Gooners get gloaty as rivals trip over weekend’s fixtures

By Tim Todd, Eeyore Impersonator 

Great weekend for the Arsenal: after Arsenal beat Newcastle 1-0, Liverpool lost 3-0 to West Ham at Anfield, Chelsea lost 2-1 to Palace at Stamford Bridge, Tottenham eked out a 0-0 draw against Everton at White Hart Lane, and Man U lost 2-1 to Swansea at the Liberty Stadium¹.

As the final whistle in the Man U match drew the weekend to a close there was a carnival atmosphere on twitter — full of happy Arsenal fans, laughing at the misery of Chelsea, Man U, and “lollerpool”. I was stunned by the results but couldn’t quite bring myself to gloat too much. In fact, I almost tweeted “great results for Arsenal this weekend, when does the open top bus parade start?” but thought the better of it because it seemed too cynical.

I’m cynical here for good reason though. I mean, did we forget that Arsenal lost to West Ham at home on the first day of the season? How can we possibly laugh at Liverpool’s defeat when we lost in a spectacular fashion ourselves? Or how about how Swansea beat us twice last season? Cynical me guesses we were all excited because Arsenal played better against Palace than Man U. Because I honestly don’t see the reason why fans were so happy.

It’s been a funny old season so far. Only Manchester City look like a real title contender as each of the traditional top four teams have struggled mightily to get off the mark offensively against teams that pack in their defenses.

Part of that is down to spending, not as much as people like to think, but it is true that teams like Stoke, Palace, and West Ham have brought in fleet-footed players with enough talent to give big clubs problems. The real change, though, is that clubs like Palace, West Ham, and Swansea are all playing counter attacking football against these big teams.

It’s an old strategy and one that typically failed in the past. But it’s one that works particularly well when you have more talented players up front who are bedded in to the English Premier League and understand the physical demands of the game.

And we shouldn’t get drawn into the idea that these teams have spent big this summer and that’s why they are winning. Gomis is Swansea’s top goal scorer and he’s been with the club now for two years. Mahrez (supposedly an Arsenal target) is Leicester’s top goal scorer and he’s been with the club for three years. Diafra Sakho is West Ham’s most dangerous player and he’s been with the club for two years. It’s only Bakary Sako, the Crystal Palace forward, who has been brought in this year and is making an instant impact, though he did play for Wolves in the League Championship last season. They spent money, but they spent it last year, there are very few “instant impact” players in the League. In each of those cases the team bought the player and took an entire season to acclimate them to English football.

And before we get too gloaty, Arsenal have a hellish schedule after the Nationalism break: home to Stoke Shaquiri on the 12th, away to Zagreb on the 16th, and away to Chelsea on the 19th. Then a whopping four days rest before Arsenal face Tottenham at White Hart Lane in the League Cup on the 23rd. Three days later we get to see Mahrez up close and personal (unless we buy him) as Arsenal travel to Leicester. And to round off the month of September? Olympiacos at home on the 29th!

The good news is that Arsenal get nearly a week break before they face Man U on the 4th. Then another two-week Nationalism break before Arsenal have to play Watford, Bayern, and Everton in a week.

I don’t know about you guys, maybe all that gloating about the results this weekend won’t come back to bite us, I really hope not.

Just stuff

I’m working on a lot of data mining and applying for various writer’s jobs during this nationalism break. I’ll try to keep posting things here but if the blog goes fallow for a few days you know why. Les and I have a piece coming up about Hleb and I will try to throw you all some tidbits every few days to keep your attention but I have a lot of pots on a lot of burners at the moment and frankly, this break is a welcome relief.

Thanks for all your continued support of the site and don’t worry, I’ll probably never get a real job writing so you’ll be stuck with me here forever. It’ll be something we can tell the grandkids about.

Qq

¹We’ve only come to see your belly!

 

Sanchez

Arsenal: all beef, no filler

Do I want a striker? Yes. Who doesn’t want a striker? I would love a top quality striker at Arsenal. As the old adage goes “show me a top manager and I’ll show you a top striker”. A player like Thierry Henry would transform this Arsenal team into a beastly attacking team.

The problem is that there are no Henry’s stacked around like cans on a shelf waiting to be bought. As Wenger put it:

“We are open and we are in the transfer market. If we find an exceptional player in any sector, we will do it. At the moment I don’t know if something will happen or not.”

Wenger has been looking and turned up no players that Arsenal can afford, who want to come to Arsenal, and who improves Arsenal. There’s always a chance that a player will become available like Özil did a few years ago but that requires some kind of exceptional transfer to take place, like the Bale move to Real. I’m not seeing anything on that level at the moment.

It’s easy to say “Arsenal need a striker” but it’s not easy to just go out and get one of the quality needed to turn around this run of poor form. Pundits will say that all Arsenal need is another body but again I’m unconvinced by that argument. Cavani, the forward du jour now that Benzema has stated unequivocally that he doesn’t want to leave Madrid, is one of the most underwhelming forward names I can think of and after you go down the list of “available” players the quality gets more and more iffy.

But the problem at Arsenal isn’t a lack of bodies at the moment, it’s that the bodies we have aren’t performing at their previous levels.

Take Sanchez: he has 20 shots already this season and hasn’t scored a single goal. By his standard of last season he should have nearly 3. But let’s say he scored 2 or even 1! It would be better than what he’s putting out there right now, which is zero.

Same with Giroud. Giroud has 16 shots already and by Giroud’s standards of the last three years, he should have at least two goals. He is currently the only player to score a goal for Arsenal — a sideways bicycle kick — but he also missed three sitters and even by his own low standards of around 35% conversion of big chances his zero conversion right now is pretty poor. We can do this with all the players who have squandered shots: Ramsey has 11 shots and no goals, Cazorla has 9, and so on.

As the season kicked off the assumption was made that most of these Arsenal players would get better in their second season. So far they have not only not gotten better but seem to have gotten worse. And as they miss chance after chance the temptation is to look at players like Mahrez and Gomis scoring goals for Leicester and Swasea and say that they would improve Arsenal. But form is temporary and the question you have to ask yourself is whether the quality of these Arsenal players has dropped since last season and whether the quality of those players has significantly improved over the season before.

Is Alexis on the decline? That seems unlikely. Is Ramsey on the decline? Again, that seems highly unlikely. Is Theo Walcott on the decline? Probably not. It’s reasonable to assume that none of these players are on the decline — that they have lost their talent. Just in terms of scoring (which I say because I am aware that Theo doesn’t offer much else to the team and that frustrates me as well), all three of these players will eventually come good and score their chances.

To be fair to the “Arsenal need bodies” people, it seems likely that Alexis needs a rest, Ramsey is being played out of position, and Giroud could possibly be on the decline — though that would take a bold statement and be difficult to prove until at least half way through the season, he looks the same to me. But given the lack of top quality strikers available, and you can see that by the fact that Chelsea, Man U, and other top teams are struggling to find one, at best any “body” at this point would be filler and the price a fan would pay for filler and the price an astute manager would pay for that filler are vastly different.

Qq

Lick it up

Newcastle v. Arsenal: not the same old Newcastle

Arsenal travel to Tyneside today and if you’re expecting them to face the same Newcastle that Arsenal met last season when the Gunners won 2-1 you’re going to be in for quite a surprise.

John Carver’s manager-as-stand-up-comedian sideshow has been replaced with the more serious Steve McLaren’s “culture of excellence”. Young, hungry, serious players have been brought in after a season of turmoil and, even more important, the fans are back in the stands having temporarily forgiven owner Mike Ashley after a summer transfer splurge of £46m.

When these two teams met last season it was Arsenal who were in rude form and the Gunners sealed all three points off a two goal outburst from forward Olivier Giroud. Arsenal then held on to the lead, despite some sloppy defending which allowed Newcastle to climb back into the match, thanks to a great save from then starting ‘keeper David Ospina.

But fortunes seem to have reversed and Arsenal have managed to blow away any fog of goodwill they built up this summer with the capture Chelsea number one Petr Cech. The Gunners have struggled to get off the mark this season scoring just one goal off 61 shots and have dropped 5 points after some comedy defending in their two home openers.

Arsenal started the season on high having won back to back FA Cups and playing some fantastic pre-season football. Naturally, the talk was about “pushing on” and challenging for the League title. But after just one win in three matches Arsenal have had their wings burnt a bit and are fluttering back down to earth.

If Arsenal are going to be serious title contenders they need to start winning and start winning today.  Winning is about putting the ball into the back of the net and while it’s nice that Arsenal have created more shots than any team in the Premier League, the fact that they have only scored one goal from those shots (with their only other an own goal in a narrow 2-1 win over Crystal Palace) is surely a sign that Arsenal’s edge looks a bit dull.

Worse, the whole Arsenal team has lacked sharpness so far this season. Two errors for goals in the opening game of the season, one by Cech and the other by fan favorite Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, proves that Arsenal also need to work on their cohesion and communication across the pitch.

And Wenger seems insistent on playing Aaron Ramsey on the right, which is causing fans much dismay. Fans are traditionalists and would much rather see a player like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain play there in order to provide some width and trickery. The Ox is a much better player with ball at feet but Ramsey is the more complete player and despite his propensity to cut inside and make diagonal runs to the opposite channel it hasn’t hurt Arsenal at all — see above where I said Arsenal are creating more chances than any other team.

The main issue for Arsenal then is finishing and not making mistakes. Both of which show a lack of sharpness. Wenger is well aware of the problems and stated:

Finishing is a bit cyclic. We need to continue to create chances and the goals will happen. And I believe we have been a bit insecure at the back because we had just lost our two starting center backs [Koscielny and Mertesacker to injury] but we stabilized well in the second half.

As for the lineups Arsenal will continue with the replacement center back pairing of Chambers and Gabriel from the 0-0 draw against Liverpool on Monday as Mertesacker and Koscielny have not regained fitness. Cech had his breakout performance of the season with eight saves and having a ‘keeper in top form at the back should help the two young center backs with any lack of confidence. The rest of the lineup should also remain unchanged. Up front, Olivier Giroud is a not-so-secret weapon against the Magpies, having scored eight goals in six meetings.

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren has introduced a number of new players (and methods intended to clean up player attitudes) to his lineup but the Magpies are struggling with form as well having drawn two and lost one of their opening three matches. Though one of those draws was against Premier League big spenders Manchester United in an away game at Old Trafford.

Attacking players Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic, and Florian Thauvin were bought this summer to add youth and speed to Newcastle’s attack. They haven’t gelled yet but Mitrovic and Wijnaldum were top players in the Jupiler League and Eredivisie last season and Thauvin revealed that Arsenal were after him this summer.

Thauvin in particular could give Arsenal fits if Wenger sticks with Ramsey on the right as he is a left footed player and could be used to spring counter attacks when Ramsey vacates his spot on the right to drift inside. As usual Francis Coquelin will have his work cut out for him containing both sides of the pitch as Arsenal press to look for an advantage.

Both Arsenal and Newcastle will be looking to get their stuttering seasons off to a start today. Arsenal have the quality to beat Newcastle but my suspicion is that the match will be won or lost in the first 20 minutes. Are the Gunners up for it?

Qq