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.


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.