Sunday, 31 October 2010

Song the Saviour

How many times have they done that? 85- 90 minutes of opposition resiliently defending and then finally Arsenal get a last gasp winner- and yet still some people leave early!

It is a sign of a very good team to, so consistently, break down these well organised, defensive teams with multiple late winners. The more we do it, the more opposition players will be sweating with tension and nerves whilst they barricade their own penalty area trying to stop us getting through, therefore the more likely we are to do it in the future as they are more nervous and more likely to make a mistake. But the main reason is our resilience and variety of attacking quality, as well as the amount of players we manage to get in and around the box, just like yesterday, just like Wolves last April, just like against Stoke last February, just like against Aston Villa a couple of seasons ago. Those are just examples off the top of my head- not to mention all the other times over recent seasons.

Nicklas Bendtner has so often been the goalscorer of these late goals, but this time it was our new goalscorer Alex Song who is in the goalscoring form of his life with 3 in 3 games and 4 in total this season. Compare that to his total of 1 last season. It came after a lovely pass from him to Clichy who beautifully cut inside, beating Julien Faubert and dinked in an irresistible cross with his right foot in the perfect place between goalkeeper and defence where Song headed in the well deserved winner. World class full back play from Gael Clichy and a good finish from the Cameroonian. Cue the ubiquitous "One nil to the Arsenal!"

Again, it was nice to see us keep another clean sheet, three in a row now. OK, it wasn't the most testing game defensively, but still when tested Arsenal looked generally solid, even without main centre half Thomas Vermaelen and long may it continue.

Fabianski 7- solid once more
Sagna 7- solid and decent going forward
Squillaci 7- solid
Koscielny 7- solid- improving all the time
Clichy 8- great play for the goal and always busting a gut attacking and defending- solid too
Fabregas 6 +- had some poor moments but a couple of brilliant passes spring to mind
Song 8- scored the very important winner and was one of our best players going forward, especially first half. As usual, battled well defensively too
Denilson 6- not much point playing him in this sort of game
Nasri 6- surprisingly quiet from what I saw
Chamakh 5- same as Nasri
Arshavin 5- involved a bit but no end product

Walcott 7- made an impact and troubled WHU
Bendtner 6
Eboue 6

* Please note that my player ratings are based on the Sky extended highlights I saw so may not be entirely accurate.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

What was all the fuss about?

See how quickly things can change in football? Three weeks ago, things were looking bad after back to back defeats against West Brom and Chelsea and now things are looking very rosy indeed after successes in the Premier League, Champions League and Carling Cup.
There's something different about Arsenal at the moment that is getting me excited,as they're keeping clean sheets, scoring loads of goals and they look like we mean business. I don't want to speak too soon but they look as if they're ready now and that they have discarded their weaknesses. There has been evidence of this this season, such as the way they dealt with Blackburn, the clean sheets, the convincing win at Man City and better defending and more efficient finishing.
In my few years as an Arsenal fan, I haven't felt this excited and confident about them because they're looking great as both ends of the pitch, even with crucial players out injured.

You may be reading this thinking I'm getting carried away but I've just got a good feeling about Arsenal. There's not many occasions when I'm so confident about a game as I am about Arsenal v West Ham on Saturday, which shows how good they've been lately. It's a good time to be a Gooner!

Just like buses. None for ages and then two at once. I'm talking about clean sheets, away from home. After going from January 28th until October 24th without one, we've now got two in three days. OK, that's not as long as it soundsbut still, it's a good quality to have- being able to go away from home and not concede a goal and something we haven't seen enough of from Arsenal over recent years. It shows our increased strength in depth too, as don't forget we were without the first choice pair at Man City and without Vermaelen and Squillaci last night.

As for Theo Walcott... He is summing up Arsenal at the moment as he looks like he is maturing, improving by the game and becoming more knowledgeable and composed. His first goal last night conveyed his composure as it was superbly and so calmly taken. His second may have looked simple but, like the first, it demanded a cool head and showed his blistering pace and how better he is getting at knowing how best to use it and the timing of his runs are expert.

Nicklas Bendtner also showed last night how much he is improving as he is getting better on knowing where to be, and his goal, of course, was superb. People have faulted his finishing in the past, but what you can never fault is how many chances he manages to get and that is a good attribute as it shows good awareness of where to be and a natural instinct for goal.

Wojciech Szczesny impressed me a lot last night and is competing with Theo for man of the match, making some great saves and looking very comfortable and commanding. His save from Taylor's free-kick was fantastic and he also did well in the goal mouth scramble at 2-0.

Laurent Koscielny was also excellent and a candidate for MOTM, looking solid and he looks as if he is improving all the time aswell as adapting very quickly as he has dealt very well with various difficult situations, that you might not encounter in the french league, at Blackburn, Sunderland, Tottenham and Newcastle, putting in some first clas performances.

All in all, a great result and performance just like at Man City. Keep 'em coming!

Szczesny- 8
Eboue- 7
Djourou- 7
Koscielny- 8
Gibbs- 6
Eastmond- 7
Denilson- 7
Rosicky- 7
Walcott- 9
Bendtner- 8
Vela- 7

Sagna- 7
Fabregas- 7
Emmanuel Thomas- 6

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Ahh, the pleasure of a post big match win for Arsenal. I am obviously in a much better mood than I was three weeks ago after the Chelsea defeat, and it feels great.
I'm very pleased and proud of the performance and result today. Three weeks ago at Chelsea we performed well but didn't get the result, whereas today we got both. Fabianski, Nasri, Song and Fabregas were fabulous and the rest of the team were good too:
Fabianski- 8
Sagna- 8
Squillaci- 7
Djourou- 6 (improved as the game got on)
Clichy- 7
Fabregas- 9
Song- 9
Denilson- 8
Nasri- 9
Chamakh- 7
Arshavin- 7
Rosicky- 7
Walcott- 6
Bendtner- 7

My man of the match was Nasri, just pipping Fabregas and Song. He showed such quality and intelligence today and is a highly under-rated player IMO. Great goal, fantastic pass for the third goal, worked back and defended well and kept the ball very well. Fabregas passed, as always, excellently and despite the penalty miss was one of the best players on the pitch because of his positioning, work ethic and because of the way he is always at the centre of what we do. Alex Song, like the rest of the team, got better as the game went on and his goal was superbly taken. He is beginning to show that there is more to him than just a "sitting" midfielder and that he can go forward and be a threat as well as keeping the ball well. I think this season the responsibility has been taken off him a bit my giving the central midfield a shared responsibility much like the Fabregas/ Flamini combination of 07/08. When Song ventures forward one of the others- usually Wilshere, or in today's case, Denilson sits in. Its a good system and probably more effective than last season's as I would predict that we will get caught on the break less this season. Lukasz Fabianski is getting better by the game, aswering his crtics (including me) with great performances in which he is claiming the ball brilliantly, making great saves and not putting a foot wrong. He's only going to get better and long may he stay in the team whilst he keeps up this form.

I was impressed today with the way Arsenal dug in and battled when they needed to and didn't let Man City gain any physical advantage over them. I thought when I saw Diaby wasn't playing that we might miss his strength but Denilson replaced him very capably and passed it around better than Diaby generally does. It shows how we have improved over recent seasons as a midfield of Fabregas, Denilson and Song is not a particularly physical one and yet they can get on with that side of the game no trouble and get a result whilst still dominating the game.

Additionally, this weekend has seen us move up to second staying above Man Utd, keeping the gap a 5 point one between us and Chelsea, it has seen us go 2 points further of the scum and leapfrog Man City, all on a weekend when we had a very hard game away from home. Not only that but we recorded our first away clean sheet since January 28th. And next we have two home games vs West Ham and Newcastle. Bring it on!

Oh and... didn't Adebarndoor play well?

Monday, 18 October 2010

The Birmingham game and Tackling

Arsenal bounced back on Saturday against Birmingham to lift themselves temporarily up to 2nd, and now 3rd. It's strange to think that we've had quite a sticky patch of late in the league, taking only one point from a possible 9 yet here we are above Man Utd still, albeit on goal difference.

Yes here we are, sat in the dizzy heights of third after that victory over Birmingham put us above Man Utd and shortened the gap between us and Chelsea to 5 points. The first thing to discuss is the "controversial" penalty which in the world of Sky Sports was a dive but in the world of reality, sight and common sense it was a legitimate penalty. Maybe, like Arsene Wenger, I am looking at it through "Arsenal tinted glasses" as Alex McLeish put it, but as far as I'm concerned Chamakh was tripped by Scott Dann. Even Alan Hansen (A.K.A. Mr Anti- Arsenal) thought it was a penalty so there you are.

The second thing is the performance in general, and while I only have the extended highlights on Sky to go by, I feel confident in saying that it wasn't a spectacular performance but an efficient and solid one where we made the most of our chances and didn't allow Birmingham to trouble us too much. Jack Wilshere seemed to have a very good game, passing the ball fabulously and setting up the winning goal very well and looked the creative spark we might have missed with Fabregas still not in the team. He did, however, get sent off late on for a late challenge on Nikola Zigic that to be fair, in the modern climate of the game, deserved to be a red card. Which leads to my next point...

Tackling. Yes, the big, revolting "T" word. Danny Murphy opened a huge two litre bottle of worms last week with his comments on tackling and Blackburn, Stoke and Wolves. I have to say I agree with what he said. My view on the subject is that these teams are too focused on making sure they are upsetting the opposition defensively rather than offensively. Too many teams have this view that came from somewhere that tough tackling, hard and ugly football keeps you in the league whereas attacking, attractive football means dieing a terrible death in premier league terms and being relegated. I don't know where it came from but Mick McCarthy, Tony Pulis and Fat Sam all have this view that ugly, "hard but fair" football wins you games and keeps you in the division whereas attractive football loses you games and gets you relegated. Tell that to West Brom, who have just won at Arsenal and drawn at Man Utd amongst getting a load of other points along their way. Also tell it to Wigan who keep managing to stay up despite playing attacking football.

Additionally, those managers and the people in the pundit world seemed to have some trouble reading Murphy's comments as they have each come out and said that they don't go out telling their players to injure other players despite Murphy saying:
"I don't believe players are going out to break another player's leg but there has to be some logic and intelligence involved."
Overall, the point is that those managers amongst others like Alex McLeish (who is quite lucky to escape without a mention in Murphy's comments) do focus too much on telling their players to get in other players' faces and go in harder on them than they would on other players. For instance, Fabregas getting his face filled with Craig Gardner last March and oh yeah, missing the rest of the season as a result of it. Yet they have the cheek to go mental when its the other way around such as Wilshere tackling Zigic the other day.
"You get managers who are sending their teams out to stop other teams playing, which is happening more and more - the Stokes, Blackburns, Wolves."
That is the quote that is spot on for me. There's too much of that at the moment. Certain teams that are established Premier League sides such as Blackburn and Stoke need to move forward from that.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Taking a perspective view and looking at the positives

It's not all doom and gloom. I know a good performance with no result isn't good enough but you can't have a go at them. Every player did well and look at the injury situation. I'd love to see Chelsea come to the Emirates to play an Arsenal team just missing Fabregas with Cech, Terry, Lampard, Drogba and Kalou out injured. Because that's the equivalent of today's circumstances. I hgihly doubt they'd get a result and that even if they did lose play as well as we did today.

I think we have a better squad than Chelsea overall, but we suffer more from injuries and without our best three players plus other players like Walcott and Bendtner, it was a big ask to go to Stamford Bridge to play a full strength (in terms of first choice XI) Chelsea team with the exception of Lampard.  

So don't jump on the "Arsenal have a lot of the ball but Chelsea 'bully' them into defeat" because it ain't true. Arsenal didn't get bullied in this game last season, nor the season before, nor in the games at the Emirates nor today.

Additionally, we aren't out of the title race for any pessimists out there saying we are. We have a seven point disadvantage which is recoverable as we showed last year. After we lost to Chelsea in  LATE NOVEMBER last season we fell 11 points behind them. 2 months later, in JANUARY we actually overtook them and went top. So there's the evidence. At the moment it's early October and our deficit is 4 points less than last season with more time to recover.

Also, Chelsea have had easier fixtures than us so far. They still have to play us away, Liverpool away, Blackburn away, Sunderland away. All games we have already got out of the way. They also have Aston Villa away next, which is a tricky game so theres no need to fear too much.

I'll cover the details of the match more tomorrow as I've run out of time. TTFN