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Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal

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Robin van Persie continued to haunt his former employers, as his first half header pushes Manchester United within five points of league leaders Arsenal.

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Van Persie returned to the starting eleven to lead the line ahead of Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa. Michael Carrick and Phil Jones formed a midfield duo, while Jonny Evans partnered Nemanja Vidic at centre back.

Arsene Wenger made two changes to the side that defeated Borussia Dortmund in midweek. Mathieu Flamini returned to the lineup to join Mikel Arteta in the double pivot, whereas Thomas Vermaelen formed a centre back partnership with Laurent Koscielny.

This was a vintage Moyes display – United’s reactive approach saw the Red Devils concede space on the flanks, as they sat in a narrow shape to nullify Arsenal’s threat in central areas.

United without the ball

One of the main feats in Arsenal’s success over the past few weeks has been their fluidity and quick interchanges in midfield, so the battle in central areas was always going to be pivotal. David Moyes’ men were impressive without the ball – when they lost possession, they quickly closed down the Arsenal defenders to retain possession, and when Arsenal were building play they maintained an extremely high-line.

Space was at a premium in midfield, and Arsenal’s attacking three were unable to receive the ball between the lines, as United sat extremely narrow to close down their passing lanes. Arteta and Flamini dropped deeper between the centre backs to provide an outlet for their defenders and build play – which was odd considering Rooney’s impressive defensive display against Arteta last season – but majority of their passes were sideways. Ozil and Ramsey also attempted to receive the ball in deeper positions, but Valencia and Kagawa pressed them once they received the ball.

United’s wide men played an integral role in their success for large portions of the match. Kagawa and Valencia sat deeper than usual to help Jones and Carrick in midfield. Space was available out wide – which was risky based on Arsenal’s recent success in wide areas – but United’s wide men quickly closed down Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs whenever they received the ball, and the Arsenal duo didn’t offer any threats going forward.

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United’s initial approach without the ball was excellent – they minimized space between the lines, pressed Arsenal’s fullbacks, and kept their creative players quiet.

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During Arsenal’s impressive start to the season, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil’s form has overshadowed the underlying importance of Olivier Giroud in Wenger’s set-up. The French striker has improved vastly over the past few months, and has been a significant cog in Arsenal’s attack, which is why Moyes was keen on limiting his impact on the match.

Giroud’s developed a better understanding of playing as a lone striker using his brute strength and impressive work rate to thrive as Arsenal’s main man. The French striker struggled in the first half due to great defensive work from Evans and Vidic. The United centre back duo stuck tight to Giroud whenever he received the ball, and the Arsenal striker was unable to sustain possession.

One of the main feats in Giroud’s game this season has been his ability to link play with Arsenal’s midfielders, and allow runners to attack space behind him. But Giroud was outmuscled off the ball – often conceding possession or losing out in duels against the United centre backs. There was no space in midfield for Giroud to tuck into – United’s midfield pushed higher up the pitch swiftly to catch the Frenchman offside on numerous occasions, and his frustration was evident.

Vidic departure/Arsenal improve

Vidic was forced to leave the match at the interval, due to his late collision with David De Gea in the final moments of the first half. This forced Phil Jones to drop into centre back as Tom Cleverley joined Carrick in midfield. Although Cleverley didn’t produce a poor display, United’s lack of a double screen meant Arsenal would receive more opportunities to stamp their authority on the match.

Giroud’s influence on the match grew in the second half, and this was odd because Evans still featured in the match. As gaps began to build between the lines, Giroud was presented with more space to receive the ball and spread play, as Evans and Jones sat off the French striker. There was also a distinct dip in Kagawa’s performance – this could’ve been fatigue based, as he was involved in Wednesday’s midweek draw against Real Sociedad.

Ramsey started the second half on the right touchline stretching the play, and he played a key pass to Giroud in the 47th minute in ample space, and Cleverley was forced to foul him as he ran past the United defence. Three minutes later Ramsey won a loose ball at the halfway line, and played the ball into Ozil who combined with Giroud, but was unable to produce the final ball.

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Ozil had brief glimpses of positivity in his play as he drifted laterally into pockets of space on the right flank behind the United defence to receive the ball, and Santi Cazorla also dropped into those pockets of space to push Arsenal forward.

In the latter stages of the match, Arsenal continued to penetrate pockets of space in wide areas. Ramsey picked out substitute Serge Gnabry, who made a run behind Evra and Ryan Giggs. The Arsenal youngster played a ball across the edge of the box to Giroud, who skipped past Jones, but Smalling made a timely tackle to clear United’s lines.

A minute later, Sagna played a pass to Jack Wilshere, who moved forward and found Ramsey in a pocket of space behind Evra. Ramsey surged into the United box but was crowded out by Cleverley, Evans and Evra, and the ball fell to Giroud who flashed his deflected shot wide of the net.

Although it may have been Moyes’ idea to hit Arsenal on the break, Vidic’s departure and Kagawa’s inability to protect Patrice Evra  gave Wenger’s men a lifeline in the second half. Giroud and Ozil improved slightly, and as a unit Arsenal were getting into better positions.

Sagna

As stated earlier, Arsenal experienced joy down the right flank during the second half, and their star performer was Sagna. The Arsenal right back has been a key contributor in Arsenal’s attack over the past few weeks, as he played a pivotal role in goals in home fixtures against Napoli and Borussia Dortmund.

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Sagna was Arsenal’s bright spark in the second half as he constantly found space behind Kagawa, leaving him free to get forward and play crosses into the box. Majority of Arsenal’s best moves came down the right flank, and Sagna’s crosses gave Moyes’ men a few scares.

  1. 57th minute: Ozil’s corner kick was half-heartedly cleared, and Vermaelen played the ball backwards to Sagna. Sagna sprayed a ball across the box to an unmarked Ozil, but the German maestro fired his shot into the side netting.
  1. 72nd minute: Kagawa was caught out in a central position and Arteta picked out an unmarked Sagna on the right flank. Sagna played a precise ball across the six-yard box, but Evan’s nicked it past Gibbs, Smalling and Giroud for a corner.
  1. 91st minute: Sagna throws the ball into Giroud, and the Frenchman laid it off to Gnabry. Gnabry plays a pass to Sagna – who’s behind Giggs – and he delivers a venomous ball into the box that evades Evans, Jones and Nicklas Bendtner.

Sagna created three clear-cut opportunities for Arsenal to equalize, but his teammates were unable to connect with his fantastic deliveries into the box.

Substitutions

Wenger was forced to turn to his bench early in the second half, and he decided to introduce Wilshere for Flamini. Prior to the substitution, Arsenal lacked penetration in the final third, and struggled to get behind United’s defence. The move was made to add guile, energy, and penetration into Arsenal’s attack and from an attacking perspective the Gunner’s were brighter.

Bendtner and Gnabry also made appearances in the latter stages of the match, as Arsenal became a 4-4-2. Gnabry had a positive impact on the match with his direct approach and his ability to combine with Sagna, and Arsenal’s attacking players. Bendtner’s introduction was peculiar, as he took up a position on the left flank. The Danish striker isn’t renowned for his ability to beat players, but Wenger was hoping that he could get on the end of Sagna’s crosses.

Moyes’ substitutions reflected United’s approach in the final minutes of the match. Giggs replaced Kagawa in hopes that he could provide better protection for Evra. While Marouane Fellaini replaced van Persie, as United became a 4-5-1 without the ball to preserve their lead.

Conclusion

Arsenal improved in the second half as United sat deeper, but Moyes’ reactive approach was successful, as van Persie’s first half winner claimed maximum points.

The gap between United an Arsenal is now five points, but it’s difficult to assess the progress of Moyes’ side. Nonetheless, It was a vintage big match display masterminded by Moyes  – United were organized as a unit, and once they went ahead they cautiously attacked on the break.

Similar to their away draw against West Brom and loss against Chelsea, its been proven that an organized narrow shape can frustrate the Gunners – thus emphasizing the importance of their injured direct attackers. Arsenal weren’t at their best today, but dropping points at Old Trafford doesn’t necessarily inhibit their title aspirations. How the Gunners respond to this defeat heading into the Christmas period will be vital.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Arsenal’s fluid midfield knocks Liverpool back to reality

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Arsene Wenger was a calm figure in his pre-match press conference Friday afternoon. Arsenal was in their darkest hour since their opening day defeat to Aston Villa, as they lost consecutive home matches to Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea in cup competitions.

However, the Arsenal manager didn’t show a sign of fear. He was confident his men would show up to the occasion. And a big occasion it was. Although Arsenal hasn’t encountered stern opposition yet, they hosted a Liverpool side in hot form. Liverpool’s success has been down to Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge’s great run of form, and Arsenal’s main goal was to keep them quiet.

While there aren’t many people buying into Arsenal’s great start this season, Wenger is confident that his men will prove the doubters wrong. He’s developed an ‘us against the world mentality’ within his squad that’s proved to be quite successful thus far. The media’s doubt in Arsenal’s title credentials has been Wenger’s fuel to motivate his men, and once again they produced a scintillating performance.

The Gunners’ superiority in midfield proved to be pivotal, as they aimed to get runners from midfield to attack space and latch onto the final ball. Their attacking midfielders dropped deeper to sustain possession, Aaron Ramsey continued to impress on both ends and Bacary Sagna is proving to be a sensible outlet on the right flank.

Similar to Olivier Giroud’s goal against Borussia Dortmund, Sagna got into an advanced position down the right flank, and delivered a wonderful cross towards Santi Cazorla – aided by Giroud’s movement, which dragged Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel out of position. Cazorla nodded the ball off the post, but quickly reacted and smashed the rebound into an open net. From an attacking sense Sagna’s role can become prominent with Arsenal fielding a narrow midfield, depending on his ability to consistently deliver quality balls from the right flank.

Liverpool did present Wenger’s men with a few scares, mainly through their direct play on the break between Sturridge and Suarez. In the early moments of the match, both men dropped deep to receive the ball and got past Mikel Arteta on a few occasions. But as the match progressed, Laurent Koscielny mirrored Arteta’s defensive responsibilities – as it was evident he needed assistance – and stayed tight on the forward that dropped deep.

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Ultimately this hampered Liverpool’s attack, as they lacked invention when Arsenal had players behind the ball.

Brendan Rodgers’ men were stifled when trying to play out of the back as Arsenal pressed higher up the pitch, winning possession in Liverpool’s third. Liverpool could have benefitted from pushing higher up the pitch as a unit, and getting their wingbacks forward, but they preferred to do neither, despite Jon Flanagan getting into decent positions.

Rodgers attempted to turn the tide in the second half, by reverting to a 4-4-2 and introducing Philippe Coutinho on the left. Although Coutinho looked a bit off pace – considering he returned from injury – Liverpool maintained a better shape without the ball. Coutinho’s impact on the match was less eventful from an attacking perspective – the Brazilian’s movement was positive, but he was unable to complete his precise passing in the final third.

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The tactical shift allowed Suarez more space to attack when he dropped into deeper positions, but it left Sturridge isolated. Suarez scampered around the final third causing mayhem with his intelligent movement, but his decision making let him down massively. With Ramsey pushing forward to join the attack, Arteta was left vulnerable, thus providing Suarez with more space to penetrate

Ramsey put the match out of reach when he received a clever pass from Ozil at the edge of the 18-yard box. The Welshman let the ball bounce and confidently struck it on the half volley past Simon Mignolet.

Liverpool failed to impress on their first legitimate test of the season, while Arsenal continued to focus on their superiority in midfield. Arsenal’s fluid, canny, relentless and patient, yet when you add in the improvement of Giroud’s overall game and their manageable schedule thus far, you can understand why the Gunners are top of the table.

Regardless of what their defensive statistic’s state, Wenger’s men still look vulnerable at the back, and it’ll be interesting to see how they develop in the latter months of the season. Nonetheless, this result should boost Arsenal’s confidence ahead of a week that sees them travel to Dortmund and Manchester United.

The Gunners have been imperious thus far, but we’ll get a better sense of their overall strengths next week.

Analysis

  • Chelsea missed an opportunity to go top of the table for a few hours, as they fell to Newcastle at St. James Park. Jose Mourinho’s men struggled to move forward a unit in the opening minutes, due to Newcastle’s early pressure. Chelsea’s fullbacks were quickly closed down, while Frank Lampard and Ramires were also unable to push forward.

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Lampard’s inclusion in away matches or against top class sides is quite bizarre considering his limited impact on the match. Due to Lampard’s inability to play penetrating forward passes, David Luiz proved to be a vital cog in Chelsea’s attack, as he played balls between the lines for Oscar and Juan Mata to receive. Newcastle was complacent in the first half, and despite Chelsea’s dominance in possession, the Blues were dull in the final third.

The onus was on Mourinho to make changes in the second half, to give his side a slight advantage. However, it was Pardew who made the most of the personnel on his bench. Vurnon Anita was superb upon his arrival, allowing Yohan Cabaye to push forward, and the movement of Loic Remy improved massively in the second half. Remy dropped deeper to help Newcastle push forward – a feat neither striker completed in the first half – while Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko were threatening on the counter, as Chelsea pushed more men forward. Coincidentally, it was Gouffran who was on the receiving end of a wonderful Cabaye delivery, which gave Pardew’s men the lead.

Samuel Eto’o, Willian and Andre Schurrle were introduced in the second half, as Chelsea gradually improved, but their passing tempo was still slow and penetration was at a minimum. Loic Remy put the match out of reach for the Blues as they fail to end their week on a high note. Chelsea missed a great opportunity to keep pace with Arsenal at the top of the table, and they now sit five points behind the league leaders.

  • Manchester United won their fourth consecutive match in all competitions, as they easily dispatched of a poor Fulham side. United scored three goals in the opening 30 minutes to earn three valuable points ahead of a monumental showdown against league leaders Arsenal next week. Fulham’s overall shape without the ball was shambolic, as Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie found it relatively easy to receive the ball between the lines. United’s notorious strike force tormented Fulham’s makeshift centre back duo, as they played a key role in all three United goals. The Red Devils were in full control of the opening 45 minutes – Phil Jones was given time and space to dictate the midfield, whereas Fulham was dismal in central areas. There was a vast improvement in Fulham’s second half performance as United were content with the result. They now await a trip to Spain midweek, and host Arsenal at Old Trafford, in a match that can truly define their season. Moyes’ men can’t afford to lose another match at home, especially when it can put them 11 points behind Arsenal.
  • Tottenham and Everton wasted the opportunity to climb to second in the table as they played to a dire draw at Goodison Park.  Andre Villas-Boas’ men were dominant in the first half pressing Everton and preventing them from playing out of the back. Aaron Lennon, Jan Vertonghen and Andros Townsend were rampant down the flanks causing the Everton fullbacks nightmares. Villas-Boas’ men struggled to play out of the back in the early periods of the match, but relied on Michael Dawson’s cross-field diagonal balls to push the North London side forward. Yet, despite Spurs’ superiority in possession, Spurs didn’t provide Roberto Soldado with quality service.

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Nevertheless, the Spaniard was poor on the night, failing to connect with his teammates when the opportunity was presented, and his touches were dismal. Everton improved in the second half when Gerard Deulofeu and Ross Barkley sparked energy in Everton’s attack – with Barkley’s movement between the lines and Deulofeu’s pace. Despite Holtby’s positive outing in the no.10 role – pressing the opposition and playing positive passes – the German midfielder, like the wide men, failed to connect with Soldado, which has been Spurs’ major issue this season.

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While Spurs continue to be impressive on the defensive end, their inability to score goals is worrying. Soldado is top-class striker, but he needs service and players to work off of, hence why Christian Eriksen’s arrival was pivotal.

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He’s the only player in the Spurs side capable of playing incisive passes in the final third, and if runners aren’t getting behind Soldado, his ability to play defence-splitting passes will be significant towards Spurs’ and Soldado’s success.

  • Joe Hart was dropped from the Manchester City starting XI, thus handing Costel Pantilimon a spot in the City lineup. The Romanian goalkeeper didn’t have much work to do, as six different City players got on the score sheet in their impressive 7-0 victory over Norwich.
  • Steven Caulker’s second half header earned Cardiff City three points in the Premier League’s first Welsh Derby. It was a cagey affair that saw both sides nullify their opponent’s strengths in midfield. The main source of attack came from long diagonals behind the left back – it led to openings for Swansea in the first half, and the corner that led to Caulker’s goal in the second. Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay stated pre-match that his men had to get it right tactically to earn three points, and that’s what they did.

Results: Newcastle 2-0 Chelsea, Hull City 1-0 Sunderland, West Brom 2-0 Crystal Palace, West Ham 0-0 Aston Villa, Manchester City 7-0 Norwich City, Stoke City 1-1 Southampton, Manchester United 3-1 Fulham, Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool, Everton 0-0 Tottenham, Cardiff City 1-0 Swansea City

Weekend Stats

  • Cardiff City v Swansea City was the first ever top-flight fixture in England not to feature any English teams.
  • Spurs have only conceded one league goal in the first half of Premier League games this season, fewer than any other team.
  • Asmir Begovic’s goal 13 seconds into Stoke City’s match against Southampton makes him the FIFTH goalkeeper to score a Premier League goal and the previous fastest was in the 62nd minute.
  • Manchester United’s total of 14 points after nine matches is seven points less than they had at this point last season.
  • José Mourinho suffers his worst Premier League defeat as Chelsea manager since a 2-0 defeat at Aston Villa in September 2007.
  • Arsenal has lost 28 Premier League matches in the month of November, more than in any other month. Under Wenger, have lost 22 of 67 in November (33%).

Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaLive) provides all the stats in this recap.

Tune into the 2 Guys and a MIKE podcast as it returns this week. Subscribe to it on I-Tunes!

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2013 in EPL Notebook, Published Work

 

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Russia 4-1 Czech Republic

 

Game in a sentence

Russia sent the 15 other teams in this tournament a message that they’re here to win after convincingly dismantling the Czech Republic 4-1 in Wroclaw, Friday night.

Observations

  • In the first 14 minutes of this game the Czech seemed to have firm control of the game, dominating possession as well as the midfield and many including myself were waiting for an eventual break through.
  • It took a moment of brilliance from Russian star Alan Dzagoev as he escaped two men on the break and played the ball wide to Zyryanov. Zyryanov then crossed the ball into Kerzakov who headed the ball passed Cech into the post, and the ball fell right to Dzagoev who smashed the rebound into the back of the net.
  • Nine minutes later the Czech’s found themselves two goals down, as again their defense was sliced open by the Russians quick transitions, and the superb Andrei Arshavin’s misplaced pass found Shirokov, who slotted the ball past Cech and put the Russians up by two goals, less than 30 minutes into the game
  • During the first 15 minutes the Zenit midfield trio of Zyryanov, Shirokov and Denisov were unable to retain the ball, but as the game progressed and their nerves settled the trio simply outclassed Jiracek and Plasil
  • It was down to the speed in their transitions, fluid passing, precise movement off the ball, and their ability to be compact and efficient when defending that tore apart the Czech Republic.
  • The second half wasn’t as one-sided as the first as the Czech came out hungry and nicked a goal through a defensive lapse by the Russians. Plasil played a marvelous ball into Pilar, who tapped it past Malafeev after an exquisite first touch.
  • The score line could’ve been higher if Kerzakhov wore his shooting boots tonight. Although he didn’t find the back of the net, his movement off the ball and his ability to hold up the play to allow his teammates into the game was excellent, and should merit him a start against Poland.
  • The man that the media might try to push into the starting XI is Roman Pavyulchenko who was involved in both the third and fourth goal after only being on the field for 10 minutes. He provided a delicious ball to Dzagoev found the back of the net, and then shrugged off three defenders before smashing his shot into the top left corner in the matter of three minutes.
  • My man of the match was Alan Dzagoev. The highly rated 21-year-old was on the radar of world football’s top clubs before suffering a dip in form. He has now once again established himself as one of the upcoming stars after regaining his form under Dick Advocaat. His ability to carve passes through the defence and get into scoring positions is what sets him apart from many of his teammates. Today, he became the 2nd youngest player to score a brace in the European Championships. The youngest player to score a brace is Wayne Rooney.
  • The Russians seem to be a class ahead of the other two teams in this group and have sent out a message to all the teams in this tournament. Their ability to stay organized and then hit on the break with quick transitions and fluid passing should see them top this group and give whoever awaits in Group B a scare. As for the Czech Republic, they had a much better 2nd half, but they need to sort out their issues at the back as there were periods throughout the game where they were stretched far too easily. Going forward they lacked cohesion and didn’t give Baros enough service to cause the Russian back line any severe problems.

Three Stars

  1. Alan Dzagoev
  2. Andrei Arshavin
  3. Roman Pavyulchenko (10 minutes of brilliance)

 

3rd should really go to either Shirokov or Denisov.

Tyrrell Meertins

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2012 in Match Recaps

 

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