A deal done that’s decent, but is it enough?

So here we are then. The dust has finally settled following the cold sore on the face of football that is Transfer Deadline Day, with a fuller picture of who we’ll be sticking with this season, plus a new face to welcome to the club in the form of Manchester United born and bred Danny Welbeck.

It was classic Arsenal, if you think about the last few days of the last five or six deadline days that you and I have been put through as the club frantically searched for replacements, finding one as the transfer went right to the wire in the opening hours of the morning.

When I say it was ‘classic Arsenal’, I don’t just mean leaving it to the last minute, although that seems to be part of our process these days. What I actually mean, is the way in which we’ve filled a position in which we did in fairness need to sure up, but by no means was it the most pressing need. It happened in January when we all thought we needed a striker. So we bought in Kallstrom on loan. Or the summer when we all thought we’d get a striker, then up rocked Mesut ‘Frigging’ Özil. Or the January window before that, when the rumours were red hot about David Villa, before we went out and bought Monreal as a left back.

I guess what we’ve got to get used to with Arsène and Arsenal these days, is that they’ll almost never buy in the positions that you and I think we need to strengthen in. And hey, I’m no football expert, I’m just a fan and as a result perhaps I’m more blinkered to what is needed at the club to help us challenge for the title.

So as I hurtle my way towards London for another day as a desk jockey, I’m in a reflective mood on the squad as a whole and whether or not we can compete. What has the arrival of Danny Welbeck done for us? Well for one thing, it’s yet more pace to add to the team, which is essentially something that a lack of cost us a serious push towards the title. With both Sanchez and Welbeck we have two players who, had they been fit in February and March, would have stopped teams like Everton playing such a high line against us because they know we have men who can get in behind.

But I still have a nagging feeling that the squad is incomplete. I’m sure you do too. We needed another centre-half to take off the pressure from Chambers, should we lose one of the first choice two for any length of time, so to get to the final day of the deadline having not addressed that given Vermaelen’s departure a few weeks ago was poor.

Similarly, the reliance on Arteta and Flamini will now become all too evident and if Flamini has off days like he had at Leicester more often, we’ll find ourselves ruing the lack of options I fear. Thankfully Arteta is back after the international break and will no doubt reassume his position as the fulcrum of the midfield. It will be a welcome sight with Moneycheter City arriving in town.

Given the arrival of Welbeck, I’m also interested to see how the pecking order works at the club. One would assume that Lukas Podolski will be relegated further, most probably into the role of loveable mascot like Gunnersaurus, who we all love but will never actually see getting game time on the pitch. Not unless he’s waving at the fans or they bring back that massive cannon that fired t-shirts into the fans during the interval. It’s a shame really because we know he will score goals, but Arsène doesn’t rate him and I see a similar freezing out to the one we saw with Arshavin.

Or what about Joel Campbell? With Giroud injured his route to the first team was a little shorter with Arsène playing Sanchez up top, but the arrival of Welbeck will surely add in another hurdle for him to overcome, especially if he has aspirations of being a first team player. It’s an interesting conundrum that Arsène has to face, but it’s better to have too much than not enough, I guess.

So if I was to rate this summers dealings in the transfer market out of ten, what would I give us? Well, we’ve certainly replaced all of the departures with capable players, plus we’ve added the guile of Sanchez and replaced Giroud (through injury) with Welbeck. I don’t think we’re weaker than last season, but I do think we’re only just a little bit stronger. I hope I’m not right, but I think we’re going to end up ruing not signing a centre back at some stage in the season. We didn’t need it last season as Kos and Per stayed fit, but I have a feeling one of those guys is due a lengthy absence, so there’ll be much crossing of fingers between now and January. Hey, this is Arsenal we’re talking about, injuries are our ‘thing’.

Based on those thoughts, it’s hard to give this summer anything over and above a six out of ten really. We’ve done ok, we’re better offensively than last season, but for it to be ‘good’, we needed at least one more decent body defensively.

Still, with all of the slight frustration at not shoring up defensively, it could be worse. We could have been Man United and taken the Barcelona route of ignoring where the key deficiencies lie and signing as many offensive players as possible. If Van Gaal continues with 3-5-2 and has only Jones, Smalling and Blackert (is that how you say his name?) as his defensive set up, with the occasional game there for Blind, then he’ll have to be the luckiest man alive not to pick up injuries and have to start considering playing Rooney in front of the back four.

Anyway, that’s enough babbling from me, you have ‘at it’ for today and I’ll see thee in the morrow.

Not the result, it’s the performance that worries

Morning from a grumpy Gooner in a corner of London Suburbia. I’m grumpy because my team failed to deliver a performance against a newly promoted and stubborn – but ultimately limited – Leicester City team at the KP Stadium yesterday afternoon.

These are the teams that last season we simply dealt with, yet already the warning signs are here for a different season to last when it comes to the teams lower down the division. And that worries me. It worries me because unless we address our woeful form against the big boys, the only way we’ll get close to the top four this season (notice how I’m not even talking about winning the league), is by picking up a shed load of points against teams from sixth downwards.

We just aren’t clicking at all. That is more frustrating than the result. Result-wise, it’s not the end of the world and at this early stage of the season the league means about as much as a promise of humbleness from Jose Mourinho. But my concern lies with some of the initial signs from some of our big players. Specifically our midfield.

Yesterday’s 1-1 draw and the profligacy in front of goal may be labelled at the raw and clearly not ready Sanogo (I’ll come to that in a bit), but as a couple of people pointed out last night (I think Mean Lean over at Arsenal Vision said it first on my Timeline), it’s very difficult to pin it all on the front men when it was obvious that our midfield wasn’t right. I though Cazorla, Ramsey and Özil all had pretty poor games if I’m honest. Santi produced a lovely chip to set up Sanogo whose shot deflected into the path of Sanchez for his second goal in two games, but other than that he was way off. Passes were astray for all three players, ball retention left a lot to be desired of, the drive and determination of last season just didn’t seem to be there.

I don’t know why that is. This isn’t a Spuds/Liverpoolesque root and branch overhaul of the squad – the team that lined up we’re all ever-present last season barring Debuchy and Sanchez – so I don’t know why we haven’t found our rhythm in any of the games we’ve played in yet (Community Shield aside). That’s five games folks. Everyone has off days, we’re all only human, but every time we seem to take to the pitch it’s an off day at the moment it seems.

I did wonder if the new arrivals would take time to ‘bed in’ and we’d have a few quiet games, but it seems Chambers, Debuchy and Alexis are the ones that are actually performing quite well. Sanchez popped up on the left and right yesterday and looked to run at defenders wherever possible. He provided a creative attacking outlet and is getting better all of the time. But Özil was misplacing passes, looked out of sorts and never really threatened that killer pass beyond the eight man Leicester defence.

Perhaps there are mitigating circumstances. Crystal Palace, Besiktas, Everton and Leicester all got men behind the ball. That made it difficult for us to get behind them and yesterday, without a really quality target man, you could see we weren’t willing to whip balls in behind the defence for out wide. There just wasn’t the variation. We got the ball to the edge of the Leicester box and then tried to thread the most intricate balls in behind a well drilled defence that we could.

Are injuries playing their part? Perhaps. The head injury Koscienly picked up clearly affected him in the early stages of the game, as he was culpable for the equaliser that Ulloa got and came off shortly afterwards. It was a shocking bit of defending for the goal, but a fully-fit Kos probably would have nodded that one away.

Last season injuries decimating the team cost us around March time and we fell away from title chasers to fourth place trophy chasers. I can’t help but think that this season we are in for more of the same, only the injuries are happening now, so our title challenge may just evaporate earlier in the season than later.

I’m sorry if I seem despondent at the moment folks, but it’s just that so much early promise after a good summer of business and the Community Shield win had me really thinking we could have a good to at the oil whores this season. But when you look at the two Petro-dollar teams and see how strong their squads are, then you look at how we’re affected when we miss a few key players, it just feels like a mountain that is too steep for this Arsenal team to climb.

Who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m just being a little melodramatic after a few flat performances. But historically, the seasons that have been good ones at Arsenal have been because we’ve started strong and raced to early leads by picking up a lot of points quickly. The ones where we’ve scrapped for fourth all season are where we’ve stuttered at the start and never even got close to the top two. I fear the latter scenario.

I don’t really even want to touch on the last day of the transfer window. For some, it’s the last bastion of hope that our frailties will be addressed, but for me I think there is too much work needed for the squad to be capable of picking up the challenge of a league title and running with it. A back up centre half may be easier to secure if you go to a smaller club, but picking up a defensive midfielder as well? I’m just not sure we have the ability to close two high-profile deals on the final day.

But that isn’t the most frustrating thing of all. The lack of a World Class striker will be painfully evident for us for the first half of the season I fear. Perhaps I’m being unkind to Arsène, because he made the excellent acquisition of Alexis and he may just turn out to be that superstar up top we’re looking for, but he is going to take time and as was shown yesterday, there is literally no other acceptable option when Giroud is out for a prolonged period of time. Sanogo is just not good enough I’m afraid. Not yet, anyway, and he showed that on numerous occasions yesterday. He’s a young player, he’s been thrust into the limelight and he’s having to accept his role as fall guy because Arsène is his chosen ‘project’. Well Arsène, if you don’t sign anybody by 11pm tonight, I pray your ‘project’ has some sort of miraculous change of fortune, because if he carries on like yesterday, I fear it could break him mentally. Think about how Diego Forlan got on at United when he took an age to score. It smashed him mentally and he only recovered when he went back to Spain and started banging in goals again. None of us want to see that for Sanogo, but that’s what I fear.

Right now, I have no expectations for today and if the performances continue like they have done over the coming weeks, I have no expectations for this season. Other than the standard fight for fourth place. Obviously.

See you tomorrow.

Contrast of styles: high pressing against Leicester needed

Welcome to Sunday and Welcome to Matchday. The greatest day of the week.

Today it is the visit to Leicester, where even The Arsenal fans all follow The Arsenal to get to, whether it be land or sea. As a newly promoted side in the early throngs of their Premier League season, they’ll be eager to impress and having already fought back to pick up a draw in the dying embers of the game against Everton on the opening day, the Foxes will be quite eager to prove that the KP stadium is something of a challenge to walk away from with any points.

It will be an interesting game today, as it appears there will be a clash of styles that we’ll see on display from 4pm, what with Leicester already looking like long-ball merchants of Premier Leagues of old. I think it was a tweet from 7AmKickOff that showed the long and short pass completion stats for the whole league and, as expected after only two games Arsenal are at the bottom of the table for long passes, but the top of the tree for short ones. In contrast, Leicester have reversed those figures and stand head and shoulders above every other team.

What that means for us today I can only make an assumption on, which is that our back four will be subjected to it’s first aerial bombardment of the season, so it will be interesting to see how our defenders cope if that is the case. I’m reminded of the last fifteen minutes or so at Swansea last season, when Swansea were chasing an equaliser from us and resorted to an unfamiliar tactic given their style of play since promotion to the league, in which a number of balls were floated into the box to try to put our back four under pressure by weight of numbers and bodies. Thankfully we withstood the onslaught quite well and pick up the points so I’m hoping for the same today.

What I think will be important is Koscienly’s role in sweeping up behind the BFG. If Leicester are playing long balls into the channels in behind Big Per, we know that he won’t have the pace to keep up with any of the Leicester attacking players, so Kos must be alert to make up any ground that Per will lose out on. Conversely, Big Per will be the man to go for aerial duels, so he needs to use all of that slender but massive frame to make sure he’s batting away any potential knock-downs.

In midfield I suspect we’ll see a similar line up to the game against Everton, with Flamini, Wilshere and Ramsey playing through the middle, whilst Özil and the Ox will play on the flanks. Personally, it’s not quite my preferred line up, as I’d like to see Mesut in the middle (heh, sounds like it could be a Sky One comedy series) with Ramsey the box-to-boxer and Flamini sitting deeper. That would mean that Jack unfortunately misses out, which would be a shame after a good performance in midweek, but as Özil said during the week his best position is through the middle and he is our best Number 10.

Up top we’ll see Alexis run his little heart out and I do wonder if his goal in midweek will have put an extra spring in his already well sprung step. We’ll need another good performance from him if we’re going to have a good result against Leicester, but his performance is also reliant on receiving a bit more support from his teammates in not isolating him in attack. At times against Everton it looked like he was so lonely up top he was dropping in to midfield to receive the ball, which left us without any real options up top and was frustrating for us all to watch. When we didn’t have the ball it was also obvious that there was a gap between him and the rest of the team. Alexis has spent a few years in a Barcelona team that presses extremely high up the pitch and you could see him gesturing to his teammates to get forward when Everton had the ball across their own back four. I’d love to see us press higher up the pitch today, because if Leicester do look to play longer passes from back to front, then putting them under pressure earlier will affect their ability to distribute more effectively and force the Leicester defence into making mistakes.

That’s the ideal scenario, anyway, but whether we will do it remains to be seen. As for our opponents, I must confess I know little about them other than a couple of the snippets I’ve read about them being a bit ‘long bally’. They have Dave Nugent who plays up top, but the fact that my iPhone predictive text doesn’t even register his name (preferring to
Call him ‘Dave Juventus’ instead) I hope is a good sign of his success against us today. They also have Peter Schmeichel’s son in goal, so if ever there’s a reason to dislike them any more, this would be it.

I am hoping that we can click into gear today and get our flowing football started. The last four games have been an execution of grind and determination with last minute goals that are no good for any Gooners health. We need a two or three goal cushion with half an hour to play before we can start feeling happy about any performance and whilst I don’t think we’ll get that today, I do hope we can get the first goal and have something to build on, so let’s keep our fingers crossed over that and work from there.

As for the transfer guff about Loic Remy, we’ve got all of tomorrow to panic about the lack of arrivals, so I think I’ll just focus on the football today and give you some thoughts tomorrow.

Up The Arsenal!

The striker issue isn’t black and white

Howdy there you, hope you’re doing hunky doory, if that’s even how you spell that??

Yesterday I had a bit of a ‘life is different to back then’ moment, so I thought I’d bring myself back in to the here and now and reflect on Arsene’s presser yesterday and the Champions League draw, which will once again see us pit our wits against Borussia Dortmund, whilst also taking on Galatasaray and Anderlecht. It’s no surprise that Chelski got a buy into the group stages, but in all fairness we can be pretty happy with our lot given that, the Germans aside, it’s a group that we should be looking to qualify from. It would be nice if we could go through as group winners for a change, so one would expect that the head-to-head against BVB will be a decider on who tops the group. The first game will be at Dortmund in a couple of weeks time, so it’s up to the team to try to replicate the 1-0 victory in Dortmund last season to get us off to a flying start.

In the meantime, there is a game this weekend against Leicester and then the small matter of a home game against the reigning champions, so there’s plenty of time for us to get into our rhythm before the Champions League starts. Not. It’s fair to say that we haven’t exactly hit the ground running as yet, but with the injuries having a part to play in the stuttering beginning to the season (unusual for us as we have tended to always start strongly and fade away towards the end of campaigns), we need to start clicking into gear and doing so quickly. That comes with matches, with new players being able to bed in and with established players finding their form, so this weekend’s game against newly promoted opposition represents a chance to lay down a marker. More on suspected team line ups tomorrow, but Arsene did confirm that both Arteta and Gibbs will continue to be missing until after the International break, which will mean Monreal and the Flamster continue to deputise.

We all know about Giroud and his long-term absence, so it was not really a surprise when Arsene was once again quizzed about finding a replacement up top. He, as would be expected, extolled the virtues of the talent he already has available in Sanchez, Walcott, Podolski, Campbell and Sanogo. Later on, I think in an interview which wasn’t part of the afternoon presser, he stated that there were too many strikers and he would only look to bring another one in if one went out. Whilst there will be those that will wonder whether that means a potential loan move for the raw Sanogo, or a permanent move for the clearly unflavoured Podolski, I suspect that the comment was designed to explain to the masses that Arsene really isn’t looking for another forward at all. Further evidence to this school of thinking can be found in the words of the BBC’s David Ornstein, who has always been seen as somewhat of an unofficial mouthpiece for the club, as he confirmed that Arsenal are after a centre-half or defensive midfielder.

Whilst my initial reaction to Arsene’s assertion that he has enough strikers and that only ‘top,top top quality’ would do (although I must question this definition given that Gervinho managed two seasons at the club) was to be slightly aggrieved, upon some reflection about the possible options out there, I could kind of understand where Arsene is coming from. Giroud’s injury is certainly a big blow and we will no doubt feel his absence, but his absence is something that we all feel needs to be replaced with somebody for the here and now, and therein lies our problem. There are plenty of names being kicked around amongst arsenal fans, but the reality is that any player coming from any league other than an English one, will need time to bed in, which is time we simply don’t have. Just look at Sanchez; he is still finding his feet, still needing to hone his radar so that he latches on to Ozil passes, etc. Any new player brought in from another league is going to go through the exact same process. So we are effectively back to square one because we don’t address the here and now in terms of finding a goalscorer instantly.

“But what about finding one from the Premier League?” I can almost hear you say, but again, I’m not sure what other options are out there that will be suitable for our style of play and the way Arsene is setting up his team. Remy and Bony are names that come to mind, but both are different to Giroud as strikers, so if at the moment we are looking at finding somebody to fit our existing style, then they won’t work. The truth of the matter is that there aren’t really many Giroud-style replacements out there – certainly not in the Premier League – that you and I would see as worthy upgrades. So it does leave the manager in a bit of a quandary as to what to do. Unless his plan is to change the attacking philosophy, to which I think Tim Stillman put the most eloquently in his blog on Thursday this week over at Arseblog Towers. If the plan to adapt the style is therefore needing to be accelerated, I would have to wonder if, actually, Arsene is right, and we do have enough players up top when Walcott arrives. The only caveat I’d place on this however, is that Walcott is an injury prone forward and if he breaks down again, we’re back to square one, with a lack of pace up top and a reliance on Sanchez to bed in a lot quicker in his debut season.

I don’t really ever pertain to have any answers, I’m just an observer, but what I do know is that we need to start hitting top form soon if we want to win that all-elusive Premier League trophy. I know that in some sense Arsene is right – it’s not always clear cut – not always black and white when it comes to football systems and finding players from other clubs that can fit neatly into the right gaps that Arsenal have in their team. There is a balance to be found and players to fit systems, but just because a player like Remy, for example, looks good in a Newcastle or QPR shirt, doesn’t always mean he’ll automatically fit in at Arsenal and bag 15 goals in the first half of the season.

That’s all from me on that today I’m afraid. Things to do and all of this pondering is giving me a headache. Cheerio folks. until tomorrow.

When did we all become so angry?

Hello there my old friend, how are you? I’ve been doing this daily blog thingy for over two years now, so I feel like I can call you ‘old’. Hope you don’t mind.

A little later today we’ll get an Arsène press conference in which the media will bombard the boss with questions about potential signings in an effort to get a sniff of what he is thinking. Of course, he keeps his cards closer to his chest than Michael Phelps keeps his speedos closer to his nether regions. But the questions will no doubt continue, with the boss most likely to bat away the names like an irritating fly near a freshly prepared chorizo and red pepper sandwich on multigrain bread.

This has led me to a school of thinking today, which I hope you don’t mind, because it’s a little bit on the negative side. Hence why I’ve attempted to soften you into today’s blog by firing the platitudes and niceties your way. Again, I hope you don’t mind.

Anyway, back to my thinking, which has led me to today’s blog title and comes as a response to reading my Twitter timeline last night before I went to bed, as well as waking up this morning thinking about the presser today and the inevitable reaction from a lot of fans through social media sites.

Last night the news broke – unconfirmed obviously because it’s journos that are speculating of course – that Radamal Falcao had agreed to join Real Madrid after his club Monaco and the Champions League winners agreed a deal. In the cold light of day, perhaps not the most shocking of news, as many had speculated that would be his destination this season or next season anyway. But what was a surprise to me was the reaction from a lot of people. Suddenly I saw people stating that Wenger had failed to act on a target yet again, that he was once again dithering, that he’d not bothered to address or clear striking deficiencies. But do you know what, I had a small feeling of a chance missed too, which immediately led the rational part of my brain to throw it’s hands up in the air and declare it was going to bed. Thankfully I soon joined it.

Falcao – whether this story about him joining Madrid is true or not – was never really a realistic option for us anyway. Yet the anger from people is surprising to say the least. And I am guilty of getting swept up in it too. This seems to happen every summer and every January transfer window, to which I am finding myself asking the question more and more:

When did everyone become so angry?

When was there such division amongst fans over something that isn’t even the main reason we are football fans in the first place? I genuinely don’t have an answer I’m afraid, but I can definitely reference myself as having become more susceptible to the frustration, hence why I am deliberately not trying to take to the moral high ground to call out other fans.

I’ve been with The Management for over eleven years and when I’ve asked her recently whether she can remember what I was like in relation to Arsenal, she tells me that I’ve definitely become more vocal in my displeasure at anything Arsenal related. Heck, that’s why I started writing this blog in the first place, so I could have a vehicle to channel my thoughts rather than lying in bed at night stewing over a Mickael Silvestre balls up that has cost us points.

Why have I become more irate? Is it just my age? Am I of the age that most football fans get to (I’m in the early stages of my thirties) where they have had so many years of watching their beloved team that I am so absorbed in it that it affects my mood? Perhaps. When you are younger you worry less about why things happen and more importantly, how they happen. I was a happy teenager when Tony Adams broke through the Everton defence at Highbury to hammer home our third goal and secure the 98 league title. I hadn’t watched as many games that season, I knew the first thirteen or fourteen players in the squad but not the ones on the periphery, so I wasn’t worried about multiple injuries in the same position.

Is it the access and exposure to more football than ever before? In 98 there was nowhere near as many games to watch unless you went to all of them. Not coming from a football mad family, that was always difficult for me, so I relied on TV coverage. The Arsenal website will have been little more than a place to house the teams fixtures and results, so the daily feed of content back in 98 would have been a rarity.

And social media didn’t even exist. To many, this would have been a grand time, and I’m in no doubt that it has had a contributing factor to the increase in tension amongst the Arsenal fanbase. How can it not? I mean, if you throw that many opinions (everyone’s got one, and each one differs from the next) into one centralised place, you’re bound to get some friction. I’ve found in my life that anger fuels anger, which means if a number of people are getting angry, the chances are that it will just build and build like a pressure cooker. People fuel off of each other, mob mentality takes over and you get an explosion of arguments and disagreements.

But I must not besmirch the invention of social media’s after all, it has also done so many good things for me, like introduce me to so many people at The Arsenal that I see on match days. Without Twitter, I’d still be turning up to games five minutes before they start, watch the match, then go home. It’s bloody hard walking into a pub full of people and randomly start interjecting into a circle of friends talking about the game ahead. So having the ability to meet people you sort of already know through conversations online has been a blessing for me personally.

But still, I do wish we could somehow go back to a time where there was less animosity amongst people with so much in common, although I accept that this is an unlikely situation now.

Or am I wrong? Has football always been like this? Have Arsenal fans throughout the ages always moaned about the lack of signings? Or targets missed? Has there always been people with an unwavering support of the manager, locking horns with those that want to see him out of the door quicker than you can whistle the theme to The A Team?

Don’t know. But I’d like to. Why don’t you tell me?

See y’all tomorrow.

Arsenal to come with a health warning

Seat of your pants. Skin of your teeth. Edge of your seat.

Being an Arsenal fan should come with a health warning approved by the Chief Medical Officer of the British Government, or something.

Yesterday’s game was far, far too early in the season to be that nerve-wracking, but ultimately let me pepper today’s blog with the fact that we are in the hat for the Champions League and, with our consecutive Champions League entry confirmed for the 17th time, it ensures we remain in Pot 1. Much to the dismay of the Liverpool friendly national media.

But by golly, we don’t half make it hard for ourselves, don’t we? With no away goal to speak of from the first leg (unlike in most previous seasons), it made the mathematics of yesterday evening really quite simple: win and score goals. Le Boss named the same side that started the game against Everton and in the first fifteen minutes you could tell that the home comforts of The Emirates made the team happier than when on Merseyside last weekend. We popped the ball around quite well, controlled position in the early stages and I thought that it was a patient and probing display. For about thirty minutes. Thereafter, it was almost as if a nervous button was pressed by both fans and players alike, and Besiktas grew into the game a little more.

On Twitter I described Besiktas as essentially a ‘Turkish Crystal Palace’, as their game plan appeared to be to frustrate Arsenal, ensure as many black shirts sat in and around the edge of their own penalty box rarely venturing forward with any numbers to attack. As was the way with teams from overseas they liked an occasional nudge, but fell to the floor when touched, epitomised no better than in the second half with a really quite farcical semi rollie-pollie action from one of the Turkish players. Unfortunately we had an abysmal referee, who I’ll come to shortly, so the theatrics were tolerated more frequently than they should have been.

But anyway, the Turkish Crystal Palace, which is probably doing a little bit of a disservice to our opponents. After that first 30 in which they frustrated, there were signs of a good passing team that were clearly set up with a game plan to counter, which if I’m honest could have worked had Debuchy been pulled up on his clear foul inside the box in that first half. Lucky boy. Well, temporarily lucky boy, as we were to find out in the second half as perhaps some karma came back to haunt him for being sent off for a perfectly good tackle in the middle of the pitch with 20 minutes to go.

That sending off made for a very nervy finish to the game, but not as nervy as it would have been had Alexis not got his scoring tally off the mark with a smart finish in the dying embers of the first half. The excellent Wilshere’s exchange with Cazorla (I think) on the edge of the Beisktas box almost found Jack, but he let the ball run for the newbie, who slid the ball underneath the ‘keeper. It was just rewards for a first half in which we’d dominated pretty much all stats.

In fact, given how nervous you and I were throughout yesterday’s match, you do wonder why on earth our opponents failed to muster a shot on target in the entire game. I guess it shows that whilst situations often appear fraught with worry at the time, from a neutrals perspective Arsenal were rarely troubled in defence, to which we have to give credit to the back five. There were some balls over the top that perhaps a better midfield maestro would have found Demba Ba more accurately with, but the limitations of the Turkish Cup winners were clear to see.

Defensively, I thought the two stand out players were our full backs. Debuchy looks like he had been playing at the club for five years, whilst on the other side, Monreal has been a solid performer since called upon in the first weekend of the season. To have a player like that waiting I the wings when Gibbs is out of action is fantastic and Nacho’s performances have left few of us lamenting Gibbs’ broken body so far this season.

In midfield, I thought Jack was brilliant, at the heart of everything we did well with his all-action style. I’ve seen a few people comment that the shackles were released with Ramsey being absent which I think I’ve commented on before, but rather than get into any ‘they can’t play together’ debate today, I think I’ll just focus on the returning to his old self – even if only one game so far – for our Jack.

Unfortunately, that’s where the stand out performances finish, because in the final third I thought we were pretty poor, as in that defensive midfield role that the Flamster occupied. I don’t know whether or not he’s quite match-fit enough yet, but Flamini gave the ball away carelessly a number of times and he didn’t seem to win as many tackles as he normally does. He did win some tackles – he always does – but it appears to me that if he’s not getting carded he’s obviously not feeling himself, which was the case yesterday. Hopefully he’ll have a good game at the weekend to arrest any concerns that he’s already peaked in his career and is now in the descent.

I thought Özil had a quiet game and, perhaps it’s still because he is finding his rhythm again or perhaps because he has been deployed on the left a couple of times already this season, but he flitted in and out of the game. As did Santi. He was anonymous at Everton and I’m starting to get worried about his form. He’s often deployed in that position out wide on the left, which isn’t his best, but he does go very quiet for large swathes of the game and I feel like I’m noticing it more and more.

The Ox was also a little more quiet than he has been, but he’s still a young lad, so there’s no point chastising a performance. He’s still a dangerous and creative outlet and, had he capped the night off with a goal towards the end when he found space from an Özil cross, we’d probably all be saying something different. Such is how the narrative can shift with goals.

That’s why Alexis’ performance can be viewed as a successful one. Score. Check. Close down and show a willingness to give everything for the team. Check. Demonstrate some good ball control and retention. Check. But there were still sit some instances where you could tell that he wasn’t 100% ready and occasions when his feet were not in tune with the rest of his body. There’s no need to panic though, as it was nowhere near as Gervinhoy as it could have been, so I’ve no doubt as he becomes more aware of his own teammates styles and also now that he is off the mark with a goal, the rest will come.

We did lack a cutting edge in the final third though. For all the gnashing of teeth and exasperation of some sections of the fanbase (I’m guilty of this too I’ll admit) when the Frenchman misses a guilt-edge chance, the next four months will I’m sure provide us all with a clear indication of what he brings to the take, as a focal point of our attacks. Alexis likes to drop deep to collect the ball and as a result it leaves us with no options if we want to move from front to back quickly like we can with Olivier in the team. The result is that unless one of the wide players slots in centrally when Alexis comes deep, we may find it difficult to get ourselves out of bother with longer passes to put us on the front foot. Again, probably another discussion for another day, so I’ll not dwell on it too much.

What the Giroud injury does however, is emphasise that Arsène simply must strengthen within the next five days. We must get a defensive minded midfielder who can play at centre half as an absolute minimum, but now we must be seriously looking at bringing in a player who can play as a focal point in attack. To go into half a season with Sanogo as your main target man is not something you’d expect a team with title aspirations to have. So I would expect Arsène to act. But hey, he rarely does what most of us think is the obvious, so we wait and see what happens.

Before I knock today’s blog on the head, a special mention must go out to the Portuguese, card-happy referee who wrongly dismissed a Besiktas penalty, fell for every soft foul by a Besiktas player, incorrectly sent off Mathieu Debuchy and gave Szczesny a booking for taking an extra five seconds on a goal kick. He did this on the first attempt by Szczesny. Somewhere in London at his home, Julian Speroni will have been laughing his socks off. The only shocker of the day was that a ref so content to book everyone, missed the man who is always booked: Flamini.

And on that bombshell, I shall bid you adieu.

Hoping Besiktas aren’t the first roundabout

I don’t know about you, but in the space of the last 24 hours I’ve suddenly become acutely aware that we could be staring down the barrel of a Europa League game, should the worst befall the team tonight. It’s a feeling that, whilst I have felt before with these Champions League qualifiers like the one against Besiktas, I’ve not felt as ill-at-ease in the preamble to the game.

I don’t know whether or not it’s the news that we could be reliant on Sanogo as our target man for the first half of the season as a result of the Giroud injury, or that Alexis will now have even more pressure on him to play that central striker role, but I approach today’s match preview blog with a feeling of slight trepidation.

Perhaps it’s because of the slow start we’ve had. Counting aside the excellent Community Shield victory against the Oil Whores, we’ve stuttered our way to victory over the car crash that is Palace and two draws against Besiktas and Everton. It feels like we haven’t yet got into our stride and, as a result, I kind of wish this game was coming in a couple of weeks time given its importance. Our season right now feels a little like the old red Ford Sierra Sapphire I used to own. On a cold winters morning, once she had got herself on to the dual carriageway between Hertford and Harlow, she was fine. But switch her on first thing and try and drive off without letting her warm up, and she’d cut out on you once you reached the first roundabout, which is what I’m hoping won’t happen to us tonight. Man, I really hope Besiktas aren’t our first roundabout.

Logic should dictate that I’m less worried about this game. After all, when you compare the teams pound for pound, even with our mounting injury problems we should have enough to overcome a Turkish side that didn’t even win their own domestic league. Factor in the age old adage that both Greek and Turkish sides tend to not travel so well, and you and I should not be concerned with worry about ensuring the team does its job tonight.

But this is Arsenal we’re talking about here folks. This is our Arsenal and we all know that we’re perfectly capable of tripping ourselves up against Slaven Bilic’s charges. Heck, we nearly managed it a week ago in Istanbul, to which only Besiktas’ own profligacy afforded us a draw against an inspired Turkish side. Take anything for granted this evening, and my additional cup credits won’t seem as appealing this season (although I will go to every game possible regardless, I hasten to add).

The threat from the Turks will undoubtedly come from their star striker Demba Ba, who I’m sure will want Arsene to rue the day that he didn’t snap up the Senegalese, but aside from that I’m not going to go all YouTube scout on you and pretend that I know the intimate workings of our opposition. Why would I? Turkish football is hardly something I wax lyrical to you on a weekly basis, so rather than try to pull the wool over your eyes, I figure I’ll base my assessment of the opposition on pure guesswork.

And it is guesswork, because I’ll be very surprised if Besiktas are as open and attacking as they were a week ago. Bilic will know that his team has to do a bit of a Palace on us and frustrate, looking to hit on the counter. We were a minute or so away from an opening day draw against a team that had little interest in venturing outside their own half, so a repeat of that performance and the goals scored (minus the absent Ramsey last minuter) would see us out on goal difference.

Goals will be the key to tonight. It’s kind of the most obvious statements one could make, but I use the plural of the word with much emphasis, because if we can grab a couple of goals within the first half without reply then we should have this game sewn up. It should lead to their heads dropping and may mean that we could pick them off as they elect to counter. But as it stands right now, we are in a precarious position. 1-0 to The Arsenal is a horrible score line to have for any prolonged period of time tonight. Especially if we’re entering the final five to 10 minutes of the game. Remember when we played PSV all those years ago? A single goal from them changed the complexion of the tie from a 2-0 comfortable result, to a 2-1 victory but a knock out on the away goals rule. That’s what we want to avoid tonight.

Our team news is slightly concerning, but when you look at the players we have available, we have to be looking at the side and pleased that our injury problems haven’t stretched too far. The back four look solid with Monreal looking good and the possibility of Koscienly coming in for Chambers, whilst Flamini in front of them will add a bit of yellow-cardiness to proceedings, but also that little bit of bite. Jack will play the box-to-box Ramsey role and, with the Welshman out of the side through suspension, I just wonder if that will give him more freedom to express himself. Jack and Rambo are very similar players in my opinion and I have heard some murmurs from friends about how it’s not outside the realms of possibility that it is because of that, that we have not been as fluid when both of them are in the team.

The front four I’d like to see would include Özil, Sanchez, The Ox and Podolski. With Giroud out injured and none of the above able to effectively act as a target man, I’d like us to try and be a bit more fluid with the front three, interchanging who plays at the top and on the flanks throughout the game. If we move around our players and add that mobility to a side sitting deep, it might just pull open some spaces for Özil to work his magic on. But I don’t think Arsène will do that if I’m honest. I suspect we’ll see Cazorla on the left, The Ox on the right and Sanchez up top. There was a bit of talking up Sanogo as that main front man, but going over his limitations and rawness is like treading on already well-worn ground, so I’ll leave that for now.

Jack described tonight’s game as a ‘cup final’. It’s a clichéd expression that often sees football fans roll their eyes because you just can’t play cup finals every week. So whilst I shall resist the temptation to agree with him, stressing that this could be make or break for the season for us when you consider what could be at stake in terms of transfers and confidence, is something that I cannot emphasise enough.

Come on Arsenal. Do the job, do it well, then let’s get that old Sierra back on the dual carriageway. Or something.

Catch you tomorrow.