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.

Chelsea 3 – 5 Arsenal

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“But we can win this” – The phrase from ‘Escape to victory’ that I used as a basis of yesterday’s blog. At no point during the ninety-minutes of our game at Stamford Bridge did those words leave my mind but I must admit that as the teams went in at half time with Chelsea leading 2-1, I had no idea how escape-esq the second half would prove to be…

In the opening exchanges it was the home side who saw the lions share of the ball and while their early attacks down the flanks were fair warning that our full backs had been identified as an area of weakness it was the Gunners who in all truth had the better scoring opportunities.

Inside the first two minutes Ashley Cole let Johan Djourou know that he was in for a tough time at right back and had it not been for Laurent Koscielny there is every chance that a cross from the former Arsenal man may have been turned in by Fernando Torres. Moments later Djourou lost Cole again and this time Per Mertsacker was on hand to block the ball and cut out any danger.

Daniel Sturridge had what was perhaps the blues best chance but caught between having a shot and passing to Torres wasted the opportunity.

It was two early chances created by the impressive Theo Walcott that should have put the Gunners in the driving seat. After the winger had first knocked the ball past Cole and left him in his wake as he rushed towards the Chelsea box and flashed across the perfect pass for Gervinho who hit his shot wide with his right foot. Next Theo played a fantastic ball over the top of the Chelsea defence for the on rushing Robin Van Persie who blazed over the bar. You maybe would have backed both men to score given their recent exploits in front of goal so it was typical that having failed to take the lead we went on a conceded the opener.

Mata under no pressure from an almost bemused Andre Santos crossed the ball into the Arsenal box and it should have been cleared by Per Mertesacker but the German was seemingly unable to lift his giant frame off of the ground and the ball fell to Frank Lampard who stooped low to direct the ball into the back of the net and put the home side in front.

The game really opened up and it was as free flowing as we’re likely to see but neither side really created any chances of merit until the Arsenal equaliser came. Aaron Ramsey played a lovely ball to Gervinho which caught out the Chelsea defence. The Ivorian, with Cech diving at his feet unselfishly cut the ball back for Robin Van Persie who tucked it away.

With half time approaching it looked as if the sides would head in on level terms until another defensive mistake from Mertesacker saw the blues store their lead. Aaron Ramsey, providing some much needed support for Djourou gave away a corner which was taken by Frank Lampard.

As the ball floated into the box there seemed to be little danger. Mertesacker should have been able to clear the ball but almost inexplicably missed the ball which allowed John Terry to score despite the Chelsea captain making minimal contact with the ball.

I think that vast majority of us would have expected to see Arsene Wenger make changes during the break, most likely at left back where Andre Santos had looked nothing like a Brazilian international footballer and more like an overweight hod carrier from Gateshead who had been granted on last ‘Fix It’ by Sir Jim before he passed away. So it was something of a surprise when the same red & white clad eleven made their way on to the pitch for the second half.

But what a stroke of tactical genius not making any changes proved to be by the gaffer. Perhaps the Frenchman gave yet another rousing speech in the dressing room? Whatever went on in there during the break certainly produced a very different Arsenal side.

From the restart Arsenal looked more threatening and it took just three minutes for the Gunners to get back on level terms for a second time. Johan Djourou won the ball from Torres on the touchline and laid it of to Alex Song, the Cameroonian played a terrific ball across she park and into the path of Santos who collected the ball whilst continuing his run towards goal and steered his low left foot shot past Cech.

Just moments after Chelsea had restarted the game a little good fortune fell our way when referee Andre Marriner gave Wojciech Szczesny a yellow card when he quite easily could have dismissed the ‘keeper. Mikel played a long ball over the top, with it landing somewhere between the on rushing Ashley Cole and the out coming Szczesny. The Pole, now outside his box, clattered into Cole who went down in a heap.

The game and the Arsenal had really come to life. With just ten minutes of the half gone Theo Walcott put us in front for the first time in the game with a goal that was equally comical as it was brilliant.

Theo won a free kick just inside the Chelsea half after Cole had crashed into him, I didn’t see who took it because the cameras were busy showing Ashley’s usual barracking of officials which seemingly goes unpunished time and again. Anyway I assume it was played short between Theo & Robin because when the picture returned to the action both men were storming down the line, Robin almost shielding Walcott and the ball, as the pair cut inside Theo seemed to slip over and with the Chelsea players stoping Nd complaining about a free kick that was never given he got up just as quickly as he had gone down, skipped past a couple of defenders and struck a wonderful shot from a tight angle which beat Cech and put the Gunners 2-3 up and in the driving seat.

As the game sated to approach the 80th minute both managers made substitutions, in Arsenals case first Carl Jenkinson replaced Djourou and a few minutes later Tomas Rosicky came on in place of Theo Walcott. These substitutions were seemingly made to tighten things up a little and help us hold onto our lead. Of course what happened instead is the blues pulled a goal back to make it three a piece.

It was unsurprising when John Terry got his name on the score sheet in the wake of the racism allegations that have dogged him this week and it was even less surprising when Juan Mata scored because if anyone was going to score against us it was going to be the guy we almost signed in the summer.

Take nothing away from the Spaniards finish, it was fantastic, but the fact that Marriner had missed an obvious fail on Santos in the build up still irks me this morning. Szczesny rolled the ball out to Santos who played a short pass into the path of Raul Meireles, as the Brazilian attempted to move in and intercept the former Liverpool player he was intentionally blocked by Romelu Lukaku. Meanwhile Meireles passed to Mata who struck a sweet left foot shot to make it 3-3.

While Chelsea celebrated the Arsenal players complained, however justice was to come.

With just six minutes remaining Arsenal so often caught out by playing a high defensive line punished Chelsea for doing just that. On the half way line Terry played a short pass to Mikel, who passed to Ramires. The Brazilian played it back to Terry who had no one around him and was under no pressure. The Chelsea skipper turning as the ball passed him slipped to the ground and an on rushing Robin Van Persie was quick to collect it. The Dutchman showed tremendous composure to take the ball around Peter Cech as the Czech dived at his feet as he entered the penalty box and to cooly slot home and make it four goals to three in the Gunners favour.

Whilst Terry falling over and Robin nipping past him was great to see, my favourite shoot was from behind the goal where you see the Chelsea and England skipper get back to his feet and make a futile attempt at giving chase before quickly realising there is no point and giving up just as Robin rounded Cech.

It was incredible but given our defensive vulnerability late on in games the remaining five minutes us stoppages before the final whistle see,ed a life time away.

Wenger replaced Gervinho with Thomas Vermaelen with just a few minutes left in an attempt to make sure we held our lead, he needn’t have worried as Robin made sure we extended it and went home with all three points.

In the second minute of added time Arsenal once more attached the Chelsea goal, at one point it was four against two in the Gunners favour, and passed to Van Persie and the skipper clinched his second hat-trick of the season.

While Robin will take all the plaudits this morning there were some other big performances out there yesterday. Theo Walcott was a constant threat, everything he tried came off and if he could produce that level of performance week in week out he would be up there with the very best. Laurent Koscielny was fantastic at the back once again, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. I really can’t see the Frenchman being the player to miss out if and when Vermaelen comes back into the starting XI at centre half. I thought Gervinho, Song and Arteta all had great games and Thomas Rosicky was superb in the fifteen minutes he was on the pitch but Aaron Ramsey was just a cut above everyone else on that pitch yesterday.

The Welshman is now an integral part of this Arsenal side and it was fitting that during the post match interview with Sky when Rambo was asked to present RVP with the man of the match champagne the skipper passed it straight back and told the youngster “You deserve this”.

It’s another great stride in the right direction for the Gunners. Yes we certainly had our moments yesterday and another three goals conceded and the defensive misgivings of Mertz, Santos & Djourou at points can not go unaddressed but the way the team came back from trailing the game twice, came back to win when pegged back to 3-3 with just ten minutes to go and the fact that we’ve managed to score FIVE goals away from home at a ground where goals are hard to come by for any visiting side far outweigh any negative aspect this morning.

The celebration of the players, along with our fantastic away supporters, shows you just how much it all meant to them. That kind of celebration and camaraderie would not have gone a miss had the allied side of POW’s managed to beat their German opponents in Escape to Victory. And as our heroes yesterday displayed just what it meant to them after the final whistle in my head I could hear those Parisian chants once again…

Victoire, Victoire, Victoire, Victoire….

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.

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.

This is a low – Blackburn 4-3 Arsenal

Regular readers of this blog will know that, for the most part, I’m always positive when it comes to the Arsenal, I like to think that I can be pragmatic in defeat and always back the team to bounce back from any adversity, but after the defeat at Ewood Park today I’m finding it hard to pick myself up off the floor and focus on anything positive.

Blackburn Rovers – a side who are owned by a poultry company, a side who before today had managed to win just five of their last twenty-five Premier League matches since boss Steve Kean replaced Sam Allerdyce – started the day with a protest against their much maligned manager and ended it above us in the Premier League standings (albeit on the same points tally of 4)

We can point to the fact that Rovers were gifted two own goals by the Gunners and that they should have had another chalked off for off-side, you can say that Olsson should have been dismissed for diving, especially as it came only moments after he’d had his name taken by the ref. You can say we should have had a penalty right at the death when Theo Walcott was taken out by Paul Robinson, but frankly what would be the point? Come the arse end of the season there will be clubs fighting for survival all with stories of hardship & woe – how decisions had gone against them, how luck had cheated them and how they had been professional and given their all. The truth is that at the seasons end the table won’t lie, teams will finish where they deserve to finish. For the most part score lines don’t lie either. This one didn’t & if you want to talk about relegation form then ours is rife with the stench if we go back to last season *Before you throw your toys out the pram, I am not suggesting we’ll be relegated. Merely pointing out that we’re currently going the right way about it.

The Blackburn goals came from our own slack defending, negligent as the lino may have been for Yakubu’s second (Rovers third) and unlucky as it may seem to concede two own goals against a side with all the fire power of a wet lettuce leaf, we’ve only ourselves to blame.

We started so brightly and at points we looked a little like the Arsenal of old, knocking the ball about, rampaging down the right hand side and seemingly prepared to waste a decent chance rather than tee up a team mate. Indeed if you want to point fingers at anyone then Gervinho’s wastefulness when he could have played in Van Persie, who surely would have put us 1-3 up, just before the half time whistle, then that is the kind of mistake we should be looking at along with the sides inability to defend.

After the game Arsene Wenger suggested that we are still “defensively fragile” after Old Trafford, but three of the back four who started today’s game didn’t even step foot on the turf up in Manchester. In fact Mertesacker & Andy Santos were both employees of other clubs at the time of the United crushing after which we were told reinforcements such as the German & Brazilian would improve our defensive capabilities.

Well we may have dug in and scrapped it out in Dortmund earlier in the week and we may have hung on to a clean sheet against Swansea at the Emirates last Saturday but if evidence was needed to conclusively prove it is the coaching and tactical instructions being given to the players as much as any shortcomings on their part then this result is it.

Our defensive line for the first Blackburn goal was as wonky as a DIY haircut and replays showed that it was Andy Santos, making his full debut, who played Yakubu onside. I mentioned in yesterday’s blog the need for stability in our back line, seeing a group of players play week in week out rather than than the personnel carousel we’re used to. Ironic then that it was Santos, the only change to our back four from our last two games, who played the Nigerian on side, especially as Kieran Gibbs had started to find some form thanks to a run of games.

When the sides went in at half time I honestly felt that we would see the Gunners come out and dominate the second half, Rovers looked for all the world a team there for the taking and you would have laid money that Steve Kean would have been visiting the local job centre come Monday morning. But, as the second half got underway there seemed to have been a shift in belief, Rovers suddenly seemed to have a bit more fight and determination in them. Indeed it took them only four minutes to get back on level terms.

Yes it was a total fluke and no portion of blame should befall Alex Song, but this was yet another goal conceded from a set-piece, when will we learn to defend them?

I don’t know about you but from then on it looked to me like only one side would go on to win the game, and in the pouring rain Blackburn Rovers did just that.

The massacre of Old Trafford was hard to take and hurt like hell, but in many ways it wasn’t unexpected especially given the side and indeed the bench we had that afternoon. This, this is much harder to take in my opinion.

The team has been strengthened, we all know it could have been stronger still but a certain Frenchman decided he would rather have £50m in the bank then players on the pitch who can actually contribute something other than trite smiles and self congratulations for having a healthy bank balance, so we can’t put it down to a one off as we’ve done with the United result. Bar Jack Wilshere & Tommy Vermaelan this was the strongest possible squad we’ll have to work with this season unless signings are made in January, but as I’m attempting to point out it’s not just the playing staff who are to blame.

I said after Old Trafford, and it certainly wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction, that I felt that Arsene Wenger has taken our club as far as he is able. No one should ever doubt just how far that is or level any form of abuse at the Frenchman’s door – he deserves nothing but utter respect from anyone who calls themselves a Gooner. But sadly the man who revolutionised football in this country is in danger of looking for all the world lost in a game he helped create. Someone mentioned on Twitter that Wenger no longer looks as if he enjoys it and it got me to wondering when he last did?

I’ll never call for his dismissal or demand he resigns, I’ve far too much respect for the man and what he has done at our club but what he does need to do is relinquish some of the power he holds. Firstly he needs to hand over the coaching of the first team to someone else or at least bring new people in and allow them to have an input and offer fresh direction. Many people ask why Steve Bould hasn’t been promoted from the wonderful work he has been doing with our under 18’s, well if rumours are to be believed, and I’m led to believe that in this case they are, our former defensive stalwart was offered Pat Rice’s position when old Pat wanted to call time on the illustrious years of servitude he has given to the club. Bould supposedly turned the offer down because he was told he would have little to no tactical input or the ability to coach so opted to stay in the role he is in which led to Wenger begging his old bench buddy to give him one last season (much like he did Cesc last summer, look how that turned out)

Many voices, mine included, have called for Martin Keown to be given a defensive coaching role but that won’t happen for the same reasons Bouldy isn’t higher up the food chain at London Colney. I’ve no doubt whatsoever that Keown has the capabilities and knowhow to fill that role and excel in it but there is a reason he is still sitting working for the beeb and not us. In fact, it’s just been pointed out to me that when we set a Champions League record for clean sheets Keown was working as a defensive coach at the club…

Rapid improvement is needed and if fresh ideas and instruction is what it takes to achieve those improvements then Wenger needs to swallow some of that pride and make these changes happen.

Since the final whistle blew I’ve seen a few Arsenal fans suggest that our expectations should have changed and this defeat shouldn’t be a surprise. Well I’ve never been the kind of fan who has high expectations, I think doing so only sets you up for a fall and a nose bag of disappointment. So my deflation and disappointment at this result, this performance, this start to the season and even towards the gaffer, are nothing to do with a delusional sense of expectation it’s just pure hurt. I’ve been a Gooner all my life, I grew up a stones throw from Highbury and I’ve seen us struggle in the past, but right now the ship is starting to look rudderless and when this has been the case in the past there has always been someone in a position of power at the club to take control and steer us in the right direction. Sadly at this moment in time, I’ve no idea who is there to do that right now and defeats like Old Trafford & defeats like today only serve to ram that home.

Thanks for reading

Paul

Borussia Dortmund 1 – 1 Arsenal

Champions League Group F – Borussia Dortmund 1 – 1 Arsenal.

Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller – Subotic – Hummels – Piszczek – Scmelzer – Kehl (Blaszczykowski – 67) – Gotze – Grosskreutz (Perisic – 68) – Bender – Lewandowski – Kagawa (Zidan – 83)

Goal – Perisic – 88

Arsenal: Szczesny – Sagna – Gibbs – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Song – Arteta – Walcott (Frimpong – 76) – Gervinho (Santos – 84) – Benayoun – Van Persie (Chamakh – 84)

Goal – Van Persie – 42

With Arsene Wenger confined to the stands Pat Rice led Arsenal to what should be considered a valid and well deserved point against the Bundesliga champions.

I stated in the Arsenal’s Talking Heads section yesterday that we would have a tough time against Dortmund’s centre back pairing of Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic and that certainly proved to be the case. The two international centre halves are absolutely outstanding defenders and it was obvious to see why they’re both highly admired and sought after. But it was the defensive discipline of Arsenal that was the most impressive and in particular the performances of Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Alex Song and Wojciech Szczesny.

I mentioned yesterday that Alex Song would need to be disciplined, shield the back four and curb his enthusiasm for getting forward at inopportune moments and as the went on he grew in stature and did just that. If the Cameroonian can perform like he did last night, and at home against Chelsea last season, week in week out we could be talking about a world-class defensive midfielder – maybe after his in discipline at St James’ on the opening day and subsequent domestic ban and Frimpong now chomping at his heels he’ll buck his ideas up and we’ll see performances of this stature on a regular basis.

The opening minutes of the game were certainly scrappy and either side could have taken an early lead – Gervinho was unfortunate not to get a shoot off after make a smart run into the box, Hummels was on hand to get back and do enough to disrupt the Ivorian. At the other end Shinji Kagawa, for the first but certainly not the last time, raced clear of the Arsenal defence and struck his volley over the bar. It was an early warning from the Japanese midfielder who is in only his second season with the Borussians. I mentioned him in yesterday’s blog as one of the German sides danger men and at just 22 years old the former Cerezo Osaka playmaker signed in 2010 for just £250,000 has a big future ahead of him and it’s no surprise that Arsene Wenger has already been credited with an interest in the youngster.

Another of the German teams young stars, who was reportedly a target of the Gunners this summer, Mario Gotze also started the game brightly and as the minutes ticked by it was Jurgen Klopp’s side who looked increasingly likely to take a lead with Arsenal seemingly getting more jittery with every wave of Dortmund attacks.

When possession of he ball was gained it was striking how inafective our players seemed to be with it and at points seemingly unwilling to receive the ball at all – there seemed to be a growing tendency as the half wore on for players to be left isolated with the ball at their feet and no team-mate moving towards the ball, in fact around about the half hour mark it got so bad that after receiving the ball from Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs was so devoid of options that he passed it back to the goalkeeper.

Theo Walcott and Gervinho were both guilty of running straight into opposition players with a degree of regularity – have to say that I do feel that once Gervinho gets a real run of games under his belt he will be dynamite, at the moment it’s his decision-making which lets him down. He could so often lay the ball off or play a pass for a team-mate but chooses to take his man on every time. *In fairness, he was often devoid of that option last night as I said.

Mickey Arteta and Yossi Benayoun seemed unable to really get into the game for much of the first half and while each showed flashes of their undoubted ability they were unable to provide that creative spark we’re expecting from the pair, until…

Benny found RVP on the edge of the Dortmund penalty box with a delightful through ball, the skipper maybe had slightly more time then he realised and didn’t quite hit the shoot with enough power to trouble Weinedfeller. Ten minutes later the Dutchman made up for it…

Robin himself intercepted a poor pass from Sebastian Kehl and the ball fell to Theo Walcott. The captain continued his run towards goal and Theo played the perfect ball back to him. This time Van Persie did everything right and his finish summed up why he is so important to the side and must be kept fit and signed to a new deal. It was a great goal to give us the lead as the clock ticked towards the end of the half.

As the second half began Arsenal’s attacking threat improved but the home sides own prowess in that department didn’t diminish. Kagawa continued to shine and game started to open up a little more.

Gervinho had another decent chance, and while he battled well to keep pushing forward in the face of German interceptions ultimately he couldn’t get his foot through the ball after recovering well from loosing his footing and momentarily falling to the ground.

What followed from then on was wave after wave of German attacks and it felt like only a matter of time until the equalizer came. Szczesny was once again commanding of both his area and the Arsenal defenders in front of him and Koscielny and Mertesacker were the busiest men on the pitch making interceptions and clearances, along with the ever impressive best right back in world football – Bacary Sagna. I have to say that our German centre back could quite easily come in for some criticism going forward but I don’t really think it would be fair – due to his height he can give the impression that he is gangly and unimposing, much in the same way Peter Crouch often is (actually I think the Soke front man is)

Koscielny just keeps impressing me and I still maintain that when Vermaelen is back it is the Frenchman who should partner the Belgian at the back.

Dortmund had a clutch of spurned opportunities as they continued to threaten us and Pat Rice replaced Theo with Emmanuel Frimpong. The Ghanaian lined up alongside Alex Song to offer more protection and Benayoun switched to the left flank in front of Kieran Gibbs.

Neven Subotic and Mario Gotze had great chances to level the score but the Serbs header was directed straight at Szczesny and the teenage German playmaker hit a shoot just wide of the goal.

It started to look as if we were going to see the game out and take the three points home. Andre Santos made his debut coming on in place of Gervinho and it was another push at shoring things up as the minutes ticked by. Chamakh came on at the same time and replaced our captain and goal scorer, so clearly we had decided not to attempt to extend our lead and put the game beyond the home side.

Despite being only minutes away from a hard-fought victory the equalizer came in the form of the all too familiar wonder goal.

With only two minutes of the regulation ninety remaining Dortmund won a free-kick which was cleared away but subsequently fell to the Dortmund sub Perisic who hit a wonderful volley on the edge of the area and into the top right hand corner of our goal.

It was a real body blow and I felt so disappointed for our players, whilst you can argue that the home team deserved a point (and I’m sure they will) I think we were equally deserving of the victory. But in the end perhaps a draw was a fair result especially as BVB had the chance to nick all the points in added time only for Szczesny to make a fantastic save and secure our point.

We all expected this to be a tough test, and most likely our toughest of the group stage, and were all prepared to accept a draw at the outset so all in all there is no room for complaint or disappointment here.

While we were never really able to play an exciting and attacking game credit must go to all the players for putting a shift in and making sure we didn’t start the campaign with defeat. I’ve already mentioned Szczesny, Sagna, Song and Koscielny but props must also go to Benny and Mickey who showed that they can tough it out and mix it with the best of ’em when it’s needed. Praise also has to go to Robin for yet another vital goal, even if it again highlights our reliance on the fragile Dutchman with the dwindling contract.

And also massive credit to Pat Rice, so often derided and criticised. It was telling that in his post match interview Woj said: “Pat motivates us and shouts at us a lot”

I don’t think the Pole was just talking about last night.

Considering we’re so often criticised for not being able to scrap it out this was a performance to take heart from. It’s another step away from what happened at Old Trafford and the players will take the confidence into Saturdays game at Ewood Park.

My post match thoughts have been added to ‘Talking Heads’ on Arsenal.com where you’ll also see  post match reaction added to yesterdays musings by Dan Roebuck & Martin Hayes.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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