Arsenal Positives Despite Losing to Manchester City

Manchester City’s amazing home form continues with a 6-3 victory over Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium.  Seems as if the difficult week of fixtures finally have caught up to Arsenal.  After a draw at home to Everton last Sunday and a loss midweek to Napoli in the Champions League, Arsenal had little time to recover for the early start against Manchester City.  As a result, Arsenal were running on tired legs towards the latter stages of the game and City punished them.

Holding a six-point advantage over City, and a five-point advantage over second place Liverpool and third place Chelsea; Arsenal could have afforded a slip while City had to take the initiative to win this game.  Despite knowing this, Arsenal came out to win this game instead of playing it safe.  That type of attitude will serve them well in the long run and is a testament to their manager, Arsene Wenger.

Before the game, Manchester City held an undefeated record at home.  They were 7-0-0 and scored an amazing 29 goals at home, an average of four goals a game; while only giving up two goals.  It was clear that Arsenal were going to be up against it and they responded well at moments throughout the game.

City took the early lead with an Kun Aguero finish in the 14th minute.  Martin Demichelis made an unmarked run into the box off the corner and was able to get a flick header on the ball.  Aguero was able to run in behind Laurent Koscielny at the far post and finish past Wojciech Szczesny.  On the play, Koscielny was caught ball watching and was unable to track the run of Aguero.  After the goal, Arsenal showed some fight and was able to equalize in the 31st minute.

Yaya Touré was caught in possession by Aaron Ramsey and he fed the ball wide left to Mesut Özil.  Özil was able to find Theo Walcott making a run from the right, cutting in.  Walcott didn’t hit the ball cleanly, but it was able to bobble in past Costel Pantilimon.  Arsenal were back in the game and gained confidence from the goal, it was evident in their play afterwards.  Shortly after, City regained the lead.

Touré was afforded a lot of space and the run of Zabaleta wide right wasn’t tracked.  Touré fed the ball to Pablo Zabaleta, as Wilshere was trying to recover to track Zabaleta’s run.  Zabaleta provided a low cross to the middle which was finished by Álvaro Negredo to put City back in the lead 2-1.  On the play, Koscielny was injured and had to be replaced by Thomas Vermaelen.

Throughout the game, that was the theme; City punishing Arsenal’s errors on defense.  City’s 3rd goal came from a misplaced pass by Özil to Flamini in Arsenal’s own half.  The 4th came from defensive errors by both Nacho Monreal and Per Mertesacker.  Monreal failed to close down Jesús Navas and he was able to provide a low cross to David Silva, who was loosely marked by Mertesacker.  Jack Wilshere lost possession in midfield which led to their 5th, and Serge Gnabry’s wayward pass led to James Milner eventually being tripped in the box by Szczesny for their 6th.

Despite Arsenal’s many defensive errors, they responded well after going down and their spirit as a team was always high.  Arsenal’s demise in this game was their tiredness due to the heavy schedule they had this week, added to the fact that they fell behind early in this game and had to exert a lot of energy to fight back.  Even though Arsenal lost, there are some positives they can take from the game:

1. Theo Walcott’s two goals scored in this game is a positive sign that he may be rounding into form.  An in-form Walcott will be essential for Arsenal, as he adds another dimension to their attack when he’s on the field.  

2. Despite losing, Arsenal’s spirit never died throughout the game, they kept fighting.  This is the spirit that they’re going to need, if they are going to lift the Premier League trophy at the end of the year.

3. Arsenal still hold a two-point lead in the table.  The season isn’t lost yet, and even though Manchester City are seen as clear favorites to win the Premier League, they still have poor away form.  City still has to travel to the Emirates, and the season is a marathon, not a sprint.  One game doesn’t determine who will or will not win the title.  What determines who will win is which team is able to maintain the most focus throughout the whole season.  Arsenal still has a strong spirit about them and they aren’t going to fade away from the title race.  They will be there until the very end.

After a tough week, Arsenal players will have a week to rest before facing Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on Monday.  This game will be for first in the table and it’ll be interesting to see how Arsenal will respond after the loss to City.  

With the spirit they’ve been playing with all season, I except a good response from the Gunners.

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Arsenal Beats In-Form Southampton

In a fast-paced match between first and third in the Premier League, Arsenal overcame Southampton, 2-0, at the Emirates.

After a two month layoff due to injury, Theo Walcott returned to the Arsenal bench and came into the game in the 70th minute.

This game was between two teams with similar styles of play.  Southampton enjoy playing with a high line and pressuring the ball, to try and win it back in their opponent’s half.  Similarly, Arsenal also enjoy to play with a high line and pressure their opponents on the ball also.  The key to this game for Arsenal was to take advantage of Southampton’s pressuring high up the pitch and to use their quick passing to exploit the spaces left open.  Arsenal’s midfield did a good job of this throughout the game and created several chances through the run of play.

Olivier Giroud, coming off of a triumphant International break with France, seemed to be rejuvenated and up for this game.  Before the break, he seemed a bit tired and running out of steam, and there were worries midweek if he’d be too tired to play.  That clearly wasn’t the case, as he bagged a brace to help lead Arsenal to victory.

His first goal came in the 22nd minute, off of a mistake made by Southampton GK Artur Boruc.  He was able to catch Boruc in possession and tapped the ball into an open net.  Boruc had enough time to clear the ball and instead, he tried to shake Giroud and create space for him to play the ball.

His second goal came from the penalty spot in the 86th minute.  Off the corner, Per Mertesacker had his jersey tugged by Jose Fonte as he was attacking the ball.  Referee Mark Clattenburg pointed to the spot, and Giroud was able to send Boruc the wrong way to seal the game for Arsenal.

Arsenal had several chances which could have seen them go up by more goals.  Jack Wilshere had an early opportunity in the 11th minute where he tried to chip Boruc, and was unlucky as the ball hit the post.  Another great opportunity came in the 18th minute after great build up play.  Mesut Özil provided a low cross to Aaron Ramsey, who back heeled the ball towards goal.  The ball hit the post, and that attempt on goal showed the confidence Ramsey currently has in his goal scoring abilities.

Southampton played a great first half of football as they were able to disrupt Arsenal’s passing in midfield and create a few chances for themselves.  In the 2nd half, they began to fade as Arsenal were able to hold onto possession for longer spells; and impose their will on the game.  Overall, Southampton played a good game and showed that they are deserving of their top four spot in the league.

At times throughout the game, Arsenal seemed unplayable, especially in midfield.  The link up play between Santi Cazorla, Wilshere, and Özil were superb at times, and with the addition of Ramsey making deep runs from midfield and Giroud’s hold up play, they created a lot of problems for Southampton’s defense.

Arsenal now hold a four point lead at the top of the table due to Liverpool earning a draw against their Merseyside rivals, Everton.  Next week, Arsenal go up against a side who’s in the midst of a relegation battle, Cardiff City.  They earned a tough last minute draw against Manchester United, and they will be going into that game with a bit of confidence.  Arsenal can’t go into that game thinking it’s already won.

As long as Arsenal retains their focus and play the football they’re known to play, that four point (or more) lead at the top of the table should remain for another week.

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Van Persie Strikes Again!

Robin Van Persie bites the hand that used to feed him once again!

Arsenal fell to Manchester United at Old Trafford, 1-0.  The first game this Premier League season that Arsenal has been held scoreless, and ironically enough, the last time Arsenal were held scoreless was in April by David Moyes’ Everton side.

Even though this game was more important to United, due to trailing the Gunners by 8 points in the table, this game was as equally important to Arsene Wenger and his men.  

Arsenal has only beaten United once in their last nine meetings.  Not only would a victory over United at Old Trafford increase their lead to 11 points between them in the table, but it would have also helped them to get a heavy monkey off of their shoulders.  Confidence is already booming within the squad, but this victory would have put them on cloud nine.

They began the game by soaking up the pressure of United’s attack.  This tactic made sense because the onus was on United to attack and get a result.  Any result, a win, draw, or loss would have still seen them retain their place at the top of the table.  Since the result wouldn’t affect their place in the table, they could afford to soak up pressure then hit quickly on the counter attack.

United dominated possession early because of this and their moment came in the 27th minute from a former Gunner.  Wayne Rooney whipped the corner into the box and Van Persie, who had a running head start, was able to get his head on the ball, and head it past Wojciech Szczesny for the 1st and only goal of the game.  Being a Gunners supporter, my heart and other supporters’ hearts around the world deflated at the sight of that goal.  Once again, Van Persie sticks a stake through our hearts!

Throughout the game, United did a great job of closing down on Arsenal’s midfielders whenever they were in possession.  Arsenal’s midfielders weren’t allowed any time on the ball and as a result, made a lot of wayward passes.

Moyes’ came in with a good game plan which worked to perfection.  He made sure that United attacked the flanks knowing that Arsenal lacked genuine width.  Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs were always outnumbered 2 to 1 whether it was in attack or defense.  Arsenal did make an adjustment late by giving Sagna and Gibbs more help out wide, but ultimately, weren’t able to find a breakthrough to get back into the game.

Anytime Arsenal did try to create through the middle, the United midfield and defense made sure that they clogged the holes, making it nearly impossible for the Arsenal midfield to create the final pass needed to create chances.  Phil Jones was also a monster in midfield protecting the back four in the 1st half and as a central defender in the 2nd half.  Credit also has to be given to Wayne Rooney for his wonderful work rate in attack and in defense.

This is a very disappointing loss for Arsenal, but on the bright side they are still on top of the table.

Another positive which could be taken from the game is the fact that they were able to contain United’s attack in open play.  United’s only goal came off of a set piece.  If anything, that positive can be taken into the next game against an in-form Southampton side at the Emirates in two weeks.

As a Gunners supporter, this loss hurts, but remember, there’s still another game to be played at the Emirates.  Let’s hope Arsenal will be able to get their revenge in the 2nd meeting this season.

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Arsenal Beat Rival Liverpool

Arsenal continued their fine form in the Premier League as they defeated Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium, 2-0.  

Going into this game, Arsenal had a two point lead over league rivals Liverpool and Chelsea.  At the end of the day, with the victory, Arsenal increased their lead in the table to five points; a big loss by Chelsea to Newcastle aided in Arsenal increasing the gap at the top of the table.

The game was dominated by Arsenal in midfield and they deserved all three points on the day.

In the first half, Arsenal opened the scoring in the 19th minute.  On the break, Mikel Arteta passed the ball wide to Bacary Sagna.  Liverpool played with a back three and Sagna was able to exploit the space between the wing-back pushed up field and the left central defender.  Aly Cissohko was unable to close Sagna and allowed Sagna to provide a cross into the middle of the box.  The cross landed to Santi Cazorla who headed the ball off the bounce towards goal.  The ball deflected off the bar and Cazorla was able to follow his own rebound and kick it past Simon Mignolet for the first goal.

With that goal, Arsenal continued their streak of being the only team to score in every Premier League game this season.  It was also Cazorla’s first goal of the season.

Even though Arsenal had a dominant first half, they did have a scare around the 25th minute.  Their defense was caught out on a counterattack by Luis Suarez.  Sagna tracked back and clinically fouled Suarez from behind.  Referee Martin Atkinson called the foul and Suarez initiated a quick restart.  At the end of it, Daniel Sturridge finished the play with the ball in the back of the net but Atkinson called it back to card Sagna for the challenge.

Many thought that it was the wrong call by Atkinson since Liverpool were in an advantageous position but according to the FIFA rule book on refereeing, if the referee stops play; he must book the player before a restart can be allowed.  Suarez restarted play before Atkinson could book Sagna for the foul, therefore the referee had to cancel the quick restart.

Overall, in the first half, Arsenal dominated possession and deserved the lead at halftime.  The defense looked shaky at times, being caught out by Liverpool on the counterattack but they held their ground against SAS (Suarez and Sturridge).  They were able to keep control of the ball in midfield and limited Liverpool’s chances at goal.  

Mesut Özil, Aaron Ramsey, and Cazorla had more touches in the attacking third (73) than the entire Liverpool team.  An interesting stat which showed Arsenal’s dominance with possession.

To start the 2nd half, Liverpool made a tactical change by switching to a back four and bringing on Philippe Coutinho for Cissohko.  This move provided Liverpool more bodies in midfield and gave them a creative outlet in Coutinho to create chances for SAS.

The half started brightly for Liverpool as they had a few chances on goal but none of the chances were really threatening.

Olivier Giroud missed a clear cut chance in the 56th minute to put Arsenal on top by two goals.  He stole a light pass from Kolo Toure and was one on one with Mignolet.  He was able to chip the ball over him but the chip went wide.

Ramsey made up for that miss by Giroud with a piece of magic in the 59th minute.  He was afforded acres of space outside the box and he was able to hit a half-volley with the outside of his boot pass Mignolet for the goal.  Ramsey’s rich goal scoring form continues as he bags his 6th goal of the season.

Liverpool had several chances to put one in the back of the net afterwards.  Suarez had a shot hit off the post in the 73rd minute.  Wojciech Szczesny also had to make two saves in the box in the 82nd and 83rd minute with shots from Coutinho and Sturridge.

Liverpool’s best chance came at the latter stages when Suarez was in on goal and shot wide of the target.  Sturridge was open at the far post and was upset that Suarez wasn’t able to find him but looking at the replay, Laurent Koscielny probably would have snuffed out the cross.

The key to the game was to dominate possession in midfield and limit the chances SAS would have on goal; Arsenal were able to do that.  

It was also evident that Mikel Arteta was overworked in midfield and definitely misses the company of Mathieu Flamini by his side.  Ramsey is a hard worker and an overall good midfielder but he’s a player that likes to get forward.  He doesn’t provide the same discipline as Flamini does which makes Arteta work harder in protecting the back four.

The next fixture for Arsenal is against Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion on Wednesday.  Arsenal need to escape this game with at least a draw.  A loss can prove to be detrimental to them making the knock out stages in the Champions League.

With the win against Liverpool, Arsenal should be going into that game with confidence.  Arsenal has the quality to get a result in such a tough fixture.  Let’s hope they can prove the doubters wrong once again.

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Arsenal Gets Past Crystal Palace

Arsenal kept the ball rolling in the Premier League and increased their unbeaten streak to eight games, as they defeated Crystal Palace 2-0.  Crystal Palace were very organized in defense and played with two banks of four, crowding the middle of the pitch.  They made it very hard for Arsenal to penetrate their defense and frustrated Arsenal’s attack for the most part.

Arsenal didn’t play with much width, especially since their attacking midfield consisted of  Mesut Özil, Aaron Ramsey, and Santi Cazorla who all love to cut inside from the wing.  Bacary Sagna was able to provide a few good crosses to Olivier Giroud from the right wing, while Kieran Gibbs often cut inside from the left before retreating back to his left back position.

The first half ended 0-0 with the best chances coming from Crystal Palace who created more shots on goal.  Their best chance came in the 37th minute when Kagisho Dikgacoi  headed the ball off of a corner wide.  Wojciech Szczesny tried to punch the ball out and he missed it, leaving his goal open.

Arsenal also had a injury scare as Mathieu Flamini had to be taken off in the 8th minute due to a groin injury.  He was replaced by Serge Gnabry who played on the right wing and Ramsey was moved back to Flamini’s deeper role in midfield.

The second half began brightly for Arsenal as Gnabry was taken down in the box by Adlene Guedioura in the 47th minute.  Mikel Arteta was able to convert the penalty and gave Arsenal the 1-0 lead.

In the 65th minute, things turned sour as Arteta was sent off.  Former Gunner Marouane Chamakh was running with the ball deep from midfield, got his legs tangled with Arteta and they both went down.  Watching the replay, the red card may have been a bit harsh because it seemed as if Chamakh initiated the contact with Arteta.  Also with the added fact that Chamakh was still a long way from goal, it’s hard to imagine that it was a genuine goal scoring opportunity to begin with.

Gnabry had to be sacrificed for Jack Wilshere to bring balance back into midfield and Arsenal defended in a 4-4-1 formation.  Wilshere and Ramsey were both paired in central midfield, while Özil had to be pushed to the right wing and Cazorla occupied the left wing.

Afterwards, Crystal Palace got more into the game and almost tied the game with a spectacular effort by Joel Ward from distance in the 74th minute.  Szczesny was able to get his finger tips to it and it hit off the crossbar.  Shortly afterwards, Szczesny punched out the corner and Mile Jedinak kicked a vicious volley towards goal.  Szczesny was able to get his finger tips to it and push it over the bar.  These sequence of saves proved vital to Arsenal securing the three points on the day.

Even though Arsenal were playing with 10 men, they were able to seal the game late in the 87th minute off of a counter-attack.  Giroud, deep in midfield, fed the ball to Ramsey who ran into the box with the ball.  Ramsey was able to hold the ball and wait for Giroud to make his run from deep midfield towards goal.  Ramsey delivered a soft cross right onto the head of Giroud, who headed it past Julian Speroni to put Arsenal up 2-0 and guarantee the three points.

Arsenal may have been facing a relegation opponent but Crystal Palace played with a lot of heart and were very organized defensively.  They frustrated Arsenal and closed down the space in between midfield and defense, making it very hard for Arsenal’s attackers to penetrate and do damage.  This is the type of defense Arsenal will be facing on a consistent basis and they need to find ways to penetrate it more consistently.  They found a way to grind out the win after Arteta’s sending off and that speaks volumes of their team spirit.

One way Arsenal can counter teams packing the middle against them is to provide width.  They’ll more be able to do that once Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Lukas Podolski return from injury.

Arsenal lead the Premier League with 22 points, let’s hope they keep up the momentum.

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Arsenal Falls to Dortmund

Arsenal’s perfect start in the Champions League came to a screeching halt as they lost to Borussia Dortmund at the Emirates, 2-1.

Arsenal started the game very lethargic and allowed Dortmund to keep possession for the majority of the 1st half.  

The first goal came from an Arsenal mistake in the 16th minute.  Aaron Ramsey tried to dribble the ball out of Arsenal’s own half and was dispossessed by Marco Reus.  The ball fell to Robert Lewandowski and he fed the ball to Henrik Mkhitaryan at the top of the box.  Mkhitaryan was able to finish near post past Wojciech Szczesny, who was wrong footed as he tried to save it.

During the last 10 minutes of the 1st half, Arsenal began to show some life.

Olivier Giroud running in from the left wing tried to cut the ball back to Ramsey in the box.  Marcel Schmelzer was able to break up the pass but it fell to Rosicky just outside of the box.  Rosicky hit a powerful half-volley which beat Roman Wiedenfeller but Mats Hummels was able to clear it off of the line.

A few minutes later, Arsenal’s just reward came from their pressure.

Bacary Sagna put in a cross from the right which confused Wiedenfeller and Neven Subotic.  Giroud was able to pounce on the mistake and tie the game in the 41st minute.

Arsenal played a very lackluster first half and didn’t have much movement in midfield.  Their passing was also very sloppy and slow.

Credit to Dortmund for taking the game to Arsenal and pressing high up the pitch to disrupt Arsenal’s midfielders and their passing game.  They didn’t allow the Arsenal midfielders any time on the ball and forced them into many mistakes.

The beginning of the second half was pretty much the same until Santi Cazorla came on for Jack Wilshere in the 58th minute.  

Cazorla was the spark plug that Arsenal needed to not only increase the speed of their attack, but also to provide width on the pitch to stretch out Dortmund’s organized defense.

In the 66th minute, Arsenal thought they took the lead as Ramsey kicked the ball into the back of the net just to hear the official whistle a foul in the box.  As Mertesacker went up for the header off the corner, there was some pushing and shoving in the box and the goal didn’t stand.

A few minutes later, Arsenal were close to taking the lead again as Ramsey and Mesut Özil played a great one-two on the right wing.  Özil was able to find Cazorla running towards the box and Cazorla unleashed a shot on goal which hit the top of the post.

Arsenal continued to pile on the pressure, but were undone by a Dortmund counter attack.  Kevin Großkreutz received the ball as he was storming down the right wing in acres of space.  He provided a cross to Lewandowski at the far post, who volleyed it past Szczesny for the 2nd goal in the 82nd minute.

Even though the game was close, it was a deserved victory for Dortmund.  They were the aggressors for the majority of the match and they deserved to take all three points.  Arsenal, at times, were too content with Dortmund holding onto the ball and packing their midfield inside their own half.  Arsenal are known to press opponents high up the pitch and being at home, they should have done so more throughout the match.  If they showed a bit more bite, especially in the opening minutes of the game; this could have been a very different match and result.

With this loss, Arsenal slipped to 2nd place in Group F behind new group leaders, Borussia Dortmund.  The next fixture will be away to Dortmund on November 6th (which is my birthday, thought I’d throw that in there).  Arsenal are very capable of going into the Westfalenstadion and taking all three points (does the victory over Bayern Munich at Allianz Arena during last year’s Champions League ring a bell?) or escaping with a draw.

The target is still 10-11 points to escape this group.  Arsenal can do it. 

Gunners faithful, believe!

 

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Why Arsenal Are Title Contenders

Arsenal are making a strong claim as to why they are title contenders this season.

They have shown that they can win in many ways.  Whether it’s to grind out a result or play beautiful attacking football, they have shown this season that they are far from a one dimensional team.

Recently against Norwich, the quality of some of the goals scored by Arsenal are the type of goals you only see scored in EA Sports’ FIFA Soccer.  The first goal scored by Jack Wilshere was a spectacular team goal and will probably be a contender for goal of the season.  

Santi Cazorla, who was cutting in from the left wing, fed the ball to Wilshere.  Wilshere then feeds the ball back to Cazorla, who feeds it to Olivier Giroud in the box.  Giroud back heels the ball to Wilshere, who back heels it back to Giroud; then Giroud flicks it past the defense to Wilshere, who slides it cooly past a frozen John Ruddy for the goal.

This type of goal shows the high confidence Arsenal are currently playing with and if they continue to play with this confidence, they’ll be a nuisance for any team to deal with.

One of the keys to Arsenal’s success so far is the scoring from midfield.  They have so many midfielders in good goal scoring form: Aaron Ramsey with 9 goals this season, Wilshere with a goal scored in consecutive games, and Mesut Özil with a spectacular goal scored against Napoli and recently bagging a brace against Norwich.  If their midfielders can keep their goal scoring form along with Giroud banging in goals, they will score goals by the bunches and will continue to be very difficult to beat.

Another key to their success has been their play in midfield.  The passing in the final third has been breathtaking at times but most importantly, the protection provided in front of the back four has been essential.  

Mathieu Flamini, considered by many to be the signing of the season (even though a certain man named Özil was bought this summer), has been the rock in front of the back four and when he’s paired with Mikel Arteta, they form a very formidable duo.  They both allow the attackers to attack freely while also assisting the attack themselves at times.  They are also great at reading the game and track back exceptionally well to break up opposition attacks.  Their partnership will be vital to Arsenal’s success.

Arsenal’s back four has also been good with Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker forming a good partnership in the center of defense.  Kieran Gibbs has been in great form at left back and Bacary Sagna has also found his form this season.  They deserve good mention for their performances, but Arsenal’s games will be won in midfield since that is the strength of the team.

Arsenal has proven to be a formidable opponent so far and are by far, playing the most beautiful football in the Premier League.  On Tuesday, they will be tested by a tough Borussia Dortmund team in the Champions League.  If Arsenal play with the quality they have been playing with, it’s not farfetched to think that they can grab the 3 points.

At this point, it’s also not farfetched to think that Arsenal are title contenders this season.

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