Archive for August 20th, 2011

Arsenal 0 – 2 Liverpool: Cracks widening with every game

319 comments August 20th, 2011

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Quite often, I get criticised in the ‘Comments’ section of this blog for being “too positive”.  I’m accused of being sycophantic to the manager and blind to the club’s problem.  Those readers will probably enjoy this blog a little more.  Equally, I hope that those fans who enjoy my more positive outlook will forgive the sombre mood of this post – but I was deeply alarmed by what I witnessed today.

When Arsenal took to the field at St. James’ Park a week ago, our first XI looked decent enough.  It was the bench that bothered me.  One week, and a few predictable injuries later, those substitutes have been promoted and are getting game-time.  Their inexperience and insufficiency was exploited ruthlessly as Liverpool recorded their first victory away to Arsenal of Arsene’s reign.  A watershed result in a watershed month for the manager.

I’m not blaming the kids.  The likes of Jenkinson, Frimpong, Ramsey and Miquel tried their very best.  Unfortunately, however, they made rookie errors which, at this level, simply don’t go unpunished.  The truth is that they oughtn’t have been out there today – it is not their fault that the squad has been stripped of experience.

In the first half we were performing well enough without creating any chances of note, until we lost Laurent Koscielny to a back injury.  That setback saw Miquel introduced, and a nervy Arsenal never really found their footing again.  Watching in the stands, the match had a 0-0 draw written all over it – Liverpool were seemingly happy to park their five man midfield and take a valuable point.

The game hinged on the sending off of Emmanuel Frimpong.  Along with the outstanding Thomas Vermaelen, Frimpong had been Arsenal’s best player, but after clattering Lucas Frimpong picked up a second booking and had to go.  Over-enthusiasm and a rush of adrenaline put an end to what was otherwise an outstanding full debut – the FA should be doing everything they can to convince him to change his mind and play for England.

Liverpool, smelling blood, introduced Luis Suarez, who set about tormenting our backline with his speed and movement.  The goals Liverpool got were admittedly graced with luck: both appeared to be offside, and one was the result of a calamitous own goal after Miquel’s clearance hit Ramsey and looped over the advancing Szczesny.  But with ten men and a defence of Sagna at left-back, Jenkinson at right-back, and Vermaelen and Miquel in the middle we were asking for trouble.  For the first time I found myself wondering with concern just where Sebastien Squillaci was.

Miquel did alright, and can obviously pass a ball, but was understandably nervy.  He wasn’t alone in putting in a less than inspiring performance: Sagna looked uncomfortable at left-back, Jenkinson was committed but struggled on the ball, Ramsey was erratic, Walcott anonymous, and Arshavin awful.  But, at the moment, they’re all we have.

The knocks and suspensions we’re picking up are unfortunate.  But we know we have a squad prone to injury and discipline, and have taken no steps to counter that.  When Liverpool went ahead, a good number of fans chanted aggressively, imploring Arsene to spend some money.  I didn’t join in – at that point, the team were still very much in the game and needed our support.  I did, however, entirely understand the sentiment.

Liverpool weren’t brilliant today, but their team looked an awful lot better than it did twelve months ago – and this, let’s remember, was without Gerrard and with Suarez starting on the bench.  It’s no coincidence that since January, they’ve spent about £100m.  Yes, they’ve overpaid for some players, but they’ve got the personnel they needed.  And they’re better for it.

There is a lot to be learnt from their handling of the Fernando Torres sale.  Torres was a symbolic and pivotal figure at Anfield – much like Cesc was at Arsenal.  After selling him to Chelsea, they immediately replaced him with players able to come in and make an immediate impact in their first team.  Crucially, it also gave the entire club a lift, and convinced players and supporters alike that they would recover from the transfer.  I’m not advocating anything as absurd as paying £35m for Andy Caroll, but some new additions would not only plug the gaping holes in the squad, but also give the whole club a boost.

Those holes will widen further if Samir Nasri leaves next week.  The headline news was that he started the game, and I thought he did OK.  During the match a story broke on French TV station Canal Plus that the deal with Manchester City may have fallen through – I have to say I doubt that very much indeed.  Arsene Wenger said he knew nothing about it after the game, but City officials are privately briefing journalists that they’re confident a move will go ahead.  Wednesday will act as a deadline of sorts – if he plays against Udinese, he would be cup-tied for the Champions League (IF Arsenal qualify).

Whether he stays or not, I wish Arsene would stop telling us how much Nasri “loves” the club.  Today he said:

“I have always said I will try to keep Samir Nasri. I have never changed my mind. I played him, much to the surprise of everybody, because he loves this club and at the moment I am happy he is here.”

Right, let’s get this straight: Samir Nasri doesn’t love this club.  Or, if he does, it’s a love which comes second to monetary gain, which is no kind of love I know.

The fans in that stadium today love the club.  Unlike Nasri, they’re putting their money in to the club rather than taking it out.  And unlike Nasri, they’ll be here next week.  And next season.  And beyond.

I didn’t join those who left early, or who booed.  But I understand why they’re frustrated.  For the first time, I have serious doubts about our ability to qualify for the Champions League both for this season and next.  I hope, with all my heart, that I’m proved wrong.

Liverpool Preview: Nasri in from the cold?

36 comments August 20th, 2011

Apologies for the lack of blog yesterday. A sleepless night and a five hour train journey meant sharing my thoughts with you would’ve been an unpleasant situation for us both. Fortunately, I am now slightly recovered, and feeling rather better. About everything, in fact.

This morning I’ll cycle up to the Emirates for my first live game of the season. In fact, work commitments have prevented me actually getting to games since around March. I watched our end of season collapse on the television, or through my computer/fingers.

The summer hasn’t been any easier on the eye. But tomorrow lunchtime, when I’m confronted with the full horror of Liverpool FC and their fans, all I will care about is that the eleven men in red and white triumph over the eleven men in whatever hideous away kit Liverpool’s marketing men have concocted for this season. And that, really, is what football ought to be about.

For ninety minutes, I’m calling a truce with my angst.  All I want to do is beat Liverpool.  I’m even calling a truce with Samir Nasri, who has been surprisingly recalled to the squad.  It shows how stretched we are when the manager is prepared to risk a £23m asset just hours before he’s due to leave the club.  The fact that Tomas Rosicky has joined Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby, Gervinho, Alex Song, Kieran Gibbs, Armand Traore and Johan Djourou on the sidelines has forced Arsene to reconsider Nasri’s position, and I now expect him to start in a midfield trio with Emmanuel Frimpong and Aaron Ramsey.

It’s certainly a change of position from when Arsene said he was only prepared to use players who were 100% committed to the club.  And it’s a change brought about, quite clearly, by desperation.  Arsene said:

“You do your job until the last day of your life at the Club – the rest is speculation. That doesn’t interfere with your dedication and the way you do your job.

Nasri is in the squad. If I decide to play him he will play. When you are professional you play until the last day.

Everywhere I have worked in my life I have made sure that until the last second of where I was I did the job properly. He is paid this month by Arsenal Football Club so why should he not play?”

Nasri’s impending move to City has seen his relationship with the Arsenal fans very quickly and very publicly disintegrate.  There will doubtless be those in the Emirates crowd who want to vent their frustrations at a player who has reneged on a new deal at Arsenal to double his money elsewhere.  My advice to you is this: save it for when he comes back with City.  There’s no need for a negative atmosphere around the ground on a day when teenagers like Carl Jenkinson and Emmanuel Frimpong could be making their first league starts for the club.

The team will most likely be:

Szczesny – Sagna Koscielny Vermaelen Jenkinson – Frimpong Ramsey – Walcott Nasri Arshavin – Van Persie (c)

Japanese winger Ryo Miyaichi, having completed his paperwork, is also in contention and is likely to be on the bench.  Interestingly, there’s been no talk of whether or not Nicklas Bendtner could be involved, perhaps in one of the wide attacking roles.  I wouldn’t be adverse to giving the Dane a game, although his lack of match practise might be a worry.

Regardless, it’s a line-up that tells you a lot about the state of the squad and where we require strengthening – especially when you take Nasri out of the equation too.  I was encouraged by the news that Arsenal made an enquiry for Lucho Gonzalez – an experienced, quality player – albeit one whose form has dipped in the last twelve months; but seriously, why would Marseille allow one of their best players, who cost them €18m two years ago, to leave on loan?  Much like when we bid only £10m for Phil Jagielka, I think we were being optimistic at best, and naieve at worst.

It doesn’t look like we’ll be getting Juan Mata either, with the Spaniard now set to sign for Chelsea.  That’s a shame: he’s a great player and would’ve been a good like-for-like replacement for Nasri.

One player who has signed is Joel Campbell.  The teenage striker will now wait to hear if he is awarded a work permit before the club decide the next stage of his development.

It’s a huge game today.  Our first two matches have come with creditable results, if uninspiring performances.  This is a different kind of test, against the team a whole host of pundits have predicted will supercede us in the race for Champions League qualification.  It’s an opportunity to make a real statement, and give both the players and fans a much-need boost ahead of a very difficult week in which we travel to Udinese and Manchester United.

Arsene looked as fiery as he ever has done in his press conference yesterday, swatting away journalists with defiant rhetoric.  He’s clearly been riled by those hacks and fans who have openly questioned his decision-making this summer, and feels he has a point to prove.  As supporters, we should consider that a good thing.  Three good results in the next eight days would certainly silence many of his critics.

Come On You Gunners.

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