September 28, 2012

Almost three years ago I mentioned a classic quote by former Michigan State football coach Duffy Daughtery, "A tie is like kissing your sister." You get the drift of what he meant. But after Sunday's draw in Manchester I think that maybe he was actually talking about YOUR sister. The hot one. Because there was nothing weird or uncomfortable about picking up a point against the champions on the road, especially as we were the team to come from behind on Laurent Koscielny's incredibly satisfying strike in the 82ndminute.

The fact is, we played quite well apart from on the one corner kick late in the first half. Our defense was strong, our team play was magnificent and we created numerous chances. Still, we could have -- and perhaps should have -- won. Even Arsène Wenger said as much in his post-match presser. "[I am] a bit frustrated because I feel there was room to do more. We had early chances and very late chances, especially Gervinho at the edge of the box where he missed the target."

But before you think wasn't pleased with the draw, he later added, "It was not a miraculous point. It was a well-deserved point. We dominated the game for big parts and that must strengthen the team's belief. It's now down to how much we improve, how well we keep that attitude [if we are to win the title]."

Confidence is surely part of that attitude he referred to. And Mikel Arteta said that the away draw added to an already strong sense of confidence within the squad. "We have already been to three of the toughest places you can go to - Liverpool, Man City and Stoke - and I think we deserved to win all of them," he said. "Two of them we drew and one we won but we could have won them all easily. It shows we are doing things in the right way."

And they certainly did things the right way in the Milk Cup match against Coventry City. The League One side put up a good fight in the first half, in fact until Olivier Giroud fractured a waterfowl in the 39th minute the visitors kept Arsenal to a rather disjointed performance. But in the second half the floodgates opened. Arsenal picked up five goals: one each from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Andrey Arshavin and Ignasi Miquel and a brace from Theo Walcott. We also saw the return of the always dench Emmanuel Frimpong and saw impressive debut performances from goalkeeper Damian Martinez, defender Martin Angha and midfielder Serge Gnabry.

But it was the play of man of the match Arshavin that was really exciting. Goal, three assists, earned a penalty and just generally played hard in that favored central role of his.

Now, some of the naysayers out there will jump up and down and point to the fact that this was a team in England's third tier. Even Arsène admitted the gulf in class became more and more apparent as the second half wore on. But you don't have to look back too far to see Arsenal have a tough time putting away teams at this level in this competition. To echo my thoughts from last week, there is just something special about this team. Incidentally, the draw after the game pus Arsenal into a fourth round match-up against Premier League newbies Reading.

We also finally got word this week about Jack Wilshere's impending return to action. The Boss says that it will take some time for the England international to rediscover that "burst" he showed a couple of seasons ago, but he's convinced Wilshere will eventually surpass his old standard. Jack will line up against the West Brom Under-21s on Monday and assuming all goes well we can probably expect to see him with the first team shortly there after.

So with Wilshere and the aforementioned Frimpong fighting for a regular spot in the lineup - and Tomas Rosicky on target to return in a couple more weeks -- the Arsenal midfield is becoming increasingly deep. Wenger even remarked, "In terms of quality and numbers in midfield [it is one of our best squads ever]. For sure."

Let the 'selection headache' comments begin!

So who will miss out? Hard to say, but it would seem that Arteta is one who's role is very safe. The Spaniard has been playing a new role this season and has been playing spectacularly well in that deep position. Curbing one's instincts is never easy, and we've seen many examples over the years of players who are less than thrilled with a role-change. But as Arteta says, "It is a big transition but it is more a mental thing. The boss is convinced that is the best thing for the team and I am too, so let's do it."

He just keeps winning our hearts, doesn't he?

Looking ahead, Arsenal's incredibly tricky month comes to end with the visit of Chelsea on Saturday. The Premier League leaders have had a slightly easier road to this point in the season than we have - only two away games, one of which was about three and half miles up the road to QPR.  Still, you can never underestimate Chelsea. Juan Mata and Eden Hazard look to have built a dangerous partnership and with Fernando Torres rediscovering his form, they are sure to remain in the title hunt all season.

It's going to be very interesting to see who lines up for Arsenal. The midfield options are growing, the possible forward combinations are practically endless, and there is even a question of which of our center backs should get the start. Honestly, even just considering how strong our bench is likely to be is getting me all ramped up! So who will the starting XI be? Find out tomorrow, same Bat time, same Bat channel. And by that I mean ESPN2 at 7:45am ET.

Come on you Gunners!

- Kevin Mooney

 

September 21, 2012

So far so good for this plucky little team from North London. Arsenal found their scoring boots last week in the 6-1 win over Southampton and then continued their winning ways in Europe by coming from behind to beat Ligue 1 champions in Montpellier.

The win against the Saints pushed Arsenal up to third in the table, but most importantly, it showed that Arsenal have quite a bit of firepower this season. Now, before you stand up and say "but it was against a newly promoted team that is bottom of the table," remember that the Saints have had an absolutely brutal fixture list thus far. And they have not embarrassed themselves by any means. Far from it. In fact, they held 2-1 leads over both Manchester clubs before losing to each by one goal.

Lukas Podolski's beautiful free kick was his second of the season, while man-of-the-match winner Gervinho showed artistry on the ball as he picked up a brace. Theo Walcott scored in the waning moments and Kieran Gibbs fired the shots that became two Southampton own goals.

When you look at who the goal scorers were, it's no wonder Arsène Wenger believes that pace is a key part of Arsenal's style this season. "They had problems to cope with the overall speed that we showed." In addition, the team is also showing a remarkable tenacity up front. In the past few games, the team has created chances not just through pace and passing, but through physical strength. Podolski is proving to be an incredible asset and he looks to have easily adapted to the English game.

But to the Boss, what really stood out in the performance was clear. "There is a positive energy in this team, a desire to play well together, and real team play. It is very exciting." He later added, "You ask anybody that has watched the game and we looked like a real team that wants to play together."

Thomas Vermaelen agreed with Wenger about the bond between players, but he also stressed that theyneed to stay focused ahead of the upcoming games. And that focus was apparent in the first half against Montpellier. After conceding a penalty in the opening minutes, Arsenal dominated play and bounced back with two quick goals from Podolski and Gervinho to take the lead. The second half was a different story, as the French side pressured Arsenal throughout. Still, we prevailed in the end and remain unbeaten.

Due to a UEFA suspension for Arsène, Steve Bould took the reins for the game. After the match he was thrilled with the win, but said, "I'm not sure I enjoyed it. I've got a headache and a half! It is tough. It's a different pressure than I've been used to taking the under-18s but we won and we had a great result."

Bould has been getting a lot of praise for Arsenal's defensive play and organization this season, but Arsène is making sure the other assistants, Neil Banfield and Boro Primorac get the credit they deservetoo. And Arteta is making sure that some other players who haven't had the spotlight focused on them get some as well. The Spaniard has been very impressed with the play and consistency of full backs Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson. Specifically, he noted Gibbo's ability at going forward, ("It's tough for a wide man to defend [against] a full back like him") and Jenkinson's "brilliant" crossing.  

So not only are we playing very well as a team, but all of the sudden, we look like a team with very good depth. And that depth is about to get deeper as Jack Wilshere - out for more than a year - returned to full training this week. We shouldn't really expect to see him get much game time for a while yet, but this is a huge step that is very encouraging. Meanwhile, we also got positive word that two more midfielders. Emmanuel Frimpong is also back in training and Tomas Rosicky is edging ever closer to his return as well. That is a lot of midfielders, folks. It's no wonder Conor Henderson headed out on loan to Coventry City this week. He's a player with much talent and promise, but one who probably has very little chance of getting on the pitch this season.

Looking ahead, Arsenal have another busy week. On Wednesday, Arsenal take on Coventry in the Capital One Cup. But first up, of course, is a trip up north to take on Manchester City. The Premier League champions are even on points with Arsenal at the moment, but have hit a slightly bumpy road in the last week. But Wenger doesn't believe for a second that the late loss at the Bernabeu will sap their confidencetoo much. In fact, he's very much going to use Arsenal's performance against the Citizens to get a sense of his team's championship credentials.

No disrespect to any of our previous opponents this season, but this really is our first big test. A win at City and Arsenal make a big, big statement about their intentions this season... and maybe people who wrote us off a couple of months ago might have to dine on some crow. A loss... honestly, after the last three games it will be very tough to take. There is something special about this team and I for one am going to be very up for Sunday.

Come on you Gunners!

- Kevin Mooney

 

September 14, 2012

The first international break of the season is out of the way and Arsenal get back to business tomorrow at Emirates Stadium. The early news coming out of this is reasonably good. It doesn't sound like anyone suffered any big injuries or set-backs, although a couple of players did miss some action. Fortunately, international matches now have a slightly different schedule - games on Fridays and Tuesdays - which means players do get an extra day of rest.

The biggest Arsenal news came out of the French team with About Diaby scoring for Les Bleus in their World Cup qualifier against Finland. He then sat out the second match against Belarus due to a "small muscular problem." Wenger called him 50:50 to be in the squad tomorrow. Laurent Koscielny also missed out on both of France's matches, but he looks to have recovered from early season issues.

Bacary Sagna is still out, but the right back raised some eyebrows during the break after he expressed some concerns about Arsenal selling Alex Song to Barcelona. Arsène Wenger spoke with his compatriotand came out of the chat with a firm belief that all is fine on that front.

Off the pitch, Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis held a Q&A with reporters this week and touched on a number of subjects. The biggest takeaway came from the subject of Arsenal's commercial deals. When the Club moved to Emirates Stadium in 2006 they tied down some long-term commercial deals that were necessary to obtain financing for the stadium, but now are seen as far less lucrative than what many other clubs are getting from their sponsors.

But with those contracts nearing their end, Gazidis says the sky is the limit when it comes to commercial growth. "Once that kicks in on a really sustainable business, it does kick us into the top five clubs in the world with separation from the rest," he said. "That's a fairly extraordinary thing."And when you consider the impending Financial Fair Play rules, Arsenal could be in a fantastic position once those new deals come to fruition.    

Putting that aside, it's back to business as usual as newly-promoted Southampton visits Emirates Stadium on Saturday. The Saints are currently the only team in the league without a single point, but that overlookshow well they have battled against both Manchester clubs. Former Saint Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain says he wasn't at all surprised that his former club were promoted last year and Arsène Wenger expects them to be dangerous. He also and praised Nigel Adkins for playing attacking football with a positive attitude.

However, their weakness so far is on the defensive side and few are expecting this one to be a 0-0 draw. Arsenal players have a pretty good history of breaking scoring slumps against Southampton so perhaps Olivier Giroud will follow in the footsteps of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp and become another player to grab his first goal in and Arsenal shirtOlivie against Southampton. Whether or not he does break his duck, with any luck we'll put ourselves in a strong position ahead of a pretty tough run in both the Premier League and Europe. 

Come on you Gunners!

- Kevin Mooney

 

September 7, 2012

Three clean sheets. Based on some of the chatter on the web and blogosphere in recent years you'd think the only thing 'three clean sheets' could mean in regard to Arsenal was a successful day at the laundromat. Of course that's far from true. We shut out opponents a dozen times in the league last season - 18 in all competitions. Regardless of your view, three shutouts to start the new season is worthy of praise and a big tip of the hat to Assistant Manager Steve Bould.

The mantra of the first two games - goalless draws against Sunderland and Stoke - was 'the goals will come.' Our new players just needed a bit of time to settle and they would begin scoring. And the wins would arrive. First you get the confidence. Then you get the goals. Then you get the weeeeeeeens!

Per Mertesacker said the team was already confident going into Sunday's match. "We believed in ourselves [against Liverpool] - that was the most important thing and we played fantastic," he told Arsenal Player. And sure enough, the goals did finally arrive on Merseyside.

In the 2-0 win at Anfield, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla opened their accounts - and managed to assist on each other's goals as well. Poldi called the goals - and the win - a reward for playing well in the first two matches and gave an indication that he has very much settled in. "This is the Premier League and you must fight and run. We do this very well and we pass very well. This is my style of football - I like the style of Arsenal and we have the three points."

The other new signing, Olivier Grioud, has yet to 'break his duck' as they say, but as it took a few extra games for some Arsenal legends to get their first, we probably shouldn't be too concerned. Especially since the Frenchman is doing at least two things very, very well. His hold-up play and work rate up front has been impressive and he has been doing a fantastic job of getting into scoring position. The goals will come.

Wenger reiterated that getting the first win of the season was just a matter of time. "We already had a good cohesion in the first two games but we lacked a little bit of change of pace," he said. "That is now getting into the team."

Another standout from the Liverpool match was the play of man of the match Abou Diaby. Ever since his horrific injury in 2006 we've been waiting and hoping that he would turn back into that player he was so clearly becoming. Right now, at least, he seems to have achieved that. After the match Arsène Wenger heaped the praise on his compatriot. "He has absolutely everything you want in midfield. He hasn't played for a year but he had a good pre-season where we had him 45 minutes every three days and now he looks in good shape. There is more to come from him but what he has shown today is very good."

For his part, Diaby is taking it all in stride and says he is just happy to be playing again. "When you play in these type of games [against Liverpool], it is really exciting and you need to be ready. I am really happy and I hope I can keep going in that way." He also cited all of the support he has received from the manager, teammates and the Club over the years and added, "I want to be back enjoying myself because I love football and I want to pay back the club, manager and team-mates as well."

 Perhaps most surprisingly, Arsenal have kept the three cleans sheet with their third-string goalkeeper between the sticks. And yet, three clean sheets is nothing to Vito Mannone. Whilst at Hull on loan last season, he had a stretch of six straight shutouts. The 24-year-old says the loan move gave him more confidence and he has no plans to stop fighting to be more involved.

Off the pitch, there was some player movement at the end of the transfer window, but certainly nothing like last year. Nicklas Bendtner and Ju Young Park went out on season long loans, Bendtner to Italian giants Juventus and Park to La Liga side Celta Vigo. Despite rumors aplenty, no new big-name players came in. But with the reemergence of Diaby and the impending return of Jack Wilshere, Emmanuel Frimpong and Bacary Sagna, you'd have to wonder where any new bodies would even fit.

The other bit of news was the draw for the Milk Worthington Coca-Cola Carling Capital One Cup. Arsenal landed a home game against League One side Coventry City on Wednesday September 26th. It's been over a decade since the Sky Blues were in the top flight and were relegated to the third tier after last season. Still, Arsène remembers them well from their Premier League days and suspects they will bounce back, much like Southampton.

No game this weekend as it is an international break, but plenty of our guys will be in action. Eleven Gunners have been called up for their country's senior teams and Francis Coquelin is expected to play for the France U-21s. Many of the games take place today and Tuesday which should hopefully give everyone plenty of time to prepare for the Southampton match on September 15th and the Champions League opener three days later.

Stay healthy you Gunners!

- Kevin Mooney

 

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Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 28 Sep 2012