Monthly Archives: September 2012

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.

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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.

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