Friday, 31 October 2008
Emotions are running high in many peoples veins since the 4-4 draw against Spurs and I've even seen some people calling for Wenger to resign. Its time for a reality check children - Arsenal are 3rd in the league, have 20 points from 10 games and only Man City have scored more goals than us. If you are ready and willing to sack Wenger for this then you are an idiot. Plain and simple.
The anti-dote to frenzied xenophobic ranting is some good old time analysis, so yes Gooner fans, its time for Uncle Ted's tactical chalkboard.
So lets look at some of the evidence. The current Arsenal team scores a bag load of goals from all over the pitch (a staggering 44 goals from 16 outings in all competitions), but we also concede more than a few (13), especially from the middle of the park at the moment. Still, that is an impressive goal difference. Unlike a few seasons ago, we don't let in that many from crosses, although we are hardly rock solid at defending set pieces. Instead, we seem to give opponents a bit too much time and space in the middle of the park outside our box, especially in the second half of games at home in the Emirates when we are usually pre-occupied in attacking.
This should not be surprising when you look at AW's current first choice for the outfield players, especially the current front six of:
Walcott Denilson Cesc Nasri
Concentrating on the shape of that team, it plays as two genuine wingers (Nasri coming inside a bit), with Cesc coming forwards and Denilson holding back a bit, but also with a licence to get forwards. Interestingly, the trouble maker as far as the refs are concerned is Cesc (3 yellow) with Denilson on 2 yellows.
Its a very different shape to last season, when Arsene's first choice in the early part of the season was something like:
Hleb Flamini Cesc Rosicky
How we used to moan about the lack of width in that midfield, with Hleb and Rosicky both wide-midfielders who play centrally for their countries. Any real width we had came from the full-backs, and from Walcott playing later on in the season. Plus Flamini did not get forwards very much, which gave Cesc a free role to go and attack.
Its also a world away from the midfield that played for the second half of the season in the Invincibles of 2004, which looked like this:
Gilberto Edu Vieira Pires
Bloody hell that was a tough midfield to play against. Edu came through after Christmas when Ljungberg was injured and forced Gilberto to play out wide, with Lauren on the overlap. But there was absolutely no room for the opposition to play with Edu, Vieira and Gilberto ready to break them at any moment. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the Invincibles were equal measures of strength and skill. Vieira would have more cards by October than the entire present team does. At the moment, we are all skill and virtually no strength at all.
So it seems to me that the answer is quite simple. In fact, its blindingly obvious and we have been saying it for months - we are weaklings in midfield. The problem is that I don't think its as easy as saying "go and sign a Makele type player to protect the back four". If there were any good ones available, then I'm sure that AW would have signed them. And for all you Alonso fan club members out there - he is not a good defensive midfielder.
Instead, the change of tactics for us this year is playing with two wingers in Nasri and Walcott, which creates an enormous amount of space for the two centre midfielders to cover. Its a hell of an ask for anyone.
If we want to tighten up in midfield, then unfortunately one of Nasri or Walcott has to sit on the bench, so that Song or possibly Eboue or Diaby can play in a tighter midfield and give us a less attacking shape. Thats a bitter pill to swallow.
The reason why AW won't to that unles he has to is because Walcott and Nasri are so damn good. But make no mistakes, this is the most attacking Arsenal side of all time. We make Kevin Keegan's Newcastle side of 1996 look amateurs at the "all attack / no defend" game.
So button down the hatches and get ready for more 4-4 scorelines. Its the best footballing entertainment you can buy.
Wednesday, 29 October 2008
The game was one way traffic, I don't have time to detail all the Arsenal attacks and chances, and frankly it would pain me to do so. A majestic Bentley strike gave Tottenham the lead early on, and there was nothing Almunia could have done, it was just a great strike. A good firm Silvestre header gave us an important equaliser just before half time. The second half was so one sided that it was beyond a joke, we strode to a 3-1 lead but then came a mistake from Almunia. He spilt a Huddlestone piledriver and Bent tapped in, 3-2 and our nerves jangled.
We responded immediately with a lovely RVP goal and we coasted at 4-2 until almost the ninetieth minute. For some reason Gael Clichy decided to piss around with the ball in the left back slot, Jenas robbed him and dribbled forwards, he then hit an unstoppable left foot curler into the far corner, this was a complete freak goal, a Jenas left footer from outside the box. Then came the second freak goal, instead of trying to hold possession Fabregas played a through ball that was intercepted in the central defensive area, Tottenham broke. Almunia had Modric's long ranger covered if it had hit the target but it hit the post and bounced kindly for Lennon who tapped home. 4-4 it was, two freak goals in quick succession, on another day neither would have gone anywhere near the onion bag.
We did not deserve to drop points against such a poor side, however our sloppiness gave Spurs the opportunities for three of their four goals, and that is the thing that has been fuming steam from my ears. We were so far superior to Spurs on a footballing level that it's hard to take not beating them, however we simply have to learn to close out games better, we cannot be so sloppy and casual. Ironically I thought we defended excellently on the whole, Gallas and Silvestre were superb at the back, they cannot be faulted for any of the goals. Just to be the absurd optimist, one point is better than none.
Spurs Team News
Tuesday, 28 October 2008
The Rednapp Factor
Prior to last Sunday morning, I would have said we were virtually guaranteed the three points against Spurs. Juande Ramos was lost at sea and his players had turned on him. It would have been like taking sweets from a baby. However, having said that, has anyone actually tried to take sweets from a baby? I bet its harder than you think.
Anyway, the arrival of Harry Rednapp at Shite Hart Lane on Sunday morning was a genuine shock. Although perhaps not to the Pompey fans, who know his money-chasing, short-term ways. Only Rednapp could have managed Bournemouth, Southampton and Portsmouth (twice) and be hated by all of them. That tells you a lot about the man.
Similarly, his move to Spurs will be a dagger in the heart of the Hammers fans, who enjoyed some good times under Rednapp in the '90s, I think finishing 5th at one point. Along with winning the FA Cup at Pompey, those two achievements are probably the highlights to date of Rednapp's CV.
And now he has the vast weight of Spud-Expectation on his shoulders. Rednapp has never managed a "big team" before with big transfer budgets and big ego players. However, I have a sneaky feeling his is going to be quite good at it. The Spurs derby may even regain its status as the highlight of the season in future years, rather than being just one of the bigger games.
Hence the butterflies have begun early. On paper, Arsenal have found a little form recently and should be comfortable winners. If we focus on our own game and maintain a high tempo, then no problem. However, the crucial thing will be whether the players are up for it - are they going to fight for every ball, work for each other and tackle like their lives depended on it? If they do not, then Wednesday evening could bring a nasty surprise.
Sunday, 26 October 2008
A clean sheet but no cigarette
We created far more than West Ham in both halves and the pressure took it's toll in the end, again we must be very grateful for the mighty Manuel Almunia who pulled off an excellent and important save from Craig 'Scrutney' Bellamy when clean through on goal, to be fair to West Ham it was a lovely well crafted move and our defence could not have done much about it. Theo was dangerous when he got on the ball and tested Green twice in the first half, while Green also had to save well from Bendtner's low drive after the Dane had created the chance for himself.
The second half saw more of the same domination, however West Ham created virtually nothing, their pathetic appeals for handball every time the ball hit anything that wasn't a foot summed up just how desperate they were. RVP seemed to come to life as the game wore on, and he forced yet another excellent Green save with a vicious low rasper. Walcott put a very threatening ball across the box while Bendtner made a nuisance of himself down the inside left channel. Despite our domination time was running out and Arsene chose to replace Nasri and Walcott with Adebayor and Diaby.
It didn't take long for Adebayor to have an impact, RVP cut inside again and fed him, he dribbled away from two men and hit a dangerous cross shot across the face of the goal which Flaubert turned into his own net, 1-0 and thank God for that. West Ham never looked like scoring and having broken up another West Ham attack, Bendtner found himself isolated in almost the left back position, he got his head up and hit a simply majestic ball through through for Ade, who then took it past Green and slotted home when it would have been very easy to miss. Two nil it stayed, although Carlton Cole had time to see red for a reckless lunge on poor Alex Song.
Some of our squad deserve a bit of praise after this hard fought victory, especially a few who of those who have taken a lot of criticism recently (some fair some not). 'Comrade' Eboue was outstanding at right back, while Gallas and Silvestre looked strong in the centre, Alex Song was tidy in the midfield and mopped up the danger well. Song's presence in front of the back four undoubtedly helped us, while Silvestre's left foot gives us a certain balance at the back that we lack with Toure and Gallas together.
Bring on the spuds and their dodgy wheeler dealer manager, come on you Gunners.
Wenger has killed the World
Saturday, 25 October 2008
Ten questions to ponder
Why do Manchester United players so rarely get sent off?
Why are Hull the best side in the land?
Why is William Gallas Arsenal club captain?
Why is Cristiano Ronaldo so fond of rolling in the dirt?
Why do Tottenham fans see no 'point' in life at the moment? (cue spuds victory)
Why play with a defence at all?
Why does Wayne 'Shrek' Rooney love licking the Manure badge so much?
(is it coated with lard?)
Why does Emmanuel Eboue like to dress up as Tiger?
Why are you reading this blog?
Why is there not a tenth question?
I wonder what Monday will bring?
Friday, 24 October 2008
Positive Mental Attitude
Tuesday, 21 October 2008
Incisive forward play masks defensive vacuum
It's hard to get across my impression of the game, we were so incisive and breathtaking going forward at times, this was exemplified by the first two goals that were rattled in by Ade and Theo, such crisp clinical work, however the gaping chasms that appeared between our centre backs and full backs were big enough for monster trucks, Guiza cunning movement opening us up time and time again, we really rode out luck at times, but having said that we always looked like we had another goal in the tank.
Almunia was my man of the match, Silvestre and Song only convinced me that they are not the answer to our defensive problems, neither looks commanding and neither filled me with confidence, I really felt that Djourou should have started, he's been one defender that has defended well this season, he's also good in the air and has the potential to command games, if Fenerbahce can do that to Silvestre and Song, then just imagine what a top side could do to them, it would not be pretty. It was not just the fault of the centre backs by any means, the midfield did not do nearly enough to shield them from danger, the days of the granite like Vieira-Petit appear long gone, while Eboue has never been the most defensive minded full back.
Going forward was another story, Fabregas was pulling the strings, Diaby was an unstoppable jinking juggernaut at times, while Walcott and Nasri gave us dynamism down the flanks, and Ade lead the line well on his own. I don't think this Times report is that far wide of the mark, although going away to Fenerbahce in Istanbul is no easy game, remember Chelsea lost their last season, the fact that our defence looked so porous should be a great cause for concern, however scoring five does provide a good reason for cheer. The problem I have with being really positive about a 5-2 win, I know this sounds foolish, is that it will be such a waste if we achieve nothing concrete this year when we are capable of such awesome attacking play. If we are to piss away another season because the gaping flaws at the back are not addressed then it will be a crying shame.
Monday, 20 October 2008
Character despite the flaws
Three points was important, however having glanced around a few other Gooner blogs, there are still some rather significant concerns about certain problems with our squad. It does seem rather pessimistic to concentrate on negatives after a convincing victory, so I shall try to put my concerns in this context, I am not all doom and gloom by any means, however these problems do need addressing and should not be brushed under the carpet.
Everton are a decent side, but to have lost would have been a dismal result, and this is what looked like happening if the first half performance had been repeated in the second half. It was a strage decision to play Alex Song at right back, especially given the fact that Emmanuel Eboue is a right back by trade, and it certainly seemed to help Everton run riot down our right flank in the first half, it also is where the opening goal came from.
The half time switch of Song to centre back and Eboue to right back made a world of difference, along with the introduction of the dynamic cut and thrust of young Theo. Nasri's sharp finish just after the restart was also crucial, without a quick goal the belief may have started to drain from out players, but with it they went from strength to strength. It was also heartening to see Diaby appear for the final few minutes, if he can stay fit it could make a massive difference to us without the obvious weakness in the centre of midfield.
The injuries picked up over the international break were unfortunate, however the decision to play Alex Song at right back is hard to defend, surely Eboue should have started there, and arguably Gavin Hoyte would have been a better bet. Denilson is a very good young player, however he is not able to compliment Cesc, they are fat too similar to each other to form an effective partnership that will dominate games. Having said that we hardly had an abundance of options in this department, with the loss of Flamini and Gilberto in the summer we look rather short in this area. Diaby needs to stay fit as he now has a massive opportunity, if he doesn't grab the bull by the horns then surely Arsene will have to dip into the transfer market to fill this void.
There were some big positive aside from Diaby's return, Nasri's directness and sharpness in front of goal makes such refreshing viewing in comparison the the dawdling Hleb, while Silvestre did ok on his debut and could turn out to be a rather astute purchase. Fortunately Djourou is back for our trip to Turkey, surely it will have to be Djourou and Silvestre in the middle with Eboue and Clichy at full back, the midfield will depend on Diaby and Nasri's fitness, while Bendtner returns to the squad and may be rather close to displacing the misfiring Adebayor. The atmosphere will be intimidating and we will have to sharpen up defensively, a better team than Everton would have punished us more severely for our slackness on Saturday.
Friday, 17 October 2008
Ho hum another weekend appears
We are in big trouble at the back as Gallas, Sagna and Djourou are all out. That leaves us with Eboue surely having to deputise at right back, and Silvestre at centre back. It's not as easy game to be fielding a back four that has not previously played together. However there is good news in that the seemingly permanently injured Abou Diaby is fit again, one wonders how long that will last, however if he can stay fit, a big if, then he may well be able to provide a bit of a physical presence that we have been lacking so far this season.
Everton will be no push overs, despite a pretty poor start to the season they do have some handy players and will be fired up for the occasion. David Moyes claims Everton will set out to attack us, however realistically I expect Everton to play in quite a cagey fashion, Moyes is too astute to throw that kitchen sink at us at the Emirates. Fingers crossed.
Saturday, 11 October 2008
England 'supporters' et al
Following a few days of frenzied media hype, what a surprise it was that the England game turned out to yet another limp affair, the score may have been 5-1 but the lack of inspiration was there for all to see. Playing the fat Shrek on the wing was truly awesome given his breakneck acceleration, in truth Walcott was about the only man on the pitch capable of beating a man, while England's fluent passing game was hardly in danger of setting the stadium on fire, it was lethargic and pedestrian at best. I'm no Ashley Cole fan, far from it, however England fans booing him after his error demonstrated what moronic fools they are. It will not help the player or the England team if the fans cannot try to get behind the team a little bit more, frankly I'm apathetic to the national side, the only thing they are good for is inducing a little kip on the sofa.
William Gallas has been speaking of the need to instill a winning culture at the club, nice words, but to do that we'll need to defend a bit better and perform a lot more consistently:
Alexander Hleb has confirmed once again that he is a rather stupid little weener, having spent a few years chasing his tale in North London, he is now speaking out about his desire to see Cesc at the Nou Camp. I would like to second Arseblogger's little note to Mr Hleb, maybe his lack of oral control is something to do with the fact that he can't hit a barn door with a banjo, possibly a new medical condition? Hlebanjitis possibly?
The bad news is that RVP and Gallas (maybe not bad news) have both picked up injuries whilst on international duty. It may leave Nic Bendtner with a big opportunity to prove his worth, however Djourou came off at half time for the Swiss, but was apparently pretty solid and his cut to the face shouldn't keep him out for long. To counter this with some potential good news, it appears that the repugnant fat troll Alisher Usmanov may be about to abandon his attempts at purchasing a controlling stake in Arsenal FC. Maybe he is about to launch a bid to buy Barca, tie Hleb up and force him to watch videos of shots actually hitting the target, he could throw a red hot poker into the action too, go on Alisher you know you want to.....
Tuesday, 7 October 2008
No nonsense from Keane
People like Vieira seemed to relish the confrontation with Keane and his fellow arseholes. Keown would don his extra spiky boots in preparation for the trampling that Van Nistleroy would get, Lauren would axe whoever came near him. Even the "nice" players like Bergkamp and Pires had a nasty streak. And we always had St Grimandi ready to lose a limb if required. It was 50% skill and 50% cage fighting and all of it was excellent football.
I have said many times before that the current Arsenal team is simply not up to the physical challenge that winning the Premiership demands. Its not just about the height of the team, although having a team of midgets is obviously not going to help. Its the attitude to fight and win. To take the knocks on the head and grin back through the pain. Keown loved it and it affected the strikers he played against in every game. Its difficult to say that anyone in the current team is tough like that. Even Kolo and Sagna, who have the potential to be a bit tasty, are a bit polite about it all and Adebayor has clearly joined the peace corps this season.
So I wasn't that surprised that Keane's Sunderland team didn't let us play our fancy, one-touch, no-goals style of football. Thing is, we didn't even make it uncomfortable for Sunderland, who despite what AW says, did not play particularly defensive or physical football. They were well organised and up for it, and as we have seen many times this season, that is all you need to do to get points off us.
So when Keane said this about the current Arsenal team, I thinks its time to take stock and listen:
"Every team has its different characters and different dynamics," "They are still a good team but different to the one I played against. It was different characters. There is no Keown, Adams, Vieira."
Roy Keane is absolutely right. Those names were the leaders on the pitch that spurred everyone else on, and led by example on countless occassions. Gallas does not even come close.
Sunday, 5 October 2008
Getting behind the lads
At the recent Hull game I was obviously not happy to see three points going down the bog, however my enjoyment of the game was certainly reduced by a rather annoying minority of fans who seemed to be rather keen to get on the back of certain Arsenal players rather than supporting the team. Goodplaya spoke of his similar feelings at the Porto game:
Firstly I don't expect people not to groan when silly careless mistakes are made, however it is the fact that some people seem to revel in this whinging that is so nauseating. As Goodplaya says if some of this negativity could be tapped and turned into support for the team, then the Emirates would indeed be a far better place, and the team might do a bit better with that extra support.
We have had a fair amount of success over recent years and the lovely football that we have the privilege of watching is pretty hard to find elsewhere, if not impossible. I know some of our players have their weaknesses, as does our manager, but there are ways of going about expressing this in an adult and productive fashion. I have to say the vast majority of Gooners are not guilty of behaving like spoilt brats, however I am sure many of you have noticed that our increased success has led to an increase in the size of this annoying minority.
There are ways of doing things and this is perfectly demonstrated in the blogosphere by those who can eloquently express their dissatisfaction without resorting to petulant child like rants. Some people would do well to observe the behaviour of certain loyal fans who support lesser premiership sides or teams in much lower leagues, they get behind their sides through thick and thin, and they show that enjoying football is not all about winning.
The human rights act does not empower us to demand footballing success or else, we should not expect success and then whinge if it does not arrive, we should be a little more humble and appreciate what we've got. It may have been acceptable when you were three to have a whinge that you didn't get that Transformer that you so desperately craved, however it doesn't mean you should continue to behave like this as an adult. I'm sure we've all listened to that annoying generic glory supporting Manu fan who loves to ring up the football phone-ins to slag off the players and manager after each dropped point, I just hope our fans can better avoid the trappings of success. Maybe a few defeats is good for the soul, oh how I love to stir up a bit of controversy.
Saturday, 4 October 2008
Frustration and elation
I didn't see today's game, but I did listen on the radio and the annoying biased northern tones to the commentary did have me bashing my head against my walls at times, I should be more tolerant but I can't help my natural rage. By the final whistle I was still ecstatic at the late equaliser, but also angry at the fact that two vital points had been dropped.
The tactics can always be faulted, especially with the advantage of retrospect, however I am inclined to agree in one particular aspect of this critique, that being that Van Persie should either be played up front or not at all, he is simply not effective on the wing. I am not massively fond of 4-5-1, it does have it's place at times, however it is essential that you have pacey wide men who can support the attack, Walcott is perfectly suited for 4-5-1, but RVP simply is not. Personally I would have stuck Nasri on the left if I was forced to go for a 4-5-1, but surely we should have started with our traditional 4-4-2 formation?
Objectively we deserved at least the draw, and probably all three points. It was a veritable bolt out of the blue from a Sunderland side that rarely threatened Manuel's goal. The statistics tell the story, more shots on target, more shots off target, more corners and over 67% possession. Again we were done by a rather speculative long range shot that another day would have sailed into row Z, but today it found the top corner. Even then we could still have easily have won the game.
The ref allowed far too many deliberate fouls, especially in the first half, for example Dwight Yorke seemed to have a license to commit professional foul after professional foul. The key moment in the second half came at 0-0 when a perfectly good Arsenal goal was wrongly disallowed, the linesman adjudged the ball to have gone out when it blatantly had not. Had that been 1-0, the three points may well have been ours, call me paranoid but that's the second week running we've had a perfectly good goal disallowed, I can't see the same happening for any of the other sides in the big four. Of note Manu's first goal against Blackburn involved a blatant barge on the Blackburn goalkeeper by Vidic, the ref ignored this.
So yet again an unfortunate combination of factors has seen us drop points, the very defensive Sunderland side clearly surprised Arsene. I don't think Arsene should be criticised for being too negative, he clearly expected more positivity from Sunderland, however RVP does not perform out wide and should never be deployed their in my opinion. The weak and highly inconsistent refereeing does not help either, far too many cynical fouls are not punished with yellows early on, this doesn't help sides that try to play football, it helps the cynical cheats. I'm erring towards it being a point gained at the moment, but maybe that will change depending on how our other rivals get on, mixed emotions again it seems.
Friday, 3 October 2008
Weakest link and three points needed
The mighty Martin Keown has been speaking and the Mail have thus quoted him:
'He's a quick, mobile defender but first and foremost what you want him to do is attack the ball.
'It's not coming off and as captain Gallas has to show more desire in such situations.'
I can't argue with that. I do think we should be careful not to make a scapegoat of Gallas. He does have his issues and he doesn't appear to be the perfect foil for Kolo, however to lump all the defensive blame at his door is unfair. Keown does not to do this of course, he is simply quoted out of context by the Mail's hack.
The point he does make is valid however, Gallas needs to be more aggressive and he needs to win more ball than he has done thus far this season. There are many other reasons behind our fallibility from set pieces including Toure's intermittent form and our small size throughout the side, it is simply unfair to blame Gallas for these problems as well.
The guardian show that the board do not live David Dein, that's a really big scoop for them. What did make fascinating reading was the Joe Kinnear interview, if one can call it that! I have to say I feel a lot of sympathy for Mr Kinnear and very little for the Mirror's hack Simon Bird. There are so many low life hacks out there who are all too happy to cast their divine judgement on others, they are happy to manipulate the truth to make a fast buck and progress their careers, while they care little for who they hurt along the way. Very few journalists live by the same ethical standards that they are happy to apply to those that they routinely judge.
Anyways I digress, the importance of three points tomorrow cannot be understated, we certainly cannot afford to drop any more points if we are to stay in touch with the top of the table. Alex Song is fit and must be a likely starter, while I hope the neat Nasri also takes to the field. Sunderland's home record isn't the greatest of late, so if we can keep it tight then I fancy our chances, that's not an insignificant 'if' though.
Wednesday, 1 October 2008
A great response
Porto threatened early on and could have easily taken the lead, we survived a couple of very shaky moments at the back and fortunately took our chances in the first half, the rest is history. It does go to show just how crucial it is to take one's chances, while it's always important to have a bit of luck, as if Porto had taken the lead who knows how it could have ended up.
In the end it could have been more more embarrassing for Porto, we did squander some absolute sitters in the second half as the visitors ran out of steam completely. It was good to see RVP get a couple of goals, hopefully this can be the kick start to his season, he does need to start justifying his reputation. We all know just how much ability he has, it's just up to him to prove it on a regular basis.
I know it's easy to generalise, ifs and buts can seem pretty hypothetical as well, however in football you do have to take your chances when they come along; frequently the first goal can be the key to a game. The media and some supporters do tend to interpret the performance based on the scoreline rather than judging the actual performance.
Hull was not that bad a performance, we just suffered because Hull converted a high percentage of their chances and we missed countless good chances at the other end. Porto was a good performance no doubt, but the result may well have been different if Porto had taken one of their early chances. It is all ifs and buts and opinions, that's the beauty of being a football supporter. They key to success this season will be to win when playing badly, as well as winning when playing well, and that again comes down to good defending and taking one's chances in front of goal.