Wednesday 28 September 2011

Some good and some bad - a slightly fortuitous 3 points

It was not the eleven that many of us had expected, the young Ox getting the nod was a definite bonus though for me, the fact that Arshavin and Rosicky started was not quite the same positive. It was a very very strange first half. We had a fair bit of the ball but Olympiakos repeatedly hit us on the break, looking pretty damn dangerous at times, with some of our defensive play a bit lacking to say the least.

We probably just about deserved the half time lead through the Ox's expertly taken opener and Santos' equally well taken second. The goal for Olympiakos was particularly frustrating but it had been coming, the Ox was left outnumbered when they took a corner short, a nice left footed cross found Fuster unmarked on the penalty spot, he headed home well and left Szczesny with no chance at all. Both sides could have scored a couple more a piece, it was a very very open game. The big positive had to be the danger and threat that the Ox provided down our right side, Per Mertsacker had another solid shift at the heart of the defence.

The second half was a little bit more cagey as one would have expected. There were not as many clear cut chances but we really should have made the game safe at at earlier stage. The thing that frustrated me was summed up by our small Russian, he was so mediocre going forward and so lazy in defence, sometimes just standing around after he had lost the ball with another casual pass. I hardly noticed Rosicky on the field in the second half either.

There was a true heart-in-mouth moment as Torosidis belted a shot off the bar from a tight angle at just around the corner of the penalty box, it was a cracking effort but overall Olympiakos didn't really open us up in the second half as they did in the first. We had the chances to kill the game on the counter, we just didn't have the killer instinct, largely down to some typically average play from Arshavin and Chamakh in the final third.

The Ox was taken off for Ramsey. Gibbs came on for the woeful Arshavin. RVP for the lacking in confidence Chamakh. There were some poor refereeing decisions second half too, Mellberg lucky to escape having lead with an elbow on RVP, the Olmpiakos left back should have received a second yellow for chopping down the Ox for the second time, the ref seemed to be too easily conned by some rather obvious Greek diving.

There were certainly some positives from tonight's game, Arteta was solid, Mertesacker was defensively excellent, the Ox was brilliant, Arsenal's no1 was top notch again. However there were some big negatives, Rosicky and Arshavin were very poor indeed, defensively there was not enough help from those who should have been helping the defenders out. In my opinion Rosicky and Arshavin have proved time and time again that they are not good enough for Arsenal FC, they don't scare defences and they don't do anything defensively, they simply do not contribute enough. The defensive unit was not the problem, it was our defending as an eleven that was our Achilles heel.

Personally I would be sorely tempted to play both Gibbs and Santos against Spurs at the weekend, Rosicky didn't do enough to justify his selection, neither did Arshavin. If Gervinho is fit then I would like to see him roaming with RVP up front in the following eleven, obviously if Koscielny is not fit then I would keep Song there and play Coquelin or Frimpong in midfield:

Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Santos
Ox Arteta Song Gibbs

Tuesday 27 September 2011

The injuries repeating

A solid win was just what was needed at the weekend and clean sheet as well was a welcome bonus, we now need to keep the momentum up in a big week with Olympiakos coming up tomorrow and then the Spuds at the weekend. It should not be forgotten just how fantastic the form our our young Pole in goal has been, another top save in the first half against Bolton was pivotal, going one down could have been hard to come back from with a nervous crowd and a team low in confidence. The first half wasn't particularly inspiring.

Certainly the midfielders got more into the game in the second half and upped the tempo, Bolton couldn't live with it and RVP was the catalyst for the demolition, it has to be said that the red card did make things far more relating then they would otherwise have been. Bigger tests will come than Bolton at home but it was a start, it has to be remember that Bolton's recent form is terrible and some context should be maintained. The big concern at the moment is our current injury status.

Jack Wilshere is out for months after surgery on his ankle, maybe it will be the new year before we see young Jack back in the action, a great loss but it does give a chance to the likes of Frimpong and Coquelin who have impressed thus far. The centre backs are dropping like flies. Vermaelen remains out, Koscielny has an ankle injury, Djourou has a hamstring tweek, all meaning that we are likely to see Song at the back with Mertesacker tomorrow night, a big concern given that his positioning is terrible, not surprising given how rarely he has played at centre back.

In midfield and up front we lack Wilshere, Walcott (minor knee injury) and probably Gervinho (minor muscular problem). I'd guess that we are therefore likely to see Arshavin come into contention for a starting slot, personally I'd like to see Chamakh and RVP play up front as a two. We need three points from our home games in the CL, this much is obvious and as for Sunday, we need to avoid defeat.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Hopeful but not overly optimistic

I like to think that we provide a vaguely balanced view of all things Arsenal related here, anyway we try to be fairly objective and not get carried away as certain people do in the mainstream media. The world is not black and white, we live in many shades of grey and many people would do well to realise this.

I didn't watch last night's game, I listened online and I don't think one can draw too much positive or negative from it. The positives must be that Kieran Gibbs didn't get injured, that the Ox and Coquelin impressed, and that we got through. The negatives must be the woeful form of Johan Djourou and our general weakness defensively.

Johan Djourou was our best centre back for a long chunk of last season until his form collapsed in the spring, he now continues in this poor vein of form and looks a player short on confidence, decisiveness and aggression. There is only so long that one can persist with failing players and I think many of us are thinking the same thing about Johan, his time appears up.

Our defending worries me and has done for some time, even though Arsene Wenger reacted rather strangely to questions about needing a new defensive coach, he seemed to be slightly angry when asked about this and refused to answer the question. Our defending is going to decide our season in my opinion, we need to sort it out fast if we are to have a hope of climbing up the table and into the top four.

Arsene needs to organise our back four and improve the way we defend as a unit. The goal we conceded against Shrewsbury yesterday was shocking, we had the men back, but no one moved, so static and no one attacked the ball. This has happened so many times of late, the ball watching and the slack marking gives our opponents cheap easy goals far too often.

There is the issue of the individual responsibility to defend. Song must be told to go out and play with discipline, he must sit in front of the back for long periods, the holding player must not desert his role unless there are exceptional circumstances. The midfielders and forwards must have specific defensive roles so that the full backs are supported and the opposing team's deeper runners are picked up from deep. I would like a return to the 4-4-2 formation but I am not hopeful of this.

Arsene will be judged by our results over the coming weeks and he has it all to do starting against Bolton this weekend. We need to pull together fast and adapt our approach if we are to succeed. I fear if we do not learn from past mistakes, then the same defensive naivety will continue to cost us games that we should be winning, just like last weekend at Blackburn. I hope Arsene can do it but I am not overly optimistic.

Sunday 18 September 2011

This defending merits the sack

Our defending has not been good enough for years and it is clearly the manager's responsibility to send out a team that can defend adequately in order to have a good chance of winning trophies and football matches. The manager has had years and millions of pounds to sort this problem out. Nothing seems to have changed, the same mistakes keep on being made and it continues to cost us points and trophies. The manager continues to say the same things, acknowledging that we have big problems:

"You cannot say you are not worried when you see the performance we put in today. It's just not defensively solid enough. When you are 2-1 in front against Blackburn and you know that you are solid defensively, we will score goals."

Personally I am finding it harder and harder to listen to these statements of fact. We have a defensive problem and we have had it for years, why on earth has it not been addressed? One man has to hold his hands up for this and take responsibility for it. I am a massive Arsene Wenger fan, he is a lovely human being, as well as a highly intelligent and articulate football manager. There is only so long that devoted Arsenal fans such as myself are prepared to put up with this situation and it really hurts me that things have gone this far. It feels like I am cutting into myself with a rusty knife as I write this but I am starting to feel that if Arsene were sacked now, it would be a very justifiable decision, his position is bordering on the untenable.

Saturday 17 September 2011

How long must we endure this defending?

I can no longer reach for excuses, it is a hard and simple fact that we have not defended well enough as a unit for a long time, and it has cost us points time and time and time again. Our shambolic and sloppy defending cost us another three points today against a poor Blackburn side. Amazingly we could still have won the game despite conceding four, we created the lion's share of the chances and dominated the game. However as we have learnt in recent years if you cannot defend a lead, one will throw away points left, right and centre.

There was a large element of misfortune present in today's defeat but if we had defended properly then this would not have any impact on the result, we would have won comfortably by a country mile. There was the obviously offside goal, the Walcott penalty et cetera. However to focus on these would be foolish, the focus should be on Santos' positioning for Blackburn's first, on Song's non tackle for Blackburn's fourth and all our terrible terrible defending. Offensively we created enough chances to have scored ten goals, in fact if Blackburn had defended as we had then we may have scored 20 goals. The basic point is we were absolutely bloody awful defensively yet again and the manager knows this:

"You cannot say you are not worried when you see the performance we put in today. It’s just not defensively solid enough. At the moment we do not have the capability to focus defensively for 90 minutes to win games. It is important you do not give cheap goals away like we did.”

I am struggling to express myself with the use of copious expletives. We have been defending like rank amateurs, like a pub side at times, for years, this is no new trend, we have been leaking too many goals, we have slackly let numerous leads slip. It is the manager's job to organise our side offensively and defensively, and it is clear that he has not done the defensive part of his job for a long time. This is not acceptable and it cannot go on.

So what are the reasons for this defensive incompetence? They are multiple and complex in my opinion. It is partly down to personnel, certain players have not performed well enough, Djourou and Squillaci are two obvious examples. Sagna's injury was obviously key today, the lack of a decent back up right back was evident and exposed for all to see. It is far more of a collective organisational problem than an individual one in my eyes. Non league sides with far poorer individuals could have gone to Old Trafford and put up a better defensive showing, our defensive woes are largely down to our lack of structure, organisation and the way in which we are set up to defend tactically as a unit.

It is blatantly obvious that things are not right on the training ground, we need better management of our defensive game on the training field. Tactically we also are set up like amateurs. This was summed up by the substitution of Francis Coquelin at Old Trafford, by far our best defensive midfielder, this typified the naive and overtly stupid approach Arsene has to setting the side up defensively.

I do not like the way we play our 4-3-3 system, it simply doesn't work with the players we have within it. The full backs get very little support from the midfield and we have too many forwards who do not contribute enough defensively as well. Add to this the fact that we are all over the shop from set pieces, our offside trap is about as cunning as a Baldrick plan, man marking that is often non existent and our inability to attack the ball in defensive areas, then you have a recipe for the pure unmitigated defensive disasters that we have witnessed in recent weeks.

Realistically we will be lucky to get near the top four this year, our current form is that of a side fighting relegation. There are some mitigating circumstances, it will take the new players time to gel and it will take time to rebuild our fragile confidence. The most important thing is that defending is made our No1 priority on the training pitch, we must spend hours drilling ourselves becoming a disciplined grinding defensive machine. Tactics need to be changed too, we need to revert to a 4-4-2 formation fast, errors must be acknowledged, every player on the pitch must take more defensive responsibility. We need to sort this mess out fast otherwise we will sink.

Friday 16 September 2011

Rovers preview

It was interesting to see the media's contrasting reactions to our excellent point away to the German champions to Manu's draw against a Benfica. There is no doubt that Dortmund are a considerably stronger side than Benfica, but the media did not paint things like this, same old I say.

The most encouraging thing was the way in which we defended well as a unit even when he came under a lot of pressure in both the first and second halves. It was heartening to see the fight and commitment displayed. Fans can always forgive a lack of quality, but a lack of determination and commitment is never acceptable.

Certainly it will not be a dramatically different side that faces Blackburn on Saturday. Our 4-3-3 system will be retained and it certainly delivered away from home last season, not in our home fixtures though. The 4-3-3 is a very fluid system and it is of critical importance that the wide forwards track back in order to provide defensive support to the full backs, who can sometimes be left outnumbered in this formation.

Defensively I suspect the back five will be the same five that faced Dortmund, Mertsacker's aerial power will be useful and it is vital that we continue communicating as we have been of late. Hopefully our new zonal marking system will keep out Blackburn's set pieces.

Personally I would stick a robust midfield three into the mix, Song-Frimpong-Arteta would do nicely. This would give us a robust platform from which to defend and play on the counter. A front three of Theo-RVP-Gervinho would scare Blackburn with their pace. Diaby may well return to the squad, I suspect Ramsey will not be risked after his recent injury.

Junior Hoilett is expected to return following concussion and he is a danger man for them, pacey and skillful with a decent shot. The detestable Pedersen will no doubt be doing his normal diving routine, the pork pie prone Dunn will also be keen to go to ground in his typical truffle hunting manner.

Overall though I think we should have a great chance of picking up three points tomorrow. It will be vital that we defend solidly and don't allow Blackburn to build their confidence up by scoring first, we need to get the first goal and then kill the game on the counter attack, something that all the great Arsenal sides of Arsene's reign used to do at Ewood Park and something that we must learn to do again if we are to be successful again. Come on you Gunners!

Tuesday 13 September 2011

A good point perversely gained

Football can be a strange old game at times and so it proved tonight, we led one nil at half time having been pounded for forty five minutes by Dortmund, then in the second half when we looked solid at one nil up, Dortmund got lucky, the substitute Perisic wildly swung his left peg at a dropping ball from outside the box, he connected perfectly and the ball flew into the top corner leaving the outstanding Szczesny with no chance at all. Perhaps one each was a fair result though, a win would have been somewhat flattering.

The interesting team news before the game saw Benayoun starting for the injured Ramsey, alongside the returning Song and the new boy Arteta, the rest of the side was as expected. I have to say Dortmund were superb in the first half, they pressed us ferociously, forcing us into error after error, we could not hold onto the ball and they attacked, attacked and attacked. A mixture of good defending, poor finishing and good goalkeeping kept them out.

We did look dangerous on the counter and so it proved, RVP slid in to win the ball back, Theo then slipped him in, RVP struck a fizzing right footed drive past the goalkeeper, 1-0 it was at the break. We had struggled in midfeld, Song tried but didn't have enough help, Benayoun looked rather lost in his role, while our front three looked too isolated from one another.

The second half was far far better. We defended solidly, passed the ball around better, and we could have made the game safe, Gervinho was so close to getting a second. I was impressed by our defense in general; Koscielny, Sagna and Szczesny were the pick of the bunch though. It was still just a tad frustrating that we never really kept the ball as well as we should have, certain players were taking too many touches, but sometimes this was because they were so isolated, a lot of credit must also go to Dortmund for their excellent work rate and pressing.

Overall a great point, but three would have been terrific, it always annoying to lose out so late in a game when you have your hopes up for all three. A special word must go to the ref who displayed excellent judgement and common sense throughout, something one rarely sees in the Premier League. No doubt the negative English media will concentrate on the negatives, but going away to the German champions and coming away with a hard fought draw is no mean achievement.

Saturday 10 September 2011

Three points - big relief

As I had predicted it was not a convincing win, but it was a tremendously important one and getting the full complement of points today means we can go about the process of rebuilding our brittle confidence after out atrocious start to the season. To their credit Swansea are a very tidy footballing side and will be tricky opponents for many other PL sides this season.

Arteta and Mertesacker started, the interesting selection was that Arshavin was given the nod and finally he was given a role that suited his game, he was given a license to roam and play more centrally. Frimpong got the nod over Coquelin.

It was always nervy, maybe a second goal would have settled us down a bit, unfortunately this never materialised. Still Arshavin's tidy left footed finish from an acute angle after the Swansea keeper Vorm's thrown out had ricocheted off his defender's heel was enough in the end. We huffed and puffed, missed some great chances and certainly shaded the game. Still Swansea will look back on some of their missed chances and feel they could have come away with a point.

Arshavin played well in his more central role, perhaps the days of seeing him dying on the left wing are now gone. RVP looked sharp but lacked support, his best effort hitting the outside of the post in the second half. Theo was hot and cold, unlucky not to score when his shot was cleared off the line in the first half, he seemed to run out of ideas in the second. Chamakh came on late and missed a cracking headed chance from an excellent Gibbs cross.

Defensively we did ok. Szczesny was commanding and solid, one great save early on of particular note. Sagna didn't look fully fit after his recent illness, Gibbs did ok given his lack of games overall the full backs could have done with a bit more help from the midfield. Mertesacker was the best of the back four for me, positionally solid, he get a foot or head involved at the vital moment, a promising debut. Kos was als

The midfield three did reasonably well too, Arteta worked hard, got stuck in and was neat on the ball, Ramsey got up and down, he just lacked the killer touch in the final third today, Frimpong played with discipline and was always pressing, until he was replaced by Coquelin with about 15 mins to go.

Personally I think our current 4-3-3 system has several problems with it, the main ones being the lack of defensive protection provided to the full backs and the lack of support for our lone striker. Gibbs and Sagna were left a bit isolated at times, all three of our midfielders are happy centrally and not out wide. There was also the issue of our lack of width on the left, Gervinho pace and directness was definitely missed.

To me we have too many players with rather indeterminate roles, players whose best position is not yet known like Theo, is he a striker or a wide forward or a winger? Playing with Theo and Arshavin as extra forwards, as well as RVP, leaves too much defensive work for the midfield three in my opinion, the balance is not quite there with that eleven. Today's 4-3-3 left us too congested in the centre with three central midfielders and Arshavin playing largely centrally, we needed more width and less in the centre.

Three points, what a relief, it is vital we build on this and keep the momentum going with a good run of league games. The big positives today were the solid debuts from Arteta and Mertesacker, they were badly needed additions to the squad. I just have this bit of a gnawing doubt about the way our 4-3-3 system is being set up at home, it just doesn't look or feel right. I am not sure who is going to give us width on the left, as Arshavin has to play centrally, will the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Miyaichi have a role to play or is this just a year or so too early for them?

Finally a special word for the youngest referee in the league, Stuart Attwell, his general uselessness stood out in making some generally poor decisions both ways. I couldn't ignore that could I?

Nonsensical Wenger comments

I read Arsene's comments on the close season this morning and one particular quote stood out for me. This is it:

“Then we had the fact that we could only complete the transfers very late. It was only possible then, and it was unbelievable how it happened finally."

The use of the word 'fact' is of particular importance. Personally I think Arsene is using the word 'fact' to describe that this is what happened, I don't think he means it wouldn't have been possible to get transfers done earlier if things had been done differently. However I am not sure whether Arsene would go back and do things differently if he had the chance to turn back the clock, by saying 'it was only possible then' he seems to imply that the club would not do things differently if they could go back and try again.

I think that as supporters and shareholders we need to push the club for answers as to why it was not possible to get some transfer deals done earlier, I cannot simply take it as 'fact' that nothing could not have been done earlier and better if the club had been more organised and dynamic in their transfer negotiations. This is a very serious issue to me that questions the very competence of our club's management to sort out player transfers.

I know the club made early bids for certain players including a certain Gary Cahill. I also know that we have several million pounds left over that was not spent come the end of the window. I am no unrealistic fool, the club could not have gone out and brought in several big 30 million pound signings having sold no one, however in my eyes there is no doubt we could have done some useful early business and brought in two or three players, the fact that we did not do this suggests some significant levels of incompetence exist in the club's strategy. The manager and the board are both implicated in this failure, precisely how the blame should be divided has not yet been defined. Link
The biggest concern for me is that you cannot learn from your mistakes unless you own up to them, acknowledge them and change your approach to prevent them repeating in the future. I have seen no evidence that anyone in the club thinks the club has done anything wrong, the manager's words appear to show that he thinks no mistakes were made and that everything was done perfectly. This shows a state of denial or a lack of honesty, and either of these are deeply concerning to supporters. I think there is something rotten present in our club's management structure and it needs sorting badly, the first step in this will be us as supporters pushing the club for answers on these so called 'facts'. Either we have a manager in denail, an incompetent board or a bit of both.

Friday 9 September 2011

The obvious

Tomorrow we need three points, it would be nice if it was a convincing victory with a big scoreline, but franky I would be happy with any form of three points given our dire start to the season.

Swansea are a good capable side, they knock the ball around nicely and have a bit of pace up front. Their performances thus far show they will be no walkover.

Meanwhile we will be playing a defence that has never played together before and at least one or two other new signings, it may not all click instantaneously.

Szczesny will be in goal, the back 4 looks like being sagna-mertesacker-kos-gibbs as santos is not yet match fit. I am sure the midfield three will be arteta-ramsey and one of coquelin/frimpong, both have made excellent starts, although frimpong's rash naivety cost us against liverpool, coquelin was our best outfield played at Old Trafford.

The front three is where I think things get very interesting. Theo will be right of the forward line, RVP central, the left sided spot is where I would love to see the Ox selected. The other options are the Korean Park, who I would be quite happy with (i have since been told he awaits a work permit) or the lacklustre Arshavin, who I would rather not see start. Please gamble with the Ox Arsene! This would be my side

Sagna - Mertesacker - Kos - Gibbs
Ramsey - Frimpong - Arteta
Walcott - RVP - AOC

It's strange to say but tomorrow really feels like the start of our season, everyone needs to get behind the lads tomorrow. However I have no issue with people making it very clear that they are unhappy with certain management strategies the club have employed in recent years. Mistakes must be learnt from if progress is to be maximal.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Vermaelen's injury - a specialist update

There has been much in the media of late on Thomas Vermaelen's recent injury and subsequent surgery, I intend to explain exactly what is going on to clear up any misunderstanding they may be on the subject. The following is written by a specialist Orthopaedic doctor.

Firstly the Achilles tendon is the main tendon that attaches to the back of the heel bone (calcaneus) which bends the foot/ankle down to the ground, it is obviously of key importance in jumping and athletic activity. The plantaris muscle is a small muscle of unknown importance, it attaches at the back of the knee joint at the top end, and down on the heel bone at the bottom end.

The statements released by various parties explaining Vermaelen's surgery/injury last season and this season do not all add up in a consistent fashion. Firstly he was out for a prolonged period last year after having surgery to address the 'inflamed' plantaris tendon, from this it has to be assumed that he had a degree of Achilles tendinosis, meaning 'degeneration' of the tendon, a condition which is particularly tricky to treat and which obviously took Vermaelen some time to settle down.Link
This season, the other side has flared up after an incident in the Udinese game and obviously the same surgery has been performed. The following statement was released by Arsenal FC:

"Vermaelen has undergone a minor procedure to remove an inflamed plantaris tendon from his left ankle. This is the same treatment that he had on his right ankle in January this year and has nothing to do with his Achilles tendon."

This statement is slightly economical with the truth in my opinion, it has everything to do with his Achilles tendon just as the same surgery did last season. In the scientific literature there is only a small amount of evidence relating to removing the plantaris tendon and it all links in with Achilles tendinosis. There is one large case series of re-operations involving removing the plantaris tendon in Achilles tendinosis and one far smaller series of cases involving removing the plantaris tendon in chronic Achilles tendinosis. The conclusions of these low quality studies state:

"The medial pain might be based on the involvement of the plantaris tendon in the process." and "The role of the plantaris tendon in midportion Achilles tendinosis needs to be further evaluated and should be kept in mind when treating this condition."

In conclusion Vermaelen's surgery is based on very little scientific evidence. Many experts would say that the surgery is of very dubious benefit, ie it is almost 'sham' surgery, a placebo treatment that only works because the patient is forced to rest for a decent period. Certainly no one could argue that there is any strong evidence to say that this surgery will definitely settle down his Achilles problems. It is worth remembering last season it took him many months to get back to full training, he experienced several setbacks after his plantaris surgery.

Achilles tendinosis is frequently a chronically painful condition, much like patella tendinosis (Owen Hargreaves has this), and there are few reliable treatments for them. Personally I am not quite sure why Arsenal are being slightly economical with the truth in this instance, it appears likely that they do not wish to scare supporters by revealing that Thomas Vermaelen's surgery may not be the long term definitive cure for his pain that they pretend it is. In reality we simply cannot reliably predict whether or not Thomas Vermaelen will recover fully, he may do, he may not. This is the truth about Thomas Vermalen's injury, it is not reassuring but it is the truth.

Monday 5 September 2011

Interlull and expert take on our injuries

So the interlull goes on and we all wait for the Swansea game, the odd thing of interest has happened, UEFA have decided to pin the blame unfairly on Arsene, when it was in fact their inexperienced delegate at fault. No surprise there then, UEFA's kangaroo court nailing the innocent in a way that attempts to stifle anyone daring to challenge their almighty corrupt power.

Some of you may have seen my pieces from the weekend and earlier today. The common theme is the fact that our club is not being run in a professional or efficient manner. Transfers are being handled in rather inexplicably amateur fashion and this has cost us big time. Apparently Phil Jones was another of our near misses, we almost had him last January, we bid 8mill and Blackburn wanted just over ten, the rest as they say, is history.

Anyway something I am more expert on is things medical. LeGrove ran an interesting piece on our injury record today, certainly there is a bit of truth to this story, Raymond Verheijen is a fitness coach who has openly criticised Arsenal's training techniques. One thing I think people should be very aware of is that the coaching team are a very separate entity to the medical team. The coaching staff and managed will decide what our players do, while the medical team will pick up the pieces, although a bit of a simplification, it is fairly true.

I have to say though, looking back at all of our injuries and in particular the longer term injuries, very very few could even be argued to be related to overuse:

Vermaelen - achilles tendinosis - must be managed with sensible training but probably something he was inherently predisposed to getting

Djourou - osteochondral defect in knee - rare problem and extremely unlikely to be over use related

Ramsey - tibial fracture thanks to Ryan Shawcross

Diaby - ankle fracture thanks to Dan Smith and persisent ankle issues related to original injury

Gibbs - initial foot fracture after poor tackle and chronic issues since

Cesc - hamstring issues certainly lasted longer as he was rushed back quickly

Rosicky - chronic issues existed pre-Arsenal and actually sorted out by club

Van Persie - ankle surgery needed after ligament rupture caused by bad tackle

Walcott - shoulder surgery for recurrent dislocations

Eduardo - victim of shocking ankle fracture due to Taylor challenge and injuries continued after this

Overall the only players I would say who has been sidelined for injuries that have been related to overuse are Jack Wilshere and Cesc Fabregas. The latter of these was badly needed, so an educated risk was taken and this seems reasonable, even in retrospect. Jack certainly has been overplayed for one so young. The main thing we can act on is squad strength as this allows more player rotation and reduces the risk of burning out our top players. I feel that it is unwise to blame the coaching staff or the medical staff for our injury record, and the evidence above seems to back this up.

Once upon a time there was an Ox

On an planet far far away and obviously far detached from our current earthly reality, there once was a young and highly talented young fire-catcher called Arthur Ox-of-Chamberstone. On this imaginary planet fire-catching was big business, it attracted crowds from all around the solar system and the big fire-catching teams made big money. This meant that for the small number of youth fire-catchers that made it the rewards were potentially huge.

Young Arthur Ox fire caught for his local club, Southsoton, and had attracted a lot of attention because of his outstanding performances. He was speedy and had excellent technique for one so young. The big Premier League fire catching sides had taken not of young Arthur Ox and they were all moving in, the future seemed bright for the young man.

The first side to make a move were the big guns of Arandell, their coach Arlene Vender was particularly keen to snap the young Ox up before the other big clubs moved. The young Ox was naive in the ways of the world and was represented by his fire-catching agent, his agent agreed the terms of deal in the middle of the season and expected everything to be completed once the close season began. All appeared done and dusted.

Strangely Arandell didn't stick to their side of the deal, they reneged on the original terms that had been agreed in principle and tried to get Arthur Ox on the cheap. Obviously Southsoton and Arthur's agent were not impressed, they decided to go elsewhere to see if any of the other big Premier League clubs would agree to pay something in the ball park of the original deal that had been agreed.

They went up to meet with another manager, Sir Alchy Friedeggface of Melchester Rovers, who wined and dined them, then offered them a similar deal to that which had been originally agreed with Arandell. Luckily for Arandell and Arlene Vender, Arthur Ox's father wanted his son to fire-catch for Arandell, so he went back to them to see if they would match Melchester's offer. They did and off young Arthur Ox-of-Chamberstone went to Arandell, the rest is history or so I've been told.

Obviously this is just a mythical tale from an imaginary land, it bears no relation to any events that may have recently unfolded on planet earth. Still on this imaginary planet it appears that the case of Arthur Ox-of-Chamberstone was not a one off mistake, it appeared that Arandell fire-catching club were repeatedly making the same kind of errors in their attempts to bring in the best fire-catchers from far and wide. Arandell's transfer dealings did not appear to be the most professional or efficient, or so I've been told. The reasons for this are far from clear.

Sunday 4 September 2011

Wilshere scaremongering and post-Dein transfer failings

Firstly one cannot ignore the rather low quality story in the Mirror that confidently predicts Jack Wilshere is going to be out of action for three months. Interestingly other sources are already watering down the Mirror's dubious take on events by saying Wilshere 'could' be out for up to three months. When one looks into Steve Stammers' weak excuse for journalism it is clear he is disingenuously scaremongering as this three months is all on the condition 'if Wilshere breaks down again'. I suspect Wilshere will be back before December.

On the topic of our transfer dealings, a lot of people want to stick the knife into Arsene and a lot of people want to stick a knife into the board, I don't think any knife sticking is needed myself, but it is important that lessons are learnt so that we don't make the same mistakes again.

Firstly we are in a very dangerous position at the moment, the last minute deals were obviously massively needed but we are far from out of the woods yet. We have several big big players who have less than two years to run on their current deals, these players are RVP, Theo Walcott, Song and Vermaelen. Before we even think about the January transfer window we need to tie these men up to new long term deals, the thought of losing more top class players a la Nasri does not bear thinking about. The worrying thing about the Nasri departure was that a top class player not yet at his peak wanted out for footballing reasons, this has not happened to us before, I see Cesc as a very different scenario, he just wanted to go home.

Anyway it is obvious that there have been massive issues in the way in which Arsenal Football Club conducts transfer business since David Dein left. Whatever one thinks of David Dein, he was a football man as well as a business man and this was instrumental in the way the club successfully went about its business until he left. The system for buying players seemed to work well with Dein around; Arsene would tell Dein who he wanted, Dein would see what he could do and either the player would come, or they wouldn't. Dein had footballing nous, meaning that he didn't have to note down how much Arsene thought should be spent on each player, Dein used his common sense and did his best. In this way it appeared that Arsene was kept at a safe arms length from the financial side of things, this appears to have changed since Dein left.

Gazidis is a great business man, he has negotiated some terrific commercial deals for the club, but he does not seem to be a football man, meaning that he does not appear to have Dein's nous in the transfer department. This has led to a suspicion that Gazidis might well have had to lean more on Arsene for information, something that Dein would not have needed to do. Gazidis has probably allowed Arsene to have more input into the financial side of the club's transfer dealings, meaning that Gazidis may ask for specific guidance on the fees that should be paid and this may have resulted in some quite ridiculous transfer negotiations.

Take Arteta for example, we bid 5mill initially, we then upped it to 10mill on deadline day, Everton wanted 11mill and we wouldn't go the extra million, it was only Arteta forcing through the deal that stopped this silly fiddling over one million from crashing the whole deal. Similar style things scuppered the Schwarzer deal last summer, the Cahill mincing was also far from clever. The Mata deal is rumoured to have fallen through because of relatively small change in terms of meeting a buy-out fee. Santi Cazorla was another target we missed out on because of what sounds like board dithering. This haggling over small amounts of money did not appear to happen when Dein was in charge.

So overall the problem with our purchasing of players appears to be a complex one, it seems to be a systematic issue and it cannot be ignored any longer. I don't blame Arsene or Gazidis, the problem comes from higher up in the club as someone should know enough about football to see that this system is not working and will never work. Gazidis needs to take responsibility for the financial side of deals and ensure Arsene is kept at arms length, if this is not possible then we need someone new with footballing nous to be our new David Dein, a director of football of sorts. This summer we should have driven some early deals through, this didn't happen for a variety of reasons but it appears that an absence of dynamic drive in the boardroom was critical in this.

I am concerned at what goes on in board meetings as this situation must have been obvious to them for a while, and they appear to have done nothing about it. The board need to sit down and sort out several crucial strategies at the club now, it simply cannot wait. We need to completely overhaul our wage structure, we need a higher top wage and we need to pay peripheral youngsters/squad players less. We need to change the way in which we go about buying players, we need to show more common sense in our transfer dealings, we cannot risk losing out on top targets because we are haggling over petty small change. We need to consider bringing some new dynamic board members in. All this will take time, I just hope the board have seen our mistakes and are ready to act. I haven't even started on the defensive coach yet.........

Thursday 1 September 2011

Arsenal Squad 2011: are we stronger or shambolic?

Goalkeepers: Szczesny, Fabianski, Mannone

Verdict: Top No1 and reasonable backup.

Fullbacks: Santos, Sagna, Gibbs, Jenkinson

Verdict: Santos needs to prove he can defend and if Gibbs can stay fit then looking strong at left back, Jenkinson is raw but can be a decent backup to Sagna.

Centre Backs: Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Djourou, Miguel, Squillaci (unfortunately)

Verdict: Vastly better than last season, the arrival of the experienced German international is a potentially good move but there doubts over his pace, Vermaelen can hopefully stay fit and if this is the case we should be more robust defensively.

Midfielders: Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Rosicky, Benayoun, Song, Diaby, Frimpong, Coquelin

Verdict: Fantastic in terms of young talent and although it was never going to be possible to replace Cesc, Arteta is as good as we could have realistically got at this late stage. Overall we're looking pretty strong offensively, I just have slight concerns about the lack of any experienced backup for Song, but it should be noted that Arteta has played the holding role for Everton.

Wingers: Gervinho, Walcott, Arshavin, Miyaichi, Oxlade

Verdict: Gervinho appears to have the potential to more than replace the erratic Nasri, the youngsters add a bit of depth in wide areas. The form or lack of it from our small Russian has been a concern for some time, in my opinion he has to play more centrally and cannot cut it on the wing. Walcott needs to step up this season. Overall we have more pace and more width in the squad though.

Forwards: RVP, Park, Chamakh, Afobe

Verdict: Excellent to have RVP fit (for the moment) and Park promises to be a useful addition. I am deeply concerned with our ability to score goals beyond RVP though, Chamakh is looking dead on his feet and there is no other quality top notch striker to lead the line after RVP. I am amazed that we have let Bendtner go out on loan when is clearly our second best striker after RVP. Why not convince him to stay?

Overall I am much happier than I was a week ago. The defence is stronger, we have more pace and width in the squad, and we have no one who is not committed to the cause now that Cesc and Nasri have gone. I am most concerned with our striker situation, with Bendtner going we have very little quality backup to RVP, Chamakh looks drained of all confidence, a lot of pressure is going to be on the new South Korean Park and it is asking a lot of him in his first season.

However serious questions need to be asked as to why things were left so late in the day when so much of this business could have been done earlier in the day. Most seriously for me, our wage structure needs to be completely revamped, it overpays lesser squad members and is not competitive in terms of the top salaries. We absolutely must have a competitive wage structure. Players like Mata have slipped through the net because of our wage structure and this cannot be allowed to continue in future years. It is time to rethink, restructure or die. Come on you Gunners!