Wenger needs va-va-voom – Vermaelen no leader – Jack is our hope

This is The Arsenal and we are not scared of anyone, right?!

Nobody likes losing, but nothing is worse than getting beaten by the Mancs whilst the whole team is oozing a gigantic inferiority complex: a collective lack of belief from the moment the first kick is made. I hate that more than anything else. How many times have we gone to Old Trafford in the last few years with that same resignation; that same anticipation of imminent defeat? Simply unacceptable!

Vermaelen is no leader

I have said it a number of times in recent weeks: Thomas Vermaelen is not a leader. He is a specialist: a bloody brilliant CB who on his day is simply unbeatable. He is, however, not a leader and the added responsibility to captain the team has made him error-prone, insecure and lost at sea at times. In the big games, Thomas has made a number of mistakes which have cost us in more than one sense. He should be oozing calm and organise the team; set the right examples and fill everyone with confidence. He is doing the opposite, and I reckon this will not change anytime soon.

There is an added complication, as others have already pointed out previously: the best CB pairing is probably Mert-Koz. But as TV is our captain, Arsene has left himself with a bit of a CB-selection pickle: he simply has to select Vermaelen even when it would be best to give preference to Koscielny.

Arsene has got to sort this out as soon as possible: there are better options for the captaincy within our team, and he would get back again a specialist warrior in TV.

Arsene needs to re-inject some much needed va-va-voom into the team

Our 4-3-3 formation with Pod-Giroud-Ramsey (as a false winger/fourth midfielder) is totally not working. Arsenal are so toothless at the moment that we would struggle to make a dent in a cream-cake. Why Wenger is persevering with those three up-front only he knows. Podolski has not made an impact on the game since the end of the inter-lull. For me he is the perfect CF for Arsenal, and a lot better than Giroud. Giroud gets no service at the moment, though, and I cannot see this change for the foreseeable future. Arsenal are simply not a team to play a classical CF up-front, and I don’t understand why we bought him to play in a 4-3-3 system without proper wingers.

Now is time for Arsene to inject some va-va-voom; to spice things up a bit. It is of paramount importance to sort out the front-three situation as soon as possible. If it was me, I would start with Ox-Giroud-Theo upfront, or even better: Ox-Pod-Theo. Even Pod-Theo-Ox could work, as they all add speed, attacking menace, unpredictability and some much needed new thrust: some va va bloody voom!

It is time for Arsene to re-inject some belief by taking a bit of risk and trying something new.

Jack is our hope

We have Jack back – although suspended for the next PL game now – and together with Cazorla and Arteta, he can boss the midfield. For me, he was the man of the match against the Mancs, as he was setting an example to many of his colleagues by battling away and now and again putting in a strong tackle. He had attitude and was fighting for his and the club’s honour.

And that’s exactly the spirit we need to get back to The Arsenal we know and are proud of: the one that is feared and admired by our opponents at the same time.

Total Arsenal.

Three urgently needed improvements for the Schalke 04 game

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Will Gnabry get a chance on the right wing?

More Support for Cazorla – Better on-field Leadership – Sort out the Wings.

Just because we have seen a rat swimming in the sea, it does not mean the ship is about to sink. Arsenal played so well in recent away games against Liverpool, Man City and West Ham that we have no reason to despair as yet, even though our performance in and against Norwich was woeful.

Having had time to analyse the game in a bit more detail, I believe there are three urgently needed improvements Arsenal have to make for our game against Schalke 04 on Wednesday.

  1. More support for Cazorla in the centre of midfield. In our current system the lynchpin position is absolute key in terms of giving adequate support to Arteta – our more natural protector of the back four – and supporting Cazorla – our creative midfielder. Especially against teams who park the bus against us, we need a player who is good at defending, who can switch over to attack very quickly, can pick a good through-ball, and is confident with the ball in tight spaces. They need to be good passers and receivers of the ball and able to take on a player if possible. We have two very good players for this: Diaby and Jack, and two very decent players: Rosicky and Ramsey. All of them can also play in Cazorla’s position. If Jack is fit, we should play him against Schalke. If not, it will have to be Ramsey again. I thought he struggled against Norwich and he will have to step it up significantly if he is to make that role his own any time soon. Against Schalke he might get his last chance for a long while.
  2. On-field leadership needs to improve significantly. Some of you might recall my recent post about the perceived lack of leadership coming from Thomas Vermaelen. I reckon TV5 is struggling with the organisational and communicative tasks of leadership within the team. He leads well by example; although he often makes rash decisions – offensively as well as defensively – which put the rest of the team on edge, and in danger. I don’t think Thomas is a natural leader and he appears to be struggling with the new weight of responsibility on his shoulders. The sooner Arsene releases him of the captaincy responsibilities the better. I reckon Mertesacker would be a brilliant captain.
  3. Arsenal need to sort out the wings, if and when Giroud is being played in the middle. We need to stop being lop-sided towards the left, and have proper wing play on each side. It is either Giroud with proper wingers or no Giroud in our current system. Podolski is not a proper winger but a CF who can be positioned on the wing. In our ‘fluid-three’ system, Podolski does really well; especially when Gervinho is played in the middle and either one of The Ox, Theo or even Ramsey is played on the right. I prefer the fluid-three system at the moment, as it gives us far better movement up-front and it makes us a lot more unpredictable. But I would also like us to use Giroud more. However, playing Giroud with the Pod on the left and Gervinho on the right is not working at all, and I would be very surprised if Arsenal will use this combination again for a while. With the Ox probably out for Wednesday and Theo also a doubt, Arsene will be limited in his options. Podolski also appears to carry a knock and might be a doubt for Wednesday. Therefore, I would not be surprised – and also welcome it – if we were to start against Schalke with Gervinho on the left, Giroud in the middle and either Theo, The Ox, or Gnabry on the right – depending on who is fit enough to play.

I am sure the leadership thing will linger on for a while, as Arsene never seems to care that much about who is our captain. But the other two areas really need to be sorted out urgently in my opinion, if Arsenal want to return to winning ways.

Keep the faith fellow Gooners!

Total Arsenal.

No focus and disjointed all over the park: Arsene and Steve have a job to do!

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We have all learned over the years that supporting Arsenal is a roller-coaster ride, but last night’s unexpected woeful performance against the Canaries was nevertheless a painful stab in our Gooner hearts.

Away games after long inter-lull periods are often tricky for the top teams, as they have many internationals who only return late mid-week – often tired and carrying knocks – whereas the smaller teams tend to have lots of time to prepare for their home game with more or less the entire squad.

But of course, this cannot be a valid excuse, as we should expect Wenger and Bould to both make the right call on who is fit enough to play and make sure the team will start the game with the right game plan, focus and motivation.

As a team Arsenal failed miserably last night: the whole was definitely less than the sum of its parts.

I would struggle, though, if I had to pick a player who did not work hard enough yesterday. Individual work rates did not seem to be the problem – but as a team, something was missing. We never looked focussed or cohesive throughout the game. In fact, we looked rusty, toothless and disjointed all over the pitch, and totally deserved to lose.

It is utterly disappointing that Arsenal were not better prepared mentally for this game, and I tend to blame Wenger and Bould for this.

Last night I started to sense we were not going to win this game, as early as five minutes after Arsenal conceded Holt’s goal. It was against the run of play, but, unfortunately, we have become vulnerable again to conceding this sort of goals (ManCity, Chelsea x2, West Ham, and now low-on-confidence Norwich).

Conceding that goal should have told the whole team they needed to fight once again to somehow take the three points back home to London – as we did so well against West Ham in our last PL game – but we never lifted our game enough to achieve it.

In a nutshell: Arsenal were never focussed and ‘together’ enough to win last night’s game.

Not only were our wings thrust-less, we also lacked panache and energy to find a way through the Norwich yellow and green hedges in the middle of the pitch. There was simply not enough movement with or without the ball to trouble the Norwich busses, which was very disappointing to watch.

A very disappointing performance and a very disappointing result, but most of all I am disappointed in Wenger and Bould. Sending out a team that lacks focus and is disjointed all over the park is simply not good enough.

Some perspective is needed, though. It is so easy to jump to big conclusions about how rubbish everything is at Arsenal right now. But a team that beat Liverpool and West Ham away and played fantastic football against ManCity only a few weeks ago, still has plenty of credit left. It is now about how we respond to that unacceptable performance at Carrow Road in the next few games.

The players have a role to play, but I have little doubt that most if not all the players in our first team squad are genuine hard workers who give their all. We also have plenty of very good footballers and there is good strength in depth.

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The changes we need to see are mainly the responsibility of Wenger and Bould. We need better tactical and mental preparation for games, and we need to become a lot better at absorbing forced changes to our formation. Two and a half month into the season, we should not suffer so much from injuries to the likes of Szczesny, Diaby and Gibbs: good management is about making the right substitutions without the system of our football being adversely affected.

Arsene and Steve: over to you.

Total Arsenal.

 

Vermaelen is our captain, but who is Arsenal’s real leader?

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Over the last few years, the captaincy of Arsenal has changed too many times. Consistency of leadership, on and off the pitch, is so important in terms of building a team based on Arsene’s football-philosophy and tactical principles.

Arsene put all his hope and energy into Cesc as both the embodiment on the pitch of his cherished football-philosophy, and the captain of his team. Fabregas was brilliant at leading by example but most of us felt something was missing: he was not a naturally born leader and as a result he struggled with some vital aspects of leadership we were craving for.

Robin van Persie was a fantastic captain last season, however much it pains me to say it: the traitor was a leader rather than just a captain.

However, he is gone now and Thomas Vermaelen has been handed the captaincy. The season has only just started, but early signs indicate Vermaelen is more like a Fabregas sort of captain than a Robin van Persie sort of leader. Leadership is something which is very hard, if not impossible, to learn: you either have it or you don’t.

A good captain/leader:

  • Leads by example: not just with good personal performances, but also with high energy-levels/commitment, and a never-say-die attitude. He never spares himself, always gives everything and plays with his heart on his sleeve. He will also stand up for his players and let nobody be bullied by the opposition;
  • Is blessed with a high level of social-emotional intelligence: he understands what is going in the minds of other players, and is able to support them accordingly, on and off the pitch;
  • Is extravert: he is not a constant shouter, but he likes to talk to this fellow players and make himself known when things are not going right;
  • Is a great communicator with the crowd/fans, and an ambassador for the club. He understands what the fans want and are concerned about, and gives good interviews to the press, by always representing the club professionally and with real passion;
  • Is a great communicator, ‘liaison-manager’ between the players and management. He has got the respect of Wenger, the coaches and the players, and is able to translate messages, up and down, and down and up, effectively;
  • Is a team player/ team builder: he will regularly praise, on and off the pitch, contributions made by others and help the team in becoming a strong unit.
  • Is good tactically: he has a good overview of what is happening on the pitch and, by talking to his team players, can make minor adjustments to the way the team is playing.

Vermaelen works his socks and leads by example as no other, and we all love him for that, but I don’t see him talk or shout a lot to his fellow players during matches: he seems far too busy with his own job of keeping a tight defence. I find him quiet and more introvert than extravert on the pitch. Although less important, I also thinks he lacks a bit of charisma when talking to the press and his engagement with the fans could also improve a bit. Thomas is a great player: a total warrior, but I don’t think he is a great captain.

Many of us believe that Arsene does not care that much about who his captain should be. He appears to prefer leadership throughout the entire team. In that respect, things have changed dramatically over the last two years at Arsenal, mainly as a result of Arsene now buying far more experienced players who often also possess good leadership skills.

The likes of Mertesacker, Koscielny, Arteta, Cazorla and Podolski all have one or more leadership characteristics as per the list mentioned above. In many ways, this is a lot better than relying on a typical/classical single leader/captain.

However, gradually we are very likely to see a natural leader coming to the fore again, albeit a more democratic kind of leader – less hierarchical than during Van Persie’s short captaincy for Arsenal, as Wenger will want to continue with having leadership in all main areas of his team.

Time will tell would that will be. I have been really impressed with both Mertesacker and Cazorla, and I think they both tick most of the above mentioned characteristics. The German has the advantage of having the better command of English, and regardless whether Vermaelen will stay captain or not, I reckon the Big Fabulous German will soon be seen as our real/natural leader in the team.

Total Arsenal.