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Arsenal v Liverpool. An Acid Test.

Arsenal Opus Book Launch

Football – Arsenal Opus Book Launch – Emirates Stadium – 13/9/07 Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (L) with Chairman Peter Hill Wood Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston Livepic

Top of the Premier League table with 51 out of a possible 57 points, second most goals scored, most clean sheets and yet to lose a game this campaign… safe to say the Reds haven’t a foot wrong thus far innit?

Good day one and all.

Arsenal are up north this afternoon to take on Liverpool in what is the headline fixture of this matchday weekend. Anfield has been an arduous place for visitors in recent seasons and this one is no different – P9, W8, D1. So the Gunners will need to do a lot better than lately if they don’t want to become another notch on the belt.

The Reds are undoubtedly a formidable force this campaign; not only did they smash a few teams, they also grinded out results when they needed to and are navigating the tricky waters of December with relative calm and fluidity. Questions are being asked whether they can go all way in pursuit of a first PL title in 29 years going into the second half of the season having opened up a six point lead, to put the pressure firmly on Jurgen Klopp as few of his players already said there’s no reason they cannot as well as maintaining their unbeaten run.

Going through a campaign unbeaten is something Arsenal knows about but fortunes has changed as we are now fighting to dodge a third successive season in the Europa League.

Since the North London derby at the beginning of month – a result that saw us move ahead of Spurs – we have gone off the boil a bit by dropping 7 points in our last five league outings. With the 22 game unbeaten run (in all competitions) now a distant memory, old problems returned as injuries at the back has become an obstacle for coach Unai Emery to circumvent as it got us playing on the back foot more than we would have liked. This Wednesday we had a few hairy moments, but luckily the Seagulls’ attack aren’t exactly the quality of the Reds.

I’m sure this is something the gaf’ will be mindful of; do you go into the game sitting deep and inviting pressure or do you take the game to the opposition with attacking players just as good as theirs?

Aubameyang and Lacazette have scored 19 and assisted another 8 goals between them this PL campaign, and should they both start they will need the support from all areas of the the pitch. Being up against the PL’s best defense we would also need to make the most of the few chances that no doubt will come our way if we want to take home the points.

Obviously wanting to round out 2018 on a high note will require hard work in front of the Anfield faithful in a fixture that usually brings goals but it’s hard to measure how much fatigue will play it’s part after such a long December, though, don’t the Reds players look rather fresh?

I’m not suggesting anything, not at all [insert mega toothy yellow blob]

On behalf of the Positively Arsenal family I want to say thanks to everybody being part of the year that was 2018, be it just reading or contributing in writing blogs or commenting. It’s been quite a rollercoaster that saw us wave farewell to our greatest manager and legend and the ushering in of a new era. Best wishes for the New Year and may it be better than the last.

@LaboGoon

71 Comments

Arsenal: Will the torture never end?

 

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Good morning Positive Arsenal fans,

We emerge from the Christmas pair of games a little behind where we were hoping to be in the PL with two points not picked up yesterday. The effect has been less damaging than could have been the case because of a couple of notable performances from Leicester, of all people.

For the opening 20 minutes we were very good.  We should have cut the poor home defence to shreds and been at least two goals ahead. Perhaps it was too easy ? After that patch of footballing poetry we lapsed. Brighton scrambled back into the game, got a grip on Auba and Laca, and we faced a struggle for the next 70 minutes where ten minutes before the opponent was on the canvas. And it was a struggle rather than a battle. Just three fouls all afternoon for us and just ten for Brighton. Clean game with just one dodgy tackle over the 90. Not what I expected.

Of yesterday’s game defence much better than the shambles at St Mary’s with Kosc getting back toward the player he was before the 2017/2018 season was ruined by injuries. 70  valuable minutes for the club captain yesterday. Sokratis is growing on me, a likeable rogue. Lichtsteiner I see is being slagged off universally by every Arsenal fan and his dog for what I still say was an unlucky clip off his head (next time hide Stephan). Sead did fine, though not as influential as against Burnley. AMN put in a few good minutes and I would not be too surprised to see him start at Anfield at right back.

Our midfield comes in for some fair criticism about lack of creative or attacking initiative. With our strikers labouring against a robust defence we need more attacking threat from our midfield, whether that is shooting from distance or dashes to the near post/far post/any bloody post and into the box. Enough of the “three DMs” bollocks though. I did not see any of Guendouzi, Torreira or Granit as a defensive DM yesterday. As for the blokes who are supposed to do “flair”, as it is in their contract, Ozil  started, did OK I thought but Emery did not. Iwobi entered, the usual half time shake-up, and achieved even less. The young Nigerian looks lost at the moment. Aye – I am afraid to say yesterday our creative spark was barely registering.

Our Uruguayan I thought was a little inhibited yesterday, in spite of the reported “told to play his normal game” advice. He is however a  lucky boy hat Mr Taylor did not see the slo-mo of his “coming” together on the edge of the Brighton box. A yellow card for that offence and missing Anfield would have been unacceptable.

Laca off on the hour and Ramsey on ? I would have taken Iwobi off – whatever confidence he had would have been further punctured but the French striker is able to pull out goal from the unexpected angle or the half inch gap.

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Weighing it all up ? The point was a correct result. Room for improvement certainly but no disaster and an encouraging step forward from my MotM Laurent Koscielny.

So just two days off and on to the Home of the Champions elect. I hear the bookies on Merseyside have already paid out – as they do.

Enjoy Thursday.

 

 

 

115 Comments

Arsenal: The Boxing Day Shoot

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@LaboGoon and Season’s greetings one and all.

Arsenal is travelling to the South Coast this afternoon to take on Brighton & Hove Albion at the AMEX Stadium; a win would lift us into top-four to add a bit of pressure on Chelsea going into their game vs Watford directly following ours.

If the Gunners think they had it tough last time we were on the road, a 3-2 defeat at St Mary’s, also down at the south coast, the Seagulls are the definitive “difficult to play against” side at their home, of the teams outside top-six; something we know all too well about being beaten there 2-1 last season. Chris Hughton’s team is usually well-organised and play from a strong defensive base; 26 goals conceded, two more than us, this campaign into their second season in the top flight is impressive.

They aren’t without issues though and comes into this fixture following three straight defeats, but despite that it’s hard to imagine them being dragged into the relegation battle, so there’s little Chris would need to change about their style. With 6 out of 24 defeats since last season and 13 of their 20 PL goals this campaign at the Amex… the Seagulls is now a pucker middle-class Premier League outfit.

The manner of our win against Burnley was important for Unai Emery and the boys; Özil’s vision for the opener, giving the Clarets as good as we got in the physical challenges and putting the game to bed just as it look like they were putting out all the stops ensured that our players’ confidence and ability weren’t questioned following the back to back defeats.

Our most recent league games against Huddersfield, Southampton and Burnley reminded Unai that there’s no easy games, ergo nothing should be taken for granted. With our next fixture an expected high intensity one against Liverpool in three days the make up of the team will be interesting; ie to rotate or not to rotate, or to just go in with a strong XI to give yourself the best chance of winning and build momentum leading up to the trip up north. Ooh to be Emery.

Chris Hughton’s main concern though will just be whether his team should venture out and attack, or if they should sit in their own half to absorb pressure and rely on counterattacks.

So hard knowing where Premier League managers’ mind are at these modern times.

What we do know is that the Seagulls have one or two attackers that can cause defenders numerous problems, are extremely disciplined and far from comfortable to play against in front of their own fans; and for that reason we will need to match their resilience and take our chances. Today certainly is going to be a different test and I suspect a close encounter to be on the cards.

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85 Comments

Arsenal- “the thunder of Bosnian hooves”

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A very good afternoon  fellow Positives,

That contest was far from the smooth, efficient and goal difference boosting game I had been hoping for. Despite a unique PL first half in which we actually went in for the half time orange in front the Clarets were awkward opponents all afternoon, and I expect Sean Dyche is fuming in his usual splenetic manner after games at the Ems.

Of the match itself we were neither fluent nor were particularly sharp in our pressing play. We did enough however to open Burnley up through a patient interchange of passes, a deft touch from Mesut and a combination of Sead and PEA slotted the opener past a flailing Hart.

I saw no floodgates in the vicinity after our first goal however and, while I have not looked at the first half or the overall game stats, I suspect it was an even  50/50 possession for the afternoon. Nacho’s early departure was a blow, from playing a 3.5 formation at the back we then played a (? fill in  the formation you think you saw). I think it was  4 with Granit sometimes the centre back, or the left sides third back, but I don’t know. And I am not too sure Unai does either.

Having sensed the chance of something better than a drubbing Burnley came out i  the second half and both sides traded blows liberally and, in Barnes’ case, literally. Could the Burnley have been sent off ? Definitely ! Should Ashley have been sent off ? Probably! Had Mike Dean been the referee would he have been off ?  Undoubtedly!

Amidst the battle however we carved out a rare second goalscoring chance and Auba tucked away his second in tidy fashion. Rather than slumping into a plucky-underdogs- defeated-mode however, Burnley regrouped and steamed into us with even greater vigour. Not in the bloody script at all. Barnes of all people ( boo – hiss) took advantage of a deflected clearance and Arsenal fans at home and in the stadium lurched into panic as he fairy on the festive football tree turned out to have witch tendencies.  o do ot know about you dear reader but that was a very, very long 30 minutes between Barnes’ goal and Iwobi’s final killer blow.

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Our man of the match for a sterling display going forward, involvement in our two opening goals and flattening the opposition when required goes to Sead Kolasinac. The “thunder of Bosnian hooves” headline  stolen from the normally lugubrious Alan Smith. I would have given an award to Alex Lacazette, who was industry personified and ran the Burnley defence ragged,  but after he was taken off the Frenchman appeared to be having some sort of hissy fit. No idea why but I imagine we shall hear more wild rumour on the topic. Pat on the back for Guendouzi as well.

I anticipate the same game at the Amex stadium on Wednesday so keep those gloves available, shin guards handy and gum shield within reach.

Have a fine Christmas for those who do the festival, and for those who don’t enjoy the weekend. I know I shall.

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119 Comments

Arsenal and a portion of Pie Tonic

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@LaboGoon adopts a mandibular extension 

Much has been made of Arsenal’s impressive 22 game unbeaten run which included quite a few jaw dropping performances. There was a prevailing feeling that we had buried some of the demons of the past, however, all that came to an end following back to back defeats against Southampton and North London rivals Tottenham respectively.

Good day one and all…

With Christmas spirits dented ever so slightly we host Burnley at the Emirates this early afternoon hoping to get back to winning ways and put recent setbacks behind us.

The Gunners would be disappointed at the manner the unbeaten run came to an end at St Mary’s – even with injury and suspension issues. With all our defenders available we always looked somewhat disorganized at the back but time and again scored our way out of trouble. Then just as we started getting our defensive act together we became less clinical in front of goal; getting a draw here and grinding out a win there. Last Sunday and midweek though were like a cocktail of defensive disarray and attacking profligacy – two traits we can ill afford to once again combine facing a struggling Burnley side.

The Clarets of course have just a solitary win in their last ten Premier League games (D2 L7) but despite how out of sorts they may seem they’re always competitive. Last Saturday they were on the verge for a share of the spoils at Wembley. Withstood everything the Totties threw at them for +90 minutes, but for a Eriksen strike in the dying seconds of the game. They are likely to adopt a similar defence-minded and creative time wasting approach hoping for a different result.

Unai Emery and the boys cannot dwell on our defeats because they know that despite any defensive woes, if we are determined to stay in the race for top-four we have to go at the Clarets guns blazing. A bit more energy and creativity from the onset should help eliminate the first half struggles and show the lethal qualities our attack do possess, as chasing the game going into second halves holding a kitchen sink seem to be taking its toll on the boys.

It’s been a while but there may be a general feel that this is a “must win” game. With teams at the top end in good nick we don’t want to be too far off the pace to capitalize on any momentary slips, whilst also wanting to maintain the distance between ourselves and the José-less Manchester United.

I don’t really like to add “team selection” stuff to my posts but I do hope lessons got learned from recent trial and error picks across the midfield and defense. I do take heart though that Unai said he will select the best starting lineup from the available players.

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Most expected a comfortable afternoon down at South Coast last weekend but the football spirits had others ideas, so hopefully our players put in a more committed performance from back to front and remain sharp throughout to ensure the Clarets leave London empty-handed.

42 Comments

The Season of the Kicks (Same old same old)

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Rich makes his debut @Whatsinaname81

Close to halfway through the first season of the new era – Post AW, AAW, whatever- at Arsenal. A period of great change. Some, myself included, hoped that change might just include both a new beginning with the officials who oversee our matches, and other influential parties. It’s still relatively early, but recent events suggest that on that front it is, alas, whatever the Spanish or English is for ‘plus ca change’.

Aggression against us has spiked in recent games and, on the whole, been rewarded. The teams using extra aggression and foul play have gained benefits from it, meaning a commensurate loss for us – in terms of the odds of a good result, and those of staying injury free- and none of the referees involved appear to have had the capacity to deal with this properly.

We have lost one key player to a 9 months to a year injury from a clear foul, unpunished, and seen another 3 leave the pitch injured, with one directly the result of a foul, and the other two of unknown origin. We saw our recently returned club captain left hobbling from what looked a nasty, late deliberate foul, unpunished.

 Our emerging young French talent was fortunate to leave the field in one piece after an utterly wild and out of control smash on him which should have yielded red, but didn’t. For good measure, late in that game he was, well, an opponent stopped him by grabbing hold of his hair. Not quite one to make the blood boil, as it carried no injury threat, but all the same an offence recently judged worthy, in the cold, retrospective light of day, of a red, but here a free kick would do.

Then, of course, the rotational fouling, or just the fouling. A constant. So much so that it’s almost a surprise when an opponent doesn’t grab, push or kick when in position to do so. These for the most part, are viewed as nothing, free kicks given less than half the time, avoiding totting up procedure entirely. Given how unconcerned the refs are with them, you wonder why the opponents keep doing it, as presumably it confers no advantage. Silly them.

There is the argument- if you believe any of this is accurate- that the only solution is to reciprocate in kind – if you can’t beat ‘em…- but, judging by how it went when we tried joining in and seeking the benefits of the play-acting, unnatural fallin’ etc, that is rife in the league, that may not go so well.

In truth, I’ve tried a number of times to leave this thinking behind, to experiment with seeing it differently, up to taking the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind treatment if it comes on the market. To no avail. I tend to be doing alright- suspiciously- when the going is good and we are getting results. But the real killer for me is should a serious injury occur as a result of clear foul play. In that case, I’m off. With the new injury joining those that have come before, and all the old grievances, distrust and anger rising back up.

And so to Holding. Categorically not in the same league of foul play as the worst of the past, and when measured only by itself…a what? Yellow for me, given it was so late, was cynical, evidently did lead directly to plenty of harm, had to be deliberate, and the ball was nowhere near. But, no, clearly I would not have been angry about it as, for instance, I was Rojo’s foul, had it not led to a big injury. I wouldn’t have even known there had been a foul had I not seen the quick replay afterwards as they checked what had happened to Holding. Crucially, though, to my discontent, I would not have known it was a foul either- the fateful late kick around Holding’s shin, causing the knee to buckle, had I not spotted it myself, then recorded it and watched it back a number of times.

This was the chief cause of unhappiness for me in the days that followed : it was not described as a foul anywhere. Not by the commentary team, and not by anyone within the media. And yet, there it is in the video, a clear foul. So, why does that even matter?

It matters to me, a lot, because it allowed there to be no connection made between our opponents aggression on the night and our player picking up the bad injury. That’s aggravating on the justice front but far graver is how it fits into a pattern stretching back over a decade, which has done us serious harm as a club, and had a dramatically negative effect on at least three top international players of ours. That matters.

The pattern, in short, is of teams being allowed to push and break the rules in terms of aggression fair and foul, penalising us within games and leaving our players at far higher threat to injury than they should be. Crucial to this, aside from the input of referees, is how our games are covered and reported. It would not be possible, the approach to us, in my opinion, if we could only rely on fair, honest, accurate and reasonable reporting, the type which, among other things, draws attention to the connection between foul play against us and the statistic-busting (three horror injuries from horror fouls in 4 seasons at one point. Not normal) injuries we receive from foul play. The Holding incident fits perfectly into that pattern.

Imagine if it had simply been reported, without any particular vehemence nor condemnation, that Utd, in line with their manager’s battle cries beforehand, were extremely aggressive in the match; that the ref was highly lenient in a variety of ways (totting up, yellow threshold, red threshold); that one of the fouls led, unfortunately, to a very serious injury, although it was not an especially bad foul, the injury could not be predicted, etc (however you can imagine your imaginary commentators saying it, with any degree of conviction you like, that Rashford, although guilty of a foul, was not to blame in a serious sense for the injury, which was sheer rotten bad luck).

Still imagining, these commentators also note, calmly and without condemnation, that Rojo was surely lucky to escape a red, as he has done a number of times previously for wild, dangerous lunges, and that Guendouzi,too, was lucky not to get a bad injury, as he so easily could have.

They also, though this is stretching it now, note that the hair-pulling from Fellaini was- as well as great banter!- an offence an opponent of his was handed a retrospective three game bad for, so if the ref saw it, and he did give a free kick…who was wrong…the team who administered retrospective punishment- red offence- for the pull of Fellaini’s hair, or the ref who saw the same  as a free kick only? Or, hell, muse on whether the rules have since changed, or if he did in fact actually see it. (or, later now, in the days after, whether this whole retrospective system is badly flawed, given the huge inconsistencies the ‘seen it, can’t re-referee it’ loophole insists upon). It was a Mcmanaman commentary so no one could claim there’s no time for such musings as other, better things are being said.

If we’ve imagined that far, we can try imagine what impact that commentary- including the plain acknowledgement of the long-term injury caused by a foul, and the narrow escape from a dangerous foul- would have on the post-match discourse, public opinion, Marriner’s performance review, Riley and Scudamore’s morning coffee (perhaps together in the offices they share)…and from there, rival premier league managers and players, including those about to play us.

Would it shape the next fixture, and the next? We’re deep in the realms of (imaginary) probability, but yes, absolutely, and in our favour. Reduced injury risk. More pressure on refs to punish foul play appropriately and discourage foul play. A narrative which recognises how teams look for an advantage through fouls, and the clear and obvious link between this, permissive refereeing of it, and serious injuries.

So there we have it, wild, wild impossible imaginings of what, simply, should be. A simple, neutral description of reality would have drawn attention to those things, the facts of the game, the reality of it. And yet it is, sadly, entirely unimaginable. So the cycle continues, endlessly rolling on until who knows when. The [my opinion all, of course] strangely bad refereeing, the simpatico coverage of it, essential to its continuation.

The year lost to the foul which was not a foul. The small yet real contribution that makes to the likelihood of more bad refereeing, increased injury risk, etc. On and on. Plus ca change, amigos. I think only years of intense, sustained, bone-deep cynicism, pitched at precisely the same level as the opposition, in all departments, on and off pitch, could alter the landscape. Hope not but I canimagine anything else doing the trick.

 

 

26 Comments

Arsenal: No end product

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Good morning Positives,

It is always disappointing to go out of a Cup competition at the quarter final stage. To lose to the neighbours, at home, and with our opponents clearly, in my view, a step ahead of us for most of the contest is particularly galling. The evening started brightly. That our talismanic referee Jonny Moss was in charge augured well before kick off. I think both sides played the best teams they had available. Attacking wise AFC and TH bristled with quality. Unfortunately our injury list left us under-equipped in defensive personnel compared to the visitors.

The outcome of the evening pivoted on a handful of key moments.

It was a far more even opening that the NLD at the start of the month. However, as then, we could/should have been at least one goal ahead by the twelfth minute but two good chances were not converted. Totties were evidently keen to exploit our high-press and perceived defensive fragility and, as if by malign magic, a stumble by Sokratis created an opportunity for Son to fire them into the lead. One shot, one goal.

We did not however panic and commendably snapped back into the game. We controlled the ball and territory. The Totties looked deadly on the break. From that point on in the first half, and much of the second half, we huffed and we puffed to recover an equaliser. To their credit, and far more successfully than three weeks ago, Tottenham threw their bodies in and hustled and bustled us backwards and sideways. We struck the posts, we skied shots, we won corners but each was stoutly defended. The longer the game went on the less likely it looked we would score. Our usual second-half-rush fizzled out.

The impact of a poor second goal clearly made the steep hill we needed to climb to get back into the game that much more vertical, but  it was a night when it looked to me we  were unlikely to get a single goal. In respect of the circumstances of he second goal I presume, indeed I hope, there is a great deal of shouting, pointing and angry words this morning at Colney. It was fucking ridiculous.

As was the plastic bottle.

A strange factoid though; Paulo Gazzaniga is the first Spurs goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet away at Arsenal in any competition since November 1998, when Espen Baardsen did so at Highbury. Espen Baardsen eh ?

Anyway, the last time we lost two games in a row was August. Our first game after those losses to Citeh and Chels we played against the claret and blue clad ‘Ammers, on Saturday at home,  who we beat comfortably. After that we went 22 games unbeaten. We play Burnley on Saturday. You can probably see where I am going here.

And finally, as it is almost holiday time enjoy the big feller cavorting with his fans before last night’s contest. DuzaPSSW0Ags811-1.jpg