Monday, 24 June 2013

Let's Talk Arsenal

So I’ve had a long break from blogging – and a combination of factors have lead to this. Uni work initially got in the way but after the season finished nothing interesting has really happened. Of course we have been linked with numerous players over the course of the silly season but the only confirmed signing so far has been a player that fans of Football Manager will have had a quiet smile about – the young Yaya Sanogo. Obviously not the marquee signing we were craving but with his recent goalscoring record he is definitely one to look for.

Moving onto more recent days – it looks like we are very close to signing Gonzalo Higuain. I previously wrote an article about how I do not think a striker is required at Arsenal, however make no mistake about this Higuain will definitely bring a lot to the team. His goalscoring record speaks volumes for his ability to get into the right positions and the quality of his finishing. I do, however feel this acquisition will, unfortunately, cause a few of our younger players to struggle for first team opportunities. Coming from the Spanish league I can imagine Higuain adapting very quickly to the Premier League; thus he is a signing that our fans have been craving for some time – a top quality striker with a proven record in the top leagues.

In other news Tony Adams has declared that he should have been made chairman of Arsenal. Really? Adams? If Adams has shown anything over the past few years it is that he knows very little about top level management. The fact of the matter is that he appears to reek of desperation and sadly unprofessionalism due to his recent outburst to the press.  He may garner some support amongst the more discontented fans but there is sadly a lack of real substance behind what his assertions. As I write this, I grow more and more flabbergasted at Adams’ criticism. How could the man seriously consider himself a candidate for a position which would (theoretically) place him above Wenger? Due to his services to the club Adams had earned the right to be a club ambassador, but unfortunately I can’t see a role like that possible for him anymore. But hey, maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

What we learnt from our night in Munich

After a demoralising defeat to Spurs last Sunday, Arséne Wenger and our club proved their critics wrong by defeating what was a very strong Bayern team. Despite the result we lost on away goals, but surely a result like this could have a huge impact on our season. Here are the things I took away from the match and the implications that they have.

Fabianski and Koscielny looked very good

I know everybody has talked about it – but there is a reason for it.
Before last night’s performance Fabianski looked set to leave Arsenal at the end of the season. Today he looks set to take over from Szczęsny for the rest of the season. Fabianski produced a very solid performance and his handling was in particular impressive. He did make one mistake during the game in failing to latch onto a cross across the face of the goal, but all in all he looked far better than our other Pole in the goal. Furthermore, he looked impressively self-assured when organising the defence - for a man who has previously been criticised for a lack of confidence, this is surely a great thing. I understand that knee-jerk decisions based on one performance are foolish, but surely his performance warrants more chances to prove himself.

With the poor form of Vermaelen, Koscielny was given his chance yesterday and boy did he take it. His defensive positioning was impeccable and he took his goal very well. Not a lot more needs to be said about him, but I would be surprised if he didn’t start the next game.

Rosicky looked distinctly average

The final rotation player given his chance, didn’t live up to expectations. I still think he’s a good player, but unfortunately our Czech midfielder looked, unsurprisingly, out of practice.  Clearly he still has a lot of talent, and was consistently getting stuck in; he had good vision during play, but was repeatedly misplacing his passes and mistiming his heading. He is clearly symptomatic of a lack of match practice; but with Wilshere out for a few weeks, I would expect to see him featuring a couple of times over the next few weeks, and I would expect to see his performances improving.

Defensive organisation was key

Perhaps one of our best defensive displays this season. Don’t let the 25 shots that Bayern took deceive you, despite the attacking prowess in their team Bayern managed to make very few clear-cut chances and most of their efforts were long shots. Credit is due to Koscielny, but the use of a deeper line, a smaller gap between the midfielders and defence, and battling performances by Arteta and Ramsey, also made our defence look much sturdier. 

The willingness to drop deeper was key last night, and we saw a strong display from Mertesacker. Given his relative lack of pace is it surprising that he prospered when the line dropped? Wenger will no doubt look at this and we may see our side playing more deeply in future weeks. Wenger seems to favour the use of the 4-2-3-1 when playing tougher opposition, and despite its favouring defence, the fact that we still managed two goals suggests that it is worth the trade-off.  Finally, Kieran Gibbs returned yesterday and his pace alongside Jenkinson – who continued his impressive form - no doubt also improved our defensive display, as we saw them able to provide cover when defensive line pushed up. 

Wilshere was missed, Don’t worry about Walcott

A major issue was the midfield yesterday, too often the play kept breaking down and as a result we were unable to build any kind of momentum. This is where Wilshere normally enters the play, driving the midfield forward.  This is a minor complaint; if Rosicky’s game had been better this would have gone unnoticed.  This brings me to my second point - the criticism that Walcott is receiving for fading away in the second half is unwarranted. Yes, Walcott was quiet, yes, I wish he could get stuck in properly, but unfortunately that is the type of player that he is. His role is to try to break the offside trap and get behind the defence, to do this he has to generally be near or at the defensive line.  Walcott’s game generally relies on his supply, and yesterday it was lacking. Wenger realised this, and as a result took him off for the slightly slower, but a lot stronger Oxlade-chamberlain who able to get stuck in further down the pitch.  

Best thing for the league

Exclusively thinking about the premier league, I don’t think a better result could have been possible. The players are buoyed by a great result but don’t have the distraction of more CL football. That said, I do think it is a signal of our fall that I didn’t consider CL success to be on the cards from the get-go.  It should be recognised though, that our match this weekend against Swansea will be a complete different game. Being the bigger side will prevent us from being able to take the same approach to the game. Anyway, we’ll see when it comes. 
The memory of when we shook Munich will stay with me for a while.  Let’s see if it can stay with our lads too.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Spurs Lose, Bayern Loom and Get Off The Bould Brigade!

In a great weekend, for Arsenal, Spurs dropped 3 points in their bid for Champions league qualification. This leaves them 7 points away from us and we have a game in hand. Assuming we are able to earn the  points from the game, that leaves us 4 points adrift of Tottenham and 5 off Chelsea - assuming they also pick up the points from their game in hand. With Chelsea and Tottenham still to play we have an assured drop of at least 2 points from one of these teams - and with a tough fixture list it looks like we could well overtake Spurs in the coming weeks. Things are really beginning to look up at the Grove.

As Wednesday approaches, Arsenal fans are growing both hopeful and apprehensive. On the one hand you can never write Arsenal off - nobody could have predicted the comeback we would attempt against AC Milan after being so empathetically defeated at the San Siro. Players keep coming out and saying that we have the quality to do this - and if we show up maybe, just maybe, we can . On the flip side what are they supposed to say, this truly is mission impossible, a backs to the wall job of trying to overcome a huge deficit against arguably the best team in Europe.
Anyway, my personal way of looking at the match is that we have nothing to lose so we might as well get behind our team and hope they give it their best shot. At the end of the day there is no shame in going out to Bayern. 

For weeks now there has been reports of tension between Steve Bould and Arséne Wenger. As people grow irritated with our defending some reports seem to be suggesting that our defensive frailties are as a result of Wenger -growing jealous of the praise he was receiving at the start of the season -stopping Bould from training the squad. As news of Bould's tension with Wenger surfaced, Bould has quickly become a hero to the 'Arséne Out' brigade. Now obviously I - like most fans commenting on the club - do not know what happens behind closed doors at the club, but not for one second do I believe that Wenger would prevent the progression of the club as a result of jealousy. So to you AOB's I pose you the questions -  How much do you guys actually know about Bould's work? Why does his inability to work with his manager endear him to you? 
I know it's pretty clear that I lean towards the AKB brigade; but I am not trying to take away from Bould's work. I simply ask why are Gooners saying that the unproven Bould is great and the proven Wenger is stifling him?

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A New CB -Are Williams and Albiol what we need?

Recent reports are linking Arsenal with a number of players to solve our defensive issues. Ashley Williams, valued at £8M, is the name that most frequently pops up, but Raúl Albiol has also been linked with the club – amongst others.

Ashley Williams has been enjoying a strong season for Swansea and, at 28, is hitting the peak of his career. Similarly Albiol – with 38 caps for Spain – is amongst some of the best defenders in Europe. Looking at these players and seeing the way our defence has looked in recent weeks, you would surely think that one of these players would solve our problems at the back.

 However, a quick look at the players in our defence hardly suggests a personnel problem. Compare Williams with the Vermaelen of last season, in terms of the ability and attributes they bring to the squad there is not a huge difference. At 27, Vermaelen is hardly past it, yet he has struggled this season. Similarly, Mertesacker is a German defender who enjoyed a huge reputation before joining the club. With 86 caps for one of the best international teams in the world he is no fool, and shouldn’t be treated as such.  My fear is that spending 8 or 10 million on a new defender will appease fans, but not change any of our issues.

An interesting feature prior to Gary Neville’s tactical analysis was the table showing the number of times each team has caught their opponents offside. Leading the table was Arsenal, catching our opposition offside 99 times – hardly suggestive of poor defensive aptitude whilst playing the high line. But then why, oh why, does our defence look so shaky?

Watching the goals we conceded against Tottenham and Bayern I have concluded that the issue lies within our midfield. We are leaving too big a gap between our defence and midfield. Watching the Bale goal, there was literally no pressure on Sigurdsson before he played the through ball.  One of our midfielders – it is difficult to tell who from the footage - was a few paces too far to be able to impact the play.  Furthermore Arteta loses his man – Bale.  Suddenly, in a very quick play, our defence had little time to organise and came up lacking – but this was as a direct result of midfield errors.  If situations like these keep repeating themselves any defence will eventually come lacking. Our first and final goals conceded against Bayern were also attributable to midfield errors. For the first goal Ramsey is unfortunate but, in an attempt to protect Vermaelen, finds himself in a no-man’s land – leaving Kroos unmarked.  For the final goal, Arteta is slow to enter into the defensive phase, and as a result Vermaelen – who is forced to try to protect the goal from Robben - allows Lahm to overlap him – allowing the cross which lead to the goal.

Now I am hardly trying to claim that we have a picture perfect defence. The second goal against Tottenham was clearly created by a defensive issue between Monreal and Vermaelen. I simply cannot see a need to sign another CB – in my opinion we either need to change the style in which our midfield play, or sign a player who is more positionally reliable as a CDM than Arteta or Ramsey.

That’s all for today,

Feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Are wholesale changes needed?

Arsenal fans are slowly starting to come out of the mourning phase for Sunday’s result, but moving forward is difficult when you look at the squad and wonder how we will get out of this sticky situation. Some fans are calling for Wenger’s head, some are blaming the board and others just downright blame the team. Visit any arsenal boards and you will quickly hear people calling for mass changes in the team. Often the cry is for a signing in each key position. Personally, I want to see some spending in this summer, but only 1 or 2 players.

Let me explain why this is the case. I am a strong believer that team chemistry is more important than individuals in the team. This becomes an obvious statement by looking at the league today. Chelsea signed 5 first team players that have featured regularly this season, Man City did the same. Man United, who are taking the league by a landslide have, by contrast, only signed two.

You could put the success of Man united down to better transfers, but I don’t really buy that. The likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Demba Ba, Javi Garcia, Maicon and Nastastic are all quality. Player-for-player City and Chelsea are both equal to – if not better than – Man United. Now this year could obviously be an anomaly so I decided to look back a few years. Since 2000/01 season, only two teams have added more than 3 regular first team players and gone on to win the league – the Chelsea team of 04-05 and the Man City team last season. Our team of ‘Invincibles’ saw several players join us that year, but only Reyes and Lehmann were first team regulars.  Maybe not conclusive evidence, but it suggests nonetheless that wholesale changes are unlikely to benefit results massively. Now let’s look at our last two seasons, ones where we have struggled to maintain our status as Champions League shoe-ins. 4 regular first-team players were signed this season and 5 last year (note that I have not counted Jenkinson or Chu-Young). Once again the pattern re-emerges, it is not conclusive, but you can see my point.

In conclusion, this summer my main hope is that we don’t lose any key players.If Wenger really does have money to spend, I hope he buys few quality players over several decent ones. A CDM and RB would do nicely – I’m not too worried about upfront, but that’s just me.

Anyway what are your opinions, What positions do you think need strengthening?
Feel free to leave a comment,

Monday, 4 March 2013

Why it is important to not get on Wenger and the players' backs for the rest of the season

With the defeat to Spurs on Sunday our club faces an uphill struggle to achieve 4th place. Overcoming our 3-1 home result at home to Bayern will be an extremely difficult task as well, so in general this, so called, ‘season of transition’ has been a failure. During this difficult time for the club,people will be quick to question and criticise Wenger. While it is necessary to question the performance of the manager; I fear that the criticism may lead to disappointed booing and signs of ‘Wenger Out’. Though I am not one of those fans that believe Wenger should leave, I can understand why some people feel there is a need for change. However, to those people I say not today!

The fact of the matter is Wenger has clearly covered for the board’s inadequacies over the past few years and, as such, is basically un-sackable. I understand the frustration, but putting up banners and criticising his decisions will not achieve anything. So long as Wenger chooses to be here, he will be in the job. The criticism may be great for letting off steam, but - given that it won’t force the desired change – it is likely to be counter-productive  Seeing Wenger out banners and hearing booing would be disheartening for a squad, who already seem to lack the confidence to consistently play at their best. Wenger appears to be a father-figure for a lot of our players, so the criticism simply adds to their weight of expectation.

Finally, our squad has just lost games to Man City, Chelsea, Bayern and Spurs in recent weeks - they are a squad who are going to be lacking for confidence. Some sectors may not support the management or the board, but I think we can all agree that the important thing for the club is to get to our best possible position this year, so we should rally around and support the team. Let’s get behind the players and leave the criticism for a time when it might actually achieve something.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

What I took from the Spurs match

A disappointing 2-1 loss Spurs culminated in us finishing the game 7 points from them. Here are the things I took away from the match:

Szczęsny is struggling - His performance was poor today. Watching a quality keeper in Hugo Lloris at the other end definitely highlighted his issue. Now there is no denying that our defence was to blame for both goals but there is a point where you look at Tottenham’s one-on-ones, there wasn’t a single time where it was thanks to Szczęsny that we didn’t concede. When Bale scored Szczęsny had the opportunity to sweep up the loose ball but was too slow to react. For the Lennon goal you see that he clearly committed himself too early. In comparison Lloris swept up all the loose balls that passed his defensive line and on many occasions prevented our strikers from getting away a shot as a result. This was one of the clear differences between our team as we both play high lines and both have one slow CB. Now I’m not saying Szczęsny is a poor keeper –For his age he is actually one of the best in the world - but the fact of the matter is that age is no excuse and – due to no adequate back-up - he is currently undroppable. You’ll hear all the pundits say it time and time again but it holds truth that if a keeper has several poor games in a row and has no fear of being dropped it can prevent growth.

Tottenham are not unbeatable – Despite their current run of form I actually think they looked like a fairly average team. A recurring theme this season has been that we have switched off for a few minutes and quickly conceded. Tottenham quickly took advantage of this, but for the first 30 minutes we were by far the better team. After we conceded two goals in quick succession, it was almost plain sailing for them as they could sit back and counter. That said, if they play the way they did today against Chelsea and Man City they will almost definitely lose.

The Jenkinson substitution was a huge mistake – Walcott disappeared for large portions of the game and Jenkinson was the only player on our team that was able to provide any kind of attacking threat down the right hand side. I think the idea was to create an attacking threat by throwing on another midfielder, but unfortunately what kept happening was that Spurs forced the ball down their left (Our right), running down the clock as nobody was effectively protecting that side.  Furthermore Rosicky had a quiet game and our threat down the right hand side was effectively finished as a result of the substitution. Jenkinson was one of the few players in our defence that actually impressed me today and as a result I am beginning to see him being able to become a quality player in our team.

As the game finished I was extremely disappointed and actually put off writing this post to stop myself from slating our attacking options too much. Giroud is clearly in a slump of form and needs to rediscover his shooting boots to show himself as a great striker, his ability to get into positions is still very good but without a final product he will continue to look mediocre. Vermaelen actually looked very impressive at the start of the match making a number of good tackles, but once again a couple of lapses in concentration cost us, and severely marred his performance.  I could continue to give a critical appraisal of our team but unfortunately it doesn’t mean too much. After a result like this it’s easy to get down in the dumps and forget that it is just one game. It does sting, but you have to take the good with the bad.