Thursday, February 20, 2014

Get off Ozil's Back

The Bayern game was frustrating but Ozil will bounce back with aplomb.
The last past few weeks have once again illuminated the fickle nature of football pundits. In December Ozil was described as the talisman Arsenal had long coveted. He had been showered with plaudits and hailed as the chief instigator of the team's remarkable run in the EPL. However, in the aftermath of Arsenal's dismal performance against Bayern Munich, Ozil has been made a scapegoat with fans and experts alike calling for his head.

Ozil's recent performances have been criticised for his seemingly lackadaisical off the ball movement and inability to engineer goal-scoring opportunities with the same frequency as he did for Real Madrid.  Struggling to explain the down-turn in Arsenal's form, sportswriters have unfairly targeted Ozil whilst ignoring the larger problems plaguing his team. Ozil is no Robben or Ribery. He will not tear up defences with a burst of pace or unleash miraculous shots from outside the box. Ozil's genius lies in his selflessness. He is a thorough team-man, who prides himself on achieving results for the team instead of pursuing individual accolades. To accuse him of being lazy, like the Daily Telegraph did yesterday, simply demonstrates a lack of intellect on part of the commentator. Ozil's inconspicuousness is his greatest asset. Experts have said he doesn't who enough when he isn't in possession of the ball, but then how do they explain his ability to always be in the right place within the attacking third whenever the likes of Wilshere or Cazorla make foolish decisions and run into a swarm of defenders. Whenever there is a need to relieve the pressure from the man in possession, Ozil is ready. He might not sprint up and down the field like an Aaron Ramsey, but that cannot be construed as a lack of effort. 

Discerning viewers will note that Ozil covers as much ground as his midfield partners, however in lieu of his playing style he does not rush into tackles. Instead he supports the plays and provides a vital outlet. See how many times he has started an attack from inside his own half and you will see my point. Moreover, his surreptitious runs often fool defenders, enabling him to enter unguarded spaces and initiate fluent attacking moves. The English football media is well-known for its lack of appreciation for more refined skills. The back pages of Britain are dominated by men who still long for the bygone 20th century, the wet Tuesday nights at Stoke and reckless crunching challenges. Ozil does not conform to their image of a footballer and hence is attracting their mire now that his form has slipped just the slightest. All of yesterday I read pieces maligning him but not one commentator pointed out the fact that despite the missed penalty he played gallantly for the subsequent 70 minutes, with his defensive efforts overshadowing those of Wilshere and being comparable to Flamini.

Ozil is not culpable for decline in Arsenal's form. The assists for him may have dried up, but that's largely due to Wenger's strange decision to place Cazorla behind the strikers whilst relegating Ozil to the touchline. An artisan like Ozil thrives in central positions and his current placement does not allow him to express his talents. Also, Arsenal's unwillingness to use Podolski more regularly, since his return from injury, has hampered Ozil greatly. Podolski has pace and is one of the best shooters in the world. When Ozil first arrived, I thought he could have formed a formidable partnership with Podolski akin to the one he shared with Ronaldo. A roving Podolski on the left would permit Ozil to flourish, creating greater opportunities for him to utilise his incisive passing.

Overall, Ozil has been excellent for Arsenal and his arrival has been the catalyst for Arsenal's resurgence. From a distance he at times appears uninterested, removed from the contest, but look closely and you will realise his remarkable work rate. He creates lulls in the game, only to stun the opponent with his marvelous vision. The criticism leveled at him as grossly unfair and I hope in the next few weeks he makes the pundits eat their words.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ganso or Afellay ? Arsenal's search for an attacking mid-fielder

Afellay is considered surplus to needs at Barcelona

Arsenal's transfer policy has been marred by a lack of co-ordination and excessive procrastination. Over the past few years the Gunners have been linked with moves for many prominent players such as Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Kaka and Eden Hazard, but the club's failures to comply with tranfer fees and wage demands has often led to the breakdown of negotiations. The management is often guilty of exhibiting intent and has a tendency to attract the ire of players and other other clubs, by submitting grossly inadequate transfer offers.

With the impending departures of Robin Van Persie and Walcott, it is necessary for Arsenal to adopt a more astute approach and quickly recruit appropriate replacements. Since the departure of Fabregas, Arsenal's midfield has lacked impetus and at times appeared impotent. Barring Tomas Rosicky no other player in the Arsenal line up is capable of making defence splitting runs and delivering pin-point offensive passes on a regular basis. Arsenal desperately in need to an attacking central midfielder who can act as a pivot between defensive holding midfielders (Song & Arteta) and strikers (Podolski& Giroud). Throughout the previous 6 months Alex Oxlade Chamberlain has showcased attributes suitable for this position, yet he is raw and cannot be expected to have immediate success in such a demanding role. In the meanwhile Arsenal must resort to the dreaded transfer market and secure the services of either Paulo Ganso or Imbrahim Afellay.

Ganso would be an excellent inclusion to the Arsenal line-up
Ganso and Afellay have contrasting styles. Ganso is a more typical midfielder, with excellent vision, speed and footwork. In 59 games for Santos he has scored only 10 goals, but he has supplemented these with countless more assists through his penetrative passing. He would integrate seamlessly into Arsenal's playing structure and would be an ideal companion for the likes of Giroud and Podolski. Most importantly he is only 23 and has the potential to further enhance his skills. His playing style mirrors that of his Brazilian counterpart Kaka and he could well emulate the latter's achievements. Nevertheless, signing him would mean a substantial deviation from Arsenal's prudent financial policy and would require a bid exceeding 20 million euros.

On the other hand Afellay, although a good players, lacks the vibrancy and flamboyance of Ganso. His recent performances for Barcelona have been uninspiring and his injury record has concerned many potential suitors. Throughout his tenure with the Catalans he has largely been overshadowed by the midfield general Xavi and Iniesta. Although a strong and dynamic player, his passing lacks penentration of Ganso, while his field positioning skills have been found lacking. There is no doubt that he has the talent to flourish at Arsenal, however he is unlikely to make an instant impact and will need a few months to acclimatise to the English game. He is 26 and should be at the prime of his career, but injusry problems have curtailed his progress and he will need at least a season to reclaim the form that convinced Barcelona of his abilities. At a price of 6 million, his signing would not stretch Wenger's pockets and Arsenal can secure his services without much competition from other clubs.

In the current circumstances, Arsenal lack the economic might to secure Ganso and would do well sign Afellay. Nevertheless if Wenger actively tries to sell Van Persie and Walcott he should be able to raise in excess of 30 million euros and make a cosnscientious effort to enlist Ganso for the 2012/13 season. Arsenal's attempts to keep Van Persie and Walcott, appear futile and it would be best if the club now accepts the situation and tries to minimise the damage by offering both players to teams outside of England (Serie A, Bundesliga, La Liga). Along with Arteta, Song, the acquisition of one or both of Afellay and Ganso will bolster Arsenal's struggling midfield and fill a massive void in the current squad.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Why Arsenal don't need Robin Van Persie or Yann M Villa.

Robin Van Persie has confirmed his desire to depart Arsenal and although disappointing,this move was anticipated and Wenger has enlisted replacements to fill the void left by the Dutchman. This could be a blessing in disguise for Arsenal, as now Arsenal can freely deploy Olivier Giroud in his preferred centre forward role. Although lacking the creativity of Van Persie, Giroud offers Arsenal with an added aerial threat and his aggressive physical playing style is ideal for the Premier League. In comparison to Van Persie, Giroud is a more accomplished finisher and complements Arsenal's playing style. Towards the latter stages of last season, Van Persie's scoring rate dropped drastically and he struggled to cope with the intimidatory style of play used by opposition clubs. Being a more classical forward, Giroud should thrive in such circumstances and will no doubt emerge a resounding success.
In Lukas Podolski, Arsenal have a talented goal scorer and playmaker. He is ideally attributed to being a direct replacement for Van Persie and will increase the versatility of Arsensl's strike force. His left boot is a force to be reckoned with and his intelligent play will complement Giroud's physical style.
The issue of Yann M Villa is simple. In Mikel Arteta and Alex Song, Arsenal have the most successful holding midfield combination in the league. With the impending returns of Diaby and Wilshere, Arsenal have a dearth talent in the deep lying midfield and do not need re-inforcements. The only area where the squad is lacking is the absence of an established attacking midfielder. Oxlade Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey could occupy this vital role in the future, but in the meantime Wenger should scour the horizons and attempt to recruit a big name. Someone like Van Der Vaart or Belhanda would be ideal.

Monday, June 25, 2012

New look Indian team for World T20

India's success in 2007, turned a team of unknowns into overnight superstars.
On the 24th of September 2007, India's victory in ICC World T20 championships reinvigorated the fortunes of a flailing team and recaptured lost public faith. Overnight, the horrors of the preceding ODI World cup debacle were forgotten and players regained their idol like stature.

That tournament was remarkable for many reasons. The old triumvirate of Ganguly, Tendulkar and Dravid were excluded from the squad and team comprised of a large number of unknown entities. The likes of Robin Uthappa, Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan and Gautam Gambhir, shot to overnight fame and were revered throughout the nation. The success of the tournament instilled newfound confidence within the younger generation and trigerred a set of events that eventually culminated in the Indian team  attaining the number one ranking in Tests and winning the 2011 World Cup. The result prompted the BCCI and the ICC to further invest in the shortest format and catapulted the status of T20 from casual entertainment to a serious international competition.

The economic gains from the event were unparalleled and trigerred the formation of the IPL and various other lucrative domestic leagues. Had any other nation won the tournament (Australia, England, South Africa), the game would never have reached such lofty heights and its success can be credited to the popularity of the sport in the worlds second most populous nation.

Yet since its initial success, India's 2 successive world T20 campaigns have been nothing short of disasters. One would expect since the introduction of the IPL, the Indian players would have become more adept at the format. But, the team's standards have declined, with most of the blame resting on its woeful batting. The IPL is played on flat subcontinental pitches, that are neither conducive to spin or pace. On such tracks the likes of Virender Sehwag and Rohit Sharma can afford to play across the line and slog at will, fully aware of the fact that the track harbours no demons that could expose their flawed techniques. Also, in an IPL match a player may face 10 or 15 balls from an International standard bowler, but all the while he knows that if he can withstand the momentary barrage, theres a feast to be enjoyed against lesser experienced domestic players. When placed on difficult strips against a moving ball, the Indian batsman are dead ducks.

This years tournament is being hosted in Sri Lanka, thus the Indians have the comfort of playing in reasonably familiar territory. The slow and low Sri Lankan pitches are similar to Indian wickets, providing virtually no assistance to fast bowlers. The batsmen technique will not be rigorously tested by bouncer barrages and batsman can play across the line with a sense of security.

Still the Indian selectors must design a versatile XI that is capable of handling friendly as well as testing conditions. Performing under pressure in this tournament could provide youngsters with a pathway into the Test side and it is vital that selectors give opportunities to upcoming players.

My proposed 11 and 5 reserves for the tournament are:

  1. Gautam Gambhir (vc)
  2. Mandeep Singh
  3. Ajinkya Rahane
  4. Virat Kohli
  5. Ambati Rayudu
  6. MS Dhoni (wk) (c)
  7. Yusuf Pathan
  8. R Ashwin
  9. Shahbaz Nadeem
  10. Umesh Yadav
  11.  Zaheer Khan

Reserves: Suresh Raina, Pragyan Ojha, Ashok Dinda, Rohit Sharma, Irfan Pathan

Despite question marks lingering over his captaincy, Dhoni still managed to lead Chennai to the IPL finals. He is a proven performer in the role and at this stage it is premature to consider stripping him of the captaincy. In the IPL we witnessed Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel struggle once again, while Wriddhiman Saha lacks the aggressive edge to dominate in T20, making Dhoni the only possible choice.

Virender Sehwag is already a key part of the test and ODI sides that is where his country needs him to perform. Over the past few months he has struggled in overseas tours and reportedly caused interal rift within the squad. He needs time for introspection and needs to return to the nets so he can concentrate on progressing in the longer versions. Involving him in T20 will continue to foster the reckless aspects of his game, encouraging him to continue with the brash shot a ball approach, and could be harmful to his test prosects. In Mandeep Singh, India have a young talent who could flourish in this tournament and use this as a stepping stone to establish himself in international cricket. His domestic and IPL performances have been excellent and he thoroughly deserves this opportunity.

Ajinkya Rahane and Kohli at 3 and 4 respectively add much needed stability to the floundering middle order. Both are solid technically and can adapt their styles to suit the situation. They both have the skills to rotate the strike and build an innings, but when needed they are also capable of accelerating and striking boundaries. Rahane should be preferred to a man like Raina or Rohit Sharma because in England he was able to confront the challenges of the swinging delivery and outshone his counterparts in the ODI leg. Raina and Rohit have been horribly inconsistent in international cricket and their lack of stability has been hurting the team's chances.

Ambati Rayudu has excelled for Mumbai Indians in the last 3 years and this season he highlighted his strength of character by guiding his team to 3 last over victories, even hitting a  6 of the final ball to seal a match. Rayudu is a hard working and tenacious players who oozes with talent and his ability to re-build and consolidate an innings in times of crisis is a rare and desirable trait. Pathan has been out of sorts, yet with a stable technically correct order (Kohli, Rahane, Rayudu), he can play afford to play with greater freedom.Like Gayle or Pollard, if he clicks he can potentially win a game single handed. His part time spin along with Kohli's medium pace provides Dhoni with 2 options to fill the role of the 5th of bowler.

Ashwin and Nadeem were the most successful spinners in the IPL taking wickets while maintaining an economy below 7.5, while Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav have been India's most successful bowlers over the past season.

The reserves Rain, Rohit, Irfan and Ojha can slot seamlessly into any of the positions in case members of starting squad are underperforming and add greater flexibility to the squad. On a seaming wicket, Dhoni could replace Nadeem with Irfan to increase the depth of a batting line up that has historically struggled against pace while adding a proficient second seamer to the line up. Yusuf could make way for Raina if he is struggling for form, while Rohit could act as a replacement for either Kohli or Rayudu.