Clean sheets, Szczesny and Wilshere contract

Clean sheets, Szczesny and Wilshere contract

Morning all.

It’s cold and dark and I can’t believe we’re nearly into December. Time flies, eh? Even when you’re not having much fun. Or maybe that’s just part of getting old. Anyway, I have coffee and coffee is good.

There’s obviously been lots of discussion about Villa and where it all went wrong over the last few days. And perhaps it’s a sign of the times that it all going wrong is a 0-0 draw. As frustrating as it was it’s not the worst result in the world, and maybe at a time when Arsenal fans can find the cloud in every situation, we need to look at the silver lining a bit.

I think it’s quite unique and symptomatic of the modern game and Fanalysis that there could be outrage and complaints about a new commercial deal which will provide us with £25m more per season to work with. And in football terms, while there was much to be frustrated about at Villa, there were some positives.

1 – Clean sheet

2 – We didn’t concede

3 – They didn’t score

4 – Our net minder didn’t have to pick one out of the onion bag

5 – Their forwards didn’t get off the mark

6 – Villa made no positive inroads into their goal difference

7 – The large rectangular piece of cotton, or some other fabric (depending on how fancy you are), which is placed on top of the mattress, remained unsoiled.

8 – Erm …

Well, you get the picture. It’s the first time since the opening weeks of the season that we’ve kept consecutive clean sheets and that is something we can build on. I think it’s reasonable to assume that Everton are going to be a bit more threatening tomorrow night and hopefully we’ll go into the game a with a bit more defensive confidence.

Without wishing to jinx him like a common ocelot (hugely prone to being jinxed by other large cats, bear that in mind if ever getting a pet because you could end up in the danger zone without even knowing it), I think the return of Wojciech Szczesny has been important. Mannone did ok, in fairness to him, but the Pole transmits an aura of security to his defenders. It’s hard to quantify really, but if you try and visualise the team it just feels stronger with him in it than without.

Much like our midfield feels better with Jack Wilshere it or how you’d prefer Giroud to Chamakh. Which isn’t to say others can’t do a job but some people are just better at stuff than others. To me Szczesny looks focused and determined to put a difficult few months behind him. He says his ankle isn’t 100% yet, but good enough to play, and I think the fact that he’s been brought back despite still carrying a bit of a knock is illustrative of how important he could be for this team.

He’s been talking about tomorrow night’s game too and says:

It will be a six-pointer. It will be a very good game for us to win. We managed to get three points last year and it was a really tough match.

We have managed to get a couple of good results recently. It would have been good if we had won on Saturday but we shall take it game by game and hope for the best. We need to climb the table and hopefully do well in the other competitions as well.

The usual kind of stuff, nothing particularly groundbreaking, but there’s no time to dwell on Villa. The games come so fast at this time of year that there is the chance to put things right quickly, which is a good thing in my opinion. I do worry that talk of the players being tired is kind of self-defeating, and as an excuse for poor results or performance it’s one of the most frustrating to listen to, but we’ll see what this lot are made of tomorrow night. More on that game tomorrow.

Meanwhile, there are various reports this morning suggesting that Arsenal are talking to Jack Wilshere about a new contract. Which makes perfect sense to me. For a start he’s not heading into the final year of his current deal and, well, he’s one of our best players and should be a huge part of our future so let’s get him tied down. Its hard to envisage any real issues with this one. I’m hesitant to say Jack loves the club because footballers are adulterous bastards at the best of times. One minute they love you, the next they’re packing their things and moving in with some old red faced, saggy-moobed Scot up the road, but I don’t really think there’ll be any problems here.

And when it does happen, with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gibbs also in discussions, following recent new deals for Jenkinson, Koscielny and Vermaelen (who let’s not forget pledged his future to the club at a difficult time last year), it’s further evidence that when there’s the desire from both sides to make a deal happen it usually goes down without much fuss at all.

Beyond that it’s fairly quiet this morning. I’m assuming there’ll be some kind of pre-Everton press conference but given how tetchy things were after the Villa game on Saturday I wouldn’t be surprised if the midweek travel etc was used as an excuse not to have one. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Update: there is one

Finally, if you fancy winning one of two pairs of tickets for Saturday’s home game against Swansea, check out the competition right here.

Right, that’s that. Have a good one, Ocelot fans. Till tomorrow.

Tactics Column: Arsenal’s lack of “depth” shown against Villa

Tactics Column: Arsenal’s lack of “depth” shown against Villa

It’s difficult to make sense of the decision to substitute Olivier Giroud when Arsenal needed a win for the defensive midfielder, Francis Coquelin, but it certainly didn’t warrant the chants aimed at Arsène Wenger. When Wenger did remove Giroud, however, on the 86th minute, it was ten minutes after they had attempted what would be their last shot of the match – by Aaron Ramsey.  Arsenal’s game had started to become inaccurate and whilst that doesn’t make any clearer whether Wenger actually “knew what he was doing” (and the inaccuracy of their forward play might have just boiled down to their desperation to get the three points), such outward thinking to freshen Arsenal’s tired approach should perhaps even be applauded.

Coquelin’s fresh legs would bring energy to the team – some direct running – and anyhow, it was evident Giroud levels had dropped considerably in the last quarter. The two substitutions Wenger had made previously, bringing on Gervinho and Andrey Arshavin, added to that feeling of inaccuracy as both are more known for being mercurial threats rather than trusted arsenals. Indeed, Gervinho then moved to centre-forward and had a couple of chances to get behind which Wenger thought wasn’t happening all game. Four minutes, though, was a bit late for such a considered style.

The substitution, in a nutshell, sums up Arsenal’s lack of depth. Marouane Chamakh patently wants out as he didn’t even figure on the bench while Jack Wilshere was only there – carrying a knock, no least – as a last resort option. But it also summed up Arsenal’s lack of “depth” from a tactical viewpoint. Once again, Arsenal passed pretty well despite Aston Villa putting decent pressure at the back but the team lacked ideas in the final third. It was a shame because as Wenger says, Aston Villa gave “room to play”, particularly in the first-half (while in the second-half, they naturally dropped back and split defence and attack).

Arsenal didn’t have the tools in their armoury to make use of the extra space. In the 3-3 draw against Fulham, we saw how both sides, who had trouble passing it through each others midfields, broke through defensive lines through players who can spin into space. Dimitar Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz were key for Fulham while for Arsenal, they relied mostly on Santi Cazorla to step away from markers and then the release quickly of wide forwards.

Against Aston Villa, the passing failed to stick on a greasy surface and as such, it needed players of exceptional ball control. Cazorla was overly relied upon but he was unable to dictate the game but the rest of the team, you wouldn’t describe as good dribblers in tight situations. In that sense Arsenal missed Wilshere although Ramsey had a strong game and his running to try and break through was at least positive (and was Arsenal’s main threat too). Last season, Tomas Rosicky and Robin van Persie were the players who quickly spun into space and changed the direction of Arsenal’s attacks and this season, Abou Diaby started in that vein. The Gunners need more players who can change the emphasis from the neat and intricate. “The key to Arsenal playing well, being penetrative and dynamic, is when players turn on the ball,” says former Arsenal midfielder Stewart Robson. “When they’ve got their back to goal, suddenly they turn and look to play the next ball forward.”

The team missed also, the Bacary Sagna-Theo Walcott axis who have been Arsenal’s most dangerous weapons, especially when they play their quick give-and-goes. That was replicate in sorts, by Kieran Gibbs and Lukas Podolski on the other side where most of Arsenal’s danger came from.

Returning to the subject of a lack of “depth”, it said that top attacking sides must “make the pitch as big as possible” when going forwards and make it as “small as possible” when defending. Vicente del Bosque adds that there are three facets that contribute to a good performance: “possession, pressure and depth.” By and large Arsenal, within their own means, achieved good pressure when defending, winning the ball back many times. But going forwards, they lacked men who could stretch the pitch. At a number of times with possession deep, Wenger urged his men to push forward and play as much as possible, in the opposition’s half. The failure to do this is illustrated by the person who found Olivier Giroud the most during the game: Per Mertesacker with ten passes, each time when the striker was forced to drop deep.

When Wenger told Giroud to play closer to the “offside line” after the 2-0 win against Montpellier, it was not just to use his strengths in the air. When Giroud’s movement was lateral as opposed to backwards on Saturday evening, he created the best chance by crossing the ball to Laurent Koscielny. Indeed, Arsenal’s crossing game can only work when the ball is moved wide quickly; catching the opposition by surprise otherwise it’s easier to defender. As such, if that doesn’t happen, you are more and more likely to see this (although is crossing really a default tactic to rely on?).

However, saying all this, it was a good bad performance by Arsenal considering the result. Their shape was superb, mirroring how they defended at the start of the season, Koscielny in particular having a fantastic game; it’s getting the attack to click which has been the main issue. More depth can be the only solution to the problem.

Win tickets to Arsenal v Swansea

Win tickets to Arsenal v Swansea

Arseblog has teamed up with Thomas Cook Sport, official travel partner of Arsenal, to offer two lucky fans the chance to win a pair of tickets to their home game against Swansea City on Saturday 1st December 2012.

The Gunners left Emirates Stadium with all three points last season following a 1-0 win and to be in with a chance of winning, simply answer the following question:

Who scored the only goal when we beat Swansea in that 1-0 game last season?

a.    Theo Walcott
b.    Mikel Arteta
c.    Andrey Arshavin

Send your answers to competition@arseblog.com before 7am Wednesday morning, winners announced in that morning’s blog.

Please note: this competition is open to UK residents only.

Thomas Cook Sport is the UK’s leading sports tour operator and official travel partner of Arsenal, offering Match Breaks to Gunners fans for the 2012/2013 season from £109 per person. Wish you were there? Book your Match Break by visiting www.thomascooksport.com or call the sales team on 0844 800 9900 to be able to say #IWASTHERE.

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Wenger, journalists, and respect

Wenger, journalists, and respect

We begin with an exchange from the Aston Villa press conference.

“I don’t understand why you’d want to create any kind of rift with the Arsenal fans.”Unnamed journalist to Arsene Wenger.

“Why should I create any rift?” - Arsene Wenger.

“Because it’s not showing them any respect”Unnamed journalist.

Now, I have my issues with Arsene Wenger, like many people do. I’m concerned about the lack of depth in the squad, as I outlined yesterday. He can be stubborn, intransigent and frustrating. Clearly he hasn’t been as successful as he would like to be, or fans would like him to be, and some of his decisions are difficult to understand on and off the pitch.

This all sparked, of course, from the substitution late on during Saturday’s game with Villa. Wenger took off Olivier Giroud, put on Francis Coquelin, and there were some chants from some of the travelling fans about the manager not knowing what he was doing. Obviously those chants were seized upon by the journalists after the game and put to Wenger in an increasingly confrontational way. At first he tried to laugh them off, in the end he got quite annoyed. You can see the video on this page here (2nd video down – and it’s well worth watching to get the context).

So here’s another frustration – Wenger could have easily downplayed the whole thing by saying, “Giroud was tired, I moved Gervinho – who has got 5 goals this season – up front, and I was also aware that we’d had just one shot on target and I didn’t want to lose the game.”

Ok, it might have been hard to take but some days you have to accept that it’s not going to happen for you from an attacking point of view and although we have what we hold isn’t ideal, one point is better than none. Villa had crashed a shot off the bar and a Carl Jenkinson clearance with his heel prevented another break. Given our tendency to concede silly goals maybe it was sensible.

Arsene Wenger is intelligent and articulate enough to be able to deal with questions like that without getting the hump the way he did. He could easily have answered those questions in a way which would have played down the whole thing. Not using Wilshere? Concern over his ankle, as John Cross reveals today, but perhaps he didn’t want to let slip every bit of information. Odd substitution? See above.

I think, in hindsight, he’ll look back on it and think he could have done better and really shouldn’t have risen to the bait – because bait is exactly what it was. A few weeks back, in and around the time of the AGM and the poor results against Norwich and Schalke (and leading up to the Man Utd game), journalists and columnists were tripping over themselves to write articles about how Arsenal fans ‘deserved better’.

It was as if they’d taken a quick tour of Twitter, jotted down all the complaints, listed them off, wrapped them in some patronising prose and toddled off with themselves, pleased with their day’s work. Now, this isn’t to question the validity of complaints in any way, many of them will be found here (although perhaps not expressed as vociferously as elsewhere and certainly not the Piersian depths of Twitter), but to ask – who the fuck are these journalists to speak on behalf of Arsenal fans?

How is it that a journalist can sit in a press conference and talk about Arsene Wenger not showing any respect while not showing any respect himself? Since when did they give one single shit about what Arsenal fans ‘deserve’? The truth is they don’t, bar one or two whose leanings are red and white, but then those journalists don’t ask those kind of cretinous questions or write columns like that.

They are perfectly entitled to ask questions of Arsene Wenger, on behalf of their own paper or TV station or whoever it is they provide copy for, but never, ever on behalf of Arsenal fans. If you, Johnny Journalist, have an issue you want to bring up with Wenger have the balls to do it in your own name, not ours. Otherwise you’re just a shit-stirring coward who doesn’t have the chops to confront a football manager about football decisions.

It’s Jellyfish Journalism at its fucking worst. There were legitimate questions to be asked of Arsene Wenger on Saturday evening. The substitution, the team’s performance, the lack of attacking options on the bench and so on, but to cloak them as if you were concerned about us poor old Arsenal fans, well, it’s pretty craven. And in the end nobody got any kind of decent answer.

Arsene Wenger, who looked like a frustrated man but one also feeling the pressure, reacted to the stupidity of the questioning. I wish he’d done better, I wish he’d turned tables and asked that hack who he was to talk about respect and Arsenal fans. You can be quite sure the next time there’s a chance to stick the knife in about Arsenal supporters he’ll do it without thinking twice. Same with all the others who were so concerned and so worried about what we deserved.

In the end nobody comes out of it smelling of roses and while we all have our frustrations with Wenger, which I accept go right across the scale, it’s a bit rich for any journalist to accuse him of a lack of respect to Arsenal fans while doing exactly the same.

Till tomorrow.

Villa 0-0 Arsenal: Lack of options the big frustration

Villa 0-0 Arsenal: Lack of options the big frustration

Match reportBy the numbersPlayer ratingsVideo

In the 87th minute, with Arsenal looking for a goal that would take three points at Villa Park, Arsene Wenger made a substitution. A manager who has, in the past, ended up playing 4-1-5 in search a winner, took off Olivier Giroud and replaced him with defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin.

Having already taken off 7 goal Lukas Podolski – whose inability to play 90 minutes in the Premier League is either a worry or some kind of elaborate joke – Arsenal were left with only Gervinho up front, a player whose best quality is that he’s really quite fast on FIFA 13. The change was met with dismay by some of the Arsenal fans at the game and those watching from afar.

Now, I understand fully why Giroud might have needed to come off. He put in a real shift on Wednesday against Montpellier, and despite the dullness of the draw yesterday I don’t think we were found lacking in application. The Frenchman worked hard again, most of our best moments had some involvement from him, and maybe he was cramping up or simply ‘fatigued’ like the manager said.

In fact, immediate threat of injury is the only reason I can think of because as tired as he was another 4 or minutes of injury time with an actual striker on the pitch would have increased our chances of winning the game. On the face of it though, it appeared that Arsene was more concerned about not losing it. Perhaps he felt that was the best course of action on a day on which we only got one shot from twelve on target. And in the cold light of day I kind of understand that.

The issue, however, is that Arsenal Football Club went into a difficult away game with just one striker in the 18 man squad. There were forwards, yes and I suppose Podolski could play there if he was allowed play more than 70 minutes in the league, but Arshavin, Gervinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain – they’re not strikers. The Ivorian had a decent spell as a ‘false nine’ at the start of the campaign but when his first two touches gave Villa a goal kick and throw in, it’s hard not to think that was more by accident than design.

One striker. One. I know the game has changed and we no longer play two traditional strikers, an Henry and a Bergkamp who could be replaced by a Kanu or a Wiltord, an Adebayor or a Bendtner, but to have nobody on the bench? Well, that’s not really good enough. It’s why talk of a Thierry Henry return on loan is annoying because it’s a sticking plaster solution to a serious problem.

It’s clearly all over for Marouane Chamakh at the club, if he can’t even make the bench for a game like this then that says it all. And once you go beyond Giroud Arsenal do not have a single other striker in their squad. There was nobody to bring on yesterday who offered something a bit different; nobody who could take on a tiring Villa as Arsenal began to mount some pressure in the final 15 minutes or so; nobody with fresh legs who could give the centre-halves a bit of a runaround.

And for all the complaints about the result, this is what I find most frustrating. We might have scored through Laurent Koscielny just before half-time but having started the move he was unable to finish it, scooping over the bar with his left foot. You’d expect better but in his mitigation the ball was slightly behind him and on his weaker foot. We also might have gone behind late in the 2nd half but Wojciech Szczesny made an outstanding fingertip save to push Holman’s shot against the bar.

Defensively we were all right, for the most part. Benteke looked a handful for Villa but I thought Mertesacker and Koscielny both did well, and another clean sheet isn’t anything to complain about. Yet, we come back to the lack of options on the bench and the fact that we do not have the depth of squad to turn the screw on a struggling team when we need to do it.

I get that players are tired but if you play the same players week in, week out, without any real rest, it’s no wonder that they’ll become a bit jaded. As sparkly as Cazorla and Arteta were in the last two games, they failed to find that verve yesterday. Three games in a week, nobody to share the burden. Jack Wilshere was rested, which is sensible in my opinion. His comeback has to be managed properly and for all the brickbats thrown his way I thought Aaron Ramsey was our most productive player, particularly in the second half. He was trying to make things happen amidst the lethargy around him.

But when you’re at 0-0 and you take off a striker to put on a defensive midfielder – because that’s basically the only change you can make, then you know there’s an issue with the make-up of your squad. Afterwards, a tetchy Arsene Wenger spoke about chants which suggested he didn’t know what he was doing and the game in general:

I don’t comment [on the chants]… I do my job and do my best for the team. Is it hurtful? Look, I have managed for 30 years at the top level and I have to convince you I can manage the team?

They fought very hard and had some chances as well…we lacked a little bit accuracy in our final balls. We lacked a little bit of sharpness in the final third … physically we were a little bit jaded.

I don’t hold any truck with that particular chant, or questions about it from hacks who should know better. At the end of the day the manager knows his players better than us, what knocks they’re carrying, if they’re in that fabled red zone, and I have no doubt he had half an eye on Wednesday’s trip to Merseyside. But then we come back to the main point which is that this Arsenal squad is not strong enough and the consequence of that is the odd substitution we saw yesterday.

“You do know what you’re doing but you’re not doing it as well as you should be”, perhaps?

Another striker is a must when the window opens in January, and reliance on Diaby and Rosicky (as much as like the latter) is a risky strategy, so another midfielder would be a help too. The idea that we can play Cazorla and Arteta in every single game this season isn’t so much glass half full as glass spilling over the brim with a magical potion from the fountain of youth. And we’ve still got a lot of football to play before we can do anything about this.

We have 10 games between now and the end of December and the worry is that if we’re tired and jaded now, how are we going to cope with this kind of schedule? The good players are being played over and over again because the manager has little or no faith in the alternatives, and that’s something that needs to be addressed.

Still, there’s a chance to make this week’s points haul respectable with a win on Wednesday at Goodison. I’d have taken 4 from 6 from these two games, but in typical Arsenal fashion we’ve made it as difficult as possible for ourselves.

Till tomorrow.