Keep the faith

I have some training for work this morning and tomorrow so just a quick blog today.  Wenger should be giving his pre-match presser later and I’ll be doing tomorrow’s blog this afternoon. I’m sure you’ll all get over it.

For Arsenal supporters, there’s a lot of paranoia, anger, frustration, and hand-wringing floating around the internet at the moment and I think we all need to just take a step back and look realistically at what’s happened these last few weeks and where we will end up in the next few.

Yes, Arsenal lost an away match to Sunderland, won a home match against Standard, and lost to Chelsea, but it’s hardly the end of the world. In the Sunderland match, the whole team was sort of reeling from a combination of the van Persie injury, the World Cup qualifiers, and a number of other injury and personal problems. Sunderland played their game, took their chance, and came out with all three points. It should have been a call to arms but instead, Arsenal seemed to equivocate.

Then against Standard, again the cracks showed. Standard came to the Emirates hoping to play the type of match which Chelsea would bring 5 days later. Arsenal got the win and the clean sheet but both sides squandered a lot of chances. Again the writing was on the wall, Chelsea would not miss those same chances that Standard missed, and Chelsea would not give up the types of easy goals that Standard gave.

And so it came to pass, Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Arsenal exposed the flaws that all of us already know about Arsenal: we are set up to outscore our opponents and if we fail to do that then when we are exposed at the back, we will lose games. As I put it earlier in the year, it’s clear that this club would rather lose 3-0 while playing attacking football for 90 minutes than set up for a 0-0 draw.

In the Arsene system, then, what we lacked is some sharpness up front. Eduardo is a great footballer when he is 100%. He is a great poacher, he has the class and touch to be a set-up man, and he is the only player on this team who can score goals like this:

Yes, he lacks some height and right now he’s adjusting to the role that Arsene has thrown him into. We would do well to remember that it took Robin van Persie a few weeks to get a handle on the role as well. A few weeks during which some fans were asking for Wenger to play Bendtner there, a thought that Wenger banished outright.

But watch that video again, notice how the whole team conspired to get that goal. At the moment, the whole attack lacks the sharpness that you see in that video. Arshavin is clearly more effected by Russia’s World Cup loss than anyone (aside from my friend Matt) imagined, Rosicky is clearly not 100%, and Nasri still a bit off. But the thing is, these are still the same guys who many of you couldn’t wait to see play together at the start of the season! Nasri is still the same guy who scored two amazing goals to beat Man U — he’s just coming back from injury.

Defensively as well, Arsenal looked a bit jaded but there’s a clue in the fact that all of Chelsea’s starters had just spent three weeks resting and preparing for this match. No exaggeration, almost all of them spent the international break “injured” while two of Arsenal’s defenders, Sagna and Gallas, spent the last three weeks playing every three days in meaningful, emotional matches.

Wenger sees this and he has vowed to give all of the regular starters a rest tomorrow against Man City and next week against Olympiakos.

From my perspective, a week of rest and practice is just what the doctor ordered for this team and I think we’ll see a sharper attack on Saturday against Stoke. Meanwhile, I also suspect that the Carling Cup kids will be set to impress tomorrow against City.

Is it possible for this Arsenal team to get two wins in a row? Yes and when we do, will we all be happy again?

Arsenal 0-3 Chelsea: there’s only one stat that matters

In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king

Preamble

Two losses on the trot, where the opposition scores on very few shots, and it seems that Arsenal’s aptly named charity of the season, “Be a Gooner, Be a Giver” has infected both our on and off-pitch performances.

Off the pitch, the boys are doing great things for the children at the Great Ormond Street Hospital, they donated all of their pay from yesterday’s match to the charity. On the pitch, our team defense is shipping goals in an alarming fashion and thus we are “giving” games to our opponents.

Wenger tediously reminded everyone that Chelsea scored, like Sunderland last week, “on their first shot” which is somehow meant to dismiss the final scoreline. Have a look at the games this season and you’ll see that a lot of teams are scoring on more than half their shots on goal. This is not an anomaly as Wenger would have you believe. Opponents did it to us last year, which we often decried as them “parking the bus.” But it can’t very well be an anomaly if it happens time and again. Rather, it’s got to be seen as an effective tactic to use against us.

The reality is that this is a byproduct of the Wenger system: hold the ball, hold a high line, try to score the perfect goal, and if everyone doesn’t defend when we eventually lose the ball, the opposition gets a chance. If they take their chances, as it seems all of our opponents are capable of doing, then we get stretched, we need to attack more, and occasionally we end up on the wrong end of a 3-0 beating.

Even more frustrating is that this team’s philosophy is to outscore the opponent yet for large stretches of yesterday’s match we didn’t even force Cheech to make a save. In fact, Arsenal only had 2 shots on goal, both of which were tame, and none came after the 60th minute. Worse than that, Arsenal didn’t even take a single shot (on goal, off goal, INTO THE F*CKING BLEACHERS, ANYWHERE!!!) after Thomas Vermaelen’s free kick in the 70th minute.  It’s not like they didn’t have chances, they just preferred to dink the ball around, dribble, and then hopelessly cross the ball into the taller Chelsea defense.

Clearly, Arsenal need to find a way to be selfish.

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: Drogba at the double.

Telegraph: Desperately seeking to accelerate along the title road, Arsenal were promptly flattened by a juggernaut called Chelsea yesterday. For all the beauty of some of Arsenal’s football, this was heavyweights overpowering middleweights, Didier Drogba knocking over Diddy Men. No contest really.

The Good

No one got injured and November is now over. Time to regroup and prepare for Manchester City in the Carling Cup.

Man of the Match

Didier Drogba.

As I said to my friends yesterday, Arsenal don’t need a Chamakh in the transfer window, we need a Drogba.

The Bad

A lot of people wonder why Arsene Wenger pulled Song and put in Walcott instead of taking off Denilson but it made perfect sense to me: down 2-0 the Wenger philosophy dictates that you remove the most defensive of the two defensive midfielders and put in an attacking player. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no way I would have done that, Denilson was having a poor match, but I totally understand why Wenger would think it’s a good choice.

It almost paid off, too. Arsenal started the second half very bright and looked the most likely to score, once they decided that lobbing balls in to the Chelsea defense wasn’t going to work. All their work led to a shot by Arshavin that was called off because in the buildup Eduardo was judged to have either kicked the ball out of Cheech’s hands or a high boot or to have hit the keeper, or something, depending on the account. Andre Mariner isn’t the best referee in the league, and I think he had a poor match overall, but I hardly think he is in particular biased against Arsenal. That call could have gone either way and much like Chelsea’s penalty shout he made a judgment call.

Like I said, I don’t think Mariner is the worst ref, but the yellow card for Traore in the 25th minute highlighted something that I think is much more pernicious; that there’s one set of rules for Arsenal and one set for the rest of the league. There is no other team in the league in which players consistently get yellow cards early in games for their very first foul. It wasn’t even a particularly hard foul and yet Traore picked up a yellow, in the 25th minute. In the whole game, ESPN has Traore down for 2 fouls and 1 yellow. Compare that to Mikel who had 6 fouls, all of them hard fouls, and didn’t pick up a yellow until the 70th minute.  This pattern happens a lot, especially in big games, in the Man U match Song picked up a yellow in the 23rd minute for his first foul, while Darren Fletcher committed 6 fouls (that were counted) and managed to escape the match without censure.

In America we’ll often attribute this to a team being young and I think that there’s some of that at work with Arsenal, but I also suspect that there’s a hefty dose of good old fashioned xenophobia at work as well. After all, as all the English players like to point out, it’s only the foreigners who dive and cheat.

The Ugly

The whole match was ugly from an Arsenal perspective, but seeing the empty stands in the last 20 minutes as Arsenal dinked the ball around and failed to even take a single shot was the lowest moment of this season.

That was followed by scenes of Chelsea’s on-pitch celebration, as if they’ve won the league already, and if that celebration doesn’t spur something inside this Arsenal team then nothing will.

Conclusion

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. For his part Arsene Wenger astonished everyone in the room during his post-match presser by saying

If you come, on Tuesday, I’ll give you the (statistical) analysis of the game, physically, technically and you will be surprised.

Combined with his insistence that goals taken on their fist shot basically don’t count and there’s a picture here of a man who at the least is simply talking out his ass and knows better or at the most is seriously out of touch.

I prefer to think the former, that he is just talking to keep the team spirit up. Either way, I really wish he would stop. I’m not so sure that this team benefits from these weird post-match interviews in which Wenger seems divorced from reality. In fact, I think this team needs an old fashioned dressing room ass kicking, not some pile of stats which show that we should have won the game because we completed more passes: passes don’t win games, goals do.

Talk will now proceed to who Arsene Wenger will buy in January, but January is a long way off and by the time Wenger is able to bring in reinforcements it may well be too late. Instead talk should be about the guys we have stepping up and doing something with this opportunity. If by the Hull game on the 19th they still haven’t stood up and made a good account of themselves, then yes, they should be targeted for replacement. The excuse of “killing” their careers can no longer be made, their careers are already under way and by all accounts last night they got off to a very rocky start.

In the mean time, it would be nice if Wenger shows a little initiative himself and change things up a little bit tactically. We need him to guide this team to a string of good performances or the season will them be truly lost.