Sunday, 21 August 2016

Referee Didn't Give Two Fuchs

Saturday 20 August 2016
Leicester 0 Arsenal 0

Arsenal battled the reigning champions Leicester City to a 0-0 draw yesterday at the King Power Stadium. Arsenal had the better run of things for the majority of the game but can count themselves somewhat lucky. Mark Clattenburg, officiating his first Premier League game of the season, let Arsenal off the hook twice, once in each half, as Leicester had strong claims for penalties turned down.

Leicester, playing their first home game of the season, started slowly and Arsenal were on top from the very start. But the Gunners never seriously challenged Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain being the only player to threaten, curling a shot just wide of the Leicester goal.

The home fans were in uproar minutes later as Danny Drinkwater was seemingly tripped in the box by Laurent Koscielny but the referee was having none of it. Replays indicate that Koscielny didn't get the ball but Drinkwater was looking for the spot-kick all day long and Clattenburg waved away the home side's appeals.

Leicester looked an improved side in the second half but still never really looked like challenging Petr Cech. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, both linked with the Gunners this summer, did little to make Arsenal fans feel as if they'd missed out, as both forwards were largely ineffective against the Arsenal back-line. Mahrez came closest for the hosts with a late effort, saved well by Cech. Just before that chance, Leicester had another penalty appeal turned down when Foxes new boy Ahmed Musa got the best of Hector Bellerin but went down in the area softly after minimal contact. I've seen those penalties given though, and Arsenal can count themselves fortunate that Clattenburg was in a generous mood for the visitors.

All in all it was a game between two very evenly matched sides who effectively cancelled each other out. You could tell both teams have studied each other well. Arsenal refused to let Leicester play that counter-attacking style they love and the hosts proved difficult to unlock as the Gunners continued to pass the ball around the opposition's penalty area, without ever piercing the defence.

Alexis Sanchez, playing up front as the sole striker for the second week in a row, failed to get into the game yet again. It's increasingly clear that Alexis, as supremely talented as he is, is not accustomed to leading the line and looks out of sorts in that position. He was so isolated, as he was against Liverpool, and he never really got going. There is no faulting his effort levels but he doesn't have the same impact as a striker and is completed wasted there. The fans' jeering at Arsene Wenger to spend some money on a new number 9 will continue for a while longer.

There were some positives for the Gunners though. Laurent Koscielny returned to the starting eleven and instantly settled the Arsenal back-four. He was unshakable in defence, and aside from that potential penalty tangle with Drinkwater, never put a foot wrong. His influence and authority on the team cannot be questioned and he gave a man of the match performance.

Rob Holding, making his second start for the club, was the main benefactor of Koscielny's return. Partnered with the experienced Frenchman, Holding looked confident and self-assured and kept the Leicester attackers at bay. The Arsenal boss said after the game: "Nobody speaks about the performance of Rob Holding today - he is English, he is 20 years old, you should be happy. But I am sorry he didn't cost £55m."

We also saw the return of Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere. All three of them came off the bench and Ozil and Wilshere made an impact straight away. It was nice to see Jack back in the side, in this somewhat make-or-break season for him.

Arsenal's next test is another away game, this time at Watford on Saturday 27 August. The Hornets threw away a 1-0 lead over Chelsea yesterday, falling to them 2-1 late on. The Gunners will be looking to pick up their first win and should really have enough in them to beat Watford.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Opening Day Disappointment

Sunday 14 August 2016
Arsenal 3 Liverpool 4

My first trip to the Emirates this season didn't end the way I wanted it to. But the way I look at it, things could have been much, much worse.

First of all, the eagle-eyed among you will notice that photo above is from the away corner of the Clock End, the Liverpool end. What on earth was I doing in there you ask? My brother managed to get himself, my nephew and I three tickets courtesy of his New Balance connections. Amazing, right? Yes but the price we had to pay was to be surrounded by the opposition. I spent the entire match hemmed in by scousers who are about as fanatical as football fans get. It was actually quite enjoyable to begin with, and they were a lively bunch in good spirits, enjoying the magnificent British weather. But then the goals started going in, and the fun soon turned into horror...

Before we get to that, let's start at the beginning. I got into London around midday and naturally migrated to the shop to look at this season's new gear. I told myself repeatedly, "I don't need this season's home shirt, in fact I won't buy anything." That didn't last long.

My willpower was non-existent. Realistically I knew I would buy it but seeing them all lined up in the shop, I couldn't resist. They didn't have any pre-made with the new Cup numbering so I had this one made up. I'd never had a shirt printed with the European Cup badges before but had always wanted one. It looks pretty darn good in my opinion, especially that iconic Champions League badge. Why did I opt for Cazorla? Santi has been one of my favourite players for a long time, he's unbelievably skilled in possession and who doesn't love the guy, constantly smiling as he humiliates would-be defenders.

Even though I'd already spent way more than I intended, I continued to browse the store and spotted a potential birthday/Christmas present:

These new Puma rain jackets are lovely and much better quality than the similarly-priced stadium jackets. I have my eyes on this navy blue one in the near future. I'm keeping my fingers crossed some kind soul will gift me one before 2016 is over.

After meeting with my brother and nephew, we headed towards our turnstile. After entering the stadium, Arsenal shirt well and truly hidden beneath a jacket, we found our way into enemy territory. It was pretty warm by this point but the stewards recommended (demanded) I hide my shirt for the entire game, lest I incur the wrath of the travelling support. It was a definitely a good idea after what occurred next.

First Half

Arsenal started brightly and, I felt, controlled the half. The home side looked dangerous in attack and the makeshift centre-back duo of Calum Chambers and Rob Holding were holding their own (pun intended) in defence. Aerially they dominated against Liverpool's forward line and Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny did a very good job of screening the back four, cutting out attacks before they got too dangerous. Petr Cech was never seriously tested in goal. 

Thirty minutes into the match, Theo Walcott was brought down in the penalty area after a stupid challenge by Liverpool left-back and owner of terrible hair Alberto Moreno. I was surprised to see Theo grab the ball and take ownership of the penalty. I thought for sure Alexis Sanchez, the most experienced forward on the pitch, would surely take command. Instead Theo tamely put the ball to Simon Mignolet's right and it was a simple save for the goalkeeper in the end, at an easy height. The Liverpool fans burst into celebration around us and all I could do was bite my lip in frustration. 

Thankfully Theo was quick to make amends. Coquelin made a brilliant tackle to feed the ball into Alex Iwobi and the Nigerian youngster picked out Theo with a delightful pass. Walcott took a touch before firing home from a tricky angle and it was 1-0 to the Arsenal. I had to do everything in my power not to jump up and down and reveal myself. But typically Arsenal couldn't hold on. As the end of the first half neared, Liverpool earned a cheap free kick and the always dangerous Philippe Coutinho stepped up to take it. The Brazilian scored one of the most impressive free kicks in recent memory, perfectly curling the ball into the top corner and Cech had no chance. I'll admit, it's right up there with the best goals I've seen in person. 1-1 at half time and it was a gut punch to Arsenal. It's often said the worst time to concede is just before half time. Sadly for the Gunners, this proved to be true.

Second Half

Arsenal never recovered from that Coutinho free kick. Liverpool emerged early for the second half and never took their foot off the gas. Within minutes it was 2-1 to the visitors, Adam Lallana slotting home from the right. Liverpool didn't let up, with Coutinho notching his second of the day to make it 3-1. And not long after that Sadio Mane, the Reds' £35 million new signing, made it 4-1 with an impressive solo goal. Now just imagine what being 4-1 down felt like in the Liverpool end for a trio of stunned Arsenal fans. It was incredibly hard to hide my disappointment and anger as jubilant, and really drunk Merseysiders roared in celebration around me. The only silver lining? I have Coutinho in my fantasy team. Dude is some player, and Liverpool will be lucky to hold onto him.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, just on as a substitute, quickly started the comeback. At 4-1 down you have to think the game is over but the Ox gave Arsenal a lifeline with a superb goal, weaving through the Liverpool defence before beating Mignolet at his near post to make it 4-2. Arsenal continued to press for another goal and were rewarded 10 minutes later when Chambers glanced in a header to bring the home side within a goal of snatching an unlikely draw. But it wasn't to be and Arsenal just could not find that extra something to seriously threaten the visitors again. Liverpool saw the game out and delivered Arsenal their first loss of the season, in their very first game.

Post-Match Thoughts

I could not believe how much better Liverpool were in the second half. Equally, I couldn't understand how Arsenal could be so off the pace. Arsenal just couldn't deal with Liverpool's pressing, their tenacity, their level of effort. The Reds put in a total team effort and blitzed the home team. Coquelin and Elneny were totally bypassed in midfield and the inexperienced partnership of Chambers and Holding stood no chance. Alexis cut a forlorn figure up front, starved of service and unable to challenge for any ball above his head. He was wasted as a striker, unable to influence the game much at all.

To rub salt in the wound, the Gunners lost both Aaron Ramsey and Iwobi to injuries. Ramsey's hamstring reared it's ugly head yet again, an injury that repeatedly scuppers his Arsenal career. Reports are that he will miss a month, and Iwobi's thigh injury is still to be determined in terms of his absence. I thought Ramsey had an impressive first half playing in the number 10 role he would love to claim as his own, so it's such a shame to lose him again and not witness what he could bring to that position.

I was amazed that Arsene Wenger didn't opt to start Oxlade-Chamberlain. After a hugely successful pre-season, the English winger looked a certainty to start but the boss opted for Walcott instead. All credit to Theo, he put the penalty miss behind him and took his goal well, but he contributed very little otherwise. The impact the Ox made immediately upon entering the game just made me think what could have been if he'd started.

I was also surprised to see new acquisition Granit Xhaka not get the start. I can fully understand why Wenger opted for Elneny and Coquelin instead. With such a young and inexperienced centre-back duo, it made sense to give them as much defensive midfield protection as possible. But I felt Xhaka could have done that job also, as well as providing that extra bit of technique in attack. I thought the Swiss midfielder impressed in his 20+ minutes and you could see immediately his physicality and leadership qualities, even in such a short amount of gametime. As the match was in it's dying minutes, right in front of us, Xhaka shunted Jordan Henderson in the chest and you just wanted to fist-pump right there and then and shout, "get in there lad!" He's definitely going to pick up a red card or two this year, but I love his grit and moxie already.


All in all I enjoyed the day (for someone of modest means, every visit to the Emirates is a day out to be savored) but the result was pretty terrible. It could have been much worse at 4-1 and at least the boys showed character to attempt the comeback and avoid total humiliation. However the squad is so obviously lacking in depth and talent in defence and attack, with midfield being the only area of strength. Signings must be made or it'll be another squandered season.

We left the Emirates and headed into the city, turning up at Bodean's in Soho for some barbecue. This cheered us up and was exactly what was needed after a difficult afternoon of football. I had the Boss Hot Dog and a strawberry shake and both were incredible. Check out the size of this dog:

Yep, that's pulled pork, bacon, and cheese. Mega.


Arsenal now travel to the home of the champions Leicester City, who also suffered an opening day defeat, away to relegation-favourites Hull City. Both teams will be looking to prove a point and put their first game behind them, and I can see it being a difficult game for the Gunners. I still like our chances, especially against a Leicester side who look like they haven't solved replacing midfield cornerstone N'Golo Kanté quite yet. The Foxes look vulnerable and Arsenal must capitalize on this and take their chances. We did the double against Leicester last season so let's hope we can continue our winning ways, even if they are the defending champions.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Arsenal Season Preview 2016/17

I'm heading to the Emirates on Sunday for the season opener against Liverpool. I've never been to the first game of the season before so I'm excited to say the least. However the general feeling among Arsenal fans is, to put it nicely, mixed. There's a great deal of frustration and anger felt by many, not to mention confusion and general astonishment that the club could enter the season so unprepared. Yet beneath all the negativity, buried deep under the shouts of 'Wenger Out' and the YouTube attention-seeking rants, there are reasons to be optimistic. I thought I'd assess where Arsenal stand before the dawn of a new campaign.

Pre-Season: Results Don't Matter, Performances Do

Played 5, won 4, drawn 1, lost 0. Arsenal have had a very successful pre-season by all accounts. The results ultimately mean very little because nobody remembers your pre-season wins and losses once the season begins. But it is a great time to assess the players and their performances, as the pre-season provides a good indicator on form and conditioning. Wins are always better than losses, right? Even if they don't really count.

A number of players have given Arsene Wenger a selection headache before Sunday's game. One man in particular looks like he knows this is a make-or-break year for him. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a winger with enormous potential who hasn't quite delivered in terms of consistency, had a magnificent pre-season. He scored a superb Bergkamp-esque chip against Lens and a goal against Chivas that looked like he was being maneuvered by a Playstation controller. He routinely challenged opposition fullbacks, attacking again and again with real confidence, something we haven't seen from him in a while. If he can just stay fit this season, and it's a big if, you have to think Ox could go far. Injuries have been the largest factor to have held him back since he joined in 2011 but he needs to put that behind him now. I'm almost certain he's played his way into the first XI for Sunday's game.

A few youngsters also stepped up their games this summer, putting themselves in the forefront of Arsene Wenger's plans. Alex Iwobi continues to impress since he broke into the first team last season and can hopefully continue to develop in 2016/17 as a dangerous forward. The young Nigerian has quickly become one of my favourite players and his mixture of pace, strength and technique make him one to watch this season. His friend and fellow forward Chuba Akpom also took his opportunity this pre-season. 4 goals in 5 games is a decent return for the Englishman and he seems intent on making it impossible for the boss to loan him out again. I doubt Arsene would dare start Akpom up front against Liverpool but then again this is a man who played Yaya Sanogo in key Champions League games a couple of years ago. So who knows, Akpom stands a chance and did everything he possibly could to force his way into that number 9 slot. I hope we don't loan him out again this year but if the club can't add that big-name striker the media and the fans crave, then Akpom suddenly becomes even more integral to this squad and could see significant playing time.

The new boys impressed as well. Granit Xhaka, fresh off a wonderful Euro 2016 campaign with Switzerland, looks like he's been part of this team for years. He's slotted into the Arsenal squad seamlessly and could be a fixture in the heart of the midfield for the next decade. He's surely earned a starting spot ahead of Sunday. Rob Holding, the young English defender recently purchased from Bolton, also acquitted himself well. I'm certain Arsene Wenger never intended to rush him along so quickly but with the recent long-term injuries to both Per Mertesacker and Gabriel, and with Laurent Koscielny only just returning to training after Euro 2016, it looks like Holding will be thrown into the fire on Sunday. With only a couple of fit centre backs to choose from, I expect the boss might have no choice but to play Holding, probably alongside Calum Chambers. A makeshift defence if you've ever seen one.

Where Are The Reinforcements?

Which leads me on to my next topic: transfer activity, or rather, the lack of. It's been well publicised how our rivals have spent millions on new additions and Arsenal have not. Yet with Gabriel getting hurt on Sunday in the friendly victory against Manchester City, the defence in particular looks especially thin. Shkodran Mustafi, the 24 year-old Valencia centre back, has been linked with Arsenal all summer but now his move to North London seems to have taken another level of importance. If Arsene seriously wants him, then the club really must secure his transfer as soon as possible. He's a natural replacement for Mertesacker in the long-term but short-term, we need him desperately for Sunday.

And then of course we have the endless quest for a new striker. As every day passes without news of a striker joining the club, the level of anger among fans increases. Gonzalo Higuain has joined Juventus since my last post, for a fee of over £70 million. I was quite keen on Arsenal getting him but not at that price. He'll score a lot of goals for Juventus I'm sure, but the more I think about it, the more I realise that price is ridiculous for a player of his age. Did you see him against West Ham at the weekend? Dude did not look like a £70 million athlete...

The striker most likely to join the club before the end of the month would be Alexander Lacazette. Arsenal have already had at least one bid rejected by Lyon, who know this is a seller's market so can pretty much demand what they want for him. I'm afraid that if Arsenal really want him, then they will be forced to overpay. I reckon a bid somewhere between £45-50 million might persuade Lyon to part with the French forward but it's anyone guess right now if they will go through with it. Lacazette to Arsenal has become the biggest transfer 'will-they-won't-they' of the summer now Pogba has finally joined Man United. I still feel he could be a very good signing but the club have now backed themselves into a corner with their inability to add a striker earlier in the summer. If they fail to bring him to the club before the deadline, I feel Arsene and the club are going to come in for quite a lot of criticism when Giroud and Walcott start misfiring.

Other than Mustafi and Lacazette, all of the other rumours surrounding potential transfers have gone very quiet recently. I haven't heard Riyad Mahrez's name linked with us in some time and Mauro Icardi's flirtation with Arsenal seems to be have been exactly that, just a wink to get fans agitated once more. The most interesting rumour of late has been West Brom's Jonny Evans being linked to us, as an emergency signing to cover our depleted centre back corps. I can't admit to being very excited about the prospect of his arrival but I don't think he would be a terrible transfer by any means, so long as the fee was reasonable. But when you see a player of Ashley Williams' quality move for £12 million, you have to think that maybe settling for Evans isn't the greatest move.

Who Would I Pick For Sunday?

Here would be my preferred first XI against Liverpool.


Bellerin - Chambers - Holding - Monreal

Xhaka - Cazorla

Oxlade-Chamberlain - Ramsey - Iwobi


Bench: Ospina, Gibbs, Bielek, Coquelin, Elneny, Campbell, Walcott

With Giroud unavailable up front, I have opted for Sanchez who I could see as more of a false 9, linking with the midfield often. He's easily our most dangerous forward so having him as the primary goal threat makes some sense. I would deploy Ramsey in attacking midfield, letting him off the leash as such, because I thought he was very effective for Wales in that role during Euro 2016. To be honest, the front four could rotate positions a lot e.g. Iwobi could swap with Sanchez or Ramsey, Ox could swap with Ramsey or Iwobi. There's a lot of versatility in that attack. I am concerned about the defence but I can't see Arsene rushing Koscielny back into action. Alternatively Monreal could fill in at centre back and Gibbs could play left back, but I'm not hugely keen on playing Monreal out of position, despite his adequate job he did there a year or so ago.


Now all we can do is wait and see if Arsenal can add to the squad prior to Sunday's match. Even if we don't, I will still be shaking with excitement on my way to the stadium. Liverpool are always a big opponent and it will be the biggest game I've ever been to in person. Fingers crossed I leave the Emirates a happy Gooner!

Thanks for reading.