Monthly Archives: January 2013

Lessons Learned From Arsenal’s Win Over Brighton

I spent the best part of yesterday evening in Best Western Hotel, V.I., Lagos watching my elder sister launch her new clothing line, NeneKester, and it was a proud moment for me and the rest of my folks gathered in the arena. I tend to wonder what would have happened if Arsenal played Brighton yesterday instead of Saturday…

It was pulsating, nerve-racking and relieving at the end. After 90 minutes of football in the Amex Stadium, the Gunners had enough in the tank to see out the threat posed by a spirited Brighton side that gave Arsene Wenger’s men a run for their money. Beating Newcastle in the Third Round gave the hosts some confidence, but as Wenger rightly said, Arsenal’s quality saw them through.

Kudos most go to the hosts for never giving up despite falling behind twice. Even after Theo Walcott scored the goal that sealed the tie, the Seagulls had made claims for a penalty and on another day, it probably would have been given. C’mon, I’ve seen worse.

The only household name in the Brighton setup turned out to be that bloke whose girlfriend was shagged by John Terry. Speaking of Terry, he had a red card in the Champions League semifinal against Barcelona at the Nou Camp, nine months later, Shakira had a son for Gerard Pique. Coincidence? Maybe…

The FA Cup Fifth Round draws have been made and the Gunners will play against npower Championship outfit, Blackburn, in the Emirates this time, after two away draws on the trot. With the eyes firmly on the prize, the Gunners will hope to see off the Rovers with a quarterfinal berth up for grabs.

Nonetheless, I want to throw some light on the lessons learned from Arsenal’s victory over Brighton and I’ll categorize them into the negatives and positives.

NEGATIVES

Same ol’ Defensive Shit, Different Game

I still have vivid memories of the early part of the season where Arsenal went through three league games without conceding a goal. Everyone, and I mean, everyone lauded Steve Bould for the great work he had done in tightening the gaps and closing the loopholes in the Arsenal defense.

The club also adopted the zonal marking system, that allows the Gunners to station themselves in strategic positions in the penalty box with everyone’s eyes firmly fixed on the inswinger. When Manchester City’s Joleon Lescott scored a header early on in the season, some questions were asked on the zonal marking initiative but the club remained persistent with it.

Well, one some days, it works for Arsenal and on other days, it sure doesn’t. Saturday turned out to be one of ’em other days.

Brighton had a corner on the right hand side and as instructed, the Gunners moved to their several zonal marking positions. When the corner was swung in, Ashley Barnes, that was supposed to be marked by Abou Diaby, followed the ball with lethal intent and Per Mertesacker, as we all know, has the reaction time of a petrol tanker trying to make a U-turn.

With the ball floating into Wojciech Szczesny’s six-yard box, an unmarked Barnes to the ball before the goalkeeper and nodded the ball to an unguarded net. While a large percentage of the blame will probably to go Szczesny that could have done better in that situation, fingers should also be pointed at Diaby and Mertesacker for not doing their jobs probably.

While majority of the fault for the second goal will go to the useless Andre Santos, Mertesacker’s poor positioning and lack of awareness allowed Leonardo Ulloa to execute a timely diving header that left Szczesny for dead. The Big Friendly Giant has been one of Arsenal’s most consistent performance in recent times but his form is currently going through a slump.

He needs to pick himself because with Thomas Vermaelen still out injured, Arsenal is one defensive injury away from playing Sebastian Squillaci.

The Enigma That is Andre Santos

When Andre Santos arrived on the shores of England on the summer transfer deadline of 2011, we had learned that he was an attacking fullback from Fenerbahce.

That description is very right about Andre Santos. He’s a flamboyant player, has a decent technique, has some excellent footwork, has good off the ball movement and can swing in a cross from time to time. These are the traits of a wingback / winger, not fullback.

As a fullback, Andre Santos is a shockingly ineffectual player. He doesn’t think before diving into a tackle, has poor marking skills and his positioning is as woeful as hoping for Andrey Arshavin to head a corner kick. To top it all off, the Brazilian fullback winger is a walking time bomb and usually explodes on the pitch because there are times where he’s nowhere to be found.

Arsenal fans have been pleading for Arsene Wenger to sign a striker, holding midfielder and probably a more experienced goalkeeper, but the boss has to a new left back to his wishlist.

Against Brighton, Andre Santos was so appalling that he had to make Laurent Koscielny work extra hard to cover his tracks while he was high up the pitch offering little or no assistance to Lukas Podolski.

Andre Santos’ putrid positioning paved the way for the corner kick that led to the equalizer. He was also in No Man’s Land when the cross came in for the second equalizer. In attack, he launched the ball into orbit when a pass to a better teammate was a more plausible option.

Dear Mr. Andre Santos, thanks for the nice tweets, cuddly smiles and great Emmanuel Eboue-esque attitude off the pitch but on it, you’re becoming a liability with each passing game.

Theo Walcott’s Selfishness Late On

This isn’t meant to be a big deal because the introduction of Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere changed the outlook of the game. Jack Wilshere’s presence in the midfield was a huge plus and Theo Walcott’s late goal settled the tie.

However, there was a moment late on when Walcott would have granted Olivier Giroud a chance to score his first ever Arsenal hat-trick but he chose the selfish option to blast a shot from an incredibly acute angle that was parried by the goalie as expected.

Arsenal is a team renowned for having large reserves of selfless players that do their bits to feed their center forward the ammunition he needs to score goals on a consistent basis.

In the days of Robin van Persie, every Gunner on the pitch gave 110% percent to ensure that he broke every goalscoring record on the go. Many a times, it took an Alex Song over the top projectile, Gervinho cut back and most of all, a plethora of Walcott assists.

Perhaps now that Theo Walcott has signed da ting, he can learn how to pass da ting (via Charlie Melman of Bleacher Report)

POSITIVES

Lukas Podolski’s Efficient Performance

Since his arrival to North London, Podolski has had his hot and cold moments while strutting his stuff down the left. Despite the fact that he’s the Premier League’s most substituted player, his output on the pitch has been in one word – efficient.

He’s not your everyday winger that intends to wow the crowd with dribbling skills, fancy footwork and the rest of the lot. He’ll rather pass when he needs to and of course, shoot when the chance arrives.

Against West Ham, Podolski scored a sickening thunderbolt from quite some distance and ensured that he had a great day in the office with a superb hat-trick of assists to Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud. Against Brighton, Podolski looked like a subdued figure but he still managed to notch up an assist for Giroud and curled in a free kick that hit the cross bar.

He has taken his tally for the season to 11 goals and 11 assists. If that’s not efficient, then I don’t know what the word means.

The Return of Tomas Rosicky and Abou Diaby to Full Fitness

On their days, Tomas Rosicky and Abou Diaby can be world beaters, but they have the same fundamental problem – their inability to stay fit. Diaby’s career went downhill after that horrendous tackle he suffered in May 2006 while Rosicky’s problem began when his hamstring twanged in January 2008.

Since then, these players had suffered niggling injuries and constant set backs, robbing Arsenal off their services for the best part of their careers. Unlike Diaby that probably has his best years ahead of him, Rosicky, 32, is rapidly on the decline but it was good to see Little Mozart get some game time on Saturday, now that Cazorla has become synonymous with first-team action.

Diaby is returning to full fitness and looked out of sorts against Manchester City and Chelsea. Against Brighton, he made a rear foray forward and dinked a lovely ball to Giroud that swiped in a finish that buildup deserved.

With Arsenal’s rapidly increasing fixture list, the return to full fitness of Rosicky and Diaby has become a breath of fresh air.

The Red-Hot Olivier Giroud

Four goals in one week. Not bad huh?

Olivier Giroud has gone through his adaptation period and he’s repaying the faith Arsene Wenger had in him to splash out 12m for his services. He’s more or less Arsenal’s only center forward and arriving into the club as van Persie’s replacement put a great deal of pressure on the French forward to deliver.

With his attack partners, Walcott and Podolski doing their bit to share the goalscoring burden, Giroud has been liberated and his confidence levels have certainly increased to the extent where he now attempts to try to score in different ways. His first goal was a peach of a finish and he showed off his strength and technique in his second. ‘

There was even time to attempt a bicycle kick that would have been a masterpiece.

Besides the recent run of goalscoring, Giroud’s importance to the team is unrivaled, as he offers Arsenal a focal point in attack, links up well with his teammates and holds up play perfectly.

Arsenal fans can only hope that the goalscoring run continues as Giroud is now seven goals short of hitting the 20-goal mark.

The Fifth Round encounter against Blackburn is scheduled to take place in the middle of February, shortly after the visit of Bayern Munich to the Emirates. At that stage last season, the Gunners lost to a resurgent Sunderland in a pitch good enough to rear cattle.

Sayonara.

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Giroud on Fire as Gunners Scrape Past Brighton

OG12: The Man on Form

After the quick-fire defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea, the resounding 5-1 victory over West Ham served as a sign of good things to come but a lot was expected from Arsenal in the wake of their trip to the Amex Stadium to take on Brighton and Hove Albion, a side that knocked out Newcastle in the previous round.

With half an eye on the midweek clash against Liverpool, Arsene Wenger made some wholesale changes to the team, bringing on Andre Santos *gulp* and Carl Jenkinson in the fullback positions, Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky in midfield and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in attack.

Seeing Rosicky on the pitch was a pleasant sight and the Czech maestro began to orchestrate the midfield in his usual flamboyant style and almost combined perfectly with Lukas Podolski using a backheel but the Brighton defense quelled the threat.

The home side made a rear foray forward and an over the top ball conned the Arsenal defense allowing David Lopez a clear sight at goal but Wojciech Szczesny did really well to parry the ball. From the resulting counter attack, Rosicky covered a lot of ground before squaring the ball for Podolski. The German had a touch before laying it for Olivier Giroud and the Frenchman’s finish was a peach – a sweetly curled effort that left Casper Ankergren for dead.

R2!!!!!!!

As expected, Andre Santos wasn’t having the best of games, allowing the opposition to take advantage of his defensive frailties. Brighton’s fullback, Inigo Calderon, shimmied past Andre Santos before dinking in a cross that almost put Szczesny in No Man’s Land but the ball landed on the roof of the Polish goalie’s net.

Andre Santos received the ball and chose to dribble a Brighton player instead of locating a teammate closely, and Arsenal was almost punished for it. Will Buckley intercepted the Brazilian and crossed the ball into the danger area, which made Szczesny parry the ball to Leonardo Ulloa and like Edin Dzeko a few weeks ago, the Spaniard guided the ball in but the offside flag spared Arsenal’s blushes.

Brighton continued to press the Gunners and got the equalizer they deserved when an unmarked Ashley Barnes headed a corner home. For some strange reason, Diaby and Mertesacker took the best moment to do some ball watching and Szczesny could have done better in anticipating the cross.

Hi-res-160092764_crop_exact

So much for Arsenal’s zonal marking. Shame.

Late in the first half, Rosicky had a tame effort that went wide.

Arsenal began the second half on a brighter note when Jenkinson finding some space in attack to blast a ball that was parried by the goalie. Podolski also curled in a sumptuous free kick that slammed the cross bar with the keeper rooted to the spot.

10 minutes into the restart, Diaby darted forward and chipped a lovely ball for Giroud. His first touch was perfect, his second even better. Arsenal’s OG12 had smashed in his second of the day, taking his overall tally to 13 goals.

After gesturing for the fans to know the hottest kid in the block, he went for a warm cuddle with Arsenal faithful stationed on that end of the pitch.

Giroud showed his superb off the ball movement to get on the end of Rosicky’s pass but his effort was blocked by the Brighton rearguard. The home side continued to believe in themselves and got their reward when Ulloa connected to an inch-perfect cross with a diving header past a hapless Szczesny.

For a player with the experience of Mertesacker, that was some schoolboy defending from ze Big Friendly Giant.

Arsene Wenger responded immediately by bringing on Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott for Rosicky and the ineffectual Ox. Arsenal won a free kick on the edge of the box in a position no different from where Podolski slammed the bar. Giroud took responsibility this time and grazed his effort over the bar.

With Wenger sensing that the home side were exploiting Andre Santos’ weaknesses on the left hand side, he summoned Kieran Gibbs to replace the Brazilian that had another torrid outing by his standards.

Podolski eased past Calderon and supplied a neat cut back to Giroud but the Frenchman’s acrobatic effort bounced off the ground and over the bar.

When it seemed as if a replay was on the cards, the Gunners had a corner that was headed away from the box but into Walcott’s path. The forward blasted his shot through a pile of bodies but the ball managed to find the back of the net.

Walcott celebrates his finish

For the third time in the game, the Gunners were ahead and many had hoped that the scoreline would remain intact for the final five minutes or so. Right at the death, the Seagulls made an appeal for a penalty that fell on deaf ears.

After the game, Wenger had nice words to say about his two-goal man, Olivier Giroud (via Arsenal.com). He also commended Brighton’s performance and effectively ruled out making any signing this month.

It was a good all-round performance but my major concern was the torrid time Andre Santos had on the pitch. The maverick arrived on deadline day two seasons ago but he has failed to convince me or any Gooner out there that he can be an able deputy for Gibbs. On the other flank, Jenkinson blended back into the team, despite being out of action for as long as I can remember.

Anyways, the Gunners are through to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup and fingers will be crossed to know who the club’s next opponents will be.

Happy Sunday Gooners.

As for me, I’ll be spending the best part of the day checking out my elder sister, Nene Kester’s fashion collection at the Best Western Hotel in Victoria Island, Lagos.

Sayonara.

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Brighton Preview: Avoid Another Embarrassment

Brighton has already eased past Newcastle

On the 12th of December, Arsenal came up against a lower division team 65 places below them in the English top-tier. Judging from their goal-crazy outings against Coventry and Reading, many had expected the Gunners to knock a hatful of goals past lowly Bradford City in Valley Parade. To make things worse for the hosts, Arsenal fielded a strong lineup that was good enough to dispatch any Premier League side on their day.

Profligacy became Arsenal’s watchword on the night and against the run of play, the hosts grabbed the lead. After hitting the posts a couple of times as well as Gervinho’s legendary miss of life, it took a late Thomas Vermaelen header to take the game into extra time.

90 minutes wasn’t enough to separate both sides, and so was the extra 30 and the game went into the lottery of a penalty shootout.

We all know how it panned out and all Hell was loose afterwards. The AMGs (Arsene Must Go) and WOBs (Wenger Out Brigade) came out firing all cylinders and like in the days of the Romans, they wanted the manager’s head on a plate.

Since then, some lessons have been learned while some haven’t, like Arsenal’s consistent poor first half outings lately, but the vice-captain, Mikel Arteta, has come out to explain why the Gunners turn into ravaging beasts in the second half of most encounters (via Arsenal.com),

“When teams play against us, they normally sit really deep and are really organised. If you are patient they [tend to] suffer physically in the last 20 to 25 minutes.

“That is when you can find holes, and mistakes come when teams are more fatigued. It could be down to that, or the fact we know we have to go for it in the [second half of] games.

So that’s the trick, you little Devils.

However, Arsene Wenger has confirmed that Arteta and Francis Coquelin are out for today’s fixture (via Arsenal.com), as well as the captain, Vermaelen, that sprained his ankle against West Ham. But the boss also confirmed that his darling Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky are available for action (via Arsenal.com).

I feel a bit sorry for Rosicky, as he hasn’t been afforded the chance to strut his stuff on the pitch since the arrival of Santi Cazorla. In the tail end of last season, TR7 was in phenomenal form and his resurgence in the middle played a key role in Arsenal’s final surge to a third place finish, as well as Alex Song’s assists and Robin van Persie’s goals of course.

Arsene Wenger still believes that Rosicky can make an impact this season (via Arsenal.com) and many Gooners will like to see that happen because in as much as Cazorla is indispensable to the team, he could do with some rest right about now, bearing in mind that Arsenal plays Liverpool, Sunderland, Stoke and Bayern Munich next.

Rosicky’s last match for the team was in that dead-rubber clash against Olympiakos in Athens, where he scored a well-taken goal from an Aaron Ramsey cutback.

Wenger also talked about Podolski’s outstanding delivery (via Arsenal.com) and Walcott’s massive improvement (via Arsenal.com). Podolski’s performance against West Ham left me drooling and the fans can only wish for more of the same. To be honest, I really can’t wait to see Podolski’s performance against one of his former teams, Bayern Munich. That’ll be an interesting one for the neutrals.

Walcott on the other hand, is justifying his huge paycheck and with a lot of football to be played, the forward can soar to greater heights this season. Everyone can see that his finishing has improved massively and his best years ahead of him. It’s really heartwarming to know that he’ll be at Arsenal in those years, unless…

Today’s opponents are led by a former Chelsea and Tottenham player, the Uruguayan legend, Gustavo Poyet, and they shocked the football world with their comfortable win over struggling Newcastle. If Arsenal takes Brighton likely, they could pay the price and the Seagulls have a quality striker in the form of Craig Mickail-Smith.

Little ol’ Mickail-Smith isn’t the kind of striker that would make top quality defenders like Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny pee on their pants, but he will punish them if they undermine his abilities in front of goal. He has scored 11 goals in the npower Championship thus far.

To team selection, I wouldn’t necessarily expect Wenger to shuffle the squad too much but I have a hunch that Vito Mannone could be given a run-out in goal. This would be the kind of fixture you would expect him to start that’s why I was a bit surprised when Szczesny kept against Bradford.

In defense, I expect Mertesielny to play together in the heart of defense and Vermaelen’s injury probably means that Sebastien Squillaci might be on the bench. I’ve even learned that Johan Djourou wants to remain in Hannover on a permanent basis.

In the fullback positions, I would like to see Carl Jenkinson return to the starting lineup but Kieran Gibbs should retain his position, because Andre Santos playing as a left back scares the shit outta me. He’s better suited as a left winger.

In midfield, Diaby and Rosicky just returned to action, so this game comes too soon which means that they could do with some time on the bench, allowing the Cazorla-Wilshere-Rambo triumvirate to work their magic in the middle.

In attack, Arsenal doesn’t have much options, but I see the manager resting Lukas Podolski to give the Ox a run-out on the left. With Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott retaining their places.

Enjoy the game wherever for are.

Bonus: I recently became a sports writer for a website, WhatCulture.com and I published an article tagged, 5 Reasons Why Theo Walcott Should Have Jumped Ship.

Disclaimer: I’m happy that Walcott signed a new deal so don’t crucify like the other commenters did. 😀

Sayonara.

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