Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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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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Derby Day & The Return to Jerry’s World

I could not be more excited about tomorrow. First off, it’s Derby Day. That in and of itself makes for a fantastic day. But what makes the day even better is the Arkansas-Texas A&M game later in the afternoon. I cannot think of a better fall Saturday combination than the North London Derby and Arkansas playing on SEC on CBS. Well, maybe if the Red Sox-Yankees game meant something… But let’s forget about that. I’m still living in 2013 on that front.

I’ll start off with Arsenal. I don’t care who you are or what you might be doing, but if you are an Arsenal fan in any capacity, you have to be excited for Arsenal-Spurs at The Emirates. This is our chance to dig Tottenham’s grave, as the Mauricio Pocchettino reign has gotten off to a hilariously bad start. Think he had losing at home to West Brom as part of his grand plan?

When I first became a fan, I didn’t quite understand the joy Arsenal fans get from Spurs misery. But now I love every second of it. It’s not personal. But I hate those guys. And I hate everything about that club. My hatred of Tottenham is almost comical. I have such little respect for their club and their players that I almost feel sorry for everyone still walking around wearing Gareth Bale jerseys. Arsenal is just better in every way.

And for Arsenal, this is a time to forget all the distractions and just play. Prior results do not matter when the Gunners take the field on Derby Day. All that counts is beating Spurs. Players and fans have more of a connection on this day than any others, and the new boys should thrive off of that positive energy at The Emirates. Recently, games against Spurs have seen Arsenal players let go of their anxieties and troubles and just play. Just go out and let the adrenaline take over.

Tactically, I want Arsenal to field the same team as they did against Aston Villa, with Alexis Sanchez coming back in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. I wouldn’t be opposed to giving Jack Wilshere the nod ahead of Aaron Ramsey, but if Ramsey’s going to get back to his best, the rush of this atmosphere could do it. I also worry about Wilshere in intense matches. One moment of losing his cool could cost his team dearly. If the team is lacking bite, bring on Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini, but at the start, beat Spurs with pace and skill rather than guts and brawn.

For everyone involved for Arsenal, this is a chance to show the world that they mean business. It is also a chance to forever endear themselves to the fans. Score a winner against Spurs, and we’ll love you. For Danny Welbeck and Sanchez, and even for Özil, a goal tomorrow would go a long way.

My prediction for the match is an optimistic one. I just can’t fathom a loss to this wretched Tottenham side. I’ll say 3-1 good guys. Arsenal will bring the punch, and Spurs won’t be able to match. Get excited.

Before I will be able to catch my breath after the Arsenal game, it will be time for Arkansas. Beyond what’s at stake, the simple fact that I will get to hear Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson call a Razorback game again gets me fired up. There is no better announcer out there than Mr. Danielson. He’s insightful, unbiased, and coupled with Lundquist’s excited tone on big plays, he and Verne make for an excellent team.

I expect there to be plenty to talk about, for Arkansas and Texas A&M are well-matched, albeit in an odd way. Lots has been made of this game being A&M’s passing attack vs. Arkansas’s rushing attack. But it’s more than that. This game will come down to defense, and the respective abilities of the defenses to capitalize on mistakes.

Kenny Hill may be good, but he’s still inexperienced on the big stage, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him struggle a little bit. If Arkansas can get pressure up front, Hill might throw a few ducks. And it will be up to Arkansas’s secondary to take advantage of those errors. And the opposite is true as well, as I can guarantee you Brandon Allen won’t play the perfect game.

Arkansas’s offensive line should have little trouble wearing down the Texas A&M defense as the game goes on, so expect giant holes to open up for Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams in the second half. If Arkansas can sustain drives in the opening half and keep the score close, I think they’ll close the game well. However, should A&M get ahead early, I don’t think Allen is quite good enough to lead Arkansas back through the air.

It’s funny to think back to the last time this game was played in Dallas. Bobby Petrino was the coach and things were great. Tyler Wilson threw for a school record 510 yards as Arkansas came back from an 18 point deficit at the half to win a thriller. Jarius Wright had 281 yards receiving on 13 catches. (Arkansas also came back to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl later that year – the last time they played there.)

It’s been a long three years for Arkansas football since that day, and things have certainly changed. But now, Arkansas is back at Jerry’s World. This time, they won’t be passing the ball quite so much, but after two years of crumbling and rebuilding, this is finally an Arkansas team worthy of taking the field on the big stage. I don’t know if they are quite ready to win a big time SEC West game, but I can’t wait to see them fight.

Tomorrow will be a great day to be a fan. It’s a day worth celebrating. Now go out and win the games, boys.