Saturday, August 23, 2014

Stop Whining About a Striker; Everton Preview

I was supposed to go in for work today but then my senior emailed saying I don't have to. God bless her soul. Which also means I can write about Arsenal, and let my views be read by random people who come across my website, and never actually read anything. If I reek of desperation for this blog to be read by someone, it's because I am desperate. Desperate enough to appreciate people whose comments on blogs and discussion groups are along the lines of 'We should get Falcao. And since he's injury prone we should get Cavani as backup. F*** Giroud.' Okay, I'm only joking. I'm not that desperate. 

But that does bring me to this oft-mentioned point about how Arsenal need another striker. Almost every moron with a twitter account says it, and tabloids add fuel to the fire by linking us with every random striker that exists. So let's just put transfer rumours aside, and quote Arsene Wenger:

Ordinarily that would definitely mean Arsene Wenger isn't looking for another attacking player. No winger, no striker. He didn't say 'we aren't looking at anyone at the moment' nor did he say 'we're ready to do business if something comes up'. No, he simply and clearly stated that Arsenal doesn't need an attacker. So as far as rumours are concerned, the simple solution for all the grievances, misgivings and disappointment that someone might have (on account of the fact that we didn't buy Johnny Superstriker Jr.) is to simply stop reading tabloids. It's good for health, really. Of course, my intention in writing this is not to throw water over your hopes and dreams about Johnny Superstriker Jr., rather it was to analyze this striker business.

Anyone who has ever read this blog (one can always hope), or my tweets (yes I tweet these days strangely enough) would know that I like Giroud. His 16 League goals, and 22 overall is not bad at all. Plus he provides a bunch of assists, and also lead to what I firmly believe is one of the greatest goals ever (the Jack Wilshere one against Norwich last season). His style is such that he holds the ball allowing all our midfield talent to do their stuff. That being said, he's not clinical, misses a lot, and isn't in that elite bracket of strikers plying their trade today. He's good at what he does, but he is no game changer. Good, but not great. 

Our need for attacking reinforcement became apparent with the minimal number of goals we scored last season. Giroud for all the things that he does well, scoring 30 goals a season isn't his thing and Sanogo is still young and yet to score competitively for Arsenal. So it might appear strange that Wenger hasn't bought an out and out striker this season, nor does it look like he's buying such a player. The most obvious answer is because he bought Sanchez (by this time most people are already shaking their heads disdainfully).

Sanchez isn't Cavani, he isn't Falcao, nor is he someone like Costa or Lukaku. Sanchez is a creative forward, capable of playing all across the front three. He isn't an out and out winger, he isn't a traditional No. 9 like Giroud or Cavani, he is what I like to believe a creative striker. He can create and score, he isn't a target man, but someone who widens play and isn't static. For everyone who would have loved Luis Suarez last season, there's a reason why Liverpool wanted Sanchez as Suarez's replacement. Suarez was the best striker in Europe last season by a mile, and the fact remains he barely played in that No. 9 position. He played all across the front three for Liverpool, and wasn't he prolific?

Sanchez, whether he plays on the right, the left, or upfront has the qualities of a typical Wenger striker. Think about it. He has the pace, he can dribble and he's creative. His 19 goals in La Liga last season are proof that he has an eye for goal. People say that he's not tall enough, or well built enough to be a striker. He may only be 5'7 but he's got a stocky frame. The next time you watch Sanchez play, watch him defend. He's got an awful amount of strength, and if I dare say so, is made for the physicality of the Premier League. I've always thought that Walcott would make an excellent striker, if only he had the upper body strength. Walcott has pace, excellent movement, he knows how to run in behind defenders. He'd be a pretty decent striker against smaller teams. But against the bigger ones, he'd easily be overpowered, and shunted off the ball. Sanchez has the quality which prevents Walcott from being a striker. 

That's the reason why I don't see Wenger buying another striker, especially a target mine like Cavani. Because he already has a striker, the type which he likes. And think about it. Wenger's greatest strikers, his best ever, none of them were target men. They were pacey, creative forwards. Starting with Anelka, then Henry and finally (even though I hate saying so) Van Persie (Bergkamp always played a slightly deeper role for Arsenal so I'm not counting him). They weren't players who would head the ball, or be a 'fox in the box'. In the words of that dutch skunk, they were 9 and a halfs. 

I expect to see Sanchez start a game up top for Arsenal sooner or later. Sanchez and Giroud are Arsenal's equivalent to say Aguero and Dzeko. Additionally, in purely numerical terms, we have the further additions of Sanogo, Walcott, Campbell, and even Podolski to a certain extent. None of them are first choice strikers of course, but in pure backup terms, they aren't bad either. The striker question has already been answered this summer in the form of Sanchez. What we need to do is wait for Sanchez to acclimatise to his surroundings and his teammates (Seriously, Cavani isn't happening. Get over it).

That striker went a little bit long didn't it? Anyway, we've got Everton vs Arsenal on tonight, and after the 3-0 humiliation last season, I hope we finally show what are made of (I mean it can't get worse right). Our away trips were well documented, and Everton is perhaps our first actual test of the season. I'm willing to strike off the Besiktas match on account of the conditions, but Everton is our first league test. I really hope we manage to fix the deficiencies in creativity we've had for the opening two matches of the season.

While Ozil is in the squad, he probably won't start, even though I really think his role is being missed. With Santi Cazorla looking indifferent so far, we need someone to create those chances. Assuming Ozil doesn't start, I'd bring in Chamberlain, because he's looked great in his substitute appearances, or maybe even Rosicky. The creativity has to come from somewhere, and these are players who could help. I would also start Sanchez up front, but I don't really think that's going to happen so soon in the season.
Arteta is injured, so Flamini comes in his place, and I really wish we don't feel Arteta's absence too badly. Chambers is probably going to start again, and he'll also face his first big test in the form of Lukaku. We'll definitely know more about Calum Chambers after tonight. On a more advantageous note for us, Ross Barkley won't be playing, so Everton might be devoid of some creativity too. That being said, I can never wish ill for Everton because they're a great club, run in the best of ways, and have probably the best and nicest managers in Roberto Martinez. There's a great piece about him on ESPN which you really should read.  

It's going to be a tough match of course, but if we finally manage to gel as a team, three points should be manageable. I'll of course be cracking bad jokes through the course of the match on twitter if anyone wants to read them. 

Hope it's a good match.
'til next time

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Work is really ruining my desire (and willingness) to write on a very regular basis. Last night, after coming home at 11:00PM, watching the match till 2, all I wanted to do was go to sleep for the next 6 hours before going back to work. Do you know what's interesting about indenture of mortgage documents? Nothing, nothing at all. Plus tomorrow I'm going to be assigned to a new matter, and while the client involved is huge (and famous), I can't divulge the name on account of confidentiality even though there's a good chance that I'm going to be in office till pretty late.

Okay, enough whining about being a lawyer (it's actually pretty cool. Not Suits cool, but definitely cooler than being an accountant or something), and onto things Arsenal. The match last night made me yawn a little, drive some insects out of my room, and every so often curse Giroud on twitter. I like our HFB, but he's neither match fit, nor has he ever been clinical. Not that the rest of the team was much better. Nor was Besiktas' team for that matter. 

Ba missed the chances that he did get, and was owned by Chambers for large parts of the game. Our very own Giroud missed a fair number of chances, and kept flicking the ball into oblivion. Look, we all enjoyed the goal against Norwich, it was great. But it's been a year, get over it and pass like a human again. Sanchez offered plenty of drive and seemed most likely to create a goal, but there was still some end product missing from his game. Though it has to be said that it was a huge step up from the match against Crystal Palace and he seems to be growing from match to match. Santi Cazorla had another very, very poor match. I don't know what's wrong with our little Spaniard, but for the past two matches he's been a peripheral figure, only seen when there's a free kick to be taken or something. On the basis of his recent performances, I'd rather play Chamberlain. He of course wasn't the only guilty player and Aaron Ramsey's red card in the 80th minute seemed to sum up our attacking performance.

For the past two games, we've somewhat lacked creativity and the ability to create chances. Our goals against Crystal Palace came from set pieces, and the last night's match had barely a handful of chances. Which makes me glad that Ozil is going to be returning soon (hopefully against Everton). For all the shtick that he got last season, he still is one of the few players in the team that can literally create a chance out of nothing. With him on the team, Sanchez could possibly concentrate on scoring rather than creating, and we wouldn't be as dependent on Giroud's finishing ability (which is wildly inconsistent).

It wasn't really a dull match though. Not hugely entertaining, but not boring either. Defensively we were pretty sound, and Chambers really does seem to have a wise old head on his shoulders. Other than a slip which allowed Ba to go past him, he was solid for most of the game. Considering he's 19 years old and has never played in the Champions League ever before, it was a really great performance. Definitely worthy of the Man of the Match. While I'd be a little cautious in pronouncing him as the next great defender, he does seem like an astute buy from Wenger, and definitely worth the 16 million we paid for him. 

In the end, the match doesn't really put us a terrible position, it does leave us slightly uncomfortable in terms of where we want to be. We're going to be worrying about the away goal rule, which is never really nice, and it would have been that much more simpler if we'd just scored one or two goals. The team looks as if it's still gelling from an attacking point of view, which is rather strange considering that Alexis is the only new player to join the first team. Hopefully, we'll have learnt the lessons from last night and shall put them to good use against Everton, which is no easy feat even without Ross Barkley. In all likelihood, we'll also get to see our Germans for the first time this season. Maybe they can spur our team into action again? There's nothing that cannot be solved by a good ole BFG yelling. 

That's it for now. I'll try writing sooner next time, work permitting of course. 


Monday, August 11, 2014

Community Shield etc

I haven't written in a week or so, and my only excuse is that I am now an employed lawyer. This week is still relatively okay, but next week onwards it's going to be late nights/early mornings at work. If only I could write about Arsenal all day long, and go for matches, and tweet...Oh what a life that would be.

Anyway, so we've now won the Community Shield again after a really long time, and that's of course a reason to be happy. The fact that we hammered Manchester City is an even better reason to be happy. While the Community Shield is only a peg above a friendly, and even lower than the Capital One Cup in terms of its value, yesterday's match was still a good indicator of where the current Arsenal squad is in terms of its fitness and preparedness before the season officially starts next weekend. 

Before getting into larger consequences, a little on the 3-0 whopping which those Manchester Sheikhs received. We started excellently it must be said, and the first half half was full of possibility. Of course Manchester City had a somewhat make shift defence with Clichy, Kolarov, Boyata and Nastastic, while the rest of their squad could have started any Premier League match. It had the usual Yaya Toure, Dzeko, Nasri, Navas, and apparently an in form Jovetic. So all those saying that City had a horribly weakened team are somewhat off the mark since we were missing three of our guaranteed starters in Ozil, Mertesacker and Walcott. Perhaps the City players didn't really care, perhaps Yaya Toure was still dreaming about his birthday cake. Not really our fault. Our midfield trio of Arteta, Wilshere and Ramsey bossed Toure and Fernando, and we were definitely a class above City.

The first goal was a classic Cazorla goal, where he got the ball from Sanogo, did a Cazorla-esque trick and powered low into the right corner. Our second goal scorer of the night was of course Aaron Ramsey. Wilshere let Sanchez loose with a nice pass, who further passed to Sanogo. Sanogo nicely held up the ball for Ramsey to enter the box, make use of a fantastic first touch and score the second of the night. At half time Sanchez (who while showing some deft touches and good running, still didn't seem exactly match fit) and Sanogo (who had an average match but still managed to play a part in two goals) were replaced by Chamberlain and Giroud. The tempo dropped in the second half, and we had an organised performance rather than a continuance of the jubilant first half. Then Giroud scored an absolute belter, and it was game over for City.

In terms of performances, everyone had a great night. Chambers played at Centre Back again, and it must be said that I'm delighted with our 19 year old. He was strong, good in the air, and read the game rather well for a teenager. His versatility makes him a really good prospect, and on the basis of what we've seen so far, he can definitely slot in when either Koscielny or Mertesacker need a break. Debuchy had a really good competitive debut, and led some nice attacks down the right hand side. Although he was largely untroubled defensively, he did make a fine block to prevent that Nasri fellow from scoring. Our midfield trio of course bossed their city counterparts. Ramsey of course has been at a top level for a really long time, but yesterday Wilshere showed glimpses of coming back to his best. He was authoritative, distributed the ball well and seemed to play like a person who knows it's time to perform. 

I really hope Wilshere makes it this season. Last season was one of progress, and this season he must move forward from there. Of course to expect Ramsey levels of improvement would be ridiculous. But if Wilshere can consistently play without getting injured, he would give the manager a definite selection dilemma. As of now his position in the squad isn't exactly fixed, or assured for that matter. But if a Ramsey-Wilshere partnership can work, it's going to be a stable one for years to come. On a slightly negative note, Koscielny had a slight injury and he might miss the start of the season. That means we definitely need a new central defender since Vermaelen has also departed, and Monreal is a left back. 

Which brings me to Vermaelen. I think we all knew he was going to leave this summer. To be a club captain, in the prime of his career and barely get a match must be infuriating. To Vermaelen's credit, he was completely professional, and never whined or echoed his frustrations in public. Mertesacker and Koscielny are our best defensive partnership, and Vermaelen simply wasn't good enough to displace either of the two. Despite the fact that he barely played last year, he now has a 5 year contract at Barcelona, one of the best clubs in the world, where in all likelihood he's guaranteed to start. It's fantastic for him, and while he isn't good as our current starters, he still remains a pretty good defender. I suppose everyone should wish him the best of luck, and I do hope he succeeds at Barcelona. He did leave a nice message for Arsenal and the fans, and as it turns out he was the first Arsenal captain since Vieira to lift a trophy. 

All said and done, we've had a pretty short pre-season because of the World Cup, and while we still have one or two question marks about places, the team by and large seems fit and raring to go. Which is excellent, since I haven't seen Arsenal play competitively since several months. The World Cup was excellent, but as one of those guys on Arsenal Fan TV stated 'it's all about the league munnn' (the same guy who said Giroud shouldn't do 'poom poom' before matches).

Till next time. 

PS: Sorry for the slightly dyslexic post and a complete lack of structure. Was reading up on contract drafting while writing the post. Oh the life of a lawyer. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sanogo Dances, Arsenal Parties and Alexis Joins In

To the half dozen people stumbling onto this blog by accident, I haven't written in the past few days because my job has finally begun. My hotshot, busy law firm job has begun after a seemingly endless summer. Yes, I'm an Arsenal fan who provides (hopefully) sound legal advice. Which also may be a good way to get people to read this blog after all.

Anyway, last night's Emirates Cup match was quite fun. A somewhat experimental Arsenal line up decimated a Benfica team, which to be quite honest was a pale shadow of last season's treble winning team, in a 5-1 victory for the Gunners. Having had its important parts being scrapped and sold, Benfica was outclassed, humbled and embarrassed by an Arsenal squad where a lot of players were eager to show what they were made of. Of course, Benfica by no means are a poor team, and to see the Arsenal players run rings around them was hugely entertaining, and hopefully a sign of things to come.

The starting line up was Martinez, Bellerin, Chambers, Monreal, Gibbs, Flamini, Campbell, Ramsey, Rosicky, Ox, Sanogo, solid if not the brilliant. Apart from Gibbs, the back five was largely young and/or experimental. The last I remember Martinez playing was that lovely 7-5 match against Reading, so not exactly happy memories of defensive breach. Monreal is a substitute left back, Bellerin an academy player and Chamber's debut performance in a slightly unfamiliar role. The midfield was suitably experienced, while the front three comprised of Chamberlain returning from injury, a scoreless Yaya Sanogo and Campbell's debut in an Arsenal jersey. Of course, the lack of experience didn't show. It looked as if the entire squad was a well gelled unit, and everyone played their part. I'll try and analyse the highlights of the match.

The biggest highlight was of course, our much maligned, four goal hero Yaya Sanogo. It took several matches, substitute appearances, criticism and 27 minutes last night for Yaya Sanogo to score his first for Arsenal. Ramsey (as he has done so often in the past year) beat his marker, made a run down the right flank and squared towards Sanogo. Sanogo had already made a nice little run, and since the ball was slightly behind him, back-heeled into the goal. Which was followed by a super dance (definitely looked practiced) and three more goals. He even tripped after scoring the fourth just to prove that it wasn't some sort of dream. Or maybe he was just doing his best Gerrard impression. Anyway, the fun part was watching him grow into the game. As has happened sometimes in competitive matches, Sanogo started on a slightly plodding note, a few misplaced passes here and there, dwelling around a bit. That first goal seemed to unleash his demons, and by the end of the match his long legs were taking on one, two, three Benfica defenders. 

The cheers that he's got were both on account of the performance, and because it was surprising. The thing with Sanogo was that he was much maligned last season, sometimes quite unfairly. He's a striker, and he's supposed to be scoring, but in his scoreless performances last season (especially the one against Wigan), the good things that he did went amiss. His appearance in the FA Cup final against Hull, changed the match for us. And while it was a very tactical substitute by Wenger, the player was up to the task. Sanogo's movement has always been up for everyone to see, but fail to notice. People might say all four goals last night were by and large easy tap ins. But that type of movement cannot be taught. You either have it or you don't, and to the best strikers, this knowledge of the game, where to be, to predict where the ball is going to land, comes naturally. By the end of the match, he was even beginning to show his technical ability. It was of course a meaningless friendly, but if Sanogo manages to continue from here, he can be an important weapon in Arsenal's holster. 

Most of Arsenal's best attacking play last night was the result of Sanogo, Campbell, Bellerin and Ramsey. The way all four of them connected was a joy to watch, especially considering the fact that the four of them have barely played together. Campbell showed what the hype was about. Quick, pacey, a lot of individual ability and a definite eye for a pass. His first goal in an Arsenal shirt was super volley. He did look a little unfit at times, but based on last night's performance and Arsene's words after, he's definitely going to be a part of the Arsenal squad for the coming season. Bellerin was largely untroubled at the back, but we got to see his attacking talent and it was definitely exciting. Ramsey of course has been in great form for some time. At the other end of the pitch, our new 19 year old, Chambers acquitted himself quite well at centre back. With persistent rumours of Vermaelen's departure, Chambers might be one of the most valuable signings this summer. 

And then Alexis Sanchez stepped onto the pitch.

And the stadium roared. 

And birds crashed into poles as they too were awestruck by the magnificence that is Alexis. 

Sorry, just trying to create a bit of drama and all. But yes, Sanchez entered, and every Arsenal supporter in the stadium (and several at home) cheered in delight. For the 18 minutes that Sanchez was on the pitch, he showed some glimpses as to why we spent 33 million on him. There was that pace, that dribbling quality, some nice runs, and good work rate. The entire affair had a happiness inducing, well choreographed feel to it. Like bacon wrapped dates, where you first taste all the meaty goodness and then that amazing sweetness. First being entertained by talented squad players, and then getting a glimpse of a true superstar. 

Wenger hinted that Sanchez may play 45 minutes today against Monaco and that is something everyone is looking forward to. At the same time I really want to see more of Campbell and Sanogo, after last night's performance. I know it's still only preseason, and actual competition is very, very different. But with Giroud, Sanchez, Campbell, Sanogo, adding a bit of Walcott and Podolski, we may have a pretty tremendous attacking frontline. It's not like Manchester City's existing star-studded affair, rather a good mix of youth and experience, eager to show what's in their arsenal (bad pun intended). 
Depending on how early I get off work tomorrow, I'll try and write about the Monaco match. 
Till then enjoy your Sunday.

PS: Bacon wrapped dates do exist. Come to Bombay if you ever fancy a taste.