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. 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.