Sunday, 21 September 2014

Villa 0-3 Arsenal: Four-minute foray ignites Ozil-Welbeck fire?

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

If there ever was one partnership I wanted to thrive, it was Ozil and Sanchez. I silently justified Wenger refusing to buy Cesc and Costa by thinking if Ozil and Sanchez clicked, they'd be forgotten.

The signs weren't encouraging. As much as I tried to ignore it, Fabregas and Costa's bromance was getting to me. The reason was simple - we did have the potential to have our own dynamic duos (Ozil-Sanchez, Ramsey-Walcott?), but Wenger's tactics and formational structure were bringing the worst out of them. However, once Wenger played Ozil in his familiar role, and unfamiliar partnership popped up.

Ozil and Welbeck.

Now, it was only one match, but I think that Ozil and Welbeck have the potential of forming a great threat. I mean, I think that Ozil-Sanchez and Ozil-Walcott could be more prolific, but since both of them are wingers (and Theo, lest we forget, is still inconsistent), I'm not so sure now.

Leaving aside injuries or Capital One Cup games, Ozil and Welbeck are almost certain to start in every game from now till December. If Welbeck were to improve his finishing over that time, he could be the perfect striker, every midfielder's dream. He's quick, powerful, and has great sense of positioning.

I have to also mention Wenger's hand in Ozil's great game. True, I believe that had hashtags like #PlayOzilAt10 not have arose, Wenger would have played Ozil on the left yesterday. However, Wenger playing Ozil on the left in games past has, in turn, actually proved helpful. He looks more hardworking and his stamina has increased, because he tracked back a lot while on the flanks. Playing him in the middle has almost made him feel grateful to an extent, and he's now making more use of the bonus space offered to him on either side.

In the opening minutes, when Villa had the ball in their half, Ozil pressed one of the centre backs and almost won the ball out of them. Would he have done that if he was bunged into the centre all the time? Unlikely.

While I more than understand people's elation at finally seeing Ozil back in form, credit should also be due to Welbeck as well. I thought that he began a bit clumsily, but after his assist, he became much more composed. His hold-up was Giroud-esque, he got a poacher's goal - he also made one of those headed clearances off a corner that we've come to appreciate about Giroud.

My firm belief is that if Welbeck improves his finishing (which isn't as far off as Giroud's), he's a far better player than the Frenchman. Given that there are uncertainties over Sanchez's, Podolski's and Campbell's futures as a striker, Welbeck could be a superb addition.

I have little doubt that Ozil and Welbeck can be one of the best attacking partnerships in Arsenal's history. What they need is a proper balance between form, fitness and even tactics. Aaron Ramsey, for one, looks worse as ever in one of those AM roles. Santi Cazorla is always inconsistent on the left flank. Wenger should use his Podolski's or Wilshere's or even Campbell's, if it means bringing the best out of Ozil and Welbeck whenever they play, against specific oppositions.

I'm not getting carried away after one win, but if we manage to get our attacking balance right, we'd be a serious force this season. Albeit I doubt we will.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Analysing Wenger's pre-Villa quotes

Preview | Pre-match conference | Team news

I don't generally do this, but when I heard Wenger's presser I had to cringe. There was just too much stupid in there.

Loads of evidence-compelling stuff yesterday, one which many may have noticed, but I'd like to point out.

On transfers

When asked about signing free agents for cover (like Yobo, who could provide defensive cover) Wenger said: "We cannot do anything now."

Well, you could in August. Arsenal reported £170m in cash reserves yesterday. It's certainly reasonable to argue that two defenders and a defensive midfielder would have only cost north of £50m at most. I find it nigh on impossible to believe that there weren't any defenders (or DMs) available who would be content being at Arsenal for backup.

On Ozil

Ozil's decline has been clear to most except Wenger. He seems to think that his terrible run of form has only stretched back to a few weeks, when it is actually close to a year.

"It takes a few weeks for people to get back to their best after the World Cup."

Now, I could sound out names like Messi and Fernandinho to dispel this ridiculous equation, but Wenger defending Ozil in such short-term ways worry me. Has Wenger not noticed that, after his bright start to London, he's faded since as early as last November? The media caught on to Ozil failing around February, but I noticed it around November. Here's a quote I wrote around a year ago:

"Which brings me to Ozil's dip in form. I couldn't help but notice how he constantly kept playing back passes and safe passes to his teammates, in recent games. After his brilliant start, he seems to have faded away from the game to the point of almost being invisible at times. And it's not like he's being played out of position. Ozil has being playing almost every match in the central attacking role, but currently not living up to the £42m transfer fee.

Maybe that's the problem. The fact that Arsene is overplaying him even when he's sick suggests that the rigours of the league might be getting to him. And while that may be the case, I think that his dip in form is down to his teammates, and not him."

Has much changed? Well, the runners have come, but he's still being played out of position and overplayed! Wenger has put too much pressure on him - forcing him to take penalties, playing him in almost every single game (including Coventry home, SMH), and saying "He will compete for Player of the Season next season."

And what does Wenger have to reply to that?

"We should not be concerned and just support him."

Supporting is creditable, but blindly assuming that a player is good when he isn't is tantamount to idol worship. We want to believe something when it doesn't. So let's just call it a day and call someone accountable, either Ozil or Wenger.

"Why should he [Ozil] be made a scapegoat? We've lost one game since April. Let's be realistic."

Let's be realistic, Wenger? All right, I'll play your game. Performance wise, we've only delivered excellent showings against Norwich away and disinterested teams like Newcastle or Man City in the Shield. We may be unbeatable, but we could have easily lost against Everton, Besiktas or (would you believe it) Leicester. To bring things to Ozil, he's participated in only one goal for 19 games.

"People have ups and downs in their life."

That'd be a fair point if Ozil's 'downs' didn't last for 10 months.

He did bring up a reasonable point about Ozil, saying: "[His positioning] is a secondary thing. He has freedom to go where he wants, when he has it [the ball]."

He's right in a way, because suggesting that Ozil playing on the left is the only source to the problem is wrong. That's not restricting his game in any way. However, where Wenger misses the point is - why play him on the flank, then? Ozil isn't a guy who will track back if he loses the ball in the final third. We're confining Ozil's strengths as well as weakening our left hand defensive channel.

Which brings me to tactics.

On tactics

"It's difficult for me to explain the subtleties, but [in short] not a lot has changed."

Geez, give me a break please, Arsene?

We've replaced a defensive-minded right back with an attack-minded right back. We've isolated Arteta (already a weak link enough) by removing his support, Aaron Ramsey. By changing Ramsey's position, we've made Arteta weak as well as restricted some of Ramsey's strengths - tackling. So yes, Wenger, a lot HAS changed.

When asked what was his thinking to switch to a 4-1-4-1, he said:

"We failed in some games, so behind that is the thinking. We need to be solid in more games."

Well, the way I see it, this new formation has made us weaker in defence. The answer to stopping away-day blues is isolating your DM, going backwards number-wise defensively, overplaying Mertesacker and Koscielny, giving Ramsey an advanced role (which means fewer tackles from him), and asking Mesut Ozil to track back?

Worst. Plan. Ever.

"We need to find the balance [between attack and defence]. Even when Arteta plays he is initially an offensive player."

So maybe we should have bought that DM, then?

"We need to find the balance, so that is why explaining it is not an easy subject."

I think I'm alone in speculating this, but I got the vibe that Wenger was trying to avoid the tactical phase of the pre-match conference. I think the only reason he switched to a 4-1-4-1 was to fit Wilshere and Ozil in the same team, and play Ramsey in a more attacking position, hoping he'd get more goals out of him. It seems like idealistic thinking, but it failed. Hopefully Wenger's not too stubborn to change it back to 4-2-3-1.

Who am I kidding? We will continue to see 4-1-4-1.

UPDATE: Well, what do you know? Word is we're reverting to 4-2-3-1!

Anyway, after some guff on grass and Chambers, when someone asked Wenger again to clarify on his tactical 'approach', Wenger gave him the classic indirect insult:

"There are plenty of tacticians in the world who have managed zero games."

For Christ's sake, Arsene. You don't need to be a football manager or have an Economics degree to see that Arsenal are weak down whichever channel Ozil is played in. You don't need to work either one day in football or 10,000 to see that Arsenal will not win the Premier League. Could you please have some humility?

To end, here are some more ludicrous comments in the presser. Also, you can read a proper preview here.

"We came out of Saturday thinking that we put in a good performance."

"We dominated physically against Dortmund."

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Dortmund 2-0 Arsenal: Predictable tactics, predictable set up. Predictable result.

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

The lineup signaled trouble. I had said that if we line up like we did against City, Dortmund could walk past us. It doesn't even take a genius to know that a 4-1-4-1 with a suspect defensive midfielder is suicide. To add to that, Wenger didn't even make personnel changes, sticking with what he had in the previous weekend.

Look at Arsenal's right hand channel. Ozil started on the left but played on the right most of the time. Imagine if Klopp had Reus fit and played him on Arsenal's right side. Bellerin and Ozil defending Reus? Far from ideal. As it stood, since Reus was injured Klopp was forced to play Grosskreutz there, so the effect minimized slightly.

We were incredibly lucky to only be 1-0 down at half time. Dortmund compressed every inch of space our midfielders had, which left us with either back passing or trying two or three shimmies to find space. The only midfielder at Arsenal excellent at shimmying his way into space is Santi Cazorla, who was benched until the customary 62nd minute substitution.

Arteta had a torrid time, which was completely expected. If you have a slow defensive midfielder, the least you can do is support him with a box-to-box midfielder, like Wilshere or Ramsey. He's leggy and not a natural DM anyway, yet he's left brutally exposed and completely alone. Dortmund pressed him into submission.

We can't play the "slowing the game down" and "pass and move" trick against Dortmund. The likes of Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain or Santi Cazorla should have played, because they press the ball and would leave Dortmund wary. Instead, Wenger played right into Klopp's hands by overplaying and mispositioning Ozil and Ramsey.

Sanchez and Welbeck were so alone up there. People chastised Welbeck for three misses in the game, and the criticism may be warranted. But you can't expect to leave a striker completely alone and bewildered, then surprise him with a quick chance and expect him to regain his focus and finish neatly. We anyways knew that his finishing is suspect and he's far from the refined product.

Immobile's opener highlighted how Dortmund had sapped the confidence out of Arsenal's defence. He picked the ball up in midfield and charged into space, right in between Koscielny and Gibbs. Both of them seemed hesitant to either win the ball early on or commit a "tactical foul". The Italian admittedly got a crucial yard of pace through a lucky touch, but finished quite efficiently. A frustratingly avoidable goal, but Dortmund deserved more.

It's one thing to have a blatantly incorrect one-dimensional tactical setup, but quite another to persist with it when it's not working out. Jose Mourinho makes changes and revamps his tactics even 20 minutes into the match. Wenger? He finally brought a confidence-depleted Mesut Ozil in the centre after Dortmund were cruising at 2-0.

I don't know if he tries or not, but Wenger can't even suitably motivate his team to play like men. Despite the pace, panache and pedigree we possess, we've looked flat and pedestrian-paced in every match except City. And God help us should we go 1-0 down, for the whole team sulks into oblivion.

Our attack is so good, but Wenger won't bring the best out of them. He won't play the right players in the right matches, nor will he keep rotating the squad to keep everyone happy and few injured. Look at Szczesny: he played worryingly against Dortmund, yet Wenger won't replace him with Ospina for even one game, to show him that no one's place is guaranteed.

People say that he played Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey because he had "faith" in them. I completely disagree - Wenger keeps playing such players because he has almost no idea about the concept of rotation.

He'll keep playing his starting XI game after game and only genuinely rotates in FA Cups (sometimes) and Capital One Cups. He won't give his starting XI a modicum of rest, and overplays them until they get injured. Then he simply replaces the injured players by the ones on the bench, like Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain or Podolski.

With all due respect, I don't think that it's extremely difficult to fit all our attacking pieces into the jigsaw puzzle. Take a gander at the two photos below: how's that for first choice lineup and second choice?

Starting XI
Substitute XI

A lineup not in connection to form or fitness, but one that I strongly think should be our starting XI. There's plenty of room for improvement there as well - Giroud and Welbeck or Podolski and Campbell could battle it out. For the moment I've written Welbeck and Podolski for I think they might be the eventual winners, but there you go. Even if Podolski and Joel Campbell are even, Wenger could replace Campbell for the ageing Rosicky.

For now, though, what we need to do is remove Ozil and Ramsey from the team. Aside from them being out of depth, they're in danger of being injured because they've played too much. Maybe even Alexis needs a rest.

Meh, what's the point? We talk problems and offer solutions but in the end Wenger won't give a fuck. He'll continue with 4-1-4-1 and overplaying and mispositioning Ozil and Ramsey, because either he's too stubborn or too foolish. Not unless the whole crowd is on his back and implores him to change the structure will he do the needful, albeit reluctantly.

The only genuine silver lining is that people are finally realizing Wenger's deficiencies on the pitch, 5 years too late. That's one thing they can't attribute to money or referees. That's pushing him further out of the exit door.

Sometimes I feel fortunate that I'm so young, for I will be in prime age to see an Arsenal without Wenger, one that actually progresses.

Hashtag positives.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Dortmund vs Arsenal: Match Preview

Preview | Pre-match conference | Team news

The last time I saw Arsenal play at Westfalenstadion, it turned out to be one of my best moments as an Arsenal supporter. To be under the cosh and yet snap out an important win in a difficult stadium was absolutely fantastic. There were  a lot of wins last season where we were faced with a tough battle and nicked it, but the Dortmund one felt especially sweet.

We have an easier Dortmund tonight, though. One stripped off Lewandowski, Reus, Gundogan, Sahin and Hummels. Much like City three days ago, we're facing a top team without plenty of its top players. Unlike Saturday, we should be taking advantage of that.

Defensively, we're desperately short. Debuchy has been ruled out for a reported 3 months, and Monreal has been another confirmed absentee as well. Bellerin's made the plane to Germany to add up the numbers. Now, I like him and I'm happy that he's been given a chance to perform, but let's not pretend he's not an inclusion out of force. Wenger's weird choice to accumulate only six defenders was courting disaster, and so it has proved.

Midfield and forwards provide plenty of depth, and invariably, options. I think this is one of those games I'd like to see a Rosicky or Chamberlain start, for that's the point of having quality in depth. You can't keep overplaying Ramsey and Sanchez when you have fresher - if not better - options in reserve.

The 4-1-4-1 worked well against Man City, but trying that again is risky. I hope we try a safer 4-2-3-1 this time around. Dortmund are well-known for incredibly high pressing. If we leave our DM alone, he might lose the ball cheaply in the middle of the park.

Klopp is one of those managers who likes a high-pressing game. Instead of playing slower footballers, we should look to counter their philosophy by pressing them. I'd love to see a lineup of Szczesny - Bellerin - Mertesacker - Koscielny - Gibbs - Arteta (as DM) - Wilshere (CM) - Cazorla (CAM) - Rosicky (RW) - Chamberlain (LW) - Welbeck.

Sanchez was monstrous on Saturday, but he's played every game so far. I love his high-intensity pressing game and it could be particularly useful tonight, but I fear he might do his hamstring if he keeps playing thrice a week. Oxlade-Chamberlain is an excellent alternative to him.

While the both of them may not be playing just as well, I feel Ramsey and Ozil should be benched as well. Both need to be rested rather than dropped, because aside from them being off-form, they have also played too many games. Arteta had a great game the last time we went to Signal Iduna Park, while Flamini isn't as reliable as him. I really think that if Flamini can refine his game a bit more he'd be a very good defensive midfielder, but it is what it is I guess.

More than results, I hope our performances start to come together. We actually have a great attack and some great attacking options in midfield, but we haven't found the right formation or tactical approach to make it work. I seriously doubt Wenger is the man to make us "click", but I still hope that he finds a way around it.

It has to be said, though, if we line up with the same formation and positioning as on Saturday, we could be in for a shocker. Ozil on the left is an interesting experiment, but Dortmund away is too big an occasion to continue that. 4-1-4-1 is a huge gamble away from home, especially against a Klopp side that can surround Arteta, rob him of possession and storm down a new-look defence.

Wenger, in the presser, already hinted that we'd see more or less the same lineup as on Saturday. When asked about rotating the squad, he said:

"No, not necessarily. We have recovered well."

I hope we win this game, but if Wenger lines up with the same formation and players, it's hard to see that happening.

Good luck to the boys, though. Most of them seem a committed lot, and I hope they pull out something from Germany. Come on Arsenal!

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Arsenal 2-2 Man City: Should have won it, lucky not to lose it

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

Right, quick one from me today.

4-1-4-1 can work at home, but we should try for 4-2-3-1 more...
The fluency of our attack was eased a bit yesterday. In the month past, it seemed like Wenger was failing in trying to bring the best out of a very potent attack. Failed strategies included switching Sanchez's wings, playing Ozil on the left and playing Ramsey in one of the attacking midfield slots. Sanogo up front served to compound the conundrum.

Yesterday was different. Perhaps it was Wilshere's burning desire to create something, an electric Emirates atmosphere, Danny Welbeck's lively first half or all of the above, but we seemed to click more as an outfit. The downside was that the players who were mispositioned owing to this formation - Ramsey and Ozil - were the ones relatively invisible.

However, I still believe that a 4-2-3-1 formation would be much preferable for us. Arsenal are more used to that formation, we won't get caught on the break with that formation, our weak defensive midfielders will at least get more support, our personnel will fit in their right positions... it's a win-win. A fantastic home support and a lethargic City meant that we came flying out of the doors. It's definitely an option, but I don't think it should be our first. We won't always meet slow opponents at the Emirates.

Our defence is back to how it was...
There's a definite problem here. Almost every goal we've conceded this season have come from crosses or set pieces. In fact, I think that Steven Naismith's goal in the 2-2 match at Goodison was the exception.

We are weak at the back number-wise, but we're falling short quality-wise as well.  Mertesacker's been underwhelming, Monreal wasn't helped by Ozil, Debuchy's reportedly out for two months, and our defensive midfielders look worse than anyone's. I have a feeling that a defensive crisis is on the cusp, one which we plunged ourselves in, quite unnecessarily. In these times I hope Wenger calls back Carl Jenkinson and buys Mario Yepes. Not ideal, but a much-needed stop-gap.

But more than that, what worries me is that our last-season's trait of defending as a unit has disappeared. Steve Bould's magic has either been found out, or Wenger has decided to take control again. I don't know the problem to suggest a solution, but it's not looking good.

We better hope Arsene has a DM trick up his sleeve...
This formation has further exposed our defensive weakness. Isolating the DM in a 4-1-4-1 has put more pressure on them and made a further mess of our defence. Now, I know that since the transfer market is over Wenger can't go for a defensive midfielder (and by the looks of it, he didn't want to), but I hope that he has a trump card in his deck. Maybe he thinks Diaby has shook off all his injury woes for good, or he thinks Coquelin can make the cut, I don't know. But I hope that he has something up his sleeve. Time will tell.

Wenger doesn't know substitutions...
Why wait until Debuchy is injured to make your first substitution? Why not shut up shop after Alexis scored a belter to take us on the brink of an important win? Why not bring a goal-getter on instead of Arteta? Wenger's substitutions were as baffling as his tactics. I guess they go hand in hand.

Ramsey and Ozil don't deserve criticism yet...
I more than agree that they have been largely below-par this season. Ramsey's goals-and-assists ratio may have shielded him from more criticism, but performance-wise he hasn't looked up to it. Ozil, too, has been looking disinterested and bewildering at times. When people say that he tends to drag defenders towards him or has a "subtle impact", I feel that they're grasping at straws and don't really believe what they're saying.

The only reason I have refrained from criticizing them is because they're being mispositioned in a weird formation. Should Ramsey be placed alongside Arteta/Flamini in a 4-2-3-1 and Ozil in his preferred "hole" and they still disappoint, criticism shall surely be warranted. As of now, more out of hope or anything, I'm still reserving judgment.

Welbeck needs service...
Danny was excellent in the first half, but he cut a lonesome figure once Arsenal conceded. Perhaps he hasn't adjusted his wavelength to the midfielders beside him, because there were times that he was anonymous.
He's still raw, but 4 months could significantly change him for the better. I still think it was an encouraging debut, and if he manages to click with the players behind him, I have no doubt we'll have a massive Giroud upgrade on our hands.

Wilshere and Alexis were the stars...
What I really like about these players is that they're hardworking. They aren't the kind of guys who sulk when the going gets tough. They're workmanlike, determined, military-esque efficient people who are desperate to make a difference. Their hunger is salivating, and it's bringing results.

Part of the Mesut Ozil criticism was derived from the energy that Wilshere and Alexis exuded throughout the game. There were always questions about Ozil's workrate, and Sanchez's motorbike running sort of highlighted that.

The reason I think Wenger is playing Ozil on the left is because he wants Ozil to appreciate the space he's been given once he's eventually shifted to the centre. When a player is shunted on the flanks, he has only one side of the pitch to turn into, which sort of gives them tunnel vision. Once they are given the freedom to play in the middle, they appreciate the space on both sides and make the most of it. Wenger has done the same to Ramsey and Cazorla to great effect. It's one of the tactics I've come to like about the manager. Whether it works with Ozil or not is yet to be seen.

Whisper it quietly, but we still don't look like title winners...
Still early days, but we've picked up only 6 points from 4 matches. The only game we've won - Crystal Palace - could just as easily have been a draw as well. We do have the potential and the personnel to do much better, but Wenger's formations and tactics are restricting us. To turn this around and become title challengers, we need to start clicking or tweak the system, starting Tuesday.

Time will tell if we do.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Welbeck conspiracy and City quickie

Really interesting presser from Wenger yesterday. After an 8 day hiatus from social media - one that notably happened as soon as Welbeck signed for the club - the boss was forced to face the media as part of the obligatory pre-match conference. When asked about Danny Welbeck, with no place for cover, Wenger stunningly said:

“If I had not traveled that day, Welbeck would not be here. The coincidence made that because I was on my way. If I stayed at home, Welbeck would not be here today. I will tell you that story one day but that’s the truth.”

I didn't find it particularly strange that Wenger had gone to Rome on deadline day. Lest we forget, he had gone to Switzerland around the same day 3 years ago, and we had signed Yossi Benayoun, Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta and Andre Santos that day. Until Arsene's "admission", I took conspiracy theories like Gazidis overruling Wenger and sanctioning the signing as a bit of a joke. There was no way, I opined, that Wenger would go abroad and come back, only to find a new player or two at his disposal. It seemed unreal.

Until now.

There's plenty of evidence to suggest that Welbeck was indeed a Gazidis buy. Think about it - in whichever corner of the world Wenger was in, surely he had the time and internet connection to cough up four decent sentences on Welbeck? Forget that, if Wenger was fully in the loop and knew Welbeck would be a Gunner hours before he signed, surely it's the absolute minimum formality to keep his quotes prepped?

The inescapable fact is that Wenger has consciously, knowingly and deliberately refused to comment on Welbeck's signing until he was forced to. And when he did, he's gone out and created more uncertainty, fueling the conspiracy theory that explained his 8 day absence in the first place.

Was Wenger unaware of the speculations that were brimming owing to his silence? Was he lost for words? Did he suffer from mini-Laryngitis? Did the Martians invade his house in Rome and threaten to keep him quiet on Welbeck, or else they would murder the Pope? All unlikely.

The only rational conclusion - however unbelievable it may sound to anyone - is that Wenger sulked because Gazidis bought a player behind his back. And don't think that this isn't possible; Wenger stated his contract deal till the last day because he didn't agree with the terms. In the end he caved, hence Gazidis got in guys like Jonker and Forsythe to ail an outdated backroom staff. Perhaps overruling Wenger in buying Welbeck was one too many.

There was the usual guff about the quality and promise, which was followed by this:

“Danny Welbeck is an ideal signing for us because he can play through the middle, where I think is his best position but [he can play] as well on the flanks. His qualities are his team attitude and his pace as well."

This worries me, but doesn't genuinely take me aback by any stretch. Wenger is well-known to misposition people and Welbeck could be another victim due to his "versatility". I could be wrong by a mile, but with Wenger at the helm there's no way I'm ruling it out.

If (as retaliation to Gazidis sticking his oar out and paying over the odds for Welbeck), Wenger decides to play Welbeck on the left or bench him in favour of Sanogo, that would completely cap the conspiracy. It would absolutely, beyond reasonable doubt, prove that Wenger's pissed at Gazidis and is doing all he can to ensure project Sanogo lives.

Welbeck is a fine player, but sacrificing him for Sanogo would throw 16 million down the drain. I genuinely wonder how Wenger's apologists would justify that.

Man City at the Emirates is beatable, but under Wenger - a manager who plays Ozil on the left and persists with an incompatible formation - I'd be amazed if we win. We have the potential to do so much better, but Wenger is holding us back. Hopefully, it's only a matter of time before everyone realizes that.

UPDATE: #Arsenal team to play Manchester City: Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Wilshere, Ramsey, Alexis, Ozil, Welbeck

Meh, the AKB's would probably blame injuries and referees anyway.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Welbeck's the scapegoat, Wenger's the sinner

"Even though there is time for it, the summer is already showing signs of turning into anarchy. Late deals, panic buys, injury crises, unprepared squads... this will turn into a repeat of summer 2011 under Wenger. I guarantee it. And I'll quote this on September 2nd (that is, if Wenger stays, of course)."

I wrote that on 4th May, four months from today, confident, but not exactly thrilled, that I'd be proved right. Arsene Wenger, stubbornly predictable as he is, has once again left Arsenal unprepared number-wise to compete for the league, panic purchasing Danny Welbeck when fans and the media were closing in on him.

Before I start, let me clarify that I have nothing against Welbeck. He's young, he ticks a lot of boxes and he'll score goals. As I mentioned earlier, he can be a target man and he's quick. He's like a mash-up of the good traits of Sanogo and Giroud, with scope to improve. He's obviously a short-term solution, but may also offer us something in the long-term.

My anger towards the manager is in no way connected to Welbeck. In fact, it was a bit lessened by it. However, what Wenger has done has been criminal and inescapable - in a transfer window which was supposed to help us compete - he's led the club towards a completely unnecessary risk, assembling only six defenders for four positions. To compound it, he's made a mess of the William Carvalho saga again; offering £21.3m when just a couple more would have done the trick.

Our defensive position is a joke. Sure, we have a very good first-team pairing in Debuchy-Mertesacker-Koscielny-Gibbs, but you can't say that's enough. Mertesacker and Koscielny played far too many games last season and got away with it, but it's a huge gamble to assume that they'd stay fit the second season around. Gibbs has already proven himself to be unavailable at the worst of times - witness his latest injury. Debuchy is still new to the team and while he offers a lot going forward, he deserves a bedding in time.

Who's beside them? Monreal and Chambers? Both good bench options, but not nearly enough quantity-wise for a 60 game season. What happened to the times when Wenger had 4 to 5 centre backs? How can a manager, who has 18 years of experience in the top flight, be possibly comfortable with employing only six defenders, three of whom are bordering on injuries?

And make no mistake, he is comfortable. All throughout summer the only concrete links we had to a defender was a swap deal for Smalling or Jones for Vermaelen, and that didn't materialize.

On a day when we needed at least one centre back to make do (and even in my book that wasn't enough), Wenger went to Rome to officiate a charity match. He actually dithered on deadline day. He didn't bother to look at his team and do what others had implored him to do a year ago, buy a defensive midfielder. He has knowingly, consciously, refused to strengthen where it was most ideal.

In most other areas we're well stocked, but it's so irritating that Wenger has failed number-wise that it seems the frustration has numbed into my veins. Expecting Wenger to fall two or three players short, regardless of the circumstance, has actually become part and parcel of being an Arsenal fan. We hope for better but see more of the same. We hope for ambition and we get nothing. We hope for Arsene to take us over the line, but yet again he only seems to take us to fourth.

In the end, we suffer and he doesn't. We angrily watch the team falter against big sides and Wenger watches on. He knows in the end he'll get Champions League. He knows that he'll suck the money out of every Gooner. He knows he'll be paid £8m per annum. He knows that he is accountable to no one. He knows that the board and half of the fans are scared of change. Why disturb the cycle of inaction, when he can keep his money safe and (most of) the fans happy?

Ivan Gazidis said that we could compete with Bayern Munich by 2014. Tell me right now if you think that Arsenal are capable of winning the Champions League. Even if we adopt to wing play and be lucky with injuries we'd struggle to make the semi finals. And that's not an insult to the players Arsenal have, it's a direct complaint towards the manager.

Perhaps the nature of how deadline day underwent caused some people to forget how good a squad we have. I won't lie - I still think this is the best Arsenal squad for a decade. We've got pace, power and goals scattered across our starting XI, and we have plenty of depth to call upon. Except perhaps a DM, we have quality in all positions. What we lacked was quantity in defence, which we didn't get.

However, I don't have high hopes of any competitive trophies this season. And that's sincerely no disrespect to the players - who I find a very good bunch to support - but it's completely down to the manager. Regardless of his deadline day ditherings Wenger has a very good team on his hands, but I can still bet top dollar that he will not bring out the best of them.

How could he? For one, Wenger has been one of the most amateur tacticians I have ever seen. He's been that way since I can remember, but it was only last year that deficiency was ruthlessly exposed and documented at the Etihad, Anfield, Stamford Bridge and Goodison. Wenger knows as much about footballing tactics as Harry Styles, no amount of financial resources or support from the board will change that.

He could have bought Pogba, Hummels and Thiago Silva and we'd still lose the title. Buying the top players requisite for sustaining a title challenge is all well and good, but managing them throughout the rigours of a season by playing them in their favoured positions and resting them at the right times requires just as much managerial skill. Does Wenger have it? This season so far, he's chosen to play Ozil out of position rather than choose fresh legs in Podolski or Joel Campbell!

The 4-1-4-1 has already been a failure, but Wenger won't change it back to the preferred 4-2-3-1 soon enough. He should, especially considering that our DMs are the weak links and they at least need to be supported, but he won't. For reasons known to only himself, he'd rather leave our defensively-suspect DMs isolated rather than stick to a formation that gave him relative success last season. For five out of five matches we've looked unconvincing, yet it's a nailed on certainty that he won't change a thing for a crucial Manchester City game.

What's the logic in playing Mesut Ozil out wide? What's the sense in claiming Sanchez can play centre forward all his life, and then playing him on the right? Why start Yaya Sanogo when a World Cup stalwart and a German international sit on the bench? Podolski may have his drawbacks as a centre forward, but he's still miles ahead of Sanogo.

The point of having a strong bench is so that they can be rotated to avoid fatigue. Did we do that? We played 5 games in 15 days, and didn't rotate Alexis Sanchez for Podolski, Campbell or Rosicky in all of them. Wenger would have doubtless done the same to Ramsey had he not been sent off; Ozil had he not been on international duty; or Arteta had he not been injured. What's the point of having strength in depth if Wenger isn't going to use it?

Knowing Wenger, there's a good chance the likes of Sanchez, Ramsey and Ozil are going to face injuries directly connected to fatigue. Knowing Wenger, he's not going to design specific tactics to nullify the opposition's strengths. Knowing Wenger, he's not going to buy a defender unless Calum Chambers breaks his ankle. Knowing Wenger, he's not going to push for first if his money isn't on the line.

Some ambition. Some era.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

One and a half hour to go...

As I post this it's exactly 2:07 am in India, and remembering that the window closes at 3:30 am over here, there's only around one and a half hour for the transfer window to end. A striker, defensive midfielder and a centre back were the order of the day (of the month, really), but as of now, it seems we're getting only 1/3rd of the requisite.

Danny Welbeck... not a signing many wanted. For all the sagas of Higuain, Suarez, Lewandowski, Falcao, Balotelli stretching back to 2013, to end up with a Manchester United reject seems embarrassing. He may get us through the Giroud injury and the Alexis transition, but plenty are saying he wasn't the answer.

I disagree. Look, I know that Welbeck's not exactly the greatest striker in the world, but he certainly has the attributes Arsenal were hunting for. He's quick, he's powerful, he certainly has Premier League experience, and can finish better than Sanogo. In addition, he's one of those rare target men cum speedsters, who'd be a shoe-in for Giroud and would also be a long-term option.

The word right now is that the deal is £16m permanent, which seems good to me. At 23 he'll get better, and build on his qualities. Upon imagining the scenario that Giroud gets fit and Sanchez becomes the centre forward we all need, we'll have three presentable options for the striker role. Not the best by any means, but certainly a good, versatile bunch.

On other signings...
Truth be told, I'm hugely surprised. I thought that Wenger would buy a defender rather than a striker, but perhaps the fans' outpourings and Giroud's injury forced his hand. Even so, as we look to head into the new season with six players to cover four positions, I don't have an effing clue why Arsene hasn't gone for a defender yet. It's not even about quality, for Koscielny and Mertesacker are very good defenders with Chambers proving to be astute backup.

However, as yesterday proved, one injury leaves us struggling for options in defence. It's an embarrassing situation to be in, one even more compounded by Arsenal sending Miquel to Norwich permanently. I can only hope that Wenger has a defender in mind to buy.

Onto the defensive midfielder, and it seems we're not getting any. Rabiot has decided to stay at PSG, we've refused to capitalize on a reasonable counter offer on Carvalho, and we haven't made any moves whatsoever on Khedira or Schneiderlin at all. Crazy, just crazy. Everton and Leicester proved that aside from formations and tactics, we needed to change the defensive midfielder.

Our only plausible signing - Welbeck - may excite a few and anger the rest, but there's no doubt that he'd be handy. However, as I said earlier today, it doesn't even matter who Wenger buys anymore, his tactics, formation and man management always ruins the system. Knowing him, he'll probably play Welbeck on the left flank and bench Mesut Ozil.

Anyway, one and a half hour to go. Let's wait and watch for any surprises.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz , I'll be giving transfer updates over there]

Monday, 1 September 2014

Leicester 1-1 Arsenal: Wenger is wasting an excellent team and an excellent opportunity

Match report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

For the fifth time this season we've looked unconvincing. Our main striker is injured for half a season. Our FA Cup legend Ramsey is looking lackluster and lethargic. Formation and tactics are ruining Mesut Ozil. We need three players, but it seems Wenger won't even buy one. It's definitely time to panic now.

I concede. On deadline day, I concede that the optimistic proclamation I made, on seeing a bright future. Somewhat foolishly, Sanchez, Forsythe and Jonker sold me an untrue gleam of hope. I believed that we were two inches away from the glory days, and that this season would cement our status as a top club. I was wrong. It was all a lie.

We really have everything in place. Forsythe has got Gibbs, Walcott, Arteta and Ospina fit for Manchester City. Akpom stole the show in the U-21s vs West Brom, maintaining our unbeaten start. Perhaps Jonker had a hand in that. We were (and are) only three players away from properly competing in the league and in Europe, and we had little over a month to buy them. Yet, unbelievably, we're crashing.

Perhaps the only silver lining is that this time, Arsene Wenger has been held properly accountable. He has no smidgen of excuse to hide behind like before. Lack of money, forcing reduced ambition, nine-year monkey, FFP, interference from the board; all of the excuses have vanished. The circumstances have changed, and Arsenal have been dealt a royal flush hand. However, yet again, the fallen legend has made a right mess of it.

All of the issues surrounding the club are of Arsene Wenger's making. Refereeing decisions or lack of funds do not influence squad management, tactics or formation. The manager has hid under the excuse of less funds for too long (while the Fabregas and Nasri transfer fees sit in the bank). Finally, he's caught guilty.

Wenger did the hard part well in bringing Alexis Sanchez, away from the jaws of Juventus and Liverpool. Backroom changes and proactive purchases meant that the club had a much solider foundation, ideally poised to strike. But once more, with increasing predictability, Wenger faltered at the last, easiest hurdle.

Let's focus on the on-field problems. Even with Sanogo up front we had enough quality to comfortably see of Leicester, but formation and tactics greatly held us back. I hope this match categorically shuts out Wenger's attempt to switch to a 4-1-4-1, for reasons I'll never know. Our defensive midfielders were suspect enough even with Ramsey and Wilshere supporting them on the side, but leaving them completely isolated is plain stupid. Flamini had a mare yesterday, Arteta would have too.

Ramsey looks unconvincing, to say the least, in holding one of those attacking midfield positions. Cazorla looks really good (as he should, that's his natural position), but I'd rather see Ozil play there. Speaking of whom, Mesut looked totally anonymous and out of place on the left. As I said around 9 months ago, he's in danger of becoming the next Arshavin.

But what undoubtedly takes the cake is Sanogo's inclusion. I've written so much about him that I'm running out of adjectives to describe him. Simply put, he's reckless, unreliable and not good enough for a Championship side, forget Arsenal. I reserved judgment last season, but there is no defence for him now. Yaya has to go.

But he won't, and perhaps that's the most frustrating aspect of this debacle. I, as many others, can accurately predict that Sanogo will never make it, but Wenger always sees it two to three years too late. As he did with Traore, Sunu, Almunia, Merida, Chamakh, Bendtner and oh-so many others.

We can analyse, we can debate and we can come to the obvious outdated conclusion that Wenger is shockingly schoolboy in tactics, but it won't make one iota of difference to Arsene's mindset. Like it or not (and let's face it, we don't), we will play 4-1-4-1 for the rest of the season. One of the best number 10s in the world will stay mispositioned for too long. Yaya Sanogo will be Giroud's replacement, as Podolski and Campbell watch on angrily.

Sanchez, Ozil and Ramsey will be overplayed to injury. The team will fall short of one or two players. The bank balances will remain bright. Arsenal will qualify for the Champions League. Supporters will say "Give Wenger another season". Nothing will change.

We're stuck in a cycle of stagnation for years to come, and unless we educate fellow Gooners and overthrow the Wenger rule, this will continue for years to come.

We're three players short - a central defender, a holding midfielder and a striker - but I don't think that matters anymore. Even if Wenger signs Hummels, Pogba and Cavani we won't win the league. Buying players only does half the job. You also need a manager who can bring the best out of them. Wenger has messed over Arshavin, Ozil and (whisper it quietly) could do the same to Sanchez.

However good our bench may be and however depth our team may have, Wenger won't use it. He has Joel Campbell, Podolski and Chamberlain to call upon - but he'd rather play an out of form tired Ozil out of position. He won't rotate unless it's a Capital One Cup game.

Deadline day predictions? Despite Ornstein saying what he did, I think Wenger will buy one player, most likely a CB. He'll perhaps make late derisory attempts on a DM and a striker, but I don't think he'd be serious for them. He did the same on past deadline days with Draxler, Kalou and Demba Ba. Financial escalation or not, he'll always chuck in two embarrassing pennies for players much more worth it.

And we, as fans, will have to endure.

I don't know how much more of this sameness I can bear. Something's got to give.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz , I'll be giving transfer updates over there]