Old wine, or new bottle, or old wine in new bottle?

December 31, 2013

End of the year, and part of the ritual is to take stock, and look forward towards the future with glorious plans and renewed expectations. And what a fantastic year this has been for Arsenal fans! At the midway stage in the Premier League last year, Arsenal was lying 7th, well off the pace for Champions League qualification, and even off Spursday football places. Qualifying second in their group, Arsenal faced a tough round of 16 encounter against Bayern Munich, one of the best teams in Europe at that stage. With significant changes to the Board, a new owner in tow, there were uncertain times for the club management. The fans were up in arms, with substantial ammunition provided by a negative press, dubious pundits and even the Arsenal Supporters Trust. Difficult times indeed!

But Arsenal managed to make a fantastic turnaround. Attaining qualification for CL was nothing short of a miracle! Yes, Arsenal lost out in a two leg epic battle against eventual winners Bayern, but before that showed their mettle in an amazing 2-0 away victory. Despite all the negativity, good progress was made in the summer transfer window. The progress continued in the current season, and Arsenal is sitting at the Top of the Premier League at the halfway stage. Qualification to the Champions League was gained from the aptly termed “Group of Death”. Grudging acknowledgement of Arsenal’s strength and mettle is gently arising from beneath the rubble of disdain and the green fumes of envy. Indeed, if the league was played over the calendar year, Arsenal would have been Champions of 2013. Oh, what a year this has been!!!

 

per and kosser

All in all, a good year in prospect. There are plenty of challenges yet to be met. Plenty of time still before we even begin to celebrate the achievements of this team. But, also plenty of positive vibes and expectation in tow. So AA ers, looking towards the future, what did we learn new about Arsenal this year, and what were we reminded of afresh, that we did not know with so much certainty one year back? Let us discuss. Here are a few of my tentative suggestions. It was not all rosy, though. Injuries continued through the year. The squad seems a bit thin. Progression to the round of 16 in the Champions League was gained, but only in second place. Like last year, we have drawn Bayern Munich. Lovely games in prospect, but significant challenges as well. And if the vitriol from the fans is a bit subdued due to the sustained run of fine results and resilience in the field of play, the negativity from the press and pundits continues unabated. Perhaps most importantly, whether by luck or design, Arsenal continues to be at the receiving end of poor refereeing decisions. Alas, some things never seem to change!

First, same time last year we did not know what a fantastic central defensive partnership, together with a very competent goalkeeper, we were developing. Indeed a large part of our success this year owes itself to the fantastic defensive pairing of Per and Kos. What a duo!!! And what a great leader in our beloved BFG! When Verms got injured, who would have thought we would have such a strong defence where even a fit squad captain cannot find a place?

Per and kossser 2

Second, one of the best revelations of the year was the discovery that Ramsey had developed into such a fantastic player. He was the subject of much of the blame and vitriol during our indifferent showing in 2012. Perhaps somewhat undeservedly. But our beloved Rambo rubbed all these adversities off his shirt, returned in style from his long standing injury, and has grown to the stature of one of the best midfielders in the League, perhaps in Europe as well.

Ramsey

He has shown a very mature head as well, leading for his country at a very young age. In tow, Jack Wilshere is developing into a fine player, if somewhat idiosyncratic on occasions. Together with Theo, the Ox, Gibbs and Jenks, they also form a British core to the team which had been somewhat deficient for a while. Who would have thought a year back that Rambo would develop into such a fantastic and dependable player, and Jack’s game will be coming along so nicely as well?

The English players

Third, one of the most encouraging developments of the year, at least for me, was the maturity with which the owner Kroenke, Gazidis and the Board conducted themselves. Perhaps the best development was that the Board did not interfere in footballing matters, leaving team and signing decisions to the people who know best, led by one Arsene Wenger. If you think that this is not a surprise, look around at other clubs. Several clubs have met with significant disasters as a result of owner power, such as the Spuds, Cardiff and even the Chavs, and in some others the environment is not very nice even if the performance has not been equally devastating.

The principles of the club, that a fantastic team can be developed without wasting money on the wasteful purchase of overpriced bench idols, was not compromised by a new owner and a new look Board. Surely, this was not a given at the start of the year, after the club had gone through a rather aggressive ownership contest and change of hands.

Fourth, amid the mantra of financial fairplay and traditional hesitancy to spend big money, and the recovery from an expensive move to the Emirates, who would have thought that Arsenal would spend their money where it mattered most?

Ozil

In the procurement of one Mesut Ozil, who despite his tentative adjustment to English football and the Arsenal way of playing the game, has given the team something really special, Arsenal showed purpose and ambition, and real ability to deliver trophies. This came together with the free transfer of one Mathieu Flamini – ah, what a fantastic transfer move!

flamini

Fifth, against the backdrop of significant unrest and disquiet among good-weather fans, ably supported by the press and pundits, who would have thought that the positive outlook of a sane fan-base would shine through? The struggle against the doubters and doomday-usherers still continues in earnest, in ArsenalArsenal and elsewhere, but The Home of Football still reverberates with the positive chants and outlook towards the new dawn awaiting in the New Year!!!!

AA ers, what do you think? My final thoughts are:

COYG! Onwards and Upwards!! A fantastic year 2014 awaits!!!!

Written by arnie

Arsenal Record 2013 Calendar Year

P W D L F A GD Pts
38 25 7 6 70 34 36 82

Where would 82 points put us in seasons past?

SEASON Winners P W D L F A GD Pts AFC on 82 points
2008-09 Utd 38 28 6 4 68 24 44 90 4th
2009-10 Chavs 38 27 5 6 103 32 71 86 3rd
2010-11 Utd 38 23 11 4 78 37 41 80 1st
2011-12 Oilers 38 28 5 5 94 29 65 89 3rd
2012-13 Utd 38 28 5 5 86 43 43 89 2nd

Chart by MickyDidIt

2013 Calendar Year League Table

P W D L F A GD Points vs Top 7 Total Home Total Away
Arsenal 38 25 7 6 70 33 37 82 10 19 19
Shitty 38 25 5 8 86 39 47 80 10 19 19
Chavs 38 23 8 7 71 40 31 77 10 20 18
ManUre 38 23 8 7 70 37 33 77 11 19 19
Spuds 38 21 10 7 55 46 9 73 10 19 19
Dippers 38 21 9 8 87 39 48 72 9 18 20
Everton 38 18 13 7 54 35 19 67 11 20 18
Toon 38 16 6 16 51 62 -11 54 13 19 19
Southampton 38 12 15 11 49 43 6 51 13 19 19
Villa 38 11 10 17 50 58 -8 43 11 20 18
Swansea 38 10 12 16 44 54 -10 42 12 18 20
Norwich 38 9 11 18 37 62 -25 38 12 20 18
Fulham 38 11 5 22 39 67 -28 38 12 19 19
West Ham 38 9 11 18 41 57 -16 38 12 19 19
Stokies 38 8 11 19 34 60 -26 35 11 19 19
WBA 38 7 13 18 45 61 -16 34 12 18 20
Sunderland 38 7 10 21 36 62 -26 31 12 19 19

Stat Overkill by GiE


Vote for Arsenal’s most improved player

November 19, 2013

To make this as even-handed as possible the time-frame is from January 2013.

Let’s look at the runners and riders:

Goalkeeper: The man has come on leaps and bounds and Rocky made him his player of the season. Do you agree? Personally I don’t, TPIG started his career with such aplomb that many called him a potential world No 1. He had a dip in form and then a return to the quality we all know he has. Is a return to form an improvement? You decide.

Defence:  Kos, BFG and Gibbs have surprised many with their cohesion and developing understanding which is based upon fine individual form.

In my opinion, Kos’s lapses have cost us points this year and although he was superb in the run up to our excellent 4th spot, he remains just a tad below the immensity that is Mertesacker.

BFG has become my favourite AFC player. His humour, his calmness under pressure  – even if he is not blessed with Sprezzatura, BFG has galvanised the team. Is he better than this time last season? Certainly, but has his improvement been to the level of ….

Keiron Gibbs? At last the lad is having a relatively injury-free run and his qualities are becoming evident. He is keeping Spain’s LB out of the team which gives an indication of how highly AW thinks of him. IMO he is already better than Cole and Baines and should be England’s first choice LB for the World Cup. Improved? Massively

Midfield: Arteta sets such a high standard he cannot improve. Cazorla the same. Jack has yet to find form and fitness. Ozil  and Flamini are too shiny and new to include which leaves Tomas and Aaron.

Rosicky has been wonderful this season and his absence at Old Trafford could well have cost us the points. Given that he was written off by many (including BR) just a few months ago his rehabilitation has been neigh on miraculous, as has been the form of ….

Aaron Ramsey. The Welsh Messi is playing at a level none could have imagined a season ago. I wonder if even Mr Wenger envisaged such a transformation – quite simply, he is the best player in the entire Premier League this season. And if you disagree, name me another?

Attack. Only Giroud to look at but OG must be carefully considered because his improvement has been immense. Developing from a French journeyman who had many a Gooner in serious doubt as to his signing to a man who every game has all Gooners singing his anthem, he has had a fine year. Loads of goals, loads of assists but more importantly a focus for the attack, he has improved immensely . But is he good enough? You decide.

written by Big Raddy


Will Arsenal ever become a lean, mean, defending machine again?

July 17, 2012

Over the last few weeks, we have had in-depth discussions about whether we need to strengthen our midfield this summer, as well as how we should fit in our freshly signed strikers, Giroud and Podolski. Clearly, these are areas we can all get very excited about, but the area we have not been talking about for a while is our 49 PL-goals leaking defence.

Incredibly, seven teams conceded fewer goals in the PL than Arsenal last season: Man City, United, Spuds, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Sunderland, and that is simply not good enough if we want to make the next step up towards winning silverware again. Even if we take into account our bad start – conceding 12 goals in two away games against now relegated Blackburn and last season trophy-less Man United – we still managed to ship 37 goals in 36 games.

Next season, Chelsea will undoubtedly fall back on a Mourinho-style Catanaccio football under Di Matteo and I won’t be surprised if they manage to concede less than 20 goals over the entire season. Man City conceded only 29 goals last season, and their neighbours were not far behind with conceding only 33.

In order to compete for the title, I reckon Arsenal should aim to concede 30 goals or (ideally) less next season. Easier said than done, but how are we going to achieve it?

And will Steve Bould help us to finally get the balance right between beautiful football and defensive tight-fistedness?

Many have said we have failed to defend as a team at times, and that our midfield did not give our defence the necessary protection, especially towards the end of the season. We have also discussed in previous posts how the lack of available FB’s for a long period of time, has hurt us a lot (especially in the first few months of 2012).

Arsenal have also suffered significantly from having a lot of enforced changes to its back four during the season, and the long term injury to Per Mertesacker, just as he started to settle in properly, also meant a serious setback at a crucial time of the season. It effectively meant elimination from two cup competitions – the CL and FA cup – in a less than a week.

Arsenal really struggled to continue its rhythm every time we suffered a major injury to the likes of Arteta, Mertesacker, and Sagna. As long as Arsenal was able to keep the same eleven players fit, we were able to reach a level of consistency on a par with our major competitors, resulting in a run of good results. However, as soon as we suffered one or more injuries we started to lose or draw games we really should have won. It just seemed we were not able to adjust quickly enough to these setbacks, and serious doubts were raised about our strength in depth.

During last season, we only had one period of defensive consistency worthy of reaching a target of 30 goals or less conceded in one PL season. Between 21-03-12 and 21-04-12 Arsenal played seven matches in which we kept five clean sheets and only conceded 3 goals, or 0.4 goals per game:

21-3: Eve – Arsenal: 0-1 Clean Sheet, Back four: BS/TV/LK/KG

24-3: Arsenal – Villa: 3-0 Clean Sheet, Back four: BS/TV/JD/KG-AS

31-3: QPR – Arsenal: 2-1 No Clean Sheet, Back four: BS/TV/LK/KG

8-4: Arsenal – Man C: 1-0 Clean Sheet, Back four: BS/TV/LK/KG

11-4: Wolves – Ars: 0-3 Clean Sheet, Back four: BS/TV/JD/AS

16-4: Arsenal – Wig: 1-2 No Clean Sheet, Back four: BS/TV/JD/AS

21-4: Arsenal – Chel: 0-0 Clean Sheet, Back four: BS/TV/LK/KG

Luckily this period came towards the all important end o the PL season, and although we only managed to score 10 goals in those seven games – 1.43 goals per game, which is well below our season average of 1.95 goals per game – we still managed to get 13 points out of 21.

It is fair to say that our defence saved us at this crucial stage.

However, the next three games – against Stoke, Norwich and West Brom – we almost threw it all away again with shocking defensive performances, conceding 2 goals per game on average, which is five times the conceded goals-per-game tally of the previous seven games:

28-4: Stoke – Arsenal: 1-1 No Clean Sheet, Back four: BS/TV/LK/KG

5-5: Arsenal – Norw: 3-3 No Clean Sheet, Back four: BS-FC/TV/LK/KG (Coquelin replaces Sagna early in the game – the latter is out for the season)

13-5: West B – Ars: 2-3 No Clean Sheet, Back four: CJ/TV/LK/AS

We all know that the season-ending injury to Arteta, early on in the game against Wigan, had a detrimental impact on our defensive shape. However, we still managed to do reasonably well in terms of conceding goals in the games against Wigan, Chelsea and Stoke: conceding three goals in three games – one per game – is not totally unacceptable. The subsequent loss of Sagna in the penultimate game, against Norwich, did appear to be too much for us though, as our defence was all over the place in the last two games. I am sure that fatigue had started to play a part and we also lacked the experience to see games out calmly and professionally when it really mattered, and especially the latter is a concern for us.

We got there in the end by the skin of our teeth.

It is hard to pull definitive conclusions from our defensive performances in the last 10 games, but it looks like Arsenal’s back four of Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny and Gibbs were getting their act together towards the end of the season, and we can all draw courage from this.

The back-up defenders Djourou (CB) and Santos (LB) – the latter might argue he actually is our first choice LB – also seemed to have performed well.

Jenkinson was injured for large parts of the season, so it is hard to say whether he is an adequate replacement for Sagna. This could be an area of concern, as I believe Coquelin’s strengths lay in midfield (central or right side), and Djourou struggled in the LB position at times. This puts us at risk, with Sagna still recovering from injury at the moment.

It is absolutely crucial to keep our first choice defenders together for at least a few seasons, and let them fully gel further as a unit. Other than Sagna, none of the back four have been playing a significant number of games for Arsenal. A good back four needs consistency and experience, in order to form a wall that frightens any opposition, and on which a winning team can be build with confidence and longevity.

And of course there is the case of Mertesacker’s return from long term injury. How will he fit into our defence: should he be first choice CB or back-up? Until recently I have been saying he should be our first choice CB, as he has great organisational skills and reads the game very well, which easily compensates for his occasional lack of mobility. But, having looked at the last ten games in a bit more detail, I am now not so sure anymore, as slowly but steadily Koz and Vermaelen have formed a strong, albeit occasionally erratic, partnership.

And what will happen with the promising talents of Miquel and Bartley: are they ready for more first team action?

It also became very clear that Arteta’s defensive support was duly missed as we did not have a suitable, ready-to-rock, like-for-like replacement for him in the system that we played (with Song being asked to help out as much as possible in the creative/attacking areas of midfield play).

Furthermore, I am happy to keep backing Szczesny as our nr1 goal keeper, but will his inexperience cost us next season, and do we have a good back-up in case of injury or suspension? This remains to be an area of doubt/risk.

Let’s hope Steve Bould will be able to help Arsene to add a bit more steal, confidence and consistency to the our defence/ TEAM defensive play/ formation next season, so that we can reduce our goals conceded to below 30, and increase the number of clean sheets significantly. Let’s hope we finally get the balance right between the Bould and the Beautiful next season!

The big, all-encapsulating question remains, though: do we have enough quality – players, tactics, coaching, etc – in our team now to establish the required defensive performances that will lead us to silverware next season?

I think we do, but I cannot say I am 100% certain about it.

Thanks for reading.

Please note: I am by no means an expert in defensive tactics etc, and would like to invite you to share your views and expertise with us today. In the end, that’s what good blogging is all about.

TotAl


Hello 4th – Happy New Year

January 1, 2012

Football on New Years Eve!? Do the FA not give any thought to the bloggers having to write match reports?

Anyhow, QPR were the latest visitors to the Emirates during this crazy Christmas period. With Liverpool already picking up 3 points a day earlier against Newcastle, and with United, Chelsea and Spurs all expected to win against relegation fodder (see what I done! He he), it was imperative that Arsenal return to winning ways and pick up maximum points against Neil Warnocks men.

Line ups were as expected with a fully rested Arteta and Ramsey returning in place of Rosicky and Benayoun. The only real shock being the return of Arshavin to the starting berth in place of Gervinho.

Arsenal started a little slowly and it was QPR who had the first shot in anger with Bothroyd forcing an easy save from Szscesny. It was QPR again looking threatening moments later as Wright Phillips and Taarabt combined well to produce another good stop from the Gunners keeper.

QPR, despite their bright start, were expected to park the bus, however, it soon became apparent that they had brought the minibus as Arsenal, and in particular Van Persie, started to find space. The first Gunners chance came when Van Persie twisted Connelly inside out before firing with his left straight at Cerny. Minutes later it was RvP with another chance from a beautiful Ramsey cross which the Dutchmen did well to stretch and direct just wide of the far post. Arsenal were moving up the gears.

Then came a crazy few minutes where the home side should have gone at least 1 up. Djourou dribbled from right to left before feeding RvP in the box, who in a flash turned Young into old before firing over with the keeper diving at his feet. Seconds later Arsenal were awarded a free kick when the enemy, Barton, was booked for a late lunge on Arteta. Robin fired the free kick deep towards Koscielny who managed to direct a header down to the feet of Walcott who could only volley a difficult chance back across goal when he could’ve, and maybe shouldve, done better. Arsenal were beginning to turn the screw, but the best chance of the half ended in frustration again as Vermaelen floated a beautiful ball over the top of the static QPR defence to find an onrushing Van Persie, who could only fire over from 15 yards with his right foot volley. Unlucky.

As the first half drew to a close, the referee decided to get involved in the game. First of all he decided that it was no penalty when Young handled from a Koscielny volley. 50/50 if I’m honest. Then, bizarrely, it was a question of mistaken identity as Vermaelen was booked for a challenge made by Koscielny! I think Atkinson had started the NYE drinking early!

Just before the half time whistle Arsenal had another great chance as Ramsey’s volley was cleared off the line by Barton. It was starting to feel like one of those days!

Into the second half and QPR again started strongly. Old boys Traore and Bothroyd linking well down the left before the latter fired a great ball across the 6 yard box that Szscesny did well to parry before grabbing a weak follow-up from Faurlin. The poor start to the half was then made worse when Vermaelen (still on a yellow, as apparently they couldn’t change it!) had to be replaced by Coquelin after picking up a knock. 2-3 weeks out apparently and a loanee defender needed, though with the way Coquelin played we may have enough cover.

Arsenal may have started the second half a little shaky, but it wasn’t long before QPR were being ripped apart again. This time it was the lively Ramsey with a defence splitter that found Theo sprinting through on his own. Unfortunately, Walcotts legs seemed to take him to the goal quicker than his brain wanted and by the time he had thought about where he was going to place it his right boot had already struck the ball 4 yards wide! Henry, looking on, must’ve wondered why they didnt retire the number 14 shirt. Poor effort.

Arsenal had been wasteful thus far, but, as they say, If you create enough chances then eventually you will score, and so it proved. Ironically, after so much good play from the home side, it was a QPR mistake that lead to the goal. A loose pass from SWP fell straight to the feet of the much improved Arshavin, who, for all his faults, still knows how to make a perfectly weighted through ball look simple. RvP had nothing to do except slide the ball past the onrushing keeper to make it 35 goals for 2011 and beat Henry’s record. 1-0 to the Arsenal. Easy.

Arsenal could finally relax, and the football that followed reflected the change in atmosphere. Firstly, Arshavin was denied by a fantastic, last ditch tackle from the evergreen Young. Then, moments later, Ramsey couldn’t quite find RvP in the box when maybe a shot was the better option. QPR, however, were still in the game at 1-0 and Taarabt forced a fine save from the Arsenal number one at the other end as the away side pressed for an equaliser. Arsenal had to be careful.

QPR were starting to push forward, but with Koscielny and BFG looking solid, the nearest they came to an equaliser was when Taarabt decided to audition for his Olympic diving team in the Gunners box. He would’ve qualified!

In the latter stages, Ramsey and especially Gervinho, a replacement for Walcott, were responsible for keeping the score at just one. Firstly, Gerv decided to try and dribble through a crowded box when a left foot strike would have been the better option. Then seconds later RvP shrugged off SWP in the box to cut back for Gervinho who should really have scored with his left from 3 yards, but he somehow put it wide (maybe that’s why he didn’t shoot earlier with his left!).

The last 5 minutes would usually be squeaky bum time for an Arsene Wenger side, but with Kozzer and BFG looking solid, this Arsenal team never looked like conceding.

A solid NYE performance from the Gunners but they were definitely guilty of some poor finishing. Hopefully, the return of Henry will see that rectified, but based on the build up play, it’s only a matter of time before others in addition to RvP start finding the net.

MoTM for me was RvP, I thought his control at times was outstanding and he gave the defenders a nightmare, could’ve had 3 or 4 but only because he created so many chances for himself, especially first half.

Great results elsewhere means Arsenal ended the day in 4th and on the heels of the other CL pretenders.

No ratings from me due to having to watch the game on a terrible stream! Feel free to add your own.

Written by FatGingerGooner

Belated Ratings from Harry:
Szczesny: 7.5; Oozed Confidence, positionally sound, loved the way he closed down SWP early doors. His distribution was sound and in keeping with his improvement, he looks to move it quick but is more considered, rather than rash.
Djourou: 7; Much better, not a favourite of mine at the moment, like TV he is slightly out of his comfort zone, but he is getting better. Still drifts to middle and lets wide players in behind, lacks confidence, when in tight situations with pressure been applied.
BFG: 8; Reads the game so well, made 3 or 4 telling interceptions. He mops up the loose and distributes well, with bumpy passes!!
Kozzer: 9; This guy is unreal, tackles, blocks and reads danger with his eyes closed, for me he is the French Keown! MoTM by a Kilometre, RVP rightlty gets the plaudits for been able to score the goals, but behind every genius you need the Grafters and boy does Laurent do that, at the moment, 1st name on the team sheet with Szcz and RVP. Please stay fit………..
Vermaelen: 7.5; Our Belgique Warrior, steady and determined as always, tracked players well and let no one in behind. Incorrectly booked due to mistaken identity.
Song. 7; Did his job, but not at his usual imperious best, some wayward passing at times. Was strong in the tackles and broke up play.
Arteta.7; Again did his job with minimal fuss, kept the ball well and picked out some great passes, but seemed not quite as sharp as usual and for me it slowed us down on the break, plays game in game out. Was hacked down by the 8th Archangel JoeyHades.
Ramsey. 8.5; This boy is more energetic than a duracel bunny, he must have a rolls royce engine under that rib cage. He ran, he closed, he delivered some great crosses. The occasional pass failed the odd audacious back heel came off. Unlucky with a delightful volley on the edge of the area, which deflected wide. Pushed Kozzer for MotM. By the way some of the abuse this lad gets from the fans is unreal
Arshavin. 4; Gets the 4 for the key assist for RVP, 1 or 2 tackles and a 2min spell where he seemed interested, apart from that, he was shocking, something is not right.
Van Persie: 8.5; Outstanding game and will be some peoples choice for Man of the match. Took his goal well, he bamboozled QPR defenders with his nimble footwork, unlucky not to score 2 or 3 others, the volley in the 1st half by his majestic standards was a surprising miss, did everything right, but was just slightly leaning back as he struck it.
Walcott: 7; Worked hard and got forward well, won us most of our corners, ok lets get to it, in the 2nd half he went through one on one and fluffed his lines, for that I wont defend him, he needs to to take these chances or at least let the keeper make a world class save. The abuse he gets is vile and unjust, he wont stay at our club, which will please some people, it wont me.
Subs:
Coquelin: 7: On for TV, did ok in yet another position for the young french prodigy. Although an attempted Kung Fu Clearance near the end was a tad naive.
Rosicky. 7: Added much needed urgency and gets involved everywhere, just wished he could last 90mins, he would be in the 1st 11 everyweek.
Gervinho. 6: Shocking miss, had 2 or 3 chances to help wrap the game up, one immediately after coming on, was unlucky with that, but then on he made some poor decisions.
Manager 7.5:
I thought the team had a better balance than against wolves, but some players were tired, I thought he should have brought on Ox as did everyone else!! But did subs at right time, for him!, I would have subbed AA at  Half time.
Overall:
3 points were vital, before the scores of others were known, with them scores in, the 3 points felt like 6, winning ugly hasnt been in our make up, so its good we have that again now, but I wouldnt mind a pretty win once in a while, need to play at pace………
Happy New Year, into 4th and into the Transfer Window, surely????

Violently Happy, KOZ We Love You!

December 22, 2011

Aston Villa 1 – 2 Arsenal Match Report

1st half observations from a bad stream

The first 45 minutes were pretty different from what I expected. Aston Villa did not close us down frantically and allowed Arsenal plenty of space. Especially Gervinho and Theo saw plenty of the ball, as Villa sat deep in the beginning, allowing our wingers to attack them from the sides. Arsenal also allowed Villa a lot of space and there were plenty of chances for each team during the entire first half. The game was surprisingly open and yet the tempo did not appear to be very high.

After Gervinho had tried but failed to reach the by-line on a number of occasions – not being able to beat the ex-Spud Hutton – Theo was successful at the first attempt. He skinned the inexperienced Carian Clark just inside the box of Villa with a brilliant, ballet-like pirouette, after which he had acres of space to pick a pass. The young Villa defender pulled Theo back and the referee Jon Moss blew his whistle, even though Theo had not fallen down as a result of the pull-back. Penalty. RvP lined himself up to reach an incredible milestone: if he scores he will have equalled TH14 calendar year goal scoring tally. Is he nervous though? No, just BOOM in the roof of the net: 1-0 to The Arsenal.

After that, the game remained open, and after quick moves, both Theo and Ramsey got decent opportunities to score from just outside the box. Both missed the deadly accuracy and calmness of Boy Wonder and, as a result, two half-decent opportunities were wasted. Villa had their own chances, predominantly as a result of playing balls quickly into the box from Arsenal’s LB area to their ‘fox in the box’: the man with the warrior-like name of Agbonlahor (for a while, I dreamed of an attacking combination for Arsenal of Arshavin, Adebayor and Agbonlahor: it just sounded like the ultimate warrior-machine: the tree terrible A’s). I thought Vermaelen struggled a few times to put himself in the right positions in the first half, and as a result Aston Villa had a few opportunities to put the ball into the box from our LB area which led  to some half-decent opportunities for them. Luckily, AV were not sharp enough to pounce on these half-chances.

2nd half observations from another bad stream

Aston Villa started well. They allowed us less space and pressed us earlier in our own half. In the 54th minute, an opportunistic, high ball by Villa is defended by Vermaelen, who heads horizontally to Merkesacker. The latter is already on a yellow card and Vermaelen’s header is too short. Albrighton seizes his opportunity by taking the ball past the indecisive Mertesacker, and slots the ball calmly and professionally past the onrushing Szczesny. Quite an impressive finish.

Theo Walcott experiences an almost déjà-vu moment when, just as in the game against Citeh, he gets a decent opportunity to score a goal straight after our kick-off. The impressive again Richard Dunne makes a superb slide-tackle in the box to deny Walcott. Mertesacker seemed desperate to make amends for his and Vermaelen’s defensive error earlier. He was close to scoring a goal from inside the box, not with his head but with his foot, from one of the many Arsenal corners in the second half.

During this half, there is no more space for either Walcott or Gervinho to produce some effective wing-play. Wenger makes three changes in the last 25 minutes: Rosicky, Arshavin and Benayoun for respectively Frimmpong, Gervinho and Ramsey. Arshavin and Benayoun are only given ten minutes to make a difference which is not ideal of course. Frimmpong started to give away unnecessary fouls and both Gervinho and Ramsey looked exhausted.

The changes had an immediate positive impact as Arsenal was able to retake the initiative. We started to control the game and were desperately looking for holes in the middle of AV’s defence. We were awarded corner after corner, and from the 11th corner-kick in the second half – just as every single Gooner had given up hope we would ever score from a corner again – RvP reaches a free Yossi Benayoun (Agbonlahor had not bothered to stay with him in the box), and a late, and no longer expected, Christmas present was delivered to all who love the Arsenal: most probably the lightest man on the pitch, our man on loan from the Chavs, scores with a close-range header: 1-2 with only three minutes to go!

Some conclusions:

A scrappy win: no doubt about that. Our passing was under-par and we seemed to be missing our FB’s a lot more in this game than against the Mancs. We really lacked a strong/effective shape to the team tonight. There were a lot of tired legs out there, but the same goes for Aston Villa; and that was our saving grace.

A few players were brilliant today: Arteta, RvP, and especially Koz: with their energy and never-say-die attitude they made a major contribution to us winning three points tonight. I also thought Coquelin, after a slightly difficult start, had a good game. I was especially impressed with his ability to play long-range passes towards Theo, or diagonally towards the other winger. This boy has style and, judging on these early signs, will go far at Arsenal. It was also good to see Rosicky back. He really gave us a better shape to the team, almost as soon as he was on the pitch.

And well done to Robin for reaching this incredible milestone. We all know how special Thierry Henry was: one of the best strikers I have ever seen. For Robin to equal his calendar-year goals tally is incredible, and with a bit of luck he will surpass Alan Shearer’s by scoring three more goals in the next two home games.

Three points are three points. It is a game best to forget quickly and for us now to concentrate on our next two home games: Wolves and QPR. The boys will now have a rest till at least Monday and Alex Song will be back. Hopefully there will be no further injuries coming from this game, so we can put out a good team against Wolves. Liverpool and Newcastle dropped points again, and today either the Chavs or Spuds, or both, will drop points. The race for third and fourth place is on and we are now very well positioned; just behind the Chavs and the Spuds. Before Big Ben strikes 12 times on New Year’s Eve, we could be snug as a bug in a rug in third place.

COYRRG

TotalArsenal.


Fullback Crisis: A Radical Solution

December 20, 2011

To lose all four of our first team fullbacks at once to long-term injuries really is unfortunate.

As an example of serious bad luck it’s right up there with Wayne Rooney finding himself at Grab-a-Granny night in the local nightclub with both arms in plaster; or Harry Redknapp taking a wrong turn into an auction house and accidentally winning 53 bids on account of his twitch.

Despite our spirited performance at the PetroDome on Sunday, Manchester City shaded the game and just about deserved the win.

However, I am sure that if we had had recognised fullbacks instead of converted centre halves the balance of play would have been much more level and may even have tipped in our favour.

There seems to be some possibility of Gibbs returning in time for the Boxing Day fixture against Wolves at the Emirates, but that’s far from certain and the other three (Sagna, Santos and Jenkinson) are still a way off.

To compound the problem, Johann Djourou, who has been filling in at right back, is also out injured for three weeks.

So what do we do?

The makeshift back four that finished the game against City did not look convincing. Quite apart from their inability to support our wide forwards, they also struggled positionally.

I’m not blaming the individual players because they did their best while playing out of position, but Koscielny lost his bearings in the build-up to Silva’s goal, allowing Balotelli too much room, and Miquel, as temporary left back, should have been picking up Silva who was standing unmarked in the box.

With the speed and intensity of Premiership football, you can only hope to eliminate those sorts of errors with constant drilling and practice as a fullback, which neither Kozzer nor Miquel has had the opportunity to do.

On Wednesday we play Aston Villa and we need to find a solution to this conundrum.

I would be disappointed if we start with a back four of Miquel and Kozzer as FBs and Vermaelen and BFG as CBs.

We run the risk of having a groundhog day experience, with not enough support for the wide players and not enough positional discipline to make our defence as secure as it should be.

Instead, and because these are special circumstances, maybe it’s time for Arsene Wenger to try something a little more radical.

My suggestion? We adopt a 3-5-2 formation (or to avoid upsetting GiE and the goalkeepers’ union, a 1-3-5-2).

My back three would be the Verminator on the left, BFG in the middle and Kozzer on the right.

In front of them a five made up of (from left to right): Gervinho, Ramsey, Frimpong (Song is serving a 1 match suspension), Arteta, Coquelin.

And, up front, Theo and RvP.

I have moved Gerv into the five man midfield because he is more effective at covering defensively than Theo and also has more variety in his play when picking up the ball from deep.

I like Coquelin as right midfield because he has played RB before and is a tenacious tackler and competitor who also has the footballing skills to bomb forward and help the attack.

Arteta, Frimpong and Ramsey in the middle all have the energy and awareness to drop back if one of the two wide midfielders is caught forward.

As for up front, I don’t see Prince Robin needing to change his approach at all, but I would give Theo licence to drift all along the attacking line without needing to overly concern himself with defensive duties.

So there you have it: one man’s idea for coping with no fullbacks. I should emphasise that my theory is based firmly on zero foundations as I have never coached or managed a football team apart from (once) a five-year-old girls’ team. So feel free to rip it apart and offer your own solution…

RockyLives


Arsène Wenger’s Got a Headache

November 8, 2011

The criticism of Arsène for trying to force square pegs into round holes has frequently been levelled over recent seasons. Bendtner, Eboue and Arshavin in particular have all been deployed in areas that would not be their first choice let alone the Championship Managers among us. The reason for this has generally been a lack of depth in the squad exacerbated by the perennial injury problems that have depleted us so cruelly at vital times.

Now it would appear that Arsène has a headache of a different kind. The summer purchases coupled with the progression of quality players through the youth system has created a problem, a good problem to have but a problem nonetheless. As far as Sagna and Wilshere are concerned the problem is months away but in light of the coming 2 weeks of nail biting over the potential for injuries playing in meaningless internationals, I thought it would be interesting to ponder the alternatives.

Who are our best players in every position?
Well I think the answer at the top and tail of the team is obvious – RvP and Szczesny give Arsenal about the best polar opposites in the league. But elsewhere it is not so simple.

Centreback Partnership
Some supporters had been crying out for a tall physical presence at the back and then along came Per Mertesacker the 6ft 5in answer to our vulnerability from set pieces. Don’t get me wrong, I think the BFG is an excellent addition to the squad and has helped us keep in touch through this early critical period, but I think most would agree that his height is not the main attribute he possesses. No, it’s his positional play, reading of the game, timing of the tackle cool head and experience – but I wouldn’t mind betting that Kozzer has won more headers in the box when playing alongside Mert. The return of Vermaelen has been a huge shot in the arm and has reminded us all that he is a world class defender and our captain of the defence. For me the best CB pairing is TV and Koz but have your say by placing your vote below.



Wingbacks
Now this is where it really does get difficult. Most Arsenal supporters would say that last season Sagna was the best right back in the league. He didn’t start this season so well and looked a yard or two off the pace, but a 90% Sagna is still better than most RBs and it seemed like an early hammer blow to our season when he was ruled out with a fractured leg.

But then there was the introduction of Carl Jenkinson to the first team. He was one of our early summer signings who at 19 was inexperienced to say the least having been on loan at a non league club previously. For me he has been a revelation. Like Jack, he’s an Arsenal supporter. He has amazing energy going forward and uncharacteristically for an Arsenal player, he can cross the ball. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not in the same class defensively as Sagna at this stage, but he is improving every game and has won the hearts of the supporters already. Sagna has to be my first choice RB for the big games, but Jenks is a real find and offers us more offensively so in a couple of years time who knows?


Gibbs or Santos? – now that is a much closer call. Gibbs has been threatening to become the new Cashley for a couple of seasons. His progress has been hampered by a worrying propensity to pick up injuries that hasn’t ever really let us see him have a decent run of games.

Santos is already dividing opinion. He’s all Brazillian, surging forward with gay abandon, super control spiced with clever tricks and finished with a sweet left foot and cool head in front of goal. He loves to go forward, its the gaping holes that he leaves behind that worry many. West Brom were poor on Saturday and Santos never really looked troubled but against stiffer opposition he may be undone. The hope is that he will adjust his game to put slightly more emphasis on the defensive side of his play, but I for one would not wish him to sacrifice his natural attacking game. Santos would be my first choice for LB.

The Midfield
Since The Boy Wonder’s place is not in question I shall consider the midfield to be the ‘5’ in a 4:5:1 formation – but you can call it 4:3:3 if it makes you happy. I have no hesitation on current form in saying that wide midfielders places are not in question, Theo and Gervinho have been excellent and are clearly Arsène’s first choice, but we still have very good options in Arshavin, the Ox and possibly Ryo in time.

The current best centre midfield 3 would appear to be Song, Ramsey and Arteta – but what happens when Jack is fit again?

It would appear that Song’s place in the side is safe so who would give way to accommodate our rising star? I actually think that Arteta has been more influential in the side recently than Song as he quietly gets on with his business and keeps the Wengerball machine running smoothly whereas Song is often noticed when he somehow magically manages to hold off multiple players and still emerge with the ball but I sometimes think he should not be in that position in the first place. Once again we are blessed with midfield options and squad rotation of the midfield 3 would help us stave off the customary end of season fatigue.

Which players would you prefer to see as our centre midfield three?

The Subs
I have made the presumption that everyone would agree that these are the only candidates for first choice in their positions but many would disagree. Is Arshavin more effective than Gervinho on the left? The Ox worth a try in place of Theo? Rosicky more reliable than Ramsey? Benny more attacking than Song? Diaby waiting in the wings to finally realise his potential? Coquelin worth a try for some games? – they may well all have to play their part in a typically long season. With the possible exception of strikers, we can now boast two quality players for every position on the pitch.

One thing is for sure, our new strength in depth makes us better equipped than for many years and the removal of large egos and homesick heroes from the dressing room should mean that rotation and competition for places makes us a stronger and more resilient squad this season.

You can see how opinion is divided in the polls by clicking on ‘View Results’ on the bottom left of each poll box.

Written by Rasp


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