Monday, March 4, 2013

Basic errors cost us the derby

Spuds 2-1 Arsenal
3 Mar 2012.

Few thoughts on defensive errors:

1. 2 vs 2: When you look at Spurs team sheet, it's clear that Adebayor is their main striker with Bale playing off him. In other words, Spurs were playing with two forwards which ideally should require 3 defenders at the back. But why were we playing only with Mertesacker and Vermaelen on the two Spuds forwards? If Monreal was occupied with the winger, some one from the midfield should have provided an extra body at the back. This is a basic tactical mistake which I would blame Arsene for or whoever comes up with defensive tactics.

2. Football defending 101: In my opinion, Vermaelen was at major fault for both the goals yesterday. For the first goal, Adebayor was in front of Vermaelen and he could also see Mertesacker marking the Togolese striker. As it was clear that Spuds were playing with two forwards, Vermaelen's main worry should have been to look for Bale, and in this case, behind his back. Instead, he was caught unaware and Bale made a simple run behind him to score the first.

Now for the pressing game:

1. In initial phase of the match (first 25-30 minutes), we pressed the Spuds midfield with lot of energy and extracted many fouls and misplaced passes. But when you don't play with same energy in every game, it's natural that after some time you will get tired. Since, our team doesn't have the habit of turning up for every mixture, we soon ran out of steam and handed the advantage to Spuds. The goals resulted from mistakes in the midfield when our team was caught high up the pitch. I would once again blame the manager for not instilling the necessary discipline in the team which is required to win football matches.

Mystery of Podolski:

1. For the life of me, I can't understand not starting Podolski in such a crucial game. To some extent, we can justify that decision by our starting shape/formation. But I still can't understand not bringing him on early like 60 mins for an utterly ineffective Giroud. Apart from Theo, there was not a single Arsenal player who was running directly, from wide areas, at Spuds defence and causing some panic. When we know that Monreal can't cross and nobody will be there for Jenko's cross, running at their defence was the only viable option.

I didn't make these observations in the comfort of my couch. These thoughts were popping in my mind during the game. I'm in no way disrespecting Arsene's intelligent but when I (who can't even play Football Manager properly) can find faults and suggest improvements in our play, Arsene should be doing better. Before the game, I half-expected the derby result mainly due to our defence. Hence, I'm not terribly upset. But what drives me insane is the sheer obviousness of the problems and fixes in our game.

In the coming matches, I don't expect any wins against Bayern Munich or Everton or Swansea. I think we will drift for the rest of the season, just as we have for the most part of it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Kingdom of Joy: Henry is back

Arsenal suffered a disappointing loss in the dying minutes of the match in their last game at Craven Cottage. Our team lacked the cutting edge and a paid a heavy price for their Christmas exertions. With the dearth of goals and lack of creativity in the midfield, Arsenal was down but not out. We're buoyed by the imminent return of the King, Thierry Henry. After a lot of  yo-yoing, Titi's loan deal was completed in a typical Arsenal fashion. Most importantly, Arsene had ensured that his "best" son was eligible to start against Leeds United for a 3rd round FA cup tie.

Before the game, the excitement was palpable. There was abnormal Twitter activity and every Gooner wanted Titi to make a winning return and begin another glorious chapter in Arsenal's history. He started on the bench and for once I hoped that we don't leave the job for him. But it was as if written in the script. Arsenal produced a dominant midfield performance albeit with few half chances. Leeds defended deep and were happy to take the tie to Elland Road. Our players huffed and puffed, one got injured  but to no avail. It was as if the stars were aligning for the King to make his comeback in the most grand manner. Only 20 minutes left in the game, Arsene introduced Titi. When he came on the pitch, Titi looked very focused and determined to not let his comeback game become a dour affair. After 10 minutes, Titi scored with the side of his foot beating the keeper and curl the ball at the far post. It was a classic Thierry Henry goal and it led to celebrations at the Emirates which I've never witnessed before (not even when we beat Barca). It was a historic moment which will add to the legend of our new stadium. Titi was buzzing with adrenaline after the goal and the whole Goonerverse was chanting the name of one and only Thierry Henry.

It was one of the moments I will never forget in my life, it was something very special. The goal shows that Titi's still got that touch in him and Arsene was not wrong to sign him up for a short-term deal while he searches for a long-term solution. In his post-match interview, Titi appreciated the performance of young gunners Yennaris and Miquel who put a decent shift last night. He also mentioned about behind-the-doors Arsenal legends Tony Colbert and Paul Johnson, people who make the backbone of this glorious club. Last evening's result and the manner of the win will lift the morale of the team and strengthen our self-belief. With Gervinho away at ACN, next few run of matches along side Thierry could possibly do wonders for Arshavin.

It was one heluva night for me where I could manage only for 4 hours of sleep but it was worth it. I witnessed something magical, something which only happens in the movies. I had witnessed the Return of the King. We love you Titi and we welcome you back.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Arsenal slips at Craven Cottage, waits for the King's return

Fulham (Sidwell 85', Zamora 90') 2-1 Arsenal (Koscielny 25')

After signing off 2011 in winning style, it was time for Arsenal to begin 2012 in the most terrible way. We traveled to Craven Cottage yesterday looking for 3 sweet points only to be punched in the nuts in the dying minutes of the game. It should be noted that Arsenal had a rest of only one full day after a hard fought victory at the Emirates against a resolute QPR side. But premier league table is not very forgiving especially when it comes to the Arsenal. Our second game in 3 days meant our starting lineup was already jaded from their NYE efforts. What it lead to was a match of two halves, one which showed promise and spirit and the other where we had our back against the wall.

Despite the recent shortage of fit fullbacks, we were able to field a reasonable eleven who on paper were good enough to claim at least one away point. We hit the ground running immediately and Gervinho was presented with an opportunity at the edge of Fulham box in the first minute. Our Ivorian roadrunner had ample time to aim his shot but his strike was wayward and half-hearted. It frustrates me to see how many half chances we miss, an area where we really need to work on. It was not a clear cut goal scoring opportunity but Gervinho should have at least tested the keeper. Fulham fielded an attacking team and tried to score on counter attack. But misdirected crosses and slow pace meant they never provided a real threat to Chesney. We settled well in the game and had our first real chance when Gervinho made his typical run at Senderos. The former Arsenal defender was beaten by Gerv's trickery and bungled him over in the box. In any other league or for any other team in the premier league, it would have been a penalty. But Lee Probert, who I've never liked because he's average, once again showed why I don't like him. An incident which was a stonewalled penalty was ignored by the referee and it left Arsene fuming on the sideline. We were robbed once again of a penalty in last three games. Ramsey was our creative midfielder last evening and he didn't disappoint with his distribution. He could improve the accuracy of his passes but he showed real desire to make an impact in the game.On one of his deflected cross, Koscielny found himself in the Fulham box. The resultant header saw Frenchman scored his first goal in 2012 and his fourth goal for Arsenal. Fulham looked to equalize immediately but Koscielny made some great interceptions and one-on-one challenges which left Zamora look like some stupid muck. As the first half tailed off, Fulham grew in the game and looked to create chances through Bryan Ruiz. He almost scored after a mazy run in our box but Song made a superb sliding tackle to nip the ball off his feet. We finished the first half one goal up but the late Fulham surge meant that it was always going to be difficult to defend the most slender of the leads.

Both the teams who started the game looked completely different in the second half. Fulham attacked with more purpose and looked threatening going forward whereas Arsenal looked knackered and completely off pace. Theo who was anonymous in the first half was once again sloppy in his decision making. At times I wonder what goes on in his funny little brain whenever he gets the ball. As Fulham grew in confidence, Theo's misplaced crosses and wayward shooting only added to the pressure. There was an omen of the impending doom when Chesney came off his line needlessly on a Murphy free kick. He has had a brilliant start to this season and looked flushed after that mistake. As our work rate dropped Dembele and Ruiz grew more and more influential in the midfield. Djourou and Coquelin were made to work very hard by Fulham wingers in the second half. The intense defensive workout got the better of Djourou when he seemed to clutch his thigh, apparently due to a groin strain. He decided to play through the pain but the mild injury definitely slowed his reflexes. It immediately drew a foul out of him when he slammed into a Fulham player from the back. If only our team had an omen reader, he could have heard the alarm bells ringing. All hell eventually broke lose when Per came off the defensive line to make an interception. He was beaten off the ball and Dempsey tried to send Zamora clear who was then slightly held by Djourou. It was a definite yellow card and second for Djourou which meant that we were left with only 10 men.

The already tired players were forced to defend out of their skin and our resistance gave away eventually when Chesney, once again left his line early and flapped Alminia-esquely on a Fulham corner. The loose ball was duly buried in our goal by Sidwell and it only looked a matter of time when we would concede the second. As if to hasten that process, Arsene replaced Ramsey with Squillaci, a player so below par that no other team is willing to sign him. In the dying minutes, Squillaci with his only touch of the game, headed into the path of an unmarked Zamora who duly obliged by scoring past our hapless defense. It was the final blow of the game which brought an end to the miserable evening for Arsenal.

We not only lost the game and slipped to fifth place in the league table, we also lost another fullback which means we will be scraping at the bottom of the pan of our defensive resources, read Squillaci. But then I don't blame the player for being average or below average. It's Arsene's fault who keeps giving him chances to make our life more painful. Squillaci has never impressed with his performances and if we start him in the next game, it could only bring more misery to the team. Coquelin was impressive playing out of position at left back but was at fault for not marking Zamora for Fulham's second goal. Per Mertesacker generally looks convincing but his adventure to leave the defensive line did cost Djourou his second yellow. Per should realize that he's slow in his movements and can't attack the ball as a defender. I'm sure Chesney would be unfazed by his goalkeeping blunder but he needs to learn from the mistakes. The more worrying signs for me is in our attacking department where once again we lacked the cutting edge. Gervinho has been with us now for six months and someone should ask him to work on his shooting. Theo continues to play Jekyll and Hyde. He should also spend less time on the golf course and work on his crosses or soon The Ox will take over his position. Our attack is crying out for help, it needs a messiah. We can't call Dennis but Arsene has called back the King. Let's hope he can bring back the good times to the Arsenal. Over to you Titi.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Arsenal celebrates New Year's Eve with 3 points

It was our last game of 2011, the year where we have endured many heartbreaks with a few highs. But the lows were deeper than the highs were high. 2011 was a bittersweet year for us. We capitulated quite dramatically in the Carling Cup final, Cesc and Nasri left the club acrimoniously, our horrendous start to the season with an 8-2 drubbing at Old Trafford are just few incidents which left a bad taste in our mouth in the year 2011. But it was not all doom and gloom in the poo-filled season. There were swift summer signings of experienced internationals: Per, Arteta, Benayoun and our new  Brazilian Santos to plug the holes created by the summer departures. The new guys have now settled well and have formed a good understanding. The team looks solid and oozes mental toughness which bodes well for the second half of the season in 2012.

The recovery after initial poor results was also made easy by Robin's form. He has now gone on to score 35 goals in 2011 which is the second best in an year after Shearer's record of 36 goals in 1996. On Tuesday, Wolves gave us a tough time at the Emirates so winning the game against QPR was very important. We started the game in a circumspect way, trying to find that killer pass. But that killer pass never came in the first half and QPR created better chances. Chesney made couple of crucial saves in the first half which kept us in the game. With the absence of fullbacks, our game was narrow and the wingers were almost anonymous in the first half.

When the game resumed, QPR again looked dangerous and keen on ruining our New Year party. They played with more vigour and were running at us in numbers. But against the run of play, from one of their corner, Ramsey laid a perfect pass for Theo and sent him clear. Theo was chased by a lone QPR defender and should have rounded the keeper or chipped the ball to score. Instead he chose to shoot wide. It was a terrible miss and it shows why Arsene doesn't play him as a central striker. The team looked frustrated and our problems were exacerbated when Vermaelen started limping. He was promptly replaced by Coquelin at left back. The substitution was in fact a blessing in disguise and had an immediate impact on the game. Coquelin was able to make forward moves, overlap with Arshavin and stretch the game. Ramsey also found more space in the midfield and our distribution improved considerably. We started to create more pressure on the QPR defence and it looked like the goal was coming.

Arshavin, who started in place of Gervinho, in a typical Arsenal move, passed the ball for Robin to latch on to. The pace on the ball was just enough, thanks to the hesitation showed by QPR defender, and Robin scored at the near post. It was a beautiful goal one which will help Arshavin to exorcise the ghost of his past performances. I hope he can find back his confidence and rhythm because when he's in the groove, he's ruthless (ask any Pool fan). Theo was subsequently replaced by Gervinho who wrecked havoc in QPR's half. There were few missed chances and if Gerv can improve his shooting skills, he could be the next Drogba of premier league or even better because he doesn't dive.

We held on to our one goal lead and leapfrogged Chelsea to finish 2011 sitting fourth in the table. The players would hardly be able to enjoy the victory as they will be on the pitch again on Monday at Craven Cottage. We were not ruthless as Arteta had urged our team to be but we never lost the belief in our ability. The determination of players to win the game was laudable. I'm sure the Gooners who were at the Emirates for the game must have partied all night. Hope 2012 brings better things for Arsenal and with the return of Thierry, it certainly looks to be the case. Wish you a Happy New Year. UTA.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Return of the King

This morning when I pored over my Twitter timeline, bleary-eyed, I couldn't believe what I read. I had a feeling that this could happen but the reality of it was still surprising. For the past week there has been tremendous uproar over the possible return of the King of Highbury, to once again rule the hearts of his fans at the Emirates. So Titi's apparent approval to the loan deal was a happy shock. In fact it's the best New Year gift a Gooner could ask for. Esteemed bloggers and journalists have analyzed the pros and cons of Henry's return to the Arsenal first team, with most of them accepting his return with a rider, an extra signing. But Henry's loan deal in itself reflects the intent of Le Boss to sign any extra striker in January transfer window. I think he is reluctant to pit his wits mid-season against the cunning agents who like to milk the most of a situation and drive up the price of their employer. So when Arsene must have observed his current charges affinity towards the ever like-able Titi, he would warmed to the idea of offering the Gooner legend a short-term loan deal.

But the signoff on any kind of deal had to be done by Thierry. We could theorize that Henry wouldn't want to attach a badly assorted addendum to the glorious 8 years of his previous Arsenal career. But as Titi said himself that when it comes to Arsenal his heart speaks first. He could see that Arsenal's form is sagging and he could make significant contribution towards the success of the team. As we have seen before that Sol and Jens didn't disappoint on their return, so we would not be mad to expect some thing substantial out of Titi. I hope the final terms of the loan deal are agreed so that we can once again see our most successful player in the red and white jersey we love. We welcome back Titi, it's The Return of the King.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

He scores when he wants, gift from Robin on Arsenal's 125th anniversary

A long Friday night of drunken revelries and a subsequent all-nighter set a red-eyed stage for me before the Arsenal's 125th anniversary celebration game against Everton. A cat nap right before the KO was not a good idea as I was left at the mercy of online Gooners to provide me a working stream (damn you ESPNStar). And with the help of the ever resourceful Gooner community, I was able to find a lovely streaming link in time to catch the players coming out of the tunnel. The Emirates looked beautiful and had a festive touch to it. Gooners present in the stadium were chanting at the peak of their voices and it did raise some goosebumps. The Arsenal team was as strong as we could have fielded with Djourou playing on the right, allowing Koscielny to partner BFG in the center. Vermaelen marshaled the left flank and did a wonderful job. He never let Shameless Coleman to deliver a single cross. Last year's Arsenal team needed players who would always give their 100 percent on the pitch, irrespective of the position they play in and Vermaelen is such a player. He stuck to the task and didn't allow any opening from the left. Although some of his back passes were dodgy but Koscielny managed to tidy them up every time. When Sagna comes back, I would  love to see the four of our best defensive players operating in front of our goal. Even with Djourou's nervous play, our defense looked formidable.

Everton played with only Louis Saha up front and defended deep. They packed their midfield but left the flanks weaker which allowed Gervinho and Theo to make constant attacks during the game. There were many missed opportunities in the first half, some which could even be labelled as stupid mistakes. Gervinho needs to work on his shooting skill which has let him down in last many matches. In 1-on-1 situation he always look short of ideas and such callousness in front of the goal could be costly at the business end of the season. Right now is the time to improve on this aspect of our game. When Robin seemed to be having an off day, it was the duty of our other offensive players to step up their game. Theo had other ideas though. It appears that he relishes his role of a provider so much that he's ready to give up entirely on shooting. He should realize that if he wants to emulate Henry, he will have to shoot when in 1-on-1 situations. We wasted many simple chances in the first half and I began to worry if it would bite us back in the arse. But gladly, the first half finished without a goal.

In the second half Everton looked more assured and even started to fancy their chances against an Arsenal side which couldn't score. Ramsey looked off the mark again with his overhit through balls. With Arteta settling in well along side Song, I believe Ramsey could be in direct competition with Jack after his return. The player who has massively impressed me this season is Alexandre Dimitri Song Billong. He has become an integral part of our defense as well as our attack. Along with Arteta, he's the most hard-working player on the pitch, huffing and puffing from box to box. His over the defender pass for Robin's goal was a thing of beauty. And what can you say about the strike which followed from the left of the maestro, Robin van Persie. It was majestic, sublime and a strike from a genius. It reminded us of Robin's full blooded long range volley against Charlton Athletic. But last evening's strike had more nous, more artistic touch to it, it was like music. The goal was a perfect gift to the club on it's 125th anniversary from one of it's greatest players. The game will be remembered for the goal, the goal when Robin struck the most beautiful of volleys from his left foot.

We have come of age as a squad and our first team is among the best in the continent. When this team faced the challenge of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, they came out on top. The next major challenge will be provided by the trip away to Manchester City on the next Sunday. After their recent exit from Champions League, Manchester City will have their mind set on winning the maiden Premier League title. Currently the only team who can throw a spanner in their works is Arsenal. If we can come back with a point from the game next Sunday, it will be the continuation of The Arsenal's 125th anniversary celebrations.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

This is the new Arsenal: we're back on track

The curse of Wigan away has been broken. The series of 4 games without victory has stopped. On a very wet day, when the going was tough, our team came up with the goods and emerged with a brilliant result. We have now taken 19 points from the last 21 available, the two being dropped against Fulham at home. We started the game with our strongest line-up and as expected Roberto Martinez packed Wigan's midfield. The first 15 minutes saw the Latics' pressing hard for the ball. Their 'smash and grab' game produced a great chance which was wasted by Jordi Gomez. But as their initial enthusiasm diminished, Arsenal found it's footing and started to dominate the proceedings. Arteta was the key figure in the midfield as Ramsey was given the licence to make forward runs. He stretched the play with his accurate passing and bossed the midfield. It appears that Mikel has finally found his rhythm and has developed a good understanding with the team. His confidence must have received a further boost when Al Habsi was not able to spot his long range strike which gave Arsenal the first goal of the game. Due to Theo and Gervinho's pace, Wigan was forced to defend deep which provided ample space for Arteta to run into and tee up for the long range shot. The first goal also calmed Arsenal's nerves if any. The team only grew in confidence and immediately struck again with the second goal via Vermaelen from a corner. It was a perfect delivery from Robin for Vermaelen who did well to beat his markers for the header. One could argue that his goal was a result of bad defending from Wigan but then every goal from a set piece is like that. When the talk of Arsenal being a one man team was rife, the first two goals was the perfect way to silence the critics, something which this Arsenal team is becoming very good at.

Arsenal continued their dominance when the game resumed. Gervinho who was average in the first half finally found some luck when he scored on a rebound. He was disappointing in the first half with his positioning and passing and looked set to continue his recent dismal form. But he was once again saved the criticism when he found the ball in his path after Robin's shot was parried by Al Habsi. He scoffed at the ball but then it was impossible to not score from couple of yards out. Gervinho's game has been visibly on the down after a spirited start to the Premier League campaign. He doesn't have to look far for inspiration as his teammate Theo has gradually set himself on the path of becoming a legendary wide player. Theo's work ethic, his positional sense, his passing and crosses have improved remarkably. He now has a matured air about him and oozes confidence. He has become Robin to Robin's Batman. They have formed a deadly strike partnership and were once again at it for Arsenal's fourth goal. Theo could have scored the goal himself but he rather set it up for Robin who actually did quite well to score from the wobbly pass. Robin's racing towards Alan Shearer's record of maximum league goals in a calendar year and we just need to see by how many is the record improved.

At the back, Mertesacker and Vermaelen looked comfortable and confident in their approach. Our BFG has settled well to the life in Premier League and barring his goof up at Carrow Road, his defensive performance in the last few games has been top class. Similarly Verminator has found back his form after making a return from a long injury layoff. He likes to go forward and as the season progresses, we will see many more goals from him. The left back department still remains a concern. Santos could be amazing going forward but his foremost duty is as a defender. He seems to be working on getting his position right but he's too slow to turn. He frequently gets caught flat-footed and even an average winger could give him a run for his money. Song has adjusted his game well to cover for Santos whenever he goes forward. But Song's move to the back four creates a hole in the midfield which is not filled fast enough by the backtracking Santos. Until now, we haven't been in trouble because of this specific handicap but a quality opposition will surely take advantage of the situation.

Overall it was a great performance from our boys on a very wet afternoon. We're not able to impose ourselves from the beginning but gradually we tightened our stranglehold over the Wigan side. Let's hope we can continue our juggernaut and keep climbing up the league table.