Rodgers, Flores and now Ranieri and Why Arsenal are Better than that

I am a huge Wenger fan and will always be thankful for the football he made Arsenal play, the successes he has given us and the unparalleled loyalty he has shown to the club over the last 20+ years. If he stays another year, I will support him with the same enthusiasm as always. But getting a new manager excites me too and, I must admit, a bit more than the prospect of Arsene staying on, right now.

We have been very lucky to have had a steady, high performing manager for more than two decades now. A manager needs to fit the club’s philosophy and values and we all know that Arsene has actually shaped these himself and then stuck to them religiously. For me, really good organisations are based around a fit-like-a-glove philosophy and values. Because of these an organisation will withstand easier the hard times and flourish more during the good times. And it will also attract and then retain the best talent.

But this does require that a club stands by their manager and maintain a long term vision, rather than sack them after a spell of disappointing results. Wenger, almost single-handedly, has, through his loyalty, dedication and miracle-working during the really lean times, transported the club to the highest financial  echelon of world football. And the added, indirect contributions to the beautiful game in this country should also not be underestimated. Without Wenger football in England would be much poorer now, and in more than one sense.

Yesterday’s sacking of Ranieri is a sad day for football. It actually really puts me of football at the moment. What crazy Claudio has achieved with that club in such a short space of time is simply magnificent. He even got LC a more than acceptable result in the CL this week, with a decent prospect of making it into the last eight. Yet the club sacked him unceremoniously because they can, and they don’t care.

Like their most famous fan, Lary Gineker, I find this very shocking and most of all stupid. What a lack of vision and stamina by the board; what a lack of people management skills and PR handling! But LC do not stand on their own.

Watford’s gutless decision to not prolong the contract of the beautifully named and impressive football manager Quique Sanchez Flores, comes to mind. He had only been given a one year deal but still convinced his ex-wife and children to come and live with him in London…. Ten months later…he is told to Flores off.

And then there is the forever restless Liverpool who got rid of a manager that got them closest to the title in a very long time and made them play football that at times was better than Arsenal’s. In fact, some of the best football I have watched in recent years was when Rodgers came to the home of football with Liverpool and played us totally off the pitch for the first 45 minutes. Miraculously, they did not score though. 🙂

And of course there are many more ludicrous manager-sackings to report on.

Why do clubs not stick to these visionary and successful managers a lot longer but sack them as soon as there is a dip in performance? Where is the vision and with what sort of values do these clubs operate?

Wenger out or in is of course a big question. But whatever happens next, our class, philosophy and values of the club will be at the base of all our key management decisions, and we will see another long period of stability and sustained success, based around sexy football. It may not be another twenty-plus-years manager, though… 😉

By TotalArsenal

 

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Giroud and Alexis up-front, Holding and Mustafi CBs, Coq and Xhaka to get new chance: Preview

Sutton United v Arsenal – FA Cup fifth round Preview

I am not sure whether to spend many words on this must-win game. Sutton United deserve all the plaudits for getting through to the fifth round by eliminating Leeds United. they will play us at their stadium, the Borough Sports Ground, on their artificial surface and will want to give us a game of course. And what is there to lose for them? These are the sort of games the players and supporters dream of, and even if the former lose handsomely against us, the latter will still see them as heroes. And if they were to manage to beat us tomorrow night, the local hospitals’ midwifes will be in overdrive come November this year. 🙂

Arsenal’s only real enemy are themselves. After that utterly demoralising second half against BM last Wednesday, there is a chance of a lack of focus or appetite for tomorrow’s game. That would of course be unforgivable, so it is quite unlikely that the boys Wenger will select for tomorrow’s game against the U’s will not be really up for it. This is about pride for the shirt as much as anything else. And with a more than doable home tie against Lincoln City next up, there is an additional incentive to play well and make winning the FA Cup a big priority for the remainder of the season.

Wenger finds himself in a difficult and dark corner right now, but he knows that nothing more will bring back the light than winning games again. He also needs to re-balance the team as to get back a better spine and resilience, which should form the basis of a strong run towards the end of the season in both the league and FA Cup. I am not sure he has the players for this right now, but by playing Elneny and Xhaka in the DM-pivot and playing a bit deeper and more compact, we should see a much needed improvement. Well, that is what I would do, but not necessarily against Sutton. Reintroducing Giroud, who luckily cannot be blamed for our recent disasters this time round, seems also a good idea. Welbeck played today so is unlikely to play again tomorrow.

Looking at the training pictures on Arsenal.com, I reckon this could be the line-up:

Iwobi and Alexis are likely to swap positions and fill the space in the hole. Ox (or maybe Theo instead) will also be allowed to move into the hole regularly, and Giroud will become a strong central pivot to create space for the team and connect with fellow attackers as much as possible. As Sutton are likely to park the bus, we also need Ollie’s aerial presence to add variety to our attacking play.

As long as our attackers play with a high tempo, passion and concentration, which means helping out midfield and defence as much as possible, we should create plenty of chances and then the goals will come.

Let’s get behind our team once more. COYRRGs!

By TotalArsenal

 

Posted in Best Arsenal 11, match preview | Tagged , , , | 55 Comments

Without Spine and Resilience Arsenal will get nowhere

How do you get a spine in a team? How do you get resilience in a team? Success is always built around spine and resilience, because sooner or later the going gets tough; that’s life. More is needed than those two attributes. We need talent, a plan, cohesion, passion etc, etc. But without spine and ability to get up when you have been knocked down, you, me and Arsenal football club will get nowhere.

We started tentatively against Bayern on Wednesday, handing them the initiative and soaking up pressure as much as we could. Boll*ck-on-a-neck Robben scored a very fine goal, which we all knew was coming as soon as Coquelin had been fooled and allowed space for the forever ageing ex-Chav to hit his left-footed bullet against the back of the net. After that we rode our luck and then came back into the game through a badly taken penalty that still made it past Neuer at the third attempt. We even had chances to score a second before the break, but this time it was Ozil and Xhaka, so used to playing on German soil, who lacked the composure to really take the game to Bayern. 1-2 at half time would have been very sweet indeed.

The second half was as bad a performance by Arsenal as I have ever seen. As soon as Die Lederhosen scored their second, in the 54th minute, I knew we would get spanked. And didn’t we all? Without Koz, who had to leave because of injury, we totally imploded. The team were all over the place and their backsides were warmed by their hairy tales. The pitch became bigger and bigger and our men became boys, shrinking more and more as the second half went on. Mustafi and Gabriel had as much cohesion as Hillary and Trump between them and our central midfielders were chasing their own sorry tales. It was woeful and our man of the match, Ospina, was the only one who kept standing up and produced one superb safe after another. But then his name means ‘spine’ in Spanish, I reckon…. Oh spiny one!

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In every football team you need a good spine, and a good spine is held together by a strong waist. On Wednesday, our waist of Coq and Xhaka became weaker and weaker and there was nobody to help them either. The total collapse we witnessed was very painful and tells us that we have structural problems that cannot be solved before the summer. It is going to be a bumpy ride from here on. In the summer we need to get ourselves a spade of a spine and stadiums full of resilience.

By TotalArsenal

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 26 Comments

Bayern Munich-Arsenal: Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg. Match Preview, Predicted Line-up.

Some things never change, or at least that how it feels at times.  Once again Arsenal face Bayern Munich in the Champions League and Gooners will hope that we are not doomed to repeat history.

Even though Bayern eliminated Arsenal in this very round in both 2013 and 2014 and produced a lopsided scoreline in their home stadium last season during group play, we should not travel to Germany without a measure of belief.  With the 2nd leg at home this time, we should know that if we can produce a good result at the Allianz stadium we will be in with a chance to advance.  In addition, each season is different; Bayern are changed and so are we.

Although Bayern are 7 points clear in the Bundesliga, all reports indicate that it has been an ongoing process attempting to modify their style under new manager Carlo Ancelotti.  The Italian, in contrast to Pep Guardiola, now at Manchester City, favors greater discipline at the back.  This has been echoed by players like goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and defender Mats Hummels, both of whom have stated that the goal in the first leg is keeping a clean sheet.  Ancelotti has cautioned that Arsenal are an attacking team and will have plenty of the ball, setting up potential counterattacks; Neuer thinks there’s enough attacking talent in both teams for a very entertaining match.

Such a match is possible.  Alhough Bayern will be without Franck Ribery, they have plenty of strength in attack.  Guys like Thomas Mueller, Douglas Costa, Arjen Robben, Kingsley Coman, Renato Sanches and Robert Lewandowski leave Ancelotti spoiled for choice.  Further back, they will be missing Jerome Boateng, but they still boast a plethora of defensively minded footballers like Phillip Lamm, David Alaba, Joshua Kimmich, Thiago Alcantara, Javi Martinez, Arturo Vidal and Xabi Alonso, all of whom work hard to control the pitch but are also able to get the ball forward in a hurry.

I don’t see such an open game.  Against Bayern, I believe Arsenal will have to play in a highly disciplined fashion employing our best footballers in every position, all of them keeping a keen eye on fore-aft balance.  It’s fine to move the ball forward and work for goal scoring chances, but we cannot afford to get caught on the break by being too aggressive.  Arsenal’s primary task will be to play in a controlled manner in order to bring a manageable scoreline back home to North London.

Unfortunately, we come into the match without our highest confidence and best form.  Manager Arsene Wenger is once again under massive pressure.  Thankfully, we were able to eke out a 2-nil win over Hull City this past Saturday, but it was hardly a convincing performance against a team in the relegation places.  Still, it was an improvement over consecutive league losses which find us in yet another tight battle for a top 4 finish in the Premier League; 10 points off Chelsea at the top of the table seems a mountain to climb.

As such, a Champions League tie against a huge club like Bayern presents a great opportunity.  Who will Wenger pick for this crucial match?

At the back, he’s already confirmed that David Ospina will start in goal.  The Colombian is a fine shot-blocker but tends to create heart-in-mouth moments with questionable decisions about when to leave his line.  He’ll need better communication with his back four, a group that probably picks itself.  The two Spaniards, Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal, will likely start at fullback while Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny surely will pair again as central defenders.

Wenger finally has a bit of choice ahead of that group.  Granit Xhaka is available after a four match suspension and Mohamed Elneny has returned from the African Cup of Nations.  Will either or both get a start?  Francis Coquelin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have been manning the double pivot in recent matches and probably represent his other choices.

Further forward, despite Wenger recently questioning his confidence, there’s Mesut Ozil who should be keen to impress on his return to his native Germany.  Many have argued that Ozil should be dropped based on his current form, but I just can’t see Wenger making such a move.  Alex Iwobi, just 20 years of age, has looked good on the ball and strong in attack from a starting position on the left.  Will Theo Walcott be chosen on the right or could this be a spot for Danny Welbeck?  It’s also possible that Alexis Sanchez takes one of the wide positions if Olivier Giroud were to start as our center forward.  It would be a surprise to me if Giroud, who didn’t feature at all vs Hull, got the call up front instead of Alexis.  Unfortunately, Lucas Perez, a player many Gooners would like to see get more playing time, is out with a hamstring problem.

I have to say that I don’t feel very confident about Wenger’s picks but here’s my best guess:

Ospina

Bellerin–Mustafi–Koscielny–Monreal

Xhaka–Coquelin

Walcott–Ozil–Iwobi

Alexis

Substitutes: Cech, Gabriel, Gibbs, Elneny, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck, Giroud

Personally, I’d prefer to see Elneny get a spot as the Egyptian can run all day and recycles possession in a way I believe this game demands.  Others might prefer Oxlade-Chamberlain who seems a revived character playing in a deeper midfield position recently.  Giroud up front also appeals to me.  What do you think, fellow Gooners?

As we saw with Paris Saint-Germain’s 4-nil win over Barcelona last night, strange things can happen in these first legs.  We nosed in front of the French club in group play after a pair of draws against them, so maybe should find some confidence in their great result.  We should also remember that we have had a measure of success at the Allianz including a 2-nil victory there in 2014.  Such a scoreline would be a dream and frankly, if it were on offer, I’d take a draw in Munich, ideally with an away goal or two to give us an advantage in the return leg.  How about you?  Does anybody care to predict what sort of match we’ll see if not a final scoreline.

There’s no doubt that another CL match-up with Bayern is daunting.  Still, if our team plays at its best, there is nothing to fear against the German giants.

Go on then…

By 17highburyterrace

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What Tactics Against Bayern?

Are Arsenal an attacking team? The answer is neither yes nor no or if you don’t mind it is both yes and no. It’s definition is rooted in relativity. Are Arsenal offensively minded? Only one answer this time. Definitely yes. The status of being the attacking team resides in the ability of the team to dominate a game in the attacking areas, the mentality
notwithstanding. Arsenal are 4th on the possession table in the Premier League with 56.4% and accepting possession stats as an accurate indicator of the offensiveness of teams, that would mean that on the average they conduct their games as the attacking team.

In the top five leagues in Europe, Bayern Munich sit comfortably on top of the possession table with 64.5%.Arsenal are 12th with 56.4%. All things being equal the stage is set for us to lose our usual status as the attacking team when we clash with Bayern at the Allianz
Arena. But it is not always that things are equal. There are strategies and there can be other strategies. Do we dare go toe to toe with them away from home? I would say yes if we can be clever as well as make the sweats to pour. On the other hand we could decide to swim with the tide and use their force against them as is done in Judo, by conceding possession to them and…… boom!… every now and then. Mark you, the two options are not exclusively mutual over 90 minutes but there is always a centre to a style.

1st Option : ATTACK! ATTACK!

This reminds me of General Rommel the Desert Fox who was always coming up with the unexpected! The game plan here would be to disrupt their well oiled passing game with intense pressing all over the field KloppLiverpoolesque. This is insane, I say to myself anytime I watch Liverpool do it.  Beware, it’s not only about quantity, it’s also about quality. There is skill to it. Have we got the personnel for it?  Coquelin, Elneny, Sanchez, Mustafi, Koscienly, maybe also Nacho, Bellerin and Welbeck. That’s not bad, 8 out of 10 outfield players and we’ve still got Xhaka (a little bit on the slow side), Oxlade-Chamberlain (a little bit less than 90 minutes of concentration), Walcott (might not throw in tackles but compensates with his bullet speed which the opposition find quite disorienting), Ozil the alchemist (a luxury we can afford ) and others. Do I really have the stomach for this option? I leave it to you Gooners to resolve.

2nd Option : ABSORB AND COUNTER.

This is never good for my heart. And the danger is that it’s not a tactics we are well practiced at. If only we could hire our two banks of four from West Brom or Burnley, my mind and I guess yours too would have firmed up on this option. Our problem is in the bank of four that makes first contact with the enemy. It requires men who know how to
control spaces without the ball. It also needs men who know how to escape the high press with intricate passing and mobility when they have the ball. I miss Santi Carzola
hugely, believe you me (remind you of somebody?). On the defensive phase of proceedings, two names spring to mind immediately. Coquelin and Elneny but when you think about escaping the press, well… Coquelin???  Xhaka is very good in controlling space but is there a question mark behind his name too in short quick passes to escape the
press.  He looks good enough to me and watch out for his longer passes for springing counters. Two more to go for in this 1st bank of four, but first let’s find the two that we should leave up field. Sanchez and Ozil. Obviously we dare not leave Sanchez in those two banks of four. He would twist and twist and turn and turn in front of our goal. That wouldn’t be good for my poor heart. Back to the remaining two players for the 1st bank of four. These two should also be part of the squad for the counters. Welbeck looks a good call at the left side and and the newly crowned Mr. Universal, the Ox, patrols from the right.

Gooners, what’s your take on these two options and the personnel to man them. Or do you have other options to offer independent of these two? Remember that this is an away-home fixture which should have some bearing on the overall strategy. There is something that tells me that we could make it to the next round.

COYG!

By Pony Eye.

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Arsenal-Hull City: Tough Time to Take on the Tigers. Match Preview, Predicted Line-up

I don’t have the exact quote but Arsene Wenger has said something along the lines of, “Losing two matches is a crisis, three a disaster.”  Arsenal, perhaps already in crisis–or at least a repetition of past seasons’ disappointments–could be facing disaster as they take on Hull City in another Saturday lunch-time match.

A week featuring losses to lowly Watford (on our home pitch) and league leaders Chelsea have seen the high hopes of making up ground in the title race dashed.  Arsenal now sit 4th in the table amongst a group of five clubs separated by only 5 points.  Some are arguing that Wenger should now be more comfortable managing his club for another top 4 finish given that the leaders (12 points ahead) appear out of sight.  Even more cynical types would like to see Arsenal lose out on those Champion League places if it would mean the end of Wenger’s 20+ years in charge.  Dropping down (all the way to 10th last season) and getting a new manager hasn’t hurt Chelsea, has it?

Wenger, of course, takes pride in the consistency of his team and will know that the matches are played one at a time and that participation in the Champions League is the hallmark of any big club.  Righting the ship against Hull City is even more critical as the team travels in midweek to play the first leg of another Champions League round of 16 elimination against one of the giants of Europe: Bayern Munich.  Restoring a modicum of confidence is essential heading into that one.

Hull City, under new manager Marco Silva, will be looking at this match as another opportunity to take down a big club and grab a point (or three) in their ongoing battle to stave off relegation.  Despite beating Liverpool (2-nil) last weekend–and drawing nil-nil at Manchester United the week before–they are still sitting in 18th place on 20 points.  Three other clubs sit just a single point above them and Silva will sense a chance to gain more at the Emirates.  After all, he’s done it before, managing Greek club Olympiakos to a surprise 3-2 victory in Champions League group play back in the autumn of 2015.

In that match, Arsenal played with their “cup-keeper,” David Ospina, who had a very difficult outing.  Memories are short, however, and many are calling for Ospina to replace Petr Cech for the Hull match after Cech’s own howler last weekend.  His shanked kick allowed former Gunner Cesc Fabregas to score Chelsea’s 3rd, adding insult to injury.  That Ospina will likely start at Bayern and could use the game time to forge greater understanding with his outfield players is another strike against Cech.

Cech’s place isn’t the only one in question after the two losses.  Hector Bellerin may not be recovered from the concussion he sustained when assaulted by Marcos Alonso on Chelsea’s first goal.  Francis Coquelin, another player who many thought under-performed at Stamford Bridge, has a hamstring issue.  Luckily, Mohamed Elneny is back with the club.  Though surely disappointed that his goal vs Cameroon in the final of the African Cup of Nations wasn’t enough to see his country to victory, Elneny’s presence could be just what the beleaguered Arsenal midfield has been missing. He probably has to play and will likely be paired with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, one of the only senior midfielders not missing through injury or suspension.

The attacking positions offer some room for choice.  Alexis Sanchez appears to have joined Mesut Ozil as a lightning rod for criticism after an underwhelming performance at Chelsea.  Some Gooners are questioning both players and suggesting that they are merely going through the motions as they get closer and closer to the expiration of their current contracts.  Danny Welbeck and Lucas Perez, mostly used as substitutes in league matches thus far this season, might be ready for starts.  Then there are Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott.  Both players started at Chelsea but also failed to make big impacts.  Finally, Olivier Giroud, who came on as a substitute and scored at Stamford Bridge, could be considered for restoration to the starting group.

These are critical choices for Wenger.  A win is imperative given the tightness of the league table and to restore the lost confidence from the last two games.  A little bit of rest–and perhaps a shake-up of the squad–ahead of the trip to Munich also seems essential.  This one is harder to call than most, but here is the group that I think will play.

Cech

Gabriel–Mustafi–Koscielny–Monreal

Elneny–Oxlade-Chamberlain

Perez–Ozil–Welbeck

Giroud

Substitutes: Ospina, Holding,  Gibbs, Maitland-Niles, Iwobi, Walcott, Alexis

Hull, coming off the two clean sheets against the two big clubs, will surely set up to thwart us and strike on the counter.  With the apprehensive–if not downright hostile–atmosphere in our stadium, our team simply must get off on the front foot and score an early goal.  Keeping some of our more regularly starting attackers in reserve might allow a late chance to get us the needed result while still getting a bit of a rest ahead of the midweek CL showdown.

That’s just my best guess.  Who do you think the manager will play and what would you do if you were in charge?  Losing two on the trot tends to bring out those who believe they know better than the man in charge.  Have at it, I say, even though, of course, it’s Wenger who will have to make the final call.

As much as we’d like a match like Hull City–in our home stadium–to be a routine outing for the team, recent results should make us realize that there is no such thing.  Ahead of the Champions League elimination round AND locked in a pitched battle to get back to that tournament next season, nothing less than a win and a performance that indicates that the club belongs at that level will suffice.

Go on then…

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Time to Bench Alexis and Give Perez the LW position

Robert Pires left 11 years ago but has still not been replaced.

I am in the city of the red and blue Mancs enjoying a fine 10oz steak with chips and three vegs and a beautiful pint of Peroni. All this for just £12, but I have to put up with hearing that winchy accent everywhere around me though. 🙂

If there ever was one player of the red Mancs I wanted to play at Arsenal, it would have been Ryan Giggs. The only time I ever applauded a MU goal was when the Welsh wizard scored the winner in that unforgettable FA Cup semi-final, almost twenty years ago. Bergkamp had missed a penalty and we should have won the game, but there was Giggs with a mazy run and an unstoppable bullet past Seaman in the top right corner very late on in the game. It did hurt to be eliminated but that was some goal he scored to secure a place in the final for our nemesis. I could only stand up and applaud it.

Luckily, Arsenal have had their own fine left wingers, and Bobby Pires gave Giggs a run for his money every season they played in the same league. RP07 was such an elegant player, not necessarily the hardest working Gunner on the pitch but very efficient with the ball and capable of scoring the most beautiful goals (62 goals in 189 appearances).

Since Bobby left, Arsene has struggled to find a quality, solid replacement for him. Initially, there was Reyes who looked the total part but he got homesick and returned to Spain within no time. Then came a period of austerity due to moving into the new stadium, but Wenger still managed to get another very exciting prospect for the left wing position with the very, very last minute January transfer window arrival of Arshavin. Initially, Andrey looked like a top quality player, and who can forget his four goals at Anfield for us? But I reckon he also suffered some kind of homesickness and after a season and a bit he gradually became less and less effective due to a lack of form, confidence and passion.

For some reason the LW position was cursed, as everybody who was tried there failed in one way or another. Gervinho was exciting to watch with his dribbling skills and fine runs, but also he did not make the position his, mainly due to a lack of finishing of often very easy chances. But then finally, Arsenal got a fine left winger with a fabulous background and enough hunger to devour an entire defence all by himself. Alexis Sanchez was a very good buy and it looked like we now had a LW of the pedigree of Pires.

But no!!! Wenger had to try Alexis in the central CF position at the start of this season and now he does not want to play there anymore, it seems. The versatile and willing Iwobi played more than well in the LW position but it is far too early to say whether he has it in him to become the new Pires. Of course we can also play the now hopefully recovered Welbeck on the left but it remains to be seen whether he is best used there.

It has become  clear that Alexis is now fully set on playing centrally and on top of that it looks like his heart is no longer in playing for the mighty red and white. In our four most  recent PL losses, Alexis has looked at best unable to change the game round for us, and at worst uninterested to give his all for the team. The latter is of course unacceptable, but it could just be a body-language thing.

Wenger will have to try something different to get this team going again, and maybe it is time to rest Alexis for a while and give Welbeck and Perez a chance to shine for us now. An attack of Perez-Welbeck/Giroud-Theo/Iwobi could give us wings again. Perez cannot become our new Pires; he just lacks the coolness and style of Bobby. I have already called him the new Ljunberg so it would not make sense anyway!! 🙂 But with his contributions through fine assists and important goals, he could make a real difference for us. That man knows how to work and how to play for the team, and that goes a long, long way.

Time to freshen things up and a period of Perez on the left might just be the tonic the team needs right now.

By TotalArsenal.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 16 Comments