Newcastle: a better attack for them, but a better attacking performance from us wins

Ahh match day. Is there a finer thing? I think not. For it brings a sense of hope, of redemption, of anticipation and of a love that you and I know all too well. It’s Newcastle versus our beloved Arsenal and it’s a match that we quite simply must win. 

After last Monday’s draw with Liverpool, we could be forgiven for accepting a point after the first half we endured, but Champions don’t drop points too frequently. Even in this, the most open of leagues in the world. If we truly are to continue the belief that this season isn’t over before it’s even spluttered in to life, today is an away day that comes with the pressure that really, three points or bust has to be the mentality of the players.

Newcastle will be better today than they’ve been against us over recent history. We have a good record at St Jame’s Park and it’s a record in which we’ve won in the last three seasons, but only by a goal margin, so we’ve never made it easy for ourselves. One of the guys that works for me is a Newcastle fan and he and I have spent a couple of days discussing how they’ll line up. He seems more confident in them going forward than defending and they look like they have some good players who will cause us trouble.

Up top will be Mitrovic who, by the sounds of it, is a bit of a unit and will put himself about, so it is incumbent on our two central defenders to marshal him well. The good news is that even if we haven’t got Big Per or Kosciencly, at least Chambers and Gabriel have had a bit of practice with having to cope with Benteke last Monday, so hopefully they’ll be less surprises from a physical presence. 

We also might remember him from such performances as Anderlecht at Home: The collapsening last season, in which he bagged the final goal in the 3-3 debacle.

But behind the Serbian there will also be threats. Newcastle will most likely mirror our 4-2-3-1 formation and choose a trio of Sissoko, Wijnaldum and Thauvin, each a creative player who brings a different threat but an ability to run at defenders. This season, Newcastle look to have a bit more in their locker, certainly in the sharp end of the team.

But it’s in defence in which the Newcastle fans I have spoken to are the most worried. Despite a battling draw away at United, this is where the guy in my team thinks we might get some joy. Their back four of Janmaat, Collocini, Mbemba and Dummett have looked a little shaky at times and away to Swansea they were torn apart. So for us, if we’re going to have any joy today we’ll need to be much better in attack.

Arsène says Alexis is getting there and hopefully that means his accuracy is better, because we could really do with him finding his range, especially if Giroud has another off day. I expect Giroud to start and in his corner he has the advantage of having a good record against Newcastle, but he’ll need players in and around him to be successful. I doubt Arsène is going to mix things up much, so I expect to see the same quartet of Giroud, Alexis, Özil and Ramsey providing the attacking threat. If the Newcastle defence is fallible, then those four need to unlock them with plenty of movement and runs beyond our handsome Frenchman.

Defensively we all wait with baited breath as to whether Koscienly has made it and we all hope he does. But without him we will have a similar line up to Liverpool and a back five of Cech, Monreal, Gabriel, Chambers and Bellerin, with Santi and Coquelin sitting in front.

Newcastle will probably want the first 15 minutes to be about settling down and containing Arsenal, then trying to slowly unlock us I think. As Mike in my team said (the Geordie), “if we try to have a go at you from the start, I worry that we’ll get carved open on the counter”. I’d love a bit of 03/04 style lightning counter attacking, but we have to be more accurate with our ball retention if we’re to take advantage. We can’t afford to be misplacing passes in our defensive third like the first two home games of the season. We have to be dominant and accurate in possession.

An early kick off and an early opportunity to have an enjoyable weekend. Come on Arsenal!

Cech out our goalie, as well as a dodgy lino

Not for the first time this season Liverpool were the beneficiaries of yet more dodgy officiating, yet for the first time this season, we were the beneficiaries of a superb Petr Cech display. Which would probably be the story of the game if you asked me to describe it in a paragraph or less.

The pre-game teams news undoubtedly handed Liverpool a boost and no matter what people say about Mertesacker being a liability (less so most of the Arsenal fans I know), his calming influence would have been useful against a clearly nervous Calum Chambers in the first half last night. Chambers is a good defender. We’ve seen that at the start of last season, but it’s hard to just switch on and off form when you’ve not been playing, especially when the same is true of his central defensive partner Gabriel last night. 

It was pretty painful to watch in that first half, wasn’t it? All of the back four seemed to be shaky at different moments and the passing had about as much accuracy as a one armed blind archer. Bellerin, Gabriel and Chambers all seemed to take turns in suicidal balls in our defensive third and when the need was there for a bit of ball retention and clever passing, even Santi decided to chip in with some off-key distribution. Heck, even Mesut Özil – who misplaced just one pass on Sunday last week – lost the ball two or three times and we looked like we couldn’t have been happier to go in to the first half after a performance like that. 

Yet for all of the Liverpool possession, great saves from Cech and rattled woodwork, we should have been one up with a perfectly good goal chalked off for offside. Figures.

I don’t know whether or not Arsène went to DEFCON 3 on the team at half time, but thankfully our second half performance was better and we had more of it after the interval. Liverpool looked to counter and Mignolet tried to slow down the play by time wasting as much as possible. But we still should have broken the deadlock. Alexis off the post, Giroud slipping when through against Mignolet, the Ox forcing him in to a good save and countless runs by Monreal in behind the defenders, meant that it was our second half.

So perhaps in hindsight a draw is the fairest result. Except it always feels a little more deflating when you’re at home. Had that been at Anfield I’d probably be quite happy with it. It’s still early in the season and there’s plenty of time to get a run together. But because it was on our own patch, it feels like we’ve dropped two points, plus I have this nagging and uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. I have that feeling not because of the rum I drunk whilst watching the game, but because that’s another game without scoring at The Emirates (even if we actually did had the rules been properly enforced) and it’s another performance in which we’ve given the opposition far too much licence to do their own thing.

I want us to be champions. I want us to win more football matches than anyone else. But we’re looking nervous at times at home and that’s not good. I know I shouldn’t look at other teams at such an early stage in the season, but I couldn’t help but think back to what Arsène said about the beginning of last season, in which we effectively lost the league after about six or seven games. By the ten game mark I think we were eight points off Chelski. We’re five away from City already and although they will inevitably drop points, if they keep building a buffer, all it will do is give them the opportunity to drop points without there being repurcussions. 

The problem we’ve also got is that we go to Newcastle next Saturday and with last nights draw at home, if we get anything else other than three points come 3pm, we’ll be even further away from City by the time Match of the Day comes around. That’s the kind of pressure a draw at home brings to you.

It’s not terminal. We could win against Newcastle, then go on to beat Stoke before we play Chelski away, but if we lose in the North East we could be dead and buried in the league by the end of September. I know that sounds dramatic, but our away record at Stamford Bridge is atrocious, so back-to-back defeats away from home in our next two matches will probably make a league title assault look as far as it did this time last season.

Can everything be solved by transfers? I don’t think so. I think some players need to step up more. Santi has had two off games and one good one already this season. Giroud hasn’t looked great at home but did well away. Alexis just needs game time. Things just need to click a bit. But the problem is, things have already clicked at City and so we’re already playing catch up. 

Is it a psychological barrier we have to overcome? Maybe. I didn’t see a fantastic Liverpool team yesterday, that’s for sure, but I could t help but think that if City or Chelski played them, they would have found a way to beat them whilst playing as poorly as we did in that first half. That’s what worries me about us winning the league. Last night should have been a ground-out victory, not us talking about how great our ‘keeper is and how shaky our defence looked in the first half.

If I sound overly negative today then I apologise. It’s only because I’m so despair ate for Arsenal to show the world that we’re good enough with the squad we’ve got. But when a couple of injuries cause us to go all ‘jellylegs’ at the back, what’s it going to be like when we lose players in positions in which we aren’t as well stocked?

Arsène needs to have a think about how we sort ourselves out, because four points from three games isn’t good enough form to start crowing about possibly winning a title. Had we beaten West Ham then we’d all feel a little better about the situation, but we made life hard for ourselves from day one, so now we need to change that by picking up back-to-back victories. Quickly.

On a positive note, Coquelin had a very good game and Petr Cech showed a performance that most certainly shows why he was valued at £11million, so at least there’s something for us to focus on. 

Roll on next weekend, eh?

All about connections

I sporadically tuned in last night to watch Liverpool against Bournemouth in a match that was supposed to be so comically one-sided it wouldn’t seem fair. Instead I saw a hard working Bournemouth team treated to some rough luck as Liverpool scored a goal which, under the rules, should not have stood. Talking about decisions costing people’s lives may sound hyperbolic, but what happens if Bournemouth need a point to survive on the last game in May? 

I’m reluctant to have a chortle at the scouters and their performance, however, after our insipid first game of the season. They have six points to our three after all. But hopefully we can level the tally by beating them next Monday.

Hopefully too, we hear large swathes of the media talking about how lucky Liverpool were last night, a bit like how we were ‘lucky’ not to have Coquelin sent off. I wait with excitement and anticipation on that (sacrasm-o-meter is reading off the charts here folks).

As for us, we’ve learned that a good self talking to is its own reward, as Big Per has explained to in the aftermath of Sunday’s victory. The players coming together to have those conversations is important. It’s one thing to put negative results at the managers door, but sometimes you do need players to take responsibility for their own actions, which it seems like this is happening when you hear stories like this. I do find it infuriating when clichés are thrown around by TV pundits about ‘lack of leaders’ every time we don’t perform as we should. Big Per may not be the best defender in the world, he may not be the most exciting player in the squad, but on the evidence I’ve seen you can hardly say he isn’t a leader. He talks on the pitch, he encouraged his fellow pros and if you look back to the 6-3 defeat at City two seasons ago, it was him who berated Özil for not going to clap the fans after a humiliating defeat.

How is that not leadership? Just because he isn’t thumping his chest and shouting inaudible words when the cameras are in view, he’s not a leader? Those that talk up Arsenal’s deficiencies in leadership should try to get pitch side and watch him. I have. He is a leader and a good one at that.

Anyway, back to the football and the fact that we’re already starting to look at next Monday’s game against Liverpool. It’s difficult to read too much in to last nights Scouse performance in an Arsenal context, because you really do get the sense in these games that it’s down to just getting the fitness levels back, but confidence plays a big part. After that first 20 minutes at Selhurst Park it immediately felt like The Arsenal that we all know and love and not some sort of sabotaging monkeys in Arsenal player shirts with cut out face masks of the first team. The passing resembled the crispness of the end of last season and those players in which their accuracy of passing and ball retention need to be near perfection to show their grace and class, all showed up and demonstrated what elite football is at times. Both Özil and Cazorla were sublime and I hope Arsène realised that playing them both centrally benefits the other in games like that one on Sunday lunchtime. 

It’s about little connections all over the park. Big Per and Kos, Cech and his defenders, Santi and Mesut, Santi and Coquelin, Giroud and Mesut, fullbacks and wide players. The list goes on and on. Yes football is about operating as a team, but it’s also about forming small scale alliances and understandings between players who operate within your own ‘zones’ too. We are fortunate because the lack of a complete squad overhaul has meant that many of those small connections remain in tact from last season, but they still need to be re-established I think. The human brain works best when it can automate certain functions. Repetition of the same act allows us to master tasks. That’s why it’s important for the players to continue those small connections as well as the wider team connection, because it will enable them to understand where players playing parts of the park close to them, will be and then act upon certain situations (players closing down quicker, finding empty space to pass in to, etc) with more efficiency.

So perhaps that’s why some people still need to give Cech a little bit of slack after two games? I’ve seen a few people already blaming him for Palace and whilst it’s true he was at fault for the goals against West Ham, what Big Per says in the linked article above is also true: when you concede goals like we did there are usually three or four little mistakes rather than a massive one, that lead to conceding. So whilst Big Per is quick to point out the great communication between ‘keeper and defence, the need for the connections to be built up to an optimum level is still ongoing.

With each game I’m expecting it to get better, so let’s hope we see yet more improvement across all aspects of the team on Monday next week.

No complacency: title challengers don’t do that

Today is a very important game. Today The Arsenal need three points, because only then will we all breathe a sigh of relief and start talking about the possibility that last weekend’s defeat to West Ham was a ‘blip’ and this Arsenal team can challenge for the league.

Quite simply: Premier League winners don’t lose two on the spot to West Ham and Crystal Palace. You couldn’t see City or Chelski doing it, so if we truly harbour loftier ambitions than qualification for the Champions League, there needs to be a reaction at Selhurst Park.

We have players capable of it. The squad is strong enough and technically proficient enough to go to Selhurst Park and boss the game. But the Premier League is the best league in the world because of its unpredictability, so a defeat or a draw equally would t be unheard of.

Last weekend I was only thinking about ‘when we win’. The thought of us losing to West Ham on our own turf never entered my mind. Perhaps this was the same complacency that washed over the players themselves. If that is true, then I hope they are mirroring my pre-match thoughts this week too, because I am certainly not so blasè about beating Crystal Palace. 

They have a decent team. Pardew has assembled a good selection of players with plenty of pace in attack and they will certainly trouble us at times today. Puncheon, Zaha and Bolasie all have speed and a trick or two, but I suspect we’ll only see two from that three start today, with Glenn Murray up top. What we have to do is to ensure that those attacking threats are nullified by isolating those players when they do have possession. That’s why I am hoping we go for a pacey forward line, because if we have plenty of pace of our own, it will force the Palace defence to drop deeper. If they do, then it will create either a greater gap between their defence and attack, or it will force their attacking players to drop deeper to collect the ball. That will hopefully reduce the risk of us being so painfully exposed by their attack play. 

So my forward three for today would be Walcott, Alexis and The Ox. Giroud is a handful, he has scored a few goals against Palace, but he is exactly the type of player that Dann and Delaney wouldn’t mind playing against. The negative of starting Theo is that he won’t press the ball like Giroud does. If Arsenal are to peg Palace back, the whole of the front three need to be pressing high, not just Alexis. 

Theo also has the tendency to go missing in games, but if that happens then you can rectify it by bringing on Giroud, so I’d still opt for the Englishman.

The big question seems to be whether Alexis is ready to start. He looked a little rusty coming on last weekend, as you’d expect, but he still offers something nobody else in the team does, so I personally want to see him come in. If that happens, a big question needs to be answered, because one of The Ox, Santi or Ramsey doesn’t play I don’t think. One plays alongside Coquelin and one plays wide right and one has to contend with a spot on the bench. Santi needs to resume his role as Distributor-In-Chief alongside Coquelin. That partnership works and the closer those two are together in the middle of the park, the better it is for us, so I wouldn’t hesitate to pick the tiny little Spaniard. Nor would I hesitate to pick The Ox ahead of Ramsey. Aaron is a better player than the Ox at this moment in time, but not as a wide man, so The Ox needs to start. I’m not sure he will though. Arsène likes Ramsey too much and I suspect we’ll see a return of square pegs in round holes with him starting on the right. It’s frustrating for me, but perhaps I need to trust Arsène’s judgement a little more, because as long as we get the three points that’s all that matters.

Today can be the reboot of the season, and climb back into the bookies eyes as a team who can win the Premier League title. Last weekend we looked sluggish and not clinical enough, which is why a little shuffle of the forward line wouldn’t do us any harm, I don’t think anyway. Conversely, despite the fact that we conceded two pretty shockingly defended goals, I’d expect a similar back four to last weekend. Bellerin may come in for Debuchy, but the rest of the side should probably be given the chance to redeem themselves, before any panic buttons are pressed about our back four needing a shuffle or two.

Whoever starts today, they need to show a lot more urgency and a lot more accuracy in finding other Arsenal players in space. No more Hollywood balls please guys, we need to retain possession with our short and quick passing. That’s how we’re designed to be effective and that’s how we’ll win the game – if we win the game -making a verbal offering to all the ‘complacency’ karma gods just in case here.

I’ll be at the Red Bull Air race today and so will be relying on Sky Go and quiet corners. I hope to be getting people to stare at me because I’m cheering at inappropriate moments from 1.30pm.

Come on Arsenal!

Deflated and disappointed Gooner

Ohh Arsenal…why do you do it to us?

All that excitement. All the talk. All the waiting and hope for an amazing season, deflated in the space of 90 minutes. Yes, it’s only 90 minutes and there’s a lot more football to be played, but that match yesterday was a bit of a travesty if we’re all honest.

I took to Twitter and fired off a few disappointed tweets, then opened up my Whatsapp to see the feeling amongst other Gooners and in the immediate aftermath of the game yesterday I was thinking about how ranty my blog would be today. But I don’t really feel ranty. I just feel a bit…well…I can’t think of a word that describes a ‘sigh’. But that’s it. I’m not even angry, because I’ve seen that kind of performance before, this year even. Remember when the players rocked up at The Emirates expecting to roll over Monaco and we saw a lacklustre team display that ultimately knocked us out of the Champions League? Or the performance against Swansea at home (and away for that matter)? Yeah, that.

The positives that could be drawn from yesterday’s game seem to sit solely on The Ox’s shoulders this morning, because he was a bright spot on an otherwise gloomy day, which was ironic given the glorious sunshine that engulfed the Emirates yesterday. He drove at West Ham defenders, he looked to have the beating of his man and fashioned a few good chances. But on a day in which it looked like we could have played for another six hours and failed to score, his display was always going to be overshadowed by an overall team lethargy.

From front to back there looked to be no fight in the team. It looked like an end of season game in which we’d already secured Champions League football and had nothing to play for. Yet it was the first of the season. I don’t buy Arsène’s comments about West Ham being more prepared than us because of European football; that West Ham team weren’t playing in the middle of nowhere during the week and Slaven Bilix has put out his reserves and youth players for most of the competition. So that excuse doesn’t really work I’m afraid.

And we can have no excuse for the goals we conceded. The first one may have Cech coming out the worst because of his inexplicable sojourn into no-mans land, but Kouyate still got there ahead of any of our defenders, so whilst the ‘keeper will rightly take the largest proportion of the blame the defence must also take a look at its organisation.

So too, I have to say, should the whole defence for the second goal. The fact that we had possession and gifted it to Zarate, then failed to close down before he rifled it in, was poor. Quite why Cech was so flat footed is beyond me. I thought he was supposed to be saving us points this season? Not costing them? One of the deficiencies in Almunia’s game – before he went crazy and haunted – was that he’d never do anything that would make you say “wow, got us out of jail there”. That is the sort of thing a top ‘keeper does and that is what Cech used to do for Chelski. Again, I know it’s only one game and he will no doubt redeem himself over the course of the season, but from one of the best ‘keepers in the league he’ll probably be disappointed that he didn’t get to that second goal.

But we can’t lay most of the blame at his feet. He wasn’t misplacing passes all day like most of his teammates. Santi, Rambo, Coquelin, Debuchy and The Ox all saw simple passes that just couldn’t find a many. It was a litany of unforced errors that saw balls being sprayed out of play all day. It was borderline laughable at the frequency with which it happened. Is it the new ball? Did they all have a heavy one last night? Or was it just a bad day at the office? Whatever it was, a few more performances like that and we’ll be playing déjà vu catch up exactly like we did last season.

As for our attack, well, blunt would be one way to describe it. We never really got going and once again questions will be raised of Giroud, but he was hardly given a plateful of chances to miss from five yards, was he?

Have you noticed that I haven’t mentioned Özil? There’s a reason for that and it matches up with his involvement in the game.

We should give credit to West Ham, who set up well and deserved the win, but without the lacklustre defending on both goals we’d still be talking about a 0-0 draw, not a 0-2 shambles.

Big Per talked afterwards of bouncing back, but unless the attitude changes, we’re going to see more results like this throughout the course of the season. Champions can have bad days at the office, but usually only those are limited to once or twice and more often than not, you don’t see it on your own turf. West Ham should have been a three pointer but the team looked like they turned up to collect the points without any resistance. It will be a reminder to them all that this league is a difficult one and you have to prepare properly for each game. Mentally as well as physically. The manager will need to earn his crust this week and get the team into a position where they are ready to go again but be ten times better next Sunday, because Palace away will not be easy, so answers will need to come sooner rather than later.

Doing a job that upsets Jose: marvellous

One of the most pleasing outcomes of yesterday’s victory over Chelski was, for me, the response of Jose Mourinho. This is a man who has no qualms over having pops at other managers with whom he does not have a good relationship with, so to see him frustrated enough to bemoan Arsenal’s tactics yesterday, was music to my ears.

We did a job on Chelski. We actually did a job. We matched them – probably bettered them – in the first half and then controlled the game in the second. Forget Jose’s claim that we abandoned our philosophy, because footballing philosophy has always been an irrelevance to a man such as him so when Arsenal adapt to a team and the result is a deserved victory, I find it quite amusing to hear his protestations.

But enough about that odious man. He’s already made part of my blog about him. That’s exactly what he wants; for everybody to be talking about him and not the result because the result was perfect.

A clean sheet, a perfect strike from The Ox, as well as signs that this Arsenal team can mix it with the best of them. As champions, you have to call Chelski that, even if it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

We did what Chelski have done to us over the years with Mourinho in charge. We suffocated them. Stifled them. Made life difficult. Think back to the game; Cech made one good save from a free kick just outside the box, but do you remember him getting us out of any major issues by pulling off wonder save after wonder save?

Nope, me either. That’s probably because our back four performed excellently, especially the impregnable Laurent Koscienly, who made interception after interception and tackle after tackle. Neither Loic Remy or Falcao had any major impact on the game thanks in part to the work of Big Per and Kos. Having had a decade of defences that cause me worry, the feeling will take some time to shake, but more performances like that yesterday and I’ll start to feel more comfortable that we can hold on to leads against big teams.

That’s what this game will also do for this Arsenal team; build more belief that we can compete. Big games between those teams that profess to be title contenders are always tight. They tend to be decided by the odd flash of genius or a single lapse in concentration. For too long we’ve had games against the other big teams in which it hasn’t been close enough for us to compete. Yesterday’s result will hopefully have an impact in terms of belief and confidence that we can and we are competing in those tight games again.

The inclusion of Bellerin at right back was an interesting one and perhaps shows that Arsène is adopting the ‘puppet effect’ as Dave puts it – one quick and pacey full back to push forward whilst the other one sits – giving us more defensive cover. But also by having Monreal/Bellerin vs Gibbs/Debuchy, it ensures that two more attCk minded full backs won’t leave us caught out. Some much needed pragmatism from Arsène that will hopefully serve us well during the season.

The midfield of Coquelin holding, breaking up the play, alongside Santi pulling the strings, worked well at times, but our ball retention could have been a little better. It’s times like yesterday – when the passing is a little off – that we need players like Santi to have the ball more than any other, because he’s usually the player who can retain possession better than anyone. He is going to be important for us this season. I’m convinced of that.

Mesut took a bit of time to warm in to the game, probably because he found his space closed down quite frequently from a Chelski side who clearly didn’t want him pulling the strings, but he still had an impact, switching the play to Theo before the striker found The Ox to hammer home. I found it pleasing to see that Özil and Ramsey were quite fluid in their movements yesterday. Neither occupied the left or central too much I felt and, given that we faced the best opposition we’re going to face this season, I think it bodes well for us. Both players will find more space against the ‘smaller’ teams and I think we’ll see their impact a lot more than the patches we saw yesterday. We defended well yesterday and so the game of those two players had to suffer as we held our collective defensive shape, but that won’t be the case for the whole season. I’m sure of it.

Up top Arsène featured both Giroud and Walcott and although I could understand the logic of Theo up against two slower centre halves in Terry and Cahill, for me it didn’t quite work as well as when Giroud came on. He’s a more polished striker in terms of his overall game compared to Walcott and you could tell by the way he peeled off the centre backs and nearly scored at the back post within a few minutes of coming on. He should really have scored late on when standing seven or eight yards from goal, but thankfully that miss didn’t come back to haunt us.

I’d been saying all weekend that this game was nothing more than a posh friendly and I still haven’t changed my approach, but with confidence and belief in the squad looking high at the moment, this performance can still be used by the manager and players to keep them riding high until we play West Ham. The game yesterday will count for nothing if we don’t show up against The Hammers, but we’ve given ourselves the best possible preparation to make sure we’re ready, so let’s hope this is just the start of something special.

Movement on players, but is it the ‘right’ players at Arsenal?

Mattieu Flamini to Galatasaray and Wojciech Szczesny to Roma on a one year deal, it seems, if the rumours across multiple newspapers and on radio shows are to be believed.

Firstly the Flamster who, if we’re all honest, probably knew his time was up at the club. The fact we’re picking up a fee for a player who we got on a free transfer and was probably expected to play only a handful of games, is pretty astute from Le Boss. 

Yesterday I talked about the need for adaptable players and it’s clear that as a player his adaptability whilst not that bad (we all know he can play at full back, having done so during the Champions League when we reached the final), does little to make up for his clearly limited technique. He’s a bulldog with plenty of bite, but if you want him to shepherd sheep or fetch your paper, it just wouldn’t work. He’d most likely chew the paper to within an inch of its centre. Then go after your slippers for dessert.

But he’s proved to be a useful transitional player, adding a bit of depth to the midfield, as well as a bit of bite. And this time he’ll leave the club with our blessing.

As for Woj, this transfer which I found out about via the radio last night, doesn’t feel as good for me. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that a loan deal to get him game time won’t be better for him than sitting on the bench all season, but you just get the feeling that the second he departs, our shiny new signing might just develop glass ankles. Or wrists. That’s what tends to happen at Arsenal, you see. 

Perhaps a change of scenery would do him good. Perhaps a year in Italy will help him improve as a ‘keeper. But talk of Roma negotiating an option to sign the player at the end, suggests that his time is up and it will be Ospina who will play understudy to Cech, which I don’t necessarily think is the best option for Arsenal Football Club. Mainly because I think Szczseny is the better ‘keeper. He’s certainly the more attractive option for other clubs to go after. The age difference between Szszcesny and Ospina is one year and the Colombian played in a World Cup last year and the Copa America just a month ago, so he has been in full view of the world’s football clubs, yet Szczesny who was Arsenal’s number two and is also Poland’s number two has got a concrete offer in. Doesn’t that strike you as odd.

It does to me. 

I think Szczesny is the better ‘keeper and by letting him go instead of Ospina I think we’re weakening our reserve options somewhat. I know there was talk of Everton being interested in Ospina, but until something more concrete comes in, all it looked like from where I’m standing is paper chatter and nothing more, so to me it just looks like we’re trying to get one of the two out the door as quickly as possible. 

I have nothing against Ospina. He did ok at times last season. But that’s just it. Okay. Not spectacular. He didn’t really save us games, if you’ll excuse the unintended pun. He just did what you’d expect from your ‘keeper. The bread and butter. Szczesny form may have tailed off last season, but the season before that he showed he was capable of keeping us in games, to which I still think he’s capable of and it’s why I was kind of hoping we could solve a problem by giving Ospina a new home. But it appears that will not be the case.

Perhaps I’m getting overly worried when the reality is that we’ve already made an upgrade in goal and are likely to see Ospina rarely in the upcoming season. Only time will tell. But I just can’t shake the feeling that ditching the Pole isn’t in the best interests of the club from an ability perspective. Unless its got nothing to do with ability and everything to do with attitude and Arsène’s finally had enough. 

One things for sure; if Wojciech never plays for the Arsenal again, that crafty ciggie in the showers will go down as one of the most career defining puffs anyone has ever had.

Laters peeps.

One heck of a tour, one Hect of a player

Today will be an interesting test for the team because, as Arsène described at his pre-game presser in Singapore, both Everton and Stoke were really up for their game and there were plenty of ‘committed’ tackles going in.

You hear things like that and the first thing you think of as a fan is “I really hope they go easy. It’s only a friendly” because as much as you want the matches to be a bit competitive so the team can get up to speed on their fitness, the last thing we need is to start the season missing players, we’ve already lost Alexis and Rosicky remember.

So whilst I’m looking forward to seeing a more senior XI playing this afternoon (UK time), I hope everyone remembers the real thing doesn’t start for at least a couple of weeks.

The tour appears – by and large – to have been a success and whilst Le Boss is surprised by the facilities, passion, volume of fans, etc, I don’t think there’s many of us online who had the same amount of surprise when seeing the turn out for the friendlies and the kit launch. Football is big business these days and Arsenal are a global brand with a massive online community – the biggest – so for those fans out there who don’t get to travel to see the real thing in the Premier League, this is a great opportunity that they were always going to take. I salute those Asian fans. We are all one big community and I’m glad you got your opportunity to get up close and personal with the players.

As for those players, Arsène has laid down a challenge for Bellerin and with him about to sign a new deal after an exceptional season, this season could be even bigger for him than last. I’d expect Debuchy to start the season as first choice, but if the young Spaniard manages to de-throne the Frenchman by having another consist set of performances, we could be looking at quite a player on our hands. At his age he has all the potential to become a bit of a Lee Dixonesque style legend at the club. As long as he doesn’t do lobbing his own ‘keeper from 30 yards against Coventry!!

He seems to have his head screwed on right though. He comes across very well in interviews and has said about how he himself still has trouble seeing himself as one of the first team squad. Let me tell you Hect, you better believe it because you have some massive potential, my friend.

So too, if you believe Arsène, does Yaya Sanogo. He joins Ajax on a season long loan which was confirmed yesterday by both clubs and the tall Frenchman was pictured in the Ajax kit signing a loan deal for 2015/16. I admire Arsène’s belief in the player and who knows, playing with a better calibre of players, in the Champions League, as well as being under the tutelage of the Master Dennis Bergkamp, he may turn in to that player Arsène believes. But with rumours of Benzema not going away (much will also be made of the comments by Arsène when he said “not at the moment” when directly asked), you can’t help but think that his opportunity may not be made available at the club. Football is often a game of fortune when it comes to players breaking through – Bellerin and Coquelin the prime examples of that – and you just wonder whether the availability of another megastar might end up signalling the end of Sanogo’s chance at the club. Let’s hope Arsène’s right and he does do the business at Ajax though, because it’s always nicer to see young players come through, in my opinion.

The perils of recorded Arsenal games and the lure of home

Welcome to Friday. I don’t know about you, but it’s a week that certainly has dragged for me. Is it because there is no football on? Is that what it is? No football, plus no real mega exciting news to speak of, equals slow-diddly-oweness. I guess there was some football on Wednesday, but I was at work so it wasn’t really something I could ‘look forward to’ so to speak. And as much as I try with recorded games that you watch after the event, it’s never quite the same, is it?

I always get a little bit too remote control trigger-happy. Throw ins, corners, stoppages in play; they all get fast forwarded. Which then completely ruins the ‘live’ experience and thrill. It’s also the unknown factor of watching it live. When you and I are watching The Arsenal live, wherever we are, we’re all in the same boat and we experience the same nerves. But we also experience the same adrenaline. All of that gets washed away when you know the result. I’ve tried to avoid all fonts cat with humans that might divulge that information in the past, but in the end it never really works out, so I gave up on that a long time ago. It’s a bit like the people on the news who say “if you don’t want to know the result, look away now”, then within a second they both say and show the result. How the devil are you supposed to react that quickly? Especially if you’ve been inebriated all day!

Anyway, tomorrow will feel a little bit more like things are getting back to the norm, because it’ll be a 1.30pm kick off UK time, plus a Saturday so I can watch the game without having to do that ‘work’ thing that gets in the way of live. And it’s another Premier League club in the shape of Everton, so that will help to trick my brain into feeling like we’re getting backflip the norm.

Why can’t they just pay us to be Gooners, eh? 

Ahh, right, yes. Because that would make us players. And probably bankrupt the club. But it’s a nice idea. Maybe I’ll write to Ivan. If you don’t buy a ticket n’all that…

There seems to be a bit more rumbling about Nacho Monreal to Bilbao. More than many of us would like it has to be said, but I do find it staggering (if true) that a club can hold so much sway over a player just because it’s in a certain region. It’s like Bilbaoan (did I get that right?) people don’t realise that if you’re a footballer, you’re supposed to be greedy and a little bit simple, but gifted with a spherical thing at your feet. The move is baffling in the extreme. If Nacho wants to go back to the club one day then you can understand it, but having just spent two years unseating Gibbs from the left back slot at one of the biggest clubs in Europe, why would you decide to join a mid table team? It’s like Gareth Bale leaving Madrid for Swansea because he misses the high levels of unemployment and people drinking Special Brew on the street at 11am on a Tuesday. 

I just don’t get it. But then again, I am from London and there perhaps aren’t the same ties as there are for the Spanish region, or even the rest of the UK I suspect. I mean yes, you’ve got the Geordies and the Mackems who are all football mad and one-club cities, but players don’t feel an unexplainable draw to the club whatever the circumstances. Just look at Jordan Henderson moving to Liverpool as a case in point. Or Andy Carroll to Liverpool too, for that matter.

Perhaps it’s got something to do with the fact he’s only got a year left on his deal and he’s angling for another three years, where as Arsène would probably only be angling for a one year extension given that he’ll be 30 in February next year. I’d offer him three. He’s deserved it and besides, having reached the tender age of 32 myself, I’d like to think he’ll still be useful when he hits my age.

Anyway, all of this could very well be Spanish tabloid mischief making, so I should probably just forget about it and think more about how exciting it will be when Big Per and Arteta lift the Premier League trophy in May next year.

As for what else is happening, well, there isn’t really anything of note. There’s more rumblings about Benzema but really, are we going to head down that well trodden route? I’m bored of it already, so I know you must be too.

And with all this in mind, I say my good day to you and hope that tidings find you well. 

Poldi’s end is nigh, Campbell’s career may not be dead and I must finish my flux capacitor

London black cabs everywhere will be a little less cheery in their disposition this morning, after Lukas Podolski’s agent confirmed that he’ll be making the switch to Turkish football to play for Galatasaray this summer. I think we all knew it was coming, but the fact that Poldi’s agent said that they had a long and good chat with Arsène Wenger about his future – in which Le Boss apparently tried to convince Lukas to stay – shows a little bit about why players love Arsène. He does tend to treat them all with respect and in a week in which much back-slapping has been happening at Chelski for letting Cech go to Arsenal, it should perhaps not be forgotten that Arsène has a history of looking after players. “Make love, not war” is clearly a motto that the Frenchman seems to adopt. Certainly more than his odious Portguese counterpart.

It’s a good move for all, in truth, because it generates a bit of cash, gets a hefty earned off the wage bill, plus means that there’s one less quandary for Arsène to ponder over when it comes to the 25-man squad rule. By-and-large you’d have to say he’s hardly been a success, particularly as his value seems to have dropped from £11million three years ago to £3million now, but at least the German international has left us with plenty of positive memories of his thunderous left foot. Let’s just choose to remember the good things. It will make everyone’s outlook on life so much more sunny.

The other question mark at the top end of the pitch would be How do you solve a problem like Joel Campbell? Not quite a year to the day, but certainly come the beginning of August, there was a clamour to see the player start more regularly for Arsenal last season. But after half a season hardly ripping up trees at Villareal, having signed a new deal, one does wonder if we should have cashed in whilst young Joel’s stock was so high last summer.

After all, World Cup’s are not just festivals of football, but opportunities to put a player in a shop window and usually if a player plays well you see a selling club often command top dollar. It’s easy to say in hindsight (especially as I was one of those people who thought Mr Campbell should have been given more time. Perhaps it was due to the surname with which I still have multiple affections of given Arsenal’s past) that we should have cashed in because his value probably wouldn’t have increased, but after what we’ve seen with Coquelin and the transformation he’s had, I’m inclined to wonder who else could prove everyone wrong when all of their chips appear to be down.

The Coquelin situation has kind of thrown the whole deck of cards up in the air when it comes to young players, hasn’t it? I mean, what you thought you knew about a player of a certain age has suddenly seen you think twice, no? I know it has for me. Sure, defensive midfield is probably a position where you’re afforded a bit more leeway than up top, but even that Arsenal fan Harry Kane has proved that you can’t always predict how a player will evolve.

I am still of a mind to believe that Campbell will slowly disappear further and further away from the first team, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Arsène has a very good look at him in pre season before shipping him out on another loan or permanent deal.

Cue a hat-trick at The Emirates Cup and the hyperbole brigade out in force to implore the manager to give him a shout. That is, assuming we have injuries I suppose. After all, we’re now at the stage where we’re no longer blooding youngsters in the first team, unless they are exceptional talents like Bellerin. So whether or not there is a clamour to see a player like Campbell get game time compared to a year ago remains to be seen.

I know we might all be getting to the stage where we’ve had so much Cech news that we’ll soon be guilty of Cech over exposure, but he’s had a little bit more to say on the official site about how long he can see himself playing for. He’s said he doesn’t think about retiring and wants to play for another seven years. That would take him up to 40 and about the same age as van Der Saar and Seaman before they hung up their gloves. I can certainly see him going on that long and if we have him as our first choice for that period of time then the £11million outlay would be worth it, but in a way I hope it doesn’t get to that, because I’d like to see Szczesny step up over the next 18 months. If Cech is number one for seven years then there’s no doubt the Pole won’t be at the club but perhaps on a slightly more morose note, it would mean that his career which showed so much early promise, did indeed stagnate and move backwards. For a guy that has been with the club for so long and broken in to the first team from the academy, I’m sure no Arsenal fan would want to see that, regardless of what anybody might think about his attitude. So whilst I’m hopeful we’ll feel like we’ve got our money’s worth out of the Cech deal, I’m also equally hopeful that we’ll see a gradual changing of the guard over the next three years, with Wojciech emerging as the world class ‘keeper we all want him to be. Again, the benefit of hindsight now would be useful, as we can all know what happens and if required not stake so much emotional investment in Woj. 

I must get back to finishing that flux capacitor.