Arsenal show Defensive Solidarity of Old at Villa Park

An interesting stat was highlighted on Monday night that few Gooners or football naturals would have known: Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have never lost in the Premier League when they pair up for 90 minutes.
The run, which began when Mertesacker made his debut during a 1-0 win over Swansea in September 2011, now stretches to 28 games as Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud’s goals kept us top of the table in a (slightly nervy) 2-1 win over Aston Villa.
The pair have kept 16 clean sheets over that time at a cost of 0.5 goals per game.
per and kos
It is incredible to think such a stat exists when you consider how poorly Arsenal began last season, but since both players have been fit, few fans of live football commentary would argue Per and Laurent  have not been the best defensive partnership in the Premier League.
So what can we expect in the coming weeks? Mertesacker’s reaction to the midfield giving the ball away for Christian Benteke’s consolation goal on Monday suggests the Germany international has no desire to give up his streak. Both players are fit, playing considered football and, for maybe the first time since Campbell and Toure, continually talk to each other on the pitch.
While the front guys have grabbed most of the headlines this season, it is Arsenal’s regimented defence that has been the main difference between this season and last. We witnessed in Munich last year, after Bayern had split us apart in the Champions League last-16 first leg, how much they were hurt by the 3-1 home defeat and since then this defence has toughened up.
Of course, there are a few hiccups such as our 6-3 defeat at Manchester City last month but every team has a dip in the season and, by the looks of our strong resolve to grind out results, our dip has already passed.
The Gunners host a relegation-threatened Fulham this weekend and, with only the slightest possibility of an upset  if you check out the online football betting, it is more than likely Per and Laurent’s run will stretch to 29.

Enjoy your day people.

Guest post brought to you by Royce Williams

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Will Arsene make key signings part of his New Year resolution?

So Arsenal start the New Year in 1st place, a hard fought victory over a stubborn Cardiff team ensured they stayed there. The proud record of being the best performing team of 2013 can be seen as the perfect springboard to continue the improvement into 2014 and hopefully reap the benefits come the end of the football season.

The fans are happy (well most of them) and will no doubt be settling back into their normal routines following all the festive fun. As the majority of us tend to do in the New Year goals are set, a chance to put right the wrongs of the previous year with new gym routines or money saving tactics. We all enter into these with the best of intentions unfortunately the motivation dies before March is with us.

It would be nice to think that Arsene has incorporated some resolutions to help Arsenal for the second half of the season. The ideal resolution would be to make some key January signings.
As we all know Arsene isn’t a big fan of January buys, the Frenchman has a lot of faith in his squads and doesn’t tend to put his hand in his pocket at this time of year unless his hand is forced or a super bargain is available. One of the main requirements this season is a top quality striker to share the burden with Olivier Giroud. Will Arsene buy or will he see the recent change in Bendtner worth waiting for him to recover from his recent injury rather than purchase a player? Although whilst still an Arsenal player I’d back Bendtner 100% every time he goes out on the pitch I don’t see Bendtner part of any long term plans and for that reason it may suit both parties that he finds new employers during the transfer window.

bendtner

Arsene is also a big fan of adaptability in his players and he has said it in the past that Walcott and Podolski are very much able deputies to the central striking role. The recent return of Podolski has already prefilled the possible quotation of “like a new signing” though the German hasn’t quite grasped the opportunity in that role with both hands. His goal in the West Ham game reminded us of his valuable contribution to the team though his starting role in the Cardiff game in the central striking position was slightly underwhelming.

Podolski is one of the best finishers at the club and certainly offers a goal threat but at the times he has played in the central striking role it hasn’t quite clicked. This is taking into account times he played there before his injury also. One game does not condemn a player and you never know he could well grow into the role; he also didn’t have the luxury of the creative talents of Ozil and Ramsey at his disposal. Flamini has been a great acquisition to the Arsenal team this season but his performance in an advanced role on New Year’s Day was rather limited in the attacking third whilst Arteta covered.

Walcott also offers a goal threat though question marks will always remain over his effectiveness with his back to goal as opposed to the outlet of pace he offers on the wing. What we gain in Walcott playing central we lose from him not playing wide.

Taking all this into account a striking addition to the squad would be the best option, a loan or permanent transfer? If a top quality player can be brought in on loan I don’t see why not. A permanent arrangement can be readdressed in the summer. If it’s the difference between playing over the odds fees for a player and assessing a potential signing up close in the short term for peanuts then we all know which option our manager would rather take.

In addition to that a central defensive signing would be reassuring, beyond the excellence of the Koscielny/Mertesacker and the cover from Vermaelen there aren’t much options at all. Given Arsenal’s injury history it would be foolish to rely on the current partnership not receiving another injury for the rest of the season. Vermaelen is an able deputy but in recent times the Belgian has hardly been injury free himself.

per and kos

Arsene has never been one to recall players from on loan during injury crisis’s and so if the worst was to happen the next step would be to rejig the whole defence by slotting Sagna into the middle or calling upon the services of Isaac Hayden. Not ideal given the massive chance the club has of winning the title this year, the last thing Arsenal fans would want to do is feel regret at the missed opportunity of strengthening to enhance the clubs chances for silverware.

Well, Arsenal has a month to hopefully make the right signings and give the rest of the season a good go. Signings for the future are not required at present, focus really needs to be on the now, it’s the clubs best chance in years to bring in a trophy.

Enjoy your day people.

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Gunners Defence Rocked by Koscielny Injury

It’s not something any of us would have said 18 months ago, but Laurent Koscielny’s absence through injury this Christmas is a bitter blow to Arsenal’s title challenge.

The Frenchman, who was once derided as a quiet, impressionable defender incapable of positioning himself within five yards of the ball, has been superb over the past year and has provided a bedrock at the back, alongside Per Mertesacker, from which the Gunners have grown.

kos

As much as we have enjoyed the attacking prowess of our front line and midfield, the defensive unit this season is the main reason we’re top of the league.

Yet it seems our title challenge will have to be maintained by others after Koscielny was stretchered off against Manchester City on Saturday with a deep gash in his leg. There is no timescale for recovery to cuts like these – remember Wayne Rooney’s head scar earlier this season? – and so people who bet on football should plan around the Frenchman’s absence this Christmas.

This is as bad an absence as Arsenal could have had, for our clash with Chelsea next week requires a competent back four – especially after our 6-3 drubbing at City.

Who will fill the Koscielny role? Ironically the man who looked set to become the new Tony Adams 18 months ago, but who has since declined and now sits firmly behind Kos in the pecking order.

Of course, as club captain, Thomas Vermaelen will play with just as much intensity as he always has but there is a feeling among football betting punters the Belgian is not cut out for containing Premier League strikers while having captain responsibility. Robin van Persie’s goal against Arsenal at the Emirates last season tells you that.

Since he was given the armband, his performances have dropped and, although Vermaelen is adequate cover for Koscielny in the short term, let us hope our so-far solid defensive unit is back to normal come the FA Cup clash with Tottenham.

Enjoy your day people.

Guest post brought to you courtesy of Mark W.

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Arsenal claim 4th place ‘trophy’

So that’s it, fourth place secured with a win at Newcastle. No playoff though I doubt Arsenal fans were too bothered about that, Spurs won but that effort was in vain as Arsenal took hold of their own destiny and achieved the win required.

Any Arsenal fan that tells you they were not nervous before or during the match are cold faced liars, the tension was unbearable at times and the final whistle could not come quick enough towards the end.

AFC FINAL WHISTLE

Laurent Koscielny provided the deciding goal to maintain champion’s league football for the Gunners and was a rock at the back to boot. Man of the match in my eyes and it is hoped his form from the second half of the season is here to stay permanently.

The whole team deserves praise for holding their nerve to carve out the result when the pressure was surely on, Tottenham had the far easier game to play and it was important that Arsenal scored the first goal to alleviate any extra nerves which could disrupt their performance.

The importance of securing fourth place cannot be stressed hard enough, competing in the champions league is the difference between attracting players of the calibre of Jovetic or settling for players of lesser ability. European football is a bargaining chip in negotiations and will ensure top players will consider signing up at the Emirates, it also ensures the current squad won’t get itchy feet for football elsewhere.

giroud celebrates v newc

Many have commented on Arsenal’s celebrations at the final whistle, saying that they celebrated as if they had won a trophy; I can assure you if fortunes were reversed and Tottenham achieved the fourth place they would have celebrated the same way if not harder. Fourth place was at stake but also was the chance to better your bitter rivals, nothing can be sweeter than achieving at the expense of your rivals. A trophy was not won but the tears of the spurs players at the final whistle is worthy of celebrating 20 times over.

worth it

worth it

Arsenal can now build on this, it will take shrewd business from Arsene Wenger to improve the team and create a squad capable of challenging for honours in an Alex Ferguson-less Premier league. The core of the team is there, there shouldn’t be a Robin Van Persie-esque departure from the squad this summer. The additions from last summer should improve on their solid debut seasons and a clear out of the less involved players should come to fruition.

Andre Arshavin took to twitter to bid farewell to Arsenal, he thanked the fans, his colleagues and all the staff at the club as well as wishing the club well in next year’s champion’s league. It’s a nice touch from the diminutive Russian who never said a bad word about the club during his exiled period this season. He left the club with many quality memories most notably the 4 goals at Anfield and that winner against Barcelona. He will be fondly remembered by Arsenal fans and I for one wish him well in the next chapter of his career.

arshavin tweets

Guys, please take advantage of the bragging rights to all the Tottenham fans you know. Do not feel sorry for them because they would not hold back if roles were reversed. Make them feel like rubbish today and for the rest of the week if you can.

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy…

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Arsenal go out of competition in best possible way

The Arsenal boys can hold their head high after last night’s performance. After the debacle of the performance in the first leg it really was a night of damage limitation. The Arsenal managed to restore a lot of pride and belief with a totally unexpected 2-0 win at the Allianz Arena. It was the perfect outcome behind obviously pulling off a victory clawing back the 3 nil deficit.

It was important leading into the match that the players raised their game and put in a performance to restore the belief that could hopefully be transferred into the domestic form. It has been a long wait since the last game against Tottenham for the Arsenal players to get on the pitch and right their recent wrongs.

I’ll hold my hand up and admit that I didn’t believe Arsenal would win the tie; I believed they could win on the night but not enough to go through. By the time Koscielny planted that header in the back of the net all scepticism was thrown out the window as my fingernails were chipped away with nervous tension. Arsenal may have bowed out from the competition but much like the exit to AC Milan last season they can draw strength from the performance and channel it to the chase for top four position in the Premier League. In a night in which Arsenal had nothing to lose they walked away gaining so much.

giroud bayern

Much respect to the players on the pitch because based on the rumours leading up to the game of players left out and then viewing the starting line up the final result did not seem possible. Fabianski in goal is enough to send the jitters through to the bones of Arsenal fans. Spending the majority of the season on the treatment table he was drafted into the starting line up for his comeback game in quite high profile circumstances. Fair play to the Pole, he did everything right on the night; it was an assured performance and a sign of what he can be capable of.  When he is good he is good but the bad often outweighs the good, let’s hope he can change that trend if he is called upon again this season.

Koscielny was magnificent in partnership with Mertesacker at the centre of defence. That is probably one of the most frustrating things about the defence. We know they have these performances in them but on too many occasions the errors undo all the hard work. Koscielny has been disappointing this season in comparison to his efforts last season however last night showed why the manager believes in him.

Kozzer

Jenkinson also had a big game last night, he has improved with the run of games he has had in the side and Arsene will have a dilemma when Sagna returns to fitness. At the start of the season when Jenkinson was playing to a high level and growing with each game he was unfairly yanked from the first team as soon as Sagna was fit. I think this time when Sagna returns to fitness he should earn the right to usurp the English right back from the starting eleven.

It was good (and a relief) to see Gibbs return to first team action, he certainly contributed to the performance last night and it was important he lasted the 90 minutes. Of course Nacho Monreal has settled in well to the team but some competition at this stage of the season will keep the two left backs on their toes.

All the players played their part and helped to erase the memories of the first leg defeat. When you think back Arsenal were so out played in that game they made Bayern look like supermen. Last night Arsenal made those Bayern players look human; they had them scared in the end and reduced them to scurrying in the corners and playing for free kicks to waste time.

The players put in a shift and fought until the end to get the result, what they need to do now is transfer that into the game with Swansea at the weekend.  Everything earned last night will be for nothing if they come up short against the Welshmen. I understand it was a tough gruelling game away in Europe which will be followed by a tough away game to a Swansea team that have given Arsenal some tough games this season but this is the time to build on the momentum. There are players rested who can return to duty and with a number of options in the squad fatigue should be heavily reduced.

Well done Arsenal, enjoy your feats from last night but don’t dwell on it too long, there’s a job to be done at the weekend.

Enjoy your day people.

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