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!