The Arsenal Column

Arsenal Analysis and Tactics. All views expressed are those of Pat Rice. (Disclaimer: they are actually not his words).

Ten conclusions to make from Arsenal’s season 2010/2011

1. Mental fragility cost Arsenal the season

There is a valid assertion that with the youth policy, certain characteristics – in some cases, the key characteristics that make up the anatomy of a successful football club – have had to be exaggerated and the others, harder to reproduce. Indeed, the most attractive qualities of Arsenal since the beginning of Arséne Wenger’s reign – the youth, fluidity, intelligence, pace and confidence in possession – have effectively taken over the team. And the other traits – those that made the Invicibles great – the resilience, know-how, power, ruthlessness and organisation – have – not necessarily been seen as an afterthought but – expected to be acquired through time.

Would a trophy have accelerated that growth or was Arséne Wenger banking on the ever-dwindling concept of loyalty to bring experience? If he was hoping that the Carling Cup would fuel the hunger for more silverware, then that plan unravelled quickly in the sand. The defeat proceeded to drain any confidence out of the side; very important because Arsenal’s confidence comes from the way they beat teams. The decline was terminal as The Gunners won only 3 of their last 14 matches in all competitions after they lost to Birmingham but the fragile mentality was evident in some games before then; the 3-2 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur and the draw at Newcastle United encapsulated their inexplicable nervousness.

How, though, to cultivate mental toughness is difficult to underpin. Emmanuel Adebayor says that under Jose Mourinho, Arsenal would never have lost that final because he readies teams as if they are going out for war. Wenger, on the other hand, caters for players finding solutions naturally. Indeed, it is thought that with attributes that Wenger holds so dear – technique, pace, skill, creativity etc. – victory should come naturally: as a direct consequence of their supposed superiority. As a result, losing is not contemplated so it catches everyone by surprise; leaving them almost dumbfounded. Uncertainty invades the group, resulting in a collective trauma of which there is no fallback position of which to regroup. Unless, of course, they are winning convincingly again.

Experienced signings may give Arsenal an inspiring presence to lift them but the real damage goes back to the fact that youngsters were left to mature without the assuring presence of big name players. And that remains the greatest flaw of Wenger’s youth development project.

Wenger: “We have learned that we have the quality, despite what everybody is saying, but of course we need to gain some strength in some areas of the team. Mentally of course I hope that the team has learned a lot this season because we could not cope with the number of games nor the pressure in the important moments of the season. I felt they lost confidence and you can see that there has not been the same sharpness on the mental front.”

2. Samir Nasri must be tie-down to a contract very quickly

This may have been a season in which Arsenal have been frustrated by familiar problems buy they may have, at least, found a solution to an ever more impending one. There are, however, two stipulations; the first, is that they have to tie Samir Nasri down to a long-term contract and the second is actually, the Frenchman’s best performances haven’t come in the role Cesc Fábregas has made more than his own. Nasri has, of course, deputised in the middle when his skipper has been absent but while his play has been neat, he has lacked a bit of the sharpness that Fábregas has. Nevertheless, Nasri has progressed enough this season to show that he has the array of skills to be deadly for Arsenal for years to come.

His best showings have been on the right, where he scored the bulk of his 14 goals this season but his displays on the left have been quietly impressive too. After Walcott’s injury, he managed to replicate his directness in his own way, taking on defenders – not with his speed although he is deceptively fast – but through swivels, twists and turns aplenty. Two goals against Fulham were his highlights but by constantly being a threat to defences behind, Nasri has given Arsenal a variety they had once lacked. He had less of a direct impact on the left but he still developed a great partnership with Robin van Persie and Fábregas and helps share some of the workload. It will be Wenger’s job to convince Samir Nasri that he’s central to Arsenal’s plans, whether he plays in the middle or not.

 

“I don’t care if I play on the right or on the left,” remarked Samir Nasri. “I am used to it, I score goals and I am more efficient when I play on the wing.” And certainly, that appears to be true as most of Nasri’s goals came in the early part of the season starting from the right and generally have two features: his movement to get behind and his impudent dribbling.

3. Promotion from within has been the big success

With all the talk about spending big in the summer, it must also be remembered that there is a balance to be achieved between transfers and giving a chance for youngsters to progress. Barcelona have shown the importance of that by featuring seven players in the line-up that won Spain the World Cup (although it does include a £40million pound striker as well). The strategy to promote youth is also a smart piece of management by the Catalan Club, writes The Economist because it helps cultivate a “two-way relationship with its fans” and certainly, with the rising ticket prices alienating Gooners, the presence of home-grown players and local boys may help bridge the gap somewhat.

Jack Wilshere represents the first home-grown star of Wenger’s youth policy and this season, he has made himself crucial in the double-pivot role. His rapid “change-of-direction” and glide on the ball represents the new Arsenal, one that is all about dynamism with possession. Wilshere has usurped Aaron Ramsey for the central midfield spot but the Welshman has come-back from injury well to realistically challenge for a key role next season while Kieran Gibbs, another player who has also been unlucky with injuries, may have been a genuine contender for a starting place. Wojciech Szczęsny is perhaps the biggest surprise but for fans, he fills a position which has been the problem for a long time while Johan Djourou has been impressive enough to be Thomas Vermaelen’s likely partner next season. This season may be noted for one which Arsenal have been frustrated by familiar problems but more importantly, it may go down as one where the spine for Arsenal teams for years to come has been established.

4. Robin van Persie hasn’t been backed up by his team-mates

It’s a phenomenal record – or at least if you discount the goalscoring feats of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Yet even that doesn’t take away from the astonishing return Robin van Persie has produced for Arsenal this season. His goal against Fulham was his 22nd in all competitions, 21 of those coming after January and 18 of them in the Premiership. His 9 in successive away games is a league record and before they had played their final game of the season, van Persie had scored the same amount as the whole Blackburn team this year.

However, reading over his figures leaves an irrevocable feeling of “what could have been?” Had the Dutchman been fit for the whole season, maybe Arsenal may have ended the campaign with at least one trophy. Certainly, him hobbling off in the Carling Cup final is seemingly symbolic of his luck. But the biggest frustration is that his goals have meant little to achieving Arsenal’s outcome. When it mattered, Arsenal as a unit, wilted and if anything the reliance on van Persie has been too great.

There’s an argument that van Persie has actually been Arsenal’s problem; that his style doesn’t suit the overall approach of The Gunners but that assertion doesn’t hold up very strongly when you consider Arsenal was at their best from mid-December to late February. And van Persie was crucial during that. Marouanne Chamakh did an admirable job in the first half of the season, so much so, that his achievements deserve greater recognition. His style is more focused on the short, laying balls on to his team-mates while van Persie’s is more direct, more about creating angles and playing people in. The truth is, though, Arsenal have regressed as a unit since then; their fluency has waned, confidence has all been sapped and the boundless energy they displayed in the middle part of the season, non-existent. Robin van Persie was left with a thankless task which ended up just that….

5. Cesc Fábregas is king…still

Some would argue that it is unhealthy for a team to rely on one individual as the Arsenal side does on Cesc Fabregas. Even if that player is jaw-droppingly good that he wins matches for you. But that is the case with Fábregas and yes, you’re probably right, it is becoming unhealthy for the club to do so.

However, Arsenal have just been unable to take the load of him and the manager has even commented recently that the burden of captaincy may have been too much. More than in recent seasons, though, the workload has been shared with Robin van Persie more hands-on than before and if anything, there is now a certain 11 which Arsenal rely heavily upon.

But Fábregas has still been crucial, making 15 assists and 12 key passes (those that lead to goals but are not final passes) and scoring 9 goals. He is more robust now and direct – as shown by his impact in the 2010 World Cup finals and Euro 2008, regularly coming off the bench to change his country’s flow from the lateral to the dynamic. His presence in the team does the same for Arsenal although he has only played 22 of the 38 league games this season and Wenger banks on using him much more next season. A rest and a quiet summer is what he deserves.

Wenger: “I believe that Cesc Fábregas has played 22 games this season out 38 and we expect him next season to play between 30 and 38 and that will make a huge difference to our efficiency.”

 

6. Defensive efficiency still eludes Arsenal

It had all started so well for The Gunners. As strategies go, this was the most robust of plans for Arsenal defensively as they’ve ever had. The mantra was all about winning the ball back quickly; there was a double pivot to help cover zones and Arsenal were to press using the Dutch Principles of “through-marking.” And bar a couple of hiccups early on where they were just adjusting, it was working terrifically. The unit was compact; they pressed as a team and generally stayed focused until the 90th minute.

The key statistic, however, is that Arsenal have conceded 22 of their goals from set-pieces one way or another and 20 from open-play. It doesn’t take a genius to realise where the main problem lies and that actually, some of Arsenal’s supposed defensive frailties are somewhat exaggerated. Certainly, from aerial balls, you can question the bravery and anticipation. I would suggest zonal-marking from corner-kicks as a possible solution as it strips the defenders of the distracting jockeying for position and allows them to concentrate on getting the ball first.

The statistic also suggests that Arsenal’s attack is their defence and by attacking well, it limits the pressure on the back four. This doesn’t necessarily mean goals as possession actually means you require more chances to score; but rather, in territorial advantage. Arsenal’s style is that by playing with such an expansive style and committing resources forward, they invariably concede chances that are of a higher quality as they mainly come from counter-attacks and one-on-ones, where there are fewer men back and therefore lots of space to cover. They have no choice but to be more voracious and it is probably apparent, that in their last 14 games, their impotency and the ineffectiveness of the pressing from the front, put undue pressure on their back. Attack and defence is known to be mutually exclusive but for Arsenal, they couldn’t be more dependent.

Wenger: “[We lack] efficiency, defensive efficiency. When you look at the recent history in the last three of four months, the way we lost in the Carling Cup Final [and] against Liverpool, we dropped points at Bolton in the last minute; of course I feel the nerves played a part, more than the talent in the fact that we didn’t win the Championship.”

Vermaelen: “There is always talk about Arsenal’s back four, but defending is about teamwork as well as individuals and goals are often down to a number of things rather than defenders’ mistakes.”

7. Arsenal finally have a goalkeeper

Wojciech Szczęsny began the season as fourth choice goalkeeper but in a manner that typifies his character, bullied his way to the front. An honest and frank interview with a Polish newspaper outlined his ambition and not before long, he was installed as No. 1 profiting also from injuries to his competitors. For his Polish counterpart, Łukasz Fabiański, it’s a tad unlucky that he isn’t the incumbent of the goalkeeping position as his performances have arguably been just as impressive but Szczęsny sticks in the mind as he is more assertive. His game also belies his boisterous self as he is more cautious than Fabiański, preferring to analyse the situation before committing while Fabiański likes nothing better than to attack the ball. His normal standpoint is three yards off his line but that means his game is splayed with risks. For most fans, however, Szczęsny brings an aura, a self-confidence and command that Arsenal haven’t had and for that reason, he is a proper goalkeeper.

8. The Gunners have developed a superiority complex

It was widely catalogued before this season, the abysmal record Arsenal had against both Manchester United and Chelsea; 9 out of 10 losses since 2009. And sure enough, the first two games against the clubs ended in familiar fashion. However, The Gunners top the mini-league between the top-four last season this campaign and if you add Manchester City and Liverpool to the mix, come a respectable third. Yet, the matches that have come to cost Arsenal are at the ones against teams from 10th and below. In games both home and away against those clubs, Arsenal have drawn 6 and lost 4. They’ve won 12 of the rest, which perhaps isn’t an atypical record this season considering the topsy-turvy nature of the league but they did have particular trouble winning at home, drawing two games 0-0 and losing three at The Emirates against teams between 11th and 15th. Arsenal have to rediscover how to defeat the bus again because it’s a problem that has once again reared its ugly head.

9. Arsenal were the best team from mid-December to late February

The best part of two months. It seems a meagre thing to hold on to but among the hubbub of calls to make big changes to the side, it is understandable Wenger wants to hold on to what has been good about Arsenal. And certainly, the matches between the 3-1 win over Chelsea and the Barcelona victory at home, had been very good. The best in fact. Chelsea were at their peak in early season but never recovered fully while Manchester United were at their best in the last three months of the season- coincidentally, when Arsenal began to crumble – but were still humbled by Arsenal. In the period, Arsenal played a dynamic and integrated brand of football which they haven’t been able to match. And no-one else for that matter as well. Shame it collapsed so spectacularly.

Wenger: “You never want to forget anything because it is, as well, the season that we produced our best games ever – but in the end it was difficult to get over the line.”

10. The 4-3-3 remains the way forward

The idea of a Plan B appeals even more if only because of Arsenal’s troubles scoring at home. A 4-4-2 can be a viable option at The Emirates against lesser sides as Laurent Blanc did with Bordeaux (the side which Chamakh played before he signed) but it can look increasingly outdated in bigger matches. The 4-3-3 offers Arsenal more flexibility, especially in terms of the middle of the pitch where Fábregas can often make a triple pivot or push up higher to play as the second-striker. The 4-3-3 also offers more angles and is more suited to the players: van Persie is not a number 10, more a nine-and-a-half while Theo Walcott is still not a striker but a wide forward. As ever with formations, though, they are neutral and rather, it’s the application that decides their failures and success. It will be a pivotal season next season and the players will have to be more accountable to the failures and successes of Arsenal Football Club.

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26 Responses to “Ten conclusions to make from Arsenal’s season 2010/2011”

  1. jide says:

    i feel if we get a new striker or bendtner(i want him to stay) stays, we have to use 4-4-2 more often. We can bring the best outta NB52, Marouane, Vela, and TW14.

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  2. don says:

    The only conculsion is we are not good enough.We have gone backwards We got less points scored less goals conceded more.That why Cesc and Nasri want to leave.They can see we are farther away from winning the title than even.Yet Wenger cant see it and continues to try and buy success on the cheap while Utd Chelsea and City have long gone

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  3. BrazilianGooner says:

    And the biggest question: Considering last year, did we improve?

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    The Brain Reply:

    @BrazilianGooner,

    Yes and No. If you asked it after the Barcelona win, it’s a definitive yes. But the three months after that was shockingly poor. There have been some good things and if anything, the experience will stand them in good stead.

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    gunner_pz Reply:

    @The Brain,

    I think there was an obvious improvement in our pressing compared to the previous season but one thing is certain – the team doesn’t seem to have the mentality or the physical resources to press well enough during the whole season, like Barcelona do. It shouldn’t be underestimated that the Premier League is more competitive and tough than La Liga but Arsene Wenger should have built his team having that in mind. And when our pressing doesn’t work, we’re way too vulnerable. I honestly don’t think that this team will have the resources to press well during the whole season and therefore it’s essential that they learn how to defend well as a unit – sometimes deeper like in the second leg against Barcelona. And obviously, set-pieces are big problem and a solution must be found.

    And here comes the mentality problem described in the first paragraph. I personally have big doubts on the topic whether this team can be successful. I hope I’m wrong but the way the players have been treated and formed as characters was fundamentally wrong – not only the lack of experienced players who can give so much to young talents but also the excuses from Arsene after every unsuccessful season with youth and so on. To form a winning mentality you must consider anything shorter than first place as failure. I understand very well that the club is in unusual situation with the new stadium and the debts, so Arsene was in tricky situation because at the moment top 4 finish is success for the club’s plans but still the way the players have been treated is wrong and most of them are now used to not being first, as excuses is what we hear again and again.

    It’s an interesting summer ahead of us and we’ll see what will happen. I have the feeling that Wenger is planning to use 442 more often, that’s why he is searching for another striker (Benzema, Falcao). Against Fulham, van Persie was in slightly different position than usual – I think he was like second striker – the link-up forward. So will see what’s on Arsene’s mind.

    P.S I think that Fabregas will leave this summer – the chances of him staying are less than 20% in my opinion.

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  4. John says:

    Great article:
    I really like your comment about how Mourinho and Wenger differ in motivating their men. Arsenal players normally feel as though “victory should come naturally: as a direct consequence of their supposed superiority.”

    I think that’s the biggest problem with this side, not the football.

    But I don’t believe that they cannot develop mental strength.One cannot expect this first eleven to succeed always – they must first experience failure to be considered ‘experienced.’ It is up to them to learn how to deal with failure, how to take the bitterness of defeat – the biting words of their critics – and turn it into a lasting constructive motivation.

    To answer DON and BrazilianGooner:
    This team has definitely reached greater heights this season. We’ve defeated ManU, Chelsea and Barcelona when the task seemed impossible in seasons past. And we won those games convincingly too – except perhaps in the Barcelona game, where they had greater possession.
    This team has most definitely improved, but we’ve also grown more reliant on Fabregas to link attack and defense. I can only hope that the rest of the midfield gets better at bringing the ball forward more consistently.

    On 4-4-2:
    If the news of Wenger buying Falcao and/or Benzema is true, I think that 4-4-2 is a distinct possibility. I would like to see us use a Plan B when things weren’t working out so well. I still remember a game where we dominated United but the game stayed tied until a Thierry Henry header off of an Eboue cross settled the game in the dying minutes. Teams sometimes park the bus against us and we need to be prepared when they do.

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    The Brain Reply:

    Hi John,

    Certainly, I agree we can improve mental strength. But there has definitely been a dip in confidence when we started playing poorly or the pressure got to us. The Carling Cup defeat may be a blessing in disguise. This is the sort of experience they haven’t faced so it’ll be interesting to see how determined they are not to let it happen again. Their reaction, however, in the last three months has been really poor.

    Regarding 4-4-2; I can’t see it being our main mode of playing. Benzema and RVP are very similar to me so it is difficult to see how they fit although it is likely to be Benzema deeper. I have good knowledge that Falcao won’t leave or it’ll take a mega bid, something Arsenal won’t do. At least, it’d be more than Benzema which Wenger will be willing to pay for.

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  5. John says:

    I also believe that we’ve gotten better and better as this season has progressed, but we’re still not consistent in terms of mental resilience. We are strong in some games but completely lose faith in others. The team needs to be picked up emotionally sometimes, I just don’t know who will step up to the task.

    Speaking of mental strength I am really impressed with the way Jack Wilshere has conducted himself recently. When we were losing at Stoke, he was getting stuck in tackles and fighting people a foot taller than him.

    It was the most inspirational thing I had ever seen anyone on this team do. It almost made losing to Stoke not such a bad thing. ALMOST.

    Stoke City, and especially their fans, are still a bunch of CUNTS.

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    kalu Reply:

    Speaking of young talent, Brain, are there any youngsters ready for the first team next season?

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    The Brain Reply:

    @kalu,

    Benik Afobe had been doing rather well for Huddersfield, helping them get promoted. He’s like a more orthodox version of Samuel Eto’o. Conor Henderson seems the closest of the young midfielders as he’s versatile and tall.

    Jenkinson is close to joining and I suspect he and Gibbs will get their fair share of games next season if, as it looks like, Eboue and in particular, Clichy departs.

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  6. John says:

    Mental strength – it’s about belief and being a winner. Read the book Sven-Goran Eriksson on Football where he talks about players like Mihajlovic. He may have been a complete nutter (Sinisa not Sven) but you need that type of winning mentality in a team for it to be successful. Witness Keane at ManU – not the greatest technically but he made the others play and that’s what the Arsenal lack.
    Confidence comes from good results but what counts is the ability to step up when things are going against you. As Sven explains, this is about having a low level of anxiety regarding failure. This means not buckling under the pressure when it gets tough but retaining the ability to perform at a high-level. I think it is difficult to develop this. The current Arsenal squad have the technical ability, what is lacking is this particular personality trait. New summer signings should focus primarily on addressing this imbalance.

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  7. kalu says:

    “I would suggest zonal-marking” you got that from Stewart Robson Talking Tactics!

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    The Brain Reply:

    @kalu,

    To the contrary actually. I tweeted it after the Bolton game although it’s been in my mind for quite a while. Here’s the link: http://www.searchtastic.com/index.php?User=ArsenalColumn&Search=marking&Page=1

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  8. DaStuDawg says:

    Fantastic article (Y)

    Agree with every point bar one; I don’t believe securing the services of Samir Nasri for years to come is of paramount importance.

    Nasri has been fantastic this season, but his form dipped dramatically in the second half of the season.
    Without Walcott, I’ve always felt we’ve lacked a lot of penetration up front, and whilst I believe that Nasri has improved a lot in this respect – with his acceleration having developed noticeably – I still don’t believe he has the pace to really threaten an opponent opting for a high defensive line, and with Arshavin showing a similar lack of pace over a longer distance – he too is excellent when it comes to bursting past his man, but seems to be lacking in the sort of celerity sufficient to break away from a defensive line – we’re over-reliant on Walcott.
    If Nasri was too sign a new contract, then I’d be happy, but if he was to leave, then it’s unlikely that I’d lose any sleep over his departure.

    Whilst he may not be as good an all-round player as Nasri, I’d personally prefer to have N’Zogbia at the club to provide us with some additional zest and directness in the final third.

    As aforementioned, I agree with every other point that you make – I particularly like the idea of utilising a zonal marking system, providing the players show the discipline necessary to make it work – but to add to the point you made about set-pieces, I’d say that an additional set-piece man-marker (or zonal marker, if your the zonal marking system you suggest is adopted) may be beneficial.

    In a typical starting XI, Sagna, Song/Diaby, and the two centre-backs give us 4 solid man-markers, with the forward tending to assume the role of protecting the front-post.
    To me, this simply doesn’t seem enough, and I feel the best exemplification of this was at the start of the season when Jack Wilshere was forced to make Milan Jovanovic at Anfield.

    With none of our wing-forwards having sufficient height to help out at the back, and Wilshere and Fabregas proving to be invaluable players in our system, augmenting the left-back area is perhaps the most logical way of rectifying this situation, which is why I am in favour of selling Clichy on – especially since he now has just one year left on his contract.
    Clichy has been a great servant to the club, but he has been error prone as of late, and his departure could allow us to bring in a taller left-back to help overcome our defensive deficiencies. If not a new signing, then Gibbs looks very comfortable at dealing with aerial balls, making him a very viable candidate to replace Clichy. Or it may be worth looking to switch Vermaelen to left-back – a position that, from what I gather, he plays for Belgium – and bring in a new centre-half.
    Any of the above options would leave us with 5 potentially excellent set-piece markers, which should help to alleviate our problems.

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    Arsenal Column Reply:

    Hi DaStuDawg,

    Great points you make. I can’t expect you to agree on every point that’s why the comments are there; for people like you!

    I understand your point on Nasri. Perhaps he’s not as important as I make him out to be. But I feel this team needs a couple of creative players to back up Cesc and one of those should be on the wings. We’ve seen with Arsenal, having two players who are naturally more direct usually has a stifling effect on the team. However, having said that, I feel we do need depth, particularly out wide, and rather it would be better if both N’Zogbia and Nasri were in the team together. He’s such a dynamic player.

    Regarding Clichy; there’s good knowledge to believe he is on his way to Inter Milan next season. I don’t think Vermaelen will move to the left but Gibbs who’s the natural successor. Great potential but injury prone. We have also, Jenkinson joining, who is a tall full-back who can play either side – a bit like a right-footed Bale in his stature.

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    DaStuDawg Reply:

    @Arsenal Column,

    Good response :)

    Yeah, I don’t see Vermaelen moving to left-back either, but it might be worth Wenger experimenting with the idea during pre-season.

    I do feel creative players down the flanks can be important, to come in off the wings and relieve some of the creative burden on players like Fabregas, but I personally think that we could afford to have two more pragmatic, direct widemen/wing-forwards, and have Van Persie drop a little deeper to provide support to the central midfielders when required.

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    The Brain Reply:

    @DaStuDawg,

    Like Barcelona? They have both Pedro and Villa on the wings but then again, they have a multitude of ball players and keep the ball much better. If Wilshere can take his game to the next level next season I can see it working. But at the moment, there seems a reliance on RvP and Cesc which needs some burden taken off.

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    Gennie Reply:

    @DaStuDawg,
    You have some good points but two things: (i) You underestimate the importance of creative players on the wings like Brain says (may be you should watch Barca, even Man U, more. (ii) You overestimate the importance of Walcot on the wings. Nasri is absolutely important, the dip in his form in the second part of the season notwithstanding. His dip in form coincided with the return of Walcot to the side and Nasri switching to the left, and later Fabregas dip in form and disappearance.

    Why did Nasri dip, I guess he fits more on the right or center than on the left. On the right he had established good rapport with Fabregas, Arshavin and Chamackh, which was disrupted when he switched to the left. But also because when Fabregas is not playing and Nasri is still on the wing, there is really nobody with the same understanding of his game as Fabregas (may be if Arshavin could play the Fabregas role)! If you watch most of his goals and creativity came when he drove / arrived from the right or centre. Unfortunately, AW rarely plays Nasri in the center even when Fabregas is not on the pitch. This is a pity because he is quite capable, and would allow the team to play a slightly different style when Fabregas is out, or if a change of approach was required. The consequences are over-reliance on Fabregas and the team seems to lack any clues and confidence when Fabregas is out. I wish Aw could play Nasri centrally more often which would also help rest Fabregas and give the team a new dimension.

    Also, to understand the importance of Nasri creativity, just watch when the opposition is playing a tight game or a deep lying defense. See how Walcot struggles, his poor ball skills are a big let down to him and the team. Yes, he thrives on space behind defenders, but most teams (defenders) find it very easy to defend against Walcot, just drop back and wait for him to come. In these situations the attack with Walcot on becomes toothless and laboured, because all he knows is to run with the ball and nothing else. He was at his best when Arsenal played Chelsea at home (also in the earlier games early on in the season) where A. Cole kept making the same mistake again and again because they had to push forward for a goal as Arsenal were ahead. But quite often when the opposition is ahead, Walcot becomes useless because the opposition defense drops back and Walcot’s pace becomes no more an advantage. When the team wants to hold on to possession Walcot is also always a liability. However, I must add that he has improved in his use of the ball lately.

    The team struggles when Fabregas is not on the pitch, it fairs even worse when both Fabregas and Nasri are not playing. However, the emergence of Wilshere and the improving Rambo will ensure a lot of competition for places and increased creativity in the midfield, and hopefully better ball possession. Ball possession is becoming increasingly crucial as a form of defense. All that will be required next season (if Nasri stays and he must stay) is for AW to better use his resources.

    All in all, the Arsenal team size and style is perhaps more suited to the european game than the EPL. I feel AW needs to bring in bigger players, and the attack needs improvement in terms of power and dynamism; the aim is not to sell the smaller but very good players, but to mix up the team in the EPL games depending on the opposition’s style. I do not mean so they can play many long / high balls, but so as to compete physically.

    I remember a few years back, Arsenal went to play at Bolton (may be Blackburn); I think it was the FA Cup, AW selected his biggest team that night (i.e. a good mix of smaller and bigger guys), and they won. That Arsenal team was a good match with Bolton physically, when coupled with their skills; they were head and shoulders above the opposition. Often we hear Arsenal are poor in the air, but this is ridiculous and misleading. Fabregas, Wilshere, Nasri, Arshavin to mention a few, cannot compete with the likes of Zijic or Crouch for aerial balls. Or when the push comes to shove, they will almost always lose out.

    I disagree that Clichy should be sold; I think if mental strength can be acquired, I believe Clichy can learn to concentrate and focus more. After all he used to be better (2007/2008 season anyone?), I think the change of formation and new faces in the past two seasons have not been kind on him. As for his crosses, I believe he has improved a lot. He has had at least two crucial assists this season, and that with his right peg (supposedly weaker foot) for that matter: for the only goal scored by Song against W/ham at the Emirates and the equalizing goal by RvP against Barca at the Emirates. His heading ability has also improved a lot this season, if only people watch and pay attention on games instead on relying on the past.

    I think Arsenal fans are very hard to please. Also do not forget Clichy has not had a consistent partnership ahead of him in the past couple of seasons. The Clichy of the 2007/2008 season (before the crumble) was quite good. I don’t see why he cannot reach or surpass those heights. In my opinion AW will be ill-advised to sell Clichy and rely on Gibbs, who, as Brain rightly says is injury prone and still very inconsistent. AW should not sell his established players, off course there are some deadwood he can get rid of, he should look to add on to what he has.

    As for goal keepers, I still rate Fabianski more than Chesney, but let’s see what happens next season when he recovers.

    The one thing I would like AW to do is rest players more often, and give the second string players more playing time. This will allow them to build their confidence, partnerships, and be physically ready when needed. This season’s experience when every time the second string was required they failed as a group, and as a result the team has lost matches or drawn, this cannot be allowed to repeat.

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    DaStuDawg Reply:

    @Gennie,

    Great response, but I think we may ultimately have to agree to disagree on this one, because we have different schools of thoughts on the prerequisites of our side.

    The reason I value Walcott so highly is that he is the only player who can effectively penetrate an opposition’s backline. Without Walcott, teams became aware of our lack of attacking pace, and as such, felt liberated to push up and press us high up the pitch – penning us back.
    The Carling Cup Final against Birmingham, and the second leg of our Champions League encounter against Barcelona provide the best evidence of this.

    We can’t be so reliant on Walcott IMO, which is why I suggested bringing in someone of N’Zogbia’s ilk.

    I rate Nasri very highly, and if we can tie him down to a new deal, then I’m all for it, but I’m not too fussed if we are forced to sell him – providing, of course, we get a suitable replacement .
    A key problem for us this season is the lack of directness in the final third – this slows down our play and allows the opposition to form a solid defensive wall in front of us.
    Our match against Man Utd in the FA Cup was case and point, in this respect; whenever we had the chance to break at pace, we lacked the necessary speed to exploit any temporary gaps in their backline.
    Nasri is fantastic at retaining possession and waiting for the right time to play the killer ball or bring others into play, but I sometimes feel as though he lacks a bit of drive when going forward.

    He’s an excellent creative player, but with Van Persie, Fabregas, Wilshere and Ramsey, I feel as though we are well-equipped in this respect, and having a player with more pace to support would provide a better compliment to said players’ talents.

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    Gennie Reply:

    @DaStuDawg
    Actually your assessment is spot on, and we do not have to disagree on this one. We need Walcot for his strengths, similarly Nasri for his strengths, but as you point out we cannot force him to stay if he wants to go, even though it will be quite a loss because nobody at Arsenal presently offers what he offers, poise, composure, skills, guile and someone has commented, deceptively fast.

    Lack of drive when going forward? I think this depends on situations, I have witnessed it too, and he is not alone. But I think it is sometimes a team thing, a midfielder on the ball not seeing movement in front, so he feels helpless. I feel that Wilshere, RvP, Fabregas and Rambo do not exactly offer what Nasri brings. Of the four you have named nobody can get you out of tight situations. Also, the four may seem enough but you are not legislating for the Arsenal curse, injuries and the long, hazardous EPL season. My frustration with Walcot is limited ball skills which leads to lost opportunities and misplaced / delayed passes, but I believe he is learning. I tend to feel that Chamberlain, if he is signed, would be perfect and may overtake Walcot if he does not improve quickly.

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  9. Matt says:

    In order to win the league next season, 2 major issues need to be resolved. The first is the obvious one, defending set pieces. That’s been covered elsewhere (ad infinitum), so I’ll focus on the second: breaking down inferior sides at the Emirates. In 2010-2011, Arsenal were the best Premier League team on the road, but only the 5th best at home. Along with Blackburn, we were the only team to score more goals on the road than at home. I think the major remedy is to hope RVP stays healthy, and that Theo continues to improve. If Theo improves from a goal every three games to a goal every 2 games, and Robin can give us 30 league starts, the offense will be so much better. I’d also prefer to see Cesc playing deeper, as part of a more compact three, with our fullbacks given a bit more license to attack and stretch the opposition defense.
    As far as signings, we need a backup for Alex Song, a genuinely great center back, and an additional forward depending on whether Bendtner or Arshavin leave.

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  10. jake says:

    not sure if that video was urs or not but the player constantly referred to as denilson is actually nasri…

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    The Brain Reply:

    @jake,

    I don’t know if you’re trying to be funny or something like that but I’m going to be blunt: No it’s not Nasri.

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  11. Gunner lovein says:

    The latest is Wenger is after OShea. Let’s be realistic. The red faced will never repeat will never sell any red devil who is still useful. If Wenger didn’t learn the lesson from Silvester ,he risks making a fool of himself. Remeber Campbell and Silvester in the gunners defence against Barcelona.No wonder the gunners were thrashed.
    Let’s just hope it’s a rumour and nothing else.L

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  12. […] last season were when they took a holistic route. We’ve already said last season, from the months from the middle of December to the end of February, Arsenal were the best team in th…. That’s scant consolation perhaps to Arsenal ending up fourth but it showed, when the parts […]

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  13. Doug Kinkle says:

    It hard to find knowledgeable individuals on this matter, however you sound like you understand what you are talking about! Thanks

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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