How great a feeling was that? Lifting some silverware, and in front of our own fans too! Yes it was only a pre-season tournament, and yes the teams we played were far from at full strength, but there is nothing better than a trophy to instil a winning mentality into the players, especially the younger ones. Loved the way how Armand Traore celebrated it! In the last two seasons, our young lads have suffered the heartbreak of defeat in the Champions League and Carling Cup finals. Don’t forget both losses came after we had gone 1-0 up, making them even more gut-wrenching. So hopefully they have somewhat broken any potential curse that was hanging over them, kinda like the one we were suffering from in between the Doubles of 1998 and 2002, during which we lost the UEFA Cup and FA Cup finals (the latter once again after having taken the lead and the former on penalties – we don’t half serve up some drama for the fans!)
The players put in a fantastic performance against Inter. And it wasn’t in patches either as we were on top for the vast majority of the game – proven by the statistic that the Italian champions only managed only one shot on target. However, that in itself is a worry as the curse of the Emirates struck again. Umpteen times we have dominated the play, and umpteen times our opponents have caught us cold with a sucker punch. The main difference on Sunday in my opinion was that we replied straightaway, leaving us enough time and momentum to go for the win. Last year we often equalised late on, leaving the players little time to grab a winner. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t have to come from behind so often anyway…
Which leads me to our centre-back pairing. I was at the game on Saturday and I have to say that big Phil Senderos looked excellent in the air, as far as I can remember not once did he get beaten aerially. Sure, he has his flaws on the floor (as Didier Drogba has made us all too well aware of), but he did manage to keep out the likes of Raul, Ronaldo, Trezeguet, Del Piero and Ibrahimovic in the run to the Champions League final so he is highly underrated on the deck. Yes he is prone to the odd ricket here and there, but it seems any mistake he makes is magnified upon and diagnosed as ‘Drogba Syndrome’. For the goal we conceded against Inter it was Willy Gallas who was out-jumped, which leads me to the question: will Arsene rotate his centre-back partnership depending on the opposition? Or will he persist with Toure/Gallas until they strike up an understanding? Also, if they don’t manage to gel, will he drop one or t’other? If so, how will their egos take it? Interesting times lie ahead for the centre of our defence, and I haven’t even mentioned the potential of Djourou either.
On the flanks, I would we say we are very well covered down the right. Sagna, Eboue or Hoyte can play at right-back, whilst Eboue himself, Walcott, Rosicky or Hleb (more on whom later) can play wide right in midfield. Sagna and Eboue linked up fantastically on Sunday. Eboue was a massive thorn in Inter’s side, ‘earning’ them 3 yellow cards. His dribbling was unpredictable and at high speed, his crossing none too shabby either. But the biggest thing was his link-up play with Sagna, especially his ability to spot the overlap. I had previously stated that Eboue was too one-dimensional to play on the right-wing and that he was too reactive and not proactive enough to play in midfield. He proved me wrong on Sunday, and long may it continue.
On the right we seem well endowed but it is a different story on the left, as we had to draft in the previously unheard of Kieran Gibbs (who by the way looked every inch a modern Arsenal player). This was down to the absence of Tommy Rosicky, and the curious decision to field Alex Hleb in a central role. In his Stuttgart days this was his natural position and he was very much an assist-meister back then. And how brilliantly he played on Sunday. He was at the centre of everything good about us, linking things between our central midfielders, wide men, and lone striker Robin with his clever passing and nifty dribbling. His finishing (or rather, his willingness to have a pop) was better too as he came up with our equaliser from his own rebounded effort.
Coincidentally this ‘no.10’ position is also Rosicky’s favoured one, so Le Boss has a bit of a tactical dilemma on his hands: the two players who were nominally our first choice wide midfielders last season are now better equipped to play in the middle. But where in the middle? In place of Cesc or Gilberto? No chance, they are the heartbeat of the team. Dropping off Robin or Ade? Possibly. But this may render either Eduardo or Bendtner completely useless in our squad as one of them would be fourth choice for a single striking role, especially Bendtner as he is the less versatile of the two (I gather Eduardo can play out wide).
In Europe where the play is more deliberate and patient, I feel there may be value in fielding either Rosicky or Hleb in this role in a 4-5-1/4-3-3. In fact both could play in the team (one in the middle, one out wide) and could rotate, their movement causing havoc for their markers. However in the Premiership, especially given our lack of goals last season, I think we need to play with two up top against most, if not all, teams. After seeing the link-up play down the right between Sagna and Eboue along with the sparkling pre-season form of Theo, it would be churlish not to have this penetrative option down the right. This leaves the left-midfield berth up for grabs for either Hleb or Rosicky. I remember in days gone by when people would suggest that away from home we shouldn’t play both Freddie and Pires, well I motion a similar case for Hleb and Rosicky if we are playing a 4-4-2. Last season with three conductors on the pitch (Cesc, Hleb and Rosicky) our play was beautiful to watch, at times successful too (4 goal drubbing of Reading away). But all too often things would get cramped, especially in the games where teams came to the Grove and park the bus. That is why on the wings I believe the way forward for us in the league is to field one speedster (Theo or Eboue) who can get past his man and to the byline to whip in a cross for our forwards, and one creator (Rosicky or Hleb) who can cut inside – thus creating space for the excellent Clichy to overlap – and either shoot or thread through a killer ball for the forwards. And they could switch flanks too, making our point of attack even more unpredictable.
Enough tactics from me though. What do you the Gooner public think? I’m off to Amsterdam with two chums to see the boys in action, hopefully we’ll see the returns of Ade, Rosicky, Theo and possibly Eduardo, thereby giving us even more options in the final third. Oh and I may even catch Jose Reyes in action. You know what they say: once a Gooner, always a Gooner! *note the sarcasm*
I’ll be back after the weekend’s shenanigans with an Amsterdam diary of sorts (assuming that I’m sober enough to remember much, hehe). Wouldn’t it be nice to keep the winning mentality going and do a pre-season Double? Here’s hoping!