Don’t try too hard! Why Arsenal’s midfield is a mess?

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So, I’ve not posted for a while and there are several reasons for that. These would include far too much work being put onto me by my university at a national level, where they want to be seen as a bigger player and leader, and a son with autism (high functioning) who struggles to learn how to interact with people, but wants most of all to be a (known) “part of a crowd”.

If you look at these and think it through, as I did after reading Gerry’s fine post and watching some highlights from Anderlecht, you’ll note that the same issues that affect my university and my son to an extent, affect Arsenal’s midfield. And it’s the middle that causes us strife.

So, first things first, I am in southern Belgium (again), in the land of Standard de Liege, so no one here thinks it was robbery, or anything other than perfect, that Arsenal stole victory from the jaws of defeat at Anderlecht. Just to assuage any guilty feelings.

Now, back to the topic at hand. I am writing this, by the way, before going to hopefully watch Arsenal vs Sunderland. So, if it turns out this is all wrong after that game, then it’s because I cant foretell the future (which is true as I question my workload and life choices). If it turns out to be true, just credit it to my general, all around genius!

So, the problem in a nutshell?

Everyone is trying too damn hard to be the star, the star creator and the star scorer, and the star of the highlights. We have no one who is willing to play their (single) role and just get it done regardless of how they look.

Midfielders who do the day to day work, Arteta would be one, get no press or play. They are also worth less in transfer fees etc. Now, while Arteta may (or may not) be reaching the end of top football, I think we can all agree he plays a single main role and sticks to it. He gets double points in my book for doing it in a role he may not be perfectly suited for.

Flamini might well be the same. Or not. Hard to tell sometimes.

After that, Ozil, also injured, plays one role and when allowed that role in the 10 slot does it well. And then gets no credit for not doing other things.

For every goal there are players working hard at doing things that aren’t noticed and don’t get credit that are just as responsible for the outcome. Instead, we see too much one man trying to dribbler two or three instead of making the ball do the work, or everyone trying to occupy the space where the last pass will lead to a goal. Or making the hard pass that is intercepted rather than the easy one also forward, that won’t make the highlight reel.

I don’t often agree with Steve (another poster) but he made a really good point that everyone clusters to the middle. I would add that everyone also tries to do everything or at least far too much. JW, AR, Ox.. All trying to be everywhere and do everything at once.  And thus be the star. Perhaps it’s the fear of failure leading to mental lack of strength and confidence that is the cause, and has been speculated on a fair bit in the tattle-sheets. But, it’s there…

Our problem in another form then: we currently have a team of stars, not a star team made of stars. That is what differentiates us from Chelsea right now. Rather ironically, in trying to be a bigger name in the show, and doing more, the center gets crowded, everyone gets in the way of everyone else, we lose width and thus negate the pace we spent lots of money on this summer. Oh, and we also end up playing rather averagely and well below our talent level – regardless of injuries and who’s on the field.

I agree with jw1 who recently noted that a consistent line-up is useful. But still, at this level, they could still do better than they have. Why? Because, we aren’t playing football, we are playing my-ball more so. Even when Ozil was uninjured, he was often surrounded too closely by players and not enough were away, or off the ball pulling defences wide and just occupying space to threaten. I take again steve’s point, and he’s a guy who doesn’t fully rate Ozil, “imagine if Ozil had 4 attacking players to pass to”. Imagine indeed, especially if they were all spread out across the width and north/south. And there’s our problem again…

Yes, everyone wants to be the next zillion dollar creative player… And they are all trying hard to show it’s them.

When we play this way we also violate one of the first rules of football. I.e. make the ball do the work! Instead, we try to do all of it player by player, and not as much as a team. When everyone is trying to be the leader, there are far fewer places for the ball to go any distance to make it do any work. This makes defending us easier than it should be given our players. And again, we suffer and have to work harder than we should.

Equally, and succinctly, too many want to be “the big player” or “a major part of the team” and in doing so try too hard. Instead, they should do one simple job, stick to it, and we are likely all to end up better for it as a team.

Some anecdotal support of what I am saying?

Consider Galatasaray, who played 3 at the back narrow and 5 in the middle to clog it. That left gaping space we didn’t ignore out wide. As a result, less in the middle and we ran riot with talent. Aston Villa, much the same.

Player by player?

Ramsey – last year played to stay playing and was equally an assists man as a scorer – just playing all around good football. This year, playing to “do more” trying too hard and getting less.

JW – huge star but he is always trying to do too much, which is likely his downfall. He does best set back, not because he is better there but, in my opinion, because his natural nature is to try to do too much and sitting deeper removes or reduces that issue to an extent.

Ox and the occasional Rosicky – cannot stay outside, it seems.

Add that all up and suddenly one can have 4-5 players, including Welbeck, all sitting top of the box in the middle relying on backs to come forward to keep width, and far too many forward. The end result is we are one turnover and long pass from an exposed back line.

Succinctly, everyone is trying to be the single creative guy and the scorer possibly as well. But no one wants to be a cog in the machine or the guy who pulls the defenders wide so the others can score.

The end result is we don’t get any creativity, we stifle players like Ozil and Welbeck (and others like Sanchez) from being their best, we expose our back line the same way hackers exposed Jennifer Lawrence, and thus pay a huge price.

Just not trying too hard and doing one thing well should be easy, but, it seems that may not fly with today’s player?

So, the solution. Not steve’s no creative players line-up, though it was interesting! :) Instead, some mild sedatives and one instruction to do one thing and do it well. Back to the KISS principle about keeping it simple (insert S-word of choice here).

Anyway, I hope to be proved wrong vs Sunderland, and then you can all rubbish me in the replies…

Or to summarise, we need to step back and simplify to make a big step forward. To end where I began, every day I start with my son by talking with him about how trying less hard will lead to the friends coming to him rather than him always chasing social success. If my university would listen, they would hear that I cannot do every national leadership job unless they want less of something else – not without doing it all averagely.

When we have played our best, we have as fans tended to blame the other side. But, look at the games and you see one thing. When we play our best, we play simple football that isn’t crowded. And good things come directly from it. Just like I try to tell my son…  See, good football is like life! :)

Now, I am off to watch the game and have some Belgian beer (Westmalle I think). For you? Some thoughts to consider?

  • Will Theo, who loves the sideline, be a major impetus to help us out?
  • Am I right about Ozil and others?
  • Is the fact we have players trying too hard, both fatiguing them too quickly as well as leading to injury (or some of them)?
  • Or, am I totally off my rocker (always possible!)?

Written by: JGC.

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Does Arsene finally, finally have his new Bergkamp?

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Sanchez and the 4-4-2

With a whole week off before the next game, I thought a fluff piece may be in order just to get the discussions and debating back in full swing.

Watching Sanchez playing at Sunderland, everything about him just screamed “number 10” more than it has ever done before with Ozil, or even my man Jack.  It got me to thinking though, could we play an old fashioned no.10 – you know, to its fullest potential, in that crazy formation that won us so many accolades and silverware – the 4-4-2?

Do we have the quality to make this system work once again, and really provide for such an excellent player like Sanchez?

I thought I would have a go, do my best at being ruthless concerning quality and athleticism, see what I could come up with and ask you any important questions that arose during the process.

Defence:

Debuchy, BFG, Koscielny and Gibbs: to be honest, apart from a lack of pace by our big man I cannot fault the defensive solidity that this group should bring to the team.  With such a lack of options here though, they are largely uncontested places and with the exception of Monreal all other options are either prospects or loanees.

Monreal, Chambers, Ajayi and Jenko would make up my reserve back line for the future, and I hope Jenko keeps up the good work he’s doing at West Ham atm.

Midfield:

With Cazorla, Rosicky, Arteta and Flamini all being fringe players (at best) in most midfields across top clubs in Europe, Diaby only ever one training session away from being injured and Coquelin AWOL most of the time, I decided to be ruthless and cut the lot; but who’s left as the engine room in midfield?

Wilshere and Ramsey have to be the first choice pairing for our future, with OX and Hayden representing exciting and solid prospects respectively.

For those who don’t know Hayden, he has excelled both in ability and leadership and captained at every level he has played at, both domestically and for his country.

Wingers:

Do we have any old style wingers left now? With OX constantly showing he prefers creeping inside over hugging the line, I can think of only two.  Luckily, one is right footed and the other left, so it makes a good pairing.  Walcott and Campbell, plenty of pace and goals in both which is a benefit.  Future prospects would have to include Gnabry and Bellerin as both are again bursting with pace and goals.

Number 10:

Ozil, once the wonderkid of this position, has now got his work cut out to defend his place here by the excellent (and in my opinion the more exciting prospect) Sanchez.  Both still have much to offer though, so no departures in this area anytime soon I hope, but who does the starting place go to?

Strikers:

I’m looking for pace in this type of formation, like the kind Henry used to have with the strength he also used to show when needed.  With this in mind, I am afraid Giroud and Podolski are out, but Welbeck is in.  Future prospects include Akpom who has all the attributes Henry used to have and now needs experience and Sanogo who is a bit hit and miss at the moment to say the least but could be great.

What do we end up with then?

The Blueprint:

Invincibles

The starting XI:

starting XI new

The second (substitution) XI:

second XI

Questions:

  1. Remember the Invincibles used to play week in week out, almost the same starting line up every game, would these resulting teams have the physical endurance to do that?
  2. Our midfield was once known for its aggression and strength, although many agree that this is not needed so much in the modern game, it is interesting how the modern day users of this system (Man City) have adopted an almost carbon copy of our template from days gone by, with excellent results. Do we have this type of steel in midfield from the options we have?  Do we need it?  Are our options better?
  3. Do you feel any of the players I so callously call “fringe players” could perform better in any of the positions, and if so: who, where and why?
  4. Are there any other players I have missed that you think deserve a place?
  5. With so many favourite names cut from the teams, producing a second XI that looks more like an U21 side than a premiership team, do you think we would have enough quality and depth in the squad to make this work?
  6. Are there any players you would simply like to replace with new arrivals in January? I know BFG’s pace has become a topic for debate but are there others?

 My answers:

  1. With the exception of Koscielny (with his continuing Achilles problem) and BFG who is beginning to age a little I feel the whole starting XI have shown they have the athleticism to play week in week out.
  2. For most games I think an on form Ramsey and Wilshere pairing would excel, watching them run rings around Toure and Fernando in the Charity Shield was a joy to watch. I would be slightly worried that there is no G. Silva type option available at all other than Hayden.  I would love to see Schneiderlin added to the squad to give that option if needed, but would he move for a seat on the bench at Arsenal until needed in a particular game though?  Maybe relying on an untested (at this level) but patient and willing to wait Hayden may be the more realistic choice – though not my preferred one.
  3. I obviously don’t, all seem leggy and are nearer the end of their careers rather than their prime.
  4. Coquelin could do a job in midfield as a more defensive option but it seems (at least atm) the boss has lost all faith in him.
  5. Apart from Ajayi. who I have never really seen play, I would say yes, as a substitute XI I feel it is still brimming with talent and all would be willing to wait for their chance which means no shuffling of the starting XI just to give players game time .
  6. In that starting line-up, I see only three players who are only even slightly suspect; Campbell has yet to show his true potential, but I don’t think he’s been given any sort of chance to do so yet. Then there is Koscielny, with his ongoing injury but a warrior nevertheless, and I feel Chambers is already the perfect candidate for his replacement when needed.  And BFG, having reached his potential a few years ago now, I feel (tough as it is to say) a big name replacement here would be an excellent addition – we are talking Varane level though.

I guess the question I have to ask myself is, would I swap Cazorla, Rosicky, Arteta, Flamini, Diaby and Coquelin for just one class CB and one class DM – probably, at the moment I could see Schneiderlin and Varane offering a lot more to the team’s structure than all those players combined.

My point of view is that we need goals, we are just not scoring enough.  There was a time when we used to score for fun and it was back when we used this system.  It takes special kinds of players to make this system work though but for the first time in ages I really think we have those players in the squad now.

When I look at the Invincibles line up, I see goal scoring options from FIVE positions in the forward line, with G. Silva the only player not guaranteed to add attacking threat.  Likewise, when I look at the new starting XI I have made above, I also see goal scoring options from FIVE positions in the front line, with only Wilshere lacking in that department.

I have to contrast that with what I saw at Sunderland on Saturday;

Arteta and Flamini – not goal threat there

Cazorla – has scored 4 goals in the premiership in the last 2 years

OX – Looks threatening but is not producing for one reason or another

All it takes is for your only striker to have a slightly off day (not unusual against a team set to defend), and it’s no wonder the only goals came from Sanchez excellently capitalising on two mistakes from the opposition.

Better teams won’t make those mistakes, so where are the bloody goals going to come from?

Is it any wonder we are not scoring atm, should we really expect any different?

I feel, whether it is because of injuries or a lack of faith in the midfield pairing to produce without the safety net of Flamini behind them, that the boss has played it safe and is largely underutilizing the squad we have at our disposal.  Players are coming back from injury, we are lacking goals: it is time to take the safety net away and let the lads produce!

4-4-2 with Sanchez tip toeing in Bergkamp’s shadow.

Could we make it work, would we even want to: Invincibles or Impossibles?  Tell me what you think.

Written by: Steve

Note from the Blog owner: if you want to follow Bergkampesque and/or receive an email every time a new post is issued, you can sign up: see right side of blog ‘Follow Blog via Email’. Cheers, TA. :)

 

 

 

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Walking in an Alexis Sunderland

 

Alexis shows once more that quality and effort combined are the only way to success

Today’s game against Sunderland did not promise to be an advert for the beautiful game. Our hosts had been beaten savagely by the Saints only a week ago and were never going to play free-flowing attacking football in front of their own crowd. And we also had to find some belief again that we can defend our goal in order to try and win only our third game in this PL campaign. The inclusion of both Arteta and Flamini in the starting line-up surprised many of us, me included. But, in hindsight, it made some sense as Wenger just did not want to give the home team any encouragement that goals could be scored against Arsenal today: a clean sheet was the first priority.

So, with Sunderland eager to avoid another trashing and preferring to play us on the counter, and we playing the veterans of Flamini and Arteta, and almost veteran, Santi in midfield, the football on display was anything but sumptuous. As far as I could tell from a limited but luckily constant stream, we were once again struggling with attacking our opponent effectively. There is a Babel-esque nature to our attacking play at the moment; such is the lack of communication and understanding between the likes of Alexis, Sanchez, Ox and Santi.

Santi is no Ozil or Wilshere, and anybody still wanting to play him in his supposedly ‘natural/best position (nr.10)’, should re-watch this game if still in doubt. With Flamini and Arteta holding themselves back to a large extent, as per their remit and skill set, the onus was on Santi to link midfield with the three attackers. He struggled in composing our game and for large periods we did not attack effectively at all; which, in my view, is worse than the number of decent chances he missed during the latter part of the game.

To be totally fair, he was not helped much by the somewhat forlorn and ineffective looking Welbeck and by an overeager, but out of form, Ox. In fact, Sunderland were starting to get some confidence and were putting us under a bit of pressure after the first twenty minutes or so (a regular occurrence in Arsenal games this season). And had it not been for Wes Brown’s generous and belated birthday present for Arsene, I am not sure whether we would have scored at all in the first half and large parts of the second half, such was our bluntness and attacking mayhem upfront.

Luckily, we have a player of the highest quality and intrinsic motivation in our midst: the mini-Hulk from Chile, Alexis Sanchez. He is so effective at hunting down players and chasing the ball, and just never gives up. And for this he was handsomely rewarded with two priceless PL goals and three points for his club. Of course, Brown and our until recently very own Mannone made big mistakes themselves, rather than Alexis totally forcing them, but his chasing is so effective that sooner or later a player is going to make one. And let’s hope the likes of Ox, Jack, Welbeck are taking note of how it should be done from the master.

So three factors decided the game today: Sanchez successfully chasing of his opponents into mistakes (although the other players helped with this as well of course), his deadly finishing (most crucially for the first goal), AND the collective team effort to play for, and fight for, the clean sheet.

It was not pretty but this was a very, very necessary win. And now, with a week’s rest till the next game, the team can regroup and hopefully a few more players will become match fit to take on Burnley on Saturday.

Well done boys!

Written by: TotalArsenal.

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Anderlecht v Arsenal Review: Why Are We Not Celebrating?

Anderlecht – The Review

Two games, two too easy crosses from the right, two failing CBs... (Picture from The Guardian).

Two games, two too easy crosses from the right, two failing CBs… (Picture from The Guardian).

The title of the preview ended with – ‘Arsene should refocus’ : to anybody who saw last night’s game, it was more ‘deja vu’?

It was a repeat of the Hull game: not in exact detail, but neither opponent got that crucial two goal lead. More by luck than judgment it has to be said, as both could have got that breathing space that would have secured all three points, had they just had that extra bit of quality and experience up front.

Anderlecht were robbed. This crime in day time would be smash and grab, at night time, burglary.

We entered their ground and stole all three points.

Why do we not feel like celebrating? We are well on the way to getting out of the Group stage of the Champions League … for the 13th time after all! In the cold light of day, the game still looks as bad as it did in real time? Yes, the points are very, very useful in the greater scheme of things. But nothing can paper over cracks this large?

So for the inquest.

Personally, and for those who watched the same TV channel as myself, I saw what Paul Merson saw when the team and line up was announced. He said the balance was all wrong, as he ticked off the names of players who like to get forwards, possibly leaving Flamini and the back 5 to defend.

Refocus??? This problem was highlighted with the heat map last time, where 7 of our players were shown to have spent the average time crowded into a small central to right area of the box.

So more of the same could be expected?

Good grief, Jack Wilshere actually left Alexis Sanchez on the deck when they tussled for the ball, and there was another player within touching distance too.

Why does this happen? Perhaps because of the 5 players ‘who like to get forward’, and none of them want to stay wide?

A blind man and his dog could see that. So we not only lacked width, we lacked balance too.

Our only wide players were the full backs, which left us exposed at the back …. because of so many ‘like to get forward’. Calum Chambers was left for pace by both Anderlecht’s left sided players, and worryingly, he instinctively goes to grab them back. I am amazed that he did not get a card for it.

Throughout the first half it was unbelievable how this young Belgian side could get into decent positions, only for lack of experience or quality to fail when it mattered.

Meanwhile, we had no such excuse on those grounds, as we barely got an opportunity ourselves. A combination of lack of movement, causing a delay in passing, plain poor passing, and poor execution were our downfall. Santi Cazorla with the latter, when he received a great cut back from Alexis in front of goal, and skied it into row Z. Mind, this is only highlighted by the fact it was probably our clearest opportunity, the rest were squandered long before they got to the box.

If we were going to use our players that ‘like to get forward’, you would think that when we got possession back in our half that the counter attack should have been on? Merson summed it up at half time when he said:

‘It was as though everybody was waiting for somebody else to do something. Nobody wanted the ball’

Two examples: Mertersacker is inside our half. He is looking to make a pass forward. For I don’t know how long, he crept forward, and forward, to well inside their half …and not one of the (expletive deletives) could be arsed to offer themselves!

Second example: Monreal, coming out of defence, midway in our half, plays a perfectly respectable pass, cross field to Flamini … inexplicably, he stepped over it to leave it for Chambers on the wing without looking … and the Anderlecht guy behind him gratefully took and ran straight at our now exposed centre backs.

You could expect to see less in a Sunday League game?

We came out a bit brighter in the second half. Passing and moving it a bit quicker. But it did not last.

We should give an awful lot of credit to this ‘inferior team’ whose club had not won any of their previous eleven CL encounters, and lost the previous five …. but THIS team, of 2014, were a well disciplined, enthusiastic, collective of youthful endeavour with plenty of ability, and soon things were back to the way the first half penned out. So much so, on 50 minutes I worked out that I would have to wait 15 minutes before the first substitution, and started counting down the minutes …

71st minute:

Oh goody, they’ve scored! Subs on … Err No, and no reaction in our players either!

75th minute:

Chamberlain for Flamini.

Excuse me. Did we not do this against Hull, and end up crowding the box even more?

Campbell for Welbeck.

This is different, and unfortunately for Danny Boy, no surprise. I suspect that because of the crowded box he had little room to operate …. and too often, he was second to the ball anyway.

So we press, they counter. They press, and look better than us to be fair. They hit the bar. Martinez made a couple of good saves. We had a shot on target.

84th minute:

Podolski on for Wilshere. To be honest you could have taken any of our midfielders off earlier and it would have been an improvement.

The first thing Podolski did was indicate ‘two up front’, to Alexis I assume, as JC had spent his 10 minutes moving in off the right wing. Effectively for the most part, as his passes were getting through, even if the recipient did not always do the right thing with it: hence my comment in the previous paragraph.

This move unsettled the Anderlecht manager, so he took off his best attacker, and replaced him with a defensive midfielder. Mistake or not, who knows?

We were suddenly more urgent, focused: still a little disjointed, but giving it a go.

Then we had the 89th minute a surprise combination.

Chambers had a clear run down the line. Crossed it in full stride … over the heads of the near post guys … over hit or a repeat of the chip to Gibbs coming in late in the Hull game? Who cares. Gibbs hit it cleanly into the far corner.

Game saved!

Only Ox urged the players to cut the celebrations, as he carried the ball back for the restart.

1 minute 45 seconds later, Gibbs with space on the left, put in a super far post cross for Alexis to chest down, and despite a slip he was first to the ball, turned, fired in a low shot across goal which hit a defender and shot out to the waiting Podolski. If he controlled it, and it looked very much like he did, it was magical because the ball dropped about 6 inches from his left boot … and the next second it was bulging the roof of the net.

Heartbreak for Anderlecht.

We would be wildly celebrating if we had played the 90 minutes like that instead of just 9.

We did not and this is why a victory feels like a loss?

A couple of after thoughts:

Is Wilshere’s suspension ‘a blessing in disguise’, as we have now rescued two games when Wilshere has left the pitch?

Is it too soon to say we are missing Mesut Ozil?

I am sure you get the connection in the above.

So go and discuss it endlessly ….

Then regroup and support the players.

 

Written by: Gerry.

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Anderlecht Preview-Lineup|With Theo, Ramsey & Arteta Available Wenger Should Refocus

Amazing skys 024

I needed some time away from the blog and Arsenal. Just so I can think through what is happening to our beloved team.

A draw against Hull is not a total disaster, but in light of previously dropped points through many draws and a loss, we find ourselves now double figures away from the Chavs, and that after just eight games: played eight, dropped a whopping 13 points.

PL title well outside our reach is one thing but a failing defence and struggling attack is another. On top of that, Arsene gave a snarky, immature interview to a BBC reporter who clearly, yet fairly, touched on an open nerve. Where is the humility, the mea culpa, the war cry?

The thing that worries and irritates me most is the lack of shape and plan to our play, which is Arsene’s responsibility. We look so unorganised, undisciplined, unfocussed all over the pitch. Some refer to our injury woes for the disappointing performances, but I just cannot buy it. At the back we had the eager and talented Bellerin and Nacho played out of position, but the BFG, Szczesny and Gibbs are established players and we are playing at home, against Hull: that should be enough to defend well.

In midfield we played the veteran Flamini, the Spanish sub-international Cazorla and the super-talented Wilshere, and in attack we had the phenomenal Alexis, and Welbeck and Ox. The latter two are not OG and Theo, but they would both be regular starters in the Hull team we played on Saturday, no doubt about that.

It is this lack of shape and plan that I cannot get: the misplaced balls, the unspotted runs, the lack of discipline when defending set-pieces, the cluttering of the centre of midfield, etc, etc.

The players are keen and work hard for each other, but somehow they do not get what Wenger wants them to do; and this has been going on for a long time now. The constantly shifting starting line-up does not help of course, but that should not be a major excuse here. 4-1-4-1 could work brilliantly, but with the likes of Arteta and Flamini to pick for the super important holding midfielder role, we leave ourselves vulnerable.

The four in midfield would have to be an all-concurring force: dominating play, attacking the opponent by feeding (off) the CF at will, and protecting the ‘back six’ if and when required. But, as we saw once again against Hull, everybody wants to move to the middle and is addicted to the area in front of the opponents ‘D’. In the process, the DM is left alone and therefore vulnerable to counter-attacks, the wings are not used systematically – meaning the opponent’s defence does not get stretched, and we clutter our attacks by trying to funnel the ball through the heart of the opponent’s defence constantly.

And even if we manage to use the wings, there are often not enough players inside the box to hurt the opponent.

I reckon we miss OG tremendously in terms of given structure to our play; and unless Arsene decides to change our style of play to suit the sort of players we have, it will continue to be this way until the Alps born Frenchman returns to the team.

With Ramsey, Arteta and Theo returning now, and Jack and Alexis being in super-form, and Welbeck turning out to be a reliable, hard working and athletic central attacker, there is no reason for despair.

But we need a plan, and a system and formation of football which suits these players, which they understand and buy in to, and which the reserve players understand just as much. It is about time Wenger gets this right now.

Tell me, if we start with the following eleven against Anderlecht tomorrow, is there any reason why we should not spank Brussels- based ‘Manneken Pis’’ bottom with four or five goals?

Ars v Anderlecht Oct 14 v2

Ramsey to sit a bit more back and support Arteta as much as possible – Jack to drive the centre of the team, with help from ‘box-to-box’ Ramsey when needed – Theo and Alexis to stick to the wing most of the time, but Alexis to help Jack in front of the D and Theo to aid Welbeck in the centre regularly. Full backs to support attack but one at a time and with discipline. And when we get the ball in the box, let there be enough players to make it count. Defend as a team all over the pitch. Let’s have high and constant pressure and good ball circulation, spreading the opponent’s defence by using the wings and dinked and long balls over the top. Let’s give them no time to think or reshape, and totally bamboozle them in the process.

And with the likes of Ox, Diaby, Cazorla and (hopefully) Pod on the bench we should be able to keep this up for 90+ minutes.

No excuses, self-pity or false sentiments. We have a great team and very good manager: we are The Arsenal – Come On You Rip Roaring Gunners! 

Written by: TotalArsenal.

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Arsenal 2 – Hull City 2: A(nother) Draw That will Satisfy No One

 

Welbecks late equaliser (with thanks to The Guardian for picture)

Welbecks late equaliser (with thanks to The Guardian for picture)

(Or… Ozil Invisible Again!!)

As Gooners face difficult results we search for coping mechanisms.  In descending order of how I rate them…

1) Wenger Out.  Spend some damn money!

2) Wenger Out.   He doesn’t know tactics AND he doesn’t play my favourite players and he sticks with HIS favourites, the f**king git!

3) Wenger Out.  The team has no heart and plays like lady-parts!  It’s his team so it’s his fault!

4-6) The exact same, but we blame the owner (4), the injuries (or maybe the physio) (5) or maybe it’s the players themselves who lack heart or are Cs or Ps (6)..

7) The ref cost us the points…

8) The result is bad (very bad) but I see some bright spots…

With a late draw and (very late chances for a win) AND with an injury riddled squad AND a ref who decided to leave his whistle at home, we are left without any REAL satisfaction.  Those who would prefer to blame the manager will still find a way, but the obvious narratives (we should’ve bought another CB…or we ought to trust our young players…or the manager should be able to motivate his team…) don’t quite work given the way the opponent’s goals came and the ways our did and didn’t.  (We can’t even blame this one on Mesut Ozil–Argh!!!)

As such, in light of lacking total satisfaction–in both the result AND the narratives–we’re left to actually discuss the events.  Here’s my take.

We started brightly with aggressive first touches from those we’d expect to make them:  Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere.  Hector Bellerin looked assured and very pacy at Right Back and Nacho Monreal OK at CB.  Early on we were able to keep Hull pinned in their own half even if shots were getting blocked at the point of attack or mishit.

In the 13th minute the reward came through Alexis.  Our Captain on the day, Per Mertesacker, did well to keep the ball in their half, played it to the Chilean out on the wide right who carried it forward, danced around a defender, and took the shot on himself from a difficult angle.  Harper covered his near post like a blanket but was exposed at the far corner and the shot was well-measured.  A very assured goal on a great individual effort but it had been coming.  It augured well for more.

More goals did arrive but from the wrong team.  In a solo effort Mohammed Diame (linked with Arsenal a couple of January’s ago) got on the end of an average pass, jumped easily around stranded Monreal but still had lots to do and only one way to do it–by clearing a path to goal by hauling down Flamini.  Szczesny charged out of goal to cut the angle but (maybe) went to ground a little early allowing for a deft chipped finish.  1-1.

It WAS a ridiculous no-call but one which suggested physicality would be permitted.  Unfortunately, with such a small Arsenal team out there, it was a refereeing stance which most certainly favoured the visitors.  Nonetheless the game was young and the Hull goal was completely against the run of play.

Unfortunately, our early goal may have seen us lose our initiative, perhaps in the hope that (for once) we might seal the (much needed) 3 points before squeaky-bum time.   After their equalizer we continued to push forward, especially with aggressive first touches and solid running.  The ability to press Hull into their own territory, however, waned, as their time wasting, having restored a perfectly satisfactory score-line for them, increased.  Despite 3 minutes of injury time, we headed to the dressing room even.

The team talk must’ve focused on our offensive game because, almost directly from the kickoff, our lack of defensive focus was punished.    Without an Arsenal touch (but plenty of very slow chasing of shadows) a wide ball to Huddlestone was lazily closed down by Wilshere.  Mertesacker extended his head towards the cross but was easily beaten to it by Abel Hernandez who buried it from 7 yards out.  Szczesny almost got a hand to it, but by such margins goals are scored.

Now down a goal, the patterns of the match deepened.  Arsenal, huffing and puffing, but with an eye for not getting beaten on the break, kept pushing.  Combinations continued to be off, especially amongst some of the English guys who’d played together during the international break, but Arsenal were still the better club.  Needing a focus in the middle of the pitch, Wilshere seemed as likely as Cazorla to be the spark.  Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose abilities in receiving the ball are as good as anybody at the club, also seemed bothered by basics.  Although the initiative seemed strong, passes were either too hard to feet or poorly weighted into space.  With Hull working minute by minute (time wasting) to hold the result, frustration and referee appeals came more steadily.  Scoring chances did not.

Urgency was required, and Wenger went to his (threadbare) bench at just past the hour mark, pulling Flamini for Aaron Ramsey.   Of course Ramsey was coming off another pulled hamstring and didn’t appear his fittest.  Was it too many Cornish pies or merely the black boots?  Were we risking another long spell out or was 3 weeks (instead of the originally diagnosed 6) enough to resurrect the Welsh Jesus?  Either way, even if he brought a more offensive element, he looked unlikely to pop up in the box or belt one from distance.

Our offensive players, perhaps with the exception of Alexis and Welbeck, continued to cut forlorn figures.  Oxlade-Chamberlain, in particular, though bright with initial touches was poor with ideas for finishing his moves although one nice run and pull back, even if slightly behind Cazorla, might’ve been better controlled or shot first time.

Wilshere, who took a knee to the back earlier on top of many unrewarded falls to the pitch, seemed increasing petulant as the referee continued to allow contact after contact.  On 67 minutes another unwhistled foul was followed by a touch of red mist and an unwise attempt to regain the ball.  A clash of knees and a Giroud-esque shaking of the fingers (the universal gesture of “I’m really gonna fake injury on this one or I might be seriously hurt…) seemed worrisome indeed.  He took a yellow for his trouble but seemed to leave the pitch walking well.  Joel Campbell was up quickly (woken from his nap?) and placed in a wide right position.

Now Oxlade-Chamberlain moved central and though time was still available, nervousness in the stadium seemed the tone.  Online, where all is easier, doom and personal agendas, if not outright hate, seemed the order of the moment.  Knives sharpened, narratives prepared, everybody was hoping for a win…for one team or the other…

Alas, ’twas not to be.  Finally, with the same pressure at which we began the match and throwing caution to the wind by leaving Mertesacker (and Monreal) forward for long periods after set pieces, we forced our way back.  At times it was desperate defending to avoid a 3rd Hull goal, but good pitch running from everybody showed belief in the project.  Welbeck and Campbell made especially key interventions hustling back from their forward spots.  Beyond those very occasional breaks, time wasting, led by former Tottenham Captain Michael Dawson, was Hull’s only tactic.  Just as the 4th official lifted the number 6 (signaling extra time) the equalizer went in.  Again, individual effort from Alexis and a well weighted close range pass to a very cool left-footed finish by Welbeck and one of the three points was regained.

There was still time for a winner, but a worthy team effort resulted in good pressure but no genuine clear-cut chances.  With the final kick of the match, Nacho Monreal had a chance at a close range volley.  The finish was that of a true center-back–nothing but air…

And that’s what we’ve got as well–Nothing but air left to fill now that another draw is in the books.  8 league matches, 2 wins, the loss at Stamford bridge and, now, 5 draws.  We sit firmly mid-table on the same 11 points by which we trail the league leaders.  It’s a long season, and only getting longer… The result is bad indeed, though getting the three points might’ve only papered over the extremely threadbare nature of the squad and the difficulties of the matches (coming thick and fast now) which lie ahead.

For whatever reason, this match seems a good one for player ratings.  Of the original narratives on offer up above, the “Wenger Outs”  and “Whenever we fail we must be lady-parts” don’t carry a ton of weight.  (Ozil WAS invisible in this one, again, but, perhaps, has an excuse…)   In my opinion, they would only apply to today’s match if you didn’t actually see it and only read the scoreline.  My hunch, however, is that player evaluations will spark PLENTY of debate amongst actual observers…  Here goes.

Szczesny: 6  Made no saves and hard to fault for either goal.  May have stayed larger on the first, but only the most jaundiced observer would believe he should have come for the cross on the 2nd, which he also nearly saved.

Mertesacker: 6  Beaten far too easily for the 2nd goal but a real leader in pushing forward and continuing the fight.  Somehow he intercepts a lot of balls from those positions high up the pitch.  I believe he’d be more effective at set pieces if he wasn’t the only red shirted player taller than 6 feet…

Monreal: 6  Caught in no man’s land for the first goal but other defenders (or the ref) were well positioned behind him.  Otherwise untroubled as a CB.  His air kick at the end will overshadow an audacious cross to Alexis which was just tipped over by the keeper.

Bellerin: 6  Pacy and full of skills and got a mix of both dangerous and very poor crosses in towards goal.  Diagonal runs at goal might be a real threat as well.  Moving him forward (and Flamini out to RB) when Ramsey came on, might’ve been a thought.

Flamini: 6  People may fault him for not being beast enough to avoid Diame’s pull down but that seems a very harsh judgment.  Otherwise kept play ticking over at DM.  Ramsey’s introduction, even coming back early from injury, was not a backward move in terms of physical presence.

Wilshere: 5.5 Played with his usual verve but allowed frustration to the get the better of him.  He looked as if he wanted to put the team on his back but just couldn’t find the touches nor get the whistles needed.  I believe our chances to pull back the two goals would’ve been served better had he stayed on.  Instead, he risked an unnecessary challenge and was taken off injured, which, if serious, could be a real blow to his and the club’s chances this season.

Cazorla: 6.5  Played with more aggression than usual (maybe trying to fill the shoes of Ozil) and showed good fitness to stay at it for the full ninety minutes plus injury time.  Blocked a few times at the point of his shot but forcing the issue.  I believe he needs to use Gibbs out wide for one-twos at times rather than forcing the play central.  Blew the one decent final ball the Ox produced, but was regularly in very promising positions.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 5 With so much imagination, power and skill on the first touch it is a real shame that those qualities seem so lacking if he takes more than one.  As the match wore on the pressure to do even more with initial touches seemed to make them even worse.  Additionally, at this stage in his career (and packing that huge chest of his) I’m beginning to worry that he seems unable to muster a composed physical and mental performance over the full duration of a match.

Alexis: 8.5 Responsible for both goals and clearly the class player on the pitch, both in skill and attitude.  Still some giveaways but the relentless, never-say-die attitude, including keeping his head down in dealing with a ref who would not blow, probably saved us the point.

Welbeck: 7.0  After watching a composed, world-class finisher in the early match (Kun Aguero) it’s hard not to believe we are a step light in this area.  The effort cannot be faulted and he ran several pitch-lengths to help keep the match at 1-2.  The hold up play is good, but not at the level Giroud brings, nor is the sheer size and bother the bigger Frenchman presents at set-pieces.

Subs:  Ramsey 6.5 Not looking fit but a definite lift in class and determination once on the pitch.   Hopefully he can play a bigger role in upcoming matches.

Campbell: 6 Also not looking fit but a player with good ball skills who can maybe be a solid hold-up forward at a lower level or in future seasons.  In English football, with a ref who won’t call fouls, even attempting to use him in this capacity seems foolish.  (Where’s Yaya these days?  And Poldolski was held out due to illness?…)  As such, it’s all about the final ball but he was unable to create any chances–for himself at any rate.  He did well on the one ball over the top in laying it off to Cazorla and should be credited for avoiding an offside call on that one.

So there you go.  Those are just my opinions and ratings.  (What do they say, Opinions are like Arseholes, everybody has one…)  Pick your favorite poison, i.e., narrative or player(s) and scream it to the skies.  Or contribute here, perhaps in calmer tones, if possible…

A trip to see the Trappists (Anderlecht) on Wednesday…

Written by: 17HighburyTerrace

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Preview | Line-Up: Jack in hole, Nacho CB, Bellerin RB, Rosicky to support Arteta?

Inter-lull over and six games to go to the next break. Big players missing in all areas of the pitch, but still a more than decent squad to choose from. The mission is clear after allowing the gap with the Chavs go to nine points: start a winning streak by focussing on each and every game like a cup final. The most important game is always the next one as we live by the principle of OGAAT, or OVAAT: one victory at a time. And we will not be struggling much to treat the home against Hull as a cup final, given they were our opponents in the last FA Cup final just five months ago.

Cup

I like Steve Bruce. A decent guy: humble and enthusiastic, down to earth and fair – and with the sort of nose that makes you wonder what he sounds like when deep asleep. He is also a survivor and what he has done with Hull is pretty amazing all-round. Diame, Livermore and Huddlestone will form a strong central wall in their anticipated 3-5-2 formation, so I reckon we will need to be strong and disciplined in our midfield. If we crack it we will be fine.

After Arsene’s recent evaluation of Jack’s core strengths, it is clear to me we will find him play in the hole, or their about, today. He said on Arsenal.com: ‘

“Jack is not a ball-winner. I believe he is more a guy you want to get close to the final third, [if you] keep him deep you take a big part of his efficiency away.

“He is a guy who likes to penetrate when there are many people – he can provoke free-kicks, he can create openings. It would be detrimental to his strengths [to play in a position that] is not his strength.”

I hope fellow Gooners will remember these words as it will aid discussions on where Jack will play in Arsene’s team this season. We need some strengths and discipline behind him though, yet with the ability to give extra support in attack as much as possible. Who can do that well? Rosicky. So, I expect him to play next to Arteta, with both Ox and Flamini kept on the bench for a late cameo, or to be fresh for the Anderlecht game.

With injuries to Koz and Debuchy, and Chambers being suspended, the defence picks itself to a large extent. Maybe Flamini will move next to the BFG (on either side), but I have gone for Nacho, with Gibbs and Bellerin as our FBs.

Ox could start instead of Cazorla but I reckon Arsene will go for experience, and having Ox on the bench is a great weapon at hand. Alexis on the left and the Wel up top and that is it my fine fellow Gooners.

Predicted Line-UP:

Ars v Hull Oct 14

I cannot wait for the game to start. The one benefit of the narrow loss against the Chavs is it will have made us grounded and focussed. So Come On You Rip Roaring Gunners – the League starts again, here, today! Super OGAAT! as 17HT called it this week. :)

Written by: TotalArsenal.

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