Thursday, March 8, 2012

Arsenal FC: Why Tomas Rosicky Is the Key for Gunners to Finish Ahead of Spurs

"Impossible is nothing" was the quote from Robin van Persie when asked about Arsenal's chances of qualifying to the Quarter-Finals of the Champions League by overturning a four goal deficit against AC Milan. The Gunners and Van Persie very nearly managed to attain the "impossible" as they came within a whisker of at least taking the tie to extra-time. At the end, the Gunners bowed out of the Champions League having shown their immense quality and restored their pride, which had been hugely hit following their 4-0 drubbing at the San Siro.

On this exciting night against AC Milan, there were many superb performances from the Arsenal players out of which Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky were particularly impressive. The former has made a superb impact in his first season at the club and has a very bright future ahead of him. The latter's recent performances has been a huge boost to the team and is one of the main reasons for the team's revival following their disappointing defeats against AC Milan and Sunderland.

Rosicky has struggled for fitness and form in the last three seasons and the midfielder, nicknamed the "little mozart", has not been at his best for the Gunners. Despite the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri in the summer, Rosicky was not a regular starter for the Gunners for most of this season, with youngster Aaron Ramsey preferred to the Czech midfielder. However, his performances of late has shown that he has the calibre to be a very important player for the club and could have a lasting impact on the results this season.

Due to Aaron Ramsey's injury sustained against Sunderland in the FA Cup, Rosicky started the game against their arch-rivals Spurs in central midfield. Despite going two goals down, the Gunners refused to lose hope and their spirit was epitomized by the "Little Mozart" who worked tirelessly to establish Arsenal's dominance in midfield. He glided past the likes of Scott Parker and Sandro to provide an immense attacking threat and one of his many such marauding runs enabled him to score from close range to complete Arsenal's turnaround against Spurs.

He was rightly praised by the Arsenal supporters who recognized his contribution and as a result of that, he kept his place in the team against Liverpool and AC Milan. Against Liverpool, he looked bright in the first half of the game but the trio of Mikel Arteta, Alex Song and Rosicky lost the midfield battle as Liverpool were on top for most of the game. However, the brilliance of Van Persie ensured all the three points in one of the toughest fixtures of the season.

Arsenal went into the game against Milan with the odds stacked up against them and delivered a performance which merited great applause from their supporters. Rosicky was at the heart of almost every Arsenal attack as the duo of Chamberlain and Rosicky dominated the midfield battle. The midfielder, who has not scored many in his last three seasons, scored the second of their three goals providing a clever finish from a poor clearance by Thiago Silva.

The 31-year-old midfielder eventually tired out but continued to play the entire game and looked crest-fallen by the outcome of the tie. However, he has shown Arsenal that he has the quality to provide the creativity they have missed due to the departures of Fabregas and Nasri and the absence of Jack Wilshere due to injury. Rosicky has been criticized by many in the recent past but his recent performances indicate how good he can be when he has the confidence and is played in a central attacking midfield role.

Though Aaron Ramsey has come under immense scrutiny for his performances this season, he also remains a key player for the Gunners and would do well to learn from the Czech international. Rosicky, like Ramsey, was also criticized but has shown the mental strength to bounce back and show his quality and mettle. With Ramsey and Rosicky back to full fitness, the Gunners do have decent depth in their midfield.

On current form, Rosicky is certain to keep his place in the team and deservedly so as well considering that he has given his full effort in the games that he has played this season. Arsenal have had various problems this season including lack of creativity and goals from midfield. However, if Rosicky can maintain this form, he will provide an ideal foil to the likes of Van Persie and Theo Walcott and can provide excellent service to the forward line.

Rosicky has the quality to be a mainstay for the Gunners and needs to be playing regularly in order to attain his best form. Arsene Wenger has shown great faith in the quality of the midfielder and Rosicky could prove to be the difference for the Gunners. If he can perform consistently, then there is a good chance that Arsenal will pick up more points which will enhance their chances of finishing in the top four.

The Gunners are currently only four points behind Spurs and they do have a good chance of closing the gap if they can maintain their superb league form. Spurs have lost their last two games and will be under immense pressure to perform which is why it is very important for the Gunners to be very consistent. Arsenal have shown that they have the quality and the resilience and the only question is whether they have the depth and the consistency to snatch the third spot from Tottenham, who are bound to drop points along the way.

Arsenal face Newcastle on Monday which means that the players will get a decent amount of rest and need to take the positives from the game against Milan. The Emirates crowd will be behind them when they take on the Magpies, who are also in contention for the fourth spot. Arsenal need their experienced players to step up and Rosicky has shown that he has the ability to stand up and be counted when the team needs it most.

Rosicky is finally managing to string a number of games without injuries and is also in form and it is imperative for Arsenal and for him that he continues to perform consistently from now till the end of the season. With the 31-year-old also out of contract at the end of the season, it will provide further motivation and should he continue to impress, there is no doubt that Wenger will be interested in extending his contract beyond the end of this season.

The 31-year-old might be one of the more underrated players at Arsenal but his contributions to the team in the last three weeks in particular has been invaluable. The Gunners have a great chance to finish ahead of Spurs but for that to happen, the gifted playmaker needs to perform at his best and could be the key for Arsenal to secure automatic qualification to the Champions League.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Liverpool vs. Arsenal Preview: Six Key Battles to watch out in this High Stakes game

Liverpool and Arsenal are two of the greatest teams in English football and though both are still big clubs, they are not challenging for the Premiership title and a fourth placed finish would satisfy both clubs this season. The Gunners had a terrible start earlier in the season after losing to the Reds at the Emirates in the second league game of the season but have since done decently to be in fourth place as of now. Reds have been inconsistent this season but have shown glimpses of their quality and have the ammunition required to string a set of good results from now till the end of the season.

Both teams are coming on a high after winning their previous games, both of which were significant for either club. Liverpool beat Cardiff City on penalties to end their trophy drought, which will provide them great impetus as they push on to secure a Champions League berth. Arsenal, on the other hand, handed out a memorable thrashing to their arch-rivals Tottenham and will be on top of their game as they look to build on that crucial win. This game is crucial for both teams and a bad result could shatter their confidence which is why it is very important for either team to continue their good form.

Liverpool would have been worried by the substitution of Steven Gerrard after around 30 minutes in the game between England and Netherlands. Their inspirational captain was substituted due to a knock but could yet take part in this important game against the Gunners. However, Daniel Agger is likely to miss out which is a worry for the Reds as he has been very solid alongside Martin Skrtel this season. The good news for Liverpool is that they do have Jamie Carragher who can provide immense leadership at the back in the absence of the Dane and Liverpool will be confident of securing all three points at home against the Gunners.

On the other hand, Arsenal are also likely to be confident of their own quality going into this quality. They were not at their best in the first half hour of the game against Spurs but were rampant after that and it was the sort of performance which could reignite their season after the disappointments in the Champions League and the FA Cup. With Robin van Persie spearheading the team, they can be sublime at their best and do have the quality to trouble Liverpool's defense which is why they will relish the challenge of meeting the Reds at this time in the season.

It should be an enthralling contest with two quality teams focussed on winning the game, which is crucial to both clubs. The Gunners and the Reds are currently separated by seven points (though Liverpool have a game in hand) and this result could prove to be pivotal as to where these two teams will finish at the end of the season. There will be many individual battles which could play a major part in deciding the outcome of the game and here are six contests which are very important in this fixture.

1. Luis Suarez vs. Laurent Koscielny

Suarez has had his controversial since being signed by Liverpool but there is no denying his quality and he is Liverpool's most important attacking threat against the Gunners. His movement and skill in front of goal makes it difficult for defenders to mark him. Though he could further improve regarding his clinicality in front of goal, he has the quality to threaten Arsenal and could be the key to opening up this Arsenal defence, which has not looked very solid this season.

Though the Gunners have leaked goals in this season, Laurent Koscielny has been outstanding and has arguably been Arsenal's best defender. The Frenchman did take time to adjust to the physicality of the league but has the makings of a world class defender and has been superb this season. He will be entrusted to cope with the movement of Suarez and it will be an interesting battle between those two. Suarez is very important for the Reds and if Koscielny can shackle him, then Arsenal do have a much better chance of winning the game.

2. Alex Song vs. Charlie Adam

Alex Song has shown great improvement in the last couple of seasons and has established himself as a regular in this current Arsenal side. Though he is primarily a defensive midfielder, he has worked a lot on his passing and the creative side of the game and it is no surprise that he has been one of the key midfielders when it comes to producing defence-splitting passes. However, he will come up against a tough midfield in Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard (if fit) which is why he has to be on top of his game.

Charlie Adam in particular could be a major threat for the Gunners because of his ability to strike venomously from distance if given the space to do so.  Song and Mikel Arteta need to ensure that the Liverpool midfielders do not get space on the ball and need to constantly fight for the ball. For Liverpool, it is important that Adam makes good runs because his movement will make it difficult for the Gunners and he also has the ability to score goals from distance which can be used to good effect by the Reds.

3. Tomas Rosicky vs. Jay Spearing/Jordan Henderson

Tomas Rosicky has come under plenty of criticism this season but proved that he still has the quality by performing brilliantly against Spurs. It has been a difficult couple of years for the Czech international because of injuries as he has struggled to hold on to a place regularly. Also, he has been bereft of confidence in front of goal but that performance and goal against Spurs could be just what he needs to get back to his best. It was as good a performance from Rosicky in the last two years and it could be the perfect springboard for him to regain his best form.

Brazilian international Lucas Leiva has been a huge miss for the Reds which is why the task of stopping Arsenal's midfield falls to the young Jay Spearing or Jordan Henderson depending on whom the manager selects for the game. Rosicky, Arteta and Song are all capable of providing good supply to the forward line which is why Liverpool's midfielders will be on their guard throughout the game. The game could be decided by who wins the midfield battle and for Arsenal to win the game, the likes of Rosicky and Arteta need to be at their best to dominate possession at Anfield.

4. Theo Walcott vs. Jose Enrique

Theo Walcott has also come under plenty of criticism for his inconsistent performances and he also did get some flak for his indifferent performance in the first half of the Spurs game. However, he was brilliant in the second half showing the Emirates crowd what he is capable of when he is at his best. He got the better of Benoit Assou-Ekotto on more than one occasion and showed great composure in front of goal beating Brad Freidel twice. Walcott will need to be at his best in order to trouble Jose Enrique and the Liverpool defense and he is very important in ensuring that Robin van Persie is not isolated upfront.

Enrique has been one of the best signings of the season and the former Newcastle left-back has been extremely consistently for the Reds. He will need to be sharp against Walcott because the England international has the pace to get behind the defense and cause problems. It is clear that Walcott and Van Persie do have a good rapport on the pitch which is why it is even more important to frustrate the English winger. Also, if Enrique can shackle Walcott and support the left winger, Arsenal could struggle to contain the crosses coming in from the wings especially if Thomas Vermaelen is ruled out due to injury.

5. Robin van Persie vs. Jamie Carragher

Arsenal captain Robin van Persie has been in sensational form in the last year scoring plenty of goals and has already scored 29 goals this season. The Dutch international is considered to be a doubt for the game but could yet start if he passes the fitness test. Van Persie has scored all types of goals this season and has caused problems to every single defence in the Premiership this season. He has demonstrated great clinicality in front of goal and any error from the Liverpool defense could prove to be costly with Van Persie ready to pounce on any loose ball.

Jamie Carragher is likely to start and will be faced with the tough task of stopping the in-form Dutchman. He will need to use all his experience to shackle Van Persie, who will drag defenders out of their comfort zone using his superb movement off the ball. Carragher's lack of pace will most likely be targeted by the Arsenal frontline but the Liverpool centre back is immensely experienced and his experience and understanding of the game will help him greatly in coping with Van Persie and his fellow forwards.

6. Arsene Wenger vs. Kenny Dalglish

Wenger selected a rather different team from what supporters anticipated against Liverpool and it will be interesting to see if he selects the same team again at Anfield. Neither Oxlade-Chamberlain nor Gervinho made it into the starting line-up while Yossi Benayoun was given a rare league start. The combination of Rosicky and Benayoun in the Spurs game was excellent which is why Wenger will have to think whether to retain the duo or change it up to add more pace to the side by bringing in either of Gervinho or Chamberlain. The way that Arsenal play is not going to change much as they will look to dominate possession and create problems for the Liverpool defense.

However, tactics could be very important for Dalglish because he needs to decide whether his teams need to attack Arsenal from the start of the game or be content to play on the counter-attack employing a more defensive formation. The Reds have the quality to secure all the three points though it will not be easy and tactical decisions by both managers could have a huge role to play in deciding the result of this game.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Arsenal FC: Why This Summer Will Be the Period That Defines Wenger's Reign

Arsenal romped to a stylish victory against their arch-rivals Tottenham by scoring five goals and it was an excellent performance from the side especially after going two goals down. Arsene Wenger was clearly frustrated when Emmanuel Adebayor scored from the spot and would have demanded a reaction from the players. Their performance after that would have even surprised the manager, who has come under severe criticism this season. It was Arsenal at their best maintaining their attacking passing game at high intensity and also, they were clinical in finishing off the chances.

The players were thrilled by that performance and it was the sort of performance that could turn this season around for the Gunners. It is clearly observable that the players have huge respect for their manager, who have helped several players realize their potential. He has shown immense faith in his players but his faith has been misplaced at times which is why he has come under flak from the supporters and the media. This Arsenal team does not have the quality or the depth needed to win the Premiership title which is why the supporters have been frustrated though they still have the quality to finish fourth at the end of the season.

However, Wenger deserves the patience of supporters and the board and should be entrusted with the task of making them champions again. He has the experience of winning titles and should be given the freedom to spend freely in the next summer. It is clear that he has done an excellent job spending as much as he has but if there is money to spend, then it is imperative that Wenger spends it on quality players who can be the key to winning games.

Arsenal are not going to have the spending prowess of Manchester City or Chelsea but they do have a manager who has the capability to make astute acquisitions and if he adds three to four high quality players, then this team could challenge for titles. However, for them to spend money on players, it is also important for them to be ruthless when it comes to players who are not performing up to the required quality.

Though Wenger has not spend much on transfer fees in the last five years, Arsenal's wage bill is quite high which is due to the inflated wages received by some of the under-performing players. For example, Johan Djourou has been awarded a new contract despite not performing at the highest level for the team. Though he has tried his best, it is clear that Arsenal need better players if they are to stay at the highest level. Another problem with the current transfer decisions made by Wenger is his tendency to make one or two cheap signings just to make up the numbers.

Arsenal have three strikers in their squad out of which one is world class, the other is probably a mid-table team striker and not much is known about the third. Now, if Van Persie was to be ruled out due to a long term injury, then Arsenal fans would shudder at the thought of having to rely on Marouane Chamakh or Park Ju Young for goals till the end of the season. There are some players like Per Mertesacker who have the quality but take time to adjust to the Premiership and the league which is why it is wrong to make judgements on this summer's signings after only eight months in the Premiership.

Wenger has made mistakes especially in this summer's transfer market when they sold key players in Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri and did not sign the players of the same quality. However, the Frenchman did make some important signings for the team who could be a key part of the future as well. Mikel Arteta has adjusted well to his deeper role in the side and is already one of the most important players for the team. Per Mertesacker has shown that he has the quality to be a top defender for the Gunners and did show signs of adjusting well to the Premiership before getting injured. Gervinho might lack the end product but there is no denying his talent and he could develop into a very important player for the Gunners.

Also, the signings of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joel Campbell show that Wenger's eye for spotting talent has not deserted him and those two could develop into fine players who could be regular players for the Gunners. He has the quality to identify the players who could bring in the quality required and the board and Ivan Gazidis must ensure that they sign the player by beating competition and offering what it takes to sign a quality players. Players like Mario Goetze or Eden Hazard do not come on cheap wages or low transfer fees but these are the kind of players who could provide the quality and creativity that Arsenal need.

Wenger needs to be persuaded to be more ruthless in the summer ad they need to free up the transfer funds by selling players who have under-performed. Nicklas Bendtner, Denilson, Sebastien Squillaci, Manuel Almunia, Johan Djourou, Marouane Chamakh, Park Ju-Young and even Abou Diaby needs to be sold in order to provide the manager the funds to sign better quality players. Wenger and Gazidis need to be swift in signing their transfer targets as well and even if it means spending a little extra million, it is important to get the right player for the side.

With Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott also nearing the end of their respective contracts, it is extremely important for the manager to convince them to stay at the club to avoid what happened with Samir Nasri. Walcott has been erratic on many occasions this seasons for which he has come under criticism but he has the quality to be a very good player. Wenger could be important in persuading him to sign on with Arsenal because he will only continue to get better. Also, he will face some excellent competition from Gervinho, Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and Ryo Miyaichi which could also help him step up his game.

Holding on to Robin van Persie could be the most important thing for Arsenal in the summer because the Arsenal captain is easily the most important player in the current side. He is currently 28 years old which is why it is even more tricky with him because this could be his last chance to make the move to a top club like FC Barcelona or Real Madrid. The Dutchman has shown that he has the quality to break into any side in the world which is why it will be tough for Wenger and the Arsenal board to convince him to stay.

The wages offered to him would not be the major point of discussion because Arsenal would have to offer him world class wages if they were to have strike any meaningful contract extension. It is important to convince him that quality reinforcements will arrive and only that will make him consider staying at Arsenal. He has stayed with Arsenal for eight years and it is evident that he is very proud to be the captain of the team. His commitment and professionalism has been exemplary and though he is currently happily settled at Arsenal, he will want to win trophies before the end of his career.
Though he has always defended his team members as captain of the team, he will know that quality players are needed to help them win the title in the near future. If Arsenal can finish their transfer business as fast as they can in the summer and show their ambition, there is no reason as to why Van Persie will not want to stay at the club because he does share a great relationship with the manager and also prefers Arsenal's passing style.

Arsenal do have a decent core in the likes of Wojciech Szczesny, Laurent Koscielny, Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna, Jack Wilshere and Van Persie but these players need the support cast which can help them win titles. The likes of Alex Song, Theo Walcott, Gervinho, Aaron Ramsey and Kieran Gibbs can further improve to build on their undoubted potential while there are many promising players like Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain, Francis Coquelin, Emmanuel Frimpong, Campbell and Miyaichi who could be very important for the future.

Though a picture of gloom and ultimate downfall has been predicted by many, it is not the case as Arsenal do have the players who are capable of winning trophies. But they also need some reinforcements in order to win titles. It has been a very difficult season for Wenger and his blame and they have nobody to blame but themselves for their performances. However, there is still time to turn things around and Wenger is likely to have one final opportunity to build a title-winning team in the summer.
However, if he fails to bring the quality that they need, then it will most likely be the end of Van Persie's time at Arsenal and more importantly, it could be the end of an era at Arsenal. However, one would hope for Wenger that he can take the Gunners to the top once more and for all the achievements that he has done at Arsenal, he deserves to go on a high note and by his own decision.