Hi there! Two blogs in as many days, I know, must be some sort of record for me. Nice choice of picture? What ever do you mean? Nope, sorry. No idea what you’re talking about…
So it seems as if Robin van Persie, our talisman of last season, will be sold if Manchester United meet the asking price, which they apparently have. I wrote about the situation a while ago, before he made the statement, insisting that we couldn’t afford to sell him, even if it meant he ran down his contract and went elsewhere. It’s important to mention that I assumed ‘elsewhere’ would be another league – I was sure he wouldn’t leave us for another English team.
Well, pretty much everything has changed since then. He made the statement, looks likely to go to one of the Manchester clubs with few other teams in for him, and we have signed Santi Cazorla. The situation is completely different, and for us it’s changed for the better.
Last season, we relied on van Persie for goals, and he duly supplied them, winning the Golden Boot and, let’s be honest, firing us into the Champions League. But the team was imbalanced – we relied on him far too heavily. There was a massive disproportion in our list of goal scorers – only Theo Walcott also reached double figures in all competitions.
What was clear as we entered the Robin van Persie saga was that any replacement would be under huge pressure to deliver – van Persie’s role was unique in its style and also importance. Whoever we signed to take his place, assuming we had to replace him, would be thrust into the headlights and would be required to hit the ground running. If not, we’d have another season of transition and if we fell further from our position of last season, we’d most likely miss out on the Champions League.
The statement changed things. It changed van Persie’s status at Arsenal from the king of the current crop to, in the eyes of some, a traitor. Money-grabber was a bit far, but he had let down everyone at the Emirates Stadium, from the fans all the way up to Arsene Wenger. Suddenly he became a bit more dispensable – he hadn’t become a worse player over night but his commitment could be openly questioned after the statement.
Still, on the pitch not much was different. We still had to replace him with a great player if he left, and even then his influence wouldn’t quite be replicated.
The signing of Santi Cazorla was a game-changer. All of last season we had lacked a player to define us – a playmaker. Cesc Fabregas was a massive loss, and we didn’t make up for the sale with a similar player. By all accounts, Arsene tried hard – the size of the bids it’s suggested he made for the likes of Cazorla and Juan Mata back that up – but in the end we were left to rely on Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey. Both good players, but not capable of running the team. Rosicky came into form in the second half of the season, but still didn’t quite do the job, while Ramsey suffered under the pressure of the role.
Cazorla, though, was a fantastic signing. Finally, we had someone to replace Fabregas in that playmaker role. The problem with van Persie being our talisman – the problem with any striker being a talisman – is that, no matter how good he is, he needs service to thrive. Van Persie often did so, with our suppliers focussing their passes and crosses in his direction, but it wasn’t always enough. Sometimes he was off form, and at those times we often struggled.
But when your key player is a central playmaker, like Cazorla, it’s a bit different. A playmaker, by definition, makes those around him play. Fabregas did exactly that, and at his best, goals came from all around the pitch. Whoever made a run would be found, and it would then be up to them to supply the finish. The goals weren’t shared around last season – all of the players knew that they just had to pass to van Persie.
This may have meant that they didn’t take responsibility themselves. Why try and score yourself when it’s so much easier to pass to your captain and best player? Besides, at the beginning of the season especially, we lacked confidence after a poor spell, so a lot of players played within themselves (or should I say with the hand-brake on Arsene?) and van Persie ended up having to rescue us on several occasions.
And don’t let van Persie’s massive goal total fool you – creatively Arsenal were lacking a lot last season. The majority of his goals weren’t simply down to good midfield play, but superb movement from the Dutch striker. Without that we suffered, although luckily we didn’t go without it too often during the season.
Having Cazorla will change things. Our wingers won’t have to focus on feeding the striker, and will instead be able to make more runs. Alex Song won’t have to bomb forwards as much because his passes won’t be so important. We’ll become far less predictable – the theory was that if you stopped van Persie, you stop Arsenal, and while this was a lot easier said than done, it was still managed. The game against Wigan is the best example – at the Emirates they took van Persie out of the game perfectly, and we looked as if we had no idea how to score in the second half.
Finally the balance of the squad is a lot more even. The restructuring with the signings of Podolski and Giroud to shoulder the attacking burden and Cazorla to create have been excellent, especially for a reported total of £35 million (Andy Carroll yadah yadah yadah), but most importantly Cazorla fills the hole that’s been gaping since Cesc Fabregas went back home.
This vital puzzle piece being missing last season meant an increased reliance on our best player, but now, in theory at least, we won’t need to rely on a striker for all of our goals. They should be coming in from all angles now that we have a proper creator. Players don’t always have to be replaced like-for-like; simply their influence has to be replaced, and the signings of Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and, in particular, Santi Cazorla will surely do that for the apparently imminent departure of van Persie.
People say you can’t have an opinion on a player until you watch a certain amount of full games. Nonsense. I’ve heard more than enough about ARSENAL’S OFFICIAL NEW SIGNING SANTI CAZORLA!!! to get me worked up into a massive excited frenzy now that SANTI CAZORLA’S OFFICIALLY SIGNED FOR ARSENAL!!! so I’m going to go ahead and do that.
For example, Sid Lowe, possibly the most respected British journalist who covers Spanish football, asked if he could describe Santi Cazorla in simply one word, and the word he used was “brilliant” – italics for a reason folks, he was sure to emphasise that word. Everyone who knows anything about La Liga has agreed that Cazorla is the best player outside of the top two – Barcelona and Real Madrid – and for me, that’s absolutely good enough. They say there’s wisdom in crowds, so I’m sure it wouldn’t be too far a stretch to say that there’s wisdom in wise crowds.
I’ve also managed to glean a lot about what type of player our new man is – partly from the simple fact that he’s a Spanish international midfielder, which automatically means a certain level of technical ability and a liking for a pass. He seems creative, versatile and able to dictate a game when played centrally; something we’ve desperately needed since Cesc Fabregas left.
I spoke about the need for a player to define us, someone who epitomises our side, a few months ago, and I feel that Cazorla will do that. He suits our style down to the ground with his technical ability, excellent range of passing and superb ball control, and I think a year after losing our definition, when we sold Nasri and Fabregas, we’ve got it back.
We were looking to replace the creative influence of those two with Cazorla when they left, and it speaks volumes that Arsene has gone back in for the Spaniard a year after missing out. In truth, we’re incredibly lucky that Malaga had debt issues and we were able to sort out a deal – although you could say if they’d never been rich in the first place we’d have gotten him from Villarreal a year earlier. But all of that’s irrelevant as far as I’m concerned.
What is relevant is that we have an incredibly exciting player, a genuine marquee signing. I won’t follow the lead of many other Arsenal fans and pretend Andrey Arshavin wasn’t an exciting marquee signing as well, as he certainly was, but this signing may have just eclipsed that in terms of quality. And for a reported £12 million plus add-ons, by all accounts we’ve got ourselves a sensational deal.
As well as credit going to Arsene Wenger for not only moving to sort this out but helping to attract the player, credit should certainly go to our negotiators – after all, they’ve taken stick in the past for supposedly not getting things right, so they should take their share of the credit for what appears to be a fantastic deal.
The only vague worries you would have about Cazorla are his lack of pace, lack of height and overall adaptation to English football, although you imagine all three are inter-linked. Cesc wasn’t the quickest though, and Juan Mata is another diminutive Spanish playmaker who came straight from La Liga to the Premier League and adapted instantly, so I don’t think we should be too cautious in what to expect. Still, there will be the standard adapting period, but after that I think it’s safe to say we’ll have a match-winner on our hands.
His statistics might not seem too impressive – 9 goals and 5 assists last season for Malaga – but statistics can only get you so far. They might make up a bigger picture for someone who hasn’t seen him, but when all who have are gushing about the signing, it’s best to ignore the stats and just go mental. What’s important, rather than his direct contribution, is his overall influence on the game, which would include possession, passing stats, and pre-assists if you want to get technical with your stats.
The most telling is how much Malaga improved with Santi in their side, and how far Villarreal fell without him. Even without watching him, and without hearing anything about him, that tells you a great deal about how important he was to both of those sides. It also shows that he can adapt when he joins a new team, although it will be slightly different coming to a different country and different league.
Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough and I should really get out from under my Arsenal duvet, put on my Arsenal kit, shirt shorts and socks that is, and put on my Arsenal DVD. I feel like a kid at Christmas. Welcome Señor Cazorla.
For once, Arsenal fans have come into the summer transfer window with optimism. There were plenty of encouraging performances, some befitting a side challenging for the title, although they were too few to mount a serious threat to the Manchester clubs, especially considering the Gunners’ awful start.
Having tied up an impressive deal for Lukas Podolski – £10.8 million, an absolute bargain by all accounts – speculation was ripe that Yann M’Vila, the Rennes centre midfielder, was also on his way. M’Vila is incredibly highly rated in his native France, despite an apparently unimpressive 2011/12 season with his club, and has been compared with Patrick Vieira.
It had seemed as if M’Vila was practically a done deal, but the talk slightly died down in the build-up to Euro 2012, and it seemed like respected French journalist Lauren Juliens was off-the-mark when he tweeted that the move was 99% done. Never-the-less, Arsenal seem to be the only club properly in for M’Vila, despite tentative rumours linking him with a move to Italy, so the move still seems fairly likely.
There had also been talk of an Arsenal move for M’Vila’s France team-mate Olivier Giroud, but it had only seemed like an initial interest from Arsene Wenger. However, suddenly the move was on; Jeremy Wilson and David Ornstein of the Telegraph and the BBC respectively, two of the most reliable Arsenal sources, confirmed the move was as good as done, prompting wide-spread excitement among Arsenal fans.
With it looking as if Arsenal will start next season with Lukas Podolski, Yann M’Vila and Olivier Giroud added to the ranks – as well as perhaps one or two others – the discussion among Arsenal fans has centred around how Arsene Wenger will fit them into the side.
The North London side have been loyal to a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formation since the 2009/10 season, and despite the absence of the previous playmaker, Cesc Fabregas, have continued playing with the same system, so it seems like they’ll persist with it.
The majority of the questions have been about how Wenger would fit Robin van Persie, Podolski and Giroud into the same team. Some have suggested moving van Persie out wide, or putting him behind Giroud, with Podolski on the left wing. However, van Persie has had his most successful season as the lone striker, the talisman of the team, scoring 37 goals in all competitions and winning various player of the year awards, so it would be foolish of Wenger to change his captain’s role.
It seems likely that Podolski will play on the left wing; it wouldn’t make much sense buying Podolski and Giroud for over £20 million between them just to keep them on the bench for the majority of the game, and the ex-Bayern Munich man has had success from the left with Germany over the years.
This spells the end of Gervinho’s stint as a first choice for Arsene Wenger – the Ivorian winger came from Lille with fairly high expectations, but struggled a little in his first season at the Emirates. The African Cup of Nations disrupted his progress, but he still seemed to lack confidence during his performances – although there were several promising ones.
Giroud will most likely step in as the lone striker if Wenger cannot or decides not to field Robin van Persie. He had to use his captain in every Premier League game last season, bringing him off the bench once and starting him in the other 37 games due to the apparent failures of Marouane Chamakh and Park Ju-Young, both of whom seem set to leave this summer.
As for Yann M’Vila, who still may not come in, he will be one of Wenger’s first choices in central midfield, behind the playmaker. Although Mikel Arteta and Alex Song both had good seasons, there were still flaws with the partnership, and when Arteta was absent the Gunners suffered massively without the protection he provided. Song was also at times far too casual, seemingly a little too comfortable with his position under no threat, so M’Vila would also provide fierce competition.
Furthermore, it would allow rotation: this will be key for Arsenal next season, as there isn’t one starting eleven which is clearly the best. Wenger will be able to select his side based on form, fitness and opposition, a luxury that hasn’t often been afforded to him recently, and this will also help to fend off injuries you’d imagine.
In any case, Arsenal are shaping up well for the new season, and it’s looking like the squad will be strengthened significantly. A couple more additions still seem necessary – a creative midfielder may be required, as may a back-up defender & back-up goalkeeper – but it’s definitely so far, so good for Arsene Wenger.
I was asked to produce an article for Sabotage Times on Alan Dzagoev during the game vs Poland, so having watched him intensely (trust me on that, I filled two pages with notes and he barely touched the ball) I wrote this scouting report type article on the Russian. Enjoy.
Many had said to look out for CSKA Moscow’s Alan Dzagoev for Russia at Euro 2012, and two goals against the Czech Republic only raised the hype around the diminutive 21-year-old. Some have tentatively compared him to Andrey Arshavin, and this has added to speculation linking Dzagoev with Arsenal to replace his national team’s captain, with a goal against Poland only serving to increase that speculation.
Other than his goal, the Russian number 17 had a rather quiet game, flitting in and out of the game. In a 4-3-3, there were some key facets to his role and positioning; for one, he consistently made way for the overlapping Aleksandr Anyukov, drifting into a more central role off of Aleksandr Kerzhakov. This was two-fold however – with it being a very strict three in midfield, Denisov, Zyryanov and Shirokov all played fairly reserved, with-drawn roles, with none of them being creative outlets. The playmaking duties were left mainly up to Arshavin and in part Dzagoev, who both had license to drift inside, and fully utilised that.
Dzagoev also went looking for space in between the lines against Poland, with the left back Boenisch following him up until the half-way line on occasion. He constantly dropped in closer to the midfielders to offer an option, and kept showing for the ball, which showed a hunger to get involved and to help his team out.
He wasn’t always drawn to the ball however – a criticism of Samir Nasri at Arsenal – but often used his team mates as references in order to position himself to keep the team’s shape. This intelligence was echoed when he got the ball, as he was happy to play simple football when Russia needed to keep the ball in midfield.
Further forward Dzagoev had little opportunity to show off his dribbling skills, about which much has been spoken, but he often looked to provide killer passes when afforded space. An example of this was when he played a great ball in behind the defence for Kerzhakov – he played the ball in between two defenders, weighted perfectly for his team-mate, showing not only his awareness but his precision.
Russia’s front three were fluid – surprisingly not dissimilar to the movement of Spain’s forwards, and with Arshavin given freedom to roam, he often popped up on the right; Dzagoev and Kerzhakov adjusting their positions accordingly. The latter played something of a false 9 role, although didn’t drop deep enough into midfield to be classed as one. However, with Kerzhakov often finding himself out wide, Dzagoev wasn’t afraid to act as the focal point for Russia, and he showed he was fully capable of doing so.
His end product was mixed, with a few blocked attempts at killer passes, and one lofted cross from the left which sailed over everybody’s heads and went out for a goal kick. However, his decisive contribution came after 37 minutes. Arshavin stood over a free kick, and whipped it in. Dzagoev made a good run, attacked it, and the ball seemed to flick off of his shoulder before flying into the corner of the net. While the execution of the header may be questioned, he did well to find the space to create the opportunity for himself.
He later demonstrated more impressive movement in the box – firstly he was right to hold his run as Yuri Zhirkov dribbled into the box, offering a great option for a cut-back, as he would have had space to shoot. Later in the second half he made a clever dart towards the near post, timing his leap well, and was on course to meet the ball before it was deflected.
Another intelligent run was made by the 5 foot 10 wide man through the centre, with Kerzhakov battling out wide. Russia had the ball in the centre, and he scurried into the space as the pass was released, on the same wave-length as his team-mate. The ball was a little too heavy for him to make use of, but he chased the lost cause and managed to knock it out for a Poland throw in, giving his side a territorial advantage.
This spatial awareness was continually demonstrated by Dzagoev in the second half especially. As the game became more open, he had more room to drop into, and he showed an excellent appreciation of space, leaving his marker behind consistently in search of the ball. On one occasion, not only did he do well to find space and release the ball having received it, he showed the vision to continue his run and get it back in a swift one-two, suddenly upping the pace for Russia.
That’s one thing Arsenal, apparently potential suitors, as mentioned earlier, have suffered – not having somebody to change the tempo of a game, in the absence of Cesc Fabregas. Dzagoev demonstrated this ability in glimpses against Poland, although Arsene Wenger will continue to observe his performances if he is at all interested.
Russia’s direct style certainly suits Dzagoev, as he gets a lot of opportunities on the ball in the final third, out wide and in the centre, and he uses the ball well, in addition to not having too many players in front of him to beat. Arsenal have been renowned for their possession game, but with the departure of Fabregas, and Samir Nasri, moved to a slightly more direct style of play, which might well suit Dzagoev.
The Gunners have missed the creativity both centrally and out wide in the absences of their two previous playmakers, and despite impressive performances from Tomas Rosicky still lacked something going forward in those positions. Arsenal have a lot of direct wingers now – Theo Walcott, Gervinho and Lukas Podolski are all in this mould, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Wenger moved for a more skilful player to play out wide – one who looks to come inside and dictate the play, providing the killer balls instead of getting on the end of them.
Dzagoev certainly demonstrated a liking for killer passes against Poland, and a couple were very close to coming off, if it hadn’t been for laudable defending from the Poles at the back. He showed great composure on the ball – calmness when under pressure from opponents, and a good first touch. With Arsenal possibly on the market for a creative option out wide who can also play as a central playmaker – moves for Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla were apparently close last summer – it might be plausible that Wenger looks to Dzagoev.
Home to some of the most talented players in the world, the Eredivisie has given a lot to Arsenal with players like Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars and Robin Van Persie only being the tip of the iceberg. The Simple Ball’s creator, Kevin Bakx joins us once again to share some of the best talents coming out of the Netherlands.
Yet another Eredivisie season has come to an end, with Ajax clinching the title for a second year running and Feyenoord surprisingly snatching Champions League football away right in front of PSV’s nose. Twente had a disappointing end of season, only reaching European football because of the UEFA Fair Play awards, Heerenveen experienced a good run with their wonderful forwards and AZ were eventually let down by their squad-depth in the title-race. In short, it was another exciting round of games.
In similar, spectacular fashion, the Premier League season came to an end, with Arsenal qualifying themselves directly for the Champions League on the final day of the season, and in the process also finishing above Tottenham which made for another St. Totteringham’s Day.
As internationals partake in an all-important European Championship in Poland and the Ukraine, the hunting season has begun again though and Arsene Wenger will quite certainly not sit back as his side endure an on-going trophy drought. In his search for new additions, he will surely look at the Eredivisie too, for its big reputation regarding talent refinement is practically unrivalled. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride as I take you along in a tour around the best possible signings from Holland that Arsene can make.
Adam Maher – Central/Attacking Midfielder – AZ
Recently being voted Eredivisie Talent of the Year, Adam Maher has turned out as one of the brightest young midfielders in the world at AZ. The 18-year old was promoted into the senior side by manager Gert-Jan Verbeek and impressed the match fitness guru so much in training that he gave him a starting spot right away.
As the season progressed, Maher paid back the faith put into him and became an important cog in AZ’s title-race with his tireless running, dribbling technique and great composure in front of goal. Oranje manager Bert van Marwijk also believes in Maher, recently selecting him for a training stage with the senior national team in Lausanne. Whilst still not the finished product at all, he’s got amazing potential and could become one of best midfielders in the world.
Kevin Strootman – Central Midfielder – PSV
Strootman’s career has been a fairytale so far, working his way up from Sparta in the Dutch 2nd Division (the Jupiler League) to a starting spot with Eredivisie title contender PSV and a regular spot in Van Marwijk’s national team selection. He’s a man whom adapts quickly to his surroundings and despite his minor set-back this season, he’s still one of the best midfielders the league has to offer.
The 22-year old’s game is based around incisive passing, vision and driving runs into the box, qualities that all suit the English game. Defensively, he could still learn a thing or two but his physical build allows him to best his opponents, an aspect that’ll surely be developed even more in England. In short, Kevin’s a bright talent and one Arsene should surely consider.
Jordy Clasie – Central Midfielder – Feyenoord
This short, frail and above all inexperienced central midfielder surprised both friend and foe in his first season at Feyenoord, grabbing the side by the scruff of the neck and guiding it to Champions League football alongside Guidetti, El Ahmadi, Vlaar and Koeman. His diminutive style of passing has led to Xavi-comparisons and indeed, his quick, agile physique combined with an array of both short and long balls does make you think of the Spanish metronome.
Clasie isn’t just an asset to the offensive side of midfield though, as his game contains much more than just glamorous through balls and sweeping cross-field passes. He’s a very capable standing tackler and knows how to make good use of pressure from his deep, midfield spot. Perhaps not a direct strengthening to this Arsenal, like the above two are, but quite certainly one to watch for the future.
Christian Eriksen – Attacking Midfielder – Ajax
This young Danish playmaker didn’t catch many headlines in the past season, often being labelled as one of Ajax’s biggest disappointments this year. But don’t believe everything they say, as this past round has proved to be Eriksen’s most productive assist-season in his career. Forming an excellent tandem with Siem de Jong, he compensated his lack of goals with an overflow of assists.
But Eriksen’s not just an asset on the pitch, he’s also a fine persona to have in the dressing room; a consummate professional, he demands the best of himself and his teammates. He has his feet set firmly on the ground, works hard and tries to put his mark down on the side through his one-touch balls and intricate, lofty crosses. Despite indicating he’s not ready to leave Ajax yet and probably costing a hefty fee, Wenger will do good to consider this young Dane as a possible addition.