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.

One heck of a tour, one Hect of a player

Today will be an interesting test for the team because, as Arsène described at his pre-game presser in Singapore, both Everton and Stoke were really up for their game and there were plenty of ‘committed’ tackles going in.

You hear things like that and the first thing you think of as a fan is “I really hope they go easy. It’s only a friendly” because as much as you want the matches to be a bit competitive so the team can get up to speed on their fitness, the last thing we need is to start the season missing players, we’ve already lost Alexis and Rosicky remember.

So whilst I’m looking forward to seeing a more senior XI playing this afternoon (UK time), I hope everyone remembers the real thing doesn’t start for at least a couple of weeks.

The tour appears – by and large – to have been a success and whilst Le Boss is surprised by the facilities, passion, volume of fans, etc, I don’t think there’s many of us online who had the same amount of surprise when seeing the turn out for the friendlies and the kit launch. Football is big business these days and Arsenal are a global brand with a massive online community – the biggest – so for those fans out there who don’t get to travel to see the real thing in the Premier League, this is a great opportunity that they were always going to take. I salute those Asian fans. We are all one big community and I’m glad you got your opportunity to get up close and personal with the players.

As for those players, Arsène has laid down a challenge for Bellerin and with him about to sign a new deal after an exceptional season, this season could be even bigger for him than last. I’d expect Debuchy to start the season as first choice, but if the young Spaniard manages to de-throne the Frenchman by having another consist set of performances, we could be looking at quite a player on our hands. At his age he has all the potential to become a bit of a Lee Dixonesque style legend at the club. As long as he doesn’t do lobbing his own ‘keeper from 30 yards against Coventry!!

He seems to have his head screwed on right though. He comes across very well in interviews and has said about how he himself still has trouble seeing himself as one of the first team squad. Let me tell you Hect, you better believe it because you have some massive potential, my friend.

So too, if you believe Arsène, does Yaya Sanogo. He joins Ajax on a season long loan which was confirmed yesterday by both clubs and the tall Frenchman was pictured in the Ajax kit signing a loan deal for 2015/16. I admire Arsène’s belief in the player and who knows, playing with a better calibre of players, in the Champions League, as well as being under the tutelage of the Master Dennis Bergkamp, he may turn in to that player Arsène believes. But with rumours of Benzema not going away (much will also be made of the comments by Arsène when he said “not at the moment” when directly asked), you can’t help but think that his opportunity may not be made available at the club. Football is often a game of fortune when it comes to players breaking through – Bellerin and Coquelin the prime examples of that – and you just wonder whether the availability of another megastar might end up signalling the end of Sanogo’s chance at the club. Let’s hope Arsène’s right and he does do the business at Ajax though, because it’s always nicer to see young players come through, in my opinion.

Letting Singapore have them for a bit

A pre-season friendly that’s actually on Sky Sports you say? Well jolly good. I think I might just…oh…yeah…right….that work thing I have to do. Dagnamit! Unless…my phone has Sky Go, so maybe, just maybe…

The ever enthralling world of an Arsenal fan during pre season, eh? Probably a bit selfish of me to expect Arsenal to be playing at a time convenient to me over here in muggy England. After all, I get to see Arsenal at convenient times for nine months of the year, so I just ditch my initial irritation and be happy for the Singaporeans. After all, those guys have to watch Champions League football at some ungodly hour, so it’s only right that they get a bit of convenience every once in a while.

It’s probably got more to do with the fact that we’ve all been starved of football for nearly too much, actually, because normally I wouldn’t be batting an eyelid. But if a week is a long time in politics, two months is a life sentence in football, so that’s why I’m quite desperate to see the team line up at the moment.

I think it’s also got something to do with the excitement ahead of this season. We’ve assembled quite a team over the last few seasons and for the first time in a long time, I have not for one second been overly concerned with getting more quality bodies in. Our squad already has quality bodies. We’re very well balanced at the moment. A nice blend of youth and experience, plenty of depth in all positions, so for once when Arsène is asked about potential signings and tells assembled media boss that he will only augment his team with players of exceptional quality, I believe him. I have to admit it stretched the limits of my belief when he would make a statement and follow it up by signing Marouene Chamakh on a free from Bordeaux, but right now, I don’t think there are many players out there that we could pick up for £8-£10million that would be better than the ones we have. We’re looking for superstars now. We’re shopping in the ‘Galactico’ aisle and let’s be honest, we’re only picking one of those up if other big clubs are willing to sell.

And I’m perfectly fine with Arsenal waiting to see if there is a big name out there to compliment our team.

We’re also not a selling club any more. Rumours of Özil attracting interest from Juventus were given short shrift by Arsène in Singapore and rightly so. Juventus may be Champions League runners-up, but the Italian league is a busted flush and Arsène already made his intentions clear with Özil last summer when he declined the option on Fabregas, because of his desire to build a team around the German. Why on earth would be let Özil go? We don’t need the money, although given the amount we paid for him I can’t see us wanting anything less than what we paid plus more, which Juve couldn’t afford. We don’t look like we have a player who isn’t enjoying his football in any way, shape, or form. The transfer rumour was rightly shot down and can happily be filed under ‘silly season nonsense’.

With that all put to bed, the next bit of a circus was around the new kit launch, which I have to say it was a nice (and clever) touch to release the away kit in Singapore. These kinds of kit launches are normally reserved for the outside of the Emirates, but with overseas fans showing just how mad they are for the club, it’s a good gesture and PR move to have it whilst on tour in the Far East.

We’ll ignore the fact that by now releasing a new home and away kit each season the club and its kit manufacturers are finding another way to eek a bit more cash out of fans worldwide. I suppose every team seems to do it these days, so Arsenal are doing nothing new, but in an age where every footballing tradition appears to be slowly whittling away (don’t even get me started on Saturday 3pm kick offs!), it was nice when the club would keep the tradition of alternating kits every odd season. I’m not a parent, but I’m sure it saved plenty of mums and dads a headache when they new the purchase of a £40 shirt was once every year, rather than twice every year. But hey, life moves on, football moves on and besides, it’s not like I really buy kits for myself any more, so I should probably just let it go.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for today, on account of my right thumb aching after a bit of a fight with a serrated edge and a piece of Jambon Serrano that I’m down to the bone on after six months of having it. Suffice to say I lost.

Heartbreak for Welbeck and a hint on Theo vs Giroud?

So who’da thunk that FIFA were a corrupt collection of cheating no-good-for-nothing’s, eh? Then, quelle surprise, who’da thought that Sepp would persist with the FIFA elections to ensure his dictatorship remains for another however many years, by not postponing the election process after this latest set of troubles?

Well, everybody, actually.

Even Arsene had his say yesterday and whilst he can’t exactly be as vocal in his comments about football’s governing body, he was a eloquent as ever in talking about the issues surrounding the recent spate of arrests, stating that the worst ting of all is rumours and FIFA should be more transparent and open about telling the world what the issues are and how to address them.

But of course we know they are not designed like that. Heck, they hired a high-powered lawyer to chair an ethics committee, then promptly dismissed his findings when he had serious issues with the way the organisation is run, refusing the publish the results, then glossing over them completely. So what do we expect?

Still, the moral bankruptcy of those in Switzerland who purport to have the sport’s interest at heart are but a small footnote in the most important news this week leading in to the weekend, which is all around the FA Cup, team news and Arsene’s presser, in which he confirmed Welbeck is out. It’s a shame because he had such a great impact in this cup competition by navigating us past the choppy waters of Old Trafford. He’ll be rightly gutted and you have to feel for him. Football is a short career and even if you’re at a team that is towards the top of the division, you probably only get around 10 attempts to play in cup finals if you’re lucky, so to miss out on one for this season will be a big blow.

I thought it was interesting that Arsene talked about the importance and the impact of subs in games like Saturday’s, after he was asked about Giroud and Walcott. If you read my usual ramblings, you’ll know that I’d be an advocate of them both starting, with Walcott out wide, but Le Boss’ comments yesterday suggest that he’ll go with one or the other and see one of Olivier or Theo as an impact sub. Again, my money would be on Theo to be that impact sub. It would be harsh on him given he’s just hit a hat trick, but as I’ve said before, I don’t see Theo and Rambo working in the same team. They would both occupy similar positions in and around the box, so if Rambo is preferred I’d expect Giroud to be given the nod.

As usual the questions were a bit boring and even those designed to be provocative (one guy repeatedly asked about Jose Mourinho’s comments, Arsene expectantly dismissive and moved the conversations along), but we still got a few snippets that we can over-analyse to our hearts content. Arsene talked up Benteke and the importance of him and I think keeping him quiet will probably be the secret to any success we have on Saturday evening. He’s their talisman – super Timmy Sherwood aside! – and will be a thorn in our side for sure. I do wish that the reporters would drill manager’s a bit more than they did yesterday about the opposition. Arsene gave platitudes out to Grealish yesterday and showed that he’s got good knowledge of a player with whom some of us will have only seen once or twice, which is the kind of thing I want to hear in press conferences. Ahead of the FA Cup I’m not interested in rumours about Benzema or whoever, what I want to know is whether Arsene has a clear understanding of the threats that Villa will pose and a clear understanding of what they might try to do. He doesn’t have to give up all of his plans, but if he’s probed about players, tactics of the opposition, etc, surely that makes not a lot of difference to how he will set his team up? It isn’t really going to give anybody a better insight in to who he might pick and it certainly isn’t going to make Sherwood spit out his morning mocha by saying “holy cr*ap, he knows about us. That’s it, we’re all getting in to the Anderson Shelter and not coming out until 5pm on Saturday”.

But what do I know. I’m not a professional journalist. I haven’t hacked anyone’s phone for a start.

Anyway, I think i’ll call it a day and crack on with the household chores for the day. Cheery bye!

Fanciful transfer stuff from presser

Happy Saturday to you and your kin. My weekend started early due to some annual leave I’ve been soaking in for the last few days, but at least there’s been some football – albeit some pretty semi-shocking football on Wednesday – to keep me busy. I’ve been through my thoughts on the midweek action and I’m glad we’ve got another game coming up quickly, because the bad taste bought about by three games without scoring at home need to be readdressed, because it’s not exactly condusive to a positive preparation for an FA Cup final if we fizzle out at the end of the season.

Arsène spoke to the press and as we’d all probably expect with the season drawing to a close and our game tomorrow almost a dead rubber, the focus was on all of the millions of billions of players we’re going to sign, but having watched the presser on Arsenal.com it seemed like Arsène was in relatively good form. To be fair to him, he’s probably happy he gets a summer off from press conferences in which stupid questions are asked by the same people each week.

He can spend the summer answering stupid questions from people in other continents when the squad go on tour instead.

The focus was around Sterling and Cech and unsurprisingly Arsène was non-committal in what he was saying. I was actually more interested in his assertion that Tomas Rosicky would be staying at the club and not only that, but he’d be extending his current deal – a full video can be found on the official site here. That seems a bit of a surprise to me because like Flamini, he’s become a bit of a forgotten man since all of the squad has managed to maintain their fitness since the start of the year. It’s a shame because each time he’s got on I’ve seen a good performance by him, so I’d have thought he’d have been given a bit more game time. But competition is so intense at the moment in the middle of  the park, that Arsène is leaving out very good players on match days alone, so it gives us an indication of how hard it is for Rozza to break through.

I’d be surprised if he’s still at the club by the time a ball is kicked in the new season. I suspect Arsène is simply saying those expectations of him staying because he wants to keep everyone happy, but the one man who won’t be happy is Tomas himself.

As for his impact on signing Cech for us, somehow I don’t think that will impact the ‘keepers decision on where he goes, or whether Arsène wants to sign him anyway. I like that Arsène isn’t dismissing the signing of that of Sterling, but I doubt we’ll be signing either this summer. Sterling will want the mega bucks and so Moneychester City will probably throw a big wad of cash at it, so I can’t see that happening, if I’m honest.

As for Cech, I suspect Chelski are simply publicly playing the PR card, because I can’t see why they’d sell to either Arsenal or Man United. Jose is a man who couldn’t countenance selling/loaning us Demba Ba, so why on earth he would change his tune now is beyond me. It also remains to be seen as to whether Arsène even wants another ‘keeper. It’s all very well you and I talking about it, but we thought we needed a striker a year and a half ago, then another defender in the summer, but Arsène didn’t see it that way. So we do have a precedent.

The team news looks fairly samey from Wednesday night, with Arsène needing to decide how he’s going to rotate based on tired legs. It’s the last chance to impress before the cup final so I think we’ll see a few rotated, but whether Arsène goes the whole hog and swaps his entire team around I suspect is unlikely. More on that particular guessing game tomorrow. For now, I think I will enjoy my Saturday and hope that Middlesbrough make it to the Premier League, because I want to see three Notth East teams and three chances of heading up there next season.

If’s and but’s on rotation, the league and transfers

A little holiday away from work awaits yours truly here after today’s London grind, so apologies if the timing of the blogs get a little wayward, a bit like a loose Fabregas kick into the centre of a group of players inside a penalty box I suppose.

What a bit of madness that was, eh? But what I think it almost conclusively proves beyond any doubt, is that when you join Chelski you are inserted with an ‘evil serum’ that makes you at leat 25% more dislikable by at least a quarter and in some cases (Diego Costa, John Terry), 100% dislikable.

Oh well, thanks to tomorrow night’s game we can quickly forget about the evil in the world resonating from that part of West London, focusing on the purity of the dominant team in North London. It’s ours don’t you know.

Theo was quoted in the papers yesterday and this morning; saying that there can be no excuse not to challenge next season, that this season perhaps the believe was not quite there but next season with the squad and players we have we simply must challenge. I don’t think you’ll find many Arsenal fans arguing there. What we need is the start from 2013/14 welded together with the finish of 2014/15 and I reckon we’ll be up there. But a lot will depend on the ability to pick your best and most cohesive team and that, in some cases, requires a little bit of luck to avoid injuries for key players. We can all bemoan the hamstring and calf strains that might point to the medical team and/or poor rotation and fatigue of players over a long season, but if somebody decides to Shawcross Alexis, or Martin Taylor Özil, there’s not a lot we can do. Thankfully I believe the squad is capable enough to cover for losses of players from injury for a few games, but mass absences like we saw at the start of the season are not something any team can handle I don’t think, even the evil serum-taking Chelski team of this season. 

So whilst I agree that we need to be fighting better for the title, there’s a big ‘if’ in there depending on injuries.

There’ll be a press conference and some tam news at some stage today, but it will be interesting to hear what the manager might say about rotation. Szczesny perhaps? Gibbs, Gabriel, Wilshere, Walcott, Welbeck maybe? With third all but secured, perhaps you want those players that are desperate to prove themselves so they can get in the final squad and hopefully the first XI, so maybe we’ll get an insight into whether Arsène’s mind is edging towards a bit of rotation. 

Perhaps it is. After all, the team has been playing one game a week for a while and I’m convinced it’s helped with our form for the latter part of the season, so to rotate a little to keep players a bit fresher makes sense in my mind. After West Brom at the weekend we have a full week of recovery and so if Arsène wants to keep his players match sharp then he can do so at the weekend having given a few a rest from Old Trafford and a full week between games.

Anyway, we’ll know soon enough. In the mean time, how about we breathe a sigh of relief that we appear to have finally shaken off the ‘annual transfer saga’ tag that we spent five or so years worrying about, having finally handed it across to Liverpool, who will spend the summer worrying about Raheem’s movements in the off season. I’m not going to laugh, because I still remember what it felt like seeing our players depart, but the unsettling of Sterling could see something of a conversation starter between us and the scousers. Arsène is a known admirer and Theo is in a bit of a contractual dilemma, so if the noises from Camp Walcott are that this might be a difficult deal again, Arsène could decide to cash in. I know it’s not as simple as that and rarely do swap deals materialise, but stranger things have happened in football so you never know.

Besides, if Jose is opening the door to Petr Cech joining Arsenal – assuming Arsène’s keen – then Dick’ll probably have to spend most of the summer chasing Jose around London hotels, so his attention might be away from a nippy winger from Liverpool.

One things for sure; with all of these stories beginning to bubble away, you can tell the press are itching for transfer silly season to start.

Players out with positive responses

The phrase ‘let your football do the talking’ has never been more obvious than after a defeat like Monday’s one to Swansea, because the website is littered with post match fallout from Wenger, Wilshere and Mertesacker. It’s kind of funny actually, because in the last six weeks or so there’s been practically nothing from the players by comparison, so to see a few talking about the performance does make me think back to the dark old days when Johan Djourou practically had his own midweek press conferences.

So in a way, it’s kind of a positive thing, because I’ve been able to contextualise Monday’s result a bit more. I’m able to say ‘hey, we’ve been on a great run, we’ve got ourselves into a good position to qualify automatically for the Champions League (which a lot of ex-pros said we wouldn’t make at all), as well as an FA Cup final on the horizon’ and that is not something to be sniffed at.

Perhaps it’s because we’ve developed a taste of success last season with the cup final and this season with that amazing winning run, that I have developed an appetite that attitude for success that means even the slightest blip results in me being even more disappointed? After all, there were times over the last couple of seasons in which rather than the frustration I felt yesterday, I had only apathy setting in. So maybe I – and you if you feel similarly to me – need to just take back, take a breath and appreciate that it ‘feels’ like we’re on the right track. I’m glad it’s under Arsène’s watch too. It does feel like we’re steadily improving and that he is starting to look more like Arsène Wenger: The Dominant Years, rather than Arsène Wenger: The Financially Pragmatic Years. It will have been painful to see him walk out the door without at least looking like we’re going to go ‘Once more unto the breach’ under his stewardship.

Anyway, thankfully and positively, the comments from the players on the official site are more ‘we need to bounceback on Sunday’ style fighting talk comments, rather than bland, generic ‘we know we must try harder for the fans’ that we were getting five or so years ago from players who were clearly not up to it. I actually believe it when players like Big Per talk about a response, which is testimony to the way in which this season has turned around.

I do hope Arsène takes some time to consider what the best option might be for Sunday though, tactically speaking I mean, because the defeat gives him a chance to analyse what went wrong and perhaps make some tweaks to his side based on form and how United might play. The game will be a totally different one to Swansea and so we need to be mindful of that, as Per says when he talks about winning the midfield battle. There can be no time for fallen heads and sloping shoulders. A response must be given. Not just because we want to put daylight between us and the Mancs, but because we need to make sure our confidence and form isn’t spiralling in the wrong direction before we get to the FA Cup Final. That is the big game that above anything else I am worried about if we’re beaten by United to make it two defeats in a row. The league form is fine, but we want the players to go in to the cup final on a high, which you’d question if we fall back down into fourth again this season. 

Anyway, enough of my dealing in hypotheses and other such events that have yet to transpire, I should just worry about the here and now. The ‘then’ and ‘what if’ can wait.