Walcott’s return needs realism

Jack says that Theo looks faster and stronger than before he was injured in January. Given that he has seen Walcott a lot closer up than I, he’s a better judge on that being a true statement, but if it does prove to be true then we can all start to get quite excited about his impending return.

Excitement mixed with a tinge of realism though. After all, he’s spent the best part of ten months on the sidelines, having spent a significant part of last season on the treatment table before that too. But his impact when he does get underway and back to full fitness cannot be underestimated. Let’s not forget that Theo was our top scorer two seasons ago and, even in the short period of time with which he played for us last season, he was still able to bag a few goals.

Statements about his pace returning and then some (fears from many fellow Gooners that the injury could have slowed him down a tad now put to bed) are great to hear, but it’s the comment from Jack about his timing that I found most interesting, because I think that was a telling admission from our midfielder. Perhaps there is an element of the new attacking players not quite being on the same wavelength of the existing established first-teamers?

At the beginning of the season I remarked that we have the option of pace for those teams that want to play a higher line this season against us. That we do indeed, but in order for us to be successful, we also need the players to provide those balls in behind defences too. Jack talking about the importance of Theo’s timing – whilst showing that Waddle knows very little about football, Walcott not having a ‘football brain’ I’m sure you recall – shows that perhaps he can add something different to our game that is not just pace, but a different type of threat, when he is up and running at full strength.

I will probably be caveating all of the potential Walcott benefits for the next couple of weeks. After all, think how long Jack has taken to get back to form, or Aaron before him. So expecting Walcott to bag a hat-trick this weekend against Sunderland (surely tomorrow’s game is too soon??) is probably asking a little bit too much.

I think we should also temper the excitement of Walcott’s return with a reminder of what life is like at the moment. Teams know we have bags of pace in Alexis, Welbeck, The Ox and now Walcott. They know that to play a high line is folly, so we are treated to repeated displays like the one at the weekend where our opponents are more than content to sit deep, let us retain possession and find them very difficult to break down. I think it will probably be a pattern of play when Villa, Burnley, Leicester, West Ham, West Brom, all come to The Emirates. I’ve noted at times that sometimes Theo is rendered a little bit redundant in these types of games because all of the play has to be in front of an opponents back four rather than behind, so whilst I too am excited about his imminent re-introduction into the first team, I am mindful of what to expect when the ‘smaller’ teams come to town.

Even if Theo plays this weekend in some capacity, he will most likely come across a Sunderland team more concerned with proving to their fans that they can actually defend, so I think the upcoming weekend game might even play out like a home fixture. Potentially. Sunderland could just as well come out all guns blazing and give us more space, but we’ll wait and see for that, saving the speculation on who might start for later on in the week methinks.

A quick one on our rivals for third and fourth spot. We are fortunate enough that our inability to effectively ‘click’ yet hasn’t cost us too much ground in our annual fight to be also-rans. If you can look for any positives from the weekend’s football, it’s that the Spuds, United and Liverpool all showed their respective frailties. So whilst we’re labouring, so are others. What we need to do now is to start building the momentum with a minimum of two wins within the next five days. We have the players to do it, as well as the ability over our rivals, but we need to see more belief from our team. Arsène often talks about the ‘mental strength’ of the team, but we haven’t seen that much of it so far this season (particularly against Hull where the second goal was down to ‘lack of focus’. What is that if not a lack of mental strength?), so we need to have some of that stuff delivered to our door for immediate injection into the players please.

Until tomorrow, where thou shalt be delivered unto the a match report so pure, it will grant you back your virginity. Or something.

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.

Something’s not right

Something isn’t quite right at Arsenal at the moment. Most obviously is the number of draws that we’ve already racked up this season. Everton, Leicester, Moneychester City, the Spuds and Hull have all shared the spoils with us and as a result we find ourselves this morning with only 13 points after the first eight games.

If you want to look into the detail you could argue that going away to Everton and Chelski and playing the Spuds and City at home isn’t the easiest of starts, to which I would certainly agree, but the really great teams take advantage of things like being at home and pick up points where needed. Just look at Moneychester City. They dispatched a pretty average Tottenham team that we huffed and puffed against but still laboured to a draw. I know I probably shouldn’t be comparing us to any oil whoring club, but we’ve had aspirations of an assault on the league title previously, especially after our appetites were wetted following an excellent attempt at it last season. So for me personally, to see us now already miles off the two petro-dollar clubs is a pain that I’d rather not have to experience, as a fan.

I tweeted yesterday that I am coming to accept that our fight is not with the two going for the title, it is with the also-rans of Man United, Totteringham and Liverpool. With every performance like yesterday that appears more and more to be the case. We came up against yet another team in Hull that, Like Palace on day one, knew that what they needed to do was sit deeper, defend in numbers and catch us on the counter. And we once again, like the Spuds game, huffed and puffed in the second half with no real drive or guile to unlock an industrious, but not particularly special, Hull team.

When Danny Welbeck scored the equaliser in stoppage time, I was relieved, but Ben and I (my partner in crime for the day) barely even celebrated. Why should you feel like a last minute goal to avoid the first defeat at home in 14 months is a good thing when the opponents have only had four shots on goal in the whole match? It’s like an old fashioned game of Championsship Manager, but we are the real-life example. Teams don’t need to batter us to pick up points at The Emirates, they just need a set piece or two, or a counter attack. That’s what’s wrong at the moment. We concede with the only chances that our opponents get. It happened with Palace on the opening day, it happened against The Spuds, and now it’s happened against Hull.

Yes, Steve Bruce rightly admitted that their first goal probably shouldn’t have been because of the blatant pull by Diame to win an advantage and get through against Szczesny, but the second goal was a comedy of errors from our perspective.

The really weird thing is, from my perspective when thinking back on the game, I don’t think our defence was that bad in the main. Perhaps that was because we spent very little time doing any actual defending, but I thought Monreal coped admirably, that Gibbs looked good going forward and that Bellerin was not over-awed by the occasion. But we seem to have this amazing ability to play half-decent and still look terrible on one or two moments like the Hernandez goal just after half time. It’s weird and I can’t put my finger on it. Do we just switch off? Are we just unlucky? Is there a soft underbelly to this team that you just need to catch at the moment? I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that we will not be getting anywhere near close to the Premier League this season, so let’s start paying more attention to the results of Liverpool, United and the Spuds who, thankfully, all seem to be having their own issues in different areas at the moment.

The first half yesterday actually looked pretty good. We popped the ball around well, Alexis was in sparkling form (he was one of the few that continued that in the second half) and I remarked to Ben at half time that we were unlucky not to be two up and coasting at half time. If The Ox had put away his chance just before Hull scored, we’d probably have been out of sight. But that is the story of yesterday, as we didn’t do enough to put Hull to bed and collect the three points needed to move on to Sunderland next weekend.

The second half was probably the most dire I’ve seen so far this season. After we conceded the early goal we spent five minutes being shell shocked, but after that Hull knew that all they had to do was sit deep, in numbers and waste as much time as possible (Mr East the referee was in no mind to pick up this deliberate tactic) and they would potentially pick up the win. Which they nearly did. It took us until the 86th minute before we even fashioned the first proper chance for the third choice Hull ‘keeper to make and that was a smart header from Alexis. But other than that we had barely mustered a decent ball into the box or a shot in anger. Why we even bother with corners I don’t know, because we are completely redundant whenever the ball is slung into the box. We’d be far better taking the ball short and trying to build from there, because whipping a ball in to an opponents head is hardly worth the trouble we spend. Ben and I joked at one point that we would probably be more likely to concede from one of our corners than score from it.

I’m pleased Danny got another goal though. Both him and Alexis are already racking up a useful tally, which you’d hope would be good enough for us to be winning games, but with your defence looking more like a grandmother made patchwork quilt, it is always going to be a struggle. It was a good assist from Alexis too. He was probably the man-of-the-match I would imagine. But again, it was too late to mount a proper onslaught and go for the win, so we pick up another draw. Have you noticed how I haven’t even mentioned the midfield? That’s probably because I can’t really recall any of them having a particularly good game. Flamini’s role is fairly standard and he had little to do against a Hull team sitting so deep, but Jack didn’t really manage to replicate the Pirloesque form of his England displays last weekend, so there were no threaded balls for the front players to feast upon in the second half. Santi was good in the first but faded in the second half and The Ox mis-placed a number of simple passes throughout the game. That was where the issue was in the second half I feel. The midfield just didn’t click and looked fairly negated by the deep-lying Hull defence. But if you want to be champions you have to overcome obstacles like deep-lying teams and you have to unpick the lock, so-to-speak. That is something we just don’t seem capable of and it is a worry for me for even the top four spots.

So next weekend we travel up to the North east to play a Sunderland team who will be really pumped and desperate to show their fans that their 8-0 thrashing to Southampton was a one off. Before that there’s the small matter of an away trip to Belgium to play Anderlecht and you have to hope that we can pick up the required win in both of those games to start this run of form that we’re all hoping will see us in to Christmas in one of the top four places. We have players coming back from injury at various times and hopefully they can lift the club, but the run simply must start now. We cannot afford any more of these hitches.

See you tomorrow.

No cup final repeat, let’s start a run

Ahh, that sweet, sweet feeling of a Saturday 3pm kick off. There simply aren’t enough of them these days and I for one am always happen when one comes around.

As for our opponents, it’s a repeat of the cup final in the shape of Hull, but two very different teams from the ones that rocked up at Wembley in May. Hull have made a number of impressive signings in my book, snapping up Hernandez and Diame, whilst Jelavic looks like he’s started to find his goalscoring form. He was cup-tied in May and so we didn’t have to worry about his potential threat in the cup final.

We too are a different side. On paper more potent in attack, but defensively more fragile, today will most likely see an Arsenal side with a new look about it. I think it might even be the first time a back four of Bellerin, Mertesacker, Monreal and Gibbs have ever started together. Two first teamers, one newbie and a full back out of position who admits playing at centre half makes him feel ‘strange’. It’s hardly filling me we comfort, you?

At least in midfield and attack you’d feel we have enough to pick up all three points today. Jack will surely start after two impressive international performances, whilst the decision lies with the manager on who partners him in the more anchored defensive midfield role. Given that Arteta is now back it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s thrust straight back into the team, but with the injury roll call we’ve had so far this season I would also not be averse to seeing the Flamster sitting behind Wilshere.

Santi Cazorla must surely be given a chance in the number 10 ‘free role’, with The Ox on the right and I’d expect Alexis on the left. Welbeck through the middle completes a forward line with enough pace and trickery to cause problems for Hull. And here’s the good thing: Steve Bruce has promised to ‘have a go’ today. If he is true to his word, then that front three might just find plenty of space with which to operate in if Hull press higher up the field, so I’m hoping that Bruce hasn’t fed us a red herring from his pre-match presser.

What we don’t need today is a repeat of the start of the cup final. Hull came out of the blocks quickly and sucker-punched us with two quick goals. We looked punch-drunk and dazed for about ten minutes after that second goal went in, but when we steadied ourselves the dominance and quality kicked in and we were worthy winners in the end. The first 15 minutes will be as important as anything for our back four. If we remain resolute then the confidence at the back will grow and we will begin to assert our dominance going forward. But we have to be strong defensively. It’s a big ask for players like Bellerin and Monreal to be thrown in, but if they show what they are capable of then I would hope we could keep Hull at bay.

After a week of talking – injuries, AGM, ticket prices, etc – it is so jolly nice to get back to the essence of why we’re all interested in this game – the stuff on the pitch that involves a football. This is the first of what a neutral might call a series of ‘winnable games’, but as you and I both know, Arsenal never make things easy and the idea of a run of games in which we experience no heart in mouth moments is a relatively unfamiliar one to us. However, if this team is serious about going for the title (which already feels a long stretch), then this is a game that we need three points from. By hook or by crook.

If we do pick up the win today, then I do feel that it will give us the perfect platform to build some momentum in the run up to Christmas. We may be depleted in numbers, but when you’ve got confidence behind you it always drags you over the line, so we need a bag of it whilst we’re patching up the team right now.

Come on Arsenal, let’s have it!

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.

Arsene’s admission helps nobody, neither does ‘price-per-goal’ comparisons

Before I start off with my usual daily ramblings and before you can switch off, roll your eyes and say “not him again” (although unless you’re seeing this for the first time I’d question why you keep coming back – it’ll never get any better than this!!), I thought I’d give a little plug for a book written by a good friend and really nice fella, Dave Seagar, who has written what I’m sure is to be an inspiring telling of an Arsenal legend, George ‘Geordie’ Armstrong. I haven’t picked up my copy yet, as I’ll be handing over my cash at The Tollington for the book launch on Saturday before the Hull game, hence why I don’t want to come across as all knowing about a man who whilst before my time, I am already starting to feel had a significant impact on Arsenal’s history.

Anyway, the book can be ordered here so make sure you order a copy and read about what appears to be one of football’s genuinely nice people in Geordie. I can also recommend you scoot on over to Dave’s blog to see some of his stuff – you won’t be disappointed.

What you might be disappointed with is the comments from Arsene that he made in a recent interview on French TV with regards to Mesut Ozil’s injury. Arsene explained that he was actually aware of Ozil’s injury during the game, as the German had described that he heard a ‘crack’ and that Arsene had told his physio team to ‘keep an eye on it’. That’s a shocking admission and I’m afraid does absolutely nobody any favours no that this has come out. Firstly, it shows what the litany of injuries over the past few years lead us to suspect – that sometimes the club are negligent in it’s duties to make tough decisions and act in a responsible manner towards player fitness. How can you have an admission from a player – bearing in mind most players would rather keep information like this to themselves so they can stay on the field – and not act on it? What are we doing here? Are we deliberately trying to push our luck to see how much we can get away with? Because let me tell you, that hasn’t worked for the last six or seven years and so it’s hardly going to start now. By keeping him on the field when he had clearly suffered some sort of injury, it shows a recklessness that I don’t think you’d see at any other club. It’s not as if we are even short in the attacking positions. IF it was one of the centre halves, then we’d probably all be a bit more understanding if the feeling was that we need to see if we could play on with the player (ignoring the fact that the lack of defensive resources are a product of our own making), but in the forward positions we have enough bodies not to take any chances.

I am becoming more and more baffled by some of the decisions that are being made at the club these days. I really try not to be drawn into the stereotypical despairing online Arsenal fan, but with issues like formation, players playing out of position and the constant glut of injuries, it’s hard not to look at the football side of the club and wonder if we’re deliberately trying to make life difficult for ourselves.

As a result of the poor performance of Ozil against Chelski, he was lambasted by all corners of the media, yet it’s quite feasible that he was only playing at 30 to 40% of his capability through injury. A player will never tell you he is injured unless his leg is hanging off, so it is up to the management on the side of the pitch to make that decision for the player for the benefit of them and the team. That clearly has not been happening. I said earlier in the blog that nobody benefited from the admission from Arsene that Ozil played on whilst injured, but actually that’s wrong, because at least it gives us a bit more of an explanation as to why he was so poor. Who knows, maybe this is a classic Arsene self-sacrifice to paint Ozil in a more favourable light, but it just comes across as if the club don’t really know what it is doing when it comes to injuries.

Not only is there the data to now back up this school of thought, but we’re getting testimony from the manager too now, which is slightly worrying.

There’s the AGM later today, which will no doubt draw up lots of pre-approved and probing questions for the board at Arsenal……so I’ll leave that one parked to one side I think because I’m about as knowledgeable on these things as Neil Ashton is about employee value. But there is one area that I suspect might be addressed by the club (or not) which is the ticket price issue. I watched BBC news last night and was treated to yet another volley from the sports section of the report about ticket prices, which had the inevitable comparison with Arsenal and the price of tickets compared to, well, just about any other team on the planet. It’s funny because my in-laws immediately gave me chapter and verse on the price of an Arsenal ticket being expensive and looking at me as if I am the root cause of it all. But as you’ll know doubt know, we Arsenal fans are just as cheesed off with the price of tickets as the next fan. It’s something that we are bound to be continually cheesed off because we won’t be seeing reductions in ticket prices soon and unless the club announce some sort of a ten year price freeze (I can hear you all laughing) then we’ll always be held up as the most expensive. And as for the whole ‘value ‘thing and referencing the amount of money I spend per goal for my team (which is the latest barometer the media appear to be using), all it really does is perpetuate the blinded ignorance of most of the world to the issue of over-inflated markets that have been driven by the petro-dollar clubs. Telling me that Manchester City fans get around £4 per goal as opposed to my £27 is like showing a poor kid the latest Playstation and telling them that the rich kid round the corner got a better deal than them when their parents bought his console because his parents bought four at a discount so they could have one in each of their play rooms. Moneychester City are subsidised, so holding them up as some sort of paragon of virtue is one of the biggest ironies of football in my opinion.

 

Anyway, that’s enough of my ranting for one day. See thee tomorrow.

Scraping the barrel and ranting on tickets

I must apologise if today’s brain dump of a blog is a little bit ‘meh’, because quite frankly, there’s bugger all to talk about at the moment (way to sell a blog and entice Gooners to read on, Chris).

I mean, you’re really scraping the barrel when the lead story on the official site is about a tour of the clubs training facilities, a Per Mertesacker admission that we need to be better at set-pieces, or a note about how Mikel Arteta acts as a ‘father’ figure for new players joining the club.

It all feels like that deafening silence you get before a 100 metres race before the starters pistol rings through the air. I feel like I’m waiting patiently for the build up to the weekends game. I only hope Arsenal make it worth it, because it’s always frustrating when there’s no Arsenal for a period of time. And let’s not forget how lucky we are; we get to watch Arsenal a lot more than the average Premier League fan watches their club. We’re playing weekends and midweek most times during the season, which is a-ok for me. It helps to scratch the itch of Arsenal and the relief is very obvious come match day.

At least most of the players will be returning by today, which means we’ll probably get an indication of how the squad will shape up in terms of player availability, so that will be a welcome bit of news. As the Arseblogger pointed out yesterday, it looks like Alexis will be unlikely to return in peak physical form, so we’ll probably have to wait a wee bit before we see the rapid pace of Walcott, Welbeck and Alexis all forming a front three that will have back fours sitting so deep they’ll probably have a permanent camp set out on their own six yard line, but we still have plenty of other options in that part of the pitch, thankfully.

It’s the other end that terrifies us all.

I so wonder if Arsène might be tempted to ‘unfreeze’ Lukas Podolski for the weekend’s game though. He came on as a second half substitute against the Republic of Ireland yesterday and, although I don’t know how he performed, he is clearly still an asset that Jogi Low rates. So I don’t see why, against an established but not spectacular Hull team, he doesn’t give Lukas a chance to prove he can still eek out enough game time at least until January to secure a move. Think about the last time we played Hull at home, with a Bendtner inspired header that set us on our way to a comfortable evening. Why not give our only fit German international a shout? Who knows, he may just surprise a few by taking his chance to start. And with plenty of other players available should he not impress after an hour, there is always the opportunity to make that trademark Poldi sub that Arsène has perfected, which has seen him hardly ever finish a game.

More on an actual formation and the predicted line up towards the end of the week I think, because I suspect we’ll not see Poldi anywhere near the first 11 com Saturday. It’s fair to say that his longer term future is not at Arsenal, which will be a shame (especially for Steve, who will weep silently in his cul-de-sac corner of the world where his Poldi shirt will be ‘retired’ forever come January), but we’ll all have to move on. Much like Ivan has been talking up with his comments on Arsène eventually being replaced as manager at Arsenal. It is mental to think that there are human beings on this planet that will be legal drinking age and still unable to comprehend a life without Arsène. I myself have only really known three major managers at Arsenal since supporting the club as a kid and, whilst I’m hardly a great reference to pull the old chestnut of ‘you don’t know what hard times are as an Arsenal fan’, I did sit through a season of Bruce Rioch, so I sort of know what it feels like to be less successful (although he admittedly was the man in charge when Bergkamp signed, so I guess I can be a little bit more grateful).

It will be a strange feeling when he does eventually go, but it’s interesting that Ivan seems to already be laying the foundations, whilst doing it in a platitude-infused manner because he’s probably more mindful than most of the power that Arsène has at the club. With another two years after this one on his contract, it’s a strange time to be talking about replacements I think, because two years is an absolute eternity in football. Two years ago ‘Arry was the heir apparent to the England job and the greatest manager of all time. Now he’s looking a bit ropey with an ageing QPR team that are rooted to the bottom of the league. So speculating on the next manager after Arsène is probably not a worthwhile way of spending any cash you’ve decided to hand over to the bookies.

Will you afford me a bit of a licence for a rant today to finish off the blog? It’s about ticket prices, so if that isn’t of interest then you can say your goodbyes to me now and I’ll catch you tomorrow, I won’t mind.

So, for those of you that remain, I do have to have a little bit of a moan about ticket prices. It’s a regular occurrence in the media that prices are trotted out whenever there seems to be a slow news day on the back pages, but it certainly leaves a sour taste in my mouth whenever I hear some of the price comparisons between football clubs, mainly because we get the rawest of deals from across the whole of Europe it seems. I’m too simple a fellow to give an in-depth analysis of ticket pricing and comparisons, but comments about the number of additional games we get as part of our season ticket, or that London prices are expectantly higher are all balderdash in my opinion. Even when you take into account the additional seven games, the cheapest season ticket (which I have) is still far more expensive than most teams in most competitive leagues across the globe. And I just can’t accept that ticket prices are linked to player wages or transfers. Other organisations like the AST have already proven that this simply isn’t true.

What is true is that we are paying a premium on a product that is positioned as elite, but the reality is that we do not receive an elite version of the product or in simplistic terms, more glory and trophies and one of the best teams in the world. I might put us in the top ten – just – but given our own financial outlay on the club, is that acceptable? I would put it to you that it is not.

Anyway, just some thoughts, much of which you’ve no doubt heard before but I wanted to share anyway.

See you tomorrow.