Tag Archives: Theo Walcott

Man at the match; Chary: Birmingham Villa swatted aside by Mesut and Santi

A solitary first half goal, well taken by Olly Giroud from a sublime Özil flick, was no portent for the avalanche of goals in the second half as a very ordinary Villa side capitulated with four more conceded in the second half, the fifth the cherry on the scoring cake.

With Saturday’s results all going for the teams around the Arsenal the was no margin for error and an out of sorts Villa looked like the ideal opposition.

The Arsenal pre match warm up

The Arsenal pre match warm up

My seat in the North Bank lower was in front of the warm up area for the playing members of the squad where Chesney, while firing in corner kicks for Ospina to collect, seemed to have a chastened look on his face.

The away support were no doubt hoping for a repeat of the corresponding fixture last season where the resulting home defeat led to much angst amongst the Gooner faithful.

The Birmingham Villa contingent

The Birmingham Villa contingent

Selection wise the expected unavailability of Alexis seemed to cause less consternation than it would have done earlier in the season, a reflection of the current better squad depth with Theo and Özil starting and Monreal replacing Gibbs at the back – a very strong looking side and a healthy bench, with possibly only the substitute striker department being inexperienced, Welbeck instead of Chubby Akpom would have been preferrable.

Soon after kick off a chance fell to Theo and as is the case nowadays the modern day supporter displays schitzoid tendencies by screeching with derision when a player doesn’t bury every chance, as a voice from behind me indicated. To be fair Walcott did show signs of rustiness as later in the game he would race to the touch line to keep a ball in but he approached the ball from the wrong side to scoop it back in, a basic error.

Another voice would say:

“This lot are rubbish, we should be getting at least four against them”

In comparison to Theo’s awkwardness Özil was gliding around the pitch with his trademark panache and pretty soon a lofted ball from the centre landed in his ambit, then a sublime flick from Mesut and Olly collected then slammed home to open the scoring.

Long distance view of Olly's goal

Long distance view of Olly’s goal

With the number of crucial goals the big Frenchman has been scoring lately the English media will have to tone down their accusation of him being a flat track bully; yes it was against lowly Villa but the first goal in any game is crucial.

After conceding fairly early Vila had to step up the pace of their game and then Coquelin’s worth came into view – he provided a robust presence in the middle of the pitch which Arsenal have lacked for a while. His tackling was generally clean and on the spot even if he may concede a few fouls but in the hurly burly of any midfield this almost inevitable.

While Coquelin’s bustling presence was a new pleasure to behold, a not so new one was Santi’s dazzling close control, where he seems to pluck lofted passes to him out of the air and caress the ball with ease.

The only Villa players that caught my eye were for naughty infringements – Benteke (as slow and as lumbering a striker as you will ever see) barging Kozzer as he was about to head a Villa cross clear, and another barge from the rotund Villa number 5 on Ramsey as he was jumping into a header.

Özil continued to ghost across all areas and, with Santi, pick and tease apart Villa’s defence to the extent that as half time approached the Ashburton Grove crowd felt the Arsenal should have been two or three up, with only some good saves by the bald Villa keeper and the woodwork preventing the half time lead from being greater.

The Villa manager must have had the hair dryer out as for about ten minutes after the start of the second half the away team actually pressed forward with purpose and Ospina’s calm, composed keeping continued to shine through.

Every Villa cross, and forward foray, caused little concern amongst the home support as the feeling was that Ospina would deal with it – no panic, just unflappability.

This being the first time I’d seen our Colombian keeper I hadn’t heard the call from the Gooner support when he would take a goal kick:

Osss-peeeeeeeeee-na !

A tad childish, but good fun and also something that may make Chesney grimace at the thought of how popular his counterpart has become so quickly.

As Villa saw no way past the twin shields of Coquelin and Ospina a breakaway attack led to Olly threading a ball through to Özil who calmly slotted home for the second. One goal and one assist already and our record signing looking well on the way to a return to form.

With his mid field partner in wizardry, Santi Cazorla, Özil weaved a spell on the Villa players that left them chasing shadows to the extent that somehow the BFG on one occasion found himself driving into the Villa penalty box and slotting over a cross that just eluded the Arsenal strikers – Beckenbauer-esque !

Santi and Özil bamboozle

Santi and Özil bamboozle

Again Santi found another perfect through ball and Theo ran onto it and finished instinctively, the best way for our number 14 and the match was safe at three nil to the good guys.

As expected the same voice who admonished Theo for fluffing the early chance was singing “Theo, Theee-oo!” the loudest of all just then.

With the game won a flurry of substitutions saw Tomas “Rockin” Rosicky and Chubby Akpom come on, the latter to replace Giroud who was by then visibly wincing from a first half collision with the Villa back line.

Having seen little of Chubby it was interesting to see what he brought to our attack. On the basis of today’s cameo a more controlled version of Sanogo’s energy maybe.

That drive saw him latch onto a pass into the penalty area and to my eyes he appeared to take a heavy first touch but somehow the Villa keeper was deemed to have fouled him after he lost control of the ball. Having had more than our fair share of penalties denied we were all happy to take one that probably wasn’t deserved.

Up stepped our man of the moment Santi (who had received the PFA player of the month award before kickoff) and to rub salt into the wound the Villa keeper got a hand to the penalty but only succeeded in parrying the ball onto the post and seeing it ricochet into the net, four nil.

A cheeky chap in the big screen video control room then showed a close up of the Villa keeper kicking the post in frustration after Santi wheeled off in celebration to much mirth in the home support.

A final flourish was the fifth goal, where after the usual Arsenal succession of probing passes around the penalty area a pass allowed Bellerin to run onto the ball in a line towards the goal and it seemed he’d decided, “enough of this fannying around, I’ll slam this one”.

Hector makes it 5

Hector makes it 5

A well deserved debut goal and the BFG’s usual applause for the crowd was in the upbeat mood befitting a thumping five nil victory.

The BFG thanks the gooners

The BFG thanks the gooners

While the opposition was not especially testing it was a resounding win that sets us up nicely for a trip to the swamplands of the Middlesex reprobates next weekend.

Last word to a couple of Villa fans overheard in their high-pitched whingeing Brummy accents in the queue for the station:

“I thought they’d be shit without Sanchez”

One man team? Emphatically not.

UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)

Öoops Özzy

Man at the Match, Chary: Jack gets the job done

A goal in each half, from a Jack Wilshere in smoking hot form, meant the Arsenal finished their work for the evening on top of their Champions League group although not quite guaranteed qualification into the next round.

Many of the Ashburton Grove faithful had barely settled into their seats (yours truly included) when the first home attack of the night caught the French team napping. I was seated in the lower tier behind the goal in the clock end and had a close up view of Jack opening his body and curling the quick fire first goal beyond the flailing keeper. Were Marseille Totn**b in disguise as they conceded so quick?

Are you Totn**mb in disguise?

“Are you Totn**mb in disguise?”

Any hopes of an upset in the away end seemed to die right there and while they carried on singing pretty much the whole way through, apparently aided by one Joseph Anthony Barton who was in their ranks, there was little sustained interest in how the game was going from the travelling support.

That said it appeared to me that Marseille were very much snapping into tackles, their midfielders seeming to have an elastic/bouncy running and tackling style, and harrying Arsenal in possession with the good guys fighting back to gain possession energetically.

While there was not much of note from the Marseille fans, an ill-advised decision to wear what looked like a team onesie from the Marseille coach caused me much mirth.

Team Onesie

Team Onesie

There was also much laughing at the referee’s wardrobe malfunction accompanied by wolf whistles when he his shirt was being seen to.

Selection wise Monreal for Gibbs while Arteta and Cazorla benched were the only changes with Jack and Flamini replacing them.

The presence of Flamini was the main reason that, in contrast to seasons gone by, a one goal lead was seen as very slender and we would concede a goal to a counter attack. I noticed that straight after an attack had failed or finished our returning ex-Marseille man would wave his arms to his team mates and shout for them to get back to their positions and not dwell on the missed chance.

THAT is the sort of protection he has been giving the back four; think how many times in the past after shot was saved by the opposition the goalie would bowl out the ball and the opposition forwards would run through the middle of the pitch unhindered. Not so much now thanks to Flamini and a more responsible defensive attitude from all midfielders.

This, to my eyes, accounts for the more relaxed attitude of the home crowd with just a goal lead to defend and hence the atmosphere being less fractious than in the past.

So when Özzy had his penalty saved, note not “missed his penalty”, their groans were minimal.

Öoops Özzy

Öoops Özzy

In fact, as the penalty incident was just in front of the block I was in, most of the crowd thought it was outside the area and we had the rare feeling of getting a penalty when none was deserved rather than the familiar rage when we are usually denied stonewall penalties.

Giroud had various chances to double the lead in the first half but the ball didn’t quite sit up for him yet the crowd would still sing his song after a failed shot. His tireless work in the offensive and defensive parts of the field accounts is probably why any of his fluffed shots aren’t followed by groans.

Half time arrived and the crowd happy although wistfully wishing perhaps a few more goals for the good guys would have been nice.

You don't get these at Shite Hart Lane

Half time

With their onesie clad managers words no doubt ringing in their ears the Marseille players seemed to play with more urgency straight after the restart however Arsenal’s slightly more combative tackling approach, I don’t recall ever seeing quite so many sliding tackles from us, gradually eroding away the Olympique de Marseille’s bright start to the second half.

I recall one instance where Tomáš Rosický sprinted across the pitch to dispossess a Marseille midfielder and it was just as well he got the ball as it could have been taken for a lunge otherwise.

With arsenal attacking the end far away from me there was not much action at the Clock end in the second half, except for a few smart saves from Chesney, who seems to be having consistently better games this season.

Another player who had a good game was Nacho man Monreal.

He can defend half the pitch in his own

Lone Nachoman

It’s easy pick out how well he provides width on our left flank for attacks but his goal line clearance to keep a clean sheet, after Chesney’s partial block from a Gignac shot spun up and over the Pole towards the goal, was excellent defensive work.

I could see his eyes follow the arc of the ball, rather like a cricketer in the outfield waiting to catch a lofted shot, as it fell towards the goal so he could volley it clear. All defensive units like a clean sheet and thanks he got from the BFG and Chesney was proof of that.

Özzy seemed to put aside his penalty mishap and pull the strings more in midfield leading to his part in Jack’s second goal. Yes, he is having a little dip in form but still his importance the team cannot be underestimated, every team shudders a but when they see him prowling the midfield, and opposition supporters fear him.

In my previous game, the Capitol One Cup game versus Chelsea, the obnoxious Chelsea fans stopped their vile chanting when Özzy came on as a sub and seemed to be caught by surprise.

Arsenal bringing on a superstar? No, they can’t do that. (That game may have been lost but the Chelsea crowd reaction was something I’d not seen before and worth pointing out).

As the game wound down Theo and Santi came on for Jack and Rosický while after Marseille had already brought on Valbuena and Thauvin.

The new defensive responsibility was further exemplified by Santi tussling to get the ball off Valbuena; the sight of those two sprinting for the loose ball looked like Sports day at Oompah Loompah school.

The game petered out and the crowd were happy at full time with the result with confusion over whether the Dortmund- Napoli result, when it was read out, was good or bad news.

However all agreed Mourinho’s Chavs defeat at the hands of Basel was hilarious.

Onwards and upwards, UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)

walcott-mask

Arsenal 2013-2014 season preview: Theo’s gilt chance

Welcome to Arsenal’s Premier League Season Preview. Tomorrow is the first game of the new season and Arsenal are live here in the States on NBCSP for the 7amkickoff. In case you’re not excited by the upcoming season, let me take the whip you’ve been using to beat the dead horses of Suarez and Gustavo and use it to instead whip you into a frenzy over the new season.

First, I will break down who the competitors are for the top four spots. Then I will give my analysis of Arsenal and hopes for players in the second section. And finally, we’ll save transfers for last and I will write that section in moon runes which can only be read by the waning crescent moon on September 1st.

Chelsea, City, United, Spurs
No matter what you think of the man personally, you have to admit that Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho is no fool. Inheriting a team which played a torrid schedule of world football last season (Petr Cech played 65 games for Chelsea and nearly 80 for club and country) and which struggled in the League and the cups owing to that schedule. Without all that distraction this year, Mourinho will make sure that Chelsea come out the gates strong.

He is often thought of as a defense-first style manager owing to his being the one who first said he would “park the bus” against Arsenal. But who wouldn’t want to park the bus when you have speedy counter attacking midfielders like Hazard, Mata, Oscar, de Bruyne, and new boy Andre Schurrle? Rumor has it that Jose is ready to hand Lukaku a starting berth in the center forward role, which means that he will basically have the exact same formula for the first Chelsea team he used to steamroll the League: conceding just 12 goals, losing just once, and gathering an incredible +79 GD on the way to a 95 point tally. For me, Chelsea are the favorites to win the League.

One of the things that I keep hearing people say has been overlooked but which actually hasn’t been overlooked is how Man City have quietly brought in several new faces at the start of the season and strengthened what was already a very strong squad. In case you were one of the poor souls who had overlooked that, you’re welcome. City spent £90m “quietly” to land Jovetic, Negredo, Fernandinho, and Jesus Navas. They also made a bit of a surprise move and landed Manuel Pellegrini, former Malaga manager, to head up their squad. Pellegrini is a highly regarded manager who spent one year at Real Madrid with the most expensive team ever assembled and… was sacked at the end of the season after failing to win any trophies owing as much to Barcelona’s dominance as to an embarrassing cup exit to 3rd division Alcorcon. In fact, Pellegrini has never won a major trophy. Still, City have, on paper, one of the strongest squads in the League: Kompany is my favorite center half, Zabaleta is underrated, Yaya Toure is one of the best midfielders in the world, and while Aguero is coming off a bad year you’d be somewhat foolish to think that will continue. They will be a strong team.

Manchester United’s appointment of David Moyes was a breath of stale air. In United, English football have a rock that they can tie off to and be secure in the knowledge that things never change. United will play some sort of 4-4-2, they will try to score goals from wide positions, they will whip in crosses, and they will score from corners. Praised for what he did with limited resources, Moyes managed to put together a competitive Everton side on a shoestring budget. But in all those years at Everton, Moyes only made one cup final appearance, and got Everton to Europe just once. I used to be a big Moyes supporter, clouded in my judgement because I really do like Everton, but Moyes has never proven himself and his record against top four clubs (he has won just 15 games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Man U and lost an incredible 59 times) speaks volumes. The thing you will hear people say is that “they are champions” and that’s true, under Sir Alex Ferguson’s guidance, Manchester United won yet another title with a team with a core group of 5 players over the age of 30. Players that Moyes cannot seem to replace, in a system which demands a certain style of football, playing in front of a fan base that is used to winning every trophy. The stage is set for a huge tragedy as Moyes falls on his knife in cold December and pizza face takes back over to rescue them from 5th place.

And then Tottenham. The upstarts who want to gain entrance to the top of the table and who have lavishly for years trying to get there but who will live or die by the left boot of just one man: Gareth Bale. Bale accounted for 47% of Tottenham’s points last season. He won them 11 games. And while they have been excellent at collecting parts (unlike Arsenal) they are not good on the whole: defensively, they are very weak despite so many oohing and ahhing over Vertonghen and Lloris. It really all just comes down to one player at Spurs, Bale. And I say that regardless of the fact that they landed one of the tubs I’ve been thumping for Arsenal to get for a year and a half in Ettienne Capoue. Without Bale, they will not finish in the top 6 much less the top four. With him, they are contenders for 4th.

The Arsenal

Arsenal finished in fourth place last season by just one point on the back of a run of 10 matches unbeaten which started immediately after losing to main rivals for 4th place, Tottenham 2-1. Moreover, that run started after Arsene Wenger dropped the captain and starting center half Thomas Vermaelen and benched keeper Wojciech Szczesny.

But that narrative about Arsenal’s season propped up by a 10 match run is actually a bit thin. The changes had started in January, right after back to back losses to Man City and Chelsea. From that point on Arsenal played 16 matches, won 12, drew 3 and lost just one. Those 16 matches account for 42% of the season but 39 of Arsenal’s 73 points, 53% of the total haul. Moreover, Arsenal conceded just 11 goals in that run, regaining an early season defensive nous which saw Arsenal tout the second best defensive numbers in the League finishing with just 37 goals allowed. That run of 16 matches represented an incredible 29% of Arsenal’s total goals conceded.

Everyone hailed Arsenal’s pressing defense at the time but worryingly, by my count, in that run of 16 games Arsenal still allowed a normal number of gilt chances for the opposition. Instead of denying the opponents good shots what happened was that the opposition failed to convert. All season, I counted 53 gilt chances wasted by the opposition and 14 scored. 11 of those gilt chances were scored before the run of 16. That means, prior to the run of 16, Arsenal’s opposition scored 11/40 gilt chances and after the run they scored 3/27. To put this another way Arsenal allowed about 1.8 gilt chances per game before the run and 1.7 and the opposition scored one every two games before but just one every 5 after. In fact, in that final run of 10 matches, the opposition created 12 gilt chances and scored zero.

This probably matches well with your recollection of the final 10 games as most Arsenal supporters were on pins and needles as the defense let players like Lukaku have cracks at Arsenal’s goal from very good scoring positions. Most of that is down to the quality of the opponent but not all: Berbatov missed, van Persie put a wide open header softly into Szczesny’s arms, and Michu missed in the Swansea away match I attended.

Looking at this positively I have to hope that form follows from results. In other words, the good results of the final run emboldens the players. Giving them confidence in their abilities as defenders. In fact, that’s all we can ever ask of our players is that they get better every season, learn from their mistakes, and grow. Szczesny, in particular, made some great saves to deny some of those players and save Arsenal points. So, I will be looking for his growth over the coming season and whether or not Arsene can find the right mix in midfield which will help to shield the back four and limit the number of these gilt chances the opposition are sometimes gifted.

We know that finishing begets finishing is often the case with forwards and the Arsenal forwards were actually quite rapacious in the final four games, finishing 6 of 8 gilt attempts and hitting the woodwork twice (both Walcott). I have tipped Walcott to have a real break out season this year and I stand by that. He is one of only a very few “double-double” players, guys who can get you double figures in both assists and goals over the course of a season. I also think Giroud has room to grow in terms of both his ability to hold up the ball and in turning to attack the opposition when he does have the ball. He is often decried as a player who doesn’t score away goals because he got just one in League play (10 home) but in the other cup competitions he scored 5/6 goals away and against teams like Bayern as well. Giroud’s overall problem last season wasn’t home or away it was putting away gilt chances. By my count, in League play Giroud scored just 2 of 23 gilt chances and hit the woodwork 6 times. If gilt chances are the bread and butter of forwards, he’s getting plenty of butter, he just needs to get some more bread.

In midfield Arsenal have the return of Jack Wilshere. Arteta had a fantastic season, Ramsey was great, though needs to work on finishing, and Cazorla is the standout player of the club: our modern equivalent of Dennis Bergkamp, running the show from the number 10 spot. But it’s Jack who is a threat from so many different ways. His dribbling ability (58%) is outstanding considering where he operates in the Arsenal lineup and he’s another one of the Arsenal players who tackles in the high 80% range (85% and Ramsey is 90%). What I think we’d all like to see from Jack this season is how well he and Ramsey get along in midfield.

Ramsey is a pure runner and will make himself available for his teammates to make a pass to all day every day. He works very well with Arteta then who is always looking for a teammate to pass to. But Jack is more attack minded and somehow the two of them struggled on the pitch both in terms of shielding the defense and in terms of generating offense. This partnership needs to grow in order for Arsenal to have a successful League campaign.

Injuries too could play a major part, they have for every season since moving to the Emirates. Arsenal really need everyone fit and 100% ready to play this season. Though, to that end, we are off on the wrong foot with Arteta and others either out or “struggling to pass fit”.

Transfers

Nope, Arsenal haven’t added anyone except for Sanogo. In fact we have been rejected by Higuain, rebuffed by Liverpool, and Luiz Gustavo slapped us in the face today choosing Wolfsburg over Arsenal. This is a problem with an Arsenal team who haven’t won anything for a while shopping on the top shelf and looking for bargains. Players simply do not want to join us unless they are of the Luis Suarez variety (read: desperately in need of a makeover). Moreover, we seem to be stuck on this idea of “valuation” and players meeting our “valuation”. The reality is that you as fans and Arsene Wenger as manager of this club need to throw away this old notion of “valuation”. Teams and players know that they have us over the barrel. Top players like Lewandowsi will not make the switch from a Borussia Dortmund side who were runners up in the Champions League to an Arsenal side that looks happy to win 4th place every year. At least they won’t do that without a significant incentive. I still feel confident Arsene Wenger is going to add two players. However, I grow less and less confident that they will be the top top quality that we always say we buy and more of the Gervinho quality. But hey, there’s uhhh, 16 days left in the transfer window who knows what gemtacular bargains Arsene might find?

Conclusions

I do believe that Arsenal have a strong core of young players who, with a few additions of actual quality, could push on and really give the Chelseas and Citys a run for the title. However, without some additions this thin squad will not only look threadbare but given the injury history of some of the main players might start to look like the decks of the Marie Celeste. But first match is tomorrow, so we go to war with the players we have, not the players we wish we had. And no matter what happens or how I feel about the transfer season, I really do love the Arsenal and will cheer on anyone in red and white tomorrow.

See you, then, at 7am. For the kickoff.

Qq