Arsenal Depot

A depository for musings on Arsenal FC

The Aspiring Central Striker: Starring Theo Walcott

It’s a good time to be an Arsenal fan as both results and performances have been commendable so far this season. The games are coming thick and fast too, which is always desirable when you’re on a good run of form. It also keeps the team focused on what happens on the pitch rather than the goings-on off it.

One of those off-pitch matters is the Theo Walcott contract saga. Arsene Wenger has taken an unusually tough stance in the stand-off, hinting that Walcott might not see much football unless he signs an extension soon. Now, Theo has spoken of his desire to remain at the club.

I’m not the sort of person that goes after the money. It is all about the football, I have always made decisions about the football.

It is a case of having trust in me up front. I was signed as a striker and it is about time, I want to play up front. I have learnt my game on the wing. When you look at what I did last year I think I can do even more. Hopefully I will be given the opportunity. I am desperate for it.

After the money-chasing antics of Nasri and Van Persie, I am reluctant to take seriously any footballer’s view that money is not one of their top priorities. And without painting all footballers with the same brush as those two, it’s hard to believe a contract negotiation can take six months or more to conclude if it’s not related to financial terms.

That aside, Theo’s comments on his desire to play as a central striker are very interesting. They suggest the youngster has always seen himself playing through the middle for Arsenal. But with the Gunners employing a lone striker up front in recent seasons, Theo’s chances of starting games as the main man were always remote.

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Man City 1-1 Arsenal: Match Observations And Analysis

A point away to the champions would be gladly accepted at any time. The fact that City are on this fantastic home run of 29 victories in 31 games makes this one even more commendable. It was a performance that augurs well for Arsenal’s chances in the league this season – a point gained and a point made.

Arsenal lost captain Thomas Vermaelen to a virus so Laurent Koscielny came into the team while Vito Mannone replaced the injured Wojciech Szczesny in goal. As expected, Gervinho started through the middle as he did against Southampton but the surprising decision was Aaron Ramsey’s inclusion as a right-sided midfielder ahead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Roberto Mancini started with what looked like a more attacking formation on paper. Javi Garcia and Yaya Toure shored up things in midfield while David Silva started on the right and Scott Sinclair was brought on to provide pace and width on the left. Up front, Dzeko played as the central striker while Aguero drifted in behind him.

For a game which had so much attacking talent on show, it’s ironic that both goals came from corners and both were scored by centre-backs. Unlike the last two games, Arsenal dominated possession and stayed on the front foot for most of the match. Without dissecting each phase or listing the order of events, here are a few observations on the Gunners tactics and performance.

Proactive approach and combinations

Although the away victory at Liverpool was impressive, Arsenal were far more reactive in that fixture. At Anfield, the Gunners were content to defend deep and wait for counter attacking opportunities. Against City yesterday, players actively sought the ball and put early pressure on the carrier. While we still displayed a willingness to get behind the ball, there was more energy and proactivity in our approach to winning the ball back.

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Man City v Arsenal: Tactical Preview, Probable XI And Score Prediction

Arsenal’s first big test of the season arrives today at the home of the champions. While it’s too early for any result to have a lasting impact on either team, a point or three from the Etihad would bolster the growing confidence and set things up nicely for Chelsea’s visit next weekend.

With both Szczesny and Fabianski injured, Vito Mannone will get another opportunity in goal. Up front, Gervinho’s impressive performance in the last league outing should earn him a start through the middle ahead of Olivier Giroud. In fact, expect for the enforced change in goal and Abou Diaby coming on in place of Francis Coquelin, Arsene Wenger is likely to field the same side that put six past the Saints last Saturday.

Manchester City have lost Samir Nasri to a hamstring injury while Micah Richards is still out with ankle trouble. Sergio Aguero is likely to return after recovering from a knee problem and new boy Javi Garcia should be preferred in midfield over Jack Rodwell. If Aguero can’t start, it’s possible Tevez will play as centre-forward with Yaya Toure pushing up as well and Gareth Barry playing alongside Garcia in midfield. Either of Zabaleta or Maicon can start at right-back and Mancini’s choice of personnel in that position may provide a clue about his approach in this game – something that is discussed later in this piece.

In recent years, matches between the Citizens and Gunners have been tight affairs. Last season’s fixture at the Etihad resulted in a 1-0 victory for the home team. In fact, all three matches between the two teams in 2011-12 ended in 1-0 scores, one in favour of Arsenal with two in favour of City. Surprisingly, for two teams that have so much attacking talent at their disposal, only six goals have been scored in the last six meetings between these two.

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City Await, Theo Frozen, Poldi Praised

Our biggest test of the season so far awaits at the Etihad tomorrow. Unusually for Arsenal, the vibes before the game are all positive. Whereas last season every big game was preceded by prophecies of the Gunners’ demise, this season there is genuine optimism tempered with caution. Some are even suggesting Arsenal could be outside challengers for the title. How about that.

Certainly victory in the last three games has boosted confidence but so has the unusually short injury list. Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong have resumed training while Bacary Sagna and Tomas Rosicky are close. There are no further injury concerns from our Montpellier trip and for the moment, Wojciech Szczesny is the only starter whose involvement in the near future appears unlikely.

Tomorrow’s match is expected to provide answers to our title credentials. In some ways, I think playing the champions Man City and pretenders Chelsea so early in the season is beneficial to the Gunners. We’ve picked up points from the opening four games so there’s a bit of a cushion to go and play freely. If we win, it’ll lift the side even more. If we lose, it’ll be in the knowledge that two of the toughest tests are in the past.

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Friday Ramble: The Return Of Wilshere

Why is it always that people keep finding something wrong with the Arsenal? We’ve had as good a start to the season as any and things look extremely promising, if early displays are any indication of what lies ahead. Still, there appears to be no signs of let up in the criticism of the Gunners and this time it is a former hero who has been doing all the talking. I hold Tony Adams in high esteem but when he comes out and says the team isn’t defending as a unit just when they are starting to do exactly that, it sounds highly stupid. I might sound biased and to be honest, I am but still, aargh……anyway, enough of my rantings, time to talk football.

The biggest positive this week is the return of Jack Wilshere to full training. Man, it really has been such a long time, almost 14 months since he last played a competitive match. The 20 year old finally appears to have shaken off all his setbacks and from what I saw on Arsenal.com, the young midfielder looked fit and focused during his first training session.

What impact the youngster will have when he eventually makes a much awaited return remains to be seen. His development has been stalled by over a year which means he has a lot of catching up to do. Will he still be the confident passer he once was? Will he resume from where he left off? Will he be the next talisman to take Arsenal forward, as it was being predicted in 2010? All these questions remain to be answered and by the end of this year, I am confident we’ll have the answers.

But Wenger couldn’t have hoped for a better time for the young midfielder to reach full fitness. Arsenal has a settled midfield that is brimming with confidence and playing with the kind of authority you want to see from Arsenal players. Cazorla, Arteta and Diaby appear to be complementing each other and with the assured displays they’ve put up so far, Arsene Wenger now has the luxury of easing the prodigious midfielder into first team football without putting him under too much pressure.

Wilshere himself stands to gain a lot playing in this team. If one remembers his memorable 2010-11 season, his regular midfield partners were Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song. While Fabregas was obviously the playmaker, Alex Song and Wilshere shared the defensive duties among them with great understanding, something I see now between Diaby and Arteta. Song was the one who played deeper, protecting the defense while Wilshere played the orthodox midfielder, as he linked the defense and attack with aplomb. His quick thinking, close control and ability to pick out teammates with great accuracy proved invaluable to Arsenal that year which despite the huge promise, fizzled out without a trace.

His handling of much more experienced midfielders in the big stage often baffled me. When news was around that Fabregas was on his way to Camp Nou ahead of Barcelona’s visit to the Emirates in February 2011, it turned out that a young 18 year old Englishman had gate crashed what was supposed to be Fabregas’s party. The control he displayed in midfield against a team that possessed Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets in their ranks was brilliant. He had a passing accuracy of 95% and in the final third he completed 93% of his passes which showed the impact he had made as Arsenal ran out 2-1 winners.

While his flair and technical abilities often hog the limelight, there are certain aspects of his game that fail to attract attention. He is a tough tackler and despite his small stature, he is strong in the tackle and is not someone who shrinks away from the physical side of the game. He has tremendous positioning sense and is always available for a pass while he has the ability to patrol the defense despite not being a natural defensive midfielder. His composure and reading of the game added to his ability to look for a pass up the field makes him a dangerous and tricky customer to deal with.

His eventual return to the heart of Arsenal’s midfield would probably make the Gunners’ midfield one of the strongest in England. In, Arteta he has a disciplined player who sticks to his duties of protecting the defense and recirculating the ball. Given Arteta’s simple yet effective ball distribution, Wilshere could turn out to be the biggest benefactor. The presence of Cazorla allows him the freedom of staying deeper alongside Arteta, from where he is most effective. It relieves him of the pressure of having to be the creative force behind the striker as his ability to launch long, penetrating balls are better off from a deeper position. The perfect example I could give you is Luka Modric’s role for the Spuds last season.

While it means we’ll lose the physical presence of Diaby and his ability to cover ground quickly, Wilshere provides us will the ball control that’ll make us an effective midfield. We’ve been losing the ball often this season and while our defensive efforts have hidden this flaw so far, it is something that could be exploited. With Wilshere we’ll have three players with tremendous passing and ball retention skills that will invariably lead to a higher possession ratio. With Arsenal’s failure to dominate possession against Liverpool, Saints and Montpellier quite evident, Wilshere might well be the player to alter that trend.

I also think, his return could bring the best out of our wingers, especially Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. I think our wide men have been under undue criticism while it is evident that we aren’t playing to their strengths. Wilshere’s long passes from deep in the midfield could be the key to Arsenal becoming an effective counterattacking team. It will help us put the pace of Walcott, Chamberlain and Gervinho to better use bringing the ball out of defense quickly and using Cazorla’s magical feet in the final third. I know it appears all too easy on paper, but it is all within the scope of Wilshere’s talents.

Also evident is the importance the club seems to be giving to Jack’s return to training. Wenger knows how important the 20 year old is to Arsenal’s future and the special pictures released showing him in training indicate how eagerly everyone as the club has been looking forward to his return. He is amongst the first set of players to have broken into the team with an Arsenal DNA since the academy was setup and as we all expect, he is someone who is expected to lead the team into a new era of optimism in the coming years.

COYG!

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