Quick Thoughts On QPR And Fulham

I want to start by wishing everyone a very happy new year full of peace and contentment. My trip has been a real delight and by visiting town like Amherst and Northampton in Massachusetts I’ve been reacquainted with the meaning of the words Quaint and Idyllic. Back in India, I used to enjoy living and working in town like Udaipur a lot more than I did in places like Mumbai, Bangalore, or Delhi. This trip has rekindled some of those memories and it’s been very relaxing and refreshing. I hope you too are having a good time, even if the last result was a bit of a dampener.

Coming to the football, I haven’t had much time but the results on New Year’s eve were just so exciting that I couldn’t live without watching the QPR game and the highlights of the other games. But when I saw the result of the Fulham trip it seemed best to just take a quick look at the highlights and forget about the game, at least till a later date. By now you must have read many excellent reports/analyses of both the matches so I will just mention some observations that stood out. Please note the thoughts on the loss in the London derby are just cursory and based on highlights so are quite possibly incomplete or in need of revision.

Against QPR I saw a number of balls being played over the top for runs in behind and it led to a number of chances. This was expected and an extension of a tactic that we also saw against Wolves. Arsenal’s have, at times, struggled against high pressing, something that was also seen in the game against Fulham, and I have been looking for some tactical adjustments from Wenger to counter that. The ability to play balls in behind can come in very handy but so far the Gunners haven’t really been able to capitalize on it. Part of the problem has been individual mistakes and poor finishing but there are some structural issues as well. For instance, against Fulham Arsenal just didn’t have the ability to get out of their half for phases of the game. Wenger has to find a way to use the pace at his disposal to create outlets that relieve the pressure on the defence. Unfortunately, dragging the wide players back into Arsenal’s half seems like a self-limiting tactic that is neither very effective defensively, nor is it efficient from an attacking perspective. This topic needs a lot more detail so will leave it for now.

Among the positives, I was really impressed by the work of Ramsey. After creating 6 chances against Wolves in his substitute appearance, Ramsey put in a couple of vastly improved performances when compared to his recent games. Against QPR he put Walcott through, hit the target with an excellent volley, and was in general looking a lot more composed, confident and involved. In the highlights of the Fulham game I noticed a couple of powerful strikes on goal that hit the target (something he was struggling to do earlier) and also picked up the assist for the goal (although I am not sure whether it will be officially assigned to him or not based on the technicality of the deflection). Performing in Fabregas’ shadow has not been easy for the Welshman but he is slowly developing his own style that doesn’t quite have the same level of vision/incision (it would be unfair to expect it anyway) but offers relatively more solidity and work rate. Arsenal need better efforts from Ramsey and he has the talent. He needs a bit more time to develop confidence, composure and other little details that often are the difference between very good and world class. But he seems to be going in the right direction.

Another joy has been the emergence of Francis Coquelin. One must remember that he is by no means a fully developed professional, but in that context his efforts have been excellent. Regular readers know I have been expecting the Frenchman to move above Frimpong in the pecking order. With his more physical teammate moving to Wolves on a much needed loan, Coquelin should get more opportunities in the first team even if it’s in unfamiliar full-back positions, which are further weakened by the injury to Vermaelen and Djourou’s suspension. The youngster has a certain grace in his movement and passing which makes him look like a natural football player. His technique on the ball, ability to tackle, and tenacity are encouraging qualities. With more experience the lad will be able to improve his positioning, decision making, and such other (often intangible) performance enhancing variables that can eventually turn him into a well-rounded and defensively versatile player who can confidently hold down a first team spot.

One glaring problem in the two games was Arsenal’s finishing. Gervinho in particular has been a serial-culprit on this front but it was expected when he was signed. He has this tendency to be exciting and frustrating at the same time as his pace and awareness of space often put him in excellent positions but his technique in front of goal is a massive let down. It can be improved with regular practice  but I don’t expect any overnight miracles as he’d have to put in a lot of hours in training to work on his technique.

Walcott’s miss was a bit surprising as he tends to hit the target more often than most players who get through one-v-one. This season I’m getting a feeling that Walcott is struggling to get into as many scoring positions as he did last year. Could it be that Gervinho is now making a lot of the runs that Walcott used to make and thus Theo is not getting enough chances to get on the score-sheet? This would, over a period of time, affect his confidence and result in some scuffed chances and rushed attempted. By no means is Walcott a technical genius but he does have respectable shooting skills. That said, he could regress if he doesn’t get enough goal-scoring chances as it affects confidence and perception. Arsene will have to look at the way he is using his wide players and see if it would not be more impactful to give Theo the opportunities to run in behind more often, especially in the central positions. There can’t be clear-cut task definitions in such cases but Wenger can make a difference depending on the kind of defensive responsibility being put on the player. For instance, he could give one of the two a license to lurk around the half-way line instead of tracking back deep in the Arsenal half. Similarly, he’d have to give one player more freedom to make central runs – if he gives it to both they would get in each other’s way – and this liberty can be better shared.

Arshavin had a decent game against QPR. It was a typical effort from the Russian where he had a few moments of real class interspersed with those where he went AWOL. Nevertheless his assist was ultimately he difference between three points and one. The fact that it looked so easy must not be allowed to dilute the quality of that pass. Hope this signals the start of a better phase in his Arsenal career.

Szczesny wasn’t very convincing against Fulham but it doesn’t really surprise me. This has probably been one of the few blogs, if not the only one, that has been clear and consistent on the goalkeeping issue. When the Keepers have to come for balls in a crowded box they will, occasionally, make mistakes and struggle under pressure. Having not seen the full game, I don’t want to form any hasty conclusions, but this was a worrying observation.

A win and a loss in a short span put the Gunners in the top four and back out immediately. This is going to be a topsy-turvy ride till the end as Chelsea and Liverpool also struggle to find consistency. Wenger, in his pre-match interview before the QPR game, did mention that the League is now back to a level where any team can beat any other on a given day and it no longer has the predictable air that it had at the start. Consistency, as many have noted, will be the key. I strongly believe Wenger needs to find a way to strengthen the squad in the Winter. And while I do understand the difficulties involved, it’s hard to see the current group achieving the desired level of consistency. Arsenal might have to rely on the woes of Chelsea and Liverpool rather than controlling matters with their own performances and this could make for a very nervy second half.

19 Responses to Quick Thoughts On QPR And Fulham

  1. Rohit says:

    coquelin has been playing very good…while song smothers the opponent out of play(a ploy at which he failed initially) ….coq reads the passes better and does not believe in getting too close…..given time on the pitch and by keeping fit i have no doubt he has a great future at AFC…i hope he doesnt get homesick though!! 😉

  2. Aziz says:

    I find Arsenal are of late passing too much. Go direct. Wenger,please watch how teams from the championship score.If Wenger insists on Barcelona type of pass ,pass, god know how many times,Arsenal could miss the cl spot.
    Btw if he plays in this style agaginst the red faced,it will be another painful loss.If Arsenal fail to get the cl berth through his inaction in the tw,he should go.Please watch how teams defend. Kamora was totally isolated.When the gunners are around the box,no one is left alone.

  3. ranveer says:

    Ur articles are always spot on! Keep it up…..
    I have to say tho that ramsey n walcott havent been upto the stndrd we expect from them and ofcourse gervinho but ill leave him out for another day.
    Walcotts had a very quiet season compared to the glimpses of his awesomeness weve seen in previous seasons . I think this is mainly due to us playing a high line, it doesnt leave nough space for wally to use his speed upfront. It makes it harder for midfeild to play a through ball for him, n doesnt give him nuf space upfront. We all know wally cant dribble, make creative play either to put himself or someone else thru on goal. Like barca play a high line n their wingers are expert dribblers n playmakers so that they can make the most of the little space they have.

    Ramsey as u said just doesnt have that incisive vision to be the teams sole playmaker. Ramsey wud make a fantastic CM like arteta but he cant hack the job of CAM. He doesnt look up enuf n holds up positive play more than he creates. He cud be a greater threat if we had a proper playmaker hu cud play him thru as a CM hus also vry good at shooting. Like the way viera was, he was fantasic CM and very good in the box but seldom made clear cut chances (which bergkamp did, cause we had 2 strikers)

    Saying that, i cant wait to get wilshere back, hopefully hes the man to play CAM effectively. But even then we are lacking a creative spark that allows everyones best to be incorporated into an attack.

  4. adi says:

    Well, the problem against fulham was clear, fatigue.
    Correct me if i’m wrong, but hasn’t arteta played every minute of every pl game since his transfer? He needed to rest.
    Van persie was rested for just 60 minutes against stoke, thats it!
    Theo looked ill against qpr, why wasn’t someone else brought in? (AOC, Benayoun, Arsh)
    Song was exhausted, but we had no options but to play him.

  5. adi says:

    Also, i don’t really believe wilshere is the answer at cam. He’s a great player, but doesn’t score too often. We need goals from midfield and the wing.

  6. sam says:

    coquelin performance exposed arsene’s arrogance.
    he keeps claiming chamberlain is not ready while the rest of the world knows he’s better than walcott.
    you will think this is the right time to clear out bad players and bring in new ones, new system. but no! he will keep claiming arshavin and chamakh are quality. almunia could be in goal if anything happens to sczesney and squillaci got minutes on the pitch yesterday.
    so arrogant he’s blaming the referee in the game we could have been 3 nil up by halftime.
    nothing is wrong with chamberlain, park and miyaichi, its arsene wenger thats the problem. he will always pick his senior players first and has no intention of getting rid of them

    • richie says:

      Get it right Sam Arsene Wenger has persisted with Coquelin just as he persisted with Song. Its that persistent “arogance” as you call it that has given us our great players. We’d all love a clear out but how can we have a clear out when we haven’t got the replacements? Especially with the injuries we have, you’d probably be the first to criticise Wenger for not buying the depth we need.

      This comes to a head when you realise that our board in the form of Kroenke insists we sell before we can buy. Not because we ain’t got the money to buy, but because we can only use money from our season ticket sales budget to pay wages. Thus how do we sign a big players wage contract when there’s no more money within the season ticket budget without selling first. Its a catch 22 situation for Arsene damned if he asks to buy damned if he sells first. Remember the summer transfer window?

      • dy says:

        very true but there’s a time when spending money first will generate more income in the future. Of course there’s no guarantee, that’s why the saying “spend wisely”. In Arsenal’s situation, seems the team is at a crossroad this season. Where to go if spending big bucks is out of the equation ? All the young players are great but only in the future season, again that’s not a certainty. Some will no doubt turn out to be just another flop. I think we’re fine defensively if all the first team players are back from injury. It’s the mid and front offensively which are more worrying.

    • Dhruv says:

      I agree with you that Wenger is stubborn and he should start giving chances to other people apart from his usual XI. Before Coquelin, it was Sczesney who proved him wrong. Park is South Korean football team captain and he is not visible (of course he will want to quit Arsenal soon). The Ox could have been tried against Fulham.

      But the thing is it is almost impossible to change Wenger’s thinking now at this stage of his career.

  7. Willy young says:

    Fatigue is not an excuse for the club. We should have sufficient quality of squad. Please can we clear the deadwood and invest in 2 or 3 quality players

    5th place beckons which jeopardises RVP staying then we are looking at 7th!!!

    I really worry what direction the club is going in?

    Yes Wilshire Ramsey and Ox offer hope but do we need to wait 3 years for a trophy prospect

    We will not win a trophy this year unless FA Cup is very favourable to us!

    We need a new super quality striker to work with RVP

    • Northbanksy says:

      Wilshere is already world class, Ramsey is getting there & Ox will only take 3 years if Wenger doesn’t start playing him on a regular basis.

    • richie says:

      WY – Refer to the above with our owner we can’t have our cake and eat it! Sufficient quality means money! Because of Wengers smart buys and even smarter sales we’ve got enough money to buy anyone, but with the limit on the wages we can pay, depth will only come through Wenger’s player developement. Its why he’s had to persist with youth.

  8. AbachaGhana says:

    The guyz have done reasonably well lately so i think they deserve forgiveness for this loss from us

  9. arvind says:

    Gervinho gets the ball more than Walcott because he regularly beats his first and even second man. His finishing is terrible. Walcott cannot beat any man, let alone a lone goal keeper. That is why Gerv is getting more touches and passes than TW

  10. Henry says:

    Nice article Desi,you’re heading towards being a coach.All ur articles a spot-ons.Keep it up man

  11. Che says:

    When you say you were really impressed with some of the players i cannot help but think that your expectations have fallen tremendously.

    Make no mistake about it, this is the worst team Arsene has ever fielded … its only saving grace is the form of Van Persie.

    Apart from that, it is sub-par for former arsenal standards in nearly every other way.

    Even our bench is totally woeful

    And quite correctly, our performances have corresponded with this view… we are playing boring, slow and predictable football, which lacks all creativity and punch, barring Van Persie

    Being positive only for the sake of being positive does nothing ! Now being critical on the other hand highlights the problems and forces us all to move forward.

  12. Dhruv says:

    For the Fulham match, a few fatigued players like Robin and Arteta could have been rested. Also AOC should have started ahead of Theo who is renegotiating his contract and mentally not in the game. Whether Wenger did not want to change his winning combo or whether he was affected by 3-1 defeat by Olympiacos(where a lot of first-team players did not play), I am not sure, but the regular XI ended up playing, and in hindsight, it costed Arsenal 3 vital points; at this stage, 39 points and 4th place finish would have been great for the morale of the team.

    All is not lost though, Wenger does need a few signings in January to continue the chase for CL place. Hopefully, Wenger does not act stubborn and there are more signings other than Henry. Wenger either needs to sign proven players or give more chances to players he has signed, like AOC, Park, etc. If team does not finish 4th this Summer, then Wenger must be let go.

  13. santori says:

    Have to agree that fatique is a massive factor at the moment.

    Leave aside the Ref’s poor performance, RVP and Arteta simply need rotation.

    Also the squad is thread bare at the bacl. Djourou will be serving his suspension and Le Coq (as admirable as he has been filling in) is not a LB (Zamora goal was a partial issue of his positioning)

    On hindsight, would have preferred if Wenger had shifted Song to Cback with Metersecker. Squillaci creates his own problems.

    Theoretically, Squillaci with Song covering for us in front of him should be a better set up when going down to ten but I think the French man makes more work for the other defender(s) and we could have been better served with Arteta holding (Ramsey and Rosicky on either side) in this sort of an emergency.

    Then let Benayoun menace on the break along with RVP.

    Gutted by the result. Back to sqaure one for us.

    We will have to regroup now and make use of January sensibly.

    Henry seems an obvious one but a move for Podolski may ensure some added bite for us into the second hald particularly as the Henry loan will only be for 6 weeks+

    And we will need a LB. Would like to see someone like Bastos or Vargas who are more than failiar with the position but who can also go forward and contribute (not to mention be re-roled following next summer)

    Still some ways yet. We will have to find some resolution as I expect more twist and turns with the teams above us.

  14. jeff says:

    TW and Ramsey shuld have been a much better player by now considering the starting XI place they got in the recent years.. it’s a shame that they’re not improving.. walcott n gervinho passing is far from good while Ramsey looks very much inexperienced..

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