Monday, 11 February 2013

Andrè Santos - Why The Hate?

Today has been a good day for us as we've been able to move on a player that it surplus to requirements, admittedly only on a loan until the end of the season. The trouble is, I just don't get the level of hatred directed his way. I understand that his shirt swapping was bang out of order and his performance at Old Trafford left a lot to be desired but he wasn't the only one was he? Despite what many fans may think or should I say choose to ignore, is he actually strengthened our squad at a time when were completely flat but I'm going to look at his brief spell at Arsenal.

The Beginning

Off the back of our disastrous 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford the club decided to offload Armand Traore, who's finest action as an Arsenal man came when he walked down Seven Sisters road carrying a knuckleduster. He was shipped to QPR without a moments hesitation and then word starts to spread that we are in for a Brazlian left back from Fenerbahçe, with only Kieran Gibbs the only other left back it looked like we had some competition on our hands. What could go wrong?

It didn't take our new number eleven long to get the supporters on his side. A good overlapping run down the left, a nice pass to Chamakh, which he unsurprisingly didn't score with and the ball ricocheted to Santos, who cut took the ball from the byline, cut back on his right foot and slotted home. Santos only went on to score another two goals for us but they weren't exactly token gestures either, both were crucial equalisers. The first was at Stamford Bridge following fantastic play by Song, Santos kept his composure and slotted home to make it 2-2 and as we all know we went on to win 5-3 that day. His last goal also carried much more importance but more about that later.

The Injury

Due to another set back for Gibbs we found ourselves in a situation where Santos had to play in dead rubber game Champions League game in Greece. Now, if you can, take yourself back to that night and remember your reaction to the team news. We only had one left first team left back fit and he was selected, despite a later reliance on Miquel and Vermaelen at left back. Our worst nightmares were realised and Santos picked up an injury and he was to miss three months. To say twitter was in meltdown was an understatement, how could Wenger be so reckless in his team selection? Nothing was at stake other than a couple of hundred thousand for winning a game. Yet the injury to Santos was a massive blow and a poor run in January seemed to further reinforce the need for a recognised left back.

The Villain

The Emirates seems to crave the need to have a villain amongst our side. I did want to use the term pantomime villain but in truth the level of abuse makes it more serious than just a bit of banter. By the end of Santos' time at Arsenal he had displaced Ramsey at the top of the boo boys most wanted list. Now during his three month spell on the sidelines, we had the Arshavin incident against Manchester United at home. The Emirates was awash with fury and within two weeks the diminutive Russian made his way back to Zenit on loan. After his departure our home crowd had a new lease of life, the realisation of the effect sixty thousand fans can have had finally hit home. We had superb atmospheres in wins at home against Sp*rs, Milan and Newcastle. No preconceptions about any of the side, just a united support and not the murmurings of discontent we can often fall foul of. The point being that as fans seem to be easing off the back of Aaron Ramsey, there is no Santos or Chamakh. Will we see a return of such partisan support or will we have to identify a new player to tear strips off? We certainly have the opportunity to start in a positive way when we face Bayern Munich next week.

The Highlight

It is often forgotten that Santos started our biggest game of the season ahead of Keiran Gibbs. A win at West Brom secured automatic Champions League football. Santos got us level fifteen minutes after we fell behind, thanks to a decent strike from distance. Whatever you may think of the guy (no Santos like typo) he helped us achieve our goal last season and he made a massive contribution in that fixture, unlike many wasters that have at the club.

The Beginning of the End.

Well the RVP shirt swapping incident certainly caused a lot of commotion. I was at the game that day and I wasn't paying attention after the half time had blown and I had to rely on a text from a mate but I couldn't quite believe it had happened. Now having allowed a lot of time for the dust to settle, are we going to allow instances like this to define a players career at our club? Take the two players out of the equation for second (I know it's difficult) it's hardly the end of the world is it? However, I think once our support has made it's mind up there is no turning back, See the cases Adebayor, Eboue, Chamakh for further reinforcements on that viewpoint. Every mistake seems twice as bad and you can feel some of the crowd itching to pounce on every mistake. How does a player recover from that if he isn't given any room to manoeuvre?

The truth is Santos is nowhere near as bad as he has been portrayed by some sections of our support and nor was he good enough for our side but then there's a long list of players that haven't cut the mustard. This is a player who could have easily been given the nod at the start of the season, as the contest between him and Gibbs was extremely close to call. In fact I thought Santos would have edged it based on him being better going forward. He was suspect at defending but Gibbs isn't exactly solid as a rock but now we have Monreal to pin our hopes on. The fact is when it comes to Santos he benefited from prolonged spells in the first team, he always improved after a run of games, mainly because he seemed to look a bit trimmer more than anything else. Santos wasn't exactly afforded time like many others in the past and I just hope that we don't turn on other players that could go onto prove themselves and we couldn't just stick by them through the lows of a football career.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Jacked Up

A lot of talk this week has been about Jack Wilshere and his midweek performance has the media in a bit of a frenzy, especially when you consider England defeated Brazil. However, this isn't all about England, the main beneficiary of Wilshere's ability is Arsenal and I think that after just over three months since returning to our side, we are beginning to see Jack performing to the standard we've come to expect. Now of course Wednesday's performance against Brazil was impressive but if I'm honest,  I've seen him play better for us this season and I just want to focus on how he has improved as he's settled back into the side.

The Return

Jack returned at possibly the lowest point of our season to date. We had suffered consecutive defeats, initially away to Norwich, where Jack was an unused sub (I suspect Arsene intended on using him when we were 3-0 up with ten minutes to play) and then our home game to Schalke, which ultimately cost us top spot in the group. In truth the decision to play Wilshere from the start against QPR was classed as 'high risk' in my eyes. As with many games this was another 'must win' in October. Jack had a quite day, which is to be expected. He found his feet and tested Cesar with a decent effort in the first half and he went on to post some impressive stats for the game, he misplaced only three passes all game and only one misplaced pass out of twenty two attempts in their final third. It proved to be a good game to come back in as it was on open contest and thanks to a late goal mouth scramble and a fortunate non-offside call this result was not only big for the club but important for the reintegration of Wilshere into our suspect midfield.

The Lows
There have been some in Jack's short return to the side. His red card at Old Trafford came as the red mist descended due to weak refereeing and Jack took the law into his own hands. One thing is for sure, he is hot headed at times and we need him to mature quickly because not only can't afford we him to get sent off but miss potentially one to three games. He's also had moments like applauding the Mike Dean for dismissing Vincent Kompany, which is unnecessary but I put that down to a lack of professionalism and I'm sure he'll cut it out as he gets older. He was also apart of the Bradford shambles, let's not forget that whilst he is up there with Cazorla as our most talented player, this doesn't make us a one man team, far from it but it served as a timely reminder that we can't ever take things for granted but the Bradford defeat did provoke a reaction from some players, none more so than Lukas Podolski, who played his worst game in our colours that evening but he been in excellent form since.

The Passion

This is aspect that separates Jack from the rest of the side, his drive and passion to dig in when the chips are down is exactly what this side has been missing for far too long. We need leaders on the pitch, some can be vocal and some can galvanise others with their play on the ball. Wilshere provides both, I've seen him grill Podolski for not tracking back and lots of verbal exchanges with others (usually Gervinho) but he doesn't care who you are, if you aren't pulling your weight he isn't afraid to tell a few home truths. He's also taken the bull by the horns against Liverpool and City and drove at their defence to provide some form of reaction. Another aspect that sums up Wilshere's will to win is non-arsenal supporters hatred for him. Whether he's squaring up to Bale or Owen, he isn't bothered,he just shows fight and commitment and we as fans relate to that. He also has that arrogance that comes with being a top, top player and he's mainly disliked because opposition fans fear him. Much like the invincible side did at Old Trafford, whilst we were bang out of order that day, I felt proud that the team reflected the away ends feelings at full time, I absolutely loved it. We usually see it every season when this sides wilts under the first sign of pressure and you always like to think they care but when it comes to Wilshere it isn't even up for debate.

On The Up
Jack's finest hour since returning was probably the FA Cup replay against Swansea. He did all of the above in terms of grabbing the side by the scruff of the neck and dragging us into the next round. He capped a marvellous display with an absolute thunderbolt and he hasn't looked back since. If you want to analyse his progression from that QPR game then look at his stats against Stoke from last weekend. It was a dreadful game, as Stoke had their usual 'frustration formation' in full flow but Jack's pass completion was high and he had 41 touches in side their final third (compare that to the 22 v QPR). He's creating more and more opportunities as the games go by and with the mood our strike force is in, that can only be another massive positive. A lot of fans see Jack as the unofficial captain of Arsenal and it's difficult to get away from that, especially in games like Man City at home, he wasn't prepared to throw in the towel, when others appeared to have given up. We came up massively short that day but nobody had a bad word to say about him. You can more or less accept defeat if you see that the side have given their all but all too often we know that isn't the case and we can only hope his work ethic can prove to be infectious.

The Future
Well if you are an England supporter I'm sure a combination of Wilshere-Gerrard can go as far as they choose, I'm sure the England skipper sees a good few extra caps coming his way if he has his sidekick in centre midfield. I can't imagine Gerrard would be too impressed having to play centre midfield with Cleverley. Wilshere went up against Gerrard eight or nine days ago and he the Liverpool skipper just couldn't handle him and you can't put that down to an ageing Gerrard because he owned City's midfield on Sunday. Jack can do whatever he sets out to achieve and I hope we give him the resources in order to give him the platform he needs to reach his full potential because once the World Cup has been held in Brazil, we'll be fielding some very high offers. Maybe that's looking too far into the future but for now each game carries with it more and more pressure as the season really begins to hang on every result and we can ill afford anymore blips and an inform Wilshere can only help us kick on.

Feel free to leave any comments below or tweet me @mj_afc. Thanks for reading and I'd appreciate it if you could share the article via one of the links below.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Out of Our Depth

More often than not we are left aghast at Arsene's comments during pre-match press conferences and before the Brighton game it was no different. Wenger said
"We have two players in every position. That should be enough, plus the young players in behind. But if we find the top-class players in any position, we never refuse to strengthen our squad."

Now factually that statement is correct as we do have two players for every position, whether they are good enough is another question. So on my journey home from Brighton @modgooner and @smoggygooner (both are great additions to any time line) decided that we'd put this to this theory to the test.

Goalkeeper - Szczesny, Mannone, Fabianski

It's never good when Wenger's theory is completely blown out of the water when we discuss the first position. Szczesny is by far and away our best goalkeeper and he's a youngster. Mannone and Fabianski will never threaten Wojciech for his starting position, despite his occasional blunder. A competitive back up is must and you just have to wonder why we didn't chase Butland, he wanted to the opportunity to be number one and that is a possibility at Arsenal.

Right Back - Sagna, Jenkinson

Sagna has suffered of late and it has led to question marks over his commitment. Sadly, he is that far ahead of Jenkinson that Carl has barely seen any playing time since Bacary returned. Jenkinson showed he can more than handle the right back position earlier in the season but he started to flag as Sagna returned to full fitness. Can Jenkinson handle 40-50 starts a season? The answer is probably not and he certainly didn't apply any pressure to Sagna's place last weekend.

Left Back - Monreal, Gibbs, Santos

I'm so glad this area has been strengthened because I do believe it was our weakest area on the field. Weak because Gibbs is about as durable as Abou Diaby. He suffered an injury purely born out of weakness on Wednesday and he's been ruled out for 4-6 weeks, which in Wenger time frames equates to the end of the season. Santos is an idiot to be quite frank, he showed no desire last weekend at Brighton and he showed a complacency that has seen us lose to the likes of Bradford this season. Allowing wingers time and space to whip in endless balls and attempting dribbles whilst on the edge of your box isn't going to help him win over fans any time soon. That by default leaves Monreal as our number one left back and to be honest I know nothing about him but 'they' say he's rated. When Gibbs returns this leaves Santos surplus to requirements and we may just have cover at left back.

Centre Half - Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Koscielny

All three have had their fair share of problems this season, if Vermaelen isn't taking air kicks then Mertesacker is getting skinned off Kone and if Kosicelny plays then he's getting sent off after ten minutes. We desperately need to find the winning formula at centre half and we need to do it fast. I was firmly of the belief that it was Mertesacker + 1 but of late he is proving to be a liability. We know his lack of pace exposes him but that doesn't excuse his lack of marking for Brighton's second or turning his back on a Suarez shot on Wednesday (See Carragher's block in the second half for how it should be done). Vermaelen is captain so by default he will start and he has to be joined by Koscielny, they have the ability to strike a good partnership and they need to hit the ground running should the opportunity come their way. Sadly the worst part of this positional assessment is you need four centre halves and we have three. The likes of Squillaci and Miquel are either not good enough or not ready to play first team football. Last season we could turn to Song in a needs much situation but this year we are truly shafted and with doubts over Vermaelen's fitness ahead of the game against Stoke we may have Squillaci on the bench. I think centre half is our weakest position in terms of depth (because their is none) and now that left back has been sorted that probably points to the reason why we concede so many unnecessary goals.

Defensive Midfield - Arteta, Coquelin, Ramsey.

I find this comical because we need a quality DM and we didn't get anyone. Arteta's game has suffered since dropping back as he can't influence the game as he could last season and his latest absence hasn't been felt anywhere near as much as it was last season. Bizarrely Wenger elected to start Coquelin away to Chelsea, so he's clearly the next in line to the throne. Aaron Ramsey started that game on the bench but then made an impact as Coquelin got injured. This led Wenger to praise Ramsey after the West Ham game and he said "He had a good performance in a position that I think is made for him." I've never heard so much nonsense. A position that he wasn't good enough to merit a start ahead of Coquelin four days earlier, really Arsene? I do agree that this role in midfield suits Aaron best but Wenger merely stumbled across this and he is happy to roll with it whilst it works. In terms of quality this is our weakest area and we will get found out in the bigger games when we don't have as much possession, but when we play lesser side (like West Ham) we can cope, just.

Midfield - Wilshere, Diaby, Ramsey

Whilst Jack is fit, he starts, it's as simple as that. Diaby remains unreliable both on and off the field. He is good for rotation but when your manager states your body isn't up to the rigours of Premier League football it really is a lost cause. The advanced midfield roll doesn't suit Ramsey as much at present, as it comes with greater attacking responsibility and his confidence just isn't up to that at present.

Attacking Midfield - Cazorla, Rosicky.

As long as Santi isn't getting stuck on the wing then this position is his all day long. He scores, he creates and he links well with Jack. Rosicky, well you just have to look at the last five letters of his name to know we are just wasting a healthy salary on Abou #2. Tomas can up our tempo and he is comfortable in possession but for someone who is attacking he doesn't score or create enough. Maybe Ox can get used to natural position sooner rather than later.

Left Wing - Podolski, Gervinho, Cazorla, Arshavin

Look at that, four players fighting for a starting berth but it's Podolski's all day long. Our front three are really starting to click and when we unlease Lukas within the width of the box he really is a joy to watch. He does need to up his game away from home but at present he and Oliver have a great understanding. Should he get injured then we have issues because Gervinho is useless, Cazorla is wasted on the wing and Arshavin isn't flavour of the month. Arshavin should be ahead of Gervinho in the pecking order but it's a lost cause. Another left winger is a must.

Striker - Giroud, Walcott, Podolski, Gervinho

That's right, if all of our players our fit then our best XI contains our top three strikers. Giroud is an excellent asset to our side and without going into too much detail about him (due to an upcoming blog) just look at the Liverpool game. He was left isolated for large parts of the first half and the second we get him involved good things happen - a goal and an assist. Yes, he went on the miss a chance but contrary to popular belief minimal deflections in the box make a big difference to strikers. Of course all of our previous strikers never missed any chances. Walcott got a run at centre forward when Giroud was absent due to injury, then illness and then because of Walcott's good form. Walcott isn't the finished article and his best position is still the right hand side. Podolski has had about ninety minutes as a striker in the league and to be honest I don't like him with his back to goal. I prefer him fronting up defenders and driving into the box. His equaliser against West Ham came from him backing up play and I don't want him to lose the opportunity to shoot. Gervinho can play striker if we are playing a team that is completely inept - that's it.

Right Wing - Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain

Walcott is having his best season at the club and whilst he has scored some goals as a striker he is very much at his best on the right. The team has learnt how to utilise him and teams are forced to adjust, like liverpool did in midweek by playing two left backs once he started to run riot. Ox on the other hand isn't a winger and it needs to stop now. I thought last weekend he'd have a great chance to stake a claim against Wayne Bridge but all it did was show that Bridge may have some life left in him as Ox was non-existent. That would leave us with only one winger, so a right winger would be nice too.

So there you have it, the assessment of a conversation during a 680 mile round trip to the south coast. Our squad doesn't have two quality players for each position, in fact of the ten positions discussed only one position is covered and that's on the basis that this Monreal is as good as people say he is. We all know that if we get our starting eleven on the field we can be a match for anyone but once injuries occur then our level of performance can dip, significantly. Wenger does have money and he reckons if top, top player become available then that will improve the squad, sadly in most positions it only takes slightly above average players to help improve our squads quality. Let me know what you think.