Players Fight For Arsene Wenger In Biggest Game Of The Season

The season only started 11 days ago and tonight was one of the biggest games of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal career. A goal-less draw last week in Turkey meant that nothing but a win would do – and an away goal to Besiktas could prove hugely problematic to our hopes of playing in Europe’s premier competition.

The referee was extremely picky, showing his yellow card every 12 seconds. In terms of letting the game flow, he was awful and I think he was worse than the referee we had in the Champions League Final in 2006, and that’s saying something.

In terms of nervy nights, this was right up there. Arsenal scored when Alexis Sanchez slotted the ball home after good work from Mesut Özil and Jack Wilshere, but after that we struggled to increase our lead. With a single away goal from Besiktas enough to knock us out of the Champions League proper for the first time in 17 seasons, every miss added to the immense pressure – with Oxlade-Chamberlain having the best chance to guarantee Arsenal’s progress.

As Besiktas chased the away goal they needed, the game opened up and Arsenal had numerous chances to bury the game. It didn’t come and the referee, who made a series of terrible decisions all night, decided to send of Mathieu Debuchy after clearly winning the ball.

After that, it was all hands on deck as Arsenal defended for their lives, literally.

Chambers came on for Özil and the team were fantastic. Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Nacho Monreal – everyone in fact, were immense, showing a huge amount of fight, desire and determination to get past the finish line.

In a world where some managers find it difficult to get their players to play for them, here there was no doubt whatsoever that Arsene Wenger doesn’t have the complete backing and trust from all of his players.

Arsenal have struggled in recent games, mainly because the majority of our players were involved in the World Cup. Without adequate rest before the start of the season, we’ve had to slowly get our rhythm and fitness back which has affected our performances – but in the past where we could have played badly and lost games, we’ve played badly and not lost any.

What does that mean when we do get our form and everyone is playing at the top level?

It means we’ll be a real force this season, home and abroad.

I’m So Glad I Got Everton at 10/1 To Finish Fourth This Season

Arsenal have been in free fall ever since the hiding at Anfield in February and as I’ve mentioned numerous times on this blog, the form between Liverpool and Arsenal since then has been polar opposites. Before the Anfield debacle, we were 7 points ahead of them and before this weekend even kicked off, we were 8 behind – in the space of under 2 months we’ve conceded a 15 point swing.

That’s why a few weeks ago I look at the odds for Everton to finish 4th. They were a good few points behind us at that stage (I can’t remember exactly how many it was) and they were 10/1 to finish 4th. Yesterday, before the game the odds were 3/1 and now after the decisive defeat to Everton, they would have surely become even smaller.

And even yesterday, I even predicted that Everton would demolish Arsenal. I got some abuse for writing that, with people calling me a negative twat (amongst other things). I’m not negative, I’m realistic. I watch Arsenal all the time and can see how the players are performing on the pitch.

The problem is (and I’ve received criticism for even suggesting it) is that we no longer have any belief. We don’t have any fight, there’s no desire and we have lost the plot. I suggested that Arsene Wenger had lost the dressing room and is there any evidence to dispute that? The players walk onto the pitch and walk around as if they don’t care.

And again today, as I predicted, we were a shambles. I highly rate Roberto Martinez and his side are hungry, determined and simply wanted it more. At Arsenal, failure is accepted and even rewarded it seems, with new deal after new deal given to players who consistently fail to win any honours.

As it stands, Everton are a single point behind us with a game in hand. With Arsenal unable to turn up to any away game then Everton who are the far more hungrier team, are favourites to get that final Champions League spot.

And I for one won’t be disappointed and will be ready to collect my winnings come the end of the season.

Thanks For Everything Arsene, But It’s Time For You To Leave

I wrote only yesterday that Arsene Wenger needed to learn his lesson from the other away games against the big sides. We were humiliated against Manchester City, annihilated at Anfield and lost at Manchester United. The result at Old Trafford was only 1-0, but this was against the worst Manchester United side in the last 20 years.

I also said that a draw would keep us in the race, a win would give us the belief we can win the Premier League and a defeat would mean we’re out of the running.

As it turned out, Arsene got his approach against a big team completely wrong again, and just like at Anfield, the game was effectively over as a contest after 17 minutes.

Regular readers will know that I have a hatred for Olivier Giroud. He is a second rate striker and concentrates more on his “poses” after missing a goalscoring opportunity. But the biggest reason I can’t stand him is because he is not good enough for Arsenal. And once again, he contributed to our downfall.

After only 4 minutes into the game, Giroud was beautifully put through by Tomas Rosicky but somehow managed to execute another lame shot which was easily saved by Cech. About 30 seconds late, Chelsea attacked and Samuel Eto’o scored a goal which Giroud could only dream of. Even though Eto’o is now 33 years old, the fact was he used to be a world class striker – and the chances he and Giroud had showed. Eto’o was composed, clinical and deadly when his chance came while Giroud, well know all about him and his poor finishing.

Against Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United away we were in a healthy position in the league. So why not play for a draw? Or at least setup so you’re difficult to beat. We’ve show we can do it against Borussia Dortmund so why the f*ck can’t we do it against Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United or Chelsea?

If I can f*cking see it, then why can’t Arsene Wenger?

He’s just had a new contract worth £7.5 million a year and why the hell can’t he see that he plays far too open against the top sides?

Honestly, can someone answer that question?

We were 5 points clear at the top of the table in November and now we sit 7 points off the top. We haven’t dropped points against the “lesser sides” but we’ve literally thrown away points, and in dramatic fashion, against the top clubs.

We know today was Arsene Wenger’s 1,000th game for the club and we all know he has been amazing for the club but today was an utter shambles. It was a disgraceful, pathetic performance with no tactical intelligence.

Is Arsene hell bent on giving the other title challengers massive confidence boosts? 6-3 at City, 5-1 at Liverpool and then this joke at Chelsea. I cannot understand for the life of me why Arsene plays such an open game. You could forgive him if he made this mistake once, but he’s done it 4 times now.

This season we have done amazingly well but unfortunately, Arsene has shown he has take the club as far as he can. If you collapse so badly against your main title rivals, then you have no chance.

Great Effort From Arsenal, But The Damage Was Done In The First Leg

Tonight we faced Bayern Munich, the reigning European Champions, in their own back yard and gave them a game. This season we’ve been guilty of under-performing and putting in displays that have been subpar, but tonight was not one of those nights. I was proud of the effort the boys put in today.

Our game-plan was excellent, and in that regard Arsene couldn’t have done better with the resources he had. About 5 minutes into the game, I tweeted that Theo would have been perfect for a match like this. Bayern who already held a comfortable lead, would predictably try and dominate possession, especially at home, and stifle any threat from Arsenal. That happened but with that there was a lot of space in behind as they pushed high up the pitch. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain apart, we had no real pace to scare the Bayern back line.

Without Ramsey or Theo, it would always be an uphill challenge and it was hard not to think back to the first leg when Mesut Özil stepped up to take that penalty. I have no doubt whatsoever that if he smashed the ball into the net and scored in that moment, the tie would have been completely different.

But back to tonight, and most of the players put in a real shift. Fabianksi was excellent, saving a penalty from Thomas Müller and making a smart save from a Götze half volley. He didn’t have a chance for the Schweinsteiger goal. Mertesacker, Koscielny, Sagna and Vermaelen were excellent, and I was particularly impressed with the captains performance considering he’s been out for a long time both injured and on the bench. With Gibbs being injured during parts of the season, I would seriously consider using Vermaelen in that position on a more regular basis. He is part more secure than Monreal and always gives 110%. Maybe that’s how Vermaelen can get himself back into more regular first team action.

Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla were deployed to anchor the midfield which was a slightly surprising selection choice as most people thought Mathieu Flamini would start. But it signalled Arsene Wenger’s intent having more attacking midfielders on the pitch. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski made up the midfield while Olivier Giroud spearheaded the attack. Podolski was also a surprise selection choice, but I guess Arsene felt he had nothing to lose.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was excellent and full of running, while Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta were the same. Mesut Özil was poor in the first 45 minutes and was duly taken off for Rosicky at half time. Reports suggested that Özil had a hamstring tweak, while more cynical Gooners felt Arsene was being brave. I prefer to think it was the latter.

Lukas Podolski had a quiet game as well but popped up with a goal which gave us all some hope with half an hour left, and a goal we deserved on the night. Unfortunately, it was clear we had ran out of legs and we couldn’t muster the energy to force that last push to try and score the two more goals we needed.

We had a few half chances in the closing minutes of the game but in the end, it was one hell of a gutsy performance from an Arsenal side that had a virtually impossible task. The damage was done in the first leg, but Arsenal gave a performance every Arsenal fan can be proud of.

Arsene pointed out before the game that referees had conspired against Arsenal, pointing to the sending off of Jens Lehmann in the final and Van Persie at the Nou Camp. It’s hard not to agree with the sentiment as the Szczesny red card was also harsh in my eyes.

Another season where we’ve been knocked out of the Champions League at the first knockout stage and it’s not hard to think with a bit more luck, we would have progressed further in the last few seasons.

Monreal & Özil Cost Arsenal The Game, And The Tie (w/ Player Ratings)

Arsenal started the first 10 minutes on fire. Yaya Sanogo, the surprise choice ahead of the troubled Olivier Giroud started brightly; winning headers, taking on players and keeping possession well. The whole team looked confident and we had half decent chances through Sanogo and Cazorla.

Then Özil won a penalty. This was our chance to take the lead against the reigning European champions.

Our red hot start to the game looked to have been rewarded.

But to my surprise, Mesut Özil was readying himself to take the kick. He had already missed a penalty kick against Marseille earlier this season after taking a very short run up and I said at the time that it looked lazy and it was a stupid way to take a penalty.

And unfortunately, he did exactly the same again.

The worst thing was that it wasn’t a surprise the penalty was saved. It obviously doesn’t work (at least not against the better goalkeepers) and it was a massive chanced missed to take an early stranglehold on the game.

After that as you would expect, Bayern had more possession and it was more of an even match, and Mathieu Flamini made a really excellent block from a half-volley which looked destined to go in.

Sanogo’s impressive start wasn’t restricted to the first 10 minutes as some excellent hold up play and a brilliant through ball almost saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain through on goal to score the opener. The young winger who was selected ahead of Tomas Rosicky looked full of confidence and wasn’t afraid to take on Dante whenever he could.

In the first half an hour, we showed the best team in Europe we were a match for them.

Unfortunately, Gibbs had to go off and Monreal came on. You all know how I feel about him, I think he’s useless defensively, a slight upgrade on Andre Santos. And apart from the fact he played in the games where we lost 6-3 to Manchester City and 5-1 to Liverpool, he was also up against one of the most intelligent footballers in game (according to Pep Guardiola) in Philip Lahm.

Once Monreal came on Bayern sensed they could open the scoring. Götze, Robben and Lahm were all the right side of the pitch, exploiting the space the Spanish left-back tends to leave. And within minutes of Monreal’s introduction his “influence” told and as he left Robben to go on a free run and Szczesny clipped the Bayern winger.

The decision to send of the goalkeeper for me, was a disgrace. Surely, it’s a penalty kick but surely a yellow card would suffice?

With Szczesny sent off, Fabianski came on and his first job was to face a penalty from Alaba. The Bayern midfielder opted to fizz it into the corner but got his angles slightly wrong as it hit the upright.

When you think things couldn’t have got any worse for Arsenal, it was a let off but we had the prospect of facing Bayern Munich with 10 men for 50 minutes.

We went in level at half time in a game which was not short of drama. We missed a penalty, we had a man sent off and then they missed a penalty. Robben was booed every time he touched the ball and it was hard to feel happy we hadn’t conceded a decisive away goal or gutted because we didn’t take the lead.

The positives at half time were the performances of Mathieu Flamini, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Yaya Sanogo. They were immense in the first 45 minutes and gave it everything they had.

The negatives were the performances of Nacho Monreal and Mesut Özil. Monreal isn’t a good defender by any stretch of the imagination and he was “supported” on the left hand side by Özil. A change at half time was needed if we weren’t going to concede in the second half. And then we come to the conundrum that is Özil. His style appears lazy and the penalty miss was a disgrace, and his third penalty miss in a row.

Maybe I’m being simplistic here, but what’s wrong with just smashing the fucking ball into the net?

As you would expect, Bayern attacked down our right hand side where the useless Monreal and Özil were “defending”. And the opening goal came from that position, where Robben and Kroos had the freedom of the city to knock the ball back and fourth. Kroos then curled a shot into the top corner and even on Twitter before they had even opened the scoring, I had predicted that Özil and Monreal would cost us the game.

 

 

 

Bayern were attacking so much on that side of the pitch that Bacary Sagna and Oxlade-Chamberlain were virtually spectators.

With half an hour remaining, Arsenal needed to make sure they didn’t concede another goal and be out of the tie completely.

As Monreal and Özil allowed Robben, Lahm and Gotze to dance around, it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before the German side doubled their lead.

It baffles me that when Tomas Rosicky did make his introduction with 20 minutes to go, it was Oxlade-Chamberlain who made way instead of the terrible Özil. It was obvious from the start of the second half that our left hand side was our major weakness and for Arsene not to address it was deeply worrying.

And with 3 minutes remaining, yet another cross from the right hand side was our undoing. Lahm should have been charged down by Özil but he was given about 50 years to pick out a ball for Bayern to score a second from a header.

In the end, it was a hugely frustrating night caused by one man in particular. The man who is supposed to be the diamond in our side was actually a hinderance us and obviously, the moment which defined the game was the poor Mesut Özil penalty.

My grandmother could have taken a better penalty than that, and she’s in a wheelchair.

After the game, Arsene remarked that he “preferred players to run properly to the ball” on a penalty. That, I don’t disagree with Arsene.

Player Ratings:

Wojciech Szczesny: 5/10
Unlucky to be sent off. Didn’t have a huge amount to do before being dismissed.

Bacary Sagna: 7/10
Solid on the right hand side but hardly involved as Bayern attacked relentlessly on our left hand side.

Per Mertesacker: 8/10
Excellent in the circumstances, organised the back four well. Made some important tackles and interceptions as well.

Laurent Koscielny: 8/10
Very good alongside Mertesacker, and did well considering. Also made some vital blocks and won the majority of his tackles. Also drove the side forward whenever he could.

Kieran Gibbs: 7/10
Did well until he went off injured.

Mathieu Flamini: 8/10
Gave everything he had and made some truly fantastic blocks. Without him fighting in the middle of the pitch, we could have lost by a larger margin.

Jack Wilshere: 7/10
Found it hard in the middle once we were down to 10 men but coped well all things considered.

Santi Cazorla: 6/10
Couldn’t impose himself in the game and struggled.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7/10
Full of running in the first 30 minutes but subdued once Szczesny was sent off. Unfortunate to be taken off in the second half.

Mesut Özil: 2/10
Awful. Awful penalty and awful performance. Once he missed the penalty he disappeared, which isn’t really what you’d expect from a supposedly world class player.

Yaya Sanogo: 7/10
Made an excellent start to the game, holding the ball up well and almost created a great chance for Oxlade-Chamberlain. Couldn’t influence the game once we went down to 10 men.

Lukasz Fabianski: 7/10
Made a few decent saves and couldn’t really do anything about the Kroos goal.

Nacho Monreal: 3/10
Got absolutely mullered by Lahm, Robben and Gotze.