Arsenal-ysis

A tough sequence of matches for Arsenal ends with no surprises. A horror show by Fabianski against Porto in Champions League makes for an intriguing return leg. Earlier, comprehensive defeats at the hands of United and Chelsea brought another Premier League season built more on hope than ability to an abrupt end. Victory over Liverpool was expected and duly achieved, and much depends on how many points the other two, Man Utd and Chelsea, drop over the remaining games. But I, for one, believe this Arsenal team, like all the others in recent seasons, has far too many weaknesses to come anywhere close to a title challenge. That they are still in the top 3, and have Man Utd and Chelsea in their sights, is a testament to Wenger's managerial ability. But that is also where the problem lies.


The old adage 'Good is the worst enemy of great' comes to mind when describing the Arsenal sides of the past few years. They've been too good to become great. Built with a modest budget, which is dwarfed by that of most teams in the top half of the EPL, while servicing the debt of an expensive stadium, Arsenal have stuck to their policy of developing home-grown talent. Buying teenagers has been the modus operandi of Wenger, blooding them into the first team and sticking with them despite many failures. I can't count the number of players who, when they first played for Arsenal, seemed so horrendous, that it was incredible they could be playing professional football at all. Yet, in the past, this unique approach to building a team paid rich dividends, with players like Adebayor, Flamini, Hleb going from virtual unknowns to reputed performers at the highest level. Turning ordinary players into good ones is commendable, but a great team is not made of good players alone. It needs to have a few good ones that can develop into greats. Past Arsenal teams had these by the dozen. Viera, Henry, Pires were all good players with potential and went on to become Arsenal greats.

As I see it, Arsenal has problems in four areas. Forward, Midfield, Defense and Goalkeeping. Everything else is good. I'll start in the order of the place they take on the pitch, because I really can't judge which of the problems is more (de)pressing.

1. Forwards are needed in any football team

This basic axiom of football is being flouted with abandon by Wenger, with potentially disastrous consequences. His failure to bring in any sort of striker in the January window could be one of his most questionable ones in the recent past. How he felt the team could go on without a single striker playing up front, with the makeshift deployment of the talented yet diminutive Arshavin, to face title rivals and expect to win, is a mystery. Sure, Arshavin can score goals and very good ones at that. Yet, he is no match for the tall and bulky central defenders of any team and Arshavin himself said as much. In his spell as a striker, he scored less than he did from midfield and made a far lesser impact on the game in general. In addition, he got battered physically and now joins Van Persie on the treatment table.

So why didn't he buy someone to lead Arsenal's attack in January? Because of one Nicholas Bendtner.

You know you have a problem when Bendtner is called upon to save the day. The Dane has been on the fringes of the Arsenal first team for a long while, and his every performance has exposed his questionable technique and lack of composure in front of goal. Yet, it is he who is championed by Wenger as the man who can provide the goals. A bad first touch, inability to dribble and a tendency to sky every shot are too many faults for a striker to possess. Yet he is tall and strong and young. And these are qualities that form the basis on which Wenger hopes to turn this profligate player into a player worthy of wearing Arsenal colors. It is a feat he achieved with Adebayor, turning the giant with terrible technique into a fearsome striker capable of momentary brilliance. Alas, his lack of loyalty and greed eventually led him to richer pastures where one wonders if the excess of striking options will ever let him make the forward position in the team his own.

Outlook: Chamakh's move seems to be happening, and I am tempted to believe reports of his summer move especially because of a non-arrival this January. Why Wenger decided to sacrifice a perfectly good season, with a chance at silverware, so that he can get the player on the cheap for next season, beats me.


2. Weak little kids can't be defensive midfielders

Arsenal has plenty of attacking midfielders. Fabregas and Arshavin are world class, as is a fit Rosicky. Nasri, Walcott and Diaby though inconsistent, have potential. None, however, can fill the defensive midfielder slot left vacant by Flamini. Wenger shouldn't have let Diarra go as easily as he did. We are now left with baby-faced Denilson with strength of schoolboy to fill that crucial position that lets all the creative playmakers flourish. It is a job he does with considerable ineptitude. Weak in the tackle and a limited passing range, he is everything you don't expect in a Brazilian. Song is being groomed for the role, but as of now, he doesn't have the presence to ably perform in that role.

As a plus in the midfield, Rosicky has looked sharp after returning from his long injury. Strength, passing, vision and shot, all seem to be reaching top levels once again. He can only get better. Walcott is going to be a question mark, and he'll need more than a solitary good outing against mediocre opponents to convince me he is improving at a respectably trajectory.


3. Back from the grave defensive back-ups

I shudder to think what would happen if a day comes when Sol Campbell and Silvestre combine in the center of defense. The former was done and dusted, playing in not the Premier League, not the Championship, not the League One, but in League Two! And if you believe in miracles and the legend of the phoenix, he is back scoring goals in the Champions League for Arsenal. But soon enough, played a big role in the goal giveaway that followed.

While Vermaelen and Gallas are good together and have managed to stay fit (touchwood) for most of the season, there is urgent need for a solid back or two. Especially since Gallas can have only a season or two left in him.


4. Goalscoring goalkeepers

When your goalkeepers are more prolific than your forwards, something must seriously be wrong somewhere. First, Almunia set the example by pulling in Nani's harmless cross into the goal. Then Fabianski, eager to impress and outdo Almunia to become the Arsenal number one, scored much more emphatically against Porto. And if any doubts were left about his ability to create a goal from a non-threatening situation, he proved it by eagerly picking up Sol's backpass. But the blame for the error, for putting an underprepared goalkeeper lacking temperament into a pressure Champions League match must lie with Wenger. Goalkeepers have the ability to work behind the scenes, never hog the limelight, but yet play defining roles in the title challenges of any team. No team has every won any title with a suspect goalkeeper. All attempts to do so have resulted in failure, and this is a fact Wenger should have recognized by now. Almunia is not good enough. Fabianski is far from being ready.


Predictions:

Premier League: Third Place. They'll be close to second, and well away from fourth. I just hope that Wenger doesn't call it a 'good' season and maintains the status quo, team-wise, in the summer.

Champions League: Depends on the draw. A semi-final would be great though it seems unlikely.

Comments

  1. Why is it that Arsenal always reminds me of a football academy?

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  2. @isambay: If you'd been watching football for more than 10 years, like me, you would think of them as unbeaten season winners, who turn players into legends, rather than buying legends and turning them into mediocre players. You would also think of Chelsea as a middle of the table club having bought their way to the title. :)

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  3. i do not understand why buying their way up is treated with such condescending tone... one may not be able to buy history but surely can make one with enough money...
    coming to the club which u r supporting.. one need to understand their priorities... i am not sure which one comes first in the priority list.. silverware or money??
    if it is the latter surely they are most successful club in the recent times(look at their P & L statement).. they are still in huge debts..a cost they had pay for profits in the longer term.. from what i understand this stingy behavior will continue for atleast three more years when they will be close to break even( by that time this team will turn into a great set(may not be great as individuals)) .. i would rate wenger as probably the most astute manager given the constraints under which he works... he has a strong scouting team(read as the number of french players in the team)..
    if looked at only footballing aspects yes it is irritating to see such a collection of bad individuals achieving what they did in the past two years...
    I think u missed one more important aspect in which arsenal is lacking.. leaders on the field.. lets not confuse the creativity of fabregas to leadership qualities... they play great once they are dominating in a team.. once they are down they do not find a source of inspiration from anywhere and tend to sulk..

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  4. i forgot to put this.. arsenal's game mentality is silky or sulky...

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  5. Buying their way to the title is equivalent to paying a huge amount as donation to get a seat in a college. A winning club has X earning potential and is spending Y>X and buys the title. Isn't that unfair? If that is the case, football just becomes a hobby of billionaires, with them taking over clubs and playing fantasy football to satisfy their egos. Once they tire of it, they'll pull out, with all their money, leaving the club to bear huge amounts of debt that could destroy it. It happened with Portsmouth, and it is not too far fetched to imagine it happening with others. Also, Chelsea is credited with insanely inflating player's prices, making sure the weaker clubs can never compete with the rich ones, decreasing the competitiveness of the league.

    As Wenger keeps mentioning, football is living in a fool's paradise, with every club spending far more than they can possible earn, and this bubble will burst, sooner rather than later.

    Leadership is a work in progress. I agree Fab isn't ready for it yet, but he's learning on the job, and I'm sure if he sticks around, he'll develop it. Arsenal have always been more about the team and not a single leader, (unlike Gerard for Liverpool). Henry was good, but he was first and foremost a striker, and then only a captain.

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  6. money that will be earned is be a dependent on money spent.. in that case only way to make things fair is by giving the net profits earned equally among all the teams in the premier league for 4-5 years and then let their businesses run themselves..i am sure u will disagree with it coz it doesnt make business sense for all teams... if business sense is all that matters then we would not have this post..what abro did is giving a stimulus in a shorter term.. one needs that kind of stimulus to go to the top.. take la liga.. u do not expect any team to win the league barring the big two... football teams are in a spending spree for which the end depends on who blinks first... coming to abro pulling out of club.. he sank all the debts into his accounts(a recent move).. so technically it is abro who lost all the money till now and not the club.. so money is making things more fair atleast that is the case with EPL with city also in the race...
    if wenger is what u consider as as your magnetic compass.. i am afraid he doesn't agree with mentality of the teams whose playing style is physical and direct.. lets not turn a blind eye on the stakes of the person who comments.. he is in a position who is expected to win despite financial constraints.. the only way to do it is team work with diminutive individuals where skill is the only thing which can keep the fans still hold on to the team and console themselves by looking at the attractive nature of the game and judge it by the flair and not the result.. no wonder he hates clubs which spend big and play a more physical game...
    leadership..yes it is in progress..so is the whole team... there are no two opinions on this...it the whole team sticks together(which is in doubt).. they will be a formidable team in two years from now...

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  7. I don't get why being fair means distributing net profits amongst clubs equally. That is socialism, and it is not the only idea of fairness. Being fair is to use your own income for your own growth. Getting adopted by some sugar daddy is certainly not fair.

    Abro might be beneficent (stupidly) and take up all the debt, but most other teams are owned by rich guys who're in it as a business. You can't expect them to take the losses personally. They will keep the massive debts in the clubs name, and suck the money dry from the club and drive them to insolvency.

    I've no problems with physical and direct play. I never criticized that. Wenger does complain about it when you see cynical fouling (like done by Porto) but it is a part of the game that Arsenal players must learn to deal with. There is no excuse for that from my side.

    Rather than talent, I believe it is Arsenal's fiscal prudence in the face of the bubble that has built up in the football market that will lay the foundation for another era of Arsenal's dominance. So, if you're in it for the long-run, I expect Arsenal to do better and win many titles in the next decade or so.

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  8. correct me if i am wrong.. football clubs accept donations too.. why cannot you look at the so called "sugar daddy" as a very big donor? and hence it is one other source of income.. isn't it? you are conveniently differentiating the sources of income based on the biases of the team u r supporting(nothing personal)..
    talking about the longer term.. i believe both the strategies are equally strong in principle.. i do agree that this kind of spending spree is not sustainable in a longer term... but all of this is about establishing the few teams at the top and widening the gap from the rest.. hence this will not be a long term strategy for any ownership which is in business for money...

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  9. whether you like it or not, you just cannot win trophies without spending money.. football is a lot different from what it was 20 years ago.. its not about home grown players anymore; its about bringing the best talent from all around the world.. i simply don't understand why one should hate man city if they have been able to attract investments in their club??

    arsene wenger feels that this $pending $pree is destroying football but where does his love for the game disappears when he picks up a huge number of young players every season from small clubs potentially destroying them.. definitely, mourinho was not wrong in calling him a voyeur..

    @arslan

    well, you are talking about fairness. everybody knows that one day or the other Wenger will sell Cesc to Barca for a massive fee.. does that seem fair to you??

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  10. completely agree with you Ajey..
    money just seems like sour grapes for Arsenal..
    very true with your second part when it comes to Ramsey's transfer...
    third one yeah it is imminent yet depends on desperation and patience of Arsenal fans

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  11. @sripada

    I don't know whether I made myself clear regarding that Cesc to Barca. Since Arslan is greatly concerned about playing "fair" in the transfer market I just wanted to remind him that Cesc was kidnapped from the Barca Academy even before he could sign a professional contract. Now barca 'll pay a fortune to take him back... Buying back their own stolen goods seems very fair to me..

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  12. @sripada: Becoz the 'sugar daddy' wants returns unlike a donor. Abro is an exception, though I'm sure he'll leave sooner or later. What does the club plan to do then? More crucially, loads of clubs have huge debts that were taken on because of rich owners buying out stake. The basic economic sense is that if you continually spend far more than what you can earn, you're going to have to pay eventually. And with regards to using this as a short-term strategy to consolidate a club's position at the top, then that is completely unfounded. Because the fortunes of a team can change so dramatically, that any amount of success in terms of titles, built on the back of excessive spending will erode quickly once this external source of income dries up. Leeds, Portsmouth are all examples of clubs who were successful for a long while before bad financial management destroyed them. Many more will follow suit and that is bad for football as a whole.

    @Anfield: Attracting investments on a reasonable scale to strengthen the club is fantastic. I would wish it for Arsenal as well. But paying astronomical prices to unsettle and steal players, while taking on massive debts, for a few years of purchased glory, causing a bubble in player's transfer prices and wages, making it difficult for other clubs without an external source of income is what is wrong.

    Pretty silly to call giving a youngster from an unknown club a chance to play and train with one of the best youth academy's in the world, and that has a track record of giving youngsters much much better exposure and development than most other clubs, as 'destroying' their careers.

    And about Fabregas, if you're referring to how they got him on the cheap and will be selling for a huge fee, then you're forgetting the 8+ years of top class development that he has undergone under Wenger. Even Fabregas will admit he's where he is today because of Wenger and Arsenal, and in fact that is the only reason he has shown loyalty to the club in spite of repeated interest from the biggest and most successful club in the world based in his hometown in a fantastic city. So, every penny earned from Fabregas will have been completely earned.

    @Sripada: Don't discount the opinion of someone just because they have a stake in it. Remove that mental block and evaluate the argument on its own merit.


    @both: I'm enjoying this. Been a while since I defended Arsenal with such gusto. :)

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  13. @Arslan

    I was talking about destruction of those small football clubs and not player's careers.

    Thieves like Wenger are stealing left, right and center. Whether its the academy of Barcelona or some third division club in France, these thieves are everywhere. These poor little clubs spend a lot of money on developing young players only to see them get stolen by such thieves.

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  14. I really do not understand whether you do not like clubs spending huge amounts with out expecting a return(Chelsea)or all other clubs who spend a lot and win trophies(who do expect returns)

    If it is the first case then he is like any other donor
    It it is the second case then lets face it they are in the business for money.. Most clubs are doing it.. There has to be a logic behind it.. How can you say that if this is a short term strategy it will soon erode?? A Football player is a one time investment and the returns come for a very long time.. Real Madrid buys Ronaldo only once for 80 mil..Also Not every club constructed new stadiums and started being a hypocrite about spending money.. all Wenger for that matter you are doing is trying to support the stingy nature of a club by trying to bring in the whole world and trying to attribute it to the entire world. what is being done is holier than thou principle

    @Arslan: I am not discounting Wenger's arguments just because he has a stake.. I am trying to throw light on the fact that if someone is trying to say something is wrong lets understand why something is wrong for him.. Wrong or right depends on where you stand..

    Also you seem to be contradicting yourself.. You say that clubs should not buy players with astronomical amounts(because of the inflated prices) and with the same tone you support selling Fab to Barca for a huge fee saying that "every penny earned from Fabregas will have been completely earned".. which means the player is worth the money...implying that you are just being a hypocrite here
    A person selling an addictive is as much a culprit as the one who buys it.. every club is addicted to good talent..

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  15. Holier than thou comes from a recent revelation By Adabayor saying that he was kicked out.. Dint Arsene sell the player for 25 Mil?? and then said that Arshavin was too costly and that the prices of the market should come down... Outright hypocrisy

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  16. Exactly... The thief is hypocrite as well..

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  17. Anfield thinks there should be no transfers. You go to a top notch school to pursue higher studies with a stipend and w/o paying any fees is not cheating. You go where you get a chance. Barca will have 100 youngsters and if the person feels he cant get a chance there he is sure to move.
    @Sripada: Arshavin was playing in the Russian league and he is still to prove he can make it big in the EPL. Adebayor had already proved himself in the EPL. Hence the difference in prices. Arshavin is still not fit enough to play the entire EPL season.

    The debate is not about not buying players for huge amounts. When you buy with the moey u dont have, you are heading the Pompey way.

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  18. "Anfield thinks there should be no transfers. You go to a top notch school to pursue higher studies with a stipend and w/o paying any fees is not cheating. You go where you get a chance. Barca will have 100 youngsters and if the person feels he cant get a chance there he is sure to move."
    I do not think you understand what Anfield is saying.. He is saying that if taking away a player after being established is a crime(because of higher salaries) so is taking away a clubs future prospects(because of better exposure)...

    "The debate is not about not buying players for huge amounts. When you buy with the moey u dont have, you are heading the Pompey way"
    I am sure that is not the case.. check what Arslan has to say about Chelsea.. they definitely have the money... He is complaining about Chelsea inflating the market and saying that it is unfair on their part.. lets not change the topic of discussion with subtle differences.. It is still about Arsenal not spending as much as other clubs and complaining about others spending it..

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  19. @sripada: Go Mug!!

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  20. 'Lpool sucks' and 'MuGgEr!' -- frustrated arsenal fans...

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  21. @Anfield 1: You've got to be kidding me?! Lot of money to 'develop' 15 year olds? Were the 'smaller clubs' developing them since they were born? The real investment in their development starts at that age. Arsenal takes them and invest more in them than any other club. If other (big) clubs had such an efficient academy, they would've got younger players and developed them as well. But not everyone has Wenger's eye for spotting talent and developing it and so they must resort to buying developed 'star' players off-the-shelf. Nothing wrong with that either. Both kinds of approaches, taking young players and growing them, or if you don't have the ability to do that, then buying 'stars' are very legitimate.


    @Sripada 1: Hate to sound like a broken record, but you just don't seem to get that it is the spending BEYOND their means that I'm against. You're classification of expecting or not expecting returns is quite irrelevant.

    And I'm shocked at this from you: 'Most clubs are doing it.. There has to be a logic behind it..' Seriously? Does everything done by 'most' people have logic? People do things just because others are doing it and not doing it would mean falling behind (very similar to doing an MBA, actually.. :P) You'll know Prisoner's Dilemma, right? If you confess, then it is better for me to confess, though we both would've been better if we both didn't confess. So, in a world where everyone is 'confessing', Wenger is forced to confess (buy/sell at large prices) occasionally (much less than others) in order to survive. That does not take away from his argument that football would be much better off if everyone spent within their revenue streams.

    Financial bubbles happen time and time again, because while we are in them, everyone seems to believe the good times will roll forever. And it is just as certain that every bubble bursts and only the prudent ones survive. While some may have become 'too big to fail', which I suspect Man Utd, Livpool are, I'm sure many others will bite the dust when their rich benefactors leave, as they will. And when more Portsmouth's happen, I'll refer you back to this comment right here!

    All the above are basic Economics 101 & Finance 101 lessons, as I'm sure you will learn in a few months! :) And then you'll be on my side. :P

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  22. @Arslan

    1. ofcourse, its a lot of money for those little clubs. the club has to train hundreds of young boys (remember its not for free) just to get a few talented ones. most of the trainees fail to make it to even professional football. and then what happens... those few talented ones get stolen..

    2.
    "But not everyone has Wenger's eye for spotting talent and developing it and so they must resort to buying developed 'star' players off-the-shelf."

    yeah, you are absolutely right.. its not the academy of barcelona or westham which produces the best talent. its arsenal.. also wenger has a great eye the talent. just look at arsenal.. bendtner, eboue, denilson, song, clichy, djourou, traore, fabianski.. all coming through the youth ranks at arsenal.. these are some of the world's best players.. who says they need to buy 'developed stars'.. there is no other club which can produce such players( i mean it, really :P) you better watch out as real madrid and barca are coming for them this summer..

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