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Premier League Preview: Arsenal

Courtesy of Flickr/Ronnie Macdonald

Courtesy of Flickr/Ronnie Macdonald

What a difference a year makes.

Arsenal supporters were sweating profusely with the Premier League season swiftly approaching, as Yaya Sanogo and Mathieu Flamini were the only players brought into the club on free transfers.

In search of a trophy and a world-class player, Gunners supporters were forced to watch their league rivals bolster their squad, while they quickly refreshed their twitter page, with hopes of a transfer announcement on the official Arsenal feed.

However, the boos that echoed throughout the Emirates Stadium following Arsenal’s opening day loss to Aston Villa last season were quickly forgotten.

There’s a new vibe around the Emirates this time around, as they secured Champions League football for another season and ended their lengthy trophy drought by claiming the FA Cup in May.

The animosity’s transitioned into glee, and the fact that Wenger completed four signings before August signals a change in direction.

The swagger in his step along with the smile that warmed many hearts during his first decade in England has returned.

The positivity floating around the Emirates derives from winning trophies, but now Arsenal faces another stern task.

How will they build on last season’s success?

It’s been awhile since the incessant banter surrounding a trophy drought, the urgency to acquire a world-class player, or the chances of remaining in the top four haven’t dominated Arsenal’s preseason discussion, which serves as a victory in itself.

Arsenal has kept the core of their squad at the Emirates, and Wenger expertly utilized his time in Brazil to poach some of the World Cup’s key performers.

David Ospina and Mathieu Debuchy are straight replacements for the departed Lukasz Fabianski and Bacary Sagna, Joel Campbell’s successful World Cup has rewarded him with a return to the Emirates — opposed to another loan move — while Callum Chambers is a versatile defender for the future.

Wenger, however, won over the fans with the addition of another world-class signing in Alexis Sanchez. There was doubt surfacing around North London regarding Wenger’s ability to attract world-class talent, but following the signings of Ozil and Sanchez, the Frenchman has put those claims to rest. Equally, he’s learned from his mistake with Ozil’s transfer last year, and appears to have a concrete plan on how to utilize the vibrant Chilean attacker.

Sanchez is an exceptional talent that has undergone several positional changes over recent years, and his versatility provides Wenger with variety in attack. Last season, Arsenal solely relied on Olivier Giroud, as Yaya Sanogo wasn’t — and still isn’t — ready to lead the line on a consistent basis, and Sanchez’s arrival provides Wenger with substantial flexibility upfront.

Giroud lacks mobility and pace, but he prefers to play with his back to goal and link play with on rushing runners. Sanchez, on the other hand, offers a contrasting element of attack as he’s a diminutive pacy attacker that charges towards goal.

The Chilean’s physique is misleading, though, as he’s capable of shrugging off defenders to link play and his admirable work-rate sees him successfully challenge and win aerial duels. The one odd feat about Sanchez is that he tends to miss the easy chances, but is capable of providing moments of sheer brilliance.

Sanchez and Giroud would form the perfect strike partnership with their contrasting styles, but it’s likely that Giroud will start the season as the main striker, with Sanchez playing on the right until Theo Walcott returns from injury.

Arsenal’s attack improves with the signing of Sanchez, but Aaron Ramsey’s fitness is also a key factor this season.

Ramsey was indubitably the best midfielder in the country prior to his injury last winter, and his form towards the end of last season — that included a cracking volley against Norwich and the game-winning goal in the FA Cup final — has been carried into preseason. Although Arsenal’s preseason results varied — two one-goal defeats and a convincing win over Benfica — Ramsey offered the creativity, tackling and running that has seen him transition into an exceptional all-rounder.

Wenger, however, must get the best out of Ramsey’s teammates, who have stagnated since their arrival at the club. Jack Wilshere has been considerably mediocre over the past few seasons, Santi Cazorla has failed to replicate his form from his first season at the Emirates, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott need to remain fit.

This could explain the arrival of fitness expert Shad Forsythe, as Wenger hopes to decrease the injuries that occur throughout his squad, but the English trio must also incorporate a level of consistency to their game.

Likewise, Ozil’s second season in England should see him reach the levels that many expected to see with runners in Sanchez, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain available.

The main concern, though, lies within their options at the defensive midfield position with Flamini and Mikel Arteta protecting the back-line. The former displayed his inability to provide adequate cover over the course of the season, while Arteta — who in fairness isn’t a natural holding midfielder — is exposed on a weekly basis on the counter-attack and against top-class play-makers.

The defence is equally questionable as they capitulated in the second half of last season. Although there’s adequate cover in the fullback positions, Kieran Gibbs has yet to improve, while the verdict will be out on whether Debuchy can eclipse the quality that Sagna offered on both ends of the field.

Similarly, Thomas Vermaelen’s move to Barcelona ensures that the arrival of an experienced centre-back is now a priority. Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker formed one of the sturdiest centre-back partnerships last season, but it would be inane to solely rely on the duo and Chambers.

Stylistically, Arsenal is likely to add a hint of directness with their possession-based system, despite their counter-attacking approach in preseason. Arsenal possess the quality to steamroll past inferior opposition in the Premier League, but their record away from home against the top-sides must improve. Away from the Emirates, Wenger’s side was battered against the teams that finished in the top five, along with falling short against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Of the teams that finished in the top-eight, Arsenal only enjoyed victories over Spurs, and Liverpool at the Emirates, which illustrates required improvement against the top-sides in the Premier League.

Nevertheless, Arsenal is a better side this year, and while European supremacy is still beyond them, they’re inching closer towards legitimately challenging for the title. Domestic cup competitions appear to be the likely source of more silverware this season, but they possess a squad capable of pushing Chelsea and Manchester City to the finish line.

More so, if Wenger intends on lifting his first Premier League title in over a decade, he will need improved performances throughout his squad and the arrival of a top-class defensive midfielder and centre-back.

Arsenal is arguably two moves away from an unforgettable season, but even if they fail to bolster those areas, anything less than a third place finish should be classified as a disappointment.

It’s time for the Gunners to push forward.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2014 in EPL, Premier League

 

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Three Things: Arsenal 0-2 Bayern Munich

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Courtesy of Flickr/ Some rights reserved by peterpribylla

Sanogo?

Arsene Wenger’s decision to hand 21-year-old Yaya Sanogo a place in the starting lineup was the main talking point when the team-sheets came out. Prior to kick-off, Sanogo had only played 127 minutes for the Gunners, with this being his second start for the club. Wenger’s reluctance to sign a striker in January left many Arsenal fans frustrated, and with Olivier Giroud requiring rest, Sanogo was the best option available.

The French striker led the line against Liverpool over the weekend, and played a key role in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s opener when he wonderfully controlled Mesut Ozil’s cross, in which his blocked shot fell into the path of the Arsenal winger. Sanogo constantly made runs into the channels, while flustering Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel with his physical presence and dynamism.

Bayern Munich, however, is not Liverpool, they’re the best team in Europe and this presented a new challenge for the Arsenal striker. But Wenger’s inclusion of Sanogo was logical: here, he wanted to utilize his pace and great movement off the ball to attack the space behind Bayern Munich’s high-line.

Santi Cazorla’s long ball over the top of the Bayern back-line signified the approach, as the Frenchman broke free, but the ball rolled out of play. Afterwards, his strength in the area led to a scramble, which resulted in Manuel Neuer making a wonderful save to keep the score levelled and prevent Sanogo from scoring his first-goal as a Gunner.

Sanogo offers the mobility and pace that Giroud lacks, and with Bayern playing a high-line, and Theo Walcott unavailable, Giroud’s threat would be minimal. The 21-year-old displayed his work-rate in the first-half when he dropped deep to dispossess Javi Martinez, and then played a great ball into the right channel for Oxlade-Chamberlain, who nearly forced David Alaba into a horrendous error.

Sanogo’s impact on the match decreased once Wojciech Szczesny was sent off, but Wenger’s decision to include the Frenchman in the starting XI was logical.

Penalties, Penalties, Penalties

The main talking point surrounding the first half was the controversy in the penalty box. Arsenal pressed and harried the European champions in the opening 15 minutes, and Wenger’s men created the better chances.

The Gunners were rewarded for their positive start when Jerome Boateng made a clumsy tackle on Mesut Ozil, thus resulting in a penalty. Similar to his spot-kick against Marseille earlier this season, the German’s languid run-up led to Neuer comfortably batting away Ozil’s poor penalty.

Subsequently, the momentum shifted and Bayern began to connect their passes and dictate the tempo of the match. Despite lacking penetration, and struggling to shift the Arsenal back-line out of position, Wenger’s men dropped deeper towards their box.

It took a scintillating ball from Toni Kroos to Arjen Robben to carve open Arsenal’s defence, and it forced Szczesny to commit a reckless challenge on the Dutch winger. The Polish goalkeeper received a red card, which forced Lukasz Fabianski to enter the fray, while Santi Cazorla was sacrificed.

Alaba stepped to the spot, but was forced to patiently wait for Arsenal to make their changes, and during that time he witnessed a wall of Gunners supporters heckle and jeer him. It took approximately two minutes for Fabianski to enter the goal, and Alaba’s mind was clustered. The Austrian left-back sent the Polish goalkeeper the wrong way, but his shot hit the post.

Both sides received the opportunity to take the lead through well-deserved spot-kicks, but neither shooter coped with the pressure – however, Bayern’s man advantage gave Guardiola’s side the onus to push for an away goal.

Kroos Control

For all the depth Bayern Munich possesses throughout their squad, the one player that doesn’t receive the credit he deserves is Toni Kroos. Kroos has been the heartbeat of Bayern’s creative play, and the 24-year-old midfielder saved his best performances for the European stage.

Last season at the Emirates, Kroos’ remarkable goal ignited a Bayern onslaught, but this time Szczesny saved his fantastic strike in the second minute. Yet, while Bayern struggled to cope with Arsenal’s energetic start, Kroos calmly settled Bayern into the match. He wandered around midfield looking for spaces to pick up the ball, and his precise passing helped his teammates come to grips with the frenetic pace.

Kroos’ passing was magnificent, and his ability to retain possession was also pivotal towards Bayern’s dominance. The German dynamo was at his best in the second half as Bayern picked up their tempo. Phillip Lahm cleverly created an angle for Kroos to fire an unstoppable shot into the top corner, to secure an important away goal.

The German was imperious in midfield and his long diagonal ball to Arjen Robben, followed by a well-weighed pass into Rafinha highlighted his creativity, but both wide players failed to provide an accurate final ball to increase Bayern’s lead. Kroos received an opportunity to kill the tie with seconds to spare, but his well-placed, low-driven shot ricocheted off the post.

It’s been nearly two years since Kroos’ master-class against Madrid , and his long-term injury forced him to miss last year’s road to Wembley. The German, however, is eager to display to the world that he’s Bayern’s key man, and arguably the best no.10 in the world, by guiding the Bavarians to their second consecutive Champions League triumph.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool

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Courtesy of Flickr/Ronnie Macdonald

Arsenal advanced to the last eight of the FA Cup with a resilient victory against Liverpool at the Emirates.

Image Arsene Wenger made several changes to the starting XI that drew Manchester United in midweek. Yaya Sanogo led the line with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski filling in alongside Mesut Ozil. Mathieu Flamini returned from suspension, Lukasz Fabianski started in goal, and Carl Jenkinson and Nacho Monreal started at full-back.

Brendan Rodgers made two changes to his starting lineup, as Daniel Agger slotted into the back four, and Joe Allen joined Steven Gerrard, and Philippe Coutinho in midfield.

Liverpool started the match well, but defensive lapses and woeful finishing saw them crash out of the FA Cup.

Liverpool’s great start

Liverpool produced arguably the best 20-minute spell of football in Premier League history during their 5-1 victory over Arsenal at Anfield, and were looking to replicate that performance at the Emirates. Rodgers’ side have started matches well this season, scoring majority of their league goals in the first-half, and they will be disappointed that they weren’t two goals ahead within the opening five minutes.

Daniel Sturridge was played in free – courtesy of a Gerrard through ball – against Fabianski, but the Polish goalkeeper saved his tame effort. Minutes later, Luis Suarez chipped a delicate ball over Arsenal’s back four towards Sturridge, and while the Liverpool striker rounded Fabianski, his shot hit the side-netting.

Within the opening five minutes Sturridge was presented with two glorious opportunities to possibly replicate the result at Anfield. Apart from an ambitious shot from Suarez at the edge of the box, Liverpool failed to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities for the remainder of the half.

Defensive shapes

The first-half lacked the high-octane, free-flowing football that both sides are renowned for and that was down to their shape without the ball.

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Arsenal dropped into two banks of four without the ball and encouraged their wingers to press Liverpool’s fullbacks, while Mikel Arteta energetically closed down Philippe Coutinho – as the Brazilian struggled to cope with the physical battles in midfield. Sturridge had minimal impact on the match due to Laurent Koscielny’s proactive role, in which he didn’t allow the striker to turn with the ball.

More so, it was peculiar to see Liverpool reluctant to play balls in behind the defence. Flamini offered grit in midfield, while Arsenal still lacked pace at the back.

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Liverpool, on the other hand, dropped into a 4-5-1 that at times looked like a 4-1-4-1. Rodgers also encouraged his side to close down Arsenal’s full-backs, while Coutinho and Joe Allen alternated when pressing Arteta. Some of Jordan Henderson’s best performances have come against Arsenal, and his dynamism was missed in midfield, as Arsenal exploited pockets of space in the first half.

Gerrard

Liverpool’s key player in attack was Gerrard. With Lucas absent, the Liverpool captain remained at the base of the midfield, and constantly switched the Reds’ route of attack. Gerrard was the most proficient passer, completing 64 passes, and he created Liverpool’s best chances in the match.

The key to Gerrard’s success, however, was the fact that no Arsenal player applied pressure on the Reds skipper. Mesut Ozil preferred – or was instructed by Wenger – to drop ahead of the midfield bank of four, opposed to limiting Gerrard’s influence on the match. In the opening minute his well-weighed through ball to Sturridge should’ve handed the Reds a lead.

Subsequently, Gerrard’s second half cross-field diagonal ball towards Coutinho should’ve seen the Brazilian level the score, but he opted to play a tame cross into the box. Gerrard was also influential via set-pieces, as his cool penalty narrowed the lead to a goal, and his free-kick delivery to Martin Skrtel was an additional goal-scoring opportunity.

Gerrard provided a positive impact towards Liverpool’s attack due to Arsenal’s naivety without the ball, but poor finishing and decision-making aided Wenger’s side.

Ozil

Ozil’s performance at Anfield was maligned by the media, as the German looked disinterested; he casually drifted through the match, and was constantly bullied off the ball by Henderson and Gerrard. The German’s looked knackered as of late, which could be down to Wenger mismanaging his minutes, but here the 25-year-old midfielder quietly sparked Arsenal’s attack.

Specifically in the first half, when Arsenal pushed forward, the Gunners located pockets of space throughout the midfield and Ozil was often the lynchpin behind their attacks. Ozil was the link in attack; whether it was his delicate chip to play in Sanogo, his cross that led to Chamberlain’s goal, or his ability to evade a challenge before driving to the box to have his shot blocked, the German dictated Arsenal’s activity in the final third. Ozil’s inch-perfect pass to Chamberlain in the second half, allowed the Arsenal winger to cut back the ball to Podolski for Arsenal’s second goal.

Ozil’s contribution in both goals signified his importance to Arsenal’s attack, as the German was heavily involved in majority of the Gunners’ offensive moves.

Oxlade-Chamberlain vs. Sterling

With Theo Walcott out for the remainder of the season, the talks as to who will play in wide areas in Brazil has been heavily debated. At the Emirates, two ideal candidates in Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sterling were eager to impress.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was terrific on the night – he constantly tracked back to protect Jenkinson, thus keeping Aly Cissokho quiet throughout the match. He scored and assisted a great goal, and his pace continuously tormented the Liverpool back-line. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pace also exposed Gerrard’s vulnerability at the base of Liverpool’s midfield.

The Arsenal attacker generally picked up the ball from his own half and quickly transitioned into attack, thus resulting in Gerrard and Coutinho making poor challenges and earning yellow cards – Gerrard was fortunate not to see red as he committed a clumsy second-half tackle, which merited a booking.

Likewise, Sterling, who’s been in great form over the past few weeks, was dangerous in the second half. With Liverpool forced to attack, the English winger constantly received long diagonal balls from Gerrard and attacked Monreal. Sterling was successful beating defenders and stretching the play towards the byline, but his final ball was often poor.

Yet, towards the latter stages of the match, when Rodgers fielded him as an attacking right-back, Sterling showcased his defensive attributes and impressive work-rate, by constantly getting back into position and making timely tackles.

Although Sterling didn’t replicate the impact he posed in the league encounter at Anfield, he, as did Oxlade-Chamberlain, displayed that they could fill the role that Roy Hodgson demands in wide areas.

Substitutions

With limited options on the bench, Rodgers introduced Henderson for the ineffective Cissokho, as Liverpool became a 4-2-3-1. Jon Flanagan moved to the left and Sterling became a right full-back. Suarez drifted centrally, allowing Sterling to peg Arsenal back and attack the space behind Podolski. Henderson occasionally pushed forward, but he often sat deep with Gerrard, which allowed Coutinho more space in midfield.

As Arsenal dropped deeper towards their box, Liverpool, and in particular Gerrard received more space to switch balls from flank-to-flank. Liverpool’s best chance came when Coutinho drifted into space and played in Sturridge, but as he tried to round Fabianski, the Polish keeper pushed the ball away. Apart from the aforementioned Gerrard ball to Coutinho, Liverpool’s other opportunities were snap-shots from Suarez and Sturridge from distance.

Wenger’s reluctance on removing Ozil was peculiar, considering his limited influence in the second half, lack of defensive work, and the fact that they host Bayern Munich in midweek. However, Cazorla replaced Podolski at first, which was also odd based on his limited defensive work – and Sterling still posed a threat down the right.

Minutes later, Kieran Gibbs replaced the leggy Oxlade-Chamberlain, and swapped flanks with Cazorla. Now, Gibbs nullified Sterling’s threat in attack, and his energy pegged Sterling deeper into his half, forcing him to defend. Giroud replaced Sanogo to wind down the clock, as Arsenal survived Liverpool’s second half resurgence.

Conclusion

Despite an early scare, Arsenal was clinical in front of goal, and escaped the Emirates with an important victory. Rodgers was upset with the result, and poor officiating, but he highlighted that clinical finishing was the difference. “We could very easily have had another five or six goals today, but we weren’t as clinical,” Rodgers said.

Howard Webb’s poor officiating will dominate headlines, but besides a few defensive issues, Wenger’s weakened side showcased resilience at the back – including Fabianski’s key saves – as they gained revenge for their drubbing at Anfield.

Nevertheless, the games key players could all play a key role in England’s World Cup quest. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pace, defensive work, and quality in the final third snuck Arsenal past the Reds, but Gerrard’s passing could’ve equally tilted the tie if his teammates converted their chances.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Three Things: Arsenal 0-0 Manchester United

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Courtesy of Flickr/Football Nomad

Cautious Moyes

After Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Fulham, many were criticizing David Moyes’ attacking approach. Although United completed 86 crosses in the match, displaying a lack of variety in attack, Moyes’ side was atrocious on the defensive end.

Despite dominating possession for large portions of the match, individual errors led to Steve Sidwell’s opener and Darren Bent’s late equalizer. With a trip to the Emirates Stadium on the horizon, United couldn’t afford to drop points if they had any hopes of finishing in the top four.

United dropped into a 4-5-1 without the ball, as they focused on minimizing space between the lines. Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley provided astute protection in front of the back four, and Arsenal’s attacking players were unable to get into dangerous positions around the final third.

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Moyes instructed his men to sit narrow – identical to their performance at Old Trafford earlier this season – but this time wide players Antonio Valencia and Juan Mata prevented Arsenal’s fullbacks from pushing forward. United was set up to contain Arsenal’s attacking players, and they succeeded. The Gunners created minimal chances from open play, their ball circulation was slow, and they lacked the penetration and guile to break down United’s back line.

The issue with United’s approach was that it sacrificed their threat on the attack. Apart from three squandered efforts from Robin van Persie, United didn’t test Wojciech Szczesny. Rooney was often yards away from the Dutch striker, and when United held possession, he was unable to receive the ball in key areas. Overall, United’s attack was stagnant; van Persie was constantly flagged offside, and with Moyes keen on his central midfielders – and Rooney – sitting deep, the champions lacked runners.

Moyes’ approach was logical, and it earned United an important point. However, while the Red Devils completed a job without the ball, their threat on the attack was languid.

Ozil improves his performance

Mesut Ozil’s form has been heavily critiqued and ridiculed over the past few months, and his performance at Anfield over the weekend was the last straw. Ozil’s involvement in two Liverpool goals left many questioning whether he truly is a world-class player.

While the sudden outrage in Ozil’s status is bizarre, encountering a dip in form in your first season in England isn’t. Nonetheless, the German playmaker took it upon him to silence the critics at the Emirates. Statistically, he was superb, creating the most chances and completing the most passes in the final third.

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Although Ozil wasn’t the best player on the pitch, he was certainly the most influential Arsenal player. Laurent Koscielny – Arsenal’s best player on the night – nodded Ozil’s corner towards the back post, but it was cleared by Valencia, and his intricate passing with Santi Cazorla, led to the Spaniard forcing David De Gea to make a key save.

For the most part it looked like the gap in quality between Ozil and his teammates was vast. Ozil roamed around the final third playing passes with his teammates, and creating space for others to penetrate, but nothing came of it. Likewise, when he did attempt to play intricate passes in tight spaces the receiver often couldn’t play a returning pass.

Ozil’s price tag leaves him vulnerable to heavy criticism, but as of late it’s difficult to pinpoint an attacker who’s produced consistent performances.

Giroud or bust?

Arsene Wenger had one job to complete during the January transfer window – purchase a striker. An entire month flew by, and despite a few warning signs regarding fatigue and performance levels, Wenger was reluctant on meeting the wishes of Arsenal supporters.

Apart from their victory against Spurs earlier this season, Olivier Giroud has failed to score against the league’s top-sides. Giroud’s enjoyed a good campaign as Arsenal’s main striker this season, but his inability to provide goals in these matches has affected the Gunners’ results.

With Arsenal’s summer pursuit of Luis Suarez proving to be unsuccessful, and Theo Walcott sidelined for the remainder of the season, many expected Wenger to jump into the January market. The Frenchman, however, fully believes that the squad at his disposal possesses enough quality to end Arsenal’s nine-year trophy drought.

Wenger included Nicklas Bentdner, Lukas Podolski and Yaya Sanogo on the bench against Manchester United, yet the trio witnessed Giroud struggle at the Emirates. Despite outmuscling and pestering United captain Nemanja Vidic in the first-half, the French international’s finishing was poor. In the 76th minute, Sagna created Arsenal’s best opportunity, but Giroud failed to convert the right-back’s delightful delivery into the six-yard box.

Giroud’s lack of pace puts him at a disadvantage, and his link-up play with advancing midfielders has become predictable. It’s illogical to believe the sole purchase of a striker would win Arsenal a trophy this season, but with the Frenchman showing evident signs of fatigue, a competent, alternative option could’ve been beneficial.

More so, Giroud’s poor performance symbolizes the Gunners’ issues upfront, but with three options at their disposal, maybe it’s time Wenger gives his main striker a rest.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Tomas Rosicky’s energy and perseverance drives Arsenal past Spurs

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Arsene Wenger’s decision to acquire Mesut Ozil on transfer deadline day has been identified as the spark that’s led to Arsenal’s formidable form this season. The signing displayed the North London side’s title ambitions, and his presence has influenced his teammates to raise their overall game – but initially, it put Tomas Rosicky’s place in the squad at risk.

Rosicky, who most recently celebrated his 33rd birthday, has struggled to solidify a place in Arsenal’s XI throughout his eight-year spell in North London. Injuries have hampered the Czech’s ability to reach his expected potential, and with Arsenal possessing an abundance of creative players, his role within the squad was questionable.

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Here, the 33-year-old midfielder started alongside Santi Cazorla and Serge Gnabry in Arsenal’s attacking trio, behind Theo Walcott. Walcott aimed to attack space behind the fullbacks, Gnabry stuck to the touchline to provide width and isolate defenders – a logical approach based on Spurs’ fullbacks willingness to surge forward, while their centrebacks lack pace – whereas Cazorla drifted centrally to provide a creative spark.

Rosicky has occasionally slotted into the no.10 role behind the striker this season, opposed to Cazorla or Ozil, and it’s because the Czech midfielder provides a different element to Arsenal’s attack. Rosicky isn’t renowned for his sleek penetrating passes, or ability to take control of games – he’s an energetic direct threat that drives Arsenal forward, when their intricate passing is ineffective.

When Arsenal drew Everton at the Emirates this season, Wenger made a triple-substitution, which included Walcott and Rosicky replacing Cazorla and Jack Wilshere. It took 10 minutes for the duo to influence the match, as Rosicky’s long diagonal ball into the box met Walcott, and he nodded it towards Ozil, who gave Arsenal the lead from close range.

On two separate occasions, Rosicky drove Arsenal forward from deep positions in midfield, with swift, sleek combination play. Quick intricate passes with Cazorla and Wilshere enabled the 33-year-old to push forward and play a pass into Walcott, whose curling effort swerved inches wide of the net. Five minutes later, Rosicky dropped towards the halfway line to receive the ball, play a quick one-two with Wilshere, then inventively combine with Cazorla, who drifted infield and also curled his shot wide of the net.

The interesting feat about Rosicky is his admirable work-rate – he scampers around the pitch with the energy levels of a 20-year-old, quickly closing down the opposition, and breaking into tackles. Wenger’s decision to place him behind Walcott was with the intent of preventing Spurs from playing out of the back. For the most part, they were successful, and Rosicky was rewarded for his tireless running.

In the 61st minute, Rosicky closed down Danny Rose at the halfway line – the Czech subsequently dispossessed the Spurs left back, and shrugged off Kyle Walker, before cleverly chipping the ball over Hugo Lloris. Rosicky’s ability to drift into pockets of space and push runners forward is often overlooked, yet pivotal in an attack that can occasionally lack guile and penetration.

Although Rosicky could improve his goal-scoring/assist tally, the 33-year-old still offers a positive blend in Arsenal’s attack. His consistent dynamic style of play that involves direct running, and quick intricate passing has seen Rosicky quietly become one of Arsenal’s key men this season. Trophies have become a distant thought in the mind of Arsenal supporters, but Rosicky’s energetic play from midfield can play a decisive factor in ending their prolonged title drought.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Mourinho’s cautious approach stifles Arsenal’s creative midfielders

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Jose Mourinho threatened to take a step backwards to instill consistency in Chelsea’s results, after their shocking Capital One Cup defeat against Sunderland.  Mourinho stated his reluctance to shackle his attacking players and implement a counterattacking game, but a trip to the Emirates called for it.

Mourinho’s flawless record against Arsene Wenger isn’t a coincidence – Wenger’s possession-based philosophy plays into the Portuguese manager’s meticulous approach, and there was no surprises in either starting XI, despite many continuing to question Juan Mata’s exclusion.

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A cagey opening half displayed dissimilar defensive approaches without the ball. Chelsea sat off the Arsenal midfield and limited space between the lines, whereas Wenger’s wingers quickly closed down Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic – Azpilicueta mirrored this approach on Theo Walcott, but from an offensive perspective the Chelsea fullbacks impact on the match was minimal.

Eden Hazard and Willian – Chelsea’s most in-form attackers – played on the flanks, while Ramires operated behind Torres, but often took up positions in midfield to prevent the Gunners from overloading central areas. While many questioned Mourinho’s preferred front three, the Portuguese manager’s selection was logical.

The trio possesses a devastating threat on the counterattack, but have the tactical discipline to diligently track back to maintain Chelsea’s compact shape and protect their fullbacks. Ramires helped Torres press Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta when building out of the back, and Chelsea’s wide men continuously launched swift counterattacks – yet, their decision-making and final ball were poor.

Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna scampered forward when the opportunity presented itself, but their deliveries were short. Arsenal’s midfielders couldn’t locate space between the lines to penetrate, and Olivier Giroud was an isolated figure – albeit, receiving Arsenal’s best chance to win the match, but Petr Cech’s quick movement off his line led to an important save that kept the match goalless.

But for the umpteenth time this season, Mesut Ozil failed to impose himself against a top-side. Ozil isn’t the type of player that dictates matches – he weaves around the opposition’s final third and provides flashes of brilliance, but that feat was anonymous, as was the German playmaker – despite completing the most passes in the final third. The most fascinating component in Arsenal’s attacking approach was Ozil and Rosicky’s movement. Ozil constantly drifted into deeper positions, which created space between the lines for Rosicky to drift into and vice-versa. The duo combined admirably, and Arsenal’s best chances were created through their movement.

Chelsea made player swaps in wide areas by introducing Andre Schurrle and Oscar, and David Luiz replaced Fernando Torres to secure a vital away point – shockingly, Wenger didn’t turn to his bench. The away side created the best chance of the match – despite their reactive approach – when Frank Lampard’s volley smashed off the crossbar. The 35-year-old midfielder occasionally made forward runs towards the box, when Hazard or Willian moved into wide positions, and he assiduously worked hard in the second half to protect Azpilicueta, when Ozil attempted to overload the left flank.

Arsenal stuck to their philosophy on a wet, windy night at the Emirates Stadium, but Mourinho’s side was well-equipped to contain their threat. “They played their game but it was the game we wanted them to play. They tried to win the game but we played tactically well,” Mourinho said.

More so, another game between the Premier League’s top teams – disregarding Manchester City at home – was uninspiring, as the overall display from both sides was equivalent to the weather conditions – dismal.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Manchester City 6-3 Arsenal

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Manchester City moved three points behind Arsenal with a convincing victory at the Ethiad Stadium.

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Arsene Wenger made five changes to the side that Napoli defeated at the San Paolo. Nacho Monreal, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna were in the starting lineup.

Manuel Pellegrini recalled Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo, Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri to the starting line up.

Arsenal’s complacent approach without the ball led to City’s dominant performance, as Pellegrini’s men were devastating in the final third.

Shape

Coming off a midweek loss to Napoli in the Champions League, many questioned how Wenger and his men would respond. It’s uncertain as to whether their conservative approach without the ball was down to fatigue, but it allowed City to assert their dominance on the match.

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Wenger’s men dropped into two banks for four, but like their press was non-existent. They allowed City’s midfielder’s time on the ball, while Silva and Nasri freely roamed between the lines.

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Arsenal invited pressure into their third, but they didn’t prevent City from asserting their dominance in these areas.

On the other hand, while City also dropped into two banks of four, their approach was pragmatic. City minimized space between the lines for large portions of the match – Toure and Fernandinho sat closer to their back four, and the midfield pressed Arsenal’s creative players when they approached dangerous areas.

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Arsenal’s approach without the ball enabled City to get into better positions, whereas Pellegrini’s men displayed impressive work ethic to prevent Arsenal from penetrating in the final third.

Full backs freedom

Nonetheless, the two teams had different approaches when they dropped into two banks of four, yet there shapes were identical. Both sides were fairly narrow when the opposition was in possession, and this encouraged fullbacks to push forward.

Arsenal’s enjoyed a different element of attack this season through Sagna’s crossing ability from the right, while Pablo Zabaleta is renowned for driving into advanced areas. Gael Clichy was the least active fullback from an attacking sense, and this was logical, as he was the only fullback that was matched up against a legitimate wide player in Walcott.

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Zabaleta constantly pushed forward, attacking space behind Wilshere, as the Englishman was often caught in central positions.

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With Wilshere and Monreal dragged into the centre of the pitch, Zabaleta was a preferred outlet for Pellegrini’s men – coincidentally, it led to City’s second goal.

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Here, we see two issues with Arsenal’s approach – one, Toure is allowed too much time on the ball, and once again Zabaleta is free on the right flank. Arsenal’s midfield failed to close the Ivorian down, and he found Zabaleta on the right flank, which resulted in a well-weighed ball for Negredo to tap in.

Sagna, also received space on the right to deliver crosses into the box, but unlike previous matches, the quality of the deliveries were poor – and when they did get into the box, Kompany did well to clear his lines.

1-1

Arsenal struggled to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities in the first half, but they did find an equalizer against the run of play. The goal was significant because it was one of the few times an Arsenal player pressed a City midfielder, and it highlighted Ozil’s use of half space.

Ramsey stepped forward to dispossess Toure, and he drove forward to play a ball to Ozil on the left flank.

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Ozil ran into half-space after receiving the ball from Ramsey. He can now chose to go forward and continue to penetrate or look for an option. His run into half space forced Yaya Toure to track a forward run into the box, when he/or a midfielder should be looking to intercept a potential cutback.

Ozil did well to attack the half space, and he played a cutback ball to Walcott, who placed his shot into the right corner.

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Ozil decided to make the cut back pass to the advancing Walcott, who is unmarked at the edge of the box. This is down to Ozil penetrating half space.

Ramsey’s tackle was pivotal, but Ozil’s ability to efficiently utilize the half-space led to the goal, as it drew Toure and the rest of the City defenders into the box, thus leaving the edge of the area vacant.

Silva/Nasri

Another issue Arsenal encountered was their inability to contain Silva and Nasri. City’s fluid system is maximized when both players are in the XI, and they were a constant threat against Arsenal.

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The duo was City’s most proficient passers – alongside Toure – as they constantly buzzed around the final third. They dropped deep to help City push forward as a unit, but quickly found space between the lines to spring City attacks.

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Nasri and Silva roaming around between the lines

Silva drifted around the final third, weaving in and around the edge of the area, yet he also ignited swift counter attacks.

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Whereas Nasri was more direct with his approach – he provided intricate passes, and nonchalantly drifted past his opposition at every opportunity.

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Here Yaya Toure isn’t closed down, while Nasri and Silva are free between the lines

The Frenchman improved when moved into the no.10 role, but failed to score against his former side.

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Shockingly, Arsenal struggled to close down the duo’s passing lanes or close them down – Nasri and Silva dominated Arsenal in the final third, leaving Wenger’s men to chase shadows.

Arsenal improve

Arsenal’s best spell of the game lasted 13 minutes. Fernandinho increased City’s lead in the 50th minute, which led to Arsenal’s brief resurgence.

In fairness, City should also be held responsible, as their lackadaisical approach saw them drop deeper towards their box and avoid their defensive duties. Ozil became a prominent figure as he dropped deeper into midfield to receive the ball and began facilitating passes, while aiming to create overloads in wide areas.

Olivier Giroud received wonderful chances to bring Arsenal back into the match, but his poor finishing let him down.

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No City player closes down Ozil and Ramsey is free to receive the ball

Luckily for Arsenal, City continued to sit off, opposed to applying pressure, and as you can see below Ozil and Ramsey received ample space to create Walcott’s second goal.

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Ramsey is still unmarked between the lines. He’s free to receive the ball, and play a pass into Walcott, which leads to Arsenal second goal.

There’s no pressure applied on Ozil and Ramsey, and they were able to find pockets of space to exploit. However, Arsenal’s lead was short lived, as City stormed forward on the attack once again, and negligence to Silva’s movement in the final third restored City’s two-goal lead.

Substitutions

The way both managers utilized their substitutions was pivotal in the latter stages of the match, yet it also displayed an issue Arsenal possess.

Pellegrini was forced to introduce Jesus Navas for Aguero, who suffered a calf injury. Subsequently, he also replaced Silva with Milner, thus pushing Nasri behind Negredo, as City became 4-2-3-1. This forced Arsenal’s fullbacks deeper due to City’s threat in wide areas, and it also injected more pace into the home side’s approach. Milner was fouled for City’s sixth goal, while Navas’ direct approach, led to his cross for Silva’s goal.

More so, with the game now stretched, the injected pace constantly troubled the Gunners backline. The onus was on Arsenal’s their tired legs to search for a goal, and it let to mistakes that Fernandinho pounced on, which contributed heavily to his improved second half performance.

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As for Arsenal, they made a player swap by introducing Nicklas Bendtner for Giroud, while Serge Gnabry replaced Flamini. Wenger conceded defensive solidity in midfield for a direct wide threat, but neither Wilshere nor Ramsey were capable of completing their jobs. The match had slipped away from the Gunners, but Pellegrini’s substitutions preserved the result.

Conclusion

City produced another superior performance at the Ethiad, and Arsenal’s feeble approach ensured that. They allowed City’s midfield to dictate the tempo of the match, Wilshere failed to track Zabaleta’s runs, and Wenger’s options on the bench failed to change the match. 

“It’s very important to be an entertaining team but I would prefer we won 6-0 rather than 6-3,” Pellegrini said. 

“It’s possible to [win in attacking fashion without conceding] but the whole team must know how to defend. I will watch the game again but I don’t remember Arsenal having that many chances to score more than three.” 

Pellegrini should be wary of City’s defensive frailties – while they do score a lot of goals, there were periods in the match where his men lost awareness, and were exposed by Arsenal.

However, Wenger’s reluctance to tinker the squad is finally catching up with his side. This will be an interesting period for the league leaders, as the fixture list picks up, and failure to rotate the squad can lead to individual burnouts, and dropped points.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in EPL, Match Recaps

 

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