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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.

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Trouble for Ki Sung-yeung?

Posted by Seamus Walsh on April 13, 2010

Today Scotland’s Glasgow Celtic played out a 2-1 win against Motherwell in the Scottish Premier League at Celtic Park. In many ways it was an insignificant game. Celtic have first faltered and then essentially collapsed this season. New manager Tony Mobray was deemed a failure, and has since been replaced by former Celtic legendary player Neil Lennon. Celtic are 10 points behind fierce rivals Rangers in the league, and on Saturday they embarrassingly lost to Ross County in the cup.

These developments are even worse for South Korean player Ki Sung-yeung. He hasn’t played a single game for caretaker manager Lennon, not even featuring on the substitutes bench for the last three games. I’ve written before about what I think it will take for him to become successful in European football, especially in British football. Mostly, he needs to adjust to living in Scotland, then adjust to the style of football, the number of games played in the Scottish league (a lot more than in the K-League) and he needs to improve physically – he needs to get stronger and quicker. He has the talent, but it seems that Neil Lennon doesn’t think he’s ready or capable of helping Celtic improve on their poor season just yet.

Ki Sung-yeung needs to show Lennon what he's capable of

Lennon has also threatened a complete overhaul of the squad in the summer if performances don’t improve. What could this mean for Ki? With only a few games left, it’s hard to see him making much more of an impact this season as Lennon doesn’t seem to want to pick him at all. Mowbray was definitely a fan of the young midfielder, and gave him the responsibility of taking corners and some free kicks, as well as simply giving him game time. Ki is also not the first Korean player Mowbray had signed, as he also bought Kim Do-heon when he was manager of West Bromwich Albion.

So, with Ki’s ally and perhaps mentor Tony Mowbray gone, how does he fit into Neil Lennon’s plans for the future, if Lennon stays as Celtic manager for next season, which hasn’t been decided yet. I think it’s very hard to say. If Lennon appreciates Ki’s talents, maybe he just doesn’t think he’s ready to play every match just yet. On the other hand, it’s possible he’s just not a fan of Ki and will want to sell him on.

Ki Sung-yeung in action

I said before that the Scottish League would certainly help Ki improve his game so he could compete in one of Europe’s bigger leagues – most likely the English Premier League, as this seems to be his preferred choice. I hope he keeps working hard to constantly improve, and to fight for the team. He’s talented enough to be starting in the Celtic midfield but it needs more than just talent at this level. If Celtic do decide to sell him in the summer, I desperately hope he doesn’t go back to Korea. He needs to play regularly in a European team. If, for example, a team from the English Championship wanted to sign him I think he should jump at the chance. Playing for a team in the Championship means there’s slightly less pressure than the Premiership, which means he can focus on his game without worrying that any mistake he makes could have huge consequences. It also means he will have more chances to play regularly. This is what he needs more than anything. I hope he gets given the chance soon.

One thing is for sure, though, if he doesn’t play every game for Celtic before the end of the season, he will be less tired than a lot of players when the World Cup starts in June, which can only be good for Korea.

Posted in European football, Ki Sung-yeung | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Park Ji-Sung’s Best Position

Posted by Seamus Walsh on April 2, 2010

Something I’ve written about before on this blog is how Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has begun to deploy Park Ji-sung as a supporting forward to Wayne Rooney in the centre of the United attack this season. The most recent example of this was the match last week against Liverpool, which United won 2-1 thanks to a brave second half diving headed winner by Park himself (Highlights). The other recent occasion when Ferguson decided to play Park just behind Rooney was in the second leg against AC Milan in the Champions League, a match in which Park also scored to help United to a 4-0 win.

Ji-Sung Park heads United into the lead

Park scores the vital winner against Liverpool

Park may be more used to playing on the wing for United – the position he has played almost exclusively – but Huh Jung-moo the South Korean national team manager has played him centrally before. It’s clear that in these two examples where Park has played just behind Rooney recently he played superbly, adding the final missing ingredient to his game – goals. So what is his best position?

Well, I think a lot of this depends on the situation. With the squad Manchester United currently have I believe that they play their best football as a team when Park is playing centrally with Rooney. On the other hand, however, I think the opposite is true for the South Korean national team: they are at their collective best with Park out wide. I’ll now outline why I think these different strategies are right for each team, and also why it seems to be now that Park has become so important to both.

Firstly, Manchester United. The easiest and most practical way to analyse the strengths of a football team is to look at their results. Winning and scoring are good, losing and conceding are bad – simple. This week United played a crucial Champions League Quarter Final first leg away at Bayern Munich. It was always likely to be a tough match, as Bayern have strong players in all positions, and some incredible attacking talent. I believe it was the concern over what the likes of Franck Ribery could do in front of their home fans that led to Ferguson’s decision to play three more conventional central midfielders, with Park on the left and Nani on the right, and Rooney alone up front. With Rooney in the team United are always likely to score, which they did, naturally enough through Rooney early on. The five man midfield, therefore, was designed to protect the defense and to keep the attacking players of Bayern at bay, with Nani the best attacking outlet of the midfield five with his pace and directness down the wing.

This, however, was not to be enough in either attack or defense, and where I think Ferguson went wrong (Very rarely will I ever criticise Alex Ferguson) in this instance was to play Park on the left, leaving Valencia on the bench, and with three central midfielders. Scholes, Carrick and Fletcher are all fine footballers, but now that Scholes is no longer able to get forward at every opportunity to support the striker(s), all three of them tend to play very deep. This gave Bayern far too much possession, and they eventually made United pay, scoring the winner in the last seconds of the match. Once United did get hold of the ball they had no creative outlet, no way of breaking through the Bayern defense and getting the ball to Rooney in a goal-scoring opportunity. None of the midfielders looked like they were willing to run ahead of the others and support Rooney down the middle. This meant that they were only left with two options to get the ball forward. Either Nani had to dribble the ball up the pitch on his own and try and find Rooney in the box, or they had to start playing long balls and hope they caught the defense in a lapse of concentration. Neither of these tactics worked.

Had Ferguson decided to play with only two central midfielders, Fletcher and Carrick for example, with the pace and skill of Nani and Valencia on the wings and Park supporting Rooney up front, things might have been different. In this setup, Rooney is the focus of the attack, but Park provides another attacking option for the midfielders to pass to. He creates space with his runs, and adds another “layer” if you like to the United attack, which means they don’t have to resort to just punting the ball from defense to the other end of the pitch to create an attack. Also, Valencia offers more pace on the wing than Park, which can really stretch the opposition defence, again leaving more space for Park and Rooney to take advantage of in the middle.

This is why I consider Park’s best position for Manchester United at the moment to be in a central attacking position in support of Rooney. For the South Korean national team however, Park has to play a very different role for them to be successful in my eyes. The foremost reason is that south Korea do not and probably should not play with a lone striker, as Manchester United do with Rooney. I’ve written about the strengths of Park Chu-young before, but I do feel that he needs a partner up front to be at his best. Very few international sides would risk playing with a back three in this day and age, and South Korea certainly should never consider this, especially not considering their World Cup group, which leaves them with four in midfield.

Park and Rooney have complemented each other well in attack this season

The national side’s biggest strengths are their organisation and teamwork, but I would also add to that their playing style. South Korea like to play a short, fast passing game at high speed, relying on their fitness and dynamism to make up for the fact that they are often on average smaller than most sides they come up against. A key aspect of playing like this is stretching your opposition as much as possible, creating space for other players to run into and wearing out your opposition quicker. To do this a team has to play with two excellent wingers. In my view, South Korea only really has two players capable of doing this out wide: Lee Chung-yong and Park Ji-sung. Therefore, when Park is played centrally Korea lose one of their best assets.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the reasoning of playing your best player centrally so that they get the ball more, but this just won’t work for Korea. Firstly, without two quick, capable wide men the middle of the pitch becomes more crowded, which means Park wouldn’t get as much of the ball as hoped, and he’d have less time to do anything with it. Park is not the most creative player, that’s just not his game. With him on one wing and Lee Chung-yong on the other, however, things are very different. Korea have options to each side, they make the most of the whole area of the pitch, making things harder for the defending team, and there’s more space in the middle for Ki Sung-yeung to be creative – which is his natural game, and for Park Chu-young to drop deeper and evade his markers to make things happen in the danger areas.

So, we have to sides to Park’s game, and his ability to adapt to both teams and formations is what makes him so valuable to both his club and his country. He enables both teams to play their best all-round game. He may not get the most credit for his performances, but his tactical awareness, work rate and ability mean that when he is used properly, both teams he’s part of perform better, score more and get better results.

Posted in European football, Manchester United, Park Ji-sung | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »