Saturday, September 1, 2007

Just what Arsenal needed... or is he?

As the transfer window finally comes to a close, news of last-minute deals are filtering through, and in the middle of all the chaos Arsene Wenger has added a new face to his young squad in the shape of yet another youngster, Chelsea's 22 year-old Lassana Diarra!

Dubbed the new Makelele by many, Diarra's arrival is somewhat of a surprise to me. I know we've been supposedly after him for awhile, but I'm not sure the positives outnumber the negatives in this transfer. Arsene obviously sees the potential in this youngster - and trust me he sure does have a lot of it - and he joins a long line of kids vying to take the mantle left by one Patrick Vieira. Fabregas might have taken Vieira's number four shirt, but the resemblances all but end there. Instead it is Diaby who has come the closest to giving us a direct replacement for the Frenchman as they certainly share a similar body frame, and although Gilberto and Flamini have also occupied the role of ball-retriever, Diarra now comes in to presumably challenge for that place. It is this that worries me most, as it seems he has come in to fill a position that doesn't really need filling!

Diarra's arrival takes the number of central midfielders we currently have up to 7 - Gilberto, Fabregas, Flamini, Diaby, Denilson, and of course Song making up the rest! My first assumption is that some players might be deployed in other areas - a worrying prospect. We might see Diaby or Denilson being pushed to the left as we've seen in the past, and although Diaby did put in some good displays there, it is definitely not his best position. Another possibility which might be more likely is that we might start to see less of Flamini. He did seem to be on his way out of the club in the summer until injuries and Gilberto's excursions in the Copa America meant he would have to start alongside Cesc. His displays have been of a surprisingly high calibre so far, but were they enough to change Arsene's mind about him. This latest transfer would make you think otherwise. Gilberto's future is another one that comes under question now. I know he says there's no rift between him and the manager over the whole captaincy issue, but has Arsene just bought his replacement? Maybe Gilberto will be used more in defence as Senderos continues to disappoint. Of course, there's always the possibility that Diarra himself will be deployed in another position.

Although naturally a midfielder, Diarra has been deployed as a right-back by Jose Mourinho on many occasions. This, however, is highly unlikely to be the case in Arsenal. New-boy Bacary Sagna has already earned rave reviews and has adapted impressively to the way we play. We also have Justin Hoyte as cover and he's been improving gradually with every game. With that in mind, I can come up with one likely assumption. Arsene Wenger sees Diarra as a player with great potential, maybe even more so than any of our remaining young midfielders, bar Fabregas, and just could not pass up the opportunity to sign such a bright star no matter how many players we have in his position. His arrival will most likely mark the end of Flamini's Arsenal career, and will also pit him in a straight battle with Diaby and Denilson to take over from Gilberto when he eventually leaves. Let's hope this signing doesn't have a negative impact on the team's harmony and I wish him all the best as an Arsenal player!

A quick word on our Champions League group as once again Arsenal seem to have been drawn in one of the easiest groups. Seville are not easy to beat by any means, but we are surely expected to get past the other two with relative ease. Of course, Champions League games played away from home are always tricky and expect a more in depth analysis when those games come around. Any thoughts on Arsenal's summer spending? Please go ahead and share!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

As far as predictions go...

... the media generally suck don't they?! Four weeks into the new domestic season, everyone's bet to be crowned champions again find themselves in 10th place with 1 win in four, Tottenham - the supposed new top team in North London - have lost 3 in 4 games, and Arsenal don't seem to be showing any signs of post-henry syndrome! In the other top leagues, Barca's 'fantastic four' failed to score against ten men after everyone predicted a goal blitz, with Real Madrid showing why no one should count them out regardless of the number of players flying in and out of the ever-changing club. Serie A had its share of surprises with Champs Inter being held to a draw and Juventus - who seemed to have been counted out of the title race even before the season started - coming up with a convincing 5 goals in their win. You can argue that it is too early to judge on anything, but one thing I think we can all agree on is that no matter how strong a team is on paper, how the team does on the field is what matters.

Which brings us to Arsenal's latest win in what can now be called a very strong start to the season. Qualifying to the holy grail of club competitions - the Champions League - was never in any doubt, but they sure did it in convincing fashion tonight. How fitting was it that Rosicky's early goal probably ended any hopes Sparta still had of qualifying - his celebrations sure showed how strongly he still felt for his former club. Add goals from Fabregas and new-boy Eduardo and I'm sure Wenger along with every Arsenal fan will be salivating with what might just be ahead for this young team. As I mentioned in earlier posts, our whole season hinges on whether we can fill the goal-scoring gap left by Henry, and so far the signs have been extremely encouraging. Van Persie and Hleb both started the season very well goalscoring-wise, and are now being joined by the likes of Rosicky, Fabregas, and Eduardo! Just like Wenger predicted at the start of the season, rather than another player assuming the role of goalscorer, the whole team seems to be sharing the responsibility and are all chipping in with vital goals.

A few concerned fans still believe our squad needs a few more additions before the transfer window closes, and to those fans I say don't hold your breath. As Wenger stated several times, it is unlikely we're going to see any new faces coming in. The start to the season has all but convinced Wenger that our team is ready to take on the rest, and I must say that I agree with our philosophical manager. Any panic-buy now can only have a negative effect on the tremendous bond our players seem to have, and only a very exceptional player should be bought if such a player becomes available. Adriano? Sure, some people might call the Adriano of old an extremely exceptional player; however, the Brazilian is now nowhere near he once was and will require regular first-team football to get back to his very best, something Arsenal cannot guarantee him. As for Martins, well I personally don't see why we should be after him in the first place. As talented as he is, he was never the consistent performer and his goalscoring record doesn't suggest that he would outperform any of our current strikers. He does have time on his side though and still has plenty of more years to improve, but then again so do all of our current strikers. Adding him to our squad would mean having to get rid of someone, again not a good idea with all the positive vibes in our squad.

Make sure to tune in to the Champions League draw Thursday afternoon and let's hope we get a good draw! Got any thoughts on our season so far? Go ahead and share!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Down to the bare bones... already?

How on Earth are we having a mini injury crisis one week into the new season?! The injuries to Eboue and Rosicky means we have to look at the reserve squad to provide cover on the flanks, and of course Adebayor's injury means we've only got cover up front in the shape of 19 year old Nicklas Bendtner. We've also got one natural defender on the bench (Senderos) and one central midfielder fresh from injury (Denlison) covering for Cesc and Flamini- can our squad make it through the entire season? Is our early season enthusiasm misplaced, or do we really possess the necessary credentials to challenge for that title?

Looking back at the 'Invincibles' squad of the 03-04 season, things aren't as bleak as we might think they are. Back then we had 4 strikers - Henry, Bergkamp, Kanu and young Aliadiere - just as we do now with Van Persie, Eduardo, Adebayor and young Bendtner. Differences? In terms of experience, they are vast as Henry was at his prime while Kanu and Bergkamp were nearing the end of their careers. However, in goalscoring terms, our young lads need not not be overwhelmed. Henry had the lion's share with 30 league goals, while the rest couldn't surpass the 10 goal mark in the league even if their tallies were added together. It is obviously down to Van Persie to come up with the most goals; however, if Adebayor can improve on last year and pass that ten-goal mark and Eduardo can come up with a few himself, our attackers might be able to outscore the foursome of '04. Back then, we also had Wiltord who was deployed both as a forward and a winger by Arsenal, although he managed just 3 goals in the league. Alex Hleb is being given a similar role this season and is already just 2 away from surpassing him.

It is in the middle of the park where the main concerns lie. In Robert Pires, we had a free scoring midfielder who outdid all our forwards bar Henry, chipping in with 19 precious league goals. Think of Cristiano Ronaldo and his role in securing the title for United last season. It is this gap that Arsenal have failed to fill in recent years, and the same might become true come May. Tomas Rosicky is seen as his direct replacement, and although he does have a knack of scoring from long range, he was never the prolific goalscorer Pires was. However, Wenger would argue that Rosicky is now approaching his prime and the coming season should be his best yet. In addition to Pires in '04, we had the likes of Vieira, Ljungberg, Edu, Parlour, and of course Gilberto Silva in our ranks. Although none of them were prolific they did manage more than 10 league goals between them, an amount hard to match with the current crop of players at our disposal. We do have sufficient numbers with our eight remaining midfielders - Gilberto, Cesc, Flamini, Eboue, Denlison, Walcott, Song and Diaby - however, the same applies when it comes to experience. Only Gilberto can really be seen as a man at his peak as well as a goalscorer as he netted 10 times last season (albeit mostly from penalties). Cesc is yet to get his goalscoring act together and while he does contribute a lot of assists, he along with the others will have to do more in terms of scoring.

The depth of our defence is reassuring when everyone is fit; however, it's yet to be seen if they can be as stern as our back four of '04. Toure's partner, William Gallas, replaces Sol Campbell with the likes of Clichy, Traore, Sagna, and Hoyte vying for the places of Ashley Cole and Lauren. This same back four (with the exception of new boy Sagna) looked frail at times last season and let in 35 league goals compared to just 26 in that now infamous season. The goalkeeping department is safe in Lehmann's hands for now just as it was back then, but let's hope for a better showing from all our defenders this time around.

At this early stage it seems Arsenal's season hinges on a number of factors. It is absolutely crucial that the team avoids lengthy injuries especially to key players. More goals will have to be scored compared to last season with our best hope coming from our strikers. Also, Gallas and co. will have to form a more solid backline and secure more cleansheets.

Stage 2 of 38 comes up later tonight, let's hope the Gunners can come up with an important win!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

When the going gets tough...

... Arsenal get going? No one is quite used to that yet, huh? Everyone has seemed to pick up on this new found 'Arsenal spirit' and praising the physical maturity now in the side. A week into the new season, and the Gunners are already making a few doubters turn and take notice. However, all this positive hype could potentially come crashing down this Sunday!

In Blackburn, Arsenal face a team considered by many to be a battling side with many intimidating figures in their starting XI. Although last season saw Blackburn fashion themselves into a more attractive looking side playing plenty of good football, the likes of Robbie Savage are a constant reminder of their more physical side. Teams like Blackburn have been Arsenal's thorn in recent years, and if there ever was a match Arsenal should win, this would be it! Not only is this a golden opportunity to show how far we've come since last year, but a win would also give our players belief which could prove vital over the course of the season.

Looking back at last season's results between us, Arsenal won both league fixtures winning 2-0 away and 6-2 at the Emirates! However, both scorelines do not properly reflect what went on in the pitch on both occasions. Blackburn made us work for both victories, and it did look as if we were going to let the points slip at times on both occasions. As well as knocking us out of the FA Cup, Blackburn showed plenty of improvement over the course of last season - expect nothing less than a tough match this weekend!

Alarmingly, Arsenal do have a few worrying injuries ahead of the match. Rosicky and Eboue are both out, adding to the list of absentees already including Adebayor, Diaby and Gilberto. We do have Eduardo and Denlison available but will Arsene want to risk any of them? In any case, a lot of reshuffling will have to be done. Most likely, Walcott will come in for Eboue with Hleb taking Rosicky's place on the left, simply because those are the only widemen Arsene has at his disposal. That would leave a spot up front up for grabs, and although many are calling for Bendtner to be given a chance, I still think he needs more time before we can throw him in at the start. Besides, I think the 19 year-old should be given his full premiership debut in front of his home crowd as he'd get plenty of support. That would leave Eduardo as the only option and what an option he is! Seeing him play in pre-season friendlies gave us glimpses of what might come, and although he made but a few appearances, he certainly looked as if he'd fit right in! Don't expect him to take the premiership by storm quite yet, but in Eduardo, Arsenal might have found that predator-in-the-box they have sought for many years. Let's hope he is fit to play come matchday! Van Persie vs Christopher Samba is an interesting match-up, and let's hope our defence can shut out Santa Cruz and co. up front. Bentley's name always comes up when we face Blackburn; however, our own midfield always seems to overshadow the opposition's and expect the same again this time around.

This weekend also gives us two mouth-watering fixtures, both of which could have a direct impact on the title race. Liverpool vs Chelsea could see one of Arsenal's title rivals slip early on in the season, while the City of Manchester will host United's first game without the pair of Roo and Ron. What's interesting there is the fact that United will have to do without their two top goalscorers last season, much like Arsenal had to compete without Henry and Van Persie for much of last season! Let's see if United can get back on their feet before it's too late.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Let's settle it right here!

Open up any debate surrounding the best team in England and you're in for hours of endless discussions! Well it's about time someone came up with a way to settle this issue once and for all - let's determine which team is officially (well, not really officially!) the most successful English team in recent history!

Before starting, a time period has to be set and I personally want to look at the past five seasons, from 02-03 up to 06-07. Okay, the way to do this is to look at each team's achievements over these seasons and award them points according to these achievements. The competitions we'll be looking at are the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup, and Carling Cup (Note: Charity Shields and European Super Cups aren't put into account - they aren't real cup competitions!). It's simple, the team with the most accumulated points is declared the most successful of them all. Obviously, the teams in question are going to be Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Man United; however, determining the points system is where it gets tricky. A team can't be awarded the same points for winning the Champions League as they would be for winning the Carling Cup, for example. Therefore, I've come up with this points system which in my opinion is extremely fair and reflective of the achievement:

Premier League: Champs- 10 pts /// Runners-up- 8 pts /// 3rd- 6 pts /// 4th- 4 pts /// 5th- 2 pts

Champions League: Champs- 10 pts /// Runners-up- 8 pts /// Semi-finals- 6 pts /// Quarter-finals- 4 pts /// Round of 16/2nd group stage- 2 pts

These two competitions are allocated the same points simply because both are considered to be the hardest two competitions to win. Although the Champions League is obviously tricky due to the high caliber of teams taking part, a 38-game league is equally hard to win. Remember, managers of the so-called 'Big Four' always set these two competitions as the their highest priorities, and if anyone disagrees with these points allocations, I'd be happy to further justify them.

I'm sure all will agree the FA Cup is the next hardest competition available for English teams followed by the Carling Cup, and therefore the points allocated for winning these competitions are less than the previous two. Again these points simply reflect the standard of teams you come up against in each competition.

FA Cup: Champs- 8 pts /// Runners-up- 6 pts /// Semi-finals- 4 pts /// Quarter-finals- 2 pts

Carling Cup: Champs- 6 pts /// Runners-up- 4pts /// Semi-finals- 2 pts

After determining the points, it's simply a matter of plugging in the numbers. I'll skip the long math calculations and just show you the final results:

Arsenal: -----18----------20-----------18------------14--------------10
Man U: ------18----------16-----------16------------14--------------22
Liverpool: ----8-----------4------------16------------14--------------14
Chelsea: ------6----------14------------22------------16--------------28

And the winner is.....

Well, unfortunately for us Gunners its actually a tie between Man United and Chelsea both with 86 points! :( Then come Arsenal with 80, and finally Liverpool with an embarrassing 56 points! To be fair Liverpool did win the European Super Cup and were runners-up in the World Club Cup competition in 2005, but still should be considered the least successful of the four.

However, a consolation for all Arsenal fans, before last season we were by far the most successful English team, leading the pack with 70 points, followed by United at 64, Chelsea at 58, and Liverpool with 42! Be patient fellow gooners, we might have let our lead slip last season but hopefully the good times are about to roll again in North London!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Spartan Gunners!! (Sparta Prague 0 - 2 Arsenal)

Ask me what movie first comes to mind when someone mentions Sparta Prague and I'll instantly shout out 300! The movie not only portrays the incredible story of the valiant and fearless Spartans, but does so in a unique (and mostly exaggerative) way that truly captures the imagination. However, if anyone was worthy of being compared to those historic warriors tonight, it sure wasn't the Czech team.

Many have laid the blame of Arsenal's recent failures mostly on the age and overall physique of the squad, and they weren't far off. Although other factors did come into play, it was blatantly obvious from some of last season's performances that our team was being bullied off the pitch more often than not. The game away to Sheffield United comes to mind, and for anyone who can't remember, we were beaten 1-0 by a team who were eventually relegated. It's not so much the scoreline that was significant, it was the manner in which we were literally muscled out of the match. We seriously couldn't match our opponents for strength, and for anyone who isn't convinced strength is that important in today's modern game, take a look at Blackburn's Christopher Samba and try to imagine how far you'd fly if he shoulder-charges you while running at full pace! Well anyway, back to the present, and what is evident from tonight's game is that any concerns regarding Arsenal's physical presence is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Sparta went for the physical approach and after some tough tackles, it almost boiled over when Hleb stood nose to nose with Tomas Repka (ex-West Ham). Now normally that'd have been enough to intimidate our guys and disrupt our game, but who stepped in to show Sparta we're in for the fight? Yep, thats right, Fabregas came up with that crunching challenge that eventually forced Repka out of the game! Now don't get me wrong, I don't condone violence in any way, but if ever you needed a way to show your opponents who's boss, injuring their captain is a good way to start. The match ended with a bunch of yellow cards being handed out and our boys really showed they weren't intimidated in any way. It is this aggressiveness, coupled with the spirit the team showed tonight and on Sunday against Fulham, that will hopefully ensure that we be taken as serious title contenders this season.

The game itself surely wasn't a spectacle by any means. The physical factor and the referee's insistence on blowing his whistle at every opportunity dismissed any hope of seeing Arsenal's free-flowing football. Still, a lot more positives can be picked out when it comes to individual performances. Sagna looked sharp again and the way he has quickly adapted to the team's style of play is something to behold. Lehmann certainly made up for Sunday's howler with some brilliant saves that guaranteed he'd walk out with a cleansheet tonight, and he even had a big hand in the second goal with that quick pass out to Sagna! I'm still not convinced with Eboue's role out wide as it simply comes down to the guy's lack of creativity. His fitness, speed and tactical awareness is obviously what opted Arsene to try him in that position, but at the end of the day you always count on your wingers to come up with that bit of flair to either get past a few defenders or pick out a gem of a pass and I honestly don't see him doing that. It's good to see Hleb on the scoresheet again - he's already one goal away from matching last season's tally and just needs two more to get his highest ever return in Arsenal colors! Fabregas has made it something of a habit to score in these qualifiers - he scored twice last season away to Dinamo Zagreb - but perhaps more alarmingly is the fact that he next scored for Arsenal 8 months later in April! Let's hope that doesn't happen as plenty of goals from midfield is what separates champions from also-rans. Honorable mentions for Clichy and his amazing run to create the first goal, as well as Flamini for his never-say-die attitude (although I personally rate Gilberto, Diaby and Denilson higher). As I mentioned on Monday's post, expect a lot more goals being scored in the last ten minutes or so and we saw that again tonight, just shows what those few extra minutes of fitness can do to change the outcomes of our matches.

Back in England, it was nice to see Chelsea and Man U struggle again tonight, and although the former managed to win, it was evident that neither team is head and shoulders above the rest and if there ever was going to be an unpredictable season, I expect this to be it. If we manage to avoid a lengthy injury list, I'm sure the doubters will be eating their words come May.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wenger is always right... right?!

There's a fine line between brilliance and madness, and sometimes Mr. Wenger just makes you wonder doesn't he? Well fear not fellow gooners, the man is sane and I'm here to prove it!

The past few days have been filled with what some might call 'dodgy' decisions by Arsene. Obviously the captaincy issue is the one that's been picked on by the press, but don't let their creative storylines get to you. Reading whats been said in today's news you'd think Gilberto is about to walk out on the club, but haven't we gotten used to constant press exaggeration by now?! Sure the guy might be annoyed - I'd be if I found out I've been ignored as captain by reading it online - but these aren't kids in the playground fighting over who gets to be captain, we're talking about professionals. Still, you can't help but feel for the guy, he took on the role of captain impressively when Thierry was out last season and he just oozes class, professionalism and loyalty. Now you might all be wondering what on earth led Arsene to choose Gallas of all people. Well, in order to find that out let's take a look at some of the things the manager said:

1- Arsene said he needs someone with plenty of experience to lead the team. Lets assume he looks at individuals at a reasonable age (someone over 25) and number of years played in the premiership (the more the better). He'd end up with the following in ascending order according to experience:
i. Gallas: Age 29 / Exp. 6 seasons
ii. Toure: Age 26/ Exp. 5 seasons (plus 3 months as we signed him in February of 2002)
iii. Gilberto: Age 30/ Exp. 5 seasons
Look familiar? Yep, these three individuals are the ones Arsene elected as captain and vice-captains. Okay, this reason alone is obviously not enough to base your decision on so let's keep going.

2- Arsene claims the main reason he chose Gallas is that defenders are best suited to be captains as they have the best view of the pitch. Now, I must say I'm not completely sold on that reason, I mean I agree with that argument but take a look at his past 2 captains (Henry & Vieira) they weren't defenders! If he really believes that, why didn't the captain's armband ever go to Sol Campbell when he was around?

3- The reason I (and many others) believe Gallas was ultimately preferred is another one of Arsene's clever tactics to avoid unrest in the squad. Not more than a month ago, it was Gallas who complained to the press regarding the club's lack of ambitions. Two seasons ago it was Henry who came out saying something along the same lines, and what did Wenger do to keep our ex-hero happy then? Yep, he made him captain! Should we be worried? Not at all! This work of genius by our manager is already paying off (take a look at some of Gallas's interviews on, the guy is suddenly 100% committed and he truly believes in this squad!

Another issue thats been brought up by many is that of Djourou leaving to Birmingham on loan. Yes, that leaves us with Senderos as the only natural back up should anything happen to Gallas or Toure. And yes, Kolo is leaving in January along with Eboue to the African Nations Cup. To answer your next question, no, Arsene is not that short sighted. Djourou's loan spell ends on the first day of this coming January meaning he'll be back in time to cover for Kolo with plenty of valuable experience he'd hopefully have accumulated by then, and don't forget in the meantime we've got Alex Song or Gilberto who've both deputized in the back previously (not the most reassuring two, I know!). Of course that's only in the unlikely case of two defenders getting injured - we're not that unlucky are we?

Before signing off, just a quick update on the transfers front with news of Blackburn's Morten Gamst Pedersen being linked with Arsenal. He was tracked by Man U before Blackburn snatched him and he's been quite exceptional for them. Pluses: He can play on both flanks (areas where we do need cover), the stats seem to favor him when compared with Hleb and Rosicky last season - he not only scored more but had more assists than our pair- and he often comes up with that spectacular goal from time to time. Let's not get too excited before anything materializes though..