Friday, 26 April 2013

It's Time for Theo

If you look back over this season/year and I asked if January 18th meant anything to you, would you have any idea? No, we didn't have a game. Yes, it was a Friday but the significance was that Theo Walcott signed a new three year deal. This was the contract signing that stopped the trend and happened within months of his contract expiring, yet he did have the opportunity to discuss a free transfer with clubs abroad. The reason I pinpointed the contract signing was because Theo's form has dipped since he got a nice six figure salary and a fair amount of fans have even suggested he no longer tries, which bring me to this weeks blog.

The Stats

Since Theo re-signed he has started 10 Premier League games, scoring 3 and creating 4 goals. Not massive production from our highest earner and when you put into context that he hasn't scored since his thunderbastard against Liverpool on 30th January, which was a mere 633 Premier League minutes ago. He is in the midst of a full on goal drought. His assists don't fair too much better but then maybe you could point the finger at those who are presented with the chances. Some have resulted in inept finishing but some balls have been from poor passes, look at Lukas Podolski when he smashed home a wonderful effort against Norwich. The question is does this mean he isn't trying because the goals have dried up, much like the ink on his contract? Not at all, we all know that there is rarely a happy medium when it comes to his form. Within twelve days of his new deal he had notched three times, he was on top of his game and probably quite happy with life at that time. Imagine signing such a wealthy deal, you'd be on cloud nine for a while but the novelty can and does wear off. When I look at this side at present, we seem to have moved away from Theo's strengths and the main one in particular, which is running of his full back into the space between the left back and centre half, Theo is summed up perfectly with his goal against Chelsea in January. At present we are much happier building from the back instead of unleashing deadly counter attacks like we did against West Ham.


Theo was hit by injury whilst away with England and he missed games against Reading and Norwich and this meant he missed nearly a months worth of competitive action. Theo is very much a player that needs time and I'm going to put his last three performances down to a lack of match fitness. He looked lively against Norwich but his touch was poor, he was non-existent against Everton and similarly the same against Fulham. However, what we should have is a fresh forward, an aspect that has been sadly lacking recently. Giroud has shouldered virtually all of the responsibility of the forward line and he's been pretty much running on empty for a few games and whilst his ban is badly timed at least we'll get to see him for the last game of the season. So now it is time for Theo to take ownership of his performances and inspire his side to get the results we need in order to play Champions League football again next season.


There's just one problem when it comes to Theo inspiring Arsenal for the rest of the season and in particular this Sunday when he lines up against Patrice Evra. Now I've already touched on the two extremes in Theo's performances and it's summed up perfectly when it comes to match ups against top full backs. On one hand you have Theo v Ashley Cole and Theo wins hands down, in fact I don't think any right winger tortures Cole as much as Theo does. Yet when he plays against Evra he invariably loses out and he's only ever scored once against United to date, you know the only time we managed to net twice in Premier League at Old Trafford, that game. Yet for some reason Aaron Lennon seems to enjoy a lot of joy against Patrice Evra, yet Theo is clearly the better player and he is also more varied in his style of play.


Wenger spent some of his time today discussing the possibility of German success in the Champions League being down to a winter break, as it gives international players a rest, yet ignoring the fact that Spain also have a break. The truth is winter breaks do help players recover and Theo has had his break recently, he's had time to find his touch and now he needs to rediscover his sharpness. Personally I'd have dropped for this match, as I discussed with @goonerdave66 on his blog 1ND2OU this week but the fact is he won't be dropped and it's because Wenger trusts his ability, Walcott has notched eleven times this season, surpassing his tally of eight league form 11/12 and that's with a handful of games remaining. The fact is Theo does care because he could have spoken to foreign clubs but he elected not to and in a week when we question the lack of commitment shown by former players, we can hardly criticise those that have put pen to paper.
I look forwarding to reading your views on Theo. Feel free to leave a comment below or follow me on twitter @mj_afc. If you can, I'd appreciate it if you could share this article via the twitter link below. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Friends Reunited

You can tell we that are at the business end of the season can't you? A range of emotions were on display at both The Hawthorne's and The Emirates. Both games could and should have been straight forward but that's simply not the way we do things around here anymore. Anxiety got the better of me towards the end of our game at West Brom, I was actually shaking as efforts from Long and Lukaku were fired towards our goal. In the end we got there but even in a game we were comfortable in for a good sixty nine minutes resulted in twenty one minutes of chaos. Then Norwich arrive, I wanted to be confident but I didn't feel it. I didn't think we'd lose but there was an air of the unexpected to a degree. Everything began in a clumsy fashion, Giroud's too was anonymous, Gervinho was back to the player we loathe, Jack was playing like John Jenson and we had a centre back paring that had failed to keep a clean sheet in four previous Premier League games this season.

When Norwich were incorrectly awarded a free kick in the 56th minute, you just knew that they were going to score. There was no cohesion throughout the back line, they didn't want to command the area, they wanted to react. In the end - Koscielny was found wanting as Norwich ran a screen like play and Turner had the simplest of tasks but it proved to be a decisive moment for Wenger. Unlike many match days he went with his gut. He made a double substitution. Off went Jack and Gervinho - easily our two worst players on the day and on came Walcott and more importantly Lukas Podolski. The latter  is a player who for whatever reason hasn't started a Premier League game since 31st January in a 2-2 draw with Liverpool. Wenger was quick to quell any rumours of a possible exit in his post match interview

"Look how he played when he came on. As soon as you have a player who doesn't play for three games, the papers get a story like that. But he looks very happy to be here."
Wenger has since added:

"I work a lot with him as a central striker at the moment. He is a quality player and when he comes on you can see that straight away. You don’t get 100 caps by luck. Honestly he has a great attitude. He never moans, he never has a bad phase, he is always positive."
He certainly does look happy. He gave us his guided tour of London, he's been full of smiles on the bench and he seems to have a good rapport with his team mates. That said the most important part of his job is his contribution to the side and he links brilliantly with Giroud. Is it any surprise that the big Frenchman is made to look poor when he gets isolated when he has Gervinho hugging touchlines and Santi desperate to drop a bit deeper in order to get his foot on the ball? When Giroud has Walcott and Podolski either side of him he provides the perfect axis for our wingers to contribute. Just look Podolski's effort that was brilliantly tipped onto the bar by Mark Bunn. Giroud does love a one touch lay off and Podolski reads him well and you simply can't defend against that sort of link up. They have that sixth sense upfront and it's no surprise that they all played a part in our comeback as our front three packed a punch once again.

Here's some statistics on "The Front Three"

  • Norwich was our 47th match this season and they have scored in 23 games - 48% of games
  • They have scored a total of 48 goals of our 97 goals this season - 49% of our total goals.
  • They have assisted 19 of their 48 goals - 38% of the goals scored.

Now, I think the above stats above are very impressive (mainly because I researched them myself) but you have to factor in that they haven't always played together. Walcott was benched for the early part of the season, Giroud was dropped for most of December and Podolski has been on the naughty step for about two months. Then you factor in that two of the three are new to this side and they have already have an instant understanding. One of the main reasons behind their success is that they fill the box and that allows the creators led by Santi Cazorla to weave their magic.

Wenger does have some big decisions to make in terms of selection for upcoming games. He accommodated Santi and Jack by moving Cazorla wide, which for me just doesn't work. Jack was dreadful on Saturday and I'm pretty annoyed Wenger risked him (his words)

"I would not have pushed him in, maybe, had Rosicky been available."
Pushing Wilshere isn't acceptable. You simply play Podolski on the left and move Santi to the front of the midfield three. I just don't see the need to risk it but after Tuesday Wenger will have to decide how to reintroduce Wilshere to the side as he will be needed for our game against United on the 28th. The player causing the biggest selection headache at present is Aaron Ramsey. His form has been superb for the last couple of months. His application cannot be faulted, he drove us on yesterday, even at times when we weren't creating. Players just weren't offering themselves for passes but he didn't shy away from the task at hand. The question is, how can you drop him? I know he isn't everyones cup of tea but even the Emirates faithful have warmed to him lately and if wasn't for his endeavour we wouldn't have got the corner that led to the penalty.

Wenger has instilled a never say die attitude throughout the whole squad and I think he needs to keep his team selection simplistic. More often than not we beat ourselves and the real truth is the reason everyone is so anxious about this side is because nobody truly trusts them. I asked myself if I felt such a nervous wreck when were a part of title races and the truth is I wasn't, because I trusted the teams ability and discipline to win a game but this current crop will make even the most comfortable afternoon incredibly difficult and days like those against Reading recently seem few and between. This is who we are but we should have enough to hold onto our much craved 4th place and even 3rd if we play our cards right. Our next two games will shape our run in, if we get six points then Wenger might even be on the verge of his first Manager of the Month award in April in eleven years and we'll all be able to breathe a hell of a lot easier. I certainly need it.

Friday, 5 April 2013

The Fight For Full Back

Well, I say fight for full back but the truth is there isn't any fight at all, maybe a bit of hair pulling  just to acknowledged their mere existence but nothing major. That is the current situation facing Carl Jenkinson and it is one the factors that will end up being the undoing of Wenger if he refuses to change his extremely stubborn ways. For years he hasn't recognised key performances and it makes players like Bacary Sagna untouchable.

It doesn't matter which Wenger era you look at, these situations are rife. Go back to 1998 when Alex Manninger was dropped in favour of David Seaman despite several man of the match displays including stand out performances at Old Trafford and Upton Park. Seaman conceded his first game back and Manninger never recovered and arguably hasn't performed to that level ever since. Manninger did get several other opportunities at Arsenal but you got the sense that he began to try too hard and tried to achieve the impossible instead of playing his normal game. You see that's what happens when you get dropped whilst playing well, you doubt yourself. You think there must have been something you could have done differently but sometimes managers just have their favourites and there's nothing you can do about it. Then you can turn your attention to the current crop and focus on their continued failings and the ridiculous amount of trust placed in certain players. Wenger has only recently seen sense regarding Vermaelen but it took too many poor performances,that were easily into double figures (I'm being generous there) before any action was taken. If players play poorly then drop them, they earn the right to play it's not an entitlement.

That brings me nicely onto our current back four and in particular - Bacary Sagna. Whichever way you dress it up this season Sagna played poorly. He's lacked desire, which has led to usual exit talk but ultimately for a player who's health is in question after suffering two leg breaks in the same season, he isn't doing enough to merit a new deal. Our two best defensive displays all season have come away at City and in Munich. Sagna wasn't involved in either game and some will argue that Jenkinson was MOTM in both games. Throughout this season we've craved a solid defensive unit and only over two short periods of time have we looked like we've cracked it. Exhibit A - Sunderland, Stoke & Liverpool. despite the relativity poor opposition, it was still fairly promising and we kept three clean sheets. Exhibit B - Bayern & Swansea. Much better opposition but at a crucial time, we stopped the Germans scoring at the Allianz Arena for the first time in the season and we nullified Swansea on a ground that had seen us conceded five goals over our last two visits. We also went on to show some form of defensive cohesion against Reading but for a momentary lapse from our left back, we'll get to him in a moment. So when it comes to crunch, both Jenkinson and Sagna didn't play during the international break but Jenkinson is the one who makes way for Reading at home. I fear that Wenger thinks he can't upset Sagna, as the exit door looms large and whilst it may appear obvious to us that we need to make Sagna earn his place,Wenger is again expecting loyalty from yet another player that he has turned into a proven international. The truth is Wenger has scouts looking a Feyenoord's Daryl Janmaat - who impressed against PSV, as he kept the much hyped Dries Mertens quiet throughout and you can't help but feel he's getting used to being stabbed in the back.

Then you have left back, which is a position that was strengthened with the arrival of Spanish Monreal but despite his goal at Swansea has struggled to remain focused throughout games. He was a massive culprit in the NLD, he was let off the hook against Swansea and he was at fault for Reading's consolation last weekend. The difference with this position is Wenger loves both of his full backs. In fact he singled both left backs out for praise in his programme notes last week. He said Gibbs was in the top three full backs in the country (I assume he's behind Cole...) and he heaped praise on Monreal for how he has adapted to the league and compared him to Santi Cazorla. Now whilst his selection headache was eased due to Gibbs being injured, it appears he will soon have to make his mind up.The favourite will undoubtedly be Gibbs but shouldn't it be a case of may the best man win? After all it's a team game and the galactico era proved you need balance and a solid foundation before a side can reach the next level and that doesn't always mean you buy the best players in a particular position.

Please let me know your thoughts as I will take time to reply to everyone who leaves a comment. I hope you enjoyed this latest blog, feel free to share via the options below. Thanks for reading.