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Campbell's made Ox all but obsolete. Will he lay waste to Walcott next ?

By Woolwich 1886

Published 14/01/16

So we traded three points in hand thanks to a stoppage-time equaliser, leaving Anfield with just one point. Still, the signs, I'd say, are positive. Ask Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool, and Tottenham howthey feel about dropping points at home. I know that we were moments away for seizing all three, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Speaking of which, it seems about time to recognize 

one such player whom we very nearly discarded and have to be counting our blessings to have kept: Joel Campbell. In his first full season with Arsenal, he's started to make an impression, enough of one to consign Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to a bit part. He's this season's Coquelin. He's a poor-man's Alexis. If Theo Walcott hasn't sat up and taken notice, he'll be sitting a lot more often in the future.


Just a few months ago, the man was a running joke, threatening to set a record for loan-spells. Fast-forward to the middle of a heated Prem campaign in which Arsenal sit top of the table, and Joel Campbell might very make himself indispensable. He gets Wengerball, yet he plays with a chip on his shoulder without getting chippy. He tracks back. He links up. He hustles. At a risk of throwing down a gauntlet, he does everything Walcott doesn't. It's a bad sign indeed when Walcott's most-noticeable contribution on the night was to cough up the ball just outside the area, à la Oxlade. Aside from that, he was largely invisible, even as the game opened up when Liverpool desperately chased an equaliser. In Walcott's ideal world, that is the ideal situation: an injury-depleted defense exposed on counters because players are pressing forward, creating space behind for him to run into. Still, even with that situation, Walcott couldn't find a way through to contribute. There's a role for him at Arsenal, but it may not be the one he wants. More on that in a moment.

As for Joel, he brings to the squad the same kind of verve and hustle that we saw last season from Coquelin. Like le Coq, he's eager, bound, and determined to prove that he belongs once and for all. While his pedigree hardly reads like that of most players in the starting XI of a squad fighting to win the Prem, sometimes, you have to look past the pedigree and look at performance. With each passing week, he gets ever-more confident, setting aside the tentative, risk-averse play that, paradoxically, undermines performance. In recent weeks, he's shown confidence bordering on cheek—witness his little heel-flick to himself against Sunderland, followed shortly thereafter by some deft dribbling and bodywork in the corner (somewhere around the 78th minute, for those inclined to investigate). Against Liverpool, the stakes were higher as we twice fought back from deficits and then defended a narrow lead, but his touch and his vision were still there.

To assist Ramsey, Joel collected the ball with a deft touch, deking two defenders. His angled pass in for Ramsey was sublime even if it left a bit of work for Ramsey to finish it. It wasn't long before he showed that this one was no fluke. Fast-forward just a minutes past Giroud's goal to make it 2-2. Campbell collects the ball just inside the area. He dances over the ball but ultimately stands still. Defenders fall for each little deke. Stillness. Speed. Walcott makes a run and Campbell threads an inch-perfect pass for him, and Walcott crosses. Ramsey just misses getting a cleat on it, and Giroud can't quite bundle it home. If he does, we're hailing Walcott for assisting on the go-ahead goal. Pity.

Campbell's timing and vision on the ball there and elsewhere suggest (but don't quite prove) that the man is ready for a regular role. He's already pushed past Oxlade-Chamberlain as first-choice on one wing. With Alexis due to return by the weekend, can Campbell pust past Walcott, giving us two fiesty, diminutive inverted wingers to play either side of Giroud? On the strength of his recent performances, I'm ready to say yes—and that brings us back to Walcott's role.

Walcott, as I've wondered, is worryingly one-dimensional. If a defense parks that bus, he's almost useless. He thrives on finding space behind the defense to run into, but few Prem teams allow that. Even when our opponents are chasing the game, Walcott's pace isn't enough to make him a consistent threat. If his first touch lets him down, if his shot isn't slotted just right, if the defender can recover...this is not the same as saying he has no role. It's more question of whether he's willing to accept the role that suits the squad best. He and Giroud offer almost perfectly complementary skill-sets. Walcott is fast but easily muscled off the ball; Giroud is slow but almost immovable. Between the two, Giroud is far more likely to accept what I'm about to propose.

Walcott and Giroud should share the centre-forward role.

Depending on who we're facing, one should start, wearing out defenders as is his wont for the first hour or so, after which the other comes on to batter and abuse those defenders in an entirely different way. It's worked to great effect at other times. The only real question is whether Walcott, he of the newly-inked contract, the one that makes him one of our highest-paid players, is willing to platoon with a "lesser" player such as Giroud. If he's not willing to play that role, well, his soup is cooked.

Campbell's served notice. We're in the middle of one of best chances that we've seen in a while to win the Prem. If Campbell continues to play at this level—if he continues to improve—well, Walcott has some serious soul-searching to do. Does he want to lead the line, week in and week out, at some smaller club; or is he willing to share the load, depending on whom we face? It's the kind of conundrum this club hasn't often faced—a selection-dilemma driven more by a plethora rather than a dearth of options.

Let the best man win.


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How do you solve a problem like Oxlade-Chamberlain?

By Woolwich 1886

Published 07/01/16

On one hand, he's perfectly capable in one moment of a jaw-dropping goal such as the one against AS Monaco in last February's first-leg debacle, On othe other, he's just as capable of a head-slapping cock-up such as the one against AS Monaco in last February's first-leg debacle.

For the first, he revived hope that we could still salvage a point or at least a manageable goal difference going into the second leg. For the second, he dashed those hopes. In so doing, has he dashed his own? Gone, by and large, is the swash-buckling swerver who could outrun or overpower most anyone. In his place is a forlorn, feckless footballer. In this his fifth year at Arsenal, there are already calls growing in volume if not veracity that he's done and we'd best part ways with him. Hold the phone.


He's 22. Just 22. Five years into his time at Arsenal makes it feel like he's been here for his entire 
career—and that's not far off. When so many other players have come and gone, five years is practically an eternity. As such, the frustration against him might feel more understandable, especially when his positive production has all but disappeared (his only goal coming in the Community Shield win over Chelsea on 2 August 2015) while his habit for howlers has hounded him relentlessly.

This was a season, though, in which he might have had more of a chance to shine. With Walcott playing through the middle more often there should have been chances for Ox to play on the wing. However, Coquelin's rise thrust Ramsey wide, denying Ox in one fell swoop access to two of the spots he'd previously played pretty well—defensive midfield and winger. Compounding matters was the unexpected surge of Joel Campbell, who to this point had risen to the level of running joke rather than legitimate first-teamer. Regarding Campbell, it seemed more likely that he would set a record for being loaned out faster than for anything else. And yet, here we are: Campbell is being supped as this season's Coquelin while Ox is being branded as this season's Sanogo, to the point that many might be relieved—thrilled, even—to see Ox loaned out.

Were it not for the mixed history of our players being loaned out, I could see the sense of loaning Ox somewhere. It's timely then to see Gnabry's loan to West Brom ended early and for Isaac Hayden's loan to Hull City similarly cut short, both in the same week no less. While a loan can frequently give a young player more time on the pitch to develop, it's tricky to find the right fit. Given the deep depth and wide variety of skills that Ox possesses, it would be far better for him to stay put and develop right here. There are few players in our squad who possess the skills that he has. He's big but fast. He can blow past one defender with pace, muscle past another, and deftly dribble a third. He can unleash a wicked shot from distance or thread a delicate pass through a thicket. The operative word through all of this, unfortunately, is "can".

On his day, Ox can do all of these things and has done so in the past. He will again someday in the future, but not with his confidence in as many pieces as it apparently is at the moment. Last season, he made more appearances than he had ever made (37 for 2,113 minutes), and it started to show in his development. He was getting into dangerous positions. He was almost scoring breath-taking goals (he did get three to go with five assists). His work-rate seemed to rival that of Ramsey's. In short, he was poised to leap to the next level.

So how did it all come crashing down?

A nagging groin injury kept him out of most of the second half of the 2014-15 season, denying him invaluable time in training or on the pitch. Coming back fresh into the 2015-16 season, it looked as if Ox would pick up from where he left off, scoring the only goal in our 1-0 win over Chelsea in the Community Shield. However, ghosts of mistakes came back to haunt Ox. We were down 0-1 to West Ham to start the Prem campaign but showing signs of life until Ox tried to dribble clear of our area. His first touch was heavy, and Zarate blasted home to make it 0-2; the match was all but over. While a single moment can't stand as the only cause for a player's confidence to collapse, there may have been something in Ox that crumbled.

Whatever the cause, the kid is clearly bereft of confidence. He seems afraid to make yet another, similar mistake, and this fear prevents him from the same exploits that would restore confidence. Nothing ventured, nothing lost—or gained. It's a bit of a catch-22 for #22. Perhaps a chance on Saturday against Sunderland in the FA Cup would revive him? Or might it be better for him to face an injury-depleted Liverpool at Anfield on Wednesday?

Whatever the case, it's far too early to give up on lad. He may be raw and reckless at this stage. Imagine him with a bit more confidence and experience—he could very well be something special. If nothing else, the prolonged absences of Cazorla, Coquelin and Wilshere make Ox all but indispensable in the short term. In the longer term, well, who knows? His potential is vast. Give him a chance. To arrive at conclusions after just a half-season is a bit harsh. He'll come good.

Once he does, he'll discombobulate all sorts of defensive set-ups. If they sit back, his muscularity and touch can unlock them. If they pin us back, his pace and touch can punish them. Again with that word, "can". Give him a bit more time, and he'll turn that "can" into "does". Soon enough, he'll be a problem for other managers to sort out...


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We’re doing the right things in January

By Suburban Gooners

Published 05/01/16

As is always the way when you reach the middle part of a week in between fixtures, all seems to be relatively quiet in London Colney at the moment, which I have no real issue with to be honest. Last night The Management asked which day Arsenal are playing on this midweek, then seemed quite stunned that there are no games, such has been the frequency of football. It’s what happens when you have the festive season glut of games, I guess.

There’s still no news on Elneny, but that’s probably just tying up the loose ends before it’s done, I suppose. If the deal is so close to completion though, you’d think the club would try to get it done as soon as they can, because Sunderland at home in the FA Cup would be a lot less of a baptism of fire than Liverpool or Stoke away. So getting the lad in now, giving him a day or twos training and then naming him in the squad for Saturday would be my utopia. But then again, I’m a fan with absolutely no comprehension of the intricacies of a football transfer, so what seems simple on the outside will invariably be more difficult in reality.

Whenever he comes in though, I’d expect him to play a similar role to Gabriel last season, only being called upon if needed through injury or suspension, or in the domestic cups. Expectations of a saviour probably won’t be forthcoming, but that’s not a problem, because most of the Arsenal fans I speak to recognise that we need a decent level of bodies in the team to cover positions as and when we need them. 

Speaking of which, I do wonder if Arsène will keep hold of Gnabry a little longer, now that he’s returned from his disasterous spell at West Brom. Pulis has criticised the youngster for not being ready, but his approach to football doesn’t really lend itself to somebody who isn’t a clobbermesiter, so I’m not surprised it hasn’t worked out. We’ve seen Gnabry’s ability first hand and all he really needs is games and a manager who doesn’t tell him to sit in front of his ow full back and win a few headers. If rumours of Chris Hughton wanting him at Brighton are true, I wonder if that might be a decent move for the lad, as I suspect Brighton have a more cultured approach to playing the game than Pulis’ Orcs 2.0.

Alternatively, he could keep Gnabry knocking around at the club, with the promise he’ll play some FA Cup football and might get a bit of game time over the next few weeks. We have players returning in February who will probably push the German further down the pecking order in a month or so’s time, but right now we need short term fixes, so why shouldn’t we be looking at having somebody with his ability as an option for the bench? Then, if players are returning from injury towards the end of January, Arsène can sanction the loan deal until the end of the season and let Serge continue his education by getting games.

This football management lark is easy when they’re all just names on a blog/paper, eh?

Whether or not that all transpires as I have foretold remains to be seen, but the other option that a lot of fans would prefer would probably be to dip in to the transfer market. The reality is that very few players of any real quality ever get sold in January, unless the fee is so exorbitant that the selling club can’t help but laugh, then accept. When have Arsenal ever been made to look that desparate? Rarely during January, that’s for sure, but the signings like Elneny make sense at this time of the year. Relatively low fee, low risk, with the opportunity to find a gem that could force themselves in to the first team within the next 12 months. That’s what we’re doing in midfield and it’s probably why we won’t see a centre forward come in either. Why do we need a squad player in that position when we have Welbeck (eventually) coming back?

I’m quite chilled about it all to be honest with you. I think we have cover in all positions if we bring Elneny in, plus we’ve got Walcott and Giroud who have scored goals up top, so I don’t think the need is so pressing that we can’t go on and be successful without getting in ‘MEGABUCKS STRIKER XYZ!’. We just need players to come back from injury to complement the existing players. We have those players already in the squad.

Righ to, time for me to beat a retreat hastier than Rafael Benitez at a Florentino Perez meeting.

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TIME FOR THE NEW AGE ARSENAL RESOLUTION

By Anzalariveris

Published 30/12/15

This year has been amazing, if i could say. In May, we win the consecutive FA Cup back to back and breaking English Football Association records, as the most successful club in UK to win FA Cup since 1871. We won it against clubs in the best league in the world with total 756 clubs in England. Many young players, has been emerging through reserves and youth to amaze everyone that Arsenal academy really contribute for English Premier League.

giroud-koscielny-sanchez-ramsey-Anzalariveris

Now, the new year is waiting and Arsenal have to prepare for next year, Newcastle’s Steve Mclaren will become the test after New Year’s Eve. Arsenal tipped as English Premier League title champions this year, but can Arsenal cope with it? This is not Arsenal first time for being tipped as EPL champions, the close time when Arsenal topped EPL in 2013/2014 campaign as winter champions but finished 4th when campaign ends. Arsenal have to throw away their cracking mentality and playing fearless against any big teams to realise their chances this year.

Before we see what Arsenal resolution for next year, lets see what Arsenal has been through in 2015, what is their main problem and what Arsenal achieved.

Arsenal – the 2015 year

We bought the devil from Villareal in January 2015, Gabriel Paulista after the emptiness seat who left by Thomas Vermaelen. Gabriel strong performances in his aggressive and control ball really imitate how Koscielny playing. But Per-Koscielny partnership still being Arsene favorites and Gabriel still adapting into Premier League plays. We started new year with loss against Southampton, but retake the moral by winning against Hull City, repeated FA Cup match in 2014.

We have new emerging Francis Coquelin who became berserk against Manchester City. His theme of playing is unique as defensive midfielder, he didn’t control the ball like Arteta or strong discipline like Flamini but he is very aggresive, marking tightly, he tackle like no one else ever doing in Arsenal past 10 years. He knew Arsenal lack of stability in midfield and he gives Arsenal new choice as DM. He became one of the best defensive midfield in Europe after high tackle and cutting possessions statistics. He became Arsenal’s fans new favourites, and i loved how Arsene always trust his luck for believing in Coq despite all Arsenal fans wants to buy someone.

Another we have our Bellerin who established himself, i love how fast he runs back and forth tireless, when we need him to cross he is there, when we don’t have anyone in back four, he came. What a perfect player as wing back, a modern wing back, thanks to Steve Bould who build his fundamental about how to defends. Ospina also coming in after Sczeczny made mistake and conceding a lot of goals. We lost consistency in opening season and Ospina gives us stability for the rest of season.

GettyImages-anzalariveris

We won the second FA Cup thanks to our biggest buy Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona who instantly playing beautiful like when he still in Udinese. He really drives Arsenal through a new class again, he really became one of the best for us and playing consistent until the season finished. First we have Mesut Ozil quality who brings hope for Arsenal as Wilshere said he didn’t believe Ozil signed for Arsenal first. And the next, Alexis Sanchez, his spirits and his non-stop training really motivated Arsenal to became stronger. You knew you will became champions when everyone all around you are act like champions. That’s what Arsenal lack of, that’s the thing what missed since 2005, we lost Henry, Viera, Cesc, RvP  when we didn’t have any as example.

New season 2015/2016 began and we bring Petr Cech after released by Chelsea. It was a big mistake, as you see right now (We love you Roman) when John Terry told that Petr Cech worth 10 points for us. He is right, this is the first time after his being truthful about Bridge’s scandal and right now he is telling us the truth again. Petr Cech gives us stability as world class goalkeeper which Arsenal really lack of since Wojciech given us hope a little bit. Petr is really in different class and what bring us to here, topped the table (since i wrote this post).

But the injuries haunted us again, usually it would haunted in middle January or in February as busy schedule and deciding moments for Arsenal to achieve something. We lost Rosicky, Cazorla, Welbeck, Wilshere, Coquelin, Walcott, The Ox, Sanchez and Bellerin in December. Hit us heavily ho and brought us down a little bit, but Giroud and Ozil playing really important role for Arsenal. Campbell being first choose after Walcott and the Ox gone in Capital One Cup, and he really great back up player.

But despite Arsenal injuries, Arsenal managed to win against Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Manchester City and all really giving us confidence. But in December the loss of Alexis Sanchez, Coquelin and Cazorla are really being felt in long term for Arsenal right now. In Manchester City, we won, but the next match why we lose in Southampton? we lose because we lose in the physical situation and Arsenal lack of control of the ball. And the result.. 4-0, Arsenal lose at the moment.

And last night, at last we have won our last home match for this year against Bournemouth with Gabriel Paulista and Mesut Ozil goals respectively.We playing really slow after 4 fresh players coming in, Kieran Gibbs for Monreal, Gabriel for Kos, Ox for Campbell and the key is Chambers in for Flamini. Chambers rarely get the ball because he is still adapted in the games as this is the first time he is in starting line up. Walcott and Giroud missing a lot of chances, but thanks for Gabriel goal Arsenal came back playing comfortably.

We won it, thanks all because Mesut Ozil really drives Arsenal to win this time, he package Arsenal both goals with his 16th assists in EPL, involved in 21 goals for Arsenal this season. Mesut Ozil has been proven and told us that class is permanent, his flawless passing time, his seer vision , dictating and communicate for Arsenal attack formation which built all around him. Arsene always told us that Mesut are the players who always playing the perfect note. And last night he involved for almost Arsenal key passing and goals.

CXVPXcWWQAUfM6eMesut Ozil passes against Bournemouth, 2015, by Opta. (Green : pass. Blue : Assist, Yellow : Key passing).

After we got Cazorla and Wilshere not in the squad, we hoping someone who comfortably control the ball. Ozil usually if Cazorla are in midfield, his role is playing deadly finishing passes and drive in to crossing. And last night he had a different role, his playing back and forth to keeping the ball, control it, finish it. He really became Arsenal ace after almost 3 years adapting Arsenal plays and Arsenal player’s method playing. Arsenal really have a reborn Bergkamp in their squad, Mesut fitted in that role, he truly amazing.

But slowly start for Arsenal really bad for next match, Southampton match really affect Arsenal as Arsenal weakest link are against physical tactics and pressure. Arsenal 4 players who replacing a lot of players which being playing a lot is good refresh for the squad. And i hope this will bring Arsenal fresh tactics for the next match. But Debuchy not coming in, dissapointed me, he really deserved playing in Bournemouth. He is not injured, he wants to prove, and Arsene knew he could be the next Monreal if we could give him a chance too.

We knew we will lost it when a lot of mistake happens, Per Mertesacker became the weakest link last two match. We missed the control, we lose, we missed the concentration, we lose, that’s Arsenal weakest link. We lost Alexis Sanchez , Coquelin and Cazorla as i believe this three are one of the main fundamental for Arsenal. So, we really want all of them coming back soon to fights what we lacks of.

Arsenal : the new age Resolution

We truly are the new Arsenal, 3 world class player really give boost for Arsenal confidence and mentality as whole team. Petr Cech, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez changing Arsenal attacking development and defense stability. But the nostalgic problem emerging in Southampton, and we really didn’t want it came when we will meet Barcelona in February and the rest of fixtures.

This January is the chance for Arsenal to buy new players in midfield as Rosicky, Flamini, Arteta and Cazorla are not in their prime age. If i could choose players for the replacement, i would bring Lars Bender, William Carvalho and Mohamed Elneny. Bender are good in controlling the ball like Arteta, William Carvalho is very good as Coquelin i believe and Elneny would given us choice if we want him play as midfielder or on the wing. Or Arsene could bring Isco or another big name for giving boost in middle race for champions.

We could see Coquelin and Bellerin developed as first team player and sidelined senior player such as Debuchy and Arteta. We had Bielik, Kamara, Gedion and Crowley as the next midfielder for Arsenal in future. Iwobi, Campbell , Jeff Rene-Adelaide and Chuba Akpom would answer challenge upfront which dominating by Walcott, Sanchez and Giroud. And waiting Walcott developed as Thierry Henry replacement really could happen next year. Who knew?

crowley-anzalariveris

As Arsenal fans, we really waiting the chance to see us winning the premier league after 2003 as the last EPL title. We are waiting for a long time and this year could be the year and must be this year for win it. Arsenal are forward in new future path as champions, we wanted this season as an answer for all the mocking Arsenal had. We had to win it, we must win it. And win pass through quarter final in UCL to established Arsenal as one of fearsome club in Europe. Arsenal vision are brings Arsenal to that highest level in Europe and bring answer for every single rivals out there, that this is the fearless new Arsenal. The New Age of Arsenal.

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Sitting Pretty

By This Is The Arsenal

Published 14/12/15

So for the first time since the end of October, Arsenal go top of the league. Honestly, there are a couple of things in life that make me truly happy; Coffee, a Rambo goal and Megan Fox in Transformers. However, hearing the fans chant “ We are top of the league said we are top of the league” is probably the greatest feeling of all. Even though Leicester could take that away with a win tonight, it’s a moment to cherish. We’ve left the horrors of November behind with a perfect record in the first half of December.


I said in the last post that what was needed after the glorious CL performance in Athens was a routine league win. That’s exactly what the lads delivered. An Ozil assist and a Giroud goal. A script that is becoming more predictable by the day.


It was an excellent overall performance. If there were any negatives to point out it was that there were a few moments when we slacked off a little and allowed Villa to get to us a bit. With Koscielny bossing it in defense though, it didn’t matter all that much. Mertesacker and Bellerin seem to be finding some of their early season form, and we ensured that Cech finally equaled David James’s cleansheet record.

Another person I want to discuss today is Arsene Wenger. I tweeted about this yesterday and got some decent responses. For many Arsenal fans, the favorite thing in the world to do is to jump on the Wenger out bandwagon. When we lose, it’s him that takes the blame first and not the players. It’s pretty much always the manager’s fault. When we win though, hardly anyone gives the man credit. Yes, Arsenal should be beating Villa comfortably so it’s no biggie.

But Villa played pretty decent in the second half and looked like they might just get a goal back around the hour mark. I think it was two seasons ago that we were leading comfortably by two at Villa park when Benteke scored a goal at a similar time. We struggled horribly to see that game out. Here however, Wenger brought on Gibbs immediately. You don’t usually see such a defensive change made as early as the 60th minute but Wenger knew the dangers of conceding a goal at that point and nullified the danger. Others were calling for the introduction of Alex Iwobi. I want to see him play myself, but maybe at 3-0. Leading by two goals can always lure teams into a false sense of security.

Amongst other things, it was a pleasure to see Aaron Ramsey continue his mini- renaissance. He’s bagged two in two now playing through the middle. On his day, I think he can be categorised amongst an elite set of players we like to refer to as world class. His work rate and late runs into the box are exactly the kind of drive Arsenal have been missing in midfield lately. As unfortunate as it is that Santi’s injured, it might just be a blessing in disguise. What’s important though is to keep Rambo fit, we would be pretty lost without him.

Speaking of players we’d be lost without, Mesut Ozil. I’ve raved about him quite a bit before, so I won’t again, but the man is pure class. A special mention to Olivier Giroud as well, he and Theo Walcott look pretty formidable when they play together. I feel that Giroud really ups his game when Walcott’s around, which is great for the team.

We have a long break before the next game now, all the way to Monday night. City looked bang average on Saturday, and they’ve been extremely poor in all their away games. Hopefully, we don’t find a way to lose to them. Being top on Christmas is vital.

Anyway, seeing Spurs lose last night was hilarious. Hopefully tonight’s game is as entertaining. The result, whichever way it goes, should be enjoyable for us.

As always, upwards and onwards. COYG.


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The great escape led by the charge of Campbell III

By Suburban Gooners

Published 10/12/15

I’ve seen three different first team Campbell’s in my time as an Arsenal supporter. Kevin was a decent forward, Sol was an immense centre half and now Joel, who I will admit I have been a clear sceptic of in the past, has stepped up in an important game and maybe what Arsène ‘smelt’ in him was not his unwashed lucky jock-strap he’s been reusing since the 2014 World Cup.

Yesterday was, by all accounts, a great day for Arsenal. The task set before the team was to win – and win handsomely – against an Olympiakos team with a very partisan crowd and a clear advantage in that a one goal defeat might have even been enough for them. In contrast, Arsenal had it all to do, with an injury list which hardly helped matters.

Yet the players have trodden this Championd League ground before. We can all bemoan the recent exits in the knockout stages over the last few years – perhaps for another day – but this Arsenal team knows how to get out of the group stages. That’s for sure.

The night started a little shaky though and I have to admit, after 20 minutes, I was wondering whether we’d have a repeat of lacklustre performances like West Ham at home or Brom away, but after an initial flurry from the Greeks, we began to assert ourselves and regain possession a lot better. It’s because technically we are the better side. When you have players like Özil on the field, it shows, because he was a dominant figure in our bu or up play and whilst he didn’t add to his assists last night, the cheeky ‘pre-assist’ was noted with his delicious ball to Monreal for the first goal.

That goal, as well as the timing of that goal, was essential. I have read countless accounts of what George Graham said before Anfield 89 to the players. He spoke of being patient, of not panicking if it is 0-0 at half time and in fact, that was his game plan. Arsène doesn’t set up his team’s with as much caution, but you can tell what the mindset was: be as solid as possible and try to get the first in the first half. We did, and the result was a visibly nervous Olympiakos from that moment onwards, which played in to Arsenal’s hands. 

If the first goal was crafted from the left boots of messers Özil and Monreal, the second was all about the quick feet and vision of Campbell, who left the field to a standing ovation last night. It was well deserved.

He showed he was ready to be the player Arsène believes he can be and after an initial good run resulted in Flamini hitting the bar, his second half display notched up a good assist to put us in the driving seat.

He had started on the left with Theo on the right, but the tactical ‘switcheroo’ worked for both, as Campbell had the beating of the Olympiakos left back for the rest of the evening. It also allowed Theo to cut inside more by playing as a left winger.

He looked sharp for somebody making his first start in just under two months and whilst his shooting boots weren’t quite fastened right on the night, he had a decent contribution to the game, right up until his withdrawal. When that came, it was because the job had been done with Monreal winning us a penalty after what I thought (but one or two on Twitter disagreed with me) was a clear handball by the Greek full back. Step forward Olivier Giroud for his hat trick. Well deserved, well played and for a player that thrives on confidence, this will have done wonders.

That’s the other benefit from the game yesterday that I’m hoping to see in the run up to Christmas: confidence. The qualification from the group stages against the odds will do so much for this team. On Sunday they face Villa and with Giroud, Özil, Campbell and Walcott all buoyant from their performance, one can only hope that we have a little extra swagger in our step that wasn’t there in November. If that month was a shocker, I’d be ok with it, providing December is a beaut of a month.

The game also had another chance for Flamini and Ramsey to acclimatise themselves to one-another’s game. At times the space in the middle of the park was scary and Olympiakos had a few too many long, ground-based passes that went straight through our midfield, but our defence was strong enough to ensure that anything that split our midfield was mopped up. Against better opposition that might have been a problem, but Olympiakos were not great and we can all be thankful that we weren’t punished, as it gave both midfielders the chance to dominate the game and put on much better second halves.

Defensively we were untroubled, with Koscienly looking good in particular, plus a smart save from Cech ensured we were in a decent position to win the game and go through. On the basis that all of the players performed well, really well actually, you have to say it was one of the most perfect European nights the team has had. Yes it was a group game, but it was a group game with a knockout feel to it, so perhaps the team are learning to deal with the pressures of European competition. 

On Monday we find out who our opponents are going to be and even though we’ll be crossing our fingers for a ‘decent’ draw – whatever that is – ultimately we should just be happy we’re still in it. 

Enjoy your day. I know I will.

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The Olivier Giroud Sandwich

By The Hot Stepanovs

Published 26/11/15

Your stomach voices its displeasure at the current barren nature of its contents. The waves of hunger shudder through you and coax you into a restaurant which offers a plethora of sandwich options and an inviting aroma which only exacerbates your yearning for food.

You approach the counter and ingredients meet your wanting gaze. Spices, meats, spiced meats, crisp greens, ripe tomatoes – your stomach only serves to dizzy your clarity when looking upon your choices.

The sandwich assistant greets you warmly and asks you what you would like. Your look – which is a mix of bewilderment and wanting – is enough of a hint for the kind employee to coax you through the options.

” In terms of bread, you could go for the conventional but comforting white, or the granary which is the healthy option, perhaps the focaccia if you fancy something a little different? If I was pushed though, I would go for the baguette. It is freshly baked and is adaptable to any given sandwich topping. ”

Baguette it is then.

” Ok then, that’s a good start. So, any idea what you want in there? You could go for a crunchy salad, maybe drop some herbed chicken strips in there? Or maybe the Italian route, with meatballs and a juicy marinara sauce? How’s about the classic BLT? If I had to offer an opinion though, I would recommend the baked ham, which is so succulent you could cut it with a chopstick, and maybe throw a few pickles in there? ”

Your mouth watering is answer enough.

” Finally, you have a tantalising amount of condiment options. Ketchup, Mayonnaise, herbs and seasonings, you could go a little left-field and daub your sandwich with some fruity relish? I do have to put forward my choice though, which is perfect for you. This Dijon mustard will rock your tastebuds to their core. ”

You wait patiently as he wraps this tasty concoction and you can sink your teeth into it. You grab the prepped baguette and head for a quiet spot.

The first bite sends you on a carpet ride of delectableness. Every single choice that was made is responsible for the pleasure your mouth is experiencing. It is an excellent set of assets that currently dance on your tongue. Some of these ingredients are much maligned, overlooked by the majority for something a little racier, a little different. Despite being some of the tastiest parts of a sandwich that you could muster, they are scoffed at.

You are eating the Olivier Giroud sandwich.

Before you stop reading this article due to the preposterous comparison, did you know that since our chiselled Frenchman made his bow for our club, there is no other player – bar Sergio Aguero –  in the Premier League who has scored more goals?

How can this be? He is wasteful, his finishing is inaccurate, his lack of mobility is obvious. Well, only Odiom Ighallo, Ryhad Mahrez and top scorer Jamie Vardy have scored more than his current tally at the time of writing.

So why has he endured boos not only from his clubs fans – but also his home nation?

*His shot accuracy this season is 60%. This sounds a little sparse, but when it is higher than Chilean whizz Alexis Sanchez ( 58% ) and the same as Theo Walcott ( 60% ), then it isn’t to be belittled.

What of the other strengths needed to be considered a top striker in the Premier League? What about aerial duels? Giroud boasts a success rate of over half of all the aerial duels he has contested, which dwarfs Diego Costa’s miniscule success rate.

So, to summarise, Olivier has an enviable goals record, is one of the strongest players in the air amongst his peers, and his link-up play is far better than other players in his position ( my opinion only, though 19 assists since he joined isn’t disappointing ).

And yet, we continue to see headlines and critique like this in regards to Giroud and his abilities. He is perceived to be profligate, an extravagant flick of the boot in the box rather than the required laces first approach. His appearance does him no favours either, every brush of his heavily coiffured hair is met with derision and fans the flames of critique that he spends more time gesticulating and complaining, rather than positioning himself in the box where the ball can find him to maximum effect.

An oft-used weapon to beat Giroud is his insistence on drifting wide. The striker who is meant to capitalise on the vision of Ozil and Cazorla should not be on the flank and attempting to kick-start a move, especially when the culmination of such a move is usually the striker slotting away a chance in the box.

19 goals last season – sans three months through an ankle injury – suggests that his positioning is less of an issue than we thought.

What is the true testament – nay, the finest ingredient that makes Olivier Giroud – is his mentality. Losing his place to Theo Walcott early this season, despite his herculean efforts mentioned above , would have crumbled many others but the Gaul knuckled down and said nothing when all he could muster in playing time was a string of substitute appearances. Limited minutes should result in a lack of confidence, which in turn would normally have a knock-on effect in terms of goal return. Not Giroud. He has maintained throughout that he will fight for his place and he adores life at The Emirates. An admirable approach when your future could be put into doubt by way of lack of playing time and lack of confidence in your abilities.

Giroud is the sandwich we all didn’t realise we wanted. Whilst we all munch on cosmopolitan sandwiches with avocado in them, Giroud is the sandwich that has all the qualities we were looking for.

More Arsenal Blogs From The Hot Stepanovs @ The Hotstepanovs.com

Win or Bust for The Gunners

By Goonerholic

Published 24/11/15

“In the last two games we have dropped points. We know as well that before that we won five games on the trot and you can go through a spell like that. It is how you respond to that and that is what makes your season. That is why it is a good test for us.”

Arsene is attempting to sound positive ahead of the must-win Champions League match against Dynamo Zagreb, and nobody would have expected anything different. I suspect few would have been surprised at the vagueness of his response to how long Francis Coquelin will be out.

“It is at least a month. I’m a bit cautious as we have had so many bad surprises on the scans, but the team for the next few months will be without Coquelin.”

The Coquelin discussion has raged elsewhere since Saturday so I’ll not add to it here. Mikel Arteta too has been confirmed as a ‘short term’ absentee, but the squad will be boosted by the return of Aaron Ramsey on Tuesday night. A cold, wet night might be deemed the acid test of how good a player Lionel Messi is, but I would suggest it is the worst possible forecast given the nature of the injury Aaron suffered. A place on the bench, perhaps, for him.

There are other decisions for the boss to make ahead of the match. Does he think Hector Bellerin will be better for the run out on Saturday when he endured a torrid afternoon, or will Mathieu Debuchy get the nod. I said on Saturday I thought Hector should be forgiven his apparent rustiness, but Arsene will have seen the lad’s response in the last couple of days and will make the right call.

Mathieu Flamini will surely slot in alongside Santi Cazorla, but do we start Kieran Gibbs or Joel Campbell? The answer may be decided by which side Alexis feels most comfortable playing. The match is surely of too much importance to consider throwing Jeff Reine Adelaide in for a baptism of fire.

Dinamo come into the game having won their last two domestic fixtures either side of the international break, but their European away form is dreadful as they have lost their last eleven Champions League matches on the road. Definitely missing from the side that beat us 2-1 in Zagreb will be Macedonian international Arijan Ademi, banned for four years after failing a drug test. Dinamo will also be without suspended defender Josip Pivaric after he was sent off in their defeat to Olympiacos.

Mention of Olympiacos necessitates the warning that our result tomorrow will count for nothing if they somehow avoid defeat at Bayern Munich. Such a result would bring about a collective raising of eyebrows, and much more no doubt. Bayern will be professional and win comfortably (he said, nervously). Should the surprise transpire let’s remember it is our fault we are in this situation, nobody elses.

The ‘holic pound

The ‘holic pound has to follow the optimistic route. The bookies favour a 2-0 home win and I’m having some of that at 13/2. For those of you going tomorrow night I hope we can produce a performance that will enable you to keep applauding to warm the hands.

I’ll be behind the sofa watching through my fingers!

More Arsenal Blogs From Goonerholic @ Goonerholic.com

Opportunity In The Air For ‘The Young Players’

By Goonerholic

Published 04/12/15

When you have nine players from a squad of twenty-four unavailable you had better have some good young players ready to step up to the first team bench, and possibly a step further. The one time selected youngsters were used this season saw us knocked out of the COCup at Sheffield. In the wake of that match the manager was quoted thus.

“The occasion was too much for the young players. They were not ready to play at this level, none of them.”

I was surprised at the time, although thought later that he was caught in the disappointment of the moment and had he been asked about them the following morning his reaction would have been very different. On the night we gave debut starts to Alex Iwobi and Glen Kamara. Before the match was twenty minutes old we had a third debutant, Ismael Bennacer replacing the injured Theo Walcott. On the hour a fourth youngster made his bow, Krystian Bielik.

With hindsight I’m sure Arsene might have been more critical of the senior players around the youngsters. There was little sign of advice or encouragement being given. With that same hindsight he might have shared that he had not intended, nor expected, to have four youngsters thrown in at the deep end at the same time.

That damning comment may well be used against Arsene as he is going to need to turn to the pick of his youngsters again in the short term to bolster the bench. So with this in mind I watched the highlights of last night’s victory for the U-21s at Brighton. Obviously one match is not going to enable a balanced assessment of the youngsters, which applies equally to that night at Sheffield, but it is an indicator of current form.

Calum Chambers was brought in to gain experience in the holding midfield role where an opportunity for immediate promotion exists. Steve Gatting, the U-21s head coach gave his opinion of his performance.

“I think it was good for Calum to get 90 minutes under his belt and for such a young lad he has got a lot of experience and tonight I thought he was excellent.”

It seems as though Calum is currently seen as being ahead of his team-mate last night, Krystian Bielik, in the pecking order for the defensive midfield position. I thought the Pole gave a decent cameo in his half an hour at Sheffield, although he has been used as a central defender in the U-21s this season. With only Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey available for those deep-lying roles expect to see Calum in action there sooner rather than later.

On the left hand side of midfield, another area with a senior vacancy, we got another glimpse of Jeff Reine-Adelaide. As is often the case with precocious talent there is a danger of over-hyping the young man. Already he is referred to as “The Jeff” on social media sites. Expectations are already perhaps too high for one so young. Having said that I thought he was impressive in his Emirates Cup performances against Lyon and Wolfsburg, and he made an impression in the U-17 World Cup in Chile.

The talented French lad can expect to be at least on the bench this weekend. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joel Campbell, and Kieran Gibbs might be preferred starters for the two wide positions, but we may just be about to see Jeff unleashed on tiring defenders at the tail-end of matches shortly.

Arsene may soon have to reflect, with a smile I’m sure, that he is very happy with the young talent available to him. (Typed with difficulty using tightly-crossed fingers!)

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Title talk is fanciful as injuries take toll against the Baggies

By Suburban Gooners

Published 22/11/15

Where to even begin with the shower of the proverbial that we witnessed from Arsenal yesterday, eh? I mean seriously, I have no idea where to even start. Nothing went right. We played terribly. Then, even with most of the 90 minutes of tripe we had to sit through, we still get handed a lifeline by Mark Clattenberg in the shape of a soft penalty, but we conspire to royally bugger that up too via an unfortunate Santi Cazorla slip.

It would have been more than we were worthy of, if truth be told, because we were appalling from start to finish. Before we scored the opening goal we looked sluggish and after we’d conceded the second goal through our own implosion, we were languid, so it’s the least we can expect after a terrible day at the office.

West Brom didn’t even have to be any good. They weren’t. They showed up, pressed with a little more urgency and got their rewards through their endeavours. Bellerin had a poor game and was ball watching for the floated ball to the back post for Morrison to glide over Cech. For the second goal McClean just drifted past his marker to put the ball in to an area in which the abysmal Arteta gave him quite literally a helping hand in to our own goal.

Defensively it was horrendous to watch. At one point in the game Mertesacker played a simple forward ball straight to the feet of a West Brom player to set them up on the counter. Koscienly gave the ball away more times than I’ve seen all season. Bellerin looked like a young player and not the guy who has dethroned Debuchy. Monreal was probably the only player to have a half-decent game.

And therein lies the problem. A ‘half decent’ game. If we’d have had six or seven of our players who’d have turned up and given us a seven out of 10 game, we’d have probably won that match yesterday. I’m not sure a single player got about a six.

Actually, I correct myself, because Alexis looked better and was a threat for most of the afternoon. But you can tell he’s not at 100% because his touch wasn’t quite there at times in front of goal.

To add insult to injury, we’ve also picked up two more injuries, which has pretty much added a bit of cat urine to a sh*t sandwich. If Coquelin is out for any length of time, we have Flamini and then Bielik who are our defensive midfield options. Arteta is also now out with a calf and you have to wonder, given his persistent injury problems, why they manager has continued to put his faith in him. I know he’s a good player and I’m happy he’s in the squad, but he can’t really be relied on in a Championship winning team, can he?

Heh, ‘championship winning team’, sounds fanciful doesn’t it? Yesterday I said that if we’re going to stand a chance of winning the league it’s games like West Brom away that you win. We lost. I’m feeling low. Low because it was a real chance – with hindsight in mind given Moneychester City’s result – to get a bit of daylight between us and them. Forget Leicester and Man United, it’s City who are the one’s who look like you need to finish above them to win the league. But we’re Arsenal and every time we’re handed an opportunity we always seem to bugger it up. Had that Cazorla penalty gone in, then we could chalk it up to a bad day at the office and move on, but another defeat leaves me wondering how on earth this team are going to compete.

I suppose we won’t have to worry about that, if all of the other teams around us keep effin’ up as well. We’ve lost three games this season already, yet we’re still only two points from the top. The curse of November might well and truly do us in, because that’s a draw at home to our local rivals, a shocking display yesterday and on Tuesday we play Zagreb with rapidly dwindling squad numbers. I don’t really even care about the Champions League, but I do care about the Premier League. If Arsene could wrap up some of his players in cotton wool that would be great, but we are running out of bodies, so the same players will be playing in midweek and on Sunday next week. We just have to hope that there is some sort of miracle cure for players like Ramsey and the Ox, because we look like we’re on empty now. It’s catching up with us – all of these injuries I mean – and we look like a beleaguered team. Is that the manager’s fault? Is it the training methods? The lack of rotation? I don’t know and frankly, after a day like yesterday, I don’t really care right now. But I do want to see us get better and apply ourselves more than we did yesterday.

Right, that’s it for me, as I’m nursing a hangover and need some pig. See you in the morrow.

More Arsenal Blogs From Suburban Gooners @ SubrbanGooners.com

Freddie "the legend" Ljungberg predicts a battering of Bournemouth...

By Woolwich 1886

Published 28/12/15

Shrug off, if you can, the loss to Southampton. While we've missed a chance to go top of the table, there are no trophies associated with being there on 26 December. The three points dropped may matter more in the long run, although we're still two points better off than we were at this point a year ago. Man City are three points off their pace of last season (something we may have played a small role in...), so there's some solace in that. However, there's no hiding the fact that we suffered a hiding on Saturday, and we do have to turn things around with a quickness. Thankfully, no less a legend that Freddie Ljungberg has some words of wisdom for us as we host Bournemouth on Monday evening...

Speaking after a similarly disappointing loss, 0-3 at home to Inter Milan, Ljungberg had this to say:

It's important, when you experience some doubts, to stick together and show what you're made of....If things are happy all the time, you don't get to know your real teammates. That's what makes the team gel, and maybe [winning 1-5 in the second leg ] wouldn't have happened without losing 3-0 to Inter. We always play our best football when our backs are against the wall. We definitely have a special spirit, great faith in each other. Turning it around is a great thing.

Okay, so that was in 2003, and Southampton circa 2015 are hardly the same vintage, but the wisdom still echoes down through the ages. While there are some who will rue our apparent inability to grab the brass ring yet again, I think it makes more sense to see Saturday's loss as the kind of wake-up call that reminds us of who our real teammates—and real fans—are. Some among us might have actually relished the result at St. Mary's, believing however secretly that it would hasten the end of Arsène's apparently benighted tenure and somehow inaugurate a Renaissance of the kind they've enjoyed over at Old Trafford since 2013 or at Anfield since 1989.

Yes, it does seem as if this squad of ours needs to take it on the chin every now and then, but that's hardly unusual. Just a week ago, we hosted the undisputed putative pre-anointed champions and handled them quite well; it's a shame that we squandered the momentum just a few days a later, but chalk that up to an emotional letdown rather than to any deeper-seated issues in the squad. Southampton looked more energetic, and Jonathan Moss looked a bit more apathetic. 'Twixt the two, it seemed as if our lads had spent too much time reading headlines and predictions regarding our apparently imminent coronation or Southampton's relegation.

We do have a history—however misbegotten—of following infamous defeats with somewhat more-famous fightbacks, and I'm not just referring to the next fixture or two. Heck, the last time we lost at St. Mary's, we went on a run of 12 wins and a draw from the next fourteen. I don't like the idea that a massive loss is apparently necessary to inspire such a run of form, but I'll take it.

As for Bournemouth, they've been almost as hard-hit as we at Arsenal have been, but they may come in with some extra motivation. Whether their starting keeper is Artur Boruc or Adam Federici, each has an ax to grind. Boruc, the one-time Southampton keeper, can think back to November 2013, when he tried to dribble Giroud, who dispossessed him and scored. Federici, the one-time Reading keeper, need think back to April 2015 when a heart-breaking gaffe undermined an otherwise-stalwart performance against us in the FA Cup semifinal.

Bournemouth have been one of the Prem's hottest clubs of late, taking 12 points from their last six matches (including wins over Man U and Chelsea, even if the quality of those wins remains under active review...). We can't underestimate them, not in a season in which Leicester reign and Watford match Man U. If we can't see pop these Cherries, we might have a crisis of sorts. Until then, listen to Ljungberg: "we always play our best when our backs are against the wall."


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Good with or without the ball – Arsenal are contenders

By Suburban Gooners

Published 22/12/15

Okay, so here’s the thing: I’m gonna level with ya. The first part of today’s blog is written in a slightly inebriated haze and post-match big game glow. It’s delivered to you because I think we saw a mature Arsenal team that has delivered a statement to the rest of the league that guess what, mother ‘effers? We are genuine title contenders. And ain’t no people’s gonna deny it.

I’m a happy boy. I’m a happy boy and it’s not just for the three points, which were Sherie Bobbins-style fantabulous, by the way. Oh no, I’m happy because this Arsenal team said – through their performance – “what? You want to see what we can do? You want us to show you? Well kids, why don’t you take a long…hard…look…because guess what? We ain’t going nowhere”.

Like I said: today’s blog is half alcohol-infused, so you’ll have to pardon the over-the-top reaction to what was, essentially, just three points.

Except it wasn’t ‘just’ three points, was it? It wasn’t ‘just’ another game. It was a statement. It was a collective of players who came together to announce to the worldwide media that they were here to be counted.

I’ll level with you. I’d have taken a draw, pre-game, because I wasn’t sure what a defeat would do to the confidence of this team, such was the nerves. But as the first half unfolded before my very eyes, I must admit that I was extremely, joyously, surprised by the performance of the Arsenal players. Perhaps I should have been a little more confident in the team, as much as Tom, who confidently proclaimed (after a few jars of the amber nectar) that the game was ‘done’ at half time. But I fretted that we would be ‘Arsenaled’ by a – let’s face it – pretty poor City team on the night. Yes, they made life uncomfortable for the closing stages of the game, but even their goal felt like it had a tinge of fortune to it. I’m not convinced that Toure’s finish was entirely on purpose. 

The Arsenal goals however, were crafted perfectly and each one had an element of beauty, that would have had even the most grumpy of Gooners purring.

Walcott – pretty much anonymous at times in parts of the first half, stepped inside and curled a fantastically ‘Alexian’ finish beyond Hart, whilst Giroud’s ‘slot’ under the ‘keeper was controlled and synonymous with a world class centre forward. On a big stage, with cameras everywhere, as well as an opposite number widely recognised as the best in the business, guess what? Olivier stuck his finger in the air and said “a-hem. I ain’t half bad, you know?”

Yes Oliver, we know, but unfortunately it will only be until we win the league that people will realise your impact, but they will eventually. 

Let’s also ‘doff’ the cap to Özil. He does assists like my wife does lip-rubbing. As an aside, she rubs her lip: a lot. Like, every five minutes. So that just shows you how much the German nails a perfect pass. In fact, as I type, I bet he’s chatting to people post-game, wondering if he could slot somebody in between the salad cart. That’s the level of awesome we’re talking here, people. 

Act 2

It’s the morning after the night before and whilst I am nowhere near as fuelled by the beer as I was, I’m still pretty buoyant, I have to say.

Defensively I thought we were as sound as we’ve been for a while. Yes, we conceded, but I’m still to be convinced that Toure meant his finish. It looked like a mis-hit from where I was standing. 

Thereafter it was always going to be a bit nervy, because we are The Arsenal and it’s how we roll, but the team has shown a steely nerve to it this season and the ability to hold that lead is vital. Imagine if we’d have conceded and drawn 2-2? Both the online and print world would have been awash with stories about how Arsenal bottled it again. Reasons as to why they simply cannot win the league because they don’t have that ‘winning mentality’. Well, that their has been knocked into touch for the immediate future, because the team were great. 

I love that we can be good without the ball now, too, which isn’t something we’ve been able to say about Arsène Wenger teams in the past. For large parts of the first half City dominated possession, but we kept our shape and discipline, minimising the open space for the creative players to operate in. There was that one DeBruyne moment, but that is pretty much all I can remember from the City dominance in the first 30 minutes.

If we can be that disciplined without the ball against a top quality team, why can’t we go on and win the league? It ‘feels’ at the moment as if we’re on the verge of taking this league by the scruff of the neck. All we need to do now is pick up another nine points over Christmas and I think we’ll be top and starting to pull away. There’s plenty more football to play, but the signs are good.

Enjoy your Tuesday.

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Arsenal Vs Manchester City – Match Preview

By The Hot Stepanhovs

Published 21/12/15

This late kick off sees the Gunners take on fellow title contenders Manchester City at The Emirates – and with many experts and journalists claiming this game may go a long way to seeing who will take the initiative in the race for the title.

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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has overseen yet another injury crisis but slowly and surely, players are slowly returning to fitness. In recent weeks, central midfield pairing Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla have been ruled out until after the New Year, but thankfully, Aaron Ramsey’s timely return has seen Arsenal not suffer too greatly. Along with the Welsh midfielder, the Gunners have also been boosted by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott coming back into action.

It is Ramsey, however, who has made the difference since his inclusion in his preferred role in the centre of the park. His cohesion with playmaker Mesut Ozil and striker Olivier Giroud has been pivotal in Arsenal’s recent consistent form – and his all-action style may just make the difference. Arsene Wenger will be more than aware of the need for a good start against a top quality side – and the bookies believe that will be the case.

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In terms of line-up, the Gunners have another player coming back into the fold – and Alexis Sanchez may yet be included into the side. Arsene Wenger when questioned in his press conference, stated that Alexis has returned to the country after a recuperative trip to his native Chile and is back in full training.

Whether this match has come too soon for even the herculean levels of fitness that Sanchez possesses is unclear but he will be involved in the matchday squad. The other spots in the line-up seem to pick themselves and why tinker with a winning side? So expect Theo Walcott, Joel Campbell and Mesut Ozil to supplement Frenchman Olivier Giroud in the attack, with the revitalised Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini in the engine room.

In defence, Petr Cech will be hoping this will be the game he can claim to be the most effective goalkeeper in the history of the Premier League by claiming the record for the most amount of clean sheets,with Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal making up the rest of the backline.

For Manuel Pelegrini and his City side, he will be hoping that talismanic striker Sergio Aguero can make the starting line-up, with his match fitness in doubt. Club Captain Vincent Kompany looks to miss out, as well as Pablo Zabaleta, Samir Nasri and Fernando. Much hinges on the Citizen’s other power players – Yaya Toure scored a late winner in their last game versus Swansea City and the Ivorian can swing a game with a burst into the box. A defence with comprising two of Nicolas Otamendi, Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis will need to perform far better than in recent weeks.

Arsenal have a great recent record against the blue half of Manchester – unbeaten in the last four games. This home game could provide a telltale clue as to who will go into the New Year with a points and mental advantage. If Arsenal hope to vanquish City, then Mesut Ozil will be the man who may fire them to glory. His one-man quest to assist the most goals in a season continues and with Theo Walcott providing more runs into the box for the German to find with a laser-guided pass, this could be the particular arrow that pierces a shaky City defence. If Martin Demichelis starts, then expect Walcott to dwell on the shoulder of the veteran Argentinean.

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So, the two current favourites for the League title face off. It isn’t merely three points that are the reward for the victor. The team who finish the ninety minutes on top will go into the festive schedule with confidence riding high, but the loser may just find stumbling at this hurdle may lead to further errors. Much to play for and with the attacking intent of both of these sides, a high scoring and entertaining affair could be on the cards.

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Concede Fàbregas, nab Čech=Mourinho's sacked; it's all Arsène's plan...

By Woolwich 1886

Published 18/12/15

Unless you've been living under a rock, you must know by now that Jose Mourinho was sack—er, left Chelsea by 'mutual consent', sad news indeed for those among us who wished to prolong his misery and see if his overweening ways would actually drive Chelsea into the relegation zone, if not outright relegation itself. I won't go so far as to suggest that Arsène is finally seeing the fruits of a master-plan, but it carries many of the familiar signs of just such a plan.

Although we watched in furious agony as that prodigal son Fàbregas returned to London and won a Prem title, there were signs of deeper plans. Yes, Fàbregas and that entire squad raced out to an early, could-they-match-the-Invincibles start to the 2014-15 season, and there was earnest/naïve talk of how Fàbregas might eclipse Thierry Henry's record for assists in a season.

However, none other than Newcastle laid waste to the first, and Fàbregas, who had 15 assists in January, finished with just 18. For as good as he was in that first half, his disappearance in the second half begs certain questions. Did he elevate those around him, or was he hitching a ride? He's become Nosmas—Samson in reverse: the longer and more luxurious his hair grows, the more his strength wanes. More and more, it seems that letting him sod off to Stamford Bridge was a master-stroke by Arsène.

This past summer, we plucked Petr from under Mourinho's nose, exposing an apparent rift between the Specious One and Abramovich. At first, it might have felt like an underwhelming move (aside from the symbolism): it was clear that Courtois had become Mourinho's first-choice keeper, and Čech had been reduced to second-fiddle. However, I had suggested that Čech's departure would undermine Courtois in several ways: one, Courtois would no longer feel the challenge to earn the starter's role, even if Begovic is a solid keeper in his own right; two, Courtois would no longer have a master from whom to learn the subtler points of the position. I won't go so far as to suggest that the departure of Čech was akin to pulling out the wrong pin from a Jenga tower, but maybe there's something in that. After all, Chelsea's now conceded 26 goals from 16 matches after conceding just 32 in 38 last season.

A quick digression: in the last several seasons, Chelsea has seen the departure of Čech, Lampard, and Drogba, among others, depriving the squad not only of experience but of leadership. In the meantime, they've added any number of highly-talented players who can scintillate but can't take the squad by the scruff and lead it to higher levels.

There's no chemistry, no spine, no grit left in this squad. The only man left in it who might possibly step in, John Terry, has undergone what is almost as much a Mourinho trademark as voyeuring Wenger: passive-aggressive manipulation. In recent seasons, it seems that Mourinho's ego could not be sated without the slaughter of a sacrifical lamb, someone to be made an example of in order to demonstrate Mou's power. Ask Casillas or Ramos. Ask Juan Mata. Ask John Terry.

That kind of manipulation and megalomania might deliver results in the short-term—and, let's face it, Chelsea did win the Prem last season—but look at the shambolic state they're in. They can thank f*ck that they've advanced to the Champions League knockout stage, or they might see a few players bolt in January. Whoever it is who replaces Mourinho—Hiddink has been mentioned as a caretaker, for what that's worth—will inherit a demoralised, depressed squad that's just as likely to throw it all over as it is to put its shoulder to the wheel. Most of its members have endured three—okay, two and a half—seasons of being bullied and belittled, and it's going to take some time to recover from that.

It's almost enough to convince the most-stubborn of Arsène's adversaries to admit that there's some value in planning for the long term. Fourth place, even if it's not quite first, has been nothing short of guaranteed for the better part of the last twenty years. We won't even go into the financial comparisons. We've been there before, and both sides of the debate agree to the facts.

Rarely has there even been as wide gap in class as there is between Arsène and Mourinho. Sadly, for as superior off the pitch as Arsène has been, Mourinho has almost always been superior to him on it. Then again, Mourinho has never committed to anything except the best squad someone else's money can buy. It's a pity then that we at Arsenal may have to settle for besting him in the Community Shield while he hides behind the Mike Dean-enabled "win" at Stamford Bridge. We won't get a chance to see Arsène beat him at the end of January, but that's what bullies-cum-cowards do. When the going gets tough, they turn tail and run to where the grass is greener. Arsène's never done that.

He may have missed his best chance at beating his nemesis, but losing that battle might just be worth winning the war.

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Arsenal Looking To Create Another Greek Classic

By Goonerholic

Published 09/12/15

“Let’s be nice and patient. I will be quite happy see it at 0-0 at half-time because that will put added pressure on them for the second-half. I stress again that more important than scoring in the first-half, we must do our best not to let in a goal.”

The Arsenal manager making his point calmly but firmly before a match which we had to win 0-2 away from home in hostile territory. Two hours later George Graham and his Gunners were celebrating the League championship at Anfield, Arsenal’s first title for eighteen years.

The similarities between that memorable night in 1989 and Wednesday evening in Athens are marked. Arsene does not have to write his own pre-match speech because it was done for him by George 26 years ago. Except that George was super confident that his defence could hold out, and Arsene has to concede the possibility that we may not be as watertight under pressure.

“We will have to adapt to what is happening on the pitch and to all of the scenarios, accept them and respond. Ideally, you would like to not have to be patient but we might need to be. What is important is that basically the same for every game in Champions League you attack well and defend well, that is the best way, go into the game with a desire to win it and knowing you need to do both sides of the game well.”

Another 0-2 triumph, or a single goal victory of 2-3 or greater will take us to the last sixteen of the Champions League. Some have argued we might be better off dropping into the Europa League, a more realistic target they argue. Poppycock. Big Ears is the holy grail, the one major to have eluded our grasp for 43 years since Ajax dumped us out of our first European Cup quarter-final in 1972.

For Arsene it has become even more elusive than it was to Sir Matt Busby who waited twelve years from his first attempt with Manchester United before finally lifting the trophy in 1968. Arsene is sixteen years and counting. The odds are against us lifting it this season for sure, and anyone confident of such an outcome is on far happier pills than I, but as the old cliche goes, you have to be in it to win it.

It doesn’t help that some of our best players are back in the Shenley Infirmary Wing, but while we have Mesut Ozil we have hope for this upcoming clash at least. Arsene has some interesting decisions to make. Does he consider the combative Gabriel for a place in the centre of the defence? Perhaps Kieran Gibbs might come in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to strengthen us defensively on the left flank? If Olivier Giroud is retained up front for his ability to play with his back to goal might Theo Walcott replace Joel Campbell on the right?

Campbell will be well prepared for the atmosphere having played for Olympiacos two seasons ago on loan. His 8 goals in 32 appearances for the club included a Champions League goal in a 2-0 win against Manchester United. He is in no doubt we are in for a tough night but have the class to succeed.

“In the Pireo it is very difficult to get points but it is the last game of the group stage and we will give our best. It is the most important game of the season so far. It will be a cup final and we have to win to continue in the Champions League.”

The ‘holic pound

We have to prove that our defeat by Olympiacos at the Grove was a freak. As with all things Arsenal there are opposing views of optimism and gloom ahead of the match. It is set up to provide a dramatic ending, but that could be us scoring a last gasp clincher a la Anfield 89, or conceding a sickening late goal as we are wont to do on occasion. That both possibilities are entirely conceivable has the angriest of butterflies swarming around in my stomach. It is the very pit of nervousness.

The bookies are as confused as anybody ahead of the game, making Arsenal favourites to win on the night, but making a 1-1 draw the likeliest outcome at anything from 6/1 to 15/2. Next best is 1-2 for the Arsenal, another disaster for the Gunners. I don’t want to take any money on a result that isn’t enough. Another memorable 0-2 triumph is a best price 0f 21/2 and I am definitely having some of that.

Those who have made the journey will be able to imbibe some courage in the tavernas of a beautiful city. I hope the night goes well for you and you see a remarkable Arsenal triumph. Think of those of us hiding behind sofas back home with bottles of cheer or consolation.

We battled so hard last season for that third place. Let’s not waste all that effort now. Have a good one, ‘holics.

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OOOOH What A Weekend

By This Is The Arsenal

Published 06/12/15

As City were blown away in Stoke and Louis Van Gaal continued to enforce his philosophy in Manchester, Arsenal finally picked up three points. After a winless November, this was a long time coming and the result in itself was fantastic.

Before I start talking about Arsenal though, I must say I criticised Sunderland in my last post and they proved me wrong. I thought they’d sit just sit back and hope to dear god they could keep a clean sheet. However, though the Black Cats had a defensive formation, they were more than prepared to attack. They really took us on, especially in the first half.

For us, a win is a win and thats what matters. It wasn’t easy as the scoreline suggests and we had to fight for it. We were very sluggish throughout the first half and struggled to create chances. Luckily for us, we’ve got Mesut Ozil. At a time where the goal was almost against the run of play, his perfectly weighted pass got us the lead.

Though Monreal was good going forward, we were very poor defensively. If it wasn’t for Koscielny and Cech, it would’ve been more than Giroud putting the ball in the back of our net.

Oxlade Chamberlain as well, not sure what to write about him. Theo’s coming back now so it really is now or never for the lad. He wasn’t at it yesterday and he really needs to improve. The best part of his play is when he runs at defenders and takes them on but i didn’t see any of that yesterday.

For a club like Arsenal, the fans expect more than just a win, you want to win in style. We didn’t quite do that yesterday but it’s a decent start to November. There were a few positives apart from the three points though.

Ramsey  was really effective through the middle. He did everything i predicted last time out. Bossed the midfield, created Giroud’s goal and scored himself. He was a constant threat throughout with his runs into the box. This was more like the Rambo we know and love. He was even dribbling and turning away from two, lot like he did to Norwich two years ago. Infact, my only criticism of him is that he didn’t score more. He missed a couple of decent chances, but i think that was down to match sharpness and he will only get better.

Then of course there’s Mesut Ozil. The man is a genius, simple as that. He is absolutely killing it right now. Every time he had the ball you felt something could happen. Some of his turns and touches were unbelievable and I found myself staring at the television stupefied. He plays like a kid in recess, the premier league his playground. It’s a privilege to watch him conjure his magic and we’re so lucky to have him at our club.

Sorry this post is sort of long, I’ll finish here. On to Athens now for a really tough challenge. I believe we can do it though.

COYG

Also, a big “HA HA” to Chelsea. Well done Bournemouth.

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A shuffle that unleashes Ramsey 2013 ?

By Suburban Gooners

Published 02/12/15

Quite often with Arsenal, when you hear rumours about an injury lay off, it usually results in the reality being much worse than feared.

Rumours of a three week lay off = out for six weeks

Hearing about a month out = three out.

Possibility of a return before Christmas = Christmas 2016.

So it is with some caution that I approach the subject of talking about a possible return for Koscienly for this weekend, as well as Alexis within the next few weeks and at least back for the City game, because we’ve heard it before and we’ve been disappointed before.

Instead, I will try to fill my day with things that will try to make me forget that we’re likely to get news about Alexis, Koscienly and Cazorla today, or at the very least tomorrow when Arsène delivers his team news to the official site. 

We need to be planning for this weekend’s game without them, for which some major shuffling of the team is in order for the manager, because in all likelihood we’ll be seeing a very different team to the one that started the season.

No Walcott, Alexis, Ramsey moved centrally, Cazorla and Le Coq gone, with Arsène needing to use the full compliment of his squad. However, rather than mire myself in the disappointment of injuries, I’m trying to be positive about the opportunities it might provide us to see something new. Like Ramsey centrally, alongside Flamini, for example. I read an article by Aidan Gibson the other day which afforded me such excitement. It was on The Short Fuse and I’d definitely recommend it.

What Aidan was getting at in his piece was about the opportunity to see a better Arsenal with Ramsey moved centrally alongside Flamini (or potentially Coquelin down the line) and it struck a chord with me. It did so because we’ve been playing a certain way for some weeks and haven’t really been getting anywhere. But now, through enforcement of change due to injuries, we find ourselves in a position where the manager has to change and who knows, he might just find a winning formula.

Ramsey has energy and drive and, with licence to move forward in a central position more, he may rediscover some of his scoring form we saw from a couple of years ago. His late arrival in to the box two years ago was very Lampardesque, if you’ll pardon such a comparison with a Chelski player, but if similarities can be found from a goalscoring perspective then we’ll all be happy.

With more energy through the middle and (fingers crossed) a less gung-ho Flamini, it may just reignite the flame of 2013/14 Rambo that we’ve missed of late, whilst also allowing othe players out wide to flourish. The Ox, for example, will get more game time to prove he’s worthy of being a regular starter. To say his form has been patchy this season is perhaps a slight understatement. He’s been poor or very quiet at times, but injury hasn’t helped that and he’s been in and out of the team. Much like Campbell’s situation, he’ll find himself in a position where he’s now going to at least get three or four games in from the start, so he needs to show he can do it.

Sunderland at home this weekend should be a good opportunity for the players to build a bit of confidence ahead of the Olympiakos game (yes I know I said ‘Olympiacos’ yesterday, but I’ll be devilled if I know which one is the right spelling, so I figured I’d just randomly alternate!), then an away trip to Villa. It should be a chance for those players to ease in to their new roles. Or in Rambo’s case, a new ‘old’ role. His is a case of reacquaintence. 

I saw some of the chatter online that Chambers is playing in the defensive midfield role for the Under-21s, which makes sense, but I suspect there will come a time where we need to see him in first team action a bit more before he’s ready for it. It’s a tricky one because we don’t really have any games in which we can ‘test’ players out, because league and Champions League are important, but he’ll only get so far by playing games at the Under-21 level. I hate ‘Catch 22’s. They really are the pits, don’t you know. 

It’s why still being in the Capital One Cup would have been useful, but that’s all in the past and we have to make do, so perhaps we should console ourselves in the memory that Christmas last year we were given the gift of Coquelin. Maybe this Christmas we’ll get the gift of Chambers.

Laters.

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Call it the Curse of the Third Kit

By Woolwich 1886

Published 30/11/15

A draw with Norwich in the Prem. A hiding by Bayern in the Champions League group stage. A shocking loss to Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup's fourth round. Two goals scored, nine conceded. Injuries to Koscielny, Alexis, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Walcott, a list to which we can now add Cazorla, maybe even Gibbs. What ties this series of unfortunate events together ?

What execrable element unifies these otherwise-disparate setbacks into one depressing heap? We're through the looking-glass here, people. The only culprit fiendish enough to mastermind such a vast conspiracy is none other than...the third kit!

It's inescapable. The only three times we've worn it this season, the results have been abominable. 
Heck, the kit itself is abominable—and I've been sayin' that since the day it was released. Whether it's the actual aesthetics (why are those lines slanty? what's with the colour-scheme? who designed that art-deco A on the back? and so on...) or our squad's performance in it, there's no denying the hoodoo it has over us. A more-detailed rundown is in order:

  • 27 October: Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 Arsenal. Ox gets injured five minute in. Walcott, his replacement, comes up late less than 15 minutes later. Sheffield scores twice before halftime, and this one is over. Try to spare yourself the memory of those god-awful baby-blue shorts and socks.
  • 4 November: Bayern 5-1 Arsenal. Bellerín was pre-injured, but Koscielny was an ominous late scratch after picking up a minor hip injury—as if the kit wished to warn us before working its black magic. Three goals in the first half meant that Bayern actually applied a little bit handbrake in the second, allowing us to score while scoring just two more of their own.
  • 29 November: Norwich 1-1 Arsenal. Just nine minutes in, Koscielny had to come up after injuring his hip again, but the kit tantalised us, allowing us to take a lead soon after. The kit's a cruel mistress, though, as the Canaries found an equaliser. Alexis came up lame late in the second half (perhaps Ramsey did as well?). We'd later learn that Cazorla was playing "on one leg, and we'll find out in coming days just how serious those fresh injuries are.

Is this a coincidence or conspiracy?

It's hard to write it off as the former and equally hard to resist the latter. the grim reality is that the third kit is laying waste to our squad and to our campaign. Coming into November, it was starting to feel as if we could stake a claim to being contenders.

The Sheffield result felt at first like just a speed-bump in the lowly League Cup. For us to truly stumble, our boys would have to fall victim to nine separate misfortunes and be unable to play.

But that will never happen. Three misfortunes, that's possible. Seven misfortunes, there's an outside chance, but nine misfortunes—I'd like to see that.And now here we are.

Three depressing results. Five injuries. We don't need a new physio. We don't even need a new signing. What we need is an exorcist. Failing that, some petrol and a match.

After this latest one, I know we're all gnashing our teeth. I hope we can at least agree on which garment to rend...



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