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.

Points first, pretty football second

Howdy fellow Gooner, how is your weekend shaping up? Good? An Arsenal win certainly helps, doesn’t it?

I’m in a good mood on a Sunday morning as I write today’s instalment of my football musings. Draped in my Arsenal dressing gown, tapping away the day after an opening day of the season, watching the Sunday Supplement crew savage United and leave us relatively unscathed. It’s quite nice to have the media not giving us a pasting. Hopefully we can repeat last seasons form up until February with a different ending to March, April and May.

The season is now well under way and The Arsenal are on the board with the first three points of the season. It may not have been from the vintage collection of performances, but it was a performance that got results, which given our recent opening day history that’s nothing to be sniffed at. Palace were always going to be difficult to break down and, regardless of what anybody might say about the disruption of Pulis leaving just days before the game took place, the team had clearly worked hard on their game plan of frustration, it nearly paid off too. Pulis may not have been track-suiting his way around the dugout, but that was his team out there.

I actually thought we started quite brightly. The movement seemed ok and the retention of the ball was alright. The passing radar seemed to be a little wayward but there are always kinks to be ironed out on the opening game of the season. Arsene’s surprise inclusion of Sanogo had a few eyebrows raised and there’s clearly something that he sees in the young Frenchman, because he’s giving him plenty of opportunity to prove himself. Unfortunately, I am not quite seeing what Arsene sees, because what I saw was a young and raw player whose first touch isn’t that great. Le Boss clearly wants to see a big, strong, powerful target man leading the line, which is why Sanogo was given the nod. I can only assume Giroud still isn’t 100% fit, but he’ll only get that way with games, so at some stage he’ll have to throw him in from the start.

So we looked okayish, but lacked a little bit of bite in the final third in the first half. Palace defended well as a unit and sat relatively deeper, with Speroni given the freedom to waste up to five minutes a half with every opportunity that he was presented with. It really is a bugbear of mine actually. Yesterday it became so farcical that at one stage Aaron Ramsey was using his fingers to show referee Jonathan Moss how long the Palace ‘keeper was taking. All Moss had to do was to have a quiet word in the first fifteen minutes – when the time wasting began – with Speroni and tell him he’d book him if he persistently time wasted and all of that would have been avoided. But nope, he allowed it to carry on and it became a joke towards the end.

But it was Rambo who had the last laugh anyway, with a poachers finish in the dying embers of the match. Oh how is would have loved to have been able to whisper “time waste all you want now mate” in his ear after we scored that late winner. They always feel the sweetest when they’re scored so late with little time to reply, so it feels extra groovy this morning that we’re off and running.

As you and I both know, it didn’t all go to plan yesterday, especially in the first half. With the towering Hangeland clearly a danger from set pieces, you’d have thought we’d spend a bit more time working out who and how to mark him better. But alas, our zonal marking was another root cause of our own dismay and Hangeland was able to run in a straight line in the box to nod the ball in at the back post. Quite why we decided we don’t need men on it is beyond me. When I first started playing football, it was one of the first bits about defending that I was taught, so quite why it isn’t the most natural and unspoken law of basic football defending in the professional game is a bit beyond me if I’m honest.

But if we were to fall foul of shoddy defending, then so were Crystal Palace, as our first half injury time goal from Koscienly but floated across from Alexis was well delivered and well timed. It was just the tonic needed before halftime.

The second half was similar to the first. We stuttered a bit and our fluency that was so evident against Moneychester City wasn’t quite there, with Santi Cazorla of all people looking the most bereft of form and confidence based on yesterday’s game. He was off-key all game; misplaced passes, losing possession and not as spritely as we’ve come to expect. It wasn’t just him though, Jack seemed slightly wayward in finding red shirts at times, and when he came on the Ox was not at his best. However, there’s one thing that this Arsenal team has that teams of the recent past lacked a little, which is the belief that they will get the result. It’s easy to speculate, but an Arsenal of four years ago probably wouldn’t have been able to make that second breakthrough. We’d have huffed and puffed, but there’s no way the house would have been blown down, so seeing Rambo nick it in injury time was not only a relief of the points, but a belief that the players back themselves to have a good season too. After all, the tired footballing clichés of ‘never giving up’, ‘winning whilst playing badly’ and ‘the best teams always score late goals’ are already being pointed in the direction of Arsene’s charges this morning.

Let’s have a paragraph of praise for Chambers as well though, eh? What an assured performance from one so young. He looks as composed as a 29 year old, not one that’s 19. There will be tougher tests to come for him in an Arsenal shirt, but this particular one was passed with flying colours, which will give every Gooner satisfaction that the heart of the defence has some depth. We still need another body, but the signs are positive for this young lad, which is great to see.

Debuchy also had a decent game and proves that when you buy proven experience in the Premier League you get instant results, which is why there’s not too many of us that should be too concerned with Alexis’ indifferent game. He’s still finding his feet in a new league, has to get used to our style of play, so I’m not too worried.

I also thought Monreal did well too, which is just as well, because if Gibbs has a hamstring injury then the Spaniard will be needed for the next few weeks. I suspect he’ll get a few games to stake a regular first team spot, so let’s hope he replicates yesterday’s performance on Tuesday night against Besiktas and beyond.

Roll on Tuesday. And thank Bergkamp the football’s back!

So many positives, even if it’s a friendly

There have been many days over the years that it has felt slightly painful to be waking up as a Gooner. Some of the stinging defeats to the bigger teams last season smarted a bit.

Today is not one of them.

Today is a day in which you and I get to smile at the fact we swept aside the Champions, whilst at the same time, feel nothing but incredible excitement at the prospect of this upcoming season.

Yes, the Community Shield is nothing but a glorified friendly with a piece of silver at the end for the winner, but as a radio presenter remarked last night as I was basting my roast beef (no, that is not a euphemism!) they made a remark that nobody can contest: it’s better to start your season with the confidence of having won it than not.

You can’t say the team will lack any confidence after that performance.

They may well have been mitigating circumstances – as a BT Sport were at pains to point out throughout the game – with the number of absences that Momeychester City had, but don’t let anybody tell you that Pellegrini wasn’t fussed about winning the thing or not. When you reach the top of any sporting profession, you do so because you have the desire and drive to be successful at everything to put your hand to, so Pellegrini would have prepared his charges in the same way they will prepare to face Newcastle next weekend.

As for the absences, of course City will be stronger, but very little seemed to be mentioned in the commentary that I watched about the fact that Arsenal had Mertesacker, Özil, Podolski and Walcott out, whilst Giroud was clearly still not fit. But perhaps that’s because everyone is used to seeing Arsenal depleted by injuries. Moneychester City fans had better hope they don’t fall foul of a similar fate this season (although I acknowledge that there is an argument that we won’t fall foul as badly if Arsene rotates a bit more than usual, so we can keep players fresher throughout the season, less susceptible to injury), because based on the performance yesterday they are as reliant on their ‘big’ players as any team in the division.

As for the game itself, well, that was as perfect a blueprint that you’d want to see for any start to the season. From kick off it was obvious we were better prepared than the Citizens and more composed on the ball. We dominated the opening 15 minutes, then 30, then right up until halftime. When we conceded possession I was really pleased to see us win the ball higher up the field, which alleviated any pressure on the defence and meant we could turn defence into attack quite rapidly.

And we were rapid, weren’t we? Sanchez has that element of trickery about him that reminds me a little of Rosicky, but he’s got bags of pace about him and looked to be a real handful for the City defence. There will still be questions as to his best position as he finds his way into the team, but you can tell he’s going to be a great asset. What I really loved in the first half was seeing him race through one-on-one against Caballero, because Theo aside, we haven’t had another player able to do that on a frequent basis since Thierry. So when Mesut Özil is fit and fully integrated into the first team, I’m quite excited about the prospect of a few searching balls in between defence and goalkeeper, from the German to the Chilean.

There were so many positives from yesterday’s game. Just look at the opening scorer. With all the furore around the new signings over the last two summers, little Santi Cazorla – our player of the season two years ago – has almost taken a bit of a back seat in the limelight of the team. He also looked terribly unfit at last weeks Emirates Cup. Yet yesterday I thought he looked a bit more like his old self, keeping hold to the ball, being involved in the build up to chances and with his goal came a classic Santi feint before tucking the ball away with his left foot. There are so many good players at our club these days and Santi is a prime example of a player that might find his game time a wee bit more limited over the course of the season, but nobody should be under any illusion on how important his role in the team will be.

I loved how Jack was getting into spaces in between the City defence and midfield time and time again. He looked up for it yesterday and as Arsene has already said, this is the first time in a few summers that he’s had a full pre season under his belt. Again, he’s another one that we can rightly expect big things for this season and regardless of what Mr Adams says, he will kick on and show his value I’m sure.

Goal number two’s recipient had an element of inevitability about it, didn’t it? Aaron Ramsey stepped up and slotted a great ball home after the impressive Sanogo had held up the ball and fed him in. A quick aside for Sanogo – I get the feeling he’ll be in the similar mould to Giroud, in that he won’t be the scorer of as many goals, but he will bring others into play and be very useful indeed. Aaron’s finish was what we’ve come to expect from him and there is certainly confidence amongst Gooners everywhere that last season was not a one off but the norm now with the Welshman. What was so clever about that finish was actually the touch just before the goal. It was a kind of little mini chip into his own path so that he could hit the ball on the half volley. That’s the sign of a player that is not only full of confidence, but full of ability too, and I hope we can see more of that next weekend and throughout the season.

Defensively there were plus points too. Debuchy looked like he’d been in that right back slot for years and Calum Chamber has the assured composure of a 29-year-old, not one ten years younger. Arsene remarked after the game that he’ll try to bring in someone for Vermaelen as cover in central defence, but if Chambers has more displays like that, then he’ll rightly find it hard. There was one moment in the game where Jovetic was gifted the ball from Chambers and looked to be through on goal, but the lads recovery pace looks to be pretty decent and he was quite rapid in retrieving it from his opponent.

Again, all this positivity and I haven’t even mentioned the good performances of Gibbs or Arteta, or the few commanding catches Szczseny made in his own box. And I haven’t even mentioned the stunning finish of Giroud, who sheepishly took the man of the match performance much to the surprise of most people I think, because he was quite in the most part. Olivier hasn’t exactly become know for his long range radar and there was a couple of occasions last season where we could have done with a pearler like that (Everton in the last minute where he hit the bar springs to mind), but if we see a few of those this season there should be few that argue he hasn’t upped his game in the face of more competition for his place.

It augurs well for what will be a very different game next weekend against Palace. Pulis will attempt to borify the world with stifling tactics and reduction in space in the final third for Arsenal, so we shouldn’t use this game as the benchmark for a season of clean sheets and large scores. Next weekend I’d take any form of win no matter how ugly.

So enjoy the day today, enjoy the fact that pre season appears to be going as we’d hoped, but temper it with an understanding that the real stuff starts at 5.30pm next Saturday.

Peace out

Bit of work to do for Arsene

It’s a first day back for yours truly today, after a couple of weeks in Portuguese sun and a spot of corporate hospitality at yesterday’s Emirates Cup, which was a first for me and was certainly an interesting experience. How I’ve never thought to concoct a ‘Yorkshire Wrap’ – roast beef and onions within a wrapped Yorkshire Pudding – during my time on this earth is beyond me. That it has taken me nearly 32 years to savour the flavour is cause for disappointment, but at least I’ve had one now, I’m the better for it too.

I thought I’d start with something non-football related to be positive about this morning, because what happened on the pitch was hardly full of the same Arsenal swagger that the home fans had been treated to on Saturday afternoon, so looking for the joys of life away from the pitch seemed appropriate.

And look, let’s be realistic here; this game doesn’t really mean too much and is all about getting the team ready for that first game of the season against Palace in two weeks. I don’t know about you, but I don’t even mind if we’re that poor against Moneychester City next weekend, as long as we iron out any kinks by the following week.

As Arsene said afterwards, we looked very lethargic yesterday, sluggish with the ball and not really looking like we’d fashion a chance in that first half. Giroud lasted only a half and Arsene even said that he was not really ready. There was a couple of occasions where I thought he and Sanchez exchanged passes well and one delightful through-ball from the Chilean only for Giroud to be called offside, but other than that his movement compared to Falcao was quite a contrast. Of course there are mitigating circumstances and Giroud had a World Cup where Falcao sat out through injury, but I suspect the fact that the Colombian is a worthwhile £50million footballer, probably had something to do with the difference between the two as well. His movement is very clever and he drifted across the Arsenal defence for the whole time on the pitch. Giroud did not and has never been the most mobile of players.

I thought our new players all had positives about their game. Debuchy slotted in and looked like he’d been part of the team for years – probably something you’d expect from an international quality full back whose just spent two years previously in the Premier League – and it’s easy to feel more comfortable about the fact that we’ve replaced Sagna adequately enough. Chambers was the big plus point for me; he looked composed on the ball, won a few tackles and his distribution was effective enough. You can see why Wenger rates him enough to spunk £12million on a 19 year old. In a similar way to how Falcao and Giroud look different levels of class, the difference between the composed Chambers and shaky Miquel was quite obvious. Our Spanish centre half didn’t really look like he’d kicked on much from the promising player we thought we had three years ago and, if we’re all honest, it’s hard to see how he has a long-term future at the club. Yesterday he looked really leggy, was done for pace at least once and his touch left a little to be desired of, so if he is still at the club – either permanent or a loan move – by 1st September, I’d be surprised.

Alexis Sanchez played well too. His movement looked good, he fed a couple of good balls to Giroud, he had some nice interchanges of possession with The Ox (who played really well yesterday and I hope starts next weekend) and has one heck of a leap on him for a small fella. He looked like he’d snuck a step ladder on to the pitch in his shorts on a couple of occasions, such was the impressive spring he had. It’s easy to see that he’ll be a positive influence on the team and with Walcott also available from September, they’ll be some frightening pace in this Arsenal side.

That was pretty much all of the positives we could take from this friendly tournament. It was interesting to see that the press asked about Cazorla’s weight, because my compatriots and I thought he looked like he’d been carrying a bit of additional baggage across the midriff yesterday, so the fact it was asked in the post-match presser shows that we weren’t the only ones raising a few eyebrows. Arsene denied it of course, but I suspect he’ll have asked Santi himself whether he’d been a bit liberal with his paella portions after the World Cup finished for Spain.

It’s clear that Arsene has a bit of work to do in terms of conditioning for the players. He all but said as much in his interview after the game, but he now has time to work with the players and I suspect we’ll also start seeing the integration of the Germans into the side soon, so let’s not forget that we are still trying to pull together the bones of the first team that will be the foundation for our (hopeful) league title attempt.

Oh, before I forget, a really slow and sarcastic hand clap for Martin Atkinson. The incompetent referee was about 10 yards away from the action when Akpom was scythed down by the Monaco ‘keeper a yard inside the box, but he saw fit to give a free kick on the line of the box rather than the penalty. My only hope is that the phrase ‘they even themselves out come the end of the season’ rings true, and we can profit from a shocking decision in our favour by him, when the actual football starts.

My day ended on a high however as we were treated to a picture with a quick chat and picture with Tony Adams, so despite the poor performance, we were able to get a snap with a genuine Arsenal legend.

Catch you tomorrow you wonderful humans, you.

Brazilians don’t excite; targets seem very ‘Arsene’ like

In some sort of weird reversal of expectancy, it appears as though the two games that were played yesterday afternoon and evening were the opposite of what I expected. I thought with talent on display in the France verus Germany game,it would be by far the most entertaining match to watch, so I was a bit gutted that it was on earlier in the evening when I was travelling back from a day at the office. That’s not to say that the Brazil versus Colombia game didn’t have any superstars on display – evidently there are a few on either side – I just felt that a Franco-German slug-fest would provide more entertainment.

As it was I found yesterday’s evening game quite good, as the Colombians did their level best to upset the odds and turn over the Brazilians, whilst not really creating a string of chances. This Brazilian team doesn’t really capture my imagination at all and, when they scored quite early on through a shoddy bit of defending from a corner, I hoped the Colombians would react a bit better than they did. Particularly James Rodriguez. Mind you, the Brazilians must have done their homework on this referee, because the tactical and rotational fouling for persistent digs at Rodriguez was as blatant and obvious as an Adrian Chiles stupid remark. The Spanish referee did little to quash the Brazilian tactics of slowing the game down, even reserving his yellow card for James Rodriguez when he made his one and only foul of the game (I think), whilst also downgrading what looked like a clear red by Julio Caesar to a yellow for the Colombian penalty.

So it’s a Germany against Brazil semi final and despite the fact the German’s haven’t ripped anyone apart other than Portugal, I hope (and think) they serve a bit of a humbling to the Brazilian team, who will certainly be feeling nervous after Neymar was ruled out of the competition with a back injury. It was a pretty shocking challenge when you look at it for the second time and, given what has happened to the recipient of the foul, you do think it’s rather ludicrous that the Colombian player wasn’t penalised further for his actions.

It’s Belgium vs Argentina tonight, for which I’m hoping Belgium do a number on the Argies, plus Holland versus Costa Rica who I think will probably have gone as far as they probably can. This is beginning to feel like it could be the Argentinians year to me. Messi has finally turned up to a tournament, they have great firepower throughout the squad, plus they could have an easier route to the final by beating Costa Rica and then potentially Holland in the semi’s, of which I feel the Dutch are nowhere near as good as the Argentinians.

Arsenal news is unsurprisingly light on the ground, but there was some chatter online last night that Debuchy had announced to journalists from TF1 that he would be joining Arsenal. That’s all well and good with people suggesting this, but I can’t find any specific reference to any quotes on any website, neither in the British press, nor the actual TF1 website. Although, I must confess that my French isn’t so much rusty, as it is non-existent, so I may have been navigating their website totally wrong. It does seem as though this is a very Arsene Wenger signing and, if the deal is done quickly, it at least means we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the club are actually looking to tie up deals as quickly as possible. With so many media outlets now reporting this deal as ‘done’ (L’Equipe are saying so too), it does seem as if there is no some without fire on this one so I think we should all be pretty pleased that there’s Premier League experience coming straight in to slot in to the team.

There’s nothing really new from any of the other reports going on at the moment. A lot of re-hashing of stories and re-populating of information for the sake of it right now, which you can tell when places like the MIrror start referencing other media outlets as the rumour mill goes into full ‘he-said/she-said’ territory. I like the sound of a Debuchy, Sanchez, Schneiderlin and Remy summer,all of which seeming feasible for Arsene, but bringing in that many players in one summer would be a surprise to me. Particularly Remy if we get Sanchez. Arsene really fancies a bit of Sanogo as understudy to Giroud and I suspect that if a deal for Sanchez were to be done, we’d see him playing wide right or left of the Frenchman. Having the pacey Remy in the squad doesn’t really seem to me to be as worthwhile when you have players like the Ox, Gnabry and eventually Walcott to come back, as we’d be stifling someone’s longer term route in to the first team. Hey, I’m not trying to be all Arsene Wenger in my hypotheses, I’m just trying to work out what the reality of any situation would be. I think it would be that if we get Sanchez and Debuchy, unless there is any other kind of exit like Vermaelen, that could in theory be all there is kids. Whether that represents a good summer or not I’m not so sure. I would probably say ‘only just’, but that’s much like last summer was ‘only just’ salvaged by the Ozil transfer. We’d effectively have only bought in one extra player if just the Frecnhman and the Chilean came in; Sagna for Debuchy is a clear ‘one-in-one-out’ replacement and so doesn’t make us stronger in terms of depth.

I’d like to see our squad all remain (including Vermaelen) in tact this year, with a front man, a ‘keeper, a defensive minded midfielder and potentially a young and up-and-coming centre half ideally, but I suspect that Arsene would be happy with Sanchez, Debuchy and maybe a clear seconded-choice ‘keeper from the Outer Hebrides or some place that few have heard of. We’ll just have to wait and see until he makes his first move. I just hope he does it soon.

Anyway, catch you tomorrow, with some more thoughts.

The most fun blog I’ve written – FA Cup Winners 2014

I woke up this morning with a big smile on my face. I switched on the TV this morning with a smile on my face. I am writing today’s blog with a smile on my face. I’ve been writing blogs for about three years now and I have to say, this is the one blog that I was wondering whether I’d be writing any time soon, so I am thankful that it has come. It has been worth the wait.

Arsenal are 2014 FA Cup Winners. The nine year ‘drought’ has ended. The years of media sniping can restart at zero and we can revel in what has, we can all say with relative comfort, been a successful season for The Arsenal.

Drink it in. Football is about special moments that are captured over a short period of time like yesterday and today. We as fans go through all of the lows, all of the pain, frustration and sadness just for the adrenalin highs like yesterday. To see the relief on the players faces as the final went, to see them fall to their knees and to see the visible relief etched on Arsene’s face was something that will stay with me forever.

Players play for clubs like Arsenal because the want to win trophies. It is what drives them and yesterday’s game does not just provide us with a platform for celebration on a hot May afternoon, it also gives us hope that we are that extra little bit attractive to top players. All of those players that have spoken of winning trophies at the club, all of those people who question whether Arsenal can drag themselves over the line, well now we can say that they can. They can achieve their greatness with Arsenal and much like the players we have had the taste of silverware and will become all the more hungry for more of it in future.

We are the joint most successful FA Cup team that has ever existed along with Manchester United. We like that cup and we’ve done it again for the eleventh time in our history. Savor that folks, savor that.

Shall I talk about the game a bit? I guess this is a match review of sorts, but the match itself seems slightly inconsequential compared to the gravity of what has been achieved. Because this Arsenal team weren’t just fighting Hull City, they were fighting history or more specifically, the burden of past failures and expectation for a club like Arsenal. The pressure on the fourteen players that played yesterday was immense and, although it took a superb Aaron Ramsey extra time goal to secure the victory, they were in control and outplayed Hull for about 110 of the 120 minutes in my completely biased opinion.

Unfortunately, it was in those first ten minutes that it felt at the time that a lot of damage was done. By the time we had hit the ten minute point in the game we were two down through a real bit of smash-and-grab set piece football from Hull. First it was a miss-hit Huddlestone shot that I’m convinced just ricocheted off his foot rather than what the commentators suggested that he’d cleverly steered it in. That was after four minutes and it felt like the world should just swallow our half of the stadium up when Curtis Davies slotted the ball in from another ball into the box that was knocked on to the post by one of the Hull centre backs. I didn’t think it could get any worse, so when Kieran Gibbs headed a ball off the line from a corner it really did start to feel like it wasn’t going to be our day. We were shell-shocked and on the ropes through a quick start. It’s how we’ve been undone in all the big games this season and is certainly something I think should be looked at by the team for next year.

But for all of their faults, for the ability to be caught out so early, you cannot criticise the team too much on a day like today, because the response was exactly what was needed. Having got back home and re-watched the final last night, it struck me how dominant we were in possession. Sure, there weren’t very many chances created over the ninety minutes, but when I re-watched it was clear that we deserved to get the two goals back. The first, a sumptuous free kick from Santi, was well placed and superbly struck. The fact that Hull had scored two so early left us with time to respond and so when Santi scored on 18 minutes, we knew that it left us with enough time to re-group and go again in the second half. And we did. We were the team in the ascendancy, we were making all of the forward plays and we were the most likely to score in that second half, so when Koscienly tapped in from a knock down in the box we went absolutely nuts behind the goal. The comeback was well and truly on.

The second half ended by grinding a bit to a halt, as I think both teams didn’t want to do anything silly that could lose them the game in dying embers, but Kieran Gibbs had his chance of glory but blazed the ball over from just outside the six yard box. So it was extra time, and much like the majority of the match, it was Arsenal who looked more likely to score. Olivier Giroud had a header knocked on to the crossbar in the first half of extra time. But perhaps the most fitting scorer to win us the FA Cup was destined to write his name into Arsenal history. Aaron Ramsey will feature heavily in post-season reviews and analysis, because he has rightly been the stand out performer this season, but his finish was that of a player who has elevated himself to such a lofty position this season, that it seems almost unthinkable that he won’t be our main man to spearhead us towards another title challenge in 2014/15. After the heartbreak of losing the cup final with Cardiff in 2008, after the devastation from his leg break, after an injury that has kept him out of the season, this was his reward for the hard work and effort. The fabulous first time finish after another really good lay off from Giroud was one of those goals that only when you watch again you see how good it was. It was millimeters away from the post.

I’m not surprised that there’s already talk about Bayern Munich and Pep being interested, but with the stature of Ramsey and the fact that he signed a new deal very recently, I’d be surprised if that isn’t anything other than a bit of mischievous gutter press tittle-tattle.

There was still time for a classic Arsenal ‘heart-in-mouth’ moment though, as a long punt up field was chased down by Aluko but covered by Per, until he slipped, Fabianski inexplicably came rushing out of his box and didn’t get the ball and thankfully the angle was too tight for him to touch into an empty net.

The final whistle went, Arsenal had done it and the players lifted the trophy, with them coming on to the pitch afterwards to greet the fans. I got myself a Jack Wilshere high-five and a Lukas Fabianski gloved high-five and we left the stadium in a fit of delirium.

Today the team are embarking on the trip around North London to parade the trophy and the news emanating from the club is that Arsene will announce his new deal over the next couple of days. There will be the cynical ones that will question the timing given we’re riding high on emotions right now, but after leading the league for so long, after improving on our league points total and bringing silverware back to the club, it’s hard to not think that he doesn’t deserve perhaps one more stab at seeing if he can win that Premier League and/or the Champions League. He said ‘judge me in May’ and we can judge him now. It has been a successful season and I hope we get a couple more ends to the season like this one between now and when he does eventually hang up that massive coat of his for good.

Until tomorrow. Up the Arsenal

Maintaining momentum before the season definer

And that’s yer lot for another season. 38 games in which we’ve seen highs, as well as experienced some pretty lows, drew to a close yesterday as our league campaign finished with a final three points of 2013/14 against a Norwich team that had clearly had just about all the emotional stuffing knocked out of them when Sunderland were all but mathematically confirmed to have survived the drop by beating West Brom in midweek.

As for us, our season does not quite end just yet as we all know, so the importance of victory and maintaining momentum should probably be recognised, despite my dismissive pre-match blog yesterday. The team showed us that there was no way they were going to be delivering anything else but a professional and controlled game and by all accounts managed to restrict Norwich to a couple of chances throughout the match.

That it was Fabianski who received the nod ahead of Szczesny, who stood in between the sticks to receive the couple of Norwich chances, was just one of a number of debates we had last night with the Goonerholic on the penultimate SG Pod of the season. With much social media whisperings of disappointment that Szczesny didn’t receive the chance to win the Golden Glove (as ‘holic pointed out – most probably hadn’t heard of before yesterday), the same people began murmurings that it would mean the younger of the two Pole’s would get the nod next weekend. Personally I don’t think the appearance of Fabianski will equate to a dead certainty that Szcz will start – life, and certainly Arsene’s thinking, is not that linear – but I do think it was Arsene’s way of giving a Premier League send off to Fabianski. He’s won a lot of people over with his performances this season (when he’s played) and even last season when he came in for Wojciech, but that injury he had which effectively gave Szczesny the chance to regain his place last season, probably spelt the beginning of the end for his time as an Arsenal player.

With the news coming from Camp Sagna (no, he’s not decided to come out of the closet in the most mincing of fashions) that he will most likely not be at the club next season, it was also the Frenchman’s opportunity to call time on his Premier League Arsenal career with a good performance, to which he certainly seemed to do so with an assured display at centre half. There’s no doubt we’ll miss him and his ability to win headers against guys that sometimes seem a foot taller than him. It’s a shame the two parties couldn’t come to agreement but it’s hard not to wish both him and Fabianski all the best in their future careers. Unless they sign for Premier League clubs. Then I want nothing but misery for them.

But the real superlatives of today’s blog have to be reserved for that Welshman Ramsey who scored arguably one of the goals of the season. His right foot rocket hit first time on the volley was a thing of beauty from a player that finishes off his season in exactly the same way that he started it. He has been both the most improved and overall best player of the seasons for me and you can’t help but wonder what might have been if he’d have stayed fit. I mean, think about it: a stonking first half of the season and then missing a third of the season through injury, before returning to the team in the same form as when he left. It’s hard not to think he’d have broken the 20 league goal point if he’d have managed to avoid a spell on the sidelines. If you fancy a cheeky pound on a first goalscorer next weekend, with his form at the moment, you’d be hard pressed to get better value than Rambo right now.

There was even the opportunity for Carl Jenkinson to write a little bit of his own history by popping up with his first ever Arsenal goal and, if you ever want to know what your face would look like if you were to score a goal to Arsenal, just Google or search for a Vine of The Corporal’s yesterday. Great stuff.

Just before I wrap up for the day and start to look towards the FA Cup final, a quick word on Giroud, who also had a good game yesterday by all accounts. He’s a real confidence player if ever there was one and so after another good display against the Canaries, it’s good to know we’ll have a central striker feeling pretty darn good about himself going in to what has essentially become the decider on whether or not our season ticks the ‘met expectations’ or the ‘exceeded expectations’ box on the end of year report. Let’s hope it’s the latter.

That’s it from me today. I’ll see thee in the morrow.

Oh and congrats to City for ‘winning’ the league. Maybe.

West Brom: Testimonial feel with fourth already secured

Yesterday’s performance at home to West Brom had all the hallmarks of a  testimonial match. The Emirates was bathed in sunshine for the most part of the afternoon and the Arsenal players were afford a relatively pain-free afternoon of football with which to wave off the home support for this season as the last home game came to a close on this seasons proceedings.

It’s hard to argue that the home form hasn’t been anything but pretty good this season. Undefeated in the Premier League throughout, except for the extreme circumstances of the first game of the season against Villa. A shocking Antony Taylor performance aside and we might have seen an unbeaten Arsenal on our home turf this campaign. So whilst the score line only reflects a narrow win, it was a win nonetheless and it was one in which we were comfortable for the most part of yesterday’s game against the Baggies. Indeed, when Giroud nodded home his 22nd goal of the season relatively early on in the match, one did wonder if the floodgates would be crow-barred open and the fans being treated to a cricket score before we head off to Wembley in two weeks time.

That we never managed to penetrate Ben Foster’s goal thereafter probably has more to do with a combination of some good saves from the potential England World Cup stopper, an Arsenal team knowing that this game was fairly meaningless given the security afforded to us after the Everton vs Moneychester City game, as well as the belief from our West Midland opponents that they are probably safe for another season. Barring an Arsenal ‘MEGA COLLAPSE’ against Norwich next week, that’s probably not a wholly unfounded perspective.

It’s difficult to mark too many players out as having really amazing performances yesterday, because it just felt like we had ‘done enough’ to win the game yesterday. In the first half we suffocated West Brom through manipulating possession and only fashioning chances when we had really good passages of play. You could tell from watching the team that they could turn it up a notch if they needed to, but with a big match looming on the horizon, going into tackles full-bloodied would achieve nothing but a potential injury or card resulting in no FA Cup final opportunity for said player. Podolski, Giroud and Ozil all had some chances, whilst Santi blazed over from a well worked effort on the edge of the box, but the name of the game was to retain the ball and we did that with consummate ease in the first half.

Pepe Mel clearly had a bit of an ear bashing in the second half, because the West Brom that appeared after the interval looked a slightly different proposition than the one that trotted around in the sunshine before the interval. They looked a little bit more spritely, had more of a spring in their step and even fashioned a couple of saves from a Szczesny that must have felt he could have set up a deck chair and a light reflecting device to see if he could start on his summer tan early. Indeed, when you look at the end of match stats and see that West Brom managed to rack up 11 attempts on goal, you have to think that eight or nine of those must have come in the second half alone.

We may have spent a little bit more time on the back foot than us fans would have liked the team to, but I never really got the sense that the team couldn’t just up it a bit if they needed to and, whilst the score remained 1-0, there was no real need to. We’ve seen this Arsenal team remain largely in control of all home games against opponents outside of the top six or seven teams and yesterday reflected what we’ve seen all season.

If we want to be challenging for the league next season, we probably just need to make sure we’re a little bit more ruthless against the bigger teams at home, but by-and-large our ability to ensure that there’s a zero against our name on the Emirates big screen has ensured that we’ve been able to dispatch many teams that visit us in North London. When you look back on the form of the Chelski’s and Moneychester City’s that have won the league, they build up long undefeated home records. If we can build our own record of not being defeated at home next season, you sense that we will have a real chance of once again having a go at the league.

So the players waved off the fans after the final whistle – some clearly doing so for the last time – and everyone with an interest in The Arsenal went home happy on this bank holiday Monday.

Now we wait for the big one (because Norwich is even less relevant to us). Wembley.

See you in the morrow.

Newcastle: a stroll against a team of strollers

George Graham was nicknamed by teammates as ‘stroller’ because of his languid style and approach to games and, after watching Arsenal dispatch one of the poorest teams that have visited the Emirates in some time, it’s hard not to think that most of the Arsenal players could have taken that descriptor for their own performance. I don’t even think we had to get out of second gear. Certainly, Newcastle spent most of the match in neutral, never even pretending to look like they could give a monkeys last night. In fact, the descriptor of ‘strollers’ should probably be applied to their players as well. The only difference was that we upped our game when we needed to.

Hey, at this stage in the season and with that fourth place trophy that Arsene values so high at stake, I like you probably couldn’t have asked for a better game against a team in black and white that played as though they really couldn’t be bothered to muster any kind of end of season fight.

Alan Pardew returned to the Newcastle bench after his histrionics of a month of so back, but it mattered little to a team who if ever there was legitimacy to declare that a team wasn’t ‘playing for the manager’, then this was it. The only player that I think came out of that performance with any kind of confidence in tact would have been Tim Krul, who made a number of very good saves and you have to say based on his performances this season, would probably be well within his right to seem pastures new in the summer.

As for The Arsenal, well, we got what we all wanted and that was a cosy afternoon. As expected, Arsene’s retention of the same eleven players from the game against Hull last week remained, and from the first ten minutes you could see what Newcastle’s game plan was: sit deep and try to frustrate. It took us a while to find our rhythm, but when Özil got in behind their left back Dummet only to see his low cross stopped by Collocini, it felt like it was only a matter of time.

That it came from Koscienly should come as no surprise, having netted the previous two times we’ve played Newcastle (albeit away from home), Kos clearly loves feasting on Magpie despair. Once again though, as the pundits tutted their way through the halftime analysis, you have to wonder about the defensive set up.

We turned the screw for the remainder of the first half – Özil and Ramsey in particularly inspired form – and it was our mercurial German that bagged our second before halftime. As we are becoming used to this season, Giroud failed to tuck away the two bites of the cherry he had when sent through, so Mesut duly obliged the home fans by sliding the ball past the two. Newcastle defenders on the line. The goal itself was offside as Özil was behind the ‘keeper and only one defender, but in real time it happened so quickly that it would be almost impossible for a ‘referees assistant’ to call.

2-0, halftime cup of tea sorted for the players and the second half just needed that third goal to give it the gloss the match deserved, so it was good that Giroud nodded us into a resounding victory after a Mesut Özil cross from the right. It’s always good to see your only real striking option bagging a goal, and I’m pleased for him and his confidence going in to the last couple of games and a final, but up until that point I thought he’d had a particularly poor game. I know it seems to be the done thing to excuse his performances at this end of the season due to the number of games, but we’re now down to one game a week, so I’m not sure he looks knackered any more. He just looks…well…limited. His touch yesterday wasn’t great and in the first half his ball retention was almost non-existence. He does love a creative flick or back heel, but the risk you run when you try these things is looking a bit foolish when you pass it to an opposing player. Unfortunately that seems to happen to Giroud more than anyone else.

Having said that, the goal that he scored was a very well times header that sees him up to 15 league goals this season and 21 in all competitions. For a man that we all recognise to be a limited player, that’s not too bad, it’s just that it’s our only real option and that’s why it’s so frustrating.

For me, the real plus points from yesterday was the performances of Özil and Ramsey, both of whom look like they are in imperious form and have almost instantly injected more creativity, pace and cutting edge to a team that was seriously lacking in it before they both came back from injury. I’m sure those that were quick to comment on Özil’s dip in form earlier this year are clamouring to readdress the balance by praising him on social media and poorly written news articles though…

We’re in good shape at the moment and have an opportunity to secure that top four spot at home next weekend, providing Moneychester City don’t do us a favour on Saturday evening, which I’d be more than happy for them to oblige us on.

Enjoy your Tuesday. May the blessings of St. Totteringham’s Day bring you happiness and much joy. Unless your going into London, in which it will probably be a pain in the buttocks, what with TFL doing their usually monthly walk out.

Rueing Rambo’s absence, loving Poldi’s end product

I do like it when victory appears comprehensive for The Arsenal, even if the reality is that it isn’t quite so convincing when you watch the match in real time.

Yesterday’s 3-0 victory against Hull was as welcome as the huge Turkey dinner I consumed shortly after half time, followed up by chocolate, beer and Prosecco. But it was not one that had me nerve free from the first to the last minute, that’s for sure, as Hull set out to cause us some problems and most definitely did in that first half.

Arsene surprised a few of us by naming a relatively similar side to the one that beat West Ham on Tuesday night. Only Ramsey, Özil and Monreal came in to the team at the expense of Kallström, Rosicky and Vermaelen. Arsene clearly loves an Arteta on a match day and so it proved again, as the Spaniard lined up for yet another game. Overall he wasn’t too bad, but I was surprised to see that he wasn’t rotated with a couple of others yesterday. I guess ultimately though, when you’ve come away from a tricky away fixture with three points and a nice little boost to the goal difference charts, you have to say the manager got the selection decision right.

As seems to be par for the course with this Arsenal team though, the first half felt very laboured, so much so that when the excellently worked Ramsey finish was tucked away I did wonder whether a neutral would see it as against the run of play. But who cares about that, fright? I mean, that first goal was so excellently worked and when Cazorla slid Ramsey 2.0 (that’s the improved version from previous seasons) in, you just knew he was tucking that away.

It was great to see, but it also left me cursing our luck at half time, as a fully fit Rambo for the last four months could have delivered half a dozen extra goals for us. How crucial could that have been for games like United at home? It’s easy to play the hindsight game, but I’m sure his presence would have led to at least another six points in the team, which would have kept us clinging on to hope of a league title at this stage in the season. He was easily man of the match yesterday and ran so much of the game that it was as if he’d never been injured. Sigh…

But it does not do well to dwell on things that have passed, so we have to look at what’s in front of us and we can see three games in the league in which three wins secures the fourth place trophy and one after that secures the FA Cup.

I don’t buy all of the ‘psychological advantage’ that Sky Sports spoke of yesterday, because we had the same margin of victory away to Birmingham in the league when we played them in the League Cup, but we still contrived to bugger that one up. Hull will be a different team with a heck of a lot more motivation, so we will need to be at our best, hoping that the pressure doesn’t get to the players.

Anyway, back to yesterday’s game, and it not being the walk in the park the score line suggests. Hull’s game plan was simple; balls into the box, try to use the fact they get extra bodies in their as often as possible and see if they can get that early goal. Even after we went ahead, the scare from a Livermore shot off the post was there for all to see. But we rallied, got into half time 2-0 up with another good strike from Podolski, whose lashed shot from Ramsey’s knock-down was another fine example of team build up.

The game was probably effectively over from that point, so when Poldi got the third it was a nice little Easter gift and ensured a comfortable last twenty or so minutes for Gooners everywhere. Except me. I still remain nervous at 3-0 because once upon a time Arsenal shattered my confidence by being 4-0 up and drawing 4-4, so I never get comfortable on a three goal advantage until at least the last ten minutes of a game, but based on yesterday and also the Arsenal of the last twelve months or so I shouldn’t be as concerned. Yes, we still do implosions like nobody else, but that’s usually when we’re behind already. We seem to be alright at keeping a lead these days.

I thought Podolski had another game that was almost a carbon copy of the West Ham result. End product. That’s it. Get him into the box and let his finishing do the talking. His finishing was the difference between two worrying games and what ended up two relatively comfortable results. When all players are back and fully fit you have to think that he won’t be in the starting eleven, but if he keeps this scoring run going – four goals this last week – it will be impossible for him to be dropped.

He’s like the specialist kicker in a game of American Football, but the only difference is that he has to be in the team for other duties, which let’s him down. Having said that, based on his end product and Santi’s – usually preferred on the left – yesterday, I would personally keep the German. Cazorla may have slipped Ramsey in for goal number one, but I didn’t think he had the greatest of games and so for me based on what he brings to the team, Lukas should be starting ahead of the tiny little Spaniard.

So that is that then. A tough away fixture navigated, back-to-back home games in front of us and a hope that two wins might just be enough to see us finish in the top four, dependent on what Everton do of course.

Have a happy Monday Gooners.