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 from 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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Mesut Ozil: Conundrum, Asset or Liability?

Question: Is Mesut Ozil a Conundrum, an Asset or a Liability?

7cb7581c-9624-4a25-b3dc-671eb4992883_OzilWenger_tussenbeeld

I ask, because if we believe the various media outlets, and unfortunately many do blindly, he is all three.

Take the latest stories of how he wants to quit Arsenal, and see how it is possible that a simple statement made in answer to a question by a team mate can develop, in a ‘Chinese whisper’ sort of way, to what the headlines read a couple of days later.

Ozil went to join up with the Germany squad, and although he never played, he would have had time to chat with his colleagues. They won the World Cup together, so they are amongst friends. Some are at new clubs and they discuss how they are doing there. Innocent question pops up, ‘Would you fancy playing at this club?’ Answer, ‘Possibly. One day, maybe’.

That is all it would take for this message to be passed along the line, until it reaches a manager of that club who has expressed an interest in the player, to then release that via a ‘tame’ journalist to spread the word ‘Ozil wants to leave Arsenal’. UK journo’s who love to stick the knife in, add ‘in January’ to their headline. Note also then how they respond to Arsene Wenger’s answers. ‘Wenger would be unhappy to lose Ozil in January’ … still leaving the idea it would be okay in the summer, even though that was never said?

When I read or hear comments, I take some on board if I think what they are saying has credibility, and the people who are saying it are in a position to speak with accuracy and experience.

Take this example. I heard Graham Souness talking at the half-time interval during a match recently. He was saying what he knew about cruciate ligament injuries, not from his own experience, but from other players that have had them. As it happens, he was talking about Falcao, but it does have relevance to Theo Walcott, and others of Arsenal interest. The crux of it was, when a players suffers these injuries the knee does not feel as ‘tight’ as it used to, and this can affect a player’s confidence. There is a slight ‘looseness or wobble’ which they have to get comfortable with. Again, with reference to Falcao, he said it is worse the older the player is when they get the injury. ‘Younger players can recover fully, but once they get over the age of 25, the difficulties arise’.

I find this credible, because Souness would know of a number of players who would have suffered this type of injury, and even allowing for advances in medical treatment, still many players do not get back to the level of ability they once had, so this explanation might have some substance?

So I ask, what makes any sense of Arsenal buying Sammy Khedira? One thing, the possibility of a low fee, even if that is off-set by the reported wage demand. Again, how much can we trust in that our ‘agreed terms’ suggest he settled for £100k, not £200, or £155k per week, as his demands were earlier reported? The other plus is his relationship with Ozil, on and off field. If he could link up with Mesut and bring the very best out of him week in, week out, then he would truly be a bargain.

The downside is, will Khedira’s knees hold out in the EPL, week in, week out?

I also read of a Chelsea interest. At first glance, he does not seem a player Chelsea need? They are pretty solid in the defensive midfield area, and why trade a younger, fit player, for a potential bench warmer? I think their ‘interest’ lies more in affecting Arsenal. Whatever way this saga goes, I do not see Khedira as the player we need. That said, will Ozil see this as another slight on his reason for signing? He gets played out of position, more on that later, and then does not get the one player he can rely on him to support him on and off field?

Another half-time chat I listened to during an England game was Glenn Hoddle on Wilshere. He was doing his usual bit on Wilshere underperforming, but he went on to say, ‘that in this ‘new’ role Jack had been given as the ‘holding midfielder’, that he would have to be more disciplined’. ‘He needs to stay back as he cannot do the 40 yard runs and get into the box for the return pass. Too often he goes straight into a crowded midfield, and if he loses possession there, he opens us(England) to a counter attack. So he must stay back and play for the team’.

That was the gist of it, but it struck a chord with me. We know Arsenal play a different format whilst they experiment with the 4-1-4-1 formation. As there is usually a defensive midfielder in place, and Jack either does the box to box stuff, or more recently, plays higher up the field.

This to me is where the Ozil conundrum comes in. Because of Wilshere’s tendency to operate in the centre ground, no matter where his starting line up is. In doing so, he takes away from much of what Ozil can do best. And what Ozil does best is when the centre field is not cluttered, and he can move in and out of that area, no matter what position he is notionally assigned to.

So can we play Wilshere in the same team as Ozil? Well not if they both have the same freedom to move into preferred areas, in my honest opinion.

Now if Wilshere is being groomed for the long term holding midfield role for England, and Hoddle was overjoyed at his performance that night, then perhaps he should do the same in the Arsenal line up? Yes, it will mean him giving up the idea of being the Number 10 conductor of attacks in and around the box, which will not go down too well with him or his many supporters? But I don’t suppose Arteta was overjoyed when he converted in a similar way. So does that make Arteta more of a ‘team’ player than Wilshere? If he takes it on board as a new challenge, and uses his skills more on reading the game, rather than just diving into tackles, where he risks as much injury as he does when he ‘puts his body on the line’ drawing fouls, or not, as the case may be, when he gets clattered going forwards. I think if he is serious about modeling himself on Alonso, then it ought to be for club and Country? Let’s not forget that some of those passes from deep were very Cesc-esque, or straight out of the ‘book of Alonso’. He must have enjoyed that, as well as his overall contribution?

Perhaps he should start thinking of a long term career in this pivotal role, rather than a short term, injury ridden, glory seeking one playing up front? Then both he and Arsenal could benefit?

It would also go a long way in solving the Ozil conundrum?

Now, is Mesut Ozil an Asset?

I want to use this quote from Milo in yesterday’s post:

First and maybe most important point: He opens he field and direction of play up, more than any other high profile number 10 or playmaker, by NOT being afraid to move the ball, or run sideways. Everyone always is looking for the big, flashy, vertical ball over the top, but when it’s not there, he refuses to force it and I admire that…Greatly. He certainly has the vision and skill to execute more difficult passes. His tendency to drift sideways results in him looking like a drifter, but he’s like the knight in a game of chess. Not always flashy, but LETHAL. No one has figured it out yet, but I tend to think his lack of production has more to do with Arsenal’s and Arsene’s tactics than it has with Mesut?

This was an excellent bit of insight which might have got lost, as it was not related to the post in question. Milo came to this conclusion through watching past videos. I wonder how many of Ozil’s critics have done this?

We have only seen flashes of what ‘the best number 10 in the world’ can do this season. But when we had a nearly fully fit squad last season, he was on fire. The plague of injuries this time has really upset the rhythm of the side. Despite the new signings being great additions, it does take time to gel properly. Ozil was late returning from the World Cup, and he is not the only player to find it difficult to get back to some sort of form at league level. No sooner does he play with the freedom that suits his game, and the line up is changed once more. My big criticism in his last game was the very unusual number of times he gave away possession. If he was carrying the injury that now requires him to have a 10 week break, it may well explain his lack of touch that day?

Over the next few games we will see if we can cope without him. But more importantly, we will see what a difference he makes in a fully fit squad in the New Year when he returns. He is an asset we most definitely need, but we need the team to work so he can produce his magic. Otherwise, and I will quote Milo again, we will miss ‘facets of his game that are either underrated/undervalued or go completely unrecognized’. But they are the very bits that help make the magic he can produce when conditions are right?

If we do miss out on him be able to produce his best, that would be a sad day for anybody who appreciates a quality footballer.

Liability? Never ….when he has quality players that move as a unit, and has the space to work in.

If he fails, then we must look at what is failing him …First!

In the meantime, we have to play without him. Who plays where, will be the subject of the next post. I just hope there is not a scramble of players all thinking they can step into his shoes, and we end up with an endless pattern of reshuffles?

Many thanks to Milo for inspiring the angle of this post.

 Written by: Gerry.

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What to do with BFG and Arteta/Flamini?

How to add speed and dynamism to the CBs-DM triangle?

Watching Holland battle against ‘minnows’ Kazakhstan and Iceland over the last few days, made me think about Arsenal. The similarities were quite strong. Against both teams the Dutch conceded an early goal and after that it was the typical battle against the parked busses. Both Kazakhstan and Iceland cannot be blamed for sitting back and defending a lead with all they have got, but the Dutch team can be blamed for conceding early in both games. They made it so hard for themselves and it is exactly what Arsenal so often do to themselves as well.

Beating the parked busses is becoming harder and harder, it seems. Teams are better drilled than ever and they love fighting for each other till the very end. The Dutch have formidable, classical wingers in Lens and Robben, very good CFs in Van Judas and the Hunter, and a couple of decent playmakers in Sneijder and Afellay. Yet, they struggled long against Kazakhstan and needed a fair portion of luck (soft penalty and strong deflection) to get past them; and against Iceland they got totally frozen out, never managing to score after going 2-0 behind in the first half.

The BFG - great beast

The BFG is ready!

How many times have we seen Arsenal struggle in a similar way over the last few season, despite having fantastic attackers and midfielders on the pitch?

It is so important to find a balance between urgency and concentration when attempting to crack the PTBs, but this is all made that bit harder when a team is trailing. If Holland cannot crack them with the players mentioned above – and I reckon Germany and Spain have struggled in a similar vain over the last week – it might explain to some extent why we are struggling so often as well. Especially, as we also have a tendency to go behind to some dodgy defending (set pieces or counterattack).

Having a solid defence is of course key.

Teams like Arsenal and Holland will always prefer to attack and therefore run the risk of being vulnerable at the back. The Dutch continual weakness in defence has held back a whole generation of talented footballers, and I reckon it is fair to say the same about our beloved Arsenal.

From the goalkeeper to the CBs(pairing) and our left back, we just have not been able to get both quality and stability in these key positions for a long time now. Moreover, Arsene and Steve have not been able to get them to work as a solid unit. Last season saw a big improvement in many ways, with a large number of clean sheets and a strong away record, but it all fell down when we faced the stronger teams, with embarrassing mega losses rattling the most positive minded Gooners in the process. We conceded 41 goals and managed a goal difference of only +27 in the PL, whereas the champions conceded only four less but ended up with an eye-watering goal difference of +65. One could argue that we should have scored a lot more goals rather than worry about our defensive record during the previous season. I would agree with that to some extent, but going forward Arsenal need to focus on both areas in order to make the next step up.

Arteta, always giving his all

Arteta, always giving his all

Many of us have argued that the least we must do is protect the back four better with a quality, athletic, beast of a DM. Every summer we are apparently looking for one but, for whatever reason, we end up with zilch every time.

I am a big fan of the BFG and reckon that his obvious shortcomings – lack of speed and ‘turnability’ when playing higher up the pitch – can be compensated within the team, so that his clear strengths – organisation of defence, headers, positioning, blocks, leadership – can shine through. The question is, however, whether we can play a relatively slow and ageing DM in either Arteta or Flamini in front of him…. and whether we can allow our FBs to bomb forward so much as they often do either.

Can we really afford to have so much slowness in the centre of defence and midfield whilst playing attacking, possession football?

I also rate both Flamini and Arteta enough to feel they have a place in the team/squad, but am concerned whether their and the BFG’s the lack of speed and dynamism can be compensated for in the same starting eleven. I reckon we will not make significant progress until Arsene adds speed and dynamisms – from within or the market –  in either area. In a few years, Chambers can fill the void, either at the back or in the DM position, but it would be foolish to start counting on him now. As we saw this week in his games for England, Calum is a work in progress despite a truly phenomenal start for the mighty Arsenal. Let’s use him but not abuse him.

In Gibbs, Debuchy and Koz we have potentially solid defenders capable of now forming a high-quality defence that can aid the attack as well. The goalkeeper position remains open for debate. Szczesny continues to divide opinion with mixing the sublime with the ridiculous from one game to the next, and we have not seen enough of Ospina to see whether he would bring more stability and quality to the defence. Wojciech’s impressive performance against Germany could be the start of a more solid and focussed period, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt for another season at least.

I realise that our attack needs to score a lot more goals as well, and as Liverpool almost showed last season, if we score more than we concede we can go all the way to winning the PL. But to really make progress long term, and to have a better chance against fellow top teams, we need to add speed, athleticism and dynamism in the triangle of CBs and DM. To do so, something has to give.

So my questions to you are:

  1. Do you agree and why (not)?
  2. What should Wenger do to add speed and dynamism to the ‘triangle’?

Written by: TotalArsenal.

 

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When I met Terry Mancini

Retsub, my brush with fame.

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Having penned my first blog entry on my abject failure to ever see Arsenal win anything physically, I was bombarded with compliments from well wishers.  Although I never received any royalties of film offers, I was offered a number of holiday destinations, should our beloved team qualify for a final again.  It’s nice to know that I am so well regarded that people suggested some really interesting places such a Timbuktu and the North Pole.   Such was the strength of the support I received that I decided to write another entry.

Initial thoughts were ‘My life as a football Hooligan’, but in truth I was too scared to get involved in any trouble and usually ran away.

“Chelsea always running, Tottenham running to, so’s The North Bank Highbury running after you”;  with the exception of me, because I was windy.

Then I thought I would talk about my collection of pristine Arsenal programmes, which I carefully stored under my jumper at each game to keep them flat.  However, my daughter recently announced they were the property of my first Grandson (not even on the horizon yet).   Probably a good thing, as I would have bored everyone to death.

So, I decided on a subject not Arsenal-specific, but one that may drum up some interesting Arsenal specific responses.  I titled it Retsub, my brush with fame.

In my banking career (yah boo hiss) I came into contact with a number of well-known celebrities at corporate events etc, but I wanted to share with you my stories of how I met with footballing greats (OK greats is pushing it a bit) on a personal level.

My elder brothers were schoolboy friends of a Charlton player called Phil Warman; I think I may have spoken with him once or twice. This meant at School I could say I was best buddies with a pro footballer: stardom indeed at an early age.

At secondary School I was coached by Lenny Lawrence (along with 700 other kids) who went on to manage Charlton.  We also had Keith Weller for a while.  Not that it did me a lot of good.  Having left School, some friends and I formed our own team. First season wasn’t a great success and we narrowly avoided relegation.  Thinking back, I don’t think it was possible to get relegated anyway. Worst moment was at the awards, when were awarded the ‘fair play trophy’ much to our embarrassment.  Still, greatness was to come: and I became a hero the next season, when I was the first player to be booked.  Huh no more fair play awards for us.  I still proudly display my Eltham and District Division 2 trophy, mainly because it was the only one I ever won.

But greater things were to come.  Not necessarily in chronological order.

In the early 1980’s my girlfriend (who became my wife) and I were holidaying in Ibiza.  Sitting in the bar one night I got talking football with a guy who announced he was Les Cartwright and played for Coventry City.  I think I knew of him, but he certainly wasn’t an A-lister.  It was, however, an interesting insight into the life of a professional footballer.  Serendipitously, thirty-five year later, Gerry of Bergkampesque fame referred to Les affectionately….

I once took a girlfriend to Highbury for the first time.  I was pretty full of myself on the journey to Highbury, explaining about The Marble Halls and the only team with an underground station named after it.   And how the star players all had big flash cars, and if we were lucky we might catch a glimpse of one or two at the players’ entrance.   In truth, Arsenal were having an awful season and were in danger of being relegated.   So, we are on the tube and I look up, and sitting opposite me complete with his kit bag was………an Arsenal megastar: maybe Charlie George or Alan Ball?   I have to be careful not to offend a fellow Bergkampesquer, but the megastar was none other than Terry Mancini.  Now Terry was playing that day and he was travelling to the match on the tube, classy huh?  I was going to be flash and say “alright Tel”, but chickened out.   I remember he was a great header of the ball, but not the most gifted player with the ball at his feet. He had been purchased from QPR to try to save Arsenal from relegation.   During that period we probably had the worst team I can remember.  We didn’t get relegated that or any other season.  Mancini was eventually shipped out to Aldershot.  Did he really get a hair transplant?

In July 1983 my wife and I married and honeymooned on a far way Island paradise….. OK it was, Majorca.  One day I was sitting on the balcony and glanced across at the next hotel.  There, lazing on their balconies were the great Brian Clough and his assistant Peter Taylor.  I thought about shouting over “alright Brian”   but chickened out.

A few days later I was playing head tennis with two young lads in the pool.  Like all kids do they were pretending to be their heroes and shouting out the name of Nottingham Forest players.   This was great, Forest supporters in the pool and their manager in the hotel next door.   I took great pleasure in telling them that Brian Clough was next door, and probably exaggerated a bit and told them that I had exchanged pleasantries.  This would no doubt be fantastic news for them that their manager was only a stones throw away.. But no, their response was “ He’s our Dad”… hmmm felt pretty foolish, but I will still claim I taught Nigel Clough a thing or two.

A few years later, my wife’s uncle was part of a team that installed the first giant screen at the back of the South Bank.  They obviously didn’t know he was a Spurs fan as they rewarded him with a number of tickets which he duly passed on to me.   So my wife, my Mother in law and I find ourselves sitting in or around the Directors’ box at Highbury.   Can’t remember who we were playing, but I was sitting just in front of Paul Mariner who was injured.  I thought about introducing myself but you know the story by now.   Highlight of the day was Charlie Nicholas appearing as a sub.   Suddenly Charlie is warming up, clad from head to foot in a bright red tracksuit.  My Mother in law exclaims in a really loud voice “ Who is that great fairy?” .  We escaped but only just. Another chance of fame had slipped away…

And finally, (to collective sighs of relief) my final story.   I was sitting in the bar of the Intercontinental Hotel in Bahrain enjoying a beer on a Thursday evening.   For those not familiar with the geography, Bahrain is an Island attached to the Saudi mainland by a causeway.   Saudi is a dry country (no alcohol), so every Thursday evening hundreds of Saudi’s drive across the Causeway to enjoy the pleasures denied to them on the mainland. When they drive back it is probably the most dangerous road in the world.  It was fairly early and the hordes hadn’t arrived yet.  Suddenly two really beautiful blonde girls approach me and we begin chatting.  It turns out that they were the cheerleaders for The Arizona Cardinals who were in Bahrain to entertain the American troops based there.  Now this was pretty amazing, and ten minutes later about 20 further girls were surrounding me. OK I have exaggerated before, but this really happened.  If I had a camera I would have bragging rights for ever.  But no such luck, and ten minutes later about 50 randy Saudi’s arrived and ruined any photo opportunity.

What did you make of Retsub ladies?

What did you make of Retsub ladies?

So endeth my claims to fame.  Hopefully it will stir up some interesting stories from fellow BK’ers! :)

Written by: Retsub.

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Ox, Chambers, Jack, Gibbs, Welbeck, Theo: The Future of England Looks Bright

The continental media have often suffered from a superiority complex towards English football – both at national and club level. They love to talk down English tactics and the ability of English footballers and managers. They often get away with this as it fits the general perception of English football in Europe, and the media are generally lazy and stick to their dusty old scripts.

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For example, after round one of the CL games, a journalist of Voetbal International – a renowned Dutch football magazine to which I subscribed as long as 38 years ago – came out with the cheap, presumptuous statement that German clubs are far better tactically than English clubs. In fact, he called English clubs tactically naïve.

Yes Arsenal had been beaten by a far better team on the night, yes Bayern managed to win at home against MC (but only just and with a late goal), and yes Schalke was able to hold the Chavs to a draw. So what? MC and Arsenal still have to play the Germans on these fine shores, and the Chavs probably had an off-day. Let’s see what will happen in the next few months, and how many German teams will top their groups come the end of the group stages.

The football played by Arsenal and Citeh is of a very high order, both tactically and technically, and the Chavs are the Chavs, as much as Maureen is Maureen. We might not like the way they generally play football, but nobody can call it tactically naïve, can they?

On a national level, things have been quite different for a very long time. The FA tried to change the way the national team played football by throwing lots of money at very expensive, internationally renowned managers like Capello and SGE. It did not really work out as various England teams underperformed during the last major tournaments. Roy Hodgson seems to be making a difference, albeit slowly. The oldies have gone and a whole new generation of more technically and tactically gifted footballers are now wearing the shirt with pride.

Last World Cup clearly came to early for Hodgson’s (long term) vision, as the team performed without much bite, purpose or self-belief. But with SG now retired as well, Woy can shape the team as he pleases. And it looks like our own boys will play an important role in England’s future, by occupying key positions in defence, midfield and attack. England started with four Gunners, and at the start of the second half there were even five on the pitch: Gibbs, Chambers, Wilshere, Welbeck and Ox (2nd half). And our most experienced international, Theo, will soon be available as well.

Some Gooners questioned whether this is a good idea, as our players will likely suffer fatigue and injuries from their international games and tournaments. But I reckon it will be key to both their individual development as well as establishing a strong core to the English and Arsenal teams.

It is hard to judge our players’ performances against a part-time park the bus team, full of players who’ll never stop believing their luck for playing against the big stars of Europe a few times a year.

We saw the versatility of Jack, playing more advanced in the first half and a bit deeper in the second. His over-the-top balls for Rooney were exquisite, but so were his defence splitting balls during both halves. His vision was sharp as a razor and his composure was professional throughout the game.

Danny was busy with putting pressure on the defence and had a few good opportunities before he scored his well anticipated and executed goal, made by the Ox. San Marino did not give England a lot of space, so we did not necessarily see the best of Danny on Thursday, but a goal will do and nobody can deny he put in a fine shift.

Chambers had one of his weakest games since he joined Arsenal. There was not much to do defensively as his attacking skills were mainly required on the night. He worked hard and played with healthy aggression and thrust, but his passing under pressure was often off and so was some of his decision making. I am hoping he will be rested for the game on Sunday, so he will be fresh when we face Hull City in a week from now.

Gibbs was solid and disciplined and supported the attack constantly. There was a maturity in his play that really pleased me, and I hope Hodgson will give him more opportunities like these.

Ox brought real thrust and excitement to England’s second half performance, and he will be pleased with his two assists (for Welbeck and Townsend). We all want him to burst through to the top this season, just like Aaron did last season. At the moment he seems unable to keep up his performances throughout the whole game, relying too much on periodic bursts of energy and purpose, whilst disappearing in between them. With Ozil out and Theo not yet back, AOC has a great opportunity to play himself into the team, rather than remaining a great option from the bench.

Let’s see what Hodgson will do against Estonia tomorrow: how many Gunners will he start and in which positions? Of course I am worried about our young talents getting injured, but I am also excited in seeing them play in an undoubtedly tougher game than midweek’s. I like it that Hodgson sticks to a system (the Diamond formation) and is getting his players to learn to play in it. He is a pragmatist and will make changes if and when required, but it is very important to have a system that all the players recognise and have learned to play in, and our boys are becoming the very core of this.

With the right system of football, tactics and quality footballers, England could soon be at the top of European football nations again, and once and for all silence the lazy European football press. And Arsene/Arsenal will have helped to build it. Arsene to proudly lead England at the next world cup? Pourquoi pas? :)

What did you make of our boys’ performances? And who are likely to become core players in the national team for the next few major tournaments?

Written by: TotalArsenal.

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