You'll have to forgive me if I've repeated a couple of points from a previous post in the following piece, but I wanted to pick the best points for my Examiner piece
I know there were plenty of Gooners who felt I was being a bit harsh on Fabregas after the Blackburn game and there were others whose comments suggested that there was absolutely no justification for my criticisms (although I can't help but wonder how many of these opinions came from people who were present in person to watch the game at Ewood Park?). In fact I'd even begun to wonder if I'd got it wrong myself and as a result I spent much of the 90 minutes against Man City scrutinizing Cesc closely, through my binoculars, instead of following the ball.
Now I don't know whether Cesc is following instructions, not to waste his talents doing too much donkey work, nor can I believe Fabregas has gone from being a self-effacing, humble 100 per cent grafter, to an egotistical, lazy, less committed Gunner, overnight. However the more I see of Cesc, the more convinced I am that there's some cause for concern about Fab's recent performances.
Saturday's game wasn't the best game to judge Fab by, as when Sagna was subbed for Denilson and Flamini went to right back, it was Denilson who was playing as the more advanced of our two midfielders, with Fab tending to hold back. What's more, with two fit centre-backs allowing Gilberto to rejoin the midfield, we might look a little more balanced and a little less lightweight in the centre of the park. With our Brazilian enforcer back in place to break up opposition attacks, perhaps this might free Fabregas from some of his defensive responsibilities, so that he's best placed to launch a counter attack. However there have been several instances in the past couple of game, where I would've expected Fab to stay with the run of one of the opposition, thereby preventing a problem for Flamini, whereby he was struggling to cover two players.
Moreover there will be many games where we are under the cosh for certain periods of the match, where we must defend as a team with everyone accepting some defensive responsiblity, to ensure the opposition won't always have an easy ball to an open player. We saw evidence of this in the second half on Saturday. From where we sit in the lower tier, closer to the south end of the ground and the fairly vocal City fans, it was patently obvious that the visitors had chosen to target our right flank, where Flamini was trying to fill in for Sagna. Virtually every one of City's attacks came down their left flank, where we appeared particularly vulnerable. The obvious point of view was that Flamini was at fault because he failed to pick up the wide man every time, but he was also torn between staying in touch with Kolo, to ensure there wasn't a gaping hole between the two of them and so we don't really know if someone like Hleb was to blame for not helping out and providing the necessary cover out wide.
Meanwhile with Gallas injured (yet again!) and Senderos joining him on the sidelines, we are looking decidedly short on centre-back cover and while I am all for the youngsters gaining more experience out on loan, you have to wonder at the sense of allowing one of our best prospects, Djourou play for Birmingham, while we are having to make do with Gilberto! But in truth, we have got awat with it up until now, as I'm sure most will agree, we continue to look a long way from being secure at the back and we've yet to face a truly potent strikeforce.
At least it was good to be able field two genuinne strikers at home, instead of Van Persie operating on his own up front. Adebayor might've had a bit of a stinker, but then surely we can cut him some slack with his first game back. You can train all you like, but as we all know, there is no substitute for competitive match practice and I'd like to think that if Manny was match fit, he wouldn't have been caught on his heels in the box and might have anticipated a couple of the balls played across the face of goal on Saturday, in time to connect and slide at least one of them home.
Hopefully the return of Sol, Lauren and Kanu next Sunday, with a Pompey side that usually comes to play against us will act as suitable inspiration for everyone and in the meantime there's the small matter of a Champions League game which is far from over, until we make it so with the first goal on Wednesday
Come on you Reds
When the Elvis tune “The Wonder Of You” blasted out of the PA, prior to the teams trotting out for our first home game, a couple of weeks back, I mistakenly assumed that this was merely a tribute, to mark the 30th anniversary of the passing of “the King of Rock n’ Roll”. I pooh-poohed the suggestion that this was to be the Arsenal’s new signature tune, as I simply couldn’t fathom the reasoning behind such a barmy choice of songs.
It seems to me that there are only two criteria for the choice of music to mark the entrance of the teams into the arena. Either it’s a song which has some specific association with the club concerned, or a stirring anthem that’s been chosen for it’s capacity to rouse the passions of the crowd, thereby getting the adrenaline pumping through the bodies of the home team and hopefully making the visitors quake in their boots at the prospect of the ensuing encounter. Heaven only knows which category Everton’s “Z Cars” theme tune falls into, but I don’t doubt that there are plenty of Toffees’ fans whose hairs still stand up on the back of their necks, when the first few bars of this somewhat bizarre choice of music, blare out at Goodison Park before a big game.
By contrast, when it dawned on me on Saturday that we are likely to be enduring the dulcet tones of this boring Elvis ballad, before every home match for the foreseeable future, I imagined the players in the tunnel dozing during this lullaby, with the resultant deceleration, rather than the desired quickening of their heart rate! I’m afraid I have to concur with Morrissey’s suggestion that we should “Hang the DJ”!
Then again if all I have to grumble about is a musical difference of opinion, then I guess we’re in relatively good shape, compared to some. Considering many of us have spent the past couple of months suffering the merciless “bon mots” of our Spurs mates, as they took such great pleasure in teasing us about the demolition of each successive cornerstone of Arsène’s North London empire, leading to the somewhat premature predictions of the imminent downfall of the Arsenal dynasty, there will be few Gooners who’ll have failed to relish the delicious irony of the footie media’s focus on the skullduggery of the suits at Spurs.
In truth the suspension of betting on Jol’s sacking last week should’ve been evidence enough that something was afoot. I’m somewhat surprised we haven’t heard more about an investigation into this attempted betting coup. But then a bit of insider dealing is probably par for the course for some of the White Hart Lane wiseguys. Not that we haven’t our fair share of Footsie finaglers, ever since a Club Level membership became the latest ‘must have’ accessory for every self-respecting City boy (City of London, as opposed to Sven’s mob).
It was almost worth enduring all that rampant pre-season optimism from the wrong end of Seven Sisters Road, if only because it’s so much more fun, watching them fall from such a height, as the Spurs board manages to shoot themselves in the foot, yet again. I suppose he could always make them an offer they can’t refuse, but I have to admit to feeling some sympathy for their Dutch Tony Soprano. His almost untenable position is a sad reflection on the panic-ridden state of the farce that is British football at present, where the lunatics at the helm of the Lilywhite asylum were giving their leader £40 million to spend, whilst seemingly simultaneously plotting his replacement in the absence of immediate results.
Fergie was perhaps the most relieved man at Old Trafford on Sunday. If good-fortune had instead favoured the visitors, it would’ve been ol’ Red Nose on the end of the Glazer’s hook, as the grisly bait for the piranha like feeding-frenzy of those tabloid pariahs. Yet nowadays, sadly the demands for immediate success are such, or more’s the point, the dread of being drawn into the relegation dogfight and the risk of losing one’s place at the Premiership trough, is so potent, that most every manager is only a couple of bad results away from becoming the bookies favourite for the “tin tack”.
Consequently, even in light of the recent turmoil and the loss of Dein, his right-hand man, I can’t envisage our own Arsène Wenger wanting to swap the security of absolutely ruling the roost at the Arsenal, for all the relative uncertainty of a clean slate at another club. However you only have to witness the anguish that many managers experience on the touchline, to appreciate that the intense pressure of Premiership management is hardly conducive to one’s good health. Thus if it wasn’t for the fact that Le Prof’s young squad is a work in progress, Wenger might find the prospect of walking away from the unrelenting strain of day to day management somewhat more appealing.
Listening to the post-match phone-ins at the weekend, I was surprised by the proposition that we were the most in-form side. Even the most avid Arsenal watchers will admit that, to date, Arsène’s current symphony has appeared decidedly unfinished. In fact, following the groans of frustration that greeted the umpteenth overhit pass, or our unconscionable penchant for providing meat and drink to messrs Dunne and Micah Richards, by constantly playing to their aerial strengths all afternoon, I turned to the missus to suggest that if you didn’t know better, you would’ve thought that we were the motley collection of mercenary strangers, rather than Man City.
Nevertheless, few Gooners will moan, least of all me, if Cesc continues to conjure up an 80th minute winner every week. Yet Fabregas’s goal cannot mask the fact that apart from a rare individual effort, he has struggled so far to produce the sort of midfield promptings necessary for a significant impact on the overall proceedings. In my humble opinion, the influence of an in-form Fabregas is vital, if this Arsenal side is to rise above the somewhat tepid efforts seen to date, to truly come to the boil.
Most will argue that so long as we are achieving results, where in the past we probably would’ve dropped points, who cares if we continue “winning ugly” whilst we struggle to find our customary, more artistic form. Aside from providing a valuable demonstration of some newfound mettle, just imagine what we have to look forward to when our fluid passing game really starts to flow!
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Monday, August 27, 2007