It’s really not that bad… Ipswich 1 Arsenal 0 Review

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Jan 142011
 

I was going to post last night, but I was too full of disappointment and frustration to write anything comprehensible. Now I’ve had a chance to calm down, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not the end of the world. We certainly shouldn’t panic. It’s not as if we’re all doomed.

Yes, it was the worst performance of the season, even with Cesc, Wilshere, Walcott, and Arshavin all starting. Yes, there was a lack of desire and commitment. Yes, we couldn’t pass the ball. Yes, we created hardly any chances after the 2nd minute. Yes, we were beaten by a side that’s 19th in the Championship.

If you’re feeling masochistic you can see the highlights, sorry, lowlights of the game here, thanks to Aunty.

But, dear gooners, every team has a slump in form, and what’s more, we can rescue the situation – for both the FA cup against Leeds and the Carling Cup against Ipswich. In both cases it’s only half-time.

Of course, it’s not ideal, and for both cup competitions we should have already won the ties. In the case of Ipswich, we’d still have the second leg even if we had won 4-1 at Portman Road and the Arsenally bookie coughed up. But if we’d won by that kind of margin, which we certainly could have, the tie would effectively be over. Instead, it’s now an uphill battle.

Some bloggers have concentrated on the poor individual performances, and there were plenty of those, I don’t disagree with that. But I think that we have to look at the games against Leeds and Ipswich as aberrations, mistakes and yes, disappointments, but in the context of our fine form so far this season, it’s a bad patch, nothing more.

Granted, Denilson and Arshavin had shockers – again. For the former, it’s a shame because we need him to push the more regular starters into better form with some competition for places. He failed to do that, and didn’t give the boss any reason to pick him again. He did pass the bal well in patches against Ipswich, but generally speaking he was very disappointing in both games.

As for Arshavin, his form has been poor for a while now. The reation of the fans was predictable, but to my mind self-defeating. It’s unlikely to inspire him to pull his socks up, pull his finger out and generally get his Arsh in gear. I don’t understand supporters paying to watch a game only to boo their own team’s players. But that said, his perceived attitude has shifted from casual with flashes of brilliance, to lazy, and only occasionally bothering to play well.

There is a tendency in all of us to see character faults instead of looking at situational reasons for certain behaviours. In other words, Arsh trotting over to the touchline twice when he sees a substitution being made might not be laziness, but instead caused by the fact that he’s our most substituted player. Which he is. I hope he finds some form, and soon.

Others in the media and blogosphere have concentrated on how AW’s comments after the game, that ‘we lacked a little bit the sharpness’ and that some players are “fatigued” are simply poor excuses, when we could all see that what was missing was desire and commitment, and in place of confidence the team was arrogantly complacent.

I wholeheartedly agree with that. But the point we’ve always got to bear in mind with Le Boss’s press and media appearances, is that he’s not one of those managers who just says what’s in his mind and b*gger the consequences. He’s very careful not to make any comments about players unless they’re positive. That’s why he’s often derided for not seeing bad tackles on opponents. Of course he sees them, he just won’t air our dirty laundry in public. He’s certainly not going to say that we lacked desire or commitment to the press, but you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll say it to the players. Every time he says anything to the press he ensures that he keeps his thoughts on his players private, and doesn’t undermine his relationship with them. And quite right too.

I haven’t been on the happy pills. I was as disappointed as any gooner about Wednesday night, but I’d rather we had a patch of poor form in domestic cup competitions than in the Premier or Champions League. We still have the chance to put it right. Let’s hope the players really do learn the lessons of these domestic cup games, beat Leeds and Ipswich, and start to gain ground on ManUre in the league.

Arsenally hopeful,

Will

Awful for 80 minutes – Arsenal vs Leeds Review, Walcott Naivety

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Jan 082011
 

My betting tips for this game were perhaps a little over-ambitious, but I genuinely thought they were possible. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, 5-1 seems absurd.

Leeds played well, but not so well that if we had been playing well, we couldn’t have won. They harried, defended, closed down as well as any other team we’ve played this season. With more technical players we would have been a couple of goals down by half time thanks to their superior energy and desire.

Arshavin was frankly Arse. He had some good touches, but more dreadful ones. He went one-on-one with Schmeichel Jnr, but made it comfortable for the impressive Dane. When Walcott was about to come on, the little Russian started trotting over to the dug-out, despite the fact it was Chamakh’s number that was held up. That tells me he wasn’t in the mood.

But I have to say I don’t agree with fans getting on his back. That’s just not going to help. What he needs is a few stern words from the manager and captain. The question is – and it’s not one the average fan can answer – does that happen? Will he get a b*llocking? I hope so.

Schmeichel made a series of fine saves, especially towards the end of the game. There was one from Denilson that would have made his loud-mouthed daddy proud.

Song didn’t play terribly, and I’m glad he did start because without his physicality we’d have been overwhelmed in midfield.

And that’s mainly because Denilson was anonymous. In his role of defensive midfielder, and given his (lack of) build, he needs energy, commitment, drive, and the ability to pass well. He lacked all those today. The penalty he gave away was about as stone-wall and blatant as you get.

Rosicky was a bit better, but not much. Leeds did make it difficult for us to “pass through their lines”, as AW said, but all too often the two of them gave possession back to the visitors.

Bendtner was shocking. His first touch was poor, his second touch – if he got one – was worse. As for his finishing, the less said the better.

Out of those that started, the only players who shouldn’t be self-flagellating tonight are Djourou, Gibbs, Song and Szczesny. The Pole pulled off a top save to deny Becchio shortly after Leeds had gone one up. Djourou put in a good shift, and rate him as our best centre back this season.

What changed the game was first the introduction of Fabregas, and then Walcott. The captain’s passing and vision sped the game up, and Theo’s pass troubled Leeds’ tiring legs. All of a sudden passes weren’t going astray, and we had an incisive edge in the final third.

I thought we should have had 3 penalties until I saw this on the official site from Walcott:

I want to apologise to the managers because I actually dived. I was trying to win the penalty… I am not the sort of player to do it but I own up to it and apologise. It is something I don’t want to see in my game… I don’t have to own up to it and I can’t speak for other players but I have just expressed how I feel. I hope people respect that.”

I admire his honesty, but I fear it may come back to bite him in the arse. Now he’s admitted to a dive, maybe referees will be more likely to deny him geuine penalties. I honestly can’t remember a single occasion a player has actually admitted to and apologised for diving. You often hear players say, “I felt a touch” with an ironic smirk on their faces, but to come out with an official apology is a bit odd. Nice, but odd.

[edits blog] It appears the press are catching on to this – see the Sun here. Really don’t understand why it appeared on the official site. Was that with Wenger’s blessing? Of course the Sun’s screaming headline doesn’t mention the fact that he wasn’t successful in trying to con the ref.

That incident apart, Theo can be proud of his performance today. We were absolutely awful until he and Cesc came on. Beforehand we didn’t seem to have anyone on the pitch wide right. Eboue didn’t get forward much (credit to Leeds) and Bendtner drifted inside all the time. Song popped up on the right from time to time. Usually we have Nasri and Walcott, but without them we had no penetration on that flank whatsoever.

Only when those two came on did the pace of the game speed up, which is obviously to our advantage with our technical ability. All of a sudden we created chances, and the last ten minutes were nervy for the visitors. Theo, ahem, went down once, then got pulled back in the area to win the penalty which the captain converted. Our FA cup run saved.

And so we have another fixture to add to our already congested schedule. AW said:

It was not exactly the wish I had before the game but it was the second worst wish. The worst would have been to go out. We go to Ipswich on Wednesday, we play West Ham on Saturday and then the replay of the FA Cup is after that.

We’ll surely rest some of the ‘first team’ for Ipswich on Wednesday, but after that perfomance, can we afford to?

Arsenally Yours,

Will

Jumpers for goalposts, Arsenal vs Leeds Preview, Line-ups and Odds

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Jan 072011
 

The FA cup has turned from one of my favourite competitions to one of my least favourite. This is mainly due to two press-induced factors.

Firstly, I can’t stand the clichés that get aired every time FA cup ties come around. “The romance of the cup”, “giant-killing” are just a couple of the turgid excuses for commentary that we will hear. Expect the likes of Andy Gray to trot out as many as he can in his allotted 90 minutes. You half expect a white horse to prance onto the pitch at any moment.

The second thing I hate about the FA cup, no actually, I detest, is the constant, unrelenting, recurrent, incessant, and persistent replaying of THAT goal. You know the one I mean.

Anyway, Leeds. A word of caution. In the third round last season, they beat ManUre. They will be up for this game, their support is excellent, and they have a good young English manager in Simon Grayson. The latter clearly believes the travelling support will play an important part:

It’s a great draw for the fans as well. They will travel in their 1000s and I hope they have a good day out. Last season was different for them as well because of the rivalry and I think that win will have meant more than anything we could achieve on Saturday. We know we’ll have a fantastic support, we always do, and it’s a support that is the envy of every other club in the country. They’ll certainly ensure there is a great atmosphere on Saturday and they are incentive enough to make sure we do our best.

Any assumptions in the Arsenal dressing room that this will be easy must be dismissed, and a serious approach to the game is essential if we want to progress to the next round without any drama. A draw and not only will we have to add another game to our already congested fixture list, but it would be at Elland Road.

In their last game against Cardiff (which they lost), Leeds fielded this side:

Schmeichel; Connolly – Collins – O’Brien – Parker; Gradel – Howson – Johnson; Snodgrass – Paynter – McCormack.

Our own Sanchez Watt (or Herschel Oulio Sanchez Watt, what a name!) has been generously released to play against us and may start if he recovers from a head injury, The team that played against Cardiff looks like a 4-3-3 so we can expect that to become 4-5-1, or we may see at least one fewer forward and at least one more midfielder.

As for our line-up, AW said on the official site:

We will rotate. There are going to be changes, many changes. It will be good to have Kieran back and Eboue will play as Sagna is suspended. I cannot give you the team yet. I have somewhere in my mind that I will make changes but I don’t know who will play. From last night, we have no serious injuries. I believe that Nasri and Van Persie could be short for Saturday.

According to the Guardian, Aaron Ramsey may be back in contention. I think we may well see him on the bench. It’d be great to see him take the field in an Arsenal shirt again. I imagine the captain and Song will get a break (but hopefully warm the bench just in case); I think we’ll see Wilshere and Denilson with Rosicky in the centre of the park. If we do see those three in midfield, they must ensure they’re not bullied or crowded out. I’d be happier with the more physical Song instead of Denilson.

At the back, I expect Szczesny between the sticks, and Squillaci to start alongside Koscielny. I have to say I’d prefer to see Djourou and Koscielny together again. Defensive partnerships need time to gel, and I think of all the Squillaci – Djourou – Koscielny combinations, the Swiss and Frolish together has worked the best. Gibbs is back, and Eboue will be in to replace the suspended Sagna.

We may well see the Great Dane and Theo up front with Chamakh, while (the first choice front three?) Nasri, v Persie, and Arshavin have a breather. Despite what AW has said, I hope to see at least two of those three on the bench, to be used if the plucky northerners are tough to break down.

So for us I expect something like:

Szczesny; Eboue – Koscielny – Squillaci – Gibbs; Denilson – Rosicky – Wilshere; Walcott – Chamakh – Bendtner.

As for the odds, I like the look of 5-1 at 33/1 with William Hill. You can get 66/1 with the same firm for us to score 6 of the best without reply. Very tempting, and I think that will be my long shot. If we play as fluently as we can, we could score that many. I like Theo for first goalscorer, at 17/2 with Victor Chandler. A red card for either side is at fives with Paddy Power.

As much as the FA cup winds me up a bit, I do love the mis-matches, the excitement of the lower league teams when they draw a top side, the fact that it’s on proper TV, the times less good teams get an away draw and and celebrate the home replay, jumpers for goalposts… oh bugger it, I love it really.

Arsenally Yours,

Will