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. 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.

desert of arsenal nothingness and ‘keeper speculation

So here we are folks, standing in the middle of metaphorical desert of football nothingness, with the oasis of Arsenal delight miles and miles away in the distance. It’ll take us at least until Monday to get to it, so I hope everyone has bough provisions?

I have, thanks to Arsène, who spoke at his pre-match press conference and in doing so has allowed me to feast on some content with which to read, review and think about.

On Thursday we got the team news, but yesterday Arsène was asked a range of questions from signing new goalkeepers, to Jose’s jibes, as well as Nigel Pearson’s madness. As usual the old pro answered them with little controversy, but I did like his response to the Pearson metal breakdown, as Arsène showed a bit of solidarity with the Leicester manager. Yes, what Pearson said was bizarre, but some journalists are sensationalist seekers and will only look to poke the hornets nest to see if they get a reaction. I was listening to the radio and the presenters were talking about that particular story and how Pearson’s behaviour was a disgrace, but when you have some journalists goding managers so they can get a soundbite, I do find it a bit rich that the media can then pretend to own the moral high ground. Perhaps such journos that pose the boring questions – ones like “do you need a new ‘keeper?” or “what do you think of Jose’s comments about Arsenal not winning the league and that being ‘boring’?” – should take a look at themselves if they are going to get a bit offended when a manager bites back?

Arsène is clever though. After he was asked what he thought about Jose’s comments, rather than fuel the fire further, he gave a quite perfect response which wasn’t directed at Jose enough as a soundbite but was disguised enough so that everyone knew he thought the Portuguese is disrespectful. Which he is. 

The question on the ‘keepers may have been batted away well enough, but I do wonder if Arsène is considering his summer options, because whilst Ospina has done ok he hasn’t exactly set the world alight. He just hasn’t done anything wrong, rather than make any worldie saves that make us think “yep, there’s a real gem there”. I don’t have anything against the guy and I certainly don’t want to be categorising himself in a class of ‘keeper he is clearly better than, but he feels a bit Almuniaresque to me. When Manuel first started displacing Jens as the number one, he was ‘okay’ in goal. At first many of us had no real problem with him, but he never made those world class saves that you don’t expect somebody to get to. Those are the ‘keepers that are the best; the ones in which you say out loud “how did he get to that?”. That’s what it feels like with Ospina to me. So I wonder if Arsène will decide to stick or twist in the summer? I guess we can worry about that in June after all the proper business has been concluded.

Speaking of which, you’d have thought we had a week off by the official sites reckoning, because there are no real comments from Arsène about our Monday night opponents. Le Boss must surely have spike. About them but I haven’t watched the video yet and so can’t really be sure, but maybe because the game is taking place on Momday he’s thought ‘hey, it’s fine, I’ll do my research on Sunday’. Come on, we’ve all been there with our homework, haven’t we, so let’s let Arsène scribble down his tactics on lined paper on Sunday evening and be done with it. We are in form and maybe he’s earned a weekend of relaxation (although we all know he won’t ), so let’s let him have it, then hopefully go and win on Monday. 

We need a win. We need to finish strongly this season and that is important to ensure momentum going in to next season. Arsène spoke of that yesterday too, as well as the poor start to the season this time around. He’ll be acutely aware that we need to hit the ground running in August if we want to win the league, so finishing strongly this time around will mean more than just a good points tally and potentially automatic qualification. 

Anyway, I’m off to find something to do for the next two days, so I’ll see you soon.

The joke of a Monday trip to Hull; the joke of Arsène having ‘mellowed’

The only positive that exists about an away trip to Hull on a Monday night, is that it gives a Bank Holiday Monday the opportunity to have some excitement in its life, rather than be a day of catching up with chores and the like.

That is it, because for those that are going to the game it’s an absolute pigs ear to be spending most of your bank holiday travelling to. I haven’t been to Hull, but I don’t think I’d be spending my precious time off heading in its direction, let alone to do it at a time in which I’d probably not be getting home until well after midnight. I certainly feel for those of you who are heading that way. May the good Lord Bergkamp grant you swift return with happy memories of three points well won.

Team wise we had Arsène deliver an update via the official site and where as he could easily rattle off 500 words of copy about all of the injuries within the team earlier in the season, yesterday evening’s page was gloriously succinct. 

Essentially, what he said was:

“Everyone’s fit from last weekend. Except Debuchy”

But hey, that’s ok, because in Hector Bellerin we have a player who is even being considered for the bigger games when the Frenchman is fit, so as far as we’re all concerned, it’s all gravy. The fact that Bellerin kept Hazard quiet on that side, as well as mopping up a certain goal, shows how important he and the other rotational squad players have become. We’ve always wanted to be able to say “gosh darn it, another injury but oh well, we have more in stock of that type of player so yay!”, so whilst out more senior right back suffers another frustrating week or two on the sidelines, hopefully our overall performance is not too adversely affected.

There’s a bit of fluff one official site about Arsène mellowing in games in terms of the way he expresses himself, referencing his more vocal approach to games when he was a coach in the French principality. I do find it amusing when I see the old pictures of him smoking on the touch line, or the idea that he would be all Jurgen Klopp shouty and ranty. It’s just not been anything we’ve seen and perhaps we should be thankful that Monaco helped to smooth the edges of the rough diamond that was to become one of our most successful managers. He talks about being mellowed with age, but that’s not really the Arsène Wenger I see on the touch line, do you? If anything, when you compare his demeanour over the last couple of seasons to when he first arrived, he certainly seems like he has got more vocal on the sidelines. I rarely remember seeing him pushing somebody like he did with Mourinho at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season. It’s true that the Portuguese – being possibly the most irritating man that has ever set foot on these British Isles – probably deserved it, but I just don’t think an Arsène of 2002 would have bothered with such histrionics. Mind you, an Arsène of 2002 at this time 13 years ago was about to guide his team to a league and cup double, so I suppose didn’t have too much to worry about because he had by far the best team in the league. When you know you’re the best you can brush off the attempted mind games or stupidity of other managers.

I quite like that Arsène gets frustrated sometimes. He is representing our interests from a management of on-field activities perspective and so I want to see him articulating his displeasure against incorrect decisions or jumped up little Portuguese scumbags. Keep it up Arsène!

Anyway, my trains about to go underground so you have yourself a merry little Friday. 

Gearing up for next season by overcoming the final psychological barrier

Happy Friday to you and it’s a Friday in which Arsène’s presser has tale easy taken place, he’s given us plenty to talk about, so let’s get to it.

First and foremost, the team news, in which the only real doubt from last weekend is Big Per. I haven’t fully re-watched all of the semi-final back yet (which by the way, I’d urge you to do, if only to see just how awesome Mesut Özil is), but in real time the challenge made on him looked from where I was standing like a nasty one, so I’m not surprised that he’s rated ’50/50′ by the manager. Personally I’d rest him so we can be sure he’s available for the remaining games of the season. We’ve got an able deputy in Gabriel and with Koscienly seeming to be back to his best and only playing one game per week, we can be happier that we have a defence that can cope, so why take any risks?

With the factual stuff completed yesterday, the questioning turned to that record, with Wenger being his usual dismissive self when asked about his history with Mourinho. His assertion that it is not a duel between the two of them may be true in terms of who can actually impact the result on the pitch, but it’s a stretch not to believe in a pattern when the run goes as far back as it does. Whether Arsène believes Jos has the hoodoo over him remains to be seen, but the fact that we already know that Jose will play a certain way to catch us on the counter with a deep-lying defence shows that tactically at least, he knows how to play Wenger teams. I must stress at how much that pains me to say, because he really is a reprehensible man, but he’s one that knows how to pick up points on big games.

This game on Sunday feels like the last garrison of the psychological battle this current team must break down. We’ve already overcome the ‘no silverware’ hurdle, we’ve safely knocked down the ‘can’t beat United/City’ barrier and in doing so in both league and cup, we’ve also successful navigated past the ‘can’t beat a big team away from home’ iceberg. It just feels like an Arsène Wenger win over Jose Mourinho would be a positive step in the preparation for next season and a proper go at the league.

Because let’s face it, everyone has given up on the title this season, with a gap that I don’t even think Arsenal could bugger up if we were ten clear of our rivals with six to go. We’d probably give it a good shot, but I still think we’d see it through if roles were reversed.

I think, if you read and listen to what Arsène is saying, he’s also lost the belief that it could be done. Five points? Maybe. Three points? Definitely. But ten? Nope.

So for us, this weekend feels more about laying the foundations for next year. Everything feels like that’s the case. (Try to) Finish second, (try to) win the FA Cup and then go into summer positive that the team can be title contenders in 15/16. Arsène was asked about Hazard and Alexis and in a similar theme to what I’ve just said, effectively declared ‘if he doesn’t win player of the season this season, he’ll be very close next season. Again, Hazard has had time to adjust to this league, so with a full pre-season and a year under his belt as an Arsenal player Alexis will be better prepared for this league and I believe he’ll only get better. Much like our squad. A couple of tweaks and shuffling of some squad players and we’ll be in good shape I think.

Confidence, concentration and waiting

It’s nearly here folks, time is almost upon us and although it’s not the FA Cup final but the seminar Wembley, I’m still mega excited. Imagine what I’ll be like tomorrow when it actually comes around to kick off?

We have already had the prologue from Arsène; possibly eager to cocoon the players in a hotel today so that they safe prepared well with him observing, so the pre match presser was bought forward to Thursday just like a normal away game. The good news from yesterday’s media briefing is that – Arteta and The Ox aside – the squad is fully fit, healthy and able ahead of the clash against Reading tomorrow evening. The headache – one I think I’ll ponder more on tomorrow than today – is who will start and what will be the key challenges we face. That’s one Arsène has admitted he hasn’t decided yet, other than Szczesny, but I suspect he’s scribbled down some of his options already despite what he’s been saying to the media. 

Arsène was at pains to stress that he has two competitive goalkeepers and that Wojciech had trained hard and needs to be kept fresh by playing in the cup games. I can see what he’s saying and he’s certainly staying consistent to his policy of ‘keepers in cup competitions (bar the Championd League,  of course), but it’s fairly obvious how much Szczesny’s stock has fallen since Southampton. Talk of his exit may have been fuel for the fan discussion online, but it’s not something Arsène would entertain and right it’s probably best if it’s parked until the season ends.

Right now the squad needs to prepare for Reading in a way that will see us get through. Again, Arsène was asked about how his team would approach the tie and sensibly enough, he spoke of needing focus, not understimating a Reading side with nothing else to play for and ensuring that they stay focused. The talk is right, the action needs to mirror it, because we have recent history of underperformance in the cup against lower league teams. You only have to look at last season’s FA Cup semi to see a case in point.

But we’re in a better shape mentally this season, in terms of league standing, confidence and playing staff. Arsène will have the pick of the litter tomorrow and he has admitted that it will be tough choosing, talking about the confidence and ‘luxury’ that a winning run gives all of the players, with that the hardest thing in football to maintain. He’s right and he’s also right when he says how quickly that can be broken. Defeat tomorrow – not beyond the realms of possibility – and the season may just feel like a laughing gas balloon full has just popped. I don’t even want to countenance that just yet. I’d rather focus on the hope of an Arsenal win, Villa win, then Arsenal cup final win. Yep, I’ll have that thanks, if you’ll please.

I was also hoping to read on the official site, a tactical breakdown of Reading from Le Coq, who played against them for Charlton during his loan spell. Unfortunately, like most footballers who have had all personality media-trained out of them, we got little else but a few generic sound bites (“in the FA Cup you never know”, etc etc), so there’s not really much more to gleam from what’s on the official site at the moment. Now we just have to play the waiting game…

…Are we there yet?

…now?