Tag Archive | Cesc Fabregas

The Robin van Persie situation

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.

Alan Dzagoev: a collaboration with CWD

I’ve teamed up with Culann Davies – better known as CWD – to produce a collaboration on Alan Dzagoev after Euro 2012. He created the video, I wrote the article. Enjoy.

Russia may have crashed out of Euro 2012, but Alan Dzagoev will step off the plane with his reputation much enhanced. For a player with an already large list of admirers in football, it seemed surprising that he was still playing for CSKA Moscow in his native country, but that may not be the case soon.

Recently 22, he’s still very young, but he seems to have been around for a while. In 2008 he was linked with Real Madrid & Chelsea, but a move never materialised. A goal against Manchester United in the Champions League in 2009 also raised his stock, but he remained plying his trade at the Arena Khimki.

Closing Dzagoev’s Wikipedia page for a second and adding some opinion, Arsenal lack creativity in the current side. Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri both left, and the rather more direct Gervinho was brought in, among a few others. I’ve gone on about this plenty of times on the blog, so I shan’t elaborate.

Instead, I’ll look at what Dzagoev brings to Russia, and might be able to bring to Arsenal. The one thing that stood out the most was his excellent vision. He showed this through his intelligent movement and positioning, as well as well-timed passes, including several key passes (see 0:19; 0:52; 2:18). According to whoscored.com, he made 10 key passes at EURO 2012, in just 3 games.

Footballing intelligence and vision is one of the most important things for a creative player. Dzagoev demonstrated this in spades in Poland & Ukraine, and despite not anything fancy, everything he did was done effectively. No step-overs or tricks, but all of his contributions were important – he showed that he likes to play a simple game rather than over-complicating things.

In terms of his positioning and movement, he constantly showed tactical awareness by drifting inside to make way for the overlap of Aleksandr Anyukov (see 0:57 –> 1:03). Furthermore, as one of the playmakers in the Russia team, his roaming inwards put him in a better position to create for his side. He also occasionally swapped places with Andrey Arshavin and Aleksandr Kerzhakov, showing that he realises his job in the team, and also that he can act as a focal point (see 0:36).

Arsenal’s options out wide are all fairly direct – Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott and Gervinho are all players who like to either run with the ball or run onto it, rather than players who create by passing or just move the ball on effectively. A certain amount of balance is needed – if you have x amount of players wanting to run onto a ball, you’ll probably need the same amount who are able to supply the ball.

That was poorly worded, but Dzagoev would bring the playmaking abilities Arsenal have missed since Fabregas and Nasri left. Rosicky and Arteta were able to make up for the losses, but Arsenal still struggled creatively, in the first half of the season especially.

The Russian can play as a central playmaker or as a wide player, and this is the type of player positionally that Arsene Wenger has been looking for. Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla and Mario Goetze were all apparently on his wishlist last summer, with the former duo apparently being close to joining the Gunners.

The reason for this versatility being needed is the imminent emergence of Jack Wilshere and/or Aaron Ramsey as a central playmaker. One of the two was supposed to replace Cesc Fabregas when he left, but neither are ready yet, so Wenger will most likely be on the look-out for another stop-gap to back-up Rosicky.

Dzagoev fits the bill, as he would be able to move out wide once one of the British midfielders was ready, meaning neither of them was ‘killed’, as Wenger often puts it. The difficulty that his countryman and captain Andrey Arshavin faced in London may put the playmaker off, but their situations are different.

While Dzagoev has just enjoyed an eye-catching European Championship, like Arshavin before him, the more recent Russian starlet is younger, and has the rest of his career ahead of him. Arshavin was living off of the buzz of being brought in as Arsenal’s saviour in January, and once that wore off struggled for motivation.

I’m getting ahead of myself, but in his brief cameo role in Euro 2012 he was very impressive, despite Russia crashing out. With the injury problems of Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, Arsene Wenger must surely have Dzagoev in his thoughts.

False nine Fabregas shows his importance, and more

Many were bewildered by Spain’s starting eleven against Italy due to the exclusion of a natural striker; it appeared that Cesc Fabregas would be deployed as a false 9 in between David Silva and Andres Iniesta, although some inaccurately compared it to the 4-6-0 played by Scotland under Craig Levein. In truth, it wasn’t all that different to how Barcelona line up – of course Cesc Fabregas isn’t a traditional striker, but neither is Lionel Messi, and you usually see Messi roaming free with other Barca players acting as the focal point as he wanders about looking for the ball.

This was exactly what we saw Spain do, with Iniesta and Silva taking turns to move into a central position when Fabregas went looking for space – although admittedly he’s not at Messi’s level so doesn’t quite command the freedom his club-mate does. However, this switching of positions utterly confounds a man-marking system, as players trying to follow their opposite numbers around the pitch would be dragged all over the place, and this fluidity and flexibility is what makes Spain, and Barcelona, so good.

It’s not just senseless roaming though – the idea behind Spain’s game is that when one player moves into another ‘zone’ of the pitch, the player currently in that zone switches positions with his team-mate. This is the basic idea behind Total Football, which was brought to Barcelona by Rinus Michels.

However, Italy defended resolutely and in numbers to deny Spain, who seemed to be lacking a plan B – it was suggested by some that they use the wide areas a little more, but when Italy sat deep, they had a five-man defence, with the two wing-backs dropping back into more reserved roles to deny Spain any space in behind, and also at times came inside to suffocate Spain and send them out wide where the starting eleven were less comfortable.

Spain, however, believe the best form of defence is attack; they try to restrict the opposition by monopolising the possession – the motto is that if the other team don’t have the ball, they can’t score. On top of their metronomic passing, another way Spain try to limit the other team’s possession is by pressing intensely and harassing the players on the ball, trying to cut off any options and win the ball back as soon as possible.

However, while this works against a lot of teams in La Liga for Barcelona, Italy were less susceptible to this intense pressing – Andrea Pirlo in particular never panicked, and consistently managed to out-manoeuvre his Spanish adversaries. On top of that, the Italians were sure to pass quickly so that Spain didn’t have time to hound them on the ball and cut off their options.

Italy eventually went ahead, having missed a few good opportunities previously in the game – thanks in part to Iker Casillas being on fine form – when Pirlo danced past Sergio Busquets and sent a magnificent ball past the Spanish defence to meet the well-timed run of Antonio di Natale, who finished expertly.

Rather than reverting to a plan B immediately, Spain were more patient, and instead of throwing on Fernando Llorente – or Pedro for more direct penetration, as we’ve come to expect from Spain and Barcelona – they simply upped the ante, and kept doing what they had been doing, only at a more frantic pace. This paid off; David Silva managed to thread the ball through delightfully for Fabregas to knock past Buffon first time.

This goal showed the value of the false 9 role – Silva had gone into the space vacated by Fabregas, and as Silva dropped slightly deeper to receive the ball, Fabregas made a superb run from deep which surprised the Italy back line, and he was able to steal in to grab an equaliser.

So Spain had eventually barged the door down having politely rung the doorbell for 60 minutes, and you could argue that it was Italy’s goal that jolted the Spaniards into life. Until then, the likes of Xavi and Iniesta had been more than happy to play tiki-taka around Marchisio, Motta and co, patiently waiting for an opening to appear. Indeed, it was Fabregas and Silva, the two players who have played in England, who took a more direct approach, and that summed up the variety that they bring having played in the more intense, direct Premier League for a combined 8 years.

Del Bosque then opted to bring on Jesus Navas – oddly for David Silva, the provider of the assist, and later Fernando Torres for the scorer Fabregas. The game was far more suited to Torres late on, as Italy came searching for a winner, which saw the game open up more – this game him opportunities on the counter attack to race clear on goal, although he didn’t manage to convert any of the half-chances afforded to him.

Neither team could find a winner though, and it finished 1-1 after an interesting game – as well as Spain’s false 9 and various other strategies, Italy played a classically Italian three man defence with a libero and wing backs, while Andrea Pirlo showed Europe once again that he’s no slouch; up against Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and more no less.

Arsenal are stuck between two eras

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.

Newcastle, Cesc, Udinese and more

Apologies for my lack of posts recently – your ‘make-up present’ is a post split into four; basically the four things I would have written about in each post that never came… (if that makes sense)

Newcastle

Despite our solidity at the back, it was a very worrying performance. Once again we struggled going forward, failing to create any real opportunities and it didn’t seem like we would if the game went on for another 90 minutes. In that respect we desperately missed Fabregas, and to a degree, Nasri.

The biggest problem seemed to be the lack of a link between midfield and attack. Without Jack that was emphasised even more. I thought Rosicky actually had a decent game, he was trying to make things happen and wasn’t getting much help. Ramsey didn’t have the best of games, sort of struggling to impose himself on the match, while Robin seemed to lack any decent support.

I think usually that without Fabregas we need creativity to come from the wings, and while Arshavin did fashion one chance for van Persie, he was pretty ineffective. Gervinho on the other hand was constantly finding himself in good positions, only failing to deliver the right final ball. Reports from France did say that his decision making needed a little work, and from what we saw on Saturday that does seem evident.

The problem was though, when Gervinho did deliver a ball into the box, or when anyone else did for that matter, there was only really van Persie in there, and when you have one striker amongst five or six opposition players, you’ve got little chance of scoring. What we needed was probably a few energetic runs from midfield from Ramsey, arriving late in the box giving Gervinho another option.

Cesc

Well, it’s the end of an era. Once again, our best player has left for supposedly greener pastures, although again I can’t think he’ll be loved as much as he was here. There have been countless tributes to Cesc – surely none better than this from Sian, but I’m going to avoid that kind of sentimental piece. I’m sure everyone knows that Cesc’s my favourite ever player, but I’d rather not dwell on the past and instead focus on the future.

I’m still clinging onto the hope of seeing Juan Mata arrive at the Emirates as a replacement for either Cesc or Nasri – more on him later - especially seeing as Valencia have just tied up the signing of Sergio Canales, a similar type of player to Mata. It all makes sense to me; the transfer merry-go-round would be complete and I think everyone would be relatively pleased.

Of course we do have Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, but I can’t see the two of them being ready to carry the entire creative burden at the club. With Walcott and Gervinho looking to be our first choice wing pairing, we won’t have much creativity from the wings – both will look to get in behind the defence, so we’ll need our two most advanced central midfielders to be creating most if not all of their opportunities.

We may well see a change in the dynamics of our game, perhaps focussing less on possession and more on direct attacks now that Cesc is gone. I should imagine Aidan will have something to add to what I say in his latest column on Friday, but on every other day you’re stuck with my primitive tactical mind. Deal with it.

Udinese

It was important to get a win, and that’s what we got – although people still managed to find reason to complain. I’d rather focus on the positives: we kept a clean sheet, we looked relatively safe at the back despite some scares – Vermaelen and Koscielny looks a terrific partnership – Theo made some intelligent runs and made a good overall contribution and we did really well to carve Udinese open for our goal.

It was a shame we couldn’t build on it, although we came close once or twice; Handanovic’s stunning save from Walcott’s effort springs to mind. However, it’s important that we won and managed not to concede. The crowd got behind the team for the most part, and the team responded at times. There didn’t seem to be much negativity, and while at the same time positivity was sometimes hard to come by, at least the fans tried being patient with the players instead of bemoaning every missed pass.

Everything else

Nasri is apparently set for a medical with Manchester City in less than ten minutes. My source? Some bloke on Twitter. I actually hope he’s right. Nasri’s stalled for too long and I’d rather have players who want to play for Arsenal.

I really think Nasri has taken the fans for granted. If he thought we were going to support him as he basically damaged the club over the summer with his indecision and apparent lack of enthusiasm at the prospect of staying, he was wrong. It makes you wonder why players are so ready to throw away the love they get from supporters.

Robin van Persie is our new captain, and it’s good to have a skipper so clearly 100% committed to the Arsenal cause. I’m sure he won’t tolerate any slacking or lack of commitment either. Thomas Vermaelen will ‘assist’ him, obviously meaning that he’ll be vice captain (why didn’t you just say that Arsene).

It’s a decent leadership partnership, but I’d imagine Vermaelen will still act as if he’s captain, just not taking on all of the official duties of skipper. Instead of having van Persie clearly ahead of the hierarchy (not always a wise idea) I reckon Vermaelen will be right next to him on any posters.

As for signings – the moment you’ve all been waiting for – nothing’s reallly happening. There have been murmurs that we’re going in for Mauro Zarate, Lazio’s ex-Birmingham forward, who can change a game, but I can’t see it. Mainly because his agent’s doing all the talking and it’s not the first time. L’equipe claim we had a loan deal for Marseille’s Lucho Gonzalez, formerly of Porto, rejected out-right, because they wouldn’t be able to find a replacement.

That’s about it for today, hopefully we’ll have some good news to be talking about sooner rather than later.