Anderlecht preview: Victory to build momentum

Champions League Matchday 3 sees us make the short trip along the Eurostar to Belgium, where we line up to face Anderlecht tonight. But before I go into some thoughts on the game, a little rant, if I may…

This morning I was up early driving back from the inlaws (Management has broken her wrist and so she is being ferried to and from her work by Senior Management) when I heard full chapter and verse about the “amazing atmosphere at Anfield tonight. The Real Madrid players will have played all over the world, but this will be special” and I wondered ‘is there any other club that enjoys so much hyperbole thrown at it in relation to atmosphere as much as Liverpool?’. I would love to see what Liverpool do differently to us when we’ve entertained Bayern or Barca in the past. I’d wager little. But this media soft-spot for Liverpool is borderline nausea-inducing.

Anyway, moving swiftly on and towards all things Arsenal, who face a tricky – but not insurmountable – away trip to Anderlecht. It’s been made all the more testing by the fact we’re missing both first and second choice ‘keepers, as well as our first choice centre half and right back. It will mean a somewhat unfamiliar and rather raw look about our back five this evening, but even so this is a game that Arsenal really have to be looking at to win tonight.

If it’s true what Arsène says, that 10 points is a minimum target that usually achieves progression into the next stage of the competition, then this is the sort of game that can help to put a foot in the door of the next round. An away win followed by a home victory against the. Belgian champions will leave us with nine points and will probably mean that a draw in our final two games will at least see us progress. Of course we want to win the group, but qualification is the first hurdle to try to overcome. Defeat, or even a draw, will probably mean that we have to beat Dortmund at home and that is by no means a given seeing as we’ve already been beaten by them once this season and defeated last season on home soil.

But let’s not be fooled into thinking that we’ll sweep aside Anderlecht tonight. They will be in the mood for an upset and, having seen Arsenal labour the point on Saturday, I’m sure they will be looking at Hull’s performance and thinking they should be able to get something from the game. We are yet to fully fire on all cylinders in any competition (even against Galatasaray and Villa there were cracks) and that will give enough fuel for their belief.

I’ll confess that I have very little frame of reference when it comes to tonight’s opponents, as the Belgian League is not one that makes my ‘must see’ list. Save for Anthony Van Den Borre (once of Portsmouth) and Stefan Defour (not bad on Football Manager), I know few of their players and am not sure of the style of football the ‘Purple and White’ will produce tonight. But without wanting to be accused of the type of arrogance that is labelled at Wenger when he doesn’t analyse an opponent, I suspect that we’ll see a team that will want to start the game quite tight, keep Arsenal at bay for the first 15 minutes, then up the tempo gradually as they build their confidence.

Of course, because I do little research of note on our opponents, I could be completely wrong and we could see them try to catch us off-guard by coming flying out of the box. Our defeats to Dortmund this season, Chelski and Liverpool last season, we’re built on a foundation of speed and blitzing us in the first 15 minutes, so if Anderlecht do adopt that tactic it could stun us enough to leave us as docile as a sloth. At the weekend after both goals we looked a little shell-shocked for at least ten minutes after each goal, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Anderlecht managed tell his players to adopt the same tactic.

Of course that is not without it’s risks. Last season saw an Arsenal side that could be pressed high from the front to the back without fear our quick counter attacks. This season we have injected notable pace in Welbeck and Alexis and playing a high line to squeeze space between attack and midfield, as well as midfield and defence, would leave a lot of grass for our forward players to play with.

So whilst our back four will have a makeshift feel about it, the attacking side of the team will look a lot more polished, certainly on paper anyway. They may have looked rather lacklustre on Saturday, but the Champions League often brings a more expansive brand of football to it, so you’d hope that we can find more space for midfield and attack in tonight’s game than we did in the Premier League at the weekend.

Although Walcott is back, there’s no way he’d start (I probably should have checked to see if he’s in the squad, but my internet connection on my phone has just gone down as I’ve just entered a tunnel, so I’m out of options there!) tonight after such a lengthy injury, so I think we’ll see Alexis, Welbeck and The Ox as our most forward-lying players, with Santi, Jack and perhaps Arteta playing in the middle of the park. Arsène could go for Ramsey and Wilshere if he thinks that we’ll spend most of the game on the front foot, but with a rather youthful looking defence (Chambers will surely come in for Monreal), I think Arsène will consider giving the captain the nod in the hope that there is more protection for the back four.

Tonight is a game that could prove quite significant. After stuttering at the weekend, victory tonight will ensure we to into this weekend’s game against Sunderland off the back of victory and hopefully some added confidence. We have a run of winnable games (in theory) and we need to start building momentum now.

Come on you reds!

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.

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.

The best England performance A gooner could hope for

I’m one of the few Englishmen that was overwhelmingly happy about the 1-0 win against Estonia last night, it seems, because I’ve woken up to much gnashing of teeth from the various corners of the media. The natives are restless with England’s form it seems.

Personally, it couldn’t have gone any better in my book, as Jack Wilshere put in a performance that further softened the Özil injury blow and has shown that he’s recapturing his form from when he burst on to the scene. That’s back-to-back England performances that he’s arguably been England’s best player and the fact that he didn’t limp off is also a mega bonus on a pretty boring football game.

But guess what? I LOVE it when England games are boring. I love it because it means very little has happened and there are no contentious points to dent any Arsenal players’ confidence, or to shatter any bones or ligaments. Yessir, a lovely boring international match is exactly what the Doctor ordered, especially given our current injury problems.

So it seems messieurs Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere and Welbeck all came through relatively unscathed (Welbeck appeared to hold an ankle at one stage but he got up and looked ok in the end) and hopefully that means they can all get a nice full week of training before the home game against Hull on Saturday.

Woy was even kind enough to give Gibbs a rest, which I thought was a lovely gesture towards Arsenal, because let’s face it, given how well he performed against San Marino and how ‘meh’ Baines was, a rest was surely the only real explanation as to why our left back didn’t start. Hodgson’s really good at resting players you see, just ask a tired and depleted 19-year-old Raheem Sterling, who I’m sure will be handled well by his club manager next weekend and will only be a bit-part player given his current fatigue he’s been telling the national team coaches about.

Anyway, enough talking about Liverpool players, because that really does leave a sour taste in my mouth. Instead, let’s talk about how Jack is performing right now, particularly his passing range that he’s been exhibiting recently. It’s a part of his game that has always – to my mind anyway – been less pronounced than other attributes he has, but last night came to the fore above anything else, as countless times he fed Rooney only for the England captain to fudge his lines again and again. I must say I found it slightly humorous that Rooney picked up a player rating of 6 from Sky Sports on the night, because goal-aside, he was woeful. It’s amazing what a goal does to gloss over an overall shocking performance (Welbeck was rated a 5, for example, but I thought he showed more guile than Rooney overall). That he was most likely to improve his goal or assist tally because he took every single free-kick seemed to have been overlooked. The old adage of throwing enough of the brown stuff against a wall and hoping some sticks was clearly missing from any kind of analysis of his performance too.

I wouldn’t normally comment so much on other players, but the profligacy of the captain cost Jack some clear assistage to cap his stellar performance, so I feel entitled to point a bloggy finger in the United Captain’s direction.

Still, back to the main man, Jack. Another fine performance and an uncovering of his ability to find those raking and, dare I say it, Fabregas-like passes in behind defenders. I know it was only San Marino and Estonia and I know that I should temper my excitement, but Welbeck himself must have been licking his lips with the prospect of getting on the end of the number of balls Rooney had, so I’m excited to see if Jack can replicate those performances on Saturday. He’s always been known as a player who is great at dribbling and short, fast, interchanges of passes, but if he produces just one or two of those types of through-balls for Welbeck per game, we’re in for a treat.

There’s not really a lot else to say from me if I’m honest. Chambers struggled at times yesterday, but with every game I see him he looks more like a centre half playing as a full back because of his versatility, so I’m less concerned. Especially when you think that he’s still a teenager.

I have no idea what has become of the other players that were on international duty, although I know that some will still be in action tonight, so we’re not out of the woods yet people! Still plenty of international games for yet more players to be ruined. But at least we’ve got positive news that Walcott and Gnabry are in full training with the first team now. Theo in particular is a timely boost and even if he’s not ready for anything more than a five to ten minute cameo on Saturday, it would still just be good to see his name in the squad come Saturday lunchtime.

Now we just need to count down to the weekend!

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.