Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Alkmaar trip - a learning experience

It is getting cold and miserable, so hopefully the lads can keep us warm with a few more sterling performances in the next few weeks. The starting eleven against Alkmaar saw the fullbacks replaced, Arshavin came in for Walcott and Mannone surprisingly held his place.

Alkmaar are a good technical side and passed the ball around neatly, they did lack a real quality cutting edge though, it was neat and attractive but it did not scare me. In the first half we looked very organised, solid and it seemed as if we could up it whenever we saw fit. Vermaelen and Gallas looked assured, a good partnership is developing there, Vermaelen attacks the ball so well, his slide rule passing is also something to behold. Song is a rock, Diaby was remarkably sensible and efficient, he didn't try to do much as he sometimes does by overcomplicated matters. Cesc probed and was a tad loose with the odd touch. Eboue was excellent, bright, inventive and direct.

The classiest act around though is our little Russian, everything he does is perfectly measured, well almost everything, every touch, every pass, every timing of a decision, he has such a natural knack for the game. Our first good chance came when Arsavin broke centrally, he then released Diaby in the inside left channel, he then squared for RVP who controlled, came inside and forced a decent save. The goal had a similar architecture, Arshavin pressed and won the ball centrally, he attacked and released RVP in the inside left slot, he squared unselfishly for Cesc who did the rest. One nil it was. It remained one nil til the break but it felt more than a one nil performance to me, although AZ Alkmaar are no world beaters, we just looked so composed and set up for the job in hand.

The second half began in similar fashion, we looked comfortable and until the three quarter mark we strolled onwards. The problem was that our comfort became a little complacent as the half wore on. We were a tad sloppy with the ball, Alkmaar suddenly built up a mini head of steam after Diaby's inadvertent chesting almost ended up in his own net, it fortunately bounced off the top of the crossbar. We didn't make the most of some good positions in the final third, Alkmaar had a cracking chance from a free kick on which we went to sleep and the ball crept only a yard wide with Mannone stranded. Vela should have had a penalty when chopped down in the box, then from a hopeful direct ball, it was nodded down and smashed home from eight yards out, 1-1 in the ninety third minute.

For all our class and clear superiority over Alkmaar, if you only have a one goal advantage then your position remains eminently precarious. We need to learn from this as this would be important dropped points in the league, as it is we are in a very strong position in the group and it is not the end of the world. It's a good reminder though that you need to finish teams off and that you need to maintain your concentration for the whole ninety minutes. There was some positive though to take home, overall we were solid, Diaby and Song had excellent games in the midfield, while Arshavin and RVP linked up very well up front.


Rhinogooner said...

A few thoughts on the match tonight:

- What was the foul on Arshavin for that gave AZ the free kick which led to their goal? Baffled me.

- Would like to see us contesting for balls in the air in our box and theirs. Can't remember one time tonight where we did this. Their keeper claimed every ball without a challenge from our players.

- All second half I kept thinking to myself - "we need to up it a gear and press for the second goal so we can seal this victory". Very slack from us.

- I'm not overly disheartened by the result but I am a bit dismayed to see that the naivety we've had for a couple of years has not yet been cast aside yet. This team still has to prove it can do the little things that trophy winning sides do. Can't see Man U or Chelsea having let 3 points slip in injury time to a side as ponderous as AZ tonight.

- I hope this hiccup doesn't dent our confidence enough to cause us to go into a slide. We've seen it in past seasons where we don't go all out for a victory in a match we deem to be less important and that disrupts our rhythm enough that we start playing poorly and dropping points against lesser lights.

- Don't look now, but November isn't far off. I'll be interested to see if this Arsenal squad can avoid our perennial nosedive in November better than their predecessors.

Rhinogooner said...

One more thought I forgot to mention:

- Shame AZ had a more "Arsenal" kit on than we did ;-)

Ted said...

Good analysis from 1979 and Rhino. This seemed a relaxed performance from us and one where we cannot complain too hard about getting a draw.

There was plenty more from us left in the tank, and it is a shame that we did not get the second goal and kill the tie, but its no great shakes.

marcus said...


This isn't a disaster. But it is concerning. And annoying.

Diaby went back to his maddening insistence on dribbling the ball aimlessly for what feels like FOREVER, instead of passing it quickly, and OF COURSE he got easily dispossessed. Also, he almost scored an own goal AGAIN. Overall Diaby had a good game on Saturday but he (like any one of our keepers) make me constantly nervous. I'm terrified to see him in our box when we have to defend a set piece.

The thing that struck me about last night's game was how incredibly lackadaisical everyone seemed, playing with so little energy and urgency. We got no more than we deserved.

It's really striking how Arsene has refused to start Almunia. Choosing an inexperienced, 3rd choice keeper for an away CL game when your #1 is available is a pretty strong statement.

I am a little concerned, however, about this record AW has with Koeman. AW still can't beat him. And remember Koeman did beat us at home in the CL.

We were actually quite good defensively for nearly the entire game. And we deserved a penalty. It's just that one moment of complacency, switching off that cost us, like it has so many other times.

marcus said...

Oh, and Eboue dived -- AGAIN! I don't understand why AW doesn't address this.

sara said...

Just wanted to say great blog and post, i'm a die hard arsenal fan and this is just what i was looking for!



Rhinogooner said...

Welcome Sara. I think you'll find that this is a blog with a very balanced perspective.

Ted, 1979Gooner and Obsinho are the blog writers. And we enjoy commenting regarding their articles and all things Arsenal.

The comments section is enjoyable as we are able to have reasonable dialogue with each other even at times when we do not agree.

I often come here as a form of therapy and to vent my spleen. And the others all endure my nonsense and miserable nature.

We look forward to hearing thoughts from you.

K man said...

Looks like we're going to struggle to keep clean sheets this season. Going forward Arsh, Fab and RvP are really starting to click but we have to learn to attack the long ball - even if we can't win the header we need to put off the opposition player more.

Watched the Real and Milan game last night - neither looked very convincing. Was sad to see Flamini on the bench - he doesn't seem to be playing much when he's at the stage of his career when he should be playing regularly. Shame.

1979gooner said...

Have to agree and disgree, what fence sitting.

Diaby had a good game, he very very rarely gave the ball away, he kept it simple and did well overall.

I have to say Cesc was the most underperforming of the middle three, it's all relative and I do expect a lot of him, but he did waste a lot of good positions and his touch was loose on several occasions.

I don't think it was down to individuals though, it was just a little slow and sloppy in the second half, there wasn't quite enough tempo.

It's was mainly down to naivety as we didn't have the experience to kill the game off and to know that we had to kill it off in the first place, we were too complacent given it was only 1-0.

Better to learn it in this kind of game as a draw is a decent result in the group context.

Rhinogooner said...

To 1979's point - no one in the team, aside from Vermaelen, seemed to recognize the need to notch it up a gear.

I expect the captain to be the one to analyze the match as it's unfolding and recognize when he needs to drive the team forward or instruct us to keep our shape and limit our opponents passing or, even, constantly shouting reminders to everyone to focus when there are corners, set pieces, opportunities for counter attacks, etc.

I don't mean to say the captain should be the only one to do that, but at the very least he should be responsible for this. There are other players in the squad that do show leadership at times on the pitch too. And that is a good thing.

But we certainly do not have a "team of leaders" as Mr. Wenger likes to try to delude us into believing. And not all of our players are intelligent, or even possess a "footballing brain".

And I think these are some of our biggest weaknesses. But you expect that with a young team, as ours is. And this is why so many fans are crying out for the club to supplement the squad with some proven winners.

We lack players on the pitch that will drive us forward when we need to get a goal, or snuff out the dangers before lesser teams can snaffle a cheap goal against us.

We can say that shipping a last minute goal to AZ was a good learning experience for us. But I would contend that that lesson should have been learned already. It wouldn't be for lack of learning material since we've dropped points as a result of losing our concentration in the final minutes of matches a multitude of times over the past few seasons. It begs the question of why haven't we learned from our mistakes? Someone needs to take responsibility for this and sort it out.

While I'm grumbling, I'd like to add that our goalkeeping situation needs sorted out as well. Mannone hasn't done poorly, but the lad does not command his box. I think this makes our defenders nervous. I know it makes me nervous.

In fact, I'm sure the majority of Arsenal supporters squirm every time a ball is launched over the top and from every corner our opponents deliver. It shouldn't be this way. We should feel safe knowing that our defense is solid and will attack every ball that comes into our box. As it is now, several of our players seem to back off as though they expect one of their teammates to deal with it. Our players should be knocking each other over to throw themselves at the ball or get a head onto it.

Who amongst us can honestly say they were surprised when AZ scored? It was diabolically typical.

I know it is hard to tell from that diatribe that I'm actually not too bothered by the result against AZ. But I am fearing a less than inspiring performance may occur against the Hammers this weekend as a result of draw v. AZ.

Obsinho said...

Win your home games and don't lose set from home. If you do that in the Group stages you go through in first place, so we're right on track.

Last minute goals happen, the chat from the squad about "lessons being learned" Is all good PR, but to my mind last minute goals are not all because the conceding side suddenly stopped concentrating. It's often that the scoring side is playing with more urgency (clearly they should do - they're losing) or are in a spell of building pressure.

To some extent they were both true last night, but equally we did defend it poorly and it was a good finish. However, get used to conceding goals as we will continue to. Doesn't bother me yet though, as we are mostly out scoring the opposition. And that is a lesson we need to learn, when we don't have a 2 goal cushion can we change the play to be less expansive? It cost us last night and against utd, and may cost us again.