Thursday, May 07, 2009

Dave Bartholomew: My Arsenal Rant

I hate that United only scored one decent goal and still won 4-1. I hate that we sat back in the first leg. I hate that Eduardo, Clichy, and Gallas were not able to play a part. I hate that John O’Shite scored. I hate Tommy Smyth.

That all said, United are better. They had Tevez and Berbatov on the bench. We had Bendtner and Eboue. They sit 12 points clear of us with a game in hand and we still have to play there and host Chelsea. The gap was only 4 last season, but last season we had Flamini and this season we had Denilson/Diaby/Song. Flamini was no Vieira, but he worked hard and protected the back four and was a perfect partner for Cesc. Last season we had Hleb and this season (pre-Arshavin) we often had Denilson/Diaby/Song/Eboue playing on the right or in the ‘hole’ behind the striker. Say what you want about the all-dribble-no-shot Belorussian, but he could play. I think he’s been replaced now with a better player, but until February and throughout the Cash Cup we’ve missed the kind of player who could break down a defense by playing quick one-twos with Cesc and RVP.

Last year Cesc Fabregas looked fresh, played in 32 league games and had 20 assists, this season he looked tired, played in 19 league games and had only 9 assists. Whether it was too many games and the injury, the lack of a ball winner alongside him, or the lack of a ‘creative’ Hleb type to play with…the captain was not the player we had in 07-08. Neither was Ade. He scored 30 goals in all competitions last season…making the loss of Thierry Henry bearable. This year he has put home only 16 and I don’t care if a few of them were world class, an Arsenal striker needs to be scoring more than 10 goals in the league. If RVP plays in two more league games he’ll break 25 league games for the first time since he arrived in London (26 games in 04-05). He has 19 goals this season which is decent, but for our best attacking player to be so injury prone is perhaps something we can’t afford. I love RVP and his best is probably still ahead (only 25) but he’s never scored more than 11 goals in the league before. The defense takes a lot of blame and yes Kolo and Gallas struggled to deal with set pieces at times. We’ve conceded more goals (32) already this season than we did last year (31). Still, I’m convinced that our situation at the back is not the most pressing issue. Would I like to have the cover that United and Chelsea do…sure…but Djourou, Silvestre, Gibbs, and Eboue are decent enough reserves. When Arsenal last won the title they conceded 36 but scored 87. I’m not saying we can’t improve, but honestly Gallas, Toure, Sagna, Clichy is pretty decent. It’s the other end. Check this:


1 Flag of PortugalCristiano Ronaldo Manchester United 17

2 Flag of FranceNicolas Anelka Chelsea 16

3 Flag of BrazilRobinho Manchester City 14

4 Flag of EnglandSteven Gerrard Liverpool 13

Flag of SpainFernando Torres Liverpool 13

6 Flag of EnglandGabriel Agbonlahor Aston Villa 12

Flag of EnglandDarren Bent Tottenham Hotspur 12

Flag of EnglandKevin Davies Bolton Wanderers 12

Flag of EnglandFrank Lampard Chelsea 12

Flag of EnglandWayne Rooney Manchester United 12

I don’t think anyone needs a hint. The Arsenal don’t have anyone on the golden boot list while our three title rivals each have two players. Even Villa, Citeh, and Sp*rs have a top goal scorer.

I think many will place a lot of the blame on the Togonator here and he deserves some. Still he played a lot of times up top by himself and it had to be frustrating to see his midfield struggle so often to win and then keep the ball. Check out who leads us in appearances:

1. Denilson 48

2. Bendtner 48

3. Sagna 45

4. Song 45

5. Almunia 44

6. Nasri 42

7. Eboue 42

I don’t know how many times we had a midfield of Denilson/Song/Eboue/Diaby but if it was once it was too many. Samir and Theo were better but 13 goals is what we need from each of them, not combined. Vela and Arashavin combined for 12 after all in far fewer games. Denilson started ok and Song finished ok but neither showed me that they could do the job like Flamini, let alone like Paddie. Eboue and Diaby had rare moments of genius overshadowed by far more frequent moments of absolute shite.

We were close in 07-08, but we needed to add a key player to the squad to make up the ground and that was before United added Berbac*nt for 31 million pounds. Instead our midfield was much worse this year without Flamini and to a lesser extent Hleb, I’m glad to see that Arshavin came in and I think he’ll be better than Hechhhhhhlleb, but if we go into next season counting on Denilson/Diaby/Song again then I’d say our chances of closing the 12 pt gap are minimal whether Ronaldoc*nt and Drogbac*nt leave for Madrid and Milan or not. I don’t have any suggestions, but we need a proven CM to play along side Cesc. A talented ball winner will remove the pressure from our D, let Cesc work his magic, and allow the lighter skills of Walcott and Nasri to shine. I seriously believe this one move puts us pretty close to United, Chelsea, and Liverpool. If there is any money at all, we have to spend it here…and of course it does not have to be someone we’ve all heard of. Patrick and Matthieu are perfect examples. It does have to be someone who will come in immediately and contribute. I’d say Arsene’s job is on the line with this. Whoever plays CM next season is going to have to provide something better than what we got this season.

Evaluating Arsene is tough because:

1. He is the reason we have high expectations.

2. Nobody really knows how much he has to spend.

It is not like the Arsenal are in a crisis. We’ve gone almost this long without silverware before. Before Sol Campbell arrived there were 4 straight United titles. This will be the fifth straight season we’ve come up short but we’ve been close in two of those years and we’ve made it to the last 8 of Europe in all but one of those years. Tis only a crisis when compared to United and Chelsea. I’m just not sure that this youth “project” is all Arsene’s idea. Behind all of the take over talk and claims that Arsene has money if he wants it are reports of huge stadium debt and different wage structures than United and Chelsea have. I can’t imagine that Arsene has been offered 30 million pounds for a Berbatov, Torres, or Essien and has refused it. Can you? Maybe he did think he could do better with this squad and if so he deserves criticism for getting it wrong. Still he’s not playing with the same deck that red nose has and Arsene’s margin for error is tiny indeed. If he thought Denilson, Diaby, and Song were good enough…he was wrong. If he could not afford a known quantity…that is a bit different. I don’t really care about who runs the team and therefore where the money comes from, but if Arsene does not have it, how can I hold it against him?

I’d love to buy a top notch striker, winger, CB, and some cover for Clichy and Almunia. That seems unlikely given that the Arsenal just broke their transfer record with 15 million pounds for Arshavin while our rivals spend twice as much each summer. It goes without saying that if we do sell Gallas, Adebayor or RVP then we must replace them. Tis a critical time for the club. Cesc will play for Barca one day and I don’t care how young we are, the window closes for a bit when he leaves. You can’t sell Ade and then spend the money elsewhere hoping Bendtner and Eduardo can cope. If Ade goes, he needs replacing. Otherwise we have two cripples and pink boots left. If Gallas goes you can’t sign a Silvestre type and pray Djourou emerges as world class. The squad might be ok at striker, keeper, and defense, but none of those areas are so strong that we can afford to take a step back.

All of this moaning aside...if we put out a team like this:

van Persie

Denilson Gibbs Ramsey
Diaby Wilshire Simpson
Bendtner Senderos Merida
Vela Silverstre

We could win the league. One great buy (two if you count Arshavin) and no selling and we could be there. The worry is that we won't bring in the player we need and instead will lose Ade, Gallas, RVP and then replace them with more youth. Whether that is the manager's plan or the reality of our financial situation it won't be good enough and either we'll need a new board or a new manager to compete.

Dave Bartholomew
May 7, 2009

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