Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday February 25 2013
I imagine you have all seen and dissected the Villa game by now and other commitments on Sunday meant I didn`t have time to cobble together a full match report. So I thought I would just cobble together a few observations about the game, as opposed to a blow by blow account.
• Cazorla- The little Spaniard has scored our last three Premier League goals now which have gathered us a total of 6 points. What is notable is how his finishing seems to have improved. Each of his last three goals have been low, composed finishes. They`ve all come from him playing from the left too. Earlier in the season, he had a propensity to shoot on sight which enthused Arsenal fans due to the perception we don`t shoot enough. (The stats don`t bear this assumption out and besides, when playing ten man defences, it`s often difficult to get any sort of shot away from distance anyway). In reality, he was often wasteful and he had a bit of a habit for spooning the ball wildly over the crossbar.
I think playing from the flank suits Santi better than the no. 10 role, which Jack has made his own. (More on that in a minute). He likes to drift about and come deep to get the ball. The trequartista in our formation needs to play closer to the front 3. Earlier in the season, we were effectively trying to make Santi play in Fabregas` role, which doesn`t really fit his game. (Last season, we tried to make Ramsey play Fabregas` role too). But Santi`s timing and his more composed finishing suggest work has been done on the training ground and, particularly with his shooting, Cazorla has recognised a flaw and ironed it out.
His second finish in particular in a pressure cooker situation was delightful. It also demonstrated, as Cazorla does time and again, the value of being two footed. For any other player in our team, the ball arriving in that manner in the area on their unfavoured side would have precipitated five seconds worth of fannying about trying to get the ball onto their stronger foot. Arteta passed up a presentable shooting opportunity in the box minutes earlier, electing to pass to Giroud. Had the ball fallen to Mikel`s right foot, there`s no question in my mind he would have taken on the shot.
• Number 10- Wilshere is making the number 10 role all his own. The Swansea cup replay, when Wilshere was first entrusted with the role, felt like it represented a breakthrough at the time and that impression remains. I have to say I didn`t quite fancy that Jack had developed the penetrative side of his game enough to take on that mantle quite yet. But the last 6 weeks has seen him really step up a gear and some of the passes he has been spraying to the left side of Arsenal`s attack in particular have been key.
Many scoff at the fabled "pre assist" but Jack has plenty of these to his name of late. Against Sunderland Wilshere gave the ball to Walcott to tee up Cazorla. Wilshere didn`t have his best game on Saturday, but the sand wedged pass to Monreal for the winning goal was a delight. That`s what great players do, even when they`re not playing at their best, they make the difference. Wilshere played that similar pass to Podolski twice in the 5-1 rout of West Ham too.
Jack and Santi did swap many times in the second half too. As well as exploiting that space down Arsenal`s left with his passing, he`s quite good at running into that area and delivering a good cross too. He likes to pop up in that left corridor of the pitch as much as Cazorla likes to drift in from that side. They`re getting used to one another still, but there`s the potential for a great partnership between Arsenal`s two creative midfielders. Wenger`s desire to cultivate it probably explains his reluctance to use Rosicky more than he does, as well as the Czech`s fitness.
• Villa- Villa clearly set up for the counter attack. On paper, it was an attacking line up, with Agbonlahor and Weimann- both nominally strikers- playing on the wings and N`Zogbia supporting Benteke in the number 10 role. N`Zogbia`s presence wasn`t just with an attacking instruction though. Like many others this season, he effectively man marked Arteta, shadowing him closely when Arsenal had the ball. This often closes off Arteta`s passing options because the opposition recognise him as the instigator of our play.
Bayern recognised this too, which is why Arteta to Mertesacker was the highest passing combination on the pitch on Tuesday night, with the two trading the ball 28 times. What was disappointing, was that Villa scored on the counter attack when they had so obviously set up to try and hurt us that way. We had a couple of warnings from our own corners when we were outnumbered on the break, but Villa foiled their own advances with poor execution. Arsenal`s back four comes in for a lot of criticism, but all four were in position when Weimann advanced towards goal, but they were cuffed by their midfield`s lack of desire to sprint back and help. Arteta tried, but it was too late and Weimann shot just before he could intercept. But Arsenal`s defending was reactive as opposed to proactive, as it so often is.
Jenkinson was guilty of a panicked header on the half way line as Villa broke. This is partly the reason the back four makes so many individual errors, because the lack of protection in front of them creates volatile situations. Nevertheless, had Sagna made such a weak defensive header in that scenario it would have fitted the narrative that suggests he`s finished and he would have been criticised heavily for it, whereas Jenkinson escapes the same scrutiny at the moment. That said, Jenkinson performed well overall.
• Abou Diaby- I picked up a little flack back in September for suggesting that I would pick Aaron Ramsey ahead of Abou Diaby http://arseblog.com/2012/09/logic-movement-and-energetic-pointing/ but it`s an assertion I stick by. Diaby picked up another calf injury on Saturday, though he suggested via his twitter account that the decision to come off was a decision of caution, it raises long term suggestions over his fitness. Many are keen to point the finger at Dan Smith, for his horror tackle on Diaby back in 2006, which inflicted a double fracture and dislocation of the ankle on poor Abou.
But that wasn`t the only atrocity committed on Diaby`s ankles. He actually seemed to have recovered from that original assault, playing 37 times in 2008-09 and 45 times in 2009-10. His problems appeared again early in the 2010-11 season, when Bolton`s Paul Robinson and then Chelsea`s Michael Essien went loco on the same ankle in a space of seven days. Diaby required another operation as a result and his fitness has never really returned. It`s worth noting that not one of those tackles resulted in a red card.
However, fitness aside, I feel Diaby is a player that continues to flatter to deceive. He tends to produce one world class performance that makes you see why Wenger and successive France managers have held out so much hope for him. Fenerbahce in 2008. Villa at home in 2009. Liverpool away this season. The problem is, more often than not, Diaby is ponderous and infuriating. It takes him an absolute age to release the ball and more often than not the prospect of a good attack dies at his feet as he tries to unnecessarily take on a player he has already beaten. At 27 it`s difficult to feel that he`s ever going to learn.
Ramsey meanwhile seems to have been liberated playing as "the runner" next to Arteta in a deeper role. He doesn`t yet have the positional sense to sit in front of the back four in the manner that Arteta does. But he has the properties to harry opponents and use his energy effectively. Liverpool enjoyed great success a few years ago deploying the cultured and thoughtful Alonso next to the terrier like Mascherano. Diaby is an incredibly talented player, unfortunately I don`t think he really knows how to use his talent. Ramsey has been forced to simplify his game in a water carrier role, which has suited his development. For me, Ramsey moves ahead of Diaby in the pecking order irrespective of fitness. But doubtless, another spell on the treatment table will see his reputation inflate once again. Maybe it`s a canny career move from Diaby. The less he plays, the more highly people seem to rate him.
Date:Monday February 25 2013
Who Is Your Vital Arsenal Player of the Season? (Tuesday May 21 2013)
Newcastle United 0 Arsenal 1 (Monday May 20 2013)
VIDEO: Wenger Praises 'Exceptional' Attitude (Monday May 20 2013)
Arsene Wenger, Now Is The Time (Monday May 20 2013)
The Moment That Made It All Worthwhile (Sunday May 19 2013)
Happy St Totteringham's Day To Gooners Everwhere (Sunday May 19 2013)
Team News: Last Game Of The Season (Sunday May 19 2013)
The Squeaky Bum Preview (Friday May 17 2013)
Wenger Confirms Sanogo Deal Almost Done (Friday May 17 2013)
Mid-Morning Ablutions #11 (Thursday May 16 2013)
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