Tag Archives: Martin O’Neill is a prat

This is one rose that stinks

Sunderland v. Arsenal: three points please

Arsenal take the long trip to Sunderland tonight to face Martin O’Neill’s men on the freshly tilled grounds at the Stadium of Blight.

With just one very, very, (strangely) late loss in their last 7 matches together Arsenal don’t have a particularly poor League record against Sunderland. But with just three wins the Gunners don’t have a particularly good record either.

Still, Sunderland isn’t a bogey team in the same way that Bolton were so long ago, but the Black Cats epitomize everything that the Gunners have a hard time beating. Sunderland do a great job sitting back and keeping clean sheets. They are second in the League with 9 clean sheets out of 25 games but they have also let in 33 goals in the other 16 games.

Oddly, they have conceded 7 goals in the first 15 minutes of games, 7 in the first 15 minutes after the second half kicks off, and 7 in the final 15 minutes of games. In each of the other three 15 minute periods they have conceded just 4 goals (12 total).

This indicates a team that lacks concentration and if Arsenal can get at them in the opening quarter of an hourĀ - show some real guts and go for the jugular early – it will force Sunderland to be more liberal and the result could be a high scoring game for Arsenal.

Arsenal played Sunderland on opening day and had 23 shots to Sunderland’s 4 so we know that the boys are going to get chances. Despite that bulk shots advantage, Sunderland forced two saves and Arsenal forced just three. That’s a shot on goals number that won’t be good enough tomorrow for Arsenal.

The Gunners need to do more than work the ball around the outside of the Sunderland area, they need to get midfielders into the box and cause trouble among the Sunderland lines. Cazorla should be well rested and if he can give an energetic and direct performance, he could cause real trouble. He also shoots from distance and forcing the keeper to make saves from stinging long-range shots can open up scoring chances for hungry forwards.

I’m interested to see who Arsene starts in the front three tomorrow. Conventional wisdom has the boss resting Gervinho, but the Ivorian was in fine form during the ACN and as I have documented was well rested during his trip to Africa compared to his teammates who have been pulling doubles in the League and FA Cups all January. Gervinho also has the ability to break down defenses in tight quarters so I would think him ideal for tomorrow’s match. Playing him on the right and Podolski on the left with Giroud in the middle would let Arsene bring Theo Walcott off the bench and terrify Sunderland for the last 15 minutes of the game.

Sadly, I don’t think Arsene will start Gervinho.

In the midfield, Arsene is already sounding the warning bells over Jack Wilshere getting burnt out. I agree and I would rest him tomorrow, starting Diaby, Arteta, and Cazorla instead. None of those three played in the mid week friendlies (much less Jack Wilshere’s gut-busting 90 minute stint) so they should be focused and ready to kick on for the purple and blue.

At the back, Arsenal shouldn’t have much to deal with in terms of frequency, but what they will see will be nothing but big chances for Sunderland as they will look to release Sessegnon and Fletcher with over the top balls early in the game. Fletcher is not the most graceful center forward in the League but he has 10 goals on 43 shots, all of them from open play, no headers, and all of them coming before the 60th minute (7 in the first half).

One player to watch out for is Danny Rose. He is the most fouled player in the Premier League, meaning that he draws more fouls than all the other players in the League. I say “most fouled” but the reality is that he’s quite light on his feet and has already been cautioned for diving this season. Must be something about them Tottenham boys. Other than that one stat, he’s very average, but look for him to try to get some slight fouls in and around the Arsenal box so that Seb Larsson can whip in a dangerous cross or two.

Unfortunately, Arsenal have a mini-injury-crisis brewing at center back. A crisis of their own making I might add. Vermaelen has been ruled out and Koscielny “must pass a test” on a recurring calf injury. I hate to sound like Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra but playing a barely fit Koscielny at Sunderland before the big FA Cup and Champions League games has shades of Santos at Olympiakos written all over it.

At least the fullback positions are covered. Arsene bought in the January market and with rumors strongly linking Santos to a loan back to Brazil the Gunners will be grateful for Nacho Monreal and his rather conservative approach to the position. On the other side of the pitch, Arsene has options and could start Carl Jenkinson tomorrow, why not? The rest of the back four is in disarray and Sanga had a torrid game for France in midweek.

The injuries are especially painful because Arsenal have the most error prone defense in the League (13 errors) and many of those errors have come from an uncertain and nervous back four. So, while I understand that people would like to see some pretty radical lineup changes (one person even mooting Sagna as center back) I think that even if Koscielny fails his fitness test, the Boss is going to opt for Squilaci or Miquel instead of some really experimental lineup.

Who would I pick to play center back? Well, I would pick that new center half we signed in January. You know, the one Arsenal bought to replace Johan Djourou? Michael Mancienne? Chico? Anybody Butsquillaci? Oh, the deal fell through? I guess there was a problem with his paperwork.

Regardless the injuries and the international break, Arsenal should have the quality and freshness to beat Sunderland. Same goes for the fact that they will release the Holsteins on the pitch tonight and that the undersoil heating will probably be turned off. Oh and if anyone’s wondering, Anthony Taylor is the referee tomorrow and he will probably let all sorts of fouls go that you wish he would call.

Given all that, Arsenal still have the talent to beat Sunderland and anything less than 3 points from a full-blooded Arsenal performance would be a real let down. Par for the course this season, but a let down none-the-less.

Qq

Sunderland v. Arsenal: La Vie en Rose

Hold me close and hold me fast
The magic spell you cast
This is la vie en rose

When you kiss me heaven sighs
And tho I close my eyes
I see la vie en rose

When you press me to your heart
I’m in a world apart
A world where roses bloom

And when you speak…angels sing from above
Everyday words seem…to turn into love songs

Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be
La vie en rose

Arsenal’s season of ups and downs continues tomorrow with a 9am kickoff* at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland. A chance for them to get the season back on track, again, again, with a win in the only competition that Arsenal have a realistic chance at a trophy, the FA Cup.

Henry gave a farewell interview to Arsenal.com and in it he highlighted the importance of the FA Cup as a jumping off point for the team and the club in terms of starting to pick up some winning momentum. He also mentioned something that I’ve written about before; that sometimes it takes several appearances in the finals before the team can gel and go on to win.

Perhaps this is that elusive “winning mentality” that some folks say Arsenal lack at the moment. And after the loss to AC Milan, a spineless performance, I have to admit that perhaps I was wrong and maybe there is a lack of a “winning mentality” whatever that means and however impossible it is for my mind to tie down. Maybe it lets you into a bit of my psychology but if I was in that game and Milan were running all over me in midfield as they were with Arteta and my teammates weren’t arsed to play I probably would have started kicking the Milan players. Subtly, of course. No leg breaking tackles. But I would have kicked them right off that gross ass pitch of theirs.

The lack of leadership and organization in that game was shocking. Someone had to do something to get that Arsenal team fired up and get them back into the game. I would have kicked.

But maybe Wenger took a slightly different approach. Despite the fact that I haven’t read the English papers since the loss to Swansea news comes to me of a training ground dressing down by the manager to the players. Word is that the players have never seen the manager that angry.

You don’t want to yell at your teammates all the time but when experienced players like Rosicky and Walcott put in a gormless performance, sometimes you have to kick them up the ass. Just to simply remind them that this club has nurtured them through injuries and rehab over the last five years and that the least they could do is give 90 minutes when it counts.

That goes the same for all the players.

Think about this for a second… there were only three Arsenal players on the pitch against AC Milan who have NOT had a long-term injury while playing for Arsenal: Song, Arteta, and Koscielny.

That’s pretty incredible if you ask me.

But the game is over, the boss has said his piece, and the players have been in training.

The turnaround between Milan and Sunderland is short and there isn’t much time to work on the organization in defense nor in the midfield and as such the club will need more heart and graft than pure skill tomorrow. As I’ve said, these four games (Sunderland, Milan, Sunderland, Tottenham) are the crucial point in the season for Arsenal. The point where we will see what the team is made of.

Tactically there isn’t much to say. Don’t be shocked at the state of the pitch tomorrow — if Martin O’Neill doesn’t go out and personally dig up the sod and lay it upside down I will be surprised. The pitch will be horrible. Intentionally so. Don’t be shocked that Sunderland play long ball and will try to catch Arsenal out on counter attacks.

And don’t be shocked if Arsenal look a bit timid and disorganized. At this point in the season and with injury to Per Mertesacker, who was clearly Arsenal’s Fabulous Glue**, the club are a bit at sea in terms of how they want to play and in terms of confidence.

But I will be shocked if they don’t give absolutely everything in tomorrow’s game. I will be shocked if Sunderland aren’t given 90 minutes of hell.

As for the team selection, the best thing that Wenger could do on a freshly tilled farm is bring out the Ox. Let him have the yoke. Erm… unleash the yoke. Something. Meh.

Seriously though, I expect that Djourou and Vermaelen will be the center back pairing (though the dot com did show pictures of Miquel and Yennaris training with the first team) with Sagna and Gibbs the wide men. Ramsey might get a rest and I think Theo is almost certainly going to be dropped for Oxlade-Chamberlain. Though, Wenger is rightly trying to protect the youngster and with Gervinho back we might see Arshavin and Gervinho paired on the wings.

But team selection matters little. What matters most is that the team selected give everything on the pitch. And while a win tomorrow will not erase all the bad memories of the season, it will certainly allow the team to go into the week with life looking a little bit rosier.

Qq

*Local time, duh.
** No one will get this, though I encourage you to try and guess.

Wankers, the lot of them

Sunderland v. Arsenal: beware the banks of four

Arsenal kick off a three game road trip tomorrow with a match against Martin O’Neill’s hard-tackling, set piece specialists, route one footballing, counter attackingĀ  Sunderland. I say that without passing judgement on them, if they want to play a brand of football straight out of the Middle-Ages then that is their right. It’s simply a fact, something you should look for in tomorrow’s match, something Arsene Wenger should prepare his team for.

Sunderland could surprise everyone and play like Swansea, but I wouldn’t put any money on it happening. Instead, Arsenal will need to be wary of Larsson’s set plays. Any foul near the box will mean that the former Gunner and deadly set-piece specialist will step up and seriously test the Arsenal keeper. He scored in the reverse fixture from exactly the kind of position that I’m talking about and it took a Robin van Persie brace to secure the win for Arsenal.

Of course that game was played when Steve Bruce was manager and by all accounts installing Martin O’Neill has Sunderland fans jumping for joy. Sunderland have shown quite a bit of heart in comeback victories during O’Neill’s brief tenure and that’s yet another thing that Wenger needs to keep his team focused on. If the Arsenal handbrake comes out in the second half, I fear that Sunderland will make Arsenal pay.

Sunderland has played one more match than Arsenal since the end of January and a doozy of a match it was: 120 minutes against Middlesbrough. O’Neill was forced to keep his star players on for the full match as well, subbing Sessegnon at the 116th minute and Larsson at the 120th.I know that Sunderland will be tired but look out for the rope-a-dope as they will sit back, conserve energy, and try to maximize the bits of possession they do get.

Arsenal, meanwhile, have a problem letting teams score on their first or second chances. With their goals allowed per shot on goal at a 6 year high. It’s always been true that teams seem to need fewer chances to score against Arsenal but that weakness is more glaring than ever this season.

The Arsenal strategy has to be to get Sagna involved in midfield and outnumber them there and keep possession. Then try to use the Ox’s close control to break Sunderland’s back line and cause chaos. John O’Shit and Michael Turner are not the most mobile center half pairing in the world, so if Arsenal can stretch Sunderland or even better, get them to step up into midfield a bit, then speedy wingers like Theo and Ox will cause a lot of havoc. You saw what those two can do when a team play with any space between the back line and the keeper. I expect Martin O’Neill will be well aware of the threat and will have watched tapes from the 7-1 win over Blackburn.

As for lineups, Wenger has confirmed that Gibbs is back in training and could be selected. But I suspect that he won’t rush the young man back. Especially since his problem was a hernia. But with a big trip down to the Alps midweek we should certainly see some lineup changes from the team that played last weekend.

Personally, I’d like to see Song given a rest. He’s been looking jaded the last few games and with Coquelin Arsenal have a suitable backup. I doubt Wenger will play Coquelin but, like I said, it’s something I’d like to see!

Further up the midfield we should see the reintroduction of Aaron Ramsey and I want to say a word of warning there. This kid is very talented but very raw and a player who came to football late. He can often lack the tactical awareness of a more natural player like Ox but that doesn’t mean we need to jump on him for every mistake. If you think of him as a backup player to Jack Wilshere it might make his mistakes and sometimes ponderous play a bit easier to understand.

Sunderland are going to force a lot of turnovers and Ramsey leads Arsenal in that category so I expect they will play him tightly and look to nick the ball. The same goes for Ox, though with his ability to dribble out of tough spots he might get a little more room. The point is that Sunderland’s two banks of four are going to be difficult to break down and in looking at the data I suspect they will force a lot of turnovers on Theo, Ox, and Ramsey. The best way to counter that is with quick movement and passing. Let’s hope Rambo’s fresh legs combined with the fact that Arsenal have had a full week’s rest will help in that department.

Finally, a work about the referee: Neil Swarbrick. This is his first season as a top flight ref and as such he has never had the occasion to referee an Arsenal match. He did anger QPR supporters when he sent Joey Barton off for headbutting Bradley Johnson. Barton appealed the card and the ban was upheld despite the obvious simulation from Johnson. On twitter, Barton also threatened to sue Swarbrick and Johnson and I kind of wish he had, because if he did it would open the opportunity for any Arsenal player to sue him to oblivion over any match that he has ever played against Arsenal. The point is that Swarbrick has a bit of a reputation because of that card and because of Big Mouth Barton’s threat to sue him on twitter.

That said, he’s a new ref so how he’ll referee tomorrow’s match is anyone’s guess.

Right, the game is live on Fox Soccer Plus and it’s a 7amkickoff (local time). That means I will be watching the game via Fox Soccer 2 Go and will be sending in screen cap updates at half time and full time here and on Twitter. It’s the first time I’ve ever done that (here on the blog) so please let me know what you think in the comments tomorrow.

Here’s to three points kicking off the away run! Oh, and here’s to a third goal from Thierry Henry, fulfilling my prediction that he would get three and that we would be happy with that haul before he went back to America.

Qq