Sunday, 30 December 2012

Theo - He's Better on the Right.

So we were treated to a bonanza of goals at The Emirates yesterday seeing an extraordinary ten goals in what proved to be a catalogue of poor defensive mistakes with the occasional hint of superb finishing. For a long part of yesterday's game you have picked any outcome and it wouldn't have surprised anyone. However, Pardew appeared to wanted to shut up shop and they ended up shipping another four goals.

The Goals

1-0 - Walcott 20' - Good work by Podolski against a hapless Simpson saw him release Walcott with a measured Fabregas Esq pass and Theo slotted him like a former number 14 (Not Keown). Walcott's pace and Newcastle's high line left them exposed and it could have been avoided as Coloccini tried to play offside only to find Santon was behind his centre half and playing Theo onside.



1-1 - Ba 43' - Newcastle won a free kick on the edge of the box after a very poorly timed challenge from Sagna. Ba stepped up and Wilshere cost Arsenal a goal by turning his back on the ball in the exact fashion Nasri did it against Manchester United. This left Szczesny clutching at thin air. 1-1 HT and both goals could have been easily avoided.






2-1 Chamberlain 51'- A goal created by Podolski's pressure and determination to get us the ball. He won a header from a Newcastle throw in and Cazorla laid it to the feet of Chamberlain and Santon didn't close him down in time and he lashed home from just outside the box.


2-2 Marveaux 59' - The second equaliser of the day and a catalogue of errors. First up Bacary Sagna, if you offered me Sagna v Obertan I'd take that match up all day without any worries at all. However it appears Bac's head is elsewhere at present and his performances are suffering. Obertan breezed past him and got the yard he needed to get his cross in. Koscielny got a foot on the ball but I'm not convinced his position was as good as it should have been. Then you have Marveaux stood all alone at the back post in about ten yards of space with seven Arsenal players standing watching. Pathetic defending but that would get worse soon after.

3-2 Podolski 64' - Wilshere owed us a goal yesterday and he duly delivered a peach of a pass. Jack hustled Tiote of the ball and stood up a fantastic cross that took Krul completely out of play. It was Coloccini v Walcott and with the threat of an own goal the Argentinian could only head against the bar and Podolski beat Tiote to nod in from about an inch.

3-3 Ba 69'- Marveaux turned creator this time and he picked out Ba with a superb outside of the left foot pass. Gibbs was once again beaten and after watching replays he actually looked at Ba before the ball came in but he completed ignored the threat of one of the hottest strikers in the league and we were punished yet again. Totally unacceptable and we just cannot continue to defend like this, we were fortunate in some respects that we played a side that defends worse than us. Then the fun began.

4-3 Walcott 73' - A patient build up from us that again had Podolski at the heart of it. He held the ball up well and this allowed Gibbs to run off Cisse and Gibbs learnt from a previous moment in the second half when he elected to shoot instead of laying it back to the penalty spot. He looked for Podolski but the German couldn't connect but that left Walcott unmarked, he managed two touches before setting himself for a shot on goal. Now the finish was sublime, many strikers would lash it towards goal but with six players between the goal and the goal he clipped the ball into the roof of the net with Bigirimana launching himself at the ball.


5-3  Giroud 85' - It's great having the big Frenchman back leading the line and he was on hand to thump a diving header home. Walcott whipped in a ball that David Beckham would have been proud of (maybe his one to one coaching did help) and with Giroud up against Perch and Santon there was only one player getting on the end of it and Krul had no chance.




6-3 Giroud 87' - A positive if not slightly ambitious run from Walcott saw the ball fall kindly to the feet of Giroud. He got his body in front of Coloccini who risked giving a penalty away and Giroud created a yard for himself on his weaker right foot before he thumped a shot home past Krul at the near post. The keeper shouldn't be beaten there.





7-3 Walcott 90' - The rout was complete. Walcott looked happy to run the clock down with the ball in the corner but he decided to run at Obertan, Ameobi, Tiote and Santon. Obertan had clipped Walcott and I'm not sure Foy would have given the pen given the scoreline because refs don't hesitate in the situation. However play continued and with Newcastle players feeling sorry for themselves he picked himself up and dinked the ball past Krul and it capped off a memorable night for Theo.



Theo Walcott

Now since his talks broke down and Arsenal re-started discussions again, he then finds himself playing upfront in consecutive games, coincidence? Everyone says he's a striker but I'm still to be convinced. Yesterday Theo scored two as centre forward and when he reverted to the wing he scored one and created two. Theo is proving that he does have a killer instinct in front of goal and it's refreshing to see but he has much to work on if he thinks he is as good as his contract demands suggest.

Weaknesses

Didier Drogba started the lone striker revolution because he had it all but now a lot of side go with a lone front despite not having the necessary attributes. Most 4-3-3's quickly change to 4-5-1 at various stages of games and that leaves the front man isolated and if you are under pressure then that ball has to stick upfront. Now we've only really been under pressure at Wigan but Walcott's lack of physical presence has seen knocked off the ball quite easily.

Then the fundamental flaw in our 4-3-3 system, what side plays wingers with a striker who lacks any form of aerial ability? We do of course. Although we seem to delivering flat crosses but Walcott seems to be happy to take up positions between both centre halves, he needs to be running across the near post, as the benefit of a 4-3-3 means Podolski should be loitering behind him for any scraps.

Then we have his link up play, his pass to Cazorla sums up where that is at present. As a striker he has to thrive on involving his team mates. We had a three versus two in the second half and he snatched a shot that was never on target yet Podolski was free on the left. This is why I prefer Giroud because he does all of the above.

Strengths

Undoubtedly his pace is his greatest asset and it also provides at outlet we've probably missed since the days of Marc Overmars being able to punt it forward into space can help the defence get out but we must ensure the midfield isn't deep because that can bring out the weaknesses in his game.

Theo's finishing has also improved but it's instinctive, he knew what he wanted do with his first from the moment he got it and his final two were reactionary. It's very much the Andy Cole school of finishing.

The Future

I think Theo would thrive in a 4-4-2 paired with Giroud. It has the making of an old fashioned Smith/Wright but it's never going to happen as 4-3-3 is here to stay. Also the lack of positive noises from Theo's side lead me to believe he's following Robin's path and until he signs a new deal I find it difficult to get excited about anything he does because in juts under six months he may no longer be an Arsenal player. For the next few months though we need Theo on the right with Giroud in the middle.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Is the end nigh?

Saturday was hard to take wasn't it? So many aspects of our game didn't work, too many players failed to turn up and this against a side who can keep possession well. It all added up to a truly dreadful day and a cacophony of boos, which in truth for those into the pantomime booing culture were richly deserved.

We are left yet again discussing the future of the manager and even the usually supportive Gary Neville stated on MNF that Wenger has never been under more pressure at Arsenal and he's spot on. Before we look a Wenger though, I'm going to give this some form of perspective. It's not the first time we've appeared at a crossroads around the Christmas period, who can forget the 3-1 home defeat to Blackburn in 1997, with Wenger's unproven pedigree in England, questions were asked and he responded by winning the league in that very season. I want to highlight the end of the George Graham era. The game I want to focus on was a home game against Leeds United, a Saturday 3pm kick off in December 1994. In that game we lost 3-1. It wasn't so much the result but the performance that left the Highbury faithful disillusioned. We were one step behind the play, failed to press the ball and got punished by a clinical Phil Masinga. We managed to get ourselves back into the game at 2-0 by sticking Andy Linighan upfront but moments later we conceded again and the game was over. Now, the bung scandal was the main source behind the departure but ultimately the board wanted a way out of that set up. At that time we were reigning Cup Winners Cup holders and the season before we had completed the FA & League Cup double, so it's fair to say we had it good at the time but he was replaced (temporarily) and Stewart Houston who led us to another Cup Winners Cup final. 

The reason I've chosen to focus on managers is because I feel Saturday was all Wenger's fault. It was his fault because we weren't prepared. For three consecutive performances I've seen us fail to press the opposition anywhere on the pitch, the formation is never adapted but players are expected to adapt there game for better or worse. Look at centre midfield, Arteta was stunning as the box to box midfielder last season but at present he looks lost. He's reluctant to get into the final third and we certainly havent seen any efforts like those against West Brom, Manchester City or Villa. Could we really expect a player to adapt his entire game to be a success?.Yes, he covered well for Song on many occasions last season but he isn't a tough tackling midfielder. There was a chance of Rangel in the first half, Arteta is beaten easily in the build up, we don't press the ball when it goes to left wing, then again when Shecther has it in the box, he plays it to Rangel with a caught out Gibbs scampering back to close down, this led to a shot being well saved by Szczesny but the ball rebounded to Rangel and not one player reacted until the ball fell at his feet again and Szczesny turned it away. Now this isn't me singling out Arteta for our woes, it just sums up our current situation. I here time and again from Vermaelen and Wenger that we have a great team spirit but I just don't see it. I see a side that is confused and lacking drive, something Cazorla admitted to at the weekend in this article. He said

'We don't know exactly what the problem. Take the Fulham game, we were 2-0 up. You can't then be drawing within five minutes.Those points aren't coming back.'
He's bang on but it doesn't change the fact it happens time after time. It's just different players using the same phrases and because of that Wenger has to feel the heat. Enough heat that he can hopefully react but then I feel I have this discussion on far too many occasions. I can't listen to pre or post match press conferences anymore. It's just stuck on a constant loop. He said we were 'jaded' on Saturday, he said words to that effect after Villa, Everton and now Swansea. Surely that means he has to ease the training routines in order to regain some form of sharpness? Or is that just too obvious? Whilst Wenger is right that buying players isn't always the answer in the transfer window but what he does have to do is work with what he's got and I'd suggest he starts the window by recruiting a centre forward, so that when he does rest our main goal threat we might still possess a vague threat to the opposition goal. I was speaking to my mate when we travelled home from Everton and we looked at the upcoming league games - Swansea (h), West Brom (h), Reading (a), Wigan (a), West Ham (h) and Newcastle (h). Now judging each game on its on merits we should be winning each fixture but realistically we know that in at least 2-3 there are some surprises and already one has reared its ugly head.
The truth is Wenger's head should be on the block right now but we all know it probably isn't. 6 points from a possible 18 is pitiful, even for a side whose ambition it is to finish 4th. Some will refuse to even discuss that fact but if you put it into context that a manager who had won three major honours over the course of two consecutive seasons, can you really not question a manager that has won nothing in seven years? This cannot go on much longer.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

"Robin Van Persie, You May Have Been Right"

Yesterday was awful and it appears that many of our most loyalist of supporters have had enough. There's no point in discussing the game because it was embarrassing but I'm going to comment everything else that goes with it.

There were many rumblings of discontent and I'm not sure on how much was picked up on TV but the fans want to point the finger towards someone but who? Well if our away is to be believed then there is an equal amount of blame to be shared around by Wenger, Gazidis, Hill-Wood and Kroenke. Halfway through the first half there were chants of "There's only one Arsene Wenger" but then no less than ten minutes later there were chants of "Wenger, sort it out, Wenger, Wenger, sort it out", talk about from one extreme to the other. Then there's Ivan Gazidis who was treated to a nice rendition of "Ivan Gazidis, what the fuck do you do" which was sung for good few minutes. Then we were treated to a good old "We want our Arsenal back", which if I'm honest I don't have a clue what fans want back. The first game I ever went to we had Martyn Hayes and Niall Quinn upfront, I'm not sure I want that back if I'm honest and I know there were timeswhen it was much worse than that. Then we get to the top of the tree with PHW and Kroenke, both of whom are under intense pressure now but no doubt they will remain silent and happily allow Gazidis and Wenger be the face of the club. If chanting is a barometer of unrest then all four are in the firing line but it certainly gets more heated the higher up the food chain you go.

I won't ever assume that every supporter has my view but I'm sick of hearing about how great Financial Fair Play is going to be for us and how a new kit deal will help us operate as a profitable club or should I say business. I don't think PHW did himself any favours at our most recent AGM and his attitude summed up how disconnected the club has become. As for Kroenke just take a look at his St. Louis Rams, they have changed their coach in the summer after gambling on an unproven head coach in Steve Spagnoulo. They've won some games for a change but just when their support looked like it was returning, they shipped their biggest game (in terms of opposition) to London. The fans are left disgusted and disillusioned by having a home game in another country and then being outnumbered approximately 15 to 1 in terms of support in their home game. Inevitably they got spanked as well, but this is the type of man we are dealing with. He's undoubtedly sound with his business strategy but when it comes to success, there's nothing to report. So you could say he's at the right club.  I wonder what the late Danny Fiszman R.I.P would make of this. He wanted the best for our club and believed in Kroenke but would the man who stumped up the cash to sign Bergkamp be happy with where we are now and would he have changed his decision? We'll never know but the board that reaped the benefits of a star studded line up on the field have sold their shares and made a staggering profit but could it be construed that they knew what was coming and they were concerned about their investment. The fact is there are too many questions and virtually no answers. The only real insight we get is what we view on the pitch for ninety minutes and at the moment it doesn't make for easy viewing.

Fierce Rivalry?
For the past few weeks you see line ups on twitter and I always think United's line up is poor but I always know that you can't write them off. Yesterday was the biggest 2-1 battering I have ever seen. We are a million miles away from a club that a decade ago saw us win the league in their own stadium, a club that two years later couldn't match us in an invincible campaign. I was of the belief that there was a still a rivalry between our sides but yesterday confirmed that we are just another fixture for them and we are no longer a threat to them on any level. We last won at Old Trafford six years ago and we haven't even come close to winning since. The current top three in The Premier League will remain unchanged for the rest of the season, whilst the rest of us fight for fourth and that is probably the biggest surprise this morning, despite this being the worst side under Wenger's leadership, we are sixth but enduring our worst start under Wenger (Thanks to @orbinho for that stat). Yes, even worse than last year. The upcoming North London Derby may be the poorest in terms of quality offered by both sides but defeat in that game is unthinkable, yet it's a huge possibility that we could lose.

A picture can speak a thousand words
I get many messages off non-Arsenal fans telling me this and that player isn't good enough for Arsenal. Usually I try to see the best in our players but it's about time I woke up to the fact the most aren't. Look at the Arsenal side, if you were given the option how many would you say you'd want to keep? Sagna, Gibbs, Wilshere, Arteta and Cazorla. There are other players that I like but in terms of being cut throat, I'd get over their loss pretty quickly. We've lost too many key players over the years and RVP just so happened to be the latest addition to that list, it just so happens that I think we felt he was different and he would show loyalty but you can't help but feel he made the right decision for him and to write that it bloody hurts I tell you. As we are on the subject of RVP, can I just say I found some of the chants towards him absolutely disgusting and at times it was embarrassing. I remember the reception he received after being cleared of an alleged charge and he came on to score against Newcastle in the last season at Highbury. Now just because he's changed allegiance our views change, could we be any more hypocritical? I'm all for calling a player a C#%t  and making my feelings known, but there is a line. A line we ram down United throats for calling Wenger a paedophile and yesterday we stooped to their level. Yet despite the abuse he received he took the moral high ground straight in front of the away end. He refused to celebrate and post game he refused to comment on the "chants" and I can't help but respect him for that. After all he'd have had good reason to slam it down our throats, much like Adebayor did when he scored that goal for City against. The sad truth is he was right to leave and a more apt song would have been "Robin Van Persie, you may have been right".  If you give it, you've got to be prepared to take it, that's how it works. The two or three RVP chants aside I found our support was magnificent yet again and for the third occasion at Old Trafford we treated the viewing millions to a continuous rendition of "We love you Arsenal we do", this came at point when we were 2-0 down and most of the side had thrown in the towel, it sounds crazy but I really don't think we'd have scored if it was for our supporters willing on the team we all love.

So where does this leave us? Well it seems like every week it comes down to Arsenal v Sp*rs. We've stooped to their level as we are more interested in their results because of the fact we are in competition for fourth place. Twitter was awash with "well at least Sp*rs lost" tweets and that is becoming our only positive on some weekends. That is what we have become, no more need to concentrate on the results of United, Chelsea or City, we've dropped down the pecking order and it doesn't look like we'll be returning to the top table anytime soon. Everyone at the club has a responsibility and if we don't achieve our number one priority - Champions League qualification, then who knows what will be next because I can't see the Emirates being packed for Europa Cup action. My support will always remain constant and I'll always get behind the side but sadly we have to face up to what we are presented with on an all to regular basis.

 

Monday, 22 October 2012

An Unwarranted Arrogance

I think it's pretty safe to say that Saturday was up there with some of the worst, if indeed the worst Arsenal performance under Wenger's leadership. We lost to side that hadn't won a league game this season. A side that had conceded seventeen goals, yet they ran out deserved winners on Saturday but they played against a side with little imagination, laughable moments in the final third and most importantly a lack of shots on target.

Our arrogance on Saturday was that befitting of the invincible side but the difference being, the invincible's worked extremely hard and once they'd matched the efforts of the opposition that's when talent and skill comes into play, this side doesn't have that. We have a magical Spaniard who will do his utmost to create but if he has an off day, like on Saturday, who steps up to the plate? Imagine if Cazorla were to pick up a knock? It's say to assume we'd struggle. The preparation for games like this is key Wenger admitted pre-game that there are no easy games and yet post-Norwich he admitted that we might have underestimated the opponent. So either Arsene is just rolling out the old cliches or his side doesn't listen to him. I have a feeling it was the former but he included Wilshere on the bench despite earmarking Reading in the Capital One Cup as his return date. The truth is Wilshere wasn't brought on because the match was intense, he wasn't brought on because we weren't cruising to victory against one of the worst sides in the league. Arrogance, even over the selection of subs. There are a lot of players who were in that side on Saturday who deserve a place on the bench for a few games Mannone, Santos, Vermaelen, Ramsey, Gervinho and Giroud to name but a select few. Yet sadly, they'll probably all start against Schalke but then accountability for poor performance isn't Wenger's thing, unless it's Arshavin.

Anyway, enough of that and time to focus point in this blog, shots on goal. I believed prior to the kick off of this Premier League campaign that we would see the return of a free flowing and scoring Arsenal. However, the Premier League hasn't gone to plan and I couldn't have been further from the truth. We aren't winning games because we aren't clinical and our shots on target makes grim reading.

Team Goals Shots on Goal On Target Off Target Blocked Shot/Goal Ratio Shot/Target ratio
SAFC 0 23 3 10 10 0% 13%
SCFC 0 17 2 11 4 0% 11%
LFC 2 11 5 4 2 18% 45%
SFC 4 23 9 8 5 18% 40%
MCFC 1 11 4 5 2 9% 36%
CFC 1 17 4 10 3 5% 23%
WHUFC 3 21 7 6 8 14% 33%
NCFC 0 14 5 6 3 0% 35%
Average Per Game 1.375 17.125 4.875 7.5 4.625 8% 29.5%

We average under five shots on goal per game, that's a shot on target every eighteen minutes. Just under 30% of our attempts at goal actually hit the target and only 8% of our attempts on goal actually find the back of the net. You'd have thought we were Norwich or QPR if you forget for one second that this is about Arsenal. If you factor in our inability to keep clean sheets it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out why were are well below par. We can't go into every game needing to score two goals to win every game. We won three games against Chelsea, Sp*rs, Man Utd and Man City last season. Only once did we win and keep a clean sheet and on the other two occasions we had to score five goals to the games. That is not the way top sides operate and it shows the lengths this side has to go to in order to secure three points. We opened the season at home to Sunderland and we could only muster three attempts on goal, three! We tied our season high twenty three attempts against Southampton but managed to score on four occasions and thankfully they also put through their own goal twice. Another standout stat is that we've only managed to test the opposition keeper over five times on two occasions, against Southampton and West Ham, both of whom were promoted last season. It smacks of a flat track bully attitude and even then we've have a come a cropper with that mentality on Saturday.

So we have all of these stats but what does it equate to? Well, lets have a look at our players minutes to goal ratio

Team Gervinho Podolski Walcott Cazorla Koscielny Giroud
SAFC 90 64 77 90 0 26
SCFC 72 72 18 81 0 90
LFC 0 82 0 90 1 90
SFC 75 75 15 90 0 15
MCFC 90 72 18 90 90 18
CFC 90 67 23 90 90 23
WHUFC 61 85 29 90 5 90
NCFC 90 65 0 90 0 90
Total Minutes 568 582 180 711 186 442
Minutes/Goal Ratio 189 291 90 355 186 442

If Theo is reading, he might want to take this to his contract negotiations because it makes horrible reading for the side. We've only had six scorers this season and whilst four are attackers, one is from centre midfield, when we play three and the other is a centre half who now finds himself on the bench. So let's break this down

Gervinho - Our current Premier League top scorer with three goals. This is a man opposition fans laugh at and he has played central striker on. He's scored in two games out of seven starts and he comes in as our third most efficient goal scorer.

Podolski - Lukas has an ankle knock and to be honest it's affecting his ability to contribute to the side. He's not completed a full ninety minutes in an Arsenal shirt. If he has a knock, why not take the opportunity to let him recover? Well that window of opportunity has passed as we have the likes of United and Sp*rs on the horizon, games where we need our best players on top form. I feel we don't do enough to get Podolski involved on games and he only has one goal from open play as a result.

Walcott - We he comes out of this with some praise but he's only started one game. Clearly there are things going on behind the scenes because when he has been fit there isn't anyway Chamberlain or Gervinho should start ahead of him. His finishing has also been impressive, he slotted home well against West Ham to give us the lead and he showed composure that has been lacking on occasions.

Cazorla - The magnificent Spaniard but a player who has never managed over ten league goals in a season. That said it isn't his main attribute but the trouble is those who he is supplying just aren't putting the ball in the net.

Koscielny - A centre half and one struggling to find his feet this season. He's current third in the pecking order at centre half despite the poor form of Vermaelen.

Giroud -  Then there's Olivier who has that one goal at West Ham. I like Giroud and like all players I want him to succeed but if he doesn't have the confidence to shoot then how can he ever succeed. One goal in over seven hours of play as Arsenal's centre forward simply isn't good enough. We can't afford to carry players at the moment and he is our main goal threat and he needs to turn the corner fast.

Overall, I think this smacks of a lack of quality in current squad. We know they are capable of better but yet last Saturday doesn't surprise anyone because we've seen it many times before. We have two huge games upcoming in our next four matches and this could well determine how this squad evolves because it would be nice to see it brimming with confidence but at present that seems a long way away. It's amazing how many good things can come from a shot at goal. If you don't believe me ask Grant Holt...


 

Friday, 5 October 2012

Mertesacker v Koscielny v Vermaelen

This has been a debate that has seen many an Arsenal fan spend a vast amount of time talking about it. The fact is we are discussing this because it is still an area of improvement for us as it has been demonstrated in our last two fixtures. It's a formula that Wenger has been unable to crack as three doesn't go into two but I've decided to focus on each player and the resulting partnership.

Per Mertesacker
Seven interceptions at City
LFC Away.
The big German had his doubters from the get-go. Fans don't like different and Mertesacker's lack of pace was always going to be his achilles heal, the trouble is that when he was signed we wanted instant results and one false step can see 30,000 snap judgements formed and make it impossible to recover as far as The Emirates faithful are concerned. The truth regarding Per is he is a brilliant centre half. He's not world class due to the aforementioned lack of pace but his reading of the game is a joy to behold. He treats every attack like a puzzle and he often comes up with the answer. He made seven interceptions away  at City in the 1-1 draw (pictured left) and sometimes I think the interception stats can be misleading, as it can come as a result of risky defending but Per does it in a controlled manner. It's been a long while since we saw a centre half read play as well as him, probably the best since Adams retired in fairness. Per also realises this shortcomings in terms of pace as he accommodates for this with his superb positional play, as illustrated away to Liverpool. He may play deeper but we have a very pacey back line that can be called upon to assist if needed. I have always rated him and felt he gets a raw deal but his absence towards the end of last season and his form at the beginning of this term cannot be ignored, players deserved to be picked on merit not reputations or armbands.

Laurent Koscielny

If I'm a big fan of Mertesackers, then I'm a huge fan of Koscielny. He was easily our best defender last season. He has everything required to compete, he is quick, his strength has improved, he's disciplined and prepared to throw this body on the line to stop shots on goal. Sadly for Koscielny, he missed the beginning of the season due to an injury but he was thrust back into the limelight away to City. He looked like he'd never been away as he slotted in without problems at all. He should have defended better after he had equalised and he was lucky that Ageuro shot wide as he should have made it 2-1. The issue for LK6 is that he has been dreadful in our last two games. For the first time against Torres he was second best and by some distance too. He got nowhere near him for the first goal on Sunday and it took a while to fathom out how he had got in such an awkward position. He then survived a risky attempt to cut out a through ball to Torres. This led to Torres going clear through on goal and thankfully we got away with a desperate penalty appeal as the Spaniard fluffed his lines. Koscielny also had a part to play in the second goal, as he was one of the players that had a chance to cut out the ball but a desperate slide saw him unable to stop a weak free kick from nestling in the net. His performance on Wednesday was better but then in truth, it couldn't get any worse. He avoided what looked like a red card for a reckless challenge in the centre circle, admittedly I've only seen that incident live, so I could be wrong. He was also caught ball watching when the Machado fired over when it was easier to score. He never sensed the danger after both Chamberlain and Coquelin had allowed Machado to stroll past them and it we should have fallen behind. He didn't cover himself in much glory with their goal either, although Jenkinson and Vermaelen had stronger cases to answer. This means he leaves himself open to a place on the bench due to Mertesacker and Vermaelen having more factors in their favour.

Thomas Vermaelen

Just not tight enough as the Greeks level.
Well, where do we start with the skipper? He started the season well, appeared disciplined in his game, as he avoided countless forays forward and then Chelsea happened. He gave away each foul that led to the goals, desperate defending that momentarly allowed us to regroup only to concede as a result of his actions. The first was a desperate and unnecessary lunge on Hazard, who hardly needs an invitation to roll around on the ground. The second was due to another ramble forward, he wasn't set correctly upon trying to recover and he ended up bundling Torres to the deck. He seems to have channelled his inner Alex Song and it affects our shape and we lack a fluency when he crosses through other players areas and it all becomes rather disjointed. I hoped the armband would have curbed his play going forward but it hasn't made a difference. He doesn't seem to realise how this costs us and it's happened time and time again. I genuinely believe as a defender he is overrated and any deficiencies that he has is masked by his goalscoring abilities. Look at Wednesday night, we are 2-1 up in a game that we played poorly in throughout and Walcott gets to the byline, fizzes in a ball and the keeper claims it well. Who was flying in behind him? Vermaelen. Why? Who knows. It wasn't a calculated risk of any kind and we should be looking to see out a game not lose our heads in a moment of madness. We can't continue with him playing this recklessly, as we've seen our usual shambolic defending rear it's ugly head after what was a promising start.

The Partnership

So who is it going to be? Well surprisingly, for now at least, I'm going with Mertesacker and Vermaelen. The latter is saved by the fact that the early season form of this duo shows it can work. It will continue to do so if Vermaelen is responsible. I'm not sure if he knows he can't attack as freely when he's back in defence with Per around but he seems less inclined to maraud forward. Per is there because he's played well, there was no reason to drop him last week and if we are basing our pairings off the opposition striker then the manager lacks belief in his players. Bizarre that in enforced circumstances Per handled Ageuro and Tevez the week before and he was even given Man of the Match. Koscielny misses out because he's been the poorest centre back so far and of the three games he's played he's had one good game but for the future I'd rather have Koscielny and Mertesacker. I've always believed it's Mertesacker + 1 and that remains but whilst Vermaelen has the armband it's hard to see Wenger losing faith in his captain.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

We'll All Follow The Arsenal...

Last season brought with it many twists and turns none more so than that dramatic comeback in the North London Derby. That day brought about a belief in the team and it was helped by a very supportive stadium, a stadium full of fans that went through a purple patch of positivity against the likes of Milan and Newcastle. It was quite clear it had an impact on the side and yet we choose to ignore the fact we could make it a hostile envioirnment for opposition sides but sadly we choose to not be a factor.

Home or Away

Crazy scenes at Anfield
Over the last few seasons our away fans have really become a force to be reckoned with and we are easily up there with the most vocal sets of supporters in the country. Then we play at The Emirates and suddenly support turns into a poisonous envoirnment in which it hinders our players belief in their own ability. Why is there a difference? Is it the price? I don't think it is, we have sold out against Norwich at the price of £50 per person. I think the truth is there shouldn't be a difference because those that don't travel away will marvel at the support our away fans bring and should be encouraged to support their side in the same fashion when they are next at home. However, this is rarely the case. The Emirates has become more of a pantomime/circus enviornment. The rumbles of discontent have been around for too long. We've booed players off and on the field, we have sung more songs about referee's than the ones we sing to encourage and inspire a side in need of support.When a player is need of a boost we compound their misery. I sit in the North Bank Lower and on Saturday some fans were that annoyed with the lack of support, they even launched into a Chelsea song to spring a reaction. They were quickly shot down but they had a point. Supporters were too busy booing John Terry & Ashley Cole than focusing on our own. Even the goal celebration was more applause than a moment of madness in the stands. Yet you look at the comparison with the scenes of an equaliser at Eastlands, it was mental yet it still meant we were level.

Our Responsibility

Whilst I know The Emirates is a friendly enviorment for all fans, it doesn't mean we can't go and help our side on their way to victory. I know exactly what sort of crowd atmosphere there will be tomorrow and it's the one that wants to be entertained and see an easy victory. A crowd that will get on the sides back if it's 0-0 and we miss a couple of chances. Do some fans realise that outside of the game itself, you have the rest of the week to dissect the performance? Also, it's worth noting that the transfer window is shut (observant I know) so why not just support those in front of us? The negativity towards some players affects our chances to win. Many have suffered and not many have recovered.

Mentality

The fact is those that go away from home are prepared and ready to give everything they have in order to help their side achieve a win, sometimes they don't get the result their efforts deserve but yet they continue to give their all, you need look no further than the humiliation we suffered at Old Trafford. The away fans always make themselves heard for the right reasons and the home support tends to undo all of the good work. As a supporter who wants to be vocal I find it difficult to comprehend why their is a difference and maybe that's why I can't get my head around it but The Emirates can be an embarrassing place at times and we are there as supporters of a side that we all love and sitting there and saying nothing can be just as bad as being negative.

I'd love to know your thoughts on the matter, so feel free to leave a comment of tweet me @mj_afc

 

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Bould Effect

We went in to Sunday's clash with the fear of the unknown in terms of what sort of performance could we expect. In truth, not outcome from the game would have surprised me. This was a Liverpool side that looked lively against City and they probably deserved to win the game and they welcomed back Daniel Agger from suspension for our match up, so we thought we were in for a game.



Starting with our defensive approach, Wenger was quick to play down Bould's role in the three consecutive clean sheets but the the difference in this side defensively is unbelievable and I noticed a couple of things that have changed tactically from last season. The main factor was the defensive work of wingers Podolski and Chamberlain. The desire to defend reminded me of the days of Vieira & Petit. It's always been a weakness of our style of 4-3-3 as it was illustrated in the memorable 4-4 game at Anfield, great going forward but no support for the full backs, which invariably in big games away from home you'll often see us getting punished.



Then there's the play of our wingers, they defend wide as shown in the illustrations but we seem to bottle neck our attacks. Neither Podolski nor Chamberlain tried to hit the byline, something Gervinho tries at every opportunity and Theo tries more often than not. This offers much more support for the front man and this poses questions for the defenders. Look at Cazorla's goal, Liverpool players don't know whether to stick or twist. Do they close him down or stay with their man, either way there's a good chance it ends up in the back of the net.





For the first time this season our play also had much more of a purpose to it. We haven't really attacked with any real conviction in our opening two games but the sharpness was there with the players on Sunday, notably in the form of Abou Diaby. He slowed attacks down at Stoke, he sucked  the momentum out our play in order to keep possession. On Sunday he was like a dog with a bone and didn't we benefit from it. The pressure's on Diaby to deliver these performances on a regular basis as I believe he's far too inconsistent and his games to performances ratio is around the 1/7 mark, harsh you may think but he should dominate games and all to often he's a passenger but hopefully this is the start of things to come.

Then there's Mikel Arteta's role in all of this, our new converted defensive midfielder. Here's a caption of all of his work on Sunday.

 
Now the thing that stands out like a sore thumb is he doesn't contribute anything in the final third. I'm not sure why that pleases me but it's nice to see such disciplined play in our team. He is sacrificing his attacking ability in order to help the side and this for me is the biggest plus of our new demeanour. Hear that Mr Song? Arteta has protected the defence and it has allowed Vermaelen the odd foray forward but in truth the new captain has also calmed down his style of play somewhat. It's all very much positive coming from a game where we couldn't really predict what was going to happen.

I like this new style of play a lot, for too long we've be vulnerable and I've always expected us to concede and teams that win trophies don't have that in their makeup. Whether this is a flash in the pan remains to be seen but the start to our defensive improvement is well under way. It just remains to be seen when we'll score a trademark corner because it's coming sooner rather than later. 

Monday, 27 August 2012

Hey Giroud, Don't Be Afraid


So he's played 117 minutes of Premier League football or 162 minutes in an Arsenal shirt and questions are already being asked "Is Giroud good enough and/or can he fill RVP's boots?". Frankly I find it ridiculous that he's felt the need to come out and explain himself two weeks in a row and ultimately I don't see why some fans and especially the media feel the need to criticise his performance/s.


So why the need for the negativity? Simple, we should be scoring and that is purely down to our centre forward and him alone. The amount of people that reckon he should have squared it to Ramsey is unreal. That option was still a difficult ball and passing it to Aaron didn't guarantee a goal. What I saw was a player who has an eye for goal, he spotted Begovic of his line and came within inches of scoring one of the goals of season. Now the cynics out there will say he didn't score and it doesn't matter if it missed by inches or metres(which is nonsense) but the fact is the vision, awareness and let's not forget confidence to take that shot on shows that we have a player on our hands. I'm no expert when it comes to Giroud but what I have seen of him is he isn't scared to have a pop at goal and that for me is a positive. Look at what the crisis of confidence did to Chamakh, he would have rather run a mile than have a pop at goal. We need players who are prepared to have a dig and we can't be selective when it suits.


The comparison to van Persie which unfortunately will linger until our strikers begin to fire is pointless. He's gone and they are far from similar but that doesn't mean Giroud isn't any good, who's to say he can't be better than him after Wenger has taught him a thing or two. In Giroud we have a great, yes great, target man. He makes it stick, brings others into play and helps us advance/catch up with ball. I think both Huth & Shawcross were taken by surprise by him yesterday as he fought hard with them. He contested every header and proved solid when called upon to defend. In April van Persie didn't contest one ball in the air Giroud contested twelve (and winning five), that shows a shift in our tactics and mentality going forward. These things though take time and I refer back to our lack of friendlies but we are growing with each game, admittedly it's quite easy to improve on the performance v Sunderland but there were respectable chances for Diaby, Podolski, Giroud (corner) & Arteta and that sharpness will come and it will more than likely need to be there against Liverpool on Sunday if they play as they did against City yesterday. Look at Arteta's reaction after the game, it was one born of of frustration because they know they are nearly there, they just need to relax a bit more in front of goal. Lots of opportunities are getting snatched at in our attempts to get off the mark.
 
I know I am in a minority when I say we don't need another striker just yet. We have options with Giroud and Podolski and if it doesn't work (which is a possibility) then there's always January to put it right but for now I'm quite happy for both to find their feet in this side and I'd pretty certain we'll be seeing lots of goal sometime soon. So Giroud, don't make it bad, just take a good team and make it better.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Fail to Prepare

So a week has proven to be a long time once again The Arsenal. We've gone from the pre-match over excitement to realistation in the space of ninety minutes last Saturday. We've had an exciting new striker feel the need to explain himself and ask for patience because he dared to miss a vey respectable opportunity, then there was the sale of Alex Song and the saga that was Nuri Sahin.


Cazorla pulling the strings
Having allowed some time to digest what was a frustrating afternoon last Saturda against a side that would have made George Graham proud. Was it actually that much of a surprise when you look at the sides preperation in pre-seasont? There was quality in abundance but this side lack sharpness and a purpose. We saw the introduction of two new signings, Arteta playing the deeper role, Diaby returning, Walcott lacking fitness & Jenkinson at full back. Whilst we expected to win it hardly comes as a shock but I think the club could have averted this. Due to postponing of The Emiates Cup we played one fixture between 29th July to 18th August. That really is pathetic, everyone knows sharpness comes from playing games not training camps. That meant Cazorla & Giroud managed a half each and Podolski managed seventy minutes and that's all they have to show for their pre-seasons with us and I know some went off to play for their countries but that doesn't really benefit us does it? Then you look back at our opening fixtures of recent times and in the last three season we've drawn our opener on each occasion, admittedly trips to Newcastle and Liverpool are difficult but we were poor by our own standards in each fixture. We can't be naive and think we can just turn up, flick the switch and go into overdrive. Our game is built on relationships and understanding, so were we going to achieve a satisfactory level of performance without serious match practice. Arteta & Diaby have never started a Premier League game together but thanks to Cazorla's guile we looked easier on the eye than we actually were.






Olivier meet Robert and Ryan
Now we embark on another adventure to Stoke, where I fully expect their wind turnbines to be pumping out a force ten gale but I think it's an ideal time to play them. Whilst they may point to our lack of fluency (which is a valid point) they have to deal with a lack of competitive action.That of course is their main strength (exc throw ins), they like to pressurise us, force mistakes and feed off the scraps (a bit like their fans). If we can retain possession our football should do the talking but we will still have to contend with the numerous physcial elements. Can Cazorla get a look in? He did get pushed off the ball quite easily at times last weekend and you can only begin to imagine the sort of plans Stoke have for him. Will Wenger go for a front three of Podolski, Giroud & Walcott? I'd like to see this at some point and Stoke's defence is vulnerable but I feel Shawcross & Huth realish the opoortunity of playing against a lone man. Moving Podolski to left wing means back up isn't far behind as he works within the width of the box, something Gervinho doesn't offer as much of. A point wouldn't be the end of the world but it would be nice to get a win under our belt and provide a much needed shot in the arm ahead of our trip to Anfield. However, if you thought this week was long just wait for next week. Stoke on Sunday, transfer deadline day on Friday & Liverpool next Sunday. It could shape our season.