Song’s improvement + Arshavin’s failings

Back in the day when this site was hand-coded each morning, like an artisan baker producing steaming baps, this is where I’d say ‘Welcome to a brand new month on Arseblog’.

This month is November which has become something of a bogey month for us in seasons past. We played five games last November and lost two, away at Sunderland and home to Chelsea. The season before we lost two out of eight, home to Villa and away to Stoke. Before that again it was one out of five, an away Champions League tie against Sevilla. So not that bad statistically but the manner of those defeats, especially in the last two seasons, was disappointing.

This November we’ve got eight games, five in the league, two Champions League and one Carling Cup game against Wigan. A win against Shaktar on Wednesday would render the other CL game irrelevant bar an opportunity to play some players who might not normally get a game in this competition, the Wigan game comes right at the end of the month and so the focus will be on the league and ensuring we continue the momentum we’ve built.

Newcastle at home and Wolves away are the kind of games you expect any title chasing team to win, but then a tricky trio of Everton away, Sp*rs at home followed by Villa away will provide a real test. So while November might not actually be a bogey month it’s one which generally throws up a few tasty encouters, this one will be no different.

It’s too early to look ahead to Wednesday’s game but early reports say Cesc and Alex Song may not travel because of injury. Cesc’s hamstring we know about, I don’t know what the story is with Song but it says a lot that he’ll be missed if he is ruled out. It’s hard to believe he joined us six years ago and he says he always believed he could make it when his early Arsenal performances were less than convincing:

I never gave up. It was a bad time for me, but I try to learn. When you make mistakes, you have to learn to be ready for the next step. That is why I push myself.

I suppose growing up has helped and I still think the manager expected too much of him too early but he is a lesson in having a bit more patience with players as they emerge. Lucky for me I quite like the taste of humble pie. However, it’s interesting to hear Arsene point to a specific reason for his improvement:

He is now a good trainer but this was not always the case. That’s why he has improved. He doesn’t need a breather now when he goes and comes back. That has added something to his quality.

It’s not a surprise, is it? A player who works and trains harder becomes a better player. He’s got an eye for goal this season as well which is certainly new and another string to his bow. I hope that he’s encouraged to develop that part of his game whilst not losing sight of the job he’s asked to do. Finding that balance will make him better again. He just needs to keep working hard and not forget that above all else it’s hard work that brought about the improvement. Complacency is the real enemy of footballers. Well, that and giant scorpions but thankfully they’re quite rare these days.

Moving on and there’s been quite a bit of focus on Andrei Arshavin this season. He’s been defended by the boss who points to his statistics, goals and assists, to show that the Russian has been effective. I’ll ignore the stat which reads n0 goals in the last seven games and look instead at his passing. I’ve gone through each game we’ve played this season on the Guardian Chalkboards and looked at the number of unsuccessful passes he’s made.

Arshavin's passing against West Ham
Red arrows of doom

Liverpool (8 unsuccessful passes out of 37), Blackpool (9/30), Blackburn (9/38), Bolton (11/30), Sunderland (1/10, and just 10 passes in a game which he started!), West Brom (19/51), Chelsea (8/31), Birmingham (8/22), Man City (7/35) and West Ham (12/30).

Some of these can be explained by the fact he’s in forward positions, trying through balls or crossing from the left, but what’s apparent when you look at the chalkboards themselves is just how many of these are made in midfield and are just simple short passes which fail to find an Arsenal player.

What makes it frustrating is that this is bread and butter stuff. A player of his talent and ability with the ball shouldn’t be giving the ball away in these positions with such frequency. His lack of effort and energy is a bug-bear but for me it’s the lazy, careless passing that frustrates far more. At the moment he looks to me like a player going through the motions. There’s no doubting he’s the kind of player who can, on his day, produce something out of nothing but it seems like a long time since we’ve seen that side of his game.

It’s quite probable that more focus on the basics of his game would bring about an improvement in the areas in which he’s got that special something – but at the moment the special something is a rather pitiful nothing. Whether he’s completely happy or not, I can’t say, there are suggestions that he’s been disgruntled by the financial side of things, but in an era when new contracts are handed out on the back of a few good performances it seems he’s ignoring the most obvious way to put that right.

Any title winning side needs a player like good Arshavin, one who can pop up with a moment of match winning quality, but right now we’re seeing good Arshavin’s tubby evil twin and it’s not much fun to watch.

Right, not a lot else going on this morning, more on the Shaktar game tomorrow. Until then have yourselves a good Monday.

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