The group stages at Euro 2016 have concluded and we now have a small break until the knockout rounds begin on Saturday. There's been a number of Arsenal players in action for their nations since the tournament began on 10 June so I thought I'd review how each of them have gotten on. Let's start with the local boys:
The 30 year-old central defender has been the core of the French defence, forming a solid, occasionally shaky partnership with Adil Rami. Many fans and critics were skeptical of the French back-four ahead of the competition but they've been remarkably stingy, keeping 2 clean sheets and allowing just the 1 goal, against Romania in the first game. Koscielny has been their rock, like he is every week for Arsenal. He's started every game for France and played all 90 minutes in each match. The home nation are still struggling to find their best form and setup, but Koscielny is one of the first names on the team-sheet and the best defender France have.
Pro's: His usual reliable self, getting key interceptions.
Con's: Isn't getting forward much, still has the odd shaky moment with Rami.
French manager Didier Deschamps put all of his eggs in the Giroud basket by leaving Karim Benzema and Alexander Lacazette at home, much to the dismay of French fans who wanted as much firepower up front as possible. But Giroud rewarded the manager's faith in him by scoring the opening goal of the tournament, racing in front of Romanian goalkeeper Ciprian Tătăruşanu to glance in a header to give France the lead before a late Dimitri Payet thunderbolt rescued the hosts late on. However, Giroud has been wasteful in front of goal since that opening match, missing a host of chances against Albania, frustrating his manager and the fans alike. He was rested/dropped for France's final group game against Switzerland, which they drew 0-0, but to Giroud's relief his replacement André-Pierre Gignac was largely anonymous against the Swiss. I would expect our man to be back in the lineup for their knockout game on Sunday against the Republic of Ireland. If he does start, he'll need to get off the mark quickly as I can't see him lasting the 90 minutes unless he can net a goal before the hour mark. Best of luck to him.
Pro's: Has the backing of the manager, still has a good scoring record in his last few French games.
Con's: Far too profligate in front of goal.
The Arsenal new boy has been a revelation and has quietly been one of the best players at the tournament. He's officially been awarded the Man of the Match prize twice, against Albania and Romania, and BBC voted him as their Man of the Match in Switzerland's final group game against the hosts France (UEFA thought his teammate Yann Sommer deserved the honour.) His playmaking abilities from the centre of midfield have been astonishing; the guy knows how to pick a pass, he's got incredible range. Xhaka routinely drops deep to collect the ball from his defence before spreading the ball forwards like a quarterback, with remarkable efficiency too. He's played every minute of every game and routinely ends each match as having the most touches on the ball. He's at the centre of everything positive in this Swiss side. Xhaka has probably been my favourite Arsenal player to watch at Euro 2016 so far and I'm eagerly awaiting his first game in the Arsenal red and white. He looks like he'll bring some real quality to the Gunner's midfield. I can't wait.
Pro's: Deep-lying playmaking ability, influential leadership.
Con's: His Puma shirts are awful (he needed 3 during the France game)
England's sole representative for Arsenal at Euro 2016 hasn't had the best of times, despite a great opportunity to prove his worth in England's final game. Jack made his first appearance in the tournament when he came on for the last 12 minutes against Russia and impressed in his brief time but he didn't see any action during England's 2-1 victory over Wales. Manager Roy Hodgson took a risk for England's final group game against Slovakia by shaking things up and Wilshere was handed a starting place but was largely ineffective in their disappointing 0-0 draw. The Arsenal man was only given 56 minutes and you could see he was trying to push, trying to dictate, but it just didn't click for him (or his useless teammates.) He was far too sloppy in possession but judging by the British media's reaction, who love to paint him as a villain, he was the worst player to ever wear an England shirt. I thought Jordan Henderson was just as poor in midfield and equally wasteful, yet he somehow escaped all criticism. England face Iceland in the knockout stages and are heavy favourites, yet it's almost a certainty the game will end 0-0 and go to penalties, and England will exit the tournament in typical fashion. I don't expect we'll see much of Wilshere again, given the backlash he received after the Slovakia game, but he could feature again off the bench if England need a spark.
Pro's: Still the best passer of the ball England have.
Con's: Too wasteful and ponderous in possession.
Unlike Wilshere, Arsenal's other British midfielder is having a great time in France. Ramsey has been a driving force in the Welsh midfield and was a big factor in his nation's topping of Group B. Gareth Bale has rightfully stolen the spotlight but Ramsey has been just as crucial to Wales' success with his unrelenting work rate and passing ability. He dominated Russia in Wales' final group game, intricately threading passes through the Russian defence and scoring a beautifully chipped goal to give his country the lead in what was a 3-0 demolition. He was rightfully awarded the UEFA Man of the Match award for his performance and seems to be growing in strength as the competition progresses. He was very quiet and contained during Wales's defeat to England but he looks to have put that behind him now. Wales have confidence and momentum and could cause another upset as Ramsey and co. will aim to stay in France for as long as possible.
Pro's: Tireless engine, passing ability unmatched in his team.
Con's: Still over-complicates what should be simple moves. That hairstyle.
Arsenal's Player of the Season for 2015/16, the German playmaker has continued his fine form at Euro 2016. He got off to a somewhat subdued start against Ukraine but still picked up an assist in Germany's 2-0 win. Against Poland he forced a good save from former Arsenal keeper Łukasz Fabiański in a hard-fought 0-0 draw but he really found top gear against Northern Ireland, putting in a vintage performance. Özil pulled the strings in the star-studded German midfield and according to Opta stats, had a 98.5% passing accuracy, the highest in a European Championship game since 1980. He barely put a foot wrong in Germany's 1-0 win and looked the superstar we all know he can be, deservedly taking home UEFA's Man of the Match award. Partnered with the sublime Toni Kroos in midfield, Özil and his compatriots are definitely a team you don't want to face in the knockout stages (good luck to Slovakia then!).
Pro's: The best playmaker in international football, passing ability unmatched.
Con's: Consistently poor at making good contact when shooting.
The Arsenal goalkeeper could not keep his country from exiting Euro 2016 at the group stage as the Czech Republic finished bottom of Group D with a solitary point, earned in an exciting 2-2 draw with Croatia. There are reports Čech is considering international retirement and at the age of 34 you can't really blame him. He showed great resilience to deny a spirited Spain team in the Czech Republic's first game but was eventually undone by a late Gerard Pique header in a 1-0 loss. Čech also picked up an unwanted European Championship record, conceding 21 goals during his years competing at the Euro's, more than any other goalkeeper according to Opta. A disappointing end to what was a largely successful first season in North London, Čech will be looking to put Euro 2016 behind him as soon as possible and focus on Arsenal ahead of the new campaign.
Pro's: A class act and leader of men.
Con's: At the end of his international career with a lacklustre Czech team.
The Czech Republic captain, soon to be an ex-Arsenal player but for Euro 2016 still very much one of us, had a disappointing tournament as injury rose it's ugly head yet again. Rosický lasted the entire 90 minutes in their 2-2 draw with Croatia but he suffered a thigh injury that would rule him out for the rest of the competition. A very sad finish to what is likely the end of the 35 year-old's international career.
Pro's: Such great hair.
Con's: Cannot catch a break with injuries.
The Spanish speedster had a terrific 2015/16 season and earned a spot in the Spain squad for Euro 2016 as a reward. He hasn't seen a minute of action so far so I bet he's wishing he was on holiday instead. Juanfran is keeping Bellerin out of the starting lineup right now but it's clear the 31 year-old Atlético Madrid right-back is just keeping Hector's seat warm. Bellerin should be Spain's right-back for the next decade at least so there's no rush, and a little tournament experience never hurts.
Pro's: The fastest player in the Spain squad, maybe even the tournament.
Con's: Unlikely to see any minutes.
Szczęsny, who had an impressive loan spell with Roma in 2015/16, could be set to return to Arsenal but before that happens, his Poland side are impressing in France this summer. However, his Euro 2016 campaign hasn't been what he'd have hoped for. Szczęsny suffered a nasty thigh injury whilst keeping a clean sheet in a 1-0 opening win against Northern Ireland, and it was severe enough to rule him out of Poland's remaining group games. In his absence Łukasz Fabiański has been impressive (2 clean sheets) and I don't imagine Szczęsny can win back his place now, even if his injury has healed. Szczęsny won't give up his spot easily but I can't see Poland manager Adam Nawałka tinkering with a winning side now the knockout stages have begun.
Pro's: Fantastic shot-stopper and world class wind-up merchant.
Con's: Doesn't have much luck when it comes to European Championships. Remember?
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, 23 June 2016
Tuesday, 31 May 2016
This afternoon Roy Hodgson named his final 23-man squad for England ahead of Euro 2016 and our own Jack Wilshere, out of action for nearly the entire 2015/16 season, has made the team and will be on the plane to France.
As an Arsenal fan I am very pleased to hear he'll be representing the club. After Danny Welbeck's late season injury ruling out what was a guaranteed place in the squad, and Theo Walcott's unfortunate but not unsurprising exclusion, Jack will be the sole representative for Gunners fans in this England squad dominated by players from teams I absolutely despise.
Don't get me wrong, as an Englishman I am desperate for my national team to succeed on the international stage. However it is sometimes difficult to cheer and actively support players like Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney when for the majority of the year I don't like them very much at all (to put it mildly.) This England squad in particular is very Tottenham-heavy, making it even more difficult to fully embrace these guys. I will of course cheer and celebrate whoever puts the ball in the net wearing an England shirt, but if it's an Arsenal player it makes the celebration that little bit sweeter. So for Wilshere to be included in the team and to get this opportunity, lets just say I'm very happy with Roy Hodgson's decision to take him.
There has been quite an uproar on social media (what else is new?) over Danny Drinkwater's absence from the squad. Many fans feel aggrieved that the likes of Wilshere and Jordan Henderson, both with doubts about their fitness, have made the team instead of Drinkwater. Wilshere in particular is receiving a great deal of abuse, mainly because he only started 1 game during the 2015/16 season.
The 26 year-old Leicester City midfielder can certainly feel aggrieved at Hodgson's decision to leave him at home. A player who made 35 appearances this season for the League champions, Drinkwater definitely merited serious consideration ahead of Euro 2016.
However, he has a few factors working against him. One of which being Roy Hodgson is a very loyal manager; it's safe to say he has "his boys" and Wilshere and Henderson have long been part of that exclusive club. They've both contributed meaningfully on the international stage, they are known quantities and Hodgson feels comfortable with them. Drinkwater is a relative newcomer to the current England setup, whereas Wilshere has been established in Hodgson's squad for many years now.
Also, whilst Drinkwater is a very talented player, at the international level he's still somewhat unproven. He and Leicester City have had a tremendous season but the level of quality at Euro 2016 may be a step above what Drinkwater is used to. If England make the knockout stages, Drinkwater would be up against some of the very best players in the world, not the scrubs he's used to seeing fielded by the Aston Villa's and Norwich's of the Premier League. Whereas Wilshere has faced the world's best for over half a decade, playing regularly in the Champions League and for England.
Perhaps the biggest factor in Wilshere's favour over Drinkwater is his style of play. Drinkwater, a very capable and workmanlike midfielder, cannot pick a pass or make a turn and drive forward like Wilshere, in fact there are very few who can, hence why Hodgson is so insistent on having him in the squad, regardless of his fitness. I am positive Drinkwater has areas in his game that Wilshere cannot match but the Leicester man does not yet possess the skills that mark him out as "world class." It is a phrase I hate using as it's so unspecific and handed out far too often, yet Jack has exhibited this level of play in the past and been lauded for it.
So I can understand fans feeling Drinkwater has been wronged by Roy Hodgson. But this youthful and dynamic England side is a talented one, and should Drinkwater have made the squad, how many minutes would he have seen anyway? In a very strong midfield, which is likely to see Wayne Rooney crammed in there also, I don't think Drinkwater will have had much of a look in over Henderson, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, James Milner and Ross Barkley, all players who can operate successfully in the centre of the park. Will Jack Wilshere see many minutes either? Perhaps not. However, if that is the case, I would argue that Jack can bring a spark off the bench Drinkwater cannot yet manage, a different option and a vastly different technique to his peers that could prove useful.
England face Portugal in 2 days time in their final warm-up match before taking on Russia in their first Euro 2016 game on 11 June. I expect to see the England manager select a strong lineup against the Portuguese with many indicators on who is first eleven may be ahead of England's first group game against the Russians. Here's hoping Wilshere features prominently and puts in a performance to silence his critics. Lord knows he has plenty of them.
Thanks for reading.
Wednesday, 25 May 2016
After securing their highest league finish since 2005, Arsenal got their plans for the 2016/17 season underway early by signing Swiss international midfielder Granit Xhaka to a long-term deal.
The former Borussia Monchengladbach captain is rumored to cost the Gunners somewhere between £25-30 million according to reports. The 23 year-old is set to join up with his new teammates after Euro 2016 concludes later this summer.
Xhaka is a player who has been on Arsenal's radar for some time, with many journalists linking him with a move to North London earlier this year during the January transfer window. Arsene Wenger has long been an admirer: "We have been watching him for a long time now and he is a player who will add quality to our squad."
I'm really excited to see what Xhaka can bring to this team. I've only really seen him play in a handful of Champions League games in recent years, so I'm not an expert by any means, but it appears he will bring some much-needed steel to our midfield. A deep-lying playmaker with an eye for a pass, Xhaka is adept at playing pinpoint long-range passes in attack, as well as putting in a shift in defence. I assume Wenger is looking to him as an upgrade over Francis Coquelin, a player with similar toughness but perhaps the more refined Xhaka can bring a bit of finesse to the position. I'm already looking forward to seeing a midfield trio of Xhaka, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil. With the impending departure of veterans Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini, the club needed to bolster the midfield this summer and they have gone one step toward doing just that.
I'm both impressed by the acquisition of a quality player and by the swiftness of the transfer. It's not often Arsenal are early birds to the transfer worm, so it makes a nice change. I don't expect (nor do I hope) that this is the end of Arsenal's transfer activity but it's a great start to what will hopefully be a busy off-season for Mr Wenger and co.
It is expected Xhaka will wear the number 34 shirt as he has done for the majority of his career, both at FC Basel and Monchengladbach. Of course, he will have to pry it away from Coquelin first, who I expect will jump at the chance to take a vacant First XI number, likely the departed Arteta's number 8.
I know I'll be tuning in to watch every Switzerland game I can during Euro 2016, that's for sure. Welcome to the club Granit Xhaka.
The eagle-eyed among you will notice this is my first post in a while. Over 3 years in fact. This blog has been dormant for a host of reasons, but I'm going to endeavor to post on here more often. I'm well aware the internet doesn't need yet another Arsenal blog but I don't care; I'm going to write about them anyway.
Thanks for reading.
Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Arsenal beat Bayern Munich 2-0 tonight at the Allianz Arena but it wasn't enough to overcome the 1-3 first leg result and have exited the Champions League. Arsenal needed three clear goals to go through to the quarter finals, a ridiculously tough task against a Bayern side who are having one of the best seasons in their history as well as Arsenal being without some key players like Wilshere, Podolski, Sagna and Szczesny. A goal from Giroud three minutes in got the ball rolling but it took until the 85th minute for Arsenal to score again, from a Koscielny header. The third goal never came and the Gunners exited the competition in the first round yet again.
Despite going out of the Champions League there are plenty of positives to take away from tonight's game. I'll make this quick, so let's run through some of the things I liked this evening:
When I heard Wenger had decided to "rest" Szczesny for tonight's game I was surprised to say the least. Goalkeepers hardly have the hardest job on the pitch stamina-wise so it's not like Szczesny needed the rest on a physical level. But Fabianski came in, his first game of this 2012/13 season, and put in possibly his finest performance in an Arsenal shirt. He was solid for the entire 90 minutes and dealt with everything Bayern threw at him. The Pole was constantly peppered with long range shots by Bayern and he kept it all out. Fabianski looked composed and marshalled the back four effectively too. Yesterday I would have told you his Arsenal career was clearly over. But now? Should we give him another look? Based on tonight's game I think he's earned another chance with us. He looked like a totally different goalkeeper to the Fabianski of old.
The defensive effort
I realise that Bayern had plenty of attempts on goal but I felt overall the entire team defended very well on the whole. The midfield bought into the gameplan tonight and really chipped in with helping out the back four. Considering what we've witnessed the majority of the time this season I thought the defence were outstanding tonight. The only criticism I have is we could have cleared our lines better and were a bit sloppy giving the ball back to Bayern after we'd just won it from them. But I thought the back four of Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gibbs were brilliant. They deserve a lot of praise in blunting that Bayern squad's attack. Coming away from the Allianz with a clean sheet is a feat not accomplished by most teams. I think now is the time Wenger needs to seriously consider leaving Vermaelen out of the first XI for a bit. Koscielny was head and shoulders better than Vermaelen has been all year and I'm sorry, captain or no captain, but the Belgian has not been up to scratch this season. Just give Arteta the armband for the rest of the campaign and let Vermaelen earn his place back in the side. It's such a shame because I adored him not so long ago but he's been so inconsistent since he was handed the captaincy. I think Koscielny and Mertesacker are the way forward from now on, until Thomas can get some form back.
With the news that our midfield engine Jack Wilshere will miss at least three weeks with an ankle problem, I have to admit my head dropped a bit. He's been so incredible since his return from injury that I struggled to see us winning much without Jack in the side, driving the team forward. But the door has opened now for Rosicky to get meaningful minutes and play in his favourite position, to show us what he can do when healthy. The Czech midfielder came back into the team around this time last year and provided that extra spark to push us home at the end of last season. Based on tonight's performance it looks like he's trying to repeat that effort. He didn't do anything too notable tonight but I loved his effort out there. He repeatedly harried the Bayern defenders when they had the ball, chasing them down and pressuring constantly. It kept the German side from settling and I appreciated his hard work for the team. Hopefully Rosicky can build on this performance and steer the team to victory over the next couple of months.
So all in all it's incredibly sad and disappointing to exit the Champions League again but I think every Gooner out there can feel proud with the team and the effort they gave tonight. It wasn't enough overall but a 2-0 win away in Munich is nothing to frown about and should be celebrated.
Thanks for reading.
Friday, 1 February 2013
In my Liverpool match review yesterday I said towards the end that I hoped Wenger would dip into the transfer market for a new left back and thankfully that's exactly what he did. Spanish international Nacho Monreal has agreed to join the club from Malaga on a long term contract for what's believed to be around £10 million. The deal is practically done, Arsenal are just waiting for the formal registration process to be completed.
I can't honestly say I know anything about Monreal apart from the fact he's 26 and has seven caps for the world and European champions. Everything I've read about him is positive so it sounds like he should fit in nicely with Arsenal, plus he's got his old teammate Santi Cazorla already here to guide him. With Gibbs picking up that thigh injury on Wednesday night it left Santos as our only senior left back. That mere thought is enough to terrify every Arsenal fan and Wenger must have seen it too. Hopefully this Monreal deal can be completed today but it'll be highly unlikely he'll play tomorrow against Stoke, so I expect we'll be forced to watch Santos one more time. I honestly think that with the signing of Monreal it spells the end for Santos at the club. He's a likeable chap but his flaws are too visible to ignore and I think Arsene really needs to offload him in the summer.
Overall I'd have liked Wenger to be more active this January but since I expected nothing at all, the signing of Monreal came as a nice surprise. I bought tickets for Arsenal - Aston Villa last week so I'm looking forward to seeing him in the flesh on the 23rd February. Hopefully he can fit in well and add a bit of solidity to our weak back-line.
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, 31 January 2013
Arsenal battled back from two goals down last night at The Emirates to draw 2-2 with Liverpool in a game that was end to end and could have gone either way. Both teams had numerous chances to finish the other off and claim all three points but a draw was all they could muster.
This was a game I felt Arsenal had to win. Arsene Wenger has been 100% correct lately when he's said we cannot afford to drop any more points from now on and I personally feel last night's game was a missed opportunity. With Everton and Spurs above us and Liverpool and Swansea not far behind, we really need to win every game left on the schedule. No disrespect to Liverpool, who have a superstar in Luis Suarez (even if he is a little twat), but I believe Arsenal should have the quality to beat this current Liverpool team.
However in typical Arsenal fashion they decided to let Liverpool score before they decided they'd like to participate in this match. A harmless pass by Suarez wasn't dealt with by Sagna because the French defender slipped on his arse, allowing Glen Johnson to collect the ball and drive into the box. The moment Sagna fell I could tell we were about to go 1-0 down because I don't know what it is, but I always feel like other teams punish us for these stupid little mistakes every single time. Johnson swung the ball across goal to Daniel Sturridge and yet again we fans are gifted the sight of another defensive mistake. As Johnson's ball is put in, Vermaelen has all day to get a leg on it and clear the ball. Instead he air kicks it and the ball passes right under him and straight to Sturridge. The Englishman's decent attempt was well saved by Szczesny but the rebound was only flicked away by Ramsey (who I don't really blame because the ball ricocheted into his path and he didn't seem to know it hit him). Jordan Henderson then played the ball to Suarez whose first time shot deflected in and Liverpool were 1-0 up within 5 minutes. Sloppy, horrible defending that just makes you want to cry.
At least we didn't have to wait long for Arsenal to show some fight. Immediately after giving away the first goal Walcott nearly equalised. A beautiful pass from Wilshere was brought under control superbly by Walcott (an excellent first touch) who forced an instinctive save from Pepe Reina in the Liverpool goal. But not long after that chance, Arsenal decided to make life difficult for themselves again. Liverpool pushed forward on the counter and a brilliant Suarez pass put Sturridge in on goal but his effort went just wide of Szczensy's goal. If allowing that glorious chance wasn't enough, our Polish keeper decided to offer Strurridge one more chance. From the goal kick Szczesny played it short to Mertesacker who was immediately put under pressure by Suarez. Understandably the German defender played the ball back to his goalkeeper but Szczesny had Sturridge coming after him. So instead of Szczesny putting his foot through it and getting ball away from danger by any means necessary, what does he decide to do? He tries a ridiculous back heel turn in an attempt to fool Sturridge, who was having none of it and if the striker got one more toe to the ball it would have easily found itself in the back of the Arsenal net. It was a complete joke and I cannot believe, at 1-0 down, Szczesny had the audacity to attempt such a stupid move. I really like our Polish stopper but he has that side to him, that showboating arrogance that I really don't like. You have one job to do as a goalkeeper, to minimise the risk of the ball going past you and when he tries stupid stunts like that it just makes me despair. The team has a bad enough defensive reputation as it is so we don't need any more sloppy mistakes.
Arsenal pushed for an equaliser in the first half but it didn't come, despite Giroud and Walcott both having good chances. Liverpool could have gone 2-0 up from a corner (which came from a careless Mertesacker mistake) as a Daniel Agger header was cleared off the line by Podolski. Szczesny came out for the ball and got nowhere near it, allowing Agger a free header on target. Things got worse for the home side when Gibbs had to come off with an injured thigh after 32 minutes (he'll be out for 3 weeks) and Andre Santos had to come on in his place. If there was ever a substitution that inspired less confidence amongst the Arsenal faithful, this was it (although a Squillaci sighting might run it close). To cap off an embarrassing defensive first half we almost let Jordan Henderson score. Yeah I know, Jordan Henderson! With only a couple of minutes to go before half time Stewart Downing took the ball into our half and fed the ball in behind our defenders (Mertesacker caught ball watching again, completely failing to see Henderson running in behind him) into the path of Henderson. Szczesny rushed out to intercept but wasn't fast enough, stranded now on the edge of his box trying to make himself opposing to Henderson. The Liverpool midfielder paused, watched our keeper finally scramble back to goal and then tried to chip Szczesny. Luckily the ball landed safely on top of the Arsenal goal and not in the back of the net. By now Liverpool should have been well in the lead and we'd almost let Henderson score against us. Things couldn't get much worse.
Well of course they could, and would, because Henderson actually DID score against us. The Englishman picked up the ball just outside our penalty area and went right at Mertesacker, passing him by with ease. Santos came to help but he was typically too late and the wrong side of goal. Henderson's first shot was weak and blocked by a flying Aaron Ramsey but unfortunately the ball deflected back to Henderson. By this time Szczesny had already prepared himself to save the initial shot so was down and out of position to stop Henderson's second attempt, which he duly tapped into an uncontested net. It's a sign of how bad this defence has become when we make bloody Jordan Henderson look like Lionel Messi. 2-0 down at home and heads certainly dropped.
Of course, only this bizarre and backwards Arsenal team could play better 0-2 down than 2-0 up. Within minutes of looking like Liverpool had wrapped this one up Arsenal came to life and played their best football of the night. Podolski narrowly missed with a long range shot before the Gunners finally got back in the game. A free kick was beautifully swung in from the right flank by Wilshere and Giroud was there to head home past a helpless Reina. It ignited the crowd and the team had their tails up now. Three minutes later and Arsenal were level and had turned the game around. Santi Cazorla played a perfect pass into Giroud who had his back to goal. The French striker cushioned an instant pass to an unmarked Walcott who smashed it first time from a tight angle to equalise. The ball was hit so perfectly and so fast that Reina didn't even have time to get down for the save, he was just left stranded and stood alone. It really was a beautiful hit from the in-form Walcott and just an example of what he's capable of. From 0-2 down to 2-2 in under four minutes, only this Arsenal team would make fans suffer and celebrate in such fashion.
Unfortunately that's as far as Arsenal could go. Despite their persistence the home side could not find the winning goal. Walcott narrowly missed with his left foot not long after his equalising goal and an Arsenal counter attack with ten minutes left almost brought a winner. Giroud got in on the act too, with three decent opportunities in the last ten minutes but it wasn't to be. Naturally Arsenal still had time left to torture their fans a bit more. With one minute left in injury time Santos played a stupid ball into a dangerous area around the centre circle. To be fair to the Brazilian it was partly Vermaelen's fault that Liverpool stole Santos's pass so easily; our captain took his eye off the ball at the worst possible time and I don't think he even knew Santos had attempted a pass to him. Nevertheless Santos should never be putting the ball into a dangerous area like that and Liverpool were quickly away and looking for a late winner. Suarez got the ball out on the left flank and drove into the box and it was only thanks to a great Szczesny save down low that the score remained 2-2.
I had mixed feelings after the final whistle and I still do this morning. I'm pleased that Arsenal can show resilience to come back from two goals down and fight their way back into the game but at the same time I'm pissed off we still get ourselves into these situations. It's all well and good saying how great our spirit is to come back but I'd prefer if we could play like we did when we were 0-2 down right from the beginning. It was an amazing sight to behold. The minute after Henderson put Liverpool up by two, Arsenal played with such pace and force you had to wonder why it took so long for them to play with such eagerness.
It's reassuring to see our attackers are in form and scoring important goals but the defensive problems only seem to be getting worse. With the news that Gibbs will be out for at least three weeks, I can't bear to watch Santos at left back against Bayern Munich in just over two weeks time. I don't like to single out individuals but he is not nearly good enough to be successful at this level. Brighton made him look like an amateur and I couldn't believe how slow and unfit he was in the final minutes last night. He'd only been on the pitch for 60 minutes, it wasn't like he'd struggled through the entire 90. I am praying Wenger springs a late deal today before the transfer deadline shuts to bring in a new left back, but I can almost guarantee the boss will never do that. We'll see eh?
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, 17 January 2013
It nearly took all night but Arsenal finally dispatched Swansea yesterday, beating them 1-0 in the 3rd round replay of the FA Cup, setting up a 4th round matchup against Brighton on the 26th January. The man responsible for Arsenal's victory is the young Englishman Jack Wilshere, whose drive and effort shone throughout the entire match and was finally rewarded in the 86th minute with a blistering shot that Swansea keeper Michel Vorm had no chance of stopping.
The Gunners really should have held on to their 2-1 lead at Swansea on the 6th January but it wasn't to be, as a Danny Graham goal in the final minutes tied the game and forced last night's unwanted replay. Arsene Wenger knows the squad is tired enough as it is and an FA Cup replay was the last thing he would have wanted during this busy fixture period. However I'm sure he was grateful that the team were at least still in the competition and had another chance to progress. That being said, last night's game was possibly the most important of this season to date; a loss would have seen us exit the FA Cup and almost certainly put to bed any thoughts of this Gunners side winning any silverware this season (Champions League excluded... but come on...)
I felt the manager picked probably the strongest side he could field at the moment but, as we have seen far too often recently, the team never really got going in the first half. For much of the opening 45 minutes Swansea kept control of the possession and were unlucky not to take the lead from a header hitting the bar, courtesy of ex-Arsenal man Kyle Bartley. At least that seemed to wake Arsenal up a bit as they started to play a lot better towards the end of the first half. In fact I'm sure the players were probably disappointed to hear the half time whistle, as the home side were beginning to finally take hold of the game.
Thankfully Arsenal carried that momentum and energy into the second half and really put this Swansea City team to the sword. The Gunners had chance after chance and it started to look like we'd never score and the game would go into extra-time. Twice Arsenal had the ball cleared off the Swansea goal-line and the pressure kept mounting, with Vorm making save after save. Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud all had efforts blocked by the Dutch keeper. Swansea looked quite content to soak up the pressure and hold on for extra-time, maybe fancying their chances at a penalty shoot-out.
But it wasn't to be. With less than 5 minutes to go and the home crowd growing more frustrated and anxious as the seconds ticked by, they were rewarded with as good a goal as you are likely to see. Kieran Gibbs drove the ball into Swansea's half and played it to Santi Cazorla, whose expert pass found the feet of Giroud just outside the penalty area. The French striker played a cute first-time ball off the outside of his boot into the path of Wilshere, who smashed it on the half-volley and straight into the back of the net. It was a real peach of a goal, a shot that flashed past Vorm so quickly it could have burst through the goalkeeper's net. Arsenal's pressure was finally rewarded and there were no repeats of Swansea's late heroics in the first game on the 6th January. This time Arsenal held on for the clean sheet and the win, guaranteeing us a trip to Brighton in the 4th round.
Arsenal owe this win to just one man in particular, the heart of our midfield, Jack Wilshere. For me, he played his finest game in an Arsenal shirt since that memorable night against Barcelona a couple of years ago. He was everywhere last night, literally dragging this jaded and tired Arsenal side into attacking Swansea's stubborn defence. The Englishman wouldn't give in and his zig-zagging runs at the opposition were a sight to behold; this small bulldog terrier-like player fending off defenders as he consistently tried to create goal scoring chances for his team-mates. Finally he'd had enough of their wastefulness and took it upon himself to break the deadlock. His goal would be the envy of most strikers in the Premier League, a really fine hit. Last night definitely proved young Jack is worthy of wearing that number 10 shirt. It is obvious for all to see the immense pride he has in possessing the iconic number and he has certainly earned it.
Let's hope there are many more Wilshere goals to come in Arsenal's future. I'm a big fan of that celebration he does, the knee slider with the badge-thump. I feel that for once we have a player who really means it when he says he loves the club. Long may that continue, I think he'd make a fine captain one day.
Thanks for reading.