October 12, 2012

For a minute there, the collective sigh from Arsenal supporters worldwide was nearly audible. After the loss to Chelsea the week before, where our old nemesis the set piece came back to haunt us, it was looking like another retro game. Despite dominating the opening 20 minutes at West Ham, Arsenal fell behind. And against a Sam Allardyce-managed team, you don't want to fall behind.

But when I say we dominated the first 20 minute, I don't just mean we looked the better team. No, we held 80 percent of the possession. So perhaps that was a sign of things to come. It took a while, but oh did those things arrive.

A few minutes before the break, Olivier Giroud notched his first league goal in an Arsenal shirt. The Frenchman nudged home a Lukas Podolski cross. Jubilation for the player, relief for the fans. The second half was an end-to-end affair. West Ham came out looking determined to restore their lead and came close a number of times, but then again so did Arsenal. At least four good chances, plus a no call on what should have been a penalty for Aaron Ramsey got the fires going again. In the 77th minute, Theo Walcott put Arsenal ahead, and Cazorla sealed three points with a beautiful 25-yard drive about six minutes later.

It was a big win. There was plenty of talk beforehand about confidence and a need to rebound from that frustrating loss to Chelsea. After the match, Arsène Wenger said, "We knew today a draw was not good enough for us. We went for it... we gave absolutely everything to win the game."

The offensive effort was clear to the naked eye: great runs by Theo, strong hold-up play from Giroud and excellent crossing from Poldi. But what was more important was the work of the defense. Per Metesacker noted that "It is crucial for us that the defense is winning more games. We just try to keep that in our mind the whole year." But he also cited competition for playing time which is making the squad much stronger.

We now head into an international break, which is usually annoying and ill-timed. But this time it just might come in handy. Kieran Gibbs had to be subbed out early in the second half, and eventually had to drop out of the England squad for this week's qualifiers. Hopefully the week off will be enough for him to get fit.Several other players are nearing full fitness. Word at the beginning of the month was that Wojciech Szczesny and Tomas Rosicky needed a few weeks to get back to training so they may be close to that once league play resumes on October 20th.

Meanwhile Jack WIlshere, Emmanuel Frimpong and Bacary Sagna are inching ever closer to full fitness. Each played for the U-21s against Reading and all came out looking good. For his part, Sagna is simply thrilled to be playing again and does not have a target in mind for his full return, but he feels the right side of Arsenal's defense is in very capable hands at the moment. He raved about Carl Jenkinson's play so far this season and suggested he has everything it takes to be "one of the best." And Jenks could have company on top of the world as Thomas Vermaelen says that Wilshere "can be one of the best midfielders in the world." 

Oh it will benice to have Jack back!

Of course, we all know that there is another side to international breaks. A darker side. One that leads to memories of long term injuries and of horse placenta. Those thoughts crept into our minds on Wednesday with word that Laurent Koscielny had to have his leg amputated seriously injured his knee contracted the plague had to be helped off the France training pitch after he knocked knees with Frank Ribery. But as Stateside Gooner points out, it was a false alarm from a noted orthopedic surgeon a guy with a press pass that passed along his diagnosis on Twitter before it was socially magnified. Turns out, a couple of hours later he passes a medical exam and was back in training the next day.So Koscielny will still be off with 10 other senior players plying their trade for their countries this week.

Finally, big big congratulations to the Arsenal Ladies who sealed a domestic double after beating Birmingham City Ladies on Wednesday in the Continental Cup. Kim Little sealed the 1-0 win with a stunning long range effort in the 82nd minute. Excellent work, ladies!

So no Arsenal this weekend. But if you happen to be in the UK and are looking for some football, bear in mind that Saturday is Non-League Day and fans are encouraged to go out there and take in a local game. There's even a tool to help you can find a game near whichever town, hamlet or borough you happen to be in.

So come on you Biggleswade Town Waders! Let's go you Graham Street Prims! And of course, Get in Boreham Wood FC!

- Kevin Mooney


October 5, 2012

In a sense, every fan is a pundit. We all produce our own version of Match of the Day in our heads when we look back on each game. And looking back on last weekend's loss to Chelsea was like reliving MOTD commentary from the last couple of seasons when the talking points were almost always focused on injuries and weakness in set pieces.

The first part of that came when Abou Diaby had to be substituted in the 17th minute after picking up a thigh injury. Shortly thereafter, before the team really had a chance to adjust, Chelsea 's Fernando Torres scored off a Juan Mata free-kick. While Gervinho's swiveling strike late in the first was the best clip for our highlight reel, the set piece came back to haunt us again in the second half.

"They had three shots on target and scored two goals, from soft set-pieces," Arsène Wenger's said after the match. "Defensively we were just not at the level you have to be in a game like that, which is where we were punished today."

Mikel Arteta agreed that Arsenal didn't defend well enough, but the midfielder was quick to dispel any notion of individual blame. "It's everyone's responsibility. You can't fault one player on that."

In addition to a collective sense of regret over team defensive play, the manager and players were also in agreement that they needed to - and would -- bounce back in the mid-week Champions League gameagainst Olympiacos. Yet there was an underlying feeling that the team suffered a hit to their confidence. It was something that stand-in manager Steve Bould noted after Wednesday's win over Olympiacos in the Champions  League.  

Normally a 3-1 win in Europe's top knock-out competition would be impressive and difficult to say unflattering things about. But in truth, the Greeks came to play and the final 3-1 scoreline made it look a much easier game that it was. Arsenal did not get on the scoresheet until the 42nd minute -- courtesy of Gervinho - but Olympiacos came right back to grab the equalizer just before the break. Lukas Podolsi put Arsenal ahead about 10 minutes into the second half and Aaron Ramsey sealed the three points with a lovely chip as time ticked away.

And that's where our internal MOTD steered away from years past. As Kieran Gibbs said afterwards, "You have to win like that sometimes. No game in the Champions League is easy. We showed a good test of character." Oxlade-Chamberlain noted the other difference from years past: the goals are coming from all over the pitch.

Unfortunately, the goals still aren't coming from Olivier Giroud yet. The Frenchman was downright unlucky last week, nearly scoring against both Chelsea and Olympiacos but for an excellent save by a goalkeeper and a completely unintentional block by a defender. Still, Giroud's overall play has been quite strong and he has even has picked up a couple of assists - including one on Ramsey's goal.

For his part, Ramsey has looked a different player from last season. So far he's brought plenty of energy to the pitch and has also been rather versatile, playing in both the midfield and on the wing. He says that it's just about rediscovering his form after being out for a prolonged time and shaking off the rust.

And that is something that Jack Wilshere also faces now that he is back from his 14 month ordeal. Granted, the Englishman isn't quite ready to jump in to start for the first team, but he did pick up an hour of playing time for the U-21s on Monday. Wenger says Jack has been "doing extremely well" in training butthe boss intends to exercise caution in his comeback. But considering Wenger did mention our No 10 among the other players who could get an opportunity in Diaby's absence, so maybe we could see a cameo or two in the next couple of weeks.

Looking ahead, Arsenal travel across town to play West Ham on Saturday and Sam Allardyce is sure to welcome the Gunners with a rough and tumble game. But this Arsenal side has good experience and with Giroud and Podolski up front, more size to counter the physical play that West Ham is certain to bring.Andy Carroll is likely to be their main threat, and paired with Kevin Nolan you can expect Arsenal's center halves to be busy. But hopefully, so will Jussi Jaaskelainen.

Come on you Gunners!

- Kevin Mooney


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31 Oct 2012