Thursday, 27 September 2012

Arsenal face Terry, and some other blokes

The judgement of the FA that John Terry was guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand should come as no surprise. Not because of the lower burden of proof required by the FA, compared to a court of law, but because Terry himself conceded the game was up by his earlier decision to retire from international football. This spared the very same FA the need to instruct Hodgson not to pick him for England, which they would have been under immediate pressure to do. I doubt Terry was motivated by a desire to avoid any awkwardness for the FA, so you have to assume it was another self-serving manoeuvre by an egotist who has built a career on equal parts bullying and victimhood. A classic case of getting your retaliation in first.

The sentence has been suspended for a fortnight, to allow poor wee Terry time to consider whether to lodge an appeal, which means he will be available for the game against Arsenal on Saturday. He will no doubt be desperate to score, in order to "silence the critics", as the cliche has it, though you can be sure the home crowd will barrack him relentlessly no matter how many goals he contrives to punch over the line. It's a shame that Terry will be on the pitch, as this will probably distract from an interesting game between two teams that are evolving and in form. In Terry's head, the match will be nothing more than the latest chapter in his glorious life story: My Struggle (it sounds better in German).

I had deliberately held off airing my opinions on the Gunners until now, figuring that it would take some games for the new team to settle down and for a pattern to emerge. Man City away was my mental target for a stock-take. I still think it's too early to make any sort of confident predictions, but I've been pleased by the attitude and performances to date. The lower tally of goals conceded will be down to more than just the miraculous powers of Steve Bould, in fact my own suspicion is that it is due to the higher positioning of the full-backs. Jenkinson and Gibbs may be raw, but they are able to pose more of an attacking threat than Sagna and Clichy did in recent seasons, which has helped keep the pressure off the defence. Arteta has been exemplary in the screening role, and his promotion to vice-captain after only one season seems strangely overdue. If we can just stop the 'keepers dropping the ball we should be fine.

Cazorla has proved a worthy successor to Fabregas in terms of vision and switching the angles of attack, but what's caught my eye is his urgency and willingness to speed up play. Overall, the biggest change for me has been the greater mobility across the forward line. With van Persie, our approach play was often predictable, and too often flanking moves were held up waiting for his runs in the middle. The busier style of Podolski and Giroud, allied with Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain's variety, looks like it has sharpened our cutting edge, even if it did take a couple of games to whet the blade. On this reading, it's hard to see a future for the less mobile Chamakh, while Arshavin's lack of stamina means he'll probably be restricted to the bench until he departs.

The big debate at present is the role of Walcott, particularly whether he should play as a central striker after his two goals against Coventry last night. He might well have converted one of the chances that Gervinho passed up against City at the weekend, however I've never been convinced by his positioning before he receives the ball. A central striker has to make space for himself, so he can spin and attack the centre backs. Walcott has traditionally used his pace against the full-back to make that space (i.e. he runs past them), which is not the same thing.

Assuming the contractuals are resolved (and that in turn assumes Arsene actually wants to keep him), then he may get a chance this season, but I think he'll need to learn a lot to become the heir of Henry. Ultimately, he would do better to try and become more of a hybrid, occupying the wide berth but being more willing to cut inside, much as Podolski does. I'd love it if he could engineer a one-on-one with John Terry this Saturday and leave him on his arse. While many Arsenal fans would spit at the name of Robin van Persie now, he'll always have a place in my heart because of this.

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