Tag Archives: Champions League


Ramsey needs to ditch Hollywood and get back to N5

Before the match against Anderlecht, Arsene Wenger publicly praised Aaron Ramsey. The boss said that the Arsenal midfielder had gone a bit “Hollywood” in the first part of the season, looking for goals instead of doing the work needed in midfield, but that he was ready to get back to basics. Unfortunately, that pre-match message went unheeded by the Arsenal midfielder as Anderlecht dropped three goals on an Arsenal side which naively attacked for the last 30 minutes when they probably should have sat back and defended. And that attack was often led by Aaron Ramsey.

Arseblog’s screengrab in this morning’s post clearly illustrates the massive problem created when a team is 3-2 up and one of Arsenal’s two more-defensive midfielders goes forward in search of a fourth goal.

That cluster of players forward isn’t directly responsible for the goal but is rather indicative of how much space Arsenal conceded in the midfield in the final 30 minutes of that game. It also shows a lack of discipline in that when you have a 3-2 lead you shouldn’t see five players forward.

That lack of discipline was evident again a few seconds after this screen grab when Ramsey lined up a free kick and blasted it over the bar. It may not tickle the fancy of the footballing purists out there but few would have complained if Ramsey had passed the ball to Alexis who then dribbled over to the corner flag. Doing that may be cynical and it wouldn’t guarantee that Arsenal would have won the match, but it is the correct tactic in the 90th minute and would have certainly increased Arsenal’s chances of winning the game.

Arsene Wenger clearly had a word with Ramsey before the match to remind him of his duties as a midfielder given the fact that he revealed the following in his pre-match presser:

If you play like [you believe that you] have to score, every time you want to be in the box you forget a little bit of the basics of the job, but [Ramsey] is back now. He had a little moment when he was not at his best but that can happen. I am fully confident that he is back.

It’s no surprise then that after the match Wenger was fuming:

…we had a poor defensive performance from the first to the last minute today. …it was a combination of switching off and fatigue as well. You could see we couldn’t win the challenges and they finished stronger and sharper – we got punished. I think when we lost Mikel Arteta we lost out because he was one of the few who defended well.

That bit about Arteta being the only one who defended well along with his pre-match comments about Ramsey returning to basics look like Wenger taking a swipe at Ramsey. Wenger rarely criticizes performances, and even more rarely criticizes players, and given the two dubious goals that the referee gave, Wenger could have deflected criticism away from his team by focusing on the referee. But the fact that he didn’t and that he instead focused his ire on the players’ performances both before and after the match (specifically on Ramsey, Arteta’s midfield partner) indicates that Wenger could be frustrated with the young Welshman.

Wenger’s frustration is probably not borne out of anything other than love and respect for Ramsey. Wenger banked on Ramsey being the new Cesc. So much so that Wenger cited Ramsey as one of the reasons why he didn’t take Cesc back this summer. But Ramsey has dropped from Arsenal’s star midfielder last season to a lesser star midfielder this season and if you compare Ramsey’s stats from last season to this one on a “Per90″ basis you see the difference fairly quickly. So, it’s understandable that Arsene is a bit frustrated with his star pupil.

Here are the highlights for those who don’t want to click through:

  • Ramsey was second on the team last season in tackles per game with 3.3 (successful) per game
  • This season he is only completing 2.1 tackles per game.
  • His missed tackles per game has stayed almost exactly the same as last season and that means his total tackles attempted is down from 6.44 per game to 5.12
  • His other defensive numbers are basically the same: his interceptions are still one per game, which isn’t good for a defensive midfielder, but he’s never been a defensive midfielder
  • His clearances per game are up a little, to just over 1 per game — again, he’s not a defensive midfielder
  • He has never been one to get in the way and block a shot and has zero blocked shots this season (he had 3 all of last season)
  • But he does have two defensive errors already compared to the one from last season
  • Passing stats are almost all exactly the same, except his Key Passes numbers have more than doubled from 1.23 last season to 2.81 this season. This is because he is going forward more than ever before and with Welbeck and Alexis willing shooters in front of him, he is getting them shots.
  • Despite the increase in Key Passes, Ramsey is not creating as many assist. He has just 1 assist in 9 matches this season compared to 8 in 23 last season.
  • This key pass/assists drop off is part of Ramsey’s new-found general inefficiency in attack.
    • His shooting accuracy is down from 71% last season to 43% this season
    • His shots per game numbers are up from 2.56 per90 to 3.30 per90
    • The reason he is missing more and scoring less despite shooting more is that he is shooting more from distance (outside the box) rather than taking shots in good areas like he did last season. His shots from distance per90 has doubled from 1.18 to 2.31.
    • And worryingly for a box to box midfielder his ability to dribble past an opponent has also dried up dropping from an already mediocre 42% success rate to an asinine 21%.

You simply cannot have your central midfielder giving up the ball on 80% of his dribbles. That would be a terrible percentage for a forward who scores you a ton of goals. For example, the worst I’ve seen was Luis Suarez two seasons ago and he was a 41% dribbler and this season Alexis Sanchez often tries too hard and only completes 53% of his dribbles. But dribbles aside, looking at shots from distance, tackles, blocks, and everything else, clearly, all of Ramsey’s stats are down. 

But more worrying isn’t the bulk of his play, which (despite the drop off) actually compares favorably with Cesc Fabregas. The really concerning part is that in a game where Arsenal are 3-0 up, and after having had a taking to by the manager before the match, and having Flamini on the pitch, Aaron Ramsey was trying to get Arsenal a fourth goal. He was still trying to get Arsenal a 4th goal in the 93rd minute when Anderlecht scored.

Arsene Wenger came in for a lot of criticism after the match for his rather bumbling substitution of Podolski for Welbeck. It was an indefensible switch from a defensive standpoint because everyone knows that when it comes to doing the work of playing defense the last person you throw on from that Arsenal bench is Lukas Podolski. Podolski being the guy who couldn’t even be bothered to bring his shin pads to the Dortmund match. But Ramsey also has to shoulder some of the blame here.

Thankfully, I’m convinced that Ramsey, more than anyone on this team bar Alexis, has the shoulders to carry that burden. He will have been stung by the criticism after the match and I would put money on a solid performance this weekend. Aaron must ditch the palm trees and swimsuits of Hollywood and embrace the brownstones and wellies of North London.



Anderlecht 1-2 Arsenal: Cheetos and Tequila

I had a girl
She loved what she saw
She loved me so good
She made her daddy mad
My woman cried
She’s dead to me now
My woman ran off
And I can’t deny it

My life
Jesus (Cheetos) and tequila
I’m satisfied
And I can’t deny it

Arsenal left Belgium with a sack full of goodies and all three points as the London team pipped Anderlecht at the death in a surprisingly equal match between two teams with vastly different resources and pedigrees.

Anderlecht came in to the match with nothing to lose. Widely seen as one of the minnows of Champions League play, the Belgians would need to put in a hard fought 90 minutes if they were going to get anything from an Arsenal team who spent as much money acquiring players this summer as the entire Anderlecht club is worth. To their great credit, Anderlecht not only gave Arsenal a fair but physical match, they also matched Arsenal skill for skill for the majority.

Anderlecht could easily feel hard done by considering the fact that Arsenal’s winning goal came moments after a deliberate handball by late sub and game winner, Lukas Podolski. I can tell you that had Arsenal conceded that goal under those exact circumstances with that exact handball preceding it, there would be smartly written letters of complaint filling UEFA’s mail slot tomorrow morning.

As it stands, these self-same arbiters of fairness will likely dismiss the handball as incidental, inconsequential, or (worse) something Arsenal “deserve” because it rights the ills they perceive Arsenal to have suffered. As if a handball allowed against a team like Anderlecht, who have done nothing wrong against Arsenal, somehow makes up for Everton’s lucky offside call in the Premier League.

In the end though Arsenal’s quality in depth, in depth against a tiny team like Anderlecht, won the day as Lukas Podolski found the ball near him and in an #aha moment, scored.

Gibbs had a fantastic match. Not only did he score the equalizer off a difficult volley from Chambers’ cross but he also made nine of twelve tackles for Arsenal defensively. Highlighting Gibbs’ astounding work rate both in going forward and in sprinting back. With Gibbs forward so often and yet still able to sprint back for a tackle deep in the Arsenal defense, I wondered what part sprints (sprints which Arsenal players do more than other teams by my perception) by Arsenal players play in Arsenal’s history of muscle injuries? Could it be that Arsenal’s system, playing so many forward at all times, constantly pressing for the win and being forced to sprint back on defense as they wildly try to catch up to the opposition’s counters, could that be the reason for so many of these stress injuries?

I don’t have an answer to that. I do know that those twelve Gibbs tackles show how concerted the Anderlecht effort was in targeting Nacho and Gibbs. Anderlecht attempted 36 dribbles and 10 of them were concentrated in Gibbs’ corner compared to just 6 in Chambers’ corner.

Anderlecht found a goal out of that effort when Dennis Praet dribbled around the Arsenal defense, pulled both Arsenal center backs out and then put in a cross right to the penalty spot. Calumn Chambers was caught between Najar and the ball for a second and that was all the Anderlecht man needed to score.

The Belgian side were right back at the Arsenal gates a few seconds later and they should have equalized when Anthony Vanden Borre struck the post from a dangerous position. Once again Najar was free down Gibbs’ side (he started the attack that he finished for their first goal) and once again played in Praet.

With Monreal playing left back again (there are no defensive midfielders covering the fullbacks on this Arsenal team) Najar was able to cross to Praet who literally caught Per flat footed. The young Praet heard die Fledermaus playing in his ear, waltzed past Per, and slid a ball to Vanden Borre who was wide open just outside the 6 yard box. Instead of coolly side footing into the goal, Vanden Borre opened up his sand wedge and hit a lob which struck the upright.

If the Belgians had scored the second, it could have been a body blow to the this Arsenal side. Both Anderlecht goals came after Arsenal left their foot off the gas as you can see from my twitter timeline which captured the sense of both boredom and shock:



There is a connection between this “boring Arsenal” and the “ohshit Arsenal”. This Arsenal team still think they are the possession-based team who used to be able to kill off games with a string of 100 “ole” passes, but when the central midfielders are pressed by the opposition forwards they cough the ball up too easily in dangerous areas and are often caught with their defenders in advance of the forwards. Many times in this game both of Arsenal’s wide defenders, Calumn Chambers and Keiran Gibbs, were in front of their forwards at the same time.

It’s a huge gamble to constantly send your fullbacks forward, and an even bigger gamble to send them both forward at the same time when your only cover is Mathieu Flamini pacing around the midfield. But however you look at it, the bet paid off.

Like a slot machine, if you feed enough quarters into its voracious maw it will eventually get too full and spit something back out. So too Gibbs’ station as the most forward player on the left. It should be noted that the gamble was “all in” as well, down to their last quarter, Arsenal’s right back, Calumn Chambers, put in the cross which Gibbs volleyed home.

My first trip to London I went to one of those casino/clubs. It was late. I was drunk. And naturally, I started losing heavily. I was down to my last few pounds and I wandered away from the Blackjack table and put the rest of my money on a single number in Roulette. The number came up and from that point on my night was all trumps. I went back over to the Blackjack table and proceeded to win back all my money plus enough money to pay for all my food for the week.

I left the casino with a fat wallet and full of cheer having gone from thinking I’ll be eating Cheetos the rest of the week to planning a steak dinner. That’s how gambling works: a little luck and you feel like you’re on top of the world.

Arsenal won the game at Anderlecht with some similar gambles. All in with Calumn Chambers and Gibbs and then a little lucky double down when Wenger subbed in Podolski who got away with some slight of hand to score the winner. To get all three points Arsenal needed professional and hard-working players on the pitch, and Alexis Sanchez continues to impress in that regard. A team high 4 key passes, all of them in dangerous areas and any one of which probably should have scored, finally got rewarded when Podolski scored.



In the end, Anderlecht matched Arsenal for ninety minutes. They didn’t play using negative tactics or ugly timewasting. They didn’t rely on the referee to bail them out and didn’t run around booting Arsenal players into Row Z. They don’t have an Oligarch spending more money than god on star players from abroad and instead they are a small team with a humble stadium filled to the rafters with exuberant fans singing “Come on Sporting Boys!” to the tune of Cum on Feel the Noize.

Yet Arsène’s roll of the dice paid off and after the match Arsenal fans pocketed their winnings and gleefully went off into the night in search of Cheetos and Tequila. They even had a little money left over to get Arsène a birthday cake.

So satisfied.



Anderlecht v. Arsenal: switch on the lights, it’s Wenger’s birthday

Good morning Gunners, today we have a Champions League match against Anderlect and hopefully afterwards Arsene Wenger can celebrate a win and his 65th birthday.

Here’s a weird fact: did you know that you, me, Arseblog, and Sam Allardyce are all Libras? It’s true. That means we are all the same. That’s just a scientific fact, like the fact that eating gluten causes men to grow breasts.

We Libras are the most balanced of all the signs because we are lovers of beauty and art. Again, I think this description fits me, Arseblog, Allardyce, Arsene to a T.

I do often wonder if each of the teams in the League could be described by their zodiac signs if Arsenal would be the Libra team? We are known for beautiful football which transcends art and are all about balancing the books! HA HA guffaw. I don’t know enough about astromythology to write such  post though. Is there an asshole sign? That’s definitely Chelscea! Is there a sign that is a bit like Eeyore? That’s gotta be Liverpool. Maybe I’ll spend some time reading about each of the zodiac signs and then I’ll add 8 new signs and do a “Premier League Zodiac” post?¹

Anyway, seriously, I wish Arsene Wenger the happiest of birthdays. I know that, like me, he won’t really celebrate getting older but I still wish him all the best.

And on the occasion of his birth Arsenal get to play Anderlecht. I have to admit that whenever I see the name Anderlecht, I immediately think “why don’t you Anderlecht my balls, Capitan?” Followed by “I can Anderlecht my own balls, thank you very much.”

Yes, it’s true, I’m 44 years old and that is all I can think of when I see the word Anderlecht. Since me, Arseblog, Arsene, and Allardyce are all identical because we are Libras I have no doubt they are also thinking the same thing.

If Wenger is thinking of puns or not, he isn’t letting on. Instead he is publicly saying that the match against Anderlecht will be a real battle. They will make it hard for Arsenal and as this is an away game in Europe, I would have to agree with him.

Still, Anderlecht are considered one of the very worst teams in the Champions League and the easiest in our group. They are only averaging a meager 10 shots per game so far this season in Champions League play and they are allowing a whopping 17 shots against them. That’s a -7 shot difference.

They were a bit unlucky in their first game, dropping all three points to Galatasaray in Turkey in stoppage time. And they were beaten early by an Immobile goal in the 3rd minute at home to Borussia Dortmund. In both matches, however, Anderlecht were not pushovers and especially at home, I agree with my fellow Libra, Wenger, that this will be a hard fought game.

Tactically, Arteta returns to the Arsenal starting lineup. That means that Arsene will look to use Arteta to dictate play in midfield, as a decoy, trying to get the ball up to the 6 attacking midfielders³. And Anderlecht will, if they read Pep Guardiola’s “exclusive” published in the Telegraph the other day press Cazorla or whomever is playing in the Özil role. They may also employ a “high press” which is really only a press against Arteta.

This means that Mertesacker’s long vertical passes will become more important as do any turnovers by the Arsenal forwards in those areas. Watching Arsenal’s goals conceded this season I can say for certain that turnovers in those areas by forward players, because Arsenal lack defensive midfield balance, turn into big chances for the opposition.

Arsenal, for their part are still one of the worst teams in the Champions League in terms of shots per game (8.5) and shots allowed (20.5). That’s a -12 shot difference and continues Arsenal’s rather disappointing last four years of Champions League play. Just in case you had forgotten, Arsenal have been last or near last of all 32 Champions League teams in terms of shots per game over each of the last 4 seasons. This season, Arsenal have leapt up to… uhhh… 29th! In terms of shots taken and are only the second worst team in the Champions League, just behind Maribor who were beaten by Chelscea 6-0 yesterday.

Still, Anderlecht is a team that Arsenal can beat. Arsenal can beat them IF they do like Arsene says and correct the problems with concentration that I pointed out here last week²

..we were close to winning and then a lack of concentration… If we can just concentrate a little bit more defensively.

Problematically, Jack Wilshere thinks that Arsenal’s defensive problems aren’t a problem. Or at least he sought to minimize those problems:

Maybe our biggest or strongest point is going forward but we know we can defend. We have players who can put their foot in. We have players who organise things, in Flamini, and good defensive players.

Flamini is actually part of the problem and has been exposed badly several times in the last two years, often caught out while organizing, as he was against Bayern Munich last season when he was pointing and telling Jack where to go and not paying attention to his own marker. And while I agree that Arsenal have good defensive players (especially Koscielny), Arsenal also have Nacho Monreal who is a terrible defensive player. The “challenge” he put in against Diame in the Hull game, where he weakly stuck out a toe to win the ball rather than tackle the ball and the player, is emblematic of his lack of defensive strength.

Even then, I would say it’s still not the players, it’s more that the whole team switches off. On throw ins, free kicks, corners, and in a variety of ways, this Arsenal team seems to love daydreaming about defense rather than actually playing defense. Especially this season. Or maybe it’s not just this season. Remember the fabled “handbrake?”

Hopefully, they can put that right and help Arsene to celebrate his 65th birthday.


¹Watch this idea show up somewhere miraculously in the next week..
²problems which people have claimed didn’t exist or that I was exaggerating since the sample size was too small.
³Come on, we all know that the Arsenal fullbacks are about as defense minded as a prosecuting attorney — and yes, these two footnotes are out of order, the third footnote is ahead of the second footnote, just like Arsenal’s fullbacks are almost always ahead of the forwards.