Whether we agree with Arsene or not about his performance in the transfer window (which is still open – so I reserve judgment), it is the lads on the pitch that will need to give it everything this season. Like many supporters, I would like one or two more faces but there is no doubt we have a super, top-talented squad.
In my view, the main thing last season acting as the undercurrent of our weak performances was mentality and leadership. I think that by correcting this, other aspects of our game such as conversion rate will improve as well.
I get the impression Xhaka has been brought in as a key part of improving the team’s leadership mentality, which feeds into our team spirit. Granit strikes me as someone who possesses the key ingredient of a leadership mentality: a great focus and seriousness of effort he puts into each and every moment he is on that green turf. This also refers to Wilshere’s reflections that this was a weak point in the team, which needs improving: see his latest Arsenal.com interview of 1 min 30 secs in: http://player.arsenal.com/interviews/video/8099/-we-can-t-wait-for-the-new-season).
I think it’s not too far a leap to ascribe this weakness as part of a cultural disease: the ‘sign him up culture’ that football, and English football in particular, is corrupted by and that breeds a self-entitled, ‘I want it now’ culture among the fans. Signings are great, but as Arsene knows it is not always the answer. The self-entitled man who finds a solution with money and not through hard work and dedication.. in the players’ case playing great footy; and in the fans case, believing in and supporting the team.
I have just watched the pre-match press conference with Arsene, and am sorry to say I feel pretty disillusioned with the media and the culture of brainwashed consumer fans it has surely emboldened, if not produced. In what should have been an opportunity to explore Arsene’s thoughts on the actual football taking place over the weekend and beyond, about 90% of the questions fielded were about transfers and contracts.. Of course the media effectively are the mouthpiece of agents and some very rich men.. How much did Mr Raiola make from the Pogba transfer for example?
In the interview, Wenger said that football is about performance, not finances at the end of the day.
Of course finances have an impact on the performances but it is not the sole factor or deserving of 90% of the questions coming from the journalists today. I can see Xhaka (and other leadership initiatives/coaching) helping us overcome the mentality and leadership issues. But will it be enough come Sunday?
I trust they are doing their best and that they will knuckle down to some serious footy from the off this time. If we also do our best by believing in the team and supporting them all the way, then I think we will be in with a real chance.
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:
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;
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.
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.
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:
Ability to focus and concentrate their efforts
Medium to High
Medium to high
Medium to high
Medium to High, with a few bursts per game
Medium to high
Medium to low
Medium to high
Medium to high
Medium to high
Medium to high
High to 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.