End of the year, and part of the ritual is to take stock, and look forward towards the future with glorious plans and renewed expectations. And what a fantastic year this has been for Arsenal fans! At the midway stage in the Premier League last year, Arsenal was lying 7th, well off the pace for Champions League qualification, and even off Spursday football places. Qualifying second in their group, Arsenal faced a tough round of 16 encounter against Bayern Munich, one of the best teams in Europe at that stage. With significant changes to the Board, a new owner in tow, there were uncertain times for the club management. The fans were up in arms, with substantial ammunition provided by a negative press, dubious pundits and even the Arsenal Supporters Trust. Difficult times indeed!
But Arsenal managed to make a fantastic turnaround. Attaining qualification for CL was nothing short of a miracle! Yes, Arsenal lost out in a two leg epic battle against eventual winners Bayern, but before that showed their mettle in an amazing 2-0 away victory. Despite all the negativity, good progress was made in the summer transfer window. The progress continued in the current season, and Arsenal is sitting at the Top of the Premier League at the halfway stage. Qualification to the Champions League was gained from the aptly termed “Group of Death”. Grudging acknowledgement of Arsenal’s strength and mettle is gently arising from beneath the rubble of disdain and the green fumes of envy. Indeed, if the league was played over the calendar year, Arsenal would have been Champions of 2013. Oh, what a year this has been!!!
All in all, a good year in prospect. There are plenty of challenges yet to be met. Plenty of time still before we even begin to celebrate the achievements of this team. But, also plenty of positive vibes and expectation in tow. So AA ers, looking towards the future, what did we learn new about Arsenal this year, and what were we reminded of afresh, that we did not know with so much certainty one year back? Let us discuss. Here are a few of my tentative suggestions. It was not all rosy, though. Injuries continued through the year. The squad seems a bit thin. Progression to the round of 16 in the Champions League was gained, but only in second place. Like last year, we have drawn Bayern Munich. Lovely games in prospect, but significant challenges as well. And if the vitriol from the fans is a bit subdued due to the sustained run of fine results and resilience in the field of play, the negativity from the press and pundits continues unabated. Perhaps most importantly, whether by luck or design, Arsenal continues to be at the receiving end of poor refereeing decisions. Alas, some things never seem to change!
First, same time last year we did not know what a fantastic central defensive partnership, together with a very competent goalkeeper, we were developing. Indeed a large part of our success this year owes itself to the fantastic defensive pairing of Per and Kos. What a duo!!! And what a great leader in our beloved BFG! When Verms got injured, who would have thought we would have such a strong defence where even a fit squad captain cannot find a place?
Second, one of the best revelations of the year was the discovery that Ramsey had developed into such a fantastic player. He was the subject of much of the blame and vitriol during our indifferent showing in 2012. Perhaps somewhat undeservedly. But our beloved Rambo rubbed all these adversities off his shirt, returned in style from his long standing injury, and has grown to the stature of one of the best midfielders in the League, perhaps in Europe as well.
He has shown a very mature head as well, leading for his country at a very young age. In tow, Jack Wilshere is developing into a fine player, if somewhat idiosyncratic on occasions. Together with Theo, the Ox, Gibbs and Jenks, they also form a British core to the team which had been somewhat deficient for a while. Who would have thought a year back that Rambo would develop into such a fantastic and dependable player, and Jack’s game will be coming along so nicely as well?
Third, one of the most encouraging developments of the year, at least for me, was the maturity with which the owner Kroenke, Gazidis and the Board conducted themselves. Perhaps the best development was that the Board did not interfere in footballing matters, leaving team and signing decisions to the people who know best, led by one Arsene Wenger. If you think that this is not a surprise, look around at other clubs. Several clubs have met with significant disasters as a result of owner power, such as the Spuds, Cardiff and even the Chavs, and in some others the environment is not very nice even if the performance has not been equally devastating.
The principles of the club, that a fantastic team can be developed without wasting money on the wasteful purchase of overpriced bench idols, was not compromised by a new owner and a new look Board. Surely, this was not a given at the start of the year, after the club had gone through a rather aggressive ownership contest and change of hands.
Fourth, amid the mantra of financial fairplay and traditional hesitancy to spend big money, and the recovery from an expensive move to the Emirates, who would have thought that Arsenal would spend their money where it mattered most?
In the procurement of one Mesut Ozil, who despite his tentative adjustment to English football and the Arsenal way of playing the game, has given the team something really special, Arsenal showed purpose and ambition, and real ability to deliver trophies. This came together with the free transfer of one Mathieu Flamini – ah, what a fantastic transfer move!
Fifth, against the backdrop of significant unrest and disquiet among good-weather fans, ably supported by the press and pundits, who would have thought that the positive outlook of a sane fan-base would shine through? The struggle against the doubters and doomday-usherers still continues in earnest, in ArsenalArsenal and elsewhere, but The Home of Football still reverberates with the positive chants and outlook towards the new dawn awaiting in the New Year!!!!
AA ers, what do you think? My final thoughts are:
COYG! Onwards and Upwards!! A fantastic year 2014 awaits!!!!
Written by arnie
Arsenal Record 2013 Calendar Year
Where would 82 points put us in seasons past?
|SEASON||Winners||P||W||D||L||F||A||GD||Pts||AFC on 82 points|
Chart by MickyDidIt
2013 Calendar Year League Table
|P||W||D||L||F||A||GD||Points||vs Top 7||Total Home||Total Away|
Stat Overkill by GiE
What do Jimmy Tarbuck, Steven Gerrard, Ken Dodd, Cilla, Jamie Carragher, Les Dennis,, Derek Nimmo, Freddie Starr, and Joey Barton, have in common apart from the fact they are all tools? I have no idea…..
Over the years I have enjoyed many a laugh both with and at my Liverpool mates and their undying support for their team. They remain convinced LFC are still potent and relevant in these days of domination by the money clubs. How many years is it since they won the title?
Now I realise I am on thin ice here what with our lack of a Big Ears cup, but really, they are about as relevant as a beta-max video machine.
Except, and I hate to write this, this season they look like a team who have the potential to actually break into the big boys. Alongside those miscreants down the road, who are finally learning to stand upright, they threaten not just our Top 4 place but also, dare I say it, the Champions.
Oh stop it, Big Raddy – you know as well as Alan Hansen that Liverpool will self-destruct just as they have year after year – is it 20 now? No Raddy – it is almost 24. Makes our 10 years since a title seem paltry.
Liverpool: OK I’ll admit it, I was wrong. I thought Brendan Rodgers was totally out of his depth and would have been sacked by summer, instead he seems to be doing an excellent job. It is early days but Rodgers’ barmy management style seems to work with the dullards he has in his team. How else can we understand how Sturridge has suddenly become a top striker or how a cart-horse like Henderson is showing good form?
And much worse, they are playing attractive football!
Suarez: Had he come along with Ozil we would be probably ToTL Sadly, his form is such that there is no way he will be sold in January however much is offered for him. He would look so much better in a proper shirt and playing in a decent stadium.
All over the pitch Liverpool look strong; the resurgence of Skrtelllll (a sub-orc) alongside Kolo and Sakha(s**t) at the centre of defence is solid as is their central midfield. Mignolet is an excellent signing given the waning powers of Reina. The loss of Lucas for almost the whole of last season was very damaging and his return has given Stevie M a new lease of life.
Is Stevie G a top, top player? Of course he is. At any time over the last XX years he would have walked into any team in the country – or would he? Would he get into the Invincibles?
But what is most concerning is that they are playing as a team and not just a bunch of over inflated egos like the usual Scousers.
Arsenal: Will we ever have a full squad to pick from? Once again this is a game where Theo would have been a vital attacking force, primarily because if there is a weakness in the L’pool side, it is lack of pace in defence. However, once again we go into a series of hugely important games without key personnel.
Given the importance of today and Tuesday it was a huge surprise to see a first choice midfield take the field vs the Chavs; sometimes Mr Wenger makes decisions that I just cannot understand.
The back 5 continue to leak goals even to lowly opposition like Palace. – perhaps we should be buying the entire Southampton defence, they may not be as high-profile as our boys but they know how to keep a clean sheet (until they come to the Emirates). I liked Monreal at LB and think his midweek performance deserves a start. We have two fine LB’s and rotation is important.
It is so disappointing not to see The Flamster try to tame Suarez and he will be sorely missed but we still have the weapons to subdue him. Arteta and a disciplined performance from JW should do the job (I hope).
This may be a bit attacking but we are at home. I would like to see Gnabry get at least 30 minutes and add some pace late in the game. Another who had a fine game midweek was our captain, Mr Vermælen; given the developing understanding between our first choice CB’s it is unlikely he will start, but if this continues I cannot see him staying at Arsenal – he is too good to sit on the bench.
So can we win? Of course we can. We are at home, top of the table and playing well. My fears are how our little wizards will cope with another dynamic physical midfield. If we can stop the balls to Suarez then he cannot create havoc.
Should be a great game.
written by Big Raddy
Transfer targets. This two part post is an attempt to inveigle some of you to give us your ideas of where the team needs strengthening and more importantly, why.
Goalkeeper: We have signed an experienced Italian GK whom no-one knows about nor has seen play as back-up to our two Poles. Can’t see the point in that at the moment. Fabianski is a very good deputy to Szczesny who has been on top form so far this season. Apart from a poor game at home to AV, TPIG has been very good – just what we want to see from such a young keeper developing his skills. His decision making in terms of coming for crosses is a bit conservative (IMO) but he has eradicated most of his “Hollywood” tendencies.
Szczesny’s failings remain distribution, though he is definitely improving. His kicking lacks accuracy and as such he is tending towards the safe option of throwing to the wings in order to create a counter-attack which is fine as we are not a route one team.
Viviano in training for the Bench
My guess is that Viviano was signed in the knowledge that Fabianski will move on sooner rather than later. Without having seen him play it is impossible to judge but International caps for a country renowned for good keepers is a decent testimonial.
Transfer Target? No need, though I do accept some people are less than 100% secure about our No.1.
Full Backs: Starting on the left we have Gibbs and Monreal. I would suggest that after Ramsey, Gibbs is our most improved player and fully deserves his call up to the England squad. Monreal must wonder why he signed as he would surely have expected to be first choice given his high transfer fee. But that fee is further proof of Mr Wenger and the BoD’s commitment to creating a high quality squad. Having a player of Monreal’s ability both as left sided MF and LB cover is insurance in case Gibbs suffers yet another injury. Vermaelen has shown he is a capable understudy should both get crocked.
The New Lee Dixon?
Right Back: Bacary and The Corporal. Sagna is back to his best and Arsenal must make him sign a contract extension – whatever it costs, because he has AFC experience and is a senior pro, plus he can teach Jenkinson how to become a world class RB. As of today, The Corporal has much to learn; his crossing is poor, his defensive awareness average and his tactical nous lacking, yet, he has huge potential. The man has considerable energy, is a Gooner and clearly wants to learn BUT …… would you be happy to see Jenks start over a long period of time if Sagna gets injured (which as an older gent he is prone to be)? I wouldn’t. And this is where the genius of Mr Wenger raises it’s shiny pate – we have The Flamster, who is worth every penny of his, no doubt, huge salary.
Transfer Target: Once again, no need.
Centre Backs: Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen (& Sagna in emergencies). I love The BFG – he has brought a level of a calmness to the defence not seen since …. ermm ….. the last CB who was calm! But the other two? Koscielny is prone to a rush of blood and too often has given away silly fouls in potentially dangerous areas – just look at his push in the penalty area last Sunday. A red card and a penalty already this season is not what we want from what is an exceptional defender. He has pace, superb awareness, hence his high interception count, and is strong both in the air and in the tackle. Vermaelen is too good a player to sit on the bench and yet his career has been in reverse for almost 2 seasons. I love his rampaging style and his clenched fist attitude but he is so focussed upon winning that he can neglect his defensive duties. Sagna? A decent option and hasn’t let us down but we need a specialist CB. The decision to let both JD and Miquel go out on loan is baffling in the extreme
Transfer Target; I think we need to buy and buy someone in BFG’s class. If we really are going to challenge for the title we have stop conceding silly goals. One clean sheet in the PL and that against the Hapless Hotspurs is simply not good enough especially considering how well our GK and FB’s are playing. I realise Kozzer is a crowd pleaser and that he gives his best every time he plays but quite frankly, we need better. I would sell TV (even if he is Club Captain) and spend big in January, hoping for the new CB to bed in by March – ready for the CL Final in Lisbon.
Player Suggestion; Williams at Swansea has been mentioned but I don’t think he is good enough. I want top quality not decent PL. My choice would be Neven Subotic of Borussia Dortmund. Yes, he would cost a lot but he is only 24 and already played 36 times for Serbia. He lived in the USA (representing them at youth level) and as such is fluent in Americanish. Or better still, how about his more mobile partner – Mats Hummels, also just 24, he is fantastic player and already an automatic starter for Germany. If he won’t come mid-season, please Mr Gazidis make him ours in summer.
You heard it here first.
One would have to ask why they would leave BD but, as we know, money talks and the opportunity to join the German Invasion at AFC must be appealing. Buy, Buy Buy.
My next post will concentrate on the other areas of the pitch and who knows, with this excruciatingly long Interlull (©Arseblog) there could be a “Should Paul Lambert be the Next AFC Manager?” post to follow!
written by Big Raddy
The games coming like London busses. The Interlull followed by two games a week – but tonight we have the very enjoyable opportunity to see how deep our squad is.
Whether we win or not depends upon how WBA and Steve Clarke approach the game. If as I suspect they put out a first 11 then we are in for a tough evening, if like AFC they go with a weakened team, then we should see an exciting game.
The Capital/Milk/Rumbelow’s/League/Littlewood’s Cup is one we should have won in the past couple of years. The painful loss to the soon-to-be relegated Birmingham is a memory which needs to be replaced by silverware, but my guess is that Mr Wenger will insist his priorities lie elsewhere. Inevitable given our growing injury list.
The one area we could not “stomach” another injury was the attack. With Ox and Pod both out for the foreseeable future it is a blow to hear of Theo’s injury. Young Didit told me over the summer that Mr Walcott was our most valuable player and much would rest upon his fitness – I have to agree. Theo gives something to the team no-one else can and that is searing pace; he may not be the most lethal striker but he scares the bejeesus out of defenders.
It will be a big night for one of our players in particular – you know the one – that Danish nutter. It is good he will make his return away from the “cauldron” that is the Emirates, a cynical crowd could badly affect him. If Nik hits the ground running he could be a major player for us, sadly the evidence of the past few seasons suggests it may be a forlorn hope.
Unbelievably Fabianski was injured on Friday! I really feel for the man – he has done nothing wrong and yet every time he gets an opportunity he suffers an injury.
Gnabry’s promotion to the first team causes problems. He will be needed at the weekend and this opens up a place for either another MF – Eisfeld most probably or another forward. . Little has been mentioned about our missing man, Mr Park. He is back in training with the first team, so why not let him try and earn his corn?
Come on Arsene, Make the Marketing Dept. happy
We have some experience in the squad and the game is well timed for the return of our Club Captain and the man with Lego hair.
We can have one of our midfield geniuses on the bench in case of problems, but my inclusion of Park (no, it’s not a joke ) shows just how bare the cupboard is. Of course, Mr Wenger could choose to start Akpom but I think his time will come – he doesn’t appear strong enough as yet.
As to West Brom. Quite frankly I know next to nothing about them (apart from them employing traitor Anelka.) I am sure they are hard-working and will sweat blood to beat the Mighty Gunners. However, much like the first team, your pre-match writer is taking a day off from researching the opposition!
Much depends upon how Mr Wenger views the CC. I think he views it purely as a chance to give his youth players experience and if they do well then review at a later stage, as such the draw of a PL side away from home was unfortunate. However, a trophy is there to be won, so let’s go out and win one.
Just because it makes me happy
written by Big Raddy
For years the accepted wisdom at most clubs and certainly at Arsenal has been that you should start a new season with four centre backs all ready and able to be called upon whenever needed.
As recently as last season, we started with Mertasacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen and Squillaci. The problem with this system becomes clearer as you move along the list; the drop in quality is substantial.
The practicalities have been to have two centre backs playing, one on the bench and one doing very little apart from losing match sharpness in the reserves and picking up a large pay cheque.
Now as tough as it sounds to have to pick up a large pay cheque for seemingly doing very little, there is an expensive trade off; the fourth choice CB will almost certainly lose his chance to play first team football, ok he will play one or two games here and there but that is it.
So it becomes a balancing act, clubs want the best player they can get while knowing that if the player is any good he will not want to give up the opportunity to play.
It is the same at all clubs, a forth choice CB trades his chance to play football for a wage that is higher than he would be getting at a lesser club and so it follows that the higher the wage a club is prepared to pay the better the quality of forth choice back up will be.
Man city had Kolo Toure on a huge wage for doing very little apart from putting on weight but even he got bored enough to take a pay cut and move to Liverpool in the hope of playing regular football. (Ok, the pay cut part is a punt)
It is a thankless task being a forth choice CB and even more so at Arsenal where the player is not getting a man city pay cheque and to make things worse he is constantly moaned about by the fans for not being good enough.
This is why I have always had a great deal of sympathy for our forth choice CB’s and defended them when ever I could. Take Squillaci, it was not his fault that his job was to simply be an insurance policy against disaster; that’s to say if illness befell the three other CB’s in front of him.
The point of this post is that I think the club may have changed its policy; they still know that we need the depth, hence Mertasacker, Koscielny and Vermaelen; but, now instead of having another in the reserves I think that AW views Djourou as the fourth. It’s the reason why he was never sold and there have been plenty of opportunities to do so.
It makes a lot of sense, far better to have a fourth choice playing week in and week out, keeping his match fitness than languishing in the reserves. The loan deal probably has a clause that says we can have him back in case of disaster.
Makes sense to me, why would someone like Williams of Swansea want to give up the opportunity to play first team football again; in fact, why would anyone half decent want to?
Written by LB
There seems to be a feeling amongst Arsenal fans that we haven’t had a truly great captain since Vieira. Henry, Gallas, Cesc. Some fine players there. But apparently not great captains. Two seasons ago we seemed to have solved that problem, but the manner of his* departure must also bring into doubt his leadership qualities. (* He who shall not be named)
That left Thomas Vermaelen to take over the armband. He was a popular, and seemingly natural choice at the time. His steely eyed look of determination, his all action style, very visible fist pumping and gesturing to his teammates, seemed to suggest he was made of the same stuff as the stereotypically great captains that we remember. (Yes, I do have issues with typecasting a certain type of attitude as being the sign of a captain.)
But Vermaelen never recovered his form, and eventually lost his place in the starting 11 as well. Can anyone argue that he should start ahead of Koscielny and Mertesacker? Which actually begs the question, will he leave? Should Arsenal let him go?
Assuming Vermaelen stays, should he retain the armband? Does a captain have to be a regular starter? If so, who is to be the new captain? The stories from last season suggest that Mikel Arteta was in fact the real leader of the group. Arteta had a fantastic season, changing his game tremendously to adapt to a new role, because that is what the team needed him to do. His statistics last season were brilliant, as was his attitude. So, should he just formally take over what he seemed to be doing informally anyway?(After all, you don’t need the armband to lead)
I would say yes, but there is a risk that Vermaelen will feel undermined. Also, if TV is precluded from being captain due to not being a starter, what about rumours of Arsenal bidding for Fellaini or Bender? What will that mean for Arteta, especially in light of his age?
Who else could be captain? In my view Sagna could stake a real claim, despite his poor form last season. However, his contract having only one year to run might mean he should be overlooked. Another player who could get a shout as captain would be Per Mertesacker. He’s the organizer in defense, and seems to make his defensive partners better. He’s also already an authority figure of sorts at the club as he’s responsible for collecting fines from the players. A 2 metre tall defensive stalwart would suit many people’s idea of an Arsenal captain, even if he is German.
Of course if it were to be down to popularity amongst the fans, then I think a certain Jack Wilshere would be installed as captain. As far as I’m concerned though, the only thing in his favour would be the (relatively assured) long term continuity in captain, which would be lacking in Arteta, Sagna, and maybe even Vermaelen’s case. For the rest, I think he’s still too young (and a little reckless). He should concentrate on getting his fitness, and then his place back. He has a long future ahead of him and there’s no need to rush to make him captain, especially when there are better candidates for the role.
So who would you vote for as Arsenal captain? (Bonus. Who should be vice captain?)
Written by Shard
OK, the thesis I am about to set out is pretty simplistic and I expect it to be the biggest shooting-down-in-flames since the Hindenburg, but here goes:
To start with, cast your mind back to the beginning of the season.
We were nervous, but hopeful as we entered the new campaign. Our captain and lead goal scorer had abandoned us after hearing that Manchester United had a better medical room.
But we had signed Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud with Santi Cazorla to follow, giving us grounds for cautious optimism.
We started with clean sheets at home to Sunderland and away to Stoke. Admittedly, we didn’t trouble the opposition net ourselves, but after our calamitous defending of the previous season it felt good to be tight at the back again (no sniggering please, we’re all adults here).
Then we went to Anfield and beat the Scousers 2-0 with an outstanding performance. Abou Diaby, risen like Lazarus, was a titan in midfield. We followed up with a 6-1 thrashing of Southampton at the Emirates, we beat Monpellier in the Champions League and gained a creditable away draw at the league champions, Manchester City.
In six games we had conceded just three goals and scored 11. Robin van Who?
It was, at the very least, a decent start. Most encouraging of all was our defensive solidity. We had gone from conceding almost 1.3 goals per game in the 2011/12 season to conceding 0.5 this time round. The omens were good.
Then something a bit strange happened.
The media started to take notice of our improved defensive performances and identified the man they believed to be responsible for them.
Who was that man? I’ll give you a clue: He’s Big, He’s Bald, He’s…. that’s it – you’ve got it – He’s Stevie Stevie Bould.
Bouldie had taken over in the summer from the long-serving Pat Rice as Arsenal’s first team coach.
As a member of George Graham’s famous back six (Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Bould, Adams, Keown) no-one could dispute that he knew a thing or two about how to shut out the opposition.
And the press were quick to credit his influence for Arsenal’s better defensive start to the season. Journalists started asking Arsene Wenger about it and after initially priaising Bould’s influence, Arsene reacted a little, shall we say, ungraciously.
The BBC correspondent who covers Arsenal, David Ornstein, said recently that at the start of the season Bould was having extra defensive sessions with the team but that Arsene put a stop to them when Bould started getting a lot of praise.
Ornstein said Wenger did not want Bould to take too much credit for Arsenal’s defensive improvement because it might intensify feelings of disenchantment towards him from the fans.
He (Wenger) had already been prickly on the subject of defensive coaching in the previous season. When journalists asked him in September 2011 whether he should get a specialist to coach the back line he said: “I’ve just completed 30 years of coaching. I don’t want to answer this kind of question.”
If Ornstein’s report was accurate (and his contacts within Arsenal are said to be very good) it does not reflect well on Arsene. The same allegation was made by Stewart Robson, who said: “Steve Bould is not allowed to coach the defence. Wenger wants to do everything himself but doesn’t give players any explicit instructions.”
Given what an Arsenal hater Robson is I would normally lend no credence to what he says, but the corroboration from Ornstein adds weight to the story.
Whatever went on, our early defensive solidity tumbled like a Bale in a breeze and we went on to lead the league in goals conceded directly from individual errors. We started to lose touch with the top of the table and we were humiliatingly turfed out of both domestic cups by lower league opposition.
When we lost at the home of the N17 swamp dwellers in early March, the pundits had a field day about our defensive naivety and how it was costing us any chance of success. At that point we looked like no-hopers for the Champions League spots.
But that loss turned out to be a watershed moment. From then until now we appear to have switched focus back to the defensive side of the game. Wenger made (or was persuaded to make?) the significant move of dropping his captain and his “first choice” goalkeeper.
We stopped conceding stupid goals (apart from the Sagna tragi-comedy act against Manchester United) and clawed our way back into contention for the Top Four.
My theory? The stories about Arsene having initially given Bould his head with the defence, but then changed tack are substantially true. Whether it was because Arsene didn’t like someone else getting the praise or whether he felt it was leaving us too short in attack, I don’t know.
But I also believe that after the defeat at the Spuds – and staring non-qualification for the Champions League in the face for the first time in his Arsenal career – Arsene did another U-turn and allowed Bould to take control of defensive duties once again.
I expect to be duly slaughtered for having my opinion shaped by newspaper tittle-tattle (is the tittle still on Page Three these days?). But it is also based on the evidence of my own eyes: we were much more defensively minded early in the season; something changed; then it changed back again after the defeat in N17. We are now less fun to watch, but we are grinding out results.
The effect has been to leave us with a chance of sneaking into the top four after all.
There has been a cost: we are not creating as many goal scoring chances and the balance of the team is clearly not quite right. But better defending was undoubtedly what was needed to put us back on track for the remainder of the current season. The rest we can work on in the summer.
Steve Bould, it seems, may have won an important battle.
Back to business. Enough of these holiday tours - let’s get back to the norm and the good old Premier League. You know – that league which used to be the best in the world but has now , according to the meedja fallen behind France, Turkey, Germany and Spain.
Swansea have booked their place in Europe, our place remains in doubt. Will that mean that our Welsh friends will gift us the 3 points? I hope so. A couple of defensive mistakes caused by a boozy night out in Newport would be great (which assumes our heroes can capitalise on them!)
There has been talk of the confidence gained from the surprising win in Munich boosting our chances of 4th. What do you think? My fear is that the effort put into that win could be costly today; every Arsenal player ran himself into the ground on Wednesday and that must have an effect.
A major positive was the return of Fabianski. I have to be honest, I had written him of and expected him to leave quietly in summer. Instead we saw one of Fab’s best performances in an Arsenal shirt. He will surely keep his place today and perhaps, just perhaps, we have the competition for the Number One shirt within the club – who would have thought it?
A Star in the Making?
Jenkinson showed that Mr Wenger can still spot a a bargain – a million for him is a steal, we will see much of The Corporal in the future as he cements his place at Arsenal and also the England team.
Furthermore, Ramsey is becoming an important player. We didn’t miss JW as our Welsh Wizard plugged gaps all over the pitch. They are very different players and it will be interesting over the coming seasons to see how both can fit into the team. Add in the refreshing cameo from Oxlade Chamberlain - admittedly against a tiring defence – and we can see a young and highly talented New Arsenal developing.
As THMT would say “The Spirit of the Thirties is rising”
And what of Swansea? Who can not be delighted by their progress? No big names, no big signings, an untried (at PL) manager; they have had a wonderful trophy-winning season and could yet derail ours. At season’s start it would have been inconceivable that Swansea could take 6 points from us, and yet, they beat us at home and deserved to do so. No-one would be shocked by them winning today, such has been their improvement..
I would not be surprised to see Gervinho start, nor Ox given the energy spent midweek.
BFG was our MoM in Munich and perhaps could use a break but something untoward is happening with Vermaelen. There is a story brewing …….
Our English Explorer: Rocky has suggested Richard Burton – so let’s take a look at the fellow. Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) was born in Torquay. This is an extraordinary man, a truly extraordinary man. To begin with Burton could speak 29 languages! Yes, 29! He was an explorer, an author, a diplomat, a spy, a cartographer, a translator and an International fencer.
Let’s start here …… Burton disguised himself in order to go to Mecca to translate the Arabian Nights story, the account of his trip made him famous. He also translated the Karma Sutra and published it for the first time in England – and to think this was during the Victorian age of strict attitudes to all things sexual. Burton’s published interest in sex and sexuality led to his being prosecuted by the Society for the Suppression of Vice (lovely ….they would be busy at Stamford Bridge!)
Full Set ….. Knighthood
As an explorer Burton undertook a Royal Geographical funded mission to Somalia and later to find the source of the Nile with fellow explorer (and an old BR subject) John Speke. They reached and named Lake Victoria (now Tanganyika) but quarrelled badly about the route and split up. The rancour between them led to a very public spat in a London where they were both feted. Speke later died in a shooting accident whilst Burton joined the Foreign Office. He became Consul in West Africa, Brazil, Damascus and Trieste.
Burton was Knighted and died in Trieste at the age of 69. To those interested I recommend further investigation of a fascinating man.
Today we will play a team with a similar style to our own. Laudrup has continued Rodgers principals of attractive free-flowing passing football. Much has been made of the Dane becoming a target as Wenger’s successor – his contract extension does nothing to dampen the rumours.
Just after our game ends the England Rugby team will be down the road in Cardiff trying to win the Grand Slam, good luck to them.
We need the points more than they do, so let’s get busy and take them.
Written by Big Raddy
We have been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde team over the last number of weeks, sometimes looking like the most prolific attacking team on the planet and at other times looking like we don’t have the foggiest idea how to open up the opposition.
To make matters more confusing the vast contrast in performances often happen when very similar teams have been fielded in two separate games, and have often included combinations of Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud, and Walcott or the OX all in the same team. This is not an insignificant attacking line up especially when combined with our traditional overlapping full-backs. This combination of players should really give any top side in the world a headache in defence, but have at times even struggled to make mid to lower table teams look at all uncomfortable.
When you look at the above names on paper it is difficult to understand how they can, at times, offer very little attacking threat. To try and explain it to myself I have considered the contradictory possibility that maybe we are fielding too many attack minded players to make our attack effective. I would obviously like to open this up for debate, but before I do I will explain a bit more what I mean by this statement.
In recent discussions on AA regarding what types of players Arsenal need to bring in, one type of player frequently mentioned is a more powerful defensive midfielder. This is usually mentioned in reference to a need to solidify the defensive aspect of our team, and therefore make us harder to breach, and is a sentiment that I am in full agreement with. Could a more pure defensive midfielder, however, actually make us more effective in our attack as well?
Conventional thinking would state that the more defensive players you play the more defensive you will be, but I would suggest that there are times when too many natural attacking players in the one team can leave us imbalanced, and upsets our shape so that players that should be supporting the attack more are pulled into positions of defence too often. Conversely the right defensive midfield screen can provide a better platform and reduce the need for other players to have to drop back as often.
Our current first choice defensive midfielder seems to be Arteta who more often plays that role in the midfield three with Wilshere and Cazorla. I like Arteta and think he is an excellent and very important member of our squad and am not in any way suggesting he is replaced and pushed to one side. I think he is and should remain a regular and important first team player. He did however come from Everton not as a pure defensive midfielder, and he has obvious offensive qualities to his game also. In many games he plays the deeper defensive midfield role very well and certainly never lacks heart and effort, and is not afraid of getting stuck in.
I have questioned, however, whether in some games he gets slightly exposed because he is not really a specialist in this role. At these times he seems to require more help in protecting the back four and breaking up attacks, and my observation has been that this more often than not drags Wilshere deeper to help cover in these areas.
Some will disagree and see the deeper role as Wilshere’s role anyway, and I would agree that all players need to perform some defensive duties, but for me Wilshere has far too much ability on the ball to be kept too often in a deeper role. He is not the finished article yet but those bursts of pace and ability to surge past people should be utilised in attack as much as possible, and this is where I personally see his long term future.
I remember, as one example, in the Southampton game thinking that we needed to release Wilshere further forwards to support Cazorla and try and get some attacking intent back into our game. It was not Arteta’s fault, but I felt he was a bit under the cosh in that game and he was struggling to screen and protect the back four effectively on his own. If we had been playing a more specialist defensive midfielder out there, who could have more effectively covered the defensive midfield area on their own, would that have released Wilshere from having to help out so often in defence and, if he could have played higher up the pitch more often, would that have seen us start to take more attacking control of the game?
You could argue that it may not have worked out that way and how can anyone really know, and I would agree that no-one can say for certain. It is more an observation and opinion that potentially a more specialised midfield destroyer to break up the opposition attacks would have given the platform for our attacking players to get into more dangerous areas more often. Once we turn the momentum of a game in our favour sometimes it becomes difficult for a team such as Southampton to get a foothold back in it.
For me a top defensive midfielder should obviously be a good tackler with a good physical presence. He also needs to be able to distribute the ball well, but for me he doesn’t need to be a “Bergkampesue” defence splitting passer of the ball, but more a decent passer who can redistribute possession once we win the ball back. I have always felt, though, that maybe an even more important characteristic for a central defensive midfielder is pace. I feel it is possibly even more important than for the attacking central midfielder where good positioning, awareness, quick thinking and the ability to play a killer pass are potentially more important characteristics. The defensive midfielder obviously needs to break up play but also needs to try and intercept and cut out threats from the opposition. The ability to cover ground quickly with pace is for me an important feature to defending well in front of the back four, and it is the one thing that Arteta unfortunately is not blessed with.
Many players are mentioned as being suitable players to bring in and play the defensive midfield role but some of you will be aware that I have championed Vermaelen for the role. Some would argue that he is not a good enough passer of the ball, but again I would question how important that is. He is a more than adequate passer of the ball for me and would have no problem in effectively redistributing the ball when we have won back posession. The plus side of his extra physical presence, good biting tackles and pace over the ground would far outweigh anything else for me. He could be considered as a defensive midfielder or even as part of a back three where he plays as an advanced sweeper.
As a pure defensive screen Vermaelen could likely provide 1 ½ times the protection that Arteta can in games where it may be more necessary, and if it allows us to play the other two central midfielders to take up more advanced positions then we may actually end up with a more potent attack by playing a more defence minded player in that deeper role.
I am not actually suggesting that Arteta is permanently pushed aside in this role. Far from it, I believe there will always be games where we can play him with Wilshere and Cazorla, as we do in our current first choice midfield three. These three for me do seem to be somewhat overplayed currently anyway, and I feel need a bit more rotation. Arteta could even revert to his slightly more traditional, pre-Arsenal, more advanced midfield role at times if TV is played in the deeper role and Wilshere or Cazorla need a rest or are carrying a minor knock. It is all about having alternative options for me and all of these players would still get plenty of playing time but hopefully with the added bonus of avoiding burn out and possible injury.
So what do AA’ers think. Do we need a more specialist defensive midfielder at times and if so who would be your choice? Would the addition of this player only be to make us better defensively, or could it actually have the additional effect of making us better offensively as well by way of freeing up other players?
Written by GoonerB