Drawing at Liverpool

It was a game that needed to be won. Three points were vital. But we only managed to get the one after a poor defensive display, especially early on, again. We were lucky in the end that Tottenham and Chelsea, both also drew, but this makes it all the more frustrating in some respects as we could have gone to gain on them, if we had won.

Liverpool played as well as they have done this season, and putting us under pressure early on seems the way to be the way to play against Arsenal, like a fashion, but who can blame our opponents when each of Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City have succeeded in doing this and ultimately leaving us with a mountain to climb. A 2-0 deficit every time.

It borders unexplainable. Wenger puts it down to a psychological ‘nervousness’, but they need to be mentally tougher as Wenger always proclaims them to be. These are fully grown men, international footballers, being paid tens of thousands a week. Everyone gets nervous, but why is it Arsenal that seems to be the only team with a consistent problem in the same area. One thing is for sure. Fourth place will quickly slip away if we continue to defend in that manner.

The defensive frailties were catastrophically exposed from offset. Bacary Sagna slipping over, adding to his list of mistakes that lead to goals. But he wasn’t single-handedly to blame. Vermaelen’s attempt at a clearance was abysmal. Szczesny made a good save, but with four or five defenders you expect the ball to be cleared. It comes to Suarez after Ramsey dances around it, and he inevitably takes the shot. Mertesacker is one of the biggest players around, he has 85 caps for Germany and is internationally acclaimed. Is it just something about Arsenal and defenders? Per jumps and turns his back, like a schoolboy. All I can call it really is pathetic. It takes a deflection off of Per and goes in. 1-0 to the visitors.

It was by no means all Arsenal. But Liverpool were unworthy leaders at half-time. We had a number of opportunities, most notably Theo Walcott with a great chance on the half-volley a minute or so after Liverpool scored their first. However, Liverpool defended deep, and did it well. We were limited to passing around the box for a lot of the first half and were then subjected to their counter-attack which produced a goal line clearance from Podolski, and a shot from Henderson in an attempt to lob Szczesny who had to come off his line.

G0ing into the second half we looked more positive, it seemed that we could turn things around. However, the circus were in town in the defence and Mertesacker and Santos were put in Henderson’s pocket as he dribbled through them. His first shot was saved but bounced back to him and he put it away with ease. It was 2-0 and the fans were absolutely furious, believe me.

As luck should have it, the attacking players were having a great game despite the lack of goals. They reaped the rewards eventually with a Giroud header, and a great striker from Theo Walcott, both coming in a matter of minutes to make it 2-2. Liverpool’s resistance had yielded enough for us to get these goals, which were deserved, but it’s in these games you need a solid defence so the goals count for more. It’s not as easy as playing West Ham or Newcastle, where we will score many in the ‘we will out score you’ philosophy.

Despite our pressure, Liverpool held out for 2-2. Giroud should have scored at least one if not two. The most obvious chance was a one-two with Podolski but it was deflected marginally and got lost in his feet. The second, a header which he should have done better to get on target.

Liverpool had a few opportunities too. Santos, with another dreadful game, with a minute to go plays it to a Liverpool player in our half and thanks to a great save from Szczesny again he was let off the hook. I think he owes Szczesny a beer.

It will do nothing to appease the fans though, and with Gibbs out for 3 weeks as the original forecast, I hope dearly that Wenger plays Vermaelen at left-back or even buys/loans someone. Just not Santos, anyone but him. When we play Bayern, Robben, Ribery, if  fit, will tear him to pieces every time, every minute.

Priorities for deadline day have to be defensive-wise. There’s no good signing Villa, as much as I’d love him, with the defensive issues that are occurring. I personally am not satisfied with Sagna this season, nor with Mertesacker and obviously Santos especially without Gibbo. A defensive midfielder to hold things steady back there is needed too, but it all depends how confident Wenger is. Hopefully he isn’t cocky because he has good record of things just working out in the end but this year has to be the toughest of them all.

 

Getting the Job Done: v Brighton

Arsenal travelled south to play Brighton and Hove Albion in the fourth round of the FA Cup, a team who beat Newcastle comfortably 2-0 in the third round and are sitting in 7th in the Championship vying for a play-off place. As expected they were all well up for the encounter, and the early signs suggested that perhaps some of the Arsenal players were not.

It took a great stop from Szczesny in the 14th minute to keep it level in what was a one-on-one chance; the best so far. But mere seconds later up the other end of the pitch, Giroud controlled a pass from Podolski and curled it neatly into the top corner from the edge of the box. Podolski getting himself 4 assists in 2 games with that his latest addition.

But if us Arsenal fans thought we were in for an easy ride, well, you should have known better. Brighton pushed for an equaliser and didn’t the defence put it on a plate for them. Poor all round to say the least. Santos had another shocker, and Brighton attacked that flank time after time. Eventually they were rewarded with a goal from corner, with the Arsenal players left looking at each other after a huge and simultaneous lapse in concentration. Szczesny appeared to call for it, but unfortunately when you call and come to get  it, you really have to get it. He didn’t. The inevitable equaliser occured. 1-1.

No changes in the second-half, with many a Gooner praying that Gibbs would come on. Nonetheless, Giroud hit home another with the presence of mind to bring the ball down inside the area and slide past the keeper while under pressure.

Game over, surely?

No sooner had we taken the lead we were left wondering, as usual, why Wenger doesn’t sort out the defence. A calamity of errors and the seasiders were back on level terms. Disaster had struck, surely we couldn’t face yet another replay.

Wilshere and Walcott were summoned and tilted the game in our favour. Gibbs also came on for Santos, who received a well-deserved, echoing cheer of sarcasm. A replacement has to be up there as a priority, he is completely unreliable yet he shall probably end up loan with some of the fellow can’t-be-sold players, Denilson, Bendtner, Park, Chamakh, etc. Another bad buy in the defensive department from Wenger.

With a huge sigh of relief from Wenger and all the Arsenal fans, a winner was found. It had to be that man, Theo Walcott. A long range, deflected shot found it’s way into the corner and Brighton were left with nothing but pride for their efforts. 3-2.

It was a typical cup game where the lower league team wanted it so much and worked so hard to get it, but it’s these games that tend to separate the best from the rest, and although we should be beating Brighton undoubtedly, we didn’t have the best of games. Time and time again the successful teams are those who scrap out the wins when they may not deserve them, or don’t play as well. And that’s exactly what we did, dug in and got the win.

Hopefully the fifth round draw is kind to us, especially with Bayern Munich to play just 3 days later. I really feel this is a competition that we have a chance to win and hopefully can. It could be the foundation that sets us off for future successes. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

Our Own Downfall

It seems time after time, we insist upon shooting ourselves in the foot. Our performance against Aston Villa on Saturday was a completely lacklustre one. Incapable of creating chances, and poor at keeping possession. Despite not winning any trophies over recent years, these are two things that if you asked anyone in the world with half a brain, what Arsenal’s traits were, or what Arsenal were specifically good at, they would have told you those. But it seems now tides have turned, and more often than not we are struggling, especially with the creation and taking of chances.

You just have to look at games against QPR, Norwich, Schalke, Man United, and Villa, amongst others, to see how inconsistent we have become. I don’t know whose fault it is, the board, the manager, the players, but we haven’t improved over these transitional years, and are forever being told tomorrow will be better.

I’m not one to point the finger and say Arsene needs to go, if anything I think it’s the boards doing. And even though there is probably some truth in us becoming one of the top clubs in the world revenue wise, and being able to compete at a higher level with more money coming in, it doesn’t hide from the fact we have been strung along year after year, told to keep the faith, next year we will challenge, but still have to pay the highest prices in the league. All the while we are selling our top players and replacing with them, good, but more often than not, cheaper players with less quality.

And it seems perhaps it’s finally starting to show with results. We are sitting a very nervous 6th in the league. It’s early days, but recent results (bar Spurs) aren’t exactly filling me, or anyone else with optimism. No one knows what will happen, but there’s nothing we can do at the moment as fans. We have to hope things turn out for the good, and in a couple of years the stadium will be paid off, money will available for transfer and wage funds, and financial fair play has a decent effect.

Back to the Villa game, and on reflection I feel no different to how I did then. We were really poor. I can understand the need to leave Wilshere and Sagna on the bench with Everton on Wednesday and them having come back from long-term injuries. Too many games will do more harm than good. Vermaelen has been poor, with Gibbs back, I can’t really fault that decision either and a clean sheet shows the defence wasn’t the main problem if at all. (Still a fan of this zonal marking)

So when it comes down to it, Wenger puts his faith in the players he has out there, he thinks they’ll do him a good job. Perhaps he over looked one thing. This team didn’t have Theo Walcott who can always make a difference. When you take out key players, and game-changers, as well as those who are injured, you miss the spark and flare often needed to win games (especially in our case).

Jenkinson is good, and promising. But he’s no Sagna. Wilshere is quite clearly irreplaceable. Arteta is having a bad run of late. Ramsey is frequently playing poorly, and the fans are always on his back. He loses the ball far too much. He’s no match for Jack. Giroud receives very little, decent crosses with no Walcott or Bac. Chamberlain’s not having a great time either, and he tries to cut in all the time when he’s out on the wing, but it doesn’t work. And Podolski it seems only plays well when the team is playing well, and is invisible for much the game. This leaves a lot of pressure on Cazorla, but obviously he can’t play by himself.

So we have a team low on confidence, and fairly low in quality too if I’m honest. There were no runs for passes, no passes for runs, and hardly any crosses of any use either. We were stuck in a rut and didn’t know what to do. This highlights several issues. The fact the players are unsure on how to adjust their game to get a goal, or how the manager is too stubborn to change his ways in times of need. It’s also clear that we lack squad depth and quality, and are relying on a few too much.

I’m also stumped at decisions made. Why is that Podolski and Giroud are taken off before the end of the game when we HAVE to score. Moreover, why is it Gervinho, who is fairly useless, and Coquelin, a defensive midfielder, are two players brought on when we HAVE to score.

In the dying moments of the game, what do you do? You get the ball in the box. So it is completely beyond me why you would take a striker off, whose scored 5/6 goals with his head. Especially to bring on a CDM.

Furthermore, what is the point in putting Jack Wilshere on the bench if you’re not willing to play him when we need him. I understood the decision to rest him, but if you can’t bring him on leave him at home, it was just a waste of a sub spot, you could have put Chamakh or someone on who could have come on and been used as an aerial threat.

It all seems rather bizarre. That’s why I called this post, ‘Our Own Downfall’.

Arsenal Qualify for Last 16

With Man City out, Chelsea heading that way, and Man United losing, Arsenal were really the only successful English team in the Champions League this week.

A comfortable 2-0 win against Montpellier saw us keep a hold of second place in our group, while Schalke beat Olympiacos 1-0, meaning us and Schalke have qualified for the Round of 16. Unfortunately we sit in 2nd place behind Schalke because they took 4 points from us when we played each other, and unless they were to lose points at Montpellier who are now completely out of Europe, our chances of regaining that first spot are impossible.

However as Wenger said, sometimes it’s not certain that finishing 1st is the best because teams such as Real Madrid still manage to finish 2nd. Finishing 1st gives you a greater chance of getting through to the next round, but more often than not it’s not massively important. Unless of course you are drawn against Barcelona.

During our 5th group game, Jack Wilshere scored his first goal in 2 years, first since his comeback, with a tidy dink over the keeper after Giroud headed it down for him. Giroud was also involved with another assist for the second goal, playing Podolski through with a lob over the defenders, where Lukas hit a screamer on the volley rocketing past the keeper who had no chance whatsoever.

It wasn’t our best performance, but it was comfortable and in control. For a change, I never felt as if we were going to let it slip, or even worried that we would. Hopefully this was down to our performance but I fear it may have something to do with how poor Montpellier actually were.

Nonetheless, we have to beat Olympiacos, and Wenger intends to do so, sending in a ‘full strength team’ to get the job done, should Schalke slip up, through what would most likely be complacency. However, Germans don’t often do complacent. Efficient is what they are, so don’t get your hopes up.

And we move on back to the Premier League at the weekend, to face Villa in the late Saturday kick off. A good opportunity to get a win, continue this decent run, and potentially move up the table.

A lot of the teams above and amongst us are playing each other over the coming weeks, and this will provide us a very good chance to gain on them, and get ahead. Should we win these games that we really need to be winning if we want to have a good season.

That’s all for now.

Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham

In 2012, Arsenal have scored 10 goals against Spurs. Two games, two 5-2’s and two easy victories. Tottenham started the game reasonably well, and has us on the back foot on the odd occasion, going 1-0 up through Adebayor early on with the chance to make it 2-0 within 15 minutes. Fortunately for Arsenal, Adebayor got himself sent off with an outrageous tackle, over the top of the ball, studs up, hitting Cazorla’s ankle/bottom part of the leg. It was a potential leg-breaker. And after Bale tried to push Wilshere around unsuccessfully, Adebayor received his marching orders.

This gave us the confidence and urgency we had perhaps lacked in the minutes prior to Spurs going down to 10. From that moment we really took control of the game, and at no point looked back. It was assuring to see us play so well, because even though it was against 10 men, they still had two banks of 4 for us to penetrate. Something we achieved 3 times in the first half. Firstly, Per Mertesacker headed home is first Arsenal goal after a nice bit of trickery and well worked cross from Theo. Next up, rather precariously, Podolski was able to get the ball in the far corner past Lloris, after a couple of deflections and misjudgements from Spurs. Thirdly, Cazorla got the assist with a nice run after being fouled but staying on his feet, round the defenders and crossing it in low where the long swooping leg of Giroud met it to make it 3-1. We went into half time head and shoulders above Tottenham who hadn’t even mustered up another shot on goal.

Once the second half was under way, AVB’s changes started to show as they tried to attack more (more than nothing). It seemed as if they could have the opportunities to get a goal or two, but any doubts were squashed when a long ball from Szczesny, was flicked on from Giroud, expertly controlled by Walcott, who then engineered a pass through to Podolski. Lukas crossed it first time and Cazorla was free towards the back post to hit it in fiercely with his right foot. 4-1 to the Arsenal.

We calmed down for a bit now, in an attempt not to completely humiliate Tottenham and destroy any dignity that they may have remaining. Much to the fans disgust they managed to steal back a goal when Bale drove one in to the bottom corner with his right foot from outside the box. Defenders should have done better in closing him down and stopping the shot, especially Mertesacker. An area in need of undoubted improvement. Tension was surrounding the stadium and given our recent loss of leads, it was understandable. We succeeded in keeping Tottenham at bay, and in stoppage time the pace of Chamberlain and Walcott prevailed. The Ox intercepted a Spurs pass and pushed on, Walcott kept ahead and it was essentially 2 on 1. Alex sought out Theo, and he finished it neatly across the keeper to round off a good game from him, and Arsenal. Another 5-2 against Spurs.

Kings of North London, again. This year will be our 18th year of finishing above Tottenham.