Fullbacks are key to winning football matches

Morning you wonderful people, Chris here, but taking a back seat today to give Ben the floor. I know you’ll be extra nice to him, for no other reason than he’s an extra nice bloke, which he is.

Since I started watching Arsenal we’ve always had very good fullbacks. I’ve seen a number of formations, setups – from 5-3-2 to the current 4-2-3-1. As time passes football develops and roles progress, which ends up putting more emphasis on tactics. We’ve seen football clubs change and create a new football philosophy – Everton being the prime example. Which brings fresh ideas and leads to upping the performance levels of the given league they are operating in.

We’ve seen a shift in responsibilities in the fullback position from being a more solid, dependable (i.e. Lee Dixon) type, to a player with pace and being a lot more positive with and without the ball (i.e. Kieran Gibbs). Also, we’ve seen the modern day fullback needing the intelligence and ability to read the game, especially the offensive side.

The way the game is developing fullbacks are being used as auxiliary forwards. We’ve seen a lot of the major forces in European football get rid of the so-called ‘traditional winger’. You could argue the winger has lost it’s place in the modern game. Since the current adoption of the inside-forward, and the attacking playmakers, there has been a tendency of a lot of teams narrowing their forward line.

The way Arsenal and the majority of Europe’s top teams play has been transformed – two strikers are rarely used anymore. The second is dropped in between the lines to help link up attacking play and help flood the midfield for possession reasons. Midfield shape has also changed. This has shifted the focus of play onto the fullbacks and a lot of teams play with three in midfield. Barcelona and Ajax are good examples of this, their full-backs are so far up the pitch that the defensive midfielder – Sergio Busquets and Daley Blind respectively – become a third centre back. This leaves the fullbacks as the only players on the pitch with any real space.

If you add that to the wingers playing on opposite wings, i.e. Robben and Bale (when he was at Spurs) and things can become very compact. To ensure width isn’t lost, full-backs are licensed to get forward and support the attack, therefore creating space for others.

As we’ve seen recently, the main benefit of adventurous fullbacks is to allow teams to have two extra players in attack. Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and now Bayern Munich utilised this well as have Spain throughout their recent domination.

It’s seen in the way he likes his team to build the play, he overloads and isolates the opposition fullbacks with the ‘winger’ in possession of the ball (or vice versa), and the fullback goes flying round the outside. At times it’s simply impossible to defend against.

Certain players are being instructed with various responsibilities within their standard duties. Some of these are fresh in my mind because I’ve been lucky enough to see them live – Pep Guardiola used Victor Valdez as ball playing option at the back. Javi Martinez at Bayern has a very disciplined role but he needs to be able to play through the lines as a third centre back or in midfield. The level needed for each players is slowly creeping up.

We saw from Thomas Vermaelen in the second leg against Bayern who defensively did very, very well. On the other hand, offensively, he offered little to nothing. The modern fullback has many duties to perform. It is no longer enough to leave an opposition winger battered and bruised on the floor.

A modern fullback must offer a huge attacking threat. He must have the ability to make a pinpoint pass, or deliver a perfect cross. He must possess pace, he must have discipline and most importantly, superb positional sense. This is also needs to be complimented by endless stamina to continually get up and down the pitch.

Steve McManaman famously said the first bit of Spanish he actually learnt when he moved to Real Madrid was ‘cover me’ as Salgado, his fullback, flew past him.

Arsene Wenger has always seen the importance of the fullback. He inherited two of the best in the business – Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn. He eventually replaced them with Ashley Cole – who started out as a centre forward in the youth side, and Lauren, a ball-playing midfielder he signed from Spain. From the outside looking in it seems he opted to put more offensive players into those positions, which demonstrates how important the role is.

It will be interesting to see how a team will successfully counter this within culling their attacking threat.

One thing for sure is that the attacking fullback will be a constant but the role is ever evolving. Top sides field their most creative players in wide attacking positions and there is perhaps a need for full-backs to be strong(er) defensively, but only time will tell.

Arsène will have a very tough decision to make in the summer (If Sagna leaves). He has Jenkinson who is a decent player but not near Sagna’s standard. If he can have a good run of games he could be good player. Will he settle for good? He has Bellerin who offensively is very good and, in my opinion, the epitome of the modern fullback. Although question marks will remain over his defensive stability until he gets a run of games in the first team to prove otherwise. If Arsène does go into the market for a new addition, then spending a lot money on one will be completely justified in my opinion. It is a major part of the modern game and needs to be respected.

As things stand, Bacary Sagna seems to be closing the curtain on his Arsenal career. You know how these things work, as soon as I press the publish button, things will change. If he does leave then it’s going to leave a massive hole in our lineup. He’s been marvellous for us and I wouldn’t begrudge him a move after all the wonderful service he has given us. Whatever he decides, all the best Bac. Up The Arsenal!!

Cheers for reading,

be happy,

Ben

Cardiff preview: Key to victory lies in midfield battle

Happy Saturday one and all. Right, let’s get down to this, shall we? There’s a small matter of a game going on this afternoon and we’re all pondering: a) what team Le Boss has already planted and will flower before our very eyes today, and b) what type of reaction we’ll get from the players, specifically the performance, against a dogged and surprisingly difficult team to play on their own turf in Cardiff.

It’s the measure of the success of the squad as a whole that we don’t know who’ll be rocking up on the team sheet first thing, such is the wealth of in-form options that Arsene has to pick from. Could it be that we see thee hustle and bustle of a Tomas Rosicky finally enjoying somewhat of an injury-free part of his career and the season in general? Or will there be a chance for Gnabry to show his stuff after recently signing a new deal? Will Monreal keep his place (as I debated yesterday)? Will there be a bit of rotation in central defence, giving the captain a chance to show he’s worthy of a more regular inclusion in the team? Does Santi deserve the chance to operate in the number 10 role with Özil taking a breather? Should Özil and Walcott start together just because of the sumptuous possibilities of those two combining to give Theo plenty of opportunities to improve on last years goal tally?

That’s where we’re at right now folks. We can legitimately suggest that a plethora of changes be made to the team and it’s not because of injury or a paucity of options. We have different compilations, different ways to ‘mix it up a bit’ and a core of players that are united in their one goal of taking that stupid weight of ‘no trophies in x years’ from around their necks and lobbing it into the local pond.

I’ve said before that Arsene doesn’t really like rotation, so it’s for that reason that I suspect we’ll see a very familiar line up today to the one that played against Marseille midweek, to keep consistency of performance. We have all spent the week on Twitter talking to one another about the need to rotate, but when you’re away from home against a rugged opponent that will be feeling fine-diddly-ine after a last-gasp draw snatched from the clutches of defeat against Man United last Sunday, I think there surely has to be an element of continuity that is favoured today. We’ve got a tough game midweek against Hull, but the fact it’s at home should provide a bit more comfort to Arsene when rotating, so I’d be more expectant to see some fresh faces on Wednesday night than this afternoon.

So I think it will mean a drop down to the bench for Monreal, no place for Arteta and a spot on the comfy seats for Cazorla and Walcott. Perhaps Santi will get the nod above Rosicky, but the Czech’s tenacious style away from home seems a more logical conclusion from this Gooners perspective.

As for the opponents, I think the stand out performer from last weekend was Frazier Campbell, but my hope was that he was simply doing that old chestnut of being ‘really up for a game against your former club to show them what they’ve missed’ mentality which means he won’t be giving our back four as torrid a time as he did Ferdinand et al on Sunday.

They have some other good players that can make an impact; the little rat Bellamy springs to mind, as well as Jordan Mutch, but with our boys in the form they are in, the expectation is that we should be able to get something from the game. We’re four points clear in the league for a reason – the form of the players throughout the season thus far - and it’s for that reason that I am hopeful and confident that we can get something from the game today. But in order to do that, we’ll have to win the midfield battle which will I’m sure be interesting to see the stumpy yet effective bulldog Gary Medel look to break up our creative attacking runs and Flamini doing the same for us. Rambo was of course in inspired form against Swansea and the hope is that he is in the same form against his boyhood club today. I expect he’ll be wanting to give even more than the 110% he already does against the Bluebirds and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him on the score sheet at some stage today. Cardiff will look to flood the midfield with a bank of five, with Odemwingie operating as a winger with licence to get further forward and support Frazier Campbell up top. Our midfield two – probably Ramsey and Flamini - will need support from whoever plays in that three just in front of them but if we can bring our full-backs into play more often and further up the pitch, I suspect we’ll be able to pin Cardiff back a bit more.

I’m in Ware in Herts today, so will be desperately trying (and probably failing) to show a pub that shows the game, but will be keeping tabs by any other means necessary. So if you’re on your way, make sure you do your usual thang and sing yer ‘eart out.

Up The Arsenal.

Ben’s match analysis: Thoughts on Marseille

Hi all, hope you’re well?

I’m enjoying this winning malarky. *whispers* it’s because we’re very good… Keep it a secret.

Are we doing better than expected?
Nope. We knew this team had it in them. They just need to do it when it matters. We have all the ingredients – We’ve gained maturity, chucked naivity out the window and we reek of defensive stability. A winning package.

We made three changes to the side that beat Southampton at the weekend. Aaron Ramsey partnered Matthieu Flamini in the double pivot. Tomas Rosicky played alongside Özil and Jack in midfield. Whilst Monreal came in for Kieran Gibbs at left back – Who was ill.

Before the game a French journalist bemoaned Marseilles ‘B Team’ ambitions – Partly down to injuries. But offensively they lacked bite. Dimitri Payet and Andre Ayew were out. Whilst they also rested Valbuena and Thauvin, due to there fixture pile-up (and being out). Rod Fanni wasn’t even in the squad – I’ll let you make the jokes.

Did we score too early?
Instantly from the kickoff Marseille broke forward with intent. Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher mentioned on MNF, how the kickoff should be treated as a set-piece. Marseille had a plan. But they just didn’t follow it through and very limply gave away the ball. They pressed with five very quickly. But due to a defensive error the left back completely switched off, Jack broke down the right hand side, cut inside and finished with aplomb. Sumptuous. For the next 15-20 minutes we got much of the same and as the theme of season has been we completed dominated possession. Again I say: there’s a calm maturity about the team, caressing the ball around the pitch looking for an opening.

Our success in recent weeks has been our ability to overload the midfield. We didn’t need to overload against Marseille. Our midfield fluidly switched positions and formation throughout kept them guessing. Only Flamini and Giroud really staying in their designated zones. At times through the season we’ve almost played a 4-2-2-2 – Mainly down to the lack of wide players we’ve had available. We’ve opted for three ball playing midfielders with the aim to create openings with clever movement with guile. Instead of runs in and behind the lines.

I have to admit, however, that I became frustrated with our inability to finish the game off earlier. Because we’ve been so good in recent weeks. I’ve found it hard to expect even losing points let alone goals. Marseille were there for the taking. Our tempo slacked in periods I personally thought it shouldn’t of. In the final third where we are usually so dangerous we faltered and against better opposition we could have been punished. It must be remembered Marsielle were never going to win and so this game should have been seen off earlier.

Wilshere on the Right
The team looked very balanced. I’d argue that was our most balanced side. As I mentioned above, our only issue was our inability to take our chances. If Ramsey had finished his early chance and Özil scored the penalty. We may of had a cricket score. Football is reactionary. For fans and players. Emotions is a major part of the game, players aren’t robots. They do need the rub of the green sometimes.

Jack was deployed on the right, but he did drift. He had the freedom he craves, and enjoys. But, also had the players around him to make it all work for him. Rosicky and Özil are very mobile players and crave space which in-turn, gave Jack room to express himself.

Flamini (as well as others) has offered something we’ve missed as a team – well, since he left the club – defensively stability. The way he covers the defence, if and when they step out, is incredible (and yet so basic). His natural instinct is fabulous. When good fortune gave Gignac his opportunity early in the first half, Szczesny came flying out and collected the ball very efficiently. Flamini became a centre back then sprinted to the goal line for the brief second it looked like Gignac was going to round Szczesny. Priceless defending.

The shape of the team gave Jack not too many defensive responsibilities. Marseilles focus of played seemed to be more central, also allowing him even more freedom, whilst Flamini marshalled the team; when to push and when to press. Throughout Sagna and Monreal were almost in midfield – Even more cover.

I currently think that’s the way forward for him. He’s a special talent and needs nurturing. Protect him and let him grow naturally.

Mesut Özil
He’s bloody well good. The End. Kidding, well sort of. He’s exquisite but his price tag is going to confuse many. He’s never going to be a player who will own the ball the way Fabregas did or be a powerhouse like Patrick Vieira was. He has an effortless presence on the pitch, an ability to appear static for long periods, then suddenly spring into life. Opponents will try to keep Özil quiet – To counteract that, he will thread a clever pass into the path of a runner or embarrass defenders with a classy flick.

It’s what he does when he quickly bursts into the final third with the ball that will define Özil’s contribution to Arsenal. That’s why he can often be a player who frustrates fans.

Distribution
You may, or may not remember I’ve recently mentioned about our inability to pass the ball out from defence, when under pressure. We missed vertical movement at times. Tuesday night, we distributed the ball very well. For one thing, because Marsellie didn’t press as intensively as others have against us in the recent weeks. But Ramsey and Rosicky took turns dropping in and collecting the ball. It helped raise the tempo and confused the OM midfield – Not knowing who to track. Against Dortmund (at home) Arsène got the midfield three to drop deeper to try and help out. But, Dortmund counteracted that, penning us back even further. With a more fluid midfield, the opposition are unable to track our midfield and leads to more success.

I still think moving forward we need an improvement in the deeper position in our midfield – I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Player reviews

Szczesny – Very impressive throughout the night. His impressive distribution continued. When he was called into action he dealt with it, with ease. Improves every time he plays.

Sagna – Very solid. Very, very advanced.The Frenchman found a lot of space in their final third so he continued to push. Didn’t have to do to much defensively.

Mertesacker – Awseome again. I can’t remember him misplacing a pass. He has ice in his veins. Player of the season so far?

Koscielny – Had a great game. Was very impressive with all of his one on one battles. Seems to really step up when needed. A few slack long passes. Positionally good.

Monreal – Excellent considering his lack minutes. Brings a much needed urgency in attack and defence. Always in the right place at the right time. I bet he wonders what he has to do to get a start…

Flamini – Made the whole operation tick. Orchestrates everything. Head puppeteer. His tactical awareness was fantastic. Slightly concerned about his distribution.

Ramsey – Put in a huge shift. A great team performance. Won the penalty. Should of scored his chance. Sloppy in the final third at times. Positionally improving.

Özil – A slack first half and an equally slack penalty. Still reeked of class. The way he finds space is class. A marvellous assist for Jacks second. He will purr like a Rolls Royce, just needs time.

Rosicky – One of our top performers on the night. Brought a lot going forward. Smartly runs with the ball. Positionally smart. Took responsibility in midfield giving others freedom. A proper adult.

Wilshere – He’s getting to grips playing out wide. Marvellous goals. His hunger, class and effort was never in question. Just needed some luck. ‘What ever Ramsey can do, I can do’. He’s almost back…

Giroud – Won a lot of duels with their defenders. Awesome work rate. The timing of his runs was fantastic. Still on a high from World Cup Qualification. A solid night from the Frenchman.

I’ll leave you with this. Tough questions are surfacing. Is Jack Wilshere better than Aaron Ramsey in the double pivot? Is Aaron Ramsey better than Özil as a ten? is Özil better than Theo out-wide? We’ll save that for next time.

Carry on the good work Arsenal. Good times.

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,

Ben

Rotation is the name of the game

A happy Monday to you. It’s one month exactly until Christmas, but let’s all give thanks for the gift that keeps on giving: The spuds. Administered by Andre Villas Boas who is now beginning to be, unfairly but obviously given their own fickle nature as fans, roundly lambasted by his own supporters.

Even Cardiff saw fit to grant us another little gift with a last-gasp equaliser against a United side who should have been without Rooney, but who once again, do not look the same all-conquering side they were. I still think they’ve got enough experience to be up there come the end of the season, but wouldn’t it just be spiffing to see them finish fifth (with us winning it of course), to then see a tantrum from the little boy inside That Dutch Bloke as he realises that he’s made a huge error? Wouldn’t that just be grand?

As for us, well, we’ve managed to nudge ourselves a little further this weekend with our dogged performance against Southampton and with a hectic schedule coming up for the remainder of the year any lead we can establish that affords us some ‘wiggle room’ is welcome. But between now and January 1st we’ve got nine games in five weeks. That’s a lot of football and means our four point lead can be very quickly whittled away.

We have no time for laurel resting; we need to be ready to go again tomorrow night, then on to Cardiff before a couple of home Premier League games against Hull and Everton. There’s going to be tired legs that will start to emerge and the fabled ‘red zone’ is already taking bookings for room availability.

Rotation simply has to be the name of the game. Arsene must feel confident in shuffling his pack. We all know he prefers continuity of his first eleven, but he’s going to have to get a little bit ‘tinker man’ if we want to avoid longer term injuries brought on through fatigue. The challenge will be to rotate in small measures. A game for Monreal, Rosicky and Arteta one day, then on another day trying Vermaelen, Gnabry and Walcott into the side. Doing rotation in small measures could ensure we can give some players a chance to rest, whilst others are given an opportunity to prove their worth by coming in and being given a chance. The good thing about the squad as I see it, is that there are plenty of experienced players that we can do that with. Ok, there are some positions that we simply can’t afford to rotate – like Szczesny (although fatigue is less of a problem), Sagna and Giroud, but in other areas of the pitch it simply has to be the name of the game.

Yesterday the lads and I were joined on the SG Pod by Paul from Invinciblog to discuss exactly that (rotation) amongst other things. You can have a listen to the Pod here, although when this blog goes live first thing today it might not be update, because getting Steve to do things before 11am is always a challenge, so check back in the PM to see it uploaded.

Anyway, going back to my original point, which is that I hope we start to see a bit of squad management from Le Boss. It’s an important part of the modern game and, unlike in seasons past, I feel we have plenty of players sitting behind the first eleven as it stands at the moment, who can come in and do a very good job, or even take a starting spot. It’s that kind of competition that will keep all of the players hungry and that’s why we need to be giving opportunities now.

The good news is that I think there will be games where we can afford to shuffle the pack a little. I don’t think Marseille at home is one, nor Cardiff away, but Hull at home should be a game that a couple of players on the fringes should be given to play in. Everton at home could have maybe one or two rotated (as in someone like Walcott in for Cazorla, or Monreal for Gibbs), and depending on the result in the other Champions League game between Dortmund and Napoli, the away game in Italy could be one to consider making changes if we’re already through. All in all, there are opportunities for rotation in my opinion, and I think it would be foolish not to take them given the great position we find ourselves in.

Catch y’all tomorrow with a match preview.

Flamini Factor

Hey party people oaf12 here and welcome to Suburban Gooners!

Today I am really happy to bring you a post from a guest blogger. This piece is from a fellow gooner named Shamar Brown who is a Jamaican citizen currently living stateside. You can catch Shamar on Twitter by following @shamarobrown

Ok Shamar, over to you…

 

Since August we have all had the same question on our minds. No not the one you’re thinking of. Not the one the TV and radio personnel use to rile us up. I’m referring the one that Wenger himself is seems to be struggling with. ‘What is our best midfield 5 this season?’

I won’t go into each position and bore you with details you already have. I just want to talk about the double pivot. The axis on which hinges our success and failure.

If you look at the United game on Sunday you’ll see that we lost to a well worked set piece routine. That was it. Yes, they played well for the first half but that was due to us not being at our usual best. We picked up our game around the 60th minute. Coincidentally, that coincided with Flamini leaving the field.

Let me first say that this isn’t a dig at Flamini. He has proved to be a very important player in our team and I will not attempt to take that away from him. I do however believe he had no reason being in the team on Sunday. Flamini hasn’t played since his 10 minutes at Palace. He’s since trained 2 days then straight back into to first team? Bringing Flamini in the team means playing your best player, Ramsey, out of position. Yes, he has done a job there before. But Ramsey-Arteta double pivot has proved to be our best combination. Our form since March has proved that to be true.

I think the Arteta-Flamini partnership is too negative and it puts our best player out of position.

Here are my reasons:

1. The pivot is too static with Flamini and Arteta.

We need a box to box (b2b) player in the #8 role; someone that drives the team forward and gets back well to defend. Ramsey IS the only player in our squad who does this and does this extremely well. When you play Flamini-Arteta you lose that. Arteta changed his game to fit the #6 role in the double pivot and doesn’t have the speed/stamina to do that b2b role. Flamini is the most natural #6 we have in the squad. Here you see the problem. No drive comes from midfield by playing these two together. If we are low on confidence or will be under the cosh then yes, play that combination. If not, stay with combination that brings the best out of each player.

2. Ramsey plays out wide.

Yes he can do the job and does the job well. But hear me out on this. The argument is that he can play there because he has the confidence and it will be easier for him to adapt his game. This is true but like I explained in point 1. We lose a few things. Here’s the second thing.

You have Ramsey naturally wanting to come inside to pick up the ball of Arteta and Flamini. Özil in turn has to pull off to the right hand side to receive the ball off Ramsey. This neutralizes both players. They are crowded out and end up making the same runs/triangles for the ball. They are all on top of each other. This explains Özil’s poorish form of late. Özil is a brilliant player so when he plays poorly he still looks decent. We are losing a lot with the current double pivot combination. Obviously when Theo comes back into the team you’ll see Özil and Ramsey return to their best. They miss the width.

3. Proof.

When jack came into the team and Ramsey return to the #8 b2b role. We started playing very well. The passes were clicking. The team had a rough few games with little to no rotation. So tiredness was not a factor. In theory, we should have dropped off physically but we didn’t. We stepped up our game. The intensity went up. When Gnabry came on the game changed even more. They had the width. Özil was more central and could orchestrate more of the play.

In conclusion, we simply cannot play a double pivot of Flamini-Arteta. They are two static and not dynamic enough for these kinds of games. We were more confident and in better form than United. This was too negative. If hadn’t been playing well then the pair makes sense. In regards to who fits the #6 role I’ll leave that up to you.

 

I must admit, I agree with most of the points made. As I mentioned in a recent podcast – I prefer Ramsey through the middle and feel we don’t get the best from him as one of the front 3. Sure the double pivot seemed to work extremely well against Napoli but I’m sure you would agree that this game was more about how well we attacked rather than how well the double pivot protected us.

As Shamar mentioned, on form Ramsey is our best player right now – we should be making sure we get the most out of him and for me this would be by playing him centrally.

So thank you Shamar so such a great first piece – yep this was his first ever blog!

Let us know your thoughts.

Cheers all

oaf out

To rotate or not to rotate: that is the question

So how was yesterday for you then? Plenty of London based United fans who haven’t even seen Old Trafford live in the flesh, yet feel the need to smugly berate you, because a team they supposedly associate with have won? Yeah, me too. By the way, that’s not a dig on fans from different towns and cities far away from where their football team is based, it’s more a personal anecdote of the ‘fans’ that I know that ‘follow’ Manchester United, in the loosest possible term. They then start chirping because they actually watched a game and enjoy sticking the knife in. Anyway…

We’ve got a week to stew on the result (thank ye kindly, you stupid and completely unnecessary international break. They should call it an international trap – we all fall into it and can’t wait to get out)
as well, which isn’t great but hey, there are worse things in the world right?

Having read a few articles following the defeat, including a decent assessment from Patrick Barclay in the Evening Standard yesterday, it got me to thinking about the role that squad rotation will play as the season pans out. I wanted to touch on this today because, particularly after we succumbed to United away, I’m starting to wonder whether Arsene’s desire for consistency of the same eleven could be either a help or a hindrance in the coming months. Before I have a look at both sides of the coin, let me say this: I am sitting on the fence with this debate. I’m not quite sure if the desire to rotate as little as possible is to the detriment of our search for silverware, or the foundation for which a title-winning side can be built.

Arsene has never liked to rotate to much in my opinion. I’ve said as much in previous blogs over the last couple of years. He is an advocate of consistency, of building rapport and understanding amongst players, of as little ‘tinkering’ as is humanly possible with his football teams. The benefit of this can be seen with the understanding players have. When you play with the same people week-in, week-out, you know what they are going to do. You know which areas of the pitch they will frequent and therefore in some instances, you can find a teammate in space without even looking. It gives you that extra element of time, buys you a few more split seconds to choose your next move and affords you chances that perhaps you wouldn’t have got if you didn’t know your teammates as well.

I think that is what Arsene believes and I think he is certainly right to a degree. And when you have players like Özil and Cazorla who can pick anybody out with a fine reverse pass, it makes sense to try and keep a core of players playing regularly (it also helps that they are the best players at the club). But what happens when it doesn’t click? What happens when the radar is off? Or fatigue leads to tired minds not able to ‘see’ a pass with their back to a player? Then do you look to rotate and hope players are able to integrate with the teams style of play without impacting the fluency of the team dynamic? And how much do you rotate? In what positions?

I think Arsene is a little afraid of exactly that actually – affecting the team dynamic I mean, which is why we see little rotation in the team, which then leads to concerns over injuries through over-playing (Jack Wilshire circa 2010/11). Alternatively, there is the question over whether some of those players are good enough to step up, to which we’ve seen questions arise from Arsenal fans over Carl Jenkinson in that regard; questions that are certainly not without logic or foundation. Jenkinson has found himself wanting on too many occasions for our liking this season as fans, but if he isn’t afforded the opportunity to play regularly, then how can he establish any kind of form? Coming in for twenty minutes and then having to wait three weeks to start a game doesn’t exactly allow you to be razor sharp with your touch. Yes, the players train a lot and have amble opportunity to home their skills, but we all know the tired cliché that training and matches in the Premier League are two different cakes entirely. One’s made from marzipan and the other from the richest chocolate your tastebuds could muster, as you asked.

I know what you’re going to say, that “we can’t afford to allow players five or six games to find form, they have to hit the ground running” and I certainly agree with you, but I just wonder what the golden ticket is with regards to rotation. Any player that is out of the first team starting line-up for any period of time – I don’t care who they are – will not be able to hit the ground running straight away. Humans are creatures of habit and excellent at repetition. If you stand a kid in front of a brick wall with a ball and tell him to hit the bottom right hand corner every time, by the end of a few hours you can bet your bottom dollar that he’ll be able to take a mean penalty by the end of the school day. But do it in ten minute stages over the course of a week and will he be as ruthless? I wouldn’t have thought so. My point here is that it’s the regularity of an action that allows a human to perfect a specific skill. Again, I don’t really have the answer or resolution to finding a group of perfect players that can come in after weeks of not playing regularly and manage to perform to their optimum. I suspect that the only way it might happen is some kind of Alien style synthetic android to replace players, but we all know what happens there, and the white fluid inside those bad boys looks like meringue.

I think squad rotation is probably one of the hardest things for a football manager to get right. How much? How often? Who can handle it? When to do it? How to motivate those coming in to perform as best as possible? There are so many variables that you have to get right because if you do, as a manager, rotate and the team loses or doesn’t perform as expected, it’s your fault for underestimating (and in some ridiculous circumstances, the media say disrespecting) your opponents.

It’s easy to go all Football Manager and suggest swapping half your players for a midweek game, then following it up by swapping the other half at the weekend, but if you want your team to retain possession through their ability to know exactly where their teammates are, you can’t expect that type of football to work, can you? You can school a lot in football, but in my opinion there is nothing you can do with instinct, as that has to come from repetitive action of playing week-in, week-out with the same people.

I think about the way Arsenal play – dominance based on possession and patient build up – and I am left with a very basic understanding of why Arsene prefers to rotate less than other teams. If you know that in a tight, confined space, you will find a teammate if you pass the ball into a certain zone, you can angle your body better to distribute the ball more accurately, mitigating any chance of losing possession.

Again, I don’t know that Arsene has found a balance between rotation and consistency of play, I’m just making some observations on what I’ve witnessed over the years as a die-hard fan. Nor do I fully subscribe to the view that you have to play the same players all the time, as that leads to The Diaby’s and we lose players for extended periods. But there must be a balance.

Rotation is definitely required in the modern game. It reduces the probability of injury, lessens fatigue for players and allows for recovery time, plus gives players the confidence to believe that they have a chance of playing more regularly, which motivates them more. It was rotation that afforded some United players a little bit more petrol in the tank, I think, on Sunday. From what I have watched this season so far, we have a better group of players than United, but I wonder how much of an impact rotating one or two players (That Dutch Bloke didn’t start against Sociedad, for example) had in giving them an extra five percent?

However this season evolves, I do think that the team that can manage rotation the best will come out on top, or rather the team that manages the balance between consistency of playing and rotating players when the fixture schedule begins to get heavy.

That’s all for today folks. Sayonara!

Liverpool: I have the positive ‘feeling’

I don’t know about you, but I’m really excited about today. I have no idea why, but I have this weird feeling that we’re going to win 2-1. If you read my blog regularly you’ll know that I rarely predict the outcome of football matches. I see it as a bit of a redundant exercise that, if you’re way off, adds nothing to any kind of conversation either pre mor post game. However, when I do stick my neck on the block and predict a scoreline, it’s usually because I have a ‘feeling’. It’s a bit strange to explain, and I’m certainly no Mystic Meg (having got a few predictions wrong), but today’s game feels like the last time I had this ‘feeling’. It was a few years ago when we went to Dortmund and back in the pre-game blog I predicted that we’d draw 1-1 with That Dutch Bloke netting the first goal. I should have put some money on that ‘feeling’ then, because a tenner would have seen me net over a hundred quid that day. I also never buy scratchcards, but about six months ago I was standing at the cigarette counter in Sainsbury’s buying a drink and I just stared at this random scratchcard for a minute in the queue. I knew I had to buy it so did and won a tenner. I had a ‘feeling’ on that one too.

So, I hope my ‘feeling’ brings victory today. Like I say though, it’s not full proof, so don’t chastise me if it doesn’t happen. I just think it might though…

Anyway, let’s actually talk about something vaguely related to the game, should we? How about the Arsenal line-up first? It’s a fairly quick and easy one to get through, because Gnabry is still out along with Flamini (good news being he might be back for Dortmund) other long-term absentees Walcott, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain and some dude called Di-ar-bee, but I’m not sure about the spelling on the last fella as I have a short-term memory and I don’t think he’s played for us since Tony Adams was captain. I also forgot about poor old Sanogo, but I have a niggly feeling that he’s been purchased to replace Di-ar-bee in the treatment room to keep the medical staff busy, because I think that fella’s contract runs out at the end of the season. Anyway, the ‘right touch’ news is that Arteta makes his way back into the squad which, if I’m completely honest, is probably where some of my confidence in predicting the result has come from, because after the Palace game I thought Mikel would be suspended for three games and we’d have to go into three crucial matches without any recognised defensive-minded player.

Arteta will provide us with more cover in the heart of our defence and will provide an outlet for the back four to distribute the ball out from the back. His composure will be vital today and filling that void just in front of the back four will be essential, because it”s where Sturridge and Suarez like to operate. They are two tricky forwards that are in a rich vein of form and their desire to pick the ball up and run at our defence will be something that someone like Arteta will be very important. For recent case study examples, see the first penalty we conceded against Villa. Agbonlahor picked the ball up on the left and drove through our midfield like a hot knife through butter to win the penalty. That day we had Wilshire, Rosicky and Rambo in the midfield and it was notable that the defensive cover we needed wasn’t there. Arteta is not as effective as Flamini, but he is certainly a defensively minded upgrade on any of those three players. So I certainly welcome his inclusion today.

The rest of the team should revert to type and be similar to the side that faced Palace. An inform Szczesny, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Sagna will come in, with a midfield of Arteta, Ramsey and Ozil, then a front three of Wilshire, Giroud and Cazorla is what I expect us to adopt. Wilshire will drop back at times and probably be replaced in the more advanced positions by the guile of Ozil and the ability to hold up play and bring others in around him of Giroud will be essential this evening.

As for the scousers, they’ve had a week off since their 4-1 demolition of West Brom and will certainly rock up to Le Emirates with all the belief that they can get the victory. I suspect we’ll see their three at the back formation with wing backs, which means Kolo, Skyrtel and Sahko will start with Johnson and Cissoko giving them the width. They will attempt to flood the midfield with Lucas in the deep-lying position and Gerrard and Henderson providing creative guile for Suarez and Sturridge up top. It’s a strong team – their strongest in fact – but the fact that I think we can win this with a host of players injured shows the belief I have that we can better Liverpool at the end of the season.

This will be a real challenge tonight, I certainly know that, you certainly know that, but so do Liverpool. We’re top of the league in form and many people have said that it’s because our run has been easy, but we’ve played all the same sort of teams that Liverpool have played, so we need to bear that in mind too. I think we can get some joy through their defence, but we need to be pressing from the front from the kick off. If we can force the Liverpool defence to make errors and hustle them quickly, then it will suffocate the service to Suarez and Sturridge and leave them frustrated, possibly coming even deeper to collect the ball and mean that we increase our chances of stopping them from being a threat to us.

It’s time to set down a marker, to show the league that we mean business. I’m sick of non-Arsenal people saying that we can’t handle the big games, so I want a win and a good one today. I want it to be a comfortable 2-1 where we’re 2-0 up early but then concede a last season goal that is little more than a consolation. I doubt I’ll get that – this is The Arsenal, after all folks – but we’ll see.

Come on You Reds.

Palace: concentration must overcome complacency

I’m exceedingly reluctant to go all ‘Paul Merson’ on you for today’s blog and declare that Crystal Palace have ‘no chance’ against us today. After all, logic dictates that whilst two teams are even in numbers and both start off the game in the same position, then anything can happen. Especially in the Premier League.

We may be overwhelming favourites to win the lunchtime kick off today, but as far as I’m concerned that means the square-root of naff all. We’ve seen too many times in recent history how complacency can lead to the downfall of the players representing The Arsenal, so whilst many may be expecting a rout, this here Gooner doesn’t think it will be so clear cut. Let’s remember that this Palace team weren’t too far off getting a point against the Spuds on the opening weekend of the season. Sure, they are still gelling, but the Spuddies are no slouches and Palace made them work.

I also don’t subscribe to the view that Palace will be rudderless today. They may have been all kinds of terrible against Fulham, but anybody that watches Premier League football (or any football for that matter) will know that results are not linear, x+y doesn’t = z and just because we did over the Cottagers on their turf doesn’t mean that Palace are due an 8-0 hiding. Although it would be nice. No folks, today will be a test. Every Premier League game is. If anything, Holloway’s departure and some of the comments he made about the new players ‘annoying’ him, could actually galvanise the squad. It won’t be sustainable enough to keep them up come May, but over a short period of time i.e. A weekend, it’s possible to leverage the words of the now former manager to spark some kind of response.

Arsene will be acutely aware of the possibility of a ‘worldy’ of a performance from ex-player Chamakh and the hope must be that the back four chosen today will know exactly what makes him tick and how to negate his threat. It’s essentially in the air and so we need to be wary of set pieces and corners.

Where the game must be won, and won comfortably, is in midfield. With the Flamster back in his natural habitat on the pitch just in front of the back four, we have a screen in front of the defence which will hopefully snuff out any runners from midfield. In front of our midfield enforcer I suspect we’ll see a little bit of rotation – but not much – with games against Chelski and Liverpool to come over the next eight days. I think Özil will play, but be rested for midweek, so the only other question is who will occupy the final midfield slot and the two either side of Giroud. I think we’ll see Rosicky rested and fresh for Chelski, with Gnabry also playing midweek, so I wonder if Arsene will give Cazorla a role on the left/right, with Ramsey taking the midfield spot. All that’s left to decide is the other position, which I think Jack will have after his good display against Norwich. That is if he’s shaken off the knock from Dortmund. He did look to be training from the looks of the pictures on the official site, so I think he’ll slot in. Of course, I’ve spoken about the fluidity and rotation of the players, which means that positions will only loosely be adhered to. Jack will drift, Mesut will float and Rambo will hustle throughout, but none will be confined to a certain area of the pitch.

If the above line up, along with the usual suspects in defence are chosen, that will mean Arteta once again doesn’t get a start. However, just look at the options it gives us for fresh legs against Chelski. Monreal, Vermaelen, Jenkinson, Arteta, Rosicky and Gnabry could all come in during midweek, which is perhaps a ringing endorsement of how our squad seems to have become quite full of depth without many people noticing. We all pay attention to the gaping hole in attack in terms of quality, currently occupied by that bloke with the silly hair, but on all other parts of the pitch we are looking strong. It bodes well for the belief that when we come up against the football lottery winners on Tuesday we can give it a good go at getting through.

Anyway, back to today’s game, which will need to be a bit more like the second half (minus the sucker punch please footballing gods!) on Tuesday night and a bit less like the first. In the first 45 under the floodlights that day we allowed BVB to find their rhythm, not pressing hard and giving them licence to play. Now, I’m not suggesting Crystal Palace are the same level as last year’s Champions League finalists, but pressing higher up the pitch and with more intensity, has to be the name of the game. The best way to fashion chances without having the ball is getting your opponents to make unforced errors. If we give Palace little time on the ball, they will make mistakes, so we will have to capitalise. Their fans will be loud and screaming their team on, so an early start will be the order of the day to quiet the home faithful.

Mercifully, BT Sport have seen fit to bless us with free coverage of the game this weekend, so I shall be wringing my hands in nervous anticipation come kick off. Let’s hope a quick goal followed by a few more can turn that into a very short period of time.

Have a good one Gooners.

Dortmund preview: here beginneth ‘The Month’

Today be the start of ‘The Month’ as I see it. These next 30 days or so will, I believe, be the beginning of a period in which our season will be defined. I don’t want to seem melodramatic, but that’s just how I see it, with massive matches against Dortmund, Liverpool, Chelski and Man Utd. It’s a period where – come out with lots of points and passage into the next round to the Capital One Cup – and we can really start getting excited about what this season can hold.

Ideally, it could have done without being during our bogey month – the month of November – but there you go. We must learn to live with our early winter demons and conquer them if we want shiny trinkets come May. More about that dreaded month (historically for us, anyway) closer to the time, for now we must adhere to Arsene’s favourite adage and focus only on ‘the next game’, which happens to be at home against Dortmund tonight.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, but this will be a very tough game this evening. Dortmund have spent the last two seasons acclimatising to the Champions League and have probably adapted better than manager Jurgen Klopp would have hoped for. Runners-up last season, this Dortmund team is capable of going to any European team and getting a result and there will be no fear from them tonight at The Emirates. They will set up strong in defence with the likes of the excellent Subotic marshalling them, bite in midfield with players like Gundogen and Bender, and pace and guile in the attacking positions with Lewandowski and Reus. From what I’ve heard and spoken to with fellow Gooners, Reus is the one we need to really look out for. He’s the player that has plenty of tricks in his bag and I know many Gooner Bloggers out there that have publicly declared an admiration and hope he’s on Arsene’s shopping lost. Whether or not he is remains inconsequential for this evening, however, as our players will need to find a way to negate the yellows.

We managed it two seasons ago with a 2-1 victory with goals from That Dutch Bloke and then a last minute reply from Kagawa, but both teams have been without those two for some time now, so their impact will not even be the faintest of echoes on tonight’s game.

The good news is that we appear to have a strong enough, confident enough, German enough team to try and mitigate any threats they pose whilst trying to play our own brand of attacking football. I think Le Boss will make minimal changes from the weekends sumptuous performance, less the injured Flamini being replaced by Arteta, so there is a degree of continuity in the team that will take to the field. Being able to field settled teams and not having to shuffle too much has been the foundation for many successful Arsene Wenger Arsenal teams and mercifully we have managed to keep a core of players fit over the last couple of weeks. So I think we’ll see: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscienly, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Özil, Cazorla, Giroud, Wilshire. I suspect we’ll see Ramsey on the right of the front three tonight which is not ideal, but with his form being such coupled with the fact that Jack clearly struggled out wide against West Brom, I suspect Le Boss will ask the Welshman to ‘do a job’. It will be harsh, but if you add Jack’s good performance against Norwich at the weekend into the mix, I think the choice becomes a little more obvious.

Of course Arsene could opt for Rosicky on the right of the front three and possibly drop Jack to the bench, but as I said above, I think Arsene won’t want to rotate too much if he can help it. So that team will be asked to do a number on Dortmund and based on current form you’d have to say it’s possible. We are playing well, the confidence is there for all to see and the goals have been flowing. The key to today will be to replicate the Napoli game. We need to be quick off the blocks and get our passing game into gear within the first five minutes to set the tone of the match. An early goal would be a great boost, but if it doesn’t happen, as long as we are pressing high up the pitch and ensuring our passes find players in red and white, we’ll be alright.

I’ll be there and giving it my all to add to the atmosphere – whether you’re at home or in the ground – make sure you do the same and Sing Up For The Arsenal.

See you on the other side brothers and sisters.

Santi and Mesut the kids in the playground, with Nacho becoming a chimney sweep

It’s dark, it’s wet, it’s Thursday. I guess it could be cold too, but I’m still not able to look at the bright side at this early hour of the morning. I’ve had to forgo an extra half an hour in bed because of my own stupidity in booking in a work conference call at 8.30, so by the time today’s blog is live I’ll be talking all things social media to somebody. Oh well, C’est La Vie as Thierry and Bobby would say.

I am also not too enthralled by the back pages of the London Metro this morning, who still insist on talking about Eng-Ger-Land, as if it’s still relevant. Don’t they get it? It’s over! Finito! Gone! Sent packing! Yet we still have to read more about those ‘brave lions’. Pfhhh and Pfhhh again I say. They qualified, some people in Eng-Ger-Land were happy and now the rest of us can look forward to the real stuff. And our real stuff is against Norwich.

The best bits of news yesterday came from some of the media sources that were saying that both Özil and Ramsey are both fine and should be fit to face the canaries on Saturday afternoon. Providing that turns out to be true and not more horrible horrible media lies, then the prospect of Özil and Cazorla playing together, draws ever closer. Get salivating people, because it’s going to be like watching those two kids who were the best at football in your school when you were a wee nipper, playing keep ball against an army of tiny little year sevens. They chase and chase and buzz around, but completely in vein, as Santi and Mesut toy with them by constantly dropping a shoulder or twisting past midfielders before releasing a perfect pass.

Arsene has taken to releasing injury news on a Thursday for about a year now, so we might get some info on the official site later, but we may all have our agony postponed if some of the players are still filtering through to the squad.

I don’t want to speculate on line ups just yet, but if fit, I hope we see Cazorla, Giroud and Rosicky as the front three with Özil just behind. That would be rather delectable. Set your faces to stunned, because the ability on the ball of that three should be great to watch. Can you tell that I’m dying to evaluate and analyse this weekends game? It’s like going without food for the entire day at work, then coming home to be told by your mum (I live alone in my own place with The Management I hasten to add – this is one of those reminiscing moments of when I first started working) that you’ve got to wait another half an hour before dinners ready.

Speaking of food related Arsenal topics, our very own Nacho has been talking to the official site about how he’s timed his move to Arsenal perfectly, given the form of the team, and is loving life in North London. He’s had a positive impact on the team and has always played well when called upon, but I’m always nervous how players react in a World Cup year, so to hear that he is feeling good is great stuff. His game time has been limited this season due to Gibbs’ form, but it’s good to know that he understands that when you’re in a form team, you are going to have to fight hard for your place. I do wonder if an element of his relaxed nature is because of the fact that he knows he is always going to be sat behind Jordi Alba in the Spanish national team and so he knows he is likely to go to the World Cup as a bit-part player. That’s the cynic in me, but the optimist just wants to think about the positive, so I’m looking only at the fact he’s up for some competition. It’s just typical of our Arsenal team that when we can cope with an injury or two in certain positions, we end up with international footballers with an £8million transfer fee attached to them, on the bench. The reality is that the team is most likely to play over 50 games this season, so he’ll get plenty of chances to play.

There’s also the awesome fact that he stated in his official site interview “it’s early doors”. He’ll be telling journos to “fack off” next, the little rascal. Nacho Monreal, appearing as Bert in a live musical theatre adaptation of Mary Poppins, near you. I think he’d make a great chimney sweep. He just has that look about him.

Catch y’a tomorrow.