On injuries and rivalries

Not much going on today: we’ve had a couple of stories that Cesc is questionable for Wednesday’s match, I still can’t confirm anything about Rosicky, and all the long term injuries to Nasri, Djourou, and Walcott are the same as they ever were.

Erm… long term.

As for Cesc on Wednesday, a lot of folks are saying that we shouldn’t risk him and I agree. Diaby is fit and had a good game against Pompey and with Song and Denilson available, Wenger can slot Diaby into Cesc’s role. Or, hell, he could play Arshavin there and put Diaby in for Denilson alongside Song. Or even Ramsey could slot in somewhere. The point is that there are options, and since Celtic need a three goal margin of victory to move on I think we shouldn’t risk Cesc in this game. Celtic did win 5-2 on Saturday, which is the type of margin that they would need to move on, but I’m confident that Arsenal, even without Cesc, is better than St. Johnstone.

If Rosicky is actually practicing as reported here it’s a huge boost and of course gives Wenger even more options in Cesc’s creative midfield spot. Fingers crossed and all that.

That’s it as far as Arsenal news is concerned. Wenger hasn’t bought anyone or sold anyone and all the rumors out there about Wenger bringing in more creative midfielders are just that, rumors. One week left in the market and Wenger may still have a trick up his sleeve or maybe he’s hiding some 6 foot tall, wild-eyed, midfield killing machine in those sleeves. Big sleeves and all.

There is a bit of strange news this morning; I read that somehow the FA failed to fix the Carling Cup draw and West Ham was drawn with Millwall. I don’t know how much of the facts that you all know of this rivalry (apart from the fiction of the movie Green Street) but it’s pretty serious with real life fans actually killing other fans, in real life. Did I mention that there were killings? In real life?

There isn’t any television coverage that I can find so other than maybe some online feed, or actually going to the match (HA!)  you’re not going to get to see this thing live.

As a general rule, I stay out of these rivalries. I don’t think it’s funny or cute when people in general sing songs about the Heysel disaster or the Busby Babes and I find it extremely distasteful when American fans parrot their English counterparts. These rivalries tend to be romanticized for a lot of people who don’t actually live in the area and it’s easy for Americans, I think, to “take sides” when we’re 3,000 miles away from being actually smacked around.

Maybe a good smacking around would set some of these folks straight. I don’t know.

What I do know is that this is widely considered THE rivalry in English football and could be a great match to watch. Me, I’m just hoping that the two fans put aside their old hatreds and let the players do the talking on the pitch.

Isn’t sport supposed to be the outlet for this stuff, rather than the cause?

We’re all just looking for a few, good, hard men

A hard good man is to find!

It’s a bit odd. To hear Arsene Wenger tell it, Arsenal are looking for a hard man, and yet having been linked to nearly every hard man on the planet, he’s instead chosen not to buy. Still he tells everyone that’s who he’s looking for, either a center back, or a defensive midfielder, or if we’re to be real honest a centerbackdefensivemidfielderwhocanalsogoforwardandplayingoal.

This elusive player can’t be too tall nor too short. He can’t drink or smoke but he also needs to know when to lighten up and let his hair down. He need to be able to play the ball to feet and also play the long pass over the top. He should be in constant motion and yet always in the right spot at the right time. He must be cheap but also world class. He can’t be too young nor too old. And he should be able to take people out of a game while simultaneously being a good sport about it. On and on and on…

Arsene Wenger, as always, is looking for the Goldilocks Signing.

I’m not saying he shouldn’t look for perfection, but I am saying that he shouldn’t let perfection stop him from expanding squad depth. We’re in a pretty precarious position as far as Center Back/Defensive Midfielder is concerned. That position is currently occupied by only one man, Alex Song, and from here forward will be called “The Alex Song Position.”

I like Denilson, he’s a good player, smart with the ball, knows when to go forward and when to stay back, can play either in the center or on the right and hell, I’d even let him take Cesc’s spot as an attacking mid who can put in a tackle up front when needed. But when Gallas went out to have his contacts put back in and Arsene moved Denilson to center back on Saturday that’s when it dawned on me that Denilson, for all his good qualities, is not really a defensive midfielder. I almost hate to say it but it’s true, he’s just not got the size for it.

If Denilson isn’t a center back, then the fact that Wenger slotted Diaby in as defensive mid proves that Diaby isn’t really even a box-to-box player, but more of a deep lying striker or something.

I’m being serious.

Diaby has the physique to occupy the Alex Song position but he doesn’t have the mentality for it and I have to wonder if he ever will. He just doesn’t strike me as a cold, hard, killer like Thomas Vermaelen does.

I’m not taking anything away from Denilson or Diaby. I love them, they’re just not really holding midfield players.

So, if the current guys won’t do, then who will sit in for Song while he’s away for the Africa Cup of Nations? And who can fill in at center back for the days when William Gallas needs a break from scoring goals? It’s the question of this season and one that even Wenger has addressed publicly.

In some sense, I think that Wenger’s being disingenuous when he says:

I’ve spoken to 10 managers and all 10 are looking for centre-backs or defensive midfielders. It looks like the offensive players are the most-paid but at the end of the day, in the modern day, all the managers I speak to ask me the same thing.

‘Do you know a player somewhere?’

It’s almost as if he’s saying “look, everyone wants one of those guys, don’t be surprised if we don’t get one!” But wouldn’t that be like saying “I’ve spoken to 10 managers and they all want to win the Champions League, they all ask me ‘do you know how?’ HA HA NO ONE WINS THAT THING!!!”

Besides, it’s not true, Wenger’s had ample opportunity to sign a defensive midfielder and he’s passed on them one at a time, waiting for that damned Goldilocks Signing. Lorik Cana, for example, he’s currently plying his trade as Sunderland and by all accounts (he’s got 1 yellow in 3 games and yellow cards are his measuring stick, RIGHT?) he’s doing a hell of a job. He’s not perfect, he might ruffle a few feathers in the dressing room and on the pitch, but he’s the kind of guy that I could see in the Alex Song position.

Neven Subotic is another guy who isn’t perfect, in fact he seems to be a bit of a loose cannon: he got into an elbowing contest with Arsenal’s former headcase Jens Lehmann on Saturday. By all accounts Subotic won the battle and if that isn’t just the kind of guy that Arsenal supporters would love to have at the team I don’t know what is. Doubtless Wenger’s run the rule over Subotic and come up with “yeah, but he can’t play defensive midfield, so…” and turned back to his search for the perfect player.

It’s a hell of a risk on his part to be so picky. I’m not suggesting that he just buy anyone, someone like van der Vaart would be a bit of a useless signing in my book. Especially with reports of Rosicky practicing with the team on Monday (all the way at the bottom) and possibly taking over for Cesc on Wednesday. But cover for defense is not a useless signing and rather than wait for the perfect guy to come along, he should open the checkbook and sign a decent player. Steven Taylor is decried by many as not really good enough for Arsenal, but if there’s any coach in the world who could take a 23 year old hard man like Taylor and instill a bit of class in him, it’s Arsene Wenger.

Like I said, there’s more risk in not signing someone than there is  signing someone who isn’t perfect, like Taylor. Not just on the pitch or in the locker room either. Cesc has already called for a signing, Arshavin is calling for a signing and I don’t know a single fan who wouldn’t welcome a signing. Even someone like Blaise Matuidi would be welcomed, I think.

But for Wenger I’m sure he’s got excuses on board for why we won’t move for someone like Matuidi; he’s not tall enough, he’s not old enough, the bed was too soft, this porridge is too hot…

Meanwhile the transfer window is closing and Wenger’s possibly taking the biggest chance of this season, searching for that Goldilocks Signing. We will see, I have maintained that Lescott to City, which looks imminent, is the linchpin for a bunch of defensive moves among City, Everton, and Arsenal. This next week could be flurry of activity or it could see Wenger making excuses for why so-and-so just wasn’t quite good enough.

I’m hoping for the former.

Arsenal 4-1 Pompey; the Midfield, the Strikers, and the Goalkeeper

I was told there would be no Beatles jokes...

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: Gunners fire on sorry Pompey

The Telegraph: It would be brave just now to bet on Portsmouth to win any football match but the fixture computer had seemed particularly cruel to present them with a trip to the Emirates this weekend.

Like I said last weekend, if you’re new here you’ll notice that I like linking to ESPN and The Telegraph for match reports. This is because each of those services provide a lovely bit of statistical data along with their regular match report. For ESPN, it’s the link called “Match Action” which will bring up a little graphical pitch and then you can select things like “heat map” or average position and take a look at how Arsenal lined up and where players generally played — it’s cool. Similar data, plus a player rater and other statistical info., is found in the Telegraph link — on the right hand side. So, for example, if you mouse over Abou Diaby you’ll get his stats: 3 shots, 2 goals, 96% passing rate, 71 total passes, 0 assists, and 4 balls won.

Match Video

The Arsenalist is up and running today, enjoy!

Man of the Match

Abou Diaby is today’s MotM and it’s an easy decision. Even Wenger is talking about nothing but Diaby at the moment:

He has been out for nine months. He has been here three years and I have seen that today he played his 100th game so that means he has been out for a long, long time. He has had little problems and he worked very hard this summer. This could be Abou’s year, it could be his season because he prepared well, he looks very sharp, very strong, he has all you dream to have to play in the Premier League.

Abou is a more offensive player but if he decides to play defensively he is exactly like Vieira. At some stage when Gallas moved out I put Denilson centre back and put Diaby central midfield in a defensive role. And he looks completely similar to Patrick to win the ball back. But he is a guy who has a quick transition from defence to offence, from box to box, that is his fantastic strength, to change quickly. Nobody can go with him when he has that, when we are on the counter-attack. He is fantastic.

That’s some really high praise there.

Giving Diaby MotM isn’t taking anything away from Cesc or Denilson or Robin van Persie, who all worked very hard and looked very good, it’s just that Diaby was better. I almost never pick the same man of the match as the Telegraph but I don’t think there’s much controversy in this pick today; two goals, and a plethora of good work in the midfield, that’s all it takes.

The Midfield

Jeebus… the midfield for Arsenal is buzzing right now, isn’t it? Arsenal have scored 10 goals in two league matches, winning by an average of +4 goals per match and 9 of those 10 goals have come from midfield and defensive players. Cesc has 2, Diaby 2, Gallas 2, and then Ramsey, Denilson, Vermaelen, and Eduardo round out the remainder with 1 each. That’s 60% of Arsenal’s league goals coming from the midfield.

The work rate in the middle of the park is excellent as well. I think you could say that after Diaby’s second goal, Arsenal sort of took their foot off the gas a bit, and that’s probably to be expected, what with 3 matches coming up in the next 7 days. But I never thought that they lacked for class or work in the midfield, even when Cesc came off at half-time with a tight hamstring and was replaced by Aaron Ramsey. You always knew that if they needed it, this team could kick into another gear and the midfield could take over the game.

The other aspect of the midfield game that has changed, and even the commentators mentioned this, is that Cesc in particular, but the whole midfield in general, looks much more powerful, much quicker, and much more assured with and without the ball. Cesc looks to be in the best shape of his career, strong, fast, and willing to shoot from outside. Diaby, who’s ponderousness with the ball is frustrating at times, was able to use his new found strength to hold the ball up and win challenges which we haven’t seen from him much in his career so far. It’s a long season and there’s 57 more games to go, but with Song adding power to the midfield as well as the others, we could easily terrorize opponents for years to come… if we stay healthy.

At the back, there were a few shaky moments like when Gallas seemed to be beaten by Utaka and the big Pompey winger went down. That appeal was waved off by the linesman and as long as the linesman keeps his flag down it’s good defense, right? Pompey for their part had a game plan and tried to execute it. They caught us once or twice with the over the top balls but every Arsenal supporter knows by now that that’s a product of the Arsenal system, especially if the defense stops pressing, which they did at parts of the match today. It was always going to be that type of defensive match and I have to give credit to the back four who would have kept a clean sheet except for Almunia’s insanity.

I almost wonder if Wenger didn’t tell the midfield to back off a bit and let Pompey test out the defense.  Nah, that would be crazy, right?

The Strikers

The one cause for worry, and I’m not suggesting that we should worry what with a +4 goal differential in 2 matches and Arsenal sitting atop the league table. But, the one cause for worry is that without Eduardo’s single poached goal no one else in the strike force is scoring and they are putting in a metric shitload of work for it.

Robin van Persie was clearly frustrated today, which is unfortunate because he put in so much work and really had it not been for two brilliant saves from James, would have gotten on the score sheet himself. He needs to just revel in the huge margins we’re generating, keep working, and you have to think that the goals will come.

If not, well, maybe we’ll be like United were last year? With a midfielder leading the team in scoring?

The other thing that made me uncomfortable was when Gallas was off the pitch getting a contact put back in, then Vermaelen went marauding forward, and Denilson (correctly) went back to fill in as center back. Look I love Denilson, and he was good as a sort of holding midfielder today, but I really don’t see him as a center back and it made me very uncomfortable to see him floating back there. TV5 needs to recognize and not make that run forward there, I think. Song, on the other had, I’m very comfortable with in that role, Denilson, not to much.

And I love the kid!

The Goalkeeper

With Fabio Capello looking on Manuel Almunia made his best case yet to be England number one. I mean, if England’s number one is supposed to make huge gaffes and allow a team who has one shot on goal to score, then Manuel Almunia is your man!

I kid of course. It’s the third game in to the season and he’s only made one mistake, he’s got miles to go before he can rise to the gaffe-tastic level that is the hallmark of English goalkeeping. It’s just that Pompey was so poor and hadn’t scored an away goal in like 23 years or something, so it’s a bit harsh to have that nut broken against my beloved Arsenal. You have to admit, that was some pretty piss poor goalkeeping on Money’s part, and he’s probably kicking himself in the dressing room as I write this. It’s ok, it didn’t hurt us, so it’s just something that the boss needs work on with him. I don’t know how, maybe a motivational speaker or something.

I’d gladly do it!

“Ok, Mooney, here’s the thing. You’re the only guy on the pitch who, in the supposed act of ‘punching the ball away,’ has the right to punch a cunt like Younes Kaboul in the throat! The team’s countin’ on you to do your duty in this regard and not puss out. Now, get out there and punch some f*ckers for the Gipper!”

Conclusions

Well, we won. But then again, we also lost. Lost Cesc to the dreaded hamstring tightness and Arsenal have been hit with more injury news in the form of Carlos Vela being ruled out for a month, another victim of the Gods damned international duty.  Why can’t some international opponents kick the shiat out of c*nts like Frank Lampard?

The Cesc injury is worrying, but lets hope that Wenger removed him as a precaution, we don’t know yet, the post match interview was all about how Abou Diaby is going to be Patrick Vieira plus Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp or something. Good for Diaby and I suppose we should be talking about the positives that came out of the game but still, all Gooners the world over are nervous over Cesc getting pulled at half time.

UPDATE: Wenger is saying we need to wait 48 hours before we will know if Cesc has “tightness” or a hammy pull. If the former, we may see him play against Celtic. If the latter, he’ll be out three weeks.

Wenger is also admitting that Theo Walcott won’t be available until at least next month and he’s blaming the internationals for that as well.

This team is really clicking right now and playing brilliantly, it would be a real shame if all that work was undone by injuries.

Oh well, not much that can be done about injuries, I guess, and I’m sure the boss is well aware of those problems at the moment. For me, I keep coming back to how deep this team is as a source of hope. I mean how many other teams in the EPL could lose their captain, put on an 18 year old, and have him come on and increase their lead against a defensively minded team? I can only think of one and they won 4-1 today.