Tag Archive | Aaron Ramsey

Arsenal Player of the Month: November, with Culann Davies video

With all of the Player of the Month awards that he’s been given, I don’t think there’s a sentence I haven’t used to describe Aaron Ramsey – every superlative has been ticked off, and I’ve even used the cliche about how I’m running out of superlatives, I think. So I think it’d be a little boring for everyone concerned if I was to reel off the same thing about how well he’s playing and how good a player he is, and, although it seems lame and lazy, I decided to find what other people across the internet are saying about our main man right now. Sorry if that seems like a cop-out, but I thought it’d be more fun for everyone.

Perhaps no player symbolises how much Arsenal have progressed more than Aaron Ramsey. There was a time when the midfielder was the target of such fierce criticism from a section of Arsenal’s fans that Arsène Wenger wondered whether it would be best to leave him out of home matches for his own sake, but no one doubts his value now. These days the questions Wenger has to answer concern whether Ramsey will develop into one of the best players in the world after his outstanding start to the season.

– Jacob Steinberg – The Guardian

Man of the match vs Liverpool: Aaron Ramsey. It was a wonderful team performance from Arsenal but Ramsey gets the nod after another exceptional display in midfield, capped off by a stunning goal.

– Sky Sports

But this season Ramsey has been a revelation, scoring freely, assisting others and pretty well running the show from his favoured position in the centre of midfield.

That Ramsey’s running is one of his most impressive qualities should come as no surprise. He covered 11km on Saturday [vs Liverpool], proving that he has come of age as a box-to-box player par excellence.

– Gerry Cox, The Telegraph

Aaron Ramsey at the moment is arguably one of the best midfielders in Europe. That’s why he puts in performances like that. He’s one of the best in Europe. He’s a fine young man and he’s someone is beginning to show that potential and hard work – if given a chance and if given a steady run of games – can shine among European stars which is something will probably delight Arsene Wenger.

– Malky Mackay, TalkSPORT

Through 12 games, Ramsey has not only realized the individual potential that everyone saw in him as a youth at Cardiff City, but he has also been the driving force behind Arsenal’s fast start. Wenger has used both tactical shifts and more compatible teammates to transform Ramsey into a consistent two-way player for the top team in the Premier League, and he is my early favorite for the Player of the Year award.

Ramsey’s move from an auxiliary wing position to the central midfield this season has played an instrumental role in his establishment among Europe’s best midfielders. The move gave Ramsey more control of the midfield, and he now leads the possession-based Gunners with 87 touches per 90 minutes. For some, the fact that Ramsey is the most active player on the league’s top team is enough to garner consideration for Player of the Year, but Ramsey’s advanced numbers show that his move to central midfield has made him more efficient in other areas as well.

– Adrian Melville, ESPN.com

Aaron Ramsey, scorer of the goal that took Saturday’s game beyond Liverpool, played like the Steven Gerrard we knew back then. He charged from box to box, tackled all that moved, and inspired his team to victory. The current version toiled in a malfunctioning midfield that could never get a grip on the match that was supposed to prove his club’s credentials as a force for honours.

– John Brewin, ESPNFC.com

Maturity and experience has undoubtedly contributed to the “new and improved” Aaron Ramsey and this season he has ticked all the boxes required of a modern all-round midfield player. His stamina and mobility are extraordinary and although he has trouble running away from the opposition over longer distances, his sharpness over the first few yards often puts the opposition under intense pressure and the ball is often easily recovered.

– Bobby McMahon, Forbes.com

Aaron [Ramsey] has first a fantastic engine. I believe his defensive awareness has improved, his defensive qualities have improved and his defensive score is very strong now. After that he has a huge desire to play every single ball. He wins the 50:50s – that was not the case a year ago. If you let him, he takes the ball at the back, passes to himself in midfield and passes to himself up front because he wants the ball so much. That’s why his presence is so massive in a game.

– Arsene Wenger, arsenal.com



Arsenal Player of the Month: September, with Culann Davies video


Okay, so Olivier Giroud had an impressive month, and Mesut Özil did what Mesut Özil does. But there’s no keeping Aaron Ramsey down. The Welshman was irrepressible, getting five goals in six games during September, taking his current goalscoring run to eight goals in nine games. As I emphasised last month, though, it’s not just his goals, but his all-round play. He’s doing everything at such a high level that it’s impossible to overlook him for this (highly prestigious) award.

Ramsey’s most influential performances were probably those against Sunderland and Swansea in the away league games. The fact that he outshone Mesut Özil making his debut at the Stadium of Light pretty much said everything – even on a day when the German delivered a heavenly assist, the man of the match had to be Aaron Ramsey. Partly for his two goals, which were both fantastic in their own right, but also for his all-round play. Tackles, pass, dribbles – the lot.

As for his performance against Swansea, he was a bit like the team – not quite at the required level in the first half before a magnificent five minute spell in which the goals came. After that, Ramsey helped the team to control the game and grab the victory. Despite a late scare, Ramsey was part of a side which defended in a disciplined way in order to ensure three points were taken, and that’s been a feature of Arsenal’s play lately, with Ramsey key as the box-to-box midfielder.

Having said above that it’s also his all-round game that is what he’s doing so well, I should mention his goals because the ones he scored against Sunderland and Swansea were fantastic. For his first against Sunderland he took up an intelligent position, demanded the ball and connected perfectly with Carl Jenkinson’s well-weighted cross, at a time when Arsenal really needed a goal. Ramsey delivered, and killed off the game a few minutes later.

Linking up well with Özil and Giroud, Ramsey laid the ball off and made a darting run into the space that had opened up in Sunderland’s defence. He got the ball back from Giroud and, after a perfect first touch, slipped it under the Sunderland goalkeeper to make it 3-1; game over. It’s one thing that Ramsey is scoring, but another that he’s winning games. Before his recent streak, he’d score goals to round the game off – Olympiakos, Fenerbahce and Portsmouth spring to mind. Now his goals are having a massive influence on games.

The same can be said for his goal against Swansea, after he had delightfully slipped Serge Gnabry in to give Arsenal the lead, as well as being unlucky not to have a second assist when he played Özil in on goal having led a fantastic counter-attack. For Ramsey’s goal, it was another counter-attack, which kicked into gear when he flicked Özil’s pass blindly into the path of Jack Wilshere. It was a little short but Jack got there, linked up with Giroud, who played it back to Ramsey, and what was so impressive again was his composure. Ramsey took it around the flailing defender, set himself and smashed it into the roof of the net. He may have been in a great position, but with players on the line and Vorm advancing, he had to aim carefully under pressure, and did so with ease.

His goals against Stoke and Marseille were less spectacular, but both were vital. It was important that Arsenal broke Stoke down early, so as not to let them retreat into a defensive shell (although one suspects that Arsenal may be better equipped to deal with that type of defending because they now have MESUT FREAKING ÖZIL), and Ramsey again supplied the cool finishing touch. As for his goal against Marseille, the game needed killing off, and that’s exactly what the Welshman did.

So, the run continues. There seems to be little stopping Aaron Ramsey – not even being put back on the wing, where he toiled a little in previous seasons. I’d mention that excellent performance of his against Napoli, but it was in October, and to be fair, I’ll probably end up talking about it next month when he gets this award for the third time in a row. He’s just playing that well right now.


Resilient Arsenal rip Swansea apart with fluid five minute spell

swanseaIt’s a rarity these days that an Arsenal game compels me to write a blog post on it in the aftermath. We have so many writers in the Arsenal fanbase, which means that every man and his blog has an opinion and most of the time someone else is saying what you’re saying, but after the Swansea victory I’m not really fussed – there are a lot of things I want to talk about, and Twitter doesn’t quite cut it.

I think more or less every player deserves a paragraph after the match that we had, so I’ll start with Wojciech Szczesny. The Pole has been doubted by just about everyone for a while, but Arsene Wenger’s faith hasn’t wavered enough for Le Boss to sign a new first-choice goalkeeper. He may have dropped Szczesny in favour of Fabianski, but it seemed the kick up the butt that Wojciech needed, and he duly responded with some fantastic form. He wasn’t actually called on much against Swansea, but I thought he was reliable each time – a Nathan Dyer snapshot that he was alert to springs to mind, while every single aerial ball was his. I thought that @gunnerthoughts made a good point about Arsene’s faith in him.

I said the other day that I thought Bacary Sagna deserves more credit this year, and most agreed, but with the compromise that, despite the fact that he’s playing at full capacity right now, his 100% now compared to a few years ago isn’t quite as good. Fair enough – the Frenchman was quite sluggish in his tracking of Ben Davies for Swansea’s goal, but other than that Sagna was solid and reliable, which is exactly what I hope to see in a full-back. It’s worth remembering how badly he played at points last season and comparing it with now. A full pre-season has him looking quite a lot like his old self. Give that man a new contract.

Speaking of new contracts, Per Mertesacker has been linked with one, and based on his form this season alone, he absolutely deserves one. An impeccable reader of the game, which is how he makes up for a lack of pace – although I’d genuinely posit that he’s become quicker/more agile since signing for Arsenal – Per was more or less flawless yesterday, other than getting caught underneath a wonderful Wilfried Bony ball for the goal. 29 today and showing no signs of slowing down in the mind, let’s hope we continue to see Per proving me and others wrong for having doubts over him. Happy birthday big man.

Alongside him, Laurent Koscielny did his usual thing. There weren’t many individual moments from our defence to talk about, since we defended so well as a team – more on that later – that the defenders didn’t really have to perform any miracles to rescue us. Other than that, Koscielny was solid as usual, without making his occasional error. As you can see from Culann’s video compilation of his performance, his distribution was near-impeccable and pretty much everything he did was positive. I particularly liked how well he kept stepping in front of Bony/Michu as Swansea tried to break us down near the end. Great stuff from Koscielny.

Then we have Kieran Gibbs at left back, and, like Sagna, I think his performances this season have been typical of what a full-back should be: solid and reliable at the back, as well as offering a useful presence going forward. The latter part of his game didn’t quite feature so much against Swansea, other than a penalty appeal after linking with Özil and some nice interplay with Jack and Aaron. Still, the attacking players hardly seemed to need much help, so that’s okay. Another no-frills solid performance from a member of the much-vaunted British core.

Since I’m doing this in formation order, I’ve got a decision to make – was it a 4-2-3-1, or was it more of a 4-4-1-1? I’d say in defence it was definitely the latter, while going forward there was so much freedom of movement that there wasn’t really a structure. Given that we spent a lot of time defending, I’m going to call it a 4-4-1-1 and talk about the guy who started on the right of midfield for the third game in a row.

I was really impressed by Serge Gnabry against Stoke last weekend. I thought he slotted in with minimal fuss to the first team, and didn’t look one bit out of place, which is just so encouraging for a young player. If people were dissatisfied with his performance against Stoke because of a perceived lack of confidence, I don’t think that was an issue for anyone yesterday. He was the player to break through the monotony of the first half, making a great chance for Giroud with a superb dribble and pass, and should have been rewarded with an assist. No matter – he consoled himself by capping off a superb team move with a goal. That’s what I mean when I say he didn’t look out of place – he was on the same wave-length as the rest of the players during the move, and finished it off with the quality you’d expect from a seasoned first-teamer. He got into a great position, checked back so he’d be onside, took a composed touch and fired low past Vorm. I couldn’t have asked for any more from Serge.

Moving across the midfield to the centre, let’s talk about Aaron Ramsey a bit more. Other than a great drilled effort from range, he was pretty much on par with the rest of the team in the first half, in that he wasn’t quite at full capacity. That changed in the second half as he was instrumental in both goals – he set up Serge with an extremely intelligent pass, before capping a thrilling counter-attack with the coolness we’ve come to expect from him. He could’ve had another assist when he laid it onto Özil after the first. He is absolutely on fire right now.

Then we have Mathieu Flamini, the free transfer from Milan that was widely derided by many. The sensible Arsenal fans I know were fine with the move, although it was concerning for lots that he was the only central midfielder brought in (Mesut definitely isn’t a central midfielder). I wasn’t sure he still had it after a few years in Italy, but he seems almost as good as he was when he left. His displays aren’t as all-action – he’s more side-to-side than box-to-box, which is fine as Aaron has the latter role nailed down – but he’s just as useful. A cynical foul and booking after the first goal just summed him up – willing to do anything for the cause, and he demonstrated that with a committed, solid performance in front of the defence. His partnership with Ramsey is such that I’d struggle to break them up if I was the manager. A good headache to have with Arteta returning.

Jack Wilshere lined up on the left again, and I think he deserves a lot of credit. It’s important to recognise that he’s just getting to grips with that position, so he should be given time to overcome the initial shaky form that comes with that territory. Despite that, he played a huge role in both goals. For the first, he was part of the flowing passing that sliced Swansea apart, whereas he was integral throughout the second. Running onto Ramsey’s delightful flick, his desire and skill saw him emerge with the ball and as soon as he leapt to his feet, it was on. A brilliant give-and-go with Giroud before slipping in the Frenchman for the assist, and Arsenal were 2-0 up thanks to the finish from Ramsey. He may not have been brilliant from start to finish, but during that five minute period he had a huge influence on the game.

In front of the midfield was, of course, Mesut Özil, who showed off his skills with a cheeky gum trick in the warm-up. LOOK AT THAT CHEEKY GRIN. All in all, Mesut was a little quiet, although he was involved in both goals early on. Though he was at times peripheral, what’s important is that we didn’t need him to step up, so it was more a case of him stepping aside to let others do the business, and when he did get on the ball, he was excellent. He’ll need time to hit his stride as he gels with the team, and once he does we can expect him to dominate games. Until then, we can enjoy the flashes of brilliance which are definitely a sign of things to come.

Up front, Olivier Giroud toiled in the first half, not getting much joy in any area of his game before wasting a great chance. The key difference in Arsenal in the first and second halves was that we countered as a unit more effectively, and we got players close to Giroud. We were able to create triangles in the second period and that’s how we opened Swansea up, and Giroud deserves a lot of credit for being the attacking pivot, having a hand in both goals. He doesn’t look out of place in a fluid Arsenal side so far this season. Let’s hope he, like the team, continues to play at this higher level.

Focusing on each individual player has, I hope, highlighted that everybody is playing at a high level, but that’s not the point I was hoping to make when I began writing this post. As you can infer from the title, I thought we were solid for just about the full 90 minutes – I’m not sure if we can call Davies’ goal a lapse, given how well-worked it was – but hit our stride in the five minutes between 58 and 63. That’s when our goals came, and also when Mesut spurned a chance to get off the mark for us, and I think it really highlighted our quality.

Excitingly, though I shall try not to get carried away, it reminded me of the Invincibles. Solid and resilient throughout the game, but flicked the switch going forward for a brief period and blew away the opposition. The way we dissected Swansea was magnificent to watch in that time-slot, with the football quite breath-taking. That’s the fluidity that comes with continuity and having a core of quality players remain together for a good period of time. It’s what we lacked in the previous couple of seasons, which explains why our football was often so dull (not that the onlookers seemed to notice).

I think everyone deserves credit for their performances but Arsene also deserves credit for building this team – a team he always maintained faith in, especially a few choice individuals. It’s ridiculous how many important players Arsene has seen taken from other teams in stronger positions than us, and he responded the only way he knew how: by building a new team, and this time he’s not only been able to keep the team together but to add to it with Germany’s best player.

Now we’re in the position of power. Top of the table, on a fantastic winning streak, playing great football, with arguably the league’s most talented player yet to fully gel with his team-mates. Not to mention the absentees – Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would all add massive strength in depth to this side, which is a ridiculous thing to say for players of their quality. People talked about our bench yesterday but given our injuries, a bench of Fabianski, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Monreal, Arteta, Ryo and Bendtner is still quite strong.

It’s amazing how things change in football. Sitting slumped in my seat as thousands around me jeered the team and the manager off against Aston Villa was one of the lowest points of my time supporting Arsenal, and now, just over a month later, I’m more satisfied with the team than I have been in years, genuinely. The key now is to kick on and try to keep our lead at the top. Extending it would be even better. We’ll need some luck with injuries in certain positions. That was always clear. But with that luck, we can go places. Up the Arsenal.

Arsenal Player of the Month: August, with Culann Davies video

It’s a common technique in journalism to not put the name of the player focused on in the title in order to pique the curiosity of would-be readers – for example: “German playmaker linked with Arsenal”, but I’m not so sure that technique is going to work in this case. Although Olivier Giroud has had a good month, and Laurent Koscielny remained his reliable self, there was only one candidate for August’s Player of the Month. In fact, Culann and I didn’t even need to discuss the player that we were going to cover. It was always going to be Aaron Ramsey.

Continuing from where he left off last season, the Welsh midfielder has used the confidence that he gained from a strong end to the last campaign to go from strength-to-strength. His all-action performances have been a highlight of Arsenal’s opening four games, and he seems to be adding goals to his game – three goals over two legs against Fenerbahce were welcome additions to his highlights video.

His goals were of course great to see, and his involvement in goals beyond that also – a lucky assist for Olivier Giroud against Fulham and a pre-pre-assist (is that a thing?) for Giroud’s winner against Tottenham followed a magnificent piece of play which resulted in him slipping Theo Walcott in behind Fenerbahce’s defence, who crossed for Kieran Gibbs to convert – but, for me, it was his all-round play that was most heartening.

Obviously it’s a good thing that he’s added goals (and mainly composure) to his game, and is having more of an influence further forward, but what makes Ramsey such a good player is that he’s good at almost everything. He’s an excellent tackler – so far he’s won 92% of his duels, the best in the league – a great passer, both short and long, strong, intelligent, good at dribbling and fantastic control.

I would say that at the moment, Ilkay Gundogan and Cesc Fabregas are the two most complete midfielders in the world – both can be targets for Ramsey, if he continues to improve his all-round game. All of his games this month have demonstrated how complete he is as a player, and it’s impossible to pick one moment which sums him up – his tackling, passing and dribbling, to name just three of his impressive qualities, are all equally important to his game. Ramsey has picked up the season where he left off last, and long may it continue.


Arsenal are stuck between two eras

Many good football teams with a distinct style are built around one player (or a few players in the case of Barcelona) who embody their identity; as we saw yesterday, Napoli’s Ezequiel Lavezzi epitomises their exuberance especially in the counter-attack, while you have Xavi, Leo Messi & Andres Iniesta for Barca’s aesthetic and technical prowess.

Arsenal, however, are stuck between two eras – that of Cesc Fabregas (and to an extent Samir Nasri) and that of Aaron Ramsey & Jack Wilshere, neither of whom are currently ready to fill Fabregas’ boots for different reasons. The Gunners need to transition from the previous era to the new one – Arsene Wenger wanted one of Juan Mata, Mario Goetze and Santi Cazorla do that, and move out wide once Ramsey was ready. However, he failed to secure any of these targets.

Now, Arsenal lack an identity which would have come from a playmaker – while Robin van Persie is excellent and undoubtedly a talisman, not all of Arsenal’s play goes directly through him, which makes it more difficult for him to influence their general style and identity.

Wenger needs to be careful that his side manages the transition well. If they don’t make the Champions League, it will be that bit more difficult to keep the new era on track. In previous seasons when key players were sold, like Thierry Henry, their replacements were able to fill their boots immediately. However, Henry was sold just as he was past his peak, at a time when Emmanuel Adebayor was approaching his own. Fabregas had to leave earlier than Wenger would have liked, due to different circumstances – his love for Barcelona and his wish to return more than anything.

Because of this early departure, Wenger’s planned internal replacements were not quite ready, so he attempted to find a temporary central player who would eventually move out wide once Ramsey was ready to play in that playmaker role.

Now, though, it’s difficult: Wenger has had to accelerate Ramsey’s development. He was supposed to stay under the tutelage and behind the shadow of Fabregas until he was ready. Wenger’s hand was forced, and after he failed to replace Fabregas, he now has to throw Ramsey in at the deep end, which could be thoroughly detrimental to the youngster’s progress. It would be incredibly unreasonable to expect to successfully build a team around the 21-year-old Ramsey.

The big difference between the early careers of Ramsey and Fabregas is that while Fabregas was eased into the team at an incredibly young age with little pressure on him, Ramsey is still being integrated into the Arsenal team, and began this process at an older age, with much more pressure and spotlight on him. This is why Arsenal were able to build the team around Fabregas at Ramsey’s current age, while the Wales captain is still not ready. It’s also pertinent to remember that Fabregas was and is a unique talent – similar things should not be expected of Ramsey.

Still, you can probably expect Wenger to go back in for a playmaker who can play out wide in the summer – which may well prove difficult, however, with Mata & Cazorla gone and Goetze pricy. A loan move for Gourcuff might appeal to the manager, form and availability dependent. Although, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s rapid progression, a playmaker/winger’s arrival could well signal the end of Theo Walcott’s Arsenal career, or perhaps just his stint as a winger.

In any case, you can probably expect Arsenal to let a winger go if they do in fact permanently sign a playmaker/winger in the summer. This might well turn out to be Arshavin, although perhaps we should take into account the departure of on-loan Yossi Benayoun.

As Calum Mechie put it for SBNation, Arsenal don’t lack leaders – they lack a point. Now that Fabregas is gone, Arsenal need somebody to define their style of play, otherwise they will continue to suffer an identity crisis, and fluctuate between styles, never truly being able to do any proper justice.

Rambo gives relief as Arsenal keep building

Once again I return to the blog having not written for a while, this time for about a month. Firstly may I say I’m terribly sorry to anyone who felt aggrevied at the lack of content of late. I can’t imagine there are too many of you but hey ho. I’ve been struggling for consistency in a way that has been almost parallel to Arsenal, but hopefully now that we seem to be shaking that off our backs I’ll be blogging more often.

Obviously only one place to start, last night’s victory over Marseille. Before I get to the individual performances, time to focus on the team’s efforts. It was a bit of a different performance compared to what we’re used to. Without the last minute winner it wouldn’t have been a terrifically welcome change, but the the result certainly made the performance seem somewhat better. We played very well defensively overall, but in attack we struggled a little. Again we seem to be unable to combine effective defensive play with effective attacking play.

The two seem to be directly correlated, and as I read on Arsenal Report earlier, our deep defensive layout which worked very well had a knock-on effect in terms of our attack. The team was more spread out across the pitch, which restricted the fluidity of the team. It’s difficult to spot a definite solution for me right now – ideally you want the defensive solidity as well as the attacking fluidity but right now it seems like that’s a tactical catch 22.

Hopefully if Arsene can’t solve the problem the team will be able to adapt to the style and find a way of being more efficient going forward – perhaps we need to get more midfielders forward in support of the forwards when attacking, but then that does leave us open to counter attacks so the supporting midfielders would have to get back very quickly if they lost the ball.

One thing that is encouraging is our gradually increasing form – stating the obvious a little there but oh well. We’re showing signs as a team and individually that all we needed was time to gel, as I’d hoped. The new signings are now fitting in well and are rarely causing problems anymore.

Mertesacker looks a lot more comfortable now, and apart from the odd scare due to his lack of pace he’s slotting in well at the back. Sadly we’ll probably always have that problem with his pace, so hopefully we’ll adjust when he plays. The good thing is, we played a deeper line partly to compensate for his lack of pace, and when Vermaelen comes back we should be fine playing higher up, which should in turn help our attack – yes, I just realised that I was typing. Hopefully I’m not the last to come to that conclusion.

As I hinted there, personally I’d partner Koscielny with Vermaelen once the Belgian is back. I feel he suits our overall style best, and I’m a big fan of the ex-Lorient man as you all must know by now. I’ve been a defendant of his for a while now and I feel that’s starting to be vindicated. More and more people are noticing his solid performances, and they’re becoming a lot more consistent too which can only help. He’s really growing into a top centre half.

Tomas Rosicky was a little disappointing after his encouraging showing against Sunderland. He does seem to be a little bit of a flat-track bully these days, but I’m hoping that’s just a slightly early judgement. Fingers crossed he’ll become more consistently good, like at the weekend. He’d be a really useful asset if he did.

The last player I have something substantial to say about it Johan Djourou. He came on at right back during the second half, which led to panic amongst the fans about an apparently imminent mistake – I’ll admit, I was also anxious, but I tweeted in hope as much as expectation that “The Djouresurrection starts here” as he entered play. Surprisingly my words seemed to come true, as he played better than he has done in a while – even helping set up Ramsey’s goal with our first successful cross of the game.

There are a few little bits and pieces I haven’t covered but I didn’t feel they warranted writing about, and frankly I’m just happy to get a blog post over and done with at last. Hopefully I’ll be back with more soon. Up the Arsenal!

Talking tactics with Aidan Gibson

I promised you all a new columnist for the new season, and that’s exactly what you get. Aidan Gibson will be analysing the tactical side of Arsenal every Friday, so look out for his weekly column. Here’s his appraisal of how Arsenal looked tactically in pre-season.

Arsenal’s preseason concluded yesterday with a fairly disappointing 2-1 defeat to Benfica. While the second half was a dreadful performance, the first half was fairly promising, and as it contained a majority of the team that can be expected to start in a weeks time against Newcastle. The split between halves can be said for performances against Red Bulls, Boca Juniors, Koln and Hangzhou Greentown, and so we will analyse the different halves separately.

One thing that the difference in performance tells us is that Arsenal’s squad, collectively, is not very strong. The first XI (assuming no injuries and no one leaves) is quite strong, and has shown, especially last year, that they can beat almost any team. However, past that group of players (Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Song, Wilshere, Fabregas, Walcott, van Persie, Nasri), the rest of the squad weakens. Only Andrey Arshavin, Aaron Ramsey and Gervinho are real contenders for spots in the first team, and that is why there’s quite a drop off between the first XI and second XI. With a squad as injury-prone as Arsenal, that is something that should’ve been addressed this transfer window, but so far hasn’t.

When Arsene Wenger has played his first team, or as close as possible (Szczesny, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Gibbs; Song, Ramsey, Wilshere; Walcott, Chamakh, Gervinho/Miyaichi), Arsenal have looked a lot better. With Aaron Ramsey as the playmaker rather than Samir Nasri, the midfield play has been more creative, the tempo has been higher and Arsenal have created more chances. The pressing has been more coordinated, and sustained for longer periods. For Arsenal to be successful defensively, they must press. Without pressure, it is too easy for teams to beat the high defensive line, and too big of a gap is created between the midfield and defence.

That gap happened in the second half of the Arsenal-Boca match, and the second half of yesterday’s match. Not coincidentally, Sebastien Squillaci was involved in both. Because of his lack of pace, he forces the Arsenal defensive line to drop deeper, creating more space for players, like Juan Roman Riquelme did, to flourish.

When Arsenal did press, though, and closed the gaps between midfield and defence, they were much stronger defensively, and it is telling that when Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen played together, Arsenal did not concede a goal (excluding Carl Jenkinson’s extraordinary own goal).

This preseason did, however, expose two serious weaknesses. First of all, when Arsenal become tired, and stop pressing, as they did in the Emirates Cup, it becomes likelier that Arsenal will concede goals, because more space opens up, and, without pressure on the ball it becomes easier to break through Arsenal’s offside line.

Secondly, Arsenal’s squad, beyond the first XI, Aaron Ramsey, Andrey Arshavin, Gervinho and Johan Djourou are weak. Emmanuel Frimpong and Carl Jenkinson are young and inexperienced; Tomas Rosicky could be a useful player but is worse against teams that put pressure on Arsenal’s midfield.

Marouane Chamakh, unfortunately, is in the worst form of his life, which is concerning because his style of dropping deep, allowing Arsenal’s wide forwards to take up central positions (see Gervinho’s goals against Koln), best replicates Robin van Persie. Without our stronger players, Arsenal struggle more than the other top 4, because our squad isn’t as balanced or able to cope with injuries.

It’s not entirely negative, though. Our first XI looks, as ever, a very capable and dangerous side, and competent defensively. Another centre back to supplement Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen, though, is needed. Gervinho looks to be an excellent purchase, able to cut in and take up central roles or give Arsenal a wider threat. If Arsenal get off to a good start and remain relatively injury free, a better season than many are expecting is not in the realm of fantasy.