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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 120 Comments

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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