Four centre backs at Arsenal is a thing of the past.

August 29, 2013

For years the accepted wisdom at most clubs and certainly at Arsenal has been that you should start a new season with four centre backs all ready and able to be called upon whenever needed.

As recently as last season, we started with Mertasacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen and Squillaci. The problem with this system becomes clearer as you move along the list; the drop in quality is substantial.

The practicalities have been to have two centre backs playing, one on the bench and one doing very little apart from losing match sharpness in the reserves and picking up a large pay cheque.

Now as tough as it sounds to have to pick up a large pay cheque for seemingly doing very little, there is an expensive trade off; the fourth choice CB will almost certainly lose his chance to play first team football, ok he will play one or two games here and there but that is it.

So it becomes a balancing act, clubs want the best player they can get while knowing that if the player is any good he will not want to give up the opportunity to play.

It is the same at all clubs, a forth choice CB trades his chance to play football for a wage that is higher than he would be getting at a lesser club and so it follows that the higher the wage a club is prepared to pay the better the quality of forth choice back up will be.

Man city had Kolo Toure on a huge wage for doing very little apart from putting on weight but even he got bored enough to take a pay cut and move to Liverpool in the hope of playing regular football. (Ok, the pay cut part is a punt)

It is a thankless task being a forth choice CB and even more so at Arsenal where the player is not getting a man city pay cheque and to make things worse he is constantly moaned about by the fans for not being good enough.

This is why I have always had a great deal of sympathy for our forth choice CB’s and defended them when ever I could. Take Squillaci, it was not his fault that his job was to simply be an insurance policy against disaster; that’s to say if illness befell the three other CB’s in front of him.

The point of this post is that I think the club may have changed its policy; they still know that we need the depth, hence Mertasacker, Koscielny and Vermaelen; but, now instead of having another in the reserves I think that AW views Djourou as the fourth. It’s the reason why he was never sold and there have been plenty of opportunities to do so.

It makes a lot of sense, far better to have a fourth choice playing week in and week out, keeping his match fitness than languishing in the reserves. The loan deal probably has a clause that says we can have him back in case of disaster.

Makes sense to me, why would someone like Williams of Swansea want to give up the opportunity to play first team football again; in fact, why would anyone half decent want to?

Written by LB

Who should be Arsenal captain next season?

July 12, 2013

There seems to be a feeling amongst Arsenal fans that we haven’t had a truly great captain since Vieira. Henry, Gallas, Cesc. Some fine players there. But apparently not great captains. Two seasons ago we seemed to have solved that problem, but the manner of his* departure must also bring into doubt his leadership qualities. (* He who shall not be named)

TV captain

That left Thomas Vermaelen to take over the armband. He was a popular, and seemingly natural choice at the time. His steely eyed look of determination, his all action style, very visible fist pumping and gesturing to his teammates, seemed to suggest he was made of the same stuff as the stereotypically great captains that we remember. (Yes, I do have issues with typecasting a certain type of attitude as being the sign of a captain.)

But Vermaelen never recovered his form, and eventually lost his place in the starting 11 as well. Can anyone argue that he should start ahead of Koscielny and Mertesacker? Which actually begs the question, will he leave? Should Arsenal let him go?

Arteta captain

Assuming Vermaelen stays, should he retain the armband? Does a captain have to be a regular starter? If so, who is to be the new captain? The stories from last season suggest that Mikel Arteta was in fact the real leader of the group. Arteta had a fantastic season, changing his game tremendously to adapt to a new role, because that is what the team needed him to do. His statistics last season were brilliant, as was his attitude. So, should he just formally take over what he seemed to be doing informally anyway?(After all, you don’t need the armband to lead)

I would say yes, but there is a risk that Vermaelen will feel undermined. Also, if TV is precluded from being captain due to not being a starter, what about rumours of Arsenal bidding for Fellaini or Bender? What will that mean for Arteta, especially in light of his age?

Sagna captain

Who else could be captain? In my view Sagna could stake a real claim, despite his poor form last season. However, his contract having only one year to run might mean he should be overlooked. Another player who could get a shout as captain would be Per Mertesacker. He’s the organizer in defense, and seems to make his defensive partners better. He’s also already an authority figure of sorts at the club as he’s responsible for collecting fines from the players. A 2 metre tall defensive stalwart would suit many people’s idea of an Arsenal captain, even if he is German.

Mertesacker captain

Of course if it were to be down to popularity amongst the fans, then I think a certain Jack Wilshere would be installed as captain. As far as I’m concerned though, the only thing in his favour would be the (relatively assured) long term continuity in captain, which would be lacking in Arteta, Sagna, and maybe even Vermaelen’s case. For the rest, I think he’s still too young (and a little reckless). He should concentrate on getting his fitness, and then his place back. He has a long future ahead of him and there’s no need to rush to make him captain, especially when there are better candidates for the role.

Jack captain

So who would you vote for as Arsenal captain? (Bonus. Who should be vice captain?)

Written by Shard

The Bould Supremacy?

May 10, 2013

OK, the thesis I am about to set out is pretty simplistic and I expect it to be the biggest shooting-down-in-flames since the Hindenburg, but here goes:

To start with, cast your mind back to the beginning of the season.

We were nervous, but hopeful as we entered the new campaign. Our captain and lead goal scorer had abandoned us after hearing that Manchester United had a better medical room.

But we had signed Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud with Santi Cazorla to follow, giving us grounds for cautious optimism.

We started with clean sheets at home to Sunderland and away to Stoke. Admittedly, we didn’t trouble the opposition net ourselves, but after our calamitous defending of the previous season it felt good to be tight at the back again (no sniggering please, we’re all adults here).

Then we went to Anfield and beat the Scousers 2-0 with an outstanding performance. Abou Diaby, risen like Lazarus, was a titan in midfield. We followed up with a 6-1 thrashing of Southampton at the Emirates, we beat Monpellier in the Champions League and gained a creditable away draw at the league champions, Manchester City.

In six games we had conceded just three goals and scored 11. Robin van Who?

It was, at the very least, a decent start. Most encouraging of all was our defensive solidity. We had gone from conceding almost 1.3 goals per game in the 2011/12 season to conceding 0.5 this time round. The omens were good.

Then something a bit strange happened.

Steve Bould Summer

The media started to take notice of our improved defensive performances and identified the man they believed to be responsible for them.

Who was that man? I’ll give you a clue: He’s Big, He’s Bald, He’s…. that’s it – you’ve got it – He’s Stevie Stevie Bould.

Bouldie had taken over in the summer from the long-serving Pat Rice as Arsenal’s first team coach.

As a member of George Graham’s famous back six (Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Bould, Adams, Keown) no-one could dispute that he knew a thing or two about how to shut out the opposition.

And the press were quick to credit his influence for Arsenal’s better defensive start to the season. Journalists started asking Arsene Wenger about it and after initially priaising Bould’s influence, Arsene reacted a little, shall we say, ungraciously.

The BBC correspondent who covers Arsenal, David Ornstein, said recently that at the start of the season Bould was having extra defensive sessions with the team but that Arsene put a stop to them when Bould started getting a lot of praise.

Ornstein said Wenger did not want Bould to take too much credit for Arsenal’s defensive improvement because it might intensify feelings of disenchantment towards him from the fans.

He (Wenger) had already been prickly on the subject of defensive coaching in the previous season. When journalists asked him in September 2011 whether he should get a specialist to coach the back line he said: “I’ve just completed 30 years of coaching. I don’t want to answer this kind of question.”

Steve Bould tight lipped

If Ornstein’s report was accurate (and his contacts within Arsenal are said to be very good) it does not reflect well on Arsene. The same allegation was made by Stewart Robson, who said: “Steve Bould is not allowed to coach the defence. Wenger wants to do everything himself but doesn’t give players any explicit instructions.”

Given what an Arsenal hater Robson is I would normally lend no credence to what he says, but the corroboration from Ornstein adds weight to the story.

Whatever went on, our early defensive solidity tumbled like a Bale in a breeze and we went on to lead the league in goals conceded directly from individual errors. We started to lose touch with the top of the table and we were humiliatingly turfed out of both domestic cups by lower league opposition.

When we lost at the home of the N17 swamp dwellers in early March, the pundits had a field day about our defensive naivety and how it was costing us any chance of success. At that point we looked like no-hopers for the Champions League spots.

But that loss turned out to be a watershed moment. From then until now we appear to have switched focus back to the defensive side of the game. Wenger made (or was persuaded to make?) the significant move of dropping his captain and his “first choice” goalkeeper.

We stopped conceding stupid goals (apart from the Sagna tragi-comedy act against Manchester United) and clawed our way back into contention for the Top Four.

My theory? The stories about Arsene having initially given Bould his head with the defence, but then changed tack are substantially true. Whether it was because Arsene didn’t like someone else getting the praise or whether he felt it was leaving us too short in attack, I don’t know.

But I also believe that after the defeat at the Spuds – and staring non-qualification for the Champions League in the face for the first time in his Arsenal career –  Arsene did another U-turn and allowed Bould to take control of defensive duties once again.

Bouldy smiling

I expect to be duly slaughtered for having my opinion shaped by newspaper tittle-tattle (is the tittle still on Page Three these days?). But it is also based on the evidence of my own eyes: we were much more defensively minded early in the season; something changed; then it changed back again after the defeat in N17. We are now less fun to watch, but we are grinding out results.

The effect has been to leave us with a chance of sneaking into the top four after all.

There has been a cost: we are not creating as many goal scoring chances and the balance of the team is clearly not quite right. But better defending was undoubtedly what was needed to put us back on track for the remainder of the current season. The rest we can work on in the summer.

Steve Bould, it seems, may have won an important battle.


Can England win Twice today in Wales?

March 16, 2013

Back to business. Enough of these holiday tours  – let’s get back to the norm and the good old Premier League. You know – that league which used to be the best in the world but has now , according to the meedja fallen behind France, Turkey, Germany and Spain.

Swansea have booked their place in Europe, our place remains in doubt. Will that mean that our Welsh friends will gift us the 3 points? I hope so. A couple of defensive mistakes caused by a boozy night out in Newport would be great (which assumes our heroes can capitalise on them!)

There has been talk of the confidence gained from the surprising win in Munich boosting our chances of 4th. What do you think? My fear is that the effort put into that win could be costly today; every Arsenal player ran himself into the ground on Wednesday and that must have an effect.

A major positive was the return of Fabianski. I have to be honest, I had written him of and expected him to leave quietly in summer. Instead we saw one of Fab’s best performances in an Arsenal shirt. He will surely keep his place today and perhaps, just perhaps, we have the competition for the Number One shirt within the club – who would have thought it?


A Star in the Making?

Jenkinson showed that Mr Wenger can still spot a a bargain – a million for him is a steal, we will see much of The Corporal in the future as he cements his place at Arsenal and also the England team.

Furthermore, Ramsey is becoming an important player. We didn’t miss JW as our Welsh Wizard plugged gaps all over the pitch. They are very different players and it will be interesting over the coming seasons to see how both can fit into the team.  Add in the refreshing cameo from Oxlade Chamberlain  – admittedly against a tiring defence – and we can see a young and highly talented New Arsenal developing.

As THMT would say “The Spirit of the Thirties is rising”

And what of Swansea? Who can not be delighted by their progress? No big names, no big signings, an untried (at PL) manager; they have had a wonderful trophy-winning season and could yet derail ours. At season’s start it would have been inconceivable that Swansea could take 6 points from us, and yet, they beat us at home and deserved to do so. No-one would be shocked by them winning today, such has been their improvement..

My Team:

swans v arse

I would not be surprised to see Gervinho start, nor Ox given the energy spent midweek.

BFG was our MoM in Munich and perhaps could use a break but something untoward is happening with Vermaelen. There is a story brewing …….

Our English Explorer: Rocky has suggested Richard Burton – so let’s take a look at the fellow. Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) was born in Torquay. This is an extraordinary man, a truly extraordinary man. To begin with Burton could speak 29 languages! Yes, 29! He was an explorer, an author, a diplomat, a spy, a cartographer, a translator and an International fencer.

Let’s start here …… Burton disguised himself in order to go to Mecca  to translate the Arabian Nights story, the account of his trip made him famous. He also translated the Karma Sutra and published it for the first time in England – and to think this was during the Victorian age of strict attitudes to all things sexual. Burton’s published interest in sex and sexuality led to his being prosecuted by the Society for the Suppression of Vice (lovely ….they would be busy at Stamford Bridge!)


Full Set ….. Knighthood

As an explorer Burton undertook a Royal Geographical funded mission to Somalia and later to find the source of the Nile with fellow explorer (and an old BR subject) John Speke. They reached and named Lake Victoria (now Tanganyika) but quarrelled badly about the route and split up. The rancour between them led  to a very public spat in a London where they were both feted. Speke later died in a shooting accident whilst Burton joined the Foreign Office. He became Consul in West Africa, Brazil, Damascus and Trieste.

Burton was Knighted and died in Trieste at the age of 69. To those interested I recommend further investigation of a fascinating man.

Today we will play a team with a similar style to our own. Laudrup has continued Rodgers principals of attractive free-flowing passing football. Much has been made of the Dane becoming a target as Wenger’s successor – his contract extension does nothing to dampen the rumours.

Just after our game ends the England Rugby team will be down the road in Cardiff trying to win the Grand Slam, good luck to them.

We need the points more than they do, so let’s get busy and take them.


Written by Big Raddy

Is Defence Our Best Form Of Attack

January 10, 2013

We have been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde team over the last number of weeks, sometimes looking like the most prolific attacking team on the planet and at other times looking like we don’t have the foggiest idea how to open up the opposition.

To make matters more confusing the vast contrast in performances often happen when very similar teams have been fielded in two separate games, and have often included combinations of Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud, and Walcott or the OX all in the same team. This is not an insignificant attacking line up especially when combined with our traditional overlapping full-backs. This combination of players should really give any top side in the world a headache in defence, but have at times even struggled to make mid to lower table teams look at all uncomfortable.

When you look at the above names on paper it is difficult to understand how they can, at times, offer very little attacking threat. To try and explain it to myself I have considered the contradictory possibility that maybe we are fielding too many attack minded players to make our attack effective. I would obviously like to open this up for debate, but before I do I will explain a bit more what I mean by this statement.

In recent discussions on AA regarding what types of players Arsenal need to bring in, one type of player frequently mentioned is a more powerful defensive midfielder. This is usually mentioned in reference to a need to solidify the defensive aspect of our team, and therefore make us harder to breach, and is a sentiment that I am in full agreement with. Could a more pure defensive midfielder, however, actually make us more effective in our attack as well?

Conventional thinking would state that the more defensive players you play the more defensive you will be, but I would suggest that there are times when too many natural attacking players in the one team can leave us imbalanced, and upsets our shape so that players that should be supporting the attack more are pulled into positions of defence too often. Conversely the right defensive midfield screen can provide a better platform and reduce the need for other players to have to drop back as often.

Our current first choice defensive midfielder seems to be Arteta who more often plays that role in the midfield three with Wilshere and Cazorla. I like Arteta and think he is an excellent and very important member of our squad and am not in any way suggesting he is replaced and pushed to one side. I think he is and should remain a regular and important first team player. He did however come from Everton not as a pure defensive midfielder, and he has obvious offensive qualities to his game also. In many games he plays the deeper defensive midfield role very well and certainly never lacks heart and effort, and is not afraid of getting stuck in.

I have questioned, however, whether in some games he gets slightly exposed because he is not really a specialist in this role. At these times he seems to require more help in protecting the back four and breaking up attacks, and my observation has been that this more often than not drags Wilshere deeper to help cover in these areas.

Some will disagree and see the deeper role as Wilshere’s role anyway, and I would agree that all players need to perform some defensive duties, but for me Wilshere has far too much ability on the ball to be kept too often in a deeper role. He is not the finished article yet but those bursts of pace and ability to surge past people should be utilised in attack as much as possible, and this is where I personally see his long term future.

I remember, as one example, in the Southampton game thinking that we needed to release Wilshere further forwards to support Cazorla and try and get some attacking intent back into our game. It was not Arteta’s fault, but I felt he was a bit under the cosh in that game and he was struggling to screen and protect the back four effectively on his own. If we had been playing a more specialist defensive midfielder out there, who could have more effectively covered the defensive midfield area on their own, would that have released Wilshere from having to help out so often in defence and, if he could have played higher up the pitch more often, would that have seen us start to take more attacking control of the game?

You could argue that it may not have worked out that way and how can anyone really know, and I would agree that no-one can say for certain. It is more an observation and opinion that potentially a more specialised midfield destroyer to break up the opposition attacks would have given the platform for our attacking players to get into more dangerous areas more often. Once we turn the momentum of a game in our favour sometimes it becomes difficult for a team such as Southampton to get a foothold back in it.

For me a top defensive midfielder should obviously be a good tackler with a good physical presence. He also needs to be able to distribute the ball well, but for me he doesn’t need to be a “Bergkampesue” defence splitting passer of the ball, but more a decent passer who can redistribute possession once we win the ball back. I have always felt, though, that maybe an even more important characteristic for a central defensive midfielder is pace. I feel it is possibly even more important than for the attacking central midfielder where good positioning, awareness, quick thinking and the ability to play a killer pass are potentially more important characteristics. The defensive midfielder obviously needs to break up play but also needs to try and intercept and cut out threats from the opposition. The ability to cover ground quickly with pace is for me an important feature to defending well in front of the back four, and it is the one thing that Arteta unfortunately is not blessed with.

Many players are mentioned as being suitable players to bring in and play the defensive midfield role but some of you will be aware that I have championed Vermaelen for the role. Some would argue that he is not a good enough passer of the ball, but again I would question how important that is. He is a more than adequate passer of the ball for me and would have no problem in effectively redistributing the ball when we have won back posession. The plus side of his extra physical presence, good biting tackles and pace over the ground would far outweigh anything else for me. He could be considered as a defensive midfielder or even as part of a back three where he plays as an advanced sweeper.

As a pure defensive screen Vermaelen could likely provide 1 ½ times the protection that Arteta can in games where it may be more necessary, and if it allows us to play the other two central midfielders to take up more advanced positions then we may actually end up with a more potent attack by playing a more defence minded player in that deeper role.

I am not actually suggesting that Arteta is permanently pushed aside in this role. Far from it, I believe there will always be games where we can play him with Wilshere and Cazorla, as we do in our current first choice midfield three. These three for me do seem to be somewhat overplayed currently anyway, and I feel need a bit more rotation. Arteta could even revert to his slightly more traditional, pre-Arsenal, more advanced midfield role at times if TV is played in the deeper role and Wilshere or Cazorla need a rest or are carrying a minor knock. It is all about having alternative options for me and all of these players would still get plenty of playing time but hopefully with the added bonus of avoiding burn out and possible injury.

So what do AA’ers think. Do we need a more specialist defensive midfielder at times and if so who would be your choice? Would the addition of this player only be to make us better defensively, or could it actually have the additional effect of making us better offensively as well by way of freeing up other players?

Written by GoonerB

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s pre-match advice.

September 23, 2012

There is a belief that today will have a big impact on how the season will develop for Arsenal, I understand why but do not agree. This is just a 3 point away game – same as any other. Yes, MC are Champions and rivals and one could say this is a 6 pointer but we have seen teams win the title whilst losing to their direct opposition; consistency is the key to winning the title, ask SAF.

And what is point of the above? Well, it is about pressure, pressure causes fear and fear results in our not playing to our highest level.  Think of the young Theo Walcott. First games he was superb and we thought we had signed the next Overmars, but Theo was too young and impressionable to cope with such expectation and suffered accordingly. Thankfully he has rediscovered some of his youthful verve and precocity, assisted but the new kid on the blocks maturity. Fear messes you up  (I was going to use language Peaches’ mother would have found offensive 🙂 )

Today is not a Championship decider, far from it; a loss to Norwich/WBA will do as much damage to our pretensions. But, of course, we are not going to lose…..

Manchester City: MC come into the game on the back of two tough away games. I thought they played very well against Madrid and were unlucky not to get at least a point, however they were fortunate at the Orcs and we must hope they perform as poorly today. I fear that if both teams play to their maximum potential we will lose. City have a truly stellar team particularly in attack, however there are weaknesses – Maicon or Kolarov are susceptible to pace. Clichy we know is prone to the odd quirk. Sadly, Kompany has proved himself to be an excellent defender – possibly the best in the PL.

€400m buys you a very good side, in fact it buys you the title of Champions. It can buy you YaYa Toure, a colossus of a player, and the will o’ the wisp talents of David Silva. A front line of Aguero, Tevez and/or Dzeko is potent but we have a defence which on a good day can cope with their movement.

Which brings me onto the manager. I liked Mankini, he seems to be a principled man, a deep thinker about the game and he has that wonderful Italian brio, BUT in my eyes the Tevez palaver lost him any kudos he had. How can a manager bend over to a player like that? Pragmatism is one thing, public humiliation another. Would Mr Wenger have given Tevez another chance? Ask Pennant, Bentley, Song, etc etc Diss the Arsenal and you get shown the door – no matter how good you are. Watching Tevez kiss the badge is sickening. If any manager could be arsed to deal with Tevez’s advisors he would be anywhere but in Manchester, but no-one would take the risk of signing a flake, a brilliant footballer but a flake.

Arsenal: Koscielny or Mertesacker or Vermaelen? The playing of BFG midweek would indicate that Mr Wenger will start with Koscielny and TV. That said, Kos has no pitch time and BFG has been superb so far, plus there is a 5 day gap between games. Tough decision and an important one. Will AW risk an attacking midfield or go for a more defensive set up with Coquelin instead of Diaby? Diaby was poor second half in France, but he gives height to the midfield which could be important at set pieces. I would like to see Coquelin but expect to see Diaby 🙂

The full backs pick themselves though I would love to see Santos get a game  – he offers something extra insomuch as he is a better crosser than Gibbs and can play left side midfield.

Should AW continue with The Gerv in the centre or bring back Giroud? Will OG’s aerial expertise trouble the City CB’s more than the pace and unpredictability of The Mekon? The Ox or Theo ?

My team:

The bench is getting stronger as players return from injury. We must hope Don Vito gets through unscathed. Good as Shea is, he is not ready for such a high profile game watched by a billion people.

Just loved this man – a season ticket holder in the West Stand

My hope is that we play our possession passing game and not revert to the second half performance of Tuesday. Should we continue to play as a unit and work hard  in City’s half, we can win this fixture. If we sit back and defend it will be a long afternoon.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” (FDR Inaugural speech 1933)


written by Big Raddy

No team has won the Premier League without a centre half.

July 20, 2012

Can a team win the prem without one?

To start a debate on this subject we need some caveats and small preface questions;

What’s the difference between a centre half and a central defender?

Is it only a case of different names for the same position? Am I engaged in nothing more than semantics? Are there actual differences in playing styles? And if so from where does the difference arise?

In the land where football began the defensive back line consists of full backs and centre halves, or centre backs, on the near continent those playing in the traditional centre half position are known as central defenders. Now is this just a case of you say “tomato” (American accented) I say tomato (English accented)?  My summation is “No” its not only a serious question it goes to the very heart of why our defence has been so leaky, and moreover its at the core of why we haven’t gotten our hands on any of home made silver wear recently. I’d go even further and state until we have a centre half in the back line winning any of the 3 home grown competitions may prove to be beyond us. Why do I say this? Well………..

Football on the near continent is primarily played full square on the ground. The leagues of real significance as we all know are in descending order The Spanish, Italian and German. That’s not to say the others aren’t important, we as a club for example have imported widely from outside of these three biggies. France, Holland and Belgium have served us very well with their player offerings. Of the three big European leagues only the German league has any form of aerial bombardment included in its play and even that doesn’t compare with the type of play so often seen in the premier league. In Europe the English Premier League is seen by many Europeans as the most exciting league to watch, with its fast paced all action helter-skelter style, but the league is also seen by many of the same, as the least tactically aware. The kick and rush style with long balls played over the top isn’t a tactic you’ll come across on the continent, and as stated above the type of aerial bombardment that’s common place in Britain is not elsewhere. So this is where the divide begins.

A typical centre half in Britain is raised with this style of play and has developed a way of dealing with it which differs greatly from a typical European central defender. What’s the difference? To answer this question I want to go back to our last great league winning defence. It wasn’t inherited as some of the uninformed like to put forward, it was built by Arsene. It contained the recently retired Sol Campbell. A more typical no nonsense centre half I submit it would be hard to find. What was the secret of this defence? Sol’s Head! Play a ball in over the top and Sol would beat whoever its intended target was and “head” it back where it came from. Fire a ball into the area from a set piece and rest assured if the keeper didn’t catch it Sol would “head” it away and out of the danger zone. I lost count how many times this would happen in games.

It’s actually in the manor that a CH will move forward and attack the ball that significantly shows the difference in approach between the two types of player fulfilling the same role. CD’s instead of moving forward to attack a ball will wait stationary, or move back to give themselves room to bring the ball under control. What does a typical central defender do that’s so different? European central defenders have developed a style of play to deal with long balls played over the top. Their natural instinct is to allow the ball to drop to the ground and immediately bring it under control, and play it out from the back turning defence into attack. What’s wrong with that I hear everyone ask? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Except in the fast paced rough and tumble of the premier league as the typical CD lets the ball drop he’s liable to have one or two of the opposition all over him like a rash. Which if its inside his own area is very dangerous and so makes playing the ball out from the back very difficult, our centre halves are raised with the idea that if the ball lands at your feet the best way to play it out from the back is launch it into row “Z”.

You see teams who play long balls over the top (think of everyone favourite Stoke) tend to rush forward and crowd the box. It’s also often been a strategy successfully employed by Taggart & Co especially in the last 15 minuets when they are either behind or desperate to force a win. Bringing up the infamous Taggart aka Sir Alex Ferguson reminds me to add a caveat. Are there any Grey areas in this Centre Half Central Defender divide? As with most things in life there most certainly are as illustrated by an ex charge of Taggart’s Jaap Stam. A central defender who played more like a centre half than most centre halves, JS as a player wasn’t particularly mobile and certainly couldn’t be called quick, but he was very strong and determined and he read the game well, and he had that trait that a centre half just has to have “A head” and Jaap Stam headed more balls away from Man U box in the 3 short years he was with them than anyone else.

This brings up a further observation why did the Campbell Toure partnership work so well? If a CH is so important why not have two? Well let’s look at how the partnership worked. A long ball gets punted up field towards a target man normally a centre forward whose job it is to nod it down into the path of an on rushing midfielder or attempt to bring it under control and hold it up while reinforcements arrive. As it’s in flight and on its way Sol sees the danger and jumps in sync with the striker. Now either he wins it out right in which case the ball is on its way back where it came from or he misses it but with Sol’s help so does the striker. If they both miss it behind them as the ball drops to the ground Kolo T mops up. Again I can’t even begin to calculate how often this sequence took place, but if we could bring up those stats I’d hazard easily more than 10 times per game.

After going 49 games unbeaten with this defensive system why wasn’t it continued? It was! I think most of the top teams analysed how and why Arsenal had been so successful and emulated the formula. I think we as a club were the only ones who didn’t; perhaps we were too close to the action. I’d say our system was most successfully copied by everybody’s favourite player of the moment John (I isn’t a racist is I Cashley) Terry and his defencive partner Ricardo Carvalho at Chelsea. Taggart successfully employed the Ferdinand Vidic model. While most recently the CH CD combo was still being work by Lescott and Toure (again). Why wasn’t it continued at Arsenal? Well Sol left for Portsmouth under strange circumstances i.e. his “Head” wasn’t on straight? Too much pressure, or whatever, and we’d ended up with William Gallas by default as a result of the Cashley Cole affair. In other words without much analysis we went with what was available to us.

The upshot of which was we suddenly had two European style central defenders in our back line and were without a centre half for the very first time, in our clubs history. The rest as they say is history! We had one of the least effective defences in the league. Without realising it, or even meaning to Arsene had proved a point about two CD’s and the Premier League. Many said the previously oh so dependable Toure just couldn’t play with Gallas. Not exactly true, played together on Tuesday or Wednesday nights in the CL they were fine, but the combination didn’t work for the Prem. How could it? Without a centre half to relieve the pressure on both the keeper and the defence in general our defence was suddenly under the microscope. If the keeper couldn’t replicate “safe hands” Seaman and collect high balls we would be pressured into conceding, and we were. We became the team that couldn’t defend set pieces and that perception lasted until very recently. In point of fact I don’t think we are particularly strong on set pieces even now. We did have a respite though when for a short period our defence was bolstered by the returning old Mr Campbell. In that short interlude our leaky bucket defence became almost water tight again, and I looked forward to the following season, knowing once again we might have a chance at the title, fate however would cruelly intervene. Sulzeer Jeremiah fell for and married a Geordie Lass and moved north so she could stay near her roots. (Love will do funny things to a man) I blame that bloody Woman! She probably cost us the title. Mind you I blame my wonderful “better half” whenever I can’t find a pair of socks or a clean shirt. Yes I admit it I’m a dinosaur.

What’s to be done? Well…………First off try to remember that successful centre halves or successful central defenders come in pairs, so partnerships have to be formed. Next up a very quick analysis of our current defenders. (With the centre half central defender debate firmly in mind).

1) Let me start at the furthest end of the spectrum by saying there are in the words of the song “reasons to be cheerful”. We now have for the very first time in an age a proper British style centre half in the squad. Step forward Kyle Bartley, he may well be only a prospect but at least we’ve got one. Why am I happy about this? Well I’ve followed KB’s progress and as this article expounds I’ve wanted a CH back in our squad for an age. I’ve wanted KB to be promoted into the first team for an age. He might be unproven in the Prem but at least we’ve got him. I hope he can be paired up!

2) I want to continue with the much maligned Johan Djourou. JD is a little bit of a hybrid he’s neither a centre half nor a typical central defender. That might be because he’s Swiss? I honestly haven’t seen enough Swiss football to know if there are any reasons for a player to develop CH tendency’s in the Swiss league. He can and does do a bit of both. When partnered with Le Kosh he immediately played more of a CH role heading everything he could. JD was a successful defender for us, as the stats show when he wasn’t played out of position and partnered correctly. Every team needs 4 CH/CD’s and I’ll be saddened if he goes although like RvP his injury record reads like a hospital casualty department list.

3) I’m choosing Vermaelen next simply because like JD is a bit of a hybrid and KB apart the closest we have to a CH he attacks the ball in the manor of a CH certainly not like a CD. You find TV5 running forward to jump and meet an incoming ball in the manor of a CH. However he also plays in the typical CD style by playing out from the back, which probably comes from his Ajax background. When fit he’s probably currently our first choice centre back.

4) Laurent Koscielny is the most typical Euro style CD we have and he is probably the best CD any of us have seen at the club. His intercepting skills are a joy to watch and if he had a CH of the quality of our dear old Sol partnering him we’d probably have the best defence in the prem. That’s how highly I rate him.

5) The BFG? I just don’t know I haven’t seen enough of him in an Arsenal shirt to really make a judgement. He’s not a CH and he seems to be a one off CD.For a big man I’m yet to see him attack an incoming high ball. He’s worryingly slow for a modern day CD because since the changes took place to the off-side rule (Passive – Active – 1st phase 2nd phase). Neither Tony Adams nor Bouldie would be deemed quick enough and the BFG’s slower than them. He does have some admirable qualities as a defender though, he’s bloody big, strong and therefore intimidating and he reads the game well and it seems he can marshal the other defenders. For me the jury’s still out.

Written by richie

What’s Your Highlight of the Season?

May 17, 2012

Having watched a video of some spuds struggling to find a highlight to their ‘best ever team’ season, I started to ponder which were the highlights of my Arsenal season. As I went back through the games, I realised that, even though this was a big dipper of a ride, with lurching troughs and exultant peaks, there were so many truly memorable moments this season I could have chosen.

5-3 at the Bridge
A game with so many highlights, but the king of the chavs munching turf for our 4th goal sticks out for me. This clip doesn’t show the goal perfectly but I love Cashley in the foreground and the Gooner faithful in the background.

Best away fans
When Dortmund came to town their fans really put on a show. The North Bank upper tier always used to bounce on big nights. This was the first time I’d felt the upper tier at the Grove bouncing. What a phenomenal atmosphere and a great footballing occasion.

Biggest away victory plus Sir Chez sings
It was my third away trip to the pie-eaters in three seasons. We’d seen two successive comebacks by the opposition in the previous two trips. Four goals, two in each half, a clean sheet, “He scores when he wants” for the first time and Szcz leading “We’re by far the greatest team” at the end of the game. What more could you want?

Arsenal’s goal of the season?
The sublime technique of Mr van Persie unlocked the door of the Everton bus and provided the perfect present on our 125th birthday

Benny’s winner at Villa
After coming on as sub with less than 10 minutes to go, Yossi snatched a crucial 2 points for the Gunners with his stooping header.

The Return of the King
Thierry returned home in January and produced two moments of such magical timing, they left our hearts aglow. First was the exquisite Henryesque ‘open up the body’ finish on his comeback against Leeds in the FA Cup.

The second was his athletic winner from an Arshavin cross at the Stadium of Light which provided another crucial 2 points and started a run of 4 league matches where we came from behind.

Mashing the spuds
Quite simply this was one of the top 5 games I have ever been lucky enough to witness. Two nil down to the N17 pondlife, the knuckle-draggers tempted fate singing, “Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay” and “Your season’s over”. Five glorious red and white goals later they weren’t singing anything with most of them half way up the Seven Sisters Road before the final whistle. The turning point of the season without a doubt.  Enjoy.

A Krul joke
Thomas Vermaelen’s winner deep into injury time caused by Tim Krul’s persistent time-wasting was the perfect answer from the footballing gods to petty gamesmanship. Another exquisite capture of 2 vital points right at the death.  “Cam on Theo, do summink Theo”

The cleanest strike of a football you could ever see
When Mikel’s boot connected with the back of the football against Villa, the red and white angels carried it with speeding wings past Shay Given. This was my favourite goal of the season.

Arsenal do the Poznan
Arteta again gave us a season highlight with his late strike to dispose of the Oilers at the Grove.

The new Home of Football has seemed more like home this season than at any time since the move from Highbury. Even the Upper Tier were doing the Poznan. Great moments like this help to cement the stadium in the hearts of the supporters. Joyous stuff.

I’m sure we’ve all had moments of great joy and excitement during this season that will live long in our memories. These are some of mine without even mentioning another glorious last day St. Totteringham’s. What’re yours?

Written by chas

Thomas Vermaelen Needs To Grow Up

May 7, 2012

I’m sure you have all heard of the “Canary Test”.

In 19th century coal mining there were no automated ventilation systems, leaving the pit workers at risk of perishing from toxic gases.

So they used to bring a caged canary down to the coalface with them. Canaries are especially sensitive to carbon monoxide and methane and would keel over dead soon after inhaling them.

If the little yellow bird kept singing, the miners knew that all was well.

I thought of this before Saturday’s game against Norwich: given the haphazard nature of our results this season and, in particular, the untimely run of form we have struck of late, it felt like we were getting our own Canary Test.

Newly promoted Norwich are a decent side who have played some nice football this year and have managed to stay out of relegation danger. But that’s about it.

They certainly should not be too great an obstacle to a side with Champions League aspirations like Arsenal, right?

And yet, and yet.

Losses to QPR and Wigan in recent games had exposed Arsenal’s fragile underbelly (apparently our overbelly is just fine, although currently holidaying in St Petersburg) and raised old questions about our mental strength and tendency to choke when it mattered most.

So the visit of Norwich was a Canary Test, but with the outcome reversed: if the Canaries died, all would be well in Arsenal Land. If they lived… not so good.

We all know what happened. The Arsenal performance can be summed up in four simple stages: dream start; abysmal capitulation; spirited fight back; stupid capitulation.

The first half, after our early goal, was particularly worrying. Our midfield vanished like a coin in a magician’s fingers and Norwich made full use of the empty acres in front of them.

But it was the Canaries’ third goal that really ticked me off and which (I’ll get there eventually) prompted the headline to today’s Post.

We were 3-2 up with five minutes remaining in a game where a win was vital.

Any top team – and I mean ANY top team, including Barcelona – would, at that point, have attempted to close down the game to see out the remaining minutes and secure the points.

And they would look to their senior players to lead by example.

But, right now, Arsenal are not a top team so we did not behave like one. Inexplicably, we behaved as if we were chasing the game and needed another goal to win it.

In the run-up to the Canaries’ third, Song gave the ball away stupidly while trying an over ambitious pass and both Gibbs and Vermaelen were too far up field and out of position when possession was lost.

Think about that for a minute. A goal up with minutes to go, and our defensive midfielder is trying fancy-dan passes while two of our back four think they’re in the US Cavalry. As it turned out, they were in the US Cavalry – unfortunately they were with General Custer. Hadn’t we learned our lessons from Norwich’s second, when TV5 was stranded up field as the away team broke and scored?

Inevitably Norwich again exploited the empty spaces and scored.

Could you imagine Chelsea behaving like that? Or Manchester United? Or Manchester City?

Of course not.

The only highly placed Premier League team I can imagine doing that are the ones who live down the road and pong a bit. So that’s what it has come to: we, the mighty Arsenal, are behaving like your common or garden Spud.

I’m angry with the manager and the entire team for the first half performance and I am angry with Song and Gibbs for the third goal. But most of my anger is reserved for Thomas Vermaelen – a man pretty much universally adored by the fans.

Not for the first time this season, his lack of discipline as a defender has cost us points.

I am all in favour of him going up for set pieces (the break in play involved in set pieces means we can make sure to keep other players back to cover) and I am delighted when he drives forward towards the end of games where we are chasing a goal. His late winner against Newcastle was testament to what he can achieve in those situations.

But to behave that way when we are narrowly winning a vital game is immature and unbefitting of an Arsenal Vice Captain.

I hope all you Gooners who think that Vermaelen and Koscielny comprise our best centre back pairing are learning your lesson.

The great Tommy V, the Muscles from Brussels*, our Lion of Flanders has, to my mind, been getting carried away with his own publicity. For all his strengths, his indiscipline makes him a liability at times.

Before everyone slaughters me, I will mention his strengths: he is powerful, brave, fierce, a battler, great in the air, strong in the tackle, indefatigable, charismatic, intimidating to the opposition.

His combative qualities put him in the top echelons of Premier League defenders. But if he does not start showing more discipline and maturity, he will struggle to be remembered as a true great.

Let’s not forget, he is 26 years old. Unlike Gibbs, we cannot blame youth for his mistakes. In those final minutes when we were beating Norwich he should have been using all his experience and authority to scream his head off at his colleagues about holding their shape and holding the ball.

That job is even more important when you take into account how wasteful Alex Song can be. He is nominally our Defensive Midfielder, but his obsession with trying Hollywood passes when a bit of Ealing Studios is called for, and marauding up field at the very times when he should be shielding the defence, is slowly killing us.

When the experienced Arteta is playing, Song’s rampages are usually covered. But Aaron Ramsey does not appear to have the understanding to do likewise, making it even more vital that the Centre Backs stick to their duties.

On Saturday Vermaelen did not.

For me, the first CB name on the team sheet (assuming all are fit) should be Per Mertesacker, with either of Koscielny or Vermaelen alongside him. Beside the BFG, I feel that either of Kozzer or Verm are excellent options, but both of them need the organizational nous and composure of the German Giraffe to bring the best out of them.

In fairness to Tommy V, our approach to defending as a team and a squad is a bit all over the place (there is an excellent and balanced deconstruction of the issue on Desi Gunner’s blog: ).

Whoever takes over Pat Rice’s job next season needs to help Arsène Wenger make us more difficult to score against. It’s about far more than just the personnel, but it is also essential that the senior players focus on their own responsibilities.

I love what Thomas Vermaelen brings to Arsenal, but if he can apply a bit more maturity to his game I will love him unconditionally.


*Actually Tommy comes from Kapellen, which is nowhere near Brussels. It’s on the outskirts of Antwerp, which might make him a Twerper. ‘The Muscles from Brussels’ sounded better.

Solid: A Case for the Defence

April 14, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Big Raddy