Arsene Wenger’s biggest challenge is in midfield

Having had some time to reflect on our painful defeat on Wednesday, I am feeling a bit more positive now. I reckon it was a reality check for almost all of us.

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We are still a team that is looking for its true identity: some days we are brilliant, many days we are adequate and some days we are rubbish. And on Wednesday, as a team, we were bad, especially after we conceded the first goal. As long as Arsene does not get the midfield right, we will continue to have mixed performances.

We started slow but we were in control. There was a certain caution in our game and, given Monaco’s Portuguese style of play, which focuses hard on defending and breaking out quickly as soon as the ball is regained, that made sense – especially when we play a slow CB in the centre of our defence. I would have liked us to play a higher line and put more pressure on Monaco, with fast CBs – which would exclude Per on this occasion – as the best cover for their counter attacks; but leaving the BFG out of this big game was unlikely to happen. I would also have been happy with us playing deep and inviting them to come and attack us, for which Per would have been great of course. In the end we got a bit of both and it did not work out.

However, there is always an element of luck which determines the outcome of games: they scored with a deflection and we had our own man (Theo) blocking a sure goal from Welbeck. The Konogbia shot might have gone in without the deflection, but it was a big slice of luck for Monaco nevertheless. When you play a counterattacking team, nothing is worse than conceding the ‘away goal’ as the first one in a two-legged match. Playing in front of the home crowd means that sooner or later more risks will be taken, and that is exactly what the opponent was waiting for: and they punished us in style, it has to be said.

It was, of course, also a master class of how to play deep and on the counter; and, as we also witnessed when Monaco played against us in the Emirates Cup, their players are fit and strong, play with excellent team discipline and game plan, and are not afraid to make cynical fouls. As others have mentioned, the game had that horrible Mourinho feeling about it: it is the sort of football – not alien to us any more either – that sucks the life out of you, looks for your weaknesses and punishes you remorselessly. And they did.

Our game plan, a mixture of sitting semi-deep and pressing semi-high, did not work out. Wenger was right to have a go at our defending and we were also unlucky that Giroud had a bad-hair-day, as it could have been very different had he found the net early on, but I hope our long-in-the-teeth manager will also see that his game tactics did not work. I guess it is the fear of conceding an away goal against a strong defensive team that kept Arsene from going all out on attack; and I also reckon it is the belief in our own attacking strengths and qualities that kept us from playing the Monaco brand of footie.

On top of that, we just have not got the mix in midfield right to know what we can expect and deal with any opponent/tactics effectively. The Monaco midfield out-powered and out-witted ours and it was not the first time that we lost the battle in this crucial area this season. All our midfielders are great but getting the chemistry right in our 4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1 formations is proving to be Arsene’s biggest challenge again this season.

Ox scored the goal of the night and it could still be a very important one. But the way we conceded the last one, with our young Englishman at the root of it, was the most painful moment of this season for me. Now we have to score at least three times to go through, which is really one too many. But this result also forces Wenger’s hand in three weeks time; it allows our team to play to our natural instincts and playing culture. It is about all out attack and giving them hell: never time to settle and show them what the Arsenal are all about. It probably will not be enough to go through, but there is something else at stake here: our spirit, our backbone, our reputation, our pride.

COYG

Stand Tall And Make Us Proud Again.

By TotalArsenal.

Chaos without Giroud, Ozil saves us, One problem to fix: Match Analysis

After the very disappointing defeat in the derby, we were all desperate for a five-star performance against bottom club Leicester City at the home of football.

The combination of a good overall run of games, the 5-0 trashing of the Villains recently and the narrow loss against the Spuds, made us all feel extra positive about last night’s game. So expectations were high, even though we knew that Leicester are not a bad team and have managed to (semi)scalp a few top-four contenders in recent months. They also had nothing to lose and a manager who has the support of the team and yet is under enormous pressure: a combination that makes a team want to fight.

We have to applaud the Foxes for not sitting back and making it a cup-tie sort of game. They never gave up and played some fine football throughout the match.

Many on Bergkampesque know that I am a big believer in the need for Giroud in our current team. He is not the world best Centre Forward, but I cannot think of a better all-round holding striker in the EPL. He is also our attacking pivot around whom we build our play. I have to say I was surprised not to see him on the team sheet. With Sanogo on loan, we do not have a like for like player and it showed.

We basically played six at the back – Ospina, Bellerin, BFG, Koz, Monreal and Le Coq – and five attacking midfielders. There was lots of movement and the ball was passed well at times, but we also lacked understanding and automatism between the players to a large extent. We dominated play in the first half but did not create many clear cut chances without Giroud being there to bounce the ball off; the sumptuous throughball by Ozil to Theo in the box being the highlight of the first half.

But for all the criticism we can sling at the team, we are good at scoring goals at the moment: eight goals in the last three encounters gives an average of 2.67 a game, and this is what is saving us currently. And once again, Ozil delivered the bread and butter stuff, with two fine assists this time round. I really don’t get the criticism on BK and other blogs about our fabulous German maestro. He was bought to add invention, attacking intent, assists and goals and he is delivering big style, yet many focus on his perceived lack of effort. I say perceived as his stats always show he puts in tons of efforts, often not visible on the screen. What is visible to everyone, though, is his goals and assists tally since he has returned, and we should bless our cotton socks he is fully fit again.

So, although our attacking efforts lacked structure and cutting edge, we got away with it by scoring from a corner and on the rebound from a speculative, yet fierce, Ozil long-distance shot. Koz took his chance very calmly and Theo was decisive and lethal when he had his second good chance of the match.

Thanks Voetbal International for picture
Thanks Voetbal International for picture

I am not saying we cannot play without Giroud in the centre, but it is obvious to me that every time we do not play him we miss shape and purpose and it will take time for the team to learn to play without him. Do I want us to practice this at this stage of the season? Non merci!

Leicester had actually created the better chances from playing good football and were unlucky to be behind at the break by two goals. They were playing with freedom and enthusiasm and we gave them far too much space, especially on our right hand side (as we did against the Spuds as well).

And this brings me to the biggest issues we are facing currently: general shape of the team and, in particular, our struggle with dominating midfield and controlling the flow between defence and attack. We are lacking connection between our attackers and defenders and this is the biggest challenge for Wenger to resolve.

Many seem to underestimate how difficult this is, as the risk of getting our defence exposed too much is always there. The modern game is all about the battle in midfield and to win it we need a good mix of skills and a great understanding between the players; we also need the attackers to chip in when we need to defend as a team, and our defenders to support the midfield when we need to put pressure on the opposition.

It is great to have more and more players back but there is also a price to pay. It takes time to fit the likes of Theo and Ozil, Ospina and Bellerin and Coquelin into the team. On top of that, Ramsey, who in the b2b role is one of our most important players, has not hit full form as yet. And now it looks like he will be out for a long period once again. Coquelin has been a revelation since he started to play as our deep DM, but also he is not faultless of course.

It is clear to me that Arsene is looking hard to find the balance in midfield and with Ramsey out he will have to face another challenge. Some want more physical power in midfield but I am not convinced this is the main factor. Le Coq has definitely added a lot in this respect. What we are lacking is the ability to hold on to the ball in tight spaces and make darting runs forward. An inform Ramsey is good at this, and a fully fit Wilshere is even better at it. Wilshere also has a strong need to own the midfield and fight for dominance, and his forward link-up play from deep in midfield is very good. But it remains to be seen whether he can play an important role for us this season, as his fitness remains a big issue.

Rosicky and Santi should be good alternatives for the odd game or two, but it looks like they cannot do this for the team on a regular basis. Rosa looks more effective in the hole or in a free role and Santi is struggling with the physical demands of playing so deep most of the time.

If Wenger can fix this particularly area – and how he would wish either Jack or Diaby were fit right now – we will see this team hitting the heights once more; and we are closer to this than many think.

Positives from the game:

  1. Not one…;
  2. Not two….;
  3. But three points, and that three days after an epic battle with the Spuds;

The Spuds dropped three points and let’s see how many points fellow competitors drop tonight.

Sometimes we should just be a bit more happy with the ugly gift horses we get and not complain as much about how we got them. Arsene never promised us a rose garden… and beauty is for the Spring anyway . 😉

By TotalArsenal.

Le Coq & BFG Solid, Nacho Fearless, Ozil Scores Again: 8 Positives from Game

Well that was a disappointing game and outcome. We sat deep and invited pressure, with the aim to beat the Spuds on the counter. Prior to the game I was very much for us sitting deep and playing compact, and I praise Wenger for doing so. And initially it paid off handsomely, as we scored a goal from a sharp and incisive counter – with a lucky deflection off Giroud’s leg, mind you – early on in the game.

Thanking The Guardian for picture.
Thanking The Guardian for picture.

Playing so deep and compact and with such little possession of the ball, is still quite alien to us. It is not the Arsenal way and we should not expect us to be brilliant at it straightaway. Yes it worked against the Northern Oilers last month, but it did not work against the Southern Oilers earlier in the season. I am pleased that we are playing deeper in these sorts of games, though. Many of us have wanted this for a long time, and although we lost against the Spuds, and overall deservedly so, it was still the best tactics against them. We will learn our lessons from these encounters and get better at playing deep and compact in order to win games on the counter.

And the one thing we need to analyse is how the team was unable to release the pressure they were under and did not counter more effectively. The easiest thing to do is to say that such and such were not good enough or had a bad day, and that we missed such and such, etc.

There is merit in some of the criticism some of our players got after the game, and yes we missed the likes of Theo, Alexis, Wilshere, Ox, Rosicky and Debuchy yesterday (all not in the starting eleven). But the players on the pitch were all very good and many of them were key in getting three points in Manchester recently.

Our prolonged inability to break through the pressure line of the Spuds needs analysing and then we need to get better at this through hard work in training. We just cannot expect Arsenal to be brilliant straightaway at what is an unnatural way of playing the game for us. The Spuds’ manager outsmarted us in midfield and Wenger was unable to break it in the second half. This can of course happen, and let’s not forget the referee had an absolute shocker, allowing them to foul us without consequences and handing out yellow cards to our players willy-nilly.

Yet we had chances to take the lead again after they had equalised, and football is, whether we like it or not, still a game of chance and luck to some extent. And for the same money the BFG would have earned us a penalty for what was a very silly foul on him. Wenger is also right in stating that both goals against us were bad defensive mistakes.

But the best team won and we have another game in two days; and except for the title, there is everything to play for, with the Northern Oilers just seven points away from us in second place. The boys will learn from this encounter and the next time we apply similar tactics against a strong opponent away, or even at home, we will be better at it.

Eight positives from the game:

  1. Mertesacker lead his defence very well and he read the game perfectly. Sitting deep and playing compact really suits Per and he handled the pressure very well. The Spuds had chances but many were shots from outside the box as the defence was able to keep the Spuds away from getting inside our box. He was not helped by a lack of discipline and protection from our right-sided players – Bellerin and Welbeck – and yet he made a number of vital interceptions and clearances stemming from danger from the Spuds’ left wing.
  2. Coquelin was solid and tenacious, and most importantly in such a heated derby, disciplined and composed. He protected the back-four very well and was able to match the Spuds’ energy levels during most of the game.
  3. Ozil scored another fine goal: three in three now, and that is just the part he needed to add to his game at Arsenal, as he scored just five goals in 26 PL encounters last season. He got outmuscled a few times, but more than once through a foul on him. Mesut suffered a lot from our inability to play the ball out of our defence and therefore was not always very effective on the day.
  4. Monreal was up for this and there was no way through our left back. He was tenacious and aggressive and played a very professional game for 90 minutes.
  5. Our starting tactics for the game were spot on, and for me this is a big positive this season. We showed them too much respect and were unable to release the pressure enough in the second half, so, as per the above, we need to improve further. But our compact and deep sitting approach to these sort of games is a welcome, necessary change.
  6. Ospina handled the pressure well and his focus was strong throughout the game. His early Kane safe was crucial and he was never intimidated during the game. But he is also quite small, and I wonder whether this was the main cause for him parrying the ball back into the danger zone on a number of occasions when dealing with shots from outside the box. He was lucky to get away with this on more than one occasion and I reckon a taller keeper would have been able to tip the ball that led the Spuds’ equaliser over the crossbar. But his composure and energy were brilliant and as such he kept us in the game for a long time (but not without a healthy dollop of luck).
  7. We have only one more hard away game to go this season, as we played at Pool, Everton, Chavs, Northern Oilers, Saints, and now Spuds already. We are in strong position to push on towards the second spot but key is to keep momentum going.
  8. Alexis will be back soon. 😉

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So let’s not despair but see it as a big learning opportunity for the boys and Wenger. The biggest enemy of momentum is lack of self belief, and the best way to strengthen our belief is by winning the next game. OGAAT! 🙂

 Bring on the Foxes on Tuesday.

COYG!

By TotalArsenal.

Santi dances, Rambo and le Coq rock, Giroud head-bangs: eight positives from game

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It was no Wengerball; it was no total football. But it was just the team performance the red and white footie doctor had ordered: solid, determined, energetic, predatory, and victorious. Many of us have argued that in the big games we should play compact in defence, lay deeper and work our socks off, and then beat our title competitors on the break.

And that is exactly what the Gunners did against Citeh today; and had we been a bit more tuned in and clinical up-front, we could have won with more goals. 

Of course, the best thing in the world is to beat these opponents with free-flowing, attacking footie, but this might have to wait for a while. Every new palace needs a solid foundation first.

Today’s performance shows that we can play a more solid, defensive game if we have to: and we got the full rewards for it. Had we lost today the gap between us and the Northern Oilers would have been unbridgeable; but in a week’s time it could be just six or five points (when the battle of the Oilers takes place and we play home against the Villains). The Chavs are too far ahead of us, but we can still gun Citeh down; and, given the difficult start of the season, that would still be a good finish to the PL season in some respect.

We ‘scalped’ the Northern Oilers twice now this season and fought hard for a draw at home as well.

Significantly, winning today’s away game has the potential to move us onto a higher platform: the win builds confidence and belief, and with a number of stars returned and returning – did you see that sexy bench today? – we should be able to repeat this performance against the Spuds (in three weeks), the Chavs and the Mancs. Other than one or two good cup runs and a high finish in the PL, learning how to beat our closest rivals would be a great, much needed outcome of the 2014-15 season.

Positives from Man City v Arsenal:

  1. Le Coq stood tall. I had doubts whether Francis would survive in this game, but he had a quietly brilliant game: he was solid, kept it simple and played with great discipline. He showed a great nose for advancing danger and positioned himself really well. His interventions were strong and decisive, and he moved play on well. OzG could be right after all, and no additional DM will be bought anytime soon… What a development!
  2. Cazorla was totally in his element. The free role in our 4-2-1-3 formation today suits him so well. Santi was instrumental in releasing the pressure on our defence with his ability to hold onto the ball in very tight spaces and find a way to play it to a fellow attacker. Furthermore, it was a big penalty to take, and he converted it calmly and professionally; and his free-kick provided the assist for Giroud’s all important second goal. He helped out everywhere and was great support for his fellow midfielders. An inspired, passionate performance, and I feel I owe him an apology but that is for another post. Santi Santi ahahaha 🙂
  3. Ramsey offered a lot of support to our defence and attack today. He was clearly rusty as his final ball and attempts on goal showed us, but he linked up midfield and attack well and helped out Coquelin constantly. I would not have opted for him today, as I believed both Flamini and Rosicky were more suited for this match, but Aaron put in a good shift. There is new life in the Welsh engine room…
  4. We defended as a team: all eleven of ‘us’. I thought Alexis had an off day from an attacking point of view (compared to his high standards) but he put in a good defensive shift (although not faultless). To a large extent, the same goes for Ox, although he had a couple of good moments in attack, notably the excellent run and cross into the box to Giroud. But he also put in a disciplined defensive shift (although not faultless either). The Gunners wanted it more today.
  5. The Full Backs were very keen and kept the City flank penetrations to a minimum. This was crucial as they love to get behind defences from the sides in order to crack them open. Bellerin was very impressive with his positioning and interventions; and Monreal showed great, healthy aggression and energy on the left flank. Both also offered great support going forward, and it was Nacho’s involvement up-front that earned him and us the beautiful gift of a penalty (deserved, but I was still amazed the ref gave it to us so early in the game). The FBs were on fire.
  6. Koz was a beast throughout the game. He hovered up so many balls and his presence and raw energy was enormous. Playing compact and deep suits both Koz and (obviously) the BFG, especially if they get very fine support in front of them by the midfielders. Our CBs were a great mixture of calm interventions/positioning and organisation on the one hand (BFG), and power and aggression on the other hand (Koz). Absolute bliss.
  7. Ospina did not have a lot to do, but he was calm and somehow always ‘present’. He also felt no need to get unnecessarily involved and handled the high balls into the box well. I love the way the away fans shouted his name every time he was kicking the ball out. Nice touch.
  8. Giroud worked hard for the team but, crucially, he took one of his few chances to decide the game for us. It just looked that Alexis was not going to score today, so we needed somebody else to step up. Santi did so from the penalty spot and Ollie from a free-kick at a crucial point in the game. City had looked strong at the start of the second half and we were buckling quite a bit under the pressure, so we needed that second goal desperately, and Giroud delivered right on time. Priceless.

A big compliment should also go to Arsene. He opted to include three relatively young/inexperienced players in his team – Bellerin, Le Coq and Ox – and started with the rusty Ramsey, and it all worked out brilliantly. I did not think this could work, but he proved me wrong. 🙂

There is so much to take from this game and to discuss. What are your positives and negatives from the game? Have we turned a corner now?

By TotalArsenal.

The Coquelin Miracle, Streetwise Alexis, Koz is back: Eight positives from game.

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How easy was that? Easiest win of the season as the Orcs were scared into submission with all that bright light and unattainable football quality at the home of football.

They tried to rough us up for a while but Koz and Alexis put them to the sword with great ease, and that was it: job done. The only thing I regret is that we let the Debuchy injury go unpunished: sometimes I wish we were more streetwise and show the rest of the PL that we will not be messed with.

Eight Positives from the game:

  1. Alexis keeps delivering and was totally unimpressed with anything the Orcs threw at him. He is very streetwise and fantastic at avoiding contact with opponents when it is best to do so, yet he is not scared of any one and made of granite. His assist was simple and effective: just a case of quick thinking and good delivery; his first goal was very clever: he gave the keeper the eye, indicating he would once again opt for the far  corner (just before that Begovic had made a fine safe from a similar attempt) and then steering it precisely into the near corner; and then there was the free-kick: a touch of luck but great capitalisation on the Orcs’ nerves. What a Player!
  2. The triangle of the disciplined Coquelin, the wise Rosicky and the creative Santi. It worked very well again (as Gerry and others have already pointed out). Key is Rosicky’s understanding of the role, which is all about finding the balance of defensive support for Coquelin and adding attacking impetus by giving Santi support. Rosa did this very well. Coquelin was composed and strong and excelled in keeping it simple: what is happening all of a sudden….. a mini miracle in my opinion! Santi played with zest and passed the ball round incisively: our Spanish maestro seems to accept/understand that he is better suited in creating chances/key passes for others this season, rather than desperately being at the end of them all the time. With the likes of Alexis, Giroud and now Theo up-front we have very good goal scorers and what they need is silver service, and Santi’s is delivering it very nicely indeed right now.
  3. Koz looked sharp and played well for the whole game. We all know how important he is for this team, not just in his own role but also in terms of getting the best out of the BFG and the LB position. It looks like we are going to miss Debuchy for a while but if we can get Koz involved, fully fit, for the rest of the season then that is a huge plus.
  4. Ospina dealt well with the little threat he had to deal with, but, more importantly, he seemed to fit well with the back-four. They all seemed relaxed and trusting of Ospina and that is a good sign for a goalie that has played so few games for Arsenal. I had a feeling The Colombian would start (as per preview), but it appears that Wenger did not tell Wojciech his decision to not play him till just before the start of the game. I am sure this will be continued and let’s hope Szczesny senior will keep his gob shut.
  5. Bellerin did really well at RB and is progressing on a par with his blistering speed. Ox showed lots of energy and thrust, and is getting closer to meaningful contributions (goals and assists). Nacho played with real bite and lots of healthy aggression. Giroud battled well and played in the service of the team, and he also did well to stand above the Orcs’ attempts to provoke him.
  6. Ozil and Theo are back. Bliss.
  7. We are above the Spuds and gained three points on the Mancs.
  8. Clean Sheet.

So, a good, easy win with plenty of positives to take from. And the perfect preparation for the battle with the Northern Oilers? 

What did you make of the game?

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Arsenal v Saints Match Review: Giroud Is Not Afraid!

Arsenal 1 – 0 Southampton

Thanking The Guardian for picture
Thanking The Guardian for picture

Now that was a game of football. It might not win many beauty awards, and the neutrals will only have liked the second part of the second half; but, from a tactical point of view, very good football was on display tonight.

Koeman developed his initial playing career under Guus Hiddink’s wings, and his current Southampton team play football like PSV Eindhoven used to do under Hiddink’s reign back then. It is structured around a strong defensive shape and discipline and based around the simple, Maureenesque ‘philosophy’ of keeping a clean sheet and nicking a goal when the chances arrive. Hiddink won the Europa Cup One (now CL) for PSV with exactly that approach a few decades ago.

With Wanyama, who had an almost faultless performance and showed once again how useful he could be for us, and Schneiderlin, Koeman has the best midfield shield in the PL. The beauty about the Frenchman is that he can also play football, and he was duly missed by the Saints tonight. From an attacking point of view, the Saints did not perform well enough to hurt us, even though their Italian CF had more than a decent chance to score early on. The forced omission of Schneiderlin was a big advantage for us, which might have turned the game in our favour (and Cork’s injury helped a lot as well of course).

Our defence was also well organised: with BFG and Koz having a relatively easy, but very focussed and aggressive, game; and the FBs played very good throughout the match too. It is absolutely amazing how Chambers plays at such a consistently high level, and yet, he is still so young; and Nacho also really showed desire and high energy levels for the full 93 minutes.

Our DM-shield worked ok too. Flamini kept it simple – he completed 64 of his 69 passes – and did not get involved in our attacking play a lot. Ramsey had the free role and showed a lot of drive, but his lack of touch, his continuously misplaced passes and his over-eagerness to make a difference is holding him, and therefore the team, back.

Ramsey needs to link defence and attack up, so he has a pivotal role to play. Luckily, both Carzorla and especially Alexis helped him out a lot with coming deep to collect the ball and make things happen from there. But of course, this leaves gaps up-front. We can say the same about Welbeck, who was full of drive and desire, but ultimately not very effective – although this changed a bit when Giroud came on.

Bloggers on this site will know well how much I believe Giroud makes all the difference for our team. In the first 65 minutes our attacks were often chaotic and harmless, with lots of runners with energy, but very little cohesion and penetration. Giroud is our mobile anchor: the pivot in our attack around which we base our attacking initiatives. As soon as he came on the play centred around him: midfielders can play the ball into him and fellow attackers can take better positions and find themselves in more space. He also had no fear and found the weak spots in the Saints defence instantly. This, in my opinion, was vital for our attacks becoming more centred and deadly. It was evident that Giroud made such a difference once again as soon as he came on.

We finally cracked the nearly formidable defence of the Saints late on in the game. It was not a beautiful goal but well deserved in the end, even though we were helped a bit by the injury to the impressive Alderweireld, which meant Southampton had to continue with ten men as all subs had already been used. It was good for Ramsey to produce to cool-headed assist, and let us hope he will take this with him into the next game. It was good for Alexis to get a reward for running his socks off all night. This was not one of his best games by all means, but his work ethic and desire to win are phenomenal and it was sweet for him that he got us once again all the three points. At Barca he was one of many great players; at Arsenal he simply is the star at the moment; and boy does he like it, with already 14 goals in all competitions to his name.

And these are very sweet three points. They pull us up to just three points below the Saints now and keep us in touch with all fellow top teams, except the horrible Chavs.

Next up are Stoke: another heavy battle waits. Bring it on!

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Calum in Torture Chambers | Dreaming of Arsenal’s Best-11

Yesterday’s defeat against Swansea hurt less than the draw against Anderlecht, even though the former is a lot more costly. Somehow, I am getting used to Gunners-disappointment – I might even be finding some inner-peace around it all.

Yesterday’s team v Swansea (well done 17HT for getting it spot on!):

Arsenal v Swansea Nov 14

I thought the team fought hard and with discipline for a long time, and although our play was far from a compliment to the eye, I was still enjoying it. The goal, a well worked counter-attack between Ox, Wellbeck and the deadly Alexis, fell at the right time, as, of course, it was important to score first.

After that, it was a matter of either absorbing pressure and play counter-football or to keep playing on the attack in order to score the all important second goal. Key is to make a choice and stick to it….

This is easier said than done, especially after giving a three nil lead away against Anderlecht. Nerves played a big role and tactical indecision – on the pitch and on the touchline – proved to be very costly. It also does not help that the only defensive player on our bench is a young, promising, but highly inexperienced, FB: Bellerin. It became very quickly squeaky bum time, and it got worse. 😦

Ramsey had been ineffective: eager yes, but without focus and much control, which is so vital in the b2b/CM role (what was it, hey?). About time to dump the tennis shoes as well…. what is next: sheep and cow patterns?

Flamini, our man of the match by a mile, had been protecting the defence with an aggressive yet disciplined performance. For once we looked solid through the middle of our defence. But on the right flank we were vulnerable and there was very little we could do about it: the chink in the armour was gaping and our RB was imprisoned in his very own torture Chambers. Paradoxically, the opposite flank of Swansea was their most vulnerable area, so it made some sense to keep Ox on the right…

But Chambers, who simply has been playing too many games for a 19 year old, does not appear to deal well at the moment with speedy wingers who like to sprint to the by-line in order to cross into the box (I reckon fatigue is playing a big role here). His latest ‘Tormentero’, the impressive Montero, knew he had the better of the young Englishman and skinned him ruthlessly time and again. This is a real worry for our nr.2 RB, but more about this during the week. Ox still has a lot to learn defensively, and it is fair to say Chambers did not get much quality support from him; and the BFG is not going to help him much either when it comes to outrunning attackers.

Swansea’s equaliser was a chapeau-moment. The wall looked wobbly, but Sigurdsson’s free-kick was simply unstoppable. Nothing was lost yet; in fact, I was convinced we would bounce back from this. But Swansea smelled blood and their manager made the right substitution: the chink needed to be cracked open. Montero got the better of Chambers once again and produced a good cross into the box and a big, fresh CF, Gomis, is there to pounce home. It was reminiscent of a Drogba goal: Gomis out-jumped and out-powered the sorry looking Nacho and Ramsey, leaving Szczesny no chance at all.

We made substitutions and had the game lasted another half an hour we might well have drawn or even won it, but we all knew the game was lost.

Afterthoughts

I wrote about our soft underbelly after the Anderlecht game, and we all know we need to reinforce our defence and midfield in the middle with steel, speed, skill and character. So let’s not go over this again. The TW is 50 days away and we have a hell of a lot of games to play between now and then. And there might be no suitable players available come the start of the new year. Having said that, Flamini played well and the triangle of Flam, BFG and Nacho held strong for a very long time, allowing Swansea very little in the process.

Having watched Arsenal against Burnley live last week, I reckon we need to give more weight to the number of first team players we have been missing for a long period now. We looked ordinary for a large part of the game; in fact, I have not seen Arsenal lacking so much class throughout the team for a long, long time.

Welbeck really is nowhere near as effective in our team as Giroud. Chambers has to learn a lot to become as solid as Debuchy. Santi is significatly more limited in his attacking play than Ozil. Ramsey, out of form this season, is nowhere near as effective as Jack or veteran Arteta at the moment. Ox has moments of promise, but is still so raw and technically/tactically undisciplined compared to the ‘previously arrived’ Theo. Nacho works his socks off but is only half as good as tiger Koz.

This does not mean that the ‘stand-ins’ are rubbish: far from it! They are all decent to good players who would play well in a team that had very few injuries to their main core. Arsenal can cope with a couple of first teamers out, maybe even three. But there has been such a drop in overall quality over the last few months; and, in my view, this is down to the sheer numbers of injured first teamers. All teams have a core of first choice players, and if too many are injured, sooner or later this will show in their performances.

No Ozil, No Giroud, No Koz, No Theo, No Debuchy, and No Arteta and Jack for the last few weeks – easily £100-120m transfer value – is an incredible bloodletting for any team, and certainly for Arsenal. Too many stand-ins have been too much – or should it be too little – for the team, especially when we play them about twice a week as well.

To me this is the obvious problem – in combination with our lack of defensive cover, of course. Just imagine we can play the team below week in week out for a while, whilst adding a proper DM and a quality CB in January:

Arsenal strongest eleven 2014

We would do a lot, lot better…no doubt about that!

The PL title is lost, but the season is not. The Chavs are rampaging on, and although I can see weaknesses in their team, we are not going to make up the 12 point gap this season.

We have to hope to see our team get back to full strength, or there about, as soon as possible. Add steel in defence and/or midfield in January, and see where we go from there.

In the meantime, Wenger and Bould have to work hard to get the current squad into a solid, confident unit which will see us through this challenging period. The international break has come at the right time, it seems. For once, no Arsenal football for a couple of weeks feels like a relief. 

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.

 

 

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.

Walking in an Alexis Sunderland

 

Alexis shows once more that quality and effort combined are the only way to success

Today’s game against Sunderland did not promise to be an advert for the beautiful game. Our hosts had been beaten savagely by the Saints only a week ago and were never going to play free-flowing attacking football in front of their own crowd. And we also had to find some belief again that we can defend our goal in order to try and win only our third game in this PL campaign. The inclusion of both Arteta and Flamini in the starting line-up surprised many of us, me included. But, in hindsight, it made some sense as Wenger just did not want to give the home team any encouragement that goals could be scored against Arsenal today: a clean sheet was the first priority.

So, with Sunderland eager to avoid another trashing and preferring to play us on the counter, and we playing the veterans of Flamini and Arteta, and almost veteran, Santi in midfield, the football on display was anything but sumptuous. As far as I could tell from a limited but luckily constant stream, we were once again struggling with attacking our opponent effectively. There is a Babel-esque nature to our attacking play at the moment; such is the lack of communication and understanding between the likes of Alexis, Sanchez, Ox and Santi.

Santi is no Ozil or Wilshere, and anybody still wanting to play him in his supposedly ‘natural/best position (nr.10)’, should re-watch this game if still in doubt. With Flamini and Arteta holding themselves back to a large extent, as per their remit and skill set, the onus was on Santi to link midfield with the three attackers. He struggled in composing our game and for large periods we did not attack effectively at all; which, in my view, is worse than the number of decent chances he missed during the latter part of the game.

To be totally fair, he was not helped much by the somewhat forlorn and ineffective looking Welbeck and by an overeager, but out of form, Ox. In fact, Sunderland were starting to get some confidence and were putting us under a bit of pressure after the first twenty minutes or so (a regular occurrence in Arsenal games this season). And had it not been for Wes Brown’s generous and belated birthday present for Arsene, I am not sure whether we would have scored at all in the first half and large parts of the second half, such was our bluntness and attacking mayhem upfront.

Luckily, we have a player of the highest quality and intrinsic motivation in our midst: the mini-Hulk from Chile, Alexis Sanchez. He is so effective at hunting down players and chasing the ball, and just never gives up. And for this he was handsomely rewarded with two priceless PL goals and three points for his club. Of course, Brown and our until recently very own Mannone made big mistakes themselves, rather than Alexis totally forcing them, but his chasing is so effective that sooner or later a player is going to make one. And let’s hope the likes of Ox, Jack, Welbeck are taking note of how it should be done from the master.

So three factors decided the game today: Sanchez successfully chasing of his opponents into mistakes (although the other players helped with this as well of course), his deadly finishing (most crucially for the first goal), AND the collective team effort to play for, and fight for, the clean sheet.

It was not pretty but this was a very, very necessary win. And now, with a week’s rest till the next game, the team can regroup and hopefully a few more players will become match fit to take on Burnley on Saturday.

Well done boys!

Written by: TotalArsenal.