Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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9 Arsenal Players to Watch In the Upcoming Season

With such a deep Arsenal squad at his disposal, it will be hard for Arsene Wenger to pick a side on a given afternoon, much less keep everyone happy. In many respects, that could be one of the toughest parts of his job this year. Especially in the midfield, there are so many quality players to choose from. It’s no surprise that so many youngsters have been loaned out in recent days, as even places in the Capital One Cup games will be few and far between with veterans needing to get game-time to stay fresh. As we enter the new season, here are some players that I think will be notable for a variety of reasons.

3 to succeed

Mesut Özil – With his first full preseason under his belt – and one in which he looked silky smooth – Arsenal’s record-signing looks set for a huge season. Each of his first two seasons featured injury spells and periods of ineffectiveness as he floundered on the flank. But now that Wenger has finally molded his side around the German being in the center, hopefully all of that is behind us. As a collective fan base, the doubt surrounding his merits is entirely gone too. In his ideal role and without the pressure to prove his worth, he should flourish. He and Aaron Ramsey are developing a great understanding, and Theo Walcott’s return to the team will allow Özil to play balls he couldn’t have to Giroud. Once the runs are made in behind, Özil will have more time and space to pick out the right ball. I have no doubt that he’ll be player of the season this year.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – The talent has never been a question. Right from the moment he burst onto the scene against Manchester United, the Ox showed speed and skill beyond his years. But up until now, it hasn’t all come together. Injuries have prevented him from getting a long run in the side, and he has sometimes struggled in front of goal. But this year, with Walcott seemingly getting a shot up front, the Ox has his position to lose. Looking stronger than ever but without losing the speed, he’s shown tremendous skill this preseason. Especially when Alexis Sanchez gets back, the side seems built for the Ox to be released down the right time and again. If he can stay healthy, I think he could hit double-digit goals.

Petr Cech – As excited as we are to have a world-class goalkeeper, Cech might be even more excited to be back in goal. Having lost his place through no fault of his own at Chelsea, he’ll be eager to prove he is still top-notch. With an experienced center back pairing in front of him, and an increasingly reliable defense, a commanding presence from Cech could turn Arsenal’s fortunes around against the bigger teams. Awful set-piece failures might be a thing of the past. And where David Ospina and Wojciech Szczesny were talked about for what they couldn’t do, Cech will instead show us all what he can do. In nine months’ time, I think we’ll have forgotten about Szczesny.

3 to disappoint

Alexis Sanchez – After such a standout first season at the club, I fear Sanchez might suffer injury-wise this year given how many games he’s played in recent years. Especially knowing that he has yet another international tournament to play next summer, Wenger will have to be extremely cautious with his star Chilean. I’m not saying Sanchez will be bad. I’m just not optimistic that we’ll see a lot of him on the field, and as a result all of his numbers will be down. There is enough depth behind him that he should be afforded rest, but whether or not that happens before he’s driven into the ground is unclear.

Danny Welbeck – The former Manchester United man seems to have become the odd-man out after just a year at the club. Worryingly still unrecovered from what at the time was said to have been a minor knee injury, Welbeck will miss out on the chance to get in the team before Sanchez returns. And once he’s back, it’s hard to see where playing time will come from. I’m not even sure he’s enough of a goal threat to be a reliable difference-making substitute. For his sake and ours, I hope he can find his groove. But if I had to bet, I’d say he finishes with fewer than five goals to his name.

Per Mertesacker – With captain Mikel Arteta firmly on the bench, his deputy Mertesacker will lead the team out week after week. But can his body still handle the wear of a Premier League campaign plus games in Europe? It’s always been a bit of a joke that Mertesacker is slow, but even by his standards, he isn’t moving well this summer. The nimble Laurent Koscielny is the ideal partner for the German, but we’re nearing the point where Mertesacker becomes a liability. If his reading of the game stays where it is, I think he can handle most teams. But I think it’s worth testing out the Gabriel-Koscielny pairing. That might be one better suited for more dangerous forwards like Sergio Agüero.

3 to surprise

Mathieu Debuchy – Written off and forgotten by many after an injury-riddled first season, I think the Frenchman will bounce back this year. I suspect Wenger will be keen to give him a chance, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he keeps the exciting Hector Bellerin tied to the bench. Still able to get downfield, he provides stability defensively while still offering decent service to the box. He also has a solid rate of winning headers, and could be someone to aim goal kicks and punts at in the way Bacary Sagna was. He may not be the flashiest player, but consistency is the name of the game this year, and if he can still healthy – remember both injuries last year were more freak than his fault – I think he’ll contribute.

Francis Coquelin – Coquelin comes as a different sort of surprise after arriving out of nowhere a year ago to become an integral part of the team. Expectations have been tempered this summer, with many returning to the narrative that he isn’t good enough for a title-winning side. But I still believe in Coquelin. I think he will grow ever further into his role of midfield enforcer. As last season wore on, he became increasingly comfortable with his passing too, which will turn him into a complete player. He may not have a very pretty nose by the end of the year, but I think he’ll be ever-present from beginning to end.

Alex Iwobi – We saw quite a lot of him in action this summer and he largely succeeded. With so many promising talents getting loaned out to Championship sides, if Iwobi stays, he could end up being a lucky participant at times throughout the year. Blessed with pace, he has the potential to offer something akin to what the Ox did a few years ago, or perhaps more like Serge Gnabry did two seasons ago. I don’t think he’ll be a regular, but he might be this year’s Bellerin – a player who could benefit from the loaning out of others in his position who would have been higher up on the totem pole. If he stays at Arsenal this year, don’t be surprised if he succeeds.

Who do you think falls into these categories ahead of the new season? Please comment below.


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Bellerin and Monreal Earn Top Marks – Grading the Arsenal Defense and Keepers

After looking at the forwards and midfielders last week, today I examine Arsenal’s defenders and goalkeepers. Once again, grades are based not only on quality of play but on expectations. My next Arsenal post will cover what I think must be done in the summer transfer window. But for one last time, I look back today.

Much of the year was season in what was repeatedly labelled a defensive crisis. Between injuries, poor form and a lack of options, the fall was particularly ugly defensively. But considering all that, Arsenal’s defense ended up being one of the most consistent in the league that latter half of the year. A number of players stepped up as Arsenal made its move up the table.

Defenders

Hector Bellerin – A+ – When considering he was the fourth-choice right back during preseason, Bellerin’s rise is nothing short of remarkable, especially when considering he only turned 20 in March. Thrown into the fire at Dortmund in September amid the injury crisis, Bellerin’s potential was obvious if he was a little raw and undersized. But it wasn’t until Debuchy’s second major injury in January that he got a true run-out. When given the opportunity, the Barcelona product blossomed. Blessed with tremendous skill going forward, he learned the intricacies of defending quite quickly, impressing even against bigger teams that tried to isolate him. Making 17 Premier League starts, Bellerin has staked a claim on the right back position going forward. Arsene Wenger will have a hard time taking it away from him, even for the experienced Debuchy. It won’t be soon that we forget his left-footed curler that opened the scoring against Liverpool.

Calum Chambers – B – Two months Bellerin’s senior, Chambers’s season was a mirror of the Spaniard’s. Where Bellerin made his mark in the spring, Chambers’s 17 Premier League starts came in the fall. After a brilliant start to his Arsenal career when he won the club’s Player of the Month award for August, Chambers was almost forgotten about entirely in the spring.  Either at center back or at right back, he was confident in his reading of the game, and his poise was well beyond his years. But the new signing from Southampton faded dramatically in the second half of the year, rarely seeing the field beyond a minute or two at the end of a match. In total he made 36 appearances, which is probably more than was expected. Chambers’s versatility is considered a strength, but I think it might be hurting him in a way, as he is not often considered a part of the long term plans at any position right now. Despite making the same amount of starts as Bellerin and having early success, it’s hard to think of Chambers as quite as exciting a prospect.

Mathieu Debuchy – C- – Were it not for the success of his replacements, Debuchy’s debut season would be considered a massive failure. Making a grand total of 15 appearances due to two long-term injuries, the Frenchman wasn’t able to leave his mark on the team. The injuries were unfortunate, but disappointing nonetheless. And he’ll have a hard time taking his position back next season. However, Debuchy did impress me twice. His goal against Liverpool in December was key, as a loss there could have been catastrophic for morale. But more impressive was his performance at center back against Newcastle, when Arsenal badly needed a body in the middle. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get more minutes at center back next year. He’ll be eager to put this year behind him.

Gabriel – B- – I don’t have much to say about Gabriel. His signing in January was a necessity given Arsenal’s poor health and lack of depth at center back in the early parts of the season, but thankfully, Mertesacker and Koscielny stayed healthy, and Gabiel wasn’t needed for the most part, making only 8 appearances and 5 starts. He seems to have the attributes needed for an EPL center back, so at this point, I would say the signing was a mild success. But I haven’t seen him play enough minutes to get a true reading on him. However, while he might be eager for a run in the side, we’re better off when the third-choice center back starts the game on the bench, so I’m not too eager for that chance.

Kieran Gibbs – B- – After such a promising fall that helped him get his first call-up to the England side since 2010, he’ll be massively disappointed to have lost his starting spot at left back this spring. However, it must be said, that Gibbs didn’t lose his spot due to poor performances, rather Monreal seized his chance. Gibbs’s strengths clearly are going forward, where he does an excellent job of getting to the byline. But his crossing lost a little edge without consistent starts. At age 25, he still has time to improve, but getting his spot back is crucial. That will be the battle of the summer come preseason.

Laurent Koscielny – A- – Koscielny has established himself as one of the Premier League’s best and most consistent defenders. Despite struggling with Achilles issues for much of the year, Koscielny battled with many of the top strikers around all year, beating them with his pace and strength. Quick to intercept and equally adept at making vital last-ditch clearances, Koscielny keeps getting better, even as he’s nearing his 30th birthday in September. He made 38 starts in all competitions on the year, scoring three goals. He looks to be a fixture in the heart of Arsenal’s defense for years to come.

Per Mertesacker – B – Mertesacker admitted recently that he knew he was in for a slow start to his season after capturing the World Cup for Germany last summer. And at times, he was quite bad. Never one for pace, he even seemed to lose the command for the game in the back. But Mertesacker slowly recaptured his form and was ever-present as Arsenal made its climb up the table. By the end of the season, he was back at his best. I think his role as fill-in captain proved vital as well, for without Mikel Arteta and amid all the turmoil, Mertesacker kept an ever-changing squad under control. I don’t know how many more good years the big German has in him, but it was encouraging to see the way he bounced back from a series of poor performances.

Nacho Monreal – A – A lightning rod for criticism in the season’s opening weeks as he filled in as an emergency center back, Monreal ended up being perhaps the most important member of Arsenal’s defense. Starting 26 games in the Premier League, Monreal’s assured displays helped stabilize a defense in disarray. Seizing the left back job from Gibbs, the Spaniard was a perfect match for the high-powered midfield. A slightly more conservative defender, Monreal allowed the midfielders to take chances with their positioning, but when brought into the attack, he showed off his skill as he found spaces down the left. His goal against Manchester United in the FA Cup Quarterfinal was my favorite goal of the season, and the emotion on the ensuing celebration was beautiful. Not many 5′ 10″ left backs would have volunteered to fill in at center back, but Monreal’s selflessness helped keep this team afloat. And better, it gave Monreal the run in the side he needed to recapture the form he was known for at Malaga.

Goalkeepers

Emiliano Martinez – B+ – The man formally known as Damian did much better in goal than I would have expected after watching him in his horror show against Reading a couple years ago. As the third-choice keeper, it could have proved a catastrophe that he had to make two big Champions League starts and 3 more in the Premier League. But he was solid, if unspectacular. Keeping clean sheets against Dortmund, Southampton and West Brom, he did well considering the circumstances, but was never commanding. I was not disappointed when he was restored to the bench. Despite his surprising success, I don’t want to see Martinez in goal for another important game. Quite simply, I don’t think he’s good enough for this level.

David Ospina – B+ – Ospina ended up making 22 starts this year in his debut season, many more than just about everyone would have expected, especially after a fall when he couldn’t stay healthy. In place of the benched Szczesny, Ospina was pretty good. He kept quite a few clean sheets, but most were down to good defense. I can’t think of a game off the top of my head when I was wowed by Ospina. Generally, despite the positive scorelines, I was underwhelmed, and never learned to trust him. I just don’t think he has the physical attributes to succeed in the Premier League. So despite his numbers, I hope he’s not back in goal next year. But I can’t fault him for his record.

Wojciech Szczesny – D – After an up-and-down fall, Szczesny was benched for the remainder of the year after smoking in the locker room after defeat to Southampton. In his fifth year as the primary keeper at Arsenal, his failure to learn from his continued mistakes off the pitch is disappointing to say the least. He clearly has talent – even in his demise, he led the team to winning the FA Cup in goal – but he doesn’t have the mentality of a first-class keeper. And maybe it’s our fault for ever thinking he could learn. At this point, I don’t quite know what to do with him. I’ve always admired his confidence, but at this point, I think it’s time to cut our losses and ship him out. At some point, there must be consequences.

Disagree with any of my assessments? Please comment below.

 


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A Deserved Draw – Player Ratings from Arsenal-Sunderland

Aside from a profile I did on a Davidson swimmer last month, the last time I did non-academic writing was in early April. And it’s been even longer since I’ve written about Arsenal. The last time I wrote about the Gunners, Deflategate was just beginning. It was nine days before the Super Bowl. I’ve been watching most games, but haven’t had the time to write. But thankfully, summer has arrived. And with the domain name renewed for another year, I’m back at the keyboard.

I will save more general thoughts on the Arsenal season for the coming weeks, so today’s post will focus on today’s match against Sunderland. The 0-0 draw was a little dull, but deserved I felt. Arsenal lacked the level of play in midfield necessary to break the composed Sunderland defense down, and the finishing was rather poor.

The color commentator was complaining for much of the game that Arsenal weren’t penetrating enough and that they were out of ideas. I think that’s the easy way out when talking about Arsenal. What I saw was not a lack of ingenuity but rather a series of lapses on the critical touch. The players were making runs and getting in good positions, but either the return balls on the one-twos were slightly overhit, or touches were being spilled into Sunderland’s paths.

I really wish Arsene Wenger had used this occasion to rotate the squad and rest some of the key players. The way Sunderland was set up, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott could have done the job from the start. Their introductions ingested energy that the Gunners didn’t have. I’m glad he rested Francis Coquelin and Nacho Monreal, but Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla look a bit weary these days. The players are in that awkward stage where they want to avoid injury at all cost before the FA Cup yet don’t want to lose their place, so they keep things safe. And I think that’s why we’re seeing these languid displays.

Of the bottom end teams, I’ve always had the slightest admiration for the way Sunderland goes about their play at the end of every campaign. They might lack talent, but they fight together and get results. So despite my frustration with another lackluster draw, I’m happy for Sunderland. Let’s hope Newcastle goes down.

Player Ratings (1-10)

Olivier Giroud – 6.5/10 – Once again, Giroud failed to find the back of the net. He didn’t have a bad game, with some decent play in the box and a cheeky flick at the near post that demanded a smart save. But he needs goals. This series of lukewarm displays to finish the season surely won’t assure anybody that Arsenal don’t need a more prolific striker.

Alexis Sanchez – 5.5/10 – Sanchez is clearly worn down from all the games he’s played over the last 20 or so months. He isn’t moving with quite the same freedom and volition that he was months ago. And when presented with chances in front of goal, he’s hesitating and getting his shots blocked. A nice summer vacation will do him a lot of good.

Mesut Özil – 7/10 – Özil continues to wow me with how fluid he has become this year, both in his movement and his passing. Every pass looks safe not necessarily because it are easy, but because he creates passing the lanes. He had the ideas today, and on another day might have had a goal and an assist to show for it. If only that volley had fallen on his left foot instead of his right. It was good to see the home fans applaud him as he came off the pitch late.

Jack Wilshere – 6/10 – While we are beaten over the head with information such as that he hasn’t completed 90 minutes but once in the last 15 months, there is an element of truth in the fact that we can’t expect perfect performances until he sees more time on the pitch. So in that regard, getting the start today was valuable. But as far as gameplay, the ideas and drive are there but his touch is not. One particular instance in the first half said it all, as his first touch went straight at the keeper when he was in acres of space.

Aaron Ramsey – 6/10 – Ramsey was around the ball a lot and heavily involved, but he wasn’t at his best. I wonder if he couldn’t have gotten to any of those rebounds late on had his positioning been better. He does a lot of things well, but in games like this he can be frustrating.

Santi Cazorla – 6/10 – Pressed deeper today and in a more defensive role, Cazorla was solid, if unspectacular. The normally buzzing midfielder looks exhausted, and I hope he will be rested this weekend so he can be full of energy at Wembley. As he hit another low, long-range shot in the first half, it occurred to me that he isn’t hitting the stinging drives like he did in years past. And in the 89th minute, when he had a chance to hit one from the top of the box, he took a touch and the chance was gone.

Kieran Gibbs – 6.5/10 – Having spent just about all of the second half of the season on the bench, the rust was evident in a rare start for the fullback, especially when he wound up to shoot. However, the instincts are still there, and he was able to get forward down the left. And defensively, he had some timely interceptions.

Laurent Koscielny – 7.5/10 – Koscielny had little to do, but he managed a number of interceptions near the center of the pitch which kept possession for his side and halted counters.

Per Mertesacker – 7/10 – Mertesacker was assured in the air, but got found out by Fletcher’s pace on the counter attack early in the second half. However, he limited damage the rest of the way.

Hector Bellerin – 8/10 – Bellerin is a joy to watch. He made defenders look silly in the final third and clearly offered something different from the rest of his teammates. And his speed enabled him to get back on defense even after giveaways. His crossing is not quite at Bacary Sagna level, but it’s improved from where it was in the fall.

David Ospina – 7.5/10 – Ospina was untroubled in the first half but made two superb saves early in the second. The first was particularly impressive as he came out of his goal assuredly and met Fletcher at the top of the box. For me, this was one of his better games.

Substitutes

Theo Walcott (67th) – 7.5/10 – I’ve been down on Theo recently, but today he began to show the polish that has been lacking since his return from injury. He was more confident on the ball, and was woefully unlucky not to get a goal late on when he beat his defender and hit a wonderful shot across goal that Pantilimon got a hand to. Sunday’s Premier League finale would seem a great time to give Walcott a start.

Tomas Rosicky (81st) – 7/10 – He nearly won it with a left footed shot that went just wide, and got in a number of good positions in only ten minutes of action. It was the type of display that questioned why he hasn’t been playing recently given the lack of energy and drive in the midfield.


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A Mental Roller Coaster – Player Ratings & Analysis from Arsenal vs. Tottenham

Derby Day. Arsenal-Spurs. Pure Hatred. Games like this are so much fun in the buildup. But during the game itself, they are absolutely agonizing to watch. Every little thing matters so much more. Because this is not just any other match. This is personal.

I am a mental wreck after that 1-1 draw. After Spurs went ahead in the second half through a horrible error from Mathieu Flamini, I went through stages of anger, embarrassment and sadness. It felt like the sky was falling, and falling quickly at that. I thought about Arsene Wenger getting fired, I thought about missing the Champions League spots, I thought about all the worst things for the club. Losing at home to Spurs would not be good.

Thankfully, much to my relief, Arsenal did get their equalizer through Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It wasn’t a pretty goal, but Arsenal didn’t really deserve a pretty goal with the way they’d been playing. All of a sudden, I, along with millions of other Arsenal fans around the world, was on the edge of my seat, begging for a winner.

What followed was a lengthy spell of attacking football from Arsenal that never really looked all that threatening. For all the work Danny Welbeck puts in and the runs he can make in behind, when there are 11 men behind the ball, Welbeck never looks like scoring. Alexis Sanchez had changed the game when he came on, opening up the left channel, but Younnes Kaboul and the Tottenham defense were having an excellent game.

Of course, the winning goal never came. And Arsenal and Tottenham will leave the stadium with a point each. For Arsenal, it feels like two points dropped, not because they were necessarily the more likely to score all day, but because of where the game was played and because of how Tottenham’s goal was scored.

Arsenal began the game brightly enough, controlling much of the possession in the early going. Had Jack Wilshere picked his other option on an early break, Arsenal might have been ahead. But other than that, Arsenal never looked likely to score. Tottenham slowly got into the game, and by the end of the half, they were dominating play.

I found myself yelling at the TV for the first time this year. I hate Tottenham with a passion, and I could not stand the way Arsenal were playing towards the end of the half. For the first time this season, I was downright angry at Arsene Wenger for his tactics. Going back to the 4-1-4-1 was never going to work.

After all that, the ninety minutes are over. And although that match feels like it matters so much more than the rest, it doesn’t really. A point is a point. Now we just need to start winning games rather than tying them.

Arsenal will need to regroup quickly after today’s exhausting affair. Galatasaray comes to The Emirates for an important Champions League match on Wednesday, one Arsenal desperately need to win. And then on the weekend, Arsenal make the trip across London to play Chelsea. I wouldn’t want to go into that match coming off of any result other than a win.

 

Player Ratings (1-10)

Danny Welbeck – 6.5/10 – Welbeck started the match brightly, making a lot of intriguing runs in behind the defense. In the first half, he was dangerous. But when Tottenham put more and more men behind the ball, Welbeck faded from the match. It was telling that he and Özil weren’t on the same page in the final minutes. It wasn’t a bad first North London Derby for Welbeck, but he will be wanting more goals.

Mesut Özil – 7.5/10 – Pushed back to the left at the start of the game, it looked like it was going to be another opaque perfermance from Özil. But he grew as the match went on, and when moved into the middle, he picked up his play to another level. His movement on and off the ball as sensational today, and he was always looking for the telling pass. All in all, it was a good day for Özil.

Aaron Ramsey – 4.5/10 – I never like to see an injury of any sort,  but today, Ramsey was awful, and would have needed to be withdrawn at halftime anyway in my opinion. His goalscoring from last year has gone to his head. If I see him try one more flick or backheel in his defensive half, I will throw something at my TV. He needs to spend his time on the sideline watching film of his tackling and positional excellence from a year ago to remind him that he didn’t just score goals.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 8.5/10 – The Ox had a super game today in somewhat of a surprise start on the right. He looked threatening going forward all day, although Danny Rose dealt with his pace well. However, what stood out to me in the first half was Oxlade-Chamberlain’s work rate. He was everywhere. And when presented a chance to tie the game late on, he calmly blasted it into the roof of the net. It was a deserved goal.

Jack Wilshere – 6.5/10 – Wilshere had somewhat of an interesting game. After picking up a silly yellow card in the early going, he got a nasty kick to the ankle, but stayed on the pitch and surprisingly became more influential after it. Although he was substituted shortly after the hour mark, he will be pleased with how he recovered from the knock. And offensively, he’s turning the corner this year. It’s exciting to watch.

Mikel Arteta – 5.5/10 – Arteta was unlucky to pick up an injury in the first half, and hopefully it is nothing too serious. He had been impressing me to that point with a couple of decent tackles. I wish him a speedy recovery

Kieran Gibbs – 8/10 – Gibbs had a stormer of a game offensively, making menacing runs down the left time after time in the second half. Although he misplayed one cross spectacularly, he played a lot of good balls and set up a lot on the edge of the box. Defensively, he did well for the most part. There wasn’t much he could have done to stop the goal, because he wouldn’t have expected Flamini to give the ball away so cheaply.

Laurent Koscielny – 8.5/10 – Koscielny read the game really well today, and saved Arsenal’s defense on more than a few occasions. He covered well on both sides of the pitch, and his tackling was well-timed. That he was the one leading the charge upfield in the final minutes was representative of his play on the day.

Per Mertesacker – 8/10 – Mertesacker too had a good game. He tackled well, and had a couple of timely headers in the box. He was unlucky not to score an equalizer for Arsenal, and will have wanted better service on set pieces overall, but he played well.

Calum Chambers – 8/10 – Chambers did a lot of things exceptionally well in his first North London Derby. He made a bunch of tackles and headers in his defensive box, and as the game wore on, he became a force offensively. He looked strong on the ball, and won Arsenal a couple of set pieces in good areas. But he still lacks a bit of understanding about his positioning down the right. Once or twice he was caught too far forward.

Wojciech Szczesny – 7/10 – Szczesny couldn’t have done a whole lot about the goal, but other than that, he played well. He made a couple of simple saves, but he was always there when he needed to be.

Substitutes

Mathieu Flamini (28th) – 4/10 – There is no excuse for giving away the ball like Flamini did today on multiple occasions, including one that led directly to Tottenham’s goal. As the sole defensive midfielder, he needs to be aware of where the opposing midfielders are, picking up runners and cutting things out. But Flamini was all over the place today, and in a bad way. He needs to be better if Arteta’s going to out with another injury. Otherwise, Francis Coquelin or Abou Diaby might get a chance.

Santi Cazorla (45th) – 7.5/10 – Coming on late in the first half, Cazorla staked his claim for a starting spot in the big games coming up. He was lively from the moment he came on the pitch, giving life to a previously stagnant midfield. Cazorla does all the little things well too.

Alexis Sanchez (63rd) – 7/10 – When Sanchez came on, Arsenal took control of the game. His presence on the left created spaces to either side of him. Immediately, Arsenal looked more dangerous. Why Sanchez didn’t start, I don’t know, but I imagine he won’t be left on the bench too many more times. Although his touches let him down at times today, he changed the game for the better, and he had as much to do with the equalizer as anyone else.


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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.