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Top of the Table, For a Change!

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FC Basel 1-4 Arsenal

Match ReportMatch HighlightsPost-Match Press Conference

Despite the fact that PSG looked like overwhelming favorites to finish on top of the group following their draw at the Emirates a fortnight ago, there was still a slight chance for the Gunners finishing as group winners, so Arsene Wenger had to select a squad capable of getting a favorable result in Basel. The hosts had the Gunners on their sights, as they had secured some famous results against English opposition with Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea losing on their sacred St. Jacob-Park.

Wenger’s team selection was very interesting with Rob Holding starting ahead of Shkodran Mustafi in the heart of the defense, partnering captain Laurent Koscielny for the first time since that 0-0 draw against Leicester in August. Kieran Gibbs got a rare start at left back while Gabriel Paulista continued to deputize in Hector Bellerin’s absence. Aaron Ramsey returned to his favored central midfield position alongside hometown hero, Granit Xhaka. In attack, Alex Iwobi returned to the side and Lucas Perez played as an inside forward from the right flank. Riyad Mahrez-esque.

Early on, Gibbs reached the byline and drilled a ball that was anticipated by Lucas. With the keeper left for dead and a defender in more or less a hapless position, Lucas had the time in the world to pick his spot and planted the ball into the net to give his team the lead. For a player that has been on the periphery in his Arsenal career, that was definitely a confidence booster. Things got even better when some brilliant team passing play saw Mesut Ozil decimate the defense with a through ball that got Gibbs on clean on goal. The fullback blasted a shot that was parried by Vaclik but Lucas was on hand to blast in the rebound. Two became three for the Spaniard when he latched onto another good pass before finishing with his right foot.

That was another hat-trick in the space of two days. Despite not getting on the score sheet this time, Alexis Sanchez unleashed his creative side, providing delightful passes on the go, which included a pass to Ozil that was fed to Alex Iwobi on a platter for Arsenal’s fourth. The young Nigerian hadn’t gotten any joy in front of goal recently, so you could see the monkey go off his back with that strike. News from Paris made the night even better as Ludogorets Razgard led twice in Paris, which ultimately meant that Arsenal was going to finish ahead of the French champions if the scoreline remained intact.

An error from Rob Holding allowed Seydou Doumbia to score what proved to be a consolation goal and PSG’s late equalizer brought some nerves but in the end, the French side earned themselves a second place finish with a home draw, while the Gunners won their Champions League group for the first time in five years. Let’s just hope we get a favorable draw this time but the performance was wonderful to say the least. David Ospina didn’t have much to do all game long, but he made some good saves and had a better aerial performance. One of his shortcomings as a goalie has been his ability in the air but he made several claims and dominated his box. Gibbs is another player worthy of a mention following a virtuoso performance last night. He has accepted his fate as Nacho Monreal’s deputy but to come on and put up that show was commendable.

Then there’s the hat-trick hero, Lucas Perez. Arsene Wenger had some nice words for him in his post-match press conference but I was particularly happy for the player because he has become a somewhat frustrated character at the club. Yes, he has been a journeyman for the most part of his career and when he joined the club, he expected to feature a whole lot more, but he had been reduced to meager cup appearances and a couple of cameos here and there. His injury in the EFL Cup didn’t help his cause as well, but scoring a hat-trick has given his manager something to think about which makes things very interesting.

Most of all, I am very delighted with the depth of the squad this season. In goal, Wenger can comfortably select Petr Cech, Ospina or even young Emi Martinez. Rob Holding has shown maturity beyond his years and Mustafi has already blended well into the team. We still have the injured captain, Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista that can put in a great shift, and despite the injury crisis at right back, Gabriel has been doing a swell job to hold the fort, pending Bellerin or Matt Debuchy’s return to the side. You can say the same for midfield and attack.

The good times are back people, there’s the issue of Stoke City to deal with.

More on that in the coming days.

Sayonara.

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Basel Preview: Team News, Injury Updates and Predicted Lineups

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After such an amazing display of attacking football over the weekend, all eyes would be on the Gunners, as they take on FC Basel in the final Champions League group stage fixtures. This would have been a dead rubber contest if Arsene Wenger’s side had done what was expected of them when PSG came to town, but there would be an air of uncertainty as another second placed finish looms.

The bookies would have high odds for FC Basel in this game and remember that, for Champions League betting, visit William Hill website. With a home clash against Stoke coming up this weekend, Arsene Wenger would rotate his side to keep the players fresh, but he would recall that the last time he made wholesale changes to the squad, he was embarrassed at home to Southampton in the EFL Cup. The boss has confirmed that Olivier Giroud is back in the squad following a groin problem, but the team would be without the suspended Francis Coquelin.

The game could see Giroud return to the middle with the red-hot Alexis Sanchez probably getting some deserved rest. The game would be of particular interest to Granit Xhaka and most especially, Mohamed Elneny, who waxed lyrical about his time in the Swiss outfit,

“I am very happy that I will be going back to my former club Basel. I was there for three years and have fantastic memories of the players, fans, people in the streets and also my friends in Basel. I was very happy there and of course I am delighted to go back to catch up with the people there and experience the feeling of playing in Basel again.

“Playing for Basel was very important for my career. I represented the club in the Champions League, Europa League and the Swiss league. So for me I gained a lot of experience during my time at Basel. I had move to a European league which is very different from playing in Egypt. So everything I learnt there helped me when I moved to Arsenal. It was a beautiful time of my career, I achieved important things and I learnt a lot during my time there. I am very happy with my overall experience there.”

From the nice words, it’s evident that Elneny would not celebrate if he manages to find the back of the net against FC Basel tonight.  The home side would be gnashing their teeth coming into this game, following a 3 – 1 loss to BSC Young Boys over the weekend. That defeat didn’t affect their stronghold on the Swiss League table, even though second placed Young Boys managed to gain some momentum.

Basel’s form in the Champions League has been atrocious, as the Swiss side has failed to record a single win their five group stage games, managing two draws against minnows, Ludogorets Razgard, while losing to Arsenal and PSG (twice). Another poor result tonight and Ludogorets getting something favorable in Paris would see FC Basel knocked out of Europe entirely.

Injury Updates

Arsenal: Per Mertesacker, Danny Welbeck (knee), Santi Cazorla (Achilles tendon), Chuba Akpom (back), Hector Bellerin (ankle)

Basel: Dereck Kutesa (knock), Jean-Paul Boetius (ankle), Kevin Bua (muscle)

Arsenal Form

  • Last Five Games: D D W L W
  • Last Result: West Ham 1-5 Arsenal
  • Leading Goalscorer: Alexis Sanchez (13)

Basel Form

  • Last Five Games: D W W W L
  • Last Result: Young Boys 3-1 Basel
  • Leading Goalscorer: Matias Delgado, Seydou Doumbia (9)

Predicted Lineups

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Gabriel, Koscielny, Mustafi, Gibbs; Xhaka, Elneny; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Iwobi; Giroud

Basel (4-3-3): Vaclik; Riveros, Eder Balanta, Suchy, Lang; Xhaka, Delgado, Zuffi; Steffen, Bjarnasson, Doumbia

Gooner Daily predicts a 2 – 0 Arsenal win.

Sayonara.

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It Was Like the Chelsea Game All Over Again…

Theo Walcott celebrates scoring against Basel

Arsenal 2-0 FC Basel

Match ReportMatch HighlightsPost-Match Press Conference

It was kinda awkward when I learned that Arsenal were going to wear our away kit in a home game. I can only recall seeing this in FIFA but it didn’t , matter – Arsenal was about to host Basel with Group A for the taking. As expected, Wenger kept the faith with the same side that has been in great form with the only exceptions being Granit Xhaka coming in for Francis Coquelin and David Ospina getting the nod ahead of Petr Cech.

The Gunners began the game in blitz mode barraging Basel’s goal with waves after wave of attacks. The match opener arrived when Santi Cazorla teed up Alexis Sanchez on the edge of the area and he lofted an inviting ball that was headed at point blank range by Walcott. He had to do really well to evade the post as his momentum pushed him to that direction. Walcott doubled his money after he connected superbly with Alexis before drilling a shot that crept past the goalie. For a man that started the season pretty poorly, Walcott is on fire!

Then there were the misses, or will I say, the excellent goalkeeping from Basel’s Vaclik. The lad showed off good reflexes to stop Nacho Monreal from scoring his first goal in many games and there was also a time he stopped Hector Bellerin when he had a rare foray forward. However, there was nothing Alexis could do to get past the goalie. Shot after shot, Valcik made himself really big when he faced the Chilean and the Gunners could easily have been out of sight by halftime. According to the statistical folks, Arsenal had 17 attempts on goal in the first 45 minutes with seven of them on target.

Just like the Chelsea game, the Gunners  took their feet off the pedal and were almost punished when Bjarnason was unmarked at the edge of the box. The Icelandic international sent a swerving shot that was nudged over the bar by David Ospina. For a keeper that had nothing to do all game long, that was a stunning save. There were more cracks at the back when Sporar found himself clean on goal but Ospina held firm to deny the striker a good goalscoring opportunity. Late on, there was a chance to make it 3-0 when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dribbled past the keeper but his attempted pass to Sanchez was blocked by a Basel defender.

It the end, it was a satisfying game with the Gunners dominating from start to finish. Walcott rightly ended the Man of the Match and took out some time to talk about his newly-found chemistry with Alexis and we have seen the benefits of having the Chilean maverick leading the line. The team has really gelled and it’s great to see everyone performing so well. The Kostafi combination at the back has been awesome and the full backs have been doing their bit to support offense and defense effectively. Mesut Ozil’s has blown hot and cold but he really needs to work on his shooting accuracy.

All in all, it felt like the Chelsea game all over again.

Amazing attacking display in the first half, mature and calm display in the second.

Sayonara.

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