Yesterday we all lay witness to possibly the best match in [Sponsor] Cup history, maybe one of the best ever. Not in importance but, as a spectacle this game will be difficult to top for a while. And predictably we saw a lot of non-Arsenal and non-Reading fans who, simply for the sake of getting a word in, running their mouths about it.
As fans we’re used to facing a lot of ignorant abuse. Of course, we’re used to dishing it out as well. Without such arguments and friction among fans, sport ceases to have a point. So in the wake of what was really fantastic to watch as a football match those fans inevitably got talking.
So let’s set things straight shall we?
1. “Arsenal let in five goals against Reading! They’re going to get smashed at Old Trafford.”
Oh my God, we are! Because we will be playing Johan Djourou despite the fact that he hasn’t played in the league in what seems like a year. Ignasi Miquel will power through an injury he picked up in the game and failing that Jernade Meade will back him up. Because Andre Santos is that bad. And Gibbs may not be fit.
Let’s get real. This is going to come up a lot. This was a second string side, a majority of whom aren’t wanted or are not going to make the grade at Arsenal. Okay, Koscielny’s performance for most of the game was inexcusable. Two of the five can be attributed to Walcott’s and Koscielny’s complacency in the first half but other than that very little connection can be made between the side we saw yesterday and the one we’ll see on Sunday.
We haven’t taken this competition very seriously and it’s unfortunate that it ended the way it did the one time we did take it seriously. Obviously the early rounds are great for seeing what the younger or fringe guys can do. Gnabry who, to be fair to him, didn’t have much time to play in the reinvigorated second half side still did a decent job from the little we got to see of him. Eisfeld was the one that really impressed me and there’s no doubt that he could be in the first team some day. Arshavin ran the show, passing Reading off the park in the second half. We saw Chamakh carry out his business in a way we’ve never seen before. Walcott, who I have given a lot of stick in the past, showed that he’s just a better touch and better passing away from being a truly world class player. And all of that came through Arsène who himself proved he has the ability to turn things around.
With a lot of the first team players watching this match, it’ll help to have them realise that they can turn games around like that too should they need to against United this weekend.
2. “I thought the League Cup wasn’t important?!”
No, Liverpool fan, it isn’t important. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to win it. But pretending it’s anything more than a morale booster or a stepping stone to bigger trophies is stupid. Once again, we were playing a very different side that honestly didn’t deserve to win after that first half. So the comeback was a miracle and it deserved the hysterics from Arsenal fans towards the end.
In a way I can see why this even came up. They did get it from other fans for celebrating the victory. It seems every team that wins the [Sponsor] Cup does. But I think most of the abuse Liverpool received after winning the trophy was for things like Damien Comolli saying that it would help them convince best players to join the club.
Normally I’d let this slide but their fans took out the frustrations of being the most hated team last year on us, rubbing the Birmingham loss in our faces so I’d love a chance to throw it right back at them.
3. “Do Arsenal win a ‘trophy’ for the comeback?”
Yes, Liverpool fan. We’re putting it right next to your Europa League playoff trophy.
It’s a rare sight to hear Arsenal fans complain (ha) so the day of the AGM is a great time to air out all our problems with the team. With the club being put at the top of a list of ticket prices last week those complaints have gotten louder than ever. It’s sad to see that people have completely missed the point of protests held by the likes of BSM. Arguments have come up all over the place and most of them for all the wrong reasons. Arsène saying that a Champions League qualification spot is as important as winning a trophy is what seemed to cause the most backlash as fans question his ambition and a lot even calling for his head.
But as I mentioned yesterday in the comments, fans have overestimated the amount of money that Arsenal have. Even though we have the highest ticket prices in the league, the club has possibly the poorest sponsorship deals in relation to their stature within Europe. A combined stadium and shirt sponsorship deal from Emirates fails to break £100 million spread over 15 years, while Manchester City earn triple that for their stadium naming rights alone over just half that time. Manchester United earn three to four times that combined fee just for their shirts, with DHL paying more per-annum than Emirates to simply be on their training kits. Instead of trying to justify what the club “owe” the fans given the ridiculous ticket prices that doesn’t even begin to affect around 95% of Arsenal’s global fanbase, what we should be holding against the club is how poorly they’ve conducted their business.
Obviously, the board shouldn’t be taking advantage of the fans to compensate for their own shortcomings but to expect a high quality squad to be put out when the only sustainable income Arsenal have come from transfers and Champions League money, it’s no surprise that fans’ constant pleas for a competitive squad have amounted to nothing. It’s why this adidas deal should be a cause for celebration as we’re finally taking a step, albeit a baby-step, forward. With United reportedly re-negotiating with Nike for a contract worth a ridiculous £1 billion, it’s all the more important that Arsenal are able to get out of this Nike sponsorship and strike up a new deal with adidas before we’re truly left behind. It’s only once the burdening Emirates and Nike deals are up that we can truly flourish as a club in the post-Invincibles era.
It’s unfortunate that Wenger receives a lot of blame even though there isn’t a lot he’s actually in control of in regards to the business side of things. Yet his unpopular decisions in transfers and contract negotiations make him out to be the villain when he’s always operating in the interest of the team and it’s in fact the board who are at fault for Arsenal being stuck in this current rut. Even replacing them at this point will do nothing to remedy the situation. The saving grace, if you can call it that, is that this current board have a vision of where they want to take the club and if they stick to that then we may be in good shape in the long run at the very least.
My patience has often been mistaken for “a lack of ambition” and I’ve gotten my fair share of stick for it but when you take a step back you can see why I don’t get worked up over every little thing when the club has been consistently performing to or above expectations given the relatively minuscule amounts of money Arsenal makes in comparison to our direct competition.
And if a top four finish season after season is considered a disaster then I’d hate to be here the day the Arsenal model is thrown away and the club becomes another Leeds or Liverpool.
If there’s one thing I managed to learn from this match, it’s to sneak sustainable glimpses of a match even with people looking over your shoulder. The match itself? Well, I learned absolutely nothing from that.
After two poor matches to open up the Champions League campaign it was only natural that this match would follow suit, especially after the lax performance on the weekend. Even with the gaping holes Schalke left behind their defence due to their high back line, we just failed to capitalize on it. As he’s done often this season, Gervinho seemed to be the only player to take it upon himself to run at the defence but, as he’s done often this seasons, Gervinho wasn’t able to make anything out of it.
Believe it or not a these poor performances have probably come out of the absence of Kieran Gibbs. Our two fullbacks have matured the most this season and in the finally having avoided injury for a long stretch it looked like Gibbs could finally be our defensive answer on the left. He had finally learned to balance out his forward runs with some good defensive positioning. That was before West Ham at least. Andre Santos had to come in, without having played much last season and having played nothing this season, so in a sense you can understand why he’s looked madder than usual. He was at some fault – and that’s probably putting it nicely – for both of Schalke’s goals and caused some really scary moments in trying to dribble the ball out of the back and playing passes in front of goal.
Of course, that’s no excuse for how poorly the rest of the team played. With Koscielny’s return though it would be a little more comforting to see Vermaelen, who wasn’t convincing at LB last season but desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess. Thankfully, Gibbs himself isn’t too far away from making a return either. The Champions league is nowhere near being a disaster though, having won our first two. We have two weeks to turn this around because going away to Gelsenkirchen is not going to be any easier. Still, even if Schalke do manage to win that, I’m confident of our chances of advancing given the remaining matches.
Let’s look on the bright side, one of Manchester City and Real Madrid might go out at the group stages. Let’s have a laugh at them instead!
It’s been three days since the world ended – or three days since Arsenal lost a game, it’s hard to tell sometimes – and luckily the dust has somewhat settled as we get ready to take on Schalke at the start of an interesting run of games. Fortunately, a majority of those surrounding the Schalke fixtures are in London, so we aren’t going to be facing a heavy continental hangover. Porto have generally been our whipping boys following a loss but we might have to wait until after Schalke, who are surely fired up after beating Dortmund in the Revierderby on the weekend, to get that out of our system. It may have been a while since we’ve lost to foreign opposition at home, but Schalke will be a challenge as they’ve been consistently able to keep high up the table in what, until two seasons ago, has been one of the most unpredictable leagues in the world.
We have two players who have played against Schalke regularly and know exactly where their dangers lie. They are missing some of their young core through injury and chicken pox. But last season’s Golden Boot winner, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, doesn’t need many chances to score and with Ibrahim Afellay and Lewis Holtby behind him, those chances will come.
With Theo Walcott looking likely to play as is Jack Wilshere, Arsenal has a lot more to offer than it did on the weekend when the duo are fit. Walcott, whose contract Wenger is keen to renew, should allow us to get behind Schalke’s fullbacks who like to play high up the pitch, something which we severely lacked against Norwich.
There’s been a ridiculous uproar since Saturday which I should quickly address in absence of a proper recap following the game. There was a lack of effort, no doubt, but we’ve seen this from Arsenal a lot when playing lesser opposition. It’s not necessarily complacency but it’s just the mentality that has been instilled into these players, that no matter what the score, there needs to be a calm, methodic approach to goal. It’s definitely led to a lot of last minute chances over the last few seasons, which we are quick to forget. Though it’s worrying sometimes not to see any sort of urgency as you would with most other teams and no one seemed willing to take over the reigns against Norwich.
The match against Schalke is probably the biggest test we could’ve asked for following such a morale-killing defeat but it looks like the players are up for the challenge with most of them aware of what they need to put into it. And after just about getting away with the last two group stage matches, it’ll be vital that they are.
As Sam and I have gotten busier, it’s become more difficult to keep a regular flow on content on the site. So of course, in an attempt to make it up to you we’re going from one extreme to the other and will start updating you on Arsenal news on a daily basis because frankly, there just aren’t enough of those blogs around. It will hopefully be a bit easier to get things out there when they’re a little more concise.
I can’t speak for my partner in crime but this could be a great experience, as it fuels more discussion and as a result, provides for more quality posts that have been a constant on the blog.
This should evolve into something a little more interesting as time goes on but I personally look forward to having a few more talking points over the foreseeable forever.
I had said a while ago that West Ham would be our bogey team much like Bolton had been all those years ago under Sam Allardyce. It’s just a style of football that has stumped this Arsenal side more or less the entirety of Arsène Wenger’s reign. In essence, this year’s side have seemed the most capable of handling such a team in quite a while. Obviously, I was glad that didn’t come to fruition even though we didn’t make it easy for ourselves.
Arsenal, under Wenger, have always struggled to bounce back from a big loss. Single goal losses, sometimes not even that, have led to entire title challenges crumbling under our feet. So after the loss against Chelsea, it was always going to be tough to bounce back. You could see how down the players were against Olympiacos and again lax defending led to West Ham’s first goal.
The team did well to turn the result around and the manner of the win may build up that momentum again. A good comeback like this will surely boost the spirits and in the second half you could see how much more comfortable Arsenal were on the ball after being fairly tentative for the previous game and a half.
Arsene has taken a lot of stick for being poor tactically over the years but over the course of this season he’s shown some brilliant vision, making personnel changes that seem to perfectly counter the opposition.
- Giroud’s inclusion shouldn’t have come as much surprise. His height undoubtedly meant to help when defending set pieces and as another means to break down West Ham’s tough defence. It also meant we could play a little more direct and commit more men to stay deep and contain Diame and Carroll. It did make a big difference as Gervinho wasn’t allowed much space to bring the ball down when he was able to fall into the middle. It was clear right from the start that Giroud was locked in. His presence in the box was clearly felt as he finally broke his Premier League duck and got yet another assist to his name. Set pieces were supposedly a major weakness, amplified by the loss against Chelsea. But, while there were a couple of scary moments, for the most part we were able to deal with them.
- Defensively, there really should have been more pressure later in the game. In the process of attacking West Ham in the second half, we saw a lot more space being left behind the midfield for them to exploit on the counter. It led to a few big chances which fortunately fell to Kevin Nolan. That being said, Mertesacker and Vermaelen dealt brilliantly with Carroll whose effect was stifled to just a handful of notable incidents. Diamé was a little tougher to cope with but apart from a spell of pressure before and after his goal, he didn’t get involved much either.
There were some great performances at the individual level as well:
- Podolski has found himself isolated in the last few matches. Initially we saw nearly every attack going down the left but as Gervinho got the chance to play down the middle, the dependance on wing play was lessened. With Giroud up front, it gave him the impetus to get more involved. The direct running he’s so known for caused West Ham a lot of problems later in the game, especially in the frame of time between Demel’s injury and Tomkins settling into the game.
- Finally, we can’t forget Cazorla’s influence on the game. He really pulled the strings for most of the match and treated us to a brilliant goal to top it off.
Chelsea’s Champions League run last season is probably what really brought to light Roberto Di Matteo’s reign at the club. It was the defence-first kind of football that just managed to take absolutely everything in the world that annoyed you and make it look like it was nothing. But it was that kind of negative football that won them Europe’s biggest trophy, it’s the same kind of football that England were so enthusiastic about over the European Championships and it did work to a certain extent.
So obviously, you wouldn’t expect Di Matteo to change his style much. Even the signings of Eden Hazard hasn’t added much in that regard. Last season, we saw just how tough they were to break down as the match ended in a goalless draw. Offensively we do have a little less to worry about. The absence of Didier Drogba is probably the most comforting thing going into this match.
Chelsea play a defensive 4-2-3-1. They look to contain the opposition, striking on the counter. The big problem here is that unlike the match against City, where we expected to dominate possession and did for the most part, we’re going to face a team that’s set up to draw the opposition in. Chelsea will definitely make it difficult to get through their backline as a result of that. The saving grace is that, apart from Mata and Hazard, they are generally very poor in possession (only completed 70.7% of their passes in the final third in the previous fixture) so we should be able to dominate the match.
As mentioned earlier, Chelsea will look to draw us in and hit us on the counter. As mentioned several times over the course of the season, Arsenal’s deeper line makes it tougher for us to be caught off guard. Less players are committed forward with the talent up front more than able to compensate. Again, the beauty of the 4-2-3-1 we play is that we’ll see the short triangles coming to good use in breaking Chelsea down.
We saw against City how their relatively deep line was constantly been drawn out by quick passing, leaving them open on multiple occasions for us to counter.
They play a very direct game as you’d expect. It left us really exposed at Stamford Bridge last season but a better defensive approach at the Emirates ensured that we got a point out of it, although we arguably deserved all three. That shouldn’t be as much of a problem this time around with Arteta sitting back to intercept long balls to Torres.
The man has a name that practically wants you to put him in this section. Eden Hazard is about as dangerous a player as you can get. Every team these days seems to have at least one all-round footballer. Hazard can pass, dribble, shoot and has the physicality to hold his own against stronger players. The Belgian almost seems to play in a free role so it won’t be easy to mark him either.
In the opening few games of the season he’s definitely had a few chunks kicked out of him by opposition defenders. It’s led to Chelsea having penalties and freekicks in dangerous positions. Arsenal aren’t exactly a rough team but a few mistimed tackles here or there and we could be in real trouble. At the same time, not aggressively closing down could lead to even more dangerous scoring opportunities.
The Weak Links
It’s not easy to pick any one player out as a weak link. Chelsea have good players who also happen to be prone to quite a few mistakes. Petr Cech has been quite poor over the last year or so. Players like Mikel and Ramires lose possession far to easily. With Torres you never know how many easy chances he’ll miss and how many difficult ones he’ll score. So it’s not a question of pinpointing a single weakness but trying to exploit Chelsea’s shortcomings as a whole.
Chelsea have only just scraped by in their games so far. Arsenal have been in good form and should be able to take this one at home.