I’d like to think that the petty back and forth between United and Newcastle over the last few days has interrupted their preparations for Saturday. Even if it hadn’t though, we’re going into this match with a full week’s rest and should have the upper hand against an injury-ravaged Newcastle side. Not to mention, apart from the King of Contracts, Demba Ba – who I would take in a blink of an eye this January – the rest of the team have struggled to reach the heights of last season.
Arsenal on the other hand, as we’re used to seeing annually, are beginning the mad mid-season run that salvages a poor start and saves some humiliation after a bad finish to a season. Confidence has to be high coming off three wins as the odds in favour of a fourth.
Newcastle have been playing a 4-4-2 more often than the 4-3-3 this season in an attempt to use both Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse in their natural positions. This allows them to defend with the ever-popular 2012 trend called “two banks of four”, whatever that is. It’s a strange tactic considering Newcastle don’t generally play very deep. And when they do the midfield line seem to play high as well, leaving a great amount of room between them and the defence that was most obvious against United earlier in the season.
Get the ball to Demba Ba? Probably. With no real gamebreaker in the lineup for this match I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ba drop deep and try to pull the strings.
Newcastle like to stretch the play when attacking so we need to see more of that tracking back from last weekend. The wingers and overlapping fullbacks stick to the byline and whip the ball in for Cisse and Ba who are very capable in the air. With two strikers up front we need to see more solidity in defence. Often Arsenal play a stopper/cover type combination with Vermaelen rushing out to stop the attack from developing. It doesn’t work on most teams let alone one with two up front.
Ba will obviously be the biggest threat but we’ll have to be very careful of Tim Krul as well. We’ve seen on many occasions how good a keeper he is on his day. With a threadbare side I’m sure he’s expecting to face a lot of shots on goal and confidence from one good save can easily snowball into a world class performance.
The Weak Link
Gutierrez down their left flank usually compensates for some of Davide Santon’s defensive frailties and Santon’s runs forward are usually covered well by the Argentinian. With one of Obertan and Marveaux replacing him down the left, that wing could be left exposed for the likes of Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain to run down and with the latter’s impressive performance against Wigan, he more than deserves the start.
Missing Mike Williamson through suspension will be a big one as well. He’s the kind of defender we’d expect our front man – especially if it’s Feo – to struggle with. With Steven Taylor out injured as well, we’re going to probably see James Perch moved back into defence where he can pose a problem himself but I feel he’d be a lot easier to beat than Williamson would’ve proved to be.
Newcastle will also be forced to play one of their young midfielders likely to go up against a very tenacious Jack Wilshere so we can cut the ball out in midfield before it gets to the strikers, stopping them posing any real danger.
So we should expect to control this match given there’s multiple areas of the pitch where we have the upper hand.
Between Newcastle’s form and injuries, it’s very difficult to look past an Arsenal win.
It is time to temporarily break out of this temporary hiatus. Normally I would’ve liked to put up a scouting report for Wigan before the match but wasn’t able to. For anyone who knows me well enough, I am a huge fan of Roberto Martinez and his philosophies and approach. Theoretically, the system they play is tactically sound but clearly they seem to lack the edge as we saw yesterday and we perhaps got away with it. Even so it was always going to be a tough match because Wigan are a hard working side and we’ve seen Arsenal get undone by such teams far too often.
It was possibly just the momentum from Monday that caused us to play so well. Seeing our wingers track back like they did was astonishing. Seeing defensive players brought on to protect the lead late in, even more so. All around this was the kind of performance Arsenal fans should really love.
We’ve tended to do well in the winter spell so hopefully this is the start of something. Even so, being up to
third is great as things stand fourth considering that just weeks ago people were having mental breakdowns over where this team was going.
Anyway, here’s how Wigan’s 3-4-3 ran the show:
We knew this match was going to come down to their tactics. We expected it to be an open match and it showed as Wigan’s Beausejour and Stam were getting far too much space on the wings and it came primarily from the three men at the front. With the extra man to mark there was always a space left on the wing as the fullback was pulled in centrally. Fortunately for us, their crossing was dismal and it could’ve so easily been a different result. They bombarded us at the end and to Arsene’s credit he actually attempted to protect the lead for once which was good to see.
Their aggressive pressing game high up the pitch meant that we weren’t able to keep the ball for long so it’s not surprising that they did get the majority of the chances. It could’ve definitely ended in defeat for us but Wigan were very wasteful in front of goal. It seemed that that pressing eased up on the left as they allowed Gibbs to attack and create space for Stam. Again though, they showed the lack of edge as they were constantly picking out the wrong pass, not using the space that Stam had. The space afforded to Gibbs to attack proved to be a safe decision and here is for why.
A few things of note on the individual side:
Despite winning the penalty, this match showed that Theo Walcott isn’t and shouldn’t be the front man. He didn’t show the positional sense against Reading but the result may have masked that fact. Yesterday though, Walcott was probably detrimental to the overall performance in that all the crosses coming into him had to be along the ground and with three men in the box, Wigan were far more than capable of snuffing out attacks than if there was a big man to compete for headers. The one chance that Walcott did have he left hoping to find Wilshere making a run behind him where other strikers would’ve been salivating at the opportunity to hit the target.
Podolski, for the first time this season it seemed, actually contributed to the match outside of his goals. He was constantly tracking back which he hasn’t done as often before. After a while he seemed to adapt to Gibbs’ runs upfield and dropped in to cover the gap. Stam had been given a lot of space earlier in the match and Podolski’s adjustment in moving deeper helped snuff out that threat and for the rest of the match we saw most attacks come down their left through Beausejour.
Ox on the other side did just as well. I’ve always admired his willingness to just dribble the ball. We’ve seen our players over-elaborating at times so his runs forward on the break created a lot of great chances. Making those runs meant that Sagna wasn’t needed on the overlap often and he was able to stay deep and deal with the three up front for Wigan.
The clumsiness of this match should definitely be attributed to the conditions during the match with poor touches, players falling over and the lot so a poor match was to be expected. We can’t be happy with a point but at the same time we can, The performance was dire but considering that we deserved absolutely nothing from the game, the point and the clean sheet may be some sort of consolation for a very poor game.
Here’s a few things from the game:
- Villa’s closing down was the main talking point from this match. It’s a major reason as to why they were able to cause Spurs and United problems early in those matches until they tired and conceded as the opposition got more time and space. The energy we saw in the first half went on a lot longer than we could’ve expected as it seemed to carry long into the second half. Maybe it had to do something with the pitch as poor first touches thanks to the slick surface allowed Villa to have more time to close the ball down. The game did start to open up as heavy legs set in and Arsenal were able to get more of the ball. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take advantage of it as the team lacked the urgency that we’ve seen on occasion against the likes of Norwich and United.
- I’ve been quick to praise Gibbs this season. I believe he’s made immense strides in his defensive game, showing intelligence in both his positioning and his judgement in when to get forward. His return was an instant assurance that we’d be plugging our biggest defensive weakness. Given that Villa’s main attacks seemed to emanate from the opposite flank, it’s a good sign going forward that we can see some sort of defensive solidity on the left.
- Cazorla and Arteta were snuffed out far too easily today. It’s clear that there’s a lack of creativity in midfield. Arteta sits far too deep to make much of an impact in directly creating scoring chances as he did last season. While Cazorla has been lacking in consistency recently. It might be a good idea to move Cazorla out wide where he would have more space to run at defenders. After Gibbs’ injury, Podolski has been far too isolated up front so with him back you would’ve expected him to be a little more involved today but he dropped infield and isolated himself once again so it couldn’t hurt testing Cazorla on the wing.
- The fact that Giroud was taken off for a defensive midfielder after suffering a knock shows that we lack depth up front. We’d end up with a similar situation to Chamakh where he’s just not able to get enough of a run in the side to build up some form but we still need to find another quality striker who would be willing to be as a squad player for situations such as that.
It’s very tough to predict how big teams will play against us. When we faced Manchester City it was down to very talented squad who were capable of going beyond tactics. A team like United, who are limited in options behind their front line, constantly adapt to accomodate the players they can. That means seeing Danny Welbeck playing on the wing or drafting Michael Carrick in defence or Antonio Valencia at right back at the start of the season.
United will likely stick with the lineup they played against Chelsea last weekend. This would make it a 4-4-1-1 or rather, a 4-2-3-1 since you’d expect them to be on the offensive for a majority of the match.
We saw last weekend how easily United were able to attack down Chelsea’s left side. Their ability to exploit that sort of weakness has been a worry since Gibbs’ injury a few weeks ago. Last season, with Armand Traore at left back, United mercilessly took advantage of us down that wing. So Andre Santos will need to be a lot more defensive than he’s used to because Valencia will undoubtedly be a handful.
Rooney has dropped more into the withdrawn forward role with Persie’s (boooo) arrival, making him even more difficult to mark. Not having a proper defensive midfielder could make this difficult as you don’t want a defender to be pulled out of his line to close Rooney down. Arteta could well keep him at bay but you feel like a little more aggression will be needed to stop him. Inevitably, most attacks end up going through him so that’s the key to really locking down this United team.
United’s wingers also cut inside very often, leaving space for the overlapping fullback. We need to be able to not only stop it but use that space on the counter.
It goes without saying what a danger Rooney and Persie (boooo) are. Both are capable of scoring good goals, but more worryingly both are capable of winning penalties that should never be given. Rooney has seemingly won a penalty in almost every match against us by knocking the ball out of play and falling on top of Lehmann, Almunia, Szczesny and if we fast forward another ten years, he’ll have conned another few generations of referees at the expense of Arsenal goalkeepers.
And as mentioned, Rooney’s deeper role will cause trouble by drawing in the defence and midfield, creating more space for the wingers and striker to get forward and that’s something to be very wary of.
The Weak Links
Patrice Evra has put in some questionable performances recently. It’s definitely an avenue we should look to exploit. Between Gervinho and Walcott running directly at him, it’s bound to force some mistakes. Against Newcastle about a month ago, United were in control for most of the game but Newcastle put together some meaningful counters through the space left by Evra on the right flank. If we show some better finishing than they did that day, we’ll be able to cause serious problems.
Also Rio Ferdinand struggles for pace on the best of days. With United most probably being on the front foot for most of the match, they’ll be playing a high line, leaving a lot of space to get in behind Evans and Ferdinand. I have never been more an advocate of starting Theo Walcott than this Saturday.
Realistically, I’d call this match a throwaway. But this is probably the most vulnerable United have been in a long time. Apart from their front four, there’s very little in terms of stand-out talent. With us going into the match as huge underdogs there’s definitely room for an upset. Probably a draw. Perhaps we could do with an alternative type of training – playing some of the football games at Ladbrokes.com, like Shoot and Soccer Safari. Or maybe have a few games of roulette to relieve the pressure a little.
Yesterday we all lay witness to possibly the best match in [Sponsor] Cup history, maybe one of the best ever. Not in importance but, as a spectacle this game will be difficult to top for a while. And predictably we saw a lot of non-Arsenal and non-Reading fans who, simply for the sake of getting a word in, running their mouths about it.
As fans we’re used to facing a lot of ignorant abuse. Of course, we’re used to dishing it out as well. Without such arguments and friction among fans, sport ceases to have a point. So in the wake of what was really fantastic to watch as a football match those fans inevitably got talking.
So let’s set things straight shall we?
1. “Arsenal let in five goals against Reading! They’re going to get smashed at Old Trafford.”
Oh my God, we are! Because we will be playing Johan Djourou despite the fact that he hasn’t played in the league in what seems like a year. Ignasi Miquel will power through an injury he picked up in the game and failing that Jernade Meade will back him up. Because Andre Santos is that bad. And Gibbs may not be fit.
Let’s get real. This is going to come up a lot. This was a second string side, a majority of whom aren’t wanted or are not going to make the grade at Arsenal. Okay, Koscielny’s performance for most of the game was inexcusable. Two of the five can be attributed to Walcott’s and Koscielny’s complacency in the first half but other than that very little connection can be made between the side we saw yesterday and the one we’ll see on Sunday.
We haven’t taken this competition very seriously and it’s unfortunate that it ended the way it did the one time we did take it seriously. Obviously the early rounds are great for seeing what the younger or fringe guys can do. Gnabry who, to be fair to him, didn’t have much time to play in the reinvigorated second half side still did a decent job from the little we got to see of him. Eisfeld was the one that really impressed me and there’s no doubt that he could be in the first team some day. Arshavin ran the show, passing Reading off the park in the second half. We saw Chamakh carry out his business in a way we’ve never seen before. Walcott, who I have given a lot of stick in the past, showed that he’s just a better touch and better passing away from being a truly world class player. And all of that came through Arsène who himself proved he has the ability to turn things around.
With a lot of the first team players watching this match, it’ll help to have them realise that they can turn games around like that too should they need to against United this weekend.
2. “I thought the League Cup wasn’t important?!”
No, Liverpool fan, it isn’t important. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to win it. But pretending it’s anything more than a morale booster or a stepping stone to bigger trophies is stupid. Once again, we were playing a very different side that honestly didn’t deserve to win after that first half. So the comeback was a miracle and it deserved the hysterics from Arsenal fans towards the end.
In a way I can see why this even came up. They did get it from other fans for celebrating the victory. It seems every team that wins the [Sponsor] Cup does. But I think most of the abuse Liverpool received after winning the trophy was for things like Damien Comolli saying that it would help them convince best players to join the club.
Normally I’d let this slide but their fans took out the frustrations of being the most hated team last year on us, rubbing the Birmingham loss in our faces so I’d love a chance to throw it right back at them.
3. “Do Arsenal win a ‘trophy’ for the comeback?”
Yes, Liverpool fan. We’re putting it right next to your Europa League playoff trophy.
It’s a rare sight to hear Arsenal fans complain (ha) so the day of the AGM is a great time to air out all our problems with the team. With the club being put at the top of a list of ticket prices last week those complaints have gotten louder than ever. It’s sad to see that people have completely missed the point of protests held by the likes of BSM. Arguments have come up all over the place and most of them for all the wrong reasons. Arsène saying that a Champions League qualification spot is as important as winning a trophy is what seemed to cause the most backlash as fans question his ambition and a lot even calling for his head.
But as I mentioned yesterday in the comments, fans have overestimated the amount of money that Arsenal have. Even though we have the highest ticket prices in the league, the club has possibly the poorest sponsorship deals in relation to their stature within Europe. A combined stadium and shirt sponsorship deal from Emirates fails to break £100 million spread over 15 years, while Manchester City earn triple that for their stadium naming rights alone over just half that time. Manchester United earn three to four times that combined fee just for their shirts, with DHL paying more per-annum than Emirates to simply be on their training kits. Instead of trying to justify what the club “owe” the fans given the ridiculous ticket prices that doesn’t even begin to affect around 95% of Arsenal’s global fanbase, what we should be holding against the club is how poorly they’ve conducted their business.
Obviously, the board shouldn’t be taking advantage of the fans to compensate for their own shortcomings but to expect a high quality squad to be put out when the only sustainable income Arsenal have come from transfers and Champions League money, it’s no surprise that fans’ constant pleas for a competitive squad have amounted to nothing. It’s why this adidas deal should be a cause for celebration as we’re finally taking a step, albeit a baby-step, forward. With United reportedly re-negotiating with Nike for a contract worth a ridiculous £1 billion, it’s all the more important that Arsenal are able to get out of this Nike sponsorship and strike up a new deal with adidas before we’re truly left behind. It’s only once the burdening Emirates and Nike deals are up that we can truly flourish as a club in the post-Invincibles era.
It’s unfortunate that Wenger receives a lot of blame even though there isn’t a lot he’s actually in control of in regards to the business side of things. Yet his unpopular decisions in transfers and contract negotiations make him out to be the villain when he’s always operating in the interest of the team and it’s in fact the board who are at fault for Arsenal being stuck in this current rut. Even replacing them at this point will do nothing to remedy the situation. The saving grace, if you can call it that, is that this current board have a vision of where they want to take the club and if they stick to that then we may be in good shape in the long run at the very least.
My patience has often been mistaken for “a lack of ambition” and I’ve gotten my fair share of stick for it but when you take a step back you can see why I don’t get worked up over every little thing when the club has been consistently performing to or above expectations given the relatively minuscule amounts of money Arsenal makes in comparison to our direct competition.
And if a top four finish season after season is considered a disaster then I’d hate to be here the day the Arsenal model is thrown away and the club becomes another Leeds or Liverpool.
If there’s one thing I managed to learn from this match, it’s to sneak sustainable glimpses of a match even with people looking over your shoulder. The match itself? Well, I learned absolutely nothing from that.
After two poor matches to open up the Champions League campaign it was only natural that this match would follow suit, especially after the lax performance on the weekend. Even with the gaping holes Schalke left behind their defence due to their high back line, we just failed to capitalize on it. As he’s done often this season, Gervinho seemed to be the only player to take it upon himself to run at the defence but, as he’s done often this seasons, Gervinho wasn’t able to make anything out of it.
Believe it or not a these poor performances have probably come out of the absence of Kieran Gibbs. Our two fullbacks have matured the most this season and in the finally having avoided injury for a long stretch it looked like Gibbs could finally be our defensive answer on the left. He had finally learned to balance out his forward runs with some good defensive positioning. That was before West Ham at least. Andre Santos had to come in, without having played much last season and having played nothing this season, so in a sense you can understand why he’s looked madder than usual. He was at some fault – and that’s probably putting it nicely – for both of Schalke’s goals and caused some really scary moments in trying to dribble the ball out of the back and playing passes in front of goal.
Of course, that’s no excuse for how poorly the rest of the team played. With Koscielny’s return though it would be a little more comforting to see Vermaelen, who wasn’t convincing at LB last season but desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess. Thankfully, Gibbs himself isn’t too far away from making a return either. The Champions league is nowhere near being a disaster though, having won our first two. We have two weeks to turn this around because going away to Gelsenkirchen is not going to be any easier. Still, even if Schalke do manage to win that, I’m confident of our chances of advancing given the remaining matches.
Let’s look on the bright side, one of Manchester City and Real Madrid might go out at the group stages. Let’s have a laugh at them instead!