Highbury Library Logo

Highbury Library Logo

Friday, 25 January 2013

A proper Cup tie as the squad gets smaller

It looks right in Arsenal's ribbons

Anyone in any doubt as to the sort of side Arsenal will put out tomorrow should take a brief look at the available players. The fact is that Arsenal have only 19 players at their disposal from what might be termed the first team squad (i.e. the original list at the start of this season, before the League Cup). I can see the likes of Nico Yennaris and Ignasi Miquel being drafted in to the 18 tomorrow at Brighton simply because there is just about nobody else.
I do not rate Emmanuel Frimpong as a player. I can never fault the effort of the boy, but he is simply not Arsenal quality. However, he has been on the bench in the last two fixtures. I was utterly amazed therefore when he Tweeted this afternoon that he was "on the move". Lo and behold he has tonight joined Fulham for the rest of the season on loan. I fail to see how he can be required to possibly play (and he was certainly doing some stretching during the second half against West Ham and Chelsea) earlier in the week, and yet is now so surplus to requirements that he has been allowed to leave the Club.
Arsenal went in to January with a weak squad. I don't think anybody would argue that a number of the players might as well not be at Arsenal as Arsene Wenger had no real intention of playing them if he could help it. We've since seen Djourou, Chamakh and now Frimpong depart on loan. They could easily have been (and might still be) joined by Fabianski, Mannone, Squillaci and Arshavin. However, the fact that these guys didn't get a game doesn't mean that we can afford to not replace them. We have been over reliant on the players that have been in the side all season because the Manager refused to use those in reserve. The fact that many of the players actually getting a game should not be regulars in a side aspiring to be successful speaks volumes for the lack of quality in this squad of players.
The inertia of the Manager in the transfer market is really quite baffling. We know he's stubborn, but is he really that stupid to believe that he can definitely achieve his coveted top four position with the players currently at his disposal? Olivier Giroud may be no Robin Van Persie on the goalscoring front, but take him out of this team with a lengthy injury lay-off and we have no centre-forward in the entire squad. Take Jack Wilshere out (knowing that Abou Diaby will do well to be involved in more than half of the remaining fixtures) and we have no midfield either. We already have no defence. If you're an Arsenal fan and that does not scare you then I want to get myself some of what you're having, because it must be one hell of a happy pill. Wenger has six days to bring in at least three quality players or you can just about forget the rest of the season in the Premier League.

As for the game tomorrow it sees Arsenal travelling to Brighton for what might be considered a "traditional" FA Cup tie. For a start it's a Saturday game kicking off at 3 o'clock. It's the age-old lower division side welcoming the top tier giant for a blood and thunder match in front of a capacity crowd. Living where I do Brighton falls in to this area for our local BBC news and they have been full of it ever since we beat Swansea. There is a massive buzz it seems being created around Brighton for the visit of The Arsenal.
With traditional cup-ties of course come fears of giant-killings. Brighton are a club that evoke the very romance that makes the FA Cup so special. Not so long ago Brighton And Hove Albion Football Club was nearly extinct. That they have turned themselves around to play in a lovely looking stadium is a wonderful football story. It's the sort of story that deserves to be book-ended by a win against a major Premier League side in the FA Cup. Hopefully they'll have to wait until next season for that to happen but with this Arsenal team anything is possible.
Thomas Vermaelen is injured tomorrow, as is Mikel Arteta (those three weeks may yet become Diaby-esque). There is plenty of call for Jack Wilshere to be rested but I can't see how Wenger can afford to do that. The fact is that Jack should have come off after an hour on Wednesday night when we were 5-1 up. Arsene has spoken of the need to rest Wilshere at some point, but then wasted the chance to do so with a win sewn up early on. As it is I think Jack has to play tomorrow. If he does then he will surely lead the side as Captain. If that happens he will, I believe, become the youngest player to formally skipper an Arsenal team (Cesc Fabregas took the armband aged just 19 in the 2007 Carling Cup Final after Kolo Toure was sent off late on, thus being the youngest to actually wear it).
I don't honestly have a clue what Wenger will do tomorrow. There is a case for resting a number of players with a game against Liverpool in midweek. However, there is a greater need to win the FA Cup in my view. If Arsene left out four or five players tomorrow, and Arsenal lost, he would be utterly crucified for "sacrificing" the FA Cup. I just don't think he can afford to rest too many players. That being the case I wouldn't be surprised to see this kind of line-up:

Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Santos, Ramsey, Wilshere, Cazorla, Chamberlain, Walcott, Podolski.

I want to see Arsenal going all out to win The FA Cup. When I was a kid it was what you dreamt of winning. The TV companies show the competition less respect than even the Clubs or The FA these days (5 o'clock kick-off for the Final? Disgrace) but it still has a place in the hearts of people above a certain age. I remember the media claiming it was an anti-climax for Arsenal fans when we won "only" The FA Cup in 2003. I can tell you it didn't feel like it for those of us in Cardiff that day. If we are celebrating a trophy for the first time in 8 years come May by parading that beautiful piece of silverware around Wembley it certainly won't feel like an anti-climax. First we have to negotiate a tough away tie at Brighton and, frankly, I'd take a replay now given the chance.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Arsenal bring back the memories

Like watching this lot

For ten minutes last night Arsenal played with searing pace, firing accurate passes through midfield and beyond the West Ham defence. There was simply no answer to such speed and precision football. The way Arsenal broke down the left and created goals for those in the middle was reminiscent of Wenger's greatest sides. You could have been forgiven for thinking that we were actually seeing Vieira, Pires, Henry, Bergkamp and Ljungberg (I couldn't find a photo of just the five of them) back in harness as the attacking five. There have been occasions, sadly all too rare, where this group has played quickly. Every time it's happened they have hammered the opposition. The obvious question would have to be why they don't play like this all the time. Far too often we sit through ninety minutes of Arsenal going sideways across a packed back line, lacking the movement or the imagination to create space and opportunities. We're not talking rocket science here, but simply playing to the various strengths of the players we have. No defence likes facing players running at speed with the ball. And once you get a player with the range of passing that Jack Wilshere possesses (and Santi Cazorla when the mood takes him) you can thrash your opponent. Some of Wilshere's passes beyond the full-back last night were astounding. I imagine the watching Roy Hodgson will have been smiling ahead of England's next game.
It strikes me that when Cazorla and Podolski play well (when they want to play well) Arsenal invariably are too good for the their opponents. I have stopped short of criticising Podolski when perhaps he actually merited it. His goalscoring has regularly masked a tendency to not get involved enough. However, last night the German put in the complete performance. He is obviously an amazing player as his record for Germany, at such a young age, would tell you. With his power and strength he should be perfectly suited to English football and, when he puts his mind to it, he covers the ground very quickly indeed. If last night was an indication that he has fully come to grips with the Premier League then he has an exciting Arsenal future to look forward to. I hope it was not a false dawn.
I have to single out Aaron Ramsey for some praise last night. Ramsey has had a bad time of it for a while now, with the poor displays far outnumbering anything good. Last night he played deep in midfield and used the ball very well indeed. His clearance off the line showed a hunger and determination that has too often been lacking from him. Given the opportunity to stake a claim in the absence of Arteta and Coquelin, and playing in a role to which he is eminently more suited, he showed he still has some ability. Maybe he has been lacking confidence, and such a performance might help Rambo back to the level we all hoped he would get to before his leg was shattered.
It looks like Thomas Vermaelen might well miss the game at Brighton on Saturday. Ironically he was injured by Ramsey as the boyo got back to make his goal line clearance. When Vermaelen went off in the second half it was notable that the armband passed to the people's champ Jack Wilshere. In a team that contained Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs and Walcott I thought it spoke volumes for Wilshere's qualities and standing in this group of players that he was the chosen one. In his post-match interviews this season he has displayed a high level of maturity and has said all the things you want to hear from your skipper. With Mikel Arteta out, and Vermaelen doubtful, it looks as though we will get Captain Jack at the Amex this weekend. You just know it won't be the last time we see it.
All in all it was great to get a win, any win, last night. To do so playing such a sublime brand of football was gratifying in the extreme. To thrash a team run by Allardyce adds a certain cherry to the top of the already well iced cake. There is something rather nice about seeing the fat walrus faced cretin chewing harder and harder on his gum as Arsenal banged in the goals last night. My fear would be that such results and performances will see Wenger feeling vindicated and failing to spend money before next week. Signings of necessary quality already look remote. I just hope Wenger isn't stupid enough to think he has a squad of adequate strength and quality to finish the season well, and possibly end the trophy drought.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

It's been far too long - let's return with some Jack

Wilshere - THE star of this Arsenal team

I haven't written a blog post since 2nd January. There are a couple of reasons as to why that's the case but, whatever they are, that is far too long. I will admit that I have struggled for the inspiration to write anything. I suppose that's fairly obvious otherwise I would have been posting.
One of the things I was entirely conscious of was that I don't want to keep repeating myself. Regular readers (if you're still there) will know I am very much of the opinion that Arsene Wenger should go. However, if you keep on banging that drum after every defeat or poor performance people very quickly become fed up (incidentally I couldn't believe people were going mad after last Sunday's defeat - if you hammer the Manager for what happened in that game then you lose credibility). Basically there are only so many times I can say or write the same thing before even I get bored with it.
The very basis of this site is that it is the opinion of one man - me. I have always made a lot of the fact that I go to games. I have a season ticket and I believe (rightly or wrongly - it's my opinion) that my views have more credence than those of someone who doesn't attend. Well the fact is that I haven't been to see Arsenal play since before Christmas. Due to family, health and work reasons I have not been able to get to a game. Given what I said above about being an attendee, I would feel like an utter charlatan if I sat here spouting off when I haven't been doing the one thing that I say gives me a better angle than a number of other bloggers (I do find it interesting that a number of the more prominent Arsenal blogs are written by people who see 99% of their Arsenal action on a TV screen). The fact is that, having not been at games for a month it would not be right for me to come on here and pretend to speak with any authority on what I've seen on Sky. I still Tweet about it all the time (@ARSENALDvbrisG) but that's a lot different to writing an "essay" piece on here.
The final reason I've not been writing is that, apart from the matches, nothing has been happening at Arsenal. I have a policy of ignoring transfer gossip on here. Arsenal's inaction in that department would have meant that gossip would have been all there was to talk about. In fairness the press has even given up making up stories where Arsenal are concerned. We all know that signings are needed, and where on the pitch we are weaker. I was annoyed to hear Wenger say that the Club needed to concentrate on signing up Theo Walcott before looking outside. Why? Are they incapable of working on more than one player at a time? Now that Theo has done the deal you would expect, logically, that a couple of players will be arriving. But this is Arsenal so I will not be holding my breath.

I've posted a picture of Jack Wilshere at the top of this piece. Over the last few weeks Jack has shown the sort of form we were getting before his injury. There were times before Christmas where he was not playing very well, though he would always be trying. The game at Bradford was a case in point and it also illustrated my point about being there. Talking to people who watched that game on television they all told me how Wilshere had been the only player worth any credit as he was outstanding. Indeed, one of those prominent internet fans I referred to earlier, told me on Twitter I was talking "complete b******s" for criticising Jack's work on the ball that evening. The fact was that I was on the coach outside Valley Parade having watched the game, while this individual was in his living room listening to Sky's commentary team.
Over this past few weeks Jack has really found his feet. His all-action displays have seen him get back to his very best with the ball too. I can't believe there is a more fouled player in the Premier League than Wilshere, yet so few players are punished for the way they kick him. Somehow Gareth Barry stayed on the field (again) last Sunday despite his continued assaults against Wilshere. Jack just gets up and gets on with trying to destroy the opposition. Of course, the minute he makes a challenge himself you find the muppet referee can't wait to book him. It is a mark of Wilshere that he is strong enough, and tough enough, to take the physical side of the game, especially following his long injury lay-off.
Wilshere has become, without a doubt, the best player in this side. He is the fans favourite, marrying supreme effort with sublime skill. I saw a lot of Wilshere when he was coming through the ranks, thanks to the now defunct Arsenal TV channel. A feature of his game then was his goalscoring from midfield. He wasn't afraid to shoot from any angle. There are times now when he is reluctant to do so, no doubt under instruction from Arsene Wenger to pass the ball first and foremost. His goal on Wednesday showed that he still has that eye for goal. It also showed that he can shoot as well as anybody. I honestly believe that Jack Wilshere is Arsenal's version of Steven Gerrard. He has the talent to be even better than Gerrard. He should be the Arsenal Captain right now as he is the true "leader" in this group. I just hope he spends his career at Arsenal, as Gerrard has at Liverpool, but that he gets a few Premier League Titles (unlike Gerrard).

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Predictable in every way

TR7 - Not as good as Gervinho or Ramsey

I gave up believing in this Arsenal team a long time ago. Too many times I've thought that we had won a couple of games and they'd finally got it. Then they'd go out and produce a display with such a lack of commitment and desire as to make you realise they're just not that good. Last night was yet another example. Following on from three good displays against Reading, Wigan and Newcastle we were back in the gutter at Southampton. The Saints might escape relegation, such is the lack of quality in the Premier League, but they will certainly come close. That being the case, the way they held Arsenal so comfortably merely serves to underline that this Arsenal team is just crap. Obviously they have talented footballers who can play some blinding stuff, like they did on Saturday. But having the ability is only half the story. If you don't have the mental capabilities to understand the need to out-work your opponent game in, game out then you might as well not bother. Barcelona don't play their great football just because they can. They play it because their players have the right mentality. They earn the right to have the ball. They never let up in winning it back on the rare occasions that their opponent gains possession. Once they've worked harder than their opponent they show what they're capable of when they have the football. They do it whoever they're playing against, not just when they feel like it. It's not rocket science, it's just a good old fashioned work ethic coupled to fine ability. Now obviously Arsenal don't have players of the same quality as Barcelona (nobody really does) but we do have players (at least in the first choice team) to rival Manchester United. They work hard in a similar way to Barcelona. Okay, their football isn't anything like as breathtaking, but Ferguson would not allow the regular insipid displays that we get at Arsenal.
This is Arsene Wenger's quote from the official website after the game:

"Maybe we were a bit off and lost a bit of concentration and thought 'OK, we scored seven against Newcastle, we'll score again today', but it doesn't work like that. You have to focus completely.”

It strikes me that the Manager is spot on. This group of players seems to think that football becomes easy after they've put in a fine performance. Obviously it's the Manager who picks the players and is responsible for motivating them, but there has to be more than a little blame and responsibility laid at the door of those on the pitch. These are not kids. These players are experienced enough (only Arteta yesterday was not an international) to know what is required to win a game against any Premier League side. I said earlier that the Premier League lacks quality, but it doesn't lack fight. One thing you know is that whomever your opposition (unless it's Arsenal, it seems) you're not going to get an easy ride in a game in England.
In terms of the game yesterday we became sloppy after a bright start. Something that sums up our players is the fact that Artur Boruc dropped the first two balls played in to the area. On neither occasion was there an Arsenal player there to knock in the loose ball. When a third ball came over Boruc finally caught one, yet there was still no Arsenal player anywhere near him to put him under pressure. Are they really that stupid? Do they not think for themselves?
The defending was awful again yesterday, as it usually is when Koscielny and Vermaelen play together. However, the main offender yesterday was Bacary Sagna. He was awful against Newcastle where he made Obertan look a decent player, while yesterday he really might as well have gone and sat in the crowd. His intervention that lead to Southampton's goal was absolutely awful. I wouldn't expect to see a Sunday morning player putting a ball across his own penalty area like that. I hear that Carl Jenkinson is carrying a knock, but I certainly hope the Corporal is fit to play at Swansea on Sunday. Sagna had a whinge about his contract when out injured earlier in the season. Maybe I'm doing him a disservice having come back from two leg breaks, but right now Sagna is performing like a man who wants to be playing for somebody else.
As ever we had no idea about how to do anything different when it became obvious it wasn't working. I called the substitutions at half-time and it was obvious what was going to happen when he sent out his three subs to warm up. The game was crying out for Giroud, but it was also crying out for us to get someone else up front with him. I feel like a scratched record constantly saying that we should play two up front against inferior opponents. I had no problem with Podolski and Cazorla being taken off, but surely Wenger must see that bringing on Ramsey and Gervinho was like an admission that he would take a draw. Ramsey is just so painfully slow that everything stops for Arsenal when he gets the ball. As for Gervinho I just give up. I remember people used to give stick to Glen Helder but he was ten times the player Gervinho is. It summed him up when he pirouetted himself all the way in to the turf shortly after coming on - at no point had he been in control of the ball. If Gervinho is a Premier League footballer then Perry Groves was capable of earning a place in the Brazil 1970 squad.
Does Arsene Wenger genuinely believe that Ramsey and Gervinho were a better bet than Tomas Rosicky yesterday (or any day for that matter)? Surely the extra pace and direct running and passing ability of Rosicky might have created us some much needed space yesterday. If nothing else Rosicky would have been different to what we'd seen all day. Since returning to the squad Rosicky has only really had two proper appearances. The first was at Olympiacos where he ran the game until being replaced at half-time. The second was at Bradford where he came off the bench to provide the spark that got us back in to a game where we'd been comprehensively outplayed. It strikes me that Rosicky is becoming the new Arshavin, such is the way Wenger is using (or failing to use) him. I just don't get it.