The Times they are a changing
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.
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