Sunday 22 May 2016

Arsenal - Season Review of Sorts. Looking Forward to Next Season

I started to write this post the day we played Manchester City at the Etihad. Through a combination of travelling across 5 different time zones, work, laziness & lack of motivation I couldn’t finish it. I honestly give kudos to committed bloggers who combine their blogging with other daily endeavors. I struggle to cope with my attempt at weekly blogging.

I suppose the fact that we came 2nd in the league should have given me some motivation to write and gloat but I was too busy lapping it up to find the time or inspiration to write.

Right after the City match, I thought it was a precious point at the Etihad. What a delightful goal from Alexis Sanchez to level the tie following a delicious lay off from Olivier Giroud. If you need a man to do delicious lay off, Giroud the pivot is your man. Fortunately for him, he broke his 15 game barren run.

He gets a lot of stick the Frenchman, some of it deserved but check the stats this season, he is leading goal scorer at Arsenal, as he should be. He is Arsenal’s number one striker with 24 goals in all competitions despite that barren run. The man has 82 career goals for Arsenal in 188 appearances. The best strikers in the world apparently have 1 goal to 2 games ratio. Giroud has 1goal to every 2.3 games. Yet he is shite. Football pundits and fans  - a difference of 0.3 lowers you from excellent to shite. Yes?

Anyway,  watching him score his first goal during the final match of the season, I reiterated the fact that Arsenal don’t play to Giroud’s strengths. Take it wide often, cross it in often and leave the rest to Giroud. I realize we might be getting a better striker this summer but if we retain Giroud’s services, we do need to play to his strength. He can be our plan B in situations when Plan A is not working. That plus players like Alexis, Theo and Ramsey actually passing the ball forward to the striker rather than sideways help. When we are 2 nil or 3 nil up, you can glory hunt for all I care. Make the game safe first. 

And then St Totteringham’s day happened when already relegated 10 men Newcastle defeated the Middlesex Bottling Club. Although he didn’t score, Andros Townsend was on fire and was instrumental to birthing the worst day of the managerial career of the man who never believed in him. Forever in our shadow.

Back to the Man City match. I was quite surprised with their aggressive approach to that game. I wonder if this was an approach taking out of the ‘Arsenal can be bullied’ template or was it one borne out of desperation. Limp out of the UCL, entitled neighbors right on our back, lets get the 3 points any way possible.

Unfortunately it didn’t work. Despite looking very disjointed and sometimes listless, Arsenal managed a point and set themselves up to finish 2nd.

I was a nervous wreck during the match itself especially as I had only 4 hours sleep in the 24 hours leading up to the game. I couldn’t understand why we conceded the 2 goals. I don’t think Koscielny defended Aguero’s shot properly and Kevin De Bruyne should not have been allowed to get anywhere close to the  point where he took that shot to score. Gabriel backing of De Bruyne is the way he plays but I would have committed to a tackle just outside the box and fouled him if necessary.

Much as attention has been directed towards Wenger, Giroud, Theo and Ramsey for most of the past season, I think we have a lot of work to do in defence. We allow too many shots on our goal and I don’t think our defenders are robust enough. The back 4 gets easily bullied. Gabriel shows a lot of spunk and desire but the others are too nice or too technical. I hope Gabriel improves significantly as a lot of his shortcomings remind me of Koscielny in the early days.

Defensively, we cant have 3 outfield players in Ozil, Alexis and the main striker (Theo / Giroud) who don’t / cant / wont defend. That’s why we get run over easily. Most solid teams leave the one up top when they need to defend. In Arsenal that one up top has to be Ozil, I don’t think he is cut out for defending. So our striker (new or old) and Alexis will have to do that job or worst case Alexis and Ozil interchange on the ‘wont / cant defend’ duty or we don’t play both of them. 

I think we also need to vary our play when playing against the proverbial 2 banks of four. Stop trying to play around them. It is boring as we usually find it difficult to unlock this type of opponent. Our worst games in my memory comes against this type of play.

When confronted with two banks of four,  play for set pieces and make sure you bring your ‘Set Pieces A game’. Alternatively as some have suggested, adopt the high press when the opponents have the ball as a quick turnover at this point often leaves the two banks of four no room to reorganize.

Personally I think the problems with goal scoring are easily solved with the amount of chances created by the team. A striker with a better conversion rate will / should deliver 30 goals.

So where do we go from here. It appears one signing is already done. Xhaka. I haven’t seen him play one bit and I have restrained myself from going on YouTube to see. Come and show me what you are made of on the hallowed turf of the Emirates after a successful and incident free Euro. Come and destroy Man U, Chelsea, City, Liverpool and all of them for me. Then I will know what you are made off.

I don’t think the job in the midfield is done yet. We are losing 3 bodies I hear, Rosiscky & Arteta gone. Looks like Flamini too. We appear to have signed one so we need more bodies.

I think we need that striker that is an upgrade on Giroud and I think we need centre backs as well (2 possibly) Per is on his last legs, Koscielny is 31, Gabriel needs improvement. We need competition for Bellerin and Monreal. I don’t think Gibbs is pushing Monreal enough. Although the latter is easily one of the most improved Arsenal player, I don’t think he has advanced in the 2nd half of the season. Bellerin needs to add a bit of steel to his play, I hope competition will help him do this.

On goalkeepers, I will not be surprised if Ospina wants a move away. I think he was happy to be a cup keeper in the just concluded season (UCL, CoC & FA) however the way things turned out in the UCL suggest Wenger might not be in a hurry to repeat that experiment. To be fair, its not as if Cech has set the world on fire too. However, I expect Ospina to be tempted away. If James (Hames) Rodriquez turns up at Old Trafford, I wont be surprised to see Ospina at Everton for family reasons.

Looks like Szczesny wants away too and I don’t blame him. Probably doesn’t think he will be displacing Cech anytime soon. Him leaving the Emirates is not a straightforward decision because of the emotional ties. Don’t forget the Polish lad is as much a born and bred Gunner as Kieran Gibbs. Wojciech joined Arsenal at the age of 16 and has stayed at Arsenal for as long as Rosicsky / Walcott etc.  From the little I saw of Emiliano Martinez two seasons ago, I think he is ready to be Petr’s number 2 if both Ospina and Szczesny depart the Emirates.  

A few final words to Wenger – Rashford, Fosu - Mensah, Borthwick – Jackson, Varela, Lekko, Watmore, Iwobi etc. Time to rekindle some faith in Project Youth again. Yes some of those youths were played due to circumstances. Let us trust our youths a bit more. I think we tried to be too mature this season, too safe, ready to be boring and not throw matches away but some of the play was turgid in bits. Some came good in second half of matches but some were disastrous like Southampton away. We would have lost nothing playing the youth in that game. Maybe we would have discovered a gem.

 As all junkies will tell you, I am looking forward to my next fix. To next season. I hope we go one better and clinch the damn thing. I pray that, that small Middlesex club come second next season.  When they do, you know for sure that Arsenal won the league.

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