The player boost of a big name

With the dust still settling from the euphoria of the Sanchez signing on Thursday evening, there’s nothing like a bit of player commentary on the signing to keep the likes of you and I enthralled with what Arsenal have achieved this week, so it was that the Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey comments begin to seed their way through mainstream media for us to gorge ourselves on.

It’s always pleasing to see the players talk so glowingly about signings like Sanchez. It shows how highly they rate players of his ilk and also gives you a very real indication of the boost his arrival will have on the club even before he has even struck a ball in anger. I hope he does strike a ball in anger. Straight at Nasri’s face in the Community Shield in a few weeks time.

This kind of boost is exactly what we all needed as the World Cup draws to a close and the rhetoric coming from Ivan Gazidis about the work ‘not being finished yet’ is all the more pleasing to hear. It shows the club are taking this summer very seriously in terms of delivering a squad that is capable of challenging on multiple fronts and the strong links to Remy, Khedira, Bender and Debuchy (who by all accounts I know is done, but I suspect the club are riding the crest of the Alexis wave, before hitting us with another adrenaline shot of transfer goodness early next week) are most welcome at this early stage of the summer.

Supposedly the oil-whores are sniffing around Khedira with a view to adding yet another midfielder to their burgeoning ranks. Much like the Liverpool/Sanchez rumours that surfaced a couple of weeks ago, I’d trust that if Arsene is after Khedira then the conversations have already taken place and he’ll have a good chance of landing his man. I’m not so sure about Khedira though, if I’m honest, because he is much more in the Ramsey mould than the natural defensive midfielder who can slot in to the full back slots. He’s intelligent enough to do it, but that is in the same way that Arteta is not a naturally defensive midfielder, but has been able to adapt his game over the years. I suppose I shouldn’t be too worried; Arsene took a wide playing Thierry Henry and turned him into the greatest centre forward the club has ever had, so if there is willing from Khedira to become that midfield enforcer that we need, I think it would be a good signing. I’d probably prefer a Lars or Sven Bender though. But that’s mainly because I’ve watched a couple of ITV3 highlight shows of the Bundesliga and seen Lars slot in at right back and look so natural.

Speaking of right backs, I really have no idea why we have this Javier Manquillo link coming our way from Atletico Madrid, unless Arsene has lost faith in Jenkinson and is looking to cash in. IT would be a shame because I still think he has the potential to break through, but as somebody on Twitter mentioned to me yesterday, perhaps he is being considered as a convert into the centre of defence. He certainly has the build for it, but whether or not Le Boss could just wave a magic wand and voila, we have a back up to Per and Kos, I’m not so sure. He’ll need games in that position and that would mean a loan spell is agreed with the player. There’s talk of him going in at Newcastle, but i’d expect him to operate as a replacement to the departing Debuchy, which wouldn’t give him any real experience as a centre half if that is where Arsene sees his future. Again, second guessing what Arsene’s plans are is like turning water into wine, and we haven’t had one of those guys doing it for us for a couple of thousand years.

Tonight we’ll see one of the single most pointless football matches in all history – third/fourth place play off. I could understand it’s existence if, like the Olympics, there was some kind of Gold, Silver and Bronze system in place, but there isn’t. You’re playing for ‘pride’. I’d wager both teams would rather be playing on the beach with their family members whilst on holiday. But, like any football fan, I’ll still tune in tonight and watch and hope that there’s a decent game on display and no diving Robben’s. Again, might need a bit of that water to wine fella in that instance.

That’s all from me today. I’m moving house on Monday so I have a flat to deconstruct. Cheerio.

Wowsers Germany. Wowsers Arsenal.

Wowsers. Ok, hands up in the air who thought they saw yesterday’s result coming? put yours down Mr Löw.

The mighty footballing nation of Brazil humbled by seven goals to one at the hands of the unsurprisingly, yet ruthlessly, efficient German side who must now by clear favourites to pick up their fourth World Cup. It was an absolute master stroke of out tacticing, out fighting, out scoring and generally out doing – by my adopted nation for the remainder of this tournament – and whatever the outcome of tonight’s other semi final, there will be some concerned players lining up against Joachim Löw’s side.

From the ‘keeper Neuer through to the front players of Klose and Mueller, the entire match was an exhibition on what you do when you press all over the park. The Barcelona team of three years ago came to The Emirates and did it and yesterday, in Belo Horizonte, the German’s showed how it can force an opponent into errors and bare serious fruit. You only have to look at the second Kroos goal almost from kick off to see that. Robbing the lacklustre Fernandinho, then exchanging passes with the excellent Khedira, Kroos and co made the Selecáo look like they had just come back from an all night lock in at The Red Lion.

A quick congratulatory virtual ‘tip of the cap’ to Miroslav Klöse, who knocked chunky Ronaldo off the top goalscorer charts to take centre stage as the World Cup’s all time leading goalscorer. This game had everything. Records broken, Arsenal players happy, a total shock result. It was brilliant. Except for the fact that Poldi didn’t even get on. Probably just as well actually, as his deadly finishing probably would have seen yet more embarrassment for the men in yellow and blue. Perhaps we should applaud Jogi for his compassion by not unleashing The Poldi on them.

As you can tell, I’m certainly a happy man with the result yesterday, not least because the smattering of Chelski players and a Spud got suitably humbled, but also that our Arsenal boys Mesut, Per and Poldi, all get to march on to a final. I really hope they win.

There was always too much Chelski in that Brazilian team to feel any kind of affiliation for them, anyway.

As for how our boys performed, I thought it was strange that Hummels and Boateng got the nod in the centre of defence ahead of Big Per, but I suppose this was not a mark on the BFGs name, as it was tactical from Low’s perspective. After all, Boateng has undoubtedly got a couple of extra yards on Per when it comes to recovery pace, so perhaps his inclusion only from half time – when the recovering Hummels was wrapped in cotton wool with the game won – was an understandable one. I do hope the BFG is preferred to Boateng at the weekend though. He deserves it.

Mesut had a quieter evening than some of the other players in red and black, but I still thought it was an effective one, with another assist chalked up. His ball retention looked good, movement was ok and, one-on-one miss aside in the second half, he had a steady performance. I suppose the problem he will get this morning is that there were some players like Kroos and Khedira, who were so good, it makes a decent performance not stand out as much as a fantastic one.

As for Brazil. Well, when you’re relying on a couple of players as nonchalant and lacklustre in effort as Fred and Hulk, what can you expect other than a pasting? If truth be told, they were the wrong end of the pitch to be blamed for the parting of the Red Sea that was the Brazilian defence yesterday (can we now start calling David Luiz – Sideshow Bob – an actual clown now?), but when you have absolutely no outlets at the top of the pitch, it does put pressure on your defence. It was a pressure that was too much for Luiz et al to handle and you and I witnessed one of the greatest bottle-jobs of all World Cup history.

I’d said it before the game, but I just didn’t rate (or like) this Brazilian team, as I thought they had already used up their ‘Get out of jail free’ cards a couple of times this competition I felt. They were lucky to have got to the semi final I felt; carried along the crest of a home nation Neymar Jr inspired team, the expectancy of the fans always a little bit too much I thought. The Germans showed what real ‘Champions in waiting’ should look like and also show the difference in class between the best sides in the world. Of which, Brazil are most certainly not.

It’s made me quite excited for tonight’s game actually. I hope the Argentinians give the Dutch a pasting. Seeing Robben and van Persie crying at the end of the game would be the very picture of hilarity, so if Messi and Higuain can retain their scoring boots, it would set us up for a cracking final.

The good news kept coming yesterday, as the imminent arrivals of Sanchez and Debuchy have been all but confirmed officially by the club it seems. There were murmurings through Twitter that Stan Collymore had heard it directly from Arsene Wenger that Sanchez was ‘done’, which in itself seems a very un-Arsene thing to do, but when multiple news outlets are all reporting on very similar fees agreed you know that something is on the horizon. Very soon.

Any type of announcement this week will be an absolute dream for you and I. We’re just coming into the midway point in June, there will be a whole month of pre-season for the players to meet their teammates and get acquainted with ‘The Arsenal Way’, and we can all look forward to that Community Shield curtain raised in about a months time.

It also eases the pressure on the club for a fan anxiety point of view. They can enquire and discuss other targets with the goodwill of the supporters knowing that two key positions are catered for and we’re now just buffing the edges of the squad to give it that shiny new look. Added to that the FA Cup winning glow that we’re all still basking in, and it makes for a nice countdown to the start of the season.

We’ll obviously have to wait for official confirmations, but right now, well, I’m sure there’s a Pharrell Williams song that can help to describe my mood today.

I don’t wan to be a reverse Paul

I think that whichever team I get behind, they are destined to failure. I fancied seeing Ivory Coast through earlier in the week, yet they were undone by a dubious penalty in the last minute, so the very fact I publicly stated a preference for the Russians must surely have been the contributing factor to their downfall. Their draw with Algeria saw the North African’s go through and, having been stuck in the nineties belief that Algeria were a whipping boy (thanks to various incarnations of the Mega Drive’s FIFA International Soccer) to be dispatched with consummate ease, my whole international values system has been thrown into chaos. I don’t think we’ll see a Costa Rica vs Algeria cup final (assuming they wouldn’t meet before hand – permutations have never really been my strong point), but it has added to the spice of this competition, and we have seen a fabulous competition so far so I have to be grateful. Now, if my adopted nation of Germany could just win the darn thing, that would be grand. But after backing a few stumbling horses so far, I’m beginning to get worried for their chances. I feel like I’m like some sort of ghost of Paul the Octopus, except I was born before him, so perhaps I’ve just had part of his spirit transferred to me.

Dear World Cup, don’t make a me a reverse Paul. Say that I haven’t had part of Paul’s spirit transferred across from Germany.

Urgh, transfers, even I can’t get away from them when I try and fashion irrelevant stories about marine creatures. Unfortunately for Arsené, it seems as though the wheels are turning at most clubs, with United effectively spunking £60million on Herrera from Bilbao and Shaw from Southampton (although that’s not been confirmed as I write) to bolster their ranks, to add to the fact City and Chelski have both now been active in the market. I say ‘unfortunately’ for Arsené because, let’s face it, his assertion that no business is done until after the World Cup has been revealed to be the fallacy we all suspected.

Still, we aren’t even in July yet, so there is plenty of time for the club to ‘wow’ us with some kind of mega signing. The only problem we have is the form the club have shown from last summers shambles. I’ve said it before a few times and I’ll keep saying it: the real worry from Arsenal fans that I speak to in the real world is that we are repeating the mistakes of last summer and previous summers. We don’t really want a transfer Groundhog Day, but until the club make that first announcement, that feeling just won’t go away.

It probably didn’t help from a PR perspective, that Arsené was snapped on a beach playing beach football, on the day that United made signings and Seamus Coleman signed a new deal at Everton. I know signings can be made without the manager present – heck, as somebody pointed out last night Van Gaal is in Brazil actually managing a team – but it doesn’t help to cage the rage of those detractors that enjoy sticking the knife in and adding to their published works of ‘Wenger Out’ reasons as to why there needs to be a step-change at Arsenal. In many ways he’s on a hiding-to-nothing until the club start showing some movement; but even then in some peoples eyes it should be the ‘right’ type of signing.

Lord knows what that means to some people. For me personally, the ‘right’ type of signing is somebody that will instantly strengthen our team and give us more depth in places like the front three or at right back. Names are an irrelevance to me. Sure, a big name will make you feel better now in the summer when they are announced, but when the games start and these players take to the field the price tag won’t make them any better footballers. Their adaptation to our style of play, the new attributes they bring to the team, plus their motivation to succeed, that is what will make them better footballers.

It’s a day away from football today and, after over two weeks of consistent gameage, I have to say it feels a little flat if I’m honest, such has the success of this World Cup been. Hey, this competition has even weakened a ‘rival’ as a result of Suarez’s antics, with the Uruguayan due to miss at least until October before he’s eligible to play for them. Perhaps Liverpool will be looking at offloading their star talent, but i don’t believe the stories about his value being reduced, because even missing the first part of last season didn’t see him not finish as the leagues top scorer. Barcelona and Madrid know that and they will park the transgressions of Sir Chomps-a-Lot in favour of getting him In this summer I reckon. If they include Sanchez as part of the deal then that would soften the blow, but with Arsenal sniffing quite vociferously around the Chilean, I would imagine the Catalan’s would fancy a bidding war rather than a swap deal plus cash. So there’s still a chance that we could be in the driving seat there.

I think that’s pretty much me done for the day. Bye-si-bye!

My blueprint for a successful summer

This the start of another working week and I find myself in some happy, albeit slightly bleary-eyed, spirits as true summer seems to have appeared in the UK at last. There’s probably also something about the World Cup that – against all odds I have to say – has captured my intrigue as it starts this week.

If you’re a regular reader of my incessant ramblings, you’ll be well aware of my disdain for international football, but I find myself in a very tolerant and also expectant mood ahead of this particular competition. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that there is very little going on with The Arsenal and all of the signs suggest that very little will happen until mid July when the competition ends. Or maybe it is because despite not really enjoying international football, my craving for any kind of form of the game, has me hungry to watch this competition. I’m not quite sure at the moment, but I do know that it will prove a welcome distraction from daily speculation about which players will or will not be signing for us.

I don’t really know who we’re after. In a world where there are literally thousands of viable options for The Arsenal to choose from, a humble blogger like myself cannot even speculate effectively on what types of players will be rocking up at London Colney over the coming months. As speculation intensifies and subsides on specific players within days, I’ll know doubt be making my assumptions on whether players will be the right ‘fit’ for us and will be encouraging your thoughts too.

Whilst I don’t have any specific new thoughts of players in today’s blog, I do know what I think we need, so I thought I’d share that. I’ve made an assumption that you’re all convinced we need a ‘keeper, right back, defensive midfielder and a striker, but I know there are also suggestions of a pacey winger and potentially another centre half. For now I have parked thoughts on those positions, because I don’t believe that’s an area we’ll be looking at unless there are other outgoings at the club.

So what type of ‘keeper do we need? Most certainly not a young and upcoming one in his debutant season. Perhaps there is room for a third choice ‘keeper in that position, but they are rarely called upon. There have been murmurings that Damian Martinez will be promoted to a number two position, but having seen Szczesny improve so drastically over the last season and a half because of the pressure he was put on by a number two ready to take his place, I think Arsene needs to be going towards the other end of the spectrum to find an effective player that will push the Pole. The challenge, however, is not to go down the route with a reserve ‘keeper that is so far in the autumn of his career that it is obvious he will never be able to take the number one jersey. Someone with the stature of Viviano on loan for another season could therefore be a viable option. Whether the Italian would see Fabianski’s departure as an opportunity, or whether Arsene wants him back for another season, is a different question though. Which is why I hope we are working on a similar arrangement to the one we had last season, even if it’s not Emilio, but another decent ‘keeper capable of getting the best out of Wojciech through decent competition.

At right back there’s no doubt that we need an equal replacement for Sagna, but perhaps the favoured players key attributes could be slightly different to the Frenchman. In this Arsenal team, getting forward and providing width when coming up against 13 or 14 of the teams in the league, is almost as important as being solid defensively. When Arsenal line up against West Ham at home on a Saturday afternoon in October, you know that most of the play will be in the opposition half, so an attacking right back with good delivery in to the box is a very useful asset. Sagna was, if we’re all honest, pretty useless when it comes to getting into those wide positions and finding an Arsenal player. So I’d suggest to you that actually we could get an upgrade on him going forward. Heck, we have that already in Jenkinson, it’s just that defensively there isn’t really a comparison between the two players and Carl would have to have a marked improvement in that part of his game in order to secure the jersey on a regular basis.

In defensive midfield we need more of the bite in the style that Flamini showed at times last season, but that needs to be tempered with a bit more composure when in possession, which is why the ideal player would be a 24 year-old hybrid of Arteta and Flamini out together. The problem with the Flamster in my opinion, is that it seems like his aggression and ‘bull in a china shop’ mentality seems to override other emotions at times, which I think in turn affects his composure and has cost us through sending offs and suspensions through an accumulation of yellows during the season. A younger and perhaps slightly more aggressive version of Arteta would be a better way to go and I suspect that is what Arsene is looking to achieve this summer. At least I hope so, anyway.

Then we come, finally, to the top of the pitch and the need for a striker who is an upgrade on Giroud. Or if not an upgrade, then at least a centre forward that brings different attributes to the team, which is why I can see the logic behind Loïc Remy. He may not be the all-conquering, big money attacker we crave, but he has different attributes to Giroud and can even play across one of the top three positions in the team. It’s pace is what we need m’lud, pace and the ability to run in behind defenders, because that is what will unleash the best out of the creative midfielders like Özil, Cazorla, Rosicky and Wilshere, if they have players they know can beat an offside trap or two.

So there you have it Arsenal. Bring in an experienced back up ‘keeper, a right back with good delivery in the final third, a more aggressive in the tackle version of Arteta, plus a pacey front man. Then I think you’ll give us the best possible chance of a successful 2014/15 season.

Over to you.

Arsene’s signature means the signings can start, right?

So after much pontificating, yesterday the news finally came from the club that Arsene has signed his new three year deal, that will have kept him at the Arsenal for a whole Oxlade-Chamberlain by the time he reaches the end of it.

I’m convinced that, having gone through a horrendously long and painfully drawn out summer, the Arsenal PR team have learnt their lessons, as each day it seems we are being fed new stories about the club. It’s as if they are feeding us all on a metaphorical intravenous drip of information and I for one am glad. It punctuates the interminably long summer with something Arsenal related, at least until the World Cup comes around and we can see how our players perform on the global stage.

The deal is an interesting one. We may all have known for some time (nothing is secret in today’s touch type instant world you know) that the deal was done and it would be three years, but it feels a bit odd to me, if I’m honest. A two year deal clearly shows that as a man reaching the autumn of his managerial career, he won’t go on forever, where as a four or five year deal suggests an investment in a ‘project’. But a three year deal feels a little halfway housey to me.

Heck, I don’t begrudge Le Boss it; he’s earned some goodwill after the improvement in performance in the league (yes, I know we still finished fourth, but the gap between the top four was hardly a mountain) and a shiny thing to put in the trophy cabinet for us all to look at for the next ten months or so. And regardless of which side of the Arsene fence you sit on, it’s hard not to feel happy that he’s managed to recapture some glory after what must have felt like a lifetime without success. Sir Chips himself spoke about how much Arsene loves the club and there’s no doubting that fact whatsoever. We can question his methods, his transfers, his lack of apparent tactical awareness at times, but passion and love for The Arsenal? Nope.

With that uncertainty now eradicated from the club, there is nothing more to do than to get behind him and hope he does the business this summer, because the club need to inject a bit more into the side that only just fell short last season. Perhaps the signing of Arsene for three years can be used as a positive tool with which to convince quality players to join the Arsenal cause? Knowing that your manager will be around for the foreseeable future must have an impact on what players want to do. I mean ultimately they’ll go wherever the all-mighty buck takes them, but the consistency of the man in charge must be an added bonus, right?

Players will know the style of Arsenal under Arsene and you rarely hear a player not talk in glowing terms about him as a person and the style he asserts on to his players. That consistency in approach gives an element of security to a player. All they have to do is take care of their own performance.

That’s pretty much it from me today I think. What? You didn’t think I’d actually give a monkeys about England’s game last night, did you?

Cheerio folks.

In defence of the attack; attacking the defence

I thought I’d hand over the reins of today’s post to a family friend who gave me my first taste of Arsenal in the flesh when he took me to Highbury in the 90s. Roy has seen a fair few Arsenal incarnations and is never short of an opinion, so I thought I’d give him the opportunity to have my soapbox for a day.

You can follow him on Twitter at RoyThomas16

Now you kids play nice.

Over the last few years I have read and listened too many of the ramblings of the SG team and generally enjoy them although I do not always agree.

Well not only is SG Chris a blogger, he is my Godson and as he mentions often, I got him into supporting the Gunners many years ago.

This week, as part of his season review, he asked the question “did the forwards cost us the title?” or words to that effect! My opinion and answer is definitely not!

I will I think we are very weak in those attacking positions – especially when poor Theo got crocked – and when the trio of Ramsey, Ozil and Theo were flying we certainly had more about us. Yes, I know they are not all forwards, but they more than made up for our lack of attackers as we had very few to call on this season. Let’s not digress too far into the misgivings of last summer now though…

Giroud may not be the best centre forward in the world, but I believe he tried his best, accumulated a good tally, but in some games looked totally knackered. One of his strike partners – Lukas Podolski – was very in and out but his strike record for games he featured in must have been right up there. The trouble with Podolski however, as you’ve probably all noticed, is that he goes missing for long periods. Yes, I agree it only takes one or two pieces of magic to win a game, but so much happens in a modern day football match and these professionals are expected to do more than just have end product. After that the options for support were limited: who would you choose from Bendtner or Sanogo (not really having a go at the young Frenchman, but really our back up no, one for the future maybe but time will tell).

So, with those quick opinions on strikers out of the way, how did we lose the league from my perspective?

Defensively. I believe this defence are poor and I am sure some of you are going to throw STATS around to discourage my opinion. I’m getting long enough in the tooth to know that they mean nothing other than the one that reads ‘Win’ or ‘Champions’.

In a game seeing we have had 65% position and 15 shots on goal and lost 1-0, or having one of the best defensive records by goals against in a season, give me no comfort whatsoever if we lose. Making comments like that are similar to the one that got away for a fisherman, or the golfer arguing that the ball took a bobble going to the hole on a short putt.

This year was no different from the shabby defending than last year. This is a defence that can go to sleep during a match at any time; not many of the top clubs do this. Why? They have a few shock results but not like our capitulation at times. Remember; just eight points stopped us from the title. Broken down those points that cost us through silly mistakes:

17 Aug, Villa: Two stupid penalties and one weak goal

October, WBA: 1-1 with a West Brom player totally unmarked on their goal

November, Man Utd: Although RVP done us over, he ran totally unmarked past three players to score a header, no players even tried to stop him. They were all ball watching.

December, Everton: 1-1, an83rd minute equaliser with Delofeu totally unmarked – another opposition player free to roam again

December, Man City: Enough has been said already. Maybe we were a little unlucky in the end but 6 goals is not a fluke.

January, Southampton: Poor marking on both goals, but second more than schoolboy error SG Chris would have done better (Ed: I’ll have you know I was a half decent ball-playing centre half!)

February, Liverpool: Again, enough said, all defenders asleep and game over after fifteen minutes

March, Stoke: Joke defending for the Penalty (I think he was waiving at his family)

March, Chelsea: again more than enough said about that in the aftermath

March, Swansea: 2-2 and two weak goals bad, with defending after we had got ourselves 2 -1 up in 89th minute, yet we were opened up like knife through butter yet again.

April, Everton: almost Hackney Marsh defending.

This is without some of the cup shockers in all three cups, although we are the FA cup champs so I guess I should give some kudos to the team there. Made us all happy without question (although defensively we were still shocking – 2 -0 down, but dug in, again, defending caused the fright)

Remember, just seven points stopped us, eight to win and of course other teams may say the same but I only care about us.

So think about WBA, Stoke, Southampton, Everton x 2 , Swansea and forget the drubbings this was 14 points dropped from poor defending and it cannot happen at this level, then there are the nine points from three massive losses.

Perhaps this is too simplistic.

Just some observations and horror viewing. If you watch them again perhaps a couple may have been unavoidable but only a couple. Most of the trouble has come from the right hand side looking at our goal when the opposition are attacking.

Let’s hope we get some strength to our defence for next season and one hard stopping midfielder like we used to have in abundance.

Thanks for reading. I am a passionate Arsenal fan and I only want to see the team succeed, but questions need to be asked defensively and with Arsene about to announce his new deal, I hope he has the answers.

Thanks for your thoughts Roy. Not sure I agree with all of them, as every team has off days and sometimes these can be countered by having strength all over the park. Just look at how Liverpool managed to outscore their opponents when defensively they looked shambolic at times. There does need to be some work done to remove the errors in the big games though I’ll grant you that.

Catch you all tomorrow.

Season review: did the attack cost us the league?

Today’s blog is my final one of the season for an overall review of specific areas of the team and, whilst the first three were relatively lengthy, I don’t feel like making this a ‘War and Peace’ analysis of the front line.

This is mainly in part down to the fact that the ‘feel good factor’ still exists amongst Arsenal fans. We’ve won the FA Cup just over a week ago, we’ve celebrated the 25th anniversary of Anfield 89 yesterday, and the spirits every seem to be high. So I’m loathed to take on board too much negativity and dish it out to you in any kind of volume at such a good time to be a Gooner.

Let’s also not forget the fact that this season has already seen a concentrated and rather drawn out series of collective sighs when talking about our front line, as we have seen a league title slip from our grasp, due to a manager unwilling to strengthen in that much needed position for two transfer windows. Where he once collected strikers, he now covets creative midfielders, so it seems.

Everyone has talked enough about the issues, including myself, so I’m going to try to focus on the positives of our front line. Because there are positives. Injury aside, Theo Walcott looked like he could continue his fantastic form of 2012/13, had injury not struck him after being played so intensively when back from injury. His season may have been ‘cameotastic’ in the most part, but he still contributed to some good displays during that period of time, which should bode well for next season. It would be a delight to see what he and Özil could achieve together if given an extended run of a dozen or so games. He has the pace, he has the finishing ability and whilst Santi did excel in the Özil role before Mesut’s arrival, we’ve already seen (right at the beginning of the season) what could happen when Theo and Mesut are put together. Think Sunderland away, where Theo was put through three times in the first half and had he had his scoring boots on that day, it would have been a rout.

Perhaps that feeling of ‘what might have been’ is a common theme across all of our front line. After all, the Ox was a preferred starter on the right wing for the first game of the season against Villa, which was a heck of a statement by the manager that he thought the season might be a good one for him. Who knows what kind of Ramseyesque form Oxlade-Chamberlain might have exhibited had he not picked up that knee ligament injury. As it was, he returned to the team and put in some stellar displays at an important time, dominating both Cyrstal Palace and Bayern Munich away games. Arsene says he will become a central midfielder eventually, and we certainly have seen evidence of that, but I suspect his punctuated season last time out May have extended his apprenticeship in the attacking three positions and we’ll see more of him there next season too.

On the left we have flitted between Cazorla and Podolski throughout the season, both square pegs in round holes to a degree, but both able to play that position to some effect. Cazorla’s flexibility affords him the ability to be effective in any of three positions across the attacking four (if you include the Özil ‘in the hole’ role) but we’ve also seen that his flexibility has allowed Mesut to move around the pitch more freely at times. I think to that Everton FA Cup match when Santi found himself in the centre supplying Özil on the left for the first goal, or the cup game against the Spuds when he leathered in Gnabry’s pass whilst timing his run to appear on the left.

Podolski is an entirely different enigma and one that I don’t think any Arsenal fan will ever understand. He is 100% end product and that is both delightful and infuriating in equal measure. Arshavin was a bit like that; an ‘all or nothing’ style player but, unlike the German, he was nowhere near efficient enough and after a couple of seasons was soon feeling the burden of crowd disappointment on his shoulders. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to Poldi. We all love his personality, his goals, his style when scoring. In fact, if you’re like me you’re praying that he could just give an extra 30% more to his game, he’d be one of the worlds best. It doesn’t have to be through technical ability – we know he doesn’t have that in spades – but even if it was in application and a bit more drive, he’d quickly find himself undroppable by the manager. Still, he’s shown us some fantastic goals and he is certainly a scorer in big games too, as he’s proved in his two seasons at the club. I hope he stays for next season, as he most certainly does have a place, especially with the return he gives the team in goals.

So, finally, let’s have a look at the position at the top of the tree. Currently held by Olivier Giroud but with small cameos from Bendtner and Sanogo. And when I say small, I really do mean small. Bendtner has played in a tiny proportion of games and still managed to score, but Sanogo is yet to break his duck, despite looking a bit of a gangly handful at times. Oddly enough, his overall performances haven’t been that bad, he just looks like he is nowhere near ready for the first team and one hopes that this little foray into the starting eleven fold hasn’t damaged his confidence. It doesn’t seem to have. He seems to be a confident sort of chap. Not Niklas Bendtner confident, thankfully, but enough to ensure his mind remains strong in the face of adversity. As for Bendtner, he helped set us on the way to victory against Hull, but ultimately this season has been more about finding out which stupid stunt he has pulled off this week and quite frankly, most of us are glad to see the back of him.

So to Giroud my thoughts now turn as I wrap up this blog. Yet another enigma in our side. A player capable of that deft touch and finish against West Ham only four odd weeks ago, yet still able to drag the ball wide from just outside the six yard box, as I seem to recall him doing against United at home. He is a strong centre forward who looks like his hair holds him up in the wind when the ball is put in front of him to chase, but he has still managed to convert twenty-two of his chances this season. There will be many that will question whether any half decent striker in that Arsenal team wouldn’t be able to bag between 15-20 goals a season, but I think that does a bit of a disservice to him, as he is not just a goalscorer within the team. His deft back heel to give Ramsey his cup winning goal is testament to the additional role as supplier that Giroud plays. He is certainly not without his faults, and I certainly hope priority number one is for another player to compliment his attributes rather than match them with some improvement, but to look at his season as a whole and not agree that he has improved would be wrong in my opinion.

Of all of the areas of the pitch where the team did not quite match what is expected of them, the front three would be one that I would point out as being the stand out this season just past. It has by no stretch of the imagination been an outright failure, to say such things would be incredibly harsh, but it has not quite delivered enough to give us the league title that we all craved so much but ultimately fell short.

More pace needed. That’s for sure. Injuries may have robbed us of that at times during the season, but the failure to address that at a time when we could have done so in January should go down as one of Arsene’s major mistakes of the season. Sure, the addition of a pacey striker would not have led to us conceding less goals in some of those big games, but you don’t need to win all your big games, as victories against Swansea, Stoke and Southampton earlier this year would have given us the extra seven points to be level with the Champions.

Some positives, but certainly some addressing of the faults is needed in the summer, if we are to win the league. See you tomorrow.

Season success for the midfield

Howdy friends, hope you are full of the happiness of summer, unless you’re in a part of the world where it’s pissing it down like me. But whilst the weather might be grim, the spirits of Arsenal fans everywhere are still high. We’re not just riding the crest of success of recent silverware, but also celebrating the 25th anniversary of The Arsenal’s famous victory against Liverpool at Anfield in 1989. For some listening pleasure, I’d suggest that you take a saunter over to the GoonerGirls Podcast, as they have run a special pod with Micky Thomas and David Hillier on that wondrous night. Or, if you prefer your Arsenal via the medium of online print, I’d recommend having a gander at Arseblog today. He’s retelling the wonderful feeling of that last-minute goal and as always makes for good reading.

As for me, I was still only a wee nine-year old nipper and so being able to properly take in the gravity of the whole situation was beyond me, so I don’t feel I could be an accurate commentator on the magic of that day that will I’m sure never be repeated by any football match. Ever.

So instead I’m going to turn my attention to the season review and look specifically at the midfield performance that we saw this season just past.

When the transfer window slammed shut at the beginning of September and we all knew what the squad would be looking like for the immediate future, I don’t think there were many that couldn’t argue that our one area of the field we weren’t quite under stocked with was our midfield. The acquisition of Flamini added a little bit more bite from a defensive midfield perspective, the ever-improving form of Ramsey was to get better and better, the purchase of Ozil added that star quality and there was to be the return from injury of Wilshere. Added to that the guile of Rosicky and the consistency of Arteta, you could hardly argue we weren’t well prepared in those roles in the centre of the park. It seems that Arsene had also developed a bit of an addiction to purchasing central midfielders, because January also saw the arrival of yet another in the Swedish shape of Championship Manager 2001/2 Kim Kallstrom legend Kim Kallstrom. Hindsight may be described as a wonderful thing, as we rarely used the tall Swede when another pacey attacking player might have helped us get closer to a league title, but let’s park that a discussion for tomorrow when I’ll give some thoughts on our striking performance over the course of the season.

To analyse the improvements made in the midfield area it’s hard not to look at the return on goalscoring investment made from that area as a very rough blueprint for whether it was a successful season. So when you consider that in 2013/14 those in Arsenal’s midfield contributed to 44 goals of the teams play, yet in 2012/13 it was 26 goals in total in all competitions, it shows you that there were definite strides made in the right direction. And what better way to see those strides than in the stand out player of the season: Aaron Ramsey. Sixteen goals in all competitions in just thirty games started represents an amazing return for a midfielder who has gone from being a hard-working, but perhaps frustrating player at times, to an integral part of the successes of this season. It was so fitting that he was the player to hand us the FA Cup because his displays have been deserving of a player who should be picking up silverware. His transformation – which started in the 2012/13 season towards the back-end but continued in last summers pre season – has been so magnificent to see and I have to say that he has been just “like a new signing” to the team. The goal against Liverpool stands out for me as the most memorable of the season, but what has quickly become his trademark has been the marauding ‘late into the box’ style goals, the type that (apologies for the reference) Frank Lampard has made a career out of scoring. No more important was his impact to the team seen than when he picked up his injury over Christmas and from January onwards we were starting to look a little bit leggy.

But it’s not just Aaron that stepped up this season I thought. Despite much criticism of him – the kind that I guess you can expect from a big money signing – Mesut Ozil has had a good season if you are asking this here blogger. Seven goals and twelve assists in a maiden season is not something to be sniffed at and whilst some moronic journalists accused the German of ‘nicking a living’ without a hint of irony in their pathetic prose, Mesut’s impact on our team has been successful. Much like Arshavin’s arrival, the Ozil capture gave a boost to the squad at the perfect time for us to drive forward our early season form, rocketing us to the top of the table and providing us with that extra creative guile that we need. Had Ozil been furnished with more pace throughout the side in attack this season we might have seen his assist numbers even greater than they are, but as it is I think we can still count this first season as a ‘job done’ from him. The Napoli goal stands out for me as his best of the season, but the performance against Everton in the FA Cup is one in which I think he showed just what he is capable of.

So far I’ve looked at the success in the sharp end of our midfield, but the success of our midfield hasn’t just come from the attacking triumphs, as defensively we’ve seen an improvement too. That’s where you have to give credit to Arteta and the Flamster. His arrival in the summer was seen as a little bit ‘meh’ from some sections of the Arsenal support, but it now looks just as shrewd a bit of business as the Ozil capture, as Matthieu has been able to take some of the burden from Arteta, providing the defence with a strong ball winner to have sat in front of them when it’s needed. Flamster’s stand out moment, unsurprisingly perhaps, has to be a booking the North London Derby in September, clattering Chadli (I think) to ensure there was not a break away. That just sums up him in a nutshell right there, as he promptly received the first of his eight Premier League yellow cards and one red. We’d cried out for a nasty piece of work ever since he left, so perhaps it’s good that we got him back, because having someone in the team that you know is going to stick up for his teammates and will happily do the dirty work is just as important as the goalscorers in any team.

Mikel Arteta probably deserves his own para too, if we’re honest, as he’s had another solid season in which he’s proven his capabilities as a decent – if not spectacular – regular contributor to the team. I do feel for Arteta some times; there have been some fans that have questioned his impact on the team ahead of Flamini, or when Flamini plays alongside him have wondered why Wilshere or Rosicky haven’t started ahead of him. But I have seen why Arsene favours the Spaniard so much. He brings balance, consistency and is an outlet for the defence to play the ball out from the back time and time again. You know exactly what you’ll get from Micky and that must be very reassuring from Arsene’s point of view. He may be a year old, he may have looked a little bit more tired towards the end of the season, but he’s been a very important player in our team and I expect he’ll continue to be so next season too.

Football is a squad game and that is why the depth of our midfield has been so important, so you can’t have a good season without the contributions of players like Rosicky, Wilshere or Cazorla. I’m in two minds to give Santi a shout out in my ‘attackers’ section because his versatility has seen him spend a good portion of the season out wide on the left of the attacking three, but he’s also performed in that Ozil role behind the striker and it’s players like that who are so important to winning competitions. When he has been asked, Rosicky has played very well I think. It’s really hard to step in and play well when you’ve not been able to get a series of games under your belt, but Rosicky has been able to do that and score important goals too. That break away goal against the Spuds stands out for me. Mainly because he had so long to think about what he was going to do when through against Lloris that he could have fudged it. But a calm head on those Czech shoulders delivered. The same can be said with Jack who, despite injuries hampering his season again, still managed to be the key contributor in the best goal of the season by a country mile against Norwich at The Emirates. Hopefully next season he can get a steady run of games and begin to recapture some of his form before he had his lengthy spell on the sidelines.

I’ve racked up over 1,500 words so far talking about the midfield and could probably go all day, so I’ll draw today’s blog to a close, but for me the midfield has been a success story like our defence. Sure, we’ve had some poor games, and sure, we’ve had our injuries, but by and large we’ve come through them and still looked a very good midfield outlet. I’d argue the best in the league.

Catch you tomorrow.

Defensive solidity the key to our successful season

Howdy there fellow Gooners. Hope you are enjoying your Saturday. It’s a bank holiday here in Blighty, which is fan-diddly-tastic because it stretches the weekend more than Steve Bruce in under sized lycra.

Yesterday’s blog was supposed to be focused on reviewing how I think the defence performed but, with all of the noises coming out about Sagna’s mega deal at City, I kind of got side tracked. I guess the news that defenders are getting bumper deals is becoming quite the norm these days, what with Paris Saint Germain literally losing the plot and bidding £40million for the Brazilian Sideshow Bob, which will inevitably mean a massive payday for what is arguably the most overpriced player since Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll did the transfer deadline day merry-go-round a few years back. Financial Fair Play you say? Nah, that memo clearly didn’t get delivered in the capital of France. Either that or their billionaire owners simply retired to a cave in the Alps, stuck their fingers in their eyes and sang Sam Smith until the news sort of went away.

Anyway, today is a new day and it’s a day in which I want to have a look at our defence which, let’s be honest and say that it was probably the most impressive part of this Arsenal team this season. If we’re talking about a collective unit that is. For years since the Invincibles we’ve had defence after defence that has been dragged over hot coals by the press. In some cases it’s been warranted; Senderos, Gallas, et al have hardly proved to be the defensive stalwarts at the heart of the team, whilst a few of average full backs like Santos and Eboue have hardly managed to give us the types of players needed that we think could take us to the lofty heights that we’ve scaled this season.

Part of it is down to finding stability. We’ve managed to field the same four or five defenders for most of the season and that intimate knowledge of what your other defenders are going to do is integral to building momentum. Perhaps injuries have been the key sticking point to why we haven’t found a defensive unit capable of snuffing out a game like this team has until now, but the results of this seasons exploits are there for all to see: twenty four clean sheets in all competitions and a string of 2-0′s that seemed to become the new ‘one nil to the Arsenal’ pattern of play at one stage.

And yet we’ve still managed to show signs of implosion that have dwarfed previous seasons in terms of the volume of heavy defeats. We all thought the defeat away to City would be a one off and, after stabilising the ship and managing to hold on to the top spot up until February it felt like that was the case, but heavy losses to Liverpool and Chelski still showed that for all the hard defensive work that had been done by the team, we still have problems defensively at times. What was most strange about those heavy defeats were that they came completely out of the blue. We hadn’t really been on big losing streaks before any of them, so it’s difficult to say that confidence was rock bottom, but the way in which we played in those big games was borderline suicidal some times. High lines, defensive wobbles, it all looked as though the players had been fed some Tottenham flavoured lasagna. It’s almost as if the karma gods (yes, here I go again) have approach Arsene at the start of the season and said “you can have a load of clean sheets this year, but we have to reallocate all the goals you would have conceded to individual games. Deal?”, to which Arsene literally would have bitten their hands off.

Certainly, if we’re to win the league next year, we need to have a look at how the team reacts in those big games. Perhaps there needs to be a bit more pragmatism in those games rather than a Rocky Balboa inspired slug-fest when we go away from home?

Anyway, let’s not dwell too much on the disappointing results because, by and large, this season has been a good one. The central defensive pairing of Per and Kos have looked immaculate at times. Per is the leader of the four; the talker, the marshal, built in the Tony Adams mould and every bit the captain of the side in my opinion. He doesn’t have the pace but has excellent positioning, something that Adams was always a master of. But even the great Tony Adams was only as good as long as he had the right man beside him, which is why having Koscienly in the team has been so integral to his success. Kos has the pace, the ability to track the nippy runner and despite having a penchant for the occasional tackle in the box leading to a penalty, he has saved us on a number of occasions. Their central defensive performances this season will probably have led to the exit door being opened wide for Vermaelen, but providing both remain fit next season, you can’t help but think we’re in safe hands for another go at the league. As Liverpool have already shown, you can’t win the league with a leaky back four, so if we can augment the team with the right reinforcements and bed in whoever replaces Sagna, then I think we’ve got a great chance to going that extra few steps and winning the league.

So to Sagna. We all know he’s off and, much like many bloggers and Arsenal fans that I have read/spoken to, it’s hard to shoehorn him into the mould of That Dutch Bloke, Nasri, or any of the other players that have bolted for places like Moneychester City. Sagna has given seven years, he’s played well this season and he’s shown that even with most of the world in acknowledgement that he won’t be playing for the club next season, he’s done everything he can to give Arsenal glory. He’s even shown his versatility this season filling in at centre half. He will be a tough player to replace, but at 31 he’s probably only got another two years of top flight football to play before he’ll need to be replaced himself and so all that’s needed to happen this season is that we fast-track a replacement a couple of years earlier than expected. For what its worth I’m not sure that Jenkinson is that player long term, but I certainly think he has a role to play and, if given games, who knows. I still think we need to fill the void left by Sagna’s inevitable departure, but that discussion can be for another day.

On the left hand side of the defence we’ve not looked as strong as we have done since Cashley Cole and Silvinho were duking it out for the left back slot. Gibbs has improved a lot this season and is clearly the better of the two left backs, but he’s been pushed all the way by Nacho Monreal, who I think has done well when he’s been asked. There are some that have chastised the Spaniard’s performances in games like City away, but I think we should be mindful of the fact that he has not been able to get too big a run of games in the first team. Momentum – as I said earlier in the blog – is very important in football and his season has been very stop-start in that respect, so I don’t think you can hold it against him.

Overall we’ve seen a massive improvement from the team defensively and that has been made all the more evident by our league position and the increase in clean sheets. There are still some kinks to iron out but it’s hard not to think that the effort of the defence this year have been outstanding in the most part.

Back tomorrow with a look at the midfield.

Arsenal rebooted

With the dust now settling on the celebrations from the FA Cup Final from the media’s perspective, I have been wondering how long the euphoria of banishing the hoodoo will last, because even today fully three days after the win I am still riding the crest of the silverware wave.

It feels like Arsenal have been given a reboot. The fans I speak to in real life, online and even the more vociferous and outspoken ones, are all United in celebration and renewed optimism. It’s amazing what that victory has done for the mood in the Goonerverse. Arsenal are capable of silverware and the noises from all the players since the win has been about the hunger for more and achieving even greater success.

How long will it last before the jubilation dies down? It’s difficult to say, but I’d imagine we can certainly expect to see more positivity in our corner of the online world for at least the merry month of May. That will take us football fans into the World Cup in June and, although I’ve shown I’m quite clearly not a fan of International football, when you consider the alternative that is much gnawing of teeth at the days ebbing away without signings of last summer it’s probably going to be a welcome distraction.

It will certainly afford Le Boss a bit of ‘wiggle room’ in the clubs transfer dealings. He can trade off the goodwill of the FA Cup win for the next few weeks, rely on cup distraction and then in mid July if no new signings have been announced, he only has a month until the league starts anyway. And we’ll have the Community Shield that will come earlier too.

Without wanting to open up the wounds of previous summers, it feels like this upcoming closed season is an opportunity for Arsene and Arsenal to take the next step, such is the feeling about the place after the Wembley triumph. Many of us said last summer felt like a great opportunity, so I don’t want to tempt fate for another protracted barren period of not strengthening the side in positions we need it, but the constraints of ‘Arsenal: The Trophyless years’ are no longer upon Arsene’s shoulders. There certainly not on mine and speaking to opposition fans is a lot easier knowing you’ve got recent history on your side.

With Arsene expected to announce his new deal any day now, one hopes (and expects) that the successful pursuit of that illusive silverware will have given him renewed vigour; the very same that many journalists commented on at the start of the season. I read (and heard) from many different Fleet Street journos that Arsene looked younger and more animated – in a good way – in his early season press conferences, which was clearly a result of a positive pre season and his own expectations buoyed by the potential of the team. I suspect we’ll see a similarly spritely Arsene come August too thanks to what happened on Saturday.

But let’s not get too caught up in a Wenger love-in here; he is still the chief protagonist in the February and March collapse that saw us throw away what was a decent lead that had been built up before Christmas. We are all acutely aware of his failings in the January transfer window, not signing a striker when the whole wide world seemed to know that we needed one, was as poorer decision as he could have made this past season if you ask me. The malaise around transfers – the wonderful Mesut Özil capture aside – is something that still fills us all with nerves of another frustrating summer, but for those that dismiss the Özil signing as a ‘one off’ and Wenger incapable of spending the big bucks must still acknowledge that under the manager we have broken the British transfer record and continue to hold that particular record. Who knows, if a Cavani or a Falcao become available, nobody can argue that precedent has not been set for Arsenal to do what’s needed.

The Arsenal world feels like a very different place compared to last August BÖ (Before Özil) and since the FA Cup win. I know it’s ‘early days’, but there is now everything in place for us to set ourselves up with the squad depth to challenge for the league.

Can we do it under Arsene? Let’s hope so.

Back tomorrow with a bit of a season review.