While Arsenal usually start strongly and finish the season in a confused, stumbling daze, it appears that the reverse is panning out this season. After a false start that this guy would be proud of, they’ve gotten their season on track after a brief false dawn. Monday night’s victory over Newcastle was the fourth win having been behind in a row; a new Premier League record. The Gunners, with important players coming back left, right and centre, finally seem to be at their best.
The creativity, intensity and confidence had previously been very low in the season, but now the team seems to be finding the consistency in results and performances that they’ll need to overtake their deadly rivals; the enemy, as Bacary Sagna called them, Tottenham Hotspur in 3rd.
This can be put down mainly to the gelling of the team – after panicked deadline day deals, Arsenal were more a group of individuals as opposed to a unit, which seems to be what they are now. Skipper Robin van Persie has helped the players to bond, and they now seem a cohesive side, able to overcome any obstacle.
That unflappable quality was demonstrated perfectly against Newcastle, when Hatem Ben Arfa rifled in a goal for Newcastle against the run of play. Instead of retreating into their shells, Arsenal showed character and resilience by going up the other end and levelling the scores instantly. Going behind only seemed to motivate Arsenal further – like angering a wasp by swatting it. Arsene Wenger’s side didn’t seem fazed whatsoever by going behind, and even the fans were singing straight after the goal went in, highlighting the belief at the club right now.
The players have done a good job of getting the fans back on-side (the speculation about Lukas Podolski has helped too; more on him later this week), and having restored their broken image and pride against Tottenham, Milan and Liverpool, they now believe that third place is a realistic target and something that they might just end up achieving. They now believe that they’re a good team, and are ready to stand up to any team who threatens to damage the new aura around the club nowadays.
On the actual football, Arsenal were most dangerous when attacking down the right hand side, like against Milan. Theo Walcott and Bacary Sagna both had excellent games, with the former picking up the man of the match award, while Tomas Rosicky combined well with them both, particularly for the equaliser. Newcastle struggled to cope with Arsenal’s intensity and incisiveness, and Walcott was a large part of that.
He put some excellent balls into the box, making those who criticised his final ball tuck into some humble pie. What some don’t understand is that it takes two to make a good ball; the pass itself, and the run to get on the end of it. Analysing Walcott’s crosses yesterday, he got everything spot on – and not by luck as well, because the techniques were spot on for each of his balls in. Both of the goals were assisted by him, and credit rightly went his way. He now looks more confident, which is a vital part of his game, as he needs to be ready to take players on and whip the ball into the box.
Rosicky was the recipient of a new contract at the Emirates just before the game, and instead of settling with his future sorted out, continued his fine form, linking up excellently with Mikel Arteta, and supplying the pass for Walcott to set up van Persie’s goal.
The equaliser from the Dutchman was expertly taken – the delicate, cushioning first touch, the second to place it in his path and away from the flailing Mike Williamson, and finally the punishing, accurate finish past Tim Krul. It was van Persie’s first touch, and showed his clinical finishing touch.
Someone else who showed an eye for goal was Gervinho, although the Sky cameras didn’t pick it up. While Howard Webb was booking Jonas Gutierrez, van Persie took a quick free-kick, giving it to Bacary Sagna, who whipped it in for Gervinho. The Ivorian, in one swift movement, leapt up into the air and flicked the ball into the far corner of the net. It was a shame the cameras missed it, as I have no proof of it. But trust me, it happened.
As for the negatives – somebody has to I suppose – defensively the first goal was a poor one to concede for Arsenal. When Vermaelen gave the ball away, the midfield were labouring and didn’t get back, leaving a large gap between themselves and the defenders. Kieran Gibbs allowed the tricky Ben Arfa onto his left foot, and the Frenchman punished him.
Arsenal can ill-afford to sell any more big players – every summer for a while now they’ve sold at least two key players, which has disrupted their long-term momentum and put paid to any hopes of real season-to-season progress. If Arsenal can get some seasonal continuity in their line-up, they may begin to become more consistent and competitive. Not only that, but it would send out the completely wrong message – especially if it was van Persie that was sold – as it was surely be an admission that they are no longer a big club; instead a club whose ambition has faded away.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
With all of the Cesc Fabregas transfer drama, Arsenal’s opening match tomorrow against Newcastle is flying under the radar, especially when the media just want to ask Arsene Wenger about Fabregas and Samir Nasri. With both unavailable, (Nasri is “sick”, Fabregas not “match fit”), and no replacements having come in yet, it will be a difficult task against a Newcastle side that is almost fully fit.
As we discussed last week, throughout preseason without Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal have been playing a 4-1-2-3, rather than the usual 4-2-3-1, thus making playmaking duties more shared out. With Jack Wilshere unavailable, the likely 2 advanced midfielders will be Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey. With no Samir Nasri, it’ll be a pacey and direct attack from wide areas, with 2 from Theo Walcott, Gervinho and Andrey Arshavin starting.
After last year’s 4-4 draw, Newcastle may be encouraged to have a go against Arsenal, rather than doing the traditional defend deep and narrow routine. If they do that, and play 4-4-2, it can benefit Arsenal, by giving them control of the midfield, and also, by being able to exploit the pace of Gervinho/Andrey Arshavin and Theo Walcott, both in possession and on the counter attack. Arsenal’s pressing game will be important here, too: Make sure Newcastle don’t have time to play long balls over the top, and press in the midfield to win the ball back and counter attack.
One thing that is for certain about tomorrow is that it will be a very different Arsenal side. No Cesc Fabregas, no Samir Nasri, and no direct replacements, such as Jadson and Juan Mata for those two. Aaron Ramsey can deputise for Fabregas, but replacing Nasri means changing the style of play a bit. While Nasri can be direct and make excellent diagonal runs behind the striker, he can also hold possession, and ensure Arsenal retain the ball.
That has it’s pluses and minuses–sometimes it slows down play, but sometimes it keeps play ticking. Gervinho and Theo Walcott, for all of their excellent qualities, are not the best passers of the ball. Because of that, Arsenal have been more direct this pre-season, and that should continue tomorrow. However, when we say direct, we mean less retention of the ball, more risky passes for the wide forwards cutting in behind van Persie, rather than becoming a purely long ball team.
More direct running from the likes of Gervinho and Theo Walcott can lead to more chances: With the two advanced midfielders deeper than Fabregas, it gives more space for van Persie to drop into, and, if the centre backs follow him, more space for Gervinho and Walcott to take up. If the centre backs don’t follow van Persie, it gives him space to become the number 10, and build play. In that way, losing Fabregas and thus slightly tweaking the formation can return Arsenal back to their fluidity of early 2009/10.
Defensively, how Arsenal will defend set pieces will be interesting. They’ve developed a zonal marking system that has worked so far in preseason, but Newcastle, who are a big team and have a fantastic deliverer in Joey Barton will be their first real test. Against Newcastle last year, 3 out of the 5 goals Arsenal conceded in both league fixtures came from set pieces.
How they defend here will be crucial to getting all 3 points. Thomas Vermaelen should return from injury, and with Laurent Koscielny back as well, Arsenal’s first choice partnership will finally be in place for the first time since last August. If those two defend as they have in preseason, and if the Arsenal starting XI press as they have in preseason, Arsenal should be fine in open play.
Arsenal should win today and start the season off on a high note; after that, against Udinese, Liverpool and United, it is very much dependent on injuries and who Arsene Wenger brings in to offset the potential departure of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.
You can find Aidan, our new tactics columnist, on Twitter here.