FM17 – Arsenal (March ’17)

Usually a game against Tottenham would deserve more than this, but it was dull.

Tottenham 0-0 Arsenal

Next up we need to overturn a 2-1 deficit against Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League. Welbeck gets the start up top, and Monreal’s fine form is rewarded with the left back berth.

We boss the first half, creating plenty with our domination of possession, but it takes a defensive blunder on 31 minutes to set up Alexis, who beats a defender before thrashing the ball into the top corner.

We lead on away goals, but our performance drops off in the second half. Lisbon are still doing very little. Eventually, Aaron Ramsey calms my nerves with an absolute stunner from 20 yards out. We’re through, and I’m relieved.

Arsenal 2-0 Sporting Lisbon

Our third important tie in a week comes in the shape of a tough FA Cup 6th round away game against Man City.

Remembering our last encounter with City, we start with the formation that blunted their attack so effectively in the second half of that game.

Both sides have an early chance, but then it goes quiet. 20 minutes in, Aaron Ramsey plays the best pass I’ve seen this season, putting Kessie through, and it’s 1-0. Then the quiet returns.

For quite a bit. In the 71st minute, Sterling strikes a post and City start to put the pressure on, but we hold. We hold.

Man City 0-1 Arsenal

Arsenal 2-0 Sunderland (Belotti, Iwobi)

Ryan Sessegnon makes his debut off the bench as a left winger, and swings in a great cross for Iwobi to finally score his first of the season. Coquelin also comes off the bench, marking his return from injury.

Crystal Palac1-3 Arsenal (Mutch/Koscielny, Alexis, Giroud)

Jordan Mutch scores with the last kick of the game to spoil our March long clean sheet. With that comes an international break, and the end of our month. I’m very happy with our March – low on drama, but five good results.

The Champions League quarter final draw gives us…

Another award to stick on the mantelpiece…

And we’re still top.

The business end of the season is here. There are seven games crammed into three weeks of April, with three competitions on the line. Our FA Cup semi final is against Watford, with Liverpool facing Crystal Palace in the other tie. Next, a trip to Turf Moor. Apparently the weather looks dicey.

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FM17 – Arsenal (February ’17)

It’s a short month on the calendar, but with seven games crammed in, it promises to test the squad. Iwobi and Kessie are back from Gabon, but Kessie is knackered. I also forgot to mention in the last post that one of my tactical tweaks was to change mentality from standard to counter, which should mesh better with the reduced amount of pressing, sucking teams in and providing more space in midfield. Theoretically.

Arsenal 4-1 West Ham (Alexis, Ozil 2, Belotti/Kouyate)

We were really good (Nordtveit’s first half red card didn’t hurt…), and Ozil gets his first player of the match award of the season.

Southampton away is next and we rest a few players to try and keep them fresh.

The first ten minutes is hectic, end to end stuff, and we’re fortunate that it culminates in a sweetly struck Alexis Sanchez free kick for the lead. The next 30 minutes are terrible for us. Southampton are dominating, and eventually their incessant attack grabs a fully deserved equalizer, Nathan Redmond heading in as David Ospina flaps ineffectively at a cross. Somehow, we immediately go up the other end and score, Welbeck clinically finishing a Walcott cross. It’s 2-1 at the half, but I’m not fooled – they’re destroying us.

I attempt another tactical half time innovation. Gabriel comes on for the invisible Ozil. Xhaka moves to defensive midfield and Michael Keane becomes an unlikely ball winning midfielder.

We’re slightly better, but still second best. Redmond grabs a second leveller, tapping in after Steven Davis hits the post from range on 66 minutes. Finally, they let up, seemingly content with a draw. As are we. And yet…

Southampton 2-3 Arsenal

In the last minute, Danny Welbeck scores a beauty, turning Terence Kongolo and smacking the ball into the top corner from 18 yards. We didn’t even deserve to draw. We had three shots on target, and scored them all. I’m not used to being on this side of a travesty!

[FA Cup] Arsenal 2-0 Brighton (Giroud 2)

Middlesborough 1-2 Arsenal (Mertesacker (o.g.)/Belotti 2)

[CL] Sporting Lisbon 2-1 Arsenal (Martins, Campbell/Giroud)

Karma’s a bitch. That’s what we get for ripping off Southampton. We should comfortably win. It takes 59 minutes to finally score and then as soon as we do, the team switches off. And the cherry on top is our own player Joel Campbell bagging the winner. For which I get lambasted in the media, even though Wenger loaned him out and I couldn’t recall him. Our three month unbeaten run is over.

[FA Cup] Arsenal 3-0 Bristol City (Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Kessie)

Arsenal 1-1 Leicester (Keane/Morgan)

25 shots to 7. I’ll say no more on the subject.

February has thrown up a few concerns. Alexis’ form has dipped again, both goalkeepers have committed a couple of clangers, but more of a problem is our sudden profligacy in front of goal. Boro, Lisbon and Leicester could have conceivably finished with us scoring five or six, but we seem to have lost our cutting edge somewhat.

Still, we’re top, and I remembered the screenshot for a change.

West Brom win the league cup against Newcastle, and we’ve got an away draw in the FA Cup against Swansea or Man City. Next up is Spurs away and our Champions League second leg. No rest for the wicked.

 

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FM17 – Arsenal (January ’17)

Change is in the air. I’m going to try a new, more streamlined style on here, but more importantly, the tactics are reverting largely back to our original 4231, although we’re rid of the team instructions “stay on feet” and “push higher up”.

Also, a transfer has been completed; Mitchell van Bergen joins from Vitesse. A 17 year old right winger with a stack of potential for £3m is not bad. If he stays and achieves, the fee will triple.

Bournemouth 0-5 Arsenal (Alexis 4, Giroud)

[FA Cup] Arsenal 4-0 Gillingham (Belotti, Monreal, Ehmer (o.g.), Mavididi)

Stephy Mavididi takes advantage of an FA Cup cameo to score on his Arsenal debut.

Another transfer, another youngster. Ryan Sessegnon in from Fulham. A 16 year old left back, yet more potential, for £5m, which doubles if he’s a success.

So, a good start to January. But next, the first real test of 2017 with a rejuvenated Chelsea coming to the Emirates. Since hitting bottom spot in mid-November, Chelsea are unbeaten and up to 9th, having finally got to grips with Antonio Conte’s 343.

A mention of a slight balls-up on my account. Coquelin got injured against Bournemouth, for at least six weeks, and it then occurred to me that Kessie and Elneny both being at the African Nations was a problem. So Xhaka’s playing as the ball-winning midfielder. A lot.

Arsenal v Chelsea_ Preview Line Ups

It takes 2 minutes for the first goal, Walcott smashing home after a failure to clear a corner. Then the heavens open, and the game is end to end, riveting stuff from both sides. After 36 minutes Giroud rises above two defenders to nod in a lovely near post Walcott cross.

I urge the team to avoid any complacency and the second half is comfortable.

Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea

The third goal seals the deal and John Terry’s terrible day too. Theo Walcott somehow rising above him to head in a far post Gibbs cross.

Watford 0-2 Arsenal (Walcott, Welbeck)

And next, another big game at the Emirates, with the visit of Man City, who beat us back in September. We go with the same team that dispatched Chelsea so comfortably.

We start brilliantly, two chances before Alexis snatches the lead on 9 minutes. Man City roar back though with two chances of their own before Leroy Sane equalizes after some dreadful defending, Mustafi particularly dubious in his efforts. We trade chances during the first half, but City’s are better chances, and we’re lucky to go in level.

I make a rare tactical change at half time. Sane and Silva have been dangerous from the wings, so we go to a 4411. Monreal on for Giroud, with Sanchez going up top, and Gibbs playing on the left of midfield.

Arsenal 2-1 Man City

I can’t remember a tactical switch working so well. City have one shot in the second half. We only have two, but one of them’s a goal, with Alexis volleying in at the near post, Walcott the provider.

Arsenal v Man City_ Analysis Post-Match

[FA Cup] Brighton 0-0 Arsenal

A really pleasing month, despite the Brighton result. We’re playing much more convincingly, and Alexis is back on form.

Chapperz_ Inbox-3

We’re still top of the league, although once again I’ve forgotten to grab a screenshot. We’re seven points clear of some other team from North London. This management lark’s a piece of cake.

Chapperz_ Inbox-4

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FM17 – Arsenal (Late December)

Everton at the Emirates next. We go with the strongest possible line-up, Giroud preferred to Belotti and Kessie in for the still suspended Coquelin.

I blow on my freshly brewed coffee and settle in for a nice relaxing first highlight. Bellerin gets tackled on the edge of their box, Ross Barkley lumps an ugly, aimless ball forward and Mustafi’s under it no problem. Except that he decides to head it back to Cech from just inside our half. Needless to say, it doesn’t get there. Romelu Lukaku runs onto the gift and dispatches it past Cech, who’d barely left his line. Balls.

But fear not! For the rest of the game, we’re bloody brilliant!

Arsenal 4-1 Everton

18 mins: Giroud heads in a Bellerin cross.

35 mins: Ozil heads in a Gibbs cross.

38 mins: Ramsey volleys home a Sanchez corner.

We’re even better in the second half, but Giroud, Sanchez and Ozil all hit the woodwork. Eventually Walcott completes a convincing result, slotting home a lovely Ozil pass.

Ozil watch: 8.7, goal, assist, great.

The games are coming thick and fast over the festive period, and Stoke at home is our 6th game in 18 days. So we’ve got to rest some players. Still, Coquelin’s fresh.

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke

A tiresome game. For all our possession and for all our chances, it takes two penalties to win it. Giroud after 8 minutes, and Lucas after 58. Both are given as a result of grappling as set pieces are crossed in. They win the foul count 24-2.

Ozil watch: 6.8, meh.

As the Christmas pudding sits unhappily in our swollen bellies, and we wonder if a last After Eight is a good idea, we’re forced to turn our thoughts to a Boxing Day match at Old Trafford. Alex Iwobi’s delivery of his Christmas cracker joke was the best, so he gets a shot on the right. Otherwise it’s the usual suspects.

I cannot understand United’s midfield. It contains no defensive players.

After 8 minutes, Ibrahimovic fires a warning shot. 4 minutes later, Martial robs Bellerin, and delivers a perfect cross for Ibra to slam home at the near post. De Gea saves well from Giroud but then on 16 minutes, Ramsey nods home a Sanchez free kick. De Gea should save it. The first half peters out into minor chances and minor yellow card incidents.

The players get some stick at half time, but it does little to rouse them. The introductions of Elneny, Walcott and Belotti also does little. The second half is very scrappy, with very little created, and 6 more bookings.

Man United 1-1 Arsenal

Ozil watch: 6.6, bored now.

Who better to face to round off the year, than the team we started against. It’s everyone’s favourite manager to invite to a new year’s party – Tony Pulis! Belotti starts up top, The Ox gets a run on the right and we slightly tweak the tactics to “Get stuck in”, because West Brom.

Belotti bags a poacher’s effort on 30 minutes. We have 25 shots, but only 4 on target. Only 8 are long shots, but we create only one decent chance, and that’s the goal.

Arsenal 1-0 West Brom

Ozil watch cancelled.

I don’t know how it’s possible to leave a month unbeaten, with seven wins out of eight, a little disappointed, but I am. We’re not playing as well as we were, and I blame Ozil. Trying to focus on him hasn’t worked and worse, Alexis has been hampered by it. So I’ll be changing back for the New Year. Call it a resolution if you really must.

Still, finish on a high. We’re top of the league (forgot the screenshot) and apparently style doesn’t matter when it comes to awards.

We only conceded three goals in the month, so the defence is working wonders, we just need to go back to what we know: relying entirely on Alexis Sanchez, rather than Ozil.

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FM17 – Arsenal (Early December ’16)

I write so much in these posts that I think I’ll have to divide December into two parts, as we have 8 (eight) games this month. Everyone loves a vidiprinter reference right?

The only personnel changes from our first team for Burnley are Lucas as an inside forward on the right, and Belotti up top.

I think this is our most complete performance yet. Although the scoreline doesn’t necessarily show that.

Arsenal 3-1 Burnley

Alexis smashes home a loose ball just 6 minutes in, and we don’t look back, peppering Burnley’s goal with shots and creating several very good chances. The next goal comes after 23 minutes with a beautiful Lucas free kick, dispatched from 30 yards. Somehow it’s only two at the half, but I’m impressed with what I’ve seen.

The second half starts in the same fashion, and yet our third is another free kick, this time from Santi Cazorla after 55.

3 minutes later the game changes as Coquelin goes through the back of Ashley Barnes for a straight red. He was in the middle of the pitch, offering no threat, and we were 3-0 up. It’s the stupidest, most needless red card I’ve seen for a while.

Predictably the rest of the second half isn’t as good as the rest of the match, but we play okay with ten men, although Barnes snatches a consolation in injury time.

Ozil watch: He plays fine. 7.1, no assists.

Next up is our final Champion’s League group game, home to Viktoria Plzen. Though we need to win to be assured of top spot, I roll out eleven changes. We’re Arsenal, so even if we top the group, we’ll probably pull PSG out of the hat…

I really don’t play Walcott as a target man, he gets changed to a poacher before kick off.

Arsenal 3-0 Viktoria Plzen

Another very good performance, with plenty of good chances created. Xhaka excels as an Advanced Playmaker, completing nearly 40 passes more than anyone else on the pitch.

Elneny gets the ball rolling after 11 minutes, converting a penalty he won himself. It looked a bit soft. Franck Kessie slams the ball into the post from range after 19, but then deservedly gets his first Arsenal goal on 31 minutes, spanking home a great half volley from outside the box. He’s playing in the Coquelin role (don’t shoot, and yet…). We waste a couple of chances before half time, but it’s comfortable.

The second half is a similar story, but the only goal comes from Theo Walcott, finishing a lovely Xhaka through ball to cap a good display in his first appearance as a striker for me.

We win the group by three points with Juve sharing the spoils with PSV in their last game. Our reward is a tie against Sporting Lisbon. It could’ve been easier, but I’m glad to have avoided PSG and Napoli. In the other groups, Man City, Barcelona, Dortmund and Atletico Madrid are all knocked out, and Spurs and Leicester both win their groups.

Back to the league, and it’s Swansea away. Kessie continues in place of the suspended Coquelin, and Belotti gets another shot up front, although he seems to be a bit of a supersub specialist.

Swansea 0-1 Arsenal

Ugly game. Neither side creates a great deal, but Belotti bangs in a knock down from Mustafi at a corner after 16 minutes. We weren’t very good, and I’m worried the tactical changes are pushing the previously excellent Sanchez to the fringes. Still, it’s 3 points in a game “real-life” Arsenal probably would’ve lost…

Ozil watch: a 6.8 irrelevance.

The final game for this part is a trip to Hull, which is always a good time.

Hull 0-3 Arsenal

Don’t believe the scoreline, we weren’t very good. Fortunately, Hull were crap.

Olivier Giroud converts a cross from each full back, the second of which is a thumping header won over the challenges of two defenders. Very little else happens in the first half.

The second half is worse. But Ramsey adds a third from a Giroud tee up to make things look good. In terms of positives, Giroud obviously has a great game, and the back four perform well. Gabriel wins nine key headers apparently, and Monreal and Debuchy provide attacking threat, which is good because the midfield offered very little. Sanchez and Lucas suck again.

4 games, 4 wins. 2 great performances, 2 pants ones. I’ll persist with the new tactic for now, but if it comes to choosing between Alexis or Ozil playing well, I’ll be choosing the former.

I’m also considering a more streamlined approach to my writing. Perhaps featuring only the important or particularly noteworthy matches. We’ll see. Everton at home next…

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FM17 – Arsenal (Behind The Scenes)

The brief delay of this post is down to three things: 1) Having to work too much, 2) Stellaris and 3) Starting a new Football Manager game as an unemployed chump.

But back to Arsenal, where I’ve become aware that the squad is too big. It’s very difficult to keep so many players happy with sufficient playing time, especially now that the early season injury problems are resolving themselves. I’ve reduced the squad statuses of several players down to rotation instead of first team, but I don’t think it’ll be enough. If not for the great work Per Mertesacker’s been doing convincing squad players to drop their concerns, I’d probably have a very unhappy squad on my hands.

Still, despite his heroic efforts, I will need to let some players go. Gabriel has decided a move to China is what he needs, and even Per’s intervention doesn’t help. I agree to let him go, provided they bid at least £23.5m. Carl Jenkinson will be loaned out in January as he hasn’t played a single minute so far and Rob Holding might be too, though he’s being tutored by Shkodran Mustafi at the moment.

In midfield, I will probably have to choose between Xhaka and Elneny at some point, and with Danny Welbeck returning from injury soon, and Jeff Reine-Adelaide making great progress under the tuition of Alexis Sanchez, I suspect an attacking midfielder will need to move on too. At the moment Lucas hasn’t convinced me much, outside of his abilities with set pieces.

A lot of changes have happened staff wise this year, and we’ve added to our coaches again, including the great Dennis Bergkamp.

Chapperz_ Inbox-2

We’ve also bolstered our medical department, and the scouting team has been expanded with four new additions.

In great news, the board have agreed to improve both the youth and training facilities, which should be ready by October 2017. And then they provide more cash for player purchases.

Chapperz_ Inbox

Unless the scouts unearth some gold, I’ll probably sit on the cash until summer, as adding players to an already unwieldy squad might not be the best laid plan.

The tactical changes alluded to in the previous post are relatively minor. We’re going to try Ozil as an Enganche instead of an Advanced Playmaker, try and exploit the centre, and boost the teams creative freedom in an effort to get more from him. Also, whichever striker plays will have an attacking mentality to be in a better position to receive potential through balls. Hopefully.

On paper, the December fixtures look good for a bit of tactical experimentation, although Man United away loom on Boxing Day. First up is Burnley at home…

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FM17 – Arsenal (November ’16)

The Champion’s League is where we start this month, with a trip to The Netherlands to face PSV. Although Ospina and Elneny get starts, we otherwise keep a strong line up, as we aim for top spot in the group.

PSV v Arsenal_ Preview Line Ups

We start off well, and a beautiful cross field pass from Giroud sets Sanchez free after 14 minutes, and he chips the goalkeeper perfectly. He was just offside, but the goal stands, and I’ll take it after our last encounter. We’re in charge for the rest of the first half, but fail to add to our lead.

We’re even better in the second half, but again wasteful in front of goal. Ozil has a bad game and comes off for Ramsey, and as the second half enters the last 20 minutes, we chuck on Kessie to shore up midfield and Belotti to replace the ineffective Giroud.

PSV 0-2 Arsenal

It works a treat, we create a couple of really good chances, including Aaron Ramsey nearly destroying the crossbar on 73 minutes. Eventually, we are rewarded for our patience, with Belotti clinically finishing a Theo Walcott through ball. Giroud’s place is coming increasingly under threat.

PSV v Arsenal_ Analysis Post-Match

Next up in the league is Sunderland away. Despite another international break on the horizon, we rest a few players, as most of them will be travelling far and wide representing their countries. We give Lucas a run out on the right as an inside forward. I’ll try anything to get some more productivity out of that position.

Sunderland v Arsenal_ Preview Line Ups

It’s not a great first half by any stretch of the imagination, but we’re on top and create a couple of good chances, but once again don’t convert. Giroud is particularly profligate. Gibbs hits the bar (by accident…).

The second half is even, Sunderland have come out to play. And then, the turning point; Giroud goes off injured.

Sunderland 0-2 Arsenal

Belotti comes on, and immediately belts home after an Ozil through ball. 10 minutes later, and it’s an Arsenal classic. Gabriel does his finest Steve Bould impression, flicking on an Ozil corner for Michael Keane to head in from short range. An oldie, but a goodie. Sunderland have given us a fright, but we got the points when not at our best. Lucas was rubbish.

Sunderland v Arsenal_ Analysis Post-Match

We’re away again for our next game, at Anfield against top of the league Liverpool. I don’t know what Joachim Low is doing to his players during international duty, but Ozil and Mustafi are knackered again. We go back to the 4123 and will try and keep it tight.

The first half is close. Both teams have a couple of chances, the best of which fall to Giroud and Cazorla. They both fail to convert. The second half continues in a similar vein.

After 61 minutes we take off Coquelin and Sanchez (who is tired after his travels with Chile) for Ramsey and Iwobi.

After 62 minutes, Keane is victim to another unlucky deflection and we’re down 1-0.

We bring Belotti on for the (again) ineffective Giroud and go on the attack. With ten to go, Belotti misses a sitter.

Liverpool 1-0 Arsenal

I suppose it was a quite typical early season clash between contenders. Not a great game, and neither side really going for it.

It’s a harsh result for us, despite the stats, 14 of Liverpool’s 17 efforts were from long range, and we made the 3 best chances.

We could do without a trip to Turin after that. Our fourth away match in a row is against Juve, and we need to avoid defeat to solidify our chances of winning the group. We cast aside the 4123 in favour of our strongest team.

If Paulo Dybala could shoot, we’d lose this game by four.

Juventus 2-2 Arsenal

Higuain scores after 15, catching Mustafi out of position, but Coquelin hits back 3 minutes later from the edge of the box. The rest of the half is end to end, with Juve shading it, but after 32 minutes Coquelin scores again! This time rising above the Juventus defence to power home a header from Bellerin’s inch perfect cross.

We have an effort early in the second half, but then it’s all Juve. Dybala’s finishing is criminal, otherwise we’d be dead and buried. Just when I start to believe we can hold onto the victory, Higuain scores again with 8 minutes to go. They almost beat us, and deserved to, but Mandzukic hits the bar at the death.

I have concerns about my tactic at this point. Our results aren’t bad, but I’m carrying the right winger in domestic games (though Theo’s played very well in European fixtures), and am getting very little out of Ozil. One goal and three assists in 12 starts isn’t good enough from our second best player. So I make some tweaks on the training field (see next post).

Our last game of the month is our first one at home. We play the slightly tweaked tactic, and give a rest to everyone but Petr Cech.

Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace

It’s a thoroughly deserved victory as we outplay a Palace team with only fouling in their gameplan. Somehow our only goals come through a marvelous Lucas free kick, and a tap in by Lucas after his penalty is saved. Confusingly, this goal is marked down not only as a penalty scored, but two missed penalties. Huh?!

Very little evidence to show any improvements from the 2.0 tactic, but the 2nd team comfortably won, and played well, so we’ll see how it goes. We got something out of the right wing, but as it was set pieces, it feels a little irrelevant to the tactic.

We’re up to second, but with only three points separating the top five, everything is to play for.

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FM17 – Arsenal (October ’16)

With an international break coming up, we go with our first choice eleven for this one:

West Ham v Arsenal_ Preview Line Ups

West Ham 0-3 Arsenal

It doesn’t take long to get a goal, with Coquelin scoring a decent effort from outside the box on 8 minutes. Francis Coquelin, who prior to me taking over had never scored for Arsenal and apparently had just one goal in his entire career, bags his 3rd of the season, and it’s only October the 2nd. And I’ve got him on instructions not to shoot.

West Ham have a couple of chances, we have a couple, and then Giroud poaches us a second goal. Then the fouls come. West Ham seem to be trying to kick us out of the game. By the end they’ve out-fouled us 23 to 6, but only pick up 2 bookings.

If anything, we’re more dominant in the second half, creating better chances, though fewer of them, and restricting West Ham to very little. Alexis pulls the ball back nicely for Giroud’s second goal and we earn a deserved 3-0 win. Angelo Ogbonna manages a 4.6 rating for the Hammers, a rating I don’t believe I’ve ever seen lower than.

West Ham v Arsenal_ Overview Overview

The international break gives us a couple of fresh, though short term injuries, with Giroud and Cazorla both out for at least two games. Ozil and Mustafi are too short of condition to make the starting line up for our next match, away to the champions, Leicester City. So Lucas gets a shot up front, with Xhaka and Keane completing the line-up.

Leicester v Arsenal_ Preview Line Ups

Leicester 3-3 Arsenal

The first half is pants. I usually watch everything for the first 10-15 minutes to see if a tactical switch is required and then change to extended highlights. There are very few highlights in the first half. A couple of long shots and then Sanchez slots one home after a counter attack.

The second half is carnage. Sanchez adds a second, tapping in the rebound from a Lucas missed penalty. 8 minutes later, Michael Keane deflects a Leicester free kick in for an own goal. We trade chances for the next 20 minutes with Kasper Schmeichel keeping us out and Cech keeping them out, until he let’s an Ahmed Musa shot through at the near post. 2-2.

We immediately go up the other end, and Walcott, who was up until this point completely anonymous, provides a perfect centre for Belotti to grab back the lead. But we can’t hold on, and frankly Leicester deserve a point, although their equalizer is a carbon copy of their second – Petr Cech should do better.

Leicester v Arsenal_ Analysis Post-Match

Back to the Champion’s League next, home to PSV. Giroud and Cazorla are still out, but Ozil and Mustafi return.

This match is a prime example of the type of match that leads to me giving up Arsenal saves. We dominate possession, but don’t take our chances. I ramp up the mentality, but it makes sod all difference. Midfield doesn’t do enough, Belotti is garbage, missing the best of the chances. Still, we didn’t succumb to a classic long ball concession in the last five minutes.

Arsenal 0-0 PSV

Still, there’s not a better fixture to bounce back with than Middlesborough at home. The definition of a banker. We give Coquelin a rest, as well as three of the back four. I really should rest Sanchez too – but he’s so good!

The first half is total domination. And finishes 0-0. They have Damian Masto sent off after 39 minutes, for a dreadful challenge on Belotti. I call the lads crap at half time and go to attacking mentality.

Arsenal 4-0 Middlesborough

The stats for the second half are the same as the first, but instead of failing to score, we bang in four. Belotti nods home a header from a Debuchy cross, and then guides one in from the edge of the box. Ozil finally scores with a thunderbolt from outside the box and then Debuchy scores a highly unlikely half volley from twenty yards out, capping a man of the match performance.

The last game of the month is a little one. Tottenham at home. Obviously we’re going with the first team, although right wing is still a question mark. No-one’s performed paticularly well there, so we roll with The Ox.

The first half is a glorious contest. Both teams attacking, during a very closely fought half. Harry Kane opens the scoring, beating Cech at his bloody near post after 18 minutes. We hit back 6 minutes later, with a Koscielny header squeezing past Lloris, and then 3 minutes after that, Alexis slams home after cutting inside from the wing. Alas, we can’t get to half time ahead, as Kane scores again, following a wonderful Dele Alli through ball.

The second half is a different story.

Arsenal 2-2 Tottenham

We were much the better side after half time. Not that we played much better, but Tottenham showed no ambition to attack at all. Cazorla, then Walcott and Belotti are thrown on to try and break the deadlock, but to no avail.

It could have been better, but could have been worse. Three draws in the month isn’t great, we need to be more decisive in front of goal, so perhaps some tactical tweaks are in order.

We remain in 3rd and it’s tight at the top. I’m thrilled to report that Chelsea are 19th.

Alexis Sanchez earns the Player of the Month award. For he is great.

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FM17 – Arsenal (September ’16)

Well, we were crap.

Man City 1-0 Arsenal

But although the match stats don’t look great, City only really had a couple of half chances. Most of their shots were from long range, and comfortably dealt with. But we were bad. Only Bellerin emerged with much credit for us at all. An incredibly dull match with very little to note. Aguero scored, we created nowt. Oh, and Kieran Gibbs is injured. Move on.

Just three days later comes our first Champions League group match. We’ve been drawn against PSV, Viktoria Plzen and our next opponents; Juventus.

Juve are a fine side, and perhaps one which I should adopt a defensive posture against, but I’m at home and the last game was a crap sandwich slight disappointment. So I’ll be reverting to the 4231 and hoping we can make hay against their wing backs.

Arsenal 2-0 Juventus

Well that was good. We controlled the game pretty comfortably, had more possession and more chances. Alexis scored a belter after 20 minutes, Walcott nodded one in from 12 yards with 4 minutes left in the first half and other than Petr Cech saving a terrible Paulo Dybala penalty on 67 minutes, we strolled through the second half with a confidence that belied the insecurities of the manager.

Next up, Watford, and more wing backs. Koscielny returns and will play for an hour or so, and Giroud comes back in for Belotti, who didn’t do much against Juve.

Easy peasy. Mustafi nods in an Alexis free-kick with the assistance of some terrible goalkeeping on 13 minutes. The rest of the first half is okay, although Walcott goes off with a knock after 28. And then his replacement Lucas goes off ten minutes later.

In the second half we kick on, Giroud punishes some dodgy defending with a good finish from outside the box, before Alexis Sanchez volleys home a Monreal cross with some style. Watford create nothing and we dominate possession. Very nice. It’s so comfortable that with 22 minutes to go, Marc Bola comes on at centre back for Koscielny to make his Arsenal debut.

I couldn’t care less about the next match. The board don’t care about the League Cup, and neither do I. Especially when I get United away in the third round. I usually enjoy a couple of matches watching the kids and back-ups play but this won’t be fun.

Man Utd 3-0 Arsenal

The positives: Koscielny and Gibbs gain a bit of match fitness. All else is pants. No-one gets a 7, Ospina hurts his wrist and Pogba, Mata and Rooney put us to the sword. In hindsight, the defensive formation would’ve been an idea, but hey, it’s only the league cup.

Two more matches in this fairly busy month, so there’ll be a bit more squad rotation. The first team face our next opponents in the league; Southampton at home.

Arsenal 4-0 Southampton

A very satisfying performance all round. Coquelin finishes off a nice team move, and then Giroud tucks home a good pass from Ozil in the first half. No complacency in the second half, with Sanchez providing a great assist for Giroud and then scoring a beauty himself just after the hour.

Everyone plays well and Southampton barely get a sniff of goal. Thoroughly good job all round.

Only Cech and The Ox keep their places for our next game, away at Viktoria Plzen. Xhaka gets a start in attacking midfield (where I’m re-training him) as I don’t trust his defensive abilities at all.

Viktoria Plzen 0-2 Arsenal

A good performance. The first half is very good. Rob Holding nods home, and Belotti adds a deflected second 3 minutes later, both from Cazorla free kicks. The second half is a closer affair, with Cech saving us from two pretty good Viktoria chances, but it’s 6 points from 6 to start our European campaign, and we’re in a good position to top the group.

The City defeat leaves us 3rd in the league, but still within a win of leaders Liverpool at the end of September. Surprisingly, Kieran Gibbs leads the league in average rating.

Five games to come in October, starting with West Ham away. Onwards!

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FM17 – Arsenal (August ’16)

Here we go then. We’ll start off in our default shape, with a team that’s as close to first choice as is possible. Michael Keane gets a debut in place of Koscielny.

West Brom 1-1 Arsenal

Well, that wasn’t very good. The first half is dominated by thoroughly underwhelming set pieces. Ozil and Cazorla are guilty of terrible deliveries time and time again. We’re having more possession, but not creating a whole lot with it. I give the lads a piece of my mind at half time, and it seems to spur them on a bit.

We create more chances in the next 20 minutes than the whole of the first half, but then West Brom hit us on the counter and James Morrison puts us 1-0 down, with what turns out to be the only decent chance of the match.

I’ve already thrown Lucas and Belotti on for Walcott and the woeful Giroud, and I add Ramsey in a desperate attempt at getting more bodies forward. This has no impact, however, with a minute on the clock and my hope all but evaporated, Kieran Gibbs whips in a beautiful cross and Andrea Belotti spares our blushes with a clinical header.

Tony Pulis and I trade a few insults for the next couple of days. He’s apparently convinced they deserved to win it. No Tony, that’s the fouls stats you’re looking at. I start a list…

Next up is Bournemouth at home. This should be one of our easiest fixtures. On paper at least. But if you’re not paying attention, paper will cut you wide open and leave you bleeding, with tears in your eyes. Ramsey comes in for Cazorla, who really did nothing against West Brom, but the rest of the team get a second chance.

Arsenal 4-0 Bournemouth

Much better. The full backs are brilliant, Bellerin sets up Coquelin for his first Arsenal goal after 9 minutes to settle the nerves. Five minutes later, Gibbs assists Giroud with another great cross. Bournemouth have a few minutes of pressure, but then we kill the game off. First, man of the match Bellerin creates another, with Gibbs tucking it home at the back post. Then, Alexis cuts inside and puts Giroud in for his second. Game over.

The second half peters out into traded corners and substitutions, but I don’t care.

The last game of the month is a big one. Chelsea away. I’m not too proud to attempt a more defensive approach. We stick in Elneny for Ozil, and wheel out the 4123. Oxlade-Chamberlain is in for Walcott, who’s out for a bit with a twisted knee.

Chelsea 0-2 Arsenal

I’m thrilled with that. It’s a fairly even game. They make more chances, but we make better ones. Alexis Sanchez scores a nice finish after a scrappy free-kick falls his way. Chelsea have the better of the rest of the first half but we keep them out.

“Don’t get complacent” is my half time refrain. They bring on Willian and Fabregas for Matic and Azpilicueta, leaving Willian alone to defend their right hand side. I switch the tactics to target that side. Ten minutes into the second half, Oscar comes on for Alonso. Now Pedro is alone on their left flank as they go all out for a goal. We go back to exploiting both flanks.

We trade minor chances, until the 73rd minute, when The Ox breaks down the right and puts the ball on a silver platter for Sanchez, who taps into an empty net. Belotti smashes the ball against the bar to almost put a cherry on top of the win with five to go.

A decent start, after a poor first 45 minutes, but with other teams also dropping points, we’re top. For now.

And I’ve bagged a personal trinket!

That’s August wrapped up. Next on the fixture list is Man City, in yet another away encounter. Fingers crossed…

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