Sunday, May 8, 2011

A team called Arsenal

Beating champion-elect Manchester United one day, turning over against mid-table Stoke City on the other, that's my team Arsenal. This team has had so many off days this season, that an abysmal performance has started to look normal. After that calamitous defeat in the Cup final, we haven't been able to pick ourselves up. The niggling injuries have come back and we could hardly maintain the momentum of an occasional good game.

Yesterday against Stoke, we delivered probably our worst performance of the season. The match started in a familiar fashion with Arsenal dominating the possession in first 10 minutes but hardly created anything. We have started strongly every single game this season and just imagine if we could have actually made use of it, sigh! But as usual, we were lacking in the final third of the pitch, where it matters the most. On the left, Arshavin was the culprit of losing the ball far too many times and with Gibbs in place of Clichy, it was a cakewalk for Pennant. Stoke was playing according to a specific plan and a part of it was to make Arsenal players look bad in their challenges. Gibbs was getting caught up ahead of the pitch and with Arshavin not tracking back, Pennant was a continuous threat. Due to some unscrupulous defending, Arshavin gave away a cheap free kick right next to the corner flag. Pennant's delivery was nothing exceptional but our defense managed to turn it into a pearler. Djourou was supposedly marking Jones and was facing him. I don't know how he thought he could run for the ball from that position. As Pennant crossed the ball, Djourou lost his footing and the ball just hit the unmarked Jones and dawdled in. Everyone knows that we're crap at defending set-pieces but nobody knew that we're this crap.

What ensued thereafter, it was pretty clear that Arsenal just didn't want it. We were frivolous in the midfield and there was no sense of urgency or diligence from the players. Ramsey who had a good game against Manure was seemingly out of this depth in this one. I hate to say it but he was visibly affected playing at that horrible stadium and in front of their booing audience. With our players going forward, he made an uncharacteristic mistake when, I don't know how, he managed to scoop the ball in the path of Pennant. With Koscielny covering Jones, Djourou should have just gone on to close him. But his lackadaisical approach provided Pennant the space and time to shoot and the deflected shot flew past our hapless goalkeeper for Stoke's second. The effort was not undeserving but it was a nothing strike, one which should have been blocked by our defender.

Item that should have been thrown inside dressing room at HT

Possible item which was actually thrown

The second half brought a 4-3-3 approach with Bendtner and  Chamakh replacing Arshavin and Ramsey. As a result our ball play improved but there were still no clear cut scoring opportunities. Bendtner tried to shoot from outside the box but Begovic had it covered. Chamakh scoffed a good chance and Van Persie was denied by some last ditch defending. Apart from that there was no action until we brought Rosicky in place of Song. Whatever you think of Rosa, but he made an immediate impact when he turned away from his marker and setup Robin. Van Persie still had to turn away from the defender which he did and let go a thunderous low shot with his chocolate leg to give Arsenal hope of leveling the game. But apparently no one was interested in it. In the next minute Djourou's crappy clearance gave back the ball to Walters who kept his cool and slotted past the surging Chesney. It was done and dusted after that, with Arsenal showing no comeback spirit, the final whistle remained a mere formality.

We were average all over the pitch. Theo hardly played any role yesterday and looked out of sorts. In the midfield, Song had a decent game and closely marked Jones at times. Jack was in a fiery mood. His tackles were not at all helped by his agitated demeanor and the crowd of 20,000 cavemen baying for his blood. Pennant made too much of his one good challenge on the ball and the Stoke players, sticking to the plan, tried to make it look a red-cardable offence. It led to a scuffle but eventually both the players got away with yellow. I hope the other Stoke players made a note-to-self that you don't mess with Jack.

In the defense, Gibbs was once again poor. His positional sense could be compared to a headless chicken. I doubt his physical ability as well because he is very slow in coming back to his position. If he wants to start in the Arsenal team, he really has to step up his game. Djourou also had a game to forget. He is playing his first season as our first choice defender and coming back from a long term injury, it's always difficult to perform consistently. He has been massive for us in the games he had played but for the last few (starting with Bolton-away) he has been caught off-guard at times. He was a doubt to start against Stoke but cleared his fitness test before the game. With Shittaci on the bench and Vermaelen just returning from his long-term injury, I'm speculating that Djourou was forced to start this one. He has performed so well for us all this season that the only justification I could see for his faltering performance is fatigue. I'm sure that he will come back stronger and fitter after the summer.

At the end of the day you have to judge our team by their effort and yesterday there was none. Even when we went a goal down, we never forced the issue and didn't come up with the goods. It was as if the players have already made their summer plans and just want to go on a break. It would have been nice to see Arsene make some changes up front but then he never does, well he knows better. The season is now really over for us and I just want the players to have some "decency" to avoid defeat in the remaining two fixtures. Now I'm really not asking much of the team, just be a decent bunch and don't lose. Let's see.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Chesney ball woes or not?

I've mentioned in my previous posts about Chesney's poor ball distribution. To investigate this claim I've included the chalkboards of his ball distribution from the game against Manure at the Emirates.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

Chesney attempted almost same number of passes as Van der Saar but successfully completed them at a lower rate than his adversary. The possible reason for the relative low success rate is his straight long passes which are rarely claimed by RvP and Van der Saar's higher number of short passes. It's a foregone conclusion that we lack the aerial prowess but like United we should be closing down the short forward passes from the GK. It's a pity that Chesney has been made to look inferior in this statistic by the lack of industry from our outfield players. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rambo II and the comeback of Arsenal's self-belief

Arsenal 1 - 0 Manchester United
Ramsey 56

Finally, Arsene has outwitted Sir Alex tactically. Cesc was ruled out of the game because of a possible dead-leg-kind-a situation which brought Aaron Ramsey in the midfield. In the first 20 minutes it was a typical Arsenal performance, lots of possession and industry without any shots on goal. But the intensity was high and we looked like a wounded lion out to take down his opponent. We have suffered much at the hands of Manure recently and it was heartwarming to see that the team was playing for pride. It made Sir Alex get out of his seat and deliver instructions to his half-brained minions right from the beginning.

Without Cesc, Arsene opted to play Jack and Rambo alternating between the advance and the holding role. It was a refreshing approach which had a huge impact on the game. Arsenal bossed the midfield and went forward at will only to be let down in the final third sometimes by lack of creativity, shooting or a crowded defense. But amidst all this frenzy, Theo crossed peach of a ball with Robin and Vidic going for it in the box. Vidic realizing that he will miss the ball, used his hand to clear and deny Robin from thumping it in the back of the goal. The linesman should have made the easy call of a penalty but somehow chose to ignore the foul. That was probably the only flashing point of the first half but we definitely ended it on a high.

Nasri picked up a knock, from I think Evra, in the first half and the Russian giant started the second in his place. We started the next forty-five very much from where we had left but were once again not able to pry open United's defense. Then Ferguson made a decisive change which eventually changed the course of the game. Probably thinking that our Russian will be slow on the wing, he went for Valencia in place of Anderson. Owing to that tactical change, we found more space in the midfield and the goal came right in the next minute. Robin held up the ball on the right in their box and three of our players charged in for the cut-back, yes, I repeat three players. That left space for Rambo to charge in and score through the defender's legs with the ball kissing the far post. It was a beautiful first time finish from more or less the same position from where Jack has miscued his shot in the first half. The goal clearly rattled Manure's cage and they came at us like hungry racoons.

Commentators expected a typical Arsenal meltdown which has been a regular feature this season but thankfully it never happened. We were solid at the back with Sagna owning Nani and Song keeping Rooney quiet. Another outstanding performance was to come from Shava who tracked by like a hero putting in great defensive tackles. It was a brilliant game for him and he nullified any threat which could have possibly come from average Valencia. I would say Clichy had a good game as well barring that one cock-up where he tried to dribble past a striker, nothing just the usual Clichy-stuff. United didn't particularly create impressive moves but they shot on goal with purpose only for Chesney to make couple of brilliant saves. There were few nervous moments when Shittaci came on for the injured Djourou but others ensured that he doesn't end up pooping the party. Overall we defended as a unit and were solid as a rock. If we had put in such a performance week-in week-out, then the Emirates would have been a better place but then we are Arsenal.

Our 1-0 win over the champion-elect United says a lot about our game yesterday. Cesc's exclusion proved to be a boon and forced Arsene to shift tactically. It brought something new to the table and Sir Alex was outwitted by him. The performance would have restored Ramsey's self-belief and will fuel him to excel in the remaining games. I think we will see a lot of him in our last 3. Arsene couldn't have asked for a better victory and the lads were finally able to deliver. If we win all our next three games anything can happen so keep believing.