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.

Paulista HERO! | Move Ozil to left, Sanchez to right | Ramsey new # 10!

ugly football Chavs valuesPost game musings whilst my anger fades away….

I am an angry man. I am angry at Ref Mike Dean for allowing himself to be completely intimidated by the bully Diego Costa. And I am angry at Gabriel for being such a fall guy. Our team, absolutely lacking in street wisdom, make me angry. However, I can’t get myself to be angry with Diego Costa, I only despise him. In fairness to Gabriel, he stepped into the fray to separate Costa and Koscielny, but tipped over under that vicious scratch on his neck by Costa. Terribly handicapped in language, Gabriel couldn’t make his case. Shockingly, no Arsenal player rushed in to help him out. Not even Koscielny who should have tried to redirect Mike Dean’s attention to his own impeccable case. Neither did Santi, who was too busy being the nice guy next door. It irritates watching him in the tunnel before a match smiling and reacting obligingly to the opposing players. No, this should never be seen from the captain when hostility is about to begin. Two successive defeats, from two successive silly red cards, have left us reeling in confidence with precious grounds to make up. Our players must man up correctly, and think business and think smartly. I feel so much better after this little rant. So, back to football. With only 10 men, away to Chelsea, and at 0-0 I would have thought defence first. Chambers for injured Coquelin together with Debuchy in and Ozil out. Debuchy goes to right full back, with Bellerin playing in front of him. With our team forced to play deep, the pace of Bellerin is a much more valuable asset in any counter attack (or foot race) than Giroud’s, and maybe even Oxlade’s. Added to that is Bellerin’s greater defensive ability over both players. Ozil is sacrificed, not only because of his weak defensive output, but also because creative opportunities are minimal, playing deep and a man down. Our definite game plan should have been to try and keep the score at 0-0, and gamble on winning a foot race; courtesy of Walcott/Bellerin that might earn us a spectacular victory.

The infallibility of hindsight. From history to current affairs.

As I see it, what should be our biggest concern is Sanchez’s current form. I am afraid Premier League might have found him out, maybe not quite. Sanchez has such an impressive array of skills that it is difficult to accept that he is already pigeonholed. When Sanchez gets the ball wide left, everybody knows exactly what he is going to do. I mean everybody: friends, foes, neutrals, all alike. He will cut inside successfully. He will push the ball 5/6 meters and from outside the box usually, he takes his pot-shots. 8 chances out of 10 the shot is blocked. If the shot misses the bodies, then chances are it will go wide. It beats me why such a talented player does not put a variation to that pattern. Back-heel or turn and put the ball back into the space he vacated as he pulled men along with him, so his full-back can latch onto the ball in space. Or pass the ball to the right side of the field, which is usually vacated, his moves having drawn opposing players centrally. Or twist and twist and turn, to create openings for his mates to run in for a pass, or, at worst, pass the ball backwards for a fresh move to start. In this way he keeps everybody guessing, and keeps his move unpredictable, which his repertoire of skills can easily accommodate. Sanchez is naturally too demanding of himself, and this current drop in form would only heighten his determination to succeed trapped into doing the same thing. I feel the best way to rehabilitate him is by switching him to the wide- right position. This position will entice a different playing pattern from him, which he is also very equipped for (played in that position for Barcelona ahead of Pedro). Another area which I feel should be given some thought, is the #10 position. Everybody has accepted that it is a given that Ozil is our #10. This is because we can’t think beyond the link between #10 and creativity. But there is definitely more to #10 than only creativity. I was quite impressed with our ability to win the ball high up the field in our match against Newcastle. I believe it had a lot to do with Ramsey’s work rate at #10. That is an important factor which, when added to the fact that Ramsey is better able to make his crucial late runs into the box from the centre, should get us thinking. On top of this is the fact that our most creative player Ozil, is able to create from anywhere, not the least from the left-wide position. These tweaks are without prejudice to the habit of the players at interchanging positions. Who of Carzola and Ramsey should partner Coquelin in the double pivot position? This is coming back to the great debate. All I can say is that Ramsey lacks awareness to properly manage defensive space. He wants to be where the ball is: Songesque, and that creates gaps that can hurt us, which even his huge engine cannot nullify. Carzola is second only to Arteta in reading the game, both offensively and defensively. He is “ambidextrous ” in reading the field situation. His size notwithstanding, the argument is settled for me. To put it graphically, assuming all is well, I am saying the line-up against Leicester should be:

—————Cech—————

—–Bel——-Per——–Kos—–Mon ———

————–Coq———–Santi——

——-Alexis——–Ramsey——–Ozil —————

——————–Walcott————-

Before Leicester, we have a the Capital One Cup tie against Spurs, where we should expect extensive changes. However, with our injuries, options are getting limited.

————–Ospina————–

Deb——Per——-Chamb——-Gibbs

Camp——–Ramsey ———Oxlade

—————-Giroud——————-

I am not yet sure who should play in the double-DM pivot…

This is spectacular! Between this short time of starting to write this piece and now, I have made a 180 degrees turn. Gabriel Paulista is my new hero. Somebody needed to stand up to that brute called Diego Costa, and our man did it. It was the referee that goofed. Stories emanating from Brazil say that G. Paulista is the new national hero, because as you all know, Diego Costa is the most hated man in that country! By the way don’t begin to draw similarities between Costa and Suarez. Suarez remains a likable chap, loved by all his team mates. Diego Costa is loved by only one man, his manager. Come on You Gunners!!!

By Pony Eye

Cech behind Gabriel and Koz | Le Coq behind Jack, Mesut and Santi: Lyon Preview – Line-up

Arsenal’s home cup friendly against Lyon promises to be another fine test. I will be checking on the team’s ability to dominate the game around the Southern France’s team ‘D-area’, as we have been so impressive in doing this in the cup final, and recently, against Everton.  The Toffees were simply played off the pitch, but maybe this was down to fitness issues or a lack of hunger. The Gunners were hungry all right, which, as described in the match review, was a very nice surprise for me.

untitled1

Against Lyon, managed by former Gunner Garde, we are likely to be tested a bit more. I have not seen Lyon play a lot recently so cannot give you much insight on our opponent.  I expect us to play another 4-5-1 or 4-1-4-1 formation, with the aim to play our attack minded midfielders as near to the Lyon box as possible and with high levels of possession of the ball.

We will want to dominate and try out our intricate passes to penetrate the Les Gones’ defence with real menace. The FBs, take your pick from Gibbs, Nacho, Bellerina and Debuchy, will provide the width, and therefore threat, to go behind the defence and add that much needed dimension to our attacking play. It is this interplay between the four central midfielders, the CF and the FBs that will be the basis of our attacking success against those teams that want to sit back, or indeed, are forced to do so. And Wenger is right to want to see more goals from the rest of the team and believe that we are capable of scoring ten more goals in the PL – from 71 to 81 – in the coming season (see Arsenal.com). This is a point I have been making for quite a long time now: forget about Wenger wanting to buy a super striker and replace Giroud; our goals need to come from all over the team, which makes us unpredictable/hard to plan against.

Furthermore, I am interested in how we will line up at the back and in central midfield. It would be good to see a bit more of Gabriel, either with Koz or the BFG. I guess Wenger will play a near full strength team tomorrow, so Cech is a near given and Coquelin will be our holding DM; unless of course, Wenger wants to experiment with two all-round midfielders, who are not as good defensively as Francis but add more from an attacking point of view (see also 17ht fine post on this topic). I need my DM fix and would always play with one in front of the defence, but Jack-Rambo combo would also be nice.

Alas, we can over analyse this; it is just a friendly and Wenger will use it as a way for players to get match fitness, with maybe one or two youngsters being thrown into the mix, either at the start or later on. So here is my predicted starting eleven:  Cech, Debuchy, Gabriel, Koz, Nacho, Le Coq, Santi, Ozil, Jack, Rambo, Giroud.

arsenal v lyon

We could see Theo instead of Le Coq, with Ramsey moving into the deeper midfield role.

Enjoy the game fine fellow Gooners.

By TotalArsenal.

Welbeck and Gabriel to start | Can we make it eight in a row? Burnley v Arsenal Line-Up and Preview

Burnley – Arsenal —  

It Would Be Great to Get Number Eight

Wins, in the league, in a row, that is…

Turf Moor
Turf Moor

And, as much as Arsenal are clearly in their best run of form in many a season, and a full 16 places separate the teams in the table, the trip to Turf Moor cannot be taken as a guaranteed three points.  Burnley need the points as much (or even more) than we do, finding themselves two points from safety at the bottom.  Moreover, even if they can’t get a result, they still have far too much to play for to give anything less than their best.  Another good performance against another big club and they might conjure the confidence needed to climb out of the relegation places and stay up.

As such, any suggestion that they might be better served resting some of their best players or otherwise reserving their best play for other opponents, will find no traction.  Why would they, having held Tottenham a week ago to gain another precious point while taking all three from Manchester City a couple of weeks before that?  All told, they’ve claimed 18 of their 26 points in home matches.  Our trip up there will be no walk in the park.

A primary reason is the physicality and commitment to the cause which Burnley present.   We should remember that, in the reverse fixture, Burnley held out until the 70th minute before succumbing to quick goals from Alexis Sanchez and Calum Chambers.  In the end, it was a bit of a romp–and the best 10 minutes we’ve seen from Theo Walcott and Lukas Poldolski in recent times–Alexis added a third goal in injury time.   In front of their home crowd, Burnley will surely be even more resolute.  Unlike other teams in that part of the table, Burnley did not go crazy with the riches distributed through the Premier League television contract.  Instead, they’re an unsung group who are attempting to hang together through good times and bad.  Only leading scorer Danny Ings (whose next goal will be his 10th of the season) gets much in the way of back page transfer speculation.

By contrast, the media (including the most active blog-o-sphere in English football) love to torture Arsenal supporters.  Activity in our circles has already jumped to summer transfer speculation and early denouncements on how FA Cups and late rallies in the league are just further variations on the Groundhog’s Day theme; another example of Wenger and his “specialization in failure,” as a certain Chelsea manager has intimated.  Still, despite an identical record from a year ago (31 played, 19 won, 6 lost, 6 drawn), I doubt we’ll see in-match comments punctuated by calls for “Wenger Out”, as we did last year in a similarly timed match at Everton (which we lost 3 nil).  In truth, we’ve come a long way since that nadir and, for the closer observer at least, the future looks a whole lot brighter.

No, Wenger seems on solid footing and getting as close as possible to Mourinho’s team seems a worthy goal, although, of course, any wobble will bring out those who have staked themselves to the alternative viewpoint.  We play Chelsea in two weeks time, which will be the true test, but they also face an always tricky West London Derby against QPR this week and a match with Manchester United before ours.  It’s true, we can only play the team which lines up against us, but we must use every trick we can to maintain focus.

Wherever people would like to point the finger of blame (or credit), Gooners must rue a difficult first half of the season and the big disappointment of our recent play–our untimely exit from the Champions League, based on a panicky showing in the first leg, vs AS Monaco.  Early on, it was mostly down to the health of our squad–injury ridden in the first half, but now almost fully restored–but, just as it could also be argued that the manager was responsible during the darker times, it might also be suggested that he has done his part to keep the collective together and foster a fine group dynamic.  As the results have come our way, we also find an extremely stiff (but healthy) competition for places.   At Arsenal the work of the team always comes first, but these final matches may have a real bearing on many players’ futures.

Given that only Alex Oxlade Chamberlain is definitely out with a groin problem (which may require surgery–ouch!), Wenger has almost the entire first team to choose from.  Laurent Koscileny faces a “late test,” while Mathieu Debuchy will be “just a bit short”: Wengerspeak for “will not be in the squad at the weekend,” but it is still a very crowded group.  This makes me very curious who will make the first 11 and the substitutes bench.   My hunch is that the team that beat Liverpool will be largely unchanged, but a player or two returning from long term injury may get a boost by being called into the substitute ranks.  Here then is my call for the starting 11.

100415225925

Substitutes:  Szczesny, Gibbs, Chambers, Wilshere, Rosicky, Cazorla, Walcott 

Even this group of 18 leaves out several players I’d love to see on the pitch or even just in uniform, including Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby (and I know others have a hankering to see Serge Gnabry).  My feeling is that this match will give hints as to how Wenger will rotate for the FA Cup semi-final, next weekend, where surely more players will get a chance to impress before the bigger (or, at least, more symbolic) one vs Chelsea.  All told, even if we don’t drop points (or struggle vs Reading in the cup match), it could be an interesting couple of weeks as in suggesting how the squad is shaping up for the longer term.  This is how it should be: a privilege to wear the shirt, and a responsibility by our players to take chances as they are given.

Or not.  As always, I am not privy to how the mind of the manager is actually working.  Perhaps he sees some tired players amongst his regulars and will rotate more this weekend while sporting a stronger squad for the cup match.  What say you, fine (or fickle) fellow Gooners?  Anything to generate a bit of banter, I say, and a ton (or is it tonne?…) more fun (and a bit more subtle…) than “Wenger Out” (or “Ozil is a lazy lady-part”) or other, more typical, one liners the tweeters (or tweakers…) seem to enjoy with each comment… Let’s hear it from the WBW’s (Would-Be-Wengers) and anybody else who cares about the Arsenal…And, let’s hammer them up in North Lancashire…

Go on then…

😀

By 17highburyterrace

Gabriel & Coq Beastly, Giroud & Ospina Decisive, Ozil Delivers: 8 Positives from Game.

A messy Coq au Vin, yet the sheet remained spotless!

Well that was a hard-fought and very necessary win. Both teams sat deep and played it safe in the first half, and not so much happened in front of goal. The tempo was low and neither team had the ball long in the areas that matter: it was at times more of a chess game than a football game. But Giroud had his shooting shin-pad on when the ball reached him from a Mesut corner; and that was all it took to go in the lead.

To be fair to Everton, they kept going and gave us a hard time to get out of our defence. Le Coq, and to a lesser extent Cazorla, battled like tigers to regain control of the midfield. Sanchez and Ozil helped out were they could but struggled to get their attacking game going. Ox was more active in our attacking play but his final ball was mostly not good enough, with the exception of the late ball into the box for Ozil that could easily have been an assist for him.

Koz had an off day, not looking his usual self. But both Gabriel and Ospina came more than once to the rescue with finely timed and hard-but-fair interceptions and saves. Together they kept the sheet away from any Toffee smudges, amply helped by their direct colleagues and fine team defending.

The 1-0 lead was defended to the end and then came the Toffees hammer blow. A brilliant, archetypal Ozil pullback from the sideline to just in front of the opposition’s ‘D’ was slammed home by super-sub Rosicky. This time it was Arsenal who had the lucky deflection: the once again impressive Jagielka did not deserve to be the involuntary deflector, but it was the goal we had all been hoping for. It sealed the three points for Arsenal and allowed us to nest warmly in the top-four. Northern Oilers look behind you, the Cannon is on fire!

Eight Positives from the game:

  1. Gabriel put a smile on our faces. Yes he had a bit of rough start and had to be helped by Ospina to save his blushes, but once he got in his stride he was eating toffees for fun. Lukaku is advised to drink a strong whiskey before he goes to bed tonight…
  2. Coquelin matched Gabriel in beastliness. Some believe he is not physically strong enough but on today’s performance I reckon we have the new Silva in our midst. If and when we play deep and organised, Le Coq is a joy to watch. I also was very pleased with Santi’s disciplined performance: he sat deeper and put in a great shift from a defensive point of view.
  3. Giroud worked his socks off for the team and was rewarded for his efforts by an important goal. There are still a few Gooners out there who do not rate him, but there is no player out there who more fulfils the entire content of his job description than OG. Ollie drew blood twice and le Coq will be feeling it tonight, but this was just the sort of response we all expected from him.
  4. Bellerin had a strong game, both in defence and attack. He had struggled on Wednesday but to see a nineteen year old lad come back so strongly today, fully committed and yet playing intelligently throughout the game, is very impressive.
  5. Ozil’s added two more assists today and that is what he was bought for. He might not be as physically committed as some other Gunners, but he puts in a shift nevertheless; and then he is also that one player who can produce that little bit of magic such as his fabulous diagonal pull-back into the danger area that found Rosicky for our second goal.
  6. Ospina was in very fine form and showed why he is preferred to the lonesome Pole. His decision making and concentration levels were perfectly balanced towards the games defensive requirements. He read the game so well and his Lukaku safe midway through the second half was fabulous… and probably won us the game.
  7. Wenger’s substitutions were very effective today. He was right to keep Le Coq on as he was the embodiment of our resistance in the team today. Taking him out could have changed the balance in the game dramatically. But in the end he had to go and Chambers was the right choice. I also thought that Rosa for Ox was spot on. The latter had run out of steam a bit and Rosa replenished the blood supply. The Czech helped to release the pressure from the Toffees and his drive gave a new boost to the team.
  8. Alexis did not have a great game from an attacking point of view but boy did he work his socks off for our team! He is so effective in all aspects of the game and his work rate is really rubbing off on his fellow players. What a signing!

A few days rest before we face another London derby, but I reckon the boys want to play that game tomorrow; that’s how good they are feeling after a very professional yet passionate win.

Third now and just four points behind the Northern Oilers: The boys stood tall and made us proud today.

By TotalArsenal.

Paulista first start | Theo, Santi, Ozil, Rosa behind OG: Preview & Predicted Line-up

Arsenal – Middlesbrough FA Cup 5th Round Match Preview

Minimal changes or Roll the Dice?

What Would Constitute a Win?

Paulista could make his first start against Middlesborough
Paulista could make his first start against Middlesborough

Following on from the last post on this fine blog, I thought I might try my hand at a little Haiku.  Here goes my attempt at 17 ‘syllables’:

It’s just a game, right?

Misery is in the eye

Of the beholder

Arsenal host Middlesbrough in the marquee time-slot (Sunday, 16:00) of Round 5 of the FA Cup, as they continue in their attempt to defend the trophy they won a season ago.  With so many top clubs already out of the competition a home draw against a club from a lower division seemed a good one.  But is it?

By drawing Middlesbrough at home, a team that got there by beating the Premier League Champions, Manchester City–on their own ground–in the previous round, Arsenal are now the hunted scalp.  To a neutral this is a mouthwatering cup tie and a classic David vs Goliath affair.  To Arsenal supporters it is something altogether different.  Can Arsenal actually “win” this sort of tie?  What sort of match–in terms of result AND performance–will it take to satisfy our support?

Most certainly the 2-1 league win in midweek vs Leicester City, winners of the Championship a year ago but currently sitting bottom of the Premiership, was not enough.  Consensus suggests that we rode our luck in that one and were dominated by the smaller club in the 2nd half.  Injuries to key players Alexis Sanchez (already coming off a couple of missed matches) and Aaron Ramsey added to the sense of gloom.  The three points were nice, but having lost that same quantity to arch-rivals Tottenham at the weekend, they seemed far from sufficient to restore full confidence.

Middlesbrough have no such issues.  They are currently in the exact position Leicester finished a year ago.  They’re top of the Championship and have won six matches on the trot and haven’t lost in ten.  They say that winning is a habit, so my hunch is that our opponents will come believing they can get one.  Simply remaining unbeaten in the calendar year would work a treat as well.   A draw would mean a replay up on Teeside and an additional mid-week fixture.  While Boro would prefer going straight through to the quarterfinals, a tough midweek trip to the Northeast is the last thing Arsenal need, given that the Champions League elimination matches begin later this month.

Moreover, Middlesbrough have been winning by defending first.  In 30 matches this season they have conceded only 20 goals.  In these last ten matches, only three.  Manager Aitor Kananka, a disciple of Jose Mourinho, has got his players working as a group, looking to defend from the front and counterattack at pace.   It worked at the Etihad, so why not at the Emirates?  Winning the match, on the scoreboard alone, may be tough enough.

Beyond the pressure to outscore the opponent there is pressure to rotate players.  Typically, Arsene Wenger uses the domestic cup matches as a chance to rest a few regulars and give others a chance.   No matches until the weekend and the fact that it is our trophy to defend, however, may alter the calculus.  Still, as results and performances fail to satisfy, would-be managers suggest things would be better if we only played _____.  Others, sharper with their tongues and their keyboards, suggest that certain players who have failed (in their eyes) need to be rested, if not benched entirely (or sold).

It makes sense, of course.  After all, something new and something different are what we hope for when gifts are wrapped and sitting under the tree.  The festive season is not so far behind us, after all, nor is the season of giving to ourselves–the January transfer window.  We’ve got a big Brazilian defender all ready to go and surely he’ll get his debut.  If Gabriel Paulista comes in to spell the aching Achilles tendons of Laurent Koscielny and plays in tandem with Per Mertesacker, ahead of our dropped (or merely disciplined?) keeper, Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal will have one of the tallest central defences in all of football.  Not many have seen Gabriel in action so some may have their doubts.  Will he be a compliment to the other big men or will it be too much of the same (tall, thin) thing?

If those changes are the obvious ones, how many more can Arsenal afford?

Not too many, I think.   It appears that Spaniards Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin have nailed down starting roles as fullbacks, just as Francis Coquelin seems to have done at the defensive midfield position.  Will those three go again or will any (or all) of Kieran Gibbs, Calum Chambers or Mathieu Flamini be given the nod?  Up front, Olivier Giroud only came on as a sub vs Leicester, so he likely goes straight back in to the first 11 in place of Alexis.  Theo Walcott scored in midweek but many were unimpressed by the remainder of his game.  Is this then a chance for Danny Welbeck?  Some have even suggested that Chuba Akpom might get his first start.   And who will fill out the midfield?  Mesut Ozil is in fine form, but Santi Cazorla’s seems to be on the wane.  Jack Wilshere has been training with the first team for several weeks and should make the bench at least.  Could he go straight into Ramsey’s spot or will Tomas Rosicky, who started there on Tuesday, reprise the role?

My point is that calling the starting 11 is anybody’s guess.  Here’s mine:

ars v middlesbrough Feb 15

(Predicted subs: Ospina, Chambers, Gibbs, Flamini, Wilshere, Welbeck, Akpom)

That’s only three changes from Tuesday.  Personally, I think too many more would be too much.  In my opinion, against such an in-form opponent, consistency and predictability are needed.  Players knowing each others’ games and preferences can be a precious commodity.  With only minimal changes the new players can step in, based on what they’ve observed in their teammates.  Needing goals against a team poised on the counter, our ability to balance attack with defending could be the difference maker.  Too many changes might compromise that critical element.

What sort of line-up would you expect and/or prefer?  Also, what would constitute a “win” for you in this cup tie?

In my opinion, and carrying on from my Haiku, too many Gooners, perhaps spoiled by the memories of past glories, seem in it only for the larger triumphs.  Personally, I have faith that further glory lies ahead, but even if it doesn’t there are games to be played and enjoyed.  This season has been a struggle, but, with players coming back from long term injury and the emergence of some real quality in the youth ranks (Chambers, Bellerin, Akpom) and some squad players making claims to starting spots (Monreal, Ospina, Coquelin) we seem on the up.  Gabriel has yet to be seen in action, but his transfer filled a real hole in the squad.  Additionally, we put to bed the notion that Arsenal can only play one way and are always at risk of a drubbing against the bigger clubs.   The very well fought win of our own up at Manchester City less than a month ago, where we had only a third of the possession (but all of the goals), we hoped, seemed a real  turning point.

To be at the highest level, the level to which a club like Arsenal aspires, means that matches against the smaller clubs are expected to be won–and won in style.  Still, they must be played; meaning the result–and the experience–must be risked.  Can a journey with uncertainty and risk be enjoyed or can it only produce anxiety which is then laid to rest only until the next one?  In other words, have supporters gotten to the point where only the destination can be enjoyed?  I would hope the twists and turns, ups and downs, and memories made along the way can be just as satisfying as the moment the trophy is lifted, the confetti flies and the bubbly is uncorked.   Maybe the journey itself IS what it’s all about…

That journey continues tomorrow afternoon at 4, in our stadium, against Middlesbrough, in the 5th round of the FA Cup.  Go on…

By 17highburyterrace

Ozil AND Santi, Gabriel debut, Coq sole DM? Preview | Line-up

Arsenal-Aston Villa Match Preview

Paulista could make a surprise start against Villa
Paulista could make a surprise start against Villa

Aston Villa at home.  Gooners would like to think that this is a guaranteed win, a fine way to spend a Sunday afternoon and a good chance to start the post January, business end of the season after some good work (a defender, finally…) in the transfer window.  If the win is in sufficient style and by substantial margin it might be enough–even if the big money player (but still a bargain, of course…this is Arsenal, after all…) doesn’t come in at the deadline.

Gooners, however, might also remember that it’s not always so simple.  No matter how much ale has been consumed in the intervening year and a half, August 17, 2013 will always be a day that lives in infamy.  Opening day: an early goal from Olivier Giroud, and all looked fun and games.  But then collapse and a match that finished 1-3.  The margins were tighter than that, of course, and much of the blame might be placed on the (very) bald head of referee Anthony Taylor.  Taylor allowed a very rough match (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain suffered ligament damage on a play that was deemed completely fair) but still called questionable penalties on Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny, the 2nd coming with a yellow card for our defender.  Moments later Taylor gave Kos a 2nd yellow, reducing Arsenal to 10 men.  The team fought hard despite the disadvantage, but, finally, to dash all hopes, a goal on the counter by Antonio Luna sealed our fate.

The parallels are striking.  Somehow Taylor has been assigned the fixture again.  The transfer window is still open.  We are, however, a season and a half on.  Have things changed or will history repeat itself?

I don’t believe it will, but who am I?  This is a new match and Arsenal and Aston Villa come into it very differently than they did in that one.

Teams

Arsenal.  This match feels very different.  Instead of only pre-season matches, Arsenal come into this one on a run of four victories in all competitions.   Additionally, important players are coming back from long term injuries and significant transfer business, in the purchase of Brazilian defender Gabriel Paulista, has been completed.  There is talk that Alexis Sanchez, by far our most important player this season, is suffering from a tight hamstring and will not be risked.  My guess is that this is Arsene Wenger talk for “Winter Break.”  My other guess is that (irrepressible) Alexis will still get a spot on the bench and a run out if a late goal is needed.  More on the starting team below.

Aston Villa.  Aston Villa are a proud club, by far the biggest of the Birmingham based outfits.  They have suffered from lack of investment from their American owner (does this sound familiar?…) but they are a well run organisation, and their manager Paul Lambert knows how to play the opponent at hand.  Their home form in recent seasons has suffered, perhaps because supporters cannot get truly excited by the fact that Villa are (at best) a solid mid-table club and their best players are constantly linked with moves away from the club.  They can, however, be a very dangerous group in front of their more hard core, traveling fans.  They will play with nothing to lose and will be emboldened by their positive result last time they came to play Arsenal.

Villa have players who can hurt and frustrate.  Up front, Christian Benteke has surmounted injury problems and always represents a threat with his size and power.  Buzzing around him are Andreas Weimann and Fabian Delph.  Charles N’Zogbia is a very talented player and Leandro Bacuna  can curl in as mean a free kick as anybody in the league.   Scott Sinclair, a former Arsenal trainee, has joined Villa on loan from Manchester City; the extra motivation of finally getting a match (and playing against the club which let him go) might be something Lambert chooses to try.

At the back, diminutive American keeper Brad Guzan plays much bigger than his stature.  Former Arsenal defender Phillipe Senderos and Dutchman Ron Vlaar both are injury doubts, but ill-tempered former Spur Alan Hutton and Keiran Clark are big guys who can also help protect the small keeper.  Their size plus good organisation in front of the backline–in the form of  Colombian Carlos Sanchez and Man United loanee, Tom Cleverly–means they can be dangerous in transition and can frustrate through possession.  As we saw last time out, with their final goal, (actually with all of them–the two pens were on Villa breaks) they can punish teams playing on the counter.  We cannot give them an easy early goal and we must be extra vigilant to try and avoid corners and set-pieces where strong delivery and (even stronger) Benteke represent their biggest threat.

Still, Villa are not as full of confidence as they could be.   They will take heart, at least in terms of their relegation battle (they sit just 2 points above the bottom 3 with 15 matches to play), that they beat Championship leaders Bournemouth in the FA Cup last weekend.  Still, it’s been over a month since they’ve won in their own league and they are coming off a stretch of 5 league matches without a goal.  Arsenal-away, given the success they’ve had at our stadium and the fact that our defence is far from settled, could be a place where that streak ends, especially if they can lure us forward and spring on the counterattack.  Nonetheless, it’s also a match where Lambert may be satisfied with a good performance and a tight result.

Game Plan

By contrast, Arsenal want both result and performance.  It’s time to build on the win at Manchester City (which will mean little if full points are not taken here) and work in back-from-injury stalwarts Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott, who both scored in the FA cup win at Brighton.  Aaron Ramsey, it should be noted, is also just two weeks back from a lengthy period out.  With Alexis injured or at least, “not risked,” and Oxlade-Chamberlain nursing a groin problem, room opens up for all three.  Additionally, with Koscielny unable to play a full schedule due to sore Achilles tendons (and Mertesacker rested in our FA Cup victory at Brighton), new signing Gabriel may be handed a debut start.  Nacho Monreal, having played very well at Man City, including winning the penalty for the decisive goal, I think, gets his spot back at LB from Kieran Gibbs.  Likewise on the right, fellow Spaniard, Hector Bellerin, comes back in at the expense of Calum Chambers.  David Ospina, I think, retains his spot in goal on the strength of three consecutive clean sheets.

arsenal v villa Jan 15

So, there’s your line-up and there’s your preview.  Stepping stone or stumbling block?

We know Villa will see only opportunity on their visit and must be taken seriously.  We also know that things feel better for Arsenal.  Still, the game must be played and feelings–as we saw the last time we hosted this team–can change quickly.  Let’s do it.

By 17highburyterrace

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.