Arsenal 1 – 1 Tottenham: Derby Deepens Discontent

Where to start?

Eleven games into the season and Arsenal seem to be right back where they were before the positives of the FA Cup victory, capturing Alexis Sanchez etc. Six games into the Premier League and the good old Gunners are back in familiar territory in fourth place in the Premier League.

The North London Derby was supposed to present another opportunity to continue on the good league form after the Aston Villa win but, of course, Arsene Wenger and company decided they’d remind everyone just why it took almost a decade to return to trophy-land.

Strange tactical/team selection decisions, injuries, problems in defensive midfield and a lack of incisiveness just about sum up the Arsenal performance.

Of course, you have to take the positives with the negatives but it’s already proving tiresome to say that the Gunners have some newly found mental strength thanks to how last season ended. There’s no shortage of great analysis on the game, and the consequences, across the web so we’ll dive into each of those above topics just a little.

On paper, the North London Derby should have been a win for the Gunners. Arsene Wenger made sure his teams job was harder by reverting to that ill-advised 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 formation, and by misusing, or not using, the club’s two most expensive signings.

Mesut Ozil again started from the left which inevitably left an imbalance out wide on that side as he continually drifted inwards leaving Kieran Gibbs alone except when the likes of Jack Wilshere or Danny Welbeck(whose supposed to be in the middle fluffing goal-scoring opportunities by the way) moved into that space.

And those continuing to criticize the German(something’s that definitely more and more understandable) should consider that you don’t get arguably the best No. 10 in the world and place him out wide, especially when he’s less effective there. Maybe Wenger also forgot about the Aston Villa game just a week before, where Ozil played centrally and produced his best performance the season so far. Funny how that works.

But at least he was on the pitch.

The most ridiculous decision of the day was that Alexis Sanchez, the club’s leading scorer and big summer signing, was on the bench for such an important game. Wenger’s  response when questioned about that selection during his post-game press conference was, well, infuriating.

on why Alexis Sanchez didn’t start…
It was selection of the day. There was no medical reasons.

Good to know he’s okay. If you want to know how to dent a player’s confidence look no further than the masterclass Wenger provided with that selection.

Imagine the Frenchman pulling Sanchez aside before the game and saying “Hey, Alexis, you’re arguably or best attacking player, you’re on form and that goal against Southampton was a peach but I really don’t think you can handle these North London Derby’s. It can get pretty intense. After all, you haven’t had much experience in big games like this besides that little “El Clasico” deal they have over there in Spain. We’ll see what you can do from the bench.”

Alexis didn’t have a really great performance, maybe he tried to train too much, but Tottenham defenders were concerned when he was on the ball, and it was he who played the pass that led to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s eventual equalizer. Welbeck’s comical “dummy” did help things along though.

Those were my two biggest gripes with Arsenal, and if the proper selections had been made and a poor result(yes, a draw is a poor result considering) still occurred then the problem would have been more with the players than Wenger.

Of course, there were then the injuries to Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta, with Jack Wilshere possibly out for the next two games as well. So much for the new fitness coach. Ramsey’s incident is a bit strange because he was rested during the week, Arteta’s just getting old and Wilshere’s really unfortunate. That new fitness coach is really working out.

Mathieu Flamini’s giveaway for the Tottenham goal was definitely problematic but he’s not the player he was in his previous Arsenal stint plus he hasn’t really played enough this season to be up to pace with anything. He’s what we’ve got for the next two games before the international break though. Or maybe, just maybe Francis Coquelin can be granted a chance to step up and takes it.

The Gunners have, for the most part, struggled for goals so far this season with 17 in 11 games. It’s not horrendous, and being unbeaten in the league helps, but it should be better with the attacking talent available.

Before the next international break Arsenal has Galatasaray at home, and Chelsea away. Wonderful. We’ll see what happens.

Until next time.

Always Thinking Football Concept Moving Forward

We’ve been focusing a lot on Arsenal so far in this blog but that was never the intent. It’s definitely a bit easier to focus on what you know but my interest was to cover all aspects of football all over the world.

Tough task all by myself but one that’s exciting to think about as well. We’ve definitely covered other teams and spent a lot of time on the World Cup as well as one or two bits of news in business or media but there’s definitely more to it.

So moving forward we’ll be introducing more pieces from writers and sites that cover different areas. The links will be there for the primary article as well a short summary, analysis or thoughts on the piece.

The variety of my own posts will increase with a couple different ideas such as player pieces, tactics(I’m by no means and expert) and reviews of books on different topics. Maybe we’ll even throw on some Football Manager or FIFA stuff from time to time.

Arsenal will still receive plenty of coverage, especially the day after game summary/review, but hopefully there’ll be a lot more for everybody. The European League weekend roundup will continue as well with the focus remaining on the top five leagues(England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France) as well as the Netherlands and Portugal.

The goal is to have at least one post per day. That probably won’t start right away, or will be a bit haphazard at first, and on days where there’s more than one post they’ll be spread out.

The weekend’s upon us and Arsenal vs. Tottenham should provide some good mid-day action for those on this side of the world.

Until next time.

Arsenal 1 – 2 Southampton: One Down, Three to Go

Usually you say that when you’ve accomplished something but the only thing Arsenal’s accomplished is to get themselves knocked out of one winnable competition.

Who knows? It may have presented the best chance to get into the Europa League next season after we come in 8th place. Okay, just kidding, there’s a long way to go yet and the team is still to click into gear.

I didn’t watch the replay of this game, and judging by the reports and criticisms across the web I didn’t miss much.

Given the opponent, and lack of first-team defenders, I figured a loss was the most likely result. It wasn’t embarrassing, thankfully, but raised a few issues for all.

The main positive from the game seems to be that youngsters Isaac Hayden and Hector Bellerin acquitted themselves well, and Abou Diaby didn’t get injured. Alexis Sanchez also scored again from a wonderful free-kick, thus further cementing his status as a key member of the attack.

The use of such an inexperienced makeshift defensive unit so early in the season is an obvious concern but there’s nothing to do until January. And probably nothing then either.

Arsene Wenger normally uses these games for fringe players, and youngsters so the lineup wasn’t really a surprise. The quality of players chosen in attack and midfield showed the depth Arsenal has in those areas.

While it may be fair to say the more senior players, Lukas Podolski and Tomas Rosicky in particular, failed to impress, again I didn’t watch the game, they also can’t be faulted for being selected to gather dust on the benches in the opening weeks of the season.

Include Joel Campbell in the list and you have a trio that were probably the most judged on the pitch, aside from Diaby due to his injuries. None of these three have played significant minutes at all this season, and all most be going through a couple things mentally as well.

Lukas Podolski is probably wishing he pushed through a move during the summer, and could leave in January. Tomas Rosicky must be wondering why he isn’t that important anymore despite his age. Joel Campbell is probably wishing for another loan spell or a move to a team that wants to play him.

Then again, it’s also down to these players to impress in practice so maybe there’s something there as well. Still, if these players had played more beforehand they may have been more effective on the day.

Their lack of appearances also points to another worrying Wenger trait. The overuse or constant use of a most trusted few players which eventually leads to injury, poor form etc. We’ll see how that pans out.

In other news, Stan Kroenke was paid £3 million “for strategic and advisory services” in relation to Arsenal’s broadband division.”

Ah, that’s what he does all day.

Well, we have Tottenham this weekend so that should be fun.

Until next time.

European Leagues Weekend Roundup

Teams returned to domestic play over the weekend after the opening rounds of the Champions League and Europa League. The early season form of a number of big teams continues to make for interesting results, and interesting standings in the respective leagues.

This weekend will be full of football even without the continental competitions, as the ever important Carling Cup starts up for most Premier League sides, while teams in France, Spain, Germany and Italy continue their league play.

Unlike in Britain, those four countries have winter breaks which is why they’ll be playing one or two more mid-week league games before December comes around. We’ll take a look at all the action from those leagues during the week and weekend in our usual roundup next week.

Let’s take a look at the scores from this weekend. As stated last week, the focus will be on the bigger clubs in all leagues with special performances or shock results getting a mention as well.

Primeira Liga(Round 5) and Eredivisie(Round 6)

We’re down to four undefeated teams in the Primeira Liga with the front three teams, Benfica, Guimaraes and Porto, joined by a Sporting Lisbon side steadily climbing up the table. It looks the dust will eventually settle with the familiar trio at the top of the table but there may be a surprise are two in the making. And as things get familiar in Portugal, the same goes for the Netherlands. Ajax vaulted themselves into second place with a win against Feyenoord, and they now sit behind league-leaders, PSV, in the table. FC Twente deserves a shout for being the only unbeaten team left in the league while last week’s shockers, PEC Zwolle, came back down to earth after being beaten by AZ Alkmaar, and now sit in third.

Ligue 1(Round 6)

PSG and Lille remain the only unbeaten teams in the league but neither are inside the top three six games into the season. PSG has been especially disappointing so far this season, with a lack of cohesion, as pointed out here by Michael Cox. Monaco, meanwhile, continues to flounder just outside the relegation zone. Marseille is now the league-leader, and with talents like Andre Ayew and Nicolas N’Koulou in the side, as well as no European football, they are in with a good chance of winning the title.

Ligue 1 highlights here

Serie A(Round 3)

The big game of the weekend was definitely Milan vs. Juventus, and anyone watching with hopes of an upset were left disappointed. Juventus’ victory, coupled with Roma’s sets the two title contenders apart from the pack with three wins each. Napoli, another team expected to make progress last season to challenge Juventus, lost for the second week in a row. Inter played out a tight game with Palermo and sit just outside the European spots.

Serie A highlights here

Bundesliga(Round 4)

The favorites, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund continue their eventful starts to the season as they both dropped points away from home. They weren’t the only big sides dropping points though, as Schalke drew while Bayer Leverkusen were trounced 4-1 by Wolfsburg. The big surprise of the week was the emergence of a new league-leader, Paderborn FC, and that’s partially down to this amazing goal. Those results left a much-changed Bundesliga table but things may return to normal a bit as Bayern Munich hosts Paderborn.

Bundesliga highlights here

La Liga(Round 4)

The big scoreline over the weekend was Real Madrid’s 8-2 win over Deportivo away from home. This was Madrid’s second big win of the week and it was much needed to boost their early season standing in La Liga. Barcelona continues to trot along pretty comfortably with four wins out of four while  Atletico Madrid seems to be suffering a bit of a hangover from their exploits last season with another draw but they still remain undefeated. Sevilla and Valencia are doing their best to keep pace with Barcelona after picking up wins of their own.

La Liga highlights here

Premier League(Round 5)

The shock result of the weekend, by far, was Leicester City’s 5-3 comeback, yes you read that right, win over Manchester United. There really are no words for that result. In other news, Arsenal defeated high-flying Aston Villa and benefited from a number of dropped points elsewhere in the league. Manchester City and Chelsea played out a draw, with Frank Lampard scoring against his former club, while Liverpool were convincingly beaten away from home by West Ham. Tottenham is already in danger of becoming an afterthought this season after a loss to West Bromwich Albion.

Premier League highlights here

 

Until next time.

The Swiss Ramble: Arsenal – Money Changes Everything

The Swiss Ramble: Arsenal – Money Changes Everything.

Really interesting look at Arsenal’s financial status in recent time, as well as the last year, which basically runs from the 2013/14 season.

So.

Looking at the form expenditure that most fans care about, transfers, we know we have money. That’s been the case the last few seasons but we also don’t really know how much.

The expenditure this summer was definitely a sign of that. Still wondering about the defensive side of things though. Guess we’ll see what happens

If you want a more official look, here’s the report from Arsenal.com.

Aston Villa 0-3 Arsenal: So We’re Going to Win the League Now, Right?

Arsenal bounced back from a disappointing midweek result to beat Aston Villa 3-0. And now we’ve proven our place as title contenders.

At least, those are the thoughts ESPN FC’s John Cross presented a few days before the match.

Not so fast.

There were plenty of good things to come from the match such as the necessary win, the positive performance of key players, no injuries and the clean sheet but to say beating Aston Villa proves anything is a bit much.

Arsenal still has a long way, and a few defenders and/or a defensive midfielder, to go before the title should be considered. The two domestic cups, the FA Cup and Carling Cup, are probably the best bets at this point in time. We know we have an uphill battle in the Champions League for sure.

The win did solidify one change in the Arsenal mentality that definitely bodes well for the future. Mental strength. In previous seasons, Arsenal would have followed the Borussia Dortmund loss with either another self-destruction or by squeaking out a point. Especially against a side high on confidence like Villa.

The FA Cup win has boosted the overall confidence and belief of the side and that’s been evident in virtually every game so far this season, minus Dortmund of course. So there’s that as well as the obvious change in productivity on the pitch.

Mesut Ozil finally put in a solid performance for the season while, surprisingly, playing in his best position. His one goal and one assist led to a tweet from Ian Darke that he had answered his critics. While I definitely love Darke as a commentator, it’s those type of knee-jerk reactions that are so common-place in the media and fanbases that affect players.

It’s one game, and a good start, for Ozil to turn things around but there will much stiffer tests to come. We’ll see what happens from here.

Ozil’s overall performance was good, as was that of Danny Welbeck, though all he’s been lacking so far in his short Arsenal career is the goal he eventually smashed home. The clean sheet, and those performances, can be credited with the return to the 4-2-3-1 which leads me to say something I don’t think I’ve said in a long time.

Ahem, credit has to go to Arsene Wenger for making the necessary to change to fix the team’s balance and get the best out of his best player to get the result needed. Or maybe Steve Bould and Boro Primorac tied him to his office chair and threatened to throw away all his favorite wine as an example of how he was throwing away Mesut Ozil’s talents and he relented. Who knows.

The change came, and we won. One negative was the still under-performing, by the standards he set last year, Aaron Ramsey. Sure he’s scored a few goals this season but he hasn’t been as influential so far. So much for the player everyone was saying we should build the team around, and he’s our best, and he’s world-class blah, blah, blah.

I’ve always been Ramsey’s biggest fan but I wasn’t going to jump on that band-wagon after one amazing season.

That aside, it was a positive end to the weekend. Let’s not forget it could have been very different had Villa scored off that set-piece before the onslaught.

The Carling Cup is up next and maybe Joel Campbell will get some time. We shall see.

Borussia Dortmund vs. Arsenal: A Case for the Defense, and Ozil

Arsenal continued what has been, ultimately, a disappointing start to the season with their worst performance yet. A 2-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League means the Gunners got off to the worst possible start imaginable in the Champions League, and it wasn’t because they were unlucky.

On the positive side of things the new blue jerseys the side turned out in were stylish, and Galatasaray’s draw with Anderlecht in the other group game leaves the door open as well.

And that’s about all the good that can be taken from this match.

Arsenal failed to make the best of a good opportunity to gain some confidence over the weekend, when they allowed Manchester City to tie the match after coming behind, and it seemed like that result affected the players as much as a loss. City almost made that a reality in the dying moments, and it’s disconcerting that the players couldn’t push on from that for a much-needed positive result.

Maybe the fact that the two sides have met in the competition during the last few seasons, with Arsenal generally coming out on top away from home made the side a little less worried. It shouldn’t have, and the Gunners were second-best all over the pitch.

The attacking unit that was so vibrant for the majority of that game was out of sync, the midfield overrun and the defense comical.

Alexis Sanchez continued his up and down start while Danny Welbeck continued to fluff chances, leaving no shortage of Arsenal fans groaning and some Manchester United fans smirking. James McNicholas of ESPN FC writes that fans must be the patient with the Englishman, and rightly so. But for how long?

Hopefully Welbeck will find his shooting boots for Arsenal soon, as I would still prefer to see him starting as opposed to Oliver Giroud. Finishing aside, his mobility, work-rate and link-up play make him a good addition to the squad.

When looking at the midfield performances, one begins to wonder when the fickle Arsenal fans begin to turn on Aaron Ramsey again after another uninspiring display. I’ve always felt that the Welshman, one of my favorite Arsenal players, shouldn’t suddenly be considered world-class, or the most important Arsenal player, until he consistently produces for two or more seasons. This is season two by the way.

Elsewhere, Jack Wilshere was combative but unable to influence and Mikel Arteta was extremely poor. Wonder if a defensive midfielder will come in January?

The Defense. What Defense?

With a duo protecting to the back four as opposed to one player, Arsenal’s full-backs can go forward as expected without too much worry. Or, even better, as with any normal team, if one goes then the other one stays while a deeper midfielder pushes forward.

Tactical outlook aside, what’s worrying for Arsenal fans is the slow return to the formerly shambolic Arsenal defense. The duo of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have formed a great partnership but neither are world-class defenders for a variety of reasons. The main reason for the improved defensive solidity is their complementary partnership, and that seems to have fallen by the wayside so far this season.

Despite Arsene Wenger having to pick Hector Bellerin in what was a huge game, through not fault of his own mind you, Arsenal still had three of its four first-choice defenders from last season. Bellerin definitely can’t be singled out for criticism and did okay enough given the circumstances.

Each of the more senior players had their moments of indecision, or ineffectiveness for either goal, Koscielny was near the forefront in both, and they have to improve. Especially considering they only have three other senior defenders to compete with, one of whom will be out for some time.

If Arsene Wenger continues to persist with one of either Arteta or Mathieu Flamini anchoring the midfield in a 4-3-3 then Arsenal’s season is doomed. Flamini may be more mobile but that still didn’t help against Manchester City over the weekend. The way forward this season is 4-2-3-1 for Arsenal, as much as I prefer other formations.

That will be as much for the increased defensive solidity as well as for the enhancement of the attack, and the increased role for one player in particular.

What To Do With Mesut Ozil?

Mesut Ozil again drew criticism for his performance, or lack of it, in his homeland, and, as I stated after the City game, there will come a point where he can no longer be defended. An article from Thore Haugstad of Four Four Two discusses Arsene Wenger’s dilemma surrounding playing Ozil out wide or in the middle.

My advice? Play him in the middle.

Ozil tried to be more involved against Dortmund but was still ineffective, and was subbed off after the hour mark. Among a few of the points discussed in Haugstad’s article is the lack of defensive cover Ozil provides on the wing(something many knew even during his time in the less physically demanding La Liga) and his effectiveness drifting from inside to out as opposed to vice-versa.

Folks can again point, with all validation, to David Silva as an example but not all playmakers are alike. Silva, one could argue, is a more energetic and physically tougher player than the German.

At the start of last season, Ozil showed why he was arguably the best No. 10 in the world from the 2010 World Cup on. Sure, he tailed off due to injury, and not being accustomed to the Premier League but that was expected. Not to mention that he was then, when fit, shuttled out wide at the end of the season.

Naysayer’s can also point to his performances for Germany during the World Cup but, again, he was basically criticized throughout the tournament, while playing out wide, and didn’t have a solid performance until the 7-1 demolition of Brazil.

So what do you do with, arguably, your most gifted player Arsene Wenger? Continue to shuttle him out wide a-la Shinji Kagawa and see him frustrated, vilified and eventually wanting to leave? Or do you return to a formation that will not only get the best out of him but improve your team’s balance and structure? Or does this happen?

No Rotation, Aston Villa up Next

One other frustrating and annoying decision by Arsene Wenger was the lack of rotation.

I almost forgot that we had players like Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain(who all came on) as well as Tomas Rosicky and Joel Campbell rotting away on the bench. Those who did play can’t be faulted for not turning things around as the game was beyond Arsenal when they did get a foot on the ball.

Oxlade-Chamberlain has been lively in every game since coming on, and Santi Cazorla would have provided more energy and effectiveness from out wide than Ozil.

I guess we’ll see what happens this weekend at Aston Villa. That is shaping up to be another tough one, especially after the Villans away victory versus Liverpool. They know they can either repeat their Liverpool blueprint, or take something away from Dortmund’s plan, to get a good result.

What will Arsenal do to combat that?

We shall see.

European Leagues Weekend Roundup

League football came back with a bang this weekend, and I’m definitely glad for that. Not that I’m not a fan of International football but it does get a little annoying when you start to get into the swing of things with the club season then have to deal with mundane results like Albania 1 – 0 Portugal. That result was no doubt the shock of the weekend, with the Czech Republic also throwing a wrench in the big boys plans by beating the Netherlands 2-1. Those were just a few of the results in European Championship qualifying, but there was there was also the usual array of friendlies as well as African Cup of Nations qualifying to consider.

Cameroon’s big 4-0 win over Ivory Coast was one interesting result in Africa and, as usual, it’ll be interesting to see how teams fare when the tournament proper comes around in January 2015. My major grievance with international football, mainly the non-stop friendlies, during club season is one many fellow FM managers, and those who actually have the jobs, fear. Injuries. Interestingly enough, Arsenal didn’t fare too badly in that arena this time around.

Let’s take a look at the fixtures now that we’ve gotten that little intro out-of-the-way. As stated last week, the focus will be on the bigger clubs in all leagues with special performances or shock results getting a mention as well.

Primeira Liga(Round 4) and Eredivisie(Round 5)

There are now five undefeated teams in the Primeira Liga, with big boys Porto and Benfica sharing the lead on points with Rio Ave and Guimaraes. Sporting Lisbon find themselves wallowing in eight place with one win and three draws. So much for Nani. Things got a little interesting in the Netherlands this weekend, with PSV being shocked away from home with a 3-1 loss to PEC Zwolle. That result leaves the two sides level on points, and leading the league. Here’s the highlights of each separate goal. Ajax picked themselves up to grab a win and are now three points off the pace.

Ligue 1(Round 5)

Big-spenders, PSG and Monaco, continue to have slow starts to the season. PSG have yet to fully kick into gear but stay undefeated, and Monaco is basically confirming they needed last years spending to do anything. Lille and Marseille are now the frontrunners after picking up wins at the weekend, and it looks like we are in for a very interesting Ligue 1 season.

Ligue 1 highlights here

Serie A(Round 2)

Milan, surprisingly, sit atop the Serie A table after coming out victors in a 5-4 goal-fest with Parma. That overall tally tops Inter’s 7-0 drubbing of Sassuolo, while Juventus and Roma each picked up solid victories. Those four clubs are leading the way in the table, while Napoli fell behind with a loss to Chievo. It will be interesting to see if the lack of European football helps Milan this season given this positive start.

Serie A highlights here

Bundesliga(Round 3)

Things are beginning to return to normal in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund climbing back up the table after another win. Bayern Munich were also victorious, while Bayer Leverkusen slipped up after a 3-3 draw wit Weirder Bremen. Schalke’s 4-1 loss to Borussia Mochengladbach was another interesting weekend result.

Bundesliga highlights here

La Liga(Round 3)

Barcelona is now the only perfect team in La Liga with three wins out of three, and that’s without anyone putting the fear into defenders thanks to his chompers. Sevilla and Valencia continue to march on with victories while keeping up with the Blaugrana. The Madrid derby saw Atletico Madrid continue the recent trend of outdoing their more fabled rivals, and leave Real Madrid in the bottom half of the table after three games. Are we witnessing a little more parity in La Liga? Probably too early to tell.

La Liga highlights here

Premier League(Round 4)

The Premier League’s match of the weekend, Arsenal vs. Manchester City, didn’t disappoint with beautiful goals, tough tackling, shoddy defending and the re-emergence of England’s shining knight, Jack Wilshere. The result was a 2-2 draw which Chelsea gleefully took advantage of with a convincing 4-2 comeback victory over Swansea. Tottenham saw themselves held to a draw while Aston Villa delivered the surprise of the weekend in beating Liverpool away from home. The new-look Manchester United defeated this season’s punching bag, QPR, 4-0, to pick up the first win of the Louis Van Gaal era.

Premier League highlights here

 

Until next time.

Arsenal 2 – 2 Manchester City: A Point Won or Two Points Lost?

The season-long Arsenal journey continued yesterday with another thrilling, and annoying, encounter versus Manchester City.

One obvious question leading up to the game was if Arsenal would finally showcase that big-game mentality. With new additions like Alexis Sanchez and Mathieu Debuchy, as well as the title-monkey off their backs, fans were watching with major interest to see how the Gunners would react.

The answer, at least for a good 20 minutes or so in the first half, was that Arsenal was ready to go. This could well be the year they  really challenged for the title.

Except, as usual, the players were in such a frenzy to score after dominating for so long that they continued to leave space open at the back and were eventually delivered what would normally be a knockout blow. Maybe another positive this time around is that Arsenal fell apart miserably in similar games last season after conceding early. It took 28 minutes for Manchester City to score this time and it was definitely against the run of play.

The other major story-line was the introduction of former Manchester United man, Danny Welbeck, into the Arsenal starting lineup. That was a weird sentence to write, and it was certainly a strange sight for the duration of time on the pitch.

Apart from a glorious early opportunity to open his account, which was fluffed in the usual Welbeck fashion despite the inventiveness of his strike, Welbeck wasn’t a major part of the outcome but he was quite solid.

The one positive that is seemingly now part of Arsenal’s mentality is the strength of character, and belief, which ultimately led to a second half comeback with two brilliant goals.

One negative that has been consistent for some time is the defensive frailty in big moments. Evidenced by the 11 defenders in the 18-yard box on a corner who still failed to stop a Manchester City equalizer.

Jack Wilshere is again the savior of English football, cigarette and all, after an impressive all-action display. Let’s see how the rest of the season goes first, shall we?

Arsene Wenger had to defend Mesut Ozil again, and it’s getting to the point where his lack of productivity is indefensible. I would prefer to see the German, our most expensive signing, in his best position behind the striker but Wenger seems insistent on replicating his role with Germany during the 2014 World Cup.

Wouldn’t Ozil thrive behind Welbeck and with Walcott and Sanchez wide given those players have some similarities in terms of pace and skills with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale/Angel Di Maria?

It’s safe to say that’s not working so far, and given the lack of defensive midfielder it may be best to go back to a 4-2-3-1 formation which would solve that problem as well as help us defensively as well.

One question brought up somewhere on the web while analyzing the German was why he can’t play well from out wide when David Silva, a similar player, can? That’s certainly valid, and if Wenger believes this formation will be the way forward, and that Ozil will stay out wide then he has to improve.

Ultimately, it’s a disappointing result for Arsenal given the way we rallied in the second half. Things don’t get any easier with Dortmund in the week, Aston Villa away and a very, very thin defensive line.

Until next time.

Ferguson, Moyes, Van Gaal? Whose fault is it that Manchester United is in this position?

Manchester United is, strangely enough, going through a major rebuilding process now. It’s a process that was necessary a few seasons ago but somehow they got away with it.

Faces are changing both on the pitch and off, with the official retirement of Ryan Giggs seeing the last player from the venerable “Class of ’92” hang up his boots. And, for the first time since 1986, when Alex Ferguson took charge(he wasn’t sir then), the Red Devils have seen two managers at the club in two consecutive seasons. David Moyes took charge at the start of the 2013/14 season, and Louis Van Gaal has been the face on bench since the start of the 2014/15 season.

Neither manager has made a positive impact with what was actually a weak team left by Sir Alex Ferguson. One question, with three parts, or, to make it simple we’ll break into three questions, must be asked given that outlook.

Was Sir Alex Ferguson that good of a manager that he could lead such a side to a title in his last season? If so, are his two successors not of the quality necessary to continue Manchester United’s, almost, unrivaled success? When can it be expected that Manchester United overcomes its current challenges?

Let’s take a look shall we.

Sir Alex Ferguson won the title in his last season at the club but was it all down to his managerial ability?

Sir Alex Ferguson won the title in his last season at the club but was it all down to his managerial ability?

Some statistics tell the story during Ferguson’s last season at the club. The club won the title by 12-point margin which was thanks mainly to an attack led by newcomer, Robin van Persie. While the attack scored 86 goals, 11 more than the next highest scoring club, United’s defense let in 43. That meant they had the worst goals against average in the top four and, were it not for Tottenham, they would have had the worst in the top seven.

Such statistics point to a defense that was poor, though injuries have to be taken into account, and a midfield not able to control and dominate games.

The likes of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were on a downward spiral, while Patrice Evra was still energetic but not as effective. The backups; Johnny Evans, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling etc, were okay at times but also not experienced enough, confident enough or consistent enough to make up for their senior counterparts.

The only real positive in midfield was the underrated consistency of Michael Carrick, who had Anderson, Tom Cleverley and an out-of-retirement, Paul Scholes for help. Had the club not signed Van Persie and gotten his league-leading 26 goals then they may have been out of the top four altogether.

But those weaknesses in defense and midfield were there a few seasons before, yet Ferguson was allowed, or commanded, that the club continued with what was available. It does seem that he was averse to making such changes given his recent comments on the clubs spending. Such stubbornness is akin to what Arsenal fans still face with Arsene Wenger despite the recent positives in London.

Ferguson persisted with the trio of Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, who were declining yearly and facing more injuries, with little attempt at top-level replacements.

Both Phil Jones and Chris Smalling arrived a year apart as potential replacements centrally but neither player has fulfilled his potential. Alex Buttner was supposed to cover for Patrice Evra but the Frenchman had a little resurgence to keep his spot. Rafael finally did solidify the right-back position but constant injuries meant that was still a problem position.

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The midfield received little to no help at all, as Ferguson kept the likes of Anderson and Tom Cleverley hoping they would both finally take the next step. Neither has. He instead relied on Paul Scholes to come out of retirement to roll back the years along Michael Carrick.

And that’s where one has to consider Sir Alex Ferguson’s managerial ability. He managed to get an absolutely fantastic first season out of Robin Van Persie in 2012/13, somehow kept his midfield from being overrun on a weekly basis, and got his defense to tighten up when necessary. In essence, he used every ounce of his skills to squeeze good performances out of ageing or lesser quality players during those years.

Or was that all down to his reputation, temper, the referees(a certain Mr. Howard Webb in particular) and the infamous “Fergie time?”

One has to consider those factors helping in tight games with late winners, such as Southampton(away), Aston Villa(away), Manchester City(away) and Newcastle(home). Not to mention losses against Everton(away), Tottenham(home) and Norwich City(away) showcasing those weaknesses and dependencies in every third of the pitch.

Again, this is not to take away from Ferguson’s ability but it does offer interesting food for thought. No?

It’s not as if United had little opposition during that year either. The talent within the Manchester City and Chelsea squads should have produced more competition but those teams were also involved in other competitions for longer periods than United.

United were out of the Carling Cup early on, and were knocked out of the FA Cup by Chelsea in April.

Manchester City went on to the FA Cup final, though they were out of Europe before December and didn’t go far in the Carling Cup either. Chelsea reached the semifinals of both domestic competitions and won the Europa League so there’s evidence they were stretched a bit there.

Yet credit still has to be given where it’s due, and Ferguson did get to step down from the game while at the top. The warning signs were always there, though, and one still has to wonder whether the two managers after him, or any others, could have done what he did, or aren’t benefiting as he did due to his reputation and standing.

David Moyes wondering what he got himself into

David Moyes wondering what he got himself into

David Moyes took charge of the club at the beginning of the 2013/14 season, and oversaw United’s worst finish in the Premier League era by coming in seventh. While Moyes was, as reported by of the BBC, Ferguson’s handpicked successor, such ineffectiveness could not be tolerated at one of the world’s biggest club.

Moyes was a surprise pick for the Manchester United job even though many expected him to move beyond Everton at some point in the near future. He was hand-picked by the golden arm of Sir Alex but did little to suggest he was ready for the task.

Despite the players smart words to the press, and the backing of the board, there was always a feeling of awkwardness at United while Moyes was in charge. It didn’t seem like he commanded the respect of his players and that began to show on the pitch, as the poor performances mounted from players old and new alike.

Moyes did make two big acquisitions during his time at the club, bringing Belgian midfielder, Marouane Fellaini, from Everton with him to help solidify the midfield, and Juan Mata to add creativity. The debate about Fellaini’s usefulness to the United cause was constant given that he spent his last season at Everton, and with Moyes, as a second striker and was quite productive in doing so.

United benefited from Jose Mourinho’s decision to discard Juan Mata as he didn’t fit into his system, and that signing was certainly a bright spot for Moyes. Aside from that, he did little to showcase any tactical flexibility or game-management those at United became so accustomed to under Ferguson and wobbled to seventh place in the Premier League.

His eventual departure was poorly handled, as news sites provided reports on the impending decision before the manager himself was notified, but almost inevitable despite his status as the Chosen One. He was literally chosen by one of the most illustrious managers in the game, Mourinho, but you weren’t.

Whether Moyes was too afraid to shake things up or unable to add the necessary talent beyond what he knew(Fellaini) and what fell into his lap(Mata), he certainly fails the litmus test in terms of managerial ability in comparison to Ferguson. One thought is that his failure to get almost an exact replica of Ferguson’s last team to perform well made the situation even more unbearable.

Is it his fault he was thrust into the limelight and expected to conjure Ferguson-like magic in the transfer market despite having little experience in dealing with the really big transfers? He also had little help from Ed Woodward, who was heading into his first season as the man to deal with transfer negotiations and salaries.

Had those personnel issues, or some of them at least, been fixed beforehand he may have done better. Or maybe not.

While it’s obvious to focus on the league performance during Moyes’ ill-fated reign, taking a look at all the competitions provide a different outlook.

Moyes actually did better than Ferguson in two competitions, reaching farther in the Carling Cup and Champions League while things got really tough in the Premier League. The return of a certain Jose Mourinho certainly made one competitor stronger in the league, not to mention Everton under Roberto Martinez, a somewhat revitalized Arsenal squad early on and the presence of a strong Manchester City side, who were eventual winners.

Moyes had to deal with all these factors during his first year in the biggest challenge of his managerial career.

So now he’s offering his expert opinion on failure, I mean football, on the television and possibly prompting a good many Red Devils fans to mute the telly at half-time.

Louis Van Gaal, the "serial winner," is charged with turning things around at United.

Louis Van Gaal, the “serial winner,” is charged with turning things around at United.

Louis Van Gaal came in after leading the Netherlands to a surprise third-place finish at the 2014 World Cup, with many neutrals and Manchester United fans excited about his tactical acumen and experience.

Louis Van Gaal’s arrival was greeted with much excitement given his experience and pedigree in the game, and he wasted no time throwing Moyes under the bus by stating he received a “broken squad” from his predecessor while saying that following Ferguson would have been easier. Ouch.

If you think about it though, that was Van Gaal taking the attention away from himself and effectively stating that, “If things don’t start off wonderfully it’s because of that guy. I’m just trying to fix his mess.” He couldn’t have said that if he came after Ferguson.

Unlike the other two managers, Van Gaal has no Europe to contend with so expectations are higher on the domestic front. While he’s stated the club is not good enough to win the title, an assertion many would agree with, the Red Devils should be able to get into Europe and win a domestic cup.

One thing that does have to be considered is that the Dutch coach may never have faced such a big rebuilding process during his time at a club. Yes, that goes in line with his “broken squad” assertion but he is laying the blame on the wrong person.

When all are fit and accustomed to Van Gaal’s demands this is actually a good United side. How long that process will take is anybody’s guess. Van Gaal should be able to develop the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Adjan Jadnuzan, Luke Shaw and others while getting the best out of his experienced stars.

He has a similar aura to Ferguson, though he may not be as appreciated in Britain, and will be a commanding presence in the dressing room and on the field.

Given the activity this summer, Manchester United fans will expect to be back in Europe, meaning the Champions League, next season and challenging for the title again. That may not be too much to ask depending on how things go this season.

A look at Manchester United’s transfer activity this summer shows that there is indeed a good amount of talent now at the club. Additions in midfield and defense could still happen, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. The rating of 9/10 is still a bit high in my estimation, a seven would be more apt, as United may not be able to play Van Gaal’s preferred 3-4-1-2 with the requisite precision given the players currently available.

Van Gaal has moved further in strengthening the weak areas with both Ander Herrera and the versatile Danny Blind joining to help in midfield, as well as Angel Di Maria capable of playing further inside as you’ll see below in an analysis on Van Gaal’s tactical options.

The introduction of Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and, again, Blind help in the defense despite not being at the same level of Ferdinand when he joined.

ESPN FC’s Michael Cox takes a look at the tactical options available to Louis Van Gaal with the players at his disposal. Two such lineups are below, and both underline the quality available to him as well as the difficult task in selecting the best possible XI for each tactical setup.

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These are rough ideas of the 4-3-1-2 and 3-4-1-2 formations most likely to be used by Van Gaal, I was a bit limited by the template I was using, and it’s certainly not the case that these specific players would play in these positions in either tactical setup.

So was Ferguson more capable than his successors?

It has to be a resounding yes in regard to Moyes even if he had been able to build a team more to his liking. He may have been ready for a bigger job but in hindsight it should not have been Manchester United. Van Gaal may not have the same stability as Ferguson but his resume certainly comes close to the Scotsman, and he’s dealt with a big club or two in his time.

Is the shell of a team that Ferguson left behind capable of regaining its former glory?

With Van Gaal in charge that is possible. Moyes needed, and maybe should have been given, more time but that’s not something you get at a club like United. Had the two arrivals been switched, Van Gaal first and Moyes second, then maybe things would be different. Maybe Manchester United would have been better off going for the marquee manager who spends little time at a club before moving on, such as Van Gaal or Jose Mourinho, then getting Moyes.

As an Arsenal fan, it’s interesting to see Manchester United in such a state but we are in a position to benefit. Well, if we had gotten a defender or two and a defensive midfielder too. The race for fourth place will be tougher than ever this year, and it’s almost as if you wish United wasn’t involved so the odds would be better.

It will be interesting to see where this United side is at the end of the season. At least we know they won’t be winning the title.

Until next time.