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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Will lack of signings dent performance against Villa?

The football season is back at last, Aston Villa are the first opponents of the season at the Emirates as there is finally real football back to take our minds of other distractions. The frustration at the lack of transfer activity has reached boiling point as Arsenal kick off their campaign with only young French hopeful Yaya Sanogo the only acquisition. Such is the irony of his signing the youngster with a well known injury record is injured and cannot play a part in today’s game.

The injuries are racking up as Mikel Arteta has joined the crocked list with Thomas Vermaelen, Nacho Monreal and possibly Carzorla could join them also. Moral is low amongst the fans and the injuries merely add to the bad vibes. It shouldnt be like that on the first day of the season, it should be one of great optimism, looking ahead to possible silverware and excitement of what new signings can add to the team.

Arsene Wenger is a manager who has pioneered the importance of the psychological aspects of the game, whether it’s from the players on the pitch or the fans in the stands and confidence adds that extra percentage that can be the difference between a win a draw and a defeat.

By delaying the signing of players to strengthen the team especially when quality players have become available at reasonable prices only to sign on elsewhere it has added to the pressure the Arsenal players will face in the game today. A stray pass and the groans start, a missed chance and the groans get louder. These things can get worse over time and is certainly not ideal to start the season.

giroud2i

Think back to last seasons opener when Olivier Giroud missed that golden chance against Sunderland to possibly win the game, he didn’t score, the fans gasped but cheered him on, they got behind him and willed him on. Imagine a similar scenario tomorrow with the  game poised at 0-0. If Giroud misses a similar chance you will see a completely different reaction, the personal built up frustration will be directed at the player and he will notice it. He’s a big strong lad and should be able to deal with any abuse but deep down abuse and criticism can affect the best of players.

When you try to look at Arsene’s reasons for not signing players so far I suppose apart from the obvious of poor negotiation skills and scouting there could also be some truth behind the theory that he could be putting a lot of faith in the youth.

Of course Arsenal and blooding youth is nothing new but in the past few years the focus on youth has reduced heavily as the need for experience to coincide with younger players has been recognized. we have been less dependable on youth than in the past as past projects have proved less fruitful, has there been an about turn? Gedion Zelalem will certainly play some part this coming season, Serge Gnabry and Chuba Akpoom have been talked up by the manager not to mention the possible opportunity for Ryo Miayachi to finally prove his apprenticeship is over.

These young players do excite me don’t get me wrong but i think their time should come in the Capital One Cup and possibly some FA Cup action. The premier league and champions league assault will require more experienced personnel to make the difference when it matters.

This is just me speculating and you never know what could happen between now and the closing of the transfer window, I am sure we are all in agreement that the last minute buying is not healthy going into the season. whether players are 99% signed on the condition that we confirm qualification into the Champions League proper I don’t know but i am a little bit hoping this is the case and a glut of surprise marquee signings will storm through the Emirates doors once Fernebache are beaten.

For now its time to focus on Aston Villa and the threat of Benteke, it wont be as easy as we think. the boys (who are fit) will need to be on it from the start and win convincingly to bring back some good feeling. I’m looking forward to going to the Emirates today and will get 100% behind the boys.

per skipper

Congrats to Per Mertesacker who has been nominated as Arsenal Captain in the absence of Arteta and Vermaelen. A role that shouldn’t phase the experienced BFG. Clean sheet today please.

Come on Arsenal!

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Chelsea defeat a wake up call after good start to season – AFC

Not the result we wanted, not ideal to let Chelsea take all the points from us at home. Drogba is gone, the big bully isn’t around to strike fear into the Arsenal defence any more. Games against Chelsea over the past year have been on a more level playing field due to the evaporation of the once fear factor we had. Yesterday the performance in itself wasn’t bad from the team, we gave as good as we got but in the grand scheme of things the failings of old reared its ugly head.

The soft goals we conceded yesterday were the exact kind of goals many fans thought were a thing of the past. The recent improved defensive performances were attributed to the influence of Steve Bould on the training ground but yesterday we seemed to take a backwards step with the quality of the defending from those two set play goals.

It was mentioned by the sky TV pundits that the loss of Diaby to injury shortly before the free kick led to some disorganisation when lining up to face the free kick. I find that slightly clutching at straws even if the comments were in our defence. At the end of the day for the first goal we allowed Torres to steal a boot in and score an easy goal. Koscielny really should have been stronger and read the flight of the ball. It looks like he expected the ball to drift out of play but from not attempting to attack the ball it gave the advantage to the attacker. He will no doubt learn from that but at the same time better is expected from him in those situations, he’s not a raw 18 year old he’s a defender who has set a high standard from his efforts last season and should carry on that improvement. I can’t be too harsh on him as he was excellent last week, no defender is immaculate in every game, even the best have their moments.

The first goal was a set back but we worked our way back into the game with a good equalizer from Gervinho. He controlled a drilled cross from Oxlade-Chamberlain swiveled and smashed the ball into the roof of the net to continue his purple patch of goal scoring form.

In this game Gervinho showed his good and bad sides, last week I commented on the fact that despite his missed chances his influence on the front line was positive and he was a constant thorn in the Man city side. I still feel he can play in that role and his goal was another reminder that he can and that maybe he deserves to be given a chance there than Theo Walcott. The other side to him was the one we saw when the changes were made in the second half and he had to shift to the flanks. His passing, his dribbling, everything just didn’t come off as he frustrated in the latter stages; some may argue he frustrated before the changes but I disagree.

The second goal we conceded was another soft goal as the ball went in direct from a Juan Mata free-kick. The ball was played into the box and despite the ball taking the slightest of flicks off Koscielny the ball was heading into the back of the net regardless. Those kinds of the goals are the ones I hate the most, there needs to be communication in the box whether the keeper orders his players to leave it or the defender ensures they clear the ball, neither happens and then everyone ends up looking rather silly. Its harder to accept conceding those goals as you expect those kinds of balls into the box can be worked on in the training ground. Back to the drawing board, basics need to be worked on. Conceding soft goals can be disheartening to the rest of the team and the sooner we iron them out the better.

Some accusing fingers could be pointed at Arsene team selection yesterday, after a man of the match performance against Manchester City last week Per Mertesacker’s reward was a place on the bench yesterday. Should he have been dropped? In the for case he has been in his best form in an arsenal shirt and would have lined up against Chelsea full of confidence. In the against case the Chelsea line up was full of pacy players who could look to exploit the Germans lack of. Arsene clearly went for the defensive pairing more capable of dealing with the pace of hazard, Torres et al. was it a mistake? A hard one to call but when you look at the result and the goals conceded then maybe calling it an error is the easy option.

When asked about dropping the German Arsene Wenger said:

“That is a decision which was based on the opposition we played. You can say it was a wrong one maybe, but I believe is a lowering the quality of the players who played, they are internationals.
If you do not play Koscielny or Vermaelen and cannot win the game, you will ask me the same question.”

A fair point indeed, he was not protective of his teams defending in general as he said:

“They had three shots on target and scored two goals, from soft set-pieces. Defensively we were just not at the level you have to be in a game like that, which is where we were punished today. For the rest, we have shown quality and spirit but we have to show more personality and authority on the goals we conceded.”

A clear indication that he was not happy and that maybe his players faced whatever the Wenger version of the ‘Ferguson hairdryer’ is.

Another worry from yesterday’s game is the growing reputation Olivier Giroud is building for himself. After getting himself off the mark in the midweek game against Coventry it was hoped that his goal scoring confidence would return. And when he was introduced in the second half he did cause some problems for the Chelsea defence but despite his efforts the only thing he will be remembered for is his miss in injury time that would have salvaged a point for the gunners. His good movement in the box again created a chance, as he came up against Petr Cech he worked the ball around the keeper, slightly wide but still enough to hit the target. On this occasion he slid the ball into the side netting and the chance was gone.

I do have sympathy for the striker having the burden of being the replacement for Robin Van Persie as those are big boots to fill but the problem at hand is the striker not hitting his shots on target from his clear cut chances. I’m still 100% behind the striker but 1st impressions are hard to shift with the unforgiving press. The last thing Giroud needs is a tag as an underperforming striker, all we can do as fans is back the player to the hilt until he starts firing on all cylinders.

In general it was a disappointing result against Chelsea, The goals conceded may have raised concerns but we are far from in a crisis situation. We can overcome this result and continue our improvement this season. It’s Olympiakos in the champions league this week and West Ham away in the premiership at the weekend let’s get our season back on track with those games gunners.

Enjoy your day people

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Arsenal announce arrival as team to take seriously

Resilience is a wonderful trait to have; it is a joy to watch when your team refuses to lie down. My feeling after the game yesterday was one of pride and slight disappointment that we didn’t leave the Etihad stadium with all three points. This really was the first real test for Arsene Wenger’s team this season and they did not disappoint. Yes, we may have conceded a soft goal but the thing that sets this Arsenal team apart from some of the past is the refusal to be ruffled by it, we did not lose our shape rushing forward for an equalizer only to succumb to the dreaded breakaway counter attack goal. No, we kept playing our game and got our just rewards from Laurent Koscielny’s equaliser.

Bundle!!

This is a different arsenal, an arsenal full of confidence which as the away team outplayed Manchester City for the majority of the match. To say the goal we conceded came against the run of play would be an understatement. We were playing some beautiful football and but for some profligate composure in attacking situations we should really have been in front long before we conceded. Plaudits could be spread throughout the team for their performances as we stood up to the big test in front of us and dare I say it showcased our potential to contest for domestic honours.

In the lead up to the game rumours filtered through that our skipper could potentially be absent from the squad. That was confirmed when the team was announced and Vermaelen was nowhere to be seen. It was revealed that he had not travelled with the squad due to Flu. Not the most confidence inducing news to hear, the loss of our skipper is a big miss in any game however given the strength of our squad his replacement Koscielny is quality enough to fill the gap.

The change in the centre back position was a forced change but Arsene had a surprise up his sleeve when he chose Aaron Ramsey to occupy one of the front three positions ahead of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott. You could hear the grumbles across the country when that news came out. Aaron is still working on repairing his reputation which was slightly tarnished last season due to some mixed performances. The jury is still out in some Arsenal fans eyes however yesterday the Welshman produced one of his best performances in an Arsenal shirt to reassure fans of what he brings to the arsenal midfield. He may not have the box of tricks of skill of the Ox or the raw pace of Theo but what he does bring is quality on the ball, quality in the pass and excellent ball retention. This was a characteristic that was definitely required against Man city to ensure our control of the game and Arsene deserves praise for taking such a bold step.

One of the potential negatives from the game was the disappearance of Gervinho’s shooting boots. He definitely had the lion’s share of attempts for us in the game but nothing came off for him. In some people’s eyes it may seem the same old same old with the Ivorian. However I could see a difference in the forwards play and attitude. Yes he missed chances but the Gervinho of old would not have even attempted to make some of the shots he tried. Clearly buoyed by his recent rich vein of goal scoring form he was clearly more direct in his play and seemed hungry to get on the score sheet. It didn’t come off for him yesterday on another day he’s scoring goals like he did last week against Southampton. I encourage the new hungry Gervinho, although it was a source of frustration for Arsenal fans yesterday I feel if he keeps at it his the confidence will continue to grow and those chances will be converted more often. Apart from that I cannot defend that shocking piece of control by Gervinho when put through by Ramsey. Seriously he showed the kind of touch I have only experienced when playing pro evolution or FIFA and the ball is played on to a player with a rating lower than 50, 40 even.

Arsene Wenger gave his take on our performance and the chances that went amiss when he said:

“We refuse to lose the game today and came back. We are happy with the team performance but a little frustrated because we had chances with Gervinho when we could have won the game. Gervinho was a danger but he was nervous in his finishing.”

I’m sure the manager will keep working on his finishing in training but again I believe with growing confidence it will improve.

At the back the Steve Bould factor was again evident as the whole back four put in a great defensive performance, they were protected well by Arteta and the rest of the midfield but held their own when called upon. I lost count of the number of interceptions on potentially dangerous through balls; in the past those kinds of balls were getting through.

Per Mertesacker has come on leaps and bounds this season and is now receiving the plaudits from the press who were so quick to write him off last season. The fact he was voted man of the match says it all, the big German has really shown he has what it takes at premiership level and shown up all those who seem to think defending is all about pace. Another player who seems to be showing improvement from last season is Carl Jenkinson. This young guy as we know is arsenal through and through which is always a nice trait to have in a player. Though being a super fan isn’t the only requirement to play for arsenal, you need the quality to become a regular. Although the unfortunate injury to Bacary Sagna has elevated Carl to first team duty he has taken his opportunity with both hands and he is doing enough to prove he deserves to be starting for Arsenal.

What we forget is when Jenkinson came into the team last season we were in complete turmoil because of the departures of some big players; He had to hit the ground running despite the lack of experience at the top level. The past season clearly allowed the defender to learn and work on his weaknesses. He almost seems a completely different player but this is just testament to a growing confidence in the player, no turmoil in preparation for this season and now feeling part of the set up. Much like Gervinho and Mertesacker his confidence has grown this season due to learning from last and it is clear to see.

Whereas last season I may have questioned his longevity as an arsenal player of the future I can now see the signs that he has potential to become an important player for us. Still plenty for him to learn and Sagna still owns the right back position but Jenkinson is definitely doing his chances no harm.

Overall it was a great performance all round, even excusing Vito Mannone’s flap at the corner in which we conceded the goal; he pulled off some important saves to make up for the misjudgment. Our midfield were as majestic as ever and overshadowed the likes of Yaya Toure and David Silva. The Arsenal post Robin Van Persie have announced themselves and intend to play a huge part in the premiership this year.

enjoy your day people

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