Saturday, March 3, 2012
Friday, June 17, 2011
As of June 16, 2011, the Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira is a free-agent after finding himself outside the plans of Manchester City’s manager Roberto Mancini. The 34-year-old Senegalese-born defensive midfielder spent a year-and-a-half long spell at the Blues, scoring three goals in 28 matches.
Now that he is a free-agent, we can’t resist but ask the question: Can he be the salvation for Arsenal’s arguable lack of winning mentality?
On the surface, Vieira looks like a transfer target that Arsene Wenger may not be quick to dismiss. He is free to join any club he wants, has rich history with the Gunners, and is very experienced. But what makes him most considerable for Arsenal’s signature is his much-familiar character.
Who could forget his indomitable spirit and leadership qualities?
Patrick Vieira was the captain of Arsenal for four hugely successful years in the club’s history: from 2002 to 2006. He was a key member of the “Invincibles” squad of 2003/04 and was the man who added the last significant trophy to Arsenal’s accolade room in 2005: scoring the winning penalty in the final of the FA cup against Manchester United.
But it was his character, more than his abilities on the field, which was in the root of many successes for Arsenal. He was the leader, a man who team-mates could look up to in difficult times. He still has it in him.
Roberto Mancini has reportedly offered Vieira a coaching role at Manchester City because of his influence on the other players, but the soon-to-be-35 player has refused with the belief that he still has something to offer to the game the most likely reason.
“It is still 50-50 at the moment [to retire or keep playing].” Vieira said earlier this month
“It would not be a problem for me to stop tomorrow because I have been lucky enough to experience everything… I still want to play and if I have an exciting proposition here (France) or somewhere else in England, I would probably play on.”
“If I have nothing exciting, I will stop. There is a chance I could stop, but at the moment my mind isn't telling me that I will be stopping in a couple of months.”
Quatar, where he can still find clubs who will be able to match what he was earning at Manchester City, the Major Soccer League, where his Arsenal ex-team-mate Thierry Henry is playing, or going back to France remain some of the probable destinations for celebrated midfield veteran.
But could it be Arsenal?
He could play an important role as a player/coach and will definitely offer something to the considered “green” squad of Wenger. Undoubtedly, he can exercise positive influence on the players in the dressing room by infecting them with that much-sought-in-life attitude of “never give up”.
The biggest block to such a move would, of course, be the wage the Arsenal club is willing to pay to the aging player. At 34, he is unlikely to be offered an astronomical wage, but his motivation may lay elsewhere: he is a fan of Arsenal and is likely to play Champions League football again.
Whether Arsenal signs him or not, there is no doubt whatsoever Vieira will remain one of the club’s all-time legends.
But as in fairy tales, wouldn’t it be wonderful for the great performer to perform in front of the audience that witnessed the best of his years as a footballer yet again? Wouldn’t it be wonderful for Patrick Vieira to end his career at Arsenal?
It certainly will.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
In the past four years, Arsenal have been a step away from going through the Premier League finish line triumphant. Losing several key players during the transitional phase of moving to the Emirates robbed the Gunners not only of depth, but also of experience.
Inevitably, results suffered. But what was interesting was how and when the negative results were more likely to occur. Logically, lack of adequate depth of the team meant limited resources. A player just cannot play all season without adequate rest. Injuries also go hand in hand with fatigue.
Hence, by mid-February or March, Arsenal’s strengths start to diminish to a level where they are title contenders no more.
Already in the pit hole of dwindled resources, the light that could bring them out—a nice blend of mental strength and experience—was also nowhere to be seen. Usually, after a negative result follows another negative result, if the chain is not interrupted by wise decisions—wise decisions that experienced players can take.
Arsenal have lacked that.
Those two factors contributed to the repetitive occurrences of negative outcomes in the months of February and March in the past four seasons—what we may call the winter collapse of Arsenal.
How to deal with that collapse? What to do to improve the chances of that not happening again next time?
Step One: Strengthen the Squad by Bringing in a Few More Bodies
The first step would be to buy yet another defender of close-to-world-class ability and partner him with Thomas Vermaelen, or promote a defender with huge potential and use him as cover for the rest.
Arsenal already have three very good defenders in Johan Djourou, Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci.
Based on style of play, they are different from each other. Djorou, for example, is good in the air, marks well, positions himself adequately as well as reads the game well. Koscielny is brave, not afraid of challenges and is a great tackler. Squillaci is also good and very experienced, but tends to have lapses in judgment occasionally.
The Gunners also have one world-class defender in Thomas Vermaelen. He is tenacious, brave and good in the air, positions himself well, a good passer and a leader. On top of that, he possesses a formidable shot.
All in all, Arsenal have four defenders—a good number for any team out there. But in order for the next step in eliminating the February/March collapse to be put to work, another defender must be brought into the picture.
This can either be a defender brought from outside—a very good, experienced defender to partner Vermaelen—or a defender from the youth ranks to cover for the others, like Ignasi Miquel. The former would be the best choice.
On the defensive flanks, the need of good cover for Bacary Sagna on the right side is evident. A player with qualities similar to Sagna’s could be brought in and through Step Two, could contribute to Arsenal’s endeavors.
In midfield, Arsenal will benefit from bringing in yet another great midfielder. With the probability of Cesc Fabregas leaving in the summer, a void would be left, most likely benefiting youngsters as Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey. But with his departure, the midfield line will be weakened minus one body and the skill of the Spanish captain.
A good choice would be a player who is in his mid-20s and has proven himself—one that has the necessary skill and vision to serve as a rock in difficult times. Of course, that will require some money to be spent, but with the club’s debt diminishing by the month that is likely to happen.
In the front, four attackers contribute to finishing off the Arsenal attacks: Nicklas Bendtner, Maroune Chamakh, Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott. It’s a potent forward line capable of dismantling even the most resilient defenses, but if we are to see Step Two put to work, we’ll need another attacker.
Of course, the hypothetical forward would need to possess skills worthy of world-class club’s forward line.
Now, we are ready to proceed to Step Two.
Step Two: Use Rotation
Give the opportunity for other players to take part in Arsenal’s hunt for trophies every other match. By having a squad with an almost evened out class spread among the players, the opportunity of giving rest to every one of them and creating an atmosphere of “friendly” competition is presented.
In defense, for example, a good mix of central defenders could be used, along with playing the covers for the full backs every third or fourth match, depending on the fixtures.
For example, Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou could start sometimes to rest Thomas Vermaelen and the guy who partners him. On the flanks, more playing time should be given to Kieran Gibbs on the left, and the cover of Bacary Sagna on the right side.
In midfield, there are plenty of talented players in the squad to make the use of rotation possible as it is, but Arsenal will surely benefit from signing one more talented and experienced player with a slightly more defensive-minded attitude. He could serve as a partner of Alex Song, playing just behind the more creative midfielders; this would also allow Jack Wilshere to develop his attacking game.
The probable departure of Cesc Fabregas can be a blessing in disguise.
The Arsenal captain has not given his best season this year following the huge speculation of him leaving for Barcelona during the previous summer. Also, he was plagued by a recurring hamstring injury. This, however, gave the chance to Jack Wilshere to rise to the challenge and, so far, he has done it perfectly.
In case Fabregas left Arsenal, the money could be used for buying the aforementioned midfield player and one more to serve as his replacement.
In attack, there is a wide variety of strikers in terms of style. Arsenal has Theo Walcott who could play either on the wing or as a striker; his speed puts him in a different dimension to the other strikers.
Nicklas Bendtner and Maroune Chamakh are of a similar mould. They are both good in the air and imposing in terms of physical stature. They could be rotated depending on current form and to give rest to other strikers.
Robin van Persie’s skill and deadliness in front of goal will ensure that he will start in most of the games, except when he needs rest. He could be partnered by either Walcott or Bendtner/Chamakh, depending on the opposition.
Another striker could be bought in the summer to serve as a cover in case of injuries, or the talent of Carlos Vela could be finally used to its full potential. In truth, he deserves to play for Arsenal, but so far, hasn’t received a real chance to prove himself.
Step Three: Increase the Tactical Variety
More than once Arsenal has been branded a predictable team. They like to play attacking football bent on possession of the ball. While this has been effective in the past and in the beginning of the season, it has also become predictable and easy to counter by other teams.
Arsenal suffers against well-organized defensive teams, and it is especially against those teams that something must be added on to increase the chance of snatching all of the points. While there is an entirely different game on the field, the psychological one could improve results with the implementation of several other tactical innovations.
For example, more shots from outside the box could be taken; more chip balls above the defense; more individual play; and last but not least, more traps should be laid. Passing the ball in their own half could draw out the oppositional team which would present a chance for a quick attack to be more effective amidst their more dispersed ranks.
Consistent tactical innovation along with rotation throughout the season—and especially during February or March, when the second fixtures between Premier League teams are played and fatigue is taking its toll—could do wonders for Arsenal.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Arsenal has been at the receiving end of skepticism since they lost to Birmingham in the Carling Cup in February with justification. In the last three-four years, February and March have proven to be the stage of the marathon in which Arsenal struggles to find remaining sources to make the final push.
This year didn’t look any different.
After three consecutive draws in the Premier League, their only remaining trophy to fight for, the Gunners have done to themselves what others cannot do—surrendered their title-winning aspirations for Manchester United to decide. It, now, depends on how United perform in their remaining six games. If they slip, Arsenal will have to show what they have failed to show this season so far—champions’ mentality.
A result of 3-1 over Blackpool may have provided a necessary injection of self-confidence that they so much need, but they still have some way of going back to their winning ways. In fact, it was a game of two faces: the second parts of the first and second halves, in which Arsenal controlled the game, and the beginnings of the halves in which Blackpool dug deep to defy the odds.
Here are a few key points worth discussing after Blackpool-Arsenal.
Jens Lehmann is a grandpa who knows how to keep the ball out of the net
The wacky German was the backbone of the Arsenal defense against fighting-relegation Blackpool. His close-to-perfect positioning and authority at the back, along with his aerial superiority, injected his team-mates with calmness and assurance.
But his football skills were only the tip of the iceberg.
At 42, Lehmann is experienced, very experienced. While he was ostensibly out of playing form, he showed the real importance of having the right mentality for the goalkeeping position. Scary and commanding as Lehmann is, he yelled every time when someone in front of him made a mistake making sure the players in front of him knew when they did wrong—and they did know.
Something else became evident as the game progressed. At one time, DJ Campbell received a through ball, but the assistant referee raised his flag to signal an offside situation. Having little time to respond, Campbell went on trying to go around Lehmann. What was strange was that the German keeper did what not a lot of other keepers would do: he made a full stretch to deflect the ball away from the feet of Campbell. Why did he do that?
It was psychological. By not allowing the ball to roll into his net even after the game had been stopped, Lehmann was sending a discouraging message to oppositional attackers. It’s that kind of mentality that a decade of football can teach you.
In the end, Lehmann signified what Arsenal has been lacking for a couple of years: someone who knows football is being played by ordinary men, who, in the end, can be influenced by ordinary things.
Fabregas’ passion has been waning
The Blackpool game was just another primary example of a lack of commitment by none other than the current Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas. Last summer, amidst huge speculation that Barcelona wished to sign the Catalan-born Arsenal captain, Cesc filed for a transfer request.
After serious talks with Wenger, Fabregas decided to stay. But for how long was a question hanging in everyone’s mind. His attitude throughout the season has hinted that the most likely answer to this question is for only one more season.
Against Blackpool, Cesc was not his usual passionate self. While he distributed short passes, long and through balls in his usual brilliant way, there was something lacking in his desire to keep possession of the ball or win it back from the opposition. He made way too many mistakes trying to build up the Gunners’ game.
Blackpool turned the tempo up in the beginnings of the first and second halves. They became more aggressive and more direct—a tactic that is known to work against Arsenal. The Arsenal midfield desperately needed to raise their game, but mostly they desperately needed for someone to step up and throw his legs in the grinder and attempt to take the ball forward.
Surprisingly, and yet not so surprisingly, it was not the captain who did that, but Jack “Brave Heart” Wilshere. He received a few painful kicks, in the second half, but his dribbles did what they were supposed to do and eventually Arsenal regained control of the game.
Despite having suffered from nagging hamstring injuries this season, Cesc had to work harder and take more responsibility. He failed to do so and understandably was outshone by two other Arsenal players: Jack
Wilshere and Samir Nasri.
Arsenal have been incredibly unlucky in the defensive department
Yes, it’s an observation more true for the entire season rather than for the match against Blackpool. They have been deprived of the services of one of the best defenders in the Premier League, Thomas Vermaelen. The two new signings, Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny, have been good, but somehow failed to form an effective partnership with each other. On top of that, a defender on the rise, Johan Djourou, suffered an unlucky injury to his shoulder which would rule him out for practically the rest of the season.
Having been restricted by unfavorable turn of events, Wenger needed to relocate his hopes to the potentially problematic partnership between Squillaci and Koscielny. The Blackpool game was yet another example of that.
This time it worked, but mostly because the cogs of the Arsenal machine turned well everywhere for most of the time. Defenders can shine, but only when other departments of the team do not work well. Squillaci and Koscielny had the chance to deal with dangers in a more chaotic environment when Blackpool took the initiative in the beginnings of the first and second halves.
This time, the healing wound of the Squillaci-Koscielny partnership withstood the test of being rubbed with salt yet again, but it was risk Wenger had to take.
Gael Clichy can make costly mistakes
Gael Clichy has been a pretty consistent left-back with tendency to make costly mistakes in the last two years. The 25-year-old Frenchman made an error of judgment against Blackpool early in the second half by keeping the ball, trying to dribble it out of danger. While his decision did not cost Arsenal a goal, mostly because of another brilliant Lehmann intervention, it was a schoolboy error.
Clichy is no stranger to making costly mistakes.
Earlier this season, he was at fault for Barcelona’s goal at the Emirates in the Champions League. Gael ruined the offside trap, set up by Johan Djourou, to allow a through ball to release striker David Villa.
In September last year, Clichy was also at fault for allowing Sunderland to score a very late goal, through Darren Bent, to equalize. In a melee in the dying stages of the match, the French left-back made a sloppy clearance and subsequently remained back while his team-mates attempted an offside trap. The result followed: three Sunderland players left alone in the box and Bent scoring the dramatic equalizer.
While Clichy can be consistent, at times, he can be sloppy and disoriented. He sometimes makes tactical mistakes and gets caught off his position. Against Blackpool, it was a mistake of a different sort though. He had all the time in the world to clear the ball or pass it to a team-mate, but failed to do so.
Jack Wilshere is one step closer to PFA Young Player of the Year, but Samir Nasri is one further
Jack Wilshere, once again, proved he is the revelation of the season by pulling off a great performance against Blackpool. The 19-year-old assisted Emmanuel Eboue for Arsenal’s second goal. On top of that, his dribbling and fearless attitude was a major factor for Arsenal to regain control of the game following a Blackpool inspiration early in the second half.
The performance is sure to put him one step closer to winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award for 2011. His biggest threat for that accolade will come from Nani and Javier Hernandez who also had a great year.
Samir Nasri, on the other hand, was not his usual self. Samir raised the bar a mile higher with his performance in the first part of the season, but against Blackpool, it was not his day.He managed to miss a couple of very good chances to score and lost possession of the ball a bit more than usual.
Monday, March 28, 2011
A good video about Thomas Vermaelen. The central defender's sidelining due to injury during, practically, the bigger part of the season has been a huge disappointment.
For the sixth year in a row, Arsenal are struggling to win trophies. Three chances of doing so were wasted in a matter of two weeks. Who is to blame?
Anyone but Arsene Wenger.
In 15 years, Arsenal has achieved just enough to match the famous Herbert Chapman side of the 1930s that dominated England. Seven trophies won under Wenger, just the same amount as the 30s teams.
Yet, six years of trophy drought stand like a gaping wound in the heart of anyone who cares about Arsenal, a club that has won the Premier League 13 times and many other trophies, including the European Cup Winners Cup and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, but not the most prestigious one: the Champions League, the tournament that grants clubs the permit to call themselves giants of football.
For many years Arsene Wenger has failed to secure the trophy that could signify the real growth of the North London club. In fact, he has not won anything for six years, despite being close on several occasions.
What is wrong with the Arsenal?
Simple: It’s financial. It’s a business.
While the FA is concerned about spreading the popularity of the English Premier League, the clubs are left to do similar tasks themselves.
In 1999, following a spectacular double the year before, the administrative board made a decision to build a new venue capable of hosting over 60,000 people—a stadium that would bring Arsenal closer to the image of a big club, closer to the biggest clubs on the football stage.
It was a clear signal that work is being done to ensure Arsenal becomes one of the best, if not the best, in the world.
In 2004, construction of the stadium situated at Ashburton Grove began. 390 million pounds were needed to fulfill the immense project, and most of the money was borrowed from banks.
In 2006, the Emirates Stadium was built and its naming rights sold for 100 million pounds for the next 15 years. On top of that, business spread its hands from football and to property development in the place of the old iconic stadium Highbury.
The total cost of both projects amounted to an astounding 470 million pounds.
To make matters worse, the credit crunch gave birth to the economic crisis in 2007.
Despite all the obstacles, by means of rigid savings which have annoyed fans on countless occasions—inactivity on the transfer market, low players’ wages and others—the club has unbelievably managed to reduce its enormous debt to peanuts.
It now has no property debt, and the debt still looming for the Emirates project was cut to 206.3 million by February 2010.
The debt is continuing to diminish and, at the current rate, it will be fully repaid in a couple of years, with the new stadium left to generate clear profit.
With the Emirates business move, Arsenal has become the best-run club in England and is financially rivaling giants like Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Arsene Wenger has been a key figure in that transition becoming possible.
Frugal, he’s been called, stubborn for refusing to buy expensive new players, and other epithets derived from the frustration of fans who only see results on the field.
As teams like Barcelona, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City sink into more debt, Arsenal are on their way up and out of it.
The French manager has managed to keep the team title-competitive in times of financial crisis. It's undoubtedly a big achievement and its long-term effects should not be underestimated.
Despite selling key players throughout the years, despite living through hard times of trophy drought, Wenger is on the right track.
The squad looks much closer to completion than it did last year. Yes, great disappointments were suffered in a matter of two weeks this season, but what should not be forgotten is that Arsenal is on a road to join the biggest football clubs in the world.
It’s funny how the club is already considered to be in the top 10, despite not winning anything for six years.
This year, although the nightmare of injuries in crucial times is beginning to affect performance, Wenger’s men have been consistent enough to have the chance to battle for the Premier League title once again.
Wenger is a man on a mission to help transform the club for the better and to leave it in a completed state before his departure.
Doubts dispersed, he should not be relieved of his post before he completes his mission. Fans should not overlook his work behind the scene.