Everyone connected with the club have been wondering when the manager would sanction a bid for a world beater to arrive at the Emirates, but there was the welcome distraction of a fellow Premier League heavyweight, Manchester City, to contend with in a friendly at Gothenburg, Sweden. Pep Guardiola is one of the newest arrivals in what will prove to be an exciting season, and he has been very busy in the transfer window, signing Ilkay Gundogan, Aaron Mooy, Nolito, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Marlos Moreno. Arsenal on the other hand, did very good business early with Granit Xhaka, but after the acquisitions of the younglings, Takuma Asano (beasting in the Olympics) and Rob Holding, the fans are anxious for that center forward and center back.
Moving away from the transfer speculations and rumors, I watched a really good football match last night. Despite the game being a friendly, there was some competitiveness about the game as both managers fielded strong lineups. The Citizens drew first blood when Sergio Aguero intelligently evaded both Arsenal center backs, Holding and Gabriel, to guide the ball beyond Petr Cech. Arsenal got their equalizer from a player that has actually benefited for playing preseason instead of opting to join his country at the Olympic Games. As a Nigerian, I would have loved Alex Iwobi to represent us in Rio, but the lads have shown that he hasn’t been missed with two wins from two games. Iwobi on the other hand has had a wonderful preseason campaign, scoring goals and putting up wonderful appearances. He deserves everything he’s getting at the moment for him.
With the game leveled, Arsenal got the equalizer from the much-maligned Theo Walcott. He provided the assist for the Iwobi goal and he showed some composure when he latched onto Alexis Sanchez’s pass before doing a Carlos Vela on poor Joe Hart. The England goalie’s misery was compounded when he failed to get a hold of the ball, gifting Chuba Akpom his fourth preseason goal in four games. Kelechi Iheanacho waltzed one in late on and there was a siege from the Citizens but Arsenal held on to finish the game as 3-2 winners. A good day for Nigeria, as three were on the score sheet.
On a very sad note, Gabriel Paulista suffered an ankle injury and the manager provided an update. It has left the team desperately short at the back and as if stands, it’s looking we would use Calum Chambers and Rob Holding as our center backs against Liverpool. Holding is a raw talent that has had a decent preseason with the club, while Chambers has somewhat failed to impress, so that doesn’t fill me with some confidence. I remember hearing something about Francis Coquelin training as a center half, and if he plays against Liverpool, that’s Arsene Wenger’s headache not mine.
I will probably discuss about our defensive options tomorrow.
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This was one of those games I honesty didn’t have high expectations for. Would you blame me? Arsenal’s record in Manchester was nothing to write home about but when you consider that Manchester United, Southampton, West Ham and Tottenham recorded victories, the onus was on Arsene Wenger’s side to come up with the goods in a ground they conceded six last season.
The lineup didn’t really inspire that much confidence especially with the prospects of a young Hector Bellerin and of course, Nacho Monreal coming up against Jesus Navas. As far as I can remember, Monreal’s performance against Manchester City last was more or less his worst outing in Arsenal colors. Then there was David Ooooooooooooooooospina (the chant) continuing in goal ahead of Wojciech Szczesny.
Arsenal began like a house on fire with the Ox showing his athleticism to skip past Gael Clichy before providing a cross that was attacked by Olivier Giroud. Arsenal got the lead when Vincent Kompany impeded Monreal in the box and Santi Cazorla stepped up to smash in the spot kick even though Joe Hart guessed the right way.
The home side tried to respond with David Silva lofting a through ball for Sergio Aguero but Per Mertesacker was on hand to make a superb block. Aguero had another half chance that was saved by the Colombian goalie. Man City continued to pile the pressure with Jesus Navas stinging the palms of the goalie and the defense had to be aware to the threat Fernandinho posed. Sanchez showed great movement to spin away from Zabaleta but his wayward shot went wide. Navas continued to threaten from the right and he sent a drilled effort that was nicked away from the attackers by Laurent Koscielny.
Then it happened. Another brilliant delivery from Cazorla and the real OG reacted the quickest to head the ball past a hapless Hart. 2-0 to the Arsenal and the fans were in raptures.
Man City responded by bringing on Frank Lampard and the commentators were quick to point out that he had never lost a game he played for the Citizens. Story for the gods. The midfielder chipped a ball into the danger area and Monreal had a lash at it but the ball sailed over the bar. Santi Cazorla was having a stormer and he epitomized it with a slalom run that saw him go past his markers like they didn’t exist.
Late on, Wenger brought on Mathieu Flamini and Kieran Gibbs to sure things up at the back and the Gunners were almost 3-0 up when Rosicky threaded an inch-perfect ball in behind Clichy but Flamini’s cut back was intercepted by Kompany.
At the final whistle, Man City might have felt hard done by but they came up against a very organized Arsenal side that quelled every threat they posed while instilling some damage on their own. The Premier League takes a two-week break with the FA Cup taking center stage. At least, the spirits are really high at the Emirates camp.
To individual performances, I must say that the fullbacks were awesome in the game and they were protected superbly by Francis Coquelin that has been a breath of fresh air since his return to the first team. As for the away fans, they were awesome and I loved every bit of the never-ending Ospina chants.
Here’s to a sweet week ahead.
Arsenal 2 (Wilshere 64′, Sanchez 74′) – Manchester City 2 (Aguero 28′, Demichelis 84′)
Emirates Stadium (Premier League)
With the international break over, there was a renewed optimism about the Gunners encounter against Manchester City. Arsenal’s new knight in shiny armor, Danny Welbeck, spearheaded the attack and Jack Wilshere played alongside Aaron Ramsey, which cost Santi Cazorla his place in the team.
Welbeck showed good movement from the start and he opened up to receive a Wilshere ball but it was intercepted by the Man City rearguard. After some neat passing play, Ramsey had all the time in the world to square the ball to Alexis Sanchez but he blasted a wayward shot over the bar. Sanchez latched unto another ball and fired a dipping shot straight at Joe Hart but it was easy pickings for the England No. 1. Wilshere dinked the ball into the danger area and with Sanchez unmarked but Hart raced off his line to punch the ball away. Kun Aguero took on the defense and tried to square the ball from the byline but it was smothered by Szczesny.
Welbeck was trying to impact the game and be hurriedly fired Ozil’s pass wide but a glorious chance appeared for the English forward as he bore down on goal, executed a chip Carlos Vela would have been proud of but the post spared Hart’s blushes.
On the other end, Jesus Navas opened up space and drilled the ball into the heart of Arsenal’s defence but Per Mertesacker was on hand to play the ball over the bar. Aguero was growing in influence as he returned a neat one-two pass to James Milner but the swerving shot went over. However, Manchester City grabbed the lead when Aguero latched unto Navas’ inviting ball to place it past Szczesny.
David Silva almost doubled Man City’s money but Szczesny made a superb save to keep the away team at bay. At the start of the second half, the Citizens summoned a former Arsenal son, Samir Nasri, into the pitch and as expected, the boo boys gained their voice and made their feelings felt.
Another former Gunner, Gael Clichy, crept into the attack in swift fashion and chipped the ball over the goalie but his efforts went wide. Since chipping turned out to be the order of the day, Arsenal obliged Man City to score a goal in such a sweet fashion. Wilshere took Ramsey’s pass on his stride, left Clichy for dead and neatly chipped the ball over Hart that had no chance in saving it.
That goal brought life into Arsenal and an onslaught followed. Matt Debuchy fired an Özil pass to the side netting then Arsenal made their momentum count when Sanchez sidefooted Wilshere’s header to the top corner to put the Gunners ahead.
Wilshere’s influence continued to grow as he nutmeged his marker before exchanging passes with Welbeck and Özil. The final ball was lobbed by Wilshere to Ramsey but the Welsh Jesus missed the kind of chance he’s known to bury.
There was a concern was Debuchy suffered a nasty injury and he was replaced by Calum Chambers. Late on, Arsenal conceded a goal from a corner as Martin Demichelis headed the ball in. Mathieu Flamini was poised to head the ball off the line as it came to his direction but Szczesny deflected the ball into the net with his palm.
Welbeck attempted a Thierry Henry-esque shot but the ball curved away. That turned out to be his last contribution as he was replaced by the Ox. Right at the death, Arsenal almost lost the game as Aleksandr Kolarov and Edin Dzeko had chances that hit the post. Even Nasri found the net when Szczesny parried Dzeko’s shot but he was offside.
The ref’s whistle ended a pulsating encounter but as it has been all season long, the Gunners have conceded from yet another set piece. This is a growing trend that has become disturbing and one must wonder if these guys learn from their mistakes. To add salt to the Gunners wounds, Debuchy’s injury puts the defense in a very precarious situation as his replacement, Chambers, is also meant to be a replacement for the center backs as well. The Gunners are walking on a very tight rope in defense but nothing can be done about it, till January at least.
A tough trip to Signal Iduna Park follows.
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