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Tuesday 25 August 2015

You'll Never Walk Alone Perhaps...But A Little More Company Certainly Won't Go Amiss


Several Million Pennies Perhaps, But Please Arsène Don't Let Us Get Caught Short, For The Want Of You Spending Them

                 With no Irish Examiner column to write this weekend, due to it being a Monday night game and with me having lazily neglected to post last week's missive (other than a Twitter/Facebook link to the edited version in the Examiner's sports supplement last Monday), I thought that I had better post some thoughts on tonight's encounter, for all those Gooners who might be feeling somewhat starved of my words of wisdom :-)

                Arsène somehow managed to keep the impending absence of both Koscielny and Mertesacker quiet and I'm sure that much like everyone else, my heart sank somewhat, with the revelation about an hour or so prior to tonight's KO that, having never had an outing playing alongside one another in a major encounter, a decidedly unfamiliar centre-back pairing of Chambers and Gabriel were about to face the unenviable task of having to thwart Benteke, Coutinho & co.

                Although Gabriel has enjoyed a few outings since his arrival, frankly, considering what we paid for Callum Chambers and the fact that he was being touted back then as a fairly certain graduate into the full England squad, it seems somewhat remiss of Wenger to have denied Chambers absolutely any game time, ever since Callum's very promising start with the Gunners ended in comparative ignominy.

                I can understand Arsène wanting to protect his investment and to prevent Chambers' confidence from being completely shattered, to the point where his calamitous contribution might've resulted in there being no possibility of redemption as far as the Arsenal's fickle, not so faithful were concerned. Yet if Chambers and Gabriel are to continue to be considered as our first and pretty much only choice as viable cover for Koscielny and Mertesacker, then surely le Gaffer has an obligation to ensure that both players enjoy sufficient game time, so that neither of them ends up looking like quite such complete fish out of water, if, or more's the point, when he's forced to throw them straight into quite such a frenetic frying pan, in circumstances such as those experienced this evening.

                I'm unsure whether it was down to the fact that our guests adventurous first-half ambitions began to evaporate after the break, as Liverpool inevitably began to focus on consolidating the point that would serve as such a psychological boost, compared to their capitulation at our gaff last term. But whether this was the cause, or it was down to forty-five minutes worth of much needed familiarity, mercifully Chambers and Gabriel both appeared to be a little less out of their depth in the second half.

                However, so dire was our defending early on that an improvement was no great feat. Although it felt as if we had been cheated of the opening goal, with text message confirmations from those watching on the box, stating that Ramsey's strike had been wrongly ruled offside (whatever happened to the former adage of affording the attacking team the benefit of any doubt?), with Petr Cech suddenly coming good and confirming his "point saving" capabilities, with a couple of impressive saves and with the Scousers being denied a couple of goals, with the ball coming crashing back off the woodwork (including a wonder strike from Coutinho), every Gooner present was relieved to reach halftime with honours somehow remaining even.

                Allowing for my colander-like memory in the event that I've remembered incorrectly, but as the stats flashed up on the big screens at the break, showing that the Scousers had managed something like ten shots to our three, with something like five shots on target, to our meagre return of a single effort on goal, these figures told a revealing first-half tale and one in which we couldn't have really complained if we'd found ourselves 0-3 down come the break!

                From what I recall, Monreal was about the only one of our back four who didn't embarrass himself, while Bellerin and Chambers were most culpable, leaving le Coq and Cech having to save their bacon on several occassions. Sadly this left Hector seemingly so terrified of being undone that I can barely recall seeing him making use of his greatest asset, turning defence into attack, by rampaging down the right flank.

                Nacho's consistency has resulted in us having increasing faith in the Spaniard as our first choice left-back. Kieran Gibbs might be quicker, but his physical frailties and the fact that these constantly leave him struggling to regain his form, make Monreal look like Mr Reliability by comparison. However Nacho will never possess the sort of pace necessary to terrify his opposite number and with Hector reluctant to make use of his speed, for fear of leaving the back door open behind him, sadly we are left looking woefully short of the width needed to stretch opposition defences when on the attack.

                And this problem is only made that much more apparent with Arsène's current starting XI. Santi might not have been at his creative best this evening but there appears to be a consensus of opinion that he and le Coq are the most effective pairing in the middle of the park. However if one agrees with AW's apparent belief that Özil, Alexis and Ramsey are all too talented to be left out of the starting line-up, with Mezut seemingly allowed to drift wherever he fancies, we're left with Alexis and Ramsey as our nominal wide men.

                Ramsey definitely doesn't enjoy this position and it's obvious that he would much prefer to have a more central role. Additionally, Aaron patently lacks the pace to be able to stretch a full-back down the flank and in the event we turnover possession to the opposition with him haring towards the corner flag, he's not fast enough to be able to get back and assist Bellerin to thwart the counter attack.

                Such is Alexis' unbridled enthusiasm that I'm sure he'd willingly play in goal, rather than be left chomping at the bit on the bench. Nevertheless, despite the fact that I'd doubt he'd ever complain, I imagine that if he had the choice, our Chilean Duracell bunny would much prefer to be playing in the middle, just behind Giroud, feeding off our French striker's knockdowns.

                It is therefore almost inevitable that both Ramsey and Alexis will instinctively gravitate towards the more congested central areas because they are both a long way from being able to fulfil the responsibilities of a more natural wide-man.

                By contrast this evening, with Benteke being so dominant in the air, Rodgers was able to adopt a simple, but highly effective percentage game, with the likes of Clyne and Firmino flying down the flanks and whipping in crosses for their target man. In doing so, they managed to turn our defence and get them nervously playing towards our own goal, getting in behind our backline and threatening our goal with almost every attack.

                Personally I would've liked to have seen both Theo and the Ox sent on much earlier, but out on the wing, to try and use their pace to stretch the opposition defence. Considering how badly we needed to get a home win on the board and how Liverpool had begun to sit back, allowing us to dominate possession as we pressed for a goal, I definitely couldn't fathom Wenger's logic, in replacing Giroud with Theo?

                Not only has Walcott proved decidedly unconvincing, playing in his preferred role as our principal striker, but there's such an obvious deficiency in Olivier's absence because suddenly we are left (distinctly "vertically challenged"!) needing to keep the ball on the deck, without a hope in hell of winning anything in the air.

                What I find most depressing is our absolute lack of originality at set pieces. When you think how blessed we are, with supremely talented ball-players and how much time these lads spend on the training pitch, I simply cannot comprehend how it is possible that we don't have an abundance of potential set-piece and corner takers, capable of imparting such power and pace on the ball to make every set piece trouble the opposition, instead of invariably presenting a feebly struck ball as "meat and drink" to the opposition keeper.

                Nor can I understand how almost every other side manages to surprise their opponents with the occasional training ground routine, when our wealth of creative geniuses cannot manage to concoct absolutely anything other than the customarily tepid cross into the box.

                Come on Arsène, when you've taken Giroud off and left us seriously deprived of anyone who's capable of getting their head on the ball, surely we are long overdue a modicum of original thinking and can at least attempt some sort of "special teams" routine practiced in training. I don't know about the opposition, but I for one would certainly fall over in amazement!

                Without any width, the Gunners were left, as ever, intricately trying to pick a path through the massed ranks of the Scouser's defence along the width of their penalty box, patiently awaiting the one magical ball that might find a route through all this congestion. Admittedly Mezut managed to conjure one up, in setting Ramsey up for the goal that was wrongly ruled offside. Yet if I've said it once, I've said it a million times and it seems so obvious to a simple soul like myself, that if you can't find a path through the heart of the opposition's defence, then at some stage surely we've got to attempt to go around them?

                Unfortunately, so long as le Prof persists with his square-peg in round hole efforts to shoehorn as much talent into the side as possible, we will continue to be deprived of the necessary width that might afford us the option of this particular Plan B, when faced with the sort of resolute efforts seen from the Scousers this evening, in frustrating our persistent tippy-tappy attempts to create a goal-scoring opportunity, by ensuring they had a sufficient number of bodies in the box to deny us the time and the space necessary to get a shot off.

                I'm not sure what the answer is to this question, but watching Pedro bringing the sort of pace to Chelsea's performance against the Baggies that the Blues have lacked up until now (and at the same time making a mockery of all that crap about needing time to adapt to the Premiership!), I can't help but feel that by leaving the vast majority of our attacking pace on the bench, we're gifting our opponents with the fillip of knowing that they need not be frightened of playing a high defensive line, when only Alexis has the capacity to embarrass them.

                After having to endure so many successive seasons of tense Champions League qualifiers, it was a rare pleasure this past week to be able to savour the anxieties of opposition fans, watching the likes of Man U struggling to negotiate their way into the group stages. They might only have beaten the mighty Club Brugge but Memphis' rampant display left me yearning for the scintillating sight of a speedster in the Arsenal's colours, terrorising the opposition with the same sort of turbo-powered pace.

                I'm really not sure that Benzema would've offered us a guaranteed twenty plus goals per season and according to the comments on the radio this evening, the suggestion was that in the absence of being able to sign any of his targets, they wouldn't be surprised if Arsène does no further transfer business.

                Personally I am not nearly so bothered about "who" but "if" we add to the squad before the transfer window slides agonisingly shut. With all our competitors spending money like it's going out of fashion, in a frantic effort to add more strength in depth to their squads and with rumours of £200 million sitting in the bank, I can't help but feel that we need the psychological boost of a big name signing, far more than we need to be earning the interest on these funds, if only as a signal of intent to the rest of the squad of our determination to kick-on, as opposed to being content to tread water as perennial also-rans.

                Arsène might trot out his traditional response, refusing to bring in players who are not better than those we have already. However I couldn't help but notice the line-ups on the back of the matchday programme against West Ham and again in tonight's programme, where it's impossible to ignore the fact that we've got twenty-four players listed, compared to thirty-seven in the Liverpool squad. We can argue all we like about specific individuals and whether they might be good enough, but there's no denying this patently obvious difference in the basic numbers!!

                I was quite impressed with Wijnaldum's performance for the Toon at Old Trafford and I can't envisage McClaren's less fragile looking Newcastle exactly being a pushover on Saturday. So many other sides have made use of the additional money washing around the Premiership, by going to the well to try and add quality to their squads, either merely to try and avoid the drop and ensure their continued access to this cash cow, or with more elevated ambitions.

                As a result, I suspect that there's a much greater risk of teams taking points off one another this season. Never mind us mounting a title challenge, when injuries and suspensions begin to take their toll in mid-winter, I fear we might regret a failure to add more strength in depth in the most obvious positions, if only to maintain our top four status.

                As disappointing as it was to have failed to secure our first home win against the Scousers and to have failed to conjure up a goal from all that second half pressure, we have to count our blessings because the evening could easily have turned out a whole lot more catastrophic and we can at least seek some solace in the likelihood that Petr Cech's performance should do a power of good to our new keeper's confidence.

                How crucial the two dropped points will be in the long run, this will only become apparent when we see if Liverpool fold more easily against our immediate competitors. If the Scousers prove themselves capable of taking points at Man City or Stamford Bridge, then tonight's draw won't seem nearly quite so costly. However if we've flattered Liverpool, like we appear to have done with West Ham, where the Hammers defence has looked positively porous ever since, should the Scousers prove to be similarly incapable of doing us any favours elsewhere, our failure to break our home duck tonight might prove more significant?

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Anonymous said...

why the excuses for Chambers. He was rubbish. How on earth do you expect Bellerin to even think about moving forward when Chambers was that bad.
Wenger's son needs to go to the bench. He is way behind Santi and as was quite obvious Ox does much more on the wing. Walcott also. The only excuse maybe that the Ox and Theo are bad defenders(which is true) Whats going to happen when Welbeck is back.I bet Ramsey will still start. Ramsey is killing the squad. We should sell for loads of cash and replace/look for a good wing and we don't need to rush the buy because Ramsey's position is well filled.