Arsène Wenger’s Got a Headache

November 8, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Rasp

The Big Game

December 13, 2010

Written by BigRaddy

The words Old Trafford always brings a shiver down the spine because Man Utd are  the biggest club in football. Perhaps Barca and Real could dispute their crown but MU play in a competitive league which they have dominated for quarter of a century. I always get excited by this fixture, it is one of the glamour games of the year and when both teams are on form almost guarantees an enthralling spectacle – however neither side is on form at present and I fear the worldwide audience will be disappointed if they expect a feast of football akin to the recent Barca v Real game.

Speaking to Arsenal fans at the Emirates and my Goonermates worldwide, there is a strong sense of foreboding – they expect us to lose tonight, which I find perplexing. I know United have only lost 2 points at home this season but we have very good away form. We are scoring freely on the road and MU are trying to incorporate a damaged goods Rooney. We are top of the League and United are not.

The positives for us are the wonderful form of Nasri and the mercurial Arshavin. Should they both play well we can and will win. We need to adopt an aggressive policy from the start and retain ball possession. The defence has to stay solid and be aware thet United do not play route one but attack at speed down the flanks – Clichy will need to be fully concentrated.

There is rumour that Fabianski is injured and that Chesney may start? If true then what better way to start your PL career with a clean sheet at OT?

Then there is the question of Cesc . Should we play him if he is back to fitness? In my opinion he has to start if fully fit, this is not a player who needs to be nursed through with warm up games, he is too important and too good. That said, this is just 3 points in a long season and should he be anything less than 100%  he must be rested, playing a 20 minute cameo should we be losing by a single goal at 70 mins.

The team almost picks itself:

We all know about United, their  problems and strengths are highlighted all over the media.

Tonight’s game is being watched by football fans all over the world, there will be hundreds of millions of viewers and the match will require a strong referee who will neither be influenced by the spite of Sir Alex nor attempt to be the centre of attraction. Tonight’s referee is Howard Webb, who by any standards has had a fantastic year; to ref the 2 biggest games in World football and then be handed the honour of tonight’s game is a huge accolade. He is not a favourite at Old Trafford because (so far) he hasn’t given the expected home decisions. Should he stamp down on Nani and Rooney’s diving plus Fletcher and Scholes savagery, we will have a chance. If not, it could be a long night.

At some point our team has to gel again. We have played wonderful football at times this season and the dreaded November has passed – we can and will win this game unless Lady Luck fortunes Man Utd (as usual!).