Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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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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Brilliant in Stretches, But Asleep In Others – Player Ratings & Analysis From Arsenal vs. Manchester City

When Manchester City began to take control of the possession early in the second half up a goal, it wasn’t looking good for Arsenal. But our boys fought brilliantly to get back into the match, and scored two sensational goals. However, a goal from City tied it late, and they nearly won it three times in the final minutes. It all amounted to a 2-2 draw, but it was a thoroughly entertaining and engrossing match.

After not creating many chances for much of the game, Jack Wilshere and Alexis Sanchez stepped up their already strong play and created two fantastic goals when Arsenal desperately needed it. Wilshere’s goal came arguably against the run of play, as he cleverly chipped Joe Hart. Then he headed toward Sanchez for the second. Sanchez volleyed it brilliantly past Hart. Suddenly Arsenal were ahead against the champions deep in the second half.

City then equalized on a Martin Demichelis header from a corner. It was agonizingly simple for the Argentine, who found some space in front of the zonal marking system. Arsenal worked so hard to get in front, so this was a demoralizing goal to let in. The Gunners must be stronger defensively, as silly goals like that one will cost a lot of points over the course of a season. That City had three more chances to win the game – hitting each post and having a goal disallowed for offside – was hardly a surprise. After all that, you might want to check the hearts of all Arsenal matches. That was scary.

Arsenal were brilliant for much of the first half. Everyone looked lively. Alexis Sanchez was showing off his skill, and they were picking out each other’s runs. The only thing lacking was the definitive final ball. Danny Welbeck was getting himself in great positions, and aptly run onto a loose back pass. It looked for all the world that the new arrival had chipped Arsenal into the lead, but alas, the ball rebounded off the post. Painfully unlucky.

The goal from Sergio Agüero on the counter attack was inevitable. Arsenal were committing too many men forward, and City had to make one pass to get in 70 yards of space. Jesus Navas and Agüero will pick apart a poorly organized defense on the counter any day of the week. Flamini needed to do better with his tackle, and where was Nacho Monreal? Arsenal can’t be giving up goals on the counter at home if they want to be challenging for the title.

There are two major difference between Manchester City and Arsenal right now. The first is the defensive midfield position. When Arsenal commit men forward, Mathieu Flamini can’t control counter attacks. And suddenly City are in on goal. Fernandinho is always there for City, never afraid to tackle or give a foul. He covers the entire field, where Flamini simply can’t.

The other major difference is the ruthlessness to the attack. Arsenal were terrific going forward in the first half, but they weren’t creating many real chances. But when City attacked, they were getting shots off, and finding space in the box. Some of that is down to poor defensive marking from the Gunners, but it also highlights that City play a more direct style in the final third. Sometimes, Arsenal could do with a shot on goal.

I hate when people say Arsenal are guilty of trying to score the perfect goal. The problem isn’t that. Rather, it’s simply a hesitation to pull the trigger. They have been trained by Arsene Wenger to be unselfish, and to look to pass first. That manifests itself in hesitancy around goal. Even Alexis Sanchez was guilty of this early in the second half. Hopefully this is something that will change this year.

I guess Arsenal will be happy with the draw, but it could have been a big win. The final minutes showed how disorganized Arsenal’s defense is right now, and that needs to be rectified. But there were long periods of time today when Arsenal were brilliant.

Player Ratings (1-10)

Danny Welbeck – 7/10 – Welbeck came extraordinarily close to scoring the dream debut goal, but overall, he did very well in his first Arsenal appearance. His work rate stood out today, and he was all over the place in the final third, mixing things up well. He looks to be an immediate fit.

Alexis Sanchez – 8.5/10 – Sanchez was by far the best Arsenal player today, and he scored a magnificent goal on the volley to put Arsenal in the lead. He was incredibly lively on the ball, and made a lot of fantastic funs. His combination of skill and power on the ball was really impressive today. He also is willing to track back, which I appreciate. My only criticism is that his set pieces weren’t very good. But on the whole, Sanchez was superb.

Aaron Ramsey – 7/10 – Ramsey was a little quiet again, but he made the layoff to Jack Wilshere for the tying goal. He had his moments, and picked out a couple of passes in the final third, but he isn’t making those same driving runs into the box that he was making last year. I would like to see Ramsey moved deeper, restoring him to the role he player a year ago. As a number 10, I’m not sold.

Mesut Özil – 6/10 – The commentators harped on Özil’s poor play today, but I actually thought he was involved in a lot of Arsenal’s best moves. He wasn’t particularly good today by any means, but everybody needs to get off the “let’s pick on Özil” train. He definitely looked shy on the ball in the second half, but I thought much of the criticism today was overblown. Needless to say, he needs a goal to quiet the mobs.

Jack Wilshere – 8.5/10 – Wilshere scored a stunning goal to tie the game, brilliantly chipping Joe Hart after a couple of pristine touches next to goal. It was a goal worthy of the occasion. And his header towards Sanchez for the assist was timely. It was telling that Wilshere was involved on both goals, as he was particularly lively in the second half. His tackling was good as well.

Mathieu Flamini – 5.5/10 – Flamini was caught on his front foot too many times today. He needed to stay back to halt all counters and he didn’t do that. He might have been unlucky that his tackle deflected to Jesus Navas for the first goal, but the simple fact is that Flamini didn’t do his job. He did very little to halt City’s attack all day.

Nacho Monreal – 7/10 – Monreal was nowhere to be seen on the City goal, but for the majority of the match, he was solid on the left. He was stronger in the air than he normally is, and bombed down the left on a few occasions. I was impressed by Monreal today.

Laurent Koscielny – 6.5/10 – Koscielny had an up and down day, making a couple of key tackles and clearances up the field, but also falling asleep once or twice. He and Mertesacker haven’t looked as strong a pairing this year, and that is a bit worrying.

Per Mertesacker – 5.5/10 – Mertesacker’s lack of pace was evident today, as City badly exposed him. He lost his men in the box, and wasn’t able to stay with the pacey forwards. He had no chance with Edin Dzeko in stoppage time, and was fortunate a few more times too. He needs to be better.

Mathieu Debuchy – 6.5/10 – Debuchy was good on the right today. He didn’t get forward too often, but he did his job defensively. I liked seeing the fight he showed when he tackled James Milner after Milner had taken him out a minute before. The injury Debuchy suffered at the end of the match looks to be significant, which would be a real shame.

Wojciech Szczesny – 7.5/10 – Szczesny made a couple of key saves that kept Arsenal in the match when they were down a goal. He also made a save in stoppage time that saved Arsenal from an embarrassing defeat. He stepped up today when he needed to. He didn’t have much of a chance on the two goals.

Substitutes

Calum Chambers (79th) – 6/10 – The Arsenal player of the month for August had one timely header, but he didn’t get to Alexandr Kolarov in time a few minutes later, and Kolarov hit the post. From the looks of the Debuchy injury, Chambers will be the right back for the foreseeable future.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (88th) – N/A – The late substitute made no impact.

Mikel Arteta (95th) – N/A – Good to see him step on the step. Literally didn’t see anything else.


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Sports Saturday – Arsenal and Arkansas

It feels like I haven’t written anything about sports in forever. The lack of content has been a simple matter of time. Getting back to school has kept me thoroughly busy. And while I’ve actively sought time when I could write for my blog, the problem has been that I just haven’t had time to watch much sports. Every night I’ve got some sort of commitment at 7 or 8, and I get back to my room and find all games I want to watch are over. Last night for example, I wanted to catch some of the Steelers-Ravens game, but I only saw the very first series and the very last series. I’ve even been too busy to go to my school’s sports games.

I can’t imagine how I would have been able to watch the Red Sox this year were they in the pennant race. A year ago, I made time every night to watch the games. But I don’t think that would have been possible this go around. My courseload this semester revolves around hundreds of pages of reading each week, and I’m not able to watch sports and read at the same time – or at least not effectively.

The two sports that work with my schedule are soccer and college football.  I can always wake up early on the weekends, and at college, nothing much happens before noon anyway. And Saturdays are usually flexible enough that I can devote a few hours to watching the Arkansas game. However busy I am, I think I need to spend at least a few hours watching sports each week to keep me sane, and Saturday has been that time for me. Then on Sunday, I’m back hitting the library, maybe catching a little of the Patriots.

So sitting here now on Friday afternoon with my first real free time in a while, I finally have time to write. And I have to say, it feels really good. I do want to have more content as we go forward, but it all dependent on whether my schedule clears up at all. But now, I want to get to writing about sports.

Tomorrow is a big day for my teams. At 7:45 am, I’ll arise for the Arsenal-Manchester City game at The Emirates. A year ago, I made the short trip across the pond for this match, so needless to say, I won’t be sleeping in. And a few hours later, Arkansas plays old Southwest Conference rival Texas Tech on ABC. I might even try to watch a little bit of College Gameday to get myself reacquainted with the sports world. I feel like I’ve been living under a rock. And of course I’ll have to watch some of the Georgia-South Carolina game if only to hear the best music there is – the SEC on CBS theme gets me fired up like nothing else. I’m getting excited while listening to it right now.

I’ll start with the Arsenal match. This is a big one. I think Arsenal are facing Machester City at the right time. They won’t have had much time to fix what wrong against Stoke City, and they haven’t yet hit their goalscoring stride that will surely come soon. I’m not particularly afraid of their attack at the moment, and don’t think they’ll be putting six past Wojciech Szczesny.

However, that’s not to say I think this match will be much like the 3-0 result in the FA Community Shield. Arsenal themselves are not in a great place, but I think the international break should have settled some nerves that might have arisen after the poor performance against Leicester City. Danny Welbeck’s arrival also has improved morale, both in the locker room and in the stands, and supporters will be fully behind the team.

I’d like to see Welbeck start up top, even with only two days of training under his belt. He has played with enough of these guys in the England setup that he should settle quickly. Going with Yaya Sanogo could inject some doubt into the minds of the players, and that isn’t what you want to do when you’re playing the champions. Even if Welbeck only goes 60 minutes, his presence alone should boost the confidence of those around him.

The lineup I’d like to see is as follows: Welbeck, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Kieran Gibbs, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Mathieu Debuchy and Szczesny. One other player I want to see involved is Tomas Rosicky. He’s played a bit part in the campaign thus far, and I think he’s one who could get the engine going. Should the attack look stagnant, Rosicky would be the first man I’d bring on.

I think Wilshere should play in place of Aaron Ramsey, as it’s not worth risking his health so early in the year. Wilshere might have some problems with Yaya Toure, but the Ivorian hasn’t been at his best this year. However, Wilshere will need to stay disciplined to help out Arteta, who might not be back to 100% himself.

My prediction for the game is 2-1 Arsenal, which would be a huge confidence boost. The Gunners badly need a win over top opposition, and I think today is the day they do it. Expect a strong performance from the attacking midfielders, who will begin to form an understanding in the final third. It should be a fascinating encounter. But regardless of how it goes, after the endless international break, I’ll be excited enough to see the Premier League back in action.

Now to some thoughts on the Arkansas game. I don’t know a whole lot about Texas Tech, as I’ve yet to watch them play. However, I believe the Hogs are talented enough to hold the fate of this game in their own hands. I have watched most of the previous two games, and generally I have been impressed. Say what you want about Nicholls State, but Arkansas’s offensive execution a week ago was amazing.

My favorite part about this Razorback team is the offensive line. They look like a Bret Bielema team should look. After years of watching Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson harassed every time they dropped back to pass, it’s fun seeing the big boys push around defenders at will. Most of the success the Hogs have had running the ball this year has been down to the massive holes that the line has opened up. Give Alex Collins a little space, and he’ll do the rest.

Even though quarterback Brandon Allen has been better – that term is relative given that he only had to throw 5 times last weekend – I do not trust him with ball. He has thrown far too many costly pick-6’s. As such, I don’t want to see a balance of passing and rushing. I want to see the running backs opening up the pass. If Allen is only throwing on play-action every now and then, we will all be better off. When he tries to do too much, he messes up in a big way. He can’t do that today.

The defense will have their hands full, but they look improved from a year ago. Texas Tech will pose a nice test before the Razorbacks head back into SEC play. I liked what I saw from a bunch of the freshmen that took the field last weekend, so it will be interesting to see how much Bielema plays them with the improved competition.

Were this game in Fayetteville, I would have Arkansas by two touchdowns, but given that the game is at Texas Tech, I think it will come down to the fourth quarter. It will be up to Brandon Allen not to make mistakes. Should he keep the ball safe, I predict Arkansas will take the game in the end. This will be the afternoon that the running back trio announces themselves to the country.

Enjoy the action tomorrow, and check back for post-game coverage. I’ll make sure to find the time.

 

 


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A Frustrating Match – Player Ratings From Arsenal vs. Leicester City

When I saw the teams, I thought it was going to be a good day. This was going to be the day that Yaya Sanogo got his first Arsenal goal. But I was certainly wrong. The match ended in a frustrating 1-1 draw on the road at Leicester City, and the Gunners go into the final day of the transfer window needing reinforcements.

The beginning of the game went as expected for Arsenal. Arsene Wenger’s men established possession from the start, gradually taking control of the midfield. Arsenal were fluid in the final third, with everyone interchanging positions. Alexis Sanchez’s goal was well deserved. The ball over the top from Santi Cazorla to Yaya Sanogo was brilliant, and Sanogo’s shot was deflected into Sanchez’s path. From only a few yards out, he was always going to bury it.

But then Arsenal fell asleep, and Leicester got back into the game. Laurent Koscielny lost his man, and Leonardo Ulloa smashed a free header past Wojciech Szczesny for the tying goal. From there, Leicester gained some confidence, and began to look more confident on the ball. Suddenly, they weren’t letting Arsenal have possession at will. And they were attacking with vigor when they got in the final third. By the end of the half, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to say Leicester were outplaying Arsenal.

Arsenal were slow to take off in the second half, and the Foxes had the better of the chances. Sanogo might have scored one, and Ramsey had a decent header, but for the most part, the Gunners didn’t look threatening. Wenger’s insistence to wait out his players drives me insane sometimes. I wish he didn’t wait so long to introduce substitutes. A player like Tomas Rosicky could have changed this match instantly. But instead he waited until the 77th minute to bring on different options, and they hardly got a kick.

There was no life late on like there has been in recent games, and frankly, Arsenal never looked likely to score in the second half. It was incredibly frustrating to watch, because there was no real quality in the Leicester side. These were certainly two dropped points rather than a point earned. Going into a tough stretch of games soon, Arsenal needed all three points today.

We have the international break next, which always feels like it lasts forever after the season has only just started. It should give Arsenal’s injured players some time to recover, and by the time the Gunners take on Manchester City on the 13th, hopefully they should be raring to go. Theo Walcott’s return by the end of September will be a big boost.

But of course the most important thing right now is the transfer window, which closes tomorrow. Surely after watching Sanogo struggle today, Wenger will have to bring somebody in up top. And there seems to be an obvious need defensively too. But there’s no way of telling what is going to happen tomorrow.

Player Ratings (1-10)

Yaya Sanogo – 5.5/10 – The hold up aspect of Sanogo’s play was there for the most part, but his touch let him down on more than one occasion. And while he did play his part in the opening goal, he needed to be better. For example, there were too many times when he made his run too early and was offside unnecessarily. It wasn’t a performance that inspired confidence.

Santi Cazorla – 7/10 – Cazorla looked lively once again today, fluidly roaming around the midfield. His chips over the top of the Leicester line showed off his creative flair, and one of them led to Arsenal’s opening goal. His set pieces left a little to be desired though.

Mesut Özil – 6.5/10 – Özil’s movement was excellent, but he didn’t make many decisive passes in the end. He still is short on fitness, but he needs to do well. The timing of his late injury, when Wenger had just made his final substitutes, was certainly unlucky, but to his credit he got back on the field. Hopefully it’s nothing serious.

Alexis Sanchez – 7/10 – Sanchez pounced when he got his opportunity in front of goal, grabbing his first Premier League goal. On the day, he looked quite good, making a lot of darting runs. But he tired significantly as the game wore on.

Aaron Ramsey – 6/10 – Ramsey was almost invisible for much of the match. His main job seemed to be chasing down stray passes from his teammates. He looked a little off today. He did pick up his play late on, taking the ball up the field, but overall, it wasn’t his best day.

Mathieu Flamini – 6/10 – Flamini lacked his normal bite today, and didn’t have a strong performance in midfield. Leicester got forward a little too easily at times.

Nacho Monreal – 6.5/10 – Monreal was quiet today except for one fantastic run down the left that set Sanogo up for a shot. The Spanish left back’s defending was solid, and he had a workmanlike approach.

Laurent Koscielny – 5/10 – Koscielny took a nasty blow to the head early on, received some stitches, and returned to the field bravely wearing a blue skull cap. But he promptly lost his man on Leicester’s goal and was soon after withdrawn. I don’t think he should have come back on the field.

Per Mertesacker – 6/10 – Mertesacker was in no-man’s land for Leicester’s opener, and looked disinterested in that moment. He won a few headers in the back though. The big German will be glad to have some extra rest in the international break.

Mathieu Debuchy – 6/10 – At the start of the game, it looked like Debuchy was going to be bombing forward all day down the right. But he didn’t end up having a huge impact on the game. He still hasn’t established a great connection with his teammates in the attacking half.

Wojciech Szczesny – 7/10 – There wasn’t much Szczesny could have done about the first goal, though he did look a little unsettled as he took two steps forward before realizing he couldn’t get to the cross. But he was quick off his line the rest of the day and he claimed crosses well. He also made an excellent save late on.

Substitutes

Calum Chambers (26th) – 6.5/10 – Chambers didn’t have his best game after coming on in the first half. While he didn’t give up a goal when he was on the pitch, he flirted with disaster. He curiously, but cleverly, dribbled through a couple Leicester players in his own box at one point. And he let Leicester in on goal late. He showed some fire when things got testy though, which his teammates will appreciate.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (77th) – N/A – The substitution came too late for the Ox to make an impact.

Lukas Podolski (77th) – N/A – See above. Could this have been Podolski’s final appearance in an Arsenal shirt?


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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.