Arsenal Need a Winning Streak

November 30, 2009

The pain of yesterday’s mauling is likely to linger for a while. I still can’t think straight and it’s impossible to digest that we could be so naïve, almost idiotic. This isn’t a new feeling either. We have been outplayed in the big matches with mind numbing regularity in the recent past. It’s as if all of us deserve shock treatment every few months for being mentally challenged enough to support the Arsenal. At least I didn’t bet online.

But that treatment doesn’t really work on me. I know why I love and respect this club, the players and above all the manager. A few disappointments will not change it as I connect with Arsene and his work on a level of principles and beliefs. It’s a rare and deep bond which only becomes stronger when it is attacked by forces like the incompetent media or billionaire playthings.

Right now we are at a point where we haven’t done much better than last year. We are close to the five defeats that we had had by the end of November. Our start to the season last year was a disaster even though we had won against United and Chelsea. This year is more of a mix as we haven’t done that poorly against smaller teams but we have lost to both our main rivals.

I think there is still hope that this season can end well. But we need to raise our game to a height hitherto unachieved. I look at the squad and always feel it’s possible. But the proof of the talent is in the results. So far, we haven’t seen the consistency that would really establish us as a champion side.

The upcoming fixture list is interesting.

We have 9 league fixtures before the game with United which will be followed by big games against Chelsea and Liverpool. Effectively, in the next twelve league games we have 4 meetings with other top four teams and two fixtures with Villa. The other games are not going to be walkovers either.

I am not too concerned about the cup ties in this period. In case we do really badly in December, Arsene might decide to focus on the cups. But as of now all the focus must be on creating a winning run. Can we win the nine fixtures before the trio of big games? If we do we will have great momentum leading into the crunch games.

As it is, we have dropped points in 5 games already. We cannot afford to drop more than 3-4 games till the end of the season. The only positive scenario is if we go on a long winning run. I think this team needs confidence. It also needs a touch of arrogance. We do not do justice to our talent at the moment. Who knows, maybe we struggle because we show too much respect to the opposition!

Arsene might even think about hiring a sports psychologist to talk to the players. I don’t think this could do much harm. I remember in the past such sessions have helped the Indian cricket team. It might help our players find their belief and fighting spirit.

All I want to see is that we give it our best shot.


Naïve Arsenal 0 – 3 Efficient Chelsea

November 29, 2009

I guess all of us are feeling different emotions like frustration, anger, dejection and even hopelessness. What else can you feel after such a performance!? It’s sad to see the team so out of depth and the fault lies entirely with the manager.

How can Arsene send out a team that plays right into the opposition’s hands? I don’t know whether it was a tactical disaster or sheer stupidity. For 90 minutes we played football that was right up their alley and if this game lasted another 900 minutes we wouldn’t have scored a goal.

We got a lot of the ball. It was expected. Chelsea defended. No surprise there. They would wait for their chance. Not rocket science, is that? They have enough quality to take that chance. Years of top performance is evidence to that. So what was Arsene Wenger thinking!

Firstly, why did we keep taking the ball wide all the time? Secondly, how do we expect to beat their players with high balls played into the Chelsea box? Thirdly, what prevented us from changing the strategy and trying another mode of attack? Finally and most importantly, what was the manager doing when all this was going on?

We should have started the game at high tempo but instead we got lulled into a slow rhythm that made life easy for the visitors. Did it even look like they got out of second gear in this game? It hurts me immensely that we can let ourselves be outclassed in our own backyard. And that’s exactly what we have done. We have allowed the opposition to dictate the game to their strengths.

We don’t know how to cross the ball, we don’t know how to attack a cross and we don’t know how to defend a cross. Ultimately, that’s the summary of the game. All day long we got the ball wide and hardly found any of our players inside. The Blues got a couple of chances and they put two in our net.

Interestingly, height didn’t really matter here. The two goals Chelsea scored were from balls that were barely waist high. But technique matters. You need to know the corridors of uncertainty in the box and you must have the ability to find them. If not, then you should not try learning that all day long in such a big match.

Gallas should have dealt with the cross for the first goal. But he stopped himself from putting his leg across. For all his great qualities and hard work, he keeps making such half mistakes that cause us problems in big games. Do you think Terry, Carvalho or any other top central defender would let such a cross reach the striker!? I could understand if it was a fast cross whipped in away from him and Drogba scored with a fantastic lunge. But the ball just flew past the French international and straight onto the feet of the Ivorian. If your top players can’t get it right, how can you expect to get results in big matches?

Part of the blame also falls on Sagna for allowing that cross in the first place. He didn’t even stretch a leg out! Did you notice the number of times our crosses were blocked by their first man? It’s all part of the same thing. This is Chelsea’s strength and our weakness and we succumbed to their tactics.

Another interesting aspect of the first goal was the speed at which the ball moves from right to center to left and then into the goal. At one point you could see three Chelsea players on the right wing. Most of our players were defending that and the ball moved backwards. Terry seized on the opportunity to move forward and he found width on the left. This is the speed we have missed. This is the speed that used to be our strength. In the last two games we have taken far too long to switch play and have failed in creating space by giving the opposition enough time to recover.

I can find similar faults with the second goal. But that doesn’t mean anything. These problems are not new. The result isn’t very surprising. The painful part is, we never learn. Wenger keeps talking about his team growing up and maturing but it’s just talk.

Amongst the players I was very disappointed with Gallas, Eduardo and Arshavin. I thought Dudu was too focused on scoring himself and didn’t play in his team mates who were better placed. Given his lack of speed and physical presence it was not surprising that Chelsea defender’s found it easy to tackle him every time he took an extra moment.

Arshavin is a player with immense talent. I expect a big player to put in an extra special effort in a big match. Our best chance of the game fell to him when Cech was out of his goal and lost the ball. The Russian was outside the box but had a clear shot at an open goal. But if you take three touches to sort your feet out, some or the other opposition player will get a block in.

I have already pointed out the problem with Gallas. Part of the problems with these players was compounded by our tactical naivety so it’s not fair to single them out. Champion squads see top players taking charge of games. Unfortunately, we haven’t got anyone who can do that. I don’t think Gallas can ever take charge, so it’s up to Arsene to drill this into the likes of Cesc and Arshavin.

There are enough points that can be discussed. We can blame many players for their mistakes. Does it matter? At the end of the day, it’s the manager and the players who have to realize what’s gone wrong. Unless that happens, we will keep ending the big matches in frustration and pain.

To me the bottom-line is that we were outsmarted and outplayed in our stronghold. I can understand Wenger won’t speak much in public and I can only hope he will understand the real problems and deal with them in private. The buck stops with him.

As of now I don’t want to talk much about title hopes. There’s a long way to go in the season and we have a long way to go before we have hopes of getting silverware. It’s much more important to get the basics right every three days and focus on the game at hand.

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Arsenal Vs Chelsea: Threats, Strengths and Tactics

November 28, 2009

You know it’s not going to be a good day when the first thing you read after waking up is that Van Persie will be out for a long, long time! I find it difficult to take my mind of such news and it always makes me wonder if the players can focus on the game at hand when news of this sort is likely to affect the whole season. But focus, we must.

I thought the best way to preview this game would be to look at threats we face and the strengths we have. Tactics must counter the threats and bring out the best in our game.

Threats

Chelsea Defence: The Blues have been drilled in the art of defence by the dark lord of anti-football, Mourinho. They don’t make too many individual mistakes and remain highly organized.

Drogba: The Ivorians scoring record and impact on results against Arsenal is well documented. Our defenders can’t match him for physical strength and power, hardly anyone can, so it’s even more important to get the tactics right.

Anelka: He has the pace to trouble us on the counter. The Frenchman is clinical enough to score from half chances.

Set Pieces: The visitors have several men who can score with their head.

Shots from Distance: Lampard, Deco, Anelka, Essien … All of them can work the keeper from distance.

Strengths

Arshavin: Our Russian magician can create something out of nothing at any moment. Tight games are often decided by individual brilliance and Arshavin is due a big one.

Cesc: El Capitan will be the best football player on the pitch. If he gets on the ball more often in the final third, Cesc will unlock the Chelsea defence.

Speed: Our players are younger and in my opinion more skillful in possession. We can control the tempo of the game and keep Chelsea pinned in their half.

Movement: Our players don’t have a physical presence but our movement can wreck as much havoc.

Vermaelen: I have a feeling the Belgian will be a surprise for the Chelsea players.

Talking Tactics

I don’t expect Chelsea to come out and attack us. An interesting observation is that most of Chelsea threats are about individuals and moments. It gives them the freedom to sit back, knowing that a moment can come for them anytime and if needed, they can push forward towards the end.

On the other hand, our strengths are more collective in nature. If one fails, so do the other. For instance, if we don’t have the right movement, it automatically affects Fabregas’ game.

The biggest challenge for Le Boss is to ensure that our players are focused for the duration of the game. There is enough quality in the opposition to make us suffer for minor lapses. Unfortunately, in the past, we have failed on this front.

The second important aspect is the movement of the front three. These players have the intelligence to know what they should do, yet, at times they are caught on their heels. We need more from these players in terms of desire and invention. I am hoping Vela will get another start but Arsene might go in for the experience of Eduardo.

I am quite keen to see the back four that Arsene sends out. Hopefully, he will not risk Gallas unless the Frenchman is fully fit. This could be a game where Wenger’s earlier reluctance to rotate at the center of defence might trouble us. Looks like Senderos is well down the pecking order and Silvestre might have to step up. A scary thought, but his days with the Mancs will have taught him how to handle a monster.

Can Song play at Center Back? It’s a good question and a possibility worth considering. The only problem is that we will have too many changes to the spine of the team and Wenger doesn’t favor that approach.

Left back is another position up for grabs. In his interview with ATVO, AW said the choice is between Traore and Eboue! The young Frenchman will be a good choice if we can use his pace well as Right Back is the weakest link in the Chelsea defence.

All our players will have to be on their toes for every set piece. As long as we don’t give someone a free header this threat can be controlled. We also need better tackling and tactical fouls from our defensive players to break down the counter attacks.

Silvestre might not have the speed to catch up with the likes of Drogba and Anelka. It’s important to ensure he has enough support. Song will have to cut out any adventure and focus solely on breaking up play.

Must Win?

I believe this is a must win game. In terms of points, this game is worth three like any other. But in terms of confidence and belief this game is worth more than any other game this season. Three points would be the perfect launch pad for a winning run.

I expect the starting line up to be,

Almunia; Sagna, Gallas(Silvestre), Vermaelen, Traore; Song, Cesc, Denilson; Nasri, Eduardo, Arshavin.

Interestingly, almost a year ago, we beat the Blues at the Bridge. Chelsea were top of the table then, eight points clear of United who had a game in hand and were third in the table. We all know how the season ended. Déjà vu anyone!?

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Champions League Round-Up – How Arsenal Compares With Europe’s Elite

November 25, 2009

I had initially thought I will do this at the end of the group phase. But we have achieved qualification and top spot, so it seems worthwhile to have a look at other groups as well. Here are some highlights from the group tables after 5 games,

• Arsenal on 13 points are joint leaders in points terms with Chelsea and Bordeaux.
• These three teams are also the only unbeaten teams in the tournament. Even Barcelona and United have lost.
• Arsenal with 12 goals are joint leaders in scoring terms. Madrid and Fiorentina are the other teams on 12. United have scored 7, Chelsea 9 and Barcelona 5!
• Arsenal’s 8 is the best goal difference in the tournament so far. Chelsea are next with 7.
• Liverpool have crashed out. Inter, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Milan can still go out.

I know our group was relatively easy. But so was Chelsea’s. If the likes of Olympiacos and Alkmaar are not considered tough opponents, the same can be said for Rubin Kazan, Marseille, Besiktas, and Dynamo Kiev.

United haven’t looked convincing at all, have they? Their second string lost at home to a team like Besiktas who had 1 point in four games. Their first team conceded 3 at home against CSKA. Chelsea have only managed two 1-0 victories away from home.

Madrid have spent hundreds of millions but they haven’t set the football world on fire. Juventus have spent big on the likes of Diego, Melo etc. But they aren’t dominating any competition. Barca have spent enormously on Zlatan but they too have to live with a couple of scoreless draws.

I know we have a habit of conceding sloppy goals. I also realize we have let ourselves down a few times. But the improvement over last season is clear for everyone to see. We can certainly do well to improve our attitude and desire at times. There is room for improvement in maintaining the shape of the team, defensive tactics and developing a killer instinct. But these are all achievable as long as all concerned have genuine belief and will to win.

Some fans still don’t think this squad is good enough. I am more worried if some of the players also think that way. I guess that is an argument that can only be countered by actually winning something.

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Great Football, Unfortunate Injuries, Typical Arsenal

November 24, 2009

Brilliant football from the first minute was the perfect way to forget the disappointment of the weekend. Every single Arsenal player was up for this game and that meant only one result was possible. Top spot in the group has been achieved and a platform for the Chelsea game established.

There are two types of Arsenal games; one where you hope something will click and we will get a goal and the other when you know it’s just a matter of time before the score starts ticking. We dominate every game when the front line and the midfield move around seemingly effortlessly. We also create plenty of chances (25 on goal – 11 on target) in such games.

Arshavin did a Bendtner to keep our record of not scoring in the first fifteen minutes intact. It was little surprise that the first goal came when Standard’s best defender was off the pitch! Nasri once again showed that his finishing skills are as good as any strikers. An interesting bit was the long ball from Vermaelen. I think our Belgian defender has enough ability to make some killer passes and he should use that more often.

The second goal was a crisp opportunistic strike by Denilson. He didn’t look like a guy who has been out for weeks, did he!? The Brazilian has a knack for putting in important workmanlike performances. And if he can chip in with such goals regularly, it will make him immensely valuable to the squad.

We could easily have scored a lot more. Arshavin, Vela and Cesc went close. In such games the final goal count doesn’t matter as the result is never in any doubt. Although we did switch off during patches and Standard, to their credit, hit the woodwork twice. I do wonder what can possibly make our players concentrate for the duration of each game.

Arsene got the balance right with the starting eleven. Vela was rewarded for his patience and hard work in training with a rare start. I thought the young Mexican showed intelligent movement and quick feet. He certainly has the craft and it’s down to him to put in the required graft and evolve as a great striker.

The substitutions, on the other hand, did seem a little strange to me. I thought it might have made sense to give El Capitan a rest. He looked really tired towards the end. The introduction of Rosicky in Denilson’s defensive position was equally surprising. Thankfully, the visitors didn’t have the talent to pressurize us in the final few minutes.

The worst part of this game was undoubtedly the injuries to Gibbs and Gallas. How unlucky can a player get? After having a good match, the young Englishman was caught by a horrible studs first challenge. Some might question the need for him to be in such an advanced position at a late stage in the game, especially given our injury concerns. But to my mind this injury is down to the incompetence of UEFA administrators and referees.

It seems to me that UEFA instructs refs to be conservative in their decision making. That is the only explanation for ignoring various penalty claims and showing a lenient attitude towards tough tackling. In such cases, there is always a chance that some crazy challenge will hurt a player seriously. How can anyone justify Gibbs missing three months of action while the guy who made the terrible tackle doesn’t even get a card!

Hopefully the collision between Gallas and Arshavin will not cause any lasting damage. The last thing we need is for our players to find new ways of getting injured. I was really surprised that WG10 wasn’t subbed immediately. One look at him was enough to know that he shouldn’t be playing. It’s times like this when Arsene betrays his own trust in the depth of the squad.

Anyway, I am happy with the booster dose of confidence and can’t wait for Sunday.


Arsenal Vs Standard Liege: Preview

November 23, 2009

Champions League football returns and we get a chance to secure top spot in the group with a good result tomorrow. The visitors have a good squad and are capable of putting up a fight, but there is no real danger as long as our players can get their focus and desire right. Not an easy thing as we have seen quite often in the recent past.

Standard need a result. Hopefully, this will lead to an open game and any starting eleven we put out should be good enough to get three points. I felt the same way before the Sunderland game as well, so, fingers crossed, this one won’t be another self destruct performance.

I think this game comes at a good time. Our home record is perfect and quite imposing. We can add another good result to that before the big game at the weekend. However, the best aspect of this fixture is that it gives our players one more game to get the understanding right. It also gives Arsene a chance to give some game time to the likes of Walcott, Denilson and Vela.

I am not sure whether AW will select his team keeping an eye on the Chelsea game. This is the first time this season when I can’t predict even half the starting eleven. Will Gibbs come back into the starting line up? Will Denilson be given a start? Will Arshavin come into the team? If so, will he come in place of Rosicky or Nasri? Will Nasri move into the midfield? Will Sagna get a rest? Will Walcott get a start? There are too many questions and I haven’t a clue about the manager’s thoughts.

Personally, I would like to see Walcott get a good run out. He offers us a different dimension with his pace. Nasri in the midfield with Arshavin and Walcott on the wings looks like a balanced option. Gibbs and Eboue might come in at the back. A big half time lead can then give us the chance to give Denilson and Vela some minutes.

My best guess starting line up is,

Almunia; Eboue, Gallas, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Cesc, Song, Nasri; Walcott, Eduardo, Arshavin

Frankly, all I care for is that the players show they really want to win. If they do that, another 4-1 to the Arsenal is on the cards (funny how I hardly think of clean sheets these days!)


Detailed Analysis of the Performance Against Sunderland

November 22, 2009

We controlled the game yesterday with 65 percent possession. The opponents didn’t create much and had only one shot on target. But they took three points and we got zilch! And that’s the most important number. Nothing else matters at the end of the season.

Now there are many different ways of looking at this result. Some people see this as bad luck on the night, others see it as lack of steel, and some like me, as an attitude problem and a lack of desire. Opinion about our title hopes is as divided as ever and every loss brings out the negative voices just as each good run strengthens the believers.

I thought it might make sense to take the student of the game approach rather than an expert of the game one. This article attempts to look at some statistics from yesterday’s game and see if there are any insights. I am not claiming that these stats are 100 per cent accurate.  Various reputed websites have differing stats but they do provide a decent picture.

For instance, according to the telegraphs stats, Ramsey made 56 passes in an hour’s play with 84 per cent accuracy. If you have seen my earlier statistical analysis during the interlull, you will see that these are great statistics. Similarly Cesc had 82 with 87 per cent accuracy. Passes don’t tell the complete story but they show that players are mobile and available to receive the ball and pass it quickly. It is clear that the two creative midfielders were going about their job.

Compare those numbers with Rosicky (38 – 76%), Eduardo (18 – 89%) and Nasri (69 – 84%). First two played only for 71 minutes but they have clearly done less than Nasri and the midfielders. A striker will always have less number of passes than the rest and that is understandable, but should it be so few?

Let’s look at the front three in terms of their movement. I have created the following image from the Guardian Chalkboard.

Movement of Nasri/Rosicky against Sunderland

(c) DesiGunner

It is clear that Nasri was far more involved in the play than Rosicky. It also shows that Rosicky came inside far too often. Nasri shifted to the middle for the last twenty minutes so he is more involved in central areas. But if you look closely, neither of them was really involved in the final third and that is where the problem lies.

Now let’s compare the movement of Eduardo with that of RvP. I have taken Van Persie’s performance against Wolves for this comparison but it is similar in other games as well

Eduardo V RvP movement passes graph

(c) DesiGunner

Van Persie had better movement and involvement than Eduardo. It’s no secret that the Crozilian doesn’t have the same physical presence or pace that Robin has. So, it’s very important for him to have better movement if he has to contribute in a tough physical league.

The movement of the front three also shows why the midfield couldn’t create too many chances. If the front players don’t make the right runs, the midfield is forced to pass sideways. That is not the fault of the central players like Ramsey, Song or Cesc.

If we have to be successful and cope with the loss of our flying Dutchman, the front three really need to step up. I think Arsene knows the problem and here is what he said after the game

I believe that going forward especially we lacked sharpness and desire to go behind the defenders. We had chosen the easy part of the game, that is always come to the ball and not to be exposed then with our pace in behind. In football, if you want to score goals, you have to go behind the defenders.

The question is, what will it take to develop a ruthless streak in these players?

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