Sunday, February 24, 2013

Getting Away with It - But for How Long? Thoughts on Arsenal 2 Villa 1

A scrappy win, but a win nonetheless. Thoughts as follows:

* I didn't like the starting line-up, and the midfield looked particularly shaky. There didn't appear to be  much of a sense of balance in that eleven. Yes, it might only be Villa at home, but who was going to do the dirty defensive work in midfield?

* But, for once, we got off to a good start, with Cazorla knocking home a shot at the second time of asking. I have been critical of Cazorla at times this season because I think he has the potential to play at an even higher level to the one he's currently at. Yes, he's not helped by our paper-thin squad, which necessitates that Arsene has to play him every week. But he's been wasteful with his shooting, particularly when he seems to snatch at opportunities from outside or near the edge of the area. Both his goals yesterday were measured, placed shots. He has a good goal tally this season - I think he can score even more next year if he continues to place his shots like he did yesterday, rather than thrash at them like he has done a little too often this season.

* The remainder of the first-half, and indeed the game until Villa scored, was a little odd. Both sides had chances to score. We were, overall, on top, but there was a clear sense that we could be opened up with relative ease. As mentioned above, there was essentially no sense of who should be playing defensively in our midfield. Normally this would fall to Arteta, but it's now become abundantly clear that we need a dedicated holding midfielder, not a converted attacking midfielder, like Arteta. The space between our midfield and defence was constantly exploited throughout the game, and if Villa were not absolutely terrible they would have scored more than the once. When up against better teams, like Bayern, our lack of defensive organization as a team, is fatal. More on this later.

* Regardless of our defensive failings, the game shouldn't have been as close as it was. However, until we get a new striker who is clinical in front of goal, we will struggle to see out matches such as this one. Yes, Giroud has got a fair few goals this season - but he is not good enough to lead us to trophies. It's notable, in my opinion, that barely any of his goals have come against opposition in the top-half of the premier league. He looks like what he is - a player with one good season under his belt in Ligue Un, who has struggled to adapt to a much higher quality league. He's a good back-up option, but he should not be consistently starting games. Unfortunately, that miss against Sunderland on the opening day of the season was a fairly accurate representation of his level of ability.

* But Giroud can't take all the blame. Walcott is as consistently inconsistent as ever. Yes he has 18 goals this season, but the fact that he has become the team's main goal-scoring threat is slightly terrifying, given his propensity to completely hide during games. I have said this a few times - Walcott's representatives played Arsenal perfectly - they were able to achieve a deal that reflected the club's fears that the fanbase would not tolerate the loss of another "star" player. Until he consistently produces, he's not worth whatever inflated wage he is now on. If any good comes from the Bayern game, it's that hopefully the absurd experiment of deploying him as a lone central striker is now at an end.

* Podolski must also come into some blame for a lack of prowess in front of goal. I have heard conflicting reports on the reason for his absence yesterday. There is the suggestion that he has been struggling with an ankle injury for some time that will require surgery at the end of the year. Others, have simply said he was dropped yesterday after a string of lethargic performances. So, what to make of Poldi? He's our most clinical player in front of goal, and I still think he deserves a chance in the central striker spot. But, does he deserve the chance if he can't even be bothered to run for a full 90 minutes? It's a tough call. In defence of Giroud, I know we're getting 100 percent effort and commitment from him, despite his failings as a player. I'm not always sure that this is the case with Podolski, unfortunately.

* So, after squandering a series of chances, it was inevitable that Villa would score. And, being Arsenal, that they would score in risible fashion. After another wasted corner, Villa countered. Total chaos reigned in our defence, with Monreal not knowing whether to move to the player, or move to his position, and Jenkinson generally not having a clue what to do. But, Weimann's shot was not a spectacular effort and should have been saved. Instead, it went through Szczesny and into the net. It's now clear beyond any shadow of a doubt that we need a new goalkeeper. I love Woj's spirit, and he has had big games for us this season. But the mistakes now clearly outnumber the positives, and he has cost us games and points this season. Let's man up and make Stoke an offer they can't refuse for Begovic. If this "kills" Szczesny, so be it. We don't owe any of these players a career. If they're not good enough, they're out. Enough coddling.

* The same goes for Jenkinson. Yes, he's a gooner, and celebrated our winner with enthusiasm. But so what? Is he good enough to replace Sagna as our starting right-back. No way. At the moment he is a mid-table player, at best, who would actually benefit from a loan. If we do make the mistake of letting Sagna go this summer, I really hope we have a plan beyond Jenkinson.

* But the defence can't take all the blame for the goal. The chaos in our back-line stemmed from a certain unearned nonchalance to defending in our midfield. The question is - what type of players are Diaby and Wilshere? There role within our midfield yesterday was not clear at all. Wilshere is a brilliant player. But is he meant to be staying deep? Is he a box-to-box player? Does he have a free role in the side? And as for Diaby, is he some form of bizarre attacking midfielder who never contributes significantly to our attacks? What does he really bring to the team? Not a lot, in my opinion. I hope that we finally get rid of Diaby this summer, but he's clearly a pet project for Wenger, who'll be at the club as long as Arsene is. Unfortunately, our bizarre reliance on a player who continually suffers from injuries will probably mean we won't buy the dominant central midfielder that we've needed for years.

* Our second goal was a moment of absolute joy in a much otherwise characterized by dross. Wilshere floated a ball over the top to Monreal, who cut the ball back to Cazorla, who then finished with a neat curling effort. It's easy to forget at the moment, but it's moments like these which make it so difficult to turn against Wenger. At his best, he produces teams in which players express themselves, and create moments of beauty on the field. It was nice to see Nacho pop-up with an assist as well.

* So, a win. A poor win, but a win. And as we try and climb the mountain to fourth place once more, it's a vital three points.

But it's a win that raises a lot of questions, especially in the light of our defeats to Bayern and Blackburn. From around 2006 to 2010, I was firmly of the belief that Arsene was the right man for the job, and that we were simply 1-2 players away from greatness. Now, I'm not so sure. The total lack of organization and tactical discipline that we've seen on the pitch time and again this season hints at wider faults in Wenger's management that signings potentially don't rectify. There's only so many times you can see a poorly defended set-piece, huge swathes of space left open by disorganized players, or a lack of resolve to get the job done before you start to wonder whether the players on the pitch are the only problem in terms of our performances.

I'm fairly sure that we'll up our game in the next few weeks, and we will probably get fourth place. But this season has really shaken my belief in Wenger. For the first time I wonder whether new signings are enough to make us title-challengers again, or whether more substantial change is required at the club in terms of how we approach the game. Maybe we don't need a new defender - we need a new attitude towards defence. And maybe we don't need to replace Giroud - we need to rethink the entire way we tactically approach a match. Does Wenger have this in him? I don't know.



Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head regarding our complete lack of midfield cover.

The back four is regularly criticised (often fairly, I might add) but the midfield and forwards contribute absolutely f*ck all when we lose the ball.

We were completely wide open on numerous occasions yesterday and we would've been punished against a better side.

Anonymous said...

Did you see the man city coaching staff all helping and advising Mancini today.
Tthen look at our bench Wenger up , Steve bould not allowed or not wanting to make any suggestion watch them during the games THEY ARE NOT A UNIT

Begeegs said...

With better players, we will do better - no doubt, but we still won't challenge. Not with Wenger at the helm.

If anything that the defeat against Bayern demonstrated is that now top teams not only need to be top players, but also have a huge work ethic and know what they are doing with and without the ball. We never look like that is the case. As you point out, players do not know where one another is supposed to go, so there is a lot of disjointed play. Now it has spread to attack as well as defense. There were times yesterday where Diaby or Arteta had the ball and the front 3 and both fullbacks were standing in a horizontal line and no one moved. I am afraid that is because Wenger doesn't do tactics - it also is why we play crab football. It isn't because Arteta and Diaby slow up play (sometimes Diaby does), but rather because there are no options to pass forward when everyone is standing still with a defender marking closely.

He was spared blushes yesterday, barely and then comes out with the gall about being questioned. It wasn't like we just comprehensively destroyed Villa - we scraped by and this is an extremely poor Villa side.

Anonymous said...

We did have a team only 2 short between 2006 and 2010; but then we went and sold the best players from it. We are now well short of having a squad that can challenge. I don't put all the blame for this on Wenger though, and I do think he is still the right man to take us back to the top. Of course I wish he would be less stubborn, listen to other coaches in his set up, and be less frugal. But I wouldn't trade all that for a lesser coach. When he is at his best he still a brilliant judge of talent and a builder of a talented attacking team.

Anonymous said...

Re: Giroud. There is a touch on Bendtner about him in front of goal. I do wonder if much of the goodwill towards him is based on a) he is the subject of our best song b) he has a nice face and c) his assists are deft.

Re: Jenkinson. AW will buy a new 1st choice RB when BS goes. Look at the response to left back situation, and KG is a far better full back than Jenk.

Re: Defence. Partnership(s) is always the bedrock of a great defence. Who is our 1st choice CB pairing? No-one knows. Even the choice of our best FBs will draw opinions.