The second game of the busy festive period is upon us, and a trip to Aston Villa and the odorous Alex McLeish awaits. Villa fans have not warmed to their new manager and his style of football. He has turned them into Birmingham of 2010-11 and so far they have managed four wins from sixteen games scoring only 18 goals. They have though like McLeish’s former charges become the draw specialists and no doubt he will set his side up in the traditional Routemaster formation.
This is often the type of game that we have been known to take too lightly in the past, often featuring numerous changes to the team and resulting in a disjointed and difficult to watch performance. Last season Wigan away over the Christmas period was a case in point. If the boss needs more recent proof of why he should not over rotate it is the Olympiakos away game where the team sent out never got going, no matter that it was a dead rubber.
For these reasons I hope Arsène will make no more than two or three changes and do the same for the rest of the games in the festive period to provide rest for the big players over the period but still maintaining the core of the side. One change for this game has been forced upon us by suspension and one by injury.
Tonight I would line up as follows:
We need all the attacking quality we can muster, although part of me expects Wenger to start Arshavin in place of Gervinho. Perhaps because it is away from the glare of the Emirates crowd it would be more beneficial to Arshavin’s confidence to start tonight rather than at home against Wolves.
Whatever team takes the field tonight they will need to be up for the fight and to continue the drive we saw from them on Sunday, Villa may be lacking in technical craft but they have players that will do their best to outmuscle the new look Arsenal, especially across the back four and they will certainly be sent out fired up by McLeish. Given and Bent, both so often tormentors of the good guys, are missing as is Herd, and Collins is struggling to make the game. The biggest blow for Arsenal is that Heskey is also unavailable which means they may have more mobility in midfield and final third than anticipated.
It is important the result is secured early on, we need to conserve energy reserves for the next three games so a fast start with a couple of goals before half time will be a perfect tonic. A win is a must to continue our pursuit of the Champions League spots.
To continue with tradition of Inventors hailing from the home of our opponents I have unfortunately struggled to come up with any worthy men from the tiny Birmingham suburb named Aston……well that is apart from the fateful day in 1969 when Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward and Ozzy Osborne decided a band called Earth was a bit rubbish and reinvented themselves as Black Sabbath and gave birth to Heavy Metal. Rock on to three points.
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…
Manchester City 1 – 0 Arsenal: Match report and player ratings
Since our painful, last visit to Manchester a few months ago, Arsenal have made tremendous progress. In fact, the club achieved such a fantastic transformation since the late arrival of experienced, quality players like Arteta, Mertesacker, and Santos that most of us were confident we could get something out of our game against the other club from Manchester today.
It was not to be. But, despite Citeh’s unforgivable luring of our players and hiring of our legend(s) over the last few seasons, and the shameless ‘investment’ in the club of £800m in order to buy a few pots, we still matched them in all departments today. The margins were small, and to be fair, Citeh did produce the best overall football at times and had the better chances, but throughout the game we played with spirit and class, with a never-say-die attitude and a real belief in ourselves.
The New Arsenal knows how to fight, it knows how to play as a team and for each other, it never gives up, and because of that we deserved a point out of yesterday’s game. It was not to be, but despite the loss of three points yesterday, our team will have won a lot of belief, confidence and real team spirit to build on further. In the long run, this game will prove to have been very valuable for us.
The game started pretty even, with both teams full of energy and confidence. In the 9th minute Citeh have a decent first chance: Zabaleta puts in a decent cross from the left to Aguero, who controls the ball well but then blasts the ball well over Szczesny and the goal. After that, there is more pressure by MC but Arsenal work hard as a unit and give very little space away. At this stage though, Song gets a yellow card – a very soft one – and soon after that Richards shamelessly tries to get our ‘Only Song’ booked again. A feat repeated by a few more Citeh players during the match, but referee Dowd did well not to fall into that oily trap. Arsenal struggles at the early stages to pass the ball through Citeh’s lines, and our opponents find it easier to pick an attacking through-ball. However, this changes when Song picks out a good run by Gervinho who hits a hard and low diagonal shot which Joe Hart, with an element of luck, is just able to save with his right arm. This was just what we needed to give us believe. The subsequent corner is played towards the edge of the box, where Ramsey hits a good low shot onto Hart’s left corner. The latter makes a decent save though.
In the 23rd minute, Richards puts a high ball into the box which is not handled decisively by our defence. Especially Mertesacker, who does not show enough strength in his one-on-one with Balotelli, is at fault, as the latter is able to turn and shoot at goal from close range. Szczesny imposes himself like an onrushing giant octopus and makes a very decent save. In the 35th minute, we witness another good run from defence into midfield by the superb Koscielny: he plays the ball to RvP, whose shot is blocked but still reaches Ramsey in the box.
Ramsey does not hit the ball cleanly, but does still almost score. Kolo Toure makes a clumsy tackle on Rambo but as he played the ball first, it was always unlikely Arsenal would be given a penalty for it. Gervinho and Theo work very hard all over the pitch and help out our defence on numerous occasions, and this is one of the reasons Arsenal never allows MC to have long periods of pressure on us. The teams continue to be pretty evenly matched. In the 41st minute, Aguero makes an energetic horizontal run across our box – reminiscent of Romario – until he finds a gap to put a decent diagonal shot in, but Szczesny had read his intentions well and saves his effort with ease.
After two minutes, Djourou needs to be replaced and Miquel comes on. Arsenal needs to reshuffle its defence: Koz moves from CB to RB, Miquel becomes our LB and Vermaelen moves from LB to CB. Not good of course, but it had to be done. In the 53th minute, a good run through the centre by Gervinho almost finds Theo, but Zabaleta, who had a good game for Citeh, intercepts and the ball falls to Barry. Barry passes to Nasri who sees a sea of space in front of him on the left hand side – so he passes the ball to Balotelli who can collect the ball without any RB pressure (Koz is out of position). Song does his best to move into the space, but Balotelli manages to move the ball to Song’s left side and hits a low drive towards Szczesny.
Our goalkeeper is able to stop the shot, but the ball bounces up and Aguero beats Vermaelen brilliantly with a quick, horizontal header towards Silva, who puts the ball into our net from close range, despite Vermaelen’s flying tackle. A real shame, but plenty of time to make amends. From the subsequent kick-off the ball comes to Theo who shoots at once and forces Hart to make a half-decent save.
In the 56th minute, Gervinho instigates another attack. From Arsenal’s left hand side, he passes back to Ramsey who instantly passes towards RvP. Boy Wonder tricks Hart brilliant, but his goal is ruled offsite. It is very marginal, and at moments like this it would probably really help if we were playing at home, as it needed a ‘benefit of the doubt’ decision in our favour. For the game it would have been brilliant if that one had counted, but it was not to be.
Then, ten mad minutes of football ensue. In the 62nd minute, Aguero unleashed a venomous, diagonal shot across the goal that had Szczesny probably beaten, but it went past the right side of the post for us. In the 63rd minute our defence is carved open by clever interplay of Silva and Nasri. The latter only has to pass the ball sideways in the box towards the relatively quiet Balotelli, and an easy tap-in would have resulted in 2-0 and game over. Unbelievably, Nasri over-hits his pass and we are given another lifeline. In the 64th minute, Gervinho skins Richards with a quick move and brilliant wing-play, and he pulls the ball back superbly for RvP’s, normally lethal, left foot. Unbelievably, Robin scoffs his shot and Hart is able to make a simple save. Ooh, what a shame that was. Had we scored then, we could have won the game, but Robin is human after all! In the 66th minute, Zabaleta hits the post and in the 67th minute Theo puts in a good cross towards RvP and Ramsey, who ones again had made a good run into the box, but they are ruled offsite. Again, this is a marginal decision which did not go our way, but Hart saved very well anyway.
Theo is then replaced by Arshavin, and the former is, understandably, not happy with the decision. In the 71st minute, a good move by Ramsey leads to a pass towards RvP, who quickly finds Arshavin. The pocket Russian has all the time in the world to pass the ball into the box towards several onrushing Arsenal players, but he fails miserably. The only possible excuse is that he still had to get into the game, but nevertheless his misplaced pass, which was easily intercepted by Hart, was pretty unforgivable.
In the 77th minute, we could have had a penalty. It would have been a soft one, but it did appear that Richards moved his arm slightly to stop the ball from going past his body, and he definitely did not try to get his arm out of the way. I can live with the referee’s decision, but I am pretty sure we would have had a penalty if we’d played at home. In the 89th minute, we witness another Arshavin-horror moment, as he miscues the ball badly form a simple pass by RvP. The melancholic Russian made the wrong decision and his execution was equally poor. Theo’s substitution was a bad decision, in hindsight.
Was that it then? Well no, there were still two brilliant Vermaelen moments, which could have so easily given us a deserved point from yesterday’s game. Firstly, from an Arteta free-kick, he drove a fierce shot from outside the box straight at Hart: anywhere else and it would have burst the net. Secondly, he put his entire livelihood into a shot from well outside the box towards Hart’s right side of the goal that only just misses the target.
The last fifteen minutes were almost entirely ours, but ever so frustratingly we just missed a bit of luck and levelheadedness (mainly by Arshavin) to come away from the Etihad stadium with a well-deserved point. However, this game will have done the New Arsenal easily as much good as our recent victory over the Chavs and our qualification for the Champions League last 16. Something the Oilers can only dream off at this stage of their Petrodollar Bonanza Project. And long may it continue.
Szczesny: top performance: oozes confidence and his decision making is nearly flawless. Strikers fear him and that is half the battle won: 8.5
Koscielny: great drive and positioning (before he became RB). What a joy to have such a dedicated and positive, beastly good CB in our team: 8.5
Mertesacker: some good positioning and he brings calmness and organisation to our team. Needs to become a bit more aggressive and decisive, but I still like his performance: 7
Djourou: had a decent first half in an relatively unfamiliar position, and tried at least a few runs forwards: 7
Vermaelen: absolute beast and works so incredibly hard for the team. Also played in a relatively unfamiliar position and, understandably, we missed the attacking LB play from him at times. His desire to score for us in the last 10 minutes was simply inspirational: an other great player to have at Arsenal: 8.5
Miquel: did very well, and what a classy player we have here: 7.5
Arteta: brilliant game. Fought like a stallion and worked his socks off for the team. Together with Song, he tamed the MC midfield: 8.5
Ramsey: brilliant game. Fought like a dragon and worked his socks off for the team. He was everywhere and made so many positive runs into the box. Sooner or later, he will start scoring goals on a regular basis and, ideally, we would have had somebody in Ramsey’s position yesterday, who can do what he did plus score (more) goals. But Ramsey gives absolutely everything and is learning and growing very fast: 8
Song: brilliant game. Fought like a lion and did very well not to get a second yellow card: a very mature performance. Together with Arteta, he tamed the MC midfield: 8.5
Theo: was often isolated in attack and when he had the ball he was unable to shield it very well at times. He is not able to attack defenders from standing still; the way Gervinho does and that really is a handicap for him in games like this. Worked his socks off to help out our defence: 7.5
Gervinho: some will say he needs to improve on his decision making. Although, he made a few not-so-good decisions, he made many very good decision and he was everywhere yesterday. Like Theo he helped out our defence constantly, but he also set up many of our attacks: 8.5
RvP: worked his socks off for the team, and scored a brilliant goal which was given offsite unfortunately. Missed a good chance, but was also up against one of the best CB’s in the world right now (Kompany): 8.5
My Man of the Match: the entire team. They did us proud yesterday.
Thanks to the Siberian oligarch’s team conceding a late equaliser at the DW stadium last night the Arsenal travel to Rowsley Street, hoping to go level third on points as long as the Sunderland revival continues at the Looters habitat in the swamplands of N17.
The Etihad stadium is east of central Manchester and is a stadium leased from Manchester Municipal council, the irony of the world’s wealthiest club occupying a council property is not lost on the majority of clubs in football struggling to make ends meet.
The Abu Dhabi owned north western club’s unbeaten run was bought to a shuddering halt by events at the bus stop in Fulham last weekend so the aura of league invincibility has been broken.
Additionally the expected exit from the top flight of European football that preceded the league set back will have some effect on the team dynamic for the Sky Blues on show today, however they still have a 100% home record this season and will jealously guard that record.
The Arsenal have seven wins and a draw from their last eight (the draw being at home against Fulham) so form wise things don’t look too shabby for us.
The main talking point team selection wise will be the full backs for either side. Taking the home team first, Clichy ‘s unavailability and the other first team left back’s(Kolarov) injury means it is expected that Zabaleta will switch from his usual right sided position so that a returning Micah Richards can slot into his preferred right back spot.
As for the good guys, it is well documented that both the first choice and back up for both full back positions are all out injured so we continue with an all centre-back derived back four. As there are no injuries or returnees from injury from the Everton game the back four should be as before, from left to right as we look at it: Djourou, Kozzer, Per (BFG), and The Verminator.
In midfield the first choice trio of Song, Arteta and Ramsey virtually picks itself with front three being Theo, Gervinho and Robin.
Trying to pick the opposition team, aside from their fullbacks and goalie is less predictable suffice to say that there is a wealth of options available to Mancini, however one would expect to see their key man Silva start with any two up front from a choice of three strikers from Aguero, Dzeko and the pyrotechnic, synthetic grass allergic prankster.
The other midfield places up for grabs could see the Ballon D’or candidate S. Na$ri esq show us his skills in advance of his appearances in the Premier European competition as showcased by Channel 5, namely the Europa Cup.
To my mind the strength of the attacks down the flanks will decide who breaks through to score – both sides do not have their ideal full backs, however the good guys will have had the experience of the Everton game operating as a defensive unit whereas the home side will not be settled and have a right back who is not only returning from injury but has a tendency to attack sufficiently to allow Gervinho to exploit any space behind Micah Richards, especially as Gervinho won’t have to assist defensively as the Verminator is no slouch at left back.
Theo’s willingness to track back should afford Djourou a degree of protection so with those two facts in mind I expect some solidity in defence.
With our possession game on song nowadays I believe patience will be required to quieten the home crowd so that a nil nil at half time should get the boos ringing out at the Municipal ground in M11, Lancashire.
In keeping with this season’s motif in match previews, I point you in the direction of Reverend George Garrett a product of 1850’s Moss Side, the inventor of the world first mechanically driven submarine and the possessor of a fine beard-bald head combo.
Down periscope !
Sadly his first attempt at a sub sank (the Resurgam, which weighed in at 45 tons) after a towing rope snapped and his reputation suffered to such an extent that he died in abject poverty at the turn of the century in New York, having emigrated there in order to revive his flagging reputation. Perhaps a salutary tale for the noveau riche of the Premier League.
The world of football has changed in so many ways since first I clambered up the steps at Highbury and looked down in awe at the scene before me; an oblong of green set at the bottom of a man made bowl, the concrete sides towering above it. There it was the home of my schoolboy dreams, the canvass on which I had for all my growing years drawn in my mind’s eye the daring deeds which I, “Roy of the Arsenal” had performed heroically, defeating all and sundry with magical skills and wondrous last minute goals.
It had not been easy being a gooner, raised in a family of spuds and living many miles from the ground despite having been born In Walthamstow. Indeed in those days I don’t remember being called gooners, we were the Gunners and proud of it.
But in the fullness of time a gooner I became, the umbilical cord of that born again experience, when first I discovered the team that played with the cannon on its chest, still keeps me joined some sixty years later to the wonderful club that has meant so much to me over the years.
Still from those far off days, it is the humour I remember from watching the Arse, the banter with the oppositions supporters was, pointed, cutting and at times downright hilarious . We had the morons of course, but they were few and far between and usually dealt with by the crowd itself.
The days of the football hooligans that led to all seated stadia lay well in the future, these were the days when we didn’t win anything but still the humour remained, It was a scouser who I first heard tell an Arsenal player “he was as much use as a chocolate teapot” and another as “useful as a third tit on a nun”.
Arsenal fans at King’s Cross to catch the special trains to Huddersfield for the FA Cup semi final against Grimbsy, 21st March 1936. Arsenal won 1-0
So where I wonder did the hatred come from, the obscene chants that are classed by many as funny these days. Even our refined, cultured, intelligent manager is bombarded on a weekly basis by brainless choirs regurgitating accusations far too vile and scurrilous for repetition on any blog with aspirations to quality.
Tribalism is fine, it helps the common cause and binds the supporters together in a collective quest to play their part in motivating and driving the team onwards and upwards, supports them through tough times and rejoices in their success.
But why the sectarianism, racism and the vitriol poured on rival supporters, particularly in our case the spuds and Chavs
Yes I know there are those that will say football grounds are not the home of knitting circles. But where is the respect for the skills of opposing players, who if the truth was told, we would love to see in our shirt, and the supporters who had they been born, like us in different places would in all likelihood support some other team.
I have never been to the Emirates, but read constantly the comments of those that do, that we don’t support or cheer our team enough, maybe, and here I can only surmise, maybe the trend to abuse more than support, and attrition rather than respect, is what keeps the much derided corporate customers embarrassed and quiet.
When the draw was made for the group stage back in August, there was mixed reaction from the gooner faithful. Dortmund were deemed the strongest of the pot 4 teams and Otelul Galati perhaps the weakest. No surprise when Arsenal got Dortmund and the mancs were drawn with Otelul. Suggestions of United paying for an easy group were obviously wide of the mark (let’s hope they kept the receipt). The Mansour mercenaries seemed to have a tough group but most thought the £82m they spent in the summer to add to the £130m they spent the previous summer plus January would mean they would be strong enough to progress.
Esteemed blogger RA had a punt at the final 16 and was unlucky to predict only 9 of them correctly.
Who would have thought that both teams from the north west would get dumped into the Europa League and the London clubs in crisis would both finish top of their respective groups?
Today we could be drawn against FC Vaslui, FC Metalist Kharkiv……..no, hang on a minute, these are possible opponents for the Manche5ter teams in the Spursday Challenge Trophy. (draw to be held after the important business is finished)
The UEFA Champions League round of 16 draw in Nyon will be streamed live on UEFA.com from 11am GMT. Seeded group winners will be away in the round of 16 first legs on 14/15 and 21/22 February and at home in the return matches on 6/7 and 13/14 March. No team can play a club from their group or any side from the same association.
The draw for the remainder of the competition will be held on 16th March with the Champions League Final to be staged at the Allianz Arena München on 19th May 2012.
Our possible opponents in the Round of 16 are Napoli, CSKA, Basel, Lyon, Bayer Leverkusen, Zenit St Petersburg and AC Milan
Società Sportiva Calcio Napoli
Vanquishers of the Lancastrian Oilers, Napoli are the most successful club in Southern Italy. Reputed to have been joint-founded by two English sailors in the 1900s, the club was threatened with bankruptcy and extinction in 2004 until Neapolitan film producer Aurelio De Laurentis stumped up the cash to keep the SS Napoli afloat.
Napoli looked sharp in the group stage finishing behind Bayern on 11 points. Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani looked dangerous and is their current top scorer (El Cashico derby participants are both said to be interested). Both the stylish Slovakian Marek Hamsic and Argentinian Ezequiel Lavezzi also impressed, especially on the counter attack.
Would Naples be a delightful place to go in the early spring?
The ‘A’ in CSKA stands for Army but the club is no longer a section of the Russian military’s CSKA sports club. However the Russian Ministry of Defense is a still a CSKA shareholder and the club benefitted from a major cash injection from Sibneft (Abramovich) in 2004. Nicknamed ‘The Horses’ ( their first training facilities were located in a building previously used as a Prince Yusupov’s stable) or the ‘Army Men’, CSKA finished the group stage as runners up to Inter with 8 points with both Trabzonspor and Eden Hazard’s Lille close behind.
It is reported that CSKA have retired the shirt number 12 as the supporters are regarded as the club’s 12th man. Romanian Ianis Zicu is current top scorer.
How would Arsenal respond to a chilly trip to Moscow in late February?
Founded in 1893, FC Basel are one of the most successful clubs in Switzerland having a fierce rivalry with both Zurich teams (FC Zurich and Grasshoppers). In the 2001–02 season the club reached the UEFA Intertoto Cup final, losing to Aston Villa. One of the early club captains was Joan Gamper, who later founded FC Barcelona in Spain.
Basel played well at the Theatre of (Howard Webb’s wet) Dreams and perhaps should have won. Current top scorer is Alexander Frei and Fabian Frei has also chipped in with a couple of goals from midfield.
Basel knocking the mancs out the CL has to be one of the highlights of our shadenfreude season so far. Listening to Fergie’s voice mail the day after Basel’s victory may help you re-live the unbridled joy of that night.
Lyon only came to prominence in France in 2002 with their first Ligue 1 championship followed by an amazing six more successive titles. Managed by ex-gooner Remi Garde, Lyon are very popular in France on a similar level to PSG and only beaten in the popularity stakes by Marseille.
There was nothing dodgy at all about their 7-1 victory over Dinamo Zagreb, allied to Ajax’s 3-0 defeat to Madrid which resulted in Lyon’s qualification for the last 16. They are a classy French side who regularly develop players and then sell them on at a large profit.
Current players include Jimmy Briand who apparently makes a nice steak at his chateau and current top scorer Bafétimbi Gomis. Yoann Gourcuff runs their midfield and is often touted as a possible Wenger signing.
Maybe the short trip to France would be seen as a good draw for the Gunners?
Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Leverkusen play at the BayArena which has the reputation of being one of the most family-friendly football stadiums in Germany. Ironically, Bayer 04 was the first Bundesliga club whose fans identified themselves as Ultras.
The club and their fans have started to be proud of their industrial origins, calling themselves “Werkself” (Engl. “Factory team”, “Millhanders”) or “Pillendreher” (Engl. “Tablet twisters”).
This, in response to taunts from fans of the traditional clubs who denounce Bayer Leverkusen as being a “plastic club”, without traditions or a committed fan base, existing solely as a creation of their rich pharmaceutical company sponsor – Bayer AG. (Engl. “shit club, no history”)
Leverkusen were runners up in group E to Roman’s gimcracks, pushing Valencia into 3rd. Top scorer this season is Eren Derdiyok who is a 6’ 3” Swiss striker of Turkish descent. Michael Ballack is still lumbering around in Leverkusen’s midfield looking haughty.
Perhaps another trip to Germany is in the offing to warm us up for a return trip in May?
Zenit St Petersburg
Zenit’s history is closely linked to the steel industry in Saint-Petersburg and the club seems to have resulted as a merger of several clubs including Leningradsky Metallichesky Zavod nicknamed the “Stalinets” (stal means steel in Russian) and the Zenit sports society which was the All-Union Voluntary Sports Society for workers of the arms industry.
So far Zenit’s finest achievement in Europe has been to win the UEFA cup in 2008 playing some fine football and beating Rangers in the final when the man of the match was declared as our very own, Andrei Arshavin.
They finished second to Apoel Nicosia in group G, perhaps the hardest group to call, with Porto reduced to Europa League football and Shakhtar Donetsk out of Europe altogether.
They are managed by an Italian, Luciano Spalletti and play at the magnificent-looking Petrovsky Stadium built on an island in theNeva River. (Looks lovely in the sun, might be a touch parky at the end of February)
Maybe this tie would spark our Russian powerpack back into life?
Milan was founded in 1899 by Nottingham-born lace-maker Herbert Kilpin and businessman Alfred Edwards among others.
Herbert in his Milan strip and Alfred carrying the match ball
The association with England resulted in the Cross of St George being incorporated into the Milan badge.
Milan has a squad full of household names and are currently a close third in Seria A. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on a good scoring run, aided and abetted by Robinho (when he gets a game) and Kevin-Prince Boateng amongst others.
I’m not sure who I’d prefer in the draw. When we reached the final in 2006, we drew Real Madrid in the last 16, so who knows?
Picture this. Its 18th Century London and crime is rife in the capital. Muggers and looters stalk the wealthy Streets and Avenues of the City Centre. The biggest killer? Not the small pointy blades of the outer city Hoodies. No. It was the Gentlemen who still sported the longer reaching swords, and could thus pick off their chosen Hoody from a safe distance. The Cads. Or were they?
This is the same merry bunch who thought up the worlds’ greatest games and sports, and then enshrined those in Codes and Rules ensuring fair play and gentlemanly conduct. It is also from these roots that the English developed their sense of justice in the sporting arena. The idea that it was in the taking part that the sport was to be found, and from here we developed our affinity with the underdog.
I like to think that everything about The Arsenal encompasses these principles. Or do I?
You know what, I don’t really. There’s nothing I like better than a touch of underhand dealing. A little skullduggery. We know there is underfloor heating beneath the pampered feet of the home dugout, but not so for our guests. We know about the shrewd dealings of one Sir Henry Norris. So what’s next?
At this point I need to fess up that the inspiration for this post came from a quite brilliant comment yesterday by GiE (7:43 am). We all know that City pay for Adebeyor to play for that lot. Well, GiE’s masterplan was for us to get the bloke on the same terms, then effectively short weekly loan him out to play for whoever is taking on the Spuds that week. Genius, simple and effective I thought. For me, this is Sir Henry Norris level thinking, and frankly, I’d like The Arsenal to start thinking more laterally.
It appears to me that there are two pressing areas in which we should direct our plans. The first is, quite obviously, to ensure home advantage to the max. To this end, we have to optimize the effects of Winter. We all know how darkness descends the over the land as the first half draws to an end, and the cold easterlies explore our exposed extremities. Perhaps we need to exaggerate the effect with thermal control over the visiting dressing room, while pumping in relaxation sound effects to weaken their resolve.
The second is to land the striker that we cannot afford. Now bungs seem a little old hat, so perhaps there are “extras” we could be offering our selected targets. The Leveson Inquiry would appear to offer some inspiration here in ways that may make “persuading” agents, managers and players to believe that the right thing to do would be to jump ship to The Arsenal at vastly reduced expense. A rigged photo here, an incriminating phone call there. Just thinking aloud here.
So come on. Think up lads. I know I’m not squeaky clean in this department. The lighting in the Wiff Waff Club is heavily rigged to favour one end, and I know where to start the “eeny meeny miny moing” to win the toss, and as back up I also own a double headed coin. There is room for some shrewd thinking here. I happen to know there are many fish eaters on this site, with correspondingly enormous brains. So let’s put it to good use. Any ideas?
Ever since the departure of Fabregas and the long-term injury to Wilshire, I have been trying to figure out how the ‘New Arsenal’ will play this season. For quite a while I was convinced Arsène wanted to continue with his 4-2-3-1 formation of the previous seasons, and as such, he was trying to get Ramsey to play in the Fabregas position/role, with Song in the more traditional DM role and Arteta in the box-to-box ‘Wilshere’ role – which is effectively a second DM (most of the times).
I figured that at soon as the back-five would have gained enough strength and consistency, we would ‘evolve’ and start playing with one DM, and two attacking midfielders – very similar to Barcelona’s 4-1-2-3 system (pressure high up the pitch and boxing in the opponent, whilst pin-balling around till a gap is found for a deadly attack. I was convinced that as soon as Wilshire would return we would start playing Song as sole DM and two of Ramsey, Wilshere, Arteta or Diaby as our attacking midfielders. This seemed the logical, final, evolutionary step of the Wengerball project.
5-3-3 System, with the three ‘mini-teams’
This might still happen, but I am starting to think that Arsene is developing a new system that is here to stay: 5-3-3. More than ever, I feel the team consists of three sub-teams: the back-five, the middle-three and the front-three. The back-five focus very hard on becoming a defensive wall that keeps clean sheets and helps out midfield and attack – especially through our FB’s – as much as possible.
The three attackers up front focus on creating and scoring goals and help out with supporting the defence and midfield as much as possible. The middle-three primarily focus on bossing the midfield, help out defence and support attack. Nothing new there, you’ll say: every team will work amongst similar lines. True, but for Arsenal this is still a shift away from what we have become used to and it seems to have helped us in becoming more focussed, and take on more responsibility, by those three ‘mini-teams’. Of course, a team functions best when all 11 positions are interlinked and work as one team. This will be the next step for Arsenal, and that’s one of the reasons I believe this team is only working to 70% of its full potential at the moment – not as a result of a lack of work-rate, but simply a lack of time of having been together/ getting used to each other as a team.
I love the way our regular front three: Gervinho, RvP, Theo work together to create scoring opportunities for each other, which, at the moment, are mainly taken by ‘Het Wonderkind – Boy Wonder’. They are becoming quite the package with a mixture of creativity, unpredictability, an all-round attacking skill-set, and an end-product to relish. It is great to see the way they take joy in helping each other to score, and the way those with the assists are celebrated just as much as the goal scorer himself.
I love the way the defence really wants clean sheets, and gets so annoyed when it is not achieved. With Szczesny and Vermaelen we have strong extravert leaders, and with Mertesacker, Sagna, Koz, and Santos we have truly focused professionals who’ll fight for the cause till the end. There is plenty of talented back-up as well.
The Wall of ARS
But I am most excited at the moment about our new midfield. Arteta, Ramsey and Song: ‘ARS’. They have become a three-dimensional wall; the fulcrum of the new Arsenal. Like any good midfield, their tasks are to shield the defence, to boss the midfield, and to support the attack with assists and goals. ARS does this fantastically well, and there is plenty of growth/improvement still to come. ARS is not yet scoring enough and should produce more assists, but it is getting better and that’s where the additional 30% for our midfield will come from eventually.
What I like most about ARS is the unpredictability of these players. Arteta, Ramsey and Song are multi-disciplined and multi-skilled. Each of them have a great engine, each can shield the defence like a traditional DM, each can do box-to-box, each can produce a killer-pass, and each can score goals. They are total (football) midfielders.
Admittedly, Song is the better DM, and Ramsey is the best option in the more advanced midfield position of the three, and Arteta is possibly the best finisher of them all, but we have the luxury of quality midfielders who can play anywhere, and can do anything. Add to that their ability to swap positions between them during a game and this is exactly what makes us unpredictable: just think about Song’s incredible assist for RvP opening goal against BD: who saw that one coming? It also makes us extremely adjustable: just think about Arteta’s recent goals and his ability to help us ‘play-out’ a game by keeping hold of the ball at the latter stages when we are winning the game. Ramsey is so young and yet so incredibly talented: he is perhaps the best example, or the purest – if you want, of a total midfielder, out of all three of them. This is some midfield we have now and it is likely to become stronger and stronger during the next few months.
So what will happen, now that Diaby appears to be fit again, and especially when Wilshire returns? We also witnessed during our CC game against Citeh that Coquelin and Frimpong are ready to play more first team football. What are we going to do with all these fine midfielders? Just imagine the dilemma Wenger would be facing now if he had not sold Fabregas and Nasri? How times can change!
My view is that we will not change our formation at all this season: Arsenal’s multi-functional midfield within the new 5-3-3 philosophy is here to stay. Diaby and Wilshire will have to compete with ARS to get themselves in there, and for Coquelin and Frimpong the challenge will be even bigger. Wenger likes his midfielders and he is not known for easily changing things that are not broken within the same season. And this, is what makes me believe we will not buy another midfielder like Goetze or Hazard during the next TW. Arsenal might be buying another winger, and/or a striker, especially if and when one or two players are asked/decide to move on, but unless Wenger would see in them a future winger (which I doubt), for Goetze and Hazard there is simply no space at the moment.
The system of 5-3-3 is working fantastically for Arsenal and the wall of ARS is an integral part of it: I just cannot see Wenger making any changes this season and this will suit us just fine.
If ever you needed evidence of the newly improved team spirit at New Arsenal, you just have to read some of the recent match reports.
Here on AA yesterday Harry’s excellent dissection of the victory over Everton was comprehensive and entertaining.
He plumped for Koscielny as Man of the Match, but clearly did not feel his performance was way out ahead of the rest of the team (Kozzer was one of four players whom Harry gave an 8 out of 10. He also gave 7.5 to three others).
If you scan around the Arsenal blog world you will see other writers picking out Ramsey, van Persie, Song, Vermaelen, Arteta and Walcott as their choice for MoTM from Saturday’s game. The same has been true in other recent performances, where there has been no concensus as to who was the stand-out player on the day.
If you’re Blackburn, not having a stand-out player probably means you had 11 equally inept piles of hippo dung stinking up the place.
But in the happy situation of being the Arsenal, it means that we had an outstanding team performance with players working so selflessly for the greater good that it’s hard to pick out an overall star.
Last season Cesc was usually MoTM in the games he played. Sometimes it was Na$ri and, on a few occasions, Wilshere. But there always seemed to be a player whose efforts exceeded those of his team mates.
The difference this year is not that our “stand out” performers have dropped to the level of the players who were just putting in a shift. It’s that the whole team is playing better together, with the result that in any given match most players have raised their level at the same time.
Fun to watch, but a nightmare if you feel the need to single out a Man of the Match.
Clearly we have an out-and-out star performer for the season so far in Prince Robin. He is probably the best striker in world football right now and would be the stand-out in any team (even the Catalan diving squad). But Robin’s amazing achievements are very much built on the solid foundations that are now firmly in place following the chaos at the start of the season.
Personally, I’m thrilled that in recent games it has been so hard to pick out a MoTM. When Cesc was our regular MoTM we were a poorer team overall.
Perhaps there was an element of “Thierry Syndrome”, with players feeling that they always had to pass to our former Number Four even when better options were available.
Or, more likely, we functioned less well as a team last year because we lacked team spirit and togetherness.I think we all know that Cesc was not a great captain. And with the constant “will-he-won’t-he” background noise of his move back to Barcelona, it can’t have made for stability in the changing room.
Na$ri, meanwhile, was clearly a malcontent and trouble-maker who did not get on with some other members of the squad.
When those two left (for love and money, respectively) and we acquired the likes of Arteta, Mertesacker, Santos, Benayoun and Jenkinson instead, not many people believed we were a stronger squad than before.
But what about now?
How are you feeling after eight wins and a draw from our last nine EPL games?
How did you feel when Prince Robin went over to celebrate joyfully with the bench when he rifled home the winner against the Toffees?
We lost our two best players (supposedly) and gained what some have described as a bunch of journeyman pros.
But which team do you think is more likely to actually win something?
I know my answer. It’s obvious to me that New Arsenal, with its mix of precocious young talent and seasoned experience, will have a better chance of grabbing some silverware. At the very least I don’t expect New Arsenal to wilt when the pressure mounts, like last season’s model.
You may feel differently, in which case make your views known in this poll:
Arsenal brought together an array of legends to help them celebrate the history that is Arsenal, 125 years of history to be precise, from the days of Dial Square, Plumstead common, Henry Norris getting us into Division one after WW1, the Chapman Era, the 70’s double, moving in more recent history with George Graham’s titles and cups, right upto Wenger’s invincible’s and some of the best football I have ever seen.
With the statues that were unveiled on Friday, the talk of the Pubs pre-match, there was a feel good buzz about the place. 3 pivotal legends had been immortalised and all rightly so, but everyone I spoke to, believed there was a place for a Bergkamp statue.
Anyway into the ground, the fans trundled to see who had come to say hello, many legends from the recent history memory banks had come to join in with the celebrations, as Tom Watt spoke with Thierry, a rendition of “Sign him up” rang around the ground.
To the game, Everton were the sideshow to the celebrations, but as I said pre-match, the most important thing today was 3 points, so after all the fanfare could the players perform and focus on the job in hand? Everton after all were not going to roll over, always a worthy opponent, they work hard and give little away.
The only other worrying thing to consider before kick off was that Fergie’s rent boy was the man in the middle. Arsenal needed to add to the recent haul of 19 points from 21 and couldn’t afford to let Webb ruin our day.
It was a slow start and Everton were defending by holding a highline and pressing Arsenal, but this highline was breached on numerous occasions throughout the first half, but we failed to capitalise, if indeed we managed to get passed the razor sharp reflexes of the assistant referee who had his flag waving around throughout the game, did no one tell him the celebrations were all pre-match…………
The first real chance came about 15minutes in when Arteta, played a lovely ball down the inside right channel for Walcott to run onto, Theo unselfishly, but perhaps he should be more often?, anyway his pass was just a little too square, and it got between Gervinho and Ramsey, Gervinho managed to get control eventually, but the easy chance had gone by then…..
A few minutes later and Gervinho managed to break through from inside left, and he released Robin, but he seemingly had just strayed offside, a tight call, had the linesman put his flag down yet, I wasn’t sure. Everton got forward occasionally, but they failed to test Woijech, who collected or cleared any ball that came near him, his distribution was spot on.
On 29 mins, Song puts Ramsey through, the gap narrowed to the right, so he swivelled and curled a shot just over the top left corner.
Arsenal certainly were on top and looked like the only team trying to score, but we lacked a sharpness in front of goal and Robin was having a quieter than normal game. It was starting to feel like the Fulham game again. Although we were solid and didn’t look like conceding, it looked like we had as much chance of scoring as Na$ri does of playing Champions League football this season……..
Arsenal continued to dominate and had a flurry of corners, but still no break through, 3 mins of injury time and Saha unleashed from distance, but it didn’t test our young pole. Half time 0-0 and the party feel good factor was a little flat now….
Second half the game continued in the same fashion, about 5 mins in and Cahill loses his boot whilst on the attack, Webb stops the game much to the annoyance of Everton as that was a good break. Even funnier when Cahill threw his boot down in the direction of Moyes, as he left the pitch to sort it, who didn’t look happy.
Walcott was having a good game and getting plenty of the ball, but he wasted a good opportunity to get a strike on goal on about 55mins. Moments later and he drives forward and manages to bustle his way passed a defender and unleash a ferocious drive that Howard saves well.
On 60 mins, Baines, delivers a peach of a cross right to the far side to Cahill who is holding back and coming in late, but Vermaelen has smelt the danger and managed to get in between and head the ball clear, Szczesny praised Thomas. Cahill would have scored there, brilliant work by our Belgian Gladiator.
Everton take off Saha and bring on Distin, a point looks a good point to Moyes, although Neville puts the ball just over the goal on a rare Everton attack. As Arsenal continue to toil Wenger readies Arshavin and Rosicky.
But just before they come on, Song delivers what I can only describe as a perfect pass, that had Xavi done that, the press would be creaming themselves. As the ball came over from a diagonal right footed pass, the ball perfectly weighted and with a deceptive curve on the flight path as the ball spun in the air, it was watched down intently by Van Persie who got round the back of his marker, Jagielka, and on the volley, with both feet in the air, he lashed it with a precision strike across the goal and into the bottom right corner off the post with a hapless Howard, left looking like another statue…….Quiet game by RVP standards, but the goal was top draw……..Rosicky and Arshavin sit down….70mins 1-0……
Rosicky came on for Gervinho who had a very quiet game and Miquel replaced Thomas Vermaelen who had taken a knock. Everton now started to push forward but really failed to test Woijech, Frimpong came on for Theo.
On 86 Gueye breaks free but shoots wide, nerves were starting to manifest. As we moved into injury time, McAleny a young 19yr old has a delightful volley from the left, and although Szczesny stretches long, it goes wide.
Game over and Szczesny kisses the left boot of Van Persie, as the day ends as it started smiles all round. Another moment in our 125 year history as Robin scores a truly sensational goal which will be up there with the best of Wright and Henry to name a few, I am sure they were impressed with that goal and its true beauty.
Szczesny: 7.5 Calm and assured, his distribution is getting better and better. Not really tested, but did his basics well.
Djourou: 5. Indecisive and prone to too many errors. Did ok in patches, but he worries me.
BFG: 7. Thought he had an all round good game, but made a couple of errors that he got away with, even saw him jump a couple of times ` .
Koscienly: 8. Outstanding, strong and quick, reads danger well and snuffs it out, gets better every game. My MotM.
Vermaelen:8. Great game, played well at LB and gave Everton little space, his defensive header that kept out Cahill was amazing and kept it 0-0.
Song: 8. Strong and powerful, ran about breaking up attacks, continually looking to get players through and pick them out. His pass for Robins goal, was almost as good as the goal itself.
Ramsey: 8. Works and doesn’t hide, makes the odd mistake, but works hard to make up for that. Needs a goal and deserves a goal. I read on one website, Ramsey was deemed the worse player on the pitch, complete pony; he was very good and close to MotM for me. How anyone can berate him is completely beyond me…….
Arteta: 7. A quiet game today, but still looked the part, a few more than normal wasted passes, got confused perhaps with his old team mates.
Gervinho:6. Added little to the team today, woeful up front and loss the ball way too many times. Very frustrating at times.
Van Persie: 7.5. Was probably a 6, but that strike was amazing, simply sensational. You could argue giving him MotM for the goal, but equally Vermaelen stopped a goal been scored against us.
Walcott: 7.5. Involved throughout, made a few wrong decisions, great strike just after the break. Just needs to start scoring more regularly now.
Rosicky: 6.0. Little time
Miquel: . 6.9. Little time
Frimpong:. Only on the pitch for 3 or 4 minutes.
Mr Wenger: 8. Has the team working hard for each other and showing real promise. Has his favourite line up, but it is hampered by his injured fullbacks. Subs at the right time.
A hard fought contest, but we got three points, from a solid team performance. Which like many games this season, we all feel we would have probably lost last season? Wenger really has turned this team around and ok its top four till Chelsea play, but we are in there on merit…..
Not the most exciting game ever, agreed, but 3 points and the chant that is recognised around the world, 1 nil to the Arsenal, 1 nil to the Arsenal………is somewhat fitting on day of nostalgia…….