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What can Arsenal expect from Park Chu-young?

Posted by Seamus Walsh on September 2, 2011

For him to be known as Park Ju-young from now on, for a start. Romanisation of Korean is confusing and overall not very good. His name hasn’t changed, just the way he writes it in Roman letters. The Korean spelling remains 박주영, but as the player himself has requested to be known as Park Ju-young then that’s how he will be known on this blog, too.

It seems to me that most Arsenal fans are wishing Park well whilst not expecting too much from him. This will probably suit him. There’s going to be much more pressure on, say, Mikel Arteta or Per Mertesacker, than there will be on Park to come in and perform from the off. (Adding hyperlinks not working, sorry. Here are the links that should be in this section: http://arseblog.com/2011/08/three-in-more-to-come/ http://gunnerblog.com/2011/09/01/transfer-frenzy-5-signings-in-2-days/ http://adamsummerton.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/dont-blame-park-chu-young/

The best way to measure what Park can bring to Arsenal is to first look at what their objectives are. First and foremost they need to finish in the top four in the league. The teams ahead of them have arguably strengthened, but Arsenal should be more concerned with the teams who finished last season just below them this time round in order to maintain their top four status. Tottenham don’t have anough, in my opinion, to oust the Gunners. In some people’s minds Liverpool are top four material, perhaps even title challengers. You’ll find none of that sort of talk here, though. I predict a 5th place finish for Liverpool, owing to the signings Arsenal have brought in.

So of those signings, what does Park himself bring? Experience, talent, commitment in abundance – we’re nott alking about the sort of player who would stand for implosion at the end of last season. He’s a tough guy mentally and has had problems and made mistakes in the past that he’s very clearly learned from. He’s the captain of his national side for a reason. Korean culture places a great emphasis on age and hierarchy. At 30, Park Ji-sung was the older brother of the team – the most experienced and succesful player not just of his generation, not just that the country had ever produced but of all players ever to come out of the largest and most populous continent on earth. Upon his retirement, the fact that this role was passed to Park Ju-young is very telling. Park Ju-young was not immature or inexperienced before he became captain, but I get the sense that he will now be demanding even more from himself now. He is already becoming the leader and inspiration for a very talented group of young Korean players (Lee Chung-yong, Ki Sung-yong, Son Heung-min, Koo Ja-Cheol, Nam Tae-hee, Ji Dong-won, Jung Sung-ryong, Lee Seung-ryeol etc etc). He has always tried to set an example with his performances and his behaviour, and now is clearly becoming more vocal and driven.

This should be looking good for Arsenal fans. That’s the sort of player they need, and the situation at Arsenal is in that respect similar to the current South Korean national setup. South Korea is a fairly small country with a fairly small population, and yet one that is mad about football. They have always produced good technical players with the right attitude, who work hard and play attractive, passing, attacking football. They are ambitious but have sometimes found it hard to match results to their ambition, competing against the comparative financial muscle of the Japanese domestic game and the vastly larger populations of their neighbouring countries. Despite that, however, the current group of South Korean elite in the roughly 18-23 years old age range is arguably the best ever. Unfortunately, the same could also be said of Japan. So much of this corresponds loosely to Arsenal’s current situation, and the fact that Park has been involved with this on a national level and has maintained high performances and become a leader bodes well.

Some have criticised his goalscoring record. Personally I wouldn’t say it’s worthy of criticism, but neither is it spectacular. His last season with Monaco was very good, despite the fact that the team as a whole was abismal, getting relegated. Park scored a third of Monaco’s goals last season, notching 12 in 33 league games for a relegated club. RVP scored a quarter of Arsenal’s league goals last season.

Undoubtedly RVP will be relied upon again to provide the main goalscoring threat this season, but Park provides an interesting addition. Let’s say they were to play in the same team. RVP would obviously be leading the line, giving Park a bit more freedom to use his pace and deceptive movement off the ball around the edge of the area, bringing in other players, moving the defence around and allowing van Persie to do his thing. It’s safe to assume that he’ll grab a few goals himself in the process. That would mean an essentially 4-4-2 formation (although perhaps more like a 4-4-1-1), most likely with Gervinho on the left of the midfield and Walcott on the right. Arteta is capable of providing exactly the sort of subtle, clever passes that Park thrives on from the middle of the pitch. I can’t see Wenger deploying this sort of formation if they were to come up against the likes of Barcelona again, though, meaning Park would probably drop to the bench.

He is also capable of playing anywhere across a front 3, of which the same can be said of Gervinho and arguably Walcott, so Wenger has options, including Chamack, who is a more traditional centre forward.

As to how he will fit into the squad, he’s a bright personality, positive, highly intelliegent in a traditional and footballing sense, very dedicated to his football and deeply religious. He’s also obviously spent a while in France, which makes him perfectly suited to this Arsenal squad considering its makeup and the background of the players – and manager.

All in all, a solid signing. Expect a couple of missed sitters, a decent haul of goals (but not enough to outdo RVP) and an overall good contribution to the team. And excellent value at that price, even if he does have to do military service after the Olympics.*

 

*Korean players are excused form military service if they medal at the London Olympics. Park is a fairly safe bet as an overage player, and Korea do have a good crop of players in th right age range at the moment.

Posted in Arsenal, European football, Park Chu-young | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Korea Qualify With 2-2 Draw With Nigeria

Posted by Seamus Walsh on June 24, 2010

According to BBC television coverage in the build-up to the World Cup Group B match between South Korea and Nigeria, 80% of South Koreans believed they would go through from their tough group. Undoubtedly this represents the rise in both expectations and achievement of this South Korean national side. Before this World Cup, South Korea had only ever advanced past the first round of the competition on one occasion when they co-hosted the tournament in 2002 and reached the semi-finals.

This time round the coach, Huh Jung-moo, the players and the Korean people were all confident that second place in their group was possible, although all knew it would be tough. Argentina were undoubtedly firm favourites to win the group, but behind them Nigeria, Greece and South Korea all seemed to be fairly evenly matched. This is how it proved, with all three losing to Argentina, but South Korea beating Greece, who in turn beat Nigeria.

It all came down to this final day, then, with the remaining two fixtures in the group being played out at the same time on Tuesday afternoon. Greece were looking to get a positive result against Argentina to further their hopes of qualification, although this always looked unlikely, despite the South Americans rotating some of their key players. With Nigeria and South Korea both anticipating that Greece would struggle against a revitalised Argentina, those two sides would have felt that their match was the second place decider; a winner-takes-all encounter.

South Korea vs Nigeria was a crucial and tough match for both sides

Korea just needed to do better than Greece, with Nigeria not having secured any points in their opening two games. This meant that in all likelihood a draw would do, but Nigeria would certainly come out fighting.

Nigeria is a team of pace and power, who up to that point had not really found their feet in this tournament. Korea had lost 4-1 to Argentina in their last game, but had always identified this as their most important match.

The lineup was a relatively familiar one:

Jung Sung-ryong

Cha Du-ri          Lee Jung-soo          Cho Yong-hyung          Lee Young-pyo

Ki Sung-yeung          Kim Jung-woo

Lee Chung-yong                                                                                Park Ji-sung

Yeom Ki-hun

Park Chu-young

I was dubious about this lineup for two reasons, both of which I have talked about extensively before. At the back, the selection of Cha Du-ri was the biggest surprise. Clearly Huh opted for him over Oh Beom-seok because he felt Cha would be able to cope with the power and pace of the Nigerians better. Unfortunately, Cha has played the majority of his career as a striker, and has only relatively recently converted to right back. His defensive positioning and reading of the game are clearly lacking, and a coach such as Huh should have known that the possession of attributes such as pace and power alone is not enough: they have to be applied correctly. Against Greece, who were a poor side that offered little in attack, Cha was the perfect option, because he could get forward as he pleased, using his surging runs to trouble the Greek defence and to create space for teammates to attack. Against Argentina Huh opted for Oh, the more defensive-minded of the two, and a good technical player. He didn’t have the best game against Argentina, and really struggled against their attacking players. In my opinion, however, this would have been the case for just about any right back in the tournament, and I don’t think Oh will be the last in this World Cup to suffer a the hands of the likes of Messi and Tevez.

But was that performance by Oh enough for him to lose his place against Nigeria? Only Huh can know what his state of mind was like after the Argentina match, but I was very surprised that in a game when the main goal was not to lose – a draw would have been enough to see them go through assuming Greece lost to Argentina – Huh selected the attack-orientated and defensively ill-equipped Cha to start. What Korea needed in that game was to play calm, safe and clever possession football. Yes, Cha made a couple of decent runs forward, troubling the Nigeria defence, but his own defensive performance was abysmal. He was completely at fault for the first goal, revealing his utter lack of defensive awareness at the worst possible time. Furthermore, because he was so keen to get forward he repeatedly left huge gaps at the back that the Nigerians constantly looked to exploit on the counter. He hasn’t built up an effective defensive partnership with the centre backs or the midfield, and so he never gave them the chance or direction to cover him when he bombed forward. If I was the coach I absolutely would have gone for Oh from the start, and possibly would have brought Cha on in the second half when the Nigerians were already showing signs of cracking under the pressure to try and kill the game off with attacking football.

Cha was at fault for Nigeria’s opening goal (The video has been flipped – sorry)

The other decision I was not entirely appreciative of was that to stick with Yeom Ki-hun up front. I still don’t think Yeom has enough quality to play at this level, although this was probably his best game of the World Cup so far. The biggest plus-point in playing Yeom is that he’s left footed – an evidently rare commodity in this Korean side. That said, he brought little to the side, and has still failed to form an effective working partnership with Park Chu-young. Yeom is not a natural goal-scorer, and because he has failed to become a proper supporting player for Park the team lacks a cutting edge in the final third of the pitch.

I have to assume that Huh would only have chosen Yeom over Lee Dong-gook if the latter was still not entirely fit. If that is the case, then I think he should have sacrificed a second striker altogether, and gone for a more standard five man midfield. I’ve always said I want to see Ki Sung-yeung playing further forwards were he can cause more damage, and this would have been the perfect opportunity to give him the freedom and encouragement to do so. I would have started with Kim Jung-woo and Kim Nam-il as holding midfielders, with Ki Sung-yeung given a freer, more attacking role ahead of them down the centre. It then would have been his responsibility to release Park Chu-young, Park Ji-sung and Lee Chung-yong to try and get behind the Nigeria defence and to create more cohesive attacks closer to the penalty area. There’s always the option to bring on another striker, be it Yeom, Lee Dong-gook or even young Lee Seung-yeoul, if it’s needed later on.

As it was, however, Huh eventually did bring Kim Nam-il on to play in this formation. It backfired pretty spectacularly and pretty quickly, however, as he needlessly gave away a penalty when Korea were looking quite comfortable. Following that, though, the midfield looked a lot more secure, and I hope Huh considers playing like that from the start against Uruguay, who are a better team than Nigeria. It would, however, mean Ki playing a little differently to what he’s used to.

He’s such an intelligent player, and his technique is superb. He has great control and rarely gives the ball away, as well as being able to shoot well from distance and play outstanding passes. In my opinion he’s perfectly suited to playing behind a striker. If you’re not too familiar with him, I would say his playing style is somewhat similar to the likes of Portugal’s Deco or Croatia’s Luka Modric, although he still has a way to go before he reaches that level of course.

At the moment he seems a bit unsure of himself in this side. He’s being used as an orthodox central midfielder, partnering Kim Jung-woo. As I’ve already said, technically he’s excellent. What he needs to do if he’s to play in this position at the highest level, however, is to assert himself on the game more. He shouldn’t wait for the ball to come to him, he should seek it out, and he should have the confidence to try things and to try and make things happen for the team. Huh needs to fill him with this confidence, and I think using an extra central midfielder to offer more defensive security would take some of the weight off Ki’s shoulders. With Kim Nam-il and Kim Jung-woo anchoring the midfield and playing simple passes out, Ki would get more of the ball in situations where he can play the passes he wants to. He might find he has less time on the ball, but he needs to be able to compete under that sort of pressure, and I believe he can.

Ki Sung-yeung could be deployed further forward to utilise his attacking threat

As I’ve already said I feel Yeom contributes very little by way of attacking potency, summed up by his dreadful miss against Argentina when he was presented with the perfect opportunity to equalise. Park chu-young is obviously the outstanding striker in the Korean squad, but too often against Nigeria he was left isolated and so had to come deep to try and get the ball. With a more creative, passing player behind him in Ki Sung-yeung, Park would surely be able to get better service of the type he wants; through balls that he can run on to in order to use his pace to beat defenders and get closer to goal. Ki would also spread the ball out wide a lot better and in more attacking positions, meaning Park Ji-sung and Lee Chung-yong could get forwards more and provide more crosses and also get closer to goal to support Park Chu-young.

Talking of Park Ji-sung, he has been by far Korea’s best player at this World Cup. He’s so important to the team. I was doubtful when he was first named as captain whether he would have the leadership qualities necessary for the role, but he has proved himself over and over again. He’s really grown into the role; he inspires the team with his attitude and drive, but also with the quality of his play. He fully commits himself in defence and attack. I do think, however, that it’s about time the likes of Lee Chung-yong and Ki followed Park’s example. Lee especially can be a devastating player. He has such pace and trickery, and he loves to run at defenders. He showed against Argentina that he can score as well, and you can see he’s desperate to be given more of the ball. They need to bring him into play a lot more, and he can really add something to the way they play.

Park Ji-sung has been South Korea's inspiration in the World Cup so far

In the Nigeria game, Kim Jung-woo in midfield looked out of his depth. He looked slow and fragile and was beaten far too often. It was him who allowed the Nigerian right back to get the cross in which set up their first goal. It was poor midfield play, and unfortunately it was not the only time he was beaten so easily in the game. I remain unconvinced by the central midfield pairing of Kim Jung-woo and Ki Sung-yeung, so I’m desperate to see the five-man midfield I talked about above. Park Chu-young scored one excellent free kick and came close a number of other times. He has shown enough in the games so far that he can play as a lone striker as long as the service is good enough. Korea’s strength is in midfield, and they need to play to this.

Kim Jung-woo struggled at times in midfield, and would be helped by the introduction of Kim Nam-il

In the end, the Koreans showed they have the defiant fighting spirit that was so crucial to their success in 2002, meaning they could hold on to the draw and progress to the next round. There are some defensive frailties, but they have not failed to score in any of their three matches so far. To me it seems that all the components are there, but at the moment the team is playing within itself, never quite playing as well as it is capable of.

They can beat Uruguay, who have been very impressive up to this point, but it may take more than they showed against Nigeria. More clinical finishing is needed, as is more protection for the defence. I believe part of the solution is to change the formation, and it looks like maybe Huh Jung-moo is coming round to my way of thinking after he did adopt that formation after 63 minutes against Nigeria. Uruguay are a hard working team, but so are Korea. Uruguay have a few genuinely outstanding players in attack, so Korea will have to be careful. I don’t think Korea will get away with a 1-0 win because I think Uruguay will certainly score. This means Korea need to have enough about them in attack to put at least two goals away. Whether or not they win the game I believe will ultimately come down to whether or not they can play their best football in attack they way they like without leaving the defence too exposed.

South Korea showed fighting spirit to secure the result they needed

The team I would pick to play against Uruguay is:

Jung Sung-ryong

Oh Beom-seok          Lee Jung-soo          Cho Yong-hyung          Lee Young-pyo

Kim Nam-il          Kim Jung-woo

Lee Chung-yong                    Ki Sung-yeung                       Park Ji-sung

Park Chu-young

I think it would also be necessary to bring on Cha Du-ri for Oh in the second half, and perhaps to bring on another striker and revert to a more conventional 4-4-2 formation.

Posted in Highlights, Ki Sung-yeung, Lee Chung-yong, Match Review, Park Chu-young, Park Ji-sung, World Cup | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Notes On England

Posted by Seamus Walsh on June 19, 2010

Seeing as I’m English, and there is still a chance South Korea could have to play England in the Quarter Finals of the World Cup, I thought I’d offer some thoughts on their absolutely abysmal start to this competition.

England manager Fabio Capello has done well in general. As he said when he first came into the job in 2008, his biggest and most important task was to restore some confidence to the players, and he managed to do that during the World Cup qualifiers. England scored a lot of goals, although they never looked as comfortable on the ball as the top sides – but then again no England side ever has over the last few decades. It did seem, however, that Capello’s England was a lot stronger then any England side had been in a long time.

England looked vibrant and impressive in the qualifiers

Part of the problems that we’ve now seen emerging in this World Cup, however, seems to be that England have a team full of players who are outstanding as one-man footballing weapons. For their clubs the other players get the ball to them, they do something special. They’re the pinnacles for their respective clubs, but put them together and they seem to cancel each other out. They need a few more players who do the simple things very well, players who can control, pass and move at pace and with accuracy.

Despite that, should it really be beyond players who have done the amazing things we’ve seen from them for their clubs, fitting brilliantly into their teams, to pass the ball accurately to each other? They absolutely have to be able to keep the ball and move the opposition around the pitch a bit. They do not need to look to make the killer ball every time they win possession.

On top of that, the final few warm up friendlies before the start of the tournament were pretty abysmal. With those performances against Mexico, Japan and the local South African side Platinum Stars, all of the confidence that Capello had rebuilt during qualification was lost. That just showed how fragile it must have been, and I’m not sure Capello could have known that would be the case. Perhaps he should have just played the same team that played so regularly in the qualifiers – more of the same – and perhaps the team would not have been the one everyone else seems to want to pick (Gerrard behind Rooney), but if they could have carried on from where they left off then the players would surely not have diminished once again to the fragile shadows of their regular selves that we’re seeing now.

The performance and the body language was very different from England against Algeria

Also, it might perhaps have been wise to have used players who were in good form for their clubs during the season when they first started demonstrating that form. When goalkeeper Joe Hart was playing regularly and well for Birmingham, he could have been introduced to the national team then and there. If he’d have played well there’d be no dispute over the first choice goalkeeper up to and even during the World Cup. Darren Bent is another example. People criticise him for his apparent poor form for England, but how many chances has he had? Heskey, Crouch and Defoe have all had plenty of opportunities to play and train with Rooney. Bent has only been given 6 caps for England, and he’s been thrown in and expected to reproduce his goal-scoring club form. Surprisingly, he hasn’t. If he’d been included at least in the squad from an earlier stage when he was consistently scoring in the league then perhaps he’d be better able to reproduce at England level and form a decent partnership based on some mutual understanding with Rooney.

Capello has made his choices, however, and fiercely defended them. Now he has his hardest ever choice to make – stick or twist. He’d built up this England team from nervous, underperforming individuals into a confident, goal scoring team. His formation and player/squad selections had, until recently, performed as required virtually faultlessly. It all came tumbling down in the warm up friendlies – not against the US or Algeria – and now he has to react.

Does he persist with the selections of formation and lineup that had previously served him well or change his ways, going against everything he’s argued for up until now. In making that decision I hope he takes into account the fact that the clubs England’s best players play for have altered their formations to correspond to developments across the global game. With Barcelona being so successful with their flowing passing style and (formerly) rather rare 4-3-3 formation, and Europe’s other great sides following suit with lone strikers and versatile attacking wide men, the likes of Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard and even Lennon have found their niche at club level.

Rooney had an outstanding season as a lone striker for Manchester United

Ferguson decided Rooney was best suited to being played as a lone front man being supported by a hard-working creator behind him and pacy wingers providing constant crosses and options when Rooney has to hold up the ball. Gerrard became that hard-working creator behind a lone front man at Liverpool, and Lampard did something similar, linking Chelsea’s midfield with their striker(s). The only person who as yet does not seem to have reacted to these international developments is Capello. How many teams play 4-4-2 these days? Admittedly, it suits some teams, but how many of the teams doing best so far at the World Cup or in Europe this season play such a formation? I would say none.

Capello should be brave now. Things change, in football as in everything else, and Capello should not feel that he has to live and die by his choices made previously. They served him well at the time. He should now accept that he must live and die by his decisions in the moment. If he decides to change things now, does he look weak? Does the image of authority and serene intelligence and tactical know-how slip if he decides to change a team that’s playing itself out of the World Cup? No. It would be far braver and I argue far more intelligent for him to alter his formation and tactics, to free up England’s best attacking players to play the way they do naturally, as they do for their clubs. There are some outstanding players in the squad, they don’t need to be shackled by rigid tactics and tactical commitments that they are not used to and that go against their natural inclinations. Moreover, if he is convinced that Gerrard and Lampard cannot both play together centrally for England (I see no reason why that would be the case based on recent performances when they have done so) then he always has the option to drop one of them.

One thing that stands out about Capello’s approach to the England job so far has been his conservatism. He’s picked an incredibly experienced and, let’s face it, old squad for this tournament. And yet there is no great lack of talented younger players in England. Perhaps some of those players, James Milner, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young, Tom Huddlestone, Micah Richards, Lee Cattermole, Michael Dawson, Adam Johnson, Joe Hart, Darren Bent and so on should have been given more opportunities earlier on. Those among them who have played have had few chances, but have always looked promising, passionate and hungry. They haven’t been tainted by the apparent failures of past campaigns, they all play fantastically well for their clubs. Most importantly, perhaps, the likes of Algeria, Mexico and Chile have all shown in this World Cup that you don’t need the most famous stars playing in order to be successful. Also, for Germany their young playmaker Mesut Ozil is not the most well-known player in the squad but he has so far been the best, Elia has done similar for the Netherlands and Navas for Spain. Perhaps Capello should have given far more opportunities to these sorts of young, hungry players to show that they can be better for the team than the famous individual stars.

One final point that seems to have surfaced since the start of the World Cup is that the England camp does not appear to be entirely harmonious. Capello has been acting even more brusquely and evasively than usual in his interviews, he’s shouted at the media, the players were angered on safari and now David James – one of only two England players along with Ashley Cole to have not played badly against Algeria – appears to have confirmed that the players are not completely happy with Capello’s methods and approach. If I was to guess at what exactly they are unhappy with I would say the formation, as discussed above, as well as the fact that Capello only names his starting lineup two hours before kickoff. It’s an unusual ploy, and one that seems to be backfiring.

Time for change. A change in formation, but also a change from the players. I’ve questioned some of Capello’s decisions here, and his lack of decision following poor warm up friendlies and opening games in the World Cup, but nothing can hide the fact that it was the players who underperformed on the pitch. Capello has a fantastic record as a manager, but it is the English players playing for England in the end who have to improve every facet of their mentality and their performance following the Algeria game.

Posted in World Cup | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

 
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