Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Arsenal 0-2 Chelsea: Frustrating

It is irritating when you get eliminated from the League Cup when your manager doesn't field a strong XI. But it's much more frustrating when the manager gives the game importance and yet you are knocked out. Story of our night, as Arsenal were convincingly beaten 2-0 by Chelsea in a game which will have profound implications when we look back at the season.

I got the sense that we were going to lose the tie in the beginning itself. The game seemed like a repeat of the Dortmund one, where they dominated possession but failed to create any proper chances. I was getting the sinking feeling that we were about to lose the game even before they scored the goal.

The goal itself was another moment of self-destruction. A communication error between Jenkinson and Wilshere led to Carl heading it reluctantly to Fabianski. The header was bad, Fabianski's positioning was worse, and Azpillecueta had the simple task to poke home. True, it was partly Jenkinson's fault, but not to the extent of barracking him and him alone for conceding the goal.

We never really looked like equalizing, and the rare chances for Nacho Monreal and Cazorla created throughout the game were more out of desperation than the result of good football. In fact, the only notable chance that we created was Ryo Miyaichi's, where Ramsey put a brilliant over-the-top ball, but Miyaichi failed to capitalize.

We got on Ozil in the 64th minute, which felt strange to me. We didn't really need his aspect of play, we needed Olivier Giroud. Bendtner was awful throughout the game, which was compounded by THIS moment of madness.  However, I feel that it wasn't entirely his fault for not playing well. He did not get those kind of crosses to head in, for one. It was partly the team's fault that he didn't get those kinds of passes, but that's little excuse for a person who had a shockingly poor day at the office, especially after looking motivated in recent times.

Mata scored almost immediately after Ozil came on, through a fine strike. However, the game was already done and dusted to me, and that goal simply was a dull thud on my diminishing interest toward the game. They played out the rest of the game quite contentedly, and while we had our half-chances, overall it was another unconvincing performance which led to a bad result. After Dortmund, no lessons learnt.

Wenger speaks of the defeat:

"I think what we lacked is that we were 1-0 down and in a big game that is giving yourself a very difficult task to do because you give the opposing team a chance to counter-attack. We also did not create enough chances."

For me, the most worrying part of the loss was how poor we were in the final third. It's remarkable how a team with Cazorla, Ozil, Wilshere and Rosicky can be so clueless in the attacking stages. Maybe it's down to lack of movement in the box or fatigue catching up - I don't know. I refuse to blame the manager for this game, because he took the game seriously and fielded a strong side, but it was the players who let him down with some obvious passing near the box.

We have performed unconvincingly in the last 3 games now. It doesn't seem to me that the team is learning from its mistakes, because defensive errors are being continued, and the chances aren't flowing like they were before. Maybe it's because the wingers weren't there to inject pace, or maybe it's because a bit of overconfidence is seeping in, but whatever it is, it needs to be stopped. Now.

Two weeks ago, we were on top of the world. Top of the group stage in the Champions League, and on top of the Barclays Premier League. Ozil was doing great, Ramsey was popping in goals and we were active in all three competitions, set to end our trophy drought. What could possibly go wrong?

It's amazing how football changes so quickly. Ozil's performances are dipping, Ramsey's solo playing is getting counterproductive, and the return of Santi Cazorla isn't working out as well as people thought. There are doubts on our Champions League qualification, we are out of the Capital One Cup and a loss against Liverpool (which seems far from unlikely now) will mean that we will lose our lead in the Premier League.

Make what you will of this game. Maybe it was a one-off, maybe Arsenal is a team that have bigger fish to fry than the Capital One Cup, or maybe we were unlucky and Mourinho's side were clinical. However, if you ask me, at this rate, we are plummeting towards another trophyless season. Something must be done right now to stop this fall, or we might see a very different Arsenal at the end of the Manchester United game.

It's a harsh fall to reality, this. Let's rise again.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Arsenal vs Chelsea: Match Preview

We play Chelsea tonight in what should be a difficult Capital One Cup tie, even though it is at the Emirates Stadium. Wenger's insistence on playing a weakened squad leads me to believe that Chelsea is set to nick this match, even though they play 48 hours after a high-intensity game against Man City.

To me, the Capital One Cup must be kept at the highest priority and winning the title must be a firm second. It is still possible to win the Premier League if you lose 2 or 3 matches, but is it possible if you slip up in the Capital One Cup? I, like every other Gooner out there, want the shadow of the 8 years trophyless tag to get off from our backs, and what way to do it than in early March itself?

Winning the Capital One Cup will give a huge boost to the players and give them confidence for the run-in period of the season. Which is why it is essential we defeat Chelsea, especially because the odds are with us to do so.

This is an important clash, mind you, and one that we have to win, by hook or by crook. The Capital One Cup is a knockout, not a league. It is results, and ONLY results that matter here. Chelsea will most probably field their second team, but they have quality players like Mata, Willian and Ba in their second team.

Which is why Arsenal need to field a strong side to win this game. If Wenger loses this game by playing teenagers and says that he was resting his key men for the upcoming Liverpool game, then I shall spare no excuses for him. Chelsea is a significantly stronger team than Liverpool, and losing against Liverpool is acceptable, because we have till May to catch up. Losing against Chelsea is not acceptable.

However, it seems that Wenger is not giving this match the importance it deserves, which will undoubtedly be a factor should we lose tonight. Lukasz Fabianski is set to start as goalkeeper ahead of Viviano (don't ask me why). While Fabianski has improved over the years, Viviano is better than him, yet he hasn't played a single match this season. Arsene Wenger's man management "skills" strike again.

The back four will undoubtedly feature Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen and Nacho Monreal. I think Koscielny will start ahead of Mertesacker because Wenger will prefer to have pace in his center backs against a side like Chelsea. In midfield, I would love it if Frimpong gets the nod, because he seems like an Arsenal through and through, and will do anything for the club. However, Wenger has opted to go with Issac Hayden, which, to me, is the absolutely wrong decision. Frimpong has played and impressed in the Premier League, while Hayden struggled in the West Brom match earlier in the Capital One Cup. Anyway, let's see if Arsene has another trick up his sleeve.

Jack Wilshere might start alongside Hayden in the central midfield role, with Rosicky assuming the attacking midfield role. I think that Rosicky will have a massive game tonight, and will definitely be involved in one of our goals (should we score any). His freshness, flair and determination will be an important factor in the final third, which leads me to believe that he might have a bigger role than Jack in the game.

The attacking trio will definitely feature Serge Gnabry (who signed a new contract!) and Nicklas Bendtner. I think that Ryo should get a start in the left wing, but I have a sneaky suspicion that Wenger will overplay Ramsey and start him there. However, I am not complaining, because we need quality players to pursue a win. If it means overplaying Rambo, so be it.

We must keep a strong bench featuring Giroud, Ozil and Santi Cazorla if we're serious about winning this game. I have already emphasized the importance of this game on our season, and I don't want another silly or stupid reason to result in our downfall. Wenger, who is nominated as the Coach of The Year, talks about Mourinho:

"It was not a big surprise [that Mourinho returned to Chelsea] because there was talk about it many times. When he left Madrid, it looked to be one of his best opportunities to come back. What the Premier League wants first is the quality of the games and his teams give you always a tough game. That is what you want."

A load of polite praise from the manager to stoke the fires of an important game, if you ask me.

Whatever happens, this game has to be seen as a must-win, although I fear Wenger doesn't see it that way. Anyway, we'll find out how he views this game as tonight, in what should be a cagey match.

Come on Arsenal. A trophy is at stake.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Monday, 28 October 2013

Factors that could derail our title challenge - Part 2

As I mentioned in my earlier post, there are several factors that can mess up our chances to win silverware, or indeed, win the immediate 4 games. And while I gave those reasons in detail, there are still a few left out to mention. So, here they are. 

Aaron Ramsey:

This will be a controversial one.

Let me start by saying that I always supported Ramsey and never wanted him out. Ever since that horrifying leg break of his, I stood by him and never questioned him, even when he was given a long term contract after a poor run. And while his exceptional run of form has immensely pleased me, I can't help but notice that his all round play is changing for the worse.

He's acting more like a striker than a creative midfielder, and is neglecting his teammates to go for glory. His goals against Swansea and Norwich, if you notice, show a lot of solo play which is not acceptable for a midfielder. Gradually, he seems to be putting himself in front of his club, which is increasingly worrying. Wenger needs to have a talk with him, otherwise I fear we might see another Samir Nasri in the making.  

Overplaying key players:

This is a problem that Wenger has been a culprit of for years. Almost every player who has shined for Arsenal has been overplayed throughout the years, leading to injuries. Thomas Vermaelen, Jack Wilshere, Cesc Fabregas, van Persie, Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta are players who have been constantly overplayed by Wenger, which led to them being on the sidelines.

Ozil already looks a bit tired from the constant playing by Wenger. I expect him, Giroud or Ramsey to pick up a knock in these coming games if Wenger continues to play them over the coming games. And it would be really frustrating if Podolski and Walcott return to the field to find Giroud and Ozil injured.  

Arsene Wenger:

The only person who can prevent all of these problems is one man, Arsene Wenger. After all, he is the manager, he calls the shots. He is the one who can rotate the squad, or tell Ramsey to tone it down. He is the one who can balance our playing style, and ultimately guide us to victory.

However, I am absolutely certain that he won't. I've been one of Wenger's critics for a reason, and I stand by that reason even today, when supporters are clamoring him to get that £8m a year deal signed. The reason why I have doubts on Wenger is because he is simply too stubborn to admit that he makes mistakes in team strategies and decisions, or that there are faults in the team. I'm sure that he won't address even ONE of the problems that I have mentioned in this post and the earlier one and that might possibly be a factor in our downfall.

If you ask me, Wenger has been very happy-go-lucky this season. Right from this summer, he has made mistakes all around and has been forgiven for it. He failed to get Gonzalo Higuain when he had one month to seal the deal. People say that negotiations are much more difficult than thought of. That may be true, but how did Napoli manage to get his signature within a week?

Then there was the whole Luis Suarez fiasco. Honestly, I am a 100% sure that Wenger never wanted the player, and there is evidence all around to suggest that. He said that his agents were "working behind the scenes" to get deals done as quietly as possible, which will be a factor in a delay in time to announce them. Oh really? Then how come the agents didn't work well to cover the £40,000,001 bid made for him? (I mean, we know the exact figure!) From this, it is crystal clear that Wenger never wanted Suarez, but just wanted to show the fans that he was doing something, to poison their hopes and fool them into buying season tickets.

There were many short transfer sagas, like Julio Cesar, Luiz Gustavo and Ashley Williams where Wenger walked away when they increased the asking price and instead went for a cheaper option. In the Luiz Gustavo case in particular, Wenger refused to increase the asking price and instead took Flamini on a free. Now, I'm not complaining, because Flamini was an excellent 'buy', but doesn't it seem that Wenger got lucky there instead of being intelligent and good at transfers?

If Gazidis hadn't given that proclamation of having the muscle to spend, then Wenger wouldn't have got Mesut Ozil. I am absolutely certain of that. After not spending a penny until deadline day, Wenger knew that the fans would be up in arms against him if it continued that way. Signing Ozil was justification for the lies Wenger told Arsenal fans rather than a genuine attempt to strengthen, and the transfer saved his head ... for now.

Which is why I am not sure that Wenger deserves a trophy this season. The players certainly do, for giving their all for the club, and the supporters are more than deserving, having stayed through thick and thin. But Wenger? If he gets a trophy, he'll be convinced that his managerial skills are working, and that will propel him to continue managing this way. To quote Arsene Wenger himself:  "When you give success to stupid people, it makes them more stupid and not more intelligent."

That's not to say I don't want Arsenal to win silverware. And that's still not to say that I want Wenger to win silverware. Yes, it is really complicated.

I hope I have made my complex feelings on Arsene perfectly clear. For now, let's just focus on a short-term goal, that is beating Chelsea tomorrow. Be back tomorrow with a match preview. 

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Factors that could derail our title challenge - Part 1

This seems like an ideal time to post this. With a set of important fixtures coming up that may define our season (A knockout game against Chelsea, a crucial Champions League qualification game and two Premier League games with the best in England), we need to watch out for the factors that might result in a poor run - or indeed, put our title hopes and Champions League qualification hopes in jeopardy. It is essential that we dodge these problems so that we can get through these challenging four games with a positive feeling.

Without further ado, here are the factors - according to me - that might end our good run of form: 

Squad depth:

It is no secret that we don't have the largest squad in the world. While our midfield is packed with quality and quantity, our defence and attack could do with some shoring up. We're missing a center back, due to letting go of Squillaci, Djourou and Miquel, and bringing in no one. It is a ridiculous situation to be in for a club like Arsenal, and I still can't believe how little foresight Wenger showed to not keep at least one of the above mentioned 3 center backs for backup.

Elsewhere, we're missing a world class striker, one who is a different type from Giroud. I like Giroud, but what is frustrating for me is that if he gets injured (which is likely), we need to rely on an Arsenal reject in the form of Nicklas Bendtner to perform. Might I suggest getting Fernando Torres, because he is a significantly different type of player than Ollie, and will possibly be available on the cheap?

Loss of key players:

We have only one winger - Santi Cazorla, who isn't even a natural winger - to rely on, due to Podolski, Walcott and the Ox being out for long term. This problem we have of not having proper width was evident in the 2-1 loss against Dortmund, where we kept losing the ball in the center. All 3 of them will be most definitely out for the coming 4 games, which might be a factor in not getting the right results.

It's not just them. Flamini, one of our most important players, suffered a groin injury in the Crystal Palace game. While Wenger hasn't yet mentioned how long he will be out for, a groin injury is always a long term one, which doesn't bode well for the club. In the last three games Flamini missed (against Norwich, Dortmund and Palace), this Arsenal side struggled all around, which shows how important he is. And with Mikel Arteta missing the Chelsea game, we might have a problem selecting our midfield.

Reliance on key players:

Let's face it, the Arsenal of recent times have always had a tendency to rely on our key players. 3 years ago it was Fabregas, Nasri and van Persie. 2 years ago it was van Persie and Alex Song. Last year it was Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere. This year the scope seems to have widened a little bit, where we rely on Flamini, Ramsey, Ozil and Giroud to produce the goods. According to my opinion, none of them seem set to start against Chelsea, which might make that game a tough test. 

Lack of leadership:

With Flamini injured and Arteta sent off, there is a lack of leadership in this team. The only players I can think of apart from Flamini and Arteta to lead the side are Bacary Sagna and maybe Jack. That itself shows that this Arsenal team needs more leaders to guide the team to victory.

Right, that's it for Part 1, I'll publish Part 2 later in the day. Time for some FIFA now.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Palace 0-2 Arsenal: Below par, but who cares?

A sigh of relief echoed North London as Arsenal edged out Crystal Palace by winning 2-0 at Selhurst Park. It was a surprisingly poor performance from a team who are apparently challenging for the title, and one that shouldn't be repeated. Ever.

If Arsenal were facing any other team apart from Palace, they would've undoubtedly lost. Crystal Palace is arguably the worst team in the Premier League, and without any managerial stability, they were at their weakest point. Compare them to Arsenal, who are top of the pile, on a 7 match unbeaten run in the Premier League and playing a full strength squad. Yet we had to scrape past them and rely on a penalty and a header to get 3 points. I know I said earlier that "Results > Performances", but isn't it a good performance that leads to a good result?

I had said in the match preview that Wenger's failure to set his priorities and playing a full strength squad would lead him into trouble, and so it proved. Mathieu Flamini limped off the pitch in the 7th minute due to a groin injury, which will most likely rule him out of the next four games that may well define our season. Well played, Wenger.

His replacement, Serge Gnabry, did all right, at least better than the others. Santi was rusty, Ozil anonymous (he looks jaded), and Ramsey's solo playing angered me. For the last time, how can Wenger not notice Aaron not noticing his teammates?

For me, Olivier Giroud was the only player who was trying constantly to create chances and win half-balls for us in the first half. And while Arsenal overwhelmingly dominated possession, Palace's direct play and better chances ensured that they went into the dressing room as the happier of the two teams. Arsenal were actually lucky to go all square, and were left to thank Marouane Chamakh's comical miss.

A massive improvement was needed by the Gunners, but it was a stroke of luck that got us the lead. Gnabry, who had space in the box, feinted intelligently and invited Guedioura's reckless slide onto him. A fair penalty was given, which Arteta dispatched professionally. 1-0 to the Arsenal it was.

However, he turned from hero to villain in the space of 20 minutes, when he pulled down Chamakh and earned himself a red card. It was cowardly play from Chamakh, and while I agree it was a foul, it certainly did not merit a sending off, primarily because he wasn't denied a clear goalscoring opportunity.

However, the brilliance of the Arsenal team as a whole to contain a Crystal Palace assault quite calmly was a welcome sight to see. The old Arsenal, filled with teenagers and inexperience, would've crumbled at this game. They would've probably sulked over the red card and screwed up the match, leaving Wenger to hunt for excuses in the post-match conference.

Not this Arsenal. Bacary Sagna's brilliance and Szczesny's saves of the season, in particular was noteworthy in our attempts to preserve this lead. Granted, we needn't put ourselves in this position and should've had the game done and dusted in the first half. However, the experienced heads of Sagna, Nacho Monreal (who was impressive on the left wing) and Koscielny realized that this win would be a load off, and that 3 points - any 3 points - would be vital in the long run. It is said that title winning teams have a trait of grinding results when things aren't going their way. I'm glad we showed that trait today.

The game was over when Ramsey took the ball till their box, realized he couldn't go any further, and played it to Giroud to score an easy header goal. Ollie deserved that goal after another excellent all-around performance, and he is slowly becoming more and more influential in this Arsenal side. Credit to the players for holding on to another crucial win, and maintaining our two-point gap at the top.

Afterwards, Arsene said:

"It was not a game of brilliance but it was a game of efficiency and patience. For us it was about being patient and not making a mistake and we did that well. The pitch was a bit slow, maybe we were not the sharpest as well and the two together made us create less chances than we are used to but we were serious and determined."

We face Chelsea on Tuesday, which marks the beginning of a tough set of fixtures. I'll put a blog in tomorrow highlighting the factors that can affect our performances in the coming matches, but till then it's time to savour another important Arsenal win.

Hats off to the players, and especially the defenders, for managing to keep a rare clean sheet. Till tomorrow.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Crystal Palace vs Arsenal: Match Preview

This should be a piece of cake.

With Crystal Palace in second bottom position, looking destined for relegation already, and no proper managerial stability, we should be trashing this team, even if it is at their home. Quite frankly, we should take this game as one to vent our recent frustration on, due to narrowly losing against Dortmund.

This game can also be taken as a warm up, or a chance to rest our big guns before the towering fixtures arrive. After Crystal Palace, we host Chelsea in a crucial Capital One Cup fixture. I call it 'crucial' because it's the best way to win a trophy this season. It's about time that we lift the burden of "8 years no trophy" off our heads, and win something to shut the mouths of the critics. And these group of lads deserve it, because their a bunch of honest people who work their socks off every match.

Arsene Wenger believes that his team has learnt from the Dortmund game, by saying:

"Even if we lost there were a lot of positives because we controlled them quite well, a team who went to the final in a convincing way last year. Despite the disappointment, it should give us belief. I am quite confident and I think we have learned from the Dortmund game.”

I highly doubt that. Arsene Wenger's Arsenal are a team that have never learnt from their mistakes made in the previous years. Till today there is nervy defending of set-pieces, hardly any tangible impact of substitutes, constant overplaying of key players and a lack of winning mentality. I'm sorry, I just don't buy it.

Anyway, in team news, Flamini is fit again and Wilshere is facing a late test but reports suggest that it is short term. Arsene Wenger, however, has finally admitted that his ankle problem will be a recurring one due to him overplaying Jack. However, I don't think that either of them need to play today for us to win this one. I think that if we go with our second squad, namely the back five of Viviano, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Nacho Monreal, the midfield trio of Mikel Arteta, Ramsey and Rosicky and with Gnabry, Ryo and Bendtner playing upfront we should comfortably win this. And if not, won't we have a better impact from the bench than we had earlier?

However, I don't have much faith in Wenger's man management, and I suspect that he'll start Giroud, Ozil, and Santi Cazorla for this match and probably play his worst team possible for the Chelsea fixture ("Because it's Capital One Cup, who cares about that, right?"). It's poor man management and he's clearly setting the wrong priorities, but that's Arsene Wenger for you. We just have to helplessly hope that none of our key players pick up a knock.

Anyway, irrespective of the squad, we should be winning this comfortably. If City beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and we win this, then we go 3 points clear at the top of the table. Not a bad position to be in after 9 games played, eh?

Here's to results going our way and another easy Arsenal win. Come on You Gunners.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Friday, 25 October 2013

Arsenal 1-2 Dortmund: Cracks beginning to show?

Let's be honest, Arsenal lost against a superior Dortmund side who had clearly done their homework. It wasn't a lucky win for them, nor was it an unlucky loss for us. And while the general feeling is that Arsenal can look back at this game as a mere bump in the road, I feel that we need to have a cold, hard look in the mirror at ourselves, pay attention to our mistakes and never have a repeat of such games.

After noticing how brilliant they were in the initial 10 minutes, Arsene should've worked out a strategy. Instead of playing passes to whichever person was available, he should've told his team to go all Barcelona and sap the life of the game. By playing safe passes among the defence (Arteta could've taken the lead there), we could've calmed down our team, drained the flair of theirs, and work slowly but surely towards creating openings, kind of like how we played at the end of last season. I know it wasn't the most attractive plan, and it's certainly betraying our footballing philosophy, but we need to remember that results are always greater than performances.

Instead, we bottled it. Instead of implementing a strategy, we played without any proper plan and thus played right into their hands. They got the lead in the 16th minute and they deserved it because of their pressing, desire and technical brilliance. However, the fashion in which we conceded was just sloppy. My increasing concerns of Ramsey's solo play weren't unfounded after all, as he tried to dribble past Lewandowski and failed miserably. Lewandowski played a simple pass to Mkhitaryan, who slotted coolly past Szczesny. 1-0 to them.

It was a setback, all right, and one we had to recover from. However, it was infuriating to see us continuing our same style of play which had fallen flat in the initial stages of the game. How can Arsene be so blind, not notice that his game play wasn't working at all, not switch to a new one and not adapt to the changing situation? Dortmund knew our tactics, countered them brilliantly and were firmly on top. We, instead of changing our tactics and causing them problems, stuck with our passing 'game' and made it much simpler for them. I think an Albert Einstein quote fits this situation perfectly: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

The only factor that supported our strategy was that eventually they would get tired and we could capitalize on that. And that is exactly why we dominated the closing stages of the first half, and got a lucky Olivier Giroud goal. Ramsey's wide pass to Sagna found him in space and his cross to Ollie was good. (About time!) Weidenfeller, who played like Almunia in the first half, failed to catch it, which left Giroud to smash a tap-in. Though it was lucky, it was a goal that represented fruit for our labour, and for me, who else deserved that more than Giroud, who was our best player on the pitch for    the first half?

I'm having serious doubts over Wenger's tactical capability after I saw that he didn't make any change to our strategy in the game. I had stressed earlier that Dortmund would be a difficult matchup, and winning dirty should be the order of the day. However, instead of facing facts, Wenger didn't do anything to the formation, the tactics or anything, and thus witnessed a repeat of the first half. I don't know why he won't hand the mike over to Steve Bould and let him do a better job than him. Maybe he is like the dictator Stewart Robson compares him to be, I don't know. What I do know that it's just frustrating to watch the world burn and know that there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. 

The introduction of Santi for Wilshere livened things up for us, and while bringing Cazorla on was a good move, it should've been Ramsey to make way for him. Wilshere and Rosicky bring flair to the team, which was necessary against a team like Dortmund. Plus, even though stats speak against him, Wilshere was slowly growing into the game, and could've made a difference later on. We pressurized after fatigue caught up with them, the highlight being Cazorla almost scoring, and Ozil finally getting into the game.

However, they hit us with a classic sucker punch in the 81st minute. Grosskreutz overlapped down the right through a counterattack and his deep cross was volleyed home by Lewandowski lurking at the far post. It was particularly painful for me, because I felt that we were growing into the game and were more in a position to win it. It was definitely against the run of play, which made it much more harder to stomach.

They played out the rest of the game and won professionally, fair and square. And while I'd say fair play to them, 'cause they deserved that, this loss gives a much clearer picture on our team, especially our flaws.

This team, I have realized, is slowly starting to get reliant on Flamini, Ozil and Giroud. Screw the defence, our whole team looked a bit disjointed due to Flamini's absence. Dortmund cleverly neutralized Ozil's threat, which stemmed the flow of a lot of our attacks. Giroud, the only striker we have (please don't say Nicklas Bendtner), was easily one of the best players on the pitch, but he well won't be able to carry on that form for the whole year. Ramsey's form has dropped because he seems to be putting himself in front of the team, and Koscielny and Mertesacker are badly missing that aggressive Frenchman already.

It's astonishing how one loss after 12 games changes the face of football. We are now second to Dortmund in the group, and if we need that first spot, it makes the game at the Westfalenstadion a "must win". I have no idea how we "will win" though, especially because Klopp will return from his touchline ban for that game, not to mention a probability of Gundogan, Piszczek and Kehl being fit for that game. The Champions League qualification road doesn't look very bright, I must say.   

I could actually go on for a while about a lot of problems this club is facing right now which have been falling on deaf ears, but I think that's one for another blog post. All I can say is this: after a straightforward match against Crystal Palace, we face Chelsea, Liverpool, Dortmund and Manchester United in a row. And those 4 games should give a bigger picture of the quality of the club than the previous 14.

Please tell me I'm being paranoid, Arsene, by getting us back on track.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Arsenal vs Dortmund: Match Preview

A challenging and potentially exciting fixture awaits us in the form of Arsenal hosting Borussia Dortmund at the Emirates. It is one that I am particularly looking forward to, but maybe not the players. They might be in more pressure than earlier thought of.

It is the most realistic scenario that Arsenal and Dortmund will be the two teams to qualify for the Round of 16, through the Group of Death. And while Arsenal are in superb form, dispatching opponents along the way, one tends to forget that the opponents 'dispatched' were relatively easy, and winning against them was not unexpected. Of course, the win against Napoli was a pleasant surprise, but Dortmund is a team that is arguably a class above them (AND the Spuds).

They faced Real four times last season and defeated them twice, which included a 4-1 thrashing. They condemned one of the best teams in the world to second place in the group stages last year. Madrid could only draw with them in the Santiago Bernabeu (courtesy Ozil) and win through two late goals (meaningless to the aggregate result) in the semi-final return fixture. True, they sold Gotze and are missing Gundogan, Piszczek and Kehl (their captain) for this match, but that doesn't mean that they are severely weakened. Plus, they have a truly electrifying Westfalenstadion, where it is really difficult to get a result.

Which is why a scrappy win here at the Emirates would satisfy me. Dortmund is the sort of team that deserves to be overestimated, and will need serious attention to be given to. If we win this game (coupled with a draw in Marseille vs Napoli), it would put us in pole position for claiming first spot. And after facing Bayern Munich last year due to finishing second, Arsene Wenger would want that first spot as quickly as possible. 

This, for me, won't be a match where the two sides cancel each other out, but it might be one of those fixtures where a magical moment separates the two sides. I must say, I am genuinely confused as to who will nick it. My heart says that Arsenal will win it by a one-goal margin, but my mind says that it will be an entertaining draw. Whatever happens, I'm sure that the fixture will live up to the hype.

Arsene Wenger says of the game: 

"What they give you, the German teams, is they have a desire to play. They play with a positive attitude and they have produced as well many good players recently. It makes it always an open game because they don't hide. We don't hide, so it should be an exciting game on Tuesday."

In team news, Mathieu Flamini will NOT play a part in the game, which will mean that he will join the injury list of Podolski, Ox, Walcott (who suffered a "setback") and Diaby (who suffered another one), albeit for a short time. In defence, we should have the same players involving Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gibbs.

Of course, with Flamini out, it means that Mikel Arteta will have to partner with Ramsey in the central midfield slots, with Mesut Ozil assuming the attacking midfielder role. Jack should continue playing on the right wing which produced dividends for him in the last game, and Santi Cazorla will start on the left. Let's hope that Ollie hasn't caught up with fatigue, because we need him to produce another good performance against Dortmund.

Spoiler alert: I feel that we are destined to concede against Dortmund, so we'll have to hope that our attack is as devastating as it has been all season, so that we can outscore the opposition. I don't care what everyone babbles about the Mertescielny axis, it has been Flamini who has made the defence more reliable than before. We have played only two Premier League games without him this season, where we shipped in 4 goals. Although Flamini's arrival hasn't got our defence many clean sheets, it has steeled it up and given a certain rough housing to the lineup. Without him, our defence looked a bit nervy against Norwich, which makes it almost a certainty that we will concede tonight.

All in all, this should be a match against two teams in form (Dortmund are on a five match winning streak) where getting 3 points would be an excellent result for whichever side. It would definitely be an entertaining game of football for the neutral fan, but a nervy and an important one for the sides involved. Come on Arsenal. 3 points, Champions league qualification and beautiful football is at stake.

It promises to be a cracker. I can't wait.

P.S. A very happy birthday to Arsene Wenger. I still have my doubts on you, but I sure as hell have a lot of respect for you too.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Arsenal 4-1 Norwich: I could just dance

We restore our lead at the top of the table after another clinical performance against Norwich City, by running out 4-1 winners at the Emirates. And while it was against lowly opposition and in our own stadium, who couldn't have been excited by THAT performance?!

I for one was surprised as to why Wenger played his first team against such easy opposition, especially by starting Santi Cazorla. Overplaying players, especially key players, is always a big risk, and I thought that he would play the likes of Gnabry or Vermaelen, keeping in mind that we have an important fixture coming up on Tuesday. At this point, we don't want another injury crisis, do we?

The massacre began on the 18th minute through a Jack Wilshere goal after some slick Arsenal play. I think that the word "slick" is an understatement to the caliber of playing showed by Giroud and Wilshere to completely outfox the whole Norwich back four and the goalkeeper. This was literally what I remember of the goal: Cazorla has it, flick, flick, flick, Wilshere through, GOAL. It was one of those magical moments that just takes your breath away, and simply marvel at the beauty of what you just witnessed.

I saw at least 10 replays of the goal, and yet I couldn't remember how they managed to string that move together. It was a combination of Arsenal tippy-tappy and direct style of playing, which I don't see in any other team in Europe. It was the kind of goal you would say you were privileged to watch live, and the kind of goal which rivaled Arshavin's against Barcelona. I remember calling the first goal we scored against Napoli "one of the finest Arsenal goals I have seen this season". Well, after looking at what we had produced, that goal seemed pretty scrappy to me. 

We dominated proceedings after that and while we never really threatened, it was some good, calm Arsenal play. That was until Mathieu Flamini's aggression got himself an injury. He ran and bonked heads with Tettey, which resulted in him getting the worse of the two. And the fact that we struggled until the end of the half after he was taken off for Ramsey simply underlines how valuable he is to the team.

I said it before and I'll say it again: Wenger should've rested his key players for this game. Players like Szczesny, Koscielny, Flamini, Ozil and Wilshere need a breather or they'll get susceptible to injury. And while Flamini's injury wasn't out of fatigue but sheer commitment, wouldn't we have been better suited having that commitment against Dortmund than Norwich? Flamini is the only player in the team who has the Vieira-esque traits, which alone makes him one of the most important. And it's not like we're not capable of defeating a team like Norwich even without these players. This is one of the reasons I don't like Wenger: he'll keep playing his first team until most of them are out and then overplay his second team until most of them get injured, which will leave him to get "creative" with the squad.

Anyways, we grabbed a second goal around the 58th minute after another confident pass-and-move goal which was definitely against the run of play. Ramsey's quick pass to Santi left him in lots of space to engineer a counterattack. And after taking the ball forward, he played it to Giroud on the right. Ollie's slanted cross was inch-perfect, which left Ozil to head home expertly. It was another fine Arsenal goal, showcasing all our best qualities, but I'm not sure that it was one we deserved.

Howson got one back for them (quite predictably, for me, the goal was coming) in the 70th minute to make a game out of it. Howson's low drilled shot past Szczesny came after a rare Mertesacker deflection. And while it was a good finish, I couldn't help but notice how Gibbs failed to block that strike. It was very unlike him, and if you ask me, it was the result of a bit of complacency seeping in.

However, we tied the game up with a sensational screamer from Aaron Ramsey. After Wilshere played a pass to him in the box, he feinted twice to get into a good position and calmly slotted past Ruddy. It was another candidate for the Goal of the Season, and it was fitting to come from Arsenal's Player of the Season so far. It reminded me of Nasri's first goal against Fulham he scored like 3 years ago, but this one was from a more honest lad who deserved it after being through such a lot.

However, his continuously increasing solo play is worrying me. True, it was sensational skill and a cool finish, but I couldn't help but notice how he never gave a thought to the players around him. Ever since he scored against Stoke, his playing style is becoming too goal-oriented and a bit negative. I fear that he will put himself in front of the club in the future and have a Nasri like departure.

Anyway, Mesut Ozil's second put the game to bed, after Rosicky's cross and a Ramsey assist (good he didn't go for goal there!) left him space to tap in and effectively put the game to bed. After the game, Wenger said:

 "We won 4-1 and their keeper had a good game. But I think as well that Norwich played well, so it is strange. They made it difficult for us. We had a difficult period between 30 and 60 minutes where we struggled a little bit to keep our game going. I would come out of the game thinking Norwich is a good team."

A pretty good summary of the game by the boss, who now has to focus on a much sterner test against Dortmund. If Flamini won't be able to make it on a match like this, then I'd be pretty pessimistic about our chances to win it. For me, it has been him rather than our Mertescielny axis which has steeled up our defence. Yet we somehow managed to concede 7 goals in our last 8 games.

Football is weird.

However, for now, let's just laugh at Liverpool and Man Utd (don't we always?), and gloat at being on top of the pile.

Bring on Dortmund. I can't wait.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Arsenal vs Norwich: Match Preview

Football is back.

After what seems like a decade, we finally see our team in action as we face a pretty straightforward matchup against Norwich at the Emirates. And while on paper there seems to be only one winner, results aren't declared on paper alone.

The good news is that Cazorla, Sagna and Ozil are fit which should mean that we have depth and choices to give the manager food for thought. The bad news? Er, um.... top of the league on goals scored?

Such are the good times going on at North London that there's hardly any bad news to talk about. I don't think that it was a coincidence that Jack's smoking issue was publicized to such a large extent by the media. It was simply because they couldn't find anything else that was wrong with the club. No contract sagas, no title hiccups, no Champions League slip-ups and no "Spend some f*cking money" crap. I love how much the media hates us this moment.

Which means that the press will surely jump on us should we fail to defeat Norwich City at our home. That said, they might have a point as this game should be nothing more than a walk in the park for a team like us in scintillating form. Even if the manager decides to rest Santi, Ozil and Sagna, (which would be the right decision, considering we play Dortmund on Tuesday) asking this team to beat a team in the relegation spot in our own backyard isn't asking much.

Wenger, as always, said that he wouldn't underestimate the opponents, saying:

“Norwich are much more dangerous than last season because they have Elmander and van Wolfswinkel. Also they are technically very good in the centre. They showed that against Chelsea in the last game and it is always a potentially dangerous game to play Norwich because they are a team with a good dynamic."

Having said so, it would be a huge disappointment if this Arsenal side came out of this fixture with anything other than 3 points, and possibly losing our lead. With Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City and the Spuds facing relatively easy opposition this weekend, we cannot afford to drop points against such teams, even if it is early days. We are on top of the table, and I'm proud of that, but the next and more difficult challenge is to maintain that lead.

I feel that this should be taken as a good opportunity by Wenger to rotate his squad and keep the key players ready and raring for the important game against Borussia Dortmund. While I think that he will keep the back five of Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gibbs unchanged, I feel it would be better if he brings Viviano and Vermaelen for some game time. It would at least give them a chance to prove their worth and give the others a run for their money to keep their place in the starting lineup. 

Midfield might be a problem, but it is the kind of problem that every manager would love to have. I expect Wenger to play Flamini and Arteta in central midfield, Ozil in the attacking midfield slot and Ramsey and Serge Gnabry on the wings, with Wilshere possibly rested. While I would've played Rosicky and rested Ozil for the game, I feel that Wenger's man management 'skills' would make him overplay Ozil and injure him eventually. It's a bad, pessimistic prediction, but I have a feeling that's what's going to happen if Ozil starts today. 

Santi Cazorla seems set to be on the bench, such was the hint in the manager's quotes:

"Cazorla is available in training but he is not match-fit. It is just about competitiveness with him. There is a possibility both (Cazorla and Sagna) are in the squad for Saturday. I have not decided whether they will start or not."

It's good to see Wenger playing it safe with Santi, because he is an important member of the squad and needs the special attention to get back into the game. I like Santi, and I can't wait to see the lethal partnership that he, Ozil and Flamini will form once they link up. Our midfield, though weedy, looks talented, strong and determined. Which is why Wenger should carefully play his cards as to which recently fit player should start the game, and who should be benched.

Olivier Giroud seems set to start the game, and while I might've suggested Bendtner to start instead (no injuries welcome in the striker area), he simply is too bad, even to play a game against the Canaries. As of now, we have no choice but to play Giroud in every possible game, and hope that he won't pick up a knock. I know many people have kept hopes that if Giroud would stay fit until Jan, then Wenger would get a striker to support him, but that sounds like bollocks to me. I know Wenger too well that I would actually be surprised if he bought a quality striker in the winter transfer window, because why would he buy a striker if he didn't get one in the past 2 transfer windows?

Anyways, that's quite another story. For now, let's just focus on consolidating our lead at the top of the table by defeating a pretty easy team. Here's to maintaining our lead, no more injuries, and an easy victory.

Come on Arsenal.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Sunday, 13 October 2013

A thought on Arsenal's injury crisis

Injuries aren't exactly fair to us, huh?

With Theo, Podolski, Santi Cazorla and the Ox all out for long term, it is quite incredible that Arsenal have all of their four wingers injured already at the start of the season. However, it is not just them. Bacary Sagna and Laurent Koscielny have also picked up knocks recently which will undoubtedly put a strain on our already thin defence. Yaya Sanogo, our backup striker, is out with a back injury before he kicked a ball for the club. Our squad, which is thin enough due to the sale of the deadwood, is already starting to give way. Oh, and don't even get me started on Abou Diaby.   

Even so, we are on top of the league. It is quite remarkable that a team which is missing their last year's most influential player, along with two reliable wingers in the form of Podolski and Walcott, are still managing to be on the top of Europe's most competitive league. While it is early in the season and we still haven't faced tough opposition apart from the Spuds, no one can deny that the early signs are good. However, the niggling problem of the constant injuries plaguing us won't leave the minds of every Gooner, because we know that we need to end our drought this year, and we don't want anything messing up that road to success.

Which is why the recent news of Koscielny picking up a thigh strain was met with groans and grumbles. It was just another blow on our injury list which seemed to be easing after Wenger said that he hoped that Cazorla and Podolski would be back after the international break. As it is, we have only 3 center backs in this squad, and injuries there only worsen our weakening condition. Add to that the loss of key wingers, and that forms the black lining in an otherwise silver cloud.

And it's not like this is the first time this has happened to us. Over the season, this Arsenal squad have been losing key players to injury, so much so that their return has been hailed as a "new signing". Last year it was Jack Wilshere, the year before that it was.... well, Wilshere, and the year before that it was Thomas Vermaelen (in form!) and Cesc Fabregas. Also, constant injuries to van Persie meant that we never really had a proper, fit squad. Were we unlucky? It's certainly a possible explanation, but I'd like to float a different theory.

Let's not kid ourselves, the only player in our squad last season who could be classified as a world-class player was Santi Cazorla. If he wasn't Spanish, he would've got a lot more international caps for his country. My point is, our only world class player played EVERY SINGLE PREMIER LEAGUE GAME of last season. That is like, the definition of overplaying, which hardly makes it surprising that he is injured right now. If Arsene Wenger overplays his world class players so much with such poor man management, the players are likely to succumb to injuries.

It's not only Cazorla. Wilshere was overplayed in the 2010/11 season, even when he was 19 and the season was already dead towards the end. Even though he was in the red zone, Wenger continuously played him, and after he recovered from his 1 year rehab, the manager did not ease him into the squad. Instead, he rashly made him start every game until he got injured again. I mean, what the hell?!

Our deadly attacking trio of Fabregas, Nasri and van Persie were injury prone too. Even though van Persie did indeed have his own "glass ankles" agenda, I was infuriated by watching how much Wenger overplayed Fabregas and Nasri - especially Fabregas - which led to hamstring and ankle injuries. One particular example on how dependent we were on those players was a game against Aston Villa 3 or 4 years ago, when Fabregas, who was unfit, was forced to come off from the bench after a goalless 60 minutes. He then proceeded to score 2 goals and aggravate his injury again, which was inspirational, yes, but ultimately symbolic of how horrible a man manager Wenger is.

We have 6 quality midfield players, out of which the likes of Arteta, Wilshere and Rosicky are benched. I hope Wenger rotates his midfield regularly to stop injuries happening to Flamini, Ramsey and Ozil due to overplaying, but if he doesn't, he would have no excuses, having had suitable replacements raring to take to the field. However, needless to say, I have no faith in Wenger's man management skills, and at this rate, I expect Ozil and Giroud to be out for long term and Arsenal fans failing to see Wenger's fault in it.

Olivier Giroud has been playing as our only recognized striker for more than a year, and it's surprising that he hasn't been injured yet. He was considered injury prone at Montpellier, yet he managed to go through the whole season without picking up serious injuries. The burden already seems to be getting to him, because his performance against the Baggies was a bit below-par. However, failing to buy a striker and keeping Bendtner as backup is ridiculous, and I expect Giroud to find injury soon.

After two seasons, we genuinely look like title contenders and the other teams are beginning to take us seriously. We have a decent defence, a strong midfield and a good attack. The only remaining requirements in this squad are a center back and a striker. It's no use blaming Wenger and crying over spilt milk, instead, all we can do is hope that he rotates the current team we have to mount a sustained title challenge until January, when the winter transfer window opens. However, I don't think that he is going to buy anyone in the January transfer window, which will lead to another disappointing campaign.

I feel that the season is destined for disaster. Let's hope that I am wrong.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Mathieu Flamini: The Unsung Hero

When Arsene Wenger re-signed the French midfielder who fell out of favour at AC Milan, many people - myself included - rose up in anger and frustration against this deal. While a defensive midfielder was required, many wanted the manager to buy proven quality like Fellaini, Bender or Yann M'Vila. The signing of Mathieu Flamini was a symbol to everything all the Gooners were against. A free transfer taken at an opportunity rather than buying proven world class talent was not what any Arsenal supporter wanted. Arsene said of the deal:

"We’re very pleased Mathieu has agreed to re-join us. He is a player of real quality, with a fantastic work rate and great mentality. As we know, Mathieu is a strong midfielder, but is also is comfortable playing in defence too. He is a very good addition to our squad."

After Yaya Sanogo, when the club were expecting Gonzalo Higuain, Luis Suarez or Luiz Gustavo to join the club, signing a 29 year old free Frenchman was a slap in the face. No one really gave him a chance to prove his worth. However, after he had an excellent debut against the Spuds, his influence is slowly growing on the squad, leaving me impressed at how much I underestimated this player.

Replicating the form he showed when he was previously at Arsenal back in 2007 was a big ask, and he hasn't lived up to the expectations.

This Flamini is better.

I remember the brilliant partnership and understanding he had with a certain Cesc Fabregas, and how lethal they were together. I can't wait to see what will happen once he links up with Mesut Ozil. With Ozil, Cazorla, Wilshere and Ramsey, we already have one of the best midfields in Europe. Adding genuine steel and aggression in the form of Flamini adds another dimension to this midfield - rough housing.

I remember in the Arsenal vs Stoke match earlier this season, Wilson had stopped committing repeated fouls on Wilshere after Flamini said, "Do it again and I will blind you". Our Arsenal squad never had that kind of aggression since Patrick Vieira was replaced by Cesc Fabregas, and I feel that Flamini can be a short term (if not long term) replacement for the captain of the Invincibles squad.

The arrival of Ozil and the electrifying form of Ramsey and Giroud meant that Flamini's constant communication and leadership went unnoticed. However, I might go one step further to say that in the long run, Flamini's signing may prove to yield better results than Ozil's. If (god forbid) Ozil does pick up a knock during matches for club and country, we have sufficient creativity to replace him in the form of Cazorla, Rosicky and even Wilshere. However, if Flamini ever gets injured or suspended (the latter seems likelier), who can replace his leadership, commitment, determination and desire? Jack Wilshere maybe, but that's about it.

Arsene agrees that Flamini might prove to be the signing of the season by saying:

"Mathieu Flamini has given us a balance between attacking and defending. He is someone who accepts the 'dark' role in the team. Before, in big games, we looked frail defensively sometimes and he gives us more in that sense. I don't know if he will turn out to be one of the most important signings I have ever made. But I think it was 'an' important signing."  

I'll be honest - I was expecting Fellaini or Bender to come into this Arsenal squad instead of Flamini. However, Flamini, who had publicly stated in the past that leaving Arsenal was a mistake, has made good on his second chance at this club. Evolving from a mere squad player to being the person to fill Vieira's shoes is a huge development for any player, but Flamini seems like a man possessed in his second stint to do that. His direct, physical and aggressive approach is making Mikel Arteta's style of play a liability for the club. His arrival gives Arsenal the don't-mess-with-us kind of look, something which was absent even when Alex Song was at the club. Plus, by the looks of his performances, he badly wants to win trophies and propel this club forward.

I think it's a blessing in disguise that Flamini's contribution is not being acknowledged by the press. Look at Ramsey and Giroud, who were praised by the media. They seemed to be buckling a bit under the pressure of expectation, which resulted in a dip in their performances against West Brom. Flamini is rapidly becoming one of my favourite players at this club, and I would hate to see something as trivial as media pressure affecting his performances. Mark my words, Flamini is the only one-of-a-kind player at this club, and that alone could make him the signing of the season.

For heavens sake, Arsene, give that man the captain's armband.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )
w if he will turn out to be one of the most important signings I have ever made. But I think it was ‘an’ important signing.” - See more at:

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

WBA 1-1 Arsenal: It had to end sometime

So, we finally end our much talked about 10 straight victories and 12 away wins with a 1-1 draw at the Hawthorns. It was an entertaining game, particularly in the second half, and while many Gooners were expecting Arsenal to take all 3 points at the beginning of the game, they'd gladly accept the match as 1 point gained.

While the result - coupled with the Spuds shockingly losing 0-3 at White Hart Lane - means that we maintain our lead at the top of the table, it wasn't the most efficient of Arsenal performances that I've seen, particularly after significantly raising my expectations after the Napoli domination. While many Arsenal fans would argue that West Brom were a tricky opposition who we were lucky not to lose against, I'd say that you find plenty of such teams in the Premier League, and that anything other than a win is inexcusable for a team challenging for the title.

In the first half, Arsenal were dominating possession in the first half hour but had little to show for it. West Brom were very well organized, as was seen when difference makers like Ozil and Ramsey couldn't really cause serious danger to their backline. Jack Wilshere was understandably poor in the first half, considering that he was put in a bad light about the whole smoking thing and he was being constantly played out of position. However, his constant diving and overacting to win free kicks angered me. We are Arsenal, not Manchester United, a team known for playing fair. Even though Wilshere is fouled by the opposition a lot, if he keeps going down easily and whining over every single foul, he won't be getting a free kick when he truly deserves it. That, I think, was a factor in Wilshere not winning a penalty when he was clearly fouled in the box late in the second half.

They took the lead in the 42nd minute through a Yacob header, and while it was really well worked and a goal that Arsenal couldn't possibly be barracked about, I couldn't help but notice how Carl Jenkinson couldn't head that ball away. He had a surprisingly poor game, especially when I thought that he would take this opportunity to give Sagna some competition. For his height and athleticism, he was awful in the air, which was a valid reason for us falling behind. Bacary Sagna wouldn't have bundled that, which is why I want Bac back.

They dominated the rest of the half and stayed in front come the break. And while I expected Jack to make way for Rosicky in the second half, the manager showed remarkable faith in taking of Ramsey instead of Wilshere to bring on the Czech Republican. After Anelka missed a pretty easy chance to give the Baggies a comfort zone, we equalized through Wilshere to make it 1-1 and game on. A long pass by Ozil to Giroud started the move, and after the Frenchman showed remarkable hold up play to keep the ball he finally flicked the ball to Rosicky. The little Mozart laid up the ball for Wilshere to fire a deflected volley from outside the box past Myhill into the back of the net. 

It was a good, well worked Arsenal goal with a bit of luck at the end but I'm dubious as to whether we actually deserved that. Aside from the goal and a Giroud chance which should've been taken, we didn't really create much to trouble their defence, and could've easily lost 1-0. Speaking of Giroud, it seems that fatigue is slowly catching up with him, and as hardworking he is, I think today would've been a day when a world-class striker would've made the draw into a win. 

Which is why I can never forgive Wenger for failing to bring a striker, not just in the summer transfer window, but in the winter transfer window too. In my opinion, it hasn't been Wenger who has lifted the team from the "crisis". People failed to notice that he procrastinated until the final day of the transfer window to finally bring in world-class talent, and it wasn't even in a position that we really required. I know Ozil is brilliant and can fit into any team, but surely, wasn't a striker and a center back a higher priority?

As it stands, we have only one proven striker and 3 center backs in all. We are one bad tackle away from bringing Bendtner, an Arsenal reject, into the squad, and two injuries away from shifting the positions of Sagna and Flamini to cover up a center back slot. Playing Ramsey and Rosicky on the wings might've worked against Napoli, but it didn't really click when Wilshere and Ramsey played against West Brom. Instead of changing the strategy and bringing Gnabry on as a proper winger, Arsene made a man to man substitution, bringing off a midfielder and putting on... a midfielder.

The players seem to have taken responsibility instead of the manager, especially Flamini, who has really impressed me. However, right from failing to provide proper depth to the squad to not shouting touchline commands, Wenger does not deserve the rumoured £8m a year deal until he shows ambition by buying a striker and/or a center back. Until then, mark my words, this season is destined for disaster like the 2010/11 season.

I just don't want to get my hopes up about this season, because we're actually weaker than we were in the 2010/11 season (albeit more mature) where we were so close to winning the quadruple but ended up winning zilch. We have replaced Fabregas by Ozil, Nasri by Cazorla, Vieira by Flamini (about time!) but still haven't got in an able replacement for van Persie. Plus, with the current overplaying of Ozil, Ramsey, Giroud and the two center backs, I feel that they'll be out for long term when Cazorla, Podolski and Walcott return. It would be hugely frustrating when poor man management, tactics and lack of winter purchases will be a factor in Arsenal missing out on another trophy this season.     

Anyway, I might touch on that subject a bit more during the International break, as well as put in a blog on Flamini also. For now, let's just enjoy being on top of the pile, and worry about the future later.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )