Arsenal 2-2 Liverpool: no case for the defence

Arsenal 2-2 Liverpool: no case for the defence

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So, yesterday we said anything could happen, and pretty much anything did. Like in the opening minutes of the game Bacary Sagna slipped which allowed space for Glen Johnson to cross. Then Thomas Vermaelen’s flying leap and wild slash at the ball saw him miss it entirely and present a great chance to Sturridge. Which Szczesny saved, which then rebounded off Aaron Ramsey’s heel, fell to Stewart Downing who played it to Luis Suarez whose fairly tame shot deflected off Per Mertesacker’s heel and just beyond the despairing hand of the keeper.

That kind of anything. There was more of it in the second half when Mertesacker’s Denilsonesque ‘tackle’ saw Jordan Henderson clean through in the box. There was little Andre Santos could do; touch him and he’d have crumpled like a buck-toothed Uruguayan, it’d have been a penalty to Liverpool and a red card for the Brazilian. But even then Szczesny came out, blocked the toe-poked effort only to see it cannon back off Santos into the path of Henderson who rolled it home for 0-2.

Not the good kind of anything. But then we got a healthy dose of that when Olivier Giroud headed home a Jack Wilshere free kick for his 5th goal in a week. And just two minutes later Giroud cushioned a Cazorla pass into the path of Walcott who, in confident mood, lashed it first time from a tight angle past Pepe Reina to make it 2-2. Incredible, barnstorming, character-filled, responsetacular anything.

From then on the anything was good anything and Arsenal could have gone ahead a number of times. Walcott looked to have beaten Reina with a left footed curler which drifted just wide, a swift break from a corner saw Cazorla put a good ball across the 6 yard box with nobody able to get a touch, Giroud shot, Reina saved, and the Frenchman headed over from the corner, and the HFB was unlucky not to grab the winner when he combined with Podolski but the German’s cross took a nick off a defender and slightly wrongfooted Giroud who was 6 yards from goal.

In typical Arsenal style there was also time for the Mugsmashers to almost nick it. Santos gave it away in midfield, then slipped (this practice of players wearing ballet shoes must stop), Suarez ran into the box, wasn’t closed down anywhere near quickly enough for my liking, and got a decent shot away which Szczesny just about saved before Sagna whacked it clear.

I suppose, if you were a neutral, it would have made for fairly enjoyable viewing, and you can’t really argue with it from an entertainment point of view, but as an Arsenal fan it was all a bit uncomfortable. The fact we went two goals down was depressing, if not altogether unexpected. Nor is the fact we dug deep, showed some character and quality to get back into it and draw the game level. This ability to score quick-fire goals, one after the other, is great to see but too often it only happens as a response to something bad at the wrong end.

It makes me wonder, very strongly, about the hypothetical situation of us doing transfer business today: all season I’ve been of the opinion we needed more up top, another striker, maybe a bit more creativity, but scoring doesn’t really seem to be an issue. Maybe we only want more strikers so we can score more because we know we let too many in. Wouldn’t the smart money be spent on players who can improve our defence?

Because let’s not beat around the bush here, it has long been a weakness, and it’s now as bad as it ever has been. On paper you look at the players and think ‘Ok, they’re decent’, but the sheer number of individual errors which leads to goal makes you start to think that they’re not anywhere near as good as we’d like to think. For their first, the Vermaelen swipe was the kind of thing you’d get a clip around the ear for if you were playing Sunday league, at this level it was ridiculous. Yes, they had a bit of good fortune but that ball should have been halfway up the pitch and not at the feet of Sturridge.

A few moments later Wojciech Szczesny is trying clever turns on the edge of his own 6 yard box. Why? What on earth is he thinking there? I know it’s not something a manager will ever instruct a player to do, they know better than to do stuff like that but it’s still done. I like Szczesny, I think he’s got the potential to be a very, very good goalkeeper but I can’t help but wonder if he wouldn’t benefit from a bit of real competition rather than one guy who is desperate to leave and the other who the manager admitted he’d have let go last summer. That’s not competition for your place, that’s as comfortable as it gets.

I’ve long said defending isn’t the sole preserve of the back four/five, that it’s a team effort, and I stand by that. But such belief is predicated by the ability of those players to do the basics correctly, and we just don’t. Far too regularly we forget what’s in the textbook, fuck it up and pay the price. It doesn’t matter if your whole team is switched on and defends from the front if your centre-halves go rogue.

Scoring two at home should be enough to win a game. We’ve scored three and not won this season (again due to dodgy defending), and as long as that continues we’d need a front three of Messi, Ronaldo and clone of an 18 year old Pele to win games on a consistent basis. Arsene Wenger spoke of a psychological problem at home, a nervousness at the start of games, but I fear even speaking about it makes it self-perpetuating. It’s not as if we’re being torn to shreds by teams, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot time and time again, with a bigger, more ridiculous gun. Our defending is blunderbussing our ability to win games. End of story.

On a more positive note I thought Giroud, late miss aside (which he was a bit unlucky with) had another good game and scored when we needed him to, and Theo Walcott’s performance was really very good indeed. His goal was that of a man filled with confidence and he was dangerous and willing down the right all night long. Again, we can point to the bench and wonder ‘What if’ we had another striker or a winger (Ox?), but it’s not as if we didn’t create a load of chances.

In the end though, it’s got to go down as two points dropped. When you gift the opposition goals, regardless of what elese they did in the game, you can’t help but feel it’s a game you could have won. Ultimately disappointing.

Finally for today, it’s Transfer Deadline Day, and if you haven’t already seen Gunnerblog’s wonderful Les Mis tribute then you’re missing out. For the rest, we’ll be live blogging the day over here on Arseblog News – any and all news of Arsenal related transfers can be found there, right up until 11pm tonight.

Transfer Deadline Day – live blog - you know you want to. There’s no need to refresh the page, the updates (heh) will appear automatically.

Right, that’s that, back tomorrow with some kind of Arsecast. Until then.

Arsenal v Liverpool – live blog

Arsenal v Liverpool – live blog

Join us this evening for live blogging of Arsenal v Liverpool in the Premier League, kick off 19.45.

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Liverpool preview: anything could happen

Liverpool preview: anything could happen

I was chatting briefly with the Mugsmasher (my Liverpool supporting brother, for recent readers) about this game last night and the conclusion we came to was that anything could happen.

He reckons one team is going to spank the other, he just doesn’t know who’ll be doing the spanking. Of course it could be 3-3 just as easily as 3-0 or 0-3; both teams concede too many but are capable of scoring too. We go into the game on the back of two wins and it’s a chance to make it three in a row before a relatively miserable January is left behind. It’s also a chance to put a bit of daylight between us and them, we currently have a three point advantage so doubling that would be no bad thing.

With regard to team news, Thomas Vermaelen is back but there’s no return yet for Mikel Arteta or Francis Coquelin who remain sidelined through injury. I suspect we’ll see the following line up tonight:

Szczesny – Sagna – Koscielny – Vermaelen – Gibbs – Ramsey – Wilshere – Cazorla – Podolski – Walcott – Giroud

It’s certainly possible that he could play Diaby in place of Ramsey but the Welshman has performed well in the deep lying position in the last two games and I’m not sure it’s a role that suits Diaby. Against a Liverpool side which will see Suarez drop back it means defensive discipline is important, and that’s not exactly Diaby’s strength. There was an injury doubt over Cazorla ahead of the Brighton game, so perhaps the Frenchman could play if Santi doesn’t make it, with Wilshere moving further forward in the central attacking role.

The ‘smashers arrive on the back of a pretty humiliating FA Cup defeat to Oldham and you can be quite sure they’ll be looking to respond. Arsene Wenger says of tonight’s game:

It is very important. I said after the Chelsea game we cannot afford to drop more points. That run starts now.

And, in fairness, a home game against opposition who have struggled at times this season is a good opportunity to get things moving again. You look at the upcoming fixtures and the three league games in February are ones which, under normal circumstances, you’d be looking at taking 9 points from, but defeats to Swansea, to Norwich and disappointing draws against Fulham and Villa mean you just can’t be sure of anything with this team.

Let’s hope that the Arsenal we saw against West Ham is the one that turns up tonight. With Walcott and Giroud scoring freely at the moment, Podolski chipping in and the likes of Cazorla and Wilshere capable too, we should have enough to cause them serious problems if we play the way we all know we can (in a positive way – obviously if we play the other way we all know we can it’s a different story).

I’m almost confident of three points tonight, come on you reds!

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger has spoken about his desire to sign another striker, saying:

As numbers we have enough. We have plenty of quality strikers. We could do with top quality, one more, but you have to find him.

When you speak about ‘anyone’ coming in, I could just go out and buy anyone just to give people hope. ‘Anyone’ to me means exactly what today the modern game has become.

And look, I know where he’s coming from. There’s absolutely no point in signing a player for the sake of just signing a player, or to placate fans who are anxious for signings. That would be the worst reason to sign anyone, ever. The difficulty is way he makes it seem like January is some kind of minefield when, in reality, clubs have months to prepare and scout and identify targets. It’s not as if everything has to be done the minute the bells strike midnight on Jan 1st. He went on to say:

I have to be strong enough to resist or you have a player for four or five years who will never play a game, just because you bring in an average player who you know at the start is average. If I do that, I don’t do my job.

And that’s a statement which will cause many an eyebrow to raise. Especially when you consider the likes of Chamakh (11 league appearances last season, 0 this one), Park (6 minutes of Premier League football last season, shipped out on this), Squillaci (10 minutes of Premier League football last season, 1 Champions League appearance in this campaign), and even guys such as Arshavin and Djourou, and players loaned out like Bendtner and Denilson continue to be on the books here.

Perhaps, as @Gunnerblog pointed out last night, it’s a case of [numerous times] bitten, twice shy, and I’d understand if that were the case, but you can’t really use it as a defence either. There’s a lot of talk about David Villa, Wenger said Barcelona were adamant they wouldn’t sell, and that seems to be end of that, despite unsubstantiated reports an £8m bid from our side. There’s just over 36 hours to go before the window closes, at this point the most action I’d expect is a couple of loan deals for young players going outwards, and nothing coming in, but I guess we could be surprised.

In other news, perhaps not coincidentally in terms of timing, the club have announced a freeze in ticket prices for next season. As this is a world in which prices are never, ever going to go down (not unless something drastic happens – you know, like a massive television deal which could allow clubs to make it more affordable for fans rather than spend that money on wages and … oh), this is the best outcome possible.

And if you haven’t already read Amy Lawrence‘s interview with Wojciech Szczesny in the Guardian then you’re missing out. He’s very candid about a lot of things, his own development as a keeper, the desire the team has to achieve things, playing under pressure and our defending. And it’s interesting to read him defend his defenders, if you will.

There’s little doubt in my mind they can, and should, do better, but how many times do we need to say it’s the job of the team to defend, not just the back five? When you look at Brighton’s second goal on Saturday, it’s Santos who got lambasted (and overall he had a poor game), but Diaby instructed him to cover a non-existent overlap and then failed to defend the cross himself. It’s all related. Anyway, it’s a very interesting read and heartwarming to see the affection he has for the club.

If you can’t see the game later, or if your timezone means you’re stuck in work, we will have full live blog coverage. Check back later for a post with all the details or bookmark the default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.

Right then, back later for that, have a good day in the meantime.

Transfer ‘targets’ and likely arrivals

Transfer ‘targets’ and likely arrivals

Morning all.

Again it’s fairly quiet. I’m assuming this is because every single person at the club is tied up with transfer related business in order to complete the myriad deals we have lined up before the Thursday night deadline. In the absence of nothing else to talk about, I thought I’d rate our chances of signing the players we’ve been most strongly linked with.

David Villa – Barcelona say they won’t sell, but then every club says that about every player they don’t really want to sell but would sell if the price was right. Similarly, Arsenal have flat-out denied that they’re in negotiations with Barcelona, which is exactly what Arsenal would say when asked by the press if they’re negotiating with a player.

It’s long been our methodology – deny everything in relation to transfers. So, even if Arsenal were in talks with Barcelona over Villa – and I’m not saying they are – they’d say they weren’t. Of course, if they weren’t in talks with Barcelona they’d also say that, so we can glean absolutely nothing from this denial.

What I would say is that I am aware there’s some interest, on both sides, but whether it’s enough to make a deal happen before the deadline, I just don’t know.

Likelihood rating: Not impossible but not likely either. In fact, I give it 0/10 – because I badly want it to happen and I used up all my juju on Charlie Nicholas all those years ago.

Mohamed Diamé – There’s plenty of talk that the West Ham player has a release clause of £3.5m. There was also talk last week about how he was going to go to FIFA because the Hammers refused to acknowledge this. Now there’s more talk that the release clause is £7m.

All of which stinks to high heaven to me. He either has a release clause or he doesn’t. If it’s that difficult to activate, or to work out how much it is, then he must have a particularly crap agent.

As for our need for the player, it’s hard to see how he would significantly strengthen the squad. The manager has Arteta, Coquelin and now Aaron Ramsey (not to mention Diaby and Wilshere), who can play in that deep midfield position, so it’s not as if we’d be fixing an area of the team which is badly in need of it. Not like a striker, for example.

Likelihood rating: 1/10 because anything is possible but if he was that much on our radar why weren’t we all over him when he left Wigan on a free. Actually, make that 2/10 – I’m adding a point because it’s a signing that would be so underwhelming it might just happen.

Florian Thauvin – He’s a 20 year old attacking midfielder who plays for Bastia (Alex Song’s old club) in Ligue 1. I imagine only seasoned Ligue 1 watchers will know much about him. I certainly don’t, so can’t really comment on him as a player.

It’s hard to see how we need another attacking midfielder, unless he can be deployed out wide and has blinding pace or mad skillz. He’s got three goals in the league this season.

Likelihood rating: 9/10 – Never heard of him, young, French, unlikely to cost much, will allow people to make joke about ‘super, super’ or ‘exceptional’ quality, possible makeweight in a Squillaci move, did I mention young and French and unheard of? Ticks so many boxes we’ve run out of boxes.

Cavani/Jovetic: Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Hahahahahahahahahahaha. Hahahahahaha. Hahahaha.

Oh my.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Hahahahaha. Hahahaha. Haha. Hah. Ha.

*wipes eyes*

Likelihood rating: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Hahahahahaha. Argh.

Aside from that lot, I don’t know who else we’ve been linked with really. I’m sure there are more but even the newspapers have more or less stopped making stuff up because they know that there’s little credibility in the stories – even by their fairly dismal standards when it comes to transfers.

And it seems to me like there’s a sort of weary acceptance that we’re going to have a ‘dry January’. Many people give up hooch in this month, Arsenal have given up transfers. The difference, of course, is that many people had overindulged on hooch beforehand. And look, I know it’s more difficult to get the players you want in January, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get the players you need.

Should Thursday come and go with no action, it will be a risky strategy for a manager, and a club, under real pressure. I’ve long maintained that it’s not so much the lack of trophies that cause the frustration, but the feeling that we don’t really use everything within our power to compete for them. If we finish outside the top four this season, with a pile of money in the bank which could have been used to strengthen the team, then there’s no hiding place for the manager or, indeed, those above him.

That said, I also think this is a group of players capable of more than we’ve seen from them this season. It all comes back to consistency and not being able to follow up great performances (like the one at West Ham), with another one (see Brighton for comparison). If we can add even a little bit of that to our game, I think a top four finish is within our power, but I still find it odd that we wouldn’t try and tip the odds a little more in our favour by bringing a couple of faces in.

Anyway, the manager has got a pre-Mugsmashers press conference this morning. I’m sure we’ll all be illuminated further by the end of it.

Till tomorrow.

Tactics Column: Olivier Giroud finds his niche

Tactics Column: Olivier Giroud finds his niche

The movements were so familiar, and the touch and the finish exquisite. Olivier Giroud’s fine double against Brighton and Hove Albion would have done little to avoid comparisons with that man, but in a strange way, that’s what it’s done. Finally it seems, people have come to realise that Giroud is his own player, capable of moments of adroitness to go with his more obvious target man-like qualities.

Indeed, you can view Giroud’s season in three stages: When he signed, he was an unknown quantity, taking 8 matches to open his account and in a way, that goal in the 3-1 win over West Ham United in October marked a landmark moment, finally confirming himself as an Arsenal striker. In between, Giroud’s form was more introspective. He scored two goals against Fulham and delivered a brilliant assist for Lukas Podolski in the Champions League but he never quite found his niche in the team. At heart, he was used as a target-man but he constantly muddied that description by dropping deep in search of possession and sometimes, his touch let him down. In 17 games after scoring his first goal, Giroud scored just six times in that period. In this stage, the most important thing was to convince his team and his fans of his worth.

Finally, it looks like Giroud might have done that, dealing in doubles, firstly against Newcastle off the bench and then against West Ham – which makes for a neat symmetry of his Arsenal career so far, having opened his account against the same team. His brace against Brighton on Sunday might now be the impetus to convince everyone else of his worth: the final stage of his season.

It’s true that the standard of defending here was poorer than what Giroud normally faces, but it marks a steady progression and the signs continue to be promising. A bit like a videogame character, he’s added a few weapons to his armoury along the way too. His touch is becoming smoother, like Chantilly lace, killing balls when they might have otherwise squirmed away to oppositions’ feet. His finishing requires the most work but his two goals at Brighton were of the highest quality. Firstly, Giroud capped off a speedy counter-attack with a well-placed curler from the edge of the box and then deliciously took down a pass by Abou Diaby on the stretch and fired in. Flicks and neat one-twos are bountiful too although this sometimes borders on the outrageous, attempting trigonometric through-passes even Pythagoras wouldn’t try.

Arsène Wenger’s words do Olivier Giroud a bit of disservice, likening him to a throwback striker of a seemingly past era but that highlights the rawness of his game. It too, displays the different quality he brings to the side which allows them to break from their usual passing game.

Arguably, Arsenal haven’t played to his strengths well enough. Or rather, he hasn’t. Wenger wants Giroud to play more on the “offside-line”, to use his runs more like he did for his second goal against Brighton as he drifted off his marker. His play can be wildly inaccurate at times too, although recently, his link-up play has improved and his team-mates have benefited by making more penetrative burst from midfield, especially with Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott both having had their games adjusted to run into the space quickly. Indeed, Kieran Gibbs, Lukas Podolski and Wilshere are such examples where Giroud’s combination play has directly resulted in goals recently.

It’s interesting that Wenger highlights Olivier Giroud’s battling qualities because it’s often seen as something the team lack. From a stylistic point of view, however, it just doesn’t seem to fit. “He [Giroud] started a bit sloppy and became stronger and stronger,” said Wenger after the 3-2 Brighton victory. “He finished the second half [in a] very, very good [way]. When he gets into the fighting mode it is difficult to handle him. This guy is tall, strong and quicker than people think he is. He has good finishing as well.” But while Liverpool might have tossed aside Andy Carroll ruthlessly like a used condom, passing sides do really love a target-man. Suddenly Giroud makes a lot of sense: in a side that passes the ball accurately in the final third and a striker who wins most of his duels, Giroud could work really, really well.

Brighton perfect practice for Liverpool

The way Brighton attacked deserves a mention and it seems a matter of when, not if, Gus Poyet’s side become a Premier League team. With new signing Leonardo Ulloa – who caused Per Mertesacker lots of problems – they have the striker that can fire them into the top division. But it’s the way they played which is most pertinent to this column because it is one they will face this Wednesday against Liverpool.

Brighton, like Liverpool and Swansea, stretch the pitch wide, commit full-backs forward and constantly rotate midfielders on the ball so it is hard to mark. Arsenal were outplayed for much of the 3-2 win and took the lead against the run of play while only really looked like having the ascendancy when Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott entered the fray. Granted Arsenal made a lot of changes and at the moment players like Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta exemplify their way of playing so much so that it was always going to be a bit of a struggle against Brighton.

Arsenal have had trouble against teams that try to out-Arsenal them although the most recent win, a 1-0 in the FA Cup versus Swansea, showed signs they have finally realised how to play against the style. Truth be told, Liverpool have been a poorer imitation of the way Brendan Rodgers envisaged playing and developed at Swansea despite having “better” players and Arsenal, if they decide to press Liverpool’s midfielders tightly, should fancy their chances. They certainly got the perfect dress-rehearsal against Brighton.