Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Travel brochures and bullshit tsunamis

I carry on my person a small notebook which services my blogging efforts. As a sufferer of dyspraxia, I have a short term memory that Ozzy Osbourne would take pity upon; so much of my life is constructed around hastily pencilled memos to self. Therefore, when I come to write this column, I usually open up my notebook to find a week’s worth of grey matter ink splattered across the pages, ready to chisel into some meaningful shape.

This last seven days I have nothing. I have not made a solitary note. Thumbing through the well-worn pages I see I had intended to make mention of Theo Walcott’s centre forward cameo at Reading last week. I neglected to do so due to word limit issues, so from a purely journalistic point of view, it’s somewhat serendipitous for me that Wenger continued the experiment at Wigan.

I have always had reservations about Walcott playing as a central striker and, though two games is too small a sample size to be dismissive in the absolute, I’ve seen little to confound my belief. The qualities Walcott does bring to the forward role; the ability to push defences back, to run in behind defenders, were ones he was already effectively utilising from the right.

A few weeks ago I wrote about how Theo was effectively being played as a second striker recently, just with a wide starting position. I still believe that that’s the system that gets the best out of him. Reading played a mercifully high line which allowed Walcott to make unselfish runs that took the Royals’ defenders out of position.

But Wigan showed how easily schooled Walcott can be in the centre just by sitting off him a little and not allowing space in behind. He doesn’t have the hold up or the link up play to circumnavigate such tactics. Arsenal’s attack broke down on countless occasions at Wigan because Theo wanted the ball in behind, rather than showing for the short pass and building an attack. Indeed, it’s worth noting that Walcott’s most effective contribution arrived when he won the penalty, which he conjured with a run in from the right touchline.

I can, however, see why Arsene is tempted to persist with Theo upfront. Arsenal’s attack has nearly always been built around a mobile striker under the current manager. Ian Wright was quickly ushered out in favour of Nicolas Anelka in the early Wenger years. Following Anelka’s acrimonious departure, the Bergkamp and Kanu axis was a bit of a disaster initially, so Henry’s elevation was fast tracked. Adebayor did his best work in an Arsenal shirt with Eduardo drifting in from the left of a nominal 4-5-1.

Santi Cazorla’s hat trick at Reading owed much to space being created for him by Theo’s movement- or at least the potential of his kinesis occupying Reading defenders. All three of Cazorla’s goals were penalty area efforts serviced from out wide. It’s similar to the manner in which Henry’s drifting opened up space for the likes of Ljungberg and Pires to mine for gold in more central areas.

Gunnerblog wrote a very thought provoking article a few weeks ago about Olivier Giroud. He sagely points out that Arsenal’s best performances this season have generally seen either Theo or Gervinho head up a fluid and interchanging front three. With Giroud, our style has to alter somewhat unnaturally. Therein lay Wenger’s reasons for tinkering methinks. I think he would prefer to employ a mobile “false 9” type, with Giroud either ensconced in an envelope marked “Plan B” or saved for tricky or more physical away matches.

But the manager doesn’t really have a player that convinces in the mobile “false 9” role. Gervinho played there with some success earlier in the season, but his form is now so far in the toilet, he’s liable to bump into Renton from Trainspotting.  Walcott may acclimatise given time, but he’s almost certainly leaving the club soon, so I’m not sure I would persist with him centrally.

The 5-2 win over Spurs did give us some indication that Giroud isn’t a black sheep in the equation. The way in which Cazorla, Podolski and Walcott buzzed around and interchanged in behind Giroud (all four of those players scored on the day), put one in mind of the way in which Mata, Hazard and Oscar play behind Torres for Chelsea. But we’re still tinker tailoring with the frontline with 2013’s icy breath on our neck. That suggests it may be some time before symbiosis is achieved.

I think it’s the understandable desire to keep the tantalising triplet of Cazorla, Wilshere and Arteta together in the midfield that prevents Wenger from changing the formation wholesale and partnering Giroud with Walcott / Gervinho. I guess this is a long winded way of saying that it’s axiomatic that Arsenal need a new striker in January. Preferably one who, to borrow a Redknappism, “can fackin run araaand a bit.”

Wenger’s substitutions at the DW betrayed his thinking and emphasised both his attacking quandary and our defensive improvement this year. All three of his changes were undeniably defensive. On many occasions this season, we have watched a match where Arsenal have needed a goal and yearned for the days that Kanu, Wiltord, Bergkamp and Henry were thrown into the fray, like hungry lions sent to feast on hapless Christians in the coliseum.

However, Wenger was just as fond of throwing Nelson Vivas or Gilles Grimandi on to preserve a slender lead and we saw a slight return to that this weekend. Effectively, Arsene rated our chances of keeping Wigan out as in excess of our chances of hitting them on the break and grabbing a second goal. We surrendered the initiative to the home side, but it worked rather emphatically. In essence, our defence is in much better shape than our attack.

Of course, very soon the transfer window bursts open. (I presume it “bursts open?” The press always talk about it “slamming shut,” so surely it opens with the same fervour?) Whilst I have bored you all many times with how uninspired I am by the whole freak show, I do think Arsenal are preparing for a busy one, with outs as much as ins.

It’s probably no coincidence that Johan Djourou and Andre Santos have picked up timely injuries as the club will hold the door open for them. Andrey Arshavin couldn’t even make the bench against Bradford. Whilst Marouane Chamakh would have to be an individual of incredibly low perspicacity to need to be told that he’s not wanted. I imagine Chamakh arrives at the canteen to find his seat subtlely strewn with travel brochures and airline leaflets every day.

Of course the tittle tattle will be focused primarily on incomings. Arsenal’s need for a striker means that, for the next four weeks, any tin-pot cunt that ruffles a net will be providing a fiat that we should SIGN HIM UP THIS INSTANT! The bullshit tsunami is coming and I’m on second base trying to get all the way home. Stay tuned boppers, stay tuned. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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