Larry’s Half Term Grades?

So 2008 is thankfully a relic for the not so memorable annals of Arsenal Football Club. Having entered the calander year flying things quite spectacularly fell apart in the spring and did not stop unravelling until late Autumn – presuming our 6 game unbeaten run, it should have been 6 wins, is a turned corner. Enough has been said about last season, that is long gone. There is no need to dwell on the players who departed, they did so because playing for the Arsenal was not good enough for them, it was always their choice; so good ridance.
Before trying to analyse our performance in the first half of this league season, I feel compelled to try and put some persepctive on just how deep the difficulties of this year have been.  Without doubt the disapointments have outweighed the triumphs;,Anfield in the CL, Birmingham, and Stamford Bridge last season loom large for me.  However it seems to be taken almost as a given that the entire club is gripped with some sort of irreversable malaise that is slowly and imperceptibly, but for the odd demented doom monger and Paul Merson,  guiding us to the edge of ruin. This I cannot see as plausible.
First let us start with some facts. Arsenal is a football club with a state of the art training ground and beautiful new stadium generating oodles of cash in some sort of deal with the devil,:getting some really money driven, sham passion, twat fans as punishment. Still, the physical reality exists and it sadly is not an overreaction to state this, nor that tomorrow all our employees will turn up for work. Arsenal football club does function and will continue to for the forseable future.
There is uncertainty at the boardrom level over ownership, but to believe the tabloids you would think we were days away from administration. People have gone, time was taken to replace them, but that will have been worthwhile if it was the right choice.  The inescapable fact though is that the current set-up is what we are fighting to keep, not the cause of the problems. A self sufficient club living off its own finances run by people with some history and connection with the team and local community IS the ideal – that is us right now. What every side wants to avoid is being like manure,  sunk into debt with there long term future endangered for the profits of some Florida hobits. The Chelsea model has its advocates, but most agree that being a rich mans toy is not worth the champagne, coke, or anal sex.  Fuck, im poor and can get all that already, Arsenal can do better.
My argument was brief, but I hope that most reasonable and empathetic readers can see that we are not on the edge of some abyse or in danger of spontaneous combustion. Part of Wengers genius is that he has developed the infrastructure of the club in such a way that very soon we will an entrenched european power. I say very soon only because we need to sell off the Highbury develoments before truly being clear of the period where the new stadium has impinged upon playing resources. (Anyone who thinks our manager has done a poor job in recent years please just compare the money spent by the other top 4 teams) When this is done we will be like Milan or Munich, able to take the occasional bad season for what it is and bounce straight back. We are by no means in bad shape though.
What I would like to do now is to look at the performance, in my opinion, of the various areas of the team during the first half of the Premiership season. This wil be the clubs 10th straight in the champions league, only 4 teams can match that record. It will also be our 6th straight through the group stages, only 4 teams can match that also.  Despite the hype of negativity we are without doubt a member of Europes elite; exactly how good this year is in that realm though can only be specualted upon. The Carling Cup was a good display of the talent at the club, again don’t believe the doubters, as well as the lessons kids must learn to become professionals.
SO, here are my ratings for the PL season so far.

Goalkeepers:  B+


Almunia has his critics/sceptics but in fairness it seems difficult to fault his performances. The two game spell against the scum and Stoke aside he has rarely put a foot wrong or let in soft goals. The accusation that he needs to do more to organise his defence is a tough one to judge and here I am leaning to his side – I think that the defence is poor beyond him being to blame. His calm style is the polar opposite to the man he replaced, but that may not be a bad thing. That he is captaining the side it seems for the next 4 months is to his credit and an indication of how his stock has risen within the team.  Fabianski looks an able back-up now and hot prospect for the future.

Defence: F

I am not one to rip the team or players, but there is no hiding the fact that we have been shambolic at the back and it truly is that bad. Some might lay this on the midfield, but that comletely fails to address the issue of individual errors, generally mental, that have cripled us. Sagna aside no one is above blame and even he hasn’t been as good as last seaosn yet.
There have been times when the side has literally colapsed when defending a lead, looking panic striken and not even vaguely profesional. Clichy has regressed badly and is developing a knack for costly mistakes – Birminham is looking less like an aberation and more like the start of a trend. Gallas and Toure have both played very badly, the lists are too long to be completely rehashed here, although a few incidents spring out. Toure at Stoke cuddling as the attacker flicked a throw into the goal. Gallas’ challenge against Villa changed that massive match against us, a shocking decision given that not a single Villa player was within 5 yards of the box as he went to ground.  That he has lost the captaincy tells its own story, as much as Wenger has backed him surely the time has come to move on as his performance just do not justify the baggage.
Silvestre has actually been solid if unspectacular, not a bad signing it seems. JD is the bright spot here and but for his error in gifting Keane a free run on goal last week maybe would save the unit as a whole a failing grade. 23 goals in 20 games though is way below the standard of a top quality team.

Midfield: B+

I know many people have there reservations about trusting the youth, but they do not look far off awesome. Nasri has been a revelation. Theo remains inconsistent and his link play needs to develop,  but the rest is all positive; another piece of Wenger foresight that will brighten our weekends for years to come. These two can play wide for us for years to come.
Centrally we have Cesc. Whilst he may not have scaled the usual heights yet this season, and may not now his knee is done, that is always a positive. Diaby, Song, Denilson. It is almost its own question. Personally I have been very impressed with Song in recent weeks. Diaby has just started playing centrally and looks excellent, my MOTM against Pompey. Denilson is up and down, but for a 20 year old in his first PL season there is much to like includng 3 goasl and 4 assists so far.  Crucially for me though we have beaten manure and the chavs with a U21 midfield and showed great heart against the scousers; the rest will come soon.
Of the back-ups Rosicky is still missed and it is hard not to fer for his future. Ramsey will be a player and Eboue… he does a job whenever asked. The youth behind the big boys looks stunning, especially Merida and Wilshere.

Attack: C+

We have been decent but undistinguished in attack. 33 goals scored is respectable but not exceptioonal relative to the league. RVP has been the undoubted bright spot, sho wing what we missed last year. Still he could have been better and has missed chances. Ade has dissapointed this term, too rarely looking like a unique blend of physicality and technique that with application can be unplayable. He drifts in and out of games that he should dominate, this can change though – he looked like his old self for 60 minutes against Liverpool. 15 goals 7 assists though is not what you would hope for from these 2.
Vela has barely played. Bendtner started the seaosn well, but is struggling badly for confidence.  Overall though there seems to be too many games where we struggle for inspiration or individual moments to win games and that sits at the feet of the strikers for me.

Manager: D

Slagging off our manager is perversly common amongst gooners it seems, however I wont be doing it here, at least not for the usual reasons. That we didn’t spend more money in the summer doesn’t niggle me; the boss said he couldn’t find what he wanted, if you accept his astuteness then that should be enough. He bought Nasri who is excellent and his record beyond this is near faultless, unless you know someone we should have got accept that there may not have been what we needed. Maybe the better part of 20mil for Alonso or Barry in there late 20’s didn’t make sense in the current economy to him. It is only in hndsight that I think he was wrong on the former of these so I cannot criticise too much here.
My problem with the job Arsene has done is more substantial than disgruntlement with his youth policy, I am all in favour of this; again here we are the envy of the country. I think for the first time in many many years we have looked badly coached, lacking in cohesivness as a unit, and we took far too long to start defending as a team. I also think that for a team with so many young players at some stage it becomes the managers job to motivate the side, Villa at home showed the paucity here on occasion.
In a recent round-table discussion with the old back 4 it was remarked that Wenger’s form of coaching involved letting you figure out your own mistakes, as opposed to Graham who terrified you into not making them. Long term, and right now, I think there is so much to be positive about at our club. The talent we have and its capacity for improvement due to youth can only be seen as great thing.  However, maybe with a team so fresh more guidance and bolder decisions were needed.
I also think that retaining Gallas as the captain is an undeniable failure, so to persisting with him and Toure with no improvement. The fact it is still unclear, baring massive injury lists, what our best 11 is doesn’t reflect well. Strange substitutions, refusing to play some seemingly obvious candidates, instead playing established names out of position also bug me.
I still think that we have the best manager in the world and hope he signs a new deal soon, but the fact is we have not been up to the very high standards he has set so far this season. Overall though the future looks bright and we appear to be learning how to fight for the right to play our game. Some more clean sheets would be nice though; that and 2 new faces in Jan just for the fun of it and to raise morale. Personally I would like Johnson form Boro and Mexes or Chiellini with Gallas going the other way, or anywhere that will have him. Not fussed over a CM. I certainly cannot for a second see the argument that says we have a senile ego driven manager who refuses to spend for its own sake; a great man doing an excellent job, the good times are not far off.
Peace out, comments invited.

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