Arsenal: back to earth with a jolt.

April 1, 2012

Few people have wanted to write about our losses this season – there have been too many sadly – and yesterday was no exception. Watching the game on a good stream it was difficult to draw any positives from a lacklustre performance that was more reminiscent of the dark days in January than the recent exciting football we have witnessed.

There were a few shocks. The team selection was strange for a start. It seems that Arsene hasn’t noticed that the team is unbalanced when he starts with Song, Arteta, Rosicky and Ramsey, who out of that four is supposed to run the left wing? Yesterday it was pretty clear that none of them were going to be, which meant that we only had an attacking outlet with Theo on the right.

Why does Ramsey have to start? Why can’t Gervihno or Oxlade-Chamberlain play for 60 minutes and then bring on Ramsey? If Ramsey starts then surely one of Arteta or Rosicky has to be dropped and Ramsey play in their role but Arteta and Rosicky are pretty undroppable at the moment so what’s the answer? Clearly Arsene needs more time to decide but we struggled against Everton away precisely because the aforementioned four started and yesterday the same problem occurred.

Wenger’s post match pretty much laid the blame at the players feet

It is very frustrating because they left us the ball and waited for our mistakes. We took the ball, did not do a lot with it and made the mistakes. At the end of the day that made the result.

Our performance was not good enough to win this kind of game, especially in the duels. They had a little bit of extra special commitment that took advantage of us in some specific positions defensively. Overall we can only congratulate QPR for their attitude and be unhappy with our own performance.

Playing teams that are fighting to stay in the Premier League are always going to be extra difficult to play against but it looked liked one of our senior players had decided to take control of the game all by himself. What was up with Vermaelen? He deserted Koscielny early on in the first half, was culpable for QPR taking the lead and seemed to not want to be a centre-back. In addition Song was finding it difficult to make his Fabregas-like passes find an Arsenal player. I don’t have a problem with Song or indeed any Arsenal player looking to play an eye of the needle pass except when a simpler pass would have done the trick and yesterday there were a few occasions when just passing the ball would have worked better.

Anyway, moaning apart, we started well, but after 5 minutes of not scoring we allowed QPR to get into the game and they went ahead in the 22nd minute. In the 37th minute Robin was fouled just outside the box but the ref allowed the play to continue and luckily Theo was alert and managed a shot that hit the post and rebounded into his path for him to slot home. I always like it when we come from behind but could we push on and actually craft out a win?

We started the second half brightly but were hampered by not really being able to find the right ball for Robin who seemed to be limping. At around the hour mark Robin hit a great free-kick that was pushed away by Kenny and in the next minute Robin is through again but Paddy Kenny makes a great save. The pressure had been building and it did look like we would score but in the 66th minute Mackie skips past Vermaelen and squares a ball to Diakite to score. 2-1.

There was a change in the 69th minute with Gervihno coming on for Ramsey but QPR were happy to dig in and make it even harder for us to play through them. When that change didn’t achieve anything Chamakh and The Ox were brought on for Gibbs and Arteta in the 82nd minute. I’d like to see changes made earlier when we’re chasing a goal, I can’t see how either Chamakh or The Ox really had time to change the game.

And so it came to pass that we lost our 9th game of the season. We didn’t play very well, we certainly didn’t create enough and probably didn’t deserve to get anything from the game. Was it complacency that led to this, certainly I didn’t think that we would falter in west London. We are still in third though and hopefully will see the weekend out there. The chavs won, the oily chavs dropped points and the scum play today. Seven games to go and still I think there’ll be  some twists and turns on the road to staying in the top four.

I’m optimistic that we’ll return to winning ways next Sunday against the oily ones.

Written by peachesgooner

And the following was written by LB

Yet another one of those infuriating games in which on paper we start as favourites but as the reality of the game dawns we are left with the very same paper embarrassingly crumpled in our hands.

Damn that was frustrating, made even worse by the fact that I have at least ten good friends who support that team, I am going to have to suffer smug knowing looks every time I see one of them. And believe me they have memories like elephants I still find myself from time to time in ear shot of them telling that silly story of oh I was there when John Jenson scored and Impey and blah, blah, blah they won three one if you didn’t know; still, at least they will have a new story to bang on about.

What? You want me to talk about the game? Are you sure? Well, we were crap but some players played more crap than others and I am not going to do the polite thing and just say oh well that was just a bad day at the office and we should all move on and focus our attention on the next game. That my friends makes for a very, very boring blog. Match reports are supposed to be about the opinion of the author, it has to be surely because if it was just about describing the game we could all just go and read far more articulate reports from the likes of Henry Winter.

Ok the game; there were two clear managerial strategies in play: QPR’s was to sit back and wait for us to make mistakes and ours was to play a close, tight, quick passing game in the hope of finding a way round them. The result says all we need to know as to whose strategy turned out to be the most effective.

For long periods we moved the ball around the half way line with all the penetrative thrust of a two month old banana. QPR just waited until we made mistakes and picked us off. And that is the fixture and the match report consigned to the dustbin after one sentence.

Szczesny: starting to believe his own hype, he is taking more and more risks and because of that he will not go the whole season without one major embarrassment. Should have held onto the ball and calmed play down just before QPR’s winning goal. 5

Sagna: a shinning light in a sea of mediocrity. 7

Koscielny: just when I was sitting back smugly thinking, well TA do you still prefer Mertasacker’s slow, giraffe-like style to the lightning mobility of the Frole and the Belgiun, Kozzer goes and puts in a scatter brained performance like that. 6

Vermaelen: Tom you were all over the place mate. 4

Gibbs: time for a change, I expect Santos to start in the next game, we needed attacking nous today and Gibbs left us wanting. 5

Song: you can’t blame him for the lack of chances created, well I can’t anyway. I wish he would be a bit greedier and have a shot when he gets the chance. 6

Arteta: The Spaniard gets my MOTM if one has to be awarded; he at least looked as though it really mattered to him. 7.5

Rosicky: went back to his ineffectual dreadful self, missed placed passes, running into dead ends, poor tackles. 4

Walcott: now you would think that I of all people would save the bulk of my wrath for Theo but even though there was very little space to operate in and his control still leaves a lot to be desired he was not bad, the goal obviously helped but all in all I liked Theo’s attitude. 7.25

Van Persie: service, what service? Isolated for most of the game, not at his majestical best when he got the ball it must be said. 6

Ramsey: we have a problem here, young Aaron is too good to be left on the bench and not good enough to be playing. Wenger knows he would never accept being on the bench for any length of time, he would be off, so the Welshman is shoe-horned into the left wing which as we all saw was no good for him and no good for the team. Yes, I know he is young and yes I know he will improve but this comment is about his performance against QPR. 4.5

I have gone from not caring one way or the other as to whether QPR go down to yelling: open the trap door now and let the bunch of banned words drop.

Written by LB (Not a happy bunny).


Winning dirty – Match report

March 22, 2012

“We had a very strong start in the first 20 minutes, 30 minutes, dominating the game.  We didn’t take our chances and then Everton came back into the game. They became stronger and stronger and we became weaker in the second half, especially. Our link play was not good anymore.  I felt it was a psychological circumstance. We just wanted to keep the result because it’s so important at the moment. But Everton played very well in the second half.”

Those post-match words from Le Prof pretty much summed up the game. It was a fairly tense affair, in which we opened with waves of attacks and stifling pressure applied to Everton whenever they had the ball, before they fought their way back into the game with tigerish tackling and in-your-face pressing.

Everton would say they were unlucky to lose, citing a Drenthe goal wrongly disallowed in the first half for offside.  But then we had a perfectly good penalty call turned down in the second half, when Drenthe clumsily bundled over Rosicky on the edge of the box.  It looked a penalty at first glance and so the replay showed.

So on big calls, it was even (Gary) stevens for gripes against the officials. But the Toffees fans were sore about three poor offside decisions on the trot in the first half, and from that moment they decided the officials had it in for them, so even when good decisions were made later, they were met with howls of complaint. They shouldn’t have felt so aggrieved, most of the decisions were fine, and we were the victims of a big, bad call too.  And Tim Cahill was lucky not to get sent off; he seemed determined to add to his collection of red cards with a series of dirty, late challenges that betrayed his Millwall pedigree, and showed he’s not really up to playing in central midfield.  So I wouldn’t say that Everton were robbed in this game, they just didn’t turn their hour of dominance into clear chances.

One of the defining features of the game when we were doing well was the extent to which the newly-restored Aaron Ramsey supported van Persie up front.  Between them, they were able to carve out a series of chances for one another, with cushioned headers dropped back into space and sharp first-touch passes.  Ramsey completely fluffed the first chance he had, slicing a pass he received on the penalty spot and which he should have buried.  On other occasions, Ramsey’s efforts were on target but were blocked by Howard or defenders.

Van Persie ended the evening with the strange feeling of not going home with a goal against his name, and truth be told, wasn’t at his glorious best, but he still tested Howard on a number of occasions.  He hit the base of the post after Kieran Gibbs nodded down a cross-field ball from Alex Song.

But it wasn’t one or two touch passing that won the game, it was the simplest goal that we’re ever going to see and from an auxiliary attacker, Vermaelen, getting the crucial goal directly from a corner. In the 8th minute, from van Persie’s cross, Verlamelen rose above four 6-foot-plus Everton players, who bizarrely remained rooted to the ground while the smaller Vermaelen out-jumped them to nod the ball in.  The vulnerabilities of zonal marking were on display, with no blue shirt guarding the back-post, and a gaggle of defenders blocking off any chance Howard might have had to clear the cross.  With a traditional back-post defender, Vermaelen’s effort would have easily been cleared.

After the initial phase, in which we completely dominated the Toffees, we ceded control of the midfield and became inefficient in keeping possession.  Everton were able to overrun our midfield, and created a fair number of openings, but despite all their energy, the only time they really threatened was when Drenthe broke free on the Everton right after Song unwisely tried to pass from deep through the centre of midfield.  But Drenthe saw his legitimate goal chalked off by the linesman.  The only other time Szczesny was in a worrying position was when he stupidly tried to chip the ball over the onrushing Jelavic.  We were lucky the ball ricocheted off for a goalkick rather than towards the goal.  Other than that, Everton really didn’t threaten our goal.

I can’t say there were any startling performances from Arsenal players, with the midfielders in particular struggling to match Everton for most of the game.  But there was plenty of gutsy play, with a one-goal lead being defended for 85 minutes on a ground on which Chelsea, Man City and Spurs have lost this season.  We were probably assisted by having a 9-day break (tortuous as it is for us fans), during which time Everton had a Merseyside derby and an FA Cup Quarter Final.  But the most satisfying aspect of the game was the result.

Robin van Persie said it was time for digging in and winning dirty if necessary.  Well, this pretty much met that requirement, with a resilient, if imperfect, performance from the whole team tonight.  Fantastically, Spurs’ continued slump and our sixth win in a row (best run for two years, and this time against a better basket of opponents) leaves us in third place and top of the mini-league playing for the non-Manchester Champions’ League spots.  Chelsea’s defeat in the battle of petrol pump meant we’re six points clear of them as well.  Happy days.  Now just the small matter of consolidating and holding onto third place….

Written by 26may1989


Ten games to go – Leave your predictions here

March 16, 2012

After an incredible run of five PL wins in a row, we find ourselves now very well positioned to qualify for next year’s CL tournament. Who would have thought that after the deep-dark triple losses against Fulham, Swansea and the Mancs in January, followed by a goalless draw at Bolton on 1st February, we would bounce back in such an emphatic manner by beating Blackburn, Sunderland, the Spuds, Pool and Toon – scoring 18 goals and conceding 6 goals on the way?

Although I have always believed that all ingredients for success in the near future are taken care off by Arsenal, I must admit I experienced a bout of raw melancholy a few weeks ago, when we lost the away cup-matches to Milan (CL) and Sunderland (FA). It was the manner in which we lost these games that really worried me: the way our formation/system of football looked so toothless, clueless and the way Wenger appeared not to have any answers to it all.

Well, things have changed dramatically and it has come at the right time of the season: we are now fourth, with just one point behind the Spuds and three above the Chavs. What’s even more important is the new-found belief in this team. It looks like Arsenal is finally on the right track and has sorted out its inner-demons: a mixture of determinedness, passion and desire to work for each other by all our players has brought us to what the club’s strap line of ‘Victory Through Harmony’ is all about. The fans are uniting behind the team again as well, and the atmosphere during recent games at THOF has significantly improved.

But we are not there yet: with 10 games to go we have to stay focussed and humble and make sure we do actually qualify for the CL. In October/November we had a spell of winning 7 out of 8 PL games, but unfortunately it was followed by a period of winning only 2 PL games out of 8. It has been a topsy-turvy season, and there are no guarantees we are totally on top of it now.

So how will it end? Our next ten games are against: Everton (a), Villa (h), QPR (a), Citeh (h), Wolves (a), Wigan (h), the Chavs (h), Stoke (a), Norwich (h), West Brom (a). At this stage of the season in particular, none of these games are automatic 3-points-in-the-bag contests.

It would be great to hear everybody’s views re the way the season will end. Let us know your predictions:

* How many points will we get from those 10 games?

* What will be the Top-six at the end of the season (in order)?

* Will Arsenal remain unbeaten?

* How many more goals will RvP score?

* Who will win the PL?

* How many games will Wilshere play of the ten remaining?

* How many goals will Arsenal have scored at the end of the season (currently 57)?

* How many more come-backs this season?

* How many more assists by Alex Song between now and the end of the season?

* How many clean sheets?

* Who will win the CL this year?

* Who will win the FA-cup?

Finally, as a separate question: If we can buy one more player, maximum budget £20m (excluding salary package), who would you like it to be?

Feel free to elaborate on any of your answers if you feel like it, as we like to know your insights. I will make a spreadsheet with all your answers and let you know the top-3 winners of Best Footie Predictors, after the season has ended!

COYRRG

TotalArsenal.


A game to remember – a win to savour

February 27, 2012

Written by 26may

5-2? What a day, and not just for the bookies. Hyperbole it may be, but I can think of few more suitable games to be described as epic.

I admit it, I approached this game full of pessimism.  We’re not as bad as some make us out to be but it is beyond dispute that we have declined, while our N17 neighbours have finally, finally got themselves a decent squad.  Our fragility is such that I felt I’d have been pleased with one point today.  Not in my wildest dreams did I expect us to thrash the old enemy and in such dramatic fashion.  Scoring enough goals to go back above Chelsea was not on my agenda.

So how did it happen?

First off, Wenger’s team selection was spot on.  Having been out of the loop in recent weeks, I was surprised to see Rosicky and Benayoun in the starting XI, but they were both excellent.  Quietly, Rosicky has been one of our form players this season, mixing efficient passing with intelligent movement and purposeful dribbling.  But goalscoring has disappeared from his repertoire.  What a time to rediscover it, with a perfectly timed run to finish off a lovely passing move and put us into the lead.

And Yossi was our Duracell bunny, constantly offering an option to the man with the ball, but also having the intelligence always to probe the defenders he faced.  The obvious choice might have seen Wenger have Gervinho or Chamberlain start the match, but he had the guts to resist doing the obvious, and put Benayoun up against the excellent Kyle Walker.  I admit, I’ve been a fan of the Israeli since he joined us and have been a little frustrated to see him not given much quality match time.  He is proper quality.

And Robin van Persie was, well, Robin van Persie: excellence personified.

The Arsenal performance in first half hour was pretty uneven, with Sagna and Walcott looking especially out of sorts, and Arteta and Song not looking very focused.  But they dragged good performances out of themselves, and the midfield established control over their Spurs counterparts.

The Arsenal defence had started in pretty charitable mood, leaving too much space for Saha to run into in the build-up to the first Spurs goal and being vulnerable on the break when we were pressing for an equaliser.  They were carved open by a sublime through ball from Luka Modric to Gareth Bale, but everyone’s favourite chimpanzee took a cynical dive to earn a penalty to put Spurs two up.  The atmosphere was all anxiety and depression.

But the defence recovered its poise and was rarely tested after conceding that second goal.  Koscielny was imperious in dominating Adebayor pretty much throughout, and Vermaelen showed he is better than the shadow of a player he was in the Milan game.  Spurs helped us, giving us enough breathing space for us to recover.

And then the game began a mental phase of half an hour around the halftime break.  Spurs seemed to fold, especially in defence, where only Walker can claim to have earned his money.  Kaboul and King were terrible, and played like strangers.

First Sagna, who had seemed incapable of holding onto the ball up to then, powered home a header, then Robin the Master found a pocket of space on the edge of the penalty area from which he gloriously swept home the equaliser.  Tails were most definitely up.

At halftime, Harry “I pay my taxes, me” Redknapp bizarrely chose to put Sandro on the right wing rather than Aaron Lennon, as well as putting van deer Vaart on for Saha.  Thanks Harry, much appreciated.  Sandro’s a good player but he’s no winger, and vdV was really poor on the day.

Meanwhile, our forward players continued to rip Spurs to shreds.  With little cover from Parker, who compared badly to the inestimable Alex Song, King, Kaboul and Assou-Ekotto were carved open three times in quick succession.  Rosicky, arguably our man of the match, put us in front before incredibly Walcott remembered what he can do with the ball at his feet and just the keeper to beat.  After putting a sighter just past the post, he nailed two chances in quick succession (admittedly after some random ball control).  Heavenly stuff for the good guys, and an incredible comeback was complete.

We should remember this game for a long time to come, such enjoyable performances and results are rare and precious things.  But we also need to use this as an inspiration for the remainder of the season.  The squad has its weaknesses, and those need to be attended to in the summer, but there is also real quality there.

Player ratings from Herb’s Army

Arsenal were simply different class today and normal order has been restored.

Szczesny – No chance with either goal (never a penalty!). Has the potential to be immense next season. 7

Sagna – After a shaky couple of games, was back to his imperious self, and what a goal! 9

Gibbs  –  Is growing with every game and today he looked an Arsenal player 8

Koscielny – He has developed into a quality centre-half. 8

Vermaelen – Stepped up well today. 8

Song – When he and we got into our game, Song was colossal today. If only he could do this in more games. 9

Arteta – For me personally, his best game so far, highlighted by his exquisite cross for Sagna’s goal. 9

Rosicky – The performance we all knew he was capable of, but have waited an age to witness. 9

Walcott – A complete enigma. Confounded his critics (yes I’m amongst them), with a scintillating second half showing 9

Benayoun – Fantastic link and tireless work-rate from our much under-used Israeli. 8

van Persie – Our very own super-hero just keeps delivering the magic. 9

Thank you Arsene, thank you Arsenal.

COYRRG !!!!!


Arsenal the four man team – RVP not the MVP?

January 20, 2012

Written by Double98

Robin van Persie, the balon d’or snubbed, true king of world football, has been reeling in the plaudits for his exceptional scoring feats in 2011. By eclipsing Thierry Henry’s mark of 34 goals in a calendar year, and particularly by playing in a less competitive and more transitional team, he has booked himself a seat in the waiting room of the Pantheon of Arsenal Greats.

Of course he has to repeat the feat a couple of times and win a pot or two to get past the final interview stage to  join Bastin, Wright, Adams etc as they all bask in the glow of eternal goodness of Denis Bergkamp and his able Deputy Thierry Henry.

Of course it has been easy for the press to label Arsenal a “one man team” when one man is always on the score sheet, when one man is always applying an audacious flourish to his finish. That’s lazy journalism. Judging Arsenal in that way is like buying a car because of how fast it goes. You need to know a lot more about a car and its vulnerabilities before you can decide whether to buy it or not.

Arsenal’s true vulnerability is that it is not a One Man team – one man teams are easy to address with 1 or 2 signings – it is in fact a Four Man team.

Since the season began the team has had a few chiropractic realignments due to the loss of Fabregas and now the spine is populated by (Keeper aside) Vermaelan, Arteta, Song and Van Persie.

An easy way to judge a person’s contribution is to compare how the team do with and without them. It’s not conclusive but outside of a clinical setting, its as moneyball as you get.

The Raw data

I’ve included two substitute appearances for Vermaelan and van Persie. So the first thing that leaps out is RVP has yet to miss a game – that’s startling given his history.

Arteta despite concerns over his fitness had played every game bar one, Song is almost ever present – while the Verminator’s attendance is a concern.

Moving on to the data analysis, the teams results are examined on each players participation  record.

(Now before you get to digest the next bit, I want to let you in on a secret – this article started about a three man team and I thought I would see how our new Spanish Scouser impacted the team – it forced a complete rewrite!!)

According to this when Arteta is playing, we win 65% of our games and only lose less than 1 in 4. Van Persie on the other hand (likely due to his ever presence) has the worst team record but his personal haul is exceptional!

Vermaelan’s record is strange as he has the lowest win and (almost) the lowest loss ratio.

Now, I am not suggesting that RVP is not vitally important but I think this quick number crunch highlights the shared responsibility of our spine. And I know there are mitigating factors left (back), right (back) and Centre (forward) but the truth (or the damned lie) is, that our “Quarter Back” central midfielder, Arteta is our MVP and his contribution most dictates the fortunes of the team – through dictating the tempo and controlling possession.

Altogether the spine is our greatest strength and perhaps our greatest weakness. For when one part of the spine is missing the whole team does not function. See here when all four play / don’t play.

Wow – We’ve lost half our games that the 4 of these players did not play in, whereas we have not lost 90% when they have.

We can moan about Left Backs, Right backs, and Chamakhs, we can complain about Squillaci, Arshavin and Walcott but our real problem is an over reliance on the 4 players playing together though the centre of our team. That level of consistency is not feasible over a season. If they could, get this, projecting their performance out over a 38 game season would result in a points haul of 84 but when one or more of the four are playing the haul is 48. That’s quite a swing. In fact that’s the difference between a Title and a relegation flirtation.

When 2 of the four are missing its Pld 4 W 0 D1 L3!!!

That just shows how close / far away we are from realising Arsene’s vision and all our hopes.

What we need is Koscielny, Mertesacker, Wilshere, Coquelin and (Park, Chamakh, Walcott, OX) to either fill the gaps in that spine adequately or ship out.

Our young players need to concentrate on being not just good, but vital.


Who is Arsenal’s Best Centre Back? (Poll)

December 23, 2011

When was the last time you heard the words “Wenger must buy” followed by any of the following: Jagielka, Cahill, Samba, Hangeland?

It seems only weeks ago that were as many headlines linking us with other clubs’  defenders as there are stars in the sky or skeletons in John Terry’s closet.

Now… nothing. They are as a rare as a Howard Webb follicle or an Alan Hutton brain cell.

The manager who was “past it” and “can’t pick defenders” suddenly seems to have made the centre back position one of the strongest at the club. You certainly don’t hear anyone now crying out for a Jagielka or Cahill.

Although injuries to our four leading full backs have played havoc with team selection of late, there is no question that we currently have three excellent centre halves at the club, with several strong back-ups behind them.

What’s interesting is how different the three of them are.

I’m expecting to get shot down for this, but when we had that amazing threesome of Adams, Bould and Keown, they were all (to my eyes) fairly similar players.

They had different strengths and qualities to some degree, but overall their approach was broadly the same: they were big, hard men who bossed the opposition forwards, enjoyed putting themselves in where it hurt, were dominant in the air and strong in the tackle. They were defenders first, footballers second.

But our first choice CBs this year are far less homogenous. Let’s look at their individual styles:

Thomas Vermaelen (the Lion of Flanders)

TV’s absence for most of last season was a huge blow. We’ll never know whether his presence would have steadied the ship enough to enable us to have a real tilt at the title or win the Carling Cup – but it might have done.

He is an out-and-out warrior and, in his style of play, is the closest to the Adams/Bould/Keown mould. He repeatedly wins aerial duels against taller opponents purely on the basis of power, determination and technique. When we’re on the back foot, he’ll be the one throwing his body in the line of fire and encouraging those around him by example. As he showed against Manchester City, he can also be a real handful when he marauds into the opposition half and already has a decent goal haul since joining us.

Per Mertesacker (the Big FOOTBALLING German)

A lot of assumptions were made about big Per when he joined us. With the height of a small office block, it seemed a no-brainer (aka a “Hutton”) that he would add a previously undreamt-of level of aerial dominance to our defending and would be a huge attacking threat at set pieces.

By those lights he has somewhat disappointed. Although tall, he does not have a big jump and, whether paired with Koscielny or Vermaelen, is often the one less likely to be making the aerial challenges. He also made a few costly blunders as he adjusted to the pace of the Premier League and has seemed slow on the turn.

However, from a footballing point of view the BFG is the best central defender we have had for a very, very long time. In fact I would say you have to go back to David O’Leary at his best to find someone who was as good.

Mertesacker’s reading of the game is second to none, which means he often snuffs out moves before they become perilous. It’s less spectacular than the last ditch tackle, but a lot easier on the old ticker.

Further, he is just SO comfortable on the ball. I watched him very carefully in the Villa game – a game in which we came under a great deal of pressure at times. Whenever Per got possession at the back he was able to find space and time and play really intelligent balls to the midfield or attack. He never loses possession and always chooses the right out ball. I don’t want to go over the top, but his time on the ball and his distribution are reminiscent of Bobby Moore.

You would not want two Mertesackers as your CB pairing, but one BFG paired with a more combative and mobile CB is a match made in N5 (Heaven).

Laurent Koscielny (The Limo*)

I don’t want to seem clever after the fact, but I have been trumpeting Kozzer’s qualities since he first joined us.

He can man mark as well as Martin Keown, but he’s as nippy as a winger and has the turning circle of a London taxi on ice. Famously, he had a 100% tackle success rate in his last season in the French Ligue 1. You’re never going to win all your tackles in the EPL, but he is an astonishingly good tackler – technically almost perfect.

Added to that he is ludicrously brave. Last season he seemed to get brutally clobbered in every single game – sometimes by an opponent, but often by the head, boot or fist of one of his own team mates. He would lie pole-axed for a while, shake his head, then enter the fray. Despite this, he never pulls out of a challenge with leg or head, which must mean he is staggeringly courageous or staggeringly stupid. Hopefully the former. Like Vermaelen he regularly triumphs in aerial battles he has no right to win.

Finally, he is also a pretty decent ball player. In fact one thing all three of our first choice CBs have is a footballing ability that puts them a level above Adams/Bould/Keown.

In Conclusion

The obvious point to make is that we are fortunate to have three such excellent CBs (and fortunate to have a manager capable of seeing their qualities and signing them).

But, when our full backs have returned, it does raise the question as to which two should be in our starting line-up. Obviously all three will get games, but when it comes down to that big, big match-up against either of the Manchesters or the Spuds, which two should get the call-up?

When Rasp did an overview of selection issues in various areas of the team in early November, he ran a poll on this very subject. Over 70% of respondents thought that Vermaelen/Koscielny should be our first choice pairing. Vermaelen and Mertesacker scored just over 25% and Koscielny/Mertesacker just under 4%.

I want to frame this poll somewhat differently.

I’m starting with the idea that we choose an out and out first choice CB, with whom either of the other two can play. Is it Vermaelen with one of the other two? Or Mertesacker? Or Koscielny?

I’ll admit to a bias in doing this. Although I love Vermaelen and Koscielny, I feel that Mertesacker has to start in our strongest line-up because of the immense calmness and control he brings to our back line and our ability to transition out of defence. So for me it would the BFG plus either of the others.

What do you think?

*Koscielny hails from the Limousin region of France.

 

RockyLives


Fullback Crisis: A Radical Solution

December 20, 2011

To lose all four of our first team fullbacks at once to long-term injuries really is unfortunate.

As an example of serious bad luck it’s right up there with Wayne Rooney finding himself at Grab-a-Granny night in the local nightclub with both arms in plaster; or Harry Redknapp taking a wrong turn into an auction house and accidentally winning 53 bids on account of his twitch.

Despite our spirited performance at the PetroDome on Sunday, Manchester City shaded the game and just about deserved the win.

However, I am sure that if we had had recognised fullbacks instead of converted centre halves the balance of play would have been much more level and may even have tipped in our favour.

There seems to be some possibility of Gibbs returning in time for the Boxing Day fixture against Wolves at the Emirates, but that’s far from certain and the other three (Sagna, Santos and Jenkinson) are still a way off.

To compound the problem, Johann Djourou, who has been filling in at right back, is also out injured for three weeks.

So what do we do?

The makeshift back four that finished the game against City did not look convincing. Quite apart from their inability to support our wide forwards, they also struggled positionally.

I’m not blaming the individual players because they did their best while playing out of position, but Koscielny lost his bearings in the build-up to Silva’s goal, allowing Balotelli too much room, and Miquel, as temporary left back, should have been picking up Silva who was standing unmarked in the box.

With the speed and intensity of Premiership football, you can only hope to eliminate those sorts of errors with constant drilling and practice as a fullback, which neither Kozzer nor Miquel has had the opportunity to do.

On Wednesday we play Aston Villa and we need to find a solution to this conundrum.

I would be disappointed if we start with a back four of Miquel and Kozzer as FBs and Vermaelen and BFG as CBs.

We run the risk of having a groundhog day experience, with not enough support for the wide players and not enough positional discipline to make our defence as secure as it should be.

Instead, and because these are special circumstances, maybe it’s time for Arsene Wenger to try something a little more radical.

My suggestion? We adopt a 3-5-2 formation (or to avoid upsetting GiE and the goalkeepers’ union, a 1-3-5-2).

My back three would be the Verminator on the left, BFG in the middle and Kozzer on the right.

In front of them a five made up of (from left to right): Gervinho, Ramsey, Frimpong (Song is serving a 1 match suspension), Arteta, Coquelin.

And, up front, Theo and RvP.

I have moved Gerv into the five man midfield because he is more effective at covering defensively than Theo and also has more variety in his play when picking up the ball from deep.

I like Coquelin as right midfield because he has played RB before and is a tenacious tackler and competitor who also has the footballing skills to bomb forward and help the attack.

Arteta, Frimpong and Ramsey in the middle all have the energy and awareness to drop back if one of the two wide midfielders is caught forward.

As for up front, I don’t see Prince Robin needing to change his approach at all, but I would give Theo licence to drift all along the attacking line without needing to overly concern himself with defensive duties.

So there you have it: one man’s idea for coping with no fullbacks. I should emphasise that my theory is based firmly on zero foundations as I have never coached or managed a football team apart from (once) a five-year-old girls’ team. So feel free to rip it apart and offer your own solution…

RockyLives


Wigan: Easy Peezy Lemon Squeezy.

December 4, 2011

That Locomotive called Arsenal was back on track today charging once again towards the top of the table. After frustratingly slowing down at Fulham last weekend it was full steam ahead up north to Wigan to pick up what turned out to be an easy three points.

The players exuded superiority from the moment they stepped onto the pitch. The play was purposeful and decisive, Arsenal were cutting their way through at will with some classy inter play but it was Wigan who were presented with the first serious goal scoring opportunity, watching in the Twelve Pins pub in Finsbury Park they showed the replay three times and I still do not understand how Gomez managed to miss from eight yards out, Match of the Day will clear it up but right now it remains a mystery.

It is obviously wrong to say that if you scratch the surface of Arsenal you will find a fragility lurking just below but it is also wrong to say that the early season fear has completely disappeared, Arsenal were taken aback by that scare and it took a while to regroup and push on forward but forward they went and as quick as doubts started appearing in the mind as to whether this week was going to be our week they were dispelled by Arteta’s determined run and a pile driver of a shot past the out stretched Wigan goal keeper to make it one nil and take the pressure right off.

The gulf in class began to show and it wasn’t long before we doubled our lead: van Persie sent over a corner that cleared the first man (now there is a sentence I haven’t written in a while) passing everyone except for the Lion of Flanders; Vermaelen soared above his marker to powerfully direct a header just inside the post, it really was quite an incredible goal. As he celebrated I remembered how a certain section of Arsenal supporters criticised Wenger for buying him, complaining, before he had even played a game mind you, that at 5’11” he was too short. As this is a headline post I am going with: shame on them but on another day my language would be more agricultural lets say.

The game may now have been over as a competition but there were still a few more thrills to be had. The second half started in the same way as the first with Wigan trying to play football, you have got to admire the refusal of Martinez to turn them into Orcs but unless they adopt that style they will be relegated. Wigan’s attempt at getting back on terms was short lived; the rousing half time team talk that Martinez not doubt gave them evaporated when Gervinho was in the right place at the right time to knock the ball in to make it three. Gervinho’s joy was plain to see and that was no act, he was genuinely elated at getting himself on the score sheet.

The more observant would have noticed that earlier he had missed what some may describe as yet another golden opportunity with a one on one only the goal keeper to beat. To those I say you really have to be in the right place at the right time to get those opportunities and by the shear fact that these situations are starting to stick in the mind they act as evidence that he is getting himself in the right place at the right time. There is no doubt in my mind that many more goals will follow.

What would a big score day be without our captain getting in on the act, I bet there were a few journalists thinking that if van Persie doesn’t score how are they going to try and undermine Arsenal in the future; I mean, if they can’t accuse us of being a one player team what are they going to say? Worry over, van Persie duly obliged and scored his ninety fifth goal of the season, (I don’t know how many it is now) and by doing so the media can continue to call us a one man team.

Four-nil, cue substitutions, we all wanted to see the Ox but Arsene is making us wait a bit longer, nevertheless, I like Benayoun’s energy, I like to see the ever maturing Coquelin and I just laughed when Arshavin made a last man slide tackle to snuff out a Wigan attack down the left wing when Santos had gone AWOL in the Wigan half.

I feel a bit of a fraud writing this report, it is a bit like you guys have worked your hearts out for ninety minutes and in extra time we are awarded a penalty and up I step to knock in this simple match report, still as the saying goes you can only write about the opposition that is put in front of you lol.

Player ratings.

Szczesny: some one has had a word in his ear and told him to stop joking about, gone were the silly attempts at dummying the on rushing opposing forward before clearing the ball, today’s performance was controlled, determined which brings me to the adjective I have been waiting to use…….immaculate. 10

Koscielny: did he do anything wrong? Not that I can remember, he is not as threatening in the final third as Jenkinson and he is not as good a defender at right back as Sagna but hey onwards and upwards for our Kozzer. 8

Mertesacker: when the BFG cocked up against Norwich I wrote to him angrily saying that we all know that if he had been wearing the German national shirt he would not have done that, I suggested that wearing one under his Arsenal shirt might help, he wrote back saying he would, the results were there for all to see today, I thought that was the best performance he has put in to date, calmness personified. 8

Vermaelen: The Lion of Flanders, I suspect many won’t know this but cycling is the national sport of Belgium, in that sport the Italians, as you would imagine, are flamboyant the French are like the English and Wimbledon, cycling is their sport but they never win it; but, in Belgium, especially in Flanders they breed the real tough men of cycling and Vermaelen is straight out of that mould, hard as nails, no one is going to ever push him around. My man of the match. 9.5

Santos: all over the park we have our first choice player and we have his back up, in some positions it is unbalanced such as Van Persie and Chamakh but the combination of Santos and Gibbs seems prefect to me. By Santos playing, Gibbs is not going to feel that he will never get his chance and when Gibbs plays I doubt that Santos will feel aggrieved. In truth he faded today, and had Gibbs been fit I would have expected him to have come on but Santos little by little is getting up to speed with the EPL. I am a big fan but today was not his best. 7

Song: we need competition for his position, I mean real competition, Frimpong and Coquelin are snapping at his heels but they are not there yet. Today we didn’t have Songinho but we did have a solid shield for our defence. 7

Arteta: if you can’t play for your national team then the Champions League has got to be the next best thing; he clearly loves wearing the glorious red and white and long may it continue. Great goal. 8

Walcott: some sterling work down the wing again, I don’t care what anyone says he has been a different player since the Ox arrived on the scene. 7

Van Persie: The Dogs. 8

Gervinho: before today our Ivorian friend gave me the impression that he wasn’t sure if he belonged that’s to say he looked nervous as to whether he had been accepted as one of the team……look closely at his celebrations after his goal and you will learn all you need to know about this player. 8

Written by LB (London)


High Hopes: Borussia Dortmund Preview

November 23, 2011

Cut and paste the post for the Dortmund away fixture …..

Except, Arsenal were in the midst of our terrible run and some of the players who have now bedded in were still struggling. That is not all, our Centre Backs had yet to be formally introduced and with Aaron out, Benayoun started.  The stadium was full of fervent  and expectant BD fans. For those who were three sheets to the wind in order to combat the nerves, BD equalised with a wonder goal in the 86th minute. A draw was a very good result given the circumstances.

Arsenal must surely be confident on the back of such a fine run of results, however the same can be said of BD who this weekend went to Munich and beat Bayern – never an easy task and even harder this season as Bayern rediscover their pedigree. BD know that should they lose tonight their CL adventure is all but over, they talk about tonight as a Cup Final. Coming to THOF will  give the Germans a huge challenge as they play in front of the best supporters in world football in the best stadium in world football – it could inspire them or petrify them, let us hope for the latter!

Nights like tonight are special – a slight chill, time to have a beer or two in the pub, some banter with mates, the floodlights, a full ground, top opposition; I wish I could be there – instead I will be sharing the experience with other AA’ers who are not so privileged.

60,000 Lucky Ones

A worry must be Koscielny playing at RB. True, he had a good game on Saturday but playing against Pilkington is very different to Kagawa who showed in Dortmund that he is a fine young player.  The improvement of our midfield 3 bodes well for the future. Arteta appears to have the football intelligence required to assist his young playmates –  Song looks better and Ramsey is improving weekly alongside the Spaniard who is proving to be an inspired signing.  Another huge difference is the return of The Verminator, what a monster player this man is.  He give us more defensive security, leads the team from the back, improves all the players around him, is superb coming forward and is all round a top, top player.

My Team:

* Raddy’s team selection has been amended following the late news that Gervinho will not be playing due to a personal problem.

Looking at the above team I ooze confidence. Santos is a different proposition to Gibbs (who played in the first leg), especially at home where he will have more opportunity to get forward – not that he needs an invitation ! Diaby is on the bench and we look forward to seeing him contribute during the coming months; if he can stay fit he is a marvellous albeit infuriating talent.  Should Walcott play as he did on Saturday I can see him on the scoresheet and we can only hope if AA plays in place of Gervinho, that he will prove as effective as the Ivorian has been lately. If our defence can keep them out, we will win.

A new BR feature for home games will be famous Arsenal fans and we start with Harry Beck. You may not be familiar with the name but you certainly are with his work. Harry created the schematic London Underground map which is a work of true beauty. Harry lived in Finchley Central and was a Gooner through the Chapman years dying  (happily) just after we won our first Double.

Harry wearing his favourite Arsenal away shorts. ( out of picture but take my word for it)

Where we have a major advantage is in the experience of our manager. Mr. Wenger will analyse  the previous fixture and make adjustments to the way we play. AW stated at his press conference that BD were in form and “developing,” He expects a fine game of attacking football, plenty of thrills and a topsy turvy night. So do I.

Written by BigRaddy


Prince Robin saves the Big F****** German

November 20, 2011

Written by Gooner in Exile

After two weeks of interlull we could once again enjoy proper meaningful football with a trip to the Fine City of Norwich to take on Paul Lambert’s promoted Canaries.

The only selection problem facing Wenger was whether to field Koscielny, Djourou or Yennaris at right back. In fairness it was a no brainier, Koscielny is one of the first names on the team sheet on current form and out of our relative plethora of centre backs probably most adept at playing right back having had experience there in the lower French leagues.

The team started brightly with Walcott using his pace to scare Tierney and Gervinho causing problems on the left. The skipper was showing why he is the most feared attacker in the Premier League right now with movement and sublime touches that the Norwich defence could not cope with.

One of the early chances fell to van Persie, to the shock of Arsenal fans everywhere he failed to convert it. The team was carving out opportunities and controlling possession so easily that it was only a matter of time before the deadlock would be broken.

The best chance of the opening fifteen minutes came as Gervinho found Walcott arriving in the box he cleverly stopped and curled the ball past Ruddy with his left foot, Martin lunged towards the goal and somehow managed to clear the ball over the cross bar to prevent the opener.

It was Norwich however who took the lead against the run of play, Mertesacker came over all charitable (perhaps a Children in Need Hangover and a confusion of Pudsey with a Canary) and became the Big Friendly German, unnecessarily allowing the ball to bounce when playing it early or just clearing the ball into Row Z would have been the better option. Morrison bundled past the German and slotted the ball under the advancing Szczesny.

Szczesny’s look at Per summed up how we were all feeling about him at that moment.

However this is the new Arsenal, goals given away are just another obstacle to overcome, there was no ten minute spell where we felt we could go more goals down, the team instead set about getting the equaliser.

After another period of more spurned chances we equalised, Gervinho advancing down the wing brought the ball inside and fed van Persie he turned and found Walcott, he pushed it past Tierney, sprinted onto it, looked up and drove the ball towards the centre of the goal and Gervinho. The Ivorian managed an air kick back heel when a simple tap in would have sufficed, thankfully Robin couldn’t miss the opportunity to add to the seasons tally and he had ghosted into the box unmarked to tap in from two yards.

The half played out with more opportunities for Arsenal to take the lead but unfortunately they could not make any of them count.

The second half started well with more fine attacking play. Vermaelen breaking forward and managing to deliver a cross which found Gervinho but he could only head weakly at Ruddy. Soon after Gervinho had another chance to break the deadlock, played in by a beautiful reverse pass from van Persie he rounded the keeper but did not have the composure to pass in to the empty net.

It started to feel like we would not find a deadlock, and some legs were looking heavy from International duties. Then Ramsey disposed Martin and was immediately brought down, Song collected the loose ball and drove forward, Gervinho broke left, and Robin broke right, Song took his time and played in van Persie, it looked like he may have forced him to wide on his right foot, Ruddy came to narrow the angle and but Van Persie calmly lifted it over him with the chocolate leg and the ball nestled in the net.

The rest of the ninety played out with little incident, our new found maturity and responsibility meant that our attacks were limited to three or four players rather than five, six and seven of last season, and the defence rarely looked exposed or troubled.

All in all a job well done, three points were much needed to continue the form we have been showing in the last few weeks and to keep the momentum five Premier League wins on the bounce 15 goals for 6 against.

Undoubtedly there will be more people saying we rely on van Persie too heavily and calling us a one man team after another brace to get us over the final hurdle. Well here’s the thing, thats the laziest punditry I currently hear. Robin van Persie is a centre forward, you expect him to score the bulk of the goals. He does not score all goals by picking the ball up on the half way line and running past everyone, he scores goals by finding good positions and being played in by one of his talented teammates, that nearly every chance he has goes in means the team look to find him with the final ball more often.

Ratings:

Szczesny 8 – Goalkeepers union speaking here but i dislike a keeper getting a 7 just because he didn’t have a lot to do, everything that was asked of him he did well, no chance for Norwich goal, if he had saved it he would have got a 9.

Koscielny 7 – Strong defensively and Norwich did not get a look in on our right flank. However judged as a full back he did not get forward enough to support Walcott.

Mertesacker 6.5 – I know most will expect him to get a lower score because of the mistake that led to the goal, but in all honesty it was the only mistake he made al day, unfortunately he was punished for it. Other than that he swept up and closed down well and looked comfortable.

Vermaelen 8 – Won everything in the air, solid in the tackle and offers an alternative when bringing the ball out of the back line.

Santos 7 – This guy is marmite you either love him or hate him, I think I love him, he is an under-rated tackler and does well going forward. Has a tendency to give me kittens every now and again with a relaxed pass, he just plays the game he knows, pass the ball and trust the receiver.

Arteta 7 – Seemed to suffer really from two weeks off, once up to speed set about providing a useful screen to break up attacks and kept the ball moving in the right direction.

Song 7.5 – Comfortably dealt with all Norwich could chuck at him, filled in at centre back when Vermaelen went wandering forward, and good work to seize on the opportunity to set up the winner.

Ramsey 7 – Worked hard to get in good positions, but wasn’t always found by his teammates. Pounced on the poor touch by Martin to allow Song to break forward for the winner.

Gervinho 7.5 – Getting better all the time, movement good, dribbling good, passing good, finishing must do better, but I’m sure it will come with time.

Walcott 8 – Purple patch time for this young man, finding a way to beat his man every time, and using the ball to good effect. Unlucky not to have scored but a fantastic all round performance.

van Persie 8 – Great movement to be on the end of the first, sublime finish for the second. Good link up play and leadership.

MOTM – Walcott, constant threat and end product.