Category Archives: Guest Writer

Arsenal Evolution…. or Revolution?

There has been a heated debate over the last few weeks about whether the EPL has evolved into a world class competition and whether Arsenal’s improved form is due to Wenger being forced to change his tactical approach to EPL opponents after losing Cesc and Nasri. I wish to address both hypotheses and take a closer look at whether the EPL and Arsenal are evolving into something better or whether the original mutation has become an out and out revolution.

Lets take a look at club ownership and the influx of oilygarch and sugar-daddy golden geese in the EPL. It seems to have started with Abramovich at Chelsea, but in actual fact the spend big to win big philosophy was best personified in Real Madrid buying up every star they could entrap, starting back in the 50’s. Regardless, since Chelsea’s reincarnation under Abramovich, according to the media and many pundits, the EPL has come to a sort of fork in the road. In their view,gone are the days when only 2-3 big clubs like Liverpool, United and Arsenal would be competing for it all. Now, they claim, the EPL clubs can be divided into the haves and the have-nots, with Arsenal somewhere in between. However they miss the real issues, since we have always had the richer clubs and the remainder. What has changed is the reckless and bottomless spending and subsequent debt-loads teams like Chelsea, City and recently Liverpool have espoused as their central philosophy. These teams are on the opposite end of the scale to Arsenal, where frugality and youth development have been combined to enrich the team and the tradition at the Emirates. I would say, in this respect, that it has been a revolution and the big losers in this revolt have been the FA’s  ¨fit and proper persons¨ test and the EUFA Financial Fairplay rules while the beneficiaries have been the fans of big money clubs along with the improved level and diversity of the competition. We now have 6 Clubs who can compete for the titles and Cups with a reasonable assurance of being potential winners. My the revolution continue!

Sandro Rosell, in typical Barcelona hypocritical fashion, stated that his team would never ¨sell out¨ like the money Clubs in the EPL are claimed to have done. Yet he sold his  rights to the Qatar Foundation. Of course he’d sell his mother to get enough money to get colour photocopiers or a player (with Catalan DNA) he really wants, in the Camp Nou.

Arsenal FC are another story. During the difficult 7 months after the CC last season and our spanking at OT, endless Anti-Wenger and anti-Arsenal attackers, including the minority AAA and moaner-groaner whiners who misnamed themselves Gooners and the media, launched a steady,relentless and merciless campaign against our Club and its administrators/managers. They cried for a Revolt against the tyrannical and stubborn Arsene-Board led conspiracy to destroy our great Club in order to make a fast buck. They wanted a revolution in the very heart of the Clubs’ Wenger inspired philosophy and strategy.

Their new mantra, which can occasionally still be heard echoing off the public toilets and hapless ex-players vacuous heads, is SEND,SPEND,SPEND and damn the torpedoes. This mantra is followed by another revolutionary chant which is ¨Off with their heads¨ -meaning Wenger and the Board need to be eliminated and replaced by Oilygarchs, sugar-daddies and other right thinking Fantasy Football afficianados.

Arsenal’s recent resurgence has flushed a great deal of this excrement down the pipes but the odour remains. In order to disinfect the Gooner airspace and based on my humble opinion, I submit that we are seeing an EVOLUTION of sorts, where AFC’s famous control and passing game is being modified, with considerable success, and mutated into a more direct, finishing yet also subtle counter-attacking strategy.  What is different with our Gunners that has turned their season around so dramatically?

1) The new, more experienced faces in the team have brought a renewed and more urgent counter-attacking style, while also strengthening and calming the younger players. They have also brought a challenge to every incumbent to do better and play with more heart, or lose their place. This is seen in the fact that some say Wenger has an embarrassment of choices in the CB and winger positions. He will soon have the same problem in the midfield. When were we last able to say that?

2) We also see a change in attacking style with Gervinho and Walcott offering rapid, incisive and pacey counter-attacking Football and also working hard defensively to recuperate the ball when Arsenal lose it. As well, we see Jenkinson and Santos offering an offensive threat that Gibbs and Clichy rarely ever provided.

3) Our midfield seems to be shaping up as the most significant and positive change this season. Last year we relied on Cesc and Nasri to generate and support the attackers. If Arsenal could have ever been truly said to be a one-man team, it was during the Fabregas hegemony where every attack went through him. Would RVP or Wilshere or Ramsey have been able to flower like they are doing this season if we had not lost our two midfielders?  Arteta has been a remarkable find and has become the little general like Rosicky used to be, supporting the defense when we are under pressure but turning the counter-attack into a deadly and very pacey threat to any team at will.

4) Our style of attack has become more varied and we seem to be moving away from the complex buildups of the tippy-tappy era where we felt a shot from anywhere further than the opponent’s goal area was unthinkable, to a more eclectic shooting philosophy where we can call on RVP, Walcott, Gervinho, Arteta, Ramsey, and even Song or Vermaelen to hammer one from distance or rely on Santos or Jenkinson to whip either the ball or themselves into the attack.

5) With the Verminator back and Koscielny showing a formidable partnership with him or Mertesacker, our back 4 is starting to show signs of rock-solid reliability. The maturing of Jenkinson and the yet to be proven Santos offers AFC the depth we have always lacked. Once Wilshere, Sagna and Gibbs return to the lineup, Arsene will have the unenviable job of selecting from a treasure-house of talent to rely on.

What mid-table EPL manager wouldn’t dream of having players like AOC, Arshavin, Frimpong, Fabianski, Miyachi, Park, Djourou, Coquelin, Aneke, Lansbury and Benayoun in their starting 11?  We have them on the bench or out on loan, along with players like Campbell, Vela, Bendtner and Silva!

Arsenal have successfully EVOLVED from a young but naive Barcelona light, to a gradually improving collection of united, skillful, calm, confident and relentless winners……despite the media and AAA’s desperately attempts to portray us as a one-man Club. Long my the evolution continue!

Article written by Don McMahon.

If you would like to follow Arsenal Opinion on Twitter, then please click on the ‘follow’ icon below.

32 Comments

Filed under Arsenal, Blog, Don McMahon, Premiership, Sports

Arsenal – The big lie

Being a big fan of ¨what if¨ scenarios in film and fiction, I decided, therefore, to try a ¨what if ¨ trilogy where three different ¨journalists¨ render their articles on a common theme based on their particular bias and spin.

The three facets of this exercise are, in no particular priority; the AAA oriented media guru, the average hyperbolic tabloid journalist and finally the open-minded, pragmatic supporter represented by blogs like Arsenal Opinion, LadyArse, Untold Arsenal and countless others.

The theme will be Arsenal’s defensive situation versus its attacking efforts after the Chelsea game. Here goes:

AAA headline – WENGER IS ARSENAL’S DEFENSIVE PROBLEM

The report: London, Oct 30th, 2011

Well lads, I told you so. Another defensive nightmare against a Chelsea side that tore Wenger’s frail and suspect defence apart at the Bridge, was rescued by the one bright light in an otherwise crap team rapidly going downhill. RVP, who most certainly doesn’t deserve to suffer under LeFrog’s arbitrary and autocratic dictatorship, showed up his pathetic teammates while Wenger jealously looked on. When will the Board and Gazidis wake up to the fact that Arsenal’s defence is a sieve and that we are shipping goals like the Titanic shipped ice and that this is all AW’s fault?

Can anyone blame RVP for wanting out just like Cesc, Nasri and Clichy? Despite his ceaseless scoring exploits, it must be apparent to anyone who has the eyes to see it, that he is desperately unhappy at AFC and cannot wait for the January transfer window to arrive! Why is he scoring so prolifically?

Obviously because he wants to augment his sell-on value and because he wants to show Wenger how misplaced his terrible transfer dealings have been since 2005 and how much better it would have been had Arsenal spent the billions they have hidden away, on players like Torres, Carroll, Lukaku, and Cahill. What a tragedy it will be when we inevitably lose our place in the top 4, drop out of every Cup and finish below the Totts for the first time in the Frenchman’s 15 year reign…and you can bet we’ll be there to remind you that we TOLD YOU SO!

British media Tabloid headline: WENGER’S LUCK HOLDS OUT FOR ANOTHER DAY or RVP’s HEROICS HIDE SERIOUS FRAILTIES IN WENGER’S SIDE

After a sterling display by United at Everton which went a long way to confirming Mancunian superiority in the EPL, Arsenal just squeaked by a powerful and motivated Chelsea side thanks to the heroics and last minute sacrifice of their want-away striker, Robin Van Persie.

Replete with defensive errors and lacking a viable alternative to their goal-machine, the Gunners stumbled and scrabbled their way to a very unconvincing win over a clearly superior Chelsea side, thanks to the referee’s favouritism and a slippery playing surface.

Wenger admitted that his side were particularly poor defensively and even hinted, we are lead to believe, that he’d be trying to bring in replacements in January if the Board were willing and able to open the notoriously tight AFC purse-strings. The striking incompetence of Mertesacker, Djourou, and Santos was compounded by the headstrong and juvenile bullishness of Szczesny, who is now showing what everyone feared might happen to this neophyte….impulsive and reckless aggression. Basically it was 3 points stolen from a battling and brave Stamford Bridge brigade who could justifiably have taken all three points were it not for RVP’s rapacious attacking. How long can Wenger and Arsenal rely on their hero staying fit and remaining at the Club?

True Gooner headline: ARSENAL SHOW TRUE GRIT IN HARD FOUGHT WIN AT CHELSEA

Today’s double comeback victory over a battling but fragile Chelsea 11 highlighted some very obvious aspects of the changing Arsenal landscape since our horror show at Old Trafford at the end of August.

The first thing we could attest to was the destruction of the myth that Arsenal are a one man team. RVP, Gervinho, Ramsey, Song, Santos, Koscielny, Arteta and Walcott all joined in to ensure that AFC could continue on their incredible mission to finish as winners this EPL season.

Mertesacker and Djourou had a hard time of it in the first half but stepped up their games and when Vermaelen came on to substitute Djourou, it was a sight for sore eyes. Szczesny’s insane sortie intending to decapitate Cashley Cole, on any other day with any other referee, would have earned him a red card, as he was man enough to admit on his Tweet but in typical exuberant fashion he also added that it was a spectacular game.

What can we take away from this game? The first and most glaring change is that the Gunners are starting to show a toughness, commitment, hardness, ruthlessness, determination and ability to overcome the odds that was lacking in previous years. The second is that our bargain basement transfers and young guns are starting to gel as a unit which is proof positive that Wenger Knows Best.

The third is that, as our walking wounded return and our bench begins to play more, there will be even more pressure on our starting 11 to perform like they did against Chelsea. The fourth is that we still need to tighten up our defensive play and play our high line better if we are to avoid shipping unnecessary goals. We won’t be intimidated anymore and thanks to the OT trauma, we seem to have woken up to the fact that we are a better Club than the AAA and their media familiars claim.

Can anyone see a difference in these three reports?

You can now follow Arsenal Opinion on Twitter. If you would like to follow us, then please click on the ‘follow’ button below.

Article written by Don McMahon.

28 Comments

Filed under Arsenal, Blog, Don McMahon, Football, Premiership, Sports

Youth is wasted on the young

As the famous quote above laments, being young is a prize all of us older specimens would cherish if awarded. Since that unlikely event isn’t going to happen anytime soon, we must content ourselves with the vicarious joy of watching athletic and energetic kids run circles around older veterans in the EPL.

In actual fact, it is often the wiser, more experienced and skilled veterans who show the kids what football is all about. That said, the point of this article is to examine the advantage of youth academies, both Club and National and the long term benefits of developing kids, like the Arsenal does, versus the parachute approach most big money clubs place all their bets on.

The philosophy of buying to win is not a recent phenomena. Real Madrid practiced it with enormous success in the mid to late 50’s, bringing in Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas to name but a few superstars of that era. They won the first 5 Champions League Cups, have become a force in Spanish and World Football and are now the new measure of success along with Barcelona. That may be admirable but they also showed, the last 4 seasons, that wholesale spending to achieve success (as defined by trophies and titles) doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll obtain it, as I think Manchester City have also proven regardless of their success so far this season.

Now let’s take a look at the Arsenal approach, which mirrors Barcelona’s to some extent, without the big name signings the Catalans have been guilty of. The first thing we notice is that, despite having sufficient funds to bring in 2-3 big name ¨stars¨ (based on the Swiss Rambler’s accurate and carefully detailed calculations), Wenger and the Board (represented by Gazidis) have eschewed this approach. They chose, what many AAA and plastic fanboys call, the ¨bargain basement¨ paradigm which states that; if they are ranked as experienced EPL heroes, are crowned as British ¨stars¨ by the media and are excessively expensive, then they are almost always over-hyped, over-valued and overly endowed with a British spine…meaning they are in fact average, minimum skilled, run-of-the mill EPL journeymen. Wenger and Gazidis are no fools, despite the media and fanboys concerted and ceaseless efforts to portray them as such. These two have a formidable combination of expertise, experience and scouting networks to back up their usually excellent judgement when it comes to talent and potential for the Arsenal. I went back over the 15 years of AW’s tenure at AFC to review his choices and found that in 90% of the transfers done by him, the player proved to be either a solid and reliable improvement for the Club or in the many cases an absolutely fabulous addition, bordering on the legendary.

What I also found out was that fewer than 5% of the Youth Academy graduates made it into the Arsenal first team on a regular basis. Part of this surprising statistic is due to the difficulty in beating out existing top class International players in their prime or even in their declining years. The other facet of this strange circumstance is that the youth players often didn’t want to wait for the amount of time it took to break into the first team and chose another Club instead. The final aspect of this situation was Arsenal’s very high standards and expectations, which few of the youth players could meet. So when the moaners and whiners claim that Wenger’s youth policy has failed, I say that the above selectivity and caution has proven, to the contrary, that it has and is succeeding. In other words, our severe but humane screening of the youth academy’s jewels has produced only exceptional talent and only players like Wilshere, Djourou, Frimpong, Szcesny, Lansbury, Coquelin, Jon Toral, Aneke, Vela and Gibbs to name but a few, who can step up and legitimately push for a place in the first team now or eventually.

Now to the heart of the matter, which is the fateful choice facing EPL Clubs and possibly European Clubs, in the near future. Wenger has predicted a global economic crisis that is going to be far more consequential than the 2007 recession. In such times, clubs that overspend and who rely on sugar-daddies or Oilygarchs to help them make ends meet, could find themselves either sold off, as the rich boys asset strip and pass on to more lucrative ventures or if these hyper-billionaires stay with the Club, see themselves working on a far more restrained budget which, like Barca with their colour photocopy crisis, were the precursors.

The French FF (Federation Football), German DFB (Deutsche Fussball Bund) and Barcelona  have realized that promoting local and national youth development is essential if their professional and international teams are to prosper. In France, the famous Le Centre Technique National Fernand Sastre was set up in 1988 to accomodate the best Parisien players and 11 other academies do the same thing elsewhere in the country. In Germany, the DFB is the federally regulated FA equivalent but the actual amateur and semi-professional game is under the control of what is called the Sportsverein or Sports Clubs. These Clubs are sponsored by the local municipalities, with State and Federal grants and are owned by their members and the local town authorities. They offer multiple sports activities and have absolutely beautiful facilities, which any person belonging to their SV can use for very little or no cost. What is interesting is that they develop their own referees and coaches/managers. In other words, if the Sillenbuch SV wants to enter a team in the junior A league (players aged 12-14), they must provide a candidate to become a referee or an existing certified official. Holland does the same. We all know what Barcelona’s approach to youth development is like, having benefited from it more than any other Club.

Enough of the history lessons however. Here is what I see the British system needing to do, following on the recent positive changes to the FA’s ineffective youth transfer policy:

1)      Britain needs a system like the CTNFS in France, a network of National Academies serving the National teams at all ages and the Clubs who don’t have or can’t afford the expense of their own system.

2)      They need to take the youth development away from the schools and give it to the local and professional clubs, using the grants awarded the educational system, to support the latters’ efforts in building an effective youth development paradigm.

3)      They need to model the Arsenal’s project and require that ALL EPL clubs have an effective and professional academy up and running. EPL clubs MUST take their youth programs far more seriously and it must become a prerequisite to either be promoted up from the championship or to remain in good standing in the EPL. Failure to promote and develop their academies should be seen as a sign of bad faith and disrespect for the spirit and rules of membership in the EPL and the FA and should have severe consequences.

4)      We need to allow the EPL clubs to play their youth teams in any of the 4 PL divisions as if they were like any other club. However they would neither be eligible for promotion or relegation and should not interfere with the normal process of promotion or relegation for the other Clubs. That said, they should be able to win any trophy ,Cup or title in their division but not enter the FA,CC or any other cup competition where they could potentially meet any EPL Club  nor enjoy any monetary or financial gain from their success. The individual players should be eligible to be called up at any time to the first team without prejudice to their position in the youth side.

5)      If the above didn’t work, then forming a truly competitive European Youth Club League for under 21, under 18 and under 16 youth teams is the next best alternative.

There are many more options to promote the concept of home-grown talent being fostered and prioritized versus big money, high profile, extravagant transfers which in the long run, hurt the Game.

Article written by Don McMahon.

6 Comments

Filed under Arsenal, Blog, Don McMahon, Football, Premiership, Sports

Times of Arsenal

Over the years, with the tumultuous spirals of being an Arsenal fan, I have gone through the various phases of success of one’s club. And there seems to be a very easy way to measure the success of your club. The time when fans of rival clubs absolutely despise you is the time when you are doing really well. The feeling has been a little old now, like a remainder of a drunken night out during college. You would be going through numerous brawls and arguments feeling quite charged up, ending up with a headache. But when you look back, you yearn with nostalgia for those times. Times, when people would come up to you and tell, that your lot never deserved to win that title, about how XYZ is a pure cheat and despite the zillions of goals he scores, he is despicable. The feeling was last enjoyed through the year in 2003 perhaps, with a spillover in 2004. 2005 had minor traces, before the feeling has seemed extinct, now for the last six years.

The next phase that I have experienced is when the rival fans start pitying you. They lament on the current rivals that they vie for the title with. Those were the days when United and Arsenal would fight for the title. What games, man! You never have the adrenalin in the title fights now. This would be the beginning of the realization that the opponent teams do not consider you anywhere in the zip code of a title shot. We continue to live in disbelief, convincing ourselves.  We narrowly missed it this year. All we are missing is one striker and a goalkeeper and a… My favourite one of all of them, possibly most heard from my mouth, “We ran out of luck at crucial times, but we will be back soon.. ”  I have exhausted myself with these words till 2010 on numerous occasions. And I genuinely would believe in them. I would oft use them in situations like when Ade missed an open goal, Ade scored a great goal against us, Eboue overcooked a cross, Clichy caught oversleeping, Almunia being fit etc. But, the truth always is that the luck had evened out for all the teams in the season. For every fit Almunia, a rival would have a fit Carrick. For every Clichy, there were the Rio moments. For every Ade miss, there was a period of sulking Drogba!

And then comes 2011. February to be precise. From February, it has felt that a giant kick, once and for all, has decided to wipe us of any false ambitions/ expectations, that as Arsenal fans, we felt entitled to. We have stooped to such a level that the rival fans do not pull our legs anymore. They do not even pity us anymore. We have become just the free garlic bread of the Premier league pizza. Everybody knows it’s there but nobody ordered the pizza to have garlic bread. It feels ok, since it’s free. Nobody acknowledges our existence as even a spent force. We have stooped to such lows that the only clinging thread we hang on to, as Arsenal fans, is our sense of humor. We are laughing at ourselves and the shambles that we are currently in. Every aspect of this season, from the transfers to this Tottenham game has been a joke. And the joke has been on us! Come on Arsenal, stop this nonsense! Give me back my glory days. I long to be hated by United and Chelsea fans again. I long to be told yet again, how the team is full of despicable people. I long to rewind time back by a decade, Arsenal. I long to walk back to the times of Arsenal!

Article written by V. Vikas

66 Comments

Filed under Arsenal, Blog, Football, Premiership, Sports, V.Vikas

Two steps forward, one step back

Over the last 7 weeks or so, we have been subjected to the rollercoaster ride called the Arsenal. Terrifying losses at Old Trafford and Blackburn were sandwiched in between marvellous defensive performances against Udinese and Dortmund away. Yet every time we faced a fairly average opponent, and that includes the Spuds, we dropped the ball so to speak. The panicky moaners and doubters who whine their lamentable outrage on the net after every win,tie or loss,the only difference being the volume of their vitriol, were out in spades this weekend after the WHL non-event. Every time our opponents score there are ceaseless diatribes as to our ability to defend. However,If the truth be told, a rarity amongst the gloomers and doomers, we are facing three unenviable and implacable foes; lady luck, the officials and ourselves.

Going at this in a logical way, here are the tortured routes Arsenal have had to endure to start this season:

a) Newcastle: Gervinho and Song suspended,out for the next three games but Barton escapes. Cesc and Wilshere not available, Nasri not interested. End result against a very average opponent and Poor officiating…..0-0

b) Udinese: Steady performance against a good side, officiating good….. 1-0 win.

c) Liverpool: Frimpong sent-off, Liverpool capitalized offside goal not disallowed, poor officiating….2-0 win.

d) Udinese: A very impressive and comforting defensive performance, Vermaelen seriously injured, but good officiating, 2-1 win.

e)Manchester United: worst performance by AFC in a decade but with a decimated and disjointed team chock full of inexperience and youth. United score 2 free kicks and 2  long-range shots that they’ll never repeat in a decade. RVP misses a key penalty…….8-2 loss.

f) Swansea: an adequate performance against a good side. Good officiating. Szcesny saved the day…… 1-0 win.

g) Dortmund: Best defensive performance in a months. Good officiating…… 1-1

h) Blackburn: two own goals and an offside goal, another once in a decade event. Poor officiating…… 3-4 loss.

i)  Shrewsbury: Good team effort against a committed opponent. Good officiating but Djourou injured…… 3-1 win.

j) Bolton: Strongest EPL performance to date, Koscielny injured. Fair officiating…… 3-0 win.

k) Olympiacos: good defensive performance overall. Officiating adequate……. 2-1 win.

l) WHL: A grievous officiating error allowed VdV to score and another once in a decade shot won the game for them. Sagna injured….. 2-1 loss.

To summarize; 9 players injured in just 7 EPL games, 6 first team players who are out for months, 3 offside goals allowed, 3 suspensions to key players for 3 games, 5 new faces parachuted in without benefit of a pre-season or even proper training and asked to fit in right away, selling out our two best central midfielders while our other top midfielder is out injured and at the same time Ramsey, Walcott, Arshavin, and Jenkinson are in various states of ineffectiveness and uncertainty while 5 of our 6 regular centrebacks are injured and we are forced to play a DMF as a CB yet we still can win important games.

I am not claiming that our current under achievement is due solely to bad officiating and bad luck but when our tendency to self-destruct is combined with incompetent officiating and key injuries to just about everybody, then there is room for understanding and patience here. The media have exacerbated this ¨crisis¨ from a minor readjustment to our traditional style, into a full-blown, Wengerian opera where the characters (fans,players) are involved in an internecine struggle against a greedy Board, an insular and continental manager, an entire team of want-away cry babies or worse still, toddlers who are barely toilet-trained yet ¨thrown into¨the breach against unbeatable odds and all this to a backdrop of mindless, drivelling, moronic, cretinous chatter from doomsayers and dilettantes calling themselves gooners.

We HAVE made some significant progress on all fronts this season, as follows:

  • Brought in 7 new faces in Jenkinson, Benayoun, Santos, Arteta, Gervinho, AOC, and Park, all of whom are promising replacements for our dearly departed heroes.
  • Brought up 4 very promising youth talents in Frimpong, Coquelin, Ryo, and Miguel.
  • Discovered just how good Szcesny is now and what he will become over the season.
  • Discovered how versatile Song is and how adaptable he can be when needed.
  • Shown we CAN defend as a team but need more time and training to allow us to solidify our defensive skills.
  • Displayed a consistency in the CL that we lack in the EPL, which should see us into the knock-out stages.
  • Shown that for the first time in a long time we have the bench strength to provide cover when needed.

I am not under the illusion that all is sweetness and light at the Emirates but unlike the whiny plastic fanboys who suffer every win,tie or loss as if they were all the same and whose sole purpose in their otherwise meaningless lives is to cry for Wenger’s blood, I hold to the prospect of Arsenal coming good sooner than later and dare anyone to prove me wrong based on a superior knowledge or argument otherwise.

Article written by Don McMahon.

42 Comments

Filed under Arsenal, Blog, Don McMahon, Football, Premiership, Sports

Some reflections on Arsenal’s apotheosis

Too many of our whiny fairweather fan-boys and AAA cheerleaders still spout off their FA Football Manager fantasy expertise like they had a faint idea about anything Football, when in fact they’re totally remiss. Not a one knows what AW and the coaches are trying to do to remedy the issues correctly identified by numerous analysts, pundits, media experts, former players and many true fans?
There is, since the CC tragedy-comedy last season, an obvious and growing inconsistency in how we play different opponents. We lost to Birmingham in the CC and one week later beat United, the EPL leaders. This season we go to the Dortmund Stadium and tie the current Bundesliga champions, an excellent team modelled on the Arsenal and the following Saturday we lose to a scruffy but determined Blackburn who were 20th in the EPL at the time. Why are we consistently inconsistent? Why can we beat Barcelona yet lose to a championship team in the same month? Why do we score 5 goals yet lose or score 4 goals and tie?
I am not pretending to have the answer to this or any other question related to tactics, confidence, pre-game preparation, substitutions, etc. What is evident however is that our team is NOT a team but a collection of valiant but disparate artisans playing a common game together but for varied motives. They don’t seem to trust each other or worse still, they make mistakes based on serious technical inattention (2 own goals???) and loss of focus at crucial moments. It isn’t that they are bad individually but that they seem to reinforce their play (successful or disastrous) at the same time and in the same manner.
This is largely due to a lack of organizational leadership, combined with inexperience, a certain naiveté and inattention, exacerbated by a failure of appropriate teamwork.
We have a superb keeper but even he can’t rely on his back 4 to properly contain any danger in the area. He is too young to be a great leader just yet and he also shows moments of uncertainty and inattention. Mertesacker, Sagna, Santos and Koscielny are not born leaders like Keown, Bould, and Campbell were.
As a whole and individually our back 4 have experience, height, speed and anticipation to rival any EPL club but here are the questions most fans and the many of the negative posts never bother to consider:

a) Which of our back 4 and defensive midfielders have the most goals scored directly against them in both open play and on set pieces? If we can identify this area, we can define who needs the most support and intervention.
b) Do we often outnumber the opponents in our goal area yet still allow goals? If this is, as I suspect, true, then we need to focus on a distribution of tasks and better man or zonal marking.
c) Is Szcesny aggressive enough and tough enough to boss the goal area? He is 6’5¨ and probably weighs in at 95 kilos or so….if he can’t intimidate opponents, then who can?
d) Are our defenders able to apply zonal marking well and consistently high calibre? If they can’t we need another system that suits their skill-sets better.
e) How much time and space does each of our defensive midfielders and back 4 allow their opponents and who is the worst offender? It often seems that we have lots of space behind our midfield and behind our back 4 on occasion where teams can drop a ball for an attacker. Can we flood these areas better and defend them more consistently and effeciently?
f) Who tracks back from our midfield and strikers and assists the defense? Who consistently fails to do that and what do the other on-field players do when this happens? You see ignoramuses who criticize some of our less valiant players like Arshavin, Walcott and Gervinho claiming they are ¨lazy¨, but in fact they can and do track back and help the defense BUT not often enough and not in an organized, consistent fashion…a simple thing to remedy if they are shown what to do.
g) How well do we play the offside trap and how many offside goals are awarded against us? How many times does our offside trap fail and who is/are the biggest culprit(s)? This is more due to inexperience and a constantly rotating back 4 because of injuries. When Vermaelen, Koscielny, Sagna, Per and Santos get together, we’ll see less of this. However we need a leader to coordinate the trap and so far we haven’t seen one in Vermaelen’s absence. When the linesman makes an error, the defence hesitate in trying the trap again so leadership is needed to encourage a coordinated approach.
h) How many times does a defensive clearance from our keeper, back 4 or defensive midfielders find their intended target and how many times does it fall to an opponent who promptly counterattacks? We don’t seem to have a backup plan when we lose the ball from one of our own clearances. We do very well when we get the ball from an opponent’s clearances (about 75% retention) but are less assertive and successful at retaining possession off opponent’s clearances. With more midfield coordination and work this can improve.
i) Is our style or tactical approach effective against free-kicks and corners? When it fails, who is most often responsible and why? We have improved, despite what the gloomers and doomers say but when we collapse, we do so spectacularly. In my opinion this is an area we have really improved in but we need Per to always take the tallest opponent, which is not the case now.
j) When a goal is scored against us, who takes leadership to encourage the players and regroup them or do we collectively drop our heads and just lineup for the kickoff as if already beaten? This is the most worrying and distressing thing I’ve seen at AFC  since the start of the season. We don’t have a Viera or Keown encouraging or kicking ass and getting us focused quickly.
k) How fast are our back four and defensive midfielders in getting into defensively solid positions when a rapid opponent’s counterattack starts? We tend to take too long to form a balanced and well shaped defensive zonal system. We have very fast fullbacks in Sagna, Jenkinson and Gibbs but we need Song and Frimpong, Ramsey and eventually Wilshere to setup more quickly and they need to be led by someone experienced.
l) How firm and committed are our tackles, especially in our final third? How often do we drop to the ground too early or back off a tackle for fear of having a penalty awarded against us because Rooney (or any other Olympic actor) took a dive? We need to be ferocious ala Keown, Rice, Bould but there are clear signs we are getting there. Frimpong and Song ARE hard but fair tacklersé
m) How cool and collected do we behave when under pressure defensively? This is a sign of our lack of teamwork and unitary thinking. We get panicky and tend to rush around like chickens with our heads cut off. This is due to our inexperienced and leaderless midfield.
n) Does every gunner display a defender’s mindset when needed or are we a ¨blitzkreig¨ team attacking with a vengeance but forgetting our 11 man defensive obligations too easily and too often? We are a Total Football club and switch from defense to attack at the blink of an eye BUT we need to be equally adept at switching from attack to an 11 man defensive posture when under pressure. We need to have RVP, Gervinho, Arshavin, Chamakh, Arteta and Benayoun adopt this defense first approach.
o) Is our transition from attack to defence in the midfield smooth and coordinated or is it sloppy, uncoordinated and dependent on one player (ie: Song)? We do not have a sophisticated or well oiled transitional strategy in place and we desperately need this if we are to defend properly.
p) How well do our defenders back each other up or do we tend to leave them on their own? Quite often, Jenkinson,Sagna, Gibbs or Santos are left on their own by Walcott or Arshavin. I watched Miyachi and Gervinho play in pre-season and they were supporting our fullbacks much better than Walcott or Arshavin. When Arshavin scored against Swansea it was because he had lost the ball to the keeper and was sauntering back, head down and uninvolved. Luckily he got the rebounded ball and scored.

There are more things we can discuss about improving our defensive performances and coordinating our attacks effectively in a transitional strategy that works but that is for a later date!

Article written by Don McMahon.

24 Comments

Filed under Arsenal, Blog, Don McMahon, Football, Premiership, Sports

Is it really what it seems to be – Arsenal’s injury crisis

I read an article on another Arsenal blog based on another article on Goal.com (I know I’m NOT supposed to go there since I like Wenger but what can I say!) mentioning a coach, Raymond Verheijen, in some forgotten league outside civilization who implied that Arsenal’s training sessions, warm-ups and exercises are all wrong and that this is the principle reason for our horrible injury record.

Normally I would shuffle this stuff over to the loo and flush it away with the rest of the anti-Arsenal offal we see on the net but it did get me thinking (I know I’m not supposed to do that either!) and wondered if, in some inexplicable way, this guy had actually hit on something. Here is the gist of his argument:

The problem is a lot of people think ‘more is better’ in terms of sessions.

Traditionally, people assume you have to develop the body first before you play the game.

They push players to extend their limits to get fitter because they copy the training methods from other sports. In a lot of sports, indeed, more is better such as cycling, running, gymnastics or swimming.

You have people who make football so unnecessarily complicated. Because of this scientific invasion people stop thinking themselves and stop using common sense. The world of football is brainwashed by fitness language. That’s why I always say, ‘Get back to basics’.

How is it possible that 10 different clubs have 10 different fitness coaches who use 10 different training methods? Players are the victim of subjectivity. Training methods should not be based on someone’s opinion or past experience. The training methods should be football-specific and use different principles to athletics and hockey.

At Arsenal he has suffered several muscle injuries which cannot be put down to bad luck.

Arsenal is only just another example of an underachieving team because of injuries due to incompetent periodisation and injury prevention.

His theory seems to be that the training methods Football teams currently use are too varied and are often based on the common ¨understanding¨ of what unrelated sports fitness and strength building exercises  should be but that Football is a different kettle of fish from all other sports. He felt that any team that trained continuously and intensively, using the traditional disparate methods, invited recurrent injuries, because these exercises and methods didn’t fit the Footballers’ needs or physiology. That does make a bit of sense and could be looked at, if it is even marginally true, as one of a number of reasons for such recurring injuries.
I am not a physiologist nor sports trainer but I did a great deal of work in Women’s soccer and we did discover that females are more prone to certain types of recurring injuries because of their different musculature and way of running, turning and jumping. When we adapted our warm-ups and length of time we did such exercises, we found that there were far fewer serious injuries to the girls. It was also interesting to note that a study done by our provincial FA showed that women were 50% more likely to get injuries playing football than males of the same age!
If this is true for Women’s football, then maybe it is true for men as well so AFC need to review their methods, have a sports medicine specialist tailor-make a new training and exercise regime and start applying alternate fitness strategies asap. I know Wenger is very open to new technologies and approaches so hopefully he will instigate a better program than the obviously ineffective one we are using now!

However, there are a number of other elements that probably contribute to our perennial rash of injuries and here are a few:

  1. Half the EPL pitches are inadequate for safe play and worsen as the winter season approaches.
  2. Certain teams love to charge opponents dangerously, which is encouraged by their managers and ignored by officials. The principle is that their opponents don’t like it up them and get intimidated thereby beating skill with force!
  3. A number of Arsenal’s regularly injured players were brought back into competition without an adequate rest and rehabilitation period due to desperate need.
  4. Certain players were not permitted to take time off from the competition and so played too many matches, with inadequate recuperation time between games, due to lack of backups.
  5. We are a smallish and lightweight team compared to about half of the EPL Clubs and that becomes a disadvantage when competing against stronger, rougher sides. Thus our increased injury risk.
  6. Because of the Cups, National and International competitions and no winter-break, our best players will often play 2 games a week and quite often 3 games of high-intensity Football. A few of our best players were injured on meaningless International duty.
  7. We have to question the rehabilitation procedures AFC provide. Players seem to get re-injured all too quickly and repeatedly (Gibbs, Diaby, Walcott, etc.) so why isn’t our physio team able to prevent these recurrences?

Nobody (other than Wenger?) knows what the exact problem(s) is but since 2005, we have been severely hindered by our failure to keep a fit team over a complete season. When added to the bad officiating we’ve endured and the serious media attempts at dismantling of our reputation, we have to be focused on remediating the injury epidemic before anything else.

Article written by Don McMahon.

24 Comments

Filed under Arsenal, Blog, Don McMahon, Football, Premiership, Sports