Monday, August 29, 2011

Chaos at Arsenal - Part 1

Well, let's start with the game, and then move to the causes, and the people responsible.

Arsenal lost 8-2 at Old Trafford yesterday. It was much worse than I thought it would be, I knew it would be hard, even though I harboured a secret hope Wenger and the Gunners might pull something out of the bag, and that more than the result it would be the performance that would be key. If the team performed like they did against Udinese then fine regardless of the result.

They didn't. Let's talk about young players. United's team and players were younger than Arsenal's. They were better, on the day. Are they better overall? Only time will tell. One by one, Jenkinson is a decent player that will become good, he had no protection and no experience. Traoré exactly the same. Cocquelin in midfield I thought did really well, as had Frimpong in the previous games. Koscielny? No, even last year I thought he was poor, he's not to be trusted on his own, and since he caused that incident in the League Cup final the lad just has no belief. Djourou, not good enough, many years he's been at the club and he has never impressed, he's quick but deary me he cannot head the ball to save his life. So mixed, really, some young players, and as United's expensively assembled players showed, like Rooney once did, if you're good enough you're old enough. There's some great young players at Arsenal, some not so good, some that just need games.

No, Arsenal did not lose yesterday because of the younger players. Or rather not just because of them, their inexperience was certainly a factor, but that alone doesn't justify it. No, what was sad, as Phil McNulty said in his blog today was the lack of performance from the older players, you know the ones supposed to be helping and supporting the younger ones. It's all very well and good Rosicky talking to Cocquelin before the game, but you lead by example. Like Rooney. That's how you inspire belief and trust and teamwork. Rosicky was poor. Arshavin initially had a couple of good runs helping out Traoré, but as soon as the goal went in and van Persie missed the penalty he disappeared, he hid from the game, shocking from a man that is a shadow of the £16M signed player he was. Robin van Persie, for me the best player left at the club, supposedly, tried for a bit, not very hard, missed an incredible penalty in desultory fashion, hung his head, and he also disappeared from the game. Like Arshavin. Walcott, tried to stem the tide and had the arrogance of all good players that thinks he can solve things by himself and kept running into blind alleys, his argument with Jenkinson was painful and slightly unfair I thought but at least showed he cared. No defensive awareness though.

The trend, here, really, is this: Arsenal with the ball, fantastic team, without the ball, worse than a Sunday league team, no defensive awareness at all. This two facts have only got steadily worse and worse with each passing year. A lack of a credible goalkeeper since Lehmann was plain for everyone to see and Wenger got a cop out with the excellent Szczesny stepping up last year, but many points were lost in that area alone. There's been an outcry, from everyone, for a quality central defender for years. Ok, Vermaelen came in, but they let Gallas go, so after last year, everyone knew Vermaelen needed someone of equal quality next to him, because if he got injured there was no one good enough. As it has been proven. Still no replacement came in. Full backs are good enough Sagan and Gibbs, and the young guys will be good enough in a couple of years just not now. In central midfield the things aren't as bad as everyone picture them with the exception of the players already supposedly senior. Despite everyone asking for a defensive midfielder I think Song is good enough to do the role and by the look of things so is Frimpong. The problem is that Arsenal do not know how to press, how to defend high balls and to work as a team anymore. Some of this is due to quality at the heart of the defence (just get Samba for crying out loud!) or lack of work ethic in midfield. And Ramsay will be a great player, but the pressure to replace Fabregas is so great he's finding it difficult to cope with it and he's clearly affected, it would help if he wasn't the only one trying to play football.

Wenger does not want to buy players unless they are better than the ones he has at the club already or better than the potential he sees in his young players. Fair enough, but could those young players look better than they are because some of the senior players aren't all that good? Or don't want to play all that much?

What happened in the team? Why did Nasri want to leave? Clichy? Fabregas is a longer story and like Ronaldo inevitable, in fact more than Ronaldo, since Barcelona is his home city and his home club, I have no problem with that. What happened to Arshavin? Why is Rosicky given such importance when he is so clear past his best?

Not at all is lost this season, and I believe Arsenal still have enough good players to salvage the season and finish high up enough and do ok in the Champions League, possibly even one of the national cups. But fundamental problems must be addressed. The question is, what are they, where have they come from, and who's fault is it?

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