Archive for January, 2011

A Few Things I Realized About Arsenal This Week

Looking back at the game against Ipswich and indeed the season so far, I’ve come to realize some changes that are unique to our squad this year- things which were not there or I did not feel were present in the previous seasons. And who better to share those feelings than my fellow Arsenal fans? So here goes:

1) Every player can make an impact at any moment: Time and time again, I have mentioned how full of depth our squad is this season. A simple way of demonstrating this is by randomly dividing our 25 man squad into two halves (well not equal halves of course). Do it a number of times and chances are you won’t be able to tell distinctly which half is better.  Arsene Wenger has always mentioned how he trusts each and every player in his squad and this time, and this time only, he actually means it. The obvious example was Bendtner’s impact last game…it was a match changing goal- possibly the ‘goal’ that will become the key to our first trophy in six years. I have never doubted Bendtner”s finishing ability as some other Arsenal fans did. One thing I did doubt, though, was his technical ability but he surprised me in that aspect this week. The way he handled the high ball from Jack was top draw stuff. ‘Twas smooth as silk to be honest and his finishing was mesmerizing to say the least. This type of performance reminds me that our players are in a constant process of improvement and what they were last season does not necessarily reflect on the current season. But I digress, the players in our team, ranging from from youngsters to more experienced ones, are well capable of surprising us at any moment, making this season more exciting than any in recent years.

2) We actually ‘CRAVE’ to win a trophy this time: I do not know if it is just me but I really feel there’s a different aura to the team this year. I can’t quite describe it myself- just an abstract belief at the back of my head that keeps getting stronger and stronger. Every year when we are on a good run, I find myself wondering when this form will end. I always look backwards. It’s something of an involuntary reflex that is ingrained in my brain, I guess, because we always screw something up and end the season with nothing. But watching the team play this season, I truly believe that we can do it this time around. I truly believe we are all in this together- the manger, the first team, the subs and the fans. I do not look backwards anymore. My eyes lie only forward because we have finally crossed the point of no-return and the only thing that is left is destiny.

3) We have been really lucky with injuries so far (I hope this does not jinx it): We really have. While Chelsea and Manutd have had injuries to the likes of Terry, Essien, Lampard, Rooney, Ferdinand etc, we had a pretty smooth ride down injury lane. We have had only one serious injury which was to Vermaelen, and the rest have been quite ephemeral. To be honest, our only serious concern thus far is to our defense, namely the CB position. Even then, Squillaci is coming back and is apparently ready to be in the squad for the next game. Sagna was taken to the hospital and in any other season, I swear, he would have been out for at least 3 weeks which would later be extended to around 6 weeks. But that is not happening. Sagna is currently  ‘well and in good spirits’ Injury gods such as Rosicky and Van Persie are still fit and running which really surprises me. So yeah, we deservedly have some luck with our injuries this season.

4) Szczesny apparently makes a world of difference: Sure, he hasn’t been world class in any way which is hardly surprising. The lad is only 20. But I think defenders actually trust Wojciech. Indeed, when defenders play in front of a goalkeeper who they really have faith in, there is an extra incentive to defend better. They have the assurance that they are not the last ‘reliable’ line of defense and that load of pressure off their minds really benefits them. Plus, at 6ft 5 inches he is the tallest keeper (and the tallest player) we have. Wojciech has some problems with his distribution but that is not a major concern right now because distributing the ball does not directly influence our defense and I believe his performances, although he has had very little to do recently, played a big part in achieving our current defensive record. I just want to make it clear, that by supporting Wojciech, I am in no way discrediting our other keeper Lukasz Fabianski who had been playing great until he got injured (?). All I am saying is that our defenders have been playing extraordinarily while Wojciech was between the sticks. That’s all.

5) I don’t give a sh*t what Manutd do anymore: I watched the Ipswich game on television and while watching it, I inevitably switched regularly between channels taking quick glances at the Manutd vs Blackpool game that was happening at the same time. It was a bonus to watch our title rivals concede two goals and quite obviously I enjoyed it. But, as they slowly came back to game and eventually went 2-3 ahead, I found myself to be less frustrated than I thought I would be. I realized that this season I genuinely believe we are better than them. This feeling has never occured to me before. I realized that this year, I finally trust our team enough to not care about what happens with the likes of Chelsea and Manutd. This year, we are the real deal and if we keep playing our cards right, we will win trophies no matter what.

But those were my feelings from this week. Next week, we have a very important game against Huddersfield and there’s no reason to underestimate them. After all, they are a club that at a certain time in history won the Championship for 3 consecutive seasons. Yes, I am serious…

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Scouting Michael Ciani to Arsenal

With Arsene Wenger confirming he will sign a defender for cover to both Vermaelen and Squillaci, rumours of a new center back are more frequent. One of those defenders that have popped up in the media as being in the Arsenal radar is Michael Ciani

He is Chamakh’s former team mate at Bordeaux, and tall too! Standing at 6 ft 2 inches is not a joke. Arsenal are always linked with tall defenders (Gary Cahill for e.g.) but have not signed any in the recent past.

Ciani has been quite impressive for Bordeaux after joining the club in the summer of 2009. He was especially strong and composed for Bordeaux in their Champions League campaign last season and has continued his consistency so far this season as well. So Ciani is definitely not inexperienced in the Champions League side of football. Infact he has already got one international cap. After France’s dismal display at the 2010 World Cup, it looks like Ciani could be looked upon and called up more often to the national side.

Michael Ciani Michael Ciani of Bordeaux gestures during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Juventus FC and FC Girondins de Bordeaux at the Olympic Stadium on September 15, 2009 in Turin, Italy.

However, is he too expensive as cover for two frontline defenders? Probably. Michael Ciani would be atleast 10 mill and I’m not sure Wenger will gamble on a defender without Premier League experience to use as cover for January. Secondly, Ciani is also French. Arsenal have always been criticized for being the French team of England. It probably is true. Just imagine Clichy, Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci, Nasri and Diaby in the same lineup. It’s all French. Fans are a bit wary of that and I think Wenger will be too to sign another French player for Ligue 1. It’s probably why we’re hearing more rumours of English defenders being linked with Arsenal, like Cahill, Upson and Woodgate. Not to even forget that Bordeaux will try a lot harder to keep one of their star defenders, after losing both Chamakh and Gourcuff last season.

I personally don’t see Squillaci as being our main central defender. He’s more like Mikael Silvestre of Arsenal type of player. Since Vermaelen’s injury just keeps getting worse and it seems like his role this season will be minimal, we definitely need to sign someone better than Squillaci. Ciani has all the qualities to be a formidable defender in the Premier League and possibly much better than Squillaci as well. So if the Arsenal backroom is as ambitious as they portray to the media, then Wenger should give some serious consideration in signing someone like Ciani. With just a few days left to the close of the transfer window, Wenger has to think quick!

FA Cup vs Carling Cup: Which is more important for Arsenal now?

In life, there comes a time when we have to make some difficult choices, some things we have to make more important than the others. Prioritize some aspects and leave some stones unturned. Arsenal are in a similar state right now. For obvious reasons, the Premier League and the European Cup remain our priorities. Even though it is hard to admit it, there is a strong possibility that we will be kicked out of one of the two ‘weaker’ cups very soon.

Our squad this season has substantial depth and can withstand a bumpy run of fixtures more strongly than before. Consequently we find ourselves competing for all available trophies even in the middle of January (and are in respectable positions in all of them too). But as the fixtures get congested, Wenger will have to rotate the team heavily and inevitably we will not be able to put the same amount of quality/effort in all the competitions.

Hence we will be forced to choose between the two cups now. I am not saying we should ‘give up’ on any one of them, but prioritize one, realize that as we progress further our chances of being knocked out become stronger. This will become especially true when we suffer more injuries and some players start to feel the effects of fatigue (like Arshavin).  Last season this was not a problem become we played a largely second-string team in the Carling Cup, leaving the big guns to fight for more esteemed honors.

Arsene Wenger has made it clear, not once but twice, this season that he is taking all four competitions seriously. Just today he spoke about his targets for the season and how he will use the rotation technique to help his team cope during the most rigorous months of the year. He said:

“I will go for it [all four competitions], but we will have to rotate.

“Our success depends on the way the whole squad can focus on the different competitions. I believe we have the quality to qualify no matter what I do on Wednesday. It’s just how much we are able to focus on the competition.

“The timing is not the best but it is down to us because we could have beaten Leeds at home. We didn’t manage to do that but now there’s no reason why we should give up.

“I will prepare [for] this game to win it then we will see. It is important we go there with a positive attitude.”

It’s very ambitious of him to try doing so and I stand by his intentions. This Arsenal team includes players who have not yet won any major trophies in the whole of their careers and I believe until they get the taste of winning a trophy, any trophy, they will not grow the hunger for it. You do not become addicted to smoking until you had your first taste of a cigarette.

But the question remains, which trophy should Wenger concentrate more on? In which competition should he field a stronger team? The FA cup or the Carling cup? On first glace, the answer seems rather simple. The FA cup is more prestigious and Arsenal are a side that specializes in winning this cup (10 times). In fact the last match in which we won a trophy was the final against Manutd in the FA Cup (2005).

But the FA cup is still in its preliminary stages and Arsenal have to progress a lot further before they are in a realistic position to actually win it. Although it is called the FA cup ‘3rd round’, it is actually the 1st round for Premier League teams and there are still 64 teams in the competition currently(not counting the teams that have already progressed for the next round)! Whereas, in the Carling Cup, the completion is nearing its end and we are playing the semi-finals against Ipswich. Thus this aspect of the competition is very alluring as we are in a strong position to actually winning this competition and obtaining our first trophy since 2005.

In my opinion we should put more effort on winning the Carling Cup this season. A trophy which is so within our reach should not be ignored. We play Leeds United for the FA cup replay on Wednesday and I think Wenger should take a leap of faith and field a weaker side than the one that faced West Ham the other day. But what do you think- should Wenger fully concentrate on the match against Leeds on Wednesday and hope that the team remains unscathed or put winning on the line and rotate strongly? The FA cup or the Carling cup this season?

Do let us know.

Get Rid of Arshavin

We know Juventus as the club who have been constantly trying to unsettle Robin Van Persie by showing an interest in him for the past couple of years. Ofcourse, they failed miserably. Robin Van Persie has Gunners blood now, so he’s not fazed by that sort of stuff too much. Juve have finally turned their attention to another Arsenal favourite Andrei Arshavin.

I’m not actually sure whether Arshavin has become an ‘Arsenal favourite’. I personally like him a lot, but quite a few fans still don’t think he should start as regularly as Wenger makes him. Recently, he’s been missing easy chances which should’ve been scored and could’ve changed the scenario of the match.

Arshavin’s role in the team will certainly change over the next few months. Assuming our midfield and attacking options are injury free (fingers crossed), he will definitely have to find a place in the Arsenal bench more often. With Nasri and Walcott playing so well, I don’t see Wenger placing Arshavin as the ‘genuine’ starter anymore. Is the Russian captain happy with a more subdued bench role for Arsenal? I’m not too sure.

Andrei Arshavin joined us in January 2009 and has made the starting lineup on a regular basis. Therefore, he has definitely contributed to any of the successes and failures we have had as a team over these last two years.

What if a bid were to come for Arshavin? How much is he even valued at the club? Should he be sold if the bid is much higher than we expected? I’m not saying Arshavin should be sold now. The more quality players like him we have in the squad, the more likely we are going to win any silverware this season.

He is 29 now and should definitely be at his peak right now. However, he doesn’t seem to be at his best and we probably won’t see any drastic improvements in his game in the near future. So let’s be realistic, as Arshavin is not irreplaceable. If a situation like that was to arise, Wenger should spare some thought.

Scouting: Jan Vertonghen to Arsenal

Reports are in that Arsenal are interested in signing Belgian international and Ajax defender Jan Vertonghen. With Arsene Wenger saying that he may reinforce the defence if Vermaelen is not fit in time, this could make the option of signing Vertonghen more attractive. So who is he?

Vertonghen is a strong and tall 23 year old central defender. He stands at 6 ft 3 which gives him relative aerial ability at the heart of the defence. After an impressive youth burst in Germinal Beerschot, he was picked up by Ajax and has established himself as a regular. He’s already made a handful of appearances for his national team Belgium, partnering with our own Thomas Vermaelen. Thus, one would expect it that it wouldn’t take him too long to blend in to the Arsenal side.

He predominantly plays as a central defender, but can also play as left back and as a defensive mid. His versatility makes him a great player who can be used off the bench as well.

Vertonghen has been regarded as an exciting talent in Europe for quite some time now, so naturally other clubs have taken an interest in his progress as well. Clubs like Barcelona and Manchester United are the most notable ones.

A January move seems unlikely, as Vertonghen seems intent on trying to win the Dutch Eredivisie this season with Ajax. Definitely expect strong rumours of Arsene Wenger signing him in the summer transfer window!

New signing is imminent, only two centrebacks left

Arsenal have been going through a quick run of fixtures for the last couple of weeks. It’s been horrific to say the least. On the 27th of December, we had the win against Chelsea. Two days later we faced Wigan and drew. On the 29th, a couple of days later, we played Birmingham City. We got absolutely no rest as we faced Mancity three days later.

It is no surprise then that we are already having a few injuries.  Rotation or no rotation, when you are playing back to back games with only two days between then, there is no way you can avoid injuries. In fact, I am bit surprised that we have so few injuries so far. I was absolutely confident that the likes of Van Persie, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott would have gotten injured by now. Jokes aside, we do have one important injury update to give.

Wenger has just now informed that Seb Squillaci had picked up a hamstring injury in the match against Leeds United in the FA cup. With no positive signs coming from the Vermaelen injury, this new injury is a massive blow for Arsenal. We now have only two centrebacks available and the situation suddenly looks like an emergency.

This was Wenger’s update:

“If he [Squillaci] has a problem then we must quickly go for a player,”

“Squillaci came off with a little hamstring problem and if we only have two centre backs then that cannot work with the number of games we have.”

Hamstring injuries are one of the trickiest sort of injuries. It could take only a couple of days to recover from or it could mean a month on the sidelines. Just when you think the player has recovered and you play him, he aggravates the injury and is out for several months. In my opinion, there is no way we can cope with only two centrebacks, given the fixtures. If you look at the fixtures, we still have to continue back to back games for weeks to come.

15 Sat Add to Calendar Barclays Premier League A West Ham United
18/19 Add to Calendar The FA Cup A Leeds
22 Sat Add to Calendar Barclays Premier League H Wigan Athletic
25 Tue Add to Calendar Carling Cup H Ipswich Town
29/30 Add to Calendar The FA Cup H Huddersfield Town
(If Arsenal beat Leeds United in Round 3)
February
01 Tue Add to Calendar Barclays Premier League H Everton
05 Sat Add to Calendar Barclays Premier League A Newcastle United
12 Sat Add to Calendar Barclays Premier League H Wolverhampton W.
16 Wed Add to Calendar UEFA Champions League H FC Barcelona
19 Sat Add to Calendar The FA Cup N Fifth Round
22 Tue Add to Calendar Barclays Premier League H Stoke City
26 Sat Add to Calendar Barclays Premier League A Tottenham Hotspur
(This game will be moved if Arsenal reach the Carling Cup Final)
27 Sun Add to Calendar Carling Cup N Final

As you can see, until the end of the month we have to play consecutive  games. And the MAXIMUM number of days we have in between the matches is four(except for the match after Newcastle on the 5th)!!! Expect an extended number of injuries to be on their way. The only positive side is that  our Premier League fixtures are relatively kind. But that’s it, other than that we are screwed.

One player who we have been linked with this season is Werder Bremen centreback Per Mertesacker. Ever since the January transfer window has opened up, Mertesacker has been on the top of the ‘probable transfers’ list. The latest update comes from sport.co.uk.

The agent of Mertesacker gave Sport.co.uk an update this morning regarding any January move for his client:

“So far we have had no contact from Arsenal. We will wait and see but for the moment they have not contacted myself or the club.” Guido Nickolay told Sport.co.uk.

Arsenal manager Wenger has been perennially linked with the big German stopper, however the centre-half ruled out a move last summer pledging his short-term future to the German side.

Reports this morning also suggested that Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United could were also monitoring the player.

Sport.co.uk confirmed last month having spoken with a source close to the player that Mertesacker was ready to quit the Bundesliga for another top league, with the Gunners still interested in the giant defender’s services.

“I think he would like to move.” The source told Sport.co.uk.

“Or let me say it like this – he would be interested in seeing other countries.”

I, for one , would love to see Mertesacker play for us at the Emirates. The guy is a monster. He is 6ft 6 inch!! Plus he has all the necessary experience we need. He is a regular for the German national team and is of perfect age(26). Due to his height, he can not only defend well aerially but is a huge threat from set pieces, a quality clearly lacking in our current crop of players. Let’s just hope Wenger signs someone quick and that the player is someone like Per Mertesacker and pray that the Sol Campbell rumours are not true!!

Wenger’s rotation policy a MUST, not a choice

Last week, everyone started criticising Arsene Wenger after he made 8 changes to face Wigan after the Chelsea game. What made it worse is that the changes didn’t pay off, as Arsenal went on to draw 2-2 with Wigan. Wenger changes the winning lineup, we draw, so it’s Wenger’s fault.

The thing is I think Wenger would love to play his best lineup every match. If that ensures the win, then I think that’s what every manager would do. Play the same set of 11 players game in and out. With Arsenal, it’s a special scenario. Wenger has to take into account quite a few factors before making changes like that on a regular basis.

First of all, we have to consider that all our players are injury prone. Yes I said it, all of them are! Let’s just keep Vermaelen out of this since he’s still injured, you’ll find very few players who haven’t faced a lengthy spell in the sidelines. Especially out attacking options in Fabregas, Van Persie, Arshavin, Rosicky, Walcott, Nasri, Diaby and Ramsey have all faced injuries at times which have left them out of the side for months. Did I miss someone out because I am sure the list is longer.

Fans were so upset that Djourou didn’t play in the Wigan game after producing a match-winning display of keeping Drogba quiet against Chelsea. So we wanted him to play after 48 hours with barely any recovery time. We tend to think of only Eduardo and Ramsey having horrific injuries, but Djourou is making a remarkable comeback after a dreadful knee injury too. Would we rather see him be match fit for more of the season or risk the chance of him being injured again at a crucial point in the season?

Secondly, our squad is just way too strong. Arsene has a tough job in trying to keep them all happy. In football, the only way you can keep a player happy other than financial incentives is to put them in the starting lineup on a regular basis. As soon as Walcott didn’t start for 3-4 games this season, he started voicing out concerns of how badly he needs to start now. Walcott starts again and scores and assists against Chelsea. When Bendtner’s groin troubles are gone for good and he still didn’t make the starting lineup, he just wanted to leave outright. Wenger plays him against Wigan and he scores a wonderful goal. I’m predicting Arshavin might have to sit in the bench more often these days, so just wait till he starts speaking out publicly when that happens.

Wenger has to rotate his players, he doesn’t really have a choice in this scenario. Maybe he could toggle around with the lineups a bit more and possibly set two lineups that are a bit more equally strong. That will take some weeks to sort out as well. Regardless of that, expect a rotation policy to be there throughout the season. There is no way of avoiding it.