What’s Up Arsene Wenger’s Sleeve?

And other musings….

Does Thierry know what Arsene's plans for the summer are? :)
Does Thierry know what Arsene’s plans are for the summer? 🙂

A question of class

Reflecting upon wild journalistic speculation about the future of our undisputed best-ever manager (regardless of what people may think about his current suitability for the job), and considering the repulsive conduct of Manchester United in jettisoning David Moyes, a few little thoughts have intruded upon my exam revision.

The first is this: what could be up Arsene Wenger’s sleeve?

Do we really need to win the FA Cup and qualify for the Champions League for him to stay? Or, does he already know he’s leaving?

I read a fairly well-reasoned article on goal.com that claimed that the top brass are basically of the opinion that if they have to appoint someone if AW was to jump ship, it will be for the relatively short term. Bearing in mind the (understandable) arguments being put forward in defence of the Glazers with regard to attracting top playing and coaching talent, namely that they needed to pull the trigger sooner rather than later, would AW, a man with Arsenal in his blood, who has nurtured the club for 18 years, and a man of no little insight, really do that to his baby? Douse his masterpiece in petrol and light a match? I don’t think so. I think whether he stays or goes, he already knows which he will choose. But why delay the announcement if he is going to stay?

I personally think a much classier thing for Man United to have done, would have been to line up a new manager for next season, take care of the legal stuff and then sit on it until the end of the season. But as soon as the thought formed in my head yesterday afternoon, I immediately started wondering whether that isn’t what Wenger and the board have done (which would be much easier to achieve with the current manager fully aware of the situation). Is Wenger’s gift to us more personally satisfying to the economist in him than to the part of all of us that wants us to win things?

My second question is: if Wenger has no intention of staying; not whom do we want, but what qualities would fellow Gooners like to see in our new manager?

For me, a lot more tactical dynamism would be essential.

Don’t get me wrong, I love AW and do not want to see him go. The breathtaking football we’ve produced in the past, coupled with the exceptional financial footing we now hav, convince me that Wenger deserves at least two more seasons (which according to reports is all he would accept in any case) to restore that kind of football – his lack of tactical manoeuvring notwithstanding.

However, who has not been driven mad by the times we fail to alter our style of play when the one with which we approached a match is manifestly not working? Or by what appears to be an occasional stubborn refusal to use substitutes sensibly?

Another thing I would like to see would be a willingness to drill the defence. Conceding 20 goals in four matches against the top five suggests to me that there is a basic lack of discipline in the defence, which has been exposed against teams capable of exploiting it. I don’t think we particularly need to change the personnel, but I think they are capable of more consistent competence than has been displayed this season (4 games conceding an average of 5 goals per game would not be consistently competent even if they were the only goals we’d conceded all season, although the blow would probably be softened by us winning the league).

My third question isn’t really much of a question, perhaps more of a muse: would AW really be that bothered by Arsenal fans turning on him?

I’m sure he didn’t sign Ozil because of the boos at the end of the Villa game. He’s a fairly resilient guy, as would I be if it was earning me £6-7m a year. He didn’t sell Vieira, Henry, Gilberto, Fabregas, etc because he thought they would be popular moves. I think he believes in himself enough to carry on if that’s what he wants to do and I don’t think a few fans wanting him out would be enough to influence his decision.

Final question: what would each of us prefer to happen?

I want him to stay. If he does stay I want fans to return the loyalty he has shown to the club and which the board has afforded him, and happily that is also what the decision makers at the club have done (although AW is the sole decision maker at AFC anyway). Then at the end of a glorious two years in which we win the quadruple twice, get someone in with the qualities I outlined above.

If he goes, I hope we’ve already dotted the lower case j’s and crossed the t’s on his successor, who will have more energy, more tactical and transfer nous, and a disciplined approach to defence than AW.

So:

  1.       What is up AW’s sleeve?
  2.       What qualities do we want in our new manager?
  3.       Would Wenger really run off crying because a few fans don’t share his vision?
  4.       What would we prefer to happen?

What do my fine fellow Gooners think?

Written by: Josefos2013

Message from TotalArsenal:

Bergkampesque wants Sagna to stay and you can show your support by posting ‘Bacary Sign da Ting!!!’

sign da ting

 

 

Arsenal start games too slowly and need to be more aggressive: debate!

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Remember how we blitzed Napoli almost five months ago? 15 minutes of fantastic, high-tempo and aggressive football and the game was more or less in the bag with two fine goals by Ozil and Giroud.

And what about our recent away match at Villa: two goals in equally as many minutes – in the 34th and 35th minute by Wilshere and Giroud – and the game was practically won (although we still made it hard for ourselves in the second half).

But these examples are among the few exceptions to the rule, as Arsenal tend to start slow and seldom score during the first third of our games.

Of all our Premier League goals, only 20% are scored during the first thirty minutes of the games; and between the 30th and 60th minutes we score 28%, which is relatively low as well. So, believe it or not, 51% of our PL goals are scored between the 60th and 90th+ minutes.

This raises the questions why this is the case, and whether it is good or bad.

Looking at our title rivals this season, it becomes clear Arsenal score more goals in the final third than the other teams by a margin, and we are the least prolific of all the teams in the first and second thirds of the games in the 2013-2014 season (stats from http://www.premierleague.com):

Team/Period of games when PL goals are scored First third Second third Final third Total PL Goals Total PL Goals Conceded
Arsenal 20% 28% 51% 48 26
Mansour City 27% 39% 34% 68 27
Chavs 24% 37% 40% 48 21
Pool 38% 38% 25% 66 32

What is also quite interesting to note is that simply scoring a lot of goals is no guarantee for success, as MC and Pool demonstrate: both have scored significantly more than Arsenal and the Chavs and yet they are not in the lead.

This season, Arsenal and the Chavs play a more defensively solid game and both teams score the majority of their goals in the third part of their matches (especially Arsenal). MC and Pool play a more ‘full on attacking’ style of football and score more goals, but also concede more.

Despite Arsenal having conceded almost as many goals as MC – mainly skewed by the losses to Pool and MC – we have managed an impressive 46% of clean, whereas the Northern Oilers only achieved 36% of clean sheets (Chavs 42% and Pool a meagre 27%).

As the above demonstrates once again, there is a fine balance between attacking and defending and non of the current top four clubs have been able to get it right until now, which in my view is the main reason why it is still so tight at the top.

So, just for a bit of fun, here are some questions for a ‘heated debate’ 🙂 :

  1. Why do Arsenal score relatively so few goals early on, and so many late in the game?
  2. Is this good or bad, or does it not matter at all?
  3. Should Arsenal start more aggressive/take more risks in games and try harder to score more goals early on?
  4. What would be the overall effect?
  5. What would you do for the rest of the season, to remain defensively solid and yet score more goals?
  6. How should we play against the ‘top teams’ to get more points in these games?

TotalArsenal.

23 December 2013: the day Arsene mastered and embarrassed Mourinho

Arsène Wenger will listen to constructive criticism about Arsenal but not opinions based on hunches

Wenger turns Machiavellian to expose Maureen’s Achilles Heel

Last month’s game against the Chavs was one of the most boring we have seen in a while. Many fellow Gooners felt we should have made a ‘statement of intent’ by giving our all to smash Maureen’s Chelsea at our 10th attempt. A win over him at the Emirates would indeed have been a very welcome early Christmas present, but it was unrealistic to expect it.

Furthermore, for any top team to beat a Maureen-team, they will have to take a lot of risk by attacking in numbers and leaving the back exposed, and it could all have ended up easily in disaster. It is exactly what the self-adoring one wants and many have fallen for it in the past; and so have we. Last month,Wenger showed he has learned his lesson as he was able to contain himself; and for that I salute him.

Despite having produced some very fine footballers over the years, the Portuguese are not renowned for spectacular football. They are, for example, the nemesis of Dutch football, both at club and national level. They love to defend and absorb pressure and then beat teams on the counter, and, as we all know, Jose Mourinho is the management-embodiment of this style of football – and AVB is made of the same cloth.

It is all fine as long as the opposition is prepared to play along: to attack – and therefore take risk – and take the game to them. If they don’t, but play safe themselves as well, the game will turn into a boring Chess game. If all teams play like Maureen-teams very few people would still enjoy football. As such, Maureen lives of the goodwill to entertain of others, especially against the top teams – pretty similar to a parasite.

Last month, on a ‘special Monday’, hundreds of millions of supporters and neutrals were treated to a horrible, double-antler of a footballer game, and the main culprit for this is Mourinho. He has been under pressure for a long time to play more attractive, attacking football, with the only exception – unsurprisingly – during his Inter spell. Against the top teams, Maureen is totally dependent on others wanting to play attacking football in order for a game to turn into something watchable. The Chelsea stinking rich owner wants him to change but fat chance for that.

For once, Wenger decided not to play along with the Chelsea manager and by doing so the game turned ugly: slow, unimaginative football with very few chances and little to cheer about. It was a price we had to pay for the greater, long term good of the club in my opinion. Mourinho’s comment that Arsenal had been boring must have been music to Arsene’s ears: it showed he had finally gotten under his skin. With accusing Arsene of playing boring football Maureen had made a fool of himself.

Wrongly, Arsene is often accused of lacking behind in the tactics department compared to Mourinho. The Frenchman does not rate game-specific tactics as highly as the Portuguese does, but it does not mean he is not capable of applying it if required. Arsene has his team(s) play a style of football that should conquer all without having to adjust much, if at all, to the opposition. The aim is to play attractive, winning ‘total’ football that inspires football fans around the world. And Wenger will always be remembered for this ambition and ability; unlike the current Chelsea manager, who will end up with more medals but shall never be remembered for his lasting contributions to the beautiful game.

Arsene has not got a team right now, or at least they are not ready yet, to play such football against the bigger teams and come out victoriously every time. And against a Maureen-team he will need a super team, especially when he puts three defence-minded midfielders in front of his back-four with the aim to kill us on the counter (the most basic ‘tactics’ in football).

Beating Chelsea before Christmas would have been brilliant but the risk of losing was too big this time. And had Giroud been just that little bit more sharp and lucky, we might have done just that.

I reckon when we will look back at the end of the season, we will all recognise the significance of Arsene’s tactics on that day. It was short term pain for long term gain. Well done Arsene.

Written by: TotalArsenal.

How can Arsenal win the title? Your advice to Arsene Wenger

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Isn’t fantastic, even a bit surreal, for Arsenal to still be top of the league at the start of 2014? I am always hopeful – even confident – we do well at the start of the season but to be ahead of the Oilers – South and North – and eleven points better off than Manure is well beyond my expectation.

It looks like the battle for the title will be between the Oilers and us. I expect Liverpool to come close to us one more time this season, but it looks like they have not got enough to really push us for the title. It is of course still early days to start pulling conclusions, but as we have played all the teams at least once now, we can say we were not embarrassed by any of them, except maybe the Northern Oilers who caught us at our weakest moment and at their ground. I wonder where we would be right now if we had played ManCity at the home of football and less fatigued: we could be five, even seven points clear from them now.

We also had bad games against Villa at home and Manure away. The former can happen but the latter was more than a bit disappointing, although we should take into account the fatigue factor as well after two big battles – and well earned wins – against Liverpool and Dortmund in the week prior to that match.

We played two of our three hardest away games already (both Manchester clubs), with the Chavs game still to come. We also have to go to the great football city of Liverpool, where we have to play both high-flying teams. Our recent record against Everton and Liverpool is good, but this year round it will be hard to take six points from the North-West.

I reckon we will battle it out with Chelsea and ManCity for the title right till the end. MC have the far harder second part of the season with away games against Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton, Manure, and Spuds still to come. Given that they have been quite poor away from home, there is real hope they will fall away gradually despite their impeccable home record.

The hardest challenge for the title is most likely to come from Maureen’s Chavs, who have played most top teams away already (only fellow Oilers to play away) and are starting to find more consistency in their away performances. If they can improve their away form further, it will be very hard for us to beat them to the title, I fear.

It amazes me how many pundits make excuses for Maureen’s current team – some even feel he is doing really well ‘given the circumstances’. Chelsea are apparently missing a striker, but they are having a laugh with the likes of Torres, Eto, Demba Ba and Schurrle in the team.

Chelsea, with Maureen’s natural safe (yes boring), defensive football style and an embarrassment of riches in midfield and attack are of course the favourites for the title. If we were to beat them to it, Arsene will have done extremely well IMO. To achieve this, we will need a lot of luck and to reinvigorate the team through tactical changes and/or arrival of new players in this transfer window….. or should we stick to what we have and how we play and change nothing…..

My question to you, fine fellow Gooners is:

Can Arsenal win the title this year, and what do we need to do to achieve it?

Imagine – as just a bit of fun – you have one minute in a lift going up with Arsene Wenger today, and he asks you what you would do/change to win the title this year: what would you say?

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Were Arsenal hurt by conservative tactics and rotation?

Arsenal-Everton 1-1: Great match, disappointing result?

Sunday’s line-up:

ars v eve actual

High flying Everton, fresh off victory at Old Trafford came to North London full of confidence and with nothing to lose.  From the kickoff a pattern of Everton pace and width with repeated balls into Chelsea man Romelu Lukaku would be the tactic–a means of bypassing Arsenal’s packed 5 man midfield.

Early on Everton, to their credit, performed like the home team and Arsenal were often pegged into our own half.  Playing on the break, we seemed limited by Giroud’s lack of pace and the midfielders lack of sureness as to whether they should make the forward run.  Additionally, with only Giroud as a target (and nobody to really aim his headed ball towards), Szczesny’s (much improved) clearances never posed a real threat when we did go “Route One.”

By contrast Everton presented a strong attack and seemed happy to play the ball forward quickly.  Barkley, Mirallas, Pienaar and the two fullbacks, Coleman and Oviedo all pressed well and pushed forward while ManCity man Gareth Barry anchored their shape.  Still, beyond a few dangerous looking whipped crosses, which found only our heads or open spaces, they were limited to long, wide angle shots.  In the first half, Szczesny did not have a save to make.

Arsenal came into the match as the half wore on and in the 27th minute we almost took the lead on a cross from Cazorla to Gibbs in the 6 yard box.  Only a slight deflection (unseen by the linesmen—a goal kick instead of a corner was given) prevented a sure goal.  As the half wound down, Arsenal forced two smart saves from Tim Howard after nice combination work from Ozil, Giroud and Ramsey.   Still, possession stats corroborated Everton’s dominance: 62% to our 38% showed just how much we had struggled to force the game to our will.

While I find great satisfaction in watching Arsenal defend with calmness and confidence, I do feel we will struggle for results if we cede so much possession.   It could be argued that Arsene Wenger’s desire to have a 5 man midfield was undermined by his reliance on a combination of younger,  relatively inexperienced players (Wilshere, Ramsey) and older, smaller, less mobile guys (Arteta, Cazorla), all of whom left both new man Ozil and our big fella up front (Giroud) somewhat isolated.   I would add that our attempt to play the match in a good spirit, rather than indulging referee Howard Webb’s well known tendency to use his whistle near the center circle, was somewhat naïve.  Misplaced balls, often under strong Everton pressure, were a key feature of the first period.  A final area of complaint might be the ineffectiveness of our fullbacks going forward…  Crosses beyond our attackers are another quick route to lost possession…

2nd Half

We picked up where we had left off and our possession game looked far better in the early part of the 2nd half.  We certainly seemed on top as the hour mark came and went.  While I thinking that Wenger had given Roberto Martinez the upper hand by not starting Theo Walcott and giving us a threat of pace on the break, I was no less than stunned when he did go to the bench in the 68th minute.   A triple change of Walcott, Rosicky and Flamini entered the game at the expense of Wilshere, Ramsey and Cazorla and immediately made us look a greater threat and more solid in the middle of the pitch (Flamini clearly taking a leadership role…), but time was running short.  It was quite a roll of the dice and left us zero flexibility in case a player picked up a knock or the nature of the match was altered by a goal.

Did it also indicate a touch of regret regarding the starting 11?…

Finally, in the 80th minute Rosicky found Walcott in the box and a wise header down to Giroud looked a sure goal.  Possibly held back or fouled by Jagielka, our big man whiffed his effort but Ozil was there to smash it into the top of the net.  The 3 points seemed ours!

Unfortunately, Martinez had just brought in Barca boy Gerard Deulofeu.  Soon after, on a broken play and over-hit cross, the youngster was able to freeze the ball and defender Kieran Gibbs with a series of quick right footed touches and an even quicker shot of extreme power: he blasted the ball past Scszesny.   The shot seemed both block-able and save-able but the talent and skill of the Deulofeu should probably be saluted.  Gibbs had Rosicky protecting any move to the left so perhaps he should have done more to force the very right-footed young attacker back towards the center.

The match still had several minutes remaining and both teams seemed determined to try and find a winner, but Arsenal, stunned by the goal, had trouble wresting possession and Everton looked the more likely team to grab a late winner.  Lukaku, put onside by a Gibbs touch, had their best chance in the 88th minute but Scszesny was well aware to the danger.  A Walcott cross almost found Koscielny in the 90thminute and Flamini had a swing (and a miss) at a tough angled volley with Howard out of the goal, but closest of them all was a stunning turn and shot by Giroud that beat Howard but rattled off the junction of post and crossbar.     So close, but so far away…

It finished 1-1 and while disappointed that we didn’t take all three points and open up a seven point lead I’m still satisfied with our performance.  We must sometimes salute a strong opponent and a thrilling match played in a good spirit, I believe.  The trip to ManchesterCity will surely be very difficult but then there is time to regroup before the visit of Chelsea.   Of course, before those two is the difficult trip to Napoli where we must finish off our Champions’ League group.

I think we may have been hurt by Wenger’s conservative tactical and rotational approach to the match.  Arteta has been a rock as our deep lying midfielder but with youngster Jenkinson in for (injured) Sagna we may have needed a second rock in that part of the pitch.  We looked more solid once Flamini entered the match. Additionally, with Everton pushing the ball up field quickly and using their Fullbacks as attackers we might’ve tried to match their pace with our own in Theo Walcott. Sagna also provides a secondary target for long balls from Scszesny and that tactic seemed particular ineffective without him.  Last season, when we played plenty of “Route One,” Walcott’s runs off Giroud and Sagna headers were always something defenses had to respect.  I also believe that Gibbs, while being the better athlete and a great “recovery” defender, isn’t as good a possession and “intelligence” player as Nacho Monreal.  Did we suffer just that little bit from Wenger’s change at LB?

Finally, I believe we need to be better at adapting to pressing teams with quick passing, better outlets and using the protection of the referee when needed.  Young Ramsey (who frankly had an off day by his recent high standards–sorry, no player ratings for me…) and Wilshere need to move and pass more and carry the ball (or try fancy flicks) a bit less.  That they were both sacrificed, along with Cazorla, who often looks physically over-matched in open, fast paced games, was not a surprise.  We may have to re-jig our starting 11 ever so slightly against the more physical, quicker teams.

So, while we have some issues the team is still growing and obviously working together.  It is a disappointing result but I believe one that will toughen our resolve and move us forward.  Not the best way to start the brutal run of three (very big) matches in less than 6 days, but also not the worst.

Longer term, Everton are a much improved team under Martinez (did they miss Moyes big “targets,” Fellaini and Baines, today?) and a good bet in the battle for Champions’ League spots.  Unfortunately they’re heavily reliant on Lukaku, Barry and Deulofeu who are theirs on loan only.  Wenger’s words about current loan policy loom large if Chelsea and City are to be considered our biggest league rivals.  Will any (or all) of the three be recalled in the January window?  We know they won’t play in matches against their parent clubs, which surely doesn’t seem correct…

We take a five point lead going forward.  Not as good as seven but we also carry a fighting spirit that I’m not sure our rivals possess.   A big month looms and then we may need to make adjustments in the New Year and the January window.  All told, consider me excited by today’s match and our prospects…

How ‘bout you?…

 Written by: 17highburyterrace

How can Arsenal improve further? Transition, Transition, Transition!

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It’s all about the transition!

There has been recent commentary on a range of tactics and what makes us succeed or appear to be less successful. In particular, the area around defense and how we defend has arisen with strong sentiments around Arsenal “allowing” other teams to score or laying too far back.. In my opinion, no one is allowed to score, but the game is, in fact, a game, which implies both teams have a say in the outcome. Which is to say this isn’t La Liga with (nowadays) 3 teams beating up the rest who are of a clearly lesser level in many cases.

So, what is it about? What differentiates our successful periods from periods less dominant? Some say it is Flamini, no Flame, no game, might be the succinct response. Others imply we relax after scoring early and let others back in the game. Still more point at supposed weaker links, Arteta or Scz, or immobile Germans for defensive issues.

To me, in my analytical way, experience says two things:

1. There are two phases to the game – when you have the ball and when you don’t.

2. There are three often interchanging roles of each team in a game – on top, even handed, and behind the 8-ball, which is to say pressurizing and under pressure, with the middle being the arm wrestle tussle for control.

Equally, a physicist will tell you that if you expend excessive energy with the ball and pressurizing, you will, in a zero sum game, have to rest at some other time (and be pressurized). In contrast, a serious football fan will tell you to never give up the initiative. I will tell you that football is all about being able to count to 3 or 4, a game of numbers.

More succinctly, most goals come from gaining numerical advantage. Even JWs wonder goal #1 vs Norwich had local 2-1 advantage for every touch to break through 4 people (2-1 at a time).

Finally, however, it is a game and both sides play a role and try their best. Especially in the EPL, where the guaranteed wins have come fewer and harder every year of recent. Only Sunderland seem a sure bet right now and even that will possibly change before they are relegated (as seems likely at the moment).

So, what makes Arsenal right? And what is different when we are “wrong” or “off”? How do we maximise our numbers and minimise the opponents?

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To me it’s all about the transition. Every team plays with and without the ball. The critical moments are what occur right after the ball changes hands and how one “finds numbers”.

For the moment let’s presume that we lose the ball and the other team (Whomever FC) do not immediately hoik it up field or turn it back (i.e. they aren’t Stoke and act rationally). What happens next or should happen next.

When we are going well: We race back and get in front of the ball which is critical to making sure the opposition do not get numbers. Hence, we all love fast counters because they give you numbers and we all groan when the ball goes sideways on a rapid Arsenal counter.

The entire goal is to get in front, with reasonable shape (2-3 layers) and, this is the key, aggressively front the ball. That aggressive first “fronting up”  should push the ball sideways and slow the opposition transition.

The next key step is shape and aggressively moving forward, as a unit, so that the next pass goes back and then the next…

When we are successful, we bully teams back into their own end, even without the ball! When we are not they are allowed to play or move to easily.

Flamini gives us a lot of this “first fronting up” which allows players to get back, as well as the vocal organisation. If there was an argument “against” Arteta it is that he is perhaps too passive this way in comparison and a little too passive on the counter (when we are on offence). Not always but enough. Hence, Flamini’s importance, but, an importance that can be replicated.

The benchmark is Napoli, this year at least, and watch the game again at Arsenal.com and you will see that we never let them get a free forward pass with the ball, or barely so. Aggressively fronting through most of the game we bullied them time and again into passing all the way back to Reina. Not beautiful Wenger-ball perhaps but beautiful to watch and a sign of utter domination. Combined with incisive attack finding numbers and advantage versus an increasingly frustrated and confused opposition, and the outcome was certain.

When we are not going well: Well just the opposite, too passive and too slow to front the ball. The opposition gets better numbers or is allowed the opportunity to find them. Our slack period as we caught our breath was about this. We didn’t adapt tactics and effort to be more solid, and to me, it starts with someone getting in the face of the ball carrier. Without Flamini it was likely needing to be Cazorla (fatigued) and JW along with Arteta and Ramsey. If one is missing and the opposition comes through that area…

IMO, here is where JW is weak. He is aggressive as hell at coming back but doesn’t get in front preferring to come from behind or the side. As a result, he either gets the ball (good) or fails and doesn’t force the attack to slow, instead inadvertently actually pushing it forward (bad). It’s also where Rosicky is better or more experienced. Its not all JWs fault by any means but you defend as a team and if one or more elements aren’t in synch..

On attack you ask? Well the same holds in reverse really. When we go well we are incisive and forward. This is where Ozil has really helped us be more direct, and where, again if you want to see Arteta as a negative, he is perhaps a touch more cautious. Equally, JW at his best drives the game forward and finds numbers, TR the same, which is why they are always “visible” when going well on attack.

Equally, in this context, one could readily argue that JWs goal vs Norwich was Norwich allowing Arsenal to aggressively strike forward to find numbers 2-1 each time to remove a player in what was at the outside 3 vs 5. IMO, that’s unfair to Norwich and Arsenal as that was perfect aggressive play and not much stops that!

So, in summary, no one can dominate all of a game and all of the ball. There will always be times when we don’t have it and where after huge efforts on our part the other team is dominant. It’s how we respond and the basics we follow that, to me, determine the outcome.

In fact, I like it this way. It’s a game and if the other side has no chance what’s the fun? Better then to root for the underdog which is about all the fun there is to be had (again my opinion) in any Barca game that isn’t vs RM or Atletico. No games at all are like that in the EPL these days based on recent results that have helped put our team at the top of the table.

Finally, it is all about the players. If I examine our team now, I would say that Flamini is the glue that stops opposition transition the best and that makes a huge difference to half our game. Ozil, as is well discussed, adds the incisiveness we lacked last year as well as another SQ threat with Santi, and the super emergence of AR and OG this year. Questions, they come around Arteta adapting just a little in my opinion and JW, as he comes into form, finding the defensive half of his game gaining maturity. These will both come with time.

So, what do you think? Football is a very simple game with a at least a billion interpretations on how to play it best. Hopefully, this note at least fills the period between what I hope is a great, pressuring, perfectly transitioning domination of Dortmund and the weekend vs CrystalPalace!

To me it’s all about the balance defined by how we transition and thus whether we can dominate the ability and opportunities to find numbers and advantage or if we have to rely, as we did all too often in past on some magic from one or another player.

This year, I think we have the team to not to have to rely on magic too often … which is the first time since perhaps 2004ish and thus very good!! As long as we stay solid in the transition!

And a last question, if with way of looking at it in mind you could get any player in January who is it and why will they help us in transition?

Written by: JGC

Thoughts on Arsenal after watching Dortmund v Bayern

Thanking the Guardian for being able to copy their pictures of the Bayern - Arsenal CL match.

I watched the Dortmund – Bayern German ‘Super Cup’ game yesterday to see how they would get on and what sort of system of football they would play. If anything, it proved to me once more that both managers and football systems are equally important as (the quality of the) players. I also wanted to see how their systems of football compared to what we have seen from Arsenal this early season, albeit against weaker opposition.

Dortmund were deserved 4-2 winners, as they played the better football throughout the game, except for a couple of short spells when Bayern were able to assert some pressure on them. Dortmund played very similar football to us, operating as a solid unit in front of their back-four and turning from defence into attack in a flash, with quick balls over the top for Lewandowski or, the once again very impressive, Reus to capitalise on – they should have been 3-0 up after just twenty minutes played.

When Die Borussen had the ball in front of the Bayern box they were able to play the passing triangles to pick holes in a surprisingly weak Lederhosen defence, and get themselves into fine scoring positions.

Bayern were less comfortable in controlling the game by playing the ball round in order to create well thought-through attacks, and they were also sluggish in their turn-arounds most of the time. They really missed Schweinsteiger to help them control midfield; the not fully fit German only came on when it was already too late.

Bayern seemed to be playing in a 4-1-4-1 formation which is a reflection of Guardiola’s desire to keep the ball as much as possible in the opposition’s half. But, to his agitation, his players did not work hard enough, and the Dortmund midfielders were very good at keeping the ball and passing their way through Bayern’s midfield with relative ease.

They did not seem to miss their own traitor, Gotze, much as Gündoğan took over from him almost seamlessly. This is once again proof how good a manager Klopp is, who focuses on the system of football he wants to play and then fits players into it, rather than the other way around.

It was also interesting to see that most goals were instigated from the wing, and how much havoc was created in both Bayern and Dortmund’s defence from these areas in general. Good wing play, whether from the wingers or the full backs, is absolutely essential, and both German teams are very well equipped in these areas.

Comparing Arsenal with both of last season’s CL finalists, I can confidently say that our system of football is pretty similar to that of Dortmund.

In the last four games, we have seen a pattern of:

  • Playing relatively compact at the back with two DM keeping everything tight and organised;
  • Quick turn-arounds from defence to attack with balls over the top as well as diagonal balls to launch a winger from our own half (mostly Theo).
  • Better organised in defence, with Mertesacker leading it and both Koz and Sagna playing good too;
  • Good use of the wings with mostly ‘proper wingers’ using speed and skill to get behind defences;
  • Good, intricate and patient passing of the ball whilst trying to find a deadly opening when playing in and around the opposition’s box;
  • Being very direct when chances occur, having led to us scoring a lot of goals in pre-season.

I really like what I saw from Arsenal until now and it shows what Arsene and Steve can do with this team when they can have, and keep, them together. We now need to see how our team will hold out against tougher competition and we will have ample opportunity to test this in the next two weeks.

Although I would be delighted to add a super quality player to the squad this summer – especially somebody who won the CL recently would be very good to add – I am just as keen to get solid back-up for the likes of Arteta, Mertesacker (or Sagna if he is to become our fourth choice CB), Giroud and possible Szczesny, although Fabianski has been doing more than okay until now.

This, rather than the signing of three or more world-class players as so many seem to want, is key; and I am confident it will happen this summer.

If we can strengthen our spine and add one quality attacker, Arsenal could go far this summer, and I don’t think we would be far away from Europe’s club finalists at all.

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Wilshere B2B – Rooney ‘in the hole’ – Theo ST: a mouth-watering prospect?!

Let’s take a break for a day or two from the ‘what if Arsenal do not sign anybody’ posts, and indulge in a bit of transfer window fantasy football.

I don’t know what to make of the rumours re Rooney coming to Arsenal. My first instinct tells me it is never going to happen, and so it probably won’t. He would be too expensive for us and he appears to be motivated more by money than playing proper football; so if he is at all to leave MU, I reckon it will be for PSG or maybe even Chelsea or MC.

But the links, however tenuous,  continue and it would be worthwhile to discuss how WR could fit into our team next season.

I reckon Rooney would be ideal to play in the hole at Arsenal. He would be  allowed to totally enjoy himself there in a similar way as Cesc and Dennis once did.  He is the perfect mix between an attacking midfielder – with good ball control, passing (including deadly through-balls) and overview – and can score goals from outside and inside the box. He also has very good body strength, bags full of stamina and a winner’s attitude.

With Arsenal opting for a future English core within the team, it would make sense to get an experienced, quality, fellow English player to lead the way and mentor our talents. WR could become the link player between our biggest talents in the middle and up-front: Jack and Theo, and possibly Ox as well.

The thought of Jack – Rooney – Theo in the attacking part of our spine next season is a mouth-watering prospect to me, especially if they can be supported by the likes of Giroud, Santi and Pod up-front.

Just imagine us starting with this line-up next season:

Arsenal with Rooney

Tactically, it would make real sense to get Rooney and become the attacking pivot of the team. Jack would blossom working with Rooney and Theo could lead the line knowing he has a physically and technically competent striker behind him in support.

Both Cazorla and Pod would get an experienced, quality colleague who would provide them with some fine service, as well as be able to finish off the chances they create for him. And Ox could become Rooney’s understudy and eventual replacement.

I am also sure that not many will begrudge Rooney his top wages, although Cazorla could claim a rise for himself (which many of us will agree he deserves after a fine first season).

I’d rather have Cesc back though, and I am also very excited about Jovetic, but if they don’t work out and Rooney wants to play proper footie and give his career a new life, and he would come to Arsenal with real desire to make a difference,  I would welcome him to the home of football.

Would you agree?

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Van Gaal – Klopp – Wenger: The good guys haven’t lost yet!

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Call me a romantic fool as much as you like, but football should never be totally ruled by money. It saddens me that clubs like Everton, Villa, Newcastle United, West Ham, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and many, many more will probably not win the title in the next twenty to thirty years; they have not got a snowball’s chance in hell, unless they find an oligarch or other rich benefactor.

It makes me think of Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Everybody Knows’:

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

You could argue, as a Gooner, I should not be too upset about this at all. We are in a very good position, financially as well as from a sporting point of view, as a next round of CL-participation is once again within our reach. The stadium debt is under control and the club generates the fourth highest turnover in Europe: all ingredients are there to compete sensibly and yet effectively with the old fellow giants, MU and Liverpool, as well as the oil-funded nouveau riche, in the foreseeable future.

But I would much rather prefer proper competition, and as per Red Arse’s recent fantastic posts, there is little reason to be hopeful that FFP will increase the chances of other English clubs winning the EPL or CL in future.

It does indeed feel that the war is over and the good guys have lost. Unless, another English/Welsh club can find itself a very rich, money-no-object, benefactor, or the Oilers get bored with their plaything, the top-four over the next ten to twenty years will almost constantly be occupied by Arsenal, Chelsea, MU and MC.

But even within the top-four there is a battle raging and it is all to do with the meaning of money. And Arsenal run a considerable risk of coming close, but seldom or never be able to put their well deserving hands on meaningful silverware, whilst still remaining in the elite group of four (or maybe five, if Liverpool can work themselves back up again).

A similar battle is taking place in other European countries.

In Spain the war is definitely over as Barcelona and Real Madrid have managed to get the lion-share of all the TV money that is generated by La Liga, and these two clubs will simply continue to cream off any talents that might develop at all the other Spanish clubs. It looked for a while that Malaga, funded by oil-money, might be able to join them in the fight for Spanish silverware, but that ship seems to have sailed now as well.

In Germany, the competition appears to be fairer with five different Bundesliga winners over the last ten years, even though Bayern Munich are the most powerful club, both historically and financially. But this might all change now, as only Bayern seem to be able to keep hold of their top players, whilst all other German clubs watch their top talents being creamed off by the Spanish, Italian and English top-clubs or, even worse for local competition, by FC Hollywood themselves. The purchase of Gotze (and possibly Lewandowski) by Bayern from Dortmund is clear evidence of this. Although, it is fair to say that Dortmund do the same to their domestic rivals to some extent as well.

And let’s not talk about the Italian competition: a total shambles in recent years.

Nous versus the power of money: Ajax vs PSV Eindhoven

I grew up in The Netherlands were the competition was mainly dominated for a long time by just two clubs: Ajax and PSV, with Feyenoord now and again winning a title as well. The former was, and still is, almost always looking to play a form of total football and build teams predominantly on the best ‘outputs’ of their youth development scheme, whilst the Philips sponsored and, until recently, generally richer ‘Eindhovenaren’ preferred to buy the best from the Dutch league and whoever they could afford and attract from abroad.

Although I have never supported either Ajax or PSV – Roda JC is my boyhood club – I always felt more affinity with the Ajax model of managing a club and wanting to be successful. It has led to better, more attractive football, more success/silverware, and also more respect across the world. Ajax played some of the best football ever seen and produced an incredible number of phenomenally good footballers over the decades. And nothing is more attractive and laudable than beautiful winning football.

And I believe, it’s me growing up with both models of football which has made me divide most, if not all, successful football in either the Ajax-model: total football, home-grown players, and based around sensible club management; or the PSV-model: classic football – either more attack focussed or defence focussed – mainly externally purchased players, and based around financial power/dominance within the local league.

With the arrival of oligarchs in the UK and across Europe, the ‘PSV-model’ has become more dominant recently. Chelsea and ManCity have forced themselves into the top four and onto silverware by buying the best players and paying through the nose for them, and the same is happening now in France and Russia. And I am sure more is to come.

Add to those, the might of the traditionally rich and powerful, and ‘PSV-alike’, clubs: Manchester United in the UK, Bayern in Germany, and Real Madrid in Spain, and you can see that the clubs who are less rich but try to win things with football nous and bottom-up development of talents are suffering at the moment.

There is a growing unease, especially here in the UK, that the ‘Ajax-modelled’ clubs are fighting a losing battle, and that the only way to compete is by (out) spending big: fighting fire with fire. For that we would need our existing two main shareholders to dig deep into their considerable pockets or get somebody else in who is prepared to bring in the big guns and knock the arrogant Mancs of their throne.

I personally hope it will not come to that, and there is good reason to remain optimistic. Just like Van Gaal did with Ajax in the nineties, and to some extent Arsene did with Arsenal in the last decade, Jurgen Klopp is showing us all again that with real football nous, the (financial) Giants – old or new – can still be beaten. And this should give hope to Arsenal, and the likes of Swansea and Liverpool who are going down a similar path as us.

The key principle here is to play a form of total football that can conquer all, and in which individual players become less important than the system of football and the team as a whole. Everybody knows their role(s) within the team and can be replaced without much or any loss in quality. The system of (total) football is so good that the whole of the team becomes a lot more than the sum of all individual players.

Van Gaal mastered this principle as no other in the mid-nineties, when his Ajax won the CL with a team of youngsters and good but definitely not established, great players (except for veteran Rijkaard). This was the team that beat start-studded Milan twice on the way to CL glory in ‘95: Van de Sar, Reiziger, Blind, Rijkaard, F. de Boer, Seedorf, George, Davids, R. de Boer, Litmanen and Overmars. Overmars and Davids were 22, and Seedorf and Kluivert (who came on as a substitute and scored the only goal of the final) were both under 20. Van Gaal almost did it again the year after but Ajax lost against Juventus in the CL final on penalties (the nemesis of Dutch football).

We all know how Arsene slowly but steadily build and bought together the Invincilbes, and how he has been investing a lot in developing his teams bottom-upwards, through focussing on young and promising players and developing them into top players, over the last eight years or so. He showed the rest of the UK, and to some extent Europe, that you do not need to buy established top quality players in order to compete. However, he was not able to hold on to his best home-grown players in recent years, and this has cost us dearly. And the desperation for Silverware is increasing rapidly year on year…

And then finally, there is Dortmund who under Klopp’s expert guidance are playing a new and exciting brand of total football and who, until now, appear to be immune to losing a quality player every season. For Klopp, individual players are not above the club or the system of his football, and if a player really wants to leave, he can do so. Klopp seems to find like-for-like, or sometimes even better, replacements with relative ease. Two Bundesliga titles in three year, one cup (and one double), and now in the final of the CL after beaten the Galacticos in style: some achievement!

And we can draw hope from Die Schwarzgelben recent successes. 

Now that we appear to be over the financial restraints of building the new football ground, Arsene, although in a more challenging domestic set-up than Klopp in terms of competition, should be able to hold on better to his players and start adding quality rather than having to find replacements with a limited budget.

Let’s hold on a bit longer and keep the Oligarchs away from our fine club: the home of football. The good guys have not lost, yet!

Written by: TotalArsenal.

THE revolution Arsenal cannot afford to miss out on this summer

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It was back in days when Serie A was the strongest league in the world, season 1999-2000. Alessandro Del Piero only returned from a horrible injury and desperately needed a goal from open play. Referees in Italy – as you might know – gave penalties for bianconeri on regular basis, and Del Piero scored them regularly, but the problem was that he had failed to score from open play in the first 21 matches of the league.

Week 22 gave Juventus an easy fixture at Venice against Venezia. Del Piero scored a penalty in the first half and a strong Juventus side that included such players as Van der Sar, Davids and Zidane didn’t have a lot of problems to score a few more goals. Del Piero had two chances to score himself from open play but his team-mate Filippo Inzaghi took all the glory in both occasions – first he decided to round the goalkeeper instead of passing the ball to Del Piero, who would have had an empty goal in front of him – and the second time, after his first shot was saved by the Venezia goalkeeper, he scored from the rebound instead of passing the ball to Del Piero, who was in better position. Inzaghi himself completed a hat-trick, but those goals turned some Juventus fans against him – he could and should have helped Del Piero to restore his confidence, but his hunger for goals was stronger.

A real poacher is a bit selfish, it’s something that goes with jersey No.9 (and I don’t mean jersey No.9 that Khalid Boulahrouz used to wear for the Chavs), but Inzaghi went over the limits. Nobody can deny Inzaghi was one of the best goal-scorers in the history of Serie A, and one who actually scored important goals (like that lucky brace against Liverpool in Champions’ League Final 2007) worthy of trophies.

I have been very critical regarding our pre-season. If you ask me, it is rather unacceptable that we had had just one pre-season match with all our players, including three reinforcements signed in summer transfer window (it was against Koln, the very last match in which Van Judas wore a proper shirt).

It is totally unacceptable that we have spent most of our first halves this season learning how to play against our respective opponents. Whether it is a result of pre-season or poor match preparation/scouting of our opponents (I wrote before – all top players of our opponents have scored against us: Mata, Van Judas, Bale, Fellaini, Michu, Berbatov, Suarez), it has been frustrating to watch goals conceded due to individual errors (lack of concentration might be connected with poor physical condition, but that collides with the fact we have scored 18 goals in the last 15 minutes of our games), or chances wasted due to misunderstanding of our players in attack.

Now, we all know about our defensive record (which has been much better lately), and how 4-2-3-1 formation has worked much better for that department of our team, as well as the partnership that was formed between Mertesacker and Koscielny in the heart of our defence, but I haven’t seen too many words written or said about lack of understanding in our attacking department.

Most of criticism have been pointed at individual performances from Giroud, Gervinho and, to the lesser extent, Walcott. And there are things we should say about it as well.

Our attacking play has been too much one-dimensional when our strongest striker Giroud (despite his flaws, he is the best option we have for CF-role) has been the spearhead of the attack. We have relied on his flick-on-play too much, and the match against Blackburn might be a good example of how Giroud’s attempts to link-up with the rest of our attack fail. Our other attacking options lack physical abilities to cope with strong defenders.

Then, there is something that has happened too many times this season and what is the biggest reason I wanted to write this post in the first place.

How many times have we seen our players in attack waiting for the ball on the other side, and then just angrily raising their hands in the air due to lack of positional awareness of their team-mate, who picked the ball instead of playing “the dummy”? Giroud was usually doing this and that’s where he reminded me of aforementioned example of Pippo Inzaghi (which might lead us to the similar question that was asked regarding Inzaghi and Del Piero: what kind of relationship does he have with his team-mates?).

It would be unfair to jump on the Frenchman’s back as his team-mates act mostly the same when the ball goes inside the opponent’s box. Gervinho and Walcott have screwed up some of our counter-attacks due to desire to score themselves as well. Statistics can fool a bit if you don’t see actual things on the field. For instance, Walcott got himself an assist for Podolski’s goal against Norwich; what stats won’t tell you is that Walcott was dwelling on the ball on the right after Giroud’s flick-on released him (Walcott was offside), attempting to beat the defender and, when he was left with a tight angle and no free space, he decided to pass the ball to Podolski outside the box, who pulled out an individual effort to create himself a space and take a shot to seal our victory.

The worst part is that we have seen a glimpse of how we should play in that match at Anfield. There was a GIF-file after that match in which our players (I think Gibbs, Cazorla and Podolski) make a triangle on the left flank. I can’t recall of many triangles we pulled after that one.

Our players – with fine exception of Aaron Ramsey – tend to attack the ball, despite their team-mates might be having a better position after “the dummy”. In my humble opinion, Ramsey is a unique player in our team when it comes to this, and that’s one of the reasons I would like Wenger and/or his successor to stick with Aaron in years to come.

A brief look at the Premiership table would imply that there is nothing that we should be worried about regarding our attack. We have scored 65 goals (before match with FAnchester United) which is third best record in the league. 65 goals in 34 matches makes average 1,91 goals per game. Not bad at all. However, there is a problem when it comes to distribution of goals – we have scored 7 against Newcastle, 6 against Southampton, 5 against Reading (away), West Ham and Spuds and 4 against Reading (home). That means we have scored 32 goals out of 65 in just six matches. That leaves us with 33 goals in 28 matches or just 1,17 per game.

It’s obvious that we lack consistency as well as ability to score goals against top teams. Top teams are harder to break; relying only on individual efforts of our best players, and that’s something that we need as much as another top-class striker. One of the greatest Yugoslav and Croatian coaches of all times and one of the founders of Hajduk Split, Luka Kaliterna (also known as Barba Luka) used to say that it is the quality display that scores goals and not players, and that football is more played by those who don’t possess the ball than by those who do.

Watching recent Champions’ League matches in which German direct football (Bayern) dominated over the Spanish style of football build around ball-possession (Barcelona), and football built around automatic off-the-ball movements (Borussia Dortmund) dominating over direct football build around expensive world-class players (Real Madrid), was something that would make late Kaliterna smile, but also something that we should take note of, especially the latter example.

Borussia Dortmund had less ball possession against Manchester Oilers in Group Stage at Etihad, but anyone who watched that game will have noticed that they should have won with at least a three-goal margin (the very same Oilers that are second in English Premier League), despite only 39 % of possession.

Same thing happened against Real Madrid on Wednesday as Spanish giants had most of the ball (51 %) while Borussia enjoyed quality of possession. Their players have formed brilliant counter-attacks, and attack with triangles under Klopp, with off-the-ball movement and anticipation of their team-mates moves of the highest level.

It might have something to do with the current policy of German football in which Matthias Sammer has imported a philosophy of automatism from the very first football steps. His intention was to reduce the time with the ball to one second or less in order to fight against Spanish domination which was based on half-a-touch football. Marco Reus recently spoke about his understanding with Goetze (sadly, that partnership will continue only at international level after the summer), and how he knows where Goetze is without watching.

There is a new revolution on the horizon and it will be of the highest importance not to miss out of it.

Pre-season and match preparation must be focused on our players’ understanding on both sides of the pitch, as it might turn out to be the best weapon against all Abramovichs, Fergusons and Sheiks that have ruled English football since 2004-05.

I understand that there is a reason for commercial Asian tours, as Arsenal have been rather popular there as well, but even those tours should serve more to reaching tactical perfection and automatism than commercial purposes.

Written by: Admir.