Arsenal 0 – 0 Marseille : I’m not complaining

Morning Gooners…

I’m tired, I didn’t get enough sleep last night. I’m cranky enough at the best of times, when I’m short on shut-eye I’m a real treat…
 
But despite that and despite Arsenal’s inability to beat Marseille and seal qualification from the group last night, I’m not going to be making too many complaints this morning *NB – What follows is likely to contain some complaints but just not too many.
 
Reflecting back on the game without the aid of having watched the game back or read any match reports, I think we had the better chances to win the game – In the first half Rambo spurned a decent opportunity to move closer to his goals target of double figures for the season. Andre Santos’ cross across Mandanda’s goal was perfect but the Welshman was unable to apply the finish and his touch sent the ball high and wide. Theo also had a fantastic opportunity to at least test the French ‘keeper but rather than fire a shoot straight off he delayed, took an extra and unnecessary touch and the chance went begging. After his dazzling performance at the bridge on Saturday it was disappointing to see Theo revert back to the ineffective and indecisive player who causes so much frustration.
 
In all we had seven shots on target compared to Marseilles one, so talk from Deschamps suggesting his side should have won are maybe as far wide of the mark as an Arsenal free-kick (Assuming said free-kick gets over the wall). I will admit that the visitors probably just about shaded it as the better side on the night but it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest they should have won – I’m aware that doesn’t quite make sense but it does give further indication of our attacking impotence last night. I said in yesterdays post that I would have started Van Persie and had Park on the bench, Wenger thought the opposite. I really like the South Korean so I’m not going to rip him apart here but he was largely ineffective. It wasn’t for want of effort and endeavour, he kept going for the sixty-two minutes he was on the park (pun intended) and was always looking to be involved. It was just maybe one of those nights where things don’t quite click. I’ll say one thing for the former Monaco front man, as pointed out by Big Dave, he wins every header he goes for.. I’m not sure what that offers us this morning but on the whole it can be no bad thing, knowing that we’ve a player with the ability to use his height but not become reliant upon. The boss suggested after the game that he had made a mistake and that we may have been better off starting the Dutchman from the off (This is becoming a habit isn’t it Arsene…)
 
Gervinho was another of our front men who wasn’t quite at the races, I think the Ivorian created two or three good chances but on the whole it was another example of his poor decision making. There was a point where Theo was in acres of space but ‘Vinho (I just made that up, kudos to me?) picked out Ramsey instead but the Wales skipper was surrounded by blue shirts and quickly lost possession. To be fair to ‘Vinho (yep I’m sticking with that) he looked dead on his feet in the later stages of the game and it’s not surprise really, he has been working his socks off of late and he wasn’t the only one to suffer in that manner.
 
I thought Alex Song was the only player to pick up where he left off on Saturday. I know the Cameroonian has his critics still but I think that very quietly he is growing with every game and is starting to be a bit of a lynchpin in that midfield trio.
 
I expect that much will be made of the Varmaelen and Mertesacker partnership at centre half, the pair certainly played will together and it was nice to see us keep a clean sheet even when we have a goalkeeper pulling out Cruyff turns in the penalty box. Some might now suggest that Wenger has made his choice and Laurent Koscielny has been the unlucky one, but in truth the manager was surely giving the Frenchman a breather. Larry has played a lot of football so far this season and with Tommy V back this was the right choice by Arsene. I am starting to wonder if rather then the gaffer picking a first choice two from Tommy, Mertz and Larry he may just rotate a little? That wouldn’t be such a bad thing, I think we’ve seen that any permutation of pairing can work well so it could be the way to go.
 
A draw is far from the worst result but Dortmund beating Olympiacos in the other game in the group any two of the four teams can still get through to the knock-out stage so our home game against the Germans later this month is a key game. I think mathematically we can still progress with two more points from the possible six that remain on offer but we all know that we need to win the group and I don’t think two draws will allow us that opportunity.
 
There may be a few reports this morning saying we’ve crashed back down to earth and all that jazz but the level headed amongst us never considered that a run of wins including an away drubbing of Chelsea had cleared away all the early season doubts and fears and that we would hit a bit of a wall at some point. We’re not having to eat humility flavoured porridge this morning. Thoughts now turn to Saturdays game against West Brom and the players have a few days now to catch their breath.
 
My biggest disappointment of last night was seeing that Emmanuel Frimpong doesn’t quite know how to get into the ground. The Ghanaian drove up St Thomas’s Road in his DEEEEENCH Mobile about forty-five minutes before kick off (without stopping to give me a lift) and clearly got to the top of the road to find he had gone the wrong way. Two minutes later he was driving back down the street towards Finsbury Park… Silly Frimmers.
 
Well that is me done for now, so thanks for reading and enjoy your day.
 
Cheers.
 
Paul.
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Marseille Preview: All to play for

 

Tonight we face Marseille in the Champions League – A win will up our points tally to 10 and open a clear gap between us and the other three sides in the group regardless of the result in the Dortmund – Olympiacos game. However, should we beat OM and Die Schwarzgelben pick up their first three group points we’ll see our qualification to the last sixteen secured.
 
At the moment the group is pretty tight and all four sides currently have at least a mathematical chance to progress to the knock out stage so we’re set to see a fairly open game at the grove this evening. While we’ve been busy swatting aside all comers of late L’OM have been busy putting together a little run of their own since our win at the Stade Velodrome beating AC Ajaccio, Lens & Dijon in the three games. So we can expect the French side to be reinvigorated and with the chance to take our place at the top of the group on offer it all has the makings of a great game because I think we can all agree that we won’t be sitting back and looking to take a point or hold onto a lead – we just don’t do that.
 
What is important is winning the group, taking our foot of the gas and finishing second last season presented us with a two leg knock out tie with Barcelona. Now I’ve always been of the opinion that if you want to win a competition you’ve got to play and beat the best sides at some point, but at the same time I understand that facing ‘lesser sides’ as such is an advantage and you also hope that the further you go in a knock out competition the more confidence and belief you build. I’m not suggesting we’ll go on and win the Champions League this season but if you’re not going to aim to win then why bother taking part (aside from the masses and masses of millions it earns you) ? Also we’re the Arsenal, we should never ever settle for a quarter final place (or fourth place in the league) at least not while it is still possible to achieve much more.
 
In terms of team news, we’ve suffered no fresh injuries from Saturday. Yossi Benayoun returns to the squad after impressing in the Carling Cup win last week and being ineligible to face his parent club Chelsea. Thomas Vermaelen and Carl Jenkinson are pushing for starting births. While their injuries are not related to Saturdays win Marouane Chamakh and Abu Diaby miss out again with knee and hamstring injuries respectively. The Moroccan (That is a country nowhere near Iraq so if you’re a singer of that ridiculous song just stop it right now. There is almost three thousand miles between the countries) has a knee injury, but there has been no time frame put on his absence and Ab-Who is set for another three weeks on the sidelines, Wenger says he is worried for his country man but not as worried as he was three months ago when he was worried
 
The boss said yesterday that he hasn’t decided on his line-up yet but I think we may well see a few changes from the weekend but with qualification and top stop still in the balance I’m not sure this is the best time to go resting too many players – I’m thinking of Robin & Rambo in particular here.
 
If the Dutchman is rested then the only replacement we have is Ju and in I think it would benefit the South Korean if he does get some game time, but my choice would be to see him come from the bench.
 
I know that Stan Kroenke has been talking and that is something I’ll be taking a bit more of a look at during the international break. I know it will be old news by then but we’ve got two big games before we have to spend two weeks being bored to tears and frankly I would rather concentrate on those games. But if you want to know what our Stanley has been saying then you can have a read of the Mirror’s full transcript here.
 
Sadly I have to do the job that pays me now, rather then just do parts of it like I have been since I got into the office just after half past seven…
 
I’m really looking forward to the game tonight, I think it will be another big test for this team but one we can overcome so here’s to another Arsenal victory.
 
Enjoy the game wherever you are watching it and lets get together about this time tomorrow and discuss it shall we?
 
Thanks for reading.
 
Paul.

A change of attitude

 

Morning all,
 
Well these happy Mondays just keep on coming don’t they…
 
I’m still feeling the joy spread by Saturdays performance and result, it may have been the eighth victory from the last nine games but there is something special about smacking five past Chelsea at Stamford Bridge isn’t there. We’re so often told that we’re nowhere near the level of teams like Chelsea and whilst I’m not going to use one game and one result as apparent proof that we are I’ve found it interesting, not to mention enjoyable, to see the amount of TV shows, newspaper columns etc that have skirted above our performance and quickly turned to suggesting that this is a Chelsea side in crisis.
 
Do these so-called “experts” not worry that it’s becoming abundantly clear that every time a team they deem to be a ‘Big Club’ looses a game or two they revert to the default line of ‘Club in crisis’ or ‘Manager under pressure’. Surely they have the capacity to be a little more insightful than that or a I being naïve? Anyway I don’t want to give the impression that I am defending Chelsea so enough of that.
 
Whilst we’re on such a good run and on a high from Saturday it’s quite good that our two games before the next international break are right on top of us, Marseille tomorrow night & West Brom on Saturday. That those fixtures are at home could also be a blessing and keep this run going, I know we won in France a few weeks ago and tasted a first away league victory on Saturday but it’s at home that we’ve been strongest so far this season and just as a way of keeping momentum going two home fixtures can’t be a bad thing.
 
Winning is a habit and at the moment this side has got a real taste for it and I don’t see why that shouldn’t continue this week. I’ve also been having a think about how this Arsenal side might respond to defeat. We know that teams of the last couple of years have often struggled to get back to winning ways after being beaten and that for Arsene’s talk of mental strength we’ve seen a mental weakness in that department but I just wonder if this side might actually have a bit more about them and have the capacity to put a poor result behind them and move on quickly.
 
I’ve got minimal evidence to support this theory but it is far from inadmissible…
 
Exhibit A – In the wake of Old Trafford.
 
Ok so we saw a few new signings coming in between the trouncing by United and the victory against Swansea but it’s not like these players had much time to really impact on the psyche of the side. I’ll also admit that we didn’t really beat the Welsh side convincingly but in recent seasons we may not have held our lead, in fact it’s not unknown for a newly promoted side to come to the grove and beat us. We also went to Germany and were extremely unlucky not to bring home three Champions League points after Ivan Perisic’s late wonder strike.
 
Exhibit B – After Ewood Park.
 
The shambles that was the 4-3 defeat at the hands of a shockingly poor Blackburn Rovers team still gives me more nightmares than the drubbing in Manchester. We caused our own capitulation that afternoon and gifted Rovers the win, we can point to two own goals being bad luck but in all honesty we know that would be a pretty poor excuse. The victory against Shrewsbury in the Carling Cup three days later may not look like much of an achievement on paper but it came at a time when the team, manager and club were under considerable pressure. That pressure was still apparent after the game when the press tried to lambast us for having such a reduced attendance for the game against league two opposition. The reaction to those petty, and inaccurate, reports from the fans and the magnificent PR from the club really kept the spirit and momentum up and played a part in the 3-0 win over Bolton on the following Saturday which was closely followed by victory in Greece against Olympiacos.
 
Exhibit C – The NLD.
 
Back to being the loosing team at White Heart Lane and with two weeks to dwell on it during the last international break it would have been easy for heads to drop. So many of our players were away with their national teams but maybe that was something of a blessing in disguise because when they returned they only had a few days to prepare for the game against Sunderland and whilst the win over the Mackems was far from pretty it was certainly hard fought and was perhaps the axis for the run we have been on since. We went away to France and won, beat Stoke 3-1 and defeated Bolton again, this time the victory came in the league cup and put us into the quarter finals for the ninth consecutive year.
 
Exhibit D – Stamford Bridge.
 
We went 1-0 down early on, we went 2-1 down on the stroke of half time. We were pegged back to 3-3 with just ten minutes to go yet still the team kept going, never gave in and finished the game as the winning side.
 
Sure we can look at a couple of those defeats and say they should never have happened but there is little we can do about that now except push on and not let the adversity drag us down like it so often has.
 
The truth is that unless this side can somehow go on an incredible run and avoid defeat for the remainder of the season we will be beaten again. We will need to get back up again. I’m not looking forward to it happening and I’m worried that we might not respond so well the next time it does but we have to be buoyed by this sides persistence and, if Saturday is now a benchmark, never say die attitude. Plus dare we say it… The teams mental strength?
 
Arsene holds his press conference ahead of tomorrow nights game later his afternoon and I think we can expect to see changes to the side – we’ll have a look at that tomorrow but I’ll keep you as updated as I am via Twitter until then.
 
Thanks for reading and enjoy another happy Monday.
 
Paul.

Rambo Strikes Late

A late winner away from home, three points and climbing to the top of our group – what more could we have asked for last night?

The match itself, whilst not a total doozy, wasn’t a shining example of European football at it’s best so I’m not going to try to force anyone to re-live it through written word. Instead lets focus on the Television coverage and a few of our players…

Saving the savage ‘slagging-off’ for last lets start with the players –

Aaron Ramsey – The young Welshman has come in for a little criticism of late which I think has been harsh, but not totally without merit. At no point has Rambo lifted up Andrey Arshavin’s blanket and asked ‘Can I hide under here with you?‘. The Welsh skipper keeps going and gives his all in every game he plays for club and country. I know I keep saying it but with the Spaniard gone and Jack out injured  a lot is being asked of Ramsey this season. I was thrilled that he got the winner right at the death after coming on in place of Andrey Arshavin in the 78th minute (The Russian had given another outstanding impression of the invisible character portrayed by Kevin Bacon in the film Hollow Man) Given that the chance came so late on Ramsey showed great composure to put the ball past Steve Mandanda and win the game, had the chance fallen to someone else we may have been cursing at the final whistle rather than celebrating. That brings me on nicely to…

Theo Walcott – It’s not happening is it? At times it happens, but then for the majority of the time it fails to happen and we all forget those rare occasions when it does happen. There were few clear-cut openings in front of the L’OM goal aside from the one that produced the winner, but the best of the rest fell to Theo and he chocked. For someone who repeatedly states a desire to be played down the middle he really doesn’t do his chances of being picked to play there much good when he wastes the kind of opportunities like last nights or  the one against Bolton last month. I saw some people were asking yesterday why there was so much surprise around AOC’s omission form the 18 man squad, well in my view it’s because the Ox should be there putting pressure on Theo because no one else is. I suggested in yesterday’s post that he should have been replaced by Gervinho and may have been more effective coming from the bench late on but it seems the Arsene still won’t listen to me. At the moment it’s almost taken for granted that Walcott will start out on the right, I’m not sure how much of a fight he is having to put up in order to keep his place – seemingly none. I think the biggest problem is he either has it in him and shows that on a regular basis or the times when he has looked mustard will just start to look like a fluke. It’s all a little similar to Ashavin really and at a time when we’re maybe lacking a bit of creativity from midfield and we’re failing to provide sufficient support for Van Persie up front we can hardly afford to carry one player let alone two.  But it’s not impossible for a player to take the bull by the horns and show a marked improvement, look at…

Carl Jankinson – I was delighted by Jenk’s performance at right back last night. There were suggestions prior to the game that the youngster should be dropped to the bench and a centre half take his place on the right but you’ve got to play players in their best positions and not only that but you could clearly see that after completing the game against Sunderland on Sunday, and admirably so, Jenkinson grew in strength as the game went on last night and it was a real disappointment to see him leave the field with a knee injury in the 62nd minute. We’ll wait to see what the reports are on the extent of that injury today but I really do hope he’ll be fit to face Stoke on Sunday, the more he plays the better he’ll become. He is improving as a defender but you’ve also got to applaud his crossing, we saw it out in Asia in pre season and he delivered again in that department last night – as Arse2Mouse Tweeted last night why not see if he can be as prolific with his delivery from corners? Fair play to Johan Djourou also, he did well when he came on in place of Jenks. If the former Charlton lad is out of this weekends clash with SCRFC then the Swiss would be my choice to deputise because frankly…

Laurent Koscielny is far too good a centre half to be fannying about as a makeshift right back. The Frenchman was absolutely outstanding last night, our best player by a country mile and certainly the Man of the Match. Again he is a player who has come in for criticism at times and again I’ve considered that criticism to be harsh and in the main totally unfounded. The £10m we paid Lorient in 2010 looks an absolute bargain, especially when you consider that from before we signed him and up until this summer we were being urged by many to spend £15m and upwards on Jagielka or Cahill. I know which player I would rather have and as I said in a post a while back, I believe that Kozzer and Vermaelen can forge an outstanding partnership at the heart of our defence. Last night was Koscielny’s 54th game for the Gunners and in truth not even Arsene could have envisioned that a guy who just three seasons ago was playing in the French second division would have clocked up so many Arsenal appearances in such a short time. He has formed a solid partnership with Per Mertesacker, who was also on fine form again last night, and it will be harsh on the big German if he is relegated to the bench once Vermaelen returns but it would be even harsher on Koscielny. The level of performance he produced last night should come as no surprise to anyone, yes he is prone to the odd mistake but which player isn’t? It reminds me a bit of Martin Keown, rightly regarded as an Arsenal legend now it took a while for the defender to be given the plaudits he deserved upon his return to Highbury.

I’m not going to go into so much detail with every player, I thought they all performed well last night so I’ll just say briefly that…

Mickey Arteta put in another dogged shift in midfield, I know he has always had that in his locker but you have to give credit to him, he may have thought, as many did, that he was going to shoulder the creative burden this season but he is yet to be afforded much of an opportunity for that in the short time he has been at the club but has dug in and performed the task assigned to him as well as you could ask. Tommy Rosicky continued his renaissance, it’ll be interesting to see where he starts Sundays game and despite the early and needless booking Alex Song had another good game in the heart of our midfield. RVP gave his usual committed skippers performance but in truth didn’t get much support up front, Szszesny was rarely called into action but was ready and alert when he was and lastly Andy Santos blew hot and cold in my opinion. The Brazilian in him comes out during those surging sorties into the opposition half but as a defender he has yet to float my boat and at this moment in time Kieran Gibbs, when fit obviously, would be my choice for that birth.

So in summary we got what you want from a Champions League away game – three points. The bonus is another clean sheet, topping the group (for now) and keeping our good run going. Despite our flaws five wins out of six is good going by any standards and if we can take advantage of our extra days rest and put Stoke to the sword on Sunday then things will continue to look brighter.

So finally I’ll say a quick word about ITV’s coverage last night – Shocking.

Actually that is maybe a little unfair, it’s the hosting, the punditry and the commentary that are shocking.

About thirty seconds in Martin O’Neill took the opportunity to reaffirm the fact he doesn’t like Arsene Wenger. Clive Tyldesley told us it was the first time Wenger had managed an Arsenal side on native soil since 2002 thus clearly neglecting the 2006 Champions League final, which he no doubt commented on, was held in Paris before Adrian Chiles rounded things off by suggesting that after a last gasp one nil win Arsenal fans will start to think our team is better than it is…

Great stuff ITV Sport you have once again proved to the nation why you are the television equivalent of John Terry…

Thanks for reading.

 Paul.

Tommy’s New Deal & L’OM Preview

Morning all,

Well we’ve a fair bit to crack on with this morning which makes a nice change…

That’s start with the most positive – Arsenal announced yesterday that Thomas Vermaelen had signed a new long-term deal with the club. The new deal will keep the Belgian centre half at the club until 2015 and it is without doubt a major boost at a time when we are again being told that players want to leave the club.

Tommy told Arsenal.com

“I am really happy to have signed a new contract with Arsenal. I always had the intention to stay here. I feel there is a big belief in me from the Club, from the boss and from the fans and that is one of the reasons why I stayed. Arsenal is a fantastic Club. We have great supporters, we’re doing well financially and we are playing with some quality young players now and they will develop, which is very good for the future”

It’s great to hear the defender speak in such positive terms about the club, it may seem odd that he has mentioned the clubs financial status but perhaps it shows that it’s an area of the football club that some players are interested in. Who wants to sign a deal to stay on a ship that is sinking into the financial mire?

The boss was equally delighted to have tied down one of his senior players saying: “We are absolutely delighted that Thomas has signed a new long-term contract. Our plan is always to sign top quality players and with Thomas extending his contract, we have done just that. Thomas is a special player, who has always made a huge contribution on the pitch and we are looking forward to him being a part of our future at Arsenal Football Club”

Now some people have been questioning the sense in extending the deal of a player who has made just nine appearances in the last year, clocking up less than six hours of playing time in total, but we all know that with the former Ajax man in the side we look a much better unit. We win more games and concede less goals with him in the side and whilst it may be a gamble due to his fitness record I think it is a minor one and certainly one worth taking. Hopefully he’ll be back from his current spell on the sidelines in the near future, Chelsea away on the 29th is the target, and can go on to have an injury free run in the side – Wenger has suggested that once Tommy comes back he can play 50 games on the spin, I’ve nothing against that kind of optimism but do wonder if the gaffer is including the start of next season in that or is expecting us to have a run in a cup competition?

Hopefully this news can help convince Van Persie to sign a new deal, it can certainly only act as a positive and will go down as a Pro on the skippers list of reasons to put pen to paper.

Tonight the Gunners take on French side Olympique de Marseille in the Champions League.

While L’OM may be struggling in Ligue 1, they currently sit in 15th and have won only once in their last ten games, beating newly promoted Evian, Didier Deschamps side currently lead ‘Group F’ by two points so I don’t think we should be dwelling on league form too much (especially as ours isn’t exactly great)

In terms of European competition Les Phoceens have beaten both Borussia Dortmund and Olympiacos without conceding a goal so it’s likely that they will sit deep and soak up any pressure we put on them and try to catch us on the counter attack which will undoubtedly cause us problems at the back where will need to put in the kind of performance we saw from our defence in the opening group game against Borussia Dortmund (but without conceding a late goal)

A look at the French sides squad shows  they certainly have quality throughout their side but the danger men are expected to be French Striker Loic Remy, who has been likened to Arsenal & France legend Thierry Henry by Arsene Wenger this week, and Argentine Lucho Gonzalez who was reported to have been close to joining Arsenal on loan during the summer. Another Marseille player who has been linked with us in the past is Andre Ayew who could provide young Carl Jenkinson with a torid evening, so whoever plays infront of the young left back is going to have to provide him with some support.

In Arsenal team news it’s disappointing that Kieran Gibbs misses out due to the muscle injury he picked up during Sundays win over Sunderland but it does give Andre Santos another chance to show what he can do. Aaron Ramsey returns to the squad but it is somewhat surprising that both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ju Young Park have been left at home. AOC has scored two goals in his two starts for the Gunners and has been in fine form for England U21’s, at a time when we’ve not been at our attacking best the youngster may have been expected to take a place on the bench this evening. The omission of Ju is even stranger, having been plying his trade in Ligue 1 with Monaco prior to joining us this summer the South Korean forward certainly has experience of playing against our opponents but that said Marouane Chamakh has similar experience of the French top division and has made the trip. With our over reliance on Van Persie’s goals of late it does make you wonder why we’re not attempting to utilise the talents of two proven goal scorers but I guess that as the saying goes ‘Arsene Knows’.

My personal view on our starting XI is that Theo should start from the bench, I think his pace could be better utilised coming up against a tiring defence late on. Arshavin impressed upon coming on against the Mackems and should start on the left of our front three with Gervinho, who is another Gunner with experience of Ligue 1, moving over to the right. So my starting eleven would be –

Szczesny – Jenks – Koscielny – Mertz – Andy Santos – Song – Arteta – Ramsey – Gervinho – RVP – Arshavin.

That said, I suspect that Wenger may keep the Ivorian on the left and Theo on the right. We’ll wait and see if furtehr conclusive proof of why I’m not a top level football manager is produced…

With Dortmund taking on Olympiacos this evening the Germans will be expected to pick up three points, so we really need at least a draw to keep our noses in front of the Bundesliga champions in the race for qualification. Of course Deschamps and his players know that a home victory will put them five points clear at the half way stage of the group phase so we’ll hopefully see an exciting and attacking game.

As a little aside there may well be an unwelcome reception for Boro Primorac. Wenger’s right hand man was in charge of Valenciennes in the early ’90’s when L’OM player Jean-Jacques Eydelie and General Manager Jean-Pierre Bernes attempted to bribe three of his players, Jacques Glassman, Jorge Burruchaga and Christophe Robert to throw a game. Boro blew the whistle and was integral in the fight to bring down Eydelie, Bernes and former OM chairman Bernard Tapie, as was Wenger.

Bernes is something of a super agent now, but is embroiled in a row in France due to his representation of a number of French international players as well as coach Laurent Blanc. You might be interested to know that Bernes had a hand in a certain former Gunners lucrative move to Manchester this summer…

Enjoy the game wherever you’re watching it and thanks for reading.

Paul.

Arsenal 2 -1 Olympiacos

Afternoon Gooners,

Well that was a somewhat scrappy win last night all in all but the important thing is, it was a win. That’s three on the spin now.

The last time we put together a run like this was the six game period between January 15th and February 1st when we beat West Ham, Leeds, Wigan, Ipswich, Huddersfield & Everton.  So in some ways you could say that we are starting to find a little form, but given the fact that defensively we look as suspicious as David Pleat on a walk through Soho so you also expect that form to dissipate at any time.

There were a couple of surprises in the starting eleven, Robin Van Persie and Aaron Ramsey were named on the bench and replaced by Marouane Chamakh and Tommy Rosicky respectively as even from his place up in the directors box Arsene Wenger had one eye on Sundays trip to arse end of North London (I obviously don’t mean ‘arse’ in an Arsenal sense)

Judging by the sides he has put out in our last two games against the Greek Champions you have to wonder if Wenger rates them very much, in fact by the time we travel to Piraeus in early December we could see a second string fielded, if qualification to the knock out round has been secured.

The game started well with Arsenal taking an early lead thanks to Oxlade-Chamberlain. The youngster was making his European bow last night and it took him a mere eight minutes to over take Theo Walcott as not only the clubs youngest ever scorer in European club footballs glamour competition but also the youngest ever Englishman.

AOC took a pas from Alex Song on his chest, he cut inside and managed to keep possession before cutting back in and firing a low shot through a defenders legs and into the back of the onion bag. Quite what Theo Walcott would have made of seeing someone cut inside with the ball and unleashing a shoot we just don’t know, but hopefully he’ll have made a mental note of trying to replicate the technique upon his return from injury.

It may have been all the excitement or it may have just been typical Arsenal but within minutes Olympiacos had a great chance to Pegg us back but thanks to a Mickey Arteta goal line clearance we kept our lead. What was pleasing about it was seeing the Spaniard following the traction of the ball, he moved along the goal line following the play thus meaning he was in the right place at the right time. All to often have we seen players stand static as if glued to the post at times like that.

Arsenal regained their composure and started to take look as if they would get a foot hold in the game. With just twenty minutes on the clock Andy Santos put us two goals to the good. Rosicky played the ball to the Brazilian who sprinted with it at his feet down the line before squaring for Chamakh. The Morroccan saw the ball blocked by an Oly defender and ping back towards Santos who stepped over the obstacle of an opponent who had gone to ground and fired in with his weaker right foot. 2-0 and we were maybe all preparing ourselves to see the Greek side collapse like their national economy.

Well the Greeks are obviously able to spot disorganisation from a mile away thanks to their country’s financial turmoil and rather than sporting ly bailing us out and letting us off the hook they decided to take advantage of our ramshackled attempts of defending from a set piece. From a corner David Fuster was left totally unmarked and whilst his leap and header were certainly impressive, the fact that no one was on hand to even attempt to pick him up was not so.  Two goals to one and you got the impression that the Greek side sensed a come back was not impossible. We held out until half time, but it was far from pretty.

The second half saw a marked improvement in our performance, especially at the back. Pat Rice, once again deputising for the suspended Arsene Wenger, must have given them a kick up the arse at half time. That said, Olympiacos certainly had chances to level the scoring. Our centre back pairing of Mertesacker & Song looked as impressive as any of the pairings we have seen this season at the back, neither made any false moves or suffered any mind farts. I’m not sure I’ll be too pleased to have to start with the pair alongside each other on Sunday but if that is the case then their second half performance should give them a morale boost.

Fairly late on RVP replaced Chamakh and I have to say that I thought that the much maligned Moroccan had his best game in an Arsenal shirt for a long while. Much of what he tried didn’t come off but he kept trying, his head didn’t drop and you at least knew he was taking part in the game. If he continues like that goals will come, he is looking sharper and just needs the shot in the arm finding the back of the net would be.

So we held out for our first three points of this Champions League campaign and we;ve now got a few days to rest and work on our defending from set pieces before the derby on Sunday.

With that game in mind let me tease you with the news that we have a fantastic guest writer tomorrow who has put together something that will really whet our appetites ahead of that game against our local rivals. Do not miss it.

Thanks for reading – I’ll next be posting on Sunday morning due to a stag weekend in Edinburgh. I’m already envisioning that I’ll be doing so from the comfort of my bed in some Scottish hotel room whilst in a very alcohol educed fragile state, so apologies in advance if all it consists of is the ramblings and complaints of a drunkard.

Paul.

 

 

 

 

Olympiacos Preview

Tonight we see the return of European football to the grove as Greek Super League champions Olympiacos are the first of our group F opponents to visit London.

The last time we faced Ernesto Valverde’s side was during the 2009/10 season – Valverde wasn’t at the helm of Erythrolefki at the time, having lead the side to the Greek double the previous season, his first at the club, his contract was not renewed after he found himself on the wrong side of a financial dispute at board level. The Spaniard moved to Villareal where he replaced Real Madrid bound Manuel Pellegrini on a one year deal, however Valverde could not replicate the success the Chilean had enjoyed at El Madrigal and after suffering an embarrassing 0-2 home defeat at the hands of Osasuna he was torpedoed by the yellow submarines. By August of the same year he was back in Piraeus and once again led Greece’s most successful club side to yet another league championship.

Valverde

During that last encounter between the two sides Olympiacos enjoyed a rare victory over English opposition winning the game 1-0 thanks to a goal from Leonardo. It was our final group fixture of that seasons competition and with qualification to the next round already secured, after the Gunners had won group H, Arsene Wenger fielded a side made up of reserve and youth team players. Mikael Silvestre captained the side out in Greece that night in a back four that also included Kerra Gilbert, Kyle Bartley and Thomas Cruise.

Cruise

Francis Coquelin was an unused sub that night and young Franny could find himself in the starting line up for tonight’s clash.

During his press conference yesterday Wenger revealed that Laurent Koscielny, Gervinho and Theo Walcott would all miss the game having joined Abou Diaby, Jack Wilshere, Thomas Vermaelen, Johan Djourou, Sebastian Squillaci and Yossi Benayoun in the treatment room. Even young centre half Iggy Miquel picked up a knock during the warm up prior to the reserves 1-0 win over Blackburn at Underhill on Monday night. So all in all we’re incredibly thin on the ground when it comes to the centre of our defence.

It’s likely that we’ll see Alex Song step in alongside Per Mertesacker at centre half, it’s a position the Cameroon international is familiar with and whilst we have to hope he won’t be required to play there at White Hart Lane on Sunday I would expect him to cope with any threat the Greeks may pose. I must admit, casting an eye over the Olympiacos squad list there are very few names I recognise. The one that immediately catches the eye is Olof Mellberg, the former Aston Villa defender and first player to score a competitive goal at the Emirates. Aside from the Swede there are very few players I am familiar with, Jean II Makoun is on loan from Villa and may well face his compatriot Alex Song.

That's a quality beard

Wenger will once again have to choose between Kieran Gibbs and Andy Santos at left back, personally I would like to see the Englishman continue from where he left off against Bolton on Saturday. With our back line already disrupted by Koscielny’s absence it would seem somewhat negligent to force another change in that area after Saturdays clean sheet.

So with Song taking up central defensive duties instead of defensive midfield there is yet another decision for le gaffer to take, who deputises for the Cameroonian, Franny Coquelin or Manny Frimpong?

Franny

I think that over the past few weeks the Frenchman may have edged in front of his Ghanaian team-mate in this particular race. He was something of a bright spark when he made his debut in the crushing dark of Old Trafford and was pipped to the man of the match award in last weeks league cup win over Shrewsbury Town by an outstanding second half display from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. So for my money it would be Franny making up a midfield three alongside Mickey Arteta and Aaron Ramsey.

Up top Arsenal goal scoring centurion Robin Van Persie will again lead the line as well as captain the side and along with Andrey Arshavin I would like to see the skipper flanked by AOC ahead of Thomas Rosicky. I think the young Englishman would relish the opportunity to take on the Olympiacos defence and would pose more of a threat than the Czech. Also with Theo & Gervinho both unavailable we’re a little light on pace, again something The Ox has in spades unlike Tommy.

A starting XI of: Szczesny – Sagna – Mertesacker – Song – Gibbs – Coquelin – Arteta – Ramsey – Oxlade-Chamberlain – Van Persie – Arshavin would be my choice and should have the ability to see off the Greek champions and claim our first three European points of the season.

Due to our defensive depletion expect to see Daniel Boateng on the bench just 48 hours after completing ninety minutes for the reserves, and he may not be the only one in the dug out to have done so. Of course Arsene won’t be down there with them as he sees out his touchline ban.

Boateng

It should certainly be a good game, the Greeks will try to get at us as much as possible and their support will no doubt make themselves heard across north London. The one big hope I have, aside from three points, is that we don’t suffer any further injuries. This is certainly a game we need to win but with the first NLD of the season barring down on us we can ill afford to lose anyone else.

Enjoy the game wherever you’re watching it and I’ll be back in the morning with a post match report.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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