Monday, 24 November 2008

The lowest ebb

It's happened. After Gallas's outburst, he has been removed as captain (at long last, and rightly); after the Manchester City debacle, Cesc has been installed as Arsenal's leader on the pitch. Now, I think the road will be bumpy for a while yet, but I think this week is rock-bottom, and hopefully we will see something of a performance tomorrow against Kyiv. I'm avoiding predictions, as they usually go wrong, but I'm a little more optimistic than I was on Saturday.
Arsene's hand was forced by Gallas, and for that, I think we should thank Willy, not bury him. Let's hope that, without the burden of a role to which he was not suited, Gallas can regain some form, because we need him, even if it's just for the rest of the season. A change was needed and without Gallas's outburst I don't think Arsene would have made that change. Now, we have the captain we should have had since the summer, and hopefully the responsibility can shake Cesc out of his torpor.
With all the injuries to the thin squad, who can tell what the starting XI tomorrow will be? But I would say this: the time for Diaby or Denilson to play wide is gone. Wilshere should start on the right; I would play Cesc and Ramsey in the middle. On the left? Merida or Gibbs.
It is also time for a frank assessment of some of the young players in the squad (and Myles Palmer's latest blog, stating that most of the squad is 'crap', is awful, brainless and insulting rubbish, an index of ANR's decline over the last couple of years. Many of the squad are too young to carry the burden that Arsene has asked of them, too early - but they are not 'crap'.) Song is too languid for the Premier League; Diaby needs to be given some games in central midfield to show whether he really can play there, and if not, he should be moved on, because we have better players in a playmaking role (Ramsey, Wilshere, even RvP). Denilson is a neat, tidy young footballer who is not physically powerful; he would be fine as an alternate to Cesc in some games, but is being worn down by being a first-choice central midfielder at his current age. He needs a rest. Clichy is being exposed but is still an excellent left-back who I would not swap for Ashley Cole if offered. Bendtner is not physical enough to be a front-man, and is not technically-adept enough to be a Bergkamp. He also should be sold. Vela is clearly an excellent player who needs more games and better service.
Hopefully the poison in the squad can be drained. The appointment of Cesc will start this process, as he is clearly respected and looked up to even at 21. At 21, he has the authority to tell Ade to shut up, to order Song to get into position, to impose his mentality on the Arsenal side. He is a winner, too.
Clearly, we need a central defender or two, a central midfielder, and a winger come January. The awfulness of this week should have shaken Arsene out of his own complacency, too; if not, more radical changes will be needed next summer.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

10 things Arsene (and Arsenal) should do in 2009

1. Appoint Martin Keown as defensive coach.
2. Replace Pat Rice as Assistant Manager with someone who will counter Arsene's stubbornness.
3. Appoint a CEO without further delay.
4. Sign an experienced, high-tempo midfielder in January.
5. Play Johan Djourou in central defence.
6. Do not allow Philip Senderos to leave for AC Milan or elsewhere.
7. Give Aaron Ramsay more games in place of Cesc.
8. Bring back Eduardo VERY slowly.
9. Sell Song, Adebayor, Bendtner, Gallas.
10. Hope that Jack Wilshere isn't affected by the media hype.

10 Things Arsenal (and Arsene) have got wrong in 2008

1. Selling Lassana Diarra.
2. Not buying Jonathan Woodgate.
3. Allowing Mathieu Flamini to leave on a Bosman.
4. Failing to buy Xabi Alonso.
5. Failing to install a CEO.
6. Bringing back Cesc too early after Euro 2008 and placing too much of the burden on his shoulders.
7. Allowing Gallas to remain captain.
8. Placing too much faith in Diaby, Denilson and Song as replacements for Flamini and Gilberto.
9. Not selling Adebayor at £20 million.
10. Giving Adebayor and Van Persie salary increases without winning anything.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Memphis Blues Again

Another defeat at home, this one the worst of the lot. To under-perform against Hull or Stoke is one thing; against the team in fifth, one place behind, who draw level if they win, is another.
I now think the Arsenal will probably finish fifth, deservedly, and it might be good for the club to do so. Complacency has set in, clearly, both in the squad and, it must be said, in Arsene. No-one in his position can take results and performances like today's one with equanimity, one would think. Arsene will no doubt trot out the 'I believe in this squad' routine again, but that is wearing mighty thin. He must be troubled; the policy is clearly not working; but do you think he will buy in January? I don't.
A season in the UEFA, and a winnowing of the squad (and some canny purchases) are in order - with, or dare to say it, without Arsene. With the Carling draw, it looks good for the Arsenal kids to win that Cup - and it looks like many of my other early season 'doom' predictions might also bear fruit. I hope Ramsay gets a few games soon, along with Vela and even Wilshere. It might do some of the 'first-teamers' good (especially Cesc, who is dire need of a break) to be dropped. There's so much potential at Arsenal, so much fruit on the vine. Will it wither or ripen?

Sunday, 9 November 2008


Another odd week for Gooners. First the 4-4 with Spurs, which I watched with two Arsenal-supporting friends in a pub filled with Halloween-becostumed students, only to experience our own nightmare (paralysed with horror, knowing Spurs were going to equalise); then the defeat at Stoke, all-too-inevitable against Pulis's giants; and then the Fener 0-0 which I didn't bother to try to see, or even catch highlights.
Arthur said that I should revise my 'Endgame' post and validate the doom-scenario instead of looking on the brighter side, and this week, I would have thought he was right. Yesterday's result doesn't change that, of course. I have thought since the start of the season that we would play well in games against Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool this season. These games are not the problem. It's Stoke, Fulham, Hull and Sunderland that are the problem. Why?
1. the inconsistency of a young and physically quite small side that doesn't have strong leadership in the team, and who over-rely on Cesc as their engine and talisman, who is not on great form;
2. as Hull boss Phil Brown has just said on Radio 5 Live, the fact that we still don't take enough of our chances;
3. tempo. I think this one is the most important. The Arsenal miss Flamini not because he was an effective 'destroyer' or because he sat in front of the back 4; he didn't. He was in some ways a classic box-to-box player. No, they miss Flamini because of the tempo, the energy of his game. When Arsenal set a high tempo for the game, as they did against United, they have such movement and technical ability that they can out-manoeuvre and pass around defences. Physicality is therefore not so much of a problem. However, when they start slowly (as Brown thought they did against Hull), it becomes much more easy for opposing sides to sit back, close down space, cut off the angles, dominate through physicality and set-pieces, take advantage of lapses in concentration. Yesterday United came to play an open, high-tempo game and they were beaten.
This is why Alex Song is a very bad fit for Arsenal. He's a languid player, much more suited to Italian football (La Liga would be too high-tempo for him too) or international football. Denilson must keep his work-rate up, as he did yesterday, to avoid the same problem.
Arsenal cannot rely on technique. They must play with energy and aggression. I like a mobile 4-5-1 for the current squad, with Cesc-Denilson-Diaby in midfield, flanked by Walcott and Nasri. This has pace, technical ability, movement, and shooting prowess. Adebayor is a far from complete player, but I would play him, when fit, as a lone striker, as he can run the channels, but if a better option became available (Torres at Liverpool, for instance, shows that a player can be effective in this role without having to be a massive physical presence) I would pounce. The problem for Arsenal's current strikers is this: Eduardo (when fit) and Vela are excellent finishers, but are physically small and need to play off a bigger partner; Bendtner is big but is more of a Crouch-type player rather than a target-man; RvP is too flaky and individualistic. The Internet suggests that the Arsenal have signed a 20-year old Brzilian striker called 'Lenny' from Palmeiras on a pre-contract agreement; he will no doubt go to Salamanca, and at 5 foot 8, he's not large either. We don't have an effective alternative to Adebayor in the squad for the lone striker role.
So, my friends, expect more of the same. The yoof squad will probably beat Wigan on Tuesday and go into the Carling QFs; but there will be unexpected and mighty wins, and terribly deflating draws and defeats, before season's end.