Archive for September, 2010

Just what the Professor ordered

8 comments September 29th, 2010

Partizan 1 – 3 Arsenal (Arshavin 14, Cleo 32 (pen), Chamakh 70, Squillaci 82)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

The team…
had six changes, many of which had been predicted.  Koscielny was rested so a rusty Djourou started, whilst Kieran Gibbs played ahead of Gael Clichy.  In midfield, Wilshere was handed a chance in a more advanced role, with Song and Denilson supporting him.

We looked shaky at the back…
for much of the first half.  Sebastien Squillaci was given three nervy moments by powerful Cameroonian forward Pierre Boya.  Fortunately, we recovered through some exhilarating attacking play.

Andrey Arshavin and Jack Wilshere were mesmerising.
Not just when they linked to create our opening goal, Wilshere’s backheel setting up a thumping Arshavin finish, but for a twenty-minute spell in the first-half in which the score could have been trebled.  Only some great saves and a goal-line clearance prevented the Russian from notching a hatrick, and Wilshere, enjoying a more suitable position behind the striker, was key.

Wilshere is not like Cesc was.
The comparisons between Wilshere and Cesc are understandable, but a little lazy.  I remember the teenage Cesc: he was a very different player to the leader and match-winner we have now.  The remarkable thing about Fabregas was that at 16 he came in to the team and simply never made a mistake.  He never gave the ball away.  But he wasn’t spectacular.  He was a continuity player.  Age has matured him and brought out the outrageous talent that was always there, but it wasn’t how he began his Arsenal career.
Wilshere is different.  Unlike Fabregas, he makes mistakes.  He dwells on the ball, tries dragbacks he shouldn’t, and attempts to play impossible passes.  He is a less mature talent, but in some ways a more exciting one.  He is a flair player.  An English flair player.
His backheel was night was brilliant and will draw plenty of plaudits, but it is the touch just before which is even better: a sidestep and drag all in one movement to take the ball away from an expectant defender.
We’re lucky to have Wilshere, and should enjoy it.

Both penalty decisions in the game were probably correct.
Denilson should know better than to stick his arm out in his own penalty area, whilst Gibbs’ challenge was somewhat clumsy.  That said, I thought he had a good game.  His high starting position allowed Arshavin to drift more centrally, where he was dangerous.  I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him continue at the weekend at Clichy’s expense.

Chamakh has now won four penalties this season.
Yes, he exaggerates the contact he receives, but it’s more of a comment on his hard-working, intelligent running.

I knew Arshavin would miss…
and said as much over on Twitter.  He’d just been a bit unlucky in front of goal, and my gut told me he wouldn’t score.  He’s capable of better, as we saw against Blackpool.  There are those who say Chamakh should have taken it simply because he’s a striker, but it’s no fluke that most of Chamakh’s goals, as last night, come with his head.

Tomas Rosicky celebrated Chamakh’s goal in a hilarious fashion…
jumping up and down like an overexcited schoolgirl.  Say what you like about the Czech, but he does seem determined to repay the debt he owes Arsenal Football Club.

Sebastien Squillaci…
got his first goal and deserves it for some solid displays since joining from Sevilla.  He’ll be very important at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, when we’ll again be without Thomas Vermaelen.

Whatever your feelings about Lukasz Fabiabski…
you had to be pleased for him when he plunged low to his right to save that penalty.  It was a crucial save too: even 3-1 up against ten men is not a safe position for this Arsenal team.  He made another good stop shortly after, and some deep part of you in which hope still burgeons wondered if perhaps we might have witnessed a turning point in the Pole’s career.  That said, if Manuel Almunia is fit for Sunday I would definitely go with the more experienced keeper.

All in all…
an excellent win and, with no new injuries picked up, just what was required ahead of Chelsea.  There is a “little little” chance Cesc Fabregas will be fit to play – I think it will make a massive difference if he can.  More news on that as the week progresses.

Partizan Belgrade Preview: Jack’s back

4 comments September 28th, 2010

Hello all.  Arsenal face Partizan Belgrade tonight, in a game which ought to have been fairly a relaxed encounter ahead of Sunday’s critical match at Stamford Bridge.  On a European away trip, a draw is usually viewed as a decent result.  After our slip against West Brom, both the manager and the fans will be demanding a win from the team to restore morale and belief.

There is a bit of intrigue around what XI Arsene will pick.  He has suggested that some players may require a breather, whereas there’s always the possibility that some will be dropped as punishment for their sloppiness on Saturday.

In goal, we know already that Lukasz Fabianski will start in place of the injured Manuel Almunia.  Although Wojciech Szczesny has been named in the squad ahead of Italian Vito Mannone, Arsene has confirmed that it is Fabianski who will get the nod.  Needless to say, it’s vital he puts in an improved performance.  We’re not asking much of him: merely 90 minutes without a catastrophic error.  He hasn’t managed that in a while, so tonight could get hairy.

With Thomas Vermaelen still out I’d expect Squillaci and Koscielny to continue at centre-back, though it wouldn’t amaze me to see Johan Djourou come in for the latter.  Koscielny played 320 minutes of football last week, and Arsene might wish to give him a breather before he faces up to the torrid task of facing Didier Drogba.

At full-back, Kieran Gibbs is fit and there is a school of thought that says he should supplant the out-of-sorts Clichy.  Personally, I don’t think the time is right for a change.  I wouldn’t want to field Gibbs’s inexperience against Nicolas Anelka on Sunday, so I think we have to stick by the number 22, for now.  Bacary Sagna’s position at right-back, meanwhile, remains safe despite his uncharacteristic errors at the weekend.

In midfield, Abou Diaby has been left at home without explanation.  Some have suggested it’s a disciplinary response to his appalling display against WBA, but given his propensity to pick up injuries it’s not hard to imagine he’s back in the treatment room.  In his absence, Alex Song will likely continue in the holding role, with Jack Wilshere available to come in alongside him.

I wonder if, however, Wilshere might be moved to a more advanced role.  Andrey Arshavin has started more games than any other outfield player, and I suspect Arsene may take the opportunity to give him a breather from the bench, rather than force the Russian to take one when we’re supposed to be defending.

That would mean the trio of Nasri, Rosicky and Wilshere playing behind Marouane Chamakh or Carlos Vela.  I think Chamakh will keep his place, with the manager looking to bring him off if we can establish a two-goal lead.

I can’t pretend to know too much about Partizan, but this helpful Guardian piece gives an indicator as to the kind of team we’ll be facing.  Their rough-and-tumble centre-back and skipper, Mladen Krstajic, was a target for Arsene Wenger many moons ago.

Finally today, the Swiss Rambler picks apart our financial results with more analytical excellence that I could ever muster.  Enjoy.

Oh, and Come On You Gunners.

Spineless Arsenal wobble against West Brom

14 comments September 27th, 2010

Arsenal 2 – WBA 3 (Odemwingie 50, Jara 52, Thomas 73, Nasri 76, 90)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

And so we have suffered our first defeat of the season.  Although the identity of our conquerors was surprising, it had been coming.  We got lucky at Anfield and could easily have lost at the Stadium of Light.  Escaping defeat on those occasions, as well as our dominant home form, had obviously induced a complacency which we paid the price for on Saturday.

Arsene called the defeat “inexplicable”.  I’m not sure I agree.  For starters, we were without the entire spine of our side: Vermaelen, Fabregas, and Van Persie.  Three leaders, and three key players.  The form of Squillaci, Koscielny and Chamakh had disguised the significance of their absence.  When their performances dipped, along with the rest of the team, that trio were badly missed: not just on a technical level, but also because they are the men who demand most from the players around them.

Throw in some fatigue from the midweek exertions at Spurs, and you begin to understand just how we conspired to lose this game.

That said, the team we put out should have been good enough to win the game.  I wasn’t able to watch the full ninety minutes, so have turned to stats to try and analyse the result.  Incredibly, we had less than 50% of possession on our home turf.  West Brom used that possession remarkably efficiently, scoring three goals from seven shots.  Our 24 efforts on goal, meanwhile, were wildly inaccurate.

Our defending throughout the game was terrible.  Alex Song and Abou Diaby did not afford the back four enough protection, Koscielny made one or two decidedly unusual decisions, and the full-backs were way below far.  As the man from Zonal Marking points out, Gael Clichy is becoming a regular target for a high crossfield ball, and we are struggling to cope.

There was, understandably, a lot of criticism for Manuel Almunia, who conceded a penalty (which he then saved), before parrying their second goal in to his near post, and charging aimlessly out of goal for their third.  It was a far from distinguished performance from Almunia, and one can understand the frustration of fans who were dumbfounded at Arsene’s failure to sign a keeper this summer.  But, as others have said, it is the manager who should be the target, not Almunia.  The Spaniard is giving his best.  If his best comes up short, that isn’t his fault.

Perhaps his performance is in part explained by the shoulder injury he picked up in the first half and which will keep him out of tomorrow’s game at Partizan Belgrade.  If you thought Almunia was bad, prepare yourselves: tomorrow, Fabianski starts.

Recovering from Saturday with a win in Europe is essential, but I’ll forgive you if your eyes are already turning to Sunday’s clash with Chelsea.  They lost at City shortly before the West Brom game, making our failure to capitalise all the more frustrating.  The gap should be down to just one point – by the end of the week it could be as much as seven.

We’ve only ourselves to blame.

Bob Wilson on why Wenger won’t pick Szczesny

28 comments September 24th, 2010

The day before our Carling Cup tie against Spurs, when he discovered he wouldn’t even be warming the bench at White Hart Lane, Wojciech Szczesny was furious.

“Wenger told me to fight for a first-team place, but then he didn’t include me in the squad for the Carling Cup game. My friends told me not to worry, that it’s a marathon, and not a sprint. But a marathon isn’t about running in the same place for three years.”

Szczesny’s frustration will have been compounded by watching Lukasz Fabianski make yet another rick.  After an impressive loan spell at Brentford, he would have hoped to get the nod in the Carling Cup this year.

The problem is that we now have four goalkeepers on the books, and four into number one just doesn’t go.  I suspect the fact they’re all still around is indicative of the manager’s collective lack of faith: he is hedging his bets.

Quizzed about Szczesny’s outburst yesterday, Arsene said:

“He is right, he deserves a chance but the keeper is in front of him, Vito Mannone, deserves a chance as well.

You can only play one goalkeeper. It’s part of their job as a football player to live with competition and decisions.

Impatience is a characteristic of youth. What they forget when they are 20 is that they can play until they are 40, whereas a normal player can only go to 32 or 34 if it all goes well. What they lose at the start they gain at the end of their career.”

Szczesny won’t be pleased to hear that young Italian Vito Mannone is currently ahead of him in the pecking order.  Mannone is a solid but less spectacular talent, a capable understudy rather than exciting prodigy.

Bob Wilson is an expert on all matters to do with Arsenal goalkeeping.  As a former player and coach, he remains embedded in the culture of the club, and knows a keeper when he sees one.  He has praised the young Pole before, and in a recent interview with goalkeeping magazine GK1, spoke about why he has yet to be handed a run in the first-team:

“It takes a very brave manager to put a youngster in a first team. On the whole they don’t risk it. In the 70s, an 18-year old called Peter Shilton forced Leicester City to sell England’s World Cup winning goalie Gordon Banks and they got away with it! Shilton was brilliant and Banksy had to go to Stoke City. Pat Jennings was signed by Spurs from Watford at the age of 18 and was stuck straight in the first team.

Because the price of failure is so high these days, the majority of teams just dare not risk throwing in a young goalie. Arsenal have a brilliant young goalie called Wojciech SzczÄ™sny. He was absolutely brilliant on loan at Brentford and at this moment, Arsene Wenger is very reluctant to use him because of the enormous pressure that would be upon him with so much at stake: Champions League, FA Cup and the league.”

Is that possible?  That the very high-profile mistakes that have tarred Fabianski are what prevents Arsene throwing Szczesny in?  Arsene, it seems, sees himself as protecting Szczesny rather than holding him back.  Which, reassuringly, makes Fabianski the cannon-fodder, the shield to a brighter star.

Whilst it’s a well-intentioned strategy, it’s also very high-risk.  Szczesny’s contract expires at the end of this season, and we are now in serious danger of losing him and five years of development work.  If Szczesny is good enough, he will cope with the demands of first-team football.  If he crumbles like Fabianski, then he was never the risk man anyway.  When you have a great talent on your hands, you have to take the plunge: just look at rivals Man City.  They’ve got Shay Given, a very solid experienced goalkeeper, and have essentially jettisoned him in favour of the Joe Hart.

That said, Joe Hart has three years on our young Pole.  If he’s not going to play immediately at Arsenal, Szczesny should really be out on loan, playing regular football, just as Hart did so impressively at Shewsbury Town and then Birmingham.

The financial results are out today, and as far as I can tell it’s good news.  You can hear Ivan Gazidis explaining the figures here.  The knowledgeable Swiss Ramble summarised thus:

“Arsenal 2010 results: profit before tax £56m (2009 £45m), revenue £380m (2009 £313m). Net debt £136m (2009 £298m).”

All of which sounds very good indeed.

Tomorrow, we’re at home to West Brom.  The usual suspects will still be out, including Thomas Vermaelen, but Abou Diaby could be ready to return.

With respect to West Brom, that simply has to be three points, especially after the last-gasp disappointment at Sunderland.

It’s Only The Carling Cup (But I Like It)

10 comments September 22nd, 2010

Spurs 1 – 4 Arsenal (Lansbury 15, Keane 49, Nasri (pen) 91, (pen) 95, Arshavin 105)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Before we get too excited, let’s remember that it’s only the Carling Cup.

And then let’s be delighted that no-one told this kid:

Arsenal haven’t won any silverware for five years. Making a Spurs fan cry is probably the next best thing.

The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.  After qualifying for the next round so impressively last night, Arsene might just have an eye on going further in the competition.  As he put it last night:

“When you look at the players we left at home, when everybody’s fit I can go as well for this competition.”

We have a big squad now.  People talked about last night’s team being strong, but they forgot to talk about the team we left back at the training ground, either injured (Fabregas, Van Persie, Walcott, Vermaelen), rested (Almunia, Squillaci) or suspended (Song).  It’s not as if we abandoned our youth policy entirely: the starting line-up contained four players under the age of 21 (Gibbs, Wilshere, Lansbury and Vela).

Our first-half performance was outstanding.  Jack Wilshere was the key player, taking a battering from an attentive Tottenham midfield yet emerging unscathed and unsurpassed for his vision and technique.  Inevitably, he created our opener, crossing low from the left for Lansbury to tap in.

“To come in against our rivals and score is a dream,” said Lansbury afterwards.  Well, pinch yourself Henri: it happened.  Arsene compared his battling performance to a Ray Parlour shift, which could be seen as damning with faint praise.  Lansbury has technique to match.  Chances will be few and far between for him in our packed midfield, but if he continues to perform as he did last night he has a chance of becoming a reliable squad member.

We should have added to our lead when Wilshere played in Gibbs, but the left-back was wrongly flagged offside.  The marauding run was typical of another impressive performance, and it’s great news that the foot injury he picked up in extra-time isn’t too serious.

Ah.  Extra-time.  It shouldn’t have gone that far but it did after a minor second half rally from Spurs.  Substitute Robbie Keane appeared to be offside, but the same linesman got it wrong again, and his side-footed effort squeaked through Fabianksi’s greased gloves.

At that point you feared that Spurs might crank up the tempo and make a real fist of it, but it wasn’t to be.  We threw on Chamakh and Arshavin to try and win the game, but eventually we found ourselves in that extra thirty minute allocation.

At that point, Tottenham imploded.  Fatigue was obviously a factor – their players were cramping up, whilst ours seemed fresh as daisies.  Tiredness told as we were gifted two penalties, both remarkably similar.  First Arshavin clipped a chip over the top to Nasri, who was tugged by Bassong, and then the Russian’s slide-rule pass found Chamakh, being held by Steven Caulker.  It is the third penalty the Moroccan has been awarded this season: his intelligent (and, not to mention, fast) running causes havoc in the opposition back line.

Samir Nasri had refused to take the critical penalty against Sunderland because of a superstition about not wanting to convert penalties he himself has earned.  When Rosicky subsequently missed, Arsene pulled Nasri aside and told him to get over his fear.  Last night, he duly did, slotting away both spot kicks with a calm authority befitting of a player who was wearing the captain’s armband at the time.

Our fourth goal was the icing on the cake.  Arshavin was fouled, Tottenham dawdled, and the Russian jumped to his feet and sprinted in to the box.  Unsurprisingly, Wilshere was sharp enough to take a quick free-kick to find his colleague, and the number 23 powered home his fourth goal of the season.

4-1, and sweet revenge for the 5-1 drubbing we took there in the same competition not too long ago.  I do think that with a couple of favourable draws we might be able to use the momentum this result has generated to go far in this competition.  It’d be great to see us contest a final again.

Enjoy the win, enjoy the goals, and enjoy the gloating.  But let’s keep perspective too.  There are more important things, both on the pitch (the Premier League and Europe) and off it.  Arguably the most significant thing about last night’s result is that it keeps our unbeaten start to the season going.  Now we’ve got to carry that in to Saturday’s game with West Brom.

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