Thoughts On The Starting Eleven And Tactics Against Everton

January 31, 2011

The close proximity of fixtures means there is no time to reflect on the previous game but we can certainly enjoy the transfer dealings on a hectic final day before the serious stuff starts with the visit by Everton.

Torres, Luiz to Chelsea; Carroll, Adam to Liverpool; there are plenty of potentially season defining deals going on. I’ll write a piece on that once the window closes and we know for sure who’s gone where. For now I’m looking at pictures of burning Torres shirts and trying to make sense of £35M+ for Carroll. In the words of a wise man named Keys, “The world has gone mad.”

I don’t expect any ins or outs at Arsenal. Bendtner to Newcastle is a funny one but can’t really be anything more.

Coming to the subject of the post, I believe the game against Everton will be a tough one. David Moyes’ side are slow starters and a bit inconsistent but have only lost one game this season out of nine played against Arsenal, United, City, Chelsea, Tottenham, and Liverpool. Of course that one defeat was against Arsenal. Last season we beat them convincingly away from home but drew at the Emirates. This season’s win at Goodison Park was a close fought encounter and Tuesday’s battle will not be easy by any stretch.

As far as the starting line-up goes I expect the first string to be in action with Nasri’s spot up for grabs. I have a feeling one of Arshavin, Bendtner, or Rosicky will get the nod. All three were involved on Sunday with the first two giving their all for the duration of the game. Rosicky on the other hand has just recovered from serious sickness so we can never be sure if he’s fit enough to start.

Some might want to pick Chamakh as the third attacker. I can’t argue against the fact that the Moroccan is likely to be the sharpest of all available personnel due to his lack of action recently but I don’t like the idea of either Chamakh or RvP playing on the wing.

Assuming he’s fit, my choice is Rosicky because he offers the best balance. I can see him supporting Clichy on the left, linking up well with RvP, Cesc, and Jack, and creating chances for Theo and other players in the box. Was his stoppage time equalizer against Everton in last season’s fixture the last he’s scored for Arsenal?

Preferred starting line-up,

Szczesny – Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Cesc, Wilshere – Walcott, RvP, Rosicky.

Tactically, we will have to see how Everton approach the game. Broadly speaking I have seen two distinct styles used by David Moyes.

There are times when Everton use high tempo pressing. They just don’t give the opponents any time on the ball and force mistakes. This often creates openings for their attackers and they look for quick transitions to attack.

I don’t think they can use this tactic for the whole of 90 minutes. So we might see them starting on the front foot and looking for an early goal that they can defend. That means Arsenal will have to match their tempo and ensure there are no mistakes at the back or in the midfield.

Everton did play a tough FA Cup tie against Chelsea on Saturday so they might not be at their sharpest. Moreover, they might not be able to rotate as many players as Arsene can.The Gunners will have to make this physical advantage count.

More commonly, and quite understandably, we see a big blue bus parked in front of the goal. Everton put 9-11 men behind the ball based on the situation of the game and invite pressure on a very well organized defence.

They can be a threat on the counter attack if Arsenal give them space down the middle. The visitors will certainly be a big threat on set-pieces but I guess many of us already close our eyes and pray when any opponent gets the chance to put a ball in our penalty area.

One trick that works well against Everton, easier said than done of course, is to score the first goal. After that they are forced into being more expansive and gaps start opening up. With the likes of RvP and Walcott up front Arsenal can really exploit those openings.

I’m not sure if Cahill will be back in time for this game or not but even without the Australian the Toffees have plenty of bite up front. Their attackers might not be the most hyped players but the likes of Saha, Coleman, Arteta, and others can punish the opposition if given space and time around the penalty area. Walcott will also have a big role to play on both ends of the pitch against Baines.

I am looking forward to a fast paced, entertaining game tomorrow. There should be some goals and great football.

Arsenal 2 – 1 Huddersfield Town: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

January 31, 2011

There are many ways of looking at this game.

Some people will be frustrated. They’re likely to call this a horror show. They’ll say the Gunners were extremely lucky to go through. It’s not a completely wrong opinion but I won’t call it fair either.

Others will say it needed some ability to win despite playing with 10 men for so long. They might point to the fact that Manchester United struggled against similar opposition, City have drawn their game with a similar team, and the Tiny Totts have been well and truly spanked albeit by a Premiership side. They’ll also say that qualification is what mattered and the second string deserves credit for grinding out a result. I’m more inclined towards this opinion even though the game was quite frustrating to watch, especially for a few minutes in the second half.

Undoubtedly, there will be some who’ll say there were too many changes while others who might say there was one change too few. Nasri picked up a bad injury and will be missed for two-three weeks at least.

I thought Arsenal started brightly and looked in control right from the start. Bendtner cut in from the right and got a shot away in the third minute. A really good opening came in the 12th minute when Arshavin ran into the box and fired a low cross. It was deflected and probably put the Dane off as he was free in the six yard box. Soon after Arshavin tried his luck with a couple of strikes, one of which hit the post.

Arsenal got the lead in the 22nd second minute after Chamakh played Bendtner in. The Dane’s strike across goal was going wide but it went in off a defender.

Arsenal lost some impetus after scoring the goal and after Nasri limped off. The visitors grew in confidence and created a number of chances off set-pieces and counter attacks. Their best opening of the first half came from a counter attack down the left channel when Gibbs was caught up near the opposition penalty area. Only a last gasp tackle from Squillaci did enough to take the ball away from a striker set to score a tap in.

The game changing moment came in similar fashion when Gibbs was again caught making a daft forward run. Arshavin lost a dribble and the visitors were able to move from the edge of their box to the Arsenal penalty area with a couple of touches and within seconds.

Squillaci committed a professional foul and was sent off. I thought the decision, while technically correct, was a combination of some factors – sympathetic decision making by the ref for a lower league team that is down a goal, he is an Arsenal player, he is a foreigner. If his name had been Gary Neville or indeed Jamie McCombe, Squillaci would have stayed on the pitch with a yellow card. Those who like lazy arguments will again bash the defender but I don’t want to criticize him for his nationality, his name, and certainly not for the club he plays for!

Arsenal held on till half time and Arshavin again went close soon after restart. Rosicky was beginning to have an impact on the game in the second half and consequently came in for some rough treatment from the opponents.

Soon after Huddersfield started dominating the match. They won a succession of set-pieces and Arsenal were all over the place defensively. It wasn’t an individual problem but more of a systemic ones as no one was blocking the crosses once the corners or throws were taken short.

Almunia made a phenomenal save to keep Arsenal in the game. Arshavin made an incredible last-gasp tackle to deny another Huddersfield player. But the equalizer was inevitable and came from a corner in the 66th minute. Diaby was marking the goal scorer but couldn’t get off the ground.

Having made two forced substitutions (Rosicky for Nasri, Song for Chamakh) Arsene didn’t have many choices. I thought he took a brilliant decision in introducing Fabregas for Diaby.

Immediately Arsenal looked more composed and found some teeth up front. Bendtner went close with a header in the 70th minute. The Dane again got a great chance in the 73rd minute after some good work by Arshavin but was denied by a defender’s lunging block. Koscielny and Rosicky also had good shots blocked.

Arsenal got the winner in the 86th minute from a spot kick. Interestingly, the defender wasn’t sent off even though he was clearly the last man. Arsene deftly avoided controversy by saying it’s understandable inside the box but he also said enough to hint that he was not amused by Clattenberg’s decision making.

I thought there were a number of positives in this game. The work rate of Arshavin and Bendtner, the composure shown by the team in the final 20 minutes, the belief that they can win even with 10 men, Almunia showing he is a true professional with real character, and most of all a result that all the wealth of Man City wasn’t able to achieve.

Individual Performances

Almunia: One excellent save and some other good catches and saves. Couldn’t have done much for the goal or for the chances that went wide. Not bad for a guy who has been out of action for so long.

Eboue: Was very exciting every time he ran to the opposition box, unbearable after he reached there. Should have done better in defence but no major bloopers.

Squillaci: Will be some fans’ favourite villain but I don’t blame him. Made one big tackle to prevent a goal and one mistake that might have proven costly.

Koscielny: Continued on his excellent form. Can’t really blame him for the way the team was defending.

Gibbs: Extremely poor. Made far too many ill-advised forward bursts. Late in the game he was completely switched off and the visitors got a lot of joy down the left as he rarely got into the right positions to block the crosses. Some of it can be explained by inexperience but the youngster will have to show a lot more focus if he wants to take his chances.

On the whole, for a largely second string back five, this was not a bad performance. If it had been 11 v 11 Arsenal would have been quite comfortable despite the mistakes by Gibbs. I was disappointed the youngster wasn’t told to curb his runs even after the team got the lead.

Diaby: He was good on the ball but his passing in the final third was quite uninspiring. Should also have done better in the box while defending set-pieces. As we’ve seen with him in the past, will need some games to get back to speed.

Nasri: Was linking up well with Arshavin before his injury. Was dropping deep and taking more responsibility. We have to hope Diaby’s return can make up for this loss.

Rosicky: Looked sharp in the second half. Dominant every time he got on the ball. Played really well with Cesc in the final 20 minutes. Should have done better defensively.

Denilson: His lack of pace was caught out every time Gibbs went forward. Almost gifted a goal with a back pass to an opposition striker. Didn’t offer enough in attack or defence as his limitations were magnified by the large number of changes to the side.

I thought the midfield was fairly decent till the sending off. Denilson was looking weak on the left but the defenders would have dealt with it after half time had it been 11 v 11.

Bendtner: Excellent work rate all over the pitch. Got lucky with the goal but created the luck with his effort. Was lively and threatening right till the end. Needs better concentration to improve his conversion rate as he gets into very good positions.

Chamakh: Got an assist but I was disappointed with his overall contribution. Should have moved around a lot more.

Arshavin: Excellent work rate, was always looking to create or score. One tackle that had me rubbing my eyes in disbelief. Will probably take Nasri’s position in the team.

Subs: I’ve already covered Rosicky, Song was steady but didn’t attack enough headers, Cesc made a big impact and scored a vital goal.

Thoughts On The Starting Eleven And Tactics Against Huddersfield Town

January 29, 2011

After seeing off Championship side Ipswich Town in the League Cup Arsenal next face Huddersfield Town from League One in the FA Cup.

To be honest, Arsene Wenger must have been really pleased with this draw. I know I am really happy Arsenal are facing a team two divisions or 44 places below them, and that too at home. Given the fact that this fixture is just two days before Arsenal host Everton in the League we could certainly have done a lot worse in the draw.

It won’t surprise you if I confess ignorance about their style of play or the attributes of most of their players. Arsene said in his pre-match interview that he expects them to be very organized and throw their bodies on the line. They have a big striker who is good at holding the ball up and a small one who links up well. Le Boss also mentioned that the Terriers are good at coming out in support of the striker once he gets on the ball and holds it up. Not very different from the recent meeting with Leeds and Ipswich one would think.

As long as Arsenal turn up and perform, this game should not be a problem. But given the proximity with a crucial League game I expect many second string players in the starting line-up.

I’d not mind a forward line of Arshavin, Chamakh, and Bendtner for this fixture. The Russian is working his way back to form, Bendtner keeps improving as he gets more game time, while Chamakh must be refreshed and raring to go.

The big decisions for Arsene will be in the midfield and defence. And this is where I am a bit surprised Arsene has let the likes of Eastmond and Lansbury go. He could have played one of those two in the midfield for this game.

I won’t be surprised if Gibbs and Eboue take the full-back spots. Denilson will probably keep his place in the starting line-up from the Ipswich game.

Arsene will have to find the right balance when he picks the other two midfielders and central defenders. At the back I don’t see much choice. If Squillaci is fully fit he could come in for Djourou. Koscielny will have to keep his place.

In midfield the choice is between Diaby, Rosicky, and the regular first team starters. Since Wilshere played against Ipswich I expect him to sit this one out. In my opinion Song should start this game to ensure Arsenal put out a strong defensive unit. The other starting spot in midfield should go to Nasri.

Preferred starting eleven,

Szczesny – Eboue, Squillaci, Koscielny, Gibbs – Song, Nasri, Denilson – Arshavin, Chamakh, Bendtner.

There is no argument this is not Arsenal’s strongest eleven but we have to be realistic. I’d like to see a strong first half with a couple of goals. After that Song and Nasri can be replaced by Rosicky and Diaby as both will be needed against Everton.

If Arsenal start strongly and score a couple of goals any eleven players from this squad should be able to hold on to a lead against Huddersfield, no disrespect intended. In fact, the front three of Arshavin, Chamakh, and Bendtner should relish the prospect of playing on the break against the Terriers.

Given the fragile nature of this back four and the fact that they haven’t played together for a while now, it will be critical that Song stays deeper and provides cover in the early part of the game. The attackers should be able to score goals without the need for the Cameroonian to be adventurous.

Similarly, if Arsenal get an early lead it will be important for the midfielders to stay deep and allow the front three to exploit the space behind the defenders, which will inevitably be created.

The only way I see the visitors scoring is through a long ball on which a run is not tracked, on a set-piece, or on a counter attack down the channels. Almost all attacking moments for the visitors will be a combination of these. Most of these situations can be defended easily if the midfield is available to win the second ball or to provide cover on the wings.

I’d also like to see the tactic used against Leeds repeated in this game. Song should play on the left side of midfield to support the Gibbs-Arshavin axis. Denilson can play alongside Bendtner and Eboue on the right.

I’d like to see Gibbs show better position discipline and judgment in terms of his forward bursts. I’m also hoping for better concentration and decision making from Eboue. One of the two full-backs must stay back at all times and this will require good understanding and reading of the game.

The final point that comes to mind is that the offensive players will have to be clinical. For that reason I’d like to see Bendtner get into the box as often as possible. Over the course of this season Arshavin has done well to create plenty of chances for Walcott and Nasri when they’ve played on the right. Hopefully, he will do the same for Bendtner but for that the Dane will have to make some well timed diagonal runs. Huddersfield do have a good young goalkeeper in England U21 international Alex Smithies. Let’s hope he doesn’t put in a MotM performance.

It will be massive embarrassment if Arsenal fail to get past Huddersfield. A draw will just put us in shuddersfield while I can’t even comprehend the reaction to a loss at home. Some might say that calls for a stronger team to be selected but I feel it’s time everyone in the squad stands up to be counted.

With the usual Jinx Disclaimer, I’d like to predict goals for Nasri and Bendnter with Arshavin picking up another assist.

Can Wilshere Play The Makelele Role?

January 28, 2011

This evening I saw a spate of headlines after England coach Fabio Capello shared a meal with some journalists. It seems most of the talk was about England’s future i.e. Jack Wilshere.

Interestingly, Capello wants to play young Jack in front of his back four.

I want to put him in this position in front of the back four. I have to decide because he’s so young, he would stay alone in midfield and that can be dangerous.

It’s not difficult to see where the inspiration comes from. This season Wilshere has been excellent for Arsenal in a deeper midfield role. Capello has been keeping a close eye and has been suitably impressed.

I have monitored him for five months. He’s improved a lot. He’s a really interesting player.

The Italian has also seen Wilshere grow in confidence due to his regular starts at Arsenal.

When he started in some moments [occasions] he played without big confidence. He was timid, shy. Now every game he improves a lot, he plays with confidence, without fear and also the tackles he tries to win.

Capello gave his opinion on how Wilshere stacks up against greats like Makelele and Pirlo.

Wilshere is better technically than Makelele. He’s slower than Makelele but when he receives the ball he is more dangerous than Makelele.

Not like Pirlo. Wilshere’s too young. Probably Wilshere can be better but the styles are different. The style of AC Milan was to play long ball sometimes. The style of Arsenal is a lot of passes.

Then he also gave his observations about Jack’s work on the pitch.

Wilshere wins back the ball, he passes, he turns, dribbles, goes and shoots. I saw everything.

It was a real pleasure reading such insightful comments from a senior football figure. It gives us a lot to think about and will surely make watching future England games a lot more interesting.

Personally speaking, I’m not convinced Capello will play Wilshere strictly in a Makelele role. When I think of the Frenchman the following equation comes to mind

Makelele : Mourinho :: Cesc : Wenger

The former Real Madrid man had unparalleled defensive intelligence, defensive awareness, and defensive vision. He was phenomenal not because of great sliding tackles or a crazy amount of ball chasing, but because of his ability to be in the right position at the right time from a defensive point of view. I don’t think Wilshere will ever be that player. In fact, I’d hate to see him even try that for England as it will clash with his role at Arsenal.

Since Capello has made all the right observations – Wilshere can win the ball, pass, turn, run, dribble, and shoot – I don’t believe he will use the youngster in a Makelele role. The other most obvious role model would be Pirlo but the Italian has ruled that out for the time being.

That too is understandable. Milan, and Italy too for that matter, were primarily defensive teams. Pirlo’s the kind who could, from a deep position, exploit the acres of space in the opposition half really well. More recently we’ve seen Sneijder do that for Mourinho and Holland.

Capello probably won’t play that system and Wilshere doesn’t play the long balls that often at Arsenal. Not that he can’t, we saw a fantastic example against Ipswich, more like he doesn’t have to that often.

I have a feeling Fabio will use Wilshere in a hybrid of these two roles. Wilshere can certainly be a more combative and tenacious tackler than the likes of Pirlo or Sneijder. He can also be a much more effective and creative passer than Makelele.

Arsene is certainly training him well in that role. It will be interesting to see how Capello builds on it. Is this kid the man that England (and some might say Arsenal) have been missing?

Arshavin Explains His Lack Of Form

January 27, 2011

Against Ipswich, Arshavin picked up two assists. Here is what he said of his own performance,

It wasn’t a supermatch for me. But I’m satisfied with the result. I’m glad that I was useful to the squad.

I don’t think he could have said it any better even with the help of the best PR agents in the world. We all saw he didn’t have a great game. But he made a vital contribution. Both aspects are well covered with minimum words. That’s one of the things I love about Arshavin, his intelligence is not limited to on-field decision making.

More interestingly, I want to discuss this interview given by Arshavin. I couldn’t understand when, where, or to whom this interview was given but I liked the way he analysed his own game.

Speaking about his speed Arshavin said,

I do not have enough acceleration. From the very start of this season I felt that I’m fast enough only in short bursts.

I don’t know why. I still feel the same. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Furthermore he talks about his form and why it’s not working well for him,

When you are absolutely all right, you do not even think about what you are ­doing in certain situations. It all happens automatically.

But now when I get the ball, I begin to think, ‘Should I out-trick an opponent? Will I lose the ball?’ I am afraid of taking the initiative.

When such thoughts appear, your final decision as a rule turns out to be wrong and you waste a lot of opportunities.

I don’t have to explain those comments to anyone who has been following Arsenal’s games closely. And if you’ve played any sport, even at a decent amateur level, then you might have experienced this situation. I’ll be surprised if anyone can go years of playing without getting into this fix. You make one mistake, then while thinking about that you make another, soon the count rises, one loses belief, and mistrusts ones instincts. Once a doubt creeps in it can be a quick, self-propelling, negative spiral.

I guess this must have started when he missed some one-v-one opportunities in the earlier games. Over time it’s become a real form issue. Unfortunately, the fans haven’t really helped him get out of that rut.

Thankfully, Arshavin has been there and done that. He knows the way out.

I need to train and play. After a few good performances the courage and automatic decision-making are going to return.

Based on his last couple of performances we can be sure AA23 is trying hard.

I understand one complaint against Arshavin is that he is lazy or doesn’t work his socks off. That is an unfair and almost silly argument.

Different players have different physical levels and abilities. Song can run all day chasing players and making tackles. That’s his strength. He cannot score from an overhead scissors kick but the fans don’t boo him for that limitation, do they? Similarly, Theo can run at pace and terrorize defenders. That’s his skill. He cannot play keep ball when the team is under pressure. That’s not his game. We accept it.

Arshavin’s is not in the same League as Song or Sagna when it comes to fitness. That’s his weakness. Even when he was on top form he wasn’t a guy who chased back to help the full-back. But the fans accepted it because he delivered at the other end.

Now when he is having a rough time his weakness seems like a burden. In fact it is a burden. But it’s a burden that the team must, at times, carry. That’s the only way to get him back to the spectacular form that we know he is capable of.

Based on what I have seen on the pitch in the last two games the Russian has played and on those quotes above, I’m fairly certain Arshavin is trying his level best to perform. I’m also convinced that Arsene understands his situation. Le Boss must have seen all his top players go through such phases. He also knows Arshavin needs patience and support to get back to his best. We can see Wenger’s giving him that in an intelligent manner by keeping him out of the pressure games of the League and playing him against weaker teams.

I’m sure most fans who’ve been supporting the club for a long time have seen plenty of players go through such phases. Sadly, some fans tend to forget. It’s their weakness!

I think this process of getting back into form can be accelerated if the fans get behind the player. At the very least the supporters can do their part by avoiding the moans and groans. It’s up to the fans to decide whether they want a symbiotic or parasitic relationship. Arshavin is a huge talent and Arsenal will need him at his best very soon.

Arsenal 3 – 0 Ipswich Town: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

January 25, 2011

Positive team selection. Aggressive, hungry performance. Big result.

When I saw RvP in the starting line-up I knew Arsenal are going for it no holds barred. Arsene only made 3 changes to the side that dismantled Wigan a few days earlier. The two wide attacking players Nasri and Walcott were rested. In came Arshavin and Bendtner. In the midfield Song got a well deserved breather.

Within the opening minutes it was clear that Arsenal were fired up and had genuine desire. The tempo of the game was really high as the Gunners were desperate for the first goal.

Van Persie got a clear shot in the 5th minute after a wonderful cross by Sagna but couldn’t keep his swivel strike on target with his weaker foot.

A few minutes later Fabregas was brought down in the penalty area but the ref waved play on. This was the classic example of ‘Rugby’ that Cesc had mentioned. How anyone can push a guy running at that speed without getting penalised is beyond me. From what I’ve seen, it happens only in England and particularly in the Cup games where the ref gives plenty of sympathetic decisions for the smaller sides.

That was not the only example either. RvP was grabbed when he was running into the box and many Arsenal players were pushed and kicked with the opponent making no attempt to play the ball. But the important point was that Arsenal knew the rules for such games are different and no player showed any kind of frustration against such tactics. They just put their head down and got on with the game.

In the 13th minute there was a scare for Arsenal. A free-kick was launched into the Arsenal box. Szczesny came but got nowhere near the ball. The Keeper ended up colliding with Sagna. Both got head injuries and the Frenchman had to be substituted. Luckily for Arsenal the header from McAuley looped over the bar.

Arsenal created a number of chances in the first half, most notable were RvP hitting the bar and Cesc shooting wide, but Ipswich survived. The visitors were working hard in defence and deserve credit for their endeavour and organization. I also got a feeling that the urgency shown by the Gunners, normally a big positive, was actually reducing the impact of their attacking play.

It seemed to me that everyone wanted to attack and that reduced the composure one might have expected. Often the final ball was played hastily or without having enough players in the box. This approach worked in the visitors’ favour as they were able to mop up at the back with relative ease.

The Tractor Boys offered no threat in attack despite their forward showing Olympic level grappling skills. Their only hope was on the set-pieces but Szczesny didn’t have to make any spectacular saves.

The second half was no different and we saw the same patterns repeating till the hour mark.

It all changed when Wilshere played a delightful ball over the top to find the run of Bendtner on the left. The Dane controlled it well and was able to charge into the box before changing direction with a deft touch and finishing with a wonderful curler. Yes, that’s exactly what I was talking about in the preview.

I was impressed by the fact that Bendnter took responsibility and delivered even when he had Cesc and RvP in good positions in the box. A pass would have been the easier option but his goal was infinitely more decisive.

Arsenal got the second within a couple of minutes. It came from a corner that came from Arshavin putting the defender under pressure. The Russian delivered a good ball and Koscielny scored at the near post. I honestly can’t remember the last time Arsenal scored such a simple goal from a corner. Squillaci against Partizan comes to mind after some thought. Any others?

The wind was knocked out of Ipswich sails. The visitors tried to attack but had no real quality. Even the fact that Arsenal moved into neutral gear didn’t help the Tractor Boys.

The third came from quick counter. Denilson made a trademark interception and played it to Fabregas in one motion. Arshavin made a good run and played a neat one-two with El Capitan who finished it through Fulop’s legs.

As expected this game was all about the first goal. It should have come earlier from a penalty but I don’t mind. It was great to see every player showing real desire and fight.

27th Feb is the date you might want to mark in your calendars.

Individual Performances

Szczesny: Probably the only spectator who didn’t have to pay for his ticket. Made one judgment error and we have to hope the damage to Sagna is not serious.

Sagna: One delightful cross in his cameo.

Eboue: Made me nervous on a couple of occasions but did his job well enough.

Djourou: Dominated his area except one occasion when he let his man get past him wide on the right. Overall a strong display with good positioning, distribution, and composure.

Koscielny: Another solid game from the Frenchman. Good to see his name on the score sheet. Unlucky to get a card when the ref allowed so many fouls go unpunished.

Clichy: Another good game. Lacked a bit of support on the left but the opponents just didn’t have enough to get past him.

The back five were untroubled from open play but Arsene has to make the team stronger on set-pieces.

Denilson: Kept it simple. Made some crucial interceptions and tackles. Passing should have been better.

Cesc: Was involved with almost everything going forward. Made some excellent runs and played some good passes. Could have done better with his finishing but I’m not complaining.

Wilshere: Excellent game from the youngster. Probably his best in an Arsenal shirt so far. Rode the physical challenges, ran well with the ball, picked up a big assist. His final ball could have been better in the first half but it will come with experience.

The midfield completely dominated the game once again. The only complaint can be that they tried too hard to create chances!

Bendtner: Worked really hard all over the pitch. Scored an excellent goal. Great cross for RvP. The Dane is regaining his form with each game.

RvP: Made some excellent runs, always looked a threat in and around the box, unlucky not to score but continued his love affair with the wood work.

Arshavin: Put in genuine effort. Picked up two assists. Back on the right track now, just needs to keep going.

Subs: Didn’t have much to do.

Before I end I wish to comment on two incidents during the game.

It was shocking to see the Ref blow his whistle when Arsenal were 3 v 2 just outside the Ipswich box. The Gunners got lucky with a deflection of the official but that does not give him the right to stop the play. It was another example of the sympathetic decisions that I was talking about. If this had happened at the other end would Mike Halsey have blown his whistle?

There was an intruder on the pitch with just a few minutes left. I hope it was not an Arsenal fan as that could be the dumbest thing to do for a Gooner. Players who have given so much in the game can lose concentration after such incidents and that’s the last thing we want. Hopefully, the guy won’t be let off easily.

Thoughts On The Starting Eleven And Tactics Against Ipswich Town

January 25, 2011

One big performance can earn Arsenal the ticket to Wembley for yet another final appearance that might be more cherished than previous ones due to the events of the past few years.

Ipswich Town bring a 1 – 0 lead to the Emirates. We can be sure the Tractor will be well anchored in front of their goal. And judging by their performance in the first game it’ll be a solid one that will prove difficult to break down. But the way to Wembley for Arsenal will go through that Tractor and the Gunners will have to prove themselves once again. All this, while hoping they don’t get ploughed at the back on a counter-attack.

Tactically speaking there won’t be many surprises in this game. A lot will depend on the performances of individuals chosen by both managers.

The timing of the first goal will be of utmost importance. If Arsenal can get one early the pressure will ease. That’s not to say that the Gunners can take it easy after the first goal. That will be suicide. But if the visitors can hold fort and go in level at half time they’ll genuinely believe they can get through.

Of course, there is a remote possibility of Arsenal conceding the first goal but I’m not sure if even Ipswich fans realistically believe in that. Interestingly though, in the last 7 games Arsenal have conceded 3 goals and all three have been scored by Championship sides!

In any case, I feel Arsenal will have to score 3 goals in this game. Given the result in the first leg, 1 goal won’t be enough while 2 – 0 will be an extremely risky score. Considering these issues I hope Arsenal concede early if they’re to concede at all.

I feel the game will boil down to the speed of Arsenal’s passing, the quality of movement and finishing, and the stifling ability of their pressing. The opponents will bring meticulous organization, unflinching tackles, and an adrenalin inspired work rate to the table. Ultimately, the side which can impose its style more effectively will head to Wembley.

Obviously, the starting eleven that Arsene picks will be critical. He cannot afford to make 8 or 9 changes. And based on his recent comments it seems Le Boss knows he needs a very strong team. I would be happy with four changes to the side that dispatched Wigan so ruthlessly.

I’d not want to start RvP against a side that might be a little agricultural in their approach. Also considering the fact that Ipswich might defend really deep I’m not sure Theo will be able to make a big impact against them. In the midfield Song could do with a breather considering the hectic schedule coming up in February wherein all the games are tough. In the back five I’d not mind giving Gibbs another game while resting Clichy.

Then comes the issues of picking the starters. Chamakh would come in for RvP, Arshavin or Bendtner could fill in for Theo, and Denilson for Song. I’m not sure if Arshavin has the form to start right now so I’d go with Bendtner on the left and Nasri on the right. The Dane has the ability to cut in from that side and has already scored some curlers this season.

My starting eleven would look like,

Szczesny – Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Gibbs – Denilson, Cesc, Wilshere – Nasri, Chamakh, Bendtner.

Arsene might even pick Eboue ahead of Sagna but that’ll make me very nervous.

I think this team is good enough to get the desired result but Wenger will have to be decisive with his substitutions. He cannot wait till 70 minutes if Arsenal concede a goal or have failed to score in the first half.

I have a feeling this one won’t be a comfortable game and will go down to the wire. As I’ve said in the past, I’ll be satisfied with a quality performance irrespective of the result.

17 Passes, 8 Players Involved In Arsenal’s First Goal Against Wigan

January 23, 2011

Arsene Wenger had a lot of nice things to say about the second goal against Wigan. And I’ve no doubt even the worst critics of Arsenal will enjoy that goal and can watch it over and over again. The pass from Cesc was incredible and the finish was a piece of art.

I was thrilled by that goal but fell in love with the first one. Regular readers will know that I’m a fan of details and this goal provided a great many.

The ball went out for a throw on the right just inside the Wigan half. It was from a misplaced pass as the visitors were trying to break. The time was just about 20:00.

Sagna took the throw and passed it to Cesc who had dropped deep. From Fabregas the ball went to Song who spread it out wide to Clichy. The full-back played it to and received it from Nasri. Then Clichy played it to Song who passed to Nasri. The Frenchman turned his man well and ran forwad with the ball before passing wide the RvP. The Dutchman ran with the ball across the pitch before passing it to Wilshere who kept possession by intelligently avoiding a tackle by letting the ball run across him. Subsequently the ball was passed wide to Sagna and Walcott. It came back to the middle and passed between Wilshere, Cesc, Nasri and Song once again. The seventeenth pass of this move was the assist from Song. When the ball hit the net the clock showed 21:00.

All this is brilliantly captured in this graphic created using the Guardian Chalkboards.

This reminded me of the last minute winner against West Ham in which we had 9 players involved and there were 15 passes. In this case, barring the centre backs and the Keeper, all players made a contribution.

Once again we can see the ball moving from the right to left, back to right, before returning to the left from where the assist came. Such goals show the importance of patient sideways passes and keeping possession. Highlights packages don’t show these but to me they form the crux of football. They also show the importance of movement. For instance, RvP first touched the ball on the left touch line. He then moved to the centre of the Wigan half before proceeding into the box. Fabregas collected the ball inside the Arsenal half but also contributed just outside the Wigan box. Similarly, we can appreciate the movement of Song, Sagna, Nasri, and others. All of this happened within a minute and seamlessly.

I haven’t been able to locate a video clip with all the passes. If you’ve seen one please share it. Till we get that we can enjoy it on chalkboards and on ATVO if you have it.

Speaking of video clips, in no relation to the above discussion, have you seen this goal by Roberto Carlos? I really miss that character.

Arsenal 3 – 0 Wigan: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

January 22, 2011

Dominant. Impressive. Delightful to watch. I guess that was the most one sided game Arsenal have played for a long, long time. Wigan aren’t one of the league’s high fliers but any team would have struggled against Arsenal in such sublime form. But for some excellent saves by Al-Habsi and a couple of missed sitters this could have been a cricket score. I’ll happily take 3-0 anyway, thank you.

Some of the football played by Arsenal was mesmerising. Chances came at a regular interval like local trains in Mumbai. Unlike inside those trains, Arsenal found a great deal of space in attacking areas as Wigan didn’t park the bus. The visitors tried to press in the middle but Arsenal’s movement and passing was just too good for them.

Nasri was the first to test the Wigan keeper in the 4th minute. Walcott laid it on a plate for RvP after the same duration. Al-Habsi knew he was in for a big game and was showing that he won’t give in easily. Theo again found an Arsenal player free in the box in the 15th minute but Fabregas’ strike was blocked by a defensive lunge. This chance was set up by a beautiful diagonal ball by Clichy that put Walcott in behind. Minutes later the England international had his strike saved. In between all these chances Arsenal had plenty of corners and free-kicks.

At this point the believers would have felt that the first goal was just a matter of time. It arrived in the 21st minute after a spell of possession. Song played a lovely through ball to RvP who finished on the turn after being played on-side by Figueroa.

The Gunners continued to push forward and chances to double the lead were created almost at will. Walcott passed even when through on goal, Nasri didn’t generate enough power when he only had the Keeper to beat, and Cesc had some shots saved. At the end of the first half Arsenal had 13 shots, 8 on target, but only 1 goal to show for two thirds of possession and complete territorial dominance.

Martinez must have felt his side was still in with a shout even if they didn’t deserve it. The Latics manager introduced a second striker, Di Santo, and one of his key players returning from injury, James McArthur, at the start of the second half.

For the first five minutes after the restart it looked like Wigan will provide a fight and Arsenal struggled to get the ball moving. But the Gunners woke from their slumber soon enough and regained control of the game.

The second goal cushion was achieved in the 58th minute. Song took a quick, short free-kick. Fabregas controlled the ball, looked up, and dropped it on a penny for Van Persie. The Dutchman timed his run perfectly and volleyed it home. RvP generated a great deal of power on that volley without striking it very hard. Those who follow Cricket will know the concept of timing and this was a wonderful example of timing in football. Those who have played both games will know this was much tougher than timing any shot in Cricket. Van Persie made it look easy but it was another magnificent goal.

After the second goal Arsenal eased off a bit but the chances kept coming. Fabregas won a penalty and Caldwell was sent off for DOGSO in the 70th minute. I’m not sure of this but I think it came from a perfect through ball by Song. RvP had a chance to get his hat-trick but hit it over the bar.

Down to 10 men Wigan gave up all hope of coming back into the game and played for damage control. Arsenal took it easy as the pace of the game dropped.

No match with RvP is complete unless the striker rattles the woodwork. He did so minutes after missing the penalty.

With five minutes to go the Dutchman did complete his hat-trick. Cesc played another delightful ball for the run of Walcott who wasn’t able to take it in his stride. The youngster did well to hold off the pressure from the defender while Van Persie came and finished it off with his right foot.

In the whole game, Wigan only managed three shots with none on target. I thought it was a complete team performance from Arsenal with all the players doing well.

Individual Performances

Szczesny: Had a picnic.

Sagna: Good work up and down the right. Showed good understanding with Walcott.

Djourou: Read the game well, showed composure when needed. Rarely troubled.

Koscielny: Same as Djourou.

Clichy: Excellent. Looked like the Clichy of old. Good interceptions, couple of lovely diagonal balls, did well against N’Zogbia.

The back five were very solid and never looked like conceding. Fourth Premiership clean sheet in a row and one that was fully deserved.

Song: Strong in tackle and tracking back, provided the final pass on a couple of occasions.

Cesc: On another day he might have scored 3. Opened Wigan up time and again. Looked like he was enjoying himself.

Wilshere: Steady game. Kept it simple. Had a couple of exciting moments in the second half.

The midfield owned the pitch with their movement, passing, tackling, and interceptions.

Walcott: Made some perfectly timed runs, excellent intelligent crosses, could have had a hat-trick of assists, should have scored when he got through.

RvP: He’s back. Now he must stay! Excellent runs and finishing, put Walcott through with a delightful ball on a counter-attack, should have done better with the penalty but it was the only blip and an uncharacteristic one at that. Was this his first hat-trick for Arsenal? I recall a number of braces but no trebles.

Nasri: excellent movement, got into scoring positions, worked the keeper on most occasions, created openings for others as well.

The front three showed telepathic understanding and provided the midfield with plenty of forward looking options.

Subs: Arshavin tried but will take time to regain form, Denilson was strong in the final few minutes, Chamakh had a nice jog.

United have, as expected, carried on with their home form. The Tiny Totts needed a late equalizer to get a point. Man City have just lost at Aston Villa in a game where Hart gifted the opposition the only goal of the game, Tevez missed a sitter, and Yaya Toure looked like a bigger, slower, insanely expensive, and utterly useless version of Denilson. Arsenal are second now and looking set for a strong charge.

Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven For Another Wigan Game

January 21, 2011

This is the third time in seven weeks that Arsenal are playing Wigan. We can be sure there will be no surprises for either team. Roberto Martinez had respect and praise for Arsenal. Arshavin is hoping for a landslide victory while Arsene says any win will be a massive result.

I liked the way Arsene is looking at things. He knows there are 9 home and 7 away games remaining and results at home will make the key difference come May. I feel Arsenal will need 12 wins out of those 16 games and 8 of these will have to come at home. Tough ask but achievable, starting with a solid display against Wigan who have failed to score at the emirates in their last five visits.

Nonetheless, the visitors must not be underestimated. They’ve achieved some good results at home and are unbeaten in three away games. The Latics also have a tighter defence away from home having conceded 8 goals fewer than at home albeit with two games less. It’s easy to see why Wenger doesn’t share Arshavin’s desire of a landslide win but those who have seen the previous two encounters of these teams will certainly expect a full strength Arsenal side to take three points.

Tactically, we can expect a Martinez to use a 4-5-1 that he seems to favour. The attacking threat will come from the pace and skills of Rodallega up front and from wide areas with players like N’Zogbia running at the defenders.

Arsenal will have to avoid the organizational mistakes we saw at Wigan that left the defence exposed. They’ll also have to do much better on set-pieces. The height and presence of Szczesny might be an advantage on this front. If the Gunners can maintain the collective shape and defend free-kicks we could see the fourth consecutive clean sheet in the Premiership. That will be some achievement!

Defensively Wigan have not conceded more than one goal in any game since playing Arsenal. We can expect the visitors to be organized and hard working. They won’t park the bus but will get men behind the ball and press hard in the middle of the park. It’s a strategy that got them a win away to Spuds early in the season.

This tactic will rely a lot on counter attacks and that’s another reason Arsenal will have to maintain the right shape. The defensive midfielders will have to be close to the back four to win the ball back early.

I have a feeling that Arsenal’s attackers can have a good game in this one, especially if they get an early goal. For that to happen, the Gunners will have to start aggressively, press higher up the pitch, and win the individual battles. I feel we have enough quality in attack to convert some of the chances that will be created but we must hope the game won’t have a start similar to the City game.

I don’t expect to see many changes to the side that played against West Ham in the League. That means Walcott, Van Persie, Fabregas, Wilshere, and Clichy should come back into the team. Sagna should keep his place ahead of Eboue.

Preferred starting eleven,

Szczesny – Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Cesc, Wilshere – Walcott, RvP, Nasri.

Arsenal have four successive home games now and seven of the next eight are at the Emirates. As Arsene said, the home form will be crucial and it’s time to make a strong impression. Usual Jinx disclaimer applies 🙂