Richard Sherman: Shutdown Corner or not?

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What is the definition of a “shutdown corner?”

According to the NFL experts, a “shutdown corner” is a corner who shuts down his side of the field. There are a few corners who are worthy of this title throughout the NFL’s history. The most popular name that pops up in most people’s mind is Deion “Primetime” Sanders. When Deion was in his prime, no quarterback could throw his way without fear of being picked off.

In today’s NFL, it’s nearly impossible for any corner to be a “shutdown corner” due to the rules now favoring the offense. If a corner even puts his hand on a receiver outside 5 yards from the line of scrimmage, it’s considered a penalty. For a corner to shut down a side of the field in today’s NFL, he has to be something special. That’s exactly what Richard Sherman did against the Green Bay Packers on the opening night of the NFL season.

Many will argue that this “loud mouthed” corner was never targeted, and that’s the reason why he was able to effectively shut down one side of the field. Those detractors failed to realize that the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers is Aaron Rodgers, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Rodgers refused to throw to his side of the field all game — that, my friends, is the ultimate respect.

If Rodgers was confident that Sherman could be easily beaten, he would have thrown his way.

Another argument many bring up is the fact that Sherman stays on one side, and that he never switches sides or follows the opposing team’s top receiver. It’s no secret that the Seattle Seahawks play predominately a Cover-3 zone, and he is responsible for a third of the field.

Green Bay chose to place their third receiver Jarrett Boykin on his side, while placing Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb mainly on Byron Maxwell’s side. It’s clear that Rodgers wanted to take his chances with Maxwell on Nelson, which makes sense.

Nelson would more likely get more opportunities to make plays against Maxwell as opposed to being lined up against Sherman.

Maxwell isn’t a scrub at the opposite corner and he held his own pretty well, but by doing this Green Bay effectively shrunk the field themselves and made Sherman’s job that much easier. Regardless, it shows the respect that Green Bay has for Sherman, and if he wasn’t doing his job, he would have been targeted.

His job is to shrink the field, which is what a “shutdown corner” does.

For all the hate he receives, he continues to show why he’s one of the best corners in the game. If a great quarterback like Rodgers is respecting his skills, that speaks volumes about his ability to cover and make plays.

Continue to keep the detractors quiet Sherm!

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Can Welbeck Help Arsenal?

The signing of the summer for Arsenal!

Okay, maybe it doesn’t beat out the signing of the marvelously gifted Alexis Sanchez or the signing of that rock in the middle of defense, Calum Chambers, but the signing was important since Arsenal are lacking in the striker department.

That important signing was bringing in Danny Welbeck from Manchester United for a reported 16 million pounds. Many Arsenal supporters are split on the signing of Welbeck.

Welbeck didn’t exactly light up the scene at Old Trafford. In 142 appearances for United, he only found the back of the net 29 times. It’s not hard to see why many feel that Wenger should have tried to bring in a more quality striker, but what many seem to forget is that Welbeck was often played out of position at United. He was placed on the wing many times, and he was expected to not only assist the offense, but also track back and help defend. How can a player score a load of goals if he isn’t put in the best position to do so?

Under Wenger, he will be the starting striker — until Giroud is healthy — and get a run of games leading the line for Arsenal. He didn’t get the chance to lead the line often for United, but when he had the opportunity to last season, he did show flashes of goal scoring ability.

During the tough winter schedule, United were without Van Persie, and Moyes gave an opportunity to Welbeck to lead the line along with Rooney. Welbeck impressed during those run of games and scored six goals in six games. He scored a brace against Aston Villa; and he scored goals against West Ham, Norwich City, Tottenham, and Swansea City. He managed to give United a lift, and United won five of those six games.

If he’s given a consistent run of games, it’s quite possible that he may find his groove and help fire Arsenal up the table. He’ll also have a plethora of chances to score goals. Arsenal boasts one of the most creative midfields in the Premier League, and Welbeck’s pace combined with the passing ability of Arsenal’s midfield may prove to be a deadly combination.

The possibilities could be mouth watering when you also take into account Wenger’s history with developing strikers. He has helped develop Thierry Henry, who’s enjoying life in New York, and Van Persie into world class strikers — to name a few. When it comes to player development, he is one of the best managers in the world, and don’t be surprised to see Welbeck make strides under his tutelage.

Giroud will be out until 2015 — Welbeck will have more than enough chances to prove his worth to the Gunners’ faithful. He’ll be playing with a chip on his shoulder, and he’ll be eager to show his old employers at Old Trafford that he’s more than capable as a striker. The way he performs in the next four months will be crucial to Arsenal’s season.

Welbeck will definitely help the Arsenal squad. The question is will he be enough to push Arsenal over the top.

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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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