Tag Archives: Andrei Arshavin is mentioned in this blog

I'm thinking that this might be where Cesc's leg was broken, just maybe.

Arsenal 2009/2010 Season Review: a warning from the past to Wenger present

I’m going to tell you a little story about heartbreak. One of my regular readers bought me the 2009/2010 Arsenal season review DVD and it is, in a word, a story of heartbreak.

Arsenal went into that summer hoping to keep top striker Emmanuel Adebayor but after a mega offer from Man City turned his head, Arsenal were forced to sell. The Gunners also sold Kolo Toure to City, though that was planned and Wenger brought in Thomas Vermaelen as his replacement.

Vermaelen was Wenger’s only buy in the summer. The logic behind not buying anyone, despite losing Adebayor’s 10 goals, was that Arsenal already had a young, world class, striker on the books in Robin van Persie. In fact, Arsenal’s strike force was amazing on paper; van Persie was deployed as the tip of the lance in a three forwards formation and Wenger had his choice of Nicklas Bendtner, Андрей Аршавин, Theo Walcott, Eduardo, Vela, and Samir Nasri to either play as the center forward or either of the two wide forwards next to him.

In midfield, Arsenal also boasted some of the best young players in England. Cesc Fabregas was not only captain but ran the Arsenal offense and ended the season with an amazing 15 goals and 13 assists. Diaby had his best season in an Arsenal shirt, Alex Song developed into a top defensive midfielder, Denilson started the season well for Arsenal, and a very baby-faced Aaron Ramsey even contributed 3 goals and 3 assists.

It was also a season when many players were returning from injury. Eduardo was returning from having his leg snapped in two by Martin Taylor and Tomas Rosicky returned from an 18 month layoff. Neither player would regain their former glory, though both had a part to play in the season.

And Wenger seemed vindicated in his vision for the club as Arsenal raced out to a crazy start to the season. On opening day, the Gunners beat Everton 6-1 at Goodison Park and followed that up with a 2-0 win over Celtic away in the Champions League qualifier. Then in the home opener, Arsenal beat Pompey 4-1, only conceding when Kaboul jumped into the Arsenal keeper, Manuel Almunia, and the referee allowed the goal to stand.

What was remarkable about that opening run of games was that goals were mostly coming from defenders and midfielders. Eduardo was the only forward to score in that run, the 6th against Everton, and the remainder of the goals came from players like Thomas Vermaelen and Diaby.

Vermaelen scored 7 goals for Arsenal that season, with 5 of them coming before October. He scored in his first match of his Arsenal career, making him the 84th debutante to score. He was an instant hit among fans who loved his tenacity, marveled at his leaping ability, and loved seeing their center back bombing forward to score — a habit they would just as quickly grow unfond of.

The first big controversy of the season came in the fourth game. Arsenal beat Celtic 3-1 but it was the opening goal which stirred the villagers into grabbing torches and pitchforks. Arsenal had been struggling a bit to break down the resolute Scottish defense but in the 28th minute Eduardo collected the ball on the edge of the box, drove straight past the defenders, and forced Celtic’s keeper to come out. Eduardo went down, the referee awarded a penalty, and Artur Boruc and the Celtic team claimed that Dudu had dived. Eduardo stepped up and scored from the penalty spot and Arsena went on to win the tie 3-1, 5-1 on aggregate.

Replays showed minimal contact and the British press went into full witch hunt mode. The Daily Mail started a campaign against diving and bowing under enormous pressure from Celtic and the collected outraged media, Eduardo was charged with diving and given a two match ban. Arsenal appealed and won. Thanks largely to the referee who saw the video replay and told the judges that he still would have given the penalty. The UEFA official statement read:

“Following examination of all the evidence, notably the declarations of both the referee and the referees’ assessor, as well as the various video footage, it was not established to our satisfaction that the referee had been deceived in taking his decision on the penalty.”

And the football gods have a sense of humor as well. In the very next match, Arsenal played Man U with Mike Dean the referee. Arsenal were denied a stonewall penalty when Fletcher took out Arshavin on the edge of the box. And of course, Man U were awarded a penalty when Wayne Rooney clashed with Almunia in almost the exact same way that Eduardo had clashed with Boruc. Arsenal lost 2-1.

Rooney must have been listening to Dio

Arsenal also lost the next match against Man City 4-2. It was another controversial match, the third in a row for Arsenal, but this time it was controversial because former Arsenal forward Emmanuel Adebayor stamped on van Persie’s face and then when he scored, ran 100 yards to celebrate on his knees in front of the away fans.

Watch where you put your face!Van Persie, however, scored in that Man City match and whether it was Adebayor’s boot to the face or something else that goal kickstarted a scoring glut from Robin. From that City match until mid November, van Persie scored or assisted in 9 consecutive matches, including two goals and an assist* against old rivals Tottenham.

Arsenal reaped the benefit of all of these healthy strikers and in the first 19 games of the season, Arsenal scored 55 goals, almost 3 goals a game. Wenger’s transfer dealings and faith in his young players to come good looked genius. Then came the international break and Chiellini’s challenge on Robin van Persie’s foot.

Robin van Persie would spend almost the remainder of the season out. He returned to play for Arsenal in April but didn’t score again until the final two matches of the season. In theory, Arsenal should have been able to survive Robin’s absence but in practice none of the strikers listed above were able to step up and take over the center forward spot. Arsenal scored 55 goals in the first 19 games but 60 goals in the last 36 games of the season: dropping from 2.9 goals per game to 1.7.

After the international break Arsenal played Sunderland, Standard Liege (Champions League), Cheslea, and Man City (League Cup). Arsenal scored 2 and conceded 7 in those 4 games.

If you watch the season review DVD, this is where the real heartbreak starts to set in. That first part of the season was magical and if you didn’t know how the season ended you might be tempted to wonder why that Arsenal side didn’t win the League. But as you watch the second half of the season unfold it becomes clear that Arsenal lacked the depth to challenge.

Wenger struggled to find a keeper he wanted in goal, dropping Almunia and replacing him with Mannone. Wenger also couldn’t find a viable starter in the center forward role, trying Eduardo, Bendtner and even Arshavin in the role and getting precious little in return.

And then injuries started to take their toll across the pitch: Walcott was in and out, Rosicky was off the boil and still recovering, Eduardo struggled for fitness, and ironically it was Diaby (the player most known for a history of injury problems) who played more games than any other Arsenal midfielder, playing a whopping 38 games that season in all competitions. And Wenger angered everyone when he refused to buy a player in January, taking former great and imposing center back Sol Campbell on a free. At a time when Arsenal needed a forward, Wenger took a center back, on a free.

There was a lone bright spot of the season. Arsenal made it to the second round of the knockout stages of the Champions League and had to face Barcelona. This was the Barcelona side which had just won the Champions League and who would win the Champions League the next year. Arsenal was playing against peak Barcelona.

Arsenal notched a moral victory over the Spaniards, holding them to a 2-2 draw at home. After conceding two goals to Zlatan, Wenger took off Sagna and put on Theo Walcott. Walcott almost immediately scored. Barcelona were a bit shell-shocked and so when Fabregas burst into the penalty area to fire in a shot, Puyols fouled him and the referee had no choice but to award the Gunners the penalty. Cesc stepped up and struck the penalty well, giving Arsenal the 2-2 draw.

In the process of scoring, or perhaps because of the Puyol tackle, Fabregas suffered a fractured leg. There couldn’t have been any more perfect way for Arsenal to end their season  Bereft of their leading scorer and now shorn of their leading playmaker, the Gunners finished the season with just 2 wins in the last 7.

Arsenal supporters have seen a lot over the last 10 years or so but none so heartbreaking as the 2009/2010 season. And when Arsenal fans complain about Wenger’s lack of transfer business this summer (2015/16) and him relying on players returning from injury, hoping that all his players will stay healthy, and banking on “team spirit” I wonder if it’s not this season that they are remembering. A season that promised so much, and delivered so little.


*He was awarded an assist for Cesc’s goal since he was technically the last one to pass him the ball.

P.S. I want to say thank you to the reader who bought me the DVD from my Amazon wishlist. As hard as it was to watch that video I think it was an important thing for me to do, to remember. Thank you.


Henry and Mou claim Arsenal need four (likea)new players to compete for the League title

In the post-match nuclear afterglow of Arsenal’s 0-0 defeat at the hands of Chelsea, many people have many opinions about a great number of Arsenal things. Thierry Henry thinks that Arsenal need four players to compete. Madcap Mourinho agrees with Henry but one-ups him saying that if Arsenal buy four world class players they repeat the unrepeatable and will be Invincibles again. People can’t stop talking about the Arsenal fans chanting “boring boring Chelsea” at the Chelsea players during the match. Oh, and some “stats” guy at the Telegraph made a specious argument that Arsenal have actually gotten worse this year, despite the fact that Arsenal barely finished 4th last year and this year they are in 2nd place. 

Business as usual.

First, typically, 0-0 is considered a draw but when the opposition’s aim is to secure a 0-0 draw at all costs, and they celebrate the 0-0 like they just won the title, then it’s kind of a win for them, isn’t it? It feels like a win. I was first introduced to this idea at Emirates stadium in 2009. Arsenal played Sunderland on a sunny spring day and despite Arsenal’s then record signing, Andrei Arshavin making his debut, the Gunners just couldn’t break them down. Afterwards their fans stood about in their pen celebrating like they had just won the World Cup. I couldn’t believe that a 0-0 would ever feel like a loss, but there on that day, that’s what it felt like.

Wankers, the lot of them

Sunderland fans celebrate their 0-0 win.

The 0-0 draw against Sunderland highlighted Arsenal’s need for creativity in midfield. Playing with Song and Denilson that day Arsenal put on a clinic in sideways passing and sterile possession.

In  similar way, against Chelsea on Sunday, the 0-0 draw highlights what Henry and Mourinho believe is Arsenal’s need to buy four top class players: striker, center mid, center back, and keeper. I agree with both Henry and Mou, Arsenal do need 4 players, but I don’t agree that Arsenal need to go out and buy them.

Arsenal registered just one shot on goal against Chelsea and you have to think that with a more dominant striker Arsenal might have created better chances to unlock Mourinho’s stubborn defense. Thus, people say Wenger needs to buy a striker. But I think Arsenal already have the striker that they need in Alexis Sanchez.

Alexis has already scored 22 goals in 45 appearances in his first season at Arsenal. There is always a breaking in period for new players in the Premier League, last season’s player of the year Luis Suarez took a season and a half to score 21 goals for Liverpool, and it’s telling that Sanchez found his feet so quickly. He’s already averaging 0.48 goals a game (without taking penalties I might add) and I expect him to increase that strike rate next season. Suarez averaged .44 goals a game in the season before his breakout, .68 goals per game in his breakout season, and .84 in his player of the year season. Instead of buying a “top striker” I think Wenger already has one waiting to emerge in Alexis Sanchez.

In midfield I also agree that Arsenal need a top Defensive Midfielder, someone who can tackle, gets you interceptions, wins aerial duels in the middle of the park, and who can pass, start the counter attack, and create chances for his teammates. Arsenal’s current defensive midfielder is a rock defensively and I love his heart and attitude: that game where he broke his nose on an aerial duel one minute, got some cotton wool stuffed up in there, and then went in for another aerial duel and broke his nose again, epitomizes Coquelin’s attitude. I love players like that so much that I want to be the only human on earth wearing a Coquelin shirt.

And Coquelin isn’t a disaster with the ball, he’s got a good touch, and he can turn his man and find the long outlet passes to start the counter attack, but he could be better with the ball. The good news is that it looks to me like he’s getting better as the season goes on and he gains in confidence. That last bit is key: I think Coquelin has all the defensive attributes Arsenal need in a DM and I also think that Wenger is the best manager in world football to help coax out his more expressive attacking qualities. So, again, Arsenal don’t need to buy a DM if, like Alexis, Wenger can get improvement on the ball from Coquelin.

Center back is a bit more tricky. Arsene Wenger bought Gabriel in January and he has been a good addition to the squad. But ideally, Arsenal needs a left-footed center back who can pass out from the back and start Arsenal’s attacks. They currently we don’t have one of those. But finding a good, left-footed center half, who can deal with the physical challenges of the Premier League and is a cultured passer is exceptionally difficult. So, while I agree with Henry that Arsenal might need¹ a center half, it’s not going to be easy to find one who fits the bill. All the top clubs want these players, it’s a big reason why Man U paid so much for Marcos Rojo.

But I wonder if Arsene Wenger doesn’t have a trick up his sleeve in terms of left footed center backs. What if he buys a left back instead and converts Nacho Monreal to full time center back? Monreal has shown real character this season and has quickly become a fan favorite at left back. He’s also played a few matches in the center back position and done fairly well. I wonder if Wenger couldn’t develop Monreal into a solid left-footed center back?

And finally, keeper. Can I just say that Arsenal have needed a keeper for about 8 years? Almunia was a disaster, his replacement Szczesny was given every chance in the world and seems to have decided to roll it up and smoke it, and Ospina is about the least inspiring keeper I’ve ever seen between the sticks for Arsenal. Yeah, I know, I know, people get all teary-eyed about Szczesny and feel like the Pole in Goal is on the verge of a real breakout season.

But for the second time in three years Szczesny has been dropped by Wenger after a calamitous match and I suspect Wenger is finally done with him. Szczesny has played 181 games for Arsenal so he’s been given his chance and I don’t think Szczesny has proven that he is at the level required to be a top keeper in the Premier League. You need a player like de Gea, Courtoise, or Lloris to save you some points and to keep you alive in games. And on a top team like Arsenal you need a player who can distribute the ball to a diverse number of players and not just always kick the ball to the right back. Ospina also isn’t that player and I can’t see him developing into one, he’s just not big enough.

So there you have it, I agree with Henry, Arsenal need 4 new players — three they will develop and one they will probably need to buy. Will Arsenal become the new Invincibles? Impossible. But with the addition of a top quality keeper and with the development of Alexis, Coquelin, and Monreal, I think Arsenal have a decent shot at the title next season.

Heck, we weren’t far off this season and this season started out as the worst season in Wenger’s career at Arsenal.


¹I’m sort of weaseling here with my “might”


Podolski in danger of going the way of Arshavin, Bendtner, and Gervinho: Bonus – comparing Podolski and Cazorla’s defensive and offensive contributions

Yesterday I opened up on Podolski and I admit: this happens with me about once a year. Annually, I get disgusted with an Arsenal player and dump on him. It’s happened before with Bendtner, then Arshavin, then Gervinho, and now Podolski. Clearly, I’m wrong when I do this. These are Arsenal players and they deserve our support, so, I apologize.

What is interesting here is that in each case (except Gervinho) fans say the exact same thing whenever these players receive criticism: they are being played out of position, the system Arsene uses doesn’t suit them, Wenger isn’t giving them enough time to get a good run of games, they are much better than they are playing, and on. In short, I’m told not to criticize the player, because it’s really the manager’s fault.

But the manager has to look at the whole team and has to decide what’s best for the team, not just what’s best for Nicklas Bendtner. He gets that wrong some times and right other times (objectively, he gets this more right than wrong) but that’s his job: get the most out of the players he puts on the pitch.

So, when he plays Arshavin on the left, it’s because it’s what’s best for the team. Arshavin, it turned out, was a great crosser of the ball. I remember the moment Wenger put Arshavin in with Henry against Sunderland. I knew the little Russian was going to put something in for Henry to score and sure enough he did:

The same for Bendtner, playing him wide wasn’t the prettiest thing we’ve ever seen but he did get more out of Bendtner and van Persie that way than if he didn’t play Bendtner at all. Bendtner’s role in that Arsenal side was almost an admission by Wenger that the team was so weak we needed to play Bendtner, anywhere.

And now Podolski. We are seeing the same comments from the fans and the same kind of performances from the player. Just like Arshavin before him, Podolski plays wide and is supposedly more suited to being the second striker in a 4-4-2 — a formation that Wenger doesn’t want to employ because we don’t have the central midfielders like Vieira and Petit to make it work.

And just like Arshavin, he’s occasionally stellar, sometimes aggravating, and almost always criticized for being lazy. Wenger was quick to remind everyone, when the topic of where Podolski should play first came up, that Poldi plays wide for Germany and should be able to do the same for Arsenal.

What’s also interesting is that each of these players has built more of a following for what they do off the pitch than on. Bendtner is known for his jewelry, drinking, and lifestyle more than the hat trick he scored against Porto (Big Game Bendtner). Podolski is the AH HA guy who has a very popular Instagram account. And Arshavin had one of the greatest personal web pages I’ve ever seen. These players often seem more interested in the trappings of playing football than with the actual football itself.

But I suspect that whatever arguments we have and no matter how much we like the players personally, Arsene Wenger has made his mind up and wants to be done with them. Speaking about Podolski before his return from injury, Wenger essentially let the cat out of the bag:

You always have the feeling that he is 80, 90 percent there, but you want him to give 100 per cent and then he’ll be world class. There’s more to come from him.

From my perspective that’s as damning a public indictment as you will ever see from Arsene Wenger but it’s also a clue into how he thinks about players. Every player thinks they want to play centrally. Podolski, Bendtner, and Arshavin all said as much and the fans backed them up. That’s a coveted role on a team. But when Wenger sees a young man like Bendtner not giving 100%, wasting his talents on booze and partying, I suspect he says “you don’t give 100%, why should I give you the role you want over this other player who does give 100%?”

Just ask yourself: was Bendtner going to booze his way into the starting center forward role? Did Arshavin play hard enough to warrant taking away the #10 spot from Cesc? Does Podolski’s 80%… eighty percent… jump him in front of Cazorla or Özil?

I don’t think it does. And with the rumors boiling over that Arsenal are trying to sign Draxler and Vucinic it’s pretty clear that 80% might not even be enough to get Podolski a place on the team for the rest of the season. He could lose out on the World Cup.

Unless there’s a huge turnaround of Podolski’s attitude, or Arsenal fail in our bid for Draxler, I suspect we’ll not see much of him for the rest of the season. And considering the high praise Wenger has heaped on him and the fact that he is a clinical striker with the ability to change games, that’s just sad.

Sad and infuriating.


Bonus — who works harder?

Caz v. Poldi


Using last year’s data, Cazorla tackles more and intercepts more per 90 than Poldi and Poldi clears more and fouls more. Problematically, Cazorla played a lot in the middle last year and Poldi played most of the time wide. So, Cazorla got dribbled past a lot more than Poldi because he was facing midfielders, not fullbacks. And Cazorla also didn’t foul and still doesn’t which I don’t necessarily think of as a good or bad thing (where a foul happens is way more important than the number of fouls). Also, the same could be said for Interceptions. And comparing them this season with both players not at their peak and Podolski getting such limited time is really fruitless.

So, the answer is that it’s really hard to draw a comparison between the two players, defensively. In fact, I’d argue that it’s a toss up.

But in terms of overall output? No contest: Cazorla works his socks off. He’s a better dribbler than Podolski, he’s a much better crosser of the ball and he gets the ball into shooting positions for his teammates more than any player bar Özil. And you’ll notice that I didn’t include passes, where Cazorla really shines in his movement and willingness to take the ball in dangerous areas. Podolski is very efficient — his goals per shot ratio is much better than Cazorla’s — and his assists to key passes is significantly better.

But in terms of overall work rate, there’s no contest here, really. The two outside columns (Cazorla this year v. Poldi last year) are the closest direct comparison. And as you can see, Cazorla beats Podolski in nearly every metric. However, as some people point out, Cazorla’s defensive contributions are overall less this year than Podolski’s last year, it is very close with the German tipping the scales because he fouled the opposition more often.