Monday 26 August 2013

Foughts on Fener / Fulham / Flamini

This is a bit of a retrospective post due to technical glitches but at least it wraps up a pretty positive week.

It was a terrific result on Wednesday and relieved some of the gloomy atmosphere around Wenger and the club following the Villa defeat.

The home side were staggeringly poor. At first I thought they were playing conservatively, then I feared they were lulling us into a false sense of security before I realised that actually they just weren’t very good. It was so straightforward it made me question the need for the lowest placed team from England, Spain, Italy or Germany to qualify for the group stage but looking back they haven’t always progressed and a couple may not this time – we just seem to handle this stage easily.

Every Arsenal player performed decently, with Ramsey winning most plaudits for his effort and goal. His combination with Jack Wilshere was encouraging and having Ramsey take more of the Arteta role gave the side more ballast than Jack offered last weekend. What struck me most was how one-sided our attacking play can be. With Cazorla and Rosicky floating around in an inside-forward position on the left rather than offering genuine width, everything went Theo’s way. Pretty much all overlaps were down the right and while that may be a deliberate tactical ploy on Arsene’s behalf, there are downsides. Firstly, you can’t rely on Theo to consistently deliver quality even if he does have plenty of the ball, it must make it easier for teams who are more defensively astute to stymie our attacks, and we’re limiting any creative input from Gibbs or whoever is playing left back.

As always, it’s easy to over-react to this win, just as it was to the loss on Saturday. We’re not always going roll over teams as easily as we did Fenerbahce and we’re not always going to lose our heads as we did against Villa.

It sounds ridiculous to say it after one league match but if we are to have any hope of getting ‘in the mix’ at the top of the table we had to take three points on Saturday. Not only to get us closer to our rivals but for player and supporter confidence. Even though we appear to have secured our place in the Champions League group stage after only one leg of the qualifier, imagine going to Spurs with one or no points and £150m cash still in the bank.

Thankfully, the team again did well to ignore the ‘crisis’ talk and earned a good three points. Ramsey impressed as 'quarterback’, Cazorla looked far more like his old self, Walcott was sharp and Podolski hopefully did enough to stop the rumours of a transfer away. I don’t think the German will ever dominate a match like Cazorla, for example, but he is a solid international who has a handy goal scoring record for us and it would weaken the team to loan him out or sell him.

Like the Fenerbahce match, it is difficult to read much meaning into this result. I always think of Fulham as one of those sides that if Arsenal do their jobs properly and give everything for a win, it will happen. Fulham will never seek to out-muscle us and should not have enough quality to outplay us but – as they showed last year in the 3-3 draw – if we do not give them the respect they deserve it will cost us.

But it was a professional job and Arsenal did what was required. The only worry is prior to our second goal we continued to play football on the edge – because everyone is so committed to attack, one misplaced pass or mis-control leaves us wide open and there is no solid foundation to fall back on. Mistakes cost us badly against Villa but we managed to limit Fulham to a consolation goal. Better sides will punish us more.

While there were positives to take on the pitch, the story off it remains dispiriting. The latest crack in the transfer window is the possible return of Mathieu Flamini.

On the point about whether Flamini should be ‘allowed’ back after leaving in the first place, I’ve said ever since he departed it was a mistake to not give him the contract he deserved. He was one of our best players, if not the best, in that 2007/08 team that went as close to winning the league as any post-Invincibles side. He was the real captain of that team but Wenger decided to go down a different route and let him go. As much as we try to convince ourselves everyone who leaves are mercenaries, they don’t all fit neatly into that category and for me Flamini deserved better.

But if we are going to sign him, why not do it last week and give us an extra body to choose from on Saturday? Yes, it is only one match but either Flamini is a good addition to the squad or he isn’t. Wenger will probably say it depends on whether we bring in Cabaye from Newcastle. If so, why haven’t we tied up the Cabaye deal if we truly think he is the best choice? It all screams of not having a transfer strategy. Or just being inept at carrying it out.

Infuriating, and I’m not even going to get started on some of the other names we’ve been linked with - there is no point building our hopes up/getting even more frustrated. Suffice to say, the squad will be strong enough to overcome Fenerbahce on Tuesday but we have just one week to get it ready for the far tougher challenges it will face before January.

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