No surprises any more, but it’s still good we’re making statements like Cech

So yesterday, after all of the speculation, endless retelling of his impending arrival and all-round media bluster, Arsenal confirmed that Petr Cech was officially an Arsenal player.

I, like you, am very pleased. I’ll talk a little bit about the signing in a sec, but as I chewed the fat with a fellow Gooner in the office yesterday, I could not help but pine for the ‘old days’, when a transfer came out of the blue. Thanks to social media and the ever-instant access to information that we all now have, the Cech deal got to a stage where we all knew it was happening, it was just a matter of time. There was no “bloody hell, we’ve signed Bergkamp!” about the announcement yesterday, nor a legendary surprise like the one Arsène gave the media when introducing Sol Campbell to the assembled hacks, who thought we’d be announcing Richard Wright instead.

Perhaps I’m just guilty of being a little too nostalgic, but I preferred ignorance, because the positive surprise and excitement I got when any big name player signed for The Arsenal ten to 15 years ago was much greater than these days. Or perhaps I’m just getting a little older and longer in the tooth.

Whatever. The important thing is that we’ve gone big on bringing in an established and ‘world class’ goalie who can only improve our team. It is a position that many of us thought Arsène had sorted three or four years ago, but after an indifferent season for Szczesny and well documented off-pitch antics, the Pole’s position as number one has been usurped indefinitely for now it seems.

His response – I have to say – was the right one. He praised the signing and publicly, at least, said he’d be pleased to learn from such a player. That is what most Arsenal fans had assumed would be the position that Wenger would take, so it appears as though Szczesny seems to have accepted the challenge, whether or not he feels it’s still the case if he hasn’t been playing much come December, we’ll have to see. When you’re number one for as long as he was, do you want to slot comfortably back into a number two’s shoes? I’m not sure you do and with the Euro’s coming up next summer, it is quite strange to think of the turnaround between Fabianski and Szczesny as to who will most likely play in between the sticks for Poland.

If Szczesny seems to have accepted his role of deputy, what now of Ospina then? Clearly three goalkeepers with aspirations of football doesn’t fit, as we have recent examples of which when Viviano rolled in to town in what most Gooners now call his ‘gap year’. Something tells me Ospina won’t fancy a gap year and so it’s only a matter of time before he asks the boss for an exit. It is a shame because I don’t really think he’s done anything wrong, he just hasn’t really smashed Szczesny’s chances of winning his place back in to touch. It’s strange because it just feels like he’s a player who’s name wasn’t quite top billing enough to excite the fans and an increasingly ‘big name’ hungry modern fanbase who want to see stars or ‘Galacticos’ of varying degrees at the club they support.

But Cech is not just a big name, he’s a big game player too, and this new ruthless Arsène would have thought long and hard about this signing I’m sure. But ultimately, Le Boss will have come to the conclusion that sentiment is no longer soup de jour at Arsenal. He’s always said through countless interviews that if we could find a player in a position that will improve the team, then he would look at bringing them in. That’s what happened with Özil. Most of us thought we needed a striker that pre-season, but there wasn’t one Wenger deemed to be quality enough out there that he could get, but there was a Mesut Özil available and we got him. And aren’t we all glad he did!

The same happened last summer. There were plenty of people who thought Podolski was good enough as a wide left option. Sure, he didn’t do much else other than end product, but when you have somebody who is that good at finishing, do you need an upgrade? You do when that upgrade is world class. So Alexis came in and has been a revalation. 

Now we have Petr Cech. He will bring experience and quality to a defence and perhaps – although not the same mega money as the last two summer signings – he can have the same positive impact on the team as Özil and Alexis have had. We may well go out and buy another big name player who costs £40million, but it may be the Czech stopped who is the most significant acquisition this summer.

From a personality point of view he comes across very well indeed. Humble to the support of the Chelski fans (many of whom don’t really deserve it given the response I saw from some), whose at the same time talking up his new club, he looks very much a calming influence. And he’ll not need any time to settle in, either, because he’s already based in London and he’s even got one of his bezzie mates in the squad in the shape of Super Tom. I particularly liked the part of the Cech interview yesterday when he said that Rosicky’s influence helped to convince him to talk to Arsenal. 

Super Agent Rosicky. 

What it does show you is the influence that other players have on their fellow pros. Sure, it isn’t the main factor behind any deal, but these things can have an impact. It does make me find something positive in the international breaks though, that’s for sure!

Anyway, I’ve spent the last week and a half talking about Cech, so it’s time to start talking about something else tomorrow. Maybe we can speculate over a possible Theo Walcott contract signing, eh?

What Arsenal need to win the Premier League

Howdy there and happy Friday to you. It’s the end of a working week for some and a holiday week for others, but we’re still waiting on a signing that might or might not happy and whom I’m pledging not to talk about until it does, even though I kind of already have in this opening paragraph, albeit indirectly.

So let’s move swiftly on, perhaps veering towards another supposed interested target in which the Arsenal Twitterverse has already set it’s sights on imploding because of, which is Schneiderlin to Man United. Firstly and foremostly, we don’t even know if Arsenal were truly interested in the player. If they were and have baulked at the price, then perhaps we should let sleeping dogs lie. Remember when Madrid tried bending Arsenal over backwards for a massive loan deal fee for Nuri Sahin, only for Arsenal to turn away and Liverpool to snap up? Sahin turned out to be one of those that didn’t quite work out and the upshot was a single year in the Prem before moving back to Germany. Sometimes things don’t work out and after back-to-back FA Cups and a team that is showing real signs of being competitive next season, I’m willing to place a foot firmly back in the ‘Arsene knows what he’s doing here folks’ camp. It’s only one foot though, mind.

This talk of Schnedierlin and how we’ve ‘missed out’ gets you to thinking though. What do we actually need to win the league? Is it a new ‘keeper, another centre half, another defensive midfielder, a striker and perhaps another winger? Or is that just Champ Man speak? Is that the budding gamer in you telling you that new players on the horizon is what we need? Whenever I start to get a little bit worried that we’re not as strong as other clubs who seem to be mobilising their squads quicker than we do, I only have to think back over the last two seasons to realise that sometimes winning the league is more about everything else other than transfers. The Spuds tried a bit of Football Manager style approach to the 2013/14 season and spent £100million on new players. Didn’t work out. The Scousers had a go last season too. Didn’t work out. So what do we need to win the Premier League?

Not a wealth of new signings. In fact I’ve said a few times that we need just one or two and we’re all set. But we do need to do things differently to last season to win the league and make good on the 13 point difference on Chelski.

We need to keep a greater number of players match-fit.

When Carl Jenkinson came into the Arsenal team two and a bit seasons ago, he managed a sustained period of games and so was given the opportunity to show that he’s a good footballer. Last season he proved that with game time he can improve. Last season Nacho Monreal found himself with a series of games – albeit some in central defence but it still did his confidence good – in which he was able to get the rhythm, feel and flow of the league and so the comments from some sections of the fan base about how he wasn’t good enough the season before, soon subsided and he will in all probability start the season as first choice number one. But Unless Gibbs is given more game time, unless he’s afforded an opportunity to get a run in the team, let’s not expect him to challenge Nacho for the starting jersey. That’s why I’m a fan of playing the best players for a specific type of game. If we’re playing a pacey wide man, like Raheem Sterling, for example, wouldn’t you feel more confident if a match-fit Gibbs could get as close to matching him on the left? I know I would.

It’s the same across the park. We need to make sure that in each position the manager needs to try different types of player and rotate his team based on not only their own attributes, but also on ensuring that we counter any of the oppositions strengths and in defence we target their weaknesses. Should we place Giroud up top against the likes of Terry and Cahill? Or should we try to neutralise them by playing a trio of pacey players who will make runs in behind?

Start the season better

It’s a fairly obvious statement to make, but we simply must be better in the opening couple of months. The excessive number of draws we had at the start of the season is what cost us last year. We laboured in games against Everton, Leicester, the Spuds and Hull and it stuttered our momentum. Never underestimate the value of momentum in football. It was the 2007/8 season in which we got so close to the title and that season success was a snowball effect in which we started brilliantly. In 2013/14 we had an initial blip at home to Villa, but shoddy refereeing was more to blame there than anything else, the result of our momentum after that game meant we led the league right up until March. If we can win at least six of our first eight games, I’d fancy that we stand a very good chance of building momentum, confidence and belief that we can challenge for the title.

Be better placed to deal with injuries

Again, it sounds obvious, but it is what helps teams win leagues if they stay fit. In 2007/8 we were derailed by the Eduardo leg break. In 2013/14 it was our reliance on a core of players and when one or two of those players broke down due to over use in February and March, we got in to a run of games in which we fell apart. You can’t legislate for all injuries, but you can mitigate some, by not overplaying players and therefore reducing their probability of injury. That, in turn, leads to more players playing more game time and so when called upon as I mention in my first point above, they will perform better for the team as a whole.

I think we’re excellently placed to achieve all of the above with success given our team. Think about your first team line up for that West Ham game. Got it? Now start to think about an alternative eleven that could play. Got that? Now think of some of the spares that you have left over. For me I have Ospina, Jenkinson (although I know he’ll go out on loan) Flamini, Rosicky, Podolski (again, most likely to leave but for now is still an Arsenal player), Gnabry – showed great promise before injury in 2013/14, Bielik (haven’t seen him play but the signs seem promising by all accounts), Campbell (again, hasn’t really done it yet but is still a full international) and Zelalem. Those names are the ‘third squad’ effectively. When you can boast the kind of talent we have to name two full squads and still have some decent players waiting for their chance, it tells me that your opportunity for success should be quite high. The challenge will be to keep the balance of the squad and keep all of the players fresh enough so they can play well when called upon.

Would I like us to sign a ball winning central defensive midfielder? Sure. Will I lose sleep over no signing in that position or up top? No way.

Fixture lists are only relevant because of personal circumstances

Greetings to you and yours from a sunny Portugal. It’s a bit of R&R for me and the Management for the next week and a half, so apologies if the timing of blogs is a bit sporadic, because it will most likely depend on my blood/Sagres beer levels as to how quickly I can rouse myself from my slumber.

As it’s the start of me holibobs though and The Management is sound asleep, I decided to get up a little earlier and have a look at the Arsenal website, where of course we now have the news about the fixtures for the start of the 2015/16 season. Now, I could go through each month and give you some thoughts on how we’re going to get on, but what’s the point in that? If we’re going to try to win this league then it doesn’t really matter when we play teams, as long as we beat them.

Sure, there are often mitigating factors that can give you a hand – for example you don’t really want to be playing all of the top teams back-to-back or after a Champions League or cup game, but that’s the reason Arsene has built a squad he feels comfortable with, so he can shuffle his pack a little if needs be. And I think he will do more shuffling again like he did last season, compared to the season before, because there is more competition and better players than ever before. Players seem to be lining up one after another to talk up the belief in the squad and how they are all happy with the FA Cup and it’s great n’all, but it’s not enough for them. It’s a bit of mind-change from last season, where the rhetoric was very much “yay! we won the cup!”. So we can all be pleased that mentally at least the players are gearing up for this to be a season they want us to take advantage of.

Anyway, back to them there fixtures and, having had a scan across for any death runs, there doesn’t appear to be too much that would get one a little concerned because even some of the bigger games are at least one other game spaced apart. That’s a good thing. If we stumble in a big game, it will mean our propensity to go into another big game lacking a little bit of confidence could be negated by winning a subsequent ‘smaller’ game. N.B. the inevitable “No small/easy games in the Premier League” clichéd remark goes as standard with that statement, obviously.

For me, the fixture list is less so about looking for who we’re playing and predicting what sort of run we’re going to go on, more about which teams that I have some other family connection with are coming around and whether or not I will be missing games and therefore missing out when teams come to the Emirates or when I usually go away to watch The Arsenal. So my key games and requirements usually are:

1. Don’t want to play West Ham at home when I’m going to be with my brother. He’s a West Ham fan.

2. Don’t really want a “massive” game on or around my birthday. Winning it is great but when we lose it just adds to the woes that I’m a year older.

3. Don’t want Arsenal to play either Newcastle or Sunderland away from home if I’m on holiday or the suchlike. The Management has family up in the North East and we always go to visit them when those games are on.

4. Don’t want us to be at home on Boxing Day if I’m going up North for Christmas. It means I miss another game.

So, how do you think I faired?

1. I have a stag weekend for my cousin on Saturday 8th August. My brother and I will both be in attendance.

2. My birthday is on 6th November. We play the Spuds on 7th November.

3. I have a family holiday to Portugal booked in for Sunday 30th August. It will be an early flight, so the trip to the North East is out.

4. We are away to Southampton on Boxing Day. Huzzah!

So essentially the Premier league probably heard my prayers and decided that I can only have 25% of them answered. Well thanks a million Richard Scudamore. I’m holding you personally responsible for all of this. Don’t you know people have lives to plan around going to watch The Arsenal?

Still, perhaps I shouldn’t complain too much, because upon regaling The Management with my plight, I was able to secure a guarantee that we’ll be heading up north to Manchester for the two away games there, so every cloud and all that.

The transfer balderdash for today still seems to centre around different people giving their opinion on Petr Cech to Arsenal. Bor-ring! Can we have some new stuff please? Oh, we have? Higuain not going anywhere? right….Moneychester City turning their focus towards Jack Wilshere? doubtful……the only thing that makes sense about that transfer is that City could afford to let Jack make the most obvious statements of facts to get fined all the time. £40k for saying the ‘S’ word, eh? Good job the FA don’t run the country, otherwise the national debt would be ten times that of the Greeks.

That is pretty much it. It’s all relatively quiet which, if I’m honest with you, I’m quite content with. It helps that I’m not at work needing to occasionally refresh assorted football news websites to see if anything is happening though.

Anyway, time to put this pasty white skin out in to that big fiery ball in the sky to see if I melt. Catch you tomorrow.

‘Poor’ Abou, avoiding the bargain bucket and Arsène’s judgement

Poor old Abou Diaby. Released by Arsenal as of the end of June, his has been a career that could have promised so much, yet because of a North Eastern based call centre yob, was smashed in to as many pieces as his ankle was after Dan Smith made his horrible tackle all those years back.

I say ‘poor’, but if there’s any consolation for the fella, it’s that he’s anything but that. He will be devastated that his Arsenal career has ended the way it has ended, but when you see stories of refugees in UN camps in Iraq and Syria, or watch the plight of migrants coming from Africa to Catania in Italy to avoid bloodshed in their native countries, I guess it’s all relative. It’s all relative when you also consider that he need want for nothing even if he retired now. He will be a multi-millionaire.

The big question will be whether a club takes a punt on him. On ability you’d say ‘undoubtedly’, but with the wages he’d want as well as the propensity he has for injury, it would be like walking along a tightrope with no balance ‘just on the off chance I can make it across by myself’.

I saw him play majestically at a 2-2 draw at St Andrews a few years back. I think it was the 07/08 season and although we Almunia’d the game right up, he was in sparkling form. When you can get 90 minutes out of him he is quite a handful. Good on the ball, chips in with goals, decent passer and stronger than his beanpole approach would have you believe. Some might say that perhaps he needs a new lease of life, a fresh environment with which he can regain fitness, but I can’t see him being anything else than just an unlucky footballer. West Ham thought that Kieran Dyer just needed another chance after he was released by Newcastle, but he suffered the same fate and broke down every time he made the first team. Abou has a decision to make and some club out there has a gamble to take.

Sadly, the Premier League free transfer list is always one I’m intrigued by, particularly if there are some curve balls thrown in there. I must also confess that historically I have take a look at the list and said ‘hmm…he might do a job as a squad player’. I know, I know, madness at its very core, because released players aren’t released because somebody in admin just forgot to hand them a contract to sign. They’re there because nine times out of ten they aren’t good enough for their respective club. There are one or two exceptions and this season’s are probably Ron Vlaar from Aston Villa and Brede Hangeland of Crystal Palace. There a few others, but those are the ones that stuck out for more, particularly because they were regulars for their clubs and they have also been linked with us in the past. 

But the great thing is that we are so far beyond those players, we have evolved so much more as a squad, that even I haven’t really bothered to look at the list with any kind of interest in who could be available, merely curious as to what other clubs are doing.

It’s nice to be in the position where I’m not hoping Arsène will pick a winner from a bargain bucket.

We’ve also released Ryo Miyachi, a player with whom we’ve learnt nothing more than the fact he’s ‘really really fast’. He struggled on any of the performances that he’s played or come on as a reserve, so that one comes as no surprise really, so I expect he’ll be finding a club abroad to ply his trade.

What the Hangeland, Vlaar and Miyachi situations do show – I think – is that although he does not know everything, contrary to what some might say about the manager, he does tend to be more successful than not in his acquisition and retention of players. Rarely are there examples of a player he has cast to one side, who has then gone on to greater things. Think Reyes, Bentley, Adebayor as examples. Arsène can spot a good player and the ones he does toss out don’t tend to come back in a cup final and tear us apart, do they? Sure, there are players like can Persie and Fabregas who have gone on and won trophies, but they have done so against Arsène’s will. When Arsène has a will to let a player go, they’re not usually going and getting more glory.

So when Arsène doesn’t pick up a Brede Hangeland in 2011 from Fulham, or snap up a Ron Vlaar after the 2014 World Cup, there’s probably a good reason. That’s what I like to think anyway.

What about you? Any on the Premier League freebie list you’d take?

Cech saga to drag on, which is fine by me; Santi scoops third

It seems that we’re in full flow on the transfer tittle-tattle-go-round, which means the happiest people to be are journalists, because they are the ones who have all of the attention. This time of year must be on their objectives or something, because the self-promoting and exposure-grabbing knows no bounds. If there’s a meeting of fans, a journo will be there. If there’s a radio show needing a sound bite, the journos will be there. If a TV sports channel needs 15 seconds of filler clippings, the journos will be there. And we will lap it up because we have nothing else football-related to hang our hats on.

The sports journalist media must be livid that the season is so short, because the hits and clicks that they must try and secure in the summer to boost annual web targets, is drastically reduced. Think retailers at Christmas and some sort of unseasonally good weather that stops people from staying indoors and shopping. Yeah, that.

The current excitement from an Arsenal perspective is the movements of Petr Cech, who has said that ideally he wants to find a solution whereby he plays more football, doesn’t have to move his family, or suffer the palaver of uprooting abroad. John Cross was asked about this yesterday at a supporters club meeting and said that he thought Cech wanted to come, but Chelski are asking for £10million+ and they will probably drag it out all summer.

If Cross is right, then it would make sense, because Jose is a petty and pathetic human being and none of us could expect anything less from him. But for a change (assuming we are in for Cech of course), I’m not as fussed, because I firmly still believe we can compete with our existing team. Why not? Chelski won the league and there’s no doubt that they were the best team for it, but memories must be short, because they’re excellent start to the season was as mcn down to the ability of their manager to field the same XI for a prolonged period of time, as ours was poor because of the litany of injuries we had.

Do I think Cech would improve us as a team? Of course. Do I think without him we have no chance of winning the league? Not on your nelly. Because as much as Ospina and Szczesny may not be world class ‘keepers, if we bolster our squad numbers in a couple of areas, I still think we can win the league. Imagine what we could do if the same players fit from February until April were fit from August to January? I’m picking January because I believe that if you start to build momentum in a squad, all players up their game, which makes it easier to rotate because you can trust more players to perform. That’s what I believe happened with Chelski this season. They raced to a lead and then when they wobbled a bit this season, the players who dipped in form could be rotated with others in the squad, who were coming into a winning team. It’s easier to play in a winning team than a struggling one.

In existing squad news, Santi Cazorla has been voted third in the fans Player of the Season awards, with 8.4% of the vote. It is deserved recognition for a player who you could be forgiven for thinking would be looking for a new club this summer, if the thoughts from last summer and the fan and pundit majority were to be believed. I have to say I wasn’t sure how Santi would fit in to the current first team dynamic with Ramsey and Wilshere in the squad, but he has reinvented himself in a way that now makes him undroppable.

Sitting alongside Coquelin – who I do wonder if he might have got close to the voting, were it not for Alexis and probably Mesut – he has been outstanding this season, no more so than the 2-0 away win at Moneychester City. It is testament to his performances that instead of wondering who will play central midfield out of Wilshere or Ramsey, the end of the season saw Rambo shunted out wide to be accommodated in the team, as opposed to Santi playing in one of the wide positions like he did at times last season. Those twinkle toes and the ability to retain position and set us going from deep has meant that we’d added another dimension to our game. With Cazorla sparkling in that position, it means players like Ramsey or Alexis know they can make runs from further up the field, when we have the ball on the edge of our own box. Again, as I said last week, I’m reminded of the Cazorla ball for Ramsey’s goal against Hull. That is the sort of ball you get from Cazorla and that is why he is so important to the team, because his vision allows him to do that, something probably only Mesut Ozil has in the team other than Cazorla.

I would have actually have had my 3-2-1 in a slightly different way to the fans, as Santi would have been in at number 2 behind the inevitable crowning of Alexis as player of the season. I can only assume that Mesut will come in at number 2, because creative players tend to feature highly in these types of awards. Personally, I’d have had Koscienly, Cazorla and Alexis, because whilst Kos missed a chunk of the season through injury (like most of our team if you think about it – Walcott, Giroud, Ozil, Ramsey, Wilshere, etc), he was good before he became injured and better when he came back. Ozil has been brilliant since returning from injury, but by his own admission, he struggled at the start of the season.

Anyway, that’s probably enough from me for one day. I’ll leave you to your own affairs and check in with you again tomorrow for some more musings.

Arsenal season review: midfield surplus

hello there you. Are you pleased it’s a Friday and not a Tuesday? I am. It means I get a bit of a lie in tomorrow. Plus my dad promised me a BBQ at his house in the evening on Saturday, so it will be a full day of rest, just got to get through this full day of work.

And what better way to do so than have a bit of an earlier morning ponder on our midfield for the 2014/15 season, eh?

It’s a blog that could probably take me the whole day if I really wanted to go into the minutia of detail on each player, because much like last season, it’s an area of the team in which we’ve had an abundance of players going into the start of the season. Wilshere, Flamini, Ramsey, Cazorla, Arteta, Rosicky, Coquelin, Özil and The Ox; it’s not an area that i’d have told you we needed to worry about too much in August. Plenty of depth there.

Yet Arsenal have an uncanny knack of finding a way of looking a bit threadbare, don’t we, and by Christmas we were all scratching our heads wondering how it had come to this that we were recalling midfielders from loan spells just so they could make up the numbers. Or so we thought.

Step forward the single most ‘surprise package’ player of the season, Francis Coquelin, who has shown the footballing world that sometimes it just takes the right mix of application and fortune to turn a player into a star. He was there for us exactly when we needed him. Hard-tackling, screening the back four and within a couple of games of starting, he was looking every bit the fabled ‘DM’ that we’d all been crying out for since Alex Song decided he was an assist maker and didn’t need to do any ‘dirty work’.

Le Coq loves the dirty work. His ability to win a tackle is brilliant and although many of us still want investment in that area to ensure competition, in my mind he’s earned the right to start the season as number one. Santi rightly picked up the plaudits in the game at The Etihad, but Coquelin was just as important in my eyes, protecting a defence under siege and doing so with a strength that no other player in the squad can do. Think Flamini, version 2007, only Coquelin has better distribution. The Flamster has been reduced to less than a bit-part player this season, which is probably just as well because when he has played he has looked a little bit like a headless chicken with a bit of a chip on its shoulder. We’re beyond the stages of Flamini’s persistent fouling and bookings being funny now; we needed a cultured defensive midfielder and we have one plucked from a loan in South London who does that.

But this season’s midfield story has been more than just that of an unlikely hero in defensive midfield. Step forward another unlikely hero, albeit playing in a different position rather than being unknown, and that guy is Santiago Cazorla. 

When I looked at our midfield at the beginning of the season, I honestly couldn’t see how Santi was going to displace some of the other players in the squad, because Alexis had been bought and was clearly going to take up the wide left position, which Santi has spent quite a bit of time occupying in the last couple of seasons. Jack and Rambo were surely duking it out as the box-to-box midfielders and Arteta and Flamini were the natural choices for the holding role. Santi wasn’t better than Özil as the number 10, was he? Nor does he have the same energy in his play as Rosicky. So he was the player I thought would struggle.

I needn’t have worried too much though, because excellent players can also be adaptable, so I would come to pass that Santi would carve a new role in the ever-evolving Arsenal team as a deep-lying playmaker. And boy, did it ever work. 

Santi is like the Football equivalent of American Football’s quarterback. When he picks up the ball with the players we have in attack in front of him, he can drive us forward, with either a quick shimmy and dribble away from an opposing player, or a sumptuous long ball across the field with pinpoint accuracy. A perfect example of this is the assist he got for Ramsey’s goal against Hull. That long defence-splitting pass perfectly weighted to the Welshman’s feet, dispatched to secure the game but born from the ability in the Spaniard’s feet. I can’t even remember which foot, because both deliver the same result, such is the artistry in those tiny feet.

He’s also shown a defensive side to his game too which plenty of us didn’t know existed. He can get stuck in and even wins the odd tackle and then if there isn’t a quick counter attacking ball on, he can just dribble around half a team single-handedly himself anyway, a lá Moneychester City away.

Ahead of those two we’ve seen patches of form from all other players. Most recently Jack has looked hungry since coming back from injury, but his performance at home to Moneychester City was a thing of beauty and showcased his ability to dictate a game if the circumstances allow. Often those circumstances are injury related and you have to think that – despite saying this every year for the last two – his season next season is an important one as he tries to find his place in the team. Much like Ramsey, I feel like Arsène is desperate to fit Jack in to the team, but unless he can sustain his fitness for longer than a few months, he might find his passage blocked by other players. Just look at Abou Diaby. He is a forgotten man. So much so I didn’t even mention him as an option in our bulging midfield selection at the start of the blog. 

Right now, particularly since Ramsey has reconnected with his 2013/14 form as the season draws to a close, it’s hard to see Jack getting ahead of Aaron in the pecking order if there was a straight shootout between the two. So much like Santi, does Jack have to re-invent himself in order to nail a starting spot? Perhaps. He’s been tried in that deep-lying playmaker role for England, but whether he could displace Santi remains to be seen, because Jack’s a dribbler and I’m not sure he has the same vision as Cazorla.

But hey, the modern day game is about a squad, so that’s what you need in order to compete on all fronts and that is why Jack and the other midfielders will all get an opportunity during different stages of next season.

One player who id love to see more of, but I’m not sure how, is Super Tom Rosicky. Indeed, I’m actually quite surprised he signed a one year extension, because his game time towards the end of this season has been minimal so I’d have thought he’d want to go somewhere to get regular football. He’s good enough. His performances in the FA Cup earlier stages showed that. His goal in the fourth round against Brighton was replayed last Sunday on Arsenal Player and it was a reminder about just how technically sound he is. A cheeky ‘look away’ pass that had Phil Neville frothing at the mouth, then a superb strike a few seconds later to back up his audacity. He’ll play some part in next season, but I’ve got no idea when.

I’ve almost run out of time on the tube this morning and like I said at the start of the blog, I could probably talk until tomorrow about the different players, but before I go I’ll make room for one more:

Mesut Fricking Özil.

Lambasted at the start of the season, accepted as a maestro by the end, our German Number 10 has had the cliched ‘game of two halves’ this season. What clearly now seems to have been a bit of a World Cup hangover that carried in to his early season form, the injury layoff until the new year was a god send for him. He recouped, bulked up and was brilliant until the end of the season. He sees space and passes that no other mortal sees. He draws players near them, then weaves away to find a teammate having given them more room to do their stuff. He was integral to Walcott’s first goal last weekend and an Arsenal team with him in it is an Arsenal team that will always create chances. I love that we have Mes in our team. 

Do we need replacements in midfield? Perhaps. But even if we don’t go out and buy a beast like Kondogbia this summer, I’d still be pleased with our midfield going in to the 2015-16 season. 

Arsenal season review: a case for the defence

I’m going to resist the urge to vent towards the pathetic nature of the FA’s charge of Jack Wilshere, for getting closer to the fans by singing songs, or the over sanitisation of modern day football and footballers as a result.

Instead, I’m going to plough on with my thoughts on how this season’s defence has performed as a unit and collectively.

If you were to try and think of a phrase that would describe the defence this year in less than five words, would ‘inconsistently consistent’ be a fair one? That’s what I’m going with anyway, because our season has seen only Per Mertesacker used throughout with relatively little game time. The rest of our defensive unit have all spent time out injured for some duration. But not the BFG who, interestingly enough, has attracted the most criticism of all.

It probably didn’t help his situation that he has had four different centre back partners during the course of the season, nor would his admission that motivation was tough after the heights of the World Cup in the summer. As a footballer approaching his 30s, you’d think he’d be realising that his career was but a fleeting one, so you have to make the most of every minute because when it’s gone, it’s gone. 

But to his credit, when the regularity of his most experience centre back partner Koscienly became more commonplace in 2015, we all saw a marked increase in our gentle giants overall performances. His goal in the FA Cup final will no doubt be a highlight, but I thought he had a particularly good game at Manchester City away too this year. Koscienly took most of the defensive plaudits along with Santi and Coquelin that day, but it was a defensive display built on Big Per’s leadership that pleased me.

Koscienly is Koscienly. He’s brilliant. Recovery pace that supports Per and also gets himself out of some of his own mistakes, the man who wants his own song is by far our best defender and much like our season, has been hampered by that reoccurring injury (I think it was hamstrings) that needed him to sit out a chunk of this season at a time in which we looked fragile. There’s no surprise there. It’s funny because he’s a really strong guy and yet when I look at him in the flesh I never think that he has the physical power to go toe-to-toe with players like Costa or Benteke. But he does and has. Any title tilt next season must essentially mean that he’s been fit for a minimum of 80% of the league games.

If he’s not, then Arsène will look to Gabriel to step up and although it’s difficult to make a proper assessment of him after only half a season, what I have seen I like. He seems a simple – dare I say it ‘old-fashioned’ – centre half. The first words that probably came out of his mouth as a baby were ‘Row Z’. He’s intelligent at reading danger too and I’m reminded of the booking he took on his debut against Middlesbrough as an example of how he knew that the Boro play could be in on goal if he got passed, so the Brazilian Gandalfed him before anything serious could happen.

In addition to Gabriel, Chambers will be used with a bit more regularity at centre half next season and with the youngster I see a similar situation to what happened with Carl Jenkinson two years ago. With a run of games at the beginning he looked like he had a bit of the Tony Adams at that young age about him, but as the pressure to perform each week went on, he started to fade a bit and his time was limited in the second half of the season. His performances in the qualifying round of the Champions League were the ones that still stand out for me and it is those displays that I think we’ll see more often than the difficult times he had at right back against Swansea and Stoke away, or in defensive midfield against his old club. He’ll have learnt a lot this season and I think we’ll see a Chambers beacon to his early season form next time he takes to the pitch in a competitive game.

So, on to the full backs and perhaps we should start with Debuchy, who has had a torrid season with injuries. It’s a real shame because before he picked up his knock against Moneychester City, he was looking like the perfect Sagna replacement. He gets forward, has a decent delivery, is good in the tackle and I’m sure will be given another crack at being a first teamer come the start of next season, despite Bellerin’s meteoric rise.

It has been one of the great plus points, hasn’t it? Hector has settled in to the team and looks like he’s been playing right back for Arsenal for about five years consistently. No doubt his high point will have been the goal against Liverpool, but I think his first couple of displays when he began to start regularly (I think Stoke at home was one) were the bits he should be most proud of. His rise to prominence has seen the fans feel a bit sad for Jenkinson, because the performances of the Spaniard have surely ended the Arsenal supporting loanees chance of being a regular. Certainly for next season anyway. I don’t think Bellerin will start first choice next season, but the fact that it will be so close between him and Debuchy, shows how far his season has evolved from that difficult night in Dortmund.

On the other side of the back four we have another great battle on our hands. Monreal or Gibbs? Nobody thought that would be a serious question come August 2015, did they? I certainly didn’t and it’s testimony to an excellent season the Spaniard has had in which he’s been asked to play in a position he’s never in his life tried his hand at, yet he’s slotted in at centre back when the team needed him and whilst the performances of the team as a whole weren’t great, I think it was a little bit too easy of an excuse to blame Monreal for some of the more shocking games at the start of the season. Take the Anderlecht 3-3 for example. I seem to recall Monreal taking a bit of a lasting for conceding the penalty, but other than that I thought he was one of the better players on what was a pretty shoddy night.

When he was given his chance in his more natural position, he was excellent and much like Ospina, has never let his performance level drop even slightly to give Gibbs a chance of reclaiming the starter spot. That is the very definition of ‘healthy’ competition and if the club don’t tie him down for another three years this summer (he has just one year left on his contract!) then they’ve gone stark raving bonkers and we should be storming the garrison. Or doing something. A bedsheet with black marker maybe?

Monreal’s form has been the only reason why we haven’t seen as much of Kieren Gibbs towards the end of the season, because apart from getting a bit injured, he hasn’t really done a lot wrong. Even when he’s been called on in some of the FA Cup games where Arsène has rotated he’s been excellent and was the assist provider for one of Giroud’s goals against Middlesbrough. Much like the two right backs, there is a tough decision Arsène has to make, but unlike Bellerin and Debuchy, I’m not sure there’s as much of a hierarchy in place. I really couldn’t tell you who is the first choice come the first game of the season. Right now you’d say Monreal but will that be the case with a full pres season completed for both? Don’t know. 

What I do know is that the defence that ended the season is not the same one that started it. I said yesterday that there is probably a case for another goalkeeper to come in during the summer, but I don’t think the same can be said for our defence. Even if you take out one player from every position across the back four, I think we have a good unit of players and I don’t think Arsène will be too concerned with that area this summer, which is ironic given that we’ve spent half the season moaning about it!
Anyway, that’ll do from me for one day, so I’m off for a bit of work. Over and out.