Tag Archives: FA Cup

Wenger-jacket

The Arsenal season collapse continues apace

There was a moment in the match against Watford where I started thinking that the formation of Elneny and Coquelin in the middle of the field, with Joel Campbell wide right, was the way forward for Arsenal. Even though Özil was dropping deep to collect the ball and Alexis was basically snuffed out on the left by Nyom the team were creating some gilt-edged chances and playing great football.

Özil’s long passes from deep, a skill he rarely gets to show off for Arsenal because he typically plays high up the pitch, were awe inspiring. Watching the flight of a 40 yard pass that lands with pinpoint accuracy is one of the things I love about football. Another is Joel Campbell’s defense-splitting passes where he goes left and drags the ball back between two defenders. Those moments of brilliance and vision, like the one which set Giroud free in the box, are why I watch the game.

Of course, Giroud was called offside, Campbell missed his big chance, Elneny missed his big chance, and Arsenal went into the half having dominated the game but with nothing to show for it.

So, there I was thinking “this is a good performance so far, I like this formation, Joel Campbell has made huge strides in his game this season” and then it happened. It happened before I could even tweet my thoughts.

Every time this season, at the moment I think that we are clicking as a team, at that moment when I get the warm and fuzzy feeling in my stomach for Arsenal, they go and do something crazy and stupid.

A lot of times it’s because Arsenal are attacking too much, they get hit with a swift counter. This time, they weren’t even attacking. They were defending a throw in.

Troy Deeney was the target. Neither Per nor Chambers wins the header. It was basically a free header. I don’t know what Chambers is doing. I don’t know what Per is doing. I can’t tell who is organizing the defense. But Chambers steps in front of Per, doesn’t even really challenge Deeney for the header and he gets a perfect little flick on to Ighalo who simply turns Gabriel in the six yard box.

At that moment I knew Arsenal weren’t going to win this game. As I had said in my preview, Watford thrive off errors. Give them one chance and they will bury us. And that’s what happened.

Actually, Arsenal gave them multiple errors and Watford probably should have scored three goals. But they only scored two. The second goal was just as poor defending as the first. Deeney wins the ball in the box and then holds the ball up as both Gibbs and Coquelin follow Ighalo into the box and abandon the left back position. It was a carbon copy of the open goal scored against us last week: players abandoning spaces and the opposition saying “oh cool!” as they charge in to smash home an open shot.

I went back and looked at Arsenal’s record when Gibbs starts this season and it is atrocious. Even with the inflated results in the FA Cup, Arsenal score just 1.67 goals per game and concede an abyssal 1.42. Arsenal’s record when Gibbs starts is 5-2-5. Similar story with Gabriel. Again, this is all competitions and just this season, but when Gabriel starts Arsenal score a pathetic 1.5 goals per contest, concede 1.25, and have a 9-2-8 record. In case you’re unaware of normal match notation, it goes W-D-L.

Arsenal were shocked to the core. They gave up after that second goal and even the introduction of Welbeck, Walcott, and Iwobi didn’t produce any results. That is, until Arsenal finally decided to play a little football in the 80th minute.

Welbeck scored, his third goal of the season, off a beauty of a pass from Özil. And Arsenal had the best chance of the game, fall to Welbeck right outside the penalty box, who swiveled, fired, and put his shot into the Fernando Torres hall of shame.

The game was over. Even Iwobi, who I am impressed with more and more every time I see him play, couldn’t rescue Arsenal. And to be rescued meant having to play a replay I might add.

Anger is borne out of frustration. Frustration that our expectations are not being met. The question then is whether the expectations are reasonable. It’s reasonable to expect your child to help with dishes and her homework. Basic things like that. Unreasonable expectations would be for Leicester City to barely avoid relegation one season and win the League the next.

So, what are our expectations for this Arsenal team? For me they keep getting lower and lower. At the start of the season, I thought we could win the League. In the Champions League, I thought we could finish second (we did!). As the season progressed, I thought they could just pull through the injury torn part of the season. And yesterday, I expected them to play the whole game like they did the last 15 minutes, get a win, and advance in the only competition they had any chance of winning.

And now? My expectation is fourth place. But you know what? I don’t think we are going to get it.

Our finishing is now not an anomaly. People keep waiting for it to regress to the mean. I think we have found the mean. And Arsenal’s defending early in the season was tops in the League. That has collapsed into a steaming pile of Tottenham.

Arsenal are in fourth place* but our current form is so bad that we actually have to turn things around in order to stay there. Arsenal have to start winning games and I can’t see any way that’s going to happen.

In fact, I’m expecting a righteous paddling in Barcelona mid-week followed by another in Liverpool when they take on Everton this weekend.

Qq

*They are, in fact, in third place. However, the collapse feels like they are in fourth.

Wenger lifts the FA Cup

Arsenal face tough test as Watford look to set tight and exploit errors

In October Arsenal went to Watford and beat them 3-0 with three goals from Sanchez, Giroud, and Ramsey in 12 hot minutes. That match took place during Arsenal’s zenith. In the same run, the Gunners beat Leicester 5-2, Man U 3-0, and Bayern Munich 2-0. The season lay open before us.

Unlike the 3-0 win, this FA Cup match with Watford takes place during Arsenal’s nadir. Arsenal played four matches, scored just three goals, and conceded seven. Worse, the teams Arsenal played in that four game stretch were Hull (0-0), Swansea (a 1-2 loss), and the worst Man U side fielded in my entire time watching football (a 3-2 loss). Fan unrest is at a fever pitch as measured by the fact that even Arseblog has called for the manager to resign at the end of the season if he doesn’t win the Premier League.

But recently it looks like Arsenal’s fever may have broke. Down to 10 men Arsenal engineered a 2-2 draw against hated rivals Tottenham. And three days later the Gunners beat Hull 4-0 in an FA Cup replay.

Moreover, during Arsenal’s nadir it was a lack of goal scoring that the Gunners struggled with. Sanchez, Ramsey, Walcott, and Giroud have been Arsenal’s most profligate players over the last two months. And all four players scored in the last two matches.

Is this a true turnaround or are we still suffering delusions?

Without question this recent spate of goal scoring has led Arsenal supporters to once again hang their hats on hope and the FA Cup represents Arsenal’s best chances at a trophy this season. The Gunners aren’t out of the Premier League title race, and they are still technically in the Champions League, but both of those competitions would require miracles to win. Losing to Watford would almost certainly mean Arsenal finish the season in search of yet another “fourth place trophy.”

Despite Arsenal’s two game scoring run, Watford are not a “winnable game”. This dismissive attitude is exactly the kind of mentality that Arsenal cannot take into this game.

Watford have conceded zero goals in the FA Cup this season and have won all three of their matches 1-0. This is exactly how Watford play football. In the last eight matches in all competitions, Watford have conceded just four goals.

Watford’s problem is, of course, scoring goals. While they have conceded four, they have also only scored three. Seven total goals in the last eight matches means that this is likely to be a boring 1-0 match.

Or maybe not. This season has been one thing for certain and that is unpredictable. Perhaps we could see another one of those rapid-fire goal outbursts by Arsenal? Or even more unlikely, a huge goal scoring haul by Watford?

If viewers do get a deluge of goals, it will likely be because one or both teams play sloppy football. Watford thrive off mistakes and tend to play error free football, they have only made 13 errors in League play this season. Meanwhile Arsenal are one of the most error prone teams in the League and are second behind Liverpool with 22 errors.

Troy Deeney is a handful and will press Arsenal relentlessly looking for an error. With Ramsey injured, expect to see Coquelin and Elneny play in midfield. Arsenal will have to be especially careful bringing the ball out of the back and Deeney will try to force errors from Arsenal’s two least experienced midfielders. Wenger might be wary of this and start Flamini, much to the fan’s chagrin.

And finally, speaking of the fans… Arsenal have also shown signs of mental weakness in front of the home fans lately. Fans got on the backs of the players during the 2-1 loss to Swansea. And at the end of the match fans booed the team off the pitch.

This competition is a real chance for Arsenal to make history. No team has won three FA Cup trophies in a row since Bolton in 1888. An FA Cup win would also set Arsene Wenger apart as the most successful manager in the competition and Arsenal the most successful club.

That’s getting a bit ahead of things, first, Arsenal have to beat a very tough Watford.

Qq

Olivier Walshenal to the Ram

Arsenal blasted their way into the FA Cup quarter finals after a convincing four-goal ransacking of Hull City. Well, maybe it wasn’t “convincing”. And I’m not so sure about blasting. But Arsenal did get into the quarter finals and host Watford this weekend thanks to four goals from Giroud and Walcott.

Hull did the thing that everyone knew they were going to do and sat back in two banks of four, waiting for Arsenal to either not score or not remember how to play transition defense. Arsenal didn’t do either. And while I know that’s a lot of negatives, it’s actually very positive. Arsenal won, scored, and didn’t concede a goal.

Oddly, after a hard fought game at the Emirates, Hull looked like a team going through the motions. They had one shot on target all game until Huddlestone’s hopeful crack in the 90th minute and they made 9/14 tackles. Remember in the first meeting they played the exact same type of formation pressed all over Arsenal and made 21/31 tackles. Same goes for the other “hustle” numbers. From what I saw, they basically gave Arsenal an easy ride yesterday.

You could also see how switched off they were on Arsenal’s first goal: Meyler’s pass to the center was soft and stupid. Giroud, to his credit, wasn’t switched off and pounced on the ball for a shot which nutmegged the keeper.

Hull did have one good shot in the match: Meyler in the 30th minute. It was a set play cross, Arsenal tried to clear the ball but an almighty scramble happened instead and when the ball fell to Meyler in the top of the D he was all alone and took a speculative shot. Ospina made a nice save because the ball took a deflection right in front of him, so the reactions were “spot on.”

It was a terribly boring first half. Arsenal kept getting counters that were snuffed out by the poor play of their two center forwards. I hear they had a clear the air conversation with Cech, Mertesacker, Rosicky (he lives), and Arteta. But judging by the first half, with players throwing their hands up in frustration each time an attack broke down, I’d say I don’t know if it helped.

Theo Walcott, and I know you’re going to say “that’s harsh, he scored two goals”, looked like a player who is still learning how to play football. In 7 days he will be 27 years old, he is still lightning fast, but he baffles everyone with his runs to nowhere.

As in the video linked above, in that first half the interplay between Giroud and Walcott was just weird: Giroud was trying to cross for Walcott, Walcott was trying to take corners and they were some of the poorest corners ever taken, and it was just not working.

Even Iwobi, who finished with an assist to his name, struggled in that first half. You can see that he’s going to be a real star on a team that plays counter attacking football because in that first half every time he got the ball he drove forward at Hull with a dribble at speed. But his passes didn’t quite come off, each final ball was just slightly too close to a defender or put into the wrong space for the attacker.

The best moment of the first half was when Gibbs Rocked the Crossbar. Elneny played the ball back to Gibbs, who was covering for the counter, and the fullback uncorked a 25 yard curler that hit the crossbar. It left me wondering why Walcott is taking corners when you have Gibbs killing it like that.

 

Maybe they had another clear the air meeting at halftime, because the second half was markedly better for Arsenal. Hull still didn’t attack but at least they also didn’t play defense. Hull did nearly equalize on a counter attack in the 65th minute. The first shot was blocked, then collected by a Hull attacker, who crossed the ball perfectly, all the Arsenal defenders were caught napping, but the header flashed just wide of the post.

After that scare Arsenal reverted to more traditional roles of Walcott crossing to Giroud, rather than the other way round. Walcott’s cross was headed but the clearance fell to Giroud, who again to his great credit was awake, and he poked in the ball for Arsenal’s second.

Walcott then went on a tear! A tear I tell you! Like when you tear up some paper. Because you’re really good at tearing paper! Now with Walcott suddenly running into spaces that make sense, Campbell played an inch perfect ball for him, through several defenders and Theo finished.

And Theo also scored the fourth. Iwobi made a great tackle in midfield, collected the ball, turned at the defense, dribbled to create space, and dumped the ball off to Theo. Walcott took a shot that was going straight at the keeper but luckily took a deflection and went in at the near post. I guess the lesson there is shoot more.

So Arsenal won and get to play Watford. It’s good to get a win under our belts because it feels like this team hasn’t won in a decade (it was actually just 3 weeks ago). It’s also positive that Walcott and Giroud both scored. That means that between Ramsey and Alexis against Spurs and now Walcott and Giroud against Hull, all of Arsenal’s most profligate players have scored goals this week.

And while there was a big element of luck to the game and to their goals it’s always good to have your forwards finishing.

Oh yeah, Ramsey pulled something after not really warming up before coming on the pitch. And the Wenger Out Brigade unfurled their banner at the end. But none of that is really news.

The news is that those banner dudes will only pay £30 to go to Hull City and unfurl a banner next year as all Premier League clubs have put a price cap on away tickets. Well, £30 for the seats and probably £100 in travel. Cheap admission to be a standard bearer.

Qq