First Unconvincing, then Clinical and ultimately Marauding Arsenal thrash Everton

August 16, 2009

The day started poorly as Fox Soccer Match Day program reported a last minute strike by Drogba. It felt ominous.

As it is, I am a nervous starter. During the first 15 minutes, Gallas and Denilson made it much worse. Denilson gave the ball away thrice in that period while under no pressure. Gallas passed it back to Almunia for a long punt countless times, only for the ball to be back in the Arsenal half within seconds. Cesc and Arshavin completely invisible. The team, seemingly in an amorphous state, gave the crowd a lot to cheer about and egg the blue half forward.

Against the run of play, Bendtner controlled the ball well on his chest. Given the way the game was going, I thought the referee will blow for hand ball. Before my negative thoughts went away, the big Dane displayed some great close control and it seemed more unreal than the early Everton domination. A simple sideways pass to Cesc and my eyes lighted up. Cesc had been found and delivered to the ground.

Just to warm up, he rolled it to Denilson in a manner that left Cahill cursing the effort wasted on his sprint to close down the Spaniard. Then something weird happened. Denilson tried a sideways pass but mishit it and it rifled into the back of the net. Being a nice boy, he kept laughing and shaking his head to say “No, I didn’t mean it. No, No, don’t be fooled”.

Everton continued to apply the pressure. Fellaini was difficult to control. But so was Bendtner. Baines fouled him and it gave RVP a second chance to deliver from that distance. The first had ended up straight in Tim Howard’s hands. But as he chipped this one I said out loud “lovely cross!” I know it was not exactly a cross but those were the words that came out, however technically incorrect they may be. In the instance that I realized the technical mistake, there was a speck of red and white towards the back peeling away. And I said “beauty”. A goal made in Holland. It looked like it was well worked. Whether at the Arsenal training grounds or the Dutch ones, I do not know.

The header was real class and it just added to a highly impressive debut for Vermaelen. This man is … wait… no, I don’t want to put a curse on him.

By this time Everton were so dazed that they just stood and watched as Gallas rose to nod home from inside the six yard box, unchallenged as if he had a divine right to be there. Moyes was shaking his head in disbelief and honestly, so was I. Whilst the Everton boss was dismayed, I was overjoyed. The game was well and truly over at half time.

Only a few Everton players turned up for the second half. They too were half hearted. The fourth goal was a story of footballing intelligence manifested in nutmegs. Arshavin – Hibbert, RVP – Yobo and finally Fabregas – Howard. Simple, Elegant, Heart-warming.

There was only on thing to note about the fifth. The ability of Fabregas to place the ball anywhere he wants to. It was not a thunderbolt like one would see from a Gerrard. It was a perfectly angled sharp pass to the inside of the net near the left goal post. I am sure the nets around all the grounds where Arsenal play would love to receive such a pass from the King of Barcelona. He should be more considerate towards their feelings. Someone has to tell him that.

The sixth goal was special on two counts. Firstly, Arshavin looked like he was feeling itchy at missing out on the action. He wanted his name somewhere in this massacre. After having tried a couple of attempts from distance, he was still getting into the box regularly. The skill Arshavin showed when Eduardo found him is very hard to describe. He just took two touches but mesmerized 4 defenders and a goalkeeper enough to get a clear toe poke at the goal. Unfortunately for him, the goal post was also mesmerized and just stood its ground as the ball came and hit it.

The second interesting bit is the class of Eduardo that sets him apart from most others. He had received the ball at the left edge of the penalty area. When he passed it to Arshavin he was still outside the line of the left goal post. When he finished from two yards out, it was just two yards from the still shocked right post. He had moved around 5 defenders and reached the right place at the right time. A man born for scoring goals.

The introduction of Saha had, meanwhile, added some spark to the fluttering Everton story. It also added a consolation. It makes me wonder why Moyes didn’t start with Saha. It also makes me thankful. If ever there can be a divine conspiracy to instill confidence and re-ignite self belief in a team faced with constant criticism, this is it.

Game on.

Can Arsene find the balance with this squad

August 15, 2009

A lot of Arsenal fans seem to agree that Fabregas and Arshavin are the most important players for us this season. I am convinced about that. But in order for them to be most effective, they also need a lot of freedom, especially Arshavin.

A couple of years ago, Ruud Gullit was talking about Rijkaard’s Barcelona. He said that the most important thing was for Rijkaard to find a place for Ronaldinho, where he would cause the least damage – to Barca. With players of such skill, it often happens that a stunt doesn’t come off, or they make a mistake or lose the ball in some other way. Did anyone see Arshavin play a cross field ball, during the pre-season, from the left touchline right in front of our own penalty area and straight to an opposition player? (I am not sure what game that was)

The idea, here, is not to fault a magician, but to say that he should not have any defensive duties, if he is to flourish into a Ballon D’or candidate. If he plays on the left wing in a 4-4-2 formation he will invariably end up supporting the defense. I think Le boss is trying to move to a 4-3-3 partly due to this reason. But do we have a squad that can succeed with that formation.

In order for it to be a Barcaesque formation we would need someone to play Iniesta. Cesc can play Xavi, Arshavin can play Messi and any of RVP, Eduardo, Walcott, Vela and Bendtner can play the other two strikers. Those who have seen Barca play would have noticed that the front three hardly came back to defend. The five attacking players pressed high up the field, well supported by the full backs and a defensive midfielder. Song is no worse than Kieta or Toure and our full backs are collectively comparable. The only missing link is Iniesta. If Rosicky can return to his best and stay fit he could slot into that role. He has the body movement, intelligence, passing range and vision to excel in the central role occasionally switching with the wingers as well. But apart from the Czech maestro, I am not convinced about anyone else who can provide the incisiveness. Moreover, this formation demands phenomenal positional intelligence from the players at all times as it can easily turn into a defensive nightmare if the ball is not recovered quickly.

Perhaps that would necessitate a more orthodox 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1. In either of these, if Arshavin is given a free role, the attack will have more penetration and the chances of nil all draws will significantly reduce. A 4-4-2 with Arshavin as the second striker would mean that the left wing would be occupied by Nasri, Diaby, Denilson, Rosicky, Eduardo, Vela, Bendtner or RVP, although I am not a fan of putting a striker out on the wing in this formation. The right would be Theo, Eboue, Nasri or Denilson (leaving out the strikers). This to me looks like the weakest formation. The moment we have Diaby, Denilson or Eboue on one wing the attack loses something.

The 4-2-3-1 formation would see Song and Denilson sweeping horizontally on the pitch while the front 4 had complete freedom to interchange upfront. If Song and Denilson can pull it off, this could turn out to be the most devastating attacking formation the premier league has seen in recent years.

In any case, as long as Arshavin and Cesc stay fit we have a good chance of defeating any opponent. If one of them goes down with injury the squad can still challenge. I am afraid of speculating what happens if both were unfortunate.

In the short term, for the Everton game my guess is that the boss will go with a conservative 4-4-2 bordering on 4-5-1


Sagna               Gallas               Vermaelen        Clichy

Eboue              Fabregas          Song                Denilson

Van Persie        Arshavin

My ideal starting line up would be a more attacking one


Sagna               Gallas               Vermaelen        Clichy

Song                Denilson


RVP                        Eduardo                       Arshavin

Here’s hoping for a flying start…