Matchday is almost upon us, and this is big! Touted as the most expensive club game in Premiership history, this one, especially with the form of both teams, is going to bring the entire football fraternity into standstill. Arsenal are undefeated in the league so far, and this is their biggest challenge, against a Chelsea side, top in the league, and full of costly recruits.
TheHardTackle’s in-house writers get together for this occasional banter whenever two big clubs meet. This is no different an affair. Arsenal die-hard Sounak Mukherjee (SM) plays host to Chelsea fan Vignesh Iyer (VI), both exchanging questions and answers about their respective teams. This might get a bit touchy, so sit back and enjoy!
SM: With such a notorious Captain in the side, always in the news for all the wrong reasons, how difficult it is for the rest of the team to cope with matters? Why doesn’t the management shift the captaincy to somebody stable, like Cech?
VI: I don’t think John Terry’s issues have ever affected him to the point where he doesn’t give 100% on the pitch and Chelsea’s trophy haul since he’s been captain, speaks for itself. In that sense, the management thinks it is alright for him to continue as captain. When Mourinho was at Chelsea, the club used to get slaughtered in the press all the time but what counted was results on the pitch. Mourinho only went wrong when he frequently questioned the owner’s authority in public.
Appointing a more stable captain is a worthwhile exercise, but I think that will happen only once Terry hangs up his boots for good. It is inconceivable for anybody else to take charge while he is still there at the club.
SM: Is this the most balanced Chelsea team in the last few years? Do you think Di Matteo is here to stay for long or will he see the same kind of axe as his predecessors have seen upon not delivering?
VI: Au Contraire, I think this team is still only finding its balance. Di Matteo’s future largely depends on if he can integrate all of these flair players that Chelsea now have, into the team and still deliver results; for which you need a strong defensive structure as well. Results are bottom line at the club and the game against Arsenal tomorrow is interesting in the sense that everybody waiting to see just how well this new set up can aid Chelsea against top teams.
SM: In continuation to my previous question, isn’t there too much pressure on the managers to deliver?
VI: One must be careful to note that Arsenal and Manchester United are unique cases in football, and not the norm. Look at any top club competing for European honours barring these two and you’ll see that there are a few top clubs that seem to change managers at will. Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, A.C. Milan, Liverpool et al have had problems. Barcelona did let go off Rijkaard who was fairly successful for them and Spurs did the same with Harry Redknapp who in all fairness did spectacularly well from when he took on the job. Chelsea have had more managers than some, but barring Mourinho I don’t think a single manager at Chelsea has been sacked without rationale and purely at the owner’s whim.
SM: In Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Oscar and Lampard, Chelsea has immense creativity in the midfield? Is too much of creativity a good thing? isn’t there a possibility of players getting in each other’s way?
VI: They do get in each other’s way sometimes especially with Lampard too bombing forward from his new deeper midfield position, and both Hazard and Mata like to come in from wider positions. This is the challenge for the manager and players – to make sure that an attacking move isn’t hindered by less than optimal positioning. Time will tell if it is a problem we can ‘afford’ to have because if we are still getting results, I don’t see a problem. But they’re all extremely intelligent players, so we can expect things to settle down gradually.
SM: How long do you think Torres will take to completely settle into this team and start banging in goals? Isn’t he more suited to a 4-4-2 formation? Filling Drogba’s shoes must be too much of a task to handle for him, right?
VI: I think the settling in period for Torres is pretty much over now as it is close to two years since he’s signed for Chelsea. He thrived in a 4 – 2 – 3 – 1 formation at Liverpool actually. The issue is with the fact that Liverpool under Rafael Benitez invited teams to attack them and hit them on the counter, this gave Torres space to run into behind defences. 56 out of his 81 goals for Liverpool came after the ball was played in behind defenses. Similarly he worked well with a more direct approach for Spain under Luis Aragones as they thrived due to quicker transitions and increased build up speed. Under Del Bosque he’s looked like a fish out of water.
So he needs that space to run in behind defenses. If you watch (very short)highlights of his goals for Chelsea as well, most of them have come after he’s run in behind defenses. A slower tempo in build-up does not suit him at all and unfortunately defenses tend to sit deep against us while we initiate moves.
I don’t think anyone can replace Drogba like for like. It is a problem that Chelsea might have to work around rather than try and find a ‘replacement’. It’s a bit like when United lost Roy Keane who was replaced with Michael Carrick, then they lost Ronaldo but when everyone thought they’d sign a Ribery or a Robben – Ferguson went on and signed Valencia.
SM: Finally, Is the Chelsea team ready to take off the “Parking Bus” tag from them? Or, are they willingly fine with such a tag as long as the trophies come along?
VI: Amazingly, Chelsea can still pull off the ‘Parking the bus’ strategy if they play Ramires and Bertrand on the flanks. So the option is always available, but no doubt that the club itself is looking at shedding that tag that has come to be associated with them. If I were to answer your question, I’d say that now more than ever before Chelsea seem to be ready to do that. Before this summer, a considerable chunk of the team had the ‘Mourinho mentality’ drilled into them, so that translated itself into the team’s style of play. Now however, it is very different and flair players will have an increasing influence as the season progresses!
Now, with VI done with his answering, the tables are turned, he shoots his questions to SM. Let us see how the Arsenal man deals with it.
VI: Arsenal just announced pre- tax profits of nearly £37million. The long term strategy is good, but here’s how it looks to fans who watch their beloved Arsenal play week in week out – they pay the most expensive ticket prices to watch their team play, but at the end of the season they worry about which player will leave and get balance sheets that are in the green as opposed to trophies. What do you have to say for that?
SM: I, totally understand the frustration of fans who are disappointed at how things have panned out at Arsenal in the last four or five years. But, the fans need to understand that this was meant to be, the transition period was supposed to be with Youth Arsenal players developing to their best and then demanding the ‘right’ wages as per market fee structure.
Now, that period has almost come to an end. Arsene has gone into the market and purchased experienced players who will completely compliment the youth and exuberance in the side. They will help in the development of these players and even seamlessly fit into the scheme of things at Arsenal. To be honest, the fans who have paid pretty high ticket prices, have all the right to complain, but those days are soon to get over.
VI: There was a huge furore when Robin Van Persie left the club and it brought out the Stan Kroenke vs Alisher Usmanov war out in the open again. Who has got your backing and why?
SM: We are so past those two incidents that it feels like an eternity thinking of when it actually happened. The team is doing extremely well now without van Persie. If the team does well, then Usmanov keeps his gob shut, which in term, keeps Stan quiet. Ohh, wait, he always…
VI: Arsenal have had a tough start to the season but you’ve done rather well and Steve Bould’s influence upon the defence has been spoken about much. Does that give you the feeling that including him as part of the first team backing staff could have been done much earlier?
SM: By tough start, I hope you mean the ‘tough’ opponents that we have played so far, because we are still unbeaten, having scored 17 goals in the season, 10 more than what we had scored at this point last season. Steve Bould’s influence has been massive, he is most certainly no ‘Yes Man’ as Theo recently pointed out. He has his opinion and has truck-loads of defending experience. Maybe, this change could have been done much earlier, but he was doing a great job with the youth and Pat was quite handy too.
VI: Carl Jenkinson and Keiran Gibbs as your full backs, don’t you think that their inexperience compromises your attackers? I know for a fact that we will be targeting them thereby forcing your wing forwards to play deeper tomorrow.
SM: Both Jenkinson and Gibbs are easily our best players of the season so far. They have delivered beyond anybody’s expectations. Jenkinson, especially, being quite raw and having to deal with the expectation of replacing the best right back in the League, has done a fantastic job so far, recently getting praised by the captain too and even a shock England call-up awaits him. As far as Gibbs is concerned, he is quite experienced now, having been with the first team for five seasons. If he stays injury-free, he can be an asset to the team. I am not at all worried if Chelsea target these players, they don’t have fluent wingers anyways, certainly not somebody like Arjen Robben.
VI: Santi Cazorla has been rather good going by reports, but is he really as good as Fabregas was for you? Or is that typical exaggeration?
SM: I am not sure if it sounds blasphemous, but Santi Cazorla is better than Cesc Fabregas. I will promise you an article on this in a few days, but for now, I can prove it in this limited space provided. Santi is ambidextrous, can spray passes all over the pitch with both legs, he may not have the incredible vision of Cesc, but he is very very close it on that aspect. He is a much better shooter of the football than Cesc is/was. Moreover, he can shoot with both legs. His dead ball delivery and crosses with both feet are again a touch better than Cesc. One more thing that he adds to this team is his enthusiasm and lively character, probably at level with Cesc.
VI: Why has Giroud failed to deliver as expected?
SM: Failure is a relative term. Giroud, in my opinion, has done brilliantly so far. He has been totally committed to the ultimate cause of winning games, and has shown extra focus in getting goals for himself. He got his first against Coventry in style and could have got himself a brace if not for a great penalty save. He is a typically hard-working French striker, who will provide a lot of cover for other players to score. He won’t ever be a 25 goals man, but I will love to eat my words in the near future.