Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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The Definition of Nervy – Player Ratings for Besiktas vs. Arsenal

It was as nervy as it could have possibly been. But for the 17th straight year, Arsenal are through to the Champions League Group Stage. Arsenal won 1-0, but the story became so much more complicated when Mathieu Debuchy was sent off with a quarter of an hour to play.

I don’t know why I was never that nervous about this match going in. I probably should have been when Aaron Ramsey got his red card, when the 0-0 draw in Istanbul meant an opening goal from Besiktas would make Arsenal need two goals, and when Olivier Giroud went down with a long-term leg injury. But strangely, I was never as worried as I should have been before the match. Those worries would soon manifest themselves

The first half played out as I expected. Arsenal took command of the match from the start, but aside from a chance or two, never looked likely to score a goal. It was Besiktas that had the better chances, or at least more calls for a penalty, and a few Arsenal tackles led to some nervy seconds waiting for the referee’s whistle. But the Gunners were chipping away at the Besiktas defense, probing throughout. It was physica, and not all that pretty. But a late goal that came from almost nothing by new-boy Alexis Sanchez sent Arsenal into the break ahead.

I do think Arsenal got lucky in the first half as the Turkish side easily could have had two penalties. Mathieu Debuchy probably should have been sent off for a tackle in the box that was not deemed a foul. A goal from the spot then and the red card would have put Arsenal in a terrible position. And Jack Wilshere too was very fortunate not to give away a penalty with a challenge that was so poorly timed, he hardly reached the attacker, much less the ball. A lot of decisions go against Arsenal, but these ones certainly went in our favor.

The match could have been put to bed in the second half, as Sanchez and Mathieu Debuchy both had good chances right next to goal. As the game opened up, Jack Wilshere and Mesut Özil linked up well. There was one shaky moment when Mathieu Flamini’s failed clearance led to a Demba Ba shot that hit the side netting, but Arsenal looked a lot more likely to score.

Besiktas committed hordes of men forward, and Arsenal had two or three gilt-edged chances around the 70th minute to get the important second goal. But then came Debuchy’s second yellow card that saw Arsenal have to play the last 15 minutes with only ten men. The nerves that had evaded me became all too real then.

From an objective standpoint, I’m sure the last 15 minutes were wonderful to watch. But for a fan of one of the teams involved, it was agonizing. Tackles were flying in from left and right, yellow cards were coming at an alarming rate for both sides, and the game remained far too open for my liking whenever the referee wasn’t blowing his whistle. Demba Ba’s header that went just wide in the 89th minute nearly caused me to pull out all my hair.

But the defense held up thankfully. Everybody did their part in the end, admirably stepping up when they needed to. It was certainly nervy in the end. And Arsenal’s players put in such a heavy shift that many of them will need a rest this coming weekend. But Arsenal are through. Phew…

Player Ratings (1-10)

Alexis Sanchez – 8/10 – It was a fantastic sight to see Sanchez get on the score sheet for Arsenal. The goal wasn’t splendidly struck, but no one will care. He hadn’t been at his best before that and missed another good chance in the second half, but had put in a great shift. When he lost the ball, he usually fought until he got the ball back. He certainly looked capable of playing the central striker role today.

Santi Cazorla – 8.5/10 – Cazorla put in another hard-working shift, hounding the Besiktas midfielders and defenders when they got on the ball. Offensively, he played a few excellent long range through balls, especially when the match opened up. He lacked the final ball at times, but he was terrific in possession and made a lot of timely runs. His set pieces were also excellent today.

Mesut Özil – 7/10 – Özil drifted in and out of play, but it was he who played in Sanchez on the opening goal with a decisive pass that might have set up Wilshere as well. He read play well and looked threatening when he got on the ball. He might have been a little more decisive once the game opened up though.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 7/10 – The Ox looked lively down the right from the start, as he and Debuchy began to form an understanding that was so clearly lacking in the previous matches. His desire to run at the Besiktas defenders caused a lot of problems, and he had his head up, finding a number of teammates with clever passing. He really should have scored right before Debuchy was sent off.

Jack Wilshere – 9/10 – Wilshere put himself in a lot of good positions today, having a lively game in midfield while showing off his physicality and vision with driving runs. But he made a rash challenge in the box that probably should have been a penalty, and he didn’t take the big chance that he created early in the first half. Overall, he had a sensational match, but it could easily have been disastrous or even better. He sets an incredibly high standard with much of his play that he doesn’t always match. But this match was definitely two steps in the right direction.

Mathieu Flamini – 7/10 – Flamini had a better game today than he did this past weekend. Besiktas didn’t have a whole lot going through the middle, but Flamini held firm for the most part when called upon. He also had a key block near the penalty area early in the first half when Besiktas looked threatening. But his failed clearance in the 63rd minute gifted Ba a great chance at goal. He, like many others, stepped up at the end.

Nacho Monreal 7/10 – Monreal appeared more at ease today. Besiktas didn’t have much going down Arsenal’s left side, and when they did Monreal was usually there to cut it out. He also got around to cover Debuchy a time or two. He also sent in a great cross to the Ox which should have given Arsenal its second goal. And in the final minutes, the left back didn’t put a foot wrong.

Laurent Koscielny – 7/10 – It was odd how many times the defense had a man break the line throughout the first half. I’ve rarely seen the offside trap fail like that with Koscielny and Mertesacker in the middle. This was their first match together of the season, and it showed. Thankfully, they got it together at half time. Koscielny did well individually, especially when he needed to do everything possible at the end. He stepped up big time when Arsenal needed all hands on deck.

Per Mertesacker – 7.5/10 – Mertesacker struggled with the pace of Demba Ba whenever he got caught too far forward, but in general, he did well. As always, his reading of the game saw him cover admirably for his fellow defenders. And he made some vital clearances late on. As exciting as Calum Chambers has been, the defense becomes less erratic with the veteran German in the middle.

Mathieu Debuchy – 6/10 – Debuchy flirted with disaster in this match before finding it, picking up an early yellow that set the tone for the right back. He probably should have been sent off soon after as I talked about above. He got his red card with a quarter of an hour left, one that although fair, he probably should have done without. It left his team in a horrible position with Besiktas needing only the one goal. But aside from that, he was pretty good today. His other tackles were well timed, and offensively he got forward with a lot of vigor.

Wojciech Szczesny – 7/10 – Szczesny had next to nothing to do until the final minutes. The few times he was involved though, he claimed crosses well. But when the game changed in the final minutes, Szczesny did his part, catching one ball in traffic at an impressive height. It was a good clean sheet.

Substitutes

Calum Chambers (76th) – 7/10 – He saw a yellow card before he took the field officially, putting himself in a precarious position as yellow cards were flying. But he performed admirably in such a high intensity situation. Chambers has maturity and composure well beyond his years.


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Giroud’s Clumsy Feet – Player Ratings From the First Leg of Besiktas vs Arsenal

The Fox announcers called today’s 0-0 draw between Arsenal and Besiktas in the first leg of the Champions League qualifier a “good 0-0.”  While I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment, there were certainly chances for both sides. However, neither team had the quality today to put anything away. Once Arsenal went down a man due to Aaron Ramsey’s second yellow, the game could have turned towards the Turkish side, but the best chance instead fell to Arsenal. The teams will meet again next Wednesday at The Emirates for the second leg.

Arsenal were forced to play a different sort of game today, something that may prove beneficial down the road. The pitch presented some problems for Arsenal’s passing game, and Besiktas’s style also hindered things for Arsene Wenger’s men. Instead of knocking the ball around the midfield, with runs coming from the fullbacks, Arsenal played a more direct style. There was a lot more one-on-one attacking and long balls over the top. It didn’t always work out, but it was nice to see that Arsenal could create chances even without the majority of the possession.

The chances that Arsenal did create however, were not taken with any sort of vigor, and Arsenal wasted quite a few opportunities. Oliver Giroud in particular struggled to sort out his feet, wasting a number of great moves started by Alexis Sanchez. The best chance came very late on when a Besiktas miss-kick set up Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The substitute struck the ball well, but Besiktas keeper Tolga Zengin made an incredible save to push the ball onto the post.

On the other side, Demba Ba presented a lot of challenges for the Arsenal defense, and he nearly found the net in spectacular fashion on the first kick of the game. For the most part though, the defense was there to handle any pressure, with Calum Chambers particularly impressing when he was behind the ball. The problems came when Chambers had to run backwards, as his error led to a chance Ba should have put away late in the first half.

Playing just three days after Saturday’s Premier League Opener, there was clearly a high degree of fatigue in the Arsenal side. Many of the players are still lacking fitness due to the short preseason, so this game was always going to present a challenge. That this match came on a Tuesday instead of a Wednesday will be beneficial for Saturday’s game against Everton, as players will have a little more time to recover.

Arsenal didn’t necessarily need a win to take back to London ahead of the second leg next week, but the pressure will be higher at The Emirates knowing Besiktas only need one goal to hold the away goal advantage. However, Arsenal should be confident knowing the pitch will be more suited to their style of play. Besiktas are also considerably better at home than on the road, and have struggled mightily in England in the past, so Arsenal fans should not be too afraid about qualification even with the sides level after the first leg.

The late Aaron Ramsey red card does complicate things though. In this match, it meant Arsenal were forced to abandon their pursuit of a winner. However, a mistake from Besiktas nearly gifted the Gunners one anyway. But it also complicates things in the second leg, as Ramsey will miss through suspension. I would imagine Mesut Özil won’t be ready by next Wednesday, so it could be Tomas Rosicky stepping in to fill the creative role.

Overall, it was a pretty drab affair. The result shouldn’t scare anyone, but this match certainly doesn’t guarantee qualification for the group stage by any means. Arsenal are still behind on the fitness, and could use a boost from the Germans when they become match-fit.

Player Ratings (1-10)

Olivier Giroud – 5/10 – Giroud was well off the mark today, as his clumsiness on the ball cost Arsenal all match. Had he been able to sort out his feet, the Gunners would have been in on goal a few times. He needed to be a lot stronger when holding up play too. Having said all that though, he did find himself in a few good positions, so that’s one positive I guess. He clearly needed a longer preseason.

Santi Cazorla – 6.5/10 – Cazorla struggled a bit in the early going, but picked up his play as the match wore on. He was all over the place defensively, helping out Arteta and Flamini time after time. His work rate made up today helped make up for his poor play over the weekend. He could have done better with a late free-kick, but he nearly worked the bumpy pitch to his advantage with his bouncing effort.

Aaron Ramsey – 6/10 – Ramsey’s late dismissal for a second yellow was silly, if not a tad unlucky. It typified his day in many ways though. He created a couple of chances going forward, notably a gorgeous chip over the top for Giroud, but overall, he wasn’t as effective as he normally is. And when he found himself in a shooting position, he was slow with the trigger, and never got anything off. He will rue missing the second leg due to suspension. It was a day to forget for Ramsey.

Alexis Sanchez – 7/10 – The end product may still be lacking from the new signing, but Sanchez had a great game by all other standards. Down the right, he was Arsenal’s best option going forward, blowing by defenders with sheer pace. But what impressed me today was his defensive work. He seemed quite willing to track back when it was needed, and he cleverly nicked the ball off Besiktas players a couple of times. Had Giroud been better, Sanchez might have had a couple of assists. He faded late, and was withdrawn with twenty minutes to go.

Jack Wilshere – 6.5/10 – Wilshere didn’t have his best game in possession, giving the ball away a few times, but his work on the ball should quiet many of his critics for the time being. He was great when he picked up his head and drove forward into the final third. Able to get by defenders with bits of skill, Wilshere got himself into terrific positions, and nearly found the net with a curling effort on one occasion. Defensively, he was lucky to get away with a sliding challenge in the first half.

Mikel Arteta – 5.5/10 – Leaving with an injury early in the second half, Arteta didn’t have a spectacular game. He was solid in possession, but Besiktas caught him out of position a number of times, easily passing around him on occasion. He needed extra cover from Santi Cazorla behind him far too many times.

Nacho Monreal – 5.5/10 – Monreal was beaten a few too many times tonight. He shouldn’t be getting nutmegged from ten yards away, and it almost resulted in a Besiktas goal. He barely got forward, and didn’t make much of an impact offensively. He did earn a free kick late on in a great spot though.

Laurent Koscielny – 7/10 – Koscielny overcame injury to make the starting XI, and quietly went about his business. Most of the attacking came down the opposite side, so there wasn’t a whole lot for the Frenchman to do, but he dealt with any problems that came his way. At this pint in his career, Koscielny is as solid as they come.

Calum Chambers – 7.5/10 – Chambers is spectacular at cutting out any danger in the back, quickly making him a favorite of mine. He was everywhere, confidently heading everything away and strongly tackling any attackers that came near him. He seemed up for physicality with Ba as well. But where he struggled was when he was caught out and had to turn his back. His mistake late in the first half let Ba in on goal, and he was lucky to get away with it.

Mathieu Debuchy – 6/10 – Debuchy hardly got forward at all today, something Wenger will surely be out to change in the second leg. His defending was pretty solid, but once or twice he was out of position, letting his man find space behind him. For Debuchy to make a bigger impact, he needs to be involved in the attacking half, which he wasn’t today.

Wojciech Szczesny – 8/10 – Every time Arsenal plays on Fox, analyst Eric Wynalda is quick to remind everyone that he thinks Szczesny isn’t good enough. I disagree. While his save in the opening seconds on Ba’s long-range effort was unorthodox, it got the job done on a spectacular shot. The Pole made more than a few confident saves today, and handled anything that went his diction. He was lucky Besiktas missed the net on their best chances, but overall Szczesny deserved the clean sheet.

Substitutes

Mathieu Flamini (50th) – 6.5/10 – Flamini’s introduction helped Arsenal settle into the second half when the game was getting away from them. His physicality and hard tackling halted a few attacks, and he helped keep Arsenal composed and disciplined defensively once Ramsey was sent off. With Arteta leaving with some sort of injury, albeit one that looks nothing too serious, Flamini might have earned himself a start against Everton this weekend. However, he will need to be better about not picking up unnecessary yellow cards. His one today soon after he got on the pitch put him and his team in a needlessly bad position for the rest of the game.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (73rd) – 6/10 – Aside from his shot on target late on that should have won the game for Arsenal were it not for a spectacular save, the Ox was pretty quiet. He’ll want a start soon.

Tomas Rosicky (90th) – N/A – Rosicky’s late cameo was nothing more than a time wasting exercise. Expect the veteran midfielder to see more of the field in the next couple of matches.

What did you think about the match? Please comment below.


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Arsenal-Crystal Palace Reaction & Preview and Prediction for the Besiktas Match

After a little more than a week away, it’s good to be back home. While my family trip out to some of California’s beautiful National Parks was certainly not relaxing by any means, it was a needed break away from the world at large before I head back to school in a few days. Out in nature, away from cell phone service and Wifi for much of each day, I was able to refresh my mind a little bit. And that’s always valuable.

However, it killed me not to be able to watch any of this weekend’s season opening EPL action. I followed matches through texts from one of my friends that would come up when we randomly hiked through a spot with service – I got to watch Aaron Ramsey’s winner on a video of my friend’s tv, hardly the ideal scenario. But my excitement level all weekend remained sky high though regardless. For from now until May, we’re in for another wild ride.

I’ve only now watched some brief highlights from the action across the league, so I can’t really offer anything in the way of commentary about this set of matches. But from here on out, expect thorough post match coverage of all Arsenal games and further analysis of other EPL story lines.

From what I could tell, Arsenal weren’t very good against a manager-less Crystal Palace. But in the end, getting three points is all that matters right now. This was a type of game that teams of years past wouldn’t have won – think about all the times Arsenal couldn’t find a late winner last year. So maybe this performance was what was needed. It tells everyone from the fans to the planers and manager that this team is far from ready. But it also gives the team some confidence that things can go their way in the end.

I have read a lot about how poorly Jack Wilshere played on Saturday. Going off of those articles alone, I would think his career would be over and he’d never start another game. But we all should know better. However bad he and Santi Cazorla were, it was only the first game of the season. Remember how disastrous that was last year for all involved? Never judge a player or a team by the first game. Wilshere’s Arsenal career is not over. And I fully expect him to pick up his play in the coming weeks.

The one concern I do have though comes from the injuries on the back line. With Kieran Gibbs out two to three weeks now, Nacho Monreal can’t be the emergency center back Arsene Wenger wants him to be, as Monreal will need to be starting on the left. And with Laurent Koscielny hurting too, Arsenal could be facing a crisis at center back in the next week. Hopefully a new arrival is on his way, but the lack of depth in the back scares me right now.

This afternoon, Arsenal travels to Turkey to face Besiktas in the first of the two-leg Champions League qualifier. Everybody likes to freak out about these ties, as it seems like every year Arsenal are supposedly drawn with the worst team possible. Wenger talks about how important qualification is, and the script stays the same. But the reality is that Arsenal should have little trouble with Besiktas. I’m not saying it will be easy, but there is a huge difference in quality levels between the teams.

I expect Wenger to make a couple changes today, given the injuries and the short rest. I do think Koscielny will end up starting out of necessity, but it’s a gamble I wouldn’t want to take. Were it up to me, I’d start Mathieu Flamini at left back and move Monreal to the middle. Olivier Giroud should start up front in place of the injuries Yaya Sanogo, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tomas Rosicky take the place of Santi Cazorla or even Alexis Sanchez, who still lacks some fitness. And Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should make the starting XI as well.

Tactically, I want to see Arsenal push forward today, trying to find an offensive rhythm before Saturday’s match with Everton. They might be on the road in a Champions League tie, but Besiktas doesn’t possess enough talent in the midfield to control the game themselves. Arsenal are weakened in the back right now, but will be most exposed if they sit deeper and play for a draw. Demba Ba hasn’t had time to acclimate with his new team yet, so while he is a big name, he won’t be at his best quite yet for Besiktas.

My prediction for the match is Arsenal 2 Besiktas 0. I think the Gunners will look a lot better today than they did at The Emirates on Saturday, putting some things together in the final third. By the end of the match, fatigue will set in hugely. But there shouldn’t be too much trouble in Turkey.

I might not be able to get the player ratings and post game reaction up until tomorrow morning, but I’ll do my best. It’s good to have soccer back.