Friday, March 13, 2015

Arsenal FC: Can Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury be the boost to Theo Walcott’s Gunners’ career?

Arsenal ended their miserable run at Old Trafford when they defeated the Red Devils on Monday in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. While Manchester United have had several problems in this season, they have managed to keep themselves in the race for the top four despite not having great performances throughout the season. Also, Manchester United’s great form against Gunners, coupled with the Gunners’ inability to perform in big games, meant that the Red Devils would still start as the favorites in the clash.

However, as things turned out, the Gunners won 2-1 thanks to goals from Nacho Monreal and Danny Welbeck, which is a huge moment in this season as they look to retain their FA Cup title. The only disappointment from the game was the hamstring injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who skipped past three players to provide a delightful assist to Monreal. The injury is likely to keep him out for four weeks which is a big blow for the young Englishman, who has been one of the more consistent performers for the Gunners.

As cameras zoomed towards the bench preparing to substitute Chamberlain, it looked like there could be a double substitution with both Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott. However, Arsene Wenger opted to bring only Ramsey and a frustrated Walcott returned to the bench. Since Arsenal scored within the next 10 minutes through Danny Welbeck, there was no need for Walcott to be brought on and he cut a forlorn figure on the bench throughout the game.

Walcott was extremely influential for the Gunners before his anterior cruciate ligament injury but since his return, he has been unable to establish himself as a starter for the team. Though Chamberlain’s emergence has contributed to that, the fact is that he has not looked at his best in the games that he has played. Also, he has always been a player who does not involve himself much in the build-up play and most of his good work is in the final third.

The Rise of Hector Bellerin

At the start of the season, Bellerin was expected to probably play in the Capital One Cup and maybe a couple of appearances in other competitions. However, due to the long term injuries suffered by Mathieu Debuchy and the indifferent form of Calum Chambers at right back, Bellerin has been able to establish himself as a quality right back, starting numerous games in both Premier League as well as the Champions League. After an error-strewn performance against Borussia Dortmund, it was unexpected that the full back could make such a marked improvement in this season.

However, while Bellerin provides a great attacking threat on the right flank with his over-lapping runs, his defensive positioning is still suspect. This has been one of the reasons why Wenger has preferred to use Chamberlain or Welbeck on the right wing since they are aware of their defensive responsibilities so that Bellerin is not too exposed. It is also one of the main reasons why Wenger has been reluctant to use Walcott on right wing since it might lead to the opposition exploiting that flank.

Alexis Sanchez’s impact on the left flank

One of the other reasons apart from Bellerin’s rise which has contributed to Wenger not opting for Walcott is the stupendous form of Alexis Sanchez. In previous seasons, while Arsenal were overly dependent on Walcott’s pace to get behind defenses, the signings of Welbeck and Sanchez has meant that Arsenal have an array of wide players blessed with speed. Sanchez has had a fantastic first season for the Gunners and despite a small dip in form in the last few weeks, he remains Arsenal’s most potent attacking threat.

Also, his tendency to cut in from the left flank as well as come deep to collect the ball in midfield means that at times, the width needs to be provided on the other flank. Wenger has always preferred a midfielder on one flank with a more traditional winger on the other and in this case, Sanchez acts like an extra midfielder on several occasions, helping the Gunners create an overload in midfield. However, it means that on the other side, the winger needs to stay wide so that the team is not too narrow and have enough variety in their play.

In this season, Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain have dovetailed excellently and the Englishman has tended to come infield only when Sanchez is out wide and the duo have developed an excellent partnership with regard to their off-the-ball movements. However, Walcott is a different type of player to Chamberlain and while he can beat Left-backs on the outside, he does prefer to exploit the space between the centre back and left back. Also, in the few games that he has played, he has tended to drift infield far too much which has meant that the play is more narrow and even Giroud is forced out-wide to compensate for Walcott’s movement.

Walcott’s Opportunity

Can Wenger convince Walcott to extend his contract?
However, despite his weaknesses, he remains one of the most lethal finishers as he has shown at times this season, against Aston Villa and Leicester City. Due to the wealth of attacking options at his disposal, Wenger has been forced to take tough decisions with regard to dropping of some key players. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s form in this season has meant that he has been a regular in the team but now, with his injury at a crucial time, it could open the door for Walcott to show his quality.

Walcott’s touch was not the best when he initially played against Hull City in the FA Cup but he did show signs of improvement against Brighton, Aston Villa and Leicester City. Though he did score against Villa and Leicester, he still looked short of his devastating best. With Chamberlain’s enforced absence opening up a slot, it could be the opportunity that he has been waiting for.

The next game for the Gunners is against West Ham at home and while Welbeck could be preferred at right flank, Walcott is also a viable option considering he is almost certain to start against Monaco in mid-week. In order to overturn a 3-1 lead in the next leg in France, the Gunners need to have the England international who has a habit of scoring in several big games in the past. Considering that, it would be important for the Gunners to have Walcott in good touch and match-sharpness.

Walcott’s Contract Situation

Also, at this stage of the season, with plenty of players tiring due to the rigors of the season, it is important that Wenger does rotate the team so as to keep themselves fresh for the run-in. The fight for the top four is even tougher this season with as many as five teams competing for two slots and with the Gunners in the FA Cup as well as the Champions League (though that could change soon), it is vital that Arsenal can get the best out of Walcott as soon as possible.

Another worrying aspect with regard to the English winger is that he has only one more year left on his contract after this season and though he has not been an integral part of the squad this season, the Gunners would not like to sell him in the summer. However, his contract renewal is a very tricky aspect for the Gunners. When he signed his new deal in 2013 after protracted negotiations, he ensured he was amongst the top paid players in the team. However, considering he has been out for more than a year due to injuries as well as failing to justify his huge wages so far, it is difficult for the Gunners to further increase his wages to make it on par with Ozil or Sanchez.

Walcott has his task cut out in order to prove to the manager as well as the Gunners’ hierarchy that he is worthy of another big money contract. If the former Southampton winger can raise his level and start performing consistently, then it would be difficult for the Gunners to resist offering him a new contract. With vital games coming up for the Gunners would need their biggest players to step up and perform. While Walcott might not have been the most important player in the last two seasons, he certainly has the ability and Wenger will hope that the England international can perform at his best to help achieve Arsenal’s goals.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Arsenal FC Transfers: Analyzing the Pros and Cons of Signing David Villa

Arsenal clinched fourth spot in the Premiership after a hard-fought win over Newcastle United, which now seems ages ago due to the various rumours flooding in regarding various players in this transfer window. It will be a crucial window for the Gunners and a top striker should be among the top priorities
in this transfer window. With the Gunners favourites to qualify for the Champions League next season, they can attract the top players around the world. Arsenal have also recently extended the shirt sponsorship and Stadium rights deal with Emirates and it will also bring in much needed extra revenue to the club.

Arsene Wenger endured a hard and difficult campaign in the last season having to sell his captain Robin van Persie just before the start of this season. In addition to that, he also sold Alex Song, who by now should have marked his favourite seat on the bench at Camp Nou. The Frenchman received plenty of criticism for most of the season and only after their superb finish to the season, it has calmed down. This summer provides a great opportunity for the Gunners to build on what seems to be a decent platform and for that to happen, Wenger, Ivan Gazidis and the rest of the staff must work hard on not only buying top players but also in shifting the deadwood players who absorb a large chunk of the wages.

In the last season, Olivier Giroud shouldered much of the responsibilities as the main striker and he also came under lot of pressure at times due to his erratic finishing. Though he is a good player and a valuable asset to the team, he is currently not world class and his finishing is not precise enough for a top striker. Also, it was a huge problem in the recently concluded season that there was no other player who could effectively deputize for the Frenchman.
Theo Walcott has shown desire to play as the central striker but the Englishman when given the chance has had inconsistent performances. For example, in the game against Bayern Munich at home, Walcott was very ineffective for the entire time he played as the central striker while he was in irresistible form against Newcastle United where he scored a hat-trick. There are some attributes for Theo which will help him score goals playing as the centre forward but his overall link-up/hold-up play is not great and that is why Wenger eventually decided that his best position was that of a right winger, who was given the latitude to make inside channel runs and score goals.

It is not clear whether Wenger still sees him as an option for the central striking role considering that it was Lukas Podolski who played as the CF in the final four games of the season. The German was also not very effective which is why the manager will have to look for another striker. One of the players who has been consistently linked with the Gunners is David Villa, the 31-year-old striker who is out of favour at Barcelona. With the arrival of Brazilian star Neymar, the Spanish striker is certainly on his way out of Barcelona especially as this season is a chance to prove he is still good enough for the World Cup.

The Pros of Signing David Villa

Despite being 31-years-old, the Spanish striker still remains one of the best finishers in the world and brings with him vast experience and winning mentality to the squad. His movement and runs off the ball are fantastic which enables him to get behind defences though he lacks electric pace of old. The Spaniard has the ability to score different types of goals and can prove to be a nightmare to defend especially when he is on form. His ability to score vital goals is also well documented with the striker scoring in crucial games such as the Champions League Final and during several key moments in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

"El Guaje" is a player who will fit in well with the "Arsenal" style of play and will add a lot more threat to this current team. Also, he is a completely different striker compared to Olivier Giroud, which provides more variety. Though it is not a priority at this moment, he is also the ideal player to sign if at all Arsene Wenger was keen on developing Theo Walcott as a central striker, which is the role that the Englishman covets.

Though his best position is that of a centre forward, he is also quite versatile and can also play effectively on the wings as he did for most of his time at Barcelona. The Spaniard's link-up and hold-up play is also good and can also play in tandem with another striker, which is also an option for Wenger considering both Giroud  and Villa are very different players.

Villa is keen to go to the World Cup and assume the role of the main striker for his country but for that to happen, he must play regularly at club level. He will get that opportunity with Arsenal should he start the season well and his own personal ambition will also be good for the Gunners as he will look to keep up his form and fitness.

The Cons of Signing David Villa

If Arsenal do sign David Villa, then it is most likely to solve their striking problems for the short term only considering his age and levels of fitness. The Spaniard is undoubtedly a lethal striker but the question is whether he will be able to adapt to the frenetic pace of the Premiership considering his patchy fitness record in the last two years. He has suffered two leg breaks and though he has returned to full fitness, he has not been in peak form for most of the last year at FC Barcelona.

The Spaniard will only be a stop-gap solution at Arsenal and he can be expected to be a top striker only for the next two seasons considering he will be almost 34 in just two years. Also, his injury record is also a concern considering the physicality of the Premier League and there is a chance he could be subject to rough tackles in the Premiership.

Arsenal will be able to play to his strengths but the question is whether he is still fit enough to play three games in a week. If David Villa's fitness is a problem, then the Gunners will need to find another top striker in the next season or even the January transfer window if they are in desperate need for a player.

The Financial Sense in Signing David Villa

With only one year left on his contract, the price for David Villa can be estimated to be around €12 - 15 million. The Gunners will certainly be able to afford the transfer fee as well as his wages but the question is whether it will be value for money should they opt to sign him. Villa will certainly be a huge boost to this current Arsenal team as he would add that extra quality which teams need to win trophies. For example, Manchester United had to shell out close to €30 million to land the 28-year-old Robin van Persie, who duly delivered for the Red Devils.

Though Tottenham and Liverpool will also be in the hunt to sign him, Arsenal will be the clear favourites considering that they could be playing in the Champions League should they win the qualifier. Also, Arsenal have Spaniards Mikel Arteta (who could be captain for the next season), Santi Cazorla and Nacho Monreal and that might also help in convincing David Villa to join the Gunners.

Though Barcelona will look to drive up the price, it is quite safe to say none of the Premier League clubs among the aforementioned trio will overpay for the Spaniard. The Gunners, though, will probably have close to no resale value on the Spaniard which is a risk especially if he does not do well in the Premiership. There will be lesser takers for the striker if he is unsuccessful at Arsenal and considering his age and the wages he would earn, it is probable that there will be few clubs queueing to sign him if he does not do well.

 For the Gunners in particular, the signing of Villa is sure to increase their chances of winning a trophy, which will add further revenue to the side. Also, the Spaniard is a hugely popular footballer around the world and will generate more revenue through shirt sales and can be marketing poster boy for the Gunners for the next season. With every signing, there is always an element of risk involved but considering the signing of Villa, it could be a move worth making considering he will generate huge revenue for the club if he can find his form for the Gunners.

Will it be a Good Move by Wenger to sign David Villa?

Currently, Olivier Giroud seems to be the only effective option upfront for the Gunners and Wenger will need to bring in reinforcements in that position for sure. He will look to offload both Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner, both of whom have been paid by Arsenal while not contributing anything to the club. David Villa is certainly an upgrade on the current options, including Giroud but he is a signing for the short term only and it is a gamble to rely on him completely for the whole season considering his fitness record.

He would certainly provide a superb option for the Gunners but ideally, another forward will be welcomed as well, especially someone like Stevan Jovetic. Jovetic has a different style of play to both Villa and Giroud and is also still young enough to develop into a world class player in the future. However, the question remains Wenger will spend on two quality strikers this summer despite the Gunners possessing enough money to do so.

If Villa does indeed arrive at the club, then it is likely that Wenger will focus on other areas at first and should he be able to offload most of the fringe players, then there is a possibility of another top striker arriving at the club. If the Spaniard is the only striker to arrive at the club, it would be a little underwhelming to the fans who have been dreaming of Arsenal splashing the cash on world class strikers.

Nevertheless, El Guaje would represent a superb signing for the Gunners considering his quality and it could turn out to be a master-stroke should he be able to find his form. The Spaniard's qualities would surely enhance the quality of the Gunners, who will be able to compete for trophies should Villa recapture the form which made him one of the world's best players.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Arsenal: Why Arsene Wenger needs to Sort out the Theo Walcott Problem for Gunners to Flourish

Arsenal have had one of their roughest weeks of this season having been eliminated from the FA Cup and also, outclassed at home by a superior team in Bayern Munich. Thankfully for Arsene Wenger, his team were spared more blushes against relegation battlers Aston Villa largely due to an inspiring performance from Santi Cazorla. The midfielder has been brilliant for the Gunners on many occasions this season but at times has also been anonymous or looked jaded in some of the games. Fortunately for Arsenal, he was in rousing form from the start of the game against Aston Villa, scoring just after 5 minutes and proving to be a threat throughout the game ultimately also scoring the winner.

It was interesting that Wenger opted to play him on the left instead of Germany international Lukas Podolski and it was Jack Wilshere who was playing in an advanced central midfield role. Wenger has shown a preference towards playing central attacking midfielders on the left flank in the past with Yossi Benayoun, Tomas Rosicky, Andrei Arshavin and Samir Nasri, all of whom are comfortable either on the wings or in a central role. With Cazorla playing on the left flank, it provides the Gunners more opportunity to establish their dominance in central midfield with the Spaniard often filling the space whenever Wilshere drifts to the flank or goes deeper to fetch the ball, thus providing an outlet for the left-footed talented midfielder.

The good thing about Cazorla playing on the wing is that despite drifting infield on several occasions, he did not neglect his defensive duties and provided decent cover to Nacho Monreal who was not having the best of games defensively. The duo have previously played together on the left at Malaga and do share a good understanding which was shown in the second goal scored by the talented Spaniard. However, this has not always been the case on the other flank which is the main point of discussion in this article.

Theo Walcott has had an impressive season by any standards, scoring 18 goals in all competitions this season and also having 11 assists to his name. He has been one of the best players this season but he also presents a problem which has to be solved by Arsene Wenger. Amidst fear of losing the promising England international on a free transfer, the Frenchman convinced the former Southampton forward by playing him in his favoured role as a central striker. Though he had a superb game against Newcastle United when he played as a central striker, he has not been entirely convincing with subdued performances against the likes of Southampton, Wigan (though he won the penalty), Manchester City and recently against Bayern Munich.

With his pace and movement off the ball, Walcott can get behind any defense in the world if the midfielders can thread a ball through the defense. However, with Arsenal playing a 4-2-3-1 formation or a variation of the 4-3-3 formation, if he plays in a central role, it is likely that he will be the lone striker. Defenders are aware of Walcott's electric pace and are not likely to step up or play a high line against him. The centre backs are more likely to keep a watch on him as well as the passes that help him breach the defense. Also, Walcott's runs off the ball when he has played as the central striker have lacked variety and his hold-up play also needs to improve. However, despite him needing to work on his game to develop into a lethal central striker in the mould of a Thierry Henry, he still provides a decent option as a second/third choice striker.

The bigger problem has been when Walcott has been used as a winger/wide forward in recent games, especially since signing his new contract. Wenger does not restrict the freedom of his attackers and all the attacking players are provided the license to drift infield or move outside and find space, which helps add variety to their play. The likes of Walcott and Podolski have scored plenty of goals making diagonal or central runs which have not been picked by the opposition. However, the wide forwards are still primarily wingers, who are given the license to make diagonal runs whenever appropriate which helps them score goals as well.

In recent games, Walcott has been drifting far too much inside, almost making it a skewed 4-4-2 with Bacary Sagna, left to take care of the right flank on his own. The French defender has been one of the best defenders for the Gunners but has unfortunately, suffered a dip in form this season and has also not been helped by Walcott's tendency to drift inside too much. Playing on the right wing, Walcott has not provided enough defensive cover to the right back which has resulted in many of the opposition's attacks down that side of the pitch, though Gibbs' impressive performances has also resulted in that happening.

Also, in a attacking context, though Walcott moving into central role to receive Giroud flick-ons is understandable, his off-the-ball runs are questionable with him mainly making a move towards the centre and not on the outside mostly. If he makes runs on the outside of the opponent's left back, it provides both the midfielders as well as Sagna an outlet which they have lacked at times. The model Walcott should be looking at is some of his own perfromances from last season where his runs enabled not only him to score goals but also allowed him to make several crucial assists to Robin Van Persie.

It is clear that Olivier Giroud is an intelligent striker who thrives on good understanding between forward players and Walcott needs to adapt to get the best out of both of them. Giroud's neat flicks and hold up play means Walcott can get goalscoring opportunities like the one he scored against Liverpool. Also, Walcott has assisted number of goals for Giroud and can continue to do so regularly. Theo Walcott looks to be committed to the cause and though his infield runs are designed to help him score more, it might be to the benefit of the team if he works on his all round game as a wide forward.

Wenger has been instrumental in developing many aspects of Walcott's game and from a raw youngster, who had poor decision making skills, he has developed into a lethal forward possessing the intelligence and the weapons to trouble the best of defenses. He is at a stage in his career where he is desperate to prove that he can play as a central striker. However, the experienced French manager must convince him to continue playing his natural game as winger till the transition to that of a central striker eventually happens.

With the game against Spurs coming up, it is even more important that this topic is brought up with Gareth Bale in the best form of his life. Walcott will need to show his defensive qualities and must show that he can be a match-winner in the big games. It will be an interesting challenge for the former Southampton lad but one he will be looking forward to especially after scoring three goals in the last two league appearances against Spurs.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Arsenal FC vs Schalke Preview: Will the Gunners show their Mental Strength against Schalke?

Arsene Wenger has almost always made it a point to mention his team's mental resilience whenever they have managed to grind their way out of a tough situation. The game against Schalke at the Emirates will demonstrate just how much mental strength that the Gunners have to bounce back from that disappointing defeat against Norwich City. It was a flat performance from Arsenal and in truth, they looked far from a side looking to challenge for the title. But as is the case with football, a couple of weeks could really change things which is what Wenger will be hoping looking towards the game against Schalke. The French manager will be looking from the stands, serving his touchline ban and will expect his team to perform up to the required standard against a very good Schalke team.

The Bundesliga side beat champions Borussia Dortmund in the weekend and look like genuine title challengers this season. With players like Klaas Jan-Huntelaar, Lewis Holtby and Ibrahim Afellay in their ranks, there is no reason why they cannot sustain their good form should they keep their main players fit for most of the season. They will provide a serious threat to the Arsenal defense, who will have to be at their best to not let Schalke have many opportunities. Huntelaar is a player who is a perfect "fox-in-the-box" sort of striker and is not likely to pass up good opportunities to score and he has got some good players like Afellay, Farfan and Holtby who will support him well.

For Arsenal, the good news is that Laurent Koscielny is fit enough to come back to the squad but the question is whether or not he will be in the starting line-up. Per Mertesacker has done very well this season and if fit, he is most likely to start. Thomas Vermaelen does make mistakes at times and though he is a very good player, it has to be said that the decision to make him the captain of this Arsenal side is questionable considering that Koscielny could be considered a serious contender for his place in the starting line-up. The French international was arguably Arsenal's best defender in the last season and though he had a poor game against Chelsea, he deserves another chance to have a decent run in the side. Mikel Arteta would have been a more appropriate choice to be named as captain considering that he has the leadership skills and is also extremely consistent on the pitch.

Wenger has made his choice though and will have to stick with Vermaelen and Mertesacker as his first choice defensive pair because Koscielny and Vermaelen as a partnership does not look to be  too stable. With Huntelaar leading the line, he will cause plenty of problems for Arsenal and Mertesacker and Vermaelen will have a tough task to keep him quiet. With Gibbs not likely to feature against Schalke due to injury, Andre Santos is likely to be entrusted with the duty of stopping the supply of crosses from the right flank. Carl Jenkinson has been very impressive this season and will start again against Schalke but with him more or less a regular member of the side now, he has to also improve on his attacking duties and deliver more accurate crosses from the right for the Gunners. With Olivier Giroud leading the line for the Gunners, Jenkinson's crosses could be important in adding another dimension to their play.

In midfield, Aaron Ramsey could make way for Francis Coquelin, who deserves a chance considering that he has played well whenever given the opportunity to do so. The Welsh international had a woeful game against Norwich and needs to be benched for maybe a couple of matches unless he improves on his standard of performance. Arteta can be very influential further up the pitch as well considering that he and Cazorla do share an excellent understanding and the Spaniards have the capability of breaking down defenses with their vision and creativity. Jack Wilshere is not likely to make the squad having played the entire U-21 game against Everton on Monday but is likely to be on the bench for the game against QPR. His return to fitness is a timely boost for the Gunners, who have got a number of first team players out through injury.

With both Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out for the game against Schalke, there are not many options left for Arsene Wenger other than to continue playing Gervinho out wide with Giroud leading the line. Gervinho does not look at his best on the right wing and did have a very poor game against Norwich City. Lukas Podolski will continue to start on the left flank and the German international who will be facing familiar opposition will be looking to make an impact. With  Arsenal no longer having Robin van Persie to rely on for the goals, all the attacking players will have to step up and perform at their best if they want to seriously challenge for trophies this season.

It is a difficult task for the Gunners to defeat Schalke but a win will give them huge impetus after their defeat and importantly would put them in pole position to qualify as the Group toppers. It will allow them breathing space at the top of the table and will be a huge relief for Arsenal. It will not be a easy task but Wenger will be looking for a positive reaction from the defeat against Norwich City. Arsenal's mental strength will be put to the test on Wednesday against a tough team in front of a crowd who will be anxious right from the start. It is up to the team to show their quality and prove that the defeat against Norwich was just a one-off game. With plenty of important games coming in quickly from now till the end of the year, it is of vital importance that Arsenal beat Schalke and establish their position as the Group B leaders in the Champions League.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Arsenal FC: Why the next two Weeks could determine the Gunners' Season

Is the pressure finally getting to the Frenchman?
It is a long hard season in football consisting of 38 league matches and also has many Cup games depending on how well the club goes. But there are turning points for Clubs at some points of the season which could well determine whether or not they will consider the season to be a success at the end of May. For the Gunners, the next two weeks could just be that as they take on Schalke, Queens Park Rangers, Reading and Manchester United in a space of two weeks. The Gunners could be without some of their important players like Kieran Gibbs and Abou Diaby in the near future but they will have to get good results from these games if they are to have a chance of making this season a successful one.

Bereft of trophies in the last seven years, Arsenal fans no longer have the patience to wait for trophies as they keep losing some of their best players at the end of every season. They have sold Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Robin Van Persie in the last two summers and could lose Theo Walcott on a free transfer in the next window if they continue to lack success on the field. They have brought in three first team players in this window out of which Santi Cazorla has been exceptional and while Lukas Podolski has adjusted quite well but questions remain whether Olivier Giroud can be a genuine goalscoring threat for the Gunners.

Santi Cazorla, the Magician in midfield
The loss against Norwich City was one of the most disappointing defeats in a long time as the Gunners failed to create any sustained pressure and were guilty of not showing enough determination to win the game. The Canaries played well but it was certainly a case of Arsenal just not wanting it enough as well. With Cazorla not as effective in this game, they certainly lacked the guile to break down the Norwich which has leaked plenty of goals this season. With Podolski and Gervinho as the wingers and Giroud leading the line, the Gunners forward line did not get behind the Norwich backline and the absence of first team fullbacks was also evident.

Though Carl Jenkinson has done extremely well in the absence of Sagna, he does not make many overlapping runs and his crosses were disappointing against Norwich. However, the Arsenal youngster was not to blame for the lack of attacking intensity of the Gunners as he put in another committed performance. However, the return of Bacary Sagna is welcome and his forays down the right wing will be very important with time. Kieran Gibbs was also sorely missed as Andre Santos was rusty and did not have the pace or the energy to make runs beyond Podolski as Gibbs usually does. Also, the Brazilian has a tendency to come inside as well which means it further narrows down the play which made it easier for Norwich to defend against the Gunners.

There were plenty of players who did not perform up to the standard required by the Gunners: Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud, Gervinho to name a few. But what is more important is to not let it affect the next two weeks which are very important to the confidence of this team as a unit. They have still not gelled as a unit and on this evidence, they can surely play better when they are more focussed. The next game is the home game against Schalke which is very important in terms of finishing as the leaders of the Champions League group.

Schalke are on a high after beating Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal will be wary of the opposition they are facing. With players of the ilk of Klaas Jan-Huntelaar and Ibrahim Afellay, they will surely threaten the Gunners. It will be extremely important for the Gunners to forget about the previous game and focus only on the next game. With no one likely to return from injury before the Schalke game, team selection could be tricky for Arsene Wenger.

Can Olivier Giroud bang in the goals for the Gunners?
In my opinion, Ramsey was woefully ineffective against Norwich and should only make the bench and Francis Coquelin should be given the nod to start as the defensive midfielder against Schalke. The tenacious 22-year-old French midfielder is desperate to start more games for the Gunners and should get his chance in the near future. Another important decision for Wenger is whether or not to stick with Giroud as the centre forward or to give another chance to Gervinho to further establish his claim to be played in the centre. The Frenchman has shown glimpses of his potential but has not shown the consistency needed to cement his place in the starting eleven and could need more time to adjust to Arsenal's style of play. For someone like Giroud who thrives on crosses coming in from the flanks, the Gunners have not supplied enough good quality crosses for the Frenchman to capitalize.

Though Jack Wilshere is completely fit after his long injury, Wenger is right not to rush him back soon from such a big injury and the Englishman will probably have minutes from the bench against QPR and Manchester United while he could start against Reading if everything goes according to plan. His return is eagerly awaited especially because the partnership of Wilshere-Arteta-Cazorla sounds a mouthwatering prospect and more importantly, it will certainly reduce the onus on Cazorla  as he will share some of the creative responsibilities of the little Spaniard. The same was the case when Wilshere played alongside Fabregas where it allowed the Englishman to thrive in a deeper role and also provided an alternative for Fabregas to drop into a deeper position if he was tightly marked allowing Wilshere the freedom to take up the role behind the striker. 

Jack Wilshere: Arsenal's next big hope
Arsenal will want to finish top of the Champions League group in order to avoid some of the toughest opponents in the Round of 16 and key to that is beating Schalke at home. However, the next two games in the league are just as important and the Gunners cannot afford to lose focus on that. QPR presents an interesting challenge to Arsenal primarily because they do have talented players but have been woeful for most of the season. They have players of the quality of Esteban Granero and Park Ji Sung who can really hurt the Gunners but have not looked secured at the back at all. However, with the draw against Everton, they are sure to have found some of their confidence back and it will be a tricky fixture for the Gunners, who must win this in order to stay in touching distance of at least Tottenham and the rest. 

Manchester United have also not had the most confident of starts but things start to be clicking just at the right time for them as the two lethal strikers Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney seem to have formed an excellent partnership for the Red Devils. It will be extremely difficult to beat the Red Devils at their home and Arsenal have not had good results at Old Trafford of late. However, if Tottenham can beat Manchester United at Old Trafford, there is no reason why Arsenal could not do the same. If the Gunners do play at their best, there is no reason why they cannot manage a win at such a tough place and should they can manage a win at Old Trafford, it will certainly do wonders to their confidence and could even kick-start their title challenge. 

In between the two league fixtures is a game against Reading in the Capital One Cup. Though it is not the most important competition, they should ensure that they win against Reading so that they can build on their confidence. Also that game could see the return of Wilshere, Sagna and Frimpong to the starting line-up for the Gunners for the first time this season and it will be a huge boost when these players return especially the first two. Also Wojciech Szczesny and Tomas Rosicky are not very far away but will not be available for any of these two weeks but when they both are fully fit as well, then Arsenal will certainly have a much stronger side with more creative options.

Can Rosicky produce his form of last season?
There is still a long way to go in this season but should they fail to recover from this defeat at Norwich in the next two weeks, it could have great implications on how their season could pan out. How the Gunners react to their defeat at Carrow Road will reflect their mental strength and could be very important over the course of the season. If they do react positively and go on a winning run following that defeat, then that defeat could well mark the turning point of the season but at the end, they could also fail to get out of their negativity and might fall very far behind early in the season.

They will certainly be having a stronger squad after 2 weeks considering that Theo Walcott, Wilshere, Gibbs and Sagna are all scheduled to return within that period. The likes of Szczesny, Diaby, Koscielny and Rosicky are also set to return within a month which will undoubtedly make Arsenal much stronger side for the rest of the season. If they can come out of these difficult two weeks with good results, then they can look forward to better things in the season. Wenger must be hoping that his team can recover strongly from the defeat and it is important that they finally stepped up to the occasion this season.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Arsenal FC: Why Tomas Rosicky Is the Key for Gunners to Finish Ahead of Spurs

"Impossible is nothing" was the quote from Robin van Persie when asked about Arsenal's chances of qualifying to the Quarter-Finals of the Champions League by overturning a four goal deficit against AC Milan. The Gunners and Van Persie very nearly managed to attain the "impossible" as they came within a whisker of at least taking the tie to extra-time. At the end, the Gunners bowed out of the Champions League having shown their immense quality and restored their pride, which had been hugely hit following their 4-0 drubbing at the San Siro.

On this exciting night against AC Milan, there were many superb performances from the Arsenal players out of which Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky were particularly impressive. The former has made a superb impact in his first season at the club and has a very bright future ahead of him. The latter's recent performances has been a huge boost to the team and is one of the main reasons for the team's revival following their disappointing defeats against AC Milan and Sunderland.

Rosicky has struggled for fitness and form in the last three seasons and the midfielder, nicknamed the "little mozart", has not been at his best for the Gunners. Despite the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri in the summer, Rosicky was not a regular starter for the Gunners for most of this season, with youngster Aaron Ramsey preferred to the Czech midfielder. However, his performances of late has shown that he has the calibre to be a very important player for the club and could have a lasting impact on the results this season.

Due to Aaron Ramsey's injury sustained against Sunderland in the FA Cup, Rosicky started the game against their arch-rivals Spurs in central midfield. Despite going two goals down, the Gunners refused to lose hope and their spirit was epitomized by the "Little Mozart" who worked tirelessly to establish Arsenal's dominance in midfield. He glided past the likes of Scott Parker and Sandro to provide an immense attacking threat and one of his many such marauding runs enabled him to score from close range to complete Arsenal's turnaround against Spurs.

He was rightly praised by the Arsenal supporters who recognized his contribution and as a result of that, he kept his place in the team against Liverpool and AC Milan. Against Liverpool, he looked bright in the first half of the game but the trio of Mikel Arteta, Alex Song and Rosicky lost the midfield battle as Liverpool were on top for most of the game. However, the brilliance of Van Persie ensured all the three points in one of the toughest fixtures of the season.

Arsenal went into the game against Milan with the odds stacked up against them and delivered a performance which merited great applause from their supporters. Rosicky was at the heart of almost every Arsenal attack as the duo of Chamberlain and Rosicky dominated the midfield battle. The midfielder, who has not scored many in his last three seasons, scored the second of their three goals providing a clever finish from a poor clearance by Thiago Silva.

The 31-year-old midfielder eventually tired out but continued to play the entire game and looked crest-fallen by the outcome of the tie. However, he has shown Arsenal that he has the quality to provide the creativity they have missed due to the departures of Fabregas and Nasri and the absence of Jack Wilshere due to injury. Rosicky has been criticized by many in the recent past but his recent performances indicate how good he can be when he has the confidence and is played in a central attacking midfield role.

Though Aaron Ramsey has come under immense scrutiny for his performances this season, he also remains a key player for the Gunners and would do well to learn from the Czech international. Rosicky, like Ramsey, was also criticized but has shown the mental strength to bounce back and show his quality and mettle. With Ramsey and Rosicky back to full fitness, the Gunners do have decent depth in their midfield.

On current form, Rosicky is certain to keep his place in the team and deservedly so as well considering that he has given his full effort in the games that he has played this season. Arsenal have had various problems this season including lack of creativity and goals from midfield. However, if Rosicky can maintain this form, he will provide an ideal foil to the likes of Van Persie and Theo Walcott and can provide excellent service to the forward line.

Rosicky has the quality to be a mainstay for the Gunners and needs to be playing regularly in order to attain his best form. Arsene Wenger has shown great faith in the quality of the midfielder and Rosicky could prove to be the difference for the Gunners. If he can perform consistently, then there is a good chance that Arsenal will pick up more points which will enhance their chances of finishing in the top four.

The Gunners are currently only four points behind Spurs and they do have a good chance of closing the gap if they can maintain their superb league form. Spurs have lost their last two games and will be under immense pressure to perform which is why it is very important for the Gunners to be very consistent. Arsenal have shown that they have the quality and the resilience and the only question is whether they have the depth and the consistency to snatch the third spot from Tottenham, who are bound to drop points along the way.

Arsenal face Newcastle on Monday which means that the players will get a decent amount of rest and need to take the positives from the game against Milan. The Emirates crowd will be behind them when they take on the Magpies, who are also in contention for the fourth spot. Arsenal need their experienced players to step up and Rosicky has shown that he has the ability to stand up and be counted when the team needs it most.

Rosicky is finally managing to string a number of games without injuries and is also in form and it is imperative for Arsenal and for him that he continues to perform consistently from now till the end of the season. With the 31-year-old also out of contract at the end of the season, it will provide further motivation and should he continue to impress, there is no doubt that Wenger will be interested in extending his contract beyond the end of this season.

The 31-year-old might be one of the more underrated players at Arsenal but his contributions to the team in the last three weeks in particular has been invaluable. The Gunners have a great chance to finish ahead of Spurs but for that to happen, the gifted playmaker needs to perform at his best and could be the key for Arsenal to secure automatic qualification to the Champions League.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Liverpool vs. Arsenal Preview: Six Key Battles to watch out in this High Stakes game

Liverpool and Arsenal are two of the greatest teams in English football and though both are still big clubs, they are not challenging for the Premiership title and a fourth placed finish would satisfy both clubs this season. The Gunners had a terrible start earlier in the season after losing to the Reds at the Emirates in the second league game of the season but have since done decently to be in fourth place as of now. Reds have been inconsistent this season but have shown glimpses of their quality and have the ammunition required to string a set of good results from now till the end of the season.

Both teams are coming on a high after winning their previous games, both of which were significant for either club. Liverpool beat Cardiff City on penalties to end their trophy drought, which will provide them great impetus as they push on to secure a Champions League berth. Arsenal, on the other hand, handed out a memorable thrashing to their arch-rivals Tottenham and will be on top of their game as they look to build on that crucial win. This game is crucial for both teams and a bad result could shatter their confidence which is why it is very important for either team to continue their good form.

Liverpool would have been worried by the substitution of Steven Gerrard after around 30 minutes in the game between England and Netherlands. Their inspirational captain was substituted due to a knock but could yet take part in this important game against the Gunners. However, Daniel Agger is likely to miss out which is a worry for the Reds as he has been very solid alongside Martin Skrtel this season. The good news for Liverpool is that they do have Jamie Carragher who can provide immense leadership at the back in the absence of the Dane and Liverpool will be confident of securing all three points at home against the Gunners.

On the other hand, Arsenal are also likely to be confident of their own quality going into this quality. They were not at their best in the first half hour of the game against Spurs but were rampant after that and it was the sort of performance which could reignite their season after the disappointments in the Champions League and the FA Cup. With Robin van Persie spearheading the team, they can be sublime at their best and do have the quality to trouble Liverpool's defense which is why they will relish the challenge of meeting the Reds at this time in the season.

It should be an enthralling contest with two quality teams focussed on winning the game, which is crucial to both clubs. The Gunners and the Reds are currently separated by seven points (though Liverpool have a game in hand) and this result could prove to be pivotal as to where these two teams will finish at the end of the season. There will be many individual battles which could play a major part in deciding the outcome of the game and here are six contests which are very important in this fixture.

1. Luis Suarez vs. Laurent Koscielny

Suarez has had his controversial since being signed by Liverpool but there is no denying his quality and he is Liverpool's most important attacking threat against the Gunners. His movement and skill in front of goal makes it difficult for defenders to mark him. Though he could further improve regarding his clinicality in front of goal, he has the quality to threaten Arsenal and could be the key to opening up this Arsenal defence, which has not looked very solid this season.

Though the Gunners have leaked goals in this season, Laurent Koscielny has been outstanding and has arguably been Arsenal's best defender. The Frenchman did take time to adjust to the physicality of the league but has the makings of a world class defender and has been superb this season. He will be entrusted to cope with the movement of Suarez and it will be an interesting battle between those two. Suarez is very important for the Reds and if Koscielny can shackle him, then Arsenal do have a much better chance of winning the game.

2. Alex Song vs. Charlie Adam

Alex Song has shown great improvement in the last couple of seasons and has established himself as a regular in this current Arsenal side. Though he is primarily a defensive midfielder, he has worked a lot on his passing and the creative side of the game and it is no surprise that he has been one of the key midfielders when it comes to producing defence-splitting passes. However, he will come up against a tough midfield in Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard (if fit) which is why he has to be on top of his game.

Charlie Adam in particular could be a major threat for the Gunners because of his ability to strike venomously from distance if given the space to do so.  Song and Mikel Arteta need to ensure that the Liverpool midfielders do not get space on the ball and need to constantly fight for the ball. For Liverpool, it is important that Adam makes good runs because his movement will make it difficult for the Gunners and he also has the ability to score goals from distance which can be used to good effect by the Reds.

3. Tomas Rosicky vs. Jay Spearing/Jordan Henderson

Tomas Rosicky has come under plenty of criticism this season but proved that he still has the quality by performing brilliantly against Spurs. It has been a difficult couple of years for the Czech international because of injuries as he has struggled to hold on to a place regularly. Also, he has been bereft of confidence in front of goal but that performance and goal against Spurs could be just what he needs to get back to his best. It was as good a performance from Rosicky in the last two years and it could be the perfect springboard for him to regain his best form.

Brazilian international Lucas Leiva has been a huge miss for the Reds which is why the task of stopping Arsenal's midfield falls to the young Jay Spearing or Jordan Henderson depending on whom the manager selects for the game. Rosicky, Arteta and Song are all capable of providing good supply to the forward line which is why Liverpool's midfielders will be on their guard throughout the game. The game could be decided by who wins the midfield battle and for Arsenal to win the game, the likes of Rosicky and Arteta need to be at their best to dominate possession at Anfield.

4. Theo Walcott vs. Jose Enrique

Theo Walcott has also come under plenty of criticism for his inconsistent performances and he also did get some flak for his indifferent performance in the first half of the Spurs game. However, he was brilliant in the second half showing the Emirates crowd what he is capable of when he is at his best. He got the better of Benoit Assou-Ekotto on more than one occasion and showed great composure in front of goal beating Brad Freidel twice. Walcott will need to be at his best in order to trouble Jose Enrique and the Liverpool defense and he is very important in ensuring that Robin van Persie is not isolated upfront.

Enrique has been one of the best signings of the season and the former Newcastle left-back has been extremely consistently for the Reds. He will need to be sharp against Walcott because the England international has the pace to get behind the defense and cause problems. It is clear that Walcott and Van Persie do have a good rapport on the pitch which is why it is even more important to frustrate the English winger. Also, if Enrique can shackle Walcott and support the left winger, Arsenal could struggle to contain the crosses coming in from the wings especially if Thomas Vermaelen is ruled out due to injury.

5. Robin van Persie vs. Jamie Carragher

Arsenal captain Robin van Persie has been in sensational form in the last year scoring plenty of goals and has already scored 29 goals this season. The Dutch international is considered to be a doubt for the game but could yet start if he passes the fitness test. Van Persie has scored all types of goals this season and has caused problems to every single defence in the Premiership this season. He has demonstrated great clinicality in front of goal and any error from the Liverpool defense could prove to be costly with Van Persie ready to pounce on any loose ball.

Jamie Carragher is likely to start and will be faced with the tough task of stopping the in-form Dutchman. He will need to use all his experience to shackle Van Persie, who will drag defenders out of their comfort zone using his superb movement off the ball. Carragher's lack of pace will most likely be targeted by the Arsenal frontline but the Liverpool centre back is immensely experienced and his experience and understanding of the game will help him greatly in coping with Van Persie and his fellow forwards.

6. Arsene Wenger vs. Kenny Dalglish

Wenger selected a rather different team from what supporters anticipated against Liverpool and it will be interesting to see if he selects the same team again at Anfield. Neither Oxlade-Chamberlain nor Gervinho made it into the starting line-up while Yossi Benayoun was given a rare league start. The combination of Rosicky and Benayoun in the Spurs game was excellent which is why Wenger will have to think whether to retain the duo or change it up to add more pace to the side by bringing in either of Gervinho or Chamberlain. The way that Arsenal play is not going to change much as they will look to dominate possession and create problems for the Liverpool defense.

However, tactics could be very important for Dalglish because he needs to decide whether his teams need to attack Arsenal from the start of the game or be content to play on the counter-attack employing a more defensive formation. The Reds have the quality to secure all the three points though it will not be easy and tactical decisions by both managers could have a huge role to play in deciding the result of this game.