Thursday, April 06, 2006

More reflections on Juve.

After absorbing the discourse floating about since our night in Turin, a few more things have struck me.

Firstly, Jens. His performances over the entire course of this year have surely put him in contention for player of the season. The difference it makes to the team knowing that there is someone they can rely on behind them is enourmous, and has really helped our young defence develop. He was never that bad a goalkeeper. Even when he was coming in for some criticism last season, I think a lot of us forgot that he'd been the keeper that saw us through the unbeaten season. For me, there were only really three weak parts to his game: his kicking ability in open play, his 'rush of blood to the head' moments when he came charging out of the area to claim a ball, and his temperament. His kicking has improved vastly: there are few of the moments of him scuffing a ball played back to him, or looking so uncomfortable on the ball that the team felt edgy passing it back. His 'robtth' moments are also largely gone. The ultimate example of these was against Panathainakos in the CL last year, when he sprinted out of his box to deal with a ball, when he really didn't need to be there, and Pan subsequently scored. That these 'robs' are less evindent also lets the team relax more, and hence play better. His temperament is still there, but has turned into something that benefits the team. Instead of moments like at WHL when he gave away a penalty due to some jostling from Robbie Keane, Jens no longer allows his temperament to be as self-destructive . He was lucky, against Juve, not to be booked for tearing out of his area to berate Nedved, but I think overall, as long as he doesn't get carded, these incidents are good: they intimidate the other team, help him stamp his authority on situations, and provide a leader at the back for the team. Indeed the way he shouts and screams at the team, it's very much like having a second captain at the back, which, again, can only help our youngsters develop. I'd like to see some more of this on Sunday in Manc-ville; I do worry that it could lead to a card at old Trafford though, where referees are far too easily intimidated.

Against Juve, Jens was subtly awesome. He didn't have to pull off a save of comparable quality to the one he made against Madrid, but there were three moments which summed up his performance, and which were significantly helped the team through. Firstly an early cross from Mutu which he took at full stretch. This immediately showed who was going to dominate the penalty area, and also the quality of ball needed to test Jens. Juve never really tested him with high balls after this, as they were not up to the challenge. Secondly, Nedved's rasping shot, which, when viewed from Jen's POV, he would have been unable to see until quite late. Again, comfortably, and authoritavely dealt with, no doubt adding to Nedved's frustration. Thirdly, Ibrahimovic's deflected shot, which Jen's hands, almost automatically, snapped up and caught. That was a far more difficult save than it looked, a complete reflex movement. Lesser goalkeepers would have misjudged, or simply not seen the deflection the ball took, and the ball would have sailed in over their heads. If it had gone in, an extremely edgy 20 minutes would have followed. So, well done Jens. I wish you were younger. If Klinsmann doesn't start him in the world cup, the only explanation must be that Khan has actually turned himself into a brick wall, replete with cement, which covers the entirety of the goal-mouth. Short of this our Jens is your man.

The other thing that struck me was the need to have some shooting practice in training! The game showed that when TH doesn't take his chances, the team still does struggle a little. Hleb has begun to shoot, which is a good sign, but he needs to sharpen his accuracy and power up, as he needs to be contributing a good number of goals a season. Same with Fab and Jose. Indeed Jose's lack of goals is now becoming a bit of a worry. He looks far happier out on the wing, but he needs to get some goals if he wants to be a complete winger. As for Freddie, well, here's hoping that his new positive performances are matched with a renaissance in his scoring ability. I've been amazed at his lack of scoring this year, and I really hope that Dennis's decline doesn't, effectively, take another player with him.

Our progress in the CL has been based on solid defensive performances: if we want to win the trophy these need to continue, but we need to take more of our chances to help give our defence a little breathing space. And when chances aren't taken this late in the competition, there's very little scope for remedying it later in the game.

The great thing about levelling criticism to this team is you know they're young enough to actually take it in and learn from it. Hence, Eboue, who has been scintillating down the right flank, will hopefully have learnt from his error in not releasing the ball after his wonder run, the only black mark on his otherwise wonderful performance.

The main news elsewhere is focused on Sol, who is clearly desperate to get back into the team. The Mirror even reckons that he could be in contention for Sunday's match against united. I don't think so. Arsene will keep Kolo and Phil together, and then rest Phil on Wednesday against Portsmouth. Sol will be a squad player for the rest of the season, but will still go to the world cup. Considering the rumours linking us to Curtis Davies are persistent and believable, it's hard to envisage Sol as the core of any future Arsenal defence.

East Lower has also made a rather sentimental post today. Hard to believe, eh?

Finally, nice to see Man U have a new shirt sponser. Have a look at this link to see how they conduct themselves in what's known as the 'Enron-style' school of business.

Til tomorrow.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

isn't it strange that so little has been made of vieira after the second leg. i think that as far as arsenal goes this chapter has been effectively closed.