Wenger has to “PEP” Up

It was not the same old story for Arsenal at Old Trafford. It was worse than that. The 1-0 defeat at the hands of their archrivals brought out one more disturbing fact about Arsenal this season- that they don’t seem to have the goals against the bigger teams. They just didn’t look like scoring as they did against Liverpool in the season opener, in the loss against Chelsea nor in the home loss against Newcastle. But Cesc Fabregas did not start any of these matches and that tells a story in itself. Without him Arsenal crave for some brilliance from either Nasri or the enigmatic Arshavin. While Nasri has been in top form, Arshavin has struggled to make an impact this season. Surprisingly though, when Fabregas is not available, Wenger hasn’t often played Nasri through the middle and has preferred the lesser creative Rosicky or inexplicably Denilson for a couple of games. In what could be the season deciding three weeks, United have drawn first blood. Arsenal are probably the English team that takes the Champions League most casually at least in the early stages and have now paid the price by setting up a clash against Barcelona. Things couldn’t have got tougher for them but here’s what Wenger could do to move towards that elusive silverware.

At the moment, the best silverware chance for Arsenal comes in the form of the Carling Cup and that silverware may not be enough for the club to retain Cesc Fabregas and Arsene Wenger his “Trust” if not the job. In Arsene they may trust but it has not been easy to guess in what Arsene trusts. It was indeed baffling to see them finish second and all that Wenger can do now is to return to the cliché that in every adversity lies an opportunity. Arsenal and Barcelona are teams with similar philosophies. They play their passing game irrespective of opponents and venue. They have immense faith in ball possession and flair is top priority for their managers. Both the teams try to score the “Perfect Goal” though Barcelona score more often than Arsenal do. Arsenal were a quick passing and fast breaking team during the times of Thierry Henry and Robert Pires but this season have slightly leaned towards the Barcelona style of slow but sure passing albeit against the weaker teams only. So what trick does Wenger miss that Pep Guordiaolla doesn’t?? And what could Arsenal do to pull off a surprise by advancing to the quarters??

One would be tempted to blame the Arsenal defence. But it has been considerably strengthened by the twin signings of Koscielny and Squillaci and Arsenal are still awaiting the return of their best defender in Vermaelen. The next blame might fall on the forward Chamakh who is nowhere as clinical as a David Villa. For all his ability in the air Chamakh along with Kenwyn Jones must be the two forwards who simply don’t have a shot in them. There was this funny yet revealing moment in the game against Fulham when Arshavin sent Chamakh through for a one on one with the keeper and Chamakh turned back to set up a shot for Arshavin as if to say “that’s not my job”. But given all that, Chamakh has had a wonderful season up front having a hand in most of the goals scored. So he surely isn’t my area of concern for Arsenal. To me the position that marks the difference between Arsenal and Barcelona is that of the holding midfielder. Alexander Song is being termed the most improved player at Arsenal this season, but the drastic personal improvement has come at the team’s cost. It’s hard to recall when Arsenal last kept a clean sheet, but it’s easy to remember that they were often caught on the counter, even as late as the Fulham game by Diamanti Camara. Attribute that to a defensive collision but also to a defensive midfielder failing in his primary duty. Jack Wilshere when he does play that role of a tackler, also ventures too far forward unlike a Sergio Busquets. While it is exciting to see your defensive midfielder score goals as Wenger himself claimed about Song fast turning into a “Forward”, getting carried away with that has been Wenger’s problem. Mathieu Flamini and Gilberto Silva seemed to know the line that shouldn’t be crossed which Song and Wilshere so often seem to do. Sergio Busquets knows that line to a T. For all his attacking exploits this season Song is just not equipped to be a playmaker. But Song is the best tackler in the team even though he picks up cards regularly. So the first thing Wenger has to ensure against Barcelona is that the defense has the right cover on its top against the world’s best attack.

While it’s been quite evident that Arsenal struggle to play the cutting edge pass against a well organized defence even if they have lopsided possession stats, they wont have to worry about that against Barcelone. Because they simply wont have more possession. That just might prove to be a blessing in disguise. Counterattack is the only way to beat Barcelone, though it’s easier said than done. Counterattack needs pace and Theo Walcott is a must against Barcelona without whom its tough to see Arsenal scoring at Emirates let alone Nou Camp. Barcelona’s wing backs do go a long way forward. While Daniel Alves does have the pace to run back, Walcott will test Abidal. Nasri against Alves will be worth the watch too. The third thing Wenger has to do is to play both Van Persie and Chamakh up front. Wenger cannot stop the Barcelona midfield from playing like how Sir Alex, so predictably yet effectively, did against Arsenal themselves by playing Anderson. So Wenger has to call on the heading ability of Chamakh for set pieces and the interplay that Van Persie brings with the wingers.

It is worth noting that the teams that beat Barcelona in the Champions Legue last two times went on to win the competition- Inter Milan and Manchester United. “If you can beat Barcelona you can beat anybody” seems to be the word going around. But in that case Hercules should be La Liga Champions. Reality doesn’t work out that way and Arsenal are still quite some way from looking a Champions League class club. How to beat Barcelona might be the million dollar question but beating them can be the spark for Arsenal to set the season on fire. Whether they are able to do that in cold winter nights is what has to be seen.

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5 Comments on “Wenger has to “PEP” Up”

  1. Ashwin Says:

    Brilliantly written bishu!!! So much better than all the BS on many of the football sites.

    PS: I think its Diomansky Kamara…. CHeck it out…

  2. vinod Says:

    well written !! wenger needs to find the right combination by trying and testing players in different formations till feb and theo walcott is a must in both legs.messi and pep told he’s the only player they have ever feared..he can play in the wings and drift centrally too cos of his pace…none of the barca back 4 as as quick as him..nasri and fabregas will be the key…its diamansi kamara btw…

  3. KK Says:

    Ah, nice to see a football post here.
    I think the biggest difference between Barcelona and Arsenal is how they play when they don’t have the ball.
    Barcelona’s players – every single one of them – will concertedly press the opponents, close them down, not give them any space. Few teams can stand that kind of suffocation.
    Arsenal’s defending, on the other hand, doesn’t start from the front – compare Arshavin and Rosicky to Messi and Pedro in terms of the defensive shift they put in, and it’s no contest at all.
    This puts a lot of pressure on Arsenal’s back four and the designated holding player. And for all his zest for tackling, Song’s main deficiency is his positional awareness.
    Busquets doesn’t need to put in that many tackles – he’s usually in the right place to make interceptions or even just channel the play into less dangerous areas. Song doesn’t have that feel for where the ball will go.
    Even in possession, Arsenal isn’t as patient or clinical as Barcelona. Watch Barca play, and you’ll seldom see them try hopeful, low-percentage through-balls that break the move down (Arsenal usually does this a lot when the players get frustrated by diligent, deep defending).
    Instead, the forwards will pass the ball all the way back to the defenders and start a new attack from another angle (Pique is usually the guy who directs play from the back). This way, they are less susceptible to counterattacks.
    Plus, man for man, they are vastly superior in most areas. Victor Valdes, the whole of the back four, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Villa and possibly Pedro are better than their counterparts at Arsenal. Only Fabregas, Nasri, Van Persie and possibly Vermaelen can get into the Barcelona team.

  4. vishwanath Says:

    @ kk. You got the differences pretty spot on. I was just tryin to find how arsenal could still beat barca in spite of their inherent deficiencies- the defensive play of their wingers being one

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