Victory From The Jaws Of Failure: The Arsenal Way

If Carlsberg did endings to matches… they probably wouldn’t do it like that but hey, what an adrenaline rush. The roller coaster of emotion that Arsenal fans experienced yesterday was enough to hospitalise the strongest of hearts.

After a weekend of favourable results from those clubs around the Arsenal it was important to maximise the advantage and obtain all three points from the game. I’m sure the players would have been aware of the Liverpool Swansea result and been reminded of the potential banana skin a fixture against one of the lower opponents in the league could pose.

In fairness the performance was positive despite some questionable wastefulness in front of goal. The chances were coming but the ball wouldn’t hit the back of the net, always a dangerous situation the longer the game goes on. However you felt it was only a matter of time before the Gunners would break the deadlock. When Shkodran Mustafi rose to head home Ozil’s corner in the second half a huge sigh of relief was expelled and then it was a case of when the second goal would come so we could relax and enjoy the rest of our Sunday. More fool anyone who thought the match would play out to script, that script was ripped to shreds for good measure. From a state of total comfort our very own Granit Xhaka had other ideas with a red card challenge, I know fans have been divided in opinion of whether he deserved to go or not.


I usually sit on the fence but if I’m being honest it was a red and he has only himself to blame. If this was a one off out of character error of judgement the benefit of the doubt could be given but sadly the young Swiss is beginning to get a reputation for such moments in games. I believe in the player strongly and do feel he offers a lot to the team but the disciplinary side to his game needs to be curbed because once painted with such a brush the referee is more likely to rule he is in the wrong for any contentious 50/50 split decisions. Arsenal can’t afford to have referees making their mind up on our players before a ball is kicked because you end up in situations like yesterday fighting an uphill battle with 10 men on the field. It’s not his first bit of controversy this season and there can be a thin line between reliable and liability.

Xhaka now faces a four match ban at a time when player numbers are stretched enough as it is. You would argue that Coquelin returning is perfect timing to soften the blow until you see the challenge he put in to concede the penalty against Burnley. Ok, that’s a bit harsh I am glad to have the Frenchman back but now he needs to be wrapped in cotton wool for the next four games at least as their aren’t too many options after Coquelin and Ramsey to fill that central role right now.

So as I have alluded to the red card switched the dynamics of the game from one of comfort to one of unease and tension.  Burnley gained a spring in their step and despite a spirited effort to keep the team with the player advantage at bay the inevitable happened in injury time. A penalty won after a trip by Coquelin put the club and the fans in the horrible position of witnessing us throwing away maximum points when seconds away from victory.

When Andre Gray blasted in that penalty the heart sank, all the negative feelings came flooding in; you could almost hear the collective beeps of mobile phones nationwide in synchronisation of whatsapps, tweets and texts flooding Arsenal fans’ phones from their Spurs, United, Liverpool and Chelsea supporting friends mocking the predicament the club had just witnessed. It started to kick off on the side-lines too; Arsene was apparently sent off by the ref and had some afters with the fourth official that is likely to put him in some very deep water.

The script that was rewriting itself had not finished though, there was one final twist to this story and thank goodness that worked out as a happier ending for the Gunners. With even fewer seconds on the clock a free kick into the box resulted in a kick to the face on Koscielny and the ref awarded another penalty. There were claims that Koscielny was offside but a kick to the face is a kick to the face. It was an unbelievable turn of events as the emotion had now switched from utter dejection to hope once again. An awarded penalty is great but you still have to score it, a moment like that required nerves of steel and there was no other player on the field you would entrust with the honour than Alexis Sanchez. With a touch of nonchalance the penalty was dinked down the centre of the field and the Gunners were now 2-1 up.


How as a fan could you not explode with excitement and joy at such a finish to the game? Many rival fans have mocked our celebrations but for reference think back to Man united scoring in the last minute at Hull or Tottenham scoring the last minute at West Ham to name a few. We didn’t celebrate like we had won the league but we did celebrate like a team that regained a victory in the dying seconds of the game when everything seemed to have gone against us; call it what you want whilst sucking on those bitter lemons.

As it stands we just need to take each day as it comes, the fallout from this game will become clearer as the week goes on. 2nd in the league now and a game against Chelsea not too far off in the future, dropped points yesterday would have been the worst possible outcome. Now we roll on, yesterday was far from enjoyable but the final result was the most important factor. Hopefully the players will learn from all the negatives but also take encouragement from the positives. Enjoy your day people!

 

 

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Valentine’s celebrations all round for the Gunners.

Now that is the way to end a game, to win with effectively the last kick of the game you would struggle to find a scenario which can be bettered in football. It may not be the winner on the final day of the season but when you consider the turn of events during the game the relief, joy and ecstasy experienced in one special moment will live long in Gunners’ fans memories. The fact that it was Danny Welbeck who got the winner made for a Hollywood script in its execution.

Other than the fact that many Gunners fans most likely spent the rest of their Valentine’s day with a loss of voice I’m sure the spouses of those very same fans will have enjoyed the company of their partner in one of the best moods of their lives (well, those who didn’t decide to celebrate the victory down the pub for the rest of the day).

Leading up to this game the pressure was on the Gunners to get a result to avoid losing touch with Leicester. Home advantage meant little, you only had to see Leicester’s result at the Etihad last week to realise that Arsenal were coming up against a team in top form playing with no fear whatsoever. Much talk was over how the Gunners would cope with the pace of the Leicester attack and the overwhelming consensus was the choice of Gabriel to partner Koscielny at the back was best to deal with the threat of Vardy, Mahrez et al.

About an hour before kick-off news filtered through that Gabriel was in fact injured and Per Mertesacker had returned to the line-up. Not the news everyone wanted to hear however it is easy to forget Mertesacker has got to where he has in his career never having pace. Reading of the game and 100% focus is equally important and I stand corrected for also having kittens when the team news first broke.

Generally we did ok handling the pace of Leicester, understandably the red card to Danny Simpson made defending somewhat easier in the second half but it is those very moments in the past where Arsenal have shot themselves in the foot from a comfortable position. You need to be focused, well organised and concentrate at all times to reap the benefits of the victory gained.  Not forgetting Koscielny was replaced at half time and the slightly raw and less pacey Callum Chambers replaced him. The chances that Leicester did create were more down to great build up rather than exposing any lack of pace.

This post is less focused on providing a match report and more focusing on the key points of the game so it is definitely worth touching on Ozil’s performance.

Now if I’m being honest yesterday happened to be one of the worst performances I have seen from Mesut Ozil in a long time. I am one of his biggest backers and this season has certainly been one of his best in an Arsenal shirt but yesterday absolutely nothing was coming off for him. Every neat flick and trick did not come off; he dwelled on the ball that micro-second longer than usual which resulted in him getting dispossessed in good positions and his head seemed to drop at the frustration. I do not even recall hearing his recent chant being heard from the stands and that can only be testament to a performance below the excellent high standards which have been set.

Another assist.

 

Having said that the key assist to the winner came from the very boot of Mesut Ozil. If anything it proves that when you have class players on the pitch even if they are having a bad game there is always the possibility of that one piece of quality that can be produced to win you the game. Take your star player off at your peril, well done Arsene on keeping the faith.

Special notice goes to Danny Welbeck for his fantastic winner after such a long time out injured. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea but he certainly endeared himself that little bit more to Gunners fans in his time with the club. His naming on the bench came as a surprise given Arsene’s caution in handling his comeback but at the final whistle the choice was justified.

The tough games are coming thick and fast with Man United, Barcelona and Spurs game not too far away it hits home how important 3 points were yesterday. It is hoped the recent blip is now behind the Arsenal and a chance to prove true title resolve will be taken with both hands.

Enjoy your day people

 

 

Will Arsenal Make The Most Of Transfer Deadline Day?

As the transfer windows draws towards shutting today many Arsenal fans are still left scratching their heads wondering if the club will address the problem areas which have been identified since last season to turn Arsenal from nearly men to genuine contenders for league honours. Gary Neville’s words last Monday may have ruffled a few feathers amongst the Arsenal hierarchy however it was hard for many Gunners’ fans not to agree with some of the points addressed.

The good feeling and belief from a near perfect pre season was wiped instantly on opening day and the grumbles and moans have become more and more audible with each week that Arsenal fail to live up to the big expectations laid upon them. A few results have been churned out to repair the opening day damage but the quality of performance in general has been lacking from the play.

Will the often pleaded signings of a defensive midfield challenger and top class striker have made a difference to the games so far? Most likely, in the same way that any new signings can boost a team’s performance on a psychological level.  Petr Cech is no doubt an excellent acquisition but the deficiencies outfield are yet to be addressed.

Francis Coquelin has earned his way into the 1st team but much of his elevation to the Arsenal team has been fuelled by a hunger last season to prove himself. That is only part of the battle, once you rise to the top and receive the plaudits you require a new focus to maintain the upward trajectory of influence upon the team.

Right now there is no one in the Arsenal squad that offers true competition to Francis Coquelin’s position in the defensive midfield role of the team. He can sit pretty in the knowledge that there is no true challenger to keep him on his toes from the likes of Arteta and Flamini. Beyond those two is the promising but completely raw Bielik and that is where the problem lies. It is not to say that Coquelin’s performances have been poor so far this season but the threat of complacency setting in is very real.

I can almost liken the defensive midfield conundrum to the goalkeeping situation at the club a few years back. Sczcesny rose through the ranks to become number 1 choice between the sticks for the club. At the time it was deserved, he was fulfilling his potential and making a go of it. His challengers at the time Vito Mannone and Lukasz Fabianski although as proved now are far better keepers than many believed at the time were never ever a threat to the number one jersey.

mannone

Season after season with no true threat to his position you could see the complacency set in with the Polish stopper. Instead of pushing on to a higher level he became stagnant in the knowledge he was number one and anytime Manone or Fabianski played they dropped a clanger. I still believe Sczcesny to be a good keeper but the professionalism and concentration in his game has waned in the last couple years. The arrival of Ospina was the kick up the arse he needed and although he is out on loan the door is not shut on his Arsenal career. It’s up to him to get his head down and focus on what is required of a top level goalkeeper and win back his place and respect of his peers.

Now we don’t want that situation to occur with Coquelin, an ideal situation is for him to have a genuine threat to his position in the team. A player that could usurp Coquelin if his level of performance drops and require him to fight to earn back his place.  At present Arteta and Flamini offer something to the squad but their best days are behind them and in all honesty do not pose genuine competition to Coquelin. Can Wenger surprise us and address this area of the team or will his loyalty to current midfield cloud his judgement?

Up front is the other problem area and you do wonder if the striking position will be addressed. All Arsenal fans can see it, all pundits can see it but the one man who can make it happen does he see it or choose to ignore it? With Danny Welbeck currently out of the picture the argument that a top striker is needed may be falling on deaf ears. Arsenal fans can argue that so far Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott haven’t delivered as much as we would like. The big question is whether Arsene Wenger has the ‘like a new signing’ excuse readied for Welbeck’s return as his answer to the criticism.

When we review Arsenals strikers’ you could say that Olivier Giroud offers power but lacks pace and a clinical finish. Theo Walcott offers Pace but lacks power and a clinical finish whilst Danny Welbeck offers Pace and Power but is probably the least clinical finisher of the three.

welbeck

The answer to all Arsenal’s striking problems is a striker that has all three attributes but they aren’t exactly hanging off trees. I struggle to list off established strikers that fit that criteria, it’s an exclusive club and is likely to cause some serious damage to the Arsenal Cheque book to acquire any. Arsenal have the spending power now  to get most players they desire, despite Manchester City doing their best to implode the market a top striker should still be acquirable within a non astronomical price range.

deadline day

All Arsenal fans can do now is sit back and watch how the rest of the day unfolds. For ITK’s today is like Christmas day, expect an avalanche of BS stories clogging your timelines/feeds.

Enjoy your day people.
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Can Gunners get their head right to beat Man United?

Nervy times ahead, nervy times indeed. The Gunners take on their old arch rivals Manchester United tonight at Old Trafford in the FA Cup quarter finals and Arsenal fans can be forgiven for not feeling overly optimistic. On paper the Gunners have every chance of getting something from the game despite the facts showing the last meaningful victory at Old Trafford was quite some time away. The current Manchester United team with all due respect is one of the worst in recent times, not that I am saying the team is awful but in comparison to some of the teams we have become accustomed to experiencing during Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure this current crop fall way short of those standards.

My argument falls flat when I highlight the failings of Manchester United yet they are well in the mix for a top four finish and have walked away from Emirates with three points under their belt this season. The tie is evenly balanced however the home advantage pushes the odds in favor of the Red Devils. The victory that Arsenal pulled off at the Etihad earlier in the season exhibited that there is a big away performance in them against the bigger clubs.

united beat afc

The psychological hold that Manchester United has over Arsenal cannot be ignored. When it really matters the Gunners haven’t risen to the occasion and more often than not and have let United walk away victorious. For Arsenal to come away from Old Trafford with a victory (Or a draw) it really depends on what team turns up tonight. At times when Arsenal have had their backs to the wall after a bad performance when fans, pundits et al have written them off they have responded with the types of performances that leave you scratching your head wondering why those performances are not more consistently churned out.

I believe one of Arsenal’s biggest Achilles heels is complacency, being able to motivate their selves to pull off a high intensive level of performance when things are going well. The fight is replaced with a swagger and cockiness which they struggle to switch off when things don’t go their way, the swagger soon turns to panic and loss of composure and before you know it there’s too much mess to be undone within the 90 minutes. The Monaco game is a good example of such self-implosion.

Playing against Manchester United shouldn’t require much motivation for the players, it’s a massive game but it is hoped the Arsenal come out with all guns blazing. This is the type of game where the energy of Alexis Sanchez and Tomas Rosicky needs to be matched by their team mates. When the Arsenal are firing on all cylinders there aren’t many teams that can stand toe to toe, they just need to believe in their abilities, understand what is at stake and take the game to United.

The pantomime distraction of Robin Van Persie will not play a factor due to his current injury which is a massive boost. That’s not to say there aren’t equal threats from the United side, Rooney always has the knack of scoring in this fixture and even Falcao found the net during pre-season against the Gunners however Van Persie is the one you would expect to be the greater threat given his ties to the club.

Giroud

Goal threats aside composure in front of goal is vital, Olivier Giroud is in a rich vein of form and will need to maintain that to beat United’s biggest match winner David De Gea. This season the Spaniard has saved United’s bacon in so many games this season that no chances can afford to be wasted when they arise. Danny Welbeck is due a goal and if he starts i hope he can get one over his former teammate, that really would be the icing on the cake.
There is a lot at stake tonight, the FA Cup is a realistic possibility for the winners of this tie. I may have slight nerves for the game but i do have a lot of belief in the capabilities of the Arsenal to pull off a big win. Come on you Gunners!!

Enjoy your day people.
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Gunners Prove The Power Of Keeping The Faith

Now that is more like it, what a fantastic victory for the Gunners at the Etihad. I will hold up my hands, I went into the weekend with very little hope that the Arsenal would be leaving Manchester with 3 points. It didn’t work out that way and I for sure am a lot happier for my error in judgement. The whole team put in a shift and broke the away day hoodoo against one of the bigger teams.

winners

Here are some points from the game:

Coq-blocking.

The emergence of Coquelin creates an interesting conundrum for Arsene Wenger. From one point in the season looking like his Arsenal future was as good as over the young Frenchman has returned from his brief loan at Charlton and grasped the opportunity granted to him with both hands. That’s the way football works sometimes, many promising Arsenal players have had similar opportunities and not taken them, you have to be ready and hit the ground running when it comes. Given the call for Arsene to sign a defensive midfielder since the summer it does make you wonder if Coquelin has now made up the managers mind in closing the chequebook to a new player in that position. A decision to not sign a defensive midfielder would divide the Arsenal fans but if the performance from yesterday can be repeated consistently for the rest of the season then there will be no argument to defend. A big ask but time will tell.

Giroud’s big game goals.

For all his great build up play for Arsenal, one thing that has been labelled at Olivier Giroud was the lack of end product in the big games. Many fans yearned for a top drawer striker to be the difference maker in the big games that matter. After the acquisition of players like Welbeck and Sanchez who undoubtedly have boosted the Arsenal attack not to mention the issue of a broken leg early in the season Giroud has returned to the team with a point to prove. He has come back, scored goals and showed his importance to the team. The goals are coming in the big games too as he has bagged against Manchester United, Liverpool and now Manchester City this season. With so much still to play for its great to know Giroud has risen to the challenge of competition to prove his worth.

Giroud

Sanchez day off as team stepped up.

It’s refreshing that with a more subdued performance from Sanchez that his teammates took on the responsibility and showed they have reserves of energy to win games too. Too often Arsenal fans have asked why Sanchez often looks like the only player busting a gut on the pitch. A lot of the focus pre match was on the difference Sanchez would make in the game along with Aguero but by full time it was the unsung heroes that were being uttered from the lips of the approving fans. It’s certainly exciting at the thought of the team clicking as they did yesterday AND Sanchez performing as Arsenal fans have become accustomed to.

teamwork

Bellerin didn’t sink he swam.

Many eyebrows were raised at the manager’s decision to start with Hector Bellerin. The Spaniard has grown in confidence in this his breakthrough  season however given the level of the opposition you would be forgiven for expecting Arsene to choose the slightly more experienced Callum Chambers. At moments like that you are placed in a sink or swim situation, Arsene has shown his belief in the player by selecting him and Bellerin took it head on and swam like a fish. The youngster didn’t put a foot wrong and the experience of putting in a great performance against opposition like Manchester City will be such a boost to the player’s confidence that his career can really kick on from a moment like this. With Debuchy out for a prolonged period the door is open for Bellerin to make that spot his own during the Frenchman’s absence.

Monreal did his job.

Nacho Monreal is an unsung player this season for Arsenal. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea and always seen as back up to Kieran Gibbs rather than a challenge to the left back position. Given Gibbs injury record having able back up is essential throughout the season. Monreal has come into the team and given his all whether it has been centre back or left back. He has his limitations but credit has to be given when credit is due. Monreal didn’t put a foot wrong yesterday and also provided an assist by winning the penalty for Cazorla’s penalty. Monreal is the type of player valuable to a squad throughout a long season without setting the world alight. He serves a purpose and his value is often overlooked but yesterday hopefully he won a few people over.

Ossspiiiiinnaaaaaa!

Ospina

Ospina has been a super positive these past few weeks; he has come into the side following some troubling moments from no.1 Szczesny. There’s been no fanfare, no controversy, he has just got on with his job and the team has been reaping the benefits with a succession of clean sheets. We all know how good a keeper he was after the World Cup in the summer and his acquisition should have eradicated any complacency in the goal keeping department. If not for injuries a run in the team may have come sooner but for now I struggle to see how the Colombian can be removed from first team duty. The gauntlet has been laid down for Szczesny; let’s hope Arsenal is the true winner from the battle.

Arsenal proved me wrong yesterday, I lost a little bit of faith and they slapped the sense right back into me. Forgive me Gunners…

Enjoy your day people.
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