Monday, March 02, 2009

Arshavin exposes the mediocrity of an Arsenal drawing their way to fifth place.

At a personal level, it was nice to attend a match after having been unable to get to the Grove since the Bolton match in January. Being a relatively superstitious kind of person, I had hoped that my presence at the game might be enough to break Arsenal out of their goal-less funk, but evidently not.

In some respects, it’s easy to exaggerate just how badly Arsenal are playing at the moment. The team have, after all, now gone three months and a week unbeaten in the league. We’ve also only conceded 3 goals in the eleven games since the beginning of January.

From that point of view, you’d think we be at the top of the table challenging for the title. Unfortunately – and as the debate of my article last week showed – stats can be ignored or shaped to fit certain conclusions. And, the most important stat at the moment is the most important in football: goals scored. We have only scored in 3 goals in our 7 league matches since the start of January. That is relegation form, especially when you consider that most of the team’s we’ve been playing of late have been from the bottom-half of the table. 3 goal-less home games, in particular, isn’t good enough to get into the champions league.

I was excited to see Arshavin in the flesh and almost mistook him for our mascot when he came out of the tunnel. He really is very small for a footballer.

But Arshavin’s performance only left me depressed. Why? Because he is a level above most of the dross that’s starting for the team at the moment. I would go as far as to say that out of all our starting XI, only Arshavin, Gallas, and possibly Sagna would get anywhere near a starting place in the 2004 or 2002 title-winning teams.

Arshavin does things instinctively, quickly, and efficiently. When you see him somehow produce a breathtaking, defence splitting ball after it looked like he had got the ball tangled up in his feet, you realise how good he is. He takes about a third of the touches other team members do, because he’s about twice as good as some of them. He kept intelligently laying the ball off to players and creating dangerous situations throughout the whole of the first half and well into the second before tiring, and almost giving up in the face of Clichy’s embarrassing inability to cross the ball, or for RvP to do anything but hit his passes straight at the goalkeeper.

Arshavin had at least three passes that should have been assists but he was let down by team-mates. If Eduardo had been playing yesterday we would have won; but he wasn’t and no-one else in the Arsenal team has the ability, or perhaps discipline, to realise that missed chances cost matches.

By the end of the match I felt embarrassed. Arshavin has exposed just how poor some of the current squad are; by buying too many Denilson’s, Diaby’s and Song’s, Arsene has created a team of potential. Hopefully it’s not too late for him to realise that it’s established, international players – more Arshavins - who win titles, not kids.

There were worries all over the pitch. Nasri has developed a Hleb-like ability to avoid shooting and responsibility; Vela again just looks like a talented kid rather than a seasoned pro who’s going to win us some games; Diaby and Denilson did their best, yet again, to provide us with no drive whatsoever from central midfield, although their partnership was a cut above that of Song and Denilson last week. Kolo was again made to look like a fool by Fulham’s crossing and long-balls. Arsene reiterated his belief in the Gallas-Kolo partnership in his programme notes, but Fulham would have scored if not for poor finishing on their part. What Kolo has to do to be dropped, I don’t know. Certainly, the vastly superior performances of Djourou this year haven’t been enough to dislodge Kolo from the side.

Yet, the drop in form of Clichy was perhaps the single most worrying aspect of the game. Zamora simply walked past him on a number of occasions. He’s looked more and more suspect defensively as the season has wore on, and going forward he was absolutely awful. Arshavin should have given him an earful, newboy or no.

So this has what it’s come down to: we can’t score. We have too many average players who aren’t capable of winning us games, and a new signing who has put into cruel relief just how average a lot of our players really are.

At the end of the match, boos rang out, but I didn’t partake and I still refuse to, even if I understand and share the frustrations of the fellow gooners who did.

Fulham didn’t just defend their way to a 0-0: they were excellent and fortunate not to win. We simply didn’t have the personnel. Injuries? We knew about Rosicky and Eduardo at the start of the year, so only Theo and Fabregas can really be cause for complaint.

The fact is we came into the season with a ridiculously weak squad and we’re finally reaping the consequences. Arshavin’s signing goes someway to improve the situation, but also shows that these moves should have been done earlier by a manager who’s let the club down through an over-reliance on his pet-project.

Fourth place or not, we’ve only mounted a credible league challenge once in the last four seasons. That is not good enough. These four consecutive 0-0s should be a turning point in how Wenger views certain players in our squad. Let’s hope it is.


Anonymous said...

Arsene Wenger needs to let go of his infatuation of buying kids,not every kid turns into class players like Fabregas. A stronger infra-structure (i.e. Wenger convincing older players to stay, or buying rising star players 20-26) are essential towards helping this team recover. I agree with you that Diaby, Denilson are not as great, but i would think they would be good if they were perhaps playing in open game leagues like La Liga. Toure in my opinion was good when he had Campbell to protect him, otherwise he is like a headless chicken. Gallas is playing well, taking charge of the defence helping Toure not look so bad. As these bad performances have taken place there is all this talk of shit newspapers like the Daily Star reporting 'boo-boys could drive Wenger out'. The Sun also say he could go to Real Madrid. This is BS because Madrid are a team built on short-term interests, winning a trophy per season, Wenger is a long-term coach so it would not work too well. If Wenger gets full control of the club then there is a small chance of success if the new president gives him 100% backing.But because Madrid are an impatient club, going there could ruin Wenger's reputation. I still believe he has unfinished business with Arsenal, so there is no chance of him leaving. Hope and Faith are the rembrants Arsenal fans have to hold onto.

Anonymous said...

Ain't Gallas the one who charges out of defense and passes straight to the opposition - or sometimes right from his own box?

Toure's been fine for me.

There's no doubt about it - Flamini papered over the lack-of-battle cracks that had appeared post-Vieira, but let's not forget Gilberto/Vieira often bottled games against Chelsea, United and Bolton.

I'm not sure either with this Wenger infatuation with dwarfs, why he never bought SWP either?! He'd certainly be worth a goal - and at his years when he went to Chelski - a better buy than Arsharvin.

Anonymous said...

wenger basically said there is no problem other than a mental one due to previous recent 0-0s! The man is deluded. If he does not say there are real problems then we have no hope in him making the necessary changes. Its a real worry because for the first time this season we have began to look worse than a top 4 team.

Anonymous said...

idiotic article!!!! why dont u dickheads go support shit spurs who buy many experienced players and then fight relagation.arsenal and arsene deserves better than you cockroaches!!!!

Anonymous said...

spot on Anonymous 1.24. Unbelievable. Too say that Ashavin was our best player and totally overlook Nasri and even worse compare him to Hleb. Not sure what game you were watching. Ashavin had 3 chances and fucked the lot. He is a class player but was not as great as you made him out to be. Nasri was tireless, worked his fucking socks off and created for the team. He really did not have any open chances or he would have taken them. Thats the type of player he is.

thezha said...

Well said, Goonerboy.

Saturday's game had just showed how thin our squad is at the moment. Despite of Arshavin's quality performance, he is clearly not match fit and was struggling the last quarter of the match. Yet, we have no players that can substitute him even at that level.

People criticized the lack of passion towards the end of the match, I don not believe so. It is obviously that the players are tired after the mid-week Champions league action. In previous seasons, after a mid-week euro game, we would have made 3 or so substations to deal with a relegation team. But if you look at the bench, we have no options, Eboue, Song, Ramsey, Wilshere, etc... none of which is good enough to be included even in a Villa or Everton side this season. Don't get me wrong, I do highly rate Ramsey and Wilshere as future prospects, but at the moment they are just kids.

As I write, I become even more frustrated about the fact we have another match on Tuesday. I could not start to imagine what kind of side Wenger would bring to the Hawthorns. I really hope I am wrong, but with our current squad and shape, it could yield another disappointing result.

Anonymous said...

spot on.., bt really Nasri is doin his best, maybe he take a lil' longer to shoot the ball, bt he is doin his best.., clichy has been unbelivably poor, after a great season last year dont know wat happend.

Anonymous said...

This article makes very little sense: is RvP supposed to be one of our"average players who aren’t capable of winning us games" ? Because he was the one who missed three gilt edged chances that should have won it for us easily. Of course not, he's just one of many suffering from a lack of confidence in front of goal, hardly helped by our support and the ctretins who only open their mouths to moan and boo. Agreed Fulham are a decent side, but we've played worse than this and won this season. We'll be 3 points off Villa come tomorrow night...