Things are starting to get interesting.
Arsenal is rediscovering their identity. They have like-minded players on the pitch who “see it early”
Rosicky, Eduardo, Cesc, Arshavin, Nasri, Sagna, Clichy, Walcott, and Van Persie. That is a lot of talent. They need to produce. Are they too similar?
Pass when they should pass and shoot when they should shoot. I do see a ‘Unity’ once more.
I watched Barcelona as many of you did last season and ‘wondered’ at their collective passing and pressing game and thought – we are not far off that. Ok maybe I should say in the Premiership we are closest to that model of football. Barcelona has just had the perfect season and now the whole world knows how they play. The signing of Ibrahimovic to many seems opulent but for me it’s vital to almost re-invent yourself offensively, to keep that critical ingredient ‘a competitive edge’ driven by surprise.
Arsenal had become predictable, safe in our approach going forward. Midfield was efficient but cautious. We were too open defensively caused by a lack of balance and physicality. Wenger’s struggle has been how to follow the almost perfect team he built in 2004. A team that should of won the Champions League. They lacked one ingredient – The ability to manage a string of big games and come out on top in all. Reyes 2 goals v Chelsea were a joy on the day but without the FA Cup semi v Man Utd I’m sure we would of beaten Chelsea in the CL quarter finals and gone on to win it.
But hey…..I’m over it!
To look forward firstly let me take you back and look at the 2004 team headed by Henry and Vieira. Then a look at the 2008 team epitomised by the Fab 4 of Cesc, Flamini, Hleb and Rosicky. Then I will try to articulate why I am hopeful for the 2009/2010 Arsenal team.
Lehmann – A sweeper styled keeper, vital as 2004 Arsenal played a high line and compressed the game. A collector of crosses, a player with a personality and the ability to take pressure off his central defenders. Impossible to ignore, a true winner with impeccable standards. Lauren/Cole – Fearsome competitors. I remember one Lauren tackle on Van Horseface at Old Trafford where he stopped him face on and nearly broke him in half – ran away with the ball as if this was just normal. Watch your old tapes of the big battles and no matter how much we dislike him, Ashley was always first into a scrap. When we were under it he stepped up and clattered someone…anyone!
Sol/Kolo – Fast and strong both. One more adept aerially, one happy to cover kamikaze style across the ground. Balance – Roles clear, each happy on their side on the pitch. Vieira/Gilberto – Balanced. Both happy on the ball but both defensively aware while able to join in going forward. Balance – Roles clear. Vieira is the player maybe we have never replaced. In the Premiership you have to play with the ball and it’s vital you recognise what is required when we have not got the ball. Aggressive, tall and mentally strong. My favourite Arsenal player ever.
Pires/Ljunberg – Scoring midfielders who played out to in. Attacked the box and calm one touch dead eye hard working penalty box finishers. Henry/Bergkamp – The assist king and the balletic finisher. Basically to me we would not be in the stadium we are in today without the talents of these 2 and others. They helped us recognise how big Arsenal could be.
But how do you follow that……we were now a big team with a small infrastructure.
I know – let’s make it even harder for ourselves to win.
Let’s move grounds (we had to move btw) and go from the smallest pitch in Britain that suited to one that maybe the biggest. Let’s sell 2 of the greatest Arsenal players ever in Henry and Vieira and make and a 19 year old, half their size and weight the leader of the team. You know what, Wenger nearly did it. So so unlucky. I watch the 2005 CL Final Liverpool v Milan – Why do we never get that amount of luck as Liverpool did that day. They played for 20 minutes and managed to have the best day in their history.
So we move on to the Fab 4 unlucky team that so nearly took the league by surprise after losing the greatest goal scorer in their history.
The Nearly Men
Alumina – Great body. Strong, solid and acrobatic. Just has this mental chromosome missing that makes him vulnerable to the ordinary. He can make the most world class of saves and then let an ordinary shot or cross perplex him. I feel he has 70% of the fans behind him and the other 30% want someone else but don’t know who. Clichy/Sagna – Runners. They press and tackle consistently. Sagna could be anything he wants to be, he is that good. Maybe he is too fit and sometimes gets caught too far up the pitch. He has a battle to overcome in big names in big games e.g. Rooney. He has just lost that battle but has all the attributes to smash Rooney aerially and on the ground. Clichy is all pace and constant mobility. He presses so well and plays what I call ‘transition’ football. He can turn an opposition pass into an Arsenal attack and wants to break on you at pace. His only issue is he knocks off mentally sometimes and can be bullied in the air on a far post cross. But I rate him highly. Kolo/Gallas – Two covering defenders, unsure of their roles. Not balanced. They became insular and given the fact they are the most experienced players we had they did not exude calm, leadership and positive influence in those difficult moments.
Rosicky/Hleb/Flamini/Cesc – The fab 4. They played with an energy pace and could not be pinned by over physical players as they were one touch all pass and move, high energy, pure footballers. Balanced – Tom could shoot from outside the box and offered a bouncy football know how which gave us a new confidence. Hleb – The assist king. A final twist or pass meant as much to him as a goal. Silly boy, he found the team of his dreams and spurned it. Cesc – perfectly at home with his 3 musketeers around him. His friends that allowed him to be the player he wants to be. A mature genius that had a pace of pass and the ability to run football matches. Flamini – A high energy presser. Not a holder but the one who was defensively aware and the one that walked out and said ‘I will win my battle’ – He was not a beast but he set a tempo. A high tempo that suited small men. Small men have to be mobile. It created a balance.
Van Persie/Adebeyor – One happy coming from deep and one who wants to be at the team’s apex. Balanced. Milan away changed everything for me. Many focus on Birmingham but it was in the San Siro that the ‘nearly men’ reached their peak. They played the near perfect game and won 2-0. But the world’s agents were awoken to Arsenal and the youngest team in the champions League has just embarrassed the European champions in their own back yard. Flamini, Adebeyor lost their game. Heads were turned and suddenly Arsenal was not big enough. This must have hurt Wenger. He has created the perfect surroundings at the training ground and the Emirates Stadium and it was spurned for a decaying Milan and wages. He is a man of values and he struggled to understand the values of ‘Self’
So today – what do we have?
2009 Arsenal – Has players that see the game.
Eduardo – for me in a game watched and played by hundreds of millions of people to have the ability he has to be unique in his finishes is a real talent. His goals at Everton & Valencia away, West Ham at home, Man city away, Sheffield Utd away – Well they don’t leave my brain ever. A man that works in inches, he delivers in the simplest way possible. He protects the ball and gives us a shape and a finish. When we drew Celtic in the CL my mind went to Eduardo. He would not waste that chance for the away goal. He relishes pressure of being the scorer.
Arshavin – A player that plays it early and sees it earlier. A heads up, running, passing, football talent. He has vision, pace and simplicity. I knew that from You Tube but what i did not see was the leadership qualities. He is a natural mentor who knows the game. My gut feeling like many is that he will be player of the year but my gut says how long can Arsenal hold on to a talent that could easily be in Europe’s top 3 by the season’s end?
After a World Cup – who knows!
Nasri – He could be our Iniesta. A sharp, tackling, incisive player with a big shot. He can play both ways – with or without the ball. We lack that so badly. Can he do it for 90 minutes for 55 games? Not sure. But again talent wise he is leap years ahead of a Ljunberg but Freddie had balls. He wanted it and he delivered 15 goals a season. That is Nasri’s challenge to not be happy with a 10 yard run and a 2 yard pass sideways. He can do more. Just needs belief.
Diaby/Song/Denilson/Bentdner – The 4 player’s maybe Wenger has staked his career on. He will not give up on any of them. Diaby – A personal favourite of mine. Why I hear some of you ask. We need him, as we are small. When I look at players I look at their ‘best’ game. Diaby’s best game is world class. His issue is consistency of game and body. He is not on the pitch enough for us to care to trust him. Denilson – a player that almost epitomises the new Arsenal, efficient, safe, and ok on some days, terrible on others. It’s not his fault it’s just that many of us are used to Petit, Vieira, Gilberto, Edu and Cesc. Denilson just cannot ever be as good as any of them hence he splits our vote 50-50. Song – We hope he can answer or prayers for size and presence but my fear is when confident he is very good but naturally he is a coverer not a presser. He has no tenacity that radiates to his team mates or the opposition. Again you look around the reduced pool of top holding talent in the world – Obi Mikel is not any better, Carrick is different and 27 and Alonso has left these shores. Kompany is average so maybe I understand why Song is so rated. I rate him I just want more. Bentdner – Powerful and edgy mentally. I like him nearer the goal and up to now he has played a lot wide. When there, he needs to think and takes too many touches so therefore loses his main strength, intelligent running in the box and one touch finishing. He makes the correct runs. He leaves space to run into. Playing out wide has improved his work ethic and made us trust him more as he looks fitter but we know he is not natural out there.
Walcott – We all so want him to be massive. Some say a new Henry but for me he is a new Wiltord. I rated Wiltord so that’s not to kill the boy and I won’t write off a 20yr old who is the fastest player in the league. But he needs to step up now. He knows it too. No more interviews etc. Just play. It’s in there we can all see the jaw dropping pace and agility but it’s trapped in him and needs confidence to be consistently unleashed. Watching Valencia away he had a chance one on one and he made the wrong choice again. Top 4 players make right choices more often. It’s pre-season so I will chill but it’s not the first time. I am patient but how many of you are when Wilshire seems to just have the knack.
But what do we need to be better….BALANCE
MEN – We need the right men. Not boys. We need to impose our game technically and physically. Sometimes you win a game just by your team sheet. Our team encourages people. No matter what I write regarding the talent everyone knows we possess its about the ability to win. Knowing ‘how’ to win.
Men know how to win.
I love the Wenger approach and I am firmly in the Arsene knows camp but I can see teams are not afraid of us anymore. Why I ask myself because we lack a grit, presence and consistency of technique/execution when under the highest pressure. Yes against Rangers we showed what we all know is there. But will Everton allow us to do that? You know they won’t. We have to defend set pieces and not give away free kicks near our box. Are we intelligent, and disciplined enough to do that. Do we care enough about the dirty side of the game; do we have the players that care enough.
Today i am not sure. But for some strange reason i am hopeful. Am I blind or just mug punter? Not sure – but I sense a togetherness and an assured approach that I haven’t seen for a few years.
Today I do know Arsene is a genius and now he has 3 things left to do. Balance this Arsenal side so it can win. Mentor a successor and win the Champions League.
Over to you Arsene!
Things are starting to get interesting.