We’ll get victory through harmony – the players believe it

Stability is a place called Arsenal these days. With the announcement that Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla have both renewed their contracts with a four and three-year deal respectively, we have seen two of the recently unanswered questions be unequivocably dealt with by the club. In terms of keeping the continuity of the squad together, only the inking of a new deal of Nacho Monreal is left to ensure that this is – in theory (because we all know that contracts can be exited via buy outs from other clubs in the form of transfers) – a collective of players that we should be able to grow together for many years to come.

I’ve been saying this for quite a bit of this summer, but this is a squad that I personally feel very happy with. They have not been taken apart through transfer saga’s or contracts being run down, instead Arsene and the Arsenal staff have augmented the team with better players. World class players. Whilst many clubs like Liverpool have been overhauling their squad for a couple of seasons, we have seen relatively little player inwards movement, because we simply haven’t needed it. You build a beautiful and delicious cake with time and a careful hand, not by chucking all of the ingredients into a blender and hitting warp speed four.

This is a squad who are going to grow together. I feel it. Silly videos like the one in the swimming pool when they were all together heading it may all look like nothing, but I’m sure they give us a window into squad harmony and morale. Everyone seems to be pulling in the right direction. Everyone wants success.

Theo knew that. That’s why this contractual saga of his hasn’t lasted very long at all. He’s at an age where ambition is essential. He needs to feel like he can win things and the apparent ease in which this has happened (although I’d bet the negotiators on both sides will probably say that it wasn’t that easy when you were on the inside!) shows that he feels he can. He’s 26 years old and having spent 10 years at Arsenal, he probably feels like this is the best possible time to be picking up medals. I hope he’s right. We all do.

We’ve all got the bug you see. We’ve had two year’s of the FA Cup and now we want more. Our thirst has not been quenched, it has only been abated. We want bigger. We need better. The players are the same and you can sense it in what they are all saying. The way they are talking about the club has the sound of those that really believe it and in sport belief is as important as experience, confidence and technical ability. The players all have technical ability. We’ve got a squad bristling with it. But perhaps over the last ten years the belief has not been to the level it is now. That belief has come with trophy wins in the last two seasons and with those trophy wins we also have players who know how to win things. They know how to get over the line.

Cazorla too has been rewarded with a new deal. He’s thirty years old and the club have signed him up for another three years I believe. That shows you just what an impact our tiny little Spaniard has had. I think he still had a year or so to run on his deal and so Arsenal could have got to next summer and given him a one year extension, but they have decided that he’s a guy that we should keep around for a few year’s to come. Let’s not forget that Santi was a player who has been linked with moves back to Spain even as soon as a few weeks ago. He’s always said he would like to go back and finish his career in Spain, but his style and the way he plays probably means he could be playing well in to his late thirties, so him sticking around for another three years can only be a good thing. Like Theo, he has probably seen the potential of this team and is hungry to realise his dreams by picking up more medals with Arsenal.

It’s a commitment from Santi in his belief, but it’s also a commitment from the club too, which I think has to be applauded. The club recognise what an impact he has. His close control, his ability to retain possession, his new-found position of a deep lying playmaker, all of this last season was a vitally important cog in the machine that was churning out victory after victory post-Christmas 2014. His resurgence in the team (let’s not forget that people thought it might be the end of his time this time last year) has coincided with the team’s performance and if we’re going to win the league this season, we’re going to need Santi in the team.

What his and Arteta’s signatures does, is do something that perhaps Arsenal have been accused of not doing in the past, which is successfully pairing the need for youth, players in their prime and those with experience that can take the younger players under their wings. Balance. Harmony. Victory through it all. That’s what The Arsenal’s successful history has been built on and that is how we can win that Premier League trophy again.

I’m excited. Bring on the Premier League. Let’s see how far this team can take us.

What I’d like to see from Arsenal this season: the high press

Moning fellows and ladies, y’alright?

I am. Despite the inevitable tired eyes that threaten to derail my sunny disposition, I’m feeling chipper, most probably because my first game back watching The Arsenal since visiting Wembley happens to be another trip to Wembley on Sunday. Sure, it won’t have the same expectation, nervousness or intensity, but it will still be a nice way to slide myself back in to full-on Arsenal mode. Love it.

I’ve been watching the preseason friendly games from a far at this point and, whilst trying to look at how we might fare this season, I’ve also tried to see how Arsène might have changed his team approach to games. After all, 12 points difference over Chelski isn’t going to be overhauled just because the players have had a summer together, is it?

I’m not sure it is. So I’ve been trying to watch the friendlies as objectively as I can, to see if we’ll see signs of any tactical approaches, which is difficult when the football is so disjointed as a result of the many substitutions that are needed whilst the whole squad gets back to match fitness.

I’m a pretty simple football fan, not pretending to be any kind of tactical nous or ability to spot the minutiae of a way an Arsenal team – or opponents actually – are set up. But having watched us over the last couple of weeks, it does look as though we seem to be adopting a little bit more of a forward-looking and expansive style of football. I thought I started to see the framework for this in Singapore with Santi deployed as the deepest lying midfielder. Santi! A guy who three years ago was our most creative player, pulling the strings as a quarterback. I loved it and then, at The Emirates Cup at the weekend, the way in which we overloaded Lyon with our football just before half time, meant the French team had no answer. Wolfsburg were a bit more composed, which meant we reigned in our natural intent to drive forward those quick bursts and overload on all sides, but the goal that Theo scored was still an example of our pace and ability to stretch teams on the counter.

That pace that we now have in abundance is a weapon that I hope we see plenty of this season. When we’re deep in our half and under pressure, I hope we have enough outlets to sucker-punch teams with lighting response and accuracy. Theo, the Ox, Welbeck and Alexis all have it and with Mes able to pick a pass along with Santi, they can find him.

But I also saw one other flash of something that I am really hoping we see more of this season: the high press.

It was in to the second half, relatively early on, in which the Wolfsburg left back was fed the ball from his centre half. His actions were to lump the ball out of play, but that was only because a swarm of Arsenal players led by Arteta closed down the space and his immediate options. It was a classic tennis ‘forced error’ and immediately gifted possession back to us. To me it was majestic and for that very quick moment I was reminded of the Barcelona that came to the Emirates and drew 2-2. That team I saw that night were an exhibition of the high press. They gave Arsenal little time on the ball and closed down defenders so high up the pitch it ‘forced error’ on our back four on a number of occasions as I recall.

I love the high press. It’s how you can sustain pressure on teams and keep them camped in their own half when they have possession, then when the ball is in your half it is usually at the feet of one of your players. I’d love to see Arsenal adopt the high press this season.

It has its drawbacks, I’ll admit, particularly if your side isn’t 100% switched on for the whole game. A high press against teams with cultured and mobile players is risky. You can’t afford to have your forwards pushing from the front and the midfield and defence not closing the spaces in between the lines of players. If you are not organised when adopting the high press you will get caught out if your opponents have a good enough pass-master and quick centre forwards.

But it is exciting to watch and if executed properly, can be exhausting for defences, which is why I love it. A bit of risk for awesome rewards. And the thing is, we have players who can help to press from the front yet still track back. Alexis is the perfect example, but Welbeck and the Ox do the same, so there are players in that front three who will cover ground to help the team. Ramsey too in the middle of the park will press from the front, but in order for us to be deadly, we need to have him busting a gut each time to drop deeper if we don’t have the ball.

Whether or not Arsène wants to adopt the high press I’m not sure. I’m sure I read somewhere a few seasons ago – possibly from Arteta I believe – that the coaching staff had realised that we don’t have the personnel to press high up the pitch for the duration of the whole of a football match. So the team devised a way in which it could press in patches, perhaps in certain zones. Certainly this represents the more prudent approach to pressing an opponent. But to me, having seen that Barcelona team all those years ago, I can’t shake the idea that with better and more intelligent players that we have now, ones that have the pace as well as ability to cover a lot more ground in defence and attack, we should think about trying to suffocate opponents when in possession whilst adopting the high press.

Perhaps it’s a pipe dream – that Barcelona model I saw a few years back – and not really viable in the Premier League in which players don’t get as much opportunity to ‘go easy’ before big games like Barca probably did with whatever opponent they faced before they rocked up at The Emirates that night. But to me, with the players and the ability we have as a team, I just feel we’re in a good position to be able to have a go at it, without having the same response as we had last season away at Swansea where Flamini decided he’d press high up the pitch, which didn’t quite work so well for us.

Come on Arsène, give it a go, let’s have a try and see if we can rack up some big scores this season.

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.

Arsène’s stability wall protecting the Premier League trophy

Life is short. I seem to recall that it wasn’t long ago that I was up north at Uni surrounded by Scousers and Mancs, whilst Arsène and Arsenal were doing me big favours by going unbeaten and giving me all manner of bragging rights amongst mates, one of whom was such a bitter United fan that he refused to acknowledge Arsenal were champions in 03/04 until the trophy had physically touched an Arsenal players hands on the final game of the season.

It was bliss. There was also just one Chelski fan in my large collective of Uni mates, as well as no City fans whatsoever. 

I took it for granted that we were the best team – arguably in the world at that stage – and when one guy said to me “your team won’t be that good forever. One day you’ll be like me and have to endure finishing a few places below first”, I mocked him with a “nah, not under Arsène mate” retort that in hindsight might have been steeped in fate and karma now that we look at the subsequent decade after The Invincibles.

But hey, when you’re young and impetuous, you think you’re team is indestructible and you say things that you look back on and think are naive. It happens.

Why do I bring all this up? Well, it’s Arsène again, really. If you read my utterances more regularly (firstly, more fool you, because most of what I say is drivel. But thanks anyway) you’ll know I’ve hardly been a complete Wenger convert since I started this blog, but the respect for the man and his achievements have always been there. However, having read his comments on the increased stability in the playing staff at the club which have appeared on the official site, I am once again reminded of the younger and more dynamic version of Le Boss who guided us to victory in those early years.

That Arsène was a ahead of his time. That Arsène was full of quips and there was something about him. He just seemed more effervescent. There was something in his eyes, a glint, something that made a younger incarnation of myself comforted that “it’s okay, he got this”. That Arsène seemed to have slowly eroded away over time, as he was weighed down by fan expectation for a reunification with the “good old days”, whilst struggling with the self-imposed Arsenal austerity.

What I’m saying is nothing new to you. You’ve read it all before on countless other blogs and from far more eloquent people than myself. But with the shackles now off and him in a position to build a squad bigger and deeper than ever before, I am starting to get the comfort back, which is pleasing me no end I can tell you. 

Perhaps it’s that pre-season excitement that is acting as an anaesthetic, but I feel like finally Arsène believes himself that we can compete. We’ve had sporadic campaigns in which we’ve competed, like in 2007/8 and 2013/14, but the depth of the squad has always lacked in that one position in which we needed it. This upcoming season, I don’t think we’re lacking in any position in order to compete, I really don’t. I’m not saying getting a Karim Benzema or super-mega-awesome-ball-busting-DM wouldn’t improve us further – you can always get better – but based on what I saw last season towards the second half of it, we should have enough to at least compete.

That’s what we’ve always wanted. To have the team compete. I mean really compete. Taking a challenge all the way to the final weeks. And we’re there now. We’re there because we have stability. We swat away rumours about players like Özil with a simple wave of our collective hands. We talk about not being 100% sure what our best team is and, even if you think you know what the best Arsenal team is, I bet you that I could find at least half a dozen other Arsenal fans instantly who would disagree with you. 

That’s what stability brings. It brings consistency. Of personnel, of confidence in the players, of team unity and of belief. By not offloading our star players for at least the previous two summers, the squad strength has been slowly built up, brick-by-brick. No more Jenga-style pulling away of a supporting block and seeing the whole thing wobble/collapse. Nope, we’ve build ourselves quite a wall and it’s strong. Let’s just hope it’s strong enough to keep the others away from that Premier League trophy. 

I think – nay, believe – it is. It could be even stronger with additions, but I believe it’ll hold, so too does Arsène I suspect. If he finds a stronger brick – probably a breeze block or something sharp to put on top like barbed wire – then he may top up the wall. But let’s just be happy that we have a decent looking one without any holes in, eh?

I am. And I hope to be telling a certain scouser (if I can find him), that it turns out he was right, I was wrong, but I’m right again now. Some people will never learn their lesson you know.

Arteta’s deal raises questions that Arsène must ponder and answer

Monday came and went with players returning to training and, unlike in places like Southampton where the odd chap doesn’t show for his first day back with his current club, everyone at Arsenal came back who was supposed to come back. No Szczesny stuck in a wishing well, no Wilshere falling in to the Grand Canyon and certainly no Flamini stuck on a boat 10 miles from Somalian pirates. All appears to be gravy in The Arsenal world. 

It’s nice. I like it. Having spent a few seasons with a settled squad, my ever hazy memory is beginning to remember the times in which we just got stronger every summer under Arsène’s stewardship. 

News wise there still isn’t much though. Arteta might be on the verge of a new deal and whilst that will have some Arsenal fans spitting feathers and chewing the inside of their mouths, I’d be quite happy to see our experienced captain receive the backing of the manager with a new deal.

Sure, there will be those of you that might think “but what does that mean in terms of a replacement in holding midfield??”, but I don’t really think that decision taken by the manager will have had that much of an impact on his decision to strengthen in the defensive midfield position. He signed an extension to Rosicky’s contract, but do you think that means Rosicky is going to play more regularly? I don’t. I do think that Arsène is making sure we have enough cover by keeping Tomas and I think Arteta is in that position too. 

Besides which, every successful team has a balance of skills, enthusiasm and experience, so why wouldn’t we want Arteta around to support his teammates? He’s proven himself a great person to be at the club; eloquent, honest, and on top of that many people seem to forget just how good he is. He’s a master at receiving and distributing accurately from our back four, relieving pressure, as well as setting the rest of the team up to find space and start attacks. He’s an organiser on the pitch. He’s brilliant at the tactical yellow card in the middle of the pitch. He’s also versatile. In his career he’s been a playmaker, a left midfielder and a holding defensive midfielder. He’s had his injuries – particularly last season – but when he plays he will be an asset to the team, of that I have no doubt.

 Unusually for me, this summer I’ve taken the approach that I’m not sure we really need that much in order to compete with Chelski. We’ve bought a great ‘keeper capable of salvaging us points. Last season I remember saying that neither Szczesny or Ospina were that type of ‘keeper I felt. So we’ve addressed that now. But with Coquelin established as the first choice holding midfielder, surely it makes sense to have a calming and mentoring influence in the shape of Arteta, for him?

I think so. I also think that unless a player is available for a realistic market value, Arsène won’t do any type of deal in any position, because he’s not going to want to have his fingers burned by playing £30million for Schneiderlin. No matter how much the player wants to come or how many French Caps he has won.

There’s also the small matter of Krystian Bielik who, with such big things expected of him in the coming years, would probably see his path all but blocked up if Arsène signs another 24-25 year old for the position he offers. I know Bielik is only 17, but we like to blood them young at Arsenal, so it wouldn’t surprise me – assuming he’s good enough – to see him emerging within two years. By that time you’ll have a Coquelin who will be at his peak at 26, Arteta will have hung up his boots and young Krystian can act as Padawan to Francis.

I know I know, it’s all very hypothetical and a lot of ducks need to be lined up before it happens, but I’m just trying to put myself in Arsène’s shoes with Arsène’s thought process. Why go out and spend £30million on a player when you have a £30million player (as he believes) in that position already? 

I suppose he has form in the shape of Monreal signing for £8million when we had Gibbs in the team already, but that move was partially justified based on the Englishman’s injury record, so it made sense. Coquelin hasn’t really established himself long enough in the first team to work out if he has injury problems, so for all we know he could play 40 times next season and the whole question over having good enough cover becomes a bit of an irrelevance.

I guess that just goes to show you the delicate nature of the decisions Le Boss has to make with his squad at the moment. The team feels to me like it’s standing on the precipice of greatness, it really does, so to unbalance it with a host of Galatacicos – for example – doesn’t make sense. However, there needs to be sufficient depth, with a blend of young hungry players and experienced elder statesmen to compliment those in their prime in order to see us lift the Premier League and/or the Champions League. 

Anyway Arsène, over to you sir.

New born indoctrination; Benzema would not be like Özil situation

Eugh. Full of cough/cold and relatively little sleep, coupled with the fact there’s bugger all happening in the Arsenal world, means this is one heck of a crud-diddly-udd way to start the working week. The only saving grace of positivity for today was that a new family member entered the world last night in the shape of a new nephew for yours truly here. 

The only down side is his dad – my brother – is a West Ham fan and so the child will probably never know the awesomeness of being a Gooner. It will be a shame. If he found his way to the world of Arsenal I could lavish him with so many stories about a wonderful club. But instead he has to be raised sporting claret and blue and shouting ‘irons!’ In an unsavoury and somewhat irritating manner.

Maybe I’ll get lucky. Maybe he’ll naturally gravitate towards the right way. As long as he doesn’t stray into the path of extreme darkness and start favouring Chelski though, I suppose, because that really would put both father and uncles noses out of joint. In fact, it would probably mean needing to rip our noses off, set fire to them and shoot them out of a cannon in to the River Thames if there was any hint of a West London interest. At least that my brother and I can both agree on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have my influence on the wee nipper, but I’ve made a promise with the sibling not to confuse the child. So whilst he is still looking like a potato and unable to tell us his preferences, then I’ll get a few snaps in an Arsenal baby grow and accept the poor nippers fate.

Anyway, anything else to talk about? We could look at the Benzema rumours, but does anybody believe that it would actually happen? I mean, really? There’s been a lot of talk about Ramos to United in the last few weeks, but if you look at most of the more respected journos (I know, I know, ‘ha!’ right?), a lot are hypothesising that this is a ploy from the Ramos camp to get a better deal at Real by toying with United for their affections. I think it’s similar for Benzema. He doesn’t have as little left on his contract as Ramos, but with a new manager in and talking of Ronaldo playing as an out-and-out number nine, his agent briefing the press that he might consider elsewhere works in his favour to both sound out potential suitors but also to test Madrid’s desire to keep him. 

Even if the plans for Ronaldo are to move him to a good ol’fashioned number nine, are Madrid really going to let go their other option in that position? Not to mention the fact he’s one of the best at it in Europe! 

Sure, we all thought similar of Özil and I remember us first being linked to our German and thinking ‘we’ve got no chance’ in a similar way that this Benzema story has pushed its way front and centre, but unless they have another megastar signing lined up like they did with Bale when we got Özil I can’t see it happening. 

So that’s it for today from me. I need lemons, honey and a way to indocrinate new born babies without parents or anyone else knowing.

Alexis’ success good for us?

Alexis Sanchez will be a happy boy today, after chipping the winning penalty to see Chile win the Copa America, so after a season of somewhat success at Arsenal just gone (and I say ‘somewhat’ not because of his personal success, or the teams, but I get the feeling the squad are all happy with the FA Cup but expected us to do better in the league) he can feel very happy with life at the moment.

He’s integrated in to a new team with consummate ease, he’s leathered in an FA Cup final goal in May and has notched himself a winning penalty for his international team too. The hope is that this will just provide more hunger, more determination and more motivation to help Arsenal succeed with our goal of winning tghe league next season.

Of course, we know from this time last year, that winning international competitions doesn’t actually always mean a good thing for returning players. Big Per admitted he found it harder to motivate himself after the extreme highs of the World Cup and Mesut Ozil also suffered with form before getting injured and then returning the superstar we all know he is. But whilst you cannot rule out such dip in form for Alexis, I don’t think there’s many of us that would think that he’ll be in the same category as our two Germans, simply because of the personality he is. He is an Energizer Bunny. His effervescent presence is amazing and it wouldn’t surprise me if he is calling up Arsene this week and telling him he’ll not be doing a holiday this summer, that he’s just going to go straight in to the next season with pre-season training now.

But we know that can’t happen. We know that he’ll need a rest and he’ll need to let his body recover, which means that he’ll most likely be given a month by Le Boss to rest and relax, before rejoining his treammates in training at the beginninng of the season. The only problem we’ll have there, however, is that he’ll probably need another month to get back to full match fitness. It means there’s a chance for others to prove themselves and so I do wonder who will be given the nod in that position during the early months of the season. The Ox on the left with Theo on the right? Welbeck? He’d be refreshed and ready to go after an injury-hit end to the season. perhaps Arsene will experiment with a new formation? That’s something that I’m sure will have my old friend Dave Seagar will be excited at the prospect of, I can tell you.