Alexis, Chambers and Pod Show Wenger How Hard They Are.

Arsenal v Burnley: review and analysis.

The Artist and Street Fighter Alexis - It was a honour to witness him play on Saturday!
The Artist and Street Fighter Alexis – It was a honour to witness him play on Saturday!

Before I went to the game this morning, I read Arsene’s views re the quality of European strikers versus South-American ones; the former being a lot softer than the streetwise and street-trained latter, apparently. It is fair to say that this is a left-field, refreshingly new viewpoint by Arsene and I wonder who it was actually aimed at. Was it meant to be a compliment for Alexis and/or a kick up the arse for the likes of Welbeck, Podolski, Sanogo, Ox and Santi? As this game proved to us once again, the ‘softness’ of some of our attackers is a good reason for concern, as is the continued lack of cohesion between the front players.

I don’t like it when a player is over-praised in the media and by the manager, simply for the risk of jinxing it. However, in case of Alexis it only seems to spur him on further; and however much opponent defenders try to stop him, they just cannot do it. He is that good. The problem is, though, that nobody else is very close to Alexis’ level at the moment. And this is proving to be a big issue for which we have been relatively unpunished, until now.

Wenger has gone back to the Bould-Wenger ‘compromise formation’ of 7-4, it seems: seven mainly defensive minded players and four attackers, with the sole aim of keeping a clean sheet and nicking one or two goals per game. It was a bit of a shock to me (but not 17HT, who predicted the right starting eleven) to see us play the weathered veterans of Flamini and Arteta in the double DM pivot…. against the number last of the league table, Burnley, at home…

The first half reminded me a lot of the last home game I watched, the season’s opener against Crystal Palace. We started relatively brightly, creating a number of decent to very good chances in the first half hour. But we did not convert them through a combination of bad luck and lack of killer instinct by our forwards; or should that now be ‘hardness’?

After thirty minutes or so, Burnley started to build up some confidence and we did not look like going to create chances any time soon anymore. This is a common theme at Arsenal this season, as I have mentioned before. During the whole first half the crowd sensed that we were not going to score somehow: it is difficult to explain why this is other than a (collectively?) perceived lack of thrust and effectiveness within the team.

The chances we had were too far away for me to analyse in detail (I was in the upper tier of the North Bank, far away from the goal-mouth action). I was convinced Danny had scored when he went on his impressive run through the box, and thought that Cazorla simply had to take his chance. But it was not to be. Alexis’ shots from inside and outside the box also looked promising, and I guess on a better, more ruthless day, we would have been easily two up after a third of the match.

On the plus side, I thought we played with more discipline and structure in the formation: we used the wings better and did not overpopulate the area of the opponent’s ‘D’ too much. A refreshing change, although we lacked a natural, and above all fast, connector between midfield and attack (especially during the first 70 minutes).

The general issues we have in attack are:

  1. Welbeck is very eager but quite ineffective, struggling to understand/execute his role in Wenger’s team plan at the moment, and also failing with his positioning in the box;
  2. Ox adds thrust and zip to our attack which is a big plus, and his execution of the final ball is starting to improve, and so is his decision making. Still a long way to go to become a first team regular imo. He is also eager to proof himself; and, further on the plus side, he stuck to his role of wing player well.
  3. Cazorla is struggling for form and confidence, but at least he is popping up in the right places to have the chances to score… His biggest problem is he is limited in his ability to attack the opponent: when he receives the ball, he wants to pass it on straightaway, unless he is in or around the box and he will try a shot. There is little ability to take on opponents or penetrate space with close ball control and speed. And his confidence seems low at the moment as well.
  4. Alexis has the drive… he is our engine, our fulcrum, and there is more to it than just ‘hardness’.

Yesterday’s game made me realise why the likes of Chambers and Alexis are doing so well right now and Welbeck, Santi, and to some extent Ox, continue to struggle. Alexis took his chances whereas Santi did not; Chambers delivered the sharper cross and was at the right place at the right time, whereas Ox did not (enough); Podolski positioned himself perfectly and was ferocious – but unlucky – in his finishing, whereas Welbeck looked often lost in the box and unfocussed in his positioning and finishing.

We should analyse this in more depth and the table below should help to focus our discussions.

A number of Arsenal players compared against each other using key attributes of a top footballer:

Player Energy/Attitude levels Ability to focus and concentrate their efforts Technical Ability Confidence Hardness
Cazorla Medium to High Medium Medium to high Medium Medium to high
Ox Medium to High, with a few bursts per game Medium Medium to high Medium Medium
Welbeck Very high Medium to low Medium to high Medium Medium
Chambers High High Medium to high Medium to high High
Podolski Medium Very high Very high High Medium to high
Alexis Very High High to very high Very high Very high Very high

Taking the above comparisons into account, it should not come as a surprise that it was Alexis who finally broke down the Burnley’s stout defence with a surreally high leap and focussed header, in between two giants of defenders. It also does not surprise me that the assist came from Chambers: he had been fighting consistently to get to the by-line and put in crosses, and his ability to focus led to the accurate and calm cross into the box. And the same goes for his finish for the second one. For once Welbeck was at the right place but his effort, although ferocious, missed accuracy. As the goal-mouth was crowded, we should not be too hard on him on this occasion though. However, Chambers was at the right place to pick up the rebound and he MADE sure it would go in: a sign of ‘hardness’?

The third goal was another example of all of Alexis’ attributes coming together: he works so hard and positions himself so well, his focus and technical ability enable him to score a difficult but perfectly executed goal, supported by high levels of confidence and a sheer will to score. How many times have we seen Cazorla in a similar position but just not delivering?

And Podolski showed us all that, although born and bred in Europe, he has the hardness of a South-American striker all the way. We all know he lacks the stamina (energy) to play a full role in a Wenger Arsenal team, but boy does he know how to be at the right place and at the right time, time and again – even though he was unlucky not to score. It was a ten minute master class for Welbeck and co of how it is done inside the box, and I am glad I was there to witness it in full glory (there might not be many more opportunities to witness this beast in action).

Finally, but most importantly, I should point out that bringing in a more attack minded midfielder by Aaron Ramsey made all the difference. At once, we had more zip and purpose and the tempo went up considerably; something that had been missing during most of the game. 

The return of Theo, after being out for so so long and welcomed by the crowd by a fantastic roar, was, of course, the icing on the cake. Let’s hope he will add the much needed directness, fighting spirit and finishing from the right hand side during the remainder of the season.

3-0 to the good guys and joint third. Onwards and upwards per the principle of OGAAT.

COYG! 🙂

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Preview & Line-up: Diaby, Arteta or Chambers for Flamini | Bellerin & Welbeck starts?

signaliduna_front1

Dortmund are without Reus, Gundogan, Hummels, Kirch, Sahin and Blaszczykowski, so we could be thinking we are in with a decent chance to put the Germans to the sword tonight. But Klopp does not rely too much on the quality of his players as he drills all of his squad players into one or more positions, all based around a well-defined system and style of play. That is what I like about madman Klopp, and why he remains a strong candidate to replace AW one day in the future.

Regardless of who will play for Dortmund, they will give us a game all right. The passionate Schwarzgelben supporters – the Signal Iduna Park holds over 81000 spectators – will fire their team on; and despite the injuries they will be up for this, building further on the confidence gained during their recent successes in the CL (reaching the final only two seasons ago).

We will need to be at our very best to get a result tonight, and with injuries ourselves, especially in defence, we are vulnerable. Monreal did not travel, Debuchy is a long term injury worry (today we shall find out more, apparently), Gibbs has only just returned (always a risk of getting injured again straight away) and our multi-functional replacement defender Chambers is only fifty-fifty, as he is suffering from tonsillitis.

Young Hector Bellerin smells an opportunity here, and it would be great for him if he gets a start. We all know he has phenomenal speed and close ball control and is great going forward: the question is whether he can defend well enough at this level. The BFG will mentor him and together they can profit and compensate from each others strengths and weaknesses…. but it is a big game to try this out. If Chambers is fit, I reckon he will get the green light for the RW position, but with the potential of fatigue or injury (knock on wood) of our defenders during the game, there is a big chance we will see Bellerin taking part at some point in tonight’s encounter.

The rest of the defence picks itself, and it is no time to experiment with a new goalie, I reckon. So back-five of: Szczesny – Chambers – BFG – Koz – Gibbs.

In midfield, we probably see Arteta being played behind the ‘four horsemen’: Ozil, Ramsey, Wilshere, Alexis. I reckon, Arsene will be keen to let these four ferocious midfielders play together again, after they were able to dominate play so well for long spells against the Northern Oilers on Saturday. There is a chance Wenger will spring a surprise with giving Diaby a start in this one, and if he is fit enough to do so, who would complain about that? The 4-1-4-1 would suit him very well (as Scottishgunner pointed out as well in the last post).

I am also quiet sure Welbeck will get another start. He had a promising game on Saturday, and away from the home crowd and the sky-high immediate expectations, he can ease a bit and add real value to the team – which isn’t just about goals and assists…

So, my predicted line up for tonight is:

Ars v Dort Sept 2014

My preferred line up is not very different. I want to see more of 4-1-4-1 now I have seen its potential against MC, but would love us to play either Diaby (if fit) or Chambers in the DM role, with Bellerin at RB.

Really looking forward to tonight’s game: two proper clubs, with fabulous managers, playing proper football at the highest level. This is why we love football. Let the battle commence!

Written by: TotalArsenal.