Vassiriki Abou Diaby, The Past and The Future

When Diaby was first signed by Arsene, people took a look at his frame and thought we had signed the new Patrick Vieira. People couldn’t help making the comparison. They were nearly the same height, the same build, French, and operated in central midfield.

Everybody immediately believed that Wenger had discovered another gem when he delivered powerful, thrusting performances from the midfield. Jacques Santini, then manager of Auxerre, quickly tried to play down these claims. “Believe me, I’ve seen Diaby train and he is no Patrick Vieira.”

At the time, there were even some suggestions that with Diaby’s strengths, perhaps there would be a rotation where Cesc played in central midfield at home and Diaby would be played in the tough road matches. With a simple slot in goal against Aston Villa, in a 5-0 beating, Diaby was flying. In his first few games, it was clear he was not necessarily the second coming of Vieira, but he was a very promising player indeed.

Then, the horrible happened. A cunt from Sunderland destroyed Diaby’s tackle during a match. I remember watching this game at my pub. I remembering literally being able to hear Diaby’s screams from the television audio feed. Everybody knew it was a bad injury, and indeed it was.

After a lengthy rehabilitation, he returned in a sporadic capacity. By then, Cesc had fully integrated himself into the team as an undisputed first choice XI player. Gilberto had planted himself as a default captain of sorts and scored all kinds of important goals for us. Diaby was often fielded in the left midfield position, no doubt in order to improve his overwhelming propensity towards using his right foot. He was often effective, but everybody thought he was being groomed to play in the center, perhaps alongside Cesc.

During the Emirates Cup, it was widely anticipated that Cesc and Diaby would be partnered in the center and given a run to succeed. Many had predicted that Diaby would be the revelation of the season. Little did we know that Mathieu Flamini would graft his way to making that position his own. Diaby again suffered because he was a brittle player. Injuries were the only reason why Flamini had a chance to prove himself, and who knows what would have happened had Diaby not been injured.

When we have seen Diaby deployed there, he seemed tactically inept. Even Arsene acknowledged this much in some comments. Wenger took pains to point out that they’re trying to instruct him, but he never seemed to be in the right place. Looking at him closely under the microscope, he was not strong in the tackle, he didn’t play like a defensive midfielder, and it seemed as though he was far more interested in attacking then defending. In some games, he was actually deployed as a secondary striker.

Diaby does possess a wide range of offensive skills. He possesses a good first touch (which most every Arsenal player has anyway), he can dribble his way out of tight spaces, he’s extremely powerful when he runs forward, and he has a very good right foot. In the past few weeks, he’s shown his ability to loft aerial through passes with extreme precision. We also cannot discount his ability to finish. He scored the first goal in the Liverpool CL second leg, and he’s also scored a wonder goal against Derby.

When most people were complaining about our lack of goals and the poor central midfield of Song and Denilson, I thought it was largely due to injuries that this was even happening. To my mind, the player that could have done a job for us there was Diaby. When I saw him appear in the lineup for Roma, I was convinced that finally we’d be able to produce a far slicker performance. That is what he delivered. His ability to retain the ball and powerfully burst through in key situations helps to break down defenses. Whether that’ll happen against a team fully committed to defending, we’ll see soon.

Luckily, he has been passed fit for the Fulham match tomorrow. I fully expect him to play in the center alongside Denilson. His contribution may be key while we’re waiting for Cesc to recover. I finally feel as though he knows his role. He is far more comfortable in the center of the park. And he is far more useful as a blunt attacking instrument. His presence in the center will help keep Arshavin and Nasri wider and pass around a defense, rather than through it.

It’s time to start winning games that we deserve to win. I believe we did enough to win against Sunderland, we just didn’t convert chances. Now, let’s see if we can bang in an early goal to rebuild our confidence in the Premier League.

It’s Just Not Gibbs

Incidentally, just one Englishman, in the young left back, Kieran Gibbs, got on the field for Arsenal against Sunderland, and that, only as a 78th minute sub. As one who is writing a new (The Other Arsenal) book about the Gunners, it is interesting to read Wenger’s early declarations on the importance of using English players. Could he really find so few of them?
– Brian Glanville

I am a big fan of Mr. Glanville. And I’ve heard that he is a big Arsenal fan himself. But when Andrey Arshavin costs less than Darren Bent, what choice does Arsene Wenger have but to look to the continent or elsewhere for players who are ready to make a difference right now?

Our youth teams are laden with England internationals. Not least the very highly rated Wilshere, Lansbury, and Afobe. Jay Simpson – one of many players loaned out to gain experience and regular playing time – has signed a five-year contract with the club. Both Championship and EPL teams are always eager to sign our young players. Some people criticize us for not really having a youth system because we buy players from other clubs and don’t actually develop them.

File that under TAAC (Typical Anti-Arsenal Crap). Whether brought in at 9 or at 16 years old, they are taught how to play the Arsenal way. That’s what the Steve Bruces and Tony Mowbrays and Gareth Southgates find appealing.

So no Mr. Glanville, it’s not that Arsene couldn’t find any other English players. There are many coming through and many out on loan. They have to be brought in gradually lest we risk damaging their confidence. The ones who would come in and make a difference right away are ridiculously over-priced. In fact, they tend to be laughably so. Even you have commented on that. And let’s be honest, other than Wayne Rooney, have there really been many others in the past 10 years who could have walked into our team?

I long for the day when people stop drawing a line between the English and non-English players at our club.

Civil War

Arsenal fans are currently involved in a civil war.

There are mainly two camps: the pro-Gallas and the anti-Gallas. If you find yourself defending the likes of Song, Denilson, and Eboue then you are in the first camp. If you want to sell Bendtner, Eboue and Silvestre and think that Arsenal without Cesc is equivalent to the USA without nuclear weapons then you are in the latter camp.

It was a good win last night against Roma. The performance was a major improvement from last Saturday against Sunderland. But despite having one foot in the quarter-finals, the anti-Gallas fans are extremely unhappy.

“How the fuck can anyone defend Bendtner? He could not trap a bag of cement. He’s barely a Championship player.” This was written after Bendtner had missed two good chances. He also got into good positions to make those chances happen and was involved in a lot of Arsenal’s good moves. One of them being his ball to Robin van Persie that won Arsenal a penalty.

“Eboue should never wear an Arsenal shirt again after that miss,” one Arsenal fan wrote last night.

The Negatives will never be able to see the potential of Eboue. The man is probably one of our most important squad members. He can play right-wing, right-back and can be used in center midfield, if the situation requires it. With Walcott injured and Arshavin not fit, Eboue is our best option on the right.

Against Spurs, Eboue was our main attacking threat until he got sent-off. When he came on as a sub against Sunderland he added some much needed spark to our lifeless play.

Wenger once compared Eboue to Ray Parlour. The Negatives cried foul. How dare Wenger compare them both. Eboue in their eyes is a diver, a cheat, a theatrical idiot who needlessly gets sent-off and thus let the team down at crucial moments.

Booing Eboue or cheering at him when he gets subbed is The Negatives way of showing their disdain for the Ivory Coast international. They say he can’t be trusted. That his petulance and idiocy out trumps any of his qualities. For The Nagatives, Eboue is a time bomb waiting to go off.

Maybe the pressure from the crowd, especially from The Negatives, played a part in Bendtner’s and Eboue’s misses last night. The constant moans and groans every time they touch the ball would certainly have a detrimental affect on me.

The true test of whether you are a Negative or not is the topic of Cesc Fabregas. The Negatives love Cesc. If Arsenal is The Negatives religion of choice then Cesc is their Jesus Christ.

Cesc has not had a good season. He came back from Euro 2008 looking tired and lethargic. He has set himself high standards to be judged on and there have been games where he has not lived up to his own standards.

But The Negatives are blind when it comes to Cesc. At times they hide behind the truth. If Cesc has a bad game, they will ignore this and instead focus their hate on another player instead. Usually Gallas, Song or Denilson.

Four seasons ago, The Negatives wanted Gilberto out. That was until he got injured and Arsenal started leaking more goals. Only then could they see his true worth.

The Arsenal player that The Negatives really hate is Mikael Silvestre. When he was at Manchester United I didn’t like him. But that was mainly due to Manchester United being our bitter rivals. The Negatives say that Alex Fergurson would not have sold a player that he rated highly to one of his rivals. Silvestre in their eyes is old and injury prone. A bad buy.

Silvestre is experienced. He was excellent at left-back against Aston Villa. With Traore and Senderos out on loan, he’s a decent stop gap until Arsenal find someone younger and better. He’s done well when he has played.

The voice of The Negatives is Arseblog who deride players like Silvestre constantly. On the Arsecast, Silvestre is mocked as a gay, disco diva. When he was signed, Arseblog claimed that Arsenal were “scratching around the bins.” That’s what I feel like doing, whenever I am in the company of a Negative.

Simple Analysis and Roma

After the admittedly disappointing draw against Sunderland, the bloggers are attacking the team with a vengeance. Everybody seems to be on the brink of defeat, practically conceding our Champions League spot to Aston Villa when the cold fact is that we actually gained a point on them. We should have gotten all three points, but from my perspective, we created the chances to win. We merely didn’t convert them, and some of our players looked downright nervous in front of goal at times (Vela). That sort of nervousness comes when you care about the result.

Because of this result, the bloggers decided to attack. The main source of their anger is the central midfield partnership of Denilson and Alex Song. When Wenger stated that he has stats to back how effective Denilson has been, he was confirming my feelings about Neves. He’s underrated. I’m not saying he’s been one of the best players of the season; I’m just saying that the criticism is largely unjustified. The bloggers decided to use stats of their own to back their own points about how ineffective Denilson has been. Some said he didn’t make a single forward pass in the game (not true, he put van Persie through on goal in a chance he should have converted), and all he did was pass short from side to side.

Now, what they’re quoting is technically correct. The assumption though that the stats they’re using and the stats that Wenger are using are one and the same is completely false. In a television interview, Wenger talked about how the computer data he has tells him all kinds of things about players. For instance, he talked about how he can measure the speed of passes and how saving a millisecond in a pass can lead to a faster attack. That was just one example. ProZone, which is so popular nowadays, is a pay service. The Guardian Chalkboards are a free service. In the worlds of baseball and basketball, statistics are being used more and more as ways to figure out meaningful numbers in order to analyze players. In football, it’s much more difficult, because there isn’t any sort of organized lineup (like baseball) which would give statistics equal weight. But I’m pretty confident that Wenger has access to stats we wouldn’t even think of and utilizes them as such. He uses them to determine who may or may not need a rest and all kinds of other things.

To see bloggers use the very basic statistics to damn Denilson is just simple analysis. At first, Denilson seemed like a back up player to Cesc. They saw him as a playmaker, who had a similar game to Cesc. And in his first season, that’s what Denilson was. I read about how in an FA Cup game, Denilson had as high a score as Cesc did. In that role, he was developing and was an intriguing player.

This season, he is not that player anymore. Instead, Wenger saw him as a foil player for Cesc. He is playing a completely different role to what he used to play, something actually more akin to his Sao Paulo and Brazil U-17 roots. He’s had to make an adjustment, and he’s done it quite well actually. He doesn’t possess an all-action style like Flamini, so when they see the one play where he displays a “lack of effort,” they immediately say we could have used Flamini there.

When we were destroyed by injuries and conceding goals, Wenger decided to deploy a system where he has two midfielders protecting our back four. Instead of relying on a central player to dictate the team (like Cesc), he’s relying on our wing players (mostly Nasri for creativity, Diaby and Eboue for penetrative power) and van Persie to create the goals. We are playing a completely different style, and Denilson is being destroyed for not being creative. That is not Denilson’s job in this team.

And just what has happened since Denilson and Song have played as a central midfield partnership? We’ve stopped conceding goals. Do you think that’s a coincidence? It’s not.

We may have to use Arshavin in the hole when Walcott gets back to provide more creativity, but to rip our central midfield partnership of the last few games for being the reason for our failures is incorrect.

The bloggers tried to play their little games and pretend that they were smarter than Arsene Wenger. The fact is, we are not.

Tomorrow, we’ll play Roma in a game that should technically be more open. Roma have more ambition than most teams, but it will be a touch and go game. A clean sheet is the most vital thing for Arsenal to achieve tomorrow.

If the tie is alive in two weeks, when we’ll have Theo and perhaps Eduardo, we stand a decent chance at going through. I’m excited to see what this team can do. Wenger believes this team will be untouchable in three years time, but if this team has as little as the media or some bloggers think he has, then he wouldn’t say anything like that. He believes in this team, and I think we should believe in him.

Julio Baptista

Arsenal fans never saw the best of Julio Baptista. Maybe only fans of Seville have.

The man can be brilliant but also very average. In 24 Premiership appearances for Arsenal, he only scored 5 goals. Yet, against Liverpool in the 2007 Carling cup quarter-final at Anfield, he managed to score 4 goals and miss a penalty.

No man has scored that number of goals at Anfield post World War Two.

Four days earlier, Arsenal had beaten Liverpool 3-1 at Anfield in the FA cup 3rd round. To beat them at Anfield again, but with a reserve team 6-3, was stunning. At one point Arsenal led 5-1.

In the Carling cup semi-final against Spurs, Baptista showed his Jekyll and Hyde character. In the first half he was awful. He scored an own goal and missed a sitter from from 4 yards after an Arsenal corner had landed conveniently at his feet. At that stage Arsenal were 2-0 down and looking dead and buried. But after the break Arsenal and Baptista were a different story. Baptista atoned his first half nightmare with a second half retort – scoring two and bringing Arsenal back in the game.

The man was on fire and I wanted to Wenger to sign him permanently. But it seemed that Baptista had peaked. He never repeated his Spurs and Liverpool goal fest. In fact, he only managed to score two more goals that season – at home to Reading and Fulham.

Baptista would argue that he only started 16 games for Arsenal. True, it was only after Thierry Henry got injured that he saw more playing time. 17 of Baptista’s appearances were as a sub. In fact, he scored his first Arsenal goal as a substitute against Hamburg in a Champions League group match that Arsenal won 3-1.

Baptista, however, was the big transfer story of the summer 2005. For three months, like a fool, I stayed obsessed with the race for his signature. There were rumors that he wanted to stay another year in Spain so that he could claim his EU passport. Spurs had made a bid of 14 million pounds. Arsenal had a 13.75 million pound bid rejected. He eventually signed for Real Madrid, only to arrive at Arsenal a year later in a loan swap deal involving Jose Antonio Reyes.

Apart from his Carling cup goals, Baptista also missed three penalties. The first was against Liverpool in that famous 6-3 thrashing. The second was against Bolton Wanderers in a 4th round FA cup replay at The Reebok stadium. Gilberto also missed a penalty that night, which allowed Bolton to score a last minute equalizer.

Nevertheless, Arsenal eventually won the match 3-1 in extra time.

Baptista’s last penalty miss was against Portsmouth in the last game of the 2006/07 season. It was to be his last game in Arsenal shirt. Wenger couldn’t off load Reyes to Real Madrid and therefore decided against signing Baptista. Madrid’s asking price was too high, so Wenger signed Eduardo instead.

Tomorrow Baptista returns to The Emirates with Roma. He’s scored 6 goals in 18 games for them.

I like Baptista. Mainly because he reminds me of a striker Arsenal had in the late 1970’s called Malcolm Macdonald or Super Mac.

Macdonald holds the record for scoring the most England goals in one game. He scored five against Cyprus in a match England won 5-0. Macdonald only scored once again for England, with his international career fizzling out after just 14 caps.

Baptista’s Arsenal career also seemed to fizzle out after his Carling cup goal flurry. But Macdonald will always be remembered for his 5 England goals in one match. So will Baptista for his 4 goals at Anfield.

However, Macdonald is now only remembered as a trivia question. I get the feeling that the same will eventually be true of Baptista with his time at Arsenal soon to be forgotten. His goal record at Anfield will probably never be touched in my life time, but then Baptista will never never be one of The Untouchables either.

Change Is Good, Whingeing Is Not

When someone reaches out to you repeatedly you should respond. It is common courtesy. Recently I’ve been invited to watch matches with a small group of fellow Gooners. I have turned them down each time for one reason or another (all legitimate and true). The main reason I have always declined is because they are so negative. When I was asked this week, I said no again. When a second and then a third request came, I felt compelled to say yes. Mistake!

While I accept that different people deal with given situations differently, I cannot accept repeated rants and whingeing about the same issues. I cannot deny that if the same issues persist they must be addressed, but the repeated ranting and whingeing is more than I can ask myself to deal with. Besides, complaining does not befit grown men and nor has either individual provided answers.

I don’t want to be distracted with the same old ‘Wenger doesn’t get it’ nonsense. I don’t want to hear complaints every time an errant pass is made or a first touch is not as soft as it should have been. And I certainly don’t want to hear how much Diaby, Song, Denilson, Bendtner, Togo, Eboue, the tea lady, the car park attendant, and just about everyone who aren’t performing out of their skin are shit and must never wear our shirt again. To deal with that makes for a very bad experience. As if the result wasn’t bad enough, I endured an extra four minutes of men whingeing like flat-chested teenage girls with aspirations of porn careers.

The problem with expending all your energy on complaining – and I stress that the complaints from that lot haven’t changed – is that you miss the progress and the good things that have happened right in front of you. In no way am I endorsing Eboue’s inclusion as anything but a back-up, a squad player and nothing more. But in recent matches against West Ham and Spurs, he was our most lively and positive player for much of the time he was on the pitch. He even scored a legitimate but disallowed goal.

Certainly looking to a few good minutes from Eboue as a positive speaks volumes about our current state but when the cameras panned to Togo, Cesc, Eduardo, and that Czech bloke watching from the stands, most of the answers were there plainly for all to see. Before the injury, Diaby had shown me signs of the efficiency and tactical awareness that he lacked. Bendtner’s goals and overall contribution have been obvious – Sunderland aside. Denilson and Song are under-rated in my opinion. Are they outstanding? No but they are very useful players trying to run a midfield short of a play maker. Togo needs to respond. I have posted previously on the urgency with him. If I were busy complaining all match I wouldn’t have noticed any of the positives or improvements. Are they enough? Obviously they are not, but complaining never increased cup sizes – girls’ or boys’.

In case you’re wondering, I do not want to finish out of the top four. I want to win the league. I do not want to settle for anything less than excellence. I want every player who wears the fabled red and white to give his all every minute of every game. But I will not complain about every lost ball or mistake. What good does it do? I get frustrated like any other Arsenal fan but complaining is for aspirant porn divas with mosquito bite sized breasts. I don’t want to deal with that. It ruins the experience.

There were two positives however from the day’s experience. It dawned on me that the reporters who revel in writing all things negative about Arsenal are the same negative types who complain about every little thing, every chance they get. The other positive is that I have established a baseline for those with whom I watch Arsenal matches. Common courtesy not withstanding, they can invite me all they want. My conscience is clean.

On the game itself; I wish I had more game specifics to report on but with so many distractions my match analysis was fragmented. However I can say the following:
• Arshavin can help break down the walls of eight or more bodies
• We had enough chances to bury Sunderland – we were very inefficient
• Sunderland were effective briefly mid first half with counter attacks and raids down Clichy’s side and then they stopped doing anything positive
• The referee was typically inconsistent – Nasri’s yellow was farcical compared to the Sunderland player’s foul on Eboue which went unpunished
• Almunia looked more commanding in his box but he still doesn’t fill me with confidence though

In fairness to Sbragia, the post match quotes that I’ve read were fairly accurate – they are yet another team who are happy to leave with a point and are not embarrassed to reflect that attitude in their approach. They’ve accepted that their cup sizes will never be of porn standard and have budgeted their lives for limited glory from less spectacular fare.

We need to find answers to those teams’ tactics. I am confident that the answers were sitting out injured or are not yet fit (AA23). We must make changes to punish teams that use anti football tactics. I will change who I watch matches with. I will avoid whingeing men who sound like broken records. I’m partial to large melons anyway. That much will not change.

The Pleasures of Being at Home

When the Emirates officially opened for Premier League competition, our opponents were a brittle Aston Villa side. They were managed by the same person who is now spearheading their march into a top four place. They’ve come a long way admittedly, but they laid out a basic blueprint for how to play when you have zero ambition to win a game and settle for a point.

To their luck, they managed to snatch a goal with one of our few defensive lapses in the match. The rest of the match, we laid siege on their goalmouth, usually centrally, but we failed to pry them open until very late in the match.

The moment of inspiration came from substitute Theo Walcott, finally seeing his first meaningful action for Arsenal FC, never having actually worn the beautiful red currant kit he posed with when he signed with us. He provided a wide option, crossed a ball which was flicked on by van Persie, and ultimately lashed into the back of the net by Gilberto Silva.

Relief came, but it was only a signal of times to come. That first year, we logged way too many home draws, primarily because of this vary tactic. It worked so well that a lot of teams failed to deviate from it.

The next year, a variety of play was developed by us. Lambasted by the media for not having a Plan B, we showed more ways of scoring goals. Whether it was by the aerial prowess of Adebayor, the skill of van Persie, the midfield drive of Cesc, or the calm finishing of Eduardo, we were getting it done.

Tomorrow, we’ll face a team that will probably use the exact same methods that Villa tried in the first competitive Premier League match at the Emirates. They may utilize Djibril Cisse as an outlet to launch a few counters, but that’s as far as their ambition may go.

An option such as Carlos Vela on the left flank or Arshavin’s vision may be required to break them down, but we’ve shown that with these kinds of fixtures, we will eventually create a chance that will be enough to win us the game. The acclimatization period is over for us, it’s time to start getting the results.