Theo Gets Lucky… Three Times!!!

After a two-week break for Arsenal Station due to illness, I return to my blogging duties at the best of times. After our satisfactory result/disappointing performance at Liverpool last weekend, Arsenal needed to put in a quality performance. Of course, there are huge issues still surrounding the squad, but a 6-nil victory, no matter the opposition, can only give the team confidence going forward. (Highlights, as usual, are in the sidebar to the right).

The first word out of anyone’s mouth when discussing yesterday’s match has to be “Theo.” Obviously, the headline is a jibe at those “pundits” who seem to find joy in criticizing Walcott. He was fantastic yesterday, doing all the things in one performance that we have only too often seen sporadically. Of course, he used his pace to its full effect effectively torturing, if not demoralizing, Stephen Crainey. But, as we have all become painfully aware, pace alone does not a footballer make. Yesterday, Theo used his speed to get in behind the defense on occasions too numerous to recall. Even more importantly, he made good decisions and played good balls when he found himself in advanced positions.

His performance wasn’t perfect, as Alan Hansen will gladly remind us. However, all three goals were extremely well-taken, especially the last two goals. The first came from a classic Arsenal-style combination from Rosicky to Arshavin and finally to Walcott who slotted home at the far post. The second saw Walcott take the ball with his back to goal in the box and use his turn to get the extra half-yard of space he needed to once again slot home at the far post. The third goal, however, was truly fantastic. Taking a pass from Rosicky on the run while sandwiched between two Blackpool defenders, Walcott darted between them into the box drawing another defender on the way before a perfectly-placed shot with his left foot. Walcott’s passing was, on the whole, excellent as well. Did he play every ball perfectly? Of course not. Does anyone? No. So Alan Hansen go fuck off.

In order to keep developing, Theo simply needs minutes. He has to play. Arsene’s overly-protective handling of Walcott, or more precisely the expectations surrounding Walcott, surely must be at an end. At 21 years old, his development must now come on the pitch. The moment of truth will come when van Persie and Bendtner are fully healthy. Will Theo, by then, have earned his place in the starting XI?

On his home debut, Chamakh’s performance was somewhat of a mixed bag. He could easily have had a hat-trick yesterday had his finishing been less profligate. I mean, the miss on the ball from Arshavin with an open net was probably harder to miss than to score. Still, his run drew the penalty and sending-off which condemned Blackpool and he got his first goal for the club with the kind of goal Arsene hoped to get out of him regularly when he signed the Moroccan. A quality header off a van Persie corner sealed the scoreline.

However, one cannot help but wonder what will happen when van Persie is ready to come back into the starting XI. Will he be moved wide left? Surely Arsene did not buy a tall centre-forward to play him out wide. Yet, van Persie’s best form last year, at the start of the season, came with him in a central role spearheading the 4-3-3. What use is a 4-3-3 if you have three centre-forwards as your top three, i.e. RvP-Chamakh-Bendtner? Will personnel force Arsene to abandon the 4-3-3? That would seem unlikely as he, and the side, have become relatively comfortable with the formation. It will be interesting to see how Wenger manipulates both his formation and his players to accomodate an overload of central strikers very similar to the overabundance of central midfielders the club has had in recent years.

Just going around the lineup, almost everyone had a better performance than last week at Anfield. Arshavin seemed much more lively, involved, and interested. Diaby and Wilshere were more solid. The return of Song, though wasted as a CB, was also a welcome development, as was the return of van Persie and Cesc as late substitutes. The one man who really built on his performance last week was Tomas Rosicky.

Rosicky had given Arsenal a boost when he was brought on last week and earned himself a place in the starting XI for the match against Blackpool. He was involved in almost every one of Arsenal’s most threatening moves. Rosicky is beginning to look like the player we thought we were getting four years ago. His injury situation of the last three years has become damn near comical, but he looks ready for his first long run of matches in years. If only his body will hold up…

Of course, not much of the big picture can be judged on a match at home against the top relegation candidate, especially when they are reduced to ten men for much of the match. Still, you can only beat the team in front of you and Arsenal did that mightily yesterday. Questions remain about whether Arsene will be able to secure another CB and a new keeper before the window closes in 9 days, but, for now, we can at least enjoy yesterday’s result and, perhaps finally, the emergence of Theo Walcott as a real first-XI regular.

ARSENE WENGER POST-MATCH INTERVIEW

The Dream is Over

Even I, Arsenal Station, can now admit that the dream is over. I refrained from posting after the Tottenham match because I didn’t want to make a kind of “end of season” post. However, I still don’t. I will save that for when the entire season is over. Partly because I am in the middle of an incredibly busy few weeks at school and partly because I am still in mourning for our title challenge.

To blow a 2-nil lead by conceding 3 goals in ten minutes to a side that averaged scoring less than a goal per match is something I still do not want to contemplate. Yet, having that come on the heels of our first league loss to Tottenham since I was of a legal drinking age (a long time, needless to say) a damn near suicidal turn of events. I could go through the run-down but you all saw the match. You saw damn near everyone on the pitch in a red shirt struggle except for the one man who many thought shouldn’t even be there.

I expect the end of our run to engender even more ill-will towards Arsene and the lads and the backlash has started pretty quickly. Not reproducing posts like this one on The Online Gooner is why I try to wait a little while before posting after disappointing results. For example:

How much longer can Arsene deploy the argument of youth to justify the lack of progress? This mantra is becoming as tedious as David O’Leary’s copious references to his “babies” while he was manager of Leeds United. Admittedly much of the squad may still be younger than the aforementioned blues and reds above us in the table, but they have had ample time to mature collectively. That they haven’t can only be attributed to the simple fact that they are not good enough.

“Lack of progress?” We have turned an 18-point deficit from last season into single-digits this season. That is partly due to Chelsea and United’s relative weakness to previous seasons but there can be no denying that this side is far better overall than last season and far more mature than the 2007/08 side who bottled it long before this stage.

To say that the side has not matured is ridiculous. A number of players including Song, Diaby, Bendtner, Ramsey, and Gibbs (until his injury) all were much improved over last season. As a whole, the team has matured as well having, before yesterday, lost only once to teams in the bottom half of the table. Beating the teams you should beat consistently is a sign of maturity and we have shown that this season. Don’t let the immediate disappointment blind you to the long-term improvement the side has made this season.

And then there’s Nicklas Bendtner. Does anyone apart from Bendtner and his dad really take him seriously as a footballer? Jesus, he makes Shola Ameobi look like a world class striker.

Nicklas Bendtner’s scoring run in the last two months of the season kept us in the Champions League and in the league race. If you don’t “take seriously” a guy who has scored 9 goals in his last 11 starts during the most crucial part of the season, then you must only take Rooney and Drogba seriously. I mean, what else can the kid do? He scored 16 goals last season from outside the starting XI much of the time.

And, finally:

Unless there is wholesale change, the myth will persist. That change has to start with the manager. If he is not prepared to admit that he is wrong about this latest Arsenal model, and set about rectifying things by (for starters) signing a new goalkeeper, a left back, a central defensive partner for Vermaelen, a couple of midfielders with a bit of bollocks, and a forward who knows how to score regularly and doesn’t care how the goals come, then he should go now before the legacy he has built becomes tarnished.

So “for starters” you want Arsene to go out and buy 6 players? Give me a break. I agree on the keeper and striker and possibly the CB, but a left-back? Why on earth would he spend money on a left-back? I understand that the writer is upset, as am I, over the events of the past week but that is exactly my point. Let’s wait until the season is over and then look back on the progress the side has made.

NOTE: To hear a full-length interview I did with the guys from Arsenal Review USA podcast last week prior the Spurs match where we talked about the club, the blog, and players like Bendtner and Eduardo, go here. The interview was originally used for an episode which also included an interview with 7amkickoff’s Tim Bostelle. Or listen below:

How Can Anyone Count This Team Out?

What is there to say about the match? A goal with 13 seconds left on the clock by Nicklas Bendtner secured the maximum points. Anything less and even I, the eternal Arsenal optimist, would have conceded that our title challenge was over. But, like those supporters accused of being overly optimistic, this side never gives up and always believes they can come up with a result.

Yesterday was the 9th consecutive match in which Arsenal scored a goal in the last 10 minutes. It’s also the second time in 4 League matches that Bendtner grabbed the points with a late-winner. It’s also his 3rd stoppage time goal in 6 matches. It’s also our 6th stoppage-time goal in 9 matches. In 2007/08, we scored a similar amount of late goals throughout the course of the season. How do you account for these types of heroics?

For me, I would suggest two things: belief/character and fitness. We hear Arsene Wenger and even the players mention things like “spirit” and “character” and “mental strength” in interviews all the time and I think most people begin to consider it a cliche or a standard interview line. However, there can be no denying that there is something within this club that enables them to not only get late goals but get late goals that matter.

In addition to that, when we hold a majority of the possession, it weighs on the opposition as they spend much of the match chasing the ball. If you combine that with the team’s overall level of conditioning and a few impact substitutions, you put yourself in a more favorable position to get these types of late goals.

Almost five-minutes deep into stoppage time, and following a Walcott miss and an Almunia mis-kick, most supporters probably thought it was over. Apparently, thousands of supporters at the Emirates believed it was over and decided to beat the rush. But with this side it’s never over until the whistle blows. And with our record of scoring late goals in the last 6 weeks, you’d think they would have learned by now.

As Arsene said in the post-match press conference, the match only got harder following the harsh sending-off of Henry for his challenge on Rosicky. To be fair to Andre Marriner (words you can probably never expect to see again on this blog), in real-time, it looked a bad tackle. But no one can be surprised when a red-card comes out Marriner’s pocket as he leads all referees in showing red this season. Predictably, and quite effectively, Wolves shut up shop.

Arsenal was not at their best and with Nasri on the bench getting a breather before the trip to Barcelona, Tomas Rosicky played where he used to play for Hamburg for the first time that I can remember in a long while. He did well enough directing the attack. Arsenal again focused a large part of their attack down the right side only Theo did not look like repeating his performance of Wednesday evening.

He struggled a bit with his final balls and Wenger’s analysis of that after the match made alot of sense. He said that Theo’s burst of pace isn’t necessarily over 5 yards but over 30 yards. So he said, after those runs by the time he goes to put in the cross he has already put in a huge amount of work. Wenger also pointed out how hard it is to make a final ball when you are going at that kind of pace. I don’t know if these are excuses or not, but they seem reasonable on their face. All the hoopla surrounding Theo’s place in Capello’s squad is only putting more pressure on a youngster who has missed most of the season due to injury.

We move on to Barcelona for the return leg of the Quarterfinals on Tuesday evening and I am still hopeful. Obviously, with the tie standing at 2-2, we likely will have to win at Barcelona. After everything I’ve seen in the last two months from this team, I refuse to concede anything is beyond the realm of the possibility. We may not win the League or the tie with Barcelona, but this team has given its supporters every reason to at least believe that it is possible. Keep the faith!

NOTE: Arsenal Station has started testing out using AudioBoos in conjunction with blog. Below is my AudioBoo from immediately after the Wolves match. Now, I do not have a “radio voice,” so any feedback on them is welcome as I try to figure out whether they are useful enough and enhance the blog overall.