Friday, 31 January 2014

Could Deadline Day be any more "upon us"?


It's 31st January, and there aren't any signings yet for Arsenal. Sure, the rumours are there, but they yet haven't produced anything tangible in an official signing or departure. The clock is ticking away, and the manager needs to act quickly and decisively in order to salvage a season showing tremendous promise.

Chelsea did us a massive favour against West Ham, but I'd be doubtful that they would do us another at the Etihad. Nevertheless, we need to take advantage of their gracious slip-up, not only against the upcoming Crystal Palace, but also in the transfer market.

I've said it a lot of times before - it's no exaggeration when I say that our season literally depends on a striker. If we don't buy a striker (or a winger, and make Podolski a striker), the only chance we have of winning the title is if Olivier Giroud remains fit for 4 months straight and keeps scoring goals regularly, which is really unlikely. If we do want to win the title and recreate those glory days, a striker is nothing but a necessity.

A prime reason of Arsene Wenger's early success at Arsenal was because he had inherited George Graham's mean defence, and mixed it with scintillating attacking football. While our offense under Wenger has already been superb throughout the years, the "moving on" of The Back Four resulted in some appalling defending from around 2007 to 2012. Now that Steve Bould (another Graham product) is here to save the defence, we can focus on adding to the firepower up front.

It's almost ironic that after so many years of good offense-bad defence, when we finally find the solution to a bad defence, our attack has been found wanting. We already know that the path to reliving the glory days is a perfect blend of Graham's gritty defence and Wenger's pass-and-move philosophy. The thing is, while we have a lot of creativity in attack, we don't have the cutting edge to finish off the moves. That's what I want in this transfer window - along with some backup in defence.

Below are the targets that I want Arsenal to sign, which doesn't necessarily mean that I'm predicting that Wenger will buy them. Anyways, here they are:

A striker:

Well, this was an unexpected addition, wasn't it? :P

Look, it's painfully obvious that Giroud and Bendtner are incomparable to Manchester City's Negredo and Aguero. And Dzeko. AND Jovetic. City are our prime title rivals, and we need to match them in order to beat them. Giroud needs an excellent alternative that can complement him in order for Arsenal's strike force to shine.
Who I'd like: Dimitar Berbatov. Alvaro Morata. Jackson Martinez. Mario Mandzukic. Mirko Vucinic. Demba Ba. Anyone!

A centre back:

With only three center backs in our team - Mertesacker, Koscielny and Vermaelen - we need backup in that area in case any one of the above mentioned three get injured. With Kurt Zouma seemingly Chelsea-tied, our options are dwindling by the hour.

Vermaelen has enough competition with Mertesacker and Koscielny as it is, so I don't want a world-class defender or something that would put further pressure on him and push him towards the exit door. We actually have the luxury of getting a promising talent here, who can get more playing time in the FA Cups and give Mertesacker a rest.

Looking at "internal solutions" to solve this problem won't be a bad idea either. Promoting someone like Semi Ajayi or Issac Hayden might be productive for their development and our title hopes. Frankly, I would be content with quantity rather than quality here.
Who I'd like: Simon Kjaer, Semi Ajayi or Issac Hayden.

  
If we get these players, I feel that our squad will be complete, at least till May. We would be well-equipped to win the FA Cup, at least achieve second in the title race. While attempting glory at Munich would still remain a dream, the confidence exuding from the team due to these signings would at least make it a possibility.

However, I don't think that Wenger will buy anybody, mostly because our top four hopes are secure - the injury to Ramsey won't change that. Even though we have the money to activate Draxler's £37 million release clause, Martinez's £32 million release clause and certainly Berbatov's £3 million transfer fee, Wenger will not buy.

Why? Because he knows that his future is secure at Arsenal, Gazidis has already announced that. Even though there are a plethora of options that were available in the market at specific times (including NOW), Wenger is constantly creating the illusion of January being a difficult market to do business in. He's lying to our faces, and there are a bunch of supporters on his side as well, encouraging him to promote those lies.

Here's an extract that I wrote for Arsenal India Supporters on JANUARY 11th:

"He’s making it seem as if it’s really difficult to get a striker this month, while I have proved above that we can buy either Dimitar Berbatov, Alvaro Morata, Jackson Martinez or Diego Costa given the right effort. Why is he already making excuses beforehand when instead we could be sitting with a striker right now? There are only 2 conclusions that I can draw from this peculiar behaviour, which are:

1. He is content with his squad, and ultimately contented with a top four spot which he will doubtless achieve with this team. His habits of not spending extra to go that further mile seem to be at it again.
 
2. He’ll make a late dash in the window, possibly bag Dimitar Berbatov on 31st January. The logic behind this must be to avoid losses (clubs tend to bend the rules late in the transfer window due to lack of time) and bring the mentality of Arsenal supporters to, “We didn’t get a world-class striker, but meh, something is better than nothing”.
 
While I’d be much happier with the second scenario, both of these cases say a lot on Arsene Wenger. It says clearly that he puts money over football, and that he’d risk not getting in a striker at all for getting in a striker on the cheap. Whenever Arsenal’s top four hopes are on the line, Arsene will no doubt get quality – witness the £15 million Arshavin signing. However, if our title hopes are on the line, why would Wenger stall over getting a striker the whole footballing world knows that Arsenal need?
 
Arsenal supporters may not want to admit it, but this undoubtedly showcases a losers mentality. It shows that as long as our Champions League hopes are secure, Wenger will not get in a player. The fact remains that if Wenger wants to win the league, we would be in negotiations with a striker right now. Even after Bendtner and Walcott getting injured, we aren’t seeing serious activity from Arsene in the transfer window. It’s ridiculous, really."

In 19 days, NOTHING has changed. In reality it has worsened, witness Aaron Ramsey's injury that will rule him out for games against Liverpool, United and Bayern. However, Wenger is still showing no inclination of loosening the purse strings, even though he can get Alvaro Morata on loan and Dimitar Berbatov permanently for as little as £3 million.

I can't believe that people actually support Arsene Wenger. He has such obvious flaws that most of the Arsenal fanbase choose to ignore, simply because he achieved something remarkable a decade ago, which makes it all the more frustrating. Wenger should take 100% responsibility if he fails to get in a striker, because he gets too much insight into transfer dealings. Yet he won't, because there will be a bunch of people shielding him and instead blaming the board, the scouters, the Financial Fair Play or Chuck Norris instead.

There is an 80% probability that we're going to be inactive on deadline day. I had predicted that Wenger would make a late attempt on a player, and it seems like that was on Julian Draxler which failed. He might make another attempt on another player if the pressure of expectation on him increases, but I don't see anything else happening beside that.

At the moment, I see many Arsenal supporters who want Arsene Wenger to buy a striker. Let me tell you in advance that I shall have no respect for you if you sing a different tone at the end of the window, after realizing that Wenger had remained stubbornly inactive. Wenger is a person that has not received overdue criticism for a lot of mistakes that he has made, largely due to a deluded Arsenal fanbase. It seems like the same is going to happen on 1st February as well.

I realize that I have come across as increasingly harsh on the manager. After all there is still time in the transfer market to pull off a signing and rejuvenate our title challenge. However, I refuse to ignore evidence, and evidence clearly suggests that Wenger is not going to buy "top top quality" in the window. Let's hope that the coming press conference proves me wrong.  

Brace for disappointment Gooners, for I already have.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz, I'll be giving transfer updates over there)

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Southampton 2-2 Arsenal: Call for the Cavalry


I'm not going to dwell much on this match, because it held little significance in hindsight anyways. It was somewhat typical of this Arsenal side this season - scoring in the very few chances that they had. My predictions of a narrow win would have held true had we not been so uncharacteristically distracted in defence, especially while conceding the second goal. However, I'm defiant in saying that yesterday we saw clear signs of potential champions in our Arsenal side, particularly in the second half.

There are certain instances in the game that cannot be overlooked or underestimated. Professionally responding and turning the game on its head in four blistering minutes was an example of that. Keeping an impressive Southampton at arms length after being reduced to 10 men is another.

Let's face it - we were completely dominated and were second best in everything for the entirety of the first half. We deserved to go in the break trailing, even though we had a presentable chance in Laurent Koscielny's saved shot.

However, that shouldn't cover the fact that we witnessed a massive response to come from behind from Arsenal, going into the second half. It's no coincidence that we've seen better second halves than first in this team - witness the games against against Marseille (2-1 away), Swansea, Dortmund, Newcastle, and many more. Whether it's Wenger, Steve Bould or leaders like Mertesacker and Flamini giving motivational team talks in the break - who knows? -, but whoever does it is having a damn good effect on the team.

Wenger knows how to make a solid attacking side, I'll give him credit for that. While he's completely incompetent in teaching his team how to defend (shame, seeing he was a center back), he has Steve Bould to sort that out for him now. (Speaking of which, was our disorganized defence a sign that Wenger's interfering with Bould's training again?)

Look, Wenger just needs to focus on replicating the Bergkamp-Pires-Henry and the Cesc-Nasri-Robin deadly attacking trios, to see his team have a realistic shot at success. While players like Ozil and Santi Cazorla can make really good replacements for Fabregas and Nasri (Ozil had a much needed good game yesterday), Olivier Giroud can barely be compared to a player like Thierry or Robin, even though he scored a fantastic 14th of the season.

Another sickening blow - aside from Theo Walcott's injury is - that Aaron Ramsey will miss another month of football due to aggravating his calf injury. Forgive me when I say that this is a blessing in disguise, but it seems that Wenger's hand is forced on the transfer market owing to Rambo's injury. In the aftermath of this injury (and the match), Arsene Wenger said:

"I have nothing to tell you tonight, maybe I hope we have something to tell you because we lost a few players now."

Many people would take that as a hint that he's ready to spend (about fucking finally), and I think I'm one of them. The injury to Ramsey might just be one too many for him, adding to Theo's lengthy lay-off and Lukas Podolski's constant exclusion from the team (I treat that like an injury as well now).

I had said that I wanted players like Santi, Giroud and Ozil to step up, score and provide goals, and I'm glad to see them do that. However, it may or may not be enough for a team challenging for the title, I'm afraid. A striker might just tip the scales in our balance come May. (Did I use that phrase right?)

I've already urged the manager to buy a striker and/or a center back in the previous blog, not to mention in the entirety of January. I'm not going to press on that further, considering I have a deadline day blog to use to emphasize that fact. All I can say is that I'm certain that no signings will be confirmed other than on deadline day for Arsenal (IF we buy), so don't get your hopes up on that.


UPDATE: As I write this, Sky Sports are reporting from their as-ever reliable sources that Arsenal have sent a delegation to Germany to negotiate Julian Draxler's transfer. While the report clearly suggests that no fee has been agreed between the two, it is impossible to now deny the fact that we ARE interested in him and that we do want to purchase him in the next three days.

There is also stuff on Twitter suggesting that Holtby is currently in Germany, in the final stages with Schalke over his transfer over there. It seems like Schalke are already preparing for life after Draxler, very much reminiscent of Ozil to Arsenal and Bale to Real Madrid. I'm a bit ashamed to admit that if Holtby does move to Schalke which would pave the way for Draxler at Arsenal, I'll be supporting them with full vigour ahead of their match against Manchester City tonight.

I still believe that if we do buy, the player will be bought and unveiled on 31st January, even if it's Julian Draxler. I reckon that it's not only the Ramsey injury, but also the toothlessness up front that goaded the manager into action, which is a good thing. We might also look back at the Southampton draw as a positive because it forced Wenger to think, just like how some Gooners had viewed the 8-2 as a positive. (How else did Mertesacker and Arteta come here?)


The coming three days can drag tortuously and slowly, even though it may only seem like 72 hours now. There is every chance that even I can get carried away by half-confirmed reports, vacantly praying that they may be true. I therefore urge everyone reading this post to adjust your sights instead of believing fairy tails, and not get taken into news reports that you want to happen.

My advice? Only for the coming days, unsubscribe from Arsenal fan made Facebook pages, and don't believe any reports unless they're from Sky Sports or from the club's official website. On Twitter, make it a point to only follow and believe reliable journalists, and don't get your hopes up until you see the player in question in an Arsenal jersey (even on the Draxler thing, ESPECIALLY on the Draxler thing).

As an Arsenal supporter, the key to a good deadline day is low expectations. There is a guarantee that over the days we're going to get acquainted to fake quotes and fee agreement 'reports', which would understandably excite a lot. Let me warn you beforehand, you may be in for a massive disappointment if you fall in that predictable trap of hope. Be wary.

Even though I still expect an officially quiet deadline day from Arsenal, that still won't satisfy my demands of wanting to see a striker (a center back is a bonus) in the team by 1st February. Chelsea and Manchester City face off on the 3rd of February, which means that one of them is guaranteed to drop points. If we do get a striker, I'm sure it will rejuvenate the team and make up for the draw against Southampton, which in hindsight means little.

It's not the deadline day to the transfer window, but the deadline day to Arsenal's season that is approaching. Please realize that Arsene, and act swiftly for the good of Arsenal Football Club.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Southampton vs Arsenal: Match 'Preview'


Truth be told, my mind is barely on this game. Deep down, I know that Arsenal are going to notch a one-goal margin win, and I know that there will be praise for succeeding where City and Liverpool failed. I know that we're going to show "Champions' qualities" in a game where it wasn't really necessary, and I know that we'll be praising our defence once again, ignoring our problems upfront.

I just think that the reason of my disinterest for this game is because frankly, we have bigger fish to fry. It's 28th of January and predictably, Wenger still hasn't signed a striker (or a winger). After 28 days of speculations linking almost every striker to Arsenal, we're finally left with no one but Nicklas Bendtner and Yaya Sanogo (ha). What sucks the most - something I've been saying throughout the window - is that by now we could've been in a much better position had Wenger not been so stubborn and blind.

I've long since learnt how to support Arsenal, yet not support Arsene Wenger's philosophies. And part of that includes accepting the fact that Wenger has a risky habit of leaving things really, really late in the window. As always, I still think that Wenger will make a late attempt at a player on deadline day, hoping to get him on the cheap. With Arsenal announcing the Puma deal (adding £30m to their summer transfer kitty!), I don't even see why we need to be cheap.

Either ways, the truth remains that Arsenal will not - I repeat, NOT - win the Premier League if we don't buy a striker. It's impossible, period. Even if we do buy a striker, I'd still fancy Bayern Munich to go through to the quarters, and while I do admit that we have a fair chance of winning the FA Cup either ways, it still wouldn't satisfy our primary objective of winning the league.

Let me get this crystal clear - our season DEPENDS on a striker. We buy, and we have a damn good shot at success. However, if we remain inactive, we're left with a season that is doomed for failure. I cannot bear to imagine Olivier Giroud struggling to carry his jaded feet across the field against Liverpool, United and Bayern. In a row.

The thing about Giroud is that he's good, but he's an incomplete striker. He's great at aerial battles and holding the ball and laying it off, and his one-touch finishes have taken a huge turn for the better. As a creator and the target man, I agree that Giroud undoubtedly fits the bill.

However, Giroud is a player sorely lacking in his other fields of play. He completely lacks pace, and he can't dribble the ball to save his life. He seldom finds the net when one-on-one with the goalkeeper, and he doesn't make runs off the ball, which is something that is essential now with Theo injured. I don't blame Ollie, for those aspects of his game isn't in his DNA. And that is why we need a striker who does have that in his DNA.

Either we can get a striker who can succeed where Giroud fails (sprint speed, dribbling and composure), or we can buy a striker who has ALL these attributes, and make Olivier his backup. Either way, we cannot go into February with Nicklas Bendtner as backup to Giroud. It's preposterous, especially when there are a lot of players potentially available in the market.

Arsene Wenger is trying hard in the press conferences to create a picture of "lack of options" in the transfer market. It increasingly seems like we're going to see no signings by the end of the week and that Wenger's getting his excuses in early, even though there ARE options in the market that can be bought. If Manchester United managed to buy Juan Mata and Chelsea bought a replacement in Salah in the period of one week, why couldn't we buy someone like Berbatov, Morata, Martinez or Mandzukic in 28 days?

There is only ONE explanation to this madness. The only reason why we aren't with a striker and/or a center back thus far is because Arsene Wenger does not want to buy one. Either he's haggling with a club over a few pennies or he's "happy" with Bendtner and Sanogo, but I'm certain that there isn't any real push for him to buy.

We have the money, boosted by the £30m gained from the record breaking Puma deal. We have the incentive, players like Berbatov and Morata would kill to play alongside Ozil and Cazorla and fight for the Premier League. It ALL comes down to Wenger - not his scouts, not the Financial Fair Play and not the board. It is totally 100% Arsene Wenger's responsibility to buy a striker and/or a center back that is so obviously necessary to win the EPL.

But he won't. And you know why? Because he wants Champions League qualification more than he wants the title, which he's almost guaranteed this season. And he cares more about his job security than the overall development of the club, which is guaranteed again owing to Ivan announcing that he WILL stay on.

Sometimes I surprise myself by actually considering the future of Wenger. He's a deeply flawed manager who overplays key men (Wilshere's injured after playing 90 unnecessary minutes against Coventry), is an appalling man manager, sports a baffling transfer policy, messed up the wage budget, sold star players to direct rivals, oversaw "Project Youth" (a calmatious failure), and didn't give Steve Bould his space until his job was in jeopardy (around the Bayern Munich 3-1 defeat).

However in the end, I know that Arsene won't leave the club. I know that we're set to see Wenger at the
helm for another 12 years, including the time of his inevitable promotion to director. I know that we're going to struggle for trophies for another 7 years at least (which doesn't necessarily mean that we won't win them), and I know that regardless of our blossoming financial conditions, Wenger will always do what he wants, irrespective of the club's best interests.

Many would ask me why I still support Arsenal FC, and they might feel that they have a fair point, judging on my sombre views on the manager. I'd like to answer to them that my sole reason of supporting this club is because I love everything else of it, apart from Arsene Wenger. I adore the history of the club, and I'm proud of our self-sufficient business model. I view fellow Arsenal supporters as my brothers, and I enthusiastically pick up a conversation with them whenever I can. Moreover, I love the players of the club, a cohesive bunch of hardworking lads who'll give anything for the logo in front.

As I said, I've long since adjusted myself to the fact that Wenger will oversee the helm for 12 more years, and I've learnt to support the club despite knowing that sickening fact. However, that still won't stop me from criticizing Wenger when his frustrating managerial 'decisions' take a step too many.

As much as I respect Arsenal fans - for I believe that they are one of the most loyal and patient fanbases - sometimes it annoys me as to how they put their blind faith in the manager. While I agree that the manager should be given praise when it's due, he cannot be absolved of all criticism just because he contributed largely to our success 10 years ago. It's okay to not support the manager yet support the team, you know. Arsene is not bigger than the club.

Nevertheless, I'm giving my predictions on the coming season. After a nervy win against Southampton, there will be no signings in this window, and this Arsenal side will lose against Liverpool in the FA Cup, and get eliminated from the CL by Bayern Munich. Bad results in February and March will throw us off the pace in the title race, and while we might finish the season strongly by mounting a late title bid in the season run-in, it might just be too little too late. In my opinion, Chelsea will win the title, with Arsenal finishing second or third depending on Manchester City.

Look, I'll still be an Arsenal supporter no matter what, and I'll still want us to win the title and/or the FA Cup. However, the realist (or possibly pessimist) part of my mind believes that we are in for another barren season, and finding ourselves asking "What if's?" in May, while looking back at January. I might as well enjoy our surprising form while I'm at it, now, because subconsciously I know that the team will run out of steam and fail if Wenger remains foolishly inactive. What a horrible thought.

Oh, and Come on You Gunners.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Monday, 27 January 2014

Arsenal Player Ratings thus far


I had written this in mid-January, but didn't get the time to post it. However, I feel it's better to get it out now, instead of seeing it rot in my book. Better late than never, huh?

I've done my basic assessment of each Arsenal player's first half of the season, and then given my final verdict in 'Rating' - which will be out of 5 - and 'Commitment' of the player for the club, which will either be 'Bare', 'Fair' or 'High'. Keep in mind that these are my midway ratings of the 2013/14 campaign, and that they will in no way represent their final season analysis. Let's begin.


1. Wojciech Szczesny
Rarely has a bad game, and is proving to be particularly integral this season. Resembles a much younger Jens Lehmann, and after signing a new contract and approaching only 24, he can only get better at Arsenal.
Rating: 4.5
Commitment: High

21. Lukasz Fabianski
Bar that error against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup, he's been pretty decent for Arsenal. Since the 2010/11 season, he's worked very hard to wipe off his antics at Porto from the mind of Arsenal supporters. I daresay he has finally managed to pull that off, by being a good backup option.
Rating: 4
Commitment: Fair

13. Emiliano Viviano
A signing merely for depth, it's surprising that he has fallen behind Fabianski in the pecking order. I can only assume that he's not very good in training, and also that he's not exactly having the time of his life here.
Rating: N/A
Commitment: N/A

3. Bacary Sagna
Great player, a loyal servant who has concreted his place at right back with remarkable consistency over the years. He's versatile too - with only 3 center backs in our team, he can fill in seamlessly over there when required. Bould's coaching has worked wonders for him - I think he's currently the best right back in the country at the moment. Clearly he wants Arsenal to win a trophy, and I think that he'll wait and see how the season unfolds before potentially putting pen to paper.
Rating: 4.5
Commitment: Fair

25. Carl Jenkinson
Even though he's a natural athlete capable of sustaining the Premier League's rigours, one would be fair to say that he's doing a simply adequate job for filling in for Bac. With the French right back's future uncertain, Carl needs to perform better more consistently. I think he will, he has the potential to be a special player for Arsenal FC.
Rating: 3.5
Commitment: High

4. Per Mertesacker
It's not easy for a slow center back to make it big in the league, but Mertesacker has achieved it this season, to remarkable consistency. Upon his arrival 3 years ago he looked nervy, slow and far from assured on the ball. However, this season he's been just superb and emerged as a real leader, being the ying to Laurent Koscielny's yang.

Thanks to Per (and Bould), we now have a rock-solid back four. However, it was against Manchester City where Mertesacker became one of my favourite players - yelling at a player like Ozil for not applauding the away fans. He's got the award for the best center back in the league, and deservedly so. In a world with few good center backs, we should consider ourselves fortunate for having an excellent one - Our Big Friendly Giant.
Rating: 5
Commitment: High

6. Laurent Koscielny
Brilliant defender, benefiting from Mertesacker's telepathic connection. Even though he's grown to be a very nice find from the manager, I still feel that he puts in rash tackles in dangerous positions. He's racked up a lot of red cards since arriving at Arsenal, not to mention concede penalties. Still a player I want at this club for years to come, though.
Rating: 4.5
Commitment: High

5. Thomas Vermaelen
He's a good defender, who's unlucky to miss out on a place in the starting XI due to the aforementioned effective Mertescielny partnership. I actually think that he can be pretty compatible with Per if given a chance, but Wenger is understandably reluctant to do so. Even so, Thomas needs and probably deserves more games than the FA Cup. I think he'll leave in the summer at this rate, which would be an undoubted shame.
Rating: 4
Commitment: Fair

28. Kieran Gibbs
He's progressed leaps and bounds after putting his injury days behind him. Competition with Nacho Monreal rather than Andre Santos has also seemed to help, I'd say. He has Arsenal written all over him, but so did Ashley Cole. Let's hope we don't witness another Ca$hley with him.
Rating: 4.5
Commitment: High

17. Nacho Monreal
Must be a bit frustrated due to lack of game time, and might consider his future in the light of it being World Cup year. Maybe it's a good sign that Wenger is giving him game time even with a fit Gibbs - because we cannot afford to lose Nacho. He's a really good backup option, and that's actually a compliment in disguise.
Rating: 4
Commitment: Fair

20. Mathieu Flamini
A good re-find from the manager, Mathieu's doing an outstanding job of being a short-term Patrick Vieira replacement. Honestly, I thought that he would be a fail signing, one mostly for quantity than quality. However, he's become an important member of the team, possibly the best free signing of the season. True, his influence seems to be diminishing a bit, but I think he's done enough to be shielded a bit from criticism... for now.
Rating: 4.5
Commitment: High

8. Mikel Arteta
While players like Ramsey, Wilshere and Flamini have restricted Arteta's appearances for the club, no one would deny that his injury was a big blow for the club. He's stepped up to the task of carrying out defensive duties - the match against Westfalenstadion particularly stands out - and been good, professional when called upon. If I had a complaint, I would say that his square passing should be reduced to some extent. Otherwise, more of the same please.
Rating: 4
Commitment: High

16. Aaron Ramsey
Wow. What a player. I don't even know where to begin with this guy. All I can say - apart from this piece - is that the greatest compliment to him would be calling him the current best Arsenal midfielder. Yes, in a midfield star-studded with Wilshere, Cazorla, Ozil and Rosicky.

He tends to be a bit selfish while scoring goals, but with our current goalscoring crisis, I'd actually WANT that from the Welshman. God I hope he's fit and firing quickly.
Rating: 5
Commitment: High

10. Jack Wilshere
England's biggest hope is having a bit of a mixed season thus far, and maybe needs to show some consistency to really shine. He's being doing that recently, taking up the 'Aaron Ramsey' mantle to put in topnotch performances against Cardiff, Villa and Fulham. Still, that doesn't cover the fact that Jack has had a merely decent first half. More is expected come the crunch part of the campaign, and I think he'll deliver.
Rating: 4
Commitment: High

11. Mesut Ozil
Needs to buck up soon. He shows no passion, no workrate and barely any determination during a game. I've already suggested benching him and playing Cazorla instead, and buy a pacy striker in the meanwhile who can make the runs that Ozil can find.

However, that's barely any consolation for a complete lack of determination and commitment from this player. I don't want to see another Samir Nasri in the making here, but I fear that I am. Still, it's hard to ignore 5 goals and 10 assists.
Rating: 4
Commitment: Bare

7. Tomas Rosicky
A relative lack of injuries in this Arsenal campaign has meant that Tomas has finally blossomed into the player that he long threatened to. Electrifying runs, constant pressure on the opposition and always buzzing with the ball, Rosicky is finally repaying the faith that the manager kept in him. It's time for him to sign an extension and hang up his boots in the future - retire an Arsenal legend.
Rating: 4.5
Commitment: High

14. Theo Walcott
In the 2 months of football that he did play, Walcott had been devastatingly effective, with 6 goals and 4 assists to his name. He's tremendously unlucky to miss out on the rest of the campaign, but he's already shown enough signs that he has matured this season. Godspeed, Theo. We hope we can hand you a trophy as consolation for missing out on the World Cup.
Rating: 4.5
Commitment: High

15. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
After a pretty mediocre 2012/13, a massive season awaited for the Ox. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury which arrested his growth. The flip side obviously is that he's fit now and raring to contribute to the team. Let's hope he will.
Rating: N/A
Commitment: High

44. Serge Gnabry
A player who has really made his mark when called upon to perform, and Walcott's injury means that he will be called upon more often. His contributions against Swansea, Crystal Palace and the Spuds have highlighted his potential, which should blossom now that he's surrounded by players like Wilshere, Ozil, Cazorla and Podolski. So far, so good. Let's hope for more.
Rating: 4
Commitment: Full

19. Santi Cazorla
Since mid-December, the Spaniard is slowly getting to his best, but that doesn't cover the fact that he's been merely average in the first half of the season. I have already expressed my views on this - Cazorla needs space in the middle to thrive. I'm dubious as to whether he'll continue this good patch if he's shunted to the wings - I'm afraid we'll always see mixed results from him.
Rating: 4
Commitment: Fair

9. Lukas Podolski
Continuously benched by Wenger, Podolski will doubtless be frustrated and eager to build on the 'super sub' role that he currently occupies. He's raving for games and deservedly so; he has more goals than starts this campaign. I'm afraid that we'll see the back of him in the summer if this continues. Let's hope that it doesn't.
Rating: 4.5
Commitment: Fair

31. Ryo Miyaichi
For a promising talent, he's been plain rusty when called upon. At 21, he needs to impress soon or consider a transfer to another club, especially when we have a lot of options and won't particularly miss him. Looked exciting at first, but I think we need to face reality and get him off our wage budget.
Rating: 3
Commitment: Bare

12. Olivier Giroud
He's been impressive when called upon, but the problem is that he's been called upon far, far too often. He badly needs a striking partner (apart from Bendtner) so that he has the rest he needs to show up in other games. A prime reason of his recent dip in form was down to overplaying, which needs to be solved because I want our HFB to perform well for the club.

Look, the thing with Ollie is that he's good in the departments that he's built for. His control, heading, lay off and workrate is awesome, and he's one of the best in the league in those skills. But he's not a total striker like Thierry or Robin, so we need someone to complete him. A player who has the qualities Giroud doesn't - dribbling, pace and an ability to bury half chances. Kind of how Mertesacker and Koscielny have completed each other to form one unit, we have to find a striking partner for Giroud who can do the same.

Nevertheless, I'll hand it to Giroud, for no one can deny that we've seen a much needed, marked improvement from the Frenchman this campaign.
Rating: 4.5
Commitment: High

23. Nicklas Bendtner
The perfect way to describe this person would be that he is symbolic of Arsenal over the years. Sloppy at first yet rejuvenated now, Bendtner is doing all he can to improve his reputation at the club. However, memorable goals against Hull and Cardiff are giving a false illusion that his form has permanently changed for the better. I'm a bit exasperated of saying that it has NOT, and that we need better backup for Giroud. In four days.
Rating: 3.5
Commitment: Fair

22. Yaya Sanogo
Haven't seen enough of him. Let's just hope that we don't have to call him the next 'Abou Diaby' or something.
Rating: N/A
Commitment: N/A

30. Park Chu Young
Barely made more appearances than Viviano. Enough said.
Rating: N/A
Commitment: Bare.

--

While the ending of the ratings was a bit anti-climactic, the overall conclusion is that we have a very good group of committed, fantastic players who can give any team in the world a good run for their money. In our team, there are 9 players who I feel are fully committed to the club, as well as achieving a high rating (4+) along the way as well. That's really impressive compared to the seasons before, a prime reason of why I'm proud to be calling myself a supporter of these players.

There are small things in this team that cannot, and should not be forgotten. Giroud's never-ending workrate to pacify our striker issues, Flamini's crunching challenges to halt a goal, Mertesacker disciplinary actions on Ozil and Cazorla, the fun filled superhero-themed Christmas celebrations, Santi, Szczesny and Walcott trolling the small club across town are what come to mind immediately.

However, the thing with our team is that it's still incomplete, although not severely lacking in depth. I believe that if Arsene Wenger buys a center back (preferably two) and a striker then we are good to go for the double, and can consider getting past the Bavarians as well. Wenger's stubbornness angers me a lot - he just doesn't realize how close we are from not having a care in the transfer world.

Wenger is making a huge mountain out of a molehill, which is completely unnecessary. He'll be a bit busier in the summer, what with dealing with Sagna's and Rosicky's contracts and the futures of Fabianski, Vermaelen, Monreal, Frimpong, Diaby, Podolski, Bendtner and Park. However, if he buys a striker and a center back (PREFERABLY TWO), we'll be a COMPLETE team, at least for the next 6 months.

If we don't buy these players - especially a striker - then we can kiss our title hopes goodbye. I won't rule out the FA Cup (even though we've drawn Liverpool), but I will certainly rule out the Premier League and the Champions League for the time being.

We just need to buy in the next four days. It will save our season, and maybe the season beyond. 

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Arsenal 4-0 Coventry: Move along, no surprises here


Into the Round of 16 we go, trashing Coventry 4-0 along the way, in what was surprisingly the highest margin of victory that we claimed this season. Early goals from Podolski set the tone for a comfortable night, and even though Coventry threatened to make a game of it in the early stages of the second half, late strikes from substitutes Giroud and Santi effectively ended the contest.

Even for a person notorious for faulty man management, Wenger's team selection was too surprising for me. In a weird formation with no defensive midfielder, Wenger opted to start Wilshere and Ozil again, along with The Ox as an attacking midfielder. It was Jack who occupied the deep-lying midfielder role here, in a 4-1-2-2-1 formation. Overplaying Ozil and Jack was both unnecessary and avoidable, and playing Wilshere in a deep role was a gamble that paid off only because we were facing Coventry.

I don't know if anyone remembers, but midway throughout the second half against Manchester City, Wilshere had played in the defensive midfield role, which was nothing short of a disaster. I remember that he gave away the ball far too often which had led to two of City's six goals. I still think that had Coventry closed down on Jack quickly and denied him the space that he thrives on, our clean sheet could've been in serious danger.

Wilshere's a good player who had a productive game yesterday, but only because his opponents were barely any competition. Don't let this illusion fool you - Wilshere isn't good enough as a defensive midfielder. He may have a decent game on the flanks once in a while, and play well in a central attacking midfield position if the opposition aren't big guns like Manchester City or Chelsea.

However, his best position is that alongside a defensive midfielder, because he has the license to move forward, knowing that his partner would be there to mop up. It's why he performs really well when partnered alongside players like Alex Song, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini.

Ozil needn't start yesterday, but Wenger's infuriating insistence of overplaying his key men meant that he did. For a game against COVENTRY, is it really necessary to play Ozil, especially when we had Zelalem in the reserves? While I'm certainly not suggesting that Zelalem is ready for continuous first team action after an impressive cameo yesterday, I'm confident that Ozil was far from a necessity yesterday, and that Zelalem would've filled in aptly.

After a dominating start to proceedings, we got the goal we deserved through a Podolski strike (guess who assisted?), capitalizing on a Coventry pass error. Podolski's goal was very well taken; he knew exactly what he was doing there. A calm touch, strolling past the keeper and tapping it in from an arguably acute angle - I doubt that there are many Arsenal players who can do that.

After Coventry threatened to restore parity, we made it 2-0 through a heartily convincing corner, one of the few I've seen from Arsenal in like, ever. At 27, Gnabry swiped it in, Mertesacker flicked it on and Lukas headed it home. German all over, with the game effectively over.

We professionally played out the rest of the first half, with the only notable features coming from the crowd - the Emirates applauding Coventry's protest and a fairy lights show following a rare Emirates Stadium malfunction. However, Coventry came out as the stronger of the two sides after the interval, creating two very presentable opportunities for them.

Besides the Fabianski save and the unlucky miss from Clarke, we were successful at keeping Coventry at arms length, comfortable with even a two goal lead against a League One side at home. In FA Cup's, it's only the final result that matters, not the scoreline. I'm glad that the team realized that.

Wenger decided to keep Wilshere and Ozil on the pitch for 90 minutes, a stupid decision, and I'm already tired of saying why. He got on Zelalem, Cazorla and Giroud for Chambo, Podolski and Bendtner instead, opting to thump Coventry rather than see the game through. It was an unnecessary decision, because we didn't need to thump Coventry to get through.

Nonetheless, we did manage to add some gloss over the scoreline, with Olivier Giroud making it 3-0 after some good Arsenal play and shoddy Coventry defending. When Gibbs had put the ball in the box, I can't believe that the defender failed to clear the ball away there. Not that I'm complaining, Ollie took full advantage of that with a clinical finish. I want more of that from him this season, because he tends to miss a lot of easy chances such as that.

Cazorla was buzzing everywhere since coming on, and after Coventry ran out of steam and determination upon our third goal, they fell asleep and chose to admire Arsenal as they scored another. Cazorla played a one-two with Wilshere and immediately played it to Jenkinson, a player who was barely noticed defensively. Carl did everything right while shooting the ball, but the keeper saved it, only to see Cazorla tap in the parry. Too easy.

In the end, as much as a 'scare' Coventry gave us, we gave a flattering look to our scoreline by winning 4-0. It's surprising, I thought after full time, how rarely we have managed to blow teams apart such as today. I can only name a few games where we've won relatively comfortably, irrespectively of the scoreline. According to me, it was only against the games of Fulham, Fenerbache, Napoli, Liverpool and Marseille that we managed to see the opposition through with ease.

Although we're getting the results, we're not getting them with the swagger or the ease in which one would like. I appreciate the new mantra of "Results > Performances" adopted by us, but I don't think we need to use such mantras against games like Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Cardiff. I can understand if we're having an off day and still manage to win; on the contrary, I'd be delighted. Games like Spurs (back in September), Dortmund and Southampton are the ones that could be truly called "winning ugly".

My worry is that we're gradually making a habit out of it. A prime reason of why we're not called title favourites is not because we don't have enough stardom, like Manchester City. It's because we don't win games convincingly enough, and don't totally dominate the opposition. No one seems to be complaining for now, but they will be, once our defence makes a rare error and/or our forwards don't take the few chances they get in a game.

Nicklas Bendtner was an example of that. He had two presentable chances yesterday and completely failed to hit the ball properly, let alone find the net. If he would have indeed found the net there, it would've set the tone for a comfortable night much earlier in the game. While it may not seem apparent now, our team is suffering from a bit of a goalscoring crisis

Mesut Ozil's signing brought about a swagger in the team. Players like Ramsey, Giroud and Wilshere got newfound confidence, and scored goals to cover our goalscoring issues. However, with the gloss of Ozil wearing off, we're struggling to find the net and create the chances. It hard to say whether it's because our team is getting tired or because the overperforming players are dropping back to their 'decent' level. Either way, the solution to our problem is purchasing a player.

We are in a glorious position to win one of the most heatedly competed title races, despite our flaws. Wenger cannot afford to stay inactive in this transfer window by saying that there weren't any players to buy, especially when there were. It does not matter if the player bought in question is a short term purchase or a long term one, the fact remains that we need an additional player in the team on the first of February.

Julian Draxler has been heavily linked to us, after Jan Aage Fjortoft broke the news of a fee agreement between Arsenal and Schalke. While I won't deny that Jan's sources are truly reliable, and I also won't deny that Draxler is a player that could just get us the title, I'm stubbornly refusing to believe that Draxler will move to Arsenal in the coming week. It seems unlikely and contradicts Wenger to spend £35m on a player who can be replaced in our team by players like Ozil, Rosicky and Cazorla.

I'm not even going to think about in which positions would Draxler play, or how he would complement Giroud should he sign. I'm trying very hard to block myself to the prospects of seeing Draxler in an Arsenal jersey, not because I don't want him in the club, but because I've already hurt myself in previous years with false transfer rumours. I'm getting pretty good at not believing anything that I hear, and I suggest you do the same.

Even so, it is impossible to deny that Draxler is a player that is well within our reach now. With Mandzukic officially placed on the transfer list, Wenger's excuse of not having enough players up for grabs in the market is rapidly thinning. If he fails to get in a player this window, he will be 100% at fault for failing to capitalize on a successful title challenge thus far.

However, that's not to say that I'm getting my daggers out for Wenger quickly. Arsene still has 6 days to buy a striker and/or a defender, and he's a manager known for leaving things late. It's not a habit I encourage, but one that I'll have to depend on for the moment. I've always said that I think Wenger will try for a player very late in the window, and I stand by that. I don't think that we'll see any activity from Arsenal until the Southampton game on the 28th, but fingers crossed anyways.
 
The manager has a lot of choices, Dimitar Berbatov, Alvaro Morata, Mario Mandzukic, Julian Draxler and Jackson Martinez. He just need to take his pick. Will he?

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Friday, 24 January 2014

Arsenal vs Coventry: Match Preview


The good thing about our Arsenal squad - as Arsene Wenger points out - is that we can rotate the squad and still have a starting XI with no dearth of quality. it is why players like Vermaelen, Nacho Monreal, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Tomas Rosicky and (dare I add) Nicklas Bendtner are in the reserves, so that they are fresh for FA Cup matches, just as important as Premier League games. In a club like Arsenal - approaching 9 years without a trophy - we must defeat Coventry today to maintain hopes of a realistic double, or a trophy for that matter.

It seems that this Arsenal side has matured enough to not slip-up against underdogs. Indeed, we've only dropped 5 points against teams that we should've beaten (West Brom and Aston Villa), a remarkable figure compared to previous seasons. I'm not taking that statistic as inference that progression to Round 5 is guaranteed, but I won't deny that it will instill me with confidence.

Coventry City are a club in worse conditions than Blackburn (please don't ask me why I'm making this comparison), and we're an Arsenal team miles better than last year. Needless to say, anything other than a win for us would be a massive shocker, but it is something that I'm almost ruling out. Almost.

Even if we play Park Chu Young or field Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the center (an idea I'm not exactly a fan of), Arsenal should have much more in their locker than Coventry to cruise past them. With odds overwhelmingly in our favour - the current best team in England playing one of the worst AT HOME - there really shouldn't be any excuses in the post-match conference, and there probably won't.

In team news, players like Ramsey, Arteta, Vermaelen and Sanogo are ruled out, but should be back against Southampton or the game after. While people are suggesting that the manager might be tempted to play Viviano in goal, I think that he will still stick with Lukasz Fabianski, with the back four of Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Nacho Monreal in front of him.

Arsene's midfield selection should be a tricky one. Can he risk starting players like Zelalem and/or Frimpong, or should he stick with players like Flamini and Wilshere? Should he consider The Ox in the center to make space for Gnabry and Podolski on the wings, or should he include Santi Cazorla instead? The fact that he has so many options should lead him to consider which pairings would hurt Coventry's defence the most, and then proceed with a suitable lineup.

Then there's the striker role - options like Podolski, Bendtner, Park and Giroud spring to mind. I think Wenger will decide to start Nicklas with Park on the bench and Giroud rested. While I think that Bendtner would have a good game if that is indeed the case, the need for a striker still wouldn't be lessened.

Apparently Wenger thinks the opposite, focusing on Yaya Sanogo's and Bendtner's strengths, along with almost ruling out a signing. I'm tired of saying that Arsenal CAN get a striker, if Arsene Wenger has the willpower, but he so obviously does not. If he did, we would either be sitting with Berbatov or Morata and also made plans to shore up our defence. If we tried even harder since the start of the window, I'd reckon we would've even gotten players like Jackson Martinez or Mirko Vucinic by now.

However, I find it very painful to say that deals like these are NOT going to happen. While I'm not ruling out a loan signing on deadline day or a decent cut-price transfer, I'm appealing to all Arsenal supporters who take time to view this blog - please don't torture yourselves with links to Draxler and whatnot. It's not going to happen (at least not in January); it's a deal as unlikely as Yaya Toure going to Aston Villa on a 6 year contract.

I understand the feelings of Arsenal supporters who decide to believe the news that they want to. I (used to) feel it too, because I want Wenger to buy those players. However, the cold hard truth is that such deals are not going to turn into reality, so it's better to view the remainder of the window as a realist than believing half-reports and creating a fantasy world for oneself. In the end, you will end up feeling the same dissatisfaction, but at least if you take the realistic path, acceptance and recovery will be much quicker.

A lot of Wenger's purchases have happened when he was under pressure - barely under free will. The late trolley dash after 8-2, Nacho Monreal bought in after the fiasco of Andre Santos and Gibbs getting injured on deadline day, Arshavin's purchase when top four was on the line, and also the buys of Mathieu Flamini and Mesut Ozil bought after unbelievable pressure on the manager are examples that spring to mind.

This time though, Arsene Wenger is not under pressure at all. Our Champions League spot is almost confirmed, confidence is sky-high among the Gooner community and the Emirates is housefull yet again. We're competing on three fronts and also showing financial stability, not to mention announcing an imminent Puma deal on Monday. Why should the manager feel pressure at all?

What frustrates me is that the manager needs to be put under pressure to sign someone, not the mark of a good manager at all. Why can't Wenger realize himself that a player needs to be bought, instead of witnessing a bunch of angry fans chant the obvious truth in the stadium, and then making a move? How can Arsene possibly imagine that Giroud and Bendtner can compete with the duos of Negredo-Aguero, Sturridge-Suarez and Rooney-RVP? When will he become wise to the obvious truth that this team will run out of steam come the business end of the campaign?

Arsenal's horribly split fan base means that there won't be enough people agreeing to my views, let alone decide to protest in large numbers. Yes, I am very proud of the players that currently don the red and white, but I don't think there are enough number of players in the team to be proud of.

Something must be done in the next week. Nothing will be, I'm afraid.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Arsenal 2-0 Fulham: Santi sparkles in a successful win

"Ooh, Santi Cazorla!" Can't get that song out of my head. Don't want to.

2-0 winners against Fulham yesterday, and with Liverpool slipping up and Chelsea also having a chance to do so, you'd be right to say that these points were important. It's good that we got them in the end, irrespective of our performance.

I believe that's how everyone reacted yesterday? Discard the performance after seeing three points in the bag? I have to say, I'm a little disappointed. I can understand these overlooks, because on paper the win seems pretty routine. A two goal margin win and a clean sheet in the bargain is what people are understandably choosing to focus on. And while I agree that the pros did outline the cons (suggested by the scoreline), I really think that we should pay attention to the negatives a bit more.

If we want to win the title, we need to raise the tempo a lot more than how it was for a good half hour of yesterday's first half. Aside an Ozil chance (was he passing or shooting?), there was barely anything to show for, even with all the possession. On the contrary, it was Fulham who had more opportunities to score, a Szczesny 'collect' and a good save from the Polish denying Sidwell and ultimately Fulham in drawing first blood.

Why were we so lackluster in the first half? There are a few reasons, and I feel that a lot of it was down to Ozil's poor form. However, I'm sure as not giving him 100% of the blame. Even so, I'd like to point out aplenty of Ozil's flaws that other Gooners seem too scared or blind to notice them.

Look, I want Ozil to succeed at Arsenal just as every other Arsenal supporter does. However, I'm not going to trick myself into thinking that he's made a huge difference for us on the pitch. He's been a much needed psychological boost, but he's admittedly contributed little on the football field. While people who would disagree with me would point to his statistics (5 goals, 9 assists), I don't think that he was really spectacular for us since he joined.

Indeed, upon recollection, Ozil's performances could be described as merely 'decent' by me. Had he not come with that prestige and stature, I doubt that his on-field contribution would be held decisive. Apart from a stunning debut against Sunderland, a magical first half against Napoli and an electrifying showing against Marseille in the second half (the one at the Emirates), Mesut has hardly lived up to his high Real Madrid and Germany standards.

I apologize for saying this - but I think that it's because he completely lacks commitment for the club. I see no flair, no desire, no "I'll-get-that-half-ball" from him ever since he's worn Arsenal colours. At the moment, his pedigree and his £42.5 million tag is shielding him from the bench, much like Thomas Vermaelen with his captaincy last season.

Scrapping his place of the first XI would help to some extent, because he'd be given a much needed jolt that his place in central attacking midfield is far from guaranteed at Arsenal. However, I seriously doubt that that would solve a long term problem. I feel that Ozil's poor form is also down to him being surrounded by players not performing at his level. To make it a bit clearer, I think a post that I'd written in November fits the bill:

"The absence of Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain means that our team has had to adjust a lot and play in different positions. I'm constantly noticing a lack of movement in the final third, which would make Ozil difficult to find a man. I know that Ozil has really good vision, but shouldn't we give him something to see?"

Nothing has changed since then, I think. While The Ox and Podolski have made their returns, they're not getting the game time that they need. With Theo Walcott also out, I don't see any run-ins behind the defence anymore. The players are not making sufficient or timely runs inside the box, which means that a player of Ozil's caliber is unable to find them.

We NEED a player like Ozil to be in great form to continue our challenge for the title, Arsene must realize that. My solution? We need to bench Ozil for a game or two and play someone like Rosicky, Santi or Jack instead.  In the meantime, we need to buy a pacy striker, who also has the attributes of finishing and dribbling as well. Alvaro Morata ticks the boxes, and seeing that he'd be reunited with his old Real Madrid mate and his Spanish buddies in the process, it seems like a really sensible idea to consider his move to North London in a loan/permanent deal.

Ozil needs to buck up, though. Arsenal of all teams have witnessed a lot of world class players in their team who never gave anything for the club, and Mesut is in danger of falling into that category. By now, I am certain that Ozil is far from my favourite player at the club, mostly because he takes away the central attacking position from the likes of worthier players like Rosicky. He doesn't do justice to that role as well, as demonstrated by another poor performance yesterday. However, when he didn't show up, my favourite player did.

Santi Cazorla's two goals - few noticed - had come as a result of drifting into the center. We've all known for a while that the left wing is where Santi's threat gets a bit minimized, and that he looks much more dangerous in the center. Yesterday he played a lot in the center, and his tricky movements were displayed in dazzling action in front of an awed audience, as he glided past bewildered Fulham players with apparent ease. Him and Jack Wilshere more than made up for Ozil absence on the pitch with classy dribbles and bursts of pace.

A highlight of the match was when Jack took a free kick quickly and Cazorla danced with the ball to win another FK higher up the pitch. Even though Cazorla was deployed on the wing, he managed to have a very good game, even though his long range passing was a bit off. His first goal showed a lot of determination to get into the box after initiating the move, while the second (with his 'weaker' foot) was just pure class.

Ever since I saw Santi play against Sunderland in his debut, I fell in love with the lad. The way he reads the game and dribbles past defenders is pure awesomeness. He thoroughly earned the two goals that he got, and I think deserves a regular starting berth now. Not on the expense of Lukas Podolski, mind you, but on the expense of Mesut Ozil. I can't wait to see what those two magical feet will do in the center of the park.

Our next game is home to Coventry City, 6 days later. There was a real lack of cutting edge in this match (and the previous ones) which needs to be addressed in the transfer market in this space of time, although I highly doubt that Arsene Wenger will pay attention to it. While I know that we need a striker, I also know that Wenger is going to leave it extremely late to only TRY to buy one. A quote from his post-match conference particularly angered me:

"You want me to buy more players, but if they sit on the bench you ask me why?"

You're missing the point, 'Professor'. Giroud and the Mertescielny axis are due a breather, and they need to sit on the bench for a few games. However, don't we need suitable players to replace them?

Anyways, I won't be blogging until the match preview of the Coventry game, unless some good/bad news happens within the Arsenal camp at that time. Which I don't think it will. Still, fingers crossed that my next blog is on a productive striker signing.

Tick tock, Arsene. 12 days to save our title challenge.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Arsenal vs Fulham: Match Preview



With Chelsea facing Manchester United on Sunday, there is a possibility that they might drop points. However bad Manchester United may be, they always seem to show up in matches like these, and with their top four hopes possibly on the line, they should go for it, giving us a chance to go clear of our London rivals.

We have an easy chance to do that - facing struggling Fulham at the Emirates Stadium today. 3 points should be something of a given for us, even though the phrase "anything can happen in football" can be used as a counter argument. I'm a bit tired of using it though, and would rather say that this is a game very much in our hands to gain 3 points from, and there would be no excuses if we fail.

Not even injuries can be held as a culprit should we fail to win, even though we're a team without Vermaelen, Monreal, Ramsey, Arteta, Rosicky, Walcott and Bendtner for this game. The injury list is skyrocketing now, and our wafer thin squad is being tested to the core. Players like Gnabry and Park Chu Young are inches away from first team action, that's how much we're limping from game to game.

The manager has the opportunity to repair that, what with the transfer window being open and everything. However, recent noises suggest that we are NOT going to buy anyone in this window, whether we like it or not.

"Are we close to signing Draxler? No."

"Have we made any approach to sign Berbatov? No."
 

"Will we? I don't think so because we have Bendtner who is coming back, we have Yaya Sanogo who is making very good progress in training."

"Yes, you have my signature straight away [on scrapping the transfer market]. It will not be very busy."

People who are desperate to see Wenger buy anybody this month are saying that the smile he made when asked about Draxler was proof that the club are close to a deal with him. I cannot emphasize more as to what a pile of tosh that is. Yes, I have no doubt that Arsenal are interested in him and that Draxler is interested in us. However, I am absolutely certain that Wenger will NOT buy Draxler, at least not in this window. I categorically rule it out.

Is Wenger feigning interest in Draxler to show that he's active in the market? It's a possibility, considering that he did the same thing with Luis Suarez in the summer. However, I think that it's Arsenal fans - desperate to see signs of transfer activity from Wenger - who are making a mountain out of a molehill here. How can a smile possibly be given greater preference over words said from the manager's mouth? "Oh no, it doesn't matter if Wenger said that the Draxler deal isn't close. Why? Because he smiled, that's got to mean something!"

For the record, I'm clarifying again that I do want Arsene Wenger to sign a striker. However, I'm not going to fool myself into thinking that he is close to buying one. In the end, it is cold, hard facts that I use as a guideline to my opinion. The facts are quoted above, CLEARLY suggesting that the club is far from buying any player.

We have crossed the halfway mark of the January transfer window now. There are 14 days left for the window to close, yet we haven't even seen a whiff of activity from Arsenal. I am slowly losing trust in this manager, who is becoming frustratingly blind to glaring issues within the squad. He is making a habit of leaving things as late as possible, even though we could be sitting with a striker right now and on the lookout for a center back.

As day by day passes of inactivity by Wenger, I'm finding myself asking questions more regularly at him. Arsene is a person who gets too much freedom in transfer dealings and in contract situations. He has too much power and gets exclusive authority on financial subjects regarding Arsenal. And he gets £6.5 million salary per year, which would undoubtedly increase when he signs a new contract (not if, WHEN). Yet, a person who is in total control over our transfer dealings is getting completely absolved from transfer blame. Here's an extract from a piece I wrote 9 days ago:

"We have the financial muscle, and we have the incentive. To add to that, we certainly have a manager who can negotiate his way through a difficult deal - witness Mesut Ozil's 12 hour negotiation and his transfer from Real Madrid to Arsenal. While it may not seem so, we actually have a lot of cards in our hands. I'm confident that if we have the willpower, we can get a deal finalized for players like Jackson Martinez, Diego Costa or certainly players like Dimitar Berbatov by 17th January."

If Wenger fails to get in a striker and/or a center back, I shall blame him 100% for the failure that is inevitable to follow. I am clearly in love with the players, a fantastic group of individuals who give their all in every match. However, deep down I know that they are not good enough to maintain the form that they are currently on.  The warning signs are already there, for people who are open minded to view them.

In recent matches, we're finding it more and more difficult to score goals, or more notably, create chances. Even though our defence is rock-solid, our attack is uncharacteristically poor, largely due to the absence of Walcott, Podolski, Ozil's poor form and Santi's mispositioning. Nicklas Bendtner's good run of form doesn't mean that he is going to reproduce it when he returns from injury. Frankly, it's laughable to imagine a title contending side having Nicklas Bendtner as a second choice striker.

Instead of torturing myself by feeding false hopes to me and everyone reading this, I'm resigning myself to the fact that we aren't going to see any transfer activity from Arsenal until 25th January. Actually, I think that Wenger might push his luck a bit more, sporting misleading smiles until transfer deadline day. As of today, I can GUARANTEE that we aren't going to buy any player for the next 10 days.

It's shameful, really. Even if we do not buy anyone (which seems a highly realistic scenario now), the fact remains that the players won't defer from their objective of winning the title, something that will NOT happen if Wenger remains stubbornly inactive. I shall still stand by my beloved Arsenal even if we fail to win the title, but deep down I will be unable to shake off the feeling that we were so close to meeting that objective, yet were thwarted by a person who was on our side.

I realize that I'm predicting a bit long-term here and sounding really pessimistic. The manager might well prove me wrong and sign a player out of genuine ambition, I don't know. I'm not counting on it though - that's what the signs seem to suggest. For now, all I can hope is that our team gets 3 points today, thus continuing our road to the title.

Arsene will doubtless pick the standard back five of Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Kieran Gibbs, and will be forced to choose Flamini with Wilshere in central midfield, owing to the absence of Arteta and Aaron. If I had my way, I would play Cazorla in the central attacking midfield role with The Ox and Podolski on the wings. Ozil's performances have not been up to the mark recently, and he needs a breather anyways, which is why I want him rested. Podolski is raring to start and will perform nicely on the wings, and Santi should also have a good game should he be given his preferred role.

However, this is Wenger we're talking about. A manager who will never stop overplaying Mesut Ozil, and a manager apparently blind to Podolski's frustration on the bench. A manager who will continue playing Cazorla on the wings with mixed results, and a manger who is stretching Olivier Giroud's feet to the limit. My perception of Arsene Wenger has reached such a critical level that I'm sure he'll start Ozil and continue fielding Santi on the left flank again. It remains doubtful if he plays Gnabry or Chambo on the right, but I can unofficially confirm that Podolski will not start today.

My apologies on ending this post on a sad note, but I must admit that Wenger's recent managerial decisions are baffling me. What's even more frustrating is that many Arsenal supporters are failing to notice these decisions, mostly because recent good results are masking the deficiencies in the squad. I am confident that Arsenal are going to find three points tomorrow. However, the ongoing problems in the squad, the manager and the transfer policy need to be solved quickly to halt our trophyless streak of a mammoth 9 years.

For now, let's focus on Matchday, and hope for another routine victory.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Ballon D'Or and Ronaldo - Messi comparisons


I know that this is a way overdue article, but it felt foolish to have a football blog, yet not acknowledge Ronaldo's achievement of winning the Ballon D'Or. It was particularly impressive in the light of fighting competition from the likes of Lionel Messi, Franck Ribery and Nicklas Bendtner (I kid, of course).

While I'm pretty certain that Ronaldo's win was largely down to an injured Messi and Ribery's underwhelming statistics, I'm a bit annoyed as to why Ronaldo doesn't win the Ballon D'Or more often. Even with Messi easily edging the rivalry of the "best footballer ever" at the moment, I am one of the people who strongly backs Ronaldo, and feel that his personal life clouds his skill on the ball.

Don't get me wrong - Messi is a fantastic footballer. As an Arsenal supporter, I of all people should know better, having witnessed him demolish our side in our last two visits to the Nou Camp (or Camp Nou, or whatever the hell it is). Messi is truly electrifying, no doubt, and deserves personal accolades to support that.

What pisses me off a little bit is that people favour Lionel Messi a lot more just because of his PR image. He portrays himself to be really humble and modest and that may well be the case, but why should that interfere with how he performs on the football pitch? While Ronaldo - in my opinion and many others' too - is a player who is every bit as capable as rivaling Messi in terms of pace, skill and finishing, why should people give a damn on what he does outside the 90 minutes of a football game?

Ronaldo has astounding stats for a winger - 231 goals in 224 appearances for Real Madrid alone. He is a player that has established himself in the two best football leagues on the planet. Yet, the current image of him as a womanizer or an arrogant diver eclipses his undoubted eye-catching footballing skill. I'm an Arsenal supporter, and by default hate Manchester United, but even I can't deny that 'magical' is an understatement to Cristiano's capability. Even if his apparent successor Adnan Januzaj manages to become half the player of Ronaldo, he'd undoubtedly thank his stars.

Yes, on an overall judge of character including personality and attitude, I'd agree that Lionel Messi is a much better individual. However, when I watch football, personality and attitude matters little to me. Okay, maybe it does matter when dealing with soddy pricks like Samir Nasri or Emmanuel Adebayor, but since a player like Cristiano Ronaldo has barely affected me personally (bar that goal at the semis), I can honestly tell you that I feel that he is the best football player on the planet. Here's why:

He's established in both leagues:

Ronaldo has shown scintillating form in the Barclays Premier League, a factor that is pivotal in tipping the scales in his favour. For me, the Premier League is the indisputable No. 1 league in the world. Just look how wide open the current title race is at the moment, with four sides having a reasonable chance to win it.

Crucially, it's also a league that is significantly different to the La Liga. It's more physical and demanding and as Cesc Fabregas rightly points out, factors like the boisterous crowd make it really difficult to focus. You have to face physical teams like Stoke and Bolton, and treat matches against Swansea as cup finals. Besides all these obstacles, Cristiano's been in the Premier League and taken it by storm.

Say what you want about Messi, the fact remains that he hasn't and probably never will play in the EPL. While he continuously says that he's extremely loyal to Barcelona and wants to spend the rest of his career there, I can't help but feel that there is an element of fear of being transferred to the Premier League for him. It would undoubtedly be a very minor factor, one propagated by the fact that Barcelona may never have received a bid from an English club for the Argentine.

I always got the feeling from ex-Barca player Ronaldinho that he was scared of facing the average Premier League side, and that seemed like a major reason of why he never played in England. I suspect that Lionel Messi shares a similar reluctance that the Brazilian did. I'm sure that playing at the Britannia stadium on a cold, wintery night will not sound as exciting to him as one might assume. Besides, playing in the EPL increases chances of injuries which in turn hampers one's progress. And few would counter the fact that it was a long term injury that finally broke Messi's record of claiming the coveted trophy.

Ronaldo is much more adaptable:

A physical profile is essential to make a huge impact on your football career. Unlike cricket - a sport that I dearly loathe - football is a man's game. Even if a player has the skill to ply his trade professionally, factors like stamina and strength are also essential to his success. While Lionel and Cristiano are somewhat level in traits such as ball control and skill, it is in the more physical aspects of the game where Ronaldo truly stands out.

Ronaldo is a player that can play the 'artist', and also adopt the role of the 'dark horse' if need be. He's a player that can play as a finisher, a creator or even as an acceptable target man in desperate needs. While Messi is a player that has largely benefited from Barcelona building the team around him, Ronaldo can adapt to any situation to beat all kinds of defenders, owing to an unusual combination of a powerful physique and quick feet.

Ronaldo can play as a largely effective winger, and can even make a prolific striker. I'd even argue that he'd make a really good central attacking midfielder or a forward in a 'false 9'. While Messi is no doubt an exceptional striker, I'm highly dubious if he can make a good attacking midfielder, or even as good a winger as Ronaldo.

Cristiano is much more versatile than Messi, and his much more daunting physique helps his case. While Messi would disappear when the beautiful game turns ugly, Ronaldo would relish the increasing physicality to impose his authority on the game even further.

Ronaldo performs for club AND country:

Well, Messi does too, but I always felt that Ronaldo was much more convincing in his international duties. Even though Ronaldo has 25 more international caps than Messi, he's scored 10 goals more than the latter. Messi's struggles in his international duties are simply an indicator of how he underperforms outside the comforts of Barcelona. While he has still performed well internationally (at least in terms of his statistics), he looks far from the Barcelona Messi while playing for Argentina. It's a telling statistic that Lukas Podolski has amassed 9 more goals than Lionel Messi internationally.

Ronaldo's international performances are also a stark example of his adaptability, which in my opinion is far superior to Lionel's. Messi is a fantastic player - his dribbling is certainly better than Ronaldo's - but I'm not sure that he'd have scored as many goals as he did, had Barcelona not built the team around him.

--

These are my opinions alone, of course, and anyone is welcome to disagree with them. However, probably the only factor that would make me review Ronaldo's superiority over Messi's would be if Messi ever decided to play in England. On the incredible off-chance that that does occur, I would predict that Messi would not nearly be as prolific as he was at Barcelona unless he signs for Arsenal or Liverpool, clubs who are closest to Barcelona's pass and move philosophy.

I know that many people say that the only legitimate reason Ronaldo won the Ballon D'Or was because Messi suffered a long-term injury, and I'd probably agree with them. However, I'd also agree to the theories that a large factor of Messi's dominance over the Ballon D'Or was owing to his far superior PR image over Ronaldo's. And that's as unfair to Ronaldo as it is to Yaya Toure and Luis Suarez, two Premier League stars who inexplicably failed to make the FifPro World XI.

And to think that Cristiano was minutes away from being a Gunner...

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )