Monday, December 21, 2015

Arsenal 2015-2016: December

Saturday December 5, 2015 Arsenal vs Sunderland 10AM EST

Thankfully November is over and Arsenal can forget about a very forgettable month and get going.

With the loss of Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla due to injury it's been nothing but gloom and doom among Arsenal fans on Twitter. Regardless of all the Wenger out, Wenger sucks, blame Wenger, etc. cries from "supporters" the season carries on and a home match versus Sunderland should be one to get December off to a good start.

As we've seen in the past two matches, West Brom and Norwich, you can never take your opponent lightly. However, if Arsenal cannot easily dispense of Sunderland today then there really are problems bigger than just the manager. With Manchester City showing nothing at Stoke today and losing 2-0 it gives Arsenal another opportunity to take advantage of another contender. This one is a MUST and needs to be taken care of.

Yes this was not a vintage Arsenal performance...but it was a win and three points. With Manchester City losing and United playing another boring 0-0 draw with West Ham it means that Arsenal are now back in second position, two points behind this season's surprise package Leicester.

Arsenal took the lead in the 33rd minute when Mesut Ozil set up Joel Campbell who coolly slotted home. With the Gunners unable to add to their lead, disaster struck in the 45th minute when a Sunderland free kick bounced back off of Olivier Giroud and in to the Arsenal net. I didn't even want to look at what people were saying n Twitter after that one.

The second half was better. Giroud made amends for his own goal with a header off of an Aaron Ramsey cross to give Arsenal a 2-1 lead. The rest of the match was pretty nervy but Ramsey guaranteed the points for Arsenal with a goal in the 90th minute.

It wasn't a pretty win, but an ugly win is always better than playing great and losing. Next up, a trip to Athens and a chance to make it through to the knock out rounds of the Champions League.

Wednesday December 9, 2015 Arsenal at Olympiacos 2:45PM EST Champions League Group Stages Match Day 6

Arsenal head to Athens today with the knowledge that they control their own destiny. Win by 2 or more goals and they go through to the knock out stages despite the team's horrific start to the group stages.

Of course a lot of the talk surrounds the number of injuries that Arsenal are currently carrying and who will take the field at Olympiacos. Then there are those saying that Arsenal should just forget about the Champions League and concentrate on the league. In the end, Arsenal do need to progress and whichever players take the pitch today, they will have the full support of the real loyal supporters.

They did it. Arsenal needed to win by 2 or more goals and a 0-3 final sees Arsenal go through to the knockout stages of the Champions League for the 16th year in a row. There were many negative naysayers (many of them Arsenal fans) prior to the match and this team performance should hopefully shut some of those whining folks up.

The match started off slowly and Olympiakos had a lot of the possession in the first 10-15 minutes. The home fans were loud and booing every time Arsenal were on the attack. Despite this, Arsenal soon got going and a pretty impressive team performance was soon on display.

Olivier Giroud got Arsenal's first goal in the 29th minute heading in a cross from Aaron Ramsey. I knew at that moment that they would win. You could just feel it.

The all important second goal came soon after the start of the second half. Joel Campbell brilliantly fed the ball to Giroud who put the ball in to the back of the net. The two goals were enough to send Arsenal through, but there was still more than 40 minutes left to play.

In the 67th minute, Olympiakos' defender was guilty of a hand ball and the man of the match, Giroud, coolly beat the keeper to wrap up the match. Olympiakos needed to score three and it was pretty clear that that wasn't going to happen.

Arsenal will find out who they'll face in the next round next week.

Sunday December 13, 2015 Arsenal at Aston Villa 8:30AM EST

It's back to league play today and a visit to last place Aston Villa presents the perfect opportunity to keep momentum going and pick up three points. Following the successful trip to Athens in mid week, there's the possibility of some tired players...but if a club wants to challenge for trophy's they can't use this as an excuse and need to take advantage of opportunities presented to them.

Olivier Giroud comes in to this match full of confidence after his hat trick versus Olympiakos. Meanwhile Aston Villa are having a nightmare of the season and are facing the serious possibility of a relegation battle. While I don't want to see Aston Villa leave the top flight, I hope that their fortunes turn around AFTER Arsenal's visit.

A solid win for Arsenal. While one would have been happy to see the Gunners score 5 or more against woeful Villa, a 0-2 victory is just fine. The three points see Arsenal jump to the top of the league for now and keep the club's momentum moving forward.

It was nice to see Arsenal get on the score sheet early. In the eighth minute Villa defender Alan Hutton clearly fouled Theo Walcott in the box and a penalty was called. High on confidence, Giroud stepped up to the spot and coolly slotted home to give Arsenal a one goal lead.

In the 38th minute, Aaron Ramsey scored a beautiful goal from yet another Mesut Ozil assist. 

The second half was a bit more pedestrian but overall it never looked like Villa would get back in to the match. Of course they didn't and Arsenal walked away winners for their second away match of the week.

Petr Cech kept the clean sheet for his 169th shut matching David James' record. Cech accomplished the feat in 223 fewer matches and is sure to set a new record shortly.

Monday December 21, 2015 Arsenal vs Manchester City 3PM EST 

It's a big test for Arsenal today. Sitting second in the table behind the surprise team of the season, Leicester, Arsenal face third place Manchester City. With the league being so unpredictable this season Arsenal and City are considered the two clubs most likely to being battling for the EPL title come May.

Arsenal are still suffering from a large number of injuries, but recent performances have been solid and confidence is high right now. Meanwhile City have not looked as invincible as in seasons past. I only hope that Arsenal don't play scared and instead go out with confidence and put on a performance worthy of title contenders.The EPL has been crazy thus far this season. Some of it has been purely enjoyable to watch. Chelsea's struggles have been pure entertainment and the firing of the egotistical one this week, Moanrinho, has been an added treat. Then there's boring, boring Manchester United with LVG at the helm. The team is a shell of the once intimidating United and seeing them huff and puff and do nothing on a regular basis is great entertainment. Then there's Liverpool led by new manager Jurgen Klopp. While I have total respect for Klopp, I found it a bit ridiculous when the media was proclaiming Liverpool as title contenders immediately after his appointment. Liverpool look just as bad under Klopp as they did under Brendan contrary to the British press, he does not possess a magic wand that suddenly transforms a team in to winners.

With the rest of the former big guns misfiring, Arsenal have a great chance to take advantage and assert their title credentials. Here's hoping for a great three points.

YES!!! Scream it from the mountaintops, Arsenal are indeed genuine title contenders. Outside of the last ten minutes of the match Arsenal were in control and looked the real deal. They played like a team and defended intelligently. Having seen so many Arsenal matches where the Gunners have the majority of the possession and lose, it was a nice change to see them allow City more time on the ball and take advantage of breaks to score. As we've seen time and time again, it's what you do with the ball that matters.

City were given good news before the match with the return of Sergio Aguero to the lineup. However, defender and captain Vincent Kompany was unable to play. Meanwhile, Arsenal were still dealing with a number of injuries to first team players.

Ozil was again the architect to Arenal's goals. He set up Theo Walcott for a beautiful goal in the 33rd minute. It was as impressive as it was invigorating. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric already, but the goal made the place go nuts.

One minute of injury time was added to the first half and I was just hoping that Arsenal could go in to the half with the 1-0 lead. They did event better than that. Once again it was Ozil who played provider and Olivier Giroud finished with less than 20 seconds left in the half.

Arsenal maintained control throughout the second half and had a number of chances on goal. Meanwhile Petr Cech kept City from getting anywhere near Arsenal's goal. 

My only complaint would be that with a two goal lead, Arsenal continued to try and score leaving gaps for City to mount attacks. It was a stellar Arsenal defensive performance overall, but at times they do need to focus more on the task at hand than scoring the perfect goal.

When YaYa Toure scored an impressive goal out of nowhere in the 82nd minute, things became a bit more tense. However, Arsenal rode out the rest of the match and deservedly walked away with all three points.

Saturday December 26, 2015 Arsenal at Southampton 2:45PM

Boxing Day it is, or as we call it here in the states, the day after Christmas. Arsenal travel to Southampton today and over the past few years this hasn't been the easiest of fixtures. In fact traveled to Southampton two seasons ago to watch this exact match and Arsenal had to come back to settle for a draw. The difference this year is that Southampton is not the force that they have been in recent years.. Arsenal are on a great run of form, still buzzing from defeating Manchester City and are being spoken of as title contenders. Therefore, it is a must win match to keep all that positive momentum moving forward and to make a statement to the league.

Arsenal are still without a number of key players, Cazorla, Sanchez, Wilshire, Welbeck, Rosicky, Coquelin, but they have been proving that the squad has depth with recent results.

Arsenal play in the late match today, before that we get to see "crisis" clubs Manchester United and Chelsea as well as the rest of the league play. The big one at the moment for Arsenal fans will be league leaders Leicester's visit to Anfield. In years past it would be all about Liverpool in this fixture. Not this year as the surprise story of the year so far keeps ticking. Along with most fans, I really believe that the clock will strike midnight on Leicester and they'll fall back down to earth, but for right now they are an amazing story of an underdog. If Arsenal do not go on to win the league, the only club that I would concede it to this season is Leicester. However, if what we think is all going to happen, happens, then it's time for Leicester to become Leicester again and start moving back down the table.

So here's to three points on Boxing Day.

So much for that feel good factor. Embarrassing, humiliating, pathetic, get the drift. Luckily this was the one match that I was not able to watch due to work and turned on the DVR when I got home. When it became evident that Arsenal had not turned up, I just fast forwarded through the humiliation and was frankly disgusted by what I saw. 

Arsenal had the chance to go top of the league against a team that had been struggling and should have been easily beatable. If Arsenal had lost 1-0 having giving it their all, it would have stung, but it would be a lot easier to accept. A 4-0 drubbing turns what was a great feeling of invincibility in to maybe this is the same old Arsenal feeling. If this club is to win the EPL, they have got to show a lot more metal than what was on display today. Yes it's the festive period, yet there are a lot of games in a short amount of time, but every team has this same challenge.

Let's hope that this was just a temporary blip and not a sign of what's to come. 

Monday December 28, 2015 Bournemouth at Arsenal 12:30PM EST

Luckily there's little time to dwell on Saturday's stinker at Southampton. Arsenal have the opportunity today to quickly return that feel good factor with a match against visitors Bournemouth. Arsenal blew the chance to go top of the league against Southampton, but they also blew the chance to create distance between the club and other contenders. Arsenal still sit second, but Man City are now just one point behind. 

Bournemouth have pulled off some impressive wins this season...i.e. Chelsea and Manchester United. However, they are a newly promoted side and Arsenal need to not only win today, but to show the gulf in class between the two sides.

In other matches, the crisis clubs of Chelsea and Manchester United meet today. It'll be interesting to see how this one goes down. It has been fun watching both teams suffer.

Well that's more like it. Whether it was food poisoning, a bad day at the office or just stuff that happens, the 0-4 loss at Southampton needed to be put in the rear view mirror. Today's solid 2-0 victory over Bournemouth did just that.

Ozil was the star of the match. He assisted on Arsenal's first goal with a perfectly taken corner which Gabriel headed home for his first goal in the EPL. Keep in mind that Gabriel was making a rare start in place of Laurent Koscielny.

In the 63rd minute Ozil and Olivier Giroud combined for a beautiful run of play which saw Ozil scoring Arsenal's second and pretty much wrapping up the three points.

While it wasn't the most dominating Arsenal performance, it was a very professional display where Arsenal looked solid throughout. 

The victory leaves Arsenal at the top of the table with Leicester playing Manchester City in a few days time.

Petr Cech kept a clean sheet and became the all time leading EPL keeper with his 170th shut out. Despite the fact that most of those games were with Chelsea, he was in an Arsenal jersey while setting the record. 

Happy Boxing Day. Top of the table.