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.
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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.

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.

Travels, Villains & Heroes

Well with Champions League qualification secured, the draw for the group stage complete & a trip to Old Trafford coming up on Sunday it feels like the season has really kicked up a gear after a somewhat whimpering start.

The balls of fate

Lets start with our Champions League group shall we –

It isn’t the easiest group (F) we could have had but it certainly is one that I believe we can qualify from. What immediately strikes you is the fact that we’ll have no marathon travels with our opponents Olympique de Marseille, Olympiacos and Borussia Dortmund being based in France, Greece & Germany respectively. The fact we’ll be playing in local Europe rather than the far off former outposts of the Eastern Block is a real positive as is the fact that we’ll see decent continental opposition visit the grove over the next few months.

You have to look at how our fixture list has worked around these group games and see that as a massive result.

Don't go back to Dortmund... I mean Dalston.

After the home game against Swansea (Sept 10th) we travel to Dortmund to face Tommy Rosicky’s former club on September 13th. The home tie with Olympiacos on September 28th is sandwiched between the visit of Owen Coyle’s Bolton Wanderers to the grove (Sept 24th) and the first NLD in Riotsville on October 2nd. We travel to the south of France on October 19th which is either side of home games against Sunderland (Oct 15th) & Stoke City Rugby Club (Oct 22nd)

Marseille come to London (Nov 1st) just a few days after our annual visit to Stamford Bridge (Oct 29th) & a few days before the trip to the Hawthorns (Nov 5th). We travel to Norwich on November 19th, play host to Borussia Dortmund on the 23rd then have a day out by the river & face Fulham on the 26th. We face Wigan at the DW on December 3rd then travel to Greece for the return against Olympiacos on the 6th before facing David Moyes Everton back at home on the 10th.

So all in all there isn’t a great deal of travelling to be done, even with our away games in the league, which you would like to think will be a real advantage. There is no doubt that the three foreign sides will make life anything but easy, especially when they are on home soil but I think that we can progress from the group and into the knock-out rounds.

Run by Steve Williams

I hope Samir Nasri is disappointed that he has missed the chance of facing his former side, I hope it is eating him up inside, that he didn’t sleep last night and that he’ll have to spend the next six months in a medical room at the United Stadium which is most likely run by someone who was once associated with our club (As that seems to be the way that City operate)

"Yeah, Sky Walker... Like 'im good player, good player"

Speaking of former players & people we don’t like… I see Adebayor has joined that lot down the road for a seasons loan. What a coming together of the forces of darkness that is! I wonder what pop star the Togolese journey man will compare his new club too? I’m guessing if by his reckoning AC Milan are Beyonce then the spuds can’t be anywhere above Susan Boyle? I give it two days until old ball bag face is lauding his new signing as the best striker in Europe & two months before the two of them are slagging each other off in the current bun.

Right enough of horrible bastards we don’t like lets focus on a proper Gooner –

A new hope

Wojciech Szczesny has been talking about the teams self belief & also how his wonder save against Udinese was nothing of the sort. Jeez, he is modest too – what a guy!

The Pole isn’t the only one who has been discussing the sides self belief RVP & Jenks have been at it too whilst Tommy Vermaelen has clearly been reading this blog because he has also started talking about ‘Positive Thinking’.

We’re still being linked with the players we’ve been linked to for months but as yet we’re seemingly no closer to securing signatures, that said it was telling that Ivan Gazidas wasn’t at the Champions League draw yesterday. You can only assume (and hope) that he is busy down in the bat cave attempting to bolster the ranks. In fact David Miles was at the draw and intimated that we are indeed pressing on with trying to get deals done and will be doing so until the transfer window closes.

A foot note to that is that in order for any new player to be eligible for the trip to OT on Sunday deals must be complete in their entirety by mid day today. Doubtful is the word that comes to mind, followed by unlikely…

"Oi! Woolnough, shut it!"

Now apparently Arsene won’t be speaking to the men from the written press today for reasons which are unclear, but on the day that old red nose kissed and made up with aunty  many journos including Matt Law from the Express jumped on Wenger and criticised him for it via Twitter. In fairness to Matt he reigned in his criticism when it was pointed out to him that Wenger was more than willing to talk to him and many others in Italy on the day of the Udinese clash which was incidentally the day we sold Samir Nasri. It’s all something and nothing really but it’s somewhat telling that as soon as Wenger has lifted his reputation out of the gutter, when many said it couldn’t be done, they find a new stick to beat him down with.

Well that’s it for today – we’ll have a bit more of a look towards Sundays clash with United tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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