Arsenal ready to put things right…

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By Kevin Hackert – Used (unedited) under Creative commons license

A 5-2 win and we couldn’t have asked for much more. Saturday’s victory over unbeaten Leicester saw the wish list perfectly met: three points, a Giroud goal, a rampant Alexis, tamed tempers and a solid balance.

A game of counter attacks was won out by a team displaying superb technical ability (and fitness) and it’s easy to see what the boss meant post-game when he said “we’re coming back our best”.

Conceding two goals clearly isn’t ideal. Yet, without being too school-of-Keegan, if you’re going to score five then the two isn’t usually problematic. We know defensive consistency is something Wenger will be just as keen to work towards as attacking prowess, and clean sheets do breed defensive defiance.

Anyway, more thoughts on various things to come before the weekend, but immediately we’ve tonight to think about.

So…

A home-tie against Olympiakos seems a good way to get back on track in Europe. It really should take some kind of disaster to be as poor as we were in Zagreb – and by know means do I want that. Seemingly even Munich’s Philipp Lahm (according to the Express) found our opening result shocking:

The defeat of Arsenal in Zagreb really surprised me. At first I thought it was a mistake.

Unfortunately not, and it means another must win game against another ‘unbeaten’ team. Olympiakos sit top of the Greek Super League with five wins from five, although the 3-0 UCL Matchday 1 loss to Bayern may sow some doubt in Greek minds. Bayern held 71% possession and had 22 shots at goal, so if we ramp up the pressure we might start to see some similar cracks.

We’ll need to capitalise on those, but just how we’re going to break through the Erythrolefkoi could be telling for the remainder of the season. In the Champions League most teams arrive to play. Undoubtedly Olympiakos will be looking for defensive discipline, and that could make at least Walcott’s night a little tricky.

Against Leicester, Theo found runs in behind a rather high line, making runs off the shoulder; a situation the Foxes seemed happy to accept until we showed second-half dominance. Okazaki came off for King to bolster Leicester’s midfield, and their defence dropped deeper to nullify Walcott’s pace. Giroud still offers a better outlet up top against a sat back four – and was duly sent on at the weekend – but with Frenchman is of course suspended tonight.

Walcott will start then, but his pace may have to be attuned to short sharp bursts of a few yards to gain maximise space away from defenders, with either single touches to set or immediate shots. It’s something the best strikers can call on, and if he wants to develop fully in the role he’ll need nights like tonight to hone his skills.

A lack of striking options means the obvious replacement for Walcott if needed is Sanchez. Few will have issue with that after he lit up the King Power, and needless to say the goalscoring burden isn’t Walcott’s or Sanchez’ alone. An dangerous front four seems much more likely this time out. Özil and Ramsey would love to find the net, and with the Ox still waiting to find true form off the bench, there’s plenty to be hopeful about.

In other areas the whispers are that Ospina will start. Arseblog ponders a Cech injury but, while that could be the case, I wouldn’t be surprised if the competition between the Czech and Columbian is a little bit closer than many consider. Gabriel is available, but the only other obvious change to Saturday’s strarting XI can come in midfield. With Arteta and Flamini out, the Coquelin and Cazorla core seems certain.

Our central midfield options have been analysed to the Nth degree, but Cazorla especially benefits from Coquelin alongside him. Coquelin provides more athletic, lateral defensive cover than Flamini and Arteta, and allows the Spaniard greater vertical movement to drive our play up the pitch and away from the defensive third. This was epitomised by the 2-0 against Manchester City in January. Cazorla was the stand-out player, but Coquelin wasn’t far behind.

Focus again then will be heightened as to how we manage our own game, as well as that of our opposition. Honestly I think we can allow ourselves some confidence, just as long as the team has shaken off those zagreb zeds.

5 things Arsenal need from their trip to Leicester

Arsenal members day 2015 - copyright JoshJdss, used under Creative Commons license.
Arsenal members day 2015 – copyright JoshJdss, used under Creative Commons license.

Yet to enjoy any kind of form this season, talk of the title has all but dissolved. Arsenal have a record of LWDWWL in the Premier League, and face a Leicester side unbeaten in the competition since April 30th. The mood has been brightened by a win over Spurs, but it’s back to business on a faltering season. Here are the five things Arsenal need from Saturday’s game.

1. Any win

It goes without saying, but it almost doesn’t matter how. A good performance might be the elixir sought, but the three points are crucial. Grinding out the victory – in the way Chelsea are often praised for – would be just as effective.

The three points would certainly offer belief looking towards the Olympiacos and Man Utd games, plus toppling the Premier League form team is hardly a pyschological springboard to be turning noses up at. A bore draw until the last minute of injury time, and a Chambers own-goalward shot deflecting the length of the pitch to win it? Well, it’d still be three points.

2. A working balance

As the rotated rotate again, we’ll be seeing the return of Cech, Bellerin, Koscielny, Monreal and Özil. Add to that likely starts for Sanchez, Ramsey and, in the absence of Coquelin and Cazorla, a possible central midfield duo (in any variation) of two of Arteta, Flamini and Ramsey. Flamini may get the nod after midweek heroics – emotional control and heart abound. If not, Arteta and Ramsey may go central with Oxlade-Chamberlain placed on the right.

**Edit** – Cazorla will be available, so it’s a tricky choice! (Thanks @dartfordgooner).

Whatever the variations, you’d imagine the team needs to exude stability and control for the win. A squad like ours will rotate, but it’s cohesion in spite of those changes which is required.A back line of Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Monreal, is undoubtedly the strongest available to us. Yet defending as a team will put the spotlight on Sanchez and Chamberlain tracking back when required. It will also highlight the relationship between the two central midfielders and the defensive line, making the selection particularly interesting as well as integral to finding our team rhythm.

3. Giroud Goals

Olivier Giroud works hard, but is considered to take criticism to heart and generally he fails to react with immediate positivity on the pitch. Getting on the scoresheet can only help the Frenchman lift himself from a malaise which seems to have entrenched him since being booed by France fans. It’s a clear contrast to Walcott, who seems in possession of endless reserves of mild ego, appearing ignorant of anything less than the full backing of everyone.

Giroud could do with a shot of that, but more importantly a goal to lift his head and hopes. As one of only two regular forward options until Welbeck’s return, Giroud needs to keep up the likes of his first-half display against Spurs for the full time he’s on the pitch. Winning headers, making runs, and good interplay can result in a goal or two – or a winner – which may be the jolt he needs.

4. Emotional control

Balance, goals and the victory are the main things any Gunner would want this weekend, but this theme of the last fortnight – thanks to the team’s poor disciplinary antics and…Jose Mourinho – is also essential. We need to work hard, play fair, and avoid being sucked into emotionally compromising situations. That is, not do anything which might result in a reckless dismissal.

To be fair, meetings with Leicester are hardly tetchy and the last fixture yielded a not-unheard-of five yellows. Still, all games have the potential for flashpoints, and the manner of response is down to individual players in the heat of the moment. An opportunity to ensure tame tempers is one the team could do with taking.

5. Star success

As much as pinning hopes on individual players is an exercise in ignoring team ethic, the combined £63 million spent on Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez inevitably means some expectation. In the past, a tie against Leicester may have provided an opportunity for the pair to masterfully strut their stuff.

As it stands though, both German and Chilean have failed to ignite so far, and for either to do against this Leicester team could help the team regain its zeal. Sanchez certainly added some zip when introduced from the bench at White Hart Lane. And more of that might be a sign his busy Summer/rushed return has laid low the last of its effects.

It’s not all on them of course. There’s the potential for improvements across the team, and nobody would begrudge a Chamberlain, Walcott, Ramsey, Koscielny, Cech or any other kind of master-class this week.

Yet the main thing Arsenal need is a win against a very good team…and hopefully that (and some of the above) can lessen the sting of recent league events.

Some Chelsea thoughts

How many chances does a guy get?

If you were Diego Costa Saturday, more than deserved. If you were Gabriel, more will come. And if you happen to be the writer of a little-known Arsenal blog, as many as you see fit.

Which is nice.

Anyway, it’s been interesting to see the fall-out from the Chelsea game. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one worried we might face the backlash of a team enlivened by an odds-on win against Maccabi Tel-Aviv.

Alas the Gunner-virus sent to the Chelsea tactical computer didn’t land this week. And, with an even footing restored, it hardly went well did it?

Worse, we were robbed of a genuinely intriguing tussle. As it turns out, this Arsenal team isn’t as good as Chelsea with first a one player, and then a two player, advantage. We can’t learn much from that which isn’t already obvious. Despite the champions’ prat-fall of a start to the season, they’ve enough about them to overcome a stuttering Arsenal recklessly reduced by dismissals.

Mourinho’s soundbites after the game were infuriating, but he wasn’t all wrong. Not in defending Costa, where he’s surely baiting us all, but in his thinking about emotional control. After all, what has been cast into the limelight is Gabriel’s willingness to ‘mix-it’, and the praise that willingness has drawn. Individual emotional control though, let’s talk about that.

Martin Keown has been vocal in his support for Gabriel, with backing also appearing from other quarters. James McNicholas (aka Gunnerblog) has written this piece about how Gabriel has now shown a welcome edge. This is true.

The piece also highlights the example of Dennis Bergkamp as someone who occasionally made use of an edge, the ‘dark arts’. Of course physicality, edge, ‘dark arts’ or whatever are sometimes needed. As is Gabriel’s ability to “stick up for his fellow defender Laurent Koscielny”. But there are two key considerations.

First, the likes of Dennis Bergkamp would generally employ ‘edge’ in a more intelligent and spread out competitiveness than that shown by Gabriel. For example, over the course of a particularly physical match, and not in reacting with direct violence likely to result in punishment.

Referees, of course, react swiftly to any direct violence or unwarranted aggression on the pitch. Yet what they are unlikely to react to, at any level, is ongoing physicality or a hyped-up non-physical anger matching that which has already been accepted in the game.

Sometimes, as with Keown and his infamous and largely harmless falling chop on Van Nistelrooy, edge can even be more frown-and-wince than dangerous violence.

On Saturday, Mike Dean seemingly accepted Costa and Gabriel’s ‘firm’ mock pats to each other as they were given a talking to. If Mike Dean can accept physicality from Costa, he can accept that to be matched by Gabriel. If physicality is fair, or non-damaging and equal then there’s no problem.

The second thing is that any attempt to exceed ‘fair physicality’ should be dealt with and backed up by video referees. End of discussion…to the point I now feel like I’m wasting words. Events thereafter the Costa and Koscielny clash are spoken about merely as a grotesque necessity borne of the absence of something which would likely have prevented them.

Football needs technology which quickly indentifies and removes anyone uninterested in playing a safe, fair game at the top level. It’s nonsensical that it’s not yet implemented. It’s ludicrous.

The take away is this: Gabriel can learn to be like Dennis Bergkamp and intelligent in his physicality. Perhaps he can learn to be like Martin Keown. But I’m sure he and others in the squad (Giroud, to name one) can can develop intelligent physicality.

That’s individual emotional control.

Players need it. At least while a player behaving like Costa can see acts go unpunished before the match points are unfairly decided.

Strange Fans (We’ve got Some).

We know how it went on Saturday. We were winning, Theo went down injured near the Tottenham support, got some stick and then responded with a cheeky/rational riposte. Cue the coins and some rather unfortunate stretcher bearers who may well have woken up with some pound-shaped bruises on Sunday.

The thing is, while throwing anything at anyone anywhere in a violent and aggressive manner is generally stupid, I’d like to remind the Arsenal faithful that our own fans can get somewhat…err, animated in a rather impolite way as well. A comment from Captain Obvious maybe, but let the record show I spent the first 10 minutes of the FA Cup tie not enjoying the atmosphere of the on-field battle.

Instead I was actually considering never attending another North London Derby, because I really don’t want to hear people sing chants such as:

“It should have been you, it should have been you, shot in Angola it should have been you.” (Directed at Emmanuel Adebayor).

Neither am I a huge fan of songs about how Tottenham should have burned in the riots, or variations on that theme. It’s ridiculous; the societal problems – lit with elements of opportunism – which caused chaos in London in the Summer of 2011 weren’t anything to do with Tottenham Hotspur FC, and to wish the immolation of other football fans is hardly very classy in jest or not.

Me? I don’t really go in for the “it’s all banter” defence, and I don’t participate in any songs which may be considered offensive to any other football fan or person on the street (there’s a couple regularly sung at the Emirates).

Of course, of course, I’m not saying the same isn’t true of other fans at other grounds – although I do note the Boxing Day fixture at Dartford FC was missing self-important chants casting injury and death respectively upon opposition fans and players.

What I am saying is that throwing coins at a player who is injured is not good at all, but the Tottenham fans who did that deserve to think about their actions as those who sing chants some class as “banter” need to perhaps consider their lyrics.

I love attending the Emirates, I love watching The Arsenal live. I don’t like that one of our players was the target of physical projectiles, but nor do I enjoy the verbal ones some Arsenal fans throw.

The Water Shortage

As much as we can remain positive, this Summer’s sucking like a kryptonite straw, and it’s hard to not think our destiny this year will be affected by signings.

Quite frankly, our plan this Summer – and I find it impossible to believe their isn’t one – is bewildering me.  And last night came quotes from the BBC’s David Ornstein:

“Arsenal still have transfer plans in place. Market not moved liked they’d expected it to.”

Quite what that means I suspect we’ll never know, but when even your North London neighbours are making decent additions then you have to move the market yourself and secure the targets you think are good enough. Surely? The issue:

“Wenger, who is in control of all transfers at Arsenal, won’t pay over his valuations of players.”

I respect Arsene Wenger, I am well and truly ready to eat humble pie come September 3rd, and I don’t mean to demean his principles, but sometimes you need to spend.

If it’s a hot day and I need a drink, I might spend £1.50 for the bottle of water, even if I think it’s only worth £1. I might think I can find the same amount of water for less elsewhere, but given a finite window to buy said water in, and with such water in short supply I’d probably buy it earlier to ensure acquisition and pay a bit more.

The alternative is I go from store to store looking for better valued water while the more expensive stuff is snapped up. I still need water, so surely at some point I’ll take the plunge and buy?

“Arsenal have 3-4 options (other than Suarez), Rooney is one, but club have accepted they might not sign a star striker.”

Surely we need water in this heat. To not find some could be… challenging.

Analogy over, but it’s rather confusing. At the moment I await the Luis Gustavo announcement as some sort of affirmation that any player of top-level experience (no disrespect to Sanogo) is joining the club. However, I half-suspect he’ll be off elsewhere.

And where does this all leave us? 20+ players out, one in and a Columbian triallist who did enough to earn a contract but couldn’t get a visa. Honestly, the players want signings, we fans want signings, and I have to think that at least Arsene does too as he’s admitted we’re ‘thin’.

If we fail to find any quality reinforcements, come September third I may well be singing this little ditty by @GeezyPeas and pondering what might have  Higuain been.

Buy, buy even Abdoulaye Faye, we’ve even started wanting Michu because our glass is so dry. The boards old boys will say ‘hell, we tried’…

…singing September 3rd’ll be the day we all cry…September 3rd’ll be the day we all cry.

I am parched.