The striker issue isn’t black and white

Howdy there you, hope you’re doing hunky doory, if that’s even how you spell that??

Yesterday I had a bit of a ‘life is different to back then’ moment, so I thought I’d bring myself back in to the here and now and reflect on Arsene’s presser yesterday and the Champions League draw, which will once again see us pit our wits against Borussia Dortmund, whilst also taking on Galatasaray and Anderlecht. It’s no surprise that Chelski got a buy into the group stages, but in all fairness we can be pretty happy with our lot given that, the Germans aside, it’s a group that we should be looking to qualify from. It would be nice if we could go through as group winners for a change, so one would expect that the head-to-head against BVB will be a decider on who tops the group. The first game will be at Dortmund in a couple of weeks time, so it’s up to the team to try to replicate the 1-0 victory in Dortmund last season to get us off to a flying start.

In the meantime, there is a game this weekend against Leicester and then the small matter of a home game against the reigning champions, so there’s plenty of time for us to get into our rhythm before the Champions League starts. Not. It’s fair to say that we haven’t exactly hit the ground running as yet, but with the injuries having a part to play in the stuttering beginning to the season (unusual for us as we have tended to always start strongly and fade away towards the end of campaigns), we need to start clicking into gear and doing so quickly. That comes with matches, with new players being able to bed in and with established players finding their form, so this weekend’s game against newly promoted opposition represents a chance to lay down a marker. More on suspected team line ups tomorrow, but Arsene did confirm that both Arteta and Gibbs will continue to be missing until after the International break, which will mean Monreal and the Flamster continue to deputise.

We all know about Giroud and his long-term absence, so it was not really a surprise when Arsene was once again quizzed about finding a replacement up top. He, as would be expected, extolled the virtues of the talent he already has available in Sanchez, Walcott, Podolski, Campbell and Sanogo. Later on, I think in an interview which wasn’t part of the afternoon presser, he stated that there were too many strikers and he would only look to bring another one in if one went out. Whilst there will be those that will wonder whether that means a potential loan move for the raw Sanogo, or a permanent move for the clearly unflavoured Podolski, I suspect that the comment was designed to explain to the masses that Arsene really isn’t looking for another forward at all. Further evidence to this school of thinking can be found in the words of the BBC’s David Ornstein, who has always been seen as somewhat of an unofficial mouthpiece for the club, as he confirmed that Arsenal are after a centre-half or defensive midfielder.

Whilst my initial reaction to Arsene’s assertion that he has enough strikers and that only ‘top,top top quality’ would do (although I must question this definition given that Gervinho managed two seasons at the club) was to be slightly aggrieved, upon some reflection about the possible options out there, I could kind of understand where Arsene is coming from. Giroud’s injury is certainly a big blow and we will no doubt feel his absence, but his absence is something that we all feel needs to be replaced with somebody for the here and now, and therein lies our problem. There are plenty of names being kicked around amongst arsenal fans, but the reality is that any player coming from any league other than an English one, will need time to bed in, which is time we simply don’t have. Just look at Sanchez; he is still finding his feet, still needing to hone his radar so that he latches on to Ozil passes, etc. Any new player brought in from another league is going to go through the exact same process. So we are effectively back to square one because we don’t address the here and now in terms of finding a goalscorer instantly.

“But what about finding one from the Premier League?” I can almost hear you say, but again, I’m not sure what other options are out there that will be suitable for our style of play and the way Arsene is setting up his team. Remy and Bony are names that come to mind, but both are different to Giroud as strikers, so if at the moment we are looking at finding somebody to fit our existing style, then they won’t work. The truth of the matter is that there aren’t really many Giroud-style replacements out there – certainly not in the Premier League – that you and I would see as worthy upgrades. So it does leave the manager in a bit of a quandary as to what to do. Unless his plan is to change the attacking philosophy, to which I think Tim Stillman put the most eloquently in his blog on Thursday this week over at Arseblog Towers. If the plan to adapt the style is therefore needing to be accelerated, I would have to wonder if, actually, Arsene is right, and we do have enough players up top when Walcott arrives. The only caveat I’d place on this however, is that Walcott is an injury prone forward and if he breaks down again, we’re back to square one, with a lack of pace up top and a reliance on Sanchez to bed in a lot quicker in his debut season.

I don’t really ever pertain to have any answers, I’m just an observer, but what I do know is that we need to start hitting top form soon if we want to win that all-elusive Premier League trophy. I know that in some sense Arsene is right – it’s not always clear cut – not always black and white when it comes to football systems and finding players from other clubs that can fit neatly into the right gaps that Arsenal have in their team. There is a balance to be found and players to fit systems, but just because a player like Remy, for example, looks good in a Newcastle or QPR shirt, doesn’t always mean he’ll automatically fit in at Arsenal and bag 15 goals in the first half of the season.

That’s all from me on that today I’m afraid. Things to do and all of this pondering is giving me a headache. Cheerio folks. until tomorrow.

Arsenal to come with a health warning

Seat of your pants. Skin of your teeth. Edge of your seat.

Being an Arsenal fan should come with a health warning approved by the Chief Medical Officer of the British Government, or something.

Yesterday’s game was far, far too early in the season to be that nerve-wracking, but ultimately let me pepper today’s blog with the fact that we are in the hat for the Champions League and, with our consecutive Champions League entry confirmed for the 17th time, it ensures we remain in Pot 1. Much to the dismay of the Liverpool friendly national media.

But by golly, we don’t half make it hard for ourselves, don’t we? With no away goal to speak of from the first leg (unlike in most previous seasons), it made the mathematics of yesterday evening really quite simple: win and score goals. Le Boss named the same side that started the game against Everton and in the first fifteen minutes you could tell that the home comforts of The Emirates made the team happier than when on Merseyside last weekend. We popped the ball around quite well, controlled position in the early stages and I thought that it was a patient and probing display. For about thirty minutes. Thereafter, it was almost as if a nervous button was pressed by both fans and players alike, and Besiktas grew into the game a little more.

On Twitter I described Besiktas as essentially a ‘Turkish Crystal Palace’, as their game plan appeared to be to frustrate Arsenal, ensure as many black shirts sat in and around the edge of their own penalty box rarely venturing forward with any numbers to attack. As was the way with teams from overseas they liked an occasional nudge, but fell to the floor when touched, epitomised no better than in the second half with a really quite farcical semi rollie-pollie action from one of the Turkish players. Unfortunately we had an abysmal referee, who I’ll come to shortly, so the theatrics were tolerated more frequently than they should have been.

But anyway, the Turkish Crystal Palace, which is probably doing a little bit of a disservice to our opponents. After that first 30 in which they frustrated, there were signs of a good passing team that were clearly set up with a game plan to counter, which if I’m honest could have worked had Debuchy been pulled up on his clear foul inside the box in that first half. Lucky boy. Well, temporarily lucky boy, as we were to find out in the second half as perhaps some karma came back to haunt him for being sent off for a perfectly good tackle in the middle of the pitch with 20 minutes to go.

That sending off made for a very nervy finish to the game, but not as nervy as it would have been had Alexis not got his scoring tally off the mark with a smart finish in the dying embers of the first half. The excellent Wilshere’s exchange with Cazorla (I think) on the edge of the Beisktas box almost found Jack, but he let the ball run for the newbie, who slid the ball underneath the ‘keeper. It was just rewards for a first half in which we’d dominated pretty much all stats.

In fact, given how nervous you and I were throughout yesterday’s match, you do wonder why on earth our opponents failed to muster a shot on target in the entire game. I guess it shows that whilst situations often appear fraught with worry at the time, from a neutrals perspective Arsenal were rarely troubled in defence, to which we have to give credit to the back five. There were some balls over the top that perhaps a better midfield maestro would have found Demba Ba more accurately with, but the limitations of the Turkish Cup winners were clear to see.

Defensively, I thought the two stand out players were our full backs. Debuchy looks like he had been playing at the club for five years, whilst on the other side, Monreal has been a solid performer since called upon in the first weekend of the season. To have a player like that waiting I the wings when Gibbs is out of action is fantastic and Nacho’s performances have left few of us lamenting Gibbs’ broken body so far this season.

In midfield, I thought Jack was brilliant, at the heart of everything we did well with his all-action style. I’ve seen a few people comment that the shackles were released with Ramsey being absent which I think I’ve commented on before, but rather than get into any ‘they can’t play together’ debate today, I think I’ll just focus on the returning to his old self – even if only one game so far – for our Jack.

Unfortunately, that’s where the stand out performances finish, because in the final third I thought we were pretty poor, as in that defensive midfield role that the Flamster occupied. I don’t know whether or not he’s quite match-fit enough yet, but Flamini gave the ball away carelessly a number of times and he didn’t seem to win as many tackles as he normally does. He did win some tackles – he always does – but it appears to me that if he’s not getting carded he’s obviously not feeling himself, which was the case yesterday. Hopefully he’ll have a good game at the weekend to arrest any concerns that he’s already peaked in his career and is now in the descent.

I thought Özil had a quiet game and, perhaps it’s still because he is finding his rhythm again or perhaps because he has been deployed on the left a couple of times already this season, but he flitted in and out of the game. As did Santi. He was anonymous at Everton and I’m starting to get worried about his form. He’s often deployed in that position out wide on the left, which isn’t his best, but he does go very quiet for large swathes of the game and I feel like I’m noticing it more and more.

The Ox was also a little more quiet than he has been, but he’s still a young lad, so there’s no point chastising a performance. He’s still a dangerous and creative outlet and, had he capped the night off with a goal towards the end when he found space from an Özil cross, we’d probably all be saying something different. Such is how the narrative can shift with goals.

That’s why Alexis’ performance can be viewed as a successful one. Score. Check. Close down and show a willingness to give everything for the team. Check. Demonstrate some good ball control and retention. Check. But there were still sit some instances where you could tell that he wasn’t 100% ready and occasions when his feet were not in tune with the rest of his body. There’s no need to panic though, as it was nowhere near as Gervinhoy as it could have been, so I’ve no doubt as he becomes more aware of his own teammates styles and also now that he is off the mark with a goal, the rest will come.

We did lack a cutting edge in the final third though. For all the gnashing of teeth and exasperation of some sections of the fanbase (I’m guilty of this too I’ll admit) when the Frenchman misses a guilt-edge chance, the next four months will I’m sure provide us all with a clear indication of what he brings to the take, as a focal point of our attacks. Alexis likes to drop deep to collect the ball and as a result it leaves us with no options if we want to move from front to back quickly like we can with Olivier in the team. The result is that unless one of the wide players slots in centrally when Alexis comes deep, we may find it difficult to get ourselves out of bother with longer passes to put us on the front foot. Again, probably another discussion for another day, so I’ll not dwell on it too much.

What the Giroud injury does however, is emphasise that Arsène simply must strengthen within the next five days. We must get a defensive minded midfielder who can play at centre half as an absolute minimum, but now we must be seriously looking at bringing in a player who can play as a focal point in attack. To go into half a season with Sanogo as your main target man is not something you’d expect a team with title aspirations to have. So I would expect Arsène to act. But hey, he rarely does what most of us think is the obvious, so we wait and see what happens.

Before I knock today’s blog on the head, a special mention must go out to the Portuguese, card-happy referee who wrongly dismissed a Besiktas penalty, fell for every soft foul by a Besiktas player, incorrectly sent off Mathieu Debuchy and gave Szczesny a booking for taking an extra five seconds on a goal kick. He did this on the first attempt by Szczesny. Somewhere in London at his home, Julian Speroni will have been laughing his socks off. The only shocker of the day was that a ref so content to book everyone, missed the man who is always booked: Flamini.

And on that bombshell, I shall bid you adieu.

Hoping Besiktas aren’t the first roundabout

I don’t know about you, but in the space of the last 24 hours I’ve suddenly become acutely aware that we could be staring down the barrel of a Europa League game, should the worst befall the team tonight. It’s a feeling that, whilst I have felt before with these Champions League qualifiers like the one against Besiktas, I’ve not felt as ill-at-ease in the preamble to the game.

I don’t know whether or not it’s the news that we could be reliant on Sanogo as our target man for the first half of the season as a result of the Giroud injury, or that Alexis will now have even more pressure on him to play that central striker role, but I approach today’s match preview blog with a feeling of slight trepidation.

Perhaps it’s because of the slow start we’ve had. Counting aside the excellent Community Shield victory against the Oil Whores, we’ve stuttered our way to victory over the car crash that is Palace and two draws against Besiktas and Everton. It feels like we haven’t yet got into our stride and, as a result, I kind of wish this game was coming in a couple of weeks time given its importance. Our season right now feels a little like the old red Ford Sierra Sapphire I used to own. On a cold winters morning, once she had got herself on to the dual carriageway between Hertford and Harlow, she was fine. But switch her on first thing and try and drive off without letting her warm up, and she’d cut out on you once you reached the first roundabout, which is what I’m hoping won’t happen to us tonight. Man, I really hope Besiktas aren’t our first roundabout.

Logic should dictate that I’m less worried about this game. After all, when you compare the teams pound for pound, even with our mounting injury problems we should have enough to overcome a Turkish side that didn’t even win their own domestic league. Factor in the age old adage that both Greek and Turkish sides tend to not travel so well, and you and I should not be concerned with worry about ensuring the team does its job tonight.

But this is Arsenal we’re talking about here folks. This is our Arsenal and we all know that we’re perfectly capable of tripping ourselves up against Slaven Bilic’s charges. Heck, we nearly managed it a week ago in Istanbul, to which only Besiktas’ own profligacy afforded us a draw against an inspired Turkish side. Take anything for granted this evening, and my additional cup credits won’t seem as appealing this season (although I will go to every game possible regardless, I hasten to add).

The threat from the Turks will undoubtedly come from their star striker Demba Ba, who I’m sure will want Arsene to rue the day that he didn’t snap up the Senegalese, but aside from that I’m not going to go all YouTube scout on you and pretend that I know the intimate workings of our opposition. Why would I? Turkish football is hardly something I wax lyrical to you on a weekly basis, so rather than try to pull the wool over your eyes, I figure I’ll base my assessment of the opposition on pure guesswork.

And it is guesswork, because I’ll be very surprised if Besiktas are as open and attacking as they were a week ago. Bilic will know that his team has to do a bit of a Palace on us and frustrate, looking to hit on the counter. We were a minute or so away from an opening day draw against a team that had little interest in venturing outside their own half, so a repeat of that performance and the goals scored (minus the absent Ramsey last minuter) would see us out on goal difference.

Goals will be the key to tonight. It’s kind of the most obvious statements one could make, but I use the plural of the word with much emphasis, because if we can grab a couple of goals within the first half without reply then we should have this game sewn up. It should lead to their heads dropping and may mean that we could pick them off as they elect to counter. But as it stands right now, we are in a precarious position. 1-0 to The Arsenal is a horrible score line to have for any prolonged period of time tonight. Especially if we’re entering the final five to 10 minutes of the game. Remember when we played PSV all those years ago? A single goal from them changed the complexion of the tie from a 2-0 comfortable result, to a 2-1 victory but a knock out on the away goals rule. That’s what we want to avoid tonight.

Our team news is slightly concerning, but when you look at the players we have available, we have to be looking at the side and pleased that our injury problems haven’t stretched too far. The back four look solid with Monreal looking good and the possibility of Koscienly coming in for Chambers, whilst Flamini in front of them will add a bit of yellow-cardiness to proceedings, but also that little bit of bite. Jack will play the box-to-box Ramsey role and, with the Welshman out of the side through suspension, I just wonder if that will give him more freedom to express himself. Jack and Rambo are very similar players in my opinion and I have heard some murmurs from friends about how it’s not outside the realms of possibility that it is because of that, that we have not been as fluid when both of them are in the team.

The front four I’d like to see would include Özil, Sanchez, The Ox and Podolski. With Giroud out injured and none of the above able to effectively act as a target man, I’d like us to try and be a bit more fluid with the front three, interchanging who plays at the top and on the flanks throughout the game. If we move around our players and add that mobility to a side sitting deep, it might just pull open some spaces for Özil to work his magic on. But I don’t think Arsène will do that if I’m honest. I suspect we’ll see Cazorla on the left, The Ox on the right and Sanchez up top. There was a bit of talking up Sanogo as that main front man, but going over his limitations and rawness is like treading on already well-worn ground, so I’ll leave that for now.

Jack described tonight’s game as a ‘cup final’. It’s a clichéd expression that often sees football fans roll their eyes because you just can’t play cup finals every week. So whilst I shall resist the temptation to agree with him, stressing that this could be make or break for the season for us when you consider what could be at stake in terms of transfers and confidence, is something that I cannot emphasise enough.

Come on Arsenal. Do the job, do it well, then let’s get that old Sierra back on the dual carriageway. Or something.

Catch you tomorrow.

Giroud’s injury works for nobody

There’s no place else to start today than the horrifically predictable news that one of our key players – Olivier Giroud – is rumoured to be out for up to three months with a suspected fractured ankle.

Both The Telegraph and L’Equipe both broke the news last night and, whilst yet to be confirmed by the club, when a few outlets start reporting this kind of information you know that someone has some more credible sources (possibly close to the player) that have fed this information in the first place.

If true, this news represents a hammer blow to our season, barely two weeks before we’ve even properly started. It would be symptomatic of the luck that has completely escaped us since the 2003/4 season, when all of our first team players appeared to be fit throughout the whole entire campaign, which enabled them to go the season unbeaten. Consistency is the key to building a successful team and, having done it before with a couple of incarnations of Arsenal sides, we all know Arsene likes to maintain a certain harmony amongst his first eleven. I, like many others, believe the key to success in the modern game is effective and selective squad rotation, but Arsene likes his first eleven and I suspect that this morning he is chewing down his cornflakes with a particular frown , if the news is true.

It was only a couple of days ago that he himself was talking up Giroud’s potential to hit 25 goals this season, so it’s clear that the knock he picked up against Everton from a Distin block late on, has had more of an effect on his body than the club expected. Quite where this leaves the club is a bit of a quandary for me to ponder this grey and grizzly London morning. First and foremost, they must be scratching their heads on yet another injury to a key player, having had Walcott unavailable until the next couple of weeks since the beginning of the year, as well as Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Özil, Monreal and Gibbs all injured for prolonged periods of time – i.e. six weeks of more – since January 2014. Are we still being punished for having barely any injuries in 03/04? Huh? Someone up their in the great blue yonder answer me!?!!

Of course there will be those that point the finger expectantly in the clubs medical teams’ direction, but impact injuries that happen on the field can hardly be legislated for, so to take aim at a part of the club that has no bearing on how tackles/blocks/passes are made and received, seems churlish to me.

But when you have as many injuries as Arsenal have and it becomes a regular occurrence, as we are now becoming accustomed to, you have to react by ensuring you have personnel of sufficient quality to pick up the baton and run with it. Run like they’ve never run before. Like Forrest Gump on heat being chased for his pocket money by Usain Bolt.

Which leads to the inevitable question – should Giroud be injured for a third of the season – who will replace him in his absence? We’ll probably find out the answer to the extent of his injuries and who his replacement will be from Arsène himself when he does his pre-match presser for tomorrow night’s Champions League showdown with Besiktas. One suspects that we will be hearing the talking up of Sanogo as a player who, with game time, can be a superstar. But what we have all seen of the player so far suggests he is quite a few hours worth of game time from actually looking the finished, polished and sparkly item that we all want. The question as to whether another club should be polishing him up through a loan spell, then giving him back in pristine condition, is a valid one and there will be many that think a new signing at the top of the pitch will afford Arsène the justification to do so.

However this is our Wenger that we all know – and have done for many years – and by now we all know that he is not one to side with popular opinion. Signing a striker may seem like the obvious option to you or I, but all it might do for Le Boss is to re-evaluate the status of some of his fringe players. Arsène is a man who likes to maintain the harmony within the squad, which means he has his numbers and he is less likely to add to them, in my opinion. Lukas Podolski could be the unexpected beneficiary of the injury news, but it still wouldn’t surprise me to see him depart for Italy regardless, with Wenger insisting the squad has players coming through who could fill Giroud’s good instead.

To those that have cheered Giroud’s injury: for shame. No Arsenal players absence should ever be applauded, least of all under the foolish assumption that it will make a man more stubborn than a mule from Stubbornsville with a stubbed toe. And even if those people now believe that we will go for another striker, who do you think we are more likely to get? Arsène didn’t look like he had any intention of a marquee signing like Falcao before this window closed, so why now when he’s thinking about the harmony of his team, would he go out and spunk £40-£50million on a player that he would view as an emergency acquisition to plug a gap left by injury? This is a man who saw a midfield injury in January this year and bought Kim Kallström as a back up.

In my opinion, Arsène will look for a stop-gap, a loan deal, to add a little more experience to the team up top. I think he’ll go for an Eto’o free transfer-style signing, rather than a big money deal. My personal opinion would be that we should be breaking the bank after Wednesday for a striker, ball winning midfielder and a centre half, but I just can’t see that level of activity (or cash) happening.

So where does it leave us right now? Beats me. I just hope Arsène has some aces up his sleeve, because the feel-good summer factor will soon (rightly or wrongly) evaporate if we start to drop points (or get knocked out of competitions) because we’re missing key pieces of the puzzle through injury.

Keep those fingers crossed and rest your faith in the manager. Let’s hope he delivers.

Lacklustre draw isn’t the end of the world

I’m not quite sure how I feel about yesterday’s 0-0 away draw to Besiktas in Istanbul last night. I mean, it’s good that we don’t have any kind of deficit to overcome in the second leg at home last night, but at the same time there are a couple of things that are nagging at me at the moment about the performance.

Obviously we didn’t play well. You and I both watched the game and we both know that. At the start of the season and with a few new players in the team it’s always going to take time to slip into a rhythm. But there were just a few additional warning bells that sounded with me, so I thought I’d pick them out for you, then perhaps round off with a bit of perspective, because ultimately it’s not doom and gloom and with a decent performance at The Emirates we should be able to progress to the group stages of The Champions League.

So, some of the elements of yesterday’s game that worry me: Olivier Giroud. Now, you won’t get me shouting from the rooftops that he’s a terrible player and we should slap £80millon down for Falcao, because it’s not a realistic option and quite frankly would be a waste of hot air if I did. Giroud is a decent £15million striker who will get us around 20 goals a season if he plays most of the games. But what he does need to bring to the team is that ability to bring others into play. That strength to receive the ball, hold off a defender and bring others into play. We’ve seen him do it last season and I’m sure he’ll be doing it this season. Having said that, yesterday was clearly not one of those nights that he was effective, because he offered very little throughout the duration of the game. His hold up play was poor, his pass completion in finding teammates was woeful, and his finishing was wayward. We know that he fluffs his lines occasionally on the finishing, which I’ve come to accept as one of his limitations, but the hold up play and ability to find a teammate like Ramsey, or either of his wide men, is something that just wasn’t there.

There will be people calling for Alexis through the centre, or for a new signing like Cavani, but to my mind that simply shifts the longer term issue. Arsene has clearly decided – and I’m happy to be proved wrong here and am open to opinions – that he wants a strong striker who can bring the pacey wide men and midfielders into play. It’s one of the reasons why Ramsey can be given more licence to get in the box to bang in the goals. So whilst I’d love another striker to come in, I just don’t think it will happen, because Arsene likes keeping harmony in the team and he won’t replace Giroud with an upgraded version of a target man. Not when he also has clear faith in developing Sanogo. So we have to deal with it. But what we do expect from him – if goals are not his strong point – is more link up play and that is what let him down yesterday.

Besiktas were alright, but nothing more than that. In fact, I’d probably put them more in the category of a side with the same level of ability as Crystal Palace, which gives you an idea why I think we should be disappointed. Like Palace, Besiktas pressed higher up the pitch (although as the game at the weekend wore on Palace were penned back further. I make the comparison based on a Palace side we could have played if the game was at Selhurst Park), were a little profligate in front of goal and had they had a little bit more quality about them in the final third, we’d be licking our wounds this morning and wondering how we’re going to qualify into the Champions League proper this morning. So I’m glad we don’t have that concern this morning, only the concern of a poor performance from some of the players, and the senior ones at that.

Santi Cazorla was another player whose absence in the second half was worrying. I thought he was poor against Palace and gave the ball away too easily. Yesterday he gave the ball away a couple of times. Not as many as the weekend, but it was his lack of time on the ball which was indicative of our overall performance yesterday. At one stage in the second half, I wondered if he was still on the pitch. I said as much on Twitter, to which somebody responded to say they’d just started watching the match and didn’t realise he was playing for ten minutes.

I know his natural position is not out wide left, but he has played there on a number of occasions last season, so I wouldn’t expect him to be be so lacklustre in a position he knows so well. One of the frustration I’ve laid at Wenger’s door before, is his unwavering belief in hierarchies within teams, but also his favourites. He does like to continue playing out of form players some times and, you have to say that another performance like last nights for the diminutive Spaniard at Everton, and you’d expect him to be dropped. However, I suspect he’ll be given more leeway than someone like Poldi would be given. I hope Santi can turn in a grand performance against the Toffees on Saturday, because he’s a fantastic player who has given us so much joy over the last two years, that I’d love to see him continue to weave his way through defences again. So let’s chalk this last week down to a bit of early season rustiness and move on, shall we?

There might be one or two that have a bit of a finger-wagging session in the direction of Jack today, but actually I thought he did ok. He wind some tackles, got stuck in to the opposition and showed that he wasn’t afraid to through his short but stocky frame about, as well as try to bring something to the attack. I’d certainly like to see more from him. What I’d like to see less of is the silliness of Rambo’s sending off. Yes, it was a very soft second yellow to receive, but with a crowd on his back – not to mention the Ice Road Trucker wannabe Slaven Bilic yelling at him every thirty seconds – it was a foul Rambo didn’t need to make. I guess it pretty much summer up an evening in which we were laboured and unconvincing.

He’ll serve a ban now for the return leg, which will be a massive blow, but we have cover in that part of the pitch thankfully. Well, we do right now, but if we keep picking up injuries like Arteta’s yesterday then we’re going to find ourselves patching up Ray Parlour to get back into the side. I sincerely hope that Arteta is not out for a prolonged period of time, because whilst Flamini can slot in to the role of marshalling the space in front of our defence, after that we’re getting into Coquelin territory who, whilst I rated highly before he went on loan last season, is clearly not in the managers plans and will most like be sold on within the next couple of weeks.

The injury list is already mounting. Gibbs, Arteta and Ospina are out, Koscienly is being patched up to play, Mertesacker, Özil and Poldi won’t be match fit and Giroud still doesn’t look match fit. It’s hardly the amazing start to the season that we all wanted, but hey, remember how I said I would try to shove in some perspective? We’re only two games in and we haven’t suffered any confidence sapping defeats yet. In fact, quite to the contrary, we have two wins (if you count the Community Shield) and a draw and whilst everyone is salivating over Chelski at the moment, let’s not forget that they played a newly promoted team who I think we’re a bit over-awed by the occasion and will also most likely be one of the teams that is down the bottom of the league at the end of the season.

Also, let’s be positive about the contributions of our newbies. Calum Chambers, ladies and gentlemen, Calum Chambers. To quote a Championship Manager phrase, I am simply ‘running out of superlatives to describe his performances’. He’s such a talent and once again showed what a purchase Arsene has made by bringing in this kid. I can totally see why Southampton fans were more disappointed to lose Chambers than Shaw. Per still comes straight into the side for me, but Chambers will push him all the way for a starting spot, which is great to see.

Debuchy was, well, Debuchy. He was good going forward, look decent defensively and gave another seven out of 10 performance. As did Monreal. He does get caught out once or twice and there will be times against better opposition that he’ll need more support from whoever plays in front of him, but he performed well and with Gibbs out should get more game time over the coming weeks.

Alexis was also more impressive too. He troubled the Besiktas left back with his pace, played a couple of decent balls in for the off-key Giroud, plus he was combining a little better with the midfield than I thought he did on Saturday. With each passing game you can see him improving his understanding with his teammates, which can only be a good thing.

Right, that’ll do for one day I think, because you’ve probably had enough of my rambling. I know I have. See you when I see you.

No blasé attitude towards Besiktas

Morning/afternoon,

I won’t labour this point too much, but Cesc Fabregas in a Chelski shirt is now 100% reality, after I spent the summer ignoring the fact, hearing that he helped to orchestrate Chelski’s victory at Burnley leaves a sour taste in my mouth. He’s going to be a great player for that lot and it’s going to hurt us to see it. No matter what any Arsenal fan says, it will grind our gears and pull on the emotive heart strings, especially if he keeps his assisting ways at the club.

I don’t want to dwell on that lot though – they are as worthy of attention as a Luis Suarez admission of guilt and promise not to repeat offend – so we look forward to the Champions League and to our tricky encounter this evening against Besiktas.

Arsène has been stressing the importance of this match to the media and, with our place at the top table at stake, it is essential that we get off to a good start tonight. Knockout football in the Champions League is always tough regardless of the opposition. There is a lot of pressure to perform over two legs, but if you fudge the first leg up, it leaves you with a mountain to climb in the second.

Remember when we played Bayern Munich about seven years ago? The first leg was in the Allianz Arena (not sure if it was called that back then) and we went down 3-1. The second leg was helped with a Thierry Henry goal, but we went out on goal difference, despite battering Bayern for the second game. That shows you how important the first leg is. Besiktas know that a win with a two goal margin will mean that they are in the driving seat and can pretty much do what Palace did on Saturday and barely venture outside of their half at The Emirates.

Conversely, a victory in Istanbul tonight, would put Arsenal in a very promising position for the second leg and certainly see us as overwhelming favourites to qualify.

I must admit to being a bit blasé about the qualifying round. Our consecutive successes – and seemingly always at the expense of European teams with good pedigree – has made a simple Arsenal fan like me believe that I’ll be seeing Champions League group stage football in about a months time. But that’s a very dangerous way to think, Christopher, because that kind of thinking ends with a nasty shock if what is expected doesn’t happen. It is not unconceivable that defeat tonight leads to further disappointment next week, but I have to remain positive, because in my superstitious manner that I have I believe that my own power of positive thinking has some bearing on the outcome of tonight’s game.

Thankfully, despite being a tad bit over-expectant, it doesn’t appear as if the players are taking this game lightly. Certainly not if you hear the rhetoric from Le Boss. Sure, we have some injury problems going in to the game, but the squad that is available to the manager should still be good enough to get a result. Rambo has continued his fine form with a goal at the weekend, Chambers and Debuchy have slotted in well enough, and I think we all know that we’ll get more from Sanchez as he becomes fitter.

I don’t know how the manager intends to line up the team, but with Koscienly struggling with a hammy, I suspect Big Per might just replace him in defence. Per and Chambers at the heart of the defence will be interesting. The reason Koscienly dovetails so well with either of them is that Kos is the man with the recovery pace, where as it appears from the initial look of Chambers, he does not have as much pace (even though he makes up for it in his positional play). So how those two might operate – if Kos can’t shake off his injury – will be good to see so early in the season.

They’ll be up against a familiar face in Demba Ba, who has apparently been scoring for fun since his arrival from Chelski, but perhaps more worrying is the pace that he possesses. If he is up against Per and Chambers then it will be essential that he isn’t given plenty of green grass to run in behind tonight. To do that it will mean stifling some of the midfield creativity of another familiar face in Ozyakup, who we sold to Besiktas a couple of years ago and appears to be making a decent fist of a career in Turkey. I am no expect on Turkish football, because that’s where my knowledge of the opposition ends I’m afraid, but I suspect that the least we’ll get from the game tonight is a super-charged team backed by a partisan home crowd. We need to establish ourselves early and ensure that Besiktas’ initial excitement and drive is negated by some good football from the lads.

I suspect we’ll see a midfield that is identical to the weekend, then a front three which will also include Alexis and Santi, but it’s the centre forward position that will be interesting. Sanogo was little more than a footnote on Saturday and it was obvious how much more dangerous we looked when Giroud and The Ox were on the field. So I am hoping that Arsene opts for the more experienced Frenchman. I’d like to see The Ox given the nod ahead of Cazorla – who I thought was poor on Saturday – as it provides that direct running and a bit more pace than the Spaniard. It would also be good to see what Joel Campbell can do in attack and, had there not have been knocks to Gibbs and Jack on Saturday, I wonder if Arsene would have thrown him in then, so maybe we’ll get a look in tonight.

Keep those fingers crossed and hope for a great performance tonight.

See you tomorrow.

No fear of scousers, but definite fear of injuries

With yesterday’s games concluding without any surprises between Liverpool/Southampton and Newcastle/Moneychester City, you’d be forgiven for feeling that there is little comfort to take in two rivals picking up all three points, as well as a third probably getting off the mark this evening. But I am choosing to look for some anyway, so I’m looking squarely in the direction of Suarezless Liverpool, who certainly didn’t deserve to pick up all points in their 2-1 victory.

There was a similarity between score lines between their result and ours on Saturday, but that is where the comparisons stop, because our performance was markedly better than that of the scousers. That’s not to say we performed well – we know we just about got the job done against a dogged Palace side – but Liverpool completely rode their luck at times yesterday. So much so that I must admit to thinking that Southampton would be involved in a relegation fight this season with all their departures, but if Koeman gets his players playing like that each week, then he has little to worry about.

I said it yesterday on Twitter and I’ll say it again: this Liverpool team without Suarez do not scare me as much, as they are two of three injuries away from some problems in their team I think.

As for us, well, we’re used to ‘two or three injuries’ anyway, so it was perhaps not a surprise to find out that Koscienly is a doubt for the trip to Turkey after picking up a knock on Saturday, as well as Kieran Gibbs who limped off during the Palace game. I don’t know about you, but Gibbs I am less worried about with Monreal able to cover and also performing really well on Saturday, but Koscienly is a concern. Arsene admitted that Per might have to be bought in a little sooner than he would have liked, which whilst not ideal is some comfort, but it does make you wonder why we didn’t have an instant Vermaelen replacement lined up. I know that sometimes transfers take time (well, with Arsenal they always seem to, anyway) but I would have thought we’d have bought one in as soon as we knew Vermaelen was offski. Perhaps with his injury there was a question on whether he would pass his medical at the Catalan club, which is why Arsene held fire, but I would have thought a player could have been sounded out instantly and although they may not have been 100% ready, we could have them already in by now.

There’s still talk about Manolas joining, medicals already being completed, blah-blah-blah, but this won’t now affect the squad taking the trip out to play in Istanbul so we just have to make do for this game at least. Hopefully Kos’ injury doesn’t turn out to be a long-term issue.

Injuries have long plagued our ability to go the distance in league competitions of years past, as well as fighting on multiple fronts, so my fear is that we’re already starting off on the wrong foot at this early stage of the season. It’s nobodies fault, I don’t believe anyway, but it is something that could derail us if we get another one of those Physioroom.com injury league table topping seasons.

It’s probably why transfer rumours will inevitably continue right up until the end of the month, which is what we can expect in this sensationalist world we live in these days, but it sounds as though Arsenal are closing in on the young lad Rabiot from PSG and Vargas from Napoli.

I know nothing of these two players, but it sounds as if they are young players being bought in to add a bit of depth to the team. We’ll see how much of the speculation becomes fact over the next ten days or so. There’s no doubt that we need more bodies in certain positions, but they need to be bodies of quality and not just young players that Arsene is taking punts on. No more Amaury Bischoffs, but more Patrick Vieira’s would be handy, so we’ll wait to see whether Arsene opts for a more polished diamond, or one that he can work on a bit.

We all know he likes a rough one to work on, but after the clear difference between Giroud and Sanogo on Saturday, don’t we want to be seeing and established player come in to fight Per/Laurent and Arteta/Flamini for those roles where we are a little short? I know we have to take into account squad harmony and the sheer volume of players we already have on the books, but we don’t want to have a situation like the one we’ve got at the moment with our centre-halfs, so I’m hoping that we bring in the quality needed. After all, nobody really wants to see Chelski win the league, do they? And Moneychester City won it last season, so for the sake of variety, we owe it to the wider footballing community to blow away all opposition this season.

That’s that from me today. See thee in the morrow.