Woke Up, it was a Chelsea Morning: Preview

April 21, 2012

Remember when you were small (or in Chary’s case, smaller)?  Morning break – out came the football, lunch break, – out came the football, after school – out came the football. At weekends, a game Saturday morning and another in the afternoon, often playing until dark in summer.

Young Big Raddy slots one past a concerned Kelsey

What is the relevance of my opening paragraph? Well, it is the complete tosh talked about Chelsea having to play 3 big games in a week. These men are honed athletes who spend their lives doing something they love and are trained non-stop to do so. If I can play 30+ hours a week as a 12 y.o. then they can manage under 5 hours as adults. Am I right or am I right?

Chelsea have one of the biggest squads in World football. They have a World Cup winner and the most expensive player ever in the PL on the bench! They have Essien on the bench, who IMO has been the best DM in the PL since PV4.  But they moan about how the FA have been harsh. If the FA was harsh Meireles would be banned for being so damned ugly and frightening the horses.

It is true Chelsea will be missing some players through injury but who in their right mind would play Luiz ahead of Cahill against Arsenal?  Ivanovic is banned but they have a  €21m replacement in Boswinga (yes, €21m !!). Rumour has it that Drogba is out, and we all know that Drogba loves to play us, but in Torres, Sturridge and Kalou they have some very expensive and talented replacements.

Playing Barca on Tuesday will certainly be on their minds, however, should The Blues fail to win at Camp Nou and this afternoon they are likely to play a regular Thursday night game. So, this is a huge game for them and I expect nothing less than 100% effort and a full first team.

Knocking 5 past them at the Bridge was great and JT’s slip was one of the season’s highlights. However, under Di Matteo they have developed into the Chelsea of Ancelloti. Hard, physical, highly motivated and disciplined; we are unlikely to score 5 today. That Terry continues playing at all with 2 cracked ribs is a testament to the man. I have broken ribs skiing and could hardly breathe, how JT plays football is astonishing. I hope RvP gives the brute a couple of digs early on and then TV clatters him at a set piece. Actually, give Diaby a few minutes – he will sort him out 🙂

Our problems start and end with Arteta. His absence is statistically worrying (we have yet to win a PL game without him) but we showed against AC Milan how good we can be  if we really attack from the first whistle.  That said, we have shown a weakness to very fast counter-attack and Chelsea are certainly capable in that area.

My Team:

Will Mr Wenger give an out of form Gervinho another start? I wouldn’t. I would start with O-C and tell him to attack Boswinga and then cut inside. On the other wing we have to hope Theo gives Cashley a tough afternoon. Cole has been the best LB in the PL history and it is a huge regret that he took the 30 pieces of silver.

I have said before that if RvP scores today then we will win. In my opinion, he is the key player. His shooting has been a little off recently but he is The Man, and if we are to take 3rd spot Robin has to keep scoring until season’s end.

Today’s Gooner:  With the Olympics coming up and high hopes for Diving medals, it should not be forgotten that the man in the diving form of his life is a huge Gooner: Ashley Young of the Manchester Diving Team. It is hoped that he and Mr Wayne Rooney will represent GB in the Men’s Synchronised 10m Diving team. Given their past record, a podium position is assured.   Vital game for both teams today.

Arsenal must shrug off the disappointment of Monday and play without fear. If and it is a big If, Chelsea do suffer from fatigue we must punish them in the final 15 mins.

I believe we can beat the South West London Ponces.

COYRRG

Written by Big Raddy


Martinez for Arsenal?

April 20, 2012

Is it possible to like someone who hurts you?

Of course it is, otherwise we would all be divorced.

Nasty old Roberto Martinez hurt us badly on Monday night. He got his Wigan team to play so well against us that – heaven forfend – they may have cost us the three points that guarantee Champions League football next season, depending on how our remaining fixtures go.

But we can’t bring ourselves to hate Roberto. Quite the opposite, in fact: most Arsenal supporters seem to like and respect him.

Teams who spend most of the season in the relegation zone usually try to fight their way out of trouble by, er, fighting. They kick and shove and hoof the ball up the field in the hope that their big lumpy players will get to the ball ahead of the opposition’s big lumpy players.

But not Martinez. Even though most of his career at Wigan has been spent trying to avoid relegation (when I visited the place a couple of years ago I was really surprised that the town sign said just “Wigan”. I thought the place was called “Struggling Wigan”) his teams have always tried to play proper football.

They do daring things like passing and moving, playing the ball on the ground, that sort of thing. They employ clever tactics to counter their opponents.

So Monday’s defeat (and the previous Wigan victories over Manchester United and Chelsea*) have led to speculation that Martinez could be exactly the sort of man to replace Arsene Wenger.

Apart from the way he gets his side to play, he shares with Wenger an ability to pick up talented players on the cheap and that’s not the only similarity. Like Wenger, Martinez had an unspectacular playing career and has found his real calling as a manager.

And, like Arsenal, Wigan are one of the few clubs in the EPL who can show a “credit” line in their transfer dealings. In the five years up to the end of 2011, the ‘Latics made a net profit on transfers of £3.5 million. (It should be noted that Martinez did not start managing the club until the 2009/10 season).

So far so good.

But are the “Martinez for Arsenal” promoters really seeing the full picture?

Is Martinez as good as they think he is?

Since joining Wigan his win-lose-draw statistics look like this:

P: 123 W: 31 D: 36 L: 56 WIN %:  25.2

I know that Wigan are a small club with small support and little money, but a 25% win ratio is not great by any standards.

Last season they avoided relegation, but were in danger of the drop until the very last day of the season. They finished on 42 points. The season before, they finished six points above the drop zone, but amassed a total of only 36 points.

Martinez is showing himself to be something of a magician when it comes to pulling an end-of-season rabbit out of the hat every year.

His teams struggle for most of the campaign, then get their mojo together for the run-in, just in time to narrowly avoid finishing in the bottom three. A sort of poor man’s Everton.

That survive-against-the-odds quality is not to be sniffed at, but isn’t it a little worrying that, across three full seasons, Martinez has not been able to get his teams performing on a more stable and consistent basis?

By that measure, you would have to say that the likes of Norwich, Swansea and West Brom have all done better – and none of those clubs is awash with financial resources.

There is one final area where Martinez does not live up to the high standards of Arsene Wenger. Arsene is famous for never breaking a contract. When Martinez was at Swansea (from February 2007 to June 2009) he repeatedly said he would only ever leave the Swans if he was forced out. He also criticised Swansea players who left for money or to move to bigger clubs.

But as his reputation grew and bigger clubs came calling for him (Celtic and Wigan), Martinez showed no hesitation in dumping the Swans and joining Wigan.

It’s not a particularly heinous crime (it happens all the time in football), but the element of hypocrisy involved does not reflect well on the Spaniard. If he were to join Arsenal, could we ever feel secure that he wouldn’t up and off the moment he was tapped up for a national team job or to run one of Spain’s Big Two?

In conclusion, Roberto Martinez is clearly a clever manager who has a football philosophy that would sit well with the traditions Arsene Wenger has established at Arsenal. He also seems articulate and personally likeable.

But on the down side, he needs (in my opinion) to do more than mount a spirited fight against relegation every season to prove he can manage a club like Arsenal. If he can turn Wigan into a successful mid table side over the next couple of seasons that would be a fine achievement with the resources available to him. Maybe then he would be worth considering.

But for now?  No gracias, Señor.

What do you think? And if we were to lose Arsene, who would you want to take his place?

RockyLives

* Officially Chelsea beat Wigan 2-1, but since both the Chelsea goals were offside, I count it as a moral victory for Wigan.


Where should Jack play next season?

April 19, 2012


4-2-1-3, 4-4-2 or 4-1-2-3 and will Jack play ‘in the hole’?

The current season was always going to be one of transition. Arsenal saw a number of new players arrive in every area: Mertesacker, Santos and Jenkinson in defence, Arteta and Benayoun in midfield and Gervinho, Park and the Ox upfront. They all needed time to settle in, and the lack of fit and available FB’s during a large period of our season also did not help the team in becoming a solid, recognisable unit. With the departure of Fabregas, and unexpected long-term injuries to Wilshere and (to a lesser extent) Diaby, Arsene was forced to adjust his formation and style of football this season. As a result of all this, we have been playing a lesser spotted form of Wengerball compared to previous seasons: less magic and more functional/result orientated, as getting back in the top-four became our prime objective.

Although we made great progress recently, the transition to a new Wengerball team is not yet fully completed. Arsene has tried both Ramsey and Rosicky in the advanced midfield position and both have had good, and not-so-good, periods in this pivotal role at Arsenal.

I am convinced we will see a big change next season with regards to our style of play and our formation: Arsene will transform his team once again to a purer form of Wengerball – Total Football – in order to make the next step up. The key questions will be who will become our first choice AM(s) – the ‘midfielder(s) in the hole’. In this post, I like to discuss the possibilities, to which you are more than welcome to respond in order to have a meaningful debate today.

Variant one: 4-2-1-3

Will Arsenal continue next season with two deeper laying midfielders, double DMs if you want, and one attacking midfielder? The DMs can be picked from Song, Arteta, Coquelin, Ramsey and Frimpong. Initially, I thought Song was the deeper laying DM and Arteta the slightly more advanced one, but as the season develops it looks like Arteta and Song decide between themselves who does what, and they both can be found either deep or more advanced in our midfield at any particular period in a game. The big question is, however, who will play in the hole next season.

I don’t think this role fully suits Ramsey’s abilities who I feel would fare better in one of the two DM roles. I would like to see him compete with Arteta for the latter’s current role. I rate them both very highly and in an ideal world they could share that position between them during the season. Rosicky has done well when we needed it most, but this is such a demanding role that I just cannot see him doing it week after week, for an entire season. Although I don’t think he is the best AM I have ever seen in an Arsenal shirt, the one thing he does, is he sticks well to his role and as a results he helps giving Arsenal the necessary shape to our formation.

So, if it is not Ramsey, and Rosicky is more suited to be our ‘squad player’ for this position, then who should we be playing in this role next season?

Should it be Wilshere, or Diaby, or does Arsenal need to buy a new player who can be slotted in to that role? I expect Arsene to play Wilshere as his first choice next season, and I would like him to. Jack has great vision and passing ability, he has a fine first touch, thinks and executes very quickly, and is able to turn defenders in a flash. He also has a great engine and is Arsenal through-and-through. I am sure Jack is the sort of player why Wenger still gets up in the morning and stands hour after hour on the training ground – why he still enjoys football so much. Jack is the sort of player around which a team is build, just like Fabregas is/was (Barcelona are currently not utilizing his strongest skills).

However, I am not sure whether we will be playing 4-2-3-1 next season. With our defence getting more solid and the type of players we have now available, I would not be surprised if we moved to 4-4-2 or, more likely, to 4-1-2-3 ala Barcelona/ the Spanish National Team.

Variant two: 4-4-2

I am assuming Podolski is joining us at the start of the summer and this would give us a strong basis for 4-4-2. It could mean that RvP would move into the hole, ala Bergkamp, and Podolski upfront: a mouth watering prospect. I can also see the Ox playing in the hole and either RvP or Podolski upfront. I am also assuming Campbell will get a work permit this summer and will become our third-choice striker (I just cannot see Park or Chamakh getting regular starts next season/ staying at Arsenal).

With a 4-4-2 formation, it is very important that both our wide midfielders are able to work hard and can combine wing play with midfield play, ala Pires and Ljunberg? Both Theo and Gervinho have potential for this, and as Gooner in Exile and I discussed during the Reserves game at and against Norwich a while ago, the likes of Gibbs and Coquelin could be good back up/ could be developed into these roles. Furthermore, Rosicky and, if we can keep him, Benayoun would also function well in the 4-4-2 wide midfield positions.

In the centre of midfield, we could select from Song/Arteta/Coquelin as our DM and Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky, Diaby as our AM. This will be a bit controversial, but I believe Ramsey would be ahead of Wilshere, Diaby and Rosicky in this more classical 4-4-2 formation. The best games I have seen Aaron play were in the AM position for Wales, in their 4-4-2 formation: he is a natural orchestrator and the additional space, and therefore time he gets in such a formation, suits him very well. However, the problem with such a formation is that a lot of our central midfielders will become bench warmers/unhappy, and I also doubt whether Wenger would go for it. He seemed to have moved on from 4-4-2 and I cannot see him return to it anymore. But I could be wrong.

Variant three: 4-1-2-3

The first half against Milan, at home for the CL this season, was one of the best I have seen in a while. Forced by injuries and the necessity to go all out on attack in order to wipe out a 4-0 away defeat – and to salvage our damaged reputation a bit – we played 4-1-2-3 with Song as our lone DM, and Rosicky and the Ox as our two attacking midfielders, with three upfront. It totally bamboozled Milan and they were lucky to escape on the night with ‘only’ a 3-0 hammering (mainly due to injury/fatigue to the Ox, early on in the second half, and no suitable replacement on the bench as Arteta, Diaby, Wilshere and Benayoun were all injured). On that night, we played the sort of football that puts the world on fire, and I for one, would love it if Arsene were to opt to play this formation regularly next season.

4-1-2-3 is totally based around pressing high up the pitch through ‘swarming’, suffocating the opponent with high ball circulation, deadly penetration and winning the ball back in a flash, if and when it’s lost. We have the players for it, but we could do with a couple of additions to suit this formation/system. For a system like this, Arsenal need strong and fast defenders and both TV and Koz really suit it to the core. Miquel would also be very good as back up, but both Djourou and Mertesacker might struggle a bit. I am not sure how much truth there is in Arsenal being linked with Ajax’ Vertonghen, but he would fit into this system very well. Our current FB’s would really suit such a system as well, and I especially would expect Santos to do very well in it.

In a 4-1-2-3 system, the DM role is pivotal. Song would be a very good lone DM, but I think Arsene has different plans for him, as Alex is such a talented, well-rounded midfielder – the best this season. It could be that Arsene would opt for Arteta to become the sole DM in such a system, and we have also been linked with Rennes’ M’Vila once again, but nobody knows whether there is much truth in it.

With Podolski very likely to join us, I would have no worries about the ‘3’, as we would have brilliant cover for all the positions: Theo, Gervinho, the Ox, Podolski, Ryo, Campbell, RvP: yippee!!

But the most exciting bit is who would man the ‘2’. Would it be Ramsey and Wilshere, or Song and Wilshere, or Rosicky and Ramsey, or Arteta and Song, or Diaby and Song, or Diaby and the Ox, or Arteta and Wilshere, Song and the Ox etc, etc, etc?! Ah, ‘die Qual der Wahl’ as the Germans say: who would you choose: they are all brilliant?!!

So what’s it going to be?

My heart says 4-1-2-3 with Arteta or Song as the lone DM and with the purchase of another CB or DM (and Podolski). It would not surprise me if Vermaelen were to be developed/ utilized as the sole DM on occasion as well.

My brain says Wenger will continue with the current 4-2-1-3 next season, but improve it.  If Wenger would like more goals from the hole position, he could opt to put the Ox in it. If he has money to spend, and the right opportunity occurs, he might buy a ready-to-play, quality player for this position. He seemed to have tried hard last summer as he almost bought Mata, so will he be looking again for a similar gem this summer?

I don’t think so: my money is on Wenger starting Wilshere in ‘the hole’ next season, with Rosicky and Diaby as back-up, and Ozyakup promoted to the first team. Jack will come down the beanstalk with the hen that lays the golden eggs and the harp that plays the golden music, and Arsene’s latest Wengerball team will be build around the biggest English midfield talent in generations.

But what do you think?

TotalArsenal.


HAKUNA MATATA

April 18, 2012

Before we begin, may I firstly explain for the benefit of those of you not fluent in Swahili, that the title of todays’ post translates as: “No more worries”. The reason is simple. I have unearthed the solution to all our problems.

Let’s crack on. Right now we are third, but frankly it’s an only just, and that is because we have not been stretched by long runs in other tournaments and we have had an injury free season from our star pupil. To improve on this situation using the same formation, I believe we need more effective wide boys, and an improved back-up striker. This poses a number of problems. The back-up striker cannot be better than Robin, and while he must be an improvement on the current benchers, he still needs to be good enough to challenge Europe’s best defences in the event of a Robin injury. Improved wide boys will cost and present the same pecking order issues.

As if this is not enough of a headache, I would like us to play two strikers. Bad news: I say 4-4-2 not sexy enough. Good news: we can now buy a world class striker to play alongside Robin and this will make Robin happy while we the fans will see more goals.

Even better news, I know how we can adapt the system AND afford the new personnel. We invade Spain and grab a striker, then switch to 3-5-2.

Oh do stop rolling your sodding eyes and hear me out. I’m the bleeding expert here. Jeepers.

Look, due to the financial turmoil in Spain, the Telly Companies are offering 50% (tops) of the current fee they pay for Football Rights, and to make this situation even better for us, the top rate of tax is about to go through the roof. This means wages are going to be a massive problem for clubs. So, we get Benzema. Simple.

Now the 3-5-2. Brazil and Argentina won World Cups using it. Juventus are top of Serie A using it. And if that’s not convincing, Wigan use a version also.

Here’s the really good news. It will be a whole lot cheaper than bringing our current system up to scratch. Mert looks crocked, so my guess is he’ll be off. There is talk of Vertonghen. Guess what, the missing piece in our super footbally back three. He’s six foot, two and half inches. So he plays in the middle.

We no longer need new wide boys, and we certainly don’t need your M’Vila’s, as the DM role goes out of the window. Hooray for that.

(Changing tack for a moment, I’m watching the Bayern Madrid game as I write this. If I was the Ref, then before I blew the starting whistle, I’d jog on over to Ramos and show him a straight red. Save time. Just saying.)

Interestingly, I think all our Full Backs (Gibbs, Santos, Sagna and Jenks) are all better wide boys than our wide boys. They are also all better attacking full backs than defensive ones. In other words, they are perfectly suited to the 3-5-2.

Now the middle men. Again we are perfectly suited for this system. No more DM’s, just two good tackling/intercepting/footballing sorts and their back-ups. Jack, Arteta, Song, Ramsey and Coquelin. All completely interchangeable.

(Just back to this Madrid game. As the Ref, how about stopping the game in full flow. Walking up to Ronaldo and giving him a Red. “Ooooo, Weffewee” she’d say “what did I do?”. You could then just shrug your shoulders, roll your eyes about a bit and say “Dunno really. Just bored”.)

The middle man. Strangely this role becomes less pivotal than in the 4-3-3. In my little layout, I’ve put Ox centre. That’s because I like him and I’m in charge. However, here again, we have options. Rosicky and Diaby.

Up top, we have back up in Theo and anyone we can’t flog out of Bendy, Cham, AA and Gerv. We like our books to balance, Benzema won’t be free, and Robin needs a fatter envelope. Sorry, that’s life.

Finally, the great thing about this system is that it’s brilliant.

Written by MickyDidIt89


Second best…………

April 17, 2012

I don’t want to talk about the game, as the result turned the whole event into a disaster. Dropping three points for the second time in 10 days in the run-in is really poor form for a team hoping to consolidate a Champions League place. Losing Mikel Arteta to an injury that might keep him out of the team for the rest of the season is a double disaster.

Once Arteta went off we lost our brain. He does most of the thinking for the team, taking the ball out of defence, moving it on quickly and always available for the next pass. His reading of the game is excellent and without him – and it seems we don’t have a good substitute – we are now going to hope that the chasing pack also drop points.

Everyone was ineffectual in last nights game because yet again we forgot how to play simple football and attack at pace. Our mid-field held on to the ball for too long and allowed Wigan to be nicely set in their area to watch us pass the ball around in front of them without fear.

Wigan, on the other hand, knew exactly what to do with the ball and attacked us with pace and flair, ripping down our wings and getting their men forward at every opportunity. All credit must go to Martinez who set his team out to play their game and we just let them, sadly.

After Vermaelen brought the score back to 1-2 I really felt that we would still go on to win the game and it has to be said that Al Habsi made many fine saves in the first half to keep us out. However, the second half was really poor. There were no surprises from us, just the ‘same old same old’ passing, passing, passing. Wigan were quicker to the ball and we had no control of the game.

It’s all very well for Wenger to be angry with the team but could earlier changes have made a difference?

Is there something basically wrong with our play if we always have to look for the killer pass and not know how to keep it simple?

Why did we allow Wigan to dictate the play? We were the home team sitting in third place in the table and we let a team that has been fighting relegation overun us. We are a good team but somehow we were really rubbish last night.

No doubt, in the comments, there will be naming and shaming players who’s performances contributed to our poor display but basically we had no-one to hold the team together once Arteta went off and that’s the saddest part.

Written by peachesgooner


Tangled up in Blue: Match Preview

April 16, 2012

Apart from supporters of the doomed bottom 3 is there a football fan who doesn’t want Wigan to escape relegation?  Their PL survival is a mystery given the small ground, low attendances and limited finances – they are the (Leyton) Orient of Manchester. And yet they survive without resorting to hoof ball and dull physical football, maintaining an admirable allegiance to playing attractive football. Their Chairman backs his manager and rightly so, Martinez is a top bloke – calm under pressure, always urbane and intelligent, a man who stayed at Wigan despite the attractive  job offer from Aston Villa. Wigan are a fine traditional club who deserve to stay up at the expense of Blackburn, Wolves and QPR but …….

We need the points, so sorry Wigan, tonight you are the enemy.

You all know the maths (to our American readers, there is an “s”  in Maths), another win and we go 8 points ahead of the chasing pack. True, they will have a game in hand but 8 points with so few games to go is a considerable margin.

More of the same, please

I am afraid I am going to be controversial. This run of wins is surprising because we are not a good team yet. It is my belief that the root causes of our improvement are luck, confidence and a fit squad. We have yet to see a full game of quality . Certainly the team has grown since being 2 down to the hapless crew who got humiliated at Wembley yesterday 🙂 but I still do not feel confident we can compete for the League next season without  surgery.  If we win tonight we will be 15 points behind an ordinary Man Utd  – do you really believe we can be at least 15 points better next season?

Yes, I know the counter-arguments. The dreadful start, the awful summer transfer window, the injuries to FB’s, the loss of JW etc but to counter this, we have found Arteta;  Song has been immense, so has Koscielny. and what can one say about  RvP?  Can anyone guarantee another season like this for our Captain? On past evidence, sadly no. He was not known as Chocolate Legs for nothing.

But enough of this rational thinking BR, which I must point out is purely my opinion and not representative of Arsenal Arsenal website. The bottom line is  – do we have enough to beat Wigan tonight? and the answer is an emphatic Yes.

Beating United last week was a major scalp for Wigan and they will come into tonight’s game full of confidence.  The Latics have tightened in defence and started to score goals. 2 months ago they were doomed but now there is light at the end of the tunnel. However, Wigan have only beaten us once in the last 13 meetings.(we threw the away game in a shameful  2-3 in 2010).

My team:

If fit, I would replace Bennie with Gervinho who is back in the squad. I hope AW sticks to giving O -C cameo appearances. I fear he will be picked for the Euro’s should he make a big impact over the coming month. Better The Ox stays at AFC and gets a full pre-seaso, much like JW. Club over country for me.  Ramsey to come on after 60 mins and score.

Today’s Gooner: Being the Titanic centenary it is only fitting I find a connection and of course there is one. According to Hollywood Kate Winslett was a survivor of the tragedy and she is a Gooner. Although born into the Man Utd stronghold of Reading, Berkshire, she discovered the wonders of Goonerdom through a friendship with TH14 and has remained a fan ever since.

Kate and some fellow sing “Let’s all Laugh at Tottenham”

A big night for both clubs but the footballing Gods are shiny on The Emirates at the moment. We have enough to beat them and beat them we will.

Written by Big Raddy


2 Prizes; 4 Teams; 5 Games; 29 Days

April 15, 2012

– 2 CL places up for grabs

– 4 teams in contention

– 5 games to play

– 29 days left of the season

Well it all comes down to a nervous final month of the EPL season.

Given our awful start to the season we find ourselves in a far more favourable position then we could have realistically hoped for, Arsène has almost pulled another rabbit out of his hat.

It’s (almost) a given that the 1st and 2nd places will go to Manchester so lets concentrate on the 3rd and 4th positions.

Arsenal’s run in:

Wigan (h)

Chelsea (h)

Stoke (a)

Norwich (h)

WBA (a)

Spurs’ run in:

Bolton (a)

QPR (a)

Blackburn (h)

Aston Villa (a)

Fulham (h)

Newcastle’s run in:

Chelsea (a)

Stoke (h)

Wigan (a)

Man C (h)

Everton (a)

Chelsea’s run in:

Newcastle (h)

Arsenal (a)

QPR (h)

Liverpool (a)

Blackburn (h)

Currently we have:

3rd Arsenal 64 pts.

4th Spurs 59 pts.

5th Newcastle 59 pts.

6th Chelsea 57 pts.

Only 7 points between the four teams with 15 points left to play for.

On paper Spurs have the easiest run in but QPR away will not be easy (as we found out) and Aston Villa away may prove to be a handful.

In their last 8 games Spurs have managed to win only  6 out of the 24 points – so let’s hope the rot has started to set in.

Newcastle has an onerous looking run in and may be fortunate to get  6/7 points out of 20.

Chelsea have by far the toughest remaining schedule and with FA and CL Cup commitments complicating things they may end up 5th.

That leaves the Gunners – last but never least – we should finish in a CL position and my earnest hope is that it’s the automatic 3rd spot.

What are your thoughts??

Written by GunnerN5


Solid: A Case for the Defence

April 14, 2012

What can we conclude from the last 9 games? In my opinion we can say without doubt that the defence has done some hard work on the training ground and it is a solid defence that wins games.

Look at the stats. Last 9 games – 6 goals conceded. Previous 9 games –  15 goals conceded. Our first 9 games saw us concede 17 times!

Yes, we may well score outrageous goals and huge quantities of them but it is self-evident that if we don’t concede we get at least a point. This is the SAF way, his philosophy has always been to set out a team with a solid base and allow the flair players to work from that base. George Graham was a man who fully understood this. Sure, we saw some absolutely dire football but “1-0 to the Arsenal” was a song I sung with as much gusto as “Living in a Bergkamp Wonderland,” though I remember the DB wonder goals far better than the 1-0 bores of the GG years ….. apart from that magic night in Copenhagen when the defensive genius of Graham’s management was in full flower.

What has changed? The obvious answer is the return of the full backs. Any team would struggle with 4 FB injuries, and the loss of Sagna in particular was very costly (I have to admit to having a man crush on Bacary). But how does the return of the FB’s explain our new found ability to defend set plays?

It has to come from improved organisation, and that must come from hours of practice. And who at the club knows all about defensive co-ordination? Yes, …. “he’s got no hair, but we don’t care” Steve Bould.

Could it be that Bouldy has at last got to grips with the defence or is it someone within the team? BFG or TV? Or is it having a goalkeeper who has grown into the shirt and is prepared to dominate his area?

Whatever the reason, in recent weeks we have conceded from either bad luck (loss of footing) or a momentary lack of concentration (QPR).

And can you really say which is our best back line? The only player I would say is an automatic starter is Sagna, TV and Kos could be rotated with BFG, who in my opinion is the best organiser, and the jury is out on Gibbs or Santos. Gibbs has been troubled by niggly injuries and though he is undoubtedly our future first choice LB, it is to AW’s merit that he signed Santos to nurse Gibbs through. A run of games will show what a fine player the Brazilian is.

The ankle injury to Mertescker is a cause for concern. When I first read of the Vertonghen rumors I dismissed them but two serious injuries to the same ankle could be evidence of a skeletal weakness in BFG – I sincerely hope not as he and Kos were developing a fine partnership.

Which brings us to Arsenal’s most improved player of the season. Koscielny showed glimpses of his talent last year but this year he has been fantastic. Dependable, creative, pacy, good in the air. Another Wenger gem.

After the wonderful defences marshalled by Adams and then Campbell, have we at last a back 5 we can depend upon?

Written by Big Raddy


Who’s coming, who’s going, who’s staying?

April 13, 2012

First may I say it would be great if someone could find the time to list all the players we are linked with in the months ahead as we did last year – it would give us all a damn good laugh.

What is not so funny is to try to decide who will stay and who will leave if Arsène goes ahead and buys a number of exceptional or  experienced players for immediate inclusion in the first team squad whilst at the same time extending the contracts of a number of current players.

What then will happen to the abundance of talent we know is coming through, as they see their opportunities diminish? Do we increase our costs by offering them increased contracts to stay? Indeed would you stay under those circumstances? I am not sure  I would.

I wonder what a tranche of our best young talent who are thinking of leaving us because they see their path to the first team squad blocked by these new purchases would say to any of the gifted youngsters who we plan to recruit for our academy? Word soon goes round in football, would they still be so keen to join.

Are we to abandon the position we have worked so hard to achieve or should we accept we are nearly there, settle for purchasing some short-term cover for older players who are nearing their time and concentrate on producing the ball playing winners that have been the hallmark of our academy in recent years? And can we achieve all this whilst bearing in mind the effect this has on the fair play regulations which begin to bite this year.

Additionally, if as seems likely the long serving Pat Rice will leave us this summer. How do we see Arsène reorganising the club? – from within with the devil he knows, or is there perhaps a DB10 or his like waiting out there ready to join us with fresh ideas to help AW deliver us to greater glory?

Remember DB himself was plucked by an astute Johan Cruyff from an academy side and plunged into the first team squad against the wishes of many staff members. DB of course blossomed  under the challenge and eventually became the epitome of what Arsenal’s football is all about. Without that single action by an inspired Cruyff would we I wonder, be the club we are today?

Perhaps we also need the specialist defensive coach that many suggested earlier this season to help stop the hemorrhage of goals from set pieces,  or should we take  our chances and use the pace throughout the team to defend by pressing all over the pitch, as per the Barcelona model? Would that work week in week out in the premier league, do we have the skill levels?

So many questions for AW to answer, but  what do you think.

Who will we buy?

 Who will we sell?

 Who will we promote?

 Who will be Arsène’s next right hand man?

Are we likely to lose loanees and  top youngsters if they cannot see first team squad places?

How should we set up and defend?

How will our choices affect where we finnish next season?

I look forward to your comments.

Written by dandan


First Andy Carroll, now Robin van Persie. Match Report Plus Ratings

April 12, 2012

So, the great goal droughts are finally over.

Liverpool’s Andy Carroll (£35m, 9 games without a goal, 4 EPL goals so far this season) netted against Blackburn on Tuesday and Robin van Persie (£2.75m, 4 games without a goal, 27 EPL goals this season) scored against Wolves last night.

Not much to choose between them really.

Heh heh heh.

And so to our game at Molineux, which turned out to be doubly comfortable.

Firstly, the team strolled to victory, helped by two early goals and the sending off of Wolves defender Bassong. That’s right, the Bassong who just happens to be on loan from the Tottering Hotspuds. Heh heh heh again.

Secondly, it was not on live transmission here in North America, so I watched it hours later, already knowing the result, which made it very comfortable for me.

It’s a very different experience watching the full 90+ minutes when you know that we have won. There’s none of the agonising, the edge-of-seat anxiety, the frustration when passes go astray.

It’s like watching a video of yourself on an extremely scary fairground ride. You’re an observer, not a participant.

But this dispassionate viewpoint allows you to really concentrate on how each of our players performed and how the game panned out.

Arsène Wenger started with two enforced changes to the team that defeated the Manchester Oilers. Djourou was in for the suspended Koscielny and Santos replaced Gibbs, who was suffering from fatigue, having never played so many consecutive games without injury before.

But Le Boss also made one unenforced change, resting Tomas Rosicky, arguably our star player over the last two months, in favour of Aaron Ramsey. Yossi Benayoun deservedly kept his place in the team after a fine effort against Citeh.

On balance it was a cautious line-up, as if Arsene was expecting a tough battle.

Things didn’t pan out that way. As a contest it was over after 12 minutes. We started brightly, moving the ball well, and before too long Theo Walcott broke into the box and was brought down from behind by Bassong. A clear penalty and a straight red.

Robin van Persie, having not wanted to score for a few games, decided that on this occasion he would, and put the penalty away with an audacious chip down the middle of the goal after sending the Wolves ‘keeper Hennessey the wrong way.

One nil to the Arsenal. And a few minutes later it was two nil. Robin fed Theo who burst into the box and finished low and hard with real confidence for his ninth goal of this Premier League campaign.

After that we seemed to ease off the gas. We kept possession well but our cutting edge was a little blunted.

The commentators I was listening to kept moaning about our perceived lack of adventure, but haven’t we been guilty in the past of being too gung ho when we take a lead? You never know when you’re going to get Dowded, so I, at least, am pleased that we carried on with a steady possession game.

In addition, credit must go to the Wolves players who, although adrift at the foot of the table and on an appalling run of defeats, kept fighting throughout the game. Occasionally they were too physical, but this was partly the frustration borne of being two down with 10 men against a team who won’t let you have the ball (I believe we had 72% possession overall).

The Wolves fans were noisy for most of the match, but seem a pretty stupid lot. For a start they hounded Walcott all game long for having won the penalty. You’d think that after a few minutes word would have got round from people using their mobile phones that the decision was the right one, but apparently it didn’t.

Then they serenaded their own manager, the luckless Terry Connor, with a rendition of “you don’t know what you’re doing” for replacing a striker with a defender after going down to 10 men. It’s probably fair to say that that decision spared Wolves from a much heavier beating.

One noteworthy incident from the first half was when Robin van Persie was deliberately obstructed on the edge of the Wolves penalty area by Stearman. The ref missed it, but Alex Song bounded up to give Stearman a piece of his mind. I was pleased to see one of our senior players coming to the captain’s defence. I don’t think it would have happened last year.

The second half was more of the same (Arteta, Ramsey and Song controlling the game from midfield) apart from a period of about 15 minutes when Wolves had a bit of a go.

Their best moment was a header brilliantly saved by Szczesny, who was going the wrong way but managed to contort his body back in the opposite direction to make an important save to his right. At that point it would have been 1-2 and who knows how things might have panned out. Actually, on second thoughts, if they had scored I think we would have gone straight back up the other end and bagged a couple more. This year’s Arsenal has got heaps more bottle than last season’s model.

The Wolves revival soon fizzled out and we resumed total control, creating a hatful of excellent chances in the final 20 minutes. The only one that got tucked away was a fine shot by Benayoun from the edge of the area after a layback by Song. Benny shaped to do a curler to the far side of the goal. It completely fooled Hennessey and he was wrong-footed when Benny lashed it low and hard inside the near post. A quality goal from a player who has really endeared himself to the fans despite his limited game time.

There was time for a few more near misses by our front line and another great save by Szczesny before the final whistle went. Oxlade-Chamberlain got a run out as a sub for Walcott and looked as direct and dangerous as we have come to expect. And it was nice to see Carl Jenkinson get a few minutes in place of Sagna.

So we’re five points ahead of the Spuds and the Geordies and seven ahead of the Chavs.

The table is looking a lot sweeter than we could possibly have hoped for back in the early stages of the campaign.

However, with an in-form Wigan up next there’s no room for complacency. We need to make this third spot ours, not least for the stability it will give us as we make our summer transfer plans.

RockyLives

Player Ratings

Szczesny: Had little to do, but when called upon he made two fantastic saves – a real testament to his powers of concentration. 8

Sagna: Defensively as reliable as ever and got forward well. A couple of excellent crosses and a few wayward ones. 7

Vermaelen: Very solid and commanding at the back. 7

Djourou: Not too much to do but what he did, he did well. 7

Santos: Generally did OK, but rode his luck a few times. He likes to get forward, but can be caught out at the back. However, he will need a run of games before we can really judge him. 6

Song: Another fine performance, including an assist for Benny’s goal. Some of his attempted “killer balls” came to nothing, but he was combative in midfield. 7.5

Arteta: A good game for the Spaniard, but I thought he was a fraction below par and was dispossessed a few times as well as uncharacteristically misplacing some passes. 7

Ramsey: He out Arteta’d Arteta last night. He was involved in everything – his passing stats must be close to perfect – and he made numerous progressive through balls that could have led to three assists on another night. In one five minute spell he set up Robin twice and Arteta once. He was desperately unlucky not to score when Hennessey made a great block from point blank range, but earlier seemed to fluff a good chance through lack of confidence in front of goal. Nevertheless, he was our best player on the night by quite some distance. 8.5 MotM.

Walcott: What can you say? He had a really poor game apart from the small fact of winning the match for us. He ripped Wolves to shreds in the first 15 minutes to put us two up. After that, pretty much everything he tried didn’t work. Perhaps the crowd getting on his back for the entire game affected his equilibrium. But it has to be a high mark because he did the stuff that really counts. 8

Benayoun: He’s becoming a popular figure among the faithful.  He was less involved than Ramsey or Arteta, but was always a thorn in Wolves’ side and took his goal beautifully. 7

Van Persie: A stylish penalty got him back on the goal trail. He could have had another couple if the chances had fallen slightly better for him, but his hold-up play and linking of our attacking moves were outstanding. 7.5

Subs

Oxlade-Chamberlain: Always looks a threat. 7

Jenkinson: Brief cameo. Nice to see him back. N/A

RockyLives