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Arsenal 1 Monaco 3: Same Sh*t, Different Season

Ospina was caught off balance as Kondogbia's effort careers into the net to give Monaco the lead and a vital away goal

Match HighlightsPost-Match Press Conference

As expected, Arsenal failed to top their group and there were going to be some ramifications. It seemed like deja vu all over again as the Gunners were set to get a double-legged affair against the Bayerns, FC Barcelonas and Real Madrids od this world. Guess what? They got AS Monaco, the ‘lowest’ ranked knockout phase team. When a team tops their Champions League group that had FC Porto, Benfica and Zenit scoring just four goals and conceding one, you’d know that you stand and outside chance against them but when you hear that they had conceded just three goals in their last 17 games, you know you have your work cut out for you.

Arsene Wenger’s lineup seemed strong on paper to say the least but many were surprised to see Kieran Gibbs replace a Nacho Monreal that was in the form of his life. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returned to full fitness and could only make do with a place on the bench and Danny Welbeck was preferred to Theo Walcott. The English striker had the first opportunity to break the deadlock when he received a lovely pass from Santi Cazorla but he blasted his effort over the bar. Monaco did well to soak pressure and contain the ball but Laurent Koscielny managed to drift forward before firing a shot that was easy pickings for Subasic in goal. Mesut Ozil tried to nick a pass that was behind Alexis Sanchez but the Chilean managed to wrap his foot round the ball to send it over. Arsenal’s pressure continued as Hector Bellerin drilled a ball for Olivier Giroud that sent the ball over. He was going to have a shocker.

Against the run of play, Geoffery Kondogbia was afforded acres of space and he picked his spot before firing a shot that was deflected in by Per Mertesacker. That effort had Pascal Cygan written all over it.

Geoffrey Kondogbia lets fly and his shot takes a wicked deflection off Per Mertesacker's chest to wrongfoot David Ospina

Arsenal looked to begin the second half with all urgency with Alexis going around a defender before cutting the ball back to Giroud but the French forward blasted his tame effort wide off the mark. Cazorla swung in a cross from a free kick and Giroud had the entire goal to aim at but he nodded the ball over the bar, much to the frustration of the Emirates faithful. With Arsenal failing to take the initiative to level the contest, Monaco showed them how to finish when Anthony Martial covered some ground before feeding Dimitar Berbatov that didn’t need a second invitation to shoot. The Bulgarian fired a missile that waltzed past David Ospina like he wasn’t there.

Dimitar Berbatov rolled back the years with a glorious finish after Anthony Martial hit Arsenal on the break with a classic counter-attack

With the Gunners losing 2-0 at home, it was only normal for them to adopt a gung-ho approach but when you have a striker that blasts the ball over the bar from less than five yards out, then you know it’s going to be one of those f*cking nights. Sanchez fired a shot that was parried into Giroud’s path by Subasic but the French forward blasted his shot over with a gaping goal to aim at. Wenger felt he had seen enough of the misfiring Giroud for one night, so he summoned Walcott in his stead.

Monaco almost made it three when Martial had a clear-cut chance but his shot was saved by Ospina. Sanchez sent Walcott through with a neat ball and the Englishman’s shot was saved by Subasic. The rebound fell to Welbeck that deemed it fit to blast the ball at a Walcott that had hit the deck when the net was meant to be a better option. Definitely one of those nights.

Wenger brought on the Ox for Francis Coquelin in his bid to salvage something from the game. After a half chance from Alexis, Chamberlain offered the fans a glimmer of hope when he curled in one of the sweetest finishes you’d ever see. Taking a 2-1 deficit to Monaco simply meant that the Gunners needed to score two goals in France to go through.

Substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain struck a sublime effort deep in injury time which appeared to give the Gunners a glimmer of hope

However, relief turned to anguish Ox lost the ball in midfield and with the defensive line so high up, a pacey player like Yannick Carrasco got in behind the defense and placed the ball past Ospina (the goalie should have done better) to make it 3-1. Game done and dusted.

This is the point where I start ranting and singling out individual performances for criticism but I have a 9.00am meeting at work.

Sayonara.

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Will Jack Wilshere Grab His Chance?

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere beat Joe Hart from an acute angle to finish off a fantastic team move in the second half

When Jack Wilshere deservedly won the 2011 PFA Young Player of the Year award, greater things were expected of him but unfortunately, injuries have plagued his career and dented his progress at Arsenal. The English National Team also has some measure of expectation on the young lad and I can’t really say if he has lived up to them yet. Wilshere missed the European Championships in 2012 due to his long-term ankle injury and many thought that the 2014 FIFA World Cup would serve as a platform for the maestro to excel at the world stage but he featured sparingly in the England side that was sent home after the Group Stages.

This season, Wilshere had a good preseason preparation under his belt and he has featured consistently for the Gunners in their new-look 4-1-4-1 tactical setup. Jack Wilshere has continued to make those his lung-bursting runs and he put up a Man of the Match performance against Manchester City, where he was a colossus in midfield. However, Wilshere has been fouled consistently this season and with the way he hugs onto the ball, the foul count is going to pile up. When the Gunners played Tottenham in the North London Derby, Wilshere twisted his ankle in an awkward manner but he managed to play for over an hour before he was substituted as he clearly struggled. The same could not be said about Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey, that had to be replaced immediately. When Arsenal hosted Manchester United in November, Wilshere was on the end of a very nasty tackle from Paddy McNair and he was sidelined for the best part of three months.

With Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta suffering injury layoffs, the door will be opened again for Wilshere to get a consistent run out in his coveted box-to-box role. Arsene Wenger could also play with Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla in the middle to accommodate an extra winger like Theo Walcott. Wilshere is a player that many feel hasn’t played to his ‘full potential’ but he has shown his glimpses of quality occasionally, even though the fans will prefer to see it on a consistent basis. Wilshere is a creative footballer that likes to stamp his authority in the games he plays but sometimes his inability to release the ball puts his team on the back foot and as McNair’s tackle showed, it could lead to an injury.

This season, players like Wojciech Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs, Calum Chambers, Mathieu Flamini and Danny Welbeck have lost their first-team places in the squad because of the forms of the players that replaced them. David Ospina has raked in more clean sheets than Szczesny and has looked very assured since taking his place, Nacho Monreal has been a much-improved beast whether at center back or in his natural fullback position, Hector Bellerin has taken the Debuchy’s deputy spot from Chambers, Francis Coquelin has been a different level of awesome and Olivier Giroud is a such fine goalscoring form.

I honesty hope his injury problems are now behind him and with a game against Crystal Palace coming up, he would be one of the options the manager could consider. This would be another opportunity for Wilshere and if he doesn’t grab it, he’d have himself to blame.

The more players Wenger has at his disposal, the better for everyone.

Sayonara.

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Arsenal Transfer Rumors: Gunners Linked with Maxime Gonalons

Arsenal 'ready to sign £14.8m midfielder after request from Wenger'

It’s one of those mornings you wake up and think of those uphill tasks you have to do at work and when you’re a bit free at work, you’re like, ‘Aha, I haven’t blogged yet, but what the hell is happening in the world of Arsenal at the moment?’. Things tend to be very very quiet when the Gunners win with all the bad things the players have done swept under the carpet. I’d really like to see what’s under that carpet and I’m sure dust won’t be one of the things to look forward to seeing.

So these media vultures never get tired do they? Yes, it seemed as if the Gunners had some concerns with their spine as the holding midfield role was manned by two elder statesmen that have been giving to the best of their abilities but it probably wasn’t good enough for the fan base. Mathieu Flamini was a beast in his first stint at the club before departing for the greens of AC Milan and his second coming seemed like a renaissance as the fans loved his fiery attitude and his aggressive style of play but the cards kept on piling up with consummate ease the same fans got really angered when he received his marching orders against Southampton. Mikel Arteta on the other hand, played as a box to box midfielder in his first season at the club before accepting the role of being the club’s anchor man after Alex Song left for FC Barcelona and what he lacked for that role in brawns, he certainly made up for it in brains. Arteta is a very influential and vastly experienced player but he has had his fair share of injuries (long- and short-term) since he joined the club in 2011.

This season, Arsene Wenger summoned Francis Coquelin from his loan spell with Charlton and in his handful of appearances this season, he has been awesome. According to stats king, WhoScored, he has averaged three interceptions, three tackles and  3.1 clearances with an overall WhoScored rating of 7.39. Sometimes, stats don’t tell the full story but fans that have watched Coquelin this period can attest to the fact that he has been a revelation since he was thrust into the mix. His teammates have full confidence in his abilities and his ability to read the game and make a tackle / interception is exemplary for a young player. He’s also comfortable with the ball at his feet and he has been a breath of fresh air.

However, some fans view Coquelin as a ‘short-term’ fix and they whope that the Gunners are going to secure the services of another recognized defensive midfielders, with whispers of Morgan Schneiderlein gaining momentum and those ITKs (slang used in Nigeria for people that claim to ‘know’ a lot) are already stating that a fee has been agreed between the club and Southampton this summer.

The Metro has reported that the Gunners are ‘ready to sign’ Lyon’s holding midfielder, Maxime Gonalons. The French DM has been in good form for Lyon this season, averaging 4.1 tackles and 2.8 interceptions per game. Metro also reports that Tottenham and Napoli are interested in signing the £14.8m-rated midfielder. He has completed 89.3 percent of his passes this season, averaging of seven long balls per game. Gonalons doesn’t really make forays forward, but prefers to stay deep to sweep things up in midfield before laying a pass for the creative players to do their thing. Another advantage for the Frenchman is his versatility, as he’s also adept playing as a center back.

I’d follow this news closely but there’s a lot of football to be played between now and the summer.

Time to go for a 10.30am meeting.

Sayonara.

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Gabriel Doesn’t Speak English – But Does it Really Matter?

After a long wait, Gabriel Paulista made his debut in the FA Cup fifth round clash against Middlesbrough and in all fairness, it was a satisfactory debut for the Brazilian. He received a lot of passes from Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny and he looked very assured on the ball. There were the odd errors (expected) like when his poor control led to a corner and when he misjudged the flight of the ball for Kike’s late header that clipped the post.

He even had a pre pre pre pre pre pre pre pre pre pre assist  for Olivier Giroud’s first goal as he received the ball from Szczesny t to and passed it to Mesut Ozil. That ball went on to get a touch from every player on the pitch before it rattled the net.

Arsenal touch map

It was good seeing that the club did the right thing to find a center back to replace Thomas Vermaelen after his sale to FC Barcelona. With Koscielny injured at certain durations of the season, Arsene Wenger has deployed Nacho Monreal, Calum Chambers and even Matt Debuchy to play alongside Per Mertesacker.

In the wake of Arsenal’s victory over M’Boro, Kieran Gibbs was on the news and he spoke about Gabriel Paulista’s communication challenges,

He doesn’t speak any English at the moment but it was the same with Alexis Sanchez when he came to the club and look at him now.

“It’s a bit like pointing and shouting because in training Steve Bould goes through it with him. One of the Spanish boys then translates, so he knows what to do.

“That’s where it starts from. It’s so important to get a good understanding. It won’t take him long.”

Even Wenger has openly talked about Gabriel’s communication issues but it’s what you get for not getting a player in the summer. Preseason would have allowed a lad like Gabriel to acclimatize to life in England as well as learn the language and with each passing month, the progression would be there for everyone to see. It’s going to be quite interesting to see how Wenger would manage the situation but we all that he’s one injury or suspension away from getting into the mix.

Communication plays a big role, especially with defenders but football is a universal language and I believe that Gabriel will do just fine. With more competitive games under his belt, he’d be improving and it can only better his overall game. Gabriel’s stats on WhoScored currently reflect his exploits in Villarreal and he averaged 3.5 interceptions (per game) and 4.5 clearances (per game). His debut against Middlesbrough was comfortable and I’m pretty sure that he’d get his chances between now and the end of the season.

Sayonara.

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Man Utd vs Arsenal – The FA Cup Draw I Wasn’t Hoping For

Arsenal 0 Manchester United 2: Louis van Gaal records first away win as Arsene Wenger's misery deepens

With seven teams securing victory in the FA Cup fifth round, the onus was on Manchester United to avoid an upset against Preston North End but when the lower division side scored first, Arsenal fans probably celebrated more than the home side because the draws for the quarterfinals had been made even before Manchester United kicked the ball yesterday.

As at yesterday, Arsenal was set to continue the defense of their title with Liverpool, Aston Villa, Bradford City, Blackburn Rovers, Reading, West Brom and Manchester United all setting their sights on the trophy as well. So when the draws started, I kept my fingers crossed to see who the Gunners would play before booking a double date with Wembley.

Aston Villa and their new manager, Tim Sherwood, celebrated a winning start to his career with the club but they have been paired against a West Brom side that demolished West Ham in the previous round. Since his arrival at the Hawthrons, Tony Pulis has done a good job with the lads and he has managed to bring the best out of Saido Berahino and Brown Ideye. Both strikers were going through a drought at some point in the season.

Bradford City has been the surprise package of the competition, as they were a couple of seasons ago in the Capital One Cup. Arsenal and Aston Villa crashed along the way as Bradford City went all the way to Wembley but they were destroyed by Swansea in the League Cup final. This season, they made history to be the first side to score Jose Mourinho four goals in his home and their fairytale run continued with a 2-0 win over Sunderland. Now they’ve been paired with familiar foes, Reading, and it’s going to be very interesting to see how the Bantams face off with the Royals.

Liverpool has found form in just the right time this season and their latest victory over Crystal Palace has seen them propel to the next round of the FA Cup but they have a tricky tie against a Blackburn side that thumped Stoke City. Daniel Sturridge’s return to full fitness has brought some upturn in the fortunes of Brendan Rodgers men and we can only watch and see how their season pans out.

Finally, Arsenal got a very tough draw against Manchester United. When I say very tough, I just think about how bad the Gunners have been when playing Manchester United. First things first, Old Trafford was the ground where the Gunners lost their majestic unbeaten record and I can bet that if Arsene Wenger’s side managed to get at least a point at Old Trafford in the night in 2004, that record would have gone for a longer while.

Then there are the horrific and humiliating defeats the Gunners have suffered at Old Trafford. If the 6-1 mauling wasn’t bad enough, the 8-2 demolition in 2011 was an absolute disgrace. Arsenal’s last win on the ground was as far back as 2006 in a 1-0 narrow victory. Sometimes it seems like it’s a curse from beyond that Arsenal tends to struggle against Manchester United. As bas as David Moyes was last season, he still managed to notch up four points in the league off the Gunners. When both sides met earlier in the season, Arsenal outplayed their opponents but their profligacy came back to haunt them.

If the Gunners want to win the competition, they have to end their wretched run at Old Trafford.

It was a draw I wasn’t hoping for, but hey, that’s football.

Sayonara.

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