Arsenal Depot

A depository for musings on Arsenal FC

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

QPR Preview: Gunning For A Straight Eight

Good morning Gooners.

Before we get into the preview for this afternoon’s game, there are a couple of things I’d like to touch on quickly.

Today is the 11th death anniversary of an Arsenal legend, David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle, sadly taken away at the young age of 33. As a newer Gooner myself, Rocky played at Arsenal before my love affair with the club began. As such, I am not well placed to pay tribute to him. I will however recommend that you read two blogs which have touched upon the midfielder’s genius - Red & White Scarf AFC’s moving tribute here and Dave Seager’s look at homegrown players here. #RIPRocky.

The second is about the sad news emerging yesterday that Aston Villa’s Stiliyan Petrov has been diagnosed with acute leukaemia. Just as we are recovering from the shock of Fabrice Muamba’s brush with death, this news comes as a sickening blow to football fans. As a professional footballer however, we can be assured Stiliyan will receive the best possible medical attention. Let us hope he can pull through this very tough time, just as Fabrice has. #PrayForPetrov.

Well, onto the football today. At 3pm, Arsenal take on Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road, aiming to record an eighth straight league victory for the first since 2004.

The match day/time has a lot to do with the Gunners’ fortunes, or so the numbers will have you believe. Arsenal have played 8 matches at the Saturday/3pm slot this season, winning all 8 games, scoring 18 goals and conceding only 1 in the process. Except for conceding the goal, more of the same please.

In team news, Arsene Wenger has confirmed that Laurent Koscielny has recovered from the tendinitis injury which sidelined him against Villa. Whilst the Kos is included in the squad, I still believe it would be prudent not to play him today. The French defender is one yellow card away from earning a 2 match suspension, a card in this game would see him miss the crucial clash with City next Sunday. Johan Djourou filled in ably the last time around, and there’s no reason to doubt the Swiss defender will not repeat the same performane if given a chance today.

In his press conference yesterday, Le Boss touched on various issues; from tying up players contracts quickly to his views on Manchester City’s title bid. On the game at hand, he said:

I see us fighting like mad to win the game tomorrow, I don’t look further than that.

We are focused on QPR, believe me. We know that is always a tricky game for everybody and that is what is important to us. After that we focus on the next one and our capability to finish the season in a strong way depends on just how much we focus on every game.

In the reverse fixture at the Emirates on New Year’s Eve, Robin van Persie scored the winner in a 1-0 victory for the Arsenal. It was a time when Neil Warnock was still in charge at Loftus Road. It was also a time when all four Gunners full backs were out injured. It affected our potency in attack, and while we dominated possession (60%) and created good opportunities, the Hoops did make it difficult for us with a good defensive display.

After that game, our fortunes went down before they went up. We lost all three of our January league games, failing to pick up a single point during the first month of 2012. Since the beginning of February though, we are unbeaten in 8 league games and have won 7 in a row, overhauling Spuds in third. Confidence is high, team spirit is strong, and the Arsenal swagger is visible in the performances once more.

For QPR, their league position has worsened by one place since the arrival of Mark Hughes. The Rs were 17th when the Welshman took over. Now, they are firmly in the race to avoid relegation, sitting in 18th spot and with difficult matches against the top sides still to come. To add to their misery, their most potent attacking force Djibril Cisse, is suspended after seeing a red card against Sunderland, his second from just five league games.

Tactically, Mark Hughes seems to prefer playing a 4-4-2 formation in most games. With Cisse suspended, Jamie Mackie may well partner Bobby Zamora up top. But considering Arsenal will try to control play with good possession in midfield, I expect Hughes to pack the midfield area and try to stop the visitors from dictating play. In that case, Mackie would play just behind Zamora, and will be expected to help with defensive duties as much as offensive ones.

Although his recent form is quite patchy, Joey Barton should return in the QPR starting eleven, not only because of his experience but also because of his propensity to get Arsenal players sent off. On the other side, Shaun Wright-Phillips may be given a start, although I think Mark Hughes will prefer to go with Adel Taarabt, the Moroccan attacking midfielder is skillful enough to create something from nothing.

Arsenal have confidence surging through the veins at present and will be likely to line up in a more attacking 4-3-3 formation. The wingers will drop deep to get the ball if required and also to press when Rangers have it. Lately, Arsene Wenger has preferred to play a tighter 4-4-2 away from home, as against Everton, but the Gunners will fancy breaking the opposition defence down with pace and directness on the wings.

Probable starting XIs:

Arsenal
Szczesny/ Sagna - Djourou - Vermaelen - Gibbs / Song - Arteta - Rosicky / Walcott - Rvp - Gervinho

QPR
Kenny / Young - Onuoha - Ferdinand - Taiwo / Taarabt – Derry - Mackie – Diakite -Barton / Zamora

Arsenal should remain unchanged from the Villa game. Although I would be tempted to give Alex Oxlde-Chamberlain a run out, Arsene Wenger is rightly concerned about over-using the precocious youngster in his first season and usually prefers the greater experience offered by Gervinho at the start.

Personnel notwithstanding, Arsenal will try to continue the same modus operandi which has been so successful recently i.e. press high up the pitch, control possession in midfield, move the ball at a good tempo, get the full backs involved in attacks, and create openings by stretching the QPR defence.

In midfield, the Gunners should have enough quality to retain possession for long periods of time. While Taarabt is good going forward and can trouble the defence, both he and Barton have average pass completion percentages of 75% and 68% respectively. This suggests that even on occasions when QPR have possession on the wings, 1 out of 4 passes will fail to find a teammate.

In attack, Robin van Persie will pose a constant threat to Nedum Onuoha and Anton Ferdinand. Both young defenders are prone to making the odd positional mistake. At full back, Luke Young and Taye Taiwo will be severely tested by the pace of Walcott and the directness of Gervinho. Bacary Sagna will link up with Theo Walcott on the right, and Kieran Gibbs will maraud down the left; both full backs recently showing their appetite for the odd goal.

In defence, we seem to have sorted out our long-standing problem of dealing with long balls and set pieces. Rangers will be forced to try the more direct route if our pressing is successful, but Vermaelen and Djourou should win most aerial duels. For a tall central striker, Bobby Zamora wins only 37% of aerial duels, far less than the 57% won by Vermaelen and an impressive 68% won by Djourou.

There is one area that Arsenal must concentrate on; maintaining discipline and professionalism.

The combination of Mark Hughes as the opposing manager, Joey Barton as their captain and the card-happy Mike Dean as the referee, requires Arsenal players to be cautious in dealing with any aggravation or perceived injustice. Alex Song and Gervinho have already faced suspensions on account of tangling with Barton early in the season. The Gunners can ill afford any suspension to key personnel at this stage of the campaign.

In summary, although QPR will certainly put up a fight as they look to stave off relegation in front of their home support, Arsenal’s superior quality will allow the Gunners to dominate the game for long periods. The home teams’ best chance will be to defend well, try to catch the visitors on counter attacks and hope for some luck.

I am going for a conservative 2-0 result for us. Although if the Gunners are in the mood and QPR is chasing the game in the second half, I can see this being a right thrashing; a 4-0 rout not out of the question.

Enjoy the game, here’s hoping tomorrow’s match review comes with 3 points safely tucked inside. #COYG!

Arsene Wenger Urges Focus Ahead Of QPR, Alex And Andre Speak

Hello Gooners.

We are a day away from another weekend in the Barclays Premier League. A victory at Loftus Road is demanded and expected, such is the current good form of the Gunners and the not-so-good form of our hosts.

With the Spuds not playing until Sunday, it is an ideal opportunity to pile more pressure on the chocking cockerels before their home game with Swansea.

At other times in past seasons, visiting a team placed 18th on the table with the second worst home record in the premier league would be viewed with some glee and a sense of security. However, this season is unique and nothing is being taken for granted.

Arsene Wenger himself is not getting carried away, and is urging his players to keep focused as well.

This is the period where what we do matters the most, so we just want to keep our focus on this and not worry about anybody else’s results.

We are now at the stage of the season where every day in the Premier League seems to have turning points.

While we may gloat about the Inevitable Implosion of the Imbeciles from up the road, things can change quite quickly; we being the beneficiaries of their recent troubles. The job is certainly not done yet, and the Tots have an admittedly easier run in than us.

Having said that, I think we’ve seen enough over the past two months to suggest that this team will deal with any unpleasant surprises that fate, or referees, may spring forth in their path.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain says he always believed the Gunners had the quality to produce the kind of form they’re now showing.  He was talking to Arsenal.com:

It was always going to come as we have the quality in the squad to get results like this.

We have been playing the way we want to play and even when we haven’t been able to, like at Everton and Liverpool, we have now been able to grind out results.

Of course, the youngster himself has contributed to Arsenal’s resurgence with some fine performances. When Wenger signed him early in the summer, there were a few groans from a section of our supporters, who thought it unwise to invest in another unproven talent. It’s safe to say those voices have long been drowned out by the raucous reception the Ox receives everytime he takes to the pitch.

Another Arsenal player who’s happy with life as a Gooner is Andre Santos.

I feel very well, people here have received me with open arms, and I mean everyone, the Club, the staff and the fans.

People recognise me on the streets and ask for photographs, people have great respect and charisma and they make me feel at home here. I’m super happy, I’ve adapted and now all I want is to make history with this club.

The left back’s return to fitness has coincided with Arsenal’s brilliant form. For now, Kieran Gibbs’ performances are keeping the samba specialist out of a starting place, but he may still be required to play a part in ensuring Arsenal clinch that vital third place and it’s good to see he is raring to go.

Lastly, Joey Barton is desperate to beat Arsenal when they visit on Saturday. He says:

We’re as desperate for the points as they are, for totally different reasons. There are livelihoods on the line here. People’s careers are on the line.

It’s a little over-dramatic from the attention seeking twit, but Arsenal will be warned; facing teams battling for their premier league survival can sometimes be harder than slugging it out with title rivals. The players will need to heed Arsene Wenger’s words, and focus on the task at hand on Saturday.

A preview of the QPR game will be posted tomorrow morning. Until then, rest easy.

Clearance Sale At Arsenal And Jack To Be Back Soon

Good morning Goonerworld.

The papers and footballing sites are reporting that Arsenal are set for a major squad clearout this summer. As many as nine players might be taken off the books to save hefty player wages and reorganise the team for next season.

I agree with A Cultured Left Foot’s post yesterday, that we supporters do not always grasp the concept of having a squad player – someone who is not good enough to be a regular starter but good enough to do a job when called upon.

However, it cannot be disputed that most of the names on the list being bandied about – Squillaci, Almunia, Park, Chamakh, Arshavin, Bendtner, Vela and Denilson have not performed when given the chance – for one reason or another. Whatever those reasons may be, and I am not blaming the players entirely, they just haven’t been effective when played and there comes a time when you have to move them on.

And I believe Arsene Wenger will do exactly that.

Bendtner, Vela and Denilson have been out on loan since the start of the season. The fact that we haven’t missed them, even in our worst season worst start to the season under Wenger, is indication that they are unlikely to return.

Almunia and Squillaci have not displayed any signs of being able to make a comeback, and age is not on their side. But if their rumoured wages are true, it may prove slightly difficult to offload them.

Chamakh has got few opportunities this season, making 16 appearances, 9 of them from the bench. He has just one goal to show for it. And it’s not just his goal return, the Moroccan hasn’t had any positive influence in the games he’s played.

Arshavin may return, although seeing his performances at Zenit, he doesn’t look like he wants to play football right now. Brilliant as he is when on form, he is glaringly poor when off form. If he does not improve dramatically in the next two months, I think Wenger will be forced to sell him.

The only players that should be retained, in my opinion, are Johan Djourou and Chu Young Park. While Djourou makes me nervous everytime he tries to dribble past an opposing striker in our own half, he is very versatile and can be played in a host of different positions.

Chu Young Park has only made 6 appearances this season and scored 1 goal. Park is a player with more skill and technique than Chamakh, and it is only his first season at the club. Remember also that Podolski will most likely arrive in the summer. As a third choice striker, I would prefer Park over Chamakh any day.

As for Abou Diaby, I do not consider him to be a squad player at all. He possesses power, technique and can make driving runs from midfield, all attributes highly rated by Arsene Wenger. When fit, he will most likely be an integral part of Arsenal’s midfield.

I also believe we will attempt to buy Yossi Benayoun from Chelsea.

The Israeli is a model squad player, with enough hunger to keep pressuring for a starting place, versatile enough to play wide or in the centre, and possessing enough quality and experience to make a difference when called upon. He’s scored 3 goals for us in 9 starts and 10 sub appearances and his performances have also been encouraging, especially in ‘that’ 5-2 win against the enemy.

If Arsenal can do well in cup competitions next season, the squad players will get regular playing time which would help their form and confidence. Of course, this is all theory – only time will tell whether the incoming players perform any better than the outgoing ones.

There’s just one other story to mention and that is the imminent return of Jack Wilshere. The Daily Star claim the Englishman could be back within a matter of just two weeks.

As much as I would like to see Wilshere play again, I hope the Arsenal medical team err on the extreme side of caution in his case. Jack will be a key part of our challenge next season, and we can ill afford any setbacks on that front.

Until tomorrow.

Jenkinson’s Hairy Tales, Confidence Is Key And Another Transfer Target Shot Down

A fairly lethargic midweek for Arsenal fans, nothing of major importance coming up in terms of news associated with us. The players had a couple of days off too, a consequence of us not being involved in any competition other than the league.

While all concerned wish Arsenal were still a part of the Champions League, the time off should help relax the players. Expectations of a third place finish are building, so complacency is not an option, but you feel they have deserved this mini-break after the intensity of most games in this seven match unbeaten run.

Everyone seems a bit cheerful this last week. The doomsday precogs amongst us have long since stopped spewing forth the venom of late August and early February, some even grudgingly admitting that actually, Arsene does know, and the rest unable to pick many holes in recent performances. Of course, I am waiting for all that to change with the first dropped points, but the sound of silence on that front presently, is quite pleasing.

This good nature all round is reflected in a report on Arsenal.com regarding the serious issues faced by the squad due to, wait for it, the haircut of Carl Jenkinson. It’s quite funny really, with Robin van Persie and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain somberly giving their views on the right back’s bizarre trim, and a word with the offending defender as well.

A month ago, such an effort at joviality would have been heavily chastised. The fact that the players and fans are now able to thoroughly enjoy this little bit of silliness, is proof of just how quickly our fortunes have reversed. Confidence is running high.

And according to Nigel Winterburn, confidence has been vital to the clubs current run of success. The legend spoke to Arsenal.com thus:

Confidence plays a big part when you are on a good run of form. You just never think you are going to lose, even when you go a goal behind. You always have the belief that you will come back and that the minimum you will get is a draw.

Some supporters were angry earlier in the season because they want this great club to be challenging for trophies. But now the team is on a terrific run and what they need to do now is keep that going until the end of the season, make sure Champions League football is secured and then get ready to challenge next season.

Considering the situation we found ourselves in after the first seven games, third place would be a fantastic achievement and something to build on for next season.

One player who definitely will not be joining us in the summer is Mario Goetze. The young German playmaker has inked a contract extension with Borussia Dortmund, which will keep him at the club until 2016. Talented as he undoubtedly is, we have our own riches in the centre of midfield with Wilshere, Ramsey, Rosicky, Diaby and even Oxlade-Chamberlain vying for a spot or two there. Also, Dortmund would have wanted ‘silly money’ for him, and we wouldn’t have paid that.

The German deciding to stay on is welcome news for us; it stops the unnecessary speculation leading to the inevitable disappointment at not signing a player we were probably never bidding for anyway.

Reports suggest we will offer a revised contract to our own highly accomplished midfield maestro from Cameroon. Alex Song has definitely earned it over the last two seasons. If he does sign, he will join Johan Djourou, Thomas Vermaelen and Tomas Rosicky, who have all penned new deals this season. It is a proactive step on the part of Arsenal’s management to secure the long term interest of the club, at the same time rewarding Alex for his increasingly influential performances.

That’s it for today. Before I go, just a reminder that ArsenalDepot has now taken the leap into the big bad world of Facebook. You can participate in the inaugural poll question here. And today’s poser is – would you play Koscielny at QPR or save him for City?

Until tomorrow, take hair…erm, care!

Koscielny – To Play or Not To Play, And Some Transfer Buzz

Gooners everywhere, hello.

There seems to be some good news regarding Laurent Koscielny this morning, with the Daily Star claiming that the French defender will be ready to face Queens Park Rangers at the weekend. Of course, there’s still no official statement from Arsenal, so this may be just speculation.

And talking of speculation, there’s also a theory that even if fit, the Frenchman may not play at Loftus Road. This has to do with the fact that Laurent is on 9 yellow cards, just a booking away from earning a 2 match suspension.

MickTheGooner believes we should always play our best available team for every match. And if injury or suspension strikes, then draft in from the bench. This is what happened at home to Aston Villa, when Johan Djourou was called up at the last minute to play alongside Thomas Vermaelen.

In normal circumstances, I would certainly agree with that. In this case though, let’s take a closer look at the various scenarios.

If Koscielny plays against QPR and does not earn a booking, he’ll be available for the next match against City. If he plays and gets carded though, he will miss the City game at home and Wolves away.

On the other hand, if Koscielny does not play at QPR, he will be eligible to play against City. And if the defender gets a yellow against City, he’d miss Wolves away and Wigan at home, but still be available for Chelsea at home.

In the best case scenario, if Kos does not play at QPR and does not get a card against City, he will have effectively earned a supsension on his 9 yellows and will then have to accumulated a total of 15 yellows before earning a suspension. Considering there will only be 6 matches left after the City game, it effectively means our best defender this season would be eligible to play the rest of Arsenal’s matches in this campaign.

So the question is, would you rather Laurent Koscielny played at QPR and risked missing the City and Wolves games, or would you rather play Djourou at QPR instead and definitely have the Kos for the City and Chelsea games, and maybe for the Wolves and Wigan ones too?

For me, it’s a no-brainer. Manchester City will certainly pose a much bigger threat to our defense than Aston Villa did or QPR might. I would play our best defenders against the team with the second highest goals in the league. And if that means protecting one of them from a misjudged tackle, an over-enthusiastic referee or one Joey Barton, I would certainly do that.

In transfer news, the Lukas Podolski deal is likely to be confirmed next week. Arsene Wenger, usually very discreet in these matters, has admitted he would prefer to see any deal done as quickly as possible. German legend Franz Beckenbauer also urged Podolski to make the switch to the Emirates, believing it is the right move for him.

Elsewhere, we are being linked to Rennes holding midfilder Yann M’Vila. Jeremy Wilson feels Arsene Wenger wants experienced cover for the outstanding Alex Song.

I am not so sure about this, Emmanuel Frimpong and especially Francis Coquelin have both looked talented enough to fill this position next season. However, both are long term absentees with Frimpong out for the season with another knee injury and Coquelin still recovering from a hamstring problem sustained at Sunderland in mid-February.

Unlike the search for a striker, I believe Arsene will not rush to bring in a defensive midfielder just yet. He may even choose to wait until pre-season to judge whether the youngsters are ready to make the step up to regular first team football, and only then look for replacements outside the club.

That’s all for today. Same place tomorrow.

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