Thursday, 28 February 2013

Are Arsenal going the way of Liverpool?

As the Tottenham tie grows closer many Arsenal fans will be wondering whether the club would be able to recover from losing out on the Champions League. Having seen Liverpool after their Champions League victory in Istanbul it is clear to most football fans that no club is safe from decline. Having won the most prestigious competition in Europe who could have predicted that the club would be struggling to qualify for even the Europa League in 2013? In a similar vein, watching the Arsenal Invincibles you could hardly have predicted that Arsenal wouldn’t see premier league success for at least the next 9 years, and come 2013 would be embroiled in a battle, with their arch-rivals, to see who could qualify for the Champions league.  We have seen a slow decline at Arsenal FC since the move to Emirates – though the 07/08 season promised a lot- and the questions on the lips of a lot of our fans is – ‘Will the decline continue?’

Looking at Liverpool’s situation at the moment is like staring into the eyes of a disappointing parent – you see so much of them in you, but fear turning out like them. For this reason let’s look at a few of the mistakes that have led to Liverpool’s decline into only a slightly above-average Premier league team.

Sales of Key Players- The loss of players like Mascherano, Torres, Xabi Alonso and Raul Meireles has seriously depleted the Liverpool side over the years.  Selling players for huge prices can often be very tempting for clubs – any of our fans can tell you that – but adequately replacing them with the money can be a huge issue.  Take the Torres transfer for instance, Liverpool pocketed £50 million for him, but replacing the striker has been a task which has resulted in a greater outlay than the fee received.  Furthermore, the effect on immediate club performances can be equally disastrous as most replacement signings will require time to settle in. In reality Liverpool were probably actually right to sell Torres – who had requested transfer-listing. The example simply illustrates a point. In truth, the issues that arrived following the Torres sale were mainly due to misuse of transfer funds.  Sales of players like Fabregas, Nasri, Adebayor, Cole and Clichy show that, in this area, we have fallen into the same trap as Liverpool. What is more frustrating is that this season we have lost our best striker and holding midfielder, and now find that we are lacking in these areas. Had we not sold those players last summer the League would probably look a lot better for Arsenal.

Sacking Rafa & repeatedly changing management – Okay we don’t fall into this category and I’m glad. After sacking Benitez Liverpool descended into a whirlwind, with good managers coming and going. Each manager came in and tried to stamp their own brand of football onto Liverpool and all fell to the way-side. In fairness to Liverpool, with the signing of Brendan Rodgers – who is being afforded more patience than some of his predecessors – I think they are realising their mistakes. Essentially, bringing in a new manager with a new style of football can be like signing 11 new players for the team. As the team gets used to playing a certain way – which can take more than one season – results suffer. As results drop a new manager comes in and BOOM! Another couple of seasons of mediocrity. One of the main reasons for Barcelona’s sustained success despite managerial changes is that the new managers have maintained their brand. Looking back to Arsenal, Wenger is sadly coming towards the end of his tenure at Arsenal. I don’t want him to leave but I can’t see him here for more than two or three seasons. When the board does decide to replace him they need to find a manager that can maintain the continuity at the club or we risk going the way of Liverpool. Laudrup anyone? (BTW Swansea are another good example of what I am talking about).

Buying overpriced, English Players – Arguably Liverpool’s biggest mistake was to buy so many British players. As sad as it may seem to say so, English players come at a premium at this level. Why? Well they’re just so damn marketable. Of the fairly regular first team players almost all English players are fan favourites or at least very valuable adverts for our club – Wilshere, Walcott, Gibbs and the Ox. Even Jenkinson is starting to make his way up there. For this reason the prices on English heads are somewhat understandable. The issue that Liverpool had was that they spent far too much on bringing far too many average English players into their team – after a point a lot of the players you are buying won’t have much value in terms of image anyway. Take Charlie Adam who was bought for a steep £9M, he hardly improves Liverpool’s global brand, yet an equal substitute could probably have been bought for half that amount had Liverpool chosen not to choose English.  Now obviously these players were bought for footballing reasons as well, but it seems that the owner’s taps are running dry and quite frankly they aren’t seeing an equal return on the pitch, mainly as a result of Dalglish’s poor spending.
Once again Arsenal hasn’t fallen into this trap, but quite frankly when you are making a profit on player sales season after season it is hard to do so. While we have had our share of flops it is no match to Liverpool’s mismanagement of transfer funds. With such a financially-shrewd board it is unlikely we will repeat the mistakes that Liverpool did, however if reports are to be believed and Wenger does spend, then the coming summer transfer window will be key in deciding whether our club sees a decline equal to Liverpool or is propelled back to heights we have previously enjoyed.
Well that’s all for now,
Feel free to drop a comment.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Dealing with Bale

When Walcott signed in 2006, apparently Arsenal had a choice between signing him and Bale. One of our better players this season, Walcott's performances have massively improved, but his form has been nothing like Bale's showings for Tottenham.  Though he wouldn't admit it, I think this stings Wenger a little inside. Anyway, whether Arsenal are able to get a result on Sunday will no doubt be dependent on Wenger's ability to neutralise Bale's threat. Yesterday, Bale epitomised his importance to Tottenham - single-handedly  bringing down the West Ham team. So the question remains - how can Arsenal deal with Bale?

Now let me be clear here, I'm not claiming to be a tactical genius or that I have a fool-proof method to deal with him. Bale is one of the best players in the Premiership and, as such can tear apart any game-plans a manager might make. That said, there are some key factors that will come into play on Sunday which will determine whether Bale has a stormer or a quiet game.

Jenkinson or Sagna : If Sagna is fit he will likely play. On the surface the experienced Sagna should clearly play over the inexperienced Jenkinson, however in Jenkinson's defence he has played fairly well this season after a difficult debut season with the club. Furthermore Jenkinson's pace is clearly a factor that could play into the game as Bale's own pace will clearly pose a problem to Sagna who, as a result of two leg breaks, has clearly lost a step. That considered I would probably still pick Sagna  - for the first 60 minutes at least. Sagna's experience should not be understated as, against a world class player, a cool head is far more useful than quick legs. Psychologically the concept of facing 90 minutes against Gareth Bale would be far more daunting for Jenko than Sagna, who has been there and played against the best. Jenkinson is fairly tireless and I could see him bombing back and forth for the last  30 minutes in a manner that Sagna simply cannot.This would pose serious problems for the Tottenham defence and would also limit Bale's ability to run forward, as the joint threat of Walcott and Jenkinson would force him to stay back. In the last few games in  particular Bale has really thrived in the final periods of the game - so this could really have a massive impact on our ability to contain him.

Walcott - Obviously it is very important that Walcott tracks back to provide protection to the RB - that's a given - but what is equally important to keeping Bale quiet is the level of attacking threat Walcott poses against Tottenham. Neither Kyle Naughton nor Vertonghen are slow, but neither can match Theo. Given that Tottenham like to play a high line Walcott would have the potential to expose the Tottenham defence. With that in mind, should Walcott succeed in exposing Tottenham Bale would be required to stay back for extended periods. Obviously this is not a given, and would definitely require some luck on our part, as AVB could easily chose to drop the defensive line in light of Walcott's pace and Walcott may struggle to impose himself in the game or may even be played centrally. If (A big if) things pan out the right way for Arsenal on Sunday though, we could see Walcott being the stand-out Southampton graduate in the North London derby.

Arteta/RDM - In the 1-1 game against Manchester United, Bale struggled to impose himself. This was in no small part down to Ferguson's use of Phil Jones as a Defensive midfielder slightly to the right of center. This resulted in a restricted ability of Bale to cut inside, and also provided support to Rafael. Bale struggled as a result of this and posed no serious real attacking threat for any sustained period in this game. The issue Arsenal have in this situation is that we don't have any defensive midfielders in the mould of Phil Jones. Last season Alex Song would have been able to complete the task with consumate ease. Unfortunately due to his sale we are left with the relatively inexperienced Coquelin and Mikel Arteta, who is proficient but unfortunately not at his best in this role. My inclination would be to deploy Arteta in this role due to his calmer head, but unfortunately neither really instil a great confidence in me and an area we might struggle to contain Bale with may well be the inside-cut.

Anyway this is all I can come up with at this moment in time,
Feel free to leave any ideas or opinions in the comments.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Henry, Spurs and Do we need a Striker?

News reports recently seem to suggest that Arsenal legend Thierry Henry is looking to return to the club in a coaching role at the end of his contract at New York Red Bulls. Is this a good thing for Arsenal? Simply put YES! When Henry joined the club on loan last season he certainly made an impact - on the pitch and off it. Walcott in particular has spoken of the positive impact that Henry had on his game last season, and also was key in the contract talks. Being able to talk to a player who has seen and done it all will definitely have a positive impact on the youngsters in our team. And who knows, maybe he could even have a word with Gervinho. Call me a romantic but seeing Henry come home and link up with  Wenger would really add to the family feel that the club has created between the players and staff - one of the things I love about this mighty club.

In other news - Spurs are playing West Ham  tonight - a game I will be intently watching. More for the result than as a scouting mission though. The Hammers play nothing like the Gunners, but, Spurs' approach will be interesting. Will they risk Bale given the virtual 6-pointer on sunday? He is clearly their best player and quite frankly their only real source of goals in recent weeks. Even if Bale does play it'll be interesting to see if Tottenham are able to break down a West Ham team, who despite having an average season, are no fools defensively. Despite them being clear favourites I can see the spuds dropping points tonight and hopefully allow us to overtake them this weekend.

Finally, my main topic of discussion today; I hear a lot of Arsenal fans complaining about our need for a better striker to replace Van Persie. After Saturday's match against Aston Villa there was a lot of criticism of Giroud's performance - and rightly so; he squandered chance after chance and was nowhere to be seen after numerous Walcott crosses. With that said if I was Wenger a new striker would be bottom of my shopping list. Giroud is clearly a good finisher; say what you want about Ligue 1 but no striker could be it's top goalscorer without being able to finish. He has been at Arsenal for around half a season now, and we can often be quick to dismiss players as poor - understandable though, given our history with signing strikers. As a target man Giroud's play depends on his understanding with other attackers in our team. He has been with the team for 6 months. If great understanding was built in 6 months Real Madrid would have won everything season after season for several years now. We should also finally be able to play Joel Campbell who has struggled to gain a work permit, but has looked fairly impressive for Real Betis this season. Chuba Akpom has also made huge strides in the U18s this season; unnecessarily signing a striker like Falcao ( Not that I think he'd join us) would almost definitely end their potential for the first team.

So there you have it folks, feel free to leave a comment on your views.
Lets hope the spuds blow it tonight.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Captain Jack?

With Jack Wilshere being Arsenal's outstanding performer thus far this season and Vermaelen struggling for form Jack the Lad looks set to become Arsenal's next captain. At such a tender age and still developing, the question arises 'Why is Wilshere being made captain?'

Marketability - Wilshere has returned since his injury to quickly become Arsenal's messiah. In a team that at times looks without purpose, fans see him as a shining light driving the team forward. Add to that the fact that he's a product of the youth academy and it's no surprise why he has endeared himself so well to gooners. In recent years Arsenal FC have shown themselves to be very shrewd when it comes to money matters and giving Wilshere the captaincy creates a huge potential for commercial deals involving him and the club.
This is something that Mr. Wenger and the Arsenal board are all to aware of, and I wouldn't be surprised if one the main factors influencing the captaincy is Wilshere's marketability.

Vermaelen - One of Arsenal's most reliable defenders in the 2011/12 season, unfortunately since receiving the captaincy at the end of last season he has looked a shadow of his former self - notably giving away a goal to a certain ex-arsenal skipper at Old Trafford. Contrary to what most people will tell you the Arsenal defence has actually performed well this season, conceding the second fewest goals in the league. This is probably due to Vermaelen's (and Steve Bould's) influence. Unfortunately the captaincy seems to be having a detrimental effect on his individual performances and realistically a poorly performing player cannot expect to retain the captaincy.

Team effect - Wilshere would become an extremely young captain, following in Fabregas' footsteps, and although he seems to be well-liked among the players, it would be naive to dismiss the possibility that some older arsenal players may not take him seriously enough when making decisions. This should only be a minor factor to take into account given that our squad -if nothing else - are extremely professional. On the flip side it may spur older, experienced players to step up as leaders across the pitch - helping Jack in his new role. One place that this would be incredibly useful is up front as often the issue ,this season, has been that our attacks have lacked direction. In my opinion the reason for this is Podolski and Giroud - as they have come in they have needed time to settle in. As most people can attest to it can often be difficult when settling in to become a leader. The change in captaincy would certainly give these two players an opportunity to really step up for Arsenal to aid Jack's transition.

Wilshere himself - The gamble being taken on Wilshere's captaincy in my view is most dependent on this factor. Given that the more experienced Vermaelen has struggled to cope with the responsibilty of captaincy it is very possible that captaincy will have a similar effect on young Jack. That said, Wilshere  has already asserted himself as one of our leaders on and off the pitch this season. At his age the requirement to organise the players will very likely teach him a lot tactically, though I admit there may be teething issues at first.

Other options:
Arteta - Reliable, well respected I would be equally happy with him with the armband.
Mertesacker - Clearly intelligent enough tactically, unfortunately seems too mild mannered at times.
Sagna - Hasn't had the greatest of seasons this time round and looks set to leave. Sadly, a year ago, before the leg break I would have had him down second only to Vermaelen.

Given the positive possibilities I genuinely believe that Wilshere will make the cut as Arsenal captain.Given the nature of the role however, I would like to see how he fares before making the final decision and I would not be surprised if Wenger tested it out in pre-season before making a final decision.