When you look at our attacking performances at the end of last season and compare it to today’s game, there doesn’t seem to be much difference.
Which is concerning seeing as we all kind of put the laboured attacking performances down to tiredness back then. Hopefully the reason for the similar offensive problems that arose today (I shall detail them further down in the post) was it being pre-season, although I worry that’s too easy an excuse to make.
The main problem that was evident to me was that our play is still far, far too slow, which means we can’t open up defences. We seem to be content passing it patiently around the edge of the box, switching the play, then switching it back, waiting for gaps to appear in the opposition’s defence. This tells me we may see two scenarios a lot this season if things don’t change. Late goals - because the other team will have tired, meaning more gaps will be created – and stalemates; because some teams manage to stay defensively disciplined for the entire 90 minutes. Although another reason for that happening might be that we’re just not clicking. Still, I can see those two scenarios featuring a lot.
Unless we boost our creative options, and it looks like we’re going to do that with the addition of one Juan Manuel Mata from Valencia, who I’ve spoken about a little already recently. Well respected Spanish journalists Guillem Balague and Graham Hunter have both been reporting that the deal is close to finalisation for some €22 million – a hefty fee but it could well be worth it. During a conversation about the Spaniard, Hunter said this: “Let me assure you that if your club signed Mata you’d adore him. Gifted, tough, quick, hard working, lots of potential too” – which is encouraging to say the least.
During the journey up to the Emirates I discussed with my brother and cousin how we would line up if we signed Mata. We all agreed on a back line of Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen and Gibbs, a midfield pivot of Song and Wilshere; then we came to a crossroads. Up front of course was today’s goalscorer, Robin van Persie (hopefully we’ll see more of those goals from Arsenal) but the attacking trio behind him was the subject of some debate.
A few options crossed our minds. Playing Ramsey in the hole was a popular idea, although we couldn’t agree on who to play in the wings in that situation. I thought I’d probably have Nasri and Mata on the wings, with Arshavin and Walcott as impact substitutes, then I realised I hadn’t factored Gervinho into the equation. I guess we could have all three on the bench, as they all offer fairly different options which is good to have.
We also considered having Mata in the hole, and Nasri and Gervinho either side of him. That’s quite a potent attacking trio: easily interchangable, all quick in thought and movement and capable of splitting teams open on their day. And again, Arshavin and Walcott could be our impact substitutes. Or if one of the attacking players was struggling for form or fitness we could mix it up a bit and rotate, and not be much worse off for it. That’s a great advantage of having a strong squad.
I’ve somewhat strayed from the topic of the game, so I’ll return to it. Another thought I had during the game was about how flat the crowd seemed, even the Emirates Cup supporters that we usually draw in. And as I sat there, completely bemused by how, dare I say it, boring we were, I thought that it’s no wonder the crowd are so quiet at times considering how slow our play is. It seems like the dull, endless passing that leads nowhere just sucks the life out of our fans – I began to feel seriously lethargic at one point because it was actually quite mind-numbing.
There was one moment where we played three quick one touch passes and made ourselves some space, but nothing came of it. But that quick bright spark showed what advantage we could gain from the slow build up if we exploited it more: the sudden change of pace confuses the other team and it’s difficult for them to adjust straight away. Sadly we only really did it once, and when we looked to attempt it again nobody looked to be on the same wavelength, which is worrying as well as frustrating seeing as the season is just a few weeks away.
All in all, a thoroughly frustrating game. There were some slight positives, Gervinho looked good again (should have scored but we’ll let him off) and would have won a penalty if not for the idiocy of Kevin Friend (what an absolute… well my dad reads my blog so I’ll leave it to your imagination), Gibbs looked good, in fact the defence on the whole was fairly solid, at least for the period that we had our first choice defence. Concerns remains about what happens when we get a few injuries at the back though.
Most of our corners were shocking but we did well scoring from Rosicky’s free kick – he played pretty well, although he was good at the start of last season too, but didn’t seem to have it in him to keep going. Fingers crossed it’s different this year but I’ve not got my hopes up. On the whole we did well defending corners although it was slightly difficult to see quite how well we did each time because of our seats.
Wilshere’s early departure was a worry but I think he should be fine. It was exciting to see NYRB’s Juan Agudelo play too, for me at least – I chuckled at the uninformed people who questioned who he was when his name was announced, although I suppose I’m in a minority of Arsenal fans who knows much about him. He’s an exciting player and I was amazed at the things he can already do with a ball, which he showcased at half time. There’s certainly a bit of Henry about him, and with the great man taking him under his wing, he could become a super player.
Which finally brings me to Thierry. What a man. It was brilliant to see him again (sounds like he’s an old acquaintance, although I feel like I know him so well that he might as well be) and I got goosebumps when he came out for the first time. He showed, as Arsene said, that he still has that magic touch. Until tomorrow.
Before I begin, it’s nice to be back in surprisingly sunny England.
I was in Italy for five days on a school residential, but it’s genuinely good to be back. I’ve caught up on all of the news – Gervinho’s debut double, JET’s sale, the coming of Aguero, and of course the many rumours surrounding this club. Speculation continues to surround the futures of Fabregas and Nasri, while Kyle Bartley and Henri Lansbury are also apparently close to the exit door. It also appears that Nicklas Bendtner is on the verge of joining Sporting Lisbon – and not Borussia Dortmund. *in-post update: apparently not Sporting Lisbon either*
But one rumour in particular caught my eye, and it’s one that seems to be picking up more and more pace. The link between us and Juan Mata refuses to go away, just like the stray dog who followed us around Pompeii (we named him Baxter), and the talk seems to be becoming more and more concrete. An increasing number of outlets are reporting it, so it’s perhaps one to keep an eye out for.
Numerous places are insisting cogs are turning, and that we’re locked in talks with Valencia for Mata. The prices range from £13.5 million (!!!) and £20 million. The latter would be a lot more accurate, considering he’s an absolutely wonderful player in contract until 2015. He had been somewhat in the shadow of the David duo of Silva and Villa at the Mestalla for a few seasons, but he’s well and truly emerged as a top player.
People have been suggesting that we’ll sign Mata, Cesc will leave, Nasri will move into the central midfield role, with Mata taking his place. I’ve made it clear on many occasions that I’m not too pleased with Nasri in Cesc’s position – he’s not exactly set the world alight when playing there for us, and his best positions have certainly come from the right. I’d rather we played Mata in Cesc’s position – although not with the same demands of the role – with Walcott on the left and Nasri on the right.
The reasons being that Walcott is best cutting in on his right foot – on the right wing he’s far too often forced wide onto his right, and he can’t go past his man because he’s run out of wide space to run into. If he was on the left, he could cut in as much as he wanted. His assist for RVP at Blackburn after his Croatian hat-trick = exhibit A. He would be able to swap around with Nasri every now and then to confuse the opposition or in case he wasn’t getting much joy on the left too.
Nasri’s best performances last season were on the right – against Fulham, Manchester City and so on - while his weaker games were when he was playing on the left. Mata is comfortable on the wing and centrally, and I think he’d do well in the centre – although we haven’t seen him in our system like with Nasri.
Recently “inverted wingers” or whatever they’re being called have become popular – this being managers playing right-footed wingers on the left and vice versa. However, Sir Alex Ferguson has not stuck to this trend*, and has mainly played left footers on the left, and right footers on the right. The reason for this is because he still likes his wingers to get crosses into the box, and playing them on the sides that he does allows them to do so.
The reason I’ve brought this up is because I think it relates to my argument about Walcott on the left and Nasri on the right. They’re both right footed, but Nasri is stronger on his left, so wouldn’t be bombing down the wing all the time, with his only option to cross. That would be more like Walcott, and putting him on the left would mean he wouldn’t cross as much, and perhaps Nasri would send in more crosses than usual, but we wouldn’t want to absolve it completely from our game.
I hope I haven’t rambled too much, although I probably have. Here’s hoping we hear some more developments on Mata, and aren’t disappointed. Ciao!
*the linked article is where I got the whole idea about Walcott and Nasri