I have not written for some time on 1ND2OU mostly due to lack of time and partly due to lack of inspiration. It is sad therefore that my inspiration to write something relevant should come from our heaviest defeat in years. Yesterday was humiliating for our club, for our fans and one assumes for our players and staff. Many are looking to blame players, coaching staff of both but the simple fact of the matter was we were tactically woeful and just not good enough to cope with a well drilled Chelsea machine.
Even those who unstintingly support Wenger cannot fail to have noticed the huge gulf in tactical awareness and game plan. However this is strange given how well we executed a defensive rear guard against Tottenham a week earlier. Perhaps this says more about our North London rivals lack of quality offensively than our organisation defensively, I am not certain. What is certain is that when we go to the tough away games we have to be compact and better organised in the first 20/30 minutes. The full backs should be close to the centre backs in this phase, and force the opposition wide and not surging forward leaving huge gaping holes for good players to exploit. If you listen to the likes of Dixon, Winterburn or Keown they say the same. This situation is worsened and it pains me to say this when the deepest lying midfielder is not mobile or swift enough to make up ground and cover.
However it was and is not only our lack of pace that against the better teams has seen us over run and out fought in midfield. I guess this has always been there in the back of my mind, and perhaps I have tried to ignore the nagging doubt out of loyalty or affection for some of our present players, but we simply are not big, strong enough and tough enough. For the last 8 years or so Arsene has consistently bought small, technically gifted, creative players and this has resulted in some very pretty on the eye football, but also in a period when on many occasions when playing top side we lose the battle in the engine room. You only have to look at Luiz and Matic yesterday, or Toure and Fernandinho each week and I am sure most Gunners mind automatically think of Vieira and Gilberto.
I am no different to many fans in that I am fiercely protective of our players and defend them, probably too much, but I thought I would have a look at just how different the modern Arsenal midfield is compared to our all conquering team. I am not particularly interested in the striker debate for today at least but more those that play between the defence and the main striker. The comparison not perfect but in reality it is the five players in the midfield area, albeit in a differing formation. That of course is another pet subject of mine to return to shortly. What is of interest of the comparative size and therefore strength of the 2 sides in a battle versus a top rival? We all remember how teams looked at the Arsenal players in the tunnel in the 2001-2005 era and lost the game before a ball was kicked. The below table compares the relative statures of the key individuals assuming the fully fit squad and based on the most regular selection:
|Player 2004||Height||Weight||Player 2014||Height||Weight|
Now I don’t want to turn this into a conversation akin to a rugby commentary but you would have to say that the comparative size and weight of the 2 packs are unfavourable. Obviously I jest but not only were the 04 players superior, but we know that they were simply bigger, stronger athletes and in games against other technically gifted players in the big intense games this sued to count for something and it should again. Arteta and Flamini can tackle but there are occasions when in a midfield dual or 50/50 it is just about out muscling.
Not only were the 04 group physically more dominant but they were all quick when attacks broke down to get back and support the defence. Ramsey and Ox may have pace but Arteta, Cazorla and Wilshere simply do not.
We should also highlight the back up and squad strength as I do not wish to be accused of just using key examples to prove a point.
|Player 2014||Height||Weight||Player 2004||Height||Weight|
So in 2004 we had 8 midfielders/support strikers who played a significant role in that historic season and not a single man with a fighting weight under 70kg. In 2014 we have 9 and only Ozil, who does not play in the engine room where games can be won or lost, with a weight over 70kg.
Of course the balance would have been slightly in the favour of the modern era players/squad had we been able to call on Abou Diaby. Diaby does have the build and stature, standing 1.88m tall and weighing in at around 78kg, but if we are honest with ourselves he is less likely to be a factor going forwards.
Some of our current crop, despite their stature do have the combativeness to compensate for their lack of physical presence and I would include Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rosicky in that number. Looking to the future therefore if we are to compete with the best, some tricky decisions may have to be made that seem unpalatable to some supporters.
Despite the new contracts a decision will need to be made about Cazorla/Ozil as I cannot see us winning the big games with them both in the starting eleven. Santi is an enigma and a magician on occasion but he is physically overpowered and left on the ground complaining too often for me. The Spaniard is shrugged off the ball far too easily and far too often. Sadly at present the same can be said of Jack Wilshere which stuns me if I am honest. I thought he had the world at his feet and last season when he dominated Swansea in the cup replay. Similarly we all felt the same 2 years earlier against Barca. The reality is that against those teams the physical contest was more even and Jack dominated but he simply cannot do so against the Chelsea’s and City’s of this division. This may in fairness be due to his injury woes but right now he is not ready to play alongside Ramsey in the present system.
Now we do not know who will be our manager next season yet and therefore cannot tell if we will continue with the 42130 Wenger has favoured since Fabregas came to the fore. However I think whether we revert to a variation of a 442 or stay as we are we need to strengthen the midfield spine. Some one of the stature of a Vieira or a Gilberto Silva is essential to play alongside Ramsey in either formation.
I advocated Arteta as a deep lying midfielder in May 2012 and his presence and football brain have in many cases over compensated for his lack of strength, physical presence and speed over the ground. I am far from convinced even with Ramsey fit and alongside him he is the solution next season and Flamini despite his aggression is certainly not. No the solution needs to have the attributes of a Gilberto/Vieira cross and he has to be able to slot in alongside Aaron Ramsey and hit the ground running in pre-season. That is why I favour Morgan Schneiderlin although I know many would prefer a Bender or a Pogba but I have not watched these guys as much as I have MS who has already demonstrated he has what it takes to compete with the best in this unforgiving league.
Schneiderlin led Europe in tackles and interceptions for most of last season and has continued his impressive form in a Saints side that had surprised many in 2013/14. He is 1.81 metres in height and around 75/76kg and has all the attributes missing in our current two options, or perhaps a better description would be he combined the best of Arteta and Flamini. He would provide the perfect and secure platform for Ramsey and Ozil to do their thing.
It is just over a year ago I first advocated him and I know that Wenger is an admirer of the player. Another advantage for Arsenal is that despite obviously being of international quality, having been in England since the age of 18 he seems to be ignored by Les Bleus. The likes of Gonalons, Pogba, Matuidi and Varrrane all seem to be ahead of Schneiderlin, which has led to hints of a switch to England by the player. However the fact that he is not an international would not put me off as he will be mighty fresh in July as despite the many world cup betting offers available the odds on Morgan going to Brazil are long. However, if playing regularly for Arsenal one might suspect that international recognition could follow. As it has for many Frenchmen coming to the Arsenal Clichy, Sagna, Flamini, Nasri and many more were uncapped or had only one or 2 when arriving in N5.
Whether it is Morgan or another we must all be agreed that we are looking a tall, strong, mobile deep lying midfielder with a good passing range and discipline – EASY!
Well that is enough for today and perhaps on another day I will consider the left wing position as it appears to me at least that neither Podolski nor Cazorla are the long term solution however much we have wanted them to be. We need a Pires style athlete with strength, pace and technique if we are to continue with 4231 and compete.
In case you think I am alone with this train of thought I will leave you with a headline and a quote from Wenger in the Guardian in June 2011 after our habitual Spring collapse:
Guardian Headline June 1st
Arsène Wenger targets tall players to boost Arsenal’s title challenge
We need to improve the size of the squad, says Wenger
“It’s something that’s easy to correct. We need to improve the size of our squad. We need a bigger variety in the height of our players. We need to be more capable of fighting against some characteristics than we have been this season.”
Three years later I fear we are still waiting for Wenger to follow his own advice…..
Until next time
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