After being tactically outclassed by Ferguson just before Christmas, I was beginning to wonder if Wenger really knew how to set a team out to win. Our players often go out looking as if the only tactics Wenger provided them with was ‘go out and play your football’. That is fine when your back four are Dixon, Adams, Bould and Winterburn who have been together for years or your forward line include world class players like Henry, Bergkamp and Pires. When your team isn’t full of world class players or experienced winners though, that tactic doesn’t work.
What impressed me with the Chelsea win was that we won the tactical battle. Walcott kept Cole pegged back, Djourou gave us height at the back and dealt with Drogba. For once, it looked as if Wenger had changed the team to suit his opponent. I was beginning to think that the United game had caused him to think a bit harder about tactics. It was commented on the forum that the team against Chelsea was ‘our strongest XI’, it is hard to argue with that, it was certainly the right XI to play against Chelsea.
With United dropping points against Birmingham the Wigan game became even more important. It was times like these last season, where we had a chance to make ground on our title rivals, where things fell apart. The Chelsea game really had inspired us. Djourou and Walcott, who hadn’t been regular starters both through injuries and through being low in the pecking order, came out of the game full of confidence and I thought they were two players who would definitely start against Wigan. The team that beat Chelsea should have had no problem beating Wigan. Unfortunately, that team didn’t play against Wigan, in fact only three players (Fabianski, Koscielny and Sagna) from that team were selected on Wednesday. On seeing the team selection, I posted “What a daft team selection. I have a bad feeling about this!” on the forum and my fears were confirmed early on as we conceded a penalty.
Dropping Walcott and Djourou who were both on top form and have only started 10 and 7 Premiership games respectively this season was a mistake, they need playing time and to build on their confidence from the Chelsea game. Eboue at left back was another mistake, there will be games when Gibbs returns from injury when Clichy can be rested, until then he must play. Others on the forum have commented how the combination of a right footed left back (Eboue) and a winger who doesn’t know how to defend in front of him was a mistake and that is a logical argument.
In central midfield, we found out a long time ago that Denilson isn’t good enough to deputise for Song. Neither Diaby nor Rosicky can be relied on for defensive duties, they are both attacking midfielders and we struggled defensively. Song and Wilshere are our only defence minded midfielders, at least one of the two must start in every game IMO. If they both needed resting then one should have been rested on Wednesday and the other on Saturday. This is a position that should have been strengthened in the summer as we still don’t have adequate cover for Song.
With Bendtner and Chamakh up front I thought for a minute we might be playing a 4-4-2 formation, with Rosicky and Arshavin as wingers. I had hoped that after playing as a winger ‘to help his development’, I’d never see Bendtner in that role again. Even on the side of a front three I can’t remember super Nik ever having a good game out wide. He is a target man and that is the only role he should play. I wondered if maybe Chamakh would play out wide as he did for his previous club, but unfortunately it was 4-3-3 and Bendtner was playing on the wing.
Say what you like about the referee or the timing of the substitutions against Wigan, it was our starting eleven that cost us two points! If players needed resting, then rest some on Wednesday and others on Saturday. Don’t make eight changes, we need consistency on the pitch, we need to build the confidence of players like Djourou and Walcott and we need to guard against complacency that can ensue if we put out team selections that suggest we are underestimating our opponents!
It seems a shame to end the year and the first half of the season on a negative note. There have been so many positives this season, the emergence of Jack Wilshere, our more physical approach to games, still competing in all competitions and being two points off the top of the table despite already playing away games to our three main title rivals (yes, I’m including Citeh who we beat 3-0 at their place). Don’t forget we have been without our main striker (RVP) and best defender (Vermaelen) for most of the first half of the season. Hopefully when the business end of the season comes around, RVP will be in his best form and Vermaelen will be back to sure up the defence. I wonder if there might be some additions in January, there look to be a few fringe players on the way out (possibly Nordveit, Denilson and Vela). Anyhow, happy new year everyone, here’s hoping 2011 brings some silverware!!!