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Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Return Of The Loanees – Carlos Vela

Good morning Gooners.

Today we continue our examination of yet another Arsenal loanee and what the future may hold for him. Last week it was Ryo Miyaichi and Nicklas Bendtner. Today its Mexican striker Carlos Vela, currently on loan at Real Sociedad.

Last season, Vela continued to be on the outer fringes of the Arsenal first team. He did get a few opportunities in cup games but even these were limited to appearances from the bench and his performances were mediocre. A loan spell with West Brom followed in January and enabled Vela to get more playing time. He did contribute to WBA finishing mid-table after looking in danger of slipping into relegation territory at one point.

In August, Arsenal announced he was being loaned out to La Liga club Real Sociedad for the season. It’s fair to say that the 23-year old is currently enjoying the best spell of his young career. He’s been especially lethal in the last three months, scoring 9 times and assisting twice in 15 games since the start of February when he scored against Barcelona. His last goal is this superb left foot volley with back to goal against Villareal.

The Mexican has stated that he prefers to remain in Spain at the end of his loan spell. It’s understandable because he’s played regularly and that’s allowed him to strike form and become an integral part of this Sociedad team. Besides, Vela also holds a Spanish passport and is culturally more at home there than in England. We’ve seen this before with Jose Antonio Reyes; keeping a player who is not happy with life off the pitch does not bode well for performances on it. Although Vela’s case is markedly different from the Spaniard’s, as the Mexican youngster already spent three full seasons in England before the loan move last year.

Personally, I would like to see Carlos Vela return to Arsenal. Of all the loaned out players this season, his performances have caught the eye more than any other. His confidence is high and the youngster seems to have filled out physically as well, an added advantage in the  English game.

If Arsenal’s intention behind sending youngsters out on loan is to help them develop their game so that they may return and stake a claim at their parent club, then Vela has done exactly that and the Gunners should look to benefit from this improvement next season. His pace, directness, dribbling skills and ability to get between defenders in the box makes him a dangerous player when on form.

But if Robin van Persie stays and Podolski arrives, where will Vela figure if he does return?

If we continue to employ a one-man attack up front, it’s safe to assume Podolski and Walcott would be regular starters on the wings with Van Persie ahead of them. And with Gervinho and Alex Oxlade literally waiting in the wings, we have enough strikers to play in that position already.

If both Chamakh and Park depart in the summer and Podolski arrives, it would leave one striker spot to be filled. Could this gap be filled by Vela, who is equally as left-footed as the German? Or should Arsenal look for someone who offers a completely different form of attack, a target man to pose slightly different questions to staunch defenses? I am in favour of the latter. We are very one-dimensional at times and could do with ‘mixing it up’ a bit.

So unfortunately, the only way I can see him return is if Robin van Persie departs in the summer. In that event, Podolski would likely take RvP’s place in a 4-3-3, while Vela could start left and Walcott right. Of course, Gervinho and the Ox would still provide stiff competition, but if La Liga form can be replicated in the Premier League, Arsene Wenger would have no qualms starting the Mexican ahead of the others. This would still allow for a target man to be drafted in as well, again assuming both Chamakh and Park are sold.

Therefore in my opinion, if Robin van Persie signs a new contract and Podolski arrives too, then Vela will be regarded as one left-foot-striker too many. In which case, Arsenal will hope to benefit from his recent good form in extracting a healthier price from prospective buyers for the 23-year old Mexican.

Do write in and share your views. Another loanee to be examined tomorrow so do return. Until then.


Stoke Review: Arsenal Show Steel To Earn Point

Premier League 2011-2012 / Game 36 / Britannia Stadium

Stoke City                  1 (Crouch 9)
Arsenal                      1 (Van Persie 15)

It was expected to be a tough test. And so it proved. But Arsenal acquitted themselves well at the Britannia yesterday. A point keeps third place firmly in our grasp, as elsewhere the Latics grounded high-flying Newcastle United with a 4-0 thrashing.

Before I launch into the review, it has to be said that the boos for Aaron Ramsey from Stoke fans were absolutely disgusting. It is exactly the sort of classless behaviour which has made the Potters among the most hated clubs in the country. On top of that, their constant barracking of Arsene Wenger suggested that the small team mentality evident in their footballing style has now extended to the stands as well.

Both teams started with the eleven I had predicted in the preview post. The only differences were that Gervinho took Walcott’s place on the right and Benayoun started on the left, where as Jon Walters played to the right of Peter Crouch for Stoke.

If Arsenal had hoped for a different approach from the Potters this time around, that notion was dispelled after the sixth second as the home team thumped a long ball forward into the visitors half, under no duress whatsoever. But the Gunners looked determined from the very start. There were a couple of early chances for Benayoun and Robin van Persie which were not capitalised on.

At the other end, Stoke scored with their first meaningful attack of the match. Etherington’s cross from the left found Crouch at the far post, and the bean stalk easily beat Vermaelen and Gibbs to head past Szczesny into the bottom corner. At this point, it seemed like a bit of same-old same-old.

But conceding an early goal did not deter Arsenal, if anything it seemed to lift us a little. The ball was being passed around quickly and the Gunners looked threatening going forward. There was an opportunity when Gibbs sent in a tempting cross, but it was cleared by the Stoke defense. Aaron Ramsey also tried a left footer which went past Begovic’s right post.

The equalizer arrived in the 15th minute and it was well deserved. Benayoun worked hard and hustled Shotton off the ball before passing to Rosicky on the inside. The Czech had a couple of touches, looked up and then curled a right footed cross perfectly into the path of Robin van Persie at the far post, who guided it home. Goal drought ended, 1-1 and game on.

Arsenal dominated the rest of the first half and created a few more good opportunities. The best of these was a terrific whipped in cross by Bacary Sagna into the path of Gervinho, but the Ivorian seemed a little hesitant to run into Begovic and missed the header.

The Gunners were playing with good purpose. Benayoun and Rosicky were working hard and behind them, Ramsey and Song kept shifting the ball with pace, not allowing Stoke to close down. Van Persie played quite deep on occasions, almost as an extra midfielder, which gave Arsenal more bodies to control the ball in midfield. At the other end, we did not allow Stoke a single shot, on or off target, from the 10th to the 43rd minute of the match.

The second half was a slightly more even affair. The first big opportunity fell to RvP from yet another Sagna cross but the captain headed straight at the goalkeeper. There were a couple of nervous moments at the back for us as well, particularly one very short back pass from Gibbs which was just cleared by Szczesny. For a while, the game became scrappy with neither team able to assert supremacy.

Abou Diaby came on in place of Aaron Ramsey in the 73rd minute. Soon after his arrival, Benayoun burst into the box to meet a Van Persie cross and was clearly pushed by Whelan. Chris Foy waved play on. After the match, Arsene Wenger said that the penalty denial “will go on the tape of all the penalties we have not got this season.” I have to agree with him, there as a definite push and it was a definite penalty.

Marouane Chamakh made a rare appearance with 10 minutes to go and did quite well in holding the ball up. But we crossed only four times during that period and failed to find him on any of those four occasions. Santos came on a few minutes later and tried to inject some Brazilian flair to our attack – but the winner never materialized.

In terms of the performance, Arsenal’s defense did a good job of containing Peter Crouch from open play situations. While we won only 10 of the 28 aerial duels, there was always enough pressure put on the attacking player to not allow dangerous situations to develop. Szczesny had a good game, making a couple of smart saves but also coming out to collect or punch the ball away, which eased pressure on the back-line.

Vermaelen and Koscielny did their part in ensuring Crouch and Walters did not get much room to work in. The full-backs supported attacks and provided good width. I was particularly impressed with Kieran Gibbs once again, he kept Pennant under wraps and always looked a threat going forward.

While Aaron Ramsey and Alex Song did not always retain possession of the ball, they did attempt and complete the highest and second highest number of passes in the game (Ramsey 58 of 68 / Song 54 of 67). The Welshman looked better in this game than against Chelsea, even though his pass completion rate is not as good. Both he and Song worked hard to regain the ball and stop attacks from developing.

Yossi Benayoun was his usual industrious self on the left side. It was his pressing that led to the equalizer. He also supported Van Persie on the edge of the box. At the other end, Gervinho was lively and ran at defenders at every opportunity. Robin van Persie looked rejuvenated after the tired performances against Wigan and Chelsea. He held the ball up well, dropped deep to link play and scored the all important equalizer.

Man of the match for me though, was Tomas Rosicky. Besides providing the goal assist, the Czech midfielder created the most chances (4), had the best pass completion percentage (87%) and made the most passes in the final third (20 of 27).

From a tactical perspective, there was another aspect of our play yesterday that I found very pleasing. It was the number of long passes that we attempted. The graphic below shows the long passes from yesterday’s game and from the corresponding fixture last year. As you can see, we attempted more than twice the number of long passes in this game than we did last year.

While the completion rate is lower, it shows a definite attempt to move the ball faster up the field and keep building pressure on the opposition. It also keeps the Stoke backline on their toes and honest, and they have to guard against  a long ball that can bypass the pressing midfield players.

Although three points would have been ideal, I have to admit I am happy with a point from this game. In the end, it was not such a war of attrition as was anticipated and that is a credit to the performance of the team. Importantly as well, we seem to have arrested the little slide in form and the players will now await Norwich with renewed confidence.

Post match, Arsene Wenger had this to say:

Overall we deserved at least a point and I can only give credit to my players for their battling qualities and the way they responded to what Stoke offered us – full commitment, well-organised, direct. We did not always cope with it but today I felt we did.

The manager seemed to share the relief at coming away with a point and was in good form answering questions post-match. On the booing of Aaron Ramsey, he felt there was no cause for Stoke fans to engage in such behavior. When asked about his own relationship with Stoke City fans (who were constantly insulting and abusing him), he came out with a Wenger gem:

They have a relationship with me but I don’t have one with them!

The fact that the manager is so relaxed after the game is a clear indication of the value of this point. We should now be able to carry the good form we showed today into the last two games of the season and finish third in the table – we can then cheer Bayern Munich without apprehension come 19th May!

Your views welcome. Back tomorrow with analysis of another Arsenal loanee. Ta.

Stoke Preview: Physical Battle Awaits Gunners

Arsenal travel to Gotham City this afternoon to take on the clueless Pooless mob of Stoke-on-Trent that call themselves a football club, while pursuing our objective of finishing third and well ahead of the other gangsters from London N17. With Batman nowhere in sight, Robin will once again have to step up and rescue the guardians of the beautiful game.

Before we get into the preview, I read a unique perspective on why Stoke City fans are so proud of their team despite the quite brutal footballing style. Do go and read Big Al’s article yesterday at A Cultured Left Foot and see if you agree.

In team news, Arsenal are without Arteta and Walcott but Benayoun returns to the squad. No other changes except Abou Diaby was feeling sick yesterday (oh dear) and will face a late test. I think he will feature on the bench regardless, midfield options not aplenty at the moment.

Stoke City have almost their entire squad available and have a fairly settled starting eleven. If Jermaine Pennant is fully fit, the former Gunner should get the nod ahead of Rory Delap, he of long throw infamy.

The Potters have been solid at home against the big teams and are currently unbeaten in their last four games at Britannia. There are some who believe that they’ve tried to play a little more expansively this season, Arsene Wenger among them. Maybe it was the taste of Europa League football or just the players at the club’s disposal. Whatever the reason, Arsenal should expect nothing less than the strong, hardworking, physical, long ball approach we’ve faced there in previous visits.

In the reverse fixture in October, the Gunners ran out 3-1 winners at the Emirates. Gervinho scored the opener with an unusually calm finish (Ramsey haters, do watch the lovely Song-esque dink-over-the-top assist by the Welshman). Although Crouch equalized after some slack clearing in the penalty area, Robin van Persie tucked away two assists from the Ivorian late in the game to secure victory.

It was one of Gervinho’s better performances, and the 30 minutes against Chelsea last week showed signs he is getting to that level again. I think he will be an important player for us this afternoon, adding pace and directness in the absence of Theo Walcott.

Probable starting elevens are on the right. Although both Gervinho and Benayoun can play on either wing,  I would start with the Ivorian on the left and the Israeli on the right.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that Bacary Sagna is better at winning the aerial ball than Gibbs at left back, so I would play him deeper today to bring more defensive solidity. The second is that Stoke’s right side will be more of an attacking threat for us with Walters and Etherington both operating there, hence it may be better to start the more defensively hardworking Benayoun on the right side to support Sagna.

I think Gibbs will play a more attacking role this afternoon in support of Gervinho. With Pennant playing against him, Kieran’s pace will be handy to track back when attacks break down. Unlike many recent matches, I expect quite a few Arsenal attacks to originate from the left wing.

In midfield, Aaron Ramsey should retain his place alongside Alex Song. I still think it’s better for Aaron to play in the Arteta role and leave the creative duties to the in-form Rosicky. He will also add a bit of much-needed physicality in the middle of the park if he plays slightly deeper.

Going forward, the Gunners’ best hope will be to move the ball quickly and not allow the hosts to put pressure on them – especially early on as this will set a pattern for the rest of the game. If our midfielders get caught on the ball, the crowd will bay for blood and the Potters will increase the physical intensity – something we don’t deal with very well. Song and Ramsey are often guilty of trying to dribble past a packed midfield. This approach against the Potters today will be fraught with danger – both to the result and to the physical well-being of the players.

Stoke City are pretty miserly in scoring goals, having netted just 32 times this season, the least of all Premier League teams. 21 of those have come at the Britannia though, where they average 1.6 goals a game. Their mode of attack is quite predictable. The Potters will try to cause problems by lumping the ball forward to Crouch, who will hold it up and bring Walters and Etherington into play, while Pennant’s pace and skill on the ball can cause the Arsenal defense concern down Stoke’s right.

However, the home team will be most dangerous from set plays, a route which they utilise often and with great success. Wojciech Szczesny will need to be decisive in coming out or staying put. Besides Crouch, the defenders will have to keep an eye on Huth and Shawcross from corners, free-kicks and Delap specials. The midfield will have to deal with constant pressure from strong midfielders and defenders and ensure it does not disrupt their rhythm and tempo.

Any positive result today will be based on a solid defensive performance, the players should make no mistake about that. If we don’t concede, we will give ourselves a great chance to get maximum points because we are sure to create a few opportunities of our own.

Robin van Persie is going through a goal drought at the moment. All Gooners will be hoping the captain can find his scoring touch again when a chance does drop his way. If not, then someone else from the team needs to step up and convert opportunity into goal – the point/s will be invaluable in the battle for third.

A point from the Britannia will not be a bad result for Arsenal. Although I am hoping for a Gunners victory, my prediction is for a 1-1 draw.

Do come back tomorrow for the match review. Enjoy the game.

Return Of The Loanees – Nicklas Bendtner

The weekend is nearly upon us, signalling Arsenal’s visit to the rugby representatives of English football. Pushing, shoving, two footed lunges and wholesale thuggery are likely to be on show from one side. A result needs obtaining, and I will have no qualms if Arsenal display some of these attributes themselves as long as three points are secured.

In team news, Theo Walcott might return for the last game at West Brom but will definitely miss tomorrow as well as Norwich next week. Tomas Rosicky has recovered from sickness and will be raring to go. The disappointing news is that he’s passed it on to Abou Diaby, who might figure in the squad but is unlikely to start. Benayoun is eligible again after sitting out the last game against his current employers.

Tomorrow’s article will be the preview of our Britannia visit. Today though, we’ll continue our discussion on the future of our on-loan players. Nicklas Bendtner is under consideration in this article.

Arsene Wenger himself has been speaking on the matter:

[I have not decided anything] yet. It will depend a bit on the structure of the whole team. I will sit down with them at the end of the season. You know have some restrictions because you are only allowed 25 players. Therefore you have to make decisions and choices that are of course linked with that.

It’s a point often overlooked by us supporters when we clamour for new signings. Arsene seems to be suggesting that before we look at more incomings, we’ll need to sort out a few outgoings.

Getting back to Bendtner, the striker struggled to establish a starting place at Arsenal during the 2010-11 campaign. Marouane Chamakh’s early season form and Robin van Persie’s return from injury later in the season meant the Dane did not get many opportunities in his preferred central striker role. Although he did score a hat-trick in the FA Cup and the crucial opening goal in the League cup semi-final, domestic cup form did not transfer to the Premier League and he finished with just 2 goals from 17 appearances in the top flight.

During the summer, Nicklas did his best to draw the ire of Gooners with his father/agent constantly peddling his services to any top club that was willing to lend an ear. As it turned out, none of them were vaguely interested. When Sunderland came calling, it offered the only option for the Dane to get some regular football.

Back in October, Steve Bruce felt Bendtner could score 15 goals a season. While that number has not materialised, the striker has certainly contributed to the Black Cats’ cause with 7 goals and 5 assists. He had a good run of form in March, scoring 4 goals in 5 games but Sunderland haven’t found the net in the four games in April.

Bendtner’s main problem at Arsenal has always been his finishing. While he’s sometime capable of the sublime, more often than not he conspires not to score when doing so would be far easier. He seems to have addressed this profligacy to an extent with Sunderland this season. Still, consistency has not been found in putting chances away. If it was another player, the lack of composure in front of goal could be put down to inexperience, youth and a lack of belief. But in his case, the bold statements about his own abilities are easily construed as misplaced egoism on part of the Dane.

This self-belief also precludes him from accepting a role on the bench. His desire to play and his strong personality combine to create a discontented figure in the dressing room.

Off the field too, Bendtner routinely makes the news for all the wrong reasons. Yes, he’s still only 24 and many players sober down in later years. Can Nicklas Bendtner do a Van Persie in four years time and find the temperament to match his talents? Time will tell. On present evidence though, you have to say no.

From a purely footballing perspective, I think Nicklas is a useful player to have in the team and I would not have any qualms about having him back. But after burning every bridge he’s ever crossed, he’s unlikely to be afforded any leniency by supporters – the first bad performance will provoke calls for his head. With Podolski arriving, chances of playing up front will continue to be limited especially if RvP can maintain his form – after signing an extension, of course!

All things considered, it will be a massive gamble for Arsene Wenger to recall Nicklas Bendtner. I expect the club will do their best to get him off the payroll as quickly as they can. Whether the Dane will consider Sunderland worthy of his talents is another issue – one which could prove to be the only cause for delay in his inevitable departure from Arsenal.

Your thoughts welcome.

Back tomorrow with preview of the Stoke game. Until then.

Return Of The Loanees – Ryo Miyaichi

For the neutrals, last night’s Champions League fare was markedly superior to the one dished out at the Nou Camp on Tuesday evening. Mainly because both teams came to play football – and they must be commended for providing good entertainment, especially in the first half. Bayern held their nerve to go through to the final in their own stadium – deservedly so, it has to be said.

With the last game of the season just over a couple of weeks away, thoughts must turn to the forgotten men of Arsenal’s 2011-2012 campaign. No, not Ju Young Park and Sebastian Squillaci. I am talking about the Arsenal loanees who are currently plying their wares in the far-flung corners of the world.

Today’s article looks at the precocious Ryo Miyaichi, currently on loan at relegation candidates Bolton Wanderers.

Since joining Arsenal in a fairy tale move last January, Ryo has earned praise from his manager, teammates and anyone else he’s come in contact with. The Japanese teenager immediately justified Arsene Wenger’s faith in his raw talent by impressing at Dutch club Feyenoord scoring 3 goals in 12 matches. You may like to watch this compilation of his short time in the Eredivisie.

Ryodinho was back with Arsenal last summer, and after being granted a permit as an exceptional talent, he has figured in the Reserves and two League Cup games this season.

The expectation was that Ryo would feature more often this season. That did not happen, partly due to Arsenal’s early cup exits but mostly due to our tenuous league position. On hindsight, a loan move to Bolton at the start of the season would have served both player and club better. Nevertheless, Owen Coyle has been suitably impressed with the youngster’s contribution to the Trotters cause since the beginning of February, having contributed a goal in the FA Cup game against Milwall and providing a couple of assists in the league.

I have seen a few of Ryo’s performances with the Wanderers. He is fast, direct and very tricky with the ball. As Theo Walcott suggested in an interview back in July, he is a difficult player to defend against. He has been Bolton’s best player on more than one occasion since joining up with them.

However, I believe next year may be too early for him at Arsenal. Mind you, I would love to see him running at defenses and terrorising them, but I do feel he needs another loan spell to develop three areas of his game – match fitness at the highest level, defending without the ball and showing for a pass more often.

We have to remember this is the first three months of regular high-intensity football he’s had in England. Unlike Alex Oxlade who’s been brought up in this environment, Ryo has come directly from the Japanese school set up and needs time to adjust to the demands of playing football week-in week-out in arguably the world’s most competitive league.

The other area where he needs improvement is on his defensive game. Ryo still has to develop the positional awareness of what spaces to occupy without the ball. To be fair, he does track back and get behind the ball, but still lacks the ability to make tackles and interceptions and win possession back. A quick comparison with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain highlights this point. Yes, they are different types of players but Ryo is not going to earn a starting place unless he can bring something to the team in defense.

Lastly, I believe he needs to show more when his team have the ball. At Bolton he’s been assigned the role of staying wide and launching fast attacks from the wing. As the Trotters’ most dangerous player though, he does not see as much of the ball as you might expect. Besides Bolton’s long ball approach, I think it’s also a combination of his still-building self-confidence, adjusting to life in the premier league and language and culture barriers.

Can he get enough games at Arsenal next season to improve in the above areas? Well, let’s first examine what options we might have in the wide areas next season.

On the left, it will continue to be a toss-up between Gervinho and Alex Oxlade until one of them cements that spot with some consistent performances. I suspect Andre Santos will be thrown into this mix if Gibbs can stay injury free at left back. And if we buy Yossi Benayoun, then we have to factor in the Israeli as well.

Assuming Theo Walcott signs a contract extension, he will be favorite to start on the right wing. Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby can all play there as well, depending on who is preferred in the centre of midfield with Alex Song and Mikel Arteta.

Injuries should be covered for, of course. But if that is the aim, I think Arsenal will be better placed to recruit a player of proven experience such as Benayoun who can provide depth on the bench rather than the still-maturing talent of the 19-year old youngster.

Effectively, Ryo will have 6-7 players ahead of him in the pecking order for that wide berth. He will definitely get opportunities in cup ties but will that be enough to help his growth at this stage? In my humble opinion, playing every week would better serve his development. If Bolton stay up, one more season on loan at the Trotters would not be a bad idea.

Arsene Wenger will have to make a decision on Ryo but he has the luxury to do this very late in August. I suspect pre-season form and fitness will give the manager a better idea. Even though I feel a loan spell would be best for him, I certainly won’t be complaining if he’s in the squad next season.

Until tomorrow, when we’ll analyse what the future may hold for another Arsenal loanee.

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