Brighton and Hove Albion 2 (O’Grady 50, Baldock 75) – Arsenal 3 (Walcott 2, Ozil 24, Rosicky 59)
Man of the Match – Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal)
Arsenal survived a scare at battling Championship side Brighton and Hove Albion to secure a berth in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup. With the Gunners on a high, having beaten Manchester City 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium, just a week earlier, Arsene Wenger decided to rotate the squad. Wojciech Szczesny, who has now fallen down the pecking order, to David Ospina, made his first start since his horrendous outing at Southampton. Nacho Monreal and Laurent Koscielny started in the centre of defense.
Francis Coquelin, who was vital in the game against City, was rested, and his compatriot Mathieu Flamini made the starting line up, with Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey ahead of him. Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott got vital starts, with Olivier Giroud upfront. Per Mertesacker, Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez were all named as substitutes.
Arsenal took no time to go ahead, with Theo Walcott scoring his first goal of the season, having missed nearly half of it, recovering from injury. Callum Chambers stormed down the right, to spot the England striker, who took a touch before shooting past Brighton keeper Stockdale. It seemed the Gunners wanted to put the game to bed early, with some attacking football. Aaron Ramsey’s effort was deflected wide off a corner. From the resulting corner, a Giroud header was blocked on the line.
Arsenal were looking dangerous, but were unable to score a second. Theo Walcott was making good runs, and looked lively and hungry, but his touch let him down often. In the 20th minute, he bundled the ball, when he had a great opportunity to set up Tomas Rosicky. Rosicky, then shot wide, and moments later, he provided Mesut Ozil with a fine assist that doubled Arsenal’s lead.
The German calmly controlled the ball, before putting into the back of the net. It was his first goal since the 3-0 win against Aston Villa in September. Brighton’s only real chance came towards the end of the first half, when Sam Baldock fired wide.
Arsenal should have made it 3-0, when Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey combined to set up Theo Walcott, but the Englishman failed to control the ball, when he should have volleyed the ball home. Brighton made Arsenal pay almost immediately. Some poor defending, which involved a half clearance from Rosicky, a lost header from Chambers, and a lack of reaction from Koscielny and Flamini allowed Chris O’Grady to score one past Szcsesny on 50 minutes.
Brighton and their fans were clearly buoyed by the goal, and Brighton upped the pressure for a while. The stadium was buzzing again, but Tomas Rosicky had other ideas. Having nicked the ball of a Brighton player, he played in Olivier Giroud, before making a dash towards the edge of the area. Giroud cleverly set up the Czech midfielder, whose volley was unstoppable.
On 70 minutes, Giroud and Walcott were replaced with Chuba Akpom and Alexis Sanchez. Brighton, however kept pressing, Rohan Ince standing out in midfield. On 75 minutes, Nacho Monreal and Laurent Koscielny failed to pick up the run of Sam Baldock, who chipped Szczesny to make it 3-2, and cause some flutter of nerves in the Arsenal camp.
Arsene Wenger decided to sacrifice the attacking verve of Mesut Ozil with the defensive mindset of the in-form Francis Coquelin. Arsenal nearly broke on the break, when Akpom’s effort was parried away by Stockdale, having been set up by a Sanchez burst. Alexis was treated to some rough treatment during his short outing.
He had three free-kicks, all of them close to scoring the Gunners’ fourth. The first struck the top of the bar, the second bought about a save from Stockdale, while the third went over the bar. Aaron Ramsey had a chance late on, but his volley was miscued.
So, Arsenal secure a fifth round game against Middlesbrough at the Emirates Stadium, as they continue in their defence of the FA Cup.
Manchester City 0 – Arsenal 2 (Cazorla (pen) 24. Giroud 66)
Man of the Match – Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)
Finally, the monkey is off the back. Months of moaning about how Arsenal just fail to turn up in big games, and are just not as good as the cash rich sides on the top of the Premier League, could finally cease, as the Gunners produced a composed, uncanny and gritty performance to emerge with 3 points from the Etihad Stadium, a ground which hasn’t been the happiest hunting ground in recent seasons.
With the manager now having more resources at his disposal through the returns from injuries of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Mathieu Flamini and Theo Walcott, the squad looks stronger with every passing week. Kieran Gibbs was named on the bench, as Spaniard Nacho Monreal started at left-back. Unsurprisingly, his compatriot Hector Bellerin too made it into the starting 11, after strong performances in recent games, instead of Callum Chambers, most people’s choice to start in place of Mathieu Debuchy. David Ospina kept his place in goal after clean sheets against Hull City in the FA Cup and Stoke City in the Premier League
Francis Coquelin kept his place in defensive midfield, as Aaron Ramsey marked his return with a start, while there was no change in the front 4. Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud all started. For the hosts, Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany made starts after passing fit to play, post recent injury problems. With Yaya Toure on national team duty with Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations, there were starts for both Fernandinho and Fernando in the centre of the park. The prospect of quick Spanish winger Jesus Navas facing his international teammate Nacho Monreal on the opposite flank may have been discomforting for Arsenal fans.
Manchester City started in attack mode, and seemed to cause early problems for Arsenal. Fernandinho forced Laurent Koscielny into a foul, which earned the Frenchman a yellow card in just the 3rd minute. Arsenal started with a 4-1-4-1 formation, Francis Coquelin being the vital, disciplined cog in front of the defence, making vital interceptions throughout, to counter the creative pursuits of Spain star David Silva and in-form Argentine Sergio Aguero.
Arsenal didn’t offer much in an attacking mode, with Manchester City playing high up the pitch, allowing them to get control of the ball quickly. Arsenal had to rely on quick counters from Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to thwart City’s defense. Arsenal’s first real chance on goal came when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain collected the ball on the right-wing, overran a challenge before crossing for Olivier Giroud, whose diving header was deflected for a corner by Vincent Kompany.
In the 24th minute, Arsenal would make the unlikely breakthrough, as Nacho Monreal looked to play a quick one-two with Olivier Giroud, but was impeded in his run by Vincent Kompany. It may seem that Monreal went down too easily, but there definitely was contact from the Belgian captain. Santi Cazorla made no mistake from the penalty spot, and despite Joe Hart guessing the right way, the penalty smashed the back of the net as Arsenal went up 1-0 at the Etihad.
Arsenal fans would have liked to take a 2-0 lead, but the Gunners weren’t really able to keep possession, as the ball just didn’t stick to the Gunners’ legs for prolonged periods. Manchester City, on the other hand were frustrated by Arsenal’s zonal pressing and interceptions. Santi Cazorla was having a field day as he bought Arsenal out of several delicate situations with delightful dribbling. Manchester City had to retort to passing but not really make a dent or a killer pass, with David Ospina having a quiet day in the office for most parts of the first half.
The ineffective James Milner was bought off for Montenegro international Stevan Jovetic, who according to rumors, may well be looking for a move back to the Serie A, after the champions splashed £28 million on Ivory Coast striker Wilfried Bony from Swansea. David Ospina made his first real save of the match when Sergio Aguero’s left footed shot was palmed away by the Colombian international for a corner. City made more chances, and Ospina had to parry a shot from Jesus Navas before Fernandinho blasted over from close range.
Alexis Sanchez tricked Pablo Zabaleta to skip away from the Argentine, but his shot was wayward and went out for a throw in, when he really should have done better with Olivier Giroud hoping for a ball towards him. Aaron Ramsey too was guilty of the same, as the Welshman showed signs of rustiness. Both managers decided to spruce up things, with former Chelsea man Frank Lampard replacing Fernandinho and Tomas Rosicky coming on for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Moments later, the Gunners doubled the lead. Stevan Jovetic bought down Alexis Sanchez. Santi Cazorla took the free-kick and Olivier Giroud headed home the goal, under absolutely no pressure from City’s defenders. It was the simplest of goals to score, and the Frenchman celebrated with a slide on the Etihad turf.
Arsenal had the 2 goal lead, but there were moments of comedy, first when Nacho Monreal seemed to wildly kick a ball, but it could have ended up anywhere. It instead ended up for a corner, Ospina luckily seeing the funny side of it. Manchester City were now desperate and looked to some long range options, as Arsenal’s defence got tighter. Jovetic’s shot struck the outside of the post.
With 10 minutes, the manager bought on defensive reinforcements, as Mathieu Flamini and Kieran Gibbs replaced Alexis Sanchez and a tiring Aaron Ramsey. Flamini almost had an immediate impact when he was played in by Santi Cazorla. He could have crossed in to set up Giroud, but waited, before Vincent Kompany cleared the danger. Bosnia striker Edin Dzeko came on, and forced a save from Ospina, but Arsenal held on for the remainder of the match to register a 2-0 victory.
The points are priceless, especially on a weekend when Southampton, Tottenham and Manchester United, all won, with the race for a top 4 finish heating up. Arsenal’s win was creditable, and the performances of unheralded Ospina, Monreal, Bellerin and Coquelin were commendable.
This was Ospina’s third consecutive clean sheet, and his first away clean sheet in his first away game in an Arsenal shirt. He didn’t have too much work to do, especially with solid work from his defense. Nacho Monreal has proven to be an important player for Arsenal this season, filling in at centre back at various points of the season, owing to injuries to Koscielny. He put up a solid performance, and so did Bellerin, unfazed by the challenge of first, Milner and then Jovetic. Francis Coquelin, at the moment seems to be the answer to Arsenal’s central defensive midfield problems. He put up a commanding, disciplined performance, but his future will still hold some question marks.
The man of the match was undoubtedly Santi Cazorla who put up a tireless performance for 90 minutes, skipping several challenges to get Arsenal out of tricky situations. He made no mistake from the penalty spot and provided the delivery for Giroud’s goal. A masterclass from the Spaniard. And, while you bask in the glory of a good win, enjoy this piece of skill from Per Mertesacker. Classy!
Arsenal 3 (Koscielny 6, Sanchez 33, 49) – Stoke City 0
Man of the Match – Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
Arsenal avenged their 3-2 loss to Stoke last month with a commanding display against the Orcs’, giving them a proper footballing lesson. With rumors of Szczesny being axed emerging in the press, Arsene Wenger decided to give Colombian international keeper David Ospina another start after his clean sheet in the 2-0 win over Hull City in the FA Cup. An injury to Kieran Gibbs meant Nacho Monreal started at left-back.
Francis Coquelin kept his place in midfield, and so did Tomas Rosicky. Olivier Giroud returned after his 3 match suspension, alongside Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla. Arsenal’s bench looked magnificent with Mesut Ozil, Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey marking their returns with Theo Walcott, also working his way to full fitness.
Asmir Begovic was forced into a save within the first two minutes as a curling effort from Alexis had to be tipped. Begovic again had to be alert after a darting run from Tomas Rosicky. Arsenal won a resulting corner, which Laurent Koscielny played back to the corner taker Alexis, whose cross was again met by the leaping Frenchman, whose unmarked header crashed into the back of the net. Arsenal had the lead in the 6th minute, from the most unlikeliest of sources. It was only Koscielny’s second goal of the season.
Arsenal’s medical team just can’t get a break, and Mathieu Debuchy had to be stretchered off after an innocuous looking challenge from Austrian international Marko Arnaitovic. The ball was already destined to go out, and a poor challenge from Arnautovic saw Debuchy fling himself onto the advertisement hoardings, suffering a dislocated shoulder, which will keep him out of action for 3 months. Of course, and inquiry needs to be done into this, and despite Arnautovic’s hollow apologies, Debuchy will miss another substantial portion of the season.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain almost made it 2-0, but his effort whizzed just wide of the post. Arsenal were keeping Begovic busy, first from Alexis and then Giroud. Begovic made couple of important saves as Arsenal relentlessly upped the pressure. Stoke, on the other hand, could barely keep possession, but could have caused trouble when an awkward cross had Ospina scrambling. Glenn Whelan then skied a free-kick over the bar.
Arsenal didn’t have to wait too long for the second goal, as Steven Nzonzi lost the ball to Sanchez, who quickly played a one-two with Rosicky before driving into the penalty box, making an absolute fool out of the thug, Ryan Shawcross, before slotting the ball past Begovic. Stoke retorted to their physical side of the game, with Peter Crouch elbowing Nacho Monreal in the face, and then having a verbal duel with his fellow giant Per Mertesacker. There seemed to be a scuffle between Giroud and Shawcross as well, all through the game.
Arsenal ramped up the pressure early in the second half, when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was bought down in the box, after a darting run, winning Arsenal a free kick. Alexis stepped up to take it, and his low free kick creeped into the goal, after squirming through the hands of Begovic. Arsenal wanted more, and kept attacking, through the relentless Alexis. Stoke had a rare chance, when a header looped over from a dangerous looking cross.
Stoke just couldn’t get a grip of the swift Alexis and Rosicky. Arsenal should have made it 4-0, when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla ran rings in the Stoke defence, but the angle was too tight for Cazorla to finish, and his effort struck the bar on it’s way out. Arsene Wenger decided to give Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil some game time, when he bought off Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud.
USA international Geoff Cameron then had his goal disallowed having been set up by a Peter Crouch header. Alexis then played in Theo Walcott, who really should have put the ball in the back of the net, but showed his rustiness yet again, screwing the ball wide. Cazorla then played a wonderful through ball into the bulkier looking Mesut Ozil, but the German’s effort too was wayward.
David Ospina was forced into a few nothing saved towards the end, as Stoke looked desperate for a consolation goal. Alexis was bought down at the edge of the area, but no free-kick was given. It really didn’t matter in the end as Arsenal sealed a solid 3-0 win on a weekend where both Manchester United and Tottenham dropped points.
Arsenal 2 (Mertesacker 20, Sanchez 82) – Hull City 0
Man of the Match – Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
Arsenal started the defense of their FA Cup with a sturdy 2-0 win over the same side the trounced at Wembley in May, Hull City. Billed as an opportunity to avenge the 3-2 loss in May, Hull were undone by an Alexis masterclass.
There were several changes in the Arsenal line-up. With rumors emerging of poor behavior by Wojciech Szczesny in the dressing room after the 2-0 loss at Southampton, David Ospina was given the gloves to make only his second start of the season. The French pair of Mathieu Debuchy, Laurent Koscielny were given breathers, as Hector Belllerin and Callum Chambers started. At left-back, Nacho Monreal was named ahead of Kieran Gibbs. Theo Walcott and Joel Campbell too made the starting line up alongside Tomas Rosicky and Francis Coquelin in an unfamiliar line up. Alexis started up front in the absence of Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck and Yaya Sanogo.
Arsenal started brightly and almost had the lead on 5 minutes, when Costa Rican striker Alexis played a one-two with Alexis, but couldn’t beat veteran keeper Steve Harper in a on-on-one situation. The game evened out, but Arsenal were making the more incisive attacks. Theo Walcott was fed by Alexis and he played it back to the Chilean, whose shot was blocked by Harry Maguire. He then waywardly tried to chip it, the effort going over.
Young winger Tom Ince was looking dangerous, and his left-footed shot went just wide. Former Manchester United defender Paul McShane then saw his header easily saved by Ospina, before Arsenal crucially took the lead. Mertesacker rose highest to head home an Alexis corner, the German’s first goal since his equalizer against Wigan in the semi-final. Arsenal went 2-0 up, almost a minute later, when Tomas Rosicky ran straight into Hull’s defence and set up Alexis, but the striker rebounded the keeper and his effort was cleared off the line by McShane.
Harper then saved a Nacho Monreal header with his legs. Santi Cazorla then played in a delightful pass to Theo Walcott, but the England striker’s effort was straight at the keeper. Arsenal had more dead ball chances, but failed to take any of them, as Steve Bruce’s side held on for a 1-0 scoreline at half-time.
Arsenal started the second half in the same fashion they had started the first, creating chances. Alexis miscued his effort after running into Hull’s defence, drawing a simple save for Ospina. Hull, however, slowly started gaining confidence in possession. It had to be broken only by a determined run from Rosicky. Another chance fell to the legs of Joel Campbell, but he miscued it way wide of Harper’s post.
Theo Walcott then missed a golden chance to open his account for the season after being played in clean through by Cazorla. His attempted chip went wide of the post, when he really should have done better. He again showed what 12 months on the sidelines can do as he couldn’t collect a lovely Coquelin pass and was replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with 14 minutes of normal time left to play. Chamberlain could have had an instant impact when he was set up by an Alexis cutback, but it went behind him.
Arsenal, didn’t have to wait long though, for the decisive goal. In the 82nd minute, Arsenal worked the ball well through midfield. In-form Santi Cazorla collected the ball and deftly set up Alexis who turned and beat Steve Harper in one motion. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Chuba Akpom came on for Joel Campbell and Alexis as Arsenal sealed their passage to the 4th round, where they face a trip down south to Brighton and Hove Albion, whom they beat 3-2, two seasons ago.
10. Arsenal 1-2 Manchester United, Premier League, Emirates Stadium, 22nd November 2014
(Arsenal – Giroud 95; Manchester United – Gibbs (O.G) 56, Rooney 85)
This was a strange match really, and till this day I can’t understand how an Arsenal side that dominated the entire game against Manchester United’s worst side in years, contrived to lose. When Louis van Gaal named a defense of Paddy McNair, Chris Smalling and Tyler Blackett, Arsenal fans could be forgiven for rubbing their hands in delight. Arsenal created chance after chance, which they either wasted, or shot them straight at the mercurial United keeper David de Gea. Manchester United got their first goal, completely against the run of play, and even without a shot on target, as Antonio Valencia’s shot was deflected into the goal by a wayward leg from Kieran Gibbs. Arsenal created more chances, but just couldn’t score. Wayne Rooney scored his customary goal in this fixture from a quick break. Olivier Giroud scored a fantastic goal late on, but it was too little, too late.
9. Stoke City 1-0 Arsenal, Premier League, Britannia Stadium, 1st March 2014
(Stoke – Walters 76 (pen))
Arsenal’s title challenge looked to be slowly fading away as they slipped up at Stoke. In a dull afternoon of football, barely any chances were created. The Gunners looked insipid and Stoke were happy keeping Arsenal at bay. The decisive moment came when Laurent Koscielny was harshly adjudged to have handled the ball in the penalty area as he went for a challenge with Jonathan Walters. Walters scored the ensuing penalty ensuring Arsenal’s drop to 3rd position.
8. Arsenal 0-2 Bayern Munich, Champions League Round of 16 First Leg, Emirates Stadium, 19th February 2014
(Bayern – Kroos 54, Mueller 88)
Arsenal were again undone by a red card on the European stage as they slumped to a home defeat to Bayern Munich for the second season running. Despite Arsenal’s faltering domestic form, optimism was still high ahead of the Champions League clash with mighty Bayern. The shocking news was a start handed out to rookie striker Yaya Sanogo, preferred to Olivier Giroud. Both sides started the match at a quick pace, and Arsenal forced two saves from Manuel Neuer off Sanogo and Chamberlain, who was causing Austrian left back David Alaba plenty of problems. The big chance of the match fell to Mesut Ozil on 14 minutes, when he beat Jerome Boateng in the penalty box, and his compatriot bought him down with a trailing leg. However, Ozil’s weak penalty was saved easily by Neuer. Arsenal lost their direction after the miss, as Bayern started rolling the ball around. The Gunners suffered a setback when Kieran Gibbs had to be taken off due to a hamstring injury. But, 6 minutes later disaster struck, as Szczesny was sent off for colliding with the onrushing Arjen Robben in the 37th minute. Robben made the most of it, but Bayern missed the penalty as Alaba screwed it wide. The Gunners stood no chance in the second half as Bayern drew their tanks closer. Toni Kroos scored a beauty in the 54th minute, leaving Fabianski with no chance. Arsene Wenger would have been happy with a 1-0 loss, but Laurent Koscielny went too far ahead late on in the game, allowing Mueller space to convert the second goal for the visitors.
7. Swansea City 2-1 Arsenal, Premier League, Liberty Stadium, 9th November 2014
(Swansea – Sigurdsson 75, Gomis 78; Arsenal – Sanchez 63)
Arsenal suffered a disappointing loss on a watery evening at the Liberty Stadium, days after they succumbed to a 3-3 draw against Belgian champions Anderlecht. Swansea dominated initial proceedings before Arsenal showed flashes of brilliance in the lead up to half time, but neither side could take advantage. Arsenal had the lead in the 63rd minute, Alexis with a simple finish past former Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski. Swansea equalized through a brilliant free-kick from Gylfi Sigurdsson, after Kieran Gibbs fouled debutant Modou Barrow. However, Swansea turned the match on it’s head, when Ecuadorian winger Jefferson Montero, who ran Callum Chambers ragged all afternoon, crossed in for France international striker, Bafetimbi Gomis for the winner.
6. Stoke City 3-2 Arsenal, Premier League, Britannia Stadium, 6th December 2014
(Stoke City – Crouch 1, Bojan 35, Walters, 45; Arsenal – Cazorla 68 (pen), Ramsey 70)
Arsenal’s miserable record at the Britannia Stadium continued, as they were beaten 3-2 by the Potters, in a game where they failed to show any sort of formidable threat. Arsenal’s form seemed to be improving, after they registered 3 consecutive wins over Dortmund, West Brom and Southampton, but they were undone in the very first minute, as Peter Crouch took advantage of a calamitous moment of misunderstanding between stand-in goalie Emiliano Martinez and Callum Chambers. After Olivier Giroud missed an open header, Stoke scored their 2nd goal in the 35th minute, when a Jon Walters cross allowed former Barcelona, Milan and Roma man Bojan to make it 2-0. Walters then got one of his own at the stroke of half-time, making it an unbelievable 3-0. Arsenal briefly rallied when Cazorla scored a penalty and Aaron Ramsey’s fine finish in the 70th minute, but in honesty, Arsenal deserved to lose by a bigger margin.
5. Borussia Dortmund 2-0 Arsenal, Champions League Group Stages, Westfalenstadion, 16th September 2014
(Dortmund – Immobile 45, Aubameyang 48)
Arsenal were outrun, outfought and outbattled by a side struggling for survival in the Bundesliga. Dortmund, who have suffered a terrible start to the domestic season so far, showed it didn’t matter in Europe as they heckled Arsenal to a 2-0 win. The Gunners, without Olivier Giroud, Kieran Gibbs, Nacho Monreal and Mathieu Debuchy, struggled to get anything going for them, in a match dominated by the die Schwarzgelben. Italian forward Ciro Immobile put the home side in the lead on the stroke of half-time, before Gabon international Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made it 2-0, minutes after the second half started, following a confusion between Szczesny and Koscielny.
4. Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal, Premier League, Stamford Bridge, 5th October 2014
(Chelsea – Hazard 27(pen), Diego Costa 78)
Arsene Wenger’s poor record against Jose Mourinho showed no signs of letting up, as Arsenal put up a pale performance yet again at Stamford Bridge. The only positive probably was that the Gunners didn’t get pasted 6-0 this time round, but that was little excuse for a insipid performance, devoid of any sort of creativity. Chelsea, as usual, stuck to their game plan, stifled the hell out of Arsenal, and scored two goals on counters. The highlight of the match was Wenger and Mourinho having a go at each other on the touchline after a Gary Cahill challenge on Alexis. Eden Hazard was bought down by Koscielny in the box, and the Belgian duly stepped up to make it 1-0. Fabregas, who got a mixed reception from the away fans, provided the assist for the second goal, to set up his Brazilian born compatriot, Diego Costa for a fine second goal.
Everton stepped up their pursuit of 4th place, with a thumping win over a subdued Arsenal. Steven Naismith scored the opening goal after Lukaku’s initial shot was saved and the Belgian striker made it 2-0, 20 minutes later, after he heaved his way through Arsenal’s leaky defence. The afternoon was made more miserable as former Everton midfielder Mikel Arteta scored an own goal on his return to his old stomping ground, when he was pressurized by Kevin Mirallas. This win put Everton just one point behind Arsenal, with a game in hand, and 5 games left for the Gunners to play in the season.
Arsenal were thoroughly demolished in a 20 minute blitz of super attacking football by Liverpool. Arsenal arrived at Anfield, top of the table but were made to look like a pub side suffering from a bad hangover in the opening minutes, as Liverpool carved them open again and again. With barely a minute gone on the clock, Slovenian defender Martin Skrtel put Liverpool ahead with a header from a Steven Gerrard’s corner. Arsenal had barely got the ball rolling, when Liverpool and Skrtel struck again. Steven Gerrard provided the assist again, as Skrtel’s header glided past Chamberlain on the goal line. Liverpool should have added a 3rd just seconds later, but his chipped effort went just wide. Then, a low cross from Sturridge failed to find Suarez. Then, the Uruguyan unleashed a powerful volley straight at Szczesny, who managed to save and Kolo Toure missed with the goal gaping open. Arsenal were clinging on to their lives, but on 16 minutes it was 3-0, as Sterling converted rather easily from a Suarez cross. 4 minutes later, Sturridge beautifully made it 4-0 collecting Coutinho’s pass from the deep. There was absolutely no way back for Arsenal, who barely mustered anything going forward. Defensively, well they held on till half time, and 7 minutes after half time, when Sterling scored his second and Liverpool’s 5th. Arsenal got a consolation goal back, when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was fouled in the penalty area by Steven Gerrard. Mikel Arteta scored to make it 5-1, but the scoreline was still an embarassing one.
1. Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal, Stamford Bridge, Premier League, 22nd February 2014
(Chelsea – Eto’o 5, Schurrle 7, Hazard 17 (pen), Oscar 42, 66, Salah 71)
On what was supposed to be a momentous occasion for Arsene Wenger, who reached the milestone of 1000th game in charge of Arsenal, it turned out to be one of the most shambolic displays in the Frenchman’s reign, as Arsenal were ruthlessly taken apart by Jose Mourinho’s rampaging Chelsea side. Samuel Eto’o scored with just 5 minutes on the clock with his left foot, and just 2 minutes later German international Andre Schurrle scored a similiar goal. The comical/disastrous/strange moment of the match came 10 minutes later, when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain stupidly handled the ball in the penalty area. In the melee, Andre Marriner sent Kieran Gibbs in a case of mistaken identity much to Arsenal’s fury. Eden Hazard scored the resulting penalty. All so typical Arsenal. Chelsea 3-0 up inside 17 minutes. Then came a period of brief solidity, as Brazilian Oscar scored an easy goal having been set up by Fernando Torres. Arsenal’s 10 men displayed some sort of steel in the second half, but couldn’t prevent the Blues from scoring. Oscar doubled his tally and then new signing Mohomad Salah, beat the offside trap to score an easy goal past a bewildered Szczesny. A rather disastrous display on a day that was supposed to be a memorable one.
It seems ages ago now. Me, packed with hundreds of Gooners in a tiny pub in Delhi watching a hazy streaming of the Cup Final. Abusing our defensive woes after going 1 down, sheer anguish at 2-0 and an almost chorused sigh of relief at a Gibbs clearance off the line, which otherwise would have meant entering a 10th consecutive season without a trophy. Loud cheering when Santi’s thundering free kick bolted in and pandemonium when Koscielny poked home the equalizer.
And the moment of the day arrived when we lifted the roof off the place, as Ramsey scored the winner with just minutes left to play. There was of course our typical Arsenal moment when Fabianski, well Fabianski’ed, and gave Hull an open chance to score, which they narrowly missed. Singing “We love you Arsenal, we do!”, “Jeetega Bhai Jeetega, Arsenal Jeetega! (We will win brother, We will win, Arsenal will win!)” and “We are by far the greatest team the world has ever seen!” for an hour after the trophy celebration and hugging every Gooner in vicinity. It was one heck of a night.
Fast forward 7 months, and we find ourselves in a sticky situation. 6th in the table, compared to the top spot we were holding on to at this stage last year. To make it worse, we find ourselves below Sp*rs. Just of the back of a putrid loss to Southampton, and a injury list longer than the number of first team players available to select from. Things ain’t rosy as they looked on that fine day in May. But, this is the Cup, where all equations go out of the window and it can work wonders to any side’s faltering season.
Hull City, the same side we vanquished in the final in May, come visiting to the Emirates, hoping to get some measure of revenge. It’s been a hard season for Hull too. They lie 15th in the table, and have had a bad patch of form since the start of November, losing 7, drawing 2 and winning 2. They come into this game, in slightly confident mood, having beaten Everton 2-0 at home. Hull have already visited the Emirates season, and left with a creditable 2-2 drawn, a game which they could have so easily won.
After Alexis Sanchez gave Arsenal the lead, Hull bounced back to score twice, before conceding late on to a Danny Welbeck equalizer. In all honesty, Arsenal were sluggish that afternoon, struggled to create any chances, and the equalizing goal was down to the drive of Alexis, who provided the assist for Welbeck.
Recent performances have been below par, and Arsenal overall have struggled with injuries this season. Arsenal have failed to put together 3 consecutive wins in the league. The only time they did that this season, in all competitions was beating Dortmund 2-0 at home, before 1-0 wins over West Bromwich Albion and Southampton. And, remember, this was on the back of a 3-3 capitulation at home to Belgians Anderlecht and losses to Swansea and Manchester United.
The worrying aspect of today’s team selection is that the manager will have more or less the same players to choose from the pool he took to Southampton. It doesn’t make for a very rosy picture. With Olivier Giroud suspended owing to his stupidity, Danny Welbeck a doubt with a thigh problem, Yaya Sanogo a doubt with a hamstring problem, and of course, our German cannon Lukas Podolski loaned to Internazionale, it will either be Alexis Sanchez starting up front, or Theo Walcott making his first start in nearly a year, or young Academy striker Chuba Akpom asked to play up front. Either ways, it is going to be a gamble.
Last season, Yaya Sanogo was asked to start against Liverpool and he did pretty ok, I think, his miscued effort paving the way for Chamberlain’s opener. Alexis looks exhausted at the amount of work he has had to do over the course of the season. Unlike the Spanish league, where the game is more technical and slower, and additionally, playing for Barcelona, the masters at a painstakingly slow passing game of football, he has had to adapt to the faster, more physical English league. He has done immensely well of course, scoring 15, and assisting a further 12, but the physical aspect seems to have taken a toll on the Chilean.
Wojciech Szczesny will be rested and given some time to mull over his disastrous display at the St. Mary’s, which means Columbia international keeper David Ospina, who has missed over 3 months of the season due to a niggling injury, will make only his second start. His first start was the 2-1 loss at home to Southampton, which knocked us out of the League Cup. In defense, the manager will be pleased that he will have all 6 defenders available for selection. Mertesacker has started 26 out of 30 Arsenal games this season, and looks a tired figure. I would like to see Callum Chambers and Laurent Koscielny start today, but I think it will be Mertesacker and Chambers, as Koscielny still is working his way to full fitness. Nacho Monreal also looks set for a start, if the manager decides to give injury prone Kieran Gibbs a rest.
In midfield, the freshness of Tomas Rosicky will be an issue. Francis Coquelin has done reasonably well in the centre of the park, and will start. The other players are Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla. Mesut Ozil and Mathieu Flamini are close to a return, and will undergo late fitness tests, but hoenstly, I do not see them starting, or being named on the bench.
Hull have some injury concerns of their own. Defenders Liam Rosenior, Michael Dawson and Andy Robertson are doubts, while midfielders Robert Snodgrass, Mohomad Diame and Gaston Ramirez are also out. However, they will welcome back Stephen Quinn and Tom Huddlestone. Hatem Ben Arfa is apparently close to leaving the club, and will move to Ligue 1 side Nice on loan from Newcastle United.
1. Man. City (N), 10 Aug
2. Besiktas (A), 19 Aug
3. Besiktas (H), 27 Aug
4. Aston Villa (A), 20 Sep
5. Sunderland (A), 25 Oct
6. Burnley (H), 1 Nov
7. Middlesbrough (H), 14 Feb Emiliano Martinez
1. Dortmund (H), 26 Nov
2. West Brom (A), 29 Nov
3. Southampton (H), 3 Dec David Ospina
1. Hull (H), 4 Jan
2. Stoke (H), 11 Jan
3. Man. City (A), 18 Jan
4. Aston Villa (H), 1 Feb
5. Everton (H), 1 Mar
6. West Ham (H), 14 Mar
7. AS Monaco (A), 17 Mar