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Alkmaar v Arsenal: the complete preview

Alkmaar vs Arsenal preview by Phil Gregory

Arsenal travel away to Alkmaar on Tuesday, searching for a third consecutive win in group H. Alkmaar, managed by Dutchman Ronald Koeman, lie bottom of group H with a single point after the first two fixtures.

As a manager, the former Dutch international is a bit of an enigma. An initially successful spell at Ajax ended with his resignation as results turned sour. Koeman moved on to Portugal, taking control at Benfica for a year (finishing 3rd in his single season at the Portuguese club) before then being appointed manager at PSV.

Back in Holland, he again started the season strongly, before results once more petered out as the season went on, ultimately losing out on the title on the final day of the season despite leading the table for the majority of the campaign. Most recently, Koeman is the main credited with the frankly incredible achievement of taking a Valencia team who boasted such talents Villa, Mata and Silva to a fifteenth placed finish in La Liga, a mere two points above the relegation places.

Recent form:

As such, it is with a fairly poor managerial record that Koeman took the reins at Alkmaar. An opening day defeat away to Heracles Almelo did little to reassure supporters, but four consecutive wins in the league seemed to silence any doubters. However, since a defeat to Olympiakos (a match which the Dutch side dominated territorially, yet conceded a goal to one of Olympiakos’ few scoring chances) the results have nosedived, and they sit sixth, eleven points off the pace.

Where to start for Arsenal? The win against Birmingham wasn’t as emphatic as I had predicted, but it did seem that the rigours of international week affected the Gunners much more than Birmingham, many of whose players were afforded a rest as they weren’t involved with the national side.

Three points, three goals and the fullbacks rested is not a bad situation to be in though! We are continuing to score freely: I’m a big believer in goals from midfield being what wins titles, and that’s exactly what we have been getting so far this season.

I could quote the goal stats over the last few games, but we all know they are phenomenal. Instead, I’m going to attempt to debunk the “Arsenal’s dodgy defence” myth somewhat. Compared to any of the other teams around is in the table, we’ve conceded more goals (11, compared to 9,8, and 8) except Tottenham, who’ve shipped 13.

We’ve not exactly conceded many more, despite having played harder games against the top teams (Everton, City and United away). City have arguably had the next hardest fixtures: Arsenal at home, United away and Villa away, easier than our three away games.

Then, if we look at the goals conceded: we were six to the good when we conceded against Everton, United got a penalty and an own goal etc. I’m sure you see where I’m going with this: the defence isn’t perfect, but lets not all jump on the bandwagon too!

Injuries:

Walcott is definitely out for the next three weeks, and Bendtner and Eduardo are out, though Clichy should return. Long term absentees Nasri, Denilson and Djourou are still out, though Fabianksi is expected to be back in the fold.

Unfortunately there is no injury news in this blog for Alkmaar as their site is in Dutch only.  However we have heard today that the bank that sponsors the club have gone into liquidation.

Key men:

With a mere two days rest since their last game, Arsenal will be looking for the early goal in order to save their legs, with a win effectively tying the group up. As such, the free-scoring Robin Van Persie will be one such player capable of providing the early goal, while Alex Song will be offering a formidable shield to the back four during what is expected to be a hard-fought away game.

Abou Diaby, the subject of much criticism from Arsenal fans, has all the attributes to prosper in a hostile environment, and will be looking to take advantage of transitions in play to break away.

AZ Alkmaar will be looking towards pacy front man Moussa Dembélé for their goals this season. The Belgian striker was linked with many of the top clubs in Europe during the summer window, and will hope an impressive showing will put him in the shop window for a big move next summer. Thomas Vermaelen should be confident of keeping him quiet, having played against him when at Ajax as well as with him with the Belgian national team.

Arsenal predicted line-up:

Mannone

Sagna Gallas Vermaelen Clichy

Song

Diaby Fabregas

Eboue Van Persie Arshavin

Subs: Almunia, Silvestre, Gibbs, Ramsey, Merida, Vela, Wilshere

It’s always a nightmare writing this part of the column for the European matches, as I submit the article before final team news comes out. I expect Mannone to continue in goal, he wasn’t at his best on Saturday, but neither has Almunia been all season.

It’ll be a real asset having the fullbacks rested, as they will be expected to put in a shift on Tuesday to make up for the tired legs of others. Expect the same midfield three, with Ramsey to come on if we are looking comfortable. The bench resembles a nursery with Eduardo and Bendtner out, but in terms of ability, we have gamechangers waiting to come on.

Prediction:

Very tricky this. We are on a great run of form, but the team weren’t at their best on Saturday, and are only going to be more tired on Tuesday. That said, Alkmaar are coming into the game on a very poor run of form and seem devoid of belief and direction. I’m going to go for a tight 1-0 to the Arsenal, but would be happy to be wrong if it meant us scoring more.

Halftime musing:

Rafa Benitez: how long is he going to last? Liverpool’s midfield was an absolute embarrassment against Sunderland, and the Mackems took a deserved three points. I personally blame Benitez for some of their troubles: his attempt to sell Alonso for Barry undoubtedly helped the Spaniard to accept Real’s offer and Rafa’s rotating door, hit and miss transfer policy has slowed down their progress. How long can the man live off Istanbul?

Postscripts.... When and how did the modern Arsenal start?  The answer was 1910 – and the full details of what happened that year are revealed for the first time ever in MAKING THE ARSENAL.  You can read more about the book at www.shop.firstandbest.co.uk – click on the cover picture and you can read about the book, and if you are interested, order a copy.

Meanwhile over at www.blog.woolwicharsenal.co.uk you can read the daily blog about Arsenal’s world 100 years ago.

MAKING THE ARSENAL is available on line – orders received now will be despatched the moment the book is released – in approximately ten days.

You can read more about the book by selecting the appropriate link…

· If you are in the UK click http://tiny.cc/RHd9k

· If you are in the rest of Europe visit http://tiny.cc/Fsc6p

· If you are in the rest of the world go to http://tiny.cc/KfzsD

If you have any questions about the book or buying it please do email Tony@hamilton-house.com or call me on 01536 399 013

The author: Phil Gregory is a 20 year old student at the University of Leeds. Studying Economics and French, he’s been a Gunner since he got interested in football at a young age, and plans on being a regular at the Arsenal away games in the North this season.

22 comments to Alkmaar v Arsenal: the complete preview

  • haho

    As a Dutchman, a can refute your claim that Dembele is there for the goals: he barely scores, he creates. Always. He is a great player, but not a scorer, despite the Adebayor-like presence and pace. Vermaelen knows him and will shackle him.

    Interestingly, Koeman said this weekend he considers van Persie the best striker in the world right now. Whilst I do not agree (only Drogba and Villa are ahead of him) it is a great compliment, and a fair assesment. Everywhere the press is turning around. All major newspapers (and tabloids) are writing the sort of apologetic ‘Arsenal are actually quite good and still challenging’ article, which they can not write about the mugsmashers. Song was recognises by the Independent as MOTM and one of the best performers of the weekend and the Mirror is naming him the new Makelele…

    Benitez is a joke. He really is. His squad is thinner than a slice of Alkmaar’s famous cheese. He really does not know how to build a team. His starting 11 may just get him in the top 4, but the squad is barely top 10 material. All the luck last year, now they are getting their comeupance. I love it.

    4-1 to the Arsenal, watching it with some Ajax fans who love talking Vermaelen with me, cause they were al championing him when others were writing him off, and he is proving one hell of a signing. They wanna see him play, so I obliged. Van Persie to score 2, and as always at least one Cesc asssist. First CL goals for Wilshere and Vela, as subs.

  • Phil, interesting article.

    Just to add my two cents on the perceived issue of Arsenal’s defensive woes.

    I’m not particularly worried that we have a leak in defense that is a threat to our consistency and ability to win matches. What I think we need to understand more is that we’re playing a different system, and at most points of attack, we’re engaging at least 2 defenders as part of that attack. It may be the fullbacks pushing up to add width, or the centre backs going in for set pieces, or as an option that is unpredictable e.g. Vermaelen and Gallas’s marauding runs into the opposition box. These runs are not expected by any defense and are an added arsenal to our game.

    The reward of this style and system of play is that we will inevitably score more goals. However, the cost of it is that we could be more vulnerable to teams that are good at counter attacking. Case in point, Manchester City. However, the strategy to cope with this counter attacking threat is two fold.

    Firstly, we are dependent on our ball players – Cesc, Rosicky, Arshavin, Nasri, RVP etc – to keep the ball and move it efficiently. If and when we do lose the ball, the intention is to lose it nearer the opponents goal and very far away from our goal. Our defense of the ball then starts with our attacking 3 players who will press hard and fast. This will not only pressurise the opponent to panic allowing us to pounce for goal with devastating effect. It will also give our defense time to regroup.

    Secondly, as any of our defenders go forward in an attack, we can see how seamlessly song and Diaby (Song and Denilson in the first few matches), assume a more defenseive role. The idea being that with the pressing from our forwards, either the fullbacks and/or the centre halfs will have had time to regroup.

    Learning to play such a system, and adapting to it takes time, and I think that is all that’s happening to the Arsenal team. The two teams that I know play this system with devastating effect is the Brazilian national team and Barcelona. They can obviously do it better than us as they have been at it for longer, but even they frequently suffer from the classic counter attack for the reasons I’ve suggested above. They however know how to cope with it better and we will eventually get better too.

    However, I think it’s unrealistic for Arsenal fans to think that teams will not attack us, and also that teams will not score against us. It’s inevitable. If all the defensive strategies fail, we can rest assured that plan B will work to our advantage. Plan B is a simple “we’ll score more goals than you do”.

  • AnonynousGun

    I really hope that either Vela or Jack will get to start tonite for Bendtner.. Eboue can be sub in if needed.

    But reality and this season’s history says its gonna be Eboue.

  • Phil Gregory

    Haho: fair criticism on the Dembele point. My wording isn’t ideal as it gives the impression he is their primary goalscorer, so a fair point from you. I think we can all agree, however, that there will be more goals from the young Belgian this season. Interesting quotes from Koeman – is he trying to heap pressure on RvP?
    very much agree with your criticisms of Benitez. I remember during the (I think) summer of 06 he spent a fortune on an array of foreign talent as the academy was lacking, and he is now realising you can’t just buy class. Their depth is dire, and with the upward pressure from City and Tottenham, they are going to have to pull the chequebook out in January for a midfield playmaker.

    Darius: agree on your points: we throw more men forward and leave ourselves vulnerable on the counter. This contrasts nicely to say, Chelsea, who don’t commit men as freely (particularly the centrebacks), yet concede easy goals freely anyway (match of the day on saturday night brutally highlighted some of Carvalho’s errors).

    Anonynous: I can understand Wenger not wanting to throw Jack into a hostile away tie, but he should definitely get some gametime. With Vela’s expierence from the Mexico team, he can handle the pressure and could well be involved. If I was a betting man however, my money would be on Eboue to start.

  • T00farg0ne

    No Rosicky? Not even on the bench?
    Also, I think Almunia will start. At present with six points in the bag, three points tonight is much less important than three points on Saturday. Sticking with Vito on Saturday was the safe thing to do. Almunia will be brought back into the eleven at some point and with the Carling cup game soon Vito will probably get a game then so tonight seems a good night to bring back Manuel and if he screws up Vito is back in for West Ham.

  • LRV

    Very good piece Phil.

    Darius Stone, I have always enjoyed your reasoning in your Arsenal write-ups and your comment up there is absolutely spot-on. You must do a lot more analytical write-ups. You have a knack for it. Very good view expressed excellently.

    “Road Map” Alkmaar may yet (inspite of their troubles) give us as stern a test as Olympiakos did, if not sterner. They will be very eager to stem their spiralling misfortune. Despite the possibility of some of our boys being a bit tired and possibly carrying some almost dead legs, we should still be able to put a 2 goal distance between us and them.

  • christianjimmy

    T00farg0ne I believe Rosicky is injured, (deja vu anyone? Please God not!!) But he should be back soon.
    I’d like to see Vela start myself, I must admit to a certain mystification as to the lack of minutes for him and Jack W thus far – but lets face it Lord Wenger knows what he’s doing when it comes to blooding new players. I really think the key Wenger difference is the way players develop under his tutelage, look at the entire match squad and count how many players have made their big strides as players under him… (I make it 14 out of the 18 Phil lists) If the bench really is as Phil predicts then it’ll be a fantastic vindication of AW’s reluctance to spend!

  • The official line on Rosicky is

    Tomas will miss Tuesday’s trip to Alkmaar with a knee injury. However, he is expected to be fit “in a few days” said Arsène Wenger.

    Nasri plays tonight for the reserves.

    There is an article about Liverpool on the Guardian site today which includes this statement

    “There has been a tendency to fritter money away, with Ryan Babel and Andrea Dossena coming in at a combined cost of £18.5m.

    To his credit, Dirk Kuyt has shown his worth as a hard-working player on the flanks, but he was supposed to be a regular goalscorer. As it is, the dependence on Torres and Steven Gerrard continues to be inescapable. On occasion, the shallowness of the resources is astonishing.”

    Compare that with how we now feel about the depth of squad that Arsenal has with the coming of age of our youngsters. It was only a year ago that we had the endless complaints about our squad – the Lightweight Denilson argument, Song will never make it, Van Persie is too fragile, Bendtner is never going to come good…

    And what Wenger has done is bought two players, and the others have matured.

    Just imagine where we would be if we had followed the Liverpool route.

  • LRV.

    I will try and get more time to do some analytical posts for my blog. For now, I still enjoy reading others and commenting as and when I can. Thanks for your compliments.

  • Foon

    I just want to sign the Alex Song before i visit the Mirror article to see what it says. Song is my man at the moment he should have won club’s player of the month of September. His work rate and tactic on defending has blossomed. His ability to change from defence to attack is getting better every game. There isn’t a game that he has not shown a rare skill. He gives confidence to the team. I agree like Makekele. I just hope he does not gain too much weight. Him and Varminator have added something to the team that was not there last term. Watch when Var or Gallas is out of position how Song fills in. Go African boy.

  • TONIGHT’S TEAM

    Mannone; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy; Song; Fabregas, Diaby; Eboue, van Persie, Arshavin.
    Subs: Almunia, Vela, Ramsey, Silvestre, Wilshere, Gibbs, Merida.

  • walter

    If you take out the two oldies then this is impressing. No one is older then 20 ?

  • Reserves team tonight

    Lukasz Fabianski
    *

    Kerrea Gilbert
    *

    Luke Ayling
    *

    Kyle Bartley (c)
    *

    Cedric Evina
    *

    Craig Eastmond
    *

    Mark Randall
    *

    Francis Coquelin
    *

    Samir Nasri
    *

    Gilles Sunu
    *

    Sanchez Watt

    * Substitutes

    Wojciech Szczesny

    Daniel Boateng

    Emmanuel Frimpong

    Rhys Murphy

  • Arsenal Reserves draw with AZ 1-1
    Arsenal Reserves Reserves draw 2-2 with Wolverhampton

    From the Arsenal site about our two returning first teamers…

    Both emerged unscathed from their long-awaited comebacks and Nasri even produced a perfect pass to set up the opening goal for Gilles Sunu.

  • walter

    If you look at some other results we didn’t do it that bad. But could have, should have won it. Blatant penalty not given against Vela. Is there since the Eduardo incident an instruction not to give penalty for Arsenal ? But then again we could have scored more in open play but like Robin said a draw away from home is not a bad result in the CL.

  • diceman1984

    I didn’t think we played well at all, we switched off for the last 15-20 minutes or so and a draw was not an unfair result, but we could and should have won it. I’d trade a draw like this and with a 1-0 win in the league though, we’ll qualify when we win the next 2 home games anyway hopefully without a hitch.

  • walter

    A win in the next home game in the CL would put us through unless the sky falls on our head.
    But for now I really could do with some players coming back from injury. For me it is no coincidence that our game wasn’t as fluent as we know it can be because we didn’t have our little Mozart playing.
    With his experience and technique he can make a major difference in those games.
    But like I said even this week: one game not won and I already have seen one moaner crawling from under his stone to make the usual garbage talk that we are not good enoug, blah, blah, blah. Pathetic…..

  • LRV

    This draw leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It feels so very much like a loss.

    Hello Walter! How do you rate the referee’s performance?

  • Diceman

    I know Walter, those pathetic moaning so called supporters always wait for one reason to bash the team. It really is pathetic when they can’t even say one good thing about these lads.

    With one game in hand, we re at the exactly the same position as man u and chelsea who we know spent way more than us on players. And Liverpool? With their 18 mil star right back they re doing fine right?

    I really think those people who wait for the moment to attack my club do not deserve to celebrate with us when we win something…it’s a 2 way thing to me

  • walter

    I’m going to try to forget that I’m an Arsenal fan for a few minutes now.
    Well LRV he was looking rather good for some 88 minutes of the game. Yellow card on RVP was correct. But the yellow on Clichy was very light. But then again there was some contact but it was more Clichy trying to jump out of the way but by doing so he held his hand in the back of Dembele but I didn’t even think it was a foul. But from the angle the ref sees it you can understand his decision.

    On the penalty… well Vela was clearly past his man who put his leg between the legs of Vela without touching the ball. The defender even hurt himself and I think he untill now still cant believe his luck. In the end it cost us 2 points so he had a decent game but got the most important decision wrong. If he would have given the penalty he would have had an excellent game.
    You can always criticise some little faults in the middel of the field but over all I didn’t have the impression he favoured one or the other team. Except the penalty, if he has seen the pictures by now I can tell you he will blow penalty next time around. Well I would be dissapointed with the decision if it was me on the field.

  • walter

    Another good thing is the players realised what went wrong and were angry.
    I noticed when Vermaelen came in a tv shot on the pitch after the game he looked very angry with himself and the world. We could do some lipreading over here and I must say that the words that came out had his background written all over it.
    If it had happened to us in a game we would say the same thing. And in a way it is good that the players looked angry with them selves. They will learn from this and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Let’s hope it anyway. 😉

  • Cape Gooner

    Walter, can I ask you about another penalty incident in the second half. RvP had the ball to the right of the goal, on the by-line. He went over. The defender had two hands on Robin’s chest. It was impossible to tell from the TV if he was pushed or if he fell. If the defender puts his hands on the attacker, shouldn’t the attacker be given the benefit of the doubt and a penalty be awarded?