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), Özil (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.

The New Reality

First, a quick apology for my absence of late. Work, sleep and illness have all conspired against me. But I’m back, and I’m…<smart comment here>. Anyway to business, and it really does feel business-like such is the enormity of the matters in hand for a follower of The Arsenal these days.

You see during the mauling at Old Trafford (apologies for the memory), a good gooner mate said, although I thought it a little reactionary after, that “this is the new reality”. Having just witnessed and taken scant pleasure from a dominant City team beating Spurs, we ourselves got one hell of a shoeing. The sentiment was easily agreeable at the time. We’d be fighting for the top four if we were lucky, and we had an interlull and, hopefully, new players to come.

After that period we sort of regrouped, sort of got some results and a little bit of Russian luck, and were then unceremoniously body-slammed by a combination of poor refereeing, a lack of belief, and…well, Blackburn. Three wins on the spin were a welcome change, and then there was Spurs. I’ve not posted since the Spurs game for no other reason than I almost resorted to A Clockwork Orange-style eye tactics to actually watch the game. And because the week previously I was barely with it enough to feed myself (exaggerated for sympathy), the work I had to do after the result left me little time to post.

Still, now I am. And now I can say that it wasn’t very good. I suppose we knew that, but I can’t state otherwise. It’s a bit late for a full dissection of a disappointing result (although it’s arguably no worse a result than last season’s home fixture), but when you’re 2-1 down with 20 minutes left you expect far more than we saw. Mertesacker goes up top, and no balls are lofted to him, while a more experienced player going forward in Song, who let’s not forget set up the goal, sits back. It doesn’t make much sense. Injuries and all don’t help in such situations, and neither do decisions that go against you, but at WHL the players’ decisions seem wrong, the spirit seems lacking, the concentration looks absent and fight had gone AWOL. In short, it’s hard to argue we deserved the win.

But it’s bad isn’t it? It’s actually at the point where I look at our next three home games, in cup an league, around an away trip to Marseille and wonder whether we can win them all. Can we even get six points from Sunderland and Stoke? And if not from Sunderland, struggling with a poor start to the season, where does that leave us?

16 Sun Add to Calendar Barclays Premier League H Sunderland 13:30 SS1
19 Wed Add to Calendar UEFA Champions League A Marseille 19:45 Player
23 Sun Add to Calendar Barclays Premier League H Stoke City 13:30 Player
25 Tue Add to Calendar Carling Cup H Bolton Wanderers 19:45

The answer is with an away trip to Chelsea on the 29th Oct, and right now that’s scaring the hell out of me. And yet another answer seems to be doing the rounds on Twitter, coming to my attention via @DarrenArsenal1.

Blimey, eh?

I don’t think I can correctly construct any sentences to match my thoughts on this. No doubt it will be noddingly approved by some, and sicken furious others should it be unfurled at a game (I would sit solemnly fidgeting), but everyone is entitled to opinions on the club they love. I’ve mentioned before that I can’t think that refereeing decisions or injuries can really be the fault of Wenger. Yet he himself has agreed in the past that football is a results business, and it is managers who need to produce those results. If a decision goes against the team, you need to get them back up and going. If your team goes down you need to keep them believing. I think Wenger is still the man to do this, but clearly some do not.

So I don’t know where we are the moment. It’s like I’ve finally gotten some sleep and awoken from a rolling nightmare, only to find myself adrift upon the good ship Arsenal, which has mistakenly sunk a tribal village’s kayaks and has run out of both the necessary fuel to power out of a hostile situation, or the required dialectical knowledge to charm away the danger. Ah, talking ships. I think it’s time for me to call it a day. But not before I reveal my secret weeping over the Arsenal injury list at PhysioRoom. Hang on, Szczesny’s injured?

Well at least there’s the rugb…oh.

AllTheBest.

We Don’t Know / What We’re Singing

A Post of Two Parts

Nasri

I very nearly posted this piece straight after the game yesterday, such were the strength of my feelings. But I felt a bit of time to reflect, some clarity of thought and – hopefully – a bit more official news might aid in clearing my sentiments. I’m talking about the Nasri ‘situation’, and while I’ve had the benefit of reflection and a bit of clarity, nothing official has been said. Oh well, on with it.

Here’s a question: Does a man with an imminent move to another club tend to play for his current club? Not really. The chance of injury, and that injury scuppering a deal, isn’t worth the risk if the selling club is intent on claiming the agreed fee. A fee reported to be around £23m is not to be sniffed at, and so why would the selling club’s manager, Arséne Wenger, risk losing that money by naming Nasri in the stating XI yesterday?

Wénger said:

“The fans will want Arsenal to play well and win the game. They do not make an individual case of each player in each position. They want good players and to win the football game.

And while that was met with head-shaking in some quarters, I can’t help but think that Arséne and Nasri both knew far more about the situation heading into the game than both the supporters who called the player a c*nt at Newcastle, and the minority of fans idiots who booed him at the Emirates yesterday as his name was announced.

Indeed I don’t think there was one fan booing Nasri at the end of the game, and that could well point to the fact that Le Boss knows the club fanbase better than the individual fans, and that some of the people in the ground are perhaps fickle. We want our team to do well, yes, but we don’t really know what’s going on with deals or non-deals, and we should mainly react to what we see on the pitch.

Yesterday what I saw was a player trying to do his bit for the team, angered when he played a poor pass and missed a rasping effort (apologies for the ad). You can see the drive, and you can see the reaction of Nasri, and though that might be a reaction of purely personal frustration and not one of failing to put his team ahead, that he tries to make something happen in an Arsenal shirt should be taken at face value. He obviously cares about the club, about the team, and about making a difference when he’s on a football pitch. That has added weight this morning, with this fine piece in The Independent, but also because of this quote from Wénger:

“I have already said I try to keep Nasri and I have never changed my mind. He loves the club and he wants to stay here. If we decided to sell him, we would have to live with that.”

Now we all know that Arsenal is pretty much as financially sound as any top-flight club could realistically be, and so if the decision to sell the player isn’t AW’s – i.e, it is the board’s – that would hint that it is not Nasri that wants to go (not this season anyway, as he’s failed to sign a new contract which would signal his commitment), nor is it Wénger who wants to sell him. Does this allow us to look at Nasri’s tweet about fans being disrespectful in a new light? Perhaps, but it should also make it clear to us that even as fans we don’t know everything that’s going on, and should deal more in facts when support is required.

For example: It is a fact that if Nasri plays on Wednesday then he won’t be eligible to go to another CL qualified club, and it is pretty likely that he’ll play more football at Arsenal this season than he would at Man City.

“Spend Some F*cking Money”

This was a chant that arrived in fits and starts  yesterday (and was quickly/mercifully drowned out in reply by “Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal”), but only once the ten men we had left on the pitch went down by two goals did it rear it’s ugly head. Apparently those who are so frustrated as to call our boss a “wanker” and sing that particular line, were quite happy up until about the 78th minute when Miguel cleared onto Rambo’s chest and the ball looped over Szczesny.

Of course I agree that the squad needs strengthening. I’ve said it, like every other Arsenal fan has, since the end of last season. If Nasri does say we need to buy less, but it’s curious that some apparently think that spending money could prevent an own goal or a red card. Perhaps the latter would not have been given to a player of more experience than Frimpong, but who before his second yellow could say that he wasn’t superb on the day, and deserved his place in the starting XI as an understudy for Song – a player of markedly more experience who knowingly aided in getting himself sent off against Newcastle.

It’s no exaggeration to say that up until the disadvantage of a lost man we were at least the equal of Liverpool, and that had Koscielny not had to go off, and – the quietly adept – Ignasi Miguel (no sign of Squillaci) been thrown somewhat in at the deep end, our defensive stability might have brought another clean sheet. Spending money is what Twitter rumours suggest the boss is trying to do, but the lads on the pitch did well up until the point the numbers game came into effect and Dalglish brought on fresh legs.

In theory we lack similar depth, but it could be argued that the money needs to be spent primarily because we seem to be the most injury-prone club there is in the Premier League. Djourou would most certainly have replaced Koscielny had he been available, Gibbs or Traore would have played LB and Sagna RB had both of Gibb’s and Traore’s injuries not thrown Sagna to the left and placed Carl Jenkinson on the right, and Wishere, Rosícky and Song would no doubt have been involved were it not for injuries or suspension.

I could add Abou Diaby to that, but I think he might actually have been abducted.

Anyway, I’m not claiming that we have a wealth of options for a big club, but I can at least sympathise with Wénger enough not to sing a chant that in my opinion is both disrespectful and lacking in understanding at the complexities we’re obviously not privy to. Call me gullible, or call me ignorant, but call me a Gooner, and one who tries to think before he speaks.

Oh christ, I think my boiled eggs just exploded!

…they did.