Tag Archives: Premier League

THE IMPORTANCE OF MIKEL ARTETA

4 Jun

“He’s too old”, “He’s too slow”, “He’s lost his legs”, “He passes sideways”.

These are the regular criticisms thrown at our 32-year-old, resident defensive-midfielder, Mikel Arteta. I have criticised him many times this season, and in particular after big games such as Liverpool (away), Chelsea (away) and Everton (away). Against top class opposition and away from home it is easier for Arteta’s lack of top, top quality to be exposed, especially when lining-up without his legs, Aaron Ramsey. There is absolutely no doubt, that the Arteta-Ramsey axis provides the best blend in the engine room.

MATURITY

I don’t think Arteta is a top-class player at all and I think many Arsenal fans will agree but he is certainly a consistent and reliable performer for Arsenal. He brings a stability to the team and is a big reason why the attitude within our team/squad has changed. The professionalism he exudes is vital and while, I would say, Alex Song was better suited to the role (individually) because of his physical power, Arteta’s discipline, tactical knowledge and maturity make him a key element in our overall attitude as a team.

CONSISTENT

CONSISTENT

INFLUENCE

This improvement is reflected in our amazing consistency throughout the season. A big part of that has been to finally address our main defensive issues i.e screening our defence and being more organised from set-pieces, but in trying to execute what has been practised, we must have the will to get it right. Arteta always maintains the right attitude – him not being so cavalier benefits the team as he takes the responsibility to keep the defensive balance in midfield and while not being the tough-tackling powerhouse midfielder that the fans crave, he has the leadership qualities which help to bring the best out of other players. Wenger says, ““He is very influential and he’s a leader – one of the leaders of the team.”

FOCUSED

FOCUSED

FOCUS

We do need a top-class defensive-midfielder in the mould of Javi Martinez or Luiz Gustavo to compete against the elite squads but for 85% of the League games, Arteta does the job. Arsenal conceded 41 goals this season but this is a misleading statistic as 22 goals were conceded against the top five teams. This is Wenger’s worst record against the top-five, in a season where we conceded 19 goals against the remaining Premier League clubs, which shows a very strong defensive improvement with the exception of the big games. The consistency is there for all to see which is always down to leadership and direction of the team and whether we rate him or not, Mikel Arteta is a huge part of this. Wenger says, “I like Mikel Arteta because of his quality, his focus, his commitment and his winner’s attitude. I have big respect for what he has achieved this season. He is very conscientious, very professional and he has a couple of years left [at the top].

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TROPHIES: PERSPECTIVE AND PRIORITISING

26 Feb

Arsenal have the biggest monkey jumping all over their big, red back at the moment – a trophy drought, which is now heading towards it’s 9th year. This is the big sticking point used to discredit our Club and make our manager an easy target for ridicule, despite the amazing work off-field, which will allow us to excel drastically over the next 10 years while setting us up for the next 100 years.

There have been a few tell-tale signs throughout this season, that Arsenal’s long and tortuous financial battle, has taken a turn for the better, starting with the record-breaking signing of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid. Wenger and Gazidis have mentioned a new strength in competing for top-players and this has been highlighted by the commercial deals that have been negotiated with Emirates and PUMA, which will see their commercial revenue increase by approximately £70m a year. If you factor in, that Arsenal did not lose one key player in the Summer (which was an annual occurrence) and have been at the top of the League for most of the season, while still being in the FA Cup and Champions League, this symbolises a change in direction for the Club.

This leads me to the conclusion that Arsenal need to now focus on getting the monkey of their back… by finally winning a trophy. After going so long without winning a trophy, Arsenal are now perceived to be a Club that are tough participants but rarely deliver winners’ medals’. I find this to be a harsh assessment of Arsenal’s credentials, especially given the circumstances Arsenal have been competing under. I would personally argue that Arsenal over-achieved during the last 8 years but that phase is over now and Arsenal now have a great opportunity to bring the first piece of silverware to The Emirates.

There is an overwhelming amount of pressure looming over Arsenal despite their main competitors having much more expensively assembled squads and this can be detrimental to players who are not used to delivering under pressure. Wenger will always be defiant and suggest his players are equipped to handle pressure, as that is his nature and he never has played down his teams’ hopes in the trophyless 8 years.

WIth Arsenal being one point off the top in the Premier League, in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and in the second-round of the Champions League, my belief is, Arsenal need to put things into perspective and start prioritising. Arsenal have set themselves for a great end to the season and now must go all out for the FA Cup.

There are 3 games left to win the FA Cup and that represents a brilliant opportunity to create history, get the media to quieten down, give the fans the trophy they crave and initiate the beginning of a winning culture at Arsenal. The financial gain behind winning the FA Cup is £1.8m, which is quite a small figure in comparison to finishing 4th place in the League, which is worth approximately £12.8m plus an additional estimate of £30m+ in Champions League qualification money. However, as long as Arsenal challenge for the title, a Champions League place is a certainty, so in theory the financial aspect is covered but still requires a strong final push.

I would be happy if Arsenal put up a strong fight for the title as I would say that met my expectation more so than actually winning the title. For me the Champions League is a good opportunity to test yourselves against the best but the realist in me knows that Arsenal’s squad is not deep enough to go for three trophies. With Arsenal 2-0 down to Bayern Munich and yet to go to The Allianz for the away leg, it would be dangerous to prioritise this over the FA Cup which has been a huge part of Wenger’s Arsenal legacy. The nightmare scenario would see us attempting to win the Champions League competing against Europe’s elite, fall behind in the League and get knocked out of the FA Cup. Horrid. Even George Graham suggested, “One of the questions facing Arsene is whether they play their best team and try to win the tie, which is near impossible, or concentrate on the league.”

I think a huge part of developing winning teams is to take babystep’s by getting the taste for trophies. Arsenal must first overcome the first hurdle of winning a trophy without jeopardising the long-term future of the Club and the FA Cup is their best opportunity of achieving this. Arsenal have done very well to get themselves to this point in the FA Cup, beating Coventry, Tottenham and Liverpool on the way. They now have a huge tie against Everton at The Emirates, which will be tough but if they treat it like a cup final, they can win, which will leave them two games at Wembley from a trophy. This is in a competition where Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham have already been knocked out with the main competitors probably being Arsenal’s next opponents, Everton and none other than Manchester City.

Once this group of players prove they can win a trophy, they can take it to the next level up, from being outsiders for the title or the Champions League by genuinely competing for both and possibly putting the FA Cup on the backburner. I think Arsenal can finish the season strongly as they have done in the past two seasons and now with the emergence of Sanogo, the return to fitness for Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey two-weeks from first-team training, Arsenal could get the boost for required for their Premier League and FA Cup aspirations.

 

 

JACK WILSHERE: A BIT OF BERGKAMP OR MORE MAKELELE?

31 Jul

Here we have Jack Wilshere, arguably the goldenboy and the future of English football.

A big performer for the big stage with a big personality. This has been demonstrated on a few occasions, most memorably against a legendary Barcelona team at The Emirates.

The main problem that seems to have hindered Wilshere’s incredible progress, is undoubtedly his injuries which kept him sidelined for the whole of the 2011-12 season, the season after his breakthrough into the Arsenal first eleven. In the 2010-11 season he won the PFA Young Player of The Year Award and also made the PFA Team of The Year. He accomplished a lot in his first year as a regular member of the team.

This is a player who has made his League debut at the age of 16 and is the youngest league debutant in Arsenal’s history but he has missed out on crucial stages of his development.

However, the big question for many Arsenal fans is, what position will Wilshere conquer? He has a bit of everything in his locker. A player who, I would say is a hybrid of Paul Scholes and Joe Cole. He can glide past players elegantly in midfield, provoke, prod and commit the opposition but he also has a lovely left-peg which he uses to stroke the ball around from deep.

He has been seen by many as a No.10. As evidenced by Arsene Wenger, who upon selling Robin van Persie, decided to reward Wilshere with the famous playmaker number, also worn by Dennis Bergkamp. This shirt number is usually a signal of intent from the manager and would suggest that, if at least long-term, Wilshere will be the resident creative midfielder.

I haven’t been convinced that this is Wilshere’s long-term role in the side and although I think he has got a good level of flair, I don’t think he has the creativity or goal-scoring potential of, as an example, Cesc Fabregas. In my eyes, Wilshere will not be able to match the creative exploits of Santi Cazorla, who is a superb creative influence on the team. However, he does have a degree of dynamism, that will be a huge virtue in a more central position to the team. In an outstanding all-round performance against Barcelona, Wilshere made a superb attacking contribution in the final third with a pass completion of 91%.

This suggests that Wilshere can make a quality contribution in attack but, for me a quality No.10 scores at least 12 league goals per season. Wilshere currently has 1 league goal in his career for Arsenal.

I’m not saying that he isn’t an outstanding player, as I believe he is one of the best player’s at under-21 level in world football but as a No.10 he will definitely have to increase his goal-scoring record drastically.

Fabregas was in a similar position where his profligacy led to a few doubters but Fabregas always seemed to have the potential to blossom into a goal-scoring midfielder. When Wenger watched him at the u-17’s World Cup in 2003, Fabregas won the Golden Boot. When Fabregas begun to score regularly for Arsenal, Wenger said, ‘I believe he is more relaxed, there is less tension in his finishing. You feel that before he wanted to force the chance and now he is more relaxed. Also he has gained more physical power. You can see he resists much more the runs of his opponents and he is more powerful in his runs. These two ingredients make a big difference.’ In Wilshere’s case, I wouldn’t say he has this problem, he just doesn’t have the instinct of a goal-scoring midfielder.

I would also say, football is changing. You need great passers at the base of your attack, who help you to keep the ball well, change the tempo of your game and start of your attacks. Jack Wilshere is in this mould but also has the bite in his game which will allow him to cope well in the battle. Think of Arteta who has a tidy, short-range passing-game with the tactical nous to screen his back four without being quick, strong or particularly aggressive. Jack Wilshere can be this player but will have to strongly develop his tactical understanding of the game. He has the tenacity to succeed and also has a much better passing-range. Also with Steve Bould, a defensive coach who has a great understanding in the defensive aspect of the game, Jack Wilshere can blossom alongside the correct clientele.

Wenger’s use of him correlates with this idea also. When Wilshere was used alongside Alex Song in midfield, Song would advance forward and Wilshere had to sit and screen his back-four, like the under-rated Claude Makelele. With all this in mind it is fair to say his schooling in this position has already begun.

Not to mention what the legendary Fabio Capello had planned for him as England manager. Capello compared Wilshere to Makelele.

Capello said: “Wilshere will play in front of the back four. It is not the position he prefers – he wants to go forward. But one of the midfielders has to stay back.

“Makelele was faster and could play with both feet, but Wilshere is really intelligent on the pitch. His movement, with or without the ball, has improved a lot. For me, Wilshere is better.

“In some games at Arsenal he has played forward. In other games he has played in front of the back four.

“He has improved a lot with short passes and winning back the ball. He is playing with confidence now.”

This gives us an indication of how Wilshere and his career can progress. For me he will have to take the advice of ex-England captain Bryan Robson, who said on Wilshere, “I look at him and think what kind of player does Jack want to be? Is he going to be an offensive player? If he is, he needs to score more goals. If he is going to be defensive, he has to work that little bit harder on the defensive side of his game.”

I am of the opinion Wilshere really should consider trying to establish himself as the heir to Mikel Arteta rather than the next Dennis Bergkamp. He should challenge himself, to live up to Capello’s huge billing of being better than Makelele.

 

 

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