- Written by Tom Varga
Arsenal started the game brightly creating several chances through their talisman Fabregas with Al Habsi pulling off a string of brilliant saves leaving arsenal fans thinking if it was going to be ‘one of those day’
Wigan, unlike a lot of the teams that play at the Emirates, tried to play their game but there was a hint of cynicism in some challenges, especially Thomas on Fabregas who was lucky not to be booked in the first half for persistent fouling.
The first goal of the game came in the 21st minute with some brilliant possession play around the Wigan area before a neat through ball put van Persie through who rifled into the net. Van Persie looks to be regaining form and if Arsenal are to push for the title this season it is vital that they have a fully fit RvP at the focal point of their attack.
Al Habsi pulled off another great save on the half hour mark after another Fabregas effort and from the resulting corner Cesc showed some wonderful silky footwork before a great challenge from the Wigan centre back denied him what would have been one of the goals of the week.
Minutes later another piece of great defending was on show when a good challenge on Robin van Persie denied him his second of the game after being laid off by Walcott, who then pounced on the rebound only to be blocked once more when he perhaps should have scored. There was a sense that if Arsenal got their second goal this half that the flood gates would open. In the 37th minute Nasri had a left footed effort as Arsenal continued to pile on the pressure.
Wilshere was an unsung hero in the first half without putting a foot wrong and his tireless work rate delighted the arsenal fans and team mates. Great for the future of England but perhaps not so good for the future of Denilson.
Former England captain David Beckham was spotted in the Emirates crowd which will undoubtedly impress Tottenham fans.
After the half time break the first 10 minutes were pretty uneventful with Wigan looking to find a way back into the game but the wind was taken out of their sails when Robin van Persie got his second of the game after a neat clip from Fabregas giving Robin the easiest of finishes. Wigan looked to respond in the 63rd minute with a Di Santo header that flew harmlessly over the bar.
Frustration began to creep in when Thomas finally got booked for a poor challenge on Sagna, one might argue that he should have been booked in the first half and he was lucky to stay on the pitch but credit to the referee for keeping 22 men on the field
The 68th minute saw an audacious effort from Fabregas as he attempted to juggle the ball past the Wigan centre backs and whilst he was falling to the ground he attempted an overhead kick, which didn’t pose a threat but highlighted the midfielder’s creativity and imagination by constructing something out of what seemed like nothing.
A minute later Caldwell brought down Fabregas, who was clean through on goal after another great pass by Song, offering Robin van Persie to get his first Arsenal hat trick. However, he uncharacteristically lost his composure and skied it over the bar. Caldwell was also sent off for a professional foul.
Van Persie looked to make amends by going close with a left footed shot from just outside the area which went inches wide.
Arshavin came on for Nasri, who once again showed his lack of form and confidence misplacing a few passes which led the Emirates crowd’s frustration be heard.
83rd minute and Song goes close with a drive from outside the box after some great play from van Persie, Fabregas and Wilshere. A minute later the nail in the coffin came for Wigan when Fabregas pinged a searching ball for the on running Walcott who showed great strength holding off the Wigan defender before van Persie lashed it in with what he would call his ‘chocolate’ leg, sealing his first hat trick for the Gunners.
With the job done Chamakh and Denilson were given cameo appearances in place of Robin van Persie and Fabregas who were at the heart of everything for arsenal today. A great performance which was worthy of Premier League champions, everyone knows arsenal are capable of these performances but the problem for Arsene has been with consistency, which if he adds to the mix will send chills down leaders Man Utd’s spines.
- Written by Shane Thomas
Arsenal walked into the fiery cauldron of Elland Road and forged themselves a resilient 3-1 victory in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup. The Gunners produced a much improved display from their recent travails against Championship opposition to send their travelling away support back to North London very happy & send sections (albeit small ones) of the home support leaving early to derisive chants of, "We can see you sneaking out!"
The nature of the support was a major part of the evening for me. It's said that you can't count yourself as a true fan of your club until you watch them on their travels. Well this was my first away game watching Arsenal and the stereotype of 'Gooners' being on the quiet side was put to rest as they happily took on the mass of Leeds fans in terms of fervour. Elland Road was a cauldron of noise, with the sound of both sets of support banging on the seats, walls and anything they could find to create a febrile atmosphere. The Arsenal fans seemed to relish their role as the underdogs in this singing contest, giving as good as they got. Chants of "You're just a small town in Tottenham" were riposted with "You're not famous any more!" When Theo Walcott warmed up to catcalls of "Cheat", Arsenal fans responded with supportive cheers of "Theo, Theo!"
As for the game, stand-in captain Samir Nasri gave Arsenal an early lead after five minutes, capitalising on good work from an improved Andrey Arshavin & Marouane Chamakh. This was crucial in establishing a foothold for Arsenal, relieving any potential pressure that Leeds would have wanted to apply in the opening exchanges.
But it helped that Simon Grayson made a tactical misstep from the start. Grayson gambled by playing Max Gradel up front alongside Billy Paynter (who played in the absence of the injured Luciano Becchio). However, this left Leeds a man light in midfield and Becchio's industry in attack was badly missed. Also, their most potent attacking threat, Robert Snodgrass was marooned on the right wing with Kieran Gibbs and Arshavin both endeavouring - with much success - in keeping the Leeds dangerman quiet.
What impressed most about Arsenal was not their slick passing and movement, but their industry in regaining possession. Every team has to earn the right to play their football (Barcelona being a perfect example) and Arsenal were willing to work at the coalface to ensure that they could bask in the splendour of the boardroom. And it looked as if Arsenal were going to bask for the rest of the match after a sustained spell of pressure brought a second goal. Bacary Sagna - who had a faultless match - rifling the ball past the impressive Kasper Schmeichel from a tight angle to seemingly end the contest.
But Leeds are nothing if not obstinate opposition, and a questionable refereeing decision reignited the tie. Arshavin looked to have been pulled back by Snodgrass. Referee Mike Dean allowed play to continue and after clearing Snodgrass's cross, the ball found its way to Bradley Johnson. Johnson has been called "micro-brain" by some Leeds fans, but there was nothing witless about his stunning long range effort which found the corner of Wojech Szcsezny's net. 2-1, and it was game on again.
Arsenal controlled the second-half but began to tire and almost conceded an equaliser to substitute David Somma. Shrewdly noticing his team's fatigue, Wenger summoned Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie from the bench, which by anyone's standards are some heavy-duty reinforcements. They provided the requisite alacrity that was fading from the starting XI, with Van Persie nodding home a sumptuous cross from the tireless Nicklas Bendtner to seal a well-earned victory.
With wins in their past two matches, Arsenal look to have got their season back on track. They have a crucial Carling Cup game against Ipswich next Tuesday, but the fact that they made such good work of defeating Leeds in such a daunting atmosphere shows that the desire for success at Arsenal burns strong, which may result in at least one trip down the road to Wembley later this season.
Szcsezny - 6, Sagna - 8, Djourou - 7, Koscielny - 7, Gibbs - 7, Denilson - 6, Song - 7, Bendtner - 6, Nasri - 7 (Clichy - 6), Chamakh - 6 (Fabregas - 7), Arshavin - 6 (Van Persie - 7)
- Written by Shane Thomas
After a trying last couple of games, Arsenal couldn't have wished for a much easier test than the one West Ham gave them last night. I hesitate to use the word 'test' as the match was tantamount to a light sparring session. West Ham were simply abysmal, their dire display probably bringing the six-month reign of manager Avram Grant to an end.
But Arsenal can only beat what's put in front of them, and for the first time in four games, they managed to do just that. A stodgy opening was broken in the 14th minute by a fine Robin Van Persie goal. That was the spark that both roused Arsenal out of their recent malaise and smothered any belief West Ham may have had of getting a result to ease their relegation worries.
With Scott Parker on the injured list and Mark Noble soon to join him early in the first-half, the Arsenal midfield were given the freedom of the Boleyn Ground to do as they wished. Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere decided that they wished to pass the ball around West Ham for fun. It was like watching a sorcerer and his precocious apprentice at work.
The star of the show however, was Van Persie. Back in 2009, Van Persie was looking like a perfect fit to lead the line in Arsenal's 4-3-3 formation. However, he then ran into the foreboding Giorgio Chiellini while playing for Holland and was out of action for almost a year. Since then, he's looked a shadow of himself, desperately chasing the form of his past self from the early part of last season. Yesterday, it looked as if he may have finally caught up with it. Not only were his two goals taken with aplomb, but his movement and link-up play were the pivot upon which Arsenal's attacks were based. If the Dutchman can stay this sharp until May, it makes Arsenal an even more potent attacking threat than they already are.
A win like this is unlikely to determine whether the Gunners end the season as champions or not. But after receiving a pair of bloody noses from Leeds & Ipswich in the past week, a win was paramount to stop their season falling off the rails.
But West Ham were so moribund, no Arsenal fan should approach Wednesday night's FA Cup replay with overconfidence. Leeds will give Arsenal a much tougher test than the Hammers did. Ignore the fact that they're in different divisions. There's a good chance they won't be in the same league next season either, although it may be the team from Yorkshire rather than East London that will be hosting Premier League football in August.
Szczesny - 6, Eboue - 6, Djourou - 5, Koscielny - 6, Clichy - 7, Song - 7, Fabregas - 8 (Denilson - 80 min), Wilshere - 7, Walcott - 6 (Gibbs - 87 min), Van Persie - 8, Nasri - 7 (Arshavin - 87min)
- Written by Arsenal Latest
Ever since they qualified for the semi-final at the end of November, the assumption has been that Arsenal would walk the Carling Cup, and collect the vital first piece of silverware for Wenger's post-Invincibles' side. Last night it appeared that that assumption had spread to the players, judging by their lethargy and slackness of passing.
Whilst Ipswich demonstrated the commitment and passion that one would expect of a side contesting a cup semi-final, Arsenal appeared to approach the tie from the start as if it were a training ground exercise. Passes were played for the sake of it, rather than to achieve any conceivable goal. Arsenal's dominance of possession was not impressive, but rather reflected their lack of drive and penetration, with players too often content to play the short pass, rather than build a coherent attack. Cesc Fabregas in particular seemed to have other things on his mind, as displayed by the moment in the second half when he attempted yet another five yard pass with the goal at his mercy. To be fair to the skipper, he did play the two best passes of the game, twice setting up Theo Walcott, who was foiled on both occasions by the excellent Martin Fulop in the Ipswich goal. Walcott was in fact Arsenal's biggest threat, being the only attacking player who showed a willingness to run at the Ipswich defence.
The same could not be said of Andrei Arshavin on the other wing, who seems less and less interested with every passing game. His inability to control the ball on a regular basis was matched by Nicklas Bendtner up front. Perhaps the time has come for Wenger to dispense with the big Dane's services? He is stalling as a player, and Arsenal are stalling with him leading the line.
The manager was correct however not to single out any individuals for their poor performance: the whole team was off the pace. Indeed, recent performances against Wigan, Leeds and now Ipswich seem to give lie to the view that Arsenal have great strength in depth. Eboue, though always a threat going forward, is no right back, Denilson no midfield general, Bendtner no target man. Keiron Gibbs' injuries have clearly hampered his progress. The driving force and pace of Nasri and Song, the two best players of the season so far, were sorely missed in midfield.
Though it is not 'back to the drawing board' after this result (Arsenal will surely come through in the second leg), perhaps this will serve as a reminder to the players and the manager of the need to, as the cliche goes, take each game as it comes. By all means take a rest in the second leg, with the tie already put to bed; don't wait instead until you're on the canvas. When Arsenal are at their best they are a joy to watch. Last night they were beyond ordinary. No one minds a player having an off-day, but when the whole team's attitude is not right, some home truths need to be retold. There will be no new silverware in the Emirates' trophy cabinet if last night's performance is repeated.
- Written by Shane Thomas
The Emirates Stadium gnashed and wailed in frustration as Arsenal were unable to find the goal to give them second place in the Premier League. Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini shook off criticism for his team's approach from Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas - which was gentle compared to the vituperate chanting from the home support - to ensure that City are yet to lose to any of their challengers for a top four finish this season.
With both David Silva and Mario Balotelli absent due to injury, and Edin Dzeko yet to make his signing from Wolfsburg official, Mancini made the conscious decision to try to keep a clean sheet and hit Arsenal on the break. He opted to position the Brazilian Jo and the industrious James Milner either side of Carlos Tevez, with the mercurial but flaky Adam Johnson left on the bench.
Arsenal kept the same XI that impressed recently against both Chelsea and Birmingham. Indeed, City's tactics were not too dissimilar to Chelsea's. But on that night, Arsenal played at a breakneck tempo and left Chelsea choking on their fumes. And it seemed to be their intention to do so again. They attacked from the off and almost took the lead three minutes in, with Robin Van Persie unable to reach Jack Wilshere's cross with the goal gaping. Joe Hart was then forced into saving from Wilshere a minute later and the tone of the match was set.
Thereafter City managed to plug most of the gaps, with strong displays from all of their back four. But Arsenal were determined to draw first blood, and with more luck they would have done so. Van Persie and Fabregas both struck Hart's right-hand post before half-time. They continued to probe at City's rearguard, but were playing far too narrow, making it easier for the team from Eastlands to put up a trojan-like wall to keep out the red-shirted hordes.