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Arsenal Need A New Free Kick Specialist Among Many Other Things

Photo by Ronnie Macdonald

Supporting a team can be an extremely frustrating experience. Midweek against Chelsea, Manchester United looked like world beaters. A team performance that would have given Barcelona a run for its money. Then Saturday against Manchester City they were hapless. Arsenal fans, meanwhile, must feel incredibly frustrated after coming so close to ending goalless against Liverpool Sunday at the Emirates Stadium. Then, with a flash of good fortune (i.e. Jay Spearing’s clumsy challenge), Arsenal are handed a life line. Up stepped Robin van Persie who seemingly grabbed all three points. That was until the last kick of the game when Dirk Kuyt banged in a penalty to end the match 1-1.

The same thing is happening with my own team, Swansea City, who were on the cusp of getting promoted from the Championship. After a scintillating victory against Norwich last week, they drew midweek against Hull in a match they should have lost. And then they slumped to defeat Saturday when they lost 2-1 against Burnley. Their automatic promotion hopes are in tatters and they may end up qualifying for the playoffs instead. Just as Arsenal supporters are (or some will say ‘were’) so close to tasting triumph (whether it’s for the entire season or just Sunday’s Liverpool game), I have felt the same frustrations supporting Swansea this year. To make a long story short, Arsenal fans, I feel your pain.

But one of the things that bug me about Arsenal is that they have been so inept at taking free kicks this season. We saw it Sunday against Liverpool. Time after time again this season, Arsenal have been so predictable with their free kicks. Up steps Robin van Persie who either hits the free kick straight into the wall or hits it skyward, over the bar. For a team as talented as Arsenal, opposing teams must breathe a sigh of relief whenever the Gunners get a free kick because it’s very likely that Van Persie will fail in converting the golden opportunity.

Surely Arsene Wenger has seen this as a weak spot on his side, but how he hasn’t given the free kick task to someone else on his side is beyond me. As we’ve seen with other teams, a free kick magician is sometimes the difference between winning and losing. Just imagine if some of these wasted free kicks had been turned into goals and what a difference this could have had, if any, on Arsenal’s season.

Finding someone else to take Arsenal’s free kicks is just the first of many improvements that Arsene Wenger needs to make to his squad. Let’s hope he’s honest with himself during the summer and he rectifies the holes that are in his squad, namely a solid goalkeeper, a leader on the pitch to replace Cesc Fabregas (or, if Fabregas stays, to lead the team when he’s injured) as well as a more consistent striker up front. This summer Wenger needs to make some big changes in his squad to make the team stronger and better positioned to win a trophy this season.

One more thing. Wednesday’s match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane is a must-win match for the Gunners. If it’s anything less, there’ll be a lot of Arsenal supporters questioning the ability of Wenger.

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  1. Why?

    April 19, 2011 at 4:37 am

    Arsenal need to find some bottle as they should have had the title won by now. If only the hadn’t bottled it.

  2. Nathan

    April 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    Maybe Arsenal can find a backbone in the transfer window.

  3. Dave C

    April 18, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Do you have any actual stats on Arsenal’s FK conversion rate compared to other teams? I don’t doubt you, but some stats would have been useful to back up what you’re saying.

    • The Gaffer

      April 19, 2011 at 9:29 am

      Hi Dave, good question. I tried to find some research to back up the story but I came up empty handed regarding how many goals are scored from free kicks. However this has been a story I’ve been keeping my eye on for a few months. Match after match, I’ve been very discouraged by how poor Robin van Persie’s free kicks have been.

      The Gaffer

  4. Jean-Christian

    April 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Absolutely disagree about bringing in a new goalkeeper. Arsenal had two goalkeepers in very good form this season (Szczesny and Fabianski), who were both sidelined with injury. Almunia should go, but with Mannone (who has never been on the losing side in a league match with Arsenal or Hull) returning to provide positional depth, the goalkeeping position is set for Arsenal. Yes, there are better keepers out there, but there’s no sense in breaking the bank for a player who may only be slightly better than the status quo, and who would hinder the development of the clear #1 of the future in Szczesny.

    Besides, all this “Arsenal keeper crisis” nonsense is sensationalist media hype. Only Chelsea and Manchester City have conceded fewer goals than Arsenal this season. Here are some Premier League stats:

    Szczesny: 9 games, 7 conceded (1 every 116min), 5 clean sheets (56%), W5 D3 L1

    Fabianski: 14 games, 14 conceded (1 every 90min), 5 clean sheets (36%), W9 D2 L3

    Almunia: 8 games, 9 conceded (1 every 80min), 2 clean sheets (25%), W3 D4 L1

    Cech: 32 games, 26 conceded (1 every 110min), 14 clean sheets (44%), W18 D7 L7

    Van der Sar: 28 games, 28 conceded (1 every 90min), 12 clean sheets (43%), W16 D9 L3

    Reina: 33 games, 39 conceded (1 every 76min), 12 clean sheets (36%), W14 D7 L12

    To be clear, I am not saying that any of the Arsenal goalkeepers are better than Cech / VdS / Reina, nor am I saying that I wouldn’t like to see Reina / Buffon / Lloris / Akinfeev / transfer-target-of-the-day in an Arsenal shirt. Those stats admittedly skew a little in the favor of the Arsenal trio (well, duo, really) because of smaller sample sizes. (Injuries have been a primary concern for Arsenal.) My point is: All Szczesny and Fabianski can do is play the games they are given, and they (particularly Szczesny) have done well enough to justify putting some faith in them to be consistent, rather than impulse-buying a big name for 25 million pounds.

    … seriously, though, Almunia needs to go. He was outperformed by the second-oldest player in Arsenal’s history. I’ll fly to London and show him the door myself if that’s what it takes.

  5. Football Souvenirs

    April 18, 2011 at 3:30 am

    I wouldn’t see a frick specialist as their highest priority. What about a goalkeeper, a centr back and a goal scorer??

  6. Moe

    April 18, 2011 at 12:32 am

    I am a Arsenal Supporter, i do think people hate on Arsenal a lot. More than any team in the EPL, But the teams brings it on themselves with results like Sunday. The team does not need a new #1 keeper, maybe a good back up. The team does need to Add 2 good CB’s and another good holding Midfielder. Since Van Persie came back Chamack has not been the same player. if he can regain his form from the beginning of the season he would be a good partner for RVP, if not someone need to be purchased. I have to agree with all the critics who question Arsenal, they just cannot finish games and lack focus. I do agree they need someone in the locker room that will challenge other players to bring their best. Also, if Cesc wants to go let him go as long as Barcelona are willing to play a fair price.

  7. Stacy

    April 17, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    Wenger is too stubborn to change. Arsenal will always be good enough to be in the top 4 but won’t win the title again unless they can bring in players with toughness, like Viera, Adams, etc. Only a few weeks ago Arsenal were going for the quadruple and now they are out of all. Mathematically they may still be in contention to win the EPL title but that would mean a monumental collapse by Manchester United which isn’t likely.

    I agree with Jason that the added time is the minimum to be played and any time-wasting, goal celebrations, etc. during the added time usually
    prolongs the final whistle. A draw was a fair result in my opinion.

  8. Jason

    April 17, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    I agree that Arsenal have become very predictable with their free kicks. They do have Fabregas, Arshavin and Nasri who can all take them and have scored at times. Arsenal are also very predictable when they try to go down the middle to try and unlock defences. Wenger needs to change his tactics when the need arises. Taking off Wolcott who was the only one who gave the team any width didn’t help. Credit to Liverpool’s youngsters for not allowing Wolcott and Nasri too much space. Still you would expect a team like Arsenal with the players they have to take advantage of Liverpool’s fullbacks.

    Finally, why was Wenger complaining to Daglish about the penalty? What did he expect Daglish to say? That was just stupid on Wenger’s part. He should be complaining to Eboue for his dumb contact with Lucas who was going away from the goal to get the ball and even if he did get it wasn’t going to do anything nor would he have had enough time. By the way, when the added time is held up that is the MINIMUM. That’s why the stadium announcer says” there will be a minumum of 8 minutes”. Arsenal’s celebration and taking time to set up the wall for the freekick contributed to the added time. Again, it’s the referee that keeps time and adds what he thinks is needed.

    I love the way Arsenal play but sometimes they are just very frustrating when they have all that possession and can do little with it. If Wenger doesn’t change his tactics then maybe Arsenal should look for another coach.

  9. robert

    April 17, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    all arsenal lacks is the killer mentality gained by winning several in a row.

    …oh and a big, burly holding mid.
    … and a strike partner for vp
    …and two grownup men at center half.

    I’ve never been so angry at the end of a game in my life.

    spend some friggin’ money wenger.

    • Moe

      April 18, 2011 at 12:40 am

      Song is pretty good, but they do need another holding midfielder. Diaby is starting to play better but i would not count on him always being healthy

  10. Dave (dlbags)

    April 17, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    All you need to know about this game is in this picture. Just like the Sunderland game where Down allowed an extra minute for reasons no one could figure out the same happened here. Why on earth was that penalty given 42 seconds past the allotted time? Just like the extra whole minute Dowd allowed until Bent was able to equalize, this makes no sense.

    I have this on my DVR and watched the extra time several times and found no reasont he whistle should have been blown there….


    As soon as the ball hit the wall and bounced away and landed in front of Lucas before his dive which was…wait for it… at 11 minutes past.

    And of course good old Danglesh is all smiles and tells Wenger to piss off to the delight of the other Englishmen who commentate. Which had it been the other way around (a Frenchman telling an Englishman to piss off) would have sent them into frenzies.

    It’s just gotten old the non stop bias against Arsenal by the general English soccer world.

    And once again referees have decided Arsenal’s fate. We’ve had plenty to blame ourselves for but this is the second game (4 points) AFC have lost to suspect timekeeping and the lack of accountability by the FA and press no bothering to hold their feet to the fire make the FA as big a joke as FIFA.

    • Dave (dlbags)

      April 17, 2011 at 10:38 pm

      I know (now) Danglish is a Scotsman but you can’t deny the bias against Wenger cause he’s French even by Arsenal supporters.

      Another thing, time can only be added for subs, delay to restart of game, injuries, & time wasting. RVP’s celebrations lasted less than 30 seconds the first penalty was given at 8:42 of added time. Next penalty at 11 minutes. If Arsenal were wasting time on the wall then surely the whistle wouldn’t have blown immediately after the penalty kick. I’d bet the farm in an alternate universe this ref would have waited unti the ball was well cleared (letting it pinball in the box while LFC tried to put it in) to blow time had Chesney blocked the PK.

      • Gaz Hunt

        April 17, 2011 at 11:55 pm

        “Why on earth was that penalty given 42 seconds past the allotted time?”

        Because the referee holds the time – not the announcer that provides the crowd, commentators, and, thus, television viewers with the minimum amount of minutes of stoppage time. Only the referee knows the real time, the time announced is a guess – and usually erred on the lower side since, again, it is minimum.

        “As soon as the ball hit the wall and bounced away and landed in front of Lucas before his dive which was…wait for it… at 11 minutes past.”

        Maybe you don’t understand the term, “stoppage”?

        Anyway, are you really blaming Arsenal’s loss on the referee’s failure to blow for full time at the 8 minute mark? The minimum, eight minute mark?

        I think that is the saddest thing I’ve ever seen posted on the site, guys.

        • Dave (dlbags)

          April 18, 2011 at 12:15 am

          “Anyway, are you really blaming Arsenal’s loss on the referee’s failure to blow for full time at the 8 minute mark? The minimum, eight minute mark?”

          I think it’s sad you can’t read.

          The rules are simple time can only be added for subs, delay to restart of game, injuries, & time wasting. Normal things like free kicks, throw ins, PKs and restarts are not supposed to be added.

          If RVP’s celebrations was time wasting (which was less than 30 sec I’ve timed it) as there were no subs or injuries in stoppage the ref basically is stating that it amounted to 44 seconds as that’s when the free kick was called for outside the box plus the extra time after the free kick, that somehow the ref figured it to the second that the “right amount” was just enough to give the penalty. How amazing huh?

          So no I’m not saying time should have been called after 8 minute but rather after the free kick as free kicks, penalty set ups (both), restarts (obviously as the ref didn’t let the game restart then blow the whistle) didn’t amount the extra time allowed…wait for it…IN MY OPINION which is what this comment section is for.

          But hey I’m only using the rules of the game.

          And no obviously I blame it all on the ref, but suspect timekeeping was certainly a factor.

          • Moe

            April 18, 2011 at 12:39 am

            Arsenal should have never let if come down to that

          • Gaz Hunt

            April 18, 2011 at 12:49 am

            I can see you’re mature with the silly dig at my literacy because I think this particular attempt to heap blame on the referee is especially sad.

            A referee conspiracy theory is no replacement for a mentally and defensively strong showing in the last (most important) minutes of the match.

            Anyway, isn’t Arsenal arguing with the referee, standing on top of the ball, and failing to back the wall up a “delay to restart of game”?

        • Dave (dlbags)

          April 18, 2011 at 3:53 am

          “I can see you’re mature with the silly dig at my literacy because I think this particular attempt to heap blame on the referee is especially sad.”

          It’s not a dig you wrote: “Anyway, are you really blaming Arsenal’s loss on the referee’s failure to blow for full time at the 8 minute mark? The minimum, eight minute mark?”

          When clearly I wasn’t. What I am saying having just watched the stoppage time AGAIN is that RvP’s celebration wasn’t even time wasting he was carded for taking his jersey off. 35 seconds later LFC had launched one into Chesney for goal which was sent back out at this point it was 98 minutes, then LFC drove the ball in and Lucas did his first dive. Eboue called him on it and he (Lucas) shoved him two handed on his chest and Eboue ‘s retaliation wasn’t caught on camera (and Lucas’ shove wasn’t acknowledge by the commentators as everything was happening so fast) but they were both yellow carded. Suarez tried putting the ball on the line and the ref reprimanded him and put it in the normal space they the normal amount of time happened setting the line and yes Arshavin was last on the line but it took less time than Suarez putting the ball on the line took.

          I still can’t see any reason after the ball hit the line the whistle wasn’t blown. At all. I looked at it several times disregarding normal free kick and penalty kick and resets as you are supposed to and can’t figure the extra time. And considering both penalties were suspect I’d hardly say Arsenal weren’t defending well. Lucas ran in front of Eboue and slowed down even had his right arm back to fell the contact and go down. And he had no chance on the ball as it was bouncing away. he conned the ref. And Lucas and Eboue going by the laws should have been red carded. Seems like the ref just lost control int he last few minutes.

          You want further proof about the Arsenal bias? Not one post here on Stoke’s HUGE victory or Bolton’s AWFUL (did anyone besides Stoke fans have them winning?) collapse. Why? Cause flogging Arsenal every chance you get is fashionable. JP hit the nail on the head, this site has been picking apart Arsenal all season.

          And lastly how many Man of the matches have GKs got against Arsenal the last few weeks? No wait it must be because Arsenal lack a true striker unlike Man U who have scored only 7 more goals and yet allowed one more goals against (32 Man U vs 31 Ars) all season. Weird huh? Considering Man U has WORLD CLASS center backs, full backs and goal keepers and Fergie spent all that more money while Wenger refuses to spend!

          I wonder how many goals Man U have scored on set pieces compared to Arsenal? Seeing as this is the themes of this post..

          • Gaz Hunt

            April 18, 2011 at 11:07 am

            The referee has a stop-watch that he stops and starts when he sees stoppage and obviously thought time was still left – it doesn’t matter what you get. Each of us could go through that game and do the same and come up with different numbers but only one man counts.

            In addition, referees always let teams finish their attack and will blow when the ball is cleared (similar to rugby that will keep playing indefinitely past the final minute until the ball dies).

            Arsenal should have finished that game earlier or defended better in the closing minutes. Stop whining and ook at your club with a sliver of unbiased thought and you’ll agree.

  11. raok

    April 17, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    why do people single out on walcott all the time? its just annoying.

    • Dave (dlbags)

      April 17, 2011 at 10:08 pm

      Perhaps the same reason Darren Bent never gets the credit he deserves?

      • Moe

        April 18, 2011 at 12:38 am

        Darren Bent is very underrated, ill only say that now since he no long plays for Spurs haha

  12. ra0k

    April 17, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    bulls&@t…… walcott had a decent game and there were some decent crosses, but unfortunately many a times there were no one on the other side, walcott’s way better than bale. what has bale done in the premier league? i just can’t see….. stats speaks for themselves. if he wins pfa young player of the year award(he doesn’t stand a chance. ideally.) then it just proves the hypocritical and biased nature of fa and british media.

    nice article by the way, i just don’t see wenger buying significantly again this summer.

    • cubarebel

      April 18, 2011 at 12:09 am

      bale won pfa player of the year, bale has the ability to take over a game, done it numerous times, he has that magic; and stating pl goals per game is a stupid comparison, bale was a left back until this year.

      • Moe

        April 18, 2011 at 12:15 am

        7 goals and 1 asst do not equal domination

  13. s j little

    April 17, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Its about time it was realised Walcott is a waste of time. Why are so many of these lightweight amateur types lacking real “Go” allowed to hang around a first team that everyone except Wenger can see is loaded with defects. When Fergie gets young players he expects to jump straight in and gives them the opportunity, Wenger has to nurse and baby sit them and loan them out. What good is the Academy.. 10 years only some 1000 players passed thro and only Cole and Wilshere produced. How can you give chances to players who have only faced underage players like themthelves When I was young Arsenal young players played EVERY week for Margate in the professional Southern League against veteran older players and younger up and coming hopefuls. It produced Marks,Kelsey,Lewis,Logie Bremner,Comptons,Cumner,Lional Smith,Daniel, Milton and so on. What toughening up can that lot in the present Academy get? Oh, and hav,nt a few being let go that are better than Diaby,Denilson,or Eboue such as Larsson (at least he can hit a ball!) . Look at all the and chances some of these foreign rejects have been given and yet Velo never? Who is our best forward line now, don,t ask there is no obvious one. Its pot luck from week to week while Wenger dreams on and on and on until all he sees is Referees faults, time added on faults,poor old tired players who are overworked on £2,000.000 and upwards per year. Opponents to play the same as expected and don,t bore us with useless passes and actually have players who can tackle and shoot and hit a ball HARD try and centra properly and so on.. No Wenger wants a non contact pretty game with his players kitted out in pretty little white communion stockings and when there is bit of a chill about neckchiefs and little woolly gloves. Says it all really!

  14. Bosco

    April 17, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    “a more consistent striker?” You mean more consistent than a striker who has scored 21 goals in his last 22 apps?

    • The Gaffer

      April 17, 2011 at 8:23 pm

      Yes, RVP has scored 13 goals in 11 league games since January 1st, but he needs a better partner up front to establish a partnership with.

      The Gaffer

      • robert

        April 17, 2011 at 10:20 pm

        amen to THAT.

        • brn442

          April 17, 2011 at 11:30 pm

          Gaffer is right – Arsenal needs an effective out and out striker, not another attacking midfielder or a winger but a true, greedy, in the box poacher. Until then, the Gunners will just be another glorified youth team. Also, it’s time to consider letting Fabregas go – (home). He is not a natural leader, his touches and decision making has been poor this season (a back – heel @ the Nou Camp – really?) How is the team supposed to grow and achieve things when their captain is linked to Barca, season after season.

          • Moe

            April 18, 2011 at 12:36 am

            i agree with the Cesc statement, let him go if Barca are willing to play a fair price. If not, swap with real Madrid for Kaka:)

  15. mitch

    April 17, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    The ball noticed McBride in the wall and immediately grounded itself

  16. PaulFromMiami

    April 17, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Still cant believe how you can lose 2 points in the final second of a game. It is not Arsenal’s year. Kroenke needs to force Wenger to buy players during the summer.
    I got a question: Is Theo Walcott capable of nothing else besides running past his man with his pace? At least Bale uses his pace with creativity. I still can’t believe how Walcott couldn’t take advantage of a 17 year old playing his 1st EPL game.

    • jm

      April 17, 2011 at 7:39 pm

      Walcott can do many more things than that. After all, he has 7 assists to Bale’s 1, and (as of April 10th) was scoring a goal every 169 minutes to Bale’s 1 every 309 in the Premier League. Now, I’m not arguing that Walcott has been better than Bale, but I think he has been much better than you suggest.

    • Truth

      April 18, 2011 at 11:57 am

      The truth of the matter is Theo Walcott is not a football player. He’s been blessed with athletic ability, speed and agility but that alone does not make you a complete football player. When he receives the ball everything he does with it is mechanical with no intuitiveness. And this isn’t necessarily an indictment on the boy’s character nor does it make him a bad lazy who refuses to do the little things to be great. He just doesn’t have that IT factor that lets others know what they want to achieve with the ball as soon as they receive it.

  17. US Stoke Fan

    April 17, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Isn’t this more of an RVP problem than an Arsenal problem? Arshavin is pretty daggers on free kicks in shooting range and Fabregas can shoot.. And if your complaint is about free kicks when they should be crossing the ball in.. well the only target man they have(Bendtner) is a guy they don’t like to play, and their wingers don’t do a very good job of crossing the ball from play anyways.

    They have one style of play.. if it doesn’t work then they are up a creek without a paddle.. and that’s the way Wenger wants it. He wants to win his way.. style over substance..

    • Gunners_Misfiring

      April 18, 2011 at 11:48 am

      Well i think this is a problem for all the above. Wenger allows RVP to take them because supposedly he is the best free kick taker which evidently isn’t the case. And since there is nobody to demonstrate their superior dead ball skills shows the lack of quality in this Arsenal team. If I remember correctly , Henry was taking most of those kicks and he was converting them at much higher rate . Like the writer said, Wenger needs to overhaul this team completely and at least 5 players gotta be replaced in this team.

      • thawlay

        April 21, 2011 at 6:03 am

        i like that

  18. JB

    April 17, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    “one of the things”. Yeah EPL Talk has picked apart Arsenal this entire season.

    You know, when Chesney is fit, we have a pretty good goal keeper? Man United will always outspend Arsenal for a gk (they are probably getting De Gea…..or Reina, if he leaves)

    RVP has scored a lot of goals for Arsenal since he’s been back & fit & he showed a lot of team spirit coming back so quickly from injury for the CL draw against Arsenal (even if he wasn’t at his best) I really don’t think that’s where Arsenal needs to spend this summer. We need some consistent cb’s. Of course this all goes up in the air if Cesc leaves in the summer because the team is built around him.

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