Ah Zed Alkmaar v. Arsenal; Dutch Hercules

Wenger reaches for the stars

Just a few hours to go before Arsenal take on AZ Alkmaar in a Champions League clash that is being billed by some as Koeman v. Wenger. The two have met before and I remember it very clearly, it was a game which was dominated by a masterful defensive performance by Chelsea’s now second string center back, Alex.

Koeman and PSV dominated both legs of the match by employing the same tactic that the “oop norf” cloggers in the Premier League used to be able to rely on; kick, kick, kick, win a free kick, kick it to a big guy, score on a header, and go back to kicking. That second leg, in particular, was very hard to watch. Arsenal were completely disrupted and once PSV gained the away goal advantage, Thierry Henry was thrown on despite suffering a lack of fitness and form, and he was re-injured. It was the last game he would ever play for Arsenal and not exactly the way I would have wanted to see him off.

Now, there’s a lot of talk about Koeman playing “attacking football” with AZ and maybe they will, it would be suicide, but hey, weirder things have happened. He is talking about trying to dominate possession against us and that did make me turn my head a bit, but I suspect Koeman is going to be a realist. I’d be shocked if we saw the type of open, end-to-end match that Man City gave us.

This Arsenal team, though, has since been re-crafted. No longer playing a 4-4-2 or worse the 4-5-1 Arsenal play a 4-3-3 in which every player is called upon to play defense, score, and set each other up for more scoring. I know this will come as a shock to you all so you better sit down: Wenger admitted yesterday was that he thinks offense is defense:

If we score goals, it is because we have the ball. To have the ball, you need to defend. That is why I believe we have a good team ethic, a good working attitude together. We all play on the same wavelength, which is why everybody scores.

It’s team defense, team offense, and team hold onto the gods-damned ball!

From the presser, I don’t get the sense that Wenger thinks this will be a walk in the park. In fact, he warned everyone of the threat from Dutch teams in the Champions League. It matters little that AZ lost a match in league play on Saturday, they will be up for this game. And by up I mean fully committed.

Defensively, Arsenal are re-worked quite a bit from 2007 as well with Gallas and Vermaelen as the new defensive stars in the Arsenal back line. Funnily enough, when asked why Vermaelen and Gallas work so well together, Wenger “big-ups” Thomas Vermaelen by saying it’s his talent, plus Gallas hates playing on the left. There’s a bit of insight into what happened last year. It’s looks to me like both Gallas and Toure hated playing on the left and for some reason Toure got the nod over Gallas. That explains why the two were at each other all year and further explains why Gallas is so much happier this year. I remember back to when Gallas played for Chelsea and one of the main reasons for his departure was down to the fact that Chelsea played him at left-back, so this whole hatred of playing on the left is a long-standing gripe with him. I’m just happy that he’s happy.

Another change, hell a change even this year, is in the keeper spot. Gone is Lehmann, who was replaced by Almunia, who has subsequently been replaced by Mannone. Funny thing about that Mannone replacement… both Mannone and Almunia have played in 4 Premier League matches this season and so I did a little statistical comparison of the two:


5 shots  —  own goal, 2 saves    — Man City 4-2 Arsenal
3 shots  —  own goal, 2 saves    — Man U 2-1 Arsenal
3 shots  —  2 saves              — Arsenal 4-1 Pompey
5 shots  —  4 saves              — Everton 1-6 Arsenal
16 shots —  10 saves             — 8 goals (2 o.g.)

62.5% Save Percentage             — .5 goals/shot


5 shots  —  5 saves  CLEAN SHEET — Arsenal 4-0 Wigan
8 shots  —  8 saves  CLEAN SHEET — Fulham 0-1 Arsenal
5 shots  —  3 saves              — Arsenal 6-2 Blackburn
3 shots  —  1 save               — Arsenal 3-1 Birmingham
21 shots — 17 saves, 2 CS        — 4 goals

81% Save Percentage               — .2 goals/shot

Obviously a keeper proves his worth over a long period, obviously 4 games is not really long enough to judge either player, and obviously keepers do more than make saves, but I can see why Wenger is having a selection “problem” in picking Almunia. He’s not been anywhere near top form in his first four matches and when you have a team that only allows a handful of shots on goal, you can’t really have a keeper who is letting in nearly 40% of the chances.

Mannone will start today, I feel confident!

As for the other starts, Eboue is a shoo-in for Theo’s spot up front, van Persie is a fixture at the center forward (what with Wenger comparing him to van Basten) and unless the boss gets a wild hair Arshavin will start on the left. The middle is Cesc and Song and most likely Diaby. The back four is Clichy, Vermy, Gallas, and Sagna — who else would he play? Vela will get some time on the pitch irregardless of the scoreline. Just because he’s in good form and the boss will want to get him some turf time ahead of the Carling Cup match against Liverpool.

Viewing in the States has two options: live on Setanta or tape delay on Fox Soccer Channel. The Publican at Doyle’s in Tacoma has assured me that he will be showing the match live at 11:30am (PST) so, if you’re in Tacoma come on down and watch with me. I’ll be twittering pearls of swine live from the match and you can follow me over at the twitter, if you’re into that. If not, stop by tomorrow for the Good, Bad, and Ugly.

See you then!


  1. Nice comparison for both keepers. But you have to take Almunia’s record with a grain of salt. Everton, Manure, and Man City are tenfold better than the likes of Birmingham and Wigan. I believe you(Tim) even said that the first month of the season would be the toughest for Arsenal. And 2 goals that came in from Man City were towards the end of the game when we had 9 guys crowding the Man City box, and as a result, no help on defense. So I would say Almunia gets the nod today. Depending on the outcome is who gets the net for Sunday at the bubble blowers.

    1. Or not… Mannone gets the start. Strong lineup for Arsenal. Outside of Mannone, pretty much what was expected.

  2. I’ve got absolutely no clue what AW is thinking regarding the GK position. At this point I’d like to see them all play over the next week (One Manny today, the next on Sunday, and then one of our Poles vs. Pool). Personally I agree that you can only judge a keeper over a very long period of time after they have played all sorts of matches against all levels of competition. I’m not convinced that either Manny is good enough to match the ambitions of our club, and I think Fabianski showed more potential than either of them (FA cup semi gaffe, notwithstanding) during his stint last season.

  3. regardless of who we play, or how good almunia sometimes appears to be, he is nowhere near good enough for arsenal… he aint good enough for a mid table team in the premiership never mind a team aspiring to win trophies and compete in the big cup competitions… a list of the teams almunia wouldnt get into… Liverpool, United, Chelsea, Portsmouth, Bolton, Aston Villa, Stoke, Man City, Spurs, Everton, Fulham… that sounds ridiculous doesnt it? but its true, all those keepers, are better than almunia, in nearly every aspect, yet we continue to put up with this donkey… he’s an average keeper, who’s somehow got lucky… bafflin’ as to why we are unable or unwilling to attract top keepers to arsenal, or maybe its not just a priority to wenger???? who knows… anyway rant over…. think we should take AZ Alkmaar 2-1 tonight!!!

    1. It’s money partly: the very best – Casillas, Buffon – cost 40m plus and wouldn’t come to England anyway. We did try to buy Cech when he was still very young and affordable but couldn’t because of work-permit problems. We tried to buy a young Nigerian this summer – further evidence that Wenger has lost faith in Almunia? – but apparently the price was too high. I’d guess you’re thinking – well, lots of people do think this – that some of the Premiership keepers (Given, Friedel, etc.) were always better than Almunia but I wouldn’t agree: not when you consider the stupid money we’d have had to pay for them. Almunia was never better than average, true, except as a penalty saver, but he was very steady until recently, and at less than a million he was very good value.

  4. Respect for producing those stats – I wondered what, if anything, you’d find to say on a day when – shockingly really – there’s no news about Arsenal at all. I was reduced to reading AZ’s site again since there’s not a thing in the English papers, just endless schadenfreude over Liverpool’s woes. Our game isn’t even on the radio – both stations are covering, yes, you guessed – which is pretty disrespectful of them, though a good omen for us as we always do well when nobody’s watching.

    There was an interesting comment by Zico on the Olympiakos game. He said, contrary to popular opinion, they didn’t just try to defend; the problem was they couldn’t get hold of the ball or do anything with it because of the irritating way we disturbed them all over the pitch. More power to our irritating tactics in that case.

  5. There should be some decent (read: better) keepers than Pickledickle available. Robert Green of West Ham, Sorensen of Stoke and Gordon of Sunderland come to mind, I would even take a punt on Joe Hart, despite his age, who very soon will be England’s #1 and won’t want to be on loan or backing up Shay Given for the next 10 years.

    1. @CanGunn444, Gordon cost NINE (9) MILLION. Not worth it. Sorensen was hopeless at Villa hence why he was pushed out by Friedel, a bloody 38 year old. Green is overrated.

  6. I have never been fully convinced by Almunia. For me, he’s always been average. His strength lies in his shot stopping but he’s had lapses of concentration in important games and tends to come out of his line in situations where there is no real need for him to do so. The goals that the SOB david bentley and cron scored against us last year still makes me sick to the stomach. GKs usually peak much later and Almunia’s best may be yet to come but I would like to see Mannone out there for the time being to see how much longer he can keep up the form he has been showing the past few games.

    Sucks that Theo is out for 4 weeks. I am still fucking pissed off about that challenge. I know it’s been said that the challenge was a fair one, but I think that’s utter horse shit. Two footed or not, when you go in with a tackle like that, you know very well that you are going to be taking out the player even if you get contact with the ball first. The fact that you still make that challenge without regard for the phyical consequences should be a foul in my book. Fuck Liam Ridgewell. Hope he breaks his leg.

    1. Did he intend to hurt Walcott? Possibly not, but he was willing to risk it, just as Martin Taylor has been willing to risk it, again and again and again. Which Birmingham player broke Modric’s leg? Not that it matters. The whole lot of them are egged on by McCleish to cause career-ending injuries in every game.

    2. @nygunner: “Sucks that Theo is out for 4 weeks. I am still fucking pissed off about that challenge. I know it’s been said that the challenge was a fair one, but I think that’s utter horse shit. Two footed or not, when you go in with a tackle like that, you know very well that you are going to be taking out the player even if you get contact with the ball first. The fact that you still make that challenge without regard for the phyical consequences should be a foul in my book.”

      You are spot-on there, mate. Anyone who calls that challenge fair, is either a brute or completely bonkers, and needs to be examined. It is football, not Judo or its variants. The law is clear as in the extract below: ”
      Serious foul play
      – A player is guilty of serious foul play if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play.
      – A tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as serious foul play.
      – Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.”

      For the Larsson foul on Mannone, see this extract from the law: ”
      Offences committed against goalkeepers
      • It is an offence for a player to prevent a goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands
      • A player must be penalised for playing in a dangerous manner if he kicks or attempts to kick the ball when the goalkeeper is in the process of releasing it
      • It is an offence to restrict the movement of the goalkeeper by unfairly impeding him, e.g. at the taking of a corner kick ”

      Enough said.

  7. Line-ups out, Mannone to start. Question: Did we give Almunia a new contract in the summer? Memory’s not what it use to be….

    Regarding tackles: I recall a couple of seasons ago when many bloggers/pundits were lamenting our apparent lack of desire to “get stuck in.” Can we have it both ways?

    I like that we seem to have some players who are quite good at picking the ball from opponents without going to ground (Song, Diaby). When you go to ground on 50-50 balls it seems there’s a lot of risk for both yourself and the opponent (I’m thinking of Cesc on Xabi Alonso and then out for four months).

    I don’t have Theo’s injury on tape but, whether or not it was OK under the rules, it’s no good. To a certain extent the awareness that players are willing to injure you is a huge part of maturing as a player–if you’re hurt, you can’t play. Against these lesser teams, protecting yourself should be an even higher priority, especially in the early parts of the game when opponents are full of piss & vinegar. It’s a hard thing to figure out and something that only experience can teach. Perhaps with our younger, less proven players (who need to show their talents with each minute they get on the pitch–even in training) we should expect the higher injury rate that we seem to have.

  8. Fabregas on 36″, tic-tac-toe-goal.
    Barcelona down 0-1 to a golaso.
    Inter get beat 2-1 by whatstherenames.

  9. Guys how about Toulalan for CDM when Song has gone to ACN. he looks like a really good player

    1. Toulalan is the heart of Lyon’s team right now. He’s over 25, decent but Lyon are not selling him while the team is doing so well.

    1. We once again fail to deal w/ the long FK into our box. Robinson’s FK was the 1st time we were undone. Time to work on this in training Wenger.

  10. Shit. 2 points lost. My problems w/ this game were 2. We were content to take what AZ Alkmaar gave us instead of upping the tempo of our attacking passing in the final 1/3. We also lacked speed to get behind the defense which played very well and maintained a compact shape.

    1. @ctpa, I think taking Eboue off was a bad decision. He made some good driving runs, and gave another outlet. Wait did I just say that?

      Diaby had a good game. He needs to work on his heading though, he should be good in the air but isn’t.

      1. I don’t disagree. I think Wenger just wanted those boys to get a run out before Sunday and next Wed.

  11. Barcelona lose to Rubin Kazan 2-1. Inter tie Debrecen 2-2. Inter were missing Milito and only had Eto’o forward as Balotelli was out because he picked up a stupid red card.

    1. @ctpa, Best is Liverpuddle 1 – 2 Lyon.

      With three games to go Liverpuddle are bottom, and have to get points away at Lyon (tough), home to Fiorentina (tough) and away at Drebreceni (tough). Will their season be completely over by the end of this month?

      I hope the kids trounce them in the kiddie cup.

      1. After their Sunderland loss, I absolutely knew they would loose against Lyon who have improved their team despite Juninho’s retirement and Benzema’s big money move. That’s why I’m predicting that if they allow the use of motorized wheelchairs, then we’ll see Steven Gerrard in our CC match 😉

  12. Tough, tough result and the Haters will be all over our “immature” team.

    From my relentlessly upbeat perspective this is a perfect learning experience and hopefully we will use it as such. Mannone was certainly not at fault for the goal, but he seemed rooted to his line on many occasions, especially compared to their keeper who played well. (We might’ve scored a half dozen if it were one of our keepers playing for them tonight?)

    Oh well, I say, and far better for us than Barca, and Liverpool (Gerrard off early injured I believe) not to mention Inter or Rangers….now for the fall-out….

    1. I’m going to cut our boys some slack here. We were not immature (in term of CL experience) when you look at AZ Alkmaar, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Liverpool. We played well, we just didn’t do enough.

      I think some of players may have been a tad tired. For eg. Arshavin was actually giving the ball away compared to our usual suspect Diaby who actually played well. Diaby didn’t play the Wed. French game while Arshavin did play for Russia We catch a break in that WHU is on Sunday.

    1. I hope we loose that indifference before AZ Alkmaar come calling on the 11/4.

      You have to say though that AZ Alkmaar played a good game. They may be last in our group but they are not a bad team. They are clearly better than the Premiership teams we’ve been running over.

    2. @arsesession, Not really indifference, just the attack was a bit tired. (Other than Eboue). The defence right from Mannone to Diaby did a good job despite the scoreline. Diaby and Song shielded the back four well for 90 minutes, just a Bolton style goal conceded that let us down. You really need to see one of the bigger lads, whether it be Galla, Verminator, Diaby or Song come to those and header them away with power. (As Cana did often for Sunderland on the weekend to end Liverpool’s aerial threat)

  13. I’m a bit drunk and still trying to figure out why we were so poor.

    Just to fully persuade LRV that I’m female, I liked their keeper a lot – very nice cheekbones. Also looked pretty competent, it has to be said.

    1. @Mia, Sorry Mia, but you could be gay.

      That’s just how it works. On the internet everyone is a man until we can get independent verification.

      1. True.

        Just to cheer myself up, have been the match of the reserves game. Nasri came through OK with an assist and Fab made an excellent save. Goals from Sunu and Watt. Could those two beat poor Liverpool, do you reckon? No, probably not, but it’s a nice thought.

  14. Re: our result
    You could see the writing on the wall. Only moments earlier, on another FK, the ball had a double deflection, with the second deflection going just wide of the post – yet, for that FK, I believe they were called offsides.

    RvP, Cesc, and Arshavin looked exhausted.

    How can you expect your youngsters to develop if they only see ‘very’ limited playing time, once every 5-6 matches.
    Vela could have started for RvP or Eboue, or played for Arshavin on the wing.

    Ramsey could have been as effective as Diaby or Cesc.

    1. Yes, they did look tired but why? It’s only October and we’ve been playing well and winning so it can’t be the tiredness of low spirits

  15. as someone said above, diaby had a great game but need to learn how to clear the ball with his head. he was on the wrong side of that tall italian who seemed to foul whenever he got close to the ball. having him in for his height seems like a waste, but i suspect wenger is giving him time on the pitch much like he did with song last year and look how that turned out. fabregas did say he would be a world beater in dm in an interview on arsenal fc blog (cant be bothered to link).
    agree with mia, song motm, he usually gets a bit sloppy toward the end of matches but today he seemed to grow

  16. Well there’s those lapses in conentration I keep talking about. If we actually focus for the entire game – not just 90 minutes of the playing time we could very well win more trophies. We definitely need to be reminded that a game has injury time and a game can and does go for more than 90 minutes.

    Diaby seems to be able to actually get a head on the ball when he’s in our own penalty box – not to say it’s a great header, or even a clearing header but in some shape or form he gets there. However ha can’t do jack all in the air when he’s in the oppositions box and the ball is in the air – I’ve said it before, he’s a very below par player in general for a team of Arsenal’s stature.

    We definitely should have put more goals away and I’ve already said more than enough about the option of a target man who can gobble up anything in the box and score 20 goals a season. Many disagree with me but some of the games we’ve played so far and the 2 losses we’ve had show that some days you need to lump it up to a big guy who can change the way the game is played. The beatiful passing doesn’t work every week for 90 minutes, sometimes the simplest plan is the best plan no matter how ugly or archaic it seems. Drogba shows what a talented big man is capable of since he scores practically every week.

    1. @WC, I strongly disagree. Diaby showed today that he has everything he needs to be an absolutely world class player. He just needs to continue to apply himself and improve aerially and position wise.

      1. @Xabier, Yes he can become an absolutely world class screw up. For all his “power” and “size” he’s evidently a craptastic defender. Players half his size are winning balls in the air over him and when he does win the air game the ball seems to head towards our goal and not away from it. For the kind of money these guys get paid I’d expect them to be at least competent in the basics of the game – heading is one of skills they teach you from elementary school football.

  17. This draw feels very much like a loss. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I did say that I thought that our boys were tired; the result of that killer interlull. Why couldn’t they just play all their international games at the end of the season when their are no club football? Afterall, it is the clubs that pay the players wages. The country should not have an automatic right to wreck them without paying a penny, should they?

    1. @LRV, They can’t play internationals at the end of the season because the WC is at the end of the season. I’m pretty sure the nations would play some garbage football if you just lumped them together after only a couple weeks of training together. Furthermore, how could you possibly do qualifications in the span of a few weeks for hundreds of countires?

      Really what they need to cut out are friendlies and have internationals to just 1 game in the break instead of some random friendly and then an actual qualifier a couple days later. That just adds another unnecessary game to the calendar. The EPL also needs to cut the Carling Cup – it’s garbage and adds a string of mediocrity to an already busy slate of football with CL, the EPL league, the FA Cup and internationals already on the menu.

      This goes to show how retarded the FA is when they were proposing a 39th game in some far away offshore location.

    2. @LRV, Verminator says:

      “It feels like a defeat. But when you are 1-0 in front you are not comfortable – it is always risky.”

      So he feels the same way. Which is good. It means that they aren’t satisfied with draws, and that they should bounce back from this.

  18. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/sport/robkelly/100002504/arsene-wenger-may-talk-up-this-current-arsenal-side-but-theyre-not-yet-a-patch-on-the-invincibles/

    Blah, blah, blah. Criticism masked as praise for the Arsenal of old. Get over it. What’s the point of comparing these player to the legends of yore. They are writing theeir stories now and what the future holds we have yet to see. Absolutely pointless article. These players should not be saddled w/ the exploits of past Arsenal greats. They also never won the CL despite their legendary status. The current team may yet win that trophy.

    1. Absolutely right. I’d guess the players in question are the Invincibles (?) – can’t be bothered to check the link to the Telegraph – who, as you say, rarely got beyond the group stage in Europe. I also find the constant harking back to the fine no-nonsense George Graham defence a bit tedious. What is it, this nonsense, in no-nonsence defender, the English are obsessed with? Possibly technical skill.

  19. From the 13 minutes highlights you can tell inmediately 3 things:

    1. Romero (GK) had a good game (like 3 saves from RVP)
    2. Vela was fouled in the box, it should have been a pen.
    3. The equalizer was a lucky one. Come one how many times you do that play and the header goes exactly where it needs to go to put that volley on the upper side of the goal. Vito couldnt do anything there.

    1. Agree with all of that. AZ played well enough, had a lot of possession and scored an equalizer that was the kind of goal that can happen to anyone, including teams like Barca who never get branded with being pretty-pretty and sloppy defensively, whereas we always are, sometimes justly, sometimes not. My criticism and my worry is that we failed to put the game beyond them. Why? We’re famed for being able to outrun other teams but at exactly the point where I thought AZ would start tiring, it was us who looked tired.

      Too early I suppose to be thinking of the draw for the next round and whether winning the group is important, but pleasing to notice that the Special One’s Inter are currently fourth.

  20. The mindset of Champions is not to accept anything but victory.
    You want it more than the opponent. In the last few minutes,
    there was no fire in our eyes.

    We are showing an improvement over previous seasons, but we’re
    not there yet.

    We had the quality of players on the pitch to win, they just looked

    This is a recurring problem about Arsene.

    1. @arsesession, Oh come off it. The tiredness was just down to the cram of fixtures in the past week and the long trips the players took to get around Europe/the world to play those games.

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