Tiny Totts 3 – 3 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

April 21, 2011

What a cracker! Probably was the most open and entertaining game I have seen in the Premiership this season. Begrudgingly, I have to say congratulations to the Tiny Totts for putting up a performance like that. I lost count of the long balls and hopeful crosses but in between all that there was some good football from the hosts.

I thought one of the reasons the game was so tightly fought was that Modric was playing out of his skin and might have produced his game of the season. For Arsenal, Cesc was nowhere close to his best. The other reason of course was that Arsenal really struggle against the long-ball/cross-to-big-man style and the Tinies pulled it off pretty well.

To be fair no team should be criticized for a 3-3 draw in which either side could have scored more. I loved the similarities between the goals. Both teams scored the second from outside the box from a position one would not have normally expected the ball to go in. Arsenal’s first was a lovely through ball that caught the defence out and Spuds scored a similar one for their third. Their first and Arsenal’s third came from crosses into the box from the right and some defensive mistakes. Freakish!

I don’t think in this game anyone can say that Arsenal bottled it. That would be an extremely ignorant and lazy opinion based solely on the fact that a lead was lost. But in such games I find that irrelevant. We cannot be in denial about some of the weaknesses that Arsenal have. When the opposition exploits those we just have to say fair play to them. I’m convinced Wenger has some defensive blindspots that are about the system and not individuals. That’s the reason I have been talking about a new defence coach but now is not the time to get into that. One thing is for sure, if you think buying a goalkeeper or defenders would have changed anything in this game you haven’t been watching closely. It’s a complicated topic so more on this in the summer.

I don’t want to write about the goals and other aspects in detail as it would turn this article into a novel. I’ll just cover key aspects in the bullet point form.

Tiny Goals

  • First– Diaby should have read it better. Central defenders were doing a good job on the strikers. Szczesny should have covered his near post as Diaby would most probably have blocked a strike across the goal. Van der Vaart deserves credit for his opportunism and technique.
  • Second– System problem, too many players in the box no one outside. Have covered this in the past so will leave it for now.
  • Third– Stupid mistakes by Sagna and Szczesny. Sagna moved forward when that angle was already covered, he should have moved towards the centre. Szczesny could easily have pulled out. At this level the keeper should be aware that the attacker is at a hopeless angle and is most likely looking to go down rather than control the ball. Lennon anyway doesn’t have the control to take a soft touch in such a position.

Arsenal Goals

  • First – Another superb break at speed. Excellent finish from Theo.
  • Second – Opportunism and technique from Nasri. Awful tracking by Van der Vaart.
  • Third – Excellent cross by Sagna. Rubbish from Gallas. Wonderful chip by an alert Walcott. Powerful header by RvP, top class save by Gomes, good finish from Van Persie.

General Observations

  • The Tinies moved the ball from flank to flank really well. Even though my head was aching after watching some of the long balls, I must commend their general approach and the technique to successfully execute it on many occasions.
  • Arsenal seem to suffer an identity crisis at times, especially when the team is leading by a couple of goals. This team plays its best football when the pressing starts higher up. They can also do a decent job when they stay back with discipline (Wolves, Everton etc). But there are times when we get stuck with a couple of players in a no man’s land. That’s the time when the attack doesn’t have enough numbers to create or press and the defence doesn’t have enough bodies to cover the key areas.
  • The Gunners didn’t do a good job on the second ball on some occasions. I thought this was related to the identity crisis issue as the bodies were in the wrong areas of the pitch. It’s another issue that I want to expand on with snapshots, either next week or in the summer.
  • There were acres of space in the Spuds half but the system didn’t allow Theo the chance to run into those spaces often enough. That’s another example that the team/manager doesn’t have a clear cut approach in some cases. If you want to attack after three goals, press a bit higher up. Don’t allow the opposition so much time to pick out effective long balls. If you want to defend, change the shape and get the fastest man down the middle.
  • Arsenal should not have played the end-to-end game in the second half but slowed the tempo down a bit. This would have allowed the team to get back into shape and pushed the Tinies back. When a game is so spread out it favours the team that thrives on long-balls.
  • Redknapp brought on Sandro for Pavlyuchenko in the final fifteen minutes. Arsenal introduced Arshavin and Bendtner. Shows what both managers wanted to achieve.
  • Let’s not forget no visiting team has scored three at WHL this season. Nor the fact that United, Chelsea, and City have all drawn here. Arsenal might have played a more cautious game and come up with a 1-1 or a 0-0. People would have found other reasons to criticize the team then. But the simple fact is that it’s no longer an easy ground to get results at.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: Made some good saves. Could have done better for the first and second goals. Should have done better for the third.

Sagna: Good game on the right, especially against Bale. But made a big blunder for the third goal. Put in a couple of good crosses.

Djourou: Had a few shaky moments. Didn’t look like he was prepared to attack the second ball after Crouch won the first, instead he was watching the ball.

Koscielny: Lost almost everything against Crouch in the air. Can’t really blame him but he needs to learn how to make an impact using his body to put the striker off.

Clichy: Did quite well given the fact that even with Nasri on the left he often had to deal with two attackers on his own. Could have done more in attack as Van der Vaart would not have tracked him that well. No one at Arsenal seemed alert to this option.

It was disappointing to see crucial mistakes from reliable players like Szczesny and Sagna. The back five did as well as they could considering how often the team lost its shape.

Song: Had to do a lot of chasing as the ball moved from flank to flank. Was a bit clumsy in the first half, lost his footing and control of the ball on occasions, needs to do a better job of holding his position in the defensive areas.

Cesc: Surprisingly poor touch in and around the opposition box. Tried some shots from distance late in the game that should satisfy some fans who keep demanding it. Was one of the players who was caught in a no man’s land quite often.

Diaby: Had a decent game but made some mistakes. Was lucky not to be punished for his tackle on Modric. Should have done a better job on Van der Vaart for the first goal.

In the second half, the midfield didn’t control the game as well as they could have done against a two-man opposition. I also thought the midfielders should have been closer to the back five. Only Song was staying deeper and that sucked Walcott back whenever the ball was kicked long to Arsenal’s right. It also left Clichy in difficult situations.

Walcott: Put in some amazing crosses. Excellent finish. Good assist for RvP. Did more than his share of defensive tracking as well.

RvP: Excellent movement, good goal, should have done better on certain occasions when he was in possession in dangerous areas.

Nasri: Opportunistic goal. Didn’t offer enough in attack or defence. Another player who was caught in a limbo quite often. Struggles on the left so it’s a bit of a sacrifice to play him there but that’s the best balance this squad can achieve right now.

The attacking players were incredible in the first half and extremely clinical. Struggled in the second half when the game was stretched. I would like to see Nasri and Walcott swapping positions during the game.

Wenger: This is the best team available to the manager, often called the first-team by some fans. Can’t criticize the team selection. Don’t know why Diaby was taken off so no comment on that. Wasn’t able to instruct the players to control the shape or the pace of the game. Individual mistakes came from usually reliable players so again tough to blame the manager for that. On the positive side his system was the only one that opened up this opposition so often in their own backyard. If you don’t believe me watch the opening day Spuds-City game to get some perspective.

Thoughts On TheTactics And Starting Eleven Against Tiny Totts

April 20, 2011

The Barcodes have kept United in check. There is still a lot to play for. Wenger is also getting some players back from the treatment room. I guess we can call this a good news day.

Tactically, there won’t be any surprises in this game. I expect a lot of long, diagonal balls from the Spuds defenders and midfield directed towards their speedy wingers. Sagna and Clichy will have their work cut out but in the past both have shown they can deal with pace. Even then, Arsene should not leave the responsibility of dealing with Lennon and Bale on his full-backs alone. The wide attackers and midfielders have to provide better support in the wide areas. If the Gunners leave the wings open often enough, the hosts are definitely going to score from one or two of their chances.

Redknapp, if he stays true to his notions, is quite likely to start Crouch up front. He will be the target of some long balls out from the defence and also a million crosses from either wing. Djourou and Koscielny will have to do a good job of marking him, and along with the midfield they will have to track the runners to the second ball. Song will have to produce a big game and he must keep his priorities on defending. There are times when Arsenal do this really well and on other occasions we have seen some players switching off. At this stage of the season nothing short of unwavering concentration will suffice.

The Tiny Totts will certainly play at a higher tempo at home and the initial phases of the game will make for an interesting tussle. The Gunners will find themselves trailing if the start is sluggish. On the other hand I expect good counter attacking opportunities in the early exchanges. Should Arsenal capitalize on at least one, it will make the rest of the game even more open and exciting.

I believe Van Persie’s movement and technique can really trouble Spuds’ central defenders. The Dutchman can pick up a brace or even a hat-trick in this game if he puts away the chances that are bound to come his way. Even Nasri and Walcott can get on the score-sheet if they are alert to the gaps that will inevitably appear in and around the opposition penalty box.

In some ways, Arsenal just have to play the steady style they have been using away from home. The midfield must stay deeper and focus on supporting the defence. The opposition must be allowed to come forward with most of the pressing, tackling, and interceptions being attempted in the middle third of the pitch. Of course, a number of tackles will have to be won on the wings and the defenders will have to win some headers in the box as well.

The final point that stands out is that the players should keep their focus on the game at all times. For instance, even if they score a late goal that seems like a winner, the thoughts should not be about celebrating but on concentrating in defence.

I don’t think picking the starting eleven will be a difficult task.

Szczesny – Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Cesc, Diaby – Walcott, RvP, Nasri.

A point can be raised about including Wilshere in the starting line-up. It’d be a fair one but I think the youngster is very close to a burnout and a mini-break will do him good. Anyway there is another game at the weekend.

With that game in mind and considering the fact that Spuds have had a week’s rest while Arsenal played a gruelling tie againt Liverpool, some might suggest the need for freshening up the side with a couple of changes. I guess there is a case for picking Arshavin to start but I’m not convinced any changes to this starting eleven will maintain the right balance. The players just have to produce the performances at the business end of the season.

These kinds of games are difficult to predict. Arsenal can stamp their authority on the neighbour’s ground once more, they can make some mistakes and concede two points, and I can also see them gifting the undeserving hosts all three points. I expect some goals in this one, at least three, and quite likely more. Hopefully, the majority will be in the right net.

Tiny Totts V Real Mad: Nice Fun And Some Noteworthy Points

April 14, 2011

Before I begin I just want to say a big Thank You to Arseblogger for linking to my last post and a sort of belated welcome to all the new readers who came from Arseblog. Getting a mention on the best and most popular football blog on the planet is for me something akin to what Connor Henderson might have felt while playing with the big guns in the first team. Thanks again.

Coming to the topic of the post, I had fun watching Spuds against Mourinho’s men. To be honest I felt some pity for ‘Arry and his boys because they fought valiantly even though they were clearly way out of their depth. It wasn’t an emotion I ever thought I’d feel for the Tinies but you have give credit where it’s due.

If it hadn’t been for a blatant dive by serial diver Bale in the opening minutes, the ref might have given one or two penalties to the home side. One can argue that it could have changed the game and made it competitive. It would certainly have woken Real up from their slumber and got the visitors out of second gear in which they were cruising. But then one can also say a yellow card to Bale, even before five minutes were up, would have affected the rest of the game.

In the end there was never any doubt about which team was superior and by quite a margin.

From an Arsenal point of view though, after watching this game I was a bit disappointed we didn’t draw Real in the second round. A team that came so close against Barca would have had more than a fighting chance against Madrid, Bayern, or Schalke. Anyway that’s all water under the bridge so I don’t want to dwell on it but I hope Gooners will appreciate the quality of Arsenal’s effort against Barca after seeing the 5-0 hammering received by the Spuds.

There were some observations from the game that I wanted to share.

First was the way Real moved the ball around without any attacking intent. I have talked about the importance of defensive possession in the past and the need for the Gunners to develop that art. We got a fantastic example of the value of that tactic in this game. There are many games where Arsenal can defend just by moving the ball around while forcing the opponents to chase the ball and commit fouls. For instance, the 4-4 draw against Newcastle would have been a very different game if Arsenal had played keep-ball for a while.

Somehow, the Gunners tend to lose patience in possession when there are no attacking opportunities. But when you are up by four goals, or even two goals for that matter, just passing the ball in the middle of the park can be a very good defensive approach, especially for a team that isn’t built to pile numbers at the back and park the bus. Of course, in order for this to succeed each player should know just what they are doing. It cannot be done by one or two players. The priority has to shift to sustaining possession. The off-the-ball movement has to be adapted in order to suit this change in approach. Hopefully, we will see more of this as the team continues to mature.

Second was the one dimensional approach by ‘Arry. All Spuds could do was knock the ball long and wide to their quick wingers. It led to plenty of crosses but not many genuine shots on goal. Again as I’ve discussed before, this kind of play is among the most inefficient ways of attacking. I don’t remember a single decent attack from the Tinies that came down the middle or which put a player through. Width is good as a plan B but if that’s the best you can do then you don’t belong at the highest level.

Another interesting point was that the Madrid full-backs struggled a bit in this game. As I have noted in the Arsenal context, when the full-backs don’t get enough support from the wide attackers and/or midfielders, it is not easy for them to defend against quick and tricky wingers. It just shows how good Clichy and Sagna actually are.

Mourinho had to ensure one of his midfielders joined Ramos and subsequently Arbeloa whenever Bale was running with the ball. Clichy has to do a lot of work on his own when Arshavin and Wilshere don’t provide this support on a consistent basis. Sagna does better because he often has Song on his side. I believe with more experience Wilshere will make our left side much stronger and that will help get the best out of Clichy once again.

I also noticed that Casillas was not too confident against the aerial balls. This is another point that I have covered in the past. Football teams look to have a solid defence when the defenders deal with most of the balls into the box and the Keeper doesn’t have to come out to punch or go chasing deep crosses. In that area Arsenal have made significant improvements this season. Fabianski and Szczesny didn’t have to come out that often and it made them look more than competent. Almunia probably lost his confidence and decision making after last season and the West Brom game this year. He made the mistake of coming out when not needed and that made him look like a clown. If this single issue of the Keeper holding his ground is sorted out, the goalkeepers at Arsenal, especially the Poles, can make a big name for themselves. All of them are certainly much better than a guy like Gomes.

Finally, I wanted to restate my amusement at the way pundits talk about the Tiny Totts. They lost 4-1 to a second string Arsenal side in the Carling Cup, got thumped 4-0 by Fulham in the FA Cup, got knocked out of the Champions League with a humiliating 5-0 score line, and are 9 points behind the Gunners in the league table.

Of course, it is clearly a case of balancing performances against expectations. Nobody expected anything from Spuds in the first place and so whatever little they do is a big achievement. The reverse is true for Arsenal.

However, it is important to note that many doom-mongers and pundits in the media have been constantly predicting that the Tinies will go past the Gunners. It’s been going on for years now as the Totts have spent considerable amounts (~300M in the last 8 years). But most of these are pre-season predictions based on the transfer activity and are forgotten by the time we get to the business end of the season where Arsenal are competing at the top end while Tottenham are busting their guts to finish fourth. I find it incredible that some fans want Arsenal to sacrifice the stability and consistency and go down the path that Spuds have taken.

Anyway, I don’t want to spoil the joy of this day by going into that tired discussion. Let’s move on and keep the focus on the remaining games. In that context, the Totts are lucky they have a long rest before the North London Derby. Hopefully it won’t matter. More on that when we get closer to the game.

RIP Danny Fiszman

Update: Just wanted to share this excellent article by Walter on Untold in case you haven’t been there yet.

Back From The Wilderness

April 9, 2011

I guess apologies are in order for being MIA for such a long time. Sorry for not posting even an update but I was on a vacation over the last week and ended up without an internet connection for large periods. Things got further complicated as I forgot my phone charger and it left me completely out of touch with the world. Of course, I could have found options if I really wanted to, but this experience of just being close to nature, with people who really matter in my life near me, and without caring about too many events around the world, was actually quite a pleasant one.

Consequently, I missed the game against Blackburn and other Premiership fixtures, the Cricket World Cup final, the mid-week Champions League ties, and a lot more. But to be honest, now that I’ve missed these games, it feels good.

There was just too much noise. Every single event was being twisted into title talk. Over simplification and trivialization of issues was compounding the frustration of certain performances. This break helped me in getting my head clear of all the negativity. For a while it was affecting my mind but now I have rediscovered the, dare I say, mental strength to see through it and ignore the noises, however loud and repetitive they might be. I wholeheartedly recommend a complete break from events, at least football-wise, to all who are tired of the internet pollution.

The usual pre-game thoughts will return tomorrow with the focus on Blackpool. I expect that to be one of the most entertaining games of the season and hopefully most fans will be able to enjoy a football match for what it is, a football match, instead of losing the joy by looking at it as a piece of the mind-boggling silverware jigsaw.

I will also try to cover some of the events of the past week after I catch up with the news. There seems to be a lot going on. Fergie is showing real class with his comments about the Police Superintendent.

There is a wee guy, sitting down there in the Midlands, probably never been recognised in his life, managed to elevate himself to whatever it is in the police force.

Even though I don’t know the whole story, it’s difficult to see any sense behind those words. If the Superintendent is a ‘wee guy’ what do you guess Ferguson thinks of the rest of the police force? The United manager might have a point but I’d expect more composed communication from someone of his stature. Perhaps such an attitude comes from years of having things going your way. After all, if your players can get away with kung-fu kicks on opponents and don’t even get cautioned for running at and shoving a ref, you’d feel a sense of entitlement.

Before ending, I do want to take a moment to send my commiserations to all the Tiny Totts, especially the ones who visit this site regularly. I missed their heroics at the Bernabeu but hopefully we will get a DVD of that soon. Such games put the criticism Arsenal received after the Barcelona tie into stark perspective. For that, heartfelt thanks go to ‘Arry and his boys. I can never understand how Spuds receive so many plaudits while Arsenal get attacked left, right, and centre. But that does help me in ignoring, even laugh at, the analysis and opinions rife with double standards, jealousy, and bigotry.

More in the coming days…

Thoughts And Predictions For The Champions League Draw

March 18, 2011

Before I proceed I want to mention that this article is mostly speculation about the Champions League draw and the teams in it. There won’t be much about Arsenal.

Ok with that out of the way I thought I’ll jot down some thoughts I had about the Champions League quarter-final draw. While the draw is held live and involves some big names associated with the game, I often get the feeling that it is, at least partially, rigged. Do you get the same feeling?

The way some teams keep bumping into each other (Arsenal – Barca, Real – Lyon, etc), the way it throws up some exciting rematches like the repeat of last season’s final in this season’s second round, and the way some of the relatively smaller teams always play each other so that one of them can get through to the latter stages makes me wonder if it’s all a matter of luck.

Of course, one argument is that there are so many permutations that some patterns will always emerge no matter what the outcome. It really could be that simple. On the other hand the reasons behind fixing the draw could be twofold; firstly, it would allow some of the smaller teams a chance to go one step forward and break the hegemony of the big sides while earning some fame and highly useful cash; and secondly, rematches and the likes add more glamour and increase the chatter around the games.

So going by my theory I’d expect two out of Spuds, Schalke, and Shakhtar to meet in the quarter-finals. That way one of the lesser fancied teams is sure to advance to the semi-finals.

Similarly, there is a chance that Real get paired with Inter. This could lead to a great deal of media coverage about Mourinho’s return to the San Siro, how everyone feels about it, and stuff like that. Essentially, it keeps the Champions League in the limelight for a longer period, for free.

Personally speaking, I’d love to see Real meet United. The battle between two highly intelligent managers who both rely heavily on tactics will be fun to watch at a tactical level even if the football isn’t inspiring. It will also put extra pressure on United in their mid-week fixtures. And of course what could be better than having Barcelona meeting them in the semi-final after disposing off the Spuds in the quarters.

Seriously though, Barcelona-Spuds can be an immensely entertaining fixture with a lot of goals, mostly at one end but one or two at the other as well. I’m really hoping for this tie in the draw even if everything else I’m saying falls flat. ‘Arry’s comments, before and after the games, alone will be worth their weight, or should I say font size, in gold.

On the other side Chelsea could then have a rematch with Inter, a tie they lost in the second round last Year. This will nicely set up the small team fixture between Schalke and Shakhtar.

Well those are just some thoughts I had about the draw and a bit of light-hearted speculation. Even without Arsenal I’m going to watch most of these games as these days I’m trying to control the emotions a bit more and focussing on the tactics and other details.

By the way did anyone catch the Europa League games today? Man City really know how to cure a Gooner’s disappointment. I’d say Liverpool too did their bit by huffing and puffing to a goalless home draw with Braga, a team that did well against us in the Champions League. Interestingly, both these ‘giants’ lost to a couple of teams that have dropped down from the CL to the EL. Does that mean neither of them are really ready for the Champions League? And if so, how far behind Arsenal are these teams? I’ll leave you to ponder on that.

Bale V Walcott: Have You Been Conned By The Pundits?

January 18, 2011

Anyone who’s been following the Premiership this year will undoubtedly have heard rave reviews about Bale. Many players divide opinions but it seems to be that the Tiny Tott winger has been universally lauded. Some have gone so far as to compare him with Messi!

Speaking of players dividing opinions while talking of Bale the name Theo Walcott comes to mind. The Arsenal youngster has had his share of critics all through his Arsenal career to date. I have read plenty of opinions from pundits and fans that Walcott will never be good enough.

It’s an interesting contrast to say the least.

Before going further I’ll acknowledge that Gareth Bale is a very good player. He has pace, good technique, and is quite intelligent on the field. I have nothing against the Welshman and don’t wish to take anything away from his accomplishments.

Upon closer examination we do get some interesting facts about the two players in question.

Bale has scored 7 goals and has 3 assists in the League this season in roughly 1947 minutes. That comes to an average of a goal or assist every 195 minutes or more than two games. In contrast, Walcott has 6 goals and 4 assists in 664 minutes or one goal or assist every 66 minutes.

Someone might argue that we cannot read too much into those stats but they’ll have to give a strong justification in my opinion. If the numbers had been closer I’d have accepted that argument but as we can see Walcott makes an impact in one-third the time that Bale does. It’s too big a gap to ignore.

Let’s look at some other stats and performances in big games.

Theo doesn’t make as many passes as Song or Cesc. That is understandable. It’s not part of his job description. But he makes an impact, and even in the big games. One just has to look at the recent game against Chelsea to see an example of this.

In contrast, Bale has been a flop against the likes of Chelsea and United. In the last 0-0 borefest against United, Bale attempted 40 passes and completed 65% of those. He just had one shot on target and that was a lame free-kick. Out of his 9 crosses only two were successful and one of those two went all the way to Hutton on the right touchline.

Earlier, against Chelsea, even when the Blues were out of form, Bale only attempted 25 passes and completed 13 of those. And this was with Paulo Ferreira at Right Back.

When combined with the goal and assist stats mentioned earlier this does show that while Bale is a very good player, he is not really the world beater he’s made out to be. If he moved to a better team Bale might improve his numbers significantly but for the time being he isn’t shattering the earth.

This analysis made me wonder why is Bale hyped to such an extent while Walcott gets criticized even when he has a good game. Since both are British, that is certainly not a factor.

The first thought that comes to mind is the club these players play for. I’ve always believed and often mentioned, and I guess this is a feeling shared by many, that some pundits just can’t be positive about anything Arsenal. Then there are those who feel so inferior in front of Wenger that they just have to berate Le Boss and the Gunners.

On the other hand, Redknapp has a reverse effect on these pundits. He is almost at their level and makes them feel important. They reciprocate by hyping ‘Arry. It also rubs off on their analysis of the Tiny Totts. Bale has obviously benefitted from this.

The second thought, and this seems very relevant to me, was that Bale is an archetypal British player – Wide player, quick, with lots of crosses and shooting.

When the ball fizzes across the penalty box at pace it excites these pundits. It’s the point where their understanding and Redknapp’s tactics come together. They see it as the best form of football. It doesn’t matter that in most cases, no striker will ever be able to get on the end of these crosses. They don’t realize that statistically these crosses are extremely inefficient and are directly responsible for Bale having such a low minutes per goal/assist ratio.

Ideally, in their opinions, Walcott should have been a similar player. But he doesn’t always “whip it in with pace”, or “get it into the right areas”. They don’t like it. They don’t like the fact that his manager is trying to teach him something different, more intelligent, and three times more effective!

These pundits are happy if half a dozen meaningless crosses whiz across the penalty box. They don’t appreciate it when a player gets to the byline and tries to look for a good pass. They deride him when he tries to think at a high speed and fails.

When I thought of it this way, it wasn’t difficult to see why Walcott is treated the way he has been. Nor is it hard to understand the hype around Bale. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Walcott is great or that Bale is no good. I like both players. I just don’t like the differences in general perception about the two, especially as they’re completely unjustified and fuelled by ignorant, misguided punditry. Unfortunately, too many people seem to get conned by these experts. Are you one of them?

PS: Sorry for going AWOL in the last couple of days. It’s really hectic. Even for this piece I barely found time at midnight. And apologies if that’s led to any bloopers. I haven’t been able to double check the details or proof read the post.

Arsenal 2 – 3 Tottenham: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

November 20, 2010

Absolute Shambles.

I don’t know how a team can concede one, leave alone three, against a Spuds side as toothless as this one was. But as it is, Arsenal have gifted their bitter rivals three soft goals to throw away a two goal lead.

That old enemy, losing concentration and desire midway through the game, came back to haunt the side that looked like it could run away with the game and score 4 or 5 in the process. I’m not furious we lost this game. I’m incensed that a 5-0 turned into a 2-3.

The only credit I can give to the Tiny Totts is that they had quality in the final third and took their chances when the gifts were presented to them.

The first half started brightly. Spuds got a corner early on and Bale attempted a lame back-heel that was easy for Fabianski. After that it was all Arsenal.

Nasri’s opener came from a delightful ball over the top by Cesc that found the run of the Frenchman. Nasri’s first touch was not perfect but Gomes couldn’t control it and Samir was able to nick it away and squeezed it in from the narrowest of angles.

Arsenal created a number of half chances after that. The best one fell to Cesc who shot wide when he had a clean sight of goal.

The second goal cushion arrived when a quick break allowed Fabregas to run at the Tottenham defence. He found Arshavin on the left and his ball was turned in by Chamakh.

After this Chamakh had another golden chance when he was clean through. But instead of taking charge of the situation he waited for a foul or for a teammate. Neither came and the chance was missed. The Moroccan would go on to make a similar mess in the second half.

In the first half you could see Arsenal were completely on top. The Tiny Totts were limited to set-pieces and couldn’t create a single clear chance. Arsenal players maintained a good shape, read their attacking moves well, never allowed Van der Vaart or Bale any time on the ball, and kept finding spaces in the Spuds half.

You could sense that the first ten minutes or so of the second half would be very crucial. If Arsenal can maintain the same discipline they should not have any problems despite Redknapp bringing Defoe on for the ineffective Lennon. If anything it should have opened up the midfield for Arsenal.

Five minutes into the second half disaster struck. It’s known as the classic Denilson disaster. Arsenal were camped in the opposition half for a set-piece. Assou-Ekotto launched a long ball forward that was won by Defoe whose flick-on found Van der Vaart. The Dutchman was allowed to control the ball and roll it to an onrushing Bale as Denilson simply jogged alongside. Even Sagna was guilty of ball-watching and not putting enough pressure on the only real creative player in the opposition. Once the ball went past Denilson to Bale he had a clean run on goal and there was very little Fabianski could do.

Arsenal lost their composure for a while but it seemed like the players regained it around the hour mark. Once again it was simple football with neither side creating much except the chance for Chamakh.

The second disastrous moment for the equalizer came out of nowhere. First Dowd gave a dodgy free kick just outside the penalty box. Then, inexplicably, Cesc raised his arm in the wall and the ref pointed to the spot. Now there can be an argument that Fabregas was not looking at the ball and his arm wasn’t above the head of Chamakh so the ball would anyway have hit Chamakh. But the simple fact is that there was no need for raising his hand in that extended manner and if you give the ref a chance to screw you, he will.

Van der Vaart put the spot kick away with ease and it was anyone’s game now. I call this the classic Arsenal disaster. Unlike the one with Denilson where the Brazilian does something stupid or shies away from a key challenge, this one is spread across the team. Any Arsenal player is capable of making a rank amateur mistake in the penalty box. That’s the classic Arsenal disaster. That’s why Arsenal need clear focus on defensive training and a tough, new coach who can freshen the drills and bring some belief in the way Arsenal defend set-pieces. Just putting numbers in the box doesn’t always work.

We saw the dreadful impact of this five minutes from time when the turnaround from complete domination to abject surrender was finished. Koscielny fouled Bale as the Tinies were on a break. I thought Spuds stole 10-15 yards for that free-kick. This gave Van der Vaart a brilliant angle to deliver. His ball found the back of Kaboul’s head as Van Persie made a lame challenge. The ball, as we all feared it would, snuck into the corner of the net.

Between the second and the third goals Arsenal did create a couple of chances. Gomes kept a Cesc strike out with a brilliant save and Koscielny missed a golden chance as he headed over the top with the goal gaping.

After the third goal Arsenal couldn’t really muster anything as the team lost all composure and ended up hoofing the ball all too often.

A number of recurrent problems were again highlighted by this game.

First was the lack of a leader on the pitch. Arsenal heads dropped every time a goal went in and they took a few minutes to recover. After the third goal we wasted 10 minutes as no one was there to take charge of the team and bring some order to the chaos. It’s difficult to criticize most of the players because you could see they were trying hard. The problem is, when the Arsenal system is broken, the players can’t do much even if they work like donkeys.

Second was the lack of tactical substitutions and decision making, an area where I’ve always maintained Arsene needs some help. The first goal gave the Tinies a lot of belief and we needed a substitution by the hour mark at the latest. Denilson should have been taken off, Walcott brought on the wing, with Nasri coming in the middle, Cesc dropping deeper, Song sitting in front of the defence with discipline. We had a man advantage in the middle anyway. It should have been used. Denilson was completely useless in the second half. Arshavin should also have been taken off around the hour mark.

I thought Van Persie, Walcott and Rosicky were the right players to bring on but the latter two came on too late in the game. I don’t pretend to know more than Arsene but we see the impact of substitutes in many games and for Arsenal it’s not as strong as it should be given our bench. A good reshuffle would also allow us the moment we need to take a breather and get the composure back.

Finally, there was the case of Denilson. He just gives up. I don’t know what to say to that and why we haven’t sorted it out. If he is a good reader of the game he should have put a slide in to intercept the ball from Van der Vaart. There was only one pass for the Dutchman and it wasn’t that difficult to read. There are times when it seems Denilson thinks that just by running back and being in front of the box his job is done. That is not acceptable.

Individual Analysis:

Fabianski: Didn’t have much to do and couldn’t have done much for the goals.

Sagna: Was superb against Bale for most of the game. The Welshman was hardly in the game until he was gifted the goal. Can’t fault him for the defeat.

Squillaci: decent for most parts. Read the game well, swept up everything that came in behind Sagna, should have contributed more on set-pieces at either end. Conceded some needless fouls around the box.

Koscielny: very similar to Squillaci. His foul led to the third goal but it was really high up the pitch so can’t really blame him. Should have scored with the free header.

Clichy: had Lennon in his pocket. Defended really well. Spuds rarely had anything down their right. Can’t fault him for the performance.

Song: excellent work on the right flank, especially in the first half. Passing wasn’t very good in attacking areas. Should have stayed deeper when the team lost its composure. Showed a lack of maturity and decision making at those moments.

Cesc: Completely ran the game and was head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch. Gave away the penalty in a moment of madness. Couldn’t bring the team’s focus back when a leader was needed.

Denilson: I’ve said enough in criticism but he was decent in the first half as he is when the opposition isn’t putting us under pressure. Not good enough.

Nasri: Scored a great goal, worked really well on the right, couldn’t have asked for more except better deliver on set pieces.

Chamakh: scored a fantastic goal, made some superb runs, excellent work rate, but bottled it at big moments.

Arshavin: had a couple of sparks, created the goal for Chamakh, tracked back often enough, but I thought it was the wrong choice to start with him.

Subs: Van Persie’s delivery on set pieces was good, his movement was quality, but he didn’t get the ball often enough. Rosicky was energetic but his decision making wasn’t very good. Walcott didn’t have the composure in tight areas.

As I’ve said in the past, there is no point talking about title chances after every game. There will be good runs and there will be games that are complete disasters. At the end of the season we will see which is more. Right now the disaster column is leading.

Wenger really has to get a grip on things. Right now his players are not delivering to their potential and the buck stops with the manager.