Category Archives: Arsenal

boring

Anderlecht 1-2 Arsenal: Cheetos and Tequila

I had a girl
She loved what she saw
She loved me so good
She made her daddy mad
My woman cried
She’s dead to me now
My woman ran off
And I can’t deny it

My life
Jesus (Cheetos) and tequila
I’m satisfied
And I can’t deny it

Arsenal left Belgium with a sack full of goodies and all three points as the London team pipped Anderlecht at the death in a surprisingly equal match between two teams with vastly different resources and pedigrees.

Anderlecht came in to the match with nothing to lose. Widely seen as one of the minnows of Champions League play, the Belgians would need to put in a hard fought 90 minutes if they were going to get anything from an Arsenal team who spent as much money acquiring players this summer as the entire Anderlecht club is worth. To their great credit, Anderlecht not only gave Arsenal a fair but physical match, they also matched Arsenal skill for skill for the majority.

Anderlecht could easily feel hard done by considering the fact that Arsenal’s winning goal came moments after a deliberate handball by late sub and game winner, Lukas Podolski. I can tell you that had Arsenal conceded that goal under those exact circumstances with that exact handball preceding it, there would be smartly written letters of complaint filling UEFA’s mail slot tomorrow morning.

As it stands, these self-same arbiters of fairness will likely dismiss the handball as incidental, inconsequential, or (worse) something Arsenal “deserve” because it rights the ills they perceive Arsenal to have suffered. As if a handball allowed against a team like Anderlecht, who have done nothing wrong against Arsenal, somehow makes up for Everton’s lucky offside call in the Premier League.

In the end though Arsenal’s quality in depth, in depth against a tiny team like Anderlecht, won the day as Lukas Podolski found the ball near him and in an #aha moment, scored.

Gibbs had a fantastic match. Not only did he score the equalizer off a difficult volley from Chambers’ cross but he also made nine of twelve tackles for Arsenal defensively. Highlighting Gibbs’ astounding work rate both in going forward and in sprinting back. With Gibbs forward so often and yet still able to sprint back for a tackle deep in the Arsenal defense, I wondered what part sprints (sprints which Arsenal players do more than other teams by my perception) by Arsenal players play in Arsenal’s history of muscle injuries? Could it be that Arsenal’s system, playing so many forward at all times, constantly pressing for the win and being forced to sprint back on defense as they wildly try to catch up to the opposition’s counters, could that be the reason for so many of these stress injuries?

I don’t have an answer to that. I do know that those twelve Gibbs tackles show how concerted the Anderlecht effort was in targeting Nacho and Gibbs. Anderlecht attempted 36 dribbles and 10 of them were concentrated in Gibbs’ corner compared to just 6 in Chambers’ corner.

Anderlecht found a goal out of that effort when Dennis Praet dribbled around the Arsenal defense, pulled both Arsenal center backs out and then put in a cross right to the penalty spot. Calumn Chambers was caught between Najar and the ball for a second and that was all the Anderlecht man needed to score.

The Belgian side were right back at the Arsenal gates a few seconds later and they should have equalized when Anthony Vanden Borre struck the post from a dangerous position. Once again Najar was free down Gibbs’ side (he started the attack that he finished for their first goal) and once again played in Praet.

With Monreal playing left back again (there are no defensive midfielders covering the fullbacks on this Arsenal team) Najar was able to cross to Praet who literally caught Per flat footed. The young Praet heard die Fledermaus playing in his ear, waltzed past Per, and slid a ball to Vanden Borre who was wide open just outside the 6 yard box. Instead of coolly side footing into the goal, Vanden Borre opened up his sand wedge and hit a lob which struck the upright.

If the Belgians had scored the second, it could have been a body blow to the this Arsenal side. Both Anderlecht goals came after Arsenal left their foot off the gas as you can see from my twitter timeline which captured the sense of both boredom and shock:

boring

 

There is a connection between this “boring Arsenal” and the “ohshit Arsenal”. This Arsenal team still think they are the possession-based team who used to be able to kill off games with a string of 100 “ole” passes, but when the central midfielders are pressed by the opposition forwards they cough the ball up too easily in dangerous areas and are often caught with their defenders in advance of the forwards. Many times in this game both of Arsenal’s wide defenders, Calumn Chambers and Keiran Gibbs, were in front of their forwards at the same time.

It’s a huge gamble to constantly send your fullbacks forward, and an even bigger gamble to send them both forward at the same time when your only cover is Mathieu Flamini pacing around the midfield. But however you look at it, the bet paid off.

Like a slot machine, if you feed enough quarters into its voracious maw it will eventually get too full and spit something back out. So too Gibbs’ station as the most forward player on the left. It should be noted that the gamble was “all in” as well, down to their last quarter, Arsenal’s right back, Calumn Chambers, put in the cross which Gibbs volleyed home.

My first trip to London I went to one of those casino/clubs. It was late. I was drunk. And naturally, I started losing heavily. I was down to my last few pounds and I wandered away from the Blackjack table and put the rest of my money on a single number in Roulette. The number came up and from that point on my night was all trumps. I went back over to the Blackjack table and proceeded to win back all my money plus enough money to pay for all my food for the week.

I left the casino with a fat wallet and full of cheer having gone from thinking I’ll be eating Cheetos the rest of the week to planning a steak dinner. That’s how gambling works: a little luck and you feel like you’re on top of the world.

Arsenal won the game at Anderlecht with some similar gambles. All in with Calumn Chambers and Gibbs and then a little lucky double down when Wenger subbed in Podolski who got away with some slight of hand to score the winner. To get all three points Arsenal needed professional and hard-working players on the pitch, and Alexis Sanchez continues to impress in that regard. A team high 4 key passes, all of them in dangerous areas and any one of which probably should have scored, finally got rewarded when Podolski scored.

Sanchez-Praet

 

In the end, Anderlecht matched Arsenal for ninety minutes. They didn’t play using negative tactics or ugly timewasting. They didn’t rely on the referee to bail them out and didn’t run around booting Arsenal players into Row Z. They don’t have an Oligarch spending more money than god on star players from abroad and instead they are a small team with a humble stadium filled to the rafters with exuberant fans singing “Come on Sporting Boys!” to the tune of Cum on Feel the Noize.

Yet Arsène’s roll of the dice paid off and after the match Arsenal fans pocketed their winnings and gleefully went off into the night in search of Cheetos and Tequila. They even had a little money left over to get Arsène a birthday cake.

So satisfied.

Qq

Gibbs-crying

Anderlecht v. Arsenal: switch on the lights, it’s Wenger’s birthday

Good morning Gunners, today we have a Champions League match against Anderlect and hopefully afterwards Arsene Wenger can celebrate a win and his 65th birthday.

Here’s a weird fact: did you know that you, me, Arseblog, and Sam Allardyce are all Libras? It’s true. That means we are all the same. That’s just a scientific fact, like the fact that eating gluten causes men to grow breasts.

We Libras are the most balanced of all the signs because we are lovers of beauty and art. Again, I think this description fits me, Arseblog, Allardyce, Arsene to a T.

I do often wonder if each of the teams in the League could be described by their zodiac signs if Arsenal would be the Libra team? We are known for beautiful football which transcends art and are all about balancing the books! HA HA guffaw. I don’t know enough about astromythology to write such  post though. Is there an asshole sign? That’s definitely Chelscea! Is there a sign that is a bit like Eeyore? That’s gotta be Liverpool. Maybe I’ll spend some time reading about each of the zodiac signs and then I’ll add 8 new signs and do a “Premier League Zodiac” post?¹

Anyway, seriously, I wish Arsene Wenger the happiest of birthdays. I know that, like me, he won’t really celebrate getting older but I still wish him all the best.

And on the occasion of his birth Arsenal get to play Anderlecht. I have to admit that whenever I see the name Anderlecht, I immediately think “why don’t you Anderlecht my balls, Capitan?” Followed by “I can Anderlecht my own balls, thank you very much.”

Yes, it’s true, I’m 44 years old and that is all I can think of when I see the word Anderlecht. Since me, Arseblog, Arsene, and Allardyce are all identical because we are Libras I have no doubt they are also thinking the same thing.

If Wenger is thinking of puns or not, he isn’t letting on. Instead he is publicly saying that the match against Anderlecht will be a real battle. They will make it hard for Arsenal and as this is an away game in Europe, I would have to agree with him.

Still, Anderlecht are considered one of the very worst teams in the Champions League and the easiest in our group. They are only averaging a meager 10 shots per game so far this season in Champions League play and they are allowing a whopping 17 shots against them. That’s a -7 shot difference.

They were a bit unlucky in their first game, dropping all three points to Galatasaray in Turkey in stoppage time. And they were beaten early by an Immobile goal in the 3rd minute at home to Borussia Dortmund. In both matches, however, Anderlecht were not pushovers and especially at home, I agree with my fellow Libra, Wenger, that this will be a hard fought game.

Tactically, Arteta returns to the Arsenal starting lineup. That means that Arsene will look to use Arteta to dictate play in midfield, as a decoy, trying to get the ball up to the 6 attacking midfielders³. And Anderlecht will, if they read Pep Guardiola’s “exclusive” published in the Telegraph the other day press Cazorla or whomever is playing in the Özil role. They may also employ a “high press” which is really only a press against Arteta.

This means that Mertesacker’s long vertical passes will become more important as do any turnovers by the Arsenal forwards in those areas. Watching Arsenal’s goals conceded this season I can say for certain that turnovers in those areas by forward players, because Arsenal lack defensive midfield balance, turn into big chances for the opposition.

Arsenal, for their part are still one of the worst teams in the Champions League in terms of shots per game (8.5) and shots allowed (20.5). That’s a -12 shot difference and continues Arsenal’s rather disappointing last four years of Champions League play. Just in case you had forgotten, Arsenal have been last or near last of all 32 Champions League teams in terms of shots per game over each of the last 4 seasons. This season, Arsenal have leapt up to… uhhh… 29th! In terms of shots taken and are only the second worst team in the Champions League, just behind Maribor who were beaten by Chelscea 6-0 yesterday.

Still, Anderlecht is a team that Arsenal can beat. Arsenal can beat them IF they do like Arsene says and correct the problems with concentration that I pointed out here last week²

..we were close to winning and then a lack of concentration… If we can just concentrate a little bit more defensively.

Problematically, Jack Wilshere thinks that Arsenal’s defensive problems aren’t a problem. Or at least he sought to minimize those problems:

Maybe our biggest or strongest point is going forward but we know we can defend. We have players who can put their foot in. We have players who organise things, in Flamini, and good defensive players.

Flamini is actually part of the problem and has been exposed badly several times in the last two years, often caught out while organizing, as he was against Bayern Munich last season when he was pointing and telling Jack where to go and not paying attention to his own marker. And while I agree that Arsenal have good defensive players (especially Koscielny), Arsenal also have Nacho Monreal who is a terrible defensive player. The “challenge” he put in against Diame in the Hull game, where he weakly stuck out a toe to win the ball rather than tackle the ball and the player, is emblematic of his lack of defensive strength.

Even then, I would say it’s still not the players, it’s more that the whole team switches off. On throw ins, free kicks, corners, and in a variety of ways, this Arsenal team seems to love daydreaming about defense rather than actually playing defense. Especially this season. Or maybe it’s not just this season. Remember the fabled “handbrake?”

Hopefully, they can put that right and help Arsene to celebrate his 65th birthday.

Qq

¹Watch this idea show up somewhere miraculously in the next week..
²problems which people have claimed didn’t exist or that I was exaggerating since the sample size was too small.
³Come on, we all know that the Arsenal fullbacks are about as defense minded as a prosecuting attorney — and yes, these two footnotes are out of order, the third footnote is ahead of the second footnote, just like Arsenal’s fullbacks are almost always ahead of the forwards.

Arsene Wenger waves to the crowd

It’s time to honor Wenger with a Lap of Appreciation

Recently, the frustration with Arsène Wenger at Arsenal has started to boil over. I’ve even seen people publicly wishing death upon the man. But aside from the lunatic fringe asking for him to be taken out of the club “in a body bag” even the calmer heads are starting to wonder if it isn’t time to wind up the old man’s career. But how do you do that with a man who has served for 18 years?

First, let’s deal with the “body bag” people. In my research on Arsène’s career and philosophy I’ve noted that he never really was accepted by a certain population of fans. The moment he walked in the door at Arsenal, Wenger announced himself as an aesthete and an iconoclast and to a certain segment of Arsenal fans this was yet another sign that the world was taking “their Arsenal” away.

The world did take their Arsenal away and in many ways Arsène Wenger was on the front line of the massive change in the Premier League. A change from a mostly English endeavor into what it is now: a sport, owned by foreigners, played on English soil by foreign superstars, and streamed on the laptops of billions of people on every corner of the globe.

Every foreign manager plying his trade in England right now owes Arsene Wenger a debt of gratitude. When Wenger came to England, English fans were skeptical that a foreign manager could prove successful. Thus, Wenger’s success, his instant and repeated success, paved the way for all of these Jose come lately’s in the Premier League. English fans now no longer distrust a manager because he’s foreign. In fact, they want foreign managers.

The same with the players. When Wenger came on as Arsenal manager there were few foreign players in the Premier League.¹ The instant and repeated success of Dennis Bergkamp², Patrick Vieira, and Theirry Henry opened the doors for the foreign players in England — they settled questions over whether foreigner’s “could do it on a cold night in Stoke.” Who is the best player in the history of the Premier League? Ryan Giggs or Thierry Henry? I’m biased toward Henry myself but regardless of whether he is number one or number two, now days, fans don’t just accept foreign players, they demand that their teams buy these players for obscene sums.

And Wenger didn’t just give England successful superstars, he transformed the Premier League into a global spectacle. If I can be a bit personal for a moment, I have admitted many times in the past that it was Arsène Wenger’s beautiful football which attracted me to the sport. I hardly think I’m alone in that. I suspect that the popularity of the Premier League in many parts of the globe is at least partly Wenger’s fault.

Thus, Wenger carries the honor of being the first truly great foreign manager in the Premier League, of bringing the League their first truly great foreign stars, and of ushering in the global era of football in England. That man deserves the respect of every player who draws a massive salary, of every foreign manager who plies his trade in England, and of every fan who enjoys the sport for what it is today. That man does not deserve to be taken out of Arsenal “in a body bag.”

Body bag

“Get him a body bag! LOL!” is what the pimply faced kid from Kobra Kai dojo screams in the final fight scene between Johnny and Tommy Larusso in Karate Kid. The line is so preposterous that Robot Chicken was able to easily make the perfect parody and I’m not sure if art is imitating life but Body Bags are on sale at Amazon (watch the clip to get the reference).

The problem – I find it incredible that people don’t see that there is a problem at Arsenal. I love Arsène Wenger, I think he’s a genius, I respect what he has done for the Premier League and for Arsenal but I can also see that Wenger is no longer able to make the impact on the game that he once was. I can see that players like Luis Gustavo no longer immediately jump at the chance to play for Arsène Wenger. I can see that his own players look to be abandoning him at times on the pitch. I can see that there are injury problems at Arsenal but that Arsenal have been saddled with injuries for years — this cannot simply be bad luck. I can look at the team sheet at the start of the season and see that Arsenal’s balance between attacking players and defenders was tilting at windmills. I can see that Arsenal have all the money they need to buy players and yet players are not purchased when they are badly needed. And worst of all, I can see that Arsène’s tactics are not just naive but have been badly exposed for years now and that glaring problem has not been addressed — they may be perpetually in the Champions League but they are never going to win it, not when a team just needs a single corner to beat them.

I supported Wenger through the good times (that was easy), I supported Wenger through the youth revolution (what’s the frequency, Denilson?), and I supported Wenger in the aimless thrashing around of the post-Cesc era Arsenal. I always said, give him the chance to build the team he wanted when the money ship came in. He’s had that chance and what we’ve gotten are a summer where Arsenal bid on multiple players that they needed and looked like they didn’t know what they were doing. That was followed by a £42m deadline day deal for Özil which looked a lot like they lucked into it. This summer, again, Arsenal looked to lack a clear plan in the transfer market, once again failing to address the crucial need for a center mid who can provide some backbone to this otherwise limp team, and once again landing a lucky deal on the final day of the transfer market — another forward. These are not well planned out summers of spending. These have been bumbling around summers of spending. That the manager told the world he needed a center half and then didn’t buy one is as clear an indication that they didn’t have a plan as I can imagine: it strikes me that perhaps he was saying that publicly as a recruitment tool. “We need to buy a center half” in retrospect looks a lot like “if you’re a center half and you’re unhappy with your situation, send a fax to Arsène Wenger c/o Higbury House, top top top quality inquiries only.”

Most managers run out of ideas after six months: David Moyes ran out of ideas after a few weeks, Luis van Gaal said to give him three months and it’s clear that he is out of ideas, it’s starting to look like Jurgen Klopp is out of ideas at Borussia Dortmund after a few years, and so on. Eventually, all managers even the very best managers, run out of ideas. It looks to me like it’s taken 18 years but finally Arsène Wenger has run out of ideas.

This is nothing to be ashamed of, in fact he should be celebrated for all of the ideas he gave us. All of the players in the Premier League should get a chance to thank him, every fan in the League should give him a standing ovation, and every manager should be given the chance to kiss his ring.

You simply can’t fire a manager who has given so much to the game. It’s too disrespectful because he hasn’t done anything wrong, he’s just run out of ideas. Worse, you can’t just throw the club and the team into that much turmoil by firing a legend. You need to give the fans and the players time to get used to the idea that a new manager is coming on board. And you also need to give this board time to find a real replacement: look what happened with Moyes at United, the cautionary tale of all cautionary tales.

That’s why I think Wenger should call time on his own career. Announce his retirement at the end of the season and give us all a Fergie-style Lap of Appreciation around the Premier League and Europe. I think he will get the most out of the players he has by doing that and I think he will give the board the time they need to hire Frank de Boer (and Dennis Bergkamp as assistant) or Pep Guardiola³. For me, Wenger has to do this himself or risk becoming one of those old coaches clinging to the past, trying the same things over and over, and dragging the club and players down with him. Only to be fired one day after total humiliation.

It’s time we let Wenger bow out with honor and give Wenger the respect he is due, not a body bag.

Qq

¹I don’t have the exact numbers and would appreciate anyone helping to gather this data for me.
²I am aware that Bruce Rioch purchased Bergkamp. However, Wenger made Bergkamp successful.
³Why is it always met with derision whenever someone mentions one of the world’s great managers as Wenger’s successor? People always say “he’d never come to Arsenal”. Shouldn’t we aspire to a Pep Guardiola? When did we lower our expectations?