Individual Player Analysis: Nicklas Bendtner

May 31, 2010

Nicklas Bendtner is another Arsenal player who divides opinion. There are those who have already written him off and claim that he will never be a top class striker, while there are others who believe in his immense potential, and some consider him to be a great player already!

The facts of the case are as follows,

  • Bendtner played a big part in Denmark’s impressive qualifying campaign and ended with a national Player of the Year title.
  • The Dane has 6 goals and 6 assists in the league @103 min per goal/assist. Compare with Berbatov @116, Anelka @135, Agbonlahor @171, Defoe @111, and Adebayor @116.
  • Since his return from injury in January he has played 18 games in all competitions with 9 goals and 6 assists.

My conclusions are

  • Bendtner is the best second choice striker in the league (Anelka has a case, but if both played centrally I think B52 will outperform the ex-Arsenal player)
  • The young Dane is by far the best 22 year old striker in the league
  • He is going to get better!

I really don’t get the problem some people have with him. On one hand the Misery Brigade wants international players, on the other they don’t want to value a youngster who has taken his team to the World Cup and was recognized as the Player of the Year!

While some of the complaints against him are valid, the conclusions negativists draw are random and lack perspective. I see his strengths and weaknesses as,

Bendtner Strengths

  • Physical presence
  • Fantastic Header
  • Great positioning in the box
  • Times his runs well
  • Has the ability and judgement to assist (far too many strikers don’t have this)
  • Developing constantly and consistently
  • Confidence

Bendtner Areas of Improvement

  • Work Rate
  • Needs to know the corners of the goal (most top strikers develop it after playing centrally for 2-3 seasons. Many in the Premiership or Europe never develop this skill)
  • First touch
  • Shooting from outside the box and the weaker foot
  • Poaching instincts

If you compare him with the top strikers in the league there are some key areas where Bendtner needs to improve. I agree with the statement that he isn’t a finished article but that is only a good thing because he is already very, very good!

With the arrival of Chamakh, this season will be a challenge for the Dane. He might not get that many chances in his favoured central position. What I’d like to see is better contribution from him while playing in wider areas. Someone with his stature can be a really dangerous man while arriving at the back post.

So far he has maintained a healthy balance between confidence and effort. I hope he keeps improving this season and doesn’t sulk at the lack to central time. All I’d say is – keep up the good work.

Individual Player Analysis: Robin van Persie

May 30, 2010

In this series I’m going to look at the key players in our squad. That way I can focus my mind on football and stay away from the transfer madness. It will also help me build towards the preview of the next season. In normal course I’d have started this with El Capitan but it will be a redundant article if he were to leave, so I’ll start with Van Persie, the man most likely to take over the Captain’s armband if Fabregas departs.

Even the Misery Brigade accepts that RvP is one of the few World Class players in our squad. The only argument against him is his inability to stay fit for the whole season. Now it is impossible to blame the player for injuries received as a result of some bad tackles, but if we look at his fitness record there is a genuine hint that he is more fragile than the other leading strikers in the world.

The problem for Arsene is very simple – there aren’t too many replacements available. In fact, if we go below 30 Million (a price I just don’t expect Arsene will ever pay and rightly so!) there is hardly anyone who can be considered an equivalent replacement. Nonetheless, Wenger should create a plan B for a realistic situation that the Dutchman will miss a couple of months, at least. I’ll leave this point for the discussion on next season’s tactics and related issues. For now, let’s focus on the Flying Dutchman.

The system that we played this season was perfect for RvP. I had some doubts about it initially because Van Persie is not the best header of the ball or a classical centre forward.  What I’ve learnt is that it’s stupid to underestimate a player with such talents. This discussion will go better if I put down the strengths and weaknesses in bullet points,

RvP Strengths

  • Impeccable technique (A first touch to die for, Shoots like a sniper, and delivery on set pieces is lethal)
  • Fantastic awareness, speed of thought, and decision making
  • Just as good with his back to the goal
  • Timing of the runs is sublime
  • Can create space where none exists
  • Knows exactly where the corners of the goal are (extremely rare skill in my opinion)
  • Can turn almost any defender in the league
  • Has the intelligence to discover areas of improvement and the diligence to achieve it

RvP Weaknesses

  • Doesn’t really dribble or run at defenders
  • Not a shoot on sight kind of a striker
  • Heading (the goal at Ewood Park showed superb heading technique but I’ll need to see more before I change my mind on this)
  • Not as quick as some of the others

The strengths that Van Persie has are extremely valuable to any team. His weaknesses have to be acknowledged but they are not that the most important attributes for a top quality striker. If you don’t get this think of Darren Bent or Defoe.

Bent is really quick, can head the ball, takes a pop at goal at every opportunity, and even has a dribble or two in him. Defoe is similar, perhaps better on some attributes, although not that good a header of the ball. Can we really compare these two to Van Persie? I’m not saying the Englishmen are bad, but highlighting just how good the Dutchman is by comparison!

Another aspect that isn’t talked about is the improvements that he has made and the speed with which he adapted. The headers that he scored this season, the goals he scored by attacking the near post, or those scored with his chocolate leg were not typical Van Persie goals, at least not before this season. How many strikers show such a high level of improvement and that too while spending half the season getting frustrated on the sidelines!

The most important aspect of his game, however, is his ability to bring others into play. Dropping a few yards deep, collecting the ball with the back to goal, holding it or laying it off with a simple touch are not glamorous or noticeable events that get mentioned in match reports. These aspects become conspicuous by their absence. Suddenly the team doesn’t play as well as it used to, the midfield doesn’t dominate the ball, the wide players don’t make the right runs, there is little penetration in the final third and it’s very difficult to pin point the problems. Mostly because we end up looking at and analysing what is there instead of what isn’t there!

I’m convinced Van Persie is among the world’s elite. If I could get one wish for this transfer window, it wouldn’t be a new signing, it wouldn’t be Fabregas staying; I just want to see Robin van Persie play one full season without any injuries.

Financial Regulations, Dark Lord, Transfer Stories and International Friendlies!

May 29, 2010

First of all, apologies for the vanishing act. The madness around the Cesc transfer got to me and I decided to limit my internet time for a few days.

For those who have been in England or who have been following the transfer stories regularly over the years the Cesc saga will be nothing new. To me it’s quite a pain. I didn’t have regular internet or access to the British media when the Vieira and Henry summers played out. I did follow the Ronaldo Chronicles from a distance, and being very inexperienced at that time I enjoyed the plight of the United supporters instead of sympathising with them!

Apart from the Fab quandary, it has been a relatively quiet start to the window and I really doubt most of the big money stories in the paper. I guess the clubs were waiting for the vote on UEFA financial regulations and will make their transfer decisions keeping the future in mind.

In the off chance that you’ve missed the story and its implications, this article on Untold Arsenal and this one on The Swiss Rambler do a fantastic job of explaining it.

There have been concerns that the big clubs will try to find a way around these or they will create an alternate league and so on. The way I see it, the owners and board members at all the clubs really want these regulations. Anyone who runs a club knows that they are going down a very dangerous path when the player prices get so inflated and salaries get out of hand. These regulations will allow them to keep their finances in control with the knowledge that the competition really can’t afford to stretch the limits infinitely. In short, this is a collective move towards sanity and it’s well appreciated. UEFA, on their part, have given some leeway to the big clubs by accepting some losses and benefactor involvement.

I strongly believe that rich owners can always find a way to bend the rules but I’m equally convinced that they just won’t keep on doing it. For instance, Abramovic hasn’t spent much in the last few years and I don’t expect City to spend too much after this particular transfer window.

Real Madrid though, are a different case altogether and I’m really looking forward to their summer. The Dark Lord will demand a lot of cash as he goes after some really big names. Of course, they can generate plenty by selling off some of their lesser valued players and that will make the transfer market quite interesting. From an Arsenal point of view, I’m hoping we can get Van Der Vaart if Cesc departs but I doubt the manager who must not be named will let him go.

So far none of the Arsenal transfer stories have made much sense except perhaps the one linking us with Diakhate. If my memory serves me well, Arsene had set a deadline of the month end for Gallas and given the lack of progress it seems fair to assume that we are getting a new CB, hopefully before the World Cup begins.

Somewhat surprising is the lack of movement on the goalkeeper front. Among those linked, Schwarzer is the only one who seems like a realistic and valuable acquisition.

I’ve been following International Friendlies with interest to see how our players are doing and to see if there are any exciting prospects that can light up the World Cup. Van Persie had a great game against Mexico, Vela had more shots on target against England in the first half than he had with Arsenal in the whole season, and Walcott looked sharp. Amongst the others, Ibrahim Afellay looked like an interesting prospect but not quite the finished article that we might need if Barca are successful in their manipulations.

Anyway from now on, I’ll leave the speculation to the hacks and only comment on stories that really excite me. From tomorrow there will be a new series of articles that discusses the individual performances, strengths and weaknesses of our players.

Arsene: Chamakh Is More Central Player

May 23, 2010

Ever since there was talk of signing Chamakh, many of us have been wondering whether he will play through the middle or on the flank.

Arsene gave us a little hint in his interview with ATVO when he said,

He is more central. Used to playing there, type of game as well – back to goal, to keep the ball, hold the ball – more than facing the full back on the flanks and dribbling.

It’s interesting because that puts him in direct competition with Van Persie who has been phenomenal in that position. Obviously, some of the fans will say that RvP will get injured again next season and Chamakh will fill in for him! The other option is that Arsene rotates them a bit once Chamakh adapts to the league and the team. Those who watch the Dutch team would say Van Persie can play out wide but I genuinely believe that’s a waste of his talents. Who knows, we might even switch back to two upfront!

I think our style cries out for a striker who can play with his back to the goal. Van Persie is brilliant at that but none of our other strikers can do it effectively. Bendtner has developed well but his awareness, touch and decision making aren’t at that level yet. Chamakh, I’m hoping, will be a great asset for that purpose.

If you want to understand the importance of that, just see what Rooney did to spark the counter attacks against us. If Chamakh excels at this it could also benefit our defenders because none of our central defenders (including Vermaelen) dealt with this well enough. If you don’t believe this just revisit the trip to Burnley and see how Steven Fletcher (just one example) received the ball time and again!

The thought here is that if the defenders train with guys like Chamakh and Van Persie (who missed a lot of games and also a lot of training last season), then they might do much better against opponents like Rooney. So in a roundabout sort of way, our defence could improve with the signing of a striker!

Another advantage of having Chamakh would be that we can mix it up better. He is the hard working kind and a fighter so he can plough the channels if we have to use that approach in a game. Hopefully, Bendtner will watch and learn!

More than his position, the key question is whether Chamakh can actually adapt and deliver at the big stage on a consistent basis. Whatever I’ve said would be meaningless if he can’t. Let’s not forget Drogba was quite ordinary in his first two seasons, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Moroccan international took some time to adapt.

I guess this is a signing that promises a lot but also leaves a little room for concern. We’ll just have to wait and watch. In any case, I don’t think Chamakh is the one who is going to win a trophy for us next season, it will depend more on the next guy(s) going out and the replacement(s) coming in.

Anyone Really Looking Forward To The Champions League Final?

May 22, 2010

I consider myself a die-hard football fan, yet I’m not sure if I want to take time out for this Champions League final. In my book it’s the most important game on the planet and at the moment I don’t feel any excitement or have any hopes that it will be a spectacle.

If you’ve been reading this blog on a regular basis you know my opinion about the Dark Lord and his tactics. Inter don’t really deserve to be in the final and only a couple of horrible refereeing decisions against Chelsea and a fairly legit goal that was disallowed against Barca have seen them to Madrid.

Of course they have worked really hard and have shown unbelievable discipline but those are admirable qualities in Burnley or Portsmouth and their European counterparts. A team playing in the Champions League final should not be known for these attributes and tactics that look good only due to the incompetence of the refs!

I realize some fans adore a winner without regard to the Machiavellian foundations (It might actually be a fascinating research topic for a psychological study). I can respect that opinion but can’t really care about it.

You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that I’ll be supporting the Germans. Bayern have actually played some beautiful football all through the tournament. They are the joint leading scorers and some of their play has been breathtaking, especially the annihilation of the Old Lady in Turin. The comebacks against United showed they had a steely resolve and could dig deep if needed. After all, how many teams in the recent past have actually conceded leads to United and then gone past them!?

The only worry for Van Gaal would be that coming back against Inter will be ten times harder and his defence has been leaking all through the tournament. If the Italians do score early then we all know that two thirds of the pitch will be redundant. You might say that will be the case anyway and I wouldn’t argue with that!

The only hope I have is that Bayern score one early. Won’t be easy but if luck does balance out then Inter deserve to concede a stupid goal or via a ref blunder. If the Germans do get one then we will actually get a football match rather than a defence vs. attack training session.

It’s funny in a sad sort of a way that such an event can be so predictable! Perhaps, that’s what kills the joy and beauty of the game.  There isn’t much to look forward to.

To be honest, I know I don’t want to watch it and will regret it if I do, but I’ll watch it anyway. To Football… In good games and bad!

(And a warm welcome to Marouane Chamakh. I’ve already rejoiced at his signing a while ago, so the official announcement seems just like a formality. What was I saying about predictability… scratches head, hits publish, falls asleep.)

Arsenal Must Learn To Play The Media

May 21, 2010

This is a thought that’s been in my mind for a long time now – No one at Arsenal knows how to use the power of the media to the club’s advantage!

In an earlier article I’d mentioned the need for our players to dumbify their interviews. Arsene also gives extremely intelligent opinions which are often misunderstood and end up being controversial as they are quoted out of context or partially.

Now it’s the turn of the chairman Peter Hill Wood to repeat the same mistakes. I don’t even want to discuss the stupid remark about Fabregas not making the Barca team. No other chairman in the world would be dumb enough to say something like that for the best player in his team, so let’s leave that aside as a PR disaster.

As the Cesc issue is being played in the media we want someone at Arsenal who has enough experience in dealing with the hacks and shamelessly using them for the benefit of the club. Barca are past masters at this as can be seen by the way they take turns to say the same things over and over again and know what weaknesses to exploit while flirting with legality.

Xavi is the latest to comment on the issue,

It is criminal for a player of Cesc’s quality not to be winning the biggest prizes in football.

They know that a lack of silverware is the only negative they can exploit and so they constantly hammer the same issue over and over again. It’s funny because Xavi himself spent 5-6 years at Barca without winning anything! Was he very ordinary at that time or was it criminal for him to not be winning the biggest prizes? The noteworthy point is that almost everyone at Barca is unabashedly cheap and hypocritical and that allows them to get the best out of the media.

In contrast has anyone from Arsenal come out and said anything positive about Fabregas? Has anyone said he is happy at Arsenal (something Cesc did say himself), or that he is an integral part of the club and wants to win with Arsenal.

In fact, Arsene said something like the more you talk the worse the situation gets. And Hill-Wood said we don’t want to sell Cesc and we will do our damndest or something like that. I haven’t looked up the exact quotes but neither of them has really used the power of the media to send a message to the fans or to Fabregas.

I know Arsenal have a way of doing things and it’s one of the aspects that I really support. So I’m not saying we should go around unsettling others or spreading rumours or lies. But when our house is under attack, we must do whatever it takes in self defence.

There is absolutely nothing wrong in sending out a positive message even if you’re proven wrong a few days later. There is no reason to be ashamed of it as long as the deal is right. Right now we’ve pushed ourselves into a corner and the pressure on the club and on, and from, our own fans is high. Someone needs to use the media as a whistle and let off some steam.

(I know I said no more on this topic and I really want to stay away from this mess but there is nothing else going on right now and the cat and mouse game is killing me!)

Arsene Needs To Bring In A Consultant

May 20, 2010

The Cesc story won’t go away and it’s a pain just looking for any news because every other headline and article is about some or the other unsubstantiated rumour. One way or the other I hope it gets settled soon and we don’t sell ourselves short, if we are forced into selling. Beyond that I will not comment on this madness anymore.

In this piece I’m going to focus on a thought that’s been in my mind for a while now. As regular readers will have seen in the series of season review articles there are quite a few issues with our team. While I do talk a lot about problems, the effort is always to be pragmatic and positive because I’m convinced Arsene is the best man for the job at Arsenal and a change at the top will only take us backwards and downwards.

In some ways you might see this as a contradiction. Here I am standing with a long list of problems and still talking about the boss as the best man for the job. Trust me, it’s not a contradiction but a realistic state where the truth is always in a grey area, not as black as the problems make it look and not as white as saying Arsene is perfect.

I used to work as a management consultant and it’s taught me a lot. I’ve seen companies struggle even though the man at the top was brilliant, bad luck drag organizations towards bankruptcy, and incompetent managers blowing away huge marketing budgets without improving the sales. But above all else, I’ve seen the value and benefits of good advice given to the right man in charge.

A consultant’s job is to take a holistic view of the organization from outside the system. Sometimes people who have been working in a system tend to get blinkered or blinded to some aspects of their work. On other occasions they just don’t understand the broader picture. So when someone looks at the system from the outside it makes it much easier to spot the bottlenecks or the areas of improvement. In some ways I feel Arsenal FC needs a consultant right now.

I don’t value the simplistic solutions that are available for free on the internet. You can rarely get great advice for free. If the people with simplistic solutions actually worked as business consultants they would recommend that the management fire the whole sales team and recruit a new one simply because the sales haven’t been going up as expected and the company is not number 1. Obviously missing out on the importance of developing the staff, retaining the staff and generating value from the investment by improving other areas like processes, technology, etc.  In other words, the consultant has to be knowledgeable and wise!

What Arsene needs is a long chat with someone like a Roy Hodgson or some other friend on the circuit. Le Boss needs to ask for the opponents’ point of view on our football.

Fulham have troubled us in the last couple of years including this year even when we had Cesc and RvP fit. So it’s doesn’t take genius to realize that Hodgson knows a weakness or two in our set up. If Arsene were to ask him for his point of view it might lead him to an insight that he’s missed. It could be the positioning, decision making or tackling of our defenders, the pressing of our midfielders, or something totally different. I’m not qualified to even guess because if it were that simple Arsene and the staff would have picked it up.

I’m sure our staff and Arsene watch the games often and analyse them in detail. The point is that they might be stuck in some rut because the same people have been doing it for years. When you get a different and fresh perspective it could highlight an issue that you had missed. In any case there isn’t much to lose.

Of course, I’m assuming that Arsene hasn’t talked to his friends in the business and it could be a flawed assumption. Anyone who has been at the top for so long has to have the skill of knowing when to ask for help. But we haven’t heard of too many football managers talking about such discussions and it always makes me wonder if the top ones do it or is their pride too big.

Come on Arsene, call up the manager of the year and I mean the real one, not the author of How to Bankrupt a Club in Ten Easy Signings!

Arsenal Must Rise Above The Catalan Filth

May 18, 2010

The customary Cesc rumours have been gaining weight this week and reached a crescendo over the last 24 hours as a Guillem Balague article in the Spanish daily AS has been reported by all and sundry. Balague is supposedly one of the better journalists around but he hasn’t explicitly mentioned his sources. All other reports that I’ve read use him as the source or don’t mention the source at all.

I can understand Barcelona’s point of view behind these stories. They are desperate for Cesc and look like fools for having let him go as he is better than everyone in their squad bar Messi. Fabregas feels a connection with the Catalans and I can appreciate that as well. There is no denying the fact that Cesc can take them to dizzying heights and can also achieve significant personal glory in that team. So as long as we have Fabregas these rumors will surface in each and every transfer window, we just have to live with that.

Normally, I’d have completely ignored this as typical and nonsensical but El Capitan’s recent comments have left me a little concerned. I’m not mentioning the exact quotes as they have been rehashed all over the net and I’m sure you’d have read them by now. In the past Fabregas has been categorical in denying any transfer talk even though he has always maintained and stated his feelings for Barca. This time around Cesc spoke about resolving his future before the World Cup and that is highly uncharacteristic.

The reason I’m concerned is that Arsene is a man who doesn’t take hard decisions. That’s not the right statement but what I mean is that Wenger, by nature, likes to keep his players happy. He is not a hard task master and he is not someone who would force a player to stay if the player doesn’t want to. Do you know a single example of when Wenger has forced someone to stay against his wishes?

The other worry for me is that Wenger is a bit too principled while selling players, just like he is while buying them. If we were to sell Fabregas I’d expect nothing less than the kind of money Madrid spent on Kaka or a big swap deal like the one for Ibrahimovic. If Arsene does let him go, he might actually sell him for peanuts (£30-35 Million)! I don’t think Barca have the big bucks, especially if they also sign Villa, so they will push for some cheap swap deal and I really hope Wenger doesn’t accept it just because Cesc wants to leave.

Even if we get a big deal for Fabregas it would not be easy to rebuild the squad. Eventually, we will do it and the club will always be bigger than an individual but we will lose at least a year or two in this process. Who’s to say that by that time someone else won’t have changed their mind and the cycle would not repeat! In fact, it’s something close to what we have been seeing in the last few years as we’ve lost one or two key players every season. In the past we’ve not had big bucks to spend on replacements but this year might be different. Even then, why should we sell an unparalleled gem? We are not desperate for the money so the only reason would be that Cesc is adamant.

I’m not sure what Fabregas really wants because I don’t trust a word I read in the media and Cesc himself has been quite ambiguous. Although he did say he was in no hurry to leave Arsenal and if those words were genuine then there should be no real cause for concern. It would also be consistent with his new contract and backdated bonuses (if that’s true).

Arsene has been quite adamant that the only players free to leave are those at the end of their contracts. It’s time he throws his weight behind those words and ensures that Fabregas stays at Arsenal. We’ve worked hard with him to make him the player that he is and we should not be let our best player leave when we are so close to success. From the top of my mind these are the reasons for keeping Cesc,

  • Our best player by a country mile
  • Home grown!
  • Respected and loved by everyone at the club
  • Going to get better and has not yet peaked (exhilarating thought)
  • There is no replacement in the world at any price!!

Interestingly, I’ve not read any mention of a buyout clause in El Capitan’s contract. Do you know of one? Would be interesting to know if it exists or not and if it does, what is the amount that would trigger it? I hope our lawyers haven’t screwed up on this one!

I hope the club come out with a statement that Fabregas is not for sale and put a lid on this issue at least for this summer!

P.S. : Will anyone hold demonstrations in front of Fabregas’ house? Surely those who want big players to come in must want the best to stay just as much!

2009-10 Season Review: Coaches, Medical, And Legal Support Staff

May 18, 2010

We’ve discussed the players, tactics and the related glamorous stuff in this review series. This article is dedicated to the people who are pretty much behind the scenes but perform an important task. Their contribution might not be visible at all times and it would be really tough to directly connect their work with results or glory but there can be no doubt that we need the very best people in these roles.

I’ve already talked about the need for more focused defensive training. I don’t know who takes care of our defensive training right now but given the number of “silly mistakes” we make there is good reason to ask for an improvement.

Interestingly, it’s not limited to the first team alone. I was watching the U-18 Academy League play-off final against Nottingham Forest and even the juniors struggled to cover the wide channels and that left our keeper exposed time and again. At times I’ve seen the juniors struggle against a straight ball over the top, on other occasions they are caught out while playing a high line, and so on.

I’m not trying to criticize kids who are learning the game but the point is that there is a pattern to our problems, it’s been there for a couple of years now, and it’s visible at all levels.

I can’t believe Arsene is not aware of these issues but I can’t see any steps being taken to address this either. The way I see it, hiring a good defence coach is not a big gamble. If it helps us well and good, otherwise we don’t really lose much. It’s not that such a guy would charge millions and it’s definitely easier to find proven coaches than to find proven players!

In the same vein, we could use a set-piece specialist. I’d love to know the stats because we are likely to be the team that wins the most number of set-pieces (corners, throw-ins, free kicks) in the opposition half and the final third. We are a threat when we have the full team available, especially RvP, but the fringe players can certainly improve their value to the club if they work on some specific drills.

Pat Rice has been associated with Arsenal for over 40 successful years and Boro Primorac has also been around for a long while. I’m not trying to belittle their work but just as we need a bigger squad in the modern game, we could also use a bigger coaching team. I think the new coach can perform another critical task of monitoring the players from the touch line and provide some defensive guidance, inspiration and if necessary a wake-up call! The youngsters can certainly benefit from it and neither Arsene nor Pat Rice has the personality for such a task.

Apart from the football related staff we also need to review our medical and legal team.

We need to be innovative and work towards some form of preventive maintenance of our assets, the players. This means we need to monitor people even when they don’t have any complaints. I’m sure we do this to some extent but it’s obvious that we need to do more. It’s logical that we’d need a larger, perhaps better or more specialized medical team.

We also need to be more proactive. For instance, we’ve been blaming the Dutch FA for incorrect diagnosis of Van Persie’s injury but in my book he is our player and we should have had a guy flying out to check on him immediately. If the full extent of his injury had been diagnosed earlier we might have saved a couple of weeks and the Dutchman might have been fit for Barcelona. Do I need to mention how valuable that could have been?

I don’t know the technical complications of dealing with national federations but I doubt if anyone will refuse permission for a doctor/medical person to visit and injured player.

Injuries are down to bad luck and we can’t change that but we must change and improve whatever is in our own hands. That way we can mitigate the negative influence of luck to an extent. Who knows how much that will help, but at least we can be confident we did what we could.

The same RvP incident also showed that we need a better legal team or at least a team that has complete grip on the situation. We didn’t have insurance for Van Persie when he was playing in a friendly and for some strange reason and crazy rules of FIFA even the Dutch FA were not obliged to carry insurance for him. I’m not completely sure what happened there but I think we had to pay the wages of an injured player from our pocket and that makes a mockery of the whole idea of taking out insurance for players.

If we paid his salary for 5 months, which should ideally have come from insurance, then we probably lost over a million pounds. This money could have come in handy for new signings or enhanced contracts.

Our legal team should also look at the media and the rumour mongering a little more seriously. I know this is a complex issue and even United struggled with it when Real went after Ronaldo but we must offer at least a semblance of a challenge. And if we are convinced there is no legal recourse then we need a rogue team capable of responding in kind. Like Van Persie said,

If you want to play football, we can play football. If you want to play hard, we can play hard.

It’s applicable to the business side of the club as well, why should we be soft off the pitch and accept the underhand tactics of some cheap, classless clubs? I appreciate the principles of the club and don’t suggest that we violate them. But we have stand up to violence on the pitch and fight back in a rightful manner, the same applies to the business side of things. If nothing else it can provide a big boost to the morale of the squad and the fans when they realize that the club isn’t impotent.

I realize this particular article is rather vague and the issues I’m talking about are not important in the eyes of many. Still, in my mind, there is no doubt that an improvement behind the scenes can lead to a big improvement on the pitch. It might not be easy to quantify it or measure it but that really isn’t an excuse. I hope Gazidis looks into this with some seriousness.

2009-10 Season Review: Formation, Tactics, Other Thoughts

May 17, 2010

In the last few articles I’ve discussed the season in terms of our defence, midfield and attack. In this one let’s talk about the formation, tactics and other invisible threads like confidence, attitude, etc. that tie the players into a close knit unit.

As I said while discussing the positives from this season, the new formation has by and large been successful. However, it’s not an unqualified success and our failure in the big games has brought the weaknesses of this system to the fore. We cannot really talk about the formation on its own so let’s consider it along with tactics.

Broadly speaking we have two weaknesses that other top teams have exploited – Attacking Predictability & Defensive Vulnerability.

There has been a long standing complaint against Arsene that he doesn’t have a plan B. Most people who use this criticism normally refer to a lack of a big striker and the ability to play with the ball in the air. But if you consider that we can attack through the middle, use the width, get in behind opponents, use counter attacks, and shoot from distance (most goals this year if my memory serves me correctly), then we do have a plan B,C and D.

I think a blanket statement of criticism is not fair but there is a definitely an air of predictability about our play even though we do have many ways of attacking. I think it has to do with the personnel we have available on a given day and the way they play on the pitch.

Haven’t we seen games where almost everything originates on the right (or sometimes the left)? Haven’t we seen games when our front three are rather rigid and their running very predictable? Haven’t we seen games when our tempo is so slow that any fool can see where the next pass is going?

Arsenal are at their best when the players move around seamlessly. It stretches the opponents and we look like we can score any minute. In the bigger games, especially when we also have to defend, this fluidity has been lost quite often. This made our attacks predictable and highly trained and organized opponents actually found it very easy to defend against us.  It led to frustration and inevitably to individual errors that cost us defensively. Finally, we lost confidence and the whole cycle worsened. By the time the game ended we looked like a clueless bunch of kids playing against a highly professional outfit, even though the reality was quite different!

Such games bring the need for extra variations to the fore. When it’s clear that our attack isn’t troubling the opposition defence we need to have something extra. It could be a faster tempo, more shots from distance, larger number of crosses with more midfielders arriving in the box, variations on set pieces, and so on. We could also play deeper in our half and try to pull the opposition further forward so that we can get some space in behind. The options are endless but we seem run out of them. It is here that the need for a plan B is palpable. In reality it might be a plan Z because we might have tried 25 different tricks already but to a casual observer it just seems the same because the opposition defence isn’t being challenged.

Some of these problems are also linked with injuries. The options are no longer endless when you have 3-4 strikers injured at the same time and others are being forced to play out of position. The counter argument is that we know the injury problems before going into a game and should use an alternate formation, perhaps more defensive, to counter the problem of balance. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve not gone into any game this season with the primary objective being a solid defensive display even though we had many injuries towards the latter stages. Perhaps, the home game against City was an exception.

Another perceived weakness is our use of substitutes. I don’t question Wenger’s choices much but there have been many occasions when I felt substitutes could have helped us defend better or they could have added more bite to the attack earlier than the final few minutes. We could also have used a few to rotate some of our bigger players in the earlier games, especially when we were cruising. I don’t have an objective way of analyzing this particular topic but my general feeling is that Arsene doesn’t use the bench unless he absolutely has to and that seems like a tactical weakness.

Confidence is a big part of this. The manager must have enough confidence in each player on the bench if he has to make the early changes. Similarly, he needs to have enough confidence that a change in tactics can work. At times we have seen that our players switch off and this happens more towards the end. So if we introduce the subs and a couple of others switch off then the whole balance is lost and we end up in a precarious position.

It’s also a matter of player attitude. I don’t understand how a player can switch off when he is playing at the highest level for such a big club!? I can understand if someone is injured during the game or really tired after a long stretch of games but at times our players go missing without any apparent reason. What can you do with tactics or formation when someone refuses to play!?

Arsene really needs to get to the bottom of this. He keeps saying that the players will give everything on the pitch right till the end but what an ordinary fan sees is something quite different. Obviously, we don’t face this problem week in and week out. Otherwise we would not be so close to the top but much closer to Liverpool or Everton in the League Table. At the same time, if Le Boss can solve this issue we might be a few points closer to the top and it would certainly have an impact on the team morale and fans’ confidence.

There are other improvements like smarter set plays, intelligent use of the wide channels and the long ball, and formation changes during a game that can get us more points. It might be that bulk of our squad is young and will develop these skills as they mature so I would not want to be too critical right now, but that doesn’t reduce the frustration I feel during games when it seems we are just running into brick walls and neither does it alleviate the end of season agony when I look back and realize it could have been much better.

All in all, I think our tactics and formation will evolve just as the squad matures. I think this is an important reason for keeping the squad together. It’s similar to the reason why even top players sometimes take a season to adapt to a different league or a team. We’ll know better by this time next year.