The cogs are turning

I must confess I watched absolutely no World Cup action yesterday, so have no idea how the respective players from each teams from Argentina, Switzerland, Belgium and USA!USA!USA! performed. I guess I’ll get an opportunity to watch Belgium and Argentina again, but not the Swiss or the Americans. Shame really, because Tim Howard does have an awesome beard.

It all feels like the cogs are starting to turn, with regards to transfers, doesn’t it? I mean, yesterday we had the announcement from Chelski and Atletico Madrid that they had met Costa’s buyout of £32million, we’ve got the Debuchy rumours hotting up at the moment, this was then followed by noises from Barcelona supposedly ‘praising’ Luis Suarez. Sounds like the Liverpool fans – many of whom have taken delight in seeing us succumb to the public courting of our players down the years – are in for a summer of similar experiences before the next season kicks off.

I fully expect Suarez to make noises about being ‘flattered’, then by how he is slightly upset that Liverpool didn’t immediately leap to his defence where as Barcelona did, then the inevitable keepy-uppy’s in the Camp Nou just before the season starts.

Let’s just hope Rodgers does a Spurs with the wealth that he’ll get from the transfer. Oh, and he doesn’t land himself a Sanchez, by some sort of fluke. Because let’s face it, the noises that appear to be coming out of the Catalan club and journos are that he’s on his way, his preferred destination being the Premier League and Arsenal.

We’d all love to see it, but as Tim Clarke pointed out yesterday, we’ve run this race a few times. We know how it goes. We are leading the chasing pack, thinking we’re at the finishing line, then our trainers fall off and spontaneously combust, leaving Chelski, City or another Champions League club to pick up the pieces. See Mata and Higuain for references of the failures of summers past.

Barcelona are not backward in coming forward with their transfer policies and processes, so we’ll know quite quickly what’s going on, with the club already stating that one bid has already been received. I’d be amazed if it’s not Arsenal. Mainly because a) we do our bids in private and I’m pretty sure the club submit bids with specific requests to the selling club that confidentiality clauses remain in place, and b) if Liverpool are looking at making an exchange with Sanchez and Suarez trading places, Liverpool would not have made a bid first, would they? They’d wait for the Barcelona bid for Suarez to come in.

That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it anyway and, despite referencing a warning from one Gooner already in today’s post, I find myself tumbling down the rabbit hole (or was it a worm hole in Alice in Wonderland? I forget) to plonk my size 11s squarely on to transfer land territory. It’s a dark and merciless place where nothing is ever quite what it seems and 99% of what your eyes show you is a complete falsehood.

Getting back into the real world is tough, but at least we can do so with the announcement that the new Puma kit is now on sale for overweight Arsenal fans everywhere to purchase and look rather unsightly by buying what looks like a shirt that is three sizes too small. I haven’t bought a new kit for about five years, but even though I’m not a large lad, I’m not sure I’d be too keen on having every inch of my person hugged by the new tops. I like the design of the home kit and the away kit isn’t too bad, but that’s still not going to see me rock the latest shirt. But then again, I am a complete hypocrite and if it’s purchased for me, I’m sure I’ll find a decent enough excuse as to why I’m wearing it.

The less said about the abomination that is that white third kit, the better, because I still get flashbacks to the Adebayor era from the last time the team jogged out wearing the same colours as the enemy. It just doesn’t sit right for that one obvious reason I’m afraid. It’s like being in Lancaster and telling people you prefer white roses. It’s just wrong. And I’m afraid nobody will convince me otherwise. Hopefully we’ll not see much of it though and it will remain in the cupboards of the kit manager forever, serving the only purpose it was intended for: a marketing ploy to get people to buy more shirts.

Anyway, that should probably be it from me today, as there really is little else to speak of. Cheerio!

World Cup goodness continues, but Arsenal injury rumours dampen spirits

Happy Monday to thee. How about this World Cup, eh? Every day it seems to be throwing up a really good game or two where you think you’re going to question the purpose of some of the teams in the competition. I’ve often thought that FIFA should do away with qualifying stages and just invite the top 32 teams to the World Cup (they’d have to sort their rankings system out first, mind) to ensure that the competition only has the best teams in the world competing, but having watched a six goal thriller between South Korea and Algeria, I’m glad they don’t because this is easily the best World Cup I’ve seen. It’s a shame that, y’know, England are pants and that, but heck at least Park is still at the World Cup!

Unfortunately though, it looks like Team USA won’t be for much longer, as the Portuguese managed a 1-0 victory over our cousins from over the pond. It’s a shame really, because any team with Ronaldo in it being happy, probably just shouldn’t be. Full stop.

The Ghana vs Portugal game later this week should be entertaining though, I suspect, because it effectively becomes a ‘winner takes all’ knockout game, so let’s hope that the Black Stars can deliver a wink-tastic victory over Cristiano and his back up singers.

UPDATE: I realise now, having been told by a few people on social media sites, that I may have got my scoring off, so you’re free to disregard the rant about the result, although the rant about Ronaldo remains as relevant as ever!!

No real Arsenal news at present, again, unless you count rumours of an Oxlade-Chamberlain ‘setback’. Provided it’s just a few weeks then hopefully that doesn’t dent his chances of fully recovering for the start of the season opener against Moneychester City for the worlds biggest metal decorative wall plate. His season was far too interrupted by injury last time out when big things were expected from him, not just by the fans, but also by the club I believe. And on last seasons opener against Villa he did look like one of the better players on the pitch before he picked up that injury, so getting a good pre season under his belt is crucial to ensure that he can hit the ground running, which means anything more than two or three weeks out would be a real dent for him.

We can all talk about transfers until the cows come home, but ultimately the vast bulk of any team that can win us the league will come from those players that have been around the club a while, so every team needs to have all of it’s players fully fit and ready for the new season. That Thomas Vermaelen never lasted until halftime yesterday is also a worry. It may be true that he is seeking pastures new for the upcoming Premier League season, but until we hear anything otherwise we have to assume that he’s going to be an important squad player for us, so watching him go down in the warm up, then taken off after half an hour in the game against the Ruski’s, it looked like it could be a serious twist that he sustained which could mean a lengthy spell on the sidelines if he’s exacerbated it further by playing on it. If that is the case, it’s another example of why we should take what every player says about their fitness with a massive pinch of salt because Vermaelen was obviously desperate to make an impact. You have to feel for the poor guy and I hope his World Cup isn’t over.

We now move into the week in which games come even thicker and even faster with an element of choice added in too, as four games take place today, with the Spanish playing their farewell to Brazil game at 5pm against Australia and Chile battling with the Netherlands for the top spot. I listened to a pundit on the radio yesterday talk about the problems with England’s team being psychological with all of the other traditional ‘bigger’ nations. If there is any element of that which is true, then it makes this World Cup even more harder to stomach, because there have been some big scalps that have already been taken and had England progressed to the next stages, the psychological barriers might not have been as large against a so-called smaller nation. Who knows, perhaps I’m just trying to find excuses of misfortune for what was ultimately a pretty average England side, but it does feel as though anything can happen in Brazil at the moment. The tournament feels wide open and available for shocks and that was the only thing English fans were banking on when it started and dreams of lifting the trophy began.

What am I saying?! I’ve already moved on and am backing my new adopted nation of Germany, so what do I have to worry??

Still…would have been fun n’ that….

Oh what could have been! A reminder of the Arsenal love and international hate

Well, if you’re English, you didn’t expect anything else other than defeat with little to crow about, did you? Last night’s game against the Uruguayan’s was a classic example of what you can achieve with one world class player in your team.

Luis Suarez should have effectively secured his natures passage into the knockout stages of the World Cup and, unlike his shamefully immoral efforts four years ago with the handball on the line, this time he did it the right way with two goals.

I’ve never liked the guy, but what a good player he is and, having watched Uruguay against Costa Rica last weekend, he really did prove the difference between the two sides. I’d said as much to work colleagues and also my partner in crime for the evening Dave, as I thought that the strength of the Uruguayan attack was more effective than the strength of the English attack, as well as the respective fragilities of both defences. So it proved in Brazil.

There’s some sort of bitter irony that it was Steven Gerrard that assisted Suarez on that second goal. But it was still a sublime finish.

But again I cast my mind back to thinking not of the English performance, but that of Suarez who had we have managed to secure the services of at The Arsenal, we must have been favourites to win the league. Heck, I’m convinced he is a player that gives you a minimum of 12 points a season on his own, which added to our tally would have had us champions with a week or two to spare before the season ended.

Of course it didn’t happen and there is no use dwelling on the past, but last nights performance of the ‘bitey one’ only serves to give me more trepidation about our ventures into the transfer market this summer, where we simply must strengthen offensively with pace, power and a world class finisher.

Skipping back to last nights game, which I watched in a pub garden, realising why I hate international football so much. Surrounded by footballing ‘supporters’, who have no idea about football and have merely turned up to watch ‘Eng-Ger-Land’ and jump around like they were at a Slipknot conference, is certainly not my idea of a good time I’m afraid. There’s something about international football that brings out the most moronic traits in people and I heard stupid comment (“kick it harder Gerrard”) after moronic comment. I don’t recall the last time I had to watch The Arsenal in a pub with stupid people like that. Call me a football snob, but I like to watch the game and engage in intelligent comment with colleagues about formations, individual performances and how to nullify the opposition. What I don’t do is stand with my back to the screen for long periods during the game chanting the name of my team repeatedly just to see if the crowd reacts. It’s sad and pitiful actually.

Keep football for those that love football. Not morons. That’s what I’m going to decree when I become President of the Universe.

Anyway, rant over, on the positive side at least we can all go back to watching this World Cup as neutrals/onlookers at what has been a great one so far. I’m lucky; I have German and Dutch roots so I’ll be voting for one of those two teams for the remainder of the tournament, probably with a leaning towards the Germans because of the Arsenal connection.

Catch the in the morrow.

Transfer insanity and instant reaction

It’s Wednesday, we’ve made it halfway through the week, with just a couple more days until freedom from the shackles of office desk jockeydom.

But the shackles of transfer tedium remain as strongly bound as always, laced with a deadly coating of instant reaction fuelled by the gutter press with a bit of time on their hands in Brazil to fabricate rumours to their hearts content.

Yesterday’s ‘man of the moment’ was Mexico’s shot stopper Guillermo Ochoa who, fresh from a ‘Man-of-the-match’ performance against Brazil, was instantly sky-rocketed into the British tabloid press as a potential target for Arsenal and Liverpool. The ‘keeper is also available on a free transfer from recently relegated AC Ajaccio.

“That ‘keeper played well for Mexico”

yeah, wonder who he plays for?”

“Says on Wikipedia a French team in Ligue 1! And they’ve just been relegated! And it says here is available on a free transfer!”

“Stop the presses and get this online now Neil! The Arsenal fans will love this one so get it online sharpish and make sure you tag the content with any word you can think of that can be keyword searched for by Arsenal fans!”

“Yes boss”

It was a great performance by Ochoa and maybe he could turn out to be a great signing for somebody, but having watched West Ham spunk a fortune on Florin Raducioiu after World Cup 94, I would have thought most people of a certain age would realise the dangers in taking interest in a player who has shot himself in to the limelight at a World Cup like Guillermo has.

Hey, I might be wrong and he might be an absolute gem that rocks up in the red and white of Arsenal this season, but I have my doubts at this moment in time. It’s the same with Joel Campbell too. If he stars against Italy again and adds to it against England, it may all bode well for us Arsenal fans, but until I’ve seen half a dozen impressive performances in an Arsenal shirt I won’t be heralding the second coming of the son of God just yet.

It’s the same with Lukaku. He was supposedly poor yesterday for the hour he was on the pitch (was travelling home from work so I’m not entirely sure), which certainly happens from time to time with the best players in the world, but the knee jerk reaction from fans was, in my opinion, a little harsh to label him a flop after one game at the World Cup. The Belgians as a whole hardly tore apart the Iranians and despite the hype surrounding this competitions ‘Golden Generation’ team, I do wonder if that tag is cursed and we’ll see them flop much like England of the previous decade and Spain of the decade before that.

I have to say I thought Brazil were a lot of huff and puff and possession and not a lot else for the bits of the game that I watched yesterday, but for all the disappointment of the lack of goals in the game, at least we got to see Thierry giving his input yesterday. The mans words are like concentrated awesomeness syrup injected straight into my brain. Sensible, good opinion and an Arsenal legend. What more could any Gooner ask for?

Some signings relatively soon, apparently, which doesn’t then help when Balotelli’s agent says that a transfer to Arsenal could be possible. As I debated with The Dorset Talent yesterday, cue the immediate denial that we were ever interested in him by Arsene Wenger, the speculation trail to go cold on the player, followed by a section of Arsenal fans going ‘ohhhhh’ like we’ve just been told by our mums at the Tesco counter that we can’t have any Fruit Pastels.

I think he’d be a great signing for Arsenal and would give us two years worth of insanity (not the work out I keep hearing about, although a Balotelli workout video, would I’m sure be an interesting purchase for the Christmas list) before buggering off somewhere else. But as I’ve said before, what a ride it would be, and I’d love to see it happen. It won’t though. Not now anyway.

Elsewhere in the footballing world it appears Julian Draxler has tired of not starting for Germany and has decided to try and create his own artificial inflation of his price tag by saying that Arsenal were interested in him and he rejected in the January window, adding that if Arsenal come calling this summer, he would reject their overtures again. Clever PR to keep the Schalke fans on side, but we all know that if any club activates his release clause, or even probably bids in the £30million region and Schalke accepts, he’d be on his way. To my mind the comments from Draxler are designed not to piss off Arsenal or it’s fans, but more to keep the relationship with his existing fan base that adore him, so that when he does move he can say “it was a good move for Schalke and that is why I accepted it. Schalke wanted me to go and that’s why I’m leaving”. I can understand that. Heck, Thierry played his move to Barcelona in a similar way and we still all love him, don’t we?

That’s yer lot for today. Speak to thee tomorrow.

Feeling for the Ox, losing feelings for Cesc?

If you’ve read many of my blogs in the past you’ll know I’m not really a fan of international football. The friendlies are meaningless and ill-timed, the tournaments usually end up with Arsenal players being knackered for the start of the season. Having said that, when there is nothing else on and you have an entire month of a competition like the World Cup, it’s always going to be worthwhile watching, so I suppose when it comes around it is easier to relax my normally strict distain for international football.

From a players perspective it is obviously an amazing experience and one that they live their lives for. Which is why it was sad to hear (and see after the game had finished) that The Ox picked up a potential ligament injury after falling awkwardly under a challenge from an Ecuadorian player. If his World Cup is finished after impressing in a warm up game that will be desperately unlucky and he will be no doubt devastated, so we have to hope that by some miracle it is not all over.

If it is a serious ligament injury, it also raises questions about his availability for the start of the next season, which is in reality only a couple of months away. It will be so harsh on the player for him to have just returned from injury and have to sit out again. I’m keeping all of my fingers crossed on that one.

The other news that seemed to permeate my Twitter timeline yesterday was the ‘caught on tape’ comments of Gerard Pique, telling Spanish boss Vicente Del Bosque that a deal for Cesc is ‘done’ at €33million. Of course that caused a ripple of questions amongst Gooners, wanting to know if he’s Chelski bound or due for a return to Arsenal.

When I first penned some thoughts about Cesc at the weekend I couldn’t really decide what I would prefer: him signing and a reunion (the sentimentalist vote), or for us to look at more pressing issues in our team (the pragmatists vote). I’ve decided that I want a third way for this transfer to happen: I want him to go to any club outside of England (the illogical ‘have your cake and eat it’ vote) to avoid tarnishing any potential legacy and affinity he had with Arsenal fans. Should he indeed sign for ‘The Morally Bankrupt But Literally Rolling In Real Cash’ ones, then we might as well erase any kind of affinity he has with the club straight away. It would also confirm to all Arsenal fans what we all know deep down but refused to air in public: there is, and will never be, any true loyalty in football when it comes to players. Also, we should really take ANYTHING they say with a massive pinch of the stuff I put on my chips.

Footballers positioning themselves as romanticists should just avoid making comments like ‘I can’t see myself playing for any other club other than x or y’ because the reality of the modern game is that only 0.1% of players will ever be able to stick to that philosophy, either through their own greed, or the demands of the club they are currently playing for.

I do wonder if the Cesc apologists will change their opinion if he does indeed play for a Mourinho team in West London. I think many will be able to stomach it and I have to admit myself I can’t really see myself having much affection for a man that high fives John Terry, Jon Obi Mikel and Ramirez. Can you?

Anyway, there’s not a lot going on today, except for some murmurings of a big name coming in. I can’t be bothered to speculate at this moment in time though. So I’ll stick to my blissful ignorance and see thee in the morrow.

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.

Top Trumping everyone today

Much like yesterday and the day before it, today is a glorious day, my fellow happy Gooners. Not just because of the sunshine, not just because Arsenal ended their ‘trophy drought’, but also because despite it being Monday, we get to head in to work/school/places where we come into contact with fans from opposition clubs and get to smile and ask them how their weekend went.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still riding high on the euphoria of Saturday’s victory, won under the most fairy tale of circumstances. It’s something we discussed on last nights podcast with Jim from East Lower as we pondered whether a five to nil thrashing would have had the same impact. As was pointed out then, I think the manner of celebrations would have been very much the same in the level of jubilation afterwards, but the fact that the team came from two goals down feels to me as if it made lifting the trophy all the more special.

If you want to listen to the Pod you can click on the top of the menu section on the blog and visit the Podcast page. Steve is the master of that part of the site and he doesn’t really do mornings, so I rarely link to it because I know he won’t be up as I type this anyway!

So, where was I? Oh yes, trophy winners and today being a glorious day. It’s a glorious day because there are no Moneychester City fans that I know too well, so that means every single fan I meet over the next couple of days, will have experienced less success this season than I. And you, of course, dear friend. I can call the Chelski fan that told me at the start of the season that “the whole of the Premier League are running scared now Jose is back”. I can ask the crowing Southern Liverpool fans if they’d have swapped their season for ours and, regardless of their staunch defence of their position as being a better one because they fought for the league table, one word negates all others:

Silverware.

When you’ve won something and others haven’t, it’s like playing Top Trumps knowing you’ve got that one card, the card that is pretty much unbeatable and you can collect you cards the second it gets laid down. That’s where we’re at today folks. We have the toppest of trumps (for the potty mouth of you, shame on you! But I’ll let you have the giggle because, like I say, today is a good day) and nobody can take that away from us.

Yesterday’s parade was a demonstration in stature of our football club. A quarter of a million people turned up to cheer the team along the streets of Islington and although I couldn’t get there myself, watching it unfold on Arsenal player was a joy to behold, with the players all looking rather pleased with themselves. And rightfully so.

There was also some good news – or bad depending on what side of the Wenger fence you reside – coming from the club which was that the manager would be signing a three year deal within the comic days, something he confirmed during the victory parade yesterday. It’s been a challenging season, his stubbornness and inability to go out and strengthen in January was maddening, but he had said that he wanted to be judged in May and if you’d have told me that we’d have a trophy and a top four spot come May, I’d have told you that Arsene has done his job and we should see his efforts as a success this season.

I realise this is a big ‘if’, but if Arsene goes out and strengthens the squad with the quality needed in certain positions, banishing the travesties of transfer window into a history book to be filed in a deep dark cupboard and never looked at again, then even the harshest of Wenger critics would be hard-pressed to deny that he deserves a crack at another few seasons to restore his legacy, don’t you think? Arsenal under Wenger seems to have been categorised into two nine year periods. Well, if he now spends three years hunting down (and succeeding) more trophies by using all resources at his disposal, I’m all for it.

The question is: will he use all resources at his disposal?

That’s probably for another day. For now, enjoy your Monday and if you see Jose, can you tell him I’m looking for him? Just got a few questions I wouldn’t mind asking.

Catch you tomorrow.

Nothing can take away the special feeling of the FA Cup

Well, here we are folks, the most significant game of the season and potentially the most significant game since the last major trophy that was won back in 2005. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited and nervous in equal measure.

There’s no getting around it: success or failure today will ultimately define whether this season has been another one that we want to confine to the history books as a ‘yeah, we did the bare minimum, but other than that it hasn’t exactly been an amazing season’ or described as a season where we ended our trophy drought and ensured that we can continue to eat at the top table for another season at least.

We all like those Champions League nights, we all enjoy the fact it enables us to buy the Mesut Ozil’s of the world, but when a day like today comes around, you realise that all of the qualification deciders in the world could not match feeling that I and you probably have in your stomach as you count down the minutes until kick off at 5pm. The devaluing of the FA Cup has been something that has been well spoken of and much column inches dedicated towards, but looking back on football history as a fan and you rarely remember the sniping, but you do remember the feeling when Arsenal won the competition. I remember the elation of coming away from Cardiff in 2003. It may have felt like we’d blown the league and so this was a consolation prize, but it was my first ever cup final and I was exhilarated of the feeling, which I’ve wanted to recapture ever since and so the potential to replicate that feeling today leaves me with butterflies in my stomach the size of my fist.

But what of the game itself? What of our opponents and the way in which they line up? Who will Arsene give the nod to, to bring home the shiny big-eared bacon? How many questions can I fit in to a paragraph??

Firstly, i’ll give you my predicted team news, because I think it will help to also explain how Hull will set up. That’s not to say that Arsene will change his style or selection process based on the opposition, but I just want to find an interesting segue between questions and I think this might work.

In goal I think he’ll opt for Sczcesny. It’s an interesting one because it’s really the first time this season that the goalkeeping position is the hardest position to work out. I think the playing of Fabianski last weekend was telling however, so I expect the younger Pole to start, which is the right thing in my opinion. He is the future, he deserves to be in the team for his performances this season and he is the best goalkeeper at the club.

I think the defence picks itself and so a back four of Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Gibbs may leave club captain Vermaelen out along with boyhood Gooner Corporal Jenkinson, but as was discussed on last night’s GoonerGirl Podcast which I was fortunate enough to be invited on to, this is an FA Cup final and we simply must play the strongest team available. Unfortunately that means no place for either of those two players. In fact, I think with the returning Vermaelen and potential Oxlade-Chamberlain back in the team, I can’t see Jenks making the bench. After all, Wenger will more likely choose Vermaelen and Monreal as his defensive subs, using the rest of the subs for a ‘keeper and more attack-minded players to call on to the starting line up.

Midfield is where I think there will need to be decisions made and I think the right decision would be to have Arteta and Ramsey sitting just behind the trio of Ozil, Cazorla and Podolski. Hull will no doubt be looking to the likes of Huddlestone and Livermore to screen in front of the back four or three and operate a little bit deeper and, if that is in fact the case, then playing someone like Matthieu Flamini is not appropriate in my opinion. The Flamster is better at screening the back four and taking up defensive duties, but going forward he lacks the craft and ability on the ball that Arteta has a little bit more of. I think it is because Arteta is technically more gifted that he gets the nod more often than Flamini for most games, but in this instance today I think it would be the right call. If Hull are sitting deeper and trying to frustrate at any time, then we need those technically better players to show their creativity to unlock the Tigers’ defence.

The rest of the choices above are based on recent games and performances and I don’t think there will be many Gooners that could argue with that. Perhaps some might say there is a space for Jack in the team, but at the moment I don’t see it and I think the balance of that predicted team – with Giroud up top instead of Sanogo, obviously – works for what we want to achieve – a real trophy instead of a fourth placed invisible one!

As for our opponents, the return of Alan McGregor in-goal will be an important boost for them, because he’s a good ‘keeper that I’ve seen keep them in games on a few occasions this season. He’ll be stood behind a back four that will probably contain Bruce, Davies and McShane with wing backs of Elmohamady and Figueroa. Those two like to get forward and punch balls into the box for Long and Jelavic but, with both cup tied today it will most likely be Aluko and Fryatt that they’ll have to contend with. I can’t pretend to be an expert on Hull’s squad, but I don’t recall there being much pace in that front two so I think Hull will look to exploit the wing backs to get forward as much as possible and get balls into the box to trouble us, rather than balls in behind our central defenders.

The midfield, as I mentioned above, will most likely contain Huddlestone and Livermore sitting with Meyler being asked to push forward and support the front two. Livermore may also provide more of an advanced threat but the key to neutralising Hull may just be to not give Huddlestone too much time on the ball to pick out players.

We should, in theory, have enough to thwart Hull City. We have beaten them twice already this season and apart from an initial fifteen minute opening spell at the KC Stadium, we have pretty much been on top in these games, but we know today will be different. Hull will be running on an adrenaline that we have not seen in previous games and they will know that with our history of implosions there is a possibility of an upset.

I don’t want to talk about any negativity today, so I’m not even going to mention the unthinkable happening come 8pm tonight, so I’m going to end today’s blog with a positive quote that I’ve just Google’d:

When people ask me what my religion is, I say it’s the Arsenal

Marcus du Sautoy