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Alexis on Form as Gunners Thrash Dinamo Zagreb

Alexis v Dinamo - 2nd goal

Arsenal 3 (Ozil 29′, Sanchez 33′, 69′) – Dinamo Zagreb 0

Match Report Match HighlightsPost-Match Press Conference

The Gunners knew that they had a job they had to do – defeat Dinamo Zagreb and hope for Bayern Munich to do them a favor at the Allianz Arena. With this in mind, many Arsenal fans watched their game and had half an eye on the proceedings in Germany. With barely 10 minutes gone, Douglas Costa made it 1-0 for Bayern and a rout was on the cards when Robert Lewandowski doubled their money. Meanwhile, at the Emirates, the away team was pressing, yes, pressing the Gunners. That got me so confused as I was thinking to myself, ‘we are hoping on Bayern to do us a favor and yet, here we are not even doing our own bit?’

There was some anxiety in the crowd with each passing minute and it was important for the Gunners to get the first goal. With Aaron Ramsey making the bench, Joel Campbell probably knew his time in the starting XI was pretty much over but how did he respond to that? A virtuoso performance that would go down as probably his finest in Arsenal colors. He passed the ball well, connected with his teammates, supported Hector Bellerin, made some good tackles and topped it all up with a wonderful assist to Sanchez for the match clincher.

Arsenal scored the first goal in typical Arsenal fashion – brilliant intricate passing play that saw Alexis released on the far side before he attempted a low cross that was headed some by the awesome Mesut Ozil. He has spent so much time assisting his teammate so I was very elated when he scored one for himself. That goal took the wind off the sails of the visitors and it was Arsenal all the way. Alexis had not scored in six games after his hot streak and he was hoping to get in on the scoring act but he had Nacho Monreal to thank for his goal as the Spaniard showed great determination to win the ball before teeing up Alexis for an easy tap-in.

Going in 2-0 in the break was what the home side wanted and with Bayern Munich inflicting further damage on Olympiakos, the stage was setting for a battle at Athens in a fortnight. Alexis got a brace for his good work and at 3-0, the game was pretty much over. The game also saw Ramsey return to first team football after some weeks out and there was the ‘football education’ as a holding midfielder for Calum Chambers. In all honesty, I haven’t been convinced of Chambers’ ability as a holding midfielder after his horror show at St. Mary’s last season and his cameo didn’t do anything to convince me as he was sloppy in possession and looked a bit out of his depth in that role.

On the bright side, there were no further injuries to contend with and every member of the squad played so well. Petr Cech had a relatively untroubled game but he still had to keep his concentration levels high when Laurent Koscielny cleared a ball that ricocheted off Mathieu Flamini and was destined for the net but Cech was on hand to make a quick reaction save. Hector Bellerin almost had another ‘Bayern Munich’ moment when he showed off his reserves of pace in a counter attack but the defender cleared the ball to safety before he could locate Ozil or Giroud.

All attention will be moved to the Premier League, as the Gunners face Norwich in the Premier League. More of that in the coming days.

The group is relatively poised and the Gunners have it all to do in two weeks time when they face Olympiakos at Athens.


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Francis Coquelin’s Injury: How Will Arsenal Cope in his Absence

Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin (right) lands awkwardly while tackling West Brom's Claudio Yacob

The moment it went wrong for poor Franklin’

There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing the injuries pile up at Arsenal. Before the weekend’s loss to West Brom, the Gunners were without Jack Wilshere (ankle), Tomas Rosicky (knee), Danny Welbeck (knee), Aaron Ramsey (hamstring), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring) and Theo Walcott (calf). These are players that are vital to the team but Arsene Wenger’s side had soldiered on without them but as if losing to West Brom wasn’t bad enough, the Gunners lost two more midfielders in the game with the aging Mikel Arteta suffering from yet another calf strain and most importantly, Francis Coquelin, suffering a knee injury.

Coquelin was doing his bit to control the game but in his bid to recover possession after being sloppy with the ball, he clashed with West Brom’s Claudio Yacob and came out second best. According to the folks present at the Hawthorns, Coquelin left the West Midlands on clutches. He has also undergone scans to assess the extent of the injury and tests have shown up substantial ligament damage.

The Frenchman could potentially be sidelined for the rest of the calendar year with his knee injury  

There has been some swelling on the knee and further tests would be taken when the swelling subsides. The initial prognosis shows that Coquelin could be out for as much as three months, which will be a massive blow to the Gunners. It has been a fairy tale year for the French midfielder as he was recalled from his loan at Charlton amid another injury crisis and he established himself as an indispensable player in the squad.

Coquelin didn’t only become a figurehead at Arsenal, but he was right on par with the very best in the Premier League. The table below showcases Coquelin’s defensive stats with Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic, Manchester United’s Morgan Schneiderlin and Manchester City’s Fernandinho.

Premier League Only Coquelin Matic Schneiderlin Fernandinho
Appearances (subs) 12 (0) 10 (2) 10 (1) 12 (1)
Goals 0 1 1 1
Assists 0 0 0 1
Tackles made (per game) 3.2 3.5 3.0 4.0
Interceptions made (per game) 2.7 1.9 3.1 1.5
Fouls committed (per game) 0.9 1.8 2.5 3.3
Dribbled Past (per game) 1.1 1.1 1.1 1.3
Clearances (per game) 0.9 1.5 1.7 0.8
Aerial Duels Won (per game) 0.8 1.8 1.0 0.5
Blocked shots (per game) 0.3 0.1 0.3 0
Pass Completion percentage 91.5% 89.6% 90.7% 89.2%
Key Passes 0.3 0.9 0.2 1.3
Long Balls (per game) 2.6 2.2 4.6 1.8
Bookings (Yellow/Red) (3/0) (1/1) (2/0) (0/0)

Coquelin has a better pass completion percentage than these guys and he commits the least amount of fouls, which shows how his tackling and interceptions have improved. Losing a player like Coquelin is a bitter blow for the club because his unique style of play – the anchorman role, and he has become so good to the extent that the manager didn’t see the need to invest in another holding midfielder this summer.

With Arteta all washed up and Mathieu Flamini not a dependable outlet to use in midfield, the only plausible thing for the manager to do will be to deploy Aaron Ramsey alongside central midfield with Santi Cazorla, thereby allowing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a chance on the wings. The only issue would be whether Ramsey would have the positional awareness and discipline to play in the holding role.

With Coquelin potentially out till late January / early February, one wonders if Arsene Wenger would delve into the transfer market to purchase a new holding midfielder. Only time will tell but for now, we have to brace ourselves for life without the Coq, and it’s never fun when you can’t use your Coq (pun intended).


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West Brom 2-1 Arsenal: Gunners Miss Out on Chance to Go Top…Again!

West Brom 2 (Morrison 35′, Arteta o.g. 40′) – Arsenal 1 (Giroud 28′)

Match ReportMatch HighlightsPost-Match Press Conference

Although it was somewhat scrappy, Manchester United got the result they wanted against Watford in the lunch-time fixture of the Premier League weekend, so the onus was on Arsenal to come with the goods against a West Brom side that had a shambolic record against Arsene Wenger. In terms of team selection, it was only Hector Bellerin that took his place from the injured lot but Kieran Gibbs was rewarded for his goal in the North London Derby by replacing the ineffectual Joel Campbell.

The game began in a rather dull pace but with the way Francis Coquelin has grown into the team in stature and confidence, he was doing his bit to control the midfield but when he came out second best after a crunch tackle with Claudio Yacob, I feared for the worst when Mikel Arteta stripped off and came into the pitch. It’s not like I have anything against Arteta but his performances in recent times has shown that his body cannot cope with the rigors of high-octane Premier League football.

My fears were compounded when the midfield was ‘lost’ with Arteta’s introduction but Arsenal opened the scoring when Mesut Ozil swung in a brilliant ball that was headed home by Olivier Giroud. While Ozil was on a mean assisting streak (11 in the Premier League – in just 13 games!), Giroud was also on a purple patch in terms of goalscoring. This was his seventh goal in nine League games.

Arsenal failed to get a grip of the game after getting ahead and the defense was culpable for some atrocious marking as Chris Brunt’s cross found an unmarked James Morrison that guided the ball past Petr Cech to give the home side the equalizer. As if conceding in such a fashion wasn’t bad enough, West Brom got the lead when James McClean’s cut back was deflected into the net by Arteta. After wrecking the game for his side, he decided to leave the pitch in tatters when he picked up what seemed to be a calf injury, and was replaced by Mathieu Flamini.

This goes back to what many fans were clamoring for in the summer. Most of the fans expressed their disappointment in the club’s failure to sign Morgan Schneiderlin or any other holding midfielder because it was evident that Arteta and Flamini aren’t good enough to deputize for Coquelin. Aaron Ramsey is another option worth taking in the holding role but he clearly lacks the discipline to play that position because he has a penchant for going forward. Now we can only hope that Coquelin’s injury isn’t that bad.

As the game progressed, Arsenal probed for an equalizer but it wasn’t forthcoming. Ozil latched onto a loose ball and clipped the post with his shot and when the manager decided he had seen enough of Gibbs, he brought on Mr. Campbell and his pink boots in his bid to get something from the game. Campbell was located with a peach of a pass from Cazorla but his finish was absolutely pathetic, which was a constant reminder of why he never sees games for the club – he’s not just good enough.

At the death, Alexis was fouled by Brunt and Mark Clattenburg pointed to the spot. Up stepped Santi Cazorla, Arsenal’s supposedly ‘best penalty taker’ and he slipped on the turf before firing the ball over the bar. A West Brom defender tried to console Cazorla to pick him up from his knees but the Spaniard was having none of that, as he was clearly disappointed in himself for squandering such a vital opportunity to bring his team level.

Arsene Wenger was his usual self in his post-match press conference, declaring the game as a bad day in the office but he was quick to say that his team has to move on. There was a time the Gunners were grinding out results and people were talking about how they were exhibiting the stuff of champions, but the last games against Tottenham and West Brom has shown that things aren’t always as they seem in the Premier League.

The hurt from the defeat was softened with the result at the Etihad Stadium between Manchester City and Liverpool which makes next week’s clash against Norwich and all-important game. With the top two battling each other at the King Power Stadium as well as Manchester City hosting Southampton, Arsenal can still stay within the title race if they can get a positive result against Norwich.

Till then, the players have to lick their wounds and move on. These things happen.


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