Wednesday, 21 January 2015

(How) can Mesut Özil regain his Arsenal spot + Coquelin thoughts

Santi Cazorla was outrageous on Sunday. There's a reason he's my favourite player, and that's not entirely down to his general teddy bear-ness and his India connection. Sprint speed and aerial ability aside, this guy has everything. He can pass, he can shoot, he's ambidextrous, versatile, tricky and robust. It's worth mentioning that he started all of Arsenal's Premier League games two seasons ago yet never got injured. He may give out an Arshavin-esque feel, but he's far ahead than the Russian in terms of workrate. Give him pace and he turns into a more effective Alexis Sanchez.

His form has come at a very inconvenient time for a certain wide-eyed German. Mesut Ozil was, in my opinion, wrongly criticized for his performances leading up to his injury. He was poor against Manchester City and Dortmund, yes, but followed that up with three very good performances against Aston Villa, Galatasaray and Tottenham. Against Chelsea he was poor, but people seem to overlook that he was injured during most of that match. Wenger overplayed his hand with Ozil's knee injury and lost.

Ozil may be on the verge of producing big things for Arsenal, but are we sure that we are willing to sacrifice Santi Cazorla for that? I know I've just come to Ozil's defence and all that, but I'm very much of the opinion that when on top form, Cazorla offers more than Ozil in that attacking midfield position. Ozil is, merely, a marginally better passer and has superior ball retention to Cazorla.

Santi, however, offers goals, tracking back, unpredictability (with both of his feet) and proper versatility. He won't stink the place out as much as Ozil does when they're deployed on the left. And I know that Ozil is a bona fide world-class player and has excellent movement and is rated highly by just about any footballing personality in the know, but that doesn't hide the fact that Cazorla has done nothing to merit a dropping from the squad.

It's mooted that Ozil will get the nod in the weekend's FA Cup clash against Brighton away, but that's not a match which would speak volumes of Ozil's ability lest he performs. With all possible respect to Brighton, Ozil would have to perform on much higher stages to prove his mettle to make it in the Premier League. A convincing performance against Brighton would only half-convince me.

Even so, it would be nice to see if Mesut has learned anything new since his time out. Footballers tend to analyze their game during a lengthy injury layoff and assess their flaws. Olivier Giroud did something of the sort and came out a lot stronger, using his physicality and scoring important goals against important teams.

What I especially liked about Ozil bulking up was that it showcased a certain degree of commitment to making it at Arsenal. When he came into the club, for the first season or so I got the impression that he didn't care much about the successes and failures of Arsenal Football Club. Hell, that may still be the case, for Shad Forsythe and Arsene Wenger may have forced him to build his muscularity. However, I'd be surprised if that was the truth.

Clearly Mesut Ozil is the long-term option in the No. 10 role. Even a player as energetic and buzzing like Tomas Rosicky must be thinking about his retirement plans sometime soon, and Cazorla has reached that dreaded age-30 phase. However, if we want to attain maximized outputs from Ozil, we need to "stick him in there more often", so to say. How could we do that and not displace the mercurial Santi Cazorla?

The only possible solution, to my mind, is shifting Cazorla's position. Footballers tend to experiment in deeper positions in order to prolong the twilight of their careers. Steven Gerrard went from attacking midfielder to defensive midfielder. Wayne Rooney, once a lone striker, is now seen pumping lobs from the centre of the park. Two of hundreds of examples.

I don't reckon shifting Cazorla to a central midfield position, alongside a defensive midfielder is a bad idea by any stretch. It's a point to note that when Arsenal's central midfield crisis was ongoing, Rosicky and Cazorla were asked to play in that role periodically. It turned out to be an enforced masterpiece, so to say, because Santi in particular truly impressed me in that role.

I am of the opinion that we can get something out of Cazorla in that deep-lying playmaker role. Ramsey is having his ups and downs and Wilshere is perennially injured, so what's the harm in trying? Cazorla has already proven his willingness and adeptness at dropping deep to win the ball back. In addition, this also allows Mesut Ozil room in his preferred No. 10 role to spray passes to Sanchez and Walcott and give us all orgasms.

When Ozil first came to Arsenal, plenty couldn't wait to see how Cazorla and Mesut would link up. As it stood, having Ozil in the centre and Cazorla on the left yielded inconsistent results. Perhaps moving Santi Cazorla closer to the DM rather than away from it may bring more creativity and solidity to our defence.

Final note for today - Francis Coquelin. Look, I'm over the moon for the lad and really happy for the club as well as the player, but Coquelin isn't a specialist in his role by any stretch. In fact, the exaggerated praise that he's receiving is the result of Arsenal being used to not seeing a proper DM since the days of Gilberto Silva and Patrick Vieira. Coquelin is walking and talking proof that all Arsenal needed was a proper defensive midfielder, not the half-moulds of Alex Song, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini.

Obviously I would not be averse to handing Coquelin a new deal and would want him at the club, but if Arsenal really want to be like the Bayerns and the Barcelonas, they need to get in a defensive midfielder specialist in his position, like Morgan Schneiderlin. Francis has done a job and has probably proven that he can fill the gap until the summer comes. He's done a huge favour for Arsene. I hope he realizes that that favour has a rapidly approaching expiry date.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Friday, 16 January 2015

A theory on why Arsenal never buy the requisite amount of players

It's pretty apparent Arsene hadn't a plan coming into January 1st.

If he would, there would have been finalized targets and deals in progress, nearing completion. True, transfers can only happen during the summer or in January, but negotiations and enquiries can happen any day of the year. Deals can be concluded behind the scenes and the formality of the paperwork and signing of the checkbooks and contracts can happen once the FA permits i.e. the transfer window.

I may be a tad wrong on the specifics here, but I'm certain I'm accurate in suggesting that there can be a certain element of proactiveness before the window actually opens. There are so many deals like the Daniel Sturridge or the Demba Ba ones which were concluded pretty early in the transfer window because the hard work was done before the window opened. Even the Lukas Podolski loan deal happened pretty early.

Now, I know that there have to be two consenting parties to finalize negotiations behind the scenes, but there can still exist a measure of prearrangement from the approaching party, such as scouting the target, estimating a price and setting aside the money on hand.

Not at Arsenal. Note that before the transfer window started, Arsene Wenger quite clearly stated his intention to buy whenever it was convenient to, and not from the word go.

"There is a need but the right opportunity has to come up. To buy [just] to buy is not what we want to do, but if the right opportunity comes up, we will do it."

In no way at all does that signify a desire to strengthen out of ambition. Essentially, what the manager is saying that he won't buy a Pepsi unless a truck full of it stops in front of him and offers him a special discount. Not only does that happen rarely in the January transfer window, but it also means that if it indeed doesn't, Wenger is ready to shank another season to keep the "long-term" plan in mind.

At this point, I have to ask, what is the "long-term" plan? Every January without exception the fans are hopeful Wenger will plug the gaps to propel a decent cup run or win the title. Every time the transfer window ends, the same fans are quite understandably frustrated but lie themselves into believing that the manager will make amends in the summer, when players and clubs are more open to a move.

The result?

January 2014 expectations: Centre back, defensive midfielder, striker
Reality: Injured defensive midfielder
End of summer transfer window, 2014: Lack of depth in centre half or defensive midfield

January 2013 expectations: Centre back, striker
Reality: Panic-purchase left back
End of summer transfer window, 2013: Lack of depth in centre half, striker

January 2012 expectations: Attacking midfielder, backup striker
Reality: Thomas Eisfeld
End of summer transfer window, 2012: Lack of defensive midfielder, striker

It's fairly obvious that Arsene Wenger has, religiously, failed to plug the gaps in the summer. Fans consoling and deluding themselves only serves to continue this vicious cycle.

The question lies as to why does Wenger not buy the required quantity/quality of players. Some may say that he is incapable. I disagree. From what I know about Wenger, I think that he can sign a player if he has his heart set out on him. He's bought a lot of good players last season and convinced a not-for-sale Mesut Ozil to jump ship from Real Madrid too.

Notice the "if he has his heart set out on him" clause, though. Personally, I don't think Wenger is really interested in this transfer window. There's no Schneiderlin, Hummels or Winston Reid deal happening behind the scenes. Even if it were, it would be a reactive measure to injuries than a planned assessment of "Is this player just right for Arsenal"?

"We are more (in the market now). We work really hard morning until late night to try to get one or two players in."

Even with long-term injuries to Debuchy and Arteta, I don't expect anything more than Bielik and a defender (loaned, probably) as our January showings. Recent past and the manager's general stubbornness gives that theory weight.

Which brings us back to the question - why does Wenger not buy the necessary? It's not because he can't, nor is it because he doesn't have the money. Call me crazy (and you will), but I think Wenger chooses not to buy the players.

Wenger knows he's inept. He must know - so must all the fans - that even with world-class quality at his disposal, his outdated and one-dimensional tactics would screw them over. He doesn't have the in-game management acumen nor the motivational skills to bring the best out of any team. Not anymore. 

Note the date.

Imagine if Arsenal had Vidal, Hummels and Reid in the team and were still struggling (mind, it could happen under Wenger). The tirade of the fans would aim directly at Wenger, for it will undoubtedly be his fault that the team aren't living up to their potential. There would be protests and there would be chantings at the Emirates calling for his removal (if we don't have enough of that already). Because, honestly, who else would you blame?

If you think such a case is impossible, think again. Look at this season. Look at the squad objectively and think of the quality it offers. Definitely more than Southampton's, definitely more than Manchester United's and probably equal to Manchester City's, in my humble opinion. Yet we're languishing somewhere fifth in the table.

Money is not the answer to everything. There are anti-Wenger bloggers who have been saying this before the PUMA and Emirates deals struck us gold. Mark Hughes at QPR proved that simply buying players does not solve the problem. There are a lot more aspects - such as playing the player in their best positions, using the best formation, specific tactics against specific opposition, resting and rotating at the right times and a lot more - which makes the percentile difference.

It is for this reason I believe Wenger was right in not buying Cesc Fabregas again. There really would have been no point. The problem wasn't a lack of midfielders, it was a lack of tactical acumen and proper formational structure from Arsene. Wenger played Ozil on the left, Ramsey as an attacking midfielder and left Arteta alone to guard a mishmash defence. These are not problems relating to transfers, they are pertaining to the manager's ability to read and strategise in a game. If we had bought Fabregas and played him in a 4-1-4-1 he would have tanked or gotten injured in a few months time due to him being overplayed in an incorrect position.

I think it's pretty obvious Wenger knows in which areas are his squad lacking. Only a fool would deny a centre back or a defensive midfielder is not of the utmost necessity. I think Wenger himself knows that he can get the required players that can fill the gaps, if he tried.
However, he knows that not buying the necessary players leaves room for excuse. He knows that should Arsenal lose, the fans would bemoan the lack of defensive quality and attribute that as the underlying cause. He knows that he can buy time by letting the fans believe that simply buying one or two players would win us the Premier League.

Because the truth is, Wenger would struggle to win the Bundesliga even if he was in charge of Bayern Munich.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]