Sunday, April 24, 2011

Oh Mental Strength Where Art Thou

Finally I will accept that we're out of the title hunt. This Arsenal team has forced me to believe that we're not even good enough to finish second in the league. Yesterday away at Bolton, once again we had around 70% possession but still managed to have less shots on target than them foul-playing orcs. Arsenal has conceded most goals from set-pieces in the top flight (56% via @Orbinho) and that's another ugly feather added to our ill-shaped cap of this season.

We started the game brightly, with couple of shots from outside the box and a long chip from Robin to Theo. For a moment I believed that Bolton will be at the receiving end of things but as Arsenal always do it, they proved me wrong. Wojciech made a superb save at our end but Sturridge poked in from the resulting corner. We tried to do something about it but couldn't manage it until the second half when Robin neatly finished with a good cut back from Cesc inside their box.

During the entire second half we had them under the cosh but were not able to create a proper scoring opportunity. Arshavin was subbed in the 70th and won few corners. But we were again incapable of taking any advantage of them. In the end it was "deja vu all over again" when Chesney made a brilliant save but them orcs scored from the resulting corner mainly owing to some poor marking. Djourou had a terrible game at the back, consistent fouls and some horrible decision-making. He has been playing at a good level but yesterday he was someone else, like a deer in front of the headlights who doesn't know whether to go forward or back. Clichy played his normal game, switching off time to time, no tracking back and losing the ball at crucial points in a move. Sagna didn't look fit to me. He is just back from his injury and I believe that he's playing through the pain. For me only Chesney had an excellent game and rest of the team was just par or may be below.

When you look back at our season (which is not over yet), the real positive is the emergence of Jack and Chesney. They duly embody the never-say-die attitude and their energy has been the only solace to the bereaved fans. If only our other players had shown the same courage, we would have been close to winning this title. But mental strength is part of an athlete's talent and not everyone has it. I also follow professional road cycling and one of the top riders Tom Boonen once said in his interview that good riding technique and physical strength are skills but mental strength is a talent. When you have both, you become a winner. Boonen is not my favorite rider but what he said is absolutely true.  It's difficult to have 11 mentally strong players in a team  but if you have few key players who have the self-belief and the hunger to win, they can rally the others and collectively become a dogged unit. Self-belief/mental strength comes from performance and to perform you need self-belief. It's a vicious circle and I don't have a solution for it. One thing has become very clear that this team is not yet capable of winning titles and miss something very important. I couldn't put my finger on it but hope Arsene identifies the problems and rectify them over the summer. After all, Arsene knows.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Once again...

Following up from my last post, I can safely say that our players did come out for the derby as hungry warriors. They showed real intent and passion to win the game and in the first half looked very much like doing that. But once again we let slip a two goal lead and gifted the opposition a point. A game which could have lifted our spirits right up, we let it slip away from us. Fortunately, it's not all doom and gloom because we did come back from the Lane with a point in Nasri's male purse.

It was a fast-paced (franatic pace in words of Arsene) football match between two teams who more or less have similar quality players. But as an Arsenal supporter, I will always expect my team to be better than the others. In the 2nd half, it was apparent that our players were tired because of continuous counter-attacking and constant pressing. If you come to think of it, these are professional footballers playing in supposedly the best league in the world employed by one of the top football clubs in the world. They get paid massive sums of money to do their job, that is to play regular competitive football and perform with full intensity. Yet they were unable to deliver the physical performance which was required in the game last evening. As many other bloggers have already pointed out before that physically our team is not the best in the league. They suffer from chronic injuries which have greatly reduced their physical sharpness.

There were also positives to take from the game. Nasri and Fabregas played with passion and desire contradicting the hypothesis of their departure proposed by the British media. These players want to be a part of a successful (i.e. trophy-winning, not 2nd in the league) Arsenal team and that is that. They're not going anywhere and will stay with us the next season and I can bet my left testicle on it. Along with their continued presence next season, I would really like to see some experienced specialist professional coaching our back four. Barring Clichy, we have good defensive players in Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou and Vermalean. I think what we miss is someone who can give them specialist tips and can also help them add steel about their performance. Hopefully these issues will be addressed over the summer and rectified before the next season because once again we look so close but yet so far. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Matter of Pride

Yay, Robin scores and we're out of jail...oh wait, free kick at the edge of our box, booya straight in the wall, oh wait...WTF, pelanty!!! Kuyt scores and we're doomed...nooooooo!

I know that most of the seasoned Gooners were not jumping out of their seats after we scored the penalty in the 98th minute. They were thinking that could we defend the lead for the remaining two minutes and as it turned out, we couldn't. It was a typical performance at the Emirates where we kept most of the ball (68% possession) but were not able to create enough chances to score a field goal. Blackpool was a lesser opposition and with their open play and defensive frailties we were able to penetrate their back four. But Liverpool is a better side and a team which is on the up. In spite of that fact, we were pretty impressive and played most of the game in their half. Diaby (Jack was a little off) was able to keep the ball all the time and we pressed hard in the midfield which didn't allow them to complete their passes accurately.

Where we lacked was in the final third. It's now a familiar pattern and harping more on it will not improve the current predicament of our team. For once I would like to see our players be more direct in front of the goal, something which Bendtner is good at (but then he's bad at keeping the ball...). There was no plan B for us and we always missed that final intricate pass which could have annihilated their defense. I thought Shava would be our savior but by the time he came on, the team was disoriented and had lost the formation. His impressive nippy runs inside the box ended up vaguely.

But the fate had decided something else for us and we were awarded a very late pelanty when Cesc was brought down by orc-looking Spearing. RvP duly scored and it was like a sweet redemption for the team. But then we are Arsenal and we like to complicate things. As soon as the game started we found ourselves defending an edge-of-the-box free kick. It should have been the last action in the game but somehow the referee decided to extend the game. After getting smashed against our defensive wall, the ball was half-cleared in the box and the slightest of touch from Eboue was enough for Lucas to dive. Liverpool was awarded the pelanty which Kuyt converted to nullify the game.

Eboue in happier times (source: BleacherReport)

It would be worthless to blame only Eboue for the mistake and I will blame the entire team. I agree that Eboue lost his concentration for that last minute which costed us the game. But he was not the only one, there were players who should have cleared the ball properly but they didn't. It was once again a collective defensive shamble from us which gifted a point to the opposition. We have come up short defensively umpteenth time this season. It's heart-aching to recall but Spuds, Newcastle, Birmingham games have left a dark botch on my memory. 

I think we should just forget about where we're in the league and where we will finish. Let's just play for the Arsenal pride now. Let's play to show all the suckers out there what we're capable of. Each of our player should now feel like a warrior whose kingdom has been duped away from him and all he has got left is his pride. We should play for our honor and beat those cock-on-the-ball Yids and those uncivilized yokels from Old Trafford. I will now take 2nd, or 3rd or 4th in the league but for once play like the real Arsenal.