Sunday, February 5, 2012

Walcott Has a Good Day at Last...

...but still suffers in Oxlade Chamberlain comparison.

Arsenal 7-1 Blackburn

When Pederson's free kick arrowed into the top corner, you started to wonder. It seems like years since Pederson has done that. But then, Arsenal had somehow contrived to concede four to Blackburn last time out, and it it's never a surprise when a team scores against Arsenal with their first real effort.

Luckily, the match was tied up by half time. Walcott teed up Van Persie, as he had done in the second minute. The incisive pass came, as on many occasions this season, from Song.

Then Van Persie turned provider, firing a pass at Oxlade Chamberlain, who did well to control, waltzed around Paul Robinson, and netted his first Premiership goal.

Then Gael Givet got himself dismissed for a crazy two footed lunge at the ball that could have done Van Persie damage had the Dutchman not hurdled the challenge.

Against 10 men for the second half, you would have been disappointed if Arsenal didn't rack up the goals. Arteta fired through the crowd for number four. Then Walcott dribbled infield to tee up Oxlade Chamberlain, who Solskjeared a shot through the legs of the defender and in at the near post. Then Van Persie completed another hat trick, doing well to keep his right footed shot down from Coquelin's low cross.

In stoppage time, Henry and Van Persie linked up, and the late substitute scored the second goal of his second spell via a deflection.

Walcott's three assists represented a welcome return to form, but it is still impossible to avoid comparing him unfavourably with the youngster breaking into the team on the other flank. Oxlade Chamberlain has the main weapon in Walcott's armoury- raw pace- but he also has so much natural footballing ability.

He glides past challenges while dribbling. He already looks a decent finisher, and can shoot well from outside the box. He has the vision to play incisive passes while running at pace. He has greater physical strength than Walcott. He can play the kind of simple passes that keep possession, as well as attempting to provide cutting edge service up front. And he wants to play in central midfield.

Now that's a talent to get excited about. And he makes Walcott look like what he is- a sprinter who got into football late, a one-dimensional speed merchant with no footballing brain.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

What Was Once Unthinkable is Now Highly Probable

Bolton 0-0 Arsenal

As in the last round of Premiership games, 4th placed Chelsea dropped points, Arsenal played afterwards, and Arsenal failed to capitalise.

Having dropped to 7th, with the transfer window having slammed shut, and with Jack Wilshere not likely to enjoy much if any playing time this season, the time has come to admit it: in all likelihood, Arsenal will not qualify for the Champions League.

Chelsea are well ahead now and most clear-thinking critics would argue that they have more scope for improvement in the second half of the season than Arsenal do. And even if they continue to be inconsistent, the evidence suggests that Arsenal cannot take advantage.

As discontent grows, the most frightening question becomes, who would replace Arsene Wenger were he to leave? Many critics of Wenger suggest people like Roberto Martinez and Owen Coyle, solely on the basis that their teams try to play what we like to think of as good football. They have never been tasked with the stewardship of a large club and this kind of scenario could lead to further disaster, in my opinion.

Arsenal could attempt to lure a high-profile manager from the continent. Since Mourinho left London, Chelsea have had a succession of them. It has kept trophies coming in, but the price they have paid for that has been the staleness of the squad that Andre Villas-Boas inherited last summer. Mourinho himself, Scolari, Hiddink, Ancelotti: there was never a great sense that any of these men cared much where Chelsea would be in ten or twenty years time. It is amazing that Villas Boas has faced so much criticism for trying what noone else had the foresight to do: to freshen the Chelsea squad with younger blood and to instil a greater sense of identity.

Of course, football fans only seem to think about the short term now. It remains the most obvious defence of Wenger. Without him, can anyone really predict where Arsenal will be in five years' time? His flaws have, in my opinion, become damaging to the club, but is the current situation ALL his fault? Who would choose his replacement if he did leave this summer? A board that is equally villified, and equally culpable for Arsenal's stagnant state.

Optimists may look at the way the season is shaping up and surmise that Arsenal need to hit bottom and that that will happen in May. But we don't really know where bottom is. How can we assume, if money was not spent to keep Arsenal in the Champions League, that money will be spent to get them back there? If Wenger has to be creative with what we assume will be, 'the Van Persie money', is he really capable of surprising us to the extent that he used to? And if he is not, who is?

I can't claim to offer any concrete answers. I have been one of Wenger's harshest critics, and I stand by most of what I've written here. But a future without him is potentially much bleaker than we perceive the present to be.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Comeback Win

Arsenal 3-2 Villa

Arsenal responded well to the United setback against Aston Villa in the FA Cup.

In the first half, they played with a decent tempo but got suckered in typical fashion to first, a clever set piece, and second, a clever counter attack. With Arsenal having dominated but failed to open up Villa's defence, it seemed that Alex McLeish had got his tactics spot on. The now familiar chorus of jeers greeted the half time whistle. Arsenal's hopes of silverware this season looked dead.

Having played well and not created chances, however, the Gunners started the second period by ripping into their opponents and creating a flurry of them. Mertesacker had a glancing header cleared off the line. Ramsey found space in the box but shot straight at Given. Finally, Song released the Welshman with a perceptive pass, Richard Dunne blundered into a needless challenge, and Arsenal had a penalty. It really was one of the most stupid tackles you could hope to see. Ramsey's first touch had clearly taken the ball too close to Given, who was picking the ball up as Dunne flattened Ramsey. So probably not a denial of a goalscoring opportunity, but certainly worthy of a yellow card, which would have been Dunne's second. The referee inexplicably let him off.

Van Persie tucked the spot kick away and it was game on. Arsenal were flying and Villa clearly needed to weather the storm. In the face of the Gunners' onslaught, they instead went to pieces. Warnock slid into a pointless challenge on Walcott, allowing the heretofore wretched winger to waltz into the box. Without an obvious option to cut the ball back to, he tried to smuggle the ball past the keeper at the near post. Given saved but Alan Hutton's attempted clearance hit Walcott and flew into the net. No more than that hideous cunt Hutton deserved- he is more adept at kicking people than footballs. Walcott launched into a stupid celebration but even that disturbing sight was not enough to halt Arsenal's charge.

Koscielny embarked on a rampaging run from his own half up the left wing and into the Villa area, where a third stupid tackle of the second half resulted in Arsenal's second penalty. Darren Bent had done the right thing in chasing back, but with Cuellar ready to block Koscielny's run the striker attempted an ambitious slide that took man and ball, in that order.

Van Persie stepped up again. Went for the opposite corner this time. Again, Given went the wrong way. Barely fifteen minutes into the second half, Arsenal were in front.

The rest of the game played out without much incident. Arsenal's troph hopes remain alive. The best moments of the remainder of the game were the respective returns of Arteta and Sagna. Both will add solidity to a team that had recently reverted back to its shoddy former shape.