Tag Archive | Gervinho

Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland: slow start but patience required

So, first game of the season and Arsenal draw 0-0 with Sunderland. This means we’re in crisis, wasted money on two strikers who are useless, will never win a game again etc.

Anyone drawing radical conclusions like that from one game – the first game of the season at that – is quite frankly a moron. If the first game of the season dictated everything, we’d see Swansea and Fulham in the Champions League next season, Liam Ridgewell would end up in the team of the season, and Tottenham would finish somewhere in the bottom half. Although…

Compulsory Tottenham insults aside, the performance yesterday isn’t anything to be fretting about just yet, considering the circumstances. We had no Sagna, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain or Rosicky, so it wasn’t a full-strength Arsenal on paper. You also have Alex Song departing, so we had neither he nor his potential replacement available. The transfer window hasn’t even ended yet – we look set to get Nuri Sahin on loan, and, unless he’s Song’s replacement, a defensive midfielder. Maybe even another signing. Who knows.

Beyond players that weren’t available and that might be in the near future, let’s look at the players who did play. Considering Santi Cazorla played for Spain in Puerto Rico three days before the match, and had pretty much no pre-season, he had a very promising start to his Arsenal career, buzzing all over the pitch, eager to receive the ball, quick to release it again. He was billed as the typical Spanish midfielder and he certainly lived up to that reputation.

Lukas Podolski, by all accounts, struggled a little. While he did play as a lone striker last season in the Bundesliga, that was for a side who didn’t look to dominate possession and instead often scored from counter-attacks, meaning Podolski had quite a bit of space to exploit when Cologne attacked. That wasn’t often the case on Saturday, and he didn’t get a lot of joy.

Replacing Podolski in the second half was the third and final signing we’ve made so far, French striker Olivier Giroud. Our new number 12 is the one who provided the sensationalists and reactionaries with the moment our entire season fell apart, missing a chance when put clean through by Cazorla. “Van Persie would have scored that!” is the general reaction, and maybe he would have. So what? Giroud probably would have scored that open goal that Van Persie missed against Manchester United. I would have. My missus Sandra would have scored that.

Judging a striker on one miss is ridiculous. It was his weaker foot, his first real chance as an Arsenal player, and he hasn’t had a proper pre-season. Giroud deserves the benefit of the doubt before being written off – one miss means absolutely nothing until we see more from him. If that miss happened in the middle of the season, and Giroud had scored a lot of goals, would people be saying we miss Van Persie? No. Comparisons like that just can’t be made from one tiny incident.

Taking the positives, it was a great bit of movement from Giroud and superb vision from Cazorla to poke it through for him. If we see more of that, there’s no doubt we’ll see goals. It just wasn’t to be that time.

Through-out the game we seemed like a team who are still gelling – sorry for the cliché but it stands up on this occasion – with important members still requiring time to work on their sharpness before fully firing. It’s not surprising that we seemed like that, because it’s exactly what we are at this moment in time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, in the same way this team won’t start firing instantly. It’ll take a bit of patience and it’s foolish to write them off after one game.

Gervinho was lively, and was one of the main dangermen from what I saw (I was on a plane during the game, surrounded by the worst people in the world) and it seems like he’s going to be less of an enigma and more of a consistent thorn in teams’ sides. His directness will help us, as he’ll look to take players on with his superb close-control. He just needs to improve his decision making, which was by all accounts a feature of his play at Lille. He does like that cut-back from the byline, and it’s had some success at Arsenal.

At the end of the day, it was one game. We’ve drawn games before, we’ll draw games in the future. It’s not the end of the world. Our team is nowhere near hitting its stride, so until we have more to draw conclusions from, let’s be patient and wait and see what the team, and indeed Arsene Wenger, has in store for us.

New boys impress, Ox, Gerv & Coq, captaincy issues and Nuri Şahin

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…

Expect energetic Gervinho to exceed Emirates expectations

With most of Arsenal’s pre-season talk centring around the Robin van Persie saga, not to mention the signing of Santi Cazorla – which should be announced in the next couple of days – the actual football displayed by the Gunners has somewhat sneaked under the radar.

While it’s never wise to read too far into friendlies, especially those against Asian minnows Kitchee among others, Gervinho has impressed enough for him to be firmly in Arsène Wenger’s thoughts for the new season. Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will provide sterling competition for the Ivorian winger, not to mention the (literally) left-field option of Andre Santos, but after his pre-season showing, he should be confident of his chances of a regular place.

His first season was a little tricky. After signing for Lille for roughly £10.5 million (the exact same as Thierry Henry when he joined from Juventus), hopes were high – after all, it seemed to some as if Arsène Wenger had opted for Gervinho over team-mate Eden Hazard, even though this was probably not the case.

Even so, according to experts he’d been just as impressive as Hazard in Lille’s successful title tilt, so expectations were fairly high for the new number 27. After all, he’d taken Emmanuel Eboue’s old number, so he had big shoes to fill; clown shoes to be precise.

Arsenal began the season with Gervinho as first choice left-winger, with Oxlade-Chamberlain deemed not ready, Yossi Benayoun not yet trusted, and Andrey Arshavin falling rapidly more out of favour with Arsène Wenger by the week. However, a red card on his competitive debut against Newcastle after a tussle with Joey Barton stalled Gervinho’s Arsenal career before it had even properly begun.

In and around his domestic ban, though, he began to make a good impression – he provided a vital assist for Robin van Persie in the Champions League qualifier against Udinese when the Gunners were struggling to find a way through. A goal against Blackburn after his ban ended was another high point, before he turned in arguably his best performance of the season against Stoke.

Having put the Gunners ahead early on with a smart bit of control and subsequent finish, having jinked his way into the penalty area he set up van Persie to score twice, inspiring his side to a 3-1 victory.

A woeful miss against Chelsea didn’t help his cause, but the performance surrounding it certainly did, as he helped earn his side a 5-3 win with an assist and some all-round good play. Goals against Wigan and Wolves followed, and although he didn’t score any more after that, he continued to impress intermittently with his superb dribbling skills.

As is customary with most African players though, the African Cup of Nations didn’t help his season though. Not only did it interfere with his progress with his club, missing the crucial penalty in the final clearly had a sizeable effect on the winger mentally.

Because of this, and perhaps because he still hadn’t adapted to the league fully, he struggled on occasion – at times his play was slightly timid, and the lack of final product he had at times displayed in Ligue Un was as prominent as ever.

If inconsistency was a problem in his first season though, it wasn’t in pre-season. The mazy runs were more common than ever, with several dribbles leading to chances in their numerous pre-season friendlies. A similar bit of play led to a goal for himself too, as he danced past a few Southampton defenders to fire home at St Mary’s late in a 45 minute match.

This season, Gervinho should have adapted properly to the Premier League – it often takes Premier League players to settle in 100% to English football, as Laurent Koscielny and Didier Drogba would probably attest to. With a year surrounded by the likes of Robin van Persie and coached by Arsène Wenger under his belt, there’s no doubt that he’ll have improved as a player as well.

The fundamental problems with Gervinho’s game are mostly things that can be ironed out – poor decision making, for example, will fade away the more he trains with his side and the more that he learns from those around him. His finishing still seems to need work, but practice makes perfect, and Wenger will be sure that his Ivorian wide-man is working tirelessly on his shooting.

People may mock him for the size of his forehead – sadly it doesn’t seem to help with his heading – and also focus on the errors in his game, but after a season of quiet improvement and a pre-season of showing it, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to chuck Gervinho into your fantasy team.

This article first appeared on Sabotage Times

Podolski, M’Vila, Giroud: Arsenal fans’ optimism is being justified

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.

Relief, happiness and a bit of excitement

I’ve not posted for a few days, mainly because I’ve been disillusioned and fairly uninspired with what’s been going on at the club of late.

Last night, that all changed. Finally, a performance that we could be proud of. Not spectacular by any means, but a hard-fought win when it mattered.

I’d like to think I was proven right in a couple of ways. For one, I’ve been backing Wenger throughout the summer, including here pre-match on Real Social Dad, and I think he showed how he deserves us to trust him still. He made all of the right calls – continuing with Jenkinson and Sagna despite the return of Traore, starting with two defensive midfielders to limit the damage from Udinese, then not being afraid to bring on Rosicky when we needed to up the tempo and keep the ball more.

He in particular had a good second half, Rosicky. He’s taken a lot of stick, and I’ve been one of few who’s stuck up for him so I was glad to see him come up with a performance. He played the link-up man role superbly, moving the ball on quickly, getting in good positions, and clearing up excellently in defence. It was a big performance from him that was desperately needed.

Something I said about Theo against Liverpool was that he should have moved onto the left flank at some point, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he was being outnumbered on the right, and secondly, he’s a lot more effective on the left, in my opinion anyway. He can cut in and go for goal. That’s exactly what he did yesterday, and to brilliant effect. He took his goal so well, and reminded people why he’s compared to Thierry so often.

Gervinho was also impressive, coming up with the end product to match his dribbles. After setting up Theo brilliantly only for him to miss, he wasn’t let down the second time, beating his man to put the ball in for RVP, who duly finished to put us back on level terms on the night and ahead again on aggregate. It was a superb piece of play from Gervinho at a time we desperately needed it. Hopefully we’ll see him split open defences like that more often. We usually struggle in situations like those so it’s nice to have someone who can unpick the lock.

And what about that man Wojciech? How many pundits has he effectively laughed in the face of? Savage, Cascarino et Al(an Hansen) have been banging on about how we need a goalkeeper for months, and I think they will finally give up after Woj’s performance yesterday. Not only the penalty save, which was oustanding, but another solid all-round game for the Pole in goal. Bob Wilson has been raving about him for ages, and it must have been brilliant for him to watch his young protege come up trumps once more.

Likewise, it was brilliant to see Bob and David Seaman praising Szczesny on Twitter. Despite a few bumps in the gaps in between, it looks like Wojciech will be the third generation of top class Arsenal goalkeepers. Who needs to spend £20 million on David de Gea (who will struggle with crosses all season long I reckon) when you have a brilliant young Pole who’ll be in goal for decades to come?

So, as I said in the title, the feeling is of relief, happiness, and a bit of excitement. I’m excited because this young Arsenal team has been written off more than ever, and this time even the fans have been sceptical, but it looks like there’s something about the team that will help us go far. With three signings – Albiol, M’Vila and Marvin Martin would be lovely – I think we can prove a lot of people wrong this year.

Up the Arsenal.