Formations aren’t the problem, form is

Hello fellow Arsenal supporting friend. I am glad you made it. Shall we converse about the only real team in London worth talking about? Why not, eh? But before we do, I must say, I’m looking forward to the pasting that Chelski receive today from the media after they could muster only a 1-1 draw at home to a Schalke team that are currently languishing towards the bottom of the Bundesliga.

Or how about Moneychester City, whose opponents Bayern managed just three shots less than Dortmund, but who ultimately came away with the same amount of points as us from Germany? I’ve already seen the Metro today, who talk about how City put in a gutsy performance. It would be interesting to see what the response had been had City conceded in first half stoppage time. Media narratives and all that jazz…

That’s not to excuse The Arsenal. We were dreadful and there needs to be a reaction this weekend when we rock up against The Villans in Birmingham. The players have already come out with their apologies, but it’s not that which we seek, it’s victories.

But two wins from seven is hardly title contending form, so Arsenal fan amongst Arsenal fan is currently trying to dissect why we have started so poorly. Injuries? Perhaps. But we have a squad and players with quality enough to put on better displays than we’ve seen. Injuries are part and parcel of the modern game, regardless of the frequency with which they seem to happen to our beloved team. Mathieu Debuchy took to social media yesterday to tell his public that he will find out tomorrow if he needs ankle ligament surgery. One suspects the answer, given the side that he plays for, is almost certainly going to be ‘yes’. That will most likely keep him out until November and the exact problem we didn’t want when the window slammed shut has befallen us earlier than expected. But expected nonetheless.

But I’ve spoken enough over the weeks about the injury curse. Lord knows, you’ve probably read enough from everyone who has something to say about Arsenal, so you don’t need me rabbiting on about it. Instead, I wanted to talk briefly about this change of formation we’re supposed to have had this season.

Now I’m no expert, able to tactically dissect each Arsenal game and offer insight and intelligence that will make you say out loud ‘huh, interesting’, so I can only comment on what I see. There seems to be a general consensus that Arsène has changed the formation of the side this season from last year’s 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1 formation. This is, according to some, having a detrimental effect on the way in which we play our football. We are being overrun in defensive midfield and we are not looking as fluid as we did this time last year. So this widely held view is that we should ditch 4-1-4-1 and return to the 4-2-3-1 formation.

As I said, I’m no tactical genius, but I don’t really see that our formation has changed at all from last season. Last season we had one player at least dropping deep to cover defensive space (usually Arteta), with one player operating in that all action ‘box-to-box’ role (usually Ramsey) and the creative playmaker in front of them (usually Özil). Then in front of those there was your two wide men and a forward.

Given that Özil is afford licence to roam the pitch as he pleases, that Arteta is still sitting at the base of the midfield and that Ramsey’s role he’s been asked to perform, how has our set up in the middle of the park changed at all? Even the front three hasn’t really changed that much in style, just in personnel, with Alexis out wide and Welbeck up top. Özil’s free role has been shifted further forward to accommodate Wilshere, but that hasn’t really changed us that much, has it?

I’m no Arsène apologist – he frustrates the hell out of me with his actions sometimes – but this perception that he is failing tactically because of the change in formation is a misnomer to me. It’s a convenient school of thought for those that want to use the ‘Arsène doesn’t do tactics, that’s why he should go’ brigade, because I don’t think much has changed tactically from last season. Besides, the players who are asked to do the attacking part of the team are given licence to be fluid in their positioning anyway, so saying that we have defined players for each part of the pitch is a fallacy anyway. It’s the fluidity of the side that made us so successful in the first half of last season, to which I remember blogging about at the time, so I’m certainly not going to suggest Arsène goes all Mourinho on us (shuddering at the thought) and asks his players to be very precise in their role in the team. That is not conducive to the attacking and exciting football we can produce.

So if we have a strong squad (except defence), and the formation and style hasn’t changed, then what has goner wrong that has stopped us from clicking just yet? In my opinion, it’s something as simple as form. Mesut is out of it, Ramsey is failing to replicate it from last season and the back two aren’t showing it (we’re conceding at set pieces again and Dortmund’s two goals were preceded by some very laboured defending I must say). Too many players haven’t clicked in to gear and we have to hope they can. And quick.

You can’t train form. You have to play your way through the bad stuff. That’s what turned Rambo into last seasons world beater and is looking like it’s starting to have the desire effect with Wilshere. We just need a few more players to show form and I think we’ll be back on track.

Anyway, that’s just my uninformed opinion, but what’s yours?

High pressing to Mesut’s advantage? Dortmund preview

So apparently the footballing gods are testing Arsène’s ‘threadbare’ rule by conspiring to see how many of our defenders can be injured at any one time, before Arsène loses it and tells Stevie Bould to warm up with a green bib ahead of tonight’s trip to Dortmund.

Our first Champions League group stages appear to have coincided with a bout of plague that is ravaging our back line. Symptoms are varied in each case, but the upshot is that we are looking at definite absences of Debuchy and Monreal, whilst Chambers has picked up a knock but should be ok to play. With Arsène having gambled on having only six first team defenders for four positions, it appears as though normal service has been resumed with regards to his gambles falling flat on their faces.

Of course, the reality of the situation the team has tonight is that there is still a strong enough defence to call upon, with Gibbs returning to action and Chambers slotting in at right back. With Szczesny in the sticks behind them, it’s not as if we are short of first team experience, so my apparent serious concern above is a ‘little bit tongue in cheek’. I just hope we don’t pick up any more bumps or bruises this evening, because we can ill afford any more absences as the games come thick and fast.

As for our midfield, one would assume that Arteta will come in for Flamini, with Ramsey and Wilshere once again playing through the middle behind a front three of Özil, Sanchez and Welbeck. The latter two of that three performed well on Saturday, so I’m hoping that the former – a German international with quite some reputation – can draw on some German inspiration in his home nation. Mesut has been shunted wide in recent weeks and, whilst Arsène has been leaping to the defence of his most expensive bit of shopping, there must be part of him that realises that we need to get Özil into the centre as soon as possible. But with Walcott still a few weeks away and Wilshere having Messi’d the game at the weekend, it’s fairly obvious that he will start through the middle.

Our opponents this evening have their own injury worries too, so perhaps it is not just us that has the curse of the footballing gods to agonise over, as a number of first team players won’t be rocking up in yellow come 7.45pm. Reus, Hummels, Sahin, Gundogan and Blaszczykowski are all out, so it’s up to Shinji Kagawa to provide the creativity after returning to Dortmund from United in the summer. I remember seeing him against us the first time we were drawn against Dortmund; he was a handful throughout and one of the better players in both games. The question will be whether or not he has bedded back into his new-old team quickly enough, but I think he’s already scored for Dortmund, so I suspect we’ll see a decent performance from him tonight.

We know what test Dortmund will provide to us tonight, having played them for what feels like every season since their sustained return to the Champions League a few years ago. They will look to press us high and reduce the space we have to conduct our short tiki-taka passing style out from the back. But this is a different Arsenal team now. If you press us high up the pitch, it’s not just Theo Walcott or bust for us, so Dortmund will surely be wary of the lightning counter attack that we possess with Welbeck and Alexis. A high line would be delightful to see from my perspective, but surely that would be suicidal from Dortmund, so something has to give. For if they press high from the front, they will need to push their back four high too. Otherwise the space in between the back four and defence would be far too much.

If that does happen, that the back four of Dortmund sit deeper whilst the front players push higher, Mesut Özil has to be ready and up for it tonight. If he’s allowed to roam in that no-mans land between defence and midfield, it will afford him time rarely granted in the Premier League, so he’ll need to capitalise after a poor display against Moneychester City.

So the good news is that, in theory, we have different options to beat Dortmund, either through the pace against a high line, or the space of Özil and Rambo to operate in between the yellow and black defence and midfield. But one things for sure, however we look to overcome Dortmund, tactics alone won’t see us pick up all three points in the Westfalenstadion. We need good performances from nearly all of our players if we want to overcome the German runners up, which means no passengers like there were on Saturday. If we start well, take confidence from our unbeaten run so far, then catch Dortmund on the counter, I fancy some three pointage come 10pm this evening. The team is starting to gel and hopefully the positives from the weekend can be emphasised.

Come on you reds!

We wait on Debuchy; but not on Jack – why squad rotation is important

Morning friend, I hope you are well, recovering from the horrific prospect that after one game against a frankly awful QPR Man United are ‘back’ and ready to win every single game between now and the end of time? I’m certainly fearful of their awesomeness in every position. I mean, how will they ever concede again with the defensive solidity of Blackheart, Jones and Evans in their team? Football will become a boring repetition of 4-0 wins every week between now and the end of existence. Oh, woe is us, for life will never be the same!

Of course, the truth is a lot more palatable to stomach, which is that as the commentators on Sky Sports said yesterday that QPR were the perfect opponents to play at home after a series of poor results in the league. They were abysmal and I’d love to say that I can’t wait until they rock up at The Emirates, but you and I both know they’ll be disciplined, tough to break down and with a ‘keeper that decides to have the game of his life when we play them. It’s how things seem to happen in this universe.

The Arsenal chatter is understandably all about Mathieu Debuchy today, with the variation upon the theme being dependent on how long he will be out for, although the diagnosis from the journos appear to be that it’s ligament damage. Depending on who you believe there looks to be between two to three months out injured, which kind of figures, but there won’t be a better indication of the exact time for a few days I expect. Debuchy himself stated on his Facebook page that it was not a fracture and he was having further medical tests today, so I suspect it will be a pre or post match response from a prompt from Arsene that will give us an idea of his time on the sidelines.

If it does turn out to be about two months, it puts massive pressure on Chambers until December and with only Bellerin behind him in the pecking order, highlights just how ridiculous it is that Arsene has failed to fully address our overall options at cover in defence. There will be a lot of pressure on the first team defensive players and with our injury record even so far this season looking terrible (I think I saw somebody say that we have picked up an injury in every game this season or something crazy like that), you can almost certainly envisage a time in which we are down to Harry Redknappesque ‘bare bones’ between now and Christmas.

But let’s not get too caught up in the ‘what if’s at the moment, because there is the small matter of our opening Champions League game tomorrow night, a game in which we once again lock horns with Dortmund who themselves appear to have a bit of an injury crisis going on too. More on that tomorrow, but I’m just pleased the game has come ona Tuesday instead of a Wednesday, because I’m still not too sure whether or not I’m happy about a draw against the Champions on our own turf, as I mentioned yesterday. So the quicker I can put that result to the back of my mind the better.

One person who I’m sure will be starting will be Jack Wilshere and, with Arsene singing his praises about answering his critics, his performance on Saturday is exactly why I hope that we get better at using squad rotation this season. My view is that you can’t have the same 11 players playing the best football every game throughout the season. Footballers are human and are prone to off days, as Aaron Ramsey showed at the weekend, so for me it is important that you ensure that players are rotated enough so that they have enough game time under their belts to pick up where others are unable too, which is why seeing jack step up in the absence of a good performance from Ramsey, was so great to see. I love that Jack is one of ours, that he’s an Arsenal youth product and that he’s English, but if I’m honest I just want to see 11 players in an Arsenal shirt playing well and winning matches. That’s what counts and if that means that they all have to come from Venezuela, Bogotá or Singapore, I don’t really care as long as The Arsenal are on top.

So for me, the most important thing about Jack having that game is that we know that he can be relied on to take the game by the scruff of the neck, that he is getting back to somewhere near the player we saw before his numerous injuries set in, that we have a guy who is going to shine. And who can begrudge him a lot of praise after some of the drubbings he’s had from the media about both on and off-field activities. Hopefully we see a another sound game tomorrow night that will require the likes of Paul Scholes to stick it in his pipe and light one up on it.

That’s pretty much it from me for this Monday. You make sure that your world is filled with goodness, which for me, usually means logging on to Arsenal.com every once in a while during the day.

Catch you tomorrow.

Can we make that final step? City preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come on Arsenal!

Contrast of styles: high pressing against Leicester needed

Welcome to Sunday and Welcome to Matchday. The greatest day of the week.

Today it is the visit to Leicester, where even The Arsenal fans all follow The Arsenal to get to, whether it be land or sea. As a newly promoted side in the early throngs of their Premier League season, they’ll be eager to impress and having already fought back to pick up a draw in the dying embers of the game against Everton on the opening day, the Foxes will be quite eager to prove that the KP stadium is something of a challenge to walk away from with any points.

It will be an interesting game today, as it appears there will be a clash of styles that we’ll see on display from 4pm, what with Leicester already looking like long-ball merchants of Premier Leagues of old. I think it was a tweet from 7AmKickOff that showed the long and short pass completion stats for the whole league and, as expected after only two games Arsenal are at the bottom of the table for long passes, but the top of the tree for short ones. In contrast, Leicester have reversed those figures and stand head and shoulders above every other team.

What that means for us today I can only make an assumption on, which is that our back four will be subjected to it’s first aerial bombardment of the season, so it will be interesting to see how our defenders cope if that is the case. I’m reminded of the last fifteen minutes or so at Swansea last season, when Swansea were chasing an equaliser from us and resorted to an unfamiliar tactic given their style of play since promotion to the league, in which a number of balls were floated into the box to try to put our back four under pressure by weight of numbers and bodies. Thankfully we withstood the onslaught quite well and pick up the points so I’m hoping for the same today.

What I think will be important is Koscienly’s role in sweeping up behind the BFG. If Leicester are playing long balls into the channels in behind Big Per, we know that he won’t have the pace to keep up with any of the Leicester attacking players, so Kos must be alert to make up any ground that Per will lose out on. Conversely, Big Per will be the man to go for aerial duels, so he needs to use all of that slender but massive frame to make sure he’s batting away any potential knock-downs.

In midfield I suspect we’ll see a similar line up to the game against Everton, with Flamini, Wilshere and Ramsey playing through the middle, whilst Özil and the Ox will play on the flanks. Personally, it’s not quite my preferred line up, as I’d like to see Mesut in the middle (heh, sounds like it could be a Sky One comedy series) with Ramsey the box-to-boxer and Flamini sitting deeper. That would mean that Jack unfortunately misses out, which would be a shame after a good performance in midweek, but as Özil said during the week his best position is through the middle and he is our best Number 10.

Up top we’ll see Alexis run his little heart out and I do wonder if his goal in midweek will have put an extra spring in his already well sprung step. We’ll need another good performance from him if we’re going to have a good result against Leicester, but his performance is also reliant on receiving a bit more support from his teammates in not isolating him in attack. At times against Everton it looked like he was so lonely up top he was dropping in to midfield to receive the ball, which left us without any real options up top and was frustrating for us all to watch. When we didn’t have the ball it was also obvious that there was a gap between him and the rest of the team. Alexis has spent a few years in a Barcelona team that presses extremely high up the pitch and you could see him gesturing to his teammates to get forward when Everton had the ball across their own back four. I’d love to see us press higher up the pitch today, because if Leicester do look to play longer passes from back to front, then putting them under pressure earlier will affect their ability to distribute more effectively and force the Leicester defence into making mistakes.

That’s the ideal scenario, anyway, but whether we will do it remains to be seen. As for our opponents, I must confess I know little about them other than a couple of the snippets I’ve read about them being a bit ‘long bally’. They have Dave Nugent who plays up top, but the fact that my iPhone predictive text doesn’t even register his name (preferring to
Call him ‘Dave Juventus’ instead) I hope is a good sign of his success against us today. They also have Peter Schmeichel’s son in goal, so if ever there’s a reason to dislike them any more, this would be it.

I am hoping that we can click into gear today and get our flowing football started. The last four games have been an execution of grind and determination with last minute goals that are no good for any Gooners health. We need a two or three goal cushion with half an hour to play before we can start feeling happy about any performance and whilst I don’t think we’ll get that today, I do hope we can get the first goal and have something to build on, so let’s keep our fingers crossed over that and work from there.

As for the transfer guff about Loic Remy, we’ve got all of tomorrow to panic about the lack of arrivals, so I think I’ll just focus on the football today and give you some thoughts tomorrow.

Up The Arsenal!

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.

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.