What’s wrong with defence? No silver bullet

Do you feel like we dodged a bullet by avoiding Balotelli and plumping instead for Welbeck? After Danny notched his fifth of the season, whilst Mad Mario failed repeatedly to get off the mark yesterday, it’s impossible not to breathe a sigh of relief, because I’ll be honest and say I thought he’d have been a great signing at The Arsenal.

Thankfully though we have found ourselves a couple of forwards in Alexis and Welbeck, who look every bit the success so far, so we can only hope that they continue their good run of scoring over the coming months. Because let’s face it, with the rate at which we’re conceding goals, we’re going to need them to keep banging them in just to stay close to the hunt for a top four spot. Which is what leads me to my central point of discussion today:

What has happened to our defence?

This season already we’ve conceded 11 goals in the league. In just eight games. That’s nearly a goal and a half each match and the contrast between the team this season and the one that made a fabulous habit of clean sheets last season is marked. I don’t have a ‘run rate’ of when we’d conceded our 11th goal in the league last season, but I’d expect to find out that we were near the halfway mark in the season when we did. Two goals against Leicester, Everton, Chelski, Dortmund and Hull. The list is mounting and it’s filling me with more trepidation than anything else.

Last seasons success was built on a miserly approach to football matches. We were pragmatic in our play: stay strong and hard to break down at the back, get the lead and never look like giving it away, which was the blueprint for a very good season until March when the injuries and lack of pace up top kicked in. It was the sharp end of the team that derailed our title charge in 13/14, but it’s the defence that has in my opinion, already destroyed our hopes of a first league title in 11 years.

So why are we so different? What has changed about the back four that was there last year but not this? Barring Sagna, it certainly hasn’t been the personnel. Szczesny, Gibbs, Koscienly and Mertesacker have – by and large – been present for most of this season. They were present for a vast bulk of last season too. We all agree (I think) that Debuchy for Sagna was a very close ‘like-for-like’ and whilst he’s been out for a few weeks, it’s hardly been his absence that has caused us to haemorrhage goals with such frequency, has it? And anyhow, our conceding of goals hasn’t all been down the right hand side of our team, so you can’t really point the finger of blame in the direction where Sagna has been.

Most Arsenal fans I know have also been very happy with Chambers too. So why on earth, when individually the players don’t seem to be playing so badly, are we dropping points quicker than a slippery bar of soap? I don’t really understand it. Sure, I have theories, but there isn’t really any kind of insight or evidence to back up my argument. And in football it is very rare that ongoing issues with a team performance come down to one or two key factors.

I don’t believe, for example, that not having a tough-tackling, ball-winning midfielder would have stopped every goal we’ve conceded from going in. As much as the need exists, I don’t think the role of the fabled ‘DM’ played that much part in the second goal for Hull on Saturday. Had our giant German not been caught under the flight of the ball he might have been able to nod that away from Hernandez.

The same goes with another centre half. Had we have kept Vermaelen in the summer, for example, it would still probably have been Per that was caught under the flight of the ball.

So perhaps it is the form of the players? There’s no doubt that Per and Kos haven’t been as effective as last season. Mertesacker was the chief protagonist for goal number two on Saturday in my opinion, but Koscienly has also been guilty of lapses in concentration, like at Leicester (although whether he should have remained on the pitch after his head injury is another question entirely).

When Szczesny suffered his dip in form a few seasons back, many said it was because he was not in competition from any serious number two, a fact I believe he has even alluded to. Is this the case for our two central defenders? Perhaps there’s something in that you know. Both Per and Kos know that their only real competition is a 19-year-old who had made a handful of first team appearances until last season. Thankfully for us, he has hit the ground running and looked a superb centre half, but we all know that when fit, he will step back on to the subs bench.

It’s all very well looking at the problems defensively when injuries set in, but it’s that element of competition that also plays a part in player form, so by refusing to address the defensive issues in the summer, the manager has also made it doubly hard for himself by not providing enough of a stick with which to nudge the central pairing a little when they aren’t quite at their best.

Again, I don’t think that can be attributed as the single reason as to why we are not looking as resolute at the back as we did last season because let’s face it, Per and Kos are professionals and they will be trying their hardest to remain at the peak of their games. I don’t want to accuse both of a lack of incentive, because I don’t think that’s the case, but I do think that sometimes you need as much stick as carrot in any profession.

So is it the formation? Everyone talks about this 4-1-4-1 formation, and how it is costing us games, but the defensive side of the team hasn’t changed shape-wise. We still have a goalkeeper like last season. We still have a back four. And one of our midfielders still sits more deeper lying than the others. There may be questions around the success of the style and change in approach going forward, but defensively we should be the same as we were last season. As much as I am not a fan of the change in style (although I still remain to be convinced that it is 4-1-4-1. It still looks very similar to last season, but with some players playing in positions less familiar to them e.g. Özil), if you imagine that we were as tight defensively as last season, we’d probably have not conceded against the Spuds, City, Hull and Leicester. That’s 12 points instead of four and puts us just a few off the pace of the runaway leaders Chelski.

So to my mind the change in formation hasn’t really affected us defensively. We’ve just not been as good for some reason.

I really can’t work out why we’re so different. Perhaps there is some sort of training regime defensively that isn’t working? I don’t know why we would change a successful formula from last season though. We found something that worked and the manager would surely not have wanted to tinker with that. Would he?

Maybe it’s the World Cup hangover? But Szczesny and Gibbs didn’t go and Koscienly didn’t play all the the way to the final. Chambers wasn’t in the England squad, so it’s only Debuchy and Mertesacker that you could potentially argue have suffered as a result. But again, Debuchy has looked good individually this season, so what, are we putting our defensive frailty down solely to the German and our vice-captain? I certainly don’t think that is the answer and whilst his form hasn’t been amazing, it’s hardly been Rio Ferdinand-esque off the form Richter scale.

I think ultimately what I’m getting at is that there is no silver bullet to explain why we’re all wobbly defensively this season. It’s a combination of factors that aren’t working and as I said in my blog yesterday, it’s just not clicking at the moment. In a way, I wish it was one single factor, because at least then the club can look to isolate, mitigate and minimise the problem as soon as possible. But with so many factors probably contributing, one suspects that we might go through quite a bit more pain this season before we sort ourselves out.

Catch ye’ in the morrow.

Defensive worries lead to schoolyard tactics?

With Arsène taking to the stage at both his press conference and the AGM yesterday, there was a veritable feast of soundbitiness from which we can all pour over this Friday before the game against Hull tomorrow.

First and foremost, injuries, to which the news is mixed. In this age of instant information, most of what Le Boss said was common knowledge by the time he said it, but it’s the Koscienly news that was the most worrying for me. The reason I say that is because there was no return date put on his recovery time and availability. Arsène simply explained the prognosis and said that he has to rely on the player who said he is not ready. Reports this morning from the gutter press are that he’ll face around four weeks out and whilst that is unconfirmed, when you have a club like ours who seem to always underestimate recovery times, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that there’s a bit more truth to that figure than we’d all like to believe.

Again, like a broken record, it does baffle you how the club did not address the defensive cover issue. It’s a question that was broached at the AGM yesterday and whilst Sir Chips and Ivan were very clear that there is more money to spend after the summers splurge, Arsène interestingly declined to comment. He was probably still feeling from the admission from Sir Chips that the club back the manager when he has a plan and stay out of it when he doesn’t.

Righto. So there was no plan then? That’s a shocking ‘reading-between-the-lines’ admission from the club and Arsène declining to comment doesn’t really help. But there’s nothing really that we can do about it so we just have to hope that tomorrow’s replacement – Nacho Monreal (who has admitted it has felt strange playing at centre half. Yes kids, I’m scared too) – can quickly adapt and prove himself an able body in the heart of our defence.

Anyway, I think we should seriously consider playing a 1-1-4-4 formation at the weekend and see if we can’t recreate a school yard kick-about with a 12-10 score line against The Tigers tomorrow. How awesome would that be? As long as Arsène doesn’t tell his boys to pick the ball up and go in for tea after 60 minutes because James Chester has been calling Alexis names. Jack would probably try and deck him anyway.

I’ve found it fascinating how much time and commentary has been apportioned to the Özil injury, which Arsène again felt the need to clarify the situation regarding him playing on at Chelski two weeks ago. I suppose Arsène probably feels he should have kept relatively schtum about the whole thing, because as soon as it came out the whole world jumped on it in exasperation at why he was allowing a player to play on despite injury. I too had a bit of a rant on the blog earlier in the week and so must hold myself as guilty as charged to my furore over the mismanagement of the injury. Wenger and his medical staff are still culpable for not being overly cautious on a players health, but their failure to act is not as extreme as it originally appeared.

There was even a hint that the injury won’t be as long as we thought, but let’s not imagine we’ll be seeing him back to full fitness much before the Christmas period now, eh?

Still, for all the doom and gloom on injuries, at least we have Diaby back. And Arteta. And Ramsey from Monday. And Walcott probably next week too, who will play in an under-21s game tonight and assuming he comes through unscathed, will most likely be involved in some capacity next weekend at Sunderland one would hope.

Arsène also talked us through the issue on racism in football management, the Invincibles and the Champions League coefficient, but if I’m completely honest with you having listened to the full presser this morning, I am less inclined to go into that stuff in more detail. Not because it is not interesting to talk about, but more because the questions put to him felt to me as if they were just designed to get soundbites out of the manager, not to get genuine insight into football matters. So naturally, the managers response is slightly guarded and you never really get much exciting to talk about.

Later in the afternoon, our boss sauntered his way over to The Emirates for the AGM and did his narrative in front of shareholders and members of fanshare, who will be attending the AGM for the last time, as it will be closing shortly, meaning less access for real fans to attend the AGM via the scheme. It’s a shame, but not to be unexpected, and the cynic inside me was always thinking that the board and Stan probably had an extra glass of Dom Pom after the event had concluded, knowing that future AGMs won’t be nearly as potentially spicy.

The event, by the sounds of it, is a watered down affair anyway by the sounds of it. With few questions taken from the floor and almost all most certainly screened beforehand, it’s a bit of a tick box exercise in corporate governance as it is, so anybody expecting to get any real answers out of these kinds of things is always going to be disappointed.

Patiently waiting for Walcott…and Mesut…

Hooray! A long term injured player returns to the squad, as opposed to being omitted, due to a long-term injury! What a novel feeling it is to be pleased to see players like Theo Walcott back in the fold and taking part in full first team training.

He was a massive blow to have missing for most of 2013/14 due to two long-term injuries, so to have him back in the squad and available for selection is a timely boost, like being given a bottle of Lucozade after running a 10k. He will add yet more depth to our attack and his direct running and finishing will mean we have another option to try. Hopefully he can stay fit and we can finally ditch the whole ‘Mesut Özil out wide’ experiment that everyone is still a little bit baffled about.

Whether Theo will be able to start and have a serious impact for the next month will be debatable though. After all, Jack has spoken about his own recovery from long-term injury and he’s only now finding his form after some quarters of the footballing world questioned whether he’d ever get back to his best. So to expect anything from Theo for the next two to three games would be folly I think.

Still, that doesn’t mean he can’t have an impact and get himself off the mark coming on from the bench now, does it?

One question I saw on Twitter yesterday that I thought was very pertinent indeed, was posed in relation to Theo’s pace, whether or not he’d have the same level of pace as he did before the injury and whether anybody at the club has tested him. Now he’s back into full training I’m sure the fitness and medical team are monitoring closely, but with a player who has had plenty of historical injury worries, I suspect they’ll be über careful with everything Theo does for a while. At least I hope they are. I mean, they have bodged a few players’ returns by over playing them as soon as the return, or not properly resting them. So we’ll have to wait and see how sparingly he’s used.

It’s a shame that with Walcott back, Özil has now disappeared from the team for the immediate future, because upon the German’s arrival over a year ago, Theo was one of the players that profited the most from Mesut’s vision. We have pace in Welbeck and Alexis already to feed from Özil, but Walcott as a wide man loves to play very high up the pitch and look for runs in behind the back four, more so than any other player at the club I think. So I would have love to have seen those two link up upon Walcott’s rerun. Hopefully he can stay fit and when our playmaker returns they can rekindle that understanding that existed when Mesut made his debut at Sunderland last season, when he put enough balls on a plate for Walcott, that he could have dined out on them for a month.

Speaking of Mesut, he’s got a clever little PR team, eh? After the frankly ludicrous rumours of a return to the Bundesliga under Pep surfaced, he took to Twitter to thank the Arsenal fans for the messages and dismiss the Bayern Munich rumour with all the subtlety of a hashtag, using the Bavarian phrase ‘Mia San Mia’ (we are who we are) to message ‘#miasanarsenal’. In this world of reading too much into everything, I think that will do nicely to dispel any rumour and even the faintest chance that Mesut will ever leave Arsenal other than to retire when he’s 38 and having played 350 games for the club and got a bazillion assists. Simples.

Of course in the summer if Bayern were to actually come knocking in a Barcelona-esque fashion, who knows what the reaction of the player might be, but I’d like to think he’s happy and only wants to improve at The Arsenal. And he will.

We’re still waiting for the tedium of the International Break to subside, so there’s not really a lot going on, other than the relief that Welbeck should be fine for Saturday. But then again, is an ‘everything is ok’ alarm (see The Simpsons for reference) really that necessary in this instance? Probably not.

Adios amigos!

Quality fence panels, not for sitting on

I was thinking about writing something about the news that Mesut Özil might be (emphasis on ‘might’. The club have said it’s too soon to suggest how long he’ll be out for) injured until the new year, but in talking about long-term injuries, I’m starting to bore myself, so I thought I’d let someone else have the blogging soapbox for a day and talk about anything they want to.

Step forward Roy, a family friend who first introduced me to the world of watching Arsenal live and who has been a major influence on igniting my passion, much to the dismay of other family members at times I’m sure!

Roy and I had an exchange yesterday on Twitter and I told him to write a blog. So he did! Here’s his thoughts. Tell me what you think. He certainly has an opinion and is not afraid to be somebody who shares it! The title of today’s blog tries to exemplify his desire not to be seen as vanilla in his thinking, so hopefully you enjoy.

Chris

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It is time for all fans to stop this Arsène Wenger immortality (including myself as I have always refrained from criticism), because I believe he has been almost negligent in his transfer dealings for a few years – maybe more! This year, in my opinion, I believe he truly has completely lost the plot. Defenders out before we have even started this international window, (I believe we’re now looking at Calum Chambers possibly injured, which is a massive blow to all concerned), one in Debuchy who I must say looked good until his sad injury. But Calum Chambers’ injury is a big setback for us. He is certainly one for our future, but is it right that he’s been so heavily relied on at such an early stage in his career? In such a short space of time he has become more than just a squad play needing to grow and find his feet, but now finds himself as an integral part of the first team and all of the pressure and reliance that comes with it. Arsène Wenger suggests he can cope and the initial signs are good, but what happens when the inevitable drop in form (inconsistency is part of a young footballers game) occurs? This is not how a supposedly ‘top team’ should conduct it’s business I’m afraid. A top business has effective plans, contingencies, works out different scenarios and is ready for all eventualities. When can we say that has happened at The Arsenal? Don’t even get me started on the “we need just two or three more for back up in defence or defensive midfield” argument, for I fear I will never stop!

After many years of supporting Arsenal, watching my first Cup final in 1969 (when a certain Don Rogers inflicted pain on a young heart probably for the first time. Certainly I haven’t had that much pain since…actually I have…17th May 2006, Champions League Cup final in Paris. A horrid night not only for the defeat but the way we were all treated -mno matter how you travelled the whole place shut down if anyone remembers! Almost impossible to find a bar or nice restaurant and cabs all disappeared off the streets and raining. I digress but you get my feeling of hurt) I have lived through some of the barren years at the club. I understand that football has evolved and I’m not naive enough t think we can win everything all of the time, or that winning trophies is something that happens every year. But what I do believe is that you should give yourself every possible chance of success with the resources you have available. Would you say that we have done that?

That feeling of hurt that I described earlier? That’s now been happening for around four years for me. We have become a nearly team and my/our beloved Gunner’s have failed miserably to ease the same pains that those cup finals have inflicted. Why? Because we are so close. It makes it all the more painful to know you are almost there, glory tantalisingly within your grasp, yet your own restrictions caused by your manager are stopping that final step to greatness.

Yes, we papered over the cracks by a Houdini like escape against Hull and this quietened the fans, to which we were totally looking forward to a rebuilding of the team knowing money was available for Le Boss to spend. Even Piers went quiet. Or did he? Can he? Probably not. But from what I can see that is all last season was – papering over the cracks.

We now have some top quality all round with Özil and Sanchez in, our other very good players around them, and yes Ozil is struggling and I am not that qualified to make brash statements, but he is played out of position and this is completely negated in his original purpose. With the quality we have Özil is a luxury we should be able to afford in my opinion. But we need other players to be able to help make him great. That starts with a ball winner. A quality ‘DM’. Who was the last quality DM we had? Gilberto? Always there, doing a job, we certainly new when he was gone. How long ago was it he was at the club? Seven years? SEVEN YEARS???

**Editor** controversial opinion alert…..

I cannot think of worse defence in all the time I have supported the Gunners. I am not saying they are all rubbish as individuals, but collectively they lack the quality to win us the big trophies and in terms of the first team, the lack of defensive quality players, this is the worst. I may be sounding a little bit like Mr Grumpy here, but I love Arsenal and I’m not one of those moaners for moaning sake, I can assure you. I’m just frustrated because I know we are not far away from disaster in defence. One, or dare I say it two, more injuries in defence and we are Donald Ducked.

On finishing this little rant (thank you for reading by the way!), will it be all too little to late when January comes around? its time we stopped wishing for success and found someone to truly come in and give it to us again. Le Boss was a pioneer in the Premier League ten years ago, but all pioneers have to know their limits and every dog has it’s day.

My six-year-old grandson is a Liverpool fan and when we beat them at home 2-0 he said granddad my heart hurts and it is quite unbelievable the passion football can bring out within all ages. That’s what prompted today’s thoughts and after the last few weeks of that feeling I just wanted to share.

I want Arsenal to be great. We’re a great club, great fans and great history. Let’s hope we get back to our best. And soon.

Arsène and his cassette, they won’t countenance freebies

I wonder why Arsène hasn’t had his pre-match presser yet? He normally does these things on a Spursday when we’re away from home at the weekend, so to leave it all until the last minute, is a bit strange.

Mind you, given his love for a last minute deal – see any of the last four or five transfer windows for an example of that – perhaps he’s developed a penchant for leaving everything in his world to the last minute. When he needs to go the the loo (the one where you have to take a paper or your 5110 to play snakes on), I bet he waits until he is touching cloth before he heads to the throne room.

Perhaps he’s waiting for some good news on Jack and Debuchy. Maybe he thinks that if he waits a little longer he’ll be told that Debuchy will be out for two weeks whilst Jack will be ready for the weekend, but come on now Arsène, we are Arsenal. We’re masters of the worlds longest ‘three-weeks away’ injuries and unlike Chelski, who I’m convinced also sold their souls to the devil every time I see them get away with something (like the Costa lengthy injury that turned out to be a week), we aren’t afforded any kind of good fortune when it comes to injuries.

Maybe he’s just decided that he can’t be arsed with the journos any more. That would be funny. Seeing them all eagerly waiting for his arrival and which words they can seize and re-shape to their own agenda, only to be greeted with one of the PR team quietly walking in with a life-size cardboard cut out of Le Boss and a tape player – a full on old fashioned one that you have to put a cassette into – to which they hit play and all they here on a continuous loop for ten minutes is Arsène saying “congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations!” and so on and so forth.

All this is to say that there really isn’t much to say about The Arsenal today. The players have been speaking to the site about how they must learn from their mistakes, not be naive, yada-yada-yada, but we’ve all heard it before. And besides, none of us like reading or talking about the spoken response from poor performances on the official site, we like talking about how they went away from home after a tough midweek game and gave Aston Villa a right old tonking.

Obviously that’s highly unlikely, but I’d be over the moon with any result that can get us three points come 5pm on Saturday. Villa has always been a tough place for us to go, so I’m not expecting anything less that a really close game, but more on that tomorrow with a match preview I think.

There’s nowt really else going on I’m afraid. Unless you countenance the rumour that Arsenal are in for Lassana Diarra, a free agent after leaving Russia, but I’m not really buying that one I’m afraid. Firstly, he left in slightly acrimonious circumstances, bemoaning Arsène and the lack of game time he got. Secondly, he would probably represent a very Flaminiesque-style signing, to which we already have Flamini so one would have to wonder what the point would be. Thirdly, like it or not, Arsène loves Arteta and he’s his captain so I don’t think he’ll be benching him regularly this season. Do you?

So I suspect that those of you who are wondering about the free transfer market, should probably cast your gaze elsewhere, because this is the squad we have for the next three and a bit months and we need to hope that Arsène finds a solution from within to the shoddy start to the season we’ve had.

As for me, I’m going to go to work, look forward to the weekend and put up some curtains. That’s not metaphorical, I literally am putting up curtains tomorrow, I’m that rock and roll.

Catch you tomorrow.

Can we make that final step? City preview

Well Mr Matchday, you certainly took your sweet time to arrive, didn’t you? Keeping me waiting like a disgruntled commuter at a National Rail train station wasn’t my idea of fun, but you’re here now, so let’s not bicker and just get on with the rest of our Saturday, shall we?

It’s an early one for us all today, as the fates have conspired to drag us into the horrific world of early kick offs. Look, I have no real problems with the early starts in terms of the teams ability to be ‘up for it’ (it is ridiculous to assume that our players can’t be up for early kick off games based on the travesties of last season), my issue lies purely with the fact that an early start means getting up earlier on a Saturday which is not something I’m overly enamoured with. There’s also the reduction in hours of pre-match amber nectar supping. I like a beer, but I’m not starting my day at 10am with one, so it leaves me with just about enough time for a solitary pint before heading over to the ground.

All this is just the pre-amble to the main event though, so I suppose I shouldn’t be the archetypal moaning Brit and move swiftly on to our own raison d’être, which starts at 12.45pm UK time.

There’s no doubt this is by far and away the most difficult test that The Arsenal will have faced this season. The visit of Moneychester City represents the first litmus test of whether or not we have learned from our recent poor history against any of the top four clubs of seasons past. Last season saw us fail to pick up wins against City, Chelski, Everton and even the ailing Man United, so a marker of whether or not this team has the capability to challenge the top teams will need to be placed today.

I’ve said before that from a points perspective, you can easily win the league as long as you pick up points against the teams lower down the table, which is true if you think about the maths behind the logic. Home and away wins against teams from 8th position in the league downwards gives you 72 points, which is approaching a decent points tally to have a go at the league. But to get over the line you need to have wins against the bigger players not just for those few extra points, but for the psychological boost that big game victories provide. That’s why today is important. It’s not so much about the points, but about the belief that will be instilled in the team, through taking a scalp like Moneychester City.

Arsène has a litany of options at his disposal to draw upon, which is what also makes this game exciting to blog about this morning, because until those first whispers of the team sheet come in, we have no idea who is in the squad, let alone the starting eleven. I hope Arsène opts for ‘pace, pace, pace’ and we see Welbeck flanked by The Ox and Alexis, but I suspect that Özil or Cazorla might be moved to the left, as I think Arsène wants to include both in his team selection. I’m certainly not in the camp that believes having Özil out wide is conducive to getting the best out of his game, but that appears to be where his temporary home is at the moment, so we’ll all have to accept it. I also seem to be in the minority at the moment regarding Cazorla. I actually don’t believe that the diminutive Spaniard has had the best of starts to the season, flitting in and out of games far too much (an accusation oft levelled at Özil but not his teammate), so I wouldn’t be too worried if the Ox was preferred. I love Santi as a footballer and when he is on song his game is fabulous to watch, but I just feel like he hasn’t hit the form of when he arrived and it’s a shame that we’re not seeing the Santi that we all know can change a match. Perhaps I’m being too harsh.

The midfield also has a plethora of options to choose from, so Arsène’s difficult decisions don’t just stop at the pointy end of the team, as he’ll need to work out who from Ramsey, Arteta, Wilshere, Rosicky and Flamini occupy the two midfield positions if, as expected, both Özil and Cazorla play. I suspect the decision will hinge on how recovered Rambo is from his midweek ankle roll, as I’d think the first two names from that list I’ve just reeled off, will be given priority. It will be another source of irritation for Rosicky, but Arsène isn’t going to drop his captain or last seasons player of the year, so he’ll just have to accept it.

As for our opponents, a Jovetic injury is all I believe they are suffering from, so we know that they will be at almost full strength when they line up against us. Last season they were the free-scoring champions, but I wonder if Pellegrini will be as gung-ho in a match today as his team was at times last season. At The Emirates he needed only a draw realistically to ensure that his team kept on the march to the title. Today’s game is similar in requirements for his team I suspect, i.e. do not lose, so I wonder if he’ll look to try and stay solid defensively whilst catching us on the counter attack.

City will rely on the guile of Silva and Nasri, sure for a spicy reception as always, whilst Dzeko will occupy both Per and Kos at varying times. It’s a team that has threats all over the park, but despite our less than stellar start to the season, I think the openness of today’s game will give our players the chance to express themselves more freely and occupy space that wasn’t afforded to them against Palace or Leicester.

I feel cautiously optimistic about today’s game. Let’s hope it’s not misguided optimism. A win would be a perfect catalyst for a good run against a number of difficult opponents, but I think we have the firepower now to cope with our schedule and demonstrate to the rest of the league that we’re serious title contenders.

Victories against teams like City feels like the final piece in our league title puzzle. That one final step. That’s all we’ve got to overcome.

Come on Arsenal!

Assumptions on Arsène, team photos and Welbeck’s motivation

Right, plenty to sink our teeth into this morning, so let’s get stuck in there like a Suarez.

Team photos! Don’t you just love them? They’re great for seeing who doesn’t play for the club any more in three years time. Yesterday the club had it’s team photo taken and, quite sensibly, it was done after the transfer window had slammed shut, meaning the merchandisers won’t fall foul of any Chelskiesque faux pars of featuring players that no longer play for the club beaming away in the red and white of The Arsenal.

By all accounts it looked like a happy and jovial occasion and whilst I know you can read as much into that as you can at an Arsène press conference, it’s still good to see that there appears to be enough camaraderie amongst the players. We’ve all said for some years that the group appears to be a bit more balance now the big egos of a few years ago have gone, but I see small snippets like the footage from yesterday and am comforted.

Anyway, speaking of Arsène press conferences, the wily old dog had his yesterday and finally spoke about the man of the moment Danny Welbeck. Thankfully Arsène talked up his ability in a central role and also confirmed that he was influential in the signing of said player. Of course, I don’t expect Le Boss to ask ‘who?’ when prompted on Welbeck, but it was at least pleasing to hear him speak of the new arrival and where he would fit in.

I have to join the cast and crew of those that have been a bit baffled of his statement about how the transfer happened though. In classic Wengerian, Arsène said that had he been in the country, the transfer might not have happened. Unfortunately for the manager, that has been seized upon by the press as something that is hardly a ringing endorsement, but wherever vagaries and the opportunity of a story pops up for a journo, we can hardly expect them not to manipulate.

Well I can make assumptions too, you know, so I’m going to make my own on what I thought Wenger was getting at. I suspect that what he was intimating was the fact that a normal day would have meant commitments for the club and so wouldn’t have given him so much downtime whilst waiting at the airport for the flight to depart. Think about it – how bored are you when you’re waiting for your flight? I’m not saying Arsène signed Welbeck because he was bored, but if the only thing he had to do whilst he was at the airport was keep in contact with agents and the club, he was probably pestering all parties concerned to get this over the line.

I’m afraid I don’t subscribe to the view that Arsène didn’t want Welbeck. That’s not how the club has ever been run. Let’s not forget: Arsène has Stan’s ear and if anybody were to go above his head in matters of the football team, he has the Top Trump card in the backing of the Silent One. Arsène has too much power at the club not to be a driving force behind making this transfer happen.

As for the other news, well, it all looks rather positive on the injury front doesn’t it? Arteta, Gibbs and Özil all look to be fit, as well as Ramsey who appears to have recovered from the knock he suffered in midweek international action. We’re missing a Walcott for a few more weeks, but even Diaby came through an under-21 game yesterday!

Not that we should be worried about injuries, because I think we have a strong enough squad (barring the centre halves!) to cover for the aforementioned potential absentees, but it’s great to see the manager having an almost full compliment. It means that he doesn’t just have a bit of a headache selecting the first 11, but picking the Matchday squad as a whole! Whoever he picks, there will be some quality players missing tomorrow and that can only be a good thing from an Arsenal perspective.

Actually, if I can return to the subject of Welbeck again for a minute, thanking Van Gaal for his less than complimentary commentary over the departure of Welbeck. By essentially saying that Welbeck wasn’t good enough to prove his ability to play as a central striker at United, I think he’s given Danny plenty of motivation to prove him wrong whilst at Arsenal. Hopefully he’ll show the Dutchman – yet to win a real official game as yet I hasten to add – that he has all of the attributes to be successful in the middle of the park. Hopefully the comments of the former Holland coach will give him an extra few percent of desire (not that he needs it) starting tomorrow.

It did surprise me actually when I read the slightly abrasive nature of van Gaal’s comments. It strikes me that should the decision have been reversed, Arsène would not have been so dismissive of a player that had been an integral part of winning United teams in the past. In fact, I don’t recall Arsène talking about That Dutch Bloke’s desire for ‘cash, cash, cash’ when he went the other way. I hope United don’t make top four and Welbeck bangs in the winner against them next time we meet. That’s the best way of showing van Gaal that he’s made a mistake, something that he clearly doesn’t feel, despite the growing number of people formerly associated with the club disagreeing to the contrary.

Anyway, my tube journey is coming to an end shortly, so I shall wrap up today’s wiffle-waffle (I think I just made up that word), leaving you to go about your business in the normal fashion.

Happy Friday Gooners.