Thursday, 29 November 2012

Five thoughts on Arsenal's form

Theo Walcott's importance to this team misses the point...
Anybody who knows me or who has read this blog knows that I am far from a Theo Walcott fanboy. Yet even I, in the giddy aftermath of the North London Derby was moved to declare that he had improved a great deal.

This is true. He is playing at a consistently higher level than ever before. He has also hit a purple patch of form and been particularly good for the past couple of months. Even so, it only takes those of us with a memory longer than eight weeks to remember just how appalling he was in his substitute appearance vs Chelsea.

But the truth is he's been good. The issue is he's been no more than that; his importance to the team is more an indictment on our general attacking play. So sure, give him a new contract - but that shouldn't be mutually exclusive with serious attacking reinforcements. And if it is a choice of one or the other, I would choose the new signings; even in his purple patch, Theo has continued to be a flat-track bully with his poorer performances coming against the better teams we've faced.

There's a legitimate case for Arsène Wenger to go…
But unfortunately, it's being made by the wrong people. And in the wrong way.

That Arsenal did not win anything between 2005 and 2011 is of very little bearing to me. I did not believe Arsene Wenger should go then because the team was competitive. So banging a drum about how we've won nothing for seven years and therefore he should go is absurd.

At the beginning of 2007/08, we went on a 22 game unbeaten run. We were a win at Old Trafford away from winning the Premier League and a couple of very dodgy decisions away from a winnable Champions League semi-final against a Chelsea side managed by Avram Grant. That team wasn't rubbish; that team didn't merit the sack.

Even as recently as April 2011, it's worth questioning what happens if Eboue doesn't bundle Lucas over in the 101st minute? Would we have gone on to win the title? Probably not, but maybe. So I don't accept the idea that Wenger's failings are long-term.

The current team is pretty bad. Since Clichy, Fabregas, Nasri and latterly Van Persie left, we are quite clearly a much weaker team. I'm inclined to agree with the manager that third was about as well as the team could hope to have done last season - but I'm also quite happy to hold him responsible for that. He signed the players; the poverty of the squad is largely his fault. I think he's slightly unlikely that the current generation of youngsters (Jack apart) aren't up to much, but he should probably have done something to counter-act that.

As far as I'm concerned, he should stay because no manager could make drastic changes to the playing staff until the summer - but then his position should be seriously considered.

What to say about the lack of saves from our keepers?
It is very hard to work out exactly what is going on in goal. When you concede a lot of shots from outside the box, is it fair to criticise the goalkeeper, the defence, or both? And if both, to what extent is each culpable?

I'm prepared to believe that the skill of our defence means that opposition chances (when they do occur) are of a higher quality because they come from a mistake by one of our players - but that does not excuse our keepers saving nothing.

When there was speculation a couple of years back about Szczesny's contract, everyone wondered what Wenger's issue was; it's pretty obvious now.

It's pretty much impossible to win with substitutions…
I remember when I used to complain when Wenger used to bring on striker after striker in search of victory that it was a move bereft of any real tactical nous, and doesn't really help if you're trying to create chances.

But then, if you bring on a winger for a winger, it's termed 'like for like' and therefore not changing the game. And, if heaven forbid you bring on a defensive player when chasing the game, you are clearly a complete buffoon who hasn't got a clue.

The truth about substitutions is that unless the substitute quite clearly wins the game, it's very hard to evaluate them. In pretty much all football analysis, the importance given to them is grossly disproportionate to their actual importance.

The great irony in all this…
Is that after the press went on and on and on and on about how we've won nothing for seven years, we're 2/1 to win the Carling Cup with this team. If Thomas does lift the trophy, no doubt we'll hear about how it's not a real trophy. Them's the breaks.

Keep the faith.

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