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November 2012
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Has the cure caused a new problem?

By Walter Broeckx

If you go back one season we can all remember how the shouts was: we concede too many goals. We let in 47 goals. 7 teams did better than Arsenal.  Shame on Arsenal. Shame on Wenger. We can never win anything like that. Something had to be done about it.

But on the other hand we scored 74 goals and that was the third best in the league. And it was the position in the league we had. We scored a lot of goals and had a few spectacular games.

We had a goal difference in total of +25. A big gap with the two Manchester teams but in line with the team in 4th place.

According to the supporters something had to be done about it. So we had to work on our defensive game.  And to do something about  this we brought in Bould.

And now we do seem to have a good defence. Well in fact we have the best defence of the whole PL.  We have let in 8 goals in 10 games. If we would continue like this we would concede around 30 goals this season. Only one team did better in the last season. That was the champion Manchester City with 29 goals.

So shouldn’t we all be jumping up and down full of joy: you see we have improved our defensive record! Now who will we credit with this? Wenger? Nooooo, will the anti-Wenger boys shout. Bould? Yeeaahhhh will the anti-Wenger boys shout. You see they will say I have said it all along. Wenger cannot build a defence.

But as any other coin an improved defence also have a other side….the attack.  Because unlike last season when we scored a lot of goals we now score a bit less. Last season average was 1.95 goals. This season we average 1.5 goals.  Last season we had an average of 2 goals after 10 games.

And this is where the question comes back about whom we should give credit. Wenger? Bould?

If we give credit to Bould for an improved defence the consequence would be that we have to blame… Bould for not scoring more goals.

Now I am not blaming the person Bould or so but am just pointing out the fact that every coin has two sides. And an improved defence means that the whole defence is better. And that even with a few injuries along the road. Even with Santos playing left back a few games.  A result we have seen is that Vermaelen who scored a few goals each season suddenly stays back for 88 minutes as before he joined in the attack more often.

His run forwards sometimes have been leaving gaps and making us vulnerable on the counter attack. But he also scored a few goals with his forward runs. Per doesn’t have such a problem as he is a 100% pure defender who only comes up with dead balls.  But could it be that his forward runs are somehow missed up front?

Could it also be that in the new system we play our forwards are more focussed on defending and thus being not sharp enough  when attacking the other goal.  Because overall you could say that the defensive shape of Arsenal has improved a lot (last season we conceded 21 goals after 10 games) but as a result we score less.

Of course we miss two players from last season. Van Persie and Song. One whom we should have sold 3 seasons ago according to the ever critical followers of Arsenal and one who shouldn’t have been in an Arsenal shirt ever. Song is that person.

And what was the critics about Song? Yes that as a defensive midfielder he ran forward too much.  So he was considered responsible for us letting in too many goals… but on the other hand… he created a few goals himself. So another example of a player who attacked more and thus made us score more goals but also let more in.

Ah but RVP is gone some will say and yes of course we lost a great finisher. But most of his goals were down to Arsenal attacking on the flanks and delivering the ball in the middle and he could finish the move. But now we even struggle to get the chances.

So the pattern is becoming a bit clear. We defend better but…at the end of the day it is getting us nowhere.  And as a result we concede less but we also score  fewer  goals. I remember the seasons before (you know the conceding more goals seasons) when we scored a lot more and had more reason to enjoy the matches with free flowing and attacking football with the risk of running against a counter and conceding a goal.  Now our strikers are half defenders and we score less goals.

The seasons before we just attacked from the start of the game (or tried to as it didn’t work out all the time of course) but now we play a more cautious game.

Maybe this is all a transition period where we have to find a new balance between defending and attacking. Maybe when we get our more fast wingers back and can play them on both flanks our attack will flourish again like it did last season.

But for now it looks as if the cry for more defensive stability is only hurting us going forward with all the players maybe too much aware of their defensive duties?

So has the cure to what seemed to be a problem caused itself a new problem?

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Arsenal – Schalke04: 2-2, Borrusia Dortmund – Schalke04: 4-0

By Walter Broeckx

After having the nearby neighbours of Dortmund in our CL group last season we this time had Schalke 04 in the group.  So a good moment to compare the two teams in my first review of this game that I visited today.

First of all if I have to look at the hospitality the Dortmund fans stood out largely compared to the Schalke fans. I remember from last year we stood in front of the stadium and the Dortmund fans came over and wanted to share thoughts on both clubs, the way they are run, if Arsenal would recover from the loss of Cesc and Nasri (it was early September or thereabouts), wanting to have pictures taken with both sets of fans. Wishing each other a good game and lots of success but not on the day.  Some supporters singing where both sets of supporters sang a song and then the other group would sing a song. All in a great atmosphere and friendly respect.

I somehow missed that today. The Schalke supporters just looked at us as we came from another planet, not getting in touch or wanting to talk to us. They just ignored us. Now of course I only can talk about the events just outside the stadium but I missed the friendly Dortmund atmosphere both before and after the game. Dortmund 1 – Schalke 0

Efficiency… German efficiency…. well they still have a job to do at Schalke.  In Dortmund the Arsenal fans just entered in the same entrances as the Dortmund fans and then got separated in the stadium and even then we had to get our drinks and bratwurst on the same stand. Standing in the same queue.  In Schalke we had a separate entrance with only 4 gates. And it was one person passing the gate, then a thorough body check to see if you didn’t bring anything forbidden in the ground. And then the next person could pass the gate, and the person after that had to wait again. It took ages to get us in the stadium.   Dortmund 2 – Schalke 0

Drinks in the stadium…. In Schalke even the visitors had to buy a card and with that card you can buy your drinks or food. You could get the money you didn’t use back at the end of the game. In Dortmund we just went to the stand and paid with our euro’s and the home fans paid with their club cards. The result was that apart from a bratwurst and a drink outside we didn’t drink or had anything to eat inside the stadium. I think Schalke is losing money that way and it is not really away supporter friendly. The bratwurst outside the stadium was good but well not as good as the ones I had in Dortmund. They seemed smaller. In Dortmund I even had to stop on a stall when going by my car because I just couldn’t resist them. In Schalke I just went to my car.    Dortmund 3 – Schalke 0

The car park was close to the stadium as in Dortmund. Fine but we needed 30 mins to advance 2 meters. In the next half our we advanced about 1 km. After one hour we still hadn’t left the parking lot! In the next 2 hours I drove 200 kms.  I must say that the car parks at Dortmund were cleared easier than in Schalke. And I also noticed that the people didn’t leave any room for other people.  In Dortmund I remember people letting one car in coming from another row and then just let people in one by one. In Schalke I had to drive with my car almost in to another car to force my way. I then showed them how nice people do it by letting others in. Nah! Dortmund 4 – Schalke 0.

So now you know what they are called Schalke 04.

On to the game and this is from my head and from my experience in the stadium. Schalke starting strong as expected. But Arsenal gradually improved. A long ball from Mertesacker, a touch from a Schalke defender and off went Giroud. Just at the moment he wanted to shoot a defender slid in and the ball came to Walcott who rounded the keeper and a defender and Giroud and put the ball in the empty net. The Gooner end all happy.

Schalke was shocked and they tried to reply but it was Arsenal who suddenly looked much better. Some good movement at times. And when the not very popular Podolski got the ball in the far corner he slipped much to the amusement of the Schalke fans but recovered, turned around his marker and gave a nice pass to Giroud who came forward and was surrounded by 4 Schalke players and headed home superbly. The Gooner end of the stadium was filled with joy.

A Cazorla slip in injury time gave Schalke suddenly a chance and Huntelaar took it well.  This was a real let off because Schalke looked down after we had taken our 0-2 lead but now got a big boost just before going in the dressing room.

As could be expected Schalke came out pressing us back to our goal. I think our defence did rather well. And when Schalke slipped through the offside trap (it looked offside but what do I know from where I stood) and Mannone produced a brilliant save to prevent Huntelaar from scoring again.

We didn’t come out of the defence and you felt the second Schalke goal coming. Vermaelen got the last touch but it was going in anyway. 2-2 and you could fear for Arsenal cracking. But au contraire my friend.

Suddenly the team started playing forward again. Or was it Schalke who was happy with the point? But suddenly we did play better.

And lo and behold we even got a Busacca moment in this game. Podolski and a Schalke defender battled for the ball. Podolski won the ball and the Schalke player went down and stayed on the floor holding his leg. Podolski laid the ball back a few touches and then he was send clear on goal (from where we were standing) and then suddenly the ref blew his whistle and stopped the game to give treatment to the injured player. And that just when Podolski cleverly took advantage of the position of the injured player so he couldn’t be offside. But the f*cking ref stopped our attack!!!!?????  And when Podolski protested this lunatic decision he even got a yellow card.

Now I know if there is a possible head wound the game should be stopped immediately but this was clearly a  player who had some trouble with his thigh so no real possible life threatening situation.  This was referee madness at its best (or worst). I still cannot understand the ref and that decision. And then he restarted the game with a dropped ball. And gone was the chance to put us back in front.  Sickening decision.

But it was a tense game between the number 2  from the Bundesliga and Arsenal.  Both teams seemed satisfied with the 2-2 and then it happened. Theo cleverly anticipated the run of the ball and sneaked in behind the last defender and was on his own in the last seconds of extra time. Theo could have earned himself £100,000 a week but he missed his chance.

And as this was virtually the last kick of the game it gave us somehow a sad feeling. The result was a fair one but because of us missing that last chance we felt a bit disappointed.

And I think there were more reasons to be optimistic after this game. We played better and with the speed of Theo we look another team and more threatening.  Vermalen covered in at left back and was certainly doing better than Santos. But we still aren’t satisfied completely to be honest Thomas.

Jack Wilshere is getting better and better each game he plays. It won’t be long and we will have our Jack back. The team as a whole was ready to fight and to battle. And that was great to see. Cazorla looks like he is coming back from a few lesser games. With Vermaelen behind him Podolski looks better again.

Arteta was himself and was working his socks off for the team.  Giroud scored a great goal and was working very hard for the team. Walcott his pace made us a different team and speed has been missing. Mannone was playing very confidently and apart from one bad punched ball looked very composed.  Koscielny looked the player from last season most of the time.

And my special mention goes to our BFG Per Mertesacker.  What a player he has turned in to this season. (I will probably have jinxed him right now – touch wood)  And from the second the ref blew his whistle at the end of the game he immediately came over to us and applauded the away fans from which I was a proud part this time.  We’ve got a Big F*cking German, we’ve got a Big F*cking German…  A wise lesson: don’t write new players off too soon!

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