Denilson- The Right Player At The Wrong Time

These piece first appeared for northlondonisred.co.uk

 

When Mathieu Flamini left the Emirates in 2008 to go to AC Milan, Arsenal said farewell or “Au Revoir” to the type of midfielder Arsene Wenger preferred between 1997 and 2008. Flamini was a hardworking, energetic whilst being strong positionally and fierce in the tackle as well. He continued in the mould of Petit, Vieira and Gilberto as players able to help Arsenal drive forward but also be well versed in the dark arts although being limited technically compared to them. 

Wenger changed his approach slowly after Patrick Vieira left the club and anointed Cesc Fabregas as his successor; a changing of the guard as such as Arsenal turned away from the physical, athletic specimen to a more continental approach with a lone striker up top and a trio of midfielders who all must be technicians and comfortable on the ball. Despite this change in philosophy, Wenger continued to play a physical midfielder in a 4-4-2 until the aforementioned departure of Flamini and from there Wenger decided to implement this style of play in the Premier League.

Denilson started the 08-09 season with Cesc Fabregas in a 2 man midfield, and was admirable adapting his game to allow Fabregas the freedom to utilise his creative ability further up the pitch. He was able to sweep up the play behind him whilst recycling the ball effectively. When Fabregas returned from a long-term knee injury Wenger decided to switch to a 3 man midfield, with Song joining Denilson and Fabregas in the team. The balance was there with Denilson still as the holding midfielder with Song helping him out at times whilst pressing higher up the pitch with Fabregas at the top of the trident being the playmaker and creating higher up the pitch.

Back to Denilson, when he first signed for the club Wenger described him as being “a little bit in between Tomáš Rosický and Gilberto”. His role was to act as the ‘link’ in the midfield, win the ball back just in front of the defence, keeping possession, recycling the ball to the more creative players, and knocking sensible passes out to the full-backs. His job was to keep things simple and keep the game ticking over calmly. For all the talk that Denilson was a sideways passer, he was always able to split defences open from deep with his Cesc-like long balls from deep, he was mostly a player capable to play on the front foot, dictating the tempo whether to keep the ball or quicken the game up with forward risky passes and 1-2s.  He was never a Flamini or an Alex Song, who got the pulse pumping of the crowd with their slide tackles and acts of “bravery” on the field but a calm interceptor and a much more intelligent tackler able to initiate attacks rather than aimlessly clearing the ball. Denilson was able to stay generally deep and break up play and did it, without often being tempted to venture too far up the pitch thus breaking the whole shape of the team unlike Alex Song’s wandering legs in his later years at Arsenal. 

2008/09 was a breakout season for Denilson and the stats back it up compared to Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini.

Denilson (08/09) Arteta (12/13) Flamini (13/14)
Games played 36 34  24*
Interceptions 146 (4 per game) 97 (2.85 per game) 37 (1.54 per game)
Assists 7 3 0
Tackles won 148 (4.11 per game) 110 (3.24 per game) 44 (1.83 per game)
Pass Accuracy 89% 91% 92%

 

Unfortunately for Denilson, he couldn’t continue in the vein of his 08/09 season as he suffered from a peculiar and debilitating back injury where it was found out he had a small fracture in his back at the start of the 09/10 season and returned to get injured again later on in the season with a groin strain. These injuries appeared to set him back coupled with the emergence of Jack Wilshere, limited his appearances to mainly cup games with the odd league game here and there .In the 11/12 season where with Aaron Ramsey returning from injury and too many midfielders, and limited spots Denilson was the guy who could never win his place back and was eventually shipped off to Sao Paulo on loan and eventually on a free transfer to Sao Paulo. No tears was really shed as everyone understood his time was over at the club with 2 seasons spent on loan in his native Brazil. Denilson personified the Emirates era thus far; new, young, full of promise and ready to take the world by storm instead it started promisingly well for him before imploding and falling apart.

No one could forget him against that ill-fated game against Manchester United in 2010 where he allowed Park and Rooney to run at him, do nothing whilst ambling back slower than the time it takes Chamakh to get his hairstyle done and putting no effort in at all. This was his main fault, he wasn’t able to cope at all with people running at him with pace, was physically weak where it would be easy to shrug him off the ball and most infuriatingly just casually jogging after runners with no effort nor application. Denilson had his faults like any other player but between 2007-2011 where we had 3 good opportunities to win the league and were in the mix by the beginning of February each time, Wenger didn’t help his young troops by totally disregarding the importance of experience in older players. Denilson and to a lesser extent Song and Diaby would have benefited immensely with the help and experience a player like Gilberto Silva would have brought to the table with all his wealth of experience he could boast in various situations he has experienced throughout his illustrious career. 

All in all in his latter years at the club, Denilson conveniently was the scapegoat for all of Arsenal’s problem on the pitch (kinda like the #blameramsey campaign don’t forget). Arsenal fans had their pitchforks out ready to blame Denilson for every 5 yard backward pass he would do no matter the circumstances conveniently forgetting what his job on the pitch was, with this lack of trust and love from all quarters he was looking rather lost in his last season at the club. I remember in his last few games where his substitutions would be greeted with cheers, it completely drained whatever confidence he had in himself and in those circumstances a player cannot play to his ability in such a negative environment especially when being in and out of the side. At the end it was good for everybody involved for him to move on to his future endeavors and at the age of 26,there is still time for him to make a return back to Europe and perhaps become the player everyone at Arsenal thought he would become. 

Have PSG pulled a Rabiot out of the hat with Adrien?

rabiot

In the last 15 years, France in the footballing world have been associated with two things, eccentric defenders and strong, imposing midfielders. In the golden generation of 1998 and 2000 where France could call on Patrick Viera, Didier Deschamps and Emmanuel Petit and even Claude Makélélé who didn’t even play in the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship triumph but is known as one of the finest defensive midfielders in recent memory.

In more recent times, France have continued to develop and nurture physical players yet who had good technique to play a more varied and balanced game both in defence and attack. With the likes of Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba, Geoffrey Kondogbia and even bad boy Yann M’Vila all blessed with the necessary technical attributes needed in today’s game as in first touch efficiency, good passing ability with the needed range of passing but also have the physical attributes enabling to hold off and shrug off opponents and also to win the back possession effectively as well. Adrien Rabiot is another one of these gifted midfielders France has developed in recent times who is looking very comfortable in a crowded PSG midfield under Laurent Blanc.

Overview

Rabiot first started his career playing for US Creteil Lusitanos in the suburbs of Paris before Manchester City offered him a place in their academy at aged 13 which he duly obliged. According to various sources Rabiot struggled with the life in Manchester and the life in England so he promptly left England to go back to his native France. PSG his boyhood club went on to sign him onto their youth set-up and rapidly went up the ranks to make his first team introduction for PSG during the pre-season of 2012/13 making an appearance vs Barcelona in a friendly going on to make 9 appearances for PSG in 2012/13 before embarking on a loan move to Toulouse where he showed promise that he could thrive in Ligue 1 and could fight for a starting place at PSG. He made 13 appearances for Toulouse scoring a solitary goal but a scorcher of a goal just to prove a point. Back at PSG, Rabiot has played 15 times so far for Les Parisiens but has only made 5 starts under Blanc so far this season.

Style of Play

 Rabiot is primarily a left-footed holding midfielder able to shield the back 4 effectively but also makes himself available for a pass from his defence and can counter-attack well with his dribbling ability and long bursts forward but also his long passing which dare I say is Pirlo-esque for such a young man. Rabiot is also capable to play as part of a double-pivot and also further up as part of the ’3′ of a 4-2-3-1 formation. He can easily slot in on the flanks or as a 10 with his capable dribbling ability and can conjure up some swashbuckling combination play at blinding quick speeds like a successful playmaker should do.

Weaknesses

As any 18 year old player, Rabiot has parts of his game which should be refined and polished up to take him to the next level. For someone who is 188cm tall, he should do well in the air and help his team defend balls coming into the box or just outside of it but Rabiot isn’t a physical presence despite his lanky frame and does tend to shy away from physical confrontation which is vital for a Defensive Midfielder to take part in to impose himself onto the game, as Patrick Vieira says here : “Physicality was a very important part of my game. I knew that the first contact in the battle was going to be really important. This is the moment when you impose yourself and win games. Being strong in the first tackle says, ‘I’m here and I’m going to try and make it hard for you’. Intimidation is part of the game, but as a defensive midfielder you also have to be really good technically. You have to have the ability to collect the ball from the back four and pass it on to the front players.”   Rabiot has won 56% of his aerial duels in Ligue 1 this season (9/16) which is fairly disappointing for a man of his size. Rabiot although his decent tackling success rate of 83% and makes roughly 1.3 successful tackles per game  sometimes offsets that with sometimes naive, rash tackling. Commits 1.3 fouls per game which on first inspection looks a disappointing amount of tackles conceded but Rabiot has been criticised for his lack of tackling ability and his fondness to avoid tackling but at Toulouse under Alain Casanova he has improved his tackling and learnt some tips from former Toulouse midfield enforcer Étienne Capoue and perhaps shown a big appetite for tackling. With age comes maturity and Rabiot will certainly improve his tackling in future. Another issue is his lack of a right foot. Doesn’t have the ambidextrous ability of say Santi Cazorla and limits his range and can make him fairly predictable. He sorely lacks the ability to cross or dribble with his right foot, which at the highest level can put you at a distinct disadvantage.

PSG's Wunderkid

PSG’s Wunderkid

Strengths 

Rabiot’s range of passing for someone so young draws you immediately to him. His ability to play lofted through balls like Pirlo is his strength but in recent times his ability to slow things down and set the tempo has been most impressive not trying to force possession but calming the game down and trying to dominate the game with possession in midfield. Based on his 12 appearances in Ligue 1 this season, Rabiot has completed 2.1 long balls per game with a completion percentage of 89% (25/28) whilst his general pass completion is at 91%  and makes 33.8 passes per game which has improved tremendously during his loan move at Toulouse and continued at PSG this season. Although a small sample size Rabiot has completed 66.7% of his attempted through balls even though he’s only attempted a through ball 3 times this season. His dribbling bursts from deep are very effective as a surprise tactic and to draw players towards him to allow others that extra second to fulfill an opportunity.

Rabiot’s other strength is his positioning and tactical awareness usually make up for a natural tendency not to enter tackles although as documented earlier on he has improved in that facet of his game. Stats show his clever play defensively making 1.2 interceptions per game and 0.5 clearances per game despite not being a physical presence like Matuidi or a calm persona in Motta he does have a very respectable tackle rate of 1.7 tackles per game although is behind Motta with 2.7 tackles per game and Matuidi with 2.6 tackles. Got to remember though that Rabiot is only 18 and will only improve playing and training with top quality players in Matuidi and Motta in the midfield.

Rabiot’s maturity as a person and a player is refreshing to see from a player his age. Instead of indulging on extravagance and the need for histrionics in some player’s private lives, Rabiot is well-grounded probably due to his terminally ill father Michel who suffers from  locked-in syndrom which shuts down and paralyzes all the body’s muscles except for the eyes. Father Rabiot is a lifelong PSG supporter and taught his son the art of football when Adrien was growing up. Caring for his father led Rabiot to maturity quicker than others his age. Combine his maturity, determination and work-ethic it is not a suprise Rabiot is immensely well liked in the national set-up and among his teammates and the staff at PSG

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Rabiot himself in October was pleased with his progress at PSG and ruled out a loan move during the current campaign.

“In terms of playing time, a first step has been taken. I play more regularly. I am no longer the little kid who starts,”

“My loan at Toulouse did me a lot of good. I played 13 Ligue 1 matches. This experience gave me personal landmarks and I showed others what I can do, including my teammates at PSG.

“In early August, Laurent Blanc took me aside to tell me that he was counting on me and that he was opposed to the idea of me leaving on loan.”

At the age of 18, Rabiot has broken through to the PSG first team and is definitely making a mark in Ligue 1 and the France U-19 player is the first homegrown player under president Nasser Al-Khelaifi  to receive a professional contract. No wonder all of Europe’s big clubs are looking at Adrien Rabiot enviously and the fact PSG don’t need to and don’t want to sell a man with so much potential not just to be a world class midfielder but a future leader and captain of  Les Parisiens.
 
*Stats are from WhoScored and Squawka
** Follow me at Twitter.com/SweeperKeeper1

Does Kießling deserve the Löw blows by Jogi?

Stefan Kießling , the reigning top scorer in the Bundesliga scoring 25 goals in a season where Bayer Leverkusen finished 3rd, a solitary point  behind Champions League runners-up Borussia Dortmund oddly has been frozen out in the German squad by Coach Jogi Löw and is very unlikely to be called up to the squad for the World Cup in Brazil later next year.

When you look at the current Germany squad, you immediately notice strength in depth in most positions which normal club sides cannot even boast about, apart from the men banging in the goals up front (You could argue also at fullback but that’s an argument for another day). Germany have Miroslav Klose, the wily old fox at 35 years of age, is in the twilight of his career. His predatory skills hasn’t declined with age and his poacher role suiting the decline of his physical powers still allows him to pounce in the area either with his feet or with his extraordinary heading ability and allows him to come up with the goods time after time. He currently is the joint top goal scorer of all time for the Mannschaft with legendary striker Gerd Müller.  Barring injury which in recent times hasn’t been kind to Klose with him getting repeated muscle injuries. If fit, Klose will surely be on the plane to Brazil and by the end of the World Cup should become Germany’s all-time leading scorer.

The other striking option for Jogi Löw is Fiorentina striker Mario Gomez. An excellent finisher within the 18 yard box, his ability to be at the right place at the right time and his prowess in front of goal is unmatched shown by his haul of 113 goals in 174 games for Bayern Munich, a feat not to be scoffed at. Gomez is the archetypal poacher, brilliant when in the 18 yard box. Able to finish with both feet impressively and uses his aerial strength and ability to create chances for himself and most importantly scores goals in the air. Gomez lacks the ability to drop deep, drift wide and bully defenders appropriately to his large frame.  Technically he isn’t as good as Klose or  Kießling and even his former club teammate Mario Mandzukic, his first touch has been lacking for a quite while whilst not offering much outside the box in the way managers want their strikers to be involved in general play in the modern game. Cannot be depended to be of any use to Germany’s possession based game,  he lacks the appropriate skills to be a bonafide member of the Germany first XI whilst Gomez the poacher has his uses in certain games and moments but it’s unlikely he will start for Germany in the first game of the World Cup or indeed in a big match for the Mannschaft.

Max Kruse for Germany vs Ireland

Max Kruse for Germany vs Ireland

Max Kruse, the man on everybody’s lips in the Bundesliga. He has given Löw another option but a more cultured varied option than his competitors.  Kruse scored 12 goals for Freiburg in their monumental campaign last season where they fell agonizingly short for entry into the prestigious  Champions League. Considering Freiburg were to play in the Europa League, it was surprising Kruse left to Borussia Mönchengladbach for such an unbelievably low fee of €2.5million. Widely considered to be the bargain of the summer transfer window, Kruse has quietly made an impression to the Germany technical staff with a brilliant start to the campaign. 7 goals and 4 assists in 11 games so far in the Bundesliga with 4 Man of the Match awards, which not shows his ever developing predatory touch but also the variety  and superstar ability he brings to a team. His ability to drift to either wing and deeper into midfield effortlessly which allows for combination play (which would be deadly for Germany with players like Marco Reus and Thomas Müller) to give Germany variety and make them much more fluid in attack. He’s able to draw players into him and create space for others to attack into. Like any other technically-gifted striker like a Totti or a van Persie who prefer to play between the lines and not just score goals but to help make the play and to help create unfamiliar angles of attack, his dribbling skills are second to none and his ability to  thread through balls to his teammates are giving Gladbach more variety to their play and Kruse and his teammates are both benefiting from it.  His ability to play in between the lines gives Germany a more possession orientated approach, considering  Löw has played Bayern Munich attacking  midfielder Mario  Götze as a false 9 mainly to play between the lines and allow runners to surge beyond him and the defensive line which is vital to Löw’s insistence to make Germany less predictable in attack, Kruse is the logical choice in this role with his ability to play one-twos and play flicks into onrushing teammates and ever-improving deadly finishing.   Jogi Löw must be favouring the 25 year old striker by  praising the young star effusively to the media, saying that Kruse has all the attributes that he looks for in a striker.

“Players who drop in between the lines are key nowadays, I prefer strikers who are flexible and able to vary their play up front.

“Kruse has impressed me greatly during his time in the national set-up with his composure on the ball, work ethic, agility and eye for goal. He took a big step forward with us in the USA.”

Back to Stefan Kießling, a man who consistently has scored goals for the Werkself and has shown the more softer subtlety in his game as he has developed throughout the years by developing relationships with strike partners Sidney Sam and Heung-Min Son also with now departed Chelsea forward André Schürrle, shown in this campaign by making 3 goals in the Bundesliga alongside his 6 goals thus far also scoring 2 goals in 3 games in the Champions League whilst also making 5 key passes in Europe. Kießling has shown not to be a traditional German target man. Strong and efficient as the stereotype goes but he is of decent pace, brilliant in the air (shown by his controversial ghost goal vs Hoffenheim), lethal finisher but also technically good and able to combine with his teammates, shown by his return of 65 total chances created last season in the Bundesliga with 7 assists with 40% of the chances he created came in the central positions outside the box. Leverkusen in the last two years have mainly played on the counter attack under Sami Hyypiä, soaking up pressure before winning the ball back and committing players forward at lightening speed bombarding the opposition’s defense purely by the amount of runners and numbers in which Leverkusen commit in the transition from defence to attack to bamboozle the oppositions’ defensive line.

It could be the consequence of the philosophy used by Sami Hyypiä’s men that could make Kießling redundant in the system now used by Löw. In the 2010 World Cup, Germany played a vibrant, quick counter-attacking system where Lukas Podolski, Thomas Müller and Mesut Özil were able to run amok and Germany played the best football probably they have ever played but Löw ever the consertative switched to a more slower tempo with slower transitions compared to the team that played in the World Cup in South Africa, a more possession based approach due to the vast amount of midfielders he has to perfect this type of tactic. It’s not a stretch to say maybe the German national staff see Kießling as a counter-attacking player and not a player who can survive with less space and time afforded to him with Germany as opposed to Leverkusen.

Kießling adds a different dimension to the Germany squad, his ability to play on the counter attack and be a physical direct outlet when Germany switch play to counter a team like Spain  who can easily unsettle Germany with their tactical nuances and their better understanding of possession football. Considering Germany’s failure in the big moments in the semi-finals of the last 2 major international competitions, Kießling gives Germany another tactical dimension and simply put a Plan B.

Jogi and Stefan in happier times.

Jogi and Stefan in happier times.

Kießling has said recently he will never play under Jogi Löw but has backtracked with the help of Leverkusen Sporting Director and former World Cup winner Rudi Völler praising Stefan Kießling  and backing him for the Germany squad if selected again.

“Jogi Loew has asked Stefan if he is prepared to help should Mario Gomez or Miroslav Klose be out of form or injured for the World Cup. Stefan has said he would,”

“The conversation was constructive and should have taken place somewhat earlier. It would have saved a lot of stress,”

“He (Kiessling) does not want to be a stand-in, but when he is needed, then he will be there.”

“If he plays as well as he did last season, then it’s going to be very difficult for the national team coach not to take him to the World Cup anyway, regardless of Gomez and Klose.”

Löw has hinted Kießling might be recalled in the near future but named options like Max Kruse and young Kevin Volland of Hoffenheim as well.

“Stefan Kiessling is a striker who has put in very good performances in the Bundesliga over the years,” Low is quoted as saying by Bild.

“I will have a conversation with him and discuss a few things internally. I will never write him off because he has very good qualities.”

Stefan Kießling is a striker that adds Germany a good option able to be clinical like Gomez, good technical ability like Kruse and mobile and wily like Klose. It would be a massive mistake if Löw didn’t take the 29 year old hotshot all-rounder to Brazil. If not it could be the difference between a 4th World Cup win and another agonizing semi-final exit.

Refined Roadrunner that is Theo Walcott

Theo's trademark celebration

Theo’s trademark celebration

Robin van Persie: ”If you speak about Theo, my friend Theo here, I find it quite funny that he gets so many critics. He has given me loads of assists. “I know he can score, he scored two goals and he will score more. I said a couple of weeks ago that he will score more than 20 goals and he will. Trust me.”

Lionel Messi: “I can only speak from experience but he was one of the most dangerous players I have ever played against. Barcelona players are not scared easily but I can tell you that when we played Arsenal last season he truly worried us.”

“Lacks a footballing brain”, “a glorified sprinter”, “lacks self belief.”

He was even called “brainless” and “thick” by two journalists on the Guardian Football Weekly Podcast last week.

Common belief earlier in his career was that Theo Walcott was a flat track bully – a cricket term for scoring runs on a dead wicket against usually weak opposition. Also, how he has lived on his hat-trick vs Croatia throughout his career which not very eloquently, is a load of nonsense.

Walcott-Marseille

Walcott is a very underrated player. People see a typical winger in the mold of a Gervinho or like a Hleb – a player who can beat a man easily in any direction, unorthodox dribbling style (Gervinho usually confused himself rather than the defender) and a freedom to roam around the front line. Walcott isn’t that kind of a winger.

To compare him to former Arsenal icon, Freddie Ljungberg, they are very similar players. Both are able to make those penetrating runs to create space not just for themselves, but for their teammates. With Arsenal’s fullbacks providing width as per a usual Arsene Wenger side, the right sided midfielder would often get beyond the strikers into a central position and score crucial goals for the team and provide crosses from out wide as well. Not a coincidence that Wenger has made Walcott watch DVDs of Ljungberg’s runs and style of play in his pomp which Walcott has now perfected to a tee.

“His [Ljungberg] runs are perfect for me. When you get the ball, people expect me to just run past five or six players and cross it in or get a goal. It’s difficult to run at pace and pick someone out at times. “Sometimes the best thing is to put the ball into space for someone to attack it. It’s happened quite a few times this season that I’ve put it into space and no one’s been there which has made me look a bit worse than I am.” – Walcott.

Walcott’s main attributes are his penetrating runs and the timing of them – it always seems his runs are made perfectly into the region between the left central defender and the left-back although, not always spotted, it always gives the opposition’s defense a fright seeing Walcott make these runs which instinctively makes the defense as a whole drop deeper. Playing a high-line against Walcott is a very risky thing to do especially when you have CB’s with the speed of a sloth on its laziest day (*Dawson under Villas-Boas.*)

Walcott did posture throughout his contract negotiations about playing as a striker and emulating his hero, Thierry Henry. Clearly and simply put; he isn’t good enough to play as a striker for Arsenal and the style of a typical Wenger striker. Strikers under Wenger are either technical geniuses who drop deep or affect the game by linking up and making combination plays as well as of course, being deadly in front of goal. These are the Thierry Henry’s, the Dennis Bergkamp’s, and the Robin van Persie’s. The other type is the big, strong target man who is not just a battering ram but an intelligent player able to act as a pivot or a screen for others to play off. Olivier Giroud and Emmanuel Adebayor (07/08) are main examples of these types of players.

Both types of strikers are important for Arsenal as many chances are created from central areas – the importance of the central striker, no matter the type, is to link up play and create space with intelligent movement. Walcott is the main beneficiary from these central strikers as he’s the outlet in attack from the right hand side plus, the use of a central striker to hold the ball up is crucial for his play, and was found often by van Persie and now by Giroud.

This goal vs Blackburn assisted by Van Persie to Walcott shows how an intelligent striker can aid Walcott immensely. After a pass by Andrei Arshavin, van Persie got the ball on the half-turn and was able to turn without much pressure. Walcott saw the opportunity to make the run into as mentioned before, the space between the left central defender and the left-back and finally, van Persie delivered a beautifully weighted pass which Walcott latched onto with his simple but now devastating diagonal out to in run and hit it brilliantly into the far corner.

Walcott wants to play as a striker for Arsenal. Walcott would play as an “off-the-shoulder” striker – a poacher like he was at Southampton. The first problem is that Arsenal don’t play with a poacher, especially if it’s one man up top, secondly, poachers are nearly extinct in the world game. Teams tend to play with more well-rounded strikers instead of a one trick pony e.g. Bayern Munich buying Mario Mandzukic, a player who adds a lot to Bayern with his movement, mobility and pressing to replace Mario Gomez, a tremendous finisher but adds nothing more.

Walcott lacks the physical stature to play as a striker in a more well-rounded role upfront like a deep-lying forward that Wenger prefers from his strikers. His intelligence at making runs cannot be questioned but to be involved in intricate linkup play or create space for others to exploit from a central position, it is a major doubt and he would struggle to perform that role as effectively as a Giroud or a Henry. Walcott effectively plays as a wide forward or a hybrid role – he plays as a striker coming in from the wing but importantly without the strength or the responsibilities of playing through the middle.

Statistic wise, Theo has come on brilliantly, scoring 14 goals and 10 assists in the league, 21 goals in all competitions last season. Creating 38 chances again in the league and having his best season in his short career which is brilliant for someone who Alan Hansen labelled, “A player who lacks a footballing brain.”

A shot accuracy percentage of 66% (41/62) is outstanding especially when you compare it to his team-mate and strike partner, Giroud who has a shot accuracy percentage of 49% and Lukas Podolski whose percentage is 61%. Comparing him to the elite strikers of the Premier League and Walcott is surprisingly only usurped by now vilified Adebayor who has a percentage at 70%. Van Persie is at 59% and Luis Suarez is at 54% – stats can be misleading as obviously both Suarez and Van Persie have taken more than double the amount of shots Walcott has taken.

We now see a player who is developing composure. The ability to make decisions quickly, knowing when to make runs, how to score goals, and link up with team-mates who in the last 2 seasons, were completely new to him. With a more settled front line, Walcott understands his teammates better – for example, the telepathic relationship of him and now, much improved and good mate of his, Aaron Ramsey. Add Santi Cazorla and not to forget, Arsenal’s new world class German record signing of £42.5 million acquisition, Mesut Özil who will thread fantastic well-weighted through balls in the corridors of uncertainty which make defenses uneasy and Walcott smile with glee like a child eating a 99 flake ice cream on a hot summer day.

Even though Özil was suffering with a stomach bug, it didn’t affect him at all to forge a successful partnership against Sunderland at the weekend. Twice Özil gave Walcott defense splitting through balls which Walcott could not convert. On a better day, we know Walcott is capable of scoring from both those chances.

With all that said, Walcott has recovered incredibly after the hype Sven-Göran Eriksson gave him after picking him for the 2006 World Cup which he subsequently never played a game in. Or when Fabio Capello didn’t pick Walcott for the World Cup in 2010 even after his great performance vs Barcelona or Messi giving him incredible amounts of praise. Or even the various injury issues that were blighting him early on in his career.

Walcott has carried on, picked himself up with the guidance of Wenger to better himself and arguably has become Arsenal’s most dangerous attacking player. As Don Draper said in Mad Men: “There will be fat years and there will be lean years, but it is going to rain.”

Walcott’s fat years have just begun.

Why Bacary Sagna is the top dog and Jenkinson is a worthy backup‏

This was written first for http://thebottomcorner.com

Whilst Bacary Sagna experienced the worst season of his relatively long Arsenal career, Carl Jenkinson stepped up to the plate, giving Arsene Wenger a major decision on whom to start at the beginning of the new campaign. Or so it seems.

Sagna had undoubtedly had a rough 2012-2013 campaign. He suffered the physical effects of breaking his leg twice in the same season, and has lost that zip and extra yard of pace that got him voted PFA Player of The Year twice before (in 2007-08 and 2010-11.) He broke his leg against Spurs and then again by a stamp by Bradley Johnson of Norwich on the same leg which made him miss Euro 2012 and the start of the new season.

Most likely due to his consistent play over the years, Sagna wasn’t afforded the time and patience of him returning to his best form like Aaron Ramsey and Abou Diaby after one broken leg let alone the two Sagna suffered. Without the privilege of a pre-season to bank on and gradually getting into the swing of things, Sagna struggled and with Jenkinson on top form and playing very well in the first few games of the season, many Arsenal fans wanted the lifelong Gooner, Jenkinson to start and permanently claim a spot in the first team.

Sagna has been the beacon of consistency since joining in 2007 – he’s been the one truly constant in the squad in the last 7 years. He’s been consistently excellent throughout the years even with our well documented defensive frailties. With Santi Cazorla, he’s probably one of two world class players Arsenal currently have. And with Sagna having a year left on his contract and throughout most of last season with speculation mounting that Sagna will leave the club to PSG perhaps, Wenger has made the right decision in keeping Sagna for one last season at least. Wenger on record, has called Sagna ‘the best right back in the Premier League’ in the past and is unlikely to give up on a player – especially one of Sagna’s capabilities.

Stats

Statistically speaking, last season, Jenkinson was in the best form of short career and Sagna in his worst form since he’s been at the club. Jenkinson is taller than Sagna by a good 9 centimeters but Jenkinson only won 50% of his headed duels (15/30) whilst Sagna won 68% of headed duels (75/110).

Jenkinson has improved his defending a lot since his first season at the club and the help of Steve Bould has been immeasurable to his game but his tackling still has a lot to be desired. He has only won 59% of tackles (19/32) compared to Sagna’s 82% tackle duels won (46/56). Sagna also made 33 interceptions (1.3 per game) whilst Jenkinson made 8 interceptions (0.6 per game).

Sagna made 90 clearances in the league (3.6 per game) whilst Jenkinson made 34 clearances (2.4 per game). Jenkinson however, has made less defensive errors than Sagna with the former making 2 errors with one leading to a goal and the latter making 4 errors with 2 directly leading to a goal.

Offensively, the trend stays roughly the same even though Jenkinson made 1 assist in the Champions League while both never registered an assist in the league, Sagna had a better season offensively, even with regards to crossing. It’s a bit of a myth that Jenkinson is a better crosser than Sagna – although Sagna has had poor end product for some time. For someone who gets into good crossing positions on the right hand side and gets slated repeatedly for hitting the first man more often than most, compared to Jenkinson who crosses with pace and fizz, Sagna has a crossing percentage of 17% whilst Jenkinson has his percentage at 12% (Credit to @DezilDez).

Jenkinson created 9 key chances (0.6 per game) while Sagna made 20 key passes (0.8 per game). Both have an identical turnover rate however at 0.6 per game.

Jenkinson is undeniably a prospect and one who will get better with regular game time and experience at the highest level. He’s shown his potential and ability with top class performances against Manchester City and Bayern Munich both away. His defensive work is very good, he is deceptively quick, and has tremendous recovery pace. He also shuts down attackers, his defensive angles are ever improving and his 1v1 play is outstanding. Physically, he’s not as built or ripped as Sagna but he’s strong and doesn’t get bullied easily.

His offensive game however, is seriously lacking to really challenge Sagna. He’s hesitant on his left foot, doesn’t like to play the risky ball but would rather pass the backwards or to the nearest man. He can be a calamity in possession, shown by the first 20 or so minutes against Liverpool at Anfield where Jenkinson had a real shocker and kept giving the ball away or hitting suicide passes across the backline. He is prone to moments of panic; Michu’s second goal at the Emirates came from Jenkinson panicking and not making the right decision which led to him getting dispossessed. He doesn’t have Sagna’s fantastic reading of the game and still doesn’t grasp the tactical side of the game both in defense and attack.

These flaws should be ironed out of his game with time – Sagna has made a few mistakes himself most memorably for all the wrong reasons his 15 second brain fart against Man United, which lead to him giving the ball away and then hacking down Van Persie in the box to allow United a penalty and a goal which salvaged them a draw.

Sagna 4th choice CB and 1st choice RB?

Sagna might have found himself a new role as he was brilliant as a CB vs Sunderland – a position he only fulfilled due to Laurent Koscielny getting injured in the warmup. With Jenkinson getting sent off with a reckless lunge in the second half, Arsenal needed to show mental strength and resolve to hold onto the lead and with colossal performances from Sagna and Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal held on and picked up 3 points which ultimately helped Arsenal get CL qualification yet again.

On the pre-season tour to Asia, Wenger decided to willingly experiment Sagna as a CB and he passed with flying colours, albeit against weak opposition. He always had a fantastic leap on him and he used it to great effect as a CB despite his relative lack of height, his reading of the game was spot on and didn’t have to cover so much ground which didn’t expose his recent loss of half a yard of pace while he is generally suited to play there, showing he can be a worthy backup to Per Mertesacker when ever the German is unavailable.

The positives of Sagna adding another string to his bow, being able to play at CB, allows Jenkinson to play more games. With the guidance of Sagna maybe playing alongside him, this would also allow young Spaniard, Hector Bellerin to join up with the squad and catch a few minutes here and there.

Jenkinson has made many flattering comments on Sagna recently and how the Frenchman has helped improve his game:

“I’ve learnt so much from him over the last couple of years. He’s one of the best and it’s a privilege training with him.”

Conclusion

While Sagna has declined due to his unlucky leg breaks and Jenkinson has improved spectacularly, both are at the opposite spectrum of their careers and just like the full back position and in goal, Wenger has no problem introducing healthy competition among players to get 100% and the best out of all of them to benefit the side to bigger and better things.

The conundrum of Mikel Arteta

He went on to speak about what Guardiola told him about playing in the “pivote” role…. ” Mikel, you have to be happy when other people in the team are playing well around you, it means you have made them better, don’t try and find happiness in yourown moments”

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Mikel Arteta bought on Transfer Deadline Day 2011, was labelled a panic buy by many Arsenal fans. Bought for £10m, replacing a fellow Spaniard in the squad but also a cult hero at the club, Cesc Fabregas. 2 years on, Arteta is vice captain of the club and a cult hero himself.

Bought just after the 8-2 annihaltion at Old Trafford by bitter (but not so bitter anymore) rivals Manchester United. A double pivot was formed between Arteta and now departed Alex Song, where the aim is in a double pivot is to win the ball in midfield and distribute the ball by deciding whether to slow the game down or quicken it up, with one midfielder supporting the attack whilst the other will shield the back four in case of a counter-attack. The pivots has to mind the gaps of full backs who are critical to the team’s attacks if one of them advances to support the attack. Or in set-pieces situations, when the defenders usually go forward.

As the season progressed Arteta become the sole DM of the side virtually playing the Busquets’ role or rolling back the years Pep Guardiola’s role for Barcelona in the 1990’s as the deepest midfielder. Arteta was used as a deep lying playmaker whose job is to win possession and distribute it to the best available option whilst Alex Song was having a more influential role attacking, assisting Robin Van Persie, although completely disregarding his defensive responsibilities mostly due to the lack of creativity the team had after the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri the summer before.

New Season Same Problems

At the beginning of the season, Arsenal managed to keep 3 clean sheets in a row which was a far cry to last season when Arsenal conceded 49 goals and the defence looked solid enough for the “Bould Effect’’ slogan to be born. Initially Abou Diaby was fit and looked unstoppable as he and Arteta had a solid relationship which complimented each other’s strengths, Diaby adds powerful running from deep not entirely different to Yaya Toure but also helps to protect Arteta to control zones just in front of the back 4. When on song he is the master of the transition. He wins the ball back and sprints up field he takes opposition players out of the game and creates space for the forwards to take advantage of. His Man Of The Match performance vs Liverpool at Anfield was one of his best perfromances in an Arsenal shirt and allowed Arsenal to dominate the midfield.

Yet again Diaby broke down and a few months later Jack Wilshere returned from a long ankle layoff. Wenger decided to play Wilshere and Arteta in the double pivot and not unlike Alex Song, Wilshere was unable to play as part of the double pivot. Arsenal were being overrun in midfield as Wilshere made too many forward runs to aid the attack and he also tends to press alone perhaps due to eagerness but when the opposition bypass the lone pressure it leaves Arteta alone to cover up but unable too as he lacks mobility and pace, include the high defensive line Arsenal like to play and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Stop Arteta Stop Arsenal

Other coaches relised that to disrupt Arsenal’s ryhthm and possesion game, Mikel Arteta was key to Arsenal’s game, Sir Alex Ferguson in particular used Wayne Rooney effectively out of possesion to harass Arteta, not to give him time on the ball and make him pass the ball backwards to Per Mertesacker. Without support from his partner Wilshere (who was rusty during that game)  Arteta was bullied effectvely by Rooney not allowing Arteta and largely Arsenal to have any momentum at all. Untitled

Look at this picture from the game. Arteta gets possesion, ball is a bit high but Arteta controls but with Rooney harassing him hard, Arteta has to pass backwards back to Vermaelen to retain possesion. Wilshere in red is at least 10-15 yards away, not supporting Arteta at all.

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Again, Arteta has possesion and he swiveled backwards just to give himself time and a pocket of space to start an attack but with Rooney pressing and Rafael close by to support him if needed, Arteta has to pass it back to Mertesacker with Wilshere again not even offering himself to support.

Arteta just like Alonso and Pirlo?

“I watched Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso and Michael Carrick, who is a good example. Before I used watch the likes of Iniesta and Xavi and in my mind I always think about them, but now I haw to stop that side.”

Andrea Pirlo and Xabi Alonso are fantastic deep-lying playmakers, one of the best in that position now. They have won it all; Champions Leagues, League titles and the World Cup. The comparision between Pirlo, Alonso and Arteta is that all three are over 30’s which usually leads to physical decline or in Pirlo’s case he converted himself from an attacking midfielder into a deep-lying playmaking role while at Brescia, with Roberto Baggio in the attacking midfield role.

All three can easily be marked out of games especially marked by an energetic #10 like Rooney on Arteta, Oscar and Kroos on Pirlo and Götze on Alonso. Alonso and Pirlo are known for their long balls but a #10 out of possession will make sure that the deep-lying playmaker won’t have to time to even look up down the field and thus not being able to set the tempo and start attacks for thie side. With Real Madrid signing Asier Illarramendi for a reported €39m, it shows that a mobile deep-lying playmaker is crucial in today’s game.

Aaron Ramsey- The future

It’s no wonder when Ramsey finally got a chance to play as the box-to-box midfielder, Arsenal began to look much more solid on defence and gave Arteta breathing room as Ramsey unlike Wilshere or Song would support Arteta under pressure and give him a passing option and with Ramsey’s exceptional stamina and tactical intelliegnce knowing when to attack, when to press and even when to sit back and absorb pressure, it has given Arteta and Arsenal another dimension. Arsenal seem to be in the market for a box-to-box midfielder, not to say that Ramsey isn’t good enough but Arsene Wenger seems to be having a succession plan after Arteta’s stay at the club. It seems to me that Wenger and Arteta are grooming Ramsey to eventually replace Arteta to be the mobile deep-lying playmaker that is crucial especially in the CL which ironically is Arteta’s achilles heel as he isn’t good enough against the top teams in the Champions League.

Arteta the Leader

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Arteta isn’t just a senior figure in the squad but a leader as well. When the chips were down in March after losing the North London Derby and the Munich embarassment at home, Arteta stood up like how a captain should and rallied the team to go the last 12 games unbeaten and qualify for the Champions League. Arteta is Wenger’s right hand man on the pitch. That’s why Arteta is so important to this current side regardless of playing ability, experience and leadership is hard to find and was lacked in the Arsenal side for many years, and with senior players like Arteta, Sagna, Mertesacker and Rosicky there’s no reason with the right additions Arsenal cannot challenge again.

Follow me on Twitter @SweeperKeeper1

Isco – Another Gifted Spanish Technician

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Francisco Román Alarcón Suárez otherwise known as Isco has set European football alight with his scintillating displays in La Liga, the Champions League and the U21 European Championship this season.

He started his career at Valencia where he followed in the footsteps of Juan Mata and David Silva in terms of being another product in Valencia’s successful school of precocious diminutive playmakers. If you want to become a successful CAM, being taught in Valencia is not a bad place to learn. He made his debut for the Valencia first team on 11 November 2010, against UD Logroñés in the Copa del Rey, scoring two goals in a 4–1 home win. He made 4 appearances for Valencia in 10-11 whilst scoring 15 goals for Valencia’s B side in the same season.

In July 2011 Málaga CF made the shrewd decision to sign the then 19 year old from Valencia for a fee of €6 million. Málaga signed him to a 5 year contract. Straight from the outset Manuel Pellegrini decided to put Isco into the starting lineup and it paid dividends as Isco switching between the left flank and central attacking midfield scored 5 goals and made 5 assists in 32 appearances, striking up a good relationship with now departed Santi Cazorla as Málaga came 4th in La Liga making into the Champions League for the first time in their history.

With the high profile departures of Santi Cazorla and Solomon Rondon it was imperative for Isco to step up to the plate and take on greater responsibility for the club and step up he did with fantastic performances on Europe’s grandest stage where his name was on everybody’s lips. In 8 games in the CL Isco scored 3 times and made 4 assists which is excellent for a young debutant in a taxing competition like the Champions League.

After Isco scored twice against Zenit St Petersburg. Pellegrini was quoted in saying this about his young protege:

 ‘Isco is a player who has a great future and who is starting a great career; no one knows what his limit is. The important thing is that he is with Málaga.’

In December 2012 Isco was awarded the prestigious Golden Boy award fighting off strong competition from Stephen El Shaarway and Thibaut Courtois. The second Spaniard to win the award since Cesc Fabregas in 2006. In January 2013, Isco ended speculation regarding his future by signing a new contract with Málaga – his new buyout clause was set at €35 million. Isco-Award

Isco ended the 2012-2013 campaign with Málaga with 9 goals and 1 assists in 37games for the Los Boquerones. As shown by these stats from Squawka Isco is a very tidy accomplised player. 43 chances created in 37 games, where 42 of them are key passes so do not let the solitary assist fool you that he’s not a creative player. 85% passing accuracy with 56% of his passes going forward shows he evidently is a good passer capable of plying his trade for a possession based side   like the Spain national team or even the mighty Barcelona.Isco's stats in La Liga

Isco’s performances in the U21 European Championship was nothing short of sensational. 3 goals in 5 games is an excellent return. His brilliant individual goal vs Norway in the semi final was one of my highlights of the tournament. In that moment of genius he showed one-on-one skills, tremendous balance and the vision and patience to strike at the opportune moment. His versatility was shown in this tournament and throughout the season as he played on the left wing (arguably his best position) and as an attacking midfielder. 

His style has been noticeably compared to Spanish and Barcelona Andres Iniesta. They share the shuttling dribbling movements and are gifted enough to play in various positions. They both possess that ability to drop their shoulder and turn on a sixpence, fooling defenders. They also have that quick dribbling  ability to speed up the transitions of their team’s play. Isco has been sounded out by Iniesta himself as one of Spain’s rising stars.

“I’ve always liked Sergio Ramos,” Iniesta told Catalunya Radio. “He always seems like an amazing player. And I like to look at the upcoming players, such as Isco.”

Due to mismanagement by the Málaga board figure headed by Sheikh Abdullah ben Nasser Al Thani, Málaga have encountered financial problems leading to issues like players and staff were not being payed on time and teams still being owned money by Málaga for players have led to UEFA banning Málaga from next season’s European competition because of its financial problems which will inevitably lead to other teams signing Málaga players on the cheap, chief example of Arsenal signing Santi Cazorla for around £12m, less for what Málaga paid to Villarreal. Isco has been linked to either Real Madrid or to Manchester City where he could reunite with mentor Manuel Pellegrini. A fee of €30m has been mentioned by the Spanish press which I believe will be regarded a steal in the coming years.

Wherever he decides to further his career, Isco another gifted Spanish technician is a name world football will remember for the next 10 years guaranteed.

Dani Carvajal – Future of Real Madrid’s defence?

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Daniel Carvajal Ramos has been one of the finds of the season in the Bundesliga playing an integral role for Bayer Leverkusen for their push to 3rd place, one point behind Uefa Champions League runners up Borussia Dortmund. 

Dani as he is known joined Real Madrid’s youth academy as a 10 year old and climbed through the ranks until he reached the Real Madrid B team (Castilla) in 2010. After his first season in the Castilla, he became captain and had an outstanding campaign in 2011/12 scoring twice whilst making 9 assists as Real Madrid Castilla were promoted to the Segunda division after a 5 year absence. The decision was made to sell Carvajal to Bayer Leverkusen in Germany for a fee of 5 million while Madrid wisely decided a buy-back clause in the region of €6.5 million if they wanted to re-sign the player after one season, €7 million after two seasons and approximately €8.5 million after three.

They were doubts about Carvajal mainly due to his lack of height (1.73m) which does cause him to struggle in aerial duels, with him winning only 48% of aerial duels. (Only won 41/86 this season) and his disciplinary record needs to improve as he has been carded 7 times this season usually for diving into tackles due to his fondness for tackling. His decision making and concentration needs to be worked on as on average he has been dispossessed an average of 1.4 times a game. But being 21, he should be able to improve and iron out these faults with regular game time at the highest level.

Going forward, Carvajal is a livewire. He bombards down the right flank with pace and isn’t afraid to take players on with his fantastic dribbling skills. His partnership linking up with Gonzalo Castro has been a constant threat to Bundesliga defences allowing Castro to have a more of an effect this season in attack. His passing in forward areas has been excellent as Carvajal has delivered 40 key passes and assist 7 goals for Leverkusen add that to the solitary goal he scored against Hoffenheim in November last year.

Carvajal has made 2 appearances for the Spain Under-21’s, and is currently in the Spanish squad for the 2013 European Under-21 Championships and is likely to be the first choice RB in the squad ahead of Barcelona’s Martín Montoya. His aspirations to make into the Spanish squad for the 2014 World Cup isn’t far fetched if he continues the level of progression he has shown this season with Bayer Leverkusen. 

On 3 June 2013, Real Madrid exercised its buy-back option on Carvajal, who became the team’s first signing for 2013–14 for a fee believed to be in the region of €6.5 million.

“We deeply regret that Daniel will no longer be part of our team. But from the very beginning it was clear that Madrid, in the short or long run, would recognise his value,” Bayer sporting director Rudi Völler said. “He convinced everyone here in a year to such an extent that Real’s decision did not come as a surprise to us,” 

Carvajal has reaped the benefits of a move to a foreign country and to a different style of play and gained experience and regular playing time he would never have experienced at Real Madrid. It is to no surprise that Rudi Voller would be disappointed that Carvajal has left Leverkusen after one fantastic campaign at the BayArena.

Although at 21, he has his faults as should any player of his age and his strengths outweigh his weaknesses. He fits the image of the modern full-back. Quick, good going forward and importantly solid defensively. Where Alvaro Arbeloa is the only natural RB Real Madrid have, Dani Carvajal will have many opportunities to show the world that the Spanish talent machine is still churning out special players capable of aiding Spain to herald a new generation. 

I have attached a video of Dani Carvajal for Leverkusen this season below. Give it a watch.

All stats are from Squawka (www.squawka.com)

Follow me on Twitter at @SweeperKeeper1

The Illusion That Is The Arsenal Defence

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After 28 games in the 2012/2013 Barclays Premier League Arsenal have conceded 32 goals in 28 games and is the 3rd best defensive record in the league and astoundingly have the joint best defensive record away from home with 13 goals conceded from 14 games. Yet Arsenal is acknowledged to have one of the shakiest defences for a team with aspirations of European Football.

When Steve Bould was appointed as assistant manager replacing retired Pat Rice, the general consensus was that the defence would be gaining some of the skills and tricks Bould himself was taught when he was playing under George Graham in the famous ‘Arsenal Back 4’. His record of coaching the U18 academy side was not that promising as his team struggled to defend correctly and made poor decisions under pressure and had no shape nor balance with more emphasis on attacking football just like what is happening currently at the club.

At the beginning of the season, Arsenal managed to keep 3 clean sheets in a row which was a far cry to last season when Arsenal conceded 49 goals and the defence looked solid enough for the “Bould Effect’’ slogan to be born. Although the team were looking solid and balanced defensively, there was no fluidity and no cutting edge in attack. Which undoubtedly led to no goals in the first 2 games of the season. The midfield changed from a double-pivot to a 2-1 midfield where Mikel Arteta has changed from a deep-lying playmaker into a defensive midfielder at the base of the midfield and Abou Diaby playing as a box to box midfielder, mainly to do a better job at protecting the back 4  than Alex Song did and a new recruit from sunny Malaga the playmaker Santi Cazorla further forward. The combination worked as whilst Arteta acted as a DM who instead of jumping into slide tackles but would rather intercept the ball due to his good positioning and move the ball to the closest player to build an attack, as shown by his 92% pass completion and 65.6% of his passes going forward.  Diaby adds powerful running from deep not entirely different to Yaya Toure but also helps to protect Arteta to control zones just in front of the back 4. When on song he is the master of the transition. He wins the ball back and sprints up field he takes opposition players out of the game and creates space for the forwards to take advantage of. His Man Of The Match performance vs Liverpool at Anfield was one of his best perfromances in an Arsenal shirt and many Arsenal fans were wondering Alex Who? But since his thigh injury he suffered in a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea, Arsenal have suffered as their main component broke down yet again. Even small Santi Cazorla has played well defensively this season helping to lessen the burden on the 2 midfielders behind him by making more interceptions than any other Premier League player in the opposition half this season with 52 interceptions.

When Jack Wilshere returned from injury we were initially treated to a midfield consisting of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla. Although it was pretty on the eye and helped to become Arsenal become more fluid in attack as the one thing Wenger sacrificed for defensive solidarity was attacking flair and he has still not found a way to combine the two, has led Arsenal being overpowered and overrun in the midfield especially as Wilshere has a penchant for making too many forward runs and Arteta not having the pace to cover up especially as Wenger wants to play a high defensive line without much pressure being placed on the opposition is generally asking for trouble once the opposition player has gone past Wilshere as he likes to press players alone and without support and the full backs pushing up too far up the field leaving the team vulnerable if they lose the ball in a dangerous area. Without Diaby in the team and without a true DM, there has been a big gap between the midfield and defence so far this season. Wilshere has made 2 defensive errors although they did not result in goals but did lead to an attempt on goal both times.  He has made the joint most defensive errors with Arteta in the midfield. A defensive minded player with the ability to distribute the ball nicely is desperately needed at the club like Maxime Gonalons from Lyon would fit into the club smoothly. He has a pass accuracy of 88% also he has made 5 key passes and has made 78 interceptions and 46 blocks this season shows that he does have a defensive mindset and also can keep possession and use it wisely. The lack of protection from the midfield and even from the wingers (see Cazorla against Bayern Munich for Mandžukić’s goal letting Lahm free on the right flank) has led the defence to be horribly exposed and often leads to them making mistakes for the opposition to score. Thomas Vermaelen has made 6 defensive mistakes the most by an Arsenal defender this season. Each defender (who has played in the league) except for new recruit Nacho Monreal has made at least 1 defensive mistake this season. Even Wojciech Szczesny has made 3 defensive mistakes, 2 leading to a goal.

Although this season has been an improvement defensively speaking compared to the shambles of last season, Arsenal and in particular Steve Bould and Arsene Wenger have to find a way to combine defensive solidarity and attacking flair just like the Invincibles where that side conceded 26 goals in 38 games but also scored 73. Although the characters like Jens Lehmann, Patrick Viera and Gilberto Silva are currently not present in the squad but with the right acquisitions not just in ability but in attitude can lead this team back to glory and immortality.

*All stats came from @Squawka_Sports (www.squawka.com)

You can follow me on Twitter @SweeperKeeper1

 

Aaron Ramsey – Either Loved or Hated

Aaron Ramsey has had an up and down career at Arsenal Football Club in his short while at the club. He started his career at Cardiff City making 22 appearances in the 07-08 campaign which was his first full season as a professional footballer.

Ramsey was highly rated and was sought after  by Manchester United, Everton and of course Arsenal. With the help of ex Arsenal player and at the time Cardiff City assistant manager Terry Burton recommended Arsene Wenger to scout and buy Aaron Ramsey.

On 10 June 2008 it was confirmed that after meeting officials from Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton, Ramsey had decided to join Arsenal, who paid Cardiff City a total of £4.8 million for the player. The move was completed on 13 June 2008 on what is said to be a long-term contract. Arsene Wenger said of Ramsey at the time “We’re delighted to have signed Aaron Ramsey. He is a young player who has shown huge potential with his performances for both Cardiff City and Wales at under-17 and Under-21 levels. He is still only 17, but has already shown that he is a very intelligent and mature player with great quality.’’ Wenger also described Ramsey to be “a player with a fantastic engine, good build, good technique and good vision”.

In his first season at Arsenal he made 22 first team appearances scoring 1 goal and 3 assists. The following season was Ramsey’s breakout season where he formed a fledging midfield pivot with Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song alongside Abou Diaby and Denilson where all five midfielders had different roles in the side with great success.

Then that happened. As you all know on the 27th February 2010 thug Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross flew into Ramsey’s ankle and caused a double fracture in Ramsey’s lower right leg. Later it was known he had broken his tibia and fibula.  After roughly 9 months out of action he went out on loan to Nottingham Forest and back to Cardiff City to regain match fitness.

Right now Aaron Ramsey is a much maligned figure in the Arsenal setup. You find people who love him and people who despise him just as much. Last season he was playing well until December and then lost his way due to fatigue and the Arsenal faithful got onto his back with his poor performances and he didn’t look half the player he was at the beginning of the season. He was widely criticized for holding onto the ball for too long and his lack of concentration at times. Ramsey’s performance against Swansea away last season was probably one of his worst games in an Arsenal shirt, conceding a penalty and getting robbed of the ball by Joe Allen and a few seconds later Nathan Dyer scored. With all of Ramsey’s negatives he has made tremendous strides in recent weeks to become the player all Arsenal fans want him to be. With Arsene Wenger insistence in the early parts of the season to play Ramsey on the right wing with his job mainly to drift infield and act as a fourth midfielder to help keep possession and wrest control from the opposition. This experiment did not work in the eyes of the fan but when Wenger put him in his favoured position of centre midfielder Ramsey thrived and showed his stint on the wing helped improve his weaknesses that were holding him back from being a top Premier League midfielder.

This season Ramsey has played 24 games in the league with 13 of those appearances coming of the bench and has scored 1 goal and made 1 assist. In deeper detail he makes on average 1 key pass a game and averages 45 passes a game with a pass completion percentage of 88.7% (via WhoScored). These stats show that although Ramsey is not consistent in the goals/assists column but his all-round play is showing that he is one of the most creative players Arsenal currently have and one day be a viable internal replacement for the crucial midfield metronome known as Mikel Arteta.

Just like Gervinho, Aaron Ramsey is a polarizing character in the squad and is loved and hated with no middle ground just with many other aspects of the club which is dividing Gooners around the world. With our support from the stands, and from the internet at home. Ramsey will with time develop into one of Europe’s finest midfielders. Image