Previous names: Dial Square, Royal Arsenal, Woolwich Arsenal

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Arsenal close to Ribery but not to Bellamy or Reo Coker

We all know that Wenger likes to buy young and this is for various reasons:

Developing a young player appeals to him more as a challenge;

It creates loyalty from the player himself as he will owe a lot to Wenger for making him a star;

In these days you have to splash out silly money just to buy an average player and you then have to compete with Russian roubles;

And lastly it allows Wenger to school them properly as they are young and impressionable.

The decision making process with Wenger contains various steps that have to be surmounted before signatures are put in red ink.

The first step is whether of course he considers that there is a need for a player in that position, then it’s a matter of the player’s technical and physical ability and then if the player fits these it’s his character.

After all these criteria are satisfied the price plays a major role.

It is said, though we don’t necessarily believe it, that financial people know the price of everything and the value of nothing! Well Wenger is not a financial man; he is a trained Economist who knows a lot about the value of players and he can set that against the price being asked.

If the price does not represent what he thinks is the real value for that player then he may not go for it. He is just as happy to stay with what he has as he believes that he can improve players. And he can certainly do that. Look at his record!

We therefore think it is unlikely that Bellamy will be recruited by Wenger.

Yes he is a forward that can also play wide midfield. Arsenal need two but may sign only one player We think he probably possesses enough skill to satisfy Wenger that he can fill that vacancy that has been accepted by many Arsenal supporters and other Arsenal blogs as waiting to be filled; even if he is 27 years old!

But remember that for Wenger that is not enough! As described above the player has to satisfy two more criteria. The first is character. There is no denying it that Bellamy comes with an attitude. We do not have to recite his past misdemeanors at Newcastle and elsewhere. They are well known. And so is his grass hopping of football clubs.

The second is that Arsenal have to pay a premium price because he is British. And the price put on his head by Liverpool at 12m is enough to make Wenger run the 100 meters to get away from the deal as fast as the Hoyte family does!

As for Reo Coker, again we doubt whether he will be snapped up by Wenger.

Yes he is 23 (which makes him young enough to appeal to Wenger) and he is a capable and strong box to box central midfielder.

He appears however to have let all the praise he received during West Ham’s previous year’s campaign to get to his head (as did a lot of the so called stars at West Ham). But even this would not have deterred Wenger as he believes that the man management approach would have worked with players such as Reo.

No, there is a much simpler explanation why we think that Wenger will probably not go for him. There are enough top quality central midfielders at the Arsenal making the 9m or so required to purchase him as not only an extravagance but a waste. Arsenal's transfer targets

There is Fabregas, Silva, Diaby, Denilson and don’t forget Song who has really impressed us with his performances for Charlton in central midfield (especially at the away fixture at Manchester United where he excelled).

So why add a sixth central midfielder where all of them will be challenging for at most three places if a 4 5 1 (come 4 3 3) formation is preferred next season.

The only way that his recruitment might make sense is if Silva is moved into central defence thus liberating a berth in midfield. But why do this when there are four capable central defenders on the cards in Toure, Gallas, Djourou and Senderos. And at the expense of 9m or more! We just do not see it.

Now Ribery is another kettle of fish.

He has all the characteristics that Wenger would value. He is a wide midfielder with pace to burn, is young but not too young at 24 and has of course international experience at the top level. We have not heard anything negative about his character and he is French! He is also best mates with Henry and has expressed the desire to play for Arsenal!

There is however one item that is needed to complete the jigsaw puzzle. The price. This unfortunately will need to be negotiated in a market place that will be awash with the monies coming from the new multimillion pound deal that the Premier league has secured for its clubs.

At least Bayern (with the Hargreaves transfer money now available) and Liverpool will be bidding for the player. Real Madrid and Chelsea have also been mentioned as possible bidders. If they do and the fee is pushed beyond 15m Wenger may pull out!

"Ribery will leave for a significant fee that is good for l'OM," said Olympique Marseille president Pape Diouf.

"At the end of next week, we should know more about my future” Ribery told a French newspaper.

Fingers on the buzzers

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Arsenal starlet joins Glasgow Rangers

It is reported that Giorgos Efrem a Cypriot under 19 international and a member of the Arsenal Reserves squad is about to join Glasgow Rangers on a two year deal. It is believed to be a free transfer as his contract with Arsenal has run its course. He has been considering offers from Greek and Cypriot clubs recently but has finally decided to join Rangers.

Giorgos signed with the Gunners in August 2005 after a successful trial period in 2004. He was an important member of the Arsenal reserves last season, who finished third in the league, and scored twice from ten appearances. He also played for the Under-18s scoring three times.

This looks like the start of the annual clear out so that the ground at youth and reserve level is prepared at Arsenal for the arrival of even more promising talent from all over the world.

It is expected that the Mexican wonder kid Vela, whose loan with Salamanca a second division side in Spain is going to be cut short in its first year, could join the array of young stars at Arsenal.

"He's a special talent and I believe 100 per cent that he will make it at the highest level." Wenger has said of Vela.

It appears that Wenger has been impressed enough by his performances in Spain and intends on counting on him for the coming season.

Arsenal Analysis has advocated that Arsenal need to sign another forward and a wide midfielder What does Arsenal need to do to challenge for next season? Arsenal need two but may sign only one player

We wonder however whether, Wenger’s desire to bring Vela back one year ahead of his loan spell in Spain and the addition of Bendtner to the squad, is an indication that he will stick with the current forward line up at his disposal.

And ride his luck again?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Arsene. Who to buy?

There were three glaring weaknesses this season:

- Could not keep a clean sheet. Especially at set plays
- Seriously lacked width
- Real problem in scoring from open play. Especially
after Henry and Van- Persie got injured.

Arsenal Analysis resident season ticket holder at the Emirates, South Stand: Row 5 using his “hands on experience” discusses the team’s weaknesses and comes up with the names to fill in the vacancies at Arsenal Football Club.

Could not keep a clean sheet. Especially at set plays

I watched every single home game this season live at the Emirates – except Bolton and CSKA - and a few of the away ones (It’s always fun going to the Lane!) and my mind is clear as to what the problem with the defence was (is).

Neither Kolo Toure nor Gallas are comfortable in attacking the ball at set plays or from long throws. For this reason Gilberto was usually recruited. But in doing this he was getting dragged out of position – remember he is not a centre back – and if the ball was not cleared effectively there was no player on the edges of the box to stop the opposition from resuming their attack.

Both Gallas and Toure are exceptional defenders, but they are too similar. They both like using their speed as their main asset. However their pace comes in handful as the fullbacks are hardly ever in position to defend and the central defenders are usually there to cover.

Seriously lacked width

We have missed Reyes and Pires a lot this year. They are the two players that made it viable for us to play a 4 5 1 formation, especially in Europe. Reyes provided natural width and in the process helped create space for Fabregas to dominate the midfield, and I always thought Pires would find a way to score. His link up play and his understanding with Henry created so many goals.

Without the natural width we have struggled this year. Rosicky and Hleb tended to drift towards the middle making it an even more congested midfield and very complicated to get the ball to the strikers.

They are not really wide players are they? They are more your roaming attack minded midfielders. More like a traditional number 10 and this is why they probably drift infield rather than stretch the right or left backs on the line. Not, as Henry has suggested, because of the wide spaces of the new stadium! Everything is being blamed on the new stadium! We don't buy that! Wenger is in denial… again

Real problem in scoring from open play. Especially after Henry and Van-Persie got injured

We have missed way too many easy chances this year. If we had converted only a third of them we would have been at least second in the league, gone to Anfield for a Champions League quarterfinal and played an FA cup semi final! At least.

Think about it.

Aston Villa, Boro, Chelsea, Everton, Newcastle and West Ham were points thrown away at home. Man City and West ham were games we should have won away.

The crucial question about the attack for next season is whether AW believes that Henry is going to be fit and back to his best. Because without Henry we need to invest very heavily on a forward. Even with a fit Henry we still need to get another quality striker so as to widen the options and create cover. Adebayor and Van Persie can not in my opinion get enough goals between them to make us serious contenders next season.

The jury is still out on Bendtner. Who knows he might even end up a better player than Henry. But surely he will need next season to be blooded into the squad and accustom himself to the demands of the Premier League.

Copa America and the Africa Cup of Nations

On top of all the above there are two more things to consider when planning for next season: the Copa America and the Africa Cup of nations.

This means that we will be without Gilberto until late September and we will lose Ade, Eboue and Kolo in the middle of the season for around six weeks.

Diaby will probably get a chance in the middle first up, and maybe Song will be used as back up so I think that area will not be strengthened. I am still a bit surprised however that Wenger decided to sell Muamba especially as Flamini is on his way out as well.

Wenger seems to have lost faith in Senderos in the second part of the year, but we have Djourou and Gilberto that can play there as cover.

Up front Bendtner will probably get his chance in the period after xmas. And Hoyte will cover for Eboue’s absence.

We need a winger

I wish Reyes came back as he is the only decent winger with premiership experience and he can provide cover as a striker when required and not use any of our transfer budget! Failing that Ribery, Malouda and Quaresma would be excellent additions. Walcott will learn a lot from any of them.

But another option is to go for Micah Richards! Yes at right back and later as a central defender when he matures. As a result promote Eboue into a wide right midfielder!

We need a striker

Best possible buy would be Eto’o but due to his price that is probably never going to happen especially if they want Henry as part of the deal. Why not go for someone who is already playing in the Premiership. Arsenal Analysis has advocated Anelka (Anelka for Arsenal), but there are others who would score goals for fun; especially with the number of chances that this team creates! Such as Tevez, D. Bent, Martins,Nugent. They are all decent goalscorers. Or if from abroad Kone of PSV and the Brazilian Wagner Love. They will require a settling in period which could be from six months to a year though.

My personal choice however would be Kanoute – now playing exceptionally well for Sevilla and is a former Premiership player, albeit with Spurs. He is very quick, a good finisher and decent in the air.

We need left back cover

I know that Gallas can play there but that would disrupt his partnership with Toure and would leave us exposed during the Africa Cup of Nations. Traore is good but too young. Go for Abidal, Gareth Bale, Leighton Baines (not all, one of them).

I wander what list Wenger has drawn up.

I hope he has one!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Benitez got the formation right but the personnel and the substitutions wrong!

There are three types of decisions that a football coach has to make when preparing for a game.

His first of course is to decide on the game plan (usually based on an assessment of his team’s and the opposition’s weaknesses and strengths).

The second on the system and formation that will fit the game plan. He has to choose a formation that will allow his team’s strengths to shine, exploit the opposition’s weaknesses and at the same time contain the threats. Which is a difficult balancing act.

And lastly decide on the appropriate personnel to make the game plan work.

He also has to have some alternative plans (plan B if you like) and substitution options sorted out beforehand so that he can timely respond to events during the game.

Benitez got the formation right for this Champions League Final against Milan in Athens but we are sorry to say he got the rest pretty much wrong!

And we are not some post match, wise after the event, climbers on the bandwagon of Benitez bashers! In our review of the game “Rafa’s line up and formation” and additionally in our posting “Is this really Rafa’s line up?” we pretty much warned of what was likely to happen.

First glaring mistake was what we would call the “schizophrenic” choice of placing Kuyt on the striker’s role. Schizophrenic because why play with two wingers whose main function when attacking would be to put crosses in but omit Crouch from the line up? He was the only one in the Liverpool ranks who could exploit these balls.

We believe that Crouch should have started as Milan’s defenders, especially goalkeeper Dida, were known to be vulnerable to high balls as was so evident in their games against United. And the goal that Liverpool eventually scored came from a high ball delivered from a corner.

Second glaring mistake was to persist with the ineffective Zenden on the wide midfield position. This was very evident in his inept performance against Chelsea in the Semi final.

Riise should have started there with Arbeloa at left back. Riise would have been much better at attacking defenders, getting crosses in and also tracking back to defend.

And the third glaring mistake was that he got the substitutions wrong! What the hell did Harry Kewell contribute to the game? Why oh why get him on in such an important game when he has been out of action and obviously not match fit for almost the whole season?

Substituting Mascherano instead of Alonso was another mistake as kaka was then free to do the damage, he was denied excellently during the game, in setting up the second killer goal at 82 minutes for that perennial goal poacher Pippo Inzaghi.

But although he got Crouch on it was way too late in the game for him to have any meaningful impact. A player that should have been on from the beginning!

Arsene is no hot shot on substitutions, we all know that, but we don’t think he would have made these type of mistakes! And to go one step further Arsenal, with Henry and Van Persie in the line up, would have wrung circles round this very ordinary and ageing Milan team.

The Olympics originated in Greece. Well, Milan’s victory can be likened to an athlete running the hundred meters in the Olympics final. He may have won this world prestigious event and got all the glory but at a time well outside the world record!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Is this really Rafa’s line up?

According to the press gossipers Benitez looks to have made his decisions with regard to the formation and line up. We are in disagreement with a few of them.

As we have argued in our previous posting “Rafa’s line up and formation” Liverpool should place particular attention to the midfield by flooding it with five players but allowing the more attacking player the freedom to support the striker.

According to reports coming out of Athens this is what is likely to happen and we are happy with that. It’s the choice of personnel we have a problem with.

It is mooted that Crouch will not start and Kuyt will play up front with Gerrard supporting him in a withdrawn, Kaka type, of role.

But one major weakness of the Italians is their vulnerability to high balls especially Dida. Surely Benitez should exploit this by playing Crouch there! What is the point in starting with Pennant and Zenden if you don’t have someone in the penalty area capable of exploiting their deliveries. Crouch should start up front with Kuyt supporting him.

Our second disagreement concerns Gerrard’s role. We would prefer to see him start in central midfield as he is a much more robust tackler and energetic runner in covering spaces than Alonso is. And this will be particularly important as it is in the midfield that Liverpool will have to fight to nullify their opponent’s particular strength.

Our third concern is that if and when Rafa needs to change Liverpool’s game plan he is really deprived of what we believe is his best Plan “B” which would involve moving Gerrard in a forward position.

Ok he wants to start with Kuyt up front instead of Crouch so as to exploit another perceived weakness of the Italians which is their relative lack of mobility at the back. But surely this should be part of the Plan “B” referred to above where it will be better deployed in the latter part of the game when you would expect tiredness to set in.

If in the end Gerrard and Kuyt start up front then Liverpool will not be exploiting the opponent’s weaknesses to the full.

And what is likely to happen is that Kuyt will not be able to hold the ball up front that well. Thus more pressure will be placed on Liverpool’s midfield, as the game will be mostly concentrated there, sucking Gerrard in the process.

Is this what Rafa is aiming for? Another stalemate and hopefully penalty shoot out?

We would like to believe that the rumours coming out of Athens are just “Greek lies” to smokescreen the opponents

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Rafa’s line up and formation

Rafa Benitez has to choose a formation that will allow his team’s strengths to shine, exploit the opposition’s weaknesses and at the same time contain the threats. Which is a difficult balancing act.

One threat that he will have to consider minimising is that from Kaka who is likely to play in that hole behind Milan’s front man in a 4 4 1 1 formation. So Liverpool will have to fill in that area between their defence and their midfield that Kaka will roam in. Mascherano will probably be deployed for this role.

And the next formation related problem that Benitez will have to decide on is how to play up front. Play with two front men in a 4 1 3 2 formation or go like for like.

If Liverpool play with two up front they ran the risk of being outnumbered in the most important area of the pitch. Milan will have four to Liverpool’s three midfielders. Something that Ferguson chose to ignore for the semi final in Milan; eventually to his peril Milan outclass United. Fergie gets the tactics wrong! We think that Benitez has the sense to avoid making the same mistake.

Of course Manchester United were a very tired team as their gruelling tussle with Chelsea for the Premiership was taking its toll. They were also missing some key defenders which accounted for a lot of the errors that were committed in both legs.

On the other hand Benitez has been resting players for some time now safe in the knowledge that a Champions League place was reasonably secure. So have Milan of course, safe in the knowledge that theirs was a punishment year where the Scudetto was, due to past misdemeanours, administratively placed out of reach.

All things being equal Liverpool is the younger team and this might play a more decisive role in the second half and even more so if the game goes into extra time.

Having sorted out the formation then Benitez has to decide on the personnel.

We believe that Crouch should start as Milan’s defenders, especially goalkeeper Dida, are vulnerable to high balls as was so evident in their games against United. Dropping off Crouch will have to be Kuyt who will have to drift between midfield and attack according to needs.

Acropolis in Greek means the area on the edges of town and if the teams cancel themselves out in the centre then it is in the wide areas of the pitch that the outcome of the game may be decided on.

Yet we have not been convinced by Zenden’s performances in the semi final against Chelsea. He worked hard, stretched Chelsea’s defence and tracked back well but he failed in the most important aspect of his position; that of getting the crosses in. And this will be important if Crouch starts.

It looks as though Benitez will want to start with Zenden in the wide midfield position unless he is declared injured by the medical team. We would prefer however that Riise starts there with Arbeloa at left back (we do not consider Kewell as being a viable alternative). He is much better at attacking defenders, getting crosses in and also tracking back to defend.

And since the service to Crouch will be important we would consider ex Arsenal boy Pennant, who impressed in the semi final against Chelsea, to be more appropriate for the wide midfield position on the right. He is one of only a few ex Arsenal players to have prospered after leaving Arsenal. The others include interestingly enough left backs, Silvinho and Van Brockhurst.

The other midfielder will be Gerrard who can play in a similar role in central midfield as initially intended in the semi final.Pivotal.

There are two areas that Liverpool may have the upper hand. One is that Milan’s forward line whether it be Inzaghi or Gilardino are nothing to shout home about.

The other is that Benitez will be in his element in a European arena where he feels at home and knows the territory and the mentality of the opponents more than the other managers in the English Premier League.

And tactically he has proven to be one of the best; the latest example being his tactical outwitting of Mourinho in the Semi Final. Why Liverpool came out winners against Chelsea.

And in the end Rafa’s tactical nous may prove the shining light under the shade of the Acropolis!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

FA Cup Final: Lessons for Arsenal

This was a boring game which did not befit the grand occasion of being the first Cup Final to be played at the new Wembley. It was boring due to the tactics and formation adopted by Chelsea but also to an extent by Manchester United.

Chelsea played with three midfielders sitting deep and this list surprisingly included Lampard who was not always very wiling to cross the half way line and give some support to the lone Drogba up front.

On the occasion he did, a goal was conjured in extra time with an exquisite one two with Drogba to send the latter through free in the United area and take advantage of another slow response from Van der Sar ( he was also slow to react for two of the Milan goals in the Champions League semi final).

Drogba’s goal on the 126th minute broke Andy Linighan’s record by four minutes, which stood since Arsenal’s cup triumph against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993, as the latest Cup final goal!

But a similar observation with regard to tactics can be made of Manchester United. Scholes was deployed deep, right next to Carrick even assuming some of his distributional trademark long balls and getting in his way. Tactically not physically.

But Man U lacked balance in their formation more than Chelsea did. And this was due to the absence of Saha or a similar target man which Roonie clearly is not; nor did he receive the support from midfield that he deserved. On the other hand Chelsea had Drogba up front and at the end that’s what made the difference.

Mourino adopted these spoiling tactics because he did not believe that his players could beat Man U in a more open game but we suspect that he also faced a similar decision that Wenger did prior to the 2005 Cup Final against Manchester United.

It was the only honour left for Arsenal to contest in that otherwise barren year. But Wenger was not of course afraid his tenure was under threat! Maybe Mourinho wanted to desperately win something of note this year for non footballing reasons.

So it was not a surprise that stalemate was going to be the order of the day. On the occasion that a goal was scored it was ignored by the refereeing team as not having crossed the line. And of course we all saw that it did; yet we were privileged to a number replays from our living room sofas! Why oh why goal line technology is not yet part and parcel of the game baffles us. The beautiful game and how to make it better.

But it looked obvious that Giggs did foul Ceck by pushing him over the line and Essien’s lunge to stop Giggs was not that obvious. So it was probably the right decision for the wrong reasons!

There are two lessons for Arsenal to learn from this game though.

The first is that possessing the attribute of winning ugly is part and parcel of any winning team. What does Arsenal need to do to challenge for next season? And this is really needed in the marathon that the English teams are asked to endure because the number of games that will have to be played includes, other than the league, the cups and those in Europe. You need to win when the team is not playing well when things are not going according to plan. And to do this you need guts, determination and tenacity. Arsenal haven’t got it at the moment.

The second is that unless there is a solid defence in front of a top quality goalkeeper you might as well forget it. Manchester United played reasonably well but one incidence of inadequate marking from the central midfielders and a slow reaction from the goalkeeper cost them the game.

Chelsea on the other hand know that they can win ugly because they know that their defence will not to make such mistakes nor is Ceck likely to be slow to react.

Arsenal's transfer targets are likely to be focused on the more creative areas of the team but Chelsea’s transfer policy for the summer is bound to include central defenders as back up for Terry and Carvalho so as to avoid a repeat of the period this season when their absence cost them the championship.

If they do then it will be a very exciting championship next year

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Arsenal need two but may sign only one player

We have argued recently in other postings, notably in “What does Arsenal need to do to challenge for next season?” that a lot of the changes needed at Arsenal involve a change of attitude or better coaching and organisation on the pitch rather than radical surgery in the personnel.

These changes include, among others, first and foremost the need to tighten the defence and the adoption of the 4 5 1 formation.

This system contains three central midfielders two of which may sit in front of the defence when needed. It is therefore particularly appropriate for Arsenal at the moment as it helps protect a young defence which is prone to errors of judgment and lacks positional sense.

So where should Arsene recruit?

An analysis of the current squad’s strengths and weaknesses (Arsenal's transfer targets)makes us believe that new signings are needed in only two specific areas, at most.

The youngsters have shown tremendous potential and it would be silly to throw all that out of the window by splashing out on the transfer market.

Because what a young player needs most is room to grow. Look how Fabregas has blossomed since Vieira left. Remember how Ashley Cole became the best left back in the premiership after Silvinho left. And how young Clichy has evolved since Cole himself departed. Or Eboue even who excelled last year in the absence of Lauren.

So you see where we are coming from. If a new player will be recruited he should be at a position where the team is really suffering and where the young starlet coming up is not yet that experienced or ready to assume it.

The most obvious to us is in the wide midfield position. This is because Reyes will probably not be at Arsenal next season, Hleb has worryingly unmasked his deficiencies, Freddie has lost his pace and Walcott is still inexperienced.

The recruitment of another wide midfielder assumes additional importance if the 4 5 1 formation is adopted as the two wide midfielders balance the team by giving it width.

That takes care of one transfer requirement. But what about another forward? This has been an area where quite evidently, the team fell really short of expectations.

There are currently four players for, at most, two positions up front depending on the system that may be adopted. They are Henry, Van Persie, Adebayor and now Bentdner. We are of course assuming that Baptista and Aliadere will be released.

Three experienced players and a young starlet may not prove to be enough. Another proven goal scorer needs to be recruited to create enough of a cover which was desperately needed this season and also competition between players.

However an interesting option that is available to Wenger is to recruit someone who can play both positions; as a forward and as a wide midfielder!

Like for example Van Persie who has been used by Arsenal and Holland as a wide player in a 4 3 3 come 4 5 1 formation or Ljumberg when he was similarly deployed in some of the Champions league games. Dare we say it Anelka fits this description (Anelka for Arsenal).

Taking this route may appeal to Wenger’s policy of preserving Arsenal’s financial resources and allowing his young prodigies room to grow

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What does Arsenal need to do to challenge for next season? Part II

There are quite a lot of weaknesses that Arsene Wenger needs to address and rectify if Arsenal are to challenge seriously for honours next season.

Fortunately they are all correctible as a lot of the changes needed involve a change of attitude or better coaching and organisation on the pitch rather than radical surgery in the personnel.

We started to put our views on the above subject in an earlier posting. The first part covered the issues of getting the defence right, buying two experienced players and adopting the 4 5 1 formation. What does Arsenal need to do to challenge for next season? Part I

With regard to the defence we maintained that what is needed is more organisation than new players and the two signings will need to be for a wide midfielder and another forward. The 4 5 1 formation is a flexible system that additionally helps provide extra protection for a young defence and allows for the utilization three central midfielders inclusive of Diaby.

This posting deals with the rest of our suggestions:

- Learn how to break up packed defences
- kill teams off when on top
- Learn how to win ugly
- Hit the ground running
- Manage the impending takeover bid correctly.

Let’s take each in turn.

Learn how to break up packed defences

Arsenal are top of the mini league consisting of the top 4 sides! It’s those points dropped against the smaller teams that were crucial. The reason being that they usually play with ten men behind the ball.

Blackburn did not adopt this strategy at the Emirates and they were hit for 6. They learned their lesson and changed their tactics for the Cup games and got through with a goal in the last few minutes of the replay!

The big teams on the other hand play to win, are not as defencively minded and are therefore more open to Arsenal’s playing style.

As we have indicated in previous postings,Wenger is in denial… again Wenger needs to stop whingeing about defencive tactics. What does he expect them to do? Roll over and ask for mercy? It is not only Arsenal that face packed defences every week. If Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool have found ways round it why can’t Arsenal?

The onus is surely on the coaching staff to work out ways and playing systems to break them down. We would only suggest four ways round it that were very evidently lacking this season.

One is the speed with which Arsenal were putting together their attacks after winning the ball. The desire to pass the other teams to death and create pretty patterns just for the sake of it allows the opponents time to get more men behind the ball and also to reorganize their defence.

Secondly an alternative approach needs to be developed where variation in the style of play during the course of a game will help confuse opponents. Like crossing the ball for a headed attempt at goal or even, as has been attempted sometimes this season, using the long ball now and then.

Thirdly, taking advantage of set plays has been distinctly lacking. The number of goals scored from this source can be counted using the fingers of one hand.

Winning corners or fouls outside the area is no problem of course but the art of taking them leaves a lot to be desired. The absence of Henry and Van Persie accounts for the lack of goals from free kicks but corners?

Lastly remember it’s not a five a side game or even basketball where the main aim is to pass the ball around so as to create the opportunity to have a free shot.

In football you will always have opponents blocking your way to goal. You need to go for the jugular sometimes! Shoot on site man! A deflected goal is as good as any other goal. Abandon the obsessive infatuation with passing the ball into the net or scoring the goal of the year! For Pete’s or indeed our sake.

Kill teams off when on top

The beautiful passing game and overpowering football that Wenger’s teams produce allows them so much domination during the course of a game that they lull themselves into a false sense of security.

And they relax too much and too early when they are only one nil up. But the opponents know that they will get their chance and like small armies, who out of necessity adopt guerrilla tactics, they only need one strike. And then it’s back to the pumps time again!

This is more an attitude thing rather than anything else. It indeed has been very evident in almost all of Wenger’s teams over the years as they all have been young and inexperienced. It stems from what we would term “the arrogance of youth”

So when one nil up go hell for leather for a two nil up as though your lives depended on it. Kill them off when they are down. That’s what Man Utd and Chelsea do.

Learn how to win ugly

Arsenal will also have to learn to win ugly. When the team is not playing well when things are not going according to plan. You need guts, determination and tenacity to win games and with it championships.

We are not that worried about this because we believe that this is something that comes with desire, determination and also with players that can get you goals from nowhere; and all three can potentially be there next season.

Hit the ground running

Both Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have made the point that starting the season on the right foot sets the tone for the remainder. It allows the team to get more confidence to see themselves up there at the top with the other protagonists and to be talked about as possible contenders for the Championship.

It’s almost a confidence trick but nevertheless significant when the team consists mainly of young and inexperienced kids.

Manage the impending takeover bid correctly

What has been underpinning Arsenal’s successes over the years has been the stability and consistency throughout the club. This has now been cracked and it looks as it is about to be shattered with possible consequences for the team’s fortunes on the football field.

What has happened so far is only the beginning. As we have indicated in our previous postings eg Arsenal sale will be sooner rather than later! Kroenke, having made a very courageous investment of 43m PLUS an additional undertaking of 23m to buy half of Arsenal Broadband from ITV, will not hold back.

That’s a lot of money (66m) to pay if you are not expecting to lodge a successful bid and take control of a company. Certainly keeping it there as an investment (as has been suggested) does not fit in with Kroenke’s investment profile and business behaviour.

What is likely to happen is that the club will face a year of uncertainty and instability which may find its way on the playing field. This is to be avoided like the plague!

And it has to be managed correctly so that the whole business can be smoothed over with the minimum disruption on the footballing side of things.


Inexperience is something which characterises Wenger’s teams throughout his tenure at Arsenal. That is why we witness the fluctuations in the quality of the performance levels between games and also during games themselves.

But when they achieve more consistency which will come with maturity, they will produce scintillating, dare we say it, Brazilian type football. Football that will be “untouchable”. Again.

Do all the above and it could be another double or more!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Portsmouth Vs Arsenal. Goal less but entertaining

This was an entertaining open game played like a Cup tie at a fast pace, probably one of the paciest type of games that Arsenal played this year.

The reason was Portsmouth’s positive approach by playing two strikers up front, Arsenal old boy, Kanu and Mwaruwari and pushing their midfielders forward at every opportunity. They were not interested in playing 10 men behind the ball and defending for a nil nil.

Their positive approach was of course dictated by their need to get the three points and give themselves a chance to qualify for Europe. So it suited Arsenal very well. They were allowed to play their passing game, counter attack at pace and use their skill and accuracy in passing to cut through Portsmouth and create a handful of chances. And miss them all! Again.

Mostly by the ever so wasteful Baptista whose only real positive attribute is his ability to position himself for goal scoring opportunities. The biggest opportunity of course was the penalty which was blasted to the right of James but not wide enough, allowing the keeper to push it away for a corner.

Baptista missed a string of other good chances to score notably two clear headers on goal and two shots from very promising positions; both saved by James who also saved from the impressive Clichy with Traore clearing the ball as it was about to cross the line.

Hleb also missed the other big chance of the match when on a one to one with James contrived to shoot wide of the near rather than aim for the far post; as any shooting manual will have advised!

Strangely he was much more alert and busy for this game like his old self of last season. Someone should have told him this was the last game of the season not the first!

Portsmouth are still smarting from one piece of indecisiveness shown by Graham Poll who was officiating the last game of his refereeing career. He first gave a goal for Portsmouth and then after persistent protests by the Arsenal players and consultation with his assistant proceeded to disallow it.

Kranjcar was indeed in an offside position when the original shot was made thus we suppose was deemed to be interfering with play. Although the ball eventually came to him off an Arsenal player!

A shot was spilled by Poom and then again from the oncoming player. The ball then rebounded back to Kranjcar, who had remained behind the defence, off Senderos and that was why Portsmouth claimed that it was not offside.

Arsenal’s penalty was won by Eboue who, interestingly enough, was selected by Wenger to start at the right midfield position with Hoyte at right back.

We say “interestingly” because we have been advocating on this site the merits of this arrangement prior to the home game against Chelsea. Eboue proved a very useful midfielder utilising both his attacking and defencive capabilities.

Another pet topic that usual visitors to this site will know about is our love of the 4 5 1 or 4 3 3 formation for Arsenal.

And Wenger showed us a taste of things to come adopting the 4 3 3 formation with Baptista in front, Hleb and Eboue in the wide midfield positions and the three central midfielders of Fabregas Diaby and Djourou. The latter proving his versatility with flying colours.

There is a lot of strength in depth in this Arsenal squad

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The probability of West Ham going down is low. But what about foul play?

By using basic probability theory we calculate the probability of West Ham being relegated at about between 6% and 19% ! Which is good news for West Ham fans of course. This assumes however no foul play (more on this later) and that the teams play to their known and recent capabilities.

If West ham are to go down two (independent) events need to happen. West Ham will have to lose and Wigan will have to win away at Sheffield United.

The calculation of the probability of W Ham going down therefore is the product (multiplication) of the probabilities of a win for Man Utd against West Ham which we put at between 65% and 75% and for Wigan to win away at Sheffield Utd which we put at between 10% and 25%. This is based on Wigan’s current away form and Sheffield Utd’s form at home.

The probability therefore of West Ham going down is between 6% (65% x 10% = 6%) and 19% (75% x 25%=19%).

However, if foul play comes into it then all the probability theories go out of the window!

If for example Man Utd are up 3 0 at half time then the temptation for Sheffield Utd and Wigan to collude (cheat?) so that wigan win the game is there. And given the huge stake of preserving their Premiership lives and the declared hostile attitudes of the clubs against West Ham, it may be more than a temptation.

The Premier League and the FA should closely monitor the situation. In fact to avoid even a suspicion that this may happen they should have rescheduled the Sheffield Utd Vs Wigan kick off time to take place before the Man Utd. Vs West Ham game

Friday, May 11, 2007

Portsmouth Vs Arsenal. The final preview

Well what can we say? The last game of the season; where at the beginning it promised so much but in the end delivered so little.

We expected that after what was termed a transitional season, Arsenal will challenge for honours again. As is its want. But we should have known better.

The process from breaking up a team and then creating a new one that will challenge for the top does not happen within the same season.

It takes a summer to break it up, get new players in, another season to blood them in and the next one to seriously challenge. That’s a long process and it assumes of course that the new signings brought in proved to be successful!

We all know that Arsenal need to get in new signings this summer again! The speed with which they settle in will, we feel, determine how successful Arsenal is in the coming season.

In the grand scheme of things described above there is little significance on this Sunday’s game. Apart from trying to finish third.

This will be achieved by getting a better result than Liverpool who is at home against a relegated Charlton side. Or by matching Liverpool’s result but overturning a goal difference of two.

Portsmouth’s aspiration for Europe not only depends on beating Arsenal but also on both Reading and Bolton slipping up in their games. That’s a tall order.
Only Kanu from the ex Arsenal old boys will feature. Campell and Lauren are out injured.

As the game is not that significant for Arsenal we would like Wenger to take this opportunity to blood in some youngsters. We would leave Baptista out for obvious reasons and play a lad from the reserves, like Simpson for example or even Bentdner if possible!

Play Almunia in goals and Traore and Dlourou and Senderos and Matthew Connolly. Lets see a Carling Cup side!

The result is difficult to predict as it will depend on what side Wenger plays. But does it matter?

There has been a large number of visits to the site lately as a result we suspect of our posting on What does Arsenal need to do to challenge for next season? Part I

The second part will appear next week

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What does Arsenal need to do to challenge for next season? Part I

Due to the size of the document we thought that it might too much to swallow in one go. So it will be posted in two parts so that it can become more palatable! This is the first part.

There are quite a lot of weaknesses that Arsene Wenger needs to address and rectify if Arsenal are to challenge seriously for honours next season.

Fortunately they are all correctible as a lot of the changes needed involve a change of attitude or better coaching and organisation on the pitch rather than radical surgery in the personnel.

These arise from the fact that it is a young team and is only now beginning to gel together. But the manager, the coaching staff and above all the players have to work very hard to get it right. And the Board have a role to play too!

These are the following in order of importance:

- Tighten up the defence.
- Buy two experienced players
- Adopt the 4 5 1 formation
- Learn how to break up packed defences
- kill teams off when on top
- Learn how to win ugly
- Hit the ground running

Lastly the Board need to manage the impending takeover bid correctly

Let’s take each in turn.

Tighten up the defence

This a must. If this is not done then forget it; for some narrow wins will turn into draws. And as we have seen this season the difference between failure and
success is indeed very narrow.

You would expect Clichy and Ebuoe to have improved enough for their experience gained this season. And Gallas will play better next season as he has been hampered by his injuries. So there is room for improvement certainly.

But in our opinion what is needed is more organisation than new players. And this is relatively easier to achieve than buying new defenders and trying to integrate them into a cohesive unit.

What we mean is better organisation and marking at dead ball situations, abandonment of the zonal marking which is inappropriate for a young and inexperienced team (where concentration often wavers) and an integrated approach to defending; where all 11 players also perform their defensive duties when the team loses the ball.

Let’s hope they get more defensive coaching next season!

Buy two experienced players

As analysed in our posting Arsenal's transfer targets another forward is needed and a wide midfielder. Both have to be quality experienced players who will not need permission from their parents to appear in evening kick off games!

There is Henry of course and Adebayor and Van Persie. But as it has proved this season it was not enough.

Aliadiere and Baptista need to go as they have not really been up to standard but more importantly in order to release space for Bentdner who should be recalled back to the squad. He is big and strong and has that directness and determined streak which could be what Arsenal are looking for to compliment their pretty knit work.

However Arsenal need to recruit another proven goal scorer to create enough of a cover and competition between players. We have advocated that Nicolas Anelka would be ideal and is now available Anelka for Arsenal

There is also a shortfall in the wide midfield position. The absence of Reyes, Hleb’s known deficiencies, Walcott’s inexperience and Ljumberg’s ageing mean that Arsenal have to recruit. AW needs to buy a pacy winger to compliment Walcott's inexperience. Whether it will be Ribery or even Reyes himself we do not mind as long as the player recruited is top quality and is committed to the cause. This also related to the next point.

Adopt the 4 5 1 formation

There are three very important reasons we consider this the more appropriate formation for Arsenal.

Firstly it is needed in order to protect a young defence as the five man midfield contains three central midfielders two of which may sit in front of the defence when needed (the 4 3 3 formation is similar to the 4 5 1 as the two wide midfielders can tuck in when needed).

This is the formation that took Arsenal to the CL final and created the record of most games without conceding in the competition. It is also increasingly used by teams in Europe and Arsenal may need to play them like for like for tactical reasons.

Secondly it can be a flexible formation when players have the mobility and the nous to interchange places and transform it into a more creative system.

Thirdly it will allow Wenger to accommodate Silva, Fabregas and Diaby in the same eleven which, judging by the latter’s wonderful performances this season, will be a fearsome trio for years to come! And this is why Arsene needs to get another wide midfield player as explained above.

The remainder of this article will appear in a later posting. It will cover the rest of the things Arsenal need to do to challenge for next season!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Arsenal Vs Chelsea 1 – 1

Let us go straight to the point. The Arsenal team lacked balance. The strange choice of dropping Hleb and starting with Denilson and Diaby in the wide midfield positions congested the midfield. Denilson ended up crowding Fabregas out at times. The same applies to Diaby. The result was that there was no width and a congested midfield. This is why the game was boring until the last half hour when Chelsea got the goal.

This imbalance was corrected by Wenger late in the game when he took Diaby off pushed Ebuoe on the wing by bringing Hoyte at right back. As we have suggested on this site in our preview of the game this is how Arsenal should have lined up!

Baptista kept loosing control of the ball. He did win the penalty though. He takes up good positions, got the goal against Fulham and now the penalty against Chelsea. Otherwise he was anonymous as always. But Wenger keeps playing him as he has no other goal scorer. Surely he is leaving Arsenal.

Conceded again! This is unacceptable. Will it stop next season? We are not sure it will. Ok you would expect Clichy and Ebuoe to have improved enough for their experience gained this season. But will it be enough? And Gallas will play better next season as he has been hampered by his injuries. So there is room for improvement certainly. Lets hope they get more defensive coaching next season!

Arsenal will therefore have to rely more on the attack to get more goals than they might concede. They will certainly be able to do that when the injured players return along with the two additions we have been calling for a long time now in this site ( a pacy winger and another forward- not Baptista of course).

But the attack can not keep doing it week in week out! They will have an off game or come up against a tenacious defence. So if Arsenal are to win the league next season (for they will certainly challenge for it) the defense will have to be tightened up. If this is not done then forget it; for some narrow wins will turn into draws. And as we have seen this season the difference between failure and success is indeed very narrow.

Arsenal will also have to learn to win ugly. When the team is not playing well when things are not going for you. We are not that worried about this because we believe that this is something that comes with desire, determination and also with players that can get you goals from nowhere; and all three can be there next season.They were not there today

Lay off Ashley Cole! He is the reason we have Gael Clichy!

We have been getting some stick as well some praises from readers about our position on A. Cole’s return to Arsenal – if he plays.

Lay off Ashley. He made his decision and that is his prerogative. We should thank him for his services to the club and also for creating the space for Clichy to blossom!

It’s like when you break up with your girlfriend. Move on... Don't begrudge it when you see her with another guy! Time will show if she made the right decision but you have to get on your life and get another partner!

Don't you think that Gael Clichy is a beautiful footballer? He probably wouldn’t be there if Ashley stayed on. So thank Ashley for it!

Gael is in our opinion a much better player than Ashley was at this stage of his career.

We all knew when the Ashley Cole dispute with Arsenal was going on that he was not going to be a big loss! During Clichy’s appearances for Arsenal it was obvious that he would fill Cole’s boots more than adequately.

And his temperament is calm and focused which minimizes the number of mistakes such a young player is bound to make. He also has fantastic pace and this also allows him to recover if he is exposed which is usually due to his lack of positional awareness. Something that will improve with experience.

But developing left backs with the characteristics apparent in Clichy and Cole (short, pacy, tenacious, good in defence, offensively minded and with dribbling skills going forward) are one of Wenger’s specialties!

Look at Armando Traore!

What we said on Friday in our preview for today’s game still holds! Chelsea have to go for a win. And this will suit Arsenal even more as the opponents are not likely to park buses in front of their goal. An open game always suits the better and more footballing side!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Arsenal Vs Chelsea. A preview

We believe that the outcome of this match will depend more on how Chelsea approach the game, in terms of the state of their morale, the fatigue levels, team selection and tactics, rather than on how Arsenal line up or the tactics they will follow.

This is because Arsenal’s line up in the probable absence of Rosicky is likely to be the same as that against Fulham with Baptista playing up front with Adebayor, in more of a 4 4 2 formation. Wenger’s options are further limited as Ljumberg will probably not be fit enough to start. Although we would still not advocate his inclusion even if he was fit! The midfield is likely to be Fabregas, Silva, Hleb and Diaby.

We do not think that Wenger will tinker with the formation either, as he likes to stick to the same system in order to get the young players accustomed to it as much as possible.

And he is not likely to try something new like playing Hoyte at right back and Eboue in the wide midfield position is he? Although we think there is an argument for this suggestion, as tactically it may stifle Chelsea on the flanks. It would mean adopting a 4 5 1 formation with which we are much more comfortable and Baptista left on the bench to come on if Arsenal need to get a goal. This will mean that Hleb and Eboue will be the wide players and a trio of midfielders in Fabregas, Silva and Diaby. Sounds pretty strong to us! Keep dreaming!

But what will Chelsea’s tactics and formation likely to be?

We do not believe that the outcome of Man U’s tussle with their local rivals will affect Mourinho’s approach to the game. Chelsea still have to go for a win whatever that result will be since there will still be two matches and a maximum of six points left. And they have that game against Man U at home on the Wednesday. They would want to go into it with their hopes still intact. So a more attacking formation is likely to be adopted with Robben probably starting, Essien brought back into midfield and Boulharouz coming in defence. This will allow Lampard to play in a more forward position than at Liverpool where he was more withdrawn and as a result anonymous.

Since Mourinho needs to win the game and Ballack is not available then an attacking formation reminiscent of last season is likely to be adopted; probably 4 3 3. Robben and Joe Cole on the flanks and Drogba alone up front but with Lampard venturing forward whenever possible. We expect Makelele and Essien will be the other midfielders although you never know with Mourinho. He may go with Essien at right back and keep Mikel in the side. This will give him an even more attacking threat from the right.

This is written on the Friday so we do not know who is available or what the press gossipers are saying. It is only based on an appreciation of the kind of pressures each manager is facing.

As we said the Manchester derby will not affect Mourinho’s approach. However an area that the outcome of that game is likely to affect Chelsea is on morale. If Man U win that game Chelsea’s players will be thinking deep down inside that its slipping from them and remember they have not won any of their last three matches…..

Lastly, fatigue will we believe be a major factor.

It has been a gruelling season for the Chelsea players, involved in all major competitions right up until the end. This is beginning to take its toll as their recent lacklustre performances against Newcastle, Bolton and Liverpool have shown.

As the game wears on do not be surprised to see Arsenal score. Remember Arsenal have scored more goals in the last quarter-hour of Premiership matches than any other club (21 goals)!

Above anything else Arsenal have to first nullify the service to Drogba especially the long balls. This means defending properly against him in the air but also stopping the supply especially from A. Cole. Whoever plays on that flank will have to track A. Cole and put him under pressure and the same of course applies to the other midfielders and Adebayor. Defending from the front will have to be the order of the day!

And secondly they have to reduce the threat from Chelsea's wide men by marking tight and doubling up against them.

Taking everything in to consideration we would have been very upbeat if Baptista was omitted from the Arsenal line up! As we have said before all eleven parts of the jigsaw puzzle have to be at their top for the whole to work. With the Beast in the side we are not so sure.

However he gets into good positions and if he takes one of the chances that are bound to be created he would have done his job for the day.

But Chelsea’s mental and physical condition may do more to decide the outcome of this game rather than anything else

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Milan outclass United. Fergie gets the tactics wrong!

There are a lot of reasons why Man Utd could not get anything out of the game against Milan last night.

The formation adopted was 4 3 3 which for an away semi final game proved to be courageous and arrogant.

It was courageous because Ferguson did not have the right sort of players to back up the attacking minded midfielders and forwards when they lost possession at the forward areas of the pitch. A midfield of Fletcher, Carrick and Scholes (who was more afraid to tackle than to play his normal game) was simply not strong enough to provide the necessary shield in front of the already weakened defence. Especially when the opposition was playing more of 4 5 1 with Kaka the drifting player between their attack and the midfield thus outnumbering the three of United’s.

It was also arrogant because to know beforehand that your team is missing key players in all areas of the field and to demand of the remaining to play in an attacking 4 3 3 formation is like saying my reserves are better than your first team! And they “aint”

Individual errors were to blame for the actual goals but errors of course are usually a result of being under pressure; and United were under pressure at crucial periods of the game. Heinze was outclassed for the first goal and made the errors for the second. And Van de Sar was in our opinion too slow to react for both the first two goals. Chech for example would have been in a forward position early enough to be able to do something about it.

But we think the most important reason underlying all the above is what Wenger once said. That it is extremely difficult for an English team to do well in the Champion’s League and to challenge for the Premiership in the same year. Look at where the two finalists are in their domestic leagues; third. As a result they were able to rest players avoid injuries and concentrate their minds on only one target. The same can be said of Arsenal last year and Liverpool before.

Yes at times it was exhibition football from Milan. But is it as good as Arsenal’s?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Why Liverpool came out winners against Chelsea

This time round Liverpool dealt much more efficiently with the long balls to Drogba. Agger with Carragher’s assistance, when he could, was much better prepared to counter Drogba’s strength. And with Chelsea playing with only one man in front and Lampard surprisingly playing more destructively than looking to go forward, did not have a plan B!

Chelsea’s tactics were predictable and unsophisticated. Pumping long balls to Drogba may have worked in the first leg but when Liverpool had an answer for it Mourinho did not adjust the tactics early enough to pose any real threat to Liverpool’s defence. Robben and Philips did not come on till late in the game. Surprisingly so since Jose has shown that he is not averse to making tactical adjustments and substitutions even during the first half of games. Maybe he decided to be more conservative, save what he had, and wait for penalties.

The referee called them as he saw them which is not much of a help if you are relying on one man to do most of the damage. And most of the time Drogba’s leaning backwards into the defender is really a foul. As is usually Kevin Davies’of Bolton. He does the same thing. Instead of jumping for the ball he first leans into the defender and then he goes for the header. And the comparison with Bolton doesn’t stop here. We thought that long balls to a lone forward is what Bolton do, not a club who have spent close to 300m in only three years in building a team!

Injuries to key players cost Chelsea. The absence of Carvalho in particular meant that Chelsea’s midfield was weakened missing the power and drive of Essien who was otherwise engaged in defence to deal with Crouch’s threat. Why they did not enter the transfer market in the last window to bolster their defensive back up is mystifying for a club who theoretically do not have a budget constraint!

And lastly Benitez played a more attacking line up than in the first leg. This time he played Gerrard in the middle rather than Alonso who was sitting deep at Stamford Bridge. And by selecting Pennant and Zenden on the flanks helped stretch Chelsea (even if Zenden was not as effective as required). What was more important is that Pennant’s threat on the right restricted Ashley Cole from venturing forward as often as in the first game or of placing those long diagonal balls to Drogba.

The conclusion? Benitez tactically outsmarted Mourinho.

AC Milan Vs Manchester United

We do not believe Fergie when he says that they will have a go at the San Siro! It sounds like a smokescreen intended to lull the opposing coach and players into a false sense of security. He is more likely to adopt a more cautious approach of not playing too negatively but looking to go forward when the opportunities arise especially on the counter attack.

If one of the two main central defenders starts the game for United then they should at least avoid those dreadful errors in the first leg. But getting close to Kaka and nullifying his threat will go a long way towards getting a result and allowing us to enjoy two English teams in the Champion’s League Cup Final under the Acropolis