‘One game’ opens up old wounds as Wenger’s decisions are hard to understand

The Stoke result continues to loom large, with Arsene Wenger urging some calm after just the second game of the season. He says:
Let’s not go overboard. We lost one game. I can understand that but overall I believe there were a lot of positives in the game as well because we created many chances. We had great domination and unfortunately we dropped three points.
It’s true. It is only one game. We did have a lot of chances. We enjoyed ‘great domination’ and on another day, if we get that penalty in the first half for the foul on Hector Bellerin, and Alexandre Lacazette isn’t given offside then things could be very different. Except we didn’t, and they’re not, and one game has illustrated the gossamer nature of the material that was used to paper over the cracks for some people. We’re 180 minutes into the new campaign and we’re already firefighting, dealing with Wenger Out hashtags, and I suppose it’s only a matter of time before we have more concerted efforts to highlight people’s unhappiness with the manager. If we were working off a blank slate it’d be considered ridiculous for such an outpouring of anger after just the second game of the season, but this is far from a blank slate. This is more of the same which was more of the previous same which was more of the same that came before that. The club must have known that it would take very little to pick away at the scabs and open up fresh wounds. The Stoke game showed that, and I don’t know what anyone can do about it now. This is the Arsenal world that we live in, like it or not. A new manager, a different manager, would likely get a bit more patience after just 180 minutes of football, but watching the same man in charge as we lose so needlessly and carelessly to Stoke is going to push some people’s buttons. It was worrying, let’s not beat around the bush. The individual mistakes were costly but we were supposed to learn from the ones of last weekend against Leicester; and while Arsene Wenger’s team selections have left us scratching our heads in the past, there’s usually some fundamental logic to them. The team he selected at Stoke, and the changes he made, were not easy to understand at all. I say this with the caveat that he knows his players better than anyone else, he sees them training of course, and is aware of underlying fitness issues that we’re not privy to. Yet I can’t fathom the reasons for leaving Per Mertesacker on the bench. Stoke away is basically the perfect game for him, and the way that game played out was evidence of it. They had little to trouble us, the team would have been better balanced with Monreal and Kolasinac shifting over and one of Bellerin or Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right hand side. Would Mertesacker’s presence have improved us from an attacking point of view? Probably not, but I think experience and leadership at the back might well have helped prevent the kind of carelessness that led to the goal. Then the substitutions, and Arsene Wenger explained his thinking with regards the introduction of Theo Walcott, saying:
I wanted to put Walcott on because he can cross for Giroud.
Quite why he thought this, I have no idea. Theo Walcott had two assists last season. One was at Burnley, when he nodded the ball across for Koscielny to the bundle it in with his hand; the other at Watford when Alexis Sanchez just about got the ball over the line after a cross from the right hand side. The last time Walcott assisted a Giroud goal was March 2016 in the FA Cup against Hull (4-0). You have to go back to September 2013 to find Walcott’s last assist for Giroud in the Premier League, this was in a North London derby again Sp*rs at the Emirates. All that aside, we already had Oxlade-Chamberlain slinging in crosses from that side, and the sum total of Walcott’s contribution was three short passes in the 15 minutes or so that he was on the pitch. If you really wanted good balls into Giroud, you leave Xhaka on who provided two assists against Leicester because he’s involved in the game (even if it wasn’t his best performance and I can understand why the manager might have been frustrated by elements of it). It felt like a substitution that was more about taking a player off than it was about introducing someone who could make an impact. And while Xhaka has got to smarten up when it comes to his passing, because his mistakes are being punished severely, he’s far more likely to create something than a player like Walcott whose main quality is his pace and ability to get behind a defence that is pushing up, not one that has parked the bus. As with team selection it felt like muddled thinking, and there’s no doubt in my mind it stifled the momentum we had in the final stages of the game. Even the explanation over the wing-backs sounds strange, when asked about Bellerin being deployed on the left:
He can play there, I play him or Chamberlain there, and Chamberlain on the right looks good as well. Both of them are more right-sided players, I agree, and depending on the game I choose sometimes right and sometimes left.
Of course it is only the second game of the season, and there’s plenty of time to recover, but worries about the way we’re set up and the way we play are understandable too. With a trip to Anfield next weekend there’s a lot to work on between now and then. Based on what we’ve seen from both sides thus far, it seems likely this is a game that will be decided on firepower rather than defensive strength, but unless we find some balance at the back and some composure in midfield it’s going to be tougher than it should be. Right, James and I will be here this morning with an Arsecast Extra, so if you have any topics for discussion or questions you’d like answered, send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra. We’ll have that for you around lunchtime. Until then.   The post ‘One game’ opens up old wounds as Wenger’s decisions are hard to understand appeared first on Arseblog ... an Arsenal blog.

Stoke 1-0 Arsenal: Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before

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It’s unusual to open a blog with a song, but this morning this one is going around in my head and it seems particularly apt. Nothing’s changed I still love you, oh, I still love you Only slightly, only slightly less than I used to, my love To be fair, there was at least some variation in that we continued our fun experiment of playing a back three almost devoid of central defenders. With Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding and Calum Chambers to choose from, Arsene Wenger plumped for Mustafi, Monreal and Kolasinac, flanked by Bellerin on the left and Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right. Now, I like Monreal, and I think he works very well in a back three, but not as the anchor man in that system. We bought Kolasinac to add power and physicality to our left but instead played a right back, who should have been on the right, in that position, with Mertesacker on the bench and Holding, off the back of one dodgy game, left out of the squad altogether. You wonder what that will do to his confidence. Amazingly, having picked what was essentially a mismatched, hotchpotch, ramshackle back three, Arsene Wenger then bemoaned their lack of cohesion post-game, saying:
You need to improve the connections with the players but I was not convinced by our central defence today.
Crazy idea, but how about playing some actual central defenders in central defence and see if that makes things any better? As it was, the defence wasn’t entirely culpable for what turned out to be the winner, but its shortcomings were most definitely exposed, and the story of the game felt oh so familiar. Arsenal spurning chances to score, yet concede a thoroughly avoidable, feeble goal then spend the rest of the game huffing and puffing and failing to blow the house down. The goal itself came when Granit Xhaka, whose radar seemed off all day, made a mess of a short pass in midfield allowing Stoke to break. Monreal’s hesitation was critical when the ball was slipped through to Jese and the former Real Madrid man made no mistake with a close range finish. Like last week against Leicester the problems were primarily of our own making, but this time there was to be no dramatic rescue. In that Leicester game the manager’s substitutions worked brilliantly with Ramsey and then Giroud scoring the goals we needed, but yesterday they basically made things worse. I understand introducing Giroud, but I’m not sure Kolasinac was the man to take off. I would have preferred to see him move to left back as we settled into a back four, with Bellerin shifted back over to the right where he belongs leaving Oxlade-Chamberlain to make way. Whatever about the efficacy of that move, it’s hard to understand exactly what the thinking behind the Iwobi and Walcott changes were about, beyond shoehorning as many attacking players onto the pitch as possible. When you’re chasing a game like this, against a team like Stoke who are sitting as deep as they did and packing their area, the qualities Walcott in particular possesses are basically useless and he barely had a kick when he came on. And while I think Xhaka had a poor day by his standards, when you bring on Giroud you need players who can provide him the kind of service he needs, and taking the Swiss international off robbed us of one of the key proponents of that. The Frenchman had one chance, late on from a Monreal cross, and that was it. In some ways it was illustrative of our day in general. The initial team selection was wrong, you just can’t play that many players out of position and hope to be cohesive as a team, and the substitutions – rather than changing the dynamic of the game – made us worse at a time when we were playing well enough to believe a goal wasn’t out of the question. Indeed, we scored one, Lacazette’s effort was ruled out for offside – wrongly in my opinion – yet the manager’s response to that was to take off the man who had blasted the ball into the top corner, showcasing his finishing skills while others around him fluffed their lines when chances did present themselves. His decisions from start to finish were baffling, and ultimately costly. I think it’s fair to point out that as well as the disallowed effort we should have had a penalty in the first half. I thought the two handballs were purely accidental, and would have been unhappy if we’d been penalised for those, but the one where Bellerin is clearly taken out by the defender is a shocking oversight by Andre Marriner, and in close games such decisions can be pivotal. That would certainly have changed the trajectory of the game, but at the same time it doesn’t excuse our own shortcomings. Afterwards, Arsene Wenger bemoaned the offside decision, calling it ‘100% onside’, but said the result was of our making:
In football, when you don’t win, you can only look at yourself. Other teams might take points here that we have dropped today. Today I would say that we can look at ourselves and we are 100 per cent guilty on the goal we conceded.
The line about other team stands-out because he’s absolutely right. Stoke were pretty poor all round, far from the relentless threat they have been to us in the past, but they took their big chance and we failed to make the most of our domination of the ball. We had 77.3% possession, yet still managed to lose. This is a team that badly needs some balance, because without it we’re going to struggle. It’s impossible to play football the way you want to with so many players in unfamiliar positions, and it wouldn’t surprise me very much if Arsene Wenger ditched the three at the back in the not too distant future. I mean, he could make it better by playing centre-halves there, and with Koscielny back next week we’ve got more chance of doing that, but I’m not sure he’s ever been truly convinced by it. One of the other things that struck me yesterday was how deep Mesut Ozil was playing, dropping back to try and make things happen, and at times he and Xhaka were almost under each other’s feet. They’re both capable of picking a pass, but when they’re that close together they seemed to cancel each other out at times. I maintain this team is in need of a central midfield player who can help glue all our distinct parts together, because right now that area of the pitch as still not functioning the way it should. So, our first tricky away game of the season and we come unstuck. If we need to get back on that horse straight away then a trip to Anfield next weekend should do nicely, but unless we sort out this team from a positional point of view, it’s hard to see how we’re going to avoid the same kind of result. More on this tomorrow in the Arsecast Extra, in the meantime have a good Sunday. The post Stoke 1-0 Arsenal: Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before appeared first on Arseblog ... an Arsenal blog.

Arsenal Dominate Galatasaray Thanks to Ramsey Wonder Goal

Arsenal travelled to Galatasaray and swept the Turkish giant aside with a scintillating 4-1 win that included a goal of the season contender from Aaron Ramsey. The game encapsulated the enigma of this Arsenal team, able to lose so timidly to Stoke last weekend, but with the ability to visit one of the harshest cauldrons in world football and dominate the match.

It was a dead rubber game as the Gunners were already through to the next round, while Galatasaray’s Champions League season was coming to a close. However, Arsenal could have topped the group with a win, so the team threw caution to the wind and put in a memorable performance. As it was, top spot proved elusive as Borussia Dortmund drew at Anderlecht to ensure they held the position.

Arsene Wenger opted to travel without important figures such as Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla, Danny Welbeck and Laurent Koscielny. With several other players missing through injury, this was very much a second string Arsenal line up, with only a couple of regular starters. Yet it was enough to get the job done and in the third minute some neat build up play by Alex Oxlad-Chamberlain and the impressive Ramsey released Lukas Podolski. The German international fired his shot into the roof of the net to give the visitors the lead.

The advantage was doubled in the eleventh minute as Ramsey collected an Oxlade-Chamberlain pass and kept his composure to score past Sinan Bolat for 2-0. Galatasaray were providing the odd threat, but so far the Turkish powerhouse had been kept quiet and in the 29th minute the home fans were left shell shocked by one of the season’s wonder goals.

Joel Campbell’s corner was cleared out of the Gala area, but Ramsey was on hand to smash a left footed volley from 30 yards. Like a tomahawk missile, the volley arrowed straight into the top corner and was a sensational way to give Arsenal a 3-0 halftime lead.

Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini were replaced at halftime by Gedion Zelalem and Ainsley Maitland-Niles as Wenger opted to shuffle the pack and rest key men. The switch broke Arsenal’s rhythm temporarily and Galatasaray capitalized through Wesley Sneijder’s curled trademark free kick that sailed into the goal to make 3-1.

The rally from the home team was brief as Arsenal continued to control the game for the remainder of the second half. In the dying embers of the contest Podolski arrived with his second and the Gunners’ fourth as he nestled the ball into the net from just inside the penalty area, taking advantage of a Yaya Sanogo pass.

Stoke Curse Hits Again for Arsenal

Arsenal’s frailties were shown again on Saturday and it is no irony that it was Stoke City that highlighted how the Gunners are still vulnerable against teams willing to dig their heels in and make the game a scrap. The Potters outdid Arsenal over 90 minutes to send the North London club packing from the Britannica Stadium pointless, with the hosts winning 3-2.

That Arsenal had only won a single game in their last eight attempts against Stoke showed that this would be no easy clash, but once again Stoke revealed why. It has become almost cliché that Stoke City are the team that expose Arsene Wenger’s newer teams with rough and tumble football, but it was painful reality again on Saturday.

Wenger said afterwards that his team had been dominated, and in the first half that was certainly the case as Stoke raced into a 3-0 lead. Peter Crouch opened the scoring in the first minute when he latched on to a Steven Nzonzi centre to tap the ball past Arsenal stopper Emiliano Martinez, after 19 seconds the Gunners were against the wall.

The home team doubled their lead after 35 minutes after dominating much of the first half. Bojan had been causing plenty of problems as a creative foil for Crouch, but he got his own rewards when he coolly finished a Jonathan Walters cross. Arsenal’s task had just got tougher, but it became all but impossible ten minutes later.

Bojan’s curled corner was guided to the free Walters by the head of Peter Crouch and he wasted no time in putting the ball into the net. It was Walters’ 100th club goal and Arsenal had been thoroughly punished in the first half.

The Gunners emerged in slightly better touch in the second half, with the newly introduced Danny Welbeck providing more impetus in attack. The action became more open as Alexis Sanchez hit the post after being clean through and Bojan scored only to be ruled offside. Arsenal’s breakthrough finally came in 68th minute when they were awarded a penalty which was converted by Santi Cazorla.

Two minutes later and the visitors made it a one goal game as Aaron Ramsey scored at the back post from a Sanchez corner. Arsenal pressed for the final twenty minutes, but Stoke remained in control while also providing plenty of threat and the Gunners could not find the breakthrough.

Arsenal Face “Bogey Team” Stoke City on Saturday

The days of Stoke City being a bogey club for Arsenal, or one the Gunners hate playing against are gone. Stoke are not the same gritty and dogged unit under Mark Hughes as they were when Tony Pulis helmed the club, but the Potters have only lost once in the last eight to Arsenal, so this will be a tricky game.

The club will make the journey from North London to the Britannica Stadium and manager Arsene Wenger will expect the team to continue its good run and win the game. The Gunners are undefeated in their last three (all competitions) and have also not conceded a goal in that time, the returning Laurent Koscielny possibly to do with that pleasing statistic.

The squad is still injury ravaged, with Mathieu Debuchy (ankle), Theo Walcott (groin), Mikel Arteta (calf), Mesut Ozil (knee), goalkeeper David Ospina (thigh), as well as midfielders Abou Diaby (calf) and Jack Wilshere (ankle) all remain on the side-lines with problems. Last minute check with be held to Kieran Gibbs and Tomas Rosicky.

Stoke have their own concerns, with Jonathan Walters and Robert Huth likely to sit out the game. However, the Stoke players are talking up another rough and tumble encounter and Arsene Wenger will remind his players that this is a team that has scalped Arsenal before. However, with the decent run of the last few games, the formidable form of Alexis Sanchez, and decent progress from Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck, there is three points on offer here.

Arsenal Edge Southampton 1-0 at Emirates

A seemingly tricky game on paper against Southampton at the Emirates on Wednesday proved to be just that for Arsenal, but the Gunners found the vital goal that handed them a 1-0 victory and all three points.

Despite another spell of confusion surrounding the North London club, they have just gone and won three games in a row and haven’t conceded a goal in the process. On top of that, the club now sits just three points behind Southampton in third place after tonight’s success. The Saints have been in good form this season and they provided a perfect test for Arsenal here, but the Gunners ultimately had too much for the south coast club, although it was a late show from Alexis Sanchez that secured the points.

Southampton will probably feel like they deserved a draw, especially as Graziano Pelle provided a constant threat leading the front line. However, Arsenal had their own go to guys with Santi Cazorla once again pulling the strings from the middle of the park, while in Sanchez they have one of the form players in world football.

Arsene Wenger will be delighted that his charges restricted a slick Southampton unit to just six shots, but he could have rued missed opportunities at the other end. Arsenal had 19 shots through the game, but could not break the deadlock as Danny Welbeck struggled to have an impact up front on his own. During halftime Wenger shuffled the pack and moved the England man out wide left and brought in Sanchez from the wing to play upfront.

The payoff was not immediate, but when Olivier Giroud was introduced midway through the second half the Gunners seemed to have more cutting edge in the final third. The Frenchman combined well with Welbeck, Cazorla, and Sanchez, giving Arsenal a potent attacking threat. The dominant play finally paid off in the 89th minute when Sanchez found space in the box to slot home past Fraser Forster in the Southampton goal. The Chile international has been a revelation since arriving at Arsenal, and he made the most of Aaron Ramsey’s pull back here.

It was enough to hand the hosts the win and now Arsenal will look to this weekend’s clash on the road at Stoke City.

Arsenal Welcome Southampton in Midweek Clash

The 1-0 victory over West Brom on the weekend did little but prove that this is going to be a season of ups and downs for Arsenal. The Gunners are just as likely to go six games unbeaten as they are to suddenly slip up to inferior opposition or be caught out by a rival. So, with Southampton making the trip to the Emirates this Wednesday, it is one of those games that could go either way.

Southampton are the surprise package of the Premier League season and sit in third place in the table and are playing well. However, the omens are with Arsenal heading into the midweek fixture as the Gunners are unbeaten in their least nine league meetings against The Saints. It also helps that the south coast club were soundly beaten by Manchester City on the weekend and are running into their most difficult run of fixtures so far. However, Ronald Koeman’s team did down Arsenal in the Capital Cup this season, so this game could provide fireworks, and certainly good football.

Arsene Wenger is juggling a depleted squad Nacho Monreal (knee) and Kieran Gibbs (ankle) as well as midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny (hip) and captain Mikel Arteta (calf) are either doubtful or out. Also on the injury table are Theo Walcott (groin), Mesut Ozil (knee), Mathieu Debuchy (ankle), goalkeeper David Ospina (thigh) and Jack Wilshere (ankle).

Whatever way you look at it, the Frenchman is missing half of his key squad, so the pressure will fall on the shoulders of Olivier Giroud and once again the in-form Danny Welbeck up front. Southampton are not as injury ravaged as the North London club, but key midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin is going to sit the game out.

Southampton will be eager to prove that they can last their rapid early pace, especially after Sunday’s rude awakening in Manchester. Arsenal would provide the perfect scalp to do that, so The Gunners will have to be at their best if they are add another three points to their league tally for the season.

Arsenal down Tricky West Brom 1-0

Arsenal defeated West Brom 1-0 away from home on Saturday to ease the immediate pressure on manager Arsene Wenger, although the slender scrappy victory will do little to stem calls for the Frenchman to step away.

It is a case of one game at a time as the Gunners get back to form, but despite the gathering storm around Wenger’s position at the club, Arsenal are sixth in the league, just two points off Manchester United in fourth. In other words, the clubs’ form is not as bad as many make out and a place in the Champions League places next season is as likely as any other year.

That is not enough for some fans anymore, but the victory over West Brom was another three points on the way to at least achieving that minimum requirement. Danny Welbeck continued his promising start to life with the Gunners with a 60th minute strike that handed the North London club the vital win.

Welbeck made way for Olivier Giroud upfront, with the former Manchester United man operating wide right, a position he disliked at Old Trafford. Nevertheless, the England international was on hand to capitalize on Santi Cazorla’s good work that saw the Spaniard play a smart cross into the area. Welbeck met the ball with his head and sent it past Ben Foster in the Baggies net.

Despite West Brom providing a dogged defensive display, the Midlands club spent much of the game struggling as an attacking force. The hosts couldn’t find a way to hurt Arsenal, with the Gunners offering twice as many shots through the game. West Brom woke up in the final fifteen minutes and offered a sterner test of Arsenal’s back four. Arsene Wenger will no doubt be pleased that the unit kept a clean sheet.

He will also be pleased that on a day when Arsenal fans held a banner reading – ‘Arsene – thanks for the memories, but it’s time to say goodbye’ – his team won the game.

Arsenal Take Injury Ravaged Squad to West Brom

What a difference a week makes in the life and times of Arsenal Football Club. There are no promises of new dawns, but the midweek win over (an admittedly poor) Borussia Dortmund team in the Champions League has given the Gunners a foundation to build off, starting with the early Saturday kick-off against West Brom away from home.

Arsenal needs to build some league momentum with the busy Christmas period just around the corner, and Arsene Wenger will be counting on his players to grab three points. Certainly, West Brom provide arguably the perfect opponent as the Baggies are struggling for form and could possibly be an easy target.

Of course, things do not always work out like that for Arsenal, but nevertheless wins need to be collected and the Midlands on Saturday is a good place to start. Question makers will remain over Arsene Wenger’s future for the rest of the season, no matter what happens here or in other games. The manager will want his players to do the talking on the pitch in a hope of reaching the top four at the end of the season. Whether that minimum requirement remains enough for either the board or the fans anymore is uncertain, but it is probably the most this Arsenal team can achieve.

However, there are plenty of positives, while this would not be Arsenal without a few negatives too. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is becoming a potent attacking force and will be important to the Gunners this season, especially with the news that Jack Wilshere is set to miss another three months through injury.

On Saturday Wenger will take a depleted squad to the Hawthorns, with Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott (groin), Mesut Ozil (knee), Mathieu Debuchy (ankle), goalkeeper David Ospina (thigh) and Abou Diaby (calf) all out injured. Mikel Arteta will also sit out the game, while Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and striker Yaya Sanogo will have their respective hip and hamstring injuries checked before the game.

Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny are set to make their returns, but either way this will be a test of the squad Wenger has assembled. Despite that, Arsenal should be taking all three points from this game.

Arsenal Down Borussia Dortmund 2-0

One thing that cannot be denied about this Arsenal team is that they do respect and have an affinity for Arsene Wenger. Whenever there has been mounting pressure on the manager in recent seasons the players have responded on the pitch, and this 2-0 home win over Borussia Dortmund proved that again.

A torrid run of results has put question marks firmly on Arsene Wenger’s future with many in and around the club claiming the Frenchman has taken the Gunners as far as he can. That, of course, is a debate for another day, but it is certain that he still knows how to motivate his troops, even if the quality is sometimes lacking.

Yes, Borussia Dortmund came to the Emirates in even worse form than Arsenal, third from bottom in the German Bundesliga and suffering key injuries to big name players. However, the Germans remain a dangerous and potent force, especially on the continent where they have already beat the Gunners in the reverse Champions League fixture.

Credit then must go to Arsenal for managing to defeat the team (at the fifth time of asking) to progress to the Last 16 of Europe’s elite competition. The hosts had a wonderful start courtesy of a second minute goal from French U21 international Yaya Sanogo, a late addition to the starting 11 after Danny Welbeck picked up a knee injury before the game.

Sanogo linked with Santi Cazorla for a tidy one two combination on the perimeter of Dortmund’s penalty area, before receiving the ball back and slotting home a cool finish past the visitors’ goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller. Admittedly, replays showed that the striker was marginally offside, but it was a well worked goal with the impressive Cazorla the architect.

Alexis Sanchez has been a revelation since his summer move from Barcelona, and he continued his good form by securing Arsenal’s second and ultimately the winner. The Chilean curled a beautiful effort into the Borussia net in the 57th minute to claim his 13th goal in just twenty appearances for the North London club.

Dortmund of course proved a threat during the game, but Arsene Wenger will be pleased with the way his defence handled the German contingent. The second goal seemed to finish the contest against a team very low on confidence and the Gunners will now look to the final group game to ensure they finish top of the table.