Sunday
May162010

End of Season Player Ratings and Assessments

  

To close the season, as far as this blog is concerned, I have been busy calculating my overall player ratings.

This tells me exactly who has performed, who has underperformed, who is integral and essential to the team and who doesn't deserve to wear the shirt etc. Sometimes you surprise yourself when all the player rating totals throughout the season are totted up and you get an overall average player assessment rating.

The ratings cover all games played in all competitions, of which I have failed to report on all but three or four, which shouldn't affect the statistics too much.

Each player needs to have played at least 10 first team games this season to get on the list - so no room for Fabianski. The bracketed number is the rating I gave to the particular player last season.

PLAYER OF THE SEASON

ROBIN VAN PERSIE
Average Rating: 7.4 (6.4)

He may have been injured for 5 months, but according to my own ratings Van Persie put in the most consistent performances throughout the duration. Initially, I had doubts about whether Van Persie could lead Wenger's newly adopted 4-5-1 formation, but slowly but surely the Dutchman took to the role and performed magnificently - scoring and creating goals, and rarely dropping below a 7.5 match rating, which is amazingly consistent.

A true fighter, a true talent, a true goalscorer. Van Persie is indispensible to Arsenal.

CESC FABREGAS
Average Rating: 7.3 (6.7)

For the second year running, Cesc has come in the runners-up position, but make no mistake, Arsenal are lost without the young Spaniard - and soon might be.

Fabregas might have had a duff game every now and then, but generally speaking he's been superb, and without his goals and assists Arsenal would be struggling to qualify for the Europa Cup nevermind the Champions League. He has serious bottle and is becoming more of a captain and leader with every season.

It's essential Arsenal keep him, but might have to prepare for the worst.

ALEXANDRE SONG

Average Rating: 7.2 (6.0)

Song has had an excellent season overall, rapidly improving as a defensive midfielder – although I do still have reservations about his lack of pace. Other pluses are his calmness in possession and excellent technique in tight spaces. He’s not a defender though, and  looked out of his depth when he played at centre back – it was naïve to put him there.

Song is now an integral player, which couldn't have been imagined a couple of seasons ago, and I would love to see him in a midfield trio complementing Fabregas and Yaya Toure (or player of similar ilk).

THOMAS VERMAELEN
Average Rating: 7.2 (n/a)

Tying with Song is Arsenal new boy, Vermaelen - although I put Song above him due to the fact that Arsenal have had a very poor season defensively and Vermaelen cannot be totally absolved of blame.

The Belgian has fitted in very well and very quickly; getting off to a cracking start by scoring goals for fun. However, there is room for improvement and hopefully we’ll see that in his second season at the club. Vermaelen needs to communicate and instruct his back four a lot more, and hopefully he can slowly take on that role. He also needs to work on his positioning.

Vermaelen has been excellent against most sides we come up against, but in the really big games some flaws have become apparent. The next step will be to rise above that and take his game to the next level.

SOL CAMPBELL
Average Rating: 7.2 (n/a)

Arsenal’s January signing provided a strong boost to the team defensively, and, in Gallas’s absence, it makes you wonder how bad things would have been had Sol not joined.

Still, he’s not Superman – at 35 years of age he noticeably tires in the last quarter of games, which might have cost goals against Wigan and Blackburn. I am in two minds about handing Campbell a new contract. He will be third choice – and can't play regularly even if we need him to. If Arsenal don't need him for a while, then at his age he will start to rapidly decline, which won’t be any good if he’s needed during a late-season injury crisis for example.

An important decision needs to be made, but I have no doubt Wenger will make one based on money rather than common sense.

WILLIAM GALLAS Average Rating: 7.0 (6.3)

Gallas has had his best season for the club, which might have something to do with the fact he’s playing next to a more aerially dominant partner, and in his favoured position - right of centre. Chances are that we won’t see him in red and white again, but I won’t be too disappointed as long as he’s adequately replaced. 

Let's face it, things are never perfect with Gallas in the dressing room and although he’s a good defender his game is highly reliant on pace, which (like Toure before him) will slowly start to wane on the eve of his 33rd birthday.

SAMIR NASRI
Average Rating: 6.5 (6.1)

Despite performing better than last season, Nasri has evidently struggled to have a major impact on the team – we’re simply not seeing enough end product from him. His serious pre-season injury certainly set him back; however, I believe that Nasri is a very good player who would have a much bigger impact surrounded by better players than he often plays alongside.

I am confident we will see a much improved Nasri next season if all goes well, and I’m rather selfishly glad he’s been dropped from France’s World Cup squad.

TOMAS ROSICKY Average Rating: 6.5 (5.5)

Rosicky’s injuries have laid him pretty low and it’s only this season that the Czech international has been able to play regularly and regain his full fitness. However, rather like Nasri we don’t see enough impact from Rosicky in forward positions, and we should expect more in terms of goals and assists.

What I do like about Tomas is his work rate, which puts, for example, Arshavin to shame. I’d like to think Rosicky can yet become the player Arsenal purchased, he is only 29 after all, so would like to see him stay at the club as we’re simply not in a position to let go of that sort of experience right now.

BACARY SAGNA Average Rating: 6.4 (6.6)

Sagna didn’t have a great season last term, and this term he’s been worse. I believe the reason for his poor ratings, however, is because of the job he’s being asked to do. If Sagna was playing in a 4-4-2, he’d be a strong, ultra-reliable defender, but employed as an attacking full back all his limits are exposed which leads to low match ratings.

His crossing is really poor and he doesn’t have the technique to regularly beat opponents in advanced positions which makes him predictable and easy to mark. Again, you have to question the manager for adopting a system that does not suit so many of his players, and Sagna is certainly one who suffers for it.

ANDREI ARSHAVIN Average Rating: 6.3 (7.2)

These days Arshavin seems more interested in messing about answering stupid question on his website than playing football. I did question this signing at the time, asking why no other club had taken a punt on the player so late into his career, and perhaps we’re now finding out why.

Arshavin’s moments of brilliance are becoming increasingly infrequent and he’s often selfish. He also 'appears' to be lazy at times, although I’m not sure that’s 100% down to his nature. I prefer to be generous and imagine the difficulty of having played in Russia until age 27 only to have to suddenly adapt to the ferocious pace of the Premier League.

Having said that, you would expect him to show a lot more than he is currently showing, and you have to wonder if his hearts really in it or has the attitude a real winner needs to have.

EMMANUEL EBOUE Average Rating: 6.3 (4.3)

My most improved player this season, although it’s not really saying much is it? He was an absolute disaster zone last year, and while he has somewhat cleaned up his act and definitely improved his game overall, he’s not exactly irreplaceable. Not a bad squad player, but you wouldn’t want to rely on Eboue week in, week out.

NICKLAS BENDTNER Average Rating: 6.2 (5.7)

It’s clear that overall the Dane is a rather average performer. His ratings may have suffered a little early in the season when Wenger played him out wide; as some of those performances were understandably poor and he has had numerous injuries to contend with.

Bendtner tries hard and has doubtless scored some important goals, but it’s highly unlikely he will ever become the world-class forward he predicts. I admire his confidence (bluff) but his first touch is still poor and he’s simply too slow to ever create chances for himself on a regular basis. Good squad player though.

AARON RAMSEY Average Rating: 6.2 (5.4)

The low rating is doubtless due to the fact that Ramsey has often come on as a late sub and been unable to make an impact in such a relatively short space of time.

When Aaron started games he did show what a fine player he can become and often dwarfed Diaby in terms of productivity and effort. However, his unfortunate leg break will set him back in the same way it did Eduardo, so we should expect nothing from Ramsey next season and be well prepared for that.

GAEL CLICHY Average Rating: 6.1 (5.7)

Clichy was complete shite last season costing Arsenal so many points and goals, and whilst he has improved this term it’s not nearly enough. His energy and commitment are absolutely not in question, it’s his poor decision making and lack of concentration at key moments that requires serious analysis.

Much like Sagna, for an attacking wing back Clichy offers so little going forward that trading defensive stability for attacking prowess doesn't seem like a worthwhile trade-off in his case. Having said that, I do believe that with better coaching Clichy would be a different prospect altogether. Unfortunately, under this coach there's little chance of that happening.

ARMAND TRAORE Average Rating: 6.1 (n/a)

Traore played a susprising number of games this season and rather like Clichy performed only adequately – certainly far from what’s expected at a club of Arsenal’s stature. He’s better going forward than his counterpart but even less adept at the basics. I don’t really see much of a future at the club for Traore and believe Kieran Gibbs to be a better prospect.

ABOU DIABY Average Rating: 6.0 (5.5)

Had a handful of good games this season, although only against lesser opposition - when you really need Diaby he goes missing. His often infuriating lack of effort and unwillingness to die for the cause makes him a dead rubber in my opinion.

It’s losers like Diaby, content to pick up the wages and enjoy the esteem of playing for a big club without doing anything to genuinely warrant it, that holds Arsenal back ensuring the trophy cabinet remains forever empty. If Wenger can’t pinpoint this by now there's something seriously wrong with his judgment.

EDUARDO Average Rating: 5.9 (n/a)

Needless to say Eduardo has really struggled to recapture his form since his horrific leg break of 2008. However, I wouldn’t put his poor performances entirely down to that, it’s more down to the fact that the Brazilian does not fit anywhere into Wenger’s 4-5-1 model. He’s not physically strong enough or quick enough to beat players in wide attacking positions, and too lightweight as a lone striker.

I’m afraid to say Eduardo will never be the player we hope him to be as his role has now been rendered redundant. It’s a great, great shame, as I’m convinced that in a 4-4-2 he would soon recapture his form and start banging them in – but not at our club.

DENILSON Average Rating: 5.8 (5.7)

We’re coming to the dregs now. Despite my loathing of this player I do feel slightly sorry for Denilson. Yes he’s lazy and completely untrustworthy, but he’s a Brazilian and what he’s being asked to do is simply not in his DNA.

Wenger should have realised that and yet again it's been exceptionally poor judgment to assume Denilson would be a shoe-in for the emerging Song. Arsenal have certainly suffered badly for Wenger’s decision to play Denilson as a DM. I actually think he would be a half decent player in the Fabregas position. Still, Arsenal should be looking to sell and get someone more suited to the role that Denilson more often than not finds himself in.

MIKAEL SILVESTRE Average Rating: 5.6 (5.5)

Is there really anything that requires in-depth analysis?

Close the door on the way out.

CARLOS VELA Average Rating: 5.6 (6.1)

Gone backwards from last season, probably due to the fact that Vela performed well in the 2008/09 Carling Cup run. This season he’s played more than you might think, although is usually stuck on the last five minutes of games.

Vela has undeniable talent, but what with him half-living in Mexico, forgetting his passport, and always sitting on a packed bench, I don’t see how Vela will ever force his way into the team and therefore sufficiently improve. We need money, apparently, so might as well cut our losses.

MANUEL ALMUNIA Average Rating: 5.5 (6.4)

Considerably worse than he was last season, surely Almunia’s time is up? Perhaps now we can see why Jens Lehmann held him in such apparent contempt, as he probably watched him on the training ground and considered it to be a complete affront to his pride and professionalism to be replaced by the Spaniard.

A good shot stopper, but his decision making has been truly abysmal and there’s simply no place for him at a club supposedly chasing major honours. Only the grim buffoonery of Lukasz Fabianski has made Almunia look like a goalkeeper at all.

THEO WALCOTT Average Rating: 5.3 (6.3)

Perhaps surprisingly, to some, this season’s wooden spoon goes to Theo Walcott. The stats don’t lie, and I had no reason to underrate him - as if I was going to underscore someone based on dislikeability it would not be Walcott.

Unfortunately, however, Walcott has proved to be this season’s most unassailable dud. For the most part he’s just a brainless running machine, and physically weak as a little kitten.

Godawful at the best of times, why he starts matches is anyone’s guess, it’s obvious to even the biggest moron that Walcott should never be seen before the 80th minute, when he can come on, hoof a long ball into space ahead of tired defenders, run as fast as he can then cross into oceans of space where hopefully someone might be able to tap it in.

Sure, he has it in him to improve, and probably will, but maybe it's better to sell him on for a large fee before anyone actually twigs he's complete shite.

----

That’s it; players that got a bunch of games but didn’t play enough to warrant making it into the list are Fluff-it-in-ski, Vito Mannone, the soon to depart Fran Merida, Craig Eastmond, and long-term injury victims Kieron Gibbs and Johanne Djourou.

Unless something seriously interesting happens, see you in July - or thereabouts - and enjoy your summer. Thanks for reading and responding to my blog this season, all of you.

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Tuesday
May112010

Gazidis Q&A, what can we draw from it?

  

Today I watched the 90+ minute video of CEO Ivan Gazidis Q&A session with the Arsenal Supporters Trust at the Emirates Stadium.

I’m glad that Arsenal.com made the majority of this debate available online, and to the public not just to members of Arsenal Online.

The debate resulted in a very frank and open discussion between supporters and Gazidis and threw some light on many of the concerns that Arsenal supporters in general may or may not have.

For those who have not seen it, I would urge you to watch the videos when you get a chance. If you haven’t the time or inclination, here are the main points arising from the session.

According to Gazidis, the board is very disappointed with the way the season has ended and is certainly not blind to the faults inherent in the team. Gadizis hammered home the fact that the board is not oblivious to the club’s main objectives, which is to win trophies. However, the chances of success are impeded by the decision to follow a self-sustaining model in light of the dual effect of not only the cost of the new stadium, but the sharp increase in wages and transfer fees due to the recent emergence of sugar daddy clubs such as Manchester City and Chelsea, and others, including, Manchester Utd that spend using money they don’t have via debt – something that the club is loathe to do and has to be realistic about for the sake of Arsenal's future.

The message is, Arsenal may be a rich club, but it is certainly not immune to the fate suffered by certain other clubs that have spent wildly beyond their means and now find themselves bankrupt or in league one.

Gazidis pointed to the fact that in able to compete in the short to medium-term, the club has taken significant steps to put together a world class commercial team to increase the commercial revenues of the club, particularly sponsorship related. This might be deemed boring to the majority of supporters but is vitally important towards bringing in new revenue streams, and such activities will increase in productivity over the following years.

What’s clear is that almost as important as the stadium itself is the ability to transform the club’s revenues through marketing and legal activities, and Gazidis believes the team is now in place to drive these strategies through via a new, world-class senior management team.

Also, what Gazidis calls the “Arsenalisation” of the club will begin to kick-in from next season onwards in an attempt to make The Emirates a more homely and personal place for supporters to support, hopefully improving the match day experience for all and giving The Emirates the sense of identity some might think it lacks.

Financially, the club is now entirely debt-free on the property side, and from now onwards any properties owned by the club that are sold will generate pure profit for the club herein. This will obviously add to the club’s revenue streams in the short term, allowing Arsenal to free up further expenditure on player investment.

Questions for supporters were respectful and largely revolved around the following:

Why are the two domestic cup competitions apparently ignored? The supporters feel that Wenger does not take these competitions seriously despite them being the most realistic chances of success for a club that cannot realistically compete with the best in Europe in terms of spending.

Gazidis shared his frustrations with supporters, but felt that all clubs need to compromise in these competitions and pointed to statistics showing that Arsenal have had shorter rest periods between games leading to a greater necessity to rotate for these matches.

On injuries, and why Arsenal have so many, Gazidis concluded that the situation needed close attention post-season and the club is doing everything it can to find out why so many players are persistently injured. His conclusion was that it was not an exact science, but down to a mixture of bad luck and other probabilities that the backroom staff are working very hard to resolve using the latest satellite technology - tracking players in training, but it would take a few seasons for a library of data to be built up in that respect.

The goalkeeping situation was brought up and Gerry Peyton’s role as goalkeeping coach was questioned as part of the horrendous performances of certain ‘individuals’. For obvious reasons Gazidis claimed it would be counter-productive to criticise or give opinions on individual players in the public domain. Gazidis therefore shied away from criticising Almunia/Fabianski/Mannone and pointed out that coaching is predominantly a role for the manager and shouldn’t be interfered with at board level. Ultimately, we can ascertain the supporters are completely unsatisfied with the situation and it’s important that this was noted – and I’m sure it was.

One supporter had the tenacity to question Wenger’s future; Gazidis responded by saying that whilst supporters are perfectly entitled to their opinions the board has not lost faith in Wenger, that he has done an “unrecognised job” (linked to finance no doubt) and has been offered a new contract which they expect to be signed in the near future. He also took time to explain that the decision they have made is not a sentimental one; they genuinely believe Wenger still has the ambition to spearhead the club, but that is reviewed on an ongoing basis.

On the subject of transfers, reading between the lines it’s clear that Wenger does not have a transfer budget as such – he has money available, and it would be ludicrous to make public the amount as it would have a negative impact on transfer negotiations. It seems that if Wenger wants a player he approaches the board and they are more than likely to back him, but as Wenger works so closely with the board on these matters and is privy to the financial restraints the club has been operating, it is entirely his decision to be frugal and the board supports his assessment of what is required with regard to squad strength.

Whether Wenger still feels frugality is a necessity with over £100m wiped off the debt in recent times remains to be seen.

On the subject of contracts, supporters raised their annoyance at players being handed contracts for underperforming. Rosicky was cited as player that had not underperformed, but was handed a new contract without having proved himself following 18 months injury. Gazidis ignored that but responded by admitting that Arsenal are currently paying for potential – there is a big demand for quality young footballers and the club has to be competitive in its transfer negotiations even if they have not bore fruit yet. Again, trust is placed in the manager in the hope that these players come through even if the evidence is shabby.

Briefly, the ineffectiveness of ticket allocation is also being looked into by the club, and another subject that arose was the club’s position with regard to a takeover - of which it seems there is little to comment on. The club’s shares are publicly traded and through share ownership anyone can bid for the club, but regardless of what the newspapers deduce every time a few shares exchange hands, there is little activity that denotes an impending takeover by any outside, or inside, shareholder/investor.
 
Wenger was not at the meeting, he evidently does not fancy being questioned personally – or maybe he had a sore throat.

My overriding opinion is that the club is in very safe hands with Gazidis, who shares many of the same values, concerns and passions as the supporters. He described himself as anything but a “corporate automaton” but a supporter that very much shares the pain that all of us supporters feel when Arsenal fail to succeed on the pitch – and that admittance does help to dissolve the separation that many fans might feel exists between club and supporter.

Apart from that there is little to be ascertained. As I mentioned in a previous post, the board has agreed to continue with Wenger and will not interfere with his footballing decisions – areas in which they have little expertise. The manager will live and die by his results, and from my perspective that’s exactly how it should be. You don’t want the board telling Wenger to buy this player or that or how to coach on the training pitch, it always ends in disaster.

The meeting is important as it gives supporters a voice, and it seems certain that through this type of forum – welcomed as essential by Gazidis - disgruntled supporters do at least have a voice from which to vent their disillusionment if necessary. Therefore, no matter how disillusioned those of you that read this blog, or others that do not 100% support the manager, are, you can be certain that those views are at least being transmitted to Gazidis via the Arsenal Supporters Trust and taken onboard.

The session did not answer every question mark, however, such as:

  • Why if money is tight did Wenger throw £5.5m at a bunch of kids last summer?
  • The appalling tactical blunders which will result in failure regardless of available funding - the team has better players than most clubs but still often underperforms, particularly defensively.
  • An inability to motivate certain individuals or concern that Wenger continually persists with clearly unmotivated individuals.
  • Continual contradictions/broken promises (outright lies in some cases) to supporters regarding player purchases.
  • General disrespect to other clubs and officials through his post-match interviews which portray the club in a bad light.

It seems obvious that rather than the board, it will be supporters who decide when Wenger’s tenure should come to an end through their own volatility at events such as these, and on the terraces no doubt. The pressure we can bring can certainly result in regime change - if necessary.

By the way, Gazidis also pointed to the fact that he does regularly read online blogs to gauge supporter opinion, so, if true, your personal views might also be represented, even in this small space.

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Sunday
May092010

Fabregas could be gone within 2 weeks

  

First, let me say that I'm not normally one for writing flashy headlines to get attention, I seriously can't be bothered. I only write when I feel there is something on my mind that needs expressing.

Last night on Sky Sports' live Spanish football I'm pretty sure I heard Spanish correspondent Guillem Balague insist that Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona is a done deal that will completed within two weeks.

I normally trust Balague because he has inside access to the majority of Spanish clubs and has got a lot of big calls right over the years. He's called some wrong too, but transfers do not always go as planned.

The Spaniard is one of the few journalists I trust and respect, and generally he's not a sensationalist, which he easily could be at the behest of the clubs he is often allowed to provide a voice for. It would be fair to say that, in the past, Balague has not sought to assist Barcelona by stirring the pot in their favour with regard to Fabregas transfer stories, so why now?

Furthermore, another link has also emerged today regarding Barcelona midfielder Yaya Toure, whose agent Dimitri Seluk mentions could be a success with Arsenal and may be open to a move to the Emirates.

Why would Toure even think of leaving Barcelona for Arsenal? Perhaps if his agent has been notified by Toure's club that they wish to make the player part of a cash plus swap deal for Fabregas?

There was also a much more tenuous link last Friday from The Spoiler website suggesting Fabregas's mother has bought ex-Barcelona midfielder Deco's old flat in the capital - presumably for her son.

On its own, a presumptuous - possibly factually incorrect - piece of information that you would unlikely read much into, but when linked to Balague and Seluk's comments, who knows? New players are often moved into properties belonging to old players when they join a club, as they're typically in a location suited to the privacy of  high profile individuals.

Personally, I have also been suspicious of Fabregas current injury status, and the explanation of how it came about. Broken leg kicking a player standing right next to you? Injury yes, broken leg, hmmmm. If a deal for Fabregas is in the bank then it might explain why the player has been "missing" for the last month.

All conjecture of course - most transfer stories regarding Fabregas are and have been, but the Spaniard will leave one day and I can imagine he's as fed up these days waiting for Wenger to get serious as we all are.

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Wednesday
Apr072010

Barcelona 4 Arsenal 1: Match Report

  

Arsenal started well for the first 20 minutes, or did they?

It was clear Barcelona had a plan. They didn't want to blow themselves out after an hour and leave themselves vulnerable as they did last week at the Emirates, so they started more cautiously, moved into first gear for 20 minutes after Bendtner scored a surprise opener, then got the pipe and slippers out for the second half.

Wenger did the right thing lining up 4-1-4-1; it gave Arsenal a stricter shape and allowed players to cluster centrally and win tackles. Diaby did just that on 18, then set Walcott free, but he bottled shooting before squaring a poor ball to Bendtner that made it difficult for him to get a decent connection.

Fortunately, Valdes palmed the ball straight back into his path, but Bendtner did well to get back on his feet and stab the ball home.

At that moment, it seemed like Arsenal could actually do something, but it soon became clear that Barcelona were only toying. They moved into Ferrari mode and creamed Arsenal, with Messi scoring a 21-minute hatrick.

Messi is a phenomenon, an outrageously brilliant talent - but still Arsenal could have defended him better.

His first goal was admittedly unstoppable, although Silvestre gave him the ball outside the box, the finish was stunning.

But goals two and three?

The second goal, Diaby was next to Messi, then just let him go. Abidal's misdirected cross was not cleared by Arsenal centrally, and Pedro slipped it to the unmarked Messi who accelerated past Clichy and buried past Almunia.

Diaby just left Messi to do whatever he wanted. How can you ever win anything important with players doing things like that?

On 41, Messi wrapped the game up when Clichy made a schoolboy error and failed to push up with the rest of the back four. Messi, clean through with oceans of space, lobbed over Almunia for 3-1.

The rest of the game was a non-event. Bojan was replaced by Yaya Toure on 56 to shore up the midfield, and Barcelona simply passed Arsenal to death - sucking the life out of them.

What was most disappointing was that even when Arsenal did win the ball - and they had more of it than they did last week at the Emirates - their passing was shabby and wasteful, and they made the wrong decisions time and time again.

Barcelona were superb at changing focus, from not having the ball to hunting it down and winning it back, and Arsenal can learn so much from that. For all their technique and flair, Barcelona have a fantastic work ethic and do all the ugly stuff, which Arsenal don't.

Messi scored his fourth of the night on 88. Eboue this time played Barcelona's front line onside, from where Messi was slipped in and allowed two strikes on goal, the second through Almunia's legs. He should have had a fifth as well, on 43, Silvestre slipped allowing him to run clean through but his first touch was unusually poor and he squandered a banker.

Full-time: Barcelona 4 Arsenal 1

A lot of people rave about Messi, and rightly so - he's brilliant, but Sky Sports had their tongue so far up his arsehole they'll need a tetanus injection, and still Arsenal could have done a lot more to stop him.

At the end of the day, four of the six goals Arsenal conceded over the two legs were down to the fact that Wenger is incapable of even educating his players on the laws of the offside trap. Over both games, Song, Eboue, and Clichy (twice) all made elementary defensive mistakes, allowing players to run clean through on goal (as has been happening all season).

Messi just finished easy chances brilliantly - but even Carlos Vela can lob a keeper one on one.

To have your team play strikers onside so frequently is outrageously bad coaching. Once is forgiveable, four times is ridiculous - and those were just the times Arsenal conceded, there were other offside failures that we didn't get punished for.

Of course, Barcelona are a lot better than Arsenal, and even if Wenger had a tactical bone in his body we still probably would have lost - but this wasn't just a defeat, it was an embarrassing annihilation. Hopefully, Wenger will have learnt something from this quarter-final and implement some changes to his team's style - it could yet be beneficial.

Still, like root canal surgery, it's over now and the pain is gone - even if the sick feeling might remain for a few days.

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Thursday
Apr012010

Arsenal 2 Barcelona 2: Match Report

  

Pick the bones out of that one as they say.

On an extraordinary night of Champions League football, by some miracle Arsenal emerged with a 2-2 draw at home to Barcelona, despite conceding an incredible 65% possession and 23 shots at goal.

It would not be unfair to suggest that Arsenal could have been 2 down in the opening 5 minutes, and at least 4 down by the 20 minute mark, were it not for wasteful finishing by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi, a last ditch tackle by Vermaelen, and FIVE excellent saves by Manuel Almunia.

Arsenal were also extremely fortunate not to concede a penalty when Clichy brought Messi down in the box on 27.

For an Arsenal supporter, this was painful and embarrassing to watch, and exactly what I had feared.

Arsenal didn’t complete two straight passes for the first half hour, and practically the whole game was being played in their half - yet by some miracle the score remained goalless after 25 minutes.

On 28, an injured Arshavin was replaced by Eboue.

Slowly Arsenal began to get on the ball, but not before Gallas was stretchered off on 41 with a recurring calf strain. He should not have been picked, it was dreadful management. And the same for Fabregas who was evidently not fit to play in a football match of such intensity.

Wenger compounded his error to pick Gallas by moving Song into the back four.

As a whirlwind first-half came to a close, Arsenal only had a long-range shot from Nasri to show for their woeful endeavours, whereas Barcelona had something like 15 attempts on goal.

It was only a miracle that the Gunners were not a handful down as Wenger’s tactical ineptness was brutally exposed.

For all Wenger’s genius in turning youth into world class talent and assembling teams capable of playing excellent pass and move football, I'm absolutely convinced that, tactically, he’s the worst top level manager in the business – and the first half proved that beyond any reasonable doubt.

Yes, Barcelona are an excellent team, but for Arsenal to get utterly obliterated in this fashion on home turf is quite frankly a disgrace. Let's not forget, FK Rubin Kazan drew with and beat Barca in the group stages - but thanks to Wenger, they made Arsenal look a pub team.

His choice to play injured players was selfish and detrimental; his team played too deep, and the man-marking was utterly shocking – both in open play and from set pieces. For some reason, players were closing down individually - not as a team, when one tackled, the others were standing 10 yards away so nobody was on hand to pick up the loose ball.

As it happened, it didn't matter - for all their flair and technique, Barcelona won almost every tackle.

The wide forwards did practically nothing to protect the full backs, there was no communication or leadership from anyone, anywhere on the pitch - and no organisation. Half the team was going one way, and half the other, meanwhile Barcelona were having a party in the space between.

There were two or three occasions when three or four Barcelona players were left unmarked IN THE BOX!

To add to Arsenal’s misery, Fabregas got booked for a tackle on Busquets from behind – ruling him out of the return leg.

The second half got even worse for Wenger due to his mistake of moving Song into central defence. Wenger immediately requested Arsenal push up the back four, which would have been ok if he didn't have a DM playing his fifth ever game as a center back.

Within 23 seconds of the second half, Song was found out - too slow to step up, he played Ibrahimovic onside and the Swede coolly chipped over Almunia – who came way too far out of his goal, effectively making Ibrahimovic’s mind up for him.

After 54 minutes, Arsenal finally carved a chance following a Clichy cross that Bendtner headed point-blank at Victor Valdes from 10 yards – a bad miss.

Five minutes later, and Barcelona were two up – more miscommunication at the back, this time between Clichy and Song, saw Ibrahimovic break the offside trap to bury his second high above Almunia. This was Man Utd/Chelsea all over again – Wenger has evidently learnt nothing. 

Walcott entered the fray on 65 and began to test the exhausted Maxwell, who had spent the entire first half bombing up and down Arsenal’s right. This paid dividends on 69 when the youngster scrambled his way into the box and hit a tame shot that Valdes made a complete hash of – diving over the ball. 1-2.

On 71 Pique was booked for a foul on Fabregas, ruling him out of the second leg.

Barcelona continued to push Arsenal, Messi testing Almunia yet again on 75. But the Spanish side had run out of puff and could not keep up their pressing game, finally allowing Arsenal time on the ball, which was usually wasted by bad passing.

However, at least Walcott was making a nuisance of himself – his pace hurting full-back Maxwell. On 84, Walcott crossed for Bendtner who nodded down to Fabregas in the area. About to pull the trigger Puyol closed in and Fabregas appeared to kick the back of Puyol’s leg then went down. PENALTY! Red card Puyol!

I must confess I didn’t see what Puyol did wrong. Fabregas appeared to kick him rather than the other way around, but Arsenal got the lucky call - Fabregas stepped up and levelled the game.

Full-time: Arsenal 2 Barcelona 2

It seemed as if God was on Arsenal’s side at the Emirates last night as Arsenal were ripped to shreds by a rampant Barcelona, but through sheer good fortune – and good goalkeeping (for 15 minutes) – somehow clawed their way back into the match.

And who can say this tie is over, with both centre-backs Puyol and Pique suspended for the second leg? Well, it sounds like good news but I wouldn’t be too optimistic.

Fabregas will also miss the second leg, and whether Arsenal can win at Camp Nou without him is not a tall order, it’s a skyscraper order.

The fact is, after watching last night’s game and despite the undoubted excellence of Barcelona, I have never been more mortified by Wenger’s tactical ineptitude. He sent that team out there utterly naked, reprehensibly clueless as to what to do with regard to team shape, marking, communication, gameplan – anything. It was an abomination.

If Barcelona creates a similar volume of chances next Tuesday, they will pummel Arsenal into the ground. I simply can’t believe the Gunners will be able to get away with this sort of performance again – presuming you think a two goal home deficit is curable, and it will probably be even more painful to watch than last night.

Good luck to these boys though. I feel sorry for them – and they stuck at it when they could have died of humiliation out there and completely surrendered to Wenger's worthless tactics.

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