Arsenal V Bolton: Booby Trap En Route To El Dorado

January 20, 2010

When you have such a massive ten day period coming up, it’s difficult to focus on a game against Bolton. But focus we must for the points table does not care about who the opponent was. Three points give us the opportunity to go top of the league, a feeling many have forgotten.

From a tactical point of view there isn’t much to say. Bolton will be Bolton, well at least till Coyle gets a chance to treat them. They have a couple of decent individual players, the striker Klasnic looks top class, but the core of the team and their footballing ethos remain the same.

The lack of tactical thoughts means there is only one word in my mind – injuries. Our treatment room is overcrowded and many of our players are just returning to fitness. It is quite likely that some of them have been pushed out of the sick bay simply because there isn’t enough room. In other words, I’m afraid the likes of Denilson and Walcott might have been rushed back.

In the last game I had a couple of heart-in-mouth moments when the Bolton players went after Fabregas. This game too will be edge-of-the-seat stuff from the tackling point of view even if the game itself is not that close.

Denilson, after playing for a long time without any injuries, has suddenly morphed into a brittle hard-man. Clichy is coming back from a long lay-off from an injury that the Brazilian has been unable to shake off. Eduardo and Rosicky have a long way to go before they can be considered fully fit and it would be typical of Walcott’s season if he came on for a late cameo and suffered a rash tackle! Man, the pessimist in me takes over at times!

In short, this game is a potential minefield on the way to a period that can define our season and perhaps even the future of this squad. To be frank, I am not sure if I am more interested in three points or an injury free outing. Both would be ideal but given our luck there is no point dreaming about the best possible outcome. I am tilting towards an injury free ninety minutes.

That’s not to say that I doubt the result. Unlike the last game, I am quite confident that we should get a win in this game and emulate the average score at the Emirates, 3-1. As long as Cesc is playing the way he is, we are the favourites. And that is precisely why we want El Capitan to be fit for the remainder of the season.

The team selection for this game will be interesting. Eastmond will surely make way for Denilson, even if he is half fit. A more important decision pertains to the left back. Traore has come in for some flak after the last two games and almost all of Bolton’s attacks at the Reebok were through the right. Although the obvious answer is that Clichy will be right back as the left back, my choice would be to persist with Traore and ease our first choice player in by giving him half an hour at the end. With better support from Denilson, Diaby and the left sided attacker, Traore can safely help us minimize the risk with Clichy.

The rest of the team would be pretty much the same from three days ago unless Rosicky is not fit enough to play twice in quick succession. Vela might come in for him in that case as I can’t see Walcott getting a starting role. The Englishman’s presence on the bench, however, does give us an extra dimension just in case things aren’t going to plan.

I would like to see the following line up, although Le Boss might go for Clichy at left back.

Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Traore; Denilson, Diaby, Cesc; Rosicky, Arshavin, Eduardo.

Before I finish, Owen Coyle deserves some credit for his opinion about Arsene and Arsenal. After all, when was the last time a Bolton manager had genuine words of appreciation for Wenger and his team?!


Detailed Look At Our Left Channel Weakness Against Bolton

January 19, 2010

I believe there is a general consensus that our left side was quite weak against Bolton. It’s not rocket science and most of us saw that their attacks originated mostly from the right channel. We were under pressure in the second half and I thought it might make sense to analyze this in detail. I have taken the 45-70 minute period for this analysis. The following image clearly shows that Bolton attacked mainly through the right.

Traore was widely criticized for his performance in this game with many people, including myself, wondering what’s happened to his game. One thought that bothered me was, would a player who has had a good start suddenly perform poorly in a couple of games? It is possible but there could be other reasons as well. So I looked at the involvement of Arshavin, Eduardo, Diaby and Eastmond during this period.

The following image shows the passes made by each of these players in this period.

Apart from Diaby no one really had any contribution on the left channel, especially in a defensive role. I know that Eastmond was substituted just after the hour mark and there is no point in criticizing a young debutant but Song would certainly have given Traore more support.

Similarly both Eduardo and Arshavin failed to track back. I think Dudu was playing up front and can be excused to some extent. In this case the bulk of the blame would fall on the Russian master for not doing enough to help the defense. AA23 recognizes this problem and was quite honest about it while speaking to his website

We changed the scheme of the game today. My task was to play left field. I was not able to fully help out in the defense but thanks to the guys who corrected my flaws.

I am not sure if he was aware of this during the game or if Wenger pointed it out to him later on. My guess is that it would have been later as it’s difficult to think he wouldn’t have corrected the problem if he had realized it on the pitch. Although, one can always ask why didn’t he get the message from the bench during the game?!

The point of this article is not to blame Eastmond or Arshavin, nor am I trying to defend Traore. The point is, sometimes we see some problems during the games and jump to the obvious conclusion but the truth might be much more complex.

I don’t claim that these images prove anything conclusively. I would certainly like to see data on where players received the passes and how they ran during this period. In the absence of other details these images do give us enough food for thought.

My conclusion is that Traore didn’t get enough support from the DM or the left sided attacking player and under pressure he made some mistakes. We will have to address this balance against the bigger teams with more clinical finishers. I guess this is one of the reasons for Eduardo playing on the left in stead of Arshavin and we might see him back in that position for the return fixture.

In case you want to explore further, do visit the guardian chalkboards. I look forward to reading your thoughts on the subject.


Bolton 0 – 2 Arsenal: Fighting Spirit Outshines Bravado

January 18, 2010

I am feeling fine again. Before the match I was a little nervous as I didn’t have the right feeling, during the match till we got the second goal the same anxiety dominated. Once the second goal went in I had a sense of relief and now that I have thought about the game a bit, there is even more belief that we are up for it this season.

It’s not that I didn’t believe we can do it, I am quite a believer as regular readers will know. But in the recent past we have shot ourselves in the leg quite often and every potential pitfall of a game brings back some concerns. In the same vein every good result, and this was an important win, serves as a booster dose of confidence.

After the game I read some reports that said the result could have been different if Bolton had converted their chances. I beg to disagree. Arsenal had two clear penalty claims and a couple of other gilt edged chances. Bolton, as far as I can remember, had only one clear chance when Taylor had a sight of goal with only Almunia to beat. The others were half chances or snapshots from outside the box.

The hosts started the game stronger but their pressure lasted for only a couple of minutes as Arsenal settled into a nice rhythm and controlled bulk of the first half. We didn’t create too many chances but looked threatening while going forward. Most of our attacks came from the center and the right while Bolton looked dangerous down our left side.

The first goal came when Rosicky sprinted to win a 50-50 and then put in a sliding tackle to win another in succession. The ball passed from Sagna to Eastmond who played a good ball through to Diaby. The center was crowded and Diaby lost the ball but we had four men pressing in that area and a slip by Steinsson meant that Cesc was in possession on the edge of the box. Within a split second he had played a neat one two with Eduardo and fired home through a defender’s legs with Jaskaleinen having no chance of saving it. I was really impressed with El Capitan’s shooting technique for this goal. It wasn’t a powerful shot but more of a fast paced through ball at a perfect angle.

Towards the end of the half Cesc, Eduardo and Arshavin got together to create another open goal situation but somehow the human side of Cesc took over and he missed. Given his form and shooting accuracy this season it was a big surprise. Eduardo’s movement might have distracted him but neither of them was at fault.

The second half was a bit surprising. I was expecting Arsene to address our weakness on the left side but Bolton came out with greater purpose and terrorized Traore. While watching it I was quite nervous but now I must say that the defenders dealt with most of the threat quite well and the keeper gathered everything cleanly. Gallas had a couple of loose moments and Taylor found himself free on one occasion but Almunia didn’t have to make any heroic saves.

Eastmond was replaced by Merida, a substitution I had expected at half time. In the morning when I heard Nasri wasn’t fit, my guess was that Merida will start. Like some of you in the comments, the boss went for Eastmond. It was a tough game for him and I will write more on his game in the individual section but the change seemed to help the team.

The second goal was fascinating. Bolton had numbers forward and the ball was floating around near our box. I think Vermaelen headed it out and it fell to Cesc half way in our own half. El Capitan held off two players before turning and setting Merida on his way. The commentator was excited and started talking of how Arsenal are dangerous on a break. The situation looked perfect for a counter but the young Spaniard didn’t have much support as he burst forward. In stead of running into trouble he held the ball and moved out right before playing it back to Sagna. The full back played it in the center to Diaby who passed it on to Cesc. Bolton had numbers behind by this time and I thought the moment had passed.

The hosts had lost their shape while rushing back and Cesc got a chance to run at their defence. He released Eduardo inside the box and the Crozilian’s cross was headed by Knight just as Arshavin was about to pull the trigger. The Bolton defender didn’t get much distance on the ball and Merida, who was lurking around the edge of the box pounced on the loose ball. His first touch was excellent and he reminded the boss of his talent with a classy finish.

Bolton’s bravado was well and truly stuffed. We had a disjointed final few minutes as we didn’t create much but the defence was firm. It was nice to see Clichy back and he looked quite like his old self.

The end of the match happiness was tinged by the news of injuries to Nasri and Ramsey. It seems like the injury gods are very specific. Towards the end of last season we struggled with defenders, this season it has been strikers and attacking players and now, just when Song is on national duty, almost anyone who can play as a defensive midfielder is marked out for a spell on the sidelines. Some might say Eastmond is blessed.

Individual Performances

Almunia: Had a solid game without being exceptional. Caught everything that came his way. Needs more such games to get his confidence back.

Sagna: Another solid game. Was a little more defensive in the second half and might have been told to hold back a little.

Gallas: Made a couple of big mistakes that could have been costly. Overall his body language is not very good when under pressure or when someone makes a mistake.

Vermaelen: Competing with Sagna for the most consistent player of the season. Another great game. I think he should work on his free kicks as he has the talent to be lethal.

Traore: He started well when Gibbs was injured but last two games have seen him struggle. Not sure if he loses concentration or is it something else. Won’t have a future at Arsenal if he doesn’t improve.

Eastmond: He looked a little nervous on the pitch. At times I also felt that the players didn’t even want to pass to him. Even Bolton players seemed to ignore him as was evident on the corner when he was completely free inside the box. It only goes to show the difference between Carling Cup and Premier League intensity. A good experience for the lad but he needs to show more confidence on the pitch. If the boss can trust him enough to put him in the starting line up, he has to have the body language of a player who knows he belongs.

Cesc: Can’t say much more about the best player in the league. Although his defending is quite good I doubt if he will be able to play the holding role, as suggested by some of you, simply because he is attracted to the ball all the time. If we play most of our game in the opponent’s half he will invariably end up moving forward.

Diaby: The present team composition doesn’t suit him. He needs more freedom but I was happy with his contribution. Could have done more to help Traore and Eastmond but it depends on the instructions from Le Boss. Based on the way he played, I wasn’t sure if he was given instructions to attack or defend.

Rosicky: Showed plenty of ability in the attacking third. Didn’t have much defending to do as most of Bolton’s attacks were down the left. I kept wondering why he didn’t switch sides with Arshavin as the Czech maestro is certainly better at tracking back. I was also wondering why we didn’t switch play to the right more often, instead of hoofing it clear down the middle when under pressure.

Eduardo: Played better through the center. He is improving with every game and I am hoping that he will be fit for the rest of this season. Nice to see him pick up a couple of assists.

Arshavin: Worked harder than what we are used to seeing from him. He still has a lot more to offer but this was a step in the right direction.

Subs: Merida was excellent and with injuries to Ramsey and Nasri he deserves the chance to prove his worth. Clichy had a good run out and Vela didn’t get much time.

I will end by saying that Bolton were quite ugly and Taylor deserved a red card for his vile and violent behaviour. I doubt that there will be any retrospective action but Fabregas deserves kudos for keeping his cool.


Bolton V Arsenal: A Thin Squad In The Thick Of Action

January 17, 2010

All the talk at the Reebok revolves around Owen Coyle and rightly so. Bolton have struggled this season and a new manager, with strong ties to the club, can only be beneficial.

The tactical battles will be interesting. Arsene reckons that a manager can only play with his style and Coyle will change the Bolton game to a passing one. Surely, no one can change the playing style of a team overnight! Especially, a style developed and perfected by such masters as Big Sam, Sammy Lee and Megson.

On one hand the Trotters will be fired up for the game, on the other they might find it hard to adapt to a new style. We have to wait and see which of the two has a higher impact. I am guessing that Coyle will not make too many changes to the way Bolton play, certainly not against Arsenal. They will come at us hard and fight for every ball while hitting it high and long at every opportunity.

Given their game style and our performance against Everton, some of us are still trying to figure out how Arsenal will adapt without Song. Throw the injuries to Denilson and Ramsey into the mix and it becomes a challenge even for Arsene. Le Boss was not very clear about the injuries to either of them but I am hoping he wont rush them back for this one if there is any doubt about their fitness.

Thankfully we have Rosicky back and hopefully he will stay fit for a longer period this time around. We really need a good show from him at the Reebok. Despite all our injuries we should have enough in attack to score a couple against a team that hasn’t kept a clean sheet all season long.

Our troubles are more on the defensive front and with the link between defence and attack. Diaby is the popular choice to fill that role and I have a feeling Arsene will ask him to curb his attacking instincts for this game.

I would like to Nasri in that role with Cesc too in a deeper position and Diaby playing the attacking midfielder. The main reason behind this thought is the worry that our lanky Frenchman holds on to the ball too often and could be a liability in, well, a holding role! The others will have to drop deep anyway, allowing Bolton to press us further up the pitch. So we might be better off allowing Diaby the freedom to roam in the Bolton half and take defenders on with his direct running.

There is some good news on the injury front with Clichy expected to make a return to the squad. Once again, I would prefer if he was eased in slowly. Back problems can be tricky and we can do without a Denilsonesque recurrence.

Our bench is likely to be full of youngsters even by our standards. In other words, the starting eleven has to do the job. The break must have given everyone enough time to regain their sharpness as we need the cutting edge against a physical side.

The starting line up is likely to be

Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Traore; Diaby, Cesc, Nasri; Rosicky, Arshavin, Eduardo.

To be frank, I have a bad feeling about this one. We have had some poor results in pairs like the losses in Manchester, draws with Alkmaar and West Ham and then the defeats to Chelsea and Citeh. After last week’s result and with the team looking for a new balance, I can see another tough draw on the cards. Here’s hoping I am wrong.


Football Club Ownership Needs Serious Reform

January 16, 2010

Over the last few days there has been unending debate over the state of Machester United’s finances. Liverpool’s financial problems and their on field issues have also become a public spectacle and been a source of immense pain and concern amongst the supporters of the club.

Most of the abuse has been directed towards the American owners of these clubs for the debt burden that they have created. Interestingly, and somewhat surprisingly, I haven’t seen many articles questioning the judgment of the previous owners who sold the clubs in the first place.

The American owners cannot be absolved for the mess they have created but we must not forget that they are still a part of that mess and it’s not a pleasant situation for them. It’s a different matter that they are to a great extent the cause of the troubles. The previous owners on the other hand have pocketed hundreds of millions and vanished from the scene of crime, so to speak.

The big question here is, should the previous owners be held responsible and accountable for the present state of the club? Legally I am sure there is nothing wrong and there cannot be any action against them. The question is more a moral and ethical one.

If a football manager takes certain decisions and the results don’t go as expected he is either fired or resigns. Similarly, in all walks of life, people bear a certain responsibility for their actions. Selling a club and pocketing a large profit is also an action. Now if a football club were just another piece of personal property like art or a vintage car, no one would have a right to question the sale. But a football club is not just any article belonging to an individual. Club owners are often referred to as custodians and are seen as individuals responsible for the well being of the club. If I am not mistaken, it is widely accepted that a football club belongs to the fans.

Of course, there is a legal/technical aspect to ownership and from that point of view the shareholders are the owners of the club. But it’s the fans who make the club what it is. It’s the fans who pay huge chunks of their income helping the club build it’s revenues. It’s the fans who bring the club alive and they are the ones who feel the most pain when the club suffers on and off the pitch. Certainly, no one can claim that the fans don’t suffer as much as the owners, the staff or the players.

How then, can the fate of a club reside in the hands of a handful of men? How can their incompetence, greed or lazy indifference be allowed to affect the lives of so many supports? Shouldn’t there be a stronger legislative system that makes the owner accountable to some extent even after he has sold the club? Would it make sense if all the clubs were owned by their members and the decisions makers would not be legal owners but actual custodians?

The present system seems to be one where the owners are like a king or a dictator and can do whatever they feel like doing. At least in the political system the subjects have a chance of initiating a revolution of their own. In the case of football clubs the law would prevent the supporters from taking the owners on. Thankfully, large scale protests and Gandhian principles still have some power, but is it enough?

At the moment, I can only put the questions forward and apologize for a lack of answers. The issue is really complex and I just don’t have enough knowledge to give a comprehensive solution. In fact, I doubt if I have even defined issue well enough so I would love to hear your views on the subject.

Oh, I haven’t mentioned Arsenal even once in this write up and this is, after all, an Arsenal blog. So the final thought – Thank you Messrs Fizman, Hill-Wood and Co. Please keep up the good work as we have some tough times ahead.


Comparing Incomes of Arsenal and Manchester United

January 14, 2010

Man Utd recently published a summary of their 2009 financial statements. I thought it will be interesting to look at how the clubs compare financially. Since their  summary is only a two page document it’s not possible to do a detailed analysis but we can definitely compare the incomes of the two clubs.

Here is how the numbers look (United year ending June 30 2009, Arsenal YE May 31 2009)

All figures in millions of pounds

Turnover

United – 278.5

Arsenal – 313.3 – From Football 225.1 (88 from property)

Matchday/Gate Income

United – 108.8

Arsenal – 100.1

Media/Broadcast

United – 99.7

Arsenal – 73.2

Commercial

United – 70

Arsenal – 48

Interestingly, the Matchday revenues are not very different even though United have a larger stadium and have also included revenues from their pre-season tours in this segment. Arsenal probably compensate for that via the Emirates cup. Food for thought for those who advocate pre-season tours, Wenger might be right on this one as well!

United have a significantly higher income in the Media category. Since they reached the Champions League finals and might have received more TV coverage in the premier league (Arsenal financial statements mention that the club received slightly lower EPL live coverage) the media figures might be explicable. Unfortunately, we do not have detailed breakdown of these numbers for either club but Arsenal can certainly do better on this front.

Commercial revenues have a equally large difference. I think Arsenal understand this opportunity and Gazidis is working on developing the team. Just yesterday the club website had an article that said – Arsenal invests in it’s commercial operations.

Shirt sponsorships are an important part of these numbers and it’s no surprise that Arsenal might be looking to renegotiate the Emirates deal. Just for perspective, the present Arsenal shirt deal is worth 100M over 15 years while United have signed a 4 year deal worth 80M. Of course, Arsenal got bulk of the money upfront and the board might have thought it was a good option at that time, there can be no denying the fact that there is serious room for improvement.

Arsenal have by and large been the best managed club in England and it isn’t by coincidence that Wenger has a sizable kitty at his disposal when the others can’t even spend what they raise through player sales. Once we make the improvements in our commercial and media segments, Wenger might actually bid for Messi instead of just joking about it! (It’s a different matter that most of us want someone right now :))

You can find the complete Arsenal financials here and the two page joke from United here.


Sol Returns, Adebayor Keeps and Bolton Double

January 13, 2010

What do you call a piece of news that’s half expected and half unbelievable! When I saw the news of Sol Campbell returning to Arsenal earlier in the day, I was quite skeptical and ignored it as more media gibberish. Suddenly, a headline from the Arsenal website with Campbell’s name popped up as I realized this was for real.

As of now, there hasn’t been an official confirmation but Sol has been speaking of returning to the club on a short term contract. Campbell spoke to ESPN Soccernet and in case you have missed the comments, the whole interview can be read here. He seems to be highly motivated for the return,

I’ve missed it and I’ve a gut feeling this is the right move. It’s no longer a hunger to get back – it’s turned into a craving. I am champing at the bit. I’m fresh, I’m raring to go. It’s unbelievable to be back at Arsenal.

As far as I am concerned, if we can think of signing someone like Adriano on a free, then Sol Campbell can’t be too bad either. Even if you consider the players we already have in the position, Senderos and Silvestre, the ex-Arsenal man can only be an improvement. That makes me wonder, will he now be an ex-ex-Arsenal player?

I am assuming the club have seen his fitness levels and know what will be needed to bring him up to scratch. Although, given our recent fitness bloopers we can never be too sure. He will certainly need a lot of work before he can be in contention for a starting spot. One thing I liked about his interview was that he sounded like realistic man focused on the job.

I need to get minutes under my belt, a couple of reserve games at least, before I can start looking any further ahead.

First steps, first steps. It is just a pleasure to be back on the pitch, and pitch-time is what I need. I am going to enjoy it, really enjoy it. I’ve been out far too long, and I have worked hard to get back on the field. I’ve been training hard, working hard, and I now want to be involved.

He will have to be realistic because he wont get a chance as long as our first choice Center Backs are fit. I also want to see how he settles in the dressing room with the likes of Gallas. Hopefully, everyone will be fired up by the competition in a positive manner.

This move will spell the end of Phillipe Senderos’ Arsenal career or whatever was left of it. In a way, Arsene has taken a year away from his career and Senderos must be commended for maintaining his dignity all this while. I hope he finds a new club soon.

Interestingly enough, this wasn’t the most surprising story of the day. That honor belongs to Adebayor and his Arsenal shirt. In case you have missed the scoop, Adebayor was interviewed in Togo about the recent events in Angola. All was usual except the fact that he was wearing an Arsenal shirt!

I couldn’t stop laughing for a few minutes and still can’t whenever I think about this. I have to say though, the subject he is talking about is a very serious matter and deserves due respect. The only explanation I can think of is that he is too greedy to let go of his possessions and too dumb to realize what he is doing. You can see the interview on this link, courtesy of Vital Football – Manchester City. I would love to see the faces of all the Citeh fans who were supporting his behavior after the events at Eastlands.

The worst piece of news in the day was the rearranged fixture against Bolton. I was hoping this will be put back for a later date but we are now going to face the thugs in back to back encounters within a span of 4 days. We have four crunch fixtures coming up starting with Villa on the 24th and what could be worse than two risky games against the Trotters just before that!?

I’ll just watch the Adebayor video again to take my mind off this thought.


Shades of The Geeta Philosophy in Wenger’s Thinking

January 11, 2010

Wenger’s pre-match press conference before the Everton game was quite humorous and interesting. Le Boss spoke on many topics and seemed to be in a jovial mood. Amidst the usual pre-match talk of injuries, signings, and the ceaseless Spanish Inquisition, a journalist asked Wenger how he is going to judge the season at the end.

Part of Arsene’s reply was

… at the end of the day I believe you can be proud of your season when you come out and say we have gone as far as we could, we have given absolutely everything. And this team, since the start of the season, promised that we will give everything in every single game and at the moment they are achieving it. If that is respected, you can always come out of a season with pride.

Now, I am not a spiritual or religious person but there is a verse from the Bhagvad Geeta that has stayed with me since the time I first read it when I was still in school. This is probably the most famous and some might say the most abused verse from the Geeta.

कर्मणये वाधिकारस्ते मां फलेषु कदाचन ।

मां कर्मफलहेतुर्भू: मांते संङगोस्त्वकर्मणि ।।

2:47 SRIMAD BHAGVAD GEETA

The English transliteration could be,

Karmanye Vaadhikaraste, Maa Phaleshu Kadachana;
Maa karma-phala-hetur-bhooh, Ma Te sangostwakarmani.

Since the Bhagvad Geeta is one of the most profound, philosophical classics of the world, this verse has many interpretations. And given the depth and complexity of Sanskrit even direct translations are many in number. I was a little disappointed with the initial results of my google search for an explanation and translation but we can use the following as a rough literal translation.

Your right is to work only,
But never to its fruits;
Let not the fruits of action be thy motive,
Nor let thy attachment be to inaction.

On the face of it, this might be something that would not make sense to a lot of people, especially if you are not already acquainted with the philosophy of the Geeta. Our modern world is extremely result oriented and talk of work without any right to reward is not easy to digest. I would love to indulge in a detailed philosophical discussion here but that is not the purpose of this article so I won’t go in depth.

To explain it in simple terms, this verse emphasizes on the importance of detachment while highlighting the need to perform ones duty/work. As per my understanding, the most a man can do is to perform his duty to the best of his ability. Life is complex and there are many factors at work beyond the control of man and hence it is very likely that we will not get the desired results of our labor. In such a situation if we are motivated only by results there is a strong likelihood that we will be disheartened and lose interest.

The verse advises man to work for the sake of work and not for the sake of results. In such a situation, if the results don’t go our way, we can still carry on with what we are doing with the knowledge that it is work that is important and not the results.

If we think from the point of view of Arsene Wenger, the best he can do is to work hard every day, take decisions based on his knowledge and understanding and be loyal to his principles that have taken him this far. During the season if someone else performs better, if we face unfortunate injuries, the referees get some key decisions wrong, or any external factor beyond our control influences the year end results, he can still be proud of the work done during the year.

Similarly, some players might score some goals, get some assists and rake up good tangible statistics. Others might pick up a serious injury and be out for a long time. Some might struggle on their come back. It is impossible to judge all of them on the same parameters of the limited, measurable statistics that we have. At the end of the day, the player has to ask himself if he did everything within his powers to perform his duties.

Arsene hit the nail on the head in the last line – “if that is respected…” We live in a world where thousands of people are ready to pass a verdict on every decision and after every game. Managers become incompetent fools after a few bad games and they become heroes with magical powers after a short run of positive results. In other words, respect for the person and his work is lost, acknowledgment of the circumstances at work is missing and everything is simplified to the point of meaninglessness.

I have often wondered how Wenger manages to remain so loyal to his principles in the face of constant, stinging criticism. For a lesser man, self-doubt would creep in and it would be impossible to continue working at such a high level without compromise. Courage of conviction is only seen when the foundation of one’s beliefs is very strong. Arsene has, with these comments, demonstrated that his clarity of thought and philosophical insights about life are just as good as his footballing intelligence.


Unfit, Misfiring Gunners 2 – 2 Plucky, Hardworking Toffees

January 10, 2010

It’s not often that Arsene Wenger comes out and says we were closer to losing than winning. It’s even rarer when he says that we had technical problems. To be fair, Le Boss got is spot on and deserves some credit for saying a lot in few words. It’s a different matter that these problems should have been foreseen and it’s more down to him than anyone else that we played the way we did.

The single most important observation from the game was that Denilson failed in the role of Song. I don’t want to comment that he is not fit for that role or that he is not a good enough player. One game with a makeshift midfield is certainly not enough to make such a sweeping judgment. But as far as this game goes, he was a disaster. How much of it was down to his fitness and whether he has been rushed back or not is something we might know in the coming days.

Song has the ability to take the ball from the defenders and move it forward. It allows the others to push on forward. He also has the ability to take on and hold off an opponent if he is put under pressure. Denilson was not able to do this and put the defense under tremendous pressure while encouraging the visitors to press high up in our half.

The number of times Nasri had to drop deep was a sign of how difficult the defenders were finding it to move the ball. Another sign was the number of passes they exchanged amongst themselves when the opposition was pressing high up. These are things that give the opponents a lot of confidence and have an adverse effect on our belief.

Denilson was caught in possession by Saha and he was able to get a shot on goal that was deflected for a corner by a Gallas block. The first goal came from this corner when Osman of all people was given a clean run into the box and got a free header in the six yard box with Gallas and Vermaelen marking Cahill and Fellaini. With acres of free space in our box, it was not clear whether we were marking men or playing a zonal defense.

Gallas could have attacked the ball better once he realized that the man he was marking was not going to get the ball. Almunia should have known better than trying to come for the ball when Saha was clearly in his way. These are small mistakes that occur often but don’t always result in a goal, so they go unnoticed. After the goal Gallas was having a go at Ramsey, I am not sure if it was for not marking Osman or for not defending his zone. I guess it was the former.

The fact remains that our defending from set pieces is quite poor and without Song we are weaker on this front. The next few games, especially the one with Bolton, will demand serious improvement.

We got back into the game through a lucky deflection that came about due to a positive forward burst by Denilson. A couple of aspects that we have improved on are our shooting from outside the box and having men in the box. Before this game 31 percent of our goals had come from outside the box, which is the highest in the league. Fortune favors the brave is certainly applicable here and Denilson does deserve credit for trying his luck. I think he is a much better player when he plays with a stronger DM like Song.

In the second half we looked more dominant and I had a feeling that we will score the second. Arsene brought on Rosicky and Vela and there wasn’t much else he could have done. Against Villa and West Ham we had enough bench strength to change the game, but this time the injuries took their toll. We were in the ascendancy and looking to be more positive when we conceded a naïve and stupid goal.

Arshavin took a corner and like most of our set-pieces the delivery wasn’t special. After some juggling in the box the ball fell to an Everton player just outside the box. He could have started a counter attack but Denilson got a good lunge in to win the ball. Unfortunately, the Brazilian stayed on the ground after this challenge as the ball fell to Sagna who played it to Rosicky and made a good run on the outside. At this point Rosicky tried a more difficult pass towards Diaby in stead of playing it to Sagna. This pass was intercepted and Cahill received the ball around the halfway line. Traore was the only man with him as Sagna had made a run forward.

Cahill held up the ball as Nasri ran towards him while Pienaar made a lung bursting run from deep within his own half. Denilson was still struggling to get up as the South African ran past him. Our half was completely empty and it was easy for Cahill to play it in the open space. Pienaar showed good control, composure and technique to chip Almunia. I thought Almunia’s technique was good but the Everton midfielder showed his class.

There are many questions here. Why did Denilson continue playing when he was clearly struggling? Why didn’t Traore tackle or foul Cahill? Why didn’t Nasri have the awareness to see who was making a run behind him? At the end of the day, these things happen and it’s very difficult to pin the blame on any one person bar the manager.

As Everton maintained pressure in our half, it looked like they could get the third and Arsenal had given up. The team deserves credit for trying till the end and snatching a point. That says a lot for the spirit and desire of the team and will hold us in good stead in days to come.

Everton can’t complain about the deflected goals as neither team deserved a win. Arsenal created as many chances as the visitors but neither goal keeper had to make any great saves except perhaps a late one from Almunia when Everton continued playing as Denilson collapsed on the pitch.

Everton can be blamed for their spirit and they can question why Denilson was playing when he was obviously hurt. More importantly, we have to hope that the injury is not very serious and won’t keep the Brazilian out for too long.

Individual Performances

Almunia: Could have done better for the first goal. Overall, not too different from his recent outings.

Sagna: Had a decent game without being spectacular.

Gallas: Made a few mistakes but struggled mainly due to a weak link with the midfield. Needs to show better body language and communication on the pitch.

Vermaelen: Nothing to complain about and nothing worth writing home either.

Traore: I thought he was instructed to stay deeper and not go forward a lot. Has the best crossing ability in the team but doesn’t have the required defensive technique and positional sense. Can’t really criticize a third choice player who hasn’t had many chances.

Denilson: One of his worst games in an Arsenal shirt. Hopefully, he will find his fitness and game soon.

Diaby: Was not clear of his role. Doesn’t have the passing ability that would allow him to play deep. Holds on to the ball too often and affects the pace of the team. His strength is in direct running in the opposing areas but just couldn’t get his game going. Made some good tackles late on.

Ramsey: Missing in Action. I think he had a more advanced role and suffered as the link from defense never worked.

Nasri: Worked hard but suffered like the rest of the creative players.

Eduardo: Not enough supply.

Arshavin: Was in some good positions but the ball never came. Diaby in particular was guilty of not playing him in on more than one occasion.

Subs: Rosicky was lively but is some way away from being at his best. Vela didn’t have much time to make an impact. The fact that we had to bring Merida on shows that we are down to bare bones.

To conclude, I don’t agree with anyone who says that this game was a disaster as far as the title challenge goes. On the other hand, we cannot ignore this as just a bad day at the office either. Wenger will have to ask himself some serious questions and make sure that we find the right balance very soon. Hopefully, Cesc will be back and will stay fit for the season.


Arsenal V Everton: Second Half Begins (Hopefully!)

January 9, 2010

We all want a game, that much is established. Arsene wants to go ahead, the fans want one and I am sure the players want to play as well. The minor advantage of some players returning to fitness are far outweighed by building on the momentum and putting points on the board while avoiding a pile up at the later stages.

It all boils down to the battle between the Footballing Gods and the Snowballing Gods. For some strange reason beyond the realm of human understanding, these celestial sections have fallen out and thus far the the cold and gloomy ones are shading it. If only words could brighten up a day!

While the Gods make their peace, we can get some peace of mind just by just talking about the game. Here’s a piece off my mind (and no more attempts at word games I promise.)

Arsenal must be quite confident for this one having started the season in thumping fashion in the return fixture at Goodison Park. There is no reason to doubt that we cannot kick off the second half in a similar manner. Based on current form and our home form in general three points are the least we should expect.

In some ways the first game set a marker for both the sides. Arsenal surprised the doubters and moved from strength to strength. Everton have been below par and fighting at the wrong end of the table. The visitors might look at this game symbolically and think that a good result here could change the second half for them.

As Arsene said, “Everton are Everton and at some stage in the season they always come back on a good run. That is why we never discount them.” Clearly, the boss has enough respect for the opponents and the players must show the same on the field. We just cannot afford to drop points due to a lack of effort on our part. If Everton can turn up and perform at a level only Chelsea have so far at the Emirates then fair play to them.

The Toffee’s have an injury list that can compete with ours. However, they do have enough players to put out a squad that can fight for the points. The likes of Cahill and Fellaini are capable of some telling air strikes as Baines, Pienaar, Hibbert and Bilyaletdinov launch the supplies.

While the visitors are not a dirty team by any means, I am a little concerned by the injury potential of this game. Firstly, our players tend to slip a lot even on the best of days. Will they avoid injuries on an icy and damp surface? Secondly, even ordinary tackles could turn into dangerous ones if the players lose control of the slide, something that is quite likely in such circumstances. The only thing I can think of is that even the visitors will want to avoid any serious injuries and both teams might go a bit easy on the 50-50 balls.

There isn’t any real change in the team news from the previous game. Wilshere is out and it’s a little worrying to see him follow the path of senior stars like RvP and Walcott on the injury front. Hopefully it’s just down to his age and not something that will hold him back over the years. Rosicky is back but I don’t want to count him amongst the fit ones till he plays a few games on the trot.

It will be interesting to see whether it’s Ramsey or Diaby who takes on the job of supporting Denilson defensively. Given that Fellaini might be a little too strong for Rambo, it does make sense to hold Diaby back. Of course, that will affect our attacking threat a little. Once again it’s up to the team to show that we can do as well without Song as we have done without Cesc.

The line up is likely to be,

Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Traore; Denilson, Ramsey, Diaby; Nasri, Eduardo, Arshavin;

Although Arsene might put Rosicky in place of Ramsey.

In the reverse fixture our performance and result matched the weather, let’s hope this time it’s the reverse.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,112 other followers