Does Arsene already have the two top quality players needed to win the PL?

Can he break through this season?
Can he break through this season?

I believe it was old Red Nose himself, Sir Alex Ferguson, the infamous ruler of MU from sunny Govan, who once said that a successful team has a base of six or seven top quality players, surrounded by a number of good players both within the first team and the wider squad. If we look back at his as well as Arsene’s most successful teams, this statement seems to make sense. For example, The Invincibles were not all equal in my opinion: Lehman, Campbell, Vieira, Gilberto, Bergkamp, Thierry and Pires were the super quality players and the rest was good to very good. It makes perfect sense that not all eleven are super quality as they are hard/expensive to get, and good, hardworking players are needed to provide the right platform for the super players to shine (and yet, especially over time, all players from the Invincibles team have rightly achieved mythical status anyway).

I have been thinking about our current squad in terms of those all-important six or seven top quality players, and I reckon we are close. Certainly, the right buy can make a difference this season, but I am less sure whether it is absolutely crucial. Regular readers know that I like Arsene to find the balance between buying and growing from within; and the squad is pretty strong as it is. And recently, Arsene has been finding the balance very well indeed.

So for me, the top quality players are: Cech, Koz, Ozil, Alexis and Giroud. Some will exclude Ollie from this, but, as I have explained many times, there is no better holding striker around other than possibly Lewandowski. Let me add another one: Santi. He deserves it after proving me wrong last season.

This leaves us one maybe two TQ players short, and we can either buy or further develop what we have. Next season, there is a real opportunity to turn two out of Le Coq, Rambo and Wilshere into these two missing TQ players. They all have the potential but they will have to achieve consistently high level performances to really get there. Le Coq, alongside the amazing Bellerin, was the surprise of the season and has made a huge step forward. But we need to see this again and again next season and this will be a very big one for him. Rambo needs to gain momentum, and once he is in the zone he gets better and better. He is probably closest of all three talents to make it through to the TQ players, but…. He will need to stay fit and focussed throughout a whole season to really get there. Jack is the most talented of them all but also the most vulnerable to injuries, which he will have to overcome to start establishing himself properly. The thought of two, or ideally all three, of them making the big step up next season is simply mouth-watering. Fitting them all in is of course a challenge, but it is possible; and I agree with 17HT that 4-5-1 is the most likely formation for next season.

I feel we do not score enough goals, though; we are too over-reliant on Alexis and Giroud to produce the goods. So the easy answer is to buy a 15-20 PL goals a season winger with ability to play through the middle as well. For example, let’s throw all our money at Bale and get the Gunners-loving ex-Spud to wear the mighty red and white. Or maybe Gotze or Isco are the answer…..

But another part of me says let us get those goals from within the team. More goals are required from the midfielders and Arsene will be keen to achieve it. This must be Arsene’s biggest dilemma. The team is very good both in terms of quality and depth, and there is great growth potential from within; but we need more goal threat. Will it come from Rambo, Ozil and Jack, or is Theo, or even the Ox or Danny-boy, ready to blow us all away? Or does Wenger need to buy a carbon copy of Alexis for the other wing to get us our  seventh (or, dream, dream, eighth) super quality player, which should really give us a chance to go all the way?

Over to you fine, fellow Gooners.

By TotalArsenal.

Coquelin & Rambo DMs, Alexis & Ozil on Wings: MU v Arsenal Preview and Line-Up

Manchester United-Arsenal — FA Cup Quarterfinal —

Match Preview

Tine to Defend the Cup and Make a Statement

Arsenal's English midfielder Jack Wilshe

On the back of our most dominating performance of the season, a sumptuous 2-nil victory over Championship leaders and Man City beaters, Middlesbrough, Arsenal drew Manchester United, away, in the quarter-final round of the FA Cup.  It didn’t seem like a just reward at the time and, as the match approaches, its significance only increases.

Whichever team prevails in this one will be favoured to win the next two at Wembley and raise the cup.  Additionally, as the clubs are separated by only a point in the Premier League standings, the result tomorrow will surely set a tone for the ongoing battle there as well.  United Manager Louis van Gaal says he would trade cup progression for a top 4 finish in the league, but there’s no reason, given their lighter, Europe-free schedule, that United will not give everything they’ve got.

Arsene Wenger has similarly noted the tightness of the race for Champions League qualification, but he too will understand the wider implications of getting a result at Old Trafford–including a draw which would force a replay back in North London.  While both managers have gone to pains to play down the importance of this one, the FA Cup surely represents the most realistic chance at silverware for both clubs this season.

Our record in traveling to Old Trafford does not make for pretty viewing.  In our last 10 matches we’ve drawn only once, losing all the rest, and we actually haven’t won there since the Autumn of 2006.  During this run we’ve played there twice in the FA Cup.  In 2008, we were leading the league, but played a much changed team and were well beaten, 4-nil.  More recently in 2011, in this same quarterfinal round, we lost 2-nil.  To be clear, even if we’ve taken the more recent trophies in this competition, winning a year ago and in 2005, on penalties over the Red Devils at Wembley, (Man U most recently raised the cup the year before in 2004) United have dominated us in this period, finishing above us in the league every single year except the most recent one.

Even as they transition out of the Sir Alex Ferguson era and attempt to rebuild under Van Gaal, we have yet to actually assert our superiority in head to head battle.  Last year, during the disastrous season with David Moyes at the helm, ManU beat us 1-nil in the league match-up at Old Trafford, while the reverse fixture was a desultory nil-nil at our home ground.  This season, in our one meeting, at the Emirates, although dominating play early on, United scored with their first shot on goal.  Suicidal pressing forward in desperate search for an equalizer resulted in a 2nd breakaway goal which sealed our fate.

But that’s all history, of course, and tomorrow’s match represents a chance to wipe the slate clean and prove ourselves the superior team.  With the exception of our 2-1 loss in the North London Derby, 2015 has shown that Arsenal can travel to hostile environs and still get results, the blueprint being the trip to East Manchester and the 2-nil victory at Man City.  We only had a third of the possession in that one, but still managed to control the match and prevail.   Yeoman efforts from more attacking players like Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla helped protect less experienced defenders; Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin, to create a dominating defensive display.  David Ospina, newly established in goal for league matches, hardly had a save to make.

This being a cup match, however, there will be changes in personnel.  Wojciech Szczesny, demoted from the league matches, if passed fit after a midweek illness, will get his chance between the sticks.  Gabriel Paulista most likely would have started in one of the center back positions, as he did vs Boro in the previous round, but a mid-week hamstring pull rules him out, meaning our Big F**king German, Per Mertesacker, and Laurent Koscielny will surely get the call.  Spaniard Nacho Monreal seems recovered from a mild back strain so he likely pairs with his young countryman, Bellerin, at the other fullback position.  Coquelin, broken nose protected by an ominous looking white mask, surely will go at defensive mid.

The more difficult calls are up front.  It seems impossible to sit Olivier Giroud, who has scored the opener in our two most recent matches and brings so much shape to our attack while also presenting a real target when we have to kick out of our own half.  Likewise, Alexis Sanchez, who finally broke a 6 match goal drought in midweek at Queens Park Rangers, brings too much energy for a bench seat.  Santi Cazorla, sitting deeper in that match, also seems the key figure linking our rearguard to our attack.  Mesut Ozil, at the heart of the action in recent matches, also appears undroppable.  This leaves a single starting position open and my call goes to Aaron Ramsey.  Back from a recurring hamstring problem, his ball carrying and greater physicality looked the part in settling the result in midweek after QPR pulled a goal back.

This starting line-up does seem harsh on others who have been playing well, including Tomas Rosicky, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck, who is returning to Old Trafford for the first time since his deadline day transfer away last summer.  Theo Walcott has also been a contributor, especially at the sharp end of our attack, and it’s always possible that Wenger might mix things up and start him.  Still, this is the 11 I think will start.

ars v manure March 15

(Subs: Martinez, Chambers, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Walcott, Welbeck)

Man United will also go with a very strong line-up and will likely stay with their most valuable player this season, goalkeeper David De Gea.  Despite the tactical innovations for which Van Gaal is famous, most notably playing 3 at the back this past summer in getting a weaker than usual Dutch National team to the semi-finals of the World Cup, experiments with similar tactics have not yielded good results at United.  If ever there was a match to go back to that plan, however, it might be this one, given that center back Johnny Evans begins the first of 6 matches out, suspended for a spitting incident.  Luke Shaw, the young left back bought from Southampton over the summer, is also nursing a hamstring strain, so it may actually be difficult for Van Gaal to field four defenders.  Traditional wingers like Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have, at times, at least, been used as wing-backs, and I suspect they might be deployed in similar fashion for this one.  If they are, a deeper lying set of mid-fielders, two of Michael Carrick, Daley Blind and Ander Herrera will likely back up a front three of Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Wayne Rooney.

Unfortunately, for all who like more than a bit of pantomime (or real) villainy, Robin van Judas, er, Persie is injured for this one.   Adnan Januzaj, Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini are also attacking players Van Gaal might choose in his first 11 or bring off the bench if United needs goals.

Despite the high stakes in a cup match of this sort, I expect a cagey battle with both teams looking to assert control in midfield and not unhappy to let the other group have possession.  United should be the team more determined to attack in front of their home crowd.  While neither team would relish a replay, I think Wenger will be at greater pains to suggest to his squad that such a result is not a bad one and that fore-aft balance is critical given all the skill players United can throw at us.  In other words, I doubt this one will be hell for leather from the outset.  An early goal, especially if Arsenal can get it, might open things up considerably.

But my voice is just a single one.  How do other Gooners feel about this cup tie?  Who do you think will play and how will the match play out?  What would you do if you were in charge?  Is this match as critical as I’m portraying it or just another in a long line of tough ones?  Should we go all out for the cup or keep our focus on the league and the very difficult return leg of the Champions League eliminations at Monaco in less than 10 days time?  These questions (and others you might frame) need answers… Go on then…

By 17highburyterrace

Theo/Ozil represent 0.6 goals & assists per game: Season starts here!

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Unless absolutely everything goes our way in the next four months, I reckon this will become a season of which we will ask ourselves what could have been if we had not had so many injuries during the first half of it.

Now that Koz is back and back-up has been brought in (Paulista), Coquelin is 99% close to signing a new contract, Ramsey is getting back to the engine we know him to be and Super Jack is back in training, we are looking strong at the back and in the middle of the park.

Furthermore, and even more excitingly, our attacking options are back to full strength now, with Ozil and Theo fully back and Giroud having totally settled back in again. Our superstar Alexis has been phenomenal and held the fort whilst the others were recuperating. Of course, he had help from the likes of Welbeck and Ox, but they are both work in progress, especially when it comes to the bread and butter stats of goals and assist.

We know that these are all very good players, but the beauty is that Wenger can now choose from his very best attackers, both in terms of producing assists and scoring goals.

These are the assists v games played ratios (data from 2009/2010 season to now, source ‘Whoscored’):

  Total games / Assists Assists per game ratio
Walcott 162/34 0.21
Ozil 222/90 0.41
Giroud 176/21 0.12
Alexis 205/45 0.22
Carzola 213/43 0.20
Ramsey 161/21 0.13
Welbeck 157/12 0.08
Ox 95/10 0.11
Rosicky 149/13 0.09
Wilshere 130/16 0.12

So, in terms of our strongest team in attack from an assists producing point of view, we would aim to field Walcott, Ozil, Alexis, Santi and Ramsey in our five directly attack-involved positions.

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And these are goals v games played ratios (data from 2012/2013 season to now, source ‘Wiki’).

  Total games / goals Goals per game ratio
Walcott 67/28 0.42
Ozil 103/19 0.18
Giroud 111/46 0.41
Alexis 131/51 0.39
Cazorla 126/25 0.20
Ramsey 102/24 0.24
Welbeck 99/19 0.19
Ox 83/7 0.08
Rosicky 69/8 0.12
Wilshere 84/8 0.10

So, in terms of our strongest team in attack from a goal scoring perspective, we would aim to field: Walcott, Giroud, Alexis, Ramsey and Cazorla.

Surprise, surprise almost the same players who produce the most assists per game also score the most goals per game, with Ozil producing significantly more career assists than Santi, and Santi scoring a tad more goals per game than the German. Between them, these five to six players produce on average 1.17 assist and 1.66 goals per game.

Our current PL goal tally is 39 from 22 games, 1.8 goals per game and that includes the entire squad of course. I predict that we will see a steep improvement in goals per game in the last four months of the season: by possibly a third, meaning an average goals per game ratio of 2.4.

The thing is Ozil, Theo, Alexis, Santi, Giroud and Ramsey are now all fit to play together, and there is every chance that between them they will improve each others contributions, in terms of assists and goals, even further. And the longer they play the more effective they can all become.

You can also see from the stats above that the return of Ozil and Theo is absolutely paramount to the success of the team: together they can contribute 0.62 assists and 0.6 goals per game. It will take a bit of the pressure away from Santi and especially Alexis, and give us far more balance in terms of spreading assists and goals throughout the team.

The stats also show why we should expect (and want) the likes of Ox, Welbeck and Rosicky to provide back up rather than be first choice. Rosicky is of course a very strong option to have on the bench, and both Ox and Welbeck are still young and hopefully will develop strongly in the next season or two. Jack might also struggle to get back into the team as a regular first starter once he is back.

Let’s hope we can see these five to six top assists and goals producers play together very regularly from now on, so the fun can really begin.

By TotalArsenal.

Ozil and Cazorla cannot play together…. You is wrong!

4-1-4-1: Wenger’s Total Harmonica Football Formation?

Victory Through Harmony.

Victory Through Harmonic Harmony.

 

It is interesting to listen to the TV and keyboard pundits praising Arsenal and Wenger for the disciplined defensive performance against Citeh. They all seem so genuinely relieved we played with a defensive set-up and smashed the Northern Oilers via breaks and set-pieces. It is not the first time we have played with this approach: for example, the games against the Chavs, at home last season as well as at Stanford Bridge this season, were approached exactly in the same way. It is fair to say, it is not the Arsenal way of playing a game, but Wenger has demonstrated once again that a) he does have a Plan-B, and b) he knows how to make tactical changes to get a result from a game.

In general he prefers to play a system of football that is set up to conquer all and does not need much, if any, tactical tweaking for each and every match. This desire will never change as, in the end, he loves free flowing, attacking, total football too much – and don’t we all? It is also the reason he could manage any club in the world, except the Spuds of course. 🙂

On the other hand, the 4-1-4-1 formation seems to offer formational and tactical flexibility during the same game.

Like a harmonica it can squeeze in and out: becoming solid and compact – 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 – when we need to be, as well as very attack-minded and multi-dimensional up-front as per our normal, default system of football: 4-1-2-3/4-2-1-3.

In order to do this successfully, we need: tactical discipline, on-field leadership (especially in midfield) and brilliant, multi-skilled midfielders.

We only have to remind ourselves about the first ten minutes of the second half against Citeh to realise that varying the styles of football and formations within the same game is not easy. We lost our compactness and defensive discipline and spaces opened up everywhere during this phase, and we almost paid for it. Luckily, it was us that scored the all important second goal of the match, and after that it was relatively easy for us to revert back to our original, far more defensive formation. Citeh, without Yaya and Nasri, were unable to give Silva much support in creating gaps and thus opportunities; and we also defended the wings fantastically well.

It was great to see the team having such fantastic discipline for the majority of the game. Coquelin got a lot of praise, and rightly so. Playing compact suits him very well, and the same goes for the defence. Defence orientated players hate space around them, and especially behind them. If there is little to no space around our defence then everybody starts looking so much better, and that includes our DM.

The Chavs’ Cahill, Terry and Matic are no better than Mertesacker, Koz and Arteta/Flamini/Coquelin, but, as a starting principle, they always ensure they play compact and avoid risks at the back. That’s what makes them look good and our lot regularly not so good, often being left over-exposed by their (too) attack focussed colleagues.

What is absolutely paramount for a solid defensive team display is the role of the four midfielders/attackers in front of the DM, and especially the two central midfielders. They need to curb their attacking instincts to a large extent and be able to both support the defenders and build attacks from a crowded, highly pressured back.

Both Ramsey, and especially Cazorla, mastered this very well, and Ox and Alexis also offered superb defensive and ‘get out of jail’ support throughout the game (and so did Rosicky once he came on for a tired Ox). And with Ozil and Jack, we have two more central midfielders who can do this very, very well. Arsenal are blessed with such players which is a great reason to play a ‘harmonic’ 4-1-4-1 system of football.

When we play fellow direct competitors for silverware away, and maybe also at home, we should more often position our team deeper and more compact, in order to give ourselves a good chance to get a result and avoid painful mega-losses (as per last season).

But, with the right players, we can gradually become stronger and stronger at playing a harmonic 4-1-4-1 formation. Key is to have all our players fit and play together regularly. Another prerequisite is a solid and mobile DM, who will also be strong when our team is stretched forward. Arteta suited this part reasonably well, but I have always felt a need to improve in this area to move us to the next level (and so have most fellow Gooners).

Coquelin is looking really good and I hope we can sign him up to a new deal, and we need to sign one more quality DM to provide depth and competition. Key is that we add real leadership in this position; and, in recent games, Coquelin – finally escaped from his chrysalis – showed he might be able to offer this going forward as well.

But the most important and exciting part of all of this is who we will play in the two central midfield positions of the second ‘4’ of 4-1-4-1.

We can pick, in no particular order, from Rosicky, Ozil, Ramsey, Cazorla, Wilshere and one or two youngsters. I can see Ozil and Cazorla play together there, especially in games where we feel we can play more attack-minded and advanced. The likes of Alexis, Theo and Giroud (Ox, Welbeck etc) will be licking their lips at the anticipated service they would get. The idea that Ozil and Cazorla cannot play together is therefore wrong.

I can also see Jack and Aaron play there and rock the place; and we all know how valuable Rosa still is for us. Arsenal are blessed with super quality in these positions and are no doubt the envy of many, if not all, PL clubs with regards to this.

Cazorla, and Ramsey despite his rustiness, showed how well and disciplined they can play in this formation, and it was their ability to squeeze in with the defence and out with the attack that made a huge difference on Sunday (supported by the ‘mid-wings’ of course). Our transition worked really well, given the pressure we were under; and with more practicing, our 4-1-4-1 harmonica could become an all conquering system of football. It will even allow us to play Cazorla and Ozil together – or eventually my favourite combination: Wilshere and Ozil. 😉

Happy, harmonic times could be around the corner. 🙂

 By: TotalArsenal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positives from Man City v Arsenal:

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

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

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

By TotalArsenal.

Wenger and Ramsey Are Teaching Us a Lesson

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.

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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.

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Ramsey Improving, Giroud and Koz Back: Finally Structure & Purpose

West Brom – Arsenal Afterthoughts.

Saturday’s victory against the Baggies was hard fought and, in many ways, a joy to watch. We looked a lot more organised and better structured and were in control of large parts of the game. It is hard to say what exactly is making a big difference: is it the return of Koz at the back, or our holding striker Giroud up-front, the combo of Flamini and Ramsey, or the nr.10 performances of Cazorla, or is it playing with two wingers now?

Let’s just say we will wait a bit before we pull our conclusions, but I am really glad we have our shape back in the team. We looked a lot more solid and like we are playing football with a plan now. Of course, we rode our luck a bit with the offsite decision early on in the second half, as that could have been a potentially costly goal against us. It is also true that we need to get our three ‘CFs’ up-front to work better together, and we also need to improve the service they get from midfield and the flanks (FBs especially). But if we play solid at the back and in midfield, then the front four (including Cazorla) can really get to know each other a lot better and still score enough goals each game to claim all three points. And at some point a team will get properly spanked with this highly attacking approach.

With the return of Giroud and Koz, and Ramsey slowly hitting a bit of form, we should be able to play the same style of football and team structure for a while. Soon, we will also have Theo and Debuchy back, which should further strengthen our ability to play in the same way time and again.

Key is that Giroud plays in the holding striker role, albeit fluidly, which means he will interchange with both wingers on a regular basis. This will make us unpredictable and yet there is structure to our play, which has been missing for so long. Giroud is the one to hold on to the ball and get either Ramsey or Cazorla involved in the attack, or his ‘CF colleagues’ Welbeck and Alexis. With Theo and Ox we have two very good alternatives for the wings; and Welbeck, Alexis, or Sanogo, can also play in the ‘Giroud’ role. Ollie is my favourite for it and then comes Sanogo, who is a naturally born holding striker imo (even though he still has a lot to learn).

Ramsey is also key. Now that Wilshere is out for a long time, Aaron is the one to be our beast of a box to box midfielder again. He needs to find the balance between helping Flamini (or Arteta when he returns) to keep it tight in front of the back four AND providing the four attacker with key passes and supportive runs into the box. IF Aaron can find his form again, we could have a very good remainder of the season. There were glimpses of him getting  there on Saturday.

It is also important that the back five (including goal keeper) now find a defensive rhythm again and become more and more solid. There is potential for this with Koz now back and Debuchy returning soon. Chambers has played himself into the defensive super-sub role, and Nacho (hopefully his injury is a small one) has also developed a broader skill set – although the Spaniard still seems more at home on the left flank. Gibbs staying fit is also very important as this should be his proper breakthrough year. Two clean sheets in a row is something to build further on.

We know we need to strengthen in defence and the DM position but we cannot be thinking about this at the moment. It is now about getting this team to play better and better together and start collecting three points on a regular basis. The games come thick and fast and with a bit of momentum we could be third or even second within no time.

From what I saw against Dortmund on Wednesday and West Brom on Saturday, we might just be turning the corner now. But bigger tests come this Wednesday and then away to Stoke at the weekend. Bring them on – Time to get into sixth gear and trust the system and shape of the team! OGAAT! 🙂

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Do Arsenal already have their own ‘Schweini’?

Bastian+Schweinsteiger+6fL8btJ1cpsm

If the events on Tuesday night and the previous weekend tell us anything, it is that a result should never be taken too seriously. Yet we all love to draw big conclusions from single events; and it’s even better when two single events have the same outcome…. it might lead to a fine theory; or it is often the conception – or the reinforcement – of our very own hobby horse(s).

The Dortmund loss does not make us doomed for winning the CL this year; and beating Villa comprehensively does not make us strong candidates for claiming this season’s PL title. Cups and titles are won by the OGAAT approach: one game at a time, leaving the past behind.

The season has only just begun, and it is hard to draw any conclusions on how it will end for Arsenal. The player purchases have been good to fantastic, although we left ourselves potentially a bit vulnerable at the centre of defence and midfield (DM). The late return of WC stars/relatively short preparation for the new season, the two CL qualification games and the international break – just when the PL got started – have all hindered Arsene in putting his stamp on the team and properly implement his chosen style of play, formation (4-1-4-1) and team tactics.

He clearly is still working on getting his new 4-1-4-1 formation to become the footballing machine he has in mind. The combos of Wilshere, Ozil, Ramsey and Sanchez, or Ox, Rosicky, Santi and Diaby/Campbell – or any combination as you see fit – have great potential. With the right man in front of them – OG, Welbeck, Walcott, Akpom? – and a solid player behind them, this could become a deadly, all concurring midfield foursome.

The notion that Arsene is compromising the effectiveness of the team in order to fit Ozil, Wilshere and Ramsey in, is incorrect. In my opinion, it is actually the other way round: he had a plan and got the players to execute it: and the signing of Alexis has been the icing on the cake.

I am starting to like the idea, advocated by the likes of Gerry (who partly inspired this post) and others, that Wenger is actually after a ‘footballing DM’ – a Bastian Schweinsteiger type, rather than a classical ‘destroyer’ type – but is either undecided who this should be, or has not been able to get his man as yet. However, after years of waiting for a DM, I do not know what to believe anymore.

He might, of course, also be working behind the scene to get one of his current midfielders to adapt to this role. I have no doubt that Diaby could be our ‘Schweini’ but we all know it would be mad to bank on this. Whoever plays the sole, deeper laying midfield role will need to be super fit and able to play (almost) every week. With the best will in the world, this is not going to happen for Abou this season, if at all.

Arteta and Flamini have each been played in the deeper role but they both have limitations, and are best used as back-up going forward. Arteta is the sort of player who initially gets better the longer he plays, and he might now enter a good spell. But I seriously doubt whether he can be our fulcrum in midfield for the whole season. I believe it would be a big mistake to bank on one of Arteta (sorry 17HT 🙂 ), Flamini or Diaby to fill this very important position, or indeed to simply believe that between the three of them the role will be covered this season. In the big games, we need a big player in the Schweini role.

An interesting sub-development is the imminent re-emergence of Theo into the team. Once fully fit he is likely to get a starting role in most games. It will either be as our sole CF, which I very much doubt, or as our (free-to-roam?) right (or even left) ‘winger’. If the latter is the case, one of Jack, Mesut, Alexis and Aaron will have to move…

And I reckon it could be Rambo: not to the bench, but, here it comes….. in the Schweini role. He really has everything in his locker to make it there. This is predominantly a gut feeling, just based of having seen both players in action. But looking at ‘Whoscored’, both players are rated with the similar strengths (both, notably, have no weaknesses, indicating their ‘all-roundness):

 

  Strengths – Very Strong Strengths – Strong Style of Play
Ramsey Passing, Defensive Contributions Key passes, Holding on to the ball Likes to do lay-offs, likes to dribble, likes to tackle
Schweinsteiger Passing, Direct Free-Kicks Key passes, Long Shots Likes to do lay-offs

Ramsey has a slightly inferior passing accuracy (this season 85.9%) than Schweinsteiger (last season an incredible 89.9% – he has yet to play this season), and also wins les aerial duels per game (0.8 v 2). The latter could be explained by the height difference or the positions both have been playing in – Ramsey is half a decimetre smaller. But then, Ramsey scores and assists a lot more than Schweinsteiger: 10 goals and 7 assists in 20 PL games v 4 goals and 4 assists in 22 Bundesliga matches last season. The latter could be explained by Ramsey playing in a more attack-minded midfield role than Schweini.

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When you read ‘Whoscored?’ valuation of Ramsey you cannot help but think that sounds like a good all-round, defensive minded midfielder to me: defensive contributions, holding on to the ball, likes do lay-offs, likes to tackle…

Clearly, Ramsey’s ability to make clever, timely runs into the box as well as finishing off chances should also have been added to Ramsey’s strengths by Whoscored?. And the question remains whether playing Aaron deeper would deprive us too much of his goals and assists this season. But I would like us to try Ramsey in the sole, deeper laying midfield role a few times and see how he will do. He has the stamina and the passion, and all the necessary skills; and let’s hope he can stay injury free this season.

I have a feeling he would be a revelation and might even become our very own Schweini.

What do you think, fine fellow Gooners?

Written by: TotalArsenal.

A Mere Papering of Cracks? Villa v Arsenal afterthoughts

First One for Danny!
First One for Danny!

On the heels of Arsenal’s first defeat since (Everton away in) April, many an observer–even would be supporters–have trotted out the usual narratives.  Wenger has lost the plot, we’re playing the wrong players in the wrong positions, there’s no tactical flexibility, our record signing Ozil(shaven) can’t be arsed and the sky is–literally–falling.

We’re entitled to these reactions and living in the moment, but scanning my science blogs, I could find no evidence that the sky was–literally–descending upon us.  Could it be that daylight is waning and the weather merely getting a bit worse in on our part of North London?  It may, of course, have something to do with the calendar.  Still with only a single match remaining before the official start of Autumn, the trip to Villa Park loomed larger, perhaps, than it might at another time of year.  That we couldn’t match their current point total in the league–no matter the result–also did not bode well.

Admittedly, the defeat at Dortmund did feel a comprehensive one and many suggested the 2-nil score-line flattered us.  Another narrative is that Arsene’s Arsenal simply cannot play against the bigger teams.  With Villa having beaten Liverpool at Anfield and having the week off (whilst we took our full body blow), nerves amongst Gooners were understandable.  Looking at the table alone (which, I’ve been told, “does not lie”) they had to be considered as one.  With our next two league matches being derbies–Spurs at our place, Chelsea at theirs–the result, at the very least, seemed, er, rather consequential.

Here in the mountains of California, the smoke from our annual wildfires only barely clearing with a little lucky wind, I awoke to a line-up I liked.  Alexis Sanchez, even if he’s already become a huge fan favorite, was rested in favour of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.  Santi Cazorla came in for Jack Wilshere (who took a knock late on at Dortmund).  Calum Chambers, recovered from his sore throat (tonsilitis), was the preferred 19 year old at right back (over Hector Bellerin), and both Kieran Gibbs and Mikel Arteta (both just back from injury and/or a respite…) kept their places.

Danny Welbeck, who had spurned scoring opportunities in his first two matches for Arsenal, also remained the point of attack.  Curiously, younger forwards, including Yaya Sanogo, Chuba Akpom and Joel Campbell and the all-purpose defender, Isaac Hayden, called for by many a Gooner in the wake of the Dortmund disaster, didn’t even find a place on the bench.  Perhaps in the Capital One Cup to be played in midweek?… On my television feed, the line-up was even listed as a 4-2-3-1 rather than the much maligned 4-1-4-1 we’re (supposedly) playing even if Ozil persisted on the left of the 3 (Santi in the middle, Ox on the right) and Ramsey was the player (nominally) brought back to help out the Captain.  I’m not a stickler for formations and I tend to buy the idea that the number of players at the back is (more or less) all that matters and all else flows from there.  I’ll leave the discussion of what was actually played to others.  To borrow my favorite English saying (heard mostly in the Tube…) “Sorry…”

The match itself started with Villa on the front foot and Arsenal struggling to string passes together.  Ramsey looked a central figure but first touches appeared overly aggressive if not just plain heavy.  Additionally, the air in Birmingham looked lighter than the players favour and several long balls flew into touch.  As such, as in Germany, possession was lost cheaply and Villa looked to be creating more menace throughout the opening stages.  That several corners were conceded (the source of the last league goal scored against us in the league) did not help settle nerves.  Another set piece provided their most dangerous moment (in the 23rd minute), after an unwise challenge from Calum Chambers, which earned him a yellow for his troubles.  The cross sailed over all defenders and allowed a well taken chance for Kieran Clark with a diving header.  Szczesney moved out of his goal mouth but maintained his feet and used his entire frame to block with his left leg and right hand.  A pivotal moment, especially given the way the opponent kept Liverpool at bay a week ago after an early goal.

The truly pivotal moment happened nine minutes later.  Playing the ball deep out of our own half (Chambers protecting the ball like a more experience player and exchanging passes with Mertesacker began the move) a series of lightning fast one touch passes between Ramsey, Cazorla and finally Welbeck sprung Ozil off the shoulder of the Villa highline and he finished calmly with his better foot.

Now Villa had to attack, and the 2nd goal came almost instantly.  The camera was actually on Wenger as Gibbs took possession and passed smartly to Ozil who one-touched to Ramsey before receiving a lovely return ball out wide.  Scorer and assist maker reversed roles with an inch perfect cross from Ozil and an easy finish (no shin this time) from Welbeck to break his (Arsenal) duck.  Ozil in the center, Ozil on the wing: the record signing who just doesn’t care, suddenly everywhere?

Narratives turned upon their heads as well as points secured.  Villa, shocked by the turn of events were still unable to get back to work.  Kieran Gibbs, who was key in dispossessing Villa to start the lightning move on the 2nd, again played a key role, poaching another pass even deeper in their territory and crossing to rampaging Ramsey at the far post.  Defender Cissoko, caught, needed the most precise of clearances, but found his own goal instead.  3 nil.

That would be all the scoring in the match but Arsenal would secure the points through possession and trying for more.  Our best 2nd half chance was likely a throughball from Oxlade-Chamberlain to Ramsey but the latter’s first touch was a near whiff.  Late on, after gorgeous one touch work on the left from Ozil, Cazorla and subs Jack Wilshere, Lucas Poldolski and Tomas Rosicky–What?  3 attackers subbed in when we have a score-line to protect?!? — I guess Wenger felt the need to get more attackers involved (and we have far more of them healthy as compared to defenders) and, maybe, the score-line was doing the protecting–of the manager–in this case.

So, a result to freshen the spirits after the poor showing in Europe or a mere papering of cracks?

That’s for my old friends, a certain blogger who confuses Cookies and Monsters (and knows his cracks, amongst other things) and the one who demands Victory Con Cordia… It’s a bit of a no-win for the club despite the fact that we’re still looking up at Villa in the table.  They (and early season surprise club, Swansea City) lost today but they are traditionally a mid-table club (at best) and it all could have been a whole lot scarier if their early aggression had led to an opening goal.  Our goal scoring happened so quickly that it’s almost hard to appreciate them and they can’t possibly suggest that our problems have been ironed out.  Bigger tests await which will “prove” if we’ve turned a corner or merely gotten a fortunate few points.

Amongst the players there could be some realignment of opinion about our record signing, given that he both scored and assisted.  Our newest signing might also gain a measure of confidence having done likewise.  Already (previous post comments), we’ve seen some debate about the relative contributions of Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain.  I’d give a shout out to the emerging right hand partnership of Chambers and the BFG and the two Spaniards who performed their duties well and showed a bit of their “technical superiority,” especially as the match moved on.   Kieran Gibbs and Koscielny on the (much) pacier (left) side of our defense (American spelling there…) also had good matches.  Szczesny stood tall in his one moment of true examination.  Best of all, maybe, is that we appeared to finish the match without any fresh candidates for the physio room.

Of course, that’s only amongst the players who actually played.   (Abou Diaby even looked alright after a full 90, even if it was only on the bench…)  A new group will surely come in for the midweek cup match to reveal further truths about the depth of the squad… Do we move on to predictions for that one or continue to breathe sighs (of relief) or dissect this one?

What say you Fine Fellow (maybe not Freaking Out–if only for a moment…) Gooners?

😀

Written by: 17highburyterrace

Ramsey and Monreal to start, FlamTeta to add solidity? Southampton preview

st_marys_stadium_panoramic

Tomorrow night sees a return to midweek Premier League fixtures and another test for Arsenal, this time at Southampton.  Our form has been very nice.  In fact, we haven’t dropped a point in our last 5 league matches (7 wins in all comps) and we’ve only conceded 2 goals along the way.  The only caveat would be that these (league) matches have all come against teams in the bottom 11 who are currently separated by a mere 6 points(!) and are ALL candidates for relegation this season.  Southampton are in another bracket, a full 7 points ahead of the relegation battlers, and 13 points above the drop zone itself.   Already this season they’ve taken points off both Manchester teams and won at Liverpool.  They will not be pushovers and to earn full points Arsenal must play at our best.

Starting 11

This period of more winnable league fixtures and FA cup matches has presented an opportunity for the manager to rotate players and allow others to rest, recover from injury and re-integrate into the team.  18 year old Serge Gnabry has performed exceptionally well over this period as has Jack Wilshere.  Both, I believe will be rested tomorrow, the latter having picked up a knock in the FA cup match vs Coventry City on Friday.   At his pre-match press conference Arsene Wenger suggested that Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Vermaelen (left out of the squad vs Coventry) are all back and available.  Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, whose last league start was on opening day vs Aston Villa, is still not 100% fit (according to the manager) and might also only merit a bench spot having played 70+ minutes vs Coventry.  Being a product of the So’ton youth academy, I’d expect him to receive a warm welcome when he (surely) comes on as a sub.  Finally, Kieran Gibbs, who played the entire match on Friday, might also need a breather as it was his first one back from a minor layoff.  As such, my guess for the starting line-up is as follows.

ars v southampton

It’s also possible that Ramsey might start in one of the “doublé-pivot” spots (alongside Arteta or Flamini) allowing Poldolski to reprise his successful (2 goal) outing from Friday.  Given that there seems to be greater acknowledgement that his fitness issues are long term, I suspect, however, that he only gets a bench spot.  Another player unmentioned in the press conference was Tomáš Rosický.  Hopefully he’s just getting used to his new face (after the nose break vs Aston Villa two weeks ago)…If he’s fit, he’s an excellent bench option but it might be nice to allow him further recovery time if it means a protective mask is not needed when he finally does play.

Scouting the Opponent—Biggest Signings Missing

Southampton, much like the current iteration of Arsenal, are a team built on defense but very capable in attack.  As such, I expect a tight match with both teams being cautious about committing too many resources forward.  The Saints will be buoyed by the return of starting goal keeper Artur Boruc even if he was at fault for the goal which turned the reverse fixture.  Unfortunately they will be missing £8.5 million CB Dejan Lovren.   Additionally, £12.5 million DM Victor Wanyama is listed as 50-50 in returning from a long-term leg injury.  Regardless of who starts in the defensive half—I would expect ALL of them to be a bit less cavalier with the ball this time around!

http://www.heavy.com/news/2013/11/olivier-giroud-goal-southampton-arthur-boruc/

In attack Southampton’s offense revolves around one of this season’s most improved players, Adam Llalana.  Capable of driving the team forward quickly, Llalana’s final ball has also made him plenty capable of notching both goals and assists.  He won’t have record signing (£15 million) Danny Osvaldo at his disposal after a practice-pitch fracas has brought his So’ton future into question.  Instead, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriquez will be Llalana’s most likely partners up front.   Another previous record signing, Gaston Ramirez, is also missing with an ankle problem.  Still, Arsenal will need to be well aware of precocious talents James Ward-Prowse and Luke Shaw who can both move the ball quickly from back to front and wide to central.

As strong and in-form as Arsenal is, this match represents a moment of moderate crisis for Southampton.  In addition to the troubles with Osvaldo and the injuries to their other big money players, Chief Executive Nicola Cortese has left the club and many believe manager Mauricio Pochettino could go next.  Additionally, while still clear of any relegation troubles, So’ton have been struggling with results.  They come into the match with a day less rest than us after beating Yeovil Town (2-nil at home) in the FA Cup but their league form has dropped off.  While they were getting points from teams above them earlier in the season, they themselves have dropped points in their most recent league match (2-2 at Sunderland) and wins over West Brom and Cardiff have been balanced by a home defeat to Spurs and a 3-nil at Chelsea.

Last Match Before the Transfer Window Closes

In his press conference AW played down any transfer talk including speculation about contract extensions.  Bacary Sagna’s contract situation was raised but the manager, while not saying the matter was settled, suggested that the player was fully committed to the cause.   In previous pressers, reports about fees being agreed between FC Schalke 04 and Arsenal for forward/winger Julian Draxler have been met by denials and smiles, which seems more promising than denials and frowns (or tirades).   Southampton have their own issues and it appears they might try and offload Osvaldo to West Ham (on loan) while they’ve had to beat back Chelsea’s attempts at tapping up FB Luke Shaw.  As soon as the final whistle goes, I would expect pointed questions about the transfer window directed at each manager.  This may be a match preview but feel free to discuss all things new and shiny… (As well as parsing each and every word/report/facial expression in regards to transfers and contract extension…)

Predictions?

None for me, but feel free.  This is another (and perhaps the sternest) in a great series of nerve testers before the (very) tough series of Liverpool away,  ManUnited home league matches, followed quickly by home matches vs Liverpool in the FA Cup and Bayern Munich in the Champions League Round of 16.  I’ve pointed out some of the promising features leading into this one, so I’ll predict a full 3 points for the Arsenal.  Anything less would have to be seen as a slip-up, but Southampton, their momentary troubles notwithstanding, should not be underestimated.   Given their comfort as a defense-first team, the first goal will be critical.  Go on you Gunners, Up the Arse, etc., etc., etc….

What do you think?…

 Written by: 17highburyterrace