Are Our Players Too Soft?

October 15, 2019

This is just a quick conversation starter based on something that came up during Ian Wright’s interview with Dennis Bergkamp.

(If you haven’t seen the interview yet, what’s wrong with you? JM posted it in the comments in the ‘Art of Defending’ Post so go and watch it! People often ask if God is real… well, there he is, chatting away to another deity who’s not too far below him in the great Arsenal Pantheon).

There were many fascinating, touching and funny moments in the interview but one part of the conversation struck me as particularly interesting.

It starts with the two legends reminiscing about training at Arsenal (and in particular whether Dennis was ever bothered by Martin Keown’s maniacal behavior and overly physical play). Dennis naturally says he had no problem with big Martin (and implies he was more than happy to give a bit back, which we all know he was capable of).

Dennis points out that there were always two or three confrontations (or bust-ups, if you like) between players in every training session, but that he loved the intensity because it prepared him for real game situations. Then he adds: “I speak to young players as well nowadays. I don’t see that any more now. It’s just very polite and relaxed and everything.”

When I heard that it seemed obviously true (even if I had not really thought about it much before). Arsenal players of more recent vintages don’t give the impression on the pitch that their training sessions are trench warfare.

But it raises some questions. Is this how it is at all teams now? Are all training sessions everywhere laid back and respectful, with no fiery lunges or stray elbows? Would the likes of Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Roy Keane and Steve Bruce be thought of as maniacs if their younger selves were suddenly dropped into a 2019 training session?

Or is that blood-and-thunder approach still present at some clubs? It’s hard to imagine it at Manchester City. Maybe at Liverpool (but highly unlikely). At Manchester United it probably left the building with the purple-conked Gorbalian back in 2013.

If it exists anywhere it’s more likely to be in the lower-table and mid-table clubs, especially those managed by old school British managers like Steve Bruce.

You can see why the top clubs would not be keen on seeing their best players sidelined for weeks at a time because some psycho squad member has poleaxed them during training, whereas the lower clubs probably think their best chance against elite teams is to employ greater physicality.

So here’s the question: has Arsenal lost something by abandoning full-blooded contact in training? Has the Premier League? Has football generally?

Or does the modern way represent progress, a move towards a more sophisticated way of being a footballer?

Towards the end of the Wrighty-Bergkamp chat Dennis talks about watching Arsenal these days and says: “Sometimes it’s good, but a lot of times you don’t really feel it’s the Arsenal how we know it, with the passion and a few players who make the difference…”

Would some Chuck Norris themed training sessions bring the fire back to our boys?

Over to you…

RockyLives

For those that haven’t seen it, this is the video featuring Wrighty and DB10 Rocky refers to …

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The Art of Defending

October 10, 2019

We sit third but without being that convincing to date. One does worry that we have slightly got away with it till now and the performances will not sustain us in our search for a points tally that sees us have a more successful season.

We have some unenviable stats where we top a league across many leagues for shots on our goal. How is this happening? I am not sure of the exact figures and maybe one of you lovely people can shed some statistical light on it.

I have also wondered whether there are any stats out there as to how often a teams defence have to face a defensive moment. My gut feeling is that this could also be very telling if say, for instance, our defence was having to face 50% more “defensive moments” than any near rival.

The sheer numbers game would indicate that you will eventually concede more than those rivals no matter how good your dfenders are individually and as a group.

I was interested in reading that Emery was after Boly to quote “solve Arsenal’s defensive woes”. My question is this. Is it just about the quality of defender we have or don’t have right now that is our big issue, and throwing another defender into the mix will solve our defensive problems, or is it more of a whole team structure thing that sees our defence called into action far more often than it should be and our rivals, and thus explain that worrying shots on goal stat?

Please discuss ……….

GoonerB


Sell Ozil … Send Emile Smith-Rowe Out On Loan …

October 9, 2019

The title of this post sums up the consensus of opinion from yesterday’s post that asked the question of what we should be doing with the aforementioned players. The results of the polls embedded in the post showed that more than 60% of those who lodged an opinion were in favour of selling Mesut Ozil, and sending Smith-Rowe out on loan.

AA contributor Gooner4life summed it up as follows:

Having waited and hoped that Ozil would adapt to the Premier League’s athletic standards of fitness and commitment to enable a team structure that would benefit his skill set and enhance the teams resilience, I have seen that hope disappear much like Ozil himself in games. He is not strong enough or fast enough to impose himself on games or assist in stifling the opposition pressing our defenses.

The time for pastures new has arrived with a subsidised loan or even free transfer to allow his particular talents to be showcased in a less abrasive league. Ceballos Ghendouzi Willock Torreira are the go to options for a dynamic midfield (which can be supplemented by Luiz or Chambers – but NOT Xhaka).

ESR is one of a number of shining academy stars (many of whom shone through in the pre season fixtures) who have potential to become regular starters. Injuries have stifled his progression and others are presently seizing their opportunities so a loan to a competing league would be beneficial and he is already highly regarded in Germany without hardly playing.

ESR needs to be placed with a club who will develop his strength and resilience to complement his talent by starting him consistently (not bringing him off the bench when the game needs rescuing). We need to look within the club more often to nurture the wealth of talent that could have been in our team rather than looking at what £50+million stars they have become and could be saving those sums in the transfer market.

The first team squad is becoming a stronger and deeper and will provide an opportunity for bringing the youngsters into the premier league environment. This is already happening and needs to be continued.

As a clever German recently said North London is still red!

Gooner4life


Is there a place in the Arsenal squad for Mesut Ozil and Emile Smith-Rowe this year and beyond?

October 8, 2019

We discussed it many times but it seems that now (although it is not working perfectly) Emery has decided to mould Arsenal’s play based on the Liverpool model and his time in Sevilla. On the Liverpool model because it is clear that he wants that high-intensity press and quick transition bsed on 3 lethal attackers, incisive full backs and a strong/physical spine defensively (CBs+DM+CM).

Modelled on Sevilla, because he wants to set up with a 4321 with one player in the middle 3 that can defend well but that can also break the lines with dribbling or passing, which is what Banega did for him in Sevilla and what Ramsey also did last year when he was fit to play. I think Emery’s idea is to give that “Banega/Ramsey” role to Ceballos this year.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed that Ozil has been left out of match squads for the last few games. The reason for this could be that Emery actually does not need Ozil-type of players in his team. He wants more industrious players in the middle of the park, faster players on the wings and he already has some players that fit the bill more than Ozil.

So it is time to part with our German maestro who was delivering assists after assists in his first three years with us? I think so, not because he is not a gifted player but because he does not seem to be able to adapt his game to the demands of the coach so you are in a lose-lose situation and it is best to let go for him and for us.

I think Ozil would be a great acquisition for PSG or Juventus or Bayern – but he ll go there as a squad player but he will get plenty of game time because these teams can make the most of his skill sets. PSG for example does not have players that can break lines with exquisite passes – Mbappe and Neymar can dribble past players for fun and have quality passing but what if they were fed the balls rather than having to create the plays…I can imagine a 4231 with Verrati, Gueye – Neymar, Ozil, Mbappe – Cavani do some ravage in some games…Anyways…

Now comes the tricky question regarding Emile Smith-Rowe. Can ESR play in the middle of the park? Certainly but can he play better than Douzi, Torreira, Willok and Ceba? Does he also have what it takes to play on the wings? Not really sure.

Can he play like Lacazette? To be confirmed…So in the short-term, I think it would be in both club and player’s interest to loan him back out again in January but maybe for 18 months so he can get some solid experience and come back and maybe then, there will be a place for him in our squad depending on his development. The boy is talented, no doubt. But I can’t see him go past the mentioned players in the near future so let us not slow his progression down and let him go out on loan in the EPL or abroad but he needs playing time.

So what do we do with these 2? Keep, sell, loan…?

RC78

 


Arsenal Win Inspires Title Charge

October 7, 2019

Yes, the headline is deliberately flippant.

But look at the facts:

  • Third in the league, only a point behind last year’s all-conquering champions.
  • Four points ahead of Teeteringham.
  • Six points ahead of Manchester United.
  • Only one defeat in eight games in the Premier League.
  • In the last two and half weeks we have played 6 games in all competitions, Won 5, Drawn 1, Lost 0; Goals for 17, Goals against 3.

On paper we’re in the title race, albeit a long way behind the long-haired lovers from Liverpool.

Yet it doesn’t feel like we’re anywhere close to being able to contemplate a serious tilt at the title and performances like yesterday’s against Bournemouth don’t help.

We can take satisfaction from getting our 1-0 win and three very valuable points, but life still is not a bowl of cherries. I’ll come on to possible reasons why later, but first a quick recap of the match.

Unai Emery’s team selection was fairly predictable. RC in his pre-match write up got 10 out of 11, missing only Ceballos, who was preferred to RC’s prediction of Torreira.

At the start of the day Bournemouth were only a point behind us in the league and we all know they can play a bit, so this was never likely to be a pushover.

That said, we started well with Saka looking particularly lively on the left flank, Ceballos pulling the strings in midfield, Guendouzi surging round the pitch like a remote controlled car on Christmas morning and even Pepe showing some silky skills.

The breakthrough came early, and not from any of the attackers. A corner from our right was adroitly pinged into the box by Pepe and found the curly coiffured bonce of our bouncy Brazilian centre back. He had a lot to do to direct the ball on target, but in it went. A first Arsenal goal for David Luiz and an assist for Pepe.

For the rest of the first half we were effortlessly in control, stroking the ball about easily and looking dangerous in attack, while Bournemouth offered little threat. We created multiple good situations but the final touch or pass was always slightly off and we were not able to build on our lead. As the minutes ticked into the 40s and it was still only 1-0 despite our dominance, I began to feel some familiar nerves twitching into life.

Sure enough Bournemouth came out a much more committed side after the break, presumably after a rocket from Eddie Howe. They harried us more effectively and slowly but surely became the dominant side.

As the second half wore on and our attacking thrust got blunter and blunter, an equaliser started to feel inevitable.

Some of the most perilous moments came directly from rare occasions when we were carving through Bournemouth and looking to threaten their goal, only for a piece of carelessness from one of our players to set them on the counter attack.

In the space of one period of just a couple of minutes Kolasinac, under no pressure whatsoever, passed the ball to a Bournemouth player who launched a break which almost resulted in a goal; then Guendouzi lost the ball carelessly and again, a few seconds later, we were lucky not to concede (although to Gwen’s credit it was he who made the gut-busting run and desperate tackle that saved a goal).

And that summed up our second half: sloppy. I don’t know if the conditions were difficult (the sun was shining, but had there been heavy rain earlier?), but every time we tried to do something positive it was spoiled by a wayward pass, a piece of bad control, getting carelessly caught in possession or even just tripping over our own feet.

When the whistle blew after five minutes of added time it was a huge relief.

So we had a win, but not one to send the faithful home feeling like the team is finding its rhythm and ready to push on with a serious top four challenge.

I thought our shape and system looked OK yesterday (certainly compared with some games, such as Watford or Man Utd), but – in the second half at least – there was a lack of concentration throughout the team, particularly in the attacking half.

Hopefully it was just a difficult day at the office and the sort of sustained focus we have seen in the cup games can quickly be integrated back into our league effort.

We happen to be on one of those runs (in the league) where the results are OK but the performances are worrying. From that position things can go in two directions: either the performances don’t improve and we don’t keep ‘getting away with it’ or things start to gel on the pitch and the results stay good. Take your pick.

I’ll end with some positives, beyond just getting the three points: for a start, the important thing is that we did not let Bournemouth get their goal and that was down to some committed defending, particularly from Chambers, but with Luiz and Sokratis also having some big defensive moments, while Leno was reliable as ever with his shot stopping.

Hopefully the clean sheet is indicative of a sharper defensive focus. The danger moments came from mistakes at the attacking end of the field leading to Bournemouth counters: they did not come from our defenders putting on clown shoes and red noses in our own defensive third as they have done too many times this season already.

Now we go into the international break on the back of a good run of results and with a struggling Sheffield United team waiting for us when league action resumes.

We are third in the league I said we are third in the league… (Doesn’t have quite the right ring to it, does it?).

Player Ratings

Leno    7

Didn’t have too many saves to make but was in the right place when called on. One interception of a dangerous low cross sticks in the memory as an instance of his excellent anticipation.

Chambers       8 (MoTM)

Chambers is on a very good run of form. Made some top tackles and interceptions in our box and helped link play well when going forward. Best of all, he always seems composed on the ball.

Sokratis           7

Didn’t do much wrong and made a couple of important tackles and headers.

Luiz      7.5

As per Sokratis, but with an extra half point for the goal.

Xhaka              5.5

I’m not as down on Xhaka as some, but much of this game passed him by (although he still had time to make some stupid tackles).

Ceballos          6.5

Good in the first half, faded in the second before being substituted.

Guendouzi       7

Typically energetic performance, but his play was littered with concentration lapses in the second half.

Pepe    6

You can almost smell the crowd willing him to turn it on. He showed some great dribbling skills at times, though usually with little end product. Not a bad a outing but this was not the game where he suddenly turns the corner. Nice cross for the goal.

Aubameyang  6.5

Struggled to make an impact, but it wasn’t really his fault. Most of our moves broke down before the ball reached him in dangerous positions.

Saka    7

Very bright in the first half but was another who faded after half time.

Subs

Martinelli        7

Looked lively and clearly uses the same batteries as Guendouzi.

Willock            6.5

Another encouraging outing for Willock, but by the time he came on our second half malaise was already too deeply embedded.

Torriera           6.5

A tidy 10 minutes or so from the Uruguayan.

RockyLives


Arsenal v Bournemouth pre match

October 6, 2019

Another home game but this time in the EPL. A match against a team that is only one point behind us…A win against will create a gap between us and them (and also Tottenham 🙂 ) of 4 points and it will also see us on the podium…So there is a lot to play for today in front of our crowd.

Bournemouth are no pushover. They play decent football and they have some good footballers like Calum Wilson, Diego Rico, Harry Wilson, Joshua King, Nathan Ake, Ryan Fraser and to a certain extent also Ibe and Solanke. Their form has been on and off with good wins and also big losses, mostly because of their inconsistant and weaker defensive efforts. Will they park the bus against us? Not sure. They tend to play a 442 and I expect them to play a 442 tomorrow but maybe Solanke will play a bit deeper…

So how to beat them? They like to counter-attack and they like set-pieces. They are fast on attacking transitions but struggle sometimes defensively so if I were Emery, I d make sure to put pressure on their defense and I d also block the wings…Again, the predicted line-up and my preferred line-up:

Emery’s line up:

Leno

Chambers   Sokratis   Luiz   Kolasinac

Guendouzi   Xhaka   Torreira

Pepe   Aubameyang   Saka

 

My line up:

Leno

Chambers   Sokratis   Luiz   

AMN Guendouzi   Torreira   Willock   Kola

Pepe   Aubameyang

 

I think my line up will just annoy the hell out of Bournemouth while maximizing Auba and Pepe’s offensive threat and Willock and Douzi’s attacking runs.

Anyways, this game is a MUST win especially at home. We need to capitalize on Tottenham’s poor form, Leicester loss and last season, we didn’t and this is how we missed out on Top 4. If we are to compete for the Top 4, we have to win at home especially when our rivals lose.

Let us do this and COYG! My predicted score: 3-2 with Auba, Pepe on the scoresheet together with Luiz. We will concede a goal to Solanke and Wilson (Calum).

RC78


It wasn’t 7-0 like ’93 (or 7-2 for that matter) …………….

October 4, 2019

….but how the hell it wasn’t at least that is difficult to explain.

It has been rare recently for me to start a game with a significant feeling of confidence  based on the initial team selection. But that’s how I felt tonight. And the first twenty minutes plus did nothing to dispel that feeling.

Rob Holding striding confidently, Adams-like around the back, seemingly giving even Mustafi the look of a calm centre back alongside him! Tierney showing that not only is he an excellent attacking full back with a brilliant cross, but that he senses danger defensively and goes out to meet and cover it.

Torreira playing in front of the back four and mopping up efficiently. Dani Ceballos running the midfield, and the 18 year old Martinelli showing true  pure striker skills.

Even if, to be honest, the opposition weren’t much cop, things were looking rosy!

Willock was proving a handful and took his goal with great confidence. Surely we can look forward to a hat-ful! And yet it didn’t happen as chances were spurned regularly for the rest of an exciting half.

“In the old days a game like this would be 3-0 at half time, and finish 3-0 at full time”, said one observer. Well this youthful team did not lack desire at least to add to their score in the second half, but, with the exception of a close range poke from Dani, following excellent work to the byline again from Martinelli, we did everything except collect that hat-full.

And perhaps the “youthfulness” explains some of the waste in front of goal. Shape and calmness on the ball was lost, as almost every player seemed to get carried away by the excitement. Good chances were beautifully made, but then spurned. And how the “wonder kid” did not get his hat trick, I will never know!

It was an exciting, more than competent performance, produced three points and set us up in the group, but promised initially so much more.

Player ratings ……………

Martinez 6. Little really to do other than two driven at him at a perfect height. Not sure on his coming an catching.

Bellerin 5. Seems short on confidence, especially going forward.

Mustafi 6. A couple of risky passes, but overall competent, with the confidence of Holding alongside, against a less than potent attack.

Holding 8. A solid, head up, un-rushed performance which I hope will get him a place soon in the starting team in the Premier League.

Tierney 8. All round excellent game, showing great confidence and potential both going forward and in defence. Tired at end so needs to be used progressively.

Torreira 6. Started in his rightful position with confidence. Got a bit carried away in the end with attacking, and moved out of that position when 0uzi came on. Got lost at this point a little.

Willock 7. A real handful in first half and took his goal with great confidence. Got caught up in the madcap second half and less effective if always enthusiastic.

Maitland-Niles 5. Played on the right and tucked in, but too much distance from a hesitant Hector. Most of our good work was down the left.

Ceballos 8. Ran the midfield in the first half especially. Again perhaps tried too much on the ball as the game went on, instead of playing simple first time balls to open up an eleven men defence by then.

Nelson 6. Certainly some good work in the first half. Would like to see him take on his full back more regularly and believe in himself.

Martinelli 8/9. Took his goals beautifully and should have had five or six. A willing runner and creative centre forward.

LBG