Sunday, November 23, 2008

Six things Arsenal can do to get out of this crisis.

I said after the Man United game that that win had to be the start of something bigger. It was, but unfortunately not in the manner we all had hoped for.

The club is now in crisis; it's as simple as that. Some might say that they'd quite like to be in a crisis like ours: still in all major competitions, and only 1 point away from securing champions league qualification again.

But that is not enough for fans who pay the highest ticket prices in Europe and deserve better than hollow promises about 'potential', nor for a club which has a massive stadium debt to be repaid and which, with the resources it has available to it, should have achieved more in the last few years.

So what can be done?

1) Don't blame Gallas for everything.

Yes, gallas made some exceedingly stupid comments recently. And, really he hasn't been the best captain in the club's history.

But until the Birmingham game last year, his captaincy appeared to be an inspired move by Wenger, as he scored crucial goals against his old club, the mancs and wigan and took us to the top of the table. All that ended during that horrible day in Birmingham.

It is wholly incorrect to lay the blame for the current fiasco at his door. He is still best central defender at the club and if he can swallow his ego, it'd be nice to think he could stay on, so we don't lose yet more experience from the side. If his ego continues to be a problem, however, it's time to go.

2)Make Arsene realise Arsenal is not a crèche.

Arsene's goal of taking a group of youngsters and developing them into a team was highly laudable; a beacon of decency, perhaps, in a footballing elite otherwise ruled almost absolutely by money.

But it hasn't worked. The plan would only have worked if players stayed on, year-in, year-out. But players have left and haven't been replaced, and we now have a wholly inadequate midfield, a patchy defence, and a misfiring attack.

I said before the game yesterday that if a midfield of Diaby-Song-Denilson-Nasri started, we wouldn't win, and we'd be lucky not to lose. That is a team of inexperience and inadequacy. Of the four only 1, Nasri, has showed anything to make me believe they will make it to be a top player.

Song is too lazy and over-confident; Diaby is lazy, offers no defensive-bite, and has but a few tricks to his name. Denilson might be a good squad player but is not good enough to be either a holding midfielder or a creative playmaker.

We need new central midfielders. This was clear in August. It was clear the minute we lost Flamini, Gilberto and Diarra. I don't care if these player's careers are 'killed', as Arsene puts it, if new blood is brought in. The club, not their career, is the most important thing.

3) If older players aren't good enough, get ones who are.

Robin van Persie. There's no denying the skill or the talent. But where's the consistency? Where's the work-rate, the off-the ball effort? Where's the ability to use anything but his bloody left-foot? At Eastlands he went missing, again. He increasingly appears as a luxury player in a team that can't afford luxuries, at the moment.

Almunia. Still not good enough. The mere thought of this pile of mediocrity being made captain astounds me. Two penalty saves in two years don't make up for all the saves he should have made, or for all the balls he should have claimed in the air.

Eboue. Another good start to a season; another reversion to type. Get gone.

Toure. I still think he has a future at the club but he should not be starting at the moment and that's worrying.

4) Buy in January; buy in the summer.

Given that rosicky and eduardo have been out for so long, it is perhaps justifiable to say that they will be like two new signings when they return, if they can reach recapture any of their previous form.

But we need another big, tall, centre-back (NOT SENDEROS). We need 1 if not two central midfielders. We could also do with a wide player, given theo's injury and eboue/Diaby as the alternative.

3-4 players need to get into the squad then, and 2-3 which can start contributing almost immediately. If this means paying top-dollar for premier-league players to do this, so be it. We have the money.

5) Wenger has til the end of next season to prove he can still challenge for silverware.

Wenger fucked up this summer. Intentionally, or through an inability to get transfer targets, he's left our squad in the shit.

We're not going to win the league this season, and we only have an outside shot at the Champions League. A FA Cup win, at this rate, would be a nice little bauble to get some good feeling going in the club.

But, if there are no trophies by the end of last season, and Arsene is still stubbornly sticking to youth over buying, his position has got to come under review.

6) Appoint a new CEO and end the take-over speculation.

The CEO is a no-brainer. Arsene needs someone to reign him in, and to help him get transfer targets. If Arsene doesn't like that, he needs to be told to put up and shut up. The club is in disarray at the moment both off and on the field, as we have no leadership in either area.

The speculation surrounding the club has to end. Either the fat Russian twat or the moustachioed American slightly less of a twat needs to buy or sell.

So, there you have it. None of these steps will be easy, but something has to give at the club at the moment. Because otherwise we may not qualify for the CL this season, let alone challenge for the title.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Will Tomas Rosicky ever play for Arsenal again? Will he ever play again?

Some disturbing news from just before tonight's game:

Routine surgery for what? What injury is he recovering from now? The one he picked up in January which was meant to rule him out for only three weeks? Or the subsequent one, which was only diagnosed very late on, as several unsuccessful come-backs. I think one of his tendons had detached from his knee-cap, if I remember correctly, although so many conflicting statements have come out about Tomas's health, it's hard to know what's going on. Take the Czech doctor, who's claimed Tomas has been badly treated (in terms of expertise, not negligence) by Arsenal medical staff. Then there was also the story that Rosicky's muscles hadn't developed properly in his legs when he was young, making him more prone to injury. He even had his wisdom teeth taken out at some point as part of an effort to improve his overall health.

At the start of the season, he seemed to be still in Arsene's plans, but I'm beginning to wonder.

Pretty early on, when Rosicky's 'imminent return' kept on being delayed I said to my friends that Eduardo would play for Arsenal again before Rosicky.

I stand by that statement, but I would now add a rejoinder: I'm beginning to doubt whether Tomas will ever play football at a serious level again.

I sincerely hope he does, because he could certainly help bolster a young squad with his considerable talents. Yet I wonder if the signing of Nasri, and the fact Nasri has taken up a position on the left, make's him as much a replacement for Rosicky than Hleb.

At best, any involvement from Tomas should certainly be taken as a bonus this season.

Let's hope we see him in Arsenal colours again, but maybe it's time to really start fearing the worst.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

An epic win, but it needs to be the start of something bigger.

I suppose, given how roundly Arsenal had been written off this week in the media and blogosphere, that a win was nigh on inevitable on Saturday. It was a game which confirmed something evident about Arsene's Arsenal in the last few seasons: they can beat any team in Europe in a one-off match.

Things went our way in the game which haven't in other matches recently. Despite cutting open our defence on several occasions early on, Carrick and Rooney, surprisingly given his propensity to score against us, both missed the target when presented with fairly decent chances.

We, by contrast, not only showed a willingness to have a punt from long-range, but even managed to score from one. There was definitely a whiff of the Lampard-deflection-goal-machine in evidence for Nasri's first, but that's what you want to see in that situation. Hitting a ball into a crowded penalty box may result in it bouncing pinball style into the net; it's certainly worth a go every now and again.

There was no luck to Nasri's second effort though. The goal was just about a good a one as you'll see. Too often wonder goals are thought to be those like Bentley's against us - a lucky, if spectacular, hit and hope. To work the ball in the way we did before the goal was superb, and Nasri's finish was emphatic.

The boy is, clearly, pretty good. He may not have the box of tricks that Hleb had when it comes to dribbling. But he works hard, can beat players, can pass the ball to the level required in the side, and isn't afraid to have a shot. That's 4 goals he's scored now in less than 3 months. Hleb barely managed over 10 in 3 years. Ultimately, I think Sammy has that one quality Hleb lacked - bottle.

Samir's goal was followed by possibly the defining moment of the match. Park Ji-Sung floated a ball into the box, and Ronaldo volleyed wide from inside the 6-yard box. If the ball had gone in, I would have bet on United getting at least a point from the match. As it was, the miss seemed to emphasise it wouldn't be United's day.

Not that Howard Webb wasn't trying to help them as much as he could. A series of bizarre decisions in United's favour was capped by him turning down our penalty appeal when Nasri was hauled over in the area. It wasn't a huge tug, but it was enough, and if we'd gone 3 up at that stage, the remaining twenty minutes would have been a lot more comfortable.

As it was, we had to endure a series of rather meandering United attacks, capped by subsitute Rafael's superb volley to bring United back into the game with 6 minutes of injury time left to play.

Yet, we held out and deserved the points.

A lot of people have talked about how thrilling the game was, and I would say it was one of the best games I've ever seen.

What to make of it all is harder to say.

We played the much maligned 4-5-1, and this seemed to get the best out of Diaby and Denilson. Diaby marauded around to great effect in an attacking central midfield role without, perhaps, creating as much of a threat as he could have done. Denilson stroked the ball around well, and kept things ticking over, without really presenting the type of defensive bite we still need in the middle of the park.

Bendtner worked hard, and kept Ferdinand and Vidic on the back foot for most of the game; certainly no mean feat. His profligacy probably stemmed from the fact this was his first start in a game of this magnitude. He will get better.

The defence also seemed to work. Silvestre and Gallas would now appear to be our first choice CB pairing and it's hard to argue with that given Toure's disastrous recent drop in form. Silvestre seems to have improved the defence with his height and aerial expertise, showing just how weak we were in that department before.

Almunia made some excellent saves, yet still doesn't command his area, and his distribution can be erratic. His injury, the result of a very brave attempt to grab the ball from Carrick's foot, was the result of him spilling the ball from one of the few times he came out to try and claim the ball from a cross or corner.

So what has the game really taught us? That this team can beat the very best put in front of it; that we may have found a new CB partnership; that we would still be improved by a greater deal of bite in midfield; that Diaby has to play in the middle; that Nasri might just be a really great signing.

But does it show that the team are title contenders again? I'm not sure. If we haven't lost any more games before January, and remain within 3-6 points of the top, then maybe. But we need signings in the window even if that is the case, if we are going to really build on yesterday's result. In any case, it's nice to be proud of the team, and for Arsene to get some praise.

Friday, November 07, 2008

A win to paper over the cracks? Or a defeat to end the great experiment?

I don't normally like writing previews because I'm almost invariably proved wrong. That may sound a little arrogant, but once you start watching a certain level of football you like to think that you know what's going on.

So I think tomorrow's going to go one of two ways.

Arsenal may well lose heavily. Thankfully, I think the 6-1 was a one-off, we must have angered God in some way, moment of absolute awfulness. But the result which sticks in my mind equally is the 4-2 drubbing we received in 04/05 at Highbury. Whilst we took the lead in that game, some choice refereeing by Graham Poll(and let's not forget the equally awful Howard Webb is in charge tomorrow), and a couple of goals by a still emerging Ronaldo helped put pay to our title challenge that year.

In 2005 we had a great team on the way out; this year, we have a great team on the way in, if we're to believe Arsene.

The problem is, some of them just aren't that great; and, as painful as it may be to contemplate, I'm not sure they will become world-class. Players like Denilson, Song, Diaby, and Eboue just appear too erratic and, possibly, pampered to push on to really become the bedrock of a winning squad, let alone a first XI.

This could be extended to others in the team. Almunia - is he really good enough? Gallas and Silvestre - should they really be the future of our defence? Two players that other top-four sides have considered surplus to requirements?

It seems that we have a few really great players - Cesc, Sagna, Clichy – and a few who could go either way - Adebayor, van Persie, Nasri, and Theo. Aside from that, there’s a huge amount of filler in our squad, and that’s why we’re not going to challenge for the league this season, although a topsy-turvy Champions League run remains a possibility.

When you compare this to the United squad, who not only didn’t lose any significant players of the summer, but added a £30 million striker to their league and Champions league winning team, it’s hard to see how there can be any comparison.

But a one-off game can produce any result. And we beat United twice in 06/07, despite them having a far stronger team and a better season than us. And United aren’t stupid enough to think that they can pitch up at the Grove and walk a result there, even against a team which has lost to Stoke, Hull, and Fulham already this season, and which conceded four goals in its last league match at home. They may start cautiously, which could play into our hands.

So, there’s a chance that if we can frustrate United for long enough, a 1-0, or a 2-1 could be on the cards.

Let’s hope the latter happens – it’s certainly what a disciplined Pool side did against United a few weeks back. But if it does happen, let’s hope it’s not a win which papers over the cracks, which masks the deficiencies in the first xi and the squad this season. If we don’t strengthen in January, we will not win anything this season, regardless or not of whether we get a result tomorrow.

Flamini hasn’t been replaced, you could plausibly argue that neither has Sol, and we’re still short of the additional quality on top of that which cost us the league last year. Unfortunately, whether we win or lose tomorrow, the squad is still not good enough.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A rubbish formation, predictable goals, and Arsene's chickens come home to roost.

Well if Wednesday's game was an embarrassment, this was just pitiful. Arsenal were outplayed by a team that have laid bare their incredibly basic gameplay strategy on numerous occasions already this season, without so much as a whimper or much of an idea of how to get the better of them.

It's a shame that Clichy's first goal for the club will, and probably should, be forgotten in the midst of all this, but this was just about as bad a performance as we've seen in the Wenger era.

What have Stoke done several times already this season? Scored from long throw ins. I believe they've done this five times already this season. And do you think they might continue to try this against us, a team that can't defend high-balls into the box? Yes, yes they did. Did we seem ready for this? Of course not.

The first goal saw Almunia, again, no-where to be seen when a high-ball was put into the area (he's cost us a handful of goals in this way already this season), and Toure simply not bothering to jump and make a straight-forward header. Given that, one decent save aside, Almunia had a poor performance all round today, will he be dropped for Fabianski? Lehmann was dropped for two mistakes in two games last season, after all.

More pertinently, this goal was entirely predictable. Entirely. Yet as soon as the ball came into the area the team acted like they had no idea whatsoever how to clear the high-ball from a throw-in. It's either poor players, poor coaching, or both.

The decline of Toure is now also become a major issue. He's becoming a liability in the box and always seems to be on the verge of a mistake. His recovery pace was always his strong point, but without a big defender next to him to do the dirty work, he looks completely exposed. Silvestre, despite an impressive debut, does not appear to be the answer either. And Djourou, inexplicably, still isn't being given a chance.

Yet the real problem, all game, was the ridiculous team selection and formation. Arsene's tactics had almost ruined things against Everton last week, and here was a formation that, from the off, clearly wasn't going to work.

Picking 4 central midfielders doesn't work, unless they have exceptional quality and discipline to stay in their designated positions. Playing Song, Denilson, Fabregas and Diaby in one midfield wasn't going to work, and didn't. We had no attacking threat, until, like against Everton, Theo came on and offered some width, speed and danger.

So, the question has to be begged, why is Arsene persisting in these bizarre formations? Does he think quality players can play anywhere? Possibly, but most of ours certainly can't. Is he so enamoured with his success of turning Flamini into a great CM that he thinks he can do the same this year? Because Denilson/Diaby/Song aren't the answer in CM next to Cesc.

So not only does our midfield have no bite, but it had 4 players tripping over each-others toes, meaning that our best midfielder, Cesc, was, again, totally wasted.

And up front we had Ade, who decided he couldn't be arsed and limped off half-way through the second-half, RvP who lost his composure and was rightly red-carded for an absurd challenge on Sorenson, and Bendtner who doesn't appear able to play with Ade.

All Arsene's chickens have come home to roost. Any Arsenal fan could have said at the start of the season that we still didn't have a dominant CB, yet this was addressed by getting rid of Senderos and replacing him with Silvestre, which doesn't appear to have improved the situation at all. That Man U were willing to let him go should have spoken volumes.

We could all tell that selling/losing all our defensive midfielders would cost the team if they weren't replaced; and yet we were greeted by Denilson, Eboue and Song now 'sureing' up our midfield.

We all knew that a major reason behind our failure to win the league last year was that our squad was too thin. Yet we have barely replaced the players (in numerical terms) that we lost last season, and did not get the extra bodies we needed in over the summer.

I'm sorry Arsene, but the experiment must end; transition has turned into stagnation.

We need a new CEO who can tell you when you're wrong.

We need experienced players, not youngsters who gain 'experience' every time they lose.

We need a defensive coach, because we keep making the same mistakes over and over again, and I'm beginning to wonder whether you can do anything about them.

The club needs a team that will challenge for honours, and justify the highest ticket prices in the Premiership, because building a team on the cheap and then charging huge fees to see it isn't fair on the average Arsenal fan.

Let's hope today is a wake-up call. But then, weren't we meant to wake-up after Hull, Fulham and the debacle on Wednesday? This could be a pivotal season in the history of the club.