Alexis, Mesut, Jack and Aaron the new Thierry, Dennis, Freddie and Robert?

Alexis CF, Mesut nr.10… with Jack and Aaron ‘Mid-wings’: Discuss! 🙂

arsenal_henry_pires_bergkamp_ljungberg_vieira

Regular readers know that I am a great believer in Giroud and that I do not see a need to buy a CF anytime soon. Giroud allows others to shine and he carries a strong goal threat himself. Ollie is the complete package in the modern game, even though he is not the best classical centre forward Arsenal ever have had by any stretch. For me it is clear that Arsene wants our attack to be unpredictable and multi-dimensional, and Giroud offers a great base to operate from, especially if and when we play park the bus teams. His stats are great, his work rate good, and his total contribution to the team is simply fantastic.

I also like Theo, who offers speed and keeps defences close to their goalkeepers, often allowing our midfielders to boss the midfield. This works especially well against teams that like to attack us/ do not park the bus. With Theo we are at our most dynamic, especially once we have regained the ball and can break forward.

I love it that we have these two options for attacking different opponents, and I reckon Giroud and Theo will get plenty of chances to shine. But there is a third option for us, and that is playing Alexis as our CF. He can do hold/link up play, he is fast, he has energy and a great threat from outside and inside the box. He can dribble and take defenders on, and he also has a decent through-ball in his repertoire. He also is a great finisher and a predator with relentless energy and hunger. The total ‘pure’ CF package, if you ask me…

I would love Arsene to try Alexis as our CF, but I guess he will not do it until he has a good alternative on the left wing. With Ozil in the hole and Alexis up top, we would not be that far from what Bergkamp and Henry had to offer a  decade or so ago.

What we also need is good midfielders on the wings that can work in tandem with their flying full-backs: Bellerin and Nacho. Rambo and Bellerin have formed a very strong partnership in which the FB is the real winger and the midfielder is both an attacker and co-defender, and I reckon we need to buy a good left winger/midfielder to make the Ozil-Sanchez partnership really work.

But then I thought about Jack coming back in the new year. I see Jack in either Cazorla or Ozil’s current role, but both have been playing very well and it would be wrong to force either out. But what about playing Jack on the left wing for a while? Nacho and Jack would be able to work a fine partnership ala Aaron and Bellerin, and Jack can do on the left what Ramsey does on the right. Both would also be allowed to move about and interchange with Ozil, as to keep it all fluid and unpredictable.

This is how it would look like:

Midfield heaven

Of course we would need Coquelin back, which will take a while now, and Jack would need to be fully fit. But once everybody is available, this could be a very strong team in my opinion. Jack and Rambo could develop into our new Ljunberg and Pires… And with Theo, Giroud and Danny we would have options to vary this approach.

What do you think FFGs? 🙂

By TotalArsenal.

Arsenal best 11 in 2017: Szczesny in goal, Jack in the hole, Stones CB, Akpom CF?

Two great guys, but will they still be at Arsenal in 2017?
Two great guys, but will they still be at Arsenal in 2017?

Eight questions for you to answer.

I have been to three matches this season – Liverpool at home and Newcastle United and Sheffield Wednesday away – and have watched most other games on TV. I reckon we have a good chance to win silverware again this season, and our main focus should be on winning the title.  I also believe that Wenger is not finished developing this team further and will add quality if and when possible.

It is clear, though, that a strong first eleven is coming to the fore: Cech, Bellerin, Nacho, Koz, Coquelin, Santi, Ozil, Alexis, Rambo are all top quality first team players. When all are fit, Arsene can pick from Giroud, Theo, Ox, Wilshere, Ospina, Gibbs, BFG, Gabriel, Debuchy, Rosicky, Flamini, Arteta and Welbeck to complete his team and rotate players when necessary. That is a pretty fine squad to pick from right now, and let us hope the medical team will get on top of the injury issues rather sooner than later so we can make full use of these players during the remainder of the season.

But what will our team look like in two years’ time?

We have the money now to keep our best players and to add top quality international players as well as good, experienced PL players, annually. I reckon we have a fine squad right now that can win us silverware. But, as you will have noticed, I think we have two positions for which we are likely to seek new players: CB and in attack. Furthermore, the likes of Rosicky, Flamini, Arteta and the BFG will probably have left the team by the summer of 2017, and will also need replacing, either from within (youth) or through buying experienced PL/European players.

I have no doubt that Giroud and Theo will still be at Arsenal in two years’ time, but I am less sure that Welbeck will make it. In fact, I would be very (pleasantly) surprised if Danny would really make it at Arsenal, but that is for another time/post.  Both Theo and Giroud are important team players, and Alexis is a versatile attacker who can play anywhere up-front, but Wenger will in likelihood reinforce our attack with another star player during the coming summer.

Furthermore, I am a big fan of the BFG but don’t think he will be a first choice player anymore in 2017. There is a good chance that Wenger will make Koz and Gabriel our preferred CB pairing, but part of me believes Wenger will go for another ‘organiser of defence’ rather than two full on CBs ala Koz and Gabriel.

I have some ideas who Wenger should go for but do not want to influence the discussion too much, so will keep these to myself for now.

So, for just a bit of fun, my eight questions to you are:

  1. What will be our best eleven in 2017 from the currently available players (assuming everybody is fit and nobody is bought between now and then)?
  2. Being able to spend about £45m in 2016, and then again in 2017, who would you try to buy to add to our strongest first eleven and why?
  3. Where would you play a fully fit Jack Wilshere?
  4. Will Wojciech Szczesny be our nr.1 goalkeeper if it is up to you?
  5. Which ex Gunner, if anyone, would you love to be back at Arsenal?
  6. Is Steve Bould the best man to be Arsene’s right hand man; if not, who should replace him?
  7. Do you want Arsene Wenger still to be in charge in 2017?
  8. Do you think Chuba Akpom will make it into our best eleven by 2017?

By TotalArsenal.

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.

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.

Mesut Ozil: Conundrum, Asset or Liability?

Question: Is Mesut Ozil a Conundrum, an Asset or a Liability?

7cb7581c-9624-4a25-b3dc-671eb4992883_OzilWenger_tussenbeeld

I ask, because if we believe the various media outlets, and unfortunately many do blindly, he is all three.

Take the latest stories of how he wants to quit Arsenal, and see how it is possible that a simple statement made in answer to a question by a team mate can develop, in a ‘Chinese whisper’ sort of way, to what the headlines read a couple of days later.

Ozil went to join up with the Germany squad, and although he never played, he would have had time to chat with his colleagues. They won the World Cup together, so they are amongst friends. Some are at new clubs and they discuss how they are doing there. Innocent question pops up, ‘Would you fancy playing at this club?’ Answer, ‘Possibly. One day, maybe’.

That is all it would take for this message to be passed along the line, until it reaches a manager of that club who has expressed an interest in the player, to then release that via a ‘tame’ journalist to spread the word ‘Ozil wants to leave Arsenal’. UK journo’s who love to stick the knife in, add ‘in January’ to their headline. Note also then how they respond to Arsene Wenger’s answers. ‘Wenger would be unhappy to lose Ozil in January’ … still leaving the idea it would be okay in the summer, even though that was never said?

When I read or hear comments, I take some on board if I think what they are saying has credibility, and the people who are saying it are in a position to speak with accuracy and experience.

Take this example. I heard Graham Souness talking at the half-time interval during a match recently. He was saying what he knew about cruciate ligament injuries, not from his own experience, but from other players that have had them. As it happens, he was talking about Falcao, but it does have relevance to Theo Walcott, and others of Arsenal interest. The crux of it was, when a players suffers these injuries the knee does not feel as ‘tight’ as it used to, and this can affect a player’s confidence. There is a slight ‘looseness or wobble’ which they have to get comfortable with. Again, with reference to Falcao, he said it is worse the older the player is when they get the injury. ‘Younger players can recover fully, but once they get over the age of 25, the difficulties arise’.

I find this credible, because Souness would know of a number of players who would have suffered this type of injury, and even allowing for advances in medical treatment, still many players do not get back to the level of ability they once had, so this explanation might have some substance?

So I ask, what makes any sense of Arsenal buying Sammy Khedira? One thing, the possibility of a low fee, even if that is off-set by the reported wage demand. Again, how much can we trust in that our ‘agreed terms’ suggest he settled for £100k, not £200, or £155k per week, as his demands were earlier reported? The other plus is his relationship with Ozil, on and off field. If he could link up with Mesut and bring the very best out of him week in, week out, then he would truly be a bargain.

The downside is, will Khedira’s knees hold out in the EPL, week in, week out?

I also read of a Chelsea interest. At first glance, he does not seem a player Chelsea need? They are pretty solid in the defensive midfield area, and why trade a younger, fit player, for a potential bench warmer? I think their ‘interest’ lies more in affecting Arsenal. Whatever way this saga goes, I do not see Khedira as the player we need. That said, will Ozil see this as another slight on his reason for signing? He gets played out of position, more on that later, and then does not get the one player he can rely on him to support him on and off field?

Another half-time chat I listened to during an England game was Glenn Hoddle on Wilshere. He was doing his usual bit on Wilshere underperforming, but he went on to say, ‘that in this ‘new’ role Jack had been given as the ‘holding midfielder’, that he would have to be more disciplined’. ‘He needs to stay back as he cannot do the 40 yard runs and get into the box for the return pass. Too often he goes straight into a crowded midfield, and if he loses possession there, he opens us(England) to a counter attack. So he must stay back and play for the team’.

That was the gist of it, but it struck a chord with me. We know Arsenal play a different format whilst they experiment with the 4-1-4-1 formation. As there is usually a defensive midfielder in place, and Jack either does the box to box stuff, or more recently, plays higher up the field.

This to me is where the Ozil conundrum comes in. Because of Wilshere’s tendency to operate in the centre ground, no matter where his starting line up is. In doing so, he takes away from much of what Ozil can do best. And what Ozil does best is when the centre field is not cluttered, and he can move in and out of that area, no matter what position he is notionally assigned to.

So can we play Wilshere in the same team as Ozil? Well not if they both have the same freedom to move into preferred areas, in my honest opinion.

Now if Wilshere is being groomed for the long term holding midfield role for England, and Hoddle was overjoyed at his performance that night, then perhaps he should do the same in the Arsenal line up? Yes, it will mean him giving up the idea of being the Number 10 conductor of attacks in and around the box, which will not go down too well with him or his many supporters? But I don’t suppose Arteta was overjoyed when he converted in a similar way. So does that make Arteta more of a ‘team’ player than Wilshere? If he takes it on board as a new challenge, and uses his skills more on reading the game, rather than just diving into tackles, where he risks as much injury as he does when he ‘puts his body on the line’ drawing fouls, or not, as the case may be, when he gets clattered going forwards. I think if he is serious about modeling himself on Alonso, then it ought to be for club and Country? Let’s not forget that some of those passes from deep were very Cesc-esque, or straight out of the ‘book of Alonso’. He must have enjoyed that, as well as his overall contribution?

Perhaps he should start thinking of a long term career in this pivotal role, rather than a short term, injury ridden, glory seeking one playing up front? Then both he and Arsenal could benefit?

It would also go a long way in solving the Ozil conundrum?

Now, is Mesut Ozil an Asset?

I want to use this quote from Milo in yesterday’s post:

First and maybe most important point: He opens he field and direction of play up, more than any other high profile number 10 or playmaker, by NOT being afraid to move the ball, or run sideways. Everyone always is looking for the big, flashy, vertical ball over the top, but when it’s not there, he refuses to force it and I admire that…Greatly. He certainly has the vision and skill to execute more difficult passes. His tendency to drift sideways results in him looking like a drifter, but he’s like the knight in a game of chess. Not always flashy, but LETHAL. No one has figured it out yet, but I tend to think his lack of production has more to do with Arsenal’s and Arsene’s tactics than it has with Mesut?

This was an excellent bit of insight which might have got lost, as it was not related to the post in question. Milo came to this conclusion through watching past videos. I wonder how many of Ozil’s critics have done this?

We have only seen flashes of what ‘the best number 10 in the world’ can do this season. But when we had a nearly fully fit squad last season, he was on fire. The plague of injuries this time has really upset the rhythm of the side. Despite the new signings being great additions, it does take time to gel properly. Ozil was late returning from the World Cup, and he is not the only player to find it difficult to get back to some sort of form at league level. No sooner does he play with the freedom that suits his game, and the line up is changed once more. My big criticism in his last game was the very unusual number of times he gave away possession. If he was carrying the injury that now requires him to have a 10 week break, it may well explain his lack of touch that day?

Over the next few games we will see if we can cope without him. But more importantly, we will see what a difference he makes in a fully fit squad in the New Year when he returns. He is an asset we most definitely need, but we need the team to work so he can produce his magic. Otherwise, and I will quote Milo again, we will miss ‘facets of his game that are either underrated/undervalued or go completely unrecognized’. But they are the very bits that help make the magic he can produce when conditions are right?

If we do miss out on him be able to produce his best, that would be a sad day for anybody who appreciates a quality footballer.

Liability? Never ….when he has quality players that move as a unit, and has the space to work in.

If he fails, then we must look at what is failing him …First!

In the meantime, we have to play without him. Who plays where, will be the subject of the next post. I just hope there is not a scramble of players all thinking they can step into his shoes, and we end up with an endless pattern of reshuffles?

Many thanks to Milo for inspiring the angle of this post.

 Written by: Gerry.

Ozil LM – RamShere Central – Alexis & Danny to Mash: Ars v Spuds Preview

Ooh I love devouring the Spuds. I like them chipped, I like them boiled with gravy, I like them in a salad with some garlic mayo on top, I like them flattened into hash brownies, or even better, mashed with butter and a hint of mustard. And the Spuddies are tastiest when gulped down at our very own home of football. 🙂

TIme to play with the heart but with a cool mind.
TIme to play with the heart but with a cool mind.

Today’s NLD comes early (again): the teams still have to find their stride, and Pochettino is still finding his feet at the club. You just cannot take count anymore of how many managers have come and gone, and for that, predict what we can expect from the miscreants this time round.

We need a win to build further on our away win at Villa and to get the momentum going for two more big games this week: Galatasaray and the Chavs. I would say let’s treat this as an OGAAT and not worry about what is to follow. But I feel this a big moment for Arsenal this season: the time for experimenting is over as the next three games will shape our season to a large extent. We need a win against the Turks and we need a result against the Chavs.

So now it is time to put out a formation and team that will have the best chance to get us there, give or take a couple of tweaks over the next eight days. Wenger’s plan for this season will be confirmed today/this week, I am pretty sure.

We can talk about it forever, but the only thing that matters is what happens on the pitch come 17.30. I have not seen enough of the Spuds this season to form an opinion about the strength of their team. After a late goal by Dier they clinched all the points from the Hammers on the opening day, and then they brushed aside QPR at home; but after that they just got one point from playing Liverpool and West Brom at home and Sunderland away, giving away a lead twice at the Stadium of Light.

So they are lacking form and the first doubts whether Pochettino is the right man for them, which I reckon he is, will have started to surface, no doubt. Clearly, they need to bounce back and will not need motivating for today’s NLD. We have not had the best of spells ourselves in recent weeks and could really do with a win.

Jack Wilshere

I expect Arsene to set out with 4-1-4-1 but with one of the central midfielders to sit back a lot, especially during the start of the game. The only real risk we have is playing too much attacking football, leaving our back-four – especially the BFG – exposed in the process. The Spuds will love to play counter football against us and they have the weapons to hurt us. Some might call for 4-2-1-3 with two of Ramsey, Wilshere, Arteta and Flamini (or even Chambers), and I reckon they will get their wish effectively.

Many believe it will be either Ramsey or Jack next to Ozil in midfield, but I am convinced Wenger will incorporate all three. I reckon Ozil will be moved to the left, with licence to roam where he thinks he can add value (with Gibbs playing a more conservative role – and Sanchez and Ozil are likely to swap sides as well).

The defence picks itself and Szczesny is likely to be back. Danny on top and that is about it for me.

So predicted line-up:

Ars v Spuds Sept 14

I would be tempted to replace the captain with Flamini, but it is a good game for him to prove he has still got it. We need all eleven Gunners to be up for this and fire from all cylinders.

Will they be? Will I ever ask a more stupid question?

Let’s mash them Spuds! COYG!!

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Welbeck needs Thierry | Bellerin no RB | Arteta Aging: Post-Match Analysis

Dortmund v Arsenal

The Verdict

Arteta, no nicer and more professional guy around, but is it time to bench our captain?
Arteta, no nicer and more professional guy around, but is it time to bench our captain?

Let’s be honest now, I am not sure there is a side in the Premier League that would have withstood the battering we took last night? There are several who would have had more success on the counter attack than we did, including our next opponents Aston Villa. But hats off to Dortmund: Klopp had them up and ready. Every player was on board with what had to be done, and they were fit enough to carry it off.

From an Arsenal perspective, disappointing doesn’t cover it. Part of that problem lies with our high expectation for this season, and some results have given plenty a reason to believe it was in their grasp. The easy win in the Community Shield, taken at face value, it might. The truth was a little different? The resurgence of Wilshere and the 4-1-4-1 formation in the previous game against Man City gave hope of a similar line-up to do the business against a far better opponent.

Again the reality revealed flaws. The few opportunities that people saw of Bellerin pre-season, agreed with Arsene Wenger that he was ready for the step up? This was confirmed on the vote ‘Who will make the most impact this season’ (from the academy), and 62% had made Bellerin the clear winner ahead of Akpom. Regulars of this site will know I have been longing for Bellerin to have some game time, as I am a great fan, but my vote went with the 2% realists who see more coming from Isaac Hayden than young Hector. To me, he is a natural born winger who can tackle. That does not make him a right back, no matter how much Arsene wants it. He will always commit to whatever was asked of him, as he did last night, and if he is asked to go in again, he will not hesitate. But without any premier league minutes under his belt, it was asking a lot … but he will learn from it, not shirk from it.

I am beginning to think that both Per Mertersacker and Ozil are still mentally adjusting to life in the league, and only their experience is getting them through games. Such a contrast to the confident decision making that we saw last season, that is barely recognisable now?

Here again, the expectation level from our new signings, which certainly has had its bright moments; but to gel as a team, the cracks start to appear, and the optimism quickly fades away?

How to take positives out of a game when only one player came out unblemished by error, is difficult. But history tells us that Arsenal do bounce back. The Villa shock result last season is a good example. This was certainly a wake up call in every department. Not an easy fix this time, without assistance from our manager?

Most of our problems stem from poor decision making, under extreme pressure it has to be said, but it is not a good enough excuse. We know who they are, and the stats back this up.

Bellerin we can give some leeway to for the above reasons, and despite being up against it, he made second highest passes behind Wilshere, and 13 of the 19 in the final third.

Szczesny has no such leeway when dillydallying over a clearance that could have cost us another goal, as he is a repeat offender! He did of course pull off some superb stops which saved us from real embarrassment.

Mertersacker, normally the safest of player to play out of defence, but time and again passes were being intercepted. He did make several headed clearances, but also was caught up-field, and no matter how hard he tried, the lack of pace to get back was revealed to all? We were chasing the game in the second half, to be fair, but why were so many bodies committed to attack with seconds to go before half-time? Poor judgement call again, by somebody?

Koscielny really put a defensive shift, and if it wasn’t for the misplaced passes, he could have taken MOTM in a canter. There were just too many of those, but he comes away in credit overall?

Gibbs was probably the pick of players playing to their form. 2 from 2 in tackles, and made a great run into the box to lay on a guilt edge chance for Welbeck, who just hasn’t got that edge of an instinctive striker (at the moment) to take a half yard step back so the ball would fall to his feet. Instead he got tangled up in trying to adjust and missed the opportunity. Gibbs had another opportunity in the box, but that too was not to be. He made 6 interceptions too, so he at least is near the top of his game. However, he was involved in the attack down the left, just before half time that led to the first Dortmund goal. Quick as he is, from that deep he arrived just too late to be in a position to tackle Immobile.

Wilshere was left trailing in that breakaway, and allowed that multi cup winning (NOT! ex manager) Souness in the studio to moan at him for not making the effort. Ignoring the fact that Wilshere is not a Gibbs or a Bellerin, having only a short burst of pace, not a 35 yard lung buster? He did have the highest number of passes, in a game of low figures, at 49, but only 1 successful one in their box? He did win 5 of his 6 tackles which showed his battling qualities against overwhelming odds, but it was a far cry of the promise of the previous game? He started to show his brittle side towards the end, and got a needless yellow card for a stupid foul. On a bad night, he was one among many who failed to live up to expectation.

Arteta? If I am kind, I would say he almost matched expectation, in that he was the wrong choice, (if there was a choice?) in the wrong position, weakly supported by the wrong players .. and that goes partly towards my expectation of him being too slow, and he failed to reach that level. It is almost like he has aged 3 years since the end of last season, and he is now looking like a player well on the way down. But to be fair to him, he should never have been put in the game of high speed tackling? The 20% pass failure rate for that position says it all?

Ramsey, for a player who often hits the 100 mark for pass completion, but a lowly 39 tells you how far below his best he is? Going forward he did set up a chance for Welbeck, but a single positive in a game of this magnitude is what he is struggling with?

Ozil, what can I say? Our main creative midfielder only had 23 passes, and only 3 in the final 3rd???

We are not going to win many games with that kind of service? He tried both wings, ran deep on Bellerin’s side, got booked for a none-tackle, but totally ineffective in anywhere it mattered.

‘Houston, we have a problem’ …

Alexis, industrious? hard working? These are the words we have come accustomed to associate with our super hero. 6 successful dribbles out of 9 sounds great too. Poor first touch does not gel so well? He was dispossessed 5 times, and several passes/touches led to turnovers, and crucially this would be at a time when we were attacking, and thus vulnerable to a counter. Part of this is probably down to the gelling process with team mates, and that has not had time to work through? But maybe there is a little clarity appearing in the rose tint department? He has got to get on the same wavelength or his talents will be wasted too?

Welbeck, sods law he will be second behind Ozil for the biggest criticism, but again, he can be given some leeway. If Arsene had any doubts about signing him, it is probably because he requires a different service to OG, and they may unlearn all they have been doing for the last two seasons? He is not OG, and he probably never will be? However, confidence can do wonders for a striker. He came into the side full of it, but that near miss against Man City probably took the edge off it. Here again, he had a chance to put one in at the far post, but body angle, or not twisting the foot back enough, made this attempt squirm wider than the other. These things will come.

Where is Thierry Henry when you want him, because he is just the player to help him in this department? He will come good, but in games like this, the pressure for every attempt to succeed is immense.

Subs:

Cazorla, should have made a difference if it was Ozil that was failing? I have to say, he was on 5 or 10 minutes before I remembered he was a sub. He was never going to save the day because the game had gone by then.

Ox looked lively from the off, and forced a corner almost immediately. But like Santi, the good ship Arsenal had already taken on board too much water, and its movement was sluggish.

Podolski came on with only ten minutes left, and got one driving run into the box, but the keeper was out quickly and it spilled out for a goal kick.

So that was my view on individual performances. Now for the collective?

Formation: Was this to blame?

While they notionally lined up in a 4-1-4-1, it never remained that way. For pretty much the first 30 minutes we were compressed into a 4-5-1 defensive position, with only Welbeck high. The flurry of early corners, and hasty clearances that led to yet another loss of possession, it was more all hands to the pump, rather than a clearly thought out plan. So that part cannot be put down to the formation?

Going forwards, when we started to get a foothold in the game, for the most part it broke down as we crossed the halfway line. However, following a very good build up, a missed chance which resulted in a throw in to us in the final third, we had 8 or 9 of our players in their half? Only Koscielny and Szczesny at one point in ours. So when we lost possession, and Immobile set off, Kos was about 5 yards ahead of him, Mertersacker had just crossed the halfway line about the same distance back but nearer our right-hand touchline, and Gibbs, who was guarding our left flank just inside their half. He had a good 10 yards to make up. Wilshere also joined the chase, but barely caught up with Mertersacker. The climax came when Immobile reached the box and it looked like Kos had it covered. Gibbs was right on his heels by now, and if the striker had run to the byline he could have got his tackle in. As luck would have it, a bit of a bobble off Immobile’s knee that took it away from Gibbs position, but the striker used that to get ahead of Kos to score.

A real sickener on the stroke of half time, but you have to wonder at the thinking of so many bodies involved in the attack. If Gibbs, who had been involved in the early part of the attack had dropped back inside our half, Kos might have been that bit deeper? Who knows?

The second half started how the first finished. Immobile chipped a great ball on to Aubamayang, who split the two CBs, and Szczesny came out and slipped at the vital moment. PEA also nearly went down himself, but just kept his feet to slip the ball into the net before Kos had a chance to recover.

From then on we did not look that threatening,… only threatened.

Szczesny came out to make a flying header with the full knowledge the collision with PEA was unlikely that he would be the damaged party, but once he had launched himself into the header, there were no brakes in mid air.

Kos also nearly did himself a mischief, colliding with a goal post in an attempt to avert yet another goal. Only the usual 65 minute subs did lift our attack somewhat, but we continued to look vulnerable. In fact, Mik the prick, having got himself booked in the opening few minutes for a blatant dive, seemed to be so intent scoring, it screwed him up completely. There was one breakaway where they were three on two… our two CB’s … he chose to shoot, high and handsome. Like I said, what a prick!

There are so few positives coming out of the game, except the one from history. Is this the giant kick up the backside that shakes this mental lethargy out of their system?

We have to hope so, but what is baffling is that so many had a poor game?

Perhaps it is simple case of trying too hard. Certainly with Ramsey we have seen it all before. He was even doing those heel flicks again?? Wilshere cannot lift the team on his own. Alexis too needs to settle more. Mert needs to get his calm, dependable head back on. Ozil needs a quiet corner somewhere and completely regroup. Arteta really needs to face up to life on the bench, especially after January? Will Walcott return bring a shape to our attack, when he returns? Will Chambers hold down the RB slot, and not get moved sideways for a crisis CB role? Will somebody give Hayden a run out before he is called into full time action?

Questions.Questions.Questions.

The only ones who can prove some of the answers will be out on Saturday against Gabby and his gang of thugs….

The reality of our form looks pretty bleak, but we have a few fresh bodies to throw into the mix, so like last season’s blip, our season starts now.

Keep the faith. 

Written by: Gerry.

Jack and Alexis raise bar, Welbeck impresses, Defence….: Match Review

Despite being peripheral to much of the action Alexis Sánchez provided Arsenal's winning goal.

Saturday’s game against the Champions was a good opportunity to gage how much progress we had made since last season.

The verdict in a nutshell: our defence – including our sole DM – not solid and composed enough, our midfield now bursting with quality, and our attack/ability to create chances and score goals in the biggest games has also improved significantly.

Unlike last season’s visit by MC, when they were happy to play for a draw, this time round our opponents wanted the three points badly. The Chavs have started the season well as expected and the totally unpredicted loss against Stoke, have put a lot of pressure on the Champions to keep up. The same goes for Arsenal of course, who managed once again to qualify for the CL in August, but had dropped two valuable points in and against Leicester and found themselves four points adrift from the league leaders before this big game.

MC were missing Yaya Toure who was replaced by lost-looking Lampard, and Milner was put on the left to protect the vulnerable ex-Gunner Clichy, mainly by kicking the proverbial out of Debuchy. Fernandinho was also clearly instructed to put his boot in every time Jack or any of the other midfielders threatened to get past him – because that’s when Arsenal are at their most dangerous – and the awesome Silva, very effective Navas, and efficient Aguero were there to produce the attacking football.

Arsenal had opted to start Welbeck (with Sanogo not even on the bench: was he injured?), play four mainly attacking midfielders behind him, and protect the back-four with our best option as DM, the willing but wilting Flamini. It looked at times more like 3-1-5-1, as our ‘LB’ Nacho was almost constantly situated higher up the pitch, functioning as a fifth midfielder.

First half

After a couple of minutes of MC pressure, Arsenal took over with our four midfielders (in our 4-1-4-1) formation dominating play. Jack led the charge with energetic and aggressive play both at the back and the front. Early on he produced a brilliant diagonal ball over the top of the MC defence and the alert Sanchez almost got there to head the ball past the quickly anticipating Hart. Welbeck is lively and constantly moving, never allowing the experienced MC back-four to settle. It is clear that he wants the ball in behind the defensive lines, but our midfielders expect him to play in front of the opposition’s defence ala OG, and a few balls go astray.

Arsenal v Man city

Then, unexpectedly, the stuff of dreams – or nightmares – happens. A nonchalant ball back from midfield to his defence by Silva, is quickly anticipated by Danny and he gets a free run at goal with just the keeper to beat. He produces a Bergkampesque lofted ball over the beaten Hart and everybody thinks it is going in, but it hits the woodwork and the keeper can collect. So close, and what a goal it would have been for the newly arrived attacker.

The near miss is a pivotal moment in the first half. MC wake up and appreciate their lucky escape and the crowd and Gunners experience the heavy realisation that this missed opportunity might cost us dearly in this game (similar to Ozil’s missed penalty against Bayern). Our inexperience of beating fellow top teams is still weighing heavily on us, and every time we miss a very good opportunity it sets us back, it seems.

Welbeck does not seem to be too much influenced by the miss though: he continues to be a nuisance to the MC defence and starts to play better when receiving the ball with his back towards goal. The first quarter of the game is for us: good dominance, one big chance, we are enjoying our football; but, it is fair to say, we do not come close enough to the MC goal to produce clear-cut chances.

Monreal offers great drive going forward and partners well with the industrious, and also defensively sound, Alexis. Every time we regain the ball in our own half we break well, with all midfielders playing their part, but especially Alexis and Jack the most driven and composed. MC’s pre-planned answer to this is to foul our midfielders as soon as they can: cynical but effective. Luckily the referee is handing out yellow cards for this and it only seems a matter of time before one of our breaks will lead to a good goal scoring opportunity.

Our style of play needs goals of course, as we are constantly taking risks with playing Nacho so high, leaving space behind him for the attacking three of MC to pounce on us. And that is, unsurprisingly, exactly how they scored their first goal. The ball breaks to midfield and Flamini’s tackle seems to be well-timed and effective, which it needed to be. But Navas, in a Marc Overmars reminiscent way, manages to collect the ball before it goes out, and runs like a hare towards goal. Nacho and Koz hesitate to make a tackle, allowing speedy G to put the ball into the box. Flamini and BFG seem still in control, but the Frenchman allows Aguero to run past him and score a simple goal. A very disappointing moment by all players involved, but especially Flamini who, with his experience and the role he is playing in, should have done a lot better. 4-1-4-1 without a proper, athletic beast of a DM, seems to ask for this sort of punishment…

Getting behind, combined with the strong sense of a missed opportunity earlier on, now make us weary, both on the pitch and in the ground. MC sense this and start playing the better football, disrupting our play with more and more ease. Ozil and Wilshere try to get it all going but we are not using the width with even Nacho not sticking to the by-line, and Debuchy being held back by Milner. It is all too intricate and easy for MC now, and Welbeck is not getting much involved at this stage. The consistent fouling aimed to disrupt constantly our flow of football continues, and we do not create anything worthy of mentioning anymore during the first half.

Second half

We start good: energetic and with purpose and bite. We get the ball into the box now but the well-drilled MC defence holds strong. Ozil gets more involved in the direction of our play but his passes (and shooting), especially over a longer distance, are not sharp enough to trouble the Oilers. The same goes for Sanchez’s final ball who does all the hard work to get near the box, but then just does not deliver the perfect through-ball.

After ten minutes the game seems to balance out, which is not good for us as we are behind. It needed a moment of inspiration, and it pleases me tremendously that it was Super Jackie Wilshere who delivered it: and in some style!

The ball was won in midfield and quick combination play between Jack, Alexis and Rambo, allowed the Welshman to perfectly guide the ball into Jack’s feet in the box. There was still a hell of a lot to do, but a quick shimmy got him past the opposing defender, and with his head held high, looking for the best option at a moment when the adrenaline is pumping like crazy, he is still able to adjust his feet to fool the MC players as if he is passing it with his left foot, to only use his right foot, daftly kicking it high and measured past the beaten Hart.

What a goal: it needed something special to crack the Oilers’ defence and Jack delivered it. Wilshere the new Fabregas? The new Pirlo? Or the new Bergkamp?! He has got it all! hahaha 😉

After three quarters of the game, soon after our equaliser, Dzeko – the ‘Giroud’ of MC – comes on for Aguero: a change which almost undid us towards the end of the game. But Arsenal now take proper control and Welbeck is everywhere again, after a quiet start in the second half. Fernandinho is lucky not to get a second yellow for bowling Welbeck over off the ball, when the Englishman is about to run into the box, or after petulantly kicking the ball away after another foul is committed on the fabulous Alexis.

Then the moment of total ecstasy arrives.

Arsenal apply pressure and a ball into the box is headed away by the fine warrior Kompany, despite being challenged by Welbeck who gives the colossus a friendly nudge in the process (; The ball ends up with Jack, just outside the ‘D’: he has the full play in front of him and instantly sees that Alexis is free. His cushioned header reaches the Chilean Master who volleys the ball high in the air and with deadly precision under the bar, past a fully beaten Hart. What a clinical, top quality finish! Alexis had been working so hard all over the pitch and he really deserved that goal. What a signing!

We had the Oilers rattled and had two choices: sit back and see out the game as best as we can, or attack for the third goal. Both are risky approaches and we all know what happened next.

We had one great opportunity to score the all important third goal – ‘two goal cushion goal’ – when good link up play by Welbeck, and fine combination play between Ozil and Jack let to the latter clipping a masterly ball over the now tired MC defence. Ramsey did well to anticipate it and beat the MC defence, but his finish lacked the control his fellow midfielders had been demonstrating earlier. Three moments of total quality were perhaps too much to ask.

MC were adamant that Jack handled the ball in the box before our attack, but if you look closely, you will see that Jack’s arm was tucked back by a MC player which then sprung it forward towards the ball. Never a handball. 🙂

Then came the near sucker punch. A simple corner, badly defended: a free header for Demichelis, followed by a ‘nearly safe’ by Szczesny, or even Flamini: 2-2. Our ecstasy levels dropped immediately and the emotional roller coaster was almost completed. Giving away the hard fought for lead so soon, just as we did against Leicester before the interlul, was a painful experience for all.

After that, we somehow held on for the draw as the Oilers smelled blood. The woodwork and an excellent low safe by Szczesny, both from goal efforts by Dzeko, saved us. At this stage our defence were pulled all over the place, as Citeh combined with menace and intent – attacking a lot better now that Dzeko had taken over the central attacking position from Aguero and Silva could move closer to our box.

A draw was a fair result in the end. Our midfielders and attackers worked hard to get us in front but our soft underbelly of a defence/DM unfortunately cost us once again. Debuchy’s horrible injury did not help, but I expected more organisation and leadership from our experienced CBs and DM in the latter stages.

There is little time to learn lessons from this truly fantastic, yet educational game, as Dortmund await tomorrow, which will be another top-level encounter for everyone involved.

But the two big positives are that Jack is starting the hit the form many of us knew he is capable of, and Alexis is the sort of all-round attacking player we have all been hoping for. On top of that, Welbeck had an encouraging start to his Arsenal career, and once Ozil and Rambo start to hit proper form we will do some serious damage to our opposition. Let’s hope this starts on Tuesday night.

Written by: TotalArsenal.

The one player that can give Arsene his magic back

cid150319_WengerVI01_640_640x345

Where has the magic gone?

Last April, one of the best writers of the last century passed away at the age of 87: Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I first read the Columbian’s master pieces like ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ and the phenomenal ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ in my late teens/ early twenties, and they opened a new world for me. Marquez’s books are very colourful and full of imagination and magic; a stark contrast with most of the Dutch literature I read back then. These were an introduction into magical realism for me: Marquez’s stories appear too fantastic, too dreamlike to be true, but he was just able to give ‘reality’ another dimension – a quality that only brilliant storytellers possess. As he put it himself in response to a question by a good friend of his:

“The way you treat reality in your books … has been called magical realism. I have the feeling your European readers are usually aware of the magic of your stories but fail to see the reality behind it … .” “This is surely because their rationalism prevents them seeing that reality isn’t limited to the price of tomatoes and eggs.”

After Marquez, I read a great number of Latin/South American literature: Isabel Allende, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Joao Guimaraes Rosa, whose ‘Grande Sertão: Veredas (translated as ‘The Devil to Pay in the Backlands’) is one of the best books I have ever read: open this book at any page and read a few sentences and you will find it is pure beauty.

Adding beauty and magic to life is one of humans’ greatest gifts, but it takes a lot of effort and focus to do so, as well as being able to see and appreciate it.

By now the more impatient readers of Bergkampesque will be asking themselves: but what has this got to do with football? And my response to this is: everything and nothing. The quest for beauty – whether in football or life in general – is important to me, as it compensates for all the horror, sadness and injustice we get confronted with in our daily lives. Beauty is the brother of human warmth/love, and without these two what would life mean?

As a Dutchman, and in stark contrast to most of our 20th century literature, I was lucky enough to grow up with magical football. From the dazzling Dutch National team of Cruijff and Michels in 1974 to the Ajax teams in the seventies and mid-nineties, I have truly been spoilt by the beauty of (total) football.

Regulars on BK know that Dennis Bergkamp’s move to Arsenal – who for me, and I know many others, was the on-field personification of beautiful football – led me gradually to our beloved Arsenal. Dennis would not have become such a club legend without the guidance and football philosophy of Arsene Wenger. But this goes also the other way: without Bergkamp, Wenger would not have been able to implement his beautiful Wengerball with such impact and success rate.

Thanking The Guardian for the picture.
Simply Sublime.

Gradually, however, the beautiful vision and skills of the wunderkind from Catalonia, Cesc Fabregas, replaced Dennis’ mastery and conductorship. Around him, Arsene build another fine brand of football, which did not win us prices, but was always a joy to watch. We can only wonder what would have happened if Arsenal had been able to keep hold of its key players and strengthen the squad every year with one or two quality players, during the initial post-Highbury years. But winning is not everything, at least not for me, and I have great memories of how we played the game under conductor El Capitan.

Since the departure of Cesc our football has seldom been of the Bergkamp and Fabregas standard. There have been moments in games, and sometimes even whole games, when we played beautiful football. But it is fair to say, Wenger has been struggling to get us back to the standards we have become accustomed to over recent decades. I have no doubt he can get us there again: his passion and vision are as good as ever; but I am wondering how he can do it.

For me, Arsene needs a conductor in the middle, ideally in the ‘hole’ position. I have seen enough to believe that Ozil is a great player but not a conductor who shapes and commands the midfield. I have great hopes for Jack, the best young footballer I have seen in the game since Cesc, but I reckon he has not got the stamina/fitness yet to be a continuous force in our team. Ramsey is our ideal box-to-boxer but I don’t see him as a conductor in our team.

In order to get back to full-on Wengerball, with now a better chance to win something in the process, we need to add at least a DM who can pass the ball as well. I have written enough about this recently, so will not elaborate much further. Suffice to say, we need a player in front of our back four who can defend, has great stamina and physicality, allows his fellow midfielders to play higher up the pitch and can pass the ball well (enough).

But we also need to fill the hole with somebody who owns the area in front of the opponents’ ‘D’, all the way back to the middle line, and if Cesc is really willing to leave Barcelona……

They lift you up where you belong
They lift you up where you belong

 

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Be good to yourself.

Ozil’s Silver Service Goes to Waste: Arsenal – MU Afterthoughts

Happiness and expectations are closely linked. Cockie Monster, BK’s nutcase blogger formerly known as GLIC, desperately sticks to low expectations in order to secure a permanent level of low, stable happiness. At the other end of the scale is the uber-optimist James Bond, who almost continuously adorns the site with his high hopes and expectations. Both approaches to Arsenal’s future performances and achievements have their merit, and we are lucky to have them blogging on BK. Variety is the spice of life after all. 😀

With thanks to Voetbal International for picture.
With thanks to Voetbal International for picture.

My expectation for last night’s match was a draw. It was clear that both teams wanted a win but, above all, were keen to avoid defeat. In my view, a point for us was a far better outcome than a point for the Mancs. They now have an almost impossible climb to make in order to reach the top four, especially with Pool winning three vital points against Fulham – the team who took two points away from the Mancs themselves, just a few days ago.

The general view is that the current Manure team is a weak one and that we should have beaten them yesterday. The (pathetic) booing by the Arsenal fans at the end of the game is evidence of this; it’s an indication of how low our toughest rivals in recent history have fallen under Moyes.

Arsene knows that his team has a lot of resilience and is the best of all the ‘big teams’ in winning points against the ‘weaker’ ones. As long as we stay close to both Oiler teams we have a chance to win the league.

It is clear  that we do not have a team currently with the belief and/or qualities to beat the bigger teams in the league. Five points from eighteen against Pool, Chavs, Mancs, and Mansour City until now is not great. Or maybe, it is not to do with belief or quality but Wenger’s inability to get the best out of his players…?

However, it looks like we could win the league this year IF we keep beating the ‘non-big’ teams, as both Mansour City and Southern Oilers are prone to dropping points regularly in those games.

I will stick to what I said a few games ago, that the Southern Oilers beating the Northern Oilers would probably mean the former will go on and win the PL. However, the not totally unexpected Chavs’ draw against West Brom has given us renewed hope. Wenger is banking on his team’s consistency (currently his beloved word, it seems); and I also reckon that if we can continue to be consistent during the last third of the season, we could well win the title after all. Two draws – against MC at home and Chavs away – whilst winning almost all of the other games, might be enough to hand us the title come the end of the season.

I was very pleased to see the team play a lot more compact and organised against the Mancs than against Pool. We defended the set-pieces significantly better, despite the strong aerial fire-power of Moyes’ men. Arteta also had a much better game, despite his early give away to Van Judas; and Wilshere stuck a lot better to his defensive duties. Yes, he was ‘turned over’ a lot, and he did not add as much to our attack as we would have liked, but he played with positional discipline and passion, and still made a difference on the night.

I have never felt Mikel and Jack get the best out of each other when they play together though, and we should be buoyed by the imminent return of the Flame. The Frenchman allows Wilshere to be more effective in the box to box role, which in turn will mean more support for Ozil. These three midfield roles are intricately linked and getting the balance right is absolutely pivotal to the success of the whole team.

Last night we played with too many CAMs in my opinion: Ozil, Rosicky, Jack, Santi, and later on Ox was added as well. All of these players have a natural tendency to move towards the middle of the pitch, and play the ball through the funnel: the ‘D area’ of the opponent’s box. Manure were expecting this and made themselves hard to penetrate there throughout the game, marshalled by the seemingly rejuvenated, and brilliant on the night, Vidic. We lacked width and speed/penetration, but also support in the box for OG, as the likes of Ozil, Rosicky and Jack, and to some extent even Santi, are more natural creators than ‘fox-in-the-box’ finishers.

It did indeed feel that we were desperately missing Theo’s and/or Aaron’s speed/engine and ability to turn up at the right place and time in the box. they both also have the experience and maturity now to score goals in the big games.

I thought Ozil had a great game. He was constantly ready to dish out the finest delicacies but there are not many in the team/ the current formation who are able to anticipate and appreciate what he has to offer; something Wenger needs to address rather sooner than later. Not seeing this by some of the fans says more about them than Ozil.

I would also like to point out that, despite our current perception of Manure, they are not a weak team, but simply struggling with coming to terms with the new leadership/playing style of Moyes. I thought that the likes of Vidic, Evra, Rooney and VJ had very good games, and if I am fair I believe they had the best chances to win the match. Luckily they did not take them, as Szczesny had a superb game. They were clearly tense themselves and also desperate to avoid defeat.

I thought we got better towards the end of the game as we started to get closer and closer to their box and create some good opportunities. The fact that Manure still had the best chance to win the match during the same period shows us how delicately balanced it all was – and is; and how much work Arsene and Steve still have to do to get us winning the big games any time soon.

Bring on Pool – CoYG!

TotalArsenal.