These players are literally careless

Aston Villa 2 – 2 Arsenal (Denilson 40, Diaby 48, Barry (pen) 65, Knight 90+1)
Highlights here; Arsene’s reaction here

Of late, Sky ‘pundit’ Jamie Redknapp has become infamous for his misuse of the word “literally”: Wayne Rooney has been “literally” on fire; Fernando Torres has “literally” torn the defence to shreds; Spurs have “literally” come back from the dead.  Like most things that come out of Redknapp’s mouth, this is pure nonsense.  But I’m prepared to go out on a limb, with my own use of “literally”:

This team is literally careless.  They play, seemingly, without care.

Watch our attempts to ‘defend’, and that becomes entirely evident.  Yesterday we had defenders in the team who have won titles and cups at Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea.  And yet, watching the game, you never ever felt that we could hold on to the 2-0 lead we had somehow established.  The past suggests that these players are capable enough – the problem is a footballing culture that does not value the defensive side of the game.

It’s a point that’s been made many times, but what made Arsene’s early sides so successful was the fusion of his gallic attacking flair with a pre-existing set of British defensive values.  The likes of Adams, Keown, Bould, and Campbell have long since departed, and have never been replaced.  Now we’re left with a team and a club where defending is not held in any great esteem.  There is no pride in the art of keeping a clean sheet – at this club, defenders want to dribble their way out of trouble rather than just clearing the ball from danger.  They seem more interested in scoring goals than preventing them.  Hell, some of them even insist on wearing the number 10 shirt.

They have forgotten what they were brought here to do.  And the manager seems incapable of reminding them.

There is an exception.  Bacary Sagna is an outstanding right-back who would make any team in the world.  This stunning clearance off the line, as well as the width of the woodwork, is what kept us from going in three or four goals down at half-time.  But the rest of the side is littered with problems.

We are in a position now whereby after we went 2-0 up yesterday, I recieved a couple of texts from people saying, “Need one more, really”.  That, frankly, is ridiculous.  Arseblogger today pulled up this statistic:

“In 19 league games this season we have conceded in 14 of them, a total of 23 goals. Not good enough.”

It is shocking.  Appalling.  The players need someone who is passionate about defending to sort them out.  To make them feel like it matters.  To make someone step up and pull players into position and tell who to mark who and slap players on the back for making a good block or a good clearance.  We need to create a culture whereby a towering header or a crunching tackle is rewarded as much as a fancy backheel or inch-perfect through-ball.  If no-one in the coaching or playing staff seems capable of that, then those personnel need to be brought in.  Now.

Both goals we conceded yesterday were tragically typical.  First of all, a simple through-ball split Gallas and Toure, and the former got the wrong side of Agbonlahor, who out-muscled him.  Panicking, Gallas stuck out a leg and brought the striker down for an absolute nailed-on penalty.

And then, in injury time, came the equaliser – a catalogue of errors:

  • When the throw-in was taken, Eboue’s back was turned, allowing Petrov to cross
  • Abou Diaby was literally marking no-one, just casually wandering around the centre-circle
  • The back four were too deep
  • No-one was tight to Ashley Young, who had drifted inside from Silvestre entirely untracked
  • Denilson seemingly didn’t notice/care that Zat Knight had gone up front, leaving Villa with three players against our two centre-backs, despite the defender being ‘literally’ yards from him

Crazy errors, in injury time of a game that only a minor miracle had seen us leading.  We were thrown a lifeline by fate, but were careless and fumbled it.  If it wasn’t so sad it would be funny.

I speak of a minor miracle – in fact what had put us infront was a combination of luck and brilliance.  Luck in terms of Villa striking the woodwork three times and the ball breaking for Denilson to slot home, and brilliance with Sagna’s clearance, some Almunia saves, and a wonderful goal from Abou Diaby.  On Diaby: is that goal celebration the first time he’s appeared to care about anything?  The guy is outrageously talented, and seeing a goal like that makes his tenative performances all the more frustrating.

Then, of course, it all came tumbling down.  We weren’t helped by an injury to Alex Song – the only midfielder who takes his defensive responsibilities remotely seriously.  And yet, one can’t help but feel he only does so because he has no choice: he lacks the basic technique to engage in the attacking aspects.

I’ve always thought the top four’s places were assured, but without Cesc I’m no longer certain.  If we are to qualify for the Champions League things need to change.  A proper defensive midfielder needs to come in, who will shield and help-out the back four.  Would Knight have been left alone had we been fielding either Flamini or Gilberto?  The answer is simple: no.

Then the back four have to be organised.  As I said earlier, if we need someone new to do that, either on or off the pitch, so be it.

Portsmouth tomorrow is an early chance to start puttting these things right.

Villa seek to land knock-out blow on Boxing Day

Hello all.

I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s festivities – thanks to all those you sent seasonal greetings through the site.  I had a great day, and ate twice my own body weight in various roasted meats.  Moving has become difficult.

Boxing Day is always a great day for sport.  Today Arsenal travel to Aston Villa in what has become a massive game.  In the week we lost Cesc Fabregas for almost the rest of the season, we face our closest rivals for a Champions League spot.  After they won at the Emirates, defeat would leave us six points adrift and facing a real uphill struggle.

The long-term absentees (Cesc, Walcott, Rosicky and Eduardo) are all out, with Adebayor suspended, but beyond that the holiday period has meant a slight of absence of up-to-date team news.  We don’t know if Kolo Toure is available for consideration, or if Nicklas Bendnter will be fit to partner Robin van Persie upfront.

Whoever plays, we simply have to put in a performance today.  I don’t need to build it up anymore.  Everybody knows how big a game this is.

I hope the match goes in such a way as to permit your Boxing Day to be enjoyable.  Till tomorrow…

Merry Christmas from Gunnerblog

I typed this on Christmas Eve, so if the world ended today or anything, apologies if this now seems a little out of date.

Just a really quick note to wish you all a very merry Christmas, and if you don’t celebrate Christmas, simply to say I hope you’re enjoying the holiday season.  Thankyou all so much for reading the blog – the degree of feed-back and comments is massively appreciated.  I really believe the site will continue to go from strength to strength, and that really is all because of you guys.

It hasn’t been the best few months for Arsenal Football Club, but it’s great to support a team who have such a massive online community – it enables you to vent all that frustration and anger at the way things seem to be going, for one thing.  At a time when many fans feel increasingly alienated by ticket prices and availability, it is my firm belief communities like this help bring supporters together.

Best wishes to you all, and have a great great day,

GS

Cesc out for most of the season: What I would do

Cesc arrives at Barcelona airport to have his knee examinedYou might have noticed that unlike a lot of other sites, I didn’t report the news that Cesc would be out for several months yesterday.  That’s because a) at that stage it was an isolated story in The Sun, and b) I was in denial, desperately banking on The Sun’s unreliability and hoping that Arsene would announce today that Cesc would only be out for a week.

I was wrong.  It’s worse than any of us imagined: four monthsThe Times calculate that if Arsene’s projection proves to be correct, Cesc could take part in a maximum of eight games at the back end of the season.  By that time, who knows what we’ll have left to play for?

I can’t beat around the bush: this is disastrous.  I can’t imagine there’s anyone out there who needs me to spell out why, but I’m going to anyway:

  • Cesc is our best player
  • He is our captain – the decision to bestow the armband upon him was a brave one and now Arsene is without his shiny new unbeaten skipper for the forseeable future
  • We have no cover
  • We now have to buy cover whilst what we actually need to do is supplement our existing squad
  • Alex Song will inevitably get yet more playing time

This Arsenal team has no chance of winning the league without Cesc Fabregas.  None.  In fact, this Arsenal team without Cesc Fabregas could well struggle for fourth place.  He is that important.

So where do we go from here?  Well, the answer is simple: the transfer market.  At the moment our squad contains three realistic options for central midfield: Denilson, Song, and Ramsey.  Diaby is not yet considered as an option, as the quotes from Arsene in this piece make clear.  Of the other three, Denilson and Song have many deficiencies, whilst Ramsey is not even 18 until the day of the Villa game.  With such a shoddy squad, we really have brought this crisis upon ourselves, and now reinforcements are badly required.

The problem is that we already needed signings before this blow.  You assumed we were on the lookout for a partner for Cesc, with perhaps a centre-half and a creative wide-man on Arsene’s shopping list.  Now the most pressing concern is finding someone who can fill the void left by Fabregas’s injury.

What would I do?

For me, there are two options.  The first is the most obvious one: we buy a new central midfield pairing.  We buy the destroyer we’ve lacked since Flamini and Gilberto left, and a more creative partner who can replace Cesc and challenge him for a place when the Captain returns.  For the sake of argument, we buy a ‘Barry’ as well as an ‘Arteta’ (the latter being a suggestion made last night by the venerable arseblogger).

The other option?  We buy the defensive midfield player, and put him alongside Denilson in the middle.  We then buy a creative outlet who plays further up the pitch, possibly on the right or behind a striker – again just for the sake of naming names, let’s say an ‘Arshavin’.  Although this would require us to alter the shape of our side, it would mirror our more successful teams of previous seasons, which tended to have two primarily defensive central midfielders, but with wider players granted greater license to roam – it’s a system Man U often employ these days.

The obvious problem with these ideas is that they both involve buying at least two players – and that’s without even looking at the issues we have in defence.  Neglect to the squad over the past few transfer windows has left us in a situation where leaks are springing up all over the place.  I somehow doubt Arsene has enough buckets to deal with them all in one transfer window.

Before I go, I really do want to wish Cesc the speediest of recoveries.  It’s the first remotely serious injury of his career, and I’m sure it’ll really hurt him that he’ll be unable to help the side, especially since he only recently took on the responsibility of the captaincy.  If there is one positive to arise from this event, it’s that I know Cesc will be determined to come back from this better than ever, and will doubtless be absolutely committed to remaining at the club and proving himself to be the leader we all know he is capable of being.

That said, it would arguably be unfair of any us to expect a player of Fabregas’s undisputed class to miss out on Champions League Football.  Which is why Arsene must act, fast.

Merry Bloody Christmas, eh.

Villa Park could see Arsene field his very own Four Horsemen

In The Book of Revelation, Four Horsemen are sent as harbingers of the apocalypse: Pestilence, War, Famine and Death.  On Friday at Aston Villa, Arsene might field four men who are symbolic of the apocalyptic nature of our midfield options: Eboue, Diaby, Denilson, and Song.  Those four aren’t in any particular order, so don’t look for any clever jokes that correspond to their biblical counterparts – I’m far too tired for that kind of wit.

It is going to be a tricky game, though.  With Adebayor and Fabregas out, and Nicklas Bendtner also struggling with an injury, we may be forced to field the aforemention Diaby just off Van Persie, with the other three lamented players joining Nasri in midfield.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that we’re being linked with creative players, despite the more pressing need for destructive ones.  Zenit St Petersburg seem to think, despite Arsene’s protestations to the contrary, that Arsenal will soon be making a bid for Russian playmaker Andrei Arshavin.  Zenit’s General Director, Maxim Mitrofanov, told Russian radio:

“The price tag for Arshavin is £20m, and we are hopeful that Arsenal will make such an offer soon.”

There is certainly one man on the board who has openly admitted he’d like to see Arshavin at Arsenal: Alisher Usmanov.  The Russian has also been talking openly about the recent changes in the boardroom:

“What has happened in the last year poses questions. When in the space of a year four members of the board of directors are sacked, when the general director whom everybody had praised is changed, we consider that to be a huge matter — just to sack a major ­shareholder Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith without explanation. Mr Moshiri is now in London and is trying to find out the ­reasons for these sharp changes and according to what explanation we get, we will decide our strategy.”

His seeming ‘disapproval’ at the board’s actions implies an empathy with Bracewell-Smith, and it would be no surprise to see them jump into bed together (figuratively – please) sometime soon.  Although Usmanov insists he has yet to speak to Lady Nina about acquiring her stake, he does not deny that he is keen to increase his shareholding in the future.  He’s so very very slippery, this one.  More to come, I’m sure.

Christmas creeps ever closer.  I suppose it’s Christmas Eve Eve, today.  I did 90% of my Christmas shopping on Amazon.  Stock is no longer limited to CDs and DVDs – I bought all sorts, ranging from a diary to a hot water bottle cased in pink fur (the latter, admittedly, was just for me).  As Arsene prepares for his own belated Christmas shopping spree, the question on everyone’s lips must surely be: can you get midfielders on Amazon?