The Return of the Swerve : Arsenal 4 – Reading 1

March 31, 2013

In any other season Reading at home would be a home banker pencilled into our predictors. This season anything has been possible, so it was a great relief yesterday to see the team come out the blocks from the first whistle and not stop running until the final whistle. On top of that the team played with purpose and pace that we have only seen on brief occasions this year, and for me the most important feature of our play we pressured the ball when we didn’t have it.

Wenger named a couple of changes from the side that won away at Swansea, out went Jenkinson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Diaby and Walcott, in came Sagna, Gervinho, Ramsey and Rosicky. Many of us have felt on recent substitute appearances the latter three deserved a bit more game time. If Ramsey continues to play as he did today he will soon have silenced all of his critics, Gervinho too whilst sometimes appearing not to know what he is going to do next was lively enough and threatening enough to silence the boo boys.

It was Gervinho that gave us the lead after ten minutes, following good work on the right he continued his run into the box as the ball made its way to Santi, Santis shot was going wide but Gervinho reacted and stuck a boot on the end of it.

The rest of the half was one way traffic, Reading rarely venturing out of their own half. Whilst we were comfortable those of us watching at home were desperate for a second goal to put us in full control. That goal should have come when Olivier Giroud was brought down in the box by Taylor, it was a clumsy challenge and Giroud had already got his shot away, but how many free kicks were given yesterday for defenders after clearing the ball being clattered into by an onrush ing forward….I can count at least three on us without trying, so if that’s a free kick that should’ve been a penalty.

Just before the end of the first half a possession stat for the last 5 minutes flashed up, Arsenal 95%, could this be another one of those days?

Adkins sent Reading out with a little more purpose in the second half, but any attacking threats were quickly nullified by good defending starting from the midfield and completed by the defence.

Any hope Reading had of finding an equaliser were soon dashed, more good work around the box by Santi and Gervinho saw the ball teed up for Santi to curl beautifully into the right corner of the goal to make it 2-0. This is what Gervinho can bring with his dribbling skills, he took the ball into the 18 yard box and sucked three defenders towards him, most importantly the man marking Santi which then left him with an easy pass.

The third came 20 minutes later, Gervinho stretching his legs on the counter attack waited for Giroud to join him, just when I thought he’d held it to long he laid it to Giroud who dispatched his shot low and hard to make it 3-0.

There was a small element of foot off the gas and Reading were allowed to get one back almost immediately, the cross came in far too easily to the back stick and Robson-Kanu arrived at the back post to grab a consolation.

Gervinho was allowed to soak up some much needed applause and was replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Giroud was replaced by Podolski.

Two minutes later and Oxlade-Chamberlain read and intercepted a poor pass out of the Reading defence and just ran at them, there is something very exciting about the way this young man runs with the ball, he burst into the area and was brought down. Arteta cooly scored from the spot kick and the three goal advantage was restored.

Despite being the end of the scoring there were still things to be admired in the performance, the team continued to press Reading when they had possession, and continued to push for more goals, some of the pass and move around the box was great to watch.

We should beat Reading at home, the fact that we did and so easily suggests we may have turned the corner this season, will it be too late to achieve the 4th place trophy?

Ratings:
Fabianski 7 – not a lot to do, little chance with the goal, but good handling and distribution throughout.

Sagna 6 – poor for their goal, offered little going forward (although didnt really need to)

Monreal 7 – steady at full back did not need to over commit to attack an was rarely troubled at the back, injured trying to prevent their goal

Mertesacker 8 – marshalled those around him well, snuffed out any threats with ease.

Koscielny 7.5 – solid performance

Arteta – 8 professional performance in the middle of the park, kept possession ticking over and always there to pick up the pieces on second ball

Ramsey – 8.5 very strong performance from the young Welshman, deserved a goal for some of his run and passing around the box, worked tirelessly to regain possession

Cazorla – 9.5 MOTM everything good comes through the boot of our Spanish wizard, he is just simply a joy to watch play football

Rosicky – 7.5 took some time to get into the game, but provided movement and quick passing essential to our play

Gervinho – 9 two assists one goal and a constant threat to Reading, more of the same please.

Giroud – 8 provided the fulcrum for others to play off, good finish for his goal, just wish we would see him relax a bit more in front of goal, and also be brave enough to use his right peg occasionally.

Subs:
Oxlade-Chamberlain – 7.5 got straight into the game am earning the penalty the young man seems to have found his confidence again.

Podolski – 7 found it difficult to get into the rhythmn of the team. Looked a bit lost when the ball was being moved one and two touch around him by Santi and others.

Gibbs – 7 nothing to do in defence supported attack well as we know he can.

Written by Gooner in Exile

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Adkins brings Royals to the Grove

March 30, 2013

Thanks to the capricious efforts of another Russian premier league club owner we get to see the former Southampton manager back at the Grove again after his first attempt ended in a 6-1 thrashing.

Anton “Zingo” Zingarevich, who bears a resemblance to the owner of the bus stop in Fulham, seems to be trying to ape the Siberian’s ownership style also – slightly gingery side part, check; change manager for no discernible reason, check; trophy (super) model wife, check.

Roman who ?

Roman who ?

What Gooners will be hoping is that the “new manager bounce” effect will not be seen on a Reading team who are only off the bottom slot due to the efforts of dear old Twitchy Redknapp.

The Royals have lost their last four league games, two at home and two away although the two away games included a narrow loss at Old Toilet and 3-1 loss at Goodison Park against an in form Everton team. Slightly more worrying for Reading were the home losses to fellow strugglers Villa and Wigan – which together with the tight away displays points to a game we cannot afford to take lightly as Reading seem to tighten up on the road.

While Reading’s top scorer is Le Fondre with a healthy 12 league goals it’s worth pointing out that Reading have only managed the same number of goals in total during 15 away games, which points to a team trying to keep things tight but sacrificing attacking intent for defensive solidity. It will be interesting to see if Adkins changes this approach during his first game in charge

Moving on to the good guys, with the completely unexpected injury to Diaby, the not so surprising delayed return of Jack and the obligatory England instigated Arsenal injury (to Walcott this time) the options in midfield reduce as quickly as volunteers for match reports on this site when Peachy logs on.

A middle three of Arteta, Santi and Ramsey will provide the ammo to the front three gunners of Lu-Lu-Lu Lukas Podolski(can we please make that chant his rather than a recycled one we used for that Dutch “bloke” last season?) Giroud and possibly The Ox, although I can see Wenger starting Gervinho who seems to be recovering a smidgen of form/confidence. I would also like to see Rosicky get either a start or a sub appearance as he appears be fit and has not exactly been overplayed when available.

At the back I see Wenger favouring Sagna over Jenko with BFG paired up with Kozzer although perhaps Vermaelen will be returned to a starting spot – having said there seem to be rumours that he will be moved on this summer due to his captaincy not working well and his form suffering a dip too. Monreal will fill the final back four berth on the assumption that Gibbs is not quite ready with Fabianski keeping his place.

So my team is this:

arse v reading

Wenger may well go for Chesney, Sagna, BFG, Vermaelen, Nacho-man, Coquelin, Arteta, Ramsey, Santi, Gervinho and Giroud.

Today’s explorer, though Hackney born, was raised in another Berkshire town close to Reading namley Newbury (TW14’s
hometown) is one Captain Collet Barker.

Born in 1784 he enlisted into the army in 1806 and in the following year he started a four year tour of duty serving in Sicily and then in the Peninsular War against France, allied with Spain and Portugal.

By 1828 he had set sail for Australia in the prison ship the Phoenix where he charted areas of South Australia, Western Australia and the Coburg Peninsula in the Northern Territories. It was at Coburg where the Captain had to use all his skills of diplomacy and tact to repair the poor relations with the aboriginals. Sadly while swimming across a narrow channel to clarify a route around Mount Lofty near Adelaide the Captain disappeared and was rumoured to have been killed by locals who mistook him for a whaler or a sealer; this was in April of 1831 when the poor chap was my age, 46.

A modest monumentA modest monument for the Captain

Mount Barker in South Australia was named after him as well as a town called Mount Barker in Western Australia, sadly no likenesses of him are available so it can only be said he definitely has only one of the triumvirate of title, rank and beard. The Captain does however have his memory marked by this in Southern Australia.

Back to today’s match there is a plan by various supporters groups to mark the passing of Rocky with applause on 7 minutes, although some will argue this is too close to the fans of the bus stop in Fulham’s behaviour re. De Mateo however I will commemorate Rocky in some way from the upper tier, Clock End.

The lads need to be pushed on to a victory that keeps the pressure on the chicken chokers from Middlesex.

UTA!

Written by charybdis 1966


Lies, Damned Lies and Arsenal Statistics

March 29, 2013

One thing that no internet-literate Arsenal supporter can ever complain about is having a lack of information about the club.

The 24-hour news cycle, the internet and, specifically, the plethora of Arsenal blog sites have swamped us with a tsunami of information.

Not all of it is accurate information of course. And a significant minority can fairly be described as deliberately wrong or even malicious.

But leaving aside all the bogus transfer stories and poison-pen articles, there is one sub-set of Arsenal information that at least appears to be rooted in hard, solid, undisputable facts.

I refer to statistics.

After every Arsenal game it is now possible to know such wonderful and enlightening facts as how many times Kieran Gibbs slipped over because his studs weren’t long enough; how many miles Andrei Arshavin has run during the match (usually about 75 yards); how many minutes Thomas Vermaelen has spent in the opposition half (almost all of them) and how many drops of perspiration have fallen from the beleaguered brow of our Giant German only to land as snowflakes on the hallowed turf.

When I first started watching football back in the late 1960s and early 1970s we also had statistics. There were three of them: goals for; goals against; bookings.

Well, actually there was a fourth: number of away fans arrested while attempting to “take” the home supporters’ end.

These days mobile phone apps like the FourFourTwo Stats Zone allow us to pick over the bones of a game in ways that were unimaginable even a few years ago.

But statistics can be funny things. They present themselves all dandified in the clothing of objective truth – the numbers don’t lie, right?

Well, not everyone agrees.

Earlier this week one of AA’s regulars, Big Al, managed to tear himself away from the booze, birds, beer and beaches of Koh Samui for long enough to write an impassioned attack on the sloppy use of statistics.

In particular he had it in for the “stand alone stat”. An example of this – in an Arsenal context – would be someone posting a comment like “in games when Oxlade-Chamberlain has played wide right and Nacho Monreal has played left back, our results are: Played 3, Won 3. For 10, Against 0.”

If such a comment is posted, you can guarantee that somebody will pop up to say  “that’s amazing – we should always start with Oxo and Nacho – then we’ll win everything.”

Big Al, quite rightly, points out that these hit-and-run stats are potentially meaningless because they do not take into account all the other factors that may have contributed to the apparent connection between the player selection and the results.

In response to a ‘stand alone stat’ I posted about goals conceded by one of our centre back pairings, Al said: “…how were the goals conceded?
 From inside or outside the penalty area? From inside the six-yard box? From 30-35 yards out? From corner kicks? From free-kicks? From penalty kicks? Headers? Shots? Deflections? Errors by centre backs? Errors by full backs? Errors by the goalie? Who’s to blame, if in fact any blame at all is to be attributed?
That’s the stats required… not pointless ‘stand alone’ stats which show the centre-back pairing, but adding little or nothing else.”

I get it Al. And yet…

I cannot help but feel that sometimes even a “stand alone stat” can hint at a deeper truth.

So when Rasp wrote a Post about how, in our two recent away victories (over Swansea and Bayern Munich), we had (unusually) less ball possession than our opponents yet managed to win both games and keep clean sheets, it stimulated a really interesting discussion about our style of play.

Big Al is right: in and of themselves, Rasp’s possession stats didn’t prove anything. Playing devil’s avocado you could just as easily say that we won those games because we dropped Vermaelen and Szcsesny and the possession was irrelevant

But the fact that so many people responded to the Post by voicing frustrations about the way our attempt at tika-taka play sometimes produces sterile and toothless displays shows that Rasp’s ‘stand alone stats’ struck a chord. And maybe gave a glimpse of a truth about the way we play.

My conclusion: I can’t fault Al’s distrust of and skepticism about some of the Arsenal stats that are bandied about – but I also want to keep seeing them and discussing them.

No individual is forced to give them any weight, but others may see something in them that sparks an insight into the way we play and the way we can improve.

And the criticism that such stats don’t take all other factors into account could just as easily be applied to non-stat based comments. For example, if someone says “Ramsey was rubbish on Saturday and should be loaned out,” many might take issue with the lack of subtlety of the comment. It does not take into account his recovery from injury, the role he has been asked to play in the team, whether his team mates were equally rubbish in the game in question, whether he was coming off the back of a gruelling 90 minutes in midweek, whether he was carrying a knock, whether he got the right support from team mates etc etc.

I’ll conclude with a stand alone stat for Al. I carried out a quick survey and 83% of Arsenal supporters would like to keep getting stand alone stats to ponder 🙂 .

RockyLives


Arsenal caught in possession of toxic football

March 28, 2013

We’ve won our last two games, four goals scored, none conceded.

We’ve looked at these games to discover what the magic ingredient was that made the difference. Some think the defensive solidity was down to having Fabianski in goal rather than an out of form Szczesny, others believe that although Wilshere is a real talent, his presence somehow unbalances the midfield.

There is one factor that has not been considered but is something that has been troubling me for some time …… in both those games, the opposition had the greater share of possession. Bayern had 55% and Swansea 53% possession in those games. Our average for the season is 58.5%.

It’s an old saying that possession doesn’t score goals but with Arsenal I believe that prolonged possession also makes us more likely to concede. The pattern we’ve seen is slow build up involving over use of the centre backs and trying to get the ball forward via the wide players who often aren’t ‘wingers’ in the traditional sense and therefore we see the sideways and backwards passing that poses no threat to the opposition. The effect of this is to compress play on the outskirts of the opposition’s well guarded box and our back line gets drawn forward making us vulnerable to being hit on the break.

The result is that the longer we are in possession without creating chances, the more likely we are to concede – we’ve seen it many times. If you’ve got a Messi or Iniesta in your team you will have the guile to create chances even in the most densely packed defence – but we don’t.

The converse of this is that the team who have been starved of the ball are more likely to use pace and be direct when they get the opportunity to counter attack – just as we did against Bayern for the first goal.

Gone are the days when we delivered lightening attacks, when we were more likely to score after an opponent’s corner than our own. We have quick players but fail to capitalise on their abilities.

So what is the solution? Deliberately give the ball away to draw the opposition out of their tight defensive formation? Play more risky early balls through rather than the ponderous (tippy tappy) slow build up? Use proper wingers who can beat the fullbacks and deliver a good cross?

I don’t have all the answers, I suspect the remedy lies in the coaching – but maybe this hastily written post will inspire some ideas/responses even if you think I’m talking rubbish … over to you ….

Written by Rasp


European Super League. Inevitable?

March 27, 2013

To my mind, many aspects of Football are a microcosm of Society.

The reactions and behaviour of Fans, in many ways mirror social attitudes and the economic climate of the broader society. I also see this correlation within individual Clubs as well as between Clubs themselves. The concentration of power within a club, and then the concentration of power between a small elite of Clubs and The Rest.

Everywhere I look, I see the same model.

Look across Europe right now, and we see the collapse of Economies, Sovereign States, Societies and Currencies. The gap between the rich and poor grows exponentially wider. The call from citizens for their rights and privileges grows ever louder. Sounds familiar?

A quick look at the Power Brokers of European Football reveals to me, a group intent on preserving their own. Their Elite. Are Fair Play rules there to protect the grass roots of the game, or to serve the best interests of the few?

We have seen the back of the European Cup with single representatives from member countries. We have seen the merging of The Cup Winners Cup into The Europa League (yip, “League”). The lines between The Champions League and Europa are becoming blurred, with those falling at the first hurdle in the former being dumped into the latter.

Surely, recent talk of some kind of World Club Super League in Qatar is going to prompt some kind of response from our European Leaders.

Now, what could that possibly be?

Written by MickyDidIt

Midfield squad ……. is it good enough?

March 26, 2013

Here is my outlook on the midfield hope you enjoy it .

Oompa loopmas

Abou Diaby. Average player does his shift some games other games he’s just unreliable and prone to giving the ball away.

Should he stay or should he go?

Tomáš Rosicky.  Great player but he seems to have lost his way since the injury set back, can be unplayable at times but this season we have not seem him at his best.

Will he sign a new deal or will he be wanted elsewhere? Let’s not forget he’s getting older and we have players like the Ox who can play on the wing.

Mikel Arteta (vice-captain). I like the man from Spain, he’s a grafter and a gifted player when he feels like it .

His form has been a little patchy this year but he does his best for the club.

Jack Wilshere. Wonder boy jack is one of the best English players in the England squad when he’s not injured and he does an amazing job in midfield for Arsenal.

We’ve got to keep him – for a lot of us on here, he’s the next to wear the captain’s armband.

Aaron Ramsey. Love him or hate him, I personally think he’s doing his best. Yes he’s a youngster, but he can spot a pass and he can score a few and he’s one for the future.

We must keep him .

Santi Cazorla. Excellent, fantastic footballer and one of the players of the season so far he works hard and he can cross dribble and shoot and he’s gives 100% every game – another player who like to score.

Francis Coquelin. Not seen much of him as he’s a bit part player and is often used as a sub. When he comes on he does very well and I’m sure some Spanish clubs will be after him in the future.

Andrei Arshavin. I liked the Russian with the basin haircut, he has lost his way or he can’t regain his place in the team I can see him leaving in the not too distance future .

He will always be remembered for his one man show at Liverpool a few seasons ago .

sheep pic

MIDFIELD PLAYERS ON LOAN !.

Emmanuel Frimpong. This pong would not be out on loan, I’d recall him, he gets some tackles in and he is not scared of any player and he’s built like Mike Tyson .

What AW will do with the pong we will have to wait and see.

I’ve friends who are Wolves fans, he went there on loan before he had an injury and the wolves fans loved him and chanted his name every game.

Ryo Miyaichi. What a waste of money simples, buy him then loan him out, will he ever play a first team game in the Premier League.

Denílson. He looks to be enjoying his loan spell back home and can’t see him returning now or in the future but again I liked him when AW played him and he used him a lot.

I have not included the Ox or Theo as they play up front more than midfield but those two are another who in time will be a fantastic acquirement for Arsenal in the future.

What’s your opinion on the state of our midfield?

Sheep Hagger ™.


Arsène is Rubbish at Choosing Defenders

March 25, 2013

One of the commonest criticisms of  Arsène Wenger is that he can’t “pick” a defender.

We know he loves attackers and will sit up half the night fantasising about the striking skills of a Thierry Henry or a Robin van Ungrateful.

But when it comes to identifying the qualities required in a top flight defender, he is like a blind man shopping for sex aids in a greengrocer’s (it all ends up a bit messy).

Or at least that’s what the critics would have you think.

But is this fair?

To my mind, not at all.

In my lifetime, which spans 13 World Cups, 10 Prime Ministers and three top 10 hits by Jethro Tull, there has only been one season in which the Arsenal defence remained unbreached.

That season was, of course, 2003/4 – the season of The Invincibles.

And what was the first choice back four of The Invincibles? As if I need to remind you! It was, of course, Lauren, Toure, Campbell and Cole. All signed by Arsene Wenger or (in the case of Cashley) promoted to first team action by him.

People (including me) still talk in hushed terms of the great George Graham defence that went on to be the bedrock of Arsene’s early trophy years. Dixon, Bould, Keown, Adams and Winterburn were simply amazing. But they never managed to go a season unbeaten (although they went close in 1990/91). Truth to tell, they were not as good as The Invincibles back four, who matched them for grit and defensive solidity, but outdid them for creativity and attacking threat.

Cole was more dynamic than Winterburn; dead-eyed Lauren was every bit as impassable as Dixon; Kolo Toure could play on the ground better than any of George Graham’s central defenders; and Campbell was as big and brave a rock as Tony Adams.

But Arsene never really gets the credit for creating that impregnable back line and it’s still routine to read comments to the effect that all his trophy success was down to the legacy of Gorgeous George (the famous-back-four bit of the legacy that is, not the brown-paper-envelope bit).

Since then his defensive signings (or home growns) have included the likes of Clichy, Eboue, Gibbs, Gallas, Sagna, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal and Jenkinson.

Admittedly there have been mistakes, like signing Mikael Sylvestre from Manchester United and bringing back Sol Campbell.

But there were mitigating circumstances. Sylvestre was signed as an EPL experienced utility squad player who could cover centre back and left back – but a really unfortunate spell of injuries meant he ended up playing more often than anyone would ever have wanted – including Arsene Wenger.

Campbell, ditto, was meant to be a squad player but the same injury crisis thrust him into the front line (where, even as an aging player, he was far from shabby).

But most of Arsene’s defensive choices have been very good players.

I know some of you will be already reaching for your keyboard to tell me how rubbish Vermaelen is, or that Mertsesacker is too slow, or that Gibbs is too injury prone. But rhey are all good players who have been doing their best during a period of intense transition and upheaval for Arsenal.

For the past two seasons the defence has been playing without the support of a recognised defensive midfielder and with an ever-changing succession of callow or careless goalkeepers behind them.

That, along with Arsene’s preferred style of attacking play, has led many to conclude that our back line is poor and that this is because of the quality of the players. Who chooses the players? Arsene! Therefore, case proved: he’s can’t find good defenders.

But I happen to think there’s nothing wrong with the personnel. We just need a bit of stability and a run of results to restore confidence and make us seem hard to beat again. (*NOTE: since I wrote this Post, we have had two away wins and two clean sheets, so I fervently hope a corner has been turned).

I would prefer to see us have a more traditional defensive midfielder in the team (which is not to knock the excellent Mikel Arteta – it’s just that I feel he could do a better job further forward and a more defensive-minded midfielder would be a boon to our defence). But that’s just my opinion.

I also happen to think that some of Arsene’s defensive “flops” (including Squillaci, Cygan, Senderos and Djourou) are better players than the fans have realised. It’s not so long ago that we were raving about Djourou marking Drogba out of the game when we beat Chelsea at the Emirates.

So, to conclude, do you think Arsene is unfairly judged on his record of signing defenders?

Who do you think his bad choices have been?

And who are his good ones?

RockyLives