Arsenal are Riding on their Survival Instinct, but Where is their Killer Instinct?

(WE MAY STILL WIN THE LEAGUE. SEE HOW).

I can just imagine how, going back about two decades ago when the Arsenal Board conveyed a special meeting on ways to position the club to take the greatest advantage of the nascent global outreach of the Premier League, one smart fellow in the BoD must have come up with a strange name, Arsene Wenger. Arsene who? Equipped with facts and figures, and with a gift of the gab, that smart guy, I imagine, must have swayed the listening Board members from downright scepticism to a bullish mood: they couldn’t wait to see and hear from this great economist who was also managing football on the field. He was, the BoD must have enthused, exactly what the time needed. Football and finance were becoming inseparable and this ‘Arsene Who?’, looked every inch their fused incarnate.

Arsene arrived. The blue print was established. In came Overmars, Vieira, Ljungberg, Henry and others, and in a flash Arsenal football team was winning laurels and rubbing shoulders with the mighty Manchester United. Arsenal, within those few years of Wenger’s appearance on the scene, had attained the critical velocity required to join first class the globalization train with all its commercial benefits. But the BoD, now with the compelling voice of Wenger, also looked around and saw the match day ticket-takings of Europe’s super teams, and knew that with time they would be found out and thrown out. A larger capacity stadium had to be quickly put in place. But that would mean losing the muscle power to bring in the Overmarses, the Vieiras, the Henrys; and so did we start investing in youth, bringing in the Van Persies, the Fabrigases, the Denilsons, the Songs.

That also meant recalibrating our targets. To keep riding on the globalization train, we needed to keep our Champions League appearances going. We redefined our boundaries and in the process reshaped our mentality to being content keeping our heads above the waters of the Europa League and the out-of-Europe competitors. The club lost its juggernaut instinct that created the Invincibles and instead was content to just get by. On the field, we ceased to be a raging fire that consumed everything on its path.

Of course, the idea was that when the new stadium gets going we would again recalibrate our targets upwards and swing back sustainably to the summit of European football. As simple as that, they must have thought, failing to contend fully with the might of something called the force of inertia which force we are now up against. After over 10 years of being content with just keeping head above waters, the BoD has gotten pinned down by this inertia. Psychologically they are finding it difficult switching gears to a new level. The player recruitment policy is head locked by this force. The amount of money to be budgeted on players, existing or as targets, is entangled with this inertia. So, pervading and surreptitious is this force that our coaching crews must be victims also, explaining why our players on the field feel cosy at 0-0 against the opposition, only to wake up when they find themselves trailing with 25 minutes to go as their survival instincts kick in. Gone a long time ago the killer instinct of the Invincibles that smelt blood just at the sight of the prey. We need to become the beast again. Leading 3-0, with the opponent demoralized, is when to get even more ferocious while stinging like a scorpion should not be reserved for only when we are trailing Bournemouth by three goals That’s the difference that makes the champ. The king of the jungle is blessed with plenty of the killer instinct. When it brings down its prey it goes for its jugular. When it gets wounded, reduced to 10 men, it sees its own red and transforms into a wounded lion, a creature of evil omen. It never whimpers.

I can see a ray of hope in this 2016/17 season. The fierce competition of the top six teams is that ray. Dropping out of the top four this season is a spectre that is unrelentingly dwelling with us, so much so, that our survival instinct is all alive driving us forward so fast that we might even breast the tape ahead of all. Crunch time is near. Wenger has already said that every Premier league match remaining is for his team a cup final. I can bet his eyes are fixed on the rear mirror, not straight ahead, a victim still of that powerful force of inertia. Candidly, I don’t mind our winning the championship by default i.e. through a wrong mentality, because the winning of it would provide the impulse that would bring back the killer instinct of our invincible era. Otherwise, it would have become time enough to start talking of a major strategic overhaul in the system that is carefully contrived to unshackle the club from its psychological barrier. We want to ride first class on this amazing EPL transcontinental train. We have tasted it before and nothing else will now do.

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Double Glory Days

By Pony Eye

9 Dec ’15: A New Star is Born, Ollie’s First Hattrick, Mesut silences Athens! Match Review

Sweet Sixteen for the Sweet Sixteenth Time in succession!

Last night’s performance was not one of the best ones ever, but it certainly was close to it. Olympiakos are not strong enough an opponent to qualify last night’s victory as truly ‘great’. Nevertheless, it was a very fine, passionate and professional performance by Wenger’s men, and we have every right to be proud of them. Yesterday the Gunners completed the trilogy of our great escape: two splendid, hard-fought-for wins against Bayern and Dynamo Zagreb was followed by the demolition of the Greek champions in their own bastion; and it us not them who still have a chance to make it all the way to the final in Milan.

Wenger in zevende hemel na onvergetelijke avond

In previous encounters against the Greeks, we had already qualified for the next round of the CL, and we more than once treated the final CL group game against them as an opportunity to blood some youngsters and rehabilitate some of our (many) injured. This, combined with Olympiakos’ hostile environment and no necessity to win, often led to bad performances in which we left all three points in Athens.

This time round, we needed to score at least two goals but ideally three to make it through to the next round. We also had to make sure that they did not score, as we then really needed three or more goals to go through. Our tactics and focus for last night’s game were great and that made all the difference. You could clearly tell we were the team that qualified for the last sixteen in the CL fifteen times, and that our opponents had no experience in getting there. Olympiakos really struggled with how to approach the game as a win, draw, or even ‘a small loss’ would have been enough for them: too many options can easily lead to a lack of focus and team cohesion… and it clearly did last night for them.

We started a bit nervous, though. Olympiakos had come out to attack and get that all important goal that would force us to score at least three in order to go through. We were vulnerable in defence initially, especially on our RB side. Bellerin was often left exposed by his colleagues and Olympiakos forced through a few effective attacks from their left wing.

We did well enough not to concede a goal and especially Koz was superb in our defence from the start. After twenty minutes or so, we started to turn the game around. It started with a classic Arsenal attack, involving Giroud as our holding pivot in attack, Campbell as our winger who made an aggressive run and produced a perfect pull-back, and Flamini as our box to box midfielder arriving just in time to slot the ball into the net… a deflection and the bar prevented us from getting our first goal.

This fluent attack gave us confidence, and after it we never looked back. Soon Ozil found Rambo with a beautiful defence splitting pass on our left wing. Rambo had indicated were he wanted the ball with a quick hand wave and Ozil reacted super fast with a superbly measured ball. Aaron picked out his mate Giroud – a friendship that has needed no time to be rekindled – and Ollie made the best of not an easy header. The goalie should probably have done better but well done Ollie for being positive and make the goal keeper work. It paid off handsomely – the luck of the good-looking?

We held on to that score till half time without pressing too hard for the second. This was very impressive of the team; it showed their maturity and confidence that it would all come good. If the first goal did not have the purists purring, the second one surely would do it. Ozil played a quick high ball towards the box where Campbell was anticipating his pass. Joel had plenty to do with that Mesut ball, but he killed the ball in one go with his upper-leg superbly. He then meandered with the ball through the Olympiakos defence to spot, and then find with a precisely measured ball, the onrushing Giroud. Ollie could not miss this one and was rewarded for his involvement at the start of the attack and his great run into the box. But surely, the big plaudits should go to Joel for one of the finest non-Ozil assists we will see all season.

Two nil and almost there. What should we do: barricade ourselves in front of Cech or go all out for the third goal? The team handled this very well: we did not expose ourselves much in defence and yet we kept attacking, although at a lower tempo. Another fine attack saw Nacho shooting the ball diagonally from the box that was stopped by an Olympiakos arm: penalty, and a great chance to put the game to bed. Up stepped man of the brace, Giroud, and he scored the pen with great calm and control to complete his first ever Arsenal hat-trick. 3-0 and game over: job done with 23 minutes to go. The defence held out without too much trouble and our fine attackers helped out nicely. At the same time, they were able to unwind and relax their muscles for our clash with the desperate-for-points Villains on Sunday.

This game was a great show of maturity and professionalism, and the much used cliché, teamwork. If you had written the dream-script for this game, you would have wanted a goal within the first thirty minutes and then two more in the next forty minutes, and a clean sheet of course. You would have wanted our stars to deliver and the rest to work hard; the whole team to play as one and to play with passion for the shirt; and you would also have really wanted a new star to be born: and last night, 9 December 2015, Joel Nathaniel Campbell Samuels, born 23 years ago in San Jose, Costa Rica, was reborn a Gunner in divine Athens. And Arsene and his men totally delivered the dream-script last night!

Here we come again Europe: in the last sixteen in the Champions League for the sixteenth time in succession!  Start booking your flights to Milan, fine fellow Gooners, cause I have a funny feeling we might make it all the way to the final this time round.

Ooh to, Ooh to be, Ooh to be a GOONER! 🙂

By TotalArsenal

For completeness, here are the player ratings again I published yesterday:

Cech: 8 | Not much to do for large parts of the game, but always in control and he just oozes calm and control. Had a couple of routine saves to make which he did faultless.

Nacho: 8.5 | Great going forward and mostly solid at the back. He collaborates so easily with fellow defenders, midfielders and attackers. The complete full back, with a great engine and passion.

Koz: 9 | Total Warrior, whose drive, reading of the game and interceptions are an inspiration to the entire team. Great partnership with BFG tonight.

BFG: 8.5 | Left us sometimes a bit exposed with his positioning, but very strong second half. Master in the air and some very good interceptions.

Bellerin: 7.5 | Struggling a bit to get his game going, both defensively and offensively, but improved a lot in second half. Hector Vector is missing Ramsey as his steady right wing partner.

Flamini: 8 | Solid shift with more defensive discipline than at the weekend. Unlucky not to score after a fine run into the box in the first half.

Rambo: 8.5 | Great all-round midfield play, linking up midfield with attack and defence brilliantly. Just kept on motoring, and great run and cross for the first goal.

Campbell: 8.5 | Needs to toughen up to win more defensive one to ones, but great attacking game with a sublime assist for Ollie’s second: what a calm in the storm he has, and what great vision and technical ability to pick out Ollie amongst all those defenders. Continued to have a great attacking drive and helped out in defence too.

Ozil: 9 | Superb pre-assist for the first goal, launching Ramsey with the perfect through ball: how did he see that one? Led the team in all areas, always making himself available and winning vital seconds for the team on the ball.

Theo: 7 | Very rusty with his passing and ball touches, but a constant menace with his runs, creating space for others and putting pressure on the Greek defence constantly.

Ollie: 10 | A master class of total CF play: harassed the opposition constantly, brilliant hold up play to allow the team to breath and link up with him, fine defensive cover during set pieces, great runs into the box, and a hat trick. He also had the cool head to slot the penalty in, after which the game was over.

 

 

Angry with Santi, Monreal for Coq, Rambo is back! Afterthoughts.

West Brom v Arsenal afterthoughts

Good afternoon Fine Fellow Gooners

Just back from a fine, long weekend in the serene Highlands of Scotland. Snow-peaked, ancient mountains, mirrored in enormous, still-as-a-mouse lakes, topped off by blue skies and decorated by autumn colours: and all that almost all to ourselves! 🙂

 Until now, I was only able to watch the highlights but I did listen to intermittent radio commentary on Saturday afternoon. The radio commentator said that we went behind against the run of play, and looking at the highlights, we seemed a tat unlucky to not take anything from the game. Well hey, that is football! And we have been lucky enough until now to avoid this sort of outcome of a game in most cases.

I have said before that away games after an international break are hard to win. The combination of the horrific Paris terrorist attacks only eight days before the kick-off, which will have left especially our French players shaken, and the lack of time for Wenger to bring his team together and prepare them mentally for the Baggies’s challenge, may have been too much. Furthermore, the lack of quality options on the bench also did not help. But ultimately, we lacked composure, and luck was not on our side. Games and results like these we need to take on the chin and not overanalyse, even though it is so attractive to point to finger to one or more individuals and make yourself feel a little bit better.

The only person I am angry with, is, of course, Santi Cazorla; and I reckon Wenger will not quickly forget his lack of responsibility at a crucial moment in the game. I remember having a discussion with Retsub (where are you these days my friend?) re Santi taking a cheeky, chipped penalty against Norwich (if I remember rightly) a few seasons ago. We were winning the game comfortably by something like 3-0 and we were rewarded a spot-kick; Santi stepped up and tricked the keeper with a cheeky chip towards the middle of the goal. The keeper had already committed to a corner and could do nothing about this audacious penalty attempt. Both Retsub and I were a bit unhappy with the lack of respect this penalty attempt showed towards the goalkeeper and how it easily could have gone wrong… but it went in, so we could not complain too much.

When the team has been fighting soooo hard to get back into the game and we finally get a penalty awarded that could get us level, it really has to go in if we are serious about winning the league this time round. We have an experienced squad now with a large number of internationals who have handled far bigger pressures: whoever takes the penalty for Arsenal needs to be pretty sure he will convert it. Santi slipped so it was just a case of bad luck, some will say. But I reckon Cazorla was about to try one of his cheeky, nonchalant penalties again and it was his own stilted movement that made him slip; and this time he made an utter fool of himself. He even touched the ball twice, so the opposition were awarded a free-kick! Next time, Santi, take a normal penalty kick, or even better, ask Sanchez or Giroud to take it. Anybody can miss a penalty, but you have to at least make the goalkeeper work ffs!

The injury to Coquelin is very unfortunate, even though he could have been a little bit more careful perhaps. But in the end, Francis is a DM and it is about winning the physical and mental battles to get the upper hand, so I have no qualms with him getting injured like he did on Saturday… it is an occupational risk he has to be willing to take.

It is funny, we worry about the international players coming back with fatigue and therefore have increased risk of getting injured, but it is the fully rested players – Coquelin and Arteta – who get injured… We will have to see what Wenger will do to fill the void, as Coquelin has been our DM rock over the last few months. Surely, this is an opportunity for the Flame or even Chambers to (re)claim this crucial position….

Or maybe, this is an opportunity to move Nacho next to Cazorla in the double DM pivot? We need to play Gibbsy more, and I just feel that Monreal would make the DM role his: he is clever, quick, reads the game well, is hard but fair and his intelligence (and knowledge of the defenders behind him) could make him the best replacement for le Coq…

But luckily, Rambo is back and he could make a big difference for us again. Campbell did not do too badly but the Rambo-Vector-Hector combination on the right should give us a new wing to fly with. Bring on Zagreb and let’s move on from the West Brom game. The show must go on and Rambo is ready to lift the team! 🙂

Come on You Rip-Roaring Gunners!

By TotalArsenal.

Coquelin’s Fairy Tale: From Charlton Bench to Arsenal’s DM Beast… to Future Captain?

Francis-Coquelin-579487

Just over a year ago, Francis Coquelin came off the Charlton bench to play against Leeds. Our DM destroyer had just joined The Addicks on a month’s long loan and many of us, me included, thought we would sadly not see him back in an Arsenal shirt.

Many of us had liked him a lot but we were just not sure whether he would be tough enough for the PL. It also looked like Arsene was trying to move away from a typical DM towards a more well-rounded, multi-functional midfielder in the deeper midfield role (Arteta, Ramsey). Francis had previously spent a considerable time in Germany playing for Freiburg but, by all accounts, this was not greatly successful.

He did not get many chances to play for Arsenal before his short loan spell at Charlton, but an injury to Ramsey and other midfielders made Wenger recall him in December 2014, and after a few appearances as a sub, he played the full game against West Ham at home – his first start in almost two years. He took this opportunity with both hands and feet and never looked back. Since this game, he has established himself as a first team starter and led the league in defensive interceptions made, one-on-one duels, and placed second in tackles made. What an astonishing transformation!

It truly is a small miracle how our French midfield beast has taken his opportunity to shine and impress us all so much over the last twelve months. I can watch any match he has played in again and again, and just concentrate on his game; that is how good he is. He is the ultimate protector of our defence and perfect ball feeder for our more attack-minded midfielders. Although I see him mostly as a typical DM, a position he (and I) cherishes a lot, Francis also has good all-round football skills to make him quite the complete package. Slowly, he is developing into the sort of DM Wenger really wants to have at Arsenal: one that can defend but also support the attack (and with Ramsey he is trying the reverse btw).

It also must be said that Francis’ ability to develop a strong partnership with the self-reinvented Santi, is just as key for his miraculous progress. The Wall of CoCa has been pivotal to the recent success of the team, and together they have found a great balance between supporting the defence and linking up with the attack-minded players. Santi is not a natural defender, and this will always be a weakness for him, but he reads the game well and is very good at keeping hold of the ball and releasing pressure, once he is in possession of it – and he can do this in the tightest of spaces. The Spaniard’s ability to play a quick and accurate through-ball, with either leg, is of course also a key attribute he offers to us. But Santi needs Coquelin to cover for him when he vacates his position and pushes forward. Francis’ phenomenal ability to read the game, make crucial interceptions, win one-on-one duels on the ground and in the air and great tackling skill, make the Wall of CoCa so effective: together they are more than the sum of these considerable parts.

We have also started to notice a Vieiraesque ability to lead. Francis is both calm and introvert – his more natural demeanour – and takes the lead and is very vocal at the same time: just like Vieira used to be. He also uses his (by some still undervalued) physicality to the max without getting nasty. He is hard but fair and seems to have a lot of respect from his fellow players as well as his direct opponents. This is an amazing achievement in just twelve months of regular first team football and shows he has great potential to become our captain at some point in the future.

I love it when a genuinely great guy and committed sportsman finally comes good, and this is certainly the case with Francis Coquelin. And, it should also provide all those hard working young players out there who are currently struggling to establish themselves at their clubs with hope that things will turn round for them eventually. Coquelin has produced his own fairy-tale: Francis, I salute you!

By TotalArsenal.