Let’s give 110% in press conferences for the rest of the season

It’s the day after the day after a big loss and
we are disappointed, gutted, and of course the loss hurts.
But we have to put the last result behind us,
we have to prepare for the next challenge,
because we can only play the opponent in front of us.

In the next match
we will try to raise our levels,
we won’t be complacent,
we can’t take them for granted,
so we will stay on the front foot,
we will push it to the last minute,
stay switched on, and won’t let our heads drop.

Because this team has a lot of strong characters,
guys who care deeply,
who are professionals
who look forward,
who take their chances,
who show great mental strength,
don’t buckle under the pressure,
and who want to respond well.

They want to give something back to the fans
because we have such great support.
The crowd gives us something extra,
the crowd can lift us,
they create an unbelievable atmosphere,
especially the home fans,
and especially the away fans,
we want to thank them with a good performance.

The next game is going to be tough,
we are under a lot of pressure,
it’s an important game,
we have to learn our lessons,
and put in a good effort,
show a great spirit,
give 100 percent,
make things right,
show our quality,
be brave and,
never give up.
Don’t write us off,
we are still in the fight,
this is a great opportunity,
we just have to take our chances,
fight together as a team,
stay focused,
give a strong response and,
show that we deserve to win.

That’s the key for us.


In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king

2, 38, 53, 57, 64, 81, 91, 94 – Arsenal knocked out of Champions League in first leg Bingo

The three keys for me, then, against Monaco will be: 1. keep at least one fullback back at all times, even if Arsenal are behind by a goal (unlikely). 2. Giroud v. Carvalho – I highlighted Giroud’s aerial ability but his ability to score from a tight, front post angle, could be crucial as well. And 3. get Welbeck behind the Monaco defense running onto Özil’s balls.

Writing yesterday’s preview I had this mixture of foreboding and calm. The foreboding came from knowing Arsenal’s weakness when dealing with teams that defend deep and the calm came from knowing that Arsenal had the superior attack and should be able to put the game out of sight before the opposition’s counter attack plan could bear fruit. But as I sat there and watched Arsenal spurn golden chance after golden chance, it was the foreboding that took over and eventually melted into resigned acceptance. This is just how Arsenal are now.

The eventual match outcome was foreshadowed by Danny Welbeck’s first kick of the game. Two minutes into the contest and Welbz was played in for a brilliant chance on the right side. He beats his man but fails to gather his feet and instead of blasting the shot on target, slipped, fell over, and sort of curled one over the top of the bar.

But after that shot Arsenal went into slumber mode and it cost them dearly. Kondogbia, a player I’ve had many fans recommend for Arsenal, took a wild shot from 30 yards out, it hit Mertesacker slightly in the chest, and Ospina stood oddly rooted to the ground as the ball got past him mere feet from where he stood.

It was a piece of shocking defending that no one picked Kondogbia up in midfield (Cazorla tried but was late), it was a piece of shocking defending from Per (Wenger criticized Per for not facing the ball), and it was a piece of shocking defending from the keeper Ospina (he isn’t even wrong footed, he just went blank, like a deer in headlights).

But even if you think I’m being harsh and Kondogbia was just lucky, what happens next is pretty much unforgivable. Arsenal spent the remainder of the half in a daze and didn’t do much with the possession that Monaco granted them. There was a distinct lack of urgency and application to Arsenal throughout the match, Berbatov alluded to this when he criticized Arsenal for taking them for granted.

Wenger seemed to light a fire under the troops and they came out barnstorming in the second half — getting a few good shots but nothing yet on target. But the problem is that while Arsenal were getting shots in good positions they weren’t finishing. And worse, Arsenal’s fullbacks were both playing high up the pitch in the Monaco final third, both at the same time.

I shouldn’t have to explain why having both fullbacks in the final third is suicidal but I’m going to anyway: 1. the opposition are crowding the box so space is at a premium. 2. the ball can only be on one side of the pitch at a time. Thus, if Gibbs is involved in the play, by definition Bellerin cannot be involved. He is literally DOING NOTHING in a premium attacking space. 3. fullbacks, right, are fullbacks for a reason: they aren’t good attackers. So when they are occupying premium attacking spaces, they are actually hurting the attack. 4. overlapping runs are hard to defend, but standing static in the opposition half is not. By occupying the spaces the attackers should be in, and mostly standing still to provide a wide outlet, the fullbacks are actually making it easier for the opposition to defend. And finally 5. THEY AREN’T FUGGING DEFENDING! THEY ARE DEFENDERS WHO AREN’T FUGGING DEFNEDINGUSG^*##H#DYGSGUUW*@U#HEGEYEOY.

Sorry, I died.

So, in the 53rd minute, with everyone playing forward, Per Mertesacker tried to make a tackle in the opposition half and failed. Martial waltzes into the Arsenal half, singing Skip to my Lou, faces Koscielny who is the last man, and then plays a simple pass to Dimitar Berbatov, who is slower than molasses in January. Monaco go up 2-0 and at this point, the tie is over. Thanks for coming everyone.

The goal seems to light a second fire under the players and in the 57th minute Arsenal register their first shot on target. Sanchez hits a screamer and Giroud shoots the rebound over the bar. It was a terrific clearance by Giroud who, if he learns to make basic passes (his missed pass to Sanchez in the first half was criminal), could be a serviceable center half. Maybe he could get a start over Per Mertesacker? He is Arsenal’s best defender of set pieces.

Anyway, Giroud is hooked a minute later and replaced by Theo Walcott. Giroud had missed six chances in the game, four of those are what Opta calls “big chances” — the kind of chances you would expect a forward to score about 50%. I would have taken a scoring rate of 25% from those chances. But Giroud scored… let’s see… is zero a percent?

In the 64th minute, Arsenal get their second shot on target, doubling the offensive output, as Walcott is played in with a brilliant through ball from Sanchez. The keeper doesn’t do well enough and the ball falls to Welbz who fires a shot right into Theo Walcott. It’s a good block from Walcott.

In the 81st minute Arsene Wenger hauls off Arsenal’s best player, Santi Cazorla and inexplicably leaves Özil on. Özil had one of those Özil matches where he is accused of nicking a living. Maybe Cazorla was tired, I imagine it was taxing for a guy who is 5’2″ to carry the entire Arsenal team on his back.

And once Cazorla goes off, Arsenal’s offensive impetus falls apart. Monaco, who came to defend, play keep away and their fans start oleing. Arsenal didn’t even look interested in winning the ball back for large portions of the final 15 minutes. Arsenal fans, sensing the gig is up, leave the Grove in droves. Empty seats all over the stadium. The only fans who stayed behind were the ones who wanted to boo at full time.

Ox scores a goal in the 91st minute, then loses the ball in the 94th minute and fails to track his runner, who scores the Monaco third. Chambo goes from Ox to Goat in 3 minutes.

Boos ring out.

It was a horrible night. Arsenal were profligate (remember when we used that word all the time?!?) but in order to be profligate had to get the ball into dangerous areas. The Gunners created chances but simply couldn’t finish. But worse than the finishing was the “suicidal” (Wenger’s words, not mine) defending at the back.

Wenger threw all the players under the bus after the match but I found his post-match analysis a bit too self-serving. Yes, the players were terrible. Yes, the players were bombing forward like nincompoops. Yes, Mertesacker should be considerably better, more organized, and much more brave than he is. But at the same time, this high-line defense frailty is a feature of Arsenal football that is so entrenched that every human on earth can predict it before the match. Even Wenger himself said that he warned the players against this kind of defending before the match.

That is maddening. It’s maddening to watch this same story play out time and again.

But the most maddening part is that this was a winnable tie. Monaco’s vaunted defense wasn’t that good: that much is evidenced by the fact that Arsenal dominated the shot chart, seeming to get dangerous shots at will. And Monaco’s offense isn’t that good either, they were lucky for the first goal and if Arsenal had kept two to three defenders back at any point from the 30th minute on I’m fairly certain that they wouldn’t have scored 3 goals.

But the part that worries me the most is that this is now the fourth time in a row that Arsenal have collapsed in spectacular fashion in this round of Champions League play. And while Wenger was quick to blame the players yesterday, each time it has happened has been with vastly different personnel on the pitch.



Arsènal v. Monaco preview: fullbacks, Giroud, and Welbeck

After reading Michael Cox’s piece on how Monaco might approach the match I’m convinced that Arsenal need to be switched on for the full 90 minutes lest they become the victims of a classic continental smash and grab. But I’m equally convinced that Wenger’s rebuilt Arsenal attack is much stronger than in previous years and if they stay switched on, could do a real number on Monaco tonight and set up a good chance to get through to the next round.

Cox argues that Monaco have played very defensively throughout this Champions League campaign and will likely sit deep and defend for 90 minutes looking to hit Arsenal on the counter. They have a solid defensive setup with Ricardo Carvalho as their main anchor and Jeremy Toulalan playing in the holding role. He also suggests that Monaco’s fullbacks are a real threat with their speed and attacking ability. With the fleet footed, sure dribbler, Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco in front of them and Joao Moutinho spraying passes out wide, they can invite Arsenal to play high up the pitch and hit Arsenal at speed while exploiting gaps in the Arsenal high defensive line.

That would be a familiar feeling for many of us who have lived through the last 9 years of Arsenal football. Whenever teams used to cede possession to Arsenal, the Gunners would press high up the pitch and pass the ball around in a horseshoe shape around the 18 yard box. During that period Arsenal lacked a real aerial threat and so the opposition would let our pass-happy team simply play the ball around while they sat buried in the box deeper than an Alabama tick.

But this Arsenal side has more options in attack than the Cesc Fabregas/Robin van Persie era Arsenal: Özil, Welbeck, Giroud, and Sanchez represent a major overhaul from the old days and a significant upgrade on the lone striker van Persie who, while talented when he wanted to be, was almost never fit.

Tactically, Arsenal have Olivier Giroud who is a big body in the box. Whipping in crosses to Giroud is not entirely a bad option, even if he doesn’t score many headers. Simply causing panic in that area and challenging Ricardo Carvalho¹ to defend in the air could bring joy because any ball that falls in the box is dangerous. Especially since Arsenal have goal poachers like Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck who will pounce on anything Monaco leave out.

Danny Welbeck is a second option for Arsenal. He’s also an aerial threat but more importantly he’s the kind of forward who likes to run in behind defenders. With Özil, Cazorla, and Sanchez standing at the top of the box looking to make through ball passes, if Arsenal can’t get anything in through the air, Welbeck’s runs behind could be a key to unlock the Monaco defense.

The one thing I worry about with Arsenal is that they have a tendency in these games, still, to send both fullbacks bombing forward. Arsenal’s defensive midfielder, Francis Coquelin, does a good job covering for a single fullback but it’s simply not possible to cover for both. The Arsenal forwards are going to lose possession at some point and when they do, if both fullbacks are forward, and with just one holding midfielder, Arsenal’s back two will be exposed time and again.

The good news is that Monaco are not a very high scoring team. That means we could see Arsenal’s fullbacks exposed but for nothing to come from the attack.

The three keys for me, then, against Monaco will be: 1. keep at least one fullback back at all times, even if Arsenal are behind by a goal (unlikely). 2. Giroud v. Carvalho – I highlighted Giroud’s aerial ability but his ability to score from a tight, front post angle, could be crucial as well. And 3. get Welbeck behind the Monaco defense running onto Özil’s balls.

There is a “fact” making the rounds that Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal have never conceded to a French side at home in the Champions League. I hate that stat because Arsenal aren’t playing against a gestalt “French side” today, they are playing Monaco.

Still, I think Arsenal have a real chance to go through. I should say that Arsenal have a better chance than the last 4 years where they were beaten at home in this round by AC Milan, Bayern Munich (twice) and Barcelona. I believe it so strongly that I am anticipating the next round where Arsenal play a Spanish team, Atletico Madrid anyone?


¹If I were to write him a birthday card it would read “Happy Birthday” on the outside and “I hate you” on the inside.