Rice Retires, Bould Promoted + Early West Brom Thoughts

Pat Rice wanted to call it a day at the end of last season. Arsene, perhaps with a premonition of the tumultuous summer, persuaded him to stay one more year. With all the changes in the squad, another vital one in the backroom staff might have been too difficult to manage. This summer will hopefully be a more stable one as far as departures are concerned and that should give the new man some breathing space as he learns the ropes and establishes his own identity. That new man, as you most probably know by now, is Steve Bould, another Arsenal man through and through.

This blog has consistently voiced concerns over Arsenal’s defending while questioning the training regimen and the thought going into the defensive aspects of the game. However, the idea has never been to single Pat Rice out as the culprit. Yogi’s Warrior is spot on in calling the mindless criticism shameful. That article also has excellent pictures that take one back to era when Rice was a consistent performer on the pitch for the Gunners. And if you are looking for details on his legendary career look no further than this outstanding tribute on the Vital Arsenal blog that paints the perfect portrait. His colleagues, former and present, have many nice words to say and most of them seem to come from the heart rather than the pen of a PR agent.

It’s virtually impossible to add to the pictures and words of those articles. So I will simply say “Thank you Mr. Rice and wish a you long, healthy, and joyous life as a Gooner”.

Arsenal have promoted from within. Steve Bould moves from coaching the U-18s to the Number 2 position. The official website provides his biography and a very interesting interview. Two aspects stand out immediately.

Firstly, and it’s impossible to overstate the importance of this, he loves his job and the club.

I honestly feel I have the best job in the world. Doing what I love, with the facilities and footballing philosophy we have at this club, I have a fantastic job.

Working so closely with a man like Arsene Wenger cannot be easy. The job will demand long hours and most likely many personal sacrifices. But thankfully, Bould seems like a person who will not hesitate when asked to go above and beyond the call of duty.

The second important point is that he knows how the game continuously evolves and that he has to constantly adapt himself if he has to help the players on the training ground.

I believe that for every sport every seven or so years they become almost revolutionised in that they become, faster, more powerful, more technical than before and football is even more different. In our game, we also have the rule changes…

… while there are some principles that persist, passing on what I used to do as a player has to be adapted to the modern game.

Some people make the mistake of assuming Arsenal’s defensive problems will go away simply because Bould had an admirable career as a top-class defender. Not only do these people fail to notice that Rice too had a more than respectable career of his own, they seem to completely miss the point that the game is very different these days and experiences of the past can only be a limited aid.

As an extension of that logic, and by adding the fact that Pat Rice was never the problem, it would seem unwise to assume that Arsenal’s defensive woes will simply vanish after the appointment of Steve Bould. He’ll have a big jump to make from youth coaching to the professional level. It’ll, at least in some ways, be similar to the transition he’s already made once in his career from youth level to a first-team football player. Bould has done it before and has all the ingredients to do it again but he will need time.

Moving on, I also want to note my thoughts on the West Brom game as I’m heading on a vacation to Yellowstone and then to a, hopefully, quiet beach in Mendocino. I will miss what looks like an enthralling final day of the Premiership season and the Champions League final. But these plans were made long ago and cannot be changed. It also means there will be no posts on the blog for the next ten days or so. Apologies to those who are disappointed by this but also a promise to return with typically detailed analysis of the season once I’m back.

There were some very interesting tweets in the last couple of days that seem strangely pertinent to the West Brom game,

That is eerily comforting. Β But the following isn’t,

Arsenal are currently on a four game winless streak and in 08-09 the fifth game of the run was a 0-0 draw against a Fulham side managed by Roy Hodgson. I don’t really know how to interpret the ‘Signs’ but they do add to the excitement.

Talking about the game itself, it’s hard to see Arsenal winning. That’s not to say they can’t do it. When on top of their game, the Gunners can rub shoulders with the best of teams around Europe. But on current form and given the injury concerns, the side lacks the right balance to be completely confident of a win.

West Brom didn’t pose a serious challenge at the Emirates earlier in the season but Hodgson knows how to organize a team and his sides have troubled Arsenal in the past, especially at home. Interestingly, the Baggies have lost half their home games this season and that does bode well for the Gunners. But most of the games are tight as they hosts have scored and conceded 19 goals in 18 home fixtures.

This could be another cagey affair with one goal separating the teams at the end of ninety minutes. Irrespective of the result a nervy time is guaranteed.

Arsene does not have many options as far as team selection goes but he does have a couple of choices to make.

Many fans, including some who support him as a player in general, would like to see Ramsey kept out of the starting line-up. A popular idea is to have Coquelin in the middle with Jenkinson filling in for Sagna.

There are two concerns with such a selection. Firstly, Jenkinson has hardly had any match practice and could be exposed if he is asked to offer the same work rate and attacking contribution that is usually demanded of Sagna. Secondly, Coquelin is not completely ready for the challenges at this level. He would be more tenacious defensively and will probably chase the ball a lot better but Arsenal need to find a way to control the game rather than reactive defending. Of course, Ramsey hasn’t been on top form so there is already a weakness in the centre but with Jenkinson on the flank there’d be two areas where the Gunners could struggle.

Wenger could also put Benyoun in midfield with Rosicky dropping deeper but the Israeli seems more comfortable on the flanks where his role is less constricted. And there really is no guarantee that Rosicky will offer better defensive cover for Song.

Up front, Arsene will probably wait on a fitness test for Theo. Don’t be surprised if he’s in the line-up even if half-fit. Walcott has a good understanding with RvP and with the midfield. That makes Arsenal’s attacking fluidity work.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is a quality talent and he can be enthralling to watch when there is space on the field, like the second half against Norwich, but he doesn’t quite know how to help his teammates when the game is tight. If one flank is taken out of the equation it becomes much easier for opponents to defend against the Gunners.

In fairness, Gervinho has looked sharp in the last couple of games and can probably be trusted as the man who’ll provide the incision in this game.

I’ll be very surprised if there are major changes to the starting line-up. You might see,

Szczesny – Coquelin, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Song, Rosicky, Ramsey – Benayoun, RvP, Gervinho.

If Arsene does pick this starting eleven, Gervinho might be more effective on the left.

Even Szczesny is a doubt. It could be a real injury or simply some sort of reprimand for his recent mistakes including the howler for Norwich’s first goal. Fabianski in goal will make many fans nervous and while last season he showed his competence after a prolonged run in the side, the Pole usually does struggle when he’s not been playing. Is giving Szczesny a lesson worth risking Champions League qualification? Given Wenger isn’t an impetuous decision maker, Fabianski in the line-up will probably indicate a genuine injury.

The Ox can make an impact from the bench and, if the last game is anything to go by, so can Chamakh. But Wenger will hope it doesn’t come to that and his team can settle the tie without the need for reinforcements.

With West Brom comfortable in the middle of the table, and their manager set to take up the England job after this game, one might hope for some complacency on their part. Then again you could say the team will be motivated to give Hodgson a good send off and the manager will want to show he is the right choice for the national role so they might be extra motivated. Point is such issues can be spun any which way. One will just have to see how they play to find out.

With Chris Brunt ruled out and doubts over the fitness of Jerome Thomas and Peter Odemwinge, West Brom might be without some influential attacking players. The latter two would be a big miss as they provide pace, trickery, and finishing in the final third and would have been a handful on the counter-attacks.

Then there is that jinx of Arsenal not winning without Arteta in the side. Some would say it’s not a jinx and there is good reason behind the results. It’s hard to argue against that given the performances in the last few games.

I don’t think I will find an internet connection at Yellowstone and even the phone signal might be patchy at best. Somehow I find that comforting as I am not convinced this would be a good trip if I knew the results. That also means I have to stay away from twitter.

Here’s to a fun-filled week. Hope it’s the same for those who do or don’t watch the games.

21 Responses to Rice Retires, Bould Promoted + Early West Brom Thoughts

  1. You have a good holiday DG…and hopefully the news is good when you do return to civilisation!

    • santori says:

      My best wishes to PAt. he has been a real servant and we cannot fault him for that.

      Trouble is what many have missed over recent seasons is that the footy landscape in England has changed since Mourinho took tenure at Chelsea (some would say a little before that since Abramovich bought that siad club)

      And the tactical level has improved considerably not just with the top clubs but also with the smaller ones.

      Whilst Pat can always be counted, he does not add an extra dimension needed to give Wenger better otions particularly within a game.

      Point in case, substitutions. Say what you might but the Special One was always very quick to recognise an issue on the pitch and put in the remedy as soon as possible.

      Why we spent an entire half persisting with ramsey on field in abject form is beyond me. The moment Wenger switched things around, we were infinitely more threatening.

      Again, this could have been effected earlier to our benefit before we slipped two goals. The warning signs were there and clear as day.

      I’m not sure if Steve Bould is going to make the differance either but at least it offers the potential of a new approach.

      This back room change should have been exceuted 3 seasons past. Wenger was on record two seasons prior as saying hew anted to shake things up back there but (prob wisely) elected not to further rock the boat last summer with all the going ons in the team.

      So why one would think persisting with Pat is a good option for us is anyone’s guess.

      Timely change I say, albeit with an element of caution with Bould.

      But Pat, was too close to the emperor IMO.

  2. Foolishgooner says:

    We are back against the wall! We simply can’t lose. I can see the offense not scoring.. But I can also see defense holding up. 1:1 might be in the cards, not that I believe in cards. Gunners play better when they are scared! Quite the contrary of popular believe that they don’t. We will win. Happy holiday DG.

    • santori says:

      Well if you look at our last 4 games, we slipped goals against Norwich but were otherwise reasonably solid defensively in the former 3.

      So I mam not quite sure why we are back to “lack of mental focus at the back”, castigating Song etc.

      What I feel could have happened with Norwich was that we tried to be adventurous because the problem in our slump was that we were not scoring, but in doing so, we got the balance wrong (and understandably bc Arteta has been absent)

      Again, I’m not trying to castigate Ramsey solely but given the contributions Song adds currently going forward, Ramsey was the weaker of the two.

      Yes, we are a little limited in midfield at the moment but I fail to see how an out of form and out of confidence Ramsey could add any useful contribution beside a leggy Song (who has played most of the games this season and whom we should be happy has been relatively indestructable this season)

      Therefore the more logical choice would be to start someone who could put in 110% effort (if he is deemed lacking of some of Ramsey’s talent..) . That should have been Coquelin.

      Simply put, Song was having a stinker but the kind of belief Ramsey is playing with at the moment does not put him in good stead to cover for the Camerronian’s mistakes like Arteta has. Someone with mmore verve and commitment is needed.

      Ramsey chasing after a ball that has been turned over is like watching someone slowly giving up the chase because he believes he can never get back to effect a successful last minute challenge. That is NOT what we need right now.

  3. JJ Pittman says:

    Well, now! Have to wonder if you had a fixtures list in front of you when scheduling the Yellowstone trip, and have to tell you beaches are few and far between in Mendocino.
    Where is your soul, man?
    Myself, almost a 50 year Gooner, am putting up big money to be at the Blind Pig in New York to be sure of seeing the game live. Love your analytic ability, but can’t believe you would put yourself in this position. Ah, well, maybe it will be easy, or maybe you’re confident in Bayern, but I could not imagine missing this last (of many) chances for us. Most important game in years! Don’t get in the way of the geysers!

  4. Odhis KenyanGunner says:

    Gud trip Desi, and thanks for keeping it real all season long. And i concur with u fully that we really do struggle when the line-up is shuffled abit. The balance is really shaken. I dont feel gud in my belly about this do-or-die match, but then again, i am not one of those superstitious people. Best wknd for me means we win, newcastle wins, and of course the totts down-the-road (or is it down-the-drain?) drop them points! As 4 ManUre and MoneyCity, wel, i just dont know. By the way, who is refereeing us? Dean, by any chance? Fingers crossed.

  5. santori says:

    Again…can’t see the logic in starting a player that is considerably out of form and more importantly has lost some confidence.

    Ramsey should be on the bench.

    Nothing wrong with Coquelin as far as commitment is concern which is what we need in this sort of games. We aren’t playing Milan here.

    I’m not convinced we should start Jenkinson either but I’d rather like the idea of at least having a 4-4-1-1 like we did against Norwich.

    You tell me we weren’t more effective when Ramsey came off and Ox came on (followed by Chamakh)


    Ox and benny can switch in the game. I admire the Israeli for his industry. Rosicky and Song should be able to hold and forma more effective partnership than Song Ramsey (who is insispid form at the moment)

    Play this and then put on Chamakh for Benny or Ox and drop RVP deeper.

    but don’t play Ramsey. His nerves are too much at the moment for us to carry. And I say that as someone who has defended him and still believes in his talent, just not at the moment.

  6. Coastalgun says:

    Have an enjoyable trip Desi. If at the time of the match you imagine you are hearing “..One Arsene Wenger, there’s only one Arsene Wenger…. ” , that will be the away fans after we have won so you may feel free to join in. Tell Mrs. Desi you are hearing voices. Good voices. As for me and fellow gooners here at the Kenyan Coast, we will be watching together at a local pub and we are staying POSITIVE till the last whistle. Thanks for all the great analytical pieces Desi. We will miss this last one.

  7. Gerry Lennon says:

    I wold like to add my thanks for your superb blogs all season – Have a good vacation – Cheers.
    I don’t think your team selection will be far from AW’s thinking, injuries permitting. If Jenkinson is short of fitness I would prefer Yennaris on the bench if he is now available? Coquelin playing.at rb, naturally.
    I would prefer AOC start on the right and Gerv on the left. That way we will not be doing the usual 90% attacking down the right? Benayoun invites more of the ball to the left to encourage a more balanced attack. This should allow AOC, with FQ overlapping, more space on the right? Rosicky will be key in playing quick balls out to either wing if we are to break down a stubborn defence.
    My line up:
    FQ – KOS – TV- KG
    ROS – BEN
    AOC – RVP – GERV.

    If Song keeps to defending, and with equal pace on right and left, I think we have a strong attack, and a defence that will allow the backs to provide the width …. Providing everybody is on top of their game??
    I will be surprised if RVP is not back to his best in this one, not just to pick up the ‘Golden Boot’, but his mind should be clear about the future … whatever that is???

    • cupsui says:

      Second that notion…thanks for the season Desi…and enjoy one of the best national parks in the world. Don’t forget there is more to life than football!!
      I’m nervous but i think we’ll do it…
      I hope the midfield is:
      Song – Le Coq – Rosicky
      Song – Rosick – Benny

      Use rambo of the bench and i am confident in jenko fett. I really like what i have seen of him…good legs, good ticker…good crosser!!

      well as always its been a F-ing crazy season being a gooner…but we come to expect that…DAM ENTERTAINING TEAM…win lose or draw we get our money worth…So lets hope the lads can go out and do it tonight!

  8. Winner says:

    This will be a fairly straight forward game and a very comfortable one for Arsenal. THE boys will do a professional job and see it out. WBA may have the defensive solidity but they do not have the trickery and surprise element that we witnessed against Norwich. Furthermore, the let off that we got last weekend has given the team time to re-focus and sort out the uncharacteristic mistakes we saw against Norwich. I am really feeling confident about this one.

  9. cupsui says:

    p.s. arsenal.com says:
    “Wenger is hopeful that Theo Walcott will pass a fitness test on his hamstring and return to the squad after three weeks out. Despite suggestions to the contrary, Wojciech Szczesny is fine. Bacary Sagna had surgery on his broken leg this week so Francis Coquelin will deputise at right back”
    so our faithful little pole (the good one) is in!!

  10. WOLF says:

    Has anybody even thought of playing the ox in the middle like against Milan? I personally think that was his best performance to date why not try it again.

  11. Borntobeagunner(btbag) says:

    Enjoying Desi all season long is a joy to behold. Desi well well well done. Pat rice goodbye and well done from my utmost supportive heart, good luck to you as a gooner from now on. All i know is, newcastle will draw everton, tottenham will lose to fulham at home by a goal margin, arsenal will not lose to west brom. In that manner, arsenal 3rd win or draw, newcastle 4th but might miss out should chelsea win Bayern Munich.COYG. WE ARE USED TO LAST MINUTE SCALE THROUGH. I have my mouth and face stitched in three places as a result of accident three days back but am already in a pub waiting to start shouting at every of Songs’ through pass and RVP dulgy movement even if it means pains on those stitches in my face. One Arsenal love from Nigeria .

  12. Borntobeagunner(btbag) says:

    Ooh, tots is ahead of newcastle with a point, i dont know what to say here but i dont see newcastle winning everton at gordison park. Should spurs come 4th, i will pray for chelsea must win in d ucl final against Bayern to cancelled out spurs next season ucl chance. COYG

  13. NepaliGunner says:

    Have a good trip Desi. And I would just like to add to the sentiments of earlier posts. Thank you so much for your brilliant blog. This has become the only blog that I make a point to read, and look forward to in earnest. Your insights and analysis are the most rational and thought out, and your writing is also immaculate.

    For Pat Rice, we cannot really judge the impact of him leaving and Steve Bould coming in unless we know what his relationship with all the other coaches and training staff was like. On paper he was the 2nd coach after Arsene, but that does not really define how he impacted the club. The only thing we can say that he was very loyal and passionate for the club, and we can only thank him for his excellent service. I do hope that Steve Bould helps iron out our defensive problems, as sometimes you need fresh perspective to induce change.

    The game tomorrow is going to be tricky and very tense, and here experience will be key. That is why Arteta will be missed even more. I think starting Benayoun is vital in this game, because of his industriousness, and also his experience and maturity. If Theo is fit to start, then I would not mind a Song, Benayoun, Rosicky midfield. I think this game will be tight, so we cannot afford to be open at the back.

    Wenger’s tactical approach will be key, and I expect him to ask Song to curb his attacking instincts in this game. Rosicky, Theo, Gervinho and RVP should be able to create goal scoring opportunities against WBA, but it might also come down to individual brilliance. RVP is key for this game.

    I look forward to your analysis for the whole season. This has been a crazy season, and many fans and pundits are calling it the greatest PL season in history because of the drama at both ends of the table. I have learned a great deal more about the complexities of running a club this season, and I think I’m just a little more knowledgeable student of the game then I was last year.

    Anyways, I am a huge fan of your blog, and I look forward to your future posts.

  14. […] Rice Retires, Bould Promoted + Early West Brom Thoughts (desigunner.wordpress.com) […]

  15. kaypeenator007 says:

    Romans money finally got them the UCL and we chose the world known Uncle Scrooge instead of Usmanov

  16. richie says:

    I watched one of the worst CL finals I have ever seen and as Drogba scored from the spot I switched off the TV. It would’ve been more than I could stand to see John Terry collect the cup. So we won’t be the first team from London to lift the big eared CL cup. (history has been written by Abromovich’s millions once again).

    This reminded me of something, we weren’t the first London team to win the double, that bit of history belongs to our near neighbours the Spuds.
    Remembering that put a really big “Smile” on my face, because it seems that Chelski’s name really was written on the CL Cup this year. Which means the Tiny Totts won’t play CL football for another year πŸ˜€ :0 πŸ˜† πŸ™‚

    I find myself singing the old “Monty Python Classic” “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” with the whistling part Do do, do do, do do do do do do do do do πŸ˜€ πŸ™‚ :0 πŸ˜†

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