Archive | April, 2013

THE PUZZLE OF PODOLSKI

29 Apr
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LUKAS PODOLSKI

I’m still not sure if the arrival of Podolski will bear the fruit we expected. This is a German international player who hit 100 caps by the age of 26; this is not to be taken lightly. I really like Podolski but I fear he is more of a cult figure at the Emirates as opposed to being a fans favourite because of brilliant performances. At the age of 27, he is due to hit his peak years but in what position do Arsenal fans or, more importantly, does Arsene Wenger see him holding down and eventually becoming a key member?

My initial thoughts upon signing Lukas Podolski, were that he would be nurtured to become our main centre-forward but that thought has deteriorated drastically over this season with his rightful lack of playing time in this position. He started there on his debut against Sunderland and was poor. His movement, energy, mobility, first-touch were not at the level required for our team to dominate the ball and keep the ball moving at a good tempo. However, this was the first game of Podolski’s career at Arsenal so he will be forgiven… by the fans anyway because Wenger had decided not to start him there again until yesterday.

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ARSENE WENGER AND LUKAS PODOLSKI

In my knowledge of Wenger, you can say what you like about him being a soft-touch but one thing he won’t do is play you when he doesn’t believe in you. He doesn’t play Podolski as a striker and in my eyes that clearly represents his clear lack of belief in Podolski as a striker. A manager that has transformed the likes of Henry, Anelka, van Persie and even Adebayor into top-level strikers knows exactly what he is looking for in a striker and Podolski will never be a centre-forward for Arsenal. Based on the mould of previous Arsenal strikers, its hard to see what Podolski brings as a striker. We have always been used to seeing strikers of strength, speed, mobility, technique & creativity. Podolski doesn’t seem to fit into any of those brackets. Same could be said with Giroud. What is hard to doubt about Podolski is, he is extremely clinical. In front of goal he is ruthless, which 9 league goals from 46 shots proves.

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ARSHAVIN: NOW SITS ON THE BENCH

Also, his ability to put a cross where it needs to be, is devastating but I remember a player called Arshavin, who had great stats, but his all-round contribution was becoming less and less by the week. Fans had a similar love-in period with Arshavin and I actually think there is an interesting correlation between Podolski and Arshavin in their Arsenal careers.

Arshavin came in as a big signing to play on the left, as has Podolski, but as his form deterioated he was suddenly being played in the wrong position by the manager according to the fans. The difference’s between the players would lie in their creativity; Arshavin had the flair and the creative instinct to drift in of the flank and link up with the midfielders and strikers whereas Podolski is more of an efficient wide-forward who craves service. Arshavin, for all his shortcomings, even had a stint up-front where he scored a cracker against Liverpool in a 2-1 victory at Anfield.

The thing is, Podolski wants to play as a centre-forward for Arsenal and there are so many theories relating to his recent exclusion from the first eleven. There have been reports that suggest Podolski has an ankle injury, (that in a way, I hope is true) which is being fuelled by Wenger’s refusal to let him complete more than 4 full games since being at Arsenal. It is also hard to ever recall such a left-sided player being used by Wenger on the left-wing for Arsenal. We have been used to the likes of Overmars, Pires, Rosicky, Nasri, Arshavin; all in the main creative midfielders who come infield onto their stronger foot. This helps us keep the ball a lot better and allows our full-backs to get on the outside.

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PIRES: THE ARCHETYPAL WENGER LEFT-WINGER

Now, as I don’t ever see Podolski being a centre-forward at Arsenal, I do see a system that can eventually integrate him into our team as more of a striker and even get a better Theo Walcott again. The difference lies in the centre-forward they are playing with. Giroud will naturally make our wide players (that are strikers by nature), play as wingers; get wide and cross the ball in as he is a target-man type of striker. Walcott can just about get away with it because of his rapid pace.

The problem with this system is it makes us so rigid and Arsenal’s game has got to be fluid and based around players that can interchange positions and keep possession – thats modern day football.

Couple this with all the strikers that are being linked to Arsenal recently, the most frequently linked player has to be Stevan Jovetic of Fiorentina. He is not reknowned as a clinical goal-scoring striker so why would Arsene Wenger want him? What would he bring to the team? Firstly he is a creative player that drops deep in order to get onto the ball and make things happen. Typically in a system with a new striker we would be assumed to be playing in a 4-3-3 formation but with the winger-cum-strikers (Podolski & Walcott) we possess, we need to find a way of utilising such serious goal threats.

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STEVAN JOVETIC: THE KEY TO PODOLSKI’S FUTURE

I believe a player in the mould of Jovetic will give us an interesting system that wouldn’t be matched by many teams in Europe. The fact Jovetic will drop off deeper throughout the game will make him harder to mark and will force Podolski and Walcott to make the runs through the channels as Jovetic gets onto the ball, in the spaces between the opposition defence and midfield. This essentially is Jovetic playing the false No.9 role but Walcott and Podolski will then be playing as inside forwards as a partnership up-top. In effect this “4-3-3” formation will alter into a 4-3-1-2 formation, with Jovetic playing in the hole behind Podolski & Walcott.

The benefits behind this are its going to give us a more creative and fluid team which can change shape during the game. As we know, if Podolski or Walcott need to retreat into winger positions as a counter-attacking measure, they are familiar with the duites. I think the system can be judged to be narrow but if the balance is correct in midfield, our full-backs will give us that effective wing threat.

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LJUNGBERG: TIMED HIS RUNS OFF THE WING TO PERFECTION

In order to be effective from these positions, Podolski and Walcott will have to study the runs that Ljungberg would make when Bergkamp (who would be perfect as a false No.9 in modern day football) picked up the ball looking to make a killer pass.

In my opinion, Podolski can succeed at Arsenal but it desperately hinges on the type of striker we recruit in the summer. I think with the signing of a hybrid striker, a 9.5 striker or whatever you want to call it, we will see a better Podolski and definitely that signing could kill two birds with one stone as Walcott also looks to make the step up as a striker. We have seen the benefits of what this type of striker can bring to the team in previous seasons with the Van Persie – Walcott partnership, so its reasonable to say Podolski can still have a big impact at Arsenal.

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The Return of #LeBoss

18 Apr
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WENGER – LOST PATIENCE WITH SOME PLAYERS

The ruthless streak has re-emerged. The man, who is often described as a father-figure type of manager, has “lost his rag”. The way Wenger has hit some of the mainstays in his team with a severe reality check is reminiscent of a Dad who has been punishing his disobedient children. And rightly so.

Wenger is a man, that should be judged by his actions. He has a reputation of standing right by his players and remaining loyal. You could say he adopts an unwritten code of  “all that happens at the Club, stays within the Club.”

Wenger’s inability to publicly criticise players has often been seen as a weakness by fans. Fans had grown tired of Wenger always trying to put a positive spin on poor player performances. It had begun to sound scripted to fans. It had begun to sound insulting at the worst of times. Has this great man lost sight of what it takes to win? Has this man started to see a different game to what we were watching? Players were slipping to shocking standards but were still guaranteed to start in the next fixture.

BREAKING POINT

The breaking point came at White Hart Lane; a game Arsenal lost without being outperformed in the slightest and the leaving us 7-poits adrift of Spurs. It was easy for Tottenham to win the North London derby against a shaky defence who certainly looked like they were not executing any training ground drills with some shocking defending.

Arsenal Training Session

WENGER ADDRESSING THE SQUAD

Wenger had clearly become annoyed by his defence. “What happened today, we have seen many times this season repeated in the big games…We played offside in a position where we shouldn’t have played offside.” These were Wenger’s post-match comments after the game against Tottenham and he didn’t pull no punches. He made it apparent he was happy with the “energy levels of the team” and the team performance but felt the defence had let them down at decisive moments in the game.

Players such as our Captain – Thomas Vermaelen and Woijech Szszesny – our No.1 goalkeeper, had the media making embarrassing suggestions that our manager doesn’t allow us to train on defending. When you actually think about that suggestion, it is totally ludicrous and borderline disrespectful to suggest that one of the World’s finest football managers doesn’t use any form of defensive/tactical coaching in any of his sessions. This was a huge blow to the ego of a manager who had only suffered his 5th North London derby defeat in the Premier League after 34 games.

Not good signs for the Arsenal heading into a second-leg clash against the newly-crowned Champions of Germany, Bayern Munich. Losing 2-0 on aggregate and heading to the home of the leading German team in bad form, we were being tipped for a thrashing.

WIELDING THE AXE

This is when the manager snapped and made some drastic changes. He dropped our captain Vermaelen, who is the worst captain I have seen at Arsenal in 20 years. Wenger was clearly unimpressed by his leadership and organisation of our defence and thought Laurent Koscielny, who had been chomping at the bit, was due an opportunity.

This was a huge surprise but an even bigger surprise came in the managers decision to totally drop Woijech Szczesny from the squad. Our No.1 goalkeeper had been dropped and replaced by Lukasz Fabianski, a goalkeeper previously known as “Flappyhandski” and had been out for 13-months prior to a game we were expected to get hammered. Not to mention, our boy-wonder, Jack Wilshere as well as Lukas Podolski had also been diagnosed with ankle injuries and Bacary Sagna was still not back from injury.

Now, a lot of Arsenal fans were happy to settle for a defeat as long as we showed an enormous pride, as we know this result could potentially give us a jump-start in our pursuit of Champions League football. Along with our injuries this team selection from Wenger was seen as big gamble and could backfire , leave us with a thrashing which would send us into freefall. However, as we all know, the managers decisions have been well and truly vindicated after we beat Bayern Munich 2-0 at The Allianz Arena. Since then we have won 4 out of 5 league games and have managed to look a lot more assured in our game; scoring 11 goals and conceding a meagre 3.

Vermaelen had returned to the team against Norwich but was promptly dropped as soon as Per Mertesacker became available again. The manager said, “as a captain and a leader that shouldn’t guarantee you a place in any game. For purely sporting reasons, or tactical reasons in the game, when you don’t think it is the right selection, do you put the player in just because he is captain?’ If you know Wenger, he always has a captain who is core to the team. This only spells trouble for Vermaelen and after his shocking performance as captain this season, Wenger will listen to offers for him in the Summer.

FRAGILE VERMAELEN

FRAGILE VERMAELEN

The managers’ recently employed, heavy-handed style seems to have ruffled a few feathers recently and Wenger has even gone as far as saying, “What will decide our attitude, my attitude (in the transfer market), is how we do now until the end of the season.” Clearly this is a big suggestion to players that they must step up their game or be shipped out once the transfer window opens.

What Wenger said about Szszesny , who lets not forget has only just turned 23-years-old today, would of been classed as a lack of public support for the player. As had been earlier mentioned, Wenger will always cover up poor player performances but he took a total change in direction and publicly questioned Szszesny’s mental strength and said, “recently, he had one or two games where he was performing less.” This was designed to nullify Szszesny’s level of complacency and was an unusual step for our manager but I can only assume Wenger , who is an advocate of humility, wanted to bring Szszesny down a peg or two and force him to work harder on his game. This was followed promptly in the form of criticism of Wenger from Szszesny Snr, that Szszesny Jnr apologised for in a written statement, that then saw Szszesny playing for the Arsenal u-21’s against Liverpool (surely further punishment from Wenger).

BENCHED SZSZESNY

BENCHED SZSZESNY

There is also the recently reported issue surrounding Podolski’s career at Arsenal who has also been frozen out of the team recently but that should be left for another post.

Add these instances of ruthlessness to the belief from David Dein that, his close friend, Arsene Wenger will splash the cash in the Summer, “The fact is he has to strengthen the team and I know he will do that.”

Arsene Wenger has been frank in his interviews lately, has dropped players who he doesn’t see as performing and is apparently lining up big transfer targets for this Summer; I think its fair to say there will be plenty movement in the Summer and Wenger won’t hold any prisoners.