Chamakh, Koscielny Superb + Soft Goal Frustrating

July 31, 2010

Arsene started this game with a fairly strong line-up. Rosicky and Arshavin flanked Chamakh in attack. As expected, the midfield was marshalled by Nasri, Wilshere, and Frimpong. Vermaelen and Koscielny paired in the centre of defence with Fabianski in goal. Eboue and Gibbs completed the eleven.

I thought that team looked strong enough to start a premier league home game against any mid table or bottom half side. It would also be strong enough for the early rounds of the FA Cup. When we consider that four key midfielders and two strikers are missing, it certainly gives one a sense of comfort about the depth. A couple of additions (in goal and centre of defence) will help but we aren’t as short as the Misery Brigade would have us believe.

The whole game was pretty exciting as both teams played without pressure. Right from the start we could see that Arsenal were on the front foot. We created plenty of half chances but the final ball was mostly missing. In defence the team looked fairly solid. Koscielny was particularly impressive with his positioning, reading of the game, and well-timed interceptions. Up front another new boy, Chamakh, was making some good runs down the channels and impressed with his ball holding skills and link up play.

Milan came close a couple of times. A long free kick down the middle wasn’t completely cleared and Flamini was the first on to the loose ball only to hit the crossbar via a deflection. I was a bit disappointed with this as it was very similar to the problems we’ve had with high balls down the middle. The midfield wasn’t close enough to support the defence on the second ball. When we have Song on the pitch he is alert to these issues but the youngsters will have to read these situations better.

On another occasion the former gunner was able to run straight down the middle and unleashed a fierce shot that was deflected away by Vermaelen. At the other end the Belgian’s header off a corner forced a good save. Overall, the first half was exciting but there wasn’t any real moment of class.

It arrived when Arshavin woke up from his slumber. The Russian picked up the ball near the half way line and accelerated past a couple of challenges. It’s not often that we see Gattuso shrugged off with such nonchalance. That run was followed by an inch perfect through ball and Chamakh supplied an intelligent finish as he let the ball roll across him and side-footed it past the keeper. A very composed, high quality finish was a good start in front of the home crowd for the Moroccan.

Anybody who doubted Wenger’s genius in the transfer market should revisit that first half and watch the performances of Koscielny and Chamakh. As Le Boss often says, big players are those who perform on the pitch and not necessarily those who have big price tags. It’s early days but the two signings of the summer have created a fantastic first impression.

I also thought the youngsters, Frimpong and Wilshere, did fairly well even though Seedorf taught them some lessons. Wilshere does make some mistakes while going forward. I think he is a guy with so much time on the ball that he ends up with too many options and gets a bit confused. If he can learn to pick a pass a little early he won’t lose the ball as often as he did in the first half hour. Frimpong didn’t go forward that often and it was understandable. He could have been closer to the defence and taken the ball from them a bit more often but I don’t want to criticize him for things even the experienced players struggle with.

Rosicky, Nasri, Gibbs and Eboue are good players and did what we’ve come to expect from them. Just like our other full backs, Gibbs needs to work on his crossing a bit but his positioning and overlapping runs were quite good. Rosicky drifted in a bit but I thought Nasri compensated for that by drifting out wide quite often.

Fabianski had a very good game. He didn’t have to make too many saves or attack many balls in the air but looked assured and confident in whatever he did. At one particular moment he did a very good job of rushing out and winning the ball before the striker who was clean through.

It’s worth giving some thought to that moment. The Milan attack came out of nothing when Chamakh (It could have been someone else, I’m not sure about this) played a risky crossfield pass just inside the Milan half. He had three or four clear short passes available but he went for a longer one and ended up short. Flamini won the ball and was able to slide it through for Boriello who could have been clean through if Fabianski had not read the situation.

These are simple mistakes that can lead to big problems. For instance, if the striker had been a quicker player like Rooney, Fabianski might have been caught out or might even have seen a red card. In such cases the keeper looks like a fool but the real problem is with the guy who got the pass wrong and with the midfielder who didn’t put enough pressure on the through ball.

At times it seems stupid to create an issue out of such a small thing but we concede many goals out of nothing and this was a perfect example of that.

The second half saw a few substitutions with Sagna, Clichy and Walcott coming on for the full backs and Rosicky. Arsenal created a couple of good chances down the right but the Milan defenders blocked the attempts on goal. Chamakh created a chance for Arshavin with a drag back and reverse flick but the angle was too tight for the Russian. I’ve a feeling these two will enjoy playing with each other.

Milan weren’t creating many chances and I was really disappointed that we conceded a sloppy goal from a simple set-piece. There were three Arsenal defenders around Pato but none of them could get their head on the ball. I even got a feeling that Djourou actually ducked under the ball for some strange reason. Perhaps, he didn’t want to concede a corner and thought there was someone covering behind him. There wasn’t much the keeper could have done.

Towards the end Mark Randall (a real surprise to see him on the pitch) got a double chance but hit it too close to the keeper on both occasions. I think the kid lacks a bit of composure and that’s what prevents an immense talent from blossoming into a top class player.

At the other end, Zambrotto rattled the bar with a thunderous striker. I got a feeling it was too easy for the Milan players to play the one-two, especially in the final half hour when our play was completely disjointed. As in the Wigan game last season, the link between defence and attack was broken as the midfield went AWOL for a while. Milan couldn’t capitalize but a lot of work is needed if we have to go through the year without losing points to stupid moments.

Amongst the subs; Walcott was his usual self, Vela had one moment of brilliance, Djourou looked rusty and out of position, and Randall was exciting and frustrating as ever.

All in all it was a positive performance that gave me a lot of confidence.You can see the highlights here, and the extended highlights here.

I think the starting eleven tomorrow will be somewhat different and will probably have some more rookies. That is another good game to look forward to.


Youngsters And Newbies Must Rise To The Emirates Cup Challenge

July 30, 2010

I like watching the Emirates Cup. It gives me a good idea about the preparation levels for the coming season and also a chance to see some youngsters in action. This year is going to be even more fun because we have quite a few big names missing.

For starters, all our key central midfielders from last year are missing. Song, Denilson, Diaby, Cesc and Ramsey made over 170 appearances between them last season. Obviously, some youngsters will have to step up and support Nasri who had, somewhat ironically, missed the start to the season last year.

Wilshere starred in this tournament last year and based on his form so far there is no reason to believe he can’t do the same again this year. I’m really looking forward to watching him against the likes of Pirlo and Gattuso in midfield. Last year he played with some experienced players around him so it will be an even bigger challenge when he has to do it alongside Frimpong. That’s not to say Frimpong is not a good player but dominating the game against Barnet is one thing and taking on Champions League winners is a completely different ball game.

It will also be a huge challenge for Nasri as he hasn’t really been allowed to prosper in his preferred central role. Playing alongside a couple of kids against quality opposition will not be easy. We saw this at the end of last season. Now it’s time for the players to show they’ve gained from that experience and can do better. After all, we keep hearing that the team is a year older and will improve because of the lessons they have learnt.

I’ll also be interested in seeing who else plays in midfield. Rosicky, Eastmond, Nordtveit, and Lansbury are likely to be the supporting cast.

In attack, our main central strikers from last season are missing. It provides a great opportunity for Chamakh to striker an early rapport with the Emirates faithful. I expect JET will continue his education in the same role as there aren’t many other viable options available. Vela is likely to play on the wing. I’ll be very surprised if he plays as a back to the goal striker. Simpson, Watt, or some other reserve team players might get a chance but I don’t expect much from them this season.

There has been a lot of talk about the need for strengthening our defence. Arsene is looking for another central defender and I’ve a feeling Le Boss hasn’t yet made up his mind about his starting pairing.

Djourou and Koscielny will get a chance to impress against some good attackers. It would have been even better if we had played Lyon because they seem to be the strongest of the three visiting teams but even Celtic and Milan are far stronger than the pre-season opponents we’ve faced so far.

I’m also keen to see if the squad has ironed out the organizational and awareness issues that plagued us last season. A makeshift midfield and a nascent defence will succeed only if they can work for and with each other.

They will be supported by our regulars in the wide areas. Sagna, Clichy, Eboue, Walcott and Arshavin will provide the squad some balance and experience but they will have to do more in attack and defence to help the youngsters.

Finally, there is the question of the goalkeeper. Frankly, I don’t know how to interpret any decision about the keeper right now. I’ve a feeling Arsene is looking for a new No. 1 but I don’t know how he will handle the others. The first three pre-season games have been too easy and the keepers were rarely worked. I hope Celtic will provide some long balls down the middle and some crosses into the box to test the keeper. Even Milan put a lot of balls into the box so the keepers will have some work to do in this tournament.

Ultimately, I think this tournament will help Arsene decide who will be Nos. 2 and 3. There is a possibility that we don’t succeed in getting a new keeper but I don’t want to spoil the mood by discussing that right now.

I just want to keep the mess around Cesc and the keeper anxiety out of my mind and enjoy the talent of those who wear the Arsenal shirt.


Is Bendtner’s Persistent Injury Threatening To Go The Rosicky Way?

July 29, 2010

To be frank, over the last couple of seasons, I’ve been more scared of injuries than any team or opposition player. I’d certainly argue that we’ve lost more points to an astonishingly large number of injuries that also include some unique, hard to diagnose cases.

When Arsene said that Bendtner was going to miss the start of the season it left me really worried. Just a few days ago Arsene had said that the Dane was not far away and will be a week behind the others along with Denilson. Something’s changed in these few days and Denilson might be ready for the start but Bendtner won’t be.

If we really think about it,it seems the striker never completely recovered from the injury he picked up in October last year. And the real scary part is that the Bendtner story has a lot of parallels to Rosicky’s woes.

The youngster was substituted in the 3-0 win over Tottenham with a groin injury, which at the time seemed innocuous. He was expected to be out for up to four weeks but ended up missing close to three months.

Bendtner played a big role for us after his return but was injured again towards the end of the season. And we don’t really know how he managed to play for Denmark at the World Cup. It was probably due to pain medication and stuff like that because he was certainly not fit to play. He has come back to Arsenal in a crocked state I have a feeling no one really knows what his problem is. Obviously, treating the injury and ascertaining a return date becomes that much more difficult if we don’t know the exact ailment.

I think that is very similar to what happened to Rosicky except that the Czech star had a hamstring issue. At that time it seemed innocuous and Arsene had said it was a matter of days, not weeks. In the end it turned out it was a matter of years, not months! If I remember it right, Rosicky lost a lot of time because no one could make an accurate diagnosis.

I have in the past raised questions about Arsenal’s medical staff but both Bendtner and Rosicky have had treatment abroad as well. Bendtner had surgery in Germany and even the Denmark team doctors must have seen him. As in Rosicky’s case, no one seems to be able to get to the root of the problem and that doesn’t help anyone but hurts Arsenal the most.

Arsene has to rely on the opinion of the medical professionals and he makes his squad decisions and recovery date projections based on their advice. So far, it’s been wide off the mark and I’m a bit concerned this could go on forever! With Rosicky we had reached a stage when Wenger/Doctors didn’t know when the player will be back.

Of course, if you are a doom merchant or don’t like Bendtner then you get another reason to crib. It would be easy to say discard him and get someone else. Obviously, that works in Championship Manager and that means it’s the correct thing to do!

On the other hand if, like me, you believe in his potential and want him to succeed then there is genuine cause for concern. Arsenal have invested a lot of time and effort in developing Bendtner and he is now very close to being a top class striker. It will be a real shame if his injury problems take a year or two out of his playing career. I hope I’m wrong about this and the doctors are able to treat the Danish Player of the Year in an appropriate and timely manner.


Nasri, Wilshere Excel + Injuries Already! + Highlights + ATVO Disappoints

July 28, 2010

The pre-season trip to Austria came to an end with an easy win over Austrian third division side SC Neusiedl. As expected, Arsenal dominated the game and could have scored quite a few more had there been more focus and desire in the final third. We could also have conceded a couple but a goal line clearance and a penalty save by Mannone ensured a clean sheet.

The initial moments of the game were even as Arsenal struggled to get the game going on a difficult pitch. Heavy legs from regular double training sessions could also be part of the reason. The hosts were working hard and pressing all over the pitch. Unsurprisingly, they came close to scoring when a free header was allowed in the penalty box. Nasri was able to keep the ball out.

I’m really hoping we do something about our set-piece defending. In the past I’ve often said it won’t matter who we have in goal if we cannot deal with the set-pieces in a collective way. So far we haven’t been tested in the friendlies so I really can’t say if we have made any improvements or not. Based on the limited evidence though, I’m a little concerned.

After the initial minutes the game was easy. Wilshere was running around at will. He made some good attacking bursts but didn’t have the final ball or the finish. I think it was because the others were just standing and watching instead of running in support.

Nasri too had a great game and created a number of chances, some of which were taken. I guess it’s ironical that these two have been fantastic in the middle during the pre-season games but are not likely to start in those positions unless there is a spate of injuries. Although there is a possibility that Nasri might start the first few games if Fabregas needs some rest.

Amongst the other players, Frimpong had a solid game without being spectacular. He made a few mistakes but was largely reliable. Still think this is not the right test for his abilities. Vermaelen and Koscielny didn’t have much to do. Almunia, a surprise starter, wasn’t really worked. Mannone made a good save from the penalty.

Gibbs was impressive on the left and made a number of good attacking forays. He picked up an assist for the second goal with a precise cut-back. Clichy and Sagna had a good workout nothing more.

Nordtveit struggled a bit with his touch and missed the ball on a couple of occasions. Interestingly, He was played in three positions. Starting out at Right Back, the youngster moved to central midfield and then into centre of defence for the final few minutes. It was too easy a game to judge his performances in the latter roles.

Up front Walcott got a goal but didn’t do much else. JET was again deployed as a central striker but he didn’t really know how to play in that position. At times I expected the striker to make a run or be available but the youngster was caught out of position. He did pick up a goal but I wouldn’t say I was impressed with this performance. I’m not being critical but matter of fact. I think it will take some time before the talented youngster finds his place on the field.

Arshavin was totally disinterested and was just having some fun. Not sure if it sets a good example but with his personality it’s difficult to expect anything else.

Among the subs, Chamakh looked physically imposing and his confidence should be boosted by the goal even if it was an easy penalty. Vela was his usual self; lots of tricks, good runs, some dead ends, some casual touches, and a chipped goal. Eboue ran all over the pitch without really making a contribution.

More than these individual displays, I was worried by the two injuries. I’m assuming Rosicky was injured because he was supposed to start and Nasri came in at the last minute. So far there hasn’t been any update on that front. Similarly, Djourou didn’t even complete half an hour as he went away with the medical staff. Hopefully, neither will be a serious issue and more than that I hope Arsene really is aware of the risks he is taking with so many injury prone players in the squad.

I must also say the streaming on ATVO was horrible. I’d mentioned my disappointment after the Barnet game but the service was better against Sturm Graz. In this game it was extremely pixelated and it was really difficult to identify the players at times. To get an idea of what I mean check out the highlights video. The coverage I got was of that quality and often worse!

Last year I was quite happy with their coverage. It seems something has changed this season and it’s for the worse. I can still see the regular videos like top fives, etc. without a problem but the streaming has been really poor.

Does anyone know whether the Emirates Cup is on ATVO or not? I think it’s not and that will be a real shame.


Don’t Be Mislead – Man City Don’t Need To Sell Too Many

July 27, 2010

This season we are going to see a new 25 player squad rule being implemented in the Premier League. There is a lot of confusion regarding this rule and we see many articles floating around that are based on an incomplete understanding of the rule.

A while back there was this notion that Man City need to sell 12 players to comply with the rule! As an extension people decided that players like De Jong and such others were likely to be on the market.

Frankly, it sounded quite preposterous and I decided to check out the details. Normally, I wouldn’t bother about it too much but given the financial state of the football world, Man City’s activities make a difference to almost all clubs in some way or the other.

This squad list on the official website lists 38 players. We can assume Kolarov will be added to that so it will be 39. Six of those players are Under-21 and City don’t really need to include them in the squad of 25. They have sufficient home grown players as well so they don’t need to worry on that front either.

So from the 33 that they have on the roster, they need to keep 8 out. It’s not as big a deal as it sounds.

They have 5 keepers in that list so we can safely assume two will be kept out. Their fourth and fifth choice keepers are not going to make any waves in the market. It would be a different matter if they sell Hart or Given but I doubt that will happen.

That brings us down to 6 players. I’d think Robinho, Jo, and Caicedo – who were all on loan anyway –are likely to be sold or kept out of the squad of 25. Once again it doesn’t change a thing for City because these players were not in the squad last year.

That brings the number down to 3. I’d think players like Shaleum Logan (yeah, even I’d never heard of him till I read their squad list), Michael Johnson, and Kelvin Etuhu (etu who?) could miss out.

So as things stand Man City don’t need to sell Bellamy, Bridge, Ireland or anyone else. Obviously, if they bring someone in they will have to move someone out. That shouldn’t be tough for them. For instance, a deal for Milner could see Ireland moving in the other direction.

This analysis shows City have a good squad right now (albeit a bit defensively overloaded in my opinion). I don’t want to discuss their chances or likely style of play in this article, will cover that a bit later. The sole purpose of this piece is to warn you of the dangers of believing what some lazy and ignorant journalists write. Don’t get your hopes up about Arsenal signing some good players like De Jong. City will only let someone go if they are getting a better player in.


Redknapp Says Wenger Is Right In Avoiding Pre-Season Tours

July 26, 2010

Well, not in so many words, but the Spuds manager talked about the problems he has been facing on the club’s tour of America and we can pretty much see it’s not a good idea.

Speaking about the training sessions he said,

I would be a liar if I said it was the perfect way to prepare for the new season, because it is not. We have found it difficult to get the training sessions in that we want.

Just like Arsene prefers Austria, Redknapp seems to have a liking for Scotland.

If I had my way, I would be in Scotland having a couple of games, or down to Devon, where we used to stay at [the former Formula One world champion], Nigel Mansell’s hotel and play Plymouth, Torquay or Exeter.

Sadly for the Tinies’ manager, he doesn’t have the same degree of authority over even the football related matters.

But that is the game now – we just go where we are told. Teams go all around the world now – Everton were in Australia.

This pre-season United haven’t impressed on their tour of America and neither have City or Tottenham. All of them have key players missing due to the World Cup and I’ve a feeling we will see them struggling a bit at the start of the season. United have, over the years, developed the ability to catch up even when the start is slow but I’m not sure City or Spuds will be able to do that.

Of course, all these clubs desperately need the money as neither is as well managed as Arsenal so they don’t really have a choice in this matter. You could say Citeh don’t need the money but they do need to build an image around the world, something their history hasn’t done for them.

I think Arsenal have found the perfect solution in the Emirates Cup. It allows the club to play a couple of competitive games, generates revenue, and we don’t have to go half way around the world. Instead we can get some good pre-season training.

The only aspect where we might be missing out on is the development of the commercial market in America and Asia. I’m not sure how big an impact these tours make on the commercial sales but hopefully Gazidis will be aware of the details and will make sure it’s not a big loss.

There are those who don’t understand the value of pre-season (Even I don’t know much about it but am happy to trust Wenger’s judgement on the importance of this trip to Austria). They might certainly think it’s a wasted opportunity. I can’t say much to that but from what I’ve seen in the pre-season games so far, it seems Arsenal are preparing well. City and United couldn’t even keep the ball moving. Obviously, it’s still early days and it would be stupid to predict the future based on these games but I do feel we have a good chance of getting off to a flyer. Time will tell.


Individual Player Analysis (With Videos): Tomas Rosicky

July 24, 2010

I’m a huge Rosicky fan and that makes me a little apprehensive while writing this article. In the last instalment of this series I’d covered Eduardo and now he’s moved on from Arsenal. Recently, there have been some rumours that Rosicky could also be on his way out and I’ll be really sad if that happens.

In the last four years I believe Arsenal have played the best football when Rosicky, Hleb and Fabregas have been on the pitch. And I’m convinced that can be bettered by the combination of Nasri, Rosicky, Arshavin, RvP, and Cesc. Most teams won’t be able to get the ball from them. The only problem is that almost all of them have had bad injuries in the recent past and have rarely played together for any length of time.

The reason I like Rosicky so much is because he has it all. A fully fit Tomas Rosicky is pretty close to being a complete midfielder. He can play in almost any position in the midfield and can also play the No. 10 role. Little Mozart has the ability to split defences with his passing and movement, he can also make runs in behind and provide the final ball, and he can finish with aplomb.

I’ve rarely seen him lose the ball in the midfield in a one-on-one situation. Either Rosicky beats his man with a neat turn and a burst of pace or, at the very least, holds the ball and finds a teammate. In case you haven’t noticed this, you’ll see many examples of this in the videos at the end of the post.

I also like the driving runs he makes down the middle and also on the flanks. While he is not in the same category as Walcott or Vela in terms of pace, he does have a distinctive ability to accelerate faster than most players which allows him to leave his man behind. I don’t expect him to win too many 30-40 yard races but in the midfield one mostly needs to be quick over 10-15 yards and Rosicky is quite good at that.

While not his greatest strength, he does make some lung bursting runs in attack and defence and isn’t afraid of sliding in to make some hard but legal tackles.

Interestingly, he had 3 goals and 4 assists last season at roughly a goal or an assist every two games (187 mins). This is in the same ball park as Arshavin (188) and Valencia (187). Not bad for a man who has had a rough couple of years and didn’t have a great season by his high standards. His pass completion rate was also over a respectable 80 percent.

Having said all of that, I do feel that injuries have taken a toll on his fitness affecting both, his speed and stamina. I’ve not checked on this but I think he didn’t complete too many games last season. And frankly that is the only reason I can think Arsene would want to sell him (if he is thinking about it at all).

Apart from that the only other criticism I’d have of his play is that at times he is a bit casual or loses his concentration. That’s when we see a loose first touch or a misplaced cross/shot on goal.

So far in the pre-season he has looked leaner than last season but 45 minutes against smaller teams in non-competitive matches is not the way to judge a player of his proven class.

There is a valid argument that he’s had a lot of injuries and we just cannot rely on him but he does make a good contribution to the team whenever he is available. We should also remember he is very close to Fabregas and they get along really well on and off the pitch. So his presence in the squad means much more than just his contribution on the field.

When we’d signed him I thought he was good enough to take over from Pires. That might not be possible now as he’s lost some of his best years to really freak injuries. He could still provide a lot of big match experience and make an impact when it matters. I’m hoping we get to see the best of Rosciky once again.

And in case you’ve forgotten how good he is check out the following videos.

This was probably his best game last year

And this is the first part of an impressive Rosicky compilation from 09/10

If interested, you can see the other parts of this compilation and other Rosicky videos on this youtube channel.