Diaby returns, but Arsenal has changed

So here we are, arrived at St George’s Day, where the good people of England celebrate their patron saint by indulging in that most fanciful of things: going to work as if it was a normal day. Because it essentially is. You’ve gotta love our sense of nationalistic pride, eh?

I’m sure John Terry is celebrating his Britishness with his white cloak and pitchfork. After all, he helped to snooze-fest his team last night with one foot in the final after a bore-draw with Athletic Madrid, who were stifled by Jose and his double-decks ring by the sounds of it. Thankfully I had a football free evening which meant I don’t feel I’ve lost a small part of my life this morning. But chastise as we may, if they scab the Champions League trophy again, we’ll all be admitting we’d take a dose of ‘boring-boring Arsenal’ for that particular piece of silverware.

Of Arsenal, there is relatively little news to speak of, such is the length of time that remains before we play Newcastle on Monday night. There’s plenty of transfer gossip talking about Karim Benzema but, as much as I’d like to preach to you that I won’t get caught up with it in the summer, I inevitably will. So I’ll try not to peak too early by talking in great detail about any more possible signings before the season finishes. Besides, there is still plenty of work to be done and we need to secure top four and win ourselves a trophy before we can start getting all speculative on what acquisitions will be made during the close season.

The most substantial bit of Arsenal-related stuff that occurred yesterday was the return of Abou Diaby, who after 400 odd days out injured, has finally graced some green turf (warts and all if you saw the picture of the scar on his knee). It’s a welcome sight for one of the most injury prone footballers I have seen in my time on this here earth. I’m told he’s now made of 67% silicone/titanium hybrid materials and sleeps within a cryogenic chamber every night to delay the ageing process on a body that resembles a 78 year old man rather than a footballer just the other side of 25.

It’s ground that has been gone over a million times, but it’s a shame that a promising career was reduced to rubble and with just a year left on his contract, this really is last chance saloon for the Frenchman. He’ll probably not make any games this season I would have thought, but a good pre season and an injury-free summer will stand him in good stead for trying to make an impact on this Arsenal team come August.

The only trouble he’ll have is actually getting in to the team. Arsenal has moved on. We’ve signed and bought through replacements in midfield and even a fully fit Diaby would struggle to get into this Arsenal team I’d wager. He certainly couldn’t replace Özil or Ramsey – the most likely positions he’d adopt – and I’m not so sure of his defensive capabilities, so I wouldn’t think he’d fit the defensive midfielder-style role at the club. At a push he could be a square peg in a round hole occupying one of the wide attacking positions, but that would surely only be a temporary thing in light of injuries sustained to other players, no?

We’ve all seen his talent, hopefully he can stay fit, but even if that does happen for the whole of next season (stop laughing) I still think he’ll be looking for a new club at the end of it. The question would then be asked who might take a Kieran Dyer-esque punt on a player who spends more time on the treatment table than the professional green playing fields of England and Europe?

But that’s a debate to ponder long into the future. Let’s worry about How to solve a problem like Diaby when we have a problem to solve. At this moment in time it’s just good to see him back playing football.

Right, well, I’m off to…err…not celebrate St George’s Day and work. See you tomorrow.

Appreciating Özil; Pining for Cesc? Moving on more like

Yesterday’s post match review was full of the delights of Rambo, ensuring to most lyrical of waxing ensued for the Welshman, but in doing so I sort of clouded over the return of another player just returning from injury: Mesut Özil.

The German came back into the team and performed very well, so I’m using the beginning of my working week and today’s blog to talk up our record signing, because I thought what he did on Sunday was exactly what he often does. He has an impact on games without the bells and whistles. He’s the guy – to use an American Footballism – that runs the yards, receives the ball and throws it a short distance to the fella that runs through and slams the ball down, beating his chest in the process. He’s a player that makes us look instantly better, without seeming to be the man in the limelight.

There was a number of occasions on Sunday where he played in players, threaded some accurate balls through to more forward lying players, involved in build up to most of the goals as well. Those accusing him of not earning his wages would do well to look at his contribution and how he makes this Arsenal team tick even when not supposedly performing to his optimum.

Per recognises it and has been quoted over the last 24 hours as saying that injuries to players like Özil and Ramsey have been telling, as we all saw for the first time in the teams performance for a number of months on Sunday.

Özil is as vital a cog in the Arsenal machine as Ramsey and Per are. The trouble we have had is that we haven’t had too many replacement cogs for when one needs removing, polishing and replacing. The machine has just ground to a halt. In a way, it’s why I can see some logic to the stories about a possible return of Cesc to the side, especially with news that the Catalan is being jeered by his own people. Remember when he had Barca DNA and we were denying his birthright? How’d that work out for both parties over there as well?

Having seen our performances after the last six weeks or so, I can understand the logic of bringing someone like Fabregas back to the club. Had we been able to call on Fabregas to fill the void left at number ten by Özil, then he would have been that well fitting cog to replace like-for-like in the team. However, in my opinion, enough time has now passed for us as Arsenal fans to admit that we have moved on as a club and I’d like to politely suggest that we have other priorities come the summer. So from this humble bloggers perspective, I won’t be shedding too many tears if Fabregas isn’t rocking up at The Emirates for the home side in August.

I’d also like to point out a bit of information I got from somebody who had spoken to people within the club on Cesc. His behaviour in the last season of being at the club was apparently appalling; a sulking figure around London Colney who didn’t exactly enamour himself to the staff at The Arsenal. Given that behaviour, do we really want someone like that back at the club? I’m not so sure.

Where would he play? Would he replace Özil at number 10? Doubtful. You don’t spend £42million on a player that you want to replace with another one a year later, so I’d wager that even if we did sign him, he wouldn’t get too many attempts at his best position.

What about as a deeper lying midfielder? There’s little doubt that he can play the quarter back role, but with Ramsey having stepped up to his box-to-box midfielder position with such aplomb, we can’t afford to not have a more defensive minded player alongside him. A Flamini or Bender alongside Ramsey would be far more effective than a Fabregas in my mind.

Cesc was a wonderful player for us. He scored some great goals, was our talisman and was a player from which Arsene began to build a team around. But he left and we had to change our style and set up as a result. Having left the club we had to find another way and Fabregas has to go his own path. However, don’t let this blog fool you into believing I wouldn’t take him back at the club, oh no. He’d be a great addition to the side. My only reticence in his possible arrival comes from an innate fear that it would mean one less marquee signing in a position where we are in desperate need of strengthening. Before we go out and starting collecting midfielders again, we need a top-notch centre forward, perhaps a left winger with pace, a defensive minded midfielder to alternate with Flamini and the ageing Arteta, a right back, centre defender and a squad rotational ‘keeper. With all that activity needed, and our shoddy transfer dealings over the last couple of seasons, do you really believe our team of negotiators capable of landing a host of players and then going to get a Cesc shaped icing on the cake?

Me either.

So yes, let’s take Cesc, but let’s spend the majority of this summer strengthening our squad in needed places and then, if we have a spare £15million and Barca want to offload, let’s go and have a little splurge.

There’s some other newsy bits around today from The Ox about how tough the run in over the next few weeks will be, but it’s hardly soundbite gold, so I’ll leave you to dig out the comments yourself if you like. Oh, and there’s some stuff from his agent about how Vermaelen will decide his future after the World Cup, but if he hasn’t already decided he needs to play more football somewhere else then I’ll put on my ‘look surprised’ face for you. Other than that, it’s a regular old Tuesday with just under a week until the next game, so plenty of time for the players to recharge, refresh and be ready for the visit of Newcastle on Monday night.

I suppose I should say something about David Moyes this morning too, but all I can think of is: Oops.

Have a good’un folks.

Rueing Rambo’s absence, loving Poldi’s end product

I do like it when victory appears comprehensive for The Arsenal, even if the reality is that it isn’t quite so convincing when you watch the match in real time.

Yesterday’s 3-0 victory against Hull was as welcome as the huge Turkey dinner I consumed shortly after half time, followed up by chocolate, beer and Prosecco. But it was not one that had me nerve free from the first to the last minute, that’s for sure, as Hull set out to cause us some problems and most definitely did in that first half.

Arsene surprised a few of us by naming a relatively similar side to the one that beat West Ham on Tuesday night. Only Ramsey, Özil and Monreal came in to the team at the expense of Kallström, Rosicky and Vermaelen. Arsene clearly loves an Arteta on a match day and so it proved again, as the Spaniard lined up for yet another game. Overall he wasn’t too bad, but I was surprised to see that he wasn’t rotated with a couple of others yesterday. I guess ultimately though, when you’ve come away from a tricky away fixture with three points and a nice little boost to the goal difference charts, you have to say the manager got the selection decision right.

As seems to be par for the course with this Arsenal team though, the first half felt very laboured, so much so that when the excellently worked Ramsey finish was tucked away I did wonder whether a neutral would see it as against the run of play. But who cares about that, fright? I mean, that first goal was so excellently worked and when Cazorla slid Ramsey 2.0 (that’s the improved version from previous seasons) in, you just knew he was tucking that away.

It was great to see, but it also left me cursing our luck at half time, as a fully fit Rambo for the last four months could have delivered half a dozen extra goals for us. How crucial could that have been for games like United at home? It’s easy to play the hindsight game, but I’m sure his presence would have led to at least another six points in the team, which would have kept us clinging on to hope of a league title at this stage in the season. He was easily man of the match yesterday and ran so much of the game that it was as if he’d never been injured. Sigh…

But it does not do well to dwell on things that have passed, so we have to look at what’s in front of us and we can see three games in the league in which three wins secures the fourth place trophy and one after that secures the FA Cup.

I don’t buy all of the ‘psychological advantage’ that Sky Sports spoke of yesterday, because we had the same margin of victory away to Birmingham in the league when we played them in the League Cup, but we still contrived to bugger that one up. Hull will be a different team with a heck of a lot more motivation, so we will need to be at our best, hoping that the pressure doesn’t get to the players.

Anyway, back to yesterday’s game, and it not being the walk in the park the score line suggests. Hull’s game plan was simple; balls into the box, try to use the fact they get extra bodies in their as often as possible and see if they can get that early goal. Even after we went ahead, the scare from a Livermore shot off the post was there for all to see. But we rallied, got into half time 2-0 up with another good strike from Podolski, whose lashed shot from Ramsey’s knock-down was another fine example of team build up.

The game was probably effectively over from that point, so when Poldi got the third it was a nice little Easter gift and ensured a comfortable last twenty or so minutes for Gooners everywhere. Except me. I still remain nervous at 3-0 because once upon a time Arsenal shattered my confidence by being 4-0 up and drawing 4-4, so I never get comfortable on a three goal advantage until at least the last ten minutes of a game, but based on yesterday and also the Arsenal of the last twelve months or so I shouldn’t be as concerned. Yes, we still do implosions like nobody else, but that’s usually when we’re behind already. We seem to be alright at keeping a lead these days.

I thought Podolski had another game that was almost a carbon copy of the West Ham result. End product. That’s it. Get him into the box and let his finishing do the talking. His finishing was the difference between two worrying games and what ended up two relatively comfortable results. When all players are back and fully fit you have to think that he won’t be in the starting eleven, but if he keeps this scoring run going – four goals this last week – it will be impossible for him to be dropped.

He’s like the specialist kicker in a game of American Football, but the only difference is that he has to be in the team for other duties, which let’s him down. Having said that, based on his end product and Santi’s – usually preferred on the left – yesterday, I would personally keep the German. Cazorla may have slipped Ramsey in for goal number one, but I didn’t think he had the greatest of games and so for me based on what he brings to the team, Lukas should be starting ahead of the tiny little Spaniard.

So that is that then. A tough away fixture navigated, back-to-back home games in front of us and a hope that two wins might just be enough to see us finish in the top four, dependent on what Everton do of course.

Have a happy Monday Gooners.

SG Podcast 24 – Lukas PoGOALski

This week Steve, Ben & Chris are joined by special guest Glen Oglaza to talk West Ham, Hull and the ticketing situation for the FA Cup Final.


SG Podcast 24 - left click to play or right click to ‘save as’

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No dress rehearsal; getting touch tight to Giroud is essential

On this most holiest of days in the Christian calendar, it is that most precious of things that you and I wish for our beloved Arsenal: three points picked up away from home against Hull City.

Of course the press conferences of both managers were dominated by discussions of the impending FA Cup Final between the two sides, but understandably both wanted to emphasise the importance of today’s match up, ensuring the focus is on three points and not on using it as a dress rehearsal for the final. For Arsene, this game is an opportunity to show the world that his side are masters of the fourth place trophy, so putting another win under our belts as we head towards the end of the season is all important. For Steve Bruce, this is about further cementing his sides Premier League credentials and climbing the table as high as possible, but there will also be an element of “look at us, we can turnover this Arsenal team in the league, so why not in the cup final?”.

Hull currently sit six points clear of relegation and whilst not many are talking about them being dragged into the relegation mire, they are not completely safe from a nervy end to the season, especially with results like the one at Stamford Bridge yesterday evening. So there is certainly motivation for the Tigers, which I suspect we’ll see materialIse in the shape of a quick start and a loud crowd hoping to catch us cold early on. That’s how most teams have outdone this Arsenal side this season and that is why we have to ensure that the first fifteen minutes – if not all Arsenal – are certainly relatively quiet.

At The Emirates Hull lined up with a 3-5-2 formation but were pretty much nullified within a few minutes as Nik Bendtner (remember him? That crazy ol’ Danish Samurai) struck early which meant Hull had to come out and play and as a result made for a more open and expansive game. The fact we only won 2-0 belies the performance that day, as I remember coming away thinking it should have been four or five without reply. But perhaps that is an example of how Hull have managed to look ok defensively for a newly promoted team. They’ve never really been battered by anyone in terms of score lines and I don’t think we’ll be hitting them for six again today.

They also have a totally different strike force of Long and Jelavic who, if I’m completely honest, I’m very glad won’t be making the cup final. Long is a good player and has caused us a few problems over the last few years during his time at West Brom, whilst Jelavic always strikes me as one of those centre forwards that if he’s shown the love by a manager, he’ll replicate in form. He’s a bit like Giroud in that respect. Which provides me with a lovely little segway into talking about how our team will line up today…

Thankfully, Arsene has some decisions to make for today’s game. Gibbs may be out, which would force his hand if Monreal is not fit, but the rest of the back five is obvious. They will need to contend with the running of Long and the goal-hanginess of Jelavic and if they do that, you have to fancy our chances, because without wanted to sound like I got an Easter gift of ‘The Big Book of Football Clichés’ solid defences help you to build winning teams.

The midfield anchor could be either Flamini, Arteta of Kallström, but I suspect we’ll see the Frenchman come in for the Spaniard because Tricky Micky has looked a little tired of late. With Flamini having served his two games suspended, he’ll be bright as a button and an important screen for when the runners from midfield make their way towards our box. The next decisions will be who will play alongside that anchor, which for me should be only one real choice: Aaron Ramsey. He has the offensive and defensive engine needed to compliment both Özil and Giroud and with him in the team there is instantly more pace injected into the side from midfield. It provides that extra man in attack when the front three are looking a little pedestrian. that front three, which I think will consist of Podolski, Cazorla and The Ox, will need to get as close to Giroud for those knock downs as possible, because it’s only when he has teammates around him, that Olivier looks a threat. If he’s isolated alongside a back three that includes the in-form Curtis Davies, then we won’t see too much joy I’m afraid, but if Santi and Podolski get alongside the big Frenchman, then we’ll see an altogether different performance I’ll wager.

What we need to see from Poldi today (assuming he starts, which I think he will after his two goals on Tuesday), is more of that end product that he’s becoming famous for, so moving a bit more centrally and coming closer to Giroud to link up would provide that I think. The Ox has the trickery and pace to get in behind the Hull defenders, so he and Ramsey can be effective runners beyond Giroud, but Santi and Poldi need to have all of the play in front of them, hence why I think they should be tight to our buffon-loving centre forward.

“No Özil?” I hear you ask and, whilst I think he’ll certainly play a part, with a month out through injury and Le Boss able to call on a number of different players I think we’ll see him eased in from the bench.

This is a game in which we should have enough quality to win, but with the form of the last six weeks only picking up over the last game (and that was only really in the second half), I think we’ll still see an element of fragility about this Arsenal team. I can’t see us coming charging out of the blocks, so I think this will be a cagey affair in the first half, with the need not to be blitzed within the first 30 minutes. Thereafter, the hope is that we see more football like the second half on Tuesday night, which will certainly see us pick up some points if we play like that, so keep your fingers crossed.

Have a Happy Easter Sunday (hopefully).

absence makes the heart grow fonder

Happy Saturday to you fellow Goonerite. It’s an interesting one because as we hit the last few dregs of the season, Sky and BT Sport have their grubby mits all over the most important fixtures, which means the chances of seeing Arsenal play a Saturday 3pm kick off is about as likely as Miley Cyrus admitting that she is actually a clone of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. But with clear deficiencies in the cloning process obviously.

There was some interesting news as the working week drew to a close, which included Aaron Ramsey being nominated for the PFA Young Player of the year. It’s great to see his early season exploits have been regarded so highly and, had he stayed fit throughout the season and continued his form, one expects the end of season ceremony would have been more a case of ‘what time do you want me to collect the trophy?’ rather than ‘will I win it’ for the Welshman. His nomination also brings into stark contrast the challenges the team has faced missing in-form and key players for varying periods of time this season.

For example, I have seen a few Gooners (thankfully in the minority) bemoaning the form of Ozil before he was injured, yet some of those very same people are now overjoyed that he is returning to the first team fray, which certainly shows that the old adage of absence making the heart grow fonder a true one. As Gooners we’ve become accustomed to saying to ourselves “yeah but, what if he was fit? Where would we be now?” and whilst it’s a path that is both pointless and maddening, it’s still something we should all be aware of.

Thankfully we have plenty of players returning for this final push on the league and on Thursday Arsene confirmed what he had already said post West Ham: Ozil is fit and raring to go for tomorrow and we appear to miss just Gibbs, Walcott and the eventual return to fitness (albeit most likely to be fleeting) of Abou Diaby. Had there been some magic cream to rub on the wounds of the returning players a month ago we might still be clinging on to a league title aspiration, but such is life and we must accept where we are and what is in front of us.

Kim Kallstrom has had his say on his experience and after some shaky misplaced passes in the first half on Tuesday, I thought he grew into the game well, showing some good upper body strength and above all with Arsene Wenger teams retaining possession is important. He certainly seemed capable in that regard. He thinks his experience will prove important in the next month and whilst I’m inclined to agree with him, I’m not sure how many chances on the field he’ll get to actually play. With Flamini back from suspension I think Arsene has his hierarchy of more defensive minded midfielders and I think Kallstrom is certainly in at number three there. It will be interesting to see what happens at the end of the season. I don’t know if Kallstrom is available on a free transfer or not, but I’d be surprised if Wenger had the interest in making a 31-year-old a permanent offer, so perhaps this is just an opportunity for Kallstrom to market himself in the Premier League as much as possible and try to get a club. Perhaps the fact that he’s playing at Arsenal might be enough to convince a Premier League manager that he’s worth a punt next season, but I’d be surprised if he’s gracing the Emirates in a red jersey come August.Stranger things have happened I suppose.

Arsene has also talked up (as you’d expect) the importance of Giroud recovering his….ahem….mental strength in overcoming his recent transgressions both on and off the field and appeared to be back to his form of earlier in the season against West Ham. He also made an interesting observation about the number of headers Giroud wins from out wide in crossing positions, compared to the number of headers he wins when the ball comes from deep. He’s right of course; it’s interesting to see a player that is so good in the air in one type position not be as good in another. I guess you could say that you have to be a lot more accurate when heading towards a specific part of the goal rather than just winning the ball for it to ping off in any direction. You can’t say it’s a difference between how aggressive he is when he attacks the ball, as to win any header in the first place you have to be aggressive. It’s something I’m sure Giroud is conscious of too.

Personally, I just think that Giroud’s form has been linked to who we are playing as much as his fatigue this season. Every Gooner I meet accepts that he’s a player with limited abilities, so sure it must only be rational to assume that he is therefore a player that we are only likely to see score goals against teams who are also limited in their technical capabilities? If you want to make the difference in big games, you need ‘special’ players. Giroud tries hard, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an Arsenal player that agrees he’s ‘special’. So whilst we can all bemoan a missed chance against Chelski or Liverpool, perhaps we should just accept that from a striking position we’ve got what we essentially paid for, so it’s difficult to be too frustrated with the Frenchman in that regard.

The positive of this, however, is that if this is true, then we can expect Giroud to have a better end to the season than the last month. The next few games include matches from teams that are all in the bottom 10 in the league, where Giroud – like Arsenal this season – is a bit of a flat track bully and has been scoring goals. Providing he stays fit I’d expect him to play all of the remaining five games, with Sanogo only being used if the chips are down. Putting aside the sobering thought that we have a raw 19-year-old as our ‘go-to-guy’, if Giroud can hit some form then at least we could see him get to perhaps 23 or 24 goals.

Anyway, you’ve probably had enough of me for one day, so I’ll take my leave and request that you have a lovely Saturday.

Back with a match preview tomorrow.

Which Arsenal Players Are Headed To Brazil?

The 2013-2014 season is beginning to wind down for Arsenal, which is now hoping to cling to the fourth-place spot in Premier League play. That alone gives supporters a goal to keep in mind over the last few weeks of matches, but many of us are already looking ahead to what promises to be a busy summer, not just in the transfer market, but on the pitch! I’m talking of course about the 2014 World Cup, where we’ll get the opportunity to see several of the Gunners’ top players competing for high-profile national teams all over Brazil. But which Arsenal players, specifically, figure to compete this summer?

Let’s take a look.

It begins with the English national team, which despite placement in what some argue is this year’s “Group Of Death”—alongside Italy, Uruguay, and Costa Rica in Group D—is expected by many to compete for a spot in the knock-out stages. The defence for England is all but set, with no Arsenal players to speak of. In the midfield, however, things get interesting. In addition to mainstay veterans Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain figures to play a prominent role even at just 20 years of age. Jack Wilshere is also a possible invitee from Arsenal, though his injury has certainly dampened his hopes, and there are other young midfielders ready and waiting. Gambling.com posted an articleon outsiders contending for World Cup spots and noted Liverpool’s young star Raheem Sterling as a possibility. It’s certainly possible that a player like Sterling could ultimately rob the recovering Wilshere of what once looked like a solid roster spot. Meanwhile, Theo Walcott will also miss the World Cup due to his devastating left knee injury, which could well mean that Oxlade-Chamberlain will wind up the only Arsenal star playing for England in Brazil.

Moving away from England, however, we should be seeing a number of prominent Arsenal stars playing key roles in the World Cup. France will certainly be a team for Gunners supporters to keep an eye on as it competes in the considerably softer Group E alongside Switzerland, Ecuador, and Honduras. In all likelihood, the French national team for the summer will feature Bacary Sagna (who, once thought to be on his way out, may be staying with Arsenal after all according to iSports Times) and Laurent Koscielny in the defense, and Olivier Giroud up front in the attack. And given the relatively easy outlook in Group E, we could well see this trio of Arsenal players advancing well into the World Cup.

Arsenal will also have a heavy impact on a German squad that many have tabbed as the strongest European contender for this summer’s World Cup. Like England, the Germans have a very difficult group to get through (featuring Portugal, USA, and Ghana), but they are still heavy favourites to advance, potentially as far as the final. And a few Arsenal stars will likely be there to help them do it. In the defence, Per Mertesacker is likely to receive a roster invite, though there will be competition in the backfield. Mesut Ozil will play one role or another in the German attack, likely seeing time at midfield but potentially playing up a bit as well to allow the veteran German midfield to stay intact. And then of course there’s Lukas Podolski, who is confident in his role despite some whispers that he may be left off the 2014 World Cup roster.

Ozil

Ozil the talisman for Germany?

That essentially makes up the bulk of Arsenal’s potential impact on the World Cup. There are a few other possibilities, such as Nacho Monreal or Mikel Arteta breaking through for the Spanish side, but for the most part Gunners supporters should be focused on England, France, and Germany this time around. It’s been a disappointing stretch for a couple of months for Arsenal, but seeing the club’s best players on the world’s biggest stage is always a great deal of fun.