Euro 2012 Day 9 & 10: Podolski Celebrates Century, Four Gunners Return Home

June 18, 2012

100 games for the national team! That’s some achievement. Lukas Podolski should be proud of his efforts. He did celebrate it with a well-taken goal and is one of the two Arsenal players, along with Rosicky, who’ve moved on to the quarter-finals. But the news wasn’t good for Van Persie, Szczesny, Arshavin, and Bendtner who all bow out.

Podolski played just over an hour and created a couple of gilt-edged chances from the inside left channel to go with his goal. But the Germans had failed to convert their technical and tactical dominance into a convincing lead by the time he left the pitch. Like many teams in the tournament, Germany also missed a number of clear-cut chances.

Looking back, with three wins from their three group games – a feat they haven’t achieved before, it would seem Die Mannschaft had everything under control but it wasn’t the case. Had Badstuber’s tug on Bendtner’s shirt been penalized with the score still 1-1, the Germans would have conceded a penalty and gone down to 10 men. That could easily have seen them knocked out. While there is no argument Germany deserved to go through at the top of their group, it does once again highlight how close things can get at the highest level and the impact seemingly minor decisions can have on the fortunes of teams.

Coming back to the centurion, it was good to see Prinz Poldi being involved in the game a lot more than he did in the previous two. He spent a lot of time in the inside channels and picked up his goal via a classic poacher’s run from outside the D to the centre of the penalty box. Throughout the game his movement was commendable as he worked the channel without losing track of his defensive duties. Ultimately, the performance won him the Carlsberg Man of the Match award even though he only played two-thirds of the game. For him it was the perfect night.

It was great for me. To get my 100th cap, and then to score, I’ll remember that for the rest of my days. Everything was perfect for me today.

The other Arsenal player involved in that game would probably not say the same. Bendtner worked hard in the attack and picked up a quality assist from a well-worked set-piece but that wasn’t enough for Denmark. The striker has had a good tournament to go with some respectable performances with Sunderland on loan last season. His style of play and strengths will most likely not interest the top teams but the Dane can be a big player for a mid-level team in Europe. Hopefully, the transfer issue will be settled soon now that his involvement in the Euros is over.

Another person in a similar situation is Arshavin. The Russian will also be returning home, in an outcome that has shocked many after their strong start to the competition, after his side lost out to a dogged Greek unit. Like Bendtner, Arshavin has also impressed on loan and in this competition but the performances probably weren’t at the level needed to win the Premier League or Champions League. And with the arrival of Podolski on the left it’s quite likely that the fleet-footed winger will see his name on the back of a different club’s shirt next season.

In the other game on Saturday, Szczesny saw his side eliminated from the bench. Contrary to assumptions made by many based on some remarks by Poland manager Smuda, it was Tyton who rightfully retained his place in the starting line-up. With his tournament over early, Wojciech should be able to get a good vacation before returning to Arsenal. He’s undoubtedly a prodigious talent but the step up to a world class player is not always easy. For Szczesny the rest of the summer has to be about focus and hard work.

While the Arsenal custodian was on the bench when his side was eliminated, Rosicky missed his team’s decisive win through injury. It might even keep him out of the quarter-final against Portugal which might mean that his tournament is over as it’s difficult to imagine the Seleccao getting knocked out in that one. Rest, recover and get ready for the next season Little M.

That finally brings us to the person who was without a doubt Arsenal’s biggest player of last season. Robin van Persie’s national team crashed out of the Euros with three straight defeats. Some might have predicted a tough time for the Dutch in the group of death but few would have foreseen these results.

Bert van Marwijk tried to change his tactics in the final game but it was two games too late. In part his team’s performances against Portugal did mirror some of Arsenal’s troubles, especially the chaos and panic at the back once Holland failed to sustain any possession.

The manager touched upon this,

I think we started quite well. After the back pass from Gregory [van der Wiel] there was a lot of uncertainty in the team.

To me, this uncertainty or panic at the back stems from a lack of tactical and structural solidity. Once plan A fails, the teams must have something to fall back upon, a way to shut up shop till they can find their rhythm again. Arsenal can’t do it consistently and the Dutch have confirmed it’s a problem that can plague the best of teams and can end up making them look far worse than they actually are.

In fairness to BvM, his stars didn’t perform at the level expected from the best players in the world.

…the players who usually make the difference for us, for one reason or another, didn’t really reach their level.

Robben will get his share of the blame but Van Persie will also have to shoulder the burden of failure. If he’d taken some of the quality chances that came his way in the first game things could have been different for Denmark. Was the Arsenal skipper distracted by the discussions with Arsenal regarding his future or was he under pressure due to the calls for the inclusion of Huntelaar? As his manager said, for one reason or another, RvP didn’t quite live up to expectations in this tournament.

Of course, that doesn’t make him a useless player but it could certainly affect his confidence. More than anything else though, I hope he got a chance to see how difficult it can be at the highest level even with some of the biggest names in the game by your side. Football is about a team more than anything else. And if there is one that is based around creating chances for you and getting the best out of your abilities, you have to appreciate what you’re getting. The same won’t necessarily or seamlessly happen at other places.

At this point I don’t know what Van Persie wants, although speculation is that it’s not about the money, so I don’t want to judge him. Let’s hope he sees the benefits of staying with the Gunners sooner rather than regretfully later.

In other news of interest, the fixtures for next season are out. I’ll try to post my thoughts later in the day.

Smart Choice By Wilshere. And By Bendtner?

May 23, 2011

Stuart Pearce has left Wilshere out of the U-21 squad. Coming soon after the honest interview given by Denilson that filled most of us with hope, this is the second piece of highly encouraging Arsenal news. I hope this trend develops and the summer turns out to be as memorable as the last few weeks have been miserable.

The England youth manager explained his decision by indirectly hinting that Wilshere wanted out.

I spoke to Jack last week and he explained that while he told me in March that he wanted to be part of the squad, he now feels he is not in the best condition to take part in the finals. That is based on the number of games he has played for Arsenal this season, sports science data which Jack was presented with last week and concerns he has for his fitness looking ahead to next season.

Since these aren’t the exact words of the Arsenal star, I don’t want to read too much into it. Some people could turn this into a negative story saying Wilshere’s turned his back on his country, but, thankfully, this particular news doesn’t seem to be going in that direction.

I think that Jack has been extremely smart about this issue and has taken the right decision based on valid, scientific facts and most probably his own exhaustion. Even without that data, many who watched the last few Arsenal games could clearly see that the youngster was struggling physically and perhaps mentally as well.

I am amazed by the maturity shown by someone so young. Playing for one’s country, even at the youth level, is a matter of pride. Balancing the requirements of the body against the emotional urges anyone is likely to feel when presented with such an opportunity requires exceptional clarity of thought and decision making abilities.

Going to Denmark would have done no good to Wilshere, Arsenal, or the English team in the long run. It was a classic lose-lose situation and the key men in the English set-up should have been experienced and knowledgeable enough to see that on their own.

A small but important point worth noting is that Wilshere was shown some sports science data last week that helped him make the right choice. I wonder who could have done that 🙂 The complexities and subtleties of a football manager’s job never cease to amaze me.

Hopefully, there won’t be further twists to this saga and the future of Arsenal will get a well deserved rest in the summer.

In another interesting rumour, that could further enhance the trend mentioned at the start of this post, Bendtner’s father has reportedly said that his son wants to leave Arsenal.

Nicklas is 100 per cent open now to a change of clubs. He has made his decision and he has told it to Arsenal. Nicklas needs to be playing regularly from the start, so, sadly, he must leave. He wanted to finish the season first, so no-one could say he didn’t fight for a first-team place right until the end.

I am not a fan of attaching too much value to third person statements on what a player wants to do, even if that person is the father of the player. But the future of Bendtner has been open for discussion and I have a feeling the best option for all concerned would be to let him go.

I like Bendnter as a player and admire his confidence and professionalism. He can carve a fantastic career in Italy or Germany. At Arsenal, I am not convinced he will be that useful in the system that Wenger is using. And based on the manager’s recent interviews, I am not sure he is too keen on adding certain variations that could get the best out of the Dane and make him a valuable player for the Gunners. If the manager cannot adapt certain aspects of his tactics to suit the players he has, he will have to find players who better suit his style.

This transfer could be another win-win for all parties if Arsene can get good value for the Danish international.

I want to discuss some other points covered in the recent interviews and press conferences that Wenger has given, hopefully in the next day or two. Some friends had come over from Canada and the weekend just passed in a blink without giving me much time to write. I wasn’t even able to watch the game so the match report will be delayed till later tonight when I can find a few hours to watch and write. Apologies to those who are interested in the match analysis and have been waiting.

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.

Calculated Violence – The Latest Trick In Anti-Football?

February 24, 2011

Over the last few years we have seen quite a few new tricks evolved by the exponents of anti-football. Rotational fouling and rotational time-wasting are two of the most commonly seen ones. After watching the last game against Stoke I have a feeling we are going to see another trick join the list – ‘World’s most successful anti-football tactics’.

I would like to call this ‘Calculated Violence’ or ‘Measured Assault’

Let me illustrate this by analyzing the attack on Djourou by John Carew.

As we can see from that image, when the Swiss defender plays the ball the Norwegian is more than two yards away. It wasn’t a 50-50 tackle it was a 100-0 by anyone’s honest reckoning.

No surprise then that the ball is over five yards away when Carew clatters into Arsenal’s centre-back.

There are two aspects to this attack – what Carew could have done if he actually wanted to play football? And What Carew actually did.

If the Stoke striker had any intention of playing the ball he could have easily done so.

In the above close up we can see that Djourou has already played the ball as Carew is charging at him. Not only has the defender played the ball he has also pulled his leg out for fear of receiving an ugly stomp from the big man.

If Carew wanted to, he could have landed on his right leg, dropped his left shoulder and changed direction towards the ball. If you look back to the other images above, there is a big gap between Djourou and Clichy and the defender didn’t get enough power on the ball as he was looking to pull his foot out. Carew could actually have won the ball and charged into the box.

I have played a lot of sports at amateur/college levels and can say with confidence that changing direction is not that big a deal, certainly shouldn’t be for professional footballers. If he had any positive intentions he would also have been anticipating such a touch by Djourou and actively seeking to exploit it.

We have seen enough examples of quality football from the striker prior to his Stoke days to know that he can do it if he wants to. That leads me to believe that he had no intention of playing the ball.

This brings me to the second part. What was John Carew trying to do?

I was a sports nut while growing up and one of the sports (although now I don’t consider it a sport) that I followed was WWE (WWF as it was known in those days). Carew’s charge reminded me of the term Clothesline that was quite common in that. I just Googled it and found this description of how to perform a clothesline attack.

  • Face your opponent, about five feet away from them. A good clothesline has a lot of power so get some momentum going.
  • Bend your knees and be ready for action. Charge at your opponent as quickly as you can. The faster you go, the more force there will be in your clothesline.
  • Put your dominant arm out to the side of your body. If you are right handed, then stay about a foot to the left of your opponent. Swing your arm and try to hit your opponent in the chest with your forearm. Jump to get more power and knock them over.

Read that description, look at the earlier images in the article, and the final image above. I believe John Carew gave us the perfect tutorial on how to deliver a clothesline.

The purpose of this was two-fold. Early on in the second half it tested the resolve of the ref. Once it was clear the ref is allowing such an assault to go unpunished Stoke were motivated to go at the Gunners in every manner possible.

The second point to this is to rattle the individual. No matter how strong Djourou is, such a blow to the diaphragm would leave him winded. He would continue to feel the effects of the hit for the next few minutes and there is a chance that he could lose concentration. Another advantage for Stoke would be that the defender would be hurt and wary of going into another such challenge knowing fully well that he won’t be protected by the ref.

Spread this around i.e. different players assaulting different opponents, and you’d undoubtedly make an impact on the other team’s ability to play football.

Make no mistake about it, Arsenal are going to face more and more of this ‘Calculated Violence’ till the end of the season.

On a related side note I also wanted to discuss some of the lies spewed by Tony Pulis.

Let’s not worry about his attempts of trivializing the discussion by talking about the card counts of the two teams. This game itself was a good example of how Stoke get away with shocking challenges that renders any discussion based on the number of cards received meaningless. It’s a shame that no one in the media has the guts to question Pulis about this.

But this is something we have heard often enough and isn’t worth dwelling on. More interesting was the Stoke manager’s comment about his team’s honesty.

We are a very honest team. Jermaine Pennant showed that second half when he was tackled and he got straight up. We do that at this football club. We don’t like people rolling around or seeing people trying to get players booked or sent off. It’s traditional but it’s the way we like to do things at this club.

In the first half Bendtner attempted a sliding tackle that was deemed to be a foul by the ref. I thought the Dane got the ball but since it was a little bit from behind it could have been considered a foul.

If we look at the details it’s a very decent attempt. Bendtner ensures his laces were facing the opponent and not his studs. He also had his other leg tucked in below him to cut out any chances of a scissor action. Even his leg movement was going across him and not in the direction of his body weight/momentum. Unfortunately, these are the kind of technical details that no one in the media seems to focus on when discussing good or bad tackles.

Pennant, for his part, went to ground far too easily, rolled on the pitch twice, and was holding his shin as if it had been hacked off.

Even in the second half, Clichy actually won the ball and Pennant went down far too easily, that is if we apply the same standards that people impose on Arsenal.

An honest and traditional club indeed. They seem to have a tradition of violence and cheating and seem to follow it honestly, nay, religiously.

Well, at least they can consider themselves the world’s best at something. I don’t know who pioneered this art of ‘Calculated Violence’ but Stoke have perfected it.

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 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.

Individual Player Analysis: Nicklas Bendtner

May 31, 2010

Nicklas Bendtner is another Arsenal player who divides opinion. There are those who have already written him off and claim that he will never be a top class striker, while there are others who believe in his immense potential, and some consider him to be a great player already!

The facts of the case are as follows,

  • Bendtner played a big part in Denmark’s impressive qualifying campaign and ended with a national Player of the Year title.
  • The Dane has 6 goals and 6 assists in the league @103 min per goal/assist. Compare with Berbatov @116, Anelka @135, Agbonlahor @171, Defoe @111, and Adebayor @116.
  • Since his return from injury in January he has played 18 games in all competitions with 9 goals and 6 assists.

My conclusions are

  • Bendtner is the best second choice striker in the league (Anelka has a case, but if both played centrally I think B52 will outperform the ex-Arsenal player)
  • The young Dane is by far the best 22 year old striker in the league
  • He is going to get better!

I really don’t get the problem some people have with him. On one hand the Misery Brigade wants international players, on the other they don’t want to value a youngster who has taken his team to the World Cup and was recognized as the Player of the Year!

While some of the complaints against him are valid, the conclusions negativists draw are random and lack perspective. I see his strengths and weaknesses as,

Bendtner Strengths

  • Physical presence
  • Fantastic Header
  • Great positioning in the box
  • Times his runs well
  • Has the ability and judgement to assist (far too many strikers don’t have this)
  • Developing constantly and consistently
  • Confidence

Bendtner Areas of Improvement

  • Work Rate
  • Needs to know the corners of the goal (most top strikers develop it after playing centrally for 2-3 seasons. Many in the Premiership or Europe never develop this skill)
  • First touch
  • Shooting from outside the box and the weaker foot
  • Poaching instincts

If you compare him with the top strikers in the league there are some key areas where Bendtner needs to improve. I agree with the statement that he isn’t a finished article but that is only a good thing because he is already very, very good!

With the arrival of Chamakh, this season will be a challenge for the Dane. He might not get that many chances in his favoured central position. What I’d like to see is better contribution from him while playing in wider areas. Someone with his stature can be a really dangerous man while arriving at the back post.

So far he has maintained a healthy balance between confidence and effort. I hope he keeps improving this season and doesn’t sulk at the lack to central time. All I’d say is – keep up the good work.