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.

Glass half empty or full?

Thank some sort of deity that it’s Friday. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’ve had a shocking week – Arsenal result aside – I’ve just had enough of the proverbial stuff thrown at me work-wise that I’ll be grateful for a few days off. 

Plus the league have deemed it acceptable for us to finally have a game on a weekend instead of a Monday night, so that gives me something right at the end to look forward to, Arsenal-wise. Or dread, depending on how full your glass is.

If it’s half-empty, then you won’t have been too encouraged with the news that The Ox, Debuchy and Arteta are all out for the weekend, whilst Rambo and Welbeck are uncertainties. It’s a shame if neither of the latter pull through and it undoubtedly weakens us somewhat, but if you’ve got a half-full glass, you’ll be happy that we have the depth in the team to make these absences appear minimal. Bellerin for Debuchy, Coquelin for Arteta are familiar swaps, so it’s just the Ox that I think we’re really missing out on.

Not least because I’m convinced it would give the manager a serious decision to make with Ramsey. The Ox is a more naturally suited player out wide right and I think he’d definitely be playing if he was fit, but this ongoing injury which seems to have no return date appears to continue to linger, so much so that I’m starting the think we won’t see him again this season.

Who knows? Arsène’s squad selection decisions may be so numerous that he’s decided a normal six week injury layoff gets an additional two ‘just to be safe’ but also to avoid a difficult decision and cheering a player off. That’s probably what I’d do if I was in Le Boss’ position. So maybe we will see if the same happens with Ramsey and his knock from the Swansea game, or Welbeck too.

The only difference with Welbeck is that he appears to be Arsène’s only real preferred choice to Giroud up top, which I’m sure is why we’ve seen a slight tailing off of Giroud’s form in the last couple of weeks, as his competition in the squad is reduced. It’s not the sole factor; as has already been pointed out the shunting out wide of Ramsey probably has had an impact as he has one less wide man to get in behind defenders and put the ball in for him, or the fact that he’s a confidence player and when ex-stars like Thierry Henry say you can’t with the league with him in the side who knows how he will react? He’s a confidence player and if that gets knocked you can see the impact.

I think it might have a small effect, but competition from Welbeck and the position of Ramsey have had more of an impact than anything else.

So I wonder if Welbeck is rushed back to the first team ahead of the other players, especially if he is given the extra incentive of another opportunity to prove Louis van Gaal wrong by playing well against his old club. 

All of this and there’s not even the slightest mention of Walcott who, I have to admit, I find it staggering that his stock has fallen so much in 18 months. He’s gone in the summer, almost certainly, but I hope that he keeps his Arsenal legacy by moving abroad. I’m sure it won’t happen and he’ll be bound for an English side, but it does feel like a sad way for a player who was once a lynchpin of the team, discarded like an old Cornetto wrapper.

That’s football I suppose. Eventually it will happen to every player. Just ask Rosicky how he’s feeling at the moment.

Laters.

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.

We must maintain competition in the Arsenal squad

It’s Election Day here in the UK and with most of the country can’t honestly tell the difference between the parties duking it out, the winner of this popularity contest will probably be the person with the greatest personality. 

Arsène Wenger for President people.

It’s quiet on the Arsenal front. Quieter than a fox in a back garden wearing socks and mittens. Quieter than you’re average van Persie when watching the FA Cup final. Quieter than a Spud in a library.

Quiet.

With the team not playing until Monday night, there’s absolutely no need whatsoever to stir up any issues either, so we’re having to contend ourselves with the prospects of watching other teams in Champions League action. I started to watch the Barca v Bayern game and whilst it wasn’t too cagey in the first half, chances being at a premium as they were, I decided to catch up on a bit of Game of Thrones in the second. More fool me, it appears, as Messi once again stole the show. 

He’s often the difference – much like Ronaldo, I must admit through gritted teeth – for Barcelona and given that it’s widely accepted that those two are very much ‘one offs’ I do find it humorous how dependent both teams are on those two. Sure, there are plenty of quality players in the team, but those two stand out. Which is why I crease a smile when I see people in the media talk about Giroud and a team not being capable of winning things unless they have a ‘world class’ player in their team. From what I’ve seen over the last 48 hours, there are players in all four Champions League semi-finalists – three of four who will be Champions of their respective leagues within the next few weeks – who I would class as not quite ‘world class’. So does the logic that you need to have world class players only applicable to English teams.

Yes, some would have you think, particularly when no English team is in the semi finals of European’s premier competition. For that is how the media judges everything. Not based on practicalities of performance, but on whether you’ve navigated a knockout comp. Chelski under Roberto Di Matteo were clearly the best team in Europe when they won it. Ha!

Still, at least we all do our best to drown out the hum-drum of the English press as best we can, with the help of Arsène and the team. Starting at some stage today with some sort of team news. Hopefully Ramsey has overcome his ankle knock and is available, but if not it will be a fine opportunity for Theo to ask the manager if he can have a go.

It’s funny, as we near the end of the season I am hoping we start to see some more rotation, because we want all of the players feeling like they can win their place back in to the team next season. There have been numerous accounts of players talking about how everyone is trying extra hard to win a place in the first XI in the wake of stiff competition, but Arsène does need to get the balance right, so freezing out some players isn’t really something I think should be considered and I do think he should rotate a few players where he can. I may be derided for what I’m about to say, but Chamakh and Jenkinson – when afforded time in the first team – were able to show that they were decent players. It was only when they were left out of the team for a prolonged period of time that they looked like weak links in the team.

Form and regular game time breeds confidence, as Jenkinson for West Ham and Coquelin for us have shown this season, which is why Arsène needs to strike a blend of giving players continuous game time to build momentum and rotating so that other players can hit the ground running if called upon through injury or suspension to others.

We’ve had problems in the past where the starting XI was the starting XI and as a result the squad players knew they didn’t stand a chance of staking a claim in the side even if they played and played well. We don’t want to go back to that. We need to keep players thinking that they can play in this Arsenal team and that if they string together a run of good performances, that they will get in the team, and stay there.

That’s why I hope to see a bit of rotation in the league. Let’s keep the momentum, but also keep a squad of players who are all fighting and motivated come August.

Catch you later alligator.

Confidence is high with plenty still to play for

Securing the return of St Totteringham’s Day milestone was just the start. Now we enter the crucial part of the season in which when we look back over the summer we either go ‘this was the beginning of New Arsenal’ or ‘meh’. 

Progress has been made – the players all know that and have spoken about it – but the one thing you don’t get in this league is the footballing equivalent of a boxing points decision for being the best for most of the fight. It’s the game we all love because you can’t lose form at all, especially at the end of the season, in which even now after a superb run of form we still need three wins out of our last four to get close to finishing second.

But like I said, the players know this and we’ve heard from both Jack and Per talking up the importance of improving on last season and going at least one better than having to go through the Champions League qualifying stages. I think it’s more of a psychological thing more than anything else; we have won all of our qualifying matches when asked and I think even if we’d have qualified for the Group stages outright in previous seasons, we’d have probably have still left our business late, so I don’t think that had a major impact. But it’s a tater nonetheless and with four games to go it’s nice to have something to still be aiming for.

Mesut too has been speaking to the official site, talking up that first half and the team performance, specifically that of Alexis. As the two become more and more in sync throughout each game, the prospect of Özil feeding Alexis’ fire in the same way he did for Ronaldo is mouthwatering. The difference would obviously be that Alexis isn’t an attention-demanding, tanned, greasy haired w*nker, which I think we can all be grateful for.

We don’t have one single superstar in the team and to be quite frank, I couldn’t be happier about that and I do wonder if Özil feels the same at Arsenal, because he’s one of an all-star cast rather than best supporting actor in what must feel like a one-man play at Madrid some times. I watched parts of the Juve-Real game yesterday and the way Ronaldo swanned around the pitch demanding the ball at every opportunity, only made me want an Italian team to win more, AN ITALIAN TEAM!! Crazy stuff. 

One person on that field who did impress me though, was Isco, who’s drive and willingness to run at players with the ball was a real plus point. Ben won’t thank me for the comparison, but he reminded me of what Jack Wilshere could be, if he could find the right place in his team. Jack has a similar running style to the Spaniard, but his ability to travel with the ball at his feet was also impressive and I do believe that if he can string together a season of consistent performances – like the game against City at home – we’d see him evolve into a player whose name is up there on the teamsheet first with Mesut, Alexis and Le Coq.

But he has to get there and right now, it’s hard to see how, because Arsène won’t change a winning team and whilst all of the current players are playing as well as they are, why should he? So Jack will just have to bide his time and like Theo and Gibbs, get to the summer and work their arses off in pre season to win back their places.  

Just a quick one on the Premier League winners. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve tried hard to subconsciously – and consciously – avoid the news, but I love the fact that not a lot has been made (where I have been reading, anyway) of the fact Chelski have won the league. It’s like even the Mourinho loving media aren’t particularly that fussed about the borefest that is that club. Long may it continue and hopefully by the time the FA Cup comes around, nobody will give a monkeys – or even remember – who won the league in 2014/15.

Anyway, I should probably call it a day, because I don’t really have much else to say and if you think I’m giving my thoughts on the royal potato lookalike, you can think again.

Ciao.

Blessed be St Tott with the gift of three points

Much like Easter, I do prefer it when St Totterigham’s Day is bought forward in the calendar, as it enables us to enjoy it more I think. It was nice for the authorities to see fit to grant a national bank holiday in honour of the occasion.

I spent my St Totteringham’s Day in the garden, doing classic bank holiday tasks of cutting the grass and pulling down ivy from the side of the house, hardly the most thrilling of days. But it was still an enjoyable one by the time my head hit the pillow.

Arsenal saw to that.

I looked at this game, at the form of Hull, wondering whether or not we’d face a side scrapping for their lives and having picked up six points in their previous two games, keen to catch us off guard with a quick start. But as a bit more of a natural pessimist, I vastly underestimated the level of confidence the team has right now, evident even before we scored our first goal.

Arsène named an unchanged squad from the Chelski game and although I had expressed a desire to see us play with more width and pace, I was hardly upset by any inclusion, because the form of every player playing regularly in the team is good now. So after the first ten minutes of near total domination of the possession, I knew that this was a Hull team that feared being overrun if they came at us too strongly, pushing bodies forward that would inevitably leave space for our creative players.

But despite trying to play deeper and not give us too much space, the form of players like Özil and Santi, meant that space was created by movement and quick-thinking. The way we popped the ball around in the first half was majestic. Cazorla – who is becoming the very definition of an American Football-style ‘quarter-back’ – sat deeper with the play in front of him and saw things that even watching on TV, with a better vantage point, I was unable to observe without a replay. To think that this is a little Spanish chap who many thought would not get in to the team this season. Madness.

In front of him an Özil who looks like he’s been sticking two fingers up to the critical English media since he came back from injury, was in fine form, cropping up all over the park and always giving a team mate an option. I haven’t looked at any heat maps, but he covered pretty much every blade of grass, also finding time to make some very good runs in behind the back three of Hull’s defensive line. Accusations of lethargy pointed in the direction of the German are so far off the mark they fall off the page. 

His little flick in the second half though, eh? Vision, composure and the deftest of touches, make him every bit the superstar at Arsenal. Thank goodness we have him.

Not just him though. Thank goodness we have a lot of our players. They entertain us all season and at the moment they do it with a swagger and technical ability that far outdoes any other more ‘pragmatic’ teams at the top of the table. Alexis was on form last night too. The first goal may have been fortunate in the deflection it took, but it was the least his performance merited. He was his usual effervescent self, but it also felt like some of that rubbed off on the other players too. Ramsey will always be Ramsey and will always close down the space to pressurise opponents, but Özil was nicking the ball away through the higher press too, with he result of his interception leading to the free kick from which the first goal came.

The second goal may have also had a slight tinge of fortune to it in the deflection from Brady off Ramsey’s shot, but again the ball from Cazorla and the running from the Welshman to create the space was sublime, so it’s hard to deny such a fabulously worked goal some credit by dismissing it as a bit of a ‘fluke’.

Goal number three had no such hint of fortune though and again the pass to set it up was brilliant from Ramsey to find Alexis in between the defenders and then beyond Harper to touch the ball into an empty net. 

We may have conceded in the second half (a questionable one given that Meyler fouled Koscienly in the build up) to make for a five minute period of a wee bit of jitteriness immediately after the goal, but it is a marked difference in this Arsenal team in comparison with some of its predecessors, that the ship was steadied and the three points secured as we tuned the remainder of the game into a bit of an exhibition match by limited Hull’s chances and retaining possession. As I’ve said on previous blogs, it feels like we’re building for next season, which means that maintaining momentum by winning games is vitally important. Winning yesterday all but guaranteed a Champions League spot next season, but that’s not the benchmark now, we need to be going for more. We need to be picking up enough wins to make others take note for next season, but more importantly we need the players to go into the summer believing that they will win the league next season.

Tis’ the season to be jolly and on this St Totteringham’s Boxing Day we must give thanks to those that made it possible. 

Catch you tomorrow.

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.