Everyone Agrees – Defense Wins Championships

This week Vidic has said it, Cesc said it, Adebayor is saying it 24/7 on ESPN’s annoying automatic video load crapola, I’ve said it countless times, and it’s probably the  most over used and least understood phrase in all of sports: “defense wins championships.” But it’s true.

There have been quite a few comments in the blog and elsewhere about the state of Arsenal’s defense of late and much has been made of Silvestre and Gibbs at the back and the prospect of Arsenal facing United with such a “depleted” squad, but I just want to point out a few things.

Gibbs is not better than Clichy, I’m not even going to try to make that argument. Gibbs is slightly faster than Clichy and Gibb’s attacking ability is far superior (he already has 2 assists this season) but where he lacks is in experience defending. So, yes, I am a bit nervous about Gibbs facing Ronaldo, Tevez, Rooney, and Bobblekopf.

Silvestre is… well… batshit crazy. His defensive style is best described as desperate: he doesn’t just get a foot stuck in and clear the ball, it’s always, and I mean ALWAYS, some kind of acrobatic, falling down, desperation clearance. I like a player who plays “110%” like that and normally I would forgive him and let him play his own style. Except there’s the batshit crazy part. The part where, for some ungodly reason, he feels it’s ok to backpass the ball and give up a free kick to United. For a defender with his vast experience, at the level he’s played at, to make such mental errors is unthinkable. I would think his body would break down, not his mind, but it just seems like he’s not in the game, or maybe he doesn’t remember how to play football having had his mind erased by Sir Alex Ferguson’s technicians in the Old Trafford dollhouse.

But I want you all to take heart: Arsenal beat United 2-1 back in November. Granted, Arsenal we’re up for that game and United were in a bit of a slump at that point — having let Hull City get up their noses a bit when United eked out a 4-3 win which they followed by a 1-1 draw to Celtic. In fact, United might look at that period and see that as on of their low points of the season. So, you could blame that.

But, while United might look at that as a low period, for Arsenal there is no doubt that the month of November was nearly catastrophic — this was a team coming off a devastating 4-4 draw to Spuds, not to mention the 2-1 loss to Stoke, followed by the 0-0 draw at home to Fener. The dressing room was a disaster, any belief that team had in their own ability was being trampled by infighting between Gallas and half the team.

But worse than the state of Arsenal’s dressing room was the state of the injury room. Arsenal went into that match missing Adebayor through injury, van Persie through insanity, and Toure through “injury.” The state of the squad was so bad that Arsenal fielded Bendtner up front with Diaby, Cesc with Denilson in the middle, and paired William Gallas with Silvestre at the back. If I told you that Wenger was going to field that lineup tomorrow, you’d shit yourself. And the funny thing is that that team damn near did shit themselves: Denilson could have been called for a penalty, Silvestre had the back pass, and Clichy had a hand ball, any of which could have spelled disaster.

So, under those circumstances, for them to come out and get a 2-1 win, even if at home and even if United were a bit down, is pretty amazing. Arsenal fans the world over should look at that day and remember that on our day, no matter who we field and no matter how we line up it just takes a moment or two of brilliance to get a win. Brilliance which Samir Nasri provided on that day and which I expect will be provided by at least one player tomorrow.

As for the defense, this is not just a league game at home in November. This is a game against the defending champions and our last chance for any silverware this season. Man U are going to be up for this game and there are going to be multiple serious challenges of our defense tomorrow. So, as much as I’d like to bring them along slowly, there’s no chance of that and it’s time for Djourou and Gibbs to show the world what they got. What sent Eboue from mediocre defender to “great” defender were his performances against Ronaldo and there is no doubt that SAF will be sending the entire Man U attack in to batter and deep fry Arsenal’s two young defenders. This is their chance to shine.

I think they have the talent to do it and I think Wenger will get the tactics right to help support them the best he can. But if they cannot do it, we all need to have realistic expectations and not get too down on them: Gibbs is only 19, Djourou is only 22, and both have a lot to learn before we can jump on them or abandon them and start calling for their heads. If we lose badly, then so be it, they have done an amazing job and defied all expectations to get us this far. If we win, or get a famous pulsating draw like everyone expects, well… then…

Well, there’s only an upside then, isn’t there?

Arsenal 2-0 Middlesbrough; the Good, Bad, and the Ugly

Match Reports

The Independent: Fabregas double piles misery on Boro

The Beeb: A Cesc Fabregas double saw Arsenal beat Middlesbrough and push the visitors closer to Premier League relegation.

Man of the Match

Scoring his first goal since October, scoring a double, and captaining his team to perfection, Cesc Fabregas wins Man of the Match easily today.

The Good

Just when I was ready to claim that Wenger’s system of playing Cesc right behind the striker(s) was a failure, Cesc goes ahead and scores a double and puts paid to my theory.

My main complaints are that Cesc is not a finisher and playing him up front robs him of several of his main talents; his ability to see the field and his defensive prowess. Arshavin, on the other hand, is a finisher and he’s also a hell of a set up man; racking up another assist yesterday and now having a hand in 12 Arsenal goals in his 13 games. But it’s typical Wenger. Instead of playing Arshavin in the hole, he puts him out left. And instead of playing Cesc in the back with Denilson, he puts him in the hole.

Oh yeah, and while you’re at it throw Nasri on as Denilson’s partner in a 4-2-3-1 and The Crazy Season rumbles on crazy as ever.  As I was watching the game, I kept thinking “that can’t possibly be Nasri” and then I’d see the number 8 on his back and shake my head a little as if maybe it was just the haze of too much wine the night before that was making me see eights in the middle of the park. But it wasn’t pink elephants, Nasri was there in the middle, and Wenger is saying he could use him there again on Wednesday and shift Abou Diaby out to the left.

Meanwhile, Sir Alex Ferguson was spotted at the game, presumably scouting the team ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash and I hope Fergie got an eyeful because what he saw yesterday will almost certainly have no resemblance to the lineup that Wenger will use on Wednesday. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about this crazy season it’s that you cannot predict how Wenger is going to line up or what tricks he’ll have up his sleeves. Wenger himself let that cat out of the bag when he said

Usually Fabregas plays deeper with Nasri higher. I wanted to test how it would work the other way round. It could be reiterated that we will do it again because it was quite convincing. But that is open; we have 48 hours to study that then make a decision.

Regardless of the lineup it was an important win for Arsenal, they overcame two years of dominance by ‘Boro and head into the Champions League clash with Man U with a win under their belt and with their captain scoring for the first time since October. I’d say things look pretty good, no matter what lineup Wenger employed.

The Bad

For Gareth Southgate’s entire tenure at Middlesbrough Arsenal had never won a match.  ‘Boro encounters were feisty affairs in which fans looked at the squad and expected three points but came away thinking that Arsenal aren’t title contenders if they let a team like that get over on them. Yesterday we saw that this ‘Boro isn’t the same team that has harassed Arsenal into either a loss or draw in every game since 2006. No, they looked sad, tired, and ready for relegation. Any magic that Southgate had wielded over them in the past has evaporated and they just look like an ordinary team playing at an ordinary level. On the back of that performance I’d say they are relegation bound.

The Ugly

Injuries are still plaguing the team with Silvestre picking up “back spasms” ahead of the Old Trafford game and Wenger listing him as “50:50.” The only good news there is that Djourou played the entire second half and seems to have overcome his knee injury. Also, Almunia played the entire 90 minutes and didn’t pick up an injury. I can’t say that I feel better having Djourou at the back than Silvestre, both are mistake prone (just in different ways), and both are not on top form at the moment. But you don’t go to war with the army you wish you had, you go to war with the army that Donald Rumsfeld specified, or something like that, and no one ever accused me of not supporting the troops.

Oh wait, yes you have.

The point here is that Arsenal might have picked up another injury to our injury prone defense and if both Djourou and Silvestre don’t come through for Wednesday, it will mean Arsenal facing a 5 goal resurgent Man U with Alex Song holding down the stopper position in Arsenal’s defense. That’s an ugly thought indeed.

Conclusion

2-0 to the Arsenal, the captain scores a brace, Arshavin gets an assist, and Wenger plays the lineup shuffle. All in all, it was a good way to go into Wednesday’s game.

UP THE ARSE!

Arsenal v. Middlesbrough: match preview

This will either be a wonderfully successful moment or a tremendous failure, and I don’t just mean the game. It’s damn near midnight (will be past when I’m done) and I just returned from a wonderful party at my friend Alex’s house and I’ve had quite a bit of ‘tipple.’ So maybe the blog will reflect life in a sense? Maybe we’ll all wake up and watch a drunken Arsenal play a stone cold sober Middlesbrough tomorrow morning. That’s a scary thought considering what’s at stake in the morning.

What?

Oh you’re like my friend and thinking “why should I care about this game? Why should I get up at 8am (10:30pm in Antipodea) and watch Arsenal play ‘Boro in a game in which, frankly, we’d all like to see ‘Boro pick up some points.

Well, let me tell you why.

First, and most importantly, 3rd place is still in play and 3rd place is still important. I’ m not going to bore you with details about how 4th place in the EPL now means open qualification in Europe and thus potentially a first round qualification against the likes of Roma rather than Twente Enschde. No, I’d rather point out that 3rd place is 9 points away owing to Chelsea’s lucky escape from West Ham earlier today, and so Arsenal need maximum points from here on out to shove 4th place down Nicolas Anelkas throat.

Second, ‘Boro has had a bit of success against Arsenal in recent times and who wouldn’t like to relive the 7-0 lashing we put on them back in January of 2006: when Henry scored a hat-trick and surpassed 150 goals.  I would love to see Arshavin get 3 goals and inspire Arsenal to a famous win. Recent history suggests that a draw is more likely, but with Arshavin anything is possible.

Anyway, I don’t have any more sqaud news than you do, at the moment, so I suggest you check the feeds first thing in the AM. And I suggest you get up first thing and root for the Arsenal, they are your team after all!