Friday, 27 March 2015

Szczesny, Coquelin and the Theo Walcott saga



You wouldn't have to be a terribly avid follower of this blog to know that the posts have dried up the past couple of weeks. Or months.

Incredibly, The Arsenal have chosen to move on without me.

Jokes aside, these past few months have seen plenty of developments take place. The emergence of Coquelin and Bellerin, the falling out with Szczesny, the goals of Giroud and the whole Theo Walcott saga. There was also the customary falling out of the Champions League and the possibility of reclaiming the FA Cup.

Because I haven't had the time slash interest to carry on for a while (wait, hadn't you heard?), the Arsenal part of me was exploding inside. And since I'm too selfless to keep my deranged thoughts to myself, here I go.

Let's start from the back shall we?

The Szczesny-Ospina situation...
Look, I entirely get why Szczesny tends to rub people up the wrong way, but in my mind he's the better keeper. Even if he's not, the portrayal of him being a Flamini or an Almunia is ludicrous. It's almost as if fans reboot their thinking at the dawn of a new season and forget the immediate past, because Szczesny was ace last season. There are no two ways about that fact.

I do not doubt Szczesny's quality. Even though he's had a hiccup this season, for me he retains the frighteningly exciting potential to be Arsenal's David de Gea. To an extent, I don't even doubt his attitude. True, I would be loathe toward a player who has all the cockiness but none of the skill (a la Nicklas Bendtner), but at least Szczesny has the accolades and the talents to justify that.

And as long as we're being perfectly honest, I felt his errors against Southampton were way overblown. Sure, for the first one he was almost entirely at fault, but I didn't think the second one was down to him. Upon watching the replay of that goal again, it becomes apparent that there was nothing Szczesny could do apart from kick the ball away in desperation. There was chaos in the box, and Szczesny did not have the time to collect it. Sticking a foot at the ball was more of a last resort.

Now look, if Arsene Wenger decided to drop Szczesny for Ospina purely on a disciplinary level then that's grand. That's his stance and a really good one. But please, don't confuse his goalkeeping skills with his smoking ones is all I'm saying. I really think we should stick with Szczesny, especially after seeing what's gone on with David Ospina.

While I was all for giving Ospina a chance, I must say that his performances have been significantly overrated. Yes, he's a decent kicker of the ball and dives really well. However, his parrying technique is all wrong and he simply cannot instill calmness during set-pieces. He doesn't have the height for the game either. Moreover, I cannot be the only one to think that his dives are way too Hollywood. There are times where he unnecessarily leaps into the air to push around the post a strike that a goalkeeper like Szczesny would simply collect.

The only advantage that Ospina seems to have on Szczesny is that he doesn't muck about and try to dribble players before hoofing the ball halfway.

Ospina's not a terrible keeper by any stretch, but him getting the confidence of the Arsenal supporters was more down to a settled defence and the "a new option is always better" mentality than his actual quality.

Szczesny responded brilliantly for more than a season after being dropped for Lukasz Fabianski two years ago. I am firmly of the opinion that should Wenger find a path for bringing Szczesny back into the foray, we could see a Pole performing at that similar ilk.

Francis Coquelin's emergence...
I'm not going to rehash all of the "well if you had told me this lad was barely playing at Charlton over three months ago I would have called you my drunk uncle's wife" stuff because while I'm over the moon for the guy, it's getting boring to hear of people bleeding out his resurrection.

I know we wanted a combative DM, but this is ridiculous!

What I will say about Coquelin is this - he was exactly what we needed. We didn't need a complicated player, we needed a straightforward one. Essentially, what we needed was someone to do the dirty work who would spare no chance in welcoming his opponent to the British way of playing. Arteta is too nice to lose his cool even if someone ruffles up his hair. Flamini was a great short-term solution until he just, faded away.

If I have a worry about Coquelin, it is that there yet exists the real danger of him fizzling out like Flamini did, should opponents get wise to him. We have to make sure that Coquelin's form, as welcome as it has been, is not the big all and end all in terms of Arsenal's defensive midfield woes. Buying an extra defensive midfielder is yet mandatory, because Arteta and Flamini aren't getting any younger, and there are doubts over the Ramsey-Wilshere pair in central midfield as well.

We have the resources, so I don't see a reason why Francis must be shown the light of complacency, if that makes any sense.

Is Theo Walcott Arsenal quality?
What I found really typical about this whole Theo Walcott issue was that several pro-Wenger fans (sorry for the labeling) knee-jerked their opinions too quickly the moment it became apparent that Arsene Wenger does not rate Walcott anymore.

Look, I try not to attack portions of Arsenal's fanbase directly but these levels of hypocrisy irk me.

When Arsenal oh-so predictably ceded the title last season, Wenger spared no expense in shifting the blame to injuries, injuries that wouldn't have happened if he hadn't overplayed the likes of Ramsey, Ozil and Koscielny until they could barely walk. Overrating the absence of pace (why not buy in January, then?) meant that people could overstate the importance of Theo Walcott to the team. Suddenly Theo was the Robert Pires of past - an indispensable cog to Arsenal's attacking engine.

Fast forward to this season, and people have already made their peace with Walcott's potential departure because, let's face it, Arsene Wenger has. Don't get me wrong - while I think Walcott is a good player, he is by no means absolutely essential to the success of Arsenal Football Club.

What bugged me, however, was the blind following toward Wenger akin to original logic.

When Francis Coquelin was loaned out to Charlton as a death sentence, no one really rated him. However, when he was forced to come back after four injuries and did excellently, no one was willing to eat humble pie, but were instead praising the manager's "unbelievable" faith in the Frenchman. What tosh. To add to the aforementioned debate, most of the reason Wojciech Szczesny gets a lot of undeserved stick is not because he's a terrible goalkeeper, but because he has quite obviously lost the faith of Wenger.

Again, don't get me wrong. My argument is not related with the quality of the player, - it's to do with the supporters adjusting their thoughts to suit their basic "Arsene knows all" argument. If Lukas Podolski was not on loan to Inter Milan and was getting games at the club, I truly doubt people would be giving him the amount of flak they do now.



Theo Walcott typifies this situation. Opinionated websites like Arseblog are not ashamed to point out his deficiencies in his overall game now (and rightly so), but where was all this analysis a year ago when Arsene Wenger was bigging up his absence? No Arsenal fan could be delusional to such an extent that they yet believe that before his injury, Walcott was not bang-on average when he wasn't scoring or assisting?

For the record, I'd like Walcott to stay. In fact, to add a little spice to my argument, I'd like Arsenal to try playing him as a center forward, if there are issues about his defensive workrate on the wings. It's about time we try to adapt to an attacking approach with a faster striker, because while Giroud's improvement has been terrific (before you get all "I told you so", I was one of his backers), I still think he should be a Plan B option. I'm not a fan of the traditional-target-man approach with build up plays involving pivots and back-to-goal hold ups, because it does not guarantee a huge goal output. Olivier Giroud may be huffing and puffing and scoring goals, but Arsenal will always remain offensively static with a limited striker like him up front.

Part of the reason I was excited about Danny Welbeck's signing was because I felt he could herald a new beginning to a more fluid, dynamic Arsenal. In that respect he has disappointed, because his finishing is pretty mediocre. If we want to score more goals and find a proper use for Theo Walcott's pace and finishing, playing him as a lone striker wouldn't be a bad idea. Obviously he's no Thierry, but Theo's pace means that he may be an acceptable surrogate.

And of course, if it should work the black lining to the silver cloud would be having to tolerate the "Arsene Wenger is a tactical genius" comments from the same people berating him right now.

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Right - I understand that there have been way more developments over the past months than I have touched upon, but the international break means that I have the liberty to spread my opinions throughout this following week of torture. And I intend to take advantage of that.

Finally, apologies for being absent for most of this season. 2014/15 for me has been a real blur at times and I haven't quite been myself with respect to my Arsenal life. Hopefully all that claptrap ends soon.

Until then, cheers, enjoy, laugh at the awkward ending of this post, but don't watch the Cricket World Cup finals. It's not interesting now that India's shown the door.

Later!

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]