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The Times they are a changing

The Times they are a changing

Don McMahon

In a recent post that I wrote about our less than stellar start to the 2011 season, I received varied feedback and quite a bit of stick from the gutter, minority, cave-dwellers who revel in calling people abusive names without suggesting anything constructive. (Sorry Don, but we all get it.  Write for Untold and you will get abuse.  Tony)

Some of the more helpful comments led me to believe that a thorough review of where AFC seem to be having issues and what could possibly be done about it, would be welcome, so here goes. I will add a score from 1-10 with 1 being atrocious and 10 being excellent (reflecting where I think we are headed):

Goalkeeping issues: To pretend we don’t have any is somewhat myopic. Szcesny, while being among the top keepers in the EPL at age 20, is still having problems with his positioning as was shown on Sunday at WHL. He didn’t block off Van Der Vart’s angle sufficiently and was too far off his line and too near his right hand post,allowing the ball to slip past him. The second goal was a combined effort from our sleepy defenders and Wojiech’s late dive and his positioning off centre and too far to his left post. However, he is certainly up for the big ones as he is making more brilliant saves than Almunia or Fabianski ever did in their Arsenal careers. Given time, he’ll correct these errors so no worry there.

Score: 7+ and improving

Defensive improvements: The back four is now composed of 4 new faces! Gone are Vermaelen, Djourou, Koscielny, Sagna, and Miguel. We have a neophyte taking over right back Jenkinson, a defensive midfielder taking over CB along with our big German and in the left back position, Gibbs  supported by another new recruit Santos!

We have Squillaci or Frimpong as backup for either CB and as far as I can tell nobody else with any experience for the fullbacks. God help us if one or two more get injured! We are still falling asleep on corners but defending freekicks better. We seem to be abandoning the zonal marking for man marking but need to smooth out those edges a great deal. Perhaps a combination of both tactics might work better where we man mark in the box and mark zonally outside of it? I wonder if Song can communicate effectively with Mertesacker and if they can do so with Gibbs and Jenkinson….this might be a language issue as well as a positioning issue. What can AW and his coaches do with a kaleidoscope of defensive players,ever changing and unpredictable….pray!

Score 5 and stable but likely to worsen

Midfield tactics and player solutions: In my opinion this is the area of greatest weakness and best potential improvement over the short run.

AOC, Ramsey, Frimpong, Arteta, Benayoun and Arshavin are all talented and skillful players. None have the mastery of Cesc or the inventiveness of Nasri but they can certainly hold their own when in form. Should we be playing 4 midfielders in a W formation like we currently are with the DF midfielder being between the back 4 and the midfield  or are there better results to be had with a 3 man midfield and a 3 man strike force?  Watching Coquelin on Sunday, it was obvious that he can bring a great deal of fluidity, pace and transition from defense to attack but he is inexperienced, young and needs the mature heads around him, as does Frimpong. If we play 4 in the midfield, Ramsey and Arteta will have to step up their game and prevent opponents from attacking down the wings like the Spuds did with some success. I find that we need to see more of Santos, Frimpong, Coquelin and AOC and less of Benayoun, Arshavin and Ramsey.

Score 6 but definitely worsening

Ideal formations both tactically and strategically: Over the remainder of October we face very different opponents and will need to establish a fluid tactical approach. We have 3 EPL games against Sunderland and Stoke which require us to defend bravely and aggressively while playing a physically grueling game against hackers and cloggers and then we play Chelsea, a team who may be aging but who have very powerful and skilled players. We also face Marseille, a team that is in top form and filled with skilled players. We will need to play a more continental style and formation 4-3-3 perhaps?

The CC game against Bolton will give us the opportunity to have Ryo, Park, AOC, Coquelin, Aneke, Benayoun, Miguel and Fabianski strut their stuff and to learn how well these players can perform together from the start. Strategically speaking Wenger will have only two goals to achieve in October; Take as many points as we can with what we have and avoid more injuries. This will also be the time for him to experiment with players across the front 2 or 3 and maybe even give Walcott a chance to play behind RVP or Chamakh.

Score 6 and stable but likely to worsen

Striker enhancements and refinements: Here is where we can experiment the most as we potentially have 7 fit and healthy strikers/attacking midfielders among Gervinho, RVP, Chamakh, Walcott, AOC, Ryo, and Park. Our paucity of goals scored continues and while we are, as always, obtaining multiple opportunities to score, we show the same profligate. over-complicated and parsimonious approach to finishing we have displayed since 2006. Gervinho’s poor shooting displayed on Sunday is simply another example of what Chamakh,Walcott and on occasion RVP have repeatedly been guilty of. Arsene has to begin experimenting with AOC, Ryo and Park sooner than later. AOC has played four games and scored 2 goals….he needs to be exposed to far more EPL and CL games and to learn from experienced strikers like RVP,Chamakh and Gervinho can show him. Ryo’s pace rivals Walcott’s and if we play 3 up front, combining them on the wings would offer speed, pace and a terrifically fast counterattack that slower teams like Chelsea,Stoke and Bolton would be hard pressed to handle. Park needs to be introduced into the team at some time as does Santos more often. The latter showed that he can be an offensive threat as well but we need to know whether he can defend better than Gibbs. Chamakh, while highly criticized, is gradually building his confidence and my belief is that he’ll pick it up a notch the more he plays. Overall, our future success will depend on Walcott, Arshavin, Chamakh and Gervinho punching above their collective weights in October…an unlikely but possible mission. We also need to find a ruthlessness and more attacking options in front of our opponents’ goal that are more direct and effective.

Score 6+ and improving

Psychological and moral strengthening: Here is the crux of the issue. Jens Lehman, in his latest Arsenal interview said AW can and will be able to manage his charges even in the worst circumstances but the lack of an experienced and strong team leader as well as a very fragile confidence and morale among the younger players could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Many Gooners feel hard done by with bad officiating, ill luck, excessive injuries to key players and poor, inconsistent  performances like Sunday in games we could and should have won. These, as someone also said, are all distractions from the principle issue which is that any great team with a strong spine would shrug off these inconveniences and come back harder and stronger. As the old adage goes, when the going gets tough the tough get going. We are neither tough nor are we hard. This attitude of never surrender and never panic is the thing we desperately need to improve on at AFC. Szcesny, Song, Frimpong, Coquelin,  AOC and RVP all have this do or die approach to their game. Winning a few games, even if we tie or lose another will do us a world of good. Winning makes winners and knowing that we can beat the best will, in the long run, ensure that we do.

Score 4- and could get better or worse

Philosophical and operational changes to strengthen the Club: We will need to review our compensation rules soon. We will need to consider strengthening in January. We will need to start communicating more positive PR to the media and the fans. We will need to counter the negativism and  dismay that haunt the Emirates and that will come with better performances. We will desperately need to review our injury situation and take drastic steps to curb this epidemic. If that means paying some specialists to figure out what needs to be done to strengthen our players then so be it. We need to push for immediate adoption of the video and goal-line technology every sport worldwide now uses except Football. This will mean battling the dinosaurs in the FA, FIFA and EUFA but it is far past due. Perhaps a coalition of EPL, LaLiga, Seria A and Ligue 1 teams could form a group that would pressure these ostriches to remove their heads from their arses and finally institute the needed changes? We need to review the ticketing process and prices so that fans don’t feel cheated by rising costs and poor results.

Score 5 and stable

Managerial insights and skills required to redeem AFC: AW knows that he has to redevelop a team culture of working for each other to win. He must prioritize his players’ tasks, emphasizing the need for his defenders to DEFEND first and attack later. He might want to reconsider playing a high defensive line and keeping more defenders back rather than sending them into the opponent’s box when we have a set piece or free kick against them. Wenger needs to really experiment with playing his new lads in different positions like Coquelin as a right back or Walcott in RVP’s place with Robin behind him or Arshavin in a pure attacking central midfielder role, or AOC alongside Ryo on the wings etc. He should be considering using Szcesny to help the defenders more by playing keep ball between themselves when under pressure. It works for Barcelona. Our greatest strengths need to be reinforced, such as excellent, accurate passing, better ball control and improved vision for distribution of the ball particularly where Ramsey and Arshavin are concerned.

Score 5+ and stable

Injury management and avoidance techniques: I dealt with this above a bit but here are the specifics. If other teams can avoid injuries to their key players all season long, why can’t we? What are the factors that seem to haunt AFC more than any other club (other than the Spuds) over the last few seasons. Is it the fact that our team is generally younger than their EPL opponents? Is it poor training methods and conditioning that is misdirected or overdone? Is it our tendency to ruish players back too soon from inury? Is it our tippy-tappy style of play that seems to encourage injuries? Is it a perception among our opponents that physical harassment of Arsenal gets results when fair play won’t? These questions need to be addressed if we are to survive and prosper over the next 8 months or so.

Score 4- and getting worse

Media and PR management changes needed to improve our image: The incessant media and fan attacks AFC have suffered through since 2006 have diminished our image considerably. We were at one time seen as a foreign Club with a French manager and few English players. We are now seen as a beautiful Football club and advocates of total Football that is ¨pretty¨ but ultimately ineffective. The latest version of our club is one that is in ¨crisis¨ and has a manager ¨under fire¨ , and who has ¨lost the plot¨ or worse still, has lost confidence and is in despair. It is high time Gazidis,Wenger and the Board began a concerted and ongoing PR and media campaign against such false and unfair character assassinations in the media and by our supporters. We need to see Arsenal fighting back against the yellow tabloid biased excrement that these pundits and ¨journalists¨ pass off as sports news and the scurrilous gloomy-doomer vitriol that our so-called fans spread on the net. We are too passive, too genteel and far too tolerant of aggressive, ignorant critics who take every opportunity to diss the Club, the manager and the players. We are going through a bad patch but that is all it is….a campaign of positive and assertive, confidence-building PR sorties would do all of us a great deal of good.

Score 3- but likely to improve significantly

Financial planning and long term goal setting: At least in this respect, we are very well prepared. However we need to hear what long-term goals the Board,Wenger and Gazidis are envisioning and what resources they can offer the manager in the future. I don’t mean that they should reveal their transfer plans or targets for the January window but the fans and the public want to know where we are headed and the more the Club can reveal about that, the better. A detailed explanation about how we are going to handle the EUFA Fairplay rules and regulations and how our rich owners plan to financially and managerially support us would be a start.

Score 8+ and definitely improving

Solutions to apparent and obvious officiating bias: Despite our critics saying we are whiners and delusional about supposed officiating bias we seem to suffer in almost every game, the reality is that every team in the EPL pays the price of bad officiating. Untold Arsenal have tracked EPL games and officials, with an emphasis on our own, since last season and a number of media types have commented, quite accurately, that Arsenal and other Clubs have been significantly disadvantaged by bad officiating. One article even claimed that Arsenal could have finished 2nd last season had the incorrect calls gone our way. Here are some obvious and needed solutions I see being overdue;

*Institute video replays and goal-line technology as soon as possible,

*Increase the number of EPL officials from 16 to 25 immediately,

*Institute an FA referee review committee to investigate accusations of bias and consistently poor performances,

*Consider using foreign referees in the EPL, particularly for key games and derbies.

* Undertake an exhaustive, government-sponsored investigation of English Football to identify potential criminal and match-fixing activities.

Personally I don’t hold to the conspiracy theories and organized anti-Arsenal punishment some of our more imaginative fans claim. However, we can’t assume that corruption and organized crime, which is present in European Football, has not invaded England’s green shores.

Score 6 and will potentially improve

I am sure there will be endless mockery and criticism of my suggestions from those ¨fans¨ who won’t let their ignorance get in the way of their intolerance but this article is simply my opinions expressed in a positive and constructive manner for those who care to listen.

18 comments to The Times they are a changing

  • Walter

    Very good article Dom.

    About the refs: I was planning to do a few international games this weekend. I will try to do games without Arsenal players in it in order to be sure that there will be no (Arsenal related) bias in those reviews. I think it would be very interesting to see how the refs do those games and see how they compare to the EPL.

    If I only find the time…

  • FrostyGooner

    Great, well thought out article Don. If I average your scores (ignoring plus and minus ratings) this puts The Arsenal at 5.4, a slightly better-than-average club? Not what I feel in my heart, but probably correct based on current performances on and off (PR etc.) the pitch.

  • wen_detta

    ramsey is too predictable same as walcott..that’s arsenal now…the pass the move the mistake..easy to predict

  • Well I’ll have to step out of line and disagree with Walter for once. (But also say, just because I disagree doesn’t mean I won’t publish it).

    Take the defenders situation. “Gone are Vermaelen, Djourou, Koscielny, Sagna, and Miguel”.

    Well, up to a point. Those players are injured (although did I miss something with Ignasi – has he really gone? Probably I missed it). But it raises the point – how many decent central defenders should the club have?

    The standard rule is four, with, if possible, one other player who can step back into that position. If our 4 are Vermaelen, Koscielny, Per, Djourou, then we also have Ignasi as a further backup, Squillaci if he regains earlier form, and Song.

    To have more than that would increase our salary bill even further, and our salary bill is already escalating dramatically.

    Worse, if we bring in players and they don’t get any games because we have a below average injury level in that department, they will want to leave – but at a loss to us because they have not played.

    One season, as you may recall we used 7 different left backs, but hardly had that many injuries elsewhere. It seems to go like this, and I don’t know how one can predict it.

    As for injury management, if you look at the way referees protect Man U etc against the way we are not protected, there is your answer. Go back and watch the video of our victory at Man U which won the league at Old Trafford. Watch the opening ten minutes. It is a direct lesson in why we get slaughtered on the pitch and some other teams don’t.

  • FunGunner

    Don, well done for making the effort (sincerely meant) but I agree with Tony. Lots of key players are injured so it’s not really the right time to assess the relative strength in each area of the pitch, for example. I think Diaby/Wilshere/Song would be our first choice, which we’ve never seen in action. And who can say for sure whether our first choice CB pairing will be PM/TV or Kos/TV? Who’s going to get the LB position, Santos or Gibbs? Or will it be horses for courses? Leave this till January at the earliest, I’d say.

    And I do think you need to do a bit more research for some of your other headings. Just one example, you should have noticed that there *has* been a concerted PR effort by the club recently – there even seems to be a rapid response team to react immediately.

  • shakir1989

    I think Arsenal need a 4-1-2-1-2 (4-1-2-1-1-1)

    You have the keeper and a back four.
    One holding midfielder – just sits in midfield all day long mopping up everything, A.Song does not do this, M’vila can, when needed he’s pretty good at attacking too.
    Two wingers who play well and cross well, there is Gervinho but Walcott has to improve his crossing and link up play.
    Wilshere or ramsey in midfield creating the passes and responsible for all link up play upfront.
    The next part is where Wenger needs to notice what he did wrong. He should not have sold Adebayor or he should have found an equal or better replacement. V.Persie and Arshavin should be the strikers who play in the hole behind the main ST, VP is more a CF than ST. He is exceptionally technical as well as A.A they create great chances, when we had Ade and V.P upfront we were unstoppable until Eduardo broke his leg and we went on a slide. We need two upfront or we will create chances but with only 1 player with 3 defenders usually to go past, no way, 2 upfront great chance.

    What do you guys think.

  • RedGooner

    Interesting arcticle.
    I think our defence is way better than its performing and arsen should maybe look at what was mentioned recently about the NFL teams bring in a defensive coach and take some of the pressure and time involved each day off himself.

    Midfield we may need to strengthen but I think only next summer will bring the oppertunity to bring in the likes of hazard or someone that can really make that difference.

    However we have to look at the wages of all future young players and reduce them. we cant continue to over pay and then send them out loan like denilson vela and bendtner.
    Thats a job Ivan should be helping out in structure ourselves better to pay the top players more and stabilize the first team squad no more departures of our top players keep strengthening.

    Marketing improving our revenue streams world wide would be a huge help.

    We have a great manager great club it just needs better planning and learning from our mistakes last summer.

    One poor season we can survive that easily so long as the club recognises the need for small changes to put us back on track, lets face it before the emirates we always felt arsenal was one of the better known clubs in europe and when we moved to the ems and 14 years of champs league we became one of the top clubs, we just need to work harder and be more proactive in gettings done to remain one of the bigger clubs.

  • Ugandan Goon

    @don
    Good effort, and i hope i speak for more than one person when i say, lay off the marks out of ten format, i usually skip any article with it as a rule! Of course there is every chance i skipped the lesson where everybody was shown how marks out of ten make sense!

  • Ugandan Goon

    @ redgooner,
    Genuine question, i always assumed that the total football that we aspire to meant that we attacked as a team and defended as one, what part of our defence do you think that the current arrangement is ignoring? what would the defensive coach be teaching that you feel the players are not getting now? we have some damn fine tacklers in the team and the now zonal marking means as far as i can tell we have conceded just a single goal from corners. so what are we looking for a specialist to teach?

  • Alex

    On Our defenders i just can say we are completely out of luck.Hammered by Injuries and no luck at all.So no one to blame.
    I believe we been used to much on the fluent and elegant midfield of the past and looking at the current crop is way to rusty for me and zero creativity.
    When i see youth like Wilshere they made good progress after loaning them for a season to another premiership team i cannot see why and why our youth has to be sent in ligue one or spain ?

    Crucially there are ex man u palyers that now they are managing in the premiership and take players to their new team.Excluding Bruce.I am not pointing to the advantage not playing against them but the experience in the premiership that they are gaining while ours has to come straight to the first team and expect them to do miracle.
    The likes of Ramsey at tender age they are thrown staight to the first team and i dont think is helpfull.
    In all honesty never been impressed either by Walcot-Ramsey and now look at this poor Jenkinson.
    Yes understood the sale of Cesc and Nasri as the Mr.Wenger said it is like ripping hurt and specially when there is no time left to gel properly.
    Always i will love arsenal and the team and i am very much ready for long bumpy road.No expectation of champion league or trophy just fasten my belt tightly for the long long road.

    One strange thing is :
    We bought the likes of the Korean and japanese lately and where are they to help when we are in need .I dont get it ?Cuold somebody expalain to me please.Oh dont tell me please that we bought injured ones again.
    THANKS

  • dy

    the team never got a chance to adjust it’s players line-up, game after game its Walcott on the right if he’s fit. Ramsey at mid, RVP in front as striker. Is there no other option really ? We don’t have Fabegras and Nasri now, results are bad so far, but why Arsene doesn’t try something different then. What’s there left to hurt ?

  • Mandy dodd

    You mention injury management. Arsenal could do worse than employ this guy, thought by many to be one of the best fitness conditioning coaches in the world,who is incidentally very critical of our injury management and training

    http://www.goal.com/en-india/news/2171/premier-league/2011/02/24/2367423/imagine-how-successful-arsenal-would-be-if-they-stayed

    I know goal.com not the best source.
    But our club are run on a sustainable model but our injuries are very costly, surely they have to be looked at in detail and maybe acted on? I know our players are not the biggest, they are targeted and not protected by refs but I think there is something else going on with training and conditioning

  • Mandy dodd

    Congrats to ox, hatrick for england under 21s vs Iceland. Just hope england do not do anything stupid with him

  • weedonald

    FunGunner- I live across the pond and don’t get British media, papers or other sources so I don’t see any aggressive PR from Arsenal. the only page I rely on is the official Arsenal website and that is about as noncommittal,bland and politically correct as Wenger himself.However I am glad to hear AFC are getting more assertive in their dealings with press and media!
    Tony – I’m a bit thick at times so don’t quite get what you’re saying about the CB situation. I am definitely not advocating buying more CB’s as we have an embarassement of choices there WHEN they are all fit. My point is that with our incredible injuries this early in the season, Wenger needs to find out who can work well with Mertesacker and who he can rely on to back up Santos and Jenkinson, in the (pray to God that I’m wrong) event that we get more injuries to our back 4. The German says the confusion in the back 4 is because of language with him not speaking English well and , as far as I know, Jenkinson, Song, Sagna, Santos and Gibbs not speaking German too well either.
    Ugandan Gooner – I’m an educator and we do everything on a scale of 1-10 as it easier than 1-100!!!LOL Nobody can ¨teach¨ or ¨coach¨¨ the team to play as a unit ,transitioning from attack to defense simply because there are rarely the same 11 starting each game. However I have watched our youth and reserves play and they are trained in the total Football approach very well. They also seem to suffer similar defensive lapses as the first team does but far less often. They are currently top of their respective leagues but if they lost 7 top players, they’d have a hard time as well. I wrote this article to express my views on what needs to be considered before our fickle fans go creaming in to the night chanting Wenger has lost the plot and AFC are shite, etc.

  • Mohamed Zubairu

    I Believe that there is a conspiracy of the powers that be against Arsenal. Bad referee decisions should affect every one and even themselves out. In the case of Arsenal, we are ALWAYS at the wrong end of it. Last season, we should have come second without them. Man City should have had 9 points less and come a distant 4th. This season, we had off-side goals against us from Liverpool, the Gervinho red card when Barton, the worse offender was spared. The authorities could not even use video replays to rectify the situation even though they did in the case of Song. Similar scenario occurred last season with the same Barton when Diaby was shown red card and he went away free. The first Spurs goal was a deliberate hand ball for which VDV should have gotten a second yellow card. All these hint at Conspiracy between the Referees and the F.A. We keep getting referees that we have issues with refereeing our games.
    Talk about the massive bias of the press against Arsenal. You hardly read anything positive about us from the press. The press molds public opinion and they have successfully molded the opinion of the masses against us – even our supporters.
    I think that the reason for this conspiracy is because Wenger is French. He seems to have achieved too much in English football than a Foreigner should. More so, his footballing style is a bit too un – English. His youth project also, even though it is the most reasonable way to develop the game, does not agree with the fad.
    The conspiracy may not be organized, but there is a strong hint that it exists, for me.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Sorry off topic but Park just scored two goals against Poland in a friendly international game. Just bring him Arsène, just bring him. 😉
    And just like Oxlade 3 goals for the U21… just bring them, just bring them

  • weedonald

    I just left the Arsenal website and counted the number of first and squad players representing their countries these days. We have 16 players, two of whom are captains for their country. When the moaners and gloomers say we brought in ¨shit¨ to replace Nasri, Clichy and Cesc, they had better look more carefully at what is actually happening. I might also mention that we’d have 2-3 more players out there internationally were it not for injuries; Wilshere, Sagna and Vermaelen! Is there any other club in the EPL that has 19-20 players eligible AND playing Internationally?
    Walter…it remains a mystery to me why we haven’t seen a lot more of Ryo Miyachi, Park and AOC to name but 3. Watching Park, he reminds me of a very in-form Eduardo but faster and even more of a fox-in-the-box. AOC makes under 21 Football look like playground stuff and given time, he could very well eat up the clogger and hackers defenders that inhabit the nether regions of the EPL as he is very tricky and has a wicked shot. Even Walcott looked good in the tie with Montenegro but the defending was atrocious from both sides. Rooney’s sending off highlights an interesting question; would he have been sent off for the same thing in the EPL? My bet is no!

  • Joey Ammo

    The Arsenal way. Scouting. Foreign Academies. Released players?
    In case my picture have changed, I am writing from another internet line. First of all I would like to say I am going to talk about Viking and give you a perspective on comparison and I am going to ask for your advise. If you, like me have two teams: Do your other club do it differently?
    Our goal is to play like Arsenal on the field. Ask Manager Hareide if you don`t believe me, only he used the B-word. It is still 4-3-3, I think. I`m not good in tactics. And in our own way we would like to be self-sufficient as well. Ten years ago we were borrowing Stavanger Stadion and had to sell a couple of players a year to keep the record straight. Now we own Viking Stadion, capasity around 16000 and things are looking good. On scouting. We like to use our sateliteclubs as much as we can. Our prospects play at the team they play and we monitor them. Unless they are more of use as viking-players and then they play at our reserveleague, which is the second division.To our sateliteclubs we send coaches to maximise the potential. We just sent our experienced foreward to his local club, Egersund and he is still a player.And I for one would like to know if there are any good books on Arsenal scouting network and Foreign Academy buildup (I have noticed Greece Ivory coast and Thailand. Are there moore?) And how do Arsenal moniter sateliteclubs like Beveren? I guess there is a million things I could learn from you guys, and maby I could pass my knowledge, when attained, to Viking FK at their official blogs? I am settled at this forum now. Thank you for helping me do so, and if I provoke I try to have an achievement behind it, at least from yesterday on and foreward. Arsenal have a potential, I think, in connecting with foreign supporters through this site and I for once will stribe for it to happen. Finally, and this goes for all of the time we are going to spend together at the forum: If you know of any players that are available on the free, please tell me so that I can pass it on to Viking. It is perfectly uncomplicated to have two favorite clubs, it can even be beneficial. Thank you for your time.