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BPL Notebook Matchday 2: Top Clubs make statement, last year’s achievers suffer from goal drought, same ol’ Liverpool?

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It felt like an eternity since Old Trafford was filled with such excitement. The last three seasons have been slightly excruciating for Manchester United supporters, but it appears that Jose Mourinho is ready to put the days of underachievement behind the club.

Similar to the other top clubs vying for the title, United is still a work in progress, but Mourinho’s ability of preparing his sides to earn results is pivotal. As a whole, they weren’t spectacular, but the back four was flawless once again, and marquee signings Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic rose to the occasion.

Where many have failed to live up to the United bill – whilst crumbling at the pressure surrounding Old Trafford – Pogba and Ibrahimovic have taken a step towards justifying their summer transfers. Some said Ibrahimovic was too old, but he’s now notched the Community Shield winner, and was the goal-scoring hero on Southampton’s visit to Old Trafford.

Frankly, Ibrahimovic’s goal presented a sigh of relief, considering Southampton were in full control prior. A midfield trio of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Steven Davis and substitute Jordy Clasie were dictating the tempo of the match with ease, as United constantly conceded possession, but the away side lacked any threat around the box.

Dusan Tadic drifted into clever positions but failed to create chances for his teammates, whereas the striker partnership of Shane Long and Nathan Redmond were underwhelming. Full-backs Matt Targett and Cedric’s crosses didn’t connect with the former – he clearly lacks the pace to get past opponents – whereas the latter constantly dropped into midfield or to the right flank to run at players.

The away side were getting into dangerous positions but were unable to get behind the United defence, thus highlighting the significance of Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle’s departure. The contrast between the two sides attacking options were vivid when you assess their best chances – Long quickly scuffed a low shot at David De Gea despite breaking free into the United box, while Ibrahimovic towered over Jose Fonte to nod a powerful header past the keeper.

It was Ibrahimovic’s first clear-cut chance of the night, and he comfortably slotted a penalty kick won by Luke Shaw in the second half to double United’s lead. Pogba, on the other hand, completed a full 90 minutes in midfield, and appeared unfazed by his massive transfer fee. Ander Herrera’s passing in United’s opener suggested he may play a key role in Mourinho’s XI, but Pogba completely tarnished that notion.

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The Frenchman’s first touch of the match may have indicated otherwise – a poor pass that resulted in a quick Southampton counter-attack. But Pogba nonchalantly evaded challenges with his powerful dribbling, and his clever chipped pass towards Juan Mata in half space nearly resulted in a highlight reel Ibrahimovic goal.

United’s midfield offered the power that’s been non-existent in recent years: Marouane Fellaini and Pogba are aerially competent, and are more than capable of shrugging off opponents when required. When Pogba sat deeper and passed with precision, and when surging forward with the ball he represented the link between defence and attack.

In Pogba and Ibrahimovic, Mourinho has addressed issues the club have ignored for years – with the former it simply involved power and dynamism in midfield. Likewise, United haven’t possessed a clinical penalty box finisher since Robin van Persie’s debut season at the club. That year United won the title, and if Ibrahimovic maintains his current form, history may repeat itself.

Analysis

Guardiola’s City swiftly takes shape

Sergio Aguero has been Manchester City’s saviour from the moment he moved to England, but Pep Guardiola’s attempt to reduce the heavy reliance on individualism is slowly coming to fruition.

Aguero added another two league goals to his tally – taking his weekly total to five – but City’s significant improvement from their opening weekend display was collective. City were dominant in the first half, stifling Mark Hughes’ Stoke City attempt to build attacks from the back and quickly retaining possession near the hosts’ box.

Even with Fernandinho pressed out of the match, City were still relatively fluid going forward. Nicolas Otamendi’s passing out the back was positive, Raheem Sterling’s dribbling troubled defenders, and Kevin De Bruyne constantly darted through the right channel to deliver quality crosses into the box.

Perhaps City’s midweek trip to Romania resulted in fatigue to a fairly unchanged squad, but going two goals ahead merited the away side’s declined passing tempo. Bojan’s second half penalty kept the score-line close, but Guardiola’s men were untested throughout. Late counter-attacks witnessed substitutes Kelechi Iheanacho and Nolito increase City’s lead, but in fairness, their first half performance – a combination of mesmeric passing, intelligent movement, and intense pressing – away from the Etihad was an upgrade to previous displays under Manuel Pellegrini and Roberto Mancini.

It may be worrying that City aren’t scoring or creating enough goals from open play, and Guardiola will be aiming to improve that area swiftly.  Guardiola’s philosophy should improve various elements of City’s game on a weekly basis, but while Spaniard attempts to fix their slight issue in possession, his side still appears better suited in counter-attacking scenarios.

Conte’s system alteration proves decisive

They saved it for late yet again, and Conte’s bold changes can be identified as the catalyst behind Chelsea’s perfect start to the season. Still opting to field his side in a hardworking 4-3-3 system, Chelsea’s subdued attack provided minimal scares for Walter Mazzarri’s Watford outfit.

Chelsea pressed well from the front to fluster Watford’s back-line – out of possession they kept Watford at bay – but one of the main issues the Blues currently experience is the lack of creativity and penetration from central areas. Nemanja Matic and Oscar offer tenacious work-rate, positional discipline, and physicality in midfield, but their passing is mediocre, which explains why Chelsea’s buildup play is somewhat lethargic. Much credit goes to N’Golo Kante who ensured Chelsea weren’t exposed in midfield, whilst maintaining the Blues’ passing rhythm once possession was regained.

It doesn’t help that Pedro Rodriguez offensive threat from the right is scarce, while Branislav Ivanovic has transformed into a liability on both ends. To make matters worse, a stunning strike from Etienne Capoue – Watford’s first legitimate chance of the game – put the hosts ahead with little over a half hour remaining.

Nevertheless, a switch from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-4 following the introduction of Victor Moses, Michy Batshuayi and Cesc Fabregas tipped the balance. Fabregas played ahead of Kante, Batshuayi offered an additional penalty box presence, while Hazard maintained width on the right as Moses attacked defenders from the left.

Watford’s decision to sit deeper to preserve their lead benefitted Conte’s side, and a simple Batshuayi tap-in – stemming from goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes failure to hold Hazard’s shot from distance – served as an equalizer. Minutes later, Fabregas recovered possession and instantly clipped a pass behind the Watford defence for Costa to run onto and notch his second winning goal of the season. It was a vintage move between the two Spaniards often utilized during Chelsea’s title-winning run two seasons ago, and another piece of evidence highlighting Conte’s astute mid-game tweaks.

It’s no secret Conte prefers to play with two strikers upfront, but the current squad at his disposal is better suited in a 4-3-3 to maintain a compact defensive structure. However, Fabregas’ creativity and a promising Batshuayi – Costa partnership may turn the Italian manager’s head.

New season, same Liverpool?

If Liverpool’s win over Arsenal at the Emirates was a statement to their league rivals and potential title contenders, then a loss at Burnley quickly erased any fear Jurgen Klopp’s men were aiming to impose. A loss away to Burnley showcased the issues Liverpool have suffered in recent years: they perform well against the top teams, but severely underachieve when given the onus to break down inferior opposition.

Saturday’s loss at Turf Moor was no different, and Klopp would be highly disappointed that both goals conceded were via moves his teams are renowned for. Nathaniel Clyne succumbed to Burnley’s high pressing, and his loose pass resulted in a terrific Sam Vokes finish. Later in the half, newly-acquired midfielder, Steven Defour, charged through midfield and played in Andre Gray to double Burnley’s lead.

Apart from the goals, the hosts broke into Liverpool’s half twice, via Gray’s pace, but failed to test Reds keeper, Simon Mignolet. Therefore, Liverpool struggled to get behind Burnley’s low-defensive block, and didn’t receive quality service from wide areas to trouble the hosts’ back-line.

The weird feat regarding Liverpool’s XI was the decision to start Daniel Sturridge from the right. Sturridge was often seen dropping near the half-way line to pick up the ball, but he rarely posed a scare in Burnley’s half. Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana combined occasionally in left half space, but the former continuously struck audacious shots from distance wide of the net.

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The main contrast in Liverpool’s two matches was the amount of space the opposition presented. Klopp’s men comfortably exploited an expansive Arsenal side last week, but here, Burnley remained deep and clogged central space – at times they had a six-man defence with George Boyd and Scott Arfield aligned with the back four to complete defensive duties – thus forcing the Reds to shoot from distance.

Liverpool must maintain a level of consistency in both results and performances if they intend on securing a top-four finish this season.

Arsenal & Leicester continue to struggle in front of goal

This wasn’t the tight, cautious encounter often expected between two top-sides, despite last year’s champions and runner-ups recorded the first score-less draw of the season. Arsenal and Leicester remain win-less to start the season, which isn’t ideal considering many tip both sides to miss out on the top four this season.

From an offensive view, Arsenal’s buildup was slightly improved via Granit Xhaka’s passing, but the Gunners remained underwhelming in the final third. Alexis Sanchez’s occasionally linked play upfront but was fairly anonymous, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s powerful running served as the away side’s sole goal-scoring threat.

Leicester offered better structure in their home opener with Shinji Okazaki applying pressure to Xhaka from deep, while the inclusion of Nampalys Mendy ensured central areas were protected. But Leicester’s issue upfront is dissimilar to Arsenal’s – to be frank, Claudio Ranieri’s attack is fairly predictable.

Danny Drinkwater’s diagonals and quick Kasper Schmeichel releases into the channel for Jamie Vardy are being coped with, and though Riyad Mahrez’s trickery still bamboozles defenders, finishing in the final third has been wayward – an issue Vardy is equally suffering from as well. Hull City and Arsenal have maintained deeper defensive lines to limit Leicester’s counter-attacking threat, and the champions still look unconvincing when they dominate possession.

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Arsenal, on the other hand, simply miss Olivier Giroud’s presence in the box. While many Arsenal supporters would prefer a better centre-forward, at the moment, the Gunners issues derive from a non-existent penalty box threat.

Giroud remains an underrated Premier League striker, but his ability to bring runners into play, and attack crosses into the box is invaluable at the Emirates. Theo Walcott struggles to time his runs beyond the defence, and despite Alexis’ wonderful skill-set, he’s been ineffective as a lone striker.

With little over a week remaining in the transfer window, you would expect both managers to address their attacking issues, but with few options available in the transfer market, they may have to rely on applying minimal tactical tweaks to their starting XI.

Sunderland require plan B upfront.

Cristhian Stuani scored two wonderful goals Sunday afternoon to hand Middlesbrough their first win of the season, but it’s difficult to overlook Sunderland’s issues upfront. A long-distance screamer and a wonderful passing move punished the Black Cats, following a dominant first half display from the away side, but Sunderland sparked a promising second half fight-back.

Jeremain Lens replaced Paddy McNair, and moved within close proximity of Jermain Defoe at half-time, while Lynden Gooch slotted into midfield alongside Steven Pienaar. Lens’ presence offered additional pressure to Middlesbrough’s defence and his ability to play with his back to goal forced Aitor Karanka’s men towards their penalty box.

Sunderland found joy down the left flank where they exposed Stuani’s – a forward by trade – reluctance to track Patrick van Aanholt’s adventurous runs forward, which further ignited a brief turnaround. Duncan Watmore and Steven Pienaar combined with the advancing full-back throughout the second half, as the hosts’ goal stemmed through this route of attack when Van Aanholt charged into the box to tap in a rebound from Watmore’s initial shot.

Following Brad Guzan inability to hold onto Adnan Januzaj’s shot minutes later, Sunderland’s attack failed to create another clear-cut chance. Middlesbrough created second half openings through Alvaro Negredo’s hold-up play at half, and here, Sunderland may have flourished with a natural target-man alongside Defoe.

Look no further than Defoe’s equalizer against Manchester City to witness the threat the Sunderland striker offers, but with minimal space available behind the opposing back-line, the England international’s threat remains scarce. Likewise, if Sunderland experience extensive spells without possession, Defoe playing off a striker would prove beneficial.

Moyes’ men won’t receive many opportunities to dominate games, but the current state of his attacking quartet doesn’t suggest Sunderland will score enough goals to survive this season.

West Ham injury issues halts growth

It took Harry Arter’s senseless foul on Cheikhou Kouyate – which resulted in the Bournemouth midfielder’s dismissal – for Slaven Bilic’s men to look threatening in the final third and claim their first win of the season. West Ham were poor against Chelsea, and were equally underwhelming against a much weaker Bournemouth side at home.

Bournemouth’s full-backs remained high, and West Ham’s decision to drop off into a 4-5-1 enabled Arter and Andrew Surman time and space to play forward passes into wide positions. The away side’s attack suffered, however, due to Jordon Ibe drifting centrally into congested areas only to be dispossessed, while Callum Wilson was out-muscled by West Ham centre-backs Winston Reid, and James Collins. West Ham’s attacking threat was also unconvincing, but they found some joy via Gokhan Tore first half display, where he dominated full-back, Charlie Daniels poor positioning at left-back.

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Neither side offered a substantial goal-threat in the second half, but Arter’s dismissal shifted the balance of the match. Bournemouth shifted to a narrow 4-4-1, but were ultimately undone by West Ham’s width. Unsurprisingly, it was Tore picking up Mikhail Antonio’s over-hit cross and providing a better delivery for the unmarked Englishman to nod past Artur Boruc.

Injuries to Sofiane Feghouli, Andre Ayew and Manuel Lanzini are evidently responsible for West Ham’s torpid attack, but Dimitri Payet’s influence is clearly missed at London Stadium. Without Payet, West Ham are deprived of creativity, a genuine set-piece specialist, and penetrative passing in the final third.

Payet’s return should see West Ham shift to a 4-2-3-1 that offers the Frenchman freedom to dictate play between the lines. At the moment, they simply lack guile and the element of unpredictability in attacking zones that was responsible for their success last season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Bilic was counting down the days until his injured players return, as West Ham’s overall attacking play has been average.

Results: Manchester United 2-0 Southampton, Stoke City 1-4 Manchester City, Watford 1-2 Chelsea, Crystal Palace 0-1 Spurs, West Brom 1-2 Everton, Burnley 2-0 Liverpool, Swansea City 0-2 Hull City, Leicester 0-0 Arsenal, Sunderland 1-2 Middlesbrough, West Ham 1-0 Bournemouth

Weekend Stats

  • Michail Antonio has scored a joint-high seven headed goals in the Premier League since the start of 2015-16 (level with Giroud).
  • Patrick van Aanholt (4) has scored more Premier League goals in 2016 than any other defender
  • Leicester’s unbeaten run at home now stands at 16 Premier League games (W10 D6), since losing to Arsenal in September 2015.
  • Since returning to the Premier League, Cesc Fabregas has more assists than any other player (26)
  • Sergio Aguero is the top scoring player in the Premier League so far in 2016 (18 goals in 19 games)
 
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Posted by on August 22, 2016 in EPL, Published Work

 

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Manchester City 6-3 Arsenal

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Manchester City moved three points behind Arsenal with a convincing victory at the Ethiad Stadium.

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Arsene Wenger made five changes to the side that Napoli defeated at the San Paolo. Nacho Monreal, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna were in the starting lineup.

Manuel Pellegrini recalled Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo, Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri to the starting line up.

Arsenal’s complacent approach without the ball led to City’s dominant performance, as Pellegrini’s men were devastating in the final third.

Shape

Coming off a midweek loss to Napoli in the Champions League, many questioned how Wenger and his men would respond. It’s uncertain as to whether their conservative approach without the ball was down to fatigue, but it allowed City to assert their dominance on the match.

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Wenger’s men dropped into two banks for four, but like their press was non-existent. They allowed City’s midfielder’s time on the ball, while Silva and Nasri freely roamed between the lines.

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Arsenal invited pressure into their third, but they didn’t prevent City from asserting their dominance in these areas.

On the other hand, while City also dropped into two banks of four, their approach was pragmatic. City minimized space between the lines for large portions of the match – Toure and Fernandinho sat closer to their back four, and the midfield pressed Arsenal’s creative players when they approached dangerous areas.

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Arsenal’s approach without the ball enabled City to get into better positions, whereas Pellegrini’s men displayed impressive work ethic to prevent Arsenal from penetrating in the final third.

Full backs freedom

Nonetheless, the two teams had different approaches when they dropped into two banks of four, yet there shapes were identical. Both sides were fairly narrow when the opposition was in possession, and this encouraged fullbacks to push forward.

Arsenal’s enjoyed a different element of attack this season through Sagna’s crossing ability from the right, while Pablo Zabaleta is renowned for driving into advanced areas. Gael Clichy was the least active fullback from an attacking sense, and this was logical, as he was the only fullback that was matched up against a legitimate wide player in Walcott.

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Zabaleta constantly pushed forward, attacking space behind Wilshere, as the Englishman was often caught in central positions.

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With Wilshere and Monreal dragged into the centre of the pitch, Zabaleta was a preferred outlet for Pellegrini’s men – coincidentally, it led to City’s second goal.

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Here, we see two issues with Arsenal’s approach – one, Toure is allowed too much time on the ball, and once again Zabaleta is free on the right flank. Arsenal’s midfield failed to close the Ivorian down, and he found Zabaleta on the right flank, which resulted in a well-weighed ball for Negredo to tap in.

Sagna, also received space on the right to deliver crosses into the box, but unlike previous matches, the quality of the deliveries were poor – and when they did get into the box, Kompany did well to clear his lines.

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Arsenal struggled to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities in the first half, but they did find an equalizer against the run of play. The goal was significant because it was one of the few times an Arsenal player pressed a City midfielder, and it highlighted Ozil’s use of half space.

Ramsey stepped forward to dispossess Toure, and he drove forward to play a ball to Ozil on the left flank.

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Ozil ran into half-space after receiving the ball from Ramsey. He can now chose to go forward and continue to penetrate or look for an option. His run into half space forced Yaya Toure to track a forward run into the box, when he/or a midfielder should be looking to intercept a potential cutback.

Ozil did well to attack the half space, and he played a cutback ball to Walcott, who placed his shot into the right corner.

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Ozil decided to make the cut back pass to the advancing Walcott, who is unmarked at the edge of the box. This is down to Ozil penetrating half space.

Ramsey’s tackle was pivotal, but Ozil’s ability to efficiently utilize the half-space led to the goal, as it drew Toure and the rest of the City defenders into the box, thus leaving the edge of the area vacant.

Silva/Nasri

Another issue Arsenal encountered was their inability to contain Silva and Nasri. City’s fluid system is maximized when both players are in the XI, and they were a constant threat against Arsenal.

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The duo was City’s most proficient passers – alongside Toure – as they constantly buzzed around the final third. They dropped deep to help City push forward as a unit, but quickly found space between the lines to spring City attacks.

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Nasri and Silva roaming around between the lines

Silva drifted around the final third, weaving in and around the edge of the area, yet he also ignited swift counter attacks.

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Whereas Nasri was more direct with his approach – he provided intricate passes, and nonchalantly drifted past his opposition at every opportunity.

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Here Yaya Toure isn’t closed down, while Nasri and Silva are free between the lines

The Frenchman improved when moved into the no.10 role, but failed to score against his former side.

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Shockingly, Arsenal struggled to close down the duo’s passing lanes or close them down – Nasri and Silva dominated Arsenal in the final third, leaving Wenger’s men to chase shadows.

Arsenal improve

Arsenal’s best spell of the game lasted 13 minutes. Fernandinho increased City’s lead in the 50th minute, which led to Arsenal’s brief resurgence.

In fairness, City should also be held responsible, as their lackadaisical approach saw them drop deeper towards their box and avoid their defensive duties. Ozil became a prominent figure as he dropped deeper into midfield to receive the ball and began facilitating passes, while aiming to create overloads in wide areas.

Olivier Giroud received wonderful chances to bring Arsenal back into the match, but his poor finishing let him down.

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No City player closes down Ozil and Ramsey is free to receive the ball

Luckily for Arsenal, City continued to sit off, opposed to applying pressure, and as you can see below Ozil and Ramsey received ample space to create Walcott’s second goal.

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Ramsey is still unmarked between the lines. He’s free to receive the ball, and play a pass into Walcott, which leads to Arsenal second goal.

There’s no pressure applied on Ozil and Ramsey, and they were able to find pockets of space to exploit. However, Arsenal’s lead was short lived, as City stormed forward on the attack once again, and negligence to Silva’s movement in the final third restored City’s two-goal lead.

Substitutions

The way both managers utilized their substitutions was pivotal in the latter stages of the match, yet it also displayed an issue Arsenal possess.

Pellegrini was forced to introduce Jesus Navas for Aguero, who suffered a calf injury. Subsequently, he also replaced Silva with Milner, thus pushing Nasri behind Negredo, as City became 4-2-3-1. This forced Arsenal’s fullbacks deeper due to City’s threat in wide areas, and it also injected more pace into the home side’s approach. Milner was fouled for City’s sixth goal, while Navas’ direct approach, led to his cross for Silva’s goal.

More so, with the game now stretched, the injected pace constantly troubled the Gunners backline. The onus was on Arsenal’s their tired legs to search for a goal, and it let to mistakes that Fernandinho pounced on, which contributed heavily to his improved second half performance.

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As for Arsenal, they made a player swap by introducing Nicklas Bendtner for Giroud, while Serge Gnabry replaced Flamini. Wenger conceded defensive solidity in midfield for a direct wide threat, but neither Wilshere nor Ramsey were capable of completing their jobs. The match had slipped away from the Gunners, but Pellegrini’s substitutions preserved the result.

Conclusion

City produced another superior performance at the Ethiad, and Arsenal’s feeble approach ensured that. They allowed City’s midfield to dictate the tempo of the match, Wilshere failed to track Zabaleta’s runs, and Wenger’s options on the bench failed to change the match. 

“It’s very important to be an entertaining team but I would prefer we won 6-0 rather than 6-3,” Pellegrini said. 

“It’s possible to [win in attacking fashion without conceding] but the whole team must know how to defend. I will watch the game again but I don’t remember Arsenal having that many chances to score more than three.” 

Pellegrini should be wary of City’s defensive frailties – while they do score a lot of goals, there were periods in the match where his men lost awareness, and were exposed by Arsenal.

However, Wenger’s reluctance to tinker the squad is finally catching up with his side. This will be an interesting period for the league leaders, as the fixture list picks up, and failure to rotate the squad can lead to individual burnouts, and dropped points.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in EPL, Match Recaps

 

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Arsenal 1-0 Tottenham

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Olivier Giroud was the difference maker in Arsenal’s slender North London derby victory.

Arsene Wenger made three changes to the side that cruised past Fenerbahce in their midweek Champions League qualifier. Giroud, Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott formed an attacking three, while Tomas Rosicky replaced the injured Lukas Podolski, and formed a midfield trio with Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere. Kieran Gibbs started at left back, and Laurent Koscielny returned from suspension to form a centreback partnership with Per Mertesacker.

Andre Villas-Boas made several changes to the side that dispatched of Dinamo Tbilisi in midweek Europa League action. Roberto Soldado, Andros Townsend and Nacer Chadli led the attack in Villas-Boas 4-3-3, while Moussa Dembele, Paulinho and Etienne Capoue formed a midfield three. Erik Lamela started the match on the bench, while new signing Christian Eriksen was unavailable.

Arsene Wenger learned from previous mistakes in the last North London derby, which proved to be decisive, in a match that contained a few tactical features.

Shape

An interesting feat in this match was always going to involve how both sides were aligned without the ball. In last season’s derby at White Hart Lane, both sides played extremely high-lines. Arsenal suffered due to the pace of Bale and Lennon, along with the space available between the lines for Gylfi Sigurdsson and Scott Parker to exploit. Spurs were able to get behind the Arsenal centre back pairing of Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen, which proved to be the difference.

Wenger learned from last season’s outing that nearly jeopardized Arsenal’s Champions League spot, and ordered his side to sit a bit deeper. Wenger’s men dropped into a 4-5-1 that sat off and minimized the space between the lines. In particular, Ramsey was one of their better players on the defensive end, as he thrived in Arsenal’s midfield five.

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It’s key to point out that the constant pressure that Giroud and Rosicky applied on Jan Vertonghen and Michael Dawson. Both men were able to push forward and play positive forward passes last year, and Wenger instructed his the duo to close them down, when possible – limiting their influence on Spurs’ attack going forward.

However, Spurs played a high-line, but were unable to replicate last season’s success. Arsenal looked most threatening on the break, where they could expose Spurs’ high-line. Their main outlet was Walcott – his pace troubled Danny Rose at times, and it was from this element of attack that handed Arsenal the lead. Ramsey broke forward and played a pass wide to the unmarked Walcott, and the Arsenal winger’s ball met Giroud’s run at the near post and the Frenchman tucked the ball under Hugo Lloris.

Arsenal was conservative without the ball, whereas they took a page out of Villas-Boas’ strategy last season, to harm their North London rivals.

4V3

The midfield battle proved to be the decisive factor in the result. Spurs fancied their chances due to their physical superiority, but Wenger replicated his decision in the second half of last season’s tilt at White Hart Lane – where Arsenal significantly improved – Cazorla was the main man, drifting centrally to overload the midfield.

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Cazorla helped Arsenal push forward in attack – he provided a spare passing outlet in midfield, and also disrupted Spurs’ approach in midfield. Now Tottenham had to worry about the tricky Spaniard drifting infield, and Villas-Boas’ midfield three were constantly dragged out of position. Cazorla was allowed freedom to play key passes in the final third, and was often the distributor in majority of Arsenal’s legitimate goal-scoring opportunities.

Wenger acknowledged the threat Spurs posed in midfield, so the inclusion of Cazorla was logical, based on its success last season and the numerical advantage his side gained.

Spurs’ Width

For all of Arsenal’s success in the middle of the park, Spurs did enjoy some freedom in wide areas. Villas-Boas instructed Chadli to take on the inexperienced Carl Jenkinson, and in the opening moments of the match Jenkinson was being exposed as Rose got forward to create overloads. Unfortunately for Spurs, Chadli didn’t maintain his impact on the left flank, and can be criticized for not assisting Rose cope with Walcott’s threat on the counter.

On the other flank, Townsend looked to be the most influential Spurs player in the opening minutes of the match. With Cazorla tucked in, Walker surged forward, which allowed Townsend space to cut in and take shots from distance, forcing Wojciech Szczesny to make a few saves. It was a recurring theme in the opening 30 minutes, but as the match wore on Cazorla began to track back to provide Gibbs cover.

Soldado

Roberto Soldado has been somewhat of a saviour for Spurs since his arrival from Valencia. In fact he’s scored the winning goal in both of Tottenham’s Premier League victories, leading up to this derby, which is why is performance was pivotal to Spurs’ success. Unfortunately for Villas-Boas, Soldado was marked excellently by Koscielny and Spurs’ midfield lacked guile going forward to provide the Spaniard the service he required.

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Soldado scored two goals against Malaga last season, but there’s a clear difference in where he receives the ball in both matches.

While Soldado was often an isolated figure, it leaves one to question Villas-Boas’ decision to leave a player like Lewis Holtby or Sigurdsson on the bench. It’s evident that Eriksen will play an integral role as Spurs no.10, but Spurs have lacked a link in between midfield and attack this season – and Soldado needs ample service to perform at the highest level.

Conclusion

Arsene Wenger learned from his mistakes in last year’s North London Derby at White Hart Lane, and modified them this year, which gave his side the edge over Spurs. Overloading the midfield, pressing the Tottenham centre backs and sitting deeper as a unit, were key factors in their victory at the Emirates.

Spurs will be disappointed with the loss, and it will take time for Villas-Boas’ men to hit full gear. With several new arrivals, the Tottenham manager and supporters will have to wait for this newly assembled side to find form. They’ve added the pieces over the summer to challenge for a Champions League spot, and despite the loss, are still favourites to achieve that feat.

As for the Gunners, they were able to slip past their North London rivals, continuing their great run of form. Despite purchasing a world-class talent in Mesut Ozil on deadline day, they still possess a thin squad. Injuries, loss of form and suspensions will all play a factor over the course of the season, and if they intend on challenging on four fronts, the squad available isn’t enough. However, they displayed that they still have a lineup capable of showing up for a big occasion – a North London derby – and they did get the better of Villas-Boas’ men.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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England 2-1 Brazil

Match in a sentence

On a night that celebrated Ashley Cole and Ronaldinho’s 100th cap for their respected countries, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s second stint as Brazil manager started on a sour note as Brazil was unable to find their spark against a disciplined England side at Wembley.

Analysis

  • England started this match in a 4-3-3 with Wayne Rooney central, while Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck were on the flanks. The midfield three consisted of Steven Gerrard, Jack Wilshere and Tom Cleverley.
  • Scolari’s had his side set up in a 4-2-2-2. Luis Fabiano and Neymar led the line with Oscar and Ronaldinho behind them, while Ramires and Paulinho shielded the back four.
  • Brazil enjoyed a lot of possession in the first 20 minutes and their 4-2-2-2 looked something like a 4-2-4 as the front four were interchanging positions at will. Despite England not having a lot of the ball, it was clear that they were more of a 4-2-3-1 with Cleverley in an advanced position.
  • In the 19th minute, Brazil was awarded a penalty kick, courtesy of a Wilshere handball. Normally Neymar is in charge of putting away spot kicks, but Ronaldinho grabbed the ball, hoping to score on his 100th appearance for Brazil. Unfortunately for the two-time Ballon D’Or winner, he was denied not once, but twice by Joe Hart. That miss summed up Ronaldinho’s quiet 45-minute appearance.

  • England took the lead 7 minutes after Ronaldinho’s penalty miss, when Wilshere drove through the midfield and played a lovely ball to Walcott. Julio Cesar saved Walcott’s initial shot, but Rooney tapped in the rebound.

  • What I found interesting was how both sides pressed one another. England dropped into a 4-1-4-1 when the Brazil defenders were on the ball and it forced them to concede possession or play the ball long. Whenever Brazil was able to play the ball into England’s half, they became a 4-5-1 and they stayed compact and defended well.
  • Brazil pressed the England defenders occasionally and those were the times when England looked most vulnerable. It also didn’t allow Gerrard and Wilshere time to build from the midfield. The problem Brazil had was that the front three of Fabiano, Neymar and Ronaldinho didn’t do this enough. Oscar was busy tracking Ashley Cole and there was a gap between the three up front, which allowed Gerrard and Wilshere to stamp their authority on the game with the space provided.
  • Another key component in this match was the fullbacks. Brazil has two fullbacks that love to go forward in Dani Alves and Adriano. Welbeck, Walcott, James Milner and Aaron Lennon did fantastic jobs in tracking back and preventing the width they were trying to provide. Brazil on the other hand had no cover for Adriano on the left side and it allowed Glen Johnson to get forward on several occasions to help out Walcott. Ramires did a good job in helping out Adriano, but with Cleverley more advanced, it gave Wilshere more space to penetrate. On the left hand side, Ashley Cole wasn’t able to free up space for Welbeck because Oscar did a great job in tracking his runs.
  • To no surprise there were many second half changes, Leighton Baines and Frank Lampard replaced Cleverley and Cole. For Brazil, Fred, Lucas Moura and Arouca replaced Ronaldinho, Luis Fabiano and Ramires. Scolari also opted for a 4-2-1-3 with Moura, Fred and Neymar up top, and Oscar behind them.
  • The front three pressed the England defenders whenever they got on the ball and the pressure eventually led to the equalizing goal. The pressure from the Brazil front four forced Gary Cahill to over touch the ball and Fred was able to smash his shot past Joe Hart, who ultimately had no chance. The pressure continued for the following five minutes and it resulted in England being unable to hold possession and Fred hitting the crossbar.

  • Although Scolari changed his tactics, Neymar failed to track and help Adriano, and with the game opening up Walcott was able to thrive in a few 1v1 situations. Unfortunately for Brazil 11 minutes after equalizing, Arouca was unable to clear his lines and Rooney set up Lampard who thumped his shot past Cesar to make it 2-1.

  • In the final quarter of the match, England attacked with caution, and Neymar and Oscar were allowed more time on the ball, but the Brazilians were unable to carve through a disciplined England side.
  • Brazil had no cohesion going forward and tactically they were a mess. Despite the formation change, the wingers still weren’t disciplined enough to track back and with the front three so high up the pitch they lacked a cohesive shape. They only looked great when England were rarely caught out of position and when they pressed their defenders. The second half was merely left for auditions as Scolari has several issues going forward. Tonight Brazil looked like a team of 11 individuals, that were tactically nullified and that desperately lack leaders.
  • England on the other hand, despite a few defensive mishaps, can build on this victory tonight. The midfield three of Wilshere, Gerrard and Cleverley was exceptional. Gerrard sitting deep allowed, Cleverley and Wilshere to go forward. The wingers did an exceptional job helping the fullbacks, by tracking back as they did going forward.  Wilshere displayed why he’s a key piece to the puzzle for the future, as England has lacked a midfielder with his quality for a very long time. He did a great job carrying the ball from deep, his distribution was superb and like he does with Arsenal, he plays with passion. Tonight, he reminded why his presence is imperative in this England midfield.

Three Stars

  1. Jack Wilshere
  2. Steven Gerrard
  3. Theo Walcott

Tyrrell Meertins

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Posted by on February 6, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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Swansea 2-2 Arsenal

Match in a sentence

Swansea and Arsenal fought to a hard earned draw courtesy of four second half goals, which sets up an intriguing third round FA Cup replay.

Analysis

  • Arsene Wenger set up his Arsenal side in a 4-2-3-1 that welcomed Olivier Giroud back into the fold as he led the line. Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey were on the flanks and Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny was the chosen centre back pairing.
  • Michael Laudrup also opted to line his side up in a 4-2-3-1 that saw Danny Graham lead the line with Nathan Dyer, Wayne Routledge and Ki Sung-Yueng behind him. Former Arsenal centre back Kyle Bartley started alongside Chico Flores at the back.
  • After losing to Swansea 2-0 earlier on in the season, Arsenal was looking to get revenge at the Liberty Stadium. Arsenal pressed high up the field attempting to force the Swansea players to make mistakes. Unfortunately, this seemed to play into Swansea’s hands, as they were able to play through the pressure. They also played long diagonal balls over the Arsenal high line, which created goal-scoring chances.
  • Both sides dropped into 4-5-1’s when they didn’t have the ball and it worked to great effect, as neither side was able to create many goal-scoring chances which left the goalkeepers with little to do.
  • Arsenal was playing quite narrow with Ramsey on one flank positioned more centrally and Walcott drifting centrally when Arsenal had the ball. Walcott was practically a second striker and he caused the Swansea backline problems when he received the ball in the final third and ran at defenders.
  • Arsenal started the second half in fine fashion, pegging the Swansea defenders in their own zone, but they were unable to beat Michel Vorm.
  • Laudrup replaced Dyer and Routledge and brought on Michu and Pablo Hernandez, pushing Michu behind Graham. Michu only needed a minute to make an impact as Arsenal’s high line was exposed yet again. Michu flicked the ball past Mertesacker and calmly placed his shot past Wojciech Szczesny.

Click GIF to see Michu goal.

  • Although Michu’s introduction did provide the goal, defensively it left some holes in the midfield and it allowed Wilshere and Arteta to gain controlof the game. Swansea began to tire and they were consistently giving away possession cheaply. It seemed like Laudrup’s men were content on protecting their lead, but it nearly ended up backfiring on them.
  • Wenger brought on Lukas Podolski for Ramsey, which gave Arsenal another goal scoring threat in the final third. As did Michu, Podolski smashed home the equalizer minutes after coming off the bench as Swansea were unable to clear their lines.
  • Two minutes later Kieran Gibbs gave Arsenal the lead, playing a lovely one-two with Giroud, in which Dwight Tendialli and substitute Kemy Agustien were ball watching and Gibbs smashed a half volley past Vorm into the top corner.

  • Arsenal looked certain to progress to the fourth round of the FA Cup but Swansea pushed on for a late equalizer. Off a corner kick, Gibbs’ failed clearance fell to Ki and without any pressure being applied from the Arsenal defenders he passed the ball to Graham who thumped the equalizer past Szczesny.
  • It was a game that saw both sides enjoy large spells of possession, but dearly lacking quality in the final third. It was far from a tactical battle and both coaches will be furious that they’ll be forced to play a replay. Laudrup’s team selection will be questioned but with a date against Chelsea midweek in the Capital One Cup semi finals, a draw will suffice.

Three Stars

1. Chico Flores

2. Kyle Bartley

3. Olivier Giroud 

Tyrrell Meertins

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Posted by on January 6, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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Arsene Wenger : Time for Change

Arsene Wenger, who is also known to fans as Le Professeur is about to embark on his 17th consecutive season as Arsenal manager which is a tremendous achievement. Along with being idolized worldwide, he is also regarded as one of the best managers in Arsenal and Premier League history.

Wenger has been a revelation for Arsenal over the last 16 years, winning three Premier League titles and four FA Cups. Wenger was also the first manager born outside of England to win a cup double in 1997-98 and then 2001-02, go a whole Premier League season undefeated in which his team was labelled as the Invincible’s, and guide Arsenal to their first Champions League finals appearance in 2006.

They’ve been in the top four for the past 13 years and have reached the knockout round of the Champions League 11 years running, which makes it hard to believe that a man with such a resume could be the catalyst to the slow demise of Arsenal Football Club.

Now here’s a question, what do Ashley Cole, Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri have in common? If you’re stumped I’ll answer this for you; they all left Arsenal in their prime to pursue trophies during the Arsene Wenger era. There are others such as Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor & Matthieu Flamini who also left and won trophies, but they slightly differ from the four men named above.

These three world-class talents and Nasri were at some point the face of Arsenal Football Club, but decided to move to another club that had title ambitions. The life of a modern day footballer is short and although some of the exits were ugly in the case of Nasri & Cole, you have to understand these players play to win trophies, not to be loyal to us fans.

Here we are in 2012, and another world-class player in his prime wants out. Robin van Persie turns 29 this summer, and during is eight year spell at Arsenal has ONLY won ONE FA Cup. The striker has found it difficult staying fit for a whole season throughout his whole career, but this year was different.

Van Persie’s ability to stay fit allowed him to transform into a world class striker last season, in which he scored 30 Premier League goals in 38 games and 37 goals in 48 games in all competitions. He won Arsenal countless games this season through his individual brilliance, and was an integral piece to the Arsenal attack where majority of the buildup would go through him. Without Van Persie this season it’s fair to say Arsenal might’ve not qualified for the Champions League.

It looks like it might be another heart breaking summer for Arsenal fans as they’ll start another season possibly losing another star player due to their lack of title ambition. Over the years Arsenal has slowly become a selling club, and are slowly falling behind the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea.

“I can understand why some players might be frustrated and thinking of leaving, they want to win things and we haven’t done that for six years,” stated Arsenal winger Theo Walcott in a previous interview.

With these names leaving the club it’s only time before the Wilshere’s, Vermaelen’s, Song’s and Koscielny’s follow in the same footsteps. This leaves one to ask, maybe it’s time for Arsenal football club to go in another direction and part ways with Wenger.

It seems evident that modern day football has passed Wenger by, and he’s not the master tactician many thought he was, but is it fair to say that Wenger should be held responsible for Arsenal’s downfall in recent years? With the likes of Rafa Benitez, Juande Ramos, Sven Eriksson, Felipe Luiz Scolari and even the “special” Jose Mourinho being sacked during Wenger’s tenure as Arsenal manager. Is it possible that his exit has been long overdue?

His teams in the past have been known for playing the most attractive football in the country but have lacked that cutting edge and were always looking for the perfect goal. Wenger’s team lined up in a fluid 4-4-2 formation during his glory years that saw his wing backs in Lauren and Ashley Cole surge forward and provide natural width, while his wingers were more direct and took on defenders at ease. His CM duo in Petit-Vieira and Gilberto-Vieira were hardworking, defensively superb and very athletic which decreased the defensive duties of the four men in front of them.

Wenger’s 4-4-2 that he inherited came to an end permanently during the 2005 FA Cup Final against Manchester United when he worried his midfield would be far to open against superior sides. As the years passed he lost key players that were essential to his system such as Patrick Vieira, Gilberto, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp which is why he stuck with a 4-5-1.

Wenger’s 4-5-1 is supposed to see the midfielders interchanging positions to link up with the lone striker and draw defenders out of position. This formation suited Arsenal and it led them to their first Champions League final in the clubs history. Wenger’s sides intend on holding a bulk of possession which is why this formation suited his team. It allowed them to add an extra body in midfield when they play teams that are superior or far more physical.

They became more stable defensively and were able to dictate games as teams had to deal with that extra midfielder they didn’t have prior. Over the years we’ve seen many variations of this formation. During Cesc Fabregas’ rise to becoming a world-class player the team was built around him in a 4-3-3 that at times was a 4-2-3-1, in which he excelled in an advanced role behind the CF.

The departure of Fabregas and Nasri saw the emergence of Van Persie as Arsenal reverted to a 4-5-1 that looked like a rigid and disjointed 4-3-3 when going forward. This left Van Persie up front alone with about a 20 yard distance from the five man midfield attempting to support him. Arsenal tend to be quite predictable when attacking and they seem to struggle to break teams down as the opposing teams feel confident sitting deep and countering on the break.

Most teams field a physical, yet crowded midfield to startle and disrupt the free flowing football that Arsenal try to express. It’s easy for teams to play Arsenal now because their 4-3-3 is at times robotic and static. There are a lot of factors that separate Arsenal from being at an elite level as Barcelona and one main factor is their movement off the ball.

Barcelona players have the technical ability and are instilled with the tactical prowess to interchange positions and are always moving, compared to Arsenal in which their positions seemed fixed. Over the years, Arsenal’s movement off the ball has become very stagnant and predictable, which is why teams allow them to pass the ball freely until they reach the final third because they believe Arsenal don’t possess the creativity to break them down.

His naive approach in the transfer market has also seen his rivals surpass them in the table. Wenger has always relied on the likes of his youth players rather than splashing the cash in the market. The problem with this is teams such as Manchester City and Chelsea have gotten better over the past decade due to the amount of money invested in their squads. Arsenal have slowly turned from being title contenders to fighting for European spots.

Whether it’s Theo Walcott, Denilson, or Per Mertesacker, this team is filled with players who didn’t live up to their transfer price, high expectations and are simply not good enough to take Arsenal to the top of English or European football.

The excuse “they’re still young” and “they’ll eventually mature” has been overused over the last eight years and some of these players have been living off these labels throughout their entire career. To be fair Wenger has done well bringing in the right players, but he’s failed to get the best out of these players by playing them out of position. Wenger has also failed to take the club as a whole to the next level. That’s the problem.

Tactically he’s stalled players development and you can make a firm argument that he’s ruined a few careers along the way. The likes of Nasri, Arshavin, and Walcott are players that like to penetrate through the middle of the pitch, and excel as a free number 10 or deep-lying role in the midfield.

It leaves one to believe Wenger buys players that he likes rather than ones that would fit his system. The wingers in Wenger’s system are made to stay wide and hug the touch-line as a natural winger such as Antonio Valencia, Angel Di Maria and Gareth Bale do. Which leaves us to ask why did Wenger prefer to purchase these players and stick them on the flank rather than actually buy natural wingers?

These players that have played on the wing over the years aren’t natural wingers and if stuck on the wing would prefer to play as an inverted winger; the problem is this has caused these players to be caught out of position numerous times and cause little to no threat going forward in big games.

Over the years we’ve seen his top players leave the club, but he has failed to find players of their class to fill their void. To make matters worse, he still implements them into the same system regardless if they fit or not. This leads to a drop in quality but also pushes the progression of the team back.

A prime example is Mikel Arteta who joined Arsenal last summer in what most will call an “emergency buy” to replace Cesc Fabregas. Arteta operates deeper in the midfield, whereas Fabregas prefers to be in an advanced role closer to the striker, which is a key reason why Van Persie saw a lack of quality service compared to recent seasons.

Another example is Alex Song, the Arsenal holding midfielder has to fill the boots of Petit, Vieira, Gilberto and Flamini. These were commanding midfielders that possessed tactical discipline, and also held the midfield together. Song, like many Arsenal players are good footballers and he built a great partnership with Arteta this season. Going forward in attack he has excelled, notably setting up Van Persie numerous times this season, but his defensive duties has been one of his few flaws.

Against the elite in England and Europe he tends to lose possession easily when pressure is applied and he tends to be caught out of position often. Players are able to drop in the hole far too easily which allows the opposition to cause a threat in their final third. The likes of Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have exposed his defensive flaws this season.

Arsenals frailties at the back are still the same, they’ve been poor when defending set pieces and have failed to find a legitimate replacement for Jens Lehmann. The fitness of Vermelean and Sagna has been a blow, but due to these injuries we’ve seen the rise of Laurent Koscielny this season.

Unfortunately, the rest of the defenders in the side have proved they’re not good enough and that is down to Wenger’s training and his ability to find class defenders. A solid defensive unit is what leads teams to titles, we see this in Mourinho, Guardiola and most recently Conte’s Juventus team this year. Arsenal’s defence has weakened over the years and there is only one man who you can be held responsible for this.

Now the real question is who do you blame for this era of mediocrity? Most of the blame is rightfully put on Wenger, but have you ever thought the fans can also be held for the slow demise of Arsenal FC. The club is financially stable and from a business stand point they’re successful, but this is a football club that should be filled with supporters that desire and demand silverware.

Some might feel it’s unfair to attack the fans as they don’t play the game, but they have a part to play as well. Arsenal used to be a legitimate title contender, but in the last decade they seem to be playing to qualify for Champions League football. Their fans seem content with this, which is an absolute shame.

Managers in today’s game are fired for finishing second, some even for claiming a league title, but Wenger has always found a way to keep his job. In the last eight seasons, apart from finishing third twice, Arsenal have finished fourth six times in the past eight years.

At any other club Wenger would’ve lost his job, but Arsenal fans have kept faith in a man who once possessed a team that struck fear in the hearts of teams around England. If Arsenal fans are content with third or fourth place every year and a Champions League spot then one can understand the situation, but this is a club that demands silverware and if these fans really cared about this club they would be demanding change.

Wenger appeared a genius when he was Manchester United’s only competition for the Premier League, however as time passed players began to leave, those players weren’t properly replaced and the new players are less imposing. Whether its financial reasons or a change in the club philosophy, Arsenal has slowly become a legitimate contender for Champions League spots, whereas Manchester City and Chelsea have surpassed them and rivals Newcastle and Tottenham are fairly close.

It’s quite scary for Arsenal fans that in an eight year span their team has taken massive steps backwards. It’s fair to say that majority of the blame should be put on Wenger. A manager’s job is to find the right mix of players, implement a winning system that fits his team well, be able to adjust to different tactics, motivate his players, have his players believe in his philosophy and get the best out of them.

During this era, he has failed to meet these requirements and it leaves one to believe that it’s certainly time for change. It doesn’t matter if Wenger is fired or he steps down, but the Arsenal board need to address this issue immediately. He can certainly take up a role behind the scenes or higher up in management but the longer he stays as manager the worst it can get for Arsenal.

What’s certain is that Wenger has endured his highs and lows during his tenure, but is it possible that he’s the cancer in the progression of Arsenal Football Club? As memorable and historic as his recent successes have been, you have to ask yourself one question, is Arsene Wenger still capable of taking Arsenal Football Club to an elite level ?

Tyrrell Meertins

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2012 in EPL

 

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England 3-2 Sweden

Match in a sentence

A game that was filled with many defensive errors saw a very mediocre England side claw back from a one goal deficit to defeat Sweden 3-2.

Observations

  • Hodgson’s men were set up in a 4-4-2 and the only change from the side that played France was striker Andy Carroll who replaced winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
  • This change pushed Ashley Young to the left flank and saw Danny Welbeck who ran the channels well against France operate behind Carroll, as well as hold the responsibility of dropping into the midfield when England didn’t have the ball.
  • Sweden as well operated in this variation of a 4-4-2 which was more of a 4-4-1-1 which was a bit of a shocker as they usually operate in a 4-2-3-1 that allows Ibrahimovic to drift into the midfield. Johan Elmander returned to the side to lead the line and Zlatan Ibrahimovic played right behind him. We also saw Anders Svensson partner Kim Kallstrom in the middle and Ola Toivonen was pushed to the bench in place of Rasmus Elm on the left flank.
  • In the first half both teams seemed to have the same approach to the game and that was to sit deep and soak up pressure. It was dire, both teams were giving up possession easily and it looked like we might get our first 0-0 game of the tournament.
  • Luckily in the 23rd minute England took the lead when Steven Gerrard whipped in a great cross to an unmarked Andy Carroll who nodded the ball past goal keeper Andrea Isaksson. It was the sixth headed goal Sweden had conceded in their last four games and could explain why Hodgson chose to go with Carroll as he provides an aerial threat.
  • Andy Carroll’s selection was justified through the goal but the side as a whole did/ does have a problem when Carroll is on the field. England becomes more one dimensional, and sometimes they try to be too direct. When going forward they seem to just lob balls towards Carroll and lose possession far too easily, yes when you are chasing a game it is understandable, but they had every opportunity to grab the game by the throat and failed too. Although they are a better team without the ball, with so many games in a small space of time, these long periods of defending might catch up to them depending on how far they go in this tournament.
  • The second half started in fine fashion as Sweden scored two goals in the matter of 10 minutes. Glen Johnson will be held responsible for both goals, and it left many England supporters still in shock that Micah Richards wasn’t initially selected.
  • The first goal was an own goal from Johnson, that was caused by Johnson playing the Sweden players on side and then knocking Olof Mellbergs attempt into the back of the net.
  • The second goal came 10 minutes later when Sebastian Larsson’s curling free kick was met yet again by Mellberg whose header flew past Joe Hart and made it 2-1. Johnson left Mellberg unmarked and in 10 minutes Johnson was exposed for the RB he truly is. Average!
  • Hodgson then made a game changing sub by taking off James Milner for Theo Walcott. It was Walcott’s first appearance in the tournament and he made the best of it four minutes in as he tied the game with a drive from about 25 yards that Isaksson made a howler out of.
  • In the 78th minute, it was Walcott again involved as he skipped past Larsson and found Danny Welbeck who produced a sublime finish that saw him back heel the cross past Isaksson and put England in front 3-2.
  • We witnessed another day of excitement at Euro 2012, although the football was merely poor, we learned a lot about this England team. Compared to recent years they aren’t as talented, nor do they strike much fear in any team’s eye. They do have belief in themselves and also in Hodgson and they showed they’re character tonight. Nonetheless, they were average at best tonight and were lucky to play a very poor Sweden side.
  • Hodgson will ever so rightly receive plaudits for going with Andy Carroll and for his timing of the Walcott sub. That leaves Roy with three wins and one tie since becoming the England gaffer.
  • Unlike those teams of the golden generation this team might play ugly but they get results, and have now put themselves one win away from a quarterfinal berth which most will consider a successful tournament. Remember Hodgson was hired a month ago and has been without his many key players, including his best player Wayne Rooney who will be eligible to start against Ukraine.
  • As for Zlatan Ibrahimovic he was yet again fantastic today. I’m not a Ibrahimovic fan, but like Cristiano Ronaldo he doesn’t seem to replicate his goal scoring form on the international stage. This decline is simply down to the lack of world-class/class players around him, compared to the ones he has at AC Milan.
  • This result has officially eliminated Sweden from Euro 2012. In all fairness they have no one to blame but themselves as they took the lead twice in this tournament and ended up losing both games.

Three Stars

  1. Theo Walcott
  2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
  3. Steven Gerrard

 

Honourable mention to Olof Mellberg for his involvement in the own goal and scoring the second goal. Danny Welbeck deserves one too for that exquisite finish to win the game for England

Tyrrell Meertins

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2012 in Match Recaps

 

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