Norwich City: Some Monday reflections

Another week and Arsenal are still sitting on top of the league table; I’m starting to get used to saying that phrase. With each week those who predict the downfall of the Gunners are slowly coming round to the idea that Arsenal are a team to be taken seriously. The performances are being churned out, the results are coming through and the points are adding to the table. The high and good feeling amongst those concerned with the Arsenal is becoming sustainable, the belief is growing and whisper it quietly but this could be the year it all comes together and Arsenal can reap the benefits from years of penny pinching all in the name of a long term goal of silverware to complement the beautiful stadium.

Now the weekend is over I am sure everybody has had the chance to digest ‘that’ goal, I will just share with you some of my thoughts from Arsenal’s victory over Norwich City.

Goal of season contender

Oh yes, the goal, and what a fantastic goal it was. It was a privilege to be lucky enough to witness the goal right in front of me. My personal choice of position within the Emirates is amongst my brethren in the North Bank but on Saturday I was positioned neatly in the Clock End. Luckily for me that is where the amazing goal occurred. The move itself was so neat and tidy, the precision of the flicks were ones of such beauty that the goal was so swiftly executed it left the Arsenal fans (and the poor Norwich folk, Not!) still computing what they had witnessed. It really required a second look at the replay on the giant screens to actual confirm that really did happen. The stadium was united in applauding the ‘take a bow son’ moment. It really was a technically perfect team goal, the type of opportunity you associate with Arsenal apart from the bit when the ball hits the back of the net. It’s nice when it all comes off especially being there to witness it.

goal of season celebration

Atmosphere/Norwich banter

Despite the wonderful score line and quality goals experienced on Saturday the initial atmosphere in the stadium was quite flat at times. I know Arsenal fans unfairly get the tag of being home to the library but the Emirates does know how to raise the roof when the fans are up for it. I guess the level of excitement is parallel to the quality and/or history of the opponents. Norwich games don’t really carry any bad blood but their fans are one of my favourites to visit the Emirates. The banter is always top notch and I have fond memories of their visits last season and the season before. Grant Holt is gone so they can’t chant his name; we are over Robin Van Persie so they couldn’t rib us about missing him anymore. Instead all they could focus on was the library chants. All be it they were stunned into silence from Wilshere’s goal but soon found their voices when they pulled a goal back in the second half. Thankfully Aaron Ramsey had enough of their voices and shut them up for good with his goal and assist late in the half. The Arsenal fans did find their voices more in the second half but I could put the pin drop moments down to my next observation…

Lack of the Walcott/Ox factor

The problem if you can call it a problem is the efficiency in Arsenal’s play without the outlet of the pace of Theo Walcott is the reduction of bums of seats moments.  The play is neat and tidy, even our goal of the season contender was so efficient I don’t think the fans got off their seats until the ball was already in the back of the net. The sight of Walcott tearing down the wing latching onto a through ball has been missed since his absence. Even with Cazorla back in the team only Walcott and to an extend Oxlade-Chamberlain offer the chance to stretch teams down the right hand side. Those moments get the fans jumping up in anticipation of a chance to score a goal; it adds something to the Arsenal performance. Not that the team had suffered without it. In previous seasons the loss of Walcott would be a heavy loss that harmed the team’s performances now there is so much quality and options in the Arsenal midfield that Arsene can try different combinations and still produce desired results. Arsenal may have to contend with more patient build up play in games but no one is complaining.

Dortmund are up next on Tuesday and the only hanging point is the potential loss of Mathieu Flamini from that game due to his concussion suffered against Norwich. His absence will be a big loss such is his impact made this season but we have able cover in midfield to cope.

Last point to mention is the fact I was lucky enough to get hold of Szczney’s goalie gloves after the game on Saturday when he threw them into the crowd; certainly a nice memento as the game will always be remembered for that goal which was scored in it and I now have a part of that game with me.

Szczesny glove

Enjoy your day people.

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Is the Arsenal/Madrid business far from over?

The International break churns on, leaving football fans up and down the country yearning for domestic football to return. In all fairness the importance of the final group games to confirm qualification for the World Cup in Brazil has at least sparked some interest. England’s quest for qualification kept me firmly lodged in my armchair on Friday evening and the all-important deal breaker of a game against Poland will surely have me glued to the box. I just wish there were more Arsenal players to cheer on for the Three Lions to make it all the more worthwhile. No worries, a victory tonight will ensure that the seats on the plane for Brazil are merely being kept warm for the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott et al.

Anyway, enough of the mean old international break to slow down the momentum of the high Gunners fans are still on after the signing of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid. Arsenal’s record transfer signing is still a topic of discussion amongst football’s elite a good six weeks after the German signed on the dotted line at the Emirates.

Sami Khedira was quoted in the papers as saying the Real Madrid team seems weaker for the loss of the talented playmaker. Some may say the two players are close and it is just a sign of affection shown to a friend. Well, if Khedira misses his German colleague there is plenty of space here in North London for him to link up with his buddy.

ozil bromance

Over the years the closer link to Arsenal has been from Real’s Catalan rivals Barcelona with the likes of Emmanuel Petit,  Marc Overmars, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Thierry Henry to name a few who have hopped on an Easy Jet flight over to Spain for a new adventure.  The favour hasn’t been reciprocated quite so much.

Could the door that has been opened with the arrival of Ozil stay open in future? For much of the summer the pursuit of Gonzalo Higuain dominated the Arsenal transfer news. Real were prepared to let the Argentinian join the Gunners only for (depending on which rumour you believe) Arsene to pull out of a deal to focus on another target alleged to be Luis Suarez.

To be linked with Real Madrid players is a big thing for Arsenal; we are not talking about 18 year olds looking to gain experience but full international accomplished players. Higuain may not have been in his managers plans for the season but he was hardly an underperformer for the Spanish giants.

All those years back the signing of Davor Sukor was a big one for the Gunners, his lob over Peter Schmeichel at Euro ’96 was enough to place him into hero status. Although the move itself didn’t quite work out a great success it was one of the few times Arsenal were able to negotiate a deal with Madrid for a player and that cannot be understated. Especially when you look back to the years of Vieira speculation Arsenal fans had to endure summer upon summer it was quite an amazement that he never ended up at the Bernabéu after all that pursuit. Arsenal were always the team that had to fight to keep their better players if a team like Madrid came calling but the events of the summer gone have no doubt created a shift in the pulling power at the Emirates.

I mentioned Luis Suarez earlier and the Uruguayan could play a big part in potential future business between Arsenal and Madrid. It has been widely speculated that Suarez has been holding out for a move to Real Madrid. No such move materialized during the last transfer window but there are strong rumours that the move can become a reality in January. It could well draw the Madrid fans back to the Bernabéu in their droves not that the fans have been keeping away but the impact Suarez could bring could re-spark the underwhelming bang that Gareth Bale has produced so far.

benzema

Such a transfer could signal a move for Karim Benzema, the Frenchman seemed like he needed some convincing to join the Gunners when speculation arose in the summer. I am sure the impact that Mesut Ozil has had at the Emirates is likely to change the striker’s initial views.

Let’s see how this all plays out, a potential meeting between the Gunners and Madrid in the latter stages of the Champion’s League? A mouth-watering possibility that is sure to make tickets for the Bernabéu and the Emirates the most in demand on the market.

Enjoy your day people.

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Wilshere shows two sides in West Brom draw

Well it certainly wasn’t pretty, the game ended in a hard thought draw that could have swung either way. Teams will not always allow Arsenal to play their beautiful football such as was exhibited on Tuesday night against Napoli. I am sure West Brom did their homework based on that display and set out to disrupt all the good points of the Gunners game.

You have to say their game plan worked as the fluency we have witnessed recently was substituted for a more laborious ground out performance. Many Arsenal fans will have felt disappointment when the final whistle was blown though when you put things into perspective this is exactly the kind of game the team would have lost in previous season’s after going a goal down.

For all the pretty football played there is still a resilience in the team to not give up, they kept plugging away at the West Brom defence and were eventually rewarded with an equaliser. On paper a draw at the Hawthorns isn’t ideal however the West Brom team are a team with sky high confidence at present. Their victory over Manchester United last weekend was no fluke; it was a fully deserved victory over last season’s champion’s which ultimately made for a difficult afternoon for the Gunners.

The Capital One cup tie two weeks ago held little relevance in predicting the outcome of the yesterdays game, the squads were different but for a few names. Usually when the Arsenal are at the Hawthorns there is usually the added focus of catching and passing Tottenham in the final stages of the season. Not so this time around however the prospect of returning to the top of the table was enough to motivate the players.The game itself centred on the two sides of jack Wilshere; in the first half he just could not get his game together. He seemed to spend more time on the deck than on his feet as the referee Lee Mason decided to leave his whistle in his pocket for the more physical challenges in the game. More often than not Jack was muscled off the ball and at the times when he did have the ball his passes were not finding the man or his studs were letting him down as he slipped several times.

just jack

It would be deemed quite generous to describe his first half performance as well…. rubbish; he even managed to cap it off with a booking. Clearly he is still adjusting to his role attacking on the left hand side despite being lauded for that position earlier in the week by Arsene Wenger. Add to that his reputation for being wound up the West Brom players focused on distracting him enough to put him off his game. The attention on the young England midfielder had already intensified due to the smoking story revealed at the weekend ensuring his name would be part of the headlines in some capacity.

Fortunately for Jack his performance in the second half was drastically improved, drifting into the middle at times he was able to contribute more to his team rather than being the weak link. Although far from perfect his equalising goal helped erase some of the negative demons from the previous sixty or so minutes of the game.

After the game Arsene said of Jack’s goal scoring:

“At least that is done now but he had a difficult first half where he was fouled a lot but he has shown that he has character and kept going until the end. It’s good that he was rewarded.”

A fair enough comment, it seems Wilshere has fallen out of favour slightly with some fans, not to say that they want him out of the club but more in assessment of his right of a place in the starting eleven when all players are fit. Given the acquisition of Mesut Ozil and the goal scoring exploits of Aaron Ramsey the attributes that Wilshere brings to the side have been overshadowed lately. He has the backing and the patience of his manager to get his game back on track and I’m sure it won’t be long before he is firing on all cylinders; the second half yesterday could just be the start of the return to form.

The international break looms and Arsenal sit proudly at the top of the table for the duration of it. If Liverpool fans are unhappy with that then they should consider renaming their club.

Enjoy your day people.

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Napoli win showcases strength of Arsenal squad

Given the recent loss of Theo Walcott to his mystery abdominal illness the Arsenal team in recent games appeared to lack the outlet of pace which only Theo could provide. I suppose over time Arsenal fans have become accustomed to the threat posed on the right hand side and the special attention paid to Walcott to nullify his strengths.

When all of a sudden Walcott was removed from the team there was apprehension as to how Arsenal would cope without an outlet on the flanks. How would Arsenal scare teams and get in behind them? Serge Gnabry was drafted into the starting eleven and took the opportunity to prove his worth and readiness for Arsenal duty. With all due respect to the talented German his attributes are more similar to that of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain; Stocky and strong, excellent dribbling skills and the eye for a shot. The obvious pace is used sparingly and the dribbling is more directly at defenders rather than storming down the flanks playing of the shoulder of the fullback.

theo w

In other words the style of play has had to adapt to compensate for less pace on the wings from Theo. Arsenal fans have developed an almost complacent expectation that the right wing is for a pacy winger to stretch teams, if Walcott is not available then an identical player should surely be waiting in the wings to step up when he is not available.

So when the line up to face Napoli was revealed last night Arsenal fans could be forgiven for wondering how the team would line up and where the pace would come from. Tomas Rosicky was drafted back into the team following injury to line up alongside fellow returnee Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Matthieu Flamini and Mesut Ozil. The starting quintet did their best to dispel the notion that pace is the one and only commodity for success in football.

The quality of the football produced by the Arsenal team as a whole was something to behold. The passing at times was exquisite as each of the midfielders on the pitch so comfortable in possession stroked the ball around with such finesse that at times in the first half Napoli were reduced to mere spectators. They would have been best advised to take advantage of the comfortable seats in the stands at the emirates and join the fans in admiration of the football on show.

gunners celebrate

That Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott were not starters on the pitch during the fantastic display is not an indication that their contributions are surplus to requirements now but a mere indication that the squad as a whole is a lot stronger than people take for granted. Theo and Jack are key players for Arsenal and the thought of them waiting in the wings alongside the likes of Cazorla, Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain is one to trigger an excitement for the team that hasn’t been felt for quite a few seasons now.

The football yesterday was a joy to watch especially in the first half, with Napoli despatched qualification from the difficult group looks ever the more realistic. Despite their defeat in the opening game week of the Champion’s League Borussia Dortmund is still the team to beat for Arsenal. It seems such a long, long time ago that uncertainty clouded over Arsenal on whether they would even get past Fernabache to qualify for the competition proper. The performance yesterday made a mockery of there ever being the possibility of the Gunners not gracing the competition. Arsenal belong in the competition, they are literally part of the Champion’s League furniture and they intend stick around this season.

Enjoy your day people.

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