Archive for September, 2012

Chelsea thoughts: Familiar failings & Feeble Fire-power

665 comments September 30th, 2012

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Arsenal should be kicking themselves…
This first defeat of the season felt completely unnecessary. Arsenal were punished for stupid mistakes at the back and poor finishing up top. Arsene Wenger will be furious, though some of course have suggested he has only himself to blame…

I’d be a hypocrite to criticise Arsene for leaving out Per…
I called it earlier this week and didn’t raise the alarm then. In fact, it seemed to me to be an entirely reasonable decision. As it was, Koscielny had an absolute stinker, and will probably find himself back on the sidelines for the next two games at least. I’m loathe to heap all of the blame on Kos, though – when you concede from a set-piece, more often than not it’s the result of collective disorganisation and a touch of cowardice. Positional intelligence is only worth so much: you have to fight to go and win the ball too.

Gervinho’s strike was a fantastic finish…
You know the saying: If you give enough monkeys enough typewriters, one of them will eventually thump the ball in to the top corner. Or something like that. I was pleased for Gervinho, but equally I’m conscious that he probably had about as much idea about where that ball would end up when he hit it as he did when firing off those haphazard shots against City. By the laws of probability, eventually he is bound get one right, as on Saturday. I’m not sure, however, that it makes him the solution to our striking problem.

For me, Giroud had to score…
The defence “it was a tight angle” is not valid when the angle is only tight because of the strikers touch around the goalie. He had a perfectly good opportunity to strike before that, dallied, and paid the price. I make that three clear one-on-ones and a penalty he’s missed since joining the club. I’m not writing him off, but I am a little concerned. On which note, I won’t pretend to understand why Arsene saw fit to bring off our best finisher, Lukas Podolski, with twenty minutes to play.

A couple of things the cameras might not have picked up…
The first is that substitute Theo Walcott was very chummy indeed with his Chelsea counterparts whilst warming up. I suspect I’d find that easier to stomach if his time on the pitch hadn’t consisted of hiding in the centre when we needed him to be driving at his full-back out wide. I may be being unfair, but then if Theo refuses to commit to the club then I’m afraid he will invite this kind of scrutiny.
The second thing was just how much of a hatchet job Mikel Arteta did in midfield. With Chelsea threatening on the counter, he produced a series of outrageous off-the-ball fouls to halt runners in their tracks. Fortunately, the referee missed most of them, otherwise he would have been lucky to stay on the pitch. The same goes for Laurent Koscienly, who appeared to slap a Chelsea player in the centre-circle.

I’m off on holiday now…
I’m heading abroad for the next two weeks. Chances of getting to see our games during that period are slim. See you here when I’m back…

Chelsea Preview: Time to reunite Vermaelen & Koscielny?

110 comments September 29th, 2012

Yesterday afternoon I posited the theory on twitter that Arsene Wenger might reunite Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny at the heart of the defence today.

It tells you a lot about how much Per Mertesacker’s stock has risen that I was met with loud cries of dissent from my followers – Mertesacker was outstanding at Man City and to drop him after that would seem, on paper, to be harsh.

However, Arsene has spent the week insisting he will select the centre-backs best suited to the opposition.  Mertesacker was chosen against City in part to combat the height of Edin Dzeko; against Chelsea’s nimble forward line of Torres, Mata, Hazard and Oscar, Koscielny and Vermaelen’s fleet of foot might be the sensible choice.  The informed whispers last night suggested that Tommy and Kos have indeed got the nod; Per will most likely come back in for the Champions League game in midweek.

The full-backs, goalkeeper, and holding midfield are certain to remain the same.  The other big conundrum facing Arsene Wenger is who to plump for at centre-forward.  Despite Gervinho’s erratic display in Manchester, my gut tells me that Arsene prefers the mobile attacking style he lends to the team.

The other choice is whether he feels we need to persist with Aaron Ramsey at right-wing.  Whilst Ramsey was excellent against City, I think Ashley Cole might be more tested by a flier like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

It’s rare to be going in to such a big game so confident in Arsenal.  We really have a great chance to go and beat Chelsea today.  I hope for all the world these players do it; it would give them a tremendous boost and cap an excellent start to the season.  Whatever happens, it’s vital we maintain our unbeaten record: lose, and we’d suddenly find ourselves seven points behind.

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Arsenal 6 – 1 Coventry: A player-by-player review

685 comments September 27th, 2012

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

In the end, we got everything we wanted from the game: a thumping victory, game-time for squad players and promising youngsters, and even a first Arsenal goal for Olivier Giroud.

It was clear inside the first couple of minutes that there was a significant gulf in class between the two sides. Coventry were also playing with a suicidally high line, and were there for the taking. With that in mind, I was pretty frustrated by what was a very lacklustre first-half display, capped off by a solitary goal.

In the second half, however, we were far better. Coventry tired too, and as we pressured them higher up the pitch mistakes began to creep in to their play, and we took full advantage, adding a further five goals to the tally and conceding just the one.

Highlights and a match report are available from the above links, but for those who weren’t able to see the game live I thought I’d give you a run-down on how the individuals involved equipped themselves.

Damian Martinez
Not a game in which he was hugely tested. He’ll have been disappointed to have conceded, but had no chance on the Coventry goal. One moment that stood out was when he came fully ten yards off his line to claim a deep set piece, dove and caught it cleanly in mid-air. His distribution was good, and all-in-all this was a solid if uneventful display.

Martin Angha

Martin Angha arrived at Arsenal as a centre-back, and has spent a good deal of this season playing as a left-back. He started this game on the right side of defence, and whilst he was solid throughout, going forward he looked very much like a centre-half. It was unfortunate because his stamina meant he was constantly available on the overlap, but his dribbling and delivery left a lot to be desired.

Johan Djourou
Captain for the night, Johan Djourou was quiet but steady. He came close to scoring with a diving header, and played the part of the senior man in defence well. He was, however, outshone by his partner…

Ignasi Miquel
I was really impressed with the Spaniard this evening. He has inherited the Vermaelen trait of nicking the ball and early and sprinting onwards up the field, which he did several times to great effect. His goal was a thumping header, and everything he did tonight he did with full commitment. He has the physique, he has the technique. Now he just needs experience. I suspect a loan deal might be on the cards sooner rather than later.

Andre Santos
I’m a fan of Andre Santos. He’s clearly a great personality to have around the club, and going forward he is capable of great things. Tonight, however, he looked plain lazy. He wandered around the pitch, sauntering back and generally looking disinterested. In the interest of fairness he is lacking match practise, and I recall that last season it took a run of a few games for him to get going, but on this evidence Kieran Gibbs is not going to come under serious pressure for the left-back spot anytime soon.

Nico Yennaris
Yennaris started in centre-midfield, and was almost anonymous throughout. Sometimes that’s the mark of a good holding midfield display. He didn’t do a great deal wrong – collecting the ball and playing the simple pass. However, I felt at times he could have been a little quicker to close Coventry down in central areas.

Francis Coquelin
Coquelin was his usual busy self. His intervention helped create the first goal, lunging on to a loose Arshavin pass to divert the ball in to Giroud’s path. It’s clear that Coquelin has designs on a first-team spot, but I do worry about just how many opportunities we’ll be able to give him. His impatience may lead him to look elsewhere.

Theo Walcott
In the first half, Walcott was poor. His touch was off and his movement was often selfish, driving in to the centre when he ought to have stretched the play. In the second half, however, he exploited a ragged Coventry, scoring with two excellent finishes. The headline-writers will have rubbed their hands together: I expect to see a load of stories tomorrow about how Theo “sent a message” to Arsene about his desire to play as a centre-forward. I’d counter with two observations: on top of the two goals, Theo also missed tow clear one-on-one opportunities. Perhaps of even greater significance, all four opportunities came whilst playing in a wide role. It is naive of Theo to believe that playing through the middle will necessarily lead to more scoring opportunities. Receiving the ball in the channels actually enables him to use his pace and get in to dangerous positions.

Andrey Arshavin
Arshavin will always divide opinion. Tonight, he did plenty wrong. There were stray passes, inexplicable backheels, and the occasional comical loss of balance. There was also a goal, the winning of a penalty, and two assists. The goal in particular was a lovely take, controlling the ball in mid-air on his toe before poking beyond the keeper. I’ll say this for the Russian: every time he gets the ball, he tries to make something happen. Sometimes it comes off, sometimes it doesn’t. My instinct tells me that there will come a time when we need to gamble with him to unlock a defence this season. When we do, we should deploy him centrally – he’s far better when free of the defensive responsibility that comes with a wide role.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
What a goal. The lad absolutely thumped in a thirty yard strike in a manner that won’t be a surprise to anyone who has ever watched this video of him in training. Now he’s pulled it off once, I expect he’ll try it a little more frequently. Just a word of warning, though: in the first half he was prone to a bit of show-boating, trying unnecessary tricks and dribbling when a simple pass was the better option. It’s something I’ve seen creeping in to his game recently, and it was noticeable that after half-time he was much more efficient. Hopefully someone had a stern word.

Olivier Giroud
Finally, the Frenchman is off the mark. It was telling that when the chance came to him, he didn’t panic, carefully clipping the ball over the advancing keeper before looking to the sky with relief. That said, when he stepped up to take the penalty, I didn’t have much confidence: the forward has a bit of a history with spot-kicks. The Coventry keeper’s save was superb, and hopefully the miss won’t dent Giroud’s improved confidence. It was a good sign that shortly afterwards he set up Arshavin when other strikers might have sought to redeem themselves by going for goal. His all-round play was good and improved dramatically after he broke his duck. Hopefully this is the start of a good thing.


Emmanuel Frimpong
The Dench man came off the bench for an uneventful twenty minutes. He got a tremendous reception from the crowd, but like Coquelin I wonder just how many opportunities we’ll be able to grant him. Perhaps he, like Miquel, could soon be heading out on loan.

Serge Gnabry
For those of you who haven’t seen Gnabry play before, the similarities with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are striking. He has a very stocky frame, with big powerful hips and startling acceleration. Even in this short cameo, it was clear to see this is a player with real potential.

Maroune Chamakh
I liked what I saw of Chamakh in his brief appearance. I forgot how mobile he is, and his team play remains excellent, even if he offers almost no goalscoring threat. Not a bad player to have quite so far down the pecking order.

All in all, this was a good night. I don’t think any of the players who started tonight will edge ahead of those who faced City in time for the Chelsea game, but the goalscoring form of Giroud, Walcott and Chamberlain certainly gives the manager food for thought after Gervinho’s erratic display in front of goal.

Arsenal’s purple patch will be short-lived – so enjoy it

42 comments September 26th, 2012

There’s plenty that’s new about this current Arsenal team. Perhaps most obviously, it seems to enjoy defending. Moreover, there’s a new set of personnel: it tells you something when Theo Walcott is suddenly the longest serving player.

Out on the pitch, they look different too. Arsenal take to the field in a home strip with a controversial blue hoop on the armband, and a strikingly unfamiliar purple away shirt. As a rule this blog focuses on events on the pitch, but seeing as this post is sponsored by JD Sports I thought I’d touch on a bugbear of mine.

Arsenal’s kits always seem to be the subject of some controversy – fans often feel disappointed by what they perceive as a failure to adhere to the traditions of the club. But modern football puts demands on the club which mean they can’t simply put out a classic red-and-white strip with a yellow-and-blue away year on year. Allow Arsenal’s Head of Marketing, Tom Fox, to explain:

“We liaise with our kit supplier Nike and we can’t limit the design scope too much otherwise it’s too difficult to come up with a new design. We do set some ground rules. For the home shirt, we say it has to be a red shirt with white sleeves. But beyond that, Nike needs scope with the design, also so that they can sell the shirt in China, the U.S. etc.”

Global selling potential is, unfortunately, a far bigger priority than the preservation of historical heraldry. As much as we’d like to see the traditional look year in year out, it simply can’t happen.

If you want to buy yourself a sponsor-less seventies replica shirt, there are plenty of places you can do that. In the meantime, we have to accept commercial realities and try our best to embrace the designs Nike put before us.

For what it’s worth, I think the recent purple reign kit is a pretty good effort. Whilst it’s not necessarily a colour we associate with Arsenal, the regal hue reflects the club’s history, class, and status. A quick glance at the away kit on show at Spurs shows how bad things could be by comparison.

As for the home kit, we’re lying if we pretend blue hasn’t featured on home kits before. Just have a look at this page to see how often it has occurred. And as Tom Fox points out, we and our wallets can be grateful for one thing:

“We’ve done a two year home shirt this year and we’re the only club in the world to do that.”

If you ask me, this effort more than merits hanging around for a couple of years. Especially if we keep playing in it as we currently are.

Coventry Preview: What a night for Nico Yennaris

866 comments September 26th, 2012

Tonight’s League Cup with Coventry City is a sell-out.  Considering it’s not included in season tickets, that means 60,000 seats, all sold and accounted for.  That’s the same as Chelsea and City’s combined attendance from their games last night.  Even taking in to account reduced prices, it’s a pretty extraordinary feat, and a demonstration of the appetite to watch Arsenal football club.

Tonight will be a vision of the future: a young team, and a young crowd too.  Here’s hoping it’s an enthralling game that wins the hearts of the next generation of Gooners filling the stands.

Arsene has indicated it’ll be a strong side sprinkled with a smattering of youngsters (update: the 18-man squad has now been named).  One of the more inexperienced players likely to start is Nico Yennaris, completing a remarkable double: the last time we played Coventry City, at Highbury, he was the mascot.

Suffice to say he looks a bit different now.  If you were wondering, the other mascot went on to become Michel Salgado.

When it comes to picking tonight’s team, there are a few certainties: Argentinian youngster Damian Martinez will make his debut in goal, Ignasi Miquel will play at centre-back, Emmanuel Frimpong will be on the bench as he continues his recuperation, and Andrey Arshavin will get a rare opportunity to start.

Filling in the gaps, I expect Johan Djourou to partner Miquel, and probably captain the side to boot.  That’ll mean leaving out Sebastien Squillaci, but I can hardly see the point in giving game-time to a player who is highly unlikely to feature this season and beyond.  At left-back Andre Santos is badly in need of game time, so I expect him to step in.  On the right, Arsene has a few options, but I suspect he might be tempted to deploy the young Spaniard signed from Barcelona, Hector Bellerin.

That’d mean shifting Yennaris in holding midfield – a role he has played regularly while skippering the Reserves.  With Frimpong unlikely to play more than twenty minutes, Francis Coquelin will presumably he handed another chance to impress.

Ahead of that is trickier to predict.  Arsene is keen to unleash the talent of 17 year old Serge Gnabry, but there are a queue of first-team players ahead of him looking for game time.  Arshavin has pretty much been guaranteed an opportunity, and I think he may find himself switching positions between the left flank and a central play-making berth, also occupied by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.  The youngster did not get on at the weekend and will be wanting to impress ahead of the Chelsea game.

On the right flank, Theo Walcott is due a game, and will probably start.  Of course, Arsene does have the option of switching Chamberlain and Arshavin to the flanks, and playing Walcott through the middle alongside another striker.  It’d be an interesting formation to look at, but I can’t see Arsene conceding to Theo’s demands so swiftly.

That other striking role will come down to one of Marouane Chamakh and Olivier Giroud.  I’d pick Giroud.  For me, Chamakh is in the same boat as Squillaci – treading water until he leaves.  Furthermore, the Frenchman is desperate for a goal, and you have to think that tonight will be as good an opportunity as any to get one.

With City and Everton both out of the competition last night, I hope we make a real fist of the League Cup this year.  We’re all aware it’s not a priority, but it’d be great to have a good run at it.  Starting tonight.

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