Monday 3 September 2012

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Cazorla? | Defending With Heart and Mind

Liverpool 0 - Arsenal 2

When the euphoria of finally scoring a goal this season and ultimately winning against Liverpool wore off yesterday, came the chance to assess the feat of going three straight games without conceding nada. Match that against this time last season -we had lost 2 games and conceded 10 goals and went on in that vein for the rest of the season as we leaked goals like a basket with bullet holes.

The statisticians have dug into their books and confirmed that this is the first time Arsenal has started the season with three clean sheets for the first time in 88 years. Remarkable but I wasn't there 88 years ago. I was there last season to see the shambles that we called defending. It was pathetic and if my math was tight I'd give you the precise odds on every set piece against us being a goal and it would be pretty high. The odds were so high that it was generally accepted half way through the season that we'll concede at least a goal in every game but just hoped that we could score more than we conceded.

Our defending right now excites the hell out of me. There's a remarkable sense of commitment to the cause that was typified by a Vermaleen no-nonsense clearance in the box that denied Steven Gerrad what would have been an easy tap-in. Three games without a goal conceded and without two of our first choice defenders; without buying anyone new in that department. The only thing that has changed in that regards is Steve Boulds. Someone said he may be our most important addition to the squad during the Summer break.

An experienced RB was on the wish list of many a Gooner including yours truly during the recently closed transfer window because most feel that while young Carl Jenkinson has shown the potential, he lacks what it takes presently to play in the big league. In the absence of Sagna, he wasn't trusted to deputize effectively.

Watching Carl yesterday, I was reminded of the antidote about the fresh graduate who complained that everywhere he sought a job he lost out because employers wanted an experienced hand and ultimately questioned "how am I going to get experience if no one will give me a job?". 

Carl might have made a couple of rookie errors yesterday but you could't fault him for effort. I really think now he deserves this chance to gain some experience in the absence of Sagna and you have to admire Wenger for not always yielding to the pressure to buy experience; for giving youngsters an opportunity to find their feet at Arsenal.

One thing though, will hate to see a more self-assured Jenkinson in a couple of years angling for a move to a "more ambitious club" with memories of today banished to wherever it is beneficiaries of Wenger's faith tend to banish them

Per has done a wonderful job so far in the absence of the injured Koscielney but damn, Per is slow. His lack of pace was exploited quite early in the game by the tirelessly crafty Suarez and he quite deservedly got a yellow card after bringing down the Uruguayan who had beaten him for pace. From then on, there was always the fear of a second yellow card considering Per was playing in the theater of the skunky Suarez who never tires of inventing new ways to con referees into blowing the whistle in his favour. Also the teenage Raheem Sterling with his quick feet and guile was always going to test Per's abilities. In fact it was he who came closest to getting Per his matching orders when he made one of his surging runs into the eighteen yard box and Per's last gasp attempt appeared to bring him down but replays showed Per had nicked the ball and Harold Webb correctly ignored calls for a penalty. I'd be glad to see Koscielney back with Per once more deputizing.

Abou Diaby! He was so easily my man of the match. Yesterday, I was reminded of what this lanky young man brings to the party as he ran from box to box indefatigably defending when called upon to do so but mostly linking up play between midfield and attack. It was a role we had watched Arteta perform last season with distinction and a role I feared we were short changing ourselves of by asking him to play the defensive midfield role so far this season following Song's exit. Diaby has stepped up to it so far but never as much as he did yesterday. It was so easy to see why Wenger has kept faith in him for so long despite his injury problems over the years.

Diaby only managed five appearances last season as he was plagued by a host of injuries and in fact played all of 90 minutes for the first time in 12 months. He was always touted as the successor to Patrick Viera because of their similar body frames and style; is this the season where he finally makes that transition? I really do pray he keeps fit this season. We'll be needing what he has to offer during this season's campaign and more so I think he'll provide healthy competition for places in the middle of the park when Jack returns.

Podolski broke his duck yesterday  to get our first goal and looked every inch the player we knew him to be as he terrorized Glen Johnson at the right back of Liverpool's defense. The move that led to his goal was began by him in the midfield after he intercepted a pass in midfield, passed to Cazorla and continued his run down the left. Cazorla picked him out with a well laid pass as he arrived in the box and he beat Glen for pace to fire past Pepe Reina. What was even more remarkable was Poldi's contribution to defending, tracking back and covering up for Gibbs admirably when necessary.

How d'you solve a problem like Cazorla? If you ever saw the classic musical, Sound of music, you'll recognise that question when you replace Cazorla with Maria (I just may have found the perfect Cazorla chant).

♫ How d'you solve a problem like Cazorla? Opposition managers are going to be tasked with the answer to that question as each confronts the fixture with Arsenal. How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? Cazorla is one of the most unpredictable footballers I've ever seen. While a defender who goes after him when he's on the ball sees all three different ways he may use to try to elude him, Cazorla can come up with another three ways to get out of a tricky situation. The challenge I see for him is tuning his own attacking team mates' minds to work in tandem with his own. If this is achieved, there are plenty of goals and assists that can come from our front men.

Cazorla's goal yesterday was fortuitous in that Reina had it covered but allowed the ball to squirm beneath him then the force of the shot bounced off his elbow into the net. But the build up to the goal was sublime as Cazorla and Podolski played the old one-two with Poldi providing this time for Cazorla to finish. He's another one who will be glad to finally get off the mark and there are yet more goals to come from that little man.

Olivier Giroud? The emphasis is on the question mark. Questions about his abilities are coming thick and fast after another horrendous blooper that saw him miss when it looked like it would have been easier to score. Just like the one against Sunderland after which he had blamed his weaker right leg for the miss. Yesterday's miss was with his stronger left leg. When I look at his knack for positioning and that selfish disposition which every great striker possesses, I feel it in my bones that Giroud will come good at Arsenal. I think all he needs now is a little bit of luck to break his duck and the flood gates will open. I fear though what it will do to his confidence if he goes on for too long without a goal.

He reminded me a little of Thierry Henry yesterday with that please-try-not-to-get-me-dirty way he skips past defenders. Their type thrive on confidence in their abilities and delivering the goods so they can strut around like peacocks. Not unlike Bendtner -only problem was Bendtner arrived at the peacock part before consistently delivering the goods.

It was a good game yesterday. On the strength of it, it did look like Wenger saw something in this squad that we ordinary mortals  failed to see that informed the decision not to add to the squad on deadline day.

If our defense continues to perform like this, if Cazorla's think-tank group in the forward positions are more consistent going forward. If Wilshere gets back on time and finds form, If Giroud breaks his duck. If Sagna gets back to the team, If Diaby stays fit. If Szcezney and Koscielney return soon, If everything goes right.

Next up is Southampton at home but that wont be for another  two weeks as international duty beckons. Here's hoping the likes of Diaby get back in one piece. He'll be playing for France in two World Cup qualifiers in the space of four days against Finland and then Belarus. Just hope there's some kind of understanding that ensures he doesn't play all of 180 minutes.

Below is a video of the goals from yesterday's game as well as Podolski and Diaby facing the media after the game. Enjoy and do tell your thoughts below in the comments section.

Follow on Twitter@naijaendgooner


  1. Bould has to take credit for our new defending abilities. hasnt been this good since Tony Adams' days. its the defending am celebrating more than the wins. everyone knows its defending that wins championships. the goals will follow

  2. Giroud needs to sit up. he doesnt have forever. would have liked to hear his excuse this time for that miss since he couldnt blame his left leg this time

  3. Giroud will deliver. He just needs to score his first goal

  4. Diaby staying injury free may be the key to success this season. he had an awesome game yesterday and probably completed all his passes. I really hope he stays healthy

  5. ♫ and how do make him stay, and stop being a pain
    ♫ I have to say watching the highlights, Diaby did it for me. I apologise for campaigning for his immediate sale as he was gathering Premiership Football dust on the bench, however, right now he sparkles and I can hear him telling me "eat that!". And like you said, hopefully, Giroud would come good.


What do you think?

Naija End Gooner