Thursday, November 30, 2006

Unreplaced invincibles lie at the heart of Arsenal's malaise.

It looks like we might be in for a long season. A lot of us may have thought that last season was a 'transition year' but its shaping up to being the beginning of a more prolonged period of change and, hopefully, progress. And at the moment its hard to know whether our league form has now, unquestionably, hit the bottom of the trough, or whether the nadir of our current woes still lies in the future.

The heart of the problem is, actually, rather straightforward: we've lost a great team and haven't yet created a new one. The greater difficulty is knowing whether we're on the right track to a brighter future; whether the players we have at the moment really have the potential to win trophies and become a new golden generation, or if they're, actually, a rather mediocre lot.

Arsene has got lost a lot of top players in the last two years. Vieira, Edu, Pires, Campbell, Bergkamp, Cole and Reyes have all left, while Freddie is so far gone that its no longer worth considering him as a player who can really contribute to the team.

Arsene can't really be blamed for letting these players go. Bobby, Sol, Dennis and even Vieira were either over the hill or not cutting it anymore; Jose, Edu and Cashley had to be let go. Yet who has replaced them? That is the crux of our current problems. Quality has left and its not clear whether it's been replaced.

We now have a midfield without any physicality. Hleb, Rosicky, Fab and Gilbs do make tackles and win the ball, but they're artistic players at heart. They don't have the rugged power of a Vieira, or even the less refined, but necessary bite of a Grimandi or Parlour. And, crucially, none of these artistic players are great goalscorers. A fundamental problem we have at present is that we do not have goalscoring midfielders: we need a new Bobby or Marcy Overmars, and I don't think Hleb or Rosicky will get the goals we need; which is not to say they are not fantastic players. We've effectively lost players who contributed 20-30 goals a year, and they haven't been replaced.

We now have players such as Flamini and Song genuinely competing for places in midfield, and that's unacceptable. Neither have the passing or tackling ability to warrant a place. Diaby can't get back soon enough - because he offers genuine hope - but what are we to make of Baptisa - A 'beast' who has been consistently muscled off the ball in the games he's played thusfar? We've been so accustomed to mediocrity that Gilberto has established himself as a senior player and an automatic starter, instead of someone who should be fighting for his place.

Clichy may get better but he's not as good as Cole, and, take a deep breath, we miss a player of Cashley's quality on the left. I detest Cashley's antics and what he did to our club, but we're crying out for a decent left-back. Both Che£sea and ManU have two. Traore, to me, has looked far more impressive in his few outings, but he's painfully young. A purchase needs to be made.

Moreover, Baptista - who plays where? - 'replaced' Reyes, depriving of us of more options on the left. We have no left wing at the moment, and its hurting us. I'm sure that part of the reason we're playing 4-5-1, and forcing RvP to play out of position is because of this deficiency.

And on to Dennis. Dennis is, more than anyone, a genuinely one-off talent - but we need a player to link attack and defence in that style, because Henry's suffering from having to drop back and get balls that would have been played through to him in the past. He's also suffering, from the lack of a left-wing. He's the best player I've seen at our club, but if he's not contributing, he's not contributing, and we need more options up-front. Moreover, I firmly believe that Jens should be made captain in order to keep Thierry, and the rest of the team on its toes.

We weren't out muscled by Fulham yesterday; we were outplayed. There's a difference. To complain of offside decisions when we already two goals down is almost facetious, and even Arsene must know that we're simply not good enough at the moment. Our problems start at the back and our defence needs tightening up. To concede first in so many games is unacceptable. We look shaky almost every time an attack come at us, even with Gallas, one of the few players who've replaced an invincible such as Campbell in terms of class and ability.

But what to do? People are screaming out for us to buy, but with Diaby and Lauren coming back, and hopefully Baptista finally coming in to form, I'm not expecting Arsene to buy in January. The calls for him to go are ludicrous because I think he's genuinely being let down by players. Last night he fielded a poor team, but the three huge games coming up were clearly weighing on his mind. If we have another poor season, I think only then will the chequebook genuinely come out, but not before. I have the feeling we may have to endure another hard season, in order that Arsene can finally start to separate the wheat from the chaff, and continue his re-building process.

My one piece of advice to Arsene: buy a thug. Buy a new Grimandi. Buy someone to protect your artists, to give our team some respect among our opponents. After all, all artists need their patrons, as it were.

Dig in - this season may not be pleasant. A third place finish will be an achievement , but one, due to the general mediocrity of teams aside from ManU and Che£sea, which is probably achievable. A win against the Spuds would be a good, and almost mandatory, start.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, the Fulham game was different in that it seemed Arsenal were legitimately outplayed. It was no fluke.

There's too much pressure on you guys. Anything but a trophy is a disappointment. Enjoy the third place you will almost inevitably wind up with. There are 17 teams that would love to be you.

radgoon said...

excellent article and aside from your point that Edu had to go, I am in complete agreement.

I especially echo your sentiments that we need to buy a thug. For me, Joey Barton is the ideal choice. Young, english, gets goals, takes great corners and is a nasty despicable thug. Just what this team needs on evenings such as Bolton or Fulham.

I also thing Gilberto's time must have surely run out. He, as you say, is playing well within his comfort zone and it is not good enough. With Flamini, Song and Denilson I can't really blame him for feeling comfortable but am just preying that Diaby and especially Lauren, will give him a run for his money.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately it will be sweet and sour this season. We need a lift asap. I just wish we could beat Spurs. I'm so ashamed I cannot beat my chest and say we would not lose against Spurs. I can feel it. It makes me sad because I can't just see how we'll beat Spurs with the current spirit. Everyone's on a downwer, even the players.

Low confidence makes players even more tired.

Anonymous said...

In the hurly burly of the pl you need thugs as well as artists. Trouble is we have too many artists who will jump out of a tackel.
One more thing .Teams have already known that to stop the gunners from playing their natutal game get stuck in like Bolton .I don't see Chelsea having a problem with
the walrus team and could have won by more than a single goal.
Lose this Saturday's game and you can be sure the fans will scream for AW's head.

Anonymous said...

Spot on. I dont think Arsene can be blamed. I would have thought the one thing he was determined to prevent last night was yet another early goal conceded in the first half. And the team let in 2 in 20 minutes. This was a gutless display and the players need to take responsibility. Even Kolo is having a very half hearted season. Flamini is bloddy useless. Let's hope we can tempt Sid Sidwell back to the club. To think a very average Man Utd can compete with Chelsea makes me think we missed a great chance this season.

Anonymous said...

You are right we do need a thug but also a leader. Since Adams Vieira have left we have not had a player of that type. Too many players want to play the pretty stuff without winning the right to play. Team has no resiliance,to soft, no pressure on certain players ie Henry and Silva. No guarantee that Lauren or Diaby who is unproven will come back from such serious injuries. Wenger has been guilty of over indulging players and is starting to get on my nerves with his whinging about fixtures,chelsea,managers overcelebrating etc instead of addressing the problems of his own team. We have had problems with teams like Bolton etc for at least the last 2 seasons and he still has not addressed these problems and until he does we can best hope for is 3rd place.

Anonymous said...

We need to buy in Jan or we're fucked, even though we ain't got Russian mafia money we need to spend 20 mil I think.

Anonymous said...

I think some of you guys are beginning to take your eye off the ball. In all but one of the pl games so far this season we outplayed and outfought the opposition. Our problems were that we conceded early, usually from set pieces and we did not convert hatfuls of chances some of them missed on the line.

The Fulham game was different because we fielded a weakened side and Song and Flamini looked lost in the first half. But again we conceded early from a set piece. Second half we looked better and for about twenty minutes it looked like we were going to pull it off. Had TH's goal been allowed we would have equalised and I think Fulham would have collapsed.

In the Fulham game the one thing that was noticeable is that players were not jumping out of tackles or being outmuscled so I am not sure where this so-called 'thug' would contribute. Song was too slow for Boa Morte and Flamini had forgotten how to play left back and let Radzinski go. In fact one missing ingredient for the first half was a lack of cohesion and our passing was unusually woeful. TH looked very quiet and perhaps his sciatica is the cause. The slightly worrying thing is that the root causes of sciatica are not trivial. He needs to rest until it is sorted out. But a 'thug'? And an English 'thug'? Are you sure? AS far as competition for Gilberto is concerned - Diaby should be back in January and Denilson is coming through and we already have Baptista beginning to adapt.

Back to the two root problems - defending corners needs to be improved through training and better organisation. This is what Wenger means when he says that games are too close together - he does not have time to sort these problems out with the team. In terms of organisation - although he is a good keeper, Jens positioning and actions at corners is woeful and I don't think he knows what he wants from his defenders. He shouts at them but they look confused. If he spent a little more time concentrating instead of instilling a sense of panic we might not have conceded three really crucial goals. Making him captain would be an absolute, copper-bottomed, full-on disaster in my humble opinion.

In terms of our own goals - they will come. If Thierry is carrying an injury then we need to allow RvP to play centre forward or to create a playing partnership with Adebayor. I reckon that 4-4-2 is best for this but who knows?

btw if we get third and a cup what is wrong with that? Please God not with Joey Barton in the side though.

Goonerboy said...

No, we need an Essien type player. Just someone to actually provide some leadership in midfield if nothing else. Diaby may be the player to step into this role, but who knows how he'll recover from such a bad injury at such an early age? And how long will we have to wait for Baptista to come good? And in what position?

And the fact we fielded a weakened side is emblematic of our problems: players are playing in Premiership matches who are not good enough to play for the club. Our squad isn't good enough at the moment; the point of my article was to question whether this was because we have a team which is still growing into a decent one, or whether because, actually, too many of them are simply not good enough, and will never really develop. At the moment, Denilson should be given a chance, because he can't be any worse than Song or Flamini in centre-mid.

Henry will play tomorrow, even if he shouldn't. He'll at least come on at h-t.

And can I also say that I hadn't read Georgie G's comments before I wrote this, as what he said - going on what Arseblog reported - seems to be quite similar to my contentions.

Anonymous said...

Please, please don't look to George Graham for answers, and not to ANR quoting George Graham quoted by another hack.

The Fulham game was winnable even with 10 men for most of the second half.

If you honestly believe that the team can only succeed by having an Essien type player, then you must believe that we are doomed to failure because AFC are not going to spend that sort of money and neither should they, because we have a more extensive squad than we have had for ages. Baptista has hardly played for us yet, and he will get much better.

I know you think that I am wildly optimistic but you just have to watch and wait. The answers to your questions will come from this squad and Arsene Wenger, a very modern manager, and not George Graham and the old boys. Thank God.

We have to get behind the team and help them through it not keep crying out to buy, restructure, change the manager when we have a bad patch. Please don't add to the campaign against young Alex Song he may get there and he may not ...but certainly not when people are baying for his blood.

Anonymous said...

Tomorrow Lennon will give our backs a hard time so lets hope they have improved abd have been studying how to win tackles. When Lauren is back we should try Eboue in midfield hes fast and could become a winger it has happened before, otherwise Lauren could play midfield like he did for Mallorca.I think Jol has bought some players wisely at Tottenham this year,Chimbonda is a tough back and Zilorah ios amin Viera we could have used both of them instead of wasting money on Song, and Adebayore.Ferguson has done it agian getting Larson on loan he would have been ideal for us to bring on a sub instead of Adebayore, as has been said we could finish third or fourth just because all the other 17 teams are inconsistent.

Anonymous said...

i disagree on your comment about baptista.i have yet to see him outmuscle anywhere.he has not been playing well.but there a difference between outmuscle and not playing well. sheva cost 30mil and ballack will be paid 30mil and they both been horible with many chelsea fan wanting them out.what it shows is that even world class player takes time to adapt.remember essien last season.he was poor but he has been probably the best player in the prem this season.we have class all we need is a little more physicality which we have but unfortunately they are either injured(lauren,diabby) or out of form(baptista,ade)

Anonymous said...

what more let give credit where it is due.fulham was on fire(boa morte,bouba diop)and on the night any team would have struggled(remember chelsea last season) craven cottage is a fortress and was responsible for fulham remaining in the prem last season.what more i like how they play(positive attacking football) and chris coleman a cool guy.however this doe not excuse our poor performance.

arsenalist said...

I think people should be a little more critical of Henry's performance vs. Fulham.

He was lackadaisical at times and didn't have an impact on the game like one would expect after a crushing defeat at Bolton.

Whatever Adebayor is doing isn't working. I propose giving all his minutes to either Walcott or Baptista.