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Monday 30 November 2009

You Can't Buy Class, But If We're Talking Xmas Wish Lists, How About A Pukka Centre-Forward & A World Class Keeper

There were plenty of eyebrows raised on Sunday, when we realised that Alex Song wasn’t coming out for the second-half. After conceding two gut-wrenching goals in the last 5 minutes before the break, it must’ve dawned on Arsène that there was no point in us dominating possession, with an extra man in midfield, without imposing any threat up front. But sadly Theo Walcott didn’t have much of an impact, nor did Vela when he replaced Eduardo, nor Rosicky when came on for Nasri.

In fact for the entire 90 it felt as if our far too feeble canons were firing soft bread rolls, which were unlikely ever to make a dent in the reinforced steel of Chelsea's defence. Although le Gaffer might’ve been going for broke, by withdrawing our most defensively minded midfielder, it could be argued that we’d have been better off if Song had stayed out on the park, because out of the 9 players (6 & 3 subs) who played in front our defence on Sunday, Song was the only one with the sort of muscular presence to present Chelsea with a different problem.

I can’t agree with all those pundits who maintain that it was men against boys, as for the most part, I felt our diminutive midfield didn’t do so badly at containing Lampard, Essien and co. and the Chelsea midfield will make hay against several more physical sides this season. Size is a factor, when we’re banging the ball into the box for the schnips likes Eduardo and Vela to compete in vain, in the air against much bigger centre-backs. But it’s not always relevant, as I went home to watch Lionel Messi romp past Real Madrid, in “El Classico” at the Nou Camp, with almost the entire opposition taking a turn at trying to shove the tenacious little maestro off the ball.

No if Sunday’s game served as proof of anything, it was a stark reminder that in the absence of Van Persie and Bendtner, Arsène efforts to try and rescue something from this match floundered on the fact that he was left replacing like for like, with a potpourri of identikit players that currently leave the Gunners looking like an albeit attractive and extremely talented, one trick pony!

Watching Drogba and Lampard discussing the free-kick, as the Blues lined up to hammer home the third and final nail in the lid of our coffin, it occurred to me that they must be facing one of the Premiership’s smallest ever walls. Let’s face it, you don’t need to impart much “English” on the ball to get it up and over Arshavin! Yet in spite of the flattering scoreline, when you consider how this Arsenal side was being written off before the season started, we shouldn’t be feeling too downhearted.

We’ve witnessed a definite improvement in Wenger’s work in progress, but in my humble opinion, it’s at either end of the park where we continue to fall short of the qualities and the consistency needed to challenge at the very highest level.

Quite frankly a clean sheet was never on the cards for this Arsenal side, against an “on fire” Drogba & Anelka. Yet despite the painfully amusing sight of Traore literally bouncing off Drogba, like a ball hitting the side of an arctic barrelling along at 100mph, Chelsea’s potent strike force didn’t embarrass us, in the way that Drogba did for Phillipe Senderos, leaving the Swiss centre-back a permanent psychological wreck.

However that “corridor of uncertainty” which Cashley found with his 2 crosses could be a whole lot less vulnerable, if it was occupied by a demonstrative goalie, who dominated his area. If we had a screaming lunatic of a world class keeper, coming to claim everything in his 6-yard box, instead of a timid Almunia stopping on his goalline and remaining schtum, Tommie Vermaelen might not have stuck a tentative leg out?

Meanwhile conceding the odd goal only becomes a critical problem, when the formerly free-scoring Gunners suddenly look so impotent, as if they’ve undergone a mass vasectomy! With absolutely no variation on our intricate efforts to pick a path through the heart of the opposition defence with our mazy passing patterns, the Blues rarely looked ruffled. They merely had to get enough bodies behind the ball to block our route to their goal.

Eduardo’s a proven goal poacher and perhaps he and Vela need only a little confidence to learn to lead the line. Though sadly to date they both appear to lack either the pace, power, or reaction speed required to profit from the scant few opportunities that open up in games against the top teams. Unless we witness a dramatic improvement, with Van Persie out for 5 months, there’s going to be massive pressure on Bendtner to pick up the lone striker slack, on the Dane’s return to fitness.

Sunday’s game demonstrated that if Arsène continues to stick rigidly to 4-5-1, rather than using our available horses for 4-4-2 courses, then surely he’s got to spend in January if he’s serious about fulfilling his promise to end our barren spell.

I suppose he could look to the kids, but with the Brady Bunch seemingly all developed from one single mould, I’m not sure there’s a recognised centre-forward anywhere on the conveyor belt of the Arsenal’s production line of talented tiny-totts. There’s certainly no-one who’d offer the impetus of the addition of an experienced “big man” with proven line-leading ability.

Still there’s nothing like the prospect of watching our youngsters, hopefully making a monkey out of Man City’s all-star millionaires, to blow away the cobwebs of Sunday’s calamity. It’d be extremely careless of us to lose sight of a second trophy in the same week, but with City fans already beginning to moan about Adebayor’s indolence, the pressure on our youngsters will be positively minimal, compared to the demands for a return on Mark Hughes’ spillage of Abu Dhabi oil reserves.

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Ole Gunner said...


None of the three goals was remotely Almunia's fault.

If you created a list of people to face the firing squad his name will be number 11.

Sir Henry Norris said...

I'd agree that there are other players more culpable than Almunia this season, but Cashley C*nt's cross for the second was close enough to the keeper that he really should have come out to claim it.

Also, not sure how you could claim that Almunia would be 'number 11' to face the firing squad, when you look at the performances of Fabregas, Song and Vermaelen who have been our best players this season.

mordiman said...

great as always bernard. mass vasectomy... that's brilliant commentary right there!

i missed the game but i can't say i'm surprised. it's the same exact kind of issues we had last season. and i think the gaffer is kindd of kidding himself. eduardo was always going to take a long time to come back into form, and vela is still very very young. we dont have arguably any proven goalscorers, and we have one at most, who is injury prone. this is the price we pay for raising a team from scratch...

Anonymous said...

He'd be first in my firing squad!

Firstlady said...

He'd be first in my firing squad!

Anonymous said...

Me too, however the bullet is likely to go between his legs , it'll have to be carefully aimed!

Bern said...

I like Manual Almunia. On the face of it, he seems to be a real sweetie. But sadly, if anything, he's too nice, when I'd much prefer a "Mr Angry" between the posts, someone who positively terrifies his teamates and puts the fear of G-d into them, to such an extent that Tommie Vermaelen wouldn't dream of sticking a tentative leg into his six-yard box for fear of the bollocking he would get.

In truth I can't actually recall Almunia being guilty of any major gaffes so far this season, but I've studied him closely through my binoculars at various matches and although we've seen Manuel dashing out to sweep up on many an occasion, there's a lack of consistency about when and when he doesn't come for the ball and he's got a major communication problem, in as much as he simply doesn't communicate!!

Watching Manuel at corners and set-pieces, aside from sticking up the number of fingers, to indicate the size of the wall and lining them up with his far post, other than this, I'm afraid he simply does not talk to those around him.

He's far from alone, as it bothers me that no one is talking to one another. But I want my keeper to be screaming at his defenders, to confirm that everybody knows their specific job.

Moreoever I've lost track of the number of times we've ended up holding our breath in the stands, over a moment of indecision, for example when a defender is 100 per cent focused on intercepting a high ball and with an opposition striker bearing down on him, he's scared of making a costly ricket. Instead of Almunia taking responsiblity and sprinting out, bellowing so loud to claim the ball, that the defender is in absolutely no doubt that he can leave the ball to his keeper, invariably the defender concerned is left with an element of doubt in his head that forces him to intervene and perhaps gift a corner to the opposition.

I'm afraid that Almunia is far too timid for my liking and I've been arguing for years that he can become the best shot stopper in the business, but with his personality, he's never going to lend our defence that air of reassurance, which only comes when they know for certain exactly when the keeper behind them is coming for a ball, either because he's so audible, or because they know that anything within a given area is his ball.

I've feel like a broken record but I've been saying for a long time now that we have to go and break the bank to bring in the sort of recognised world class keeper who has the sort of intimidating presence between the posts that leaves him looking a couple of inches taller to opposition strikers and who causes them to hesitate, knowing they need to produce the perfect finish in order to get the ball past them. As far as I'm concerned, if we win anything with our current line-up, it will be in spite of our keeper, not because of him.

It pains me to say, but I don't really think it's possible to mount a genuine challenge for the title, without a recognised top class goalie and I certainly can't recall anyone winning the league without one!