Arsenal 4-1 Pompey; the Midfield, the Strikers, and the Goalkeeper

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Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: Gunners fire on sorry Pompey

The Telegraph: It would be brave just now to bet on Portsmouth to win any football match but the fixture computer had seemed particularly cruel to present them with a trip to the Emirates this weekend.

Like I said last weekend, if you’re new here you’ll notice that I like linking to ESPN and The Telegraph for match reports. This is because each of those services provide a lovely bit of statistical data along with their regular match report. For ESPN, it’s the link called “Match Action” which will bring up a little graphical pitch and then you can select things like “heat map” or average position and take a look at how Arsenal lined up and where players generally played — it’s cool. Similar data, plus a player rater and other statistical info., is found in the Telegraph link — on the right hand side. So, for example, if you mouse over Abou Diaby you’ll get his stats: 3 shots, 2 goals, 96% passing rate, 71 total passes, 0 assists, and 4 balls won.

Match Video

The Arsenalist is up and running today, enjoy!

Man of the Match

Abou Diaby is today’s MotM and it’s an easy decision. Even Wenger is talking about nothing but Diaby at the moment:

He has been out for nine months. He has been here three years and I have seen that today he played his 100th game so that means he has been out for a long, long time. He has had little problems and he worked very hard this summer. This could be Abou’s year, it could be his season because he prepared well, he looks very sharp, very strong, he has all you dream to have to play in the Premier League.

Abou is a more offensive player but if he decides to play defensively he is exactly like Vieira. At some stage when Gallas moved out I put Denilson centre back and put Diaby central midfield in a defensive role. And he looks completely similar to Patrick to win the ball back. But he is a guy who has a quick transition from defence to offence, from box to box, that is his fantastic strength, to change quickly. Nobody can go with him when he has that, when we are on the counter-attack. He is fantastic.

That’s some really high praise there.

Giving Diaby MotM isn’t taking anything away from Cesc or Denilson or Robin van Persie, who all worked very hard and looked very good, it’s just that Diaby was better. I almost never pick the same man of the match as the Telegraph but I don’t think there’s much controversy in this pick today; two goals, and a plethora of good work in the midfield, that’s all it takes.

The Midfield

Jeebus… the midfield for Arsenal is buzzing right now, isn’t it? Arsenal have scored 10 goals in two league matches, winning by an average of +4 goals per match and 9 of those 10 goals have come from midfield and defensive players. Cesc has 2, Diaby 2, Gallas 2, and then Ramsey, Denilson, Vermaelen, and Eduardo round out the remainder with 1 each. That’s 60% of Arsenal’s league goals coming from the midfield.

The work rate in the middle of the park is excellent as well. I think you could say that after Diaby’s second goal, Arsenal sort of took their foot off the gas a bit, and that’s probably to be expected, what with 3 matches coming up in the next 7 days. But I never thought that they lacked for class or work in the midfield, even when Cesc came off at half-time with a tight hamstring and was replaced by Aaron Ramsey. You always knew that if they needed it, this team could kick into another gear and the midfield could take over the game.

The other aspect of the midfield game that has changed, and even the commentators mentioned this, is that Cesc in particular, but the whole midfield in general, looks much more powerful, much quicker, and much more assured with and without the ball. Cesc looks to be in the best shape of his career, strong, fast, and willing to shoot from outside. Diaby, who’s ponderousness with the ball is frustrating at times, was able to use his new found strength to hold the ball up and win challenges which we haven’t seen from him much in his career so far. It’s a long season and there’s 57 more games to go, but with Song adding power to the midfield as well as the others, we could easily terrorize opponents for years to come… if we stay healthy.

At the back, there were a few shaky moments like when Gallas seemed to be beaten by Utaka and the big Pompey winger went down. That appeal was waved off by the linesman and as long as the linesman keeps his flag down it’s good defense, right? Pompey for their part had a game plan and tried to execute it. They caught us once or twice with the over the top balls but every Arsenal supporter knows by now that that’s a product of the Arsenal system, especially if the defense stops pressing, which they did at parts of the match today. It was always going to be that type of defensive match and I have to give credit to the back four who would have kept a clean sheet except for Almunia’s insanity.

I almost wonder if Wenger didn’t tell the midfield to back off a bit and let Pompey test out the defense.  Nah, that would be crazy, right?

The Strikers

The one cause for worry, and I’m not suggesting that we should worry what with a +4 goal differential in 2 matches and Arsenal sitting atop the league table. But, the one cause for worry is that without Eduardo’s single poached goal no one else in the strike force is scoring and they are putting in a metric shitload of work for it.

Robin van Persie was clearly frustrated today, which is unfortunate because he put in so much work and really had it not been for two brilliant saves from James, would have gotten on the score sheet himself. He needs to just revel in the huge margins we’re generating, keep working, and you have to think that the goals will come.

If not, well, maybe we’ll be like United were last year? With a midfielder leading the team in scoring?

The other thing that made me uncomfortable was when Gallas was off the pitch getting a contact put back in, then Vermaelen went marauding forward, and Denilson (correctly) went back to fill in as center back. Look I love Denilson, and he was good as a sort of holding midfielder today, but I really don’t see him as a center back and it made me very uncomfortable to see him floating back there. TV5 needs to recognize and not make that run forward there, I think. Song, on the other had, I’m very comfortable with in that role, Denilson, not to much.

And I love the kid!

The Goalkeeper

With Fabio Capello looking on Manuel Almunia made his best case yet to be England number one. I mean, if England’s number one is supposed to make huge gaffes and allow a team who has one shot on goal to score, then Manuel Almunia is your man!

I kid of course. It’s the third game in to the season and he’s only made one mistake, he’s got miles to go before he can rise to the gaffe-tastic level that is the hallmark of English goalkeeping. It’s just that Pompey was so poor and hadn’t scored an away goal in like 23 years or something, so it’s a bit harsh to have that nut broken against my beloved Arsenal. You have to admit, that was some pretty piss poor goalkeeping on Money’s part, and he’s probably kicking himself in the dressing room as I write this. It’s ok, it didn’t hurt us, so it’s just something that the boss needs work on with him. I don’t know how, maybe a motivational speaker or something.

I’d gladly do it!

“Ok, Mooney, here’s the thing. You’re the only guy on the pitch who, in the supposed act of ‘punching the ball away,’ has the right to punch a cunt like Younes Kaboul in the throat! The team’s countin’ on you to do your duty in this regard and not puss out. Now, get out there and punch some f*ckers for the Gipper!”

Conclusions

Well, we won. But then again, we also lost. Lost Cesc to the dreaded hamstring tightness and Arsenal have been hit with more injury news in the form of Carlos Vela being ruled out for a month, another victim of the Gods damned international duty.  Why can’t some international opponents kick the shiat out of c*nts like Frank Lampard?

The Cesc injury is worrying, but lets hope that Wenger removed him as a precaution, we don’t know yet, the post match interview was all about how Abou Diaby is going to be Patrick Vieira plus Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp or something. Good for Diaby and I suppose we should be talking about the positives that came out of the game but still, all Gooners the world over are nervous over Cesc getting pulled at half time.

UPDATE: Wenger is saying we need to wait 48 hours before we will know if Cesc has “tightness” or a hammy pull. If the former, we may see him play against Celtic. If the latter, he’ll be out three weeks.

Wenger is also admitting that Theo Walcott won’t be available until at least next month and he’s blaming the internationals for that as well.

This team is really clicking right now and playing brilliantly, it would be a real shame if all that work was undone by injuries.

Oh well, not much that can be done about injuries, I guess, and I’m sure the boss is well aware of those problems at the moment. For me, I keep coming back to how deep this team is as a source of hope. I mean how many other teams in the EPL could lose their captain, put on an 18 year old, and have him come on and increase their lead against a defensively minded team? I can only think of one and they won 4-1 today.

Arsenal v. Pompey, match preview

Alright, just a little over 24 hours away from the home opener against Pompey and there’s very little news, apart from the exclusive with Le Boss on the dot com. Still, we have to have a match preview, right? So, let’s get stuck in.

Much has been made of home form when it comes to winning trophies and looking back at last year, where United lost just one and Liverpool zero, one would tend to agree. Arsenal lost three matches at home all season (six matches all told) and that simply won’t do if we want to challenge this year. Not to heap pressure on the boys, there will be plenty of pressure as the year winds on, but good home form especially over these next two matches is absolutely critical before we take a road trip to Manchester and face those two. I see this Pompey match as a jumping off point for this squad, we showed we can get 6, on the road, now lets show what we can do at home.

Those of you who are there can help out as well by bringing the atmosphere and helping to make the Emirates a place where no team wants to play. Now’s the time to start intimidating other clubs with a vibrant atmosphere and a team that scores bags of goals.

Like I said, no pressure!

Pompey will very likely use the 4-5-1 to try and stop us from playing so this means that tomorrow’s match will be our first real test against one of the Premiership’s defensive teams. My man inside the Emirates just emailed me and said that Paul Hart has finally parked the bus in front of the goal, and… yep, now he’s unpacking the tent, the cooler, and the grill. Did I say that they’ll play a 4-5-1? It should be more like a 9-1-1.

And their 1 is a guy on loan from Lyon, Frederic Piquionne. He’s been around the block but never really impressed for any stretch. That said, he will need to be watched because he’s strong and still has some pace left in his 30 year old legs. Set TV5 on him and I think we’ll be ok. Pompey are one of only 4 teams that have yet to score a Premier League goal, let’s keep it that way.

I am a huge proponent of clean sheets. Clean sheets build confidence. Clean sheets win championships. Lets keep a clean sheet tomorrow, especially against a team for whom 4th from the bottom is going to be an admitted victory at the end of this season.

To keep that clean sheet, Wenger will be looking to Vermaelen and Gallas again:

At the back it’s always difficult to combine aggressiveness and commitment and calmness and I think he (Vermaelen) is a good combination of that. And, overall, I think he’s a good combination with Gallas.

Up front, Wenger is already talking about what will be needed to break down Pompey tomorrow. When asked what his favorite part of the season has been so far he replied:

What’s pleased me most is that we play like a real team, who works for each other, and who relentlessly tries for 90 minutes to go at the opponent and score goals.

So, we’ll be attacking, nay marauding their bus, and they’ll be back there cooking sausages on the grill. I don’t expect a high scoring game, because unlike other teams who, once opened up, tend to stretch and attack back, Pompey will defend the whole time. Even if the score is 6-0, I’d be surprised to see Pompey attack.

The injuries (so far HA HA) are Rosicky, Djourou, Nasri, Fabianski, and Walcott. Wenger didn’t mention Vela’s injury so it’s safe to assume that he’s recovered.

Rosicky is starting to worry me, on August 6th it was revealed that he has a slight hamstring injury and on the 8th, Wenger went so far as to say it’s “not major.” It’s now the 21st and he hasn’t even been training. You have to start to wonder how many games he’ll get this year.

Theo Walcott’s a bit different. He traveled with the England team with a back injury, so that kept him from playing with them. When he came back, Arsenal put him in practice (there were photos of Theo practicing) and had to withdraw him from practice when “a scan came up negative.” Le Boss is saying that Theo is only a matter of days, fingers crossed that this is not the same as Rosicky’s “no big deal.”

When asked whether he’s got his eye on anyone in the transfer market, Wenger specifically stated “defense.” I think he sees the problem of having Djourou out for another month (and then trying to get his form) and the only backup being Gerry or Senderos. Senderos reportedly wants to leave, even though no one reportedly wants him, according to, erm, the reports. I tend to agree with Arsene on this, yes, we have some injuries in our attack, that doesn’t mean that 2 games into the 60 game season we need to throw in the hat and buy another attacking player.  It’s a bit of a gamble, but I think Theo, Rosicky, and Nasri will play quite a bit this season — especially Theo and Nasri, who combined for 85 matches for Arsenal last season. Not shoring up defense, on the other hand, would be a much bigger gamble.

As for the lineup, given that we’ve got a match on Wednesday, I’d bet money that Wenger rests folks and my starting XI is going to be like this:

Remember, it's just a guess, have fun with it and don't take life too seriously.

With ManOne, Arshavin, Silvestre, Denilson, Ramsey, Wilshere, and Vela on the bench. Yes, I know, it’s a 4-4-2 and we’ve been mostly seeing Arsenal in a 4-3-3, but it’s the only way I could rest anyone!

As for tomorrow’s match on the telly, I’ve created a handy little guide here for my North American and UK readers. The U.S. listings I’m pretty certain of (multiple sources) but the UK Listings, well, I got them from Arsenal dot com so they are as accurate as that site. If you’d like to add data to that list, please, send me an email. I’ll be updating it as we get more information.

Anyway, tomorrow’s match is on Setanta and our friends over at Doyle’s will be hosting us local Gooners. Come on down and have some breakfast if you’re in town. Oh and hey, look at that, it’s a 7am kickoff!

Stop by here after the match (noon-ish PST) for the post match Good, Bad, and Ugly. No sense in doing a 7am blog tomorrow, when I could just as easily wait till after the match and do the “match report.” Right?

I like short blogs, 2009

PESKY BEES!

There isn’t a whole lot going on today, which is a good thing.

The worst case scenario would be that all the good results we’ve had so far either A) get blown out of proportion and people started screaming “I told you so” at the top of their lungs at every opportunity or B) the opposite of A) and the cynics start talking about luck and how Everton were in disarray and how we need to buy £100m worth of players or we won’t win shite. Let’s just take the middle road, relax, and see what happens against Pompey this weekend.

After all, we’re only 1 game into the season so far.

I mean, it would be just as big a mistake for Man U fans to write off their team after losing to Burnley. Burnley’s not a big team but they have a lot of heart. I remember last year when Arsenal’s Carling Cup Kids lost 2-0 to Burnley at Turf Moor and I remember thinking that we’d go in there and roll over them, but Jensen was a monster that night and the crowd was supportive and Burnley did a great job all over the pitch. What is it that they say about any given Saturday, any Premier League squad can beat any other squad?

Anyway, there isn’t anything going on today. According to the papers Arsenal haven’t even made a bid on any new names, if anything, we’re losing out on Chamakh and Coutadeur. We could see something happen next week now that Joleon Lescott has been basically dropped by David Moyes.  As I’ve said, I believe that deal is the linchpin for something that Arsene Wenger has in mind with Senderos leaving and some backup defender coming in.

I suppose there is a “story” what with Mooney talking up the team spirit and saying that Arsenal have hammered out the defensive problems but you’ll pardon me if I’m just going to wait on those two.  I’m sure everything IS great right now, it sure looks like it on the pitch, and I sincerely hope that we go 38-0-0 all season, scoring an average of 6 goals per match. But realisticially, there will be rough patches ahead and that’s where the team really shows its character.

Or maybe the real story is that Arsenal are strengthening their management team. I don’t know, I haven’t had a chance to think about that yet.

There’s a free video over at the dot com, explaining the injury situation and why Eduardo was replaced with Wilshere on the bench Tuesday. Check it out.

That’s pretty much it for today, the boss will do his interview tommorrow so look for that. It’s a perfect start to the season,  let’s just keep plugging away.