Monday, 25 February 2013

Super Santi vital for Arsenal as derby day approaches

Saturday's game truly illustrated the amazing talent of Santi Cazorla, as the Spaniard gave yet another sizzling display of his technical skill, as well as his inner fight, in what is becoming an amazing first season for him.

The 27 year old was the heartbeat of the Arsenal side going forward, and his two goals were exactly what the doctor ordered as Arsenal struggled to overcome their opponents. As soon as the Cazrola signing was announced this summer, everyone was full of excitement. This was perhaps the best, biggest name signing for the past 4 or 5 years.

Its not often that Arsenal's 62 year old manager gets so obviously excited by a new signing. But when you get to work with a player of exceptional technical ability, and who evidently enjoys every second of the game, it becomes hard to not recognise the childish adulation Wenger has for Cazorla.

Speaking following the Aston Villa game, Wenger reflected: “I did not expect him to score so many goals, because there are still 11 games to go so he could get a few more.“For me he is a complete player because he also has spirit. He continued to fight until the last minute even though he was a bit tired.

“He is a good example to follow because every day he is happy to come and play and practice. When he is on the pitch he gives you everything.“He is a great player, which you have noticed since the start of the season. I am happy and grateful he delivered two important goals today.”

The two goals have seen Santi reach 11 goals this term, to go with his 6 assists. For a debut season in the Premier League, its hard to find someone who has made more of an instant impact.

Cazorla has cited the "spanish style" of Arsenal's game as the key reason for his quick adaption, as it allows him to use his passing ability. Saturday saw Santi complete 90% of his passes, just above his season average of 87%, with the vast majority being in the final third.The 27 year old also averages 2.4 key passes per game, a total among the highest in the league.

Today, his Arsenal teammates spoke of their admiration for Cazorla, relishing the ease at which he plays the game.Speaking to Arsenal player, Per Mertesacker said “He is the perfect footballer. He has the technique to score goals and that’s what we need after losing the last two home games."

On a similar note, his fellow countryman, Mikel Arteta picked up on how easily Cazorla has settled into this Arsenal side. “I think he’s been outstanding,” Arteta said. “He’s played almost every game and, the way he plays, he takes a lot of knocks and plays a demanding game physically as well. To adapt to the Premier League in his first year and do what he’s doing, I think we have to clap him. He deserves that.

“I think he [Cazorla] needed a few goals like that. He helped the team to earn the points today. He was outstanding - his overall play as well. He was involved in many areas of the pitch today and he’s a top player."

Cazorla has been deployed predominantly in the number 10 role this year, using his technique, dribbling skills an vision to create numerous chances for the forwards ahead of him.

However, more recently Arsene has pushed Jack Wilshere into a more advanced role, with the Spanish talisman featuring on the left hand side for the Gunners, with the freedom to maneuver his way around the pitch as he wishes. This has allowed Arsenal to gain more potency as an attacking force, with Wilshere and Cazorla illustrating their skills and linking up well together.

Arteta went on to pick up on the strength of the Arsenal line up with Santi playing out wide, saying, “He seems to be comfortable when he plays off the left. He’s got a lot of freedom and he causes problems to the other teams because we can use the extra man in midfield."“I think he’s a player that can make the difference with his ability. I think Jack’s another one of them that has something special that can decide a game or can unlock a door when the game is really tight, as he did today with the ball to Nacho. For us, they are very important players."

There is no doubt that Cazorla is one of our most important players, especially considering that in games where he has been at his best, Arsenal have tended to dominate.Yet, there is definitely still more to come from the silky Spaniard. Despite his impressive tally of goals and assists, there have been numerous chances squandered by the diminutive playmaker, and he could have easily reached 15 goals and 10 assists by this stage of the season.

Moreover, we are yet to see Cazorla dominate in the big fixtures, against the sides competing with us at the top of the league. In fact, many have stated that he has gone missing in these massively important fixtures.

Whilst I personally would not go that far, we are definitely inclined to ask more from Santi in these types of matches. Other than a consolation goal against United at Old Trafford - albeit one which was superbly taken - and a somewhat impressive second half display at the Bridge, we haven't seen enough of the Spaniard, especially considering the talent at his disposal.

However Sunday offers him a chance to make up for all that, in what is going to be the biggest game of our season. A goal against Tottenham, and an outstanding performance to go with it will perhaps write his name into Gunners folklore, as well as giving him the confidence to kick on for the rest of the season and drive the Gunners into next years Champions League.

Come on Santi. Come on Arsenal.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Arsenal 1-0 Aston Villa - player ratings and performance analysis

Arsenal just about did enough for the three points yesterday, as two Santi strikes led them to victory.

My reaction to the game is available here:

Player Ratings

Szczesny 4
Jenkinson 6.5
Vermaelen 6
Mertesacker 6
Monreal 7
Arteta 6
Wilshere 6.5
Diaby 6
Walcott 5
Cazorla 8.5
Giroud 5.5

Ramsey 7
Podolski 5
Koscielny NA

Szczesny continued to struggle. Yesterday's error was his third successive mistake in consecutive games. He is starting to make costly mistakes and need to improve if we are to get 4th.

Jenkinson put in a solid shift at right back in place of the injured Sagna. He put in a great defensive shift, completely nullifying the threat of Agbonlahor. As the game continued, he became more involved going forward and was quite unlucky to get substituted.

Vermaelen is still some way off his best form. He put in a much better performance than against Bayern, but truth be told he was rarely tested by Benteke and co.

Mertesacker was perhaps the better of the two centre backs, but like Vermaelen is nowhere near the top of his game. Came close with a few headers, and seemed quite solid at the back, but rarely tested.

Monreal is continuing to settle with every game. Had some difficulty dealing with Weimann at times who was Villa's main (only) threat. Maybe could have closed down the ball for their goal, but made up for it later. A great cut back for Cazorla helped seal the win.

Arteta continued to put in a solid shift. A great link between defence and midfield, he completed 94% of passes and made 7 interceptions which illustrates his effect on the side. Could possibly become more of an attacking threat, but does his job well.

Wilshere maybe wasn't at his very best yesterday, but was still integral to our attacking movement. Had a few chances to score and possibly he should have scored.

Diaby put in a decent shift before being substituted. He may have picked up another injury which is incredibly disappointing for him. He keeps the ball well, and his physical presence is much welcomed. Sometimes he does slow down the game though.

Walcott definitely didn't have his best game for the club. Seemingly nonexistent for much of the game, he did start to contribute in the last 15 minutes. Was maybe lucky to stay on the pitch though, and can't play like that next week.

Cazorla was simply outstanding for us. Continually found himself with time and space, and constantly created chances. He simply loves playing football and when he's on top of his game he's an absolute joy to watch. Took both of his goals well, and had some finishing been better he could have ended up with some assists. A top game from a top player.

Giroud was somewhat disappointing. He was definitely our major threat, and constantly caused problems for the Villa defenders. Better finishing would have made the game a lot easier. He does tend to have games where he can't score for love nor money, but hopefully he will regain form soon.


Ramsey replaced Diaby with half an hour remaining and continued to show that he is getting back to top form. He injected energy and creativity into our midfield, and even had to put in a shift at right back again. Ramsey is always 100% effort, and possibly should have started the game in place of Diaby.

Podolski was largely disappointing when he entered the fray. Struggled to make an influence on the game and could have done better with some half chances. Needs to improve him form as he will be needed next Sunday.

Koscielny only played the last few minutes so doesn't receive a rating.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Arsenal struggle to overcome Villa

A win is a win, and the three points gained are a much needed boost to the squad following the week we've just had.

But there wasn't much to be pleased with other than the result.

Saturday was another afternoon spent in a nervy, anxious, agitated daze, as - in a typical Arsenal manner - we preceded to make a seemingly easy fixture much harder than necessary.

As Wenger illustrated in his pot match press conference, the start was quite tentative from the Gunners. Despite an early goal from Cazorla, his tenth of the season, Arsenal confined to struggle to assert themselves.

The passing was quite restricted, and the attacking players struggled. Jack was not quite at his usual standard, whilst Giroud and Walcott failed to get involved in the game, the latter being almost non existent for large periods of the 90.

As we struggled to dominate, Aston Villa started to cause problems in and around our beleaguered defence.

Weimann gave Monreal a lot of problems, whilst the pace of Agbonlahor and N'Zogbia gave us a lot of difficulty through quick counter attacks. In fact we were quite lucky that Benteke was not at his best, as Villa squandered a few chances before the half was out.

However, as we see on such a regular basis this season, the second half was started with much more of an impetus from the Gunners.

In the first 10 minutes of the 2nd half, Arsenal really took the initiative, showing almost as much desire as they had in the entire first half.

Cazorla was starting to dominate, spraying beautiful passes around as Villa simply couldn't get near him. Giroud was clearly the main threat, but seemed to lack support in attack, again highlighting the lack of option we have available up front right now.

As we attacked with more conviction, the corners came thick and fast. But time and time again we squandered the opportunities.

And it was costly.

After yet another wasted corner, Villa countered and we were left short at the back. Bu inexplicably Weimann was allowed to carry the ball forward for almost 40 yards without a single challenge coming in from a player in red and white. Noone got anywhere near him, and as he approached the edge of the area he let fly with a speculative shot. It was a shot that should have been saved, but Szczesny let slip through his arms as it nestled into the bottom left hand corner.

1-1 and the groans from disgruntled home fans were loud and clear. More of the same defensive errors were proving costly, as our slender grip on the top four was slowly fading away.

But credit to the players, as they truly went for it. Wenger took of Jenkinson for Podolski, as Ramsey was slotted in at right back. It was the start of an onslaught on the Villa goal.

The build up was with more conviction, and clear chances followed. Giroud hit the bar from a corner, before Mertesacker headed just wide. Whilst Podolski maybe could have done better following clever play from, at first, Cazorla then Walcott.

It was starting to seem like we were going to have one of those days. And agains a very poor Villa side it was going to be more disappointing then most.

However, with four minutes left, Cazorla came up with the goods. Arteta found Wilshere, who chipped a ball forward into the path of Monreal. The Left back was unfazed, and unlike other players yesterday, produced a ball of real quality, cutting the ball back to his Spanish international teammate who duly delivered.

It was the second of the day for Santi, who has done amazing for us considering its his first season in English football.

He was the one player who attacked with conviction throughout the game yesterday. He constantly had time and space when others struggled, and it was bound to be him that came up with the vital winner.

The performance may not have been great, and we didn't exactly see a major reaction from the squad following the dismal week we've just finished. But those three points picked up today will be vital in our chase for forth place.

After the game, Wenger expressed his delight at seeing his team return to wining ways.

“I am not here to lose games, I want win. We are in a catch-up situation and we depend a little bit on the results of the other teams but vastly on our consistency.

“The key for us is to be consistent and that is why today a draw would have been a very, very bad result for us.

“We cannot drop points, I have said that many times after the Chelsea game. That is what is in our minds, no matter where we go and who we play.”

Frankly he is exactly right. We can't afford any dropped points. Today's win was our third in succession in the league, and it's significant that all of them have been hard earned victories.

The 1-0 over Stoke was a pretty good performance, and showed some resilience. The 1-0 against Sunderland truly showed two sides to this team that we have to see more of. The first half saw us play free flowing, fluent, attacking football. The second half showed true grit and determination as the 10 men held on for a great win.

Today's win also showed that we can recover from the disappointment of the previous week. We were not amazing in any sense. But we came out with the win and that's all that matters for us right now.

4th place is completely integral for us this year. Every game matters, and next weeks battle with Tottenham will undoubtedly go some way to deciding who gets 4th.

We have to get a result next week. Today may have helped restore some confidence that we had lost, but we still need to retain focus for the remaining matches.

4th isn't exactly what we wanted at the start of the season, but we have to settle for it now.

Come on Arsenal!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Dire, depressing Arsenal crash out the cup

Another depressing day for The Arsenal. A dire performance in the FA cup saw us knocked out, virtually consigning us to yet another trophy less season. Bar any Chelsea-like shocks in Europe.

The whole game was played at a level unacceptable for an Arsenal team, with a slow tempo and lack of urgency throughout.

Whilst we retained constant possession and total control, the passing movements were forced and inflexible, and quite easily dealt with by a Championship side.

Chances came and went, but in actual fact, their keeper wasn't thoroughly tested as you would have expected. Looking back to the first ever defeat at the Emirates, Rob Green had to produce an amazing performance to deny us from getting something from the match, but today Kean quite easily stunted our few shots on target.

In the end, as the clock continued to tick, our confidence slowly drained away, whilst theirs started to grow. As our dominance faded, and the chances created became few and far between, they started to come up with the odd chance and were rewarded for their efforts.

Szczesny's save from a drilled Olsson shot, was pushed straight into the path of Kazim Richards, whose shot hit off the middle of his leg and somehow found its way into the net. There may have been some luck on their part, but it was all we deserved for our lifeless display.

Even the changes of Cazorla, Wilshere and Walcott couldn't inject the energy needed to win the game, and in the end the game stuttered into a toothless defeat, and the team slumped to an eighth successive trophy less domestic campaign.

Following the game, Arsene waited a full hour before addressing the media, whilst his name trended worldwide on twitter as fans started calling for his head.

When he finally discussed the woeful game, he illustrated his anger at the performance, saying "I do not want to go too much into detail but I believe we were really guilty on the goal."

"Not one defeat is acceptable. You are in this job to win every single game"

"It is very painful and very disappointing to lose a game like that. What is important now is to focus on the next one."

The performance was simply unacceptable and highlighted many of the problems that are so ingrained in our squad.

The changes made should have been enough to win the game, but instead we saw a major lack of depth. Diaby didn't look anything like the same player we saw earlier this season, constantly dwelling in the ball and needlessly giving up possession. Chamberlain continued to struggle for form, whilst Gervinho was as useless as we all expected him to be.

But the major disappointment came from last months player of the month, Olivier Giroud. Today he illustrated many of the faults left in his game.

The Frenchman does have something in his game, but still needs improvements. Today we saw the faults in his build up play as he failed to make much of an impact on the game at all.

It was very disappointing, but shows we need more reinforcements up front above anything.

Right now defeat is very hard to take, and the fan disappointment is definitely understandable. 8 year without a trophy is unacceptable for a club like Arsenal, especially when we are defeated in both cups by lower league opposition.

However, with the games coming thick and fast, there is a chance to reinstall some confidence in the squad on Tuesday.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

A crucial month for Arsenal

So here we are. The return of the Champions League always tends to mark the start of the most important part of the season.

It's this time where runs are started, leagues are won and lost, and teams can quickly climb up the league. We only have to look at last season to see what the significance of this area of the season can have. Our 5-2 victory against Tottenham at the end of February sparked a run of form that secured us top four, with us playing our best football of that season. In stark contrast, it set our North London rivals on a stuttering path of disaster as they started dropping all number of points, and, by doing so, handed us the coveted Champions League place we desired.

Whilst we're not playing Ze all-conquering Germans for another week, the point is still clear. We need to start winning, and forging a great team spirit that we can use to secure the fourth place we desire, and possibly pick up a trophy along the way.

Mikel Arteta was quick to focus on the next month. And particularly fight for the Champions League. Following the 1-0 victory at the weekend he said: “There’s been a big improvement in English football; there’s no other league in Europe where it’s as hard to get into the Champions League.”

The fight for the Champions league is as tight as any other league, but what separates the Premier League from the others is the quality of sides competing. The fact that only 2 teams out of Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Everton will be in the Champions League completely underlines this.

Our next month contains 6 vital matches. The Blackburn game may not be getting the full attention as the upcoming Bayern match, but it still represents our only realistic chance of silverware this season. After Blackburn comes the Bayern Munich home game, before a Aston Villa make the trip to the Emirates in a game where nothing less than 3 points is acceptable.

But March is where the tougher tests lie ahead. What is looking like our most important game of the season at White Hart Lane is followed by a home game against other 4th place rivals. Next comes the return game against the Germans, before a tough trip to the Liberty Stadium against Swansea.

Arteta continued, stressing: “This next month is the month, it’s crucial, Everything can look brighter at the end of it or really, really bad.”

He's 100% right. We could either end up being in a great position in the league and FA cup, and who knows, we might even raise a few eyebrows in Europe, but before we get ahead of ourselves, we could have little or nothing to play for in just over 30 days time.

Some consistency has started the come through since the Chelsea defeat. We have managed to secure 4 wins in the last 5 games, and our performances have significantly improved. Szczesny showed what a great keeper he is some match-saving saves against Sunderland. Whilst the defence is struggling for injuries, we have even managed 2 clean sheets in the last 2 games.

It's also significant that we finally have a fully fit midfield, featuring the talent of Wilshere, Cazorla, Arteta, Diaby, Ramsey and Rosicky. That depth which has been missing this season will be needed as the fixtures come thick and fast from now on.

With Giroud, Podolski and Walcott all on good form its also vital they continue to find the net. But there are signs that partnerships are starting to be formed which can really help our forward lines in securing three points.

The next month is crucial, and the players must start to strive for consistency.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Arsenal show they're up for the fight for fourth

There's not many people who will tell you they had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon in Sunderland, but Arsenal - in our own unique, stress producing way - did just that yesterday.

The North East is always a tough place to go, but for the second year in succession we have left the Stadium of Shite with a much needed three points.

After a great start, It was perhaps somewhat surprising that Santi Cazorla's strike in the 38th minute was the solitary goal of the afternoon, but a red card to Carl Jenkinson, plus the loss of Wilshere shortly after half time, ensured that we were not going to make it an easy day at the office.

For the first time in a while, we started the game with a sense of urgency and quickly started to dominate the early proceedings.

Walcott came close with some early shots, whilst Giroud should have done better with an effort that was driven across Mignolet's goal, but it was the fluent, cohesive passing that stood out.

It may have only been against Lee Cattermole and a small ginger kid, but Arsenal's attacking movement was its best its been for a while. Arteta, Ramsey and Wilshere were amazing in midfield with quick short passing moves. They cleverly linked up with the front men too, as Cazorla and Walcott were constantly posing a threat, whilst Giroud's hold up play was exactly what was needed in a tricky away trip.

After one particularly impressive move, with fluent one touch play, Ramsey forced a great save from Mignolet. but the goal seemed to be coming. A great surging run from Jack, as he danced his way through the midfield opened up space for Walcott, who controlled well before passing back to Cazorla, who drilled a fizzing shot into the corner of the net.

It could, and should, have been more than 1-0 at the break, but the way Arsenal midfield had controlled the game, and the surprising solidity of our makeshift defence, meant we were all confident of a win come full time.

However in a particularly Arsenal-esque manner, we decided to make things difficult for ourselves.

First, Jack limped off after being kicked once too many by the shadows in Sunderland's midfield. Hopefully its just precautionary, and afterwards Wenger stressed that he'd be out for days rather than weeks, but the fact remains that he shouldn't have played 90 minutes in midweek in what was a meaningless game. Surely Hodgson wants whats best for Wilshere, and at this moment 90 minutes of football in a meaningless friendly was not best for Jack. In his post match press conference Arsene was quick to place some criticism on the refereeing, who rarely give Jack enough protection.

It was the Manchester City game where they systematically, consistently fouled him as distrusted our attacking moves. Other sides have also started to pin point Jack as our main threat, and referees should really strive to give him the right protection he deserves under the laws of the game.

As we were coming to terms with the loss of Jack, a much improved Sunderland side following the break decided to try and play some football. Sessegnon was always a threat whenever he ran at our defence, and as he ran at Jenkinson, who had already been booked, he drew a foul. Carl was sent off in a decision that its quite hard to argue with, but looking at some the the fouls committed by Sunderland yesterday and the amount of booking thy picked up, it's also difficult to say that the referee was consistent with his cards.

Anyway, now there was a real contest. With Sagna already slotting in at central defence, and only the yourhful presence of the untested Ignasi Miquel on the bench, Arsene moved Ramsey to right back, and deployed a 4-4-1 system. Arteta and Diaby shielded the defence, whilst Santi, Giroud and Theo could counter and try to secure the decisive second goal.

For the last 30 minutes there was something of a cup-tie atmosphere in the ground, and it was very end to end stuff. Walcott hit the post, whilst Giroud and Cazorla had slightly take efforts on goal for Arsenal, whilst Sunderland threatened with an aerial bombardment on our box.

Some superb Sczesny saves were needed to make sure of the victory, but Arsenal's makeshift defence stood firm to deny Fletcher, Graham and co. and secure an important victory.

Sagna will rightly be heralded after an amazing display in the centre of defence. He was aggressive and no-nonsense in the tackle, whilst he was always in the right position, displaying an intelligence and experience that was needed for the occasion. Throughout the game, he didn't put a foot wrong, and was the main catalyst for what some people were calling our best defensive performance of the season. Mertesacker was also back to his best, and dominated in the air. Monreal also produced another impressive performance, successfully illustrating his defensive positioning, but Jenkinson and Ramsey also stood firm at right back meaning we actually had a solid defensive unit for once.

It may have been close, slightly too close for my nerves anyway. But Arsenal showed two different, yet equally important sides of our game that will be needed to ensure we reach the top four this season.

The attacking fluidity that we showed will surely produce more goals as the season goes on. Especially considering Podolski, Rosicky and Chamberlain were all available in reserve. The passing game which is so integral to our performances has appeared "forced" at times, but the quick, one-touch play came naturally yesterday, and had some luck gone our way, or our players finished with move conviction, we could have won that game easily.

Yet the steely determination on show for the last half hour is something that we can't be without if we want that Champions League place. A few years ago, we might not have won that game.

In fact, just two years ago we led Sunderland 1-0 before losing our best player through injury and then going down to 10 men. We were left to rue missed chances as a very late Darren Bent goal cost us two points.

Yesterday was different. We showed fighting spirit, with Szczesny stepping up with some vital saves, and Arteta looking like a perfect leader in the centre of the park. It's important to note that since his return, we've managed 2 consecutive clean sheets and 6 points out of 6.

There are certainly a lot of positives from the game, but none more so than the three points. With a week off until Blackburn we can now get a much needed rest with the Bayern match on the horizon.

Up the Arse!