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.
Sadly, last weekend’s match against Newcastle didn’t go at all like I expected. Instead of having a go at a somewhat weakened Arsenal, Newcastle stuck to the proven formula of how to frustrate Arsenal, by sitting deep and narrow, and making Arsenal use the wide areas. Arsenal, however, still could’ve won the match if their end product had been any better; both Gervinho and Andrey Arshavin got behind the Newcastle fullbacks but too often had their final balls cut out.
Furthermore, Arsenal’s midfield setup caused some confusion. Instead of playing the 4-2-3-1 that was used throughout the past two seasons, Arsenal played the 4-1-2-3 that was used at the beginning of the 2009/10 season. While it still broadly uses the same structure as the 4-2-3-1, there are two key difference: First off, there isn’t a playmaker behind the striker, which allows for sharing of playmaking duties and allows for greater space for the two advanced midfielders, especially if the opposition centre backs are pulled out of position by Robin van Persie’s tendency to drop deep, as shown below. The second difference is that the holding midfielder has more space to cover, meaning Alex Song was at times overstretched in the first time, and got booked.
The problem on Saturday was that neither Ramsey nor Rosicky took advantage of the space and didn’t drive forward, leaving Gervinho and Arshavin a paucity of options in the area. On Tuesday night against Udinese, Ramsey’s forward movement was much better, and he took a right wing position for the goal as Marouane Chamakh dropped deep and Theo Walcott popped up in the centre forward spot. Tuesday night, though, emphasised the need for a replacement of Cesc Fabregas. Tomas Rosicky had a good game Saturday against Newcastle, but had very little pressure applied to him.
Udinese were a different story, and when they began to press in the midfield, Arsenal lost the midfield. According to UEFA stats (which differ from OPTA, oddly), only Aaron Ramsey completed 80% or more of his passes among Arsenal midfielders. By continually giving the ball away, Arsenal put themselves under pressure, as Udinese kept on attacking and winning the midfield. Ironically, it lead to the same strategy that is usually used to frustrate Arsenal: Defend deeply, and defend narrowly, and play long balls in the channels. Bringing on Emmanuel Frimpong eventually settled down the midfield, even though the debutant gave away several dangerous free kicks.
What then, for Liverpool? It appears Samir Nasri may play his last game for the club, and it’ll be interesting to see where he plays. Arsenal have lacked creativity in the midfield so far, and one option would be to put Andrey Arshavin behind Robin van Persie, dropping Aaron Ramsey deeper. Arshavin played in the middle to great effect for Russia in the 2008 European Championships and for Zenit St Petersburg. Putting him in the middle gives him more freedom, and, so far, he has played the best pass from the middle this year. Arshavin also has habits that would let him make forward, untracked runs beyond Robin van Persie, allowing him to score like Cesc Fabregas often did.
With Arshavin unlikely to play in a 3 man midfield, playing 4-2-3-1 would mean there is less stress on Emmanuel Frimpong in his first Premier League start, and with Aaron Ramsey’s wonderful range of passing, possession would be retained better.
As for defending against Liverpool, players like Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam are less effective when pressed. Arsenal showed this in last year’s 3-1 defeat of Blackpool, where Adam made about 50% of his passes, and was unusually quiet. Downing is a player who goes through hot and cold patches, but if he isn’t given space, he can’t deliver dangerous crosses for Andy Carroll, so Bacary Sagna will have to get tight.
Furthermore, Arsenal will have to be wary about Carroll and the long ball threat. Despite promising a more pass and move style, Carroll still received 40 long balls, mostly in the area where a defensive midfielder would be stationed. With the aggressive style of Arsenal’s centre backs, Carroll may find him up against a centre back rather than Emmanuel Frimpong and thus using him as a target man to relieve pressure may be nullified. If Arsenal can do this, they can stop a major threat of Liverpool’s attack.
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.