Many good football teams with a distinct style are built around one player (or a few players in the case of Barcelona) who embody their identity; as we saw yesterday, Napoli’s Ezequiel Lavezzi epitomises their exuberance especially in the counter-attack, while you have Xavi, Leo Messi & Andres Iniesta for Barca’s aesthetic and technical prowess.
Arsenal, however, are stuck between two eras – that of Cesc Fabregas (and to an extent Samir Nasri) and that of Aaron Ramsey & Jack Wilshere, neither of whom are currently ready to fill Fabregas’ boots for different reasons. The Gunners need to transition from the previous era to the new one – Arsene Wenger wanted one of Juan Mata, Mario Goetze and Santi Cazorla do that, and move out wide once Ramsey was ready. However, he failed to secure any of these targets.
Now, Arsenal lack an identity which would have come from a playmaker – while Robin van Persie is excellent and undoubtedly a talisman, not all of Arsenal’s play goes directly through him, which makes it more difficult for him to influence their general style and identity.
Wenger needs to be careful that his side manages the transition well. If they don’t make the Champions League, it will be that bit more difficult to keep the new era on track. In previous seasons when key players were sold, like Thierry Henry, their replacements were able to fill their boots immediately. However, Henry was sold just as he was past his peak, at a time when Emmanuel Adebayor was approaching his own. Fabregas had to leave earlier than Wenger would have liked, due to different circumstances – his love for Barcelona and his wish to return more than anything.
Because of this early departure, Wenger’s planned internal replacements were not quite ready, so he attempted to find a temporary central player who would eventually move out wide once Ramsey was ready to play in that playmaker role.
Now, though, it’s difficult: Wenger has had to accelerate Ramsey’s development. He was supposed to stay under the tutelage and behind the shadow of Fabregas until he was ready. Wenger’s hand was forced, and after he failed to replace Fabregas, he now has to throw Ramsey in at the deep end, which could be thoroughly detrimental to the youngster’s progress. It would be incredibly unreasonable to expect to successfully build a team around the 21-year-old Ramsey.
The big difference between the early careers of Ramsey and Fabregas is that while Fabregas was eased into the team at an incredibly young age with little pressure on him, Ramsey is still being integrated into the Arsenal team, and began this process at an older age, with much more pressure and spotlight on him. This is why Arsenal were able to build the team around Fabregas at Ramsey’s current age, while the Wales captain is still not ready. It’s also pertinent to remember that Fabregas was and is a unique talent – similar things should not be expected of Ramsey.
Still, you can probably expect Wenger to go back in for a playmaker who can play out wide in the summer – which may well prove difficult, however, with Mata & Cazorla gone and Goetze pricy. A loan move for Gourcuff might appeal to the manager, form and availability dependent. Although, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s rapid progression, a playmaker/winger’s arrival could well signal the end of Theo Walcott’s Arsenal career, or perhaps just his stint as a winger.
In any case, you can probably expect Arsenal to let a winger go if they do in fact permanently sign a playmaker/winger in the summer. This might well turn out to be Arshavin, although perhaps we should take into account the departure of on-loan Yossi Benayoun.
As Calum Mechie put it for SBNation, Arsenal don’t lack leaders – they lack a point. Now that Fabregas is gone, Arsenal need somebody to define their style of play, otherwise they will continue to suffer an identity crisis, and fluctuate between styles, never truly being able to do any proper justice.
Once again I return to the blog having not written for a while, this time for about a month. Firstly may I say I’m terribly sorry to anyone who felt aggrevied at the lack of content of late. I can’t imagine there are too many of you but hey ho. I’ve been struggling for consistency in a way that has been almost parallel to Arsenal, but hopefully now that we seem to be shaking that off our backs I’ll be blogging more often.
Obviously only one place to start, last night’s victory over Marseille. Before I get to the individual performances, time to focus on the team’s efforts. It was a bit of a different performance compared to what we’re used to. Without the last minute winner it wouldn’t have been a terrifically welcome change, but the the result certainly made the performance seem somewhat better. We played very well defensively overall, but in attack we struggled a little. Again we seem to be unable to combine effective defensive play with effective attacking play.
The two seem to be directly correlated, and as I read on Arsenal Report earlier, our deep defensive layout which worked very well had a knock-on effect in terms of our attack. The team was more spread out across the pitch, which restricted the fluidity of the team. It’s difficult to spot a definite solution for me right now – ideally you want the defensive solidity as well as the attacking fluidity but right now it seems like that’s a tactical catch 22.
Hopefully if Arsene can’t solve the problem the team will be able to adapt to the style and find a way of being more efficient going forward – perhaps we need to get more midfielders forward in support of the forwards when attacking, but then that does leave us open to counter attacks so the supporting midfielders would have to get back very quickly if they lost the ball.
One thing that is encouraging is our gradually increasing form – stating the obvious a little there but oh well. We’re showing signs as a team and individually that all we needed was time to gel, as I’d hoped. The new signings are now fitting in well and are rarely causing problems anymore.
Mertesacker looks a lot more comfortable now, and apart from the odd scare due to his lack of pace he’s slotting in well at the back. Sadly we’ll probably always have that problem with his pace, so hopefully we’ll adjust when he plays. The good thing is, we played a deeper line partly to compensate for his lack of pace, and when Vermaelen comes back we should be fine playing higher up, which should in turn help our attack – yes, I just realised that I was typing. Hopefully I’m not the last to come to that conclusion.
As I hinted there, personally I’d partner Koscielny with Vermaelen once the Belgian is back. I feel he suits our overall style best, and I’m a big fan of the ex-Lorient man as you all must know by now. I’ve been a defendant of his for a while now and I feel that’s starting to be vindicated. More and more people are noticing his solid performances, and they’re becoming a lot more consistent too which can only help. He’s really growing into a top centre half.
Tomas Rosicky was a little disappointing after his encouraging showing against Sunderland. He does seem to be a little bit of a flat-track bully these days, but I’m hoping that’s just a slightly early judgement. Fingers crossed he’ll become more consistently good, like at the weekend. He’d be a really useful asset if he did.
The last player I have something substantial to say about it Johan Djourou. He came on at right back during the second half, which led to panic amongst the fans about an apparently imminent mistake – I’ll admit, I was also anxious, but I tweeted in hope as much as expectation that “The Djouresurrection starts here” as he entered play. Surprisingly my words seemed to come true, as he played better than he has done in a while – even helping set up Ramsey’s goal with our first successful cross of the game.
There are a few little bits and pieces I haven’t covered but I didn’t feel they warranted writing about, and frankly I’m just happy to get a blog post over and done with at last. Hopefully I’ll be back with more soon. Up the Arsenal!
I promised you all a new columnist for the new season, and that’s exactly what you get. Aidan Gibson will be analysing the tactical side of Arsenal every Friday, so look out for his weekly column. Here’s his appraisal of how Arsenal looked tactically in pre-season.
Arsenal’s preseason concluded yesterday with a fairly disappointing 2-1 defeat to Benfica. While the second half was a dreadful performance, the first half was fairly promising, and as it contained a majority of the team that can be expected to start in a weeks time against Newcastle. The split between halves can be said for performances against Red Bulls, Boca Juniors, Koln and Hangzhou Greentown, and so we will analyse the different halves separately.
One thing that the difference in performance tells us is that Arsenal’s squad, collectively, is not very strong. The first XI (assuming no injuries and no one leaves) is quite strong, and has shown, especially last year, that they can beat almost any team. However, past that group of players (Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Song, Wilshere, Fabregas, Walcott, van Persie, Nasri), the rest of the squad weakens. Only Andrey Arshavin, Aaron Ramsey and Gervinho are real contenders for spots in the first team, and that is why there’s quite a drop off between the first XI and second XI. With a squad as injury-prone as Arsenal, that is something that should’ve been addressed this transfer window, but so far hasn’t.
When Arsene Wenger has played his first team, or as close as possible (Szczesny, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Gibbs; Song, Ramsey, Wilshere; Walcott, Chamakh, Gervinho/Miyaichi), Arsenal have looked a lot better. With Aaron Ramsey as the playmaker rather than Samir Nasri, the midfield play has been more creative, the tempo has been higher and Arsenal have created more chances. The pressing has been more coordinated, and sustained for longer periods. For Arsenal to be successful defensively, they must press. Without pressure, it is too easy for teams to beat the high defensive line, and too big of a gap is created between the midfield and defence.
That gap happened in the second half of the Arsenal-Boca match, and the second half of yesterday’s match. Not coincidentally, Sebastien Squillaci was involved in both. Because of his lack of pace, he forces the Arsenal defensive line to drop deeper, creating more space for players, like Juan Roman Riquelme did, to flourish.
When Arsenal did press, though, and closed the gaps between midfield and defence, they were much stronger defensively, and it is telling that when Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen played together, Arsenal did not concede a goal (excluding Carl Jenkinson’s extraordinary own goal).
This preseason did, however, expose two serious weaknesses. First of all, when Arsenal become tired, and stop pressing, as they did in the Emirates Cup, it becomes likelier that Arsenal will concede goals, because more space opens up, and, without pressure on the ball it becomes easier to break through Arsenal’s offside line.
Secondly, Arsenal’s squad, beyond the first XI, Aaron Ramsey, Andrey Arshavin, Gervinho and Johan Djourou are weak. Emmanuel Frimpong and Carl Jenkinson are young and inexperienced; Tomas Rosicky could be a useful player but is worse against teams that put pressure on Arsenal’s midfield.
Marouane Chamakh, unfortunately, is in the worst form of his life, which is concerning because his style of dropping deep, allowing Arsenal’s wide forwards to take up central positions (see Gervinho’s goals against Koln), best replicates Robin van Persie. Without our stronger players, Arsenal struggle more than the other top 4, because our squad isn’t as balanced or able to cope with injuries.
It’s not entirely negative, though. Our first XI looks, as ever, a very capable and dangerous side, and competent defensively. Another centre back to supplement Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen, though, is needed. Gervinho looks to be an excellent purchase, able to cut in and take up central roles or give Arsenal a wider threat. If Arsenal get off to a good start and remain relatively injury free, a better season than many are expecting is not in the realm of fantasy.
It may have been a rather boring game, but there were positives for Gooners to take away from it.
Our two representatives, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, emerged with yet more credibility, adding yet more football people to their burgeoning list of admirers. Jack was his usual self, winning tackles, playing through balls, and spraying passes about with ease. England’s new 4-2-3-1 formation, similar to ours, really suited him and helped him play as well as he did, alongside Scott Parker. You can catch highlights of Jack’s performance on 101greatgoals, here.
Captaining his country for the first time, Aaron looked a little rusty, as can be expected since he’s still on the road to recovery from his injury. He gave the ball away a few times, but showed good feet and awareness, and completely skinned John Terry before firing just over. As my Dad said to me, it’s good for him to get another 90 minutes under his belt. I think after a proper pre-season this summer, he’ll be ready to command a starting place.
Really, with these two young stars, Alex Song, Samir Nasri and all of the other young talents at the club, I’m not sure selling Cesc would be as disastrous anymore. We still look a little lost without him, so we need to hang onto him for a bit more, but soon I think we’ll be able to let him make that move to Barcelona.
Jack and Aaron are both such good players, it’s difficult to comprehend that they’re only 19 and 20 respectively. One is captain of his country already, and the other certainly must be some time – I would be surprised if neither wore the armband for Arsenal in the future. They both lead by example, getting stuck in, cajoling their team mates, scoring and creating goals. I’m so pleased we have them at our club.
The fact that Aaron is captain of Wales just weeks after coming back from a career threatening injury speaks volumes about his strength of character, especially seeing how young he is – he’s Wales’ youngest ever skipper. It takes great mental resolve to return so strongly from such a huge blow, and that’s exactly what he’s done. Being made captain will have boosted his confidence ten-fold.
As for Jack, he’s already an established started for club and country near the end of his breakthrough season. Some credit should go to Bolton and Owen Coyle, who gave him vital Premier League experience. Arsene couldn’t have handled his development better. There’s not much I haven’t already said about this young lad – it was only a few days ago that I covered his rise to prominence – so I’ll leave it at that.
Now I’ve got a football match to help my team win – we’re playing top of the league. We’re 2nd, but they have a game in hand. Before I go, make sure you watch the video in the post below. Truly inspirational stuff.
Aaron Ramsey is back.
For the first time since breaking his leg against Stoke last year, Aaron Ramsey starts a game for Arsenal. Here is the team in full.
Almunia; Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy; Ramsey, Denilson; Nasri, Wilshere, Arshavin; van Persie
Bench: Lehmann, Rosicky, Eboué, Chamakh, Gibbs, Miquel, Bendtner.
Team courtesy of Arseblog.