Archive for October, 2010

Football should always be that easy for Theo

75 comments October 28th, 2010

Newcastle 0 – 4 Arsenal (Krul og 45, Walcott 53, 88, Bendtner 83)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

All in all…
This was an outstanding result with a team which saw nine changes from the weekend. The two players retained, Denilson and Djourou, are hardly star names. We used our squad intelligently and effectively, and there was still room for a few youngsters. To go to Spurs and score four, then repeat the feat at Newcastle, shows we mean business in this competition.

If I was Arsene Wenger…
It’s a big ‘if’, admittedly. But if I was, I’d pull two-goal Theo Walcott aside, sit him down, and tell him, “Football should always be that easy for you”. Last night, as he glided through to finish both chances without breaking sweat, I saw glimpses of the teenage Walcott that persuaded Arsenal to part with almost £12m for his services.
Walcott, like Nicolas Anelka and Thierry Henry before him, has extraordinary physical gifts which give him a massive advantage over those he shares a pitch with. Once he’s away, there’s no catching him. It ought to be easy to be composed when you know no-one is quick enough to get close to you. Judging by the evidence of the early part of this season, in which he already has six goals, he’s finally starting to get to grips with that.
Last night was also proof that Theo doesn’t have to start as the centre-forward to be a threat centrally. It’s been noticeable this season that our front three have rotated throughout games, and Walcott’s runs through the middle are actually more effective from wide positions as they’re harder to track, a la Freddie Ljungberg.

Scszesny has the mentality of a top goalkeeper…
This was evident on two fronts: firstly in the remarkable way he recovered from his one mistake in the game, making a stunning say to deny an Alan Smith piledriver shortly after he had been rounded by Nile Ranger. Then, later in the game, he showed his fierce desire to keep a clean sheet, even at 4-0 up. His levels of confidence and motivation remind me of Jens Lehmann, and his reflexes are unquestionable. With his current deal due to expire at the end of the season, a new contract is an absolute priority.

Kieran Gibbs should take heart from Gael Clichy…
At a similar age, Clichy was similarly brittle, but has recovered to become a regular feature in the first-team.

Johan Djourou looks very rusty…
Admittedly, he did spend almost an entire season on the sidelines, but he seems to have lost something physically. He’s getting regularly turned for both pace and strength, and his defending has a touch of the ‘last-ditch’ about it. The memory of Djourou as a calm, composed defender is fading fast. A couple of times yesterday he was bailed out by the excellent Koscielny, confirming that Djourou remains very much fourth choice.

Eboue’s versatility is vital…
Whilst his antics can be infuriating, the ease with which he switched to left-back after Gibbs’ injury demonstrated his value to the squad. In the 4-3-3 formation, he can play any position bar centre-back and centre-forward. And given the chance, he’d probably love a go up front.

Lansbury was unlucky…
Young Henry might feel hard done by not to get a minute of action, especially in place of Craig Eastmond, who is not the most exciting of the various young talents coming through.

You can’t make a bigger statement of intent than involving Cesc…
I have to say that as I saw Cesc enter the field at the exact same moment as Joey Barton came on for Newcastle, I feared the worst. Those fears were almost realised when Barton picked up a yellow card late on for clattering the skipper. The risk, however, paid off. Cesc made a difference, creating the third goal for Nicklas Bendtner by chasing down a loose ball when we were already two goals to the good. He took this as seriously as anyone.

Tomas Rosicky put in a captain’s performance…
In a midfield also featuring Eastmond and Denilson, a huge amount of creative responsibility fell to Rosicky, and he didn’t shirk it. It is beginning to feel like his injury problems might, at last, be behind him.

Bendtner has learnt from watching Chamakh…
His work-rate yesterday was unusually high, and it reaped dividends. He also showed what he might have over the Moroccan: outstanding finishing with his feet. If you thought his curled goal against Man City was impressive, last night’s whipped effort was even better. His versatility, too, is an advantage: he has played left and right wing for prolonged spells, and last night switched effortlessly in to both positions.

Bendtner’s off-the-ball foul merely evened things up…
Yes, it was undoubtedly a foul, and a silly one at that: no-one was catching Theo. But Bendtner will have seen it as revenge. In the first half, Walcott went clear on the right, with Bendtner charging in to the middle in the hope of recreating their Nou Camp goal from last season. However, the Dane was cynically torn down off the ball and out of the ref’s sight. Let’s call it even.

The list of players ahead of Vela in the pecking order is:
Chamakh, Bendtner, Van Persie, Arshavin, Nasri, Walcott, Rosicky, and possibly even Emmanuel Eboue. Last night, he did nothing to alter that, and now he has the likes of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas breathing down his neck. Vela obviously has talent, but it’s increasingly hard to see just how he fits in to the squad. His struggles ought to be taken in to consideration when weighing up the potential impact of another South American import, Wellington Silva, who arrives in January.

How nice that the hard luck stories belong to the opposition…
Manchester City complained of harsh red cards and coming up against an outstanding goalkeeping display. Newcastle will bemoan the misfortunate of an own goal and Bendtner’s cynical forward play. I don’t care: it’s far better to be the unlikeable beneficiaries than the sympathetic losers. Long may it continue.

Wenger: “JET is unbelievable in front of goal” + the video evidence

108 comments October 26th, 2010

Tomorrow we face Newcastle at St. James’ Park for a place in the Carling Cup Quarter-Final.  This year, there has been a shift in policy, and the competition is being treated with more seriousness than ever before.  As Arsene puts it:

“We want to go there and win the game and qualify.  We want to win every trophy.  If course we’ll rotate some players, but it will be the core of the first team.  It will be similar to what we did at Tottenham.  80% of the team will have first team experience.”

One would imagine that would mean starts for the likes of Rosicky, Bendtner, Walcott, Eboue and Koscielny, all of whom were on the bench on Saturday.  The bench too will be packed with potential match-winners: Arsene won’t have forgotten in a hurry the impact Andrey Arshavin made at White Hart Lane.

There will, however, be room for some youngsters in there.  We haven’t forgotten our principles entirely.  One man who is pushing hard for inclusion is Jay Emmanuel-Thomas.  The Reserves captain made his league debut at Stamford Bridge, and after eight goals in five games for the second string is likely to be at least on the bench tomorrow night.

Those who’ve seen JET play, myself included, have wondered why he hasn’t been given more opportunities at the highest level.  The answer, it seems, is his stamina.  Le Boss confides:

“He’s knocking on the door with two hands.  He has an outstanding quality.  He works very hard to get his fitness right – when he gets his fitness right, he will not only be a good player but a great player.”

Another issue has been his versatility.  No-one has been quite sure what his best position is, but it seems he’s settling in to a role as a forward.  It’s rare for a player to start as a defender and then advance forward, but Emmanuel-Thomas’ power and technique has seen him deployed higher and higher up the pitch.  For the Reserves, he has been devastatingly effective on the right hand side of a front three.  Arsene explains:

“He is an unusual case – he started centre-back then left-back, then offensive midfielder, then centre-forward.  One thing is for sure – he can score goals.  It’s a massive talent that you cannot give people.  Right foot, left foot – he is unbelievable in front of goal, and he’s an unbelievable finisher, in the box and outside of the box.”

If you need any evidence of that, just check out these highlights from the last Reserve game against West Ham, in which JET netted a spectacular hatrick:

I don’t expect him to start tomorrow, but I hope he gets the opportunities between now and the end of the season that his enormous talent deserves.  I’d hate him to be one that got away.

Attaboy Boyata: Arsenal capitalise on City’s frailties

190 comments October 25th, 2010

Man City 0 – 3 Arsenal (Nasri 20, Song 65, Bendtner 88)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Like many games between Arsenal and a fellow big team, this was a match decided by defensive naivety and sloppiness. On this occasion, however, we were the beneficiaries rather than offenders-in-chief.

City will argue that the game turned on Mark Clattenburg’s decision to send off their confusingly-spelt centre-back Dedryck Boyata in the fifth minute. They’re absolutely right: from that point on, the contest had an entirely different dynamic. However, that does not change the fact that the referee was correct to brandish the red card I’ve seen some City fans complaining that the ref ruined the contest. He didn’t – Boyata did, with a foolish challenge. His inexperience, the fact that it occurred early in the game, or any other defence City have been able to offer make no difference. He was the last man – he had to go.

With the crowd up in arms, the referee did come under pressure to even things out, and we soon picked up a flurry of cautions. All three members of our central midfield, Denilson, Song and Fabregas, were given yellow cards and had to walk a precarious tight-rope for the remainder of the game.

It could all have been so different, mind you, were it not the plunging dive of Lukasz Fabianski to keep out a David Silva flick almost as soon as the game kicked off. That save was the pick of an impressive bunch from Fabianski, and reminded me of Jens Lehmann’s outstanding stop from a similar Craig Bellamy effort at St. James’ Park a few years ago.

Within fifteen minutes of the sending off, however, we were infront. Samir Nasri played the ball in to Andrey Arshavin in the penalty area, and he rolled an exquisite through-ball back in to the Frenchman’s path. Untracked by the sack of sedentary uselessness that is Gareth Barry, Nasri clipped a ball over the advancing Joe Hart and in to the net for his seventh goal in as many games.

It should have been over by half-time. An innocuous but definite foul on Cesc Fabregas in the corner of the penalty area saw the ref blow up again. Cesc’s spot-kick, however, was well saved by Hart. Maybe that superstition about the man being fouled not taking the kick isn’t so silly after all?

I was watching the game on Sky Sports, and couldn’t believe the negativity I was hearing from the commentators about our first-half performance. Gray and Tyler continually referred to the sending off as a “break”, neglecting to mention that in fact it was created by a brilliant pass from Cesc and run from Chamakh. It wasn’t the first time we’d got in behind City either – Arshavin had been wrongly flagged offside from an identical position moments earlier. The men with the mics then insisted that Arsenal had failed to make the most of our man advantage, but there we were, 1-0 up at Eastlands. I’m not normally one to suggest there’s any kind of ‘media conspiracy’ against us, but this was most odd. Perhaps Sky were simply disappointed that their Super-Duper Hot Fudge Sunday was turning out to be fairly one-sided.

At half-time, Roberto Mancini introduce Wayne Bridge, effectively bringing his team down to nine men. I have to say that whilst losing a man is always difficult to cope with, I thought City dealt with it particularly poorly. For example, wasting a sub bringing on a rubbish left-back when you already have Gareth Barry and Jerome Boateng on the pitch, both of whom are capable of playing there, was decidedly odd. Meanwhile the City player I most feared facing, Adam Johnson, didn’t even get off the bench.

Bridge, unsurprisingly, contributed to our decisive second goal. Attempting to cut out a Fabregas through-ball, he could only lay the ball neatly in to the past of Alex Song, who-toke poked brilliantly in to the top corner. His forays forward mean he now has three goals this season.

There was time for Nicklas Bendtner to ice the cake. A Fabianski clearance found Nasri, who kept the ball in play and released the Dane. His first touch with his left-foot was perfect, allowing him to advance on Hart and curl the ball around him with his right. Three super goals, and three valuable points.

Many pundits will add caveats to this victory, mainly because of the sending off. Nevertheless, it’s an impressive and important result. The back four had some shaky moments and missed the authority of Vermaelen and Koscielny – Johan Djourou in particular looked off-the-pace – but were supported by an excellent display from Lukasz Fabianski. He made several super stops, and commanded his penalty box unusually well. As things stand, he’s still more Tommy Cooper than Tomaszewski, but it’s hard not to be hopeful that maybe, just maybe, he’s turned a corner.

In midfield, Denilson impressed in place of Abou Diaby, who had presumably injured himself undertaking some daring activity like tying his shoelace or watching television. The Brazilian had slipped a little down the pecking order since the emergence of Jack Wilshere, but thrust himself back in to contention yesterday with an intelligent display.

Cesc Fabregas was handed the man of the match champagne, but seemed bemused at what he’d done to deserve the prize. Perhaps that’s because although he was good, he knew Samir Nasri was that much better. A summer’s worth of rest and a couple of season’s worth of maturation have landed us with one hell of a player. Rarely have I seen someone with Nasri’s combination of pace, creativity, and uncanny ball control. Now he’s adding goals to the mix he has the potential to become an outstanding player. One forgets he’s still just 23.

Marouane Chamakh, meanwhile, seems to be a one-man hoodoo, bringing sendings-off and penalties wherever he goes. Some will point to his tendency to go down easily – I’d rather credit his intelligent, energetic running. He is a midfielder’s dream: always willing, always available.

I don’t want to wade through too many of the cliches around this Arsenal team, but this really was a mature performance. Arsene said in his post-match press conference that we “negotiated in an intelligent way the difficulties of the game”. By that he means that we managed to avoid giving the ref an opportunity to even the two sides up, we recovered well from the missed penalty, and we took our chances efficiently. We controlled the game at the ground of one of our biggest rivals. It bodes well.

We now sit second in the table, five points from Chelsea, and with a few winnable league games coming up. It could be an exciting winter.

City Preview: Arsenal must set down a marker

2 comments October 24th, 2010

Let’s start with an ugly fact: lose at Manchester City today, and after nine games we will be behind Emirates-conquering West Brom.

We’d also probably be sixth, and eight points behind leaders Chelsea.  A quarter of the way through the season, the table would not make for pretty reading.

It’s essential that we avoid defeat today.  That’d make it three losses from four in the league.  If, conversely, we can pull a win out of the fire, we’ll jump from fifth in to second, just five points behind the pace-setters.  A tantalising prospect.

Our recent record at the City of Manchester Stadium is poor.  Our recent record in top of the table clashes, as this fixture must now be regarded, is also poor.  Previous excuses, however, are being cleared to one side.  Arsene says:

“I feel we are a much more competitive side now. At 18 or 19 years of age – unless you have exceptions – you do not have the same body build and experience. You can be impressed upon a bit more at 18 than 22 or 23 because you are a man at 23.

So we are not anymore what I could sometimes see – a soft team. That’s finished.”

We’ve heard this before, of course.  I no longer consider Arsenal a particularly physically ‘soft’ side, but I do worry about their mental fragility.  As in all big games, the first goal will be crucial today.  If we score early on, our possession play might allow us to dominate.  Concede, and City, as last season, could have us on the ropes.

This fixture last campaign was, of course, a source of great controversy.  Whilst Arsene has been typically politique ahead of the game, the videos in this post would make for quite the motivational team-talk.  Adebayor may not start the game, but his actions cast a shadow over affairs between the two sides.

It’s interesting to note that the 4-2 last year game marked Almunia’s first real dip in form, and saw him taken out of the team for a prolonged spell.  On this occasion, we travel to Eastlands with Lukasz Fabianski between the sticks and seemingly in favour.  Remarkably, Almunia’s continued absence through “injury” was not even discussed in the Friday press conference.  Fabianski had had some steady performances of late, and he’ll need to be better than the Spaniard was on the same ground last year if we’re to stand any chance of taking three points.

Bacary Sagna returns at right-back, but Koscielny and Vermaelen are both still out, so Djourou and Squillaci will continue at centre-half, with Clichy to their left.  Song, Diaby and Fabregas will make up a strong midfield trio, with Jack Wilshere sitting this one out due to suspension.  Upfront, I expect Marouane Chamakh to be flanked by Samir Nasri and a returning Andrey Arshavin.  What an opportunity this is for him to prove his doubters wrong.

Score the first goal, and anything is possible.  Go behind, and not just the game but our title hopes too will be in jeopardy.

Come On You Reds.

Who’s lazier: Arshavin or his critics?

229 comments October 23rd, 2010

The tide of consensus seems to be turning against Andrey Arshavin.  After an explosive first six months in English football, he seemed destined to inherit Cristiano Ronaldo’s crown as the Premier League’s most exciting attacking talent.

Last season, he was hampered by injuries and being played out of position as the world’s smallest lone striker: the pygmy in the middle.  It was in these circumstances that the lack of consistency and unwillingness to track back that frustrates his critics began to emerge.

Those traits have continued in to this season.  Despite some impressive performances against the likes of Tottenham and Braga, many fans are tiring of what they perceive as the Russian’s indifference.

When quizzed about his form yesterday, however, manager Arsene Wenger was unmoved:

“If you look at the stats, he is the player who has created more chances than everybody else in the Premier League this season.

So his numbers are quite surprising to people who think he has not done so well.”

Wenger’s faith in the player could not be more clear: no-one has started more games for Arsenal this season.  He’s delivered, too, with five goals already – half his total tally for last season.

Watching Arshavin can be frustrating.  For every moment of genius, there’s a simple pass misplaced.  But you can’t have eleven players just passing the ball sideways to each other.  Arshavin’s erraticism is part of what makes him great: his willingness to take a risk, to try and beat a man, to have a shot.  I’m an unashamed apologist for a player I think provides a wild-card and an alternative to our tippy-tappy tendencies.

Quite how much longer he’ll be able to do is another question.  When asked how long his contract has to run, Arsene had to think about it before hazarding a guess at two years.  It was not the reaction of a manager locked in the detail of re-negotiations.

At the end of the season, Arshavin will be thirty with just a year left on his deal.  It is surely unthinkable that a club as financially prudent as Arsenal would allow their record signing to depart on a bosman, so unless there’s some movement on a new deal soon, you’d have to imagine there’s every chance Arshavin could be sold this summer.

I, for one, would be sorry to see him go.

City preview tomorrow.

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