Farewell Cesc Fabregas: Mixed Feelings & Final Thoughts

August 15, 2011

I don’t think any transfer, in my limited time following football, has moved me to the extent this one did. Not even close. And I can’t see it happening again in the future. Regular readers know how much I admire Fabregas, who I rated as the best player in the Premiership. So a part of me feels betrayed and resentful. A thought pops into my head – hope his injury worries get worse and he never truly fulfils his potential.

But then I take a few deep breaths. He deserves better in his life, his career, and from the fans. Once the negative emotions are acknowledged and controlled, it is not hard to see the light. He came as a boy with sublime talent and dreams of making it big, performed miracles on the pitch, always behaved as an immaculate professional, and left with his dignity intact.

The lack of trophies will haunt him and everyone who loves the Arsenal but it certainly wasn’t for want of trying.

The transfer battle was as bad as any custody battle between two estranged parents could get. For that is what Arsenal and Barcelona are to Cesc Fabregas. Most Arsenal fans can’t really stand Barcelona anymore, at least off the pitch, and my feelings for the Catalans in that regard are well documented on this blog. But there is no doubt Arsenal had their share of issues.

Fabregas must have been torn apart by the opposing pulls over the last year or so and that is what makes his professionalism stand out in the modern world. It is impossible to sustain any hostile feelings towards the man once you consider his qualities on and off the football pitch. This is a good interview and I will wait for the time when he can bare his heart out.

I have seen mixed reactions among fans and that seems logical. Not everyone can appreciate the complexity involved. There are way too many speculative opinions around and I don’t want to add to that. Too many facts are unclear, even unknown, and forming opinions on baseless assumptions is a pointless exercise I just don’t have time for.

The key observation – Arsenal are not in the optimal state given the stage of the season – is irrefutable and disconcerting. Do I want to link that with Cesc and tarnish the memories of his magical performances? Absolutely not.

Do I want to dwell on that and twist every event into a miserable knot? No, that is for the misery brigade – people who can’t deal with their emotions and insist on imposing their woes on others.

This is the time to wish Cesc well and remember him for all that he has done for Arsenal Football Club. Then it’s about looking forward.

Fare well Cesc. You will be missed and cherished but I want to concentrate on Udinese now.


Arsenal Should Sign Usmanov’s PR Team, Cesc Commitment Commendable

June 15, 2011

Apologies for being two days behind a story once again but having given a great deal of time during the season, I am trying to balance it during the summer. And while I do let a lot of rumours and events go by without comment, this PR stunt from Alisher Usmanov is hard to ignore.

I don’t want to repeat the comments as they’ve been all over the internet. Just in case you missed them the link above provides the full statement.

Telling people what they want to hear – it is usually an art mastered by successful politicians but any entity, be it an individual or an organization, that is connected with the masses has to, at some point or the other, rely on this skill to steady the ship or get the weight of popular support.

In the past I have mentioned that the Arsenal manager and players often give very honest and intelligent interviews that come back to bite them in the, well, arse. While the discerning readers/listeners appreciate their comments, they get twisted by the media and the mass opinion is often manipulated to the detriment of the club and the squad.

The point is not that people are stupid. But I strongly believe that collective or popular opinion is often ill-informed and illogical. It works on the principle that if a lie is repeated often enough it becomes the truth. Those who scan the internet with a perceptive eye will have noticed how many people voice an opinion just because they think everyone else is saying it. An individual’s power to rationally judge right or wrong is indirectly proportional to the number of times he or she reads a particular twist on a story.

Let’s consider the Usmanov statement. To me it appears to be a blatant PR exercise where his team have captured the pulse of the disgruntled fans and succinctly captured the sentiment expressed by many. Such a simple exercise has done a lot to increase the support for the Russian who was widely regarded as untouchable just a few months ago. Many fans now think it might have been better if the current board had sold out to Usmanov instead of Kroenke. Some are even demanding similar rhetoric from Silent Stan.

But does the Russian oligarch really have Arsenal’s best interests at heart? His actions don’t support his words which seem hollow, appeasing, and meant to lure in the gullible.

Lady Nina wanted to sell her shares but there was no taker for a long while. One might wonder, why didn’t Usmanov make her an offer she couldn’t refuse? What is the point of offering £14,000 per share now when such an offer earlier could have taken him in the 40-42 per cent share bracket? Subsequently, he could have released a statement like the one he has done now, and with promise of significant investment he might have been able to acquire a portion of the minority shares. Who’s to say he would not have crossed the halfway mark? Some of the directors opposed to him might also have been tempted by such a generous offer. After all, doesn’t the Russian claim that they were in it for the money?

The simple fact is that Usmanov didn’t act when he could have and was probably caught off-guard by the suddenness of the deal between Kroenke and the others. So it is safe to say he didn’t put his money where his mouth is.

Then there was the other publicity stunt where Usmanov offered to donate shares to the AST if Kroenke matched him. What prevented him from donating a few shares unilaterally and unconditionally? Surely, it would not have put a dent in his considerable fortune! That would have shown his intent and put the ball firmly in the American’s court. It’s just another instance where his words were not backed up by action.

Ultimately, this is a big money game and fans would be naive to assume anything else no matter the spin put on the story. I have my issues with the previous owners who were not perfect and could undeniably have done better. But that doesn’t mean Usmanov is different nor is he the saviour.

In another public statement of significance, Cesc Fabregas has reaffirmed his interest in joining Barcelona and his loyalty to Arsenal. Those who have seen through the unabashed lies and concocted tales surrounding this saga have always known the few hard facts that matter.

Fabregas wants to go to Barcelona. To be honest, I don’t grudge him that wish. It is natural to dream to be part of something great. Which football player worth his salt would not want to play with Messi? More so if one has grown up playing with the phenomenon.

Equally important is the fact that El Capitan has immense respect for the club, the manager, his team-mates, and the fans. He does not want to throw a tantrum to engineer a move he craves. Only a man with impeccable values can behave in the way that Fabregas has done. Those values must be cherished and respected, especially in the modern world. Fans have to give him space for his individual desires and hopes while admiring his principles and collective based actions and decision making.

I don’t think anyone will be surprised when this transfer eventually happens. It could still happen this summer but only if Arsenal are convinced such a move is in their best interests. That is the key. For that, Barcelona have to cough up a small fortune to sign the only player in the world who can significantly improve that superb squad. I am not sure the Catalans can afford that after the Ibrahimovic fiasco. And I am absolutely certain Wenger will not succumb to the incessant pressure tactics from Spain, or the baseless rumours in the media followed by meaningless but extremely annoying noise on the internet, none of which is likely to cease anytime soon.

Looking back at the events of the summer so far, it seems to be heading in the right direction.


PFA Awards Disappointing + Mourinho Learns From Arsene + Original Cesc Interview

April 19, 2011

I want to start with a mention of the PFA awards and the Team of the Year. Congratulations to Wilshere for picking up the Young Player of the Year award, and deservedly so. Gareth Bale was chosen as the Player of the Year and Nasri came in second. And in case you haven’t seen it, the team of the year is,

Van der Saar – Sagna, Vidic, Kompany, Cole – Nani, Nasri, Wilshere, Bale – Tevez, Berbatov.

Rather uninspiring if I may say so. One thing that struck me about this seasons list, and by extension the performances of the teams, is that none of the players really stood out. Last year Rooney, Cesc, and Drogba had truly great seasons. I don’t think the same can be said for the likes of Nasri or Bale who have been good in patches but have had relatively little impact in terms of goals, assists, or match winning contributions when compared to their counterparts from last year.

Even looking at the whole team, it’s difficult to say anyone apart from Nani or Wilshere would have gotten into last year’s selection. So have all these players suddenly dropped their performance levels? Has the league got that much tougher this season? Has this season been more about grinding out results than mesmerizing displays?

I don’t know the exact reasons for this change but one thing is for sure, when any team’s best player doesn’t perform at his peak the performances of the whole team suffer. In that sense it is safe to say the top three teams have been a little below par this year, for different reasons though. Rooney has been moved to a different position where he is more useful to the balance of the side but does not have enough personal stats to show for it. Cesc has struggled with injuries while Drogba was down with Malaria and more recently Torresitis (an affliction where a good player cannot get enough games/starts because a more expensive one who plays the same position is in the squad).

One interesting question that arises is – Has Wenger been justified in promoting Wilshere rather than breaking the bank on Yaya Toure as many fans wanted?

The smaller teams have certainly improved a lot. This could have led to lesser space in attacking areas, better organization and marking, more competitive games, and consequently fewer chances for any individual to truly stand out. I don’t think this is the sole or main reason for the distinctly lower quality individual efforts but it is certainly a crucial factor.

Moving on to Spain, I was watching the El Classico last weekend and noticed something interesting. Real Madrid really had a go at Barcelona in the final 15-20 minutes and almost stole a win. This might never come out but I am fairly certain Mourinho saw the way Arsenal troubled Guardiola’s side and has adapted his tactics to follow in Wenger’s path.

Of course, we will know more in the coming days as there are three more Classicos to play. Many might not understand this or believe it but to me it is a great testament to Wenger’s tactical acumen that an evil genius like Jose is copying his approach as he can’t really deploy the Inter style at Madrid. Kudos to the Special One too for being such a quick learner.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Wenger is a tactical genius (regular readers know my reservations on this topic) but it is certain that Arsene is not a tactically clueless idiot as some would have you believe. As always the truth is somewhere in between. More on this topic at some other time.

While we are still in Spain, I wanted to share a couple of links from the Don Balon site. These look like the original interview transcripts but I am not sure. Can someone who knows Spanish please provide a better, more in keeping with the tone and context, translation than the one we have seen in the English media.

On this link you will see the interview about the need for Arsenal to choose between winning and training. On this one Cesc talks about the Champions League tie, his performance, and injury. I’d really love a good translation of the second one as it seems very relevant and is quite a short one. Unfortunately, Google translate didn’t do a very good job.

I’d also like to mention that fans should not fall for the sensationalism of the tabloids or the doom mongers. Cesc is an honest person and has given his genuine opinion. It is not an ultimatum to the club and I don’t think he is trying to talk his way out. It wasn’t the best thing to say but I have said this about Arsene and the players on more than one occasion – they don’t know how to play the media and often give intelligent answers that come to bite them in the backside because the words are twisted way out of context.

Nobody including Wenger denies that there is plenty of room for improvement at Arsenal. I don’t want to get into this discussion right now, it’s a never ending argument so will leave it for the summer. But we must respect Fabregas for saying what he believes to be true. We can criticize him for the timing and perhaps a little lack of tact but it’s harsh to say he is sulking or trying to force his way out. In fact, if anything, it seems he is mentally preparing himself for the long haul.

Finally, I wanted to mention something about the last article and the responses. One chap left ten or more anti-Wenger replies under different names. I just saw them this morning and have since removed them. I don’t know how people find the time and energy to write so many pointless comments but it’s not difficult to see why many Gooners consider such commentators to be Spuds in disguise. From now on if I believe that the same person is leaving abusive comments without any real contribution I will delete the comments without any explanation.

I have no problems with those who disagree with the manager, the board, or any other part of the club. I am also quite happy to allow comments that don’t concur with my opinion. But I will not tolerate an abusive person pretending to be ten people while not making a single meaningful effort to make a point.

Those fans who genuinely support the club should also remember that if it seems there are hundreds of people against the club and Wenger, it is quite likely to be a handful of disgruntled idiots and some Spud trolls polluting the sanctity of the Arsenalsphere.

That’s it for now, I’ll do the NLD preview a little later in the day.


Analysis Of Some Interesting Situations From The West Brom Game – Part II

March 30, 2011

Before I begin, I just want to take the opportunity thank everyone who sent me supportive emails over the last couple of weeks. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to reply to everyone individually. The Gooner empire is going through a difficult period and everyone has their own way of dealing with it. There was a time when I got actively involved in the discussions but now it seems pointless to go through the same arguments over and over again. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop writing but just that I’ll try to keep it about football and analysis of the details of the game rather than opinions on individuals even though that seems to be the popular thing to do at the moment.

Coming back to the game against West Brom, I wanted to talk about a couple of other observations I had.

 

Click on the image to view a larger version

The first image is from the build up to the moment when Van Persie hit the bar and Ramsey couldn’t score from the rebound.

What I noticed about this move was that Clichy actually made a run on the inside channel. Full-backs these days don’t do this on a regular basis and I guess there must be a good reason for that. But there are times when I feel such runs can be extremely useful in opening the opposition up. Evra is one player who does create and utilize such situations rather well.

I was happy that Clichy moved in with the ball from the Arsenal half before playing it to Arshavin on the wing and continuing on his run. Hopefully we will see more of this from Sagna as well. Both Frenchmen did use this tactic and excelled in the 07-08 season but that used to be in a 4-4-2 formation.

In that year the understanding between the wide midfielders and the full-backs was impeccable. If this game is a sign that those movements are coming back it can only lead to a massive improvement in Arsenal’s attacking options.

There was another move in that game which gave me some food for thought. This came just after the half-hour mark. Clichy got the ball on the left inside the Arsenal half. He moved forward with it and played it to Van Persie who had come deep and wide. The Dutchman rolled it first time to Arshavin, who squared it to Ramsey in acres of space. The following snapshot captures this moment.

 

Click on the image to view a larger version

It’s interesting to note that when Ramsey is about to get the ball there is a great deal of space behind the WBA left-back and central defender. Nasri is free, wide on the right but is also pretty static. Sagna is jogging forward.

Now I’m not sure why Nasri didn’t make a run into this space. It should not have been too tough for Ramsey to find a pass into such a vacant area. Granted, at least one of the defenders would have gotten back to track the Frenchman, but with this kind of space who wouldn’t back Samir to dribble past his man?

I’m fairly certain if it had been Cesc in place of Rambo, Nasri would have been off in a flash. We have seen that combination work quite often. So was this opportunity missed because Ramsey hasn’t played regularly and Nasri didn’t know what to expect?

It’s difficult to say exactly what went on. There are many players involved and each has multiple decisions to make. Any one, if out of sync, could break the move.

In this case what eventually happened was that Rambo took a couple of touches while running square. Then he passed it across to Sagna who’d moved forward. Ultimately the winger and full-back were hemmed into a blind alley.

 

Click on the image to view a larger version

Arsenal get into such positions on the wings quite often. Very rarely does something come out of it and when it does it’s usually due to some individual magic by Cesc, who always seems to be around when needed.

Those who’ve been reading my match reports regularly will know that I often talk about switching flanks at pace or moving the ball at a faster tempo. The above situation is a classic example where moving the ball from the left to the right without many touches could have led to an incisive attack. But for that to happen all the players need to be on the same page and that’s not easy to achieve when there are so many changes to the starting eleven due to injuries and other reasons.

In such cases the functional approach of Fergie and other managers could come in handy. It’s not easy to get in behind teams that are defending deep. If the wide players are under instructions to be alert for such runs when the ball is on the other flank it could speed up the moves. Not only would it lead to more threatening moments, it will also create space for the full-back to run into thereby creating two good options for the man on the ball. As I said in the previous article, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cesc, and even Rosicky are capable of finding the runner when they have that kind of space and time on the ball in the middle of the park.

While it can’t be completely eliminated, such tactics will also reduce the number of times the Gunners run into cul-de-sacs on the wings before passing it backwards.

I want to end with a disclaimer which seems very important in the current climate. Such articles are not meant to prove that Wenger is tactically clueless or that some players don’t know what they are doing. They’re certainly not intended to imply that I can see certain things on the pitch that the manager, his staff, or the players can’t. Only the extremely ignorant can fool themselves into believing such self-indulgent notions.

Football is a dynamic game and a lot goes on that we tend to miss. I’m just trying to discuss some observations and I have no doubt the coaching staff and the players do the same. It could be that what they try doesn’t always work out. It could also be that they might have a genuine blind spot somewhere or a completely different way of looking at these things.

Personally, I’m off the opinion that Arsenal could do with some changes/additions to the coaching staff. I also feel there is room for the team to improve on the tactical front. But I try not to disrespect the people who have been at the club for years and have worked hard sincerely. And I never assume it’s as simple as saying “use more width”, “put in more crosses”, and stuff like that. That only works in pundit-land not in real world football management.


Analysis Of Some Interesting Situations From The West Brom Game – Part I

March 27, 2011

I have been away from football and the news for the last few days but yesterday I got the chance to watch the West Brom game once again. I wanted a relook as I’d noticed some moments while watching live that seemed worth analyzing. This article is a quick discussion based on one of these observations.

In the image below we can see Arsenal get into a very exciting position just before the hour mark.

Click on the image to see a bigger version

Wilshere is on the ball. Arsenal have three players on the edge of the box and Van Persie in a good position just outside. Clichy is hugging the far touchline and is completely unmarked. The full-back has his left arm up but Wilshere doesn’t see it or sees it but decides that a pass down the middle is a better option.

The lines I have drawn represent what I was hoping to see. The thick line would be a bent run from Clichy as he comes into the box unseen and unmarked. The thinner line would have been a chipped pass from Wilshere, something he excels at. Such a pass would have allowed Chamakh and Bendtner to get into extremely dangerous positions at the near and back post. Arshavin could have made a run to the centre of the box while RvP could have positioned himself on the edge of the D for a cut-back. West Brom would have been scrambling to tackle Clichy and defend against four attackers in the box. As we can see the hosts had four or five players on their left side and would have struggled to get enough bodies back. We’ve seen Barca create and exploit such situations quite regularly.

Now this is just a single instance and the pass down the middle wasn’t a bad option in itself. So I don’t want to criticize any player based on this. But it does give us a few points to ponder.

Why don’t Arsenal create such situations more often? Do the Gunners prefer shorter passes and attacks down the middle? Is this an issue with the philosophy of the manager and the training routines? Is the longer pass over the top much more difficult to execute?

These questions don’t have straightforward answers. For instance, we’d all like to see Arsenal attack in numbers, stretch the play, get bodies into the box, and ultimately score a lot of goals, but it’s pretty obvious that the above situation leaves the defence completely exposed as both full-backs are really high up the field and there isn’t a defensive minded midfielder on the pitch.

Another point could be that such an instance can only arise if the opponents are not alert to the man on the wing. Once the Gunners start using this tactic, the other team will learn to cover for it. Of course, it can still be done but it’s so difficult that only one team in the world is able to pull it off consistently.

However, I do feel that Arsenal should try to use this tactic a lot more often and it has to come from the training pitches.

If you watch this particular play on video, you’ll notice that Clichy barely moves on the touchline. That tells me he is not alert to the possibility of making a run in behind and into the box but is looking for a pass out wide. As an extension, I’d think that his instructions are to hug that touchline and offer width. A decent approach no doubt but one that can be tweaked to make better use of such moments.

If the Frenchman had made the run, even if the ball had been played exactly as it was to Arshavin, the Russian would have had better options.

Click on the image to see a bigger version

As we can see in the snapshot above, there is a great deal of space behind the West Brom right-back. Clichy’s run – if he’d bent it and stayed onside – could have distracted the defender, it could have created more space for Arshavin, and the Russian might have been in a position to play Clichy in on goal.

Don’t be fooled into believing that Clichy isn’t good enough to make that run. Running into such a space would be a piece of cake for the Frenchman. He does many more difficult things on the pitch. In fact, that is another reason I feel it’s something the Gunners aren’t doing enough in training.

One could argue that it is up to the players to make such choices but I find it difficult to believe the manager and coaches don’t have a big say in it. Arsenal have had some trouble getting the balance right in the full-back areas since the change to the 4-3-3 formation. I’m sure a lot of work goes into studying their positions and instructing them on their movements.

I do agree that the long pass over the top is not an easy one to execute. But with the likes of Cesc, Wilshere, Nasri, and now Ramsey in midfield, Arsenal have plenty of players who can make it work.

I don’t wish to imply that Wenger doesn’t train his players well but it seems to me that Le Boss either doesn’t like this trick much or hasn’t been able to mix it well enough into an undoubtedly arduous training regime.

When the first eleven is fit and firing this might not be needed but when we have the likes of Chamakh and Bendtner on the pitch I’d feel this is a better tactic than playing it down the middle so often. Hopefully, we will see more incisive use of such moments in the near future. Such subtle issues can be the difference between one point or three.

In the coming days I’ll discuss some other moments from the game.


Thoughts On The Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Barcelona

March 8, 2011

Some of you might remember I’d discussed a slightly defensive approach before the home game. The main premise was that since the team is not going to dominate the ball they’ll have to put in a well organized defensive performance. As events unfolded we saw Barcelona dominating the game and taking a deserved lead but a disallowed goal and some missed chances meant that Arsenal were not out of the tie. The positive approach was rewarded towards the end as the visitors tired. One goalkeeping howler combined with a wonder-strike and a lighting fast counter attack were enough to give Arsenal the win.

Will that advantage be enough to qualify for the next stage by eliminating the favourites remains to be seen.

Arsene has talked about a slightly different approach to the away game whereas Cesc has said that we must stick to what we know. Both men know that Arsenal will not dominate possession against this Barcelona team.

For a while now, I’ve held the opinion that tactical modifications are one of the great man’s weaknesses so I’ll be keeping a close eye on the tactics that Wenger will deploy. Arsene said, “We can defend when we have to.” Some of the recent performances, and the fact that Arsenal have now conceded fewer goals than Manchester United in the League, do back up that claim but I’m not fully convinced.

I liked the way Fabregas talked about this game.

We have to be intelligent and mature enough to solve the problems they may cause. We know Barcelona keeps possession of the ball something like 70 per cent of the game and we are not used to that.

There is no doubt the problems Barcelona will cause will be completely different from the ones that Arsenal have to face twice a week in England. The Catalan giants with their trademark pressing will ensure that the Gunners will not have any time on the ball to pick out simple passes even at the back.

I expect the intensity of pressing in this game to be much higher than the first leg. I also expect more purposeful and focussed attacks from Barcelona. Their confidence while playing at home is at a different level and Arsenal will not get away with a performance like the first half at the emirates.

Barcelona have many avenues of attack but Arsenal will have to ensure at least three basic issues are handled without an error for the duration of the game.

1) Messi must not be allowed to turn and run at the defence without any pressure

While the hosts will have plenty of attacking threats there is none bigger than the diminutive Argentinean. If he is allowed to receive the ball without pressure and run at the defence he can wreck havoc against any opposition.

Since Messi literally roams all over the pitch these days, often dropping back into his own half to receive the ball, it’s not easy to stop him. However, I’d prefer to see more pressure on the best player in the world when he receives the ball in the Arsenal half. And at no point should he be allowed to just get between the lines without close attention.

One approach would be for the defenders (Koscielny) to track Messi as he did in the latter stages of the first leg. I’m not convinced that is a strategy that can be successfully used for ninety minutes as it leaves a big hole at the back for others to exploit and the Arsenal midfield is not renowned for tracking runs diligently.

Easier said than done no doubt, as any manager or player who has gone up against Messi will confirm. Arsenal will need impeccable communication between the defenders and the midfield to pull this off.

2) Gap between the lines must be narrow

Apart from communication, the Gunners will have to ensure that the gap between the midfield and defence is never too large, especially when the opponents have the ball. If this distance is as big as we see in the above image it will be like playing into the hands of the opponents.

Obviously, this is a tricky issue because if the players drop too deep they might end up in an overly defensive shape and lose all options of breaking forward. But in my opinion defence will have to take priority at least for the first half. If Arsenal are two or three down by half-time this game will be over and Barcelona will be able to sit back and play on the counter.

We have seen their weaknesses late in games and it’s imperative for Wenger’s team to keep this tie alive till the final few minutes.

3) Defensive line must not be broken due to lack of concentration or carelessness

Once again taking an example from their goal at the Emirates, we can see the defensive line losing shape way too easily making it easy for Villa to get in behind.

This is a fairly high line while playing against a team like Barcelona so it will be interesting to see if Wenger uses this tactic or pulls his team further back to reduce the space between the defenders and the Keeper.

In either case we are likely to see a lot more attacking runs from the opponents; Villa, Iniesta, Alves, and others. If Arsenal don’t maintain the defensive discipline Barcelona will be able to convert harmless possession into a goal at blink-and-you-miss speeds.

Apart from these three points there are some other issues that Arsenal will have to pay attention to. For instance, the gap between Eboue and Djourou is way too big in the above screenshot. Arsenal will have to be a lot more compact than that.

So far the only tactic that has had relative success for visitors to the Nou Camp in a big game has been a deep and narrow defensive line with a second layer of protection within five yards or so. I don’t think Arsenal can quite pull it off if they try this approach so they will have to find a middle point between an extremely defensive approach and their usual high-line attacking style.

The tactics that Arsene can use will also depend on the players available to him. Without Walcott it will be easier for Barcelona as Arshavin doesn’t have the same pace and will not put in an equivalent shift in defence either. In fact, I’d be tempted to play Eboue on the left ahead of the Russian for the first hour of the game. This will allow Nasri some breathing/attacking room on the right as he won’t have to spend time tracking Alves.

Preferred starting line-up,

Szczesny – Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy – Diaby, Cesc, Wilshere – Nasri, Bendtner, Eboue.

There could also be an argument for playing Gibbs instead of the Ivorian but the youngster doesn’t have enough experience to play in a game of this stature.

I’m sure arguments can be made for starting with Arshavin and going into the game with a positive mentality. I can’t reject the thought outright but it seems like a high risk option to me.

With Van Persie’s surprise late inclusion in the squad there is a chance that the Dutchman might start this game. As I discussed in the previous article it’s an option that doesn’t worries me more than it excites me but I cannot reject that possibility either.

In response to the previous post some suggested that Chamakh should start this game. The logic of using the Moroccan’s superior work rate seems sound but I’m worried about his lack of confidence in front of goal. On the other hand, if he can get one of the central defenders sent off it will completely change the complexion of this tie.

Personally, I’d prefer a solid opening with some quick breaks. Barcelona will miss Puyol and Pique. If Arsenal can put Abidal and his partner under some pressure this game could yield exhilarating situations.

Szczesny will undoubtedly be called upon to make some big saves and Koscielny will need to at least repeat his excellent display from the first leg. This game offers the duo a glorious chance for redemption after their terrible gaffe in the League Cup final. I won’t blame them if they don’t succeed but will be extremely disappointed if they buckle under pressure.

I’d also like to see Arsenal make the best use of any set-piece opportunities that arise. In many matches the Gunners seem to take these lightly but they cannot afford to do so in this one. Valdes is one of Barcelona’s true weaknesses and must be tested at every opportunity.

The home side are likely to get the benefit of most of the close decisions from the ref so none of the players can risk flirting with fouls the way Song did in the first leg. This will be closely linked with the positions that Arsenal take up. If the gap between the lines is large then the midfielders will inevitably end up conceding some fouls as they chase opponents towards their own goal.

The Gunners must avoid the mistake of hooking the ball back into play from dangerous situations. Putting it out for a corner or a throw should not be a big problem against Barcelona as long as they are alert to the quickly taken ones. If the Arsenal players switch off even for a few moments, Barcelona can covert a free-kick or a throw into a goal with relative ease.

On the whole I don’t want to have too many expectations from this game with a guy like Messi in the opposition ranks. Arsenal have the players to make this an entertaining and closely fought encounter but I’m not convinced they have the defensive discipline and concentration to keep the Argentinean and his cohorts out for the duration of the game. Of course, I had similar thoughts before the first leg as well and look how it turned out. With a bit of luck you never know.


After Arshavin And Szczesny, Is Bendtner Being Misquoted?

November 12, 2010

In the course of my regular morning scouring of the internet for Arsenal news I came across this blog post that linked to this article in the Danish media.

The headline of that Danish post, if google translate is to be believed, is – Bendtner: I’m wasting my time at Arsenal.

It seems like an interview similar to the ones he has given earlier where he comes across as being extremely confident and deserving of a starting role. The striker seems disappointed with his lack of game time since his return from injury and that is understandable. He is the type who always believes in himself and wants to be out on the pitch. I don’t have a problem with that at all. In fact, I think that’s a fantastic attitude to have.

Only in this case, Bendtner also seems to be talking about leaving Arsenal unless the situation with his role on the bench changes.

Of course there is a line where he says his priority is, and always has been, to be at Arsenal. Again it’s something that I appreciate.

I’m not quoting anything from the interview because I don’t trust the translation to capture the tone of the conversation. If you understand Danish then it will be nice to get a first hand opinion on what has been said. Please do leave your thoughts in the comments. Until I get a first hand translation or a response on the official website, I’ll continue to believe that Bendtner wants a starting place (which is understandable), he is frustrated (which is acceptable), but his priority is to be at Arsenal (which is the most relevant point).

What I want to discuss in this post is the increasing number of translation manipulations going on and whether Arsenal can deal with them in a better way. If you’ve been reading Untold Arsenal or this blog for any length of time you’ll have seen some stories about how Arshavin has been quoted out of context or a complete hoax built around the Russian magician’s comments.

Similarly, Szczesny was recently misquoted to the extent that the Pole got annoyed and opened a twitter account to clarify. Fabregas too has suffered from translation issues.

Arsenal have top stars from around the world and for most of them English is not their first language. Obviously, whenever they give an interview in their language there will be a chance that something gets lost or worse, cooked up in translation.

One way of dealing with this is for fans to trust only a limited number of sources that provide accurate, reliable information. Clearly a sensible approach. The problem however, is that there are far too many writers in the media and the blogosphere who just need a chance to create a negative story about Arsenal or one of the players. Once these stories are repeated by others they get an air of credibility in the eyes of many readers.

If, like me, you don’t get conned by the media that easily anymore then you might say it’s up to the fans to know right from wrong and reliable from unreliable. That’s a valid point of view but not a comprehensive one. I can see the other side of this coin. Fans have plenty to deal with in their lives. If they see a report with quotes, and trust me these little symbols ” ” make a big difference, the majority are likely to believe it.

The clarifications might come a day or two later but many fans who have read something like Bendtner saying “I’m wasting my time at Arsenal” will have some sort of a negative slant towards the player at the back of their minds. And these things build up over time. It’s not right and one could blame the fans but it happens and we should not be in denial.

I’m convinced many who have a go at Arshavin these days have some of his quotes at the back of their minds without clearly knowing which ones were accurate and which were fabrications or taken out of context.

I feel there is a better, proactive approach that the club can take. All players’ contracts should have a clause that if they give an interview to a third party, a transcript of that interview should be made available to Arsenal before that is published or Arsenal should be informed beforehand if it’s a live interview.

This is not a complicated thing to execute and should allow the club to be prepared for any kind of translation issues that might occur. That way the official website can print any clarifications at a short notice before the quotes can snowball into controversies.

I remember Cesc used to come out with an official statement on Arsenal.com whenever an incorrect report involving him appeared in the media. I used to really appreciate the quick response from El Capitan and the club. For some reason they’ve stopped this and haven’t done it with other players.

I hope they start this again and do it for all the players.