Monthly Archives: September 2015

Confidence is Back: Can the Gunners Start a Winning Streak?

In football, confidence is such a fragile thing. If you’re losing games, confidence gets really low and things go pretty much downhill for everyone connected with the club. Losing to Dynamo Zagreb was considered as a blip but the events at Stamford Bridge left a sour taste in the mouths of the manager, players and the fans. There was a unanimous feeling that the game would have been better if Gabriel wasn’t wrongfully sent off and of course, there was the disappointment in seeing Diego Costa remain on the pitch before he eventually got substituted.

After the bad result of results, the North London Derby against Tottenham at their home ground seemed daunting but if there’s anything I’ve learned about English football, it’s that with derbies, form is thrown out of the window and you witness passion and pride take center stage. That’s how a certain forgotten individual, Mathieu Flamini, that has had his fair share of North London Derbies in his Arsenal career took the game by the scruff of its neck, etching his name into derby history with his virtuoso performance.

Following the victory over Tottenham, there was a renewed sense of optimism when the Gunners visited the King Power Stadium to take on Leicester. Claudio Ranieri’s side has been one of the bright lights of the season and the team is renowned for their attacking football, and it was no surprise that they had recorded three wins and three draws in their first six games. Going into the game against Arsenal, Leicester was the only unbeaten side in the league but after 90 minutes of wonderful football, Arsenal emerged as 5-2 winners.

Arsene Wenger described the game as his team’s best display yet,

“Certainly it was the most convincing [display of the season] going forward, yes. “It was a tricky game because Leicester hadn’t lost, and I was a bit concerned because we did not want to lose ground on the other teams – so it was a big win for us.

“I am pleased with [the strikers’] games. Giroud is sharp in training and in the matches as well, I think he played well at Tottenham.

“Walcott is improving game after game, he holds the ball better up front, his movement is great and both of them scored, which is what you want.

“I believe [Alexis] wasn’t back to his best after the Copa America, it took him a while to get his competitive edge and now he has played well again and he is back to his level.”

I vividly remember how unhappy the fans were with the club’s refusal to sign a striker in the transfer window. The goals were hard to come by and the forwards were putting up underwhelming performances. However, it was a breath of fresh air seeing Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud and of course, Alexis Sanchez get into the scoring charts and that could spur them on to do even better as the season progresses.

After the Champions League clash with Olympiakos tomorrow, the Gunners have six games in October against Manchester United, Watford, Bayern Munich, Everton, Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea. I’d expect the lads to at least five of the seven aforementioned teams, but these games aren’t won on paper.

Wenger says that the team is getting back to its level. I totally agree with him.

Sayonara.

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Alexis on Fire as Arsenal Blitzes the Foxes

Leicester 2 (Vardy 12′, 88′) – Arsenal 5 (Walcott 18′, Alexis 33′, 57′, 80′, Giroud 90′)

Match ReportMatch HighlightsPost-Match Press Conference (via Arsenal.com)

Going into this game, Leicester was the only unbeaten team in the Premier League and they were renowned for their never-say-die attitude and fighting spirit. In Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, they had two forwards in the top of their game at the moment and it was going to be one hell of an encounter against an Arsenal side that was fresh from their derby victory over Tottenham.

With Tottenham’s rather surprising demolition of Manchester City, Arsenal had the opportunity to close the gap at the top against a side that was above them on the league standings. As expected, Wenger made wholesale changes to the team that won at the Lane with Mathieu Flamini getting the nod over Mikel Arteta, as Francis Coquelin continued to nurse his injured knee.

Arsenal had the chance to open the scoring but Aaron Ramsey dallied on the ball and the Premier League showed why it remains one of the most unforgiving leagues in the beautiful game as Leicester launched a swift counter attack and Vardy was given acres of space to pick his spot before he placed the ball past Cech. The defenders could have closed the ball down earlier but it never happened. Arsenal got the equalizer, when Cazorla played to Walcott’s strength by passing into the space, and the forward did really well to get the ball under control before placing it past Schmeichel with his left foot. According to the stats folks, that was Walcott’s 12th Premier League goal in 13 starts. Pretty impressive huh?

Up next was the Alexis Sanchez show! It was a case of when rather if Alexis was going to score a goal and he got his first thanks to some determination from Bellerin. The young Spaniard reacted quicker than the defender and the ball crept to Sanchez that fired the ball home from less than six yards. You could see the relief in his celebrations for finally breaking his duck but it was to get even better. Mesut Ozil dinked a sumptuous lobbed pass to Sanchez and he rose the highest to guide the ball past a hapless Schmeichel in goal.

His hat-trick was complete when he latched on to Monreal’s throw to blast the ball in from some distance but that attempt was from a man high in confidence. That goal also meant that Alexis is the first professional footballer to score a hat-trick in the Serie A, Liga BBVA and the Premier League.

At the other end, Petr Cech had some goalkeeping heroics to keep the tie at bay but he was powerless to avoid another wonderful Vardy finish that was a deja vu of his first. Giroud came on for Walcott and put the icing on the cake with a neat first-timed finish from a Monreal cut back.

After the club had gotten so much stick for the finishing prowess of its forwards, Walcott, Giroud and Alexis all have three goals each in the Premier League and I expect the floodgates to open. It was good seeing Giroud and Walcott on the scoresheet in the same game, like Stoke, which shows that both forwards are benefiting from the fierce competition.

To make a good day even better, Chelsea dropped points yet again at Newcastle, even though I was disappointed by the Magpies inability to hold on to a handsome lead they had created. The Gunners are now three points behind new league leaders, Manchester United, making next week Sunday’s clash all important.

Till then, let’s enjoy what we hope could be a start of a good run of form.

Sayonara.

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Thoughts on the Giroud-Walcott Rotation this Season

This summer, like many summers before it, Arsenal fans were hoping that the club would sign a center forward that would ‘lead the club to glory’. While Alexis Sanchez, a winger by trade, lead the club’s scoring charts with 25 goals in 52 games last season, the club’s strikers didn’t hit such heights last season. Olivier Giroud had an injury-plagued campaign, but he still managed to score 19 goals in 36 apps, Danny Welbeck scored eight goals in 34 apps and Theo Walcott made his long-awaited injury comeback to score seven in 20 apps.

The Gunners went into the 2015/16 season with Giroud, Walcott and Welbeck as its registered center forwards, following the club’s failure to recruit a new center forward in the transfer market. Sadly, Welbeck is still suffering from a knee injury he picked up in April and required surgery to fix it. According to his national team manager, Roy Hodgson, the English forward could be out for six months. This means that Arsenal has only two center forwards for a considerable chunk of the campaign and if anything happens to any of them, the team would be thin bare in attack.

How have the forwards fared this season? The table below compares the statistics of Walcott and Giroud this season.

STAT (PREMIER LEAGUE ONLY) WALCOTT GIROUD
Appearances (Subs) 3 (2) 3 (3)
Goals 1 2
Aerial Duels Won (per game) 0 2
Passing Accuracy 75.6% 68.5%
Key passes (per game) 0.4 0.7
Shots (per game) 3.2 3
Dribbles (per game) 0.6 0.5
Fouled (per game) 0.4 0.5
Offsides (per game) 0.6 0.7
Dispossessed (per game) 0.8 1

Stats via WhoScored.

Despite their contrasting styles of play, their stats are somewhat similar. With Walcott, you pass the ball into space, he uses his pace to latch onto it before executing a Thierry Henry-esque placed finish. This was exhibited in the Aston Villa game where Mesut Ozil sent him through with a peach of a pass and the Dinamo Zagreb game where Alexis Sanchez fed him with a neat through ball in behind the defense. With Giroud, you pass the ball to his feet because he loves to linkup with his teammates and he’s also a dominant force in the air because of his imposing frame. He showed great improvisation to score a spectacular scissors kick against Crystal Palace but his headed goal against Stoke was bread and butter stuff for the Frenchman.

This season, both strikers have come to terms with the reality that they will be rotating with each other and this should build some healthy competition between them. Walcott has always signaled his intentions to play as a center forward and this season he has been given that chance to prove his worth to his manager. With Giroud starting the Capital One Cup game against Tottenham on Wednesday, every indication is pointing to the fact that Walcott would start the Leicester City game this weekend, which would mean that he’s the alpha dog in attack this season.

I still feel that Wenger should select the strikers based on the opposition (which I believe he’s doing), so in my honest opinion, Giroud would have been a better option to start with in the Chelsea game because his physicality would have been a plus against the likes of Kurt Zouma and Gary Cahill. They really made Walcott very peripheral in that game. Well, I’m no Wenger though, and of course he knows best but Twitchy Ol’ ‘Arry Redknapp decided to voice his opinions about the Arsenal striking rotation policy,

“Arsene Wenger has talked about rotating Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott as his main striker but that creates a big problem for Arsenal: what is your style of play? 

One is a big man who thrives on crosses and is strong in the air, while the other is all about pace who wants to run in behind. So every week you have got a different way of playing and that can only disrupt the shape of the team.

It is a difficult one because you aren’t swapping Giroud with someone like Graziano Pelle at Southampton, both of whom like to hold the ball up and bring others into play. Walcott and Giroud are complete opposites and while that can be a strength because they offer a different kind of threat, the other players are going to struggle to find a consistent pattern to their play. 

I’d play Theo wide right. I’d find a place for him because pace is what teams fear most.”

The Twitchy One believes that it would create a disruption in play because one week you’re passing the ball into space for Walcott, the other week, you’re passing the ball to Giroud’s feet and feeding him a couple in the air. I don’t agree with Redknapp’s thoughts though because I feel that the players know their roles and responsibilities on the pitch and they can adapt to any style of play the game demands. Take a player like Hector Bellerin for instance. He floats his crosses when Giroud plays and he drills his crosses when Walcott plays. That’s the kinda adaptability I’m talking about. Using the intelligent Mesut Ozil as another case study, he knows the kinda passes he’d give Walcott (against Stoke) or Giroud (against Crystal Palace). In case you didn’t know, he has provided assists to both of them this season because he assists when he wants.

As the campaign progresses, we will see more of Walcott and Giroud and in the very end, they will be judged by the amount of goals they have scored for the club, and I hope they score many this season.

Sayonara.

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