It is a new year, and to us football fans that means it is transfer season. Uncharacteristically, we have started our business before everyone else albeit a departure. Podolski, who has endeared himself to all Gooners through his thumping goals when he did play and, more prominently, through his social media endeavours, has been loaned out to Inter Milan until the end of the season. Something tells me that this move is more permanent than the deal suggests, but we will have to wait and see how things pan out.
So the big question is, was Le Prof right to let him go?
Lukas Podolski is one of the most lethal finishers in world football. There aren’t many players who can strike a ball with as much ferocity & accuracy as Podolski can. He is always a scoring threat when he gets anywhere within 30 yards of the goal. Plus this is the kind of player who was willing to bleed for the shirt. In fact, I believe that if circumstances were different and he had the kind of impact on the club that Alexis is having now, he could have very easily inherited the Mr. Arsenal title from Tony Adams.
However, that was not the case and I would like to determine why. Poldi’s biggest undoing was his one dimensional nature. His best and arguably only attribute was his finishing/shooting/scoring, which presented a serious dilemma to the coach. Poldi is the kind of player who would be anonymous for 90% of the game but then finish the match with a brace. He did not influence games.
Poldi is not an out and out striker. He lacks the movement and awareness to be trusted with the CF role. In fact, I will go a step further and say that he was wanting in this respect. The few times he was played as a CF he was almost completely anonymous. He lacks the awareness to read the game and therefore doesn’t make telling runs or position himself in scoring opportunities. He also lacks the pace to run past defenders or the skill to beat them one on one. This, effectively, ruled him out as a winger.
With all this in mind, it is fair to conclude that his best position is as a second striker. This is the position where he excelled at Koln and Germany (occasionally). Unfortunately for him, that only works in a 4-4-2 formation which was long ago phased out at Arsenal. This means that as hard as Poldi tried, he was never going to fit in at Arsenal and at 29 years old, changing his game is out of the question. So as much as we love him, it was time he tried his hand elsewhere. I wish him all the best at Inter Milan.
Written by: Marcus.
Message to regular bloggers (new bloggers are also welcome to add their profile):
Please check out the new BK page and add your profile if you feel like it:
Yesterday’s game against the team with five As in its name was very pleasing on the eye. It was obvious that Galatasaray did not care much about the match as they attacked without vigour and defended without much care. There was so much space and time to play the ball round for us, and for once the team had their shooting boots on from the start. Alexis will have been nodding his head sagely from the comfort of his couch, massively encouraged by the quality of the finishing by his fellow team mates.
Happiness is a warm Gunner, bang-bang-shoot-shoot, and both the Pod and the Ram showed the Turks where to put their post stamps from now on with stunning technical shots into the left-hand corner of the goal. The game was over in no time, with Ramsey’s beautifully placed pile driver sealing it once and for all.
There is a balance to be held in our Arsenal team: one of hard workers on the one hand and high technically skilled stars on the other. Flamini, BFG, Giroud, Sanogo, Nacho, Welbeck, Koz and one or two others are the hard workers, and the likes of Ozil, Wilshere, Ox, Diaby, Walcott etc are the truly gifted ones. The latter group will have to put in a shift as well in order to become first teamers in Arsene’s regular eleven, but this is not their natural strength.
Of course, we also need players who have a lot of both, grafters and craftsmen in one if you like; and we all know who they are: Alexis, Gibbs, Debuchy, Chambers (still needs developing though), Arteta and Ramsey. Arteta is getting on a bit now and will need replacing, although he should be retained in the squad for a few years to come.
Getting the balance right is key and for that Wenger would love to have his whole squad available. Hopefully soon, we will have a fully fit (or there about) squad available and then we can truly judge the quality of our team compared to other top teams.
The spine of the team is so important, and in the middle of the spine we need a good DM AND the engine….. the box to box midfielder, the linker between attack and defence.
And for this, Ramsey is very, very important (and so is Wilshere but that is for another post). It looked for a while that he just was not able to get back to his fantastic form of last season, as if the b2b-Beast potion he had swallowed back then had finally ran its course. His passing was heavy and his goal attempts were rubbish, and it just looked like he would continue to struggle for a long time.
Many fellow Gooners felt he should be benched and other players should be given a chance. But, as I have explained on a few occasions, Wenger does not work that way. He knows that Aaron is out of form, but also that he has not lost his qualities or drive.
It was simply a matter of having trust in him and giving him confidence. This is not done by benching a player and showing him the competition is ready to dump him on the bench for good, or worse. Management by fear and sanctions is not Wenger’s style: he is a Y-manager and not an X-manager, using McGregor’s classification of managers. He believes in players being self-motivated and keen to succeed and that they need support and confidence in order to do so. Carrots and strokes rather than sticks and ridicule.
It may have taken a while and cost us a few points, but Arsene’s patience and trust in Aaron is paying dividend now. Three goals and two assists in the last three games are very encouraging: let it be the start of a glorious remainder of the season for both Ramsey and indeed the team as a whole.
If Ramsey is on a role, Arsenal’s motor is purring, and boy was it a joy to listen to it during the first half v Galatasaray.
‘I’ll take 50% efficiency to get 100% loyalty.’ Samuel Goldwyn.
‘The thing I was attracted to as a little girl was Kirk, Bones and Spock, and their utter loyalty. There’s nothing more powerful than that.’ Jolene Blalock.
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.
Good morning all. And what a fine day it is to be free of the … ‘not having won a trophy in X number of years’tag. Such relief. Congrats to all the team, who played as a team when they needed to. Job done … The hard way, of course?
I have spent the last hour reading all the comments, and I went with that flow too. I missed the equalizer (dog), but managed to see it out to he end. Annoyingly, the high pressure that brings us all the fine weather also gives me an occasional weak signal, thus rendering my recording a bit of a waste. Luckily, switching channels to watch it ‘live’ resulted in an upturn in our fortune on the pitch as well.
Just a few observations:
Starting with Geoff’s point in previous post (@01.39). Having a player close to Giroud makes him look a far better player with that extra yard or two of extra space. And that is saying something when it is a raw kid like Sanogo who still has so much to improve upon, can do that? Imagine what somebody with experience would do?
Sanogo. So, so very unlucky not to have broken his scoring duck by now. A wrongly disallowed goal in an earlier game. Finger tip touch in this with Giro-esque twist-turn-and shoot that might well have gone in off the post in this, along with other half-chances. If he can get his feet to do what his brain tells them to do, he will be something special. At the moment his first touch is clumsy to say the least. He has that long leg Diaby-like stick ability in tight situations, and can often come away with the ball when he has no right to it. But for all his flaws and limitations, he was the player we needed in this game, for his pace, effort, movement, and that occasional successful stickabilty that led to the winning goal. If they give out points for pre, pre, assists, then his part in that goal will be seen time and time again, with endless replays on the television, as a very special moment. I hope he will come good in years to come, and does not get drowned out by the clamour for that big signing.
Podolski. He suffers when he cannot start his play from the halfway line, imo. Guilty for the first goal for walking away before the danger was cleared. Not even playing the guy he was leaving off-side because Gibbs remained at his post on the goal line. But that is what you get when you play a forwards who is not naturally defensive minded? In the end his forward threat his lost from his starting position. Even young Yaya above, never shirked the defensive duty when needed, and had the pace of youth to get back up in attack.
Thank you Poldi for all your great goals, but I think you have probably played your last game in an Arsenal shirt?
Ozil. Criticism will come his way, but unfairly imo. The one thing Ozil needs is movement round him. Until Sanogo came on there was very little. Thus his passing game was made redundant. You can praise Hull’s tactics for much of this. They had a man on Arteta to keep him back. They were quick to pounce on Giroud when anything came his way, fairly and unfairly, it got the same result. Ramsey was kept back deeper because of the numbers they had in midfield, and Podolski rarely had a chance to run with it either. Luckily, as has been mentioned in comments above, he is a team player, and he will keep going for the team throughout the whole 120 minutes.
Cazorla. Worked his magic on the free kick. perhaps the goalie was at fault for not entirely trusting his ‘wall’ to do its job, as when he saw who had taken the kick, he took a half step to his right. which meant he was caught out by both the pace and accuracy of Santi’s shot. Where 9 times out of 10 going to where the keeper is, they will get saved. This one was one that didn’t. That apart, Santi worked hard against a disciplined defence, and few opportunities. occasionally his free roaming meant he was crowding out the space that Ramsey might run into, but overall a solid game, without too many decisive moments.
Arteta. I thought he had one of his better games, given the limitation of his pace, or the lack of. He was the main outlet ball out of defence, when played short, and was there to for Gibbs, as he was closed down quickly early on. However, he is another who will find game-time in short supply if the TW goes our way? Suggest he spends time getting his coaching badges?
Gibbs – Roundly criticised for missing the sitter, but that does not take away from his overall contribution. Nor should it be forgotten that he got in that position to miss the sitter, which, by rights, should have been a Poldi/Ramsey/Cazorla option? And let’s not forget his clearance off the line that saved us from going 3-0 down. He made numerous, and often unused runs down the left. Had a couple of half chances to feed a pass into the box, but failed for one reason or another. Where he excelled was being the last defender back on our set pieces. And also, when Fab went ‘Flappy’ near the end of the 120 minutes, he made another 30 yard dash to cover the open goal shot that ended up going wide. Should he ever get an injury free season, and all the experience that goes with it, he will be every bit as good, if not better, than Ca$hly got to be, and unlike him, he is a Gunner for life.
Koscielny. Kos had a typical Kos-type game. Sound in defence .. for the most part. Always a threat in our set pieces. Scored with his feet! And then nearly threw all the praise away with a blunder at the death. Still our best 50% pairing though.
Mertersacker. Poor old Per. An absolute rock for 119 minutes, then slips, and it could have ended in disaster for him. Slow to get up? Well apart from being a big guy at the tail end of a highly disciplined performance, he had a right to expect Sanga or even Kos to be covering as he was up against ‘fresh legs’ Aluko? Fortune favoured him with the latter’s misplaced shot, after Fab made a fruitless attempt to save the day. Let that not take away from an otherwise strong leader’s game.
Fortunately, he will not be departing any time soon!
Sagna. Oh Bacary. Yes you could leave on this high note? But you could also stay? Hard to find a fault in an otherwise tireless game. Few opportunities to get decent crosses in, but put in a real shift, as always. If economics decides it, he will be hard to replace. perhaps never, in like for like.
If common sense prevails. and team unity, loyalty, and a true class player are properly rewarded, Bacs will get what he really wants?
Fabianski. Deserved his place in the side, and fully deserves his medal. At fault for either goal? Not really. The first was a well worked routine that came back into the box at pace. For the second he was somewhat let down by the defending(Poldi), that allowed his initial save to come off the past and bounce to the scorer. In commentary it was suggested that diving into the goal meant he was in no position to save the second attempt? That is a bit harsh, give the angle he was going for the ball. As it was he only narrowly missed injuring himself, so another foot or two to the right and he almost certainly would have clattered the post, and that could have been far more costly? He did make another really good save that got a slight deflection of a heel(Arteta?) down to his right which made the difference between a finger tip touch or a full hand to it, but he still turned it around the post. Like Per, he was lucky late on, but overall another sound game.
Subs Wilshere and Rosicky had the same effect that the Hull subs did, by giving energy and focus to an otherwise tiring attack. And it made the difference for us, but not quite for them. Coming on for the last 20minutes of normal time might have been the obvious time, but we may well have lost our eventual goal scorer? Playing from the start is another question entirely, and one I do not intend answering.
After the FA cup semi-final game against Wigan I was critical of both Cazorla and Podolski. I felt they did not do anywhere near enough to justify the trust Wenger put in them, their seniority in the team and the wages they collect every Friday afternoon. But yesterday, against the Hammers, they both performed significantly better, powered on by the veteran playmaker Rosicky behind and around them.
Cazorla played with a lot more zest and invention, even occasionally taking on defenders in and around the box to make things happen. He added another dimension to our attack yesterday, benefitting from Rosicky’s drive and willingness/ability to motor on our attack.
The other big positive yesterday was the Pod’s brace. We all know that if there is a chance in the box, Lulu is the man who should be at the end of it. His hammer of a left foot is absolutely deadly, especially in the box.
This has made me think again about what to do with the Pod: should we keep him and where should we play him in our formation/team?
The problem with him is other than a great finisher, and the occasional attempts to go past his man on the left flank and get the ball in the box, he does not offer much to the team. Wenger does not appear to like these sort of players: we only have to think about Arshavin, who although a different kind of ‘left winger’ – let’s face it, neither of them really are – also had special individual attacking qualities but was neither blessed with great stamina and team spirit.
Without Theo, Jack and Ozil, the Ox still learning and Rosicky unlikely to play each and every game till the end of the season with the same vigour as last night, will Wenger opt for what looks like a 4-4-2 formation during the last games of the season? With Giroud (or Sanogo) our main target man and the Pod feeding off him with the same hunger and deadliness as he did against the Hammers?
Could this be Arsene’s new Plan B?
I thought it looked like we did indeed play more or less in a 4-4-2 formation, albeit with the full backs providing most of the width. Rosicky helped the DM-pivot duo of Arteta and (the growing on me) Kallstrom in the middle to keep things tight (and we have been looking a lot better defensively over the last two games, despite the two goals conceded), whilst Cazorla seemed to revel in his free role behind the two central attackers (with Rosa adding thrust and creativity).
I have little doubt that a 4-4-2 formation could be a safe way towards gathering as much points as possible till the end of the season, especially with Ramsey (and soon Ozil) coming back to full fitness and Kallstrom and Flamini being available too. But will it mean a lot of crosses into the box, with both Pod and Giroud attacking them, and with Cazorla lurking for any scraps?
Would this formation suit Pod best?
And finally, would Wenger really go back to such basic formation, even just as a temporary measure to keep us above Everton?
So many themes, so much riding on an FA cup match (sandwiched amidst even tougher or more important matches), and Arsenal get the needed result. It wasn’t pretty and frailties in the team were on display, but players stepped up, took opportunities, and created a result that will help put the horror of eight days ago behind us. With a new frontline of Poldolski, Sanogo and Oxlade-Chamberlain and rotation at goalkeeper and both fullbacks, Gooners had to be holding their breath on this one. If we could take the result—and only a win would do, even contemplating a return to Anfield for a replay might require a change of undergarments—with this team, it would deepen the squad ahead of the match with Bayern Munich and must-wins in the Premier League. A loss or a draw would mean Liverpool probably deserved to be seen as our superior, and holding them off for the (guaranteed) CL spot (3rd) would become the new narrative…
Before the match, the voices of doom echoed a standard refrain: Wenger was sacrificing the (more winnable) FA Cup for the brighter spotlight of the Champions League. Yaya Sanogo?! In on a free, injured for months, to start the match!? Lucas Poldolski, a player with the opposite reputation (he’s old, well capped by a strong national team, etc.) but also underused this season would start alongside the lanky Frenchman. And then there’s the Ox? Is he a natural replacement for Theo Walcott or is he an extra defensive midfielder? Would his presence signify a boost to our sagging attack or that we were playing (as on Wednesday vs Manchester United) simply not to lose?
From the kick-off, Liverpool appeared dangerous. Knowing that referee Howard Webb would try to calm the match with whistles in the middle of the pitch, observers had to know that set pieces would be a key. And so it was. The match started with strong Liverpool attacks but ones which only found Daniel Sturridge pushed onto his weaker right foot. One was well saved by Fabianski; another found only side netting. Amongst these, our defense had to marshal various set pieces and corners. With Webb at the whistle, the Liverpudlians by way of South America (Coutinho and Suarez) made a meal of every contact, while Sterling and Sturridge were also extreme challenges for our slower right side (Jenkinson and Mertesacker) and not much faster left side (Koscielny and Monreal). In the early minutes, Nacho looked well worked and a weak link but he worked his way back into the match (after an early yellow), and Koscielny again showed why he is one of the best in world football.
On the other hand, while I would’ve preferred more calm possession in the middle of the pitch, we also pressed the large openings. Oxlade-Chamberlain in particular looked up for his chance and won (and took and overhit) an early corner and certainly looked lively. Meanwhile, the large presence of Yaya Sanogo took some time to appreciate, appearing alternately skilled and unschooled, taking touches that appeared both cultured and comical.
Gloriously, we got past 5 minutes without conceding, 10 minutes passed and then 15, and a bit of a pattern was setting in. Clearly set-pieces and quick attacks (mostly resulting in corners) were the order of the day and the first goal would be the key. If Pool got it, we would need two (to avoid the replay), but if we did, they might have to come out even more. At 16 minutes it fell to Arsenal. A corner was cleared wide to Özil who, scanning his targets as if it were a free kick, floated it towards the stacked towers of Mertesacker and Sanogo, the latter chesting down and pounding a shot which was blocked but fell kindly to Oxlade-Chamberlain. Still, it took full concentration and the twenty year-old was up to it, blasting it at waist level past Keeper Jones. YESSSSSS!!!!
The remainder of the half saw Arsenal, with a lead now to defend, begin to shore up and keep better shape, content to try and play on the break. Liverpool carved decent opportunities, but Suarez, who really is the class player in all of England if not the world, was mostly playing provider rather than finisher. As long as we kept him out of the pool, er the 18 yard box, where his diving (and finishing) skills might hurt us, we looked OK. His best effort was a wonderfully curled cross, to which young Sterling should probably have gotten. Maybe in a couple of years… The speedy kid also had a fine chance to go to ground after rounding Jenkinson but instead tried to score. If Suarez stays at Liverpool, Sterling will learn…
Unfortunately our own counter-attack appeared tame. Poldolski cannot provide more than 10 yards of sustained pace and Ozil, Yaya and the Ox were unable to combine to any real effect. 1-nil at halftime, however, felt a whole lot better than 4-nil 8 days ago.
Both teams adjusted well and clearly had new intent after the break. Almost directly from the kickoff, Suarez rounded Nacho too easily and played it to Flanagan who got it back to Suarez in the box with time and space to do his thing. A touch onto his right foot beat Koscielny but made the angle tougher. The incredible reaction speed of Fabianski allowed him to foot-block his shot to the far post. Wow!
Almost before Gooners could appreciate that save, Jenkinson won possession on the right byline, hit a fast first time ball to the Ox, who played a magnificent 1-2 with Ozil. The Ox took one perfect touch to round the defender and buy time to size up his pass, which was inch-perfect for Poldolski to hit home with his weaker right foot. A spectacular team goal and an indication that Arsenal can score on the counter! 2 nil, match over? Not so fast, my friends…
It was clearly a goal we needed but, given that a Liverpool goal would tickle the nerves of every Gooner in the stadium, and with memories of 4 in 20 minutes still fresh, it was FAR from over. As is natural, Arsenal set out to defend and Suarez, rat-dog that he is, sought to get in the box where he could do his bit. Unfortunately, and perhaps pumped up from his well taken goal, Poldolski obliged by foolishly attempting to knick a ball off the Uruguayan from behind. Feeling the touch, Suarez went to ground grabbing the ball and forcing the whistle. No foul and a handball or a Pen? Webb correctly, I fear, chose the latter.
Gerrard converted to the left corner with Fabianski fully covering the right. 2-1 and back to the pressure cooker. Suarez had been rewarded, so the game, his game, was on. Instantly, a leg left out touched Koscielny and Suarez was down clutching his stomach(?). A moment on and Suarez laid a fantastic pass off for Sturridge, but the latter took a touch, allowing Fabianski to make his greatest save of the night, even if there was a tiny bit of contact. Unfortunately for Liverpool, Sturridge, like Sterling earlier, was thinking he could score and forgot to go to ground to get the whistle.
Suarez wouldn’t make such a mistake and from another “well-won” foul, this time by Gerrard, Suarez took the kick from 20 meters. Into the wall it went (on purpose, perhaps?) and Suarez beat Ox to the rebound, toe poking it and theatrically going down. “Fool me once,” Webb must’ve thought, wagging it away with a finger. IMO, as much as the Poldolski foul was on the softer side (but certainly an example of Suarez outwitting our player) the 2nd one was stonewall. Luckily Webb seemed interested in justice more than rewarding Suarez’s abundant cynicism. At least the great champion of the bald people in the weight room had secured the spotlight for himself—right where he likes it.
Poldolski, both hero and goat (or victim, depending on your allegiance), was subbed for Santi Cazorla who soon after showed his worth, helping his countryman (Monreal) at one end without fouling. Unfortunately he looked rusty when a poor clearance fell to him just inside the box and straight in front of goal. Instead of taking a touch and getting an angle, little Santi rushed his volley and found row Z, leaving hope for the visitors.
Though Liverpool was tiring, they would not relent. The next big talking point was ours, however, as ever energetic Oxlade-Chamberlain put the pressure back on Webb, sprawling over Steven Gerrard (already on a yellow) at the other end. It may have looked like Ox had gotten a toe to it, but replays revealed that both players missed the ball. Gerrard was better placed and, in my opinion, it was neither a foul nor a yellow, except maybe for our player who clearly was playing the referee and not the ball. It was given (the foul, not the yellow) and a nice free kick opportunity for Arsenal was Webb’s compromise. Before Ox could take it, he was subbed for Kieran Gibbs.
In the 80th minute we tried again, with Cazorla making a wild swing for a high bouncing ball, which both he and Skrtl missed. Replays show that the defender’s foot got Santi’s ankle, but with the ball bouncing away, Webb refused to blow. Had Santi maybe been more cynical and just touched it on rather than going for goal, perhaps. A tough one to call, I think.
In the 86th even more controversy—another free kick swung in by Gerrard found Fabianski coming to punch but missing with Agger’s header going wide. Replays show another very close call, but it did appear that Agger may have shied from the contact with our keeper. There was contact nonetheless, and our man, brilliant on the night, could have gone from hero to something a bit less.
From here the game wore down. Wenger used his final sub, bringing on Giroud for the refreshingly strong and looking-the-part Sanogo. With recent rumors of our Ollie becoming the BPF (Big Philandering Frenchman) a short stint rather than a glaring spotlight was likely a good call on the manager’s part…
Three minutes of injury time, more whistles, more free kicks and Sturridge trying to hurry shoelace-tying Fabianski, but finally a series of three tweets from Webb and it’s Everton in the quarters.
But, of course, it’s so much more. Liverpool are an in-form team playing at a very high level. They’ve got the best player in English football with an underappreciated supporting cast. That Arsenal were able to stand up to that challenge after the beating we took a week ago and bring additional players into our group of contributors is an added bonus. Performances from Oxlade-Chamberlain and Fabianski were outstanding, even if both were maybe fortunate to stay on the bald man’s good side. Koscielny (my MOTM) showed he can defend against the very best and not get lured into fouling. Another great signing from Ligue Deux made a true contribution and provided a bit of an answer to the endless GoonerDoomer cries of “Oooh, oooh, vat vil ve do vit-out Giroud” –Yaya Sanogo. Poldolski got his goal even if he gave up the penalty, showing that he can still be a factor even with his off-foot, if not much help (or worse) at the defensive end.
It should also be noted that it was all anchored by relentless application by a midfield three of Flamini, Arteta and especially Ozil, who had the key “pre-assists” with gorgeous balls on both goals. Observers, I believe, fail to appreciate the quiet precision he brings to our game and the fact that he is our iron-man playing long minutes, match after match after match, avoiding injury and keeping our play ticking over. Without our record signing, I believe this would have been another (humbling) day of reckoning.
As it is, the nay-sayers will have to wait until Wednesday when (surely) Arsenal will be found out and destroyed by the best club in world football. I prefer than we actually play the match and see what happens. That’s just me, of course, and maybe I’m not being a proper Gooner by suggesting that we might be in with a shout. Today was a step in the right direction (under immense pressure), so I say let’s at least give the lads a chance.
First of all (of course) I’d like to begin by congratulating the team on an awesome performance against the other in form premier league team in the league. I’ll single out Arteta, Cazorla, Sagna and Ramsey for special praise for Saturday’s performance. They went about their duties in spectacular fashion. It’s good to see that Sagna is getting back to his best AND has learnt to put in a decent cross. Ozil had a quiet game yesterday but still managed an assist thanks to Rambo’s screamer. That’s the mark of a world class player.
Anyway, my focus isn’t just on yesterday’s game. We have reached the ten game mark of the season and there is plenty to be discussed so I’ll get on with it. Firstly, the premier league table speaks volumes on the leaps and bounds that Arsenal has overcome this season. We look a class above everyone else, especially in the league. Top of the table with a 5 point cushion is very significant in a league where competition is cut throat. Of course we have tougher fixtures coming up against Chelsea and ManCity but so far so good. Also, this season has marked the return of our swagger. We play such beautiful football that I could be stuck in the middle of the ocean and still find a way to watch our games.
We still haven’t hit top gear yet as we still don’t show consistently the dominance we should, considering the talent we have in our ranks. This is a good thing because we will still get better. I also think we don’t score nearly as many goals as we can but like I’ve just said, all in good time. There have been a lot of improvements in our team but the one that has impressed me most (and I attribute it to our form) is our spirit. These days Arsenal is a big team, pure and simple. Our ability to win on off days, hold on to a lead, secure points against the run of play and quickly recover from losses has reassured me that, barring a spectacular injury crisis, we are very much title contenders. The win at palace and the recovery at Liverpool are prime examples.
Again I’d like to remind you all, fans and rivals alike,that we are playing this way yet we still haven’t had a full strength side all season. We still have Theo, Podolski and the Ox who are yet to return to the side. I expect the former two to greatly improve our goal output once they return to full body and match fitness. I also expect to see much more from some of our players such as Theo and the Ox.
Another great positive we have on our side this season is the fact that we no longer are dependent on one player. In previous seasons we’ve had players like Van Persie, Cesc and Thierry Henry, whose performances kept us above the surface. Now we have Giroud, Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey, Walcott, Wilshere, Podolski, who have all shown that they have the ability to win us games. It’s almost like with every game, a new hero steps forward.
Aside from all this though there are concerns that have risen in these first ten games that I feel must be addressed. My biggest concern as per now is the fear of some players suffering burn out. The players in particular are Giroud, Ramsey, Koscielny and less so, Ozil. As Bendtner showed against Chelsea, Giroud has no able deputy, especially with Walcott and Poldi still out. He has played virtually every game for us and an injury to him now would be monumental. Ramsey and Koscielny too have been piled with games because of their influence. Once this tricky run of fixtures is over, Wenger really should give them breathers.
My final concern lies within our football. We have been playing well but I feel the team doesn’t do enough when not in possession. Our pressing has improved, I must say, but still isn’t up to par. When we lose the ball in midfield we let the opposition run at us too easily, especially in Flamini’s absentia. There are players I have to commend for their tireless work rate off the ball and these are Giroud, Ramsey, Rosicky and Flamini. When we lose the ball, they are always the first to dive into challenges in a bid to win the ball back and I really rate them for that.
However, pressing can’t be the job of a few individuals but a team effort. There are players who are a bit lazy when we lose possession. Ozil and Cazorla mainly. Wilshere too is developing this but I suspect it has to do with his injury. These two players will rarely chase down the ball even if it is they who lost it in the first place. I sometimes find myself screaming at the TV when they casually escort our opposition players into our danger area.
This has proven very costly because whenever we’ve met teams that are ready to hustle, we struggle. Against Dortmund, we could only conjure some few minutes of possession in the second half, and for a team whose credentials are being questioned at every turn, this is just not good enough. It is something Arsene has pointed out twice so far so I’m hoping he is working tirelessly to improve.
In conclusion, I have to say that we have every reason to be positive. If we can navigate these two months without too many nasty surprises and in January bring in a Lewandowski or two, then the title will be ours to lose. For now, all we can do is take it a game at a time, keep the focus and showcase our premium brand of football that makes every match day worth the wait.
Among fellow Gooners, the overriding feeling with regards to our current team is that Arsenal are now very strong in midfield, good to very strong at the back, but a bit light in attack.
The big question we are all asking ourselves is what we are going to do if Giroud (knock on your mini-hampton Glic) gets injured.
There will be a new post later this evening, but for the sake of a bit discussion, I would like to ask BK readers to tell us who we should play instead of Giroud and why.
Before you do so, however, I would like to point out that Giroud’s role/contributions in our current team/line up/system of football are as follows:
Giroud’s main role is to be the central attacking hub up-front: he is the pivot to many of our attacking moves and provides his fellow strikers and midfielders with a ‘base’ up-front. For that he needs to be good at playing with his back towards the opposition’s goal, not get outmuscled easily, be able to shield the ball well, have a good first touch and pass the ball accurately. It is fair to say that OG is not the finished article in these areas, but he is constantly making progress;
Although OG will always be judged on his goals, in our current system we should also judge him on his assists, as well as his ability to make space for others and allow them to join our attack. The latter is a lot harder to measure, but is nevertheless key to this role in our current formation/system of football;
As a result, we should look to replace an injured Giroud with a player who can do the same, and not focus entirely on the ability to score goals or produce assists;
Giroud puts himself about across the pitch, is a force in defending set-pieces for us and continuously works hard to put pressure on the opposition defenders and midfielders.
You might believe there are more attributes/aspects Giroud adds to our team, and if so, please share them with us.
But, taking the above into account, and assuming that Arsene will want to continue with our current 4-2-1-3 system as much as possible, who should replace Giroud in case of injury, and why: Akpom, Bendtner, Pod, Sanogo or Theo, or….?
Also, if you would like to make your predictions for the coming season, please go to:
Sweet 16: AR16 blasts Arsenal into 16th successive CL campaign
Here are my thoughts on today’s second leg of our Champion’s League qualifier against Fenerbahce.
In today’s match Arsenal played very well in the first half, but then slowed down in the second half.
Arsenal started the day with a 3-0 lead on aggregate, and they would soon go 4-0 up. In the 25th minute Aaron Ramsey scored Arsenal’s first goal of the day. Podolski made a run through the middle of the field and when he reached the top of the box, he tried to slip Walcott through. Theo just got a touch and hit it across goal, where Rambo scored a poacher’s goal and put it into the open net. Two goals in two games in the Champion’s League for Ramsey, and it was quite clear that he would br full of confidence for the rest of the game.
In the 39th minute, Emenike broke down the left flank for Fenerbahce. He fired a shot that Szczesny could only palm onto the post. He then made a great close range save, although the shooter was called offside.
Right after halftime, Podolski went down with a hamstring injury. He went off on a stretcher, which isn’t a good sign. Gibbs would come on for him and play LW for the remainder of the game.
Arsenal played a very boring game throughout the second half, just trying to keep the lead and not get tired.
In the 60th minute Yaya Sanogo came on for Giroud. He had a very quiet game and didn’t do much, as we were mostly playing defensively after he came on.
In the 72nd minute Gibbs broke down the left flank. He swung a short, low cross into Ramsey’s feet and the Welshman happily volleyed it with one touch into the far lower corner. It was a very well taken shot and Ramsey was on top of the world.
In the 74th minute Ryo came on for Walcott and after that there were multiple fitness concerns, first about Jack and then about Aaron. Jack was clearly being targeted and really needed some protection from the ref, which he did not get. Then at the very end, Aaron went off holding his groin, but he was walking around after the game so he should be fit for Sunday.
Finally in the 90th minute, Ryo broke down the right flank and put a low short cross into Jenkinson’s feet in a play that basically mirrored our second goal. Jenkinson hit it well and was unlucky not to score.
Man of the match was clearly Ramsey who scored a hat trick across both legs and was involved in all aspects of our game. He seems set for a breakout season and I’m very happy for him.
Overall, Arsenal played well across both legs and will deservedly enter their 16th successive Champion’s League group stage. Now Arsene has no excuses: we are in the Champion’s League and the window is ending soon; signings need to be made.
For now I’ll leave you with some questions:
1. What did you think of our performance tonight?
2. Do we need to strength before the North London Derby?
Note for TA: this blog was written prior to yesterday’s game against Fulham.
How to get the best out of Podolski: Combine him with Gibbs and Ramsey!
Back in 2012 when Arsenal announced the signing of Lukas Podolski well before the opening of the transfer window, I was more than excited. The prospect of him playing alongside Theo and RVP convinced me that we were well on the way to concluding our trophy drought. However, the cruel nature of fate made sure that that summer window didn’t go as I hoped. I won’t go into details lest I awaken sleeping demons.
Anyway, my point is, even though we ended up losing RVP, in the back of my mind I knew that even though Poldi wasn’t as good, he could go a long way in replacing his goals. His first season was satisfactory at best. He started well but as the season wore on he seemed to lose his ability to influence the proceedings of a game. He was then dropped from the starting eleven and spent the rest of the season as a substitute. His goals didn’t dry up as his finishing ability is currently second to none in our team. Towards the end, injuries and suspensions to fellow attackers meant that he was our starting striker for the last three games; and to be honest he didn’t do badly.
The new season has begun and it is obvious that Wenger has picked up where he left off last season. Poldi has been involved in both games but only as a very late substitute. For a man who has over a century of international caps before the age of 30, and for one of the world’s best national sides, it is quite bizarre how his club career is panning out. In a time when Arsenal’s squad is thread bare owing to departures and injuries, Poldi’s omission is more than just a little baffling. But I do understand Wenger’s dilemma.
Poldi’s case is a strange one. On one hand, Podolski is one of the best finishers around. Even when he is having a poor game, for him it usually still is ‘one chance one goal’. He is also quite the crosser, especially from that left flank. On the other hand he has little to no influence on a game and therein lies his problem. Podolski’s movement is poor wherever he is played. He doesn’t know how to make runs, has no discernible dribbling ability and his pace is average at best. Podolski seems to spend 90% of his time on or around the halfway line, whether he is played on the left flank or as our target man. Every single time he is played up front the situation arises where a full back will make a run down the flank, but when he gets to the opposition box Podolski is nowhere to be seen and has no intention of getting into the box.
He has no grasp of how a striker should move whatsoever. This makes the team play around him. On the flank, Gibbs does a better job as a winger than the German. This, to me, is the reason why Poldi is second choice. It seems that his best position is as a second striker in a 4-4-2 formation, where he would play between the hole player and the main striker, because there his movement is limited but opportunities to shoot are plenty. Sadly, that is not how we play.
However, I have another suggestion. Wenger can start him on the left but he drifts inwards. Yesterday’s game against Fenerbahce showed that this can work so long as it is Gibbs who plays behind him. Gibbs was outstanding on that left flank, sending in crosses and even getting a goal. Ramsey was also outstanding, covering him perfectly when he went forward. This means that in this set up, Gibbs can do all the wing-work while Poldi drifts in, without having the pressure of being the main CF on him.
Whatever Wenger does about him, he should do it soon, because Podolski’s stature is such that he is not a bench warmer. If this continues, it is very conceivable that he will look for game time elsewhere.