Mature Szczesny Backs Fabianski, Sounds Like The Real Deal

October 22, 2010

As many of you will recall, there was a story about Szczesny a few weeks ago when he gave an interview to a Polish paper. In that he came across as unsettled and many assumed it was because he didn’t like being behind Almunia and Fabianski in the pecking order. From what I saw on the internet this was probably the only blog which highlighted the fact that the youngster believed Fabianski should have been No. 1 right from the start of the season.

In the latest interview with ATVO the Pole once again had some nice words about his senior colleague. When asked whether we are seeing the best of Fabianski he said,

I still think there is more to come from Fabianski, he is a very good goalkeeper and I personally believe him.

I have known him for quite a few years and we have gone through that learning process together and I know he is a very good goalkeeper.

He has got his confidence back and he is doing quite well. I think if his confidence grows even more he will be a world-class goalkeeper.

Based on what Arsene and the coaching staff have said about Fabianski, and the comments of Szczesny, I’ve no doubt the Pole has what it takes to be a fantastic Keeper. He needs a run of games and many of us thought he could use a spell at another club but now that he’s had his chance at Arsenal I’m hoping he’ll deliver. Szczesny seems to have a similar opinion,

Definitely, I think that was Lukasz’ problem last year when he played one game every month or so. Then it’s hard to get your rhythm going, whereas (now) he’s got a good run of games. I think he’s played in five or six games now and you can see he’s more confident, his decision making is much better, and it looks like he’s enjoying himself.

When asked about the feeling in the squad about the visit to City and whether they thought they could get a draw or a win but won’t lose there, the youngster had this to say,

At this club there is only one name of the game and we want to win it. We don’t think of going to tough places and getting a draw. We always want to win and I’m sure that will be the attitude before the game.

Someone should tell him Arsenal don’t have a winning mentality!

I was impressed with the confidence he showed when speaking about his preparations before a game.

I just keep working hard throughout the week. That’s the only way to do it. As I said to you before, I’m not nervous; I don’t need to do any relaxation stuff. I just work hard and make sure I’m in good shape for the game.

At his age and in a role as tough as the Keeper that’s a fantastic attitude. I’d say most youngsters would be quite nervous before a big game and only the special ones have this innate confidence.

Wenger Explains Key Decisions In AGM Speech And Q&A

October 22, 2010

I enjoyed listening to Wenger’s speech and Q&A at the AGM. Le Boss was honest and forthcoming in his usual charming style and covered some important topics.

Firstly in his speech, Arsene acknowledged the fact that we have room for improvement.

I don’t say we don’t have any weaknesses. We are conscious of that but we work very hard on it.

It’d be naive bordering on stupid to think that AW is blind to the problems but many continue to believe that. Arsene pre-empted the questions about a goalkeeper with a fairly clear explanation.

I get many advices that we take on board, but for me it’s very difficult to come out on any specific position on any player. Why? Because if I say, “I wanted him I didn’t get him”, it is basically a message to my player who plays that you’re not good enough and you’re there because we didn’t find a player who is better than you.

I think that’s as much as we should expect to get from him. It’s clear we tried signing some big names but it didn’t materialize. I’d not be surprised if at a later date it comes out that Liverpool and Lyon were among the clubs who refused to negotiate with us on this matter.

Then there are those who like to believe that an extra 2 million would have seen us get Schwarzer but it’s extremely difficult to have a rational debate with someone who takes unreliable media rumours as gospel. Similarly, what can you say to a random, meaningless statement like, “anyone is better than Almunia”?

My best guess is that Arsene must have discussed the goalkeeping position with experts in the field and identified some players who can do better for us. We tried to get them but it didn’t work out in a difficult market. I can understand why clubs like Liverpool, Lyon, or Ajax would have been reluctant to let a big player leave. I’m also quite confident that we’ll continue to monitor the situation and make a move if the status changes.

Then a gentleman, white hair experienced looking and all, asked him a question about playing with a dedicated holding midfielder alongside Song. I’m sure this is a thought most fans have had and many have been wondering why we don’t do it.

I considered it and did it already. We have many players who can be defensive and offensive, for example Jack Wilshere. When a player is good technically, like Diaby or Denilson, they’re both sides of players. But if you look at their defensive record and you compare them with defensive holding players in the whole league, then you’ll see that the number of balls they win, the number of balls they intercept is as high if not higher than typical holding midfielders. And when they have the ball they can play as well.

We do not restrict our players when we win the ball back and that’s why maybe some people think we do not play with two holding midfielders. In “Holding” you’ve the word “Stay” that means do not attack, that’s not the way we play and sometimes you can be exposed but what people forget it’s one of our strengths as well. When we score five or six goals it’s because we have the potential to attack and to restrict players who have that potential is to take their qualities away.

In our sport you never say never, but the most important is to be faithful to the principle and to find the balance. If we do not attack you’ll quickly be bored here and people will say, “Come on man, we pay a lot of money to watch your games, we want to win the games but we want to see goals as well”.

I think the keywords here is ‘balance’. We have to find the right balance and with someone like Wilshere in the team we are getting close to that. Ramsey seems like another one who can do just as well as Wilshere has been doing. I’ve also seen a conscious effort by the midfielders to swap positions and to cover for each other. That seems to be the key to achieving the right balance. We end up in trouble when this understanding is lost.

Normally, when Cesc is on the pitch he reads the situations well and often drops deeper when the opposition is pressing us and we’re finding it difficult to move the ball forward. Others who play in the advanced role will have to learn from Fabregas and that should allow us to do better even when El Capitan is missing.

Interestingly, I’ve not seen many people acknowledge the fact that Jack Wilshere is as good as any big midfield signing we could have made this season. Instead of being on loan, if he had been a Bolton player we would not have been able to sign him for less than 20M in my opinion and that makes him a world class signing. Just because he has come through the youth system, we should not take him for granted or undervalue the youngster.

I highly recommend listening to this speech and this Q&A session on ATVO. If you don’t have ATVO I’d recommend signing up, it’s more than value for money.

Rooney & Fergie, Cesc & Arsene: Class Difference?

October 20, 2010

I’ve been enjoying the stories coming out of Manchester United in the last couple of days. Right from the start of the season we could sense that something was not right at Old Trafford and now we’re getting a good idea why.

First it was Fergie who came out with some very harsh comments about Rooney. I don’t know what went on between them but from a distance I didn’t see any need for the United manager to make the whole story public and in a manner that painted Rooney in a very negative light.

Certainly, accusations by Fergie of Rooney disrespecting the club seem to be baseless. Granted the striker contradicted his boss on the injury issue but I can’t see any way in which Rooney showed disrespect towards United.

I’m not trying to defend the man most of us dislike (to put it mildly), but the facts are there for all to see. He’s had some personal issues and there could be questions over his morals and stuff like that but what has Rooney done to disrespect the club?

I just thought Fergie was shocked and couldn’t handle the fact that his biggest hope for winning anything this season wanted out. His words seemed like those of a man not in control. On one side he was having a go at his player and on the other he was talking of leaving the door open. We all know how badly they need him but I can’t see Fergie doing United any favours by washing the dirty linen in public.

In response, Rooney has come out with his own story. Of all things, I never expected him to leave because of lack of ambition at United. It’s a preposterous excuse and one, I feel, that has been made up to cover up the real reason, which could be that his head has been turned by money on offer elsewhere or he wants to escape the English media.

I’m not a fan of players doing the job of managers, and when they start questioning the signings or the way the team plays and stuff like that, a top manager has to take a firm stance.

Football is a complicated business and most big managers have to balance a number of factors. Unlike some clueless fans and pundits think, the football aspect and financial aspect of a club cannot be seen individually in isolation. Players can never understand the complexities and should just focus on their jobs. Even more at a club like United who won the Premiership for three years before losing it by just a point last year.

On a side note, such player behaviour and thinking could be the reason most clubs want to support the UEFA financial regulations because they will get genuine reasons to end the spending madness.

As I was laughing at the way things were playing out at United, I couldn’t help comparing this situation to the one we faced all through the summer. Fabregas wanted to leave; he confirmed it in public and had discussions with Arsene. Wenger helped him focus on the World Cup and then stood firm under extreme pressure. For his part, El Capitan accepted the decision of his manager and the club, and has been giving his all on the pitch.

At no point did the details of their talk come out in the public domain. Neither of them showed disrespect towards the other, the club, or the fans.

Interestingly, the Fabregas story lasted all summer and it’ll be fun to see how this one develops considering the fact that we have over two months to go before the January window.

To be honest, I’m not at all surprised by these developments. I see Fergie as an autocratic, functional manager, albeit an excellent one; while Wenger is more of an artist with a vision who lets the talents flourish.

The fall out with Rooney is not the first time for Fergie. He’s had a tough time with other stars in the past, most notably Beckham, Keane, and Nistelrooy. In contrast, players like Pires, Campbell and even United’s Beckham come to Arsene Wenger when they want to train and need help! I can’t think of a single player who has played for Wenger and has not had a good relationship with him. Even someone like Adebayor says only nice words about Arsene.

I’m just hoping United don’t get to sell Rooney for crazy money as that could help them strengthen. Given their present state the longer this mess exists the bigger their woes will be. Ferguson has said he’ll settle the issue in 24 hours. I’m not sure what he means by that but if it provides more entertainment, I’m not complaining.

Arsenal 5 – 1 Shakhtar Donetsk: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

October 19, 2010

What a game! I don’t think I’ve enjoyed any other game this season as I enjoyed this one. The wins against Blackpool and Braga were fantastic and there were some other entertaining displays but I felt this game was the best exhibition of football.

For this I must congratulate Shakhtar for their contribution. I thought they were excellent defensively in the first half except for the mistake by the goalkeeper. The visitors showed how to defend by excellent pressing and reading the game. They denied us space in their half and limited the number of chances we could create.

I was also impressed by their attempts to play the ball on the ground. The composure shown by their defenders and the keeper while passing the ball amongst themselves was worth appreciating. In the same vein, Arsenal’s pressing high up in the visitors’ half was a joy to behold.

I know many pundits in England don’t often get the beauty of the game. Unless the ball is fizzing around in the penalty area it seems to them that the attacking team isn’t doing anything. Similarly, a lack of flying tackles makes them feel that defending has been easy. Perhaps this led many to comment at half time that the game was being played at a slow pace and nothing was happening. The commentator was also surprised by the possession stats because he failed to notice how much Shakhtar were trying to play and how effectively Arsenal were negating their efforts and vice-versa.

But if you love proper football you’d have seen this was an exciting game played at a high tempo. This is reflected in the passing statistics. Arsenal completed 598 out of 699 passes while the visitors completed 502 out of 610. You can’t get those kind of numbers without excellent technical quality and a high tempo. I’ve no doubt Shakhtar will provide a much sterner tests in the comfort of their stadium with their fans behind them.

In the end, I thought Arsenal’s superior quality in the final third and a little hesitancy on the part of the visitors made a big difference. The scoreline was flattering but they players will tell you it wasn’t an easy win by any stretch.

I was quite happy with the patience we showed in the first half. Shakhtar were working hard defensively and we were probing, waiting for a mistake. The first goal came from a corner and it was good to see us get value from a set piece. Nasri’s delivery was quite good and I think it was Squillaci who got the first header and directed it to the back post. The Keeper stretched to collect when his defender was about to clear and dropped the wet ball. Djourou was on hand to poke it away from the Keeper and Song finished, albeit with some luck.

This is the kind of luck you make with constant pressure. I’d also give credit to Djourou for being alert and to Song for being opportunistic. The Cameroonians first attempt was an ambitious back-flick (not really sure how to describe that attempt). I think he tried that because he didn’t have time to land on his right and swing his left foot at the ball, which was to his left and behind his left foot. The defender made a sliding block but unfortunately for him, the ball hit Song and bounced over the line.

The game didn’t change much after the goal. Arsenal continued to probe and Shakhtar maintained their discipline. The second goal came from another forward run by Song, this time on the right flank. His cross was deflected towards Nasri at the top of the box and the Frenchman showed good control with his right foot before finishing with a blast from his left.

After the second goal Arsenal relaxed a bit and it became easier for the Ukrainians to bring the ball out. I was happy with our defensive shape and the way we limited their chances. I don’t think Fabianski was tested even once during the first half.

We got the third when Luis Adriano did what he might have seen countless times in Premier League games. He wrestled Djourou to the ground. This being a group game in Champions League the penalty was rightly given. Had it been a Premiership game or the later stages of this competition (as Chelsea found out against Inter last year), such a rugby tackle might have been deemed acceptable. Fabregas scored with a perfect strike giving the Keeper no chance even though he guessed the direction.

The best goal was the fourth one. Chamakh played a deft flick into the path of an onrushing Wilshere who exchanged a quick one-two with Rosicky before dinking it over the Keeper. Chamakh got the reward for his hard work when he was found by a delightful chip from Nasri. The Moroccan couldn’t believe he was onside but had enough time to glance over at the assistant before finishing the job. In this case the commentator was right; he should have finished first and looked at the linesman later. But I’m not complaining.

It looked like we were going to keep the clean sheet and I was really happy about that, even more than the goals we’d scored. But we conceded late from a crisp Eduardo finish that was applauded by both sets of fans. I thought Squillaci could have done better there. He tried to close the gap between his legs but a sliding block would have been a better option.

This result should all but confirm qualification and another home win over Partizan will probably secure top spot. Hopefully, Wenger will be able to rotate his players for the remaining two away group games.

Individual Performances

Fabianski: One decent save, couldn’t have done anything for the goal, not much else to do.

Eboue: Decent defensive shift, made some forward bursts, and contributed to the shape of our team. I was a little worried when he made runs from right back to the centre and then down the middle or even the left side.

Squillaci: Might have done better for the goal we conceded. Fairly strong defensive performance on the whole.

Djourou: Vital contribution for the first goal. Good defensive presence.

Clichy: Excellent. No mistakes at the back, some driving runs, a couple of good crosses, nice interceptions and tackling.

Song: Another game where he kept darting from box to box. Worked hard, scored a good goal, created another, good interceptions and defensive presence. I thought he also made a couple of mistakes. His slip in a dangerous position led to the Fabianski save. On another occasion he wasn’t aware of the ball at his feet right on the edge of our box.

Wilshere: Continues to impress. Good off the ball movement, passing, reading of the game, and great goal. Must curb his tackling instincts. Many will surely give him MotM. I’ll put him second.

Cesc: Was the key to our first half. Dropped deep often and controlled the game. Didn’t have any of his trademark defence splitting passes but that was more due to the excellent work by Shakhtar. Attempted 78 passes in 64 min. That shows how important he was against the visitors who were putting us under pressure. My man of the match, even though it was not an eye catching performance, it was a critical one.

Rosicky: Wanted to impress and did just that. Good work up and down the flank, did his share of defensive tracking, neat passing and movement, some excellent turns. I also liked the runs he made from right to the centre. Got the assist for Wilshere goal, could also have won a penalty in the first half.

Chamakh: I’m getting tired of saying how good he was. This is his sixth consecutive Champions League game in which he’s scored. Excellent work rate, good presence in and around the box, lovely flick that led to the fourth goal.

Nasri: Did well on the wings although I’d have liked a little more directness, supported Clichy well, good corner and a couple of good crosses, well taken goal and a delightful assist for Chamakh.

Subs: Denilson was energetic and did a good job defensively, Theo and Arshavin didn’t get many chances. I was surprised Arshavin was even sent out on the pitch. I’d have preferred Gibbs getting a few minutes.

Fabregas Starts Against Shakhtar, Arshavin Rested

October 19, 2010

Just saw the team news on Sky Sports,

Fabianski – Eboue, Squillaci, Djourou, Clichy – Song, Wilshere, Cesc – Rosicky, Chamakh, Nasri.

So just the two changes from the side that beat Birmingham but two very interesting ones. Arshavin gets a well deserved rest and El Capitan is considered ready to start.

No doubt Arsene is showing Shakhtar a great deal of respect.

Eduardo on the bench for the visitors.

Anyone else enjoying the Rooney mess? Has he been tapped up? Is he running away from the Media? Just another mercenary? Most importantly, can we afford him and should we make a bid?

Thoughts On The Starting Eleven And Tactical Aspects Of The Shakhtar Game

October 19, 2010

Eduardo makes an emotional return to Arsenal with a Shakhtar side I know very little about. The Crozilian might not get a start and that tells me the Ukrainian side have a strong squad. They’ve won both their Champions League games so far and have won 15 out of 17 in their domestic league. Put simply, they’re a strong European side and anything less than a fully focused performance can see us drop crucial points.

There were no surprises in what the visiting manager Mircea Lucescu said,

I hope it will be a very good match. They will control the game for sure, it’s normal because they’re at home and they have many creative players. We have to be organised and cause them difficulties on the counterattack. It’s difficult to say we’re here to play an attacking game because it depends on Arsenal, what with them being at home, but we can create big problems for them.

Tactically, this game would probably be similar to playing teams like Villa or Everton at home. The onus will be on Arsenal to break them down while keeping the counter-attacking threat in check. I’m not sure the Ukrainian side will have a defence as strong as the English sides but they might be much more lethal on the break with their quick and tricky Brazilians.

We could see how good Shakhtar were on the counter attack when they scored three away to Braga. Granted they had a bit of luck as the Braga keeper made a big blunder but there is no doubt about the quality of Douglas Costa or Luis Adriano. Shakhtar fans will be hoping Costa is able to recover from his injury in time to start this game. Without him they might lack the cutting edge.

Considering the fact that Braga were able to create plenty of clear chances against Shakhtar, I think we can score a few goals in this game if we are clinical enough. I expect Arshavin to be a big player in this game as he has thrives in the more open and less physical European games.

It will be interesting to see the line-up Arsene picks. I can’t see many changes to the back five but Gibbs could come in for Clichy. I’d certainly prefer to see the youngster get this game as we need a fresh Clichy for the visit to City at the end of the week.

Wenger has some big decisions to make as far as the midfield is concerned. Will Cesc get a start? If there is any doubt about his match fitness then half an hour at the end would be the best option. I remember we rushed him back against Villa only to lose him for a few more weeks. We can win this game without El Capitan so it’d seem like an unnecessary risk.

Wilshere is suspended for the three games in England so it would be much better to play him in this game. That means Arsene will have to pick four out of Arshavin, Diaby, Denilson, Song, Rosicky, and Nasri. I’m not considering Walcott for a start for reasons similar to the ones I mentioned for Cesc.

I’d like to see Arshavin, Song, Denilson, and Rosicky start this game. This will allow us to rest Diaby and Nasri before the visit to City. It will also allow Wilshere to play in a more advanced role in which he excelled against Partizan. Chamakh will retain his place as the focal point of the attack.

This would give us a strong bench with great variety as Cesc, Walcott, Bendtner, Nasri, Clichy and Diaby can all make an impact if necessary. If not, then we could just give Fabregas, Theo, and Nicklas a few minutes of game time.

The starting eleven I’m suggesting is,

Fabianski – Eboue, Squillaci, Djourou, Gibbs – Song, Wilshere, Denilson – Arshavin, Chamakh, Rosicky.

No matter who Wenger picks, we’ll have to be vary of their pace and movement. Djourou and Squillaci will have to read the game really well because the Shakhtar attackers are likely to be technically superior to the players from Birmingham and they’ll make some intelligent runs. Our defenders won’t have to worry that much about an aerial attack in this game but Srna will provide some quality on the set-pieces.

I think this game will be another good test for Djourou and Fabianski. If we don’t see an individual error from the back five we could keep a clean sheet but I don’t want to jinx it by hoping for it. I’ll go for a 3-1 win.

Rankled Pulis Is Whining. I’m Loving It!

October 17, 2010

I burst into a spontaneous laugh when I read the latest comments attributed to Tony Pulis, the man who will go down as one of the greatest Rugby coaches of all time – after all, he’s taken the sport from a Rugby field to a Football ground. Who could have done more for the game of Rugby? Pulis is a visionary genius and all that.

Here is what he said (I’m assuming in a pre-match press conference),

Wenger is perceived to be a genius but he hasn’t delivered a trophy in six years.

I have exciting and skilful players like Etherington, Fuller and Tuncay and I am sure they wouldn’t have joined us if we were as bad as Wenger makes out.

But his comments are aimed at seeking an advantage with refs.

I don’t think we need foreign managers running the national sides.

I’ve got nothing against foreign managers, they are very nice people. Apart from Arsene Wenger.

Before I go further I must say I’ve not seen these quotes except in that article that I’ve linked to. So I’m not sure about the authenticity but they do sound like comments Pulis would make. We also don’t know the exact questions put to him.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that the Stoke manager is going down the same path as Phil Brown and some others before him. I also feel it’s possible that Potters could get relegated but for that to happen the refs would have to do their job right, something we really cannot count on.

The first thing that strikes me about these comments is the pettiness. In India we have a saying which can be loosely translated as follows,

Don’t spit at the sky, it’ll just fall back on your face.

This seems like a classic example. Pulis tries to play the “no trophies” card but given his own record it seems rather lame. Since their promotion to the Premier  League Stoke have spent, net, close to 44M pounds in three transfer windows. I’ve not done the math but I’ll be surprised if Wenger has spent that much money, net, over the last 7 or 8 seasons put together.

In effect, roughly on the smaller budget than Pulis, Wenger is doing so much more. It’s easy to say Arsenal are a big club and Stoke are a smaller club. But why is that the case? I mean Bendtner, Fabregas, Clichy, and others youngsters were there for the taking. Arsenal took them because of Wenger’s genius.

Simply put, Arsenal are bigger and better than Stoke but that’s not down to the money spent. It’s down to vision, knowledge, and hard work by everyone at the club. Stoke could have developed some youth talent while they were fighting for promotion, it’s not that expensive. But they just didn’t have it in them.

Blackpool and West Brom are shining examples in this regard. They’ve not spent crazy amounts. In fact both those teams put together haven’t spent as much as Stoke. Still they’ve done wonderfully given their resources. These clubs show smaller teams can do it the right way. It’s not easy but it can be done.

Then Pulis defends his playing style. It’s laughable to list names like Etherington, Fuller, and Tuncay to say that your team has skilful players. The Potters’ boss ends up making a mockery of his own point. It gets worse when we add the fact that Tuncay is considering leaving the club because he isn’t getting games!

I will stay to January and try to get myself into the team. But if I cannot, then I will ask the club to let me go. I have to think about my career and about Turkey.

I wonder if it has anything to do with his lack of Rugby skills.

Even the rest of his comments are just an attempt at deflection and while he’s tried to cover up his dislike for foreigners (it could simply be because they’re better than him and not a racial or xenophobic issue), there is no doubt Pulis is bitter.

I think, apart from the inferiority complex, a large part of this resentment is simply down to the fact that Arsene saw they’d started fouling the keepers blatantly and mentioned it in public. Once the matter was out in the open it took away their biggest attacking threat. Blackburn and Stoke are two teams that have made an art out of fouling the keeper but by bringing the issue in the media Arsene has left them exposed and vulnerable. Is it a surprise that there has been more spotlight on these teams and even shows like MotD are talking about these tactics?

Even when they expressed outrage at Wenger’s comments about Shawcross, the Potters never complained about his comments on Huth or their general tactic of fouling the keeper. They knew the video evidence was clear enough and even the most biased of observers would not back their story. So they decided to put the focus on Shawcross as it seemed, in a case of mistaken identity perhaps, Arsene mentioned the wrong name. It was a nice deflection tactic to focus on an irrelevant detail so that the real problem gets swept under the carpet.

Now Stoke will have to wait for a few weeks till the matter cools down before they can use this trick again and that could be costing them vital points. In the meantime Pulis is fuming as he’s running out of ideas. I’m sure Arsene has no time for such meaningless, vile comments as he focuses on his job but from a distance, I’m just loving it.

Arsenal 2 -1 Birmingham: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

October 17, 2010

At this stage of the season three points seem more important to me than anything else. For that reason, I’m quite happy with the result of this game. On the whole it seemed like a patchy performance as some good, dominant possession football was interspersed with dull moments and the ending was more nervy than I’d have liked. Despite that, the visitors rarely threatened except for a well-taken goal and that bodes well for future games.

Arsene picked the same midfield and front three that he’d selected at Stamford Bridge. We dominated the game from the start and I got the feeling a goal is just a matter of time. Squillaci scored with a header from a set-piece but was flagged off-side. It was a marginal call but credit to the assistant for getting it right.

We had some other chances; Clichy went close with his right foot after stealing possession inside the Birmingham box, some shots from distance were blocked, and Foster came out to smother an Arshavin shot. The thought developing in my mind was that the final ball didn’t have enough quality. We controlled the tempo well, even broke on the counter a couple of times, but no one was able to create a clear chance.

It seemed like a combination of factors; players not on the same wavelength, not used to their roles (Diaby), out of form (Arshavin), and a degree of hesitancy or lack of confidence.

Birmingham, to their credit, didn’t play rough at all. They also didn’t resort to the long ball that often. The Blues tried pressing us in the middle third and tried to work the wings, which was to be expected. Zigic did well as a target man and brought his team-mates into play quite well. I was a bit disappointed we didn’t attack his lay-offs better.

The Brummies got the first goal, somewhat against the run of play, in a manner that we’ve seen all too often. They had a throw in deep on our right hand touchline. It was a 3v2 situation and Fahey was able to cross without an Arsenal man within five yards of him. Zigic did well to pull away from Djourou and his header was sublime as he cushioned the ball into the far corner past a despairing dive by Fabianski.

We can’t really blame Clichy for not winning the aerial battle with the Serbian. Nor can we blame Fabianski as there wasn’t much he could have done. Could Djourou have marked his man better? Perhaps, but it’s difficult to say. I guess this is the kind of a goal where you just say “well done” to the opposition. They got half a chance and took it.

The response from Arsenal was immediate and we camped in their half for the next few minutes. The pressure told as Chamakh was tripped in the box and the Morrocan showed he’s as good as Rooney at going down. The commentators were shockingly biased but thankfully in the US we had Warren Barton at half time and he got it right.

I won’t criticise the striker even though I’m not a fan of this approach. The only real risk here is that we can be sure the media will focus on it and label him a diver, even if the facts are that he’s no worse than any top English player. This could lead to some complications in the future games. We all remember how many penalties we were denied after the witch hunt against Eduardo.

Nasri stepped up and converted with some style. I like a player who looks confident while taking the penalty kick and the Frenchman’s technique was worth appreciating.

It was clear that the visitors didn’t like the penalty decision. I’ve no sympathy for them in this case because it was a needless and somewhat dumb tackle in the box, something you risk when your game is based on numbers in the box and multiple tackles inside your own penalty area.

From the equalizer till half-time the quality of the game fell but there was some edginess about the players. Nasri and Ridgwell were involved on the right touchline at the halfway line. The Birmingham full-back swung a leg towards Nasri while on the ground, and the Frenchman responded with a knee to his backside. To be honest, we’ve seen red cards for such reactions but I thought the ref handled it well as he’d have been forced to send them both off if he decided to give a red. Nasri got a yellow for his petulance.

Then there was a moment when Roger Johnson rose high above Chamakh to win a header but clattered into the Arsenal striker with his elbow. I thought that was a naughty/nasty one and  a deliberate foul. Unsurprisingly, the imbeciles in the commentary box were still blaming the Moroccan for simulation even though he was clearly hurt.

I was happy when the ref blew for half-time as that allowed our players time to compose their thoughts and focus on the football. Straight from the restart we were in the ascendancy and it didn’t take long for the winner to arrive. Interestingly, the two supposedly defensive midfielders, Wilshere and Song, played a one-two on the edge of the Birmingham box and the youngster put Chamakh through with a deft touch. Scott Carr pulled out of the challenge and Chamakh did well to stay on his feet, take the ball away from the Centre Back, round the Keeper, and slot it into the net from a couple of yards.

I was hoping we will move on from that and close out the game. Instead, an old problem surfaced as some of our players stopped playing. Our off the ball movement reduced drastically and that made it easy for the visitors to win the ball back and put us under pressure. While they didn’t really create any clear chances, we all know such leads can be lost within seconds if we lose our concentration.

We conceded some silly free-kicks and the corner late in injury time made me really nervous. In the end we held on to the lead and credit to the Keeper, defenders and the midfield for maintaining their focus and discipline.

Individual Performances

Fabianski: Another excellent game from the Pole. I like the way he was talking to the defenders, he took charge of his area, punched well (except once), caught whatever had to be caught, and even his distribution was quite good.

Eboue: Not spectacular but effective enough. I thought he could have contributed better in attack and even in defence. His tackle late in the game was a bad one even though he got the ball and I don’t like all the talking he does with the ref and his assistant.

Squillaci: Did fairly well against someone like Zigic. Read the game well from the back and dealt with many of the balls in the box. Scored a goal, even though it was off-side, I’d like to see more of such co-ordination on set plays.

Djourou: Swept well behind the captain. Was caught out by Zigic on a couple of occasions but was solid overall.

Clichy: I think he had a very good game. The visitors targeted his side with some aerial balls but he dealt with most of the situations. Also made a decent contribution in attack. Would have been nice if he’d scored.

Song: He’s still bombing up and down the pitch but thankfully in this game Wilshere and/or Diaby did a good job of covering. I thought Song showed a great deal of energy and was almost always there to win the second ball, especially in front of our box. There were times when he was caught out and ended up chasing the ball. I’m hoping he develops a better understanding of when to hold position and when to press.

Wilshere: He was superb in this game and was my man of the match despite the stupid, reckless tackle at the end. Those who’ve been watching him since pre-season know that this was bound to happen sooner rather than later and I’m glad it came in the 92nd minute of a home game that we were leading. I loved the way he kept the game ticking. Also made the occasional forward run and should get the assist for the second goal.

Diaby: I’m not sure what to say. He had some moments of magic when he took players on and made direct runs. I also liked the way he was able to control possession and hold play up at will. On the flip side, his decision making in the final third was poor and he made Arshavin look much worse as he failed to pick the right pass on two or three occasions when the Russian had made great runs.

Nasri: Good composure for the penalty. Looked like a genuine threat in the final third. Wasn’t able to link up with Arshavin often enough. I’d have preferred if he’d swapped positions with Diaby and Arshavin on a more regular basis but it seemed the understanding wasn’t quite there.

Chamakh: Another big game from the Moroccan. Close second in the race for MotM. Worked hard, was intelligent in the box, and contributed on set-pieces defensively. I’d have preferred a little more work down the channels.

Arshavin: Missed too many of his one touch passes. Looked sluggish and tired. Still made some great runs and better, early passes would have seen him score.

Subs: Rosicky was full of energy and his touch was better than that of Arshavin. He’s staked a claim for a starting spot. I was happy to see a long range shot that was on target and forced a good save. Bendtner looked like he needs a couple of reserve games.

This Saturday has been good for us as United have once again blown a 2 goal lead, this time at home. Van der Saar dropped a clanger when under no pressure at all. And in the first half that I saw, Chelsea seemed lucky to keep a clean sheet and escape with a draw at Villa Park. Here’s hoping moneybags City have similar troubles tomorrow.

Thoughts On The Starting Eleven And Tactical Aspects Of The Birmingham Game

October 15, 2010

Alex Mcliesh has made his intentions fairly clear. In yesterday’s post I mentioned his comments about the game and the role of the referee. I’ll just quote one line that sums up what he wanted to say,

We are the small team going to play the mighty Arsenal and you hope that the referee’s fair.

What he’s actually saying is that we’re going to rough it up and hopefully the ref will support the “English” style of play over actual football. Although, in fairness, I’d not put Birmingham in the same dirty category as the clubs mentioned by The Hon’ble Danny Murphy. Nonetheless, they are a physical side capable of causing some serious injuries as Fabregas discovered last season.

The Brummies did fairly well last year, especially at home, relying mainly on the strength of their defensive organization and collective endeavour. This season has been a different story for them. In the last four games they’ve just scored 1 goal, and have taken only two points with 0-0 draws at home. Their home defeat against Everton was their first in a year and it seems Mcleish is finding it hard to repeat the performances of last season.

We can be certain Birmingham will not throw any surprises at the Emirates. With Craig Garnder missing due to suspension they’ll miss a little bit of physicality. Same can be said for the addition of a certain Alex Hleb who probably knows all about Arsenal and being on the end of some rash tackles. With McFadden missing due to injury Birmingham might struggle on the creative front. The Scot does have a knack for scoring against us.

The Blue will try to defend narrow and look to break on the counter. However, I feel their only chance of success lies in imitating the pressing discipline displayed by West Brom and Sunderland. If the Brummies come to park the bus it will become easier for Arsenal as the game progresses. On the other hand if they stop us from playing our passing game with some tight pressure in the middle of the park it could turn into a difficult game.

One weakness that could help us is that the visitors don’t have any real pace on the wings. I’m not sure if the Chilean Beausejour is fit or not, but he can offer them something extra on the flank and could potentially be their biggest threat against Arsenal.

Apart from that it will just be long balls, set-pieces, and some counter attacks. Nothing our defence should struggle with.

That brings me to our defence. With Koscielny out and Vermaelen still not close to a return, we are down to numbers 3 and 4 in central defence. Squillaci and Djourou are not bad defenders but I’m not very confident with both of them together at the heart of the defence. Throw an inconsistent Eboue into the mix and things start looking very shaky in front of the resurgent Fabianski.

Having said all that, I still believe we should be able to deal with the visitors if we don’t make any stupid mistakes. The defenders must kick the ball out at the first sign of danger; we don’t want them dwelling on the ball or getting caught in possession. We also need our midfield to support the back four. The way Song has played in the last few games, he will have a point to prove, and I hope he shows some restraint in going forward.

The choice of the other two midfielders will be interesting. Wilshere has been developing at an excellent rate, Diaby can be immense on his day, and Nasri is easily our best creative midfielder in the absence of Cesc.

Of course, Arsene might stick to the same midfield and front three he sent out at Stamford Bridge. Personally, I’d prefer Nasri in the middle with Song and Wilshere behind him.

This would open up a space for Rosicky on the right with Chamakh and Arshavin completing the attacking trio. I prefer Rosicky down the right and Nasri down the middle because the Frenchman has a much better understanding with Arshavin than what Diaby showed at the Bridge. Also, Little Mozart has a fantastic cross on him and is also capable of putting through balls for the runs of Arshavin and Nasri.

Diaby, if he has to start, would be far more suited in a deeper role. But I prefer the vision and discipline of Wilshere over the physicality of the Frenchman, especially at home.

Bendtner, Walcott, and Gibbs will be back in the squad but I’m not sure if any of them will be ready to start. That decision would rest on the manager depending on what he’s seen in training. In any case, we are likely to have a strong bench and that always makes me confident we can win the game late on if the start doesn’t go as we’d like.

I expect the starting line-up to be,

Fabianski – Eboue, Squillaci, Djourou, Clichy – Song, Nasri, Wilshere – Rosicky, Chamakh, Arshavin.

Hopefully we’ll start on the front foot and will not allow the visitors to settle into a rhythm, even if it’s a defensive one. An early goal will completely change this game if it goes in the visitors’ net.

Arsenal Players Now Getting Injured Even On A Holiday?!

October 15, 2010

As fans of a team that plays some amazing football, we are used to our players being kicked on the pitch and picking up all kinds of injuries. But the surprise I got today was of the worst kind. I was looking forward to watching Fabregas in action against Birmingham but Arsene has all but ruled it out.

Speaking to ATVO in his usual pre-match interview Le Boss said,

Cesc is very, very short and unlikely to be involved [on Saturday]. He has a little chance for Tuesday.

I just don’t understand what happened here. We knew he was a little short for the visit to Stamford Bridge. Subsequently, we read his tweet saying he was fit. This is what Cesc tweeted on Oct 5th,

I’m fit and training with the team. If the game was today I could have played, but it was 2 days too short and didn’t want to take a gamble.

El Capitan’s more recent tweets have all been about his holiday in Capri. I didn’t see any talk of an injury there. All this makes the news of that he’s very, very short all the more baffling.

With Cesc and RvP missing, and Walcott unlikely to be risked from the start, the home game against Birmingham will probably be a much bigger test than it would otherwise have been.

I would have considered the possibility that Arsene thinks Cesc isn’t mentally ready, especially after his recent comments about the winning mentality. But given the way Fabregas has performed when he has been on the pitch, it would be extremely unfair to question his commitment to the cause.

Speaking about his recent comments, I think some will view them as thumbs up to their belief that Arsenal don’t have a winning mentality. But it is worth noting that, in the same sentence, Fabregas also said that we have a wealth of quality and we should start winning. To me that means he thinks we have what it takes to win but just lack the winning habit which comes from getting the titles.

No one can deny that winning any form of silverware will provide a big boost to everyone including the players. But these comments should not be seen as an acknowledgement that half the squad is useless or that the manager doesn’t have a winning mentality because he doesn’t make the right substitutions!

Moving on, Alex Mcleish has started the mind games before the visit to the Emirates. We can be certain Birmingham are going to play an ugly, physical game with some rash and reckless challenges. Their manager is hoping the ref will turn a blind eye to their violence.

There is a fine line for referees. The British refs tend to kind of let the play flow. They allow the hard, robust challenges.

I would hate to think that Arsene’s comments would influence a referee in the English game.

We have Martin Atkinson this weekend who was on duty as part of the officials team at the World Cup final and he’s a top referee.

I am sure he will give a strong performance and you have to be strong at somewhere like the Emirates.

We are the small team going to play the mighty Arsenal and you hope that the referee’s fair. Martin Atkinson and the British referees all come into that category

It sounds like, “We are a small team going to kick the might Arsenal and you hope the ref knows I’m British but Wenger is not”. The Scot builds on Fat Sam’s comments and is setting the ref up with some clever points of his own,

Well Sam (Allardyce) said he thought that was a clever tactic, to influence referees.

But as I said, I think the refs are above all that. They should be above all that. They have to be strong.

We don’t want big crowds influencing the referee when there’s a challenge or something like that.

That shouldn’t go against us, especially when you have referees of a top calibre like Atkinson.

Those are astonishingly patronising comments towards the refs but the sad reality is that they seem to do the trick. I don’t blame the officials because theirs is a thankless job. No matter what they do someone or the other is going to criticize their performance.

In this particular case, I hope Atkinson doesn’t have his recent altercation with Arsene at the back of his mind. We could do with a half decent refereeing performance against a side like Birmingham. I haven’t forgotten the kick to Fabregas’ leg that eventually cracked against Farca.


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