Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How the Defense fared: Individual Arsenal Player Analysis

It was a nervy end to the season for most Arsenal fans, but no one could have predicted that the team would collect 26 points out of the remaining 10 games to clinch the final Champions League spot.  In comparison to Arsenal's first 10 games which resulted in 15 points and left the team close to mid-table ignominy, scoring 17 and conceding 10 goals; the team only conceded 5 goals and scored 19 goals in their last 10 games.  There is no doubt that the midfield sacrifice made by dropping Arteta and Ramsey deep to solidify the back-line has allowed the team to keep more clean sheets without significantly stifling the goal scoring, it does not take an Arsenal expert to know that the creativity of the team has suffered though.  

The world is watching Arsenal's coffers, hoping that they will open and the gold held within will allow Wenger to sign the player he wants, if that player exists.  In order to find out what is needed, it is important to assess which players can be considered surplus.  With a look at defense, an area that has been considered Arsenal's Achilles heel in recent times, Arsenal may not need to make as many changes as initially suggested. Despite all the moaning, Arsenal had the second best defense in the league, only bettered by Manchester City, but in turn a superior goal difference than City.  

We start at the back with Sczcesny.  The young polish national goalkeeper started well, but like most Arsenal keepers he would go on to make mistakes which saw him left out of the squad and his mental strength questioned.  Szczesny came back from his little incident to guide Arsenal into the top four with some stunning saves, especially with one magnificent save against QPR's Loic Remy.  Wenger has not made a significant investment in a goalkeeper since Lehman and I don't see that changing, despite rumors linking Mignolet to the Arsenal goal.  

The right-back position has been a contested one, with Sagna's dip in form and Jenkinson's coming of age.  Rumors are that Sagna is half-way out the door, but the Frenchman is still an asset to the club.  He came back from another injury incurred at the end of last season, and was not the same player that was included in two PFA team's of the season.  Sagna had lost some pace, but also looked confused at times when given the ball.  His mistake that led to a Van Persie penalty has been cited by many as the last straw.  Jenkinson is seen as the natural replacement.  He is young, an Arsenal fan, and can cross, but he is naive as displayed by his red card against Sunderland which left the team hanging by a thread to secure the 3 points.  It will be interesting to see whether Sagna will come back after the summer, but if he does, Wenger will give him one more season as a starter.

Perhaps the most controversial exclusion has been captain Vermaelen.  The Belgian has been snubbed by Wenger, which has led to an incredibly strong defense.  Koscielny and Mertesacker have done well together and essentially secured Arsenal Champions League football for another year.  Koscielny has been able to complement Mertesackers vision.  What the German lacks in pace, he makes up for in intelligence, and in turn Koscielny sweeps up behind him.  Despite his lanky nature and initial shaky start, Mertesacker is extremely composed on the ball.  He was one of Schaaf's major acquisitions and fit in well with Naldo at Werder Bremen. His ability to play the ball from back, garnered him a starting position with the German National Team.  While many fans know that Koscielny is the real deal and want him to start every game, Mertesacker's inclusion has consistently been questioned. Player's like Mertesacker do not fit in well with the British game, due to their lack of aggressiveness as defenders. Mertesacker gets cautioned less than most central defenders and rarely kicks the ball away in an uncontrolled manner after dispossessing the opposition.     Vermaelen's future is in doubt and like the other captains before him, he may just leave this summer, but unlike the two previous captains, it won't be with much fanfare.  Wenger may have to dip into the transfer market if that happens, to sign an accomplished defender to back up Koscielny and Mertesacker.

At left-back Arsenal may just have the strongest combination in the league.  Both Gibbs and Monreal are captable players with an eye for crossing.  Gibbs will be the preferred choice due to his speed and dare I say, "Cole effect".  Since the days of Ashley Cole, Arsenal have produced Clichy and now Gibbs, who not only look like the Chelsea defector, but also are similar in play, speed and style.  In Monreal, Arsenal have an extremely talented left-back, who may still be adapting to the pace of the English game, but who has already shown that he can get forward and cross the ball, or keep a tight shift on defense and he is also not Andre Santos.

With that being said, and without knowing what will happen to Thomas Vermaelen, Arsenal need another central defender, but the rest of the backline and its backup look solid.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Rejuvenated Arsenal Must Win At Swansea

The expectations were extremely dreary and the media had written Arsenal off when the draw was made. After succumbing to an embarrassing defeat at home, no one was expecting an Arsenal victory at the Allianz Arena, let alone maintaining a clean sheet.  To make matters worse, Arsenal's talisman and spiritual captain was ruled out before the return leg.  Arsenal fans took solace in the fact that Bayern's dynamic duo, Schweinsteiger and Ribery, were injured.  No one could foresee what would happen next, not even the most loyal Arsenal fans were expecting an upset in Bavaria, but Arsenal were resilient and a bit lucky and came close to knocking Bayern out of the Champions League and would probably would have if the archaic away goal rule would finally be abolished.  This would have undoubtedly been on par with other famous Champions League return leg upsets such as Monaco vs. Real Madrid or Deportivo La Coruna vs. AC Milan.  Arsenal paid the price for shoddy defending and a lack of belief that curtailed their chances in the first game, only helped by a Neuer mishap to get them back in the game.  This time it was different, and although Bayern did most of the possessing and attacking, Arsenal did their fair share of counter-attacking and at times looked like the more superior side.  It was expected that Bayern would not defend and nor will they let Arsenal play their game and a team of Bayern's stature will certainly play for a win at home, but Arsenal looked defensively solid...yes, this was the most shocking part.

Although they looked like conceding at times, the defense did well and the omission of Vermaelen was exactly what every fan has wanted since the Belgian's dip in form.  Koscielny and Mertesacker looked composed, Mertesacker confident on the ball, complementing Koscielny's speed and agility.  Despite Gibbs' lengthy injury, he did not seem groggy and played a strong game, looking dangerous when attacking and looked assured in defense.  The return of Gibbs will surely sideline Monreal, but fans will be happy to know that a deserved replacement sits not too far from an injury prone Gibbs.  Jenkinson, again, played a good game and has turned the page since his red card against Sunderland.  The young right-back not only was delivering dangerous crosses into the box, but helped the team silence Bayern's rotating attacking midfielders.  Perhaps the most surprising omission must have been Sczesny, but after his mental state was questioned and looking at his most recent perforamnces, the Polish national goalkeeper was bound to get the hook.  Wenger will certainly be looking for goalies in the summer, but Fabianski did well against the might of Bayern.  After his tangle with Almunia for top spot, he had some fantastic performances and looked to be the clear number 1, but a lengthy injury made way for Sczcesny, who dazzled us all, but who now has also caught the Arsenal keeper bug.  Whether Wenger will stick with Fabianski will remain to be seen, but this back five, (if Sagna stays injured) will hold until the end of the season.

Looking forward to Saturday's game, Arsenal cannot afford to squander what was a gift from Liverpool.  Arsenal currently trailing 4th spot by 5 points and 3rd by 7 points respectively.  Looking under them, the Merseyside teams are only 2 points adrift and with Liverpool's current form and the deadly Suarez, they will certainly mount a late challenge for the Champions League spot.  The race for Champions League football has become the focal point of the League, with the Premier League almost decided.  Arsenal will have to carry over the attitude they displayed against Bayern and learn from their mistakes.  Walcott was very quiet most of the game, while Giroud could have done better in the box, furthermore Santi's role as a winger did limit his ability to carry the ball forward, which will be needed in the absence of Wilshere.  While Arsenal played well against Bayern, a reshuffled midfield, without Ramsey will look more attractive, especially if Podolski (if fit) or Oxlade can be added to the left wing.  Ramsey's presence alongside Arteta has been effective but muffles the team's attacking options.  In this case, only Rosicky presents a real attacking threat from the midfield, while Santi will have to go around roaming the front for balls.  Since Arteta's natural position is not as a defensive midfielder, he needs another player to balance him out. Fans can lament the fact that Song was never replaced, but Wenger will argue that even Song was not a true defensive midfielder, however he certainly gave more steel to the defense.

Both Chelsea and Tottenham are facing local opposition and although the idea of West Ham and Fulham stealing points from Arsenal's contenders is unlikely, derbies lead to strange results and both teams played on Thursday.  Swansea already beat Arsenal in the league, but their victory came within 10 mintues of the end.  Michu and De Guzman will make trouble for Arsenal's back four, but their own defense has not been the same since Chico's injury, which has allowed the 34 year old league veteran, Monk, deputize in his place, and his age has been showing, especially against West Brom.

There is still hope in the hearts of Arsenal fans and after an optimistic result against Bayern, Arsenal's prerogative is to prove the doubters wrong.  Wenger will have to deal with the internal disarray of benching his captain and criticizing Sczczesny's mental health, but the result of his experiment bore fruit, and perhaps his bold decision making will lead Arsenal into another season with Champions League football.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Who is most likely to come to Arsenal

With half-way through the transfer period, Arsenal are yet to make a signing, but Wenger recently allayed fears over the much feared "I won't sign anyone, because my squad is complete" statement.  Bids are apparently being made and Wenger is looking to strengthen in order to push for the fourth place in the Premier League.  The question though, is who will most likely come to Arsenal.

Make sure to vote in the poll.  These are just some of the names that have been linked with a transfer to the Emirates.  

Arsenal - Swansea Highlights

Super Jack rescues the Gunners with a marvelous strike.

After outplaying Swansea for most of the second half, Arsenal get their just reward.  This game proved that Arsenal can still boss the game, but it also showed us that Walcott may not deserve the new contract that is coming to him.  He will have to improve quickly if he wants to justify his salary.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Top Four Challenge – Arsenal’s Biggest Hurdle

At 20 games, Arsenal are in a similar position as last year. They are well within reach of a Champions League spot and are one of two Premiership teams in the Champions League, but the mood surrounding the club lacks harmony and has become quite demoralizing for fans and players. The growing rift between pro and anti-Wenger fans as well, the lack of action in the transfer market and Arsenal’s form on the pitch has left fans yearning for happier times.

Unlike last year, Arsenal are lacking a top striker that is capable of securing a win in the last minutes of the game. Furthermore, clubs like Everton, Tottenham and perhaps even Liverpool, have solidified their position in the top six and look like they will be fighting alongside Arsenal for the coveted fourth place. The club’s fans have been treated to an extremely inconsistent season, which has seen the club struggle to score in games against bottom ranked teams, often times relying on luck or a penalty to secure a victory or draw. When passing the ball, which should be Arsenal's bread and butter, becomes an arduous task, not only does Wenger worry, but so do fans around the world. The club’s last league fixture against Southampton saw a team incapable of building an attack from the back, and besides a solid 10 minute performance at the end of the first half, Arsenal were second best for most of the game, and deserved to lose to a wrongly disallowed offside goal. Fans have come to expect a certain niveau when watching their beloved team play and one of them is the complete and utter domination of the opposition coupled with silky passing and great vision that tears open the opposition’s defense, but this has rarely happened this season. From the near draw against QPR, to the loss against Norwich and Bradford, Arsenal have displayed performances that are not fit for a top four finish. Worst of all is that the club’s archenemies across the road have been flying high and the club has certainly improved under Villas-Boas, but they also seem to have a strong first eleven and reliable substitute players in Sigurdsson, Dempsey and Parker. Players like Bale and Defoe have been in top form, while Dembele is looking like the team’s talisman, controlling the pace of the game, while supplying both players with passes. The club did not wait long after the departure of Modric to secure the talents of the young Belgian and unlike Arsenal, knew that only quality can replace quality. Worse, is that Tottenham have already secured the talents of Holtby, a player that can play across the midfield and has been touted as one of Germany's rising stars.

There has been a downward trend in the joy that usually accompanies an Arsenal game, expectations of a loss or draw against weaker opposition are prominent, expectations many fans could have never envisioned. The pessimism surrounding this season does not only encompass Arsenal's display on the pitch, but also the continuing goal scoring form of the treacherous Van Persie. Whenever he scores for United, the majority of Arsenal fans feel a deep seated hatred for the Dutchman, accompanied by pain and a sense of failure. The migration of Arsenal players to Manchester has never hurt this much, and perhaps it is the long standing rivalry between United and Arsenal, or it is Van Persie’s excellent form last calendar year, but nothing has hurt the fans as much as this departure, not Nasri's, Clichy's or Adebayor's. Perhaps it was the length of time he had spent at Arsenal (and it's physical rehabilitation facilities), but overall, it was a concession by Arsenal that it cannot compete with the might of United and that despite its continuous entry into the Champions League, it truly is in the second tier of title chasing clubs. The departure felt as if your spouse has left you for your neighbor up the road, the one that kept on giving you the stink-eye whenever they saw you. The psyche of the Arsenal fan has been ruptured and the continuous departures of the club's star players has never hurt so much; the irony being that it looks like everyone that leaves is in automatic contention for a Premiership title. Seeing United edge closer to a Premier League trophy aided by the goals of the Judas, has left a debilitating imprint in the mind of the fan. Many have vowed never to include him in their fantasy teams (to their and my clear detriment), and others simply do not watch United games. Arsenal's failure to properly splash the cash on another top signing has left fans bitter, unable to show off their new companion and trying to make do with the much uglier Giroud/Walcott partnership.

The worry of every Arsenal fan is whether the club can make it to the Champions League this year, and if they do, will Wenger buy the much needed players to improve the team to challenge for the title next season. As Arsenal fans, there is a natural inclination to believe that reaching the Champions League is the norm. For the past decade, a Champions League spot has not been an issue, but last year’s worrying signs showed reverberations in the Arsenal camp and this year may be the one where the clubs simply cut it too close. Unfortunately, if no new signings are made during the January window and the team cannot solve the inconsistency problem, then the dark cloud surrounding the club this season will not go away. Having started the season with watching Robin Van Persie putting on the red tablecloth jersey of Manchester, we may end the season by securing a place in the Europa League.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Arsenal's Roller-Coaster Season Continues - What we learned against Reading

After the embarrassing loss against Bradford City in the Capital One cup, Arsenal's entire season looked like it was unraveling and Wenger's exit seemed inevitable.  Arsenal needed a win and Reading's high line and second tier defenders almost ensured that Arsenal will score a few goals, thereby regaining some of the lost confidence that has seen them fail to score from open play in the league since the first minute of the Everton game. Furthermore, Reading's attacking displays meant that they will not sit back and soak up pressure.  Arsenal have always fared poorly against teams that let them play their game, as if there is a mental block when it comes to scoring against teams that purposely do not thwart Arsenal’s passing. This game not only proved to be ideal for Arsenal to regain form, but for Wenger to tinker with the formation and the roles of his players.

Among the changes were Walcott and Oxlade finally started together, giving Arsenal the speed up front and testing Walcott in the central-striking position from the start of a match.  Wenger also decided to give Santi a carte blanche in midfield, a role that Cesc enjoyed for so many years, allowing the little Spaniard more room to push forward and thereby dictate the pace of the game. However that also meant Arteta played deeper than usual, giving Santi the freedom of roaming the pitch and not to bother with defensive responsibilities.  Finally, Podolski was not hugging the touchline and almost played as a cross between a winger and a supporting striker, needless to say he flourished by providing two assists and scoring.  Questions will be asked at the temporary lapse in concentration that gifted Reading two goals and perhaps could have allowed a better team to equalize.  Wenger knows that this formation may not work against teams that sit back and utilize the central defender's size and strength as a judgment of footballing ability, like West Ham or Stoke.  In cases like these, Walcott may not find himself in that much space and these are times when we will definitely see Giroud employed down the middle.  Whether Arsenal have found a new starting line-up is debatable and although Reading's defense is the worst in the league, Arsenal dominated the game from beginning to end and their movement was much improved.  Podolski was instrumental in the win, and although his play does not involve much flair and his dribbling skills are inferior to Gervinho, his passing and vision are the reason that he was a household name in Germany.  If Podolski can offer more support to the central striker, Arsenal can not only utilize his excellent wing play, but Podolski's superior finishing.  At this point, Podolski is the best finisher in the team, not only proven with his goal against Montpellier but his control on the ball for the first goal was superb.

After such a comprehensive win, it is understandable that a lot of optimism is floating through the air, but Arsenal fans need to stay level headed and hope that this run continues against Wigan.  Whether Wenger will pick the same team remains to be seen, but if Arsenal is a roller coaster team, in which the next up or down is unpredictable, Wigan are the yo-yo team of the premiership, starting on a high, do poorly for the next 30 games and then right before the season ends, propel themselves out of the bottom with some good performances.  Wigan have surprised Arsenal in the past, but considering this isn't the end of the season and Wigan have the second worst defensive record in the league, Arsenal should be able to beat the Latics.  Wigan's style of play suggests that Wenger should employ the same team as the one against Reading, considering Wigan's high line and their affinity to attack their opponents.  Arsenal will enjoy a small break between the Wigan and Newcastle games due to the postponement of their clash with West Ham.  It would not be surprising if Giroud comes in with Walcott being pushed to the right-hand side but Wenger should allow Oxlade to continue his run, especially with all the uncertainty surrounding Walcott's contract; diminishing Theo's responsibilities, while increasing Alex's could reap dividends.  Wigan currently languishing in the bottom three, have only won one in five and their last victory also came against Reading, scoring three with another Spaniard,  Jordi Gomez, scoring all three.  Martinez tends to switch the team's formation depending on the opposition but he has more often than not employed a 3-4-1-2 system, and are the only team in the Premiership to consistently rely on the "three at the back model" which was introduced in the mid-80’s by World Cup winning coach Carlos Bilardi.  Wigan are without their captain Gary Caldwell and perhaps the most important defender in the team, thereby relying on Lopez Rodriguez to step in, with Figueroa and Boyce accompanying him.  Stam and Beauejour will be employed as wing-backs while the highly sought after, and if fit, James McCarthy will play as defensive midfielder alongside Gomez and McArthur.  In Kone and Di Santo, Wigan have two capable goal scorers, but without a steady supply these two players will be left empty handed up front.  Arsenal will have to halt Beausejour and Gomez from playing, where the majority of Wigan's balls come from.  Playing with wing-backs will further push Gibbs and Sagna back, but intelligent play and quick passing could leave the wing-backs exposed and allow Arsenal to exploit Wigan’s central defenders.  Furthermore, with Gibbs pushing down the left flank and Podolski floating between the left wing and central position will allow Arsenal to break down Wigan's right side of defense, which coincidentally is Wigan’s Achilles heel and the source of the last four goals they conceded.  McCarthy's absence could be a boost for Arsenal, as the Irish midfielder has not only grown in stature over the past year, but is proficient in breaking up play and could pose a threat to Santi's roaming abilities and without Santi on the ball, Arsenal's flow will suffer.  In turn, Arteta will be able to play the dual role of deep lying play-maker and defensive midfielder, due to the lack of concentration of strength in Wigan's middle, as Gomez almost plays as a third striker and McArthur's small stature does not pose a threat to Arteta's ability to distribute the ball.  

Wigan are capable opponents on the ball, but Arsenal should go on and win this game thereby securing third place until the rest of the matches are played that day.  Arsenal will have to watch out for the tricky Kone, who has plied his trade in countless countries and has a keen eye for goal.  

Friday, December 7, 2012

Where will Arsenal stand on the First of January

There has been much debate about Wenger’s tenure and whether his job is under pressure, but before analyzing the next month’s fixtures, it is safe to say unless Arsenal collapse and end up fighting relegation, Wenger will not be sacked in the middle of the season. The man and his legacy do not deserve such an ending at a club that he helped build into one of the most respected sides in the world. He may have not won anything in the past seven years and the football at the club has significantly deteriorated in the past year, but a midseason sacking is a harsh end, especially since no one really knows who calls the shots regarding the club’ transfer policies. The constant he said, she said regarding Wenger’s transfer kitty has left fans more confused and if Wenger has been working on a shoe string budget, then the club has been punching above its weight for years. No club can realistically sustain the departure of its best players every season, and with Nasri, Cesc, Song and RVP, Wenger did not just lose talented world class players, but a footballing philosophy that is hard to recreate. With current results being nothing to boast about, fans and the club have to look into the future for some solace.

As Arsenal slump to a meaningless defeat in Greece (I question the importance of finishing first, unless we play Barcelona), they will be facing a grueling schedule, having to play 7 games in 24 days. This run of games has to be taken advantage of by the Gunners, because all of these games have been earmarked as winnable games. Despite West Brom’s high flying start, the Baggies come into this fixture after two defeats, and were taken apart by Swansea within the first 30 minutes. Although the game is being played at the Hawthorns, Stoke came away with a win from there, and having rested the entire team, Arsenal will be approaching their opposition with fresh legs and a point to prove. The midweek game could be Arsenal’s best chance to silence the fans wanting silverware, with a trip to lowly League 2 side Bradford City. Whether Wenger will let the same side take on Bradford as the one that played Reading is questionable, but for the sake of the league form, Wenger has to keep his faith in Chamakh & Co, afterall, Bradford City is a whopping 63 places below Arsenal. Arsenal will then take on Reading and Wigan, both currently struggling in the bottom half. Reading’s record is abysmal, and although they are a free-scoring team as they showed Arsenal in the first-half of the Capital One Cup game, their defense is absolutely atrocious as they showed Arsenal in the second half of the Capital One Cup game. In Wigan, Arsenal’s resolve may be tested, having lost last year to Wigan’s predictable end of season resurgence. /The Latics, though, have a defense that is as inconsistent as Arsenal’s and with Moses having parted ways with Wigan and Kone running out of steam, Arsenal will have to take advantage of Wigan’s 3 man defense.

Many will question the ability to get two wins out of the next two home games against West Ham and Newcastle, but with Newcastle having to travel to Old Trafford on the 26th, their resources may be hard-pressed against the Gunners three days later. West Ham may have beaten Chelsea, but Arsenal ran out convincing winners earlier in the season, and a similar victory is possible. West Ham may play the Allardyce way, which in any dictionary is the antonym to the Wenger way, but West Ham have recently been attacking sides, leaving gaps in the midfield, which were exposed by Arsenal at Upton Park and by Tottenham a couple of weeks ago. As Arsenal’s form starts slipping, teams like West Ham will take more chances at getting forward, allowing players like Santi and Jack to carry the ball further down the field without being challenged. Newcastle, last season’s surprise package, have just ended a streak of 8 games without a win against ten-man Wigan. Their fixture list in December is daunting, having to play Fulham and the two Manchester clubs, hopefully their heads will have dropped by the time they arrive at the Emirates. With Ba and Cisse upfront, Newcastle are a formidable side, but they have been less stable at the back and recent form suggests that this team is in worse shape than Arsenal. \

Finally, Arsenal will enter the new year with a trip down to Southampton and although Rickie Lambert may have started celebrating again, Arsenal’s previous thumping will remind us all what they are capable of against this promoted side. Ideally Arsenal will have collected 18 points and progressed to the semi-final of the Capital One Cup, but we do not live in this ideal world and Arsenal…well they are Arsenal, so my predictions will be an unbeaten run, with a semi-final booked and 14 points collected.

Many of you reading this Article will question an unbeaten run and quite frankly this is extremely optimistic, but Arsenal do have the players to achieve this goal and the teams they are facing are not particular difficult. With the group stages of the Champions League done and an easy fixture in the cup, Arsenal will solely focus on the league and the fixture list for this month is the perfect solution for the Gunners to bounce back. In order for Arsenal to collect this point total, it is clear that Wenger will have to make use of players like the returning Rosicky and the outcast Arshavin. At the moment, there is something missing at Arsenal and continuing with the same players without rotating them could be problematic. While Arshavin may not work as hard as Ramsey, Arshavin is more likely to stun the crowd with a beautiful assist or goal, while Ramsey has been wholly unimpressive, often times targeted by the opposition due to his affinity of giving the ball away. Arsenal have the players to turn the season around, but these players have not been playing as a team, and have lacked fluidity. A player like Rosicky will be vital in Arsenal’s resurgence, as he was last year.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

An Uphill Battle – How Arsenal Plan on Winning at Old Trafford

After one of the most thrilling games ever witnessed by most Arsenal fans young enough to have missed out on the historic 2-0 victory at Anfield in 1989, Gunners may soon be drowning their sorrows yet again.  While the game against Reading will bring us joy for the rest of our lives, last year’s game against United is one that all Arsenal fans would rather forget.  Like any traumatic experience, a fan knows exactly where they were when they witnessed this massacre.  Not being able to get the check soon enough, I scurried out of the bar with many Arsenal fans alike, barely being able to utter a word. One year on and the line-up is completely different, and perhaps not one of the players that started last year’s game will be in this year’s starting line-up.  The inexperienced Traore has been sold, while Djourou will be spending the rest of his Arsenal career playing League cup games.  This year, with the exception of Santos, Arsenal’s back four looks more solid and stronger than that of United.  The midfield bolstered by the return of Wilshere, alongside Arteta and Santi, not only has more experience but also a stronger drive and the uncanny ability to dispossess the opposition of the ball.  Arsenal’s biggest weakness as usual will be their form in front of goal. Whether Wenger will want to crowd the midfield by employing a 4-4-2 and place Ramsey as an attacking midfielder alongside Santi, or whether he will mistakenly employ him on the wing remains to be seen.  Ramsey’s presence in the squad has puzzled many Arsenal fans that fail to see the Welshman’s significance to the team, especially if forced to play in a wide position.  With Gervinho out for at least three weeks, and Walcott recovering from his midweek hat-trick, Wenger will have to turn to the Young Ox if fit.  If Chamberlain does play alongside Podolski and Giroud up front, his speed and trickery on the ball will cause Evra trouble, however he was not on the bench against QPR and did not make an appearance against Reading, which suggests that the young Englishman has not yet recovered from the injury sustained against Norwich.  Chamberlain has previously caused United damage, by providing Van Persie with an assist in last year’s home defeat to United.

Oh yeah, and then there is that; facing Judas.  There is a lot that can be said about Robin’s departure, the heartache he has caused, and the fact that his abilities may just be Arsenal’s downfall tomorrow, but Arsenal’s talking has to be done on the pitch.  We all know that he will not celebrate if he scores, not after 8 years of making himself familiar with our treatment tables.  The sad reality is that he will be Arsenal’s biggest threat, and despite all the hate and malice directed towards him, he is an outstanding player and can create goals out of nothing, which is exactly what Arsenal will have to fear.  With Gibbs out, Ferguson will make sure to target the unfit Santos and if Ferguson decides to play the revolving triangle in Welbeck, Rooney and Van Persie, Santos will have to make sure all of his lunging tackles are spot on.  At this point, the Brazilian is Arsenal’s biggest liability, and many have called for Vermaelen to play on the left with Koscielny slotting into the middle, but quite frankly I prefer to have either Sagna or Jenkinson play on the left, since Vermaelen alongside Mertesacker makes for a better partnership.  While United‘s defense has been the source of much grief for Ferguson, his strikers alongside the radiant Valencia and Young have allowed United to score freely.  Arsenal will have to brace the continual barrage and rely on the trusted quick counter…the Arsenal way ™. 

Arsenal will not only be better prepared defensively, but with Giroud’s magnificent performance midweek, the Frenchman will have a point to prove against Van Persie’s United.  His purchase has been lamented by many, and he is constantly being compared to Van Persie, but a goal at Old Trafford will go a long way to silence his critics.  Like any Arsenal fan, I am confident that the team will find strength in their courageous battle against Reading and I hope they take that mentality with them to Manchester, but then again, I also thought that Arsenal may just win last year’s encounter.  

Line Up Prediction 4-3-3
Mannone, Santos, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Sagna
Cazorla, Arteta, Wilshere
Podolski, Giroud, Oxlade

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Arsenal's lack of a Defensive Midfielder - Song's Departure does not leave a Gaping Hole

When the announcement of Song's departure was made, Arsenal fans were left wondering whether Diaby can fill the void and if he is defensive enough.  Many felt that Song was not a defensive midfielder to begin with, and therefore his departure would not change much.  Since the days of Gilberto Silva, Arsenal have not been able to recruit a person from the Makelele class of defensive midfielders.  Flamini may have done a decent job in midfield, but he did not control the area in front of the defense with any particular confidence.  Looking around the premier league, it has become apparent that teams have ditched the traditionally defensive midfielder combined with the offensive midfielder supported by two wingers.  Chelsea have essentially let go of Essien and Raul Mereiles, leaving them with only Mikel and Romeu, both of which are known to possess fancier footwork and an urge to attack.  The idea that a team necessarily needs an extra defender placed in midfield has slowly left the game, as has the 4-4-2 formation.  Arsenal's midfield has been forced to adapt to a new style, by pushing Arteta further back and allowing him to interchange with Ramsey in defensive duties.  Even when Diaby is fit, which happens as often as the eclipse, he is not meant to sit back.  Wenger wants to combine Arteta with a box to box midfielder, and this is exactly why the loss of Jack Wilshere has been a problem for the Professor.  

Young Jack has been compared to many players, but a young, more gifted Steven Gerrard is what tends to catch the eye.  Wilshere has the strength to hold off players, the stamina to play an entire game sprinting from one end to the other and the discipline to dedicate time in both halves. While Gerrard occupied the latter of his career mostly in the opposition half, his early Liverpool days were spent equally attacking and defending.  Wenger is specifically trying to recruit for that position, and has been trying to mold Ramsey into the box to box midfielder.  Although initially seen as the direct replacement of Cesc, Ramsey was meant to play in a more attacking role, but recent games has seen him pushed back to allow Super Santi to dazzle us all with his skills and passing.  Ramsey has been relegated to central midfielder meant to tag team the defensive responsibilities with Arteta.  While Arteta has been able to adapt his play to that style and perhaps it is his age and experience that helped him morph his game, Ramsey does not seem to be able to flip the switch.  Looking at the Arsenal bench, few players posses the abilities needed to fulfill this position, and perhaps Coquelin has shown some promise, but the midfielder is seldom utilized in this role, often times making a late cameo to solidify a lead.  Coquelin's first start was during the 6-1 rout of Southampton, but falling behind Diaby and Ramsey in the pecking order.  The lack of trust invested in Coquelin makes any follower weary, because in Wenger we trust, and if Wenger does not deem him good enough to become a starter, then he simply may not posses the qualities needed.  He offers stronger defensive qualities than Ramsey, but lacks the physical presence and speed of Ramsey.  

While Song did offer strength, vision and a presence reminiscent of a poor man's Vieira, he was often times susceptible to giving the ball away.  Wenger has done well to transform Arteta, but Arsenal needs that box to box midfielder, because Ramsey is currently not good enough to fulfill this position, and waiting for Wilshere is risky, considering the young midfielder has not appeared professionally in over a year.  Wenger simply cannot rely on injury prone players like Rosicky or Diaby and has to take a risk on Coquelin.  The young Frenchman is obviously good enough to survive a dreaded loan move and even given an "improved" squad number, perhaps the next move is to give him a run in the first team.  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Arsenal's English Revolution

Arsenal has always been a club vilified by the English media for Wenger's anti-English football style, which included or rather excluded English players.  Since the retirement of Arsenal's english defensive line, the team has rarely been a plucking field for the National Team coach.  Wenger has slowly strengthened the English compartment of Arsenal's squad.  Walcott is already a senior member of the England squad, but Oxlade is slowly making a name for himself, and was even included in the Euro Squad.  Wilshere's name is constantly linked with England, and if not injured, he would certainly be a starter.  The other two English players being linked come as no surprise, especially after the start to this season.  Wenger's ability to produce quality left-backs has certainly not gone unnoticed and Kieran Gibbs is turning out to be the next Ashley Cole.  He has pace, and strong dribbling skills, but what he lacked defensively last year has improved this year.  Gibbs may be Cole's direct replacement, with the latter facing heavy scrutiny after some idiotic tweets.  Either way, Gibbs' stock is on the rise and I have no doubt that he will be part of England's squad in the near future.  The other player is Carl Jenkinson and although he has featured for Finland at the youth level, the Arsenal right-back has not made a decision regarding his future and if given the chance, he will be surely part of the England set up.  Although the right-back position is in heavy contention, with players like Micah Richards left out, Carl Jenkinson has made a name for himself and has come a long way since the 8-2 defeat against Manchester United.  His marauding runs and combination play with either Oxlade or Walcott will weight heavily in his favor.

It is no secret that national teams that have a strong contingency from one team tend to fare better in national competitions.  With an average age of just 21 years, these five players could be the difference for England if they end up making up the bulk of the squad.  It has become apparent that Wenger and Arsenal have become a strong supplier of players into the National team and the talent afforded is of World Class quality.  Players like Jack Wilshere will surely become integral members of the national team.  While Gibbs has already featured for England, Jenkinson has yet to play in England Colors but if he can keep his place in a strong Arsenal squad, Hodgson will have explain his exclusion to more than a handful of tube riders.  His performances even have Arsenal fans conflicted at this time.  While everyone knows just how good Sagna is, having been included in numerous PFA teams and played a primary role in Arsenal's turn of fortune last year after coming back from injury, Jenkinson is not just an Arsenal player, but an Arsenal fan.  We have watched him evolve since being bought from Charlton and his performances have had a lasting effect on the mentality of Arsenal fans.  Having this kind of headache is great for Arsenal and for England, and I highly doubt that he will last much longer as a free agent in the international sphere.  The only worry is that Hodgson is not a modern football coach and he may prefer a less attacking fullback.