I have been thinking a lot recently about how my feelings toward Arsene Wenger have changed over the course of this season. In recent years whilst having complete and total respect and gratitude for what he had achieved for our club I had found myself drifting away from the man. It was not a conscious decision and it certainly did not happen over a short space of time but I had reached a point where my initial reaction when seeing him from my seat near the dugout or when interviewed on television was not one of warmth. Indeed if I was asked any time between 2012 and the end of last season to use one word and one word only that best summed up by it would have been ‘Frustration.’
Had I been asked would I want him sacked my retort would have been ‘No’ but were I asked would I want him given a new deal my answer probably also would have been ‘No.’ It would be safe to say that I therefore fell into neither acronym camp but it would also be fair to say that my frustrations at the great man were not born out of the lack of big money signings or even his inability to deliver trophies as with many. I always recognised the constraints and whilst not a scholar of the accounts like some it was not his perceived unwillingness to spend the money that was reportedly always there, that irritated me.
Equally I hold no truck with the views of some that Wenger in fact over achieved or remained at par given the unlimited wealth of some of his competitors. Wenger never had the money of United in the late 90s or early 2000s but he was able to out deal and out think Fergie on several occasions. I think that view is rife amongst those who only recognise the Premier League and the Champions League as noteworthy silverware. For those traditionalists such as me, both domestic cups mean everything and in the well documented 9 year gap Wenger could easily have won them on several occasions had he taken them more seriously.
However that is going over old ground and perhaps opening old wounds which I have no wish to do. These musings are inspired by a growing realisation in the past 12 months that my recent indifference toward Wenger was lessening and my affection for him growing and a healthy respect re-emerging from somewhere within me.
In reality the soul searching to find the cause of these unexpected symptoms is not actually so hard. You see the ice began to melt for me on the FA Cup run last season and really kicked in when I was at Wembley for both the semi final and the final. Certainly as waited for the team to go up the steps to lift the FA Cup once more and during the lap of honour I was crying for joy. For myself, for the team and yes for Arsene Wenger, our much maligned manager. Continue reading →
Arsenal may consider the upcoming international break as a good opportunity to take stock and recharge the batteries ahead of one big final push towards a top four finish, but there is also the train of thought that the break may come at the wrong time. A superb run of form has put the Gunners in a wonderful position to not only qualify for the Champions League for the 18th consecutive year under Arsene Wenger, but also mount a late challenge to overtake Manchester City who, despite currently sitting second, are starting to falter. The manner of their European exit at the hands of Monaco may spur Arsenal on to make amends in the Premier League, but Liverpool’s visit to the Emirates on April 4th could be a crucial moment in the season for both teams. Although some correctly predicted that Liverpool would be too strong for Swansea, they will face a much greater challenge against a team who could still catch Chelsea at the Premier League summit.
Strong performance required
A fantastic run of eight straight league wins on home soil may make Arsenal favourites to come out on top against Liverpool, but they will need to be firing on all cylinders to break down a side who have not conceded a single goal in their previous six away matches. It is not within Arsenal’s DNA to take a shot at goal at the earliest opportunity, but the likes of Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez may have to assemble alternative ideas on the training ground if their tried and trusted one-touch football fails to break down a resolute defence. More importantly, a fixture between two teams competing for a top four finish could come down to who gains control of the midfield area; this places the spotlight on Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey who have to find a balance between supporting the play and ensuring that Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen are kept under wraps. While Wenger will keep his fingers crossed for no serious injuries during the international break, the Liverpool game could see the return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta who could all play a crucial role for the Gunners between now and the end of the season.
It may seem surprising that Liverpool have received plaudits for having a wonderfully resolute defence, considering the lack of concentration and number of errors which creep into their game all too often, but six consecutive clean sheets away from Anfield is a sign that Brendan Rodgers is basing his charge towards a Champions League spot on strong foundations at the back. Last season’s Premier League runners-up may be a shadow of the team that plundered in 101 league goals, but Liverpool’s recent run of thirteen games unbeaten demonstrates that they should not be taken lightly by any means. Rodgers will also be hoping that all of his players come back unscathed after the international break, but long-term absentees Jose Enrique and Brad Jones may be the only injury concerns that Liverpool have going into a game that ultimately make or break their season.
Who know we may see another one of these, which would be nice:
There are many articles in the press and on Arsenal sites correctly and understandably lauding the emergence and the form of Francis Coquelin. This is hardly surprising given the fairy tale aspect of his recent story being recalled in desperation from a largely uninspiring loan at then Championship strugglers Charlton. Although I am told he was one of the few positives and his commitment to their cause exemplary. Those who claim to have seen it coming are presumably exaggerating or liars, as most of us, along it would appear with our manager had given up on young Francis. A future in North London with a shiny new contract must have been the furthest thing from the player’s mind in January.
His display against Fellaini and United was imperious and will I hope have banished from his mind the one below par performance since his return, when he struggled against Monaco – Let’s face it he was not alone that evening! His resurgence has been made me stop pining for Morgan and brought to mind a very early blog I wrote before I even had this site. Having seen him dominant at DM v Shrewsbury and then excel at left back in the NLD, I as many others thought we had a real player on our hands. Now it seems I was correct but I had seen little evidence since and I am not claiming to have always believed he was the answer. Indeed I would never have suspected that he would even be an Arsenal player beyond June. Football truly is an amazing game and never ceases to surprise us but one thing that will never change and |I have witness first hand, being around various professional academies is that talent alone without dedication, hard work and self belief will never produce a professional footballer. The non-league and lower leagues are filled with players who never made it and many will have the talent but not the work ethic to go with it.
It is this thought that has been in my head for the last week and inspired me to do some research. Many bemoan the lack of home grown talent coming though our academy and others and perhaps blame either the foreign influx or our own set up. Of course Arsenal are not alone in the upper echelons and perhaps Southampton is the exception to the rule in the EPL. I just thought I would use the Coquelin inspiration to illustrate just how difficult it is to make the leap from promising youngster to full time regular first team professional. As an aside my son left AFC Bournemouth, then of League 1 aged 16. 9 of his peers received scholarships in 2010 – Only 2 of them have played any 1st team football and only one this season in the League Cup.
So it is nigh on impossible to make the grade in the Championship and yet still we criticise our own academy for its lack of production. So let’s return to where I first picked up on Francis Coquelin and wrote about him. He jumped to my attention when he starred for France in the 2011 Under20 World Cup where he played all bar one game for his national side on a run to the Semi-Finals, showing superb discipline anchoring the midfield without a single yellow card. Being 19/20 you would assume that a side of young professionals reaching the final 4 in the World against their peers would all be starring for top sides across Europe or in France and perhaps even be the backbone, now aaged 23/24 of Deschamps French National squad. Continue reading →
Yesterday I began to write about my early admiration for Gabriel (pre-injury) and his attributes and I suggested my pondering on what he might mean for the team might would continue. Whilst it is very early days on our new Brazilian it is hard not to feel excited about the new flexibility his confident introduction to the first team set up will give Wenger.
So what do I mean? Is not just a pleasant decision of which 2 from 3?
Okay well let’s put cards on the table from the off and say that this blog is based on nothing but personal thoughts, a hunch and a sprinkling of blue sky thinking! Having said that after years of frustration at Wenger for insisting on playing the same 4231 religiously since last April ‘Le Boss’ has suddenly shown a greater degree of flexibility in team set up. He has done this in play, twice last season at Wembley switching to 442 to save and win the Semi and the FA Cup Final. This term he has tinkered game to game flitting from his favoured 4231 to a more solid 4141, most dramatically at the Etihad and often a variant of either a 433. So when I suggest Wenger may see the emergence of Gabriel as giving him an option of looking at another system I may not be totally off piste.
Football undoubtedly evolves and adapts and many topsides switched from 442 to 4231 over the past decade including of course the Arsenal. For Wenger what began as a more defensive 451 away in Europe became a 4231 to harness the prodigious creative talent of Fabregas at CAM. If we accept that there are trends and styles that come and go in popularity and effectiveness we would be foolish to ignore the fact that many sides in the Premier League have dabbled with or stuck with, in some cases, variations on the 3 man defensive set up. Something Arsenal themselves enjoyed success with in 1989 and played again under Rioch. In both cases it could be argued that Graham and Rioch used the system because they had to or more defensively rather than by design pr as an attacking platform; but what of such systems today.
Man City have used a 3 man defence under Mancini and Pellegrini and United have experimented with a 3 this season with Van Gaal, both with arguable success. What is certainly not arguable is that Brendan Rodgers has constructed or fallen upon, depending on who you believe, a system using 3 centre backs that works very well for Liverpool. Liverpool’s variation is more a 343 or 3421 which is a modernization of the 352 which was used largely in Serie A and indeed by England’s national team at Italia 90.
Both systems have huge merit and seeing Gabriel slot so seamlessly into the Arsenal side got me thinking about whether the Brazilian might give Wenger cause to consider a 3 man defence, particularly give the attacking prowess of our current ill-disciplined full backs. What was merely a thought initially took shape more concretely in my mind when I learned more about Gabriel’s background – Namely that in his breakthrough season and 2nd season as a professional he played almost exclusively for Vittoria. Now given that we have a very accomplished left footed defender who has proved himself centrally this season in Monreal and in my opinion the best deep lying centre back in the Premier League in Koscielny surely the thought must have crossed Wenger’s mind?? Continue reading →
Apologies for there being nothing from me for some time but just occasionally something occurs that I feel worth writing on. In truth there are so many Arsenal blogs and bloggers these days and the subject matter is limited and so new material is scarce. However something has been playing on my mind since Sunday’s win over Everton and it would be fair to say that one man has provided the inspiration. The number on his shirt is 5, his name is Gabriel and in 2 matches I feel already we are looking at a player that can carry our defence for years to come.
Barring 2 nervous mistakes on Sunday he was truly fabulous. His reading of the game is superb and as such areas of potential danger are anticipated. He obviously is already developing in a short space of time an understanding with Koscielny and he spoke of this after his debut in the cup. However what I really like is that despite being a ball playing defender as you would expect that from a Wenger purchase, he has the inclinations of traditional British centre back. What I mean there is that if a header is there to be cleared it will be headed into touch and if a clearance beckons it will be launched either into the opposition half or row Z!
Why is this important to me and to Arsenal? Well simply because in recent years, particularly with Mertesacker defensive clearances do not have the distance or don’t go out of play when they should and as such we are continually inviting pressure back on ourselves when we do not need to do so. Continue reading →