The Liverpool Perspective: Another Gillespie Guest Post

Although it doesn’t have a reputation for being a particularly enthralling fixture, Liverpool v Arsenal has consistently been the source of some absolute classic matches in recent years. The Owen FA Cup final, Thierry Henry toying with Carragher for 90 minutes, Arshavin sticking four past us to pretty much end our title hopes in the one year we’ve really challenged for it in my lifetime, Neil Mellor’s thirty yard stoppage time winner and the Champions league quarter final at Anfield amongst others. And with both teams looking more likely than not to concede goals we could be in for another one.

Liverpool’s form going in to the game is OK (fifth in the league form table based on the last six matches) while Arsenal are down in 10th, but that’s slightly misleading because that block of six included Fulham, QPR, Sunderland and Norwich and we have yet to beat a team in the top ten. The loss to Oldham also piles on a bit more pressure for Rodgers. At times we look very cohesive, pass the ball well and move fluidly, but at others we looked shocked that teams have the nerve to tackle us and disrupt our passing game. When we concede we don’t just concede one, but two or three. But it’s as good a time as any to play Arsenal. There’s a lot of negativity in and around the Club at the moment and the anti Wenger minority appears to be growing. Add to that the lack of a top class striker and a thinner squad in comparison to previous years and it’s the weakest I’ve seen Arsenal in years, though still very capable of scraping the fourth Champions League spot.

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But I was confident going in to the last meeting between the two when Arsenal controlled the game and tactically outclassed us at Anfield. Arteta, Diaby and Cazorla bossed the Liverpool trio in the midfield battle and our full backs left far too much space down the channels, which is where both Arsenal goals came from. It will be interesting to see if and how Rodgers will react to the fairly dismal performance last time round, because more and more people are starting to question his pre game tactical planning.

He likes to keep his team the same for each match but at the same time hasn’t settled on an eleven he feels entirely comfortable with, so players get a short run before being replaced and not to be seen for a while (just ask Suso). The back four and ‘keeper are automatic choices when fit (Johnson and Enrique are expected to be back for the game) though Carragher seems to have worked his way back in to the fold ahead of Skrtel The middle of the park has seen Allen, Gerrard, Lucas, Shelvey, Sahin  and Henderson all get a regular run of games at various times with Lucas, Gerrard and Henderson currently being the favoured three.

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The arrival of Sturridge has had a pretty big effect on the way we set up, and we look much more dangerous for it. Suarez has been playing behind him at the tip of the midfield in a 4-2-3-1 (as opposed to roaming all over as the centre forward where he was absolutely outstanding for the first half of the season). Henderson has been playing a recycling role from the left with Downing finally producing something resembling good form from the right. Sturridge has instantly clicked with and taken the work load off Suarez meaning El Pistolero is no longer attacking teams all on his own, while their constant movement creates space for others to exploit.

Liverpool are still horrific at defending the counter attack. Any team who puts us under any sort of pressure on the ball, and works their counter attack well is likely to get points. With the pace Arsenal have up front I could easily see it happening. Liverpool will look to do what they always do – get control of possession and slowly build up our passing game from the back. That Arsenal have a similar style and are at home however means we’re likely to see less of the ball, something we’re not at all used to, so it will be interesting to see how we react. Despite Rodgers’ much vaunted pressing style when defending, we have yet to actually see any pressing for a prolonged period of time suggesting we may sit deep without possession and look to counter.

I think Arsenal’s key threats are Wilshere and Cazorla. I would have confidently backed a pre injury Lucas to deal with Cazorla in the 10 role but he’s been a bit patchy since he’s returned from his year out (understandably) so that could be a key factor in the outcome. Likewise Wilshere. He can dominate a game given the time and space so it’ll be fascinating to see who comes out on top between him and Gerrard. As I mentioned earlier I think Arsenal look fragile at the back but their pace in the front three does worry me, particularly if Carragher starts.

Whatever happens I would be surprised if it’s not an entertaining game. There’s decent enough attacking talent on display and neither team looks well drilled yet, meaning lots of gaps for the front men to exploit. For me though the key battle comes down to the midfield trios. Whoever controls the middle should go on to win the game. With Lucas back and Gerrard in good form we look fairly strong. But whatever trio Arsenal pick will always be good with the ball, and the creativity of Cazorla and Wilshere could really hurt us.

Prediction: I think Arsenal are there for the taking but we just can’t seem to get a win against the top sides. Away from home will be tough as well but I’m going for a 2-2 draw. I can see goals being scored at both ends and I think Liverpool will manage to come away with a point.


The 5pur2 Effect

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3 days on and it still sounds so very sweet. Every time I happen to glance at the time and see the score line etched on the face of my watch I can’t help but laugh. The North London Derby is arguably my favorite fixture of the season. It’s a constant reminder to us and Spurs fans that despite what they think at the beginning of every season, they will never ever ever ever rule North London.

I won’t go into too much detail in terms of the game as I am sure that you have all, like me, read about a thousands articles all saying roughly the same thing and loved every minute of it. I will though mention the joy of watching Adebayor, the worst professional the game has ever seen make headlines, once again, for all the wrong reasons, and how handy the red season tickets are for moments like that.

After Adebayor’s dismissal the thundering header from Per set us on our way and the rest is history. The usually placid German showing in his celebration the kind of passion that we all love to see. An indication, for me, of how he feels about the Club and his understanding of not just the derby but also the position we are in. It was reminiscent of Sagna’s header is the corresponding fixture last year and was the catalyst to our domination.

I disagree with those who say that without the red card Arsenal may not have triumphed. It may not have been quite so easy but it’s rare for teams to concede five goals even when down to ten men. We dominated all over the park, particularly in the centre of midfield. Much has been said about Carzola’s influence on the game and it cannot be denied. The growing understanding between him and Jack is encouraging and in the two of them I believe we have two of the most talented midfielders in the division. Walcott was also instrumental but my praise of him will remain muted until he signs on the dotted line.

The post game gathering in the Tollington was a world away from the feeling after Fulham. Jack was the first to drive past and as everyone sang ‘what do you think of Tottenham?’ it was quite clear that Jack was mouthing the remainder of the chant back to us. Absolute class. His feelings made quite clear both on and off the pitch.

Jenkinson was a late arrival and we manage to go over and have a proper chat with him. One of us asked him how much he hates Tottenham to which he replied ‘as much as you lot’, an opinion firmly backed up by his dad who was with him. From behind us cries of ‘we hate Tottenham’ were coming from the remaining Gooners and Jenks was banging on the roof of his car to the same tune. Absolutely incredible. That family really is living the dream and is an example of how passion off the pitch can lead to success on it.

On to tomorrow night now and a match against the French champions should be a very winnable game. Since we stole their most potent attacker they’ve struggled in both Ligue 1 and the Champions League.

Just an aside on Giroud, I find it interesting and typical of the English press that as soon as he starts producing some really excellent performances there is nothing to read on him, yet after four Premier League games without a goal he was all over the back pages. Just ridiculous.

Anyway back to Montpellier and they currently lie at the foot of the group with only a miracle granting them qualification. They’ll be playing for their pride though and this is not a game that we should approach half-heartedly. We must build on the momentum gained from the weekend and make sure that the result kick starts a run of wins. We are a better side than them and we must make that very clear on the pitch come Wednesday night.

Our next five fixtures in the league are Villa (A), Everton (A), Swansea (H), W.B.A (H) and Reading (A) all games that we should be looking to get wins in.

Nick highlighted in his last post the growing divide in opinion amongst the Arsenal fan base. Lets hope now that the result at the weekend and some positive results over the coming weeks can change the overall mood to one of optimism.

The game against Tottenham comes as a reminder of why we love this game and this Club so much. Long may the winning feeling continue.

Will


Theo and Man Utd Preview…

We enter the game on Saturday following the crazy mid week spectacle at the Madejski; the likes of which I haven’t seen before and from an Arsenal point of view am very unlikely to see again. However enjoyable the drama of Tuesday night, when you step back from it you can’t help but feel that allowing ourselves to get into such a position is a worrying feat from any Arsenal side. Tom Lutz on Football Weekly made an interesting point this week about the reaction of Arsene Wenger, whose celebrations were pretty muted despite the comeback. Perhaps a good indication of what he really thought to our overall performance. Despite this, Wenger’s favorite character reference could not be applied better to a game and there is no doubt that it will bring about some positive momentum around the club.

One encouraging aspect of Tuesday’s game was the three goals for Theo Walcott. Admittedly the Reading defence was sub standard to say the very least, but given the opportunities you couldn’t have asked for much more from him. The first goal in particular, a show of composure that in seasons gone by he most likely would have scuffed at ninety degrees. This is, of course, the age old problem with Walcott, one day he will give you a display of finishing that will bring back memories of Thierry only to go into the next game and produce a level closer to our old friend Franny Jeffers. So does his performance warrant a place in the starting line-up this weekend? It’s tough to call; given his clear lack of loyalty to the club my enthusiasm towards him is lacking, but on pure footballing reasons it might be time to give him a start. Even without the injury to Gervinho I’d say Walcott is now better suited to the central role. You can’t help thinking that his reluctance to sign a new deal has effected his game time this season. It might be quite nice to see a 4-4-2 with Walcott and Giroud working along side but that seems a highly unlikely change to make given the importance of Saturday.

Arsene has come out saying that Theo’s negotiations must be wrapped up by Christmas, no doubt with an eye on the January window. If he doesn’t sign then, for me, he must be sold and must be replaced. An additional striker is needed anyway but to see our squad weakened in January would be madness.

Saturday 12.00 sees us head to Old Trafford, where we have not tasted victory since 2006, when Adebayor grabbed the only goal. So on stats alone the odds are stacked against us. I am, however reasonably optimistic ahead of the game. I feel we have a squad that on paper is well equipped to cope with United all over the pitch. I expect Jack to start and the midfield trio of Carzola, Arteta and Wilshire have the ability to set the tone for the others to follow.

Our potency in attack is an area that is a slight worry, but I continue to be impressed by the impact Giroud has made since breaking his duck. His headed goal against Reading in midweek was top quality and his overall impact very encouraging. Granted Utd are a very different challenge but with good performances around him I remain convinced he can have an effective game.

In previous seasons it has been their wing play that has caused us major problems, it wouldn’t surprise me to see their wingers given the freedom to run, particularly at Santos whose defensive discipline has been put under scrutiny after his last two performances. Podolski will have to be on his toes to keep up the good defensive work he’s provided this season.

Although it pains me to say it the front duo of Rooney and Van Persie is frightening combination and it’s going to take a top defensive performance from Per and Vermaelen to prevent goals. Hopefully our previous experience of Van Persie will help us throughout the game, but it’s still going to be a tough task.

I’m interested to see how he conducts himself on the pitch, he’s always had a fiery side to him and hopefully we can get under his skin and he’ll produce something rash. Wenger has asked fans to show respect towards our old captain, but given the respect shown to us I highly doubt his request to be granted.

It’s a tough one to call but my gut tells me we might just grab it. Both teams to score but a 2-1 win to Arsenal.

Maybe it’s blinded loyalty but who cares, COYG!


Majestic Diaby really does feel like a new signing

So the previous post was centred around my optimism surrounding two potential new central midfield players added to the already outstanding addition of Santi Cazorla. As happens all too often since the advent of twitter, the Sahn deal was all but confirmed by many supposedly reputable media sources. Like many of you I’m sure, I was pretty pissed off when he ended up on Merseyside because of difficulties surrounding personal terms and an option to buy clause. Shortly afterwards, in a rare moment of supposed honesty, Arsene told us he intended to sign a defensive midfield player to replace Song. So there we were at 11.00pm on Friday in disbelief as yet again we failed to end up in the red. But should we really have been surprised? and can we really challenge for trophies with the current squad?

My outlook continues to be hopeful even without foreign investment. My previous assessment suggested that a squad with more depth and more creativity in the middle of the park would unify and stabilise the team as a whole. Arsene seems to be of the opinion that the return of Wilshere and Diaby will provide this, and on the basis of the performance against Liverpool, It looks like he could be right. I’m sure no-one enjoyed watching Diaby bullying Sahin on Sunday more than Wenger himself. He really does have something of a Vieira about him and it’s great to see him playing at all after the injury ravaged few years. Interestingly Guillem Balague has been speaking about Real Madrid’s interest in Cazorla 3 years ago highlighting the quality of the little man.

“Real Madrid tried to sign Cazorla from Villarreal 3 years ago. Cazorla wanted to go, but Real Madrid’s wage offer wasn’t great. Villarreal offered Cazorla a contract extension with better wages than Real Madrid offered, so Cazorla stayed at Villarreal”

I watched the match on Sunday with a couple of Liverpool fans who, off the back of their draw against City and the introduction of Brendan Rodgers’ style of football, predicted that they would dominate possession and win the midfield battle. How wrong they were.. It was great fun to watch Arteta, Diaby and Cazorla keep the ball so efficiently but crucially also use it so effectively. Something I haven’t seen from an Arsenal midfield for many years. Unbelievably Mikel Arteta has averaged 96 passes per game thus far, more than any Stoke player has made overall!

Podolski and the Ox, whilst still providing pace, work incredibly hard and have the technical ability to penetrate in the final 3rd. The usual frustration with Gervinho and Walcott running into brick walls was absent and I think those two would be better off used as impact subs if we need an injection of pace. As a team we still haven’t conceded a goal, the best defensive record at this stage for 80 odd years. We’ve made more tackles than any other Premier League team. How much of this is down to Steve Bould I’m not sure but everyone seems to understand their role and their responsibility so long may that continue.

Before the Liverpool match the odds on us winning the league were 25-1, straight afterwards they were slashed to 12-1…. Just sayin.

Clearly it’s far too early to make any real judgement. Of the last 5 leading teams going into the first international break, only Chelsea in 09/10 have gone on to win. I’m aware that there is a need to ground my sickening positivity in some realism. Much harder tests lie ahead. We have the international break to look forward to which will give my own XI-a-side season a chance to get under way. The team name this year is ‘Bacardi Sagna’ if you’re interested. Hopefully shortly after the break the real Sagna will be back in training with a certain Jack Wilshere to follow shortly afterwards. Let’s pray for no horror injuries on international weekend. Nick


It’s All About the Midfield..

So as usual the first game of the season didn’t live up to our extremely high expectations. It was 500 degrees and the Arsenal were lethargic and off the pace throughout. After my last post you would have thought, in all the excitement, I would have at the very least arrived on time. Alas I stumbled in 5 minutes late, sweat pouring from my brow, only to receive the familiar treatment for any poor soul who dares to arrive late in block 44, ‘sidown you slut’. As always followed by a short chuckle from the majority and a bellowing laugh from the funnyman himself. It’s good to be back..

The big question that everyone seems to be asking is ‘can Arsenal possibly improve without their best player?’. On the evidence of the Sunderland game you’d have thought the answer would be a resounding ‘no’. In the days since, the pre-season optimism seems to have deflated but I see no reason for such swift judgement. It does however remain a concern that when we come up against teams who ‘park the bus’ we could still play ‘with the handbrake on’, to use language which I’m sure will be driving us all mental within a few short months.

It’s correct to say that last season our main issues were the reliance on Robin and a dreadful defensive record, particularly at the tail end of games, however both these stemmed from a hideously imbalanced middle 3. Playing a 4-3-3 system, something that is basically essential to compete at the top end of the league and especially in Europe, necessitates a central three who know what their roles, have an understanding of each other, and have enough talent, pace and technique to boss games. Having Jack and Abou missing basically meant we had a middle three made up of Song, Arteta, Rosicky or Ramsey for much of the season. Even now, as I type their names I have a slight feeling of terror about those four attempting to stamp their authority on any football match anywhere.

Yet even without any real central creative force we still provided RVP with a record goals tally. His departure brings new fears about sharing the burden of scoring goals. Song leaving draws fresh concerns about missing a solely defensive minded midfielder to shield the defence. Could you ever consider Song your traditional DM though? I’m not sure there’s any need for a solely defensively minded central player and I think Arsene is thinking the same thing. I might be wrong and Yann M’Villa might arrive tomorrow but Sahin’s arrival means we have a surplus (a word that i wouldn’t have used in relation to any area for at least 6 years) of central and especially creative central midfielders.

Wenger has already said during pre-season that Oxlade-Chamberlain is now a ‘central player’, and we can add Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby, as well as new boys Sahin and Cazorla to the mix. Then there’s always the Coq and Mani Frimpong who are raring to go. it seems as though Arsene has realised that in order to break down teams who come and defend deep, this area needs to be moving the ball much quicker than last year. We need to start really dominating possession again. We need to bring some pace and technical ability to central areas. Only in this way will we get in behind and really wear other teams down like the good old days.

Once the midfield is ticking over, other areas will fall into place. The wide men will receive the ball in better areas and with more space to exploit. Clearly more possession means the defence is less busy, but if the balance is right and everyone knows their role, we can spread the defensive responsibility throughout the team. Similarly attacking duties should be less stagnant and reliant on one man. Hopefully Podolski (who I’m assuming will play left), Walcott and even Gervinho can all pick up 10 goals.

Clearly I’m being idealistic but I have to say I’m not going to allow myself to cry over RVP and Song leaving, at least until we’re 6th at Christmas. Let’s see how we can cope away at Stoke on Sunday. I’m sure Pulis will have his henchman set up to stamp out any evidence of midfield dynamism from the word go.

Let’s show them what we’re capable of. Nick