Sunday, December 29, 2013

Top of the Table for New Year

It was another ugly win but ultimately this win brings Arsenal to the top of the table. Both Newcastle and Arsenal were not bright in the first half, failed to threaten other goals except for the last moment for Newcastle when they hit the bar from the corner. Arsenal was the more effective side, scoring goal from their first clear cut chance. Theo Walcott chipped the freekick and Giroud found the room between Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini and headed it. It was his first goal for the last few games, and surely it would gave him boost of confidence to find the net. Newcastle was pushing hard for equalizer in the closing stage of the game, but Arsenal defended well and ensured 3 points, as well the top spot of Premier League till New Year, regardless of Chelsea vs Liverpool result.

It was a really tough test for Arsenal. We came to top six team's home without two of our best player, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil, and our captain who are usually ready on the bench was out because of illness. Newcastle was unbeaten for the last 6 matches and they had beaten Manchester United in Old Trafford, where we lost 0-1. In addition, Olivier Giroud wasn't particularly sharp in front of goal lately, and Gooner has been wanting him to be dropped from the team, but Wenger didn't do so, a decision that later gave Arsenal three points as Giroud scored the winning goal. From the brighter side, Koscielny was back from injury and partnered Mertesacker in the defence.
Giroud celebrates his goal.
Photos from Arsenal facebook page by Stuart MacFarlane of Arsenal FC

The first half was one of our worst attacking performance, but our defence was solid as usual, the passes were not linked well, and most of our chance are from long, weak shot. Walcott nearly find a good space on one occasion but the pass from Rosicky was too far from him. But generally it was a boring first half. Newcastle on the other hand was not bright either but did came close to scoring twice at the injury time of the first half. Second half was almost the same and Arsenal were not sharp in the final third of the Newcastle penalty area, but Walcott was able to send a simple - yet terrific - freekick to find Giroud and the Frenchman made a touch to beat Tim Krul.

Giroud found goal, finally, and this goal hopefully will boost his confidence and silence some critics. He did look a bit short of confidence after miskicked an easy chance after the goal. The backfour is once again solid, particularly Sagna and Mertesacker who are faultless today. Mertesacker did few crucial interception and clearances as we registered a clean sheet (finally). Koscielny might have given away a ball away led to dangerous chance for Newcastle, but otherwise he was solid. Gibbs was uncomfortable down the right as most of Newcastle attack was from that side, but still delivered a decent performance. Szczesny funny moment almost cost us 3 points when he kicked the ball straight to Loic Remy but luckily the ball out of the play from deflection. It's not the first time he did that (remember that kick to Sturridge in our 2-0 victory against Liverpool).  He must be more careful next matches not to do the same, next mistake might lead to a goal (well like Schalke's goalkeeper against Chelsea).

Another ugly win, and we have faced all of the Premier League teams and stayed on top. Next few games are a winnable games if our feet can be kept on the ground and play our normal game. Can we say that we can challenge for title? Yes we have half of the season again till the finish line, but as Wenger said, "If you don't believe yourself, you can't go anywhere". I think Arsenal have potential to win something at the end of the season, if we can maintain the winning habit. One or two purchase at January might help us to keep the top spot. 

Well, at least, all Gooners celebrating New Year while their team on the top. COYG!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

West Ham - Arsenal Post Match Thought

Arsenal grabbed a nervy win at Upton Park as they came from behind 3-1 against West Ham squad who last week knocked out Sp*rs from League Cup. Arsenal dominated first half but failed to score any, but West Ham opened the score just after the break after Charlton Cole capitalized Wojciech Szczesny's mistake. The polish keeper spilled Kevin Nolan's shot and gave West Ham lead. Arsenal struggled to find equalizer as West Ham as the home team defended well, and even they nearly scored twice which went wide from the target. However, Podolski introduction changed the game, as Theo Walcott equalized few minutes after that, as West Ham keeper Adrian failed to make a routine save on Walcott's tame shot. Podolski made a wonderful cross headed by Theo Walcott to make it 2-1 for Arsenal. Podolski impact was not only there, he sealed three points from a stunning finish on the 79th minutes, a lay off from Olivier Giroud.

West Ham - Arsenal stats
photos from Worldwide Arsenal Fans

It was a really nervy game for Arsenal. We might have dominated the game, but West Ham got some great chances as our defending was not as tight as usual. Arsenal really suffered defensively especially after West Ham opened the scoreline. Lucky they were not clinical in front of goal and we were able to find the equalizer before they scored another one.That equalizer was the turning point of the game. Arsenal dominated the possession and chances more and West Ham looked losing confidence. Only three minutes between Walcott first and second goal showed the impact of that equalizer, and after that West Ham lost the plot. It was a nice mentality test to see whether Arsenal can challenge for title or not. Coming from behind is a definite trait a champion must have and it's good to see Arsenal showed it today.

There are few players I would like to talk about on this game.
1. Santi Cazorla
Santi Cazorla enjoyed a fairly good game, and he looked much more sharper in the middle. He started on the left side but shifted after Podolski replaced injured Ramsey. Cazorla was playing in the Ramsey role for few minutes before Flamini's entrance, but he looked much more comfortable there instead of playing wide. He was not bad in the wing but in his natural position in the center he can stamp his authority on the game, getting space between midfield and defend and spraying the passes. If he continues playing like this, Wenger might be forced to play Ozil on the wing and Cazorla played centrally. 

2. Lukas Podolski
What an impact for a player who has been away from the team for few months, one goal and one assist. He offered more direct play and width compared to Cazorla and Wilshere, who are naturally a central attacking midfielder. He can play centrally as a striker, if Wenger decided to bench Giroud. In addition, Podolski is a more clinical finisher compared to Giroud, although he can't offer aerial strength like the Frenchman. His return can give more depth for Arsenal to challenge for the title, and give Wenger some option to rotate the starting line-up.

3. Olivier Giroud
Olivier Giroud badly need rest. He had failed to score in recent weeks, and what worse is how clinical he is in front of goal. I don't mind if you don't score because the keeper is somehow playing very well and denying all your chances, but Giroud missed the chances because he miskicked or were unable to react quickly for the ball. Yes he deserved some credit for working hard but he looked short of sharpness in front of goal and, Bendtner or Podolski deserved to start upfront. Who knows with benching him, he can get back his sharpness? Remember Szczesny last season benched against Bayern and got a good form after that.

4. Aaron Ramsey
The only bad thing after the match is that Ramsey was brought off because of injury. Yes he hadn't been playing that well in recent games, but he is our best player in 2013 and we still need it for the next few games. 

This result brought Arsenal to the top, at least for few hours, but they might stay longer should Liverpool failed to beat Manchester City away (I hope so). That would be a perfect Christmas present for all the Gooners: Top of the Table one more time! 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Arsenal - Everton 1-1: Two points dropped

Arsenal were unable to extend the lead following the 1-1 draw against Everton. Arsenal opened the scoreline via Mesut Ozil but Everton managed to equalize via Gerard Deulofeu few minutes later. This result, however, still made Arsenal sit on the top off the table, 5 points from Liverpool and Chelsea on the second and third place.
How EPL stands as Gameweek 15.
 Photos from Arsenal - Transfers & Analysis 

Arsenal were not having their best performance in the first half, as Everton pressed hard and dominated the game. They got more possession, especially in the early 20 minutes. Arsenal only started to get the feet on the game after 30 minutes, and they managed to create two 1-on-1 chances, but Tim Howard was brilliant to deny Giroud and Ramsey. Kieran Gibbs could've scored had he react quicker to Santi Cazorla's cross. Everton, despite their dominance, didn't have clear cut chances in front of goal in the first half.

On the second half, Arsenal played better stuff, and slowly pressing Everton. They wasted few chances  to open the scoreline. Koscielny mistimed a volley kick via freekick from Cazorla and Giroud was unable to shoot it either on one occasion. Finally Mesut Ozil finally finds the net on 81st minute and everyone thought it's Arsenal victory.  However, after that goal, they switched off and let Everton to find their game and Arsenal were punsihed, and concede that goal. I have to say the Everton's goal was pure class, it's just flair of Gerard Deulofeu. No chance for Szczesny to save that, but I think Arsenal should not let Everton re-take the control of the game. 

I was really disappointed with this result, and consider this "2 points dropped", but fair play to Everton. They played good football and deserved points also from this match. They created more shot than Arsenal, and had more possession. They proved that the win in Old Trafford is no fluke and they have quality to mount for Champions League spot. I expect them to be better than Sp*rs this season, looking on how they play here.

Maybe Arsenal was a bit jaded? With just few days after the Hull game and with almost no change to the line up, and the fatigue might have crept in. Arsenal didn't look sharp in this match, and misplaced some passes and didn't find the decisive pass, especially in the first half. Ramsey and Wilshere seems to pick up a knock but I hope they would be okay for this month. We need some depth to tank this festive period.

On the Good Side? Rosicky proved he has that pass, and we can rely on him should we need to rest Wilshere or Ramsey. In addition, Arsenal still hold the top of the table, albeit not save for next few weeks, considering Arsenal next two match would be away game to Manchester City and home game against Arsenal. And before that, an away game to Naples. What a tough month for Arsenal. We have survived November, I hope we can survive December too.