The Arsenal injury situation

Here’s a response from my personal blog about the write-up I posted yesterday questioning Arsenal’s backroom staff (http://www.fresharsenal.com/why-do-arsenal-get-so-many-injuries-the-truth/). I’m happy to say that it’s got almost 8000 reads and kicked up debates all over twitter. This is exactly what I wanted; get an audience and some people scratching and even nodding their heads. I’ve also got a lot of stick for it, but I’m not going to let it faze me at all.

Firstly, I’d like to say that I did cross the line a bit in my article wherein I concluded that it had to be the staff who were at fault. That is not a fact, it is merely my opinion and I admit that I should not have drawn those conclusions. I am not qualified in this field, but this topic got me curious and so I did do some research, only to find stats that SUGGESTED what I was saying was right.

In saying that, the title which initially had read “Why do Arsenal have so many injuries? The truth” was done by the editor of the website. My title was “Sicknotes; an analysis on Arsenal’s injuries.” It’s not the truth. I can’t prove that it is. Those and these are my views and thoughts.

As I said to someone who commented; Questions need to be asked, and if it’s going to take a small-time blog like this to kickstart it, I won’t hesitate. I want what is best for my club.

Coming back to the blog; I did some more research about the medical team and some others’ analysis of it.

I came across one brilliant piece on ArsenalReport; http://www.arsenalreport.com/editorial/misfortune-myth-or-neglect-arsenals-injury-problems-investigated/. This blog was done over a year ago now but all the points made still stand. The write-up also includes some comments from a person in the field, who is a physio. I suggest you all take a look at this in-depth analysis, which backs a lot of the points I made myself.

A lot of “theories” are disproved in it, such as; more possession/style of play means more injuries. It also shows the significant rise in amount of injuries since Gary Lewin’s departure, which I talked about in my piece. Stats here suggest again that I was right in saying so.

These stats, which could not be included because of the word count interested me the most (If you scroll down to the comments, the author explains that they couldn’t fit it in);

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This article shows that majority of our injuries are ones that are caused due to wrong/too much training rather than actual impact. This season alone so far, the players who have suffered from soft tissue injuries are Mikel, Theo, Poldi, Santi, Rosicky. Only Ox was an impact one, apparently.

Yes, I know that some of these were done while away with international teams, but we aren’t the only club in the world who has players who represent their countries. With better preparation, these could have probably been avoided.

George Graham himself, in April 2012, has questioned these strains and pulls (http://justarsenal.com/george-graham-questions-the-arsenal-medical-teams-ability/13539);

“You look back the last few years and look at the injuries and it is not a couple of weeks or even a month injuries that Arsenal have racked up.

“You look at Robin van Persie, this is probably the first season he is injury free. And Tomas Rosicky. Key players have been out for long, long periods. It is something I would have a look at, the medical side of the club.

What sort of injuries are they? If they are contact injuries, there is not a lot you can do about it but if they are having strains and pulls they have got to have a look at that aspect of the club.”

Again, suggesting that these injuries numbers are not normal. They could have and should have been avoided.

I dug a bit deeper looking for some more quotes and indeed found some;

Here are some interesting ones from Arshavin in 2010;

“This is a painful issue both for me and for the team I play for now. We need to do something to avoid it in the future. If it was only my own problem I would agree that it is my fault. That the Premier League is too hard for me with too many games etc.

But when this happens almost to everyone for the last two or three years… I believe there should be some more global reason which we need to deal with.”

Something needs to be done about it in general and I talked to all Arsenal people who are responsible for medical care.” from http://www.mirrorfootball.co.uk/news/Andrey-Arshavin-hits-out-at-Arsenal-medical-team-and-then-claims-Chelsea-deserve-to-win-the-Premier-League-article410789.html

The Mirror being the Mirror labelled it as “hitting out” which is nonsense. It did not say that he complained at all, and just talked instead. These remind me instantly of the Pato quotes I mentioned in my initial blog. If that does not raise an eyebrow, I don’t know what will.

I mentioned Kieran Gibbs and a personal trainer in my blog, and found a similar case to do with Abou Diaby. Lequipe had interviewed his former personal trainer (in French; http://video.lequipe.fr/video/football/foot-and-co-diaby-peut-on-croire-en-lui/?sig=b9c51839e5cs), and these are some important quotes translated and taken from it (http://justarsenal.com/the-case-against-arsenals-medical-team/16161);

“Diaby had massive muscular imbalance issues and the rehab at Arsenal was not done well .The last 3 months were spent to strengthen his injured areas and regain proper balance.  Diaby was made to also spend a lot of time working on getting the body to release the scar tissue from his injuries, which created irritation, and to re-establish proper flexibility in those areas.”

Most importantly from this interview, the topic of personal trainers came up again;

“It was also addressed that Diaby used this personal trainer during the 2009-2010 season where he managed a career high 29 appearances for the club. However, the club forced Diaby to lose the personal trainer and revert back to the club’s trainers. As a result, Diaby’s condition regressed and he was once again injured.

It was also highlighted that Van Persie had a very similar problem and he decided to change to a personal trainer during the winter of 2010 where he went on a run of 18 months now without an injury.”

This was in September 2012, and Kieran Gibbs has hired a personal trainer himself and spoken about it just over a week ago. It simply does not add up. If the staff were so good and up-to-date, why would external help be needed at all?

I particularly got abuse from supporters who follow Arsene Wenger blindly, who refuse to even believe that he might have done wrong. I’m neither a WOB nor AKB, but at all times, I want what is best for the club.

I don’t need to be reminded or lectured about the fact that he was the one that revolutionised nutrition and sports science in England with his arrival in 1996, but this quote from @yorkshiregunner sums it up well; “One of Arsene’s greatest traits is also one of his biggest weaknesses; his loyalty to players/staff.”

I will get some responses like “He stuck up with Pires/Giberto/Ramsey/Per” but that proves my point exactly. It’s his best attribute and also his worst.

The ones who did indeed attack me did say that I could not prove any of this, which is true, but have not addressed these stats and quotes, simply branding my entire blog as “load of shite.” Fine, as I said, I went too far in saying that it was DEFINITELY the staff, but I am all ears to your reasoning about how it is not their fault. I still have not got any, and I have stats backing every single point I have made.

Go on then. Prove your point.

These are my views and my opinion. I just think that there is something seriously wrong with the injury situation, which needs to be addressed. My OPINION is that it is indeed the medical and fitness teams, but there’s nothing set in stone.

Thank you for reading.

Always The Arsenal.

Follow me on Twitter- @P38L0

Show me the money

Before I begin, I’d like to point out that I’m not anti-Arsene. I’m grateful for everything he has done for the club and fanbase over the years, but right now, I’m about to reach my tipping point. I haven’t as yet, but I’m not far from it. No, this is not an overreaction to one game. The loss to Villa was a reflection to our absolute shit summer, where promises have been broken and we have all been lied to be by the board and the manager.

What the fuck is going on? What has happened to our Arsenal?

We go into the first game of the new season with a squad that was weaker than the one that faced Newcastle on the last day of last season. How ridiculous is that? We have 100m+ (some suggest we have 180m) and we brought in one player on a free transfer.

I said this on twitter and some people were quick to reply with, “Who have United bought again?” Did we win the title or did they?

They were the champions. The best team in the land. Numero uno. It’s totally understandable if they make one signing, if not none, because they have proved that that squad is good enough to carry them over the line. If you think that we don’t need any additions/improvement from the squad we currently have, why did we finish fourth? If we were that good, shouldn’t we have won the title instead?

Some even went as far to say “Have Madrid signed Bale yet? And have Barca signed a Centre Back?” Grow the fuck up. Barca won the title and have bought one of the hottest talents in football, Madrid have signed two quality midfielders and one great right back.

What I am trying to say is that they have enough in the tank to let these “sagas” drag on till midnight of August 31st because their current squad is good enough to take maximum points out of all their games in August. We do not.

I am incredibly happy at the fact that we got rid of so many players who simply weren’t good enough, but if we aren’t going to replace them, what is the point?

People go on about how big signings take time. I get that (to some extent), but what about the “lesser” ones? Would it take months to try and convince Malaga or Swansea to let go of Gamez and Williams respectively? Of course not. Put the money on the table, X on the dotted line, shake his hand and he’s now an Arsenal player. Simple as that.

Instead, we haggle and bid less than what they’re asking for, they say no, and the deal’s dead. Stop fucking about. If Liverpool want 50m, why mess around and bid 49m? They get frustrated, we think we’re being smart and it’s down the shitter. What an absolute farce.

What has surprised me the most this season is that Arsene hasn’t made the signings we all expected him to make.

I’m not a fan of Julio Cesar, but for 1.5m? Come on. Who cares if he’s asking for 80k a week? Give it to him. He’s repeatedly said that he wants to stay in London and if Szczesny’s performance yesterday hasn’t convinced Wenger that we need another keeper, I don’t know what will. Szczesny was good in his breakthrough season, yes, but could have done a lot better over the last two seasons. I said this before, and I’ll say it again; we have not addressed our goalkeeper problems ever since Jens left. We overlooked it, trying different keepers out and they all leave us disappointed.

I was talking to a mate of mine. I asked him this; “Imagine Arshavin never joined Arsenal and he stayed with Zenit since that incredible Euro ’08 and his career slowly faded away like it has (Similar to Eto’o right now, but not on crazy wages). Would we be saying to each other ‘I think he’s worth a punt’?” I think so.

How sad.

That’s what it’s come to. Even when we can afford the best around.

Don’t want to take the filthy Tottenham as an example, but I must. If you think Soldado, Paulinho, and Capoue wouldn’t have improved us, I think you might have been dropped on the head a few times as a baby. We have been linked with all three before, with Arsenal clearly interested. Yes, they might not be world class, but how can you argue that they aren’t great additions to the squad? I would have taken all three at Arsenal, and I’ve even read that Chadli is the real deal.

Coming to the possibility of signing Suarez or Rooney. I’d welcome both of them to Arsenal with open arms.

Who cares if Rooney cheated and ended our unbeaten run?

Who cares if Suarez is a despicable human being?

He’s one of the best strikers in the world. That’s what we should look at. His footballing abilities, not the baggage that comes with him. That is secondary. He’s going to be scoring goals for my team, not taking my sister out on a date. Same goes for Rooney.

I’m sure Moyes knows that if he sells WR to Chelsea, they will win the league. If Rooney really pushes for the exit door, I think Moyes will prefer selling him to us than them. We have the money. Why not make them seriously consider? Put that 40m bid on United’s table and they will be licking their lips. Not saying they will, but why not test the waters?

That’s exactly what our side lacks right now. One out and out goalscorer. Someone who gets half a sniff at goal and buries it. Look at our home games vs Everton in our last two seasons. 1-0 win and 0-0 draw. Both were tight games, where we battered around the park and what was the difference? One moment of magic by the person who shall not be named. That’s what world class players do. They score chances you don’t expect them to score.

There’s no other person I’d rather see than Arsene Wenger guide us to trophy after trophy, but right now, it’s not looking likely. As harsh as this may sound, if we do not get past Fenerbahce in the qualifiers, he should get the sack, in my honest opinion. We shouldn’t have to put up with his stubbornness and naivety for the rest of the season. No, I don’t know who can replace him, and it’s not my job.

It’s crazy how much this club means to me. We could lose our next 5 games but I’d still be up at 5 am for the next one.

Put your money where your mouth is. It’s Arsenal FC, not Arsene FC.

Always The Arsenal.

Misconceptions and more

This is my first post for a while now, and I’ve had a lot of Arsenal-related stuff on my mind, and I hope to include all of them here, but bear with me if it paragraphs don’t exactly flow into on another and are rather abrupt.

The first thing is the concept of clubs spending money. I had a bit of a debate with  a friend of mine, a United fan, who said that Arsene needs to spend and that will send out a message to every single club out there that we mean business.

This whole perception is flawed. Spending money does not show intent. I gave him the example of Liverpool wasting millions on Carroll, Adam, Downing and Henderson, and Andy alone was more expensive than Mario Goetze. That puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

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I’m definitely not targeting my mate, because he is a big fan and does know what he is talking about when it comes to football, but I’ve seen this from hundreds of others on facebook, twitter and at the pub. “Splash the cash, Arsene! We’ll win the league then!”

In no way am I saying that spending the right amount of money on the right players will strengthen and improve a side, and possibly make a good side a great one, is wrong. It definitely isn’t.

I read an interesting tweet about how actually having money to spend is a sign of intent and not the other way around. I had never thought of that before, but I definitely agree with it. Arsenal, having been under a shoestring budget for years, can now boast about the funds available after paying off debts and sets up for a bright future. Starting now. I would love to see three new top class players in red and white, and I’m fairly confident we will.

A few people asked me to write about who we should target, but there are thousands of blogs out there doing that and I simply can’t be arsed! I’ll leave it to Arsene.

But, I will like to talk a bit about transfers. Both in and out of Arsenal.

Yaya Sanogo was signed, sealed and delivered a few days ago, and I downloaded the U20 World Cup game between France and Turkey just to scout him out.

From that one match and several youtube videos, it’s fair to say that he’s a very tall, physical striker. Although his physique can be compared to Adebarndoor’s, he looks much stronger and uses his body in linking up play in the midfield areas a lot more. The Togolese flop spaghetti legs simply aren’t scaring but Yaya looks to have filled out his frame a lot more and a young chap like him will only continue to develop.

I think we will see him feature in the cup games, some dead rubber CL games to start with and also for the U21’s. A clear indication, according to me, that he is a part of Arsene’s first team plans is the fact that our official website said, “Sanogo’s shirt number will be revealed on the Club’s official Twitter account @Arsenal in due course.” It was then confirmed that he’d wear #22.

Looking forward to seeing him improve at Arsenal as many youngsters have and hopefully he can be more of an Henry than a Bendtner.

Speaking of the Dane, I personally think he’s underrated. He’s not as good as he thinks he is, but definitely not as bad as most Arsenal fans make him out to be. He scored many important goals over the years and showed a lot of promise, but this just goes to show how vital attitude is in football. You can be the most skilful player by miles, but if you haven’t got the approach to match, you’re progression will stagnate.

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I’m glad that he’s close to a move away followed by a list of others, which are simply not good enough for The Arsenal.

Some other ins and outs which have gone under the radar at the ones of Wellington Silva and Ryo Miyaichi. The Japanese winger has had two rather unsuccessful spells at Bolton and Wigan, plagued with injuries and lack of game time. Rumours suggest that Feyenoord want him back on loan, and if we do decide to send him there, I don’t think we’ll see him at Arsenal again.

Wellington Silva is an interesting one. He’s tweeted a few times that he’s going to be with the first team during pre-season and I wonder if Wenger will monitor him and maybe use include him in his plans this season.

With regard to loans, I think Arsenal will benefit from the fact that Owen Coyle now has a job again. When in charge at Bolton, he took a lot of Arsenal young ‘uns on loan (Jack, Ryo, Afobe), and I hope he continues this understanding with Arsene.

The new rule states that top-flight clubs can take a maximum of one player on loan from the same club during a season. Since Wigan, now managed my Coyle, are in the Championship, we should make the most of sending our promising youngsters their on loan; Akpom, Campbell, Eisfeld and Gnabry. I think they would learn and improve a lot more at a lower-league club than they would playing for our U21’s/Reserves.

Coming to the topic that has been Arsenal’s Achilles Heel for years now; our goalkeeping situation.

As we all know, Arsenal are in for another goalkeeper this summer. We have been linked with every single goalkeeper from Siberia to Italy, but if rumours are correct, Julio Cesar will be an Arsenal man next season.

For me, Szczesny has it in him to be the best in the world. He’s just 23. Think about that for a second. David Seaman, arguably AFC’s best goalkeeper in history, was playing for Birmingham City in the old Second Division and then moved to QPR at the age of 23. He then went on to establish himself as Arsenal and England’s number 1 for many years.

Wojciech has all the attributes to be a world class goalkeeper; he’s got a massive frame, a  loud mouth (in more ways than one) and has got that arrogance that a ‘keeper always needs. If you look most top sportspersons in the world, they all have got a bit of an attitude, and you need exactly that if you’re going to be a winner.

A few months into the 2011-12 season, I remember coming across this article on The Sun’s website, where they interviewed Natalie Sawyer, a lifelong Brentford fan, about her all-time best club XI. Szczesny had just spent over 7 months on loan at Brentford. In such a short spell at , he had obviously made his mark and won over the supporters. That, for me, is a remarkable feat. Andy Scott, the then Brentford manager said, “It has reached the stage where when he lets in a goal we wonder why he hasn’t saved it”.

The Pole had a bit of a rollercoaster season last term, coupled with injuries and costly errors. Although his flaws (distribution and shot-stopping from distance) are clearly visible, Szczesny pulls off some outrageous saves many other keepers wouldn’t. His reflexes are great, he’s quick off his line and I think he’s particularly good at saving penalties and 1v1’s; just ask the Barcelona boys.

A few months ago, it was revealed that Amy Lawrence, a respected sports journo and self-confessed Gooner, had interviewed Szcz and he made some eyebrow-raising comments about not being motivated for a game vs Stoke and also about an altercation with a Spurs fan in the streets of London. Credit to Amy for not publishing these quotes, as he would have got ripped apart by Arsenal fans all around world. To make things worse, he had recently been pictured smoking a cigarette for the second time.

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He did get into a bit of trouble earlier on after his father, a former goalkeeper himself (famous for punching Roberto Mancini during a game), made some rather harsh comments about Arsene’s treatment of his son. He said that he had just returned from injury and was instantly thrown into the deep end by starting between the sticks the very next game. Szczesny Sr. said that this was the reason for Jr.’s lack of form in the first few months of this year.

Wojciech definitely did the right thing by immediately issuing a statement apologising about these comments towards the boss. I believe that was a very professional thing to do and that saved his backside.

He ended the season with some good performances, but there’s still room for improvement. And how does that happen? Some competition for first choice? A new goalkeeping coach? Both, in my opinion.

There have been some reports that Arsenal are ready to re-re-sign Lehmann. He is currently getting his coaching badges at the club and just like Keown helped mentor that make-shift Arsenal defence during our amazing Champions League run in the ’05-’06 season, where the likes of Senderos, Flamini and Eboue were used at the back went 10 straight games without conceding a goal, Mad Jens had apparently worked with the Pole towards the end of the season.

For me, we need a new goalkeeping coach. Garry Peyton has been in and out due to health reasons, but we need someone to push our goalkeepers, considering it’s been our weak point since Jens himself departed the first time.

Cesar is definitely a proven winner, but I simply don’t think he’s good enough. I’m not the biggest fan of keepers who are only specialised shot stoppers and not good overall; something that I’ve seen in Julio a lot while watching him. He tends to make tough saves look easy and easy saves look hard.

In the home game vs QPR, he made one outstanding save off the head of Giroud, but flapped at very saveable shots from Jack and was also beaten in the air a few times. Anyways, we can’t do much but hope for the best as his signing looks likely.

I’m glad we also saw the back of Mannone and, in my honest opinion, Fabianski isn’t good enough either.

I’ve said this before and people are quick to reply with, “If Fabianski hadn’t got injured, Szczesny would not be first choice. Fab was really good until that injury and he just needs a run of games to find form.”

For me, having a second choice/stand –in player is to have a worthy replacement when needed. It means that the incoming standby must be up to the task immediately when called upon. I simply don’t understand the argument of giving Fabianski, Djourou and Mannone “time to get rid of their rustiness”. And what then? Sacrifice three valuable points by fielding footballers who are not good enough at that time? Ridiculous.

Yes, Fab and JD did have great runs of games respectively, the latter particularly having a blinder vs Barca at home, but if you put them on a pitch now vs. a Premier League side, they would struggle.

Fabiasnki did well vs Bayern and in the games that followed, but there’s always a mistake waiting to happen when he’s in goal.

Similarly, I’m completely for the idea of dropping Vermaelen to the bench, like I have said before, but it’s obvious that when he’s played alongside Kos, it simply doesn’t work out. So what is the point of keeping him as third choice exactly? If Mertesacker, who looks like will be Arsenal’s new captain, does happen to get injured, we will leave goals like we have for many seasons with a CB-pairing of Thomas and Laurent.

I personally would like us to sign another CB who would challenge Verm for 3rd choice and even keep the first two options on their toes.

That’s it from me. Early signs look good and I hope we can get deals done and dusted before August, and go into the game vs Villa with a squad full fit and raring to go, unlike last season where we had players still acclimatizing to London life, etc. Higuain edges closer apparently, and Graham Hunter described him as “a guy that will go to war for you.” The last time heard him saying that was when we were about to sign Santi, and how right he was.

Always The Arsenal.

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The deeper the foundations, the stronger the fortress

 Those are the words that our players first read on a wall of The Emirates on a matchday. It’s also a phrase that, in my opinion, describes Arsenal Football Club’s current state of affairs perfectly.

There’s one thing I’ve learned about football recently; it’s that the game is all about perspective. Different people look at things in very different ways, and I’ve had to take back a few words, especially about players from other teams. I thought David De Gea and David Luiz were both not good enough, but they’ve proved me wrong this season, and I took back what I said. (Luiz is far from the best defender in the league, but he’s not as bad as some neutrals make him out to be).

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Similarly, the most debated topic between Arsenal fans right now is Arsene Wenger.

The neutrals and some of our own look at his last 8 years in charge as a failure, and I’m not going to go on about how we had to build a new stadium, Dein leaving, and blah blah because you probably know that already, but it’s very important to understand that he’s done wonders on a shoestring budget.

Earlier this season, I was on the fence about my perception of Arsene as well. I thought he might not be the manager he once was, that he was stubborn with his ways, but you have got to give credit where credit is due.

He has made such bold decisions this season and has almost singlehandedly secured fourth place for us, in my belief.

The turning point for this season was definitely the win in Munich. The fans I follow on twitter were furious when the lineups were announced that Wenger dropped Szczesny and Vermaelen for a must-win game. Our number 1 was then replaced by Fabianksi, who had been sidelined for a long time and had just played one U21 game before that one. He went to have a decent run of games until getting injured vs Norwich again. That gamble paid off heavily. We all know Wojciech is capable of being a world beater, but he, too, has had a major injury this season, and when fit, he hasn’t performed to the best of his abilities.

He needed a break and when he made his return, it’s fair to say that he did well. Against Wigan, he made a vitally important save early in the second half when the scores were level. I reckon we might have buckled under the pressure and lost if that had gone in.

The other decision was obviously to drop Vermaelen, something I called for many months ago, and I’m glad Arsene took it upon himself to do drop our captain. Per and Kos have been immense. I can go on and on about Koscielny (This chant is currently my ringtone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZXl17QyyoU) but I’m so glad he’s getting the recognition he deserves. Vermaelen has simply been rubbish all season, and if he does stay, he should be 4th choice when we sign another CB. I will support him every time he puts on Arsenal colours, but we deserve a better captain.

One thing that has surprised me towards the end of this season about Arsene are his tactics and substitutions.

In the crunch tie at St. James’ Park, Mikel limped off early in the first half and I was thinking we should bring on Vermaelen as a DM; a position which he wasn’t unknown to play during his Ajax days. (Personally, I’d like to see him there a few times if he remains at Arsenal next season. RDM and Benitez tried Luiz out in midfield, almost as a box to box midfielder, and he did fairly well there. The Brazilian and the Belgian have similar strengths and weaknesses; both are very good on the ball, decent dribblers, but also overcommit and misread tackles.) Thomas would have provided the back four with some extra defensive stability and kept Ben Arfa, who kept cutting in all game, at bay.

But, Arsene brought on Chamberlain instead. In central midfield. Our best natural winger in central midfield. Chambo has played through the middle before, notably vs Milan at home last season, but he was a bit further up the field. I honestly expected him to get clattered by Tiote, but he showed us some incredible maturity and stood up to the task.

The Ox made some decent challenges to break up play, working hand in hand with Ramsey, and also started moves from the back. This substitution changed the course of the game and was the spark we needed for the three points.

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Also, I have noticed a change in attitude for our tough away fixtures. We look to be more on the defensive, wanting to control the game from the back rather than attack all the time. I’m not sure whether it’s been Wenger or Bould’s work, but either way, we have dug deep and held onto three points many times this season when I half-expected us to drop points.

Theo said that Arsene gave the boys Le Hairdryeur at half time vs Wigan, and one other game that comes to mind immediately was the 3-0 win vs Villa at home a few seasons ago, where he had to rely on a crocked Cesc Fabregas to come on and save the day. I remember reading that Cesc had said that AW told them that they “weren’t fit to wear the Arsenal shirts” when it was a stalemate at half time in another must-win game.

Throughout the season, I thought Wenger had lost his ability to motivate and give the players a kick up the backside when needed, but I was mistaken. I’m sure having the intimidating figure of Steve Bould next to him scares them more than good ol’ Pat Rice did, but the Frenchman obviously still has it in him to inspire and push the boys. In times like these, I loved being proved wrong.

We should stick with this nucleus of players we have got and barring some which need to be shown the door, hopefully strengthen in order to mount a title challenge.

From what I have read, the people who do have contacts inside the club seem to be excited about this summer. Even the ever-negative Le Grove said it could be the biggest we have ever had, so it’s something to look forward to. As Gary Neville said, “I think he knows, Arsene Wenger, that the moment is now.”

The top 3 sides in the country have new bosses, while we now have the longest serving manager in Britain (how good does that sound?) who knows his way around. I find it rather interesting that Wenger refused to comment when asked whether Fergie’s retirement was discussed during the sale of the Dutch c*nt. Could he have one (possibly last) trick up his sleeve?

The gaffer has all the ingredients he needs to conjure up something special and bring us back to our glory days.

Go on, Arsene. No one deserves it more than you.

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A tribute to Koscielny

A tribute to Koscielny

By far our best

For some reason, almost every single person I’ve met who is a fan of another club thinks Vermaelen is our best centre back. It’s baffling, really. If you ask any Arsenal fan who our best defender, and not just CB, is, you should get a majority of them saying Koscielny, and rightly so.

When Thomas first burst onto the scene, he scored lots of goals and some say that made us win him over instantly and overlook his drawbacks, but I disagree. He had a good season alongside Gallas, and his goals from the back were great, but his form deteriorated drastically since then and he was never the same player. Verm overcommits, mistimes tackles, makes poor clearances and simply isn’t Arsenal material.

Yes, it is a bit harsh on Sagna that he’s no longer considered our best at the back. He is arguably our most consistent player since our move to the Emirates, but has been so poor this season. Bac is now 31, had two leg breaks last season and looks a shadow of his former self.

I didn’t think I’d ever be saying this, but I wouldn’t mind letting go of both Vermaelen and Sagna this summer to Barca and PSG respectively, if we can get a decent 20-22 mil together.

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Coming back to Laurent. It’s a bit strange how one slight injury can have such an effect on a whole season. He picked up a knock while on duty with France a few days before the first game of this season, and so the partnership was Vermaelen and Mertesacker versus Sunderland on the opening weekend.

We kept three clean sheets in our first three games, against them, Stoke and Liverpool and so Arsene stuck with this pairing in the middle even after Kos recovered.

How the tables have turned now.

Vermaelen, who of course is our club captain, has been relegated to the bench, with Wenger preferring the Laurent-Per pairing, which undoubtedly is our best. Something Arsene should have done many months ago after such disappointing displays from the Belgian. (If you scroll down to my next blogpost which came after the defeat at Old Trafford, I said right then that Vermaelen had to be dropped.) I’m really glad Arsene has been ruthless that way, and should consider the same for Sagna over the last 4 games of the season.

Most fans of other clubs only see what Koscielny he needs to get rid of; his clumsy side. He’s had some comical own goals, where he’s made a mess of simple clearances (last season vs Blackburn and Liverpool come to mind immediately), and of course that Obafemi Martins goal at Wembley. He also has these Clichy-esque brain farts, where he makes strange, uncalled for challenges, like the one to bring down Dzeko at home to City this season, but I’m a 100% sure that when he’s concentrating for every minute of the 90 every Arsenal game, he can keep the best centre forwards at bay.

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I think Koscielny can be compared to Carrick in the sense that they go about their business under the radar, without much recognition from the press, pundits, etc., but get the job done for the team efficiently and almost effortlessly.

It’s obvious that he’s a great defender and has all the traits to go on to be one of the best when someone like Del Bosque, who hasn’t coached a club since 2005, knows about him. This is what he said when Mexes was suspended for France’s showdown with Spain in the Euro 2012- “He is an important loss but, France have the Arsenal boy who is very good.”

He might not know his name, but he probably watched Arsenal enough times last season to know that Laurent is a top drawer defender and would pose a problem to the deadly Spanish attack.

Recently, Kos has also been linked with a move to Bayern, has Pep as apparently identified him as his number one priority at the back. (Take Vermaelen instead, Pep!) There’s no way we should like Bosscielny go. We need a team around our best players and Koscielny is one of them. He’s the backbone to our defence and deserves to start every single game.

Although Per has also had a very good season, I feel there’s still room for improvement. Koscielny deserves to have a top CB partner alongside him at Arsenal. I read an interesting stat that no team has won the Premier League without an English CB, and I think that’s exactly what we need alongside Kos; a no-nonsense classic British centre half.

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In my belief,  he is unique and possesses a lot of attributes you don’t normally see in a CB. Here’s why;

1. He’s a leader by example.

You will never see Laurent barking out orders at the back and he likes to leave that to Mikel and Per, but he instead goes about his defending quietly and does it ever so well.

That’s why I think he’s a different kind of leader; not one who organises and gets in the face of the referee, but one who lifts the overall morale of the team by getting stuck in himself and battling on.

2. You won’t find a faster CB than him in England.

This tackle from the France international on Lennon in his first Arsenal season says it all: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6wn2kqvZJI. Pause the video at 0:02 and you can see that Lennon, one of the quickest wingers around, had a good two yards on him, with Laurent having to chase him after turning, but he covered that distance in a flash and made a vital interception

3. His ability to hold up opposition counter attacks.

Everyone knows that Arsenal are arguably the easiest team to undo on the counter, but Laurent uses his speed and body so well when the opposition have the ball to slow down the play, which allows us to get bodies back in time. He never commits to making a challenge, which gives the attacker a lot less time to pick out a pass.

This is something I’ve noticed for a while now, and I think it’s one of the main reasons we’ve been conceding a lot less, especially on the counter.

4.  His ability to hold a line.

On the 11th of Feb, I had asked the ever-reliable @Orbinho which team had won the most offsides this season, and Arsenal headed the list at 91 times. I’m not sure what the exact figure is now, but I’m certain that we continue to lead the list. (Berbatov alone last night was probably flagged a good 6-7 times)

This is a major improvement from last campaign, where we were all over the place at the back. The most important thing when holding a line is making sure your centre halves are the deepest defenders on the pitch and not the fullbacks.

Per and Kos have done this ever so well, and watching the big number 6’s hand go up in the direction of the linesman when a through-ball is played reminds me so much of Mr. Arsenal, Tony Adams, who of course was the expert of the offside trap with Bould alongside.

I end this post hoping Laurent builds on these two great seasons he has, and realises that he has it in him to take the next step and establish himself as a top, top defender. Yet another gem unearthed from the lower leagues of France by Arsene Wenger. (I also hope I haven’t jinxed anything for him before the United game, one that we simply cannot lose.)

The tougher things get, the louder I’ll sing. Come on, Arsenal.

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Follow me on twitter: @MadJensofNL

The times are a-changin’

The times are a-changin’

But our formation is not. It’s as simple as that.

Before you close this article, I’d like to point out that I’m not a part of the “Arsene Knows Best” or the “Wenger Out Brigade,” and I hope you see what I have to say. Also, I’m not really on the fence. It’s a bit hard to explain where I stand but Andy Wood (@yorkshiregunner) pretty much described how I feel right now in one simple sentence: “I love Arsene Wenger, but I’m no longer IN love with him.”

I have always supported Arsene’s decisions and he is the most successful manager in Arsenal’s 126 year history and is responsible for the club we are today. But, personally, after some thought over the last three weeks, I think some questions need to be asked and problems addressed.

Don’t get me wrong. By no means am I saying “Sack Wenger!” For as long as he is in charge, I will back him, but it doesn’t mean I cannot criticise constructively and question.

Our first flaw, as every Arsenal fan would tell you, is our predictable tactics and formation. Opponents can read Arsenal like an open book and expect exactly what our game plan will be. Teams from Norwich to Man United have dealt with our side in different ways, and it’s obvious that we’re far too predictable tactically.

I hate taking United as an example to prove by point, but it has to be done unfortunately. In our 2-0 FA Cup loss at Old Trafford in ‘10/’11, Ferguson fielded seven (YES, SEVEN) defenders, with the quick da Silva twins on either side of midfield and O’Shea alongside Gibson between them. He knew that we would be susceptible on the counter attack and even though it meant starting with an unconventional and strange eleven, it would be enough to catch us off-guard and beat us.

Similar to that, Ferguson has tinkered and tweaked with his formation and system throughout this season so far. In the absence of wingers, he tried the diamond formation and moved to 4-4-2 when necessary.

That’s when I wonder why we didn’t even try and accommodate a different formation, especially when three of our first choice wingers are unavailable. I hate to say it, but Arsene has been stubborn tactically.

He made quite a big change to our system to bring the best out of Cesc, but he jumped ship and we’re trying the same system with different personnel. That simply hasn’t worked out because the players we replaced Fabregas with are very different, and although Santi is outstanding, he’s s different player.

If you follow City on a regular basis, you’ll notice that Mancini almost always never keeps the same formation. He started with a 3-4-3 last night and has gone with a classic 4-4-2 and sometimes an unorthodox 3-5-2. This change in strategies and system keeps opponents guessing and although it sometimes doesn’t work out, they have the option of switching back to the formation they are most comfortable with during the game.

I sometimes wonder why we constantly put Ramsey on that right wing and Gervinho upfront, because they are out of their comfort zones in those respective positions and are used as scapegoats if things don’t go well.

Ramsey is arguably in the side on RW to play the “Benayoun role” where we intend on keeping possession and controlling the midfield area, but if we’re going to have a battering ram in the form of Giroud upfront, why not play to his strong point, which is obviously heading the ball?

Something else which I haven’t seen in Arsene in a while is his man-management that he used to be known for. One piece of exceptional man-management this season is suprisingly from Roberto di Matteo.

RDM gave Mata an extended holiday after the Olympics so that he could come back fresh and raring to go. The Italian was initially questioned as Mata was arguably their best player last season but look at how that’s paid off. The Spaniard’s been outstanding for The Blues so far.

Arsene used to be able to motivate players a lot, especially after they suffered some disappointments. After Domenech left out Nasri from the ’10 World Cup squad, Arsene stepped in and guided the young Frenchman to the best season he’s ever had individually. He was very close to winning the PFA Player of The Year and was unplayable at times.

I wonder why we don’t see Arsene handle situations like he did on so many occasions before.

Another chink in Arsene’s armour is how he rewards mediocrity. Manuel Almunia cost us the Champions League final in Paris with two blunders and what happened the following season? He was handed the number one shirt.

We have also had to put up with players like Eboue, Squillaci and Park, who simply aren’t fit to put on an Arsenal jersey. I am happy that Arsene has accepted that they are not good enough and he’s tried to get rid of them, but we need to step down on mediocrity heavily. We can spend those wages on ore capable and reliable players.

One person I have stood by and defended for a while is Andre Santos. But yesterday, we saw that he playfully asked RvP for his shirt at half time, when we were 1-0 down and he was especially getting battered. What’s next? Ask him for an autograph? Was he thinking about what colour frame would go with the shirt during the first 45? That might’ve explained where his mind was.

Yes, he was not at fault for either goal, and, yes, Santos has been unnecessarily given the blame a lot of times this season, but the fact that he asked the person who is the most hated player by Arsenal fans right now for his shirt says a lot about him and the mentality of our team. You think Keown would’ve done that? Martin would’ve given him a kick on the ankle when the ref wasn’t in sight.

They might be friends, but if you want to hug him, do it off the camera in the tunnel. Show our fans that three points is far more important than a souvenir shirt. If that was me, I would’ve given him a stern look and a far-from-casual handshake, just to show that all is not forgiven and that he must be looked at as an enemy. A deserter. (Take a look at Santi’s gesture towards the away fans after we scored that late consolation goal. Dedicated it to them. That’s what we want. That’s what we love seeing.)

Speaking of mediocrity, I feel the biggest mistake of our season so far was making Vermaelen captain. We did back ourselves into a corner by making him deputy to RvP last season, but he’s definitely our third best CB and because he wears the armband, we cannot rotate them.

Mikel would’ve been a superb captain simple cause he’s a fighter. Santi and Jack, in separate interviews, surprisingly spoke about him being the leader, with no mention of the Belgian.

To me, we have got to do what’s best for the side and the club and if that means benching our captain, so be it. The one with the armband has to be the person setting the example for the rest of the team, which lifts the spirits and gives the other 10 men a sense of belief.

I’m not saying that the captain has to go on yelling at his teammates, but sometimes it just takes a hard tackle to be slammed in to motivate the rest of the team. I’m afraid Vermaelen doesn’t do that.

Coming to the AGM, which took place a few weeks ago. People were very angry with Arsene’s words, where he said that getting fourth place is more important than the League and FA Cups. I 100% agree with that statement. Would you trade our season last year with League Cup winners, Liverpool? I definitely wouldn’t.

But I do partly disagree with the fact that only Champions League sides attract top players. We finalised the deal for Podolski well before we had secured 3rd place last season, and Santi joined Malaga when they had finished their season in 11th place (in ‘10/’11) and had no CL football.

I’m sure we can still attract talents from all across Europe, so why not aim for a top four finish AND the cups?

The main reason I think we need a cup is to get that winning and big game mentality, which we lack dearly.

Sorry to be taking the example of moneybags City again, but it is very relevant here. In that calamitous ‘10/’11 season, where we somehow dropped from 3rd to 4thin the end, with City leapfrogging us, they also quietly went on to win the FA Cup. The next season, they were obviously fuelled with hundreds of millions of pounds, but there was something about them that set them apart from the other teams. They had a never-say-die attitude and even when things were going against them completely, they grinded out results and went on to win the Premier League.

That’s what belief does to you. They had been in similar situations before and knew how to get out of them. I also feel that Chelsea winning the FA Cup last year also gave them a big boost mentally when they walked onto the pitch to face Bayern.

That’s why I think it’s essential that we go after the cups this season. We are in the Quarterfinals of the Capitol One Cup, with Chelsea as the only other “big team.” We should field our strongest XI and give it our best.

Yes, both the domestic cups have dropped in the list of many clubs’ priorities, but they are trophies, all the same.

Who knows what could happen next season if we finish top four with a cup or two? I’m no fortune-teller, but I’m sure that we’d step onto the field with a lot more assurance and faith in ourselves than we did before, only because we have proved it’s do-able.

One major positive from the season so far has been our away fans, who have out-sung the majority at most stadiums this season and I tip my hat to them. Singing “We love you Arsenal” for the last 15 minutes at Old Trafford was a superb, but it pains me to say that our fans aren’t going to be winning us games and trophies. They have done the best they can to encourage, and have left the rest to the eleven Gunners on that pitch.

Another point I would like to add is about Robin van Persie. When he issued THAT statement for us, I wrote a post where I said that he would not receive the same service like he did at Arsenal.

I was wrong.

I’ve accepted that he’s the most complete striker in Europe and has fit into that United side like a glove. Sadly, he is proving that the move is the right one for his career, as we simply do not look capable of winning the title. But that DOES NOT make what he did right and I still absolutely hate him for holding Arsene to ransom after he single-handedly shaped his career.

In conclusion, I really hope that we do find some possible solution soon as we’ve got a very tough set of games coming up and we cannot afford to fall behind further. I still think Arsene is a footballing genius, but he has to accept that there are problems which need addressing.

I’d like to finish with a line that I have before on a few occasions.

The harder things get, the louder I’ll sing. Come on, Arsenal.

 

 

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Follow me on twitter: @GodisDutch10.

D’oh! Yet another defensive problem

D’oh!
Yet another defensive problem

Over the years, Arsenal have been plagued with problems at the back and have been forced to field make-shift back fours due to injuries, especially where we had all four fullbacks out for many weeks last campaign.

This time around, we have a defensive problem of a different kind, which will also leave the boss scratching his head while filling out the team sheets. The problem is that we don’t know who to start because almost all our players are fit. (*Knocks on wood twice*)

Our best defender last season was undoubtedly Koscielny, and he still hasn’t started a single game this season. He was ruled out of the first two games due to a minor injury while playing for France, and in his absence, Per Mertesacker has pulled off some amazing performances. Per’s superb partnership with Vermaelen, forced Arsene to keep Laurent on the sidelines. Hell of a substitute to have, eh?

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Kos did start at the Etihad yesterday while our captain was down with the flu, and did look a bit rusty. Had Aguero stayed down after Laurent’s mistimed tackle, the referee would have definitely pointed to the spot. Kos could’ve maybe also done better for Lescott’s header, but made amends with a centre forward’s finish late in the second half. I’m confident we’ll see the Koscielny of last season once he gets a couple more games. I reckon he will start alongside Djourou against Coventry mid-week.

It’s safe to say that I’m comfortable with any of our three talented Centre Backs starting next weekend against the Chavs. I personally think Wenger will stick to the Vermaelen-Mertesacker partnership as it’s a massive game and having two very vocal defenders to guide the team is important.

Coming to our revelation at the back this season. Cafu, I mean Carl, Jenkinson. He’s another rough diamond unearthed by Arsene. Just around a year ago, he was on loan from Charlton at Welling United, a tiny club which plays in the Conference South and look far he has come. What a buy.

Standing at 1.85m, he doesn’t look like a traditional fullback and there were many, many doubters, but, oh, how he has silenced them.

Jenkinson has developed and matured a lot over this last summer. The most immediate change that struck me is his running style. He honestly used to run like he had shat himself, but now appears to have worked on that and it looks like it’s helped him a lot.

He’s also now very comfortable on his left foot and is ready to dribble with no hesitation; two things we hadn’t seen much of last term. If you remember, in the away leg versus Udinese, we started Sagna, one of the best RB’s in the world at LB, while Carl started in his favoured position. I understand that Arsene might’ve been hesitant to start Armand Traore on the left, but I’m also quite sure that he knew Jenkinson wouldn’t be too comfortable in that spot either and would be a far better starter to have than the 22 year old from Senegal.

Gary Neville, my new favourite pundit, said this after our draw with City last night: “I don’t know him [Carl Jenkinson] well but he looks like a kid that would be willing to run into a brick wall for you.” That’s exactly what we need. We don’t need a flashy player who demands big wages. I’d much rather have a gritty and determined team member who will give his 100% every time he steps onto the field in white the cannon on his chest.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if Sagna refuses a deal, I won’t be too disappointed if Carl keeps up these good performances.

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This picture of the stone Carl had placed at The Armoury says it all, really. He’s a Gunner through and through.

Roy Hodgson better act quickly and call him up before he gets a senior cap for Finland and becomes ineligible to play for the Three Lions.

Our two Centre Backs and stand-in Right Back have been getting a lot of necessary phrase for having just twice in the Premier League campaign so far, but our unsung hero in the back four is unquestionably Kieran Gibbs. He’s another young English full back who Arsene has nurtured and eventually made into a formidable force. Gibbs used to often play as a midfielder for the U-18’s and Reserve squads, sometimes on the left flank and other times in the middle, but I’m sure the boss knew that he could put his speed and defensive abilities to good use by playing him as a Left Back.

To other fans, he’s certainly (in)famously known for slipping and gifting United a crucial away goal in the ’08-’09 Champions League season, and they think he’s remained at that level. But us Arsenal fans know that he’s improved tenfold since then.

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With help from Steve Bould, his positional awareness has progressed a lot this term and he now knows when to burst forward and when not to. The number of late overlapping runs is something new we’re seeing from Kieran. As long as he stays fit, Gibbs will continue to improve and will chip in with assists and some goals and more importantly help our defence concede as few goals as possible, which is the most vital on Bould’s agenda.

The reactions of Arsene and Steve after Southampton scored a goal from no where when we were 4-0 up says it all, really. They looked like we were 4-1 down and were visibly very unhappy with Szczesny’s terrible error.

I’m glad that our defence has been relatively water-tight so far this season and hope we continue this fine form, because we know it’s our only weakness.

We will score goals, but not conceding them will be a big challenge and I think it’s safe to say we’re up for it.

No Robin. No Song. No problem.

No Robin. No Song. No problem.

When Thierry left in 2007, there were many questions marks around who would take over as our main goalscorer. But, as you know, there wasn’t one main man who has handed the reins as the goals were scored by all four of our strikers. Adebayor, who scored the majority of them, Eduardo, Bendtner and van Persie silenced most of the critics.

I honestly think there’s a very similar situation today. I must admit, depending so much on Robin van Stapl-er…Persie last season was a big gamble and I honestly don’t know how last season would have turned out if not for him. With him leaving, I hope the burden is shared not only by our strikers, but also our midfield men, too.

Tactically, there’s not much changed this season in the midfield and forward positions. The only difference is that now we aren’t playing with a traditional Defensive Midfielder. (But, a lot of people argue that Song wasn’t a proper DM, just our most defensive midfielder. Big, big difference between the two.) This term, we’ve gone with a double-pivot of Arteta and Diaby, but most of the defensive duties have been handed to the Spaniard, who has welcomed them with open arms. It’s quite hard to believe that Moyes used to play him so far up the field, sometimes just off Cahill. With no-nonsense tackles and interceptions, he’s used since the beginning of last season, it looks like he’s been a DM his whole career.

Undoubtedly, our revelation of the season has been Abou Diaby. The addition of Diaby has been wonderful to say the least. He adds so much to the team with his slick passes and turns, and allows the midfield to buy some time with his ability to hold up the ball so well. This tweet from Raphael Honigstein sums up the Frenchman and his ability perfectly: “Very good friend of mine had dinner with Arsene Wenger 2-3 years ago. Asked him which player he rated most highly in his squad. Answer: Diaby.”

Mind you, we had Cesc, RvP and Samir back then. Arsene obviously knew that a fit Diaby would give them a run around.

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One thing that is his playing at the back of Diaby’s mind every game must be not to stretch his hamstrings. I noticed that Abou didn’t go in for a lot of 50-50 challenges at Anfield and this hesitation will be overcome with time and I think he will be back to his best soon. With Diaby’s injury record, we have to be very careful with how much football he plays. Keeping him injury-free is vital as then we don’t have to rush Jack back and we can him ease back into first team football.

Squad depth is necessary and I think Jack will rotate with Abou when he’s back and young Coquelin can deputise for Mikel in his absence. After the international break, we’ll have a lot of weeks where we will play 3 games, so I’m sure we’ll see a lot of fresh faces soon.

Coming to three new signings.

Out of these recruits, Santi has indisputably had the best start to this term. It doesn’t seem like he’s a newcomer to English football and I feel he’s the closest thing we’ve had to Cesc. Personally, I think he can have a bigger impact with the goals than Cesc did because he’s one of the most two-footed players I have ever seen. (I’m sure Pepe Reina can vouch for this.) He doesn’t hesitate to let fly from a distance with either foot and this is an asset for any team. Just £12m for him!

It’s been little more than a year since I’ve seen a small guy in an Arsenal jersey with number 19 on the back absolutely dominate the midfield. Oh, how I missed it. The prospect of having Caz and Jack in the same midfield is mouth-watering.

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Lukas Podolski, our first signing of the summer, also has been a vital addition to our squad. Not only will Poldi chip in with the goals every game, but he gives the back four a bit of assurance by tracking back and helping them out. He also likes to cut in, which allows Gibbs to overlap and have a go on goal or cross it in towards Giroud.

He adds heaps and heaps of experience and he’s out to prove that he doesn’t only perform every two years in the international tournaments.

The next new boy is Olivier Giroud. He has looked a bit off-pace and my theory is that Ligue 1 is a much slower league compared to the Bundesliga and that he will take some time to integrate with the new side and speed of the league.His off the ball movement has been exceptional.

For Poldi’s goal at Anfield, Giroud pulled towards the right hand side of the pitch, dragging the LFC defender with him. This allowed Cazorla the time and pace to pick out a neat little pass to the German, who slotted home easily.

He also drops deeper when we don’t have the ball, something which RvP rarely did, and helps in gaining possession. A lot of Gunners have been giving him some flak for missing some chances, but they should remember that it took Bergkamp 8 games, Henry 10 to score their first goals for Arsenal. I’m sure he’ll do well. It’s just one goal that is needed for him to gain the much needed confidence.

On a different note, I think our signing of the season has been Steve Bould.

Clean sheets are something that aren’t usually associated with Arsenal, but that’s all changed. Having him as the new assistant coach has looked like a great move so far. With all repesct to Pat Rice and all that he did at Arsenal for 44 years, I think the players needed some tough to overlook the proceedings and bark out orders.

Here are a few things he’s added to our squad:

1. Zonal marking. We had conceded the most number of headed goals in 2009-10 and it was our Achilles Heel. Teams targeted set piece situations to gain an advantage over us. With Steve Bould coming in, he’s re-introduced the zonal marking system, which gained popularity during the legendary back four days. I was most impressed by our defensive work at Stoke. We dominated all areas of the pitch, as usual, but still did not give in the brutes when they bombarded us with the long throws and corners.

2. Holding a line. Everyone expected us to play a high line of defence, but Bouldie chose to have them line up a bit deeper, probably not to over-commit so early in the season. Another important change is that it’s our CB’s who are the last line of defence, with the fullbacks ahead of them. Lots of times over the last few seasons, Clichy and Gibbs were often caught dreaming and playing forwards onside.

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3. The balance between attack and defence. Chamberlain might not have had the best game at Anfield going forward, but people tend to overlook how much he helped Jenkinson on the right wing. They complemented each on the flank and it was important as Sterling and Enrique are quite a force in attack. This balance can also be seen with Arteta, who covers for the fullbacks, especially Gibbs, when teams are counter-attacking.

4. Off the ball rigidity. When we have the ball, we play almost a 4-2-3-1, but when the possession is with the opponents, we switched to a 4-5-1. This asks a lot of the opposition as they need to really spread the ball quickly, something we’re better than almost all teams at. This disciplined formation helps the defence a lot and we’re a lot less vulnerable to shots on goal.

5. Our set pieces. Steve Bould himself claimed that he went bald after all those near post flick-ons, and he’s deployed Mertesacker in that exact position to do the same job. But, I’ve noticed that we don’t always aim for the near post. When Santi lifts the ball over his head before the corner, it’s a signal that it’s going to be a corner towards the second post. This variation keeps the opposition on their toes and always guessing.It also must be pointed out that Neil Banfield, our new first team coach, should be praised for our defensive stability.

The ever-reliable Harry Dean (@AFCAMDEN) has said that Banfield’s the one who takes a lot of the training sessions and so he deserves as much praise as Bould does.

In conclusion, I’d like to say that Wenger’s decision to change his right hand men, to me, is him admitting that his plan was a bit flawed and that he need new people to question him and help him out where needed. I’m glad he’s done this.

A lot of fans were disappointed that we didn’t make more signings and replace Alex Song, but I think letting go of him was the best option. Egos are the last thing we need in a team going through a transition period.

Martin Keown, a few days ago, said, “The intelligent Arsenal fans will be quietly optimistic about this season.” How right you are, Martin.

My journey to Goonerdom.

When people think of India, their thoughts may often jump to cricket, and with good reason. For years, cricket here has been almost a religion and its players, the equivalent of gods. People clung to the cricket as if it were a sacred thing of great worth, and it brought communities together, as they ‘ooh’ed and ‘aah’ed their way through a game.

But since the early 2000’s, the Gavaskars and Tendulkars have been replaced by the Messis and the Beckhams in our homes and on our streets. The grip that cricket once held on the country is loosening as football is making a niche for itself. As this new sport continues to develop itself into a major ‘brand’ in India, I see a larger number of kids playing football in alleys, in parks and in schools all over the country. It’s a phenomenon taking place across our cities and states as the youth are flocking to a new revolution – they’re changing the game.

There have been plenty clubs across Europe, from Barca to Celtic, that organise camps for promising youngsters in many of the metropolitans in India. Unfortunately, too many of these very same footballers, despite their talent, tend not to take up football seriously or professionally, as it just doesn’t pay well here. I’ve played alongside some superb players, who are forced to give up the beautiful game, to take up studies instead, which are still a priority in many Indian households.

Since going to a club’s stadium all the way from the sub-continent presents itself as a slight logistical problem, Indians all over are glued to their televisions and social networking sites as they tweet, comment and exult over match proceedings all at the same time, creating an electric atmosphere in spite of not being ‘there.’ Many a time, supporters get together, beers and pizza on hand, as they live the match on screens in front of them. I’ve been to a few match screenings myself, organised by “Bangalore Gunners”, and have watched as fans from different states and backgrounds unite as one during these thrilling 90 minutes. Of course, I hope to witness the great game firsthand as well – with a probable short trip through some parts of Europe on my agenda this October/November, I definitely have a couple Arsenal games in mind, and hopefully a North London Derby will be my first at the Grove!

Having just recently turned 18, access to all pubs and bars is now a lot easier and I look forward to these meet-ups this season. A lot of the time, I’d rather sit at home and watch Arsenal get down to business with some Chinese take-out than go out with my friends. I am a bit superstitious, and I always watch the big, big games at home with my red flag suspended over the telly!

But when I do attend these match screenings, I meet fans from every walk of life. All united by the glorious game on the screen, and for that hour and a half, an irreplaceable aura surrounded the room giving you a feeling that you belonged. Hearing everyone hold their collective breath as players like Wilshere and Arteta hovered over the ball, with the goal in sight; those are the moments you cherish and savour. A moment to forget, and I’m sure all Indian football fans will agree with me, is Blackburn’s relegation from the top-flight. Indian poultry giant, Venky’s, agreed to take over Rovers in November 2010, promising a finish in the top 5. They were linked with shock bids for Ronaldinho and Beckham, which quickly faded away, and were replaced by the uninspiring and almost unheard-of recruits in the form of Mauro Formica and Ruben Rochina. From that point, I knew it would end in tears.

It all went downhill from there, with the Rao family refusing to contribute necessary spending on bringing in fresh faces. Rovers fans were pushed further apart from the board after they refused to sack Steve Kean, who took over from Fat Sam and failed to impress. They stuck with him, but all Kean could do was watch as Blackburn, who were League champions in ’95, plummet to The Championship. It was a deal that never should’ve happened, as they never kept their promises and let down the fans in so many ways. I just hope that they somehow make it back up to the Premier League soon.

The state of both India’s economy and footballing fanbase have been the same for the past few years; growing. Consequently, as Indian spending power gradually increases, more and more fans are seen lined up in front of stores (of course, not always the ‘official’ ones) to buy the latest kits or their team’s branded goods, in an effort to take their support for their club to the next level. So just because they can’t make it to the stadium doesn’t mean they can’t contribute; and one look at the global football spectrum sees Indians making up a large percentage of each club’s world footprint. It infuriates me when I see people label overseas fans as “armchair supporters.” I hope they know that at least some of us probably know as much about and also love the club as they do, especially after seeing thousands of Arsenal fans gather to watch their favourite side during the Asia tour.

I must to admit, I have a friend who knows a guy who works at Nike in Bangkok, where most football jerseys are made, and he often gets rid of the “rejected” stock, which often have a stitching error or a slight stain, by selling it for almost 1/3rd the price. The official jerseys cost about Rs. 3,200, but I have picked up a few of these “first copies,” as we call them here, for about Rs. 1,300.

Indian supporters don’t have the luxury of coming from generations of a club’s loyal fanbase, and so need to make an important decision in their lives; which club to support. This is a decision that often separates even the closest siblings coming from the very same home. The majority of fans I’ve met, around my own age of 18, belong to the ‘big clubs’, with United winning most of them, and Chelsea claiming almost as many. Quite surprisingly, I do happen to know three Spurs fans and one City fan. The latter certainly isn’t a glory hunter as he’s backed the Sky Blues for about ten years now.

This very same lack if direct association between our country and the seat of International football however, lends a bitter taste to fans’ choices. It almost sickens me that a lot of them don’t know much about their clubs, and don’t necessarily watch most of their games, but when it’s time to lift a trophy, they’re all big fans. I’ve seen a fan from the sub-continent quickly switching loyalties when frustrated by Liverpool’s team’s lack of success, obviously eager for the triumph of Man City. He got some flak from fans all the world, including me, and the funny part was that he tried to defend his flighty decision, by saying that he’d been thinking it over for some time and was “fed up” of Liverpool.

Personally, it’s an amusing story as to how I became a Gunner. Coming from a school that only has basketball and football, I chose the latter sport for some reason and played it every break. I slowly started grew more interested in the game and so I started joining my brother, three years older than me, on the couch every Saturday and Sunday night watch 22 men knock the ball about for 90 minutes. And as all brothers do, we fought and argued about everything. He’s somehow made his way into United fandom, and so, for the sake of controversy, I decided to be a “supporter” of this club called Arsenal, who seemed to be their fiercest rivals. The fact that the club had a cannon on their crest further encouraged me to pursue my interest in the red and white army. The cannon; an instrument of battle, a symbol of strength, power has always appealed to me far more than any random fire-breathing lion or chicken on a baseball ever would. It was undoubtedly another reason for me to join the ranks of Gunner fans.

My first real memory as an Arsenal fan is that of watching Martin Keown, Ashley Cole and Lauren terrorize and torment Ruud van Nistelrooy after his dive and penalty miss at Old Trafford in 2003. For some reason, that thuggery, not only amused me, but also drew me in and I became a more frequent watcher of Arsenal games, eventually becoming a dedicated fan. At the time, I really didn’t care if we were winning or losing, I just wanted to watch The Arsenal.

I can honestly say that I don’t remember watching many games during the Invincibles era and of the FA Cup winning squad after, but from ’06, this weekend hobby evolved into an obsession. ESPN replaced Cartoon Network and my favourite t-shirt soon became that red and white Arsenal jersey (with a certain Henry on the back). Waking up for school on Wednesday or Thursday mornings ten minutes earlier than usual to check the Champions League games’ scores on the Internet became a tradition, as my parents banned me from watching the games past midnight until I was about 13. I soon caught up with our history and the games I had missed over the years through a lot of reading and watching countless youtube videos. When I think it over, Henry was undoubtedly my favourite player, and what I loved most about him was his ability to make something out of nothing. He would turn a match on its head in a blink of an eye with ease and make it look like it was all part of the plan.

One game that I’ll never forget is strangely the home win to Porto in the Champions League, back in March 2010. I had the most important chemistry exam of my life at 8 AM that morning, but I still stayed up till 2:30 AM to watch Bendtner run riot against the Portugese side. Needless to say, I didn’t fare too well in that exam, but it was worth it. (In my books, Nick went from hero to zero immediately after THAT miserable first touch late at the Camp Nou, which could’ve buried the game after van Persie was given his marching orders. Unforgivable.)

Another fond memory was when I was to stay a night at the hospital after having a bad neck injury while playing the game myself, which caused my spinal cord to shift in September 2010. I reached my hospital room after a series of scans only to find out that the TV didn’t have the channel which was showing the Arsenal vs. Standard Liege game. I asked my Mum if we could request for another room, but she shut me up with a lecture about not having my priorities set right and I was forced to ask my friend to send me updates via text, which I hate.

Over the years, there have been many low points in my journey as an Arsenal fan. One that particularly stands out was the week in February of 2011, where we went from quadruple contenders to title pretenders in just two weeks, after just one calamitous half at the SJP. I confess, in that time, I had one foot on the Arsene out bandwagon, but I realised soon that I was quick to jump to that conclusion and that there was a lot happening behind the scenes that we didn’t know about. (Sorry for that, Arsene!)

When teams lose games, the amount of banter thrown around between fans in India is pretty big as well. I play for a local club, and our captain, who is six years older than me, is a Chelsea fan. He received quite a few texts from me after our win at the Bridge last campaign, but gladly returned the favour when they won the cup double. Honestly, most of my closer friends who support other cubs don’t dare say anything to me after Arsenal losses, because they know how much the club means to me and how badly I take teasing sometimes!

Football in India is undoubtedly on the rise. It’s not going to go away any time soon. This new-found Indian pastime, and as ‘Podolski turns and shoots!’ the screaming shouts of ‘Goal!’ will only get louder as more and more Indians join in the chorus. Yes, us Arsenal fans have to look back to May 2005 for the last time they had had a celebratory, trophy-winning drink, but that will not dampen our spirits or lessen our adoration for the club. The Arsenal is here to stay.

Pinch me.

Firstly, I’d like to say that this an overdue blog post (the last one was right after THAT statement), so and will contain my opinion on a lot of the recent Arsenal-related stuff. A friend of mine, Digant, has been helping me out with my recent blog posts, and I hope to update my blog a lot more often from now on.

Pinch me.
This has got to be a dream, a wild fantasy.

What a transfer window this has been for Arsenal fans, thus far. Towards the end of May, if someone had told me that we’d add Giroud and Cazorla to the superb signing of Podolski, I’d have asked them what they’d been smoking.

We now have the youngest European to gain 100 caps for their country, Ligue 1’s top scorer last season and La Liga’s best player outside the Barca and Madrid squads. How’s that for ambition, Robin?

It’s a very Arsene thing to do, isn’t it? We’ve just come out of one of our worst seasons defensively, conceding 49 goals in the league, and we go out and buy three attacking players! On a serious note, I really think that Arsene’s new number two, Steve Bould, will sort out our frailties at the back, although the lack of gametime together for our first choice back 5 is worrying. Szczesny has already spoken out about how Bouldie likes to bark out orders and doesn’t hesitate to stop a practice session/game to correct small mistakes about positioning, etc.

It must be added that most, almost all in fact, of the money we used for the three recruits, was from the money we earned from selling the sites on Queensland Road in London. That’s absolutely terrific. It shows that we’re a self-sustaining club, and we do not need a Sugar Daddy owner to splash out silly amounts of money to attract top talents. It also represents the first time any property sales have led directly to investment in the squad. So could it be that Arsene really didn’t have money to spend since the move to the Emirates and now that he’s been given some dough he’s made sure there’s none left for the board to put in their pockets. It’s encouraging and it remains to be seen if this was a one time change of strategy which Arsene thought necessary or a change in policy which will continue when we renew and strengthen our sponsorship deals.

Coming to the Robin van Persie situation. Lots of websites are saying that United are in “pole position” for his signature, but I really don’t think Arsene will deal with them, unless they offer about £25-30 mil. Him going to United would really twist the knife that he’s already stabbed in Arsenal’s back. If we don’t get a big enough offer, I think we should keep him for another season, even if means we lock him up in a glass cage with Frimpong and make him repeatedly read his statement out loud.

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On a different note, I’d like to address something I’ve been wanting to for a few weeks now. There has been a lot of criticism of several Arsenal players on twitter and facebook, and I want to talk about these players, in this piece, which I call “Our misunderstood men.”

1. Aaron Ramsey.
Rambo’s undoubtedly received the most amount of flak from the Arsenal faithful. He was a top prospect before that unforgettable night at The Britannia. Since he returned from that horrific injury, almost everything has gone against him, and he’s become something of a scapegoat amongst a section of the fans.

If you think about it, last season was Aaron’s first full season at the club and it obviously takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you’ve just recovered from a career-threatening lay-off. He had to restart at the bottom of the learning curve all over again and we should bear with him.

To make it worse, Gary Speed, who had mentored Aaron and made him Welsh captain, tragically passed away, it was out of the blue and one can only imagine how it affected the young lad.

Positionally, this season, Ramsey has been played out of position, especially during the second half of the season. Rosicky was brilliant all season in that CAM role and this forced the Welshman to play on the wing; a task he’s not suited for. Although he had a fantastic game against Everton where he drifted about to befuddle the Toffees to devastating effect. He could’ve scored a couple that day if he’d remained composed.

People also flash around the stats about his lack of successful passes, but when you play in an advanced midfield position, the amount will be a lot lower as you have to play riskier passes, which are often intercepted.

As a fan you never feel that Ramsey doesn’t put in less than 100% when he pulls on the red and white (and blue and black and purple for the coming season). When he was deployed as the most advanced of the midfield trio he would often pressurize the opposing goalkeepers and centre-backs ahead of RvP and was a crucial component of our pressing game.

Give him time. Look how Rosicky flourished with regular game time after such a long lay-off. I’m confident he can add a lot to our side this campaign.

2. Per Mertesacker.

The phrase “what he lacks in speed, he makes up for in positioning and experience” is often heard when people speak about Per, and I completely agree with it. Standing at 6’ 6”, he’s easily the least fastest player on our team, but remember that he has 81 German caps. He uses this top level experience to his advantage and is a superb reader of the game. In addition to his positional sense he is an excellent communicator and organiser, something we that we could sense Arsenal lacked following Gallas’ departure and when the rather timid Almunia stood between the posts. The effect of Per’s communication will be greater this season as he’s had time to work on his English and (more importantly?) French.

He joined us last year at the 11th hour and came from a different league, which is played a different pace. We can only hope his footwork has improved after doing all those Nigerian dance routines! I’m confident we’ll see the best of Merte this season.

3. Gervinho.

Our Ivorian with the gargantuan forehead got off to a decent start last year, he was bedded in better than the other signings (having been purchased during the preseason) and had good games at home to Stoke and at Stamford Bridge. His form dropped dramatically following the AFCON and found himself bellow Yossi and Oxlade-Chamberlain in the pecking order.

His main fault is his horrendous composure in front of goal. It’s no small fault but it’s a problem that can be sorted out on the training ground as he gets into good goal scoring positions. One only needs to look at the contrast between Koscielny’s first and second seasons to remain optimistic about Gervinho.
Gervinho possesses unbelievable acceleration off the mark and can skip gears dramatically whilst running with the ball and is good at taking on fullbacks. We saw glimpses of it last season and he’s used this ability to great effect in the preseason. We will see this become more effective this coming season as Arsene shifts the creative focus of the midfield back to the centre of the park (not you Ju Young) with the purchase of Cazorla. Last season we used Walcott and Gervinho to get the ball to van Persie so the wings were pressured quickly, affording Theo and Gervinho less space. This season defenses will be more preoccupied in the middle of the pitch so they may become compact as they were wont to do when we had Fabregas. This means more space for Gervinho to run rings around fullbacks.

Hopefully a Gervinho completely settled in London and in the squad gains some composure in front of goal. I feel that he (and any other signing made from a foreign league) should be given two years before a final verdict is passed on their success… And that brings me to

4. Laurent Koscielny

(disclaimer: I know he is now deservedly appreciated by Arsenal fans, so this is sort of for other fans)

Cast aside as a failure following his sending off on debut against Liverpool and then later against Newcastle at home, the Polish born defender began to win Gooner hearts with his performance at home against Barcelona (a special mention for Johan Djourou’s performance that night). No doubt his start was shaky but we all know what’s happened since.

The truth is that when he was signed Arsene didn’t plan to use him as much during the first season and would probably have handled him as he did Oxlade-Chamberlain last season. Squillaci was signed to replace Gallas and play alongside Vermaelen but injuries to Vermaelen and Djourou meant that Koscielny was thrust into the deep end and forced to play alongside Squillaci. It was a struggle for him to adapt as he’d been playing in Ligue 2 only 15 months before signing for Arsenal.

During his time at Lorient, Koscielny was used as the deeper centre-back, a sweeper of sorts to clean up after the more aggressive centre-back. The plan was to play Squillaci alongside Vermaelen in that position in the short term and to play Koscielny in that position in the long term. The aforementioned injury problems meant Koscielny had to play alongside Squillaci and take on the unfamiliar mantle of the aggressor. I noticed that Djourou and Squillaci seemed to have a better understanding that season as Djourou was trained as an aggressive centre-back and I feel it would be interesting if anyone were to dig up stats to compare Squillaci and Djourou vs Squillaci and Djourou.

Koscielny has since established himself as a bedrock and reminds us as fans to be less fickle with new signings, especially from foreign leagues.

To end this very random blog post, I hope you’ve seen this wonderful picture on Wenger’s thoughts during this RvP to United saga; pic.twitter.com/O00VtQeK

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Give us a follow on twitter. I’m @GodisDutch10 and Digant is @Digant13.