A Comprehensive List Of Arsenal’s Weaknesses

July 15, 2011

I have had this thought in my mind for a long while – to create a comprehensive list of weaknesses of Arsenal as identified by fans, pundits, and others.

This list is not a judgement on the club, manager, or the players. All the criticisms in this list aren’t necessarily valid. I believe most of these arguments don’t hold water upon closer inspection but want to avoid a debate on the merits of each, at least for the time being. Since everyone has their favourite gripes against the club and those working for it, such a debate will go out of control in no time.

I just want to put down everything in one place and see how the opinions compare to it over the course of the season. If time permits I will also try to see how other teams fare against this list. I think it will provide us a good benchmark and some interesting discussion points over the course of the season. So please help me in building this list by mentioning any supposed weaknesses that I miss out on (There are so many complaints that I am sure to forget a fair few of them).

I have broadly classified this into criticisms of Players, Manager, and Board.

Players

  1. Strikers (and others in general) are not clinical enough
  2. Club lacks a 20 goal a season striker
  3. Big stars were never replaced
  4. Players lack a winning mentality
  5. Players lack leadership
  6. Central defenders don’t command their area
  7. There is no organizer in the team
  8. Full-backs can’t cross
  9. Full-backs can’t block crosses
  10. Very few players can attack balls put in the box
  11. Players can’t defend set-pieces
  12. Can’t defend long balls
  13. Attacking set-pieces are wasted
  14. No consistent free-kick taker
  15. Club lacks a world class goalkeeper
  16. Don’t shoot from outside the box often enough
  17. Not physical (big,tall) enough for the Premier League
  18. Lack grit and determination
  19. Some players are lazy
  20. Some players lack commitment
  21. Get injured on a regular basis
  22. Cannot hold on to leads
  23. Cannot counter-attack at pace

Wenger (and staff)

  1. Tactically – Anywhere from weak to utterly clueless
  2. Defensive coaching is poor
  3. Playing style lacks balance
  4. Lack of a plan B
  5. Blind to obvious problems
  6. No/Poor training on attacking and defending set-pieces
  7. Reluctant to spend money
  8. Arrogant
  9. Stubborn
  10. Gives ridiculous interviews/ Makes excuses
  11. Rewards underperforming players
  12. Happy to finish fourth – lacks winning mentality
  13. Prefers tika-taka football and ignores the other needs of the team (many points mentioned under players)
  14. No 2 and others are ‘Yes  Men’
  15. Medical staff cannot keep players injury free

Board/Owners/Management

  1. Greedy
  2. Happy with fourth as long as Champions League money is coming in
  3. Don’t care about fans
  4. New owner(s) just want to make money
  5. Not interested in investing in the club
  6. Sold the club short on commercial deals
  7. New commercial team has not performed

That’s all I can think for now. Please add to it based on what you’ve read over the last season or two. I realize there is a bit of redundancy but I want to err on the side of excess rather than leave something out.

Just so no one gets me wrong, I want to reiterate this is not a list of weaknesses/problems that I agree with. It’s just a collection of top criticisms that I have heard or read in the past two years. Some of these concerns are valid, some are partially valid and others are just a result of the fans’ frustration or borne from the creative minds of anti-Arsenal hacks and pundits.

Of course, if we take some distance and look at this list, it is startling at the very least. How can a team with 23 issues (can increase based on your suggestions) of such magnitude with an additional 15 against the manager and his staff come in the top four of the Premier League with such consistency? Surely others who have spent hundreds of millions must finish above such an Arsenal side, no? It took Man City more than half a billion pounds and three years just to finish three points above the Gunners with so many issues? Why haven’t the Tiny Totts overtaken the Gunners despite doing what many Gooners have been asking for (sacking managers, selling and buying players in bulk)?

As I said I don’t want to judge anyone or discuss any of these points so will leave you with these observations and those questions. I will return to this post tomorrow with an interesting comparison and then again during the course of the season when something relevant turns up.


Youngsters Impress In A Comfortable Start To Pre-Season

July 13, 2011

Arsenal kicked off the new season with the first friendly against Malaysia XI in Kuala Lumpur. Wenger started with a youthful side that included Ryo Miyaichi and Carl Jenkinson alongside established young guns Wilshere, Ramsey, Walcott, Gibbs, and Szczesny.

Chamakh, Song, Koscielny, and Vermaelen were the only experienced pros in a starting eleven that dominated the first half in the now standard 4-3-3.

The opening goal came from a rookie mistake by the defender as he brought down Wilshere inside the box. Ramsey put the spot-kick away with ease after establishing his right to do so with Wilshere who also looked eager to kick-start his season with a goal.

It could have been two soon after when Wilshere found Walcott in space just inside the right corner of the box. The goalkeeper closed the angle well but was lucky not to concede a penalty as Theo slammed it over.

After that the game settled down a bit as the home sided defended better while the Gunners didn’t really show any urgency, rightfully so.

Walcott scored the second in the 37th minute to cap a well-timed run and a delightful pass with a deft finish.

There isn’t much to analyze in such a game but the noteworthy aspects of the first half were

  • Miyaichi’s impressive skills on the ball and his willingness to chase the opponents tirelessly
  • Jenkinson’s ability to close down his man to prevent crosses and his ability to deliver some measured balls into the box
  • Wilshere looking as if he’s picked up from where he left off
  • Walcott to carry his scoring touch forward, touchwood!

On the flip side, I thought Ramsey still looked a bit rusty and needs more games but his class shone through fleetingly.

Arsene made eight changes at the start of the second half as Jenkinson, Miyaichi, and Ramsey were the only ones to keep their place.

It was a surprise to see Denilson playing in a deeper role behind Frimpong who looked bigger than last time I saw him (could be my eyes or mind playing games).

Rosicky started on the right but took a free role and was creatively involved in a number of moves. One such led to the third goal, another sublime chip from Vela. Perhaps he has taken the Lays slogan too sincerely? On a serious note it was good to see Vela get on the ball more often. His movement and touch was wonderful as was his vision when he set up Ramsey and Rosicky, both of whom blasted over when well placed in sight of goal. Nevertheless, he did display a tendency to overcook shooting chances. Arsene has to find a way of eliminating this habbit. If the Mexican has to succeed he needs to know the corners of the goal and has to put his foot through the ball on occasion instead of searching for a cute finish.

Sagna, Nasri, RvP, and Arshavin came on for the final half hour or so as the three starters from the first half and Denilson made way.

The game lacked cohesion even though Nasri got on the ball quite often in a central attacking midfield role. Van Persie played a couple of defence splitting balls but that was it.

Arsenal did manage a fourth in the final minutes when Rosicky headed home a deflected Arshavin cross. That must be a collector’s item.

Even in such a game the defence didn’t look very convincing. I don’t want to read too much into this but two aspects need urgent improvement. Arsene has to find a way of reducing the number of times opponents are able to move from their box to the Arsenal defensive third within seconds. He also needs to sort out the off-side line. Some might also say the central defenders need to do a lot better with their heading, especially Djourou and Squillaci. I am convinced Arsenal will struggle without a key addition to the coaching staff but don’t want to bang on that tired old drum at this stage.

There was an incident in the game that deserves special mention. In the second half, the ref penalized Mannone for holding on to the ball for too long. I don’t think the Italian took more than second or two over the allotted six but the ref seemed a stickler for rules, at least that one in particular. It could just be that he wanted his moment in the spotlight and a chance for the home side or that he hasn’t been spoilt by commentators blaming such decisions for spoiling the game. In all honesty, I’d love to see a lot more of such calls in the Premiership and the Champions League.

On a related note, I want to share the pain of logging into Arsenal Player this morning. I am sure many of you must have been frustrated by a server that quite simply was incapable of handling the demand. Did they really underestimate the fan interest or was this just another technical blooper? Hope they sort it out before the next game. I did watch the second half on Arsenal Player and the quality was impressive even though the stream jumped a few seconds occasionally.

And now for something completely different. The following isn’t related to Arsenal or football but it isn’t often that I fall out of my chair laughing, so thought it was worth sharing,

According to a recent report in “The PseudoEngineer”, Bolivian scientists have wrapped copper wire around Guevara’s body and surrounded him with magnets. This is because he is turning over in his grave so rapidly due to the commercialization of his image that he now powers most of South and Central America by himself. He is thus the most prolific revolutionary in the history of the world, making over 200 revolutions per second.

Source: Uncyclopedia entry on Che Guevara.


Gervinho To Compete With Walcott While Making The B-Team Stronger?

July 12, 2011

The official website had a somewhat uncharacteristic announcement this morning. Usually, we see a player introduced after a transfer is completed but in the case of Gervinho, Arsenal.com tells us that the player has agreed a deal but the transfer is subject to a regulatory process. I am guessing this has something to do with his work permit. Hopefully, it will be sorted soon.

Before venturing into a discussion on the player and his likely place in the squad I just want to discuss this announcement. Why was this rushed? The club could easily have waited till the paper work was complete before making the official statement. Is this a PR exercise or an attempt at placating the fans? At least a start of sorts? I hope it is as fans need and deserve much better communication from the club.

Moving on to the topic of the post, I’d like to join the others in welcoming Gervinho to the club. He will make the squad stronger. Just how much better will depend on the way Wenger uses him, the understanding he develops with other Gunners, and his rate of development.

I have not seen much of Gervinho in the French league but did see his performances in the World Cup last year. He looked like a pacy player with quick feet. I would say his biggest strength is his running, with and without the ball. That should make him a big threat on the wings and on counter-attacks. His movement and speed should also make Arshavin and Fabregas that much more dangerous as they will have better forward looking options.

On the flip side, I am not convinced about his passing or finishing abilities despite his fairly impressive stats for Lille. That’s an area where Arsene will have to work his magic.

On a fast break, the Ivorian’s pace and dribbling abilities will present numerous opportunities for scoring or squaring the ball for a team-mate to tap in. It worked well for him in France. But given the way Arsenal’s opponents play it will be hard for Gervinho to get that kind of space on a regular basis. Nevertheless, the Ivorian should fill in for Walcott better than Bendtner or Rosicky did. He seems more naturally suited to that role than the Dane or Little Mozart.

In the absence of Walcott, the Gunners lacked a direct threat last season. Gervinho is a positive signing in that regard but he will have to work on his game to make an impact in the Premiership.

Gervinho’s weakness seems to be his technique which is not as good as that of top international strikers. Even in compilations on youtube one can see scuffed shots and passes. Pace, positioning, and intelligent link-up play can often make up for this and we have to hope he will not take long to tune into the wavelength of his teammates.

I doubt he will be a part of the starting line-up if Cesc and Nasri stay at Arsenal. Even if Nasri leaves, it’s hard to see Gervinho starting ahead of Arshavin next season as he is not that strong on the left wing.

Consequently, it will be extremely important to see how he reacts to being a substitute for most games. Last year Wenger had a first choice eleven and a B-team (even if that distinction was unintentional). Many of the players in the second string struggled because of lack of games. It could easily happen to the Ivory Coast international. I would like more rotation and better balanced rotation but so far Arsene has showed that he prefers certain players and combinations more.

I am completely ignorant about his defensive contribution/abilities. My guess is that he will be somewhere in between Arshavin and Nasri on that front but I’ll have to see him in pre-season before forming any opinion.

At 5’ 10” he isn’t a very tall player but is physically strong and athletic with a good leap. Those characteristics will come in handy.

To be completely honest, I don’t expect Gervinho to be the man who makes or breaks Arsenal’s season next year. He will be a useful squad addition and will probably produce some breathtaking moments but don’t be surprised if he frustrates more often than he delights, at least in the first season.


Goodbye Gael Clichy, You’ll Be Missed

July 4, 2011

I haven’t had the chance to gauge the general sentiment of the fans about the transfer of Clichy to Man City so I will just share my views. I think this transfer is good for all concerned.

From the player’s point of view, this move will give him a fresh start in a completely different environment where he will get much better defensive support than he did at Arsenal in the last three years. I expect Clichy to thrive at City and perform better than their overhyped acquisitions like Bridge, Lescott, and Kolarov. While the Frenchman might need some time to adapt to the new system, manager, and teammates; I won’t be surprised if he rediscovers the form that got him into the 07-08 PFA team of the year.

For City, it is an excellent signing. They have spent a lot of money on left backs but most have struggled to perform consistently. The Blues from Manchester could have spent three times the reported £7 they paid for Clichy without finding half the quality in the present market. I am disappointed a rival has been strengthened but if Clichy had to go, it is better he went to a club that can afford virtually anyone rather than a club like Liverpool who are also struggling to find the right player for that position.

From Arsenal’s point of view, a change at left back provides a chance to rework the balance of the squad. In my opinion, Clichy had to sacrifice his attacking instincts while playing alongside the likes of Arshavin and Wilshere. Wenger should now pick a more defensive minded player for that role, especially one who can deal with aerial balls a little better than Clichy did.

There are many opinions about the replacement. I am with those who think Vermaelen should be moved to left back. This would make even more sense if Arsene goes out and buys a good central defender.

For all his talents, Clichy didn’t offer enough in the air often ending up on the posts while the team defended set-pieces. If Vermaelen moved to left back and a new central defender of similar quality is purchased, Arsenal will have a much stronger aerial presence in the defensive and attacking third.

Technically, the Belgian is good enough to play the role and has indeed performed admirably in the past for Ajax and for his country.

Gibbs can continue to deputize and can take over if Vermaelen is needed in the centre of defence due to an injury or any other reason.

To be frank, I am saddened by this departure because Clichy was one of those who went about his job without complaining and never made a scene. Others in his position would have found many reasons to whine but the Frenchman was extremely professional and devoted to the club while he was here. I will miss him and will continue to track his career over the next few years. It will be entertaining to see Sagna and Clichy on the same flank on opposite sides rather than the other way around that we have become used to. Hopefully, his best games won’t come against Arsenal.

Goodbye Gael. Wish you all the best.


2010-11 Season Review: Thoughts On The Attack

June 28, 2011

I am finding it hard to form any sort of a conclusive opinion about Arsenal’s attack.

Nasri, Walcott, and Van Persie have contributed significantly more than they did in previous years. Arshavin too made a telling contribution in terms of goals and, more importantly, assists.

Arguably, the loss of 11 goals from last year’s tally of 83 does indicate the attack struggled a bit. Fabregas, Vermaelen, and even Bendtner’s contribution was not comparable to last season.

I don’t know how many have noticed this but all the top teams have scored less this season compared to the previous one. United scored 8 less, Chelsea dropped a whopping 34 (they did have an exceptional year last time around), while City lagged by 13. Even the Tiny Totts managed to score a dozen less than their paltry 67 from 09-10. Arsenal’s 11 seems par for the course in this context.

There could be many reasons for this collective slump. Some observers believe the top teams were weak this season whereas others believe the League was stronger. Given the amount of money City have spent I’m inclined to go with the former argument. If the top teams had been weaker Mancini’s side should have run away with the title. The fact that they did not, and indeed struggled to perform against the smaller teams, suggests that the other teams defended well and fought harder.

Another common argument that I have read during the season and in the summer is that the Gunners don’t break at speed anymore. I haven’t found any such opinion backed by actual evidence. Usually it is based on the writer’s feelings which are often triggered by watching ‘highlights’ of the seasons past.

If we believe the WhoScored website, Arsenal scored only 3 goals from a fast break this season. In comparison, United scored 5, Chelsea 4, and City got 2. Now there could be a debate over the definition of a fast break but one thing is certain – the definition is same for all the teams. Why did a team that was assembled at a cost of nearly half a billion and was based primarily on a counter-attacking style score only two goals from fast breaks? Didn’t they score that many or more against Arsenal alone in one game last time around?

Once again we can compare these numbers with the 2009-10 season to get some perspective. City scored 10 goals from fast breaks last season. Arsenal had 9, United 6, while Chelsea managed 8. To me, that is further evidence that in 2010-11, the smaller teams tightened their defences.

Based on the above discussion, I believe it’s safe to say that Arsenal’s attack wasn’t that bad.

The development of Nasri and Walcott was timely and the manager deserves enormous credit for nurturing them the way he has. It is also important to acknowledge the contribution of a little Russian in the success of the Frenchman and the England international. Many of their goals came after excellent work by Arshavin.

The diminutive playmaker often frustrates with his work rate and body language but it’s hard to ignore the value of his contribution. Is it a co-incidence that Nasri and Walcott lost form in the final few months when Arshavin wasn’t playing regularly?

Unfortunately, Arsenal did continue to disappoint with their crossing and set-pieces. I am one of the first to say that both of these methods are highly inefficient ways of attacking but the Gunners seem to have regressed in this department.

This season Arsenal scored 9 goals from set-pieces (excluding penalties). The Manchester sides managed 13 while Chelsea knocked in 18. A year ago, Arsenal finished with 16, United 13, Chelsea 17, and City topped the list with 21. The loss of Vermaelen might have been more of a blow in the opposition box than our own!

Van Persie was unplayable at times but his free-kick delivery was poor. It could be a mental issue and he might have been trying too hard because last season he did excel at corners.

Wenger has to make the set-pieces more dangerous. Even if they don’t lead to goals, Arsenal have to use them as a form of increasing the pressure. These days the opposition finds set-pieces to be a respite against Arsenal’s possession game and are happy to knock the ball out to get a breather and reorganize. Arsene has to infuse more creativity and purpose into the way the Gunners approach free-kicks and corners. This can only come from rigorous and focused training.

Before concluding I want to briefly mention Chamakh. The Moroccan had a respectable start to his Arsenal career after an impressive pre-season. Unfortunately, his form dropped off around Christmas and he failed to make an impression after that.

I believe he wasn’t signed as a typical goal-scorer or poacher but as a player who could bring the others into play more often. The early form of Nasri, Walcott, and Arshavin did justify his style. But, in a long season, there will always be times when the midfield struggles or the wide players cannot contribute as much. In such games one would expect more from a striker. So far, Arsene hasn’t been able to get the best out of Chamakh. Better set-pieces and a change to a more traditional approach every once in a while can help the striker and the team.

To be fair, Arsenal do try going wide and putting crosses in but it is a style they haven’t mastered as a collective. The team lacks cohesion on such occasions. More often than not there aren’t enough bodies in the box or in the right areas for a cross to at least cause confusion/panic. Once again, training is the only realistic solution.

On the whole, I was impressed by some developments in attack but felt there is room for improvement and flexibility. Arrivals and departures will affect the possibilities for next season so I’ll revisit the topic just before the start of the season.


Bored Beyond Belief!

June 24, 2011

There was a time when I spent a few hours every day browsing the Arsenalsphere. In the last 10 days or so I don’t think I have totaled an hour of surfing. There is so little going on.

First a random player is linked. Then the supposed transfer moves forward. One day, according to unsubstantiated reports, a player is close to signing as terms are settled. Then he miraculously vanishes from the news cycle for a few days. Another quote appears out of nowhere and the cycle repeats. I have lost count of the number of times Hazard was close to a move, Gervinho more recently, Samba, and so on.

Then there are the usual Cesc stories with some Nasri ones thrown in for additional flavour.

The part that surprised me was that right now the only feeling I have is boredom. No excitement, no anguish, no hope, no anxiety, nothing.

I don’t know the exact reason for this. In the past the Cesc stories used to leave me on edge. Now I am pretty certain where all parties stand on this issue. The Daily Noise doesn’t mean anything at all even if it includes a joke of a bid, and a mild rebuttal followed by senseless overanalyses.

I guess the other reason could be that having seen the transfer activity of various teams over the last few years and the results of those, I just don’t care much about most of these stories. As I’d mentioned earlier, Nasri leaving the club doesn’t bother me. In the same vein, the likes of Samba, Cahill, Gervinho, et al. signing for Arsenal will not be a big deal either. This isn’t likely to be a popular opinion but I don’t see any of them significantly improving the Gunners.

One thought, or a question, that has been ingrained in my mind for a while now is – Can Arsenal really afford the truly big signings?

Pastore, Neymar, Alexis Sanchez, and similar players are being valued at astronomical sums despite the fact that they are yet to prove themselves at the highest level. The fact that clubs like City, Chelsea, and Real can pay a king’s ransom makes it hard for Arsenal to compete for any player with genuine class and real quality.

While few really know what’s going to happen, most of us can reasonably guess that teams will be busier in this transfer window as the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules come into effect. In the coming years we will know how meaningful these rules turn out to be and whether the administrators have the courage and sense to enforce them or not, but this window will certainly be a crazy one for buyers and sellers.

Those with precious goods might feel this is their last chance to sell for a big profit. Those in the market might want to pick up the loot before the stores close.

Arsenal seem to have three choices; to buy overpriced players from the Premier League, to scour the earth for undervalued talent, or to compete with the moneybags on their strengths.

Gary Cahill is an excellent example of the first option. I wonder why Mancini hasn’t signed him yet. Is he relying on Lescott to perform next season? Won’t Toure be missing a number of games at the start? The reported £17-20M range can’t be a deterrent for the well-oiled finances of City. Could it be that he has learnt his lesson after looking at the likes of Lescott and Milner? One could also wonder why Ferguson paid a similar fee for a younger player with limited experience?

We have seen the results of the second option. Arsene is by far the best at scouting and identifying unpolished gems but the approach is inherently risky and doesn’t always pay off. So someone like Ricky Alvarez might look like a talent on youtube, but it is hard to form an opinion before watching him perform while dealing with the rough and tumble of the English game.

I have maintained for a while that in order to win the big trophies Arsenal need at least one player capable of winning the Player of the Year award. I’d love the next Ronaldinho or Kaka to come to the Gunners but that would put us in the third bracket. Honestly, I cannot see us competing against City, Chelsea, or the likes. That’s all the more reason for Cesc and RvP to stay fit and deliver, but these things are beyond our powers sometimes.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not an attempt to say that there is no hope of  improving this team, or that Arsenal don’t need new players. In a way I am just trying to understand this unbearable ennui. Those who have been following the transfer saga for years might be better accustomed to it but I have only had access to the web and these news sources for the last few years. Initially, I used to get sucked into it and reacted to every article. Over the years different patterns have come to the fore. Now it feels like being in a locked room with nothingness personified and floating around all around me, hammering my brain with an empty hammer that seems to bear the weight of the world. Strangely enough, it no longer hurts but there are times when I find it hard to breathe. The only viable option, and one that I am about to revert to the moment I publish this piece, is to run away from it all and immerse myself in something else, anything but this.


Arsenal Should Sign Usmanov’s PR Team, Cesc Commitment Commendable

June 15, 2011

Apologies for being two days behind a story once again but having given a great deal of time during the season, I am trying to balance it during the summer. And while I do let a lot of rumours and events go by without comment, this PR stunt from Alisher Usmanov is hard to ignore.

I don’t want to repeat the comments as they’ve been all over the internet. Just in case you missed them the link above provides the full statement.

Telling people what they want to hear – it is usually an art mastered by successful politicians but any entity, be it an individual or an organization, that is connected with the masses has to, at some point or the other, rely on this skill to steady the ship or get the weight of popular support.

In the past I have mentioned that the Arsenal manager and players often give very honest and intelligent interviews that come back to bite them in the, well, arse. While the discerning readers/listeners appreciate their comments, they get twisted by the media and the mass opinion is often manipulated to the detriment of the club and the squad.

The point is not that people are stupid. But I strongly believe that collective or popular opinion is often ill-informed and illogical. It works on the principle that if a lie is repeated often enough it becomes the truth. Those who scan the internet with a perceptive eye will have noticed how many people voice an opinion just because they think everyone else is saying it. An individual’s power to rationally judge right or wrong is indirectly proportional to the number of times he or she reads a particular twist on a story.

Let’s consider the Usmanov statement. To me it appears to be a blatant PR exercise where his team have captured the pulse of the disgruntled fans and succinctly captured the sentiment expressed by many. Such a simple exercise has done a lot to increase the support for the Russian who was widely regarded as untouchable just a few months ago. Many fans now think it might have been better if the current board had sold out to Usmanov instead of Kroenke. Some are even demanding similar rhetoric from Silent Stan.

But does the Russian oligarch really have Arsenal’s best interests at heart? His actions don’t support his words which seem hollow, appeasing, and meant to lure in the gullible.

Lady Nina wanted to sell her shares but there was no taker for a long while. One might wonder, why didn’t Usmanov make her an offer she couldn’t refuse? What is the point of offering £14,000 per share now when such an offer earlier could have taken him in the 40-42 per cent share bracket? Subsequently, he could have released a statement like the one he has done now, and with promise of significant investment he might have been able to acquire a portion of the minority shares. Who’s to say he would not have crossed the halfway mark? Some of the directors opposed to him might also have been tempted by such a generous offer. After all, doesn’t the Russian claim that they were in it for the money?

The simple fact is that Usmanov didn’t act when he could have and was probably caught off-guard by the suddenness of the deal between Kroenke and the others. So it is safe to say he didn’t put his money where his mouth is.

Then there was the other publicity stunt where Usmanov offered to donate shares to the AST if Kroenke matched him. What prevented him from donating a few shares unilaterally and unconditionally? Surely, it would not have put a dent in his considerable fortune! That would have shown his intent and put the ball firmly in the American’s court. It’s just another instance where his words were not backed up by action.

Ultimately, this is a big money game and fans would be naive to assume anything else no matter the spin put on the story. I have my issues with the previous owners who were not perfect and could undeniably have done better. But that doesn’t mean Usmanov is different nor is he the saviour.

In another public statement of significance, Cesc Fabregas has reaffirmed his interest in joining Barcelona and his loyalty to Arsenal. Those who have seen through the unabashed lies and concocted tales surrounding this saga have always known the few hard facts that matter.

Fabregas wants to go to Barcelona. To be honest, I don’t grudge him that wish. It is natural to dream to be part of something great. Which football player worth his salt would not want to play with Messi? More so if one has grown up playing with the phenomenon.

Equally important is the fact that El Capitan has immense respect for the club, the manager, his team-mates, and the fans. He does not want to throw a tantrum to engineer a move he craves. Only a man with impeccable values can behave in the way that Fabregas has done. Those values must be cherished and respected, especially in the modern world. Fans have to give him space for his individual desires and hopes while admiring his principles and collective based actions and decision making.

I don’t think anyone will be surprised when this transfer eventually happens. It could still happen this summer but only if Arsenal are convinced such a move is in their best interests. That is the key. For that, Barcelona have to cough up a small fortune to sign the only player in the world who can significantly improve that superb squad. I am not sure the Catalans can afford that after the Ibrahimovic fiasco. And I am absolutely certain Wenger will not succumb to the incessant pressure tactics from Spain, or the baseless rumours in the media followed by meaningless but extremely annoying noise on the internet, none of which is likely to cease anytime soon.

Looking back at the events of the summer so far, it seems to be heading in the right direction.


2010-11 Season Review: Thoughts On The Midfield

June 11, 2011

As I did with the defence, I looked at my review of the midfield from last season. It isn’t as relevant now as the one about defenders was but there were a few points I could borrow,

Our midfield is integral to the way we play and the performance of the three men in the middle often decides the sharpness in our attack and the solidity of our defence.

I think our defence is strong when our midfield is alert to the threats from the opposition…

There have been quite a few games this season when the midfield has gone AWOL and we’ve seen the defenders hoofing the ball up-field only for it to return in a matter of seconds.

These are relevant points, especially the first one, but there is a lot more we can discuss with regard to the Arsenal midfield.

I guess we have to start by acknowledging that Wilshere has truly been like a big signing this season. I don’t think Wenger could have acquired that kind of quality even if he’d spent 30M or so. The youngster has offered a lot to the team with his technique, tenacity, tirelessness, and temperament.

Unfortunately, what we gained from Wilshere we lost elsewhere, perhaps more.

Cesc had a few good games but was a shadow of his self in many. He still was the best player in most of those games and that only highlights how good Fabregas is and why Arsenal need him to perform all through the season. I have said this before and will repeat it again – unless the best players in the team have seasons worthy of winning awards the club will struggle to achieve the big targets.

El Capitan wasn’t the only one who disappointed. Diaby struggled with injuries all through the season and never looked near the kind of form he showed last season when he was able to string together a run of games.

These issues were compounded by the loss of form for Rosicky who’d started brightly on the back of a good pre-season. And it got worse as the likes of Denilson and Ramsey failed to perform when called upon, albeit for different reasons. Some would say Song too had an inconsistent year and Nasri didn’t really fill in Fabregas’ shoes when required.

Now you could take that as a damning indictment of a number of players but I prefer to see it as a combination of different problems.

For instance, Nasri didn’t really play in a single position on a consistent basis. This made his work that much harder. Ramsey was coming back from injury so his inconsistency and mistakes were understandable. Song was solid for most parts even though he struggled to adapt to the rotating triangle in the early stages. Diaby suffered three horrendous tackles which is hardly his fault. With Cesc it’s difficult to judge whether the impact of injuries was higher or his mental turmoil was too much for a young mind even if he wanted to do the right thing.

If we think about it, every player has a different story to tell. Each story has some bloopers, a few disappointments, moments of quality, and reasons for hope. The problem for the manager is that he has to knit it all together and keep it going all through the season. That is where the system is so important and is an area where Arsene has struggled.

Wenger always says he has to adapt the style of play to the players he has. That is the sensible approach no doubt. But a fairly valid argument is that he has to adapt the squad he has so that he can have more flexibility in the system. This is an area where Arsenal can improve.

Due to the similar nature of so many players, Arsenal don’t really have the ability to change the style as often as necessary. The midfield tends to struggle in certain games. As mentioned above, it affects the sharpness of our attack and the solidity of our defence.

People blame the defence for conceding the four goals at Newcastle but we have to ask why the team failed to hold on to the ball in that period. Did the Barcodes suddenly morph into Barcelona to win the ball back within seconds? No, the midfield went AWOL and failed to contribute in attack or defence. Ball retention is a key aspect of both.

Of course, that will make the next season that much more complicated. If we want to play two defensive midfielders and need greater height, will Wilshere have to sit out (assuming Cesc stays)? What about Ramsey? It’s not an easy decision, is it? I will cover this further while discussing tactics and formation.

No one can honestly deny the need for greater depth in midfield. In this regard, Denilson’s desire to leave can only be a positive. Hopefully, Wenger’s interest in Phil Jones was the signal of intent that the Boss is looking for the right players to shore up the defence and midfield. I am convinced the defence will look much better if the midfield offers the right support consistently.

I’d love to see a player of the quality of a younger Michael Essien added to our squad but it’s just not easy to find that kind of talent with so many clubs around that can outspend Arsenal.

In an earlier post, I’d also mentioned that Arsenal could do with the signing of an experienced player like Seedorf. I don’t believe that is possible anymore, nor is the acquisition of Pirlo, but if Wenger can find a player of that stature it will help the younger players immensely. It doesn’t have to be someone who starts many games but just a player who can come in and make a difference in the final few minutes when the team needs greater composure and stability in defence or imagination and decisiveness in attack.

This whole discussion could be rendered meaningless if Fabregas and Nasri were to leave the club this summer. That would force the manager’s hand in the market and will also prompt a change in system. We will have a good idea about it only after the transfer window closes so I’ll refrain from speculative analysis.

For now let’s just see how the summer evolves while hoping we get a lot more from some midfielders who disappointed this season.


Welcome Carl Jenkinson. Mixed Feelings About The Jones Transfer

June 9, 2011

The official website announced the arrival of young defender Carl Jenkinson. I would like to join other Gooners who have already expressed a warm welcome to the youngster. Wish you a great career in Red and White Carl.

According to the Charlton Chief Executive, the lad comes from an Arsenal supporting family. That ensures excellent DNA I suppose.

I haven’t seen much of the kid, in fact I’ve just seen one youtube video where he played at left-back, so don’t really know how advanced his development is. To be fair to him the jump from League One to the Premiership will not be easy so we should not start out with high expectations at the outset. It is interesting to note that even the official website has filed this under the ‘Reserves News’ category.

Pre-season should give us a good idea and I’d like to reserve judgment till then. After that we will know whether he can be relied on to be a valuable squad player next season or he will need some nurturing before any real responsibility is thrust upon his young shoulders.

Wouldn’t it be a delight if he turns out to be the ‘Finnished’ product with English grit, determination, the works! On a more realistic note I will be happy if he has the technique of a continental player and the physicality of an English brute.

In a separate story, you must have read by now that Arsenal made a substantial bid for Phil Jones but the Blackburn defender chose United. I had mixed feelings about that attempted transfer.

Firstly and most importantly, it shows that Wenger is ready to spend and is willing to pay over the odds for an English player. If this particular transfer didn’t work out we can realistically hope there will be other targets. I believe any Gooner, irrespective of their current attitude towards the club and the manager, will look at this as a highly positive development.

Secondly, he fit the bill of what is required, well almost. My guess is that Wenger was impressed by his versatility and that would have made him a very useful squad player who could have developed into a first team regular over the next couple of years. He would have been the kind of player that can be brought on, in defence or midfield, when a lead has to be defended. From the functionality point of view and considering the needs of the team, it would have been a very useful acquisition. Indeed, he was just the kind of signing I had been hoping for all of last season.

Having said that, I must also say that I did have some reservations about signing Jones. Those were not related to his talents. If Ferguson and Wenger want a player then he has to be top notch. I am just not sure he is ready to take a first team spot right now and I’m not convinced big money should be spent on anyone who isn’t going to nail down a starting birth. While I find it hard to accept the cost for a squad player, that thought makes Wenger’s willingness to invest that much more encouraging.

Liam Brady told talkSPORT Arsenal will be spending some money this summer,

There will be a lot of business done this year and I think we will be spending a bit more money than we have done in past seasons. I think Arsenal will spend this year.

But he also warned about the lack of quality players in the market,

Where are the players to go around everybody? It is not only the clubs in England, but also all the big European clubs are in the transfer market.

I believe if Arsene sustains his willingness to spend big on one or two players he will find the right quality. Le Boss likes the word ‘decisive’ a lot and it’s time for him to show he can be decisive as well. Whether that will be sufficient or not is a matter for another day.


2010-11 Season Review: In Defence of Arsenal

June 8, 2011

I thought it might be a good idea to read what I wrote while analyzing the problems and weaknesses in defence at the end of last season. A quick glance told me that I could just copy paste some parts of that article and it will still be just as relevant.

Sample this,

…many of our top players have made big individual errors in important games. At times it’s been an error in positioning, on occasion it’s been poor awareness, sometimes they’ve panicked or had a lapse in concentration, and some are just painful bloopers.

 

The other problem we have defensively is on set-pieces. Too many of our players just don’t have the ability or physical attributes required to win the ball in the air. This has forced us into a tactic where we put 7-8 men in our own six yard box and hope that the bodies will block the goal.

 

The full backs have been left exposed on a regular basis, especially on the left with very little help from Arshavin.

It is not hard to see why many fans feel nothing has been done about the defence and the same issues are harming our chances every season. But I think that is an unfair opinion that doesn’t do justice to the work that has been done over the last year because it trivializes the whole debate.

This season we did see some critical changes,

  • The goalkeeper didn’t come out to gather/attack crosses or set-pieces as often as last year. As expected this made Fabianski and Szczesny look a lot more reliable than anyone custodian did last season.
  • Directly related to the point above was the fact that the central defenders and others took a lot more responsibility (Blackburn and Sunderland away are excellent examples). If the Keeper wasn’t going to come for the ball someone else had to deal with it. Unfortunately, this hasn’t solved the problem but the blame has shifted from the Keeper to the defenders.
  • The number of counter attacking goals conceded has reduced. There were some lapses on that front which resulted in some defeats (West Brom at home, United in FA cup, and so on) but the problem was controlled better than last season. This change enabled the Gunners to halt and conquer the embarrassing run of results against some of the big sides.
  • The number of suicidal reverse clearances has gone down. Last season the Gunners were hesitant when it came to knocking the ball out for a corner or throw in the defensive third. This season they were more willing to take the safety first approach with Koscielny making a key contribution in this regard. This hasn’t been completely eliminated as we saw when Clichy attempted a crazy clearance against Sunderland early on in the season. But the improvement is noticeable and worthwhile.
  • The rotating triangle in midfield has evolved into a better system than the solitary, designated DM from last season. This could be one of the key changes that led to the reduction of counter attacks. I do feel there are games when Arsenal should play with two distinctly defensive minded midfielders. More on this while discussing the midfield.

These observations tell us that a lot of work has gone in on the training pitches. Clearly, that is a positive change. Evidently, it isn’t enough.

I am not a believer that buying a big, tall, commanding, central defender who can lead and organize will solve all or most of Arsenal’s problems. Such a player doesn’t exist. If you don’t believe me, just watch John Terry and Rio Ferdinand playing for their national team.

The single most important factor in creating a solid defence is the system. Barcelona have evolved a system wherein they don’t let the ball reach their defensive third that often. Most other teams focus on defence ahead of attack. Arsene has been in a limbo and hasn’t been able to create an attacking system that suits his vision while having defensive solidity.

Part of the problem is definitely in the size of the players. In England, no team can win major trophies purely on technical merits. That does not mean players of the calibre of Cesc, Wilshere, Nasri, Arshavin, et al. should be discarded. The trick lies in finding the right balance.

Analysis of this season’s performances is not straightforward because the final few weeks have been awful in an unprecedented way (haven’t checked the facts but I don’t think Arsenal have had a run of 11 games under Wenger when they’ve managed only 12 points). It’s difficult to ascertain the contribution of individual errors, systemic problems, and mental issues in this collapse.

At the start of the season and during the January window I’d mentioned that buying a versatile defensive player should help. With the benefit of hindsight that seems like one of the areas where we missed out on. A stronger player suited to the English game could have contributed a lot to this season especially when Diaby was struggling with injuries, Rosicky lost form, and Denilson regressed. There is no guarantee that it would have led to trophies but the number of mistakes might have gone down and who knows how that would have affected the mentality of the players.

Transfer dealings can always have an impact but I don’t want to speculate at the moment as the possibilities are endless. I have never been against buying quality players but don’t be under the assumption that those who are successful in other leagues will deliver in England. Squillaci too had won titles in France and Spain before coming to Arsenal! Similarly, there is no guarantee that a player, like Cahill, who looks good in a smaller team will succeed at a big club. There are plenty of examples where big money signings from English clubs have been flops. Since the fans don’t really have anything remotely resembling detailed information it seems foolhardy to raise hopes based on lazy and ignorant pundit opinions. In this regard I completely trust Wenger’s knowledge, the information that he collects, and his judgment/method.

On the whole, I think the defence has moved in the right direction. The work will have to continue in pre-season training. I think this is an area where Arsenal can use a fresh voice with a different perspective. A new coach can do wonders for the squad but finding the right person – in terms of knowledge, mentality, and ability to integrate with the current staff and players – will not be easy. For now we can only wait and watch.


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