Fans On Song, Improving The Fringe.

I went to Old Trafford on Saturday, filled with hope and nerves. I knew from the offset that we had the capacity, the skill and the ability to beat those bastards into the ground. This season we’ve shown that we can beat a jinx, Barca at home, Chelsea at home – games where Arsenal stepped up and showed they could win regardless of how.

But I also knew that this is a team that can be wasteful. This is a team that can conspire against itself, make mistakes and hand chances to the opposition on a plate, without making them work particular had for it. This is a team that has every ability to turn up and lose against anyone.

The fans were fantastic – singing from start to finish, although admittedly we all went a bit quiet when they scored the sucker punch after half time. It never fails to amaze me how vocal the away support is, and yet the home support just sit and watch like a movie from 1902 – no sound. The away fans were fantastic, plenty of stick and some great singing, a credit to the club. More so than the supposed ‘captain’ Robin Van Persie who just fucked off straight down the tunnel. I get it, he was unhappy, we were all frustrated, but he’s the captain. Samir Nasri and Jack Wilshere came all the way across the pitch to applaud the away support, most of the players at least clapped. But the captain, the person in charge of the team on the pitch, just walked off. To be fair it summed up his day, head down/sulk on. Unfit or not, no player should shoulder the responsibility of the captaincy if they’re going to set an example like that. The one player who put in a captains performance, both during and after the game was the 18 year old new boy. It’s simply not good enough from a senior member of the team.

In the last day or two something I’ve read elsewhere and heard from fellow Gooner’s is the oft cited:

Look at our injuries! No other team could cope like we have!

And United proved that wrong at the weekend. A combination of a thin squad, injuries (Ferdinand, Nani, Valencia just returning etc) and resting players for the mid-week Champions league game (Scholes, Giggs, Fletcher, Carrick, Berbatov) meant United lined up with 7 defenders. Seven. Playing the Brillo headed chuckle brothers on the fucking wings, whilst Wes Brown dicks about as a full back was/is/will never again be a 1st choice starter. And yet they beat an Arsenal team missing only Walcott, Fabregas and Song (you can’t even count Verm anymore, so long is it since he played). United’s ‘fringe’ fringe beat our mostly full strength team convincingly.

Other teams can and do manage without key players. It’s not always pretty, but they do – certainly ‘big’ teams still win key games. Or draw, sometimes they draw, but they don’t throw it down the fucking drain, lose, and then blame injuries. They just get on with it.

I was chatting with Dev yesterday – one thing is clear, the more competitions you are in, the more injuries and suspensions you will suffer purely on the number of games you must play. Our campaign this year has been hindered by the fringe players unwillingness or inability to perform against lower opposition. That we have had to throw Fabregas on in two legs against Leeds or play key players against Huddersfield and Leyton Orient has meant those key players, who could have been rested entirely have played more games. That only exacerbates the effect of many competitions.

But we have to ask ourselves – do we want to duck out of those competitions early, do we want to concede our chances of silverware? Do we want to avoid games like those in the San Siro, beating Barca at home or knocking Real Madrid out of Europe? Or do we want to keep those games? If we do, then we need to stop whining about injuries. Injuries happen, and teams like Arsenal should be good enough to absorb the impact – it certainly shouldn’t mean we start losing games and it isn’t a good enough excuse.

As I’ve mentioned our fringe isn’t good enough at times. I’ve defended our players, both on this blog and elsewhere. If you follow me on Twitter (@kieran_Delaney) you might have read mine and Dev’s conversation yesterday – some players have not improved in the past few years at all. Denilson hasn’t improved in the last 3-4 years. Diaby (even making allowances for injuries) has not improved in the last 3-4 years. Bendtner has not improved in the last 3-4 years. I don’t mind players making mistakes, or having bad games, as long as they improve and learn from them. Diaby is still conceding possession needlessly as often as he did 4 years ago. Denilson’s positioning has not improved in the last 4 years at all. Bentdner has the worst 1st touch in the squad, and that has not improved for years. These players have limitations that they have not overcome and that is where a large source of my personal frustration lies. They make the same mistakes repeatedly and if they cannot remove them from their game, it’s time to move on.

Compare and contrast that to Walcott who has addressed his problems well – he’s not perfect but he’s already ironed out a lot of the issues in his game. Samir Nasri, this season in particular has stepped forward again, Djourou has become so indispensable that his shoulder injury at the weekend is a bigger blow that most other injuries. These are players who have all made mistakes but who have learned from them. These are players that are still improving. These are players who you struggle to remain angry with after a mistake because you know it will have a positive impact.

Finally, we have some outstanding talent on loan currently – Lansbury and Bartley just two that appear to be making a big impact. Those players are currently improving massively whilst out on loan and you can only hope those players return to Arsenal and take any chances that are handed to them – that they take the Jack Wilshere route to the 1st team rather than the Carlos Vela route to West Brom.

Until we cut loose the players who have stalled in their careers and replace them with the players we have who show the desire to go out and fight for Sheffield United, Norwich and Rangers we will consistently struggle with injuries – the players we have replaced our injured with this season have not been always been good enough.

Arsenal have an excellent first 11. We have our faults, our inability to get behind defensive teams for example and our inability to beat the keeper when shooting, but these are problems that can be ironed out over time. What worries me is the pool of players beneath.

  • Jamie

    Excellent blog and some very good points made. I agree that players such as NB, Denilson and Diaby have not improved and the more you sit and think about it the more it becomes apparent. Diaby has plenty of talent with little application and Denilson is our only cover for Song so he is guaranteed to play games. We need a replacement for Song and until we get that you will continue to see Denilson playing. I thought Gibbs was poor at the weekend and he seems to have lost a lot of confidence that he was playing with prior to injury. RVP didn’t look fit at all but Wenger obviously felt a half fit RVP was better than a fit Bendtner and Chamakh which really underlines the point about our back up. As much as I hate them, Rooney Berbatov and Hernandez are simply far easily interchangeable than our top 3 strikers with all 3 scoring when they play. I do however believe we can win the league and we won’t have a better chance. We need a couple of players to drag this team by the scruff of the neck and become leaders. We need RVP, Cesc and Nasri to be playing at there full potential going forward and defensively we need to eliminate these inevitable opportunities we give teams in each game. We can do it and I honestly believe even with the injuries we can lift a trophy at the end of the season. I would though like to see Wenger make some much needed changes in the summer….

  • jumshed

    But will wenger ever get rid of these players? NO. Until he goes the same crap will keep happening agaian and again. Next season we will be fed the same pack of lies and on we go again

  • Davidinlondon

    a team of third rate goalkeepers, french legion of no good deep defenders, a midfield of such mediocres diaby, denilson, rosikcy, song and a lightweight attack no doubt arsenal is out of three competitions in ten days. on top of that most of the players are injury prone due to their light frames and body and do not last the entire season. And not the least arsene has no strategy and plan b as it was shown against birmingham, barca and manu. With the present squad decimated by injuries and lack of quality especially upfront I am resigned to another trophy less season with arsene as usual giving all sorts of excuses and promising a better next season. with ces unsettled and hardly fit it will be better to offload him along a dozen others and built the team around nasri and wilshere with induction of a world class keeper, two bullying type central defenders, at least one combative midfielder in the mould of vieria and one muscular cf willing to take head on opposing defenders like drogba. Unless it is done next season could be even worse.

  • Sharad

    @KD – I pretty much agree with. I think Denilson has actually gone backwards. Diaby can still have the odd brilliant game and I still have hopes for him. Bendtner also has the raw tools to become a very good player indeed. But as you say, it is probably more of a mentality issue. I believe, irrespective of where the title ends up, there will be some changes at Arsenal. Much of the deadwood will be cleared.

    But I think, if you look at it more objectively, then Wenger couldn’t have done much more. The squad we have is deep enough, We know that these players have quality. Even Denilson has shown that in the past. But for whatever reason they aren’t performing. Nasri and Walcott have stepped up a level. These players haven’t, and I think as a result, some of them will be shown the exit. Also, what’ll strengthen our hand in that regard is that we’ll have a number of youngsters coming through our ranks. meaning that we do not have to go out and buy out of desperation to replace the players we let go. I dont think we had that option at the start of this season. So I dont think Wenger has stuck by certain players only out of a sense of obstinacy or obligation towards them. He put his faith in them because they COULD have come good, and it wasn’t the right time to get rid of them anyway.

    Oh and as regards injuries, yes we should be able to cope with them, but not all of the injuries are ones that can be legislated for from before. Plus, its again down to certain squad players not stepping up their game when needed.

  • edison

    its a strange position we and arsenal find ourselves in around this time of the season.

    in comparison with last season (finishing 3rd) , and even the one before (finishing 4th), we currently are sitting in 2nd place… in a no worse position than last season.

    Like last season we lost out to barca – even though this time we beat them at home. we are out of the fa cup in the quarter final, and of course out of the carling cup too. Okay , we managed to lose in the final – but on face value, we havent lost any ground on last season.

    in fact we have improved.

    The way the squad has dealt with injuries this season has been impressive. djourou has come into his own, would vermaelen have done a better job ? its hard to say.

    Chamkah covered well until Van Persie returned.
    Nasri and Wilshere have shared the Cesc role when he wasnt available.

    and we find ourselves sitting in 2nd place with a game in hand. we should be pleased with ourselves ! what a position to be in.

    However we should have claimed a lot more from our opportunities. we all know wenger needs to rid the squad of the lack-lustre players who havent improved, but can any one see him doing it in the space of the summer transfer window?

  • Fo

    Great Article Kieran – In fact, I think Bendtner, Diaby and Denilson have actually regressed!!!

  • Kodjo

    Excellent article…Kieran

    I think the Diaby, Rosicky, Deni, B52 should move on I have supported an stood by these players on so many occasions…i cant do that naymore given sarurday’s limp performance….there are far more hungrier players who i believe show more passion day in day out and deserve a chnace in the team. Frimpong when fit, Bartley, Lansbury, JET, Miyachi should be given a chance.

  • JDD

    does anyone else think that we should revert back to 4-4-2 rather han the 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 we are playing now?

    we havent really had any succes (in terms of trophies) with this formation where as the 4-4-2 is tried and tested.our best sides under wenger have been 4-4-2

    seaman
    winterburn bould adams dixon
    parlour petit vieira overmars
    bergkamp wright

    seaman
    cole campbell adams dixon
    pires parlour vieira ljunbgberg
    henry bergkamp

    lehmann
    cole campbell toure lauren
    pires gilberto vieira ljungberg
    henry bergkamp

    all of our trophy winning sides under wenger have used the 4-4-2 formation.i know we have to changed the new 4-3-3 formation to become more attacking and to fit in our personal but i feel moving back to 4-4-2 would be beneficial to the team.with the players we have now we could line up with

    szcesny
    clichy vermaelen djourou sagna
    nasri song wilshere walcott
    van persie chamakh

    i also think it would allow other players to perform better for example tomas rociky.when he first joined us he played on right or left of a four man midfield and was playing very well.now he has to play in the centre behind the striker where i feel he doesnt have the strenght or control to succeed in the prem or on the wing where he doesnt have enough pace.howevere if we were to play him on the left of a 4 man midfield i think he would cause the opposition many problem cutting in as pires or ljungberg used to do.we all know he has good passing and long range shooting ability.

    also i hear jens lehmannmay be called out of retirement to sort out our current goal keeping crisis.i hope this happens as he is a great goaly and knows what it takes to win the prem.

  • Kodjo

    @ JDD

    The problem with reverting to the 4-4-2 is that we’d be too weak and vulnerable as the likes of walcott, wilshere & nasri cannot defend as well as pires(excepted) gilberto vieira ljungberg.

    The defensive plan with this grup of players is that as long as we keep possession our opponents cannot hurt us. Even though the current players are small in stature they make up for that by speed of passing and thought…as such you might bully them players for a while but craft will prevail when they move into the right spaces on the field. Also, when the team knows when to slow the game down, keep possession, press the opposition to win possession back and attack. It is fine balance which requires intelligent players all round…ala…barca. This also requires exceptional conditioning.

    So far only barca have been successful with this system in the modern era. The antidote for this system is to have equally intelligent defenders and midfielders who concede possession in the right places….i.e. deliberately give the ball away in certain areas of the field. Mourinho employed it with Inter last season and ManUtd have employed it succesfully in the last 3 seasons against us.

    Hopefully the introduction of Frimpong, Henderson, Lansbury will provide options to our game plan.

    To answer your question, you need 2 solid “defensive” but versatile midfielders to play 4-4-2. Currently, we only have Song. Diaby & Deni have proved to be short in this capacity.

  • edison

    4-4-2 would be a bit of a regression i think. it may have suited 5 years ago, but the style of football the team plays now is beyond such structure.

    We are not far off nailing the 4-3-3 (4-2-3-1) formation as it is, with only inexperience letting the side down.

    Not sure that i will place too much faith in Frimpong, Bartley, Lansbury, JET and Miyachi just yet.

    But they certainly should get the opportunity to prove themselves. Especially Frimpong, who should be straight in the squad if Alex Song isnt available.

  • Kodjo

    I think 1 important piece missing esp in attack is a rough and tumble striker…ala Drogba who is ready to mix it up when the going gets tough or when space is denied.

    Reason being with all of RVP’s excellence he is fundamentally not a hussler. In tight games like last saturdays, i think a good hussler would have made a difference… in your face type…ready to scrap and go where it hurts. Our current strike force is largely based on speed, touch, movement and technique.

    Without putting too much emphasis on what Drogba does..i saw him unsettle the ManUtd defence as soon as he came on….Lampard & Zerkhov could play off him and get to knock downs. Whereas the Chelsea attack was blunt for the most part prior to his introduction.

  • JDD

    i disagree that we would ne vunerable.wilshere and song are both fighters and would dominate most games in the middle of the park.as for the striker situation i agree that we need a beast of a striker up front along side van persie.with the money we got from cesc (who i feel will go in the summer and i hope he does as he didnt look commited against barca) wenger should be able to buy someone-maybe benzema or lukaku.we could also invest in a warrior centre half and a winger.

  • yemi

    @ Kodjo:
    Howdy my brova !!! been a while, surprised to see you against diaby for once. In all honesty, we all know diaby is a skillfull player but common, your skill should boost the attack not kill it. In saturdays game, i notice that our midfield wa so myopic. There were more than 5 occassions i could recall that arshavin was in acres of space on the left but nobody was distributing to that side of the pitch. Even when gibbs had the ball, he’d rather cut in or make runs than give the ball to arshavin and the few passes that came to him came at the times when he was closed down.
    Diaby has his advantages when you want to slow down a game but PLEASE not when you need to play counter attacking football.
    I kinda remember one of the games against man u last season, rooney got the ball in man u half of the field, spread it to the right and still made it to the box in time to score the goal. That is what i call counter attacking…..

  • yemi

    @ JDD:
    Is Benzema that beast of a sriker? i think we just need to look over the fence to bolton and see what Davies does for them, that is the kind of striker we need or even stoke sub striker (whats his name again ?, or jason roberts Someone who can unsettle defense lines !!! We need those KIND of guys. Most teams seems to have one. from carew, to davies, to roberts, to carrol, zigic, to carlton cole, harewood, bent, jones, drogba, zamora, fuller and the list goes on and on !!!

  • yemi

    * even stoke sub striker (whats his name again ? Fuller, Ricardo