Rambo Strikes Late

A late winner away from home, three points and climbing to the top of our group – what more could we have asked for last night?

The match itself, whilst not a total doozy, wasn’t a shining example of European football at it’s best so I’m not going to try to force anyone to re-live it through written word. Instead lets focus on the Television coverage and a few of our players…

Saving the savage ‘slagging-off’ for last lets start with the players –

Aaron Ramsey – The young Welshman has come in for a little criticism of late which I think has been harsh, but not totally without merit. At no point has Rambo lifted up Andrey Arshavin’s blanket and asked ‘Can I hide under here with you?‘. The Welsh skipper keeps going and gives his all in every game he plays for club and country. I know I keep saying it but with the Spaniard gone and Jack out injured  a lot is being asked of Ramsey this season. I was thrilled that he got the winner right at the death after coming on in place of Andrey Arshavin in the 78th minute (The Russian had given another outstanding impression of the invisible character portrayed by Kevin Bacon in the film Hollow Man) Given that the chance came so late on Ramsey showed great composure to put the ball past Steve Mandanda and win the game, had the chance fallen to someone else we may have been cursing at the final whistle rather than celebrating. That brings me on nicely to…

Theo Walcott – It’s not happening is it? At times it happens, but then for the majority of the time it fails to happen and we all forget those rare occasions when it does happen. There were few clear-cut openings in front of the L’OM goal aside from the one that produced the winner, but the best of the rest fell to Theo and he chocked. For someone who repeatedly states a desire to be played down the middle he really doesn’t do his chances of being picked to play there much good when he wastes the kind of opportunities like last nights or  the one against Bolton last month. I saw some people were asking yesterday why there was so much surprise around AOC’s omission form the 18 man squad, well in my view it’s because the Ox should be there putting pressure on Theo because no one else is. I suggested in yesterday’s post that he should have been replaced by Gervinho and may have been more effective coming from the bench late on but it seems the Arsene still won’t listen to me. At the moment it’s almost taken for granted that Walcott will start out on the right, I’m not sure how much of a fight he is having to put up in order to keep his place – seemingly none. I think the biggest problem is he either has it in him and shows that on a regular basis or the times when he has looked mustard will just start to look like a fluke. It’s all a little similar to Ashavin really and at a time when we’re maybe lacking a bit of creativity from midfield and we’re failing to provide sufficient support for Van Persie up front we can hardly afford to carry one player let alone two.  But it’s not impossible for a player to take the bull by the horns and show a marked improvement, look at…

Carl Jankinson – I was delighted by Jenk’s performance at right back last night. There were suggestions prior to the game that the youngster should be dropped to the bench and a centre half take his place on the right but you’ve got to play players in their best positions and not only that but you could clearly see that after completing the game against Sunderland on Sunday, and admirably so, Jenkinson grew in strength as the game went on last night and it was a real disappointment to see him leave the field with a knee injury in the 62nd minute. We’ll wait to see what the reports are on the extent of that injury today but I really do hope he’ll be fit to face Stoke on Sunday, the more he plays the better he’ll become. He is improving as a defender but you’ve also got to applaud his crossing, we saw it out in Asia in pre season and he delivered again in that department last night – as Arse2Mouse Tweeted last night why not see if he can be as prolific with his delivery from corners? Fair play to Johan Djourou also, he did well when he came on in place of Jenks. If the former Charlton lad is out of this weekends clash with SCRFC then the Swiss would be my choice to deputise because frankly…

Laurent Koscielny is far too good a centre half to be fannying about as a makeshift right back. The Frenchman was absolutely outstanding last night, our best player by a country mile and certainly the Man of the Match. Again he is a player who has come in for criticism at times and again I’ve considered that criticism to be harsh and in the main totally unfounded. The £10m we paid Lorient in 2010 looks an absolute bargain, especially when you consider that from before we signed him and up until this summer we were being urged by many to spend £15m and upwards on Jagielka or Cahill. I know which player I would rather have and as I said in a post a while back, I believe that Kozzer and Vermaelen can forge an outstanding partnership at the heart of our defence. Last night was Koscielny’s 54th game for the Gunners and in truth not even Arsene could have envisioned that a guy who just three seasons ago was playing in the French second division would have clocked up so many Arsenal appearances in such a short time. He has formed a solid partnership with Per Mertesacker, who was also on fine form again last night, and it will be harsh on the big German if he is relegated to the bench once Vermaelen returns but it would be even harsher on Koscielny. The level of performance he produced last night should come as no surprise to anyone, yes he is prone to the odd mistake but which player isn’t? It reminds me a bit of Martin Keown, rightly regarded as an Arsenal legend now it took a while for the defender to be given the plaudits he deserved upon his return to Highbury.

I’m not going to go into so much detail with every player, I thought they all performed well last night so I’ll just say briefly that…

Mickey Arteta put in another dogged shift in midfield, I know he has always had that in his locker but you have to give credit to him, he may have thought, as many did, that he was going to shoulder the creative burden this season but he is yet to be afforded much of an opportunity for that in the short time he has been at the club but has dug in and performed the task assigned to him as well as you could ask. Tommy Rosicky continued his renaissance, it’ll be interesting to see where he starts Sundays game and despite the early and needless booking Alex Song had another good game in the heart of our midfield. RVP gave his usual committed skippers performance but in truth didn’t get much support up front, Szszesny was rarely called into action but was ready and alert when he was and lastly Andy Santos blew hot and cold in my opinion. The Brazilian in him comes out during those surging sorties into the opposition half but as a defender he has yet to float my boat and at this moment in time Kieran Gibbs, when fit obviously, would be my choice for that birth.

So in summary we got what you want from a Champions League away game – three points. The bonus is another clean sheet, topping the group (for now) and keeping our good run going. Despite our flaws five wins out of six is good going by any standards and if we can take advantage of our extra days rest and put Stoke to the sword on Sunday then things will continue to look brighter.

So finally I’ll say a quick word about ITV’s coverage last night – Shocking.

Actually that is maybe a little unfair, it’s the hosting, the punditry and the commentary that are shocking.

About thirty seconds in Martin O’Neill took the opportunity to reaffirm the fact he doesn’t like Arsene Wenger. Clive Tyldesley told us it was the first time Wenger had managed an Arsenal side on native soil since 2002 thus clearly neglecting the 2006 Champions League final, which he no doubt commented on, was held in Paris before Adrian Chiles rounded things off by suggesting that after a last gasp one nil win Arsenal fans will start to think our team is better than it is…

Great stuff ITV Sport you have once again proved to the nation why you are the television equivalent of John Terry…

Thanks for reading.

 Paul.

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This is a low – Blackburn 4-3 Arsenal

Regular readers of this blog will know that, for the most part, I’m always positive when it comes to the Arsenal, I like to think that I can be pragmatic in defeat and always back the team to bounce back from any adversity, but after the defeat at Ewood Park today I’m finding it hard to pick myself up off the floor and focus on anything positive.

Blackburn Rovers – a side who are owned by a poultry company, a side who before today had managed to win just five of their last twenty-five Premier League matches since boss Steve Kean replaced Sam Allerdyce – started the day with a protest against their much maligned manager and ended it above us in the Premier League standings (albeit on the same points tally of 4)

We can point to the fact that Rovers were gifted two own goals by the Gunners and that they should have had another chalked off for off-side, you can say that Olsson should have been dismissed for diving, especially as it came only moments after he’d had his name taken by the ref. You can say we should have had a penalty right at the death when Theo Walcott was taken out by Paul Robinson, but frankly what would be the point? Come the arse end of the season there will be clubs fighting for survival all with stories of hardship & woe – how decisions had gone against them, how luck had cheated them and how they had been professional and given their all. The truth is that at the seasons end the table won’t lie, teams will finish where they deserve to finish. For the most part score lines don’t lie either. This one didn’t & if you want to talk about relegation form then ours is rife with the stench if we go back to last season *Before you throw your toys out the pram, I am not suggesting we’ll be relegated. Merely pointing out that we’re currently going the right way about it.

The Blackburn goals came from our own slack defending, negligent as the lino may have been for Yakubu’s second (Rovers third) and unlucky as it may seem to concede two own goals against a side with all the fire power of a wet lettuce leaf, we’ve only ourselves to blame.

We started so brightly and at points we looked a little like the Arsenal of old, knocking the ball about, rampaging down the right hand side and seemingly prepared to waste a decent chance rather than tee up a team mate. Indeed if you want to point fingers at anyone then Gervinho’s wastefulness when he could have played in Van Persie, who surely would have put us 1-3 up, just before the half time whistle, then that is the kind of mistake we should be looking at along with the sides inability to defend.

After the game Arsene Wenger suggested that we are still “defensively fragile” after Old Trafford, but three of the back four who started today’s game didn’t even step foot on the turf up in Manchester. In fact Mertesacker & Andy Santos were both employees of other clubs at the time of the United crushing after which we were told reinforcements such as the German & Brazilian would improve our defensive capabilities.

Well we may have dug in and scrapped it out in Dortmund earlier in the week and we may have hung on to a clean sheet against Swansea at the Emirates last Saturday but if evidence was needed to conclusively prove it is the coaching and tactical instructions being given to the players as much as any shortcomings on their part then this result is it.

Our defensive line for the first Blackburn goal was as wonky as a DIY haircut and replays showed that it was Andy Santos, making his full debut, who played Yakubu onside. I mentioned in yesterday’s blog the need for stability in our back line, seeing a group of players play week in week out rather than than the personnel carousel we’re used to. Ironic then that it was Santos, the only change to our back four from our last two games, who played the Nigerian on side, especially as Kieran Gibbs had started to find some form thanks to a run of games.

When the sides went in at half time I honestly felt that we would see the Gunners come out and dominate the second half, Rovers looked for all the world a team there for the taking and you would have laid money that Steve Kean would have been visiting the local job centre come Monday morning. But, as the second half got underway there seemed to have been a shift in belief, Rovers suddenly seemed to have a bit more fight and determination in them. Indeed it took them only four minutes to get back on level terms.

Yes it was a total fluke and no portion of blame should befall Alex Song, but this was yet another goal conceded from a set-piece, when will we learn to defend them?

I don’t know about you but from then on it looked to me like only one side would go on to win the game, and in the pouring rain Blackburn Rovers did just that.

The massacre of Old Trafford was hard to take and hurt like hell, but in many ways it wasn’t unexpected especially given the side and indeed the bench we had that afternoon. This, this is much harder to take in my opinion.

The team has been strengthened, we all know it could have been stronger still but a certain Frenchman decided he would rather have £50m in the bank then players on the pitch who can actually contribute something other than trite smiles and self congratulations for having a healthy bank balance, so we can’t put it down to a one off as we’ve done with the United result. Bar Jack Wilshere & Tommy Vermaelan this was the strongest possible squad we’ll have to work with this season unless signings are made in January, but as I’m attempting to point out it’s not just the playing staff who are to blame.

I said after Old Trafford, and it certainly wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction, that I felt that Arsene Wenger has taken our club as far as he is able. No one should ever doubt just how far that is or level any form of abuse at the Frenchman’s door – he deserves nothing but utter respect from anyone who calls themselves a Gooner. But sadly the man who revolutionised football in this country is in danger of looking for all the world lost in a game he helped create. Someone mentioned on Twitter that Wenger no longer looks as if he enjoys it and it got me to wondering when he last did?

I’ll never call for his dismissal or demand he resigns, I’ve far too much respect for the man and what he has done at our club but what he does need to do is relinquish some of the power he holds. Firstly he needs to hand over the coaching of the first team to someone else or at least bring new people in and allow them to have an input and offer fresh direction. Many people ask why Steve Bould hasn’t been promoted from the wonderful work he has been doing with our under 18’s, well if rumours are to be believed, and I’m led to believe that in this case they are, our former defensive stalwart was offered Pat Rice’s position when old Pat wanted to call time on the illustrious years of servitude he has given to the club. Bould supposedly turned the offer down because he was told he would have little to no tactical input or the ability to coach so opted to stay in the role he is in which led to Wenger begging his old bench buddy to give him one last season (much like he did Cesc last summer, look how that turned out)

Many voices, mine included, have called for Martin Keown to be given a defensive coaching role but that won’t happen for the same reasons Bouldy isn’t higher up the food chain at London Colney. I’ve no doubt whatsoever that Keown has the capabilities and knowhow to fill that role and excel in it but there is a reason he is still sitting working for the beeb and not us. In fact, it’s just been pointed out to me that when we set a Champions League record for clean sheets Keown was working as a defensive coach at the club…

Rapid improvement is needed and if fresh ideas and instruction is what it takes to achieve those improvements then Wenger needs to swallow some of that pride and make these changes happen.

Since the final whistle blew I’ve seen a few Arsenal fans suggest that our expectations should have changed and this defeat shouldn’t be a surprise. Well I’ve never been the kind of fan who has high expectations, I think doing so only sets you up for a fall and a nose bag of disappointment. So my deflation and disappointment at this result, this performance, this start to the season and even towards the gaffer, are nothing to do with a delusional sense of expectation it’s just pure hurt. I’ve been a Gooner all my life, I grew up a stones throw from Highbury and I’ve seen us struggle in the past, but right now the ship is starting to look rudderless and when this has been the case in the past there has always been someone in a position of power at the club to take control and steer us in the right direction. Sadly at this moment in time, I’ve no idea who is there to do that right now and defeats like Old Trafford & defeats like today only serve to ram that home.

Thanks for reading

Paul

How we compare – Vol 3: Centre Backs

 

Big Tone

For a lifelong Arsenal fan in his early thirties, it’s a strange position to be in to have your defence ridiculed by your rival fans. I’ve grown up with the fact that our defence was so good; it was almost a standing joke. My first ever game at Highbury was on Tony Adams 21st birthday (we won 2-0 against Oxford United with goals from Steve Williams & Steve Davis). Adams, David O’Leary, Steve Bould, Martin Keown and later Sol Campbell wre defenders of great quality. More importantly, and especially in the George Graham era, they all worked incredibly hard at defending. Just as personal techniques were worked upon, much time on the training pitch was devoted to the art of defending as a unit. 

With our current offering of Vermaelen, Koscielny, Djourou, Squillaci and Bartley coming through the ranks (I put them in that order for good reason), I wouldn’t say many forwards are shaking in their boots. Individually I have no problem with them as players (although Squillaci just doesn’t seem to have got going), but the whole ‘defending as a unit’ idea seems to be slightly alien to them. In their defence, Thomas Vermaelen was injured for, pretty much, the whole of last year (something that was not lost on the away support at Craven Cottage on the last day of the season back in May).

Organised?

In Wenger’s defence, I think he has a point when he said that our defending from open play was not as bad as people made out. However (and Arsene seems to be in agreement on this) our defending from set-pieces was shocking, and has been for several years. There have been whispers that we have devoted a lot of time to rectifying this during the close season. This makes the fact that we haven’t signed a new centre back yet all the more surprising. Wenger has admitted that he would like to bolster the back line. It would’ve made sense to bring the recruit in so he can be a part of the effort into improving our defensive organisation. Still this article hasn’t been written around transfers. It’s about how we measure up to our rivals:

No knees Leders

Spurs’ defensive personnel must be so frustrating. Ledley King has an injury history that would make Darren Anderton feel like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable. When fit he’s one of the best defenders around, but that doesn’t happen often enough for him to be considered as such. When combined with Johnahan Woodgate last year, they become very expensive luxuries. With Woodgate now at Stoke, I’m surprised ‘arry hasn’t strengthened. Gallas (as we all know) is a defender of high quality, although can prove to be disruptive behind the scenes. I think, after last year’s honeymoon period, Spurs might see a bit of Mr Hyde this year. Matt Dawson has been their most consistent defensive performer in recent years, and was well worth his England call-up. Sebastian Bassong is still at the club, although there have been rumours that he’s on his way. Corluka & Kaboul can also fill in at either Centre Back or Full Back, with the latter of the two definitely being the stronger. As a whole, I would have to say Spurs are stronger than us in this position. Even with King injured the majority of the time, Dawson and Gallas are a very capable pairing at the back.

Mr Happy

I’m sure Kenny Dalgleish is very aware that Liverpool need to strengthen in this department, if Liverpool fans’ deluded expectations are going to come anywhere near being realised. Jamie Carragher, who I have a lot of respect for as a professional, is often left in the wake of anyone with real pace. His reading of the game and desire, although admirable, simply won’t bridge the gap anymore. Daniel Agger is a decent defender and footballer in general, but struggles with injury and (subsequently) consistency. Martin Skrtel is a player I once thought could be a good defender, but cannot seem to expel glaring mistakes from his game. Kyrgiakos is as much a liability in his own area, as he is a threat in the oppositions. A balance I’m afraid that isn’t good enough to justify your spot in a Premier League team. I’m aware that Liverpool have a few prospects coming through at the back, but the jury will still be out on them for at least another season. I think, even without strengthening, Arsenal are stronger in this position.

It must be said, that for all their frivolous yet unbalanced spending throughout the side, Manchester City have built a solid defensive unit (although I suppose it helps when you have 2 defensive midfielders sitting in front of you). We all know Kolo Toure well, and although he needs to play alongside a defensive leader, he is a proven Premier League centre back. The real strength to City’s back line though, is Vincent Kompany. He’s a player who has been touted as being a potential superstar since he was a teenager at Anderlecht, but (after a spell in Germany) he showed last season what a quality defender he is. He is the leader any aspiring Premier League club need in their defensive line. As a back-up, City have Joleon Lescott, Derek Boyata and new arrival Savic. The Englishman is solid, not worth what they paid, but solid all the same. The other two are young and yet to fully prove themselves, although apparently we were after Savic but rejected him (after a trial) a few years back. I would have to say City are stronger than us in this area of the pitch.

Chelsea’s success over recent years has been built on a solid defensive unit. As much as I hate the man, John Terry leads his line well. I think his athletic abilities will begin to be brought further into question. I’ve lost count on how many times he is turned by a forward – done for pace, commits a cynical foul, and gets away with it. Surely that can only go on indefinitely! David Luiz was bought in January, and made a big impression. He is, without doubt, one of the best defenders in world football….. if it was based solely on technical ability. Defending, however, isn’t as simple as that. After some bright initial performances, and evidence of his undoubted skill, we saw just as many examples of his positional naivety and mind farts! Chelsea have Brazilian Alex (although there are reports he could be going back to Brazil) and Ivanovic as cover. There are rumours they are waiting on a work permit for Slobodan Rajkovic. If they cannot get one for him for this year, I think Chelsea will be looking for an additional defender. One of the things that has made Chelsea so defensively strong in recent seasons is the work they do as a unit. This includes Petr Cech and the full backs. It remains to be seen whether Andre Villas-Boas will do anything to disrupt this. I would be surprised, as he seems fairly astute, but as it stands we just don’t know. At the moment I would probably put Chelsea slightly above Arsenal in this area of the pitch…….. but not by much!

You just wait Wayne, you just wait

So, finally, to the Champions, and there is a reason for that. Their options in the centre of defence have to be the most impressive for me. Even though the amount of games Rio Ferdinand is going to be able to play is going to become less and less (as his physical condition continues to deteriorate), they are still in good shape. Having the Vidic – Ferdinand option at the back has been a massive part of United’s success. Granted, they have lost squad stalwarts in O’Shea and Brown who have moved to Sunderland, but with new acquisition Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and (to a lesser extent) Johnny Evans, they have great depth. Of course Fergie is famous for getting replacements in before he needs them, so there is an overlap. I must admit, it’s a practice that I don’t think Arsene’s been particularly good at in recent years. I still think it’s a back four that can be got at with pace, but it’s definitely not a weakness for them. My view is United are stronger.

Perfect Partners

I know I said this wasn’t going to be a transfer piece, but I thought I’d briefly discuss our recruitment in this area, bearing in mind the speculation. It looks like (in the whole ‘no smoke without fire’ rationale) that it’s a choice of three, Gary Cahill, Chris Samba and Phil Jagielka. To be brutally honest, I’d be happy enough with any of those three. In preference I’d rather it be in the order above. Seemingly we have had an offer £10M rejected from Everton for Jagielka and will have to stump up between £15-20M if we wanted him. I personally would rather (if we were going to spend that amount) get Gary Cahill. He’s a bit younger and taller, and has more room for improvement; saying that, we’ve got defenders with room for improvement in Djourou and Koscielny. Anyway it doesn’t matter what I think as it looks like we’ve gone back in with an improved offer for Jagielka & if rumours are to be believed we’re set to sign the former Sheffield United man & Gary Cahill in a double swoop. In fairness, I’d be happy with that!

Thanks for reading.

Big Dave.

 

 

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