Posted by Gingers For Limpar on at 16:04
Song too? Modern Life is Rubbish

BROKEN cannons and cracked crests were the theme of last summer and now, just one game into this season, pages such as the following are appearing in the nation’s tabloids:

Yet while 12 months ago the situation at Arsenal was indisputably awful, even for the most optimistic Gooners, it is by no means as clear cut this time around. Last summer the protracted departure of the team’s captain and best player was worsened by the failure to capture Juan Mata, or any kind of replacement. Before the frantic deadline day activity, the only mitigation for the loss of both Cesc and Nasri was the arrival of Gervinho.

This time around, however, the early and efficient signings of Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla gave the sense that the club has learned its lesson, while even the nature of the departures – swift and seemingly ruthless – have been more promising. And the promise will be augmented if the club have indeed secured a loan deal for Sahin, as reported this afternoon.

Moreover, a goalless draw against Martin O’Neill’s obdurate Sunderland is by no means equivalent to the four demoralising defeats suffered in the opening seven games of last season.

The feeling among fans, therefore, appears to be nuanced – or, to put it a less flattering way, divided. Already it seems as if one camp stands ready to pounce upon another summer of low (or negative) net spending, while another can’t help but remain quietly optimistic that the boss is slowly reforming the squad for the better.

As tempting as it may be to make a reactionary leap into one of the two corners, sometimes it’s better to adopt former-PM John Major’s favoured approach of “wait and see”. So let’s attempt to evaluate the latest developments with a cool head:

The Departure of Song

As Alex Song prepares to be the latest player to quit Islington for Catalonia, it’s notable that this move in itself is dividing opinion along fairly stark lines.

In the purple corner, we have those who ask why the club has chosen to sell its most creative player of last season (in terms of assists), having already lost its top goalscorer. Song was being severely underpaid, so we’re led to believe, while the usual “deadwood” names are still floating around on their inflated deals. Song is only 24, marking yet another loss of a player approaching what should be his prime years.

Meanwhile in the red and white corner, with a dark blue collar, we have those who cite the alleged change in attitude that Song is believed to have adopted in recent months. He is said to have acted appallingly and entirely lost the confidence and respect of the manager. The transfer reveals Arsene’s new hardline, uncompromising approach to pampered prima donnas who aren’t committed to the club, we’re told.

So which to believe?

Personally I’m a strong advocate of the argument that squads benefit from continuity; that teams can only become greater than the sum of their parts if given time to develop close understandings. Song’s own relationship with Stapleton Mark II last season came after years of playing and training alongside each other. Sometimes an understanding between two players can be struck up very swiftly, but across a whole team it is preferable if time is allowed to build up tactical relationships as well as strong morale. To this extent, losing Song is another blow and worryingly in-trend with previous years that have also seen us lose two to three key first team players.

That said, I’m inclined to believe what I heard last week with regards to Song’s disappointing change in attitude (and for clarity – when I say “heard”, I don’t mean “read on Twitter”). One thing that seems clear is that this deal does show Wenger acting ruthlessly, and – although I wanted Song to stay – for now I’m willing to give the boss the benefit of the doubt. It’s extremely hard to believe that the player would not have been offered more than £55k a week, if that really was his current wage, and if all was hunky-dory with his performances and progress. Arsene is known for looking after his players, especially the ones he has developed from a young age. Hell, Arsene wanted ASHLEY COLE to be given his much-coveted £60k a week, arguing against a board who insisted it be capped at £55k. So why would he be stingy towards Song in particular?

As boring as it may be, the truth is that only time will tell whether or not this is a good footballing move by the manager. It is certainly a proactive move – we’re told that Song had three years left to run on his contract – with Arsene presumably thinking he can create a better midfield with new and/or “LANS” players. I’ll discuss theoretical aspects of the midfield in greater depth during the week (and by then we may know for certain if Sahin is set to arrive), but yesterday we had a real life example of how Arsenal might fare without Song, so let’s take a butcher’s at that game as a whole:

Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland

This game was frustrating. But as annoying as it may have been, we must accept that an opening day draw is hardly a disaster. The 1997-98 Double season began with a draw. In fact three of that team’s opening five games were draws. Often in the early stages of the season, the team “lacks sharpness”, and it wasn’t surprising to hear the boss roll out this line in his post match conference. That said, it was also he reason he gave for the draws at the end of last season, such as at Stoke away.

While it is a reasonable excuse to some extent, one wishes that we had more tactical tricks up our sleeve to deal with situations such as yesterday’s game. Despite the considerable changes in personnel the team has suddenly experienced, yesterday irritation was largely a case of “deja vu all over again”.

Sunderland simply deployed a tactic that has so often worked against us: sit deep, defend tight, hit on the break. They let us have possession up to the half way line, sometimes up to their third. Yet despite having over 70% of possession, Arsenal managed just three shots on target (Sunderland themselves had two) and all three were from outside the box. To be clear: we didn’t manage a single effort on target from within the penalty area.

Here’s another one of those charts showing Arsenal’s passes. Just as on many occasions last season, it reveals an inability to “penetrate” in the final third:

The point is hammered home by the fact that only one in four of Arsenal’s passes occurred in the final third of the pitch. Around 75% of Arsenal’s play happened more than 40 yards from goal, often within our own half or along the half-way line. [All figures via @statszone]

Despite this, there was some impressive stuff further forward. Gervinho continued his lively pre-season form, attempting more “take-ons” (20) than any player in a Premier League game for around six years (according to Michael Cox). Santi Cazorla was excellent while also promising more once he gets used to his new surroundings.

Talking of the Spaniard, it was nice to note that the most frequent combination during the match was Arteta passing to Cazorla, which happened 29 times. However, a more depressing stat is that the second most common combination was Vermaelen passing to Mertesacker. And the third most common was Mertesacker passing to Vermaelen. They passed to each other 52 times during the game – no surprise to the fans who groaned as the centre backs knocked the ball about, reflecting the inability to break Sunderland down.

It’s easy to moan about this stuff, but, admittedly, much harder for the manager to fix. Wenger noted after the game that we could have used “maybe one more creative player to be a bit more accurate in the final third” – rather than the three centre forwards who played.

In the last year or so there’s been a move towards more direct attackers in the Arsenal line-up. Gone are the likes of Nasri, Fabregas, and now even Benayoun, and in are Gervinho and Podolski, while Theo has become more of a regular. Supporters often prefer more direct football, and bemoaned how the Arsenal of old would constantly “tippy-tappy” the ball around the final third. The new direct Arsenal was, we hoped, more likely to bring back an element of counter-attacking football, and at some stages last season this worked. Yet it’s little good when the opposition defends deep, and yesterday was one example of why all the top teams these days insist on having players who can keep the ball in the final third. This highly under-rated skill also tends to be present in players who can create clever openings in the final third, and this is what I believe Arsene was referring to in his aforementioned quotation.

While we all instinctively like to see direct, exciting football, yesterday perhaps showed that having three very direct forwards on the pitch won’t work under all circumstances. Our home fans used to frequently bellow “shoooot” – showing frustration at the “tippy-tappy” style – but yesterday over half of Arsenal’s shots were from distance (outside the area). Didn’t do us a lot of good, did it? The problem was an inability to pick through Sunderland’s deep and stubborn defence.

One tactical switch I would like to see us try under such circumstances is simply better use of wide areas. Yesterday’s three forwards have an inclination to attack towards goal, and thus play narrowly, meaning that often there were large wide spaces that went unexploited. Given how Sunderland often left zero players in our half, I wonder if Arsenal couldn’t have encouraged the full backs to get into these spaces more frequently.

Here is just one example which I noted late in the second half (when I thought that Arsenal should have been risking far more in search of a goal).

As Mertesacker comes forward with the ball, looking for a pass, Jenkinson actually stays behind him, even though there is no attacking threat from Sunderland. The still doesn’t show the whole story, but Mertesacker had the ball for some time:

As it happened, he actually failed to move the ball forward, and ended up passing it back to Jenkinson. For some this justifies CJ’s position, yet I think it reflects the excessive negativity of the side at the time.

Just 40 seconds later, Arsenal did manage to get the ball forward, with Gervinho running at the Sunderland defence. But because of CJ’s position (60 yards back) there was no one to offer an outlet on the right:

This image pretty much encapsulates the game. Sunderland have six players back, two for every Arsenal attacker, and their defence is tight and in line. The wide spaces are empty, and Arsenal’s three narrow attackers have no way of getting through. The attack broke down.

The above is just one small example. In itself it may be open to dispute, but overall I feel it’s fair to question why we didn’t expect more from the full backs going forward, especially as the game went on. Last season, come to think of it, there were several games where attacking full backs were key to Arsenal’s success – with Gibbs at times playing more like a winger than a full back.

Conclusion

At the moment it’s difficult to know whether to be up or downbeat with the Arsenal. It’s certainly a time of turbulence, and I expect (and hope) we’ll see both more arrivals and departures.

The club is currently in “the black”, having brought in more cash from sales and purchases this summer, leading some to complain of the board continuing their parsimonious ways. Earlier in the year the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust said that CL football this season would effectively keep £50m in the transfer kitty, while the sale of Queensland Road flats is thought to have contributed £20m.

Yet I’d beware moaning about unspent cash, this time around. The boss no doubt has players he is targeting this summer, with three having already arrived. If Sahin comes in and Theo signs an extension, it looks like we arguably have a better squad than this time last year. If that’s done on the cheap, then fair play to them. Irrespective of wider issues surrounding Kroenke et cetera, I wouldn’t want the club to “just spend the cash” because it’s there, as some are urging.

Issues on the pitch, related to tactics and training, are in a sense more important. We don’t have a decimated squad – it’s at least alright, even with no more additions – so we can expect them to start performing well. We can expect the defence to be tighter than last season, and we can expect them to do better at getting through parked buses. Whether they achieve these things remains to be seen.

When the full time whistle blows at Anfield in a fortnight’s time we’ll have played two more games and witnessed the crazy-as-ever closing of the transfer window. It’ll still be too premature a stage to judge the season’s prospects, but we will have a stronger idea of where we stand. Sometimes it’s best to wait and see.

30 Responses to Song too? Modern Life is Rubbish

  1. fred says:

    19/08/2012 at 16:26

    I think that Song is the last of the players that is represented by Darren Dein to be sold. His job doing the devils work is over in that respect as they have all been sold. Arsene will not work with him again. Unfortunately the narrative of the club being a stepping stone remains and will be hard to shake free from but at least none of the players are agents of that little Daddies boy!
    Arsenal Abides!

  2. afc says:

    19/08/2012 at 16:29

    I really do hope we bag atleast 3 more players. we need more fire power upfront. we need more craft in midfield but also a bit of bit,. nuri sahin will be great. I also think we need a left back to help gibbs, up top i would fucking love to see us grab a great striker

    • EIE says:

      19/08/2012 at 16:52

      Man Utd’s 5th choice striker, Berbatov, is better than any of ours, Wenger out!

      • Perrygrovesworld says:

        19/08/2012 at 21:51

        I’m assuming you’re being ironic. If you’re not you are either a spud or a stupid cunt. Or both

  3. JamesM says:

    19/08/2012 at 16:33

    I was very disappointed with Walcott’s contribution yesterday. Aside from his sloppy control, I couldn’t understand why he didn’t try to stretch the game, use the full width of the pitch and isolate the Sunderland left-back.

    Instead he drifted infield and looked to take passes centrally with his back to goal, delivering predictable results. As a wide player, he has something to offer the side. As a centre forward, he ain’t good enough!

    • EIE says:

      19/08/2012 at 16:54

      Walcott should be sold to Spurs for £3m, I think 90% of us that actually attend games would agree with that.

  4. EIE says:

    19/08/2012 at 16:49

    WENGER OUT!

    • Silenstan says:

      19/08/2012 at 16:59

      EIE to quote yourself Dont talk bollock bebatov is not and who sacks their manag on day one. You clown. 3 posts all stupid

  5. sleepingg says:

    19/08/2012 at 16:55

    Trying somehow to rationalise what is going on ar Arsenal is pointless.

    Fabreshit wanted to go home, Cashley nearly crashed his car at the poor pay rise he wanted, RVP listens to his inner child.

    Dont you see? You can talk about each individual case but you loose the thread by buying into the lies that are coming out.

    The bottom line is that our club has no longer any intention of pretending to be a big club. Some websites, for whatever sinisted reason, seem to want to avoid dealing with this home truth (Untold for example).

    But the bottom line is this. The current board and management have no plan. There is no ‘new beginning’. It is utter bollocks for any delusional fool to say that ‘we only want players who want to play for the club’.

    The club does not want to join the big boys. There is no intention to change. There is no intention to grow. There is not intention to try to make Arsenal the kind of place that even decent players, let alone star players might want to stay. £15 for Alex Song. He is worth far far more than that. Just as Cesc was. But there is no fight in our club. Because there is no plan.

    We could all have handled Cesc going. Or Nasri gong. Or RVP going. But we now have the disgusting inevitability that not just must we loose RVP, but we almost usher our only other proven top class player out the door after him! IT seems we want to be a club that top players do not want to play for.

    The Arsenal FC of Herbert Chapman has been destroyed by the current regime. For the first time in over 40 years, I genuinely do not recognise my club.

    I am sorry to my core that I was amongst those who advocated leaving Highbury. It was our heart. The trafficing of our best players, year after year after cursed year to the first little club who bats an eyelid in our direction, has succeeded in selling our soul.

    Is there any hope? Well we are getting Sahin. On loan! On fucking loan!!!!! And then Jacks back. I suspect that Chelsea fans are more eager than Arsenal fans at that news. Because make no mistake, its their turn to have our best player, so no doubt Arsene and Stan are already grooming him for a move across London. The excuse no doubt will be that he MUST play champions league football, and by the law of averages we wont be able to deliver it this year.

    There will be no Arsenal to be proud of until these asset stripping bastards are forced out.

    #

    • EIE says:

      19/08/2012 at 17:04

      HERE! HERE! Someone who tells it as it is rather than all these middle class 24 year old new fans and africans we find on these sites.

      • fred says:

        19/08/2012 at 17:16

        What the fuck are you on that makes you able to know the nature of the people who have written to this site?
        No one ever tells it like it is, only as they see it! We see the world not as it is, but as we are. When something goes against how we see the world then we react. your reaction is funny LOL.
        As for Mr Dien David’s son Darren, he of football agent/Darth Vader fame, is Van Persie’s ‘commercial advisor’ (whatever the fuck that means) and the man who has helped oversee moves for Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy and some other players who probably aren’t even worth mentioning. Add Song to the list.
        This 43 year old cock still remembers his first match in 75 and will support them if they ever get that shit again. Perhaps not like you.

        • EIE says:

          19/08/2012 at 17:29

          You’re a pup at 43 and talking about silly Star Wars characters sums you up, go on..go play with your silly X box or whatever it’s called and leave football to real men. I bet you liked Fever Pitch too?

          • fred says:

            19/08/2012 at 17:58

            Not sure what you mean by ‘real men’. But there you go again having supernatural knowledge of other people and what they are like. I have absolutely no idea what you are like, ……………..Do you?

      • Chris N5 says:

        19/08/2012 at 19:18

        So only people from your background can understand football eh? No possibility that an african or middle class person who has watched the game for years could possibly know what they are talking about? What a load of ignorant, moronic, racist shite. You are an embaressment to arsenal fans.

    • MattH says:

      19/08/2012 at 18:18

      What a load of rubbish. It’s not the club you should be blaming, it’s the greedy players and the Russians, Arabs and the Spanish mega-clubs with their own TV deals who have created a bubble of completely unsustainable wage inflation. And it’s especially Man City who have cynically used their money to systematically weaken other clubs, but primarily targeted us.

      If RvP wants to cash in, and somebody is stupid enough to commit to paying him £40m in wages for 4 years just to get one over on their neighbours, do you really think that’s the sort of gamble we should be taking on a 29 year old with glass ankles? And apparently the way Song has behaved left us with no choice really but to sell him, so fuck him, we’re better off without him.

      As far as a loan deal for Sahin goes, I don’t get what your problem is? Why wouldn’t we take him on loan? We still have 9 first-team midfielders! I think the boss is hopeful that we might, finally have a fit Diaby, but also with Wilshere and Coquelin to come back, and the Ox being groomed for CM role, we simply may not need Sahin in the long run, and then you’ll be moaning about another over-paid player sitting on the bench that we can’t shift.

      And when talking about ‘proven’ top class players I think Sagna deserves a bit more of your respect.

      EIE, I’m 40, and you sir, are behaving like a 14 year old troll.

    • redordead says:

      19/08/2012 at 19:19

      Well said that man.

  6. tomstoned says:

    19/08/2012 at 17:09

    c’mon….yesterday was great amazing..not only did we earn a point from the alley cats…much more positive we made 15million…how awesome is that….:)im over the top..and only hope we can sell Walcott too…stability whats that.?..its not important in teambuilding never has been and never will…im just so happy that we have such a truly great owner like kroenke..who is a die hard Gooner..that man is footballcrazy…watches every game and gives his all….and gazidis..oh my..he promised us an exciting summer and Yes he delivered..and made us even more money than we could expect…isnt it nice to live The American Dream….the way of The New Arsenal :)

  7. SpanishBill says:

    19/08/2012 at 18:31

    EIE (i assume that’s a ref to the historic hooliganism). Leave your two-bob social and racial generalisations at home.
    I agreed wholeheartedly with what you were saying until I read that nonsense.
    Stay focused or you risk losing the argument.

  8. mcmunchie68 says:

    19/08/2012 at 18:43

    So the press are ramping up the(continued)anti arsenal shite.stability..did manshitty have a stable squad last season no,the only team with a stable squad for the start of last season was manure and wot did they win oh yes fuck all.Players need time to become a TEAM,but the players bought have to be quality,prior to last season how many quality players were bought in one single season,not many.
    This season the arse have bought poldo quality and corzola quality,giroud not sure,when has a big target man done well at the arse under wenger?I think its a bit early to start the bitching…sunderland what a quality,entertaining side oneil must be very proud oh such little ambition too scared to win comes to mind,i bet they kick to bits up at their place…

  9. Little Dutch says:

    20/08/2012 at 08:36

    The lack of understanding between new players was quite neatly summed up for one of our better chances in the first half. Gervinho cut the ball back and Cazorla and Podolski went for the same ball. Given a little more time, they’ll read one another better. I like the look of the new boys, but like you I have reservations about the huge amount of flux. Vermaelen, Diaby and Walcott were the only 3 players you’d have seen in an Arsenal XI in August 2010 compared to Saturday’s line up.

  10. Pingback: Alex Song – Good Enough for Barca? | toknowthegame.com

  11. Skagen says:

    21/08/2012 at 23:37

    This blog entry, in its eagerness to draw certain conclusions from the Sunderland game, misses the main point of Sunderland’s tactics, namely that they were actually trying to win the game by suckering Arsenal into overcommitting forward. At which point they would try to pinch a goal on the break and if successful, then shut up the shop even more!

    Martin O’Neill has consistently done this before when facing Wenger.

    Wenger’s no dummy and he’s learned it seems. So that’s why you didnt see the full-backs overcomitting. They generally went forward when they had cover, but otherwise, they didnt do anything stupid. And they kept Sunderland to nothing.

    Also you statistic is misleading: where you say that Arsenal creating nothing in the box simply because we had 3 shots on goal to Sunderlands 2. In fact Arsenal had a massive number of shots at goal, about 20-something. A great deal of which were close in – problem was we werent accurate.

    Not least, when a team is packing in their own box, its not surprising that the opponent (read: Arsenal) would have to take some shots from longer range and in addition would find it difficult to get shots on target even inside the box. If bodies are packed in defensively, you have to shoot where the bodies are not! That puts you shooting a bit wider out and higher up, and no surprise, you miss the target more.

    This was no crisis. Cazorla created a lot, Gervinho too. The balance of Walcott and Gervinho is good, as Gervinho has the guile to open up static defenses, while Walcott will kill teams if they come out. And both look to me better and sharper than last year.

    Also Giroud actually devised an incredibly intelligent run to create that particular chance which everyone was groaning he missed. I mean give credit where it is due. With a small bit of luck here and there Sunderland would have taken a very heavy defeat.

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