Thursday, 27 October 2011

Arsenal Review - Pre Chelsea

What a start of the season we've had. You know that the season is going badly when you've been welcoming the international break with open arms. 

However, with 7 wins in 8, we are very slowly starting to turn things around, but those games have arguably not been against strong opposition, and in every big league game so far we simply haven't turned up. The game on Saturday, against a Drogba-less Chelsea, will tell us how far we have come these few weeks, and what we can expect to achieve in the rest of the season.

From my view, only in goal have be performed to an acceptable level, and Szczesny has been showing what we've missed in not having a quality, world class goalkeeper for the last 5 years. Personally I think Szczesny is one of the best keepers in the league and can only get better with experience.

In defence, we have been our usual selves when Vermaelen isn't playing, looking vulnerable every time the opposition attack and conceding easy goals in all different ways. The change in man to zonal and back to man marking at set pieces shows just how clueless we seem defensively and the lack of confidence at being able to defend in a suitable way. Also, with Sagna out for 3 months, we could get worse. Jenkinson seems like he is not ready to play against top class opposition and even he is injured for the foreseeable future. So far Djourou has played Right Back, but you only have to look back to the Blackburn game to see how that wont work against top wingers.

With Vermaelen still edging his way back to first team action, we are down to the bare bones across the back four with only 5 fit defenders. And that's including Gibbs who is about as reliable to stay fit as Almunia to keep a clean sheet.

All that said though, the Koscielny - Mertesacker partnership is starting to settle down and even look quite comfortable at times. In Marseille they halted any attacking threat that the French team posed with ease. After Saturday, we can really judge how successful their partnership can be, but the signs are quite promising so far.

In midfield we've lacked strength, and with Song having to deputise occasionally in defence, we have seen a lot of the young, but very impressive Coquelin or Frimpong. Ramsey has not been a shining star that we were wishing he would be, but he is steadily improving and learning his trade. It's just a shame he didn't have the chance to play next to Cesc more. In fact, since the Tottenham game, where he was easily nullified by Parker, Ramsey has got a lot better, and has shown that he can create and score goals for us this year.

Our new signing, Arteta has been decent. Not great, not rubbish, but decent. He can be praised for settling into the team quite quickly after signing on such short notice, but you cannot forgive an experienced player turning off at a key moment in a match of great magnitude, which is exactly what he (and Ramsey) did against Tottenham in the build up to their second goal. Like the other new signings, he seems to have a brilliant attitude and is solely focused on improving the teams position and qualifying for the Champions League.

Even up front, we've not been that great. Van Persie aside, who has been in his phenomenal form throughout 2011, and has completely upped his game in recent weeks, we have struggled to have the same impact that we did last season attacking wise. Walcott has been his usual self. Sometimes amazing and unstoppable, sometimes completely average and ineffective. His performance - or lack of one - against Stoke was very disappointing, but don't bet against him to play a key role against Chelsea, last season he was a major thorn in their side as we beat them at the Emirates.

Arshavin has struggled for form, although he has looked hungrier recently. Chamakh's lack of form for a year now is depressing and Park has not even feature din the league yet. Gervinho looked brilliant on Sunday with 2 assists and one goal. His turn of pace and dribbling skills are a joy to behold and if he can continue to produce an end product to his game, then we have a real gem on our hands.

We are not the Arsenal of 2004, we are not the Arsenal of 2010 even, we are a new Arsenal side. We are not playing to the level of old Arsenal side just yet, and are in a much worse predicament than we have been for years. But things are starting to look better than we thought they would be, and we are now only 2 points of Liverpool and 6 off Chelsea in 3rd. If we could get a result at the bridge, that gap could be only 3 points. Undoubtedly, it will be a long struggle for the rest of the season. And considering we have lost 4 times compared to Newcastle who are unbeaten shows just how far we have to go.

But a good performance and result on Saturday will go a long way to helping our recovery.

Take the Carling Cup More Seriously

Having cut short my holiday to come back and watch The Arsenal take on Bolton, travelling for hours across England and enjoying the numerous delays of Virgin Trains in the process, I was pleased with the overall result. A Win, against a reasonably strong Bolton side.

The second string we put out on Tuesday can be pleased that they got the job done, although there were some shaky moments, with Yennaris having a good debut up against the experienced Tuncay and Miquel not looking too phased by moving to Left-back. But the fact that none of these players - bar the quite impressive Arshavin and possibly Park & Yossi - will feature against Chelsea at the weekend shows just how weak our line up was. And, unless Vermaelen is fit, we will almost certainly make 11 changes for Saturdays game.

But should we be expecting more from Arsenal in the Carling Cup this season? After all, isn't it our best chance of a trophy this season. A trophy that will end our long standing, much publicised drought. And winning a trophy will give us something to celebrate after the depressing summer and start to the season, as well as the players a strong platform to build on.

We may have won the game on Tuesday, but overall we were very unimpressive, and things could have easily gone differently. Imagine if we had gone out. We would only have 4th place to fight for until we reach January and the FA Cup, but even that is a sought after trophy, with Chelsea, City and United needing to gain some silverware for their season not to be deemed a complete failure.

And before any mentions the Champions League, that is not a trophy we can expect to challenge for. If we cant even beat any top teams in England, what chance do we have against Real Madrid and Barcelona?

I agree that the Chelsea game has a lot of importance, but certainly in the next round I'd like to see a stronger team. Maybe resting Van Persie and other players we cannot afford to lose, and playing players like Park and Fabainski who need the game time, but if the rest of the team can't be trusted to play an win us games in the league, why should they be playing in the cup?

I've never even been the biggest fan of the Carling Cup, and last season found it slightly embarrassing how much importance we had given to such a measly competition that only Tottenham take seriously. But now, when the league is out of reach, and we only have to think of a tricky battle for 4th place, maybe we should re-think our approach to the Carling Cup.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Boring Boring Arsenal - Arsenal 1-0 Marseille

Good Win.

As the minutes and seconds slowly ticked by, I was planning on summing up this game and there was only one explanation. What a bloody boring match?

And anyone who has watch Arsenal over the last few years knows that we are not usually a boring team. We attack attack and attack and our defence in frankly rubbish. I have to admit today though, that had I been a neutral I probably would have turned off. But after coming into the game, a game which would have benefited from his slick passing, Ramsey turned in an excellent finish in the last minute to give us a great win.

The main stories from the first half were two handball shouts, one for each side. The first one was on Jenkinson which could have easily been given as he let it hit him on the arm in the box. Jenkinson does try hard, and the ITV commentators were forever going on about his work-rate up and down the right flank. However, he just isn't good enough. Time after time I see him as a fan who has won the chance to play for Arsenal for a year. Sure he tries his hardest, but there's a reason he's not a footballer. He can't play football.

That is harsh on Jenkinson, who I am sure will develop into an excellent player and has achieved so much already during the past year, and is clearly a lot better than any other right back option we have. Hopefully he is not out for too long.

The other shout, or murmur considering the Arsenal players' reaction was a clear handball by a Marseille player after a corner. Watching the replay and seeing his gloved hand punch the ball you cant help wondering why noone appealed for it. My only explanation for this is that all of our players shut their eyes and hope for the best at most set play situations, and this would go on to explain a lot of our problems at defending set pieces too.

On to the second half, which had less action than the first. Arsenal had all the ball and Marseille did nothing. Remy was isolated, and Valbuena did a lot of running, but on the whole not a lot happened. I was expecting the worst when Djourou came on for the injured Jenkinson, but Marseille didn't even exploit this weakness once.

In fact, it was a good Djourou cross which, after being miscontrolled by Gervinho - another sub on for Walcott - was well turned in by the Welsh captain. 

Overall it was a clam, composed performance, with very patient build up play which was well rewarded. In fact I can't remember Szczesny making a save. Much of that is owed to Koscielny, who was excellent - he looks a different player in the Champion League - and was there to clear things up whenever this got passed the rest of our defence.

Alex Song had a good game as well, and did well to keep his tackles under control after an early booking. Arteta battled quite well too, but offered little on the ball as the attack looked very average. Walcott's crossing was not at it's best, and Van Persie just didn't seem to have the classy touch that he did on Sunday. I'm sure we can forgive him though.

Here are the ratings: Szczesny 5.5 Jenkinson 6 Mertesacker 5.5 Koscielny 8 A.Santos 5.5 Song 7.5 Arteta 7 Rosicky 6.5 Walcott 6 Arshavin 5.5 Van Persie 6.5

Subs: Djourou 6.5 Gervinho 6 Ramsey 7.5

The 3 points are very happily taken and put us in an excellent position to win the group at the halfway stage. It was gives us our 5th win in 6 games, which has gone under a lot of people noses, and hopefully will be furthered at the weekend. We are not passed any corners, and we are still in a shit position in the league. But things are not as bad as people are making out. Come on you Gunners.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Marseille Preview

The main news of a quiet start to the week, mainly quiet because we had actually won a game instead of losing and having to face all the boring monotonous drivel that come with every bad Arsenal result, is that our best defender Thomas Vermaelen has signed a new contract. This is pretty much perfect news, and now we can focus on getting Vermaelen back and fit in the first team - preferably in time for the trip to the bridge that is looming ahead of us.

The main reason this is good news though is that Vermaelen was one of many key players - including the irreplaceable Van Persie - which was stuck in the tricky situation of only having 2 years left on their contract, and his signing will hopefully encourage the others to follow suit. On signing, the Belgian said:
"I am really happy to have signed a new contract with Arsenal. I always had the intention to stay here. Arsenal is a fantastic club. We have great supporters, we're doing well financially and we are playing with some quality young players now and they will develop, which is very good for the future."

Hopefully the future will be bright over the next few years.

The other news came after Arsene's pre-match interview with the French press where he revealed more about our terrible summer. Le Boss said:
 "This summer was the most agitated I've ever known. I had half the players in the dressing room who wanted to leave."
This sums up the ridiculous summer we had, and the negative affect it had on the team as a whole. No wonder we have started the season so badly when no-one really wanted to be here. Frankly lessons must have been learnt from last summer, and if we make the same mistakes again then there is something wrong with the people in charge of the club.

On to tomorrow's team news and Keiran Gibbs, who picked up yet another injury against Sunderland, is out of the tricky trip along with the other injured players, Wilshere, Vermaelen, Sagna . The good news is that Ramsey travels, and Djourou and Koscielny are back.

Like all of our away European games this year, this game will be hard, possibly the hardest we will face. Marseille have an array of attacking talent with Remy, Valbuena, Ayew and Lucho Gonzalez standing out in particular. At the Stade Velodrome, with the sixty thousand passionate fans behind the team, they will cause us a lot of problems, but we have already showed that we can deal with tough atmospheres this year after coming away with two great performances at Udinese and Dortmund.

The team should probably be something like this: Szczesny Jenkinson Mertesacker Koscielny Santos Arteta Song Rosicky Walcott Van Persie Gervinho

However, with the experience of Arshavin and Benayoun to call on, as well as the return of Ramsey, there could be more than the one change after Sunday. Like us, the French giants have not enjoyed their best start to the season and are lumbering in 15th, but Europe will be a welcome distraction, and they cannot be underestimated. Overall, A draw would not be a bad result, but if we do manage to scrape a win it will go a long way to rebuilding the teams confidence and regaining some kind of form. You never know with this Arsenal side though.

Monday, 17 October 2011

It Feels Good To Win

What a difference a win makes. 

All the stuttering, shaky football we have enjoyed over the last few weeks can finally be forgotten as we relish in the beauty of van ps class. We can't make any claims of us turning the corner - and let's face it, beating a weak sunderland team with an amazing late strike isn't a perfect result - but at least we left the Grove with the points. And that feels good enough for me.

We started the game brilliantly, with sharp incisive passing - Rosicky in particular looked in great from - cutting open the sunderland defence before Robin does what Robin does best and took his chance with infinite ease.

The goal banished any nerves we may have had and the players played with a freedom that we haven't had in months. At one stage the motd commentator said thisistherealarsenal/arsenal are back. We actually looked good for a while. Arteta, Song and the aforementioned Rosicky were running the game from the middle of the park and the link up play with the forwards was top class.

In particular though one player stood out. Van Persie backed up his comments about his commitment to the club by putting in a great, captains display. He oozed class whenever he touched the ball and the United Sunderland defence couldn't get near him. His turn and chip was straight out of the Bergkamp/Cantona mould and had it bounced in we may have gone on to win by a number of goals and Robin may have been looking at a goal of the season.

However it just bounced down onto the line and, whilst Sunderland were being battered, there was still only one goal in it.

The shaky signs were still present though, and after an Almunia moment from Szczesny when he charged out like a madman but luckily survived. Then came a petty freekick given for handball or something stupid. And frankly an experienced played like Arteta should know better than giving away those free kicks. As always, we were punished by what an inch perfect free kick. Ex-Gooner Larrson is known for his dead ball skills but this was right out of the top draw.

Shortly after it could have been worse. The team was shaky and all over the place, and the defensive errors started to creep in again. Luckily though, Szczesny was on hand to give us one of the saves of the season throwing himself in front of cattermoles header from 3 yards out. In previous seasons we've had gks that lose us points, but now we have one that's gaining us points and saving us time and time again.

In the second half things looked like they would drift into a bore draw. Rosicky was trying but sunderland stopped any attacking movements with constant fouls.

On came Arshavin and Benayoun and the russian in particular looked back on form. One run involved his skipping past 3/4 players before slipping the snapshot just wide.  Sunderland really didn't offer much going forward and the possession was more than 1 sided.

The spotlight eventually fell back on the man who played so well in 1st half. He lacked service at times in 2nd but after letting everyone else have their chance at dangerous freekicks the dutchman finally picked up the ball for himself.

Personally I wasny too confident in his even hitting the target, but then what do I know? Instead Robin struck an equally perfect fk into the right hand side of the net. A goal worthy of winning any game.

Despite an immidiate scare straight after the goal when sland scored an offside goal, we managed to look calm and composed and kept the ball well to close out the game.

Now we can't go and make any assumptions after just one game, and the team will still have a soft core for probably the next few months - especially with Vermaelen, Wilshere and Sagna all out - but getting the win was good, and now we are only 4 points off Liverpool and 3 off Spurs, who have a game in hand. Nothing is impossible, but let's take things one game at a time.