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Saturday 26 November 2016

Please send Buster Bloodvessel back into retirement vs Bournemouth on Sunday?

With my West Upper Homies in Highbury Heaven
Back in the day at THOF, our West Upper crew used to have a chant of "Arsenal loony, loony Arsenal" every time this bloke a few rows behind us blew a gasket, with his frequent rabid barrages aimed at all and sundry, players, opposition and officials. As a result, I'd often get teased with the same refrain, on those occasions when I began throwing my toys out of the pram too vehemently.

I always swear that the loony wound Sheffield Wednesday's Des Walker up so much with his offensive barrage of bile that Walker attempted to silence him, by aiming the ball in the direction of his huge gob. His verbal assaults were so abusive that I often recall turning around to see the blue veins in his neck set to burst, as he bellowed his disgust and I'd wonder why on earth this geezer spent a small fortune on his season ticket, only to put himself through 90 minutes of such unhealthy looking rage at every home game.

I have to admit that such has been my own level of frustration these past few games that hard as I try to continue to holler out my encouragement of our players, rather than accompanying all those Gooners who are a negative influence, coating off our own men, I'm beginning to think that those around me in the East Lower must be wondering if the Arsenal loony has been reincarnated in their midst in recent weeks.

I have some sympathy for those with the misfortune to be sitting directly in front of me, as my woefully limited lung function doesn't appear to have had an adverse effect on my decibel levels and despite my efforts to direct my incessant racket up over their heads, it must be murder to have me constantly hollering in their shell-likes.

I started from minute one on Wednesday night, incessantly imploring for some evidence of "pressure!" I've been wondering ever since whether it was a tactical plan to sit off PSG and leave them to have possession in their own half totally unchallenged, with a view to sitting deep and hitting them on the counter. Or could it have been in some way related to the fact that a 0-0 draw would've sufficed, leaving us with a superior head to head record with the French side, after Alexis' goal in the Parc des Princes back in September?

It's said that no team goes out intent on achieving a scoreless draw and while mercifully the current incarnation of the Gunners' defence seems to be finally stifling our long-standing slipshod reputation, the Arsenal still wouldn't exactly be anyone's first choice for our bus parking attributes, as a team emminently capable of effecting the sort of faultless shut-out that older Gooners amongst us cherished from the "boring, boring" Arsenal of the 70s.

Yet perhaps the knowledge that a 0-0 draw would suffice had some negative psychological impact, resulting in the sort of inertia we witnessed in the first half on Wednesday, with the Gunners feeling that the onus was on the visitors to try and break us down because we didn't NEED to take the game to PSG, unless, or until the Parisians put the ball in our onion bag?

It certainly felt like this was the case as I screamed myself hoarse, imploring us to "close 'em down" and "get hold of it" during an opening spell, in which we appeared to be gifting our guests with the freedom of London N5. I wonder if the fact that we've successfully managed to surprise opponents this season with a stand-off, counter-attacking style, compared to our customary keep-ball tactics (not to mention the achievements of the likes of Leicester), this has instilled the team with a belief that we no longer need dominate possession in order to win games?

Tottenham watching Eastenders
The surprise element involved in an Arsenal side gifting possession to their opponents perhaps makes for a suitable option away from home on the odd occasion, when the team is in sound defensive form. But I simply cannot countenance such a passive strategy in home games, especially against a PSG side controversially deprived of Serge Aurier, their man of the match in the 1-1 draw in France and the potentially influential likes of Di Maria.

My greatest gripe is that rather than starting the game at a high tempo, pouring on the pressure to maximise home advantage and stoking the nervous tension in the visitors to reinforce the sense that they are not going to be in for an easy night, you are instead gifting them all the time they want on the ball, to grow comfortable with their surroundings and to become increasingly emboldened by their unexpected amount of possession.

I'm loathe to join the bandwagon of fickle Gooners laying into the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Alex Iwobi as principle scapegoats for our recent ills. He might be experiencing a dramatic dip in form but we should not forget that Iwobi began this season in seriously impressive style and was our star player in several matches.

As for Rambo, I must admit to having some concerns about a potential hangover from this summer's Euros, where he deservedly received such plaudits for his main man exploits in carrying Wales all the way to the semis. Yet as a result, Aaron has inevitably become a bit full of himself and appears to believe he's earned the right to languidly stroll around the park, much like Mesut Özil (which, as my neighbour is constantly reminding me, is somewhat unfair on Mesut because his mileage stats regularly prove that any apparent air of disinterestedness is a complete illusion!).

Still, instead of getting on the player's back, I'd rather be patient and afford Aaron sufficient time to see if it's merely a matter of him continuing to recover some proper match sharpness. Although watching some of his performances in the Euros for Wales on the box and witnessing him grafting his socks off, covering every blade of grass on the pitch, I'm certain I wasn't alone in having mixed feelings, struggling to contain my irritation, as I wondered where the hell this particularly impressive incarnation of Ramsey had been all season long in his Arsenal shirt!

However it's evident that Ramsey relishes the sort of no. 10 role that he adopts for Wales, with himself and Bale assuming creative responsibility for the entire team. Yet frankly, unless (heaven forfend!) Özil suffers a long term injury, Ramsey's never going to get an opportunity to play in this position for the Gunners and having made his mark on the International stage, Aaron's hardly going to be content with spending most of his time on the bench, in a bit part role for the Gunners.

This leaves Wenger with a bit of a conundrum because on the evidence we've witnessed to date, it would appear to be impossible to shoehorn Ramsey into the team in any other role, without this having some sort of detrimental impact. Even if it's only a nominal starting position out wide and Aaron is not restricted to the wing, much like with Jack Wilshere, it seems blatantly obvious to me that we'll never get the best out of either of them because they just don't enjoy playing on the right or left and both players will never be totally happy and therefore won't truly fulfil their potential, unless they're afforded a central role.

Nevertheless, Wenger simply can't play everyone in the middle of the park and as evidenced on Wednesday night with Alexis utter ineffectiveness playing on the flank during the first half and with the Gunners woeful lack of width (not helped by Hector's enforced absence), it seemed as if the price of selecting Ramsey to play alongside Coquelin was far too high, both in sacrificing Alexis impact and because Aaron just wasn't busy enough to be deserving of such a significant role.

No matter their form or match sharpness, for my money, the very minimum required of the central midfield partnership is for them both to be constantly on their toes, in order for them to be able to react to any signs of danger, especially when facing such pacy opponents as the likes of Matuidi. Thus it irritated me no end to see Aaron strolling around in a flat-footed fashion.

I'm certain that both teammates and the opposition must pick up on this sort of body language and it feels somewhat disrespectful to both, as if to suggest "I don't need to be on my toes to deny you" and because it takes a flat-footed player that bit longer to react, it infers that he's leaving Coquelin and the rest to do all the donkey work.

I also felt that we suffered on Wednesday from the fact that Jenkinson is still some way short of looking comfortable with a spot in the starting XI. No one would be happier than me to see Carl force his way into the first team reckoning because in these mercenary times, it's so rare nowadays to have a genuine Gooner in the squad, who can kiss his badge without the slightest hint of insincerity. Moreover Jenkinson's consistency for the Hammers last season suggested that we might regret losing him.

Yet hard as I try to continue to cling to the hope that it's merely a confidence issue with the Corporal and all he really requires is a run of games, when I compare Carl's ungainly looking efforts with the silky smooth skills of Hector, sadly I can't help but feel that the lad simply doesn't have the appearance of an Arsenal left-back.

Additionally, with Carl only finding himself selected as a result of Bellerin's injury, I get the distinct sense that he is so desperate not to mess up this rare opportunity that this inevitably impacts upon his willingness to forage forward, for fear of leaving a gaping hole at the back. It's a pity because from what I recall of his performances for the Irons, Jenkinson is eminently capable of getting to the bye line and whipping in a decent cross, but there's an obvious timidity to Carl's efforts in red and white, compared to his far more confident displays in claret and blue.

With the forgotten man, Mathieu Debuchy popping up with a goal for the U23s against Spurs the other day, I wonder if Wenger will persist with Jenkinson during Bellerin's absence? Sadly, I fancy that we'll continue to miss Hector, no matter who Arsène chooses to play in his stead At least not unless AW surprises us all with a rare bold move and throws the Ox in at right back.

Hector's a keeper
What Bellerin brings to the party is not just his ability to scamper down the flank and stretch opposition defences, but it's also the threat of Hector's bristling pace that puts opposition defences on the back foot, knowing that they don't dare leave space for him to exploit. Consequently his continued absence might well leave us coming under more pressure, with the opposition knowing there's less jeopardy involved in attempting to stretch our defence down that flank.

However instead of focusing on individual positions, with so many Premiership managers beginning to follow the trend for playing three at the back, the Gunners fast need to find a wholesale solution to combatting this set up. Against PSG on Wednesday it seemed to me that our failure to apply any pressure on the ball in the opposition's half ensured that the Parisian side were easily able to take advantage of the extra man in the middle of the park and the width of their two wide men.

It always angers me when we fail to set a high-tempo from the start in home games and I felt we needed to press PSG, in order to push the two wide men back and to ensure we weren't outnumbered in midfield. I rarely trust my memory nowadays, but as I recall Alexis adopted a more central role after the break and this appeared to contribute to somewhat more competitive second half display.

Like most Gooners, I am just grateful that (unlike Spurs!) we are still in the hat for the Champions League knockout stages and largely down to the inconsistency of others, we remain in the frame at the top of the Premiership table. Yet surely we simply can't continue to drop points, without at least one of our competitors putting together a consistent run, which will result in them establishing the sort of points gap that's likely to put the kibosh on any hope of a title challenge.

The arrivals of Mustafi and Xhaka had me bubbling with optimism early this season. At long last it looked as if our defence had acquired the sort of resilience and determination, which meant that I wasn't left bricking it every time we conceded a corner and where I finally felt we offered a threat at set-pieces at the other end of the pitch. But truth be told, with the exception of the 6-0 win against Ludogerets (which in itself was a misleading result because it was no walkover), not since the 3-0 demolition of Chelsea back in September have the Gunners produced any real form.

In recent weeks it has felt as if my optimism and any confidence that this team had built up, has been bleeding away, game by game, to the point where the whole club is fast becoming positively anaemic. Arsène's laissez-faire approach doesn't exactly help. When it's patently obvious to every watching Gooner that the team is crying out for some sort of tactical readjustment because our opponents have the upper hand, or because what we're doing just isn't working, Wenger refuses to intercede, seemingly investing far too much faith in his players ability to resolve the problem themselves.
Cavani came, saw and conquered

I've not been particularly impressed with Cavani in the past, but on Wednesday night he suddenly looked transformed into a world-beater, leaving Mustafi and Kozza for dead at almost every opportunity. Perhaps our centre-halves were guilty of an off night, but where the two of them started the season looking as if they were fast developing one of the best partnerships in Europe, of late they've both been guilty of the sort of lapses in concentration that is once again leaving our back line looking as porous as ever.

As in the Man Utd game, against PSG Arsène was guilty of leaving it too late, to shut the stable door after the horse had bolted, when another manager might've rung the changes at half-time. It's no coincidence that Chelsea and Liverpool, the two clubs not involved in Europe are both enjoying domestic success. Nevertheless, I can't help but covet the enthusiasm and the pro-active approach of both Klopp and Conté, compared to Arsène's Alsatian sang-froid.

Personally I much preferred it when Chelsea had a manager who I despised, since my growing respect for Conté leaves me feeling somewhat conflicted. What I wouldn't give to see an Arsenal manager frantically geeing up our apathetic theatre audience because he's dissatisfied with the support and frankly there are few grounds more in need of a metaphoric cattle prod to galvanize our feeble home fans!

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