What Can Arsenal Do To Lessen Arteta’s Loss

Mikel Arteta’s injury could not have come at a worse time for Arsenal. The race for third spot just got tighter because of Arsenal’s loss to Wigan and to make matters even worse, they have to face an in form Chelsea buoyed by their victory against Barcelona in the Champion’s League.
It’s unfortunate for Arsenal that Arteta didn’t arrive a season before, to play alongside Cesc Fabregas. The two of them, along with Alex Song could have formed the most fluid midfield partnerships in the Premier League.
One of the key traits of Arteta’s game this season is that he has been played almost for the entirety of the season as a deep lying midfielder, a position unfamiliar to him during his Everton days, where he was deployed as the more attack minded of the two midfielders. The fact that he has altered his game to suit Arsenal’s formation is a testament to his technical abilities.
Mikel Arteta has mostly operated as a ball playing central midfielder helping them maintain possession without doing anything too spectacular(leave aside the goals against Manchester City and the absolutely sensational free kick against Aston Villa). But what Arteta does for Arsenal is make them tick. He has the ability to keep the ball rolling in midfield and an unerring ability to play a correct long ball. This simple passing method has been the key to Arsenal dominating possession in most of their games.
But now with Arteta injured, Arsene Wenger’s forehead must have grown a few more brows. The only option he has at his disposal for a central midfield position is the woefully out of form Aaron Ramsey. Wenger also has the option to play Oxlade-Chamberlain in the position, considering his quite brilliant showing against AC Milan in the Champion’s League. But going against the popular opinion of not playing Aaron Ramsey, I would suggest that this is exactly what Wenger should do. Tomas Rosicky is enjoying a rejuvenated season and it wouldn’t be wise to switch him to a deeper position.
Ramsey although operating as a “playmaker” this season has only 6 assists to his name after making 40 appearances. Ramsey’s overall game play is similar to Mikel Arteta’s. Even when he plays in a forward position he has a tendency to play short sideways passes as opposed to incisive forward ones, similar to Arteta. Also, he doesn’t have urgency in his game which in my opinion is essential for a CAM, just to panic the opposition defences. This makes him more suitable to a deeper position where he is just able to receive the ball and use it more intelligently with a little more time and space. In fact, I think Arsene Wenger has been wrong in using him as CAM for so long this season.
The other option Wenger can use is to deploy Oxlade-Chamberlain in Arteta’s position. The youngster has shown maturity and fearlessness that belies his age and there is not challenge that he is afraid of. However, the only thing that goes against Oxlade-Chamberlain is his inexperience in playing in that position in the Premier League. He will be up against the wily old veterans such as Lampard and Meireles (yes he is a veteran when compared to AOC) and has to be disciplined in holding his position. Even in the match against AC Milan where he was extremely influential, there were times when he would wander off to some other areas of the pitch leaving the central area exposed.
A less likely approach would be to shift to a 4-4-2, because Chelsea will be playing with Bosignwa, who isn’t exactly the best Right Back in the world (Gervinho and Santos had a field day against him in the reverse fixture). The team shape could be somewhat like this:
———————–Szczesny————————
Sagna—–Koscielny—–Vermaelen—–Santos
AOC———-Song——–Rosicky——–Gervinho
——————RvP——–Walcott——————
But who am I kidding; Wenger will never change his formation.
So, all in all, the first option is the most likely and will hopefully bring some confidence back into Ramsey. This match will prove to be a touchstone for him as he is most likely to be played there for the rest of the season.

Soccer Formations For Dummies

Everyone who follows football might have come across the following jargon:

“We played with a 4-4-2 but were being outnumbered in the middle so we changed back to 4-2-3-1 to pack the midfield”.

Ever wondered what’s up with these numbers and what’s it got to do with those players on the field. Well, these are called Formations. The formation decides which player plays in what position on the field. The first digit in a formation indicates the number of players playing in defence. The second one indicates the number of players playing in midfield and the third digit indicates the number of forwards. So a 4-4-2 indicates that the team played with 4 defenders, 4 midfielders and 2 forwards. This is a basic explanation of what a formation is and there are a lot of nuances with each one of them. Let’s take a look…

1.) 4-4-2

4-4-2 is a classic formation used by a number of teams across the globes. The most basic of formations, it involves playing 2 central defenders, 2 full backs, 2 central midfielders, 2 wingers and 2 forwards. Here’s what it looks like:

This formation relies heavily on wing play. The wingers and overlapping full backs make it a point to put crosses in the box for the forwards to attack them. The central midfield pairing usually involves a defensive midfielder and a box-to-box midfielder, to break up play and spread the passes to team mates, respectively. On the defensive side, it is important for the wingers to cover for their supporting fullbacks because the system is prone to counter attacks.

A little tweaking in 4-4-2 can change it to a 4-4-1-1 where one of the two forwards takes up the role of a support striker and sits a little deeper than the other to link up play between midfield and attack.

Teams Using 4-4-2: Tottenham, Manchester United

2.) 4-5-1

The safety first formation. The formation basically involves packing the midfield with 3 central midfielders and 2 wingers. The idea is to keep possession in the middle of the park and nullify any threat from the opposing full backs or wingers. While attacking, the lone forward holds up the ball until support arrives from the midfield. Defensively, it is a strong formation because there are banks of 5 and 4 players for the opposition team to pass through.

 This formation is widely used by managers when playing away in European competitions, because of the Away goals rule.

Teams Using 4-5-1: Chelsea(Mourinho era)

3.) 4-3-3

4-3-3 is an attack minded formation that is the rage these days. The midfield usually consists of one defensive midfielder with two box-to-box midfielders. The forward line consists of three attacking players- left, right and centre. The left and right attackers can be traditional or inverted wingers so there are multiple options in attack. The success of a 4-3-3 depends on quick passing between the front three and midfield and an urge to keep possession in the tightest of situations. Due to the emphasis on attack, the defence is prone to counter attacks or balls played over the top.

4-3-3 is guaranteed to bring goals but can be carried out by very few teams because of the quality of players required to play it.

Teams Using 4-3-3: Spain, Barcelona, Arsenal

4.) 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3

A rather modern formation which is capable of morphing into many others while in play. The system basically involves using 2 midfield anchormen who break up play and support the other 4 attack-minded players. The central attacking midfielder acts as the link between the midfield and forward line. If the right players are involved, this can be one of the most dynamic of formations capable of turning into a 4-5-1 while defending to a 4-3-3 while attacking.

The central attacking midfielder is the most important link in this formation who can be capable of dictating play because of his position. However the whole attacking threat can be nullified by tightly marking the CAM.

Teams Using 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3: Real Madrid, Manchester City

5.) 3-5-2/3-4-3

The most radical formation of all. The system involves playing 3 central defenders who act as sweepers. The 2 wide men in midfield are required to track back while defending to act as wing-backs. Counter attacks can be carried out very lethally with this formation because there are always a number of options to pass the ball upfront.

Teams Using 3-5-2/3-4-3: Napoli

6.) 4-1-2-1-2

Also known as the Diamond. The midfield is arranged in the form of the diamond where the central attacking midfielder plays at the tip of the diamond and the base is occupied by a defensive midfielder or a deep lying playmaker. The remaining two midfielders can either act like wingers or central midfielders depending upon the situation. If employed effectively, this formation can act as a lot of trouble for the opposition because of the movement and interchange that can happen in between the diamond.

The formation suffers from a lack of width and is easy to attack against if there are speedy wingers and full backs in your team.

Teams Using 4-1-2-1-2: AC Milan, Paris St. German

Positives & Negatives : Arsenal 5 – 2 Tottenham

First Up – What a cracker of a comeback. Victory is sweetest when you are deemed the underdog. I’ve said this in my earlier posts that Arsenal are at their best when nothing else except failure is expected of them. Even in this encounter, only about 40% of the football following crowd would have given them a chance against a Tottenham team in the best of form for quite some time. And even those 40% would give them the chance because the match was at the Emirates.

Enough talking. Let’s get to the point.

2 Negatives For Tottenham

1.) The loss can only be considered as a blip in an otherwise outstanding season. Even Tottenham fans will acknowledge the fact that even though they were expected to compete for the Champions League places this season, they have been punching above their weight in third position for much of it. The only thing that should worry Tottenham now is that this shouldn’t serve as a demoralising onset for the rest of the season. If Tottenham would have won this match, they would have been 13 points ahead of their closest rivals. Instead, they are just 7 points ahead now with 12 games to play. Added pressure, to say the least, especially with Manchester United being the next team that they are scheduled to play.

2.) Scott Parker won’t be able to appear in the match against Manchester United. Much of Spurs’ success this season has to be attributed to the brilliance of the Modric-Parker partnership in midfield. Parker’s boundless energy and ability to break up play are an asset to this Tottenham side and his absence will be sorely felt. Sandro is most likely to step into Parker’s position for the upcoming tie, but he is far more attack minded than the Englishman and really has to put in a disciplined performance, to stop the midfield maestro, Paul Scholes.

5 Positives For Arsenal

1.) The comeback was a testament to the character and resilience that is so often boasted of by Wenger. Wenger has said that this victory is one to savour and not only because it was a thumping given to your arch rivals, but also because it went to show that nobody other than Wenger himself, knows more about his team.

2.)  Tomas Rosicky is back (and out again because of a back problem). Rosicky was proving to be more involved and influential than Aaron Ramsey in the past few weeks and against Tottenham he played like a man possessed. Who would have anticipated Rosicky of all people to come charging into the box and slice the ball past Brad Friedel’s waiting arms. The goal is bound to fill him with a lot more confidence and we might just see a completely different Tomas Rosicky in the coming weeks.

3.) Gary Neville pointed out that Theo Walcott is at his most influential when he is playing in the inside channel, between the central defender and the full-back. If Theo and Wenger are keen on taking notes, they will realise that Neville is absolutely right. The two goals that Walcott scored in the derby were from similar positions. If they do acknowledge this fact, then we might just see Walcott not being a headless chicken from here on.

4.) The very fact that they scored 5 goals against a top quality Premier League team should give Arsenal some sort of confidence when they meet AC Milan in the Champions League for the second leg, where they need to score 5 goals (and concede none) to proceed to the next round. Surely AC Milan is a completely different proposition than Tottenham, but if the players want it as much as they did against Spurs, who knows, they might just make a match out of it.

5.) The team’s celebration at the end of the match gave a glimpse of the unity that exists in the squad and this should give a little reprieve to the concerned fans that even in the times of adversity, the spirit isn’t falling apart.

Van Persie Is Leaving And Others Are Going To Follow Soon

After the humiliation at the hands of AC Milan in the Champions League, if there were any doubts in Robin Van Persie’s mind about staying at Arsenal, those should have been put to bed. And the defeat at Sunderland must have strengthened those thoughts of leaving the club, of which he has been a part for the last 7 years.

Nobody should and can blame Van Persie if he decides to ply his trade someplace else. Van Persie is at the peak of his powers at the moment and at the age of 28 this must surely be the last long term contract that he is going to sign. There can’t be any way to convince him to stay at a club that has clearly lost the plot and is destined for struggles at least in the coming 2-3 seasons.

Van Persie’s case is clearly an open and shut case, and most are the Arsenal fans are more or less convinced that this is the last of what they are going to see of the Dutch magician. But what should worry Arsenal more is that Van Persie’s departure can trigger a mass exodus at the club. Most probably Thomas Vermaelen and Bacary Sagna, two of the most consistent performers for the club, can become disillusioned because of the lack of investment in proven performers.

Thomas Vermaelen recently voiced his anger over being played at left back position, saying that he is not able to enjoy his game and is discontent even if the team wins. Although Pro-Wenger fans can argue that he has to do it for the team, it has to be said that Wenger had enough time to buy a proper full back in the January transfer window, and he chose not to. Vermaelen’s body language in the recent matches where Arsenal has lost hasn’t been too convincing and even a cursory look at him would convey you the point that he is dissatisfied with the current state of the team.

Bacary Sagna has also been one of the most consistent performers for Arsenal over the recent years and although he hasn’t voiced any concerns recently, it can be easily deduced that frustration is bound to seep into his mind at one point or the other.

These 7 years of trophy less disappointment have created an unforeseen amount of pressure on the players. So much so that every match is a “perform or perish” situation for all the players and for Wenger himself. Ryo Miyaichi, currently on loan at Bolton, recently said that there’s just too much pressure at Arsenal and he is enjoying his spell at Bolton because the atmosphere at the Reebok stadium is much lighter and friendlier. It is difficult to predict when such an atmosphere will be coming to Emirates, and if the aforementioned trio decides to part ways, it is safe to say that it won’t be there any time soon.

It’s That Time Of The Season Again For Arsenal

There is always a season defining moment for every team in the league. For some, it is a hard fought win that shows maturity and fighting spirit. For others, it is a demoralising loss that saps away all their hopes of achieving anything. Unfortunately for Arsenal, in the recent past, it has always been the latter. None more so, than the last minute loss against Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final last season. At exactly the same stage in the season. Arsenal were fighting on four fronts before that loss. Within a span of 20 days, they were out of three.

Last week’s loss against Swansea City can prove to be that season defining moment for Arsenal this time around. Not because they lost to a promoted side who happened to play better football than them and beat them at their own game. Not because they lost the match before that as well. But, because these are exactly the sort of matches which have drained the confidence out of the side in the recent past. Arsenal were in a winning position in both of the matches. However due to profligacy in front of goal and a bewildering choice to sit on their lead for the remaining 70 minutes, they ended up on the losing side on both the occasions.

It can be a matter of great interest for psychology students to understand and compare the mindset of Arsenal and other champion teams. No matter the personnel, somehow Arsenal always manage to come under pressure, always manage to get bullied, always manage to break down. However when you compare this to Manchester United (or Barcelona or Manchester City for starters), their philosophy has always been about, not giving up and fighting till the last breath. It was argued that Arsenal lacked enough experienced players in the seasons before. However they haven’t been able to turn things around this time either, even with the signings of Arteta, Benayoun and Mertesacker. All experienced players and of enough quality.

So, the problem should lie somewhere else, right? And it does. The finger has to be painfully pointed towards Arsene Wenger for this. Wenger’s refusal to look at his squad’s shortcomings is not protecting them from media abuse, as he might think. It is his blatant refusal to accept his own mistakes. A refusal to accept his stubbornness, transfer tactics and tactical naivety. Arsenal desperately need to get out of the Financial Fair Play dreamland and realise that the big clubs will not budge to UEFA rulings and that there is always a loophole. Manchester City’s sponsorship deal with Etihad and Liverpool’s shirt sponsorship deal can point to this. Also, somehow, the feeling of settling for mediocrity has been unfortunately accepted by the board, the coach and the fans themselves. Peter Hill-Wood’s recent comment that failure to qualify for Champions league would not be a disaster, points to this fact. The feeling was bound to seep into the players at some point of time.

Considering these points, the next home match against Manchester United could not have come at a worse time for Arsenal. Though United haven’t exactly been spectacular this season, they are still there at the top, fighting for the league title. A loss against United at this juncture will all but end Arsenal’s hope for qualifying for the Champions League positions. A draw would still be a favourable result, but more so for United. A win will probably delay the inevitable, but the duration surely can only be a matter of debate.

Get Over Henry and Score Goals Arsenal

Ever since the news broke out regarding Thierry Henry’s return to Arsenal, all headlines related to Arsenal have been about Henry only. So much so, that all the previous attention being paid to Robin Van Persie has evaporated in an instant. It is understandable to an extent as well considering the legend of Henry at the club. And the headlines don’t look like stopping any time soon as Henry completed his fairy tale return with a match winning goal against Leeds in the F.A. Cup.

In all this hoop-la, a very serious issue has been sidelined as well, the lack of goals being scored by Arsenal. In their previous 11 matches, Arsenal have been able to score more than one goal in only two of them. Somehow this point has gone rather unnoticed because of the fact that Arsenal have been winning or drawing most of the matches and their defence has been doing the job more often than not. The old ‘One-Nil to the Arsenal’ seems to be telling less and hiding more in this context.

Here’s Arsenal’s performance in their last 11 matches:-

Premier League

Home Team

Score

Away team

Arsenal

1-1

Fulham

Wigan Athletic

0-4

Arsenal

Arsenal

1-0

Everton

Manchester City

1-0

Arsenal

Aston Villa

1-2

Arsenal

Arsenal

1-1

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Arsenal

1-0

Queens Park Rangers

Fulham

2-1

Arsenal

Champions League

Olympiakos

3-1

Arsenal

F.A. Cup

Arsenal

1-0

Leeds United

Carling Cup

Arsenal

1-0

Manchester City

 

Arsenal have been heavily reliant on Robin Van Persie for goals this season, but it is so, only because the other players in the team are not clinical enough. Most notably, Gervinho and Andrei Arshavin have managed to miss more chances than any other player in the team. Other culprits include Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott. Had these players managed to take their chances in any of the above matches, the results would have had a far more resounding appeal to them as compared to their current state.

Arsenal’s tendency to walk the ball into the net has also been a reason for these scorelines. Against Everton, Arsenal had the chances to kill off the game in the first half itself, where they managed to create 4 clear cut opportunities only for them to be squandered by playing that one extra pass. Similarly against Wolves and Fulham, Arsenal had chances to increase their leads but managed to squander the chances due to over elaborating.

Henry has said that he would love to pass on his experience to these young Arsenal players and quite simply the best advice that he can give to these players is to improve their shooting skills from range. Henry was (is?) a master at long range strikes and if he could pass on the technique to some of the Arsenal players, that would be the greatest piece of knowledge that Arsenal fans could hope for.

Arsenal’s current crop of youngsters and fringe players has a great chance to learn from the legend himself and would be doing so as well. Especially Theo Walcott has a chance to learn from the man who has done it himself in the past. A winger turned striker who went on to become one of the best the game has ever seen.

 

Comparing The Bench Strength Of the Top 6 Premier League Clubs

As the Premier League heads into the busy festive period, all the teams in the league are scheduled to play almost twice every week. Although this can be a treat for the fans, it is more often than not, a headache for most managers due to injury and exhaustion concerns. Couple this busy festive period with the impending African Cup of Nations, and the need for a strong squad is felt more than ever. A good bench can save the managers of this dilemma, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

As six teams: Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, battle it out for the League title and Champions League spots, let’s take a look at the bench strength of these teams.

Manchester City
Manchester City

Bench: Edin Dzeko, Adam Johnson/Nigel De Jong, Alexander Kolarov, Kolo Toure, James Milner

Manchester City, the firm favourites for the title, boasts of a bench which has players which can walk into the starting 11 of any other Premier League team. Such has been the amount of investment in the squad that City will have no problems heading into the tight fixture list. Strong competition for places can be a double edged sword as, though it can bring the best out of players to push their claim for a starting 11 spot, it can also lead to dissatisfaction due to lack of playing time. However, with the success that City is enjoying, it will be foolish to jump ships at this juncture.

Manchester United
Manchester United

Bench: Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernandez, Ryan Giggs, Park Ji Sung/Ashley Young, Fabio/Rafael

Pretty much like Manchester City, Manchester United also boasts of a world class bench. However, lack of playing time is not a concern for these players as Sir Alex has been rampant this season with his rotation policy, even rotating his goalkeepers at times. United also won’t have problems with the African Cup of Nations as they will only lose Antonio Valencia from their starting 11. United traditionally have always performed better after the Christmas interval, and with the bench strength that they have, it is hard to argue against the idea of them not doing it again.

Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham Hotspur

Bench: Niko Krankjar, Steven Piennar, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Sebastian Bassong, Sandro/Tom Huddlestone

Tottenham have arguably the weakest bench among the top four at the moment, but with the motivation of pushing for a third place, the players coming off the bench are also putting in better than decent performances. Spurs have effective backups for all the positions on the pitch, but lack a game changer in their ranks, unlike City and United.

Chelsea
Chelsea

Bench: Fernando Torres, Florent Malouda, Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz/Paulo Ferreira, John Obi Mikel

Similar to United, Chelsea also have a strong rotation policy but that seems to have been dumped at the moment due to the tough times that the club faced in the recent weeks. Chelsea have a host of top class players to choose from the bench, capable of making an impact whenever they are on the pitch. They are lucky not to be facing an injury crisis at present and are only poised to lose Mikel to the African Cup of Nations.

Arsenal
Arsenal

Bench: Marouane Chamakh, Andrey Arshavin, Yossi Benayoun, Ignasi Miquel, Tomas Rosicky/Emmanuel Frimpong/Francis Coquelin

Arsenal are currently serving their customary defensive injury crisis that hits them at this point of time every season. With all four full backs out, Arsene Wenger is having to field four central defenders at the back four. They are also likely to be hit hard by the AFCON as they will lose Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho during this period. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Park Chu Young and Ryo Miyaichi are most likely to be introduced to the bench in the coming weeks.

Liverpool
Liverpool

Bench: Andy Carroll, Jamie Carragher, Jonjo Shelvey/Jay Spearing, Dirk Kuyt/Maxi Rodriguez, Martin Kelly

Liverpool too have a strong enough bench but are a little inexperienced when compared to their rivals in this regard. With Lucas Leiva injured for the rest of the season and Luis Suarez set to serve his 8 match ban, Kenny Dalglish will be forced to rotate his central midfielders and strikers, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem as Dalglish would most probably use Jordan Henderson and Craig Bellamy in these positions.

P.S. – The list above does not take into consideration the goalkeepers of respective teams and lists only the most probable bench line-ups.