Posts Tagged ‘ Premier League ’

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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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.

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.

 

Sending Vela out on loan

So Wenger confirmed it yesterday that Carlos Vela is most likely to go out on loan. It seems that Bolton is the most likely place he’ll be joining.

I had expected Vela to be used way more off the bench this season than he has been. Except for a handful of start for the Carling Cup and a couple of appearances in the Premier and Champions League, Wenger has kept him out of the pitch for most of the time. Although he’s still somehow scored 3 goals in competitive matches just shows that his goal scoring record isn’t as bad as most people may think.

Bolton is a great club to go on loan, especially for someone of Vela’s talent. Owen Coyle is also someone who seems to love Arsenal’s homegrown players. One of the reasons why Jack Wilshere got a start in the first team is because he had a great spell on loan at Bolton. Coyle started with Wilshere in most of the games and he handled the pressure with ease, played a solid midfield role. It did show Wenger that Wilshere was capable of putting his talent out on the ground and was influencing ball play. Hats off to Wilshere though for capitalizing on his opportunity and cementing his place in the first team. You’ll see talented players all over the world who play well day in and out in training, but it’s the mental aspect of the game which you can only assess in players while they’re playing at a competitive level.

Rather than bench warming and training with Arsenal, it’s best if Vela gets first team action. We all know what he’s capable of doing, but us fans need to see whether he can maintain consistency at the top level. I’m sure Vela knows that he has a future at Arsenal but our attacking options are plentiful and too competitive. He should understand that even Walcott, Arshavin and Bendtner are needed to wait in the bench for their chance. Hopefully he’ll play his heart out (wherever he goes on loan) and proves to Wenger that he deserves a starting place too. I want Wenger to have a first team selection headache 24/7!

But wait, what happened to David Moyes and his Everton transfer plans? I thought he was looking for attacking options to bring in on loan to replace his under-firing strikers? I would’ve been so happy in Vela was playing for a team like Everton, as most players who have loan spells there had great ones (such as Jo and Landon Donovan at recent times). He’d probably score a lot more goals at Everton than at Bolton, who have scored quite a few goals this season, thanks to the rejuvenated striking pair in Kevin Davies and Johan Elmander. Oh well, I don’t manage Everton though so it’s quite insignificant what I think from a Moyes’ perspective! As an Arsenal fan, I’ll be happy if he stays in the Premier League (because apparently Valencia want him too), starts often and most importantly, creates and scores goals in plenty.

Ramsey would have started instead of Wilshere if he did not get injured

Amidst all the hype and excitement of the Premier League and other festivities, you might have forgotten about a player named Aaron Ramsey. After signing for Arsenal from Cardiff in 2008, Aaron’s career had never flown off. Hindered by injuries ‘Rambo’ failed to snap up a place in the starting lineup which could have been his by now.

A huge obstacle in Ramsey’s football life has been a career threatening injury which he suffered during a league appearance at Stoke on February 27, 2010. Ramsey suffered a double fracture in his lower right leg and Shawcross was sent off and left the pitch in tears. The injury was and is still considered similar to Eduardo’s injury which he (Eduardo) never fully recovered from. Eduardo’s career went downhill from there onwards and he eventually left Arsenal for Shakhtar Donetsk in July 2010. It is this fear that still haunts us Arsenal fans. Will Ramsey suffer a fate similar to that of poor Eduardo??

Whether Ramsey will cope with his injury depends on his mental strength. In my opinion the lad can make the grade but it has not been proven yet. Preliminary results have been promising. The Welshman had been sent to Nottingham Forest for rehabilitation and appeared in five matches with the team. Arsene Wenger would have liked him to have played a little more than just five games but bad weather had prevented this from happening. In the few matches he played with Forrest, he did nothing out of the ordinary. That’s expected, he did not go out on loan to do a Messi; he went there to train. During the matches he was a bit cautious as expected but he did not hold back in training. According to Nottingham Forest midfielder Chris Cohen  the fact that Aaron is Arsenal quality showed while they were in training together. After Ramsey started his first game for Forest, Cohen was full of praise for him. He said:

“He’s fantastic. He’s obviously just coming back from a very bad injury but the bits in training he does it makes you feel a bit like you shouldn’t be playing with him sometimes.

“He’s brilliant. Coming back to fitness is always going to be hard. He done well last night, he obviously got tired and came off after about 65 minutes. That’s not because he was doing badly just because it was his first game back.

“But you can see he can be a superstar in the future if he keeps progressing the way he has since he come from Cardiff. He’s fantastic and a really nice down to earth lad – he’s fitted in brilliantly with the lads as well.”

But that was a few weeks ago. Arsenal have decided not to extend Ramsey’s loan and he has finally returned to Arsenal. This, according to Wenger, is due to Arsenal’s injury to Diaby who is out for over a month. In a similar manner to Coyle wanting to keep Wilshere after his loan to Bolton, Davis (Forest’s manager) wants Ramsey to stay at Nottingham but admits that it will not be possible. He said:

“If that’s the case [the loan not being extended] it’s a pity we never got more use out of him. He has certainly been a joy to work with and a credit to himself and club.”

But the loan not being extended is certainly not bad news in anyway for Arsenal. Wenger has reassured the fans that Ramsey will return for the good and is not far away from making his first Arsenal appearance since February. He insisted:

“Ramsey will definitely come back. He did not get the number of games [at Forest] that he, or we, wanted because of the snow. He’s not completely ready yet but he should be in February.”

There you have it. February is just a month away.

But have you ever wondered what would have happened if Ramsey never got injured?? I had. The first thing that sprang into my mind was that Jack Wilshere would probably not be in the starting lineup this season if Ramsey had never gotten injured. Ramsey and Wilshere are two completely different players but I think Wenger would have made Aaron the priority since he is older and even more talented (in my opinion).

Aaron’s a fantastic talent. He is a physical player and whom I would actually call a complete midfielder. Could Ramsey play the role that Wilshere is playing now? Yes, I think so. He can possibly do it even better than Jack. I am serious. Ramsey can be every bit as physical as young Jack can be, so that’s not a problem. He probably cannot dribble as well as Wilshere but he isn’t bad at it either. Furthermore Ramsey is much better a passer than Wilshere. Like Fabregas and unlike Wilshere, Ramsey is not afraid of making long incisive passes to players. He distributes the ball much better than Jack also. Another immense quality that Ramsey possesses is that he can finish very well for a midfielder. I may be mistaken but I think he can finish better than most and possibly all of our midfielders. Taking long shots is not a problem for this guy, as was proven in the few matches he played for Arsenal. It’s a shame that he got injured because he would have developed a lot during this time.

In the near future, I can see Ramsey becoming a regular for Arsenal. When and if Fabregas leaves Arsenal, Ramsey will slot in there directly. No questions asked. Even if Fabregas never leaves Arsenal, I still believe this guy will earn his place into Wenger’s lineup. Who he replaces? I do not know. Wilshere is not a natural at the position he plays. He is more of a nasri-type player. He will inevitably take up a free role on the field- moving about the pitch, linking up play, scoring goals etc. Arshavin will be one player who is likely to lose his place and Jack might just be the perfect replacement. Ramsey will possibly play beside Fabregas and the two will cause havoc and dominate the midfield irregardless of the opponent at hand.

But what the lies in the future, no one knows. And, I am no psychic but I can predict that in the not-so-distant future, Arsenal fans all over the world will be wishing that football be played with twelve men instead of eleven because there is no way in hell a player of Aaron’s caliber can rest on the bench!!

Here’s a nice video of Rambo’s I found on the internet. Enjoy:

Who Should Arsenal Face: Barcelona or Real Madrid?

So the much anticipated Champions League draw is tomorrow afternoon (in my time zone anyways). The four teams that we can draw are Schalke, Bayern Munich, Barcelona or Real Madrid. Does anyone have a feeling like me that it’s most likely going to be one of the Spanish giants?

Our Champions League campaign started on a high when Arsenal comprehensively won the first three group games, but had to wait to the last game in order to secure qualification. We only have ourselves to blame for making things so difficult. But as many people predicate our team, that it wouldn’t be Arsenal if they didn’t do things the hard way.

Copyright Getty Images

Some fans seem to think that it’s best not to focus on the Champions League and actually get eliminated early to focus on the Premier League. This could be maybe because of the disappointing performances against Shakhtar and Braga, so the ‘hope’ of winning the competition has dissipated. Unfortunately, Arsenal have found themselves in a similar sort of position in the Premier League for a countless number of times in the past few seasons and yet haven’t been able to capitalise on them.

One of the fans I talked to recently said that he wants Arsenal to face Real Madrid to give them the same 5-0 thrashing that Barcelona did (woah, that’s the spirit!). Many may also want to face Barcelona early on in order to take revenge of last season. That is a possibility, especially since our team does look a lot stronger than when we faced Barcelona the last campaign. This time, Samir Nasri is firing at all ends and we have the likes of Chamakh and a fit RVP, so Bendtner is less likely to be our primary front-man. Others of course, are still wary of facing Spain’s dominating footballing forces and would much rather fancy their chances against Schalke or Bayern to progress further into the tournament.

Questions about our weaknesses remain. Football pundits ask whether Fabianski is ‘good enough’ to protect the Arsenal goal for them to win the Champions League? Does the Arsenal backline possess enough quality and depth to prevent the likes of Messi and Ronaldo scoring goals aplenty? Is Chamakh prolific and lethal enough for the Gunners attack to lead us to glory?

The problems are there. But do we sulk about them and lose confidence, or accept them and move on? The latter seems to be the right way to go. Does it really matter whether we face Barcelona or Real Madrid early in the competition? We’ll have to face them eventually if we are to win. So why fear them at all?

I cannot accept any element of fear in this Arsenal side. We are a team that has played in this prestigious competition for 13 seasons so far. The team needs to exuberate confidence and the winning mentality must flow through the veins at all times. Whether we play at Camp Nou, Santiago Bernabeu or at the Emirates, we must be in it to win it.

Arsenal Without Arsene Wenger?

Chris Hughton’s sacking last week was a surprise to the footballing world. It was a shock to me personally. He looked like a confident young manager who was set to establish his own brand identity in the Premier League. Newcastle this season has been fantastic, as they find themselves in the mid-table and back in the Premier League for good. A significant amount of credit must go to Hughton for sticking to his side and bringing in some great reinforcements. But what happened? He was sacked for an absolutely ridiculous and unjustifiable reason. inexperience.

This just got me thinking, what if this happened to Arsene Wenger a couple of years after his appointment as Arsenal manager? He was brought into Arsenal with relative experience, but there were doubts as he joined Arsenal after managing a club in Japan! Would he have become this legendary Arsenal manager we all love?

Arsene Wenger Statue

This decision by Mike Ashley has probably sent a strong demotivating vibe among all young coaches all over the world. They will be wondering what Hughton needed to do and didn’t do in order to not have lost his job. Sadly, it isn’t much. If you have to win the Champions League and the Spanish Primera like Pep Guardiola (when much of the credit actually goes to the players that he has at his disposal), then life is difficult for these guys.

I hope other club owners are unlike Mike Ashley. Young managers need to be given a chance (and time) to assess whether they are truly quality or not. I hope Chris Hughton gets that chance with another club, he certainly does deserve it.

Sometimes I feel too much credit is given to managers of what happens on the pitch. A ‘result’ often is first associated with the manager rather than the players. A simple tactical change which leads to a victory is often over-rated and goes to the acknowledgement of the manager, rather than the players who are actually implementing them in those 90 mins.

I really cannot imagine Arsenal without Arsene Wenger. I have been supporting Arsenal for over 10 years now and seeing managers of other teams coming and going in plenty, but our one standing his ground. He has started to define Arsenal, turning a gritty defensive team into a youthful attacking team who are now the role models of fancy football.

Who is going to speak nonchalantly in that consistent French accent in the press conferences when he’s gone? Who will smash those bottles in the sidelines when the Gunners concede a goal? No, I can’t imagine anyone else. Do forgive me for even mentioning something like this.