Tag Archives: arsenal

Great De-Presh 2000 and e-lev Round-up

24 Apr

We all thought it would be alright when Huddlestone got here. We all thought that once he rinsed parliament (by which I mean his body) of Disraeli and the Tory filth (by which I mean his injury) all would be right in the Kingdom. Alas strife is a squatter.

On the face of it the return of Huddlestone has restored us to form. The games against Stoke, Real Madrid, Arsenal and West Brom saw some of our best performances of recent weeks as well as a fair return of goals. 2.7 per game in the league to be exact. If we’d maintained that over the season so far we’d have scored 88. A marked improvement.

On the other hand we’ve conceded 2.3 goals a game in that period. Extend that for the season so far and we’d have let in 77. A marked decline. However, that total includes an inordinate number of howlers (cataclysmic errors from Huddlestone, Bale, Gallas plus Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s pulled hamstring) and an inordinate number of near-wonder strikers (Etherington, Jones, Cox) . It’s simply not feasible that that ratio could be kept up over the course of a season – whilst our performances and number of shots suggest the goals tally is no fluke.

The point of the blog is optimism and I think there’s reason to be optimistic and yet…

Above these impressive displays lies aura of chaos. The frequent sucker punches reveal a team playing under massive pressure. Until Defoe goal against West Brom we were desperate; commanding and fluent but desperate when it came to the final ball. Redknapp’s tactics, despite what you have heard, are coherent in theory but unstable over the course of a game. Van der Vaart was widely judged Man of the Match against Arsenal but for significant portions of the game his contribution dwindled to nothing and, worse, his lenient interpretation of ‘right midfield’ left us woefully exposed.

The functionality of the team is fuzzy; too many elements are unpredictable, from how players operate on any given day, to the selection. Rather than things coming together for the grand finale, we’re still winging it. Despite Redknapp showing a degree of faith in Pavlyuchenko, it has not been fully vindicated so we cannot assume it will continue. Despite Huddlestone having a positive impact, it’s not been so overwhelmingly positive to guarantee a settled centre of midfield.

The rain may be easing off but it’s getting perilously close to tea-time.

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Arsenal (a)

22 Nov

match reportMost things in life are invisible. At least to the human eye. Evolution, ageing, climate change; some thing happen too slowly for us to immediately perceive. Other things, such as cellular or quantum events, are too small. And then, sadly, there are those things that are right before our eyes, of sufficient size and at perfect height, that we nevertheless manage to obscure from ourselves.

Whilst the paper talk centres on Arsenal throwing away a two goal lead, the real story is how Tottenham managed to trash the pristine nil-nil state that footballing entropy so patiently provides. If we can understand that, we’ll see how our miraculous recovery was nothing of the sort, that Redknapp’s masterstroke was merely the realigning of the laws of physics and the outcome inevitable.

For that we’ll need to whip out the Tactics Trunk.

the tactics trunk

Unsurprisingly the game hinged on what happened in the centre of midfield. Before the match we’d all speculated on how Redknapp would line them up. Ideally we’d have started with Huddlestone and Modric in the centre. They’d proved, with a combination of unexpected tenacity and by improving the quantity and quality of our possession, that they are capable of holding their own against anyone. But these are fascinating and quite singular players, over the course of the season we’ve seen how hard it is to refashion that axis with the likes of Jenas, the out of form Palacios or the promising but still skittish Sandro.

In the end Redknapp plumped for Jenas and a five man midfield with both Lennon and Bale hugging either touchline. It could have worked but on the day it didn’t. On the day it was possessed of the most hideous geometry, the kind that would cause H.P. Lovecraft to wake up in a sweat and stagger to his typewriter: The shadow over the emirates.

The mismatch was immediately apparent . Wenger sent out two defensive midfielders in Denilson and Song as well as the sprightly and savage Fabregas and Nasri. The key to Arsenal’s success is how well they are able to zerg over the opposition, how easily they manage to isolate the player with the ball and bring him down with superior numbers. In the first half we offered ourselves up to them. People have criticised Modric but if you look at the majority of times he lost the ball, he was in a pretty dire situation. With Bale and Lennon out wide and Jenas and Van der Vaart roving, options were limited whilst Arsenal were swarming all over him. A visual depiction:

arsenal midfield

If you consider the first goal another problem is obvious. We’d formed a bank of five but high up the pitch and without applying any pressure. This left a great space between defence and midfield allowing Arsenal’s runners to penetrate the back four at will and allowing Fabregas ample time to pick out Nasri’s run.

Equally the second goal was the hellish offspring of a disfunctional midfield. Jenas was notionally our most defensive midfielder. He’s eminently capable of the role and alongside Modric you’d expect him to take on those duties. Yet when Arsenal broke he had pushed up into a centre forward position. Their attack was hardly lightning fast but with only Modric tracking back it didn’t have to be. This isn’t to say that Jenas made a mistake or that he hadn’t taken up a good position. It’s the kind of position we’d like to see him in ordinarily; surging forward, box to box etc. But on the day we needed him in a different role, we were making things too easy for them and by the same token hard for ourselves.

So what was the big change after half-time? Arsenal fans will want to tell you that they switched off but that’s nonsense. They continued to play well and were a constant danger. Some lazy pundits will want to tell you that Redknapp made a tactical masterstroke, bringing on Defoe and narrowing our formation. That has something to do with it but fundamentally what changed was that Jenas and Modric grew into their roles and began operating with a modicum of proficiency. That was all it took. For Jenas to hold back a little and harry Fabregas a little more. I read a telling quote earlier today, Jenas was praising Gallas and said, ‘he was a voice in my ear, especially in that second half when the team needed me to sit a little bit more and graft in front of them and try and get around Cesc.’ This is the crux of it. Frankly it’s a little bonkers that he wasn’t doing this initially. Few teams will give Arsenal such licence. Their success in the first half was down to us. Our victory was down to us correcting mistakes that shouldn’t have been made.

We weren’t even particularly good but then we didn’t need to be. There was an inevitability about our goals, as if things were going down hill. So when you see an arsenal fan saying they can’t believe how they lost, tell them you can’t believe we conceded two and played as poorly as we did in that first half.