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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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 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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Snitch is back, Afc lose, No Sahin, Arshavin to Fulham?

Well what a difference 3 weeks makes, I jetted off for my holidays to the US of A full of optimism we could keep our captain and build on our squad. By the time I touched down in Orlando and found an internet connection our skipper released his infamous letter to the fans. I managed to relay my views at the time but since then I’ve been enjoying my time in the sun with the help of Mickey and his friends at Disneyland. Now after finally flying back, overcoming the jet lag and returning to work I now can resume sharing Arsenal news and my thoughts you with via the blog.

In between the midst of the buzz created by the Olympics opening ceremony Arsenal managed to play a game against Manchester City in Beijing around lunchtime on Friday. A game which the gunners lost 2-0 and produced a number of positives and negatives really. Some of those were the same old we have been used to, defence going to sleep at times, full backs caught out of position for the goals, sloppy passes leading to chances for Man city. We did create a number of chances but the age-old Achilles heel of profligate finishing reared its ugly head. Our second half performance was more forceful and the introduction of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain certainly added more class to the Arsenal team.

In general I won’t start doom-mongering the forthcoming season based on the game. It’s pre-season, only our second game and many 1st team players have not even travelled to Asia. It’s a good exercise especially for the more fringe players and should benefit our players in removing some of the rust. I think the most important thing is the younger players show they can rise to the occasion and give Arsene Wenger food for thought. So far Chuks Aneke has stood out, Eisfeld’s goal in the last game will not go unnoticed and Bartley is getting vital time on the field to stake a claim.

Benik Afobe’s pre-season hasn’t taken off yet as he was quite wasteful against the Malaysian XI and didn’t get as much minutes against Man City but I’m confident he can still show what he can do. Craig Eastmond, a player who must be in last chance saloon got some minutes and it was interesting to see him slotting temporarily into the right back role. It was a position he played in throughout youth, some claimed he wasn’t a great right back and he came to prominence from the moment he was shifted to midfield by Wenger against Liverpool in the Carling cup. I believe the key to his Arsenal future is his potential versatility, if he can produce as cover in the right back role he may just rekindle his place in Arsene’s good books; the ball is in his court.

In other news Arsene Wenger has dismissed news of the imminent loan of Nuri Sahin from Real Madrid. In the press conference after the Man city game Wenger when probed about a deal said:

 “We did not sign anybody today, this report is wrong. We are not signing anybody at the moment, we are not close. In the future you never know.”

Typical Wenger statement really, keeping his cards close to his chest though if a deal was close he may have hinted. If any deal is on the table for Sahin or Santi Cazorla I do hope they get wrapped up pretty quick before any of our rivals come knocking with their blank checkbooks. We do not have good form when it comes to dawdling on negotiations for potential signings (and contract renewals it seems) so let’s keep our fingers crossed some more deals are conducted swiftly and under the radar like they were for Podolski and Giroud.

Another piece of news that surfaced yesterday is the news that Fulham are interested in signing Andrei Arshavin and Yossi Benayoun. Quite an ambitious move by the west London club if true but also slightly disappointing news to hear. Yossi is a player that many gunners fans would welcome back to the club after his stint with us last season, he showed he had what was needed when he got his chance and if available I don’t see why it would be a gamble to take him on unless there are other midfielders in the pipeline that may be signed before the window shuts. I would also be disappointed if Arshavin was to move across London to Fulham, he may be frustrating on his day but I still class him as a premium player that can still make things happen at larger clubs that play to his strengths. That would be a backwards step in my eyes and I couldn’t see that partnership being a success. Who knows, lets see how this one plays out

Enjoy your day people

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Oxlade-Chamberlain to start v Belgium. No pressure – AFC

So the Ox will be released on Saturday against the Belgians. Roy Hodgson has revealed that he will give starting opportunities to both Danny Wellbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in England’s final warm up game before Euro 2012 kicks off next week. A proud moment for all gunners fans to see the young midfielder start for his country at Wembley.

Being so adaptable it will be interesting to see where Hodgson will deploy the midfielder in the team. For the England u-21’s Alex was used more as a right-winger, he fulfilled that role to great success often leaving the left back in his wake. He would also drift inside and contribute to teams build up if service was not getting to him on the right; a useful attribute to have as long as the player doesn’t try to do everything. Don’t get me wrong not every game for the u-21 was a man of the match performance, his reputation was such at that level that teams would double up on him to nullify his threat.

At Arsenal last season he was used mainly on the left of the front three to great effect, his earlier games were on the right but his adaptability was so that he was comfortable on either wing. Not forgetting his stand out performance in the middle of the park against AC Milan young Alex has proved his usefulness in a number of positions and was probably the main reason he was included in the final 23 England squad.

This will have been such an amazing 12 months for the young midfielder, from playing his part in securing promotion to the championship with Southampton to sealing his move to the Arsenal. The Ox’s transfer slipped under the radar of most if not all gunners fans. Given the turmoil of the uncertainty of the futures of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas the signing of a youngster from league one was not exactly going to appease the Arsenal faithful. At the time we wanted to strengthen our squad with replacements of equal stature of the players we were losing not potential. The Ox was an unknown entity and Arsenal fans would never have envisaged the impact he would make in that coming season culminating in an inclusion into the Euro 2012 squad.

The game that for me that put Alex on the map was the Carling cup game against Shrewsbury. It was a chance for many gunners fans to see this kid in the flesh at the emirates. Although he understandably had a nervous start to the game he eventually grew and grew in confidence. Again after initially starting on the right hand side he often drifted into the middle and dictated the game when on the ball. It was an exciting performance from the Ox and he ended the game with a goal and man of the match performance. All us fans could talk about leaving the stadium after the game was how good the Ox was, Arsene had found another gem.

With gunners fans won over after that game Oxlade-Chamberlain really introduced himself to the nation with his performances against both Manchester clubs. This time he received the exposure as these games were televised for all to see. First up was the Carling cup game against Manchester city; where he was a constant threat to the team and was able to prove himself against top class premiership opposition. Although we lost the game young Ox came out with a lot of credit. His game against Manchester united in the premier league fixture at the emirates really put him in the limelight. Although the game was marred by the controversy of his substitution for Andrei Arshavin the Ox had done enough in the game including an assist for Robin Van Persie to show nationally he was a special talent.

It was from this game where Arsene Wenger decided to protect the young midfielder from the added exposure and increased expectancy. At a time when we were going though a bad patch and we probably needed the Ox in the team more regularly Wenger took the decision to quell the pressure on the youngster by carefully selecting his appearances in the team. Something a bit harder for Arsenal fans to understand at the time but on reflection at the end of the season we would agree was the right choice to make.

We have already experienced the exponential increase in pressure on Theo Walcott when he was signed and thrust into the England set up. Every game he played was met with high expectancy and led to many frustrated fans when he hadn’t skinned the whole team and scored a hat trick. I think Wenger has used the experiences with handling Walcott to ensure similar pressure is not experienced by Alex.

The worrying thing about Alex involvement with England is the increased chances that he will be relied upon in the aftermath of the injuries to Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard. Barry wasn’t replaced with a midfielder when he withdrew from the squad and Lampard’s replacement is Jordan Henderson who has hardly set the world alight this season for Liverpool.

We saw at the last world cup what an effect a poor campaign can have on England players and it’s hoped if that is the case the press take into account the Ox’s age. Alternatively a good campaign and performances for young Alex could catapult him into uncomfortable messiah like status. A good campaign could certainly be a big boost for the coming season, the experience of high-profile games in large tournaments could push Oxlade-Chamberlain’s development to the next stage.

One thing the Ox has shown is he is a level-headed young man, has a good family unit around him and has the focus to take the opportunities made available to him to carve out a successful career.

It all starts from today really, enjoy your game Alex and take it in your stride. No pressure….