Tag Archives: Arsenal

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Arsenal 4-0 Villa: It’s Been A Long Road To Victory

By Tim Todd, Chief 

Arsenal thumped Aston Villa 4-0 to retain the FA Cup, catapulting Arsenal to an English record 12th FA Cup trophy, making Wenger the joint most successful manager in the competition with 6 of those titles, and becoming the first team to win consecutive FA Cups since Chelsea in 2009-2010. But more than just records, this was a cup which overflowed with the narratives of the season.

This win was the culmination of a season’s work. Much has been made of Coquelin nailing down the starting spot in the defensive midfield role and as well there has been a lot of speculation over weather dropping Szczesny for Ospina dramatically changed the team. There is no question that Coquelin and Ospina are conservative players and that their reserved nature forms a great base for Arsenal’s defense. But this season isn’t marked by Wenger drilling his team to play two banks of four. It should be remembered instead for Wenger changing the entire team’s approach to defense, adding a counter pressing style.

In their yellow and blue kits Arsenal looked like a pack of angry bees swarming any time there was a player invading their half. And like a bee kicking a foreign invader out of the hive they stripped the ball away and started a counter attack. It wasn’t uncommon at all to see three or even four yellow shirts around a lone Villa man with the ball.

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Arsenal have spent all season working on this press. From the start there were signs that the King Bee wanted his men to pressure the opposition but that some players didn’t quite know what to do. Early in the season, against Hull, Wilshere was so distraught that he turned around and yelled at Cazorla to get up and help fill the gaps (illustrated below).

Wilshere-Cazorla

The Spaniard, however, took time to catch on, as did all of his teammates. And that finally paid off here in the final as time and again the Gunners simply surrounded the Villa player and walked away with the ball.

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Villa’s response was to resort to cynical fouling. Each time Arsenal took the ball from them, they would chase down the Arsenal man and foul, trip, or pull the player from behind. Villa were outclassed, their manager completely out of ideas, and they were simply grabbing at anything to try to keep a hold in this game.

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It was pure joy for Gooners to watch as Arsenal dismantled Villa for 90 minutes. Turning defense into offense, the Gunners ripped open the Villa lines: Bellerin played dangerous crosses; what Ozil saw must have looked like a fly’s vision as he chipped, back-heeled, and crossed into the path of the attacking players over and over; Cazorla played like Pirlo, going 12/12 picking out forwards with his perfectly floated long chips; Walcott terrified Villa’s defenders and showed that he can play through the middle; Alexis scored what could be the goal of the season — a moment of brilliance from Arsenal’s brightest star; and despite being far from a finished product, even Coquelin put in a shift (not just his defensive work!) with 3 dribbles to escape pressure and 7/7 long balls, spraying passes all over the pitch and looking to jump start Arsenal’s counter.

It’s been a long road for Arsenal to get this far.

The nadir of the season has to be when Arsenal fans stood on the platform in Stoke and abused Arsene Wenger. Raphael Honigstein even said that he “saw the logic” in such abuse and that “personal abuse might be the way forward.” As in the way forward to force Arsene Wenger out of the club. He was wrong and those fans were wrong: there was another way forward.

The other way forward included trusting the new fitness team to get the key players back and healthy. That way forward included trusting Wenger to change up his team’s preparation for the games. That way forward included waiting for the Arsenal players to figure out what Wenger was asking them to do. And this FA Cup win was the destination of that other way forward.

As an example of the change in preparation, Wenger knew his team are susceptible to crossed aerial attacks. He also knew that Benteke is a beast in the air. Benteke did win 9 aerial duels today but, crucially, only 2 in the danger area. Mertesacker and Koscielny both pressured Benteke on all crossed aerials into the box and kept him quiet.

Szczesny was also clearly trained and ready for this aerial bombardment. From nearly the first minute Szczesny came out to claim whenever Villa tried a cross. He even had a powerful punch at 0-0 to beat Benteke to an open header. His aggression on crosses forced Villa to play them deeper and further away from the danger area. In the end, Szczesny didn’t have much else to do, Villa only registered 2 shots, both from distance and both blocked, but what he did have to do, he did perfectly.

And of course, player fitness has been a problem for a long time. Before this season, Arsenal would typically say that a player would be out for two weeks and have that turn into four weeks and then six weeks before the announcement that the injury was actually season ending. But for the first season ever Arsenal got players back before they were supposed to. And the players look more robust. Alexis in particular looks like he’s made out of some indestructible material, Alexmantium?

Arsenal’s fitness was so perfect today that Wenger was able to start Theo Walcott (throwing a spanner in Tim Sherwood’s plans) and bring on Ox, Giroud, and Wilshere. All of whom have missed large portions of the season through injury.

In beating Villa 4-0 we saw exactly what a fully fit, prepared, and tactically adept Arsenal team can do. It was the complete performance, an example of what a little faith and a lot of hard work can achieve, and a fitting end to the season. But it’s not the end of the road for these players.

The future looks bright for this team. The last time a Wenger team won back to back FA Cups was the season before the Invincibles. I’m not foolish enough to predict that this team can go an entire season unbeaten but given the way they finished this season and the way they have taken to Wenger’s new style of play, I think they could be title challengers.

But as much as they could be title challengers, we know that they are cup winners. Congratulations to the club, the manager, the players, and the fans. For all you went through this season, the injuries, the uncertainty, adapting a new playing style, and fitting in new players, you deserved this.

Qq

Man at the match; Chary: Theo buttresses scoring junks

A swiftly taken, and started, first half hatrick from Theo Walcott ensured the most relaxed atmosphere to an end of season game for an age as the Arsenal set themselves up nicely for the FA Cup final with a comfortable 4-1 win against Pullis’ West Brom.

The expected rotation was there, Gabriel for Kozzer and Walcott for Giroud, in addition to the replacement of Gibbs for Monreal and Jack for Ramsey from the previous game.

However neither Santi nor Alexis got the breather I felt they needed, but then that may have been too much change for a game in which victory was desirable as it would set the mood for the FA Cup preparations.

Only the most doom laden Gooner would have feared losing third spot today as a seven goal swing was required for that to happen and fearing a repeat of the previous weekends performance from the today’s opposition against Chelsea some would argue pre match concerns like this were not entirely invalid.

Surely any Pullis side would be defensively tight, unadventurous and looking to frustrate ?

Panoramic from North Bank

Panoramic from North Bank

Having taken my seat in the north bank lower within a few minutes of the start I could see this was not the case, even though Arsenal were attacking the Clock End, as usual, in the first half and my sub par vision would make details hard to pick out.

West Brom looked to push forward early on and hence left gaps behind them, which after a short time was the wrong tactic.

A threaded ball from Santi found Theo wide right, who then unleashed an unstoppable rising drive that gave the Baggies keeper no chance.

Instant relief and the crowd could relax as the mini goal drought ended less than five minutes into the game.

Distant view after Theo scores

Distant view after Theo scores

And so started the Wembley songs which then continued for the rest of the afternoon.

In addition to the relatively open nature of the game another feature was Jack’s surging runs through the middle of the park, which drew much appreciation from the crowd, one of these led to some interchange with Özil that fired a cross into the West Brom box which Theo efficiently dispatched for his second.

Barely had we stopped cheering Theo’s brace then another attack led to some ping pong n the away penalty area which the Baggie’s defenders failed to clear and a lose ball was rifled in by Jack for the third.

The English core had now scored three goals and the ludicrous bad luck that dogged Arsenal’s goal attempts in the last three games was well and truly banished.

A Pullis side surrendering so tamely didn’t seem right and looking at the man himself he watched impassively, arms folded, without even attempting to look at all concerned.

The only semblance of order was a touch of the Stoke City’s that whenever there was a West Brom goal kick, as the ball looped down, the West Brom player was always giving out a sneaky shove to the Arsenal player attempting the clearing header.

The Baggies still came forward, even at three down, however Berahino’s early threat seemed to subside and all their approach play seemed to fizzle out impotently.

At three nil up a surge of exiting Gooners making for front of the queue for half time food missed Theo’s hat trick goal as Santi completed a move involving Özil, Alexis and Jack by firing across the goal for Theo to tap in a poachers goal.

Sign him up Arsène!
Sign da ting !

Half time came and as the score in the Stoke-Scousers game was flashed up much delirium ensued, clearly Stevie Me’s swansong would not end well as Liverpool were being battered 5-nil by Pullis’ former charges.

After such a breathless, enthralling first half, the second would struggle not to be an anti climax, and a weird starting second half it was.

First off Hector went lunging into the West Brom number 11 and received an unnecessary yellow card and then indecision in the the Arsenal defence led to a corner.

Then, after having looked so secure for nearly all his time in goal, Ospina seemed to flap at the corner and let a header in.

The excessive/ironic celebration of the Baggies fans at this point was the highlight of their day and only a mild irritant to the home support.

With the FA Cup in mind some of Arsène’s prospective starting 11 were taken off, Coquelin and then Theo to take the applause for his masterful hatrick; only the most churlish of us would take his little wave to the west stand as he walked off as a “wave goodbye”.

To my eyes if Villa allow us space to play then Theo should start; if not his replacement today, Olly, should start. Luckily that difficult decision is not mine to make.

Finally Jack was replaced by the Ox and the reception he got proved that his mid season indiscretions had been forgiven and his on field efforts very much appreciated.

The introduction of Ramsay and the Ox didn’t stop the fluidity of the mid field and chances were still being created.

Özil corner

Özil corner

Alexis, as ever, never stopped running and when one of his jinks into the opposition penalty area came to nothing, the crowd showed their appreciation and encouragement with his “Alexis baby” song – I don’t think he knows it his song yet as he just kept his head down while walking back to his position after play restarted.

Cheer up Alexis, every Gooner loves you !

A fifth goal would have been great and a Ramsay shot cannoned off the post as the game drew to a close.

Close from Rambo

Close from Rambo

The end of season feeling was confirmed when the fourth official didn’t bother signalling how much added time there would but when the final whistle blew it was with satisfaction the crowd showed their thanks for the result of the game.

Five points clear of fourth placed ManUre with no annoying Champions League pre qualifier to mess up pre season for the lads, I’d a taken that after our slow League start.

The lap of appreciation started with the handful of West Brom fans remaining holding up a plea on behalf of Sweden for Olsson, which seemed odd as he looked rather clumsy and unathletic on today’s showing, the Swedes must be desperate.

Olsson request

Olsson request

So we wait for the season climax next Saturday for our shot at another trophy; sadly for me I won’t be going as tickets are extremely hard to come by so I’ll thank you the readers for staying with me this season and I’ll see you in the 15/16 season.

Players Lap

Players Lap

UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)

Wenger-Swansea

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.

Qq