Saturday, October 27, 2012

Does Kroenke Really Care?: 14 Thoughts on Arsenal 1 QPR 0

Not our finest 90 minutes, but a welcome return to form. Thoughts as follows:

* The big news was, of course, Wilshere's return. And while he was only on the pitch for about an hour, he did a lot to show just how much we have missed him over the last year. Jack can open up the midfield with both his passing, but also with the manner with which he carries the ball. He was our best player in the first half, and it was eminently sensible to take him off when we did, to ensure that he wasn't overstretched, as it were. I don't expect him to feature in the league cup match this week, and, instead, I'm sure he may feature against United next Sunday. With quite a few United fans saying that Cleverley is as good, if not better, than Wilshere, it will be a fascinating battle between the two of them. In the long-term, one has to wonder where Jack will play. In his first season, he actually played quite closely to where Arteta does now - but, especially after having been handed the number 10 shirt, a future further up the field is surely in his sights. We'll have to wait and see, I guess.

* The other big news was the return of Sagna, which was largely, and weirdly, unheralded. Jenkinson has done well in Bak's absense, but let's not kid ourselves - Sagna is a better player. Perhaps not a much better player anymore, but a better player nonetheless. While Jenkinson has been largely solid defensively, Sagna is better going forward. Indeed, based on the stats, you could say that Sagna completed about twice as many crosses on average last season, as Jenkinson did in his starts so far this year. In the long-term, Jenkinson has established himself as a credible successor to Sagna, and I would not be surprised at all if Bak left next summer, but Sagna is our first choice RB.

* The first half wasn't much to write home about. We dominated possession, and tested Cesar a  few times with shots from distance, but never really looked like scoring. It's the familiar story of a team setting themselves out for a draw, and we quickly looked short on ideas.

* Indeed, I was struck by how one-dimensional our attack and midfield looked for much of the game. Without van Persie's movement, and without the pace of the likes of Theo, Chamberlain, and Gervinho, QPR could sit back and watch us pass ourselves to death. Giroud may have been involved in the goal (and really should have scored from his header) but he has simply not come close to replicating the general goal threat that van Persie provided us with last season, and I don't mean just in terms of actually scoring goals. RvP dragged players all over the pitch, and provided a barrel-full of assists. Without van Persie, we often just look flat in attack.

* Which brings me to Podolski, I suppose. I think he is a good, often great player, but he hasn't quite been the goal threat that I hoped. There is also, clearly, confusion over his best position. For Germany, he often plays wide on the left, while for Koln last season he usually played more centrally. He is probably the best finisher we have at the club at the moment, but we still haven't quite worked out how to play him. This then leads into the quandry about substitutions. He does usually deserve to be the player taken off, but, in doing so, we are denying ourselves the one guy who we really want the ball to fall to in the box when a big chance does arrive. A solution to the Poldi problem needs to be found.

* I'm not going to say something as stupid as "Cazorla is overrated" but his inability to take chances is now becoming a worry. My good friend told me that Cazorla has had 38 shots so far this season, and yet he has only scored two goals. It would be one thing if all these shots were pinged, hopeful opportunities from outside the area, but he has now blown clear chances, such as against Chelsea and again today when the ball fell to him in the area. He even had enough time today to steady himself before smashing the ball over the bar. Considering how composed he looks in his passing, it's utterly bizarre that he seems to go to pieces when he takes a shot. Cazorla needs to score more often, in short.

* Arsene appeared to recognise how one-dimensional our play was, and put on players with pace and trickery - Walcott and Gervinho. Unfortunately, it was almost predictable that Gervinho would injure himself given his recent form, and Walcott also didn't produce a great deal after coming on. The problem is, we need players like this, but who are better. We do need pacy players, and dribbly players when the game is tight. But when we introduce players who have these attributes, but who also struggle with, y'know, ball control, it's not quite the same. We seem to now be in a bizarre situation where we actually have a large number of attacking players, but all of them are quite average, in their own unique ways. It's a side of the team we really need to strengthen in January, but I am not optimistic.

* The game was meandering towards a painful 0-0 draw when Mbia lost the plot and swung a leg out at Vermaelen. After a series of poor decisions, I fully expected the ref to bottle this one as well, but he did the right thing and produced a red card. As @Arseblog_Tom pointed out, there was the possibility that this could have made the final minutes even harder, if anything, with QPR now fully content to put their remaining ten men behind the ball.

* Luckily, we did manage to press home the extra man advantage, as QPR were left short in the box when we finally scored. Arteta was clearly offside - an example of poor refereeing in our favour that will undoubtedly be forgotten almost instantly. Still, it was good to see Mikel "should be captain" Arteta with a goal, as he one of the few that really gives his all for 90 minutes.

* QPR promptly woke up after the goal, and should have equalized in the remaining ten minutes or so. Granero took advantage of Vermaelen AGAIN stepping up and leaving a man free behind him to nip into the area, and collect a through ball. He should have scored. Similarly, Mackie then bulldozed his way into the box, only for Jazz Hands to come up with a big save.

* I should say -  fair play to Vito, he probably won us the game with that stop. However, seeing Cesar pull off save after save at the other end was galling, considering we could have acquired him on a free last summer. Yes he would have been on high wages, but he would have been a good foil to push Szcz as he (hopefully) grows into our number 1. Instead, we've had the Mannone "show" for the last two months, which has cost us points.

* Santos has come in for a lot of flak recently, after being largely blamed for the goals against Schalke. No matter that Vermaelen did his "stepping up/leave a world class striker unmarked" trick for the first goal, and that Affelay was completed unmarked for the second - Santos was entirely to blame. There's been a lot of talk of Santos being an Eboue Mark II, which is far of the mark, in my opinion. As I posted earlier on Twitter, Santos led the team in interceptions today, and completed 4/5 crosses, while Sagna only completed 1/9. I'm not trying to say that Santos is a world class player - he's not. But it frustrates me to see players like Vermaelen so infrequently criticised for poor defending, while the likes of Santos are pummelled.

* Ultimately, I couldn't bring myself to blog after the last two games, because I couldn't muster the energy to be relentlessly negative about the team, which both performances warranted. Today wasn't much better, but at least the team played till the end, created much more chances, and probably would have won by more if a lesser keeper had been involved. A win is a win, and sometimes you have to start with a scrappy performance to move forward. Hopefully we can edge out Reading on Tuesday, and try and build a little momentum before we play Man Utd away.

* But it is hard to be enthusiastic about the state of the club at the moment. What was clear from the AGM on Thursday, is that certain, key board members hold the Arsenal fanbase in contempt. Peter Hill-Wood's comments annoy me, but he is a powerless dinosaur, who'll soon be gone. It's the attitude of Kroenke that gets me more than anything. We aren't a "franchise", we're a club. In fact, we're a major insitution in one of the largest cities in the world, with millions of fans worldwide. We aren't the Denver Nuggets, or the St Louis Rams, or any of the other shitty franchises he owns - we're far, far bigger than that, and we deserve better than an owner who appears perplexed over why he has to attend and speak at an AGM, and why fan groups become annoyed when he openly lies about having met with them.

The reason why we have seen the last three performances is that Arsenal have had an extremely poor transfer strategy for what is now amounting to a very long time, and which appears to stretch over the majority of time that Kroenke has been involved at the club. When you consistently reward mediocre players with long deals and large wages, sell your best players, and replace them with others that aren't as good, disjointed, frustrating performances will arise as a result. All I can hope is that Kroenke recognises at some level the current frustration among the Arsenal fanbase, and that he realises that we can't go on like this if we want to maintain our status as a club that realistically challenges for the top trophies in Europe and England. In short, I hope we don't have to wait until Kroenke starts to get hurt in the pocket, before matters on the field are improved.



Anonymous said...

Lots of good stuff, and I cannot but agree with you about Santos. Now, your stuff about Kroenke, give us a break. All that for a franchise remark? Its how things are in the US, and I bet there's a better than even chance it will eventually happen in Europe.

As for value, the Rams are valeud at about $900 million, and Arsenal at $1.3 billion. No one would question that Arsenal have more upside potential, but please, get back your reason.

The way that fans and supporters have influence in the modern age is at the ticket office. That's it. The old view is as out of date as the phrase that the sun never sets on the British Empire.

Anonymous said...

Don't be naive lad, we are indeed just a cashcow franchise to Kroenke and only in our own eyes are we bigger than the Denver Nuggets etc. We are just another piece of Kroenke's sports portfolio, that's all, nothing more nothing less. At least Abrahamovic actually has some passion for winning, actually acts like a true fan and wants to be the best.

Anonymous said...

Podolski. Getting a little twitchy about Podolski and what he brings to the team. That early fluid MA->SC->LP->SC->LP interplay seems to have gone. He gave Santos zero support v Schalke (can you imagine AA getting away with that?) and the oft-heard 'best finisher in the club' thing is hyperbole for someone who rarely scores. We need more from him and soon. And if he is not fit, get him off and get him right.