After waking up half an hour late (4:45 AM kickoff for us West Coast Gooners), I thought I was still dreaming and having a nightmare at that. How were Norwich 2-1 up against us at the Grove? While the ineptitude of Sp*rs and the City win today is a huge reprieve, yesterday’s result still rankles undigested in my mind. I won’t recap the game here since you’ve probably seen it (and if you haven’t, I would recommend skipping the highlights). Suffice to say, it was one of most frustrating performances I’ve seen in the past six months. It seems that all our hard work in clawing back from 17th had been forgotten, particularly that part of the game where you try to get the ball back from the opposition. What’s it called again? Oh yeah, defense.
Clueless in Midfield and Verminator’s San Siro Encore
As much as I love Vermaelen as a center-back, he does go forward way too often. Given Norwich were playing were playing with a front three, Vermaelen’s forays were completely responsible. He left Kieran Gibbs and Koscielny to deputize in the huge space he left behind. When we’re playing against a big burly English forward like Grant Holt, we need our strongest center back on our 20 yard line not the opposition’s.
Vermalen’s poor decision-making was compounded by the ineptitude of Song and Ramsey. While Ramsey may be a future star, it’s clear that he can’t play as a deep lying midfielder (the “Arteta” role) or as a box-to-box midfielder. Both positions require the player to put in a shift at defense. On the second Norwich goal, you could see Ramsey and Song jogging back on defense. First of all, what were our two holding midfielders doing that far up the field and more importantly, why were they not busting a lung to get back and help on defense? I’ve seen more effort from the overweight guys on Sunday matches at the local park to get back. I don’t blame Wenger for going mental on a water bottle after watching Ramsey and Song’s “defending.”
While a casual perusal of Arsenal forums will show how Ramsey has become the new lightning rod for criticism ever since Arshavin went out on loan, I’ve been a defender of Ramsey all this season. I appreciated his efforts tracking back after having made a mistake. I’ve also overlooked some of his errant passes but there was no excuse for the shift he put in yesterday.
Lastly, there seemed to be no understanding whatsoever between Ramsey and Song. With Arteta in the squad, there seems to be a mutual understanding that when one went forward, the other would stay back. Seriously, can’t Ramsey and Song have worked out something between them? The result of Song, Ramsey, and Vermaelen all having a bad game was that we were subject to numerous counterattacks. The fact that Ox’s offensive threat offered a better form of defense than Ramsey is absolutely damning. One of my mates suggested that we should play Coquelin next Sunday instead of Ramsey. Given that Song has lost his taste for defending, Coquelin may not be a bad choice. My only qualm is that Coquelin’s passing is not quite up to snuff to play in that role.
We have played 8 games this season without Arteta and we have yet to win (W0D4L4). Usually players gets plaudits for scoring goals or doing something spectacular like a last ditch challenge or a lob assist over the top. However, every Arsenal fan is appreciating Arteta’s qualities more and more. Areta is our metronome, slowing the game down, injecting pace into attack, passing it around, and in general giving us our rhythm. We look erratic without him. He’s also an incredibly intelligent player, dropping back to defend when Song goes forward. It’s obviously a skill that is not easy to master (see Wigan, QPR, and now Norwich for examples).
City are most likely this year Premier League champions. I would argue that it is not simply pure talent that has helped them win the league, it’s their squad depth. Couple with domestic cups (FA and Carling) and Champions League/Europa League matches, the average season for a title contender can easily last over 50 games. This amounts to two games a week on average. It’s inevitable that players get tired or they have off days. Moneybags Man City’s depth allows them squad competition and rotation. When Tevez acts like an idiot, Balotelli can come on and vice versa. More importantly, squad competition keeps players on their toes knowing that a few poor performances will lead to them losing a starting position.
Due to the events of last summer, Arsenal lacked any real depth this year. We really have no real competition or replacement for Van Persie, Song, and even Arteta. If we had an M’Vila at the club, Song would think twice about forsaking his defensive responsibilities. It’s clear that our players are burnt out and that with real depth in the squad, we would at least have options coming off the bench to rectify the current lull we are in. The same lack of depth is what ruined Man United with Fergie having to ask Paul Scholes to come out of retirement.
Help Wanted: Tresquatrista, Defensive Midfielder, Backup Goalie
It’s clear that we still haven’t found a long term replacement for Fabregas and Nasri. While Rosicky has been a revelation playing in the attacking midfielder role, he’s getting old and can’t be depended on to play every single game. Meanwhile, Diaby still hasn’t regained a consistent level of fitness and Ramsey is absolutely frustrating at the moment. A tresquatrista (an attacking midfielder playing behind the striker) is needed and I’m a bit surprised we haven’t been linked in the gossip rags with one yet.
We also need a backup for Alex Song and Mikel Arteta. I’m not surprised that we’ve been linked with M’Vila and Vertonghen, two players who could play that holding midfield role.
A backup goalie will also be needed as Almunia will be leaving this summer on a free transfer while Fabianski wants to get more first team action.
The signing for Lukas Poldoski has been a massive boost for the fans. He’s the perfect signing as he’s an extremely versatile player. Arsene can put him on the left, play him alongside Van Persie or put RVP in the hole behind him.
All this talk, however, can wait until after next Sunday. While we certainly don’t deserve it, Sp*rs have conspired to give us another chance to finish third against West Brom. We can’t afford to throw away this opportunity. Come on you Gooners!