MATCH REPORT: SUTTON UNITED 0-2 ARSENAL

Arsenal have booked their place in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup after coming away from their fifth round tie against non-league side Sutton United with a 2-0 victory.

Goals from Lucas Perez and Theo Walcott concluded business for the Gunners at the Borough Sports Ground in Gander Green Lane, with the North Londoners now setting a date with Lincoln City, also from the National League, at the Emirates Stadium next month.

Despite a total of 105 league places between the two sides, Arsenal took until the 15th minute to construct their first real attack of the night, as Elneny signed off the move with a wild shot over the crossbar.

Arsène Wenger’s men took their chance to catch Sutton’s backline out when it came, as Lucas was sent down the right flank before cutting in and aiming a pass at Walcott; a ball that was missed by the forward, but subsequently led into the far corner in the 26th minute after deceiving the hosts’ goalkeeper.

Just three minutes later, the Gunners had Sutton’s men chasing their counter once more through Walcott, but the Englishman couldn’t keep his shot from range at goal-height.

Arsenal’s number 14 led the charge once more in the final exchanges of the first half, whereas this time it was Alex Iwobi who claimed responsibility to shot at goal with an effort deflected just wide of the post.

David Ospina offered the home side renewed hope on brink of half time, however, after gifting Adam May with a loose short pass, but the Sutton midfielder failed to keep his shot on target from his weaker foot.

With greater purpose in the second period, it didn’t take long for Arsenal to find success at the away end, as Nacho Moreal’s low cross was tapped in by Walcott for his 100th career goal and the Gunners’ second of the night in the 55th minute.

Sutton retaliated through Jamie Collins after their first corner of the game just five minutes later, but the captain of the U’s couldn’t direct his header at goal with Ospina obstructed.

Roarie Deacon then left the Colombian goalkeeper and much of the ground stunned with a clean effort from 25 yards, as the crossbar denied the ex-Arsenal man of any joy against his former club.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took his chance to go on a searching run from the left flank in the 68th minute, but the quality of the winger’s delivery will have let many of his teammates disappointed after evading them all inside the box.

The 23-year-old took centre stage once more as the game drew to a close when attempting to arc a shot into the far corner, but the effort was parried away comfortably by Ross Worner between the sticks, as Sutton settled for a respectable 2-0 defeat against Premier League opposition.

Arsenal will now welcome Lincoln, victorious against the likes of Oldham Athletic, Ipswich Town, Brighton & Hove Albion and Burnley, to the Emirates Stadium in approximately three weeks’ time.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings

David Ospina (4); Gabriel Paulista (5), Shkodran Mustafi (7), Rob Holding (6), Nacho Monreal (6); Mohamed Elneny (5), Granit Xhaka (6); Theo Walcott (7), Jeff Reine-Adelaide (4), Alex Iwobi (6); Lucas Perez (8)

Subs: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (7), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (6), Alexis Sanchez (6)

MATCH REPORT: BAYERN MUNICH 5-1 ARSENAL

Arsenal will have to overturn a four-goal-deficit in the return leg of their UEFA Champions League tie against Bayern Munich ahead of the Quarter-Finals, with the 2015/16 Bundesliga champions flattening the Gunners 5-1 at the Allianz Arena, tonight.

A typical Arjen Robben goal saw Arsène Wenger’s side go down early in the contest, but Alexis Sanchez’s equaliser offered hope of a prosperous European night going into half-time.

However, a ten-minute flurry of goals from Robert Lewandowski and Thiago Alcântara left the Gunners staring at a 4-1 defeat, whereas it was Thomas Müller who landed the final blow in another sorry Arsenal performance in the round of the Last 16.

The warning signs came early for the North London outfit, as Bayern enjoyed early spells of possession and tested David Ospina from range via Arturo Vidal’s shot in the 8th minute.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side wouldn’t have to try much harder to gain advantage, as Robben took his habitual step inwards to curl an effort beyond the goalkeeper and offer the hosts the lead after just 11 minutes of football.

Robben was on course to attempt a repeat of his favourite recipe just three minutes later, but the Dutchman couldn’t spread the angle of his shot far enough ahead of a comfortable Ospina save.

Having weathered the storm, Arsenal took until the 27th minute to register their first meaningful attempt, as Mesut Özil’s free-kick was mishandled by Manuel Neuer before the linesman cancelled out any luck from the rebound with his flag.

The Gunners would find a route back into the game no less than a couple of minutes later, however, with Lewandowski attempting to take a swipe at the ball and catching Laurent Koscielny inside the box instead, as the referee pointed to the spot.

Sanchez stepped up to the 12-yard-mark and saw Neuer save his penalty before also missing the rebound, but the Chilean was able to regain his composure and finish at the third time of asking to draw Arsenal level and gift them a potentially crucial away goal.

Bayern replied through a searching Thiago pass to Vidal inside the area, as the box-to-box midfielder hooked a first-time ball back into Lewandowski’s sight before the latter headed the ball over.

Arsenal continued to go toe-to-toe in the final stages of the first half, this time attacking through Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain down the byline, but Granit Xhaka was unable to steer his volley from the Englishman’s pass away from Neuer.

Lewandowski looked poised to open his account once more in the 43rd minute, but David Alaba’s cross proved to be lagging too much for the danger man to direct his header goalwards, as it roamed over yet again.

The Gunners ended the half on a positive note through Sanchez’s through ball to Özil down the channels, but the German couldn’t overcome his counterpart, Neuer, from a tight angle.

Arsenal couldn’t have hoped for a worse start to the second period, with Laurent Koscielny replaced through injury and Lewandowski taking full advantage of the Frenchman’s absence to head Bayern back in the lead from Philipp Lahm’s cross in the 53rd minute.

The Polish goalscorer took centre stage once more in the build to the Bavarian’s third goal, providing a delicate back-heeled assist around Gabriel Paulista that left Thiago one-on-one with Ospina before scoring four minutes shy of the hour mark.

Lewandowski was out for more when his looped effort pinged off the bar, as Arsenal’s shot-stopper vacated his goal; whereas Robben was left claiming a penalty from the rebound when his attempt to grab Bayern’s fourth appeared to be deflected wide by Kieran Gibbs’ hand.

Javi Martinez promised more joy for the hosts in the 63rd minute when his powerful header was denied by Ospina, but the Colombian was left with little hope when the home side eventually found a way through once more just seconds later.

From the resulting corner, the ball fell to Thiago on the edge of the box, whose strike took a wicked deflection off Xhaka’s leg to betray the Arsenal goalkeeper and add a second to his account.

Unsatisfied with the 4-1 lead, the hosts proceeded to pepper the Gunners’ goal deep into the final ten minutes of the game, this time through Douglas Costa’s tense left-footed strike that was saved by Ospina in the 82nd minute.

And when it looked like it could get no worse for Wenger’s men, it did, as Chamberlain was dispossessed by Müller at the entrance of Arsenal’s box, with the German eventually adding the finishing touches to a night to forget for the visitors.

The two sides shall meet again for the second leg, this time at the Emirates Stadium, on March 7th.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

Arsenal XI Ratings

David Ospina (7); Héctor Bellerín (5), Shkodran Mustafi (4), Laurent Koscielny (5), Kieran Gibbs (3); Francis Coquelin (3), Granit Xhaka (4); Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (5), Mesut Özil (4), Alex Iwobi (4); Alexis Sanchez (7)

Subs: Gabriel Paulista (3); Theo Walcott (4); Olivier Giroud (3)

BLOG: REMINISCING: WHERE DID IT ALL GO SO WRONG?

Matchweek 15. The scene is set at the Emirates, as Arsenal get ready to take on a stubborn Stoke on a cold, December afternoon. At the moment, Arsenal trail leaders Chelsea in the table by 3 points, but a win from the Gunners and a defeat for the Blues could see them both level at the top by day’s end.

Kick-off commences and the game begins, and before you know it, crisis strikes. 25’ into the first half, and down goes our gladiator of a center-half Mustafi, soon after to be replaced by Bellerín. I don’t know why, but at the moment when Mustafi had been taken off, I got a gut-wrenching feeling, of course not knowing that THIS, would only be the commencement to our downfall. Arsenal went on to win the match 3-1, however, looking back on the day, I would have to identify this moment as one of the key turning points in our season.

Fast forward to the following week, and Mustafi-less Arsenal travel to Merseyside to take on Everton, in what appeared to be yet another tough test. What really get’s me about this match is that we took the lead early on, only to hand them a goal on a platter right before the half. For those who aren’t aware of what happened, Leighton Baines received a long ball down the field, Walcott tracked back horribly, allowing Baines to cross the ball into our box, and Koscielny and Gabriel watched as Coleman guided the ball into the net. The level of defending from that goal was abysmal to say the least. But wait, there’s more (and no this isn’t an infomercial)! Late into the match, Ross Barkley steps up to take a corner, and again, multiple Arsenal players watch as Williams goes untouched and unmarked to score the winning goal, off a damn corner.

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Koscielny can only watch as Coleman goes unmarked to bring Everton level.

Sure, it is easy to say that both goals were credited to great crosses, however, what if Mustafi had been present? Would his presence in the game have impacted both of those goals? I would like to believe yes. Looking at the bigger picture, in the games leading up to the Everton fixture, when Mustafi had been in the lineup, we hadn’t lost a single game. Not one. Lucky? I think not.

Next, came an away trip to Manchester to take on City, where the Gunners again took the lead early on in the match, thanks to a peach-of-a through ball from Alexis and a silky smooth finish from Theo. But once again, the Arsenal defense collapsed, leading to two goals from Sane and Sterling. And might I add that Cech getting beat near post on the second goal was just horrendous. Not to mention, as if the weekend couldn’t get any worse, every club in the top seven won that weekend, further mounting pressure on the Gunners.

Mustafi’s presence may not have impacted this match as much as the match at Everton, but we’ll never know. What we do know, however, is that these consecutive losses saw us seriously lose our grip in the title race, and may have ultimately cost us the season. The boss came under scrutiny from the media and fans, team morale went plummeting, and before you knew it, the toxic atmosphere around the Emirates was back.

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Fans share their frustration during a match, at times igniting a toxic atmosphere.

Arsenal went on to win 4 of their next 5 Premier League matches, however, that still wasn’t enough, as Chelsea had maintained an 8 point lead through matchweek 22. Fast forward to the present day and not much has changed. Chelsea now own a 10 point lead with just 13 matches left in the season, pretty much dampening all hope for a shot at the title.

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Arsenal go from within 3 points, to 9 points behind during the Christmas period.

The combination of all the above-mentioned events ultimately is where things went so wrong for Arsenal. The loss of Mustafi, the consecutive losses to Everton and City, and Chelsea’s extreme success, all contributed to the gap in the table that we now see today. Some may even argue that the thrashing of Chelsea back in September was the worst thing that could’ve happened to us, as the Blues made the permanent switch to a 3-5-2 formation after the loss, and went on to win 13 straight matches, tying Arsenal for the League’s best ever winning streak.

It is also very important to note that Chelsea do not need to worry about Champions League football, while on the contrary, Arsenal, of course, have to deal with Bayern Munich and European football. With the addition of CL football, Arsenal will play at least 8 more matches than Chelsea, so fatigue also becomes an issue. Needless to say, us fans can probably come up with a plethora of excuses as to when and how things started trending downwards, the fact of the matter remains unchanged, when the opportunities presented themselves for the team to take, they did not take them.

There is not one player to pin all our wrongdoings on, nor does the boss deserve all the criticism the fans are throwing at him, this is just the game of football. What is important now is that we get back to our winning ways and finish out the season strong, make a serious run at the FA Cup and Champions League, and lastly and most importantly, secure the long-term futures of both Alexis and Ozil.

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It’s important that team morale gets back to it’s peak.

All statistics via Whoscored.com, ESPNFC.com, and Squawka.com

Follow me on Twitter: @j_kulla

BLOG: OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN: REBORN.

Moments, they define careers, regardless of profession. Whether you seize such opportunities define you as a person, define whether you’ll go down amongst the greats, or forever trudge through the realms of mediocrity. Oxlade-Chamberlain finds himself at his moment. Inevitable injuries plague another Arsenal season, and the Englishman has found himself a beneficiary of this. All started with a double-barrelled midfield on a frosty Saturday evening on the south-coast, from there a flower blossomed.

Placed beside two 19 year old’s, the Ox found himself having to be a leader of men on a ground notoriously difficult for the Gunners. Not only did he lead, he thrived. Combining explosive pace with incisive distribution, Chamberlain dictated the game, doing whatever the game demanded of him. The Arsenal needed cover, the Ox provided such cover. The Gunners needed a quick switch of play, the Englishman would ping a 50 yard pass and spread the play. The robust build of the 23-year-old allows him to cover vast acres of canvases across the country, yet the highly underrated intelligence he possesses means he can combine such technique he’s equipped with perfectly timed execution. Like a boxer with his opponent up against the rope, the Ox delivers the killer blow. Time after time, exquisite perfection pulsates through the veins of Chamberlain. Historical precedence is given to his ability to mould himself into such a role, with a Man of the Match performance away to Bayern Munich springing to mind.

It shouldn’t work, but it does. Completely juxtaposed to the perception of a central midfielder, the 23-year-old embodies the greater picture, this picture being a revolution in football. The game evolves, adapts, it always has and always will, whether this be the change in dynamic in forwards, ball playing defenders, or system changes, there is always room from evolution. In fact, worrying times will arise once such evolution disintegrates. Chamberlain possesses the attributes to be the type of midfielder the game demands, an astounding attribute. The game needs to be driven forward by powerful running? The Ox can deliver. The game needs to be slowed down? The Ox can provide such assistance. The game requires high pressing? The Ox will inexorably hunt until the ball is in his presence. This is much more than a simple box to box midfielder, this is the complete midfielder, the adaptable midfielder, the midfielder Arsenal so desperately need in a time of despair.

Chamberlain’s output as a CM is truly remarkable.

Stagnation had previously plagued the now experienced man. Placed on the flanks, the Ox’s game was limited to dynamic runs, completely unrepresentative of the Englishman’s true capabilities. In the Arsenal system, the right flank tends to be occupied by an inside forward, whether this be Walcott, Welbeck or Lucas. The 23 year represents somewhat of an anomaly to the general style Arsene Wenger deploys here, he’s an out-and-out winger. By deploying the Ox is midfield, you open up a whole new realm to the Gunners number 15, a rebirth.

So what happens when the returns of Xhaka and Ramsey occur? Does Arsene Wenger select on merit or on performance? Tactically speaking, placing Oxlade-Chamberlain next to the lethargic yet blessed Granit Xhaka could well be a revelation. By using the Ox’s speed and mobility next to the Swiss international, you arguably compensate for his immobility in this department. This season has shown the combative 24-year-old needs this protection, as whilst on the ball he’s one of the best in the league, a concoction of dubious refereeing decisions and poorly timed tackles have exposed the £35 million man. Ramsey is yet to convince next to the Swiss, despite having a fair few games in a pivot with him and Coquelin has become an increasing source of frustration amongst Arsenal fans (which I may add is unwarranted, he doesn’t force Wenger to start him). Yet, despite limited game-time, Chamberlain has taken to the midfield role like a duck to water, outperforming all those who’ve found themselves in a Gunner’s pivot this season.

All comes down the Manager, does he persist with the excellence of the Ox or does he resort to the tried and tested. As Albert Einstein said, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong”, and time will tell whether the Gunners boss is willing to take such a risk. The Ox’s career depends on it.

 

Twitter: @JLennard10

BLOG: SHOULD ARSENAL SCRAP THE TRADITIONAL ‘NUMBER 10’ ROLE?

As with every defeat that orbits the Arsenal world, the common retaliation the club will be faced with over the coming days are increasing calls for change, ranging from sackings, to greater focus on internal solutions that prevent games like the previous two from happening as frequently as they have done.

And meanwhile a great deal of the conversation will undoubtedly centre itself around the future of current Gunners boss, Arsène Wenger, there’s a lot more to deliberate over between now and the end of the season.

Life wasn’t kind to the Frenchman in the lead up to Arsenal’s away trip to Stamford Bridge versus Chelsea, as the midfield was left orphan to the absences of Granit Xhaka, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Mohamed Elneny.

From that perspective, against none other than the league leaders, it’s difficult to not feel somewhat sympathetic towards Wenger, but by the same token, there’s also a strand of culpability that can be attributed to the under-fire manager.

Arsenal were reduced to a midfield pairing of Francis Coquelin and the centrally-adapted Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as a consequence of a depleted midfield, both of whom were also reportedly carrying knocks.

Against an organised midfield that’s subsidised by the ever-impressive N’Golo Kanté, one can’t quite believe Wenger went into this clash with JUST the newly-formed and physically-limited duo in the middle of the park.

The encounter proved to be, as feared, a complete mismatch, as Chelsea were able to control the game both with and without possession to expose our midfield frailties, meanwhile Arsenal’s Ainsley Maitland-Niles watched on from the bench.

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A comprehensive 3-1 defeat to the Blues leaves plenty of room for imagination, in particular how different the contest and the eventual aftermath may have been had Wenger turned to a three-man midfield and introduced Maitland-Niles into the equation.

In a world where we place great value on mentality, a buzzword of Arsenal’s, it’s ironic that Chelsea’s first goal appeared to show Wenger’s men succumb to the admission of defeat rapidly, a heightened level of respect that wasn’t matched by the expansive 4-2-3-1 system that the players are continuously deployed in.

It’s here where the true dangers of Wenger’s perceived stubbornness threatens Arsenal’s accomplishments the most, as he ignores the clearest cue yet for him to differ tactically. If ever there was a time to revert to a 4-3-3, that time was Saturday afternoon.

Worryingly, Saturday’s clash isn’t the only example of Arsenal being sunk by an apparent susceptibility to counter-attacks and pre-organised waves of pressure made by the opposition.

Similar case studies can be found in clashes away to Bournemouth, Everton and the latest home debacle versus Watford, which constantly sees the traditional double pivot, even at full strength, overpowered in central areas.

Hope among corners of the club’s fan base is that a shift to a 4-3-3 formation, retreating an extra body into midfield, can be the remedy that combats this supposed weakness. The most alarming modification would see Arsenal move Mesut Özil, once lauded as the finest number 10 in the world, away from his natural habitat.

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A mock-up of Arsenal’s potential new look in a 4-3-3 (via lineupbuilder.com).

That may not necessarily be a bad thing, however, with the German often nonexistent in defensive transitions, whereas his goal return this season invites the prospect for him to operate further forward.

The synergy between Özil and Arsenal’s other key man, Alexis Sánchez, is also promising, and so the argument for the two to link-up exclusively in an interchangeable front three has never been more alive.

Contrarily, three central midfielders also allows for the inverse trajectory being made by Alex Iwobi and Chamberlain, who’d only add to the wealth of tools at Wenger’s disposal with regards to game-to-game midfield combinations, whereas basic theory tells us three central midfielders allow the Gunners to cover far more space than the habitual two.

There’s a good number of positives to come from such a tactical reinvention, and in Chelsea’s resurrection under Antonio Conte lies a few handy lessons for Arsenal to take on board.

It was the Gunners’ 3-0 demolition of the Blues that triggered the implementation of the newly-sought after 3-4-3 formation; a system that has enabled the galvanisation of a side that’s now hot favourites to land the title.

As Tottenham Hotspur and arch-nemesis José Mourinho threaten to outperform Wenger in what could be the Frenchman’s final season at the club, it’s now in Arsenal’s best interests that they manage to rectify apparent weaknesses in the same vein.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

MATCH REPORT: CHELSEA 3-1 ARSENAL

Arsenal succumbed to a 3-1 defeat to Premier League leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this afternoon, with the Gunners lagging behind their London rivals by 12 points.

A controversial goal from Marcos Alonso and an Eden Hazard solo effort charged the Blues to a 2-0 lead, whereas Cesc Fàbregas’ late third reduced Olivier Giroud’s goal to a mere consolation before the referee’s final whistle.

The north Londoners, off the back of a 2-1 defeat at home to Watford, were braced for an uphill battle against Antonio Conte’s men from the beginning, as the absences of Santi Cazorla, Granit Xhaka, Mohamed Elneny and Aaron Ramsey depleted the away side’s midfield.

Nevertheless, it was Arsenal who started brightest, as Alex Iwobi tried his luck early before David Luiz’s intervention.

At the other end, Gary Cahill registered Chelsea’s first opportunity from Hazard’s free kick, but the English defender’s header into the ground floated harmlessly over Petr Čech’s net.

The Blues weren’t as forgiving the second time around inside the box, however, as Diego Costa’s initial attempt at goal was followed up Marcos Alonso’s headed rebound in the 13th minute, but the Gunners had a strong case against the Spaniard’s goal.

Replays showed Alonso landing an elbow against Héctor Bellerín’s head as he rose for the opener, but the referee, Martin Atkinson, ignored such claims when validating the goal.

Chelsea’s domination continued, as both Pedro and Costa threatened Čech’s goal, whereas Gabriel Paulista almost clawed a goal back for Arsenal with a free header inside the hosts’ area, but the Brazilian’s attempt fell within Thibaut Courtois’ reach.

The Gunners also offered renewed hope on the brink of half time, as Francis Coquelin switched the ball wide from the edge of the box to an unmarked Mesut Özil, with the German cutting back inside before attempting and failing to surprise Courtois at his near post with a shot.

Hazard killed off much of the hope stored by Arsenal, however, as play resumed for the second half, gliding past a handful of bodies en route to completing a solo effort with Chelsea’s second goal of the game in the 53rd minute.

As Arsène Wenger’s men looked susceptible to the counter, the league leaders looked the likeliest to grab the all-important third goal of the game, but second-half substitute Danny Welbeck came close to averting that trend with a low header at goal, later parried away by Courtois.

From the subsequent corner, Shkodran Mustafi almost bagged Arsenal’s first goal of the day himself when attacking the near-post unattended, but the German’s header flew just wide of the mark.

With five minutes of the 90 left to play out, Chelsea landed the killer blow through Fàbregas, as Čech’s miscalculated pass found itself to the ex-Arsenal man’s feet who needed no invitation to lob the Gunners shot-stopper and amplify the score line to 3-0.

Olivier Giroud picked up the visitors’ only goal of the game within stoppage time with a headed effort inside the box, as the clash concluded itself at 3-1 to Chelsea.

Arsenal Player Ratings:

Petr Čech (3); Héctor Bellerín (4), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Laurent Koscielny (6), Nacho Monreal (6); Francis Coquelin (3), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (4); Theo Walcott (4), Mesut Özil (4), Alex Iwobi (5); Alexis Sanchez (4)

Subs:

Gabriel Paulista (4); Danny Welbeck (4); Olivier Giroud (5)

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)