Thursday, October 30, 2008

Immaturity, bad substitutions and embarassement: Wenger doesn't have a league-winning squad.

I can't remember exactly who it was, but for argument's sake let's say its Cesc, as I'm pretty sure it was him.

You're 4-3 up against your biggest rivals, who've just pulled a goal back to bring themselves back into contention with about a minute or so to go. You have the ball near the half-way line. Do you

a) play a short pass to a team mate to maintain possession.

b) put your head down and try and run toward the corner flag.

c) try an ambitious cross-field pass to a player who's won bugger all in the air all night, which has a high chance of being intercepted, and which will lose your team possession, even though you only have to maintain it for about 90 more seconds.

We all know what the answer is. And for all Arsene's talk about how we were 'too negative' at 4-2, and should have pushed on for the 5th goal, I'd say exactly the opposite. We were immature, again. We couldn't professionally close-out a game we were, ostensibly, comfortably leading, again. We started celebrating before the final whistle, again.

When we threw that lead away against Liverpool, you thought some of the players might have realised that it's not over til the final whistle. Yet we had RvP doing party tricks with twenty minutes to go, and Alex Song coming on with a huge sloppy grin across his face. We had Cesc push Sagna away when he came over to try and keep the ball penned into the corner flag through a short-corner.

And we had the same disruptive substitutions. Maybe the reason for our negativety, Arsene, was that you took three attacking players on, and put 2, if not 3, mainly defensive players on.

Why not replace Ade, who'd done bugger all apart from score, with Bendtner, a player who could hold up play and keep the ball in the opposition half. Why not unleash Vela against tired Spud legs?

Instead, we had the chuckle brothers - Diaby and Eboue - come on, who didn't even seem to know where they were meant to be playing. And Song, who usually takes a while to get into the match, again shoved into an unfamiliar position.

Just like Birmingham away last season, we put on the wrong players, started to invite pressure on ourselves, and lost control of a game we were cruising. What does Theo have to do to finish 90 minutes?

Some of this shows the problems in the squad - we have too many journeymen players who can play anywhere without playing well. Eboue, after a brief moment of starting to look good at the start of the season, is back to his old tricks, strolling round the park like he doesn't have a care in the world. No-one knows where to play Diaby, and Song is a CB or Defensive CM, nothing else.

But there are greater problems with the squad. Even if Denilson played well yesterday, him and Cesc don't work as a partnership. He's not defensive enough, nor all-action enough. With Flamini playing yesterday, we would have walked the game. It's not a coincidence that Arsenal have started to conceded so many long-range shots, or goals resulting from them, this season, when we have no-one closing down the space between defence and attack. Sort it out Arsene - even you should know that if you lose three defensive midfielders in a season, and replace them with kids, it won't work.

So we have a hole at the heart of the team; and we also have instability at the back.

Almunia has done well this season, but should never have let in the first, and made a complete hash of the second. Clichy, outstanding all season, also had a 'Birmingham moment'. Let's hope he's not making a habit of them. Finally, do we have any working centre-back combinations? I can't think of any.

So, it's as you were. The game confirmed to me that we have players who need to be told to stop being so cocky - at least until they win something. That we have a team that can blow a lead against almost any team. That we can concede goals as easily as we can score them. That our goalkeeper isn't awful, but isn't as good as he should be. And that the failure to adequately recruit in central midfield will cost us the league this season.

This year will be about a cup run, if it's about anything. Last night made clear that inconsistent, immature, arrogant teams don't win league trophies.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I'm back, but what to make of Arsenal's season thusfar?

Hello again. If you're wondering why I haven't been blogging, try moving from Scotland to London to Paris, with a trip to the US throw in, in the space of about a month. busy, busy, busy.

And a lot has happened since Bolton away.

I was there at both the Hull and Everton games, saw the Sunderland game, but only caught the highlights of the Fenerbache and West Ham matches. And here is what I make of it all.

This season's blip was meant to be at Fulham, but it's clear that with our squad we're going to struggle in quite a few matches this season. Matches in which Denilson, Song and Diaby can't impose themselves will see the rest of the team struggle. I thought this would happen only against the bigger teams but as Hull, Fulham, and even Sunderland have shown, our midfield can be overrun and we can be shut down by almost anyone, especially if Arsene insists on playing a 4-5-1 which congests the midfield and reduces our attacking threat in any case. Against Hull, we looked hopeless and a bit overconfident, against a hungry side who wanted to win far more than we did.

Moreover our defence still hasn't found its balance, but Silvestre might turn out to be a half-decent signing. Against Everton, seeing one of defenders do the no-nonsense stuff well - winning headers, hacking the ball clear - was a joy at times. No letting the ball soar over our heads, or seeing Gallas or Toure try to dribble from defence was very nice. But it's still hard to see how it all fits together. Will either Song or Silvestre actually displace Toure or Gallas? I'm not so sure, especially, as the hopelessly imbalanced starting line-up against Everton showed, Arsene can be his own worst enemy when it comes to picking the team .

But, we've done well to get three wins in the last week or so. A dire first half gave way to a very exciting second against Everton where we seized the initiative with some panache. The game against Fenerbache saw our attacking players star, but our defenders again made to look a bit out of sorts.

So keeping a clean sheet, and winning against West Ham was important, a game in which the importance of Adebayor to the team was hammered home.

But what to make of our season so far? Where is it going? It's too early to really say anything, but we can only afford to lose one, possibly two more games over the course of the whole of the rest of the season if we're serious about winning the league.

I don't think this will happen. We should have won it last year, and I don't think the team is as strong as last season, even if our squad could be with a few more central midfielders.

I actually think that our best hope comes in one of the cup competitions, where we can motivate ourselves for one big game at a time. If anything, the season has reminded me of the 2005/6 season a bit - inconsistent in the league, mixed with impressive CL performances.

The other matter to be resolved is why the club still hasn't appointed a new CEO or CFO. The club can't afford to lose executives and not replace them. Not having a seasoned negotiator in the transfer market may have cost us a few transfers this past summer.

So, I'm still not completely out of hopes, but I think this season may be a bit tough. If the team can find consistency after its early season bump, the league still might be an option, but as it is, cups might be the real source of hope this year.