Thoughts On The Cologne Game and JET

July 25, 2011

Once again Arsene put the same eleven players on the pitch. Well, almost. Gervinho did take the place of Young Miyaichi but the rest of the starting line-up was same as the bunch that impressed in the Asia tour.

Many of us were eager to see how Gervinho performs, and I for one wasn’t disappointed. Far from it, I was well and truly enthralled by the half an hour he got on the pitch. Arsene probably bought him for his intelligent movement, well-timed runs, and the general ability to get into good positions on the pitch. If he can sustain the composure and finishing we saw in this friendly, the Ivory Coast striker will better the goals scored by Nasri and Walcott last year as I feel he is more natural in that role that any of the wide players Arsenal had last year. Previously, I had expressed concerns about his finishing, which seemed completely unfounded on the basis of that performance, but I’ll reserve my judgment till the end of the season. I think he will score when the opposition allows him space to exploit behind the defence. The true test of his finishing will come against tighter defences and parked buses. Nonetheless, Gervinho made as good a start to his Arsenal career as possible and that’s all that matters for now.

Like the previous two friendlies, this game too had the clichéd ‘game of two halves’ feel to it. Arsenal dominated the first period with excellent work in midfield by Song and the irrepressible Jack Wilshere. That kid is only going to improve and will undoubtedly end up in the team of the year when the votes are cast. They were ably supported by the back four and the front three who did their bit of chasing back and pressing. The new man impressed with his willingness and ability to provide support to Gibbs.

In an otherwise well controlled first half, and despite the best efforts of all the players, Arsenal had a few iffy moments when it seemed the defensive weaknesses were peeping from behind a curtain of wonderful free-flowing football.

The own-goal conceded by the hapless Jenkinson was indeed a once in a lifetime fluke that he wouldn’t actually score if he tried a hundred times. As I have said before, Arsenal concede so many freak goals because the defence gets into a mess more often than the other top teams. It’s a simple matter of percentages and, while we might not see the same accident in competitive games, there is no doubt other flukes are going to hurt the Gunners at vital moments unless basic problems in defence are sorted.

On the positive side, apart from Gervinho, Gibbs looked like he is getting back to his old self, Walcott put in some good balls into the box, Wilshere showed he is ready to chip in – literally and otherwise – with more assists this year, Vermaelen and Koscielny were actively looking to spread the ball from the back, and the delivery on the set-pieces seemed more meaningful (maybe it’s just me on this one).

The second half team once again lacked cohesion. There were too many individual moments when players tried to run with the ball or create something. There wasn’t enough focus on retaining the ball or the shape of the team. This put the defence under pressure but some good work by Mannone, some last gasp blocks by defenders, and Cologne’s lack of quality in the final third meant the equalizer was never scored.

Rosicky played some passes that were pleasing to the eye. But his work rate just isn’t good enough for a deep lying midfield role. It’s surprising because he has the talent and the ability to play that role. He can tackle, hold his own in a one-v-one situation, bring the ball out from defence under pressure, and play the simple passes or the exceptional ones. This performance reminded me of his pre-season games and early League ones from last season where he looked sharp. It could be that he loses interest when he doesn’t get enough minutes. It’s a hard one for the manager to solve but he has to get more from Little Mozart and that has to start with a much higher work rate.

Arshavin looks like he has rediscovered his shooting boots. Last season the Russian hit too many shots into the top tier or near the corner flag. In this game he tested the goalkeeper twice and went close on one occasion. Again it’s something that has to last the whole season for it to be valued.

Based on the recent rumours, it seems likely that there will be some significant movement in the transfer market. Wenger has mentioned the need for signing one more defender and there might be others if some players are able to secure their moves away from the club. I don’t want to speculate on most stories but one that intrigued me was the possible departure of youngster Jay Emmanuel-Thomas.

Only last season Arsene had said that he was banging on the first team door with both hands. Now he seems surplus to requirements and good enough only to interest Championship sides? Even the newly promoted Premiership teams are not interested in taking him?

To be honest, I am not surprised by this because I have always been sceptical about his attitude. JET looked like a lad who could dominate the reserves level and create some moments of real magic even in Championship games but just didn’t have the mental discipline to stay focused and perform week in, week out.  In fact, I won’t be surprised if Aneke and Afobe go the same way, especially the former.

It’s a real shame because technically and physically JET had a lot to offer. I don’t know if this mental weakness is an individual issue or one that is somehow linked to the training given to these youngsters. I don’t know the details so don’t really want to judge but it is possible that focus on technical development alone (while ignoring the results aspect of the games being played) could have had an impact on the players’ mentality. It’s a difficult balance to achieve. At a young age one would not want to force the kids to play for results. That would just produce hoof merchants. But an unwavering emphasis on technical skills could just as easily create footballers who can dazzle occasionally but can’t dig in deep when required. A top player needs the right combination of technical, physical and mental abilities. If any one is missing it can finish a career before it begins.

I am sure Wenger and coaches will be as disappointed as the fans if not more. They would not want to invest years of work into some kids only to sell them to some Championship clubs. They’ll have to look at the way the academy works and identify the problems. Only that can lead to a solution and better results with future prospects.

I do hope the transfer document, if and when it is signed, will include a buy-back clause alongside a good sell-on fee. You never know, a couple of years fighting for his place could just be what JET needs for he seems to have everything else.


Vermaelen Touches Upon A Critical Topic

July 21, 2011

Arsenal.com had an interesting article today with some quotes from Thomas Vermaelen. In essence, the Belgian said that the Gunners have to leave the past behind and make a fresh start from scratch.

Everybody starts from zero and everybody has to start again.

You get a new chance and that’s always a good feeling when people give you another chance to win something. The past is behind us and it’s good to look into the future.

That’s what we do now – we start all over again with a new chance and we will go for it this year.

The words are alright. As is the sentiment. Players have to focus on the future and build from the ground up this season. But this is one of those things that is much, much, much easier said than done.

We live in a world where every moment on a football pitch is linked with trophy chances and in the case of Arsenal it tends to be extremely negative. If people can look at a couple of pre-season friendlies and predict disaster, one can only shudder while imagining the reaction to some set-backs that are bound to happen during a long, strenuous season.

On top of it, if my observations are valid, almost every media outlet is highlighting negative stories around the club. There is no doubt in my mind that ghosts of seasons past will be dug up the moment a game is drawn or lost.

It’s hard to say how much the players are affected by the noises on the web or the asinine dross in the press. I doubt any human being can remain completely unaffected by stories that are repeated endlessly. And this is where it’s going to get tricky.

Most, if not all, Gunners have been put through some sort of a psychometric test. They are undoubtedly strong minded and talented individuals who will focus on their training and performances. But what happens when someone makes a mistake, and there is no doubt someone will, sooner rather than later, because that is part of the game and happens to the best of players.

Will the seeds of doubt germinate in the minds of one or two players? Will it then spread to the others?

Imagine a situation when the team is defending a set-piece at a critical moment; say just before full time with a one goal lead. What if someone like Djourou of Koscielny is reminded of the past? Will that minor distraction be enough to drop the focus/concentration by maybe 5-10 percent? What if that leads to a goal?

I believe we have come at an interesting point in this discussion.

It would be easy to say this is definitely going to happen and there is no hope for this team. As I have said before such an attitude has zero constructive value.

Some could also say that these players are professionals and have to perform irrespective of the past mistakes. Ideally, that would work. Practically, it’s not that simple.

If you are the manager, how do you ensure the players will be able to keep the past mistakes out of their heads?

Will buying one or two players suffice? Is it necessary to bring in a sports psychologist? Does better and more intense training lead to enhanced confidence? Is better and positive communication the answer? Perhaps a combination of all these and more is needed.

I believe this year more than ever in the past, Arsene faces a massive challenge in keeping the squad together and the morale high. If the start is anything like the start in 2008-09 (5 losses out of 14), the season will be over before Christmas and all hell will break lose in the stands and the training ground. The damage could be irreparable.

Since I don’t have a solution I will just keep an eye out on the events as they unfold and read/listen to the interviews to see if something is being done. There could be something for us to learn or to lament.


Thoughts On Denilson, Bartley, and Campbell

July 20, 2011

Denilson’s finally moved on. I believe all concerned will be happy with that. Those fans who supported the Brazilian will appreciate a fresh lease of life for him. Others who couldn’t stand him must be delighted he’s gone. For Arsenal this opens up a slot in midfield and saves on some wages. For Denilson it is a chance to get his confidence back and an opportunity to work his way into the Brazilian national side.

I believe, just like the Clichy transfer, this one is a win-win. The important issue here is whether he will be replaced by a new player or via a promotion from within. Clichy, based on Arsene’s statement, will be replaced by Gibbs with Traore providing competition and Vermaelen the back up. I think that will be an extremely risky approach even if we discount his inexperience because the English youngster has had some serious injury problems and might miss a big chunk of the season again.

I am not blaming Gibbs for his injuries. And I believe he has the talent to be a top class left back despite some worrying performances during the slump last season. But to start with him as the main man is like challenging fate to a duel. Your luck will never hold out.

Traore is an interesting player but is not consistent enough to be a top four player in a defensive position. If Vermaelen is viewed as a third choice left back then chances of a new defensive player arriving are also slim because any new signing won’t get enough games with Vermaelen and Koscielny likely to partner as first choice pairing.

By the same logic, if Denilson is replaced by Frimpong I expect to see the squad weakened. That is not to say that the youngster is a bad player. I want him to develop and can see the need for giving him some playing time. But Arsenal need at least one more defensive player who is not in the learning phase, and if both Clichy and Denilson are replaced internally the squad will lack balance.

That brings me to the case of Kyle Bartley who had a decent-ish loan spell at Rangers. I was surprised he wasn’t even on the Asia touring party. Does that mean Wenger rates him as fifth choice centre back or thinks he needs another loan? If that is the case the need for bringing in at least one more defensive minded player is all the more pressing.

Considering the fact that Arsene did bid high, given his standards, for Phil Jones, I am inclined to believe he is looking for such a player. But in this transfer window Wenger will have to be a lot more decisive than he has been in the past. I am not in panic mode though, there is a long time to go and these things can take time. Based on past evidence some fans will be sceptical but I don’t see any constructive value coming out of that attitude.

Finally, I want to express disappointment that the Joel Campbell deal is off. Once it was clear that other clubs were getting involved and offering better deals, or at least hinting at better deals (if they’d offered better deals the transfer might have been completed), it would have been a surprise if his father had agreed to the Arsenal offer. They are looking after their own interests and it’s hard to blame them for that. Arsenal too did their best and I’d not admonish the club for missing out on the opportunity. It’s a shame but its part of life in the football world.

Let’s see if the kid was a flash in the pan or has real talent that shines in the U20 World Cup. If he can perform the Campbells will be well rewarded.

Since it wasn’t a priority signing for Arsenal I am not too concerned. But it’s good to know the club are always on the lookout for talented players in all positions. We should not blame them for the realities of the modern day transfer market.

Now I’m going back to waiting and watching.


Another English Team Gets Between Arsenal And Campbell?

July 17, 2011

I have not been interested in most of the transfer rumours doing the rounds (quite literally!) this summer. But a recent story linking Costa Rican striker Joel Campbell to Arsenal, being run by Gunnerblog and Young Guns, got me excited.

Here was a young, pacy striker that I’d never heard of and Wenger was interested in him. He had to be good and I had to know more. Apart from quality articles on the aforementioned blogs and lazily copied reproductions in regular media, I didn’t find much except this piece on La Nacion, which appears to be a Costa Rican newspaper.

The headline I have used is the same that Google Translate provides for that link. It quotes the youngster’s dad saying,

We got another very good offer from one of the great English team, which is just as interesting in the sport to Arsenal, but more economically.

I will meet now with my wife and together we will make the decision whether to give Arsenal the other or wait for the other option or something else.

I am really not aware of how these things work and whether the source is credible or not. If anyone has a better understanding please share it.

A young, unproven striker is not on top of Arsenal’s requirements but I think such a player could fill a crucial hole this season and in the coming years. More than Gary Cahill, Chris Samba, and the likes, I’d want to see this deal go through.


Seniors Still Sluggish But Young Guns Continue To Excite

July 17, 2011

By the time the first half was over I was regretting my decision to wake up at six on a Saturday morning after crashing at two in the night. Arsene picked the same starting eleven that ended the game in Malaysia and their performance was just as erratic and listless as we saw in the previous game.

While there were some moments of individual quality the half will stay in my memory as one where the defence struggled against modest opposition, no offence intended.

Granted this is pre-season and we should not read too much into the performances or the results. Many top teams lose such games on a regular basis. This season Liverpool have conceded 3 goals in both their games in Asia and the Tiny Totts just lost in South Africa. These things happen. Moreover, Greentown are already a few weeks into their season so their fitness levels were much better than the Gunners.

Despite that, there was something eerily familiar with the way Arsenal struggled. Some people might blame the defenders but I thought the problems stemmed from the lack of balance in front of them. It does not absolve the defenders completely but they do deserve better support. Nasri and Rosicky hardly contributed to the defence as one would expect from midfielders in the modern game, we all know Arshavin fairly well, and Vela almost mirrored him on the right flank.

I have mentioned this in the past on a number of occasions – the defence struggles whenever the team fails to impose its style of play (that is not the only reason the defence struggles but it is one of the primary ones). The opposition finds a great deal of time and space when the passing game doesn’t work. Lack of pressing, poor positioning, and lethargic off-the-ball movement from the midfield and attackers made defending easy for the hosts while allowing the Greentown players the opportunity to pass the ball around and find their runners. This put the defence under pressure and even when a defender won the first header, it inevitably fell to an opposition player.

Clearly, this won’t be the case in most of the games that Arsenal will play this season but based on the evidence of recent seasons, I am worried it will happen often enough to cost crucial points and a Cup tie or two.

There were some positives as well. Nasri looked impressive on the ball. He was able to take players on and run past a couple at will. Van Persie had a few good moments and played a big part in creating the goal. Vela showed he has the anticipation and acceleration to be a threat in the box. Frimpong was strong and energetic.

The second half saw the introduction of the youthful starting line-up from the previous game. With Song and Wilshere marshalling the midfield and the young wingers pressing enthusiastically, Greentown were pinned in their own half for most of the second period. The hosts rarely threatened the Arsenal defence as the work done in front of them offered genuine protection.

But for some saves/blocks and a couple of missed opportunities by Theo this game could have been a comfortable win.

With this Arsenal concluded a successful pre-season tour of Asia. I was impressed by the support and would like to applaud the fans in Malaysia and China. Hopefully, some Gooners who didn’t appreciate Johnny Foreigners might develop a better understanding of the level of passion in people who follow the club from afar.

I am not sure if this tour has achieved the same level of rigorous workout that the players used to get in Austria. Time will tell whether that will affect the performances in the opening weeks of the season or not. I certainly will be a bit more nervous about the Champions League qualifier than I have been in the past.

There is still time though. I think the performances in the Emirates Cup and the friendly with Benfica will give us a much better insight into the level and quality of preparations. By then we will also have seen new signing Gervinho in action along with any others that are bought.

An interesting month ahead.


A Comprehensive List Of Arsenal’s Weaknesses

July 15, 2011

I have had this thought in my mind for a long while – to create a comprehensive list of weaknesses of Arsenal as identified by fans, pundits, and others.

This list is not a judgement on the club, manager, or the players. All the criticisms in this list aren’t necessarily valid. I believe most of these arguments don’t hold water upon closer inspection but want to avoid a debate on the merits of each, at least for the time being. Since everyone has their favourite gripes against the club and those working for it, such a debate will go out of control in no time.

I just want to put down everything in one place and see how the opinions compare to it over the course of the season. If time permits I will also try to see how other teams fare against this list. I think it will provide us a good benchmark and some interesting discussion points over the course of the season. So please help me in building this list by mentioning any supposed weaknesses that I miss out on (There are so many complaints that I am sure to forget a fair few of them).

I have broadly classified this into criticisms of Players, Manager, and Board.

Players

  1. Strikers (and others in general) are not clinical enough
  2. Club lacks a 20 goal a season striker
  3. Big stars were never replaced
  4. Players lack a winning mentality
  5. Players lack leadership
  6. Central defenders don’t command their area
  7. There is no organizer in the team
  8. Full-backs can’t cross
  9. Full-backs can’t block crosses
  10. Very few players can attack balls put in the box
  11. Players can’t defend set-pieces
  12. Can’t defend long balls
  13. Attacking set-pieces are wasted
  14. No consistent free-kick taker
  15. Club lacks a world class goalkeeper
  16. Don’t shoot from outside the box often enough
  17. Not physical (big,tall) enough for the Premier League
  18. Lack grit and determination
  19. Some players are lazy
  20. Some players lack commitment
  21. Get injured on a regular basis
  22. Cannot hold on to leads
  23. Cannot counter-attack at pace

Wenger (and staff)

  1. Tactically – Anywhere from weak to utterly clueless
  2. Defensive coaching is poor
  3. Playing style lacks balance
  4. Lack of a plan B
  5. Blind to obvious problems
  6. No/Poor training on attacking and defending set-pieces
  7. Reluctant to spend money
  8. Arrogant
  9. Stubborn
  10. Gives ridiculous interviews/ Makes excuses
  11. Rewards underperforming players
  12. Happy to finish fourth – lacks winning mentality
  13. Prefers tika-taka football and ignores the other needs of the team (many points mentioned under players)
  14. No 2 and others are ‘Yes  Men’
  15. Medical staff cannot keep players injury free

Board/Owners/Management

  1. Greedy
  2. Happy with fourth as long as Champions League money is coming in
  3. Don’t care about fans
  4. New owner(s) just want to make money
  5. Not interested in investing in the club
  6. Sold the club short on commercial deals
  7. New commercial team has not performed

That’s all I can think for now. Please add to it based on what you’ve read over the last season or two. I realize there is a bit of redundancy but I want to err on the side of excess rather than leave something out.

Just so no one gets me wrong, I want to reiterate this is not a list of weaknesses/problems that I agree with. It’s just a collection of top criticisms that I have heard or read in the past two years. Some of these concerns are valid, some are partially valid and others are just a result of the fans’ frustration or borne from the creative minds of anti-Arsenal hacks and pundits.

Of course, if we take some distance and look at this list, it is startling at the very least. How can a team with 23 issues (can increase based on your suggestions) of such magnitude with an additional 15 against the manager and his staff come in the top four of the Premier League with such consistency? Surely others who have spent hundreds of millions must finish above such an Arsenal side, no? It took Man City more than half a billion pounds and three years just to finish three points above the Gunners with so many issues? Why haven’t the Tiny Totts overtaken the Gunners despite doing what many Gooners have been asking for (sacking managers, selling and buying players in bulk)?

As I said I don’t want to judge anyone or discuss any of these points so will leave you with these observations and those questions. I will return to this post tomorrow with an interesting comparison and then again during the course of the season when something relevant turns up.


Youngsters Impress In A Comfortable Start To Pre-Season

July 13, 2011

Arsenal kicked off the new season with the first friendly against Malaysia XI in Kuala Lumpur. Wenger started with a youthful side that included Ryo Miyaichi and Carl Jenkinson alongside established young guns Wilshere, Ramsey, Walcott, Gibbs, and Szczesny.

Chamakh, Song, Koscielny, and Vermaelen were the only experienced pros in a starting eleven that dominated the first half in the now standard 4-3-3.

The opening goal came from a rookie mistake by the defender as he brought down Wilshere inside the box. Ramsey put the spot-kick away with ease after establishing his right to do so with Wilshere who also looked eager to kick-start his season with a goal.

It could have been two soon after when Wilshere found Walcott in space just inside the right corner of the box. The goalkeeper closed the angle well but was lucky not to concede a penalty as Theo slammed it over.

After that the game settled down a bit as the home sided defended better while the Gunners didn’t really show any urgency, rightfully so.

Walcott scored the second in the 37th minute to cap a well-timed run and a delightful pass with a deft finish.

There isn’t much to analyze in such a game but the noteworthy aspects of the first half were

  • Miyaichi’s impressive skills on the ball and his willingness to chase the opponents tirelessly
  • Jenkinson’s ability to close down his man to prevent crosses and his ability to deliver some measured balls into the box
  • Wilshere looking as if he’s picked up from where he left off
  • Walcott to carry his scoring touch forward, touchwood!

On the flip side, I thought Ramsey still looked a bit rusty and needs more games but his class shone through fleetingly.

Arsene made eight changes at the start of the second half as Jenkinson, Miyaichi, and Ramsey were the only ones to keep their place.

It was a surprise to see Denilson playing in a deeper role behind Frimpong who looked bigger than last time I saw him (could be my eyes or mind playing games).

Rosicky started on the right but took a free role and was creatively involved in a number of moves. One such led to the third goal, another sublime chip from Vela. Perhaps he has taken the Lays slogan too sincerely? On a serious note it was good to see Vela get on the ball more often. His movement and touch was wonderful as was his vision when he set up Ramsey and Rosicky, both of whom blasted over when well placed in sight of goal. Nevertheless, he did display a tendency to overcook shooting chances. Arsene has to find a way of eliminating this habbit. If the Mexican has to succeed he needs to know the corners of the goal and has to put his foot through the ball on occasion instead of searching for a cute finish.

Sagna, Nasri, RvP, and Arshavin came on for the final half hour or so as the three starters from the first half and Denilson made way.

The game lacked cohesion even though Nasri got on the ball quite often in a central attacking midfield role. Van Persie played a couple of defence splitting balls but that was it.

Arsenal did manage a fourth in the final minutes when Rosicky headed home a deflected Arshavin cross. That must be a collector’s item.

Even in such a game the defence didn’t look very convincing. I don’t want to read too much into this but two aspects need urgent improvement. Arsene has to find a way of reducing the number of times opponents are able to move from their box to the Arsenal defensive third within seconds. He also needs to sort out the off-side line. Some might also say the central defenders need to do a lot better with their heading, especially Djourou and Squillaci. I am convinced Arsenal will struggle without a key addition to the coaching staff but don’t want to bang on that tired old drum at this stage.

There was an incident in the game that deserves special mention. In the second half, the ref penalized Mannone for holding on to the ball for too long. I don’t think the Italian took more than second or two over the allotted six but the ref seemed a stickler for rules, at least that one in particular. It could just be that he wanted his moment in the spotlight and a chance for the home side or that he hasn’t been spoilt by commentators blaming such decisions for spoiling the game. In all honesty, I’d love to see a lot more of such calls in the Premiership and the Champions League.

On a related note, I want to share the pain of logging into Arsenal Player this morning. I am sure many of you must have been frustrated by a server that quite simply was incapable of handling the demand. Did they really underestimate the fan interest or was this just another technical blooper? Hope they sort it out before the next game. I did watch the second half on Arsenal Player and the quality was impressive even though the stream jumped a few seconds occasionally.

And now for something completely different. The following isn’t related to Arsenal or football but it isn’t often that I fall out of my chair laughing, so thought it was worth sharing,

According to a recent report in “The PseudoEngineer”, Bolivian scientists have wrapped copper wire around Guevara’s body and surrounded him with magnets. This is because he is turning over in his grave so rapidly due to the commercialization of his image that he now powers most of South and Central America by himself. He is thus the most prolific revolutionary in the history of the world, making over 200 revolutions per second.

Source: Uncyclopedia entry on Che Guevara.


Gervinho To Compete With Walcott While Making The B-Team Stronger?

July 12, 2011

The official website had a somewhat uncharacteristic announcement this morning. Usually, we see a player introduced after a transfer is completed but in the case of Gervinho, Arsenal.com tells us that the player has agreed a deal but the transfer is subject to a regulatory process. I am guessing this has something to do with his work permit. Hopefully, it will be sorted soon.

Before venturing into a discussion on the player and his likely place in the squad I just want to discuss this announcement. Why was this rushed? The club could easily have waited till the paper work was complete before making the official statement. Is this a PR exercise or an attempt at placating the fans? At least a start of sorts? I hope it is as fans need and deserve much better communication from the club.

Moving on to the topic of the post, I’d like to join the others in welcoming Gervinho to the club. He will make the squad stronger. Just how much better will depend on the way Wenger uses him, the understanding he develops with other Gunners, and his rate of development.

I have not seen much of Gervinho in the French league but did see his performances in the World Cup last year. He looked like a pacy player with quick feet. I would say his biggest strength is his running, with and without the ball. That should make him a big threat on the wings and on counter-attacks. His movement and speed should also make Arshavin and Fabregas that much more dangerous as they will have better forward looking options.

On the flip side, I am not convinced about his passing or finishing abilities despite his fairly impressive stats for Lille. That’s an area where Arsene will have to work his magic.

On a fast break, the Ivorian’s pace and dribbling abilities will present numerous opportunities for scoring or squaring the ball for a team-mate to tap in. It worked well for him in France. But given the way Arsenal’s opponents play it will be hard for Gervinho to get that kind of space on a regular basis. Nevertheless, the Ivorian should fill in for Walcott better than Bendtner or Rosicky did. He seems more naturally suited to that role than the Dane or Little Mozart.

In the absence of Walcott, the Gunners lacked a direct threat last season. Gervinho is a positive signing in that regard but he will have to work on his game to make an impact in the Premiership.

Gervinho’s weakness seems to be his technique which is not as good as that of top international strikers. Even in compilations on youtube one can see scuffed shots and passes. Pace, positioning, and intelligent link-up play can often make up for this and we have to hope he will not take long to tune into the wavelength of his teammates.

I doubt he will be a part of the starting line-up if Cesc and Nasri stay at Arsenal. Even if Nasri leaves, it’s hard to see Gervinho starting ahead of Arshavin next season as he is not that strong on the left wing.

Consequently, it will be extremely important to see how he reacts to being a substitute for most games. Last year Wenger had a first choice eleven and a B-team (even if that distinction was unintentional). Many of the players in the second string struggled because of lack of games. It could easily happen to the Ivory Coast international. I would like more rotation and better balanced rotation but so far Arsene has showed that he prefers certain players and combinations more.

I am completely ignorant about his defensive contribution/abilities. My guess is that he will be somewhere in between Arshavin and Nasri on that front but I’ll have to see him in pre-season before forming any opinion.

At 5’ 10” he isn’t a very tall player but is physically strong and athletic with a good leap. Those characteristics will come in handy.

To be completely honest, I don’t expect Gervinho to be the man who makes or breaks Arsenal’s season next year. He will be a useful squad addition and will probably produce some breathtaking moments but don’t be surprised if he frustrates more often than he delights, at least in the first season.


Goodbye Gael Clichy, You’ll Be Missed

July 4, 2011

I haven’t had the chance to gauge the general sentiment of the fans about the transfer of Clichy to Man City so I will just share my views. I think this transfer is good for all concerned.

From the player’s point of view, this move will give him a fresh start in a completely different environment where he will get much better defensive support than he did at Arsenal in the last three years. I expect Clichy to thrive at City and perform better than their overhyped acquisitions like Bridge, Lescott, and Kolarov. While the Frenchman might need some time to adapt to the new system, manager, and teammates; I won’t be surprised if he rediscovers the form that got him into the 07-08 PFA team of the year.

For City, it is an excellent signing. They have spent a lot of money on left backs but most have struggled to perform consistently. The Blues from Manchester could have spent three times the reported £7 they paid for Clichy without finding half the quality in the present market. I am disappointed a rival has been strengthened but if Clichy had to go, it is better he went to a club that can afford virtually anyone rather than a club like Liverpool who are also struggling to find the right player for that position.

From Arsenal’s point of view, a change at left back provides a chance to rework the balance of the squad. In my opinion, Clichy had to sacrifice his attacking instincts while playing alongside the likes of Arshavin and Wilshere. Wenger should now pick a more defensive minded player for that role, especially one who can deal with aerial balls a little better than Clichy did.

There are many opinions about the replacement. I am with those who think Vermaelen should be moved to left back. This would make even more sense if Arsene goes out and buys a good central defender.

For all his talents, Clichy didn’t offer enough in the air often ending up on the posts while the team defended set-pieces. If Vermaelen moved to left back and a new central defender of similar quality is purchased, Arsenal will have a much stronger aerial presence in the defensive and attacking third.

Technically, the Belgian is good enough to play the role and has indeed performed admirably in the past for Ajax and for his country.

Gibbs can continue to deputize and can take over if Vermaelen is needed in the centre of defence due to an injury or any other reason.

To be frank, I am saddened by this departure because Clichy was one of those who went about his job without complaining and never made a scene. Others in his position would have found many reasons to whine but the Frenchman was extremely professional and devoted to the club while he was here. I will miss him and will continue to track his career over the next few years. It will be entertaining to see Sagna and Clichy on the same flank on opposite sides rather than the other way around that we have become used to. Hopefully, his best games won’t come against Arsenal.

Goodbye Gael. Wish you all the best.


2010-11 Season Review: Thoughts On The Attack

June 28, 2011

I am finding it hard to form any sort of a conclusive opinion about Arsenal’s attack.

Nasri, Walcott, and Van Persie have contributed significantly more than they did in previous years. Arshavin too made a telling contribution in terms of goals and, more importantly, assists.

Arguably, the loss of 11 goals from last year’s tally of 83 does indicate the attack struggled a bit. Fabregas, Vermaelen, and even Bendtner’s contribution was not comparable to last season.

I don’t know how many have noticed this but all the top teams have scored less this season compared to the previous one. United scored 8 less, Chelsea dropped a whopping 34 (they did have an exceptional year last time around), while City lagged by 13. Even the Tiny Totts managed to score a dozen less than their paltry 67 from 09-10. Arsenal’s 11 seems par for the course in this context.

There could be many reasons for this collective slump. Some observers believe the top teams were weak this season whereas others believe the League was stronger. Given the amount of money City have spent I’m inclined to go with the former argument. If the top teams had been weaker Mancini’s side should have run away with the title. The fact that they did not, and indeed struggled to perform against the smaller teams, suggests that the other teams defended well and fought harder.

Another common argument that I have read during the season and in the summer is that the Gunners don’t break at speed anymore. I haven’t found any such opinion backed by actual evidence. Usually it is based on the writer’s feelings which are often triggered by watching ‘highlights’ of the seasons past.

If we believe the WhoScored website, Arsenal scored only 3 goals from a fast break this season. In comparison, United scored 5, Chelsea 4, and City got 2. Now there could be a debate over the definition of a fast break but one thing is certain – the definition is same for all the teams. Why did a team that was assembled at a cost of nearly half a billion and was based primarily on a counter-attacking style score only two goals from fast breaks? Didn’t they score that many or more against Arsenal alone in one game last time around?

Once again we can compare these numbers with the 2009-10 season to get some perspective. City scored 10 goals from fast breaks last season. Arsenal had 9, United 6, while Chelsea managed 8. To me, that is further evidence that in 2010-11, the smaller teams tightened their defences.

Based on the above discussion, I believe it’s safe to say that Arsenal’s attack wasn’t that bad.

The development of Nasri and Walcott was timely and the manager deserves enormous credit for nurturing them the way he has. It is also important to acknowledge the contribution of a little Russian in the success of the Frenchman and the England international. Many of their goals came after excellent work by Arshavin.

The diminutive playmaker often frustrates with his work rate and body language but it’s hard to ignore the value of his contribution. Is it a co-incidence that Nasri and Walcott lost form in the final few months when Arshavin wasn’t playing regularly?

Unfortunately, Arsenal did continue to disappoint with their crossing and set-pieces. I am one of the first to say that both of these methods are highly inefficient ways of attacking but the Gunners seem to have regressed in this department.

This season Arsenal scored 9 goals from set-pieces (excluding penalties). The Manchester sides managed 13 while Chelsea knocked in 18. A year ago, Arsenal finished with 16, United 13, Chelsea 17, and City topped the list with 21. The loss of Vermaelen might have been more of a blow in the opposition box than our own!

Van Persie was unplayable at times but his free-kick delivery was poor. It could be a mental issue and he might have been trying too hard because last season he did excel at corners.

Wenger has to make the set-pieces more dangerous. Even if they don’t lead to goals, Arsenal have to use them as a form of increasing the pressure. These days the opposition finds set-pieces to be a respite against Arsenal’s possession game and are happy to knock the ball out to get a breather and reorganize. Arsene has to infuse more creativity and purpose into the way the Gunners approach free-kicks and corners. This can only come from rigorous and focused training.

Before concluding I want to briefly mention Chamakh. The Moroccan had a respectable start to his Arsenal career after an impressive pre-season. Unfortunately, his form dropped off around Christmas and he failed to make an impression after that.

I believe he wasn’t signed as a typical goal-scorer or poacher but as a player who could bring the others into play more often. The early form of Nasri, Walcott, and Arshavin did justify his style. But, in a long season, there will always be times when the midfield struggles or the wide players cannot contribute as much. In such games one would expect more from a striker. So far, Arsene hasn’t been able to get the best out of Chamakh. Better set-pieces and a change to a more traditional approach every once in a while can help the striker and the team.

To be fair, Arsenal do try going wide and putting crosses in but it is a style they haven’t mastered as a collective. The team lacks cohesion on such occasions. More often than not there aren’t enough bodies in the box or in the right areas for a cross to at least cause confusion/panic. Once again, training is the only realistic solution.

On the whole, I was impressed by some developments in attack but felt there is room for improvement and flexibility. Arrivals and departures will affect the possibilities for next season so I’ll revisit the topic just before the start of the season.