Monthly Archives: December 2012


Lopez, Zaha, Goetze and more, which wide man should Arsenal target?

Quick post, mostly to spark discussion rather than for me to give you an answer. Everyone seems assured that their solution to Arsenal’s problem is the right one, and I agree with them all. Could Arsenal buy another starting forward like Cavani and relegate Giroud to the bench or play him as part of a 4-4-2? Sure. That might work wonders. Could Arsenal buy a decent backup to Giroud, Llorente let’s say, and have him come off the bench or play when Arsenal need to give the Frenchman a rest? I can see an argument for that. Could Arsenal take a player like Cazorla and move him to the wings, thus allowing the team to play two forwards instead of three? Or let Rosicky take Cazorla’s place and Cazorla be the wing player that we all know that Arsenal need? Yep and yep.

All good suggestions, all doable with key purchases, and all may or may not help the club win something this season. Let’s take the example du jour, Demba Ba. I’ve seen it written that if Arsenal don’t try to buy Ba it would be the equivalent of malfeasance on the part of the Arsenal board. That’s how much of a no-brainer purchase Demba Ba is for £7m plus salary demands. What I’ve seen from Ba so far in his career is a player who plays hot for six months, then takes six months off. He did it last year before Cisse arrived, scoring 15 goals before the ACN and just 1 goal after. It’s not a case that he didn’t get shots, he had 49 shots and just one goal, including games where he had 8 shots and 6 shots without a goal. He also managed to go that entire time with just one assist. He did something similar the season before with Hoffenheim, this time it was over a contract dispute.

But maybe I’m wrong, maybe he was being played out of position last year, maybe he was right to agitate for a move to West Ham, and maybe he should get the starting nod over Giroud. I’m ok with those arguments. But are you ok with the counter argument that paying £7m for a 27 year old, who cannot pass a physical, who has a history of coasting through seasons, who has agitated twice for bigger paydays, and who wants a five year deal worth £80k a week might be the exact kind of contract stupidity that people bemoan when it comes to players like Diaby? It’s a big gamble, a £28m gamble using the numbers above.

Personally, I don’t think Arsenal need a forward. I think the club has three forwards and besides which everyone wants to play centrally anyway. Need a pacy player who can come off the bench and go at tired opposition or can be the small in a big-small partnership? Walcott has 9 goals and 6 assists in Premier League and Champions League play. Need a handful up front to win aerials and give options on crosses? Olivier Giroud has 7 goals and 5 assists in the two leagues. Need a backup forward who can play wide, can play alone up front and whose hallmark is efficiency? Podolski has 9 goals and 7 assists for Arsenal.

Between those three players, Arsenal should have the forward position covered, but only if Arsenal buy a player who can play wide because right now those three all start and Podolski and Walcott are Arsenal’s nominal wide men, wide men who coincidentally all like to occupy the same place on the pitch, the penalty spot.

There’s no doubting that Arsenal lack width and a player with pace and trickery to get past the opposition down the wings. Especially one who then doesn’t mind staying wide and playing in a cross. Ox is our only player who actually likes playing out wide and he’s good at dribbling but still not great at crossing, Arshavin doesn’t seem to like playing at all, and Theo only plays wide because the boss tells him to. Walcott’s not great at dribbling but but he’s actually good at crossing as shown by the assist for Giroud’s header against Newcastle.

Meanwhile, Gervinho can dribble but he can’t cross and that leaves it up to the fullbacks (Sagna and Gibbs) to provide the crosses. Gibbs has been playing well the last few games and that uptick in form has him up to 11 successful crosses in the League this year, less than one a game.

Before I’m accused of wanting to turn the team into Liverpool, I need to say that I’m not obsessed with crosses. They are not the be-all-end-all of football, that’s the through ball (only half joking). But the problem with Arsenal’s “wing” players is that they tend to dribble inside too much and leave the crossing up to the fullbacks, this is part of what makes Arsenal’s game predictable.

Arsenal have a player who can dribble and cross, his name is Cazorla. And now that I’ve said that we must do the mental calculus of deciding whether moving him from the hole to the wing is the best thing for the team and something that the player wouldn’t think of as a demotion. Moreover what formation do you use? A 4-4-2? Sure! Who’s the ball winning center mid? Ettiene Capoue! I can accept all these arguments and yet none of them at the same time.

As you can see, any change is sort of like Dr. Tyrell explaining to Roy Batty why he can’t just mutate his DNA and give him more life.

What if you move Cazorla to the wing?
Yes, and then play Rosicky in the hole. But why demote Cazorla when he’s playing so well there, why not buy a real wide player and let Cazorla be the creative force in the middle and use Rosicky as his legitimate backup, that would be less disruptive to the system.
What if we buy Cavani and use Giroud as a backup?
It’s a good plan for the point in the 4-3-3 but doesn’t address the problem that Arsenal are playing with three center forwards and no real wide players thus necessitating the fullbacks to play as wingers and forcing Arsenal to play high up the pitch at all times… but this, all of this is academic. You were made as well as we could make you.


My position is simple, let’s get in a wide player this January. Someone who can dribble and cross. Someone who has the touch to not turn the ball over a lot and who has the vision to play through balls. He should also be able to pass well overall not demand a lot of shots (because there are none left!) and if he’s going to cost us a golden calf, better be young enough to be worth it.

You can pick anyone you want, except Adrian Lopez. My pick would be Goetze but I’m guessing that Arsenal are going to take Zaha instead and like everything else, I can see an argument for him. 20 years old, 5 goals, 3 assists, English. Yep, Zaha,

Oh, and let’s get Theo Walcott signed up.



Arsenal 7-3 Newcastle: Chaos

There was a time when a match which ended 7-3 might have been counted among the “classics” but that time has passed. Eye-watering scorelines are now just part of the game and even my American friends who won’t watch football because it’s “boring” have started to notice that something odd is going on in the sport.

My first ever Premier League football match was Arsenal v. Charlton at Highbury in 2006. Arsenal were clearly the superior team and traipsed about the pitch with a matchless unity and fluidity of movement that had the fans near me speaking of caviar days.

Arsenal were a team just removed from an unbeaten season. Their only missing player was Patrick Vieira and I wouldn’t say we missed him much because we had a little Spanish genius in his stead. Cesc Fabregas made that team click. If Charlton tried to harass him in midfield, he would magically create time and space for himself, and the engine of a perfectly oiled Arsenal machine would keep ticking over. The patterns were clear; the defense worked as a unit, the midfield bubbled along nicely, and the forwards worked the lines pulling the Charlton defense apart at will.

It was, and remains to this day, the best football I have ever seen. Everything was so perfectly timed and balanced that any missed pass by Arsenal brought a groan that one might give if they were looking at Seurat’s Bathers and noticed a bad brush stroke.

Arsenal won that game 3-0 with goals by Robert Pires, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Alex Hleb. It could have been 5-0 and the crowd moaned loudly when Adebayor missed two gilt chances presented to him by the legend himself, Thierry Henry. Hell, it could have been 6-0, after all, Robert Pires hit the post. But the match ended 3-0 and that is the point: the most organized and fluid football I have ever seen against an opponent in dire form only resulted in three goals.

Fast forward to yesterday and it was as if the world had turned upside down. In all the years I’ve been following them, Arsenal have been known as a possession hoarding team, a pass and move team, whose intricate triangles and one-two passes cut the opposition to pieces whilst wearing them out chasing ghosts in midfield. Arsenal are also known to be vulnerable from counter-attacks as they tend to play with a high defensive line, giving space to opposition strikers to get behind the defense.

Arsenal’s first goal against Newcastle, yesterday, was a classic “Arsenal goal” except I mean, its the type of goal Arsenal classically concede. Newcastle were playing high up the pitch, controlling the game with their passing, and trying to peg Arsenal into their end of the field. A long cross from Cazorla gets the ball out to Podolski and he played a slide-rule pass into the acres of space behind the Newcastle defense. Newcastle’s center backs tried to step up and catch Walcott offside, a move that’s so synonymous with Arsenal it was immortalized in the film The Full Monty, but the Newcastle fullback (Santon) plays Walcott onside. Walcott is off to the races and in the end simply opens his body up to shape the shot and curls home.

But then Newcastle scored to draw level off a Demba Ba free kick which was deflected in by Jack Wilshere who was supposed to be standing in the wall. It was a terrible free kick, to be honest, and would have been saved easily had it not taken a deflection off Wilshere’s head as he tried to duck out of the way of the ball. What was a player in the wall doing ducking? What happened to players taking the shot? It’s not to single Jack out, very few players in the League seem willing to just stand there and take the shot.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain restored Arsenal’s lead with a great strike from outside the box after Arsenal won the ball back from a Newcastle throw-in. But minutes later, Arsenal switched off defensively as Jack Wilshere allowed his midfield runner to just walk (walk!) into the Arsenal back line and stand at the far post. Obertan beat Sagna and put in the cross which Marveaux tapped in. It was a basic defensive error by Arsenal who seem to switch too easily from wonderfully precise movement to ugly chaos.

Arsenal hit Newcastle for a third when Jack Wilshere dribbled in to the Newcastle box, dinked a little cross over to where Walcott was and when Coloccini failed to clear with his header (it rolled along the bar in defiance of physics) Podolski nodded home. But seconds later, Arsenal were at sixes and nines again as Demba Ba just stepped in front of Kieran Gibbs (who had switched off) to tap in a wonderful Marveaux cross. It was at that point, that Alan Pardew motioned to his team and said “don’t concede any more goals.”

They would concede four more.

Pundits are putting that goal flurry down to Newcastle having heavy legs owing to the fact that they had played a very hard fought loss to Man U three days prior but Arsenal’s fourth goal wasn’t down to Toon tiredness, it was slack defending. It was a broken play and Newcastle were pulled ragged as Gibbs got into the box and dragged back to the penalty spot. Despite Arsenal having two players standing there, neither could get the ball and Newcastle’s defensive midfielder, Chiek Tiote, just stood and watched as Theo Walcott took a touch, turned, took a moment to compose himself, read three chapters of Ivanhoe, and blasted the ball into the back of the net. Chiek Tiote hadn’t played in that Man U game, he can’t use tiredness as an excuse for his ball-watching.

Not satisfied with a 4-3 scoreline, Arsene Wenger substituted in center forward Olivier Giroud for midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and pushed Theo Walcott wide. The move worked and it was Theo Walcott who turned provider when his exceptional cross was thumped home by Olivier Giroud. 5-3.

Giroud scored the sixth and Walcott the seventh but both were born from the same type of action: Walcott dribbling straight at the opposition, being blatantly fouled, the referee swallowing the whistle, and either Giroud picking the ball up and scoring or Walcott picking himself up and scoring. 7-3. Chaos at the Emirates.

Everything about the game, from kickoff to the seventh goal, was weird. For the first 50 minutes, the Emirates seemed asleep. You could have, and perhaps the Toon Army should have, sung a lullaby. “Rock-a-bye Arsenal, in the top four…” And despite scoring, Arsenal seemed just as disinterested in the first half as the fans did. Moreover, Newcastle controlled possession, Newcastle outpassed Arsenal, Newcastle played the high defensive line, and Arsenal were a counter-attacking menace with Theo Walcott working the channels and Santi Cazorla relegated to a bit role. It was as it everything I thought I knew about Arsenal, everything I learned from that sunny Spring day in 2006 was turned on its head.

It’s not just Arsenal matches, Premier League football has become chaotic, wild, and unpredictable. Two hours before the Arsenal match, defensive stalwarts Stoke City, who hadn’t allowed more than four goals total at the Brittania all season, shipped three goals in the first half to Premier League bottom dwellers Southampton. And this isn’t just a Boxing Day problem, this chaos in defense and eye-watering scorelines are now a feature of Premier League games. Manchester United conceded three goals to relegation bound Reading on December 1st and you can think of countless examples proliferating over the last few years. The game seems very different to me now than it did when I first discovered it and I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing.



Arsenal v. Newcastle drinking game

One Sip
Anytime an announcer mentions Sir Alex Ferguson’s rant against the fourth official
Any mention of Arsene Wenger kicking a water bottle
Arsene Wenger actually gets into a row with the fourth official
Tiote remonstrates the official by throwing that fake punch and letting out a big scream

Ba shoots
Cisse yells at Ba for shooting (2 sips!)
Marveaux tackle
Tiote tackle
Arteta tackle
Arteta or Tiote foul
Wilshere or Cazorla dribbles past a Newcastle midfielder

Walcott shoots
Walcott crosses
Gibbs successful cross
Sagna successful cross
Cazorla shoots from distance
Cazorla provides a slide rule pass, splitting ball, or through ball
Every Krul save
Every Krul long pass (successful)
Sagna wins a header

Two Sips
Rash challenge by Wilshere
Rash challenge by Wilshere on either Tiote or Marveaux (4 sips!)
Assist from Podolski
Assist from Walcott
Giroud scores
Ba scores

Half a Drink
Walcott starts as center forward
Podolski plays a man onside
Yellow card for Wilshere

Finish Drink
Chris Foy shows Arsene Wenger a card
Wilshere sent off
Wilshere scores
Tiote scores
Vermaelen Error leads to a goal