Saturday, January 06, 2007

Arsenal show themselves to be a big game team at Anfield.

If it's one thing that's become abundantly clear over the last twelve months, it's that our current bunch of players do have the ability to step up and perform on the real big game occasions. We showed this in the Champions League against Madrid and Juventus, but also in the final when, considering we only had ten men, we were within a whisker of winning. More recently, our victory at Old Trafford, our draw at Stamford bridge and our home performance against Liverpool have shown we can beat the top teams. Indeed, it's been our inability to grind out performances against the teams below us in the league which have ruled us out of contention this year - something that is hopefully in the process of being remedied. Whether it's because the 'big' teams play more openly against us I don't know, but we have to find a way to beat the 'park the bus' teams.

It's been a long time since Liverpool have been beaten at Anfield; and they would have been even more up for the game considering they're holders of the cup. Thankfully, 'tinkerman' Benitez left Bellamy on the bench, a player who might have caused us some real problems. Conversely, Wenger got his tactics spot on, playing not so much a 4-4-2 as a 4-2-2-2, with Gilberto and Flamini playing as defensive midfielders, and Hleb and Rosicky roaming around in front, rather than playing as anything approaching conventional wingers.

Whisper it quietly, but today, and only today, the suspension of Fabregas may have helped. His suspension precluded Wenger from playing the Rosicky-Hleb-Fabregas midfield which has over-elaborated play so much of late. Instead, Flamini came in and had an absolute, if understated, blinder. Flamini and Gilberto were so good that they practically nullified Gerrard and Alonso - no mean feat. Perhaps there's a case for saying only two of Fab, Hleb and Tom should play if we're only going to play four in midfield? Either way, with Diaby also soon to re-emerge, I would question the logic in purchasing another central midfielder.

Beside them, Hleb and Rosicky were excellent. It's funny watching pundits, because they never directly say how good a player Hleb is. They always lump into 'Arsenal's style of play', which does him a disservice as he was instrumental in the first goal. Moreover, he tackles very well in midfield, and also very rarely gives the ball away when he's on his game like today. I wish he could gain a little more consistency, because when he's on song, he's one of the best players in Europe. It was wonderful to see Tom score two fantastic goals, both of which were long overdue. He has the ability to get the 10-15 goals a season we need to make more of a challenge for the league next year. Like Hleb, consistency is the key.

There were a few edgy moments, notably after the Liverpool goal, but its a credit to the team that they held on. And to see Thierry score his trademark 'run the length of the pitch' goal after we held out so well just about made my week. Despite having a quiet game, make no mistake, he's back. A word also for Phil Senderos who was excellent, winning the headers which most of our other defenders struggle with.

Sometimes on here - like after our defeat at Sheffield - I post a rant. After this game I hope it's clear why: the potential and the quality that the team demonstrates in games like today needs to be shown more often, because if we can find consistency, even in only one competition, we will win silverware this season.


Anonymous said...

good review. some people might till give F16 sticks though.

Anonymous said...

watched it live...

-we defended with gusto however overall didn't played well though i must say the 2 first half goals came out of the blue from counter-attack which was fine

-frankly we were playing 10 men with henry doing next to nothing for almost 80 mins; even the espn commentators mentioned this several times; the otrher one was baptista; am sorry but did he touch the ball, yet?

-fantastic 'result'; proved yet again we can win ugly and at the same time exposed how useless hoyte really has been; not that eboue was much better, from a defence perspective - it looked as though neither knew how to tackle, or simply unwilling to? eg 1st half can't remember which l'pool player but he was pulling the trigger around 15 yards out with eboue standing there and watching him took the shot and not even tried and closed in, you got to be kidding...

-senderos played relatively well getting most of the 1st ball, except of course the one that got the goal

-other than defensive/ destructive play in mid field, we hardly got anything going other than several counter; a porblem pointing to the inability to keep the ball in the middle just like the sheffield match

Anonymous said...

Thins went our way tonight but the lads played well. Apart from Eboue- he was shocking as was his playacting. Flim Flam and Bert did the no nonsense work and Rosicky and Hleb were a threat when we broke out. Ironic I thought we did what other temas tend to do to us- we soaked it up and were lethal on the break. Very satisfying to win in a different fashion.

Anonymous said...

It's good to seem some overdue praise for the oft-maligned Senderos (as well as the under-appreciated Hleb). Much was made of Drogba's few moments of dominance over a twenty year old Senderos last year but then what should now be said of the string of far more experienced Premiership and European defences being consistently made to look foolish by the Drog? We cringe at every mis-hit Senderos clearance or his occasional discomfort in possession, but what we should note is that it isn't an accident that Senderos finds himself more often than others in the position to make that (sometimes clumsy) clearance. Senderos is an intelligent, fearless boy who will reach his prime in three or four years and I believe we will be immensely grateful to Wenger for keeping faith in him.

Anonymous said...

By the way, 7 goals scored by Arsenal players and 3 by ex-Arsenal players today:

Players owned by Arsenal:

Rosicky 2 goals
Henry 1 goal
Arturo Lupoli 3 goals Derby v. Wrexham
Sebastian Larsson 1 goal Birmingham v. Newcastle

Ex-Arsenal players:

Moritz Voltz 1 goal Fulham v. Leicester
Nwanko Kanu 1 goal Portsmouth v. Wigan
Andy Cole 1 goal Portsmouth v. Wigan

Anonymous said...

I disagree with Anonymous at 9:34 on almost every point, except that it was a fantastic result. I though we played brilliantly; we played to a master plan which was spot on - not bad as so many so-called supporters slag Wenger off for his lack of tactics. The first half plan probably worked much better than even Wenger could have hoped for.

Two people I would single out for special mention are Almunia and Hoyte. I thought Eboue was a nightmare waiting to happen but Hoyte was much more assured and composed. I cannot believe that people slag this young lad off; he has huge potential. Also, it was such a relief to have a keeper who you can be confident will pick the crosses out of the air, as Almunia did tonight. Liverpool's strategy was to bombard our penalty area with crosses and Almunia threw a balnket over that tactic pretty well.

Like you said Goonerboy, all we need to do is play like that in every game!

Anonymous said...

I agree completely with Anonymous at 10.20 and Goonerboy. A great result, made possible by Wenger's excellent tactics. Whilst Liverpool had most of the possession we soaked it up and applied the sucker-punches at the right times.

Anoymous at 9.34 is wrongly picking fault with an excellent team performance; one exactly the type required for what could have been a edgy FA cup tie.

With regards to Hoyte, I felt much more confident with him on the pitch. Frankly, Eboue is becoming something of an embarrassment - falling over after he fouls someone, not to mention his defensive frailites; he switches off far too much. His attacking play is better than any other RB at the club, but personally I can't wait for a fully-fit Lauren to return, who offers the best balance between attack and defence.

Most rounded/well-thought Arsenal blog around. Good work.


Anonymous said...

As a Liverpool fan, Ive got to say, fantastic performance. At their best, Arsenal are brilliant but just need that consistency. I dont mind losing to a side with Henry in it. I hope you lot go on to win it.....

Anonymous said...

You should always play at least 2 of Hleb, Rosicky and Cesc. and when we play the more physical sides, it should be all 3. you need all 3 so that the thugs do not reach anywhere near as the ball zig zags across forward. Flamster can play in Gilberto's position.

Right now the team lacks in pace. Only henry and Walcott have it. It would be good to buy someone who can provide real pace down the flanks.

Anonymous said...

I thought our midfield barely functioned, except for the period from the build up to the 1st goal right up to half time. Disagreeing with goonerboy here, but it's because Flim Flam was playing in place of fab Fab. I do give credit to his wholeheartedness in chasing the ball down, but Flamini just doesn't do as much when off the ball as Fab does. Whenever Gilberto regained posession, and knowing that Liverpool were pressing like mad, Flamini should've tried to open up an angle for a pass a bit better instead of sticking too close to Gilberto, which made it far too easy for 'Pool to nick the ball back.

This also explains why the strikers barely got into the game, since without Fab, there's just no link between them and the rest of the team most of the time. And it's also because we were clearly playing with a flat midfield 4. All 3 goals came about when someone decided to go into the "hole" to provide the link (Rosicky for the 1st, and Thierry for the other 2). And they were all brilliant individual goals. And we know that's not always gonna happen everytime.

As for Gerrard and Xabi Alonso being nullified? They were spraying the ball out wide for fun especially in the second half, and kept the pressure on with this because we kept giving the ball back to them. Great win, but I think the game still exposes our inability to adapt to our opponents' tactics.

Anonymous said...

I thought everyone did pretty good except Eboue the clown. I would rather have Hoyte playin on right back

Anonymous said...

I believe that lam noor is misguided in thinking that Flamini did not offer any outlet going forward. He does a lot of going forward, and the number of goals he scored this season is testament to that.
The problem stemed from the fact that we were playing a very narrow 4-2-2-2.
Flamini and Silva playing as anchor in front of the flat back four.
Rosicky and Hleb play further upfield with license to roam, but they did not stay wide.
With none of our front two going wide eithr to stretch the defense, it was easy for Liverpool to intercept our pass.
Our two first goals, came because shooting was the only option the player had at the time.
Henry was anonymous for most of the game. Lazy run, stray offside, shocking behavour for a captain. His goal came when he decided to run into space vacated by Finnan. He should have done that before in the game.
Van Persie tried, but you could see that there is no more gas in the tank. The guy deserves a rest.
On the first goal, when Flamini intercepts the ball. He pass the ball to Gilberto. Gilberto makes a forward pass centrally to Rosicky, who then interplay with Hleb. If you look you will notice that nobody offered a solution on the left side. Time and time, Flamini intercepted and tried to go wide, but he could because Hleb and Rosicky had cut inside.

I had high hope for Baptista, but it looks to me like he is not going to make it. He is big and large, but does not know how to use his physical strength. He often looks like a little boy in a superman body.

Anonymous said...

Firstly valentin, the comments I made about Flamini only relate to his performance in this FA Cup tie. And about the goals he score this season - in both the Liverpool and Chelsea games in the league, we played 4-5-1 with Gilberto, Fabregas and Flamini together in the centre, which actually gave more opportunities for Flamini to get forward. But if paired solely with Gilberto, Flamini can't offer as much creatively as Fabregas, as demonstrated in the Wigan away game (when Fab came on for Flamini and provided that wonderful pass to Ade for the winner).

And, like I mentioned, the problem in that Liverpool game at the weekend was the lack of someone to make plays in the center, solved by Rosicky for the 1st goal (while Hleb still stayed wide right), and by Henry dropping deep for the rest.

I thought that in the absence of Fabregas, Wenger would've instructed one of his strikers to drop in there more often. As it is, both of them stayed pretty much along the Liverpool defensive line, and since those 2 are not well known for winning aerial balls, it was fairly easy for the defenders to marshall them.

Anonymous said...

Iam, the reason Arsenal switched from a 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1 is to accomodate Fabregas. In a 4-4-2, he is outmuscled especially if our opponent play 4-5-1.
In a 4-4-2 role, Flamini gives us a better coverage.
In a 4-5-1, Fabregas gives Arsenal a better impetus going forward, but against Liverpool Arsenal played 4-4-2.

Regarding Flamini forward passing, without reaching the level of Fabregas, his distribution can be very good, as against Charlton, the fourth goal comes from his pass to Van Persie.
I believe that in tight game when we need to shut shop and still play 4-4-2, Flamini gives Arsenal a better security at the back. His tackling and running are better than Fabregas.

In the Wigan game, he gave a couple of very good ball to Baptista who squandered them. Adebayor also missed one good chance.

In the games that Flamini played, the wide players were Baptista or Van Persie. Neither are wide players, they also like the ball at their feet rather than run into the channel and space.

Fabregas is a terrific player,but in some type of game his lack of height/muscle/grit can be liability.

I would compare Flamini with Ray Parlour with more technical ability.

Anonymous said...

Dear Blog Writer,

Nice review of the match but please don't mention anymore "we were within a whisker of winning [in last season's CL final]." Most of us agreed that the lead was due to Eboue's blatant dive. And as far as I know, no one in any blog or fan zone backed him regarding his behaviour last Sat.


Anonymous said...

Valentin, I'd rate Flamini lower than Ray. And actually lower than Grimandi too! We've seen in the latest games that Wenger is starting to be confident enough of playing 4-4-2 with a Gilberto/Fabregas centre. Adding Flamini to a 4-5-1 midfield is simply done to add numbers,not strength, which is where we have to agree is what he lacks. Yes, it's true of Fabregas too, but Fabregas has more consistency and variety in his passing.

I guess the difference in their passing contribution is this - Flamini sees a teammate open and passes to him or into space ahead of him without considering what the opponent would do, while Fabregas can see the whole play developing before even making the pass. And Flamini's pass in the Charlton game? That happened right at the death, with Charlton down to 10 men already. Against a more competent midfield, he's not gonna make much of an impression attacking-wise without Fabregas alongside him.

Diaby's most certain to be ahead of Flamini when he comes back into the squad too. I actually wouldn't mind if Flamini gets a few games as leftback again, despite what happened at Fulham.

Anonymous said...

lets hope we keep Lauren and that Ebuoe is given one more chance to mend his ways.tonight will be much harder Bellamy will be very dangwerous and I hope all the younger playes like Treore are given a chance except Song and Aladiers who need to be sold asap