Something Has To Change – League Cup The New Priority?
Something has to change. The defeat I can handle but I can’t handle the not competing in games. Today we played like a kid on FIFA who has a PS3 but is playing on his mates XBOX and doesn’t quite understand all the buttons yet. He won’t be completely humiliated because he’s been a FIFA gamer for years and understands the basics but he won’t win because his brain is programmed to PS3 controls.
This is the problem with Arsenal at the moment. We play a certain way and with a certain formation but with the wrong players. We’re trying to play PS3 buttons on an XBOX controller.
We’re not moving forward at a fast enough pace because we’re not adapting quickly enough. We used to play 4-1-3-2 because that is what suited our players best and now we play variations of 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1 and it’s just not working any more.
We changed to 4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1 because it was the best way to get the maximum out of Fabregas. We went to a one striker system because it was necessary to get the best out of Cesc and the rest of our players had to adapt. Van Persie did not initially want to play as a striker and didn’t think he had it in him but it was necessary for him to adapt to that formation because that is what Cesc needed. When Cesc left we persisted with that formation because that was then what suited van Persie best and now he has gone but we’re still sticking with it.
Why are we persisting with a formation that is best suited to players long departed?
Over the past few weeks I have seen many criticisms levelled at the team, management, board, individual players and certain factions of fans for holding one view over another and I seem to see many false impressions. I’m no oracle of football and I do not consider my views better than anyone else’s but I just cannot understand how some issues are exacerbated and others completely ignored by so many.
Today for example, Santos was far from quality but he was certainly not at fault for van Persie’s goal. Podolski left a massive gap that was exploited and Santos was caught between a rock and a hard place. The ball was whipped in and should have been dealt with quite easily thus not creating a never-ending debate over which player Santos should have covered (as he cannot cover two men at once and if he tracked Rafael and the man he was tracking had scored or assisted he’d still be wrong). However that was not to be as Vermaelen completely scuffed a routine clearance and van Persie pounced with the deadliness we so loved last year and so prayed he would not have post-Arsenal.
Who got the blame? Santos did. Vermaelen’s awful attempt at a clearance whilst under very little pressure was clearly Santos’ fault for allowing a cross to come in following decent work by Valencia and poor cover by Podolski. Completely Santos’ fault right? Wrong.
Santos is far from being a player that does not deserve criticism but I feel he is often maligned for issues that are far beyond his control. Podolski has been poor recently and many claim he is carrying an injury but if he allows himself to be passed fit to play then he must defend as he did at the beginning of the season. His lack of protection and Vermaelen’s lack of cover and willingness to wander I feel has exposed Santos far too often and has led to unfair criticism. He’s no Gibbs and he’s far from being top notch backup but he isn’t a shit player.
Santos and Ramsey are easy to criticise for some but when others, particularly fan favourites, do the same they rarely get the same treatment. Whenever Ramsey attempts a backheeled pass of any kind or a flick he is instantly berated on twitter and I have to turn twitter off because I can’t stomach the incessant “this guy is so shit and he should never play for Arsenal again” crap because that is what it is. It’s mindless, unintelligent crap.
Cazorla gave the ball away many times today with flicks and backheels. Did anyone criticise him? Did they heck. Not one tweet said a bad word about him. I had a few agreeable responses to my tweets about it but most of them were justifying him being rubbish today with “but the whole team was rubbish”.
Santi is in charge of our creativity and we’ve been less than creative recently. Coincidence? I think not but many will justify it somehow. They’ll probably blame Ramsey who funnily enough created our only half-decent chance in the first half.
We’re trying to play a game based on a midfield and forward line of Cesc, Wilshere, Song, Nasri, van Persie and Walcott and sadly we only have two of those players.
Some think that the easiest way to sort out our problems is to sack Wenger but I disagree. I’m not a WOB or an AKB and certainly do not think Wenger is above criticism because he’s not. He’s the greatest manager the club has ever had but that doesn’t mean he’s infallible. My issue with Wenger is not that he doesn’t see the things we supporters see but that he chooses not to act on them. I have one reader I’m sure will read this and will write a response along the lines of “clever you, of course Mr Wenger knows absolutely nothing about football and his knowledge isn’t a patch on yours and you know exactly what he is thinking… remind me how many years you’ve been managing now”. I think we can safely assume that Wenger chooses not to act on certain things because he hasn’t acted on them. A man of Wenger’s intelligence cannot miss the things that are so blatantly obvious to us supporters so he must be choosing not to act on them.
It’s clear that our system is not working for one reason or another and yet again we have no plan B. We are not Barcelona, we do not have Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta or Cesc Fabregas and we do not play in La Liga so we do not have the luxury of playing our game until the opposition breaks. We are Arsenal and in my opinion our true brand of football is far more entertaining.
These are the problems I think we have on the pitch and how we can fix them.
Our first problem used to be defence but we’ve managed to get on top of that to some extent since the appointment of Bould and the emergence of Mertesacker as our best defender (as I predicted he would be… sorry, had to blow the trumpet there). The problem now is the strength of our backups. Jenkinson is a fine backup for Sagna and I feel that he is very unlucky to be out of the side at the moment especially as I see no improvement on his presence by Sagna being back. Koscielny is a quality backup but for Vermaelen (although I consider him superior to Vermaelen) not for Mertesacker so we lack backup for when the big man is out. Santos is not good enough backup for Gibbs and that’s not because he is not talented enough but because of the system we play. Santos is perfectly fine backup when he has protection in front and protection cannot be true protection in the form of a forward and left forwards are what are expected to protect him at the moment. Gibbs can soak up that pressure, Santos cannot.
Our second problem is creativity. The problem not being that Cazorla is not creative enough but that he is practically our only source of creativity and if the pressure of expectation doesn’t get to him then opposition players marking him out certainly will.
When we bought Cazorla I pondered if him joining would see Theo move into the middle because I felt that he would bring something special to our wings. He is more than capable of playing in the middle but I felt then and feel even more strongly now that he would be best suited to playing wide for us. He has lost some pace over the years, you could see that today, but his quick feet and sharp brain would bamboozle most full-backs.
He is playing in the middle at the moment because we’ve missed having someone with Cesc’s passing ability in the middle but Cazorla is not Cesc and despite a few saying he is or wishing he was better than Cesc he sadly is not.
Wilshere is more than capable of being our creative midfielder and in Ramsey, yes Ramsey, and Eisfeld we have two very excellent young players with superb vision, the only question is can they reach their potential. Ramsey looked stellar before his injury and a very tough year and fans constantly being on his back have only hampered his chances of getting back onto the course his rising star was following.
Wilshere is far too difficult to shackle and if he was our creative central midfielder I think other teams would be in trouble because you cannot mark him out of the game. This is a guy who dominated the best midfield in the world twice at the age of 19. Plus, we’d still have Cazorla’s creativity out wide and even though there is no love for Nasri we cannot deny we benefited from his quick feet out wide and Cazorla could be that and more.
Our next problem is playing injured players. If Podolski is carrying an injury then he should be in the treatment room and not on the field. If we insist on playing with a wide forward then we have to play Arshavin. Sure he can be frustrating, lazy, nonchalant and poor in defence but he is our player and a talented one at that so we should use him. At least until Podolski is fully fit again.
Our biggest problem is forcing players to play to a system rather than play a system to the players. Wenger over the years has changed his formation to best suit the players he has so why are we sticking with something we know isn’t working.
Chamakh’s career and estimation by the supporters has probably been irreparably damaged by our system. He is not a lone striker and chucking him on towards the end of the game as a lone striker or out wide does him and us no favours. He showed towards the tail-end of last year and when Giroud came on against Reading that playing him with a partner brings results. He can play others in, suck in defenders, create space, flick balls on, power in headers and even stick in a few with his feet too. Chamakh could be very dangerous for Arsenal but he needs to play with a partner be that Giroud or Walcott.
Walcott is another example. Time after time he proves that his ability in front of goal is comparable to the top scorers in the league. He hangs on the shoulder of the last man and times his runs to perfection and the majority of his goals come from central positions yet his ability to lead the line is constantly questioned. Play him with a partner and they can lead the line completely negating the question can he lead the line leaving him to stick the ball in the back of the net. Mark my words, Theo will become one of the leagues most dangerous strikers when he is eventually played as a striker and believe me it will happen. Either with us or against us because someone else will give him that chance.
Some say that a top four team wouldn’t buy him but that’s of no relevance because all he has to do is bang in the goals for a mid-table team and someone else will buy him. He’s only 23 so 2 years at a mid-table team as a striker and United, Chelsea or City could easily snap him up whilst he is in the prime of his career and we’ll all rue the day we sold him.
I’m going about this the really long way but in simple terms we need to change our formation and we absolutely have to go with two strikers if we are going to compete in this league again.
My good friend and fellow blogger @goonerdave66 wrote an excellent piece on why we need two strikers that you simply must read.
We showed on Tuesday night that we best suit a two striker system. When we converted to a two striker system we scored 6, that’s SIX, goals in 75 minutes. Sure it was against an inferior team but let us not forget that the supposed inferior team scored 5 against us and we were playing with our “inferior” players so imagine what our big guns could do in that formation. Wilshere and Cazorla would have a field day creating chances for Walcott, Giroud and Podolski to smash in.
There are five things we must do in order to win the premier league next season because let’s face it, we’re not going to do it this year bar a miracle.
- Revert to our old 4-1-3-2 system or any system with two strikers
- Put Cazorla on the wing and move Theo up front
- Stop playing injured players
- Get a back up for Mertesacker who can gel with Vermaelen and/or Koscielny because they’re like the Gerrard and Lampard of defence
- Prioritise the League Cup this season
Number five may surprise a few of you but we need to win something to give the team some belief and realistically that is our best shot. Only one team of significant threat remains in the competition and that is Chelsea.
I do not consider the League Cup to be of much significance in a normal season but I concede that this and the 4 or 5 before it is not a normal season and I would very much like a day out at Wembley again.
Our priority this season has to be to finish in the top 4 and to win the league cup. We have enough money in the bank to not have to worry about prioritising the Champions League because we will most likely go out before the quarter finals. Our main focus this season has to be domestic. We have to be the best of the rest (as has been our speciality) and we have to win a cup. We need the belief to enable us to push on.
We’re in the quarter finals so we have to ensure we make the semi’s, then the final and once we have won that at the end of February we can focus our entire efforts on finishing in the top four and maybe even the top three again.
I still believe that Wenger is the man to take us forward because lets be honest, who is there out there? Guardiola is a fine coach for sure but remember he spent well over £200m and inherited the most talented group of players for decades. Wenger built his from scratch.
Something has to change and it starts with our formation and winning the league cup.
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