Monthly Archives: December 2012

3 Lessons Learned From Arsenal’s Win Against Newcas7l3

Hat-trick Hero…Please sign da ting

The stage was set for another pulsating Premier League encounter between Arsenal and Newcastle.

As recent as two seasons ago, both sides produced an epic encounter that exposed the frailties in their defensive rearguard as the Gunners self destructed to throw away a four-goal lead despite playing with 10 men for most of the second half thanks to Abou Diaby’s sheer stupidity.

Last season, the crunch clash at the Emirates offered a different prospect as both sides through caution to the wind. When it seemed as if both teams where going to share the spoils of battle, a late Thomas Vermaelen surge upfront saw the Belgian smash in Arsenal’s match-clincher from point-blank range.

Vermaelen has become a more disciplined player this season, and for those that don’t know, he hasn’t scored any goal in this campaign. So much for being the highest scoring Premier League defender huh?

Judging from the team sheets displayed on Saturday, I expected the Gunners to be more than a match for the injury-laden Newcastle but it was important to keep half an eye on their Senegalese duo of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse. While Cisse turned out to be a peripheral figure all game long, the Ba Ba Black Sheep showed that he has more than wool.

After 90 minutes of pulsating action, 10 goals were scored and as expected, Arsenal made me go through too many emotional phases in one game. I had fits of joy, frustration, relief, shock, elation, disgust, euphoria, euphoria and errrr…euphoria.

Without further ado, here are three lessons I learned from Arsenal’s emphatic 7 – 3 victory over Newcastle,

Give Walcott the contract he wants, or someone else will

The Walcott as a Center Forward Chronicles began in the emphatic 5 – 2 win over Reading where, in fairness to him, he scored the goal that put the game beyond doubt. Arsenal visited the DW Stadium days later and Walcott was retained in his center forward position yet again, winning a penalty for his team.

Against Newcastle, Walcott spearheaded Arsenal’s attack with Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain supporting him through the flanks. Podolski sent Walcott through with a perfectly-timed pass and the forward’s first finish was a strike Thierry Henry would have been proud of.

Podolski was in the thick of things in the buildup to Walcott’s second goal after some good passing play with Kieran Gibbs. The German miscued Gibbs’ carefully-weighted pass into the box but the ball fell kindly to Walcott, that showed great composure in the midst of bodies in the box to slam his shot into the roof of the net.

Walcott’s hat-trick was pretty puzzling judging from the way he waltzed past his markers to when he showed great balance to stay on his feet before asking Tim Krul if he wanted some ketchup for his chip.

Walcott has surpassed his personal goalscoring best with Arsenal this season with 14 goals and he’s odds on to hit the 20-goal mark this season, provided he’s not sold in January, as Wenger has ruled out any move for the forward. (via the Guardian).

Yes, he has been abused for not having a football brain and he doesn’t have the frame of your everyday center forward. However, Walcott uses his pace to devastating effect and his clinical finishing ability has been a major highlight of Arsenal’s campaign thus far.

From the 1st of January, Walcott will be able to sign a pre-contract with any club in the world and there are so many teams out there that won’t waste a second in giving Walcott those six digits he’s requesting for.

Arsenal, if you don’t give Walcott the fat contract he’s requesting for, someone else will.

Giroud offers Arsenal another dimension in attack

The Headmaster

Giroud’s last goal in Arsenal colors came in the North London derby in mid-November. Since then, he has been desperate to get on the score sheet and his shenanigans against West Brom didn’t go down well with a faction of the Arsenal faithful. To add to his misery, his manager handed his favored center forward role to Theo Walcott that hasn’t put a foot wrong in that position.

When Giroud came on for the Ox in the second half, I actually tipped him to end his drought against that shaky Newcastle defense but I didn’t fathom the idea of the Frenchman grabbing a true hat-trick with his head, right leg and left leg. The last player I saw score such a hat-trick was Peter Crouch and you can never guess who the opponents were.

Bacary Sagna teed up Walcott on the right hand side and the forward wasted no time in swerving in an inviting cross that was nodded home by Giroud. Afterwards, Walcott attempted a slalom run on the right that was intercepted, falling into Giroud’s path. The Frenchman guided the ball to his right and beat Tim Krul in his near post.

Giroud was denied his first Arsenal hat-trick when he smashed the cross bar with a left-footed piledriver after some good work from Aaron Ramsey.

He arrived in the club as van Persie’s replacement and his return of nine goals has been heartwarming to say the least. Nothing gives me more joy to know that Arsenal has found a way to play to Giroud’s strengths and we all know that he’s a force to be reckoned with in the air.

This gives the Gunners an alternative route to finding a goal when all other avenues are exhausted.

The problem isn’t scoring, it’s defending

Arsenal has scored a bucket load of goals in all competitions this season. Surprisingly, this was the sixth game Arsenal had scored five or more in a game this season. Tottenham and Reading shipped in five, Southampton and Coventry received six and yours truly, Reading, opened their floodgates to receive Arsenal’s bountiful gift of seven goals.

Despite trying to outscore their opponents in many games this season, Arsenal has been shambolic at the back, and their defensive frailties were exposed yet again by Newcastle. The Gunners failed to hold onto the lead on three occasions before running riot as the game reached its climax.

Ba’s free kick

Wojciech Szczesny was blameless for Arsenal’s first goal as Demba Ba’s free kick took a wicked deflection off Jack Wilshere. The goalkeeper was absolutely livid with his defense for the second goal, as Sylvian Marveaux was left unmarked when Kieran Gibbs lost his positional bearings to allow the midfielder for a simple tap in. Gibbs was culpable yet again for Newcastle’s third goal, as Ba crept behind him to sidefoot the ball past Szczesny.

Funnily enough, Gibbs wasn’t the only defender having a bad day at the office. The usually dependable Bacary Sagna was run ragged by Gabby Obertan and it’s a game he’ll want to forget quickly.

In the heart of Arsenal’s defense, the pairing of Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny wasn’t as formidable as it used to be. On this note, it’s fair to say that Per Mertesacker’s influence was sorely missed.

In my opinion, the Verm and Bosscielny are somewhat alike, that’s why they need the calmness, composure and coordination of the Big Friendly Giant to steady the defensive ship.

Mikel Arteta was also exposed in midfield and he didn’t really protect his back four. Maybe Arsenal needs a recognized holding midfielder after all.


Taking everything into account, it was a great game of football for the neutrals and as what you would expect from Arsenal, the entertainment value of the game was in a world of its own.

Theo Walcott’s hat-trick and Olivier Giroud’s brace showcased Arsenal’s attacking prowess but there are still some unanswered questions at the back.

Feel free to share your own lessons as well.


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Arsenal: Latest Updates on Injuries and Transfer Speculation

On the road to full fitness

Watching the Boxing Day fixtures gave me a real food for thought as the Premier League showcased its unpredictability yet again.

Manchester United showed what champions were made of, Twitchy Ol’ ‘Arry got an extra twitch from the West Brom defeat, that Chimpanzee got a hat-trick (there were some reports of sheer elation in zoos all over England) and those Rugby goons from Stoke proved why the Britannia has become a fortress.

As expected, the destinies of various Premier League teams were reshaped yet again as victories for Tottenham, Everton and West Brom put them on 33 points, meaning that a win against Newcastle tomorrow is of utmost importance for Arsenal, as the Gunners are currently on seventh place, three points adrift the coveted Champions League spot.

The gods of injuries have ravaged Arsenal in the yesteryear and this season has been no different. Every playing position in the team has been affected at some point in the season, but it seems as if Arsenal is going to have a clean bill of health ahead of tomorrow’s crunch encounter against Newcastle.

At this point in time, Arsenal’s only long-term casualty remains Lukasz Fabianski, that’s still out nursing an ankle injury. Abou Diaby, yes, Abou Diaby will be back in training next week. (via Daily Mail).

The lanky Frenchman was on a renaissance at the start of the season, and his performance against Liverpool will probably go down as one of his best in Arsenal colors. When he took onto the pitch against Chelsea, he was in some discomfort and was replaced shortly afterwards by Aaron Ramsey.

In a game where Diaby’s influence was needed massively, it took two Thomas Vermaelen-induced unforced errors which led to two Juan Mata free kicks that put the Gunners to the sword. As the saying goes, “when it really Matas, Juan appears“.

The return of Jack Wilshere to full fitness has doused those flames created by Arsenal fans in panic when Diaby was out, and it would be interesting to see how Arsene Wenger would handle this selection headache. Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla are indispensable to the team and it’s fair to say that Jack Wilshere is in that mold as well.

If I was in Wenger’s shoes though, I could afford to play Diaby alongside Arteta in central midfield, while giving Wilshere an advanced position in the playmaking role. This would mean that I would move Santi Cazorla to one of the flanks, right flank preferably, sacrificing  the Ox in the process.

Well that’s the Football Manager 2013 in me, I’m certainly no Wenger.

However, there is a tale of a 21-year-old man, Vugar Guloglan oglu Huseynzade, that was given the managerial position at FC Baku, just for his football manager knowledge. (via Yahoo! Sports)

So don’t judge me!

Jack Wilshere has been very influential for the Gunners since his return and his performance hasn’t gone unnoticed by the fans, his manager and of course, his teammates. Santi Cazorla has stated that the players understand each other everyday but he’s amazed by Wilshere’s potential. (via

To be honest, I’m also astonished at the way Wilshere blended straight into the team, like he never left. When he conquered the world in the 2010/11 campaign, he played alongside Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song on a consistent basis.

Since his return, he has forged a telepathic understanding with Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla, which was epitomized by this act of intricate passing play between the triumvirate.

Wilshere has also acknowledged that his long-term layoff has some him some good in the long run, and feels that his body is stronger than before. Prior to his 14 month ankle injury, he had played over 4,000 minutes of football in the 2010/11 season where he deservedly won the 2011 PFA Young Player of the Year award.

Elsewhere, Wenger has praised Arsenal’s medical staff and has also revealed that Tomas Rosicky and Olivier Giroud will be ready for action but I have a hunch that both players will have to make do with a cozy spot on the bench.

Irrespective of Rosicky’s fitness, it would be hard for the Spaniard to displace Cazorla from the team. Giroud on the other hand, has the threat of Theo Walcott to contend with and we will be in for an interesting second half to the season.

Funnily enough, Giroud doesn’t also have the threat of Walcott to contend with as it is believed that Arsenal is on the hunt for another center forward that will be ready to fill the big boots of Robin van Persie.

The Flying Dutchman scored 37 goals in 48 games for the Gunners last season while the joint combination of Podolski and Giroud have scored 15 goals in 47 games.

Not good enough, I guess?

Moving over to some transfer tidbits, Arsene Wenger has confirmed that he might not a secure a loan move for Thierry Henry. (via Sports and Stars).

It also seems as if the Gunners might face a losing battle for Newcastle’s Demba Ba, as the Senelegase forward has come out to say that he’s a boyhood PSG fan. (via Daily Mail)

Footballers can never be trusted for their words. A few weeks ago, Ba almost got a fine for declaring his admiration for Arsenal. Born in Sevres, played for Rouen, Mouscron, Hoffenheim, West Ham and Newcastle.

Now he’s a fan of Paris St. Germain? I’m getting you Ba.

It has also been reported that Arsenal is planning a shock move for QPR’s Portuguese right back with a mono eyebrow (via Miu Soccer) and the club has agreed personal terms with Atletico’s Arda Turan (via Inside Spanish Football).

That’s today’s bit.

I’ll publish a Newcastle match preview in tomorrow’s post.


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10 Positives Taken From the First Half of the Season

Santi Cazorla: One of the major highlights this season

You don’t need a fortune teller to make you understand that Arsene Wenger is going through his worst season in his 16-year stint with Arsenal. After enduring a somewhat disappointing campaign last season, just scraping a third place finish after Tottenham’s slump, many had expected that the Gunners would fare better this season.

Euro 2012 provided a good distraction as the continent’s finest showcased their talent on the world stage. Arsenal had its fair share of ambassadors in the competition but only Nicklas Bendtner and Robin van Persie managed to get on the score sheet. Those aliens from Spain swept through the tourney and were clear and deserved winners.

After Euro 2012, transfer speculation was the order of the day and as expected, Arsenal was linked with a host of players from the football world. The Gunners did well to acquire three talented footballers, but the club lost two of its favored sons, Alex Song and RvP.

Alex Song arrived in the club as an unearthed gem from SC Bastia, and he was shipped to Charlton Athletic to get some much-needed match experience. He wasn’t still getting first-team action on his return to Arsenal but the quick-fire exits of Mathieu Flamini, Lassana Diarra and Gilberto Silva paved the way for Song to become synonymous with the first team.

The Cameroonian gem got better with each passing season and became Arsenal’s enforcer for years to come, we thought. In his final season with the club, he honed his attacking side to become Arsenal’s creative lynchpin despite playing as a holding midfielder and the return of 16 assists was impressive to say the least.

No one can really know why Song searched for greener pastures, but the midfielder stated that he wanted a new deal at the Emirates, but the talks were postponed. (via Daily Mail)

Van Persie on the other hand, was a player tipped for greatness at the Emirates. He arrived at Arsenal after going through a tumultuous phase in his former club, Feyernoord. Arsene Wenger took the Dutchman under his wing and molded him into one of the finest strikers in the business, as he showcased his lethal finishing ability in his last two seasons with the club, scoring 58 goals.

When everyone had thought that at van Persie’s frantic goalscoring pace, he was odds on to match Thierry Henry’s outstanding goalscoring record for the team, the little boy inside him had other plans, as he moved to Arsenal’s rivals, Manchester United.

Without the creativity of Song and firepower of van Persie, Arsenal began the season with two goalless draws against Sunderland and Stoke City before going through a rich vein of form in September. It was believed that the Gunners had a wake up call with the surprising defeat to Norwich, but the appalling performance against Schalke that followed didn’t go down well with the fans, as the club’s impregnable Champions League record against non-English opposition went with the wind.

Inconsistency has become Arsenal’s watchword this season and the draws from handsome winning positions as well as the disappointing defeats to Manchester United, Swansea, Olympiakos and of course, Bradford City put Arsene Wenger in a pretty precarious position.

Despite all the gloomy phases of the campaign thus far, Arsenal has had its fair share of positives as this season has progressed. In a chronological order, I present my top 10 positives taken from the first half of the season.



The Signings of Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla

So much was made about the exits of Alex Song and Robin van Persie, but Arsenal’s acquisitions this summer have integrated themselves into the nucleus of the team and their output on the pitch has been pleasing as well.

Lukas Podolski arrived at the Emirates on the back of a very impressive record for Germany, averaging a goal in two games for his nation. This season, Podolski has contributed to his team’s cause with eight goals and his discipline on the left hand side has been a joy to watch all season long. The German has connected well with Kieran Gibbs and they have forged a telepathy that’s getting stronger with each passing game.

Olivier Giroud arrived as van Persie’s replacement and it put the French forward under a lot of pressure, which contributed directly to his much talked-about goal drought before he broke his duck against Coventry City. Giroud has gone on to score seven goals for his new team but it seems as if he has lost his place in the team to Theo Walcott, that has been craving for the center forward position for a long while. Giroud offers Arsenal a good plan B with the aerial threat he poses and I’m tipping him for great things in the second half of the season.

Santi Cazorla is undoubtedly Arsenal’s signing of the season and he has brought his magic tricks to the Emirates, wowing the fans with each passing game. Cazorla’s close-control is unbelievable and the way he gets out of tight pockets is amazing, his passing range is excellent and he has an eye for goal as well, scoring six goals for his new team, including a hat-trick against Reading.

Arsenal’s new recruits have been very impressive and you can say that Wenger has struck gold yet again.

Three Clean Sheets in a Row

It started with a clean sheet against Sunderland and was followed with another shutout in the Britannia Stadium, a ground Arsenal has conceded goals in each visit. When the Gunners capped up an impressive display at Anfield with a third clean sheet in a row, the media Vultures were buzzing and everyone attributed the success at the rearguard to the new assistant manager, Steve Bould. (via SkySports).

Unfortunately, Wojciech Szczesny’s spill against Southampton opened the floodgates at the back, as Arsenal failed to keep a clean sheet till the 1 – 0 win over QPR ten games later.

Overall, Arsenal has managed to keep only seven clean sheets thus far in the season.


Abou Diaby’s Improved Form

From the way Arsene Wenger fought to sign him from Auxerre in 2006, and with a frame no different from the great Monsieur Vieira, Diaby was tipped for greater things but Sunderland’s Dan Smith’s horror tackle in May 2006 halted a learning curve that was at a steep end. From there onwards, it was injury after injury and operation after operation.

Watching Diaby come on as a sub in Anfield (last season) only to leave the pitch after five minutes was a unpleasant sight, and I, like many Gooners out there, wanted the club to cut its losses to sell Diaby in the next available transfer window.

In the early part of the season, Diaby managed to stay fit and enjoyed a pre-season playing in the box-to-box role. He became a massively improved player at the start of the Premier League campaign, and was lauded for his virtuoso performance against Liverpool in Anfield.

Unfortunately, injury took its toll yet again and Arsenal has been robbed off Diaby’s services since he took on the pitch to play Chelsea.

Carl Jenkinson’s Rise to Glory

When Arsenal signed Carl Jenkinson from Charlton and was quick to allow Farmer Emmanuel Eboue depart to Galatasaray, many thought that it was another error in judgment from Arsene Wenger. His putrid performance against Manchester United in the humiliating 8 – 2 defeat compounded those fears that Bacary Sagna didn’t have an able deputy.

When Sagna broke his leg in the tail end of last season, Wenger granted Jenkinson a chance to stake a claim for a first team berth. After a consistent run of games, Jenko looks more assured and confident on the ball and has the experience of playing in big Premier League and Champions League games, which will put him in good stead for a long and successful career.

Now Sagna has a hungry and a more than capable young player who will have the taste for first team football and will be fighting all the way for his shirt. There is a lot of football to play this season and having two quality right backs who are fighting for one position is a great problem to have.

To crown a great campaign thus far, he has even won his first England cap and has also signed a long-term deal with the club.

Vito Mannone’s Brief Stint at Goal

After Wojciech Szczesny spilled that cross to allow Southampton to shatter Arsenal’s impressive clean sheet record, it was believed that he had suffered an ankle injury and with Lukasz Fabianski out of action as well, Wenger gave Vito Mannone another chance to fight for the No. 1 jersey.

Mannone had kept clean sheets against Stoke and Liverpool and many felt that it was unfair for Wenger to draft Szczesny almost immediately, but the Pole’s ankle injury allowed Mannone to get a decent run-out in the first team, and he did pretty well in my honest opinion.

Mannone hasn’t still convinced everyone that he has what it takes to be Arsenal’s custodian between the sticks for years to come, but he’s an able deputy in my opinion.


Jack Wilshere’s Long-Awaited Return from Injury

After a very long wait that seemed to last all eternity, Jack Wilshere played for 70 minutes in Arsenal’s fortunate 1 – 0 victory over Queens Park Rangers. Wilshere’s potential was very massive at such a very young age and he rose through the ranks before making his Arsenal debut at the age of 16 beating Cesc Fabregas’ record in the process.

While he was out for the best part of 14 months, his influence on the pitch was sorely missed, as Arsenal lacked any player that could match his grit, drive, passion and of course determination. In a team full of football technicians, Wilshere showed his worth as he blended straight into the team, despite being out of action for a considerable chunk of time.

Wilshere has done well and got better as he got more games under his belt. He’s going to be very influential for the Gunners in 2013.


The North London Derby

Coming into the North London derby, the Gunners weren’t in the best of form, as they had began the month with an impotent display against Manchester United before following it up with disappointing draws to Fulham and Schalke 04 – games where they gave up handsome 2 – 0 leads to end up drawing.

AVB brought his Tottenham team to the Emirates and the visitors began brightly as ex-Gunner, Emmanuel Adebayor, opened the scoring for Arsenal’s fierce rivals. Per Mertesacker picked the best game to open his Arsenal goalscoring account with an inch-perfect header that went past Hugo Lloris in goal.

Arsenal’s new recruits, Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla got in on the act as well before the world’s best left-footed chimpanzee, Gareth Bale, pulled one back for the visitors. A late goal from Theo Walcott put the game beyond doubt.

Olivier Giroud’s Purple Patch of Goalscoring Form

Prior to November, Olivier Giroud had found the back of the net in the convincing 6 – 1 victory over Coventry, the 3 – 1 away win at Upton Park and the entertaining, enthralling and epic encounter against Reading in the Capital One Cup.

In November, Giroud was in red-hot form with five goals in four games for both club and country. The Frenchman scored in Arsenal’s 2 – 2 away draw with Schalke before scoring a brace with his head against Fulham. A week later, Giroud got himself a North London derby goal, much to the delight of his admirers.

Giroud has failed to replicate that form in December and has had his fair share of injuries as well.


Qualification for the Champions League Knockout Phase

When Arsenal was paired in the same group with Olympiakos, Schalke and Montpellier, everyone expected the Gunners to sweep through the group with consummate ease. The Gunners began their Champions League campaign with victories over Montpellier and Olympiakos but the two-legged affair against Schalke changed the final outcome of the group, as the Germans usurped the Gunners to claim first place.

While Schalke has been rewarded for winning the group with a clash against Turkish giants, Galatasaray, Arsenal will face a very daunting task against last season’s finalists, Bayern Munich.

New Deals for Five British Young Guns

While Theo Walcott and Arsenal continue to hit a brick wall over the forwards contractual issues, the club secured new long-term deals for the British quintet of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Arsenal’s gaffer, Arsene Wenger, expressed his delight in tying down these youngsters for years to come,

“We are delighted that these five young players have all signed new long-term contracts. The plan is to build a team around a strong basis of young players, in order to get them to develop their talent at the club.

“Jack is certainly the best known, the leader of this group – but the other four players are exceptional footballers, and we’re very happy that we could conclude their new deals at the same time.

“I’m a strong believer in stability and I believe when you have a core of British players, it’s always easier to keep them together and that’s what we’ll try to achieve going forward.”

Judging from this season alone, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson have proven that they can stand up and be counted well called upon and are willing to give their all on the pitch for the team. Gibbs is currently Arsenal’s first-choice left back and Jenko is pushing Sagna to the wall.

Aaron Ramsey and the Ox haven’t started firing on all cylinders yet but Arsene Wenger clearly has faith in their abilities and is never afraid to give them game time to prove their worth on the field of play.

Jack Wilshere is in a world of his own and many see him as Arsenal’s captain in the foreseeable future.

I just shared my top 10 positives in a chronological order and I’m pretty sure that you’ll agree with some, if not all. Feel free to share yours as well.


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