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Monday, 30 June 2014

Time to come back, Joel Campbell - better than Sanogo BUT...

It's been three weeks since I wrote anything. When I last put fingertip to keyboard I was looking forward to the World Cup and how I would pass comment on the events there. I had a busy couple of days with work after that post, and then went to Lord's to watch England play cricket. On the Sunday, the day after England lost to Italy I went out to play cricket myself, with the full intention of writing about the impact Joel Campbell had made for Costa Rica in the game that was on before England the previous evening. However, just as my cricket was about to start I was called to the edge of the pitch to be told that a colleague and close friend of mine had died. I spent the rest of that day in something of a daze, making and taking phone-calls to pass on the awful news I'd been given about Steve.
In the intervening fortnight I have not been motivated in the slightest to write about the World Cup, or anything else. I've been surprised at the effect Steve's death had on me, not realising quite how good a mate he was. Working with the same people every day develops a bond that you maybe don't recognise until it's torn away by this kind of tragedy. Together with my team at work we've had some hard days in these two weeks, culminating with his funeral last Thursday. Steve, a bloke in his early 40's and with no outward signs of ill-health, leaves behind a wife and two young children. To say he is missed, and will continue to be missed, is an understatement. I tell you all of this simply to explain why there has been nothing on this website since 9th June. Somehow, writing about teams and players I have no more than passing interests in really didn't seem worth it.

So now I am back I am going to talk about Joel Campbell, just as I had intended to two weeks ago. The tone of the piece might not be quite as excitable as it would have been after Costa Rica beat Uruguay, however. I have to say that following that match I was genuinely thrilled at what I'd seen from Campbell. He dominated the Uruguayan's that evening and deservedly scored one goal and made another. He looked quick, strong, skillful and apparently wasn't afraid to go for goal. All of a sudden Arsenal might have a talent on their hands. Having watched all of Costa Rica's matches I will now temper that a little bit, not because Campbell hasn't been pretty impressive throughout, but because the style of his game is perhaps different from the impression gleaned in their opening game.
Last night when I was watching Costa Rica it became more and more obvious to me that Campbell is a "back to goal" sort of striker, much like Olivier Giroud. What I mean by that is that most of his best work comes when facing the ball and his own defence. He's a very effective player when it comes to winning the ball and holding it (apart from when he's absolutely knackered like in extra-time yesterday) and his superb first-touch allows him to bring his midfield in to the game. If I had a criticism of him against England it was that he was coming far too deep to get on the ball, lessening his obvious impact high up the pitch.
When he gets on the ball Campbell is always looking for the available runner. I could see him linking well with Theo Walcott or Aaron Ramsey, for example, but he then doesn't much seem to have the desire to attack the penalty area for the return (again, a bit like Giroud at times). I think I'm yet to see him make a run off the shoulder of the last defender which limits him as a goal scoring option. His absolute best qualities I've seen so far is his weight of pass and ability to find the angle to make that pass - two or three times last night he played super balls in behind the full-backs for the likes of Ruiz to run on to.
So he's like Giroud, with a better touch but possibly without the goals (at this stage). But he's also a massive improvement on what we saw of Yaya Sanogo last season. There isn't the awkwardness on the ball or the flailing of arms and legs that you get when Sanogo is on the run. I'd be far more confident that Campbell will produce some end product than I would the young Frenchman at this stage. He is certainly worth a punt this season as a proper member of the Arsenal squad. The problem for me is that he is not the sort of forward that will play to the strengths of Mesut Ozil. Having passed on Fabregas the side needs to be built with players that can bring the best out of Ozil. Centre-forwards who play facing him are not what Ozil wants or needs. He requires a centre-forward and wingers that will run on to exquisitely delivered through-balls or crosses from wide. As it stands we have only Theo Walcott who plays like that, and he is almost always injured.
In short I'd be happy with Joel Campbell as genuine competition to Olivier Giroud, but a genuine goal scorer is required if Arsenal are to challenge for the Premier League next season. Put that type of player on the field with Ozil (or with Giroud/Campbell for that matter) and Arsenal will create enough to be very dangerous indeed.

France and Germany are both in action this evening so there is potential for plenty of Arsenal interest. I'm still waiting for Ozil to be the World Cup player he was four years ago - if he sparks then Germany will walk this tournament. More tomorrow if the Arsenal players have been involved.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Cycle complete

Best thing in the last four years

Four years ago yesterday I wrote the first entry on this website. It was just before the World Cup was due to begin in South Africa and it said a little about me, and “reported” the sale of Philippe Senderos to Fulham. Over the next few weeks I did bits and pieces on the World Cup, concentrating on the Arsenal involvement in the tournament. It was a decent one for Arsenal interest with Van Stapleton and Fabregas going all the way to the Final. The rest of the void was filled with the dreaded transfer gossip that I now ignore so wilfully (at that point there was a chase on for Joe Cole and we seemed to be right in it – it was how that turned out that led me to the decision that I would never again deal in such nonsense).
Having come round the World Cup cycle completely since I began it seems a good time to reflect a little on how the site has evolved in four years. 
Over the course of the first year I fell in to the pattern of match previews and reports, and I tried to deliberately make it my opinion of things – that was the idea behind the site, after all. As I had said on the first post, I wouldn’t be writing every day, and sometimes it wouldn’t be about Arsenal or even football (I’ve done posts on stuff as varied as the Olympics and the Royal Wedding). A very limited number of readers rose beyond my comprehension with the addition of the website to the NewsNow Arsenal page. Shortly after that I created a group on Facebook (now refined to a “page” where users can hit the “like” button and feel free to comment how they see fit) and took to Twitter as @ARSENALDvbrisG.
Thanks to the site and the social media a whole new group of Gooners has opened up to converse with and swap opinion on all sorts of stuff. I realise that adding comments on the site itself requires a Google account and most can’t be bothered to do that (I don’t blame you as I wouldn’t bother if I were you) but that’s where the Facebook and the Twitter followings will hopefully grow over time.
This site will never be one of the “big” Arsenal blogs. I don’t spend money on it and I don’t make money on it. I also get no recognition of its existence from Arsenal – I am not invited to the events that others are and I am not featured on the official website. What I do, I hope, is provide something a bit different by not “reporting” stuff but by being forthright. The pieces I enjoy writing most are recollections of past Arsenal events and I hope all the stuff is fairly enjoyable to read. Obviously the most enjoyable thing to happen, and to write about, since I started was winning the FA Cup last month. You can never get enough of that feeling and I hope for much more of it in the very near future.
Here’s to another World Cup cycle.

Just a quick note to ask anyone who hasn’t yet done so to please visit www.onlinegooner.com and complete the Gooner Survey (it closes tomorrow!) In particular, if you enjoy the site and/or follow me on Twitter please answer the appropriate questions with answers that involve myarsenalopinion.blogspot.co.uk and my Twitter handle as shown above. If it gets some more publicity for the site then I’d be grateful to you.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Breaking the rules for Fabregas

He's won it too

I know, I know, I don't have transfer gossip on this website. But given that it now appears certain that Arsenal won't be bringing back Cesc Fabregas I'm going to add my tuppence on the subject. This is what Arsene Wenger has driven me to. The feel good factor about everything Arsenal has been smashed for me and many others. It took three weeks and one bit of transfer nonsense.
I am utterly amazed that Wenger has passed up the chance to bring Fabregas to Arsenal. It is a simple fact that, with Barcelona selling up, Cesc is our player if we want him. It beggars belief that we should pass up the opportunity to bring in one of the World's best goal scoring (and possibly the very best goal creating) midfield players. For anyone who says "we have a lot of players in his kind of role already" you obviously have an incredibly short memory. We get a lot of injuries, you might have noticed, so we can always use some genuine quality. How can signing Fabregas be anything other than a positive thing on the pitch for Arsenal? 
What happened in the two years before he left for Barcelona was sickening. He was retained as Club Captain for a long time after the armband should have been removed. Did he go "on strike" to force a move? Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. None of us really know. If you were looking for a reason why Wenger wouldn't want him back then that's the only one I can think of with any validity. Quite clearly Cesc wanted to go to Barcelona. We (Wenger) allowed that to happen at an outrageously low price. Now we have the opportunity to bring him back to Arsenal for a similarly stupidly cheap transfer fee and yet it is being passed up.
Last year Wenger was quoted as saying that he would take Fabregas back if given the chance. This is what he told the press in January 2013 when saying that Fabregas would return to Arsenal one day:

"Fabregas is an exception that I would try again, a world-class player you don't easily find."

So what the hell has changed? Yes, we've bought in Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey has blossomed beyond recognition. But both of them had long spells injured again this season, as did Santi Cazorla. We also have the perennially crocked Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky (winding down his career). We also have Arteta who is a long way the wrong side of 30 and Mathieu Flamini who Wenger seems to have quickly lost his faith in. In short, there is plenty of space for Fabregas at Arsenal. Given Fabregas' own injury issues he might not be available all the time himself, but for that passing ability I'd take the risk thanks very much.
The other thing to say here is that Arsene has always professed that he would only sign players who were better than what we have. If you take the idea that Ozil and Cazorla are the people he would most likely replace then Wenger is beaten by his own arguments. Fabregas is streets ahead of Santi. When it comes to Ozil, Cesc scores more, creates more, is able to tackle, can get through 90 minutes and, most importantly of all, is not afraid of the opposition and any physical contact they might make with him.
The final argument to be dispelled is the one regarding whether we could spend the money on more important weak areas in the squad. Of course we could. But if you're worried about spending money then sell either Ozil or Cazorla and get back the money you've spent on Fabregas. It really isn't that difficult.
If Arsenal allow Fabregas to end up at Chelsea, as is appearing likely, then we are effectively gift wrapping them the chance to win a Title that we have just given away. It is not really different to selling Van Persie to Man Utd - Fabregas is, to all intents and purposes, our player in this scenario. Why strengthen rivals? As I opined on Twitter a short while ago, I'd rather have Cesc inside our tent and p***ing out, than outside it and p***ing in. I am astonished that we are even having to go through this debacle.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Squad Review Part Four - Strikers

He can't do it alone

This is the final instalment of the squad review for 2013-2014. If nothing else it will give you a break from listening to the made up stories of how close/far away Arsenal are from doing a deal for Cesc Fabregas.

Lukas Podolski
He was left out of the first couple of games (he came on in the 91st minute against Villa on the opening day and was put at left-back) but made his bow at Fulham and scored twice in an impressive win in the pouring rain. Sadly he was injured thereafter and we next saw Podolski as Christmas arrived. The goals he has in his boots are undoubted - just look at how his presence turned the game on Boxing Day at West Ham. The perceived problem is that Podolski doesn't do much else and is too often missing. My view is that Arsenal don't get the best out of his game. Like most I was speechless at his substitution in both Wembley games, but it all worked out in the end. Podolski is a real character and seems incredibly popular with the other players. I think it would be a bad thing for Arsenal if he wasn't around next season - just look at the number of goals he gets compared to the minutes he actually spends on the pitch.

Olivier Giroud
Arsenal's very own Lone Ranger up front. Sadly the injury to Aaron Ramsey stunted his effectiveness in Arsenal's system, though maybe that exposed the paucity of Arsene Wenger's tactics as much as it did any deficiencies in Giroud's game. Most of the time this season he showed himself a very useful battering ram up front, strong and possessing a good touch. He was largely excellent with his back to goal, with the notable exception of the games at Stoke and the Cup Final where he spent most of his time allowing himself to be pushed around. The weakness in his game remains his finishing - he still misses the big chance more often than not and that is costly when you want to beat the top sides. However, 20+ goals is not the return of a bad player. Giroud would be a fine second choice in the Arsenal system, and would have looked far better had Arsenal played two up front in Ramsey's absence (just look at how much better Giroud was when Sanogo came on against Hull). He'll be around next season, but I hope he's largely making his impact from the bench.

Theo Walcott
Another season wrecked by injury for Theo. Ozil's debut at Sunderland gave us an idea of what he might produce with a pacy forward making runs behind a defender. When Walcott got fit around Christmas he came in to his own and was just rediscovering his best form when he knackered his knee. For me Theo's display in the Cup tie with Tottenham was his best in an Arsenal shirt. We need to hope that his knee injury doesn't rob him of any of his speed - without it he has nothing.

Yaya Sanogo
No goals. I know he was missing until a long way in to the season, but he's paid to score goals and he hasn't often looked like getting close to doing so. What Sanogo is for defenders is a nuisance. His height and his speed across the ground make him awkward. The only thing more awkward is his own touch at times and he seems often to be unable to sort out his feet. To his credit he helped turn the FA Cup Final on its head with his energy and effort. He was also unlucky to see a couple of efforts well saved by McGregor. I'm not convinced how long he'll be here for. Pre-season might be crucial for his Arsenal future.

Nicklas Bendtner
It probably says it all about our pitiful striker situation that he remained an Arsenal player this season. In fairness to him he got his head down and worked and scored two very important goals against Hull and Cardiff. It was typical for Nick that, having got the late goal against Cardiff, he injured himself in doing so and didn't get the chance to receive the acclaim of the supporters. One thing that can't be doubted with Bendtner is his bottle, stepping up to take a penalty at West Brom and scoring it on his playing return. Of course, when he didn't look so good he was quickly climbed on by the crowd and, when Sanogo replaced him, he went in to a familiar off-field meltdown. Having now finally been released I'll be interested to see where he ends up - I'm convinced most of his problems stem from the pushing of his father who is also his agent.

Ryo Miyaichi
He had a few games this season but the highlight for him actually came before we got started when he was allowed to take a penalty in Japan. Ultimately Ryo hasn't been good enough to play at Arsenal, a calculated gamble that hasn't quite worked out. Some you win, some you lose. If he's here next season then it's only because nobody wants to sign him.

Chuba Akpom
Having enjoyed an outstanding pre-season Akpom made his debut as a sub, playing out wide, against West Brom in the League Cup. He was very impressive that night with his pace causing all sorts of problems. He was loaned to Coventry but that didn't quite work out as planned. On his return to Arsenal he scored goals for fun in the youths and U21s. From what I've seen of him I'm at a loss as to why Sanogo is considered as being ahead of him at this stage. You can only get goals at the level you're allowed to play and Akpom did that superbly towards the end of the season. Another loan looks likely next season.

Alex Iwobi
Made the bench at West Brom in the League Cup but didn't get to put in an appearance. Another youngster who might find himself on loan at some point next season.