Category Archives: Arsenal

Hope drunk again

“Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dress’d yourself? hath it slept since?
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely?

Why did Arsenal have to get to the top of the table and sit there for 19 weeks? Why did they have to have the best defense in the League? Why did they have to score goals early and often? Why couldn’t they have just been the 4th place team they have been for the last three years? Why did they have to get us all so drunk on hope?

And what was the hope? The hope was that this team would somehow be different from the Arsenal teams of the last three years. The hope was that this team, who had been living on the fumes of past glory, would be energized by the signing of Mesut Özil. The hope was that this team, who had won a Champions League place in each of the previous two seasons by a single point had pushed on, opened their purse strings, learned to play defense, refreshed their attacking style, and that Arsene Wenger had changed. The glassy-eyed hope was that Arsenal could win the League and Cup double.

And now we wake up the next morning, look around and try to piece together the season: oh no… Man City 6-3… Chelsea 6-0… Liverpool 5-1… no signings in January… Wilshere, Ramsey, Özil, Walcott, Koscielny, all injured… the return of Arsene Wenger’s ridiculous high offensive line where Sagna gets to stand around in FRONT OF CAZORLA… how hope-drunk were we?

After the 6-3 loss to City we had an excuse, the team had just flown back from Naples where they had lost 2-0, and gave an energy sapping performance to put the club through to the Champions League knockout stages. Losing 6-3 wasn’t so bad, after all, we were the only team to score three on them!

After the 5-1 loss to Liverpool we had an excuse, because they are simply the best attacking team in the League right now and, erm…. injuries.

And the 6-0 loss to Chelsea? That was Wenger’s 1000th game. Everyone was hope-drunk before that game. It was a carnival atmosphere among Arsenal fans. You can’t blame me if I was drunkenly celebrating the most decorated manager in Arsenal history, can you?

The next morning, though, in the cold light of day, watching Schurrle basically stand where Gibbs should have been and run free, unmarked, into Arsenal’s back line time and again made me want to puke. Watching Arsenal fall apart in the same way it had so many times in the past, with the same tactical errors, players hiding, playing football the exact same way we had for the last 500 games of Arsene’s tenure, and watching that toad of a man Jose Mourinho lap at flies on the sideline whilst Arsene Wenger had to sit there and stew in this horrible loss. I was certainly green after that.

Then why did I do it again in the match against Everton last night? Why did we play the exact same way as we did against Chelsea? This time it was Leighton Baines exposing Sagna and Cazorla’s horrible positioning time and again. Though, Baines was getting free in the Arsenal final third, he was actually passing to the other side of the pitch where Lukaku was abusing Nacho Monreal. And what excuses do we have left now? Everton aren’t some oil-money team or run by a horrible Russian oligarch. They aren’t a team with the best attacking front line in football. They are a modest team who have gotten a few breaks in the transfer market by getting Lukaku and Barry in on loan and they have a manager who changes tactics up to match the team he is facing.

Oh man, I never want to hope again. I’m giving up on hope.

Dude, come on, what are you saying? It’s not like you haven’t been here before. Remember that party in 2007? The League Cup final in 2011? You survived the League Cup final hope. You flew all the way to London, paid through the nose for a ticket to Wembley, and sat there for 2 hours drunk off your ass on hope. Sure, you felt like crap for a couple days after, but the point is that you didn’t quit. You’re not a quitter.

At this point I guess I might as well. I’ve got nothing left. I might as well hope again. This weekend we have the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, where we have literally never won a game, and we are playing Wigan, a tiny team from the midlands with a tiny little budget, they have no superstars, we have our star player returning…

Who’s up for a little hoping? Just one more.

After that I’m going to quit for a month.

Qq

photo (19)

Everton v. Arsenal Preview: who has the easier run in, plus how much injury hurt Arsenal

I was listening to the Guardian Podcast yesterday when the topic of the race for fourth place came up. Barry Glendenning laid out an argument, which I think is shared by many pundits, for why he wants Everton to beat Arsenal to fourth place. Now, I like Barry, I find him delightfully cantankerous, so I say that not to pick on him, he is a pundit and they are paid to have an opinion. Rather, Glendenning is just one example of many pundits who all seem to want the same thing: Everton to beat Arsenal to 4th place. The pundits all have their different reasons but they mostly come down to wanting to see some new blood in the Champions League. As they say, familiarity breeds contempt.

But for the first time in a long time there is very little between the two teams vying for the 4th Place Cup: Arsenal are on 64 points after 32 games (2ppg), Everton are on 60 points after 31 games (1.94ppg); Arsenal have a goal difference of +19, Everton +18; Arsenal’s leading scorer (Giroud) has 13 goals and 7 assists, Everton’s leading scorer (Lukaku) has 12 goals and 6 assists; and the list goes on*. Granted Arsenal should be doing better but we aren’t and I’ll get to that in a bit. The fact remains that despite our rather large differences in transfer and salary spending, both these teams have very similar records at the moment.

If you’ve been paying attention you will note that Everton are just 4 points behind Arsenal and with a game in hand. This has the pundits (and some rather strange Arsenal supporters) thinking that if Everton can beat Arsenal tomorrow, they will be within 1 point and might could pip Arsenal to the 4th Place Cup.

Arsenal’s final 5 games of the season, though, are against some of the easiest opposition you could hope to face: the relegation fodder and middle-teams who have nothing left to play for. And before you say “yes but Norwich are in a relegation battle, they will fight!” Of course they will fight, so will West Brom, and Allardyce loves to get one over on Wenger, and Hull might even be an FA Cup final preview. But you couldn’t ask for better opposition to play for the final 5 games of the season because these are some very weak teams. For example, Arsenal beat all 5 of them last season, except Norwich who are significantly worse this year than last.

Everton, on the other hand, play Man City, Man U, and Southampton along with Sunderland, Palace and Hull to finish the season off. I feel like Everton might get 11 points from those games whilst I am expecting Arsenal to take all 15. Arsenal should finish 5 points clear of Everton, even if the Toffees win tomorrow.

I don’t think anyone would disagree if I said that Everton do have a slight advantage tomorrow and a win for the Toffees wouldn’t be a far fetched result. I’m not predicting a win, loss, or draw (draw is the most likely result I come up with) but rather just stating what I think is the obvious: If you look at Arsenal’s injury record and current form (P10 W3 D4 L3), along with Everton’s lack of injuries, current form (P10 W6 D1 L3), and home advantage wouldn’t you offer up the draw before kickoff?

And injuries have hit Arsenal hard this season. Insanely hard.

Few predicted that Aaron Ramsey would be the stud that he was at the start of the season. In the first 18 game, Ramsey scored 8 League goals and added 6 assists. That’s good enough to make him Arsenal’s third best goal scorer and playmaker, despite missing the last 14 games. It is impossible to predict how many goals he would have scored or assists he would have laid on but 3 goals and 2 assists more wouldn’t have been at all unreasonable.

More than just goals, Arsenal also missed Ramsey’s work rate: his constant movement meant he was available for the ball and the result is that he led Arsenal in total passes and was third in passing percentage. His defensive work all through the midfield is another key indicator of his work rate, he was first in tackles per game.

Perhaps even more than Ramsey, Arsenal have missed Theo Walcott. It’s common among Arsenal fans to ridicule Walcott as “Unlucky Walcott” but the truth is that it’s been “unlucky Arsenal” to not have him. Last season, Walcott scored 21 goals and had 14 assists on 111 shots, 55 of which he got on target. And this season he was already off to a start that looked set to repeat the feats of last, 6 goals, 4 assists on 53 shots, 23 of which were on target. All in just 18 appearances!

Moreover, the whole team missed Walcott. All of Wenger’s great teams have been built on pace: Overmars and Henry had it in bags and their pace won Arsenal trophies. So, it makes sense that Wenger has groomed Walcott over the years to be the next wide player burning defenders on counters. He’s progressed nicely as a finisher despite what many think and he’s also the kind of play who has grown in terms of creating his own shot, contrary to what you read other places.

2013 2012 2011
SpG 2.944444 2.581395 1.931818
SoG % 52% 45% 45%

Walcott also offered players like Özil, Ramsey, and Wilshere a target man to send through behind the opposition defenses and I literally (literally figuratively) have lost track of the number of times I have heard people say that they wished Arsene had bought a player to do exactly that.

How much have Arsenal missed these two players? You can never really know how much a player would have contributed. But I really feel like Arsenal would be challenging for the title right now had both stayed healthy all year.

It’s a big game for both teams tomorrow and I expect they are going to give everything that they have to win. Arsenal might not have as much to give owing to injury but Ramsey will be on the bench and might even get a cameo at the end depending on the score. After that, Arsenal have to stay clear headed and try to win the double: both the FA and the 4th Place cups are still up for grabs.

Qq

*Even in the top 7 mini-league, both these teams are very similar: Arsenal have a -10 GD, and have earned 1.18 PPG and Everton have a -6 GD and have earned 1 PPG. After Sunday’s match that will change but Arsenal are done with top teams and Everton will have two more left to play.

overmars

Rogues Gallery: Marc Overmars

By Les Crang

overmar.png

The photographs from a summer’s day at Highbury, with Wenger in his beige suit flanked by Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars, mark the moment Wenger finalised the jigsaw for his first title-winning team in England. Petit came from Monaco and would be transformed from a left-back into a powerful midfield partner for Vieira. Together they formed an imposing combination, able to both protect the defence and be an inventive springboard for the attack. As for Overmars, in came a flying winger whose directness and pace made him a brilliant creator and finisher. Amy Lawrence, The Guardian

Marc Overmars? What a player. Sometimes overlooked while players such as Dennis Bergkamp, Nicolas Anelka and Emmanuel Petit seem more remembered in the 1997-98 team. Ironically, the first Dutch player Arsene Wenger signed in June 1997 (Graham buying our first Dutch player in Glenn Helder and Bruce Rioch in Dennis Bergkamp). Overmars though is regarded as 12th in the list of the Arsenal greatest players. Unfortunately for Overmars, he is often overshadowed by his replacement, Robert Pires

My first memory of Marc Overmars was when Holland came to play England in a World Cup qualifier in in April 1993.

After taking a 2-0 lead England were undone by a one touch volley by Dennis Bergkamp. Then came the substitution that changed the game. David Lacey reported in The Guardian:-

The more crucial change, however, followed the substitution of Gullit, who stalked off to the dressing room in the 69th minute, leaving Keown with no one to mark.

This not only brought on Van Vossen, Holland’s eventual saviour, but enabled Overmars to switch to the right wing, where his acceleration led to the penalty. Holland’s reshuffle made them more of a threat. In the 85th minute, Winter’s sharp nod forward caught Keown out of position and Overmars outpaced Walker [a player who created a song after the 1990 world cup as ‘you’ll never beat des walker’] as the pair raced towards the penalty area. Walker pulled the Ajax winger back by his shirt, Overmars went down and Van Vossen sent Woods the wrong way with his penalty.

That pace to just turn and run at pace with players either having to take him down let him go was something we’d see in the future, but at the time Overmars was playing Ajax. A team that in 1995 would win the European cup, in which Louis Van Gaal was in charge of a team that included young players like  Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf as well as the experience of Frank Rijkaard. Ajax won 1-0.

Seven months later in December 1995 Overmars sustained a cruciate ligament injury that kept him out for 8 months. This would be good news for Arsenal in 18 months time.

Although Wenger had joined us in in 1996 and had got a very good first year out of Paul Merson, Wenger saw Arsenal needed more players to improve their third place finish from the previous season. First though, Arsene had to sell and Merse was sold to Middlesbrough for £5,000,000. I remember the disappointment of losing Merse, he was a real ‘character’ in the team and a box of tricks. But I was pretty pleased when we signed Overmars for a mere £7,000,000 due to his cruciate ligament. I was stunned at how cheap we had got him. But that’s Wenger for you back then.

Its not just that Overmars was a good player he was also a good team player

Overmars first season at Arsenal was pretty much one to remember, in which Wenger could play his favoured 4-4-2 rather than United’s 4-2-3-1. Jonathan Wilson excellent book Inverting The Pyramid: The History Of Football Tactics has said even this could fluctuate saying:-

Arsenal did similarly in Arsene Wenger’s first full season in England, with Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira deep, Marc Overmars and Ray Parlour wide and Dennis Bergkamp behind Nicolas Anelka, although Parlour and Overmars push on to produce something more akin to an old style 4-3-3.

Kevin Whitcher said of Overmars signing:-

With his negligible defensive contribution, he would have been unsuited to the 3–5–2 of the previous campaign and was purchased in the full knowledge that such a line-up was now obsolete.

This ability to have a fluid formation seemed the pinnacle of a great team. We had four strikers of different ability in Dennis Bergkamp (precision, accuracy and off the ball movement), Ian Wright (aggression, fox in the box and a burst of speed), Nicolas Anelka (youth, fast acceleration, good shot) and Ian Wreh (ability to nick important goals). Compare that to Olivier Giroud, Yaya Sanogo and Nicklas Bendtner and you can see why the present team seem to be over reaching. Out wide you would have Ray Parlour and Overmars. What surplatives could you give him that have not been said before on him?

For an Arsenal fan, wide players have been often our finest players and often overlooked. For example, in the title winning teams of 1971 and 1989 we had George Armstrong and Brian Marwood respectively (who won 1 cap between them) and who were so important to us winning the league. If you go back to the 1930’s you need only to mention Cliff Bastin as an example of the importance of our wing play. Before Overmars and after Marwood, George Graham had signed wingers. We had the fantastic Anders Limpar who football commentator Martin Tyler said of in 1991 ‘the man they are calling their new match winner’. He also bought a plethora of ‘indifferent’ wingers (Glenn Helder, Jimmy Carter and Eddie McGoldrick). Thankfully, once we saw Overmars, we could see we had a new Limpar.

Overmars got his first goals in a 3-1 win at the dell, in which in the excellent book of the 1997-8 season Gunning for the Double: Story of Arsenal’s 1997-98 Season said of the goal:-

Overmars opened the scoring by cutting in from the left wing, dribbling between two defenders and firing in low to the keeper’s right. It was a quality individual goal.

Overmars didn’t score until we totally destroyed West Ham 4-0 (all first half goals) with Harry Redknapp saying afterwards:-

We’ve played Newcastle, Manchester United and Arsenal in out last 3 games, and if  I had to pick a champion this season, I’d go for Arsenal.

Overmars got two goals with everyone praising Dennis Bergkamp to the hilt. I always find it ironic, that I thought Overmars was the best player that season because he didn’t get booked, sent off and suspended as Dennis did.

If Overmars was important in the win over West Ham United on that day, and to the Arsenal going top, I think as an Arsenal fan something just as important was the news coming from Leeds United on the same day: Leeds beat Manchester United and Roy Keane injured himself when he tried to take out Alf-Inge Haland. Manchester United certainly missed their hatchet man that season. Not that anyone really cared at Arsenal.

Although after the 3-1 defeat Arsenal against Blackburn, Arsenal would soon go 11 points behind to leaders Manchester United. Fortunately, Arsenal, Overmars, and Bergkamp hit a vein of form, which would culminate on Saturday 14 March 1998, in a must win game for both sides, with Arsenal 9 points behind but with 3 games in hand. In a fairly even game, the main difference was Overmars. Having twice gone close earlier in the match, with eleven minutes left, Ray Parlour punted a ball forward behind the Manchester United defence. Overmars headed it forward, burst into the box and with his third touch of the ball put it in the back of the net (see below).

The crowd went mental. I mean, lets be honest, what is better that winning at Old Trafford. Oh, Peter Schmeichel going down with a calf strain in the last minute. I remember the feeling of elation after that game. You could feel the title was ours to lose.

Arsenal had the title sewn up by May when they emphatically beat  Everton 4-0, with Overmars getting two of the goals, but everyone usually remembering Tony Adams crowning goal at the end.

Next up (after losing to Liverpool and Aston Villa) was the cup final against Newcastle. I’d personally put on a bet of Overmars first scorer 2-0 at 45-1. Crazy odds.

As the game proceeded both my day and Arsenal’s went brilliantly. Overmars obliged me with the goal and a 2-0 win.

After the final, Overmars had said he had appreciated what an FA Cup win meant:

This is all so amazing, especially to win so much in my first year. It’s special to win the FA Cup because it has this tradition as the oldest knockout tournament in the world.

A double in his first season and 16 goals. Although Overmars was there for another 2 seasons he never quite reached the heights of 1998 and in 2000 he and Emmanuel Petit left for Barcelona for a combined fee of £30,000,000. He never quite reached his potential at Barca either and retired four years later with a knee injury.

Overmars as a team player could also divide opinion with his club and international team mate Dennis Bergkamp said of him:-

The little man Overmars was just as bad. People forget what a fearsome player he was. He struck fear into the whole Premiership because when Dennis gave him the ball he was unstoppable. Just so bloody quick. But don’t let him in your room! If you had any chocolate or anything and Overmars has been in the room, wash bag and you’ll have deodorant in your toothbrush or something. It’s a way of handling the pressure. A football club is almost like an extension of school, really. In school you’ve got your pranksters, you’ve got people who want to make a noise.

Others such as Nicolas Anelka said of him in August 1998:-

Anelka labelled his Gunners team-mate Marc Overmars “too selfish”, saying: “I’m not getting enough of the ball. I’m going to see the manager soon because Overmars is too selfish.”

But then, Le Sulk never liked many people did he?

It was disappointing to see him leave. I always loved his turn of the shoulder and running at player and way he’d get between players. Back then Wenger could find a better replacement for a cheaper fee and he certainly did that when signed Robert Pires from Marseille. I always  feel Overmars is often overlooked, as Pires was such a favourite, but to me Overmars was like Limpar: enigmatic, lazy, exciting, and frustrating. But, most importantly, Overmars was a player that scored the winner at Old Trafford when we won the league.