Newcastle result needs context after game changing red

It just simply wouldn’t be an Arsenal result if we didn’t make something harder than it should have been, would it?

The overwhelming feeling from this here Gooner is one of relief, but also thanks to other results, the 1-0 victory over Newcastle looked even more juicier come 7.30pm. Defeats to Chelski and Liverpool, as well as a draw for the Spuds, meant that our win up north felt like it stood out a little more as a shining light. Plus, Stoke decided to go all ‘full rage’ and have both Affelay and Adam sent off in a 1-0 home defeat to West Brom, which means the Arsenal players will all be breathing a sign of relief for their ankles and shins when Stoke visit us in a couple of weeks time. Charlie Adam won’t be there to go through anybody and get away with it as usual.

But enough of other results, what about our result, eh? Did it feel like you were watching a training match? A boring, boring training match? Because that’s what it felt like to me. A defence versus attack game in which Newcastle decided that they would not come out and attack Arsenal at all, with zero shots registered by the time the final whistle went. I don’t blame them though, because as soon as they went down to ten men, you knew exactly how the game would pan out. Even with 11 men Newcastle would probably have taken a 0-0, but when you’re playing against a team who will dominate possession like we do, you know that your own option is to sit deep, stay compact and try to get the opposition as frustrated as possible.

Which is exactly what happened. 

It’s funny how decisions can change games, but not always how you’d expect them to. For example the Mitrovic red card – which I’m still not sure if it was a red or not because I haven’t seen any replays as I was up high in the Gods at St James’ – would, you’d expect, allow Arsenal to take advantage of the extra man and go on to win by three or four goals. But despite being frustrated with our performance and lack of cutting edge yesterday, I wake up this morning in a stoical mood, because I realise that this game was always going to be difficult when a red card is shown so early in a game.

The truth is, the red card was probably the worst thing that could have happened to us in terms of the way we were set up. Arsène opted for more raw pace in the front three and Ramsey as the workaholic in the middle of the park, due to an injury picked up by Mesut, so his plan was clearly to draw Newcastle out and then hit the defenders on the counter attack. You could see that from before the card, as we played a couple of longer diagonal balls in an attempt to get the three attackers behind the black and white defenders. And it was working. We created chances and Bellerin should have had a penalty. 

However as soon as Newcastle lost their central striker, it was a completely different game and I bet if Arsène could, he’d have changed the team up there and then. Take Giroud, for example, who would have been a better player to sit in amongst Coloccini and Mbemba and been the link man to knock balls in and around the Newcastle defenders to try and set his teammates through. I said to The Management as soon as the card was shown, that this would be a game that would be crying out for Özil, but at the time I wasn’t aware of his injury. We needed a player who could thread that eye of a needle pass and quite simply, that’s not Aaron Ramsey’s game, which is based on pressing and goalscoring.

So we started to look a little lacklustre. The passing was slowed down, we didn’t use the width of the pitch to stretch Newcastle enough and the game itself kept breaking down because of the cynical nature of a lot of Newcastle’s fouling. I’m sure that there would have been plenty of Geordie’s bemoaning Andre Marriner and his performance yesterday, but I saw plenty of little cynical trips and shoves. The if the red was harsh, then so was the fact we didn’t get a penalty beforehand, so the two big decisions of the game appear to have gone against both teams.

But it was still incumbent on us to break Newcastle down and eventually we did through The Ox, courtesy of Coloccini, whose leg deflected the Ox’s effort in. It was one of the bright spots in an otherwise torrid game for Alex. Nothing worked for him. He gave the ball away countless times, he couldn’t seem to beat his man enough and his distribution was pretty woeful. There was even a point in the second half where he pirouetted around the ball and completely lost track of where it was, which had me thinking about shades of a young Theo Walcott. We need to remember that The Ox is still very young, having been in the Arsenal set up for a number of years, but yesterday was a game for him to forget.

It wasn’t Ramsey’s best game either. He just doesn’t work as a number 10. He was favoured centrally yesterday, but he has had far better games playing out wide and the more I see, the more I think that he would be better suited to that role alongside Coquelin if we’re at home and against a team that isn’t showing much ambition to get forward.

Walcott also hardly enamoured himself to the central strikers role, but as I hint at above, I think he was a victim of circumstance more than anything else. I’m less quick to dismiss him as a centre forward as others. It depends on the opponent and how they are setting up.

All-in-all it may have felt a little difficult, but at least we picked up the three points, because when we come back from the Interlull it will be a tough set of fixtures. Losing or even drawing yesterday would have meant a long two weeks and a real worry that we could be totally out of the race by October.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Newcastle result needs context after game changer

It just simply wouldn’t be an Arsenal result if we didn’t make something harder than it should have been, would it?

The overwhelming feeling from this here Gooner is one of relief, but also thanks to other results, the 1-0 victory over Newcastle looked even more juicier come 7.30pm. Defeats to Chelski and Liverpool, as well as a draw for the Spuds, meant that our win up north felt like it stood out a little more as a shining light. Plus, Stoke decided to go all ‘full rage’ and have both Affelay and Adam sent off in a 1-0 home defeat to West Brom, which means the Arsenal players will all be breathing a sign of relief for their ankles and shins when Stoke visit us in a couple of weeks time. Charlie Adam won’t be there to go through anybody and get away with it as usual.

But enough of other results, what about our result, eh? Did it feel like you were watching a training match? A boring, boring training match? Because that’s what it felt like to me. A defence versus attack game in which Newcastle decided that they would not come out and attack Arsenal at all, with zero shots registered by the time the final whistle went. I don’t blame them though, because as soon as they went down to ten men, you knew exactly how the game would pan out. Even with 11 men Newcastle would probably have taken a 0-0, but when you’re playing against a team who will dominate possession like we do, you know that your own option is to sit deep, stay compact and try to get the opposition as frustrated as possible.

Which is exactly what happened. 

It’s funny how decisions can change games, but not always how you’d expect them to. For example the Mitrovic red card – which I’m still not sure if it was a red or not because I haven’t seen any replays as I was up high in the Gods at St James’ – would, you’d expect, allow Arsenal to take advantage of the extra man and go on to win by three or four goals. But despite being frustrated with our performance and lack of cutting edge yesterday, I wake up this morning in a stoical mood, because I realise that this game was always going to be difficult when a red card is shown so early in a game.

The truth is, the red card was probably the worst thing that could have happened to us in terms of the way we were set up. Arsène opted for more raw pace in the front three and Ramsey as the workaholic in the middle of the park, due to an injury picked up by Mesut, so his plan was clearly to draw Newcastle out and then hit the defenders on the counter attack. You could see that from before the card, as we played a couple of longer diagonal balls in an attempt to get the three attackers behind the black and white defenders. And it was working. We created chances and Bellerin should have had a penalty. 

However as soon as Newcastle lost their central striker, it was a completely different game and I bet if Arsène could, he’d have changed the team up there and then. Take Giroud, for example, who would have been a better player to sit in amongst Coloccini and Mbemba and been the link man to knock balls in and around the Newcastle defenders to try and set his teammates through. I said to The Management as soon as the card was shown, that this would be a game that would be crying out for Özil, but at the time I wasn’t aware of his injury. We needed a player who could thread that eye of a needle pass and quite simply, that’s not Aaron Ramsey’s game, which is based on pressing and goalscoring.

So we started to look a little lacklustre. The passing was slowed down, we didn’t use the width of the pitch to stretch Newcastle enough and the game itself kept breaking down because of the cynical nature of a lot of Newcastle’s fouling. I’m sure that there would have been plenty of Geordie’s bemoaning Andre Marriner and his performance yesterday, but I saw plenty of little cynical trips and shoves. The if the red was harsh, then so was the fact we didn’t get a penalty beforehand, so the two big decisions of the game appear to have gone against both teams.

But it was still incumbent on us to break Newcastle down and eventually we did through The Ox, courtesy of Coloccini, whose leg deflected the Ox’s effort in. It was one of the bright spots in an otherwise torrid game for Alex. Nothing worked for him. He gave the ball away countless times, he couldn’t seem to beat his man enough and his distribution was pretty woeful. There was even a point in the second half where he pirouetted around the ball and completely lost track of where it was, which had me thinking about shades of a young Theo Walcott. We need to remember that The Ox is still very young, having been in the Arsenal set up for a number of years, but yesterday was a game for him to forget.

It wasn’t Ramsey’s best game either. He just doesn’t work as a number 10. He was favoured centrally yesterday, but he has had far better games playing out wide and the more I see, the more I think that he would be better suited to that role alongside Coquelin if we’re at home and against a team that isn’t showing much ambition to get forward.

Walcott also hardly enamoured himself to the central strikers role, but as I hint at above, I think he was a victim of circumstance more than anything else. I’m less quick to dismiss him as a centre forward as others. It depends on the opponent and how they are setting up.

All-in-all it may have felt a little difficult, but at least we picked up the three points, because when we come back from the Interlull it will be a tough set of fixtures. Losing or even drawing yesterday would have meant a long two weeks and a real worry that we could be totally out of the race by October.

Enjoy your Sunday.

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?

Relief that The Arsenal are underway, with dominant display

I am a completely irrational football fan. Specifically, I am a complete irrational Arsenal football fan and if I’m completely honest, after the first weekend of football I was dreading anything but a positive outcome from yesterday’s game against Crystal Palace. 

That in itself doesn’t sound too irrational to you, I’m sure, but when I tell you that fears that we might not score again, let alone win football matches, you’ll perhaps understand how irrational my thought process can be. It’s stupid because I know that I support a team with a very long history of winning more football matches than losing them each season. Yet because it’s the start of a new season, because there is still that element of the unknown as to how Arsenal will perform, until that first win is chalked up I was always going to be this way. Regardless of what I told myself about my own stupidity.

So you can imagine my relief that we’ve got points on the board. You can imagine my pleasure at the way in which we’ve racked up those points too. A gritty and hard fought victory against a Palace side with plenty of threats. And done so whilst dominating large swathes of the game. The cobwebs of last weekend truly blown away and the application we expect from an Arsenal side returning. This team had their noses bloodied on the opening weekend and they did not like it one iota.

Straight from the off we were dominant. The passing was crisper, the pace and cutting edge was there and the only thing that stopped us going ahead in the first ten minutes was a flailing leg off the line as Alexis drove the ball goalwards. The chance had come from a lightning counter and despite the worry of a little less pace with the absence of Theo and the Ox, the team still had enough to catch Palace on the counter when we weren’t dominating possession.

But for most of the game we did dominate possession. That we went in to the half time break level was almost a travesty in itself, because Ramsey had a great flicked goal effort, Alexis missed a few chances (which we can legitimately put down to him still not being 100% match sharp) and there were a number of blocked shots from the Palace players on the edge of the box. Giroud’s fantastically executed semi-bicycle kick was the least we deserved from that first half effort, ably assisted by the majestic Mesut Özil, who was brilliant enough to get a special mention from the boss after the game. That’s the kind of performance that you point people towards when they start to question his importance on the team.

Ward’s equaliser was well struck and against the balance of play, but I can’t really look at Cech as being at fault. He would have seen it late and with a crowd of bodies in between the scorer and the goal, there aren’t too many ‘keepers that would have got to it, I don’t think anyway.

The second half saw a little bit more of Palace and our goal may have had a touch of fortune against the defender, but Alexis’ climb and drive to win it in the first place, means he deserved his reward of contributing towards putting us back in front.

From then on, the game had a very similar feel to it as the one played two years ago, with The Arsenal trying to keep Palace at bay defensively, whilst trying to catch on the counter. Ramsey, Cazorla and The Ox all had decent chances, but there was to be no late goal like that game.

I didn’t manage to watch the game in full, because I was at the Red Bull Air Race and my SkyGo signal was dreadful, but from what I’ve heard and red and partially seen myself, the games only other controversial point seems to surround Coquelin. ‘Pards’ used his post match presser to suggest the ref had bottled the decision not to send the Frenchman off, but I’ve got to be honest and say I think he was perhaps deflecting somewhat. Perhaps a culmination of the three fouls he made should have led to a ‘totting up’ yellow, but no more than that. Of course the Match of the Day ‘pundits’ saw it differently as you’d expect, but I think they’re just pandering to the masses, rather than objectively looking at each foul in isolation. We love an underdog in this country and if there’s an opportunity to find an excuse for one as to why they haven’t won it, then it’ll be taken. 

It does highlight the need for us to find a potential reinforcement though. I’ve been beating the ‘we don’t need signings’ drum all summer, but we’re an injury or suspension away from realistically just having Arteta as our holding midfielder. He actually had a very good cameo when he came on as a sub, but his injury record is such that were Le Coq to break down due to injury, I wouldn’t have 100% confidence we could rely on the Spaniards creaking limbs for an extended period of time. At the moment we’re just praying Shad’s magic sponge can work all season.

But these are concerns for another day. After the deflating feeling of the opening weekend, we have the uplifting feeling of three away points. We need to embracing that feeling and enjoy it whilst it lasts.

Until tomorrow.

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.

Less swagger, more resolute, better Arsenal

Two trophies in as many weekends and a chance next weekend to make it three in a row, against the so-called unbeatable Mourinho, means we’re all riding pretty high at the moment. For preseason that is.

Yesterday’s Emirates Cup victory and subsequent lifting of the trophy may not have had the swagger of Saturday’s performance, but it still showed a resolution and steel to this Arsenal squad that we should all be pleased with, even if it was only a friendly. 

In Wolfsburg we had opponents who finished second in the Bundesliga and had won the German Cup, so anybody suggesting they should be football fodder for the team, would have had a bit of a surprise on them. De Bruyne and Schürrle as creative outlets and The Lord up top are a decent enough threat to pose, so perhaps we should have been less surprised by their opening half of dominant pressure, than we actually were. 

But much like the criticism of Arsenal that has been levelled historically, Wolfsburg only once or twice tested Cech and in the main, we looked relatively comfortable at the back I thought. The Germans had lots of possession, but less cutting edge, it seemed.

We should probably also look at the selected XI that Arsène chose as another explanation as to why we couldn’t really get any fluency in to our game. Sure, we had Mesut and Santi to pull the strings and there were definitely enough first teamers out there for us to look a little more polished, but it didn’t quite click without players like Ramsey to keep us going with his energy and movement at the top and bottom of the pitch. That’s what it felt like to me, anyway.

Özil only played the first half, but he looked the most threatening to score and I think you can certainly say with some comfort, that he’s ready to make a big impact this season. He’s dictated some of these friendly games and even bagged some goals, so if he can carry that in to the real stuff this season, we’ll all be the beneficiaries. 

The other star of the show went to Jeff Reine-Adelaide, the 17-year-old wonderkid whose lit up the Emirates Cup this season. His close ball control and ability to dart in between an opponent or two, had me at times thinking of some sort of Paddy and Wilshere hybrid, but I need to temper the praise a bit for a player who I didn’t really even know existed before this weekend. He was influential in Walcott’s second half goal and although many speculated over a loan move after the match, Arsène’s comments about him needing to train with the first team before that were interesting, because it’s clear he sees big things for him.

I don’t think Arsène will be thinking that he’ll be a regular starter and I would be surprised if we were to see him even make the bench against West Ham in a couple of weeks, but Wenger’s comments did make me wonder about how he likes to mould his players, ensuring that ‘The Arsenal away’ is ingrained in them before they are let out on loan. Perhaps he feels that a season at a Bolton or a Hull City, for example, would only serve to give him experience and not the technical requirements he’d need to operate in our team. Arsène’s Arsenal play neat, quick-paced interchanging of passes and perhaps he feels that young Reine-Adelaide would be better served learning that way before gaining first two experience elsewhere on a regular basis.

Let’s see what he does about Reine-Adelaide’s future. 

One player whose future looks to be coming to a positive conclusion, is that of Theo Walcott, who Arsène admitted is ‘close’ to agreeing a deal. The rumours started over the weekend that it had been done and with Le Boss making such an admission as he did, you’d like to think it’s all but dusted too, which I have to say will feel relatively painless compared to last time. It’s certainly fair to say the circumstances and situation the club is in makes a difference, but I was still expecting this to go on for some months now, so the fact that both parties seem to have reached an accord means it’s one more piece of the Arsenal puzzle moving in to place. 

For all the media bluster and fan chomping for a new signing of two, at least we have the balance and the harmony of the team at a point where we can all be happy that we will compete, which is all any of us want anyway. 

So we’re in a good place. Preseason has been positive, the team are playing positive, we’re looking like we could give Chelski and City a run for their money. This time next week we may have even broken the hoodoo of José over Arsène too. You never know.

Arsenal blitz Lyon, showing the importance of a decent preseason

Well how about that for a performance from the players yesterday, eh? Six goals, none in reply from Lyon and a table-topping performance at The Emirates Cup 2015.

The trophy’s in the bag, folks, the trophy’s in the bag.

Of course we all know this is a friendly and if we were to face Lyon in the Champions League we’d most likely see a different game with a different result, but what I’m noting from all of the preseason games so far, is that the team are looking sharp, fresh and ready to hit the ground running in two weeks time. That is what we will all be taking from these preseason performances. The better a team looks whilst building up their fitness, the more likely it looks like they will get off to a flyer when the real thing happens.

I remember a couple of seasons ago when we started brilliantly in preseason. I saw an interview with John Cross in which he had mentioned how well Ramsey was playing and how cohesive we appeared as a team during the summer. Low and behold, we started with a rip-roaring first half to the season and Rambo was banging in goals left, right and centre.

That’s what it feels like to me at the moment. It feels like we’re ready to have a proper go at this league. And it’s exciting.

What’s also exciting is the prospect of getting goals all over the park. Arsène mentioned it in his post match press conference yesterday, but the fact that we had six different scorers bodes well for us. He’s spoken of the need to have more goals spread across the team and it looks like the team are responding. Cazorla and Özil (both also scoring in the Asia Trophy) are picking up goals from midfield, Rambo had a really good toe-poke yesterday which was well picked out through a sumptuous pass from Mesut, as well as Iwobi finishing smartly on his left foot after Rambo himself turned creator and found him with a neat pass.

That Iwobi fella looked alright, didn’t he? Very composed, spraying the odd ball left and right, he certainly looks to be one to keep an eye on. The key to his rise to prominence, however, will most likely be how he reacts to a loan spell. Hopefully that put him in the shop window for a few clubs, despite what the manager says. I like the idea that Arsene is saying he’ll stay with the team and has hinted that he’ll potentially be used, but I can’t really see it other than the Capital One Cup and I do wonder if that is the best route for a player, if another Premier League club were to show interest, for example. Surely it’s far better to give Iwobi 30 games in a season playing for a Championship/Premier League club, like we did with Wilshere at Bolton, than to have him kicking his heels until the League Cup comes around (which we’ll play a round less than some Premier League teams because we’re in Europe)?

Hey, what do I know, I don’t know the players personally, I’m just a fan and Arsene will know what’s best for the boy so I’ll not get too worked up. He’s in safe hands.

But anyway, back to yesterday, in which I think a lot of fans will have watched the game and thought that we’re ready. We are. Just look at who played in last seasons Emirates Cup. Our scorers were Sanogo and Campbell on the day we beat Benfica 5-1 and although you look at those two and question how deep our squad was, these days you look at the line up and realise that even with rotation – which Arsene will do again today, there’s no doubt – we have a deep squad. No more littering the team with youngsters who won’t get near the first team, like we were doing four years ago. This competition shows that we have to switch things around and when we do, it’s first teamers and internationals that are playing.

In truth the second half became even more of a testimonial affair than anything else, because we’d stunned Lyon like the pray of a poisonous snake who strikes and then takes its time to devour its prey. Four goals in nine minutes just before half time saw to that. We set up aggressively and it paid off against a Lyon team who will no doubt chalk it down to pre season rustiness, but the same can’t be said of Arsenal. The passing looked composed, Mesut kicked on from where he left last season and pulled the strings and it was great to see The Ox back on track and firing, because if he can have an injury-free season he can be a big player for us I’m sure.

We didn’t see Petr Cech but Martinez did well enough in goal, beating away a few chances and he’s looking all the more like a ‘keeper and not a kid. I’m fairly certain that he’ll be one to go out on loan when Ospina comes back. He has to be, because he’s at an age now where he’ll want to play more regularly and we need to see if he’s going to be the player the club hopes he can be. Or at least do enough to secure a permanent move. Let’s face it, his route to number one is pretty choca-block right now.

So all-in-all a very good performance that underlines the importance of a decent preseason that isn’t interrupted by international competitions, injury or other disruption. Next weekend’s Community Shield should be fun. I can’t wait.

Speak tomorrow.

dominant Arsenal display and selection based on opposition – love it

First bit of silverware of the season sorted. Lifting the Barclays Asia Trophy is apparently a good omen for a team as both City and Chelski have clinched the pre-season friendly competition in the past, so whilst we have to take such superstitions with a pinch of salt, as this is a time in the year in which hopes are high and expectations are higher we can certainly read more in to this victory. Heck, I’m chalking it down as a cast iron guarantee of a marker that we’re winning the Premier League next season.

The side Arsène put out was a strong one too, with Cech making his debut alongside a back four of Gibbs, Chambers, Koscielny and Bellerin. In front of them Arsène opted for a Santi-Rambo midfield and Özil floating in his usual number 10 role. Having talked up Jack as a wide man he played with Theo and Giroud up top and I have to say it was a pleasing and utterly dominant performance. Whether or not that is because we have players that are further ahead in their preparations than Everton, or whether or not the fact it was essentially a home game given the amount of support we had compared to Everton, I don’t know. 

What we do know, however, is that Arsenal looked in control and very confident against a Premier League opposition who have always caused us a few headaches. Santi was in sparkling form as the deep lying playmaker and his goal was one of jinky delightfulness, weaving his way one way, then the next. He was the man with which a lot of the good stuff flowed and it augurs well for the season ahead that we have him looking like he’s in such good form.

I found it interesting that Arsène decided against having Coquelin sitting in front of the back four yesterday and whilst we can’t read too much in to a pre-season friendly, I hope this is the start of us seeing Arsène pick his first eleven based on the strengths of our team in countering the strengths of other opponents. If we’re playing Moneychester City away, for example, you just know that we’re going to have to do a lot more defending than an Everton or Stoke away. So it makes sense to set your team up to negate the oppositions strong points by playing somebody like Coquelin in games where you might have somebody like David Silva set up to run the show.

Yesterday Everton were on the back foot from the start and so sitting a defensive midfielder alongside a back four who are having little to do is a bit of a pointless exercise. So with all of Santi, Rambo, Jack and Mesut in the starting XI, we were able to control possession more and dominate the ball in the middle of the park as well as the zone in front of the attacking players.

The other goals we scored were an indication of Theo’s sharpness but also him at his best; running in behind defenders and finishing quickly. That’s what we missed for a lot of last season and that’s what I think we’ll see more of next season. Should Walcott stay fit of course.

Mesut’s goal was perhaps an indication that he is going to find himself in more forward lying positions this season and is going to try and take his chances more, with a good finish inside the box.

Overall we have to be happy with the game and although it had the air of a pre season friendly, we still dominated and did what was needed, so we’ve got to be glad of that. What should also be filling you with excitement is the depth of the squad too. Yesterday’s starting XI was missing Monreal, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Debuchy, Coquelin, Arteta, Rosicky, Welbeck, Alexis, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gnabry. We have such depth that it really is quite staggering and it’s why I’m really not stressing too much over the summer about transfers. And neither should you. Let’s enjoy this time. Next week we go for trophy number 2, The Emirates Cup!

Arsenal’s FA Cup: a new dawn

Has there ever been a more comfortable and one-sided final? Have we ever seen Arsenal do it the easy away in a big game, with such verve and vigour? Does this happen to us? Arsenal are supposed to make our lives difficult, aren’t they?

Apparently not. Apparently there is an ‘easy way’ and all we needed to do was to have a gooner managing the opposition.

My day started with the usual routine of cereal and blogging, but when I was asked the usual question from The Management of ‘are you nervous?’, much response was a surprise to both of us. ‘No’ was the simple answer. And it was the truth. I could not explain why, I just didn’t feel as nervous as I sometimes do when we play teams like Stoke, or even when we played Villa away and home in the league. 

Clearly that comfort translated itself to all the fans and the players yesterday, because the atmosphere wasn’t of nerves, but of confidence. We utterly dominated from the first minute.

Arsène’s decision to start Theo ahead of Giroud could have been a gamble, but after the West Brom game it was clear he would be confident and so it showed, as he was the one to get us on the road to victory with a fantastic precision finish. He was good all day, running the channels and switching with Alexis to cause Vlaar and Okore a headache throughout the game. 

But Theo can only be good with the support of his colleagues and to a man they all stepped up. Szczesny didn’t really have much to do, but when he was called into action to catch or punch the occasional ball clear, he did. Bellerin and Monreal dealt with the few Aston Villa forays forward, but more importantly provided plenty of width and options for Ramsey and Alexis on the overlap.

In the heart of the midfield Santi pulled all the strings and was masterful in possession, deservedly picking up the man of the match award, whilst Coquelin dealt with every attack when called upon as the holding midfielder. Ahead of those two, Mesut Özil floated about the pitch, finding pockets of space and distributing the ball perfectly each time. When you had a player like that it must be a dream for the forwards, because you know he’s going to draw players out of spaces and give you pockets to move in to. Then he’ll find you with a pass.

The front three – perhaps the biggest surprise of the day for me as I thought getting Theo and Rambo into the same team would be nigh on impossible – were the epitome of movement and fluid attacking. Never stationery, always rotating and switching, Villa stood no chance. You only have to look at Theo’s goal as an example, as it was Alexis who won the header in the box and Theo arriving from the left to smash it home. For Alexis’ goal, he came from wide left and cut in field to unleash a thunderbolt, which would have probably have taken Given’s hand off if he’d have touched it.

This is two major trophies in two seasons. The players have tasted success twice and the Hull game last year has proven not to be a one-off. The team is growing. Mentally. The desire for more trophies and more success will only grow too now. The players will not accept that they can fall short and I think that will drive them on further.

It feels like this is a new dawn of success for Arsenal. Even more so than last year, because now the players will truly believe that they are winners. You can’t teach that, you have to learn it.

Today will be a soggy victory parade, but nobody in Arsenal’s world will care. We’re cup winners.