This article first appeared on Sabotage Times. Click or Diaby will hunt you down
The most inescapable facet of Abou Diaby’s career at Arsenal has been the comparison with Patrick Vieira. A tall, gangly French central midfielder of African descent playing at Arsenal under Arsène Wenger; the likenesses were invariably going to be addressed.
In fairness, they are quite a bit alike on the pitch. Their physical similarities mean that their playing styles have many shared components – both stride around the pitch using their long legs to retain possession, and, when on his game, Diaby uses his strength to hold off opponents in the same way as the former Arsenal captain did time and again at Highbury.
But while Vieira was a disciplined distributor, Diaby is a midfielder who likes to get forward, and often emphasises this in interviews. Having been pigeon-holed by many as a defensive midfielder due to his physical attributes, despite preferring to attack, it’s understandable that his progress has been delayed – and not just by injury – as it’s taken time to perfect his role at Arsenal.
Another player who’s suffered a similar categorization is Yaya Toure. At Barcelona he was classified as a holding midfielder due to his strength and size – it was assumed that he would follow the many midfielders of African descent in being a defensive player, but he seemed reluctant to play in a disciplined role. When he came to Manchester City, he was given freedom to drive forward from midfield into advanced positions, which suited him perfectly.
Comparisons between Diaby and Toure, like those between the current Arsenal number 2 and Vieira, may be easy to make, but there’s certainly weight behind them. Both of them are skilful midfielders who swim against the tide of stereotypes, preferring to break forward in support of attackers than stay back and protect the defence.
One of the main differences has recently been that while Toure has been on top of his game for a while, Diaby has struggled so long for any semblance of form, mainly due to injuries – not just the physical consequences but the mental aspect. His confidence seemed drained during matches, and he looked unsure of himself.
Quite what clicked against Liverpool is unclear. It may be that he just needed games under his belt, or that alongside Arteta given license to get forward everything finally came together for him, but his performance had pundits showering him with praise. The role he played was similar to that of Toure at Man City – alongside a disciplined distributor in midfield, given license to go forward.
Funnily enough, Vieira would probably be Diaby’s perfect central midfield partner. Like Arteta at Anfield, he would sit deep while Diaby probed forwards with driving runs, dancing pirouettes and penetrative passing. We finally saw Diaby produce something close to his best after seemingly laying dormant for so long, and Arsène Wenger will have been pleased to see his persistence pay off.
The comparison of Toure and Diaby isn’t exactly ground-breaking – the Arsenal midfielder made it himself after the game – but it certainly proves that Diaby can be a success after so long without a defined role. He seems to have found his calling, a role in which Toure so frequently excels for Manchester City, and one that should also help his new team-mate, Santi Cazorla. When Diaby breaks forward from midfield, Cazorla can drift into wide areas as he loves to do, with Diaby occupying his position. Indeed, we saw this for Cazorla’s goal at Anfield.
It will certainly give Arsenal unpredictability going forwards – rather than a rigid formation, the team will be free-flowing and fluid going forward. Last season it was similar, but the chaos that often broke down opposing teams also contributed to the Gunners’ own downfall; the lack of structure leading to a leaky defence.
Song was in Diaby’s box-to-box role, and Arteta’s function was slightly vague. This season it’s much clearer that he’s the disciplined holder and Diaby the one with license to get forward, and with more clarity Arsenal should benefit.
Wenger was widely derided for not buying a centre midfielder in the summer, especially after the sale of Song, but Diaby coming good against Liverpool seems to be vindicating him. Everyone knew of his talent, but the question was whether he could finally fulfil that potential. It was a risk to not strengthening centrally, but Diaby seems to have benefitted from the faith his manager put in him.
It took a while, but this may well prove to be another time where Arsène Wenger has the last laugh.
Despite the fact that I’m in Turkey, the Arsenal bug has followed me and has bitten, so I’ve been unable to resist posting my thoughts on the recent goings-on at the club.
Recently the main talking point, other than you-know-who (I’ll get to him/it later), has been the friendly against FC Köln; Lukas Podolski’s former club of course. Our new German forward started the game alongside fellow new signings Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud, and all three stood out for differing reasons.
Podolski started on the left wing, and at first wasn’t involved all that much as he got to grips with our style of play, but after a brief lack of involvement began to see more of the ball, as he drifted in from his wide position; Kieran Gibbs’ overlapping allowing him to do so.
This feature of their link-up play – Podolski coming in search of the ball and Gibbs taking up the vacated space out wide – saw Lukas score our third goal, and his second; he dropped deep centrally, looking for the ball, and got it, before sending a probing, lobbed ball over the defence. Gibbs chased after it, and Podolski continued his run, converting the pull-back with the type of efficient finish we’ll surely come to expect from the £11 million man.
Earlier the 27-year-old had converted a penalty to make it 2-0, after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had been fouled. It was a confident finish, and perhaps Podolski might be our penalty taker for the new season, depending on the situation with *ahem*… All annoying speculation aside, Lukas had a good game, and looked comfortable out wide and later in a central berth in the second half, before being replaced by… erm, before being replaced.
£12 million man Santi Cazorla (I know, I can’t believe it either) lined up in between Podolski and Theo Walcott in what has been referred to in recent seasons as ‘the Cesc role’. But if his performance today was anything to go by, we might be calling it ‘the Santi role’ for years to come. He did everything required of him in the position – creating in advanced positions, pressing alongside the centre forward, and dropping deep to aid transitions from defence to midfield as well as ball retention.
He looked assured on the ball, and showed the degree of technical ability you tend to expect from a Spanish midfielder. It seems as if he’ll follow in the footsteps of Juan Mata and David Silva in becoming a Spanish playmaker integral to his side. He was at the heart of a lot of good moves yesterday – always offering an option, playing several key passes as we had hoped, and also sending in the corner for the first goal, which was flicked on by Per Mertesacker and nodded home by Thomas Vermaelen. As many said, it was the typical Steve Bould goal.
One of Cazorla’s excellent passes was a simple ball that was played easily between two defenders and into the trajectory of the run of a certain Olivier Giroud, whose shot was saved well by Timo Horn. Giroud had four efforts in target during his first-half appearance, all dealt with well by Horn, and it was the goalkeeper who came out on top of the duel. Still, Giroud can be pleased with his showing. He made good runs to help forge those chances – firstly one in behind the defence to be found by Francis Coquelin; Giroud then sprinted onto the ball and from a tight angle fired a snapshot low at the near post, only for it to be turned around by Horn. The resulting corner led to the first goal anyway, so the missed opportunity didn’t mean much.
Having had another shot saved by Horn after being found by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cut-back, Giroud was slipped in on goal by Cazorla. After sticking out a leg to control the ball well, his powerful curled effort was saved well again by Horn, and was denied for a third time. His fourth missed opportunity was a powerful header from a corner which was tipped over nicely by the goalkeeper, a chance which few could begrudge him for not scoring.
All in all it was a good performance from Giroud – while the finishes weren’t perfect, his all-round play was impressive, as he linked well with his team-mates, acting as a good foil for the likes of Walcott and Cazorla. Indeed, he linked up with both at one point to almost assist a goal, nodding down Walcott’s cross for Cazorla to fire a low driven volley against the legs of Horn from a decent position. Giroud’s hold-up play was excellent too, as he kept the ball well, putting his physique to good use, as well as acting as a reference point for the entire team and pressing well.
So we saw three very encouraging performances from the new signings, with the trio all impressing on their debuts for different reasons, but Francis Coquelin also caught my eye. He was tenacious and good going forward, but was sloppy in his own half – basically everything we see from Alex Song. He was careless on the ball quite a bit last season, against West Brom on the final day in particular, and we saw it again at the Rhein-Energie Stadion. It’s disappointing because he’s a precocious talent, yet, like Song, seems prone to complaceny. Let’s hope it only crept in because it was a friendly.
I must also touch on Gervinho, who put in a good second half performance. The decision making issues are still very much there – he failed to spot Lukas Podolski in a perfect position to complete his hat-trick early in the second half, and later delayed too long before shooting – but it was an encouraging showing from our Ivorian winger. Our fourth was an excellently taken goal by him; he received the ball on the left, deftly nipped past his man, before beating him again and slotting home at the near post with a clever finish. As I said recently, I’m expecting a big season from him, so let’s hope he doesn’t disappoint.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also put in a good shift, with some powerful runs and some clever passes. He played deep in midfield alongside Coquelin, and the two of them often combined well with Cazorla as a triangle. It had seemed a curious midfield three at first, but it seemed to work, with a lot of fluid interchanging of positions. Chamberlain has been ruled out of England’s friendly with Italy (Joleon Lescott has been called up instead – why is nobody tweeting #InRoyWeTrust?) with an ankle knock, but it doesn’t seem anything serious. Hopefully it’ll mean he’s more fresh for the Sunderland game, or at least avoids a worse injury on international duty.
Sadly I feel like I have to touch on the more negative points raised from the 4-0 victory, and for me, the main one was the handling of the captaincy. Personally, I don’t want van Persie being captain at all, but I can understand Arsene not wanting to officially strip him of the armband, as it might lower his value. Still, the situation was handled poorly – no captain was selected for the second half, meaning when van Persie came on, he was already donning the armband.
If, say, Koscielny had been given the captaincy at the start of the second half, the issue would have been avoided, because van Persie wouldn’t have been expected to take the armband when he came on. Instead, it seemed as if Wenger was sure to make a statement by giving van Persie the armband in a situation where he normally wouldn’t have had it anyway. It’s hard to tell what that move meant – or if it was actually down to poor planning, although I don’t think Arsene would have fallen foul of that with such an important issue – because it could be one of a few things. Perhaps Wenger was trying to keep van Persie’s value high, or perhaps he was trying to warn off potential bidders and make a statement.
For me, I don’t think that little stunt – if it was one – would do anything for van Persie’s value, as he surely wouldn’t be expected to take the captaincy from a player already wearing the armband if he came on. Furthermore I’m completely against van Persie being captain in any situation – it’s not just that a captain is supposed to be a leader on the pitch, but an ambassador for the club. Van Persie can no longer do the latter, and there must be question marks over the former too, given his desire to leave the club.
However, I can see Wenger’s point of view – the media would blow it out of proportion if he didn’t receive the armband from whoever might have had it at the beginning of the second half, which might have some effect on van Persie’s value. It sounds a little silly, but perhaps Wenger was right to be cautious. After all, he knows a lot better than I do.
The final talking point before I lift myself from the metaphorical pool of speculation and dive into the very-real pool of the villa in Turkey where I’m staying – yes, that’s my commitment, writing before relaxing – is about Nuri Şahin. We’ve been linked with him for a while, and now AS are saying that his loan move is expected to be confirmed this week – with the Turk most likely coming here to Arsenal. I’ve spoken on Twitter about this, but I have to re-emphasise how thrilled I would be at the signing.
Real Madrid want to loan him for a reason; he’s had fitness problems, and they want him to regain his sharpness and match fitness so he’s ready to play next year for them, so it would be unwise to expect his Dortmund form straight away. But wow, if we could harness that form during the season, he’ll be a brilliant addition. He was superb for BVB in his final season there, as they won the title with him at the forefront, and on that form he would have walked into almost any midfield in the world.
Sadly, Madrid’s is not included in that enormous list, and he suffered there. But his lack of game-time shouldn’t put us off too much – he’s a fantastic talent with the potential to really make a difference for us. He has the clichéd ‘wand of a left foot’, which he uses to spray passes across the pitch – his range of passing is almost Cesc-esque (what a word) – and he’s composed on the ball. He’s not afraid to get stuck in either, so he should be able to adapt well to English football if he does come here. Let’s just hope it’s the Emirates he’s plying his trade at if so.
That’s all from me, although I imagine Saurabh might have something soon-ish for you to feast your eyes on. Enjoy fantasising about Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski firing us to a long overdue trophy…
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.
For a while I have avoided the controversial topic of Arsenal’s money – specifically whose fault it is that we’re not spending money. However, after a discussion with Mean Lean of Arsenal Vision, I feel ready to throw my hat into the ring.
In the summer, Arsenal had looked to be on the verge of signing Juan Mata. The deal was supposedly set to be sealed, but according to Guillem Balague, the Gunners pulled out at the last minute. There was a debate about who at Arsenal pulled the plug – Arsène Wenger or the board*.
Let me start by saying one thing – Arsène Wenger does not negotiate deals. If my understanding of the club’s structure and hierarchy is correct, Richard Law and Ivan Gazidis are at the helm of the negotiations for players coming in, going out and potentially signing new contracts. I believe that they’re backed up by a team of negotiators too, the number of which I’m unsure of.
This isn’t to say that Wenger has no say in who we buy, sell and keep; not at all. He is the one who makes the decision to negotiate for whomever – he picks the players to try to buy, to try to sell and try to keep. I assume that he also advises the negotiators based on his footballing knowledge. Of course, he can pull the plug on a deal, but I don’t think this was the case with Mata, which is just an example I’m using to make my point.
For Wenger, his priorities are footballing results first, money second. Obviously the two are somewhat correlated, but there is no reason to suspect that he is holding back money just for the sake of making a profit at the expense of winning matches and trophies and at the risk of damaging his reputation further. The board, however, are basically investors. For them, the most important thing is money – while a few might be Arsenal supporters, the majority most likely favour money over footballing results.
Arsenal have been producing high profits for seasons now, and the credit has rightly gone to Arsène Wenger – he has kept the club largely competitive (despite an absence of trophies come the end of each season) and has done so without breaking the bank. He still manages to sneak under the radar and sign excellent players such as Laurent Koscielny without paying massive prices. But now we come to the point of this article.
The board have seen how Arsène has generated large profits and kept the club competitive and perhaps this has made them reluctant to sign off on the bigger deals when Wenger feels they’re needed; like Mata for example (although this is all just educated guess-work). But it’s not as simple as that anymore – the teams around us have been wising up and some have been bought up, leading to a more competitive league. We can no longer secure all of our targets because we’re never the only club on the scene; other teams have caught up with scouting and so on and it’s not as easy for Arsène to pull rabbits out of the hat.
Wenger had insisted that he would not sell both Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas in the summer and if he’s as stubborn as his critics insist he is, I’m sure he would have done everything in his power to keep his word. Fabregas was always likely to go, but Wenger did say that he thought Nasri would remain at Arsenal, even if he didn’t sign a contract extension. Putting two and two together here, I believe that the board forced through the sale of Nasri so we wouldn’t lose him for nothing at the end of his contract.
In the current financial and footballing climate, I feel it’s unreasonable for the board to expect the same miracles from Arsène Wenger again and again without adjusting our wage and transfer budgets accordingly to fit with the rising prices in the world of football. We’re getting left behind, and so many times we have failed to bring in a player because they were “unavailable”. Prices are rising, and to get quality sometimes you have to pay – like for Mata. If anyone can give me a better reason for the deal being cancelled (if that’s what happened, and it seems that way) than the board refusing to sanction it, I’d be happy to listen.
As I implied above, I doubt it’s just the transfer budget which has kept us from signing players. Wages are increasing yet we still seem to be incorporating a £100,000-a-week ceiling. Obviously footballers wages are huge, let’s ignore that, but instead remember that we moved to the Emirates Stadium to compete financially with the top teams. Or at least, that’s the line we were fed. We don’t seem to be doing that.
I have no doubt that Wenger would keep his best players if he could – he’s a football manager, not a wheeler dealer (to paraphrase a twitchy tax evader) – but for several reasons, he’s not been able to. He’d also adequately replace them if he could. But he hasn’t done so, while the club is still making a profit. What reason do the board have to change things if they can still make money out of the club?
This is just my logical take on it, it’s how I see things at the club. I’m entirely willing to accept that I may be completely wrong.
* – After the Kroenke deal, no members on the official board have shares in the club (which is relevant through-out this article), but since the deal Kroenke is now the one who stands to gain from the profits Arsène has helped to generate. Either way, the general point from the post remains. As far as my understanding goes… Although according to @DarrenArsenal1, board members still stand to gain directors’ expenses, so can still profit from the club.
Not really an unfamiliar sight is it? Arsene looking on in desperation, as we crumble yet again.
It’s gotten to the stage where I wouldn’t even be adverse to him leaving. I’ve been one of his most staunch defenders lately, and even I’m questioning his methods.
In attack, we were on the whole back to our usual fluid style of the middle of last season. Sadly, we were also back to our shaky old selves in defence. It frustrates the life out of me that we can’t combine the fluidity in attack with the strength at the back. Against Dortmund we were excellent at the back yet struggled going forward, and it was the opposite today. Why can we not have both? It’s as if this Arsenal side don’t have the mental capacity to concentrate on more than one aspect of football in one game. We’re either good in defence or good in attack – at the moment we can’t put the two together.
But why not? It shouldn’t have to be one or the other. If we had both we’d be a much better team for it. But it seems like to play our flowing best in attack, we have to be shaky in defence, and vice versa. Maybe we need to mentally and physically separate the defence from the rest of the team. Let them do their job, let the attack do theirs. Or maybe the concentration has to be drilled into them on the training ground. At the moment I can’t really see that happening.
That’s not to say there weren’t positives – there were, of course. In midfield and attack we were better than we’ve been for a long time. But as I say, if our defence plays like a bunch of spastics there’s not much the rest of the players can do about it. Still, we were very sharp going forward and the team was gelling well in attack.
The goals were also very refreshing; three quite different types of goal, which shows we can vary our play. Gervinho’s was a very simple goal; defence splitting pass (kudos to Alex Song) and a neat finish. Arteta’s was a lovely change of pace in attack; a lovely pass to get Ramsey in a good position (cheers again Alex), and the speed and intensity of the move was a joy to watch as Ramsey cut it back for Arteta to fire home. And the third goal, at last a headed goal and at last a goal from Chamakh; a lovely cross from van Persie and a perfect header from Chamakh to his credit.
And now, the ugly part. The goals we shipped. There were four of them, just thought I’d remind you. Anyway, the first. Fairly poor defensively, Santos and Koscielny playing Yakubu onside, and Mertesacker not really doing himself any favours either with some slow play. From then on there was nothing we could do about it; a lovely finish from Yakubu, giving Szczesny no chance. The second saw a lack of organisation and leadership from a free kick, which saw the ball unluckily ricochet off Song and past the helpless Szczesny. It was similar in the third goal; nobody attacking the ball, and then bad luck on the second ball, this time with Yakubu blatantly offside. Then with the fourth goal, it was a needless sliding tackle from Djourou that saw Olsson break clean through, and Koscielny was a bit unlucky with the ricochet.
We could have been a lot more clinical in attack too actually. Gervinho was wasteful on two particular occasions in the first half, while Chamakh, van Persie and Mertesacker all missed good chances late on in the second half. Mertesacker’s was the most guilt-edged of them all; six yards out, an almost open goal, and he headed over. Of all people, you’d expect Mertesacker to be able to get his head over the ball. However, it was a bit of a pathetic leap, and he nodded over.
We probably should have had a penalty in the last minute, Walcott being thrown off balance by Paul Robinson sliding from underneath him, but there were no protests seeing as we had to concentrate on the ball which was still in play. Regardless of whether we appealed, the referee should have still given it, it was as clear as day from where I was sitting and I can’t see how the referee didn’t see either. But we’re in a run of poor form and sometimes that’s how it goes.
Shrewsbury on Tuesday offers a chance to renew the optimism that we had a few days ago. The likes of Ryo and Oxlade-Chamberlain should play, and it’ll be exciting for the fans to witness two players who’ll be on the fringes of the first team in the next couple of seasons, while knocking on the door no doubt.
Anyway, that’s it from me. Let’s hope we can turn things around.