Arsenal Depot

A depository for musings on Arsenal FC

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Rosicky Renaissance And Robson Rage

Considering the many injury problems he’s had with the Gunners over the years, it is pleasing to see the contribution of Tomas Rosicky being recognised by the fans. The Czech matched Arsenal’s third place league finish by coming in third himself in the Player of the Season polls.

Rozza Returns

While one may question the finishing order, there is no denying that Little Mozart was arguably the most important person besides Robin van Persie in that crucial seven-game winning run in February and March. His overall influence after January is emphasised by this stat from the website – Rosicky played over 80% of the available minutes between February and May as opposed to just under 30% between August and January. Renaissance indeed.

However, it would be unreasonable to expect the Czech to have an equal impact next season. At 31-years of age, I doubt TR7 will be able to complete 90 minutes in most matches. To a large extent, I think his below-par performances in the last three games were more down to fatigue than loss of form. He’s picked up a minor back injury while on international duty, which is also worrying although he’s still in the Czech squad for Euro 2012. Looking forward to next season, I think Rosicky will provide good back up in the attacking midfielder role but you feel Arsenal need to strengthen in that department during the summer.

Stewart Robson, Arsenal’s resident pundit and tactics man has voiced his opinion that Arsenal should get rid Theo Walcott if he’s asking for a pay-rise. That in itself would not be big news because I suspect many would agree. Robson then goes on to say that Theo Walcott is not a good footballer – in fact, he opines that Walcott is nothing more than an athlete who puts on football boots.

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Arsenal Popularity Stakes – Koscielny Comes In Fourth

So Laurent Koscielny is Arsenal’s fourth-best player this season – or so the fans say. The Frenchman came in one place ahead of Mikel Arteta. Echoing the thoughts of one commenter yesterday, if those two are our fourth and fifth best players then we must have one helluva team.

You’re missing a digit Laurent

Without doubt, Koscielny’s been one of the Premier League’s best defenders this season. While the Frenchman’s ability to intercept and his tackling skills are well acknowleged, the 26-year old also won a league high 1.5 offsides per game (stat courtesy, which indicates better concentration and decision making. He was also more competitive in duels and read danger much faster.

On, Laurent spoke about some of the reasons for his improvement this season.

I was in the gym more, that is the first reason [I have been stronger].

I feel better than last year. I know the league, my team and the Club. I think I am better on and off the pitch so for a player, when you feel good with your team-mates, the Club and his family, it is better. I feel very good to help my team and to qualify for the Champions League. I just wanted that for the end of this season.

Following the Carling Cup defeat last year, the former Lorient man was criticized in many quarters and questions were asked if he was good enough for Arsenal. His excellent showing this season is proof that sometimes players just need time to adjust, especially if they are moving from another league. Hopefully, Per Mertesacker can muster a similar advancement next season.

There is still room for improvement for Koscielny though. In my season review of the defense, I highlighted the defender’s weakness in making clearances with his left foot. He conceded a couple of own goals as a result and a bit of work will help the Frenchman become even more formidable. And while different players have different personalities, I also feel he can be a little more vocal on the pitch considering he’s our best defender at present.

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Arteta’s Only Fifth Best While Van Persie Speculation Mounts

Firstly, many thanks to all the readers who commented on yesterday’s post about our pursuit of Yann M’Vila. Many of you made valid counter arguments to my own views and it generated a bit of debate so I am grateful to all those who took time to post their opinions.

Before I do a quick round-up of the news surrounding Arsenal, I would like to point you to a post I really enjoyed yesterday, Ginger4Limpar’s highly insightful review of the Gunners’ 2011-12 campaign.

While there’s plenty of speculation about targets such as Giroud, there isn’t any actual news. The one story dominating Twitter timelines yesterday was non-Arsenal related, the swayamvara of Eden Hazard seemingly ending with the Belgian choosing Chelsea as marriage partner – for an initial period of five years, it is rumored.

On, Mikel Arteta was announced as the fifth-best player of the season as voted for by fans. I am a little disappointed the Spaniard finished that low. For me, he was the third best player behind Robin van Persie and Laurent Koscielny. While the work he does goes largely unnoticed, it was his overall contribution in the midfield that allowed Arsenal to control games even when the team wasn’t playing at their best.

In one of the interviews given earlier in the season, Arteta had this to say:

I just try to balance the team a little bit. I don’t want to be the main man; we all know who the main man is and that’s Robin. The most important thing is the team, and once the team is doing well the highlights will come for the rest of the players because we are playing well. Everyone is part of a machine and we are all just trying to make the machine work as well as we can.

With a plethora of eye-catching attacking players, Arsenal need to add one or two more professionals like Arteta who can do the hard grind without being noticed. Hopefully, there’s more to come from the humble Spaniard next season.

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Yann M’Vila Is The Right Answer, But What Is The Question?

As is customary in the summer, the hills are alive with the sound of transfer gossip – Arsenal’s interest in Yann M’Vila in particular is echoing incessantly around news sites and football blogs.

The main justification for buying the £17m-rated midfielder seems to be our poor defensive record this season. Alex Song’s metamorphism into a creative playmaker is cited as the reason for a strong physical presence to shield the back line, someone disciplined enough to stay back and mop up when our own attacks break down. M’Vila also has a good long ball in his armoury which would add a different dimension to Arsenal’s attacking play.

Before I go further, let me make it clear I am not disputing the quality of Yann M’Vila. By all accounts, he is a very talented player and if he were to arrive, I am sure he would be successful at Arsenal. As the title suggests, Yann M’Vila is the right answer. What this article aims to do is look at whether he would answer the questions posed of Arsenal in the present.

Yann The Mann

There is no argument that our defending needs sorting out. Individual errors played some part in Arsenal’s concession of 49 goals, so having new personnel would help. But most of the chances we allowed to the opposition were down to a lack of defensive cohesion as a team. Full backs being caught up the pitch, midfielders not spotting danger early, runs of opposing players not tracked and lack of communication are all allegations levelled against the Gunners, which indicate a problem with the whole rather than just one or two parts.

These issues are unlikely to magically disappear with M’Vila’s arrival. Even if the Avengers line up in front of Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal troubles will continue unless work is done on the training ground to address our weaknesses as a team.

If it happened, the positives from M’Vila’s move to the Emirates would be:

1. He’ll add defensive solidity and real steel to the midfield (see this chart for defensive stats comparison)
2. He’s only 21 and can develop into a world-class player
3. He’s French and will fit in seamlessly
4. He would be a marquee signing and appease a large section of fans

At the same time, let’s look at some of the other consequences of his arrival:e

1. Alex Song or Mikel Arteta will benched for extended periods
2. Possible departure of Alex Song
3. Limited game time for Coquelin and Frimpong

The deep-lying ball-recycling role perfected by Mikel Arteta was extremely vital to our success, highlighted by the fact Arsenal managed just one victory without the Spaniard the entire season. Alex Song has the fourth highest assists (11) and tops the league in most accurate through-balls per game (0.7).

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Arsenal 2011-12 Season Review – Offense

In years to come, other Arsenal strikers are likely to surpass the 30 Premier League goals and 37 overall scored by Robin van Persie during the 2011-12 campaign. But all will struggle to emulate the immense individual contribution of the Dutchman in rescuing a season which began so poorly for Arsenal.

It’s easy to eulogize about De Kapitein’s achievements. Robin scored a staggering league high 40% of Arsenal’s goals, netted against all but two opponents (City and Fulham) and won Man of the Match awards once every 3 games. It wasn’t only his goal scoring prowess which was noteworthy though, the tweet below shows his overall involvement in Arsenal’s attacking play.

What the numbers fail to show is the sheer beauty of some of the goals he scored. The curler to level the match against Spurs, the equalizer against Newcastle at home and the volleys against Everton and Liverpool to seal victory were absolute gems scored under pressure. The short compilation below will help refresh the memory of some of these works of art.

Robin’s contribution off the pitch was crucial as well. After the early shocks at United and Blackburn, Arsenal had to dig deep to ensure they didn’t implode and Van Persie’s contribution as captain has to be applauded. Somewhat surprisingly, even for his manager, he took on the responsibility with an earnestness that you wouldn’t have associated with a younger wilder Robin.

Theo Walcott had his most involved season at Arsenal yet, starting as many as 32 games in the league. Like Van Persie, Theo also benefitted from a long run without injury and his link up play with the captain improved as the season progressed – in fact, Walcott-to-Van Persie was the most common assist-to-goal combination in the league this season (6 times – stat courtesy @OptaJoe).

While Walcott made some key contributions in important games, he hasn’t really shown the progression one would expect from him at this stage of his career. The table below compares his Premier League performance in 2011-12 against the previous season based on certain passing and attacking attributes.

As we can see, Walcott certainly established himself as a regular starter but as we go down the list, there aren’t any real areas where there is a marked improvement – in fact there is regression in certain areas. For e.g. it took Theo almost twice the amount of time to score a goal this season than it did the last.

Of course, everything cannot be explained purely by statistics. What the numbers don’t show is the threat of Walcott’s pace. Even when he’s not contributing actively, opposition defenses are wary of getting turned over and are forced to protect Arsenal’s right from counter attacks, which reduces their potency going forward. Having said that, Walcott has struggled against teams that defend well and with his experience, he needs to bring more to the party than just raw pace.

In my opinion, Gervinho did reasonably well for his first season in England. He was very influential in the early part of the campaign, especially after the Spurs loss in September. In the six games following that defeat at Shite Hart Lane, the Ivorian assisted six times and scored once himself in Arsenal’s 10-game unbeaten run. Since the interruption of the African Cup of Nations, it’s fair to say that the striker has not been as impressive although his performances in the last few matches of the season suggested he was rediscovering his form.

As Gervinho was essentially brought in as replacement for the wide berth occupied by Samir Nasri, I have compared the Ivorian’s first season with Nasri’s last in the table below.

Certainly, Gervinho has not been as involved as Nasri was last season, with attempted open play passes, minutes per accurate cross and mins per chances created all in favour of the departed Frenchman. We have to bear in mind two things though – one, Nasri had his best season for Arsenal in 2010-11 and two, Gervinho is much more direct and not in the playmaker mould, which means he sees much less of the ball.

Considering this, the Ivorian’s involvement in 10 goals is impressively just one short of what Nasri managed, although Gervinho played only about two-thirds of the time. Of course, Gervinho also displayed some poor decision-making and that’s an area he must improve on. For the positions he gets into, the quality of his final ball or finish leaves a lot to be desired. If he can put that right, there is no reason he can’t hit double figures for goals scored next season.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was used sparingly by the manager during the first half of the season, but the Englishman has gradually made more appearances since the turn of the year. The youngster weighed in with 4 goals and a couple of assists in the 15 starts and 11 sub appearances, his best performance coming in the 3-0 defeat of AC Milan at the Emirates where he was very impressive in the first half while playing through the middle.

Still, Arsene has not played the youngster as much as many fans would have liked. I believe one reason for this caution was to avoid a Wilshere-type injury. Another could be Oxlade-Chamberlain’s lack of defensive awareness at this stage of his career. In a season where more than two-third of Arsenal’s matches were either drawn or decided by a single goal (stat courtesy DesiGunner) and the Gunners already looking vulnerable in defense, Arsene probably felt he did not have the luxury of letting the Ox loose while leaving the stable door open.

Marouane Chamakh continued to slip spectacularly off the Arsenal radar. One start in the Premier League and just the one goal in only 16 appearances meant the Moroccan really had no impact on Arsenal’s season. With Robin in terrific form throughout the season and Arsene unwilling to play 4-4-2, even Chamakh’s substitute appearances came late in games and mostly when Arsenal were chasing or drawing games, more a sign of desperation than tactical planning.

The other striker, a certain Ju-Young Park has literally gone missing since the season ended, the Korean FA unable to trace his whereabouts. It’s fair to say that if it had happened earlier in the season at Arsenal, no one would have missed him for weeks, such was the dormancy of his first year at the Emirates.

Overall, Arsenal’s three forwards Van Persie, Walcott and Gervinho combined impressively throughout the season. Out of the 30 goals scored by RvP in the league, one-third were assisted by the other two. But for better finishing by Walcott and Gervinho, Arsenal would have scored more this season. Arsene Wenger will be acutely aware of retaining this understanding and continuity next season.

Lukas Podolski has already been signed as well, although Robin van Persie’s future is still not clear. It’s safe to assume that one or both of Chamakh and Park will exit the club. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is likely to be much more involved next season, while there is also the possibility of Ryo Miyaichi and Joel Campbell staking a claim for a spot in the squad. As for Walcott, his fate could be as much tied to Robin’s future at Arsenal as the role AW sees the Ox playing in next season.

There are so many combinations possible at the moment that it’s futile to speculate what Arsene Wenger might do. Once the RvP situation is resolved post Euro 2012, we should have more clarity on how Arsenal will shape up in attack next season. Even if he stays though, it’s unlikely the Dutchman will be able to match this season’s tally so it’s essential for the other strikers to step up and increase their goal contribution in the forthcoming campaign.

Be back tomorrow with more thoughts.

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