Later today we travel to Wales to test ourselves against Cardiff in league action. We’re still flying high after a win last weekend and a strong showing midweek in France, giving us that bit of confidence, and we know that can often decide a match. Cardiff are currently in 15th spot and have won only three matches so far this season, though one of which was against Manchester City early on. Their most recent success was against Swansea nearly a month ago.
I know very little of Cardiff’s playing style or the team likely to be selected, so I’ll focus on our likely team. I think we’ll see a couple of changes from midweek in the lineups that faced Southampton and Marseilles, mostly in the central and wide midfield roles. Walcott, newly returned from injury, came on as a sub a few days ago, but this is the kind of match that would be good for him to start in the wide right role. He’s no doubt eager to get involved, make a contribution and, really, where else would you play him? When fully fit, he’s our default starter in this position, giving us added quality on the counter attack.
I think Özil will move more centrally and play behind Giroud, where he seems to be at his best. I’ve thrown around the possibility that Wenger will rest him at some point, but I’m not convinced of this just yet (his performance has seemed a little spotty the last couple of weeks, but for a player of his caliber dropping Özil to be bench is a major decision and could affect the entire team. For now, I think he’ll start against Cardiff.
The manager is about to have some selection issues to sort through. He’ll keep Ramsey as a starter, but what about Wilshere? Jack had a great game midweek and you’d like him to build on that going forward, so you’d be hard pressed to leave him out, but where would he play? Arteta, Ramsey, and Özil are likely to start, meaning Jack would probably be pushed out to the left wing, which we know is not his best position. Then there’s the problem of Cazorla; he’s too good and influential a player to bench, and he’d likely play on the left as well (then just wait until Podolski returns from injury to complicate things further!). We’ve got the potential to have two or three super subs at this rate, neither player wanting to be a sub at all, and each getting time to start could prove problematic. For today, I think Santi will start on the bench and come on as a 65th minute sub. Hard decision, but Jack is improving greatly in the last few games as he’s returning to form.
I think we all agree this kind of selection problem is one of the better hard choices a manager can have and reflects a squad improved from last season. At least it ensures that these players all have to play their hearts out if they want to be first choice starters in their positions. I think we’ll see some heavy rotation as we get nearer the Christmas period and our regular players start to get a little weary.
Cardiff’s record hasn’t been stellar: they’ve won 3, drawn 5, and lost 4, but they are sitting fairly close to Aston Villa in the league table, and we all know what happened there back in August, not to mention Cardiff can take down “bigger” opposition, as they’ve already shown. We’re four points clear at the top with all our closest competitors playing matches of comparable difficulty, meaning we have to win this to keep our cushion as league leaders.
As you may have noticed, there has been a dearth of posting to this site lately. To be fair to those of you who read regularly, it seems lazy on my part and, to an extent it is. To be fair to me, there’s not been a whole lot to write about; we tend to complain in the bad times and that fuels the creative juices and helps produce for those of us who write about football. There has been a general good mood among Arsenal fans of late and, if I’m honest, I’ve been enjoying it from the sidelines. It feels good to be at the top of the league table and in a strong position when it comes to qualifying for the Champions League proper and shoot me for wanting to stew in these good-time, flavourful juices.
Enough of the fluff. We played Marseilles last night and came out of it with 3 points and a continued sense of positivity. The big surprise of the evening was Wilshere’s brace, something we’ve not seen at this level of play before. The young Englishman’s form has been improving steadily in the last few weeks, having been somewhat lacking since returning from that lengthy injury of his. He doubled his goal tally for the season last night, which puts him in third place among the club’s goal scorers (this is quite a feat when one considers the goal scoring talent in the team, as well as the fact it’s been a couple years since Jack has scored any goals at all). He’s making more of an impact each week, which is great to see as his place in the team has been thrown into question with the signing of Özil and the crazy ridiculous form Ramsey has been in.
Özil’s form has been questioned by a number of people lately, some suggesting he’s a bit lazy or lax in his duties (he sometimes comes across as looking fatigued or even apathetic). The other argument is that the style of game played in England is faster of pace and too much for him to handle at the moment, meaning there’s a catch up period for him to adjust. I’m more likely to side with the second interpretation, as he does have flashes of brilliance and can still create great scoring chances, even if we’ve been unlucky at times when it comes to capitalizing on them. His penalty against Marseilles last night was criticized as half-hearted with a lazy run up, which resulted in the keeper making the save, but I feel that’s a bit harsh a judgement. You’re not going to score all of your penalties as a player – it may look easy, but is never so in reality – not to mention the keeper came off his line, meaning the penalty should have been retaken anyway. If this had been the case and he scored, I highly doubt anyone would have said a word about his technique and run up.
A good game overall, even if we should have scored 3-4 goals in total. We have 12 points in our group now, but oddly enough still need another game to make qualification a reality. Let’s hope we can get the job done in Naples when the time comes.
It seems Arsenal really want to take home some silverware this season and the manager has the two biggest pieces in his sights. After being knocked out of the Capitol One Cup Tuesday by Chelsea (in what was really a poor performance by both teams), the Gunners remained at home to face Liverpool on Saturday. I hear the atmosphere for the game was massive and the fans inside the Emirates did a great job of letting the team know they have our support (something that has been lacking the last year or two). Arsenal put off a great performance in return.
Santi Cazorla, who has missed much of the season through injury, had an eye for goal, which was doubtless a boost to the fans. Cazorla contributed a first to the scoresheet (for the game and for his own season tally) in the 19th minute when he headed a ball crossed by Sagna into the post, but was quick enough to make the rebound and confidently put the ball past Simon Mignolet. Santi would try again in the first half, but would fall just short of putting the home side up 2-0.
The second goal would be, you guessed it, Aaron Ramsey’s. Early in the second half Özil flicked him a ball from the touch line that found the Welshman well outside the 18 yard box, but Ramsey pressed the trigger on his shot anyway. He was able to raise the ball over the defenders, but get a late dip on its movement and the keeper had no chance. That’s goal 10 for Aaron so far this season, and though it would be naive to think he can continue scoring at this rate through the winter, it’s a comforting thought. There are players in form in England this season, but there is no one in form right now like Aaron Ramsey.
Even though acquiring Mesut Özil was a masterstroke from the manager, it is Ramsey stepping up and being the kind of teammate he is at present that has really made the greatest impact. Of course the likes of Özil, Cazorla, Giroud, Rosicky, Arteta, and Flamini have added to the equation. No team is a single man and everyone has been pulling their weight in the early months of the Premier League competition. They’ve done well in the Champions League also, only losing to Dortmund thus far, and face it that’s not an easy game to win for any team. We go to their place midweek and look to get a result of some kind. The players should be flying high with recent performances and there is no lack of confidence at the moment.
That’s not a bad statement of form for Arsenal since the beginning of the season. In all competitions we’ve managed only one loss, that being on the opening day against Aston Villa. At the time many people thought the Villa result was predictive of a poor season ahead, but it seems it may just have been the catalyst the team needed to get their act together and produce some positive results.
My last post here was just after the Sunderland match, where Arsenal won 3-1 away with Özil making his debut by setting up a fine goal for Giroud. Since then we’ve played five matches, all encouraging in their own way: In the Champions League we faced Marseilles away and took all three points with a 2-1 win thanks to goals by Walcott and Ramsey (he seems unbeatable at the moment). Stoke at home in the league was encouraging and showed the diversity of the team (goals by Ramsey, Sagna, and Mertesacker, all three of which were assisted by Özil). In reality, you’d always expect us to come out on top at home against Stoke, but it’s never an easy tie and the performance put in by our players was fantastic and steps above the opposition. The Capital One Cup tie against West Brom was frustrating, but ultimately we got through the round on penalty kicks (shoot outs are pretty dreadful, but when you win they can be outstanding. Nacho Monreal with the winning penalty). Swansea away was out most recent league match and we won that thanks to two great goals, one from newcomer Serge Gnabry and the other, brilliantly set up by Wilshere and Giroud, was scored, again, by Ramsey. For the fifth game we were back at the Emirates in the Champions League.
Napoli is not an easy team to beat at present. They’ve a solid record with 5 wins and a draw in league play and just two points behind league leaders Roma. Rafa Benitez has done a great job acquiring new players (most notably for us Higuain) and has been coaching the team to success. It was, without a doubt, our stiffest opposition yet this season.
That said, we came out on top in brilliant fashion: a 2-0 win and one that was very confident and impressive. We bossed the game for nearly the entire 90 minutes, our midfield winning the ball back quickly and maintaining possession, while the defense made sure there were no real threats on Szczesny’s goal. Our quality on the ball was quite high with few misplaced passes (Rosicky, while playing with a lot of energy and spirit, did make a few poor choices while in possession. He’s still rusty and just returning from injury. I think he’ll do very well in the coming weeks when he gets back to his pre-injury form). Arteta was back and captaining the side and doing a fantastic job of it.
The highlights, of course, go to three sparkling players of the season thus far. Giroud made a brilliant flick to Ramsey, who charged down the right hand side of the pitch towards the goal line. The Welshman then crossed a delicious ball to Özil on the edge of the far penalty box and the German finished perfectly with his first touch. It’s his first goal for the club and a fine goal it was. The second goal was scored from close range by Giroud, who laid the ball off to Özil on the right and drew his marker centrally to make room for Özil to press in towards the goal line. At the last minute, our newest signing tapped the ball right into Giroud’s path and the rest is history.
It’s been some delightful football from us this season and, though we’re only six games in, it seems that challenging for the league is not out of our grasp. When one considers how City and United have been doing (both lost on the weekend), as well as the draw by Chelsea, things aren’t looking too bad at the moment. There’s a lot of season left to go, however, and remaining positive will be important for the players and the fans.
We’ve made it through the latest interlull, with all its boredom and lack of football, to come out the other end at the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland for our 4th Premiership game of the season. I’m sure there must have been people somewhere on the globe who tuned into the game to watch Sunderland play… I can’t really imagine why… but I suspect most people, including fans of both clubs, wanted to see what Mesut Özil would do in his first game in an Arsenal shirt. The German international certainly did not disappoint.
There was some concern he wouldn’t play or start in light of being new to the club, but more so because there were rumours he came down with a bit of a bug mid week and wasn’t feeling well. This, however, did not prevent Özil’s debut and he slotted in nicely behind the striker to become the conduit through which most of our attacking play passed. Giroud will be loving the new level of creativity the team has been lacking since before his time when Fabregas left for Barcelona. He’s scored in every league fixture thus far.
Özil showed his talents at about the ten minute mark when, after a tussle for the ball in midfield where both teams missed out, Gibbs got possession deep in the Arsenal half and fired a long ball up the pitch, having spotted the German’s run. The playmaker brought the ball down on the left wing with an exquisite first touch to control it, took a quick look centrally to spot Giroud sprinting forward, and then place a perfectly weighted and paced ball in front of the Frenchman’s left foot. It was 1-nil to the Arsenal.
Throughout the first half, Özil performed very well, creating a number of chances through Walcott, who has the pace and positioning to be dangerous, but whose finishing has been dreadful so far this season. If he had Giroud’s shooting boots on (or anyone else’s really) he would have had a hat trick at least. Walcott seemed to go for power in his shots rather than considering where it should be placed. He’s the one person in the side at the moment whom I think needs to up his game the most. There’s a lot of expectation on Theo and to be fair he did perform last season, but he needs to carry that over into the present.
I read a stat this morning that says Özil, in his first Premier League game, completed more passes in the final third (34) than any other player in the league this season. We already caught glimpses of what he will be able to do for the team, and it’s a delightful thought.
If you’re wondering where the Sunderland goal came from, it was due to a bad tackle by Koscielny in the Arsenal box, to give away a penalty. If you watch the replay you can see the area was covered and the Sunderland player couldn’t have gotten a clear shot away, nor would he likely have been able to make a threatening pass. Koscielny, using some of the worst judgement we’ve seen from him, slid in anyway. The penalty was scored by Gardner, who took it well. This poor bit of play from us led to a number of dangerous situations and gave Sunderland the confidence to put the pressure on us, in the end to no avail. Mertesacker’s organizational skills were very much missing from the team and in a game like this one it’s easy to see just how important he is to the team.
One final point I can’t overlook: Ramsey has been in solid form all season and continued that form yesterday. In addition to achieving the highest tackle success (7/7) and having 92% pass accuracy, he scored two goals to seal 3 points for the team. Regardless of how well Özil did yesterday, Ramsey deserves Man of the Match. He’s been so vital for us since preseason and if he can keep up this good run of form and stay healthy, we’ll certainly be looking dangerous come the second half of the season.
With the news we’ve received in the last couple of days, one would think I’d post immediately to comment upon it. The fact of the matter is I’m still a little in shock. For years now I’ve been conditioned to expect a series of Yaya Sanogoesque signings from the Arsenal manager during the summer transfer period, but all my prior thoughts and impressions have been turned upside down with the rather surprise signing of Mesut Özil at the very end of the window. It’s as if the sky has turned from blue to gold, the football pitch from green to stylish red and white. I can’t be the only person who feels a little taken aback at the moment.
And the reason is of course that Özil is a legitimate world class player – that rumoured, oft mentioned but rarely seen figure at our beloved club. He made a name for himself as a top player in the 2010 World Cup as he played for Germany, but has since played for Real Madrid, no small feat in and of itself, where he’s proven his “top, top quality”. The following graphic circulated on Twitter helps illustrate how important this signing can potentially be for Arsenal:
These numbers, which I’ve seen echoed elsewhere, illustrate how creative a player the German international is, creating more goals in the last few seasons than any other player in the top European leagues. That’s quite an accomplishment. He’s been more productive than Messi, or Fabregas, who many gooners (myself included) went nuts over at the beginning of the summer as a possible transfer target. His assists are impressive, but his number of key passes and chance creation is also far above others. He’s truly one of the best players in the present world game, making it quite a masterstroke of negotiation on Wenger’s part.
Many of us criticized the manager all summer for not spending and, to be fair to the fans, it was frustrating and the outrage was justified. As it turns out, Özil was part of the waiting game Arsenal played in this transfer window: in order to sign him, Spurs had to sell Bale to Real Madrid, creating the need there for funds generation gained through the sale of Özil to us. The Bale deal took longer than expected and almost went to the last moment, but once available Wenger snatched the German up as quickly as possible.
It’s a shame that the Sanogo, Flamini, and Viviano signings have been overshadowed by this most recent one, but there has been cover signed at a couple of needed positions, with the exception of centre half. I think with Flamini present and Vermaelen coming back to health we won’t be in as bad shape as we have been since the season started, relieving the stress just a little. But one thing’s for certain, Arsenal’s midfield (with an in form Ramsey, Cazorla, Rosicky, and Özil) has to be the envy of every other team in the Premier League and many across the English Channel as well.
I won’t say we’ll win the league this season, but I will say I think we’re legitimate challengers once again.
We all knew that qualification for the Champions League would be fairly straight forward after the 3-0 away win in Turkey last week, but that kind of confidence can be dangerous if the players take a lax attitude towards the competition. Thankfully this did not happen as the whole team seemed to get the importance of putting in a strong performance against Fenerbahçe at the Emirates, for their own sake and that of the fans and any potential transfer targets.
Two goals from Aaron Ramsey, both created with important work from Walcott and Gibbs, gave Arsenal the 2-0 scoreline on the night. Ramsey continues to be our best player at the moment and you can’t see a scenario, barring injury, where the manager doesn’t play him. In the two CL qualification matches Arsenal scored 5 goals, three of which were Ramsey’s. Impressive. The Welshman, along with Wilshere and Podolski, took knocks on the night, which are worrisome; Podolski will miss at least three weeks with a hamstring tear, but the state of the two midfielders is yet to be fully determined. Let’s hope they’re available for the North London Derby on Sunday.
With the business of the Champions League sorted, Wenger can now turn full attention to business of a transfer nature. He’s said repeatedly that we are a bit short on numbers and he’s looking for a couple of quality players to correct this situation. The latest news centres around Di Maria and Ozil of Real Madrid: if the Gareth Bale transfer goes through, Real will be likely to sell one or both of these other players (rumours are we’re ready to bid £60 million for the pair of them). Ozil would perhaps be the best buy we could make at the moment; his creativity is immense with some of the best numbers in all Europe over the last couple of seasons, and we could use a bit more of that at the moment. The rumour that we’re in for goalkeeper Casillas is still lingering as well.
The final bit of news is related to Chelsea’s Juan Mata. He hasn’t played a game yet this season (which has messed with my fantasy team considerably), and word is he may be leaving Chelsea if the right situation occurs. He’s a great player and I’d take him if the Real deal falls through. Arsène has denied that we are in for the spaniard, but has mentioned in the press that he rates him. One last piece of information to go with this that may or may not mean anything, is that Mata’s father was supposedly attending the CL qualifier last night as a special invited guest. There may be something in the works there. Time will tell.
Right. Our next match is Sunday against that crowd at White Hart Lane. North London is Red folks.