Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal: Preview and Starting Eleven

September 13, 2011

I really like it when there is football every two-three days. You always have something to look forward to and it also means that Champions League is back. Champions League football officially kicks off today with the group stages and we start our campaign away at Dortmund. Last season, we started off the Champions League brilliantly with three wins and in the process notching up 13 (or was it 14!) goals. What happened after that is not a good memory and I don’t want to go over it. And I don’t expect the same amount of goals this time; I would, however, be content with topping the group. Before that, we have to play six games though, with the first one today.

Our opponents are the defending Bundesliga champions, who themselves are going through a not-so-good patch. Having recorded only two wins in five games this season, including a loss to a newly promoted side, they might be low on confidence. However, they shouldn’t be taken lightly under any circumstance because when they play, they mean business. They are an attacking side who are not afraid to pass the ball around and go for goal. They are also great at defending having only conceded 22 goals last season, lowest in their league. So, whatever they are going through right now, we will have to be at our best to get the three points.

Their star player and main creator is Mario Gotze, who has both trickery and pace. Being on the radar of top team at the age of 19 is proof enough that he is quality. Our defenders will have to be on their toes to stop him. Wenger knows this as he spoke about him in his press conference.

“He is the provider. He is the one who had the best assists in Germany and is the most dangerous player. He links well with his strikers and is the player we have to keep quiet. The best way to keep him quiet is for us to attack.”

Attacking is one option. But we will have to do some exceptional defending against him. Mertesacker can be an advantage here having played against him before. However, I believe Koscielny is the key as he is great at closing down opponents. Even Song can make a difference in the middle of the park but he will have to be careful in not giving too many free kicks.

If we can keep the ball effectively, we will keep them on the back foot and in the process get chances to score. Arteta had a decent start at the weekend and I am sure he will be more at home today. He has the ability to create openings, only our forward line has to make sure when the chances arrive, we take them. We can always use the flanks and with Gervinho back, van Persie will have the added support. Lately, we haven’t been scoring many goals but that might be due to the pressure and having won the game on weekend, I feel there will be goals from us today.

Coming to the team news, we are going to be without Ramsey, the latest to join the injured list, and Rosicky, failing to recover in time from his knee injury. Nobody has joined us from the injured players but we have Song and Gervinho returning after missing the game against Swansea through suspension.

Considering this, I expect the same backline that was out against Swansea. In the middle, I would go with Song, Arteta and Benayoun and bring on Frimpong in the second half, if need arises. As a team, we look more balanced with Song in the defensive role due to his work rate and passing. I do have a feeling that Wenger will start with Frimpong in the defensive role with Song shifted ahead of him and Benayoun on the bench.  

Upfront, I would go with van Persie flanked by Walcott and Gervinho.  I would have started with Arshavin but I don’t think he would be there physically having played a good game on the weekend.

Probable starting eleven: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Benayoun, Arteta, Song, Walcott, RVP, Gervinho

It won’t be an easy game of that I am certain. However, I do expect a good performance form our team. A win would be great but I won’t mind a draw as they seem the toughest opponent in our group. I don’t expect clean sheets on either side because both play attacking football and there will be goals today. We will have to make sure that we score as many or one better.

Having won the game against Swansea, the team will have some of the pressure lifted. If we can follow it with a win away from home, it will really give us a boost for the EPL games coming up. Wenger was right when he said this on Monday (we do need to build up our confidence!)

“It would create a certainty that we have a good chance to go through. For us to get a positive result tomorrow night would be a big lift. It’s a good opportunity for us to get positive vibes and we need a bit of that. Every team, no matter how good they are, needs confidence and I believe my team needs that at the moment.”

Whatever the result, we can be sure of one thing though, it will be an exciting game. So, from wherever you watch, enjoy it.

Have a good day!

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Arsenal 1 – 0 Swansea: Thoughts and Player Ratings

September 11, 2011

So after a bad start to the season, we finally recorded our first win of the season, albeit some luck, a top class strike by Arshavin and some good keeping by Szczesny. As for the rest, it was a so and so performance.

We started off very brightly with Arteta creating the first opportunity in the opening minutes for Ramsey to miss the target. Soon after wards, Szczesny produced a great save to keep the score level. Arshavin then created an opportunity for Walcott only for the Swans to keep the ball form crossing the line after some good defending and keeping. The goal for us came in an unexpected fashion, when lady luck for the first time sided with us. It was a mistake by Vorm, Swans keeper that allowed us to take the lead. It was a great first time finish form the Russian from a very tight angle. In between all this, there wasn’t anything of worth created by both teams.

The second half was where we again faded as we have been doing lately. Except a solo effort by van Persie and a header by Chamakh late on, I don’t remember any decent shots on goal by us. Swansea on the other hand had a good second half. They did create a few openings but due to lack of quality upfront couldn’t score. They managed to hit the cross bar from a free kick. They also came close to scoring in the dying minutes of the game when Szczesny made a mistake only for the Swan’s player to miss the target.  Overall, the final 15-20 minutes were the worst for us. We didn’t concede though and the three points were secured, which matters the most. I will take three points any day over a good performance. However, we do need to improve our play if we want to seriously challenge for a top four finish.

As far the performance was concerned, I was always expecting a win, however, wasn’t expecting that we will go through the same scenario that we have witnessed in almost all the final games last season. I was rather hoping for a win with some margin. And that is why we need lots of improvement to really secure our place in the top four this season. It is also safe to say that had this been any other team, the score would have been different. It is going to be a very tough battle this season but we have taken the first stepsin the right direction and we can only go forward form here.

We need to take encouragement from the positives. Against Swansea we kept a clean sheet and ended with three points and 11 men on the pitch, something which we haven’t done till yesterday this season in the league. However we must not turn a blind eye on the weaknesses.

The problem, at the moment, is that we seem to have lost our creativity upfront. Is it our style of play or our formation or the fault lies with our players? I don’t know the answer but something needs to be done ASAP. How will it be solved is one tough question that Wenger needs to answer and rectify and he must do it quickly.

Much has been talked about changing the formation and even though I am a big supporter of the formation we are playing now, I am coming to the conclusion that it’s time now to change back to 4-4-2,  just to mix things up a bit. Van Persie does look isolated upfront and another striker will really help his game to prosper.

We also need to increase the pace of our passing because right now we are slow in releasing the ball. Our decision making in the final third is also not good. Our final ball lacks intent, pace and accuracy and so the opposition doesn’t have a hard time defending against us.

As for the new signings, they all had a decent debut for us. Arteta certainly looked at home with his passing and movement. However, all of them need to increase their pace. It is too early to say how much Arteta and Benayoun will help us in getting what Fabregas and Nasri could do but I am encouraged by the signs. As it was their first game, I hope they will gel in with our style of play quickly.

In conclusion, we got what we wanted. Performance will surely come in time as we have a few players out injured and the new players need time to adjust to our play. Technically we are in the building up process again, so we will have to be patient and make do with the points secured which are going to matter in the end.

This game is done and dusted and now the focus must turn to Tuesday, where a more formidable force awaits us.

Coming to player ratings:

Szczesny: (7) Made an excellent save early on in the game and commanded his box excellently throughout. Brought into action late on where he missed a ball only for the Swan player to miss the target from a few yards out.

Sagna: (6) Nothing special from the Frenchman. Kept things simple at the back, however, didn’t contribute much in attack.

Mertesacker: (6.5) He was calm, composed and kept things simple. Made a couple of great tackles and his positioning was also good. Does need to increase his pace though.

Koscielny: (7) Solid game from him. Made some good interceptions especially one at the end of the first half.

Gibbs: (6) The usual performance from him. Bad positioning and decision making at the back. He did make a few good tackles but he needs to improve a lot. Upfront he was great as he showed with his cross to Chamakh in the final minutes of the game.

Frimpong: (5) Nothing fancy from the youngster. Misplaced lots of passes but did provide decent support to defense. Still a long way to go for him.

Arteta: (6.5) Good debut for him. Started well and produced some excellent through balls. His passing, movement and distribution of the ball was good but he too needs to increase his pace. Disappeared somewhat in the second half as most of our team does. It was his first game for Arsenal so I am not going to be too judgmental.

Ramsey: (5.5) A decent performance from the Welshman after a weak start. Missed a good opportunity in the opening minutes and he was involved in the move that led to Chamakh’s header. He does give an aura of being lazy at times with his passing and movement. I have been saying after every game that he needs to take more responsibility and he needs to come out of the shell when he plays for us.  

Arshavin: (7.5) Great game! Looked lively, made some great runs and was always involved in the game. A great finish scoring the only goal of the game too. Back tracked a lot (by his standards) too.  Need more of this every weekend from him.

RVP: (6) Had one excellent shot on goal after some trickery where the side bar denied him the goal. Otherwise it was quiet for him as he looked isolated.

Walcott: (5) Besides having a couple of shots on goal, it was not a good game for him. His final ball was very poor and didn’t give the right support on the flanks.

Subs:

Benayoun (5), Coquelin (5) and Chamakh (no rating) didn’t make much impact. Chamakh did get a header on target though.


Arsenal vs Swansea: Preview and Starting Eleven

September 10, 2011

So after a draw, two losses, countless red cards and injuries, frantic last two days in the transfer window and the ever boring international break, we are here, almost a month later since the inception of the season for a fresh start. We are up against Swansea at home and I am already feeling the excitement of today’s game.

International breaks are never a welcome thing, however, this one did came at the right time for us. We needed a break after the thrashing at Old Trafford and our new signings needed time to get acquainted with the team. How will they gel in with the team on the field particularly and the English football in general will be somewhat answered today.  Most of our players (old and new) had some great international games, scoring lots of goals though. Hopefully, they will repeat that today against Swansea.

On the injury front, we have not made much progress though. We have Gibbs back from his injury (hopefully he won’t go out injured today). Otherwise, we have lost Vermaelen for a month, Wilshere for up to two or may be more, Squillaci is still having a calf injury and Diaby is as usual enjoying time on the side lines. Miyaichi and Rosicky have joined them for short durations and will hopefully return in midweek.

I am glad though that Frimpong is back and that we were able to sign five players in the final two days. Otherwise we would still be stretched in the middle and at the back. With Arteta, Benayoun, Mertesacker, Santos and Park, we have plenty of options to start with today.

We do need a win (for a change) but if we do it by a margin, it will really set the right tone to our miserable start. However, we shouldn’t be complacent under any circumstances. We have a perfect opportunity to bounce back from the awful start, so, let’s take it with a bang. I know we will have a few new bodies out there, but I am expecting them to give a great performance to send the right message out to the masses.  

As far as the starting eleven is concerned, it will be interesting to see who Wenger opts to start with. Based on the team news, it is quite obvious that we will see a backline of Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker and Gibbs. Andre Santos is in the squad but lacking match fitness and knowing Wenger, he won’t start with him. We might though see him later in the game. As for Mertesacker, I am really looking forward to see how he partners with Koscielny.

In the middle, Frimpong will have to start in the holding role behind Arteta and Ramsey. I won’t be surprised if Benayoun deputizes for Ramsey but I have a feeling Wenger won’t start with him today.

Robin van Persie is sure to start up front flanked by Walcott and Arshavin. I am tempted to start with Benayoun in Arshavin place though. Park is another option to start with but I am not sure how he will respond to playing on the wings. Seeing his international goals, he does get into some good scoring positions and is not afraid to have a shot on goal. To properly utilize Park we will need to change our formation and I am certain on one thing that it won’t happen today.

Probable starting eleven: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Frimpong, Ramsey, Walcott, RVP, Arshavin

With this team, we still will have a bench of Benayoun, Park, Chamberlain, Djourou, Santos, Fabianski and Chamakh with quite a few suspended and out injured. It does feel good to have options after failing to put out an experienced team in the opening three games. However, lots of work still needs to be done. We have got our numbers up and we have got some quality and experience in the team, but we will need to show it on the field by giving results.

As I said before, we have been given the best opprtunity and we need to give the perfect response.  

Here it is to a great win today, a first of many to follow. To all the Gooners who will be at The Emirates, be loud and vocal in your support, the team will need it today.

Enjoy the game and have a good day!

 


Newcastle 0 – 0 Arsenal: Thoughts and Player Ratings

August 14, 2011

Just like last season’s opener, Arsenal started the new EPL season with a draw and going a man down.

I missed the first 38 minutes of the game, for the first time in a very long time I missed some part of a season opening game. Even so, I didn’t miss much in terms of action. Apart from the theatrics of Joey Barton, which I will discuss later, it was a forgetful game that had nothing to offer in terms of quality in attack from both sides. Newcastle failed to threaten us throughout the game despite using lots of aerial balls. Szczesny was merely a spectator.

As far as Arsenal is concerned, it was an overall decent performance. In defense we performed exceptionally well and more than what I was expecting. We were first to almost all the aerial balls and cleared away the dangers early. The midfield also provided great support, especially Song. The back four plus the midfield deserve credit for such a sound defensive performance. Still we should not to get carried away as we will need to maintain this standard throughout the season.

On the other hand, offensively we were rather ordinary. We did have lots of possession but failed to create clear cut openings. What we did create were not taken. We lacked ideas in the middle and failed to maintain a high pace to our passing. The flanks weren’t properly used and the finals balls were clearly lacking quality.

Coming to the sending off of Gervinho and Barton’s disgraceful conduct. Do I don’t need to narrate the incident!? In short Gervinho went down in the box, Joey c**t Barton lost his temper, dragged Gervinho up aggressively using his shirt and then went down clutching his face as if struck by a bullet in the resulting fracas of players. The replays showed that Gervinho hand did touch Barton on the face when trying to get away from his clutches and other Newcastle players.

The referee, who I am sure didn’t see the incident then somehow made the stupidest decision in football that I have ever seen, now a standard in EPL. He sent off Gervinho and only gave a yellow to the instigator, Barton. I was dumbstruck at what had happened. It was either a red to both or a yellow, just like Arsene said after the game. It was never a red to one a yellow to the culprit.  

I don’t want to say anything about Barton because you will always have players like him that don’t deserve to be on the pitch. As for Gervinho, he shouldn’t have reacted because that was what Barton wanted. Barton did it last season to us and he has done it again this season. Dealing with such players is only going to harm us. And this brings me to the point that we don’t learn from our mistakes.

As for Gervinho going down in the first place, the replays showed that he was clipped. Technically that should have been a penalty. However, I don’t want to see players going down this easily. I hate this when other players do it so it is not acceptable for one our players to do the same.

As for the Song stamp on Barton, I personally don’t want to see such incidents. Song should not have done it. He did get away with it in the game but we can lose him for three games if further action is taken on it.

Final Thoughts

Despite a decent performance, we need to improve a lot. We did miss Fabregas’ vision and we do need to replace him with someone who can do a job as well as him. The same is the case at the back.

I was again impressed by Gervinho. He sure has pace and he knows how to get away from defenders. He does need to improve his final ball and understanding with Van Persie though.

Rosicky, Arshavin and Ramsey need to take more responsibility and improve their work rate. Our game depends on quick passing and we certainly lacked that yesterday.

I was also glad to see Wenger making the right substitution at the right time. Bringing on Frimpong and Djourou near the end was necessary to end the game with a point.

We do need to control our emotions during the game as it can cost us in the long run. We are now going to face Manchester United and Liverpool without Gervinho and I hope not, Song.

A point away from home is good enough but, as I said before, we need to improve. We have to keep working hard as lots of work needs to be done still. A few more recruitment will really give us a boost.

Coming to player ratings

Szczesny: (6.5) Didn’t have much to do as Newcastle hardly had a shot on goal. Managed to catch and punch every ball that went down his way.

Koscielny: (8) Great performance from the Frenchman. Didn’t put a foot wrong. Read the game nicely and was always early to the ball and cleared the danger. Was also good in the air and covered well for Vermaelen.

Vermaelen: (7.5) Overall a good game for him but still needs time to get back to his best. Lost his man a couple of times and missed a few headers. Otherwise didn’t give space to the Newcastle forwards.

Sagna: (7) Solid performance as usual. Was caught napping on one occasion in the second half and still needs to improve his crossing.

Gibbs: (7) He also performed well and more than my expectations. Was always ready to attack and defensively showed composure. He was outsmarted a couple of times quite easily though. Needs to improve his positioning.

Song: (7) Another one who put on a great show. Shielded the defense well and was always pressing. Moving forward he produced one great ball in the second half. The stamp on Barton was, however, uncalled for and needs to reduce the number fouls he commits.

Ramsey: (5) He had an on-and-off game. Gave away the ball in dangerous positions but his pressing was better. Needs to improve his stamina as he looked tired near the end.

Rosicky: (5.5) His movement with the ball was good and looked lively but lacked the killer pass and then he disappeared near the end. Needs to take more responsibility and improve his work rate.

Arshavin: (6) He looked lively from where  I started watching the game but then became anonymous. Produced a great ball in the dying minutes of the first half. He too needs to increase his work rate and take more responsibility.  

Van Persie: (6) Was missing his killer touch in front of goal, should have scored on Arshavin’s pass. Was good on the free kick and provided good support in defense.

Gervinho: (6.5) Produced an impressive performance, not taking into account the red card. Showed his pace and skill with the ball. He was a continuous threat on the flanks but his final pass needs improvement as said above.

Subs:

Walcott (6) looked rusty and missed one of the better chances to score. Frimpong (6) came in and provided good support in the middle. Djourou (no rating), despite coming in stoppage had, had an opportunity to make an impact, was let down by his pass.


Tottenham vs Arsenal: Preview and Starting Eleven

April 20, 2011

Manchester United has given us another lifeline after their stalemate against Newcastle. With us drawing against Liverpool on Sunday, it looked as if it was all over for us. However, the title race is back on and we have a slight hope. Even so, our hopes will be over soon if we fail to get the three points against the Spuds tonight. Even our top four spot will be in jeopardy if we fail to win the game.

After the Liverpool match, I said that it was very unlikely that Manchester will draw two games then lose to us before we take the title ourselves, by winning rest of our games. After last night, Manu have drawn one game and hopefully there will be more. The question still remains; will we win the rest our matches? (we will find out tonight) Man United have given us countless opportunities by slipping up on many occasions. Only that we haven’t been able to capitalize on them. We again have a chance now and I hope the team gives it their all tonight against Tottenham.

Coming to the game, Tottenham are playing at home and they will approach the game as if it is a Champions League final, they wouldn’t know the feeling though, what it is to be a in a CL final. Nonetheless, they will do their all to take the three points and they surely have a few players that can make things difficult for us. Their approach will be straight forward, deliver in as many crosses as they can and hope for Crouch to head in. With RVD Vaart and Modric they can also mix things up. So our backline will have to be alert and on their toes at all times. We have already made too many mistakes and it is time now that we deliver.

As for us, we will need to play our game and never slack-off, even for a second and even if we are winning by two goals. Chances will come to us and we will need to capitalize on them. Their keeper is prone to mistakes but at times he produces excellent saves and I don’t want their keeper to be the man of the match.

Upfront, the combination of Fabregas, Walcott and Van Persie will be the key. In the middle, Song and Diaby will have to play a massive game. We can’t afford to make any mistakes today and we can’t afford any more slip ups. And please Arsenal! don’t make things complicated. Keep possession, keep it simple and shoot whenever the opportunity arise and we will get the three points.

As for the starting lineup, Sagna will join the backline in place of Eboue as he has recovered form his injury. The rest of the defense will remain the same as it was against Liverpool.

Alex Song has also fully recovered from his injury, so I expect him to start alongside Fabregas and I will also keep Diaby for his strength and height. Wilshere for me will be on bench because he has already played a lot and Wenger hinted of rotation.

Up front. the trio will remain the same as it was against Liverpool. However, I won’t be surprised to see Arshavin in place of either Nasri or Walcott. Nasri is going through a quiet patch but considering how he played in the reverse fixture at the Emirates, I will start with him.

Probable starting XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy, Song, Fabregas, Diaby, Walcott, RVP, Nasri

Similar to the Liverpool game, it is difficult to predict what the outcome of the game will be. We haven’t scored many goals in the last few games and we have been quite ordinary in the final third. Still, away from home, we have delivered. And considering Spurs, there will be goals today. Hopefully, we will score more and get the three points. Come on Arsenal!!

Have a nice day Gooners and enjoy the game while keeping your fingers crossed. Tonight, we will resurrect our title chances!!


Arsene Wenger’s positive injury update ahead of Liverpool, Wojciech Szczesny set to start in goal

April 16, 2011

Wojciech Szczesny is set to start in goal against Liverpool on Sunday as Manuel Almunia won’t be risked with his knee injury.

Arsene Wenger, at his pre-match press conference, confirmed that Szczesny has had a full week of training after recovering from his injury in good time and therefore might be in goal. Wenger, however, didn’t rule out the possibility of playing Lehmann as he said that Szczesny still has some tests to take.

On the injured players, Arsene Wenger gave positive update as he confirmed that Alex Song and Johan Djourou are back and available in the squad and also added that Thomas Vermaelen is in full training and a good chance to play this season.

The manager concluded by saying that except Fabianski all the injured players are back in practice with Bacary Sagna, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky the only doubts for Sunday.

Arsene Wenger, on Friday, said:

“We still have some tests to make but Wojciech is back in full training so it could be Szczesny [in goal]. It is a big surprise for us because we thought at the start [of his injury] that the season was over. But he was given the green light four weeks after the Barcelona game, so he had a full week of practice.

Jens wants to help out when it is needed, he knows the rule. If I decide to play him he will play without any problem and I can just congratulate him on the game he played. He saved a very important ball at 3-1 and overall his decision making was perfect.

[Manuel Almunia] is back in training, I have not spoken to him yet, how he feels, but it will be difficult to take a gamble after what happened to him in the warm up [against Blackpool].

We have plenty of players back, some are short of competitive edge but Johan Djourou and Alex Song are both available and even Thomas Vermaelen is in full training now. There is a good chance [he will play again this season].

We have some doubts still for Bacary Sagna, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky but overall there is no big injury any more. Apart from Lukasz Fabianski everybody else is able to practice again.”


Arsene Wenger on Djourou and Szczesny’s start against Liverpool and Vermaelen’s return

April 15, 2011

Arsenal will face Liverpool on Sunday, where a win will take them to within four points of Manchester United. Arsene Wenger on Thursday gave the latest injury news ahead of the match.

While speaking to Arsenal TV Online, Arsene Wenger informed that there are no new injuries but there is a doubt on Sagna’s availability, who hasn’t yet recovered from his injury.

Meanwhile Djourou, Szczesny, Denilson and Song all have a chance to be available on Sunday. Wenger added that Djourou and Szczesny’s inclusion will be decided after how they perform in the training session because they have question marks on their fitness. 

The manager also gave good news on Vermaelen’s return as he confirmed that he has joined training. He added that we will need to show patience with Vermaelen as he has just joined the team and isn’t match fit yet.

On Thursday, Arsene Wenger said:

“We have no [new injuries] but we have a big doubt on Sagna. Djourou and Wojciech are question marks. Will they be fit? That all has still to be decided. We have two more days to find out. It could be a possibility that they could be available.

It’s difficult to say [what their chances are]. We have a test today [Thursday], we have a big test to see how they survive the training session. That will be very important. Denilson and Song have a chance to be available as well.

I am not reluctant [to use Vermaelen] but he is not match fit yet. He just joined the team this week so we have to be a bit patient with him.”