Tag Archives: Champions League

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Arsenal fly the standard high with Welbeck rampant

Welbz is Dat Guy

Welbeck and Giroud offer a study in contrasts. Giroud is solid, often static, winning balls in the air, holding up play, and bringing his teammates into the game. Meanwhile Welbeck is the kind of forward who runs constantly, dropping deep to receive the ball, passing off to a teammate, and making these neat little darting runs (often with a head-fake thrown in just to set the defender on his heels) behind defenders to receive the ball in dangerous areas.

Note that I didn’t say one was better than the other, they are both useful and could even be used to great effect together against teams who like to sit deep and take the Arsenal pressure. Still, I have to say that I think Welbeck suits the Arsenal creative types (mainly Özil and Sanchez) better than Giroud does.

Özil in particular thrives on movement in front of him and now with Welbeck rampant in front of him and Alexis and Ox in the support roles beside him, our young German international finally has the perfect compliments to his style.

Think of it this way: with Giroud, the center backs have to work hard but they have to work hard in a pretty static way. They can settle a bit, especially in the areas where center backs like to settle into a certainty. But now with Welbeck making figure 8 runs in and around the defenders constantly they are constantly unsettled, moving, trying to keep their shape against an uncertain opponent.

Giroud still has plenty to offer as the target man up front but with Welbeck, Arsenal haven’t had a forward with his near constant movement, his understanding of where to run, and his ability to get behind defenders since Robin van Persie. So, I wonder if Giroud is going to make it back into the starting lineup when he returns?

One last thing for those counting: Welbeck has 4 goals, Falcao has zero, and Balotelli just the one.

Pace Pace Pace Pace Picante

With the purchases of Alexis and Welbeck (and the return of Ox) Arsenal now have several players with great acceleration, a quality which Arsenal used to great effect against a Galatasaray side which conceded acres of space. The rapidity with which Welbeck is able to change velocity from nearly zero to full speed helps him blast past defenders, something we saw over and over last night. My favorite moment being when he zipped past Felipe Melo both times beating him with a mixture of strength and celerity.

Meanwhile, Alexis is swift as a swallow on the left. Darting in and out of defensive spaces with alacrity. And on the other side Arsenal have the ironically named “Ox” who is almost the exact opposite of the steady pace an Ox might show.

If teams concede space the way that  Galatasaray did last night Arsenal’s new found fleet-footed forwards will surely eat them alive.

I better pace myself or I might run out of synonyms for acceleration.

Melo Yellow

Felipe Melo was a disaster last night. Beaten three times for three goals he then put in a two-footed tackle which nearly wrecked Alexis. I remember when Arsenal were supposedly in to buy this guy. What a bullet dodged.

Prandelli got it all wrong

I hope that Brendan Rodgers and Louis van Gaal were NOT watching the game last night. Teams who play a 3-5-2 against this Arsenal lineup with our speed on the wings will be taken to the cleaners. I’ve always thought the return to the 3-5-2 which was so in vogue last season with Liverpool and others was going to be found out but I never could have predicted that it would be found out so quickly. Watching United and Liverpool both crumble rapidly under the slightest pressure is actually kind of fun. About as much fun as watching Arsenal run rampant over Galatasaray last night.

Szczesny Red

Szczesny has an annoying habit of coming out and forcing the referee to make a decision. He’s actually been quite lucky in most of these cases, often getting a yellow instead of the red he saw last night. Still, it happens a lot that Szczesny will be left one-v-one with a forward and will need to make a last ditch tackle to save a goal. Usually, Szczesny is very good about claiming the ball but this time, and about 4 times a year, he was a millisecond late and took the player’s toenail.

That the referees don’t always give him a red card is the amazing part, that foul is a denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity every time. That this referee did give him a red card, after letting Felipe Melo off with cold-blooded murder, is the surprise.

 

Seaman

Arsène Wenger bemoans Champions League monotony as Arsenal seek 14th consecutive knockout round berth

It was fourteen years ago that Arsenal lost a penalty shootout 4-1 to Galatasaray. On that night in Copenhagen, the Turkish team put on a brave defense and held the presumptive favorites to a 0-0 draw over 120 minutes. This was an Arsenal team whose stars should have shone through the blanket of night and yet they were all too easily covered over with a thin mist.

Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Tony Adams, Marc Overmars, and Emannuel Petit are all legends now. Even Seaman and Keown along with Dixon, Silvinho, and Ray Parlor are all household names (especially if your household is in North London or Tacoma, Washington). And yet those legends couldn’t overcome a 10 man Galatasaray team whose main star was a 35 year old named Gheorghe Hagi. And their main star, I might add, was sent off for a petulant punch on Tony Adams.

And if it seems like a lifetime ago that Arsenal lost that match, it’s because in the ephemeral life of Football, fourteen years has turned out to be at least three generations. There was the Invincibles generation which started to gel the year after that defeat. That was followed by Generation Cesc™ and the latest generation, which is probably best known by our sponsors, The Emirates Generation.

This Emirates Generation was the apple of Wenger’s eye 14 years ago. The stadium project was just starting to take shape, Arsenal had just built the state of the art training ground, and Wenger’s vision was that Arsenal with a 60,000 seat arena would be able to compete with Real Madrid for players like Zidane¹.

Stadium

But a simple look around at the competition and you can see that Arsenal, despite the heavy investment in the new stadium, in the new training ground, and in hundreds of millions of dollars on new players like Alexis, Özil, Debuchy, Welbeck, and Chambers are still generations behind teams like PSG, Chelsea, Man City, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich.

 

And on the eve of his 18th anniversary at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger has admitted Arsenal have almost no chance of winning the Champions League (The Times, license required):

In the evolution of the Champions League, maybe it was a bit more open 15 years ago than it is today. The concentration of the big players in a small number of clubs is much more than it was before. It’s much more predictable today, the outcome of the Champions League, than it was ten years ago.

In a strange twist of irony part of that predictability is Arsenal and Arsène Wenger himself. In his 18 years at the club, Arsène has gotten Arsenal into the Champions League a record 17 consecutive times. And since losing that UEFA Cup final to Galatasaray he’s gotten Arsenal into the knockout phases all 14 times.

But in that record run of European appearances, Arsenal have only made the final once and in the last four years haven’t been able to get past the round of 16. If the Champions League has become predictable, Arsenal have become one of the most predictable fixtures in it.

The problem from a fans perspective is that while it is undeniably wonderful to have a European night out it’s also undeniably soul grating that these nights out are so ephemeral. Like the shadfly, they appear every year in droves, yet die off quickly, their lives lasting mere minutes — long enough to breed and ensure the return next season.

Arsenal haven’t had a sustained run in Europe for far too long and our matches in this, the pinnacle of world football, have been far removed from what we would come to expect. Arsenal don’t play beautiful football in Europe, especially against the best teams. In the last 5 years Arsenal have been dismantled by Barcelona, Bayern, and AC Milan. The Gunners have managed to come close to squeaking past these teams on the return leg four times but it’s always been a case of too little too late.

But perhaps I can be accused of looking too far ahead and spoiling tomorrow’s milk. Today’s match, against Galatasaray, is the kind of game that Wenger specializes in and you could almost hear it in his voice, the voice of experience, as he spoke about the importance of winning these home games.

We are maybe more under pressure to win than if we had won the first. In the group stage you need a minimum of 10 points so the home games are vital. Basically the target is always the same in the Champions League – you need to win your home games and you need one good result away from home. We had a disappointing result in Dortmund and the potential is there for us, we don’t lose a lot but we want to find the winning edge together and we have that opportunity against Galatasaray.

There’s one thing for sure: in Wenger’s 18 years at Arsenal, the Champions League has slowly become more and more predictable. And despite losing the bulk of the starting lineup, I have no doubt Arsène knows how to get Arsenal into the next phase.

Qq

¹Calling Time on Wenger (Amy Lawrence, 13 August 2000 The Observer)

Wenger lifts the FA Cup

How many trophies per season would make you happy?

How have you been since Arsenal crashed out of the League Cup, losing 2-1 to Premier League team Southampton? Did you drink too much that night and wake up the next morning to the sound of your wife dropping frying pans into the sink in the kitchen? Did you carry on drinking into the next day? Do you know why they call it “hair of the dog” instead of “scale of the snake”? Has anyone ever been poisoned by a dog bite? Did you know that drinking to excess causes your liver to work extra hard and as a result it’s unable to properly burn the calories you consume when you inevitably have that drunken fry-up at two in the morning, the drunken fry up that your wife is now noisily tossing into the sink as you mutter “bollocks” and try to get out of bed?

Do you know why the British use “bollocks” to mean that something is both good and bad? And when someone says the phrase “load of bollocks” do you imagine a red wheelbarrow, beside the white chickens, overflowing with cartoon sized bollocks? And why are “dogs bollocks” synonymous with “bees knees”?

Did you see that Tottenham beat Nottingham Forest 3-1 in the League Cup? Did you know that Nottingham Forest is top of the League Championship and that their manager, Stuart Pearce, rested nine of their starters including their star striker Britt Assombolonga for this match and despite that, Forest still took the lead in the game and that Spurs couldn’t score until the 62nd minute?

Can you imagine a manager prioritizing League position over a cup competition? Doesn’t winning breed a winning mentality? Do you know how much it is worth to Forest if they win the League Championship? What if I told you it is worth £120m? Would that make Pearce’s decision to rest nine players understandable? If you were a Forest fan would you rather win promotion to the Premier League or win the League Cup? What if Forest finish fourth but win promotion to the Premier League via a playoff system, would that win be looked upon like a “fourth place trophy?” Which trophy would their fans celebrate more, the League Cup or the “fourth place trophy?”

Do you know the difference between a trophy and an achievement? Would it make sense to you if I described finishing fourth in the Premier League not as a trophy but instead as an achievement? Like when you’re playing a video game and you collect a certain number of points and the game spits out “Champions League Achievement Unlocked!” would you high five your friends if you won that?

And what about Tottenham? Which trophy would their fans most celebrate? If they could have their choice between winning the League Cup or winning fourth place in the Premier League and unlocking a chance to get into the Champions League would they laugh at their manager for getting them into fourth place? Did the Liverpool fans mock their manager for getting them into the Champions League? Did they ridicule him for inculcating a “losing mentality” for getting his team on the cusp of winning the Premier League and then faltering at the last minute? How many trophies has Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers ever won? How many trophies has Tottenham’s manager, Mauricio Pochettino ever won? How many trophies has Arsene Wenger won in the last ten years?

Would your team have an open top bus parade if they won the League Cup? Will any team ever have an open top bus parade for winning the League Cup? Is it because the League Cup isn’t considered a major trophy? Is winning the League Cup a bigger achievement than securing 4th place in the Premier League? Has any team ever spent £200m, like Liverpool and Tottenham have trying to get fourth place in the Premier League, in order to win the League Cup? Or the FA Cup? Have you ever heard the phrase “follow the money?”

If the League Cup isn’t a major trophy and the Charity Shield isn’t considered a major trophy then how many major trophies can a team in the Premier League win in a season? Two? And does that mean that a team could only win three major trophies, max, in a single season if they are a “top” club and have Champions League football to play? And don’t they have to qualify for the Champions League to win it? If there are 20 teams in the Premier League, and lets say 3 trophies that matter, then how many trophies should a manager win in a season? Would nine major trophies in 18 years be a good return?

Would you be happy if your team won just one major trophy in the last year, especially if they were rebuilding the team and adding a bunch of new superstar players?

Qq

Apologies to Padgett Powel for borrowing from the Interrogative Mood, a book written entirely in questions, for this post.