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Arsenal: Lazing on a Sunday afternoon

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Good morning Positives,

A game nine and a half out of ten of us had marked down for three points but, as it turned out, a game I was happy to escape from with the solitary single point as reward. The unbeaten run goes on, and we remain in the chasing pack for he CL places, but an unexpected and unwelcome slip. Three points from the previous nine PL points on offer, and now three points behind our North London neighbours. Plenty of time and games to improve and return to winning games, but a check to our confidence certainly. That we stagger into yet another international break is, for once, a welcome interlude in which Emery can get to work on the training pitch and iron out the ‘kinks’.

Of the game itself a sluggish first half, even among  Arsenal’s sometimes slow starts with no urgency in our movement, and little accuracy in our passing. Wolves game-plan as superior to ours, when  they advanced over the half way line they looked threatening and we never did. Having rattled us the duly took a deserved lead.

A better second half and a far, far better last 20 minutes when the kitchen sink was duly flung at the obdurate opponents. But for some dreadful marksmanship from Auba the equaliser should have come earlier but, eventually, Mkhi forced in the goal, scruffy, lucky even, but fair recompense from a lot of sweat from our lads. The visitors retained a sharpness that but for Leno would have embarrassed us further but Atwell eventually blew his whistle, thank Gawd.

No contest for the MotM so well done Bernd. If MotM was a podium ceremony you’d probably have been on your own.

We shall rise, we shall be better, we shall smash Tottingham. Know this.

Enjoy your week.

 

101 Comments

Arsenal: Beware sheep’s clothing

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@LaboGoon addresses his flock this Sunday 

Good morning one and all.

Arsenal host Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Emirates this afternoon with the intention of going into the international break with a win …… and nothing less.

Given the remarkably competitive nature of teams above us on Premier League table, getting 3 points against ‘lesser teams’ is as crucial as it has ever been. Mancity, Chelsea and Liverpool at present don’t look like dropping points against anybody except amongst the top-six, Spurs despite not at their ‘pressure putting’ best still find a way to eke out results. So on that I think these games fall in the ‘must win’ category if we want to remain within touching distance of the top-four.

We will look to bounce back following a recent blip that see us dropped 4 points vs Crystal Palace and Liverpool. Results could’ve been better if we made the most of the chances coming our way. The draw vs the Reds particularly was probably our best defensive display all season and showcased a fighting spirit and desire to not let a big game slip away after falling behind. Should we build on that we have no reason to doubt ourselves competing at the very highest level.

Wolves got challenges of their own. After starting the season on the front foot in their return to the to flight and playing with great competence, they’ve lost their way since coming back from the previous inter-break. Could be that opposition managers have worked them out as they are struggling both to keep a lid on things at the back and scoring goals. In the three games post the break they’ve registered as many defeats, conceding six goals and scoring two – both from penalty spot. However I expect them to fancy their chances and prove they have what it takes to get a result against one of the ‘big six’. They already held both Manchester sides to draws and put in a valiant effort coming back from 3-0 down to lose 3-2 vs our neighbours to show they are not your run-of-the-mill PL ‘newbie’.

The Gunners may have too much in front of goal though for the plucky Midlands side with the prowess of Lacazette and Aubameyang to call upon, and if Xhaka and Torreira continue their command of the area in front of the defenders it will defang the Wolves attack.

All things considered Arsenal have been consistent against teams outside top-six, especially in front of the Emirates faithful; and although no pushover Wolves could be in for a long afternoon if we play close to how we did in our last PL outing.

41 Comments

Arsenal: A steep price for effortless progress

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Good morning Positives,

A respectable performance last night from Arsenal against limited opponents. A win and three points would have tied the qualification package perfectly but taking into account events in the 25th minute it was not ever likely to be a night I remembered for football reasons.

Danny’s injury was, let me not beat about the bush, a bloody catastrophe for the player. It came out of nothing. The fracture resulted, I think, from his landing from an attempted header on goal. It was exactly the same ‘footballing’ movement that had given him goals against Brentford recently. He probably practises jumping and heading a hundred times a week in training and has every week since he was eight years old. Yet this time he came down and he suffered a serious injury. Inexplicable.

As for the implications it looked the sort of horrible injury from which a player wipes away any plans to kick a ball for the remainder of their season. With Danny’s 28th birthday in a fortnight and with  him already in the final year of his contract I hope his recovery is as swift and as complete as possible.

Back to the football, Arsenal step on from the group stage to the knock-our round never having had to extend ourselves in any match. Guendouzi and Ramsey controlled midfield throughout last night. Rob Holding and Sokratis were thorough in what they did and made no errors. Jenks and Stephan ditto. Tidy all round. Our only weakness was in translating a lot of possession into clear, scoring chances which did not happen. As I said in opening perhaps our usual ‘appetite’, that extra =/-2% that makes the difference,  had been taken away, on a stretcher.

Nevertheless, I shall take the easy Europa qualification in four games. In part that has been the result of Emery putting out strong sides in each  game, albeit with a sprinkling of youth to be blooded. The second factor is, regrettably, because the opposition put in front of us has been mediocre quality at best. I had expectations that Sporting Club of Portugal might provide little more sparkle last night but they produced the same display that they had put on  a fortnight ago. I was wrong.  So  limited were they  this the first time ever we have ever played a team over two legs in Europe and the opposition have failed to register a single shot on target.

There will be harder battles down the road.

On with Friday everybody, and work hard.

 

70 Comments

Arsenal: Judge Me in May

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@foreverheady gathers ye footballing rose-buds this Autumn afternoon 
‘Judge me in May’, Arsene used to say, and for many, many years those who had clamoured to dismiss him after a couple of poor games had to eat some kind of pie come the end of the season – though with the rise of social media and YouTube celebdom that pie was increasingly less humble.
Not much of the Uriah Heep about the modern fan, to be honest. But as time went by the teeth got sharper, the barbs deeper (and maybe the competition a little steeper too) and suddenly it was no longer possible for him to deliver his much derided (though seemingly much prized these days) top four finish.
Two years in a row saw the team falter in the second half of the season, and eventually the Arsenal powers that be saw fit to draw a line under a managerial career of much dignity and success. Those who had campaigned viciously for his removal crowed in triumph, those who had loyally supported perhaps felt relieved that at last it was all over – though I suspect most fans found it hard when it was finally time to say goodbye. I certainly did.
But I got over myself in time, realised no one had actually died, and as is the way of things found myself beginning to wonder who the new man in the dugout might be. I knew little of Unai Emery, so his appointment underwhelmed me to begin with, but as the long weeks of summer crept by, I began to warm to him – despite not being that convinced initially by the new signings that were made.
Pre-season seemed to go well enough, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting much from the first two games against City and Chelsea. Two losses as I felt would be the case, but not nearly as bad as I feared, and the spirited fight back at the Bridge suggested things might yet turn out well. Nevertheless, the next game, at home to West Ham, began to take on real significance. I was lucky to see the game live, and the first thing I noticed was a very different warm-up to previous seasons, with time spent on sweeping moves and players moving to convert crosses from both flanks. But as we wobbled and then went one down, the prospect of three losses and all that that would entail began to emerge.
Be careful what you wish for and all that, but fortunately our very own Nacho Man (surely one of one of Arsene’s cannier purchases) hadn’t read that script and was there at the far post to steady the ship and set in motion a sequence of results that were certainly beyond my wildest imaginings. A fourteen-match unbeaten run no less, with notable wins, progression in both League and cups and lately a fine home draw against a potent Liverpool side who many had predicted would find us easy meat and ripe for the taking. What, as the saying goes, is not to like?
Well … one or two things, I think – and in particular the shoehorning of evidence to try to fit a narrative. The old Wenger knows best, Wenger out divisions are still there, and this seems silly to me, but I suppose the wounds of Civil War take more than a while to heal. Suddenly some are suggesting that the fantastic run we are currently on is all down to Emery: the coaching is better, the signings more astute, the players happier, the spine stronger, the character more robust, the years of failure at long last over. Oh brave new world, we’ve got our Arsenal back!
Meanwhile others point to similar runs of success in the quite recent past, to the impressive signings made in the last months of Arsene’s stewardship, to the investments made in coaching and fitness and medical centres, to the careful way the whole succession was orchestrated and managed. And also to the slices of fortune enjoyed on the pitch, to the gilt edged chances offered up to profligate opponents, to the sense that whatever else is going on, cracks are only being papered over.
What is most wonderful of course is the sudden reversal of position. Now it is the Emery enthusiasts who are seen as delusional, the old AKBs as the sober realists. Lord what fools these mortals be.
And where lies the truth in all of this? Somewhere near the middle I suspect. Arsene et all had probably been planning for his departure for a couple of years, and the players must have sensed that he wasn’t going to be around forever. I guess that that as much as anything stopped them giving their all when the football was suddenly difficult, when they didn’t really fancy the away trips. At the same time they were still capable of turning on the style for him when it was easy enough to do so. I am quite sure that they have been inspired by a desire to impress the new man and have probably found it easy to buy into whatever new methods and tactics are being employed (which I guess are pretty similar to most of what went on before). And I think too they will have enjoyed the growing chorus of approval from press and pundits (which in turn spreads quickly to the fanbase) and are starting to feel more valued and special.
It interests me that now Kroenke has sole ownership the club’s PR seems ever more positive. And on that note it is surely ridiculous to try to pretend that Arsene Wenger was hopeless in the last few years, or to try to airbrush the three FA Cups in four years out of History – just as it is equally ridiculous to suggest that Unai Emery’s pretty brilliant start has got nothing to do with his footballing knowledge and his outstanding motivational powers. I would like to think that it is now time to be proud of both past and present – and to let them unite in healthy anticipation for the future.
I went to see the home game against Leicester, and was expecting a sparse enough crowd given the game was on a Monday and on television. Far from it: the ground was packed, and the second half display lifted the roof. Even allowing for the normal buzz that surrounds an emphatic win something felt different queuing for the Tube after the game: a collective excited happiness and identity was in the air. I expect it must have felt like that after Lacazette’s imperious finish last Saturday – and I hope that won’t be lost should results start to go a little bit awry as the winter fixtures bite. We have a couple of games to negotiate later this week – and then a bit of a break in which to recharge batteries and take stock again. I am looking forward to it all, and hope that come May the judgment will be a positive one: if my reading of the signs are correct it could indeed be so.
139 Comments

Arsenal: Points of honest endeavour

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Good Morning this Sunday morning Positives fans worldwide,

The best game of football that I have watched for a long time yesterday evening. Both sides played quality football and had footballers in very position who were comfortable with the ball and had confidence in controlling and using it, despite the press of the opponent. A word of praise too for almost all the players who approached the contest in the right way yesterday. There was very little whining to the referee and diving and no serious foul play that I saw. The only player who let himself down was Mane whose dishonest efforts were correctly ignored by Andre Marriner from early in the first half.

Of the game itself ? I admit I was a little tense at kick-off to see how our defenders would stand up to the quicksilver Scouse front three in open play. For about ten first half minutes there was an early wobble but once the tremor had passed I need have had no worries. With Sead returned, though a little rusty, our back line played with full  concentration for the full 95 minutes. Tackles were clean and decisive. When the ball needed clearing it was hoofed. Every attacking Liverpool thrust was met by coverage of at least two defenders. The opposition clearly had a  few sights of goals but never the defence-splitting-racing-in-1:1-on- Leno of my nightmares. Praise too for Mhki, Auba and later Alex Iwobi for putting in the defensive yards to disrupt and harry the visitors’ work on the flanks. Our only weak spot on the night was on Liverpool corners from which Van Dijk appeared to  have the run of the six yard box. A bit of work required on that one from Unai.

Apparently there may have been an offside goal ? No idea, collective sigh of relief around me and a shrug. I saw on the BBC website when Klopp was asked if the referee/lino had made a mistake with the incident he answered ” I don’t know, but he did not make as many mistakes as we did today”. Good response.

With the defensive platform in place we had the opportunity to play football going forward, with Lucas, Granit and Mesut playing intelligent football. My impression was Granit played a lot more simple, short balls yesterday. Possession was rarely wasted and we gradually began to open up gaps in the Liverpool defence, for Auba and Laca to exploit.

After our best first half of the season, even though we were still at 0-0, I was not sure what would come next. During the first 15 minutes we were definitely on top, and looked the more likely to score, so it was a kick to the collective North Bank bollocks to see the goal from Milner go in.

Within seconds of the disappointment though the crowd, and from the way the Arsenal players went straight back back to kick off them too,  were back on the front foot straight away. No heads dropped and with half an hour to go the game was still wide open.

The substitutions ? Odd sequence considering we were 0-1 down but that is what head coaches do – shake the dice. Great calls when they work, and last night they did perfectly with Iwobi offering a trickiness and energy  that Mhki had not against a tiring defence.

Beautiful and deserved goal from Alex Lacazette. His celebration, (caught by the Arsenal photoman Stuart McFarlane above) absolutely wild.

And with the score 1-1 I sensed both teams slipped slightly down a gear, although Hector could have capped a sparkling evening with a winner in the 88th minute.

Man of the Match ? An impossible choice but in line with my comments about the foundation being in place it is a split decision between Hector and Rob Holding, neither of whom put  foot wrong all evening.

Enjoy Sunday.

 

 

107 Comments

Arsenal: A Hard Day’s Night ?

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@LaboGoon – he’s working like a dog, not sleeping like a log

Good morning one and all…

Unai Emery kicked off his Arsenal reign with a pair of defeats against Premier League title contenders Man City and Chelsea. Following that the team went on an eye-popping 13 game unbeaten run in all competitions and now comes another test against high flyers, with the benefit of having worked with the team a bit longer to drive home his vision for the club and toward finding a more settled matchday XI.

Arsenal host Liverpool at the Emirates tonight in what is billed as the PL clash of the weekend, so hopefully we will get to see a real cracker with plenty of fireworks (get it?!) with both teams coming into it off the back of a good run of form.

Last Sunday at Selhurst Park our winning streak came to an unexpected end via a draw, to serve as a timely reminder that in a league where teams are separated by fine margins we cannot afford to get too comfortable, because being 2 points off the PL leaders less than a week ago could turn to 7 with defeat before the end of this day.

The Reds haven’t done much wrong this campaign and very fine margins separate them from Mancity at the summit of the log. Compared to the Gunners they scored 20 PL goals to our 24, conceded 4 goals to our 13 and kept a respectable six clean sheets. They don’t seem to shy away from the big occasions either as they came through almost unscathed against Mancity, Chelsea and Spurs with 1 win and 2 draws, conceding just 2 goals.

Scoring goals haven’t really been a problem for Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp, putting a lid on things at the back is where they improved. So if we want to give ourselves any chance of victory we will without doubt have to be at our best and pull together as a team. Our “second half” performances drew many admiring glances and if we can turn that on from the outset, then it could well be the chisel to chop away at a stubborn Reds defence.

It’s hard to ignore our defensive issues, which hasn’t improved much since Liverpool put 7 goals past us last season, and if we aren’t switched from the start we will simply be asking for trouble.

The last time these two sides met though we play out a pre-Xmas 6 goal thriller at the Ems and there is every chance we could see something similar. Aubameyang has been in scintillating form of late to find himself joint top of the PL goalscoring charts after a slow start. With 9 goals in all competitions this is a fixture he is looking forward to. Lacazette will be disappointed with himself for missing a few recently too and will want to step up in this big one.

With two extremely attack minded teams going head-to-head, we can expect a game high on entertainment value from end to end, because both sides know the importance of getting a result.

The trip to the Emirates will not only be a measure of whether Liverpool can go all the way, but also whether Arsenal have indeed closed the gap between them and the ‘big clubs’ after dropping outside top 4 the last two seasons.

Who knows… a win and we may even be seen as bona fide title contenders by the press corps.

Good luck to everybody going to the game and fingers crossed we give Unai the cherry to put atop his birthday cake.

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50 Comments

Arsenal: Footsteps in the Sand

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Good morning All Positives,

A quick word about what turned out to be an interesting game last night. The chosen team to face the Seasiders had a hint of the ‘old days’ of the Carling Cup  in it, with a number of new and youthful faces, as well as more experienced faces returning after injury, in the starting line up.

First half ? Well that went pretty much to plan with Blackpool a bit over-awed from what I could see as we pressed them back and created openings. Presumably their strategy was to frustrate us with ten men behind the ball and hope for a breakaway or an eventual dead-ball chance which, as matters panned out, was an (almost) spot-on approach.

A tidy  opener from Lichtsteiner, a clever slanted pass cut the visitors rearguard open, and a controlled finish from our Swiss elder statesman. For a bloke who scores once every Preston Guild* he was very calm, a quality some of our more regular goalscorers might look at this morning.

Second half ? More of the same and a second goal courtesy of good work by Carl J , who enjoyed his evening and looked in good fettle. The  finish by Smith Rowe, thumping the shot into the ground and through 4-5 Blackpool players in front of him, was also better than it looked at first sight.

At which stage, 49 minutes, we were floating along, easy win, and I think we relaxed, slipped the shoes off, gently closed the eyes for a moment. And why not eh ………….?

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Well we all know what happens when you take your eye off the ball.

Matteo’s second yellow was unfortunate. A sly little tug on his part which, I agree with the young Frenchman, would in many games not be noticed and in others not attract a  yellow. However mon ami you did not need to do it, you were already on the Ref’s radar having been in his ear frequently all evening, and you were already in his black book. Guendouzi is an old head on young shoulders, huge talent and as on Sunday there at Selhurst Park will be times to take a yellow for the team,  but I hope he learned a lesson last night.

As for the consequences as I understood it he misses the next Caribo game. According to Arse.com the consequences are more severe ??

“on Guendouzi’s suspension and missing Liverpool…” 

Or have I misunderstood the headline ?

And after that the game was open, Blackpool scored a throughly deserved first goal, made two other good chances, and Cech’s moment of ineptitude nearly drove us all over the edge. For the Blackpool fans a session of attacking play from their players well worth the trip. We stuck at it and the job was done. The cherry on the evening’s cake was the draw and the Totties at home. That will be a grand evening.

My man of the match – the bloke in the photo. Nothing spectacular but a good performance on an evening when he was a lot busier than expected. Steady Pleggy.

Enjoy Thursday.

*For any Blackpool fans who may be reading