by Prof Grey on 4 December 2013
We are almost back to full strength. Or were, but then I found out that Sagna is injured for tonight’s game against Hull City.
A ‘slightly strained’ hamstring, according to Wenger. I wonder if it isn’t more precautionary than anything. I hope so. Although I’m afraid I’m sticking with my view that the French full back is past his best, Sagna has been solid this year, and far more consistent than last season, and part of a very dependable and effective back unit that Wenger must be reluctant to break up even for one game.
Which brings one to the difficult question of rotation.
To rotate or not to rotate is the question.
Asked the other day whether the Australian cricket team that he coaches would be rotating in the Ashes Series, the old-style Darren Lehmann replied brusquely “no mate, we don’t rotate. The best eleven blokes will play for Australia every time”.
Well, in modern football it’s not really a question is it? You simply have to, as Wenger said yesterday:
“When you play so many games of that intensity, we expect to lose one or two players. In every single game I [will rotate]. I try to limit the number because I do not want to disrupt the balance of the team, so I do that in every single game.”
So, he accepts it as a necessity; but recognizes that it is a difficult art. To give people a break, but to do so in a way that does not risk either team cohesion or momentum and, therefore, progress.
This is about tactical acuity as much as anything. It’s clear that he is already forming the habit of rotating Flamini and Arteta. But which one for which game? Is Hull City more of a Flamini than an Arteta game? Yes. Because they play a rougher brand of football, whereas Arteta’s less powerful disposition – although he seems to be getting tougher by the match – is better suited to the more languid style of teams such as Cardiff and, presumably, his old club, Everton, on Sunday.
What about in attack? He can play Rosicky tonight, for example, to give Özil or Santi or Wilshere a rest, perhaps two of them, with Walcott coming in too.
While Ramsey is like a Wild Dog – he can run all day – the others will need to be rested, including Özil, who, it seems to me is flagging a bit and needs at least a week off – I would put him on the bench tonight and leave him at home all together for the Napoli trip in a week’s time.
Podolski – according to his Twitter handle – says he is back in training and feeling good. He will become available around half way through the crucial, and busy, next six weeks, perhaps even a little earlier, and The Ox not too long after.
This is even more important: Giroud is surely tiring now. He’s been playing wonderfully well – his link play and little nudges and tweaks around the box, are really top class (even if his finishing is not) – but there are signs now of wear and tear. So Pod’s role may be to give Giroud a break, finally, and one he richly deserves.
With everyone fit, we’ll have nine blokes to cover the five midfield positions and two to cover centre forward.
But Wenger will earn his crust these coming months, by making the right choices about who to rest when and against whom. Since this is tactical and not strategic, it may not be his forte. Ferguson, a master tactician, was always very good at the rotation thing; rarely did it go awry.
The truth, of course, is that rotation in a winning team is always much easier than in a struggling one. So, let’s see. Perhaps Vermaelen, whom Wenger lauded for handling his exclusion from the starting XI “with great dignity and great professionalism”, will even get a game.
By Prof Grey on 2 December 2013
Perhaps it was the bevy of teenagers that surrounded us, preparing as they were for Jack’s seventeenth birthday party, that cushioned our excitement.
Perhaps it was Ramsey’s elegantly unostentatious non-celebration, in scoring against his first club.
Perhaps it is just that such moments are the new normal.
But whichever it was, neither Elle Ron nor I celebrated as uproariously as usual, despite the simple beauty of the goal.
Ramsey’s scored another exceptional goal. So what? He does that all the time now.
Elle Ron used to say that when Ramsey scored, somewhere in the world a dictator died. They were not frequent moments.
Now, presumably, democracy has never had it so good, with authoritarian governments falling by the week, as our Welsh angel delivers them from all angles, and with every part of his anatomy. Yesterday’s was a centre forward’s header.
Frankie Stapleton would have been proud of it.
Saturday’s game marked the start of an intense period of nine games in 33 days for the Gunners, with Cardiff City the bookend fixtures.
After home games against Hull City and Everton, and the final Champions’ League group game away to Napoli, we face important matches against Manchester City (away) and Chelsea at home, with, happily, over a week off between those two games.
I say ‘important’ and not ‘vital’ or ‘critical’ or ‘season-forming’ or ‘watershed’, for two simple reasons: we have a cushion of a lead at the top, and if we can maintain it by continuing to win against all the middle and low-ranking teams, then it means we can afford to draw or even lose against City or Chelsea.
Second, the league is tight this year; our competitors – Chelsea, City and United – will all take points from each other, which will help. So although the extent of our improvement this year can best be measured by how we perform against the best of the rest, it may not in the end prove decisive to our prospects.
Nonetheless, so far we have only played one of the six games we must play against that trio and that was our strangely lame loss at Old Trafford recently. I am making the assumption, as you will gather, that we are qualitatively better than the next bunch: Spurs, Liverpool and Everton; indeed, we’ve won our two games so far against any of those three.
City away will be tough. But we are defending so well now. The confidence is there. You can see it in the eyes of the players. Whereas in recent years we’ve looked nervous when under attack, even from crude, route-one teams from the lower reaches of the league, now we look muscular, disciplined, composed and very well organised.
That, perhaps, was why Saturday was such a deeply satisfying result. While United and City had buckled under the assault that Cardiff, and their passionate crowd, had thrown at them, we never looked like doing so.
And on the one occasion when they evaded our defence, Schezza produced yet another brilliant save – shades of Gordon Banks’ against Pele in the 1970 World Cup (although Schezza had less far to move across his goal).
Schezza has long been one of my favourite players. And as my contributions to this blog will attest, I have always argued that he would come right and that he is a goalkeeper of the highest quality.
All this gives me enormous, profound pleasure. Real Arsenal teams know how to defend. That, as much as Ramsey’s virtuosity, is a joy to behold at present.
Cardiff City 0-3 Arsenal
Ramsey – 28′, 90′; Flamini – 87′
by Drewza on 1 December 2013
3-0 on 30 November was a triumphant way to end a month that has been often cruel and humbling for the Arsenal.
Aaron Ramsey stuck away two of those 3 goals – head first, right foot second – with such unambiguous power that even the Cardiff supporters groaned with satisfaction. Instead of celebrating, Ramsey saluted the club that raised him, with a muted rendition of The Ayatollah.
He was, as Arsène Wenger said after the game, “phenomenal.” But the conditions for the phenomenon he has become were evident in team performances all around him that were committed, focused and enabling.
It would be hard to make ‘special mention’ but Mikel Arteta was truly awesome tackling and distributing, Mesut Özil had moments of distilled clarity, Sagna was the sacker and Wojciech Szczesny was as good as goalkeepers get in the circumstances.
Jack Wilshere started almost as brightly as he had against Marseilles when his shot in the 1st minute came off the bottom of the cross bar; it might almost as easily have gone in.
A short while later, Bacary Sagna and Per Mertesacker both went up for a ball and Sagna’s head smacked Per. The German crumbled and by the time he got up, dazed and bloody mouthed, Tomas Vermaelen was already warming up. Mertesacker recovered and TV never came on, but in the time that he was getting sorted off the field, Cardiff came very close with a dangerous cross from Theophile that Frazier Campbell, who looked in excellent attacking form, just headed wide.
It was a good warning for Arsenal because the game and tempo picked up nicely after that.
Then just as it looked like we were about to go 1 up, Giroud stalled his run when he thought he had gone offside. The whistle hadn’t gone. He had timed his run perfectly for a long ball from Ramsey that, as replays showed, had got a touch along the way from Özil that might indeed have rendered him offside. But the ref, Lee Mason, didn’t call it, and the linesman’s flag didn’t go up, and Giroud missed his chance. Wenger was furious. The lapse bothered the Frenchman a lot and, assuming it’s possible to get proof of how psychology affects performance, it hampered his game.
In the 28th minute, Kieran Gibbs found he had a surprising amount of time going forward and tapped back to Mesut Özil to think of something. Boy, did Özil come up with something good! He had two options: centre to Giroud who was moving left into space, or go the other way where Ramsey had tacked right. Özil instinctively chose Ramsey and based on the psychologies of the two, it was the right choice. The pass was on the mark and Ramsey’s header was tuned to perfection. Goalkeeper Marshall could do nothing about it. 0-1.
Barely 5 minutes later, Cardiff had a free kick. We’d been warned that they were rather good at them and sure enough… Were it not that Kim fresh-aired the incoming cross, Cardiff might well have equalised, or rather Szczesny would have had to be perfect to save it.
Cardiff had a good spell for a while. They would retain the ball and look for the break, often finding it through the hard work of Kim and the confident thrust of Frazier Campbell. But there was a moment when Jack Wilshere, having momentarily lost the ball, tagged his man, Kim, like a wild dog pursues its quarry, and eventually he stopped their movement with a superb tackle on the Korean.
Ramsey had a shot, set up by Giroud, just before the interval that came to naught and Koscielny dealt with a Campbell break, so that we went into the tunnel 1 up.
Footnote on the 1st half: Mikel Arteta was the boss!
We dominated much of the first half and that momentum continued after the break when Ramsey squeezed between Whittingham and some CC before passing to Giroud. The Frenchman’s effort was saved off the line, or should that be on the line? A minute later, Ramsey was again threading through their defences but this time his touch took play just over the line for a Cardiff goal kick.
The really great thing about this Cardiff side, however, was that they were not going to sit back and take the punishment and they were so nearly rewarded when a flying header from Campbell in the 50th minute was stopped by Szczesny’s lightning quick reaction. He dived and earthed the striker’s downward header before it could cross the line; otherwise we’d have been in the Campbell soup.
There was more to come from Cardiff. Whittingham shied one wide from the centre, Arteta made a superb block, Theophile was sending in rockets from the right wing and on 54’ had a very good shot on target saved by Szczesny who was right-place-right-time.
The pendulum smartly swung back Arsenal’s way when Ramsey’s shot rebounded to Giroud only to be Marshalled by the keeper. On 63’ Giroud gained ground on the left and took a shot that came off Caulker, but a goal kick was given. And it was at this point that Cardiff, who normally reawaken that fight in the last half hour, seemed to drift away and allow Arsenal to reassert mastery. Malky Mackay took Campbell off and replaced him with Peter Odemwingie, a baffling decision if ever there was one. The two might have worked together but taking off Campbell was like removing the pop from the soda. Anything that came at the Arsenal, Arteta and the centre backs neutered.
On 76’ Flamini, sleeves suitably rolled up rather than scissored this time, replaced Santi Cazorla. But the changing of the guard, or rather bringing on the republican guard, upset our defensive balance, in fact. Szczesny had to make two saves in the space of a couple of minutes: the first charging down an attack and snuffing the ball at the edge of the box and the second a Wittingham shot. Arteta also caught a yellow for a professional foul on Cowie. When Wenger brought on Monreal for Wilshere (instead of bringing on Walcott who might have made them think again about pressing) we looked like a team about to defend a slender lead. Even Ramsey seemed to have dropped back deeper, his 30 yard shot indicative of the desire to advance but a need to sit back and defend.
The second goal we’d been looking for came in the 87th minute when Özil cross stitched several Cardiff defenders in the box and passed to onrushing Flamini who thumped it past Marshall. 0-2. It was a sort of joyous, thrilling goal, for Flamini just to be there, wearing his heart on his elbow-length sleeves, and it put the game past Cardiff.
It would not have been such a ravishing return to Cardiff for Rambo if he had not got his 2nd/ Arsenal’s 3rd of the night. It came on the stroke of full-time. Happily Walcott was involved. He raced through and crossed to Ramsey who was in the box, in the zone, in the net. Wham-bam, thank you, Rambo! 0-3.
What a satisfying game. Arsenal were dominant, connected, performing well in all areas of the park. Arteta was magnificent, Ramsey majestic, Özil the assist supremo, … you can go on and name them all. And Szczesny… Pole sana!
This win puts Arsenal 7 points clear at the top of the table, proof that we can continue climbing. Just don’t look down!
by Drewza on 30 November 2013
The Cardiff game later today has been threatening like an ominous cloud all week. They’ve taken down Man City, they fought back against United to draw. They’ve won a couple and drawn a couple at home. Now we must face the glowering threat and get through it with all 3 points.
The game today is a tale of two capital cities, a clash of styles and an encounter with an insurrectionary force, the Cardiff home crowd that is capable of upsetting the visitors’ momentum. This is a team that plays with heart for 90 minutes. If anything, judging by their reaction to United’s ability to fall away in the 2nd half, Cardiff City is a side that just gets tougher as the game goes on, buoyed by the awesome home support.
Yet it’s not a team that should trouble us, if we are alert, if we convert chances early, and if we retain our stern defence. We are capable of all these things.
My one fear (irrational?) is Peter Odemwingie. I recall him punishing us when he played, unhappily, for West Bromwich Albion. Odemwingie is one of those underrated players who is always better when he has something to play for. He’s driven by passion. When he plays for his national side, the Super Eagles, he is a much more effective player. Now that he’s at Cardiff City, at a club under the youthful and charismatic Malky Mackay, the Nigerian has regained some of that passion and belief, at the tender of 32, that can make him a difficult opponent.
I have a feeling it’s going to be a superb game, as Aaron Ramsey returns to play at the club that proudly nurtured him.
But whatever Cardiff City throws at Arsenal today, it has to be remembered we have their greatest ‘asset’ on our side. Ramsey is ours – their heart transplanted into our body. We know how to beat Cardiff City convincingly – if we are canny enough to stop them closing us down too quickly midfield, creative enough in attack to flummox their defence, and vigilant enough to stop them in their tracks when they do come back with gusto on the wings of Welsh song.
There’ll be few changes in the Arsenal line-up, I would imagine. It’s a toss-up between Monreal and Gibbs for left back, though. If Wenger opts tactically for an early thrust from Arsenal, it’s more likely to be the Englishman starting, but I would not be surprised at all if Monreal’s calm and balance at the back is not an inviting proposition for the manager. Interesting options.
I’d be amazed if Arteta doesn’t pair with Flamini and then Ramsey and Özil creating the flair. If there is any sign that they’ve got their mojo on, then I’d expect Theo Walcott to be used as our ballistic thrust to Özil’s trigger. Otherwise, it’s Tomas Rosicky, I guess, who will be looking to improve on his touch after the midweek game. The expectation is that Wilshere might be start on the bench, along with Santi… Every little speculation about the sumptuous variety and variations in Arsenal’s midfield invokes the spectacular.
Cardiff would be a good place to make the spectacle happen. Where the press is waiting for the Welsh giant slayers to harvest another big club, perhaps it’s Arsenal’s moment to show them that we don’t go down that easily.
Malky Mackay has a point to prove after rumours erupted that he was about to be replaced. Will that inspire the team? Or unsettle them?
The outcome of Cardiff City’s internal disputes and affairs should not trouble Arsenal today. Good performances from Özil and Walcott, Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky, Cazorla should surely give us a strong chance of seizing maximum points from the fire-breathing mouths of the premiership’s newcomers.
Come on, Arsenal. This is going to be a very entertaining game.
By Drewza on 29 November 2013
Picture Mathieu Flamini as a proletarian on the barricades, arm raised, shirtsleeves lopped, singing La Marseillaise.
Tremblez, tyrans et vous perfides…
Tout est soldat pour vous combattre…
Aux armes citoyens!
Over the top? Actually, not. If any Arsenal player’s performance this season raises the socialist hairs on my neck it’s Flamini, freed from his Capitalist masters, bought by the club for nothing, indentured labour in modern footballing terms, taking a stand against the tyranny of taste.
And why the hell not?
It was only a week or so ago that the Lanvin deal was announced and the team lined up in that near orgasmic pic of impeccably suited Men in Black. Or charcoal. Fantastic PR. My teenage son wants that suit. He wants to look like that. Arsenal’s PR department, with that one deal, recruited tens of thousands of young supporters who see those Men in Black and think, that’s cool, that’s the deal. Good job, Arsenal looking like the A-Team.
So when Mathieu Flamini cut off his sleeves, not once but twice, you have to think he’s gone and cut against the cloth, he’s out of order, he needs to be disciplined, he needs to be cut down to size, or in sleeving terms, drawn.
Sure, I understand the need for uniformity, for everybody looking the same, for all of that institutional stuff that brings a team together, but this is a Wenger team that resonates with diversity, where individuals are given so much opportunity that Wenger brought in almost every creative midfielder he could manage over the summer. Arsenal is spoiled with individuality. It’s the thing that makes us so watchable. It’s the reason that players like Julian Draxler want to play for the Arsenal.
So, while everybody’s working together for the club, it’s not, thank goodness, always from the same hymn sheet. Some cross themselves, others tie their laces a certain way, some wear the same underpants, some pray openly a minute before the start. Different faiths, but the same belief in club.
Sure, you don’t need a renegade in your ranks, NB (meaning Nota Bene, rather than Nicklas Bendtner). Sometimes, though, you need a revolutionary.
Against Cardiff, we’re going to need some of that Flamini mentality that says, stuff the sartorial let’s get artisanal.
If Brendan Rodgers were managing a club where someone – let’s say Daniel Sturridge on this occasion for fear of being accused of racial profiling – ripped off his sleeves with his bare teeth (by way of example) why, the culprit (in this case Sturridge) would have been sent to solitary training, the equivalent of Scouser Siberia… before being whisked back in the chairman’s private jet to play with the team.
Our manager on the other hand, Monsieur Wenger, being French, is possibly the only manager in the English league likely to understand that a spot of secular self-actualisation needn’t necessarily be a display of disloyalty.
Actually, Flamini has a point, made rather well in fact, that the team should be playing in short sleeves anyway. The real tradition, if we want to talk about breaking ranks and all that, is in the short-sleeved shirt, not this patrician taste for the long sleeve.
Besides, I was amazed that people even noticed. I had to do a lot of homework, Googling pictures of Flamini against Marseilles, getting corroboration from numerous Twitter sources and the like – before I could comprehensively tell that he had indeed gone at his sleeves with a pair of scissors. Maybe it’s the quality of the signal around these parts, or the vast distances between pixels on my LCD TV, but it was hard to tell if it was scissored or seamed, to be honest. In any case, I was always advised, as a film and media buff, that if you’re so busy looking at what an actor’s wearing, the story probably sucks. If you’re so preoccupied with the cut of Flamini’s jip, there a good chance you’re not watching the performance on the pitch. Yet we live in an age, let’s not forget, where The Great Gatsby is more an exultation of sartorial style than commentary on mass delusion.
Here’s what I think about Flamini’s sleeve massacre.
1) He did a good job. You hardly noticed his short sleeves didn’t have seams. It’s hard to cut off the arms or legs of a piece of clothing. I did so recently on a pair of jeans that had holes in the knees. By the time I had finished trying to make my jeans into designer beach shorts, my wife found me in a situation that resembled a scene from an M Night Shyamalan movie called The Cutting. It was a massacre.
2) You can only have so much of the Lanvin crap before you need to get real. Down with Capitalism. Let’s march, let’s march. Let not these foreign phalanxes enslave us with their laws. Let’s play ball. It was only right that the Boss made some kind of public sanction of Flamini’s unilateral declaration of independence. But behind the scenes, you must understand, unity would have prevailed because Flamini was doing it not as an act of rebellion but for the cause, in defence of the Arsenal realm.
3) We are going to Cardiff, a city where both Manchester teams have stumbled. It’s also a city built on fortresses. Cardiff does take prisoners. We will need Flamini in Cardiff because there we will need our very own barricades against their predations. Thus we will have to bring our own version of portcullis-and-boiling-oil, our Flame of Liberty, Flamini.
One way or another, it gets real this weekend when we take on Cardiff. Clubs like Liverpool reward selfish bad behaviour – eg. Giving Suarez the chairman’s jet for the Interlull after he’s bitten and sworn and cussed his club for leashing him.
All Mathieu Flamini did was cut his sleeves and go to work.
If you think for one second that his admittedly egregious act was one of selfishness then you and I differ. My feeling is he took one for the team. He scissored his sleeves for France, Liberté, Arsenal et la révolution. He did it because he needed to be real. He had to be sleeveless.
To hell with taste! Vive Flamini!
Arsenal 2-0 Marseilles: Champions League Group F
Wilshere – 1′, 65′
By Drewza on 27 November 2013
I had hardly sat down for the game when I was bouncing up again to celebrate Jack Wilshere’s goal. 1-0. After 30 seconds!
Group F me sideways! If you thought Aaron Ramsey was “a confident boy” then you should have seen Wilshere last night against Marseilles in the penultimate Champions League group stage game.
The young English sensation – for he is that, not the hobbled, not-quite-there-yet miscreant that the British media is in love with knocking down a peg or two – exuded confidence with an exciting performance against the pointless French side, and deservedly picked up a 2nd goal on 65’.
His 2nd was classic Arsenal 2013/14: Ramsey 30 yards out, puts a ball through to Özil. Özil instantly crosses from the right. Wilshere rushing on goal rams it past Mandanda. Orchestrate. Triangulate. Celebrate. 2-0.
In fact, there might have been a lot more celebratory moments as Arsenal, for a good hour, dominated the Emirates, created plenty yet never quite finished off with a goal.
But it was an assured performance, even when things got a bit sticky as Arsenal’s focus waned and we allowed Marseilles back into the game, particularly with the advent of Thauvin and Valbuena in the 2nd half. Both were bafflingly benched at the start. How they might have changed the 1st half, who knows? But it was definitely a far better contest when those two came on to trouble us – especially Thauvin who harried our Per-Kos partnership with direct runs on goal. Thauvin had 2 on-target shots: the first flying off the chest of Szczesny, who’d come out to nip his strike in the bud, was cleared off the line by an immaculately positioned Nacho Monreal; and the 2nd, scooting above the deck towards the near post was stopped at the last by the Pole keeper’s diving left-hand save.
I don’t know what it was about this game – I watched it in my dressing gown in Cape Town because it started at 10pm on a school night when kids are writing exams – but there were a lot of feelgood endorphins flowing from Holloway all the way around the world.
Wilshere’s first goal right at the kick-off was so tailored to perfection that it looked too good to be true. As I say, I was just settling down, not 20 seconds into the match, when I saw Arsenal move forward in a flash. I picked up on the movement when Sagna sliced a pass through the Marseilles’ mid-section, right down the touchline, as if it were following a perforated line. Jack picked up the pass at pace and when his defender caught up, he cut back in the box like he was making a lapel and curled it, with his left foot now, round defenders and keeper into a tumescent net. Ha ha! 1-0.
After 45 minutes of more sweeping Arsenal moves, many down the Marseilles’ potholed right side, that one-minute wonder began to look like a slender straw of a lead (1’) that might just snap if Marseilles were to get their act together.
We had so many chances to double and treble our advantage in the first half. But it didn’t happen. Giroud’s final touch never quite slotted into place. A crescendo of forward movement would suddenly burst and stop. Even Mesut Özil – he of the deftest touches – proved fallible, and in the 17th minute, gifted a lollipop from Aaron Ramsey over the Marseilles defenders(redolent of Alex Song), fluffed and lost control of what must surely have been an Özil goal.
I couldn’t understand the ref, quite honestly – not that he was dodgy, but that his offside calls based on the flags of cross-eyed linesmen, were generally irksome and largely wrong.
Then he got another big call wrong, in our favour, when Ramsey spun round to make a charge into the box from the left, and was taken down. He fell inside, but the foul clearly happened outside the box. Nonetheless, Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz pointed to the spot. Now was Özil’s chance to make up for his earlier miss – except he looked all wrong: no run-up, kind of nervy, predictable. Sure enough, the penalty in no way challenged Mandanda, who cuddled his save like a baby.
When Mesut was tripped a bit later just outside the box, we had another chance to go ahead. Ramsey stepped up. So did the Marseilles wall. I don’t know how close they were to the kicker, but I’d reckon no more than 7 yards, and Rambo rammed it straight into the wall. Like Nicklas Bendtner going through a gym door, the shot was, predictably, arrested.
And all this happened before half time.
In the 2nd half, Monreal, who must be one of the most elegant fullbacks ever, nearly scored all on his own, but a knot of defenders at the last thwarted his goal-bound tack. Giroud almost scored off a deflection. Özil tried, but his sights last night were off-kilter.
And then, like the sun coming out, there was a symphonic burst that led to the Ramsey-Özil-Wilshere tessellation and the 2nd goal just beyond the hour mark.
In response, Valbuena got busy, trying to steal something back after all the playmaking had gone in Arsenal’s direction. And Thauvin, who might well have given Arsène Wenger the perfect audition for a transfer next summer, continued his solo efforts to make life more difficult for our back 4. He came close twice, as I said.
Arsenal looked for another and hopes were high, just as Marseille’s pressing was, that Theo Walcott might come on and leave his markers flailing as he sprinted through. He did exactly that but, one-on-one with Mandanda, missed. Theo (spelled ‘The’-small-‘o’) needs time to get his game on before he becomes The-One.
Meantime, as Arsenal took 3 points at the Emirates, Dortmund were taking 3 off Napoli. There was a lot of exasperation about this, especially directed at Rafa Benitez’ inability to subdue the Germans who’ve allegedly stumbled of late. I don’t understand this feeling. Borussia Dortmund, under Jürgen Klopp, is an immense side, capable of anything. They were Champions League contenders last year. They are not going to miss out on a challenge in the last 16 this year. A win against Napoli was always on the cards.
There is no easy road to becoming champions. The reality is simple and, if we are going to be champions, achievable: we have to go to Napoli for our final game in Group F in order to qualify and lead the group. A draw would secure leadership, as we have 12 points already, and the Serie A and Bundesliga competitors have 9 a piece.
If we can get a result against Napoli, we avoid coming 2nd in this group and having to play PSG, Barca or anybody from Madrid. I know it sucks to think we have 12 points and haven’t qualified while Chelsea with a measly 9 already have. But’s it’s not about justice. This is about doing the needful one game at a time. Earn a result against Napoli and we will be in a very good place. This way we keep it real. We remain alert, on top of our game, seeded, competing for the best.
A luta continua.
Come on, Arsenal!
By Drewza on 26 November 2013
It feels like a long, long time ago that we were in Marseilles for the first of our Champions League encounters this season. We ran out 2-1 winners on that September night, needlessly giving away a penalty in the dying moments of the game.
It was a night when Aaron Ramsey really announced himself. He’d scored against Fenerbahçe in the play-offs, and a few days before, against Sunderland in the premier league, he’d bagged 2.
Now, 2 months and 11 goals later – 6 in the league, 5 in Europe – Ramsey continues to assert this team’s newfound belief.
“We’re now in control again,” Ramsey said in the press briefing, referring to our “vital” win against BVB to go top of Group F.
“We’re back in a strong position so let’s take in the next game and hopefully get the win there and put ourselves in an even stronger position. Hopefully we can get the three points we need.”
Even when his touch was poor in past seasons, and he was catching grief for it, Ramsey was not one to be negatively affected. You never heard him beat himself up in the press, or blame the manager. You never saw his head go down, even when he had the goal in front of him and he’d misfire. He got on with it. He worked his socks off. The coach stood by him when many Arsenal fans were crying for Rambo to get the boot.
“Let’s not forget,” Arsène Wenger said, “that one year ago people were saying to me, ‘It’s difficult to play him at the Emirates’. You could see there was an impatience with him at the Emirates.
“As a manager you think, ‘Do I push him through and he can go more down or do you give him a breather to get him a fresh start?’ That’s always difficult to assess because it is linked to their mental state. When their own confidence is down, of course they are in trouble. But he is a confident boy.
“But you have to give him credit for that transformation – the credit goes to him because he could deal with that. He could come back, never give up and convince everybody that he has the needed quality.”
That quality/ confidence is going to be needed tonight no less than it was needed 2 months ago against a team, with a few French national players by the way, that is on zero points yet has a point to prove in the Champions League. They’ll be without André Ayew, though, who was a handful last time out in Marseilles. The Ghanaian underwent knee surgery yesterday after tearing a meniscus in the 2nd leg of the World Cup African play-off against Egypt (which the Black Stars won 7-3 on aggregate to qualify for Rio). Brother Jordan scored against us in Marseilles.
An Arsenal win tonight at the Emirates would bring us a step closer to coming top of Group F. We are on 9 points alongside Napoli. If we beat Marseilles and Dortmund drop points against Napoli we’ll qualify. But really, we don’t want to be visiting Paris, Barcelona, Madrid or Munich in the next stage of the Champions League. We want to be seeded – and for that we need to dig in and come first in Group F. This is a game, as Santi Cazorla cautioned, we need to win. We seriously do not want to be playing catch-up in Napoli on December 11th.
The line-up tonight is good, same as it was against Southampton, PLUS Mathieu Flamini.
I am guessing that there might be some changes, though. It would not surprise me to see Arteta rested for Flamini, Monreal on for Kieran Gibbs and Walcott starting alongside Özil and Wilshere, with Ramsey behind and Giroud, as ever, leading the line. I can’t wait for Theo to have a good game and for Mesut Özil to thread a perfectly weighted ball to the speedster. It’s actually a massive night in London.
Eyes on the prize – come on, Arsenal!