Tag Archives: jenas

The Great Depression of 2011: Wigan (away)

2 Apr

The worst thing about watching football is that it can make you feel so powerless. It’s hard to imagine another scenario where we tie our happiness to something we have absolutely no control over – At least they let you choose your lottery numbers.

Watching Tottenham in the league these days is like entering the lottery with an out of date ticket, with numbers somene else has chosen. But you go to check them anyway, just for the sake of it, only to realise that someone has cut off your hands and replaced them with Betamax players. Welcome to the great depression of 2011.

This blog was supposed to be all about positivity but this is a bad time. It’s bad chiefly because things are so good. The squad is great, overflowing with interesting players and we’re having a jolly old european adventure, being praised an lauded the world over. But it’s hard to enjoy these things knowing they’re liable to be taken away in the near future, and it’s hard to endure these dismal league performances knowing that we’re capable of so much more.

I don’t want to analyse the Wigan, it’s best to look ahead, but there is one thing I’ll mention:

Jenas – I found it hard to understand what his role was meant to play today. It’s a common problem with him. Against Arsenal, when he was alongside Modric, he was notionally the more defensive of the two yet when we conceded the second goal he’d pushed up into an excellent but innappropriate attacking position, leaving us over exposed when they counter attacked. The improvement in the second half was in part due to Gallas encouraging him to stay put in front of the defence.

Today, alongside Sandro in a narrow midfield, was surely a great opportunity for him to play on the front foot where he’s best. Yet I recall a passage of play in the first half where Modric was on the attack. He was looking in vain for options and movement from our somnambulistic strikeforce but Jenas, who had pushed forward, decided to casually jog back and reassume a position behind play. I can’t believe it was per Redknapp’s instructions and it didn’t make a lot of sense.

Jenas isn’t playing badly, he’s a relatively consistant performer, but he’s rarely ever in the right place and never at the right time – in contrast to his first couple of seasons with us. Too often he forms a a midfield axis that is less than the sum of its parts. Literally, it’s as if we’ve got two men doing the job of one.

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.