Shocks, Gabriel and a tactical overview of Brighton

Well what a weekend of FA Cup football we have witnessed, eh? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this, with a host of ‘big’ teams crashing out to supposed inferior opposition. And at home too.

Chelski, Spuds and City were all sent packing and the form team and surprise package this season – Southampton – also suffered at the hands of the new South London based Messiah Alan Pardew. With a little help from some Arsenal connections past and present in Sanogo and Chamakh. I’m pleased for Sanogo and if he uses this as a platform to kick on and score plenty of goals for Palace, then it can only be a good thing for us. Maybe, just maybe, that thing that Wenger sees in Yaya that none of us feel like we’ve witnessed to date, will emerge…

All of these upsets and we haven’t even mentioned the fact that the Gabriel Paulista deal is essentially done and dusted. He was pictured waving goodbye to the crowd at Villareal’s home game against Levante and it looks like he was presented with a Yellow Submarine trophy. He’s obviously held in good regards by the fans and one hopes that we’ve got ourselves quite some player who can challenge Kos and Per.

So we find ourselves in spirited moods this morning, but that can only be perpetuated by a victory away to Brighton this afternoon. With so many of the clubs that we would fear falling to the wayside yesterday afternoon, it is important that we don’ fall victim to this extraordinary weekend of cup upsets. Arsene has already fired warning shots in the direction of his team to keep them on their toes and prepared for a battle, to which I think we are almost certainly going to face on the South Coast today, so our players have to be ready and we have to be set up to expose Brighton’s weaknesses.

I suspect that there will be rotation, but it won’t be the kind of rotation that see’s the whole squad being replaced I think, just some of the players who might not have played recently. I think that we might see the return of Szczesny and Chambers to the defensive set up. Nacho Monreal has deserved his starting place and keeping Gibbs out of the side, but I wonder if Arsene will give Gibbs a run out at left back. I’d assume that given Bellerin and The Ox are doubts, that Arsene will possible not risk either, but I think the official site had a picture of Bellerin in training, so he might just start.

Midfield will see the return of Mesut to the team – most likely in place of Santi – and I hope Arsene gives Rosicky a run out too. Although Ramsey has only just come back from injury and needs to play himself back into fitness, so that might force Wenger’s thinking a little bit. He may opt to rotate Coquelin for Flamini, but with the form the youjnger Frenchman’s in, plus the fact that he’s not played a lot of football this season so will hardly be suffering from fatigue, I think he will probably get the nod over the Flamster. Up top we’ll see Giroud and Walcott I’m sure and the question just needs to be asked whether or not Alexis is started. I think Arsene will probably go for our Chilean. He’s not showed any signs of being fatigued and after a week since our last game, will most likely still be fresh.

But if I’m completely honest, I’ve got absolutely no idea how Arsene will set the team up, or who he will use in what position. Which is probably a good thing for our squad rotation purposes. We have options. I’d imagine we’ll have a very strong bench and hopefully that will give the manager – as well as us – some comfort that we have the required firepower to see us into the fifth round. And what an opportunity we’d have of retaining the cup if we do. Sure, there are Manchester United, Liverpool and Stoke still in the competition, plus a West Ham team who look like they’ve really notched up a gear, but I would not fear those teams as much as I’d fear going to Chelski or Moneychester City – despite the win last weekend.

All of this is rather redundant presuming on my part, because we’ll face a Chris Hughton side who will fancy getting some revenge from two years ago. On that day it was an inspired Giroud finish and a Walcott goal that was the difference between the two teams and although we progressed, we were really penned back at times. Brighton’s current league position belies their form. They’ve won four of their last five games and although they established themselves as a passing team under Gus Poyet, they have become a little more direct under Hughton I believe. I haven’t watched much of them, l but it does look as if they set up with a 4-2-3-1 similar to how we play, but whether or not they try to out-pass us is something that I’m pretty confident we won’t see. If Brighton are going to get anything against us they’ll need to move the ball quickly from front to back and probably look to expose any perceived weakness we have – particularly on the right hand side of our defence with either Chambers of Bellerin playing. If I was Hughton I’d be looking at getting my team breaking forward as quickly as possible and putting balls in to our box from the right hand side.

As for us, we need to use our pace on the flanks to expose Brighton’s defensive frailties. When Theo and Mesut were able to link up for that first game against Sunderland in September last year, Theo had chance after chance by playing high and running in between full back and Wes Brown. We need to see that link up again and I think if Ozil is given time on the ball, he’ll find either Walcott or Alexis in space. One just hopes that Brighton don’t sit too deep, because without a lot of grass to run in to, Walcott has often been negated.

Today we simply must take advantage of the shocks from this weekend and get our spot in the hat of balls for the fifth round. It is by far a forgone conclusion, but there is a huge opportunity of winning the most realistic trophy for us this season, so it is imperative that the players take the chance that they will be given by winning this afternoon.

Come on you reds!

Find Wenger’s kidnapper

This country I reside within is beings severely punished at the moment. How else can you explain the ridiculously cold weather that we’re having to endure? I mean really, 2’C? Madness!

I tell you who else is mad: Arsène Wenger, that’s who. I think the present cold snap has frozen his transfer deflector shields, because yesterday he was asked a direct question about a player who doesn’t play for us and is not on the verge of signing, and essentially admitted that if we get the work permit situation sorted the deal can be done.

Who are you and what have you done with Monsieur Wenger? That must be some sort of silicon infused android, because Arsène is normally way more guarded than he was yesterday, so I’m thinking that we have to start a man-hunt for Arsène’s captor. Think about it: defensively resolute against the champions at the weekend, admitting to transfer business that the android himself said was 50-50, then next thing you know he’ll be wearing a baseball cap on the touchline and publicly chastising players in the post-match presser. The evidence was there in his press conference yesterday too, identifying the strikers and singling out Joao Teixeira by the looks of the official site transcript of his conference yesterday. Arsène Wenger. Looking at an opponent and their weaknesses. And looking to nullify them. People: this is not a drill – a mans life could be at stake here!

There’s only one way we can find out if it’s the real Arsène: give him a really long coat with a zip. If he does it up first time, we bullet the evil android in the head and start the search immediately.

There are plenty of suspects. Ivan Gazidis, looking to finally have some control and therefore investing some of his sizabel bonus on the technology to build an Alien-style part human, part machine. Jurgen Klopp, who is looking for an exit from his Dortmund nightmare and has also invested some of his annual chunk of change on developing the technology. Hey, maybe it’s Dick Law, who is fed up with being given the run-around by 18 year-old prospects and has kidnapped Arsène and will never release him, just get ‘Evil Arsène’ to do his dirty work so all he has to do is to turn up and collect a player from the airport.

Clever Dick.

Of course I jest, but the important thing I guess, is that we are making serious moves in the market and we’re doing it almost a week before the transfer trapdoor slams shut until June. I just hope – and suspect it’s the case – that we have other options on standby in case we don’t get the positive response from the Home Office that we’re looking for.

The team news ahead of the weekend has some question marks, but I think I’ll leave the pondering on the eventual line up until Sunday morning, because I suspect a few players will be rotated. Arsène already admitted that Özil would start and with Santi in what Le Boss described as ‘the best form of his career’, it seems strange that our record signing has to contend with FA Cup appearances to show that he can get back into the side. It’s a strange and beautiful situation for Wenger to be in and, if Mesut runs the game on Sunday, it makes it delightfully more difficult for Arsène to choose who starts the following week. I’m sure he’s not worried about that in the slightest though.

He also didn’t seem too fussed about the Coquelin contract situation either, so hopefully that will be wrapped up soon, because we lose quite a few midfielders in the summer and even with Coquelin, we still need another defensive minded midfielder in my opinion. I just hope Le Boss’ confidence that the deal will be done isn’t just a smokescreen like the Flamini situation the first time around that we had him.

There’s plenty more Arsenal stuff that I could be babbling on about today, but I’m running out of time as my Met line train hurtles towards Finchley Road and ‘Nosignalsville’, so I’m afraid I must cut my ramblings short and hope you have a less frost-laden day than I am having.

Out.

Arsenal hear me on Bielik; what does defensive strengthening mean for Chambers?

It appears I must have some sort of political sway at Arsenal HQ, because after my plea for the Bielik deal to be announced, low and behold the young fella turns up on the official site as a confirmed signing.

I do find it interesting that young plays – boys really – that come from other clubs are given the same ‘new signing’ treatment that big money players in their prime get. Yesterday we had pictures, and official announcement and whilst there hasn’t been any kind of interview or comments from the 17-year-old yet, it wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t see those over the coming days.

Perhaps part of it is driven by the clear lust of fans like me wanting to see that a deal has been done for supposedly one of the hottest young prospects in Europe in his age group. At 6ft 2′ and still only 17, there’s room for Krystian to be a big player in more ways than one at the club, but I do wonder what pressure it puts him under now that the deal is done. After all, Jack Wilshere came from the youth ranks, et was not afforded any kind of fanfare when he signed his professional terms with the club at 16.

I think it’s probably unlikely that Bielik will be in with the first team straight away, despite what Arsène says, so he’ll probably go into our youth setup. So what will the relationship be with the younger players who are probably earning less than him, yet still have the same goal: to make it in to the first team? Will he have to endure extra knocks in training, or in under-21 games? Or will he play under-18 football for the remainder of this season? All is to be revealed, obviously, but I guess what I’m getting at here is that his path to glory may be more difficult because of the very nature of his arrival; a £2.5million price tag for a young superstar whose bones still probably haven’t stopped growing.

Maybe I need to think less about this sort of stuff. After all, Aaron Ramsey arrived at Arsenal for double that fee at 17 and look where he has managed to get to. Sure, that was a road that had his bumps, much like Bielik’s will surely have along the way, but if his character is strong like Ramsey’s, then we’ll have quite a player on our hands I’m sure.

He does look a little like an even henchman from a Batman movie. Don’t know if that’s just me or not…

There’s not really masses going on in terms of news today. There’s quite a bit of chatter about Gabriel Paulista, but as I rarely watch Spanish football and haven’t seen Villareal even once this season, I can’t really give you an informed opinion I’m afraid. If said player does arrive though, one would assume that he’d be looking to get more game time than that of a fourth choice centre half, so you’d expect Chambers to play that role as deputy to the deputy centre half. With Bellerin impressing at right back, he might find his game time limited, but given the number of games he’s already played this season, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. He’s shown he is a very good defender, one for the future, but we’ve relied on him too much and we need him to develop in a way that he isn’t run into the ground by the time he hits 21. Confidence plays such a massive part in football and we don’t want his dented.

So perhaps we’ll see Chambers alternating defensive responsibilities with Bellerin over the next three months, which will be good for both players, as they know that there is competition in the team but equally they have a chance to play more games. Much like we don’t want to throw Bellerin in all of the time, we can alternate his frequency of appearances in the first team.

This all goes to show that all of this juggling, when you have such a big squad, isn’t as easy as it looks I suppose. You have to balance between the hear and now and the future of the club when you’re in a position like Arsenal. We need to give young players enough exposure to the first team so they grow into first team regulars, but at the same time not too much exposure so that their careers are – as Arsène would say – ‘killed’.

Who’d be a football manager, eh?

‘Classics’, kids and contracts

As we lurch ever closer to this weekend’s game against Moneychester City, the build up is already beginning by the media online, talking up ‘classics’ and how this weekend’s game will compare to encounters between the two games.

I have to say I don’t really remember too many ‘classics’, if I’m honest, because we were either dominant in beating a mid-table team at best, or we’ve been pretty much dominated since they were the second English winners of the football lottery, sponsored by Oil Whores Plc. Still, I suppose it fits a narrative for Sky to try and whip up expectation and viewing figures, I suppose.

We’ll no doubt hear about the squad availability from Arsène today, but I’m not sure when the full presser will be, given that it’s a Sunday game. It might still be tomorrow, but we’ll just have to wait with baited breath. A little bit like we’re waiting for some sort of transfer to be sorted for the problems of depth we currently face. Here’s a question: when does ‘baited breath’ becoming ‘holding your breath’? Because I’m sure there’s a few that would suggest avoiding doing that in terms of transfers.

There is one that is supposedly almost concluded and, when I asked The Management who she thought Arsenal might be about to announce as a signing, whilst not being able to name the person she did a pretty good job of getting the attributes right.
– A position where they don’t need to sign anybody
– A 17 year old who won’t make the first team
– foreigner

Two out of three ain’t bad, is it? It’s a worrying sign when even your loved ones can predict what sort of player the club are going to sign, and that player rarely ends up being what we need for the here and now.

Still, the club are active, the lad Bielik seems to be a hot prospect and one would imagine that there will be a need for him over the next couple of years as Arteta’s career begins to wind down and Flamini has another form of card created just because of referees overuse of the yellow one they bring out for him every game.

The club are active, that’s a positive, right? Yeah, definitely a positive. Definitely. We’ll definitely address our deficiencies within the next two weeks. Definitely.

Maybe.

Even if it’s just a loan.

Anyway, don’t crack Chris, because you’ve managed to avoid being sucked too deep into the transfer quagmire that is the January window thus far. Just two weeks to go.

For Poldi, it’s about four and a half months to go at Inter and, supposedly after telling the press about him wanting a little more respect from Arsène after his departure, he’s said that he’s not sure what his future will hold. He’ll return to Arsenal in the summer and find out, he says, but I think we all know (and he does too) that he will be finding a new club in the summer. Even if there was a chink of light at the end of the tunnel that is his Arsenal career, those words he spoke to the press will have hardly given Arsène any more desire to bring him back in the summer, will they?

That’s probably why I was so sceptical at first. I mean, why burn bridges at the club that still holds your contract, when you could end up going back there anyway? It’s a strange one. You don’t have to look far back into the Arsenal archives to see an example of a player who burned bridges, then ended up spending a season at the club because we were short of players in that position. It’s what happened last season when the ‘marriage of convenience’ was forged with Bendtner and Wenger. Bendtner had spent all summer telling everyone he was offski, had offers, didn’t want to be at The Arsenal, only to have his route blocked and end up having to spend a season as a man of last resort for Le Boss to call on. It wouldn’t surprise me at all for Podolski to have a similar situation in the summer if his time at Inter Milan is a hit. He’s on big wages and there are a lot of clubs that just can’t afford it.

There’s nothing else that’s really kicking around that I can see at the moment. Not related to the first team, anyway, as Benik Afobe never really got close to establishing himself at the club and I can understand why Arsenal and Wolves found it quite easy to come to an agreement over his signature. The player that they clearly want to try and tie down is Akpom, who has looked like he is being looked at by a number of clubs across Europe, and with his contract running out at the end of the season you can understand why he’s holding out to find out how close he thinks he can get to the first team. Unlike last season, where he would probably have been given more chances had he developed a year earlier, this season we’re quite well stocked in the attacking department. So if Akpom is finding his route to first team football a bit congested, you can understand his reluctance to sign on the dotted line. I suspect that will play out a bit more – possibly until the end of the season – where he might decide to move on. If the club really do expect big things from him though, we’ll know soon enough as they’d probably spend a few bob to try to keep him.

See thee tomorrow, my wonderful friends.

Searching where we need; Santiago the Spanish Prince

So it appears as though the club are finally shifting gears in the transfer market, with Legia Warsaw publicly announcing that they have rejected a bid from us for their highly rated youngster Krystian Bielik, no doubt in an attempt to sound out other teams and engage in a bidding war. Whether or not that is enough to have Arsène and co. running for the hills remains to be seen, but it is perhaps positive that the club are looking to strengthen.

But perhaps most shockingly of all, he plays in a position in which we actually need cover for, as a defensive midfielder. Now, I’m not going to suggest that he’s a player that can saunter straight into the first team, as he would clearly be earmarked as a long-term successor to Arteta. But at least we’re going after defensive midfielders. You never know, we might even be able to muster enough courage to pick up a defender in this transfer window, rather than our usual tactic of buying players where we already have an abundance of talent (anybody for a Sissoko?). You there at the back, stop laughing…

So at least there’s been some early movement there. Now, let’s park the shitefest that is the transfer window, taking some time to admire a certain Santiago Cazorla, who I think has a first name that has been massively underused since his arrival to this country. It makes him sound like a Spanish Prince who will come and steal your wife with his good looks, tall and strapping physique and long, flowing hair. Thankfully, he has none of those physical attributes, but he is a remarkable footballer and has stepped up in a big way since we had The Great Arsenal Injury Crisis of 2014. Which was way worse than The Great Arsenal Injury Crisis of 2013. Or 2012. Or 2011. Or perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps it should be renamed The Annual Great Arsenal Injury Crisis?

Anyway, I’m digressing my main point, which is to heal much of the praise I have for today onto our diminutive Spaniard, who has been a revelation over the last month to six weeks. He has relished his role as the ‘Playmaker-In-Chief’ and has been central to the good football we have seen (in patches) since the beginning of December. The way in which he has been able to find those killed balls in behind defences has been joyous to watch and on top of that, he’s also added more of a goal threat to his play, which has spread the burden away from Alexis and the other forwards.

With a host of players returning over the next few weeks, including a certain Turko-German number 10, it will be pleasing for Arsène to know that he has options and in-form players that mean that it won’t be easy for Mesut to win his place back.

It’s the same with Theo. The form of Alexis and the role that Giroud plays, effectively means that Walcott is fighting with The Ox, Welbeck and to a lesser extent Campbell, so whilst he gives us something that others do not – direct running in behind defenders with great pace – we’ve already seen that he’s not going to be fast-tracked into the first team and his inclusion from the start is far from a foregone conclusion. Arsène has already said post-Hull, that the fans should not expect too much from Walcott, having been out for so long. But perhaps it is a positive sign that I look at our forward options and I have less of a concern or pressing desperation to see Theo thrown in and banjaxed so quickly because we’ve had to rush him back.

Hey, perhaps this will show Arsène that when you have enough cover in certain positions, you don’t have to rush players back or run them into the ground because there are no other options? Nah, you’re right, probably not.

Anyway, that’ll do for one days incessant rambling, I think. See thee tomorrow.

Podolski Inter Milan, Arsenal in ‘ter’ a tricky Brighton tie

So the club finally announced the Podolski to Inter deal yesterday, after he was picture in an Inter shirt, scarf, outside the ground and thanking everyone for making it happen. I have to say I did find it somewhat amusing that it isn’t just the incoming announcements that we always seem to announce on the site until the whole world knows anyway. I take comfort in that fact.

Perhaps there is literally one guy at Arsenal who does ALL the paperwork? That would explain why it takes so long. After all, faxing through so many papers must be a real toil.

Of course I’m being a little bit tongue-in-cheek this morning, but with a very effective bench option now displaced, it’s a little bit sad that somebody with such an effervescent nature and ruthless finish just didn’t quite have that final extra parts to his game to be a superstar. I’m not even talking about technique. Imagine if Podolski had the same engine as Alexis? If he was able to zip backwards and forwards along he left hand side of the pitch, helping out defensively, but also able to get into positions like he did for us on a more regular basis? He’d probably still be an integral part of the team. We know that Arsène likes his team’s to be technically sound, but you can’t tell me that if there was somebody who was a cold-bloodied killer in front of goal, that just lacked an ability to pick a pass but was able to contribute both defensively and offensively, that Arsène wouldn’t have given him more game time? Even this season when we have the options we have, I still think that more application would have seen Poldi have at least an additional half a dozen games.

He would probably have been able to find himself in better positions too, if he’d have pushed himself more physically. His positioning in the final third was never that bad, but quite often we’d find him exchange passes with other players in the middle of the park, then when it came to the sharp end of the pitch, he would be lagging behind a little bit. Imagine if his work rate allowed him to be more involved in the play all over the pitch? What a player he could have been.

It’s a strange one too because usually, when a player gets his marching orders from Arsène, it’s been because he has no future and the fans have had enough of said player anyway. We haven’t sold a ‘star’ in a few years, just squad players like Vermaelen and Gervinho, so to see a player who still has a rapport with the fans as well as a clear value at the club (albeit with finished responsibility over the last year or so), means that many are still split over whether we should have gone against the players wishes and kept him until the summer. You can bet you’re bottom dollar Jose would have done that. But then again, he is a tosser and cares not for player desires, rightly or wrongly.

Anyway, he’s out on loan now and, at 29, that loan isn’t so he can win a place back in the Arsenal team in the summer. He’s going to be putting himself in the shop window and good luck to him on that front. I guess the positive is that because we still hold his papers, we can be sure that we don’t sell him to an English club who he will then almost inevitably score against us, at every opportunity he gets.

The opportunity for Campbell and Akpom now is clear. With Sanogo likely to disappear on loan for game time, those two along with Theo, have one less player to navigate around to get into the starting XI. There’s no doubt Theo will see more than the other two, but I just wonder if Akpom doesn’t fancy his chances, especially as he’s tended to get on a little bit more than Campbell has this season. We shall see.

What we’ll also be seeing towards the end of January, is a replay of the 2013 FA Cup game between Brighton and Arsenal, as both teams were drawn out of the velvet bag of balls yesterday. Of course it was a little bit too much to ask for Cambridge United at home, as Louis van Gaal snaffled up the world supply of rabbits feet and four leaf clovers before the draw was announced, but whilst an away trip to the south coast might be a tricky encounter, you’d have to fancy our chances. Bring on ex-spud Hughton I say!

That’s pretty much it from me today. Nowt else worth talking about, especially as we have to wait a whole five days before we see The Arsenal again. We won’t see any transfers for another three weeks, so there’s no point even bothering to speculate on that part of football.

Adios amigos!

2014: cup goodness balanced by league failings

So here we are. We arrive at the final day of 2014 and I have to tell you, it’s a year in which I find myself reflecting on both highs and lows for The Arsenal. But in true Arsenal fashion, the lows are really quite low (or so it feels), where as the highs are very high indeed. I suppose that’s par of the course for the average Gooner these days; each membership card should probably come with some sort of relaxing bath soak, smelling salts or at least a ‘warning: not suitable for those of a nervous disposition’ advice label attached to the other side of it.

Do you remember this time last year? I do. We were all astounded at how well 2013 had gone in the league. We’d put together a phenomenal run of wins to snatch fourth from the Spuds, then followed that up by a summer acquisition of Mesut Özil and another stunning run which positioned us at the top of the league and had us all dreaming of glory.

Of course, as far as the league was concerned, 2014 was to prove to be a complete pain in the you know what, as we slipped away in the league and have seen us look a shadow of our former selves this season through injuries and defeats, the likes of which we did not see in 2013/14. From a Premier League perspective, I have to be honest and say that I’m glad to be rid of 2014, because for me it’s been the year of ‘even more injuries’. We know that we always pick up injuries every season – we’re used to that by now – but 2014 seems to have seen The Arsenal pick up injury after injury; usually in the same positions!

But sandwiched in between the angst, the dropping into the race for fourth and the poor form of this season, was the extreme high of winning a cup. I’ve seen Arsenal win trophies before. And I’ve seen Arsenal lift the FA Cup live and in the flesh. But none of the trophies that I’ve seen gave me the same jubilation as the FA Cup. That was special. It was special because we had waited so long. It was special because we’d done it be beating mostly Premier League teams all the way to the final (Chelski take note). It was special because it was done in dramatic fashion. And it was special because it finally felt like we could all move on. Like we could get rid of that commentators cursed “haven’t won a trophy in x years” rubbish. It was like we were suddenly ready to emerge from our stasis. We’d endured the ugly pupation stage and a beautiful butterfly would now emerge.

We even bought ourselves a gem in Alexis, who would lift us into the lofty position of challenging for the league, or at least so we thought. For this season so far has been a stuttering and spluttering half to it. We have been punctured by injuries, but even before that we struggled to change gear. The idea that Arsenal play the most attractive football in the league has also slowly evaporates. We are no longer the footballistic ideal for the purist. We are a team that lurches and creaks when it’s parts are so regularly changed because of the brittle nature of some of our players.

Yet still, despite this disappointment, this season offers some hope. As 2015 arrives upon us, we find players like Özil, Koscienly and Walcott coming back into the team, we find a manager who is making strong comments about strengthening us defensively, plus we are still in the FA Cup and Champions League. Victory against QPR and West Ham has seen us draw level on points with Southampton and a win tomorrow will see us take poll position for the #RaceForFourth. Yes, I know it’s not something we’re all going to get overly excited about, but if we can achieve it and win another trophy, then we can put this season to bed and begin the process of hoping for change come June.

Happy New Year to you, fellow Gooners, drink a lot and be merry. And hopefully we’ll see a fabulous 2015 for The Arsenal.

See thee tomorrow.