Archive for September, 2014

August 31st, 2011; Just three days after being humiliated by Manchester United 8-2 at Old Trafford, fielding a team that included Traore, Coquelin, Jenkinson, Djourou and Miquel, Özyakup, Lansbury and Sunu on the bench, Arsenal went on a Transfer Deadline Day spending spree that saw the likes of Arteta, Mertesacker, Santos and Benayoun join the club.

It was a busy summer that saw a lot of movement in and out of the club. Short term it was a step backwards, but could yet be looked upon as a turning point to better times, but I digress.

The departures that summer were big names like Cesc and Nasri and lesser names such as Clichy, Eboue and Traore. The arrivals were Jenkinson, Gervinho, Chamberlain, Park, Toral, Bellerin, Olsson, Gnabry, Campbell, Eisfeld to add to the names mentioned earlier. It was definitely a turbulent time.

I want to focus on two players that Arsenal acquired that summer and that are under scrutiny by pundits and supporters alike – Mertesacker and Arteta.

There are a multitude of positives that these two have in common. Character, professionalism, experience, an ability to “read the game”, and most importantly, what was so desperately needed at that time, in conjunction with all previously mentioned, leadership ability.

The short journey for both players has been a bit different but for me, they are both at the same point in their careers and exhibiting the same weaknesses. Let’s break it down by player.

Arteta:

Arteta isn’t a DM, holding midfielder, etc. , whatever you want to call it. That’s just a fact. He played a more forward position at Everton and was in fact a play-maker and sometimes scorer. Upon his move to Arsenal, where he took less money to play in bigger matches with a bigger club, he also took on, at 29, a more defensive role. He did it as best as could be expected given the age at which he switched positions, the demands of the position given the style of system he was thrust upon, the upheaval in personnel he had to endure and the pressure all of that entailed. In summary, the man sacrificed what was left of his career to go to a bigger club and do what they needed him to do to get on the pitch and contribute. It was utterly professional – selfless even; A rarity in sports.

http%3A%2F%2F41.media.tumblr.com%2Fdc7d580526f74740f030f1359084f4eb%2Ftumblr_mqws8h2pGR1qfj1xoo6_1280

For the first 18 months, he was AN answer, just not THE answer at the position. For the last 18 months, it has been rocky, to say the least. The issue with Mikel is simple; Playing deeper, in the position he was/is asked to play, he’s being tasked with covering the back four, particularly the CB’s who are left exposed by the attacking FB’s, against players much faster and stronger than him. With his diminishing physical abilities (most noticeably pace), he simply isn’t able to do this task effectively. It was admirable to watch in the first half of his Arsenal career, the effort, the organization, the leadership, all on display, that helped us grind out results. His experience and ability to read the game allowed him to be relatively effective against most teams (top clubs excluded) and his clear passing talent allowed for some opportunities in the attacking end. It was a “bend don’t break” approach and it was OK given the transitional nature of the period. It isn’t what is needed now however, with the talent acquired by Arsenal these last few years.

Midway, since his arrival, whether it be age, the physical toll of the position or simply that the opposition knew they could – Arteta has been overrun in midfield. Where as before it was by more talented opposition, the deterioration of his physical abilities has allowed for less adroit teams to take advantage and run roughshod over the Arsenal midfield. Long story short? Arteta is getting old, is slower and has less of a motor. He was never meant to be the complete answer at that position but has been plugged in to stop a leak, but now the damn has broken – the water found a way through as it always does.

This isn’t new news, it’s been easy to see for quite some time. What was at one point admirable, is now cringe-worthy most times. There is a reason why in the last two summers there has been SOME effort to replenish the ranks at that position. I say some effort because if there was ABSOLUTE effort it would have been accomplished. Arteta can’t help getting older, getting slower and being played there despite obvious flaws for the position.

http%3A%2F%2F33.media.tumblr.com%2F5353d6791f43d29592347d46f694a66f%2Ftumblr_mxijuonqu11sva2fko1_250

Mertesacker:

Mertesacker had a bit of a tough transitional period after his move. The rigours of life in the EPL are immense to deal with and it showed with the big German. He was even confused by pundits with Metzelder who briefly played for Real Madrid; what’s in a name ey? Slowly but surely, he became (still is) a fixture in the side. Like Arteta, Per is a true professional that embodies all that is right in sport. Just like Arteta, Mertesacker is not exactly blessed with physical prowess, although he’s a tower of a man. Despite this, he was able to use his vast experience to be at the right place, at the right time – most times.

The similarities of the decline of their physical attributes is especially intriguing given that both arrived at the same time.

http%3A%2F%2F36.media.tumblr.com%2F0fb5cfceb93ab6c55e9c41f182f4bf43%2Ftumblr_mqws8h2pGR1qfj1xoo3_1280

Mertesacker is a mountain of a man, but funnily enough doesn’t use that to his advantage. He is a more technical player that uses positioning to ward off attacks. Since day one, where he has struggled has been his lack of pace and power. More physical forwards can out-muscle him and more pacey forwards can outrun him. Players that possess both attributes absolutely destroy him – Lukaku for example.

Although the above scenarios do occur, they have been offset by the dynamic pairing with Koscielny and were limited to exceptions rather than norm as the pair became better acquainted. Experience and great positioning coupled with physicality and grit – A great duo.

Yet, I am concerned with the deterioration of Mertesacker’s decision-making and positional awareness versus attackers that have one or both of the attributes mentioned before. Simply put, whereas Arteta’s decline can be attributed to physical limitations, Per’s is more mental. That’s not to say Per hasn’t “lost a step”, but never being fleet of foot before, the decline there is minimal and surely can be compensated for. The mistakes where Per misreads match situations have gone up considerably over the last months of last season and into this year. As an example, there has been much praise for Debuchy on his arrival, due to his “sweeping up” of play – coming behind attackers to dispossess them or make the final tackle to save the defence. Although some of that was with Chambers beside him at CB, some of it was also with Per there, that’s never a good sign when coming from one of Arsenal’s most experienced players.

There have been times during this period (end of last year – beginning of this year) where replays show Per knows where he needs to be and is unable to get there or something out of the ordinary happens; a fall, an off-side trap poorly executed, etc. There are also times where he is just physically outdone. Such was the case of Lukaku’s goal a couple of weeks back where, although fouled, the BFG was simply tossed aside. Is it rust? Is it a player in decline and if so, is the decline mental or physical?

Better yet, is any of this fixable?

Remember, we’re talking about Arsenal’s captain and vice-captain here, as well as a major portion of the spine of the team!

http%3A%2F%2F33.media.tumblr.com%2F26bbc92590fe0a02cde28304956169b1%2Ftumblr_mwqyfiNfiv1sva2fko1_250

What does this all mean?

So, after giving my take, and in the end that’s all it is, what does this all mean?

I have been waiting for Arsenal to get a proper holding midfielder for the last 6 years. It has cost the team time and again. There is a need for a player with technique, power and pace to compliment the creative talent in the side. There are players available, the funds (also available) have to be spent to acquire one!

For this position, Arteta isn’t going to suddenly get faster, stronger, meaner, etc. The physical attributes will continue to deteriorate. He is 32 going on 40. I like Arteta, I really do. I have said it time and again. He can be a squad player, he can continue to guide younger players, he is a great leader and a wonderful professional. He just shouldn’t be Arsenal’s main choice for holding midfielder. The solution is clear and has been for some time – Arsenal need to sign a holding midfielder!

For Per, I have a lasting hope that he can improve on his present form. The BFG just needs to be more aware of his surroundings and adjust for the opposition faced. There needs to be better communication across that back four and the team in general. The mistakes have gone up, yet hopefully can be curtailed as the season progresses and the partnerships with new players grow. The need for Arsenal to address proper CB cover is still an issue with or without Per’s issues or improvement.

http%3A%2F%2F31.media.tumblr.com%2Feb0020f08429d3dab515038894b4ad54%2Ftumblr_n57koxt73z1sva2fko3_500

Football is a funny game. Nothing happens as you think it might. On that August in 2011 when Arsenal went “bargain shopping” as some called it, to fix the many issues at the time, the club ended up with these two players that brought stability, professionalism, pride, work ethic and class when it was sorely needed and missing. They have been the embodiment of professionalism ever since and I don’t think you could find anyone associated with the club that could speak ill of either player.

But this is sport, sentimentality is in short supply. Football teams and players are in the business of entertainment, results, and money. Will Arsenal do what they must to take that next step? Or will we as supporters be having these same discussions next September? Questions about how the summer was a missed opportunity to get on even footing with the elite? Time will tell.

For me, it’s clear what needs to happen as I’m sure it is with you. Will it happen is another thing altogether. Those decisions are left to those that know better than us.

They do, you know – “know better than us”, that’s what’s so frustrating.

Up the Arsenal!

http%3A%2F%2F41.media.tumblr.com%2Ff10bdbc59c283499c1a1b3a225546c3b%2Ftumblr_n94a1wkhsl1qdb34jo1_400

Advertisements