Tag Archives: Arsenal


Swansea exploit Arsenal’s weaknesses with a late game header

By Tim Todd, Early Game Specialist

Swansea came the Grove and took a huge gamble to play defense first against an in-form Arsenal side. But in the end their gamble paid a jackpot as took their chance and left Arsene Wenger and the collected Arsenal faithful bitterly disappointed.

There is a fallacy in football that defending first is easy. It’s not easy, it’s a bit of a crap shoot. Defending first means that the players can’t make any mistakes. Since the defensive team is sitting deep in their own half, any mistakes that they make are compounded by a lack of space to recover and shift. So, the defensive team has to be extremely efficient in defense.

And when they get the ball in attack (which they always will), they have to also be extremely efficient in offense and exploit any chances the opposition presents. That was Garry Monk’s plan against Arsenal and that is exactly how they beat Arsenal.

Arsenal fans shouldn’t complain about this tactic either. Arsene Wenger adopted the defense first stance away to West Ham in December. Wenger conceded possession and beat the Hammers 2-1. And as much as we like to complain and cry “boring boring” Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea adopted this tactic time and again in big games and won the League. The big difference between Swansea playing defense first and Arsenal or Chelsea playing defense first is in quality.

Mourinho and Wenger can get away with the defense first tactic because they have the quality up front to exploit spaces and create big chances. It is easier to play defense first when you’ve got Cesc Fabregas pumping in long balls to Eden Hazard who is passing to Diego Costa. When you have quality players like Cazorla, Fabregas, Hazard Costa, and Alexis Sanchez the tactic looks more like you’re trying to win. But it’s a much different prospect when you’ve only got Jefferson Montero and Bafetembi Gomis. Which is what makes it such a gamble for Swansea to attempt.

That leads me to the second fallacy in football; defending first means you’re not trying to win: no one is telling the players not to shoot when they get the chance, no one looks disappointed when they score a goal, and no one is dressing down their teammates when they win the game. They are trying to win, they are just trying to win in the most efficient manner possible. And doing so with lesser quality players.

Wenger, though, after the game claimed exactly that:

We were unlucky I think against a team who refused to play completely and just defended. We couldn’t take advantage of it. They came just to defend with four defenders and six midfielders. If you win – fantastic, if you lose people say, ‘Why do you not play?’. They won so they are fantastic.

Garry Monk saw the result differently:

We could have come here and gone toe-to-toe but they could have hurt us. We didn’t have a fully fit striker. There are times you have to be adaptable. If people don’t like that it’s not my problem. The idea was to get to the last 20 minutes, still be in the game, make our substitutions and try to win.

Both managers are correct in their assessment of the match. Wenger is correct that Swansea came to defend first and that Arsenal couldn’t break them down: Arsenal only managed 5 shots in the first half and didn’t register a shot on goal until the 58th minute. That is simply not good enough. And when Arsenal did get a good shot, late in the game, Alexis and Walcott both struck tamely right at Fabianski. If they had shot the ball almost anywhere else, we would be telling a different story today.

Meanwhile, Monk is correct that if Swansea had tried to go toe-to-toe with Arsenal the Gunners probably would have won the game easily. So, he didn’t do that. Wouldn’t you have done the same thing?

In the aftermath of the match there are many people second-guessing Arsene’s substitutions and I suppose that, the obvious criticism, is warranted to some degree. Walcott for Giroud didn’t make any sense. Walcott is a runner, he needs space to run into in order to terrify defenders. Space in that match, with Swansea sitting so deep, was non-existent.

But for me, the biggest criticism of the match is that Arsenal have two weaknesses which managers are now publicly talking about. The first is that Arsenal lack fitness toward the end of games. Garry Monk isn’t the first manager to say that he wanted to get to the last 20 minutes of the match, Monaco’s manager, Leonardo Jardim, said something similar when he bragged “We knew that Arsenal were always strong in the first half – and a lot less in the second” after the French side beat the Gunners 3-1.

The second weakness is that Arsenal are susceptible to crosses and headers. Arsenal have now conceded 12 of their 34 goals allowed from headers. That’s the worst percentage (35%) of any team in the League. Wenger himself is even aware of the problem and in the post match presser stated:

We knew exactly what could happen. It was not even a break. We were warned of the kind of goal they could score with Montero kicking the ball in the air and we were short in jumping for the ball.

Koscielny has looked strangely uncertain in aerial duels this season and I wonder if his injury is still bothering him. Last season Arsenal allowed just 8 of 41 goals off headers and the season before just 6 of 37, so this season’s sudden increase is a bit worrying.

In the end, the result is especially painful because it means that Arsenal’s chances of finishing in second place are nearly out of our hands. It also makes next Sunday’s match against Man U a must win game. And as Arsenal fans have seen time and again, United will almost certainly “refuse to play completely and just defend”.

That’s entirely their right. It’s Arsene’s job to find a way to break that down.




By Tim Todd, donut without a hole

Al: Oh, this is Anfield, huh? A lovely stadium. Hey baby, you must’ve been something before electricity.

Al: And this kid Sterling? Nice kid, great looking kid. Now I know why tigers eat their young.

Al Czervik: (dancing with Brendan Rodgers) You’re a great manager, you know that? Yeah, wanna make 14 dollars the hard way?

Tottenham Fan: I want a beefburger. No, cheeseburger. I want Champions League football. I want to finish above Arsenal. I want to keep Harry Kane this summer
Arsene Wenger: You’ll get nothing, and like it!

Carl: In the immortal words of Jean Paul Sartre ‘Au revior, Tottenham.’

Carl Spackler: The grass at Wembley is a hybrid. This is a cross, ah, of Bluegrass, Kentucky Bluegrass, Featherbed Bent, and Northern California Sensemilia. The amazing stuff about this is, that you can play 90 minutes on it in the afternoon, take it home and just get stoned to the bejeezus-belt that night on this stuff.

Steven Gerrard: [as he misses a chance at goal in the dying minutes of an FA Cup semi-final, a goal which would have seen him play in the FA Cup final at Wembley on his birthday] OH, RAT FART!

Roberto Mancini: Tevez, get dressed you’re playing football.
Carlos Tevez: No I’m not grandpa I’m playing tennis.
Roberto Mancini: You’re playing football and you’re going to like it.
Carlos Tevez: What about my asthma?
Roberto Mancini: I’ll give you asthma.

Ty: Just be the ball Ramsey. Be the ball. Be the ball. You’re not being the ball, Ramsey
Ramsey: Well, it’s kinda hard with you talking in my ear like that.
Ty: Ok.. just… be the ball.
[Ramsey kicks the ball]
Ramsey: where’d it go?
Ty: Into the lumberyard.

Porterhouse: [watching Newcastle play football, turns to his friends] 50 bucks that Steven Taylor kid picks his nose.
Friends: [you got it, you're on]
Porterhouse: [encouraging Taylor as his finger slowly makes its way toward his nostril] come on kid, that’s it, take your time… [Taylor picks his nose] YEAH!
Friends: [grumbling as they pay the bet]
Lou: Hey, another 50 says he eats it.
Friends: [you got it, you're on. They turn back to watch Taylor contemplate the booger on his finger]
Don’t do it.. come on kid, you can do it… [Steven Taylor eats his booger]
YEAH! Ha ha, what a pig.

Maggie O’Hooligan: Samir Nasri? He’s been plucked more times than the Rose of Tralee, biggest whore on 5th avenue I’ve heard.

Al: [Sees West Ham's third, purple kit hanging in a store] Oh hey, nice kit, I bet you buy a kit like that and you get a free bowl of soup!
[looks over and sees Alex Song in the third kit]
Oh, looks good on you though!

Carl Spackler: A looper, you know, a caddy, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I’m a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? Arsene Wenger, himself. Three time League champion, five time FA Cup winner. The big puffy goose down jacket that looks like a sleeping bag, the grace, grey hair… striking. So, I’m on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one – big hitter, Arsene Wenger – long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what Arsene Wenger says? “If you eat caviar every day it’s difficult to return to sausages.” So we finish the eighteenth and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, “Hey, Wenger, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.” And he says, “Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive two season tickets to Highbury, in heaven.” So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.

Carl: Yaya Sanogo stands on the penalty spot. This crowd has gone deadly silent. He’s got about 11 meters, looks like he’s going to go straight down the middle. Its a Cinderella story. Outa nowhere. Former greengrocier. About to become an FA Cup champion. It looks like a miracle! It’s in the net!

Al: [sees Smails about to tee off] hey Smails, I bet you a pair of match tickets to Arsenal-Chelsea, that’s over $1000, that you slice.
Smails: touting is illegal in England, SIR, and I NEVER slice.
Al: Hey, you can owe me!

Judge Smails: It’s easy to grin
When your ship comes in
And you’ve got the transfer market beat
But the man worthwhile
Is the man who can smile
When Coquelin returns from loan, plays amazing in the DM spot, and Arsenal go on a 10 game win-streak.

James Beattie: [from inside the showers, hears someone, assumes it's his manager Tony Pulis] Tony, will you come loofah my stretch marks?

Mesut Ozil: [sees Alexis Sanchez for the first time as he strides into the club] Madonna with meatballs.


Thanks to @P_Dors and @giantgooner for the inspiration. We will return with more “serious” fare tomorrow.

What… you wanted to talk about Gibbs, and rotation, and why Wenger didn’t play Monreal and Bellerin? Ugh. That stuff is dreadfully boring. Besides, I already talked about that on the Arsenal Review USA podcast – give that a listen tonight and you can hear me complain about Gibbs being 80 yards out of position constantly while pretending that I’m not complaining about Gibbs being out of position constantly.

Man at the match; Chary: Early season Gunners reappear as Alexis to the rescue

Two contrasting pieces of class finishing from Arsenal’s early season saviour Alexis allowed a slightly shaky performance from the Cup holders to overcome Reading and reach a record 19th FA Cup final.

A sunny, but bracing and windy, mid-April Saturday took me back to similar conditions at last years semi-final against Wigan, however pre game there was no thought of it being as problematic today as it was then.

After a few lagers at the Green Man pub to settle the matchday nerves it was a meandering walk to my seat.

Drinks at The Green Man

After ascending many flights of stairs I took my seat and registered that Reading had taken up their full allocation, quite a feat when their average crowds are 14,000 on average, less than half their allotted seats.

Where did the extra 17,500 come from ?

Team line up wise there was no surprise in the Arsenal end when Chesney was in goal however a little surprise at both Gibbs and Debuchy usurping the incumbent full backs.

Red Actions match day banner

A bright start from the Arsenal saw Welbeck almost run onto a through ball successfully and bear down on goal.

The gulf in class between the number 2 premier league side and one from the lower reaches of the Championship began to show as Arsenal applied steady pressure and the Royals back line began to creak.

Gunners turn the screw

While Santi appeared to be having one of his less effective games the Arsenal midfield was palpably of higher quality than their Berkshire opponents with Özzy pulling the strings nicely for Alexis to rampage upfield with the only worry in team play were a few clangers from Gibbs, who was understandably ring rusty.

That aside the first half hour saw Arsenal retain and dominate possession to the extent that the Reading goal’s charmed life finally ran out of luck when a blur of speed from Alexis in the penalty box, after an exquisite floated pass from Özzy resulted in Arsenal taking the lead.

Alexis scores

Thus Arsenal score first and therefore the Gooners at Wembley could relax over half time.

The second half started with as little lethargy from Arsenal and the worrying aspect of both fullbacks deciding to maraud forward at inopportune moments – one such lapse forced Chesney into a poor clearance from a scuffed back pass which led to a throw in. From this throw in down our right came a lofted cross to the other side of the goalkeepers box where Gibbs failed to track Reading’s McCleary who slid in to volley an equaliser.

This woke the blue and white hordes – who to the casual observer would think purchased their home shirts from the English equivalent of a slightly up market Walmart, namely Waitrose – from their first half slumbers.

It was at this point the notion of changing 3 components of your back 5 from the start (which became 4 when the BFG was subbed off for Gabriel) would affect your defensive stability hit home.

Arsenal regrouped and carried on pushing forward and once Olly Giroud was brought on the Reading goal was under more and more threat. Olly’s first intervention was to win a clearance and get a free kick, although Welbeck worked hard he is still not at the polished level of our number 12 just yet.

Frustratingly a combination of the post/crossbar and some great saves by Federeci consigned the semi final to extra time which seemed to suit Arsenal more as our more potent attack would surely penetrate the opposition goal.

As the first half of extra time drew to a close wave after wave of shots and attacks were fruitless when, quite unexpectedly, yet another surging run from Alexis caught the Wembley crowd out.

From where I sat it seemed Alexis had run into a dead end with his back to me as he charged forward yet he turned around and wheeled in celebration. I looked to my fellow Gooners on either side of me, all of us unsure as to whether he had scored or not.

A pause and seconds later, it seemed Alexis had scored so we could celebrate going ahead, at a morale sapping (for the opposition) point – the last moments of the first half of extra time.

Now the Alexis’ chant, a choice which won’t please all I suspect, went up:

Alexis, Alexis babbbyyy

Alexis, Alexis , wooo-ow-oh-oh !

(to the tune of the chorus of “Don’t you want me” by Human League)

The second half of extra time had the supporters cursing our cavalier defending and Reading had quite a few big chances to score, which only a combination of their lack of quality forwards and luck prevented a second equaliser.

The openness of the game meant Arsenal should really have scored a third, with Theo Walcott providing late attacking impetus, however the long suffering Gooner nation were spared another FA Cup semi-final penalty shoot out as the whistle blew and we could look forward to returning to Wembley for the final.

Relieved Arsenal at full time

Final thoughts – we need to play better than we did today at the final if we want to retain the trophy but we every chance to regain our defensive shape until the final but I suspect the choice of goalkeeper may not be an easy one to make as Chesney didn’t inspire confidence today.

Still we are in the final and more silverware beckons while the season is still rising to a decent climax.


By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)