Get Tim to the Greek

Get Tim to the Greek

Greetings fellow Gooners. You find me bright eyed and bushy tailed following a pleasant three day constitutional in the city of Athens. The economy may be well and truly Chamakhed in Greece, but they still seem to have pioneered truly jaw dropping technology. They had this kind of giant yellow radiator in the sky that generated a pleasant, balmy heat. We should really look at investing in something similar in England. Especially in December.

During my stay I peered beyond the looking glass and saw the grizzly future of West Ham in ten years or so. AEK Athens played at home on Monday evening in the Spiros Louis Olympic Stadium and I curiously went along. Tickets were 10 Euros; a large beer cost 2 euros. Being that they currently sit bottom of the league, AEK attract crowds of around 7-8,000. Their home ground holds 75,000.

Away fans are no longer permitted in the Greek Superleague either. So PAS Giannina’s equaliser was greeted with eerie silence not heard since Wigan Athletic’s last away goal. It was much like watching a match in Mad Max’s Thunderdome. Only the spectators were drinking ill-disguised bottles of ouzo and smoking pungent skunk joints. If this be the future, I say bring it on!

The subject of post-apocalyptic fallout of course brings me neatly onto Arsenal’s current form. A pair of defeats have occurred since last we spoke and the “Arsenal in crisis” klaxons are in need of new batteries. (Do klaxons take batteries? Maybe they are “little bit short of petrol”?) There certainly hasn’t been a point this season where I’ve felt that this is a balanced squad of players. I don’t mean mentally balanced so much (that’s a question for another column!) but in terms of its blend of attributes and qualities.

Here we sit in December and I still don’t think the manager really knows how to set the forward line up. The 4-3-3 (or 4-2-3-1 if you want to get technical) was designed to wring the best out of a pair of players that no longer play for the club. I think it’s fair to say that the system has expired in terms of its usefulness to us. For a start, I think the team are lopsided. Most of our attacking players work better from the left or the centre (Chamberlain, Gervinho, Podolski, Giroud, Chamakh (!) and Arshavin). Only Theo truly works as a right sided front-man and he doesn’t even want to play there!

Arsene appears to have rejigged that front-line slightly, but in a kind of non-committal way that hasn’t really paid dividends yet. Walcott has started nominally from the right, but with the license to drift infield as moves unfold to become a second striker. Cazorla has spent a lot more time wandering over to the right flank both to cover Walcott’s inward foray and, presumably, to find some space for himself now that the Premier League’s watchful eye is aware of his prowess. (His goal against Spurs emanated from an undetected run from the right).

Without Walcott on Tuesday, I think Gervinho was asked to perform a similar role from the left, as a vague kind of winger / striker hybrid. Beginning from the flank with license to drift. Of course this puts a lot of pressure on the full backs to maintain the width and the continued fitness of Gibbs and Sagna is imperative in that respect. I also think that Giroud’s qualities could be enhanced with a striker alongside him. But the restructure hasn’t really worked yet.

The consensus of opinion is that Arsenal need more firepower upfront and I wouldn’t disagree. But I think just as important is another creative presence in the team. Possibly from one of the wide forward positions. Podolski and Walcott are more predator than provider. Cazorla, Arteta and Wilshere pass beautifully but very little of their ball recycling penetrates the heart of a defence. Wenger spoke last month about Giroud playing “completely on the offside line” but it’s easy to see why he seldom does so when nobody is looking to play him through.

The return of Rosicky is a boon in this respect because he speeds up the transition in our play. It was very noticeable that a promising first half in Greece disappeared into the dressing room with the fluffy maned Czech. But in truth, he’s still hardly a schemer that picks locks. The twin losses of Fabregas and Song have left us short of a key skill-set.

To that end, I still wonder what Wenger’s strategic vision was for this squad and how it would shape up back in August. We’re in December and we still don’t appear to have any clear idea of how we want to play. The Swans had six players (not to mention a manager) who made their Swansea debuts in 2012 and yet they looked a far more adhesive and cohesive unit.

Our titanic struggle for identity has not been restricted to the front three. I think the formula for the midfield has yet to come to fruition as Anam pointed out. Though it must be said, with less damning caveats than the dysfunctional forwards.  Jack Wilshere’s ability and application are wonderfully obvious and he brings undoubted quality to the side- not least his beguiling ability to carry the ball in a team of ball hoarders.

However, I don’t think he’s quite adjusted to playing with Mikel Arteta yet and it’s told on the Spaniard. There’s a much-repeated statistic doing the rounds this week that Arteta has completed 1,228 passes this season but only a shade over 20% have gone forwards. I think Jack is playing a touch further away from Arteta than Diaby was prior to his injury when Arteta’s form was at its most imperious. I noticed this most glaringly as the game wore on against Swansea.

Because he’s such an enthusiastic character, the more the game wore on and the more our creative game waned, the higher up the pitch Jack ventured. It’s understandable, even laudable that he wanted to make something happen in the final third. But perhaps increased maturity will teach him that patience is a virtue and that he would be better off getting closer to Arteta and allowing Arsenal to build their passing game from deep. Diaby did this masterfully at Anfield in September, receiving the ball from Arteta before providing the springboard for attack.

Arsenal tried 11 long passes to Giroud at Goodison last week and that suggests a paucity of short passing options in midfield. Building a rhythm is pivotal to the success of a passing game like Arsenal’s. Arteta also found success and comfort earlier in the season because he preferred to veer slightly to the left of central midfield. Clearly that’s an area Jack likes too. (The single biggest flaw in Wilshere’s game is that he’d rather eat his own excrement than use his right foot).

Wilshere and Arteta are fine players and they will find a way to click with time and temperance. But telepathy will only build with games and they’ve still not had many together. They’re still working one another out. In the meantime, it still looks like Arsene is working his forwards out. Till next week. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

Rosicky talks sense as animal metaphors take hold

Rosicky talks sense as animal metaphors take hold

Some mornings I feel like an old car. It takes my fingers a little while to wake up, the first few paragraphs of the blog take ages to write becuase of all teh tpyos, but once I get moving I’m all right.

It’s a kind of the clam before the storm (that can either be a typo or an amusing image, take your pick), as we wait for team news and the previewing of the weekend’s game against West Brom. The importance of that match can’t be understated and it’d be fair to say we got into it in kind of fragile shape. If you envisage the team as one thing, in this case a dog, we have gone, at least in my imagination, from a robust but slightly skittish Boxer (solid but capable of moments of mentalness), to a coat-wearing, bug eyed Chihuahua, wearing a teeny-tiny cone of shame who looks like they’d get blown away in a stiff breeze.

We’re like what Manimal would have been if his powers weren’t so awesome. He would transform himself into a falcon or a panther, but what if he’d been ill and instead could only change into a sickly marmoset? Not much good for fighting crime, let me tell you, and nigh on useless for winning top level football matches. And while there are clearly issues with our squad and all that, the fact is that with the players we have we should be doing better than we are. Tomas Rosicky reckons it’s down to lack of confidence. He says:

It is a matter of confidence. You can see there are more back-passes than we used to do. You have to gain confidence by winning the next game. Maybe I can bring calmness – sometimes we don’t keep the ball as we used to.

Most of the time I hope to contribute. I still think we have some very good players and we are better than what we are producing. We are good enough. We are not happy about things and we have to sort it out quickly.

It was interesting to note on Tuesday night that after one Olympiacos attack, as Arsenal pushed out, you could see Rosicky coming forward but checking behind him and waving his arms frantically to ensure the team moved out together. Obviously things like that are more noticeable when you’re at a game, TV gives you a view but not a perfect one, but it stuck out because it’s rare to see that from any Arsenal player at the moment. Some leadership, some organisation, they are things we’ve been missing.

I’d be interested too in seeing if the stats back up that contention about passing backwards more (maybe one for @7amkickoff and a By the numbers piece). But which two periods would we look at to get the data? It’s hard to say that Arsenal have had a consistent period of good form – perhaps the 7/8 game run after the Sp*rs game last season, which included the 3-0 over Milan in the Champions League. Rosicky also refers to those games when he talks about how the players need to win back the fans:

I can understand the frustrations, I am an Arsenal fan as well when I am not playing, The performances we produced against Tottenham and AC Milan you could feel the great atmosphere at the Emirates. Without doubt that was the best atmosphere I have ever played in.

We have to win the people again, that is the challenge. It will be difficult but we are capable of doing it again. If we are all on board, Arsenal is a great place to play football.

At the moment it feels like something of a vicious circle. Fans are frustrated with the team and the results, that leads to atmospheres which are somewhat flat, the team are aware of that, it leads to performances which are cautious because nobody wants to make a mistake which leads to poor results which bring us back to atmospheres. Arsene Wenger spoke last month about how the team has to lift the fans with their performances and ultimately that’s what it will come down to.

Why was the atmosphere so great for the games Rosicky references? Because Arsenal played well, bar the opening half and hour against Sp*rs (and even then the goals were somewhat against the run of play). But after that there was a feeling that the team – perhaps with little left to lose – went for it with abandon. Rambunctious, devastating, attacking football which essentially derailed the old enemy for the rest of their season and almost turned around a 4 goal disadvantage against Milan (only for the Dutch Skunk to mess it all up when he had the chance to make it level. Never rated him, pfff).

Maybe we’re at that point again, where there’s nothing left to do but go for it. If it clicks it clicks, if not then at least we tried. It might be one of his most often quoted bits but I do agree with Wenger when he says confidence is the easiest thing to lose in football and the most difficult to regain. It’s easy for the fear to get inside a team, sapping them and preventing them from playing the way they should. Which again is not to overlook the other issues we have but simply to suggest that these players, as a whole, are capable of more than we’re getting right now.

We need to transform. The sickly marmoset won’t do it this weekend against West Brom, but even if we mutate into a half panther, half falcon which is half roadrunner, we might see something approaching the Arsenal we know we should be.

Till tomorrow.

Bonus reading: The Tactics Column – Arsenal need to rediscover their sense of fun