Arsenal 3-1 AC Milan: Gunners convincing winners over two legs despite media pearl clutching

Arsenal went through to the quarter-finals of the Europa League with a 3-1 win over AC Milan at the Emirates last night. Two goals from Danny Welbeck and a Granit Xhaka strike added to the 2-0 win in Italy last week to give us a hugely convincing 5-1 victory on aggregate. For a team that’s been well and truly in the doldrums in recent times, that’s a pretty impressive outcome. Not one I was necessarily expecting either, but during a difficult period where criticism has been rife – and not undeserved – I think it’s right to credit the players and the manager for what we’ve done over the two games. I mean, the takeaway from these 180 minutes of football for me, at least, is that Arsenal scored five times against a team that had been on a thirteen game unbeaten run and had conceded just four goals in total in that period. They came into this tie in better form and for Arsenal to win so convincingly was what I would seek to build my story around if I were writing about it. That doesn’t seem to be the case for others though, as the penalty awarded to us yesterday has dominated the headlines and back pages. I’m not one for media conspiracies or anything, but I guess ‘Arsenal win comfortably’ isn’t quite as catchy as ‘Danny Welbeck’s shameful dive overshadows Arsenal win and embarrasses English football – even Gunners fans were appalled’. No, I did not make that up. That was the headline to John Cross’s piece in the Mirror, and at this point we should point out that sub-editors, not journalists, write the headlines, but inside the piece John said:
The game will be remembered for Danny Welbeck’s blatant dive to win a penalty. It was a moment that should embarrass English football and maybe even shame a few others to stop diving once they see the reaction as even Arsenal fans were left appalled. And, ultimately, it was the moment that decided the whole tie because Welbeck dived just at a time when AC Milan were threatening to stage a fightback.
I engaged with John on Twitter about this. Not to defend Danny Welbeck, because I think it was a dive, but with the contention that ‘it was the moment that decided the whole tie’, which is frankly an absurd thing to say. Over the two legs Arsenal scored five times, Milan just once, and while I do understand that it happened at a key moment in the game, to suggest it has embarrassed English football is hyperbole of the highest order. Was it as embarrassing as one of the richest clubs in the world crashing out of the Champions League playing the most atrocious brand of safety-first football you’ll ever see? Was it, perhaps, as embarrassing as the chief executive of the FA conflating the Star of David with the Nazi swastika or the ISIS badge? Or maybe as embarrassing as the FA Chairman signing a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with Qatar, where homosexuality remains illegal and flies in the face of the some of the genuinely good work that has been done in that regard in England (like the Rainbow Laces campaign)? Give me a break. Even the one man who has every right to be outraged if he wants, Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso, wasn’t as shrill and hysterical as elements of the English press, saying:
He is a striker. He has to do what he does, but we can’t use that as the entire influence of English football. Even when I was a player, I always tried to get away with something.
Game, set and match really. Also, the laser-focus on Welbeck for one dive in his career that I can think of is remarkable when there are players at other clubs who have more dives this season than Greg Louganis could manage if he appeared in a hundred Olympics. I’m happy to call it a dive, I don’t like it when our players do it, but what do people want beyond that? Be critical of Welbeck if you want – making sure of course that the same values apply to every player who dives, whether he’s English or foreign – but the idea that he has somehow brought shame to English football is nonsensical. He did what countless players have done before and will do in the future without anywhere near as much fuss. I mean, Milan had a player booked for diving last night. Where’s the outrage? Did it have an impact on the game? Yes. Did it decide the entire tie? My hole did it. Arsenal scored five goals. FIVE.


Milan one. In fact, if you want to look back at the game the biggest problem the visitors had last night wasn’t Welbeck, but their own inefficiency in front of goal. They had good chances, as early as the first minute, and had they not been as wasteful they could have really changed the trajectory of the game. That was something that was in their hands, under their own control, and they fluffed their lines repeatedly. They embarrassed Italian football with their wastefulness. In seriousness though, over the course of those two games the best team has gone through. We got a bit of good fortune with Granit Xhaka’s second, the keeper and his sweaty palms won’t want to watch a reply, and throughout we played some nice stuff without always being able to find the final ball. Welbeck put the icing on the cake late on when he pounced on the rebound after Ramsey’s header from a Wilshere cross was saved, nodding home from close range for his second of the night. And I bet you he went home last night feeling good about himself because he’s got back on the scoresheet, and so he should. It’s important for us and our Europa League campaign that he got back on track a bit so last night was pleasing in that regard. It means we’re in the draw which takes place today, and our potential opponents are: Atletico Madrid, Marseille, Lazio, Sporting Lisbon, RB Leipzig, Red Bull Salzburg, and CSKA Moscow. Varying degrees of difficulty there, but we’re now at the point of this tournament when a place in the final starts to appear in the distance. I think we can take plenty of encouragement from what we’ve done over the two games against Milan, and whoever we get is going to be tough anyway, so bring it on. If we go the distance we’ll have to beat some good teams, but then that’s what happens when you make progress in a tournament like this and it’s exciting. It’s also good to have something that keeps the season alive, keeps the players focused and gives fans something to look forward to. I think we need that. We’ll have the draw for you over on Arseblog News as soon as it happens, and because of the late football last night James and I will have an extra Arsecast Extra for you this morning. If you have any questions or topics for discussion, please send to both of us on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog with the hashtag #arsecastextra, and you can dive right into that before lunchtime. Until then, have a good one, and I hope the shame that Arsenal have brought to English football isn’t too much for you to bear this morning.  

Arsenal 2-0 Brighton: Alexis provides a moment of magic as Gunners win again

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A 2-0 win over Brighton yesterday made it six wins from our last seven games, the 0-0 at Chelsea the only ‘blip’ on our record since that defeat at Anfield. It was an odd kind of game, and I think the 12 noon kickoff played a part in that. Everyone’s just a bit more subdued at that time of the day but generally it was a pretty comfortable victory bar one or two moments which saw the visitors threaten. I suppose you could be concerned that almost every time we play there seem to be moments like that, where the width of a post or the fingertips of Petr Cech would see the complexion of the game change, but when it comes right down to it we focus first and foremost on results and those have been positive. After Alexandre Lacazette had rattled the post in the second minute, Nacho Monreal opened the scoring for us a few minute later, finishing with his right foot after efforts from Shkodran Mustafi and Hector Bellerin had been blocked. It was his first Premier League goal since scoring against Swansea in March 2013, and it opened up the game a bit. Brighton, whose game-plan was to sit deep and deny us space in which to attack had to come out and play, and they did so quite well. A clever free kick routine saw a shot from distance crash back off the post and the rebound skewed wide so there were warning signs there. Nevertheless, Arsenal had control, and better decision making would have seen us extend the lead before the break. You can understand Lacazette’s desire to shoot, but his left-footed effort was tame and with Alexis free outside him the pass would have been the better option. We stepped things up from an attacking point of view in the second half, Alexis was key to that as he drove the attacking play throughout. He created, he had attempts himself – denied a goal only by a deflection which took a shot inches wide – and it was his ingenuity and touch of class that brought about the second goal. On television, because they were showing a replay of a Brighton shot that preceded it, we didn’t quite get to see how well worked the move was, but this graphic illustrates it nicely (via stats centre): We moved the ball with pace and precision, something that they found hard to deal with when we got it right, and the backheel from Alexis found Iwobi whose finish can only be described as emphatic – particularly from a player whose shooting is often a bit more tame than you’d like. At that point the game was more or less won. Arsene Wenger brought on Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott to inject some freshness into the last 20 minutes, but those changes ended up sucking the life out of us from an attacking perspective. If there is a complaint about yesterday it’s that we didn’t really turn the screw and score more goals. It felt like one of those games where we could have done that, and afterwards the manager picked up on it, saying:
Offensively we were certainly not ruthless enough.
Maybe the confidence isn’t quite there in this team yet, but you could see the green shoots at times. The Iwobi goal, a  move in the first half which presented another chance to the Nigerian, and a really slick second half break which saw a close-range Ramsey effort well saved were evidence of the kind of football Wenger wants his team to play. However, there were plenty of other moves and decisions which lacked that incision, and two goals from 25 shots isn’t quite as efficient a return as you’d expect. We are on a run of fixtures from which there’s an expectation of three points, so we’re doing what we need to do. It wasn’t exactly thrilling yesterday, and while there are no bonus points for artistic impression we might just need to think a little more about goal difference and being a bit more emphatic when there’s an opportunity to move that in a positive direction. Still, when it comes right down to it it’s three points, another win, and another clean sheet – that’s four in a row in the Premier League and we haven’t conceded a goal since Anfield. It’s also about the nicest complaint you can have when you can say you won but didn’t quite do it well enough. Ultimately it’s points on the board and that really is the main thing. All in all though, a decent win and we’re now into 5th in the table, level on points with Chelsea. The players go away now on international duty – bar the injured ones like Koscielny and Ozil – and we’ll pick up again in a couple of weeks time with a trip to a currently high-flying Watford. James and I will be here later with an Arsecast Extra for you. If you have any questions or topics you’d like us to discuss, please send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra. We’ll have that before lunch for you, until then.   The post Arsenal 2-0 Brighton: Alexis provides a moment of magic as Gunners win again appeared first on Arseblog ... an Arsenal blog.

Gunners have to ensure Brighton don’t rock + live blog/arses update

It’s our third game in 6 days today, and it’s a very early kick-0ff for a Sunday. The visitors are newly promoted Brighton and Hove Albion, and if you want to find out a bit more about them, check out the last 20 minutes of this week’s Arsecast. Having rested so many players for the midweek win in the Europa League, it’s likely to be quite a different team from the one that beat BATE Borisov, however there are some injury worries for Arsene Wenger. Mesut Ozil is out with a knee problem that’s kept him out of international duty, while worryingly Laurent Koscielny is a doubt as his ongoing Achilles problem has flared up. If he misses out, I’d assume Rob Holding will come into the back three alongside Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal. What will be interesting is to see who he plays in the Ozil role. Aaron Ramsey was shifted forward for the game against West Brom, giving us a central midfield duo of Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny. It worked quite well, but the Egyptian did the full 90 in the last three games, so there may be issues of fatigue there. Alex Iwobi is an option if he passes a fitness test, as is Theo Walcott fresh off his two goal haul in Belarus. Without taking anything for granted, there should certainly enough quality in the squad to cope with a home game against Brighton. Having endured a poor start the season, we’re now unbeaten in six games, and the manager thinks we’re heading in the right direction:
Our recent results make us a bit more confident but as well we want to keep a level of urgency that allows you to perform at your best. If you look at the performances I believe that what’s most interesting is that we looked like we are consistent now and the results are always the consequence of the performances.
As we head into an Interlull after this game, there’s just that little bit extra riding on today’s result. The last Interlull was preceded by that visit to Anfield, a game many of us would like to forget but one which remains indelibly etched onto our brains (yes, I’ve tried wine and beer). The last thing we need is two weeks of introspection and anger because we couldn’t do what we should do, and that’s take three points today. A win would take us to 13 points, level with Chelsea, and 6 behind the two Manchester clubs who are ominously out in front with 19. I watched some of both their games yesterday, and while United have been fairly ruthless in swatting away the mid-table chaff, City’s performance at Stamford Bridge was worryingly good. It’s why games like today are so vital for us. I think we need to look at it first as one from which we take the points, but also one that could improve our goal difference if we play as well as we can. I don’t think there are any easy games in the Premier League, but you can make some of them look easy if you’re efficient and organised, and hopefully we’ll be that today. —

Live blog and arses update

Just a quick update for those of you who use the arses – the bespoke comments system we have on the site – and the live blog. Unfortunately we’re having some real problems getting things back up and running again. We had hoped to have it back for today, but not only have we hit a brick wall, the brick wall has hit us back. Tom and I will be looking at various options, and I’ll be able to give you a more in-depth update shortly. I’m also aware that people paid their subscriptions for live blog chat, so if anybody wants a refund we’ll sort that out without question. Just drop me an email to thearseblog at arseblog dot com with your live blog username and email, and we’ll get that sorted for you. Once again, really sorry about this, but as much as technology makes our lives easier, it can sometimes complicate them too. Like I said though, we’ll have a fuller update for you, hopefully early in the week. As ever though, we’ll have a match report, stats, players ratings and the rest over on Arseblog News after the game. Until then.   The post Gunners have to ensure Brighton don’t rock + live blog/arses update appeared first on Arseblog ... an Arsenal blog.

Arsenal look to BATE Borisov : Sky’s Christmas Eve plans should be resisted

We get the full Europa League experience tonight: a 3,000 mile trip to play a team that are hardly one of Europe’s leading lights with a 6pm kick-off (in the UK at least). Arsenal face BATE Borisov for the first time in our history, and Arsene Wenger has brought a relatively experienced squad but with a real smattering of youth. There are three or four players who have never played at senior level as the manager keeps Sunday’s early kick-off in mind, including a couple of central midfielders, a ‘number 10’, and an apparently versatile defender. There are some, like Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles who have been around the first team squad for a while, and both could start this evening. Wenger spoke very highly of Maitland-Niles in particular, saying that his future as a defensive midfielder is very bright once he can sort out some issues of concentration. The 19 year old will likely be asked to play as a wing-back tonight though. With the experienced players in the squad, we could see a team like this: Ospina, Mustafi, Mertesacker, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Wilshere, Dasilva, Nelson, Walcott, Giroud. The manager says:
I said on Monday night after the game that I would play an experienced team with a young bench. We have a very tight schedule and it is an important game, and that’s why there is only one or two young players who will start the game.
As for tonight’s opposition, who sit third in the league in Belarus ahead of the likes of Torpedo BelAZ, Slutsk and Neman Grodno, I don’t know a lot about them, but Wenger says they’re a strong outfit that we will have to take seriously:
We watched them yesterday. They are a team with good quality, technically strong, so we will need a good performance to have a chance.
They’d certainly enjoy the prospect of taking a big scalp at home. Even if it’s not the strongest team we’d ever put out it’d be a great thing to beat a side like Arsenal. There ought to be enough experience to do the job tonight, but it’s very hard to predict what might happen and how we’re going to play. Coming in a tricky week this could be a potential banana skin but fingers crossed we can get the win, because the quicker we get the points on the board to qualify from the group, the less impact these games will have domestically as there’s even more scope to rotate and play youth. Live blog update: At the moment it doesn’t look like we’ll have the live blog back up and running for today, sorry about that. It’s a bit complicated but hopefully we can get up and running again for Sunday’s Premier League game against Brighton. We will, as ever, have a report and all the post-match stuff over on Arseblog News. — Meanwhile, back home, comes news that Sky Sports are showing their true contempt for fans by scheduling Arsenal v Liverpool for Christmas Eve. They actually requested a 4pm kick off (!), which was refused by police – probably because they couldn’t get the staff – and have since revised that and are currently looking for a 12 noon start. Discussions remain ongoing apparently, and Arsenal have already checked with their own staff to see if they have the numbers to do it. Aside from permanent employees, Arsenal have hundreds and hundreds of part-time staff who work for every home game, so it’s about being able to provide all the required services of a match-day. However, once more it’s an example of television not considering the fans, this time though taken to another level. Without wanting to be all sentimental, and bearing in mind there are many who don’t celebrate Christmas at all, it is a day when many focus on family, their kids, their preparations for the next day (LAST MINUTE HALF-DRUNK SHOPPING!), and all the rest. Then think about what it means for the travelling supporters, who will have all those things as part of their lives, but are then asked to spend most of the day making their way from Liverpool to London and back to Liverpool again – especially with the curtailed travel services on Christmas Eve. Then, let’s look at what we’re being asked to do from a sporting perspective. Arsenal are scheduled to play four games between December 23rd – the current date for the Liverpool game – and January 1st when we host Chelsea. As it stands, this is what we’re looking at: Saturday December 23rd – Liverpool (H) Tuesday December 26th – Crystal Palace (A) Saturday December 30th – West Brom (A) Monday January 1st – Chelsea (H) Four games in 9 days is difficult enough, but to rob us of one more day of ‘rest’ during this period is absurd. There’s already a very good case to be made for playing at least one game fewer at this time of the year, and when more and more evidence tells you this kind of schedule is bad for players, bad for the spectacle, and that a winter break is actually the direction we should be heading in, to try and squeeze these fixtures into even fewer days is something that both fans and the club needs to resist. We all know that television calls the shots, they pay so much money there’s now an expectation that they can do what they want when they want, but there has to be a line. There has to be. Arsenal have a responsibility to do right by their players, right by the club from a sporting point of view, and right by the fans (even if we all know we are the easiest group to ignore in all this). At a time when empty seats are a very real issue for this club right now, to ask people to accept this kind of schedule would be a mistake. People are already choosing other things over Arsenal, and you can be quite sure that many more will choose family first on Christmas Eve. It’s one of those situations that demands solidarity between fans, both Arsenal and Liverpool, who can see very well they way they’re thought of by the fact this idea is even being proposed. It’s not good for Arsenal or Liverpool from a sporting point of view, and it’s terrible for fans. There’s football almost every day of the week now. Weekend games, Friday night football, Monday night football, Premier League games take place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, there’s European football midweek, can’t there just be a couple of days that are sacrosanct? Particularly at a time of the season when there’s a glut of football for us to enjoy? Let’s see what happens, but I suspect this might be one that pushes people too far, and they’d be wise to listen to, and show some respect for, fans on this one. — Right, that’s your lot. Some extra reading for you this morning from Tim Stillman as he looks at the Arsenal Trident. Have a good one.   The post Arsenal look to BATE Borisov : Sky’s Christmas Eve plans should be resisted appeared first on Arseblog ... an Arsenal blog.

Lacazette Double Drives Gunners to Victory as West Brom Denied Penalty

Lacazette goal

Alexandre Lacazette fell short of his first Premier League hat-trick only in his fourth game for Arsenal, but not many will doubt that it’s just a matter of time he gets it. The club record signing scored a double either side of the break to move Arsenal to seventh in the league after six matches.

But that’s just half the story. West Brom might argue the game could have turned out differently as they were denied a blatant penalty by referee Bobby Madley.

It happened halfway through the first half when Jay Rodriguez found himself on the receiving end of an intelligent Gareth Barry pass with the forward penetrating into the penalty box only to be swiped off his feet by sliding Shkodran Mustafi.

Rodriguez immediately stood back up and crossed to Jake Livermore who, in reality, is probably writing ‘I should’ve scored’ a thousand times for homework. Madley remained silent. The Gunners did too.

Then, two quarters into the game, Alexis Sanchez linked up with Lacazette, albeit indirectly, when he took a free-kick from the edge of the box. Diving Ben Fosters deflected the ball into the post, but could only watch as Lacazette’s rebound header rolled into goal.

Perhaps West Brom felt they should be in front instead because they launched forward in response, and Rodriguez came very close, again. Receiving a pin-point cross from the left, he headed past Peter Cech, but the ball was cleared off the line by Nacho Monreal.

As the game resumed, Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey and Mohamed Elneny slowly but surely claimed the middle of the park. Elneny in particular impressed with constant movement on the pitch, and soon the Egyptian found his way into the box and passed to Lacazette – the striker’s shot deflected by Kierran Gibbs.

Pulis looked on as his midfield continued to chase shadows. His attempt to change things: a double substitution. Arsenal, however, had grown too comfortable on the ball by then, getting closer and closer to West Brom’s box.
On one such occasion, Allan Nyom used slightly more force than necessary on Ramsey inside the box and referee Madley pointed to the spot. Pulis was shaking his head.

With Lacazette being one of Europe’s top penalty converters last term, it came as little surprise that he was behind the ball. The striker sent it into the low right corner and beyond the reach of Fosters, 2-0.

Lacazette then had one more chance for a hat-trick before Wenger replaced him with Olivier Giroud, with Ozil also replacing Sanchez.

But that was it. West Brom would be feeling hard done by as the game might have turned out differently with the penalty claim going their way. But few would argue that this was a well-deserved victory for the Gunners. And even fewer observers would remain untouched by Alexandre Lacazette’s early Premier League exploits – three goals in four matches.

*The image in this post courtesy of website.

Three points a must but West Brom will make it tough as always

Morning all. Our next five league games are a chance to get some points on the board, and that starts tonight as we face West Brom at the Emirates. It’s a busy week, because we play tonight, again on Thursday in Belarus in the Europa League, then we have a 12 noon kick-off on Sunday in the league again. It means that Arsene Wenger is going to have to use the full depth of his squad this week, so I think we’ll see as strong a team as possible for tonight. So, tonight I suspect it’ll be: Cech, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Bellerin, Ramsey, Xhaka, Kolasinac, Alexis, Ozil, Lacazette. I’m making the assumption that if Ozil is fit enough to train he’s fit enough to start, and that having got those minutes under his belt last week Sanchez is ready to go from a Premier League point of view as well. The midfield basically picks itself, especially against a team that will look to sit deep, but it’s important that they carry on where they left off against Chelsea last weekend. Tonight is a different proposition, a different kind of opponent, but Ramsey and Xhaka helped provide a stable platform for a very good performance and just because West Brom might be seen as somewhat less threatening doesn’t mean we should abandon that discipline and organisation. If that team is the one he selects, it’ll be the first time we get to see Ozil and Sanchez with Lacazette ahead of them. On paper there is a lot there to trouble defences. There’s pace, creativity, finishing ability, and for a team that played for so long with a more static centre-forward like Olivier Giroud, it should certainly make us less predictable. However, it’s about how quickly they can dovetail, so hopefully there’s been plenty going on on the training ground in that regard. The manager has spoken again about his record signing and the comparisons to Ian Wright, but says the French international may have to toughen up a bit now that he’s in England. He said:
There are similarities. Maybe Lacazette is a bit less aggressive than Ian Wright but hopefully he will get that because in England you have to survive. Up front is a very difficult position because you get harsh treatment sometimes. He looks to have shrewdness and overall I believe if the team plays well he looks always to be at the end of some interesting movements.
He looks a smart player from what we’ve seen so far, and while you don’t want him careering around like Vinnie Jones on PCP, you could see how a bit more edge to him might benefit him and the team. But that aggression doesn’t have to be crunching tackles, it can be seen in how hard he works, and you think back to the third goal against Bournemouth the other week. It was his persistence that won the ball back in the first place, and that’s part of it too. In games like tonight’s, where there’s bound to be a lot of Arsenal pressure in their final third as they defend well and stay organised like a Tony Pulis team does, it’s the ability to convert the chances that becomes so important. He’ll know he should have scored against Chelsea, and while he’s done well enough so far, he’s nearly two months into his career in England and it’s time for him to start making his mark consistently – especially against the teams below the top 6. Overall, we know what to expect from West Brom. They’re solid, physical, and have some quality that can hurt you if you switch off in defensive situations. We know they’ll make it tough for us, but after an indifferent start to the season, these are the games we have to win if we want to be in the ballpark of competing for the top four at least. There was a lot to like about the way we played against Chelsea, so if we can bring much of that into tonight’s game then I think we should be happy come 10pm tonight. We will have all the match coverage for you this evening, with reports, stats and the rest on Arseblog News after the game. There’s no Arsecast Extra this morning for obvious reasons, but James and I will have a podcast for you tomorrow. Join us for that. Catch you later for the game. ARSES UPDATE: All going well we should have the arses back up and running for you today, and with it the live blog too for tonight’s game.   The post Three points a must but West Brom will make it tough as always appeared first on Arseblog ... an Arsenal blog.

Tactics column: A tale of two systems

A week ago this piece would have looked very different. A week ago, Arsenal had just beaten Cologne after switching to a back four at half-time and were widely expected to meekly lose to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Another defeat like the one at Anfield a few weeks ago would have almost certainly seen Arsene Wenger revert to type, banishing the back three formation he never really believed in anyway and returning to the tried and tested 4-2-3-1 on a more permanent basis. Contrary to all expectations, an Arsenal side bereft of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil put in a brilliant performance, stifling Chelsea for the most part and threatening enough (at least in the first half) to deserve a point at the very least. Suddenly, from the brink, the 3-4-3 definitely has a place. That should probably be the root of some optimism but also concern; it feels a lot like Arsenal will continue to blindly stumble around in a particular constellation until that goes so badly so many times in a row there is little option but to change again. Repeat ad nauseam. While the 3-4-3 has its place, it should just be one way the team can play and it is – as we’ve seen – much better suited to games against big sides (like Chelsea in our last three meetings), and games against teams who line up in a similar fashion (like Bournemouth). This weekend’s fixture against West Brom is the perfect time to show Arsenal can adapt and be flexible according to the available squad and the needs of any given game. Barring two (if memory serves) drubbings right at the end of the season (2009 and 2015), home matches against Tony Pulis have always looked the same: Arsenal dominate but hardly create, Arsenal eventually score a half chance and the game ends 1-0 or 2-0 in relative comfort. It’s not usually pretty but this is a tricky fixture and one we’ve never failed to win. It’s actually true of Arsenal across the board in these ‘simpler’ matches that the team doesn’t disappoint: the rate at which we’ve picked up points in home games we ‘should’ win is on par with all our competitive rivals at the top of the table. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The squad situation also does a lot for the argument we should return to playing four defenders when it’s most suitable. Games are now coming thick and fast and there needs to be some rotation at left-back: as things stand, both Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac will play almost every single game. Monreal is the first choice left centre-back as well as being the back-up left wing-back, the opposite applies to our lovable Bosnian brute. With the Europa League coming up in midweek, more League cup games on the horizon and two international breaks before December, the pair will each have to miss some matches. Then there’s Danny Welbeck. After pre-season I touched on how important he was for the front three in pressing. Since then, his performances have impressed and his influence has grown. Playing on the right of the front three, Welbeck ties up at least one defender by driving forward and becoming a second striker. Occupying defenders allows him to team up with Lacazette so the duo can either spark moves or create space for one another. See the opening two goals against Bournemouth as an example. It goes without saying that Alexis Sanchez is a fine player but, as we saw in recent fixtures, he can drop extremely deep for the ball. With Alex Iwobi or Mesut Ozil doing the same on the opposite side, Arsenal quickly lack enough players occupying the opposition high up the pitch (interestingly, this is why it is probably best for Theo Walcott to play on the opposite side from Alexis, a tactic which looked like Arsenal’s only viable route to goal against Doncaster in midweek). With Alexis and Ozil both expected to return to the side, Arsenal will need all the numbers they can get in dangerous areas against a stubborn West Brom defence. That could be the case in the 3-4-3 but not the way Arsenal play it with both Alexis and Ozil, who drop deep and leave an onus on Ramsey to drive at the opposition backline. Wenger has quickly changed during games where Arsenal are stifled and appears to be becoming increasingly impatient. Last season the boss switched back to 4-2-3-1 in minutes 68 (Leicester) and 69 (Sunderland). We saw the same pattern in the opening two games of this season, with the change taking place in the 67th (Leicester) and 66th (Stoke) minutes. Four games is no real sample size but the evidence to this point suggests the change in tactic is hit and miss; a roll of the dice rather than a piece of ingenuity. Thanks to @11tegen11, we can see the the changes made a difference against a tiring relegated Sunderland and to lesser degree against Leicester made a difference, with Arsenal creating chances more frequently. The same can’t be said of the games against Leicester (last season) and Stoke. The situation against Cologne, calling upon Kolasinac at half-time, was completely new. It was the right call but a strange one – Arsenal had the players for this system on the pitch throughout the first half, why wait until half-time? It immediately paid off with Kolasinac scoring but the biggest difference came from Alex Iwobi. Finally Arsenal had a player getting between the defence and midfield, looking to increase the pace of the game and move forward quickly every time he got on the ball. That’s what’s needed to break this sides down. Instead of wasting time with the 3-4-3 only to switch, Arsenal should start with a back four and go after West Brom with a little more verve and an extra player in dangerous areas, be that someone to make runs beyond Alexandre Lacazette or just to pick the ball up behind him. A week after the game at Stamford Bridge was likely to put a nail in the back three’s coffin, it’s probably likely to be the game against West Brom that has Wenger cursing his luck and wondering if it’s the way to move forward. The truth is, of course, that Arsenal should move forward with the ability to play both systems. Having two formations which suit the players is an incredible and long overdue string to Arsenal’s bow but it’s an obsolete one if we are only using it to become predictable in a different way. All the tools are there, now’s the time to use them. Be flexible and thrive.   The post Tactics column: A tale of two systems appeared first on Arseblog ... an Arsenal blog.

Arsenal 1-0 Doncaster: Gunners do the job on a low quality night

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Sometimes the League Cup can be tremendous fun. Teams of fringe players and kids playing lower league opposition just give you something fresh and different. There have been some good nights at the Emirates down the years, but it would be safe to say last night’s 1-0 win over Doncaster wasn’t really one of them. It started well enough, with Arsenal dominating but unable to find a way through. Most of the first 20 minutes seemed to be played in their final third, and there was almost a spectacular opening goal when Olivier Giroud’s acrobatic scissor-kick came back off the bar. There were a series of dangerous low crosses which Arsenal players studiously managed to avoid. Giroud headed an Elneny cross over the bar when he should have scored, and then the one real moment of quality in the game provided what turned out to be the winner. Alexis picked the ball up in midfield, spotted Walcott’s run, and found him with a beautifully weighted ball over the top. The first touch wasn’t poor, and he lifted the ball over the keeper to make it 1-0 in the 25th minute. It should have been the goal that opened the game up a bit, a platform for us to go on and score more, but in reality it was a goal which we saw as some kind of cushion and a lead we didn’t have to worry too much about. The first half ended with Doncaster smashing a good chance into the side-netting, and the second was one of the most tedious 45 minutes of football I can remember for a long time. The visitors had the better chances, bar the absolute sitter that Walcott missed, and by the end I was literally dreading the idea of extra-time. They hit the bar close to the end, but we hung on valiantly to go through. I was, to be perfectly honest, glad it was over. Afterwards, Arsene Wenger said:
I believe that we started well and in the first 25 minutes had a good pace in our game and good flow and slowly lost a bit our cohesion and our speed in our passing and decreased our level. After that I think we did the job even if we had not anymore the style we want to play and the flair to kill the game off.
If there was anything positive to take from the game, beyond the functional victory, it was Jack Wilshere doing 90 minutes. He was the stand-out player in the first half for us, and you could see the extra bit of quality he had, although fitness is still clearly a bit of an issue. Playing the full game will have done him some good, and hopefully he won’t have any adverse effects afterwards. Looking at our squad, I think there’s a chance for him to make an impact in the Premier League, but of course it’s all fitness permitting. His touch looked good, even if his legs got a bit heavy towards the end, but that’s understandable considering how long it’s been since he played a full game. The other interesting thing was a debut for the exciting Reiss Nelson, and while I understand the manager playing him at right wing-back (mostly because we don’t have anyone else right now except Hector Bellerin), I think it’s fair to say it’s not his natural position. There is a need to learn the defensive side of the game, and I think we could see that there’s a bit to do in that regard from his point of view, but it also makes it hard to assess him as he is very much an attacking player. Like Ainsley Maitland-Niles being deployed on the left, we had two youngsters out of position in key areas. We saw how much using Bellerin and Kolasinac in their natural roles helped the fluency of the team against Chelsea, so those selections last night played their part in the overall display. It’s not to criticise either of the young men, but it didn’t help too much. There was also another start for Alexis Sanchez. It’s just me speculating, of course, but it just felt there was something more to this than getting him match fit. Not quite a punishment, but I didn’t expect him to play and especially not for 90 minutes. Maybe it is what he needs, to be revved up, and to have those minutes under his belt, but I guess we’ll see what kind of team we see on Monday against West Brom. We finished the game with two injuries. Calum Chambers went off at half-time and will miss another couple of weeks with a hip problem, while Theo Walcott got a kick on the back of the knee. The duration of his absence is, as yet, unknown. The draw for the 4th round was made afterwards, and it’s a home game against Norwich. Another chance to play some youngsters, at least. Now we head into a weekend with no Arsenal, we don’t play until Monday night, so let’s hope everyone else loses in the meantime. That’s that. Back tomorrow with some kind of Arsecast. Until then.   The post Arsenal 1-0 Doncaster: Gunners do the job on a low quality night appeared first on Arseblog ... an Arsenal blog.

Friendlier fixtures upcoming as Welbeck’s injury opens the door for Alexis

By any reasonable standards Arsenal’s start to the Premier League season has been relatively tricky. Away games at bogey team Stoke and at Liverpool, as well as a game at Stamford Bridge against the Champions. The two home fixtures were ones we were fully expected to win, and we did, but it was what we did on the road that was going to set the mood, so to speak. In that regard, despite the difficulty of the games, to come away with just one point is disappointing, and after five games we sit in 12th, with 7 points, 6 points behind the leaders, and with a goal difference of -1. It is too early to get a real measure of the table, five games is such a small sample size, but it’s fair to say that the next month or so gives us a chance to correct that somewhat. The next five Premier League fixtures are: 25.09.17 – West Brom (H) 01.10.17 – Brighton (H) 14.10.17 – Watford (A) 22.10.17 – Everton (A) 28.10.17 – Swansea (H) N0t easy games, you can’t allow yourself to think like that, but easier games, and a real chance to get some points on the board. After that there’s an away trip to a currently rampant Manchester City, at which stage we’ll have another chance to see how well learned the lessons of Anfield were in terms of how we prepare and set up for it, and then a North London derby at home. So it’s important to get some momentum going because we will need it. Don’t forget, there are other games sandwiched between those. Tomorrow we’ve got Chupacabra Cup action against Doncaster Rovers (more on that and the serious rotation we’ll see tomorrow), as well as three Europa League ties against Bate Borisov and Red Star Belgrade (twice). There’s plenty of football to get our teeth and feet into. One man who most likely won’t be around for the next few weeks is Danny Welbeck, who is set to miss at least 4 weeks with a groin injury that he picked up against Chelsea on Sunday. I would say that when it comes to those kind of injuries, that’s a conservative estimate, they can often take longer to heal than you’d like, but fingers crossed it’s not too serious. Arsene Wenger seemed a bit pessimistic about it in the immediate aftermath of the game, but the England striker is due another scan today, at which point we should get a better idea of how long he’ll be out. There will, of course, be some who’ll say that Welbeck’s finishing is such that we won’t miss him, but I think that underestimates how much work he does in that position to the left of the striker. I think his grounding at Manchester United under Alex Ferguson makes him a very conscientious player, someone who isn’t going to shirk his defensive duties, and if you’re looking to press the opposition high up the pitch his stamina and athleticism make him a great proponent of that. He also has three goals to his name this season, and an assist, so it’s not as if he hasn’t contributed. That said, the obvious replacement for Welbeck is Alexis Sanchez, so things could be a lot worse. The Chilean has been eased back into action by Arsene Wenger since his late return this summer, which is quite unusual actually. We’ve normally been less cautious about playing him, banking on his inherent fitness and physical conditioning to see him through, but this time around the manager has preferred to keep him on the bench for the Premier League. He gave him the full 90 against Cologne, to get those minutes under his belt, and he’ll have another full week of training too before we face West Brom next Monday. The door has been well and truly left open for his return due to the injury to Welbeck, and now we’ll see what he can do with a run in the team. I know there are people who have doubts, that he might be upset or unmotivated because of what happened in the summer, but I don’t really share those. He is who he is, he loves to play football and he loves to win. Also, let’s not pretend he’s been denied a lifelong dream to go to Man City or something. Yes, he might have wanted it, it might have suited him, but he didn’t grow up in Tocopilla hoping that one day he might be able to pull on the famous light blue shirt of the second team in Manchester who are owned by Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment. Sure, it makes a good story in the media to play up every little thing that happens, as if each gesture, each reaction to something, is evidence that he is some kind of impoverished, beaten-down football hostage, but that’s really not the reality. Even during the Chelsea game he was accused of laughing when Lacazette missed, but if he was laughing at that it means he doesn’t care, and if he didn’t care he wouldn’t be on his feet in the first place. It’s laughable, but then that’s the modern media climate we’re dealing with. All the same, there’s an onus on him to produce, and need for him to produce. This is a team that needs in injection of something right now, and a player of the quality of Alexis Sanchez is the perfect candidate to do that. Righto, I will leave you this morning with yesterday’s Arsecast Extra, in which James and I discuss the Chelsea game and everything else around that, as well as lots of listener questions about Ozil and Sanchez, Mustafi, terrible crisps and lots more. Listen/subscribe below. Till tomorrow.


This Arsecast Extra was recorded with ipDTL   The post Friendlier fixtures upcoming as Welbeck’s injury opens the door for Alexis appeared first on Arseblog ... an Arsenal blog.

Luiz Sent off as Arsenal Draw Chelsea at Stamford Bridge

Arsenal battled Chelsea to a draw in an entertaining cat-and-mouse showing at Stamford Bridge which saw the hosts finish with ten men.

Brazilian David Luiz received late marching orders for a rash challenge on Sead Kolasinac to make it Chelsea’s third successive game to finish with reduced numbers against the Gunners.

The match saw the return of most of the regular first eleven, apart from Mesult Ozil who was ruled out with a late muscle, while Alexis Sanchez started on the bench.

That was soon left behind as both teams started with intensity rivalling their last official encounter from May.

Spurred by the home crowd, Chelsea came up with something first. Cesc Fabregas lobbed the ball to Pedro releasing him for one-on-one, but the Spaniard fell short against Cech.

Then, in the 40th minute, Arsenal received arguably their best chance of the game when Aaron Ramsey slalomed his way into the penalty box and whipped a shot past Thibaut Courtois; The ball hit the post and fell to Alexandre Lacazette, but his attempt flew wide of goal in front of the disbelieving looks of the Arsenal bench.

After the break, Chelsea launched forward with regained enthusiasm. But the Gunners’ mifield duo of Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey seemed to have done their homework from the defeat to Liverpool from several weeks ago as control of the centre of the park remained steady.

Two thirds of the game had passed before both dug-outs pulled their aces out: Wenger by bringing in Sanchez, while Conte – Hazard.

In the 75th minute, Arsenal reignited memories from the May FA Cup final when Shkodran Mustafi headed the ball in after a cross, only for the linesman to flag it offside.

Chelsea’s piled on pressure in the dying stages with Hazard coming close on a couple of occasions. But, in the 87th minute, Chelsea’s momentum was cut short by a Luiz red card for a brash chop on Sead Kolasinac.

As the final whistle blew, Wenger could clearly feel happier. His team’s performance showed none of the faults that caused them to concede four at Anfield. And even though they didn’t score, they also prevented Chelsea from scoring at Stamford Bridge for the first time under Conte. And that is something to build upon.