KosMus: The Arsenal CB Pairing that Rule Time and Space

Until recently, I have always believed that a good defence consists of a centre back pairing of an organiser type and a wild ‘kuitenbijter’, a carve biter, type. One has the overview and organises their defence and the other one operates as the first soldier of the defence, with ferocious energy and an unrelenting desire to win balls in the air and on the ground, and defend the box area with whatever it takes. The former is usually calm and tall and physically very strong and the latter is simply an energetic, fast, beast of a defender.

We all know the Arsenal pairings we have come to love over the years. For me the dream couple was probably Campbell-Toure from the INVINCIBLES (see below) but Adams-Keown were also brilliant of course. I am sure those who go back a lot longer than me will come up with some other fine Arsenal CB pairings. 🙂

Arsenal "The Invincibles" XI

In recent years, we have struggled to get the CB pairing totally right. The BFG-Kos combo did come close to a King’s couple of CBs, as they fitted the above mentioned short role descriptions to a large extent. Especially if and when we played in a more compact formation and game plan, Koz and BFG made us look solid and in control for many a game. Unfortunately, the BFG’s extraordinary ability to read the game and organise his defence was occasionally undermined by his Achilles’ heel: his slowness in turning around his own axis and lack of recovery speed. And Arsenal are not the sort of team to sit back a lot and absorb pressure: we love a high line and hemming the opponent into their own half.

The downside of this style is of course the space left behind the highline which makes us prone to deadly counterattacks/balls over the top; and boy have we suffered from this at times in the past. Last season, I regret to say, the BFG was our weakest defender in for example the key seasonal games against Chelsea and Barcelona at home. This is what Wenger, who will never directly name and shame a player, had to say after the Barcelona game: “Barcelona is a great team, we knew that. Nothing new. We put a lot of energy in the game. Technically we were very average. Once we look like we dominated the game in the last 20 minutes we gave the goal away, similar to Monaco. Very naive. Two goals makes it realistically very difficult if not impossible. We will have to go out there and fight. There was room to score but we didn’t. And they are lethal. One thing we could not afford – and we knew before the game – was to let them counterattack”.

I had a feeling back in February that Per’s time as first choice CB would be up in the new season. We don’t really know what Wenger’s plans were regarding the first choice CB pairing for this season, but the bad injuries to first the BFG and then Gabriel, before the season even had started, forced his hands in the transfer market anyway. He had already bought Holding – ‘one for the future’ – in the summer, and the young Englishman impressed us all with some fine performances. He also gave Chambers a few  games to show him that he could be ready for regular PL starts, but Calum was not up for the task unfortunately.

Wenger then bought Mustafi from Valencia and rushed back Koz to make them his first choice CB pairing. And what a difference they have made. They have played five times together now, two CL games and three PL games, and conceded just two goals in total. Of course, it is still early days and we have to give it at least 20 games before we can say that KosMus are the perfect rulers of space and time, but the first signs are very promising.

And this is not just reflected in our fine, post-Liverpool, defensive record – to which Holding has contributed as well – but also in the style of play it has allowed us to play as a team.

Neither Koz nor Mustafi are the embodiment of Campbell or Adams; it is more like playing two perfect Koscielnys, or two beastly Toures, with both players happy to push up high and having enough confidence in their recovery speed and ability to intercept and deal with any counterattacks coming their way. Together they organise their defence very well, lead the team all over the pitch, and give away very few chances: they have been in control, sometimes in total control, in almost all games, except the PSG game perhaps.

It is fair to say they also get great help from the full backs and the deeper laying DM (Coq or Xhaka) for which they deserve massive credit.

There are promising signs that KosMus is the CB pairing for the future: the rulers of space and time Arsenal have been needing for so many years.

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.

Koz, Gabriel, BFG: Three Great CBs, but what is the best pairing?

The BFG: Passion and Brains - you got to love him! :)
The BFG: Passion and Brains – you got to love him! 🙂

Arsenal are blessed with three fine CBs and long may it continue. Koz and the BFG are still Arsene’s first choice CB couple but Gabriel Paulista is pushing hard to get in there. I love all three of them and am increasingly unsure what the best CB pairing is for us.

Koz is the most complete CB and his tenacity and excellent reading of the game are second to none in the PL imo. The BFG is a great organiser, reads the game supremely well and always plays with the right attitude. Unfortunately, Per turns like an oil tanker and is not particularly fast; he has managed very well to reach the very top of football despite these disadvantages. Paulista we know less well: he resembles more Koz than the BFG and he adds a healthy aggression much needed in our team. He is also pretty complete as a CB and a beast at tackling all over the pitch.

These Whoscored? stats show us how well all our CBs do (based on this season’s PL games – all stats are average per game):

Name Tack-les Inter-cep-tions Fouls Clear-ances Blocks Aer-ials won  
Per 1.7 2 0.3 6.3 0.5 2.8
Gabriel 2.2 2.2 0.3 4.8 0.2 2.5
Laurent 1.7 4.3 0.7 5.9 0.8 2.8

There is not that much between them. Per is the absolute champion in clearing the ball, but Laurent still does well in this discipline too. Gabriel is our tackling beast and is pretty good in the air but is behind Per and Laurent in terms of blocks and clearances. Koz is the king of interceptions and blocks and is as strong in the air as Per, but he also makes more fouls than the other two: making those blocks and interceptions comes with a (small) price.

In terms of CB pairing, I favour the combination of two types of defenders.

One needs to be a calm but brutal organiser of the game, who can read the game well and is master in the air. Ideally, they are also great at tackling and fast as a tiger, but the ability to organise and lead the defence and to remain calm under pressure is key. Tony Adams and, especially, Sol Campbell were great specimen of this kind of CB. Per is not that far behind but I reckon Koz, and possibly Gabriel, are less suited for this.

The other one needs to be fast, aggressive and excellent at interceptions and blocks, a great reader of the game and the first soldier in the team. Martin Keown and Toure are good examples of this type of CB, and with Koz we probably have the very best of them all right now. I have no doubt that Gabriel can do this too and he could possibly become as good as Laurent.

But, going forward, what is the best pairing?

I guess it depends on what sort of game we are playing and which team. Our current preference to sit a bit deeper and kill teams with a combination of quick turnovers and possession football in the opponent’s half, seems to suit our best (statistical) pairing: Per and Laurent. However, when we play teams that park the bus and we play predominantly ‘possession and strike’ football in their halve, we could do with two very fast and aggressive CBs who are very good at blocks and interceptions and are quick to recover the ball when being threatened by a counter-attack. In these sort of games, the Koz-Paulista CB pairing looks the strongest.

And then there are the games against fellow PL title and CL trophy contenders: how should we pair up against them in central defence? Well, I guess we will get the answer tomorrow when we play Bayern away. I reckon it will be Per and Koz, but Wenger might go for the Koz-Gab – the Vault of KoGa – combination. The BFG played full games on Tuesday and Saturday and I am not sure Wenger will play the 31-year-old for a third time in eight days. We will need Per’s organisation skills, calm and experience, but, on the other hand, the power and energy of the Vault of KoGa might be more effective in stopping the intricate passing game in and around our box by Bayern, and instigate the better turnovers….. All exciting stuff if you ask me and I cannot wait to see the CBs in action again tomorrow.

I am still not sure what our best pairing is but Paulista’s arrival on the scene is giving us options and healthy competition. With three such great CBs we have options to vary our game in accordance with the strengths and style of play of our opponents, which is great news.

By TotalArsenal.

Iwobi, Akpom, Ox Impress: Singapore Select XI v Arsenal Review

Singapore Select XI v Arsenal Match Experiences: JK Was There!

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Singapore Select XI: Izwan Mahbud (C), Nazrul Nazari, Madhu Mohana, Baihakki Khaizan (Shakir Hamzah 81’), Shaiful Esah (Faris Ramli 53’), Safuwan Baharudin (Fazrul Nawaz 80’), Izzdin Shafiq (Zulfahmi Arifin 65’), Nicolas Velez, Shahdan Sulaiman (Shahril Ishak 72’), Sirina Camara, Khairul Amri (Rodrigo Tosi 58’).

Arsenal Formation: 4-5-1: Emiliano Martinez (Wojciech Szczesny 46’), Mathieu Debuchy (Hector Bellerin 73’), Per Mertesacker (C), Gabriel Paulista, Nacho Monreal, Francis Coquelin, Mathieu Flamini (Chris Willock 64’), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Gedion Zelalem 64’), Jack Wilshere (Dan Crowley 64’), Alex Iwobi (Jon Toral 73’), Chuba Akpom.

The underlined players are the ones that did not feature in my starting line-up: I was 3 players wrong wow!

The game started strongly, with both sides playing fantastic football. The foreign Singapore Select XI players were impressive, while the local players, still in their Ramadan fasting month – meaning they did not have any lunch – were good in the first half; but, all had their tyres punctured (local lingo) in the second half.

Fast flowing football was the first half. Second half was more about Arsenal keeping the ball, as both teams were tired: Arsenal from the heat, Singapore team from the fasting month.

Players who showed that they are good, include: Nicolas Velez, Izwan (Izwan is his given name, Mahbud is his father’s given name), Baihakki Khaizan, Madhu Mohana, Faris Ramli (he did well when he came on and managed to get the only shorts on goal) and Sirina Camara from Singapore team. Iwobi, Akpom, the all-conquering defence, Ox, and Mathieu played well for Arsenal. Ox showed us how fast he can be, and, together with the trickeries from other players from both teams, this made the game an entertaining one. Pity that Shaiful Esah, the left back from Singapore, went off injured as his pace and left foot is on a par with Monreal.

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Zelalem came on late in the second half and had a decent game, with his known pin-point passes, speed and trickery. When Bellerin came on to play at right wing, the game became faster for a short while; but after that, the game became a training and walking game with occasional bursts of speed.

Overall, the atmosphere was quite electric in the first half, and quiet by the last 15 minutes, with more than half the stadium filled (about 30,000 spectators watched the match live in a 50,000-seater stadium). We had occasional Arsenal chants and the Kallang Wave, which is similar to the Mexican wave.

As a Singaporean I am proud of how the Singapore team played attractive football in the first half; and as an Arsenal fan, I am proud to see the lads play exciting football just a week back in training.

That’s all from me. 🙂

By JK

Paulista: More Koz than Mertesacker?

The new Martin Keown? :P
The new Martin Keown? 😛

Still no official news re the signing of Gabriel Paulista which is a bit worrying given the comment by Arsene on the 25th January, saying the club was close in completing the deal: ‘”It’s on the line and I think we’ll get over the line tonight and tomorrow”.

But let’s assume Paulista will join the club, and ask ourselves what sort of CB he is and whether he is more of a BFG or Koz type of defender.

A good defensive pairing is of course crucial, and so are the triangular relationships: backwards with the keeper and forwards with the DM(s). Furthermore, the partnerships between the CBs and their nearest FB, as well as the whole line of four, are equally important. A good fit of skills and balance are paramount for a well functioning defence.

In an ideal world, we play one CB with strong organisational and leadership skills and one ‘first soldier’ type of CB. Adams, Campbell and Mertesacker are excellent examples of the former and Martin Keown, Toure, Vermaelen, and of course, Koz were/are all brilliant first soldiers. Two BFGs do not work, but neither do two Kozs…

I am a big fan of the BFG. He is a world cup winner and plays for the best team in the world by focussing hard on his strengths rather than letting his few weaknesses grind him down. This takes a lot of strength as it is so easy to succumb to the critical voices out there and inside your head. And in our society: at school, in families and at work, we love to focus on (improving) weaknesses rather than building strongly on core strengths and talents, and this is so often holding people back left, right and centre. In this respect alone, Per is a hero to me.

Mertesacker also loves playing for us and always gives his all. He reads the game very well and organises his defence excellently. We rely on this heavily, as was demonstrated again against Brighton & HA last weekend, when our defence looked brittle without him. Wenger of course knows about Per’s ‘lesser strengths’ for which he needs to compensate within the team. He will always need a fast, energetic, yet composed, strong in the air, and brilliant tackler of a CB next to him (and good protection on the flank and in front of him). Koz is such a player and together they make a bloody brilliant pair. Without Per Koz often looks out of sorts, lacking composure and control to some extent: together they are awesome.

We have missed Koz this season when he was injured, and let’s hope he will play most of the remaining games this season. He is a very fine first soldier as we saw once again against Citeh, when he played an absolute blinder next to the BFG, who also had a very good game. Monreal has been Koz’s main back up this season and he did okay, with clear room for improvement. I reckon Nacho has potential to become a decent back up, as I agree with Wenger that he reads the game well. But surely, this is a work in progress and we need him as our (back up) left back…

We also need a good back up for the BFG and maybe we could/should even improve further on him in the long term. This is easier said than done, as good CBs with leadership and organisational skills are hard to find, especially if we also want them to be fast, great tacklers and a beast in the air. I reckon Debuchy has quite some of the required skills and Chambers has good potential too; but ideally, we strengthen our squad for this key position this year.

So, what sort of player is Paulista and for which position has Wenger bought him?

Well hard to tell at this stage, and I welcome bloggers to give us their views if they have seen him play a lot in either Spain or Brazil. The ‘Whoscored?’ stats give an interesting picture.

Paulista compared to Mertesacker and Koz on key defence stats:

Paulista Mertesacker Koz
Games Played 25 21 14
Total Minutes 2147 1890 1196
Tackles per Game 1 1.1 1.3
Interceptions per Game 3.9 1.9 3.7
Fouls per Game 0.8 0.2 0.6
Offsides per Game 0.6 0.8 0.6
Clearances per Game 4.2 6.8 4.9
Blocks per Game 0.4 0.8 0.6

These stats are interesting and indicate that Paulista might be closer to Koz than the BFG as type of defender. Gabriel has slightly fewer tackles per game but also slightly more interceptions than Koz, and he has fewer clearances and blocks per game, but this is not significant. There are quite a lot of similarities between the two.

Paulista has double the number of interceptions per game compared to the BFG, but commits more fouls per game – an area in which Per excels – and has significantly less clearances per game – Per is a lot taller than Koz and Paulista (185cm). Another important stat is that this 24 year old Brazilian has remained fit this season, already clocking up 25 games and 2147 minutes of first team football.

Of course, stats are just stats and we need to see Gabriel in action, if indeed his signing is completed and he is granted a work permit. Wenger might also have other plans with him: DM or even LB/RB, who knows?

But from what I can tell, Paulista will be Koz’s first replacement and might be used in other positions as well. I cannot wait to see him in action, and we should be all happy that the club has now strengthened in central defence: Bring on the rest of the season! 🙂

What do you think, fine fellow Gooners?

By TotalArsenal.

Ozil and Cazorla cannot play together…. You is wrong!

4-1-4-1: Wenger’s Total Harmonica Football Formation?

Victory Through Harmony.

Victory Through Harmonic Harmony.

 

It is interesting to listen to the TV and keyboard pundits praising Arsenal and Wenger for the disciplined defensive performance against Citeh. They all seem so genuinely relieved we played with a defensive set-up and smashed the Northern Oilers via breaks and set-pieces. It is not the first time we have played with this approach: for example, the games against the Chavs, at home last season as well as at Stanford Bridge this season, were approached exactly in the same way. It is fair to say, it is not the Arsenal way of playing a game, but Wenger has demonstrated once again that a) he does have a Plan-B, and b) he knows how to make tactical changes to get a result from a game.

In general he prefers to play a system of football that is set up to conquer all and does not need much, if any, tactical tweaking for each and every match. This desire will never change as, in the end, he loves free flowing, attacking, total football too much – and don’t we all? It is also the reason he could manage any club in the world, except the Spuds of course. 🙂

On the other hand, the 4-1-4-1 formation seems to offer formational and tactical flexibility during the same game.

Like a harmonica it can squeeze in and out: becoming solid and compact – 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 – when we need to be, as well as very attack-minded and multi-dimensional up-front as per our normal, default system of football: 4-1-2-3/4-2-1-3.

In order to do this successfully, we need: tactical discipline, on-field leadership (especially in midfield) and brilliant, multi-skilled midfielders.

We only have to remind ourselves about the first ten minutes of the second half against Citeh to realise that varying the styles of football and formations within the same game is not easy. We lost our compactness and defensive discipline and spaces opened up everywhere during this phase, and we almost paid for it. Luckily, it was us that scored the all important second goal of the match, and after that it was relatively easy for us to revert back to our original, far more defensive formation. Citeh, without Yaya and Nasri, were unable to give Silva much support in creating gaps and thus opportunities; and we also defended the wings fantastically well.

It was great to see the team having such fantastic discipline for the majority of the game. Coquelin got a lot of praise, and rightly so. Playing compact suits him very well, and the same goes for the defence. Defence orientated players hate space around them, and especially behind them. If there is little to no space around our defence then everybody starts looking so much better, and that includes our DM.

The Chavs’ Cahill, Terry and Matic are no better than Mertesacker, Koz and Arteta/Flamini/Coquelin, but, as a starting principle, they always ensure they play compact and avoid risks at the back. That’s what makes them look good and our lot regularly not so good, often being left over-exposed by their (too) attack focussed colleagues.

What is absolutely paramount for a solid defensive team display is the role of the four midfielders/attackers in front of the DM, and especially the two central midfielders. They need to curb their attacking instincts to a large extent and be able to both support the defenders and build attacks from a crowded, highly pressured back.

Both Ramsey, and especially Cazorla, mastered this very well, and Ox and Alexis also offered superb defensive and ‘get out of jail’ support throughout the game (and so did Rosicky once he came on for a tired Ox). And with Ozil and Jack, we have two more central midfielders who can do this very, very well. Arsenal are blessed with such players which is a great reason to play a ‘harmonic’ 4-1-4-1 system of football.

When we play fellow direct competitors for silverware away, and maybe also at home, we should more often position our team deeper and more compact, in order to give ourselves a good chance to get a result and avoid painful mega-losses (as per last season).

But, with the right players, we can gradually become stronger and stronger at playing a harmonic 4-1-4-1 formation. Key is to have all our players fit and play together regularly. Another prerequisite is a solid and mobile DM, who will also be strong when our team is stretched forward. Arteta suited this part reasonably well, but I have always felt a need to improve in this area to move us to the next level (and so have most fellow Gooners).

Coquelin is looking really good and I hope we can sign him up to a new deal, and we need to sign one more quality DM to provide depth and competition. Key is that we add real leadership in this position; and, in recent games, Coquelin – finally escaped from his chrysalis – showed he might be able to offer this going forward as well.

But the most important and exciting part of all of this is who we will play in the two central midfield positions of the second ‘4’ of 4-1-4-1.

We can pick, in no particular order, from Rosicky, Ozil, Ramsey, Cazorla, Wilshere and one or two youngsters. I can see Ozil and Cazorla play together there, especially in games where we feel we can play more attack-minded and advanced. The likes of Alexis, Theo and Giroud (Ox, Welbeck etc) will be licking their lips at the anticipated service they would get. The idea that Ozil and Cazorla cannot play together is therefore wrong.

I can also see Jack and Aaron play there and rock the place; and we all know how valuable Rosa still is for us. Arsenal are blessed with super quality in these positions and are no doubt the envy of many, if not all, PL clubs with regards to this.

Cazorla, and Ramsey despite his rustiness, showed how well and disciplined they can play in this formation, and it was their ability to squeeze in with the defence and out with the attack that made a huge difference on Sunday (supported by the ‘mid-wings’ of course). Our transition worked really well, given the pressure we were under; and with more practicing, our 4-1-4-1 harmonica could become an all conquering system of football. It will even allow us to play Cazorla and Ozil together – or eventually my favourite combination: Wilshere and Ozil. 😉

Happy, harmonic times could be around the corner. 🙂

 By: TotalArsenal.

A new CB, DM and Goalkeeper, or…..: What will the TW bring?

transfer-window

There is a lot of hope amongst some fellow Gooners that the boss will splash the cash and bring in a shipload of new signings this January. We have been here many times before of course, and we never quite know what the boss will do. I really do not have a clue what will happen but past January transfer windows (TW) tell us that:

  1. He regularly buys nobody or surprises us with a largely unknown player for cover of a particular position;
  2. Very seldom will he spend the cash on a star player;
  3. He is a tough – some say tight – negotiator and will often wait till the very last minute;
  4. Although he sets transfer targets, he appears to change his mind regularly.

deadline-clock

Arsenal tend to buy their players during the Summer TW and only use the January TW to stop a gap, or to get a bargain. If it is the latter, we definitely will have to wait till the last day(s) of the TW, as the negotiators need the pressure of the deadline to force through a deal with those clubs who need to sell but are holding out for the best possible price.

Will we get a 'Monreal style' signing?
Will we get a ‘Monreal style’ signing?

If it is about stopping a gap (like Monreal two Januaries ago), Wenger tends to change his mind a lot, and recent developments might well delay or postpone transfer activities during this TW.

We need(ed) a CB, but with Debuchy, Chambers and Monreal doing decent stints in that position and Koz getting back to fitness, he might decide not to bother…. unless he can get a bargain. There is also a problem here in terms of getting somebody who wants to play third fiddle to the BFG and Koz when joining us, as nobody should be under the illusion that Wenger will drop either of them mid-season.

We also are desperate for a quality DM who can release the shackles of our attack minded midfielders. But out of the last chance saloon comes Le Coq who has been playing very well in his last two games, giving solid protection to the back four and allowing his fellow midfielders to let it all hang out. Wenger might be tempted to give Coquelin one last opportunity to play himself into the team…. It would not surprise me at all if we will not see another DM join us before 1st of Feb.

Some believe we will buy another goalkeeper and they might well be right. I reckon Ospina will not have accepted a permanent nr.2 role when he joined us; and if Szczesny is to be replaced imminently, which is highly unlikely in my opinion, it will probably be with a new nr.2 (with Ospina making the promotion).

So, glass brimming half full Gooners, half empty ones, and seekers of balance, out there: given the above, do you believe we will buy (a) senior/quality player(s) at all this January? And if so, who? Gives us your predictions! 🙂

Written by: TotalArsenal

Debuchy CB, Theo Starts, Coquelin for Ox? Liverpool Preview & Line-Up

Let’s get cool in the pool: Preview & Line-Up

Time for Le Coq to shine?
Time for Le Coq to shine?

After two great results and fine attacking football, in Istanbul and THOF, confidence levels are high and so are our expectations. Pool are a shadow of their former self and have become a team without bite: last season they scored for fun and now they hardly get more than one goal per game. We could be on the up now and Liverpool are struggling. Losing out to Basel for the CL will have hurt them badly and  their league position is even worse than ours (given expectation levels at the start of the season for both clubs).

Yet, I am nervous about this one. I guess the ‘good’ thing is we got an awful hiding from them last year, which will help Wenger to point out the importance of defending well in this game. We remain vulnerable at the back though, especially with Koz still unavailable. In a way, Liverpool have nothing to lose and will still have the sweetest of memories of last year’s encounter. This combination, further fuelled by a loyal and vociferous home crowd and a good away win mid-week, could be a dangerous one for us. Let’s pray they don’t score early and the team suffer from a horrible deja-vu experience.

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I have seen Arsenal a few times at Anfield. It is a great, traditional stadium with a fantastic atmosphere, and there is a lot of respect for Arsenal, both for our football and the way the club is managed. It was at Anfield where I first saw Cesc Fabregas in action. He played next to Vieira and opposite of another great midfielder, Gerrard. I will never forget that game for Vieira’s and Gerrard’s goals, and especially for Fabregas’ incredible ability to read the game and anticipate where the ball would be in the next few seconds. I knew straightaway he would become a great footballer.

I also will never forget how Thierry Henry got a standing ovation from the Pool and away supporters at the end of the FA cup game that we won there (1-3). He had scored the last goal in real style, out-pacing and out-smarting Jamie Carragher from the centre of midfield with a fabulous run and a very composed finish. It was so great to witness this with my own eyes.

Liverpool is a fine football city and nowhere in the country, other than the good parts of North-London, is there more respect for good football – and therefore Arsenal – than in Merseyside.

But tomorrow we will play there a very important game and for ninety plus minutes there is no time for sentimentality. A win would put a lot of distance between them and us and would be a perfect start to the congested Christmas schedule.  We have a bit of momentum now and it is important to keep it going.

In order to do so, we need to stay cool in the pool. I reckon Wenger will opt for 4-2-1-3 or even ‘6-4’, with a split in responsibilities between the ‘6’, mainly responsible for defending, and the ‘4’, mainly responsible for attacking. Only the FBs will have a bit more freedom to support the attack – one at a time – but the rest of the ‘6’ will be tasked to keep it tight – at least for the start of the game. Wenger really does not want to give Pool any encouragement that we will leave a lot of space for them to attack us. We want to control that game, and with our superior strike-force we can and should be patient, as our chances will come.

My predicted line-up is:

Ars v Liverpool Dec 14

I reckon Le Coq will play instead of Ox, unless the latter is fully fit. Even then Wenger might opt to play the Frenchman next to his fellow countryman, Flamini, against Pool. Arteta is still not available and Ramsey is out too, and Coquelin comes closest to Arteta’s style of play (and has more experience that the popular options on this blog of Chambers or Hayden).

At the back, I reckon Wenger will stick with Debuchy as CB partner to the BFG, with Chambers (available again) replacing Bellerin as RB. With Chambers, BFG, Szczesny and Gibbs we have four out of five players playing in their best positions, and only MD is out of position. Debuchy is versatile and experienced and I reckon he is the better option at CB than Chambers (or Hayden). It is not ideal but it will have to do…

Up-front is where it really gets exciting. Theo could be back, but I don’t think he will start. It would be great to see him on the bench though. Cazorla picks himself for the hole position and I reckon it will be Welbeck and Alexis on the wings, with OG in the middle.

Wenger will pick his strongest team after they all had eight days of rest and this surely is the biggest test of the festive season (with the Hammers away game coming close though). He is also likely to opt for the above mentioned initial division of a defending and an attacking team, in order to keep it tight and calm, whilst waiting for our opportunity to pounce. Not everyone will like a more defensive approach but I reckon anything else is likely to cost us badly.

I expect it to be tight with one to three goals, unless one of the teams scores early….. and let’s hope it will be us if this were to be the case.

Come On You Rip-Roaring Gunners – Let The Canon Roar!

Written by: TotalArsenal.

 

We ARE The Arsenal And That Was Unacceptable

Soft Underbelly Allows Three Costly Wobbles

We have known and been talking about it forever: Arsenal have a soft underbelly, and it is right in the heart of our defence and midfield. We strapped it over recently with the veterans of Flamini and Arteta playing in front of the vulnerable CB pairing of BFG and Nacho, and it somehow did a job against the lesser teams of Sunderland and Burnley.

But last night our swinging undercarriage was laid bare by a team the equivalent in Europe to the likes of Burnley and Sunderland in the PL. It was embarrassing and painful to watch, and with Arteta possibly injured for a while again and Le Coq on loan (WTF!?), and Koz out till at least after the break, we can only dream of a solid six-pack for quite a while.

The question is will Wenger ever accept this and buy properly, or will we continue with patching over the continuous softness? The answer my friends, is blowing in the window (which will not open till the new year, of course).

It is true that we seemed to fall apart as soon as Arteta left the field, but we should also not forget that we had looked vulnerable at the start of the game, when he was  actually on the pitch; and we could have easily conceded a goal if the Belgians had been a bit more lucky/deadly. I also witnessed defensive weaknesses against Burnley during the first half, for which we were not punished.

The lack of organisational leadership with players like BFG, Flamini and Nacho on the pitch, which resulted in giving away a three nil lead at home, was simply unacceptable. Now I don’t think these players are at all lazy or careless; I am sad to say they probably just lack the qualities (physical and tactical), although I would love to be proven wrong on this. Or maybe, it is just a lack of tactical organisation and preparation, for which training sessions and trainers are to blame… You tell me…

We gave away a three nil lead at home, against CL minnows Anderlecht. We can analyse it to bits, we can find all sorts of excuses, but we still gave away a three nil lead against Anderlecht in twenty minutes of football, at the home of football. How does it make us feel? Like somebody just buried, with full force, their hairy-knuckled fat fist in our underbelly.

What do you do when that happens? You fecking fight back. Swansea should be scared, very scared. Or should they?

The one big positive (other than another master-class by Alexis and good performances by the FBs):

I was delighted to see the Ox score a goal he has been threatening to produce for quite a while. I loved the venom and precision in his bended shot, and it was great to see the master Alexis giving the young Englishman his approval of the finish.

Unfortunately for him, this will not be the one big thing we will remember from this game.

Bring on The Jacks on Sunday and let our players show why they are still worthy of wearing the shirt. We are The Arsenal!

Written by: TotalArsenal.

 

 

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.