Thursday 12 April 2012

We score, three more!

Scoring ways!
 Even though it was a comprehensive victory for us, apart from a handful of incidents, there wasn't much in the match. Almost everyone had written off Wolves after the first 11 minutes. Barring a few nervy moments on Arsenal's part, it was almost a lethargic cake walk for the visitors.

9 minutes into the game and Walcott was looking as menacing as ever. His runs behind and through the defense were brilliant and it didn't take long for the first opening. RVP lobbed a pass over the defense to Walcott and just when he was about to control and finish, in the penalty box, Bassong tackled him and Walcott went to ground. The referee had to award the penalty. Bassong was red carded for the being tackling last defender. The penalty was deserved, the sending off might be a bit too harsh. But that was the referee's decision. RVP took the penalty(his first goal in 4 matches), and that too in some style.

Some people might argue that if Ashley Young's antics against QPR were criticised, so should Theo Walcott's. But I guess they just have to look at both the incidents, you have the Youtube, and see for themselves if they are similar or world's apart. No more comments on that.

Wolves were down to 10 men inside the opening 10 minutes and the home supporters almost felt sorry for their team. However, it got worse just 2 minutes after the first goal. RVP again made a square pass to Walcott near the Wolves' penalty box, and he finished it neatly past Hennessey. The crowd was frustrated at being 0-2 down in 11 minutes. They targeted their frustration on Walcott and booed him throughout the match, whenever he got near the ball. He looked a bit turned down after this and it just looked like the crowd rounded him up a bit.

Actually it was not just Walcott, but the whole team put on the brakes and played cautiously, content with passing the ball around and keeping possession. This added to the home supporters frustration and they started cries of "Boring, Boring" to put off the Gunners.

Arsene said,
We started well and then had a situation where we could control the game. Did we push on or not? After that we played a bit with the handbrake on, they played deeper and defended like mad with a great spirit until the end of the game.
Maybe that gave Wolves a chance to try and attack a bit with whatever they had. Some defensive lapses allowed the Wolves' players to put crosses into the box. Santos, in particular, looked a bit off his game. Though he is not known for his defensive capabilities, he did not looked comfortable at all in defense.

Szczesny didn't have much to do in the match apart from two brilliant saves. One came when Jarvis crossed the ball to Doyle who headed it goalwards, and though Szczesny looked to be going the wrong side, made a brilliant fingertips save from 3 yards away and parried the ball away. Another one came, off a Milijas shot and the Pole made a save it at his near post.

Though we were looking quite comfortable in the game, with 0-2 ahead, there must something going at the back of the Arsenal players' minds that if Wolves scored a goal, they will be right back in the game. The third goal had to be scored, but it couldn't come soon enough. Midway through the second half, Song was dwelling far forward in the oppositions penalty box and made a pass to Benayoun on the edge of the box. Benayoun spotted Hennessey moving towards the far post and shot at the near post for a clever finish.

The third goal surely sealed thee victory for the Gunners and the only thing left to take care of was the clean sheet, which we got. We got some goals to add to the goal difference, RVP was back on the score sheet and three more points in the league for us. RVP equalled Ian Wright's Premier League record of scoring against 17 different teams in a season. We are now 5 points ahead of Rottenham and Newcastle, and sitting happily in third position. Arsene said,
I am very happy that we are in this position but I am also very cautious because some teams have been in that position before. We want to win our next game because where we have come from this season we must be focused. We have come from very deep and to stay in this position we have to focus on our next game.
Obviously focus is going to be important, considering our next match against Wigan and their recent exploits. They were very unlucky to lose against Chelsea and they came back strongly to beat Manu yesterday. Surely the Gunners have a lot to study before the Monday night game and there are enough lessons learned already for us to act positively and "focus" on the next game.

Go Gunners!

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Back to business...Wolves vs Arsenal

Good to see the number 8 jersey on worthy shoulders!

It has been a horribly long time since I dropped the last post. It has been a low 10 days for me, health-wise. But now I am back in business, after being sick. No this sickness is not because of Ashley Young's potential Olympic gold winning dive against QPR, or the FA's decision against Arsene and not even Balotelli's kung-fu practice on Alex Song, neither from FA's reluctance to punish Maverick Mario for trying to involve violence in his game. Maybe those things will make you more than just be sick, but feels good to be back.

One thing that I did not miss was our continual form, if not ascent. But there has been something in the past two months that has almost ensured that the ascent is slow but steady and the things that looked bleak at the start of this season are proving quite sparkling now. Our win over the cash kings has just strengthen that belief that, maybe, money isn't everything.

I have never seen this league being so fierce in competition, where, barring few teams, almost every team has a reason to fight until the end of the season. There are only 6 games left to be played and it is almost impossible to predict which teams will finish in the third and fourth spot. I am considering that Manc, 10 points ahead of Arsenal and 8 behind Manu, won't give up on their title challenge. However, a lot of teams have just evaporated under pressure of the title race in the past. Manc are showing signs of that kind of pressure. Rottenham, who were in the hunt for the title until they came across us and then their slump in form, are now struggling to stay in the fourth spot.

Back to tonight's match against Wolves. When you look at the league table, you will see Wolves at the bottom. It's so easy to be complacent and underestimate your opponents in such situations. We have already paid the price against QPR just 10 days back and we are not lucky enough, like some other teams, to have referees who would be grateful enough to be the 12th man on the pitch. But you just get the feeling that there are enough players in our team who have got their heads screwed tightly to their shoulders, who will be sensible enough to guide themselves and the team to focus.

Arsene has shielded himself from any kinds of prediction and do the simpler thing, take each match as it comes, and try to win it. He says,
Let's not anticipate, that is something else that is important. When it gets to the last sprint, the focus on the next game becomes the most important part because you are always tempted to anticipate. We have the experience to know just to deal with the next one and that is the only important thing.
Although, Arsenal has been successful on each of their trips in the past to the Molineux, Wolves have a decent group of players in their team, but again, predicting anything based on what is "on paper" is as good as predicting what's out there in the universe.

As far as team news is concerned, we have Gibbs out due to a groin "fatigue". AW insists that it's not an injury, it is just a rest for his groin. If I am not mistaken, it is Gibbs' 9th or 10th straight game after returning from injury. But given his age, you would expect him to be fitter, but there you go. Which means Santos gets a start in a long time. He offers that extra edge in the attack, thanks to his Brazilian roots, but I am not too sure about his defensive capabilities. Jarvis has been pretty good for Wolves this season, and Santos will do good to keep him quite. Gervinho still stays out with an ankle injury, Benayoun might get another start in place of him. Kos is suspended after clocking 10 yellow cards this season and Djourou takes his place. Sagna's inclusion is still doubtful. There was no news about him being injured, I think AW will want to play safe. But excluding Sagna might mean changing 3 of the back four and that may give enough reasons for our defense getting out of sync.

All things said, I think it is a good chance for us to score some goals, gain on the goal difference. 3 more points and that would put us 5 points safe from the fourth spot!
Go Gunners!

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Missing links

I know it's a little late in the day to be writing, but there has been hardly any news at all other than some transfer rumors or some Rottenham players bragging their socks off. Honestly, throwing away a 12 point lead and then going behind by 3 points and then coming level again isn't a point of pride, it's a point of shame. Everyone's thinking about how Arsenal is the team under pressure now, what about the time when they went almost two months without a win!? They went from a team talking about being in the title race to a team talking about Champions League qualification chances. You shouldn't be thinking about how much pressure others are in, you should be thinking about your own inabilities.

We have RVP talking about his central striker role and evolving as the target man from being the second striker. For me he is better suited to the main striker role than as the second striker. Yes he does quite well in the link up plays, but for me, his greatest asset is his positioning sense and then the finish. At the start of the season, I though Ramsey might be suited to play just behind RVP, but the depth of squad and a lot of reshuffling meant that he wouldn't be able to adapt to that role.

A lot of people blame him for not playing up to his potential and his inability to create. However, if you look at it, he has been playing all over the midfield and just hasn't found the time to settle in. He has shown great determination to comeback after that horrific injury, when people had written him off as being another Eduardo case. I honestly feel that Arsene should make up his mind about Ramsey's role in the team, and then give him time in that role. He is too good-a-player to be getting a squad player role.

A lot of our problems in recent seasons have evolved through players who have not realised their full potential for the team. Either they have proved the manager wrong in opting for them or the manager has just not found the right tactics for the player. Arshavin is an example of a player who hasn't done his ability any good. But then again, before arriving to Arsenal, he had been used to playing as the second striker, in the hole. Playing on the wings was a bit new to him, but it was something he handled well in his first season.

Actually he played as the striker for sometime, when RVP was injured and we had almost no striking options, but it simply wasn't his place to be. That was a time when another Arsenal youngster wasn't given much opportunities or simply wasn't deemed able enough to appear consistently for the first team, that was Carlos Vela. He has been a loanee at other clubs for most of his Arsenal career. Maybe these players just didn't come to terms with the rigors of the premier league.

When you look at the current team, you don't see too many big name players, but they have adapted quite well as a unit and that's the reason for their recent run of form. I know we have enough reasons to worry after looking at the current situation on the third and fourth spot, given our opponents in the remaining matches. However, we have done quite well, recently, against "bigger" teams. Frankly, I am more worried about so called lower opponents.

The Manc game is absolutely vital in terms of result, and the point(s) we earn in that match. More than the result, it is going to be the manner of the result that will matter most. It absolutely won't work if we play the way we did against QPR. Even Manc have been on a bad run recently and everyone knows how much a win for them in this match will matter in the title race.

We still have five days until the next match. It leaves with enough time to think over the tactics for that game. Arsene has a lot to think about arranging his players, his starting-XI. It's absolutely crucial how he handles his bench. A lot can happen with the right substitutions at the right time. I hope he keeps his plans B, C etc. up his sleeve, just in case they are needed. He has a lot on his plate than worrying about team members smoking their lungs out during night outs, and players who are hardly likely to play in the remaining matches.

Monday 2 April 2012

Pressure mounts.

The official Arsenal site mentions about a three fold plan for any successful team. Maybe not exactly, but there are various articles from Wenger and RVP talking about the next steps for Arsenal. Arsene talks about the QPR match and calls it a reality check(like I mentioned yesterday), he says,
It is difficult to explain because we prepared as usual. Maybe we sensed it would be easier than usual and once you have that in your heads it is difficult to come back to reality.
Yes, there might have been a hint of complacency, considering that you are playing a team from the relegation zone. If you look at our performance against the bottom three, we have lost against Blackburn & now, QPR. We have drawn a match against Wolves. Most of those losses/draw are down to complacency. Our performance in recent seasons against lower oppositions should have been experience enough. We have had trouble against Blackburn in the past too.

The question is, why should there be any complacency or any "taking for granted" at all? It's the premier league and teams have given absolutely everything to get here and remain here. Why should a lower opposition be so called? We already have classic examples of over confidence punishing teams, there were already lessons to be learned, but we simply did not.

Of course there is no need to over-react, we had won seven in a row before this loss. It's just that losing against QPR, after a winning streak against Rottenham, Milan, Everton etc, just seems hard to digest.
Arsene suggests,
We have to take the distance with that and put things into perspective. We have to go back to basics; that means to win football games and win your fights first. We have to play like we do. It is disappointing to lose a big run in the way that we did it here. At the end of the day the result does not lie. The focus was missing a little bit and the way we conceded the goals was disappointing. I felt that we lacked something, I do not deny that.
I guess a bit of change in strategy might help too. Though we might have new found belief and resilience in this team, I feel that our approach play has got a bit predictable. There seems to be no Plan B, C or D. The consistency is not consistent throughout the team. Basics, according to me, is not just moving around the football. You should be able to hold the ball too when teams are pressing too much. Which is why players like Arteta and Rosicky are doing well when teams press against them, they have the experience.

Just playing your own game and remaining blind towards the oppositions strategy is not going to help. We must be aware of our oppositions tactics and plan accordingly. Small things like TV or Kos charging forward with the ball, do matter a lot. I just didn't see these things happening in the match. Infact, Kos was hardly visible even in the defense. Usually, he is very good at making interceptions and carrying the ball out of defense, so is TV. Zamora did a very good job of holding both of the defenders and keeping them away from the ball as far as possible.

Our next match is absolutely crucial for us, to keep us in our current position. After Rottenham won their match against Swansea, they are level on points with us, but due to a lower goal difference, they remain in fourth position. We play Manc at home, and the team should be more comfortable at home, with a familiar pitch and 50,000 fans behind you.

RVP says,
Everyone is disappointed but towards the end of the week I am sure the spirit will be how it was. We’ll have a couple of days to be disappointed but after that our focus is on Manchester City. It is a shame we have wait eight days for the game, but it is how it is. Losing at QPR is a big blow but we have to look forward and the next one is a big one.
I am sure he'll be raring to have a go, maybe overcome his very short barren patch. Big players always thrive on big occasions. These kind of big matches is what they live for and dream of playing in. RVP is no exception to that. Even after the loss, he is confident that after the initial disappointment, the team will be back with their old spirit and enthusiasm to face Manc. He says,
Everyone is disappointed but towards the end of the week I am sure the spirit will be how it was. We’ll have a couple of days to be disappointed but after that our focus is on Manchester City.
 I hope the team is as excited as this to go ahead and take up the challenge. I am sure Arsene must be giving his "every match is a cup final" talk time and again. But that is what now the games are going to be like, cup finals. Chelsea won last night and are just 5points away from us now, so is Newcastle. Maybe these things will add more pressure on the team, maybe they will serve as boosters, but that's the fact. Let's hope we'll see a more dynamic team on the weekend.

Sunday 1 April 2012

Reality check.

The Premier League can be that cruel when you take it for granted, even for that little bit. It demands what it wants, and it expects nothing less. Last evening's performance showed you exactly that, and at such a juncture when the scales could be tipped almost in every direction. Every single team in this league is fighting for something.

We might have been low on commitment, according to Wenger, but if you ask me, this is the kind of defeat that has not happened for the first time. Maybe commitment is too harsh-a-word to use, but there was definite complacency. The '04 team did not become "The Invincibles" overnight. There was a lot of effort, lot of focus and consistency and commitment too. When you have had a seven game winning streak, does not mean that you are invincible.

Harry Redknapp last week mentioned that Arsenal were bound to drop points somewhere. I passed him off as a fool, who depended on our faults for his team to succeed. Maybe he had the Manc and Chelsea matches that we still have to play in the remaining seven. But you know what, we haven't yet played those matches and now we are potentially leveled on points with Rottenham, maybe potentially only ahead on a thin goal difference. Now most of us might be wishing for a Rottenham slip against Swansea, at White Hart Lane. It is true, the it doesn't take much for the wind to change direction! Also, Chelsea are now just 5 points behind us.

Manc drew against Sunderland last night and our three points could have put us just 10 points behind them, now its a 13 points difference.
Arsene said,
I do not want to single anyone out but of course we made defensive mistakes. It is a good shock to come back to what has made our strength recently. Subconsciously something was missing today. In the Premier League, if you miss something on the commitment front you are beaten. That is what happened today.
Apparently, something better from TV could have prevented both the goals. For the winner though, I think he was unlucky for the slip. If you observed carefully, there were lot of slips from the Arsenal team yesterday, we had some problem with the ball control, with managing our own pace. A lot of that blame can be put on the pitch. But, QPR were playing on the same pitch too, but then, it being their home ground they know it better and are better adjusted.
Arsene had something to say about the pitch too,
The pitch is not smaller than any other pitch. The pitch was bad but it does not explain our performance. We did not create enough to win a football game.
I am not sure what he meant to say when he says that it is not smaller than any other pitch,...yes, so? But he is right about us not creating enough. I don't think we played particularly bad, we had decent possession of the ball. QPR invited us to come at them with the ball, and then when the players came to close, they pressed really well. We have had problems in this season when teams have pressed against us. I don't think that I have seen Arsenal's usual passing game this season, that we are used to see previously. Yes we have passed the ball well in recent matches, but it is still not the way it was before.

Zamora was like a big mountain between the ball and our defenders. He shielded the ball so well that it forced our defenders to make mistakes. Kos was almost invisible in the game. TV looked over committed in tackles at times and let the attackers get away. Arteta kept the ball really well, but he has got to contribute more to our forward play. He anchors the team well, but he has more in him than just passing the ball sideways and keeping possession. For me, Song was the only one who tried to create something time and again. It didn't matter that some of his creations failed to materialise, but he is getting better with that in each passing game.

Ramsey just looked out of position playing on the left, the team just did not looked balanced. Most of our attack was concentrated and focused through the right flank from Sagna and Walcott. Walcott was kept quiet and contained well by Derry. The goal might have earned Walcott some points.

I know that we can't expect RVP to score in every match. But it's been what, 3 games since he scored? We have had goals from other players lately, but RVP has to be our target man. He has been playing a bit more in the middle for my liking, allowing Walcott to assume that striker role time and again. Even though it is where RVP should be playing, but that's if we have a regular central striker and Walcott is not a real striker for me. Till such a time, RVP must play in that role and I think he does pretty well in anticipating chances in the box and his position is second to none. He missed a chance yesterday, but that was down to a great save from their keeper. But you expect such chances to be taken with his quality.

Again, Gervinho was not in the starting eleven. When you have two full time wingers in Gervinho and Ox, I just can't fathom the reason to play Ramsey on the left. I understand that Rosicky has been playing where Ramsey is used to play often, but Rosicky has been in good form recently and completely deserves a start. Ramsey on the other hand just seems a bit hesitating when it comes to the final third, and maybe Arsene needs to think about his tactics more cleanly. Ramsey, for me, would be better suited in an Arteta position, but then again, Arteta has brought immense experience to that role. But I would never play him on the left.

Then, Gervinho was brought on too late and Ox, even later, for any impact to be made. The lack of playing time has made Gervinho a bit rusty too. Also maybe the African Cup of Nations miss might have affected him. But that thing is almost two months old now, shouldn't he have gotten over it till now?

It brings us to the Manc game next. They have had two straight draws and have fallen behind in the title race to Manu. They surely wouldn't want to let go off that opportunity to win a league title in a long time. Our job will be a bit tough, but its a match where we cannot be low on confidence or on concentration or commitment. Manc have a very good squad and players that could punish you  with the slightest lapse in performance.

So again, it is up to us to keep our league position intact and not slip up any further.
Arsene says,
We know how to respond, we have been exposed to this situation this season. We have a good opportunity on Sunday but it will be needed after giving away the points today.
Yes we have faced such situation in the season, but I think it is going to be tougher as we approach the end of the season. I am sure everyone is on their toes!