Friday, January 29, 2010

Round up Round 3... and sweeping statement


Andrey Arshavin 6/10
A few people did mention when we were signing Arshavin that it was fairly late for him to be making his big move out of Russia... Was he just a bit of a late developer, or was there some more sinister reason? It was said by some that for every good game he had, he'd have three bad ones. And for all his impact last season, it's tempting now to conclude that he is indeed what I like to term a YouTube Footballer (see also, Abou Diaby, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and, if I'm in a contrary mood, Steven Gerrard).
It seems in his nature to flit in and out of games. Even when so impressive last season, he was often, paradoxically, both peripheral and crucial- most obviously with his four-goal salvo in an otherwise perversely quiet game against Liverpool.
But recently the fleeting moments of quality have dried up aswell. Arsenal probably don't need him to be central to every game, but they do need him to make a difference in some of the tighter ones. Then again, he has been apparently playing through some pain, unable to kick the ball properly, so all this might be just a little harsh.
He does look lightweight though, and at times disinterested. A bit of an enigma.

Robin Van Persie 8/10
At the time he got injured, he was well on his way to a 9, in the form of his life. He is so vital to the formation we've been using that I'm still trying to figure out why we haven't signed somebody. In any case, I'm not going to dwell too long on RVP because this season's ship has probably sailed as far as he's concerned. A shame for him and us, but he deserves thanks for an outstanding half a season or so.

Nicklas Bendtner 5/10
The season started with the most inexplicably confident man on the planet labouring on the right wing, and as square pegs in round holes go, it wasn't the worst fit. Much like my pal Theo, he seems most valuable to Arsenal because of what, rather than who, he is. He represents a different challenge from our more technically-minded players. Basically, he's useful to us because he's a big clumsy fucker. At this point I'm going to have to add that last summer we lost a faster, better big clumsy fucker, but it's probably a bit taboo to suggest that we might be on our way to another trophyless season because Adebayor wasn't properly replaced???
Anyway, that's probably a bit simplistic. And Bendtner should be valuable for the rest of the season, having been unlucky with injuries so far. It should be mentioned that we've not been struggling for goals so it would be unfair to hope for him to get 20 in 20 games. But he might well make it easier for the players around him to score, and that is a precious commodity in the game- Emile Heskey's still in the England team for god's sake!

Theo Walcott 4/10
I'm no fan of Walcott. He seems like a lovely fella but I do not rate him as a footballer. He is a sprinter in the wrong sport.
I know it's conventional to talk about the potential of a young player, especially one who's rough around the edges. But I just don't see much footballing talent in Walcott. He doesn't strike a ball well. Is not a natural finisher. His decision-making is poor. And most of all, he seems to have no idea of how to beat his man. You either play him in behind with a pass, or you don't see him in behind at all. And when he does find himself beyond a full-back, his crossing is not reliable.
I always think it instructive to compare him to Aaron Lennon at Spurs. Lennon was for many years seen as a brainless winger with loads of pace but no end product. And look at him now- a nightmare for full-backs. But for me there's a vital difference in the two cases. Aaron Lennon just needed tweaking. He was always able to beat his man. He always looked DANGEROUS. A bit like Ronaldo before he became the player he is today. You'd always know they were on the pitch, worrying defenders, even if it did not end in goals.
With Walcott, I'm not so sure the danger is even there. He is often anonymous. Many a full back has completely negated his influence. Aaron Lennon needed to improve one facet of his game, and did. I just think Walcott has too much to improve on to ever become what Jamie Redknapp would call a top, top player.
It's also a question of character, I think. I look at Theo Walcott and I see someone who's not so sure he belongs in an Arsenal shirt. Maybe we're the wrong team for him. In certain situations, pace will always thrive. But his amazing run against Liverpool and his hat trick for England against croatia strike me more as aberrations than as pointers to the possibility of future consistency.
All that being said, injuries have decreed that this will not be the season to make a decisive judgement on Walcott. But I've seen nothing, in his time on the pitch, to suggest that my current inclination is wrong.

carlos Vela 4/10
All of his Premiership appearances down the middle have suggested that he's the new Jeremie Aliadieire (you find writing about Arsenal that you come up with a lot of euphemisms for SHITE). On the left wing, he looks a little better, like, say, a poor man's Jose Reyes (and I mean Reyes AFTER the Neville sisters got to him at Old Trafford).
He's probably low on confidence, even though it's hard to tell because he's smiling all the time (much like Reyes BEFORE the Neville sisters got to him). I guess a kind conclusion would be the NON-conclusion that "the jury is still out". But if you want a proper conclusion on the basis of this season, it would be that he's not gonna make the grade. Even his previous successes, paradoxically, support his condemnation in this context, because he's only done well in cup games, mostly against lower division sides.

Tomas Rosicky 6/10
Not much to say here. The usual story with injuries but his enduring class means he's good to have around. Probably should play in midfield more often, as in the front three he's not really a natural goal threat. Although wherever he starts he generally has license to roam. Has scored a couple of important goals lately. A fit Tomas Rosicky til season's end would be a great novelty but it's about as likely as me finishing my thesis in the next month.

Samir Nasri 5/10
I almost just wrote "see above". Again, doesn't seem all that suited to a role in the front three. I quite liked him on the left in the 4-4-2 last season but I guess that's a non-runner now. His bad pre-season injury might have shelved whatever plan Wenger had for him, who knows? But now it just seems he's interchangable with Walcott, Bendtner, Rosicky, Eduardo and Arshavin in the front three.
I wondered in an earlier post whether the plan was to use him alongside Fabregas and Song in midfield. Wenger does just seem to love shoehorning playmakers into the team in all kinds of positions. I'm sure both Nasri and Rosicky however feel they could do a superior job to Denilson alongside Fabregas. Maybe they'd just get in his way though. I dunno, I'm rambling now. Hopefully Nasri will come to the fore for the remainder of the season, whatever position he plays. The feeling is that we've yet to see the best of him.

Eduardo 6/10
Has been unfairly written off in some quarters. He is, ultimately, a finisher so his loss of nerve in front of goal is a worry. I think he offers more than people give him credit for, though. He is still getting into good positions so if he does regain the confidence he had before the leg break, he will score plenty. Ideally, he'd like to play alongside a big man- he and Adebayor linked up well in 07/08- so he was never going to look his best in our recent runty forward line.


Fabianski, Eastmond, Mannone and others who have made fleeting appearances- there's no point giving these guys ratings based on that.

So, if you want a sweeping statement to finish, here it is: THE SPINE of a team is paramount in football, and five spinal players have given Arsenal a chance this season. Now, one is out, probably for the remainder. So some of the others have to step up to the plate. Outside of Gallas, Vermaelen, Song, Fabregas and Van Persie, only Sagna has maintained a high standard. The rest have been erratic.
Admittedly, injuries affect form. You can say Arsenal are persistently unlucky in this regard, or you can be realistic and see that Arsene Wenger assembled an injury-prone squad, and he reaps a commensurate reward.
Either way, ultimate success this season looks to me an unlikely outcome. This is not pessimism, it is my measured conclusion from what I've seen and pondered. A team will not win the title with such a poor keeper, with no defensive depth, and without one top-quality striker. It's too much to ask, I think, even in this strange season.

As said many times before, that's the real pity, that the manager has not given his team the best possible chance.

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