Pictorial: Terrific Dive By Gareth Bale

September 30, 2010

I was watching the highlights of the Champions League games when I came across this work of art. Let’s have a look at some pictures.

Bale brings the ball into the penalty area. Nothing wrong with that, it’s a clever approach. Then he keeps it closer to his left foot and away from the defender. Once again, an intelligent bit of football. So far so good.

Then he kicks it forward with his left foot as he sees the defender diving in. Still nothing wrong.

After that is the truly artistic part. Keep an eye on his right leg and the defender’s left leg.

There is a great deal of daylight between the two.

In the above image, the defenders leg is on the ground. Bale could have easily continued his run but he lets his left leg hang.

We can see he is already on his way down without any contact. In a way he forces contact by falling on the defender.

Let’s look at this from another angle.

The first angle showed us just how much distance there was between Bale’s right leg and the defender’s left leg in one dimension. This angle shows us the other dimension. It’s clear from the picture above.

Even when the defender’s leg is on the ground, Bale’s leg isn’t even close.

Finally he just drags his right leg onto the defender.

The angle from the back clearly shows us daylight between the two players. The last three images also give us a perspective on the distance between them. If you only see the last image or this angle alone, something that the ref might have seen, it could look like a penalty. But see both the angles and try to visualize in three dimensions, you’ll see it’s a pretty blatant dive.

The funny part is the ref’s assistant was barely five yards away just behind the goal line. What’s the point of having these assistants if they can’t see such a dive? One could argue that a true artist can fool a ref’s assistant even at five yards. By that logic Bale deserves an Oscar for his theatrics.

If you add to this the fact that the first and third penalties were a joke, Huddlestone should have been sent off for a violent arm in the face of an opponent, and the inconsistency with the penalty not given for the Crouch handball, you have to wonder what’s going on?

Wonder what ‘Arry, he of the ‘Nasri dived’ fame, thinks of this? Perhaps, in twitchyland, it’s only a dive when your shirt has been tugged and not when you just milk a mistimed tackle that doesn’t really touch you.

The sad part was that almost everyone in the media has missed this one. Could it be that they didn’t even bother checking since this is an honest British lad we’re talking about? Someone please enlighten me if the definition of contact or foul is different in the British Isles.

Anyway, this dive or the diabolical performance by the ref doesn’t bother me. As long as Sagna knows what he will be up against I’ve no concern. For now, let’s just applaud an artistic genius.


Just How Many Players Should Wenger “Drop”?

September 29, 2010

Undoubtedly, Song has had a difficult time in the last few games. And I’m one among the many who have not been very happy with the change in his approach. It seems the player who impressed most of us as a Defensive Midfielder is trying to add more to his game. We can’t really fault that as a long as it doesn’t affect the balance of the team.

However, as the game against Sunderland showed us and more recently the ones against WBA and Partizan have proved, we struggle with our defensive balance when Song adopts a more adventurous style of play.

I first noted this change after the Bolton game itself. These are my exact words,

“I was surprised he pushed forward so often. Was he given the license to go forward? I thought he should have stayed back, our defenders needed some support with the second ball.”

At that time I didn’t harp on the issue because it takes away the joy of the win. Since then we’ve had plenty of discussion on this issue as a couple of poor results have brought the issue to the fore.

The worrying aspect that I’ve noticed is that many fans have started talking about dropping Song. This comes hot on the heels of the calls to drop Arshavin and Clichy. I see a dangerous trend developing here where fans are condemning players after just a couple of games.

Arguably, the noises against Arshavin and Clichy have been there for a while.

In the case of the Russian part of the problems come from the dislike towards his attitude and comments, many of which have been maliciously distorted. More recently, many fans have conveniently ignored the fact that he is far more involved with our attack this season and has already got more assists than all of last season. As a matter of fact, Arshavin has 4 goals and 5 assists in 8 games (6+2). He also put the two through-balls that won us penalties against the Spuds and if we also include his goal in that League Cup game, then his overall contribution has been nothing short of phenomenal.

In the case of Clichy, bulk of the criticism comes from the fact that he’s been guilty of some lapses in concentration and other mistakes leading to goals for the opposition. But sometimes fans don’t realize the difficult nature of his job in a system that Arsenal play. For instance, against WBA Clichy made the highest passes for an Arsenal player 79/86. That was almost a pass a minute and when you consider the fact that our midfielders didn’t do particularly well in the first hour (Eboue 8/15, Diaby 31/35 in 57 min), it’s not difficult to see that Clichy was playing as a defender while doubling up as a midfielder.

I don’t deny that some of our players have made mistakes and a few even repeatedly but the call for dropping players seems to be an extreme reaction that has come in vogue these days. It seems some fans think this is the only way the players will improve or learn their lesson. I consider that to be a flawed approach because it implies the players have no will to win and are happy with the mistakes they’ve mad.

Earlier this month I did an article discussing a quote by Wenger where the manager said we must be more open-minded. He was talking about the goalkeepers but it is just as easily applicable to the others as well. When we know the media just needs an excuse to create a negative story about Arsenal, refs are not going to give us much, and injuries are always going make it a challenge, why do supporters create further negativity with such a judgemental approach?

If Arsene started listening to these supporters we would have to drop Clichy, Song, and Arshavin. By popular opinion he should also keep Almunia, Fabianski, and Denilson out of the team as they are supposed to be useless. Effectively, we should start with kids like Szczesney, Gibbs, Wilshere, Vela, and JET more often. If that happens, will anyone be surprised if those kids were written off as useless within a few weeks as they struggle at the highest level without experienced heads around them?

I don’t know if some of this has to do with the relatively recent enthusiasm towards player ratings. It’s easy to put numbers like 3 or 4 in front of a player’s name. It’s also easy to call for their heads if this happens for two or three games in a row. As far as discussing the game or a players performance goes, I’ve no issues with criticism or highlighting mistakes. But we also need some perspective. Each player cannot be perfect in every game.

It’s also an issue of confidence. If a player makes a mistake we can point if out. But we can also help him improve with a positive reaction to his mistake. If, on the other hand, it seems that the fans are just sitting with a sword in their hand waiting for a chance to chop heads, it is going to affect the way players perform.

At Arsenal, these days, it seems the onus is on the player. Some fans are eager to jump on players who make a mistake or three. Perhaps, it’s the same at other clubs. I don’t know for sure but it’s certainly likely because this is closely connected with the growth of the internet. Everyone has a medium to voice their views and many are rash and exceedingly harsh.

One man’s rant doesn’t make a big difference but when others join in, it has a tendency of rapidly evolving into a popular opinion. Often, the line between opinion and fact gets blurred and the foundation of the rants that were written in a highly emotive state is then seen as a matter of fact.

You might point the finger at me for being harsh on occasions and I can’t claim to have a perfect, composed reaction to everything. But I try to avoid making sweeping statements and I’d like to believe I’ve improved over the last year or so. And frankly, that is my only request to other fans as well. I can relate to the disappointment and the frustration but when you want to communicate, just give it a second thought. Fans have a big role to play in the way the team performs and we don’t want to reach a state where someone can say Arsenal fans should be sacked!


Arsenal Make The Grade In A Tough Test

September 29, 2010

The huge gulf in class between the two teams was eventually exposed as Arsenal won the game convincingly, albeit with a few hiccups along the way. For a while it looked much closer than it should have been, mainly due to the endeavour of the hosts, good goalkeeping, and profligacy of the Arsenal attackers.

The first fifteen minutes of the game were hard fought as Partizan pressed well in midfield. With Denilson and Song working hard and sticking closer to the defence, Arsenal were able to resist the pressure but failed to create anything of note.

Soon after, Arshavin found some space in the Partizan half and was able to run at the defenders. Wilshere did well to keep up with him and received the ball in the box. The youngster almost fell over but showed immaculate close control even when off balance. His cheeky back heel allowed the Russian to smash it home from top of the box.

After the goal the hosts lost some of their resistance and we were able to open them up time and again. Arshavin and Rosicky were thwarted by the Keeper after they were through on goal. On another occasion the Russian’s lob was cleared off the line after the Keeper was beaten.

Over the years we’ve heard enough clichés – missed chances can come back to haunt you, one goal lead is never enough, it’s just one of those days, and so on – and there is some truth in them as we soon experienced.

It seems to me that Arsenal players have a competition going for who can gift a goal out of the most innocuous of situations. Denilson’s entry consists of a handball in the box when trying to chest a cross with no opposition player within five yards of him. Cleo took the spot kick well and Fabianski didn’t stand a chance.

Egged on by a rousing atmosphere the hosts found their belief again and the rest of the half was a hard grind in midfield.

Arsene must’ve sad something at half time as we started the second half brightly. The tempo seemed higher and we created a couple of half chances. It didn’t last long though and there was a lull in the game for the next ten minutes or so.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Arshavin found a through-ball for Chamakh. The Moroccan was through on goal but didn’t really try to score. I thought he did a Rooney – did enough to shield the ball and win a penalty. Jovanovic was sent off as the last man but Arshavin failed to convert from the spot. He went for power but hit it straight and low, the Keeper blocked it with his feet.

I was impressed by the patience shown by the Arsenal players in the second half. After going a man up there was no need to rush. We kept the ball moving and the opening came in the 71st minute. Rosicky provided an inch perfect cross but Chamakh was denied by an acrobatic save. The Keeper was unlucky as his save hit the crossbar and came straight back in the danger area. Nonetheless, Chamakh deserves credit for his quick reaction and composed finish.

The hosts had pretty much given up and for large periods it was just keep ball for Arsenal. Ten minutes later it was three when Squillaci headed home a Nasri corner.

Towards the end Gibbs discovered just whey Clichy has been struggling in this role. A long ball over the top lead to a tangle of legs and the ref pointed to the spot. I don’t think it was any different from the penalty we got so there can’t be many complaints.

Fabianski guessed right and palmed it away for a corner. After that, in the closing minutes, the Pole punched one corner, caught a cross, and made a good reflex save.  On the whole it was a solid performance under pressure.

I thought Partizan were a bit too physical and it was a shame that the ref allowed them to get away with it. Their tackles were not really dangerous but on many occasions they got away without a foul being called.

I also felt the home supporters were fantastic. They created a daunting atmosphere and it must have been a valuable experience for players like Wilshere and Gibbs.

I’m also hoping we were resting Koscielny and he is fit. The Frenchman was substituted in the previous game as well and didn’t start this one. I don’t think it was because of a poor performance against West Brom. We’ll need him against Chelsea.

Individual Performances

Fabianski: Arsene used the word ‘Faultless’ and I agree with him. The Pole didn’t have much to do but he did well when he had to. The communication with the back four wasn’t perfect and it’s an aspect they have to work on in training.

Sagna: Efficient and effective. Worked hard up and down the right channel. Helped us maintain possession.

Squillaci: Good to see him get off the mark. Didn’t look as assured as he looks with Koscielny but wasn’t bad either.

Djourou: Unconvincing but acceptable. I thought he didn’t time some of his jumps well, didn’t show the physical strength he should have given his size, and didn’t read the game well enough. Still I’m happy we can play our fourth centre back in such an away game without serious problems.

Gibbs: Looked a lot like Clichy. Didn’t do as much in an attacking sense as I’d expected. Was fairly solid defensively until he conceded the penalty.

Song: Gave the ball away quite often. Didn’t move the ball fast enough when under pressure. Good work rate. I’m worried about the change to his playing style. Looked like he had instructions to go forward. It seems like a tactical decision by the manager. Hopefully, he’ll find the right balance sooner rather than later.

Denilson: Apart from the stupid mistake for the goal, he did well. Attempted around 95 passes and covered a lot of ground. Also made a decent sliding tackle early in the first half, something many felt he didn’t have in his game. Good job of sticking closer to the defence, especially as Song was bombing forward.

Wilshere: Struggled to get into the game initially but showed his class with the assist. Came in for some rough treatment but handled it well. His development is coming along well but this game showed why it’s better to play him in a deeper position rather than in a crowded area up front.

Rosicky: another one who was out of the game initially. Did well after the first fifteen minutes. Good movement, passing, and lovely assist for Chamakh.

Chamakh: Worked hard all through the game. Won the penalty and the red card. Scored a good goal. Continues to impress.

Arshavin: I know many will remember his misses but the Russian was my man of the match. He was the creative force for bulk of the game, scored a good goal, put Chamakh through, and showed some leadership – we could see him talking to the players. He was involved with everything we had going forward and even his work rate was better than usual.

Subs: Nasri put in a good corner, Vela and Clichy didn’t have much to do.

This wasn’t an imperious win or an inspiring performance but it was a difficult game and a good result. It wasn’t vintage Arsenal but now it’s advantage Arsenal in the Champions League group phase. Now the focus shifts to the six pointer on Sunday.


Will The Real Arsenal Please Turn Up

September 27, 2010

After the loss against West Brom, I just wrote my thoughts and took a break from the internet for a couple of days. I had no doubt the vultures would be out and there would be all sorts of opinions about our Keeper and our title chances. I don’t pretend for a minute that we’ve done ourselves any favours with the kind of performances we had in the last two Premiership games. But that doesn’t mean we’ve reached the end of the road, and it certainly doesn’t mean we don’t have the squad, including goalkeepers, for achieving success. So far this season, almost all other Keepers in the League have made as many, if not more, errors as Almunia.

It’s tedious to discuss these issues over and over again so I’ll move on to the trip to Serbia. Like with Braga, I don’t know much about Partizan and have never seen them play. So I’ll just talk about what we need to do to win this game. The Serbians will offer a tough, physical challenge but we should have enough to get a win.

Arsene will have to take some action after the abject surrender at home. Somewhat expectedly, Almunia is out injured and that means Fabianski will get another chance. Szczesny is in the squad and I’m sure many want to see the youngster in goal. I’m not sure an important European tie that will have a hostile atmosphere provides the right setting for such a risk.

There won’t be many changes to the defence either. Gibbs for Clichy is the only possible alteration that comes to mind but I’d prefer if we give the youngster more time to recover from his injury.

Wenger has to get his midfield right. Against West Brom, Song and Diaby played a big part in our loss or should I say didn’t play their parts thereby leading to a defeat. Nasri will certainly keep his place and I’ll be really surprised if Wilshere doesn’t come into the starting line-up. That leaves one position open for Song, Diaby or Denilson. I’d prefer Song but with very specific instructions to play closer to the defence and with a firm focus on his defensive duties.

Up front I’d have Rosicky in place of Eboue with Chamakh and Arshavin keeping their places. I don’t think either of them can be blamed for the previous debacle. I’m also hoping Rosicky plays a more balanced role like Nasri does on the flank or like Lansbury did at SHL. Arshavin and Nasri will have a free role and we need one flank to be stable so that the other midfielders can cover the centre and the left.

The line-up would look like,

Fabianski – Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Wilshere, Nasri – Rosicky, Chamakh, Arshavin.

I hope we don’t take the Serbs lightly. In their previous appearance in the Champions League in 03/04, they drew all their home games against the likes of Real Madrid, Porto (eventual champions), and Marseille. They might not have many household names but we can be certain the hosts will put up a strong fight.

If they’ve seen our games against Sunderland and West Brom, we can expect them to pressurise us all over the pitch. The hosts can trouble us with good pressing in the central third, solid organization and alertness in the defensive third, and quick counter attacks exploiting our weakness on the flanks.  Roughly speaking, that is the blueprint for most smaller teams when they play Arsenal but not many can execute it as well as our last two opponents in the Premiership.

I’m not sure if Partizan have the quality in the final third to score a couple of goals. It will take something special to get past Squillaci and Koscielny. We must also hope that we don’t gift them any goals. Fabianski, Clichy, and – after the last two games – Song, will have to show that we can rely on them.

Up front I think Arshavin, Nasri, and Chamakh, with help from Wilshere and Rosicky, will be able to create and score a couple between them. If we don’t repeat our defensive blunders we should win this one but with Arsenal you never know.

The result of this game will not only impact our Champions League progress, it will also have a bearing on the confidence we carry into the visit to Stamford Bridge. I’m hoping for a morale boosting display, but after my predictions against Sunderland and WBA fell flat, I don’t want to jinx the result by proclaiming a win.


Woeful Arsenal Embarassed By Brilliant West Brom

September 25, 2010

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that this result was the shock of the season so far, at least in the Premier League. That is if you consider the reputation of the teams and their respective home and away form. But if you see the performance on the pitch on the day it is very difficult to say this was a shock. I don’t say this often, but West Brom completely deserved their win.

I think all the good work so far this season was undone by this game. The old problems returned to the fore and our plucky opponents were well prepared and alert enough to their chance.

I was really surprised by the starting line-up and within five minutes it was clear that this game won’t be as easy as it should have been. To me the three players who lost us this match were Eboue, Song, and Diaby. Almunia made a horrible mistake and the full backs were not convincing but the real villains were those three.

The first problem was the tempo of the game. Our midfielders, especially Diaby and Song were guilty of moving the ball slowly, not offering themselves often enough to receive a pass, and not reading the game defensively. That made it easy for West Brom to maintain their organization and gave them a threat on the counter attack.

The second big problem was that too many players were making the same runs. Eboue and Diaby got in the way of the creative and attacking players on a regular basis. We didn’t have any width for the first hour and it was overcrowded in the middle.

The biggest problem however, was that too many players switched off and were caught ball watching, making the job of defenders and the goalkeeper really difficult.

We had 15 shots in the first half but rarely any on target. Most of them were taken in desperation, a clear sign that the game was not flowing. In contrast, West Brom only had 35 percent possession but they looked far more threatening. Our full backs were exposed far too often and the midfield just wasn’t working hard enough.

The only real chance of the first half came when Almunia conceded penalty. I think the problem started when Clichy and Song went to ground in the West Brom half but didn’t win the ball. That left a huge vacant space on the back and Odemwinge was able to get in behind. Almunia came but didn’t get the ball. Clear penalty and a yellow card to Almunia was the right decision as Koscielny had already cleared the ball. The Keeper redeemed himself with a good penalty save, something he does well.

The warning signs were there but we didn’t learn. I don’t know what Arsene said at half time but it didn’t have any impact.

The first goal came when everyone went to sleep. A clearance was cushioned into the path of Thomas by Shorey. All Arsenal players were just ball-watching. Sagna was beaten by a simple dummy and Thomas played a harmless cross. It went past 4 or 5 statuesque Arsenal players and Odemwinge converted his tap-in.

Within  a couple of minutes it was 0-2. The ball was in a harmless position on the left wing. I think it was Odemwinge who was facing his own goal with Clichy right behind him. The full back Jara made a run past him, and the striker found him with a nice back heel. It was the most obvious pass but Clichy didn’t read it while Song was standing and admiring the run of the defender.

Koscielny was a little late in closing him down but the Right Back’s shot was straight at Almunia. Quite how he botched it is beyond me. The goal resulted from extremely poor defending by Clichy, Song, and Almunia but the Keeper would have to take the bulk of the blame for this one.

Arsenal woke up from the slumber after conceding two goals. After that the tempo was at a level one would have expected at the start. A couple of substitutions, Wilshere and Rosicky replacing the lazy Diaby and awful Eboue, made a big difference.

In the final half-hour Arsenal looked threatening but there was always the risk of conceding one more on the break. Once Koscielny was replaced by Vela, a seemingly positive but risky change, it was even more imperative that those at the back don’t lose their concentration.

Just the opposite happened in the 73rd minute. Clichy was caught square and Brunt was able to get past him with a simple touch. This forced Almunia to come out but he couldn’t get the ball on time. nonetheless, he did well to narrow down the options for Brunt who played a slow, hopeful ball across the penalty box. Once again the defenders, especially Song and Clichy, were sleeping as Thomas was allowed to attack the ball unchallenged.

To their credit, the players fought well in the final 15 minutes. Nasri and Arshavin in particular were quite impressive and looked like they could create something. The Frenchman scored two wonderful goals; one with brilliant composure and the second from a delightful pass by Arshavin. It was too little too late.

Individual Performances

Almunia: Good work with the penalty and a couple of other saves. Horrible mistake for the second goal. I won’t blame him for the first or the third.

Sagna: Got caught out for the first goal. Overall he worked hard and struggled with lack of support from midfield and Eboue.

Squillaci: Can’t blame him much. Might have done better for the first goal but difficult to say.

Koscielny: Was fairly solid and won many balls that came into the box, but should have done better in closing down Jara.

Clichy: Another difficult game for the Frenchman. He looks uncertain and shaky. Did really well in the first half to make an interception but then was indecisive when he had a good scoring chance. Bad mistake for the second and third goals.

Song: He seems confused. Isn’t doing the simple things right and is trying too hard to go forward. Should have been much closer to the defence and should have done much better for the second and third goals.

Diaby: This is the kind of performance that makes many people doubt him. Didn’t work hard enough, didn’t help the defenders, got in the way of Nasri and Arshavin. With his size and skills he should have dominated the midfield but he put in a lazy, disappointing performance.

Nasri: Struggled in the first hour as the two midfielders behind him didn’t do their jobs. Looked a completely different player in the final 30 minutes. Two high quality finishes and our most threatening player.

Chamakh: Was marked out of the game. Should have dropped deep more often. Should also be more alert to the loose ball in the box. These are the games where you miss RvP.

Eboue: Complete disaster. Very poor work rate, hardly any tracking back, made the wrong runs, and generally careless attitude.

Arshavin: like Nasri, he looked much better in the final half-hour. Worked much harder than the likes of Diaby and Eboue. Put in some good balls from set-pieces and crosses.

Subs: Rosicky, Wilshere, and Vela tried hard. I would have preferred Gibbs over Vela as the Englishman would have provided us with better penetration, physical presence, and crosses. Sorry, Gibbs was injured I completely forgot that in the moment. Thanks Gunner Young for pointing it out.

It was a hugely disappointing result that will allow many to question our title ambitions. We’ve blown away five points in two weeks due to some abysmal football. The expression on the face of Fabregas said it all.

I thought this game would have been perfect for someone like Denilson who would have kept the game ticking without getting in the way of others. We can’t do much about it now; the focus must immediately shift to the midweek Champions League trip. With Chelsea losing at City, we haven’t lost much ground but next week’s six pointer will now be a big, big game.


Szczesny Believes Fabianski Should Have Been No. 1!

September 24, 2010

Just before the Spuds game our young Polish talent Szczesny gave this controversial interview. Subsequently, the question was put to Arsene and he dealt with it in his typical diplomatic yet authoritative manner by acknowledging the player’s point of view but holding firm on his decision as well.

I don’t want to get into all those things again you must have read it in plenty of papers and blogs. I’d like to go into one aspect that seems to have been missed by many. Consider this part of the interview (translated using google translate),

Maybe problems of Polish goalkeepers for Arsenal comes from the fact that the team for four years won a single trophy and the pressure is enormous.

If you want to win, you have to expose the best in the club, not the oldest. For winning the title would do well to play the best goalkeeper at Arsenal.

So?

Before the season I thought it was Luke.

I completely agree with Szczesny that the best Keeper should play irrespective of age and I’ve no doubt Wenger holds a similar opinion. It’s a different matter that Almunia is the best Keeper even though the young Pole seems to have a different opinion on that.

What is interesting is that the youngster considers Fabianski to be the best at the club. I know something was probably lost in translation, but translation errors can’t change the fact that he’s mentioned Fabianski by name.

Earlier in the interview, based on what I understood, Szczesny said that he expected Fabianski to be No. 1 after a good preseason and I’ve a feeling he thought he will be No. 2, competing for a starting spot. If that is the case, it’s not difficult to see why he is frustrated being fourth choice.

However, the important point here is that Szczesny isn’t frustrated because he is behind Fabianski. Many fans don’t like our current No. 2 and they’ve simply assumed that the youngster shares their opinion. I’ve lost count of the people who have been sympathetic towards the kid by saying something like, “How can he not be frustrated if he is behind Flappianski?”

This is a classic example of some fans pretending that their opinion is shared by the players. The logic seems to be, if there are plenty of fans who don’t rate Fabianski it must be obvious that Szczesny doesn’t rate him either. In the summer we saw other examples of this when some fans claimed that Cesc wanted to leave because he didn’t believe in this team or his team mates. Fabregas never really came out and said anything like that but many fans, especially the Misery Brigade, found it a convenient argument.

In this particular case though, we have clear evidence that Szczesny rates Fabianski highly.

I’m not trying to defend Fabianski. My opinion is that he’d benefit from a loan spell where he get’s a chance to play every week. He can make his mistakes elsewhere before returning to Arsenal a better and more mature player. Not sure if this can be worked out now but I do feel Fabianski really needs regular games.

Anyway, this article was not written to debate the goalkeeping position. The point is we should not assume that an opinion popular amongst fans is shared by the players who see each other in training every day and can form a much more informed opinion.


Thoughts On The Starting Eleven And Tactics For The WBA Game

September 24, 2010

West Brom are a team that I respect. I’d even say I like them and will support them in their quest to avoid relegation. They are a team that deserves to do well in the Premier League. I feel this way because the Baggies are a team that tries to play football the right way. They fight hard, but not dirty; they try to defend well, exploit set-pieces, shoot from distance – but they don’t intentionally foul goalkeepers, or kick opposition players, and their manager is not a scumbag.

Simply put, if most of the smaller teams followed their approach the Premiership would truly be the best league in the world and England would have a much better chance at the international level.

Focusing on the match, the first point that we need to note is that this is anything but an easy game. It’s a game we should win and we can notch up some goals in this one, but if our players take it easy, it could turn into an embarrassment.

West Brom have won at home against Sunderland and Birmingham, and drawn with Tottenham. They also got past the Moneybags, albeit a weakened side, in the Carling Cup despite making 10 changes.

On the other hand, the Baggies haven’t scored away from home and have lost both their games. Considering the fact that they won’t score a “cheat goal”, I’m confident that we can keep a clean sheet in this one.

As I mentioned, they are a team that respects the game and tries to play football. We can see this from the way they pass the ball. The following chart shows their passes against Chelsea and Liverpool, two extremely difficult away games that they lost.

Created Using Guardian Chalkboards

The attempted over 350 passes in both games. In fact, they average about that many passes in almost all the games they’ve played. And as you can see, there aren’t too many long balls; they’re a team that tries to bring the ball out from defence. Is it a coincidence that their manager is not an ancient Englishman? Let’s just leave that thought for another day.

I think this game can be an entertaining affair from the fans’ point of view. It probably won’t have the drama of end-to-end stuff that we seen when the ball is kicked from one penalty box to the other, but if you enjoy the “football” part of the game then this will be a nice one to watch.

Our defenders should also feel more comfortable in this after playing against the likes of Blackburn, Bolton and Sunderland. They’ll have a few long balls to deal with, no doubt, but it won’t be a persistent threat. As long as they keep up their concentration levels and do as well as they did at the Stadium of Light, Almunia should have a quiet game.

It’ll be interesting to see if their manager goes with two strikers or one. In most games they’ve used the quick and technical Odemwinge alongside the more physical Fortune. It’s a good pairing and certainly gives them a much stronger attack than they had a couple of seasons ago. But playing them both could leave them light in the middle and Arsenal could pass them off the park.

Apart from their first game against Chelsea, the visitors have not conceded more than 1 goal in any of their other games despite playing the likes of Liverpool, Spuds, and Citeh. That tells me it won’t be as easy to score against them as it was against Braga or Blackpool, even though their playing style might be quite similar to these teams. This will depend on how well they can press our players. Sunderland have given them a template to work on but pulling that off away from home will never be easy for a team like West Brom. I still expect them to work hard and make life difficult for us.

This could change if we can score early. We need to get off the blocks from the kick-off and establish our dominance. This is the kind of game where the opposition gains confidence with each minute they keep us out.

I don’t think we need any major tactical planning for this game. The players just have to go out and give their best, maintain their focus for 90 mins, and convert the chances that are sure to come our way. While I do appreciate and respect WBA, a good Arsenal performance should see us win by three goals with the added bonus of a clean sheet.

As far as the starting eleven goes there aren’t many choices. With the injury to Gibbs the back five are likely to be the same as the Sunderland game and Song will keep his place. The other two choices in midfield will be interesting. We could pick any two from Denilson, Wilshere, and Diaby. It will probably depend a bit on the fitness of the Frenchman.

I’d prefer if we went with Denilson and Diaby. Wilshere has played 4 games in 10 days and given the way he’s developing, I feel he will be a big player for us this season. It will be a real shame if we overstretch him right now and he ends up with an injury of some sort.

This midfield will also give us a chance to see Diaby in an advanced role, something I believe he can excel at, especially in such home games. Moreover, Denilson will probably do much better in this game than in a physical battle. This way we can get the best out of players we have.

Having said all that, I do have a sneaky feeling Arsene will continue with Wilshere in the starting line-up. That will make the choice of the third midfielder an interesting one. Will Jack play in a deeper role with Diaby ahead of him or will he play in an advanced role with Denilson behind him? I don’t want to speculate on this because I truly believe he deserves a rest.

No matter who plays in midfield, it will be imperative that Song shows some discipline and supports the defence.

These choices in midfield would put Nasri back on the right along with Chamakh in the centre and Arshavin on the left.

If Rosicky has picked up a knock it would be best to give him a rest. I’m not sure Vela did enough to keep his spot but, if we have a healthy lead, another cameo will do him no harm.

The starting line-up would look like,

Almunia – Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Denilson, Diaby – Nasri, Chamakh, Arshavin.

I’m looking forward to some entertainment and a solid 3-0 win.


Fabregas And His Cescy Sense Of Humour On Twitter

September 23, 2010

I recently discovered the twitter profile of Fabregas, at least I think it’s the real deal. I’m not very familiar with twitter so can’t claim to be sure but you can judge for yourself.

Like most of us, Cesc was quite happy with the win at Spuds,

It feels good ….Great performance!Being Great to watch football played this way!Well done boys!

More interestingly, I found this picture on twitpic with the caption: “Do you think our masseur is sexy?” 😀

Left me wondering if I’ve finally stumbled onto the reason so many of our players spend a lot of quality time on the treatment table 😉

In case you’re into twitter, here is Fabregas’ twitter page and this is the link to his twitpic account.

Apologies if this has already been shared by others and a word of warning – you’ll see pictures of some vile, abominable creatures on that twitpic.


Thoughts On The Tactical And Technical Aspects Of The Spuds Game

September 23, 2010

I’m not sure I can do as good a job of analyzing this game as Tony did over at Untold :D. Still I’d like to give it a shot. It gives me another chance to dwell on a fantastic win. It’s difficult to analyze this without the kind of stats that we get for the Premiership or Champions League games. I’ll just share my observations from the game.

The starting line-up for this game was interesting. I thought we played a 4-2-3-1 kind of a system while attacking and a 4-4-1-1 when we lost the ball. Arsene might not have made a deliberate change but I got a feeling he’d given specific instructions to certain players. For instance, he could have used the highly rated JET as a right sided attacker, a role he played in pre-season and is playing for the reserves, but he chose Lansbury for a reason that I’ll discuss later in this post.

Broadly speaking, Rosicky played like a left sided midfielder and Lansbury worked hard on the right. Nasri had a free role while Wilshere and Denilson played something like the Double Pivot.

I was impressed by the discipline showed by Denilson. He kept the game flowing with simple yet effective passes. The Brazilian was almost always available when a team-mate needed an option. He also made sure that the defence wasn’t isolated as we’d seen in the Sunderland game and did a good job of attacking the second ball.

Wilshere played more like a box-to-box midfielder but did bulk of his work in the central third with occasional, well-timed forays into attacking areas. The youngster also shouldered his defensive burden admirably. Like Denilson, he too was available to receive a pass and did a good job of pressing the Tiny Totts’ midfielders. I was particularly impressed by the way he used his body. Just like Fabregas, Wilshere isn’t a big player in terms of physical characteristics but his technique makes him far superior to most opponents, something that might have come as an unpleasant surprise to Sandro, Palacios, and Livermore. That would explain why they kicked him at every opportunity. I also liked the fact that he could create some chances from a deeper position.

Lansbury looked like a cross between Ljungberg and Ray Parlour. Arsene talked about him in his post match conference and compared his engine to Parlour’s. Wenger also mentioned the youngster’s ability to pop into the box at the right time. I think Lansbury provided us with the balance that someone like JET would not have, although It can be argued that JET might have given us the sharpness we were lacking in the first half. If Wenger thinks Lansbury can be like Parlour the youngster is sure to have a huge future.

I’m a huge fan of midfielders who know when to make a run into the box. It’s not easy to teach something like this. Pires and Ljungberg were past masters at this but of late we’ve struggled on this front. I’d go so far as to say that Nasri can learn a thing or two from Lansbury. Not to say that the youngster is better, just that he has one key skill that the Frenchman would do well to develop.

Someone like Henri can give the team a great balance. For large parts of the game he played a defensive role, even in advanced positions, as he harassed Assou-Ekoto every time the Spuds full back got the ball. But he left his mark on the game with a perfectly timed burst into the box. We see United and Chelsea score these kinds of goals quite often and if we can replicate this on a regular basis, it can add 15 goals to our season’s tally.

I think Arsene gave specific instructions to Eboue to stay back and to Lansbury to put in a solid shift on the right. This neutralized the threat of experienced players like Bentley and Assou-Ekoto and allowed us to focus on the centre and the left, where we dominated most of the possession and created all the goals.

On the flip side I thought we didn’t make the most of our possession. Nasri and Rosicky had good games but they didn’t do as much in the final third as one would expect from them, especially in the first half.

Vela struggled a bit with his back to the goal. He didn’t have the strength to hold his position in front of a defender and that meant he was forced into dropping deep far too often. And with the Tinies sitting so deep, we never got a chance to use his pace.

I also got a feeling that our midfield didn’t quite read the runs he was making or wanted to make. I’m not sure how often the Mexican plays in a central role in training but we’ll need much better understanding when we come up against opponents who have some class.

Gibbs really impressed me with his attacking forays. Amongst our full backs, the youngster seems to be the one who makes the best choices in terms of staying back and going forward, and Wilshere seems to be the midfielder who reads his runs the best. It could be down to the fact that they’ve grown up playing together.

Well-timed, overlapping runs by full backs picked out by deeper lying midfielders; low, powerfully driven crosses between the keeper and the defenders; and midfielders attacking these crosses – I’d say that adds a new dimension to our attack.

In the end, I thought we completely outclassed the opponents. I’m not sure the youngsters in their squad had ever come across a team that was so good at moving the ball. Spuds obviously can’t be that good in training and those who’ve played in the Championship and other levels would never have seen a team as synchronized as Arsenal. I think that could be a reason why they were never able to effectively press the ball higher up the pitch and ended up chasing the ball in their defensive third.

If we’d shown a little more desire and decisiveness, this game would’ve been over in the first half.  Some might say that raising their hopes and then crushing them completely was far more fun. Can’t argue with that.


Arsenal Cruise As Wilshere Dominates SHL

September 21, 2010

Before the game I was quite anxious. In the last two seasons we’ve seen young teams struggle in this competition away from home against top 6 Premier League sides. Thankfully, Arsene had learnt his lesson and he put out a really strong starting eleven. And once I saw the Tiny Totts’ starting line-up all the anxiety was turned into anticipation of a big win.

We should have closed the game out in the first half. Spuds were embarrassing as Wilshere ran the midfield. Arsenal were passing it around at will, patiently waiting for an opening. I thought there was a time, early in the first half, when we had the ball for four or five minutes. Spuds midfield was completely clueless and they had to sit deep for most of the half just to survive.

Henri Lansbury will not forget his first goal for a long time and I’m sure admirers of the beautiful game will remember it as a classic Arsenal goal. And I’d say there was a touch of the English style in this goal as well. Not surprising considering three young English kids played a big part in the goal.

The ball was moved from right to left into the path of an onrushing Gibbs. The youngster cut inside and found Rosicky on the edge of the box. Little Mozart rolled it into the path of an overlapping Wilshere who drilled in a low, hard cross. Lansbury popped in between four white shirts and picked up a tap in. There was a touch of Ljungberg in that run and finish, mighty impressive.

It does make me wonder why we don’t hit more such low, powerful crosses into the danger area just in front of the goalkeeper. If we add this threat to our game, teams who sit back will really struggle to contain us. Anyway, more on that some other day.

The rest of the half saw Arsenal dominate but we lacked the cutting edge. For a while it seemed players were happy to play the tippy-tappy game and that looked like a risky strategy. One goal leads have an uncanny way of disappearing and this game was no different.

Keane was marginally off-side but the linesman waved him on. Interestingly, this was the same assistant who’d incorrectly flagged Gibbs when the youngster was through on goal in the first half. The Irishman’s strike wasn’t powerful but it was well placed. Fabianski couldn’t keep it out. It was a save he could have made but we should not get hyper over such things.

The second half was a much tighter contest but neither side really created a clear opening except when Lennon was put through. A phenomenal last ditch tackle by Koscielny prevented him from scoring.

The game changed again in the 72nd minute when Arsenal brought on the big guns. Arshavin and Chamakh replaced Vela and Rosicky. After that it was all Arsenal once again. We could have scored late in the second half but desperate defending kept us out.

The game was over in the first five minutes of extra time when we won two penalties for fouls on Nasri and Chamakh after two delightful balls from Arshavin had put them through. A quick free kick by Wilshere followed by a clinical finish by Arshavin made the score-line emphatic. A fifth goal would have been nice but I’m not complaining.

Individual Performances

Fabianski: Will probably be criticized for the goal. It was the kind of save that we’ve seen made and botched. I thought he didn’t have his eyes on the ball till the last second. Didn’t have to do much more.

Eboue: Largely solid but had a couple of lapses in concentration like when he left Bentley free to head at the back post.

Djourou: Was quite shaky. Totts’ best two chances in the first half probably came from his mistakes.

Koscielny: Another exceptional performance. Last year Vermaelen impressed a lot but it was mainly due to his scoring streak. Koscielny has been superb with his defending. Read everything, headed well, very composed and confident.

Gibbs: Excellent game in attack and defence. Had Lennon in his pocket. I thought he was a bit casual for the goal we conceded as he was jogging back. If he’d stayed higher up it would have been a clear call.

Denilson: Simple and effective.

Wilshere: Immense. My man of the match by a country mile. It’s astounding that someone his age can play so well in his fourth game in ten days. He was everywhere and dominated the game like a box-to-box powerhouse. Two assists, countless incisive passes, great physical strength, unquenchable desire.

Nasri: In the first half he looked like he was taking it a bit easy. Raised his game after the two substitutions. Good composure to convert the penalties.

Lansbury: Ljungbergesque goal, hard work down the right flank, good technique and passing, overall quite impressive. Not in the same league as Wilshere but fairly good in his own right.

Vela: Struggled a bit in the central role. It looked like no one was reading his runs and he had to hold back on a number of occasions. Good to see some more minutes under his belt.

Subs: Arshavin raised the standard of the game to a new level. Fantastic passes for the penalties, cool finish. Chamakh worked hard and proved to be a nuisance for the defenders.

Hopefully we will get an easier tie in the next round and Arsene will be able to give some other youngsters a chance. It’s worth noting that Arsenal don’t even complain about the penalty that was not given for a foul on Lansbury early on, or the fact that the two Spuds central defenders were not sent off, or the fact that the off-side decisions were clearly going against us, or the persistent, rotational, somewhat dangerous, and dare I say deliberate fouls on Wilshere.

For now let’s all laugh at Whinger Twitchy who’s complaining that Nasri dived for the penalty and Spuds fans so embarrassed that they ran away from their own home.