Why has this Arsenal team no Leaders?

April 14, 2011

This post was written prior to Rocky’s excellent post in which he covered similar areas and concerns about the fragility of the team  – think of it as synchronicity.

A refrain we hear over and over again from within and without the Hallowed Halls is that this Arsenal team lack Leaders. We are told that none of the current crop have the ability to push the team forward in times of crisis and as such we need to buy  some “steel.” It has been said that this lack of Leadership is the fundamental reason for our not being top of the table in a year where MU have faltered. How could this happen?

Firstly, it is important to look at the team and see whether this assumption is true. We currently have 5 Captain’s of their International teams. Yes… 5! Almost certainly a record and one that is rarely, if ever mentioned. Rosicky has been Czech Captain for the past 5 years and led them in the Euro Championship. Arshavin has been the Russian Cpt. for over 2 years, Vermælen has been Belgium Cpt since 2009. Both Nasri and Ramsey have been honoured with their national Captaincy this season.

So, 5 National Captain’s and it is highly likely that Cesc will captain Spain at some point in his career, as Wilshere will captain England. Surely, there are leaders amongst them?

Should Fabregas be Club Captain? Does he have the “cojones” to lead the club? In my opinion he is the natural leader of the side, and I would refute the argument that he is not Captain material. Following in the footsteps of two of the finest Captain’s in Arsenal’s history – in Adams and Vieira he has grown up with two fantastic role models – he has seen at first hand how to lead a side, and I believe is growing into the role. It must be recalled that he is still only 23, yet he is the player all the others look to, and for me he does the job well.

Perhaps Leadership on the pitch has nothing to do with Captaincy, perhaps Captaincy is just recognition of the value of the player to the team. In Italy the captain is the oldest player in the team. Often the Captain is chosen purely upon his popularity in the dressing room, but in England the Captain is meant to be the heart and soul of the team and at Arsenal this has to be Cesc.

So how can we not have pitch leaders? Is it as the pundits say, a lack of British grit? Should we sign Joey Barton or Kevin Nolan both of whom have the British never-say-die mentality in spades? OK, not Barton, but how about Scott Parker? Would his attitude have made a difference?

We talk of needing “winners” in the team, and are fed the fable that without experienced winners we cannot move forward as a team (what have Parker or Cahill ever won)? I think we are being misled by the talk of Arsenal lacking “winners”. All our players have grown up in winning teams, through schoolboy to youth and reserve team level they have represented winning teams. Every one of our players is a proven International – surely they know how to win a game or two. Or am I wrong, is winning English Silverware the only way to create a “winning mentality”? And is this winning mentality a requirement for pitch Leadership?

Recently I have read that Wilshere is a natural pitch leader. As far as I can tell what this means is that he gives everything in every game – is this Leadership?  Is it a player shouting at others to keep them focussed in the manner of Roy Keane?  Is it the sight of Cesc clenching his fists and rousing the crowd?  Or comforting a player when they have seriously screwed up?  Or a player running 50 yards to help out the defence in the last 5 minutes?

What is clear is that there is much talk about our lack of it in the current side.

What do you think?

p.s. Yesterday saw the premature passing of Danny Fiszman at the age of 66. If we lacked leadership on the pitch we certainly haven’t off-pitch. Danny took a middle sized football business and accompanied by David Dein established Arsenal as one of the most financially successful football clubs in the world. A North London lad and an Arsenal fan throughout his life Danny made his first fortune in diamond trading, and was then asked by his friend Dein to join him at Arsenal. Alongside Arsene Wenger they created the modern Arsenal, funding the new stadium, the re-development of Highbury and the surrounding areas. Arsenal are acknowledged as the financial model for football clubs throughout the world and this alongside the stadium is his legacy.  That Danny’s final act was to ensure that his beloved Arsenal was in safe  hands is proof of his devotion.

His was a successful life both in business and at leisure. We at AA wish his family long life.

Written by BigRaddy

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Have we ANY chance of winning at Bloomfield Rd?

April 10, 2011

This will be a positive post, so those of a cup half empty disposition, look away.

Firstly, we are on a long unbeaten run in the PL extending to almost four months. During that time we have conceded just 10 goals. Taking out the madness at St. James, we have conceded 6 in 12 PL games – hardly the stats of a dodgy defence.

Secondly, we have the best away record in the PL, amassing 26 points and losing only twice (MU & Chelsea).

Thirdly, this season we have beaten the PL Champions, the Champions of Spain (who are supposedly the best team of all time), and beaten a CL quarter finalist 5-1 (Shaktar).

We have done this despite a constantly full medical centre and without the services of our strongest CB. Which other team has suffered as we have? Down to our 3rd choice GK, 3rd choice DM, 4th choice CB.

Furthermore, we have a young player who had he continued his early season form would be a shoe-in for PL player of the Year, and we have an almost guaranteed winner of the Young Player of the Year.

Has all this good work been totally destroyed by the past few weeks very average performances? Some would say so, however at season’s start, had anyone offered me the position we are in early April, I would have taken it immediately. What is overlooked is that most Arsenal “fans” were predicting us failing to achieve Top 4 and that Spurs would be top North London club under the “genius of Harry.” In fact, most predicted a 6th place behind Liverpool. Sure the last month has been painful and in retrospect the B’ham CC game was a precursor for a difficult spell, but a true assessment of the season can only be made on May 23rd.

Onto today’s fixture. Everyone likes Blackpool (well, at least the football club!). The manager, the style of football, Charlie Adam, the David & Goliath theme etc etc. Well just for today, I say “Sod them”, we need the 3 points. Let them get the points they need to avoid relegation elsewhere because we are desperate for a confidence boosting win. A flukey 1-0 will do it, as long as it is accompanied by our usual 60+% possession.

Our injuries are as usual a major factor. This would be a good game for Theo to regain form and he awaits a fitness test. Song, Diaby, and Denilson are definitely out and there is a question mark over Sagna. Could Eboue get his final start in an Arsenal shirt (I hope it is final 🙂 )?

Could we repeat our home demolition of Blackpool? I doubt it, Blackpool lost a player early at the Grove and we were in a fine run of form. We can expect B’pool to fight all the way and with the return of their top scorer DJ Campbell will not be easy opposition, we will have to go toe to toe with them and hope Cesc and Nasri can create the chances to win all 3 points.

My team:

I really hope that should we not be winning at half-time, AW makes an early substitution. It worked at WBA, yet he didn’t repeat it with Blackburn which left us with only 10 minutes of all out attack. Chamakh and Bendtner should be on early if we are struggling.

Blackpool is best known as a holiday destination. I have been a few times (conferences!) and left shell-shocked. What is less known is that it is the birthplace of my fave bands at different times in my life. Starting with Graham Nash OBE of The Hollies and later the brilliant C,S & N, onto Maddy Prior of Steelye Span and Roy Harper, followed by Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull, then Robert Smith and The Cure, Chris Lowe of Pet Shop Boys and more recently Nick McCarthy of Franz Ferdinand. Not too Metally, but for a small town, Blackpool has a fine musical heritage.

I made the fundamental mistake of predicting a win last weekend, I promise never to do so again.

COYRRG

Written by BigRaddy


Arsenal to clean up Blackburn

April 2, 2011

Ready for a rant?

I have developed an irrational dislike of Blackburn Rovers. Firstly, there’s the name …. Rovers. Where do they rove,? Has Gamst Pederson roved and if so why wasn’t he arrested in the act of roving?  Blackburn, so named because it is dirty, the civil buildings are swathed in soot and the street urchins have a clear dislike of water (before I am accused of Northern-ism, I have spent many happy weekends in the town).

Then there is their football. Perhaps the club thought loaning out the odious Hadji Diouf would improve their image, but they ruined that by sacking Fat Sam in a manner which turned all the pundits against them. Installing an untried (and cheaper) manager they now face the prospect of relegation , and other than their fans, I believe you would struggle to find anyone who will be sorry to see them decline. How one can take a team full of fine footballers and turn them into the tedious, mundane cloggers seen week in week out at Ewood is a mystery known only to their manager and the Chicken men.

Seriously, if Arsene Wenger OBE managed Blackburn they would be a top 8 side. Look at the talent at their disposal. In defence, an England GK, the New Zealand Captain Nelsen, the monstrous Samba, Martin Olsson, who is getting rave reviews in Scandanavia, and the enormous experience of Salgado (over 250 games for Real Madrid). In midfield, the creativity and graft of Gamst, Emerton and Dunn. Upfront, the pace of Benjani, and MU’s young Diouf, allied to the height and movement of Santa Cruz. This SHOULD be a decent team – but they are not.

And why not? Perhaps a Blackburn fan could tell us (if they read this far without closing the page in fury).

Now I dislike Fat Sam as much as the next man, to me he is the antithesis of Wengerball, a man who believes in the Charles Hughes school of long ball, aggressive football, but whatever one thinks of him, he did a damned sight better job with this team than the current dummy whose only recommendation appears to be that he is Scottish…

John Jensen is Keen’s no.2. arriving after a disastrous time as manager of Randers in Denmark  (9 losses and 2 draws in 11 games). How on earth do these guys get their highly paid jobs??   Oh, & I was there when Jensen scored!

Enough of Blackburn, let us move onto the men in the white hats.

2 weeks break and a return to the first team for 3 players who have been sorely missed: Song, Cesc and Theo.  It appears all the players who went away on International duty have returned fit, even Chocolate Legs, so apart from the difficulties at CB and in goal, we have a proper team.

Big words those …. “apart from“…… The success of this season will turn upon the strength of our defence. We have no difficulties scoring, especially when Theo and Cesc are both fit and firing.  If Almunia and Squillaci find a decent run of form and Kosciely continues his improvement, I believe we will win the title,. The return of the very influential Song should add some much needed defensive security, but ultimately it will be the CB’s and in particular the GK who will come under immense pressure, because every T, D & H knows they are fallible.

My team:

We should even be able to have a very strong bench (apart from CB).

I expect Arsenal to come out very fast and attempt to win the game in the first 20 minutes. If we score early, B’burn are doomed. However, after the recent frustrations, a poor first half will have a detrimental effect upon the faithful and the tension will mount. That said, I am confident of 3 points.

Big Raddy is very much looking forward to meeting fellow AA’ers today and will raise a glass to absent friends.

To The Tavern …..

COYRRG


How many Man Utd players would get into Arsenal’s First Team?

March 31, 2011

I spend much time discussing football with fans of other teams. Inevitably we play the “but he would never play in our team “game, and this could be the first of “How many Arsenal players would get in  ……… first team”?

Let us look at the current leaders of the PL,  Man Utd, taking what I believe to be Mr Wenger’s first choice 11 v Aaron’s view of the SAF’s first choice.

Note Well. This team is set-up in Arsenal’s formation , not the Man Utd 4-4-2 !

 

Van de Saar v Szczesny.

Not as obvious as one might think. Van de Saar has huge experience and has been a superb keeper. Had AW signed him 5 years ago we could well well won a title or two, but at 40 y.o. his powers are fading and retirement beckons. Whereas our new GK is but a slip of a lad and has a glittering future ahead – he dominates the area, is a fine shot-stopper and is learning quickly.  Experience v Youth?  It has to be the Pole.

Sagna v Rafael.

Rafael looks major find. Comfortable on the ball, can cross, likes to attack, and can tackle but he has already shown a questionable temperament and has clearly studied tapes of Dani Alves’s cheating  techniques. Sagna is quite simply the best right back in the PL. I would like to see his crossing improve but in every other area he is superb.

Centre Backs.

Man Utd are truly blessed in this area. Ferdinand and Vidic combine footballing skills and strength. They are both on-field leaders and the rock around which MU function. Arsenal’s first choice CB pairing is unclear, who are they? TV/JD? TV/Kos? Kos/JD?  The JD/Kos pairing seems stable and they combine well but neither is at the level of either of MU’s CB’s

Clichy v Evra.

I love Gael, I detest Evra, but my feelings are not based around their footballing ability.  Sadly, Evra is a fine footballer, a winner and very consistent. Gael, as we all know, has lapses, I think he is a better attacking force than Evra but Evra is more solid. I am afraid Evra gets the shirt.

Song v  Carrick

No contest here. When Carrick was at West Ham he looked as though he could develop into the new Bryan Robson – it didn’t happen, whether through lack of ability or injury, we will never know. Either way, he hasn’t the control or vision of Song who at the tender age of 23 is already one of the most influential players in the PL.

Fletcher v Wilshere.

Jack’s progress is nothing short of astonishing. At the age of 19 to be the central figure in the England team indicates a truly great player in the making, but Fletcher is the key player in a dull yet effective MU midfield. A terrier and a man who doesn’t accept losing – just the type of player we are lacking at Arsenal. So it is with heavy heart that I take Fletcher, because I believe that with him in the team we would already have won the PL, though I fully accept this is a controversial decision!

Nani v Theo

Another tough one. Nani has all the tricks, has pace and a fine shot. He also has a very questionable attitude and dreadful hair. Theo has better hair, more pace, less attitude and could be a future Arsenal great. However Nani has 9 goals and 16 assists and is the most effective player in the PL this season, whereas despite having his best season to date Theo has 7 goals, 6 assists. Shame on me but it has to be Nani

Rooney v Fabregas

This is difficult because they do not play the same roles as MU normally set up as 4-4-2-. If one assumes that Rooney is MU’s playmaker then we have to pit him against our own playmaker,  I could duck the issue and say it depends upon the opposition or shift Rooney out left to be compared with Nasri, but a direct comparison it has to be. Let’s look at this season’s stats – Cesc: 31 apps,  9 goals. 13 assists. Rooney: 29 apps, 9 gls, and 11 assists (?). On these stats Cesc is more slightly effective though both are the talisman of their sides. When either of them plays at the top of their form, their teams win. I love Cesc and this is an Arsenal site so Cesc gets it.

RvP v Hernandez/ Berbs.

I asked my MU mad friend Aaron who would be SAF’s first 11, and he chose Hernandez ahead of Berbatov. I would pick RvP ahead of either of them. Simply put, our Dutch striker is World Class, a player who can score both the spectacular and elementary goals.

Nasri v Valencia

Valencia is a fine player and I expect him to have a major impact on the PL next season, but Nasri is at another level. That Samir became France’s new National Captain last weekend is evidence of his rising stature and reliability. A fine player and with Valencia only just returning from injury, the obvious choice.

So a team of:

Quite how this team would function would be the managers concern though he would have a fantastic bench should the team not perform.

Clearly MU’s defensive steel added to Arsenal’s greater ball control would be a frightening prospect for any opposition and I would expect this side to win the PL, but they would be unlikely to go through a season unbeaten – only a truly great side could do that …. 😉

Finally, today is the 10th anniversary of Rocky’s untimely death. We all loved Rocky, he was a Gooner through and through, a hero to all who watched his development through the youth teams and into the wonderful player he became. My favourite memory of him was his goal at the Lane in the League Cup Semi-Final – one of the most exciting moments of my life. Gone but never forgotten.


Why Won’t Wenger Wing It?

March 24, 2011

Written by CarlitoII

When I sing the song “We’re the boys in Red and White, and we’re fucking dynamite”, a number of iconic players run through my mind. Rocky Rocastle, Anders Limpar, Marc Overmars, Freddy Ljungberg,  Robert Pires sprint through my inner thoughts, terrorising defences as they go. Close ball control, beating their man, finding space behind their opposing full backs and some wonderful play overlapping with their own full backs.

Strange that this image should come to me as it has been years since we’ve really seen it on the pitch. Wenger has a great history of signing or developing wide men. The only real failure I can think of is Jose Antonio Reyes but I didn’t think he was a failure when he burned up the left wing, only when he left us prematurely.

The left wing has been particularly iconic for me personally- the Limpar effect in 1991 was astonishing and both Overmars and his eventual replacement in Pires exemplify the way I think Arsenal should play. I think many of us felt that Rosicky would become the new Pires, but this has sadly not come to pass.

“But we’ve got wide men”, I hear you shout at your monitors! “What’s wrong with you Carlito11? We’ve got Theo, Nasri and Arshavin and they’re all wizards in their own way!” The key word in my defence is this: Byline. When was the last time you saw Arshavin, or Nasri, beat their full back for pace and whip in a cross from the byline? Theo has done it occasionally but I think most would agree with Wenger that his future is likely to involve a more central role before long. Gifted as all three of those players are, I would suggest that NONE of them are wingers.

As I mentioned, we always got extra width from our full backs pushing up, but I now fear for being caught on the counter when Clichy or Sagna push forward. There is also a distinct lack of the neat overlaps that characterised the Dixon/ Overmars and Cole/ Pires relationships. Our full backs currently push up and stay up- not a quick thrust as in days gone by.

So I wish for wingers! But what can be done? I see two potential solutions.

The first would involve changing our defensive set up to have 3 centre backs or a sweeper, thus allowing Sagna and Clichy to perform the wingers role better. However, it is asking a lot for them to get to the byline.

The second potential solution is the fantastic prospect of Ryo Miyaichi. This lad looks like he’s going to put the dynamite back into the team we call The Arsenal! If you haven’t seen him yet- search him on Youtube as there are extended highlights clips of all his substitute performances for Feyenoord posted there. He’s got broad shoulders, lightening pace and a great eye for distribution. But above all, he has wonderful close control when he dribbles and beats full backs in the Eredivisie for fun! I can’t wait to see him playing at the Mothership next year!


Up for the Cup??

March 12, 2011

Lucky Arsenal? This season we have drawn Newcastle and Spurs away in the Carling Cup, Barcelona in the CL, and now Man Utd away in the FA Cup.  I can only imagine Mr Wenger has spent the season walking under ladders and crossing the path of black cats. No-one wanted this fixture, neither Arsenal who are coming off the back of an emotional defeat at Camp Nou nor Man Utd, who are facing Marseilles in an important contest on Weds.

And yet neither manager will give up on this game. In my opinion both will put out as strong a team as injury permits, pride will dictate their actions. However, we are without (I hate writing this …) Vermaelen, Walcott, Fabregas , Song, Fabianski and Szczesny, and United are without Nani, Ferdinand and Park.

The loss of Szczesny has brought about the situation that (almost) all Gooners feared – a run of games for Almunia. Many point out that Manuel had a fine game in Spain and it would be churlish to argue. However, there is a reason why two Poles under the age of 23 are ahead of him in the AFC rankings and that is because Almunia is notoriously inconsistent. It was said at the start of the season by most pundits that Arsenal cannot win the league with Almunia, unfortunately we are about to find out. That said, I am sure he will give his all for the cause (and promote his flagging career). He must be given 100% support.

Having a more reliable defence will give Manuel confidence. We have tightened  to the point where there appears to be some understanding at the back; something missing since Sol left. Who would have thought that Djourou would be the man to come to the fore (apart from GG, and yours truly)?

We still have the midfield creativity problem in Cesc’s absence. Many have called for Nasri to take Cesc’s role, which make much sense. He has the vision and pace to push the team forward and has been given the Captain’s armband (though Almunia will take it tomorrow) which indicates he has the character to lead the team, and character he will need because at OT Fletcher has the licence to kick anyone off the park. Song is a big loss – Diaby plays better when he has the security of a strong defensive midfielder. Will Mr Wenger dare to start Ramsey rather than Denilson? I would take the risk but this is more a reflection of my opinion of Denilson. The Brazilian has much to recommend him, but not at a team at the level of Arsenal. I am sure he will be a huge success in Malaga, Mallorca or Juventus but not at the Grove – sorry.

Up front Van Persie will be chafing at the bit after his infuriating red card, he is playing as well as any time during his Arsenal career.  Bendtner will be desperate to show that with more than 10 minutes on the pitch he can score, but if Nasri and Arshavin are to start I see no place for him. I expect Nik to leave in summer (and I will be sad to see him go), if I was him I would be fuming that having played in most rounds of the Carling Cup and being one of the main reasons we got to the Final, he was dropped for RvP.  Vidic is back for MU which is a huge fillip for them, and a negative for us. Time for Arshavin to rediscover his shooting boots.

Man Utd have been an anomaly; at no time have they looked a title winning team and yet they have led the Premiership for most of the season. With a dull but effective midfield they rely on power rather than guile. What would they give for a young Bobby Charlton? In losing their last two big games they have seen that Giggs and Scholes fading powers are useful but not dependable. Expect a buying spree from SAF this summer –  a GK, a left back (who wants the lamentable Evra?), 2 creative MF’s, and a CB –  Modric, Rodwell, Bale, Cahill, Neuer have all been mentioned. Valencia has suffered from injury and can perhaps become the Giggs replacement, but MU have yet to replace the brilliance of Ronaldo. What they have replaced is Ronaldo’s penchant for acting with an even worse cheat in Nani. – fine player, shame about the histrionics. Rooney has flickered all season, capable of the brilliant but then petulant and obnoxious – once again his career has been boosted by SAF’s influence at the FA. . Berbatov is the PL’s top scorer and yet remains as unreliable as ever – another capable of brilliance or anonymity. His place is under threat from Hernandez who looks a fine signing –  that valuable fox in the box.

Mr Wenger has continually stated Arsenal will fight on all fronts this season, and I expect him to put out his strongest available 11.

My team:

Personally, I expect us to lose; we are not playing with fluency nor with confidence; we usually go down at Old Trafford and we will be forced to play against 14 men (11 players and the officials). Arsenal have yet to score more than one goal in a game at Old Trafford in the PL, so we are unlikely to see a goal-fest. To win we need to score first and force Man Utd to come onto us, thereby allowing Arsenal to play on the counter-attack. And above all, we need a good and fair performance from the referee, Chris Foy.

It is the final game of the season against Man Utd on Mayday which is more important to me and I imagine to both managers –  this is just the Hors d’oeuvre. I would give the Claret- nosed Caledonian (Thank you RL) the win today in exchange for the 3 points at the Grove.

COYRRG

written by Big Raddy


Three points – Not a classic but a serious performance

February 24, 2011

Written by 26may1989

After all the prematch neurosis, that was what this game was about. Not Shawcross, not Ramsey, not Pulis;  just the points. And they’re ours.

Le Boss summarised things nicely:

“Tonight was a night when nobody else played [well] and if you can take three points and glide closer to the top, that means that your team is really hungry for success. The number of games we play, not to make a mistake at any stage… we were less sharp creatively but you could feel the team did not want to make a mistake and that’s a very positive sign.”

Couldn’t agree more.

The opening ten minutes contained much of the game’s creative content: Fabregas, Bendtner and Walcott carved open the Stoke defence three times, and Theo was very unlucky to see his first effort bounce back off the post to Begovic rather than nestle in the net. And on the 8th minute a corner pinged around the box, before being deftly knocked back into the danger area by Bendtner to Squillaci, who nodded in from no distance, with Stoke’s defending surprisingly weak. And that was that, 1-0 to the football team, which is how it stayed till the end.

This was certainly no classic. No surprise there, the Stoke way makes classics a different thing to achieve. There’s a reason fans watching Stoke have seen fewer goals than any other team’s fans other than those of Fulham and Birmingham (only West Brom fans have seen more goals than Gooners). But without doubt, our boys weren’t at the top of their creative game either. Fabregas’s early departure must be a big part of the reason for that, the remaining players seemed to lose their fluency and dynamism as soon as El Capitan limped off, and didn’t really get their mojo back before the end of the first half.

There was a strange lack of intensity to both teams in the first half – where the appearance of Shawcross a year after he split the tibia and fibula in Aaron Ramsey’s right leg was meant to fire up this game, it was a calcio, uber tactical, sterile exchange, with Arsenal working hard but failing to string many moves together. However, the defence staying strong and disciplined in terms of shape and position. Stoke started in more of a 4-3-3 but after a while Walters and Pennant spent most of their time in midfield, making it a 4-5-1. Neither John Carew nor Wojciech Szczesny saw much of the ball before half-time, save for one sparkling, powerful drive from the Norwegian that our young Pole saved without much fuss.

Things picked up in the second half, as Stoke came out of their lair and tried to press us more aggressively. That, plus the inevitable rubbish from the referee, prompted a more vigorous style of play from our guys, with Nasri in particular coming into the game more effectively than he had done up to that point. Walcott, who had been one of the bright sparks before half time, faded a bit, before being chopped down from behind by Whitehead without Peter Walton spotting the foul. Walcott was stretchered off and will now miss the League Cup Final. Thanks Stoke. I guess we should be grateful the doctors aren’t debating whether one of his limbs needs to be amputated.

Szczesny and the defenders had to deal with the inevitable artillery barage from throw-ins, corners and free-kicks, and for the most part they dealt with it well. They were assisted by Stoke’s undisciplined approach to our offside trap, Stoke’s front players often being lazy in holding their position. But Robert Huth ought to have scored from one of the deadball mortar shells lobbed into the penalty area to consolidate his position as Stoke’s top scorer. Fortunately for us, he headed over.

Arshavin worked hard throughout, and unlocked the Stoke defence beautifully when he took his defender to the line and cleverly beat him, then set up Walcott in the centre, only for Theo to miscue when he should have buried the ball in the net. There were occasions when we carried some threat to Stoke, usually when one of our attacking players received the ball between Stoke’s midfield and defensive lines. But truth be told, they were few and far between.

This was a serious performance from Arsenal, one that suggests the appetite and focus that they’ll need if they are to overhaul United. There were no frills or thrills, and no hysterical attempts at revenge, just a determination to bag the points in a game against an obnoxious but potent opponent. The price for those points may have been high: we’ll have to see what the morning brings in terms of the injuries suffered by Fabregas (who appears to have the tightest of hamstrings) and Theo. But fingers crossed, they’ll be able to resume duties, at least when we play Sunderland and West Brom.

Here are my rankings, which I think will prompt disagreement:

Szczesny: 8 – Dealt with what was thrown at him well and without panicking. That’s more than we can say about either Fabianski or Almunia.

Sagna: 7 – Disciplined, no nonsense performance.

Squillaci: 7.5 – Showed the doubters that there is more to his game than he’s often given credit for, the goal just being the icing on the cake. Clearly more comfortable alongside Djourou than Koscielny.

Djourou: 6 – Positionally superb and dealt well with the ball in the air, but on a number of occasions he was uncharacteristically error-prone with the ball at his feet, exposing us to unnecessary risk.

Clichy: 7 – Again, a disciplined performance, along with some of the usual Clichy bite, and some of the usual misplaced passes.

Song: 7.5 – Efficient with the ball, with very few errors, and executed his defensive duties well.

Wilshere: 8 – What more can be said about this boy? He is a marvel, it’s astonishing to think he was playing youth team football not long ago. His maturity with and without the ball in a game like this is incredible. MOTM.

Nasri: 6 – Not his best performance but worked hard, and got some traction in the second half.

Walcott: 7 – Fantastic and explosive beginning. He saw less of the ball after Fabregas went off, but still worked hard. Went down a couple of culs-de-sac in the second half but was still one of our better creative players.

Fabregas: 7 – He was only on for 14 minutes, and looked mighty unhappy when he had to come off, but in the time he was on, he looked willing and able to spring the Stoke defence.

Arshavin: 7 – Worked very hard, and used his tricks to good effect. Has clearly got over his difficult phase, he’ll be a big part of our run-in.

Bendtner: 7 – Again, worked hard against Huth and Shawcross often without support, and got an assist for the goal plus was at the heart of our early chances.

Denilson: 7 – Very astute substitute for the injured Walcott when the logical choice might have been the off-form/in decline Rosicky – Denilson did what he does best, retained possession and completed a very high proportion of his passes, just what we needed.

Chamakh: 6.5 – Didn’t do much wrong, and did well in the air for the short period he was on, but no sparkling contribution either.

The fans’ lack of spark also contributed to the mean fare that was on offer. It really isn’t good enough on such a crucial night for our fans to put in such a poor shift – we have a lot to contribute to the push for the title. Playing Barcelona is all very well, but let’s be realistic, we’re not going to win the Champions’ League; our season is about these league games, and we need to contribute to the drive for the title.

Finally, and on a very different subject, I just wanted to send my best wishes to everyone in Christchurch. I have family in NZ, and know the country and Christchurch very well, having even gone to school in the Christchurch suburb of Sumner for a few months. My parents are in NZ visiting my brother right now, and were only 60km up the coast from Christchurch when the earthquake hit. They’re fine but seeing the devistation done to the city and its people is shocking, and hearing that rescue efforts for those trapped are now being wound down is deeply depressing. My thoughts are with Christchurchians and all Kiwis.


Wembley Awaiting or Despair Descending?

January 25, 2011

Who would have thought that Ipswich at home would be our most important game of the season to date? Some may say that beating Chelsea and overcoming our Big 4 hoodoo was vital but a loss tonight is unthinkable, especially for Mr. Wenger.

Ipswich were superb at Portman Rd. They deserved to win and but for a fine Chesney save could have won by more. It wasn’t that Arsenal were poor, more that Ipswich came out with a gameplan which they applied with great determination and skill, and Arsenal didn’t have the cojones to deal with them. One would have thought that our midfield would be quite used to playing against less talented but very dogged opposition, and that AW would have sent out his team fully aware of the dangers of underestimating any opponents.

I highlighted Conor Wickham before the game and he showed why he is so highly rated. I am sure that if one were to check the statistics he would have run twice the distance of Nik B and with far more effectiveness. To see him  – a 17-y-o. – closing down Eboue in the corner and then tracking his run up the pitch was an object lesson to all our players. Hard work reaps benefits.

Ipswich’s central defence was never ruffled nor were their full backs given the grilling one would expect, though to be fair to Nik B and Theo, they didn’t get any decent service from the players around them. Even Cesc had an off day. The side that took the pitch at Portman Rd should have won; it was packed with Internationals (Chesney was the only player without caps) and every player had bags of PL experience – they just didn’t gel. Arshavin and Eboue had stinkers resulting in a very narrow attacking area and no cutting edge.

The old adage “form is temporary, class is permanent” is apt for Arshavin this season. He WILL come good and looked to be determined to work his way back to form last time out. This applies to Chamakh as well, what has happened to our star striker? Can he regain his blistering early season form? Will AW play them, particularly in light of the kicking Nasri got at the weekend and Van Persie’s notorious chocolate legs?  It should be pointed out that we have Huddersfield in the Cup on Sunday and can therefore choose when to rest players.

In view of the importance of this game I would start with the A team, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see the famously stubborn AW stick to his principles of playing some members of his B squad.

 

Tonight Arsenal have to walk onto to the pitch with the correct attitude – losing is not an option.

COYRRG


Wenger’s Barca Raid

January 24, 2011

If Saturday’s performance proved anything, it was surely that Arsène Wenger’s plan to bring Barca-style football to North London is succeeding.

It’s no secret that the boss admires the style and manner with which the Catalans play. Now he has shamelessly lifted their football manual (or should that be Manuel?) from under their very noses and put a red and white stamp on it.

Barca’s front six of Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Villa and one of Keita or Mascherano play beautiful pass-and-move football, denying their opponents the ball and carving their way through the most resolute of defences.

After much experimentation, Arsène now has his own ‘Super Six’: Cesc, Song, van Persie, Nasri, Walcott and Wilshere.

What both ‘sixes’ have in common (and why I have referred to them as ‘front sixes’ rather than the more familiar midfield/attack definitions) is that all the players swap positions at will and all pose an attacking threat.

After the two Champions League games against Barca last Spring I wrote a post saying that “Arselona is Closer Than We Think.”

Despite the outstanding first half from the Spaniards at The Grove and despite the Messi master class at the Nou Camp, I took heart from Barca’s exhibition because it showed what Arsenal could aspire to.

I reflected that there were three differences between the sides: Barcelona had more money, they had better players and they worked harder.

Revisiting those thoughts today, the picture has changed.

Do Barcelona have more money? It subsequently became clear last season that they were grossly in debt and in no position to keep making huge-money purchases. Then some rich Qataris came calling and in the blink of a cheque book Barca threw their much-vaunted principles in the bin (along, presumably, with all their Unicef shirts) and accepted a shirt sponsor in exchange for £125m. Given how high their debts were, this is hardly a licence to buy big, although it gives them more clout in the transfer market than they would otherwise have had. Arsenal, meanwhile, continue to revel in the best financial model in big time football, and you really get the feeling that if Arsène made the case to the Board for a £50m signing they would give him the money. Admittedly, he’s as likely to ask for fifty million quid as Wayne Bridge is to ask John Terry to tea.

Do Barcelona have better players? They may just still shade it, but that gap has closed considerably.  Fabregas or Iniesta? Nasri or Messi? Pedro or Walcott? Van Persie or Villa? Those questions don’t produce the simple answers they would have done a year ago. And both our so-called holding players, Song and Wilshere, have more innate footballing talent than either Keita or Mascherano. Earlier this season I was moaning about Alex Song’s forward tendencies, but he has won me over completely. He is becoming a true box-to-box player with silky skills to go along side his wrought iron commitment. Wilshere, meanwhile, at just-turned 19, is surely heading for world superstardom. We’ll certainly be cheering on little Jack long after the name Balotelli has faded from memory.

Do Barca work harder? The answer to that one is still ‘yes’ overall. The genius of that team is that they work as hard when they don’t have the ball as when they do have it. And it’s still an aspect of the game that has let Arsenal down this season. However, I truly believe that our first team DOES have the right work ethic and has demonstrated it repeatedly since the Christmas period.

To summarise, I would hazard that Arselona is just about here. The players, the style of play, the swagger – it’s all coming together beautifully.

We’re reaping the benefits in the domestic competitions and there’s no reason why we can’t also succeed in Europe.

Certainly the games against Barcelona this year will be very different. Barca are a great team and may still beat us over two legs, but I expect things to be much more competitive this time round. Our players know exactly what they’re up against and, let’s not forget, we were decimated by injuries last year.

All of which is not to say there are no concerns.

This Arsenal team still desperately needs some silverware and, psychologically, that may yet be a big step to climb. The Carling Cup would be a great way to start.

I would also like us to sign a good centre back this January. I would feel even more comfortable with some cover for Alex Song, who has become so crucial to our success. And I fret every game about the fitness of key players like Robin, Cesc, Theo and Samir.

But if Lady Luck favours us with a smile, good things could really happen this year.

RockyLives


The Stuff of Champions

January 23, 2011

If you don’t tingle with pride at being an Arsenal supporter today then you my friend have a severe case of Jaguaritis and that is not good because yesterday we walked with giants and witnessed the quality of champions.

How dare these pie eating upstarts take two points off us up North? How dare they? Well the natural order has been restored after the good guys put on a football display to make Barcelona sit up and think very seriously about what they are about to face in the not too distant future. You may say that it was only Wigan but what kind of opposition do you think Barcelona make mince meat of every week? Wigan are exactly the kind of opponents the Catalans meet save for two Saturdays in the season when they face Real opposition.

Seriously, Wigan; Spanish manager, limited resources, what’s the difference between that and what Barcelona play practically every week?………bring em on, I say, we are ready.

The game, yes, yes, the game I should say something about that; we completely out played Wigan, different class from start to finish, total domination, absolute control.

We all knew what the line up would be: the A team was required and the A team dutifully appeared. It took no time for the gulf of class to be established: chances were continuously created and missed throughout the first half, only interrupted by Van Persie’s hitting the back of the net after 30 minutes. The rest of the time Walcott was carving out opportunities left and right for his team mates, all of whom went close but all were denied by one Wigan limb or another thrown in the way. There were so many chances in the first half I honestly lost count, just to say that it was an absolute miracle that Wigan went in at half time only one nil down.

Our Northern opponents took heart from the generous score line coming out after the break and trying a bit of quick closing down themselves, it looked quite good for all of fifteen minutes, that is until Fàbregas sent a world class pass over forty yards to Van Persie who volleyed it into the Wigan net.

Two nil, game over, time to sit back and enjoy the master class in front of us; chances kept appearing until eventually it all got a bit too much for Wigan and they couldn’t stop themselves hacking down one of our players, (still haven’t seen MOTD so not sure which one) in the area, up stepped Van Persie but instead of scoring his first ever professional hat trick in his career and that includes his Feyenoord days, he skied it in what I can only describe as one of the worst penalties I have ever witnessed. We had to wait a bit longer for the Boy Wonder to break that duck and much credit has to go to Walcott who held off the Wigan defender, very cleverly enabling Van Persie to fulfil my prediction of three nil to the good guys.

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Player ratings:

Szczesny: had little to do but what he did he did perfectly. 10

Sagna: we have a quality right back. 10

Djourou, calmness personified. 10

Koscielny: I wonder if he communicates with Szczesny in Polish. Faultless.10

Clichy: good runs, good positioning, good tackling. 10

Fàbregas: my MOTM, he was more World Class than The Boy Wonder today even though he didn’t score. 10

Song: Rasp was the first person I noticed to use the adjective imperious to describe our Alex, it struck a cord with me, since then I use it when ever it is mertited and today Alex Song was imperious. 10

Wilshere: this young man is surrounded by world class midfield players and yet at the tender age of nineteen he still manages to hold his own which is quite astonishing. 10

Nasri: Wigan systematically clipped the ankles of our players, they were obviously not Shawcross tackles but they were dirty and sneaky, most of our players survived but poor old Super Nas caught it and hobbled for most of the game. 9

Van Persie: This man can take us to the Promised Land. 10

Walcott: good, good, good a better game than might meet the eye, watch how clever he was for RVP’s third. 10

Written by London while drinking a bottle of Rioja, Gran Reserva, 2002.