- A collection of weapons and military equipment stored by a country, person, or group: “Britain’s nuclear arsenal”.
- A place where weapons and military equipment are stored or made.
- A place where one keeps their “powder dry” by not collecting, buying, or making any weapons to be used during the war
The Arsenal went into yesterday’s match against Aston Villa making three changes from the midweek match against Montpellier and four changes from the last Premier League match against Tottenham. The players rotated were Sagna, Vermaelen, Walcott, and Wilshere. And without them, Arsenal looked toothless up front and rudderless all over the pitch.
Ramsey stepped in for Wilshere and had one of his best individual games from a statistical standpoint but Arsenal relied too heavily on Ramsey’s shooting boots and based on yesterday’s performance they are covered over in rust.
Those who like to bash Ramsey for his turnovers and for ball dawdling will be happy to know that he had zero turnovers and was dispossessed zero times as well. He also led the Arsenal in passes attempted and passes completed, in shots, shots on goal, and in number of chances created.
Ramsey did that under enormous pressure from an Aston Villa side who were pressing players all over the pitch and who were given quite the free reign to get bitey in their tackles by referee Lee Mason. Mason didn’t call a single foul on a Villa player when they tackled from behind but called it nearly every time Arsenal did. Once comically when Agbonlahor dived to win a free kick in a dangerous area.
Speaking of which, Jenkinson did fairly well as a replacement for Sagna. No one I know had any complaints about the Corporal. He did provide one accurate cross which is more than can be said for his teammate on the other side.
Gibbs also did fine. He’s a real left back, unlike Vermaelen who was filling in for Gibbs while he was out injured and for Santos who has been completely dropped by Arsene Wenger. In fact, the number of players that Arsene has dropped completely (or mostly) from the team is quite astonishing. At various points this season Arsene has dropped Walcott, Santos, Chamakh, Squillaci, and Arshavin. Can Ramsey be considered dropped? He did start a lot more last season than this. Meanwhile, there were a number of people praising Wenger for his “balls” in dropping Vermaelen but I suspect that Wenger didn’t drop him as much as rotated him to keep the squad fresh.
You see, dropping the captain isn’t something you do lightly and especially not after the captain has one of his best performances for the team in a position his not really suited to play. Dropping a player is something you do to send a message to the player but dropping the captain is a message to the whole team. When you drop the captain it means that the whole team is not good enough.
When a manager drops the captain it throws the team into chaos. Players don’t know whether they can look up to the captain any more. As a result it often makes the players question their own place in the team, question the manager, and really wonder what is going on at the club. You only drop the captain as a last resort and in order to send a message to the whole team that things need to change. You only get to use it once. In that sense it’s a nuclear option.
And dropping the captain after the club have won two consecutive matches with the captain playing well in the last match is fucking retarded. If Arsene Wenger did actually drop Vermaelen after that Montpellier match I would have to join the fans who audibly sang “you don’t know what you’re doing”. Vermaelen wasn’t dropped, he was rested.
But it wasn’t the players Arsene changed that were the problem as much as the players that Arsene didn’t change and can’t change because he doesn’t have options. Arteta has played every minute of Arsenal’s 18 League and Champions League matches this season (1620 minutes) and played them in a role that he is not ideally suited; as Arsenal’s most defensive midfielder in a mostly not defensive setup that seems to be transitioning into a more defensive setup. Arteta has also been put under enormous pressure by Arsenal’s opponents who are now marking him out of games. Aston Villa kept Arteta very quiet and as a result Arsenal’s most common pass combination was Arteta to Mertesacker and Mertesacker to Arteta.
This was perhaps behind the logic of bringing Coquelin on in the last few minutes: bring on a defensive midfielder which would allow Arteta to move forward and provide Arsenal with more attacking impetus. Unfortunately Arteta only had one pass in the Villa final third from the 87th minute on while Coquelin had two. I’m going to go out on a limb and just say that Arteta was tired, the players around him were tired, Villa marked him out of the game, and as a result he finished the game with just 6 passes in the Villa final third.
The other player who has to be suffering somewhat from fatigue is Santi Cazorla. He has played all but 15 minutes of every Premier League and Champions League game for Arsenal. As a comparison, Juan Mata has only played the full 90 seven times for Chelsea. This fatigue showed against Villa. When teams press, you have to pass more quickly. Crisp ball movement and player movement is key to breaking down a pressing team. Instead, Arsenal looked tired and tight.
Arsenal probably could get away with having either of Arteta or Cazorla playing tired but to have both of them in such a state was probably the main reason why Arsenal struggled to break Villa down. That, and Arsenal really missed Theo Walcott. Against a team that will press high up the pitch, Walcott is a huge threat. Not only that but Walcott’s contributions to this Arsenal team should not be discarded. Here is a comparison of Arsenal’s top players in terms of minutes per goal and minutes per goal or assist:
As you can see, Arsenal’s most efficient player is Theo Walcott.
But as I’ve already said, it wasn’t the players Arsene changed that were the problem as much as the players that Arsene didn’t change and can’t change because he doesn’t have options.
Arsenal have two top strikers in Giroud and Podolski. But Arsenal have to play Podolski on the left because they don’t have anyone else who can do it. I know that some people would say that Gervinho could do the left wing role but the thing about Gervinho is that he is utter shit.
That’s something I’ve said privately and publicly I have been circumspect in criticizing him but really, fuck Gervinho. He can’t tackle (in fact he’s a defensive liability), he can’t cross (zero crosses this season, THREE last season), and he’s a one trick pony in that he almost always, always, always dribbles to the by line and plays a drag back to no one. He’s not picking out a teammate with these passes, that’s why he only has 9 key passes in 13 games, he is simply playing the ball into an area and hoping that a teammate will find it. He’s also not a center forward despite being played as a false nine at the start of the season.
So, Arsene has to play Podolski out left. That means that Arsenal are limited to one striker, Giroud. I know that Walcott wants to play centrally but he’s been really fantastic on the right and cutting back in. And he’s injury prone.
In midfield it’s the same story. Arsenal sold Song and there were good reasons for doing so but effectively Arsenal replaced Song with Diaby. Abou Diaby has started 18 Premier League games since signing his bumper new contract in 2009/2010. That’s 18 starts in three years. Arsenal relied on him to replace a player who has started 70 league games in the same time period (64 for Arsenal, 6 for Barcelona). Or maybe Arsenal relied on Jack Wilshere? He’s started 34 games in that same time.
There’s no replacement for Giroud. There’s no replacement for Arteta. There’s no replacement for Cazorla. And that’s a shocking lack of depth for a club like Arsenal. I’m not going to blame the manager or the board, instead, I’m just going to say it’s time to get the powder wet.
Or maybe it’s too late to get the powder wet. That lack of depth means that Arsenal will now go into the Winter programme of games with players who already look tired and who will get no rest until February. Over the next month, teams will have seen what Villa did, what Man U did, and what the prescription is to play this Arsenal side. By that time Arsenal could be well out of the race for 4th place.
We’ll see on Wednesday when the team takes on Everton and tries to move up to 5th and stay within two points of 4th place Chelsea.