Sunday, 31 March 2013

Confidence Returns

Sometimes in football its not the defeats that defines you, its your response and since losing the North London Derby we've won all three games. Solid results in Munich (who happened to score nine yesterday) and Swansea meant we had laid the foundations to restore the players confidence and yesterday showed that we appear to be heading in the right direction (for now).

Drop the Negativity

Despite a resounding win against Reading it appeared a lot of supporters refused to give us credit yesterday. I heard one supporter (who was making his way out of the stadium early) comment on how we didn't play well, Reading just got worse as the game wore on. Now, to be brutally honest I've never heard so much nonsense and I heard/read a few people buy in to it as well. The truth is that yesterday was brilliant to watch, it was a nice stress free day - the sort that we used to churn out of a frequent basis. We controlled the game with 70% possession, the one touch passing was first class, the movement was effortless, we looked a threat on every attack, we had 26 attempts on goal and we made more completed passes in the final third (211) than they had in the entire game (199). How can you not give this side any credit? One thing that can't be denied is that we are in a much better place then we were at the start of the month. Games like this should be easier because we are superior but if you don't apply yourself correctly then slip ups happen - see the Fulham game at home for a prime example.

Key to our Success

There were some quality performances yesterday. Ramsey was superb throughout and rarely lost possession. Gervinho looked like a 10m pound footballer, as he was menacing throughout. Giroud provided a good axis for most attacks but the star of the show is our little Spaniard - Santi Cazorla. We've seem some great flair players down the years - Rocastle>Limpar>Bergkamp>Henry>Fabregas and many others but now we have Cazorla. His vision is sublime, his first touch is orgasmic and he certainly knows where the goal is. For a player to come to a different league and adapt as he has done is an achievement in itself, yes he had a mid-season lull but there are only two players that don't suffer that fate and they currently ply their trade in Spain. He's played 40 games this season and its nice to be able to rely on his services week in week out. I had concerns that he'd never managed to score more than nine goals in a season but he's smashed that with eight games to go. His assist yesterday was lucky, it was clearly a shot come cross but his goal was straight out of the top drawer. The view from the Clock End as he strikes the ball shows he has very little, if no room at all to hit the target but as we witnessed with Bergkamp, players get used as shields and before the keeper can see it the ball's already in the back of the net. He's been our best player this season and he's more important to this side than Wilshere, lets just hope he still has some goals and assists up his sleeve.

Cup Finals

Yesterday was the beginning of the old 'every game is a Cup Final cliche'. I didn't envisage us being apart of the race for Champions League qualification after our defeat earlier this month but we find ourselves in a position whereby, if we win every game we will finish at least 4th (due to Chelsea v 5pur2). That is incentive enough but I don't think this side is capable of winning ten games in a row. However due to our inability to stay in cup competitions, we find ourselves having plenty of rest and time to prepare for upcoming opposition. You have to favour Chelsea and 5pur2 to progress in the Europa League and both have already shown that they find it difficult to juggle between competitions.

Upcoming Fixtures:

West Brom v Arsenal  - 6th April
5pur2 v Everton - 7th April
Chelsea v Sunderland - 7th April
Arsenal v Norwich - 13th April
Arsenal v Everton - 16th April
Fulham v Chelsea - 17th April
Fulham v Arsenal - 20th April
5pur2 v City - 21st April
Liverpool v Chelsea 21st April

So we now play three games before 5pur2 even step foot on a Premier League pitch again, this could see us five points clear before the play City on April 21st. We have given ourselves a chance and unlike last season we need to put these opportunities away but you know fine well there will be some tears before bedtime.

Now I can't do a blog on the 31st March without mentioned David Rocastle. Today marks the 12th anniversary of his death and I thought the ovation that he received yesterday was amazing. Thanks to the efforts of RedAction & BlackscarfAFC for spreading the word, once it caught on yesterday it was quite a moment, as we remembered who we were, what we are and who we represented - Rocky, He will never be forgotten and I feel privileged to have seen him in an Arsenal shirt. He really was the real deal but sadly his career and life were tragically cut short. Sometimes there is more to football than winning. RIP Rocky.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

A Bold Approach

For far too long Arsene Wenger has handed far too many players undeserved second chances. This is a partly down to a lack of legitimate competition for places and also recognition of good form over the past few years. You can look at key games where we have failed and you look for accountability in the following game and rarely is anyone made an example of. If you play poorly, you should expect to be dropped but there have been far too many players that have become untouchable. Which is why heading into the tie against Bayern Munich I didn't think it was the time or the place to start changing it up as I thoroughly expected to be on the receiving end of a drubbing. I had a conversation with @modgooner within hours of kick off and we discussed what drubbing scoreline would you take before it got embarrassing. Mod took 3-0 Bayern and I took 4-0. Little did we know that Wenger was going to walk into one of his best tactical, yes tactical performances of the season.

Perfect Timing

Whilst it may have been crazy to suggest that we could drop two regular first teamers in Szczesny and Vermaelen, with hindsight it was the perfect time for change. Why? It was a safe environment to do so, we were expected to lose, so what risk was there? Very little. In a way Wenger had nothing to lose but everything to gain and didn't we gain an awful lot from Wednesday night? Players such as Carl Jenkinson and Lukasz Fabianski must have thought they'd play second fiddle for the rest of the season but after two consecutive clean sheets, how can we consider reintroducing Bacary Sagna? Wenger had to make that call earlier in the season and he didn't hesitate in dropping his newly crowned international defender. I just can't see his decision being that straightforward this time round. Jenkinson worried me earlier this season and it ended with his disaster against Swansea and I still have doubts about whether he can sustain such a lengthy period at right back but he certainly merits being in the starting eleven at present.


We suffered against Sp*rs in the North London derby and what was more frustrating was that you kind of suspected that little would change. Look at Laurent Koscielny, he has been on the outside looking in for the most part and his early season injury really has played a big part in his fall from grace. It was interesting reading Tony Adams'comments on all things Arsenal in his interview (here) with The Independant but more specifically when he discussed our centre halves strengths. He calls Mertesacker 'Zonal' and Koscielny a 'man to man' marker but he thinks that is a bad thing but then he did have partners of the calibre of Bould, Keown and Campbell. He doesn't comment on Vermaelen but he's a jack of trades and master of none, he couldn't read a book let alone an attack at present and his style of play is far too reckless, as demonstrated against Norwich last season. 1-1 with minutes remaining in the first half of a must win game and off he trots upfront, Norwich counter and we are 2-1 down. This side has given far too many stupid goals away and we seem to need to score at least two to win every game. Another big part of our own downfall is the poor form of Szczesny. He was like a breath of fresh air when he made his debut in the Premier League at Old Trafford. A player that wasn't phased by such a daunting task and he was our best player that night despite his inability to kick a ball. He was a keeper that won us games, something which Almunia rarely did. However, that habit has worn off and he has been costing goals, valuable points and places in cup competitions. When you look at the transition between Almunia to Szczesny it was never going to take much for us to upgrade in that area but we still don't have the calibre of keeper we need. I don't for one second think that Fabianski is the answer to our goalkeeping woes but at least Szczesny knows he has to up his game.

The Big Dilemma

There have been times when Wenger's selections have been puzzling to say the least, I put this largely down to the lack of reliable players as he never quite knows what his best side is. This is certainly the case at centre half. If you look back at a situation earlier this season, Per Metesacker was brilliant alongside Koscielny in our league game at The Etihad but then he was dropped in favour of Vermaelen returning for our next league game against Chelsea. That game against Chelsea was the first time Vermaelen/Koscielny would start a game together, so was it really any surprise we were all over the shop?

Here are some facts about our centre half partnerships this season
  • No clean sheets in the five games that Vermealen and Koscielny have played together.
  • Mertesacker and Vermaelen have the best win percentage - 52%
  • Mertesacker and Koscielny have avoided defeat in 92% of the games they have played together.
  • Mertesacker and Koscielny haven't lost a Premier League game in seven attempts
  • All seven defeats in the Premier League have involved Thomas Vermaelen.

Now you can manipulate statistics but one thing is clear is that Mertesacker and Vermaelen have had more than enough opportunities to forge a partnership together (twenty one games in total) and it looks like Wenger has had enoughtoo. It's no coincidence that two of our best displays this season both defensively and as a team were at City and Munich with Mertesacker and Koscielny at the heart of the defence. If you watch our opening goal against Bayern it sums up why they work. Mertesacker challenges in the air, Koscielny picks up the pieces and seven touches later it's in the back of the net.

I doubted Wenger's ability to make such important selection decisions and to be honest I couldn't have been any happier with possibly one of his boldest selections to date. I hope he continues with a unit that works, as it's not always about getting the best players, its about creating the best side. The challenge for us is whether we can sustain having a cohesive unit because inconsistency has haunted us for too long. One thing is for sure though, Wenger knows he has to start delivering and whilst it will be another trophyless season he can at least buy himself another opportunity to rebuild this side.

Sunday, 3 March 2013


It's been a good few weeks since my last blog, mainly because I didn't want to depress myself any further given our recent results. That said after yesterday's effort I just can't bite my tongue any longer. This team just isn't good enough. It doesn't matter which area of the pitch you look at, there are deficiencies galore. This can be down to the individual and most important in partnerships. We have some highly talented players in Wilshere and Cazorla but we've struggled at centre half and striking the right balance across the midfield and sadly they reared their ugly head again yesterday.

The Goals

The game summed us up perfectly. We dominated the game for thirty five minutes but we failed to capitalise. That's primarily why teams down the wrong end of the league lose games. Rarely do goals come out of the blue, then we concede goals in only a way that Arsenal can. A club famed for it's offside trap stood statuesque as Bale runs through unmarked. I didn't think it was offside at the game and had that confirmed via text but certain fans appeared to think there were two players offside. Now whether it was or wasn't offside, one thing doesn't change Bale wasn't tracked. It appeared that Arteta was assigned with knowing the whereabouts of Bale, as at one point in the first half we lost the ball on the edge of their box and Arteta did a full 360 degree turn trying to locate the Welshman. However we got ourselves in a position where Bale was between Arteta and Vermaelen and sadly there was only going to be one outcome. We got caught ball watching and Arteta,Vermaelen and Mertesacker were all undone and we fell behind. Then we commit the same offence but this time we had Monreal as chief culprit but again Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Arteta and Jenkinson all standing focusing on the ball. Then there's Szczesny, who made Lennon's task even easier. Empty net 2-0. I lost it, how naive can one side be? You cannot defend like that in the Championship and expect to get away with it. It smacks of poor players and lazy attitudes. We can't assume others will takeover the responsibility of marking and what Monreal was doing is beyond me, we just can't afford to play high risk offside traps. It appeared that Monreal was wanting to play offside for about five yards, it was obvious what was going to happen and Szczesny clearly wasn't paying that much attention either. Prior to the pass though we can focus on the lack of pressure on Scott Parker? He ran from just inside his own half and ended up threading, yes threading a ball through to Lennon. Did anyone challenge him or apply the slightest amount of pressure? No chance. Where's the tenacity to win the ball back? Who takes responsibility? The answer, nobody. When we concede there's never any accountability, ever. Vermaelen didn't know what day of the week it was when Lennon received that ball. We just turn around feeling sorry for ourselves and see how it goes.

The Selection

I think Wenger got the line up wrong as he has done on too many occasions this season. I think he went too conservative in the centre of midfield. Arteta-Ramsey-Wilshere is a combinations of players probably not playing in the strongest position. I see Ramsey as someone who can do the basics from a DM position and both Arteta and Wilshere should be competing for the lone centre midfield role. Cazorla is wasted on the left, especially against someone as pacey as Walker. My preferred selection would have been Ramsey-Wilshere-Cazorla with Podolski-Giroud-Walcott as our forward line. I'm not sure what Podolski has done wrong since Monreal joined, other than scoring twice but his lack of selection is mystifying. I don't like this chummy Monreal-Cazorla partnership, yes Podolski doesn't track back but that's why you have Wilshere and Ramsey on the cover. We were also happy enough to start Podolski ahead of Vermaelen against Bayern, who will arguably be our toughest opponent all season. After our comeback against Liverpool our front three proved the can turn a game on it's head but sadly since that game they haven't started a game together. We've actually taken apart something that was working. How does that make sense on any level? Yes, Giroud's performances haven't been good enough recently but then we get back to the lack of competition for places argument again. There are too many people that are in the comfort zone at Arsenal. This exists in the first team, on the bench, sat in the stands, sat in America, at the training ground and even at the bank. Who organises the defence? Come on, own up? It's a shambles. The standard of goalkeeping - pathetic. There is someone responsible and they are getting away with coining a living out of our football club.


Really, is there any point? Rosicky on for Jenkinson. Not a bad move, as its certainly more attacking but sadly players like Rosicky aren't good enough now. He gets a nice ride at Arsenal because he looks purposeful but when it comes to the final ball, it just isn't happening. There is always a clamour(on twitter) for Rosicky to start but it's another case of absence makes the heart grow fonder.Then with thirteen minutes remaining we through on Podolski for Arteta and he got a couple of sniffs but nothing significant. We didn't change our formation but we decided it would be a good idea to launch aimless balls to Giroud and hope to feed off the scraps but we didn't get close enough for the second ball. When a side gets away from it's biggest assets, it's often due to panic and a lack of ideas. We are certainly culpable on both counts. However, this isn't the reason why I want to mention our substitutions despite my quite obvious annoyance of the ones so far. We actually had one unused substitution today and that tells me exactly where this squad is. Our remaining attacking options were Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho which by the way is over 20m (combined) worth of subs. Now what ever we think of Gervinho (Yes,I know he's rubbish), Wenger bought him to create and score but in a situation where we need something he's stood warming up. Then there's Ox, who thankfully admitted to being in a period of bad form but surely one was worth a punt? We got ourselves back into a game but never looked like we'd equalise. Waiting seventeen minutes between changes lets the game drift by and doesn't force the oppositions hand.  In a big game, when did one of our substitutions last influence a game? I can't trawl games but I know it wasn't this season and probably not last season either. Giroud at present seems to fit the mould of being someone who can influence a game when he's introduced but I fear he's the next victim of the ever demanding Emirates crowd, despite posting decent numbers for a newcomer to the Premier League.

Just Win

After we squeaked past Aston Villa my phone was awash with texts/tweets saying a win is win etc etc. Which is very true but to be brutally honest, that's all we can hope for. This team isn't capable of delivering a high level of performance on a consistent basis. It's not like we are having a blip we are just managing to get by in each and every game. It seems fine when you do win but its only a matter of time before we slip up. The feeling at full time is more of relief than actual triumph.  Our run in may look easier than others but there are still games that stick out as being problematic - Swansea (A), Fulham (A), QPR (A), Newcastle (A) and that's without mentioning United (H) and I've just ran through half of our remaining games.


This situation has been brewing for a few seasons now and it finally looks like Wenger's going to come up short. We needed to avoid defeat more than we had to win the game yesterday but as usual we end up in the worst possible scenario. This team does not react well in the face adversity but here we are again. The best guide to the future is often the past but sadly last year was probably more down to them than it was us with a few games remaining. We need to get ourselves in a position to capitalise on Chelsea v Tottenham next month (We play Norwich the day before) but I must confess I don't see this becoming a realisation. Last week Wenger said we could catch City, maybe he meant that we would also not be playing European football but his tenure at Arsenal gets put under even more strain with every passing game and it looks more and more likely that we'll be playing on Channel 5 on a regular basis next season. I just wish this season was over so that we can attempt to rebuild this side and more importantly the club.