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Whatever happened to Lucky Arsenal?

The phrase "lucky Arsenal" was coined as far back as the 1930's. It referred to Herbert Chapman's teams balance of defensive solidity and attacking guile and the penchant the club enjoyed for winning games against the run of play, Arsenal were also referred to as "the Bank of England" club. Unfortunately, 80 years later, luck seems to be a precious and rare commodity as far as the modern Arsenal are concerned.

The reality of course, is that you do make your own luck A good example of this in football, might be, that when you find yourself clear in the box with just the keeper to beat, then don't shoot straight at him, another example might be, that when you are six yards out and presented with a free header, try getting it on target, that way, you have a chance of scoring.

Last night, Arsenal should have been three up by half time. That they weren't was purely down to sloppy, ineffective finishing. I have rarely seen a more disjointed United side (or the Viv Nicholl's 11 as I like to call them - ask your Mum), totally there for the taking. A good, competent side, with real grown up professionals (Chelsea for example) would have had the game home and hosed by the interval. It was a fairly typical performance from Arsenal, plenty of movement, good passing, chances ctreated and spurned, there you go, your make your own luck.

Van Gaal, played there centre halves, with the undemonstrative and shaky Smalling as pack leader. He was relying on Van Weasel and Rooney up front, with Shaw and Valencia as wing backs. To further help the Arsenal cause, Shaw went off after 15 minutes. Although Arsenal were missing Koscielny (and we are really missing him), but faced with this United side, Arsenal should have won the game easily. We palyed smartly, I was impressed in the first half by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlaine, Sanchez looked a little jaded, understandably, but Jack Wilshere was always looking for the ball and distributing it intelligently and was playing with a controlled aggression.

In truth, Wilshere could have easily have walked when he lent his head (a la Pardew) into Fellaini but the Belgian's superior height meant that Jack connected with his sternum as opposed to his face. Also, Arsenal are now benfitting from referees reticence in punishing England imternationals, we started with five yesterday. When I saw that Mike Riley was the appointed official yesterday morning, my heart sunk. I've previously written about our issues with this individual, but overall, his mistakes were evenly distrbuted between the two teams. Wilshere could have gone, but then so should McNair for his ankle cruncher on Wilshere, watch it again, he gets nowhere near the ball and takes out Jack's ankle studs up. As yet, I haven't heard how serious his ankle injury is. Fingers crossed for Jack though, he's really becoming an excellent player.

In a match to which United barely contributed, it took a piece of freakish luck to get them on the score sheet. Although it was Arsenal's persistent lack of defensive composure that created the opportunity in the first place. The aren't enough leaders in tis Arsena l team, in fact, apart from Wilshere and maybe Mertesacker, I can't think of any. As a result, there is a nagging tendency for Arsenal to resemble startled rabbits in their own 18 yard box. The Gibbs own goal was emminently avoidable, but it also had a taste of the inevitable about it as well.

United were 1-0 up, without having a shot on target. What followed was even more inevitable, Arsenal decided to throw everything at the ten men United had put behind the ball. This involved having all ten outfield players (all ten!) camped in the oppostition half. Therefore, when United did get a shot on target in the 86th minute it was from an unmarked Wayne Rooney, comical.

Giroud came in, looked very good and scored a cracker and that was it, beaten 2-1 by a bunch of chancers. I've rated Van Gaal's teams in the past, the 1995 Ajax team in particular, but I don't rate him. I think he's a charlatan and will be found out sooner or later. Perhaps this is happening already, 90% of his team's supporters are muppets, but there is a hard kernel of followers who will look at yesterday's performance and acknowledge that they were very, very lucky to win that game.

Will Arsenal's luck change in the near future? I doubt it.

By Ian Byrne

Follow me @RightAtTheEnd and I'll follow you back.
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Jack Wilshere - Potential finally coming to fruition?

Many of us will have watched Jack Wilshere's performance for England last night and felt a degree of vindication. Jack was excellent and the Scottish newspapers in particular were very fulsome in their praise. This prompts the inevitable questions: Is he close to consistently playing as well as he can and secondly, in which position is he most effective?

Wilshere has been man of the match for each of England's last two games. The paradox is that in both matches Wilshere has been played as a defensive midfielder at the base of Roy Hodgson's diamond formation. The reality of course, is that the elements of Jack's game that have led to him being awarded the accolade twice, have nothing at all to do with his defensive work. Jack Wilshere is either, a number 10, or best played on the left side of two midfielders. Simply, he is at his best, when he is on the ball and moving forward.

Jack made his debut for the Arsenal six years ago and his name was being mentioned widely in the local North London press in the "one to watch" category well before this. Born and raised in Hertfordshire, Wilshere is one of the most gifted footballers of the last few years and was singled out for special praise last week, when Xavi Hernadez was interviewed on the BBC. Xavi was suggesting that Wilshere is one of the few English footballers able to play the style of the game practiced in Catalonia and Spain.

There a pockets of supporters who either don't rate Jack Wilshere, or choose to point out that "he has never reached his potential". I've heard this quite frequently and strangely enough from (some) Arsenal followers. To my mind, Wilshere's biggest issues are related to the injury sustained at the start of the 2011-2012 season in a friendly against the New York Red Bulls. Jack didn't play a single game in that season and in the following campaigns was absent for significant parts.

Hopefully now free of the problems clustered around his ankle ligaments, Wilshere is sure to become an automatic starter for both club and country. The question is "where to play him"? 

I've been committed to Arsenal playing a 4-2-3-1 formation away from home against high quality Premiership and Champions League teams for a while, these being the matches that inevitably define a season. With the current playing staff, I prefer Jack in the forward three, but only because I don't have enough faith in Arteta or Flamini to function alongside him, they're not good enough. Jack wants to go forward and therefore, were the club to buy a recognised central holding player, then I believe he could play as part of two deeper players. This doesn't seem very likely, as our manager has decided that we can do without the requisite number of defensive footballers in the squad as laid down by common sense and perceived football wisdom.

What Mr Wenger does understand, is that this current Arsenal team's DNA runs directly counter to the club's tradition of defensive solidity. They want to play football and they want to score goals, With Theo Walcott nearing fitness, Alexis Sanchez playing superbly and Danny Welbeck proving to be a canny investment, I believe that it's Wilshere that the team should be assembled around, not a disappointing, fragile, £42.5 million Mesut Ozil.

Therefore, play Jack where he's most effective, as the left of two central midfielders in a 4, or in the middle of a 3. Last year he scored the Goal of the Season and in that passage of play, Wilshere's movement, touch and control demonstrated exactly why Hodgson should be pinioning his diamond around a Milner or a Henderson, not the 22 year old from Hitchin. The inch perfect pass for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlaine to score at Celtic Park last night (from an advanced position) demonstrates still further why this young man is a footballer who is most adept at creating play, not stopping it.

By Ian Byrne

Follow me @RightAtTheEnd and I'll follow you back. I'm also very interested in your comments on this or any articles published.
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Arsenal - Red and White Laughing Stock

Apparently Arsenal may have subconsciously underestimated Anderlecht last night, is there any chance that our glorious leader will subconsciously neglect to collect his pay packet for this month? I doubt it. It's the manager's job to ensure that his team underestimates no-one and no team, Wenger's comments cast an interesting light on defeats such as Bradford City away and Blackburn Rovers at home. However, the purpose of my blog isn't to demand the manager's head on a stick, there will be enough internet warriors out there looking for that outcome.

Instead, I'd like to cast my mind back to a time when Arsenal supporters could walk around London, not impervious to criticisms of the club, but at last able to point out that we were no pushover, that the players could and would (literally) fight for the shirt.  If we scored first in a match, we would often win that game 1-0, those were the days when our defence was the stubborn element at the club, not the manager.

It was February 2011, when the Arsenal managed to throw away a 4-0 winning margin against Newcastle, but last night was worse. We were winning 3-0 at home, but the warning signs were there from the start. Arteta enjoyed some reasonably favourable comments until he was withdrawn, but one of his primary tasks is to block wholes making it difficult for the opposition to get into dangerous territory. From the off, Anderlecht repeatedly got behind Arsenal's porous "defence", the real difference between the sides was that we were more efficient going forward. 

One of the principle reasons for this is that Arsenal are hopeless at tackling. 

Watch Chelsea carefully, when their players tackle, they do so, in a traditionally effective manner. Chelsea players (all of them, not just midfielders and defenders) try to get face on to the man with the ball, they make it hard for him to rush past and then they kick at the ball. I use the phrase "at the ball" advisedly; they are trying to win the ball from an opponent, by going for the tackle with controlled aggression, but at the same time, they are placing a small risk on being injured, albeit marginally. The key is to regain possession.

Arsenal players don't tackle like that. Arsenal players prefer to run alongside their opponent, they tend to waft their feet/legs towards the ball in the hope that they can swoop the ball away to safety, I am convinced this is one of the reasons Arsenal players suffer so many muscle tears and strains. Gael Clichy was amazed on arrival at City that he was actually encouraged to tackle in training. 

Arsenal don't block space by standing up, they allow the player to get level with them, and if their half-hearted attempt at a "tackle" doesn't come off, then that player is already close to getting beyond our last line of defence. This smacks of the players trying to avoid getting hurt and as your Dad told you when you were a kid, you are more likely to get hurt pulling out of a tackle than by going in 100% to win it. We invite trouble onto us by lacking physicality in key areas and at key times of the game.

Admittedly, the first Anderlecht goal was offside and the penalty slightly questionable, but don't blame the referee. Let's face it, we didn't deserve to beat the Belgians in Brussels, we were hopeless. Perhaps this was karmic, but 3-0 up at home with only 30 minutes of the game to see out? Get your men behind the ball, it's simple. Our manager is a tactical cretin when it matters most.

Yesterday, I wrote a blog speculating that the arrival of Alexis Sanchez might lead to an inculcation of a winning mentality at Arsenal. Fat chance of that on the basis of the last thirty minutes yesterday evening.

By Ian Byrne

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Arsenal V Anderlecht - Players to benefit from Sanchez factor?

44 years ago, Arsenal ended a 17 year trophy drought by beating Anderlecht 4-3 on aggregate to win the Inter-Cities Fair Cup. Tonight, the club can reach the last 16 of the Champion's League if they beat the Belgian team again and BVB beat Galatasaray. There seems to be a lighter feeling around the club, primarily down to our Chilean striker. 

Alexis Sanchez is a "proper player", the supporters naturally adore goal scoring strikers, but Sanchez is more than that, he is a real fighter, he hates losing and the passion he has the for the game is humbling. Look at the way he tracks back, never fails to show for the ball, he's exemplary. Perhaps, one of the reasons behind his purchase was a hope that this spirit for the game might infect the squad with a greater winning belief? 

However, as a natural "glass half empty" Arsenal supporter, (following the club when it was managed by Don Howe has long lasting effects...,), I have to question what would happen if we were to lose the industrious Chilean for a spell? It probably won't happen, I have seen at least two decapitating challenges on Sanchez, bizarrely each judged as yellows by the referee, and he has got up, rubbed whichever part of his anatomy has been targeted and carried on the game with exactly the same combination of enthusiasm and skill as before. How many times did Van Persie go missing when the rough stuff started? 

In this regard, Sanchez reminds me of Jose Antonio Reyes, I think he was genuinely short changed at Highbury, Henry never took to him, but I remember the way he stood up to the Neville brothers cynical attempts to end his career at the Theatre of Muppets. Like Sanchez, Reyes had the same tenacity and desire to want the ball in areas where you would get hurt. That took real courage, especially when referees (cowed into meek submission) were happy to let United exhibit the same hatchet tendencies of the worst Argentinian club teams of the late 1960's. 

It's too early to talk about a new spirit at the club, Arsenal have won just three games on the bounce. In the first of these, a preposterous win somehow conjured from one of the most inept European performances in memory against Anderlecht in Belgium, I loved Sanchez's reaction at the final whistle. Faced with his team mates (as they usually do) celebrating the smallest victory as if it was the largest triumph, he looked disgusted and pointed them back to the dressing rooms. Pure class, that is a winner's mentality, but with an implicit understanding of the rights and wrongs of the world's greatest sport.

I was also pleased by the, thus far, safe return of Theo Walcott, apparently close to a contract extension. Walcott is the type of player, like Sanchez, that defences hate. He pushes full backs deep into positions they don't want to be trapped in and a front line involving both is very promising. So enjoy the game tonight, and whichever deity you pray to, make sure you say one for Alexis Sanchez's continued good health.

By Ian Byrne

Follow me @RightAtTheEnd
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