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By Gordon Breen
After doing my usual morning routine of reading most of the many Arsenal blogs we have available to us, Arsenal Station mentioned that Koeman after the AZ game was really impressed with our team but still said we lack experience. This is the team that reached a champions league semi final last year wasnt it Ronald? That irked me a bit (maybe also due to the fact that we've had such a poor record against his teams due to his negative tactics!!) so I decided to watch the highlights of our champions league semi final 2nd leg against the scum last year!! After which I decided after years of reading blogs and articles I might as well submit my own opinion!
I was at that CL 2nd leg game and been honest I couldn't bring myself to watch the match or highlights again till now. Now don't get me wrong, Man United were by far the better team than us over the 2 legs but what I noticed is how weaker united are now without Ronaldo who was outstanding in the 2nd leg. But even more importantly I noticed...how better we are currently than that team we fielded that night! We'd no Gallas, Vermalen, Clichy, Arshavin, Rosicky & Eduardo. We're also down on that "player whom we do not speak of" who wore 25 on the night who was practically a statue over the 2 legs (bar when he wandered offside!).
So it brings me to the present time! At the moment we look pretty darn good lads. However football is a very very harsh sport especially with the media as we all know to well! Look at the way the media, pundits & some Arsenal fans dare I say have protrayed us so far this season. At the start we were given no chance because we sold Kolo, the "player whom we do not speak of" & only bought a midget of a center back for 10 mil! After few wins we were getting back some of them started to believe again, then suddenly after the Manchester blips we lacked experience, strength and all that usual bull even though us real Arsenal fans saw we outplayed united and were incredibly unlucky again Money City with some ref decisions. Now allot of these media critics and pundits are jumping on our "great team bandwagon" again!
There is no shadow of a doubt we ARE a better team than last season and I actually believe we're a better team than the one we had when we so nearly won the league couple of seasons ago until the Eduardo injury etc.
Number of reasons, a major one I reckon is our center back pairing. Yes we haven't kept that many clean sheets but look at this, 4 of those games in which we havent kept a clean sheet we've won by 3 or more goals! The main improvement of our center back pairing is Vermalen, simply because he wins most of his headers! I always thought this was a given with at least one of the 2 center backs had to win most of the headers. This was where Kolo and Gallas weren't that a good pairing as they weren't that dominant in the air and didnt attack allot of balls, a team needs someone to attack all headers and generally be aggressive in the challenge. Prime example of this is Vidic who has been a revelation for United! Kolo looked a great player seasons back because had Sol Campbell beside him doing what Vermalen is doing now with Gallas. So it let Kolo to read any ball behind Campbell and generally look after the pacey forward, which is similar to what Vermalen and Gallas are doing now. Gallas has also improved majorly for us since the captaincy loss. Another thing of the center backs is that Gallas and Toure didn't get on, in this position communication is of the most important of any other position so when two guys dont get on that cant be good no matter how professional they are!
Now onto our new formation. This suits our players to a tee especially in our 3 most gifted players cases..ie Cesc, RVP & Arshavin. It utilizes RVPs great touch in amongst being in the middle on his own, it helps Arshavin in not having to do as much tracking back (lets be honest lads he's no Ray Parlour when it comes to work ethic) and it finally brings Cesc further forward knowing he has generally Diaby and Song behind and dictate in the final 3rd and score goals! When these 3 combine along with our other great footballers this is a joy.
The improvement of Song. Around March or April last season someone must have caught a hold of Song and just gave him a stern talking to ala what Tony Adams told Dennis Bergkamp at the start of our title winning season years back! From this season he has continued that improvement and has been really disciplined regards holding that "anchor role" so well and pressing the ball where and when needed. Lets be honest, as all of the rest of the midfielders and forwards have so much more freedom than Song so he must find it hard to not join in in the "fun" that he watches ahead of him! Even when Diaby isnt supposed to be pushing forward (rem Arsene's reaction against Spurs!) Diaby finds it hard not to, which is something he will need to improve on though! The physical strenght of Song is awesome, his has superior upper body strenght and uses that really well in holding the ball and getting it back.
So as I come to the end of this long article, how do I see our season shaping? Yes I do think we will win a trophy. However I think it lies heavily on the fitness of major part of the back bone of our side...Gallas-Vermalen-Song! Now I can already hear the cries of dont you mean Cesc-RVP-Arshavin?? I think we can all agree those are our 6 bestmost important players. The 3 magicians are our most gifted etc I know. No team could be without more than 2 of any of them at a time for a long period but if Cesc-RVP-Arshavin are injured for small periods we've the likes of Nasri, Eduardo, Rosicky, Wallcott, Bendtner to fill in. Whereas on the other hand we dont have that luxury of quality to replace Gallas-Vermalen-Song.
Lets keep the faith guys, there will be more blips to this season but I honestly do think will come good in the end. We've had such bad luck in vital gamesparts of the season in last 3-4 seasons regards decisions and injuries so we are due some luck again which does really help!
Mean Lean's Response
Good on ya Gordon, and I pretty much echo everything you have said in the above article. Firstly apologies for putting your very well written article up late, moving house plus struggling with the dreaded man flu has set me back a few weeks.
I commend you for having the guts and strength to re watch the second leg defeat against Manchester United, just the thought of putting that back on sends shivers down my spine but come the end of the season I will be ready once we destroy all in front of us during this campaign.
The fact that we were missing so many important first team members appears to be lost by many pundits and even our own supporters. If Manchester United were missing the equivalent players in that game then we would have been the ones to face Barcelona in the final, I am very confident about that.
The difference this year is many things, as you rightly pointed out. The departure of our old players as well as the reshuffle of the formation that has suited our players has been a massive help but one thing that many discard is the fact that we have had a normal injury list. The type of injury list that Manchester United for example have been used to for so long. One player is out for two weeks, another comes back in. One player has a knock and the second in line slots in without much problem.
Over the last few years we have had three or four injuries in the same position for weeks on end, then that area sorts itself out and then another part of the pitch gets infected with the dreaded injury problem.
We haven't all of a sudden got a massive squad and last season had a wafer thin selection to choose from. I repeated myself over and over again last year, saying ..if we had a full squad we would look like this..
In my eyes I couldn't see anything but quality with what I saw in front of me. Thomas Vermaelen has been unbelievable this season, could another central defender come in and slot in as easily? I doubt it, and we have to give praise to Wenger and his staff for that find. It is this that sets us apart from many out there who will only go for the well known, expensive players. And yes, I am looking at Spurs who have spent insane amounts of money over the last few years. I digress. I too think that we are in better shape than our last title challenge year and I would go as far as to say that this is our best ever squad under Arsene Wenger. Call me controversial (and I will tell you that my name is something else) but in my very red and white eyes, I have never seen a squad so full of talent.
I can think of certain first eleven's that could well be stronger at least in that era but as a whole this is the best and one that for me has a very good chance of winning the premier league and or the champions league.
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