Saturday , 27 May 2017
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Cannon Fodder: Know thine enemy (& stab him with a harpoon)

Resounding defeat. We escaped humiliation and much ridicule by a hair’s breath. I daresay things got more out of hand at Naples than any of us had expected.

The first half couldn’t have gone any better as we held back a raging Napoli. Benitez and his crew were desperate to avoid an unceremonious expulsion from Europe’s top football echelon and the only way to the pearly gates was past an Arsenal team that was on song.

They pushed hard but were able to create nought of significance. Higuain looked languid and completely out of depth as Mert and Kos held him off with relative ease. The back four resolutely held off wave after wave of Napoli’s attacking onslaught through the first 45 minutes. Our midfield too seemed to be meshing well and though we failed to create too many clear cut chances, Napoli was offered no quarter either. Wenger seemed to have got his tactics spot on. .. or so it seemed

Unfortunately, the world isn’t made in Arsene Wenger’s vision and Lorenzo Insigne & Jose Callejon were not fine with rolling over and submitting to the superior force. While Pandev was (rightly) treated with casual disregard by our centre backs, Insigne then brought far more attacking intent into the Italian game which meant that our defence was suddenly getting pulled in every direction. Add Callejon’s movement and positioning into the mix and suddenly, we had a volatile concoction on our hands.

The phase shift occurred after the first 45 which saw a pure midfield battle (in which Arsenal arguably had the upper hand) turn into a three pronged attack. The fact that only one corner was conceded yet both teams had 120 passes a piece in the attacking third demonstrates the focus either manager had placed on central creativity.

The problem was that Rafa astutely spotted our chief weakness: The fragility of our fullbacks. Carl and Gibbs were struggling and would make for easy pickings. Soon Napoli has shifted focus to wing-play complemented with overlapping runs from their full-backs. Both Armero and Christian Maggio made numerous marauding runs into our territory that seemed to befuddle our full-backs. But one cannot place the blame solely at their doors, the midfield too failed to adapt and we had 5 players vying for the central midfield when they should have been supporting defensive support on the wings. This left our beleaguered full-backs with even lesser support, it was inevitable that they would break into attacks with increasing frequency and Art was forced into making one tackle too many. A pitch map showing each player’s influence perfectly sums up our obsession with the central midfield and how our full-backs were marginalized.

Arsenal's pitch map of  player's influences against Napoli

Arsenal’s pitch map of player’s influences against Napoli

I have often remarked upon Gibbs involvement with link-up play (or the lack of it) and ball circulation and that the Englishman is often happy to stick to the touchline when he should be moving infield and getting more involved with the passing. Going by the looks of things, Gibbs no longer owns the LB position and perhaps Nacho’s maturity would make for a nice change; especially since the Spaniard has been patiently plugging away at his job of defensive cover in the dying minutes of the game over 13 times this season.

The imbalance of our attacking wasn’t a significant problem until now: with the absence of Sagna and the rise of Carl. While I’m rather fond of Jenkinson, I think most of will agree that his under confidence is a huge detriment to his development unless he gets mind over matter.

Perhaps time will tell, until them it just becomes all the more vital to hold onto Sagna instead of watching him leave on a Bosman. In all respects the Frenchman has been our MOST CONSISTENT performer over the last half a decade and deserves to be rewarded for his loyalty at the least. Expecting a player to stay without the bonus of a significant pay rise (especially since his loyalty hasn’t really been rewarded with medals and glory) in this day and age is a foolish pipe dream. Considering that it would probably be the last significant contract of his career, I hope that Wenger finds a middle ground with his fellow Frenchman and ensures that he ‘Signs da Ting’……so to speak.

The consequence of our two goal loss against Napoli means that we finish second (yet again) in Group F and that we’ll have to play a team that topped its group. Eliminating the two other English sides that topped their groups (in spite of playing piss poor football) means that our possible competitors are: Real Barcelona, Ateletico Munich, Paris St. Gotfried and another team from Madrid that I’m not too familiar with…they have some chap called Ronaldo or something…

Now these options aren’t really great. But If were given an choice, I would probably opt for PSG or the non-royal Madridistas. True they are “comparatively inferior” sides, but that’s like comparing Thor to the Superman and wondering if it would be smarter to challenge a god or an alien to a wrestling match.

After our little Italian fiasco, there’s a feeling of being in a polarized atmosphere when it comes to gooners; while one roaring horde bays for blood and is ready to toss the gauntlet in a Tata Martino’s face, the other bunch seem to have regressed to doom mongering with cries of “The end if near”  “Nickalas B for President” “

While I won’t deny that we are haunted by numerous ghosts of our Champions League past and that we have often been painfully put in our places after more than a few abrupt Arsenal collapses over the years, crouching in fear and wallowing in self-pity just isn’t the solution. Cautious optimism is what we’ll have to harbour. The next champion’s league fixtures are far off so fretting about them serves no one. Though, if history is anything to go by, our next round will involve some degree of molestation by one of the ugly European leviathans while their manager (I can just picture Pep’s smug mug) waxes lyrical about Arsenal and spouting condescending drivel about “rebuilding phase” and “sustainable model”….

But all that is a long time away and a dozen things could change from now till February. So I suggest that you stop losing your shit and look to the more immediate threats that looms ahead on Saturday.

It’s not like our next opponents come under the category of “push-overs”… Oh hell no, in fact most teams quake in their boots at the mere mention of the Ethihad stadium. These cliché loving pundits are calling it a “fortress” but considering their recent victims, I’d rather it be termed as a ‘torture chamber’.

Pellegrini has moulded the team into a ruthless killing machine that is prepared to exploit a weakness and punish the opposition relentlessly. Their chief strength is their balanced midfield which functions like a well-oiled machine in spite of its fundamentally lopsided nature. The lop-sidedness comes from the fact that Pellegrini utilizes two midfielders to create chances from either side of the park, BUT the two players utilize almost opposing styles!

Nasri operates on the left side with a slightly deep positioning to pick up the ball from the central midfielders and drive into the spaces are created between channels of opposition players. Navas on the other hand is a pure right winger who prefers to stick to the touchline cover ground with the ball using his pace and trickery to get as close to the goal as possible and field a cross to the two strikers. Once Nasri gets into the channels, he primarily looks to drift into the No.10 role and create chances while Negredo retreats to the wings to assist and mop up.

David Silva if he plays will be gifted a free role from the midfield to drift around, pick the ball up and create chances as he pleases; something that almost echoes Santi’s role in numerous games for us over the last season. Last but not least, there’s Toure, a terrifying midfielder in all senses. If allowed room down the pitch, he loves nothing more to break forward with pace bowling over the opposition’s midfield like a wrecking ball among bowling pins. Obviously the main advantage that these sudden runs provide is that they serve to get past the oppositions defensive midfielders in a single move and break the defensive cover(midfielders have barely the time to react as he rushes through) leaving the opposition’s centre-backs vulnerable and open to exploitation as they’ll have more than just two strikers to mark. Perhaps our crazy French ferret in the midfield will beset loose upon him in hope that it disturbs City’s rhythm?

Pellegrini has harnessed their differing styles create an asymmetrical style of operation which manages to be perfectly balanced due to old fashioned ‘teamwork’ and ‘synergy’ between players in the squad. Those are words spouted too often by pundits to obfuscate or explain phenomenon that they aren’t able to comprehend, but there is no mistaking the citizen’s strength. There tactics and more will be more than obvious to Wenger and Bould. We can only hope that the gunners step onto the field with a game plan in place and the head strong arrogance that is required to take on a rampaging opposition.

Meanwhile let’s get behind our team and scream your lungs out… It’s time to put the Citizens in their places!!

I’ll see you lads at the ‘Bangalore Gunners’ screening at the ‘Dugout’!!!

About Varun Chand

Profile photo of Varun Chand
Full time nothing doer and part-time Engineer (supposedly). I really hate the Arsenal and that's why I spend so much of time writing/talking/discussing/debating about them. I enjoy mocking YOU because it's fun.

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