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So after 25 games the premier league title fight is extremely delicately poised. Top three are separated by only a couple of points. All three teams have won identical number of games which is 17 yet their playing style could not be more different from one another. Chelsea have been the most frugal team while we have let in only one goal less than City. City have scored a mammoth 68 goals while us and Chelsea have scored 48 and 47 goals respectively. so City have been the most prolific while Chelsea have been the most frugal.
City seemed to have a hit a minor lull in their storm like form they had a couple of weeks back when Mourinho comprehensively beat them at Etihad. Chelsea seem to be peaking at the right time. We made full use of our fixture list and went 5 point clear at one stage but we threw away the advantage and are now in second place behind Chelsea. At times during the first half of the league City looked like they were going to be unstoppable with the kind of strength and depth they have. Chelsea were far from impressive at the start grinding out results and doing just enough to win the game. They seem to have picked their game up in the last few weeks where it appears they have a more workable solution against all type of oppositions. Now that we have had little background let us look at the playing styles of the three title contenders.
Wenger has continued to employ the possession style of football. Even in a game where we were thumped 5-0 by Liverpool we still had the favorable possession stats. Wenger still believes in keeping the ball on the floor and employs the pass and move style of football. We signed Ozil in the summer and he has been our default No-10 this year. His form has been patchy. He definitely needs time to adapt and impose his authority. The problem for us is that our midfield plays a possession based game while our Striker is more suited to a style where crosses are played in from the flanks or a more direct style.
We are massively missing Walcott who in my view is the only one who is capable of stretching opposition defences with his well timed runs. Ramsey’s form at the start of the season was a massive bonus at the start of the season. His bursting runs from the deep are hard to pick and having him back is going to be a massive plus for us. The problem for us this year has been that whenever we are under pressure we loose our shape and organization. It happened against City and it happened against Liverpool, not to forget in the first half against Southampton. This is not helped by the fact that our first choice holding player is loosing his legs at a rapid pelt. A midfield lynchpin, a pacey/mobile Striker could do wonders to our game. Sadly Wenger chose to do nothing about it in January.
We have failed to replicate our fluidic free flowing football this year. Our defence is the reason we are competing for the title this year. Koscielny & Merteackser have been pillars of strength for us. Wenger’s reluctance to utilize the shooting and goal scoring prowess of Podolski has been another highlight. So many times our passing has been limp and sideways which does only thing which is to boost possession stats. Our passing has been pretty slow and sideways at times. The problem is the not the system per se but wenger is trying to make it work without a pacey Striker and a proper midfield lynchpin.
They have pretty much played the 4-4-1-1 with Aguero playing behind Negredo all year. They employ a fast paced passing game with the likes of Navas and Nasri/Silva providing width and Toure and Fernandinho entrusted with duties in the middle of the park. The Toure and Fernandinho partnership has been easily the best Central midfield partnership as both of them complement each other nicely. Toure can burst through the opposition midfield at will while Fernandinho himself is no mug. Aguero and Negredo form an out standing Striker partnership with Dzeko playing the role of an able deputy.
The highlight of City’s season has been the fearless approach they have adopted this year. They do not stop attacking when some of the other top teams shut shop after taking a comfortable lead. City’s passing is purposeful and fast paced. They have Negredo who can get to the end of crosses played in by the Full backs/wingers while Aguero can dribble past 2 or three opposition defenders to score or lay it down for his Strike partner. City have variety and depth inh pretty much every position. City’s style is effective and eye pleasing against 90% of the teams in the premier league but as Mourinho showed they can be got at by flooding the midfield with solid runners. City’s form is also massively dependent on the form of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho as they do not have a proper replacement for either. City have too much fire power and variety but i am no so sure of their ability to cope when the opposition win the midfield battle against them. They have struggled to break sides down when they have dug in their heels like their last draw against Norwich.
Mourinho started the year trying to play a free flowing passing game but quickly realized he needed to get back to his strengths. These days Chelsea employ a very organized and disciplined approach.
They sit back deep with two midfielders sitting just in front of back four. The addition of Matic has not only added more steel to the heart of their midfield but also given them more dynamism as well. Mourinho”s teams are very good at soaking in pressure for long periods. Every player knows exactly what his role is on a given day. Mourinho employs a simple approach which is mighty effective. Chelsea defend in numbers with everybody behind the ball barring the Striker when they are not in possession but have the ability to launch a counter-attack with a brisk pace. The midfield is extremely balanced with two Central midfielders, one playing a holding role and another a box to box role plus has three pacey players in Oscar, Hazard and Willian who can break at a rapid pelt.
Mourinho expects every player in his team to put in a shift. The only player who has a relatively free role is Oscar but he also is expected to do his bit whenever necessary. Chelsea are peaking at the right time in my opinion. Mourinho does not tinker with his system too much. He may change the personnel or change their roles a tad but he has drilled the team in a way where a certain basic level of performance is pretty much guaranteed. Chelsea play a system which is difficult to break yet they posses the ability to hurt the opposition teams if they turnover possession in a dangerous areas of the pitch.
Chelsea’s style is not eye pleasing but it isn’t boring either. As i said the other day Mourinho knew he needed a holding midfielder more than a Striker to perfect his system. Hazard’s terrific form and Matic’s immediate acclimatization has meant Chelsea look more solid and more effective than any other team in the league ta the moment. Their weakness is their Strikers but with the likes of Willian, Oscar and Hazard they have no shortage of goal scorers. Chelsea let in a fair few at the start of the season but have worked their way in to being the most frugal team in the league.
Ability to Grind out Results: ***1/2
Ability to beat top teams: **1/2
Ability to Grind out Results: ***
Ability to beat top teams: ****
Ability to Grind out Results: ****
Ability to beat top teams: ****1/2
Looking at the fixture list of all three teams and their playing styles i think it is a straight fight between City and Chelsea with us finishing Third. Chelsea’s recent form, the overall balance that they have and the way dominated city at Etihad gives them a slight edge in the title race in my opinion.
Things have been pretty volatile off late in the gooner kingdom after Wenger’s decision to not to sign the much needed Striker which even his admirers agree we needed and the farcical/meaningless signing of a 31 year old journeyman who if some reports are to be believed may never play for us. Everybody including the staunchest followers of Wenger were waiting with baited breath for that elusive/much needed Striker signing which never came. Not just gooners pretty much every pundit, tabloid, opposition fans have been vocal about the lack of firepower up front both in terms of outright quality and numbers.
Wenger’s opinion about the January transfer window is out in the open and the signings of Arshavin and Eduardo in the past were aberrations than a trend. The fans would have understood if Wenger was categorical about not signing a Striker but his failed attempts to sign Chelsea outcast Kalou and Klose show he also believed that we needed a new body up front. So if he believed that we needed a Striker why did he not try to make a better fist of signing Klose who despite being in mid thirties, still has the ability to deliver consistently? Why did he completely ignore the likes of Berbatov and Mitroglou?
The point i am trying to make is that i fully understand that a manager has the right to make a decision based on where he thinks the reinforcements are necessary but when he has made it apparent by his failed loan bids on the deadline day, why did he not show more conviction to sign a new Striker? Wenger has come out and clarified that the decision to buy Kim Kallstrom was a hurried one and that it was him or nobody. Then my point is that he should have moved on cos making a signing for the sake of making one is not going to serve any purpose.
Giroud despite all the criticism he gets, some unfair and some just, has done a pretty decent job so far up front. Bendtner can do the job but he is inconsistent. Sanogo is still very young and to expect him to be our savior is not fair on the kid. Podolski is more of a wide attacker in our formation than a lone Striker. He can play as a Striker in a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 but that is a formation we do not employ. Walcott who has the ability to fill in up front is out injured. In light of the above have we blown a golden opportunity to strengthen our push for the league title after a long hiatus?
I know a stop gap signing in January can be a gamble but was the gamble worth it? I would say yes cos in my opinion we are a big enough cup to cushion the blow of an odd signing gone wrong. We have a very good team which is playing well too and one striker signing could have given us the stimulus/impetus needed in the final half of the season.
I get asked this question often? You lot are on top of the table ahead of the likes of City and Chelsea so why complain? The point is it depends on how do you want to look at things–Is the glass half empty or half full? The point depends on where you look things from. Looking from the view point of still heading the table ahead of Chelsea and City gives me immense joy but that joy is cut short when i realize we did not take that last little step to bolster our title challenge especially with the sort of fixture list we have in the coming days. It depends on whether one is hungry for success or satiated? I want this club to get back to the top of the pedestal where it rightfully belongs. So i am very happy that we have finally managed to challenge for the title after a hiatus but i fill deflated to see that we did not maximize our resources to give it a proper go.
I just hope and pray the failure to not sign a Striker in January does not become the main reason for us not winning the league but if it does then it would be a bitter pill to swallow for everybody who follows this great football club. This was the time for us to go for the juggernaut and we decided to take a safe step of strengthening in the summer instead of going for a ballsy move of signing one now. Time will tell the true story..
Fresh from watching Chelsea beating Man City in their own backyard not by parking the bus but by using an impressive tactical game i was pondering over thinking the instant impact Matic has made to the spine of Chelsea midfield. Everybody was surprised when Mourinho went in and bought a holding midfielder when the footballing circles were abuzz with bets on him going for a Striker.
Mourinho is tactically astute and knows the importance of a midfield lynchpin. Central midfield is the engine room of any team and a good lung capacity and Legs are a must have for anybody playing there. The position is extremely demanding where you have to put in up and down shifts throughout the game. Fernandinho is another player who has been the unsung hero of the City side and his absence was clearly felt against Chelsea.
The headline might sound alarming and may appear like a knee jerk reaction but Mikel Arteta’s contract expires on Jan 8, 2015. He will be 32 by the end of this season. Central defenders can carry on a tad longer at top level but Central midfield is very demanding position and Arteta seems to have lost his Zip this season. Don’t get me wrong he still is a good player, a good reader of the game with decent distribution and passing range. He is a player i admire but off late whenever the tempo of a particular game goes up he has struggled to cope. With our team built around attack our holding midfielder has to do a lot of work.
Wenger more often than not has taken footballing decisions practically rather than emotionally. His over thirty policy is something which is out in the open. Arteta is a nice guy, team and and a leader on the pitch but his legs seem to be out of sync with his brain this season. He has done well for himself and for the team in his time here but we need a solid/combative/mobile option in the middle of the park to partner the likes of Ramsey/Wilshere. With Flamini having acquitted himself well we need a top quality holding mid in the middle of the park as a starting option in the middle of the park. Flamini still has the energy, fitness levels and stamina to last 90 minutes and he can be an able deputy.
Make no mistake Arteta still has a couple of years of football left but not at the level required for a club fighting for top honors. Football squads are all about balance and our squad is more skewed towards attacking mids at the moment. Now please do not get me wrong my assessment is not based on a couple of poor performances rather on a gradual but a consistent pattern where he has struggled to play in a high tempo situation.
Lastly the way Oxlade Chamberlain has acquitted himself in the Central midfield is nothing short of impressive. He put in a near perfect performance against Tony Pulis’ well drilled team. Not only was he solid defensively winning balls with aplomb he showed impressive burst of pace to score two impressive goals. Wenger in his pregame interview mentioned that Chamaberlain’s future lies in the central midfield. I know its too early to judge him but he definitely deserves some playing time based on the spark he has shown in the middle of the park.
If you do the maths it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out the fact that Arteta will be a bit part player next season. The point is- is he willing to accept that bit-part role? Will he stay with us if we do not offer him a substantial extension to his current deal? Any which way you see it i do not see him hanging around if he is not promised substantial playing time or a significant extension both of which look unlikely at this point in time.
Is Ozil a victim of his price tag? Is it right to expect miracles from him at this stage of his Arsenal Career? Certain sections of football forums all over the world are questioning if Özil is worth the money he came for? Yes it is natural to expect great things from a great player in his prime but passing a judgement on his worth when he has not even played a full season in the premier league is a bit premature in my opinion.
Most players need a period of acclimatization. In a new country, new language, new team, new club, new coach, new people, there is bound to be a period of latency for any footballer before he goes on to exhibit his full potential. Its like he is on trial every minute in every game. He is still a young bloke who needs a bit of reassurance now and then from his teammates, the manager and the fans. Forget the Gooners, every football pundit out there, the opposition players, the neutrals hailed it as a coup of sorts to sign a top star in his prime from a prestigious club like Real Madrid. Yes we needed a Striker in the summer and we need one now but that does not mean we should have let go of an opportunity to sign a world class advanced play-maker and hence i do not understand as to why certain sections are complaining that we should have gone for a Striker instead of Özil. Yes we should have gone in for a Striker but he should have been signed along with Özil and not instead of him.
Signing Ozil has been such a massive morale booster for the club. It is such a massive lift for the fans and the players. We sent out a message that we can also sign top quality players in their prime from the best clubs in the world. The way opposition clubs look at us has changed after the signing of Özil . The profile of the club has received a much needed lift as well.
Players with vision and courage to pass the ball forward even under severe pressure are a rare breed in football these days. Özil is always willing to take his man on and run through the heart of the opposition midfield without fear. These qualities cannot be taught to senior pros. you either have it or you don’t. It takes massive load off the likes of Ramsey and Cazorla as Özil easily occupies at least a couple of opposition players occupied who are assigned to mark him closely. 10 assists and 5 goals is not too shabby for a player who is making his debut in England. Yes there is more to come from him but he needs to be given a full season of acclimatization before passing a judgement on him.
People are comparing Özil with Fabregas which is a bit unfair on Özil at such a nascent stage of his Arsenal carrier. With all due respect to Giroud, Fabregas was playing behind much more accomplished strikers and hence the argument is a non starter in my opinion. Fabregas was around our system from a very young age and its extremely unfair to compare him with Özil who has just begun his Arsenal carrier.
With Walcott having been injured for most part of the season we have seriously lacked the players who can make those runs behind the defence to get to the end of through balls played in by Özil. Its like signing a world class attacking midfielder and asking him to work with a target man. Özil would shine much more if paired with a pacey/nimble/trickier Striker capable of making those short bursts to get to the end of intricate passes played in from the midfield. A fit Walcott and a top quality Striker is what Özil needs to take his productivity to next level. No i am not degrading Giroud nor am i saying Özil simply cannot produce the goods with Giroud as our Center-forward just that his game is much more suited/complementary to a more pacey/tricker/nimble/ Striker.
I am not saying Özil has no flaws. His work-rate is good but not great. At times he goes through motions. He does not try to win the ball quickly on turning over possession. His concentration levels can improve. He needs to be a bit for focused. Nobody is perfect and he is in the team to be the main creative hub of the team and which is where he should be judged.
Wenger in my opinion did the right thing by Signing Özil cos the opportunity to sign such a top player in his prime does not come by everyday. We had the funds to sign a Striker over and above Ozil deal. I for one do not believe it was a case of either Özil or a Striker. Wenger decided to shut shop after his failed attempt to Sign Suarez and i don’t think the reason for that has anything to with funds. I think Wenger had the funds to buy a Striker irrespective of Ozil’s signing and he CHOSE not to do so. So to blame Ozil’s signing for us not signing a Striker is not appropriate in my opinion.