Thursday, September 29, 2011

Finally the dawn is upon us

Arsenal 2-1 Olympiacos 

Olympiacos is supposedly the weakest team in our Champions League group and before the game it was a popular notion that we will comfortably get past them. With raft of changes across the team, it was always going to be difficult for us to find rhythm in our passing. Song partnered BFG (Big Friendly German via Mr. Blogs) in our defence with the potato boy, Santos and Sagna on the side. Our new Brazilian had a game to forget against Blackburn and once again I was not particularly impressed with his defensive skills last night.

We started the game trying to find our footing but were easily broken down when tried to burst into the Greek side's defense. The first touch on the ball from Olympiacos resulted in a move from the left where we were lucky to not concede. It was not a pretty game in the first half much to the chagrin of Rosicky who looked completely out of sorts in the midfield. He was slow on the ball and made clumsy challenges all over the pitch. Arshavin was nowhere to be seen in the first half and most of the movement came via Oxman. His direct approach to the game is a whiff of fresh air for us fans who are frustrated with the overworked approach of Rosickys and Chamakhs to create or score goals. A peach of a pass from forward/midfielder/defender Song was deftly controlled by the youngster to lash past the goalkeeper for a fine finish and a European debut goal for Arsenal.

Olympiacos tried to open up the game immediately but were further punished in a counterattacking move when Chamakh was unable to put his boot at the end of a rolling Santos cross. Santos was on hand for the spillover and finished from a tight angle at the near post. It was the high point of the game for him as he misplaced his passes and was found short many a times for the remainder of the game. He looks more like a Brazilian winger currently deployed as a left back. Hope with time he can fine tune his radar and deliver on his defensive duties. Chamakh provided good link up play up front but was found wanting when he could have shot past the goalkeeper to make the scoreline 3-0.

We were made to pay for our naive defending when a short corner caught our defense flatfooted and Fuster was able to head the ball in from almost at the edge of the box. It was yet again an example of the lack of defensive understanding in the team. None of the player tried to prevent a short corner and Arshavin onlooked when Fuster was running in front of him to head the ball.

We were fortunate enough to not concede any more goals mainly due to our last ditch defending when Arteta cleared the ball off the line or due to Olympiacos' bad luck when Torosidis long range curling effort was denied by the woodwork. We looked short in our performance in the second half and barring a 10 minute renaissance period of Arshavin, we didn't have much to offer. The passing game didn't click yesterday which was understandable given the number of changes but few signs of complacency were visible. Sagna surprisingly looked off color and I'm worried about him for the upcoming game at WHL. He looked like a man desperately in need of rest. I hope he spends more time in the oxygen bubble until our trip to shiteland. It was a tricky game which didn't tell us anything new although it did showcase the attacking talent of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. Song once again had a massive game playing out of position and now I begin to wonder how he would fare when played as a striker. I'm sure Songinho will fare well in that position too.

Our performance lacked solidity and discipline which will be required against an outfit much better than we have faced over the last three matches since Blackburn. The game on Sunday will feature Arsene on the touchline and hopefully he will be able to cajole our players to put in a good defensive shift. With Robin in flying form, we will be able to score goals against the Yids but it's our defense which still gives me nightmares. But until Sunday, I can enjoy our third win on the trot. I can see the sun rising on the horizon and it's about time for a bright Arsenal morning.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


I thought I knew the feeling of pain well but last evening it turned out otherwise. The emotional trauma of last evening will not be forgotten for a long time. I was among the unlucky few who were not able to watch Arsenal beat Bolton 3-0. I missed Chesney's brilliant save early on. I missed Robin completing his magnificent century of goals for us and I missed Arsene celebrating with joy Song's wondrous goal. I missed the rousing chants of One Arsene Wenger from the "vocal majority" at the Emirates, I missed watching the men in Red and White play. I hope yesterday's painful experience will not be repeated in future.

As I didn't see the game live but only Match of the Day, it looked like Ramsey also had a cracker of a game and Theo is still 50-50 in 1-on-1. The point to note was that Bolton didn't have any threat up ahead on the pitch after David Wheater was sent off for pulling back Theo. It's understandable that Owen Coyle couldn't afford to be ambitious after his team was reduced to 10 men but the lack of urgency to snatch even a point was surprising. It was different from the Blackburn game where Junior Hoilett and Yakubu created problems for us with minimal attacking. Our defense was not really tested yesterday but another theory could be that we have worked on our defensive issues and have improved. I would like to believe the second hypothesis and it will be tested over the next week when we play Olympiacos and Spuds. I hope we can keep the winning momentum and make it WWW and WDL

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Déjà vu all over again

Blackburn 4-3 Arsenal


Last time I wrote about our team was after the Swansea win. We were not utterly convincing in that match but we were solid enough to grind out a decent result. That conclusion was partially vindicated when we were able to come back with a point from our European adventure away at Borussia Dortmund. It appeared that Arsenal was finally on the rise after a disappointing start to the season on the back of an equally disappointing summer. But in the aftermath of our calamitous defeat at Ewood Park, one is forced to re-analyse the Champions League game and accept that we're just plain lucky in that fixture. We were spared the blushes by some poor finishing from the current Bundesliga champion. Yesterday we notched it up a level and displayed a shambolic defensive performance.

Blackburn has already been labelled relegation fodder by the English media and for a change, they're spot on. Before the match, Blackburn had been sitting right at the bottom of the league table with just one point from their game against Fulham. Their manager, Steve Kean was facing the wrath of the fans and the players for not doing enough to build the team for the season and the resulting poor results. To give the whole situation an ironic backdrop, there were even protests against him before the game. I'm quite sure that Steve Kean would have already cleared his desk because a defeat against Arsenal was a sure eventuality. Similarly, Arsenal too would have fancied their chances against an opposition whose back was against the wall. But somehow we managed to screw it up and handed Steve Kean a lifeline.

We had Gervinho and Arshavin starting for us. The Russian has gradually started to look like the player we had signed 3 years back. There was Robin who had scored 8 goals in 10 games against Blackburn, a thorn in their side. Ramsey and Artea were in the midfield backed up by Song. It was very much a full strength frontline for us. As we always play, we bossed the possession, created many chances. Gervinho opened his account for Arsenal and so did Arteta. But then we wasted a lot many chances too. Gervinho was at fault for a blatant non-goal when he was too selfish to lay the ball for Van Persie. But still there were no signs in the first half of the upcoming doom. Blackburn started the second half brighter than us and we buckled under minimal pressure. Koscielny and Song who had an amazing game against Dortmund might want to forget their errors yesterday. Both of them gave the ball cheaply far too many times. One could argue that the balance was disturbed because of Andre Santos who was making his debut. I'm very much with that argument but then he alone didn't cost us the game. Yes he played Yakubu onside for his first goal and then created a 50-50 situation with his positioning for Yak's second but it was a collective capitulation at the back which led to the result. We were frivolous and abysmal in our defending.

Arsene argued in his press conference later that the team is missing the defensive confidence after the Old Trafford defeat but I beg to differ. We made basic defensive errors. The own goal which came off Song from Blackburn's corner, we were zonal defending! What was that all about, I thought that it went out of the league with Rafa Benitez. And then in the leadup of the second goal, Djourou commited himself on the byline when there was no need of it. Our other players were tracking back and Djourou should have just stuck himself to the Blackburn runner. The performance will not help Santos' confidence who looks promising while attacking. It was his debut game and his initial nervousness was visible. His lack of awareness could be attributed to these facts but others should have done better. Mertesacker, it appears will take more time to form a partnership with Koscielny but then he let's his man go too easy for my liking.

The game once again revealed that we have compromised on the basics. If Arsene keeps addressing the wrong question, we will never find the correct answer. We need to go back to the whiteboard/training ground and learn the basics of defending again. The most worrying outcome of the game was that we played with almost our full team and were still overcome by a lowly Blackburn unit. The few positives which one could draw are the maiden goals for Gervinho and Arteta and a sublime header from the shy Moroccan. Hope the goal can bring some much required confidence to Chamakh. But in the end it was a pathetic performance from Arsenal and probably a harbinger of the things to come this season.

Funny takeaway

Two Arsenal own goals.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Slow start of a chain reaction: finally an Arsenal win

Arsenal 1-0 Swansea


Okay it wasn't a glorious win but it was three points indeed, I would take that. We have had an abysmal start to our season, bagging just half the points as Swansea in our first three games. After our Champions League qualification, we needed something to kick-start our domestic season and there is no better way to do it than to go out and win. With Vermaelen out injured, Per made his Arsenal debut. Arteta was slotted in the midfield alongside Ramsey, Frimmers deputed for suspended Song and Kieran Gibbs made a much welcome return to the left wing. Other than that it was a regular starting line-up.

Arsenal came surging out of the blocks and Ramsey came very close to scoring when he shot high from a delectable Arteta pass. It was good to see a more flexible formation where Arshavin was also able to play centrally. In one of his moves, he set up the ball for Theo who outsprinted his marker and nudged the ball towards the goal in his run only to be cleared by a sliding Swansea defender. Arsenal was composed in the first half and as usual dominated possession. But as the game progressed, Arsenal started to look more and more labored. Swansea defended resolutely and denied space around the box. Our situation was not helped by gradually fading Arteta and clueless Ramsey who couldn't find any channel to pass. Historically there has been an unacceptable trend of away goalkeeper's having a field day at the Emirates and it looked like one of those days. But then it's natural that God start to repay us for all the pain that has been caused by Almunia's shite goalkeeping. The first payment arrived when Vorm collected Theo's miscued pass and tried to roll it to one of his players only to hit the heel of a fellow Swansea defender. Arshavin, cheeky little Russian that he is, was at hand to graciously accept the candy and shoot it right back into the goal. I was happy to see the Russian getting his due and hope that it helps him to regain his confidence and enthusiasm playing for Arsenal.

Swansea started the second half better than us, Scott Sinclair especially providing them some spark. Apart from Robin hitting the post with his curling effort, Arsenal couldn't make any notable move. It turned into a scrappy affair and I resorted to praying for Arsenal to finish the game with three points. Robin was substituted for Chamakh who had a good header denied by Vorm. Benayoun, who came on for Arshavin, spent most of his time running around the pitch aimlessly. In the end it was more comfortable than it looked and Arsenal hung to a much needed win.


Formation: What looked like 4-5-1 was a more malleable formation. Gibbs and Sagna were allowed to run as fullbacks which helped Theo and Arshavin to play more directly towards the goal. Gervinho would have caused havoc against Swansea and was missed in our attack. Arteta was disappointing with his positioning in the second half when he played too far ahead and Ramsey was made to do most of the passing. It's still early days for him and surely he will improve over the course of the season.

Defence: Thank God for Chesney. Since the start of this season, the merits of a world class goalkeeper have become quite evident. Chesney has provided a solid base for our defence which neither Fabianski nor Almunia could provide during their term as Numero Uno. Koscielny had a fantastic game at the back and appeared to possess all the qualities of an Arsenal legend. He has climbed a hill in his learning after the Carling Cup debacle and looks a matured player. Per had a patchy game but it is understandable being it was his debut. There is some way to go before he comes to term with the physicality of the English league. Gibbs appeared more confident and top quality when going forward but he is still unclear of his positioning while defending. He made some good sliding tackles and had a decent game but it's expected better from him. If he can manage to remain fit, he will face stiff competition from Santos.

Funny takeaway

Swansea player, Stephen Dobbie (14)