STONE COLD FRIDAY: Of Fitness and Punishment Regimes

You know it’s a slow news week when Fleet Street are struggling to find anything to write on the Arsenal. Even Liverpool leaking goals like a dodgy sieve and Real Madrid having a ‘Weston Supermare’, losing 3 straight home games doesn’t make the cut. Who knows? Maybe the others don’t sell enough papers to push advertising revenues up. So it must be that Arséne Wenger is punishing Alexis Sanchez for his threatened mutiny and hissy fit about the non-move to Manchester City.

I’m struggling to recall any season that started in the last few years with Alexis being fit or on time for class like everyone else. He always seems to be playing for Chile in some competition somewhere during the summer. It makes perfect sense that with Lacazette, Giroud and Welbeck – at least until Wednesday night – fighting fit, there’s no need to rush the Chilean back. As with Jack Wilshere, the league cup and Europa League seems to be a good compromise to ease key players back in. Why that would seem like punishment to anyone is a head scratcher. We’ve been desperate for Wenger to manage players back into the team instead of rushing them back from injury or extended leave. When he does it, he is second guessed. Probably after he’s finished playing Mobile Pokies.

Is It October Already? It must be

As regular as clockwork, the injury gods seem to be waking from their slumber. It’s not bad enough that they’ve done a ‘Tomás Rosicky’ on Santiago Carzola. It’s that October time of season when they wake to claim their pound of flesh. One would be forgiven for thinking that Carzola was no longer an Arsenal player. I do feel sorry for Danny Welbeck. His confidence and impact has been growing with a steady stream of games. It’s hard to say whether Arsenal’s version of 3 weeks out for a groin problem will turn out to be something else altogether. These things seem to get a life of their own.

No matter, Alexis should be adequate cover, if you can call it that. With a chance for the 1st XI to focus on the Premier League while playing the wider squad in the Europa league, there should be enough time for Welbeck to be eased back in. There’s also the small matter of the World Cup next summer, and for the sake of Arsenal’s season and England’s prospects, Welbeck needs to be fighting fit.

Let’s Serve Up The Right Horses For The Right Courses

The midfield question is intriguing. I don’t think Ozil will be back for West Brom on Monday, though once he’s fit again, I don’t envisage any situation that he isn’t picked in any configuration. Both Alex Iwobi and Jack Wilshere present some interesting options. I like Iwobi even though he’s had some good games and not so good ones. I think if he has a run of games, he gets better. What I like about him is that he is direct and drives the team forward in a different way to Ozil. Wilshere’s performance, albeit against Doncaster Rovers was also very encouraging. Li’l Jack seems to me to be a player with a point to prove.

The squad will become much stronger if Arséne exercises these options for different opponents. The Europa League first round, as well as the cup competitions present the ideal opportunity to give squad players like Iwobi and Wilshere prime time to keep their match sharpness. But in some Premier League games where things are not happening, it won’t hurt to unleash Iwobi or jack to drive that midfield forward. They both bring something to counter our predictability and they both have the work rate defensively.

I tend to think that in some games, Ozil is actually a liability because we end up defending with 9 instead of 10 men. Yes, he can have that one moment of magic that shifts the game, but we need to aim more for the balance of the team that we achieved at Stamford Bridge without Ozil and Alexis.

Of Spices, Cockney Slang and Our Spanish Peter Crouch

It’s not often you see the camaraderie between our players. Hector Bellerin is convinced our Nacho Monreal is Crouchie’s twin, though he ponders what Crouchie was fed at birth to grow taller than Nacho. What intrigued me more about the one on one banter by our Spanish boys is Bellerin accent; more Stoke Newington than Barcelona. Not only does he talk “Cockney”, he’s got the slang to go with it. I didn’t even know “Spice” means a fine girl. Maybe it’s just my age, or it’s been a while since I watched EastEnders.

I got thinking though. If our defenders have that sort of closeness and team spirit, why are we sometimes in ‘Keystone Cops’ territory? It can’t be communication; the back 5 all speak excellent English. I don’t think it’s even necessary to have the visibly audible “grab-your-fellow-player-by-the-scruff-of-the-neck” Tony Adams-esque kind of marshalling the defence. Some old school commentators and punters think that sort of tactile and audible leader is what Arsenal misses. With some of the hapless goals we’ve conceded, simple communication and an expectation that you can depend on your team mate to do their job or to cover will do.

We saw that camaraderie this past Sunday. The point we got at Chelsea was monumental and was the sort of confidence building result we needed. The performance was even better. The team must maintain that at West Brom on Monday.

YW asked me to point you in the direction of Dad’s Jukebox where there’s a new 2007 playlist.

Have a great weekend good people.

15 thoughts on “STONE COLD FRIDAY: Of Fitness and Punishment Regimes

  1. Jonnygunner,

    Couldn’t comment any more at the time, breakfast eggs were just coming to the boil.

    I see there is yet another nearly man to be added to Wenger’s list of players not signed. Gareth Barry, when he moved to Man City from Aston Villa in 2009 we couldn’t compete with City’s offer of £12 million. How many more didn’t you sign Arsene?

  2. Morning All.

    I believe that there’s a simple answer as to why we seem unable to defend cohesively. All of the stories coming out of the club from former players and others ‘ITK’ say that Arsene simply does not value defensive training as much as most other coaches would. Is any surprise that our best defenders were those drilled endlessly on the training ground by GG? Boring work but necessary.

    There is still plenty of evidence to suggest that nothing has changed on that front. Arsene had said that he viewed three CD’s as a defensive formation (which is a negative for him) so we’ve seen CD’s being asked to play the ball out (Holding the prime example and it ruined his confidence because he wasn’t ready for that role). We’ve also seen more attacking players who are in no way suited to defending (AMN for example) played out of position as FB/WB’s.

    Other people have said it, but until we have a coach who values and believes in a solid defensive platform, and who is prepared to build from the back, we will struggle. We certainly will not win the PL or CL without that solid base. Our title winning defences were based on the experience and leadership of senior players. Since we allowed the Invincibles to leave we’ve not had those sort of characters at the club and we haven’t challenged for a league title as a result.

  3. andy1886,

    Morning all, morning Andy.

    Its been a while, change i life circumstances means i can’t frequent this blog as often as I have done in the past. Glad to see its still going strong.

    You made some good points regarding defensive priorities. For me fundamentally thats what the team misses all too often. We have been shown up as being weak in transition from having possession to being without the ball, time and time again, and time and time again its the midfield not being aware of the possible danger a loss of possession high up the field has on the backline. Ramsey as much i like what he can provide offensively is the chief deserter in that engine room until we find that balance teams will continue to exploit this weakness with good counterattacking football.

  4. andy1886,

    Spot on – it`s no coincidence that once the defenders Arsene inherited left the club that we became easier to score against.

    As Keown proved during our run to the CL Final , Arsene should have made room for one of the old schoolers within his set up.

  5. In the days when we had strikers who actually scored goals and midfielders who did the same (Bergkamp, Wright, Henry, Fabregas et al ) we could afford to give the odd goal away on the basis that if the other lot scored two we would get three. That no longer applies as our strikers are not that prolific and our midfield seems almost to shun the idea of taking a pot shot now and again. In fact I suspect that both Xhaka and Elneny been instructed not to take long range shots.

  6. I’ve just realised that we don’t play until Monday night! I do hope Northampton Saint’s game is televised or I’ll be forced to watch horse racing or something.

  7. Good stuff there!

    I am one that is taking a more, ‘wait and see’ with Jack because playing in the U23’s and playing Doncaster is a different world than playing in the PL. I am waiting to see how he reacts and plays in the PL when tackles are flying in and challenges are much more heavy. I do think that Jack in that pivot role would be good and provide us some of what Santi brought if he can stay fit. He and Elneny I think provide us whether its 3 or 4 at the back a pipeline to our forwards that we simply don’t get with Ramsey there because Ramsey is a player that wants to get on the end of moves not be the pipeline or start the move. I think with Jack or Elneny they offer more balance and Elneny has shown he can do the job consistently there getting the ball to the correct players and Jack has the ability but we have to wait and see.

    Defensively I think more than anything its about getting the proper players in the proper positions and we have seen that with the back 3 and Bellerin and Sead as WB’s but also a back 4 of Sead/Kos/Mustafi/Bellerin. That balance and those players in their proper position makes a world a difference.

  8. Afternoon,

    I think West Brom is an interesting test of what we’ve learnt so far this season. The performance against Chelsea demonstrated our ability to tough it out in a disciplined fashion. West Brom like to mix it up, but they aren’t just thugs. They have a few players who can move the ball around a bit and they are happy to grab a goal and then sit on a lead.

  9. Orson Kaert,

    You bring a good point there my friend. We did have strikers that could score goals but also Arsene played his best strikers together, there was more balance. For instance, Arsene played Henry, Bergkamp and Pires together but have yet to play Sanchez, Lacazette and Ozil together. I think that is a great platform to build on from this team and because of that would allow say Elneny to play more in midfield to help out defensively. The other thing is, taking shots from distance, we have seen that Elneny and Xhaka can both strike a ball and really work the GK yet both started out in their early Arsenal days shooting from distance and doing so to either work the GK or score the odd goal which forces defenses to close down on them, but now, they are reluctant and from time to time you see Arsene get frustrated by it.

    The other thing with our midfielders is that we have players that can shoot, Xhaka and Elneny, but a player like Ramsey wants to get on the end of moves but is terribly inconsistent in his finishing (I mean he didn’t score until damn near the end of last season last year) and I do think that with our current squad it simply doesn’t work. Ramsey was superb in that brilliant season he had because he was able to get forward and we counted on Ozil supplying Giroud and Ramsey, but since then Ramsey is now getting in the positions that we would want Lacazette and Sanchez to get in but they see him making the move and make a different run.

  10. Thanks for the post Darius. We have talked about this a lot but Ozil is a flair player and in order for flair players to be assets they have to do the things that flair players do. I don’t think Ozil has an assist or a goal so far. When a flair player gets older and morphs into a ball possession player then they stop being an asset and become a liability.

  11. Comments from Wenger that he is working on new deals for both Welbeck and Ramsey. Both are reasonable players, but we would normally be looking for an upgrade on them, surely? The situation with other players’ contracts has meant that we are having to sign up to new deals when we should be looking at improving on them. Wenger’s response is that there will be more players in the last season of their contract, but I don’t hear this happening anywhere near as much with other top 5/6 clubs because they are successful. I know money is a big part of it, but it’s not everything and players like Alexis aren’t going just because of the money. The talks of his wage demands sky rocketing seem to be another bit of propaganda by the Arsenal PR team to get the fans onside.

    The one team that must surely be heading into difficulty over players’ wages at some point must be Spurs. Their cap of £100,000 a week just doesn’t seem realistic in the current climate and talks of Dele Alli looking to tie up with a super agent would suggest that he is going to want big money, or be walking.

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