Arsenal Almost Escaped Anfield With a Victory

Arsenal were almost able to pull off a huge win at Anfield, if it wasn’t for a late Martin Skrtel goal in stoppage time. The game ended in a 2-2 draw, and I think most Arsenal fans would have been content with a draw before the start of the game.

Throughout the game, Arsenal were outclassed by Liverpool. Liverpool had more possession, more shots, and more shots on goal, but the positive for Arsenal is that they didn’t allow the game to slip away from them early unlike last season. It’s clear that Arsene Wenger learned his lesson by installing a more conservative approach to the game. Even though, this Liverpool team is very different from last season’s — Luis Suarez is now enjoying life in Barcelona and Daniel Sturridge is out injured — Wenger couldn’t take the risk of setting up his team to play their usual free flowing, attacking football.

Wenger’s Plan B almost worked out in Arsenal’s favor.

Arsenal left less space in the back, and Liverpool were unable to punish them on the counter like they did in the 5-1 bashing from last season. This allowed Arsenal to stay in the game and nick a few goals as opportunities presented itself.

In the 45th minute, Liverpool took a 1-0 lead after an errant Olivier Giroud pass resulted in an eventual Phillppe Coutinho goal. Coutinho was able to create some space, in the box, and kick a low strike past Szczesny that banged off the post into the goal.

Liverpool’s lead was short lived as Mathieu Debuchy tied the game 112 seconds later. Alexis Sanchez was able to win a free kick, and he delivered a cross into the box that was first headed by Per Mertesacker. Mathieu Flamini was able to out jump Lucas and headed the ball towards goal where Debuchy was waiting to head the ball past a diving Brad Jones.

At halftime, both teams were tied 1-1.

Giroud put Arsenal into the lead, in the second half, by kicking a low strike through Jones’ legs in the 64th minute. Santi Cazorla was able to get on the end of the ball, in the box, and deliver a cut-back pass to Giroud for the goal.

After going up 2-1, Arsenal sat back and tried to defend the lead. Wave after wave of Liverpool’s attack were stymied by Arsenal’s defense, but the breakthrough finally came in stoppage time when Skrtel was able to blast a free header past Szczesny off Adam Lallana’s corner.

Fabio Borini received a red card in stoppage time for a high boot that hit Cazorla in the chest. Borini came on as substitute in the 74th minute, and he let his team down by receiving two yellow cards in the space of 18 minutes.

Overall, the result was fair, but Arsenal could have put in a much better performance. Arsenal were sloppy in possession, and one of those errant passes led to a Liverpool goal. Also, Arsenal still struggle to defend set pieces. This has been a reoccurring problem for the Gunners, and it’s a problem that needs to be corrected.

Wenger may be annoyed with Skrtel’s late goal and the final result of the game, but he can take solace in that his team performed much better than they did in this fixture last season. This was always going to be a tough match for the Gunners, or for any team that steps foot on the Anfield pitch. In games like this, current form doesn’t matter, and it was clear that Liverpool were going to come out fired up for this game. Arsenal were able to stand their ground, for the most part, and were able to almost pull off a huge victory.

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Giroud and Cazorla Brace Lead Arsenal Past Newcastle

Braces by Olivier Giroud and, the birthday boy, Santi Cazorla led Arsenal to a well needed 4-1 victory over a in-form Newcastle United.

Last week, Arsenal supporters were calling for Arsene Wenger’s head after a disappointing 3-2 defeat at the hands of Stoke City but with consecutive 4-1 victories over Galatasaray, in the Champions League, and Newcastle, the mood has lightened around the Emirates.

In their last two games, Arsenal’s free flowing attacking football is what Arsene Wenger would expect from his side. The quick passing and the movement of the players has been exceptional, and the finishing has improved. Even though Wenger is currently facing an injury crisis in defense, if Arsenal continues their free flowing football and put the ball in the back of the net, their defensive deficiencies can be masked.

Coming into the game against Newcastle, Arsenal only had one center-half available. Without Laurent Koscielny; Calum Chambers, yellow card suspension; and Nacho Monreal, who deputized well when Koscielny was out earlier in the season, Wenger was faced with a tough decision on who to play alongside Mertesacker. He decided to play Mathieu Debuchy, who recently recovered from injury, as a makeshift center-half, and he placed young Hector Bellerin at right-back. Mertesacker was shifted to the left center-half role, and Gibbs started at left-back.

Debuchy looked good in his first start as a center-half, even though he was hardly challenged by Newcastle’s attack. His positioning was good, and he defended well.

Bellerin also played well. His marauding runs down the right flank gave Newcastle some problems, and he played a part in two of Arsenal’s four goals. He created the turnover in midfield that eventually led to the first goal, and he provided a low cross to Giroud for the third goal.

Arsenal also had spectacular performances from Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud, the two goal scorers.

On the first goal, Giroud headed Alexis Sanchez’s cross into the far corner of the net. Giroud helped the build up to the goal by providing the pass to Sanchez out-wide, then he ran into the box and attacked Sanchez’s cross once it was in the air.

At the end of the first half, Arsenal led 1-0. Arsenal enjoyed the open play of the game, and they often found spaces to exploit. Towards the end of the half, Newcastle had more possession, but they couldn’t carve many chances.

This season, Arsenal has scored the majority of their goals in the second half, and this game was no different.

In a three minute span, the score became 3-0. In the 55th minute, Sanchez fed the ball to Cazorla, who expertly chipped it past Jak Alnwick into the far corner for the second goal, then in the 58th minute, Bellerin’s cross found Giroud’s foot for the third goal.

Newcastle pulled one back in the 63rd minute when Colback’s free kick was headed past Szczesny by Ayoze Pérez, but Arsenal remained stout on defense and saw the game through.

Welbeck was fouled in the box by Paul Dummett late in the game, and Cazorla sealed the victory for Arsenal with a penalty kick goal in the 89th minute.

Overall, Arsenal looked very lively, and the midfield trio of Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Flamini played extremely well. Flamini did a good job protecting the back four, which allowed Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cazorla to run at Newcastle’s defense and cause problems.

In addition to scoring two great goals, Giroud’s movement in the final third was superb, and Sanchez was at his usual best, playing provider instead of banging in goals like he normally does.

There is a lot of positives to take from this game, and the last two games have shown why Arsene Wenger is the right man for the job. The players respect him and his vision, and they play for him. If Wenger lost the trust of his players, they wouldn’t play with the fight often seen late in games, and they would have faltered in these last two games amidst all the negativity surrounding the club by some disrespectful supporters.

If Wenger can bring in another defender and a defensive midfielder in the upcoming January transfer window, there is no doubt that Arsenal will make up ground in the Premier League.

Hopefully Arsenal can keep the good vibes flowing when they travel to Anfield to take on Liverpool next week.

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El Clasico – Real Madrid vs. Barcelona – Recap and Thoughts

So much for that extra day off.

Mid-week, Cristiano Ronaldo complained about Barcelona getting an extra day of rest before El Clasico.

When it comes to rivalries, an extra day off isn’t a factor since both teams are pumped and playing on adrenaline. That proved to be the case as Real Madrid controlled the majority of the game and defeated Barcelona 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabéu.

Barcelona dominated early in the game, and Neymar put them ahead 1-0 in the 4th minute.

To start the game, Barcelona had an attacking trio of Neymar, Messi, and Luis Suarez, who played his first game following a 4-month FIFA suspension for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup. Suarez looked lively on the pitch, but he was rusty in front of goal.

Messi had a chance to increase Barcelona’s lead in the 1st half, but failed to put Suarez’s cross into the back of the net. Until that point, Barcelona controlled the match. Afterwards, Real Madrid began to attack at will.

Cristiano Ronaldo tied the game, from the spot, in the 35th minute with help from Brazilian fullback Marcelo.

Marcelo was a thorn in Barcelona’s side, more specifically Dani Alves’ side, and he often exploited open space on the left flank. He was able to get into the box and tried to cut the ball back into the middle, but Piqué blocked Marcelo’s pass with his hand as he went down.

In the 2nd half, Real Madrid put the game away.

A major problem for Barcelona, in the past, has been defending set-pieces, and that problem came back to haunt them. In the 50th minute, on a corner, Pepe was able to power a free header past Claudio Bravo to give Real Madrid a 2-1 lead.

Then in the 61st minute, Real Madrid put the game to rest with a lightning counter-attack.

On a clearance from a corner, by James, both Iniesta and Mascherano seemed to have the ball covered, but a mistake by both players allowed Isco to come onto the ball and lead the break. Isco was able to find Cristiano Ronaldo, who fed the ball to James out-wide. Benzema made a run behind Sergio Busquets, and James was able to feed him with the perfect through-pass for the finish.

For a player who has often been criticized for his performances, Benzema came up big for Los Blancos, and he’s in superb form at this moment.

Real Madrid defended with two banks of four, which made it difficult for Barcelona to attack the wings. They forced Barcelona to mainly attack through the middle where Modric and Kroos worked very hard to put out attacks.

The main focus of Real Madrid’s attack was on the left wing. Opposing fullback Dani Alves is known for attacking and being too far up the pitch at times. Real Madrid made sure to attack this weakness throughout the game with Marcelo, and he often found space on the left to wreak havoc and to connect with the midfielders and forwards.

Barcelona only defended with seven players as their forwards mainly remained up the pitch. The problem with defending with only seven players is that you need a hard worker in midfield to wipe out the opposing team’s attacks. Busquets wasn’t at his best in midfield, and both Xavi and Iniesta aren’t known for their defensive qualities. Real Madrid dominated the midfield throughout the game.

Despite the loss, there are positives that Barcelona can take from the game.

The performance of Luis Suarez was very encouraging. He didn’t look like a player coming off of a 4-month suspension. He looked very sharp and threatening at times, and with more game-time, he’ll become sharper in front of goal and return to his best.

Also, before the game, Barcelona hasn’t given up a goal in league play. Only one of the three Madrid goals came during the run of play, and that was a from a mistake that Iniesta and Mascherano rarely make. If Barcelona can sure up their defending of set-pieces, they’ll be fine.

Man of the Match: Marcelo. He was an absolute beast on the left wing, and his play on both sides of the ball was magnificent. He often exploited the space in front of him and linked up with teammates who can do damage.

Right now, Real Madrid are on a spectacular run of form, and they seemed to have put their early season struggles behind them. Their defense has improved immensely, and their attack has become relentless. Cristiano Ronaldo is in great goal scoring form, and the rest of the team has also rounded into form — there are no glaring weaknesses in the team.

If this run of form continues, Real Madrid will become favorites to win La Liga and to repeat as champions in the UEFA Champions League.

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Arsenal vs. Chelsea — London Derby — Recap and Thoughts

Throughout the years, the Arsenal and Chelsea rivalry has grown more intense — not only for the players, but for the managers as well.

Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho has had a war of words since Mourinho’s first stint at Chelsea, and emotions seemed to get the best of Wenger in the 1st half. After a rash challenge by Gary Cahill on Alexis Sánchez, the Arsenal manager left his technical area and shoved Mourinho in defense of his player. That incident was a signal of how important this match was to Wenger.

In their previous eleven matches, Wenger has yet to defeat Mourinho, and today was no different.

Chelsea continued their early dominance in the Premier League, and their recent dominance over Arsenal with a 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge. Despite the loss, Arsenal improved on last year’s performance when Chelsea trampled them 6-0, and there are positives to take from this game — most notably, Jack Wilshere’s performance.

Wilshere was strong in midfield and made darting runs to penetrate Chelsea’s defense. Often, he has been criticized for not being strong on the ball and giving up possession way too easily, but today, he was good on the ball and looked threatening at times.

Overall, Arsenal’s play wasn’t bad, and they controlled possession for the most part. One of Chelsea’s goals came from a penalty, while the other came from a sucker punch on the counter attack.

In the 27th minute, Eden Hazard was taken down by Laurent Koscielny in the penalty area — Koscielny was unable to stop Hazard’s darting run towards goal. Hazard later converted the penalty to give Chelsea the 1-0 lead.

To start the game, Arsenal sat back and defended deeper than usual, but after that goal, Arsenal began to open up and push their players forward. Later, that space behind the back line was exploited by Diego Costa, and in the 78th minute, he chipped the ball over Szczesny for a lovely finish.

Who provided the assist? None other than former Gunner captain Cesc Fábregas. He currently leads the Premier League with 7 assists, and many continue to question Wenger as to why he didn’t bring back Fábregas. His replacement, Mesut Özil didn’t have a great game, and often lost possession in the attacking third, but to be fair to Özil, he was placed on the wing where he’s not that effective.

My Personal Thoughts:

It’s hard to argue Wenger’s selection of a central midfield trio of Cazorla, Wilshere, and Flamini. Cazorla played well in central midfield, alongside Flamini, against Galatarsaray midweek — it’s not hard to see why Wenger would try Cazorla in the middle again against Chelsea. Also, many would say that Oxlade-Chamberlain should have started, but it’s hard to argue against Wilshere’s performance today.

Team selection wise, the only problem was starting Özil on the wing, but with the plethora of central attacking midfielders that Arsenal has, at times, he will have to pushed wide.

Tactics wise, we all know that Wenger loves to keep possession and play through the middle, but against a team like Chelsea, who likes to sit back and counter, changing the focal point of the attack could be very beneficial. Chelsea were packing the middle of the pitch, making it near impossible for Arsenal to penetrate their back line. To counter this, Arsenal should have utilized the wings more often to stretch out Chelsea’s defense and to create more space to hopefully exploit.

As a Arsenal supporter, it hurts to see Fábregas wearing the blue of Chelsea, but it’s understandable why he wasn’t brought back. Wenger has enough players in his position — Özil, Ramsey, Wilshere, and Cazorla, just to name a few. The 30 million pounds that would have been spent on him can be put to better use to fill more pressing needs, such as defense.

Now Arsenal find themselves in a 9-point hole early in the season, but don’t fear yet Gunners supporters, there is still a lot of football to be played.

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Melo: I Have “Unfinished Business” in New York

This is a blog I wrote for Joint Interest. It may or may not be posted on their website, but in case it won’t be posted, you can read it here. If it does get posted, then I will update with the link and part of the blog. Thanks to those who read my blogs, always appreciate it!

Carmelo Anthony didn’t hold back any punches during New York Knicks media day.

The superstar forward re-signed with the Knicks for $124 million over 5 years, and many are curious as to why he decided to re-sign, rather than sign with a team that gave him the best chance to win. To some, his decision seems illogical for someone who’s repeatedly said he wants to win a title, and it has led many to believe that his reason for staying is money motivated.

Anthony squashed that notion, and he kept it real as to why he really decided to stay.

Money wasn’t the deciding factor, but the fact that he has “unfinished business.” The most cynical of people would probably think he’s lying, but let’s put this in perspective — he forced his way to New York, which he did admit during media day, and promised that he would help bring a championship to the Knicks. He hasn’t accomplished this feat as of yet, and if he’s a man of his word, he’s not going to quit on the team before this feat is realized.

He seems to be a man of his word, and is willing to lead the Knicks to the promised land. It’s also good to see that he realized that he forced his way to the Garden. The Knicks gave up their life savings to the Nuggets to get him in 2011. To this day, the Nuggets can form a starting lineup with former Knicks.

If you’re looking for a Knicks B-team, look no further than Denver. It’s only right that Anthony feels obligated to stay in New York, and help win the championship that New York has coveted in over 40 years.

It’s also clear that Anthony seems to be on the same page as Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher. Both Jackson and Fisher may be new to their positions, but they both share ideas that appeal to Anthony.

The triangle has turned Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant into efficient killers on offense, and there’s a high chance that the triangle may benefit Anthony in the same way.

Anthony is one of the most ruthless assassins on the court — he can do damage in the post, and his jumper is smooth like butter. If the triangle can make him more efficient than he already is on offense, then the sky is the limit. Surround him with the right players, and a championship may be in the Knicks future, but right now, putting the “Knicks” and “championship” in the same sentence is a stretch.

Melo, the fans are behind you. Prove the naysayers wrong, and bring a championship back to New York!

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Arsenal vs. Tottenham – North London Derby – Recap and Thoughts

In most games, people and analysts alike, make predictions on who will win based on the statistics for both teams. If a team appears to be deeper, stronger, and has more quality players, usually that team gets the nod for the victory, but in a derby, statistics are thrown out the window.

The North London derby is one of the most fiercest derbies in the Barclay’s Premier League. Both sets of fans — Arsenal and Tottenham — hate each other, and both sets of players know the importance of this game. Fans never want to see their team lose, no matter who the opponent is, but the one loss these fans won’t accept is a loss to their North London rivals.

Tottenham, without a win in their last four games, came into Emirates Stadium desperate for a positive result, and Nacer Chadli put them ahead in the 56th minute. Unfortunately, for Tottenham, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain saved the game for the Gunners with a close range strike in the 74th minute to level the scoreline.

Both teams had to settle for the draw.

Arsenal, as usual, had the majority of the possession, but couldn’t do anything with it. Mauricio Pochettino, who’s known for his high pressing style of play, was content to have the Spurs sit back and counterattack, and it almost worked to perfection in the first half.

Often, the Spurs caught the Gunners on the counter, but failed to capitalize on any of their chances. The most glaring miss was Chadli’s, when he had a clear shot and kicked the ball harmlessly wide of Szczesny’s goal.

The injury bug seems to have hit Arsenal again with Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey having to be substituted in the first half. Mathieu Flamini was brought into the game to replace Arteta, who was playing well, and Santi Cazorla was brought in to replace Ramsey.

Both substitutions ended up being significant in their own way. Flamini was dispossessed in his own half by Eriksson, which led to the Spurs opening goal, and with Cazorla on the pitch, that pushed Mesut Özil to his favored number 10 position. Afterwards, Arsenal’s attack began to look more fluid and more scoring chances were created.

Despite being undefeated, this was a disappointing draw for Arsenal, and Arsene Wenger has come under criticism for his tactics so far this season — this result will not save him from further criticism. Wenger is an excellent manager, and has been for many years, but sometimes you have to wonder about his starting lineups.

A combination of Ramsey, Wilshere, and Özil does not work best for Arsenal. There are only three central positions available in Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1 formation, and one of those spots has to be filled by either Arteta or Flamini to provide cover for the back four. Özil being the most versatile, will be placed on the wing where he is least effective, while Wilshere and Ramsey will occupy the other two central positions.

With Özil not being put in a position to shine, Arsenal’s attack becomes less effective and chances come at a premium.

Since Alexis Sánchez was played midweek against Southampton, in the Capital One Cup, it’s understandable that he didn’t start the game. Cazorla should have probably started out wide, with either Wilshere or Ramsey coming off of the bench. That would have allowed Özil to play as the number 10, and maybe Arsenal would have had a better start to the game.

There are many things that us armchair managers can suggest that Wenger should have done differently, but Wenger has the experience and he has a feel for the team. He believes that Özil can get the job done out wide, and he does give Özil a free roaming role, but Özil has shown time, and time again, that he’s more effective when he’s pulling the strings in the middle of the pitch.

The draw may have been a disappointment, but on the bright side, there is still a lot of football to be played, and despite the early struggles, Arsenal are still managing to battle for results.

There is still more than enough time for Wenger to right the ship.

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New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins Recap

You can view my blog here for WBLS!

Here’s my recap for 107.5 WBLS NYC. It’ll be posted on Monday, so I’ll provide the link then. For now, you can read it here!

The New York Giants (2-2) defense may be vulnerable to giving up big plays, but they make up for it by making big plays themselves. The Giants defense forced the Washington Redskins (1-3) to cough up the ball six times en route to a 45-14 victory at RFK Stadium.

Kirk Cousins had a terrible game…

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