Fulham 2-1 Arsenal: Wingers Amiss

January 2, 2012 Leave a comment

I don’t begrudge Fulham their victory – they pressed and pressed, and somewhere around the names of Zamora and Ruiz and Dembele, I expected moments where their hype would be justified.

Where did it go wrong for Arsenal? The scoring threat of the wings was our primary problem. If you asked who of our players had the best opportunities to score, Gervinho would have to put his hand up, and I’m afraid his poor form in front of goal is beginning to cost us. I am a Gervinho fan – I believe his directness and willingness to take players on is so refreshing after the fiddler on the floor that was Nasri.

I agree with several commentators who think that Gervinho with goals will be some force, but until that happens, we’re relying on him to find Van Persie with a pass, and that simply didn’t happen against Fulham, probably due to Van Persie’s being marked out of the game. Stewart Robson’s continually harrassment of Theo was downright unprofessional, but he’s not exactly banging quality shots on target.

If Gervinho and Theo are not going to contribute to our goal threat, that requires us to be scoring from Pires-style runs onto cut-backs, from long-range drives, or from headers. Today we scored from a header, while I’m not sure that drives were the option with such a crowded defence. I do wish we’d see more late runs from midfielders, but that apart, our wingers need to get onto the act, Nani-style.

Categories: General

Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal – Stuff Nobody Mentioned

October 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Certainly the glory of Arsenal’s away win over Chelsea has been documented, but I want to take the opportunity to point out a few smaller plots that developed during the course of the game.

1. Gervinho submits

Watching the replays of Van Persie’s first goal stimulated a flashback. Gervinho charging at goal, Van Persie hands out begging for the sideways pass, Gervinho shooting, missing, Van Persie glaring. Same scenario: Gervinho charging, Van Persie hands out, Gervinho lays off, Van Persie scores. Lesson learnt.

2. Gelling

For the first time since the start of the season, I felt like I was watching a midfield that was beginning to gel. It became pretty clear how the roles were being assigned. Song hovered around in the murky deep, coming forward occasionally to pick up and redistribute the ball. Ramsey drifted between the midfield and the second striker position, using his mobility and close ball control and looking for players ready to receive the ball in dangerous positions, as well as keeping an eye open for a possible shooting chance. Arteta buzzed around and linked everything together, putting in a challenge when the chance cropped up.

3. Get high

I’ve been aware since the Invincibles that we operate best against high defensive lines. Culprit in chief back in those days was Fulham, exposed repeatedly to 4-1 thrashings, with Pires and Vieira playing our attack in with ranging through balls. Same again against Chelsea. Pienaar’s Ajax set the correct pattern against Arsenal, and deviating from it is a no-no.

4. Not a once-off fluke

The Arsenal steamtrain has been gaining momentum, and this result was not out of the blue. We certainly played better than we have been doing, but 7 wins in 8 makes winning the 9th game more likely. What was different though was the quality of our finishing. Honestly, we didn’t create a glut of chances, but we did grab them.

5. Attack > defence?

Santos made a great run, took his chance and buried our 2nd equaliser. If a fullback puts in great tackles, scores none and concedes none, you’d say he’s had a great day. But if he concedes an awful penalty, and then scores one at the other end, you can’t then say he’s had a bad day, as he’s done no different to what he did before. It’s simple mathematics. I don’t know where we get this idea that a clean sheet is superior – a 4-4 is one hundred percent the same result as a 0-0. In fact it’s superior, because if goal difference doesn’t settle a tie, then goals scored does, and besides, I’d much rather watch a 4-4.

6. Gervinho the fluctuater

I remember journalist Auclair’s comments that Gervinho will delight and frustrate in equal measure, and he certainly had that number. While it’s true that he misses some good chances, he also creates some. Overall that’s superior to someone who creates nothing – if you squander 10 glorious chances and create 1 that wins the game, you become a thousand times better than a player who creates nothing and leaves the team with a 0-0 draw. Anybody who creates a winning goal has monstrous value, regardless of what they’ve missed in-between.

7. Mertesacker the deceptive

A quick point on Per – remember that tall people don’t look like they’re running fast. SWP can run 100 steps and Per can cover the same distance in 10, at almost the same speed! Mertesacker put in a lot of blocks and headers during the game, and when a mistake is made, the idiots with one memory slot quickly forget everything else or actively ignore it. Apart from using his height in the air, the one thing I’ve seen Per doing a number of times his using his long legs to reach out for balls – that’s mobility.

The despair of our poor start has finally been laid to rest with this Chelsea result, and I personally feel like our season is just starting. Of course we’re well behind the pace of the two frontrunners, but it does finally feel like we have a team that somewhere, somehow has the resources to get something on the day. Potential is probably sufficient, but what will really define us, as ever, is consistency.

Before I go, did anyone else think it funny how Van Persie and Walcott both ran off the wrong way while celebrating, then … oops, where are the supporters … then turned around and run the other way!

Categories: Arsenal

Accumulating Points by a Sum of Parts

October 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Citeh’s approach has been what many supporters cry for: a collection of superstars.  When the rumours are travelling in off-season with regards to player purchases, nearly all fans are basing their excitement level on a player’s portfolio.  And herein lies a huge truth that goes missing on nearly everyone.

A player’s portfolio, in other words, what they have achieved up to now, is based on circumstance and environment.  Consider a player like Flamini.  An unknown quantity signed by Wenger, slotted in at left back where there was a need and where his hard work earned applause.  A new season, a new position, a new player.  Flamini partnered Cesc in midfield and the heavens opened – the team became genuine title challengers.  Flamini earned his national callup based on his excellent work at the Arsenal, but then took up the many-times-made mistake of believing the pastures were greener elsewhere.  His career took the knock and his France place has been rare ever since.

The reality is simple – Flamini’s portfolio was composed from operating in a specific role, at a specific club and working together with specific players.  As such, you would be perplexed to find that you sign a player like that for a new team and then find you don’t get the same result.

This leads us to an important issue: the talent of the squad versus the talent of the manager.  While City have accumulated a set of stars to make the moon blush, I continue to have this nagging doubt about the quality of Mancini as a manager.  After a draw and loss in the opening Champions League game, you’d believe that City were simply inexperienced.  But that falls flat on several fronts.  For a start, the average experience at this level is quite high, with players like Nasri and Yaya doing consistently well previously.  Additionally, if talent is all that’s required, how could City be short of it?  If experience really is the issue, would you argue that City are too young?  Of course not.

My conclusion is this: don’t judge the Arsenal team as a collection of talent.  Rather judge the team as an assembly of parts.  If you’ve written off the team because you believe that Arteta is a lite version of Modric, Lampard, Yaya or Carrick, you’ve again ignored the combinations.  Wenger has consistently built teams that work together as a sum of parts, and if this team is to find success this season, it will be as a result of creating the combinations rather than as the collection of individual skill attributes.

As such, it’s been most unfortunate that our defence continues to accrue injuries – if a successful defence is built on combinations that understand each other, you can see in our goals conceded tally how much we’ve lost in the way of stability.

Spurs have consistently spent money on players and rarely achieved what we have, and we go into that game with the same basic problem – that Tottenham can boast all the players they like, but how long since their collective effort superceded us over a season?

Categories: Arsenal

Blackburn Defeat: A Second Once-Off?

September 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Probably like you, I sat miserably towards the end of the Blackburn match and had a conversation with Arsene Wenger.  “You said the United result was a once-off?”

The euphoria around holding the Dortmund attack at bay on Tuesday was probably a little over-eager – we realise that now, but I suspect it will once again be a danger to swing violently to either extreme in taking a stance.  Clearly the defence hasn’t quite turned the corner, but let’s break it down.  We’ll ignore the attack today, because they played the part, and three goals away should be enough on nearly any occasion.

For me the biggest headline was Sagna’s constant struggle with the tremendous Hoilett.  We’re looking at the league’s best right back getting skinned over and over, and at this point you have to hold your hands up and pass a compliment to Blackburn.  You can argue that Wenger should have bought quality, but in Sagna we have just that.  You can argue about training, but when you have the league’s best right-back and first choice for a major footballing nation, you know have individual quality.  I’m not convinced that Hoilett’s impact was down to organisation failings, certainly regarding his war through our right.  The kid had some game today, and if that form continues, Blackburn fans will have to resign themselves to losing another talent to a top club.

As for the keeper, we know by now that his qualities are good, that he has command of his area for the most part and that nearly all indications remain that he’ll be a top player, a real find.  Whether he remains organisationally in charge of his defence could be a cause for concern, but you might have a hard time imagining a quiet Chezzer, not having a word or two with his teammates.

At left back, I’ll give Santos a bit of grace.  I’d be interested to know if Gibbs was omitted due to injury concerns, due to form concerns or due to ability concerns.  Another story, another day.  Santos had a fairly average day, winning some, losing some – much too early to make a call.  Should he have played?  I don’t see why not – Blackburn are not exactly the league champions.

The rest is up for serious debate.  Koscienly had possibly his worst day in an Arsenal shirt, shortly after being marked out for special praise.  Mertesacker was brought in specifically for these kinds of games, and I took in how the commentators pointed out what seemed a glaring error.  Why was Mertesacker not set for the Samba-marking role on set pieces?  I understand there is a zonal marking change, but then have Mertesacker mark Samba’s area.

There is small relief we can take from the game.  I was interested to see Wenger’s post-match comments, and rather than jump on the offside decision, he clearly held his hands up and pointed to the faults.  I was interested regarding Pat Rice’s comments about not having Wenger in his ear complaining about the players’ mistakes.  That’s a finger up to all those who don’t believe Wenger sees his players’ errors.  Today Wenger said that what he saw was unacceptable and not suited to the level.  I believe his aversion from stubborness is a positive, and I’m interested to see what comes of it.

I am going to maintain my previous position.  I believe the team is still looking to gel, and I believe things will improve.  On the attacking front, I was pleased today with some of the interplay beginning to develop, and there were some really awesome moves created by superb passes.  Gervinho confirmed what we had been told: that he will delight and frustrate in equal measure.  The fact that there are moments of delight are an improvement for us, especially with Chamakh’s recent dismal form.

I’m interested to see what comes of Robin’s rebuke for the pass that never happened.  Personally I believe that Gervinho made the right decision in trying to shoot, and anyone who has accused the team of overplaying will have to agree with that sentiment.  The trouble is that so much can get lost in that one extra pass – it can be underhit, overhit, intercepted, and when it reaches the player, he first has to gauge the pass, position himself and then either trap or shoot.  Certainly the outcome didn’t work in this case, so I guess we have to say that passing the ball might have been a better alternative.  As for Robin, that was the growling captain moment – will it work?  Will it inspire players like Gervinho, bury them or cause unrest?  Let’s see.

Things will get better, no doubt in my mind.  But I would be surprised if the improvement is of title-winning proportions.  Unlikely.  Top 4?  Game on.

Categories: Arsenal

The Season is Over

September 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Following on from the Swansea game, I had the customary browse through the headlines, seeing if I could find some sense in the tangle of tabloid wish-wash.  It was scarce.

I had only just recently deliberated through the United thrashing of Bolton, noting how poorly the 5-0 scoreline reflected the game.   Bolton managed 20 shots at goal against United’s 13.  It is true that Bolton’s efforts were generally from distance and largely straight at the keeper, but you’d agree having seen those statistics again that Bolton were hard done by.

Not so with the commentators at the time.  This far into the season, the quantity of hype, hyperbole and sheer manufacture is of soap opera levels.  De Gea launched a long ball forward, which couldn’t quite be reached by the forward, although United managed to haggle for a corner.  After the corner eventually found a United player and the ball was buried in the net, the commentator duly attributed the goal to De Gea and commented on how he had passed his examination with flying colours.  Each exaggeration built on the next, and as the proverbial frog stew goes, the end result was so distant from the point of departure, but one small lie at a time, sufficient to fool the ignoramus.

If you genuinely believed the columnists had an astute grasp of the game, you might as well go and cash your winnings right away.  The title race is certainly a two-horse race between Unitd and City, with Chelsea taking honourable mention, ahead of a galloping Liverpool or desparately misguided Arsenal.

I fail to see how one game against Swansea has just determined our whole season.  Please explain this to me.

We went into the game with 2 new spinal players learning the curve, missing what I believe will be our key creative player in Gervinho, and minus another 2 key spinal players in Wilshere and Vermaelen.  Yes, we will always be missing key players, but here’s the difference: new signings do not bed into the Arsenal system after less than a week of training and while recovering from international duty.

Underneath this issue is a very basic concept that needs grasping.  The “Arsenal Way” is not a collection of players with similar abilities, but a method of football.  If the style is a collection, then all you do is buy a certain style of player, plug them in and let them perform from day one.  As such, if players like Pires, Nasri, Henry, Walcott and Song epitomise the Arsenal Way, then why did they need time to settle?  Certainly Pires was experienced, so no defense on the age front.

On the contrary, the Arsenal Way is a taught style.  Wenger’s systematic training methods are well documented and unique, and he puts players through drills towards achieving a specific style.  Whether you believe that style is appropriate for the Premiership is of course another debate entirely, but the fact that there is a very specific system is not in dispute.  Of course Wenger buys players who can fit that style, but getting into that style requires a period of adaptation.  It certainly requires more than one week of training.

One chief criticism levelled against Arsene and the board this season – a fair criticism – is that the key signings were left so late.  Precisely, for the reasons I’ve mentioned.  The players need time to learn the Arsenal Way and understand their role in relation to their team mates.

As such, to look at the Swansea victory and draw all kinds of assumptions from the game is really lower league.  I hope you didn’t do it – will a smack on the wrist suffice?

Categories: Arsenal Tags: ,

Manslaughter United 8 – 2 Arsenal – Forensic analysis

August 30, 2011 Leave a comment

It was like playing a football game with a bug that allowed you guaranteed goals, and then relentlessly exploiting that bug, over and over and over again.

My intention right here is not to review the match but to analyse where this fell flat, so we can chart a way forward.  What I’m going to do is break the faults and reasons into sections and quantify where this happened.

1) 9 players out
We lost 3 first choice defenders and a backup in Squillaci.  Sagna is a world class right-back who seldom gets injured, and his replacement is a promising but inexperienced Englishman.  Vermaelen is one of the best defenders in the league.  Gibbs is a promising left back recognised as a future England regular.  Honestly, Djourou and Koscielny should be good enough to avoid conceding 8, and Traore has had enough experience now to do likewise.  Missing Sagna was certainly a loss, the others not as much.

The real pain was in midfield.  We missed four central midfielders in Song, Frimpong, Wilshere and Diaby, all of those capable of playing a defensive role that would have reduced the scoreline.  Song and Frimpong’s absence was a result of our indiscipline, while missing the other two was bad luck, particularly Jack, who not only has a limited injury record, but also provides genuine class in the team.  Then of course Gervinho’s absence was harsh, given the amount of provocation given by Barton.  In all honesty, Arshavin contributed little to the game, and Gervinho’s threat would have given United a lot to think about and possibly helped to pull their players back territorially.

2) Brilliant shooting
How many times have you seen that quality of long-range shooting in one game?  Top-corner efforts with our keeper at full stretch.  Young was on fire, and not since the days of Henry and Pires have I seen Arsenal match efforts like that.  And when last did we score from a freekick – Rooney buried two.  The free-kicks were from great positions, resulting from our inability to cope with United’s attacks, so that certainly was our own fault to a degree.  Young’s efforts were pure quality and I wouldn’t be too quick to leverage all the blame against the team.  Still I’d have an easier time imagining Song recognising the danger and getting across to block it.

3) Defensive chaos
In all the talk of Cahill joining, I’ve wondered if our defensive problems are down to arrangement as much as ability.  Nani’s chipped goal was purely down to a positional issue for example, although Wellbeck’s opener perhaps placed a question on Koscielny’s ability.  I took note of the comments about putting defenders on the posts for the freekicks – it seems so obvious in hindsight that I wonder how it was not considered?  Is there a rule that says you can’t put your entire wall across the goal line?

4) Transfer gap
My assumption was that Arsenal were always playing a late price game on the market, resulting in a gap between selling our stars and replacing them.  The club took a gamble with that gap, with the possibility that the team could run into an injury issues during that period.  The worst case scenario materialised, and at the time we needed squad depth, there was none.  The club obviously has to take blame for a risk management failure.

My honest opinion is that this is a 50-50 result.  50% bad luck that we could have had such an accumulation of missing players in one game, and 50% the fault of Arsene and the board for their transfer failure and for ineffective tactics against a United side that have had our number for a while now.

What I find particularly interesting about the game is that Arsenal had 19 shots at goal, with 13 on target.  We went to Old Trafford, scored 2 and missed a penalty, which is commendable.  But that is a small part of the picture, obviously.

A last comment: United played a young team, combining in-coming signings and academy grads.  No different from Arsenal really – Lansbury and Cleverley for example had both been out on loan together.  It looks to me that in most player-to-player match-ups, United have done better with their youth.  Watch out for De Gea though – this guy is going to drop points for United.  You heard it here.

Categories: Arsenal

Theo the Angry

August 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Much of the accumulation of pressure in recent weeks for the Arsenal has been down to the recent spate of cards and on-field scraps.  At Newcastle we had the melee, inspired by Barton, but happily joined in by everyone.  Udinese was another frothing affair at the end, in part contributed by the opposition’s simple frustration at being well beaten.

There’s a different mood in the air now, an aggression, a frustration, a sense that the world is against the team and that referees are pursuing an agenda like never before.  In truth, the world is against the team – apart from a handful of AKB-branded outcasts like myself.  Are the media against the team?  You betcha.  Is the bureaucracy against the team?  For sure, witness the Gervinho-Barton incident and conclude justice from that if you will.

The one I’ve been watching is Mr Theo Walcott.  We’ve been used to the momma’s boy – sweet smiles, children’s books, model teen.  The new Theo?  Spitting mad.

The first question: is the fury between team-mates, or is it between the team and the outside world?  Perhaps both.  There have been rumours of scraps between Wenger and Nasri, and Wenger and Van Persie, and I’m sure the Nasri situation has grated team-mates, as witnessed by Pong’s tweeting over his departure.  There are always ill feelings within any football club that we never hear of – I had no idea of Toure’s and Gallas’ stand-off.

The stand-off between the team and the outside world is understandable.  Relentless criticism is fairly normal from the media, but the cannibalism from the team’s own “fans” has taken on radioactive levels, fuelled by doomer blogs like Le Grove, Arsenal Truth, Arsenal Action and ANR.  If there’s an anger at the depravity shown by family towards the players, you can understand the edge the players have taken on.

But is the new “Theo the Angry” an improvement?

If it means he becomes less shy, charges more readily into potentially game-winning runs, and tackles more clinically and assertively, then yes.  If it means turning referees against us through whining, costing us suspensions through rash tackles, and over-bloodying his crosses and shots, then no.  The first indication to me is that nothing has changed for him game-wise – we’re still seeing the same fruitless crosses and the same cheetah-esque runs and finishes when given space.  I’m mostly happy with what I saw last season, injuries aside, so I’m not complaining if there’s no change.

We’ve seen already that the yellows and reds are going to cost us something equivalent to what we gain in winning risky moments.  Where that balance of gain versus loss finishes up is still to be seen, but if the team gains an edge which moves it out of first gear then I’m all for it.  But what risk of becoming the next Stoke?  Or dare I say it: Millwall?  It’s a thought, shake it around and decide what you want to do with it.

Categories: General Tags: ,