Knowing sucks

I suppose we just hope Arteta recognises the importance this season of Saka, ESR, Martinelli and AMN and strategises a way for us to see more of them than not.

ALREADY, even before Match of the Day kicked off, I knew.

I successfully avoided the score all day, having missed our FA Cup ‘performance’ due to family walk times with my partner and dog. Honestly I wasn’t too fussed at all, and it turned out I had the better of it.

All the signs were there: the trending of ‘Willian’ on Twitter, the trending of ‘Pepe’ on Twitter, the trending of ‘Arsenal’ on Twitter. Either some serious magical flourishes were going on, or – the more likely – we weren’t shooting, scoring, or doing much of…well, everything.

It’s clear that we have a problem.

Why watch it again?

When you don’t play young players and struggle, as we have so far this season, it seems bizarre that Arteta even picked a team he must have known lacked bite and energy to cause problems. And not just to any team, but to a competent if somewhat erratic Southampton – in a game which they would be all up for dumping the holders and their table neighbours out of.

I understand the disappointment of the team selection, for all of the above. But it’s clear to me the priority is the league and ‘giving players the chance they deserve in the FA Cup’, to paraphrase the manager, also rests those we need for the crucial league fight.

I’ll admit it, that we can’t depend on experience professionals to even create one chance in a whole half of football is bewildering. Willian (with his two shots on goal this season so far) is bewildering: his performances currently have all the dynamism of a Sunday boules friendly after the break for Derek’s birthday cake.

Quite what Arteta can do to lift Willian and the others who struggle without young pups nipping at heels I’ve not a clue. I suppose we just hope Arteta recognises the importance this season of Saka, ESR, Martinelli and AMN and strategises a way for us to see more of them than not.

I’ll be honest, I’ve not really been following transfer new this January. Frankly, I’ve taken all the topical news my news brain can healthily handle. But my hope would be this:

Better players. With enthusiasm. Even with the enthusiasm of a Sunday boules friendly pre cake for Derek;s birthday, with the looking forward to said cake providing some zip. That would be a step up. The level doesn’t seem to be too high to beat at the moment, so Mikel over to you. You do of course have my sympathy that players who should know and should do better aren’t doing so.

Still, hopefully us being dazedly dumped out of the cup is a wake-up call to some. Or maybe they’ll think they’re still asleep and dreaming when we face Southampton again on Tuesday. Here’s hoping the alarm call is for those who can manage more than two shots on target in a game of football.

Four’s a crowd

Hi again, dear reader, from one of the most un-kept-up-to-date Arsenal blogs around

Hi again, dear reader, from one of the most un-kept-up-to-date Arsenal blogs around. Last time I was here I was writing about a horrible loss for Arsenal and pondering the impact on the sad end to the Wenger era.

Some years on, we’re in the midst of a totally bizarre pandemic with Arteta (or at least his younger squad members) leading a surge in form. Form which could be an exciting new beginning should another lockdown not gazump football for the foreseeable.

I’ve never claimed to have insider knowledge into the club, and I don’t, but nor do I need it to see what a bit of enthusiasm and effort brings to a team bereft of ideas and impetus. A Martinelli showing shades of Alexis, a Saka on the road to a POTY perhaps, an ESR proving genuine workrate and willing can trump √Ėzil’s tweeted charm offensive.

All of these are things to be celebrated, as is the absolute worldie of a goal, for a left-back, of Tierney against West Brom (*cough*, 4-0 Sam). And did I celebrate! Bouncing on the sofa with a pumped fist to the bemusement of the dog: “WHAT A GOAL”, before attempting to sound completely chill on Twitter.

The Arsenal are fun again, bringing joy, and more importantly, wins to our lives. And that we have a solid if uninspiring CB pairing in Holding and Mari is wonderful. Let them be our solid if uninspiring CBs, and continue to be solid to undo the un from the inspiring. Utterly solid CBs is what we deserve, after a cocktail of Mustafi, Sokratis and Luiz.

There’s the beginning of a solid back four or five in place it seems. Could be, may just be, and well done for Arteta for doing whatever it is he’s doing to help turn the form around. He’s doing something surely. Hopefully for Runarsson too: give him soime love and some bigger gloves.

Fun times

This 1992-1993 table shows the formative Prem – a wild, wild place

I know, I know, this season hasn’t been the best despite our recent uptick in form. But the league is enjoyable, no? From 4th to 12th, the difference is six points as I type.

And although I’d rather we hadn’t have flirted shamelessly with the bottom of table this season, the closeness of the league takes me back to the 92/93 era of Ipswiches and Sheffield Wednesdays in the Prem. Villa coming 2nd, the almost mythical Norwich of Gunn, Fox, Ekoku and Sutton playing wonderfully.

QPR! QPR finished 5th – it wasn’t a happy time for us in 10th, but boy I loved that season. I was 10 and Arsenal were wonderful, if a bit naff, and then some years later a Frenchman arrived.

Anyway, I hope we continue to climb, but the closeness of the league adds some enjoyment in the absence of the throbbing throng of crowd community.

Mob mentality

It’s not all fun and games though. If as a professional football club your social media team calls out a pundit, an excellent pundit, like Karen Carney purely for stating her opinion…it lacks class.

Here’s my view on that whole horrible saga. Needless from LUFC’s social media peeps really – especially given the clear amount of bigots who also sadly follow football and have access to a public platform to hurl abuse in the pile-on.

Having deleted her account, I hope Carney returns – or at least doesn’t have the episode prevent her from doing her job just as earnestly.

Anyway, best to you and yours in these trying times. See you again. Here’s hoping for more Tierney-time and hopefully a bit of Partey at the weekend against Newcastle.

That is, assuming football doesn’t leave us like it did in 2020. Please, no.

The Road to Nowhere?

“I’ve no idea where we’re going…”

Hi. How are you…?

I mean I hope you’re okay.

Me? I feel a bit weird.

Not the “we’ve just been hammered by a super club and weren’t we supposed to become one of those?” type of weird…although you know, we were supposed to be able to compete. Nor is it the “wow, this is a bit of deja-vu; betcha we win the second-leg 3-0 but¬†still go out in the last 16 of the Champions League…again” type weird.

No the weird I’m feeling today is a bit of a mourning, achey, near-hollow weird. And I’ve not felt like this before with Arsenal. In fact I’ve not felt it at all since 1996. That year I felt this similar sort of feeling when England were knocked out of the European Championship. And, I suppose oddly, that year Arsene Wenger arrived at Highbury.

So this feeling then.

I only feel it when I think about Arsenal, and I’m not sure what to do with it. I mean, I’ve spent a good few years now detaching the impact of Arsenal losses and dismal displays from my actual life. And it’s worked a treat: When we win that’s good (obviously), and when we win well I layer that buoyancy upon my mood. Because revel? Yes please. Yet when we lose I habitually feel disappointed for a little bit, disconnect from it and get on with my day.

I love football and I love Arsenal, but it isn’t my whole life. I appreciate that’s a personal view – I’m no longer a season ticket holder an don’t travel overseas – but I decided years ago that generating extreme emotional turmoil from football on a regular basis probably wasn’t great for me. So there we are, each to their own.

Except: last night. That 5-1 loss felt like a fresh, sharp, serious pain. One laced in a gloom that couldn’t easily be tuned¬†out, and one that needs serious attention. It hurt more than Henry, Cesc or van Persie leaving. It hurt more than the 2011 8-2 loss at Old Trafford.

It hurt so deeply I could instantly recall the¬†grief I used to feel at a cup exit or a heavy loss. At the dashing of expectation. At England’s defeat in 1996, when nothing felt like it could be the same after for England or the football-focused world of a 12 year-old.

That 5-1 loss to Bayern Munich? It hurt cumulatively.

What that might mean for Arsenal, for Arsene Wenger, or even for this team ¬†in the next fixture I’ve no idea. Whether Arsene felt the weight of that loss in a more¬†acute way than any other…I’ve no idea. And whether we’ll be saying goodbye to him come the end of the season I’ve no idea.

Making predictions one way or the other seems fruitless. But to me it felt like one heavy defeat too far. One negative mark too many against the legacy of Wenger’s Arsenal. One brittle capitulation¬†too spectacular for my optimism towards the rest of this season.

What comes next? I’ve no idea. Something has to change, it seems. To feel like¬†I felt 21 years is an odd thing. But I don’t know what that means or where we’re going.

I do, though, feel unbelievably sad.

Four things increasingly clear to Arsenal fans

Recent results and the fall from Festive grace have given Arsenal fans more than enough pause for thought. So with uncertainty about Arsene Wenger’s (and his squad’s) ability to now deliver, here are four things increasingly obvious to the concerned observer.

Joel Campbell should start

Not a difficult idea to support, given the Costa-Rican’s steady – if not Bellerin/Coquelin-style – rise to necessity. Campbell was far and away the best player for Arsenal against Swansea; passing, moving, linking and scoring with the easy confidence that comes from wanting to make a difference and deliver on promise.

Does Campbell have the hunger Alexis has claimed is lacking in the squad? It would seem so. He’s clearly enjoying his football. And he’s been given hope by the perpetually plateaued stock of Oxlade-Chamberlain, as well as the ineffective wing displays of Theo Walcott. Campbell is a natural right midfielder/winger, and currently Arsenal’s most technically suited player in the role.

Alan Shearer is right on Giroud

Some may scoff at Shearer’s occasionally inflexible, blanket comments wrapped up as Match of the Day insight. However, when the Premier League’s record goalscorer said Giroud should score 20-25 goals in the league in this Arsenal team, he was right. It may not be in the way he intended, but he gets some credit.

Many Arsenal fans have gone along with Wenger’s hypothesis of sharing goals around the squad. They’ve bought into the possession-based attacking ‘system’ developed over two decades. The system birthed the “play the Arsenal way” slogan, and sharing goals does make some sense. After all, if a star player is injured, a team that can score goals without them can avoid¬†a goal drought.

The issue though is whether sharing goals is an effective strategy. Barcelona certainly share goals, but each of Neymar, Suarez and Messi have scored enough to be considered the main striker at any top European club in their own right.

Yet the last time Arsenal won the league, in 2003-4, goals weren’t shared around nearly as much as we might think they were. Yes there were 15 different goalscorers that season in all competitions, but in the league Robert Pires scored 14, and Ljungberg (4), Bergkamp (4) and Gilberto Silva (4) chipped in.

The main goal threat was of course Thierry Henry, with 30 goals in 37 appearances. Arsenal shared goals, but Henry enabled that team to finish the season champions with a +47 goal difference, ten more than second placed Chelsea.

If we look at how shared goals impact the current season, Leicester are top and it’s mainly through goals from Vardy (19), Mahrez (14), and Okizaki (4). Tottenham, in second, have scored through Harry Kane (16), Alli (7), Eriksen (5) and a smattering of other scorers.

If we compare this to¬†Arsenal, it’s Giroud (12), Sanchez (6), √Ėzil (5), Ramsey (4) and Walcott (4). Goals are being shared in a not dissimilar way to 2003-4, but…Giroud as the main striker needs to score more. Not necessarily the 30 goals of Henry, but keeping pace with Vardy’s conversion rate¬†seems reasonable.

Yet in this Arsenal team, sharing goals around may not even be a bad idea if collective finishing could be considered clinical:¬†This Sky Sports graphic suggests that three of Arsenal’s key attacking threats can all do better.

Screenshot_2.png

How “big chances” are qualified is a fair question, but it’s hard to deny that Walcott, Giroud and Sanchez have failed to ignite in front of goal. They’ve so far failed to deliver Kane, Vardy or Mahrez consistency, let alone anything near Henry.

Wenger’s system is stuttering

What Arsene Wenger’s system actually is is a huge topic of debate. Many fans¬†are¬†stumped, and (judging by the team’s performances) it seems that the squad may be too. Players are failing to respond to instruction, or at the very least are failing to find consistency in a season where key absences (Sanchez, Coquelin, Cazorla, Welbeck, and now Cech), may have¬†played a part.

In times of absence, it is the strength of a system and the manager’s ability to instil it which should shine through. But with one of the ‘strongest’ squads in recent times, Arsenal’s¬†system is anything but clear. In fact, it is increasingly hard to work out who Wenger sees as his settled, preferred, line up to deliver regular title-worthy performances. The manager also seems to make what many think of as reactive tactical decisions, and¬†so the frustration grows.

A fine example: the boos when Joel Campbell was taken of against Swansea has served as the peak of this melancholia. Wenger’s defence of this action, suggesting Welbeck could provide more runs in behind the Swansea defence, has largely been¬†railroaded perhaps because Campbell was one of the best-performing technical players on the pitch.

What it comes down to is this: At one time Wenger’s system was clear, and it depended on technique, on crafty possession and technical ball players. It was a system characterised by the types of action Campbell was pulling off in the game, and was a system loved for its fluidity and technical level.

Campbell’s removal had a clear adverse affect on the team’s performance, but perhaps it also marked a desperate deviation from this long-standing system. This is a new thread too, because¬†if Arsenal have previously depended on technical ball players, as Tim Stillman has pointed out, there’s currently a clear lack:

Arsene Wenger’s time may be at an end

For a while now the WOB (Wenger Out Brigade) and WKBs (Wenger Knows Best) have been locked in a semi-aggrandised ideological back and forth. Yet the fact that Wenger’s tenure at Arsenal now seems under threat, comes from many fans failing to see how the manager can turn things around.

With no obvious system or clear response to trailing at home to Swansea, the heat is on to provide a good performance and start from there.¬†Yet in a season where the other ‘big clubs’ have faltered, Arsenal could, and perhaps should, have reached the summit of the Premier League and already be cementing their position as potential champions.

That Arsenal are now part of the chasing pack needs¬†a speedy resolution. One to boost fans and¬†Wenger’s own position. A win against Tottenham could be a start, but right now it’s looking sadly stark.

Let down

In the post-match conference from last night, a defensive Wenger blamed a lack of quality in the team’s “defensive concentration”.

It really is¬†the major reason¬†for conceding three against an Olympiakos team seeing only 30% possession.¬†We did too little with what we had –¬†18 shots to their 9, 9 on target to their 4. 8 corners to their 4¬†– but it was errors that cost us.

Arsenal 0-1 Olympiakos

Olympiakos’ first came from a corner. As it’s taken, Pardo is free on the edge of the box. It’s a fairly standard position to be in, but apparently not worthy of picking him up. As the ball swings to the edge of the area, Mesut √Ėzil sort of follows and then gives up on the ball. He doesn’t even appear to look at Pardo, or attempt to engage any player the ball might be going to.

Screenshot_1

Pardo makes a fairly clean¬†effort which shouldn’t really trouble Ospina, but it deflects off a hapless Ox and finds the net. Oxlade-Chamberlain either realises too late the ball is coming his way, or fails to properly attempt a block of his own.

Either way it’s a poor set of circumstances to concede from. Really poor.

By this point we’d had two good chances. Theo found himself in the box, but failed to adjust his body (use his left-foot) and generate power to get a clean shot away. Chamberlain too found himself in the area and could have made it 1-0, but under pressure put wide from a position to the right of the goal.

The response from Theo was heartening, if a tad fortunate, and we deserved to be on level terms.

Arsenal 1-2 Olympiakos

Olympiakos’ second can be blamed on Ospina, but it’s a clear misjudgement of the kind that¬†can happen (see Ronaldinho against Seaman, WC 2002).¬†Ospina’s¬†strength is in staying on the line, using his reflexes and his reading of an attack as it unfolds. He doesn’t tend to come and dominate the box in a set-piece situation, and here we see why.

In this incident he moves early, the power and height on the corner suggesting it’s a deep, high-hanging ball which he can get up and claim.¬†There’s wicked curl though, and he’s caught out. He jumps back to try and salvage the situation and fails.

We can’t be entirely sure the ball crossed the line, because for some reason there’s no goal-line technology in the UCL. Still, he was punished. Cech may not have made the error, may not have shown this lack of “defensive concentration”, but it’s a moot point if Cech had a slight issue preventing him starting.

Ospina’s played well for us generally, kept a good deal of clean sheets last season, and has incredible reflexes and great on-the-line shot stopping. But yes, it’s clear where he needs to improve.

We equalise again through Sanchez. It’s interesting to note a couple of things here.

Not only is Sanchez apparently back on form, and that’s his second header in as many games, he nearly scores another later. Also the cross for this goal¬†is from Walcott. Theo’s taken up a position just inside the right edge of the¬†18 yard box, in an area of the pitch more akin to a winger feeding a natural centre forward.

Alexis confidently heads home and it leaves me wondering if, even though Walcott is progressing “game by game”, the better option up top (when without Giroud) is actually¬†Alexis Sanchez –¬†especially against teams sitting back.

Sanchez possesses a clear poaching ability Walcott has yet to muster, and has superior feet and body adjustment in tight spaces.

He also makes up for a¬†lack of size in playing with his back to goal through intelligent movement. His shots closer to goal appear instinctive too…but more on that another time.

 Arsenal 2-3 Olympiakos

Defensive indiscipline again. As we chase to take the lead,¬†de Freita Couto J√ļnior beats both Ramsey and Bellerin far too easily. At this point Finnbogason is being marked by Gabriel, but as the ball is cut back past Cazorla (somewhere in no-man’s-land) and in-field to Fortounis, Gabriel leaves Finnbogason to charge Fortounis.

The shot is blocked by Mertesacker, but as it comes out to Cambiasso, Ramsey, Cazorla, Mertesacker Gabriel and Gibbs ALL run out towards him. This leaves Pardo and Finnbogason both unmarked on the right in space.ARSvOLY 3

Gibbs tries to adjust his feet and make Cambiasso take the shot, but as Cambiasso chips the ball over his head Gibbs is forced to turn and chase Pardo, while Finnbogason goes square six yards form goal and behind the Arsenal line.

Pardo finds Finnbogason, who taps the ball past Ospina. Mertesacker gets back but does nothing of note to try and stop the shot other than being right next to Finnbogason.

It’s terrible, and fitting perhaps that such a lack of¬†defensive concentration should result in the winning goal. Olympiakos didn’t deserve the win based on the Arsenal dominance borne out by the stats. But then, we most certainly didn’t deserve it based on the above defensive frailties. Olympiakos for their part were stoic at the back…although we certainly had enough quality to beat them if only we didn’t self-sabotage.

A lack of leadership is one of the louder criticisms being levelled at the squad today. The charge being that strong characters of the likes of Vieira haven’t been seen for some time. Falmini may have offered that had he been on the pitch, but¬†it’s a point worth pondering.

Still, we can’t magic such characters into the squad, and against United on Sunday we’ll likely need it. So here’s at least hoping our quality going forward is matched by a more stable defensive display.