Sunday, 29 September 2013
Five thoughts on Swansea 1 Arsenal 2
Ramsey's goals could inspire a title challenge
The clamour for signing a striker over the summer was driven by a legitimate concern about the number of goals in the team. I felt Arsenal scored 10-15 less League goals than they needed to last season, which was almost entirely because of a lack of goals from midfield. Arteta, Ramsey and Wilshere played 76 games between them and scored just seven goals, a figure made all the more damning when you realise that Arteta also took Arsenal's penalties last season. I appreciate Cazorla scored plenty of goals but as a total, the number of goals from midfield was not high enough. In addition, with van Persie, Adebayor, Henry and Ian Wright, Arsenal fans had become used to seeing the team's striker score 20 goals a season, something Giroud never came close to threatening last season, increasing the dependancy on goals from midfield.
This is why Aaron Ramsey's revelation in front of goal is so important. Of course he will not keep up this sort of run of scoring throughout the season (he has been scoring with around 80% of hit shots on target, an incredible statistic) but if he could score 12 League goals, that could be the difference between Arsenal challenging for the League and not. It's worth noting that on the last three occasions Arsenal challenged for/won the title - 2004, 2008 and 2010, there have been goals from midfield. In 2010, Diaby (!), Denilson, Ramsey and Rosicky all supplemented Fabregas' 15 goals; in 2008, Rosicky and Fabregas were to the fore; and in 2004, Robert Pires was still scoring for fun.
The curious case of Arsenal fans and Kieran Gibbs
It has been quite something to read so many people on Twitter saying of Kieran Gibbs "he's a hugely improved player this season" or words to that effect, given that I was mocked for saying Gibbs wasn't especially good last season. Now I'm no philosopher, but presumably for him to be much-improved there would need to be areas for improvement, and given that he's still not a brilliant player after this improvement, this implies he wasn't that good before.
Anyway, I digress. Gibbs has improved but he still needs to improve his anticipation. One of the reasons I rate two of Swansea's defenders - Chico and Angel Rangel - is that they have very high average interceptions per game, which I consider a good measure of defender's ability. On Saturday, much of what Gibbs did that was praised by the commentators was in effect making last-ditch tackles because he was out of position originally. This might look good on TV, but it's not conducive to good football, or in aiding the team in quick transitions and counter-attacking football. It might seem perverse to slate Gibbs given his form has improved, but he's still (in my opinion) the weakest player in the starting eleven and now aged 24, he can't really be classed as 'up-and-coming' anymore.
Michael Laudrup is a class act
Even if he were not a brilliant former player and an astute manager, I would like Michael Laudrup for not wearing a tie. I am of the opinion that ties were a terrible invention and you will rarely see me wear one (the collars on most of my shirts being too small is but an incidental factor in this). But in addition to his cravat eschewal, Laudrup is a very good manager.
When he went to Swansea, his managerial reputation was very much up in the air - he made Getafe play terrific football but was sacked by Spartak Moscow and struggled at Mallorca. I was not alone in pondering whether Swansea could be relegated last season. That they were not even in the relegation mix was partly down to some terrific form at the beginning of last season, partly down to some well-chosen signings (O HAI MICHU) but mainly a result of Laudrup coaching the team to play a distinctive style which really works for them. Listening to his post-match interview, you could tell this was somebody who really understood how football works - his comments about Swansea's positioning immediately after the first Arsenal goal and how they went for it too much there and then were particularly interesting. He's certainly somebody I'd consider as a successor to Arsene Wenger.
Crisis Crisis Crisis!
There are lists of funny Arsene Wenger quotes that are occasionally shared, but on the anniversary of his having joined Arsenal, Wenger made one of his shrewdest comments in a long time: "these days if you lose one match it is a crisis".
That's not a quote that will be joining lists, but it is a good summary of what is so frustrating about 24/7 media coverage of football. The puerile conniptions thrown by the media every time a top team loses to a lesser team is exceptionally trying and exceptionally boring. I always thought the beauty of football compared to tennis is that there's a much larger chance of Arsenal losing to a team from the bottom of the Premier League than there is of the world number one tennis player being beaten by a player ranked 30th in the world, and that was part of football's allure and what made it exciting. But apparently instead we just have to hear the word 'crisis' mis-used. If it were banned from the lexicon, few tears would be shed.
Napoli will be a major test
Next up for the Arsenal is Napoli at home. Much attention will understandably be on Gonzalo Higuain, but their other signing from Real Madrid, Raul Albiol, intrigues me more. A terrifically talented player, he is somebody I am convinced Arsenal made a mistake in not moving for and Ozil will need to be at his best to help us get the better of Albiol and Napoli.
Napoli are a major class above any team Arsenal have faced this season. This will be a real test and the true calibre of this nascent Arsenal team will soon be a lot clearer.
Keep the faith.