Last 16 achieved, top of group still possible – AFC

Mission accomplished, we are through to the last 16 in the champions league. There have been many big name scalps already so far in the competition and so our achievement carries more kudos. It hasn’t been pretty, after a good start to the group stages the games against Shalke did their best to derail our momentum and it was important that the team pulled together and ensured they ground out the results required to qualify from the group.

Although winning the group is out of our hands it is not an impossible feat; we have learnt in the past how important winning the group is when the last 16 draws have been made. Arsene has a tough decision to make in the final game as players in need of a rest could get a well-earned breather but if we were to take the foot off the gas and Shalke did lose their last game it would be a gutting feeling. We will see, plenty football to be played before the next group fixture.

On the game itself the first half seemed very nervy and flat. Although we didn’t seem to be under much threat from the Montpellier attack the impetus from our team with added home advantage was nonexistent. It was an easily forgettable half and one that had me feeling glad I was sat at home cosy watching on TV rather than witnessing it after parting with my hard earned cash and sitting in the cold November air. We went in at half time 0-0, there were a few grumbles from the home crowd however I will give them a benefit of the doubt they were grumpy from the weather.

The second half had a much better outcome and brought the crowd back to life and happier times. It took about 4 minutes into the second half when Jack Wilshere managed to flick the ball past the keeper after a nice knockdown from Olivier Giroud playing against his old club. That was jack’s first goal since returning to first team duty and you could see the joy on his face as he reeled away to celebrate. The goal clearly removed the weight off our shoulders since a win was the minimum requirement from this game.

Although the general team play didn’t improve too much from the first half the goal certainly raised the crowd and the atmosphere, the players started to grow into their play. About 12 or so minutes later we scored our second goal, and what a goal it was. Lukasz Podolski who was clearly up for this game had a couple of chances that didn’t go his way earlier in the game. It was only a matter of time before he made his mark in the game which he sure did. Giroud was again the provider lofting the ball into Podolski’s path just inside the box. Still with plenty to do the German unleashed a powerful volley into the back of the net that the keeper had no chance in saving. The quality and technique of the volley was reminiscent of a Robin Van Persie volley scored against Charlton a few years ago. It was a special goal which ensured applause all around. We had our cushion which made the result pretty much assured on the night.

The goal scored by Podolski is the exact type of goal that reminds us of why he is in the team, problem is when he isn’t scoring his contribution gets questioned. It was nice that he scored his goal, he looked dangerous all night and proved his worth to the team.

The rest of the game was played out with less urgency as we did what was required for the night, as expected Shalke made sure they gained three points from their game against Olympiacos and so our win was vital to ensure qualification from the group.

Some mini points from the game:

Long overdue clean sheet.

It was great for the defence to get a clean sheet last night. After all the plaudits from the early part of the season for our defence we went from shutting teams out to leaking goals at an alarming rate. I hope this is just the start of another prominent defensive run. Although comfortable against Montpellier there were still the odd moments where on another night we could have conceded. The important thing is the shut out will build the defenders confidence; as we all know football is all about confidence.

Giroud is becoming invaluable to our plans.

Olivier Giroud has started growing into the team, he now looks the part after a shaky start to his arsenal career. Even though he did not score yesterday he provided assists to both our goals by using his height and vision to set up his team mates. We now play to his strengths and the team is benefitting from this. Even if Thierry Henry does join us in January he will have a tough job getting in the team ahead of ironically our new number 12. Let’s hope the number 14 shirt isn’t vacant…

Injured players returning.

It was great to see Gervinho and Gibbs returning to the first team squad. Even though Gibbs didn’t get on the pitch his presence on the bench is enough to raise the spirits of the team and the fans. What we need now is strength in depth and options from the bench. The return of those two players will go a long way to boosting our fortunes. I suppose you can add Oxlade chamberlain to the list of returnees. Although he didn’t have the best of games, he is still finding his feet after injury himself.

Next up is Aston Villa on Saturday, the dreaded 17.30 kick off slot. Lets carry on the momentum from the past two games and get a result at Villa park.

Enjoy your day people

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Oxlade-Chamberlain plays his part, Giroud again,Wiltord retires

Well that came out of the blue, here we were wondering if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would get the chance for a cameo role against the French. What we didn’t expect was for Roy Hodgson to give the young gunner a start in the game. This wasn’t a friendly, this was a start against one of the tournament favourites France and I have to admit the boy didn’t let his country down.

I spent the best part of yesterday’s blog expressing how I hoped Oxlade-chamberlain would play some part in the tournament but never imagined he would have been in Hodgson’s plans. Downing seemed a shoe-in for the left side of midfield due to his age and experience against a high-profile team like France. It wasn’t to be, rumours filtered through in the late morning that Roy would be starting the youngster but they were just rumours, nothing concrete to confirm.

The buzz from the rumours alone were enough to get Arsenal fans excited, this was a game we weren’t going to miss but the added bonus of young Alex playing ensured it would not be missed for anything. Once it was confirmed it was a proud moment for all linked to Arsenal to see that Roy Hodgson had big faith in his ability.

And to the game the young gunner did not disappoint, putting in a disciplined and controlled performance that made a mockery of his young age. We all know Oxlade-chamberlain for his dazzling runs, awesome skill and play with no fear attitude but this wasn’t a game for running gung-ho at the French team. Roy Hodgson set out a game plan to be followed and Oxlade-chamberlain ensured he did his part in a disciplined performance by England.

France in hindsight were the better team, they had more chances at goal and more possession.England were camped in their own half in the second half of the game and did enough to contain the pressure. Roy Hodgson selected the team that he felt would cope best against the French flair, disciplined enough to track back and close the French down but still pose a threat on the counter. The 1-1 draw was a great result for England and Oxlade-Chamberlain can hold his head up high for playing his part in professional team performance.

He was replaced in the 76th minute as Roy decided to change some tired legs; he played his part and now can look forward to the remaining group games having overcome the hardest test in the group. Expect him to have a more offensive role against the Ukrainians and Swedes if he plays.

The Olivier Giroud story is starting to pick up more pace as news surfaced that the Montpellier manager Rene Girard has apparently confirmed on French radio station RMC of Arsenal’s interest in the striker. Again it could be more made up stories since it’s the easiest story to run with without hard evidence in writing. If the manager has in fact confirmed the negotiations with Arsenal let’s hope his club Montpellier can confirm this more officially soon.

Special mention goes out to Sylvan Wiltord who announced his retirement from football yesterday. Our former French striker was one of the invincibles and spent a good few years at Arsenal. One of his most memorable moments was scoring the only goal at Old Trafford to clinch the title for us in 2002. Even more memorable was his part in one of the more remembered goal celebrations in Arsenal history when he allowed Kanu to pole vault over his head when in standing position. He will always be remembered for playing his part in that title clincher AND for looking like a member of Fine young cannibals. All in all we salute a former gunner who takes place in a part of Arsenal history.