Gunners back to winning ways despite flaws

Three points on the board and an advancement on the premier league table to keep us within touching distance of our London rivals. It wasn’t pretty, far from an enjoyable experience but in the grand scheme of things the win was recorded. It’s all the team can do right now, the past seven days have been a complete disaster for the club and so it was a bit of a relief to see us remember how to win at home. Confidence amongst the team is shot right now and it will take a while for the team to find a swagger in their play again. All be it that same swagger is what has infected the players with complacency in the games where they are expected to win. Maybe the realisation has sunk in now and the players now recognize what is required when you pull on the red and white of Arsenal.

The team have talked a good game this season, the players have come out (via the platform of Arsenal.com) with the calls to arms speeches for the big games, they highlighted the dangerss of taking teams for granted and they roundly spoke out in defence of the manager. The problem is all the talk seemed to count for nothing when they didn’t back up their words when on the pitch.

We have lost almost all our big games this season, we have fallen foul to inferior teams in the cup competitions and the players have let the manager down when he has staked his reputation on backing the players and their potential to achieve greatness.

jack v villa

Right now everyone in the club is hurting and despite scraping the win yesterday; you could sense a slight indication of unity between the players. They can certainly sense the negativity emitting from every direction and they are channelling it into their play to turn it around.There was definitely more effort put in from the players.

Understandably the past week contributed to the nerves in the teams play yesterday and the turnaround to regain confidence will take some time. There are some major flaws with the team but we missed the opportunity with the recent transfer window to address them so now we have to soldier on, accept what we have and keep the faith.

In terms of the game yesterday a couple things I noticed:

Santi Cazorla sure knows how to hit em.

Of all our players in the squad the one player I feel has that knack to blast a ball in from range is our Santi. His goals yesterday may not have been blockbusters or contenders for goal of the month but his range of shooting is vital to our recovery. Some days they skew off his boots at a 90 degree angle away from the goal but when he gets it right there are not many keepers that can stop ‘em. That threat around the box keeps defenders on their toes and can often create space for others. He took his goals yesterday very well and I for one am grateful for his persistence.

santi celebrates teamates

Monreal has a great delivery.

It has been clear in the games that Nacho Monreal has played this season that he has the best delivery of all our fullbacks at the club. One of the frustrations of the past is when our full backs work themselves into good positions then deliver a poor ball or start turning back inside and losing the momentum. With our lack of options up front it is important that we play to the strengths of what we do have. For what Giroud lacks in pace he makes up for in aerial threat so quality delivery is vital. Monreal had already walked away from the game with an assist for the winner but additionally he put in some terrific crosses during the game; the kind of deliveries that has people raving about Leighton Baines (calm down). Let’s hope he can continue that for rest of the season.

The team lacks ruthlessness.

Yes, we are coming off the back off our worst spell of the season and the team is working its way back to confidence however there were a high number of chances created to win the game comfortably. The profligacy at times had the fans pulling their hair out; at one goal up there was plenty chances to put the game to bed. Instead the team was punished for their lack of efficiency and ended up conceding a soft goal started from our own corner. All season we have lacked the ruthless edge to kill off games and nearly paid for it yesterday. Too many times the wrong decision was made up front and at other times we were just unlucky. We have paid for this many times this season and it is certainly something we need to fix if we are to charge into the top 4. I know players don’t miss on purpose and sometimes reacting on instinct can draw out fantastic goals but the glamorous efforts should be reserved for when we are 2-3 goals up.

Arsene really needs to stop using that ‘handbrake’ term

I know we understand what he’s trying to say when he says it but with every time he uses the phrase it comes across as some sort of parody. It’s like when you have a contestant evicted on big brother and they watch back their best bits at the end and discover that one phrase they use all the time; if Arsene was in the big brother house he would probably use it to describe a million situations much like the Smurfs use the word Smurf. He probably doesn’t realise how much he uses it and would blame it on TV editing.

Yesterday he used it in his press conference to say:

“It was interesting as well to see that we were focused, united, a bit nervous and you could see we played a little bit with the handbrake in some situations because the second goal didn’t come.”

I get ya Arsene

Anyway, let’s hope the recovery continues in our next game, away to Spurs. We can only take things a game at a time. Things won’t be fixed overnight so I think it’s important not to criticize yesterdays performance too much, just appreciate we achieved  a win and get behind the boys for the North London Derby.

I’m sure there’s nothing better to motivate the Arsenal players to raise their game than facing Spurs. The handbrake will be well and truly underused next Sunday.

Enjoy your day people.

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Another year without a trophy for the Gunners

So that’s it then, another season without a trophy for the Arsenal. In a season that is going on record to consolidate our decline we now find ourselves in the position where our only hope of silverware now is to win the Champions League. Every team has ups and downs in a season, only a select few has a rosy ride throughout but the reality is as a football fan you will have your highs and your lows. The problem here is the lows for Arsenal this season have been so low that it can be measurable in comparison to previous years, previous regimes even.

The exit from the capital one cup to Bradford should have been the freak result we look back on with embarrassment and use to realign the reality check of today’s team. That result should have been the motivation to never experience such feeling again. To think back to similar levels of embarrassment you have to recall the defeat to Wrexham many moons ago or that York City result. Freak results in pure isolation, the players at the time felt the shame and made damn sure they would not see something like that happen again on their watch.

We fast forward to this season and it seems the result with Bradford is not even powerful enough to motivate the team to put things right. We manage to let Blackburn Rovers, a team now in the Championship come to our ground and leave with a win. When they were a premiership team a home defeat to them would be deemed unforgivable and yet we managed to outdo ourselves yesterday.

all too common pose

This defeat is bad, real bad; these defeats are now becoming the norm and it seems the rot is well and truly setting in. yes, the team we put out should well and truly be good enough to dispatch the likes of Blackburn at home but like I mentioned in yesterday’s post the mental focus and never say die attitude should be there for these types of games rather than being reserved for when a big club comes to visit.

Ability is not in question, it is that extra determination and ruthlessness that is lacking. That is what separates the top teams from the pretenders. Right now we are losing the right to even use the name ‘Arsenal’ and ‘Big Team’ in the same sentence. We have watched over the last few years how Liverpool have been in decline and had a little chuckle at their misfortunes. Right now it feels like we have slipped to their same level of decline, no longer challenging for league titles and only managing to raise our game for the big teams.

To put all our eggs now in the Champion’s League basket is insane, whilst finishing in the top four does not compare to winning a trophy. Am I being a negative fan when I say I cannot see us winning the Champions League this year or just realistic?  I would love to be wrong in this case but it’s a tough ask for even the most biased Arsenal fan. We seem to be our most vulnerable when we believe our own hype, it has happened countless times this season. We string together a couple good wins then the arrogance rears its ugly head, we don’t try as hard because we believe we have a right to win a game without pure grit and determination and we end up back at square one much like yesterday.

blackburn goal

Even the teams that make the game look easy put in the work, you watch the likes of Barcelona and you see they do not take their foot off the gas. They work for their wins and they show pure ruthlessness. Being 3-0 up they don’t close out the game; they go in search of more goals. They maintain their focus throughout and it’s something we need to learn.

Arsene when he joined the club was big on mental focus of the players and we reaped the benefits from that. What has changed now? Does he use a different approach to what was used during his early years or are the current crop just not getting it? You need a winning mentality with your players and the longer we go without winning trophies the harder it is to attract players who are used to winning and have that hunger to join our club. And when I say attract these players I mean attract the players that are used to winning in top leagues who can bring the level of quality required to improve the team. I say this because when you look at the stats of say someone like Gervinho; on paper he was a monster in France for that Lille team. We signed him for our club and it is quite clear despite some good qualities he is not good enough to really improve our team.

gervinho another miss

When our scouts were running the rule over Gervinho and Hazard I am sure they identified the greater talent would be found in the boots of Hazard; yet we stumped up for the cheaper option. I’m not a scout so I did not watch Gervinho extensively prior to him joining the club but surely all the bad points from his game must have been there when he was playing for Lille? Did the good points outweigh the bad points or was the price compared to Hazard the main motivation.

Anyway I didn’t plan to single out Gervinho from yesterday the whole team is culpable for the result. No player yesterday deserves to slip under the radar. Much like how every player on the pitch last week deserved praise against Sunderland every player yesterday should hang their head in shame. The fans deserve an apology, complacency is never acceptable.

I certainly would not like to cut off my nose to spite my face and by that I mean I want us to fight to our last breath to win the Champions League. Regardless of if I think we can win it or not I would never wish we go out of a competition to prove a point.

I was at the game yesterday and left the stadium so angry; I do not want to feel that way again. The team can start to repay the fans that paid their hard-earned cash to attend by getting a result on Tuesday.

Stay strong people. More for our own sanity than anything else.

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Is it stick or twist with Bayern game around the corner?

F.A cup duty today for the Arsenal as Blackburn takes the trip down to the Emirates. There is a lot of uncertainty in how exactly we will approach this game. We have the massive first leg of the last 16 in the Champions’ League against Bayern midweek and that will surely have a bearing in team selection for today’s game.

For Arsene it must surely be one of his biggest selection problems this season. The defence seems quite threadbare due to some overlying injuries and the luxury of loaning out defenders for the season. Not 100% sure who benefits best out of some of our loans out; the club or the players?

Right now it would slightly more reassuring having Johan Djourou around for today’s game, it avoids the dilemma of rushing back Skipper Thomas Vermaelen or Laurent Koscielny with Tuesday in mind. We have the option of Ignasi Miquel stepping in at the back but a centre back pairing of Miquel and Mertesacker would be seriously exposed to any attack with pace. Sagna is an option but should we really be in the position of calling on our first choice right back to now be our saviour in the middle.

Sagna was immense against Sunderland when called upon in a time of need but that really should have been a one-off. We should not really have to rely on him there again. Arsene has talked up the value of Sagna in that position but I really feel we are playing Russian roulette with that one.

sagna afc

Besides Carl Jenkinson is suspended today so there is a vacancy at right back if Sagna was shifted. Could we become even more makeshift at the back and play Coquelin there or draft in Yennaris?

It seems a few younger players may be given a chance today taking into account injuries, suspensions, pending Champions league tie and level of opposition today. Arsene could be onto a hiding for nothing regardless of who he plays; he could be blamed for resting players for the competition in which we have the best chance for winning silverware or he could be blamed for risking players despite a massive game against Bayern days away.

All I do know is Blackburn cannot be taken lightly with the memories of Bradford still so fresh in the minds of the fans and players. We lost that day with our strongest team at the time, not a young player in sight and so it proves ability is not in question but mental focus to raise your performance for  your Blackburn’s’ and Bradford’s’ the same you would for your Spur’s and United’s’.

ox shoots

Jack won’t be risked and that is understandable, we should have enough quality to not have to rely on Jack’s presence on the field today. I just hope whether it’s a young or experienced player on the pitch before the game the importance of a victory is drilled home. We really cannot afford to lose today, a draw is not ideal either but not the end of the world. Posters of the Bradford game put up around the dressing room could do the job of a thousand words from the manager. Many larger teams have already been knocked out by lower opposition, home advantage is no given right of a win.

Despite some meaty battles with Blackburn over the years helped in part by the ground work set by Mark Hughes and his thug approach; I did not expect the same level of tension from this game today. Hughes is long gone, Savage is no more, and the chicken people don’t quite know what they want in a manager meaning most history between the clubs is nonexistent. So I couldn’t foresee any bad blood or antagonists in the game, that is until the news broke yesterday of David Bentley making a return to his old club.

bentley oh dear

This news changes the dynamics of the game completely as he is eligible to make his debut against Arsenal. The way he left the club, his ownership by Spurs, his personality in general is enough to generate unwanted attention and distraction. He will be up for the game no doubt and the last thing I could bear is a Blackburn victory inspired by his appearance. Old boys returning with opposition has been hit and miss with Arsenal and I pray it is a massive miss today. He is a waste of space who had it all before him but wanted more with half the effort put in. players like him belong on the scrap-heap and I for damn sure don’t want a performance against Arsenal to be part of his recovery.

Please Arsenal if you ever needed any more motivation it has presented itself in the form of Bentley. Take us into the next round please and keep him in your pocket .Perfect opportunity for Gunnersaurus to Harlem Shake in his face…

Enjoy your day people.

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Backs to the wall first for the Gunners

Large respect due to every Arsenal player on the field yesterday that contributed to the victory over Sunderland. On a day in which everything that could go wrong did; it was a nice surprise that the Arsenal refused to crumble and stood up to the challenge set in front of them. For all the plaudits Arsenal have received over the years for their style of football one thing they have struggled to exhibit is resilience and a backs to the wall, win at all costs attitude.

cazorla goal afc

If the top four places do come down to the wire this season the points gained yesterday will be looked back as a vital victory contributing to Arsenal’s fortunes. Experiencing the game had to be one of the most testing on the hearts of Arsenal fans; my heart was pounding so hard it took 10 minutes after the final whistle to return to a normal level.

The start to the events of the day centred around the centre back position in the Arsenal back line with skipper Thomas Vermaelen already ruled out; doubts remained on the fitness of Laurent Koscienly. Despite passing a late fitness test on Friday all was not well with the Frenchman; he was named in the starting line up but after pulling up in the warm up it was clear he could not play.

This lead to a last minute reshuffle of the defence, Arsene Wenger opting to move Bacary Sagna into the middle and drafting Carl Jenkinson into the right back role. An initial strange decision considering a centre back was available in Ignasi Miquel though given his lack of game time with the first team this season; the experience of Sagna despite being out of position was required for a potentially testing game at the stadium of light. One does wonder if the decision to let Johan Djourou go out on loan and not bring in a replacement was a wise decision if Miquel is not deemed good enough to start ahead of a right back who has never played at centre back before for Arsenal.

First half of the game Arsenal were actually in complete control, they played with purpose, passed the ball well and were fully deserving of their half time lead from Santi Cazorla’s strike. If ever there was a negative to draw from the first half it would be the wastefulness when on top. The Sunderland keeper Mignolet pulled off some great saves to keep the score at only one goal difference which gave Sunderland hope.

There were two turning points in the second half which certainly swung the game heavily in favour of Sunderland. Firstly Jack Wilshere who carried over his top form from last week’s international against Brazil finally succumbed to the barrage of fouls on him in the game. It seemed it was a Sunderland tactic to target him in the game and even as strong as Jack is he isn’t superman. After a heavy knocked he signalled the bench and was removed from play.

jack injured

The second turning point was the red card for Carl Jenkinson after he picked up two yellow cards. The cards cannot be disputed, they were bookable challenges and it is hoped he can learn from the experience. Many have been calling for Bacary Sagna to be replaced at right back by Jenkinson due to the Frenchman’s recent form but yesterday may have been evidence of exactly why Jenkinson is not ahead of Sagna right now. Jenkinson is still young, he still has a lot to learn but is a definite talent who has the potential to make the right back slot his own for years to come but Sagna has not turned into a bad player overnight. The competition is good for the team but I think absence has made the heart grow fonder with many Arsenal fans, we cannot write off a player like Sagna after a few below par games.

Going down to ten men certainly threw the game into Sunderland’s favour and from then on Arsenal had to content with constant pressure on the back foot. Aaron Ramsey stepped in as right back while Wenger still resisted the temptation to bring on Miquel. The pressure was really hard to witness but I must commend all the players who dug in to hold onto that lead, we rode our luck several times but deserved the three points. Each player has earned the right to wear a big ass chain in celebration of their efforts.

big ass chain afc

Wear than chain with pride boys

I will even forget the wasted finish from Olivier Giroud when Arsenal found themselves three on one late in the game; with options he decided to hold onto the ball and eventually blast the ball high and wide despite the better options available. Hopefully Arsene will pull him aside and have a word as a goal at that time would have sealed the win and halted the immense pressure in the game. Despite that moment he played his part in the victory and so I will not draw too much from it.

Special mention must go to Sagna, Ramsey and Szczesny  in the game, the two outfield players have split the fans faith this season but they managed to put in excellent performances yesterday despite playing out of position. They have certainly won over many of the fans with their efforts yesterday and I hope that effort will continue for the rest of the season. Keeper Szczesny pulled off some important saves yesterday to preserve the win; he did have a couple ropy moments in the game but when called upon he really pulled of the stops that showed why he is our number one.

Next up is Blackburn in the F.A cup next weekend; enough time hopefully for Jack Wilshere to recover from his knock and our injured centre backs to return.

Enjoy your day people.

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Football is the winner as Arsenal defeat Stoke

The Arsenal managed to obtain victory against Stoke City to keep them within touching distance of fourth place. Although on paper a home victory seemed the most likely outcome Stoke turned up at the emirates with a game plan to frustrate the Gunners and hopefully nick a draw.

We had new signing Nacho Monreal in the starting line up as Arsene gave him an instant initiation to the Arsenal team.  He did alright on his debut and certainly played his part in contributing to the victory. With Gibbs likely to be out for longer than the first estimated three weeks and Andre Santos losing the faith of the fans and it seems the manager, it was encouraging that Monreal slotted in so seamlessly.

monreal v stoke

His performance wasn’t flawless as it was quite clear he should avoid use of his right foot and also late in the game a couple lapses in concentration crept into his game. Nothing bad enough to ring alarm bells; it is evident from one appearance alone his acquisition is one that does add quality and strengthen the squad.

Back to the game and from the off we played on the front foot for the majority of the game, Stoke were happy to contain the pressure as we spent the game camped in their half with the lion’s share of possession. It’s been a long time since I’ve witnessed a home game where the team camped in their half against us inviting pressure; maybe it was to counter the threat of Theo Walcott’s pace as his strength is running off the shoulder of the last defender.

We were rarely threatened in defence and it was important that we stayed focused and avoided a goal against the run of play. As the game wore on it was looking like Stoke may have pulled it off but our German number 9 had different plans. With the clock running down we were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box after Theo Walcott was brought down by Wilkinson. Lukasz Podolski took on the free kick taking responsibility and found the back of the net via a deflection off a Stoke player. Absolutely nothing wrong with the goal although the referee’s assistant took it upon himself to find fault with it. After discussion with the referee and some heated opinions voiced from players of both sides the referee ruled the goal would stand. Absolute common sense and I would be interested to know what exactly the referee’s assistant’s reasoning was.

podolski celebrates

With the goal we craved finally scored; Stoke actually ventured from their goal line to try to sneak an equalizer. They ended the game with three strikers up front but it wasn’t enough as we held on and secured the three points. There is still clearly some bad blood between the two sides and tensions certainly weren’t helped by a crude tackle from Ryan Shawcross that left Laurent Koscielny writhing in pain. Even Michael Owen got involved as he planted a sly punch at Mikel Arteta which wasn’t seen by the referee. The good thing is we didn’t sink to their level and in the end let the football do all the talking.

It was extremely encouraging that we came away with a clean sheet, the silly goals have been slipping by in recent games and it was nice we managed a shut out. It was also nice that we didn’t have to go one nil down to respond to anything, although 0-0 at half time wasn’t great it’s a lot better than being a goal down.

Thomas Vermaelen was missing through injury but it’s not to say he has been the cause of the recent soft goals conceded. The blame can be attributed across the back four and each player would have to hold their hand up for some of the goals we let in. The thing is once everyone is focused then goals like that don’t get conceded. 100% concentration is needed for the duration of the match and the defence needs to play for each other as much as themselves.

Next up is an away trip to Sunderland; that will not be an easy game despite their position in the table. We will  need to put in another focused, disciplined performance much like yesterday and with the luxury of a full squad to choose from a win is a must to continue the chase for fourth place.

Enjoy your day people.

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