Sunday, 26 October 2014

Sunderland 0-2 Arsenal: Misfiring cannons bailed out by magnificent Catalan

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

Make no mistake, this could have gone either way...
I don't think anyone hides from the fact that we were rudderless. And for good reason - we created very little against a side who shipped in eight against a Southampton side without Lallana, Lambert and Jay Rodriguez. Very few of Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck and Sanchez lived up to their stardom. It can't be long before the fans realize that the manager is responsible for bringing the worst of these players.

True, we were able to keep Sunderland at bay with relative ease, but that didn't stop us being equally bereft of ideas at the other end of the pitch. The number of chances we created could be counted on a hand, much like the number of convincing performances this season. We got away with it in Belgium, and we got away with it yesterday. Inevitably, however, we can only be so lucky.

Are we a one-man team?
The last time we were touted a one-man side was in 2011/12, when Robin van Persie's incredulous form carried us to third. Looking back at the season and its statistics, one feels this claim could be justified. But could we apply the same logic to Alexis?

I believe the reason people are refraining from such a statement yet is because of the quality available at our disposal. Despite them underwhelming, it's difficult to call a team "one-man" when they have Ramsey, Wilshere, Cazorla and Welbeck in their ranks. But such is the fact of the matter that none of them are close to playing at the level they can, at least consistently. A compilation of pressure of expectation, being positionally misplaced and confidence crises are affecting most of the players.

There's no denying that Sanchez is carrying the team at the moment. His winning mentality and desire to press the ball is what's turning one point into three. People may say that both the goals he scored were a bit of a fluke, but the undeniable fact remains that without him harrying the opposition, those mistakes would not have happened.

My worry remains with what happens further down the line. Players like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez were bought to push the club to the next level. However, instead of the team stepping it up a notch to augment these players, it's them having to carry the team. Ozil sunk into the mediocre vibe around the dressing room, and it's not beyond the realms of possibility to suggest that Sanchez might follow.

The way Alexis is playing it's apparent he wants more from his teammates. And he's right, too. The manager is getting too diminished an output from a talented crop of players. If this continues, Sanchez could either injure himself by pushing himself to the limit, or he could sink into the dreaded 4th-place mentality infesting the club.

Per Mertesacker must be beyond bemused...
He's barely holding the fort together. Well, not much of a fort as a creaky old cottage filled with piranha-sized termites who are going to be blown to smithereens soon because the U.S. Government are aiming drone missiles at it because they believe this is where Osama bin Laden used to take a piss and they want to destroy all the evidence.

One substitution and the left back, centre back and right back changed personnel. Imagine Mertesacker's plight - he has to make-do with a conglomeration every week. He's left open by inept defensive midfielders and left exposed whenever that dastardly 4-1-4-1 is adopted. To top it all, he knows he can't afford to be injured and is trying to balance form with fitness. If anyone needs a break, it's him. Lay off him, for Santi's sake.

Theo Walcott is being overrated...
Yes, he's our fastest player. Yes, he amounts a decent statistical return. Yes, his pace was missed last season. But the overblown reaction to his return is worrying. Don't get me wrong, I completely understand sentiment. But calling him the saviour of the season or the best winger in the league is completely uncalled for.

People have completely eroded his negative qualities and overestimated his value to the team. They've conveniently strained out his numerous flaws and painted a picture of him to suit their liking. Yes, Walcott has noticeably improved over his last 18 months of regular first-team action, but that doesn't make him Thierry Henry. And knowing Wenger, he'd probably hurry him to the pitch and injure him again, like with Jack Wilshere.

I welcome his return and I hope he comes flying out of the blocks, but I'm not going to get my hopes high for him this season, for good reason. Neither should you.

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Thankfully, there's a week of rest for the Mertesackers, Monreals and Sanchez's to rest their tired legs, and an easy Burnley tie awaits at the end of it. Till then.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Sunderland vs Arsenal: Match Preview

"Seriously boss, I don't look like Lewis Hamilton, do I?"

Preview
| Pre-match conference | Team news


The last time we visited the Stadium of Light, a side largely buoyed by Ozil's purchase and Ramsey's form comfortably beat them 1-3. However, despite Sunderland coming into this match with shattered mindsets in the wake of an 8-0 Southampton hammering, I still expect this game to be close.

Sunderland - before a Tadic and Pelle inspired Saints side breezed them off the park - had one of the meanest defences in the league. Even though I tipped them for relegation at the start of the season, Gus Poyet had managed to tighten things up at the back, with ex-Gunner Vito Mannone and new boy Vergini standing out.

Our forward approach play this season has been dysfunctional, to say the least (Ironically enough, I've said this the most!). Despite having an array of attacking talent, as a unit we've simply failed to click and have had to be bailed out by Sanchez on a number of occasions. If the Black Cats stay compact and maintain their shape in their own den, there is every reason for us to create minimal chances today. Again.

Gus Poyet is a smart man. He must be wise of Arsenal's mishmash defence and one-dimensional attack. If he plays his tactics right and hits them on the break, he could cause a huge upset on Saturday.

In contrast, Wenger needs to inject some diversity into Arsenal's attack. The current system just isn't working. Perhaps he could revert to 4-2-3-1 instead of 4-1-4-1, and shift Santi Cazorla in the middle. He could throw Joel Campbell, Lukas Podolski or Tomas Rosicky into the mix. Heck, he could also hurry Theo Walcott from injury (it seems like that's what he's doing, since Theo has been included in the Matchday squad). Options is something the Frenchman does not lack. It's all about using the right one.

Even though we're looking lackluster in attack and Poyet's side could very well hold us at bay for large periods, I suspect (or rather, I hope) our sheer majority of big names will prove decisive in the end. In addition, I hope that doesn't contribute in more papering over the cracks.


Shit, is Koscielny knackered till the international break?

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Anderlecht 1-2 Arsenal: We're wasting our time looking for the perfect goal

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

Wow, so much for closing the game early and resting key players. We barely do things the normal way, do we?

I don't feel I have to justify my happiness to everyone. For obvious reasons, being on the sunny side of late drama is always a fantastic feeling. I'm not going to waste much time trying to accentuate the positives in hope that people have the patience to read my negative thoughts aplenty. I trust we've gone past that phase.

So let's get on with it, right?

Firstly, the formation. I said in the preview that 4-1-4-1 away from home doesn't help us click much offensively and increases defensive frailty. It's not even a particularly earth-shattering fact to reveal. Almost every Arsenal supporter - whatever their views on Arsene Wenger - would be foolish to argue that 4-1-4-1 has been anything other than a failure. Yet it seems the maestro has stubbornly persisted with it.

I must confess I don't see why Santi Cazorla is always played on the left in this structure. I understand that Wenger's style of football involves having a more creative midfielder on the left flank, as we saw with Robert Pires and Samir Nasri. It may also have been a major factor in him chasing Draxler. But please, it's been way too obvious for way too long that Santi Cazorla is not that kind of player. He may produce the odd magic in that position, but is far too inconsistent to be considered a viable option there. Santi Cazorla will always play best in the middle.

The partnership of Ramsey and Wilshere as attacking midfielders is getting increasingly tiring to criticise. Sure, I believe Wilshere can do a good job as a lone attacking midfielder (the role Ozil tends to thrive in), and I'll also confess that for a moment I thought that even Aaron Ramsey's more natural position was in "the hole". However, it was apparent that the 4-1-4-1 with Ramsey and Wilshere was a system that didn't click way back in even August. Why does Wenger always take so long to see the light?

It's unbelievable how much we're trying to emulate Barcelona. We're not even doing it correctly. Barcelona aren't as tippy-tappy as we are around the box. As soon as the likes of Wilshere or Ramsey reach the edge of the box, they either hopefully try to dribble through or pass it sideways to Welbeck. Barcelona have always been more clinical. Either Messi successfully dribbles past the players and slots it past the keeper, or they quickly get the ball wide and get a low cross in.

The players we have are almost perfect for a more counter-attacking wing-play Real Madrid-esque kind of football. Wenger is curbing this team's attacking potency by sticking with possession football.

Even if we want to play like Barcelona, we need to defend like them. Only ex-Catalan Alexis Sanchez tracks back and harries the opposition when we lose possession. Yesterday was the ideal time to lend a helping hand to a shaky defence supervised by a rookie goalkeeper and defend like a unit. We didn't do that. How many times would the same mistake have to be observed before the manager does something about it?

Even successfully emulating Barcelona's style of play is not enough. Real Madrid defeating Bayern 4-0 at the Allianz was a fine example of how keep-ball isn't as effective as made out to be. Here's Guardiola on that subject (via @MessiMinutes):

"I got it totally wrong. A total mess. The biggest f*ck up of my life as a coach."

In addition, he also says that he "detests" the tiki-taka style he pioneered at Barcelona, saying it "has no purpose."

Again, how long would it take for Wenger to realize that?

Even so, wing play proves to be the style that provides the 1% difference in beating big teams. Employing possession football against Anderlecht isn't particularly harmful. But again, why does Wenger not change the system when it's not working? He waited until the team was 1-0 down and there were little over than 15 minutes to play to make his substitutions.

Yes, in the end it was the substitute Podolski who sealed an emotional win, but let's not call it a tactical masterstroke of any sort. Joel Campbell and Podolski are always Wenger's default last-ditch panicky rolls of the dice. They aren't going to start any games to follow. At best, they'd come on from the bench if we're trailing with 10-20 minutes to go. Yes, they're terrific bench options, but don't you think that these bench options should be starting once in a while, so that players like Alexis and Welbeck aren't too tired?

For obvious reasons the euphoria of the victory hid the frustrations of 88 minutes past, but there's still no hiding our dire performance yesterday, or indeed, this season so far. The manager has tinkered with the personnel and the formation for way too long, resulting in much confusion and dysfunctional-ism.

Sanchez is the only player who seems to want to punch above his weight. How long before even he slumps into the doom and gloom of the dressing room and the fans? Three months since he's arrived and we're already contemplating when he'd leave the club for one that would fulfill his ambitions. You can't blame us, we've seen it happen before. Unless the manager finds the most ideal structure to get his team flowing (which, let's face it, seems unlikely), his successor would have trouble keeping ambitious players like Alexis around.


Man, that was hugely depressing. Time to negate the negativity by a joke.

"If he takes you out for a romantic date on Tuesday and Wednesday nights instead of watching UEFA Champions League, then it's not LOVE.

... He is a Manchester United fan."


--

Right, that's that. Happy Diwali to my Indian readers - stay away from firecrackers and deluded Liverpool supporters who told you that the 3-0 mauling was a close game. Later.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Match Preview

Preview | Pre-match conference | Team news

The Champions League witnessed some extraordinary results yesterday. Sure, one could legislate for the winners of the clashes being expected, but their margins of victories were FIFA-esque. In today's pragmatic and practical footballing world, I strongly doubt we'd see another such night. But of course, in isolation to Arsenal, you really can't predict anything.

The way we've been playing it's like a bull in a china shop - totally random. Wenger has somehow managed to negate a very potent attack with an equally nervy defence. 2-2 draws are starting to become something of a common occurrence, as well as the appearances of Bellerin on the bench. Now, I've always been one of the biggest advocates for him, not least because of his silky wavy hair, but let's not kid ourselves that his inclusion was anything other than the result of a lack of pre-planning and indecision in the market.

Even so, it's likely he won't be playing much of a part tonight. The best back four we can muster would include Chambers - Mertesacker - Monreal - Gibbs. Hardly the best case scenario, but it was apparent that entering into a Premier League season with merely six first team defenders was crying out for such a situation. It was a bold, but pointless gamble, which has backfired two months into the season.

Regardless of instability in defence through injuries and whatnot, I hope we keep a clean sheet tonight, more than anything. Sure, our rocky backline could be used as a reason more than an excuse if we concede one or two, but I really hope that today's mindset lies along the lines of, "Right, we need the whole team to be switched on and defend as a unit, tracking back like Alexis." If we're ever-so eager to play like Barcelona, why can't we defend like them?

I'm getting a bit wary of Alexis and Welbeck as well. Both have played lots of games since they've arrived, and while Sanchez was rested somewhere along the week when we played Villa and Spurs (a much welcome sight, by the way) his constant running about the pitch kind of negated those absences. It's always appreciated to see a player giving his all in the dying embers of the game, but at this rate it'd only be so long until either one of them get crocked owing to a fatigue-related injury. I know that benching them for tonight is a tad too chancy, but I hope there's some plan in order to close the game early so that we can rest them around the 50th minute.

Hope. That's all I can do. Heh.

In short, I'd like a pacey front four of Santi - Ox - Sanchez - Welbeck, with Ramsey and Arteta at double pivots of that 4-2-3-1. Above all else, I hope we don't persist with 4-1-4-1 and move Ramsey further upfield. That formation has proven to be inconsistent (at the very least), and away from home it's an invitation for Anderlecht to pick on our mishmash defence and rookie goalkeeper. Ramsey provides support for Arteta. It's not enough defensive support, but tons better than a 4-1-4-1, which seldom helps us click offensively anyways. Yet you wouldn't put it past Wenger to employ that structure tonight.

Speaking of Wenger - my blog has, for me at least, being a succinct representation of how my views deteriorated towards him. This time last year, I said: "A very happy birthday to Arsene Wenger. I still have my doubts on you, but I sure as hell have a lot of respect for you too."

It's amazing how time changes you. Today I want him out and I want him to lose the pretend image he has created for himself in the footballing world. Exactly a year of false promises, dithering and refusal to accept accountability has blown my respect for him with a shotgun.

That was a weird figure of speech, in hindsight.

Him turning 65 will not change my perception of him. I'm willing to plaster a sad smile the day he leaves for the sake of people who do respect him, but the fact remains that he has done little to merit the royalty he receives over the past half a decade. Of course I'll stick it out as a supporter because I love almost every other aspect of this club, but my preference would still remain him seeing removed from the club on our terms, not his.

More on that here. For now, a win would be swell, thanks.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Monday, 20 October 2014

Justice to Arsene Wenger is inevitable


Disclaimer: I know this is a free world and all, but I don't feel that Wenger's staunch supporters would quite understand this post, sincerely for their own good. To the 'Wenger Out' clan, I wish they feel a degree of empathy and hope upon reading this.

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Frustration bodes into almost every Arsenal supporter's skin, and rightly so. The season looks all doom and gloom as early as October, and many have resigned themselves to demoting their expectations to the FA Cup or a Champions League spot. Results justify our despair - this is Wenger's worst start to a season as an Arsenal coach. Who could possibly imagine he'd top that 2011/12 record?

It's getting increasingly harder to detect any excuses in an attempt to shield Wenger from explanation. The fact that people try itself indicates they don't completely believe it to be true. Granted, Arsenal don't have a defensive midfielder nor two centre backs (a problem of Wenger's doing, mind you), but that shouldn't hide the fact that it is still a very good team. Lukas Podolski, Tomas Rosicky and Joel Campbell don't even get a look in.

The Emirates Stadium bought Wenger plenty of time, but he still missed out on a lot of trophies for reasons quite irrelevant to money. We should have won the league in 2008 and 2011. We should have defeated Birmingham, Bradford and Blackburn. We should have averted the dastardly summer of 2011 and 2013. The reasons bonded to such failures were nowhere near connected to money or the board. It was all Wenger.

The biggest flaw in Arsenal as a whole is a lack of accountability. As Gazidis rightly said, Wenger is accountable to the fans. But what good is that if most of the fans are horribly fissured into groups of negative realism and positive delusion? How can the fans unite and drive away the manager if a huge majority of it are still jumping on the bandwagon and protecting their past hero, conveniently straining out the bad parts of it?

The manager is forgiven way too easily. All the criticism surrounding him (which, again, is overdue and well warranted) is forgotten once we scrape decent results in the next two games. That's the fickle minded business we're in. Since the 8-2 game against Manchester United a lot of fans are on the fence, jumping on the 'Wenger In' side if Arsenal win and hopping on the other side if Arsenal lose. My stance has been quite steady for over a year now, one which admittedly foolishly wavered this summer.

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. I completely understand the sentiment behind insisting on supporting Wenger. They don't want their past glories tarnished. They don't want the same man who lead the team to 49 unbeaten matches be the core reason for Mesut Ozil's decline, or for draws against Leicester and Hull. They wouldn't believe that Wenger is pulling the club back, or that he's become reckless and clueless after David Dein happened. Because that would mean admitting to a huge error in judgement of his obvious change in character.

Gone are the days when Wenger resembled a well-versed learned footballing philosopher. His words and actions this season (and of the past) have been of a person anything but. He's chosen to employ 6 first team defenders rather than pursue Kostas Manolas. He opines that the 4-1-4-1 is more defensively solid than 4-2-3-1. He attributed injury reasons to hair dye. He tactically and mentally ruined Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski. In every match he's constantly on the lookout for the perfect goal through tippy-tappy play, even after the master himself - Guardiola - admitted possession football is over.

And yet, more out of fear of being proven wrong than anything else, most of the fans are sticking by his side. They'd scapegoat Gazidis or Kroenke rather than admit that Wenger was the one who dealt with on-the-pitch collapses. They'd blame the players when Arsenal lose and praise the manager when they win. They'd overrate every single mini-achievement (whether past or present) that Wenger makes to justify their flawed assumption that he is the right man for the job.

Months ago, Arsene Wenger insulted Paul Scholes and was hailed as classy. Tell me one thing that is classy about publicly dismissing an English veteran for raising a legitimate Jack Wilshere issue. The perception of this man has gone to such ridiculous wavelengths that I feel Wenger's legacy is come to be one of the greatest cover-ups in world football.

Except I don't think he'll pull it off.

Wenger has made a lot of blunders over the years, but none more so than choosing to stay on after the FA Cup win. He could have retired peacefully, bidden his time, written an autobiography praising everyone and inflated his personality. He could have been perceived as an Arsenal messiah and a revolutionary for the rest of his life, or a guy that nobly bore the pressure amongst ungrateful fans and stood out against financial doping. The Wenger Out clan wouldn't have been able to convince many about his true nature, and the truth would have drowned forever. He could have hidden under the guise of FFP, stadium debts, referees and injuries (which are down to him), and nicked a living.

But he didn't. He screwed it up. He falsely believes that he can get away with whatever swindle he's trying to pull off in the next three years. He thinks he can 'achieve' Champions League scraps and earn £8m per annum whilst complaining about lack of funds and still recover the same fondness. No, he won't.

All the excuses have vanished. Wenger's most popular complaint - lack of money to spend - has been rectified. Ivan Gazidis has brought in the money, yet has seen Wenger not spend it where it was most necessary. FFP is in motion and the stadium debt is well in control. There are no monetary reasons to worry of.

At long last, the focus has shifted to Wenger's incompetence on the pitch. The Frenchman's tactical approach and horrid man managing used to be clouded by money issues, but not anymore. We have great players in our team, yet we're tanking. The team employs an outdated style of play, are tactically and psychologically underprepared and players fall crocked after playing too many games. Ultimately, there's no one else who is more accountable for this than Arsene Wenger.

Belief and support are admirable traits, but year on year of failure will wear those thin. Bereft of excuses and hard-pressed to coax out more, there will doubtless come a time when Wenger is lost for justifications of predicted failures. I envisage that day to come around two years down the line.

The fanbase have finally begun to question the manager. There no longer are cries of "Go support another club" in response to valid doubts about the manager's capabilities. Slowly but surely, Gooners are rightfully doubting the fallen legend they once rooted for. Injury crises that arose for six years are being investigated. Wenger's tactical naivety are being analyzed five years too late. But hey, at least it's happening now.

I don't think the end is nigh. There's plenty of time for Wenger to be extricated from the club. But I strongly believe (and with good reason) that there will come a point a couple years down the line, where everyone will reach the general consensus that Wenger is not fit for Arsenal, and will force him out of the club.

Clearly the manager underestimates most of the fans, by thinking that he can spoon £24m out of the club and leave a hero in 2017. However, by then I feel his incompetence would be so apparent that he'd exit the club with the reputation he deserves - that of a fallen legend. Here's me, longing for that day.

You heard it here first.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

No, I'm not dead.


Apologies for the mere pointlessness of this post. I just want to say that I have been following all of the matches thus far, despite my conspicuous absence.

Truth is, I'm having difficulty in finding the time and interest to continuously keep up this blog. I don't think I'll be free until mid-October, which will be neck deep into the Interlull. I could actually use some additional writers. Mail me at santirambo1916@gmail.com if interested.

You could catch my truncated views at Arsenal FC Lovers, Arsenal World or @ArsenalBlogz if necessary.

I'll see some of you guys should you swing by Zouk on Sunday. Cheers!

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]