We may have won this game 2-0 but I could not help being disappointed today. At times today we showed how well we can play and this performance came on a day when Man Utd dropped points. The same happened when we drew at home to Liverpool and saw Utd drop points 24 hours later. It showed me that the title was still there to be won without our stupid slip ups.
Today we showed how to beat these sides; the sides we have struggled most against during the crumble from 1st to 3rd place. The football was back to its fluid best but it’s too late now the season is over. There are encouraging things to take from this game but also some interesting thing to note from it.
The first thing that sticks out like a bad smell is a glaring error from Arsene Wenger. Ever since the Birmingham game he has stuck by Emmanuel Eboue over the raring to go Theo Walcott. Theo had gained confidence from his first two league goals but was firmly put back to the bench. Eboue kept his place on the right and looked like a lost puppy. He lacked urgency and ideas.
Today, these were the things Theo Walcott had in abundance. He is finally showing what Wenger knew he could do and he would have given us so much over the last two months. He gave us pace on the break and a constant threat down the right hand side. His pace caused problems all day and he was so unlucky not to get a goal for his work. It is very encouraging for next season to see the way he is currently playing.
On the subject of Eboue, he looked so much more comfortable as a right back. His defending might not be up to scratch but when he attacks from a deep full back position he is dangerous. In games when defending is clearly less of an issue Wenger can use him to give Sagna a rest next season. Whenever he came forward this afternoon he was playing on instinct and used his pace and skill far more. He is a good player to have as a sub as he can change the way we play from the back. Maybe the fact he was benched gave him a kick up the backside.
As I am talking about the right back slot it seems appropriate to start at the back. Credit must go to Jens Lehmann who, even though he cannot keep his mouth shut off the pitch, has been professional in the last two games and produced solid performances. He did what was required today and showed he still is a good keeper. This may have been his last game at the Emirates and he went out on a high. It is a nice way to say goodbye after all the good things. He did give us some laughs, some highs and some lows but we did love him at times!
One thing that was clear to me today was that we still look extrremely vulnerable at the back and it all comes down to the centre back pairing. Wenger gave Song another shot at the back but again the same problem came up. Song, Gallas and Toure are all very similar in the way they play the game. They are all strong in the tackle and prefer to act as the sweeping defender.
They all need a dominating figure alongside them and without one we will always look vulnerable in games. We have no one to compete in the air and make us look stingy at the back. When it came down to playing on the ground we looked okay but whenever it came down to crosses or high balls we struggle. Senderos was supposed to be this man but Wenger may well address this issue very soon.
The ideal scenario is to rotate Toure and Gallas to play alongside a large centre back who can do the dirty work. Toure and Gallas prefer to compete for the second ball but both seem reluctant to compete for the first. That is what we need if we want to build upon a solid base at the back.
The full backs are perfect and we have arguably the best pairing in the League in Sagna and Clichy. We just need our centre back duo to be solid enough that we go into games expecting to concede no goals at all. Toure showed today he can fill in at right back if needed after a very good performance. His assist was top quality and he was always prepared to support Walcott.
In midfield we returned to something like our fluent best. It is a pity it has only happened now. Remember that we have not played at the standard we know we can for most of this calendar year. We got the performances at Liverpool and Man Utd and got nothing from those games. Today the fluency came back and we added something more to those games. We looked far more dangerous in front of goal. This definitely had something to do with how Theo, Cesc and Hleb played.
Very early on Hleb laid down his intent with a pass that took 7 players out of the game. Who was the furthest man forward to try and get on the end of it? Yep, Cesc Fabregas. It has been a ridiculously long time since we saw Cesc really hunting a goal for himself. The interesting thing for me was that the link between Hleb and Cesc has not gone and it could be key next season.
Today Wenger gave Hleb freedom to move from the left hand side and get involved in the game. This is where he is most comfortable as he can link up with Fabregas and try and open the door. They do find it easier to pick the right pass and move into space when Rosicky plays as they all compliment each other. There were times today when I saw opportunities opening up which I knew Rosicky would have seen. The three of them together are amazing to watch.
The other two were not bad either and Cesc in particular was outstanding. It is a pleasure to watch the lad play when he is producing football at the standard of today. He controlled the midfield and was picking quality passes left, right and centre. He tried so hard to get a goal and it was brilliant to see him arriving late into the box as we have missed this recently.
It is not only Jens Lehmann whose time at Arsenal might be up very soon. There is a strong likelihood Gilberto will not be here next season. His season has been very poor and disappointing but hopefully he goes out with a bang. The guy is loved by the whole squad and the fans and these last few games could be one final hoorah.
His goal may have been a tad lucky but all the players seemed so happy for him once it went in. The guy has been a mainstay in this squad for years and he is a likeable chap. The players all ran over once he scored and it seemed like a farewell embrace. Cesc seemed to be saying thank you for the good times alongside him in central midfield. He has been a fantastic player for this club but there comes a time in every player’s career when certain paths need to end.
I do think Wenger will make the decision on Gilberto once Flamini decides his future. Gilberto has played far better during the last two games than at any point in the season. Should Flamini up and leave Wenger may keep Gilberto for one more season as his new defensive midfielder (or Song?) settles in to the first team for good.
Emmanuel Adebayor may have scored his 21st league goal of the season but I still cannot help but de slightly harsh towards him. The way he took the goal today frustrated me. Maybe it is the time of the season but why couldn’t the man finish like that at Anfield or Old Trafford. He was so calm and assured whereas in those games he panicked. Granted, he scored in those games but there are times when strikers should score more than one in a game. One might not be enough in certain games and Ade must become more ruthless next season.
Ade’s link up with the midfield and in particular his partnership with Van Persie really impressed me today. He joined the midfield to the attack how a leading striker should and he gave Van Persie space to work. Robin showed us the difference he makes to our team when he plays and I just hope he stays fit next season.
He has an aura about him that cries “I can score at any minute!” He is still finding his feet after injury but is gradually gaining his sharpness again. There is no doubt we look more dangerous and the way we play with him in the side is far more fluid. He can pick the right pass and also possesses a mighty powerful shot.
One aspect many forget when it comes to Van Persie is the brilliant set pieces we get from him. Some of his efforts today were world class. His free kick across Hahnemann was fantastic and the bend he got on the ball left the ‘keeper shocked as he watched it whistle past him. His corners aren’t bad too and it if nice to see him and Cesc trying some original things from their corners. Today we should have had two headed goals from set plays they worked; if only the headers were of better quality.
I just mentioned attacking set pieces but I want to discuss defending them now. Gone are the days when we left two players up field and tried to counter quickly from corners. It was always brilliant to see an Arsenal side in full flow from an opposition corner but it seems to happen on very rare occasions now. We pull all 10 outfield players back and take too long to push up.
Going on today’s line up we only need:
two on the post (Cesc and Clichy)
at most five men picking up dangerous attackers (Gallas, Toure, Adebayor, Gilberto, Song)
1/2 men picking up key zones i.e near post and close to the ‘keeper (Van Persie/Hleb)
That leaves at least one player (Theo) to stay up field and try and use the cleared ball. Having someone fast up front can change the whole dynamic at a set piece. It gives the attacking side far more to think when they come up for a corner and gives us an outlet to support. Preferably it is best to have two players to hit with the clearance but one will do.
Some coaches believe that having too many players back at a corner can cause problems for the defending side. If there are too many players in the area confusion can arise as to who should deal with what. If they key men are picked up and the posts and key zones are covered, it is fine to leave men up field. Players like Theo and Hleb are not much use from set pieces and would be better suited to staying up field; it gets them out of the way!
There was an instance today where exactly this confusion became a problem. There were two men close to the front post when only one really needed to be there. Bendtner left it and Van Persie was forced to deal with it. Yes, having that extra man bailed him out but there seemed to be so many men in there that no one was prepared to take control.
Another interesting thing I noticed was the barracking Bendtner got for his little mistake. I know it could have been more costly but the telling off he got was a bit OTT. I have seen Ade make a mistake in the same spot but no one ever had a go like a few players did today. It gave a clear indication of how the squad sees Bendtner and I can see his time being up soon.
He did not show much today to encourage Wenger and the fans to stick by him and risk squad tensions. Everything he did lacked conviction and thought with most passes and shots going astray. Right now his aerial ability saves him but he still has a lot of work to do. Another striker is needed.
I also want to thank those fans who went to the game to support the team. No one is hurting more than the team itself and they want to end this season with a bang; we must get behind them. Next season start with the next 3 games and we want to put down a marker for the 2008/09 season.
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