Sunday, February 22, 2009

The stats don't lie: Denilson and Song were a disaster against Sunderland.

I hate to keep banging on about this, but it's hard not to, given how diabolical performances have been of late.

Our central midfield has been a disaster, and now I (well, the Guardian) can provide some statistical evidence that relying on players like Denilson and Song simply isn't acceptable.

Go to

Set it up for Arsenal, 2008-9, Sunderland, click on D Pereira Neves, then passes for the event.

You will see that Denilson did not complete one successful pass into the final third of the pitch in the entire match. In fact you will see that almost all his succesful passes were sideways ball, he had no shots on goal, and whilst he managed a rather more credible 6 tackles out of 8 attempted, his tackling stats are exactly the same as Nicklas Bendtner.

Alexandre Song, supposedly the powerhouse in our midfield, made one successful tackle in three attempts, with 5 interceptions. Again, no shots on goal, but he did actually make, incredibly, three successful passes into the final third.

Samir Nasri's passing was more dangerous, but he had no attempts on goal. That second statistic is unacceptable, I'm afraid.

What does all this prove? That Denilson and Song are not up to being a central-midfield partnership at a club which supposedly has European ambitions.

For Arsene to come out with the amount of guff, that he states in this article:

is mind-boggling.

You know why Denilson hasn't got much credit Arsene? Because he isn't very good. Not at the moment, in any case. One day he might develop in a tidy little player, but at the moment all he has is hideously over-inflated pass completion statistics from continually passing the ball sideways. We have no-one in the centre of the park at the moment who is willing, or able, to make telling, dangerous passes.

Likewise we have no bite in midfield, with barely anyone making any tackles, and only Arshavin, out of the four players who started in midfield yesterday, willing to make any attempts on goal.

So we have a central midfield that doesn't create chances, can't win the ball, and doesn't make attempts on goal.

That is why we are in fifth place at the moment Arsene. And that is why I worry when he says this about Denilson:

"I am surprised how little credit he got for what he has delivered since the start of the season. I think he has improved tactically in his first pass and physically in the challenge. He is much stronger than a year ago."

“You can see today when he makes a tackle he wins the ball. I am convinced he will be even stronger in six months.

Well, maybe. But at this rate, we're going to be in the UEFA cup in 6 months time.

For the time being, one of Denilson, Song, and Diaby has to play, but playing more than one of them at the same time is killing our season.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Arsenal's unbeaten run has become a parody of the invincible season.

There's going unbeaten, and there's looking unbeatable. These are two quite different things.

In the 2003/4 season, of course, we didn't always coast through games, but, by and large, the Arsenal team of that season played like some form of demented force of nature. It had power, pace and technique, and, had it not been two goals in a quarter- and semi-final, we should have done a double, if not a treble.

You have to move on from the past, but you can never forget moments of history like that season. A lot of people would say that comparing the current crop of players to, quite possibly, the greatest team in Arsenal history is harsh; but to what else should we compare them? We were once winners and, it seems, this is no longer the case. So, understandably, Arsenal fans want to know what's gone wrong.

Well, we've stopped scoring goals. Our recent ability to keep clean sheets - only 3 goals conceded in the last ten games - has become an irrelevance compared to the fact we can't put the ball in the net at the other end. For all that every fan hates his team to lose, two draws yields less points than a defeat and a win.

Since the Che£sea game in late November we've only scored more than once in two games - against Hull and Villa. We've now notched up 3 goal-less league games, two of which were at home against opposition we should beat if we think ourselves to be a credible force in the league, let alone a team with ambitions of a fourth-place spot and the Champions League.

The reason we're not scoring is, ultimately, the midfield. Arshavin's arrival shows that Wenger has, hopefully, realised how pedestrian we've looked in the centre of the park of late, and, if nothing else, he will hopefully confine Eboue to the bench for the foreseeable future. The Owl certainly looked bright today in the sixty minutes he was given, and had a verve and spark that we've been missing. How much he can actually contribute to this season remains to be seen.

Aside from him we have:

- Denilson, who offers nothing, going forward or back.
- Song, who loses the ball as much as he does anything with or wins it.
- Nasri, who looks wonderful one games, then goes missing the next.
- Diaby, who looks and plays like he's half-asleep.
- Eboue, who i refuse to even talk about any more.
- Vela, who's too young.
- Rosicky, Fabregas and Walcott, who are all injured.

We have no energy in that midfield to win the ball and re-distribute it. We have a surfeit of players who expect someone else to do the donkey work for them and it shows. The Engine-room of the team isn't working; we're not creating enough chances, let alone dominating matches.

It's been a rubbish season because we haven't replaced key players who left last summer. Every Arsenal fan could see that losing Diarra, Gilberto, and Flamini (and hleb) in a period of six months was a disaster if these players wern't adequately replaced. Well, they wern't. We've had absolutely dross playing in the middle of the park this year and it's finally begun to show with our latest set of results. Relying on players like Song, Denilson, Diaby and Eboue to get you into the Champions League is the height of folly.

With an average midfield, we've coasted through games, largely relying on our reputation at times to force teams to play defensively and not expose our weaknesses too much. We've reached a point where we too good to lose, and not good enough to win; not even good enough to catch up on a team like Villa when we've got Sunderland and W Ham at home. It's rubbish.

What's been even more galling for me, in recent games, is that one of the few major pluses of this season, Johann Djourou, has been dropped, again. Why? What has Toure possibly done this season to warrant coming straight back into the side? It's a ridiculous,pedantic and pathetic decision by Wenger to continue the Gallas-Toure partnership when it has been made absolutely patent that they cannot play together, especially after he constantly bangs on about giving 'youth a chance', then drops our best young player this year!

So that's where we are in late February. Hanging on in fifth place, hoping for a cup run to paper over the cracks. Here's hoping our battle with the Romans brings some light-relief.

til later.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Turning point or false dawn? If Arsenal's season doesn't get going soon it never will.

The club is in a funny place at the moment.

I suppose we're meant to be feeling optimistic after the 4-0 drubbing of Cardiff on Monday, but I can't quite buy it.

For one, the major, overriding positive point of that game, Eduardo's explosive return, has already been rubbed out, with the Croazillian picking up a hamstring injury.

This being an Arsenal injury, the original prognosis of two weeks was, of course, wrong. Arsene reported in the press conference today that he'll be out til at least the Blackburn game on 14 March. Without wanting to be too pedantic, that's 3 and a half weeks.

The other big positive is, obviously, the impending debut of Andrey Arshavin. I don't think he'll start tomorrow; I'm pretty confident that Vela and Nasri will continue in the wide positions, with Andrey coming on at around the 65-70 minute mark, possibly earlier if we look a real shambles. It's a tall order for a short guy: turn our season around or welcome back to the UEFA cup. Has he got it in him to adapt to English football in record time? To get fit enough to play after having not really played since November? I guess we'll find out.

Because the alternative is Eboue, who, by rights, should have been suspended for 3 matches, if not sacked, by the club for gross, and continual, stupidity and selfishness. If I was Arsene, I would torn up his contract in the dressing room after the Sp*rs game. He's had his chances and plenty of them; he should leave in the summer, especially as Vela already looks a better player.

Whether we are turning the season round or not, the important fixtures are going to be coming thick and fast in the next few days. Roma is imminent, as is a series of fixtures that could, very easily, see us through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

Yet, we remain 7, yes 7, points behind Villa and 5 points behind a chavski side which will surely go through a resurgence with Hiddink in charge.

We've made this season exceptionally hard for ourselves by not sufficiently strengthening in the summer. Our midfield has been inexcusably poor since December, inspiring an unbeaten run which is almost a parody of the invincibles.

Yet with a little quality returning, and by not entirely ruling ourselves out of things, maybe there's hope left yet for this year. Perhaps we could surprise a few people yet.

Or maybe Eboue starts tomorrow.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Arshavin is still in London and will surely sign for Arsenal today.

I wondered whether there would ever be a transfer saga to top that of Julio Baptista in 2005. I think the BBC announced on about five separate occasions that we'd signed him, before sheepishly revealing he'd gone to Madrid.

And then there was Nasri this summer, although being able to read L'Equipe everyday re-assured me that the deal was going through.

But I think the Arshavin saga has trumped them all, for sheer durability and ridiculousness. Every hour for about a month there's been new stories appearing in both the UK and Russian media about the deal.

The speculation hasn't been helped by the, frankly, bizzare, Dennis Lachter. This man seems quite happy to give out details about the Arshavin deal, or lack of one, to everybody and anyone who drops him an email or a text. To be frank, I don't believe a word he says, but that's just my opinion.

Nor has it been helped by Sky Sports News. This channel thrives on transfers - the one time it actually gets decent viewing figures - so they have spun the story out at every opportunity, especially as, aside from the Keane transfer, this is probably the only big transfer that might go through today. And on at least 75% of the occasions they've brought us an 'exclusive' about the deal, they've been wrong.

So, after falsely claiming Arshavin was in London the other day, they finally got it right this morning, showing Arshavin in snowy Hertfordshire after jetting in from Petersburg, before now claiming, along with most other media outlets that Arshavin has gone home after failing to seal a deal.

I simply refuse to believe that Arshavin would fly in to London, wake up, see the deal break down definitively, and then fly home all before lunchtime. And so despite the majority of the print media claiming that Arshavin has gone home, both 5 Live and sources within the Arsenal Supporters Trust are both claiming that Arshavin is still negotiating in London, with the AST source (credit to the Online Gooner for this) saying Arshavin is in Highbury House as you read this.

For me, the logistics of the transfer mean a deal is surely more likely than not at this point.

Petersburg aren't going to find another buyer at this point, and they're not going to get £15m+ for him from anyone else after today, as Arshavin's value starts to decline due to the state of his contract and the fact he hasn't really played of late as he's clearly lost motivation over whether to play for the club.

Especially given he's probably agreeing personal terms as we speak, the ball is in our court. I should imagine Zenit will agree to a slight decrease in the fee and he'll be pronounced our player at around 6 PM this evening.

More than anything else, this is because I find it inconceivable that we will go through this transfer window without signing anyone. For Wenger not to strengthen our squad after the tepid performances we've seen so far this season would be seriously worrying.

Arshavin is a class act and can help us solidify our top four place this season. While Arsene was right to state that no one player can be a 'saviour', he could at least save us from seeing the likes of Diaby, Eboue or Denilson shoved out onto the flanks. For that alone, I'm patiently hoping and waiting for the deal to go through.

More reaction to the transfer window as news becomes apparent.

But for now: