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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Low on confidence Arsenal need Cole/Clichy return boost

When I saw the line-up yesterday I was happy. Wenger was sticking to positive 4-4-2, and as such had decided that we were not going to concede any initiative to Liverpool.

However, despite the positive set-up, Arsenal played on the back-foot throughout the match. The reason for this, as I see it, is that Arsenal have lost a lot of belief in their ability to win. The confidence to attack Liverpool and impose their will on them was not there. It was so palpable that the confidence quickly sapped from me as I watched the match.

The main causes for a low-on-confidence Arsenal is the negative accumulation of defeats and injuries, the loss of form of established players, and the (often-enforced) instability of team selection. And I reckon that the belief is now so low that it needs something great to happen soon for Arsenal to get them back on the right path of confident, consistent, winning football.

At this bad time for Arsenal I recall the saying used by Benitez when he first arrived at Liverpool: sometimes a small change can bring big results.

I agreed with this when I heard Benitez say it, and I think- maybe optimistically- that it can be applied to Arsenal right now.

For me, the small change required for Arsenal in the short-term is the return of Cole and Clichy at left back. Firstly, it will end the huge weakness of having non-specialist (and aside from Cygan) highly inexperienced youngsters occupying the left hand side of our defence. Greater confidence in the defence will be a good foundation for regaining a winning belief.

But much more than that, everyone who has watched Arsenal over the past five years know that Arsenal's main avenue of attack has been to utilise the highly skilled and fluent combo of Cole or Clichy/Pires or Reyes/Henry down the left hand side. In the absence of Cole/Clichy, this very reliable and big strength of the Arsenal game has been in total shut-down. And it's been a hard four months watching Arsenal play effectively without one limb.

Apparently Cole and Clichy have both returned to training this week. Their return can only bring positives to the all-round aspects of the Arsenal game, and help restore the confidence required to produce consistenly good results.

In the medium term, Wenger needs to bring in some experienced players to provide support to the young players making their way and the older players who have fallen off their form this season. I liked Zakora's attitude and competitiveness in the Ivorian central midfield at the ACN, and see him as a must-buy in the summer to add some bite and tenacity that the fatigued Gilberto does not have in his game.


Blogger tunadog said...

the problem is centre midfield...we are being overrun...fabregas is too light weight & defensively completely inadequate..whilst gilberto is just inadequate..we can get away with it by playing Diaby next to Gilberto with Fabregas in front of them....the days when we could afford to play freddie & Pires in the same team have long gone particularly on the road...this problem has existed all season the inability of the manager to spot this basic flaw is very worrying

2/15/2006 7:56 pm

Anonymous Gooner said...

Id like to ask Why wenger does not like the appearance of the huge and immence Diaby who since i have watched him seems to be filling the gap in the midfield very well with him and gilberto in the middle. for me i feel fabregas is a crap and and total crap player as i saw him give the ball away 8-12 yesterday which is disastraus to the arsenal team having to defender over and over again. Also why pick senderos the player that does one muck up each game which can cost hugely and not play a faster better complacent player djourou.
For this we can not answer so we have to let Wenger answer.
Tbh i feel we need a new manager.

2/15/2006 9:12 pm

Blogger T said...

Yep Tunadog, CM is certainly an area for concern. Diaby has the potential to make a difference, but with only a dozen first team career games it won't be till next season that he can make a consistent impact.

Fabregas will grow into an all-round quality CM, and at his age he cannot be expected to play games without making mistakes. Wenger's mistake was not to give him and Gilberto adequate cover. The signing of Diaby is very good for the future but as he is too inexperienced to play match-in match-out it is clear that Wenger still must buy another CM in the summer who is already the finished product.

Thanx Gooner for your comments, but will totally disagree that Wenger should go.

2/15/2006 10:07 pm

Blogger Skippy said...

I was sad at seeing the way Arsenal played last night. This is not the Arsenal I saw less than 12 months ago at Highbury when they tore Liverpool to pieces. In the first half of that game, Liverpool had to endure attack after attack.

I agree with T, Arsenal are badly missing cole, clichy and Sol.

Good win for Liverpool.

2/15/2006 10:12 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Nice article, T.

I wondered if Larsson would have been a better choice at left-back than Flamini, who has now played on the left of where he had done on Saturday, leaving Flamini perhaps for centre midfield or on the bench? Also, I would have had Diaby in CM with Gilberto.

For me the return of Cole or Clichy adds some stability to the defence, much less the left-back role, and some confidence that a more suited player is back. T saying the return of a more suited player there is an understatement. The return of Campbell, fully fit and focused, is another bonus, like fixing back the main components of an engine problem on its way to completion. Now Lauren is out for the remainder, Gilbert's return is essential too.

Is it another question of players looking to others to carry the fight, away from home? At home they are comfortable, probably as one would in residing in their own domicile, and then when away become overtaken with homesickness? I know some call for Ljungberg and Pires to be dropped, though I still see they can perform very well and still have that tenacious drive for sprinting pass players and getting into the box. I would go as far as to say in the absence of Bergkamp, Pires is the most suited to channel with Henry. What I believe has taken its toll on the team is the injuries and the lack of determination shown by the more experienced. And crucially, if those traits occur, then you can find even talisman and skipper Henry will struggle to get going.

The important thing is the players know what is needed from them, and what is needed now is for them to channel their focus through that need primarily. With the concern that their defence is the least experienced section, do they go into the game looking to win, or do they aim to hold defensively and move up from there? In other words, do Arsenal primarily hold a defensive approach and strengthen it in the first 10-15mins and if it holds, then take confidence from that and then surge forward? Or is attack the best form of defence?

I find it difficult to comprehend Arsenal suffering away from home, and believe a few players look on Vieira's departure as a wrong move, particularly if they consider a replacement has not been sufficiently found. At times they can soldier on because there is, going into a match, a certain flow of confidence; other times, that confidence is not substantiated. As for last night, Lehmann gave his best performance, which was fantastic to watch. If we are to be denied, it was certainly to be to a high quality of goalkeeping and he almost got to block out Garcia's effort. That performance from the German could go a long way to installing more confidence in the others.


2/15/2006 11:41 pm

Blogger Barno28 said...

To lose to the reds is always bad, but to lose the way we did is unthinkable. Anyone notice how disinterested TH looked? There is no way that guy is signing a new deal....

2/16/2006 12:13 am

Anonymous IL-Gooner said...

gooner - have you watched the same game as I have?
Cesc was great against Liverpool, and I don't remember him losing the ball more than twice (and he touched the ball a lot - especially in the 1st half). You can say he's lightweight (which he is), however he totally eliminated Xabi Alonso. Gilberto on the other hand, while not being totally ineffective defensively, made only 3 or 4 good passes the whole game. Most of the time, he just returned the ball to the closest Liverpudlian.
The culprits at Anfield were the senior players: Henry wasn't trying too much, Pires was awful, Gilberto lost the ball too much and Freddie, although did give some effort, is just not good enough anymore.
I don't expect Gilberto to be a tenacious tackler or a playmaker. I do expect him to do what he was always good at - being at the right place and keeping things simple - WITHOUT passing every ball to the opponent.
I just hope that in the summer Arsene will do what he has to - which is to tell some of the senior players: "Thanks for the great moments you've gave us, we'll never forget you. Now, I've shipped you out to XXXXXX...".

2/16/2006 12:25 am

Anonymous Nturtle said...

Well...been travelling so...not around to watch, by all accounts, a disgraceful game by key members of Arsenal. I STILL don't understand Wenger...I agree Larsson should probably have been left back as Flamini is not an ideal defender at all.

Jens did great and it was unfortunate they scored against him on that form...a bit of luck would have helped. When he is not being full of antics (as described by Redsman I think on his excellent Video Replay article) he's really not a bad keeper.

It seems that Henry was quiet...and in this case...that is a terrible situation - he can't LEAD his team like that...without shouting or saying things or pushing the players, especially senior players to work harder. That's a pretty key problem I feel.

Keeping him is still a key thing...but captain's armband is difficult for him....but I can't see how that can change.

As for Diaby...he IS inexperienced...but I find him more combatative than Gilberto...who I criticise a LOT...and hopefully rightly as he now just stands around or flaps around...instead of being a real footballer.

2/16/2006 2:52 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

GunnerPete says......Good analysis of the current position 't', and I have this 'old' gunner stomach telling me that something good is overdue for us all.

Now we have the chance of picking a team with some balance and experience for this very big match, I would go for the following subject to fitness.


Gilbert Djurou Senderos Cole

Eboue Toure Diaby Reyes

Henry Van Percie

And with tactical subs to be USED at the right time:-

Adebayour, Clichy ( left midfield )
Campbell, Pires, Almunia, Walcott

My thinking is as always, that Toures has the presence and strength to become a GREAT midfielder, and should be used as a destroyer in front of our back five. Diaby, will excel with Kolo there to help and I see him powering forward to give support to Henry etc. I also see him breaking up moves with those long legs. But my biggest inovation would be Eboue as right sided attacking wing back, with authority to run at the ageing Real team, but also supporting our young right back.

Its tempting to play Clichy at left back and ask Cole to fill in if Reyes is not fit for 90 minutes.

With this formation we have the look of a very tight team, with attacking potential from all angles. This will get rid of the imbalanced sides AW has put out for too long.

Yes...I did leave out Freddy and Silver, because they have proved ineffective for most of this season. I feel that without Freddy's falling over, and Silvers terrible passing, the above team will keep the ball longer and have alternatives for every eventuality.

BUT back to realism.....Arsene will not do anything like my selection, will he?

2/16/2006 9:29 am

Blogger anish said...

i doubt he will!

Arsenal V Liverpool - one of the poorest Arsenal performances lately according to me! Pires was disastrous, and so was Gilberto. Ljunberg was on another planet - it was really disappointing. The only bright spark was Lehmann and to a particular extent Adebayor!

Also I felt Arsene played all the wronf cards! Diaby wasn't included, and it took Wenger 80 minutes to realise that his selection were screwing up! Hleb, after coming on made an immediate impact with a piercing run! Anyway, its hard time Wenger gets his stuff right - he normally does, but went horribly wrong agaisnt liverpool!

T - I agree! I cant wait for Cole to return, and Reyes too, adn V.Persie - they have pace which arsenal sometimes lacks now!

2/16/2006 11:23 am

Blogger RedsMan said...

I disagree with il-gooner that Fabregas eliminated Alonso, but agree with nturtle about Lehmann, he showed for me to be a better keeper and if he were to play like that every game, that must stand as a major tool of inspiration. When you have a keeper playing like that, you as a defender, particularly, must then up your game with the comfort your keeper is in great form IF attacks get past you.

I think to speak further is academic until when those nearing full fitness return. I hear Cole is in training, Clichy too, and Campbell in the near week may be returning too. If so, Arsenal can look forward to Toure-Campbell-Senderos-Cole soon. I was right in saying Reyes would suffer nothing more than severe bruising and his return could be very soon. Add to that Van Persie returning and Bergkamp available, going into March could bring more positives for the Gunners.

That being that, I pick up on nturtle's point:

"It seems that Henry was quiet...and in this case...that is a terrible situation - he can't LEAD his team like that...without shouting or saying things or pushing the players, especially senior players to work harder. That's a pretty key problem I feel."

I agree again with nturtle. Your captain is inspirational from his play alone, and is held in some esteem even outside of Highbury. When he gets to players and says words of encouragement, they have that sense of belief and that is needed so much right now. If he isnt on his game, it's more difficult to get that out of him. In the light of Arsenal's recent performances, Henry is very key to cajoling all around him positively.


2/16/2006 12:20 pm

Blogger T said...

Thanx guys for a lot of quality comments!

First, I should say congratulations to my EFT colleagues who are supporters of Liverpool. Skippy, your contrast with the Gunners' performance last spring highlights just how low in confidence the team currently are, cos many of the AFC players selected on Tuesday also played in that match.

GunnerPete, you give me good optimism that your long experience as a Gunner is telling you that we are due a turnaround in fortune. My younger Arsenal senses also tells me to remain hopeful and trust in the quality of our playing staff and coach.

As for your team, I like Eboue providing stability to the RM. You were quicker than me to give backing to Eboue's quality, and I now totally endorse your judgement on him made last year. For an inexperienced player he has a lot of composure; and for a defender he has a lot of quality driving forward. He was great in the ACN, and is definitely for me a star in the making.

Anish, I reckon that Wenger is determined to ease Diaby into the Premiership, and this is why we see him miss some games and get subbed at half-time for others. It will be brilliant when Diaby has developed to the level of being able to feature all the time... but I sense that won't happen till next season at the earliest.

Good discussion Nturtle and Redsman about Henry as captain. Against Liverpool he did his trademark applauding of young players like Eboue and Fabregas for attempted passes that go awol, and I respect that. I also reckon that it more difficult for a striker to show his captaincy worth because they generally don't fly into tackles or headers. By deduction of whose available he is the right man to be captain, and I just hope that he gets better support from his teammates (c'mon Sol!) for the rest of this season.

Il-gooner, I see the main thing in the summer is to bring in players to freshen up the FIRST-TEAM, and not necessarily to discard our older players. I'm not ready to give up on Gilberto or Ljungberg just because they have had a bad few months.

2/16/2006 6:28 pm

Anonymous Nturtle said...

Well said fellas -

T - you are a brave fella supporting Gilberto...but then again...everyone was saying how we couldn't win WITHOUT him when he was injured over the last year...a huge turnaround in fan feelings...but who knows...maybe he can show his mettle at some point....but it better be soon. It is significant he has not been playing as first choice in the Brazil team I feel...

As for Eboue...good commentary. On ANR (I have to give credit where thoughts are not orginally my own!) a piece goes on to really point out that Adebayour, Toure and Eboue are three fiery characters that can motivate the team and energise us to do better. I don't know if they did so or not, but it shows that Eboue is doing well, and just in time as Lauren is away. Toure is also taking up more of Sol's responsibilites I think so that is a good sign, and as Redsman pointed out...Jens is really helping a lot to show his quality and pull everyone together.

Hopefully shoring up our defensive qualities will give more strength to the attack. Henry really needs to figure out how to motivate from the front...if Shevchenko can do it for AC Milan...there is no reason why he cannot do it for Arsenal.

My final thoughts are for seems like he is so frustrated when the TEAM doesn't play well. I like that as it shows that he is an ultimate TEAM player...what a lad! The key for me is that he shows his frustrations in TRYING HARDER...and not everyone can say they do that on the team. Good on ya son...just don't get burnt out pls...

2/17/2006 12:58 am

Blogger T said...

Well said too Nturtle..

My stance on Gilberto is that he is TRYING and as long as I see that in his game I have faith that he can turn things around.

Maybe I'm too loyal with Gilberto who I definitely have had a lot of appreciation for in past seasons- and it was clear that Pat missed him badly last year and I haven't forgotten that either.

I reckon he is fatigued and that is affecting his performances. Gil is the only first-teamer that Wenger has used in the carling cup as well as the champs league and the Premiership... and I think the toll of that alongside the burden of protecting an increasingly fragile defence and supporting inexperienced CM partners are mitigating factors to support our World Cup winner.

I'm happy he has a weekend off to take things easy and regroup- and expect to see him play a lot better at the Bernabeu than he did at Anfield.... where despite running his heart out made a lot of poor passes when he received the ball.

As for Cesc you are spot on! A strong image which first gave me this impression was when he was substituted in extra time away at Sheff Utd in the FA cup last year. The cameras showed the youngster sitting on the bench and he looked totally frustrated that he was now out of the game with the match still in the balance. That confirmed to me that he has a fighting and winning spirit. It's great that you've seen this too Nturtle... we can't BOTH be wrong!

2/17/2006 10:28 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

GunnerPete Says....'t' I do not know the correct way to start a debate on Elite, but can you think about finding a method in which AFC supporters online can actually have their views aired by the Arsenal Management? I think communication via Elite should be encouraged by AFC, and it would set a precedent in the UK.

As I see it, it is good that we (supporters ) can have our say, discuss problems & Ideas, but it is also very frustrating knowing that whatever we are concerned about is only 'preaching to the converted' ie; other worried Gunners.

A Prime example is the match against Real. Yes we are going into it without so many players it is almost a sick joke, and someone should be asking, how & why are injuries taking so long to mend this season? Also why are we hearing about so many foot injuries (are the players picking the boots for style & not safety)? Why are we reading about so many players getting re- injured in training ?

I for one want to know the real answers to these, and many strange tactical moves from Arsene that have very unsuccessful this season?

All in all, I believe that its time that clubs had to answer directly to the fans. Not every week, but on a regular basis. Its not too much to ask in this day & age, is it?

If it ever happens, I want to ask why are Toure & Eboue not being played in midfield, after so many failures this season? AW has shown his willingness to experiment ( or had no choice) at left back & centreback, why not where we need it most?

Tonights match should be the very occasion to put out a side with power and guile, not the usual bunch of divers etc.

If their is another part of the website you would rather me write to please say so. Regards

2/21/2006 10:12 am


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