Tag Archives: Champions League

boring

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:

boring

 

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.

Sanchez-Praet

 

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.

Qq

Gibbs-crying

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.

Qq

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.

photo 1 (2)

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.