Monday, March 17, 2008
Three reasons for four below par performances
By 1970’s Gooner
There is no doubt about it. What looked like a blip at Birmingham, which came after all due to special circumstances, carried itself forward against Aston Villa where we could only manage a draw; and then we began to get worried.
But that performance at the San Siro had every one drooling about the style of the beautiful football that these young guns can master and we again began to believe that those lackluster performances were only blips that every team goes through on their way to glory.
And then came the impotent draw at the Wigan quagmire which, as I wrote then, you couldn’t put it all down to the awful state of the pitch.
The latest points dropped, at home this time, to a resolute and clever Middlesbrough side have brought home to me what a lot of Gooners have probably been fearing.
That there are some common themes underlying these insipid performances and I will start with the most important one:
1. Key players are tired and rotation has not been an option
The long and exhaustive season coupled with not enough rotation means that players are tired and lack energy and movement on which Arsenal’s style of play depends so much.
It is a style that requires all eleven players to perform not only at their best but at a highly synchronized and sophisticated level. Like a jig saw puzzle which requires all parts to be in place before it reveals its beautiful picture.
Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, have been rotating players both in midfield and in attack.
Players like Lampard, Makalele, both Coles, Drogba and Anelka for Chelsea.
Scholes, Saha, Hargreaves, Carrick, Park and Tevez….for Manchester United.
Torres, Alonso, Pennant, Benayoun, Crouch and even Gerrard for Liverpool.
It is not a coincidence that the team with the most rotation (Liverpool) are now looking the most fresh of the lot scoring goals for fun and coming good in this latter part of the season where trophies are won.
On the other hand Arsenal have been resting players only when they had to i.e to replace injured and suspended players like Van Persie, Rosicky, Eboue, Toure and Eduardo.
Fabregas has looked as though he needed a rest some time ago but wasn’t rested enough. The same can be said of Adebayor who has looked tired running the front line sometimes on his own. Clichy and Sagna have been ever present without really taking a breather. The same can be said of Flamini and Hleb.
This did not affect the performance at the San Siro as the special occasion must have given the players a lift but also AC Milan did not really press tight to deny space nor played it rough on the Arsenal’s midfield. And they did not defend with ten men behind the ball.
But on the domestic scene teams approach the games differently and it is quickness of feet and continuous movement that draggs opponents out of position and creates the necessary space and time to unfold the skills that are obviously in abundance.
The major reason for the relative lack of rotation compared to Arsenal’s opponents is a combination of lack of squad depth and injury.
For example if Wenger wanted to rest either Fabregas or Flamini his options were mostly untried players like, Diaby, Diarra (who needed games) Denilson and Song or the ageing Gilberto.
When actually both Fab and Flamini needed replacing, Gilberto, Denilson and to a lesser extent Diarra were not up to it and points were dropped. This was for the games against Wigan at home and Aston Villa, Newcastle and Middlesbrough away.
2. Not enough goal scorers
An area where the squad was beginning to show its depth was in the forward positions. Van Persie’s injury was going unnoticed mainly due to Eduardo coming to terms with the Premiership and scoring goals for fun.
At the same time Adebayor and Fabregas were also hitting the back of the net and Bendtner was being used to good effect, mainly as a substitute.
A good example of Eduardo’s contribution was the 4-1 defeat of Everton at Goodison Park where the performance of the team was very average but even with having gone a goal behind Eduardo’s goal scoring ability meant that we run out emphatic winners.
But Eduardo’s subsequent unfortunate injury and Fabregas’s lack of goals placed too much of a burden on Adebayor. Rosicky’s absence has not helped either as he is the only other midfielder that is more of a goal scorer.
And until Van Pesie could return to the side Arsenal lacked that cutting edge. The edge that Ronaldo and Roonie are now giving to Manchester United by scoring the goals that are turning draws into victories.
Now that Van Persie is back this may be rectified but unfortunately a lot of points have in the meantime been dropped and RVP will need a couple more games to get match fitness and into his stride…
3. Players playing out of position
Not withstanding the above Arsene Wenger made some choices which affected the team’s performance in two of the four drawn games.
He opted to play Walcott as a second forward alongside Adebayor against Villa at home. He started brightly but it only worked for a while with Walcott benefiting from Adebayor’s lay offs but then running out of steam.
At half time Wenger changed to what he should have started with by instructing Hleb to switch places with Walcott and things improved.
Another example is the Wigan away game. I feel that it was not appropriate that Fabregas was displaced to the right of midfield. This had the double negative effect as such decisions often have in football.
Arsenal’s midfield effectiveness was almost rendered non existent as Flamini couldn’t get the rhythm and passing that by now can produce with his eyes shut when Fabregas is there next to him to receive the ball.
It was not a surprise that Arsenal’s most effective and dangerous moments originated when the little maestro ventured in field to receive the ball and dictate play as only he knows how.
But in addition to missing Fabregas in the central areas of the pitch Gilberto’s impact was not up to standard. He is now a shadow of the player he used to be and more often than not chose to pass the ball backwards or sideways thus slowing the game up even more than the pitch was.
What of the future?
Robin Van Persie needs a few more games to find his feet but in the meantime Fabregas and Co find it difficult to return to their early season form. This is exaggerated by the number of crunch games coming up thick and fast beginning with Chelsea away, the Liverpool trilogy and the (hopefully) crunch game at Old Trafford.
Robin Van Persie comes back with a vengeance and starts scoring goals form the off beginning with Chelsea. Fabregas and Co are rejuvenated, put their tiredness and aching limbs behind them and start putting in the performances that they are capable of.
Take your pick…….