Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ball Harambee Oct. 31

The Arsenal-Chelsea Shootout
By Bagga Wilks

The English Premier League has begun with some surprising high scores. Manchester United whipped Arsenal 8-2. Manchester City humiliated Manchester United 6-1. And last Saturday October 27, 2011, Arsenal outscored Chelsea 5-3.

We seem to be entering the age of open football. Chelsea’s new coach, Villas-Boas, is still adapting to the EPL after coming over from Porto in Portugal. This season has been an ongoing baptism for the coach. He is still fiddling with his lineup, trying to get the winning mix.

Full backs in this new era of open football are essentially old time wingers. Bosingwa, Chelsea’s right full back is played for his forays on the right wing and secondarily for his defense. Ashley Cole has always been treasured as an attacking left full back who is always in the offensive mix.

Once full backs are relieved of their defensive duties, more pressure is placed on the two central defenders and the holding mid-field player. Villas-Boas is still searching for the right defensive chemistry. Alex has lost favor. The other Brazilian, David Luiz is the overly energetic bunny who has shown lapses in judgment. Ivanovic and Terry have played together a lot over the seasons but they don’t seem to cover each other very well. Terry, the English skipper, has lost a few steps and his slip in a crucial moment of the game, gave Van Persie an easy sitter.

Mikel is no Essien and one wonders if Essien will ever be Essien again after so many injuries. Juan Mata has added some creativity to Chelsea’s attack but Fernando Torres is still a lost soul at Stanford Bridge. Chelsea has spent a great deal of money but unlike Manchester City, at this juncture, Chelsea is still trying to fit the pieces into a winning whole.

This was a landmark win for Arsenal. Nonetheless, Wenger’s team suffers from some of the same frailties as Chelsea. They play a high defensive line and at times, the defenders do not play in harmony. Teams in the EPL are becoming more adept at breaking down the high defensive flat four which in actuality is a flat two as the full backs are caught up stream in the attack.

There was some improvement in the Arsenal defensive posture in the second half as Alex Song stayed at home as the defensive mid-field player. Koscielny has shown some improvement this season but the lanky German, Mertesacker, is still looking awkward and trying to keep up with the fast tempo of the English game.

Theo Walcott is a player of extremes. With Walcott, there is no “aristotelian” mean. He is either very innocuous or exceptionally destructive of defenses. Playing against a Chelsea’s defense where the left full back was missing in action, Walcott ran all over the Blues. Gervinho also benefited from Chelsea’s open game and is growing in confidence. But what was most heartening about the Arsenal win for Wenger, was the play of Aaron Ramsey. He was far from a non-descript player and was constantly troubling to John Terry et al.

At this early stage in the season, it appears to be Manchester City on top and six other teams vying to be in the top four. Tottenham, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal will be involved in the death struggle to qualify for the lucrative Champion’s League.

No comments: