A bit of grit

A bit of grit

The 8-0 demolition of Stoke that I envisaged did not quite materialise. Then again, neither did my frequent daydream of Arsene Wenger dancing the watusi on Tony Pulis’ face. But if I could choose another, more realistic scenario in which to beat Stoke (that is to say, a scenario whereby Ryan Shawcross doesn’t become impaled on Pulis’ baseball cap) a 1-0 win via a jammy deflection would be my next choice.

To see Tony Pulis, to borrow from his own lexicon, “moaning like a drain” after the final whistle was incredibly sweet. For a football club that pushes the “it’s a man’s game” agenda, nobody whinges more about perceived injustice than that miserable pack of cunnies.

Like Glen Whelan seven days before him, Michael Owen avoided deserved F.A. censure for his Audley Harrison lite effort on Mikel Arteta’s ribs. Then again, banning Michael Owen for three games would be akin to the FBI putting Genghis Khan on their most wanted list. Though I fancy Stuart Pearce might genuinely enquire about Khan’s availability for the England U-21s.

Pressing Stoke’s sour grapes into sweet celebratory wine was most satisfying, but in a more mature, level headed, footballing context, seeing some valour in the Arsenal performance was pleasing. Jack Wilshere’s determination to let former footballer Michael Owen know the score was gratifying, if not surprising. But it was Theo Walcott that left me feeling pleasantly surprised in this respect.

Andy Wilkinson rather embodies the Orcs’ shit-kicking approach and he left Walcott with a few cuts and bruises, in lieu of any technical defensive ability. Even a year ago, I think Walcott would have shied away in the face of this kind of “physical examination.” But he didn’t. In fact he used the sense of injustice as inspiration to impose himself on the game.

The run that, again, caused Wilkinson to take Walcott down, leading to Podolski’s match winning free kick, was one borne entirely of anger. Minutes earlier, Wilkinson had gauged Theo’s eye. Once he had mopped the wound, Walcott indignantly hurled his towel to the ground and immediately wanted the ball again. Not only did he respond with a snarl, but he channelled it correctly. He focused his energy on beating his opponent with the ball.

It’s a fine line between that sort of needle and petulance, but it’s one that Cesc Fabregas so brilliantly towed time and again. (Incidentally, I thoroughly recommend this article about Fabregas’ time at Arsenal). Arsene Wenger spoke about Theo “becoming a man” this season; let’s hope that involves this assertive streak developing.

Speaking of Walcott’s development, his burgeoning partnership with Olivier Giroud has been a feature of 2013. Michael Cox rather pre-empted my intention for a good deal of this column when he wrote about their prominent interplay. Walcott is a player that has often been accused of lacking a football brain and I can’t pretend it’s a charge I have always defended him against.

Yet I have always felt good players develop good partnerships because they recognise their teammates’ qualities as well as their own. Walcott has been able to strike up many complimentary relationships in the last few years. I have to confess I was slightly dubious as to his much vaunted supply line to van Persie, largely because I think van Persie’s movement makes him a simple striker to service.

But Walcott has also formed good combinations with Eboue (before Eboue settled into his role of full time court jester), Fabregas, Adebayor and in the Theo van Nasregas quartet that briefly threatened to win prizes. Walcott may be a speed merchant, but adroitness in using one’s qualities is not always guaranteed. Carlton Cole, for instance, has all the physical qualities to be a good target man, but he has little or no idea how to use his natural gifts.

Walcott knows that his pace is his biggest ally, but he’s learning how and when to use it. Playing off of Giroud and running in behind him to capitalise on his hold up play has been a useful way of playing to his strengths. I wrote back in September that Giroud’s acclimatisation would hinge as much on his teammates understanding his strengths, as him attuning to theirs. I remarked back then,

“Giroud’s teammates will realise quickly that there is profit to be had from one of his colleagues staying close by him. He challenges for a lot of aerial duels and, even when he doesn’t win them, Giroud often prevents the defender from making an emphatic clearance.”

His colleagues have seemingly learned this. Not only due to Giroud’s aerial play though, the subtlety in his lay-offs- especially when he whips out the sand wedge and lofts a ball over the top of an opposing defence- has been seized upon regularly in the last month. When Giroud had the ball with his back to goal against Swansea, Wilshere knew to keep running because a layoff was likely. Likewise, as he protected the ball in the Liverpool penalty area, Walcott knew to run towards him before whipping home an equaliser.

To add to the equation upfront, we’re about to get Gervinho back. As I typed that sentence, I could practically hear the snorting. I understand that to a degree. The Ivorian lost his way badly prior to the African Nations Cup (culminating in three consecutive games as an unused sub over Christmas). But I read with interest this piece by Jonathan Wilson, in which he states that Gervinho is very much a confidence player.

That probably explains why Wenger has been so keen to tell any journalist with a Dictaphone that he’s been the best player at the AFCON. As much as he’s regarded as a punchline at the moment, Gervinho is not without his qualities. His biggest problem may be, as I touched on earlier, knowledge of how and when to use his attributes. It can be very difficult when your card is marked with fans, but given that he is so clearly a confidence player, I hope (rather vainly I suspect) that the supporters don’t unwittingly present him with a bigger obstacle.

He’s started both of his seasons in England well enough to suggest that there’s a good player there. It doesn’t benefit anyone to expend spleen or mirth at him now. Whilst I wouldn’t say that Giroud’s blossoming has solely been the result of a few Bootleg Beatles chants, the understanding afforded him for some iffy form early in his Arsenal career is slowly being rewarded.

My Vital Arsenal colleague Amos wrote this piece back in 2011, which still holds a lot of water. As much as we complain about clubs detaching supporters from the team, we’re actually complicit in this divorce ourselves. We’ll need Gervinho before long; a figurative arm around the shoulder from the crowd might just benefit us all. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

Wilshere’s great, Pearce is silly, Interlull injury worries

Wilshere’s great, Pearce is silly, Interlull injury worries

So, while I was working yesterday evening, I had England v Brazil on and it was fantastic to see Jack Wilshere show his stuff against such exalted opponents.

Although I only saw 60 minutes he was clearly the star of the show, and having received the man of the match award for his performance over 90 he kept it up right until the end. That he can play like that is no surprise to Arsenal fans who have watched him closely over the last few months, but perhaps it was the moment he firmly established himself as an essential part of Roy Hodgson’s team.

Although little surprises me these days, and despite the fact Stuart Pearce has shown himself to be a nincompoop of the highest order in the past, the fact that he still wants to take Wilshere to the Under 21 European Championships next summer shows how utterly out of touch he is with anything about modern football. He wants Jack, and Oxlade-Chamberlain, to go play in a tournament that nobody (except him) cares about, saying of Hodgson:

I’d probably prefer a bit more support in regard to the players. If he deems he wants those players with him in Brazil then so be it.

I see a lot about players being rested, but where should the priority be on burnout? Should the clubs rest for the national team?

Which rather misses the point that clubs pay players wages and this anachronistic system that still prioritises a national team over a club is a throwback of the worst kind. Both Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain are in the senior side because they’re good enough to be there, and too good to be playing U21 football. If the point of the ‘junior’ side is to give certain players the experience of playing for their country, then the job is done with regards those two.

Making Wilshere play U21 football might be good for the U21 team but it’s not going to benefit Jack in the slightest. Nor will it do the senior team much good if players are trompling around playing in meaningless tournaments surrounded by no-marks and never-will-bes like Jonjo Shelvey.

Once again it looks as if Pearce is more concerned about himself than what’s best for the players or for English football (it’s all well and good for me not to care, but I’m not employed by the FA with a large part of my job based on player development). Anybody else, anyone with a bit of common sense and awareness, would laud Wilshere for his performance and accept that they’ve just seen the future of the England midfield for the next 10 years. Not him.

Anyway, I suspect there’s a touch of the drama queen inside Pearce, he’s always looking for a row of some kind. Frankly, I hope Roy tells him to stick it up his arse and I hope Arsene sends him a bunch a flowers with a picture of Jack and Ox and a card which just says ‘heh’.

In other international news there may be some injury worries as we head towards the game against Sunderland this weekend. Aaron Ramsey returned to Arsenal without playing for Wales, having picked up a calf injury in training. That’s compounded by reports that Laurent Koscielny picked up the same kind of injury playing for France against Germany last night. If true, and based on what we just saw with Mikel Arteta, that could be three weeks for both of them, meaning they miss the Bayern game.

In Ramsey’s case there’s certainly more cover in midfield, so as well as he’s been playing recently, it’s not that big a blow, but centre-half is a position where we’re kind of walking on thin ice a bit. I know he wasn’t everybody’s favourite but I have to admit I found the decision to let Johan Djourou go on loan a strange one, especially when we didn’t then sign any cover.

Thomas Vermaelen missed the mini-Interlull with an ankle problem which has to make him doubtful for the weekend. Hopefully he’ll be fit, and that his absence from the Belgian side was precautionary more than anything else, but if he’s not then the manager has to choose a partner for Per Mertesacker. His options: Sebastian Squillaci (a man who has barely played football for two years), or a youngster like Ignasi Miquel or Martin “Lookbackin” Angha.

Even with three established centre-halves it leaves a team open to being weakened considerably in a crucial position. One injury, one suspension, and all of a sudden you’re scratching around in the bottom of the barrel looking for options. I realise it’s difficult to have four top class centre-halves at any club. Look at Laurent Koscielny – he’s played far less than he’d have envisaged having been our best defender last season, but the lack of depth is a worry and could prove very costly.

That said, it could be a real chance for one of the youngsters, maybe they can come in and show they’re ready for the big time, but it still feels horribly risky. All we can do is keep fingers crossed and hope the injury to Koscielny isn’t as bad as we fear it may be.

Finally for today, if you’d like to win a pair of Mikel Arteta’s new boots, check out the competition here with thanks to Puma Football. All you have to do is leave a comment on the post itself, asking a question for the Spanish midfielder. Full instructions are on the post itself, but please make sure you leave your Twitter name in the comment as that’s how we’ll announce the winner.

Next week, Arseblog will deliver Arteta his new boots and get an exclusive interview which will consist of your questions, so look out for that too.

Right, that’s that for this morning, back tomorrow with an Arsecast and all the usual bits and pieces.