Tuesday, December 23, 2008

With Cesc's injury, if Arsenal don't buy they will not qualify for the Champions League next season.

I did wonder when I first heard the news whether the injury would be worse than first feared. The words 'knee' and 'ligaments' rarely equate to weeks; months are usually the order of the day, especially given our medical department. So it was no surprise to find out today that Cesc has been ruled out for the next four months, undoubtedly missing our Champions League encounters with Roma.

So, what's happened to our midfield? The midfield that took us to the top of the table last year was Hleb, Flamini, Cesc, Rosicky. Rosicky, unsurprisingly, soon became injured and I have my doubts about whether he'll ever play for the club again. Flamini messed us around over his contract all year and screwed us over at the eleventh hour, in an entirely predictable turn of events, to join the rossonieri. And Hleb buggered off to Barca.

So of a midfield that could have won trophies, some of them probably won't play for us again this season (wait and see Cesc and Rosicky's injuries suddenly extend when they're due back) and others no longer play for the club at all.

And what have we been left with? A mix of mediocrity, dross and alleged potential. We have Denilson who is neither good nor bad; Song who has the potential to be a good holding midfielder, in about five years time; and Diaby who infuriates far more than he pleases with his multitude of touches and spins and dopiness.

Added to that we have Eboue (no comment), Nasri who, hopefully, will pick up less injuries and start contributing a bit more consistently to games, and the kids: Ramsey, Wilshere, Vela, Randall, Merida, etc. Should we really be in a situation when we're relying on 16/17/18 year olds to come in and make an immediate impression? I don't think so.

Ultimately then, our midfield isn't good enough; and I don't think it'll massively improve in the short-term. As such, we're in real danger of coming 5th or worse this season, unless we get some proven talent into the squad.

This entire situation was entirely predictable when we lost players and didn't replace them, or, more to the point, replaced them inadequately. How many times do we have to say it? Losing Flamini, Hleb, Gilberto, and Diarra, hoping Cesc can play every game in a season, and relying on Diaby, Denilson and Song to step up and do a job is pure foolishness. Our midfield was perilously weak already, and just became, perhaps, fatally weaker.

We need players who come in and do a job now
not later. Not young players from the French and African leagues; experienced players, perhaps even from the, wait for it, Premiership.

We could spend £30 million in the transfer window and get our season back on track. Buying 2 or 3 players for £10m each can only improve the squad. Or we could continue to put our faith in this hodge-podge of mediocrity and potential and hope for the best.

What's even more galling is that with a slightly better squad we would be top of the what's been a very poor league this season. The other clubs in the top four are stuttering, and yet we've not taken advantage of this at all.

So, here it is: merry Christmas Arsene and Arsenal fans everywhere.

Let's hope Arsene brings some presents or it could be a bleak new year.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Arsenal won't win a match in which Diaby-Denilson-Song all start in midfield.

It was a bit of a rubbish game, all in all. Some nice early passing yielded little, with Diaby blasting wide when he should have passed to Ade, then shooting straight at the keeper when he was played in himself.

But, we took the lead from a Fabregas-Adebayor corner combination, and it looked like things actually might go our way; until Jeremie 'I only score against Arsenal' Alililliliadiere scored after sloppy defending from Clichy, Song, and Gallas.

After that, aside from a Stuart Downing effort, we dominated, but with little reward. Robin van Persie continued to show his 'enigmatic side', shall we say, by missing a host of easier chances than the two he put away against Chelsea a few weeks ago. Consistently inconsistent, at least, which I suppose just makes him a player who consistently can't produce the goods week-in, week-out.

It was all rounded off by Bendtner blasting the ball straight at Turnball, when Adebayor was practically waiting in the area with a ten-foot billboard above his head which said 'IF YOU PASS TO ME I WILL SCORE'. It certainly didn't smell of team spirit.

So, what does this match tell us?

Firstly that, again, Arsene is fantasising when he talks about us finishing in first place. This will not happen, despite the fact that if we were even a little bit better we could be making a real fist of it this year. United, Chel$ea and Pool all dropped points this weekend but we made up no ground on them. Just think, if we'd beaten Stoke, Hull and Fulham we'd now be top of the league. Really think about that for a minute. We're not first now, and without major signings, we won't be first come May.

Secondly, when any three of Diaby-Denilson-Song-Eboue start in midfield for us, we will not win. There is a chance, although with every week I watch them I wonder how great this chance is, that these players might make it and turn into great players, but at the moment they are neither offensively nor defensively strong enough to boss games. They are a sea of dross with the island of Fabregas's quality floating among them. His face after the game said a thousand words about what he thinks about the quality that surrounds him at present.

Thirdly, that, without signings, this is our level. Maybe a draw in the north-east is a good result for a team which is realistically aiming for fourth, not first place.

Lastly, Arsene's post-match comments are getting weirder and weirder. To say that it was a good result because 'we might have lost this game at the beginning of the season' is to imply that he knew how weak our squad was in September; which may well have been the case, but simply shows he failed to do his job over the summer of constructing a squad strong enough to compete for the league this year.

So, all we can do is crawl through to January where reinforcements have to come in. Because if not, we are looking at fifth place.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Ebooing has been a long-time coming, and was a reflection of a wider malaise amongst fans.

The Ebooing has been a long time coming, and it was evidence of wider problems.

In other circumstances we’d be talking about how the team had managed to dig out an unconvincing win, much like the one which opened the season against west brom. We scored early, had a few chances to clinch the match, let the opposition work their way back into the contest, and in the end were largely reliant on the other team’s deficiencies in front of goal, rather than our own strengths, to see the game out.

But the incident which dominated the game, and discussions of it subsequently, was Eboue’s performance, substitution and the reaction to both.

When Nasri went down injured, in many ways Eboue was the logical choice. He was the only one on the bench with any real premiership experience, and does offer a degree of defensive solidity. Those questioning why Wilshere, Ramsey or Vela didn’t come on in this situation are probably underestimating how close the game was when Nasri went off. Ironically, Arsene probably wanted to protect his real youngsters from being over-exposed to a potentially precarious situation.

This goes somewhat against Arsene’s own statements about how much he trusts these youngsters, and also against the fact that Ramsey has looked better than Denilson, Diaby and Eboue in the appearances he’s made so far this year.

Even given the fact he’d been out for 5 weeks, and that he was being played out of position on the left, Eboue’s subsequent performance was one of awesome ineptitude. He gave the ball away repeatedly, drifted around the pitch at leisure, and offered nothing going forward. His performance was capped by a tackle on Kolo Toure and an instinctive cross-field pass to the Wigan midfield.

Now, anyone who’s watched Eboue play regularly over the last couple of years will not have been surprised by this. Eboue, at best, is a half-decent link player: he can spread the ball sideways and backwards over a fairly short/medium distance. He doesn’t score goals; he doesn’t make too many tackles; he doesn’t have a huge range of passing, let alone that of a ‘pass-master’ as Arsene once bizarrely stated; nor is he anything like Ray Parlour, neither in ability nor effort, to whom Arsene once compared him.

So, his performance, though awful, was the culmination of 3 years of overwhelmingly awful performances.

This in itself probably wouldn’t have led to booing – I don’t really remember Justin Hoyte getting booed for a catalogue of errors last season.

No, Eboue was booed for his attitude; or, at least, the attitude he emits when he’s on the field. The Eboue who dives; who rolls around feigning injury, even when we’re losing; who acts like opposing players are his best friends; who shows no tactical discipline, wandering around up the field and out of position, leaving our flanks exposed; the one who ambles around like he hasn’t got a care in the world. The one, in short, who doesn’t play with a respect for the standards Arsenal fans have for their players.

When his number came up on Saturday, a large section of the crowd showed that they’d had enough of Eboue. It was a cry against the seemingly unthreatened mediocrity in the squad at the moment, and against players who don’t seem to understand what football and Arsenal means to the thousands of fans who follow the team every week.

It was also a cry against Wenger for allowing the situation to come to this. Wenger clearly sees something in Eboue, but how many other people do? No matter how badly he plays, no matter what he does on the field, he always seems to keep his place in the squad or the team. Thankfully, we now have sagna at RB, but Eboue is still too often played to a negligible or even detrimental effect. Eboue has put so many awful performances over the years that it was a cry at Wenger to see what the majority of Arsenal fans have realised: that Eboue isn’t good enough to play for the club.

But he’s one of a handful of players, to my mind, which encapsulate the mediocrity at the club at the moment. Denilson, shoved out on the right, hasn’t impressed this season, yet one gets the impression that Arsene will persist with him come the new year, instead of buying the defensive midfielders and wide-players we’re crying out for. Diaby keeps on being given chances, despite offering little in return. Alex Song seems to be improving, but is too young and inconsistent to be regularly anchoring our midfield, at least at this stage in his career, to my mind.

Arsene has fed us a series of great players and teams over the years, but now he seems to be too stubbornly attached to a collection of players, especially midfielders, who would have got no-where near his earlier title winning sides. At the moment, Cesc is an island of quality in a sea of dross, and it seems inconceivable that we could not have added more quality to the midfield over the summer. In many ways, therefore, the booing was a rejection of Arsene’s current policy of persisting with an ostensibly untouchable collection of youths at the club, which has failed to produce a team capable of winning silverware for too long a period of time, given the club’s resources.

Moreover, Arsenal fans are shelling out some of the highest ticket prices in the world for a team which costs a pittance to construct. If Arsene’s not going to actually buy expensive players, then fine, but shouldn’t this be represented in the cost of tickets? At the moment Arsenal supporters are being treated like customers of a business by the club, who then act shocked when they don’t behave like fans.

So my reaction to the booing is equivocal. I’m not going to say the behaviour of those who booed was acceptable, because supporters should back the club whenever and wherever possible. But when fans are charged a fortune to watch an obstinate manager continue to play someone like Eboue, despite all the evidence pointing to the fact he is a poor player who embarrasses the club with his antics, don’t be surprised if things turn a little nasty. Football is an emotional game; sometimes emotions spill over.