I went back and had a look at both my pre- and post-match analysis of the infamous Fulham match of last year and it’s really remarkable how much things have changed.
Before the match, I had this to say
I see this as an opportunity for the team; Adebayor needs to rebuild his reputation after this summer’s drama, one of the young men need to step up and show they can play central midfield at the Premiership level, and the defense needs to keep a clean sheet against a team that has more firepower than West Brom.So, it’s a golden chance, in my mind, one I have no doubt that the quality of this Arsenal club will show.
And then after the match, which you’ll remember featured Eboue in the holding midfield role and Denilson in the creative role, I pretty much ripped everyone, by name, but here’s the excerpt that most stands out in my mind:
Without a proper midfield the perfect little world that Wenger creates on the pitch, that world where movement and passing is king, falls to pieces rather quickly. Without a proper midfield stopper, the defense is exposed. Without a proper midfield creator, the attack is toothless. And since neither Denilson nor Eboue seemed able to make a pass we didn’t even have beautiful football to watch. It was the kind of game that you want to switch off. The kind of game you want to leave early to beat the traffic.
In case you have some deep seated need to relive a dark moment in Arsenal history the link to my rant is provided.
A lot has changed in that year, though. First, I’m not the same writer that I was then, I’d like to think that I’ve gotten better, but you’ll be the judge of that.
Second, just as I have gotten better I’d like to think that this team has gotten better: Song has objectively improved in all aspects of his game from positioning to heading the ball to passing, Vermaelen is a huge upgrade on Toure, and Arshavin is quite simply a fcuking genius.
Third, tactically I think this team is very different: last year Wenger employed the simplistic 4-4-2 and he is now playing a 4-3-3 which gives us more flexibility in both attack and defense. It is a more demanding system, no doubt, but it’s a more productive system as our +9 goal differential illustrates.
And finally, last year Arsenal were a shambles from set plays (defensively and offensively) and this year since everyone seems to be infected with Vermaelenosis we’ve added set plays to our attack and subtracted some of the vulnerability to set plays from our defense.
One of the set play vulnerabilities has been at keeper, where we have been lacking for a player who will claim high balls and command his area. Now with Almunia out for a while, and Wenger passing the press a sly grin and saying “Normally (I would pick) Mannone, but we have 48 hours before the game” Arsenal fans could see if Woolly Szczesny at the tender age of 19 can be a more dominating force in the box than future England number 1, Manny Pickledickle.
Just as some of the personnel have changed there’s a different attitude from this team over last year. I remember when Man City beat us last year in the away match, the team seemed to give up and crawl inside a shell after the Robinho goal to start the second half. Similarly when Tottenham mounted a comeback and scored a third goal against us in the 4-4 draw (DVDs of which, no joke, are available on their web site) this team seemed to just give up.
But I didn’t see that same defeated attitude in either of the two Manchester matches. Rather, they kept going for the whole 90 (plus!) and had they taken their chances could have easily leveled both of those matches.
Andrei Arshavin, who will play tomorrow, didn’t see the Man U match the same way I did. In his exclusive interview on the dot com Arshavin expressed his anger that we took the lead at Old Trafford but were unable to hold on. Rather than a moment of dazzling football he felt like Man U just pushed us a little bit and this team “had no answers.” In his usual way he said that giving up like that “made him angry.”
Good! We need some guys on this team who won’t settle for second best, guys who will push this team and demand more from them. I’m all about Wenger’s absolute love and cherishing players philosophy but it’s also important to have someone on the team with fire in their belly. I would have no problem at all if your smallest player in stature becomes our biggest player in the locker room.
As for scoring goals, we all know that we can score. In fact, it would have been almost incredible if we had scored three more goals and leveled those two Manchester matches because it would have brought our goal scoring tally to an eye-popping 20 goals in 5 matches, 4 goals a game. As it stands we’re on a measly, league leading, 17 goals scored. Unlike last year, don’t expect this Fulham match to end 1-0.
Not only are we scoring bags of goals, but they are coming from all over the pitch with Vermaelen and Cesc leading the club with 6 league goals. Wenger chalks this goalscoring up to the attacking philosophy of this club:
We have a flowing, attacking style, we are all mobile, and we take risks as well. The quality of the players counts as well; we have players who can create and who can finish. I believe that when a team plays collectively, and everybody attacks in a team, then everybody can score in a team.
But it’s defense where we have had the biggest problems so far this season and where we have had the problems, well, honestly, since Patrick Vieira left. I think it’s no coincidence that Adebayor scored almost immediately after Alex Song was removed, his strength in the middle of the park and on set plays is absolutely crucial if Arsenal are going to get maximum points tomorrow.
Fulham will try to exploit Arsenal’s traditional weakness on set plays with their 6’7″ American center back and ubiquitous paper Arsenal target, Brede Hangeland. Vermaelen no doubt will be keen to show why Hangeland is surplus to requirements and I expect our Verminator to keep Tiny in his pocket on set plays.
Up front, Arsenal have a fresh squeezed Andrei Arshavin rested and ready to go. Robin van Persie is a question mark, but if he doesn’t play Wenger has Eduardo, Bendtner, and Vela all available. The papers are reporting that Theo Walcott could feature but Wenger took pains to point out that he hasn’t played in several months so I expect him to play maybe 10 minutes, if he gets on the pitch at all.
Nope, I’m leaning toward just one surprise inclusion from our traditional Sagna, Gallas, Vermy, Clichy, Song, Denilson, Diaby, Cesc, Arshavin, Robin, Bendy lineup and that’s Woolly Szczesny.
We’ll have to see if that surprise pays off.
Right, the match is being televised live on Fox Soccer Channel at 9:30am (PST) here in the states, so I’ll be liveblogging the game starting at 9am (PST). Stop on by, those are always a lot of fun. See you tomorrow!