Archive for November, 2012

Everton 1 – 1 Arsenal: A good point to follow a bad one

786 comments November 30th, 2012

Seeing as this was a six-pointer, can we have two points for the draw?
To be honest, both sides will feel a singular point is a small return for what was an incredibly hard-fought game.  Our team looked a little leggy going in to it – God knows what they must feel like now.  Our early goal gave us a platform in the game, but you have to credit Everton for the way they fought back to dominate.  We had a few good chances on the counter, but Everton had a decent shout for a penalty, and overall you’d have to call 1-1 a fair result.  A draw at Goodison Park is never a bad result – it’s just a shame we didn’t go in the game with the cushion of three points at Villa Park.

Theo Walcott’s stats continue to impress…
His goal tally is now in to double figures for the season – he’s on a great run and it’s manifesting in his vastly improved finishing.  It’s been pointed out that he isn’t contributing hugely to our build-up play, but for me that simply underlines the fact that although he is deployed wide, he essentially plays as a striker.  His game is more about movement off the ball than intricate passing on it, and the fundamental flaws in his technique make that unlikely to change anytime soon.  Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue with the efficiency of his game.  He’s probably our most in-form player, and has abandoned his usual humility to talk himself up now.  That’s no bad thing – I like a bit of confidence – but I can’t help but feel he’s probably advertising himself to potential suitors as well as attempting to convince Arsenal to up their offer.

Defensively, this was our best performance for some time…
The early injury to Laurent Koscielny might have disrupted us, but aside from one aberration on the Everton goal, we were very solid indeed.  Kieran Gibbs’ injury doesn’t seem to have disrupted his good early season form, whilst Per Mertesacker continues to be remarkably consistent.  Credit is due, however, to two players who’ve been criticised in recent months: Thomas Vermaelen and Wojciech Szczesny.  The pair probably had their best games of the season to help keep the Blue tide at bay.  With Koscielny out for the next three weeks, let’s hope this performance marks the start of a better run of form for the skipper.

The period between now and Janaury will be crucial…
In that time we play six league games, four of which are at home.  The two away games are at Reading and Wigan.  The home games are against Swansea, WBA, West Ham and Newcastle.  It is no exaggeration or disrespect to the teams involved to say that we should be looking to win every single one of those games.  We’ve come through a tricky-looking November relatively unscathed, and are actually unbeaten since losing to Manchester United at the start of the month.  Now it’s time to ramp up the momentum with some wins.

Everton Preview: Depressingly, this is definitely a six-pointer

224 comments November 28th, 2012

In the run up to this game, both Arsene Wenger and Wojciech Szczesny have called it a “six pointer”.  You’ll be aware of this football cliche, I’m sure.  It’s quite early in the season for it to appear, but traditionally it refers to matches that will have a crucial impact on league standing come the end of the season.  Conventionally, they refer to relegation scraps or title-winning bouts between a notional ‘big two’.

This, however, is modern football.  The fourth Champions League qualification spot is now revered as such a crucial prize that there are some of these ‘six-pointers’ being played for it.  This too is the modern Arsenal, and it this kind of match (rather than glamourous times against Manchester United or Man City) that will ultimately define our season.  I admire the humility and realism of both Arsene and Wojciech in admitting it, but I can’t help but find that a slightly depressing pill to swallow.

Of late, some have accused me of being a little more negative than usual.  I don’t think I’m being actively negative; I’m just a little sobered by the steady, wearing realisation of our standing in English football.  Every year you hope that we’ll burst above the parapet and contend again for the major titles.  Every year you slowly realise that you’re just in another race for fourth, the trophy without a prize to lift.

Arsene’s come under a lot of flak recently – some justified, some not.  I’m no psychologist, but I can’t help but feel his tetchiness under questioning betrays the fact that he recognises some of the disenchantment among the support is justified.  I wasn’t particularly bowled over by his self-defence either.  Among the things he said was:

“At the end of last season we finished third. Honestly I don’t think there was much more in the team than finishing third. My pride comes from that as well.”

Here’s my issue with that: his job isn’t simply to get the best out of the team he has available.  He’s also in charge of building the team.  Whose fault is it that the team he had assembled could only, at its absolute maximum, achieve third place?

Anyway, putting a more positive spin on things, we’re entirely capable of going and winning at Everton tonight.  That said, they’re a good side with some terrific players, so it’ll be a close game.  The ‘six-pointer’ nature of the match means a win here would eradicate memories of that dreadful 0-0 with Villa, and that’d be no bad thing.

My hunch is that Thomas Vermaelen and Bacary Sagna will come back in for Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson, with Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott replacing Ramsey and Chamberlain.  The tired legs of Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud will once again be called upon to inspire us to victory.

Come on Arsenal.  Make me smile!


Villa 0 – 0 Arsenal: Arsenal’s lack of ammunition exposed

42 comments November 25th, 2012

Aston Villa 0 – 0 Arsenal
Match Report | Highlights (?) | Arsene’s reaction 

This was a deadly dull game…
I’m always loathe to call Arsenal games boring.  It sounds a bit spoilt, like I’m some sort of prawn sandwich-scoffing ponce who demands to be entertained.  However, this was truly tedious.  Goalscoring chances were few and far between, and midfield play was turgid and tentative.

A point is a poor result…
No away game is easy, but a side in the top four has to be looking to win pretty much every game they play.  Villa played well, but to put things in perspective, they ended the weekend in the relegation zone, behind the likes of Norwich, Wigan and Southampton.  These are games a club of our supposed ambition should be taking three points from.

Substituting Olivier Giroud for Francis Coquelin infuriated me…
…and I wasn’t alone.   The away fans openly booed and chanted “you don’t know what you’re doing” at Arsene.  The only precedent I can think of is the removal of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against Manchester United.  On that occasion, I did my best to back the manager.  This time, I’m not sure I can.  Lukas Podolski had been withdrawn, as has become customary, at the 70 minute mark.  With the German off the field, Giroud was our only credible goal threat.  I appreciate he was tired, but the game was almost over.  An extra five minutes would not have killed him.  Taking him off, for a defensive midfielder of all things, was a tacit admission that we were content with a draw.  Against a tiring Villa side, this show of reduced ambition pained me.  A top side – Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, for example – would have thrown on a forward and gone for the win.

A crucial difference, of course, is that United would have a forward to throw on…
The need for a striker is pressing.  Gervinho is not a striker.  Theo Walcott is not (yet) a striker.  Lukas Podolski is a striker, but is required to play on the left wing, because we have no-one else realistically capable of filling that position.  Marouane Chamakh is a striker, but is so far out of favour that he didn’t even make the bench yesterday.  Giroud is the only realistic option to play centre-forward at the club.  It’s a situation that can needs resolving sooner rather than later – and not with a temporary fix like the return of Thierry Henry.  Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Fernando Llorente are both just six months away from the end of their contracts with Schalke and Bilbao.  Theo Walcott might not be worth £100k p/week to us, but either of these two might be.

Why bother taking Jack Wilshere with the squad?
The young midfielder spent the entire game sat on the bench.  Arsene admitted after the game he didn’t want to use him unless absolutely necessary.  I’m sorry, but for me, toiling to a 0-0 draw against a side as poor as Villa necessitates the introduction of a creative talent like Wilshere.  If he’s not fit to play, leave him at home.

Andrey Arshavin ought to be given more of a chance…
Speaking of creative talents, I have to say I’ve generally been impressed with the little I’ve seen of Andrey Arshavin this season.  I certainly think he’s a more worthwhile substitute than Gervinho, whose first two touches of the ball yesterday were both hideous pieces of miscontrol.  It seems likely that Arshavin will be allowed to leave in January, but between now and then I’d back him to make a telling contribution or two.

It’s telling where Arsene chose to rotate…
He changed both his full-backs, which is arguably where he has the most strength in depth.  Gibbs, Santos and Vermaelen are three credible options at left-back, whilst Jenkinson, Sagna and even Coquelin give him options on the right.  He also left out Wilshere for Aaron Ramsey, in a box-to-box midfield role that has been also been filled by Diaby and Coquelin in the course of this season.  There are, however, several players in the side that Arsene simply cannot afford to leave out: Arteta, Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud.  Unsurprisingly, it is these players who are beginning to look jaded.  The transfer window is only a month or so away.  If we’re to make the Champions League, Arsene will have to recruit some trustworthy alternatives to prevent these key players being run in to the ground.

Arsenal 2 – 0 Montpellier: Quiet than Quality then Qualified

517 comments November 22nd, 2012

Arsenal 2 – 0 Montpellier (Wilshere 49, Podolski 63)
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Jack had earned that moment…
The relief and the joy in his celebration had very little to do with the fact Arsenal had broken the deadlock against Montpellier, and everything to do with 17 months on the sidelines.  It was a touching moment as he went over to hug the fitness coach who had overseen his rehab.  The goal will do wonders for his confidence, and it’s worth noting that this was his first ninety minutes since returning.  Both are major landmarks along his road to recovery.  I’ve been impressed with Wilshere’s strength in the challenge and his ability to burst past players.  At the moment it is just his passing radar that is a little off, but that will surely soon return to the pinpoint accuracy we recall.

Wilshere typified Arsenal’s performance…
He was far sharper in the second half than the first.   Arsenal initially looked a bit hungover from Saturday’s derby day victory, but eventually their class told.  Montpellier have some handy players but we should expect to beat a side currently 14th in Ligue 1.

Giroud’s substitution underlined his value to the team…
The Frenchman was probably disappointed to leave the field without scoring against his former team, but the standing ovation he received will have been some consolation.  The truth is that we’re suddenly very dependent on the Frenchman, and the fact Arsene took him off suggests that he knows it.   He made both goals – the first with a typically dominating downward header, and the second with a beautiful clipped pass that was as good as anything Alex Song produced last season.  Before the game, Arsene said Giroud’s improvement is down to the fact he’s understanding his team-mates better.  I disagree: the difference is that they’re beginning to understand him.  The side have realised what a threat he can be in the air, and the increased number of crosses we’re putting in suggests we’re finally playing to the big man’s strengths.

We won’t see many better goals than Podolski’s this season…
Dare I say it, but the German’s thumping volley was Van Persie-esque.   He’s one of the most clinical players I’ve ever seen in an Arsenal shirt – indeed, I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when the net didn’t bulge when he was put through on goal in the first half. Still, he more than made up for it in the second half with that superb strike.

Per Mertesacker was imperious…
Podolski’s compatriot even capped his performance with a dainty dribble through the Montpellier defence.  It’s great to see him playing so well – his name must be one of the first on the team-sheet at the moment.

Wenger is a master at negotiating the Champions League group stage…
Whatever you think of Arsene, you can’t knock his record in the early stages of European competition.  Arsenal have now qualified for the knockout phase for the 13th time in his reign – I believe it’s now twelve years on the trot.  With Chelsea and City both set to go out, it shows you just what a feat that is.  Personally, I don’t mind whether we come first or second in the group.  In a competition where winning the group could see you facing Real Madrid, it’s pretty much pot luck.

Arsene has given up on keeping Theo

201 comments November 21st, 2012

I’m convinced the game is up with Walcott.  Asked about the dangers of keeping Theo in January, Arsene said:

“There’s a risk that we lose him for free – but it is a risk we are ready to take.  A successful season is more important than this week; which is only a financial risk anyway … I believe that we started the season with this squad and we want to finish it with this squad.”

These are not the words of a man who expects news of a contract imminently.  He didn’t even bother trotting out his “I always said I want to keep him” line – the same line reserved for Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie.  Contained with the above quote is a tacit admission that December deadline will come and go without any progress on a new deal for Theo.

Theo has responded with the line about the fact that his last contract took “six or seven months” to sort out, so there’s no need to panic.  It’s a line that would have more weight and relevance if his current negotiations hadn’t dragged on for more than 18 months.  If you believe this story, Theo is already preparing to up sticks and go.

There is a distinction in class, however, between Theo and that trio.  Football is a game governed by short memories.  After the opening game of the season, the venerable Arseblogger said this of the young winger:

“Theo Walcott, however, stank the place out. His first touch of the game came early on, a pass was sprayed out wide to him on the right hand side and he clobbered it out for a Sunderland throw. It was a taste of things to come and knowing how much of his game is negated when teams sit deep I was staggered it took so long for him to be replaced.”

A few days later, when news of the possibility of his departure before the end of the window surfaced, he said:

“It has been very interesting to read the reaction online to the possibility of Walcott’s departure. For the most part, and I realise this is as unscientific as it gets, people seem pretty much ok with it, even if there is frustration at the timing of events … While not ignoring Walcott’s blinding pace, something every team needs, a player at this level needs more than that.”

The reason I cite these in particular is because here is a valued, respected commentator – someone who so often captures the sentiments of the fans – expressing how we felt at the time.  That is a matter of weeks ago.  Since then, Theo Walcott has started a further five games.  That is the extent of his contribution since those opinions were valid: five full appearances.  And yet suddenly the mood has transformed, and losing him would be widely perceived as a disaster.  Worth bearing in mind before you curse all of the Gods about Theo’s more than likely departure.

Arsenal face a must-win game against Montpellier tonight, and must do so without the injured Walcott.  It is something we should prepare to get used to.

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