The return of Mesut: Villa review

I remember when I was a wee nipper, Arsenal were away to Liverpool and we hadn’t lost to the scousers for our four years. I was at football training on the Saturday morning and I spent the whole time gloating, so much so he got a bit wound up and left training early to cry. When it came to game time, Robbie Fowler scored a four minute hat-trick and it was me that was the cryer, so when listening to yesterday’s three-goals-in-three-minutes-a-thon at Villa Park made me happy but reflective of the feeling that the Fowler hat-trick did to me that day.

Thankfully I can talk about yesterday’s events safe in the knowledge that a tricky away trip to Villa went exactly to plan for The Arsenal. Three goals, three points, players picking up morale-boosting performances.

Arsène finally listened to his own heart and decided to play Özil through the middle, to wonderful effect, as the German had by far the best game he’s had all season. He dictated play, he got a well taken goal (still had a lot to do when he slotted the ball home, so he should get credit for that), managed to get himself a decent assist and generally looked like the player of this time last year. It’s exactly the type of performance he needed and I’m sure when the final whistle went he was one of the happiest on the pitch. The belief this will give him is important, very much so given our opponents next weekend, so there isn’t a Gooner around that isn’t waking up with a smile this morn.

Arsène too will feel vindicated, because there was a certain air of surprise that he hadn’t benched his Turko-German playmaker, given his recent form. But whilst Arsène changed the line up yesterday – partially to freshen and partially because he had no choice through injuries – he also changed the style slightly with Özil being asked to play through the middle. I’m not sure why being given the role in the middle made a difference, because Wenger has said that he has licence to roam the whole pitch (which heat maps have shown over the last couple of games), but perhaps there’s a psychological element to being in the middle that allows Özil to feel more comfortable.

Whatever the theory behind it, the practice worked, so whilst I/we all chastise Arsène when he gets things wrong, you can’t say anything else other than he got things very right yesterday. So I tip my cap to Le Boss.

Welbeck too popped up with a very well taken strikers goal and, with some important games coming up, it’s important that he is off the mark, because the longer a new striker goes without a goal the more the monkey on his back grows. Let’s hope for more of the same next Saturday.

The game itself was won and lost in the space of five minutes which makes most of the match review element of this blog largely irrelevant, but there should be a shout out to Szczesny, because the Arsenal ‘keeper made a very good save from a Clark header before we scored our quick-fire goals, so we must be thankful for his intervention on the goal-bound effort. Villa had started brightly and they’ve already proven that they can hold on to leads by sitting deep when one up this season, so had that have gone in then today’s narrative might have been quite different.

What else is there to say? We did what was needed and picked up three points at a tricky place to go. We now have Southampton in the COC and then an NLD to stir the passions even more on Saturday evening.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.

The SUPER-AWESOME-MEGA-POSITIVE Arsenal blog!!

By now I’m sure you’re all still feeling from the lacklustre performance of yesterday evening. I know I am. I’m hurting today and I’m sure you and I feel the same.

You’ll know doubt be reading the carnage that will be many a post-match review from journos and bloggers alike. It won’t make for pretty reading I’m sure. After all, we were so many levels of pants, there’s nothing more we can expect than a media and blogger savaging. However, in an unprecedented and hopefully unusual step, the remainder of my blog today will focus purely on positives after the 2-0 defeat to Dortmund in Germany. You don’t need me analysing the game and player performances. There are plenty of other people out there who will do a better job.

So…the positives…here goes…

Not many injuries!!
Yes folks, having gone through every game this season picking up knocks after knock, we finally managed to get through 90 minutes of football with only one player on the pitch getting injured! Get in there!

Diaby’s back!!
He seems to be back and, although he didn’t feature yesterday, he’s sure to have an injury-free season now, right? RIGHT?!

Wenger knows how to make subs before 75 minutes!
He hooked Özil and Rambo off on the hour mark, so maybe he’s realised he’s allowed to do it with more than 15 minutes remaining in a game? Happy days!

We don’t have to play Dortmund away in the group stages any more!!
Last year we smashed and grabbed, this year we just got smashed, but we can be safe in the knowledge that for the remaining five games we definitely won’t have to go to the Westfalenstadion. Get in!

Arsenal are saving money by sharing shinpads!!
Poldi and Mesut shared a pair of pads, which means we’ve saved probably about £7.99, which means there’s more money in the coffers in January for a new centre half!! Come on!!

I got dispensation to drink lots of rum last night!
The performance was such that, due to the extenuating circumstances, I was afforded a free pass to undertake some lovely spiced rum drinking to numb the pain! It was yummy!

We’ve lulled Villa into a false sense of security
There’s no don’t Paul Lambert will have been watching his former team rip us to shreds, probably smiling and thinking “another three points on Saturday, ace”, so hopefully Villa will try and come and stick six past us and give us space to pick them off! Clever Arsène, very clever.

Szczesny’s kit doesn’t look as terrible as the outfield kit!
As a former goalkeeper, I’ve become used to being in between sticks wearing something that a Unicorn shat out of its backside, so I’m pleased for Woj that he doesn’t look like he’s been handed the poo-stick by wearing that monstrosity of a shirt. Although his does look like someone has whacked some hieroglyphics on to it.

Work seems like a welcome distraction
I have a busy few days coming up, which means I’m very pleased for a changed to be able to focus on that and not on Arsenal. Yay me.

Jokes about United can help
Hey, at least we’re in the bloody competition, am I right? Am I right?

The kick up the arse?
We have not played well all season and last night we were finally humbled for it. Maybe that will provide the same wake up call that the Spuds away defeat did two seasons ago. Nay, in the spirit of this mega positive blog, it DEFINITELY will. Definitely. Maybe.

This weekend is a quadruple £13million ‘must be won’ rollover
And if I win it. I’ll give you all £20 so that we can all drink rum together and be merry!

That’s pretty much all I’ve got for today folks. You have a super happy day, I know I will!

Underneath my happy facade, is a sad, sad clown.

Mixed emotions from playing the Mancs

Do you know, normally, the day after Arsenal have played I have a better idea about how I’m feeling about the result. Sometimes it’s easy. If Arsenal play brilliantly and win by three clear goals, I can wax lyrical about the team and champion the manager for getting his team selection spot on. If they lose then it’s usually the reverse. Heck, even a draw is usually seen as a good draw or a bad draw, depending on the circumstances of the performance and the opposition.

The draw away to Everton can be seen as a decent one given the narrative of the game. Away from home we snatched two late goals and despite a poor performance we could all be satisfied that we did not pick up a defeat. Conversely, having dominated possession against a newly promoted Leicester, a draw was not really acceptable. Yet, based on all of the variables I can think of this morning, I can’t work out whether to be happy with the draw or disappointed.

the negatives
At home, against one of the top teams, for psychological purposes more than anything else at this stage in the season, you need to be picking up points. That’s what Moneychester City did against Liverpool a couple of weeks ago and that’s what I’d have hoped we could do yesterday lunchtime.

The most annoying thing about not getting that psychological advantage against what we would perceive as a rival, is that it once again raises the question about our own record against the top teams, so much so that I dare not look into it today. In terms of picking up points against Chelski, City and United, the record over the last five years or so reads like some sort of scary book from Stephen King where your own mother eats pieces of your body day-by-day because she has never really gotten over giving birth to you, so she does it to get you back inside her belly.

Until we can muster some consistency of victories against these ‘bigger teams’, the questions will continue to be raised and, given our away form last season, this is now one game less that I feel we can take advantage of to banish those particular demons of ours.

The game itself has also left me harbouring bitter feelings. Mark Clattenberg for example, despite the protestations of Manuel Pellegrini, gave about 60 to 70% of decisions to City I feel. He allowed persistent rotational fouling without booking, which only perpetuated an increased volume of fouls, one in the second half which consistent of Vincent Kompany essentially barging into the back of an Arsenal player without reprieve.

I don’t know whether or not it contributed massively to disrupting our flow, because whilst some players were excellent yesterday (I’ll come to that in the ‘positives’ section), some really did stink up the joint. Özil, Ramsey and Flamini, for example, had particularly poor games. I can’t really work out who was worse from Özil or Ramsey, but very little of what either did yesterday came off, so if you think about that as a massive chunk of our creative talent not performing, it shows that there was certainly another level we could have gone to, to win the game.

But you can only win games if you do both attacking and defending well and, if we’re all honest, we hardly mastered the defensive side yesterday. It felt like we were rolling back the years in a bad way yesterday. Every time Navas got the ball on the right hand side he looked to have the beating of Monreal and, as good as Nacho has been this season, he struggled yesterday I thought. Gibbs is a better defender and having him back in the team will certainly be a big boost for us.

On the other side of the defence Debuchy was again very good, so it feels almost inevitable with the benefit of hindsight, that he would go down with an ankle injury and now face an extended period on the side. This kind of injury has nothing to do with our medical team, but is yet another player injured, leaving us all wondering why we seem so cursed with injuries.

The goals we conceded were also pretty shabby, if we’re all honest with ourselves, born not out of excellent opposition play but by our own mistakes. As the ball stayed in play on the right hand side of the pitch, Navas’ run was countered by some Denilson-esque jogging back by Ramsey, Flamini and Koscienly to which the inevitable response was Aguero’s run to knock the ball home. It was pretty much City’s first shot and they started to grow in confidence after that. The second goal was equally poor, as Szczesny’s poor kick never reached the halfway line, only for the ball to come back towards our goal and out for a corner. How or why Demichelis was gifted the freedom of the penalty box is beyond me, but Woj hardly covered himself in glory with a limp-wristed flap at the ball. We’ve been the beneficiaries of late goals a few times already this season, but this time we were on the receiving end and I don’t like it, don’t like it one bit at all. Thereafter we seemed to wobble a bit and City could have won it on a few occasions.

The Positives
I don’t want to end today’s blog just looking at the negatives, because there was plenty for us to be pleased about as well. Going forward we look like we had options that were clearly non-existent last season. Alexis was in fine form yesterday and it was fitting that he capped off his fine performance with a fabulous goal that should have won us the game. He is busy, skilful, can finish and will be a major asset for us this season. That’s three goals already and on the basis of what I’ve seen, I reckon we’re looking at a 20 goal man come May.

Likewise too, I thought Danny Welbeck had an impressive debut. Had he managed to flick the ball into the net in first half we’d probably all be raving right now, but strikers are always judged on goals and that can be the only blot on an otherwise good performance. He even came close towards the end with a curling shot that just went over the bar, but with him and Alexis giving us that extra pace in the final third as well as being willing to chase down every ball, it can only be a good thing for us.

But to end today’s blog on a high, let’s just bask in the Wilsherian glow from yesterday, because Jack was on another level. His ball retention was good, dribbling was superb, he linked play excellently and did not deserve to be on a side that didn’t pick up three points. Big games often need players to step up and on that stage nobody can argue that Jack didn’t. His goal was a superb flick that had Hart beaten all ends up and another few performances like that in the coming weeks and the Paul Scholes’ of this world will have to start chowing down on some humble pie. More of the same please Jacky.

So like I said at the start of the blog, I have no idea whether I’m happy or sad about the game yesterday, because for all that was bad, we had the good in equal measure. Perhaps I should just stop thinking about it and look forward to the Dortmund game in midweek. A win there would be just the tonic.

Catch you tomorrow.

Tempering the striker euphoria, but only just

Come on, admit it, when was the last time you even mustered so much as a grunt towards an England goal before last night, eh? It’s ok, we’re amongst friends here, you can tell me.

Mine was probably all those years ago when Theo netted his hat trick against Croatia. Since then, I’ve seen countless Eng-ger-land goals and only occasionally mustered a smirk.

Not last night though. Last night I found myself actually cheering as Danny Welbeck lift the ball above the Seiss ‘keeper in stoppage time to pick up his second goal of the night. It wasn’t me who thought it first (although I wish I did), but somebody on my Timeline was quick to point out the actual style of the finish itself, which was – dare we say it – Henryesque. The opening of the body, the little lift over the ‘keeper whilst still keeping the ball relatively close to the bottom of the net, it was all very neat and tidy from a player that we have been told over the last week isn’t really that natural a goalscorer.

The post-match punditry on ITV was of course effusive in its praise of Welbeck, even going as far as to suggest that perhaps he has a new lease of life at a new club and a new role as a central striker, but I’m going to try not to fall into the trap of going too overboard just yet. After all, it’s one game, not even for Arsenal. Welbeck knows the players around the England team far better than he knows his Arsenal teammates, so I won’t be calling on him to bag a hat trick against Moneychester City this weekend.

But for us all, at least, we were treated to a glimpse of what could potentially come to pass. A pacey striker who will get goals in the lengthy absence of Giroud. A ready-made centre forward who won’t have any trouble adapting to the English game.

We must avoid the temptation to go overboard in hailing the second coming of a new messiah, but when faced with the bleakness of an international break, any small bit of positive news can easily be pounced upon in the absence of The Arsenal. I am finding it hard not to get excited for this weekend if I’m honest. I can’t really help it. Despite talking in this blog previously about how sometimes people get swept up in the ‘shiny and new’ and ignore what’s on their doorstep (a feeling that perhaps is shared amongst a few United fans this morning?), the euphoria of a new signing scoring goals and looking the part has that little something extra about it. It’s probably because the possibilities remain endless at this moment in time. As a football fan, you always try to look at the positive possibilities before any action happens. Ask any football fan of any club the week before the new season and their overriding emotion will be one of ‘hope’. The Welbeck arrival has given us all hope that we have found a striking piece to the puzzle that was so obviously incomplete against Leicester over a week ago.

Welbeck had a decent game, but he also showed that he wasn’t the complete article just yet, as he could have had an assist to his name in the first half after a great run was followed up by a poor ball to Sterling. But let’s not dwell on the negative, let’s just look at the positives of the performance, of which I thought Wilshere also came out ok. He wasn’t his best, but he proved effective in distribution and looks like he’s getting better all the time.

But this wasn’t just a night for the English contingent at The Arsenal, as Yaya Sanogo was to prove, bagging himself another goal for the French under-21s to prove that actually, it turns out he does know what to do when confronted by that square box with a white outline and net attached.

Tonight it’s Rambo’s turn in international competition and, having seen most of our players seemingly come through unscathed for this break, the hope is that he doesn’t succumb to the Arsenal international duty injury curse. Saturday’s game will be vital to have him in the team and, with Mesut Özil pulling out of German national duty, the creative spark in midfield could really do without being blunted by losing another one of our star midfielders.

I think I’ll save any more thoughts for today, as from tomorrow the international noises should quieten down a bit and afford us some time to look at Arsenal and nothing else.

You stay super.

Not even new signing excitement could avoid the tedium

Happy Thursday is wished unto thee, as you like I, battle the tedium that is an international break.

We’re fully into the festering swamp that is internationals now, so there’s no point on looking back and discussing football of weekends past, we just have to keep our eyes on the prize and focus on the visit of Moneychester City to The Emirates on Saturday week.

Last night I made the epic mistake of tuning in to about 40 minutes worth of England Vs Norway and, perhaps surprisingly, found some comfort in the game. The comfort came from the fact that my expectations and experiences of international football have not proven to be false and that it really is a total waste of time. 40,000 people (less than half the stadium) decided that they had nothing better to do in Wembley last night, but by the end of the 1-0 win there will hardly have been any people inside the stadium that would have felt it was a worthwhile journey.

A turgid England was only made more satisfying, for me as an Arsenal fan, by the noises that came from corners of the media saying that Wilshere had a decent game and that Welbeck made a positive impact when he came on for the last 20 minutes. Let’s just hope that all the Arsenal players can come back fit as a fiddle after the qualifying game against Switzerland.

I suppose one positive I can draw from this international break is that by playing a team like City straight after the internationals have finished, we will be playing against players that have also been on international duty, which means there is no additional advantage gained over a team that has had a week to put their feet up. I know that it shouldn’t really matter at this stage of the season, and that having international quality players is what you need in your team if you want to win things, but I’m looking for any sma victories here, so humour me folks.

So we got our first glimpse of Arsenal’s Welbeck yesterday, who looked like he had a spring in his step, if you don’t mind me saying. Perhaps he was buoyed by his transfer and the prospect of finally getting a chance to play as a central striker? Whatever it was, he looked pretty decent and having had his first interview posted on the official site in the afternoon, he’s already endearing himself to fans like me with his comments.

Whilst recognising he spent a lot of time at United, he was very focused on all things Arsenal and the future, perhaps even being slightly dismissive of his past if I do say so myself. And I do. Because that’s what I want to hear and it’s always better to believe what you want to believe, rather than what could be the reality, which includes the fact that having been in the United first team for many years he’ll have been media trained to BBC news anchorman standards.

Regardless of the likelihood that he was telling us what we wanted to hear, it was still good to hear him speak so glowingly about The Arsenal, watching them on TV all the time, admiring the style of football and imagining himself playing for us. What I also liked about his interview was the sense that he already felt part of the club, using the all encompassing ‘we’ to describe Arsenal as a team, the recent history, etc. It’s the little things, you know?

But actually, it’s what he started to touch on (admittedly with the help of the interviewer) when talking about the creative players that we have, that had me getting excited of the prospect of him being a success at the club this season and I the future. He talked about linking up with the midfielders, about getting in behind defences and about using his pace to bag himself a few goals. It was only a year ago to the day that you could look at our team and, Theo aside, wonder how many times the players we had could get in behind defences like the Arsenal teams of old. Now, with the additions of Welbeck, Sanchez and Campbell, there are multiple options with pace as well as Walcott. The hope is that we can use it to our advantage.

I hope he hits the ground running on Saturday week and I hope we see him bang in a debut goal. That would be special and give us all a massive lift.

There’s not really a lot else to report on. It was nice to see Chambers get some minutes on the pitch towards the end of the match yesterday, plus the Ox got another good run out after injury last season and despite the fact he didn’t have the best game in the world, he will need time to rediscover his potency in the attacking third of the pitch so I’m not particularly worried about that. Jack will have also have felt good about getting another decent performance under his belt and, with all of the scrutiny he has over everything he does, it’s pleasing to see he’s essentially ignoring the morons in the media and getting his head down and working towards being the great player he can be. I still wonder how much game time he’ll get when Arteta, Ramsey and Özil are firing on all cylinders in the middle of the park, but it’s a concern for another day so I’ll park any further thoughts on that for now.

That’s yer lot from me today. Stay safe in this bleakest of international breaks.

Not the result, it’s the performance that worries

Morning from a grumpy Gooner in a corner of London Suburbia. I’m grumpy because my team failed to deliver a performance against a newly promoted and stubborn – but ultimately limited – Leicester City team at the KP Stadium yesterday afternoon.

These are the teams that last season we simply dealt with, yet already the warning signs are here for a different season to last when it comes to the teams lower down the division. And that worries me. It worries me because unless we address our woeful form against the big boys, the only way we’ll get close to the top four this season (notice how I’m not even talking about winning the league), is by picking up a shed load of points against teams from sixth downwards.

We just aren’t clicking at all. That is more frustrating than the result. Result-wise, it’s not the end of the world and at this early stage of the season the league means about as much as a promise of humbleness from Jose Mourinho. But my concern lies with some of the initial signs from some of our big players. Specifically our midfield.

Yesterday’s 1-1 draw and the profligacy in front of goal may be labelled at the raw and clearly not ready Sanogo (I’ll come to that in a bit), but as a couple of people pointed out last night (I think Mean Lean over at Arsenal Vision said it first on my Timeline), it’s very difficult to pin it all on the front men when it was obvious that our midfield wasn’t right. I though Cazorla, Ramsey and Özil all had pretty poor games if I’m honest. Santi produced a lovely chip to set up Sanogo whose shot deflected into the path of Sanchez for his second goal in two games, but other than that he was way off. Passes were astray for all three players, ball retention left a lot to be desired of, the drive and determination of last season just didn’t seem to be there.

I don’t know why that is. This isn’t a Spuds/Liverpoolesque root and branch overhaul of the squad – the team that lined up we’re all ever-present last season barring Debuchy and Sanchez – so I don’t know why we haven’t found our rhythm in any of the games we’ve played in yet (Community Shield aside). That’s five games folks. Everyone has off days, we’re all only human, but every time we seem to take to the pitch it’s an off day at the moment it seems.

I did wonder if the new arrivals would take time to ‘bed in’ and we’d have a few quiet games, but it seems Chambers, Debuchy and Alexis are the ones that are actually performing quite well. Sanchez popped up on the left and right yesterday and looked to run at defenders wherever possible. He provided a creative attacking outlet and is getting better all of the time. But Özil was misplacing passes, looked out of sorts and never really threatened that killer pass beyond the eight man Leicester defence.

Perhaps there are mitigating circumstances. Crystal Palace, Besiktas, Everton and Leicester all got men behind the ball. That made it difficult for us to get behind them and yesterday, without a really quality target man, you could see we weren’t willing to whip balls in behind the defence for out wide. There just wasn’t the variation. We got the ball to the edge of the Leicester box and then tried to thread the most intricate balls in behind a well drilled defence that we could.

Are injuries playing their part? Perhaps. The head injury Koscienly picked up clearly affected him in the early stages of the game, as he was culpable for the equaliser that Ulloa got and came off shortly afterwards. It was a shocking bit of defending for the goal, but a fully-fit Kos probably would have nodded that one away.

Last season injuries decimating the team cost us around March time and we fell away from title chasers to fourth place trophy chasers. I can’t help but think that this season we are in for more of the same, only the injuries are happening now, so our title challenge may just evaporate earlier in the season than later.

I’m sorry if I seem despondent at the moment folks, but it’s just that so much early promise after a good summer of business and the Community Shield win had me really thinking we could have a good to at the oil whores this season. But when you look at the two Petro-dollar teams and see how strong their squads are, then you look at how we’re affected when we miss a few key players, it just feels like a mountain that is too steep for this Arsenal team to climb.

Who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m just being a little melodramatic after a few flat performances. But historically, the seasons that have been good ones at Arsenal have been because we’ve started strong and raced to early leads by picking up a lot of points quickly. The ones where we’ve scrapped for fourth all season are where we’ve stuttered at the start and never even got close to the top two. I fear the latter scenario.

I don’t really even want to touch on the last day of the transfer window. For some, it’s the last bastion of hope that our frailties will be addressed, but for me I think there is too much work needed for the squad to be capable of picking up the challenge of a league title and running with it. A back up centre half may be easier to secure if you go to a smaller club, but picking up a defensive midfielder as well? I’m just not sure we have the ability to close two high-profile deals on the final day.

But that isn’t the most frustrating thing of all. The lack of a World Class striker will be painfully evident for us for the first half of the season I fear. Perhaps I’m being unkind to Arsène, because he made the excellent acquisition of Alexis and he may just turn out to be that superstar up top we’re looking for, but he is going to take time and as was shown yesterday, there is literally no other acceptable option when Giroud is out for a prolonged period of time. Sanogo is just not good enough I’m afraid. Not yet, anyway, and he showed that on numerous occasions yesterday. He’s a young player, he’s been thrust into the limelight and he’s having to accept his role as fall guy because Arsène is his chosen ‘project’. Well Arsène, if you don’t sign anybody by 11pm tonight, I pray your ‘project’ has some sort of miraculous change of fortune, because if he carries on like yesterday, I fear it could break him mentally. Think about how Diego Forlan got on at United when he took an age to score. It smashed him mentally and he only recovered when he went back to Spain and started banging in goals again. None of us want to see that for Sanogo, but that’s what I fear.

Right now, I have no expectations for today and if the performances continue like they have done over the coming weeks, I have no expectations for this season. Other than the standard fight for fourth place. Obviously.

See you tomorrow.

Arsenal to come with a health warning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And on that bombshell, I shall bid you adieu.