Give Us A Fighting Chance

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Wiltooooooord

If you use a free classifieds web to search for the name Sylvain Wiltord, I bet you can still find memorabilia of him still available for purchase. Probably most famous for the goal at Old Trafford (if you’re the Arsenal persuasion) or that one in Euro 2000 (if you’re the France persuasion), Wiltord did what was needed of him to ensure that he goes down in the history books as one of major influencers for both teams. What interest me is the season which he was signed by Arsene Wenger.

That came about in season 2000/01. Wiltord arrived at the club that boasted the free-scoring talent of one Thierry Henry, the magnificent Dennis Bergkamp and the mercurial Nwankwo Kanu. 3 players who in their own right, were capable of winning football matches on their own. Yet, the manager saw fit to add Wiltord to the fold. Perhaps, the opportunity was there whether it being Wiltord was available or otherwise but the fact remains that the French international was signed when we already have 3 big names playing up front.

In the following season, Francis Jeffers was added to the squad. On hindsight, it can certainly be argued that the former Everton striker fluffed his lines at Arsenal. That he was no more than an expensive failure. However, Jeffers did have a very good start to his career at the Merseyside club and was widely looked as the solution to the problem that we were facing.

No striker was bought in the 2002/03 season and that remains throughout the summer 2003/04 season. However, by the time the January transfer window came around, Wenger still went out to get Jose Antonio Reyes. Needs repeating that at the time we had Bergkamp, Henry, Kanu, Wiltord and Jeffers in the squad. Despite the embarrassment of riches up front, Wenger still wanted Reyes to complement the team. We are not going to argue whether Reyes plays deeper or wider. Arsenal still played with 2 up front and that’s enough for this part of the discussion.

Maybe Wenger during that period, likes to collect strikers. Or perhaps, the situation was very different then in that we still had the upper hand compared to other English clubs in terms of scouting and contacts to other European countries. It’s a different era and manner of working these days but it’s baffling all the same how the manager’s perception could have changed so much in these 10 or so years.

We are now depending on Olivier Giroud, Nicklas Bendtner and Yaya Sanogo (by all means, add Lukas Podolski to the list) to win us the Premier League title. If the aforementioned group from a decade ago needed reinforcement, it is almost impossible to convince that the strikers of 2013/14 season, doesn’t need help. Two transfer windows have come and gone where we failed to bring in reinforcement up front. I refuse to believe that there are no options better than the above 3, if not 4 names.

Maybe it’s longer term thinking. That by the time summer comes along, we would be chasing bigger and much better targets instead of just getting some in who is half the talent. I tend to think that if we could get someone in just to give us the final push towards the title, I’d want the manager to do it. Even if this player could only produce for a short 6 months before being overshadowed by whoever that the we intended to bring in by June/July.

We have come so far in the season and led the table for a big chunk of the season. To see it all go for nought, will be devastating. For the quiet years since Patrick Viera lifting the trophy, this season has actually been very liberating. It is such a joy to see our results impacting the leadership of the table on a weekly basis. While it can still be considered an improvement, to let the title slip from our grasp would still be very disappointing.

On Saturday, Sanogo had a chance to level the score right at the death. He skied the ball high over the cross bar. Better strikers like Karim Benzema and Edin Dzeko have missed those chances before. I’m not speaking of one match or one incident in particular. It’s unfair to lay the blame on Sanogo or whether he is a good or bad player based on one particular moment in a single match. What I’m trying to show is the disparity between choices a decade ago and now.

It would unfair to ask for the same quality of strikers to that of Bergkamp and Henry but is it not justifiable to ask for more options to give ourselves a fighting chance?

Go Forth To Crush The Baggies

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Going to need two, to stop this man

Tonight will be the second meeting for The Arsenal against West Brom this season, and unlike 2 weeks ago, the personnel involved are likely to be very different. That was the Capital One Cup and this is the Premier League. A league in which we could return to the top if we win tonight’s match. With next week being an international break, there’s no reason to suggest anything but the best available first XI being fielded by both sides.

WBA Arsenal
Table position 12 2
Form Unbeaten in last 3 matches. Beat United last week. Already lost twice this season Unbeaten in 8 matches in all competitions. Won 7 of it. Won on penalties in the other
Injured Late test : Sessegnon, Anichebe, Morrison, Long, Anelka, Brunt
Out : Sinclair, Gera, Vydra, Foster, Thorne
Out : Sagna, Walcott, Cazorla, Sanogo, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Diaby

Effectively, I think we’re going to field almost exactly the same players as the last match against Napoli. The only uncertainty is whether Jack Wilshere gets back into the starting line-up ahead of Tomas Rosicky. Which I think could happen, given that the Czech only just returned from injury and 2 games in a few days might not be the best for his recovery. The other change would be an enforced one  with Carl Jenkinson coming in for the injured Bacary Sagna.

The Wilshere smoking thing has been blown out of proportion. Lots of players smoke and it doesn’t necessarily affects their game. That said, it was stupid of Wilshere to do it in public and stupid of him to respond in that manner on Twitter. I wish all players are disciplined like Dennis Bergkamp and finds no trouble outside of the pitch but I can understand that no two players are ever the same. Some people live their lives in a certain manner and as long as their contribute on the pitch, I have little complains.

The team is riding on a crest of confidence from the good run that we’re having and it’s a shame that the international matches are on next week. Without doubt that the first 45 minutes against Napoli was the best half we’ve produced this season. It’s Wengerball, no other description will give it justice. To be able to mix that up with the second half showing of absolute control, goes to show how far the team has matured.

Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, Mathieu Flamini and Olivier Giroud are all on good form and the same players will be expected to perform. If usually, we only have 1 player being in excellent form at one time, it gives great pleasure to see a few players being a great run together. Makes it just that little harder for the opponent to pin down a target to control.

As their result last week at Old Trafford proved, WBA won’t be a pushover. While the current Manchester United side is not the best they have in Premier League history, they are still a formidable side. For Steve Clarke to be able to take his men there and take the game to United, deserved a lot of praise. Stephane Sessegnon is slowly but surely becoming a very important player for WBA, in the roaming role behind the lone striker.

Key battles

Saido Berahino v Carl Jenkinson The 20 year old forward scored at Old Trafford and had a good run in the League Cup. Jenkinson will have to keep up with his pace and trickery, perhaps for one match, entirely disregarding his attacking duties.
Claudio Yacob v Aaron Ramsey The Argentine can be a tough tackler when he needs to be and that’s something Ramsey needs to be wary off. That said, physically Ramsey is at a different level and Yacob may have a hard time trying to follow him around. May switch between sometimes with Mulumbu.
Liam Ridgewell s v Mesut Ozil Ridgewell gave Walcott the rough treatment the last few times both teams met and might give Ozil the same. Only one winner here, only if Ozil accepts the possible physical nature of the battle and not shy out of it.

This is no easy but it’s hard not to be confident that we could take all 3 points. It’s another away game and the team can draw confidence from our magnificent away run since that match at the Allianz Arena. We can’t let our hopes go to smoke this soon. Up The Arsenal.

We Have A Gap

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Big big day for the youngster

It was a Serge forward
I said yesterday that I didn’t think Serge Gnabry will start at Swansea because of his midweek involvement and I couldn’t be more wrong. It was one of those times that I’m more than happy to be wrong. Gnabry was selected to start and perhaps the young age played a part in how quickly he recovered from his midweek exertions. His performance yesterday proved that we have plenty to be excited about with his prospect and the manner in which he took his goal was definitely encouraging. If little else, it does show that when Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain comes back, there are genuine competition for places.

Momentum was continued
Given how the results in the other matches yesterday, it was extremely important that we take full advantage of it. None of our closest challengers picked up full points and we’ve opened up some gap by continuing our amazing run of away wins in the league. Two points ahead of that team, 4 ahead of Chelsea, 5 ahead of Manchester City and 8 points ahead of Manchester United. Even at this stage of the season, that is no small distance to be putting ourselves in front of the others. For the team though, they don’t really have to look at the table just yet. What is important for them is to harness the confidence that we’ve built up and use it to continue to win matches and the rest will come along.

It’s that Welsh midfielder again
Aaron Ramsey continues to perform and it would be to the amazement of everyone if he doesn’t win Premier League’s player of the month award. His awareness of where Gnabry was, in creating the opening goal was wonderful to see. As for our second and the goal scored by him, it just highlights the calmness he has in his game now. If previously, he might have snatched at that chance, Ramsey is now better in assessing the situation and the extra touch he took before hitting the shot proved just that.

Swansea will continue to do well this season
Of all the teams that we’ve played this season, Swansea have been the toughest opponent. Which is to be expected, given what we know of them. They were organised in defending with good movement and interchange of positions going forward. It was difficult for us in the first half as they managed to stifle our creative midfielders and close down the space that we were seeking. Mesut Ozil rarely had time to himself and like the rest of his team mates, were constantly and quickly closed down.

Extra rest days counted in the second half
All but 2 of our XI,  played at the Hawthorns. Swansea had 4 players who played against Birmingham in midweek and were without the service of Leon Britton. It’s only a marginal difference in the numbers but it counted. In the second half, we were just that half a yard of pace faster than them. Quicker in the passing and quicker in the closing down. Swansea couldn’t live with us and the two goals were the result of that.

Then we got sloppy
Satisfied with the two goals lead and the control we have over the match (perhaps even Napoli playing on the minds), we took our foot off the pedal and went into auto cruise mode. Lapse of concentration was the reason why Swansea managed to halve the deficit. The manner in which Ben Davies was allowed to burst past a few players, is something of a concern. By the 2nd or 3rd player, someone should have already fouled him.

But we held on for the win
After conceding the goal, you could see that the whole team pulled themselves back together and wasn’t going to allow the home side the chance to get level. We’ve developed this new found resistance and strength to close out matches and it is hard to fault them in that regard. Another away win, another 3 points and this adds to the magnificent response that the team has produced since the opening day defeat. From a supporter’s point of view, hard not to look at the league table and be more than a little excited.

No Serge Forward

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Samurai scores

Few things to get off the chest ahead of Arsenal’s visit to the Liberty Stadium tonight, to play Swansea.

3 points at Stade Velodrome
Not the most vintage Arsenal performance. Gave the ball away a lot (intentionally or otherwise, open for debate). Despite that, still defended as well as we could. The most important of wins as any away win in this tough Champions League will be a huge advantage comes end of the group stage.

Home joy
There’s winning and there’s taking the piss while winning. We certainly did the latter as 3 set piece goals sent Stoke packing. I can’t remember a bigger piss-take in recent football memory. It’s wonderful to see that we are able to mix it up when required and are able to find other avenues to goal when the normal slick passing route doesn’t work.

Return of the samurai
Ok, it’s Nicklas Bendtner but we got to admit the similarity there. Only went through on penalties and given the options we put out in attacking positions, it was no surprise to find that we were lacking creativity up front. May just be a League Cup third round but to the youngsters in their first penalty shoot-out for the senior squad, it’s still a daunting experience. Took plenty of guts to step up, let alone convert those penalties.

Best Wales player, going to Wales
Aaron Ramsey will return to Wales for the match against Swansea as the best player in the Arsenal squad at the moment. It’s hard not to be incredibly proud of the young midfielder who has fought through numerous barriers to be where he is today. On form, he could very well be the best player in the world right now but that is only temporary. For him to really establish himself, he knows he has to produce this high level of performance throughout the entire season. At the moment he has made himself indispensable and would surely start tonight.

Laudrup’s men are a serious threat
While we are undoubtedly the team in form, Swansea away is not the easiest of ties, no matter the form. Michael Laudrup has whipped up a good concoction for his team and looks to be an improved version of Brendan Roger’s former side. Three main threats for me, Michu – Wilfried Bony – Jonathan De Guzman. Michu likes to roam (no, not that type) and between Flamini/Arteta and the centre backs, someone has to give the orders on who to pick him up. De Guzman pops up in good positions just outside the penalty box and his battle with Ramsey, will be a good contest.

Stopping the Serge Forward
Given the Serge Gnabry played the full 120 minutes at the Hawthorns, it is unlikely that he will start tonight. If I’m a betting man (which I am), I’ll have my money on Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta starting together which will mean that Mesut Ozil goes to wide right to fill in for the injured Theo Walcott. Maybe that’s why pictures of Robert Pires training with Ozil have emerged (only kidding). My other thought was the Ignacio Monreal to come in on the left but he also played the full 120 minutes in midweek.

Continuing the momentum
Napoli at home next week is crucial to our hopes of advancing past the group stage of the CL but today’s fixture cannot be underestimated. We’re on a good run of form and we need to continue that run. Only by continuously winning, can the team believe in their talents and create that insatiable hunger to keep hunting down more victories. More than most, a win tonight will keep us on top of the league for another whole week. I’m sure we all want that.

Up The Arsenal!

 

The Place Where Bergkamp Scored That Goal

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The single greatest moment in Stade Velodrome history

Champions League, the pinnacle for European club football and perhaps, even world football. It returned yesterday but for the likes of us, it only really starts today. South of France is the destination as Arsenal kicks off our CL campaign with a trip to Marseille. It’s a familiar location as it will be our second visit there under Arsene Wenger. The last time around, Aaron Ramsey decided the tie with a last minute goal and looks likely to feature heavily this time around too.

His consistency of his performance since the start of the season has made Ramsey our most in-form player. Barring any last minute changes, the Welshman is a nailed-on starter in tonight’s opening match of Group D. He may not have heard or know of the criticism about him from the masses last season but if he had, he certainly has responded in the best ever fashion, by keeping mum and kept on producing the goods on the pitch.

While Ramsey will provide the drive for the team, not fazed to dribble forward with the ball and taking on players,  the guile is most likely produced by the latest (marquee) signing. Mesut Ozil was seamless in his adaptation to this Arsenal side on his debut last Saturday. Taking into account that he was probably 50 – 70% fit because of his illness, it was more than an encouraging first run-out.

With Santi Cazorla nursing a not-short and not-long (also known as middle) term injury, the onus is on the German playmaker to be the fulcrum of our creativity until the Spaniard comes back to share the role. I doubt that the Marseille defence will be as lax as the Sunderland version of it despite them having the same home record as us this season in the league. Which is one defeat and one win.

The good news on the injury front, are the availability of Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud, both equally important to the cause. We saw how the defence suffered in the absence of the German and his organisation at the back will be needed against one of France’s best sides. As for Giroud, he remains the only senior striker that we have that we can put out. No, I do not consider Theo Walcott a striker, nor do I think that Chuba Akpom can produce the same output, despite his promise.

Normally, I wouldn’t want to rush players back in case there’s a further set-back. However, given how the group was drawn out, it goes without saying that it will serve us well to get maximum points out of what is perceived as the weakest link in the group, in Marseille. The other 2 teams in Napoli and particularly Borussia Dortmund are rightly considered much tougher proposition due to the personnel they have in their squad. 6 points from the Marseille games plus maybe 2 home wins against the other 2, and we will sail out of the toughest CL group we’ve had in ages.

It is good to have Thomas Vermaelen back but given that the captain only just played a few minutes on Saturday and haven’t been first choice for the team since the 2nd quarter of the year, it would be a big gamble to start him. That should mean a return of the Mertesacker-Koscielny axis and that on its own, is encouraging enough. My concern lies more with Jack Wilshere. After being told that we are going to be cautious with him, it seems that Roy Hodgson is doing more in limiting his playing time than Wenger. Yet again, we have to use him because of the paucity in numbers.

Marseille didn’t lose anyone that was pivotal to them last season. Mathieu Valbuena is still at the club, so are the likes of Steve Mandanda and Andre Ayew. They have even managed to add Florian Thauvin and Dimitri Payet into the squad. Which is to say that despite them being the weakest link in the group, we only write them off at our own peril. There can be no taking lightly of the opponent from our players and hopefully that weak period we saw during the start of the second half against Sunderland, doesn’t crop up either.

This is the place where Dennis Bergkamp scored that goal. Plucking the ball in mid-air to send Netherlands through to the semifinals. We don’t need that kind of magic tonight. Even a scrappy 1-0 win, with no one getting injured is fine by me.

Up The Arsenal.

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