the fourth top scorer for Arsenal.

Despite getting the vital three points that would see us gain on those above us and move away from those below us, many were still critical of the way Arsenal played, saying that they still lacked a number of things in their performance.

Getting a goal early on was perhaps the most important thing that happened for us in the game. If we hadn’t scored, chances are Villa would have and we would have lost our confidence. Even by not scoring we probably would started feeling sorry for ourselves again and then all the fans would get on the teams back.

Fortunately this wasn’t the case. Santi tried to play the ball in along the ground to the far-post for it to be cleared straight at him. He controlled it nicely with his chest, pushing it beyond.a couple of defenders before slotting it away past their ‘keeper.

Villa had a few chances but Szczesny who has come under heavy criticism in recent weeks was matched to them. However, midway through the second half, Aston Villa broke on the counter attack from an Arsenal corner and with 4 against 3, Weinneman had plenty of choices. He went with the perhaps, less obvious one of shooting. Luckily for him it paid off but Szczesny yet again failed to save a shot he really should be able to.

The 22-year-old has a lot of learning to do still, but it seems he has become worse. Perhaps a huge knock in confidence? It wouldn’t surprise me with the constant critics of his performances and rumoured replacements.

For someone who was very promising and full of the almost arrogant nature a ‘keeper needs, he has certainly taken a step backwards in his career. Fortunately he’s just a kid in goalkeeper terms.

The defence haven’t exactly helped his cause, with the back-four, and midfield don’t forget, leaving him completely vulnerable at some point during every game.

The passion and commitment from them is poor, the quality in their defensive skills is also poor, and their organisation and structure is more often than not, non-existent.

With no real defensive midfielder, or anyone holding, the back-four are consistently exposed. The Villa goal is a perfect example, but unfortunately one of many every game.

A player in this position is a must-purchase this summer.

The centre-backs have also had a torrid time. It’s hard to nail a single cause or problem, it is just so wide spread it touches every aspect. The bottom line is they aren’t good enough. Vermaelen perhaps an exception, giving him the benefit of the doubt after his outstanding seasons prior to this one. Hopefully he’ll be able to overcome these “nerves” Wenger talks about, and his injury will be completely cleared up. It seems like a combination of these things is having a negative effect on him.

We have also seen in recent weeks, how poor our strikers are. We possess no real threat up front, no one is a concern for the opposition. Our striker doesn’t exactly strike terror in to the opponents eyes like van Persie (sorry), or Aguero, or Suarez and so on.

We need a man up there who can do the business. A Cavani, a Jovetic, a Falcao. It’s unrealistic it will happen, but the reality is it’s what we need.

These are more positions that we need to buy.

Unfortunately we won’t be able to no matter how much money there is if we don’t get top-four.

The attacking midfielders though, they are something to savour. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep them throughout the summer too!

BRING ON SPURS!

Arsenal’s Misery Deepens, As Bayern Show Champion Credentials

Wenger's Woes Continue

It was always going to be a tough game for the Gunners, facing a Bayern side who had reached 2 out of the last 3 Champions League Finals and improved their squad significantly since. A disappointing performance from Arsenal served to highlight every weakness that has been present for some time now.

On the back of an embarrassing defeat to Blackburn, it was expected Arsenal would come out fighting with something to prove, resembling the strong mental character that Wenger always claims to be present. Unfortunately, quite the opposite is true, and another abysmal start to the game saw Arsenal 2-0 down after 20 minutes. It’s such a common theme this term it’s becoming ridiculous. How mentally fragile must these players be?

Surely they must think by now, we need to come out and play at our best, give our all, and at the very least the fans will appreciate our effort and commitment to the cause. We have nothing to lose? By hiding in their shells, playing with nerves and blaming each other at every opportunity the bad starts will just continue. Talk about not learning from your mistakes. This isn’t the Arsenal way.

We’ve been 2-0 down to City, Chelsea, Liverpool and now Bayern, before really get into the game, just in the last month and half alone. Is it Wenger? It’s the manager’s job to keep them psychologically strong. Perhaps all his talk about psychological strength is making them doubt they have any? Maybe it is just the players? Maybe they’re fine until they get out there when Wenger can do no more.

As usual, we came out fighting in the second-half. Playing with a bit of freedom. But it was too little, too late. Getting a goal back quickly through Podolski was a great start to the second-half, but a shame we couldn’t do that in the first-half.

Bayern were happy to contain our possession and pressure us when we moved into their final third, before hitting us on the counter-attack. With us failing to create any real chances, and squandering the ones we did, it’s little surprise that with Bayern’s quality they were able to get a third and seal the victory, if not the tie.

Early on it seemed we were in the game, Cazorla was in space out on the right, but a poor cross saw that move over as quickly as it had started. Minutes later we had a corner that Neuer missed as he came out to get it, but unfortunately for us, everyone else missed it as well.

Seconds later, we lost the ball in our own half and Bayern were free down the right putting in a scuffed cross which came to the edge of the area, missed by Ramsey, the only player remotely close. Mertesacker was slow to react like usual, and it fell to Kroos who put it away into the right hand side of the goal. Szczesny couldn’t do much, you have to look at the shocking defending primarily. But a keeper of Neuer’s calibre may have saved it, you’d think. You can’t give a man that much time and space to slot it away though, it’s defending basics.

The fans were now silenced, after another poor start. Previously, everyone was optimistic and loud and enthusiastic. This killed it off somewhat, and the second goal on 20 minutes left even those who still held high hope doubting everything. A corner that wasn’t dealt with always spells disaster against Arsenal. Foremost, what is Mertesacker doing, why is not attacking the ball? A free header with no pressure, Szczesny saves, but straight to Muller a yard from goal and it was in. Unacceptable for Champions League Knock-out football.

Half-time boos were out again.

Arsenal came out fighting in the second-half, a quick goal from Podolski from a corner after a mistake by the usually excellent Neuer meant Arsenal were back in it. A host of possession and a couple of chances, but no goals.

Giroud and Rosicky came on for the poor performing Ramsey and Podolski who don’t seem to be suited to this high-level, obviously why Podolski never made it at Bayern.

Rosicky showed himself as the only one with real signs of creativity through some great passing. Don’t get me wrong, Jack was brilliant as usual, great runs, great commitment, but Tomas’ passes are exquisite.

A memorable long ball to Walcott, who controlled and crossed well, in a game where he gave very little, found Giroud who hit it perfectly first-time, but found Neuer rather than the goal. A shame he couldn’t produce a usual blunder, or scuff, that would have gone awkwardly in.

The failure to score meant we were still 2-1 down, and a side as good as Bayern are always going to get chances. Our defence was much weaker than there’s and exposed several times. In the 77th minute, they would grab a third from a cross along the floor that really should have been dealt with before it reached the far post.

Bayern had just 42% possession, but were happy to contain our non-penetrative passing until they decided to press collectively and win the ball before hitting us on the counter. Our failure to create chances from our predictable, slow-paced football, meant we could only muster 10 shots to their 17, despite our domination of possession.

Sometimes you have to put your hands up and say, Bayern were the better team, we lost fair and square. This is certainly one of those times. But what hurts the most, is not that we lost to a side who are one of the favourites to win the competition, but that our performance was so lacklustre, so uninspiring, so dispassionate, and so uncommitted. By everyone, except Jack Wilshere. You’d expect a response from the weekend but it everyone was despondent. It’s a crying shame. There are issues at Arsenal that go several levels deep. Every level.

A few years ago, we weren’t winning trophies, but I was much happier. We were competing, we had that passion, we had a lot more desire. I felt like we could challenge for every trophy, that we were a few good signings away from winning everything when we had Fabregas, Van Persie, Nasri, Song, playing alongside Jack Wilshere, a Vermaelen and Sagna who were two of the best in the league. We used to moan just about the defence, but now it’s like a virus that has spread everywhere. Now I don’t feel like we can compete for anything. It hurts to be an Arsenal fan right now, I can’t see an end to this torture with the current set-up. Major changes are needed.

Hopefully the players can pick themselves up and put in some performances, no one’s going to do it for them. I can’t bear to see us lost to Spurs.

Stumbling Arsenal Trip v Blackburn

Theo Slumped After 4 FA Cup successes, Wenger certainly knows how to win the most traditional and prestigious domestic trophy there is. A record prior today showed that he was yet to lose to a lower league team in the FA Cup which he claimed in his Press Conference yesterday, showed that he takes the competition “seriously”.

However already this season Arsenal have lost to lower league opposition, in the face of Bradford during the League Cup Quarter-finals, to then lose 1-0 at home to Blackburn, making it twice in one season after such a good record can only mean one thing?

Yes, Arsenal aren’t as good as they used to be. It will be argued that this isn’t the case, that it was a mistake, a fluke, we dominated the game and the chances and we prepared properly. Perhaps the players attention is on the Champions League game? I hope this is true as I am searching for some or any alternative reason for this poor showing.

But I think it’s my duty, as a blogger, a provider of news and opinions to many, to give a balanced argument despite my annoyance at the teams display today.

To start, Arsenal went in to this game on the back of a 5 game unbeaten run. This in itself is good. What’s more, we had won our last 2, keeping 2 clean sheets; a rare fate. These positives should have given Arsenal players confidence, but I suppose 7 changes has a big impact and a different starting 11 doesn’t have the same confidence that other players essentially earned? Was this Wenger’s first mistake today? Probably. Is the Champions League a realistic potential trophy? Not really. Is the FA Cup? More so, yes.

However, the squad are supposed to be able to rotate. We play in the league, Champions League, and FA Cup. The same 11 cannot physically cope to play all these games and this is why you rely on those other players. So did Wenger really make a mistake in changing the team with a view to Bayern Munich? No, the costly decision was made in transfer windows. We can’t compete with a squad lacking quality in-depth.

I don’t intend to have a dig at anyone, I’m not knocking anyone, I am simply stating what everyone knows. If you disagree, then you are blindly optimistic. The situation is so unclear, is there money? Or is Wenger refusing to use it? Or won’t the board let him? I don’t want to reopen old wounds, but selling players for £20-30m and buying replacements at £10-15m inevitably means a cut in quality. How much of a choice in this there was, I can’t honestly say.

Wenger has been hugely successful at Arsenal, and the success he brought earned him the opportunity to put things back right, but he continues to ignore everything in sake of his own ego in producing quality players from nothing, and hoping they’ll repay him by staying in a world which is now all about money. And without success, it makes it all the more harder. We’re not offering either.

That’s enough of the board and management at Arsenal. Moving on to the players, it seemed that today against Blackburn we lacked passion, desire, motivation, determination. You get where I am going with this. Who are the players that everyone loves the most? The ones who wear their heart on their sleeve. Those who give 110% every game, combined with their talent of course, and come the end of the game they are knackered. Back when I played Sunday league as a youngster, the coach would have us running around the pitch after the match if we played like that. You know what I’m getting at, some of you are probably thinking I know exactly this scenario.

Even in the dying embers of the game, we were strolling forward with the ball carelessly, misplacing passes, with a lack of people making runs, a lack of players finding space, a lack of everything really. It is bizarre that after we worked so hard last weekend and the week before, that we return to this abysmal same old situation.

Wenger talks about “mental strength” and our “character” but to me, it seems like it’s something we are severely lacking. The players don’t have confidence, and there is a lot of pressure on them. But Arsenal’s no different to anywhere, a team who should be competing for trophies that is trophy-less for this long, it’s inevitable. Especially when Arsenal charge the highest prices, and every year claim we’re contenders and sell players and don’t buy enough of the same calibre. It’s so easy to see why everyone’s frustrated. Further when changes aren’t made despite repetitive seasons, which this year is looking like one of the worst.

To look at the positives of the game, we dominated the possession with about 70% and had 28 shots whereas Blackburn were pretty much on defensive duty the whole afternoon. They played well, but they are a Championship side not even in the play-off places. We should have been capable of beating them, but that final ball, that final finish was missing. The usual culprits of Gervinho and Giroud, both squandered chances that should have at the least tested the ‘keeper.

Blackburn took their goal well, it was undoubtedly a nice finish, but Szczesny has to do better when clearing the original shot. Basic rule of goalkeeping is to push it away from danger. I know he would know this. Perhaps it was ironically a lack of mental strength, of concentration, having been uninvolved in much of the game. But this is what separates the best from the rest, the top ‘keepers at the top clubs aren’t going to be in constant action, but they need to be relied on when called upon. Maybe he isn’t receiving the coaching he needs as a young goalkeeper? He certainly seems to have the raw talents and attributes necessary.

There’s a lack of leadership in the team. There isn’t a single player out there today that would take responsibility and take charge and pull the team together. You need leaders. Vermaelen and Arteta just didn’t do their respective jobs in defence and midfield as the Captain and Vice-Captain, of leading the team forward. Jack Wilshere, I think it would be fair to say is the only player with this quality. Everyone just seems to look to him when in doubt. We need more than one of these types of players, in previous years we’ve had van Persie, Cesc, then going back to the days of Henry, Viera, and Adams and well essentially we’ve always had these players, they seem to have disappeared?

Fans pressure is in my opinion understandable, we all want to be winners, we all want results and it’s frustrating because the team always seems to slip up when you’d think it least likely. It’s just typical of Arsenal. Against Bayern, as underdogs we’ll probably relax and play well and be the team that works hard, like Blackburn were today. It’s a hard thing, the psychology behind it all. This is something I have the up-most respect for Fergie, for. For all his faults, he is a great manager. The winning mentality United have, even when at their worst, they grind out results. That hard-fought nitty-gritty attitude. Something we could really do with.

Tell me, how are we going to keep hold of Wilshere, Cazorla, Walcott, and others? A time will come where they’ll all want to leave if we continue down this path.

Still, I look forward to the Bayern Munich game with optimism. You never know in football what can happen. Arsenal can play really well, and are capable of winning the game. They key words in that sentence being ‘can’ and ‘capable’. Wenger’s made it into such an important game now. If we win, things swing back in his favour the time being, but if we lose, then the pressure will be looming over him significantly, more so than ever, and the League will be all we have left where fourth place is Tottenham’s to lose.

Arsenal Grind Out a 1-0 Win at Sunderland

It was a return of the 1-0 to the Arsenal once again this week, a result we haven’t seen twice in a row for some time now. A long-missed defensive solidarity that Arsenal fans have craved for 5 or 6 years now, although it is by no means proven or consistent as of yet.

Arsenal dominated much of the game, creating numerous chances and scoring just the one goal before Jack Wilshere was subbed off injured, and Jenkinson was sent off for a second bookable offence. Sunderland then piled on the pressure, especially in the last 10 minutes.

It was a bright start to the game, with Theo Walcott hitting two on target in the first 8 minutes and although Simon Mignolet was equal to them, Theo probably should have got one of them in.

Sunderland setting about their physical game, they knew it was the only way if they wanted to get something out of it and Cattermole’s return was surely the catalyst for their ‘dirty’ tackling in midfield against our technically gifted quad of Wilshere, Cazorla, Ramsey and Arteta. Cattermole was booked in 80 seconds after a lunge on Ramsey.

Unfortunately the ref didn’t give the protection that the Arsenal players deserved, especially Jack Wilshere. Arsene Wenger stated that,

I was a bit frustrated because I thought Jack didn’t get the free kicks he deserved. The referee let two or three things go that I thought were a foul on Jack. I just want the referee to give a foul when it’s a foul. I don’t want any special protection.

However, despite many bad tackles from the Sunderland players, it was Carl Jenkinson who would pick up the next yellow card after 18 minutes for a mistimed challenge.

Arsenal continued to press, and it was a great run from Jack Wilshere, charging through the midfield pass three players before he found Walcott, who controlled it then laid it off to Cazorla and with a crisp hit from his left foot it found the far bottom corner from the edge of the area and Mignolet was unable to keep this one out to his left, after a string of fine saves.

Jack Wilshere was taken off early into the second-half after a collision with N’Diaye who left his leg in, injuring Jack’s thigh. Diaby came on in place and added a physical presence and height that would soon be crucial when Jenkinson was sent off for an almost identical mistimed challenge down the wing.

After the challenges and fouls by the Sunderland players, it is frustrating that we should end up with 10 men. But it’s hard to argue that Carl’s tackles weren’t bookable offences yet you want the referee to be consistent, and against Sunderland, he just wasn’t.

This was to change the tides, and Sunderland would go all out attack to get an equaliser, bringing on Danny Graham to a great ovation. Last time he played at the Stadium of Light he was booed endlessly for Swansea, as he is a Newcastle fan. How fickle fans are.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And that is exactly what Arsenal managed to do. Ramsey dropped in at right-back, and Sagna had his best game of the season playing centre-back, ironically. He even out shone Mertesacker, who has 86 caps for Germany in that position. He won more headers than most, and considering he’s a short fella, this was a great achievement.

I thought Ramsey played quite well too, and carried out his tasks well wherever he was asked to play, but Cazorla was on a different planet and some of his play was superb. He worked so hard to get box to the box in the last 20 minutes, trying to create things for Arsenal even though we were under constant threat. At 74 minutes he played through Walcott who hit the post, and this would have sealed the win more comfortably than we did. Wenger had this to say on him.

Top, top class. When you think that this guy is not a regular in the Spanish national team, it shows you how good they are. I think he had an outstanding performance today.

Giroud I was disappointed with. Not only did he miss a host of chances throughout the game, but gave little to collective effort, and in that last 20 minutes you want your tall, strong striker to be holding up the ball to bring others in to play as obviously they were all defending. But time after time he lost it, once even blazing one over the bar from long-range when Santi and Theo were options. Wenger went manic at this point, shouting and flapping his arms. It was a huge frustration and as with a good ten minutes left it was far from won.

But Szczesny really did save the day. A number of great saves that could have easily gone in, and we could have easily lost even, if it wasn’t for him. Mertesacker left him having to deal with a one-on-one. He produced a fine stop with his leg. Later he would be bombarded with crosses and headers, but in the last second he grabbed hold of the ball from Mignolet’s flick, and there was no way he was letting go.

The whistle went and it was a magnificent sight to see most of the players so emotional, shouting, hugging, and happy. It was such a battle and for once we didn’t capitulate. Some of the players like Santi were just bending down trying to catch their breath after working so hard. The passion was unbelievable and nice to see the players experiencing it as well as the fans, they seem like they are really going to grow together, as they are already, and this was without Jack or Vermaelen on the field as well remember.

Player Ratings /10:

Szczesny – 9/10

Jenkinson – 5/10

Sagna – 9/10

Mertesacker – 7/10

Monreal – 6/10

Arteta – 6/10

Ramsey – 7/10

Cazorla – 9/10

Wilshere – 9/10

Walcott – 8/10

Giroud – 6/10

Diaby – 5/10

Miquel – 5/10

Read my View the Numbers feature for an analysis of the game with statistics.

Arsenal 1-0 Stoke – Match Report

Arsenal fought to a well deserved 1-0 victory against Stoke, but the encounter was no less tough than usual. Wenger joked afterwards that it was the biggest ‘cultural shock’ possible for Monreal, who was thrown in to the first team after just one training session at Arsenal on the Friday against the most physical side in the Premier League.

Perhaps it was partly for this reason that Podolski and especially Cazorla started on the bench. After playing many games throughout January it’s also understandable they would need a rest, but Stoke provides a good opportunity when stronger players like Diaby are an obvious choice for the physical battle. It prevents these quick, nimble players getting the living daylights kicked out of them, as Walcott received, with Wenger perhaps having one eye on the Champions League encounter coming up and not wanting any more injuries to key players after Gibbs was ruled out. However, it became necessary at 0-0 with half an hour to play to bring them on and inject the pace and urgency necessary to get the win.

Arsenal dominated the game, how Pullis can say his side deserved something is beyond belief. Arsenal played some good football and if there had been some better finishing it would have been a comfortable win. On the other hand, Begovic did have a great game, making many great shot-stops, especially from close range.

Arsenal had 23 attempts to Stoke’s 7, with only 1 of theirs on target; a long shot and easy save for Szczesny. With an expected 64% of possession in our favour. Plus the fact we got the all important goal. Yes, Pullis, you definitely deserved something. Delusional.

Walcott looked sharp again, despite not getting a goal to add to his great record of 18 starts and 18 goals, now 19 starts. Against Stoke it was obvious they would try to bring him down and stop him running. This was exactly what happened, and Wenger claimed that Shawcross should have been sent off for the number of yellow card fouls he committed. Walcott was subjected to most the bad tackles, but did earn the free kick on the edge of the area that led to the goal from Podolski. It was a deflected shot, but off of Stoke player. The linesman put his flag up for offside as well; the only man offside was Walcott and he was furthest away from the play, therefore not ‘interfering with play’. The goal deservedly stood.

Monreal had a good debut, making many good runs and delivering some excellent crosses. Defensive-wise there wasn’t much to do in all honesty, but what there was he did well, we shall see how he does in that department over the coming weeks. I expect him to start at Sunderland and Blackburn while some may be rested at Blackburn in view of the Bayern clash 3 days later, while Nacho is ineligible.

We move on with the important 3 points. Everton dropped 2 points. Chelsea dropped 3 points. Hopefully Tottenham can drop some points too. We are left 5 points off of 3rd, which isn’t too bad and considering we still have Tottenham and Everton to play and there are many big games amongst rivals, it’s certainly all still to play for.

We have a home game in the FA Cup against Championship opposition Blackburn, an expected win there will see us reach the FA Cup quarter-finals, and a big game in the Champions League against Bayern, going in as underdogs means the pressures off and if we play like we can (minus the slow starts) I don’t see why we can’t put up a good game.

Reason to be optimistic I think. Come on you reds.