Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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She Wore a Yellow Ribbon Indeed – Analysis & Player Ratings from Arsenal’s FA Cup Final Rout

Days like this one are rare for an Arsenal fan. From the opening whistle to the final one, there was absolutely no doubt or fear among the players. They knocked the ball around the pitch with complete confidence and had smiles on their faces as they raced towards the corner flag with each successive goal. And as a fan, it made for the most enjoyable 90 minutes I’ve experienced in recent years. Another year. Another trophy.

4-0 was a completely deserved scoreline for Arsenal. Not a player on the team played a poor match. It took some time to find the opening goal through Theo Walcott, but Aston Villa never looked like they were a threat. And once Alexis Sanchez sealed the deal with an absolute firecracker early in the second half, it was a full-on party. Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud added to the tally, but this game was about the whole rather than the parts.

The passing through the midfield was slick. The flicks were seamless and easy, and nearly every cross-field pass found its mark. I’m not sure Arsenal played a more complete game all year. Arsene Wenger gambled with selections of Theo Walcott and Wojciech Szczesny, but both contributed mightily to the win.

I struggle to name a man of the match because there were so many players on top of their game. Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Özil, Santi Cazorla, Laurent Koscielny, even Wojciech Szczensy all deserve it, and I easily could have added more names to that list. But more importantly, they all leave with winner’s medals and a giant trophy that can now call the Emirates home.

There could not be a better way to go into the summer than coming off of a high like this. For never has this group of players showed so much potential. Money can be spent this summer to complete the team, but it doesn’t have to make it. This is a special group of players and the talent is palpable in the final third. This is a team that not only can challenge in England but also has the potential to make a run in Europe. It will take many months of performances like this one. But with a few top-class signings, this team can turn heads next year.

For many of these players, it’s been more than a year since they’ve had a proper rest with national team obligations. So apart from Sanchez, who has to participate in the Copa America, everyone should be back in July ready to go. There won’t be any World Cup hangover that derails a season before it starts. And more importantly, players like Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere can work on getting healthy.

So as this season comes to a close, be thankful for yet another triumphant end to what was a frustrating season at times. Be thankful that this group of players has finally become healthy. Be thankful for Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil. And be ready for a fun 2015-2016 season. A trophy sure help morale.

Player Ratings (1-10)

Theo Walcott – 7.5/10 – Walcott justified Wenger’s selection with a magnificently struck goal late in the first half. He’d been in and out of play, but had already been a part of a couple of chances at that point. Anybody watching his celebration could see this is a man who wants to stay. He might have added a second with a series of chances once the game was decided, but on the whole, it was a performance that showed just how bright a future he still has.

Alexis Sanchez – 9/10 – Sanchez’s goal was a thing of absolute beauty, the strike dancing from left to right as it cut through the air. He worked ever so hard with what little energy he has left in the tank. And in addition to his goal, he played a crucial part in the opener, winning the header over Richardson which he sent across goal towards Walcott.

Mesut Özil – 8.5/10 – Özil silenced those who say he hasn’t shown up to the big games with a wonderful performance. All his movements were graceful, and he was involved in setting up chance after chance. Sure, he may drift or float or whatever you want to call it, but almost every pass puts his teammates in a better position. Surely all doubts about Arsenal’s record signing will be forever gone.

Aaron Ramsey – 7/10 – Ramsey played a typical Ramsey game. Combative in the midfield with a lot of late runs into the box, he seemed to be everywhere. He didn’t provide much cover for Bellerin on the right, but thankfully, that was hardly needed.

Santi Cazorla – 9/10 – Cazorla hit some brilliant cross-field balls and showed off his touch with some slick passing in tight spaces. He was orchestrating nearly everything. Cazorla has found a home further back on the pitch in a more Pirlo-like role this year and has adapted his game beautifully. And his set-pieces were top-class today.

Francis Coquelin – 8.5/10 – Not normally lauded for his passing, Coquelin played a great ball to Walcott that set up the opening goal. It was fitting that he was the player who received Walcott’s biggest hug after the goal. For Coquelin changed this team for the better in December. His bite in midfield was fully on display once again, although he was lucky not to have given away a late free kick to Agbonlahor.

Nacho Monreal – 7/10 – Assured in the back, Monreal had another high-quality game typical of his season. On the ball, he had energy, driving up the pitch and bombing down the left, and it was his cross that found Sanchez at the back post in the lead up to the first goal.

Laurent Koscielny – 8.5/10 – Koscielny was at his best today, cleaning everything up that came his way with interceptions and vital off-balance clearances. And he was winning headers on both sides of the pitch too.

Per Mertesacker – 7.5/10 – After what felt like a year of unsuccessful corners, Mertesacker finally knocked one in for Arsenal’s third, dropping off of Benteke to head home. Defensively, he wasn’t as involved as Koscielny was, but he too was composed and quick to the ball when needed.

Hector Bellerin – 7/10 – Bellerin was relatively quiet, but had a solid all-around game. Left isolated against Grealish, he was never really beaten. It was an incredibly calm display from the young Spaniard in his first Wembley start.

Wojciech Szczesny – 8/10 – Commanding and confident. Those are the only two words needed to describe Szczesny’s performance. The latter adjective is often cited as a negative for the goalkeeper, but today his confidence helped him control the game. He was quick to punch, and one particular soaring hit above Benteke was particularly un-Ospina-like. He may have whiffed on one or two, but on the whole he was excellent.

Substitutes

Olivier Giroud (77th) – 7.5/10 – Desperately unlucky not to start (although it was the decision I wanted) Giroud got a redeeming late goal with another clever flick at the near post. I wonder if he stays at the club should another striker be brought in.

Jack Wilshere (77th) – 7/10 – He made a couple of impressive, determined runs through the midfield, and will think himself unlucky not to have started. A summer of rest is on the cards so he can be fit and firing come next season.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (90th) – 7.5/10 – He didn’t see much of the ball, but got himself an assist in only three minutes of action. He will be glad to have gotten a late run-out.


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Bang. Bang. Bang. Arsenal’s Back – Player Ratings & Analysis from Aston Villa-Arsenal

Last night, I had an odd, but startling dream. I was at an Arsenal game – against AC Milan I believe, although there were no indications of the side having any real connection to the current club other than the name itself. It was a beautiful day, and the teamsheet looked perfect. Then the game started and Arsenal went down 4-0 within eight minutes. I found myself downright angry, yelling at Arsene Wenger to play Tomas Rosicky. My roommate, who was at the game with me for some reason I don’t know, considering he isn’t a soccer fan, said “We don’t have to stay, you know.” I told him we needed to stay.

This dream represented all of my current Arsenal fears. Things have seemed to go wrong when they shouldn’t, and quickly. And then the doubts come flying in. We criticize, saying the current players we have aren’t good enough. We abandon our undying support for our team. But I stayed, because we must trust that these guys will figure it out and succeed. So when the match with Aston Villa kicked off forty minutes after I had woken up from this dream, it was very much on my mind.

When eight minutes went by, and Arsenal weren’t four behind, I breathed a little easier. But things weren’t quite so easy in the first half. Villa were pressing high up the pitch, wreaking havoc on Arsenal’s passing game. Aaron Ramsey was giving away possession all over the place and long balls were flying out of bounds. Villa might have gone ahead from a Tom Cleverley set piece where it not for Wojciech Szczesny’s huge save of Kieran Clark’s header at the back post.

Right when it seemed Arsenal were getting frustrated, everything clicked. Bang. Bang. Bang. Three minutes. Three goals. And Arsenal had found their mojo.

The first goal came from a brilliantly worked counter. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain fed Danny Welbeck whose first touch pass sent Mesut Özil in on goal. With all the doubters and haters out there, it would have been easy for Özil to have flubbed it. People say he has no fight in him, no character. But he calmly looked up, saw where Brad Guzan was, and slotted the ball past him into the back of the net. It was as simple as that. Özil was back.

Not a minute and a half later, Ramsey fed Özil on the left, who sent in a terrific curling ball in front of a Villa defender, right onto the right foot of Danny Welbeck. Welbeck took it with confidence, blasting it past the American keeper for his first Arsenal goal. In 79 seconds, Özil and Welbeck made a dramatic statement. They are a force to be reckoned with.

The third arrived shortly after, with Villa pressed on to their back foot. Kieran Gibbs got onto a loose ball and scuffed a low shot well wide of the back post. Heading in the direction of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Villa defender Aly Cissokho stuck his leg out and poked it into the corner. I hate own goals. I feel terrible for everyone involved. I may not have celebrated, but I smiled on the inside. Arsenal were back.

The second half was typical Arsenal. The Gunners had pretty much all of the possession, but never looked too likely to score. However, it was easy on the eyes. Suddenly infused with confidence, everybody was making runs and enjoying themselves. As the NBC commentators said, Wenger could have taken Szczesny off the field and it would not have mattered.

It all amounted to a convincing win, one that should do a lot to restore belief in the side. With a Capital One Cup tie in the midweek, a rare chance for Arsenal’s youngsters, everyone should be well rested for the North London Derby next weekend. Spurs better watch out.

Player Ratings (1-10)

Danny Welbeck – 8.5/10 – Welbeck’s movement today was superb. He was all over the field, popping up in the right places and varying his runs. He played a perfect ball in to Özil for the first goal, minutes after nearly finding him on a similar run. And 79 seconds after the goal, Welbeck clinically fired in his first Arsenal goal. All in all it was a good day for the new signing.

Santi Cazorla – 7/10 – Out of all the forward players, Cazorla was the quietest, but he did not have a bad game. He was buzzing all over the midfield, dropping deep to help bring Arsenal up the field. He always works hard, and it was evident today. I think the side is much more balanced with Cazorla in it.

Mesut Özil – 9/10 – Özil put everything behind him today, putting in a sensational performance that reaffirmed how great a player he is. Restored to the center of the field, he was lively from the start, making clever runs and picking out good passes in the final third. And then he was in on goal, with all the pressure in the world on his left foot, and he calmly scored his goal. A minute later, he provided a beautiful assist. And the rest of the match, we saw the Özil we love. He was confident on the ball, making little flicks and picking out perfect balls. But the most notable thing about this performance was that he was smiling and enjoying himself. Our boy is back.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 7.5/10 – Getting a last minute start in place of Alexis Sanchez, the Ox put in a good shift. He worked hard on both ends of the pitch, and generally looked lively. He was involved in the first goal, and he always was dangerous when he made surging runs. He also made a terrific block in the second half. He offered a strong case for another start.

Aaron Ramsey – 5/10 – Ramsey was poor, giving away the ball far too often. Although he was in a deeper position, he was still getting forward, often leaving Arteta isolated on the counter. He played a part in Arsenal’s second goal, but for the most part, he was out of ideas in the final third. And when he did get in a good position, his touch let him down. The skewed pass that went out for a Villa corner – one of the worst I’ve ever seen – typified Ramsey’s day. Get him a rest.

Mikel Arteta – 6.5/10 – Arteta played his part today, appropriately dealing with Aston Villa’s counter attacks in the early going, then calmly playing the possession game the rest of the way. Although he was left isolated a little in the first half, he did his job.

Kieran Gibbs – 7.5/10 – I’ve been hard on Gibbs this season, but today he was much better. He got forward confidently, and played a couple of nice balls. The own goal came from a Gibbs shot/cross, so he can be happy with that. This was a performance that should help him remain above Nacho Monreal on the depth chart.

Laurent Koscielny – 8.5/10 – Koscielny had a fantastic first half. He was everywhere in defense, dealing with anything that came his way. One particularly well-timed clearance he made was vital. And he also was involved in possession, making a couple of passes that sent Arsenal forward. Koscielny can be satisfied with Arsenal’s first clean sheet of the season.

Per Mertesacker – 7.5/10 – Mertesacker didn’t have much to do today. In the early going, when Villa were pressing high up the field, his passing had to be spot on, and it was. Mertesacker also did his part in the air, and helped keep the clean sheet.

Calum Chambers – 7/10 – Chambers is certainly more of a center back than a right back. Today, he didn’t seem to want to get forward in the first half, afraid of having to defend on his back foot. He picked up an early yellow, and probably should have been sent off around the hour mark for another silly offense. That being said, his defending behind the ball was as strong as ever.

Wojciech Szczesny – 8.5/10 – It would be wrong to look at the scoreline and think Szczesny had an easy game. The Pole made two vital saves in the first half when the scoreline was still 0-0, the second of which was particularly impressive. He should be proud of this clean sheet.

Substitutes

Tomas Rosicky (78th) – N/A – The dream version of me will be happy that Rosicky saw the field for the first time Premier League campaign, but I’m sure he’d have liked more time on the field. He looked lively on the ball.

Lukas Podolski (78th) – N/A – Other than the fact that Podolski came on as a central striker, there was nothing remarkable about this late substitute appearance from the German.

Jack Wilshere (78th) – N/A – Probably disappointed not to start, Wilshere made a late cameo when the match was long decided. He still managed to pick up a yellow somehow.

 


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Fixing Arsenal’s Problems

The word crisis is overused with Arsenal. Media members love to brand any struggles as a crisis. Arsenal certainly are struggling right now, and the loss against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday highlighted how far this team is from their best, but this is not a full-blown crisis. Despite winning only one of their last six games, Arsene Wenger’s men are by no means out of the title race in the Premier League, and they should still be able to qualify for the knockout round of the Champions League fairly comfortably.

But there needs to be change around the club for the Gunners to start winning games. I don’t mean change in the sense of player comings and goings. I think we all decided Arsene Wenger had a successful transfer window. Alexis Sanchez and Calum Chambers have been two of Arsenal’s best players in the early going. Were it not for an unlucky injury, Mathieu Debuchy would be doing pretty well too. And while the book is still out on Danny Welbeck and David Ospina, I don’t have many doubts that they will be successful. Yes, Arsenal is a significantly short in numbers at the back right now, but that isn’t the problem.

The main problem is a lack of cohesion between the players in the side right now, especially in midfield. Between Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil, Jack Wilshere and Sanchez, there should be plenty of creativity in attack. But things are static. Players are getting in each other’s way, taking the positions the others would like to occupy. As a result, they’ve all lacked confidence. That leads to static play, as the playmakers have gone into their shells. Here or there, they’ve displayed some individual brilliance, but they haven’t put much of anything together consistently as a team.

Arsene Wenger’s solution to that problem has been to wait it out. Players of that calibre should be able to figure out how to play with one another sooner or later right? That is where he is wrong. For them to succeed, they need to believe in their abilities to break a team down. And for that to happen, things need to go right. It’s all a big circle of doubt. My solution is to rotate the squad while giving the players a chance to regain their confidence by playing their familiar roles. Go back to the 4-2-3-1 that Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil flourished in last fall. Let them play where they are comfortable.

More than anything else, Arsenal needs Ramsey and Özil to regain their mojo. Personally, I think all of the criticism of Özil is overblown and off the mark. But it’s impossible to deny that he is experiencing a serious existential crisis on the field. For his sake, he needs to play the number 10 role. He needs to be cheered by the Emirates crowd. And he needs to see his passes converted into goals. That isn’t going to happen when he’s wasting away on the wing.

For me, Ramsey’s form has been the most disappointing part of the season. I’m not a fan of him being pushed as far forward as he has been this year. He is at his best when he is tackling in midfield, picking up possession deep, and driving towards the box. He may have scored a couple of goals in August, but his overall game hasn’t been as valuable to the team. People forget that he was with the league leaders in tackles before he got injured a year ago. He can still come up and score goals from timely runs, but much of his game is wasted in the role he is currently occupying.

It might seem harsh to sit Jack Wilshere on Saturday, but I think that’s necessary to getting Özil and Ramsey back to their best, which will only happen if they return to their best positions. Plus, resting his ankle can’t hurt. In Wilshere’s place, I’d like to see Santi Cazorla come back into the team. He was one of Arsenal’s best players in the early going, and didn’t deserve to be dropped. He and Tomas Rosicky are incredibly hard working in midfield, and were vital to the Gunners’ late season success a year ago. They are the engine of the team. One of them is needed to get things going.

I also think that Lukas Podolski or Joel Campbell should get an extended look-in. Arsenal have thus far lacked ruthlessness in front of goal. Podolski and Campbell both could instantly provide that, as both are players always looking to shoot. Campbell’s desire to drop deeper to link up play would help balance play I feel, as he wouldn’t be looking to make the same runs as everyone else. There simply isn’t room for both of these players in the squad, but I think their skill-sets could be a nice counter to what Arsenal has been offering in the final third. When Sanchez is up top, I want to see Podolski on the left. And when a more traditional center forward is deployed, that’s when Campbell should get his chance.

Wenger needs to remember that he has a squad full of internationals at his disposal. When things aren’t clicking, he can’t be afraid to give others a chance. Players like Rosicky, Campbell, Podolski, Abou Diaby and Serge Gnabry could all provide something the team is lacking. Wenger can’t be afraid to let them see the field. Diaby particularly is an interesting case.

Perhaps unconventionally, I’d also like to experiment with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the holding midfielder role at some point soon. He has played there once before – in the season finale against Newcastle two years back – and looked quite comfortable. He needs to get into the squad, and I wonder if his pace and physicality wouldn’t suit that role. He would offer less defensive presence than Mikel Arteta, but he might do a better job of covering on counter attacks, and he has the ability to adapt. People often suggest that Wilshere should be converted to a holding midfielder, but I think the Ox would be a better choice for the role. It’s probably best to wait to try him out there in a home match though.

And defensively, it is a simple matter of players needing to be better. Kieran Gibbs should be improving at this stage in his career, and instead he seems to be leveling off – I might even start Nacho Monreal over him right now. Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have not been a strong pairing thus far either. I do like Hector Bellerin though. I think he’s going to be really good in a few years. His desire to get forward and the insane skill he has with the ball at his feet will help create chances. He certainly doesn’t lack confidence. I’d like to see him get a chance to start at The Emirates, because he’d be an absolute terror bombing down the right.

As far as this weekend, Arsenal have not caught Aston Villa at a good time, as the Midlands side are in spectacular form to begin the season. It may sound simple, but Arsenal need to take their chances should they want to win. The lineup I’d like to see take the field on Saturday is as follows: Sanchez, Podolski, Özil, Cazorla, Ramsey, Arteta, Gibbs, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Chambers, Szczesny. Rosicky, Welbeck, and Oxlade-Chamberlain all need to be ready to play big roles too. If there are offensive woes in the first half, Wenger must be bold with his substitutions.

Should Arsenal lose on Saturday, we might be nearing crisis mode. But fear not. The talent is there. I’m confident Wenger’s men will be firing in no time.