Arsenal travel to West Brom this afternoon with the opportunity to leapfrog Chelsea into the top 4, at least until Sunday when Chelsea will host struggling Sunderland while Spurs face Everton. As will be the case for every one of these last eight games, it will be a hugely important match in determining the final positions of these three London clubs fighting for Champions League football. Each set of fans probably sees top 4 as something their club should be able to achieve this season, based on the way their team has performed so far. One is going to be terribly disappointed, and that better not be us. Bould (who is doing the press conferences because Wenger has lost his voice) said that the Bayern game was a turning point, despite going out of the competition:
The big thing for us was getting that result at Bayern. I think we’re more or less the only team that’s won there this season so it just gives everybody a belief that we’re doing alright. It was an important game for us.
I don’t think anyone can disagree with that sentiment. Despite losing to Spurs, we weren’t too bad that day either – it was a close game decided by two silly defensive errors. The team is performing much better than it has done all season, at least in terms of a run of several games.
There’s an interesting statistic on Arsenal.com about our record against the Baggies:
West Brom have never kept a clean sheet in their 12 Premier League games against Arsenal, conceding 28 goals in total
On the final game of last season, Fulop pretty much gave us his clean sheet in a neatly-wrapped box. But this stat is nonetheless impressive, and obviously we need to keep it going. Unfortunately, not all our strikers have been firing in recent months. Walcott, Giroud and Podolski haven’t been getting too many goals for one reason or another, but that needs to change. It’s all very well that we’ve been spreading the scoring responsibility this season, but we can’t rely on Cazorla to score or create most of our goals for these last eight games. It’s promising that Gervinho had such a good game last weekend, and if he can continue that then perhaps we won’t have to worry too much that Walcott is injured and Podolski has been injured/out of favour.
Predicted Arsenal line-up:
I think Podolski will be picked ahead of Rosicky because he should be fully fit and Rosicky isn’t un-droppable following the Reading game. He was good, but not brilliant. I’d personally like to see Podolski get a start in the centre-forward position, but for whatever reason Wenger has chosen to use him on the wing for most of the season, and I expect that to continue. Gervinho should start after last weekend and Giroud is our only striking option with Walcott injured and Podolski out wide. With that in mind, the midfield is almost certainly going to consist of Arteta, Ramsey and Cazorla. I can’t see Wenger bringing Vermaelen or Szczesny back, disrupting a defence that has been good, if not spectacular, in recent weeks. His big choices will be in the full-back positions. Sagna hasn’t given the boss any reason to be dropped, while I reckon Gibbs will play after Monreal bruised himself last week. As I mentioned before, it’s great that we can swap between Nacho and Gibbs without serious detriment to the team.
The team news for Arsenal’s next game against West Brom has been announced on the official website. Following his collision with the post last weekend, Monreal is available for selection for Saturday.
Steve Bould took the press conference today, but there has been no indication as to why. Obviously it is normally Wenger who communicates with the media, but I assume this was a one-off as opposed to a change in strategy. Unless Arsene is slowly giving Bould more responsibility with a view to making him his successor… but surely that’s reading far too much into it, right?!
Anyway, Bould said the following about Nacho:
Nacho has recovered well from his knee problem from the impact of the post and has trained the last couple of days so is available for the weekend.
There’s been a fair bit of debate on Twitter and on other blogs regarding the left back situation. We finally have two quality players fighting for one position in the first team. And Wenger isn’t showing a bias towards one or the other – he seems to be giving both players the opportunity to stake their claim as the first choice. Most people seem to have a preference for one or the other, but I don’t think I’ve seen enough of Nacho to make an informed opinion. He’s four years older than Gibbs with over twice the number of club appearances and a bit more international experience too. All I can say is that it’s good news we have both players for the run-in. It’s a good thing that Wenger has a tough decision to make.
The only other bit of team news from Bould was regarding Wilshere and Walcott. Neither will be able to play this weekend but they could be involved for the next Premier League game against Norwich. The two English players have had pretty good seasons for us, despite Walcott’s recent goal drought. But the midfield has put in some good performances without Wilshere, with some fans stating that he ‘unbalances’ our team. I disagree – I just think Wenger needs to play Wilshere in the more attacking midfield role normally designated for Cazorla. As we’ve seen over the last few matches, Wenger has played Cazorla in a freer role on the wing, with license to drift inside to have a greater impact on the game. Hopefully Wenger can find the right formula to utilise Wilshere’s potential, but for the West Brom game we are going to have to manage without Jack. Based on Ramsey’s recent form, we should be just fine.
This is Bould’s comment on Arsenal’s two English players:
We have good news with both of them. Jack and Theo are outside running, and have an outside chance of being involved against Norwich a week on Saturday.
There are no other short-term injuries, which should mean we have a pretty strong team and bench for the West Brom game.
Fabianski 6 - Had little to do. The first shot on target came after some confusion in the box following a corner, and he caught the ball without a problem. Couldn’t do anything about the goal.
Sagna5.5 Didn’t have much to do defensively, apart from that one moment for their goal. Should’ve stopped the cross, or at least given the opponent less space to play that fantastic pass.
Mertesacker 6.5 Not troubled in defence, played with authority as we know he can (despite what the journos say about him!). He was great in the air in both attack and defence.
Koscielny 7 Having had a run of games, he seems to be getting back to his best. Superb last-ditch tackle to deny Pogrebnyak. Wasn’t heavily tested.
Monreal 5.5 Quite strong in attack. Gave Robson-Kanu too much space for the chance when the ball was flashed across the face of goal. Also failed to prevent the goal, but it was a great cross that was difficult to defend.
Arteta 7.5 A confident penalty, but his greatest contribution wasn’t the goal – it was his control of the midfield. He made over 100 passes (via @Orbinho) and was aptly assisted by his midfield partners.
Ramsey 7 Given a freer role than he has had in previous matches and he delivered a fine performance in response. Almost got a goal with a strong shot late in the game, and would’ve been deserved.
Rosicky 6.5 He should’ve shot after an exquisite move late in the match, but played well nonetheless. He wasn’t as creative as usual, but his high pressing game was essential to the regular turnover of possession in our favour.
Cazorla 8.5 Had a fantastic game. He was involved in most of the slick passing moves and grabbed a goal and an assist.
Gervinho 8 As I’ve said for a while – he’s a player with immense talent but struggles when he actually has to think. We all know his finishing is rubbish, but it’s a skill that can be improved upon. He’s got good ball control and dribbling, and is certainly the most unpredictable player in our side. He showed his best and worst traits against Reading, scoring a tap-in and grabbing two assists, whilst missing a host of decent opportunities. Frustrating to watch, but he could be an important player in the run-in.
Giroud 7 Linked up quite well with those behind him, but sometimes should try and run with the ball rather than attempting fancy flicks. His goal was a good finish, after he sprinted the length of the pitch to catch up with Gervinho.
Podolski n/a Didn’t do much! Hope he gets more game-time in the coming weeks.
Gibbs 6 Came on for Monreal when he was injured, but didn’t get involved much in defence or attack.
Oxlade-Chamberlain7 The liveliest of the substitutes, he won a penalty with a superb run and was running around, always trying to get involved.
Arsenal’s quest for a place in the top 4 will continue tomorrow against 19th placed Reading. Wenger’s side has already beaten this opposition twice this season, scoring 12 goals in the process in a thrilling 5-7 cup tie and a comfortable 2-5 at the Madejski in the league. This Reading side certainly isn’t packed with the greatest quality, but the players have impressed on occasions this season, including an exciting match which finished 3-4 to Man Utd, drawing 2-2 with Chelsea and beating Everton earlier in the season.
Former Southampton manager Nigel Adkins was plunged straight back into a job last week at Reading, but is yet to take charge of a game. Let’s hope the ‘new manager effect’ doesn’t come into play tomorrow. We’d expect Arsenal to comfortably beat a struggling relegation contender, but you never know! Reading have won just once in their last six matches, with Arsenal losing just once in the same time frame. In fact, we’re second to Man Utd in the Premier League form table, with Spurs and Fulham just behind us.
The news about Diaby adds to an injury list that includes English trio Wilshere, Walcott and Gibbs. Luckily we have Podolski back, which means Wenger can bring Cazorla back into the midfield in the absence of Abou and Jack. I’d expect Ramsey and Arteta to make up the rest of the midfield, as Coquelin and Rosicky have been out of favour for a while. I wouldn’t mind either Gervinho or Oxlade-Chamberlain starting on the right wing, as both have been in form for their national team and have looked bright in their limited opportunities in recent weeks. I’d probably lean towards Oxlade-Chamberlain because Gervinho is often preferred on the left wing.
The defence will almost certainly feature Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker and Fabianski. The only ‘big’ decision Wenger has to make is at right back. Jenkinson has performed well in the last two matches, and he has been part of a defensive unit that has kept two clean sheets away from home. But Sagna is now available. I hope Wenger won’t do what he did against QPR at home, when Sagna returned from injury and Jenkinson was immediately pushed out of the first team despite a string of good performances. Everyone should have to earn a place in the team based on form, not reputation.
I expect Arsenal to win this game, but perhaps not as comfortably as we did in the league at the Madejski. Even that night, although we totally dominated most of the game, we managed to concede two goals and win by just three. I hope Arsenal continue the un-Arsenal style of being disciplined at the back and taking our goalscoring chances when they come.
After two good results against Bayern and Swansea, Arsenal fans have to endure the torture of a two week international break. We are halfway through, and things aren’t looking too bad from a Gooner perspective. Only one fresh injury (which hopefully won’t be more than a few weeks) and three goals from the Gunners.
Although Theo Walcott sustained an injury during training, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain featured for England as the national side toyed with San Marino. It seemed like an extended training session. Games like these certainly make you question the concept that international football is ‘the highest level’ and ‘the greatest honour’ for footballers. I’m sure every professional player wants to represent his country and they definitely want to be involved in the big tournaments which are generally filled with the best teams. But these matches do seem pretty pointless – even more so when you consider that players can sustain injuries which will affect the club which pays their wages.
Theo hasn’t been on fire recently, but he’s still an important piece of our side. Hopefully Chamberlain, buoyed by his goal and all-round lively performance, will step up to the plate. Alternatively Wenger may choose to play Cazorla or Rosicky out on the right, but the former will probably stay central in Wilshere’s absence and the latter has been out of favour for a while. The manager will have some big decisions to make when we face Reading next week.
You can check out the highlights here, with Chamberlain’s goal coming at 0:44 on that video.
Another goal was scored by Olivier Giroud, who partnered Benzema up front as France beat Georgia 3-1. He used his head to score the goal, as we’ve seen a couple of times this season. Like Theo, he hasn’t been scoring much in the last few weeks. We hope that being picked to start and grabbing a goal for France will boost his confidence. I have faith in his ability to do well for Arsenal, but I still don’t believe he’s got the talent to continue as our only striker in the squad. We need a bit of variation, we need some more competition and Giroud isn’t at the same level as many of the attackers that our rivals can utilise.
Ramsey also grabbed a goal, from the penalty spot, as Wales won without Bale scoring a goal for them. Apparently that hasn’t happened for a while. Bale sustained a knock, but it doesn’t look like it will be particularly long-term, which would’ve obviously been a boost for us as his absence weakens our rivals. Ramsey looked lively, albeit against a weak Scotland team. Aaron followed up the goal with a red card as he brought down McArthur after a lazy pass almost gave Scotland the chance to equalise. Arsenal fans may see this as a good thing – Ramsey will miss Wales’ match this week, giving him more time to rest ahead of Arsenal’s remaining fixtures. With Wilshere injured, Ramsey is likely to be called upon more regularly.
If you’re in the UK, you can see Ramsey’s penalty here.
Cazorla got 45 minutes for Spain, and we can only hope he was withdrawn for a reason other than injury. Monreal stayed on the bench for that game. Vermaelen and Rosicky came through their internationals unscathed, and Podolski and Mertesacker played together in Germany’s win over Kazakhstan. Podolski got his 108th cap to become the joint-third most-capped German player, behind Klose and Matthäus, on 126 and 150 respectively.
It was one of the more memorable nights in Arsenal’s recent European history and certainly in this relatively disappointing campaign. Both the team and the fans did the club proud with the former putting in a gutsy performance and the latter out-singing the large contingent of local supporters. Although the German side controlled large periods of the game, Arsenal threatened on the counter attack and scored twice despite failing to create too many chances.
Feels like home? Arsenal fans were far louder than the locals, something we are far too familiar with at the Emirates
So how do I reckon the players fared?
Fabianski – 7.5 He’s had a fair bit of stick in the past, but Lukasz was decent after returning from a lengthly spell out the side. For whatever reason, Szczesny was left at home, but I think it’s safe to say that Wojciech’s recent form hasn’t been so good that he is untouchable. Last night Fabianski made a couple of decent stops and seemed pretty confident. His best moment was the one-on-one save from Robben – he waited for the Bayern cheat winger to make the first move, staying on his feet until the shot was taken. Wenger may be unsure of his number 1 keeper at the moment, giving all three players an opportunity for them to make their mark. Arsene said the following: “You are never number one forever and you are not on one game as well.”
Jenkinson – 8 Great performance, reminding us of his early season endeavours. Worked his socks off and forced Robben to drift elsewhere in order to make a mark on the game. His stand-out moment came when he back-peddled against an on-rushing Robben before taking the ball off him and calmly distributing it to an Arsenal player.
Mertesacker – 7.5 Another excellent defensive display. He looked far more at ease with Koscielny by his side than he has alongside Vermaelen in recent weeks. He was dominant in the air, his passing was typically accurate and made a few classy interceptions.
Koscielny – 7.5 He took the captain’s place in the side and vindicated Wenger’s potentially risky decision. He lost the ball once in a dangerous area and immediately won it back with a fabulous sliding tackle. He scored the late goal which gave us hope, but his greatest contribution was his ability to create a calmness in the back four which had been missing for some time.
Gibbs – 7 Not his finest match but a vital cog in the defence. Sometimes backed off for a little too long as Bayern attacked from out wide.
Arteta – 7 His usual understated, hard-working self. He kept possession ticking over when Bayern pressed us high up the field and he produced a performance worthy of a captain until his frustration boiled over late on.
Ramsey – 6.5 He made a few stray passes in the first half but was also involved in the move for the first goal. Not his best game but he harried the opposition midfield and that was essential to preventing Bayern from gaining momentum.
Rosicky – 6.5 Like Ramsey his passing wasn’t perfect, but he was excellent in pressing high up the pitch. Such performances make you wonder why Wilshere and Cazorla haven’t had more rests with such a good replacement.
Cazorla – 6 A quiet game from the talented Spaniard, as Bayern set their sights on closing the space around him. He still used nifty footwork to find some space and was involved in setting up a few counter attacks.
Walcott – 5.5 Despite a fine cross-shot for the opener, he fizzled out of the game. Whether that was due to his poor runs or his teammates not finding his runs, I don’t know. But his replacement was more diligent defensively, cleverer in attack and better at keeping possession. Is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain going to push Theo for a place as the season draws to a close?
Giroud – 6.5 He didn’t have the best game but he scored the first goal and held up the ball well. The problem was that he failed to lay the ball off to a teammate on a regular basis, after having done the hard work of controlling and shielding the ball from the defender.
Oxlade-Chamberlain – 6.5 Excellent cameo as discussed above.
Gervinho – 6.5 Looked dangerous when he came on, perhaps he’s champing at the bit to get some minutes. Fantastic skill when he produced a delicate swivel and poked the ball past the keeper – shame no one got on the end of that.
Overall it was a great evening with every player putting in plenty of effort. If we can continue be so defensively disciplined, with the midfield sitting in front of the back four instead of running around like wild geese, then we may yet make the top 4 in the Premier League.
Arsenal has announced the team for today’s crucial Premier League match against 3rd-placed Chelsea. We haven’t won a Premier League game since last year (!) in that crazy game against Newcastle. Demba Ba scored twice for Newcastle that day, but he starts on the bench for Chelsea today as Torres leads the line.
The starting XI is unchanged from those who lined up against Swansea. Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain have been dropped from the squad due to illness, giving Coquelin another chance to start after a decent performance in the cup.
On the bench we have Mannone, Koscielny, Jenkinson, Santos, Frimpong, Ramsey and Arshavin. It’s not a group of players that inspires great confidence, so hopefully those that start the game will put in a good shift.
Arsenal has announced the official starting eleven for this game, and it’s pretty strong. Vermaelen, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski drop to the bench with Mertesacker, Ramsey and Giroud taking their places.
I’m pleased to see Mertesacker alongside Koscielny, which many believe is our strongest centre-back partnership. I think Ramsey may be given a central role with Cazorla on the wing, but I may be wrong. I hope that’s the case because Ramsey slows us down when he’s out wide, but is far more creative and useful in the centre. Although Walcott has been pushed out of the central striker role, I still expect him to continue his good form and hopefully grab a goal.
Here’s the team (based on the eleven players announced – the formation could be different):
On the bench we have Martinez, Vermaelen, Santos, Coquelin, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski. It’s a shame Rosicky and Coquelin weren’t given starts in this game, but not many would argue with Wenger choosing such a strong team. Arguably Rosicky could bring more urgency to our passing than Ramsey, but maybe he isn’t fully fit yet.
The team sheet has been announced for the match this afternoon, and it’s pretty much as predicted. Walcott is given yet another chance to prove his worth in the centre-forward role, even with Giroud’s return from illness. Koscielny replaces Mertesacker, but otherwise it’s the same team as that which won against Wigan.
After Spurs won earlier today, we absolutely need a victory to keep in touch with our North London rivals. A win will put us up to 5th in the league, with that all important ‘game in hand’.
Here’s the line-up:
And on the bench we have Mannone, Djourou, Ramsey, Coquelin, Rosicky, Gervinho, Giroud. So there’s plenty of attacking talent, should we need it.
Arsenal will kick-off tomorrow afternoon having played two fewer matches than rival sides Spurs and West Brom(!). We could be sitting six points off fourth place. Stoke are at home to Southampton, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they jump ahead of Arsenal before the Newcastle game, putting us temporarily (I hope!) in 8th. So the pressure on our players may be even greater than it normally is.
Having said that, the players should just be focussing on their game. Obviously we don’t want to be sitting in 8th when we were 3rd a week ago, but in reality our position in the table is meaningless at this stage. We just need points and good performance. When a match is postponed, a team will have that “game in hand” for a while. It’s not ideal, but it’s not something to focus on.
Newcastle sit in 15th place, with only just over a point per game this season. They are ten points behind Arsenal having played a game more. Pardew’s side finished just 5 points behind us last season, so we know they have the potential to push up the table. They have some superb players and showed their attacking quality in the 4-3 defeat to Man Utd on Boxing Day. In Ba and Cisse they have two extremely talented (but also inconsistent) forwards. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pardew gives them freedom to float around and drag our defence out of position.
Our last few games against Newcastle have produced some memorable moments. Andy Carroll towered above our defence to defeat Arsenal at the Emirates, before that thrilling 4-4 in 2011. We were held to a goalless draw in the first match of last season, and a clear penalty wasn’t given after Gervinho was fouled, which led to a scuffle in which Barton fell over pathetically and our Ivory Coast attacker was sent off. Back at the Emirates, Vermaelen scored a late winner which he described as his “most important” goal for the club.
Arsenal look to build on a three-match winning streak in the league, which is the best run of form all season. A win will also take the number of league victories in 2012 to 19. We are currently on our joint-lowest tally under Wenger, achieved in 1997.
Giroud has returned from illness and I expect him to start up front, with Theo being pushed out wide. I still believe he is more effective in that position. He plays there as a wide forward rather than an out-and-out winger, which allows him to grab assists and goals. But if Walcott is off, I hope he is dropped for Oxlade-Chamberalin because we might as well give our less-experienced English star some match-time.
With the lack of depth in our squad, it is generally quite easy to predict the team. I can’t see Gervinho making a return after being dropped following the Bradford debacle. I’d be surprised if Giroud is left out again, even if we are pandering to Theo’s wishes to encourage him to sign a new deal. The rest of the team pretty much picks itself. Regular readers will know I’m a Koscielny fan, but I don’t see him getting back in the team with Mertesacker’s form and Vermaelen remaining captain.
Although this current Arsenal team is certainly not the best under Wenger, I think we can beat an under-par Newcastle side and grab our fourth win in a row. I reckon we will win 2-0, with Podolski getting one.