Can we make that final step? City preview

Well Mr Matchday, you certainly took your sweet time to arrive, didn’t you? Keeping me waiting like a disgruntled commuter at a National Rail train station wasn’t my idea of fun, but you’re here now, so let’s not bicker and just get on with the rest of our Saturday, shall we?

It’s an early one for us all today, as the fates have conspired to drag us into the horrific world of early kick offs. Look, I have no real problems with the early starts in terms of the teams ability to be ‘up for it’ (it is ridiculous to assume that our players can’t be up for early kick off games based on the travesties of last season), my issue lies purely with the fact that an early start means getting up earlier on a Saturday which is not something I’m overly enamoured with. There’s also the reduction in hours of pre-match amber nectar supping. I like a beer, but I’m not starting my day at 10am with one, so it leaves me with just about enough time for a solitary pint before heading over to the ground.

All this is just the pre-amble to the main event though, so I suppose I shouldn’t be the archetypal moaning Brit and move swiftly on to our own raison d’être, which starts at 12.45pm UK time.

There’s no doubt this is by far and away the most difficult test that The Arsenal will have faced this season. The visit of Moneychester City represents the first litmus test of whether or not we have learned from our recent poor history against any of the top four clubs of seasons past. Last season saw us fail to pick up wins against City, Chelski, Everton and even the ailing Man United, so a marker of whether or not this team has the capability to challenge the top teams will need to be placed today.

I’ve said before that from a points perspective, you can easily win the league as long as you pick up points against the teams lower down the table, which is true if you think about the maths behind the logic. Home and away wins against teams from 8th position in the league downwards gives you 72 points, which is approaching a decent points tally to have a go at the league. But to get over the line you need to have wins against the bigger players not just for those few extra points, but for the psychological boost that big game victories provide. That’s why today is important. It’s not so much about the points, but about the belief that will be instilled in the team, through taking a scalp like Moneychester City.

Arsène has a litany of options at his disposal to draw upon, which is what also makes this game exciting to blog about this morning, because until those first whispers of the team sheet come in, we have no idea who is in the squad, let alone the starting eleven. I hope Arsène opts for ‘pace, pace, pace’ and we see Welbeck flanked by The Ox and Alexis, but I suspect that Özil or Cazorla might be moved to the left, as I think Arsène wants to include both in his team selection. I’m certainly not in the camp that believes having Özil out wide is conducive to getting the best out of his game, but that appears to be where his temporary home is at the moment, so we’ll all have to accept it. I also seem to be in the minority at the moment regarding Cazorla. I actually don’t believe that the diminutive Spaniard has had the best of starts to the season, flitting in and out of games far too much (an accusation oft levelled at Özil but not his teammate), so I wouldn’t be too worried if the Ox was preferred. I love Santi as a footballer and when he is on song his game is fabulous to watch, but I just feel like he hasn’t hit the form of when he arrived and it’s a shame that we’re not seeing the Santi that we all know can change a match. Perhaps I’m being too harsh.

The midfield also has a plethora of options to choose from, so Arsène’s difficult decisions don’t just stop at the pointy end of the team, as he’ll need to work out who from Ramsey, Arteta, Wilshere, Rosicky and Flamini occupy the two midfield positions if, as expected, both Özil and Cazorla play. I suspect the decision will hinge on how recovered Rambo is from his midweek ankle roll, as I’d think the first two names from that list I’ve just reeled off, will be given priority. It will be another source of irritation for Rosicky, but Arsène isn’t going to drop his captain or last seasons player of the year, so he’ll just have to accept it.

As for our opponents, a Jovetic injury is all I believe they are suffering from, so we know that they will be at almost full strength when they line up against us. Last season they were the free-scoring champions, but I wonder if Pellegrini will be as gung-ho in a match today as his team was at times last season. At The Emirates he needed only a draw realistically to ensure that his team kept on the march to the title. Today’s game is similar in requirements for his team I suspect, i.e. do not lose, so I wonder if he’ll look to try and stay solid defensively whilst catching us on the counter attack.

City will rely on the guile of Silva and Nasri, sure for a spicy reception as always, whilst Dzeko will occupy both Per and Kos at varying times. It’s a team that has threats all over the park, but despite our less than stellar start to the season, I think the openness of today’s game will give our players the chance to express themselves more freely and occupy space that wasn’t afforded to them against Palace or Leicester.

I feel cautiously optimistic about today’s game. Let’s hope it’s not misguided optimism. A win would be a perfect catalyst for a good run against a number of difficult opponents, but I think we have the firepower now to cope with our schedule and demonstrate to the rest of the league that we’re serious title contenders.

Victories against teams like City feels like the final piece in our league title puzzle. That one final step. That’s all we’ve got to overcome.

Come on Arsenal!

The evolution of Jack (but maybe not this weekend)

Halfway through the week and we close down on the international break, casting our attention (thankfully) to the Premier League once again, as well as the build up to a massive game at The Emirates against Moneychester City.

Of course, none of us really believed that our squad was capable of going through an international group of matches without somebody important picking up a knock, did we? So it was that Aaron Ramsey limped off against Andorra during Wales’ pointless group stage game against a team that looked more reminiscent of the Vatican Swiss Guard than a football team. I’m sure David Seaman once wore an England jersey that looked like a rainbow had been regurgitated onto his shirt that looked a little like that travesty.

I didn’t watch the game, but have seen some of the still images of the incident and despite what Chris Coleman said about him being ok for the weekend, you can’t help but think that Arsenal are in a better position to judge when Rambo reports back today or tomorrow with them. It feels like it’s almost built in as part of their remit as international managers when players come back to The Arsenal broken and battered around the edges, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Coleman is downplaying a knock that could see Ramsey out of this weekend’s clash. And to be honest, if there’s any element of doubt, we need to be playing caution with players that have picked up knocks, because over the next three weeks we play a host of football matches (six or seven I seem to remember seeing) so we should not be risking players.

If Rambo isn’t risked, it will be interesting to see Jack once again step into that box-to-box role that Aaron has made his own, which will be a continuum of the position that Wilshere occupied (to a degree of success I feel) in the Besiktas game. There’s no doubt that a loss of Ramsey will be a big blow, but when you have players with the quality of Wilshere able to step in and deputise, it doesn’t fill me with the same fears as a couple of injuries to the centre halves would.

It’s perhaps also ironic that Jack, having played as a deeper lying midfielder for England on Monday, will be moved back to a more familiar midfield position if Ramsey doesn’t pass any impending fitness tests. Having spent most of the Switzerland after glow of the match talking about an adapted deeper role, going on to highlight players like Pirlo who he will start to watch videos of over the next month or so, you wonder if both Roy and Arsène have already spoken to him about changing his position in midfield.

Perhaps he is looking at his place for both club and country and seeing his options limited, or perhaps he genuinely sees himself as somebody who can improve and nail down that slot as a holding midfielder, I’m not sure. I’m reluctant to use the words ‘defensive midfielder’ because that’s not what I think he’ll ever be. Sure, he likes a tackle and sure, it’s not the most difficult position to adapt to. You just really need to have discipline and not mind the dirty parts of the game like mopping up after defenders or breaking down impending attacks. But to me that would be a waste of Jack’s talent. He’s a player that can travel with the ball, is good at quick interchanges of pace and passing and that works well in right spaces with opponents who sit deep and defend in numbers. So to give him a position as ball winner and then quickly distributing to some of the more creative talents I think would be a bit pointless.

Or perhaps Arsène is looking at a bit more fluidity in midfield, looking to mix it up a bit, asking the question “do we really need a defensive midfielder?”. When I say that, I don’t mean that there should be no cover or protection for the back four, but rather that the team should be more fluid in the roles it has in midfield. If Jack is pushing forward, for example, why should not one of the other players adapt to become the ball winner and distributor whilst he is pushing forward? Or vice versa if Ramsey is in the opposition box. Perhaps Arsène is looking for players that Championship Manager used to call the ‘complete midfielder’. A 27 year old Mikel Arteta with the ability to sit, whilst also good enough on the ball to push forward, would be a prime example of the type of player that Jack could become. Perhaps, after all of the pontificating, it is actually Jack who is being groomed as the heir apparent for that role?

Who knows. But what I do know is that the next year or two is massively important for Wilshere. He needs to nail down his place in the team and make sure that he can be as flexible and adaptable when called upon as Wenger needs him to be.

Haven’t really looked at what else is going on in The Arsenal world at the moment, but maybe we’ll get a soundbite from Arsène about Danny Welbeck.

Hope it isn’t the media microphones catching him in training at London Colney saying “shouldn’t you be back at Carrington? I thought England training was over?”

Catch you tomorrow.

A reason to watch international football???

Welcome to Wednesday, a Wednesday in which where we’d normally be counting down until the next Arsenal game, we’re thrust into the cruddyness of an international break with only the prospective of pointless friendlies to endure over the next couple of days. Oh, and don’t forget the nervous and worry about players coming back from international duty looking like C3-P0 after he’s stumbled across something he shouldn’t have.

We even had the hilarity of hearing that new signing Danny Welbeck picked up a knock in the last kick of training yesterday. Thankfully Woy has said he’s ok, but wouldn’t it just be classic Arsenal luck if we’d have found out he’s out for six weeks with an ankle sprain or something similar?

Of course I’m being a bit melodramatic, but that’s how I feel about international breaks, that they are designed to cause maximum breakages to Arsenal players. In fact, that’s probably why they call them ‘breaks’ and not ‘excursions’.

Anyway, we got our first glimpses of Welbeck in a new shirt yesterday and I must say I’m pleased. Pleased because it looks like he’s trimmed down his high flat-top haircut a bit and looks a little less like he should be a person of royalty from Bel-Air. It also means the only ridiculous haircut in the team is now Matthieu Debuchy (although Giroud’s loaf comes close), which I can handle if it’s just one of them. We’ve always had one you see, from the grease of Chamakh to the orange head of Ian Wright, there’s always been one nutter when it comes to styling the old barnet.

It’s number 23 that Welbeck will be wearing and I’m sure I’m not the only one hoping his Arsenal career is more akin to his predecessor of that number who played at centre half for Arsenal and England, rather than the one that waddled the wings of The Emirates and Russia only a few short years ago. The important thing is that he hasn’t got the dreaded number 18 shirt; a burden for which somebody really should have told Monreal of some of the players in recent past who had worn that cursed number. T’would be the morally decent thing to do you know.

How are you feeling about the internationals tonight though? Will you watch them? Me personally, I normally swear off them if I can (and when I get the Metropolitan Line home of an evening I really do quite literally ‘swear’, especially with all the ‘ENG-GER-LAND’ fans who turn up), but today I think I might actually tune in to England vs Norway. Roy has suggested that he’ll play Welbeck if he’s fit – albeit only for a limited amount of time – but that’s pretty much the only reason why I’ll be tuning in. You see, I have a reason to actually watch Welbeck a little more closely now, to scrutinise every touch and hope to see positive glimpses of what he could bring to The Arsenal. Before, he was just another dude in a white shirt, but now he’s an Arsenal boy it’s an opportunity to start making snap judgements before he’s even kicked a ball for his new club. It’s weird actually, as I was saying to Lulunix on Twitter yesterday, I literally cannot remember a game in which he has played and how he has played, such is my awesome ability to tune out on any noise from the football world that isn’t related to The Arsenal. The down side of which is that I now can’t really remember what sort of player we’ve got from United. The upside of course, as somebody pointed out to me when they said that Welbeck scored in the 8-2 defeat (for which I was on a plane at the time and so therefore have conveniently never had to watch) at Old Trafford, is that I can erase bad memories of Arsenal pretty darn well too.

We’re great at doing that, you see, us football fans. Forgetting quickly, snap judgements, etc – we’ve got all of that in our lockers.

I suspect he’ll get a maximum of a half tonight, so I’m not really going to be making any instant judgements, because he’ll probably not even start in his expected position for England. He’ll be shunted out to the left wing and will more than likely be less effective. Let’s hope though that he can come back unbroken and quite eager to prove himself against a former bitter Manchester rival in City.

Because it’s the tedium of the international break, there’s very little real other news going on, unless you count the Ox talking about learning from the World Cup experience. I’d wager that he didn’t learn that much by being in a sh*te team and not being fully fit, unless he learnt not to get injured, in which case he’d get two thumbs up from your humble narrator here.

That’s pretty much it for now. I was thinking about delving more deeply into the ‘how the bloody hell are Poldi and Campbell going to get a look in?’ debate, but I think I’ll save that for another day, as I could probably spend half my life pondering that particular conundrum.

Anyway, catch ya laters, potatoes.

Contrast of styles: high pressing against Leicester needed

Welcome to Sunday and Welcome to Matchday. The greatest day of the week.

Today it is the visit to Leicester, where even The Arsenal fans all follow The Arsenal to get to, whether it be land or sea. As a newly promoted side in the early throngs of their Premier League season, they’ll be eager to impress and having already fought back to pick up a draw in the dying embers of the game against Everton on the opening day, the Foxes will be quite eager to prove that the KP stadium is something of a challenge to walk away from with any points.

It will be an interesting game today, as it appears there will be a clash of styles that we’ll see on display from 4pm, what with Leicester already looking like long-ball merchants of Premier Leagues of old. I think it was a tweet from 7AmKickOff that showed the long and short pass completion stats for the whole league and, as expected after only two games Arsenal are at the bottom of the table for long passes, but the top of the tree for short ones. In contrast, Leicester have reversed those figures and stand head and shoulders above every other team.

What that means for us today I can only make an assumption on, which is that our back four will be subjected to it’s first aerial bombardment of the season, so it will be interesting to see how our defenders cope if that is the case. I’m reminded of the last fifteen minutes or so at Swansea last season, when Swansea were chasing an equaliser from us and resorted to an unfamiliar tactic given their style of play since promotion to the league, in which a number of balls were floated into the box to try to put our back four under pressure by weight of numbers and bodies. Thankfully we withstood the onslaught quite well and pick up the points so I’m hoping for the same today.

What I think will be important is Koscienly’s role in sweeping up behind the BFG. If Leicester are playing long balls into the channels in behind Big Per, we know that he won’t have the pace to keep up with any of the Leicester attacking players, so Kos must be alert to make up any ground that Per will lose out on. Conversely, Big Per will be the man to go for aerial duels, so he needs to use all of that slender but massive frame to make sure he’s batting away any potential knock-downs.

In midfield I suspect we’ll see a similar line up to the game against Everton, with Flamini, Wilshere and Ramsey playing through the middle, whilst Özil and the Ox will play on the flanks. Personally, it’s not quite my preferred line up, as I’d like to see Mesut in the middle (heh, sounds like it could be a Sky One comedy series) with Ramsey the box-to-boxer and Flamini sitting deeper. That would mean that Jack unfortunately misses out, which would be a shame after a good performance in midweek, but as Özil said during the week his best position is through the middle and he is our best Number 10.

Up top we’ll see Alexis run his little heart out and I do wonder if his goal in midweek will have put an extra spring in his already well sprung step. We’ll need another good performance from him if we’re going to have a good result against Leicester, but his performance is also reliant on receiving a bit more support from his teammates in not isolating him in attack. At times against Everton it looked like he was so lonely up top he was dropping in to midfield to receive the ball, which left us without any real options up top and was frustrating for us all to watch. When we didn’t have the ball it was also obvious that there was a gap between him and the rest of the team. Alexis has spent a few years in a Barcelona team that presses extremely high up the pitch and you could see him gesturing to his teammates to get forward when Everton had the ball across their own back four. I’d love to see us press higher up the pitch today, because if Leicester do look to play longer passes from back to front, then putting them under pressure earlier will affect their ability to distribute more effectively and force the Leicester defence into making mistakes.

That’s the ideal scenario, anyway, but whether we will do it remains to be seen. As for our opponents, I must confess I know little about them other than a couple of the snippets I’ve read about them being a bit ‘long bally’. They have Dave Nugent who plays up top, but the fact that my iPhone predictive text doesn’t even register his name (preferring to
Call him ‘Dave Juventus’ instead) I hope is a good sign of his success against us today. They also have Peter Schmeichel’s son in goal, so if ever there’s a reason to dislike them any more, this would be it.

I am hoping that we can click into gear today and get our flowing football started. The last four games have been an execution of grind and determination with last minute goals that are no good for any Gooners health. We need a two or three goal cushion with half an hour to play before we can start feeling happy about any performance and whilst I don’t think we’ll get that today, I do hope we can get the first goal and have something to build on, so let’s keep our fingers crossed over that and work from there.

As for the transfer guff about Loic Remy, we’ve got all of tomorrow to panic about the lack of arrivals, so I think I’ll just focus on the football today and give you some thoughts tomorrow.

Up The Arsenal!

When did we all become so angry?

Hello there my old friend, how are you? I’ve been doing this daily blog thingy for over two years now, so I feel like I can call you ‘old’. Hope you don’t mind.

A little later today we’ll get an Arsène press conference in which the media will bombard the boss with questions about potential signings in an effort to get a sniff of what he is thinking. Of course, he keeps his cards closer to his chest than Michael Phelps keeps his speedos closer to his nether regions. But the questions will no doubt continue, with the boss most likely to bat away the names like an irritating fly near a freshly prepared chorizo and red pepper sandwich on multigrain bread.

This has led me to a school of thinking today, which I hope you don’t mind, because it’s a little bit on the negative side. Hence why I’ve attempted to soften you into today’s blog by firing the platitudes and niceties your way. Again, I hope you don’t mind.

Anyway, back to my thinking, which has led me to today’s blog title and comes as a response to reading my Twitter timeline last night before I went to bed, as well as waking up this morning thinking about the presser today and the inevitable reaction from a lot of fans through social media sites.

Last night the news broke – unconfirmed obviously because it’s journos that are speculating of course – that Radamal Falcao had agreed to join Real Madrid after his club Monaco and the Champions League winners agreed a deal. In the cold light of day, perhaps not the most shocking of news, as many had speculated that would be his destination this season or next season anyway. But what was a surprise to me was the reaction from a lot of people. Suddenly I saw people stating that Wenger had failed to act on a target yet again, that he was once again dithering, that he’d not bothered to address or clear striking deficiencies. But do you know what, I had a small feeling of a chance missed too, which immediately led the rational part of my brain to throw it’s hands up in the air and declare it was going to bed. Thankfully I soon joined it.

Falcao – whether this story about him joining Madrid is true or not – was never really a realistic option for us anyway. Yet the anger from people is surprising to say the least. And I am guilty of getting swept up in it too. This seems to happen every summer and every January transfer window, to which I am finding myself asking the question more and more:

When did everyone become so angry?

When was there such division amongst fans over something that isn’t even the main reason we are football fans in the first place? I genuinely don’t have an answer I’m afraid, but I can definitely reference myself as having become more susceptible to the frustration, hence why I am deliberately not trying to take to the moral high ground to call out other fans.

I’ve been with The Management for over eleven years and when I’ve asked her recently whether she can remember what I was like in relation to Arsenal, she tells me that I’ve definitely become more vocal in my displeasure at anything Arsenal related. Heck, that’s why I started writing this blog in the first place, so I could have a vehicle to channel my thoughts rather than lying in bed at night stewing over a Mickael Silvestre balls up that has cost us points.

Why have I become more irate? Is it just my age? Am I of the age that most football fans get to (I’m in the early stages of my thirties) where they have had so many years of watching their beloved team that I am so absorbed in it that it affects my mood? Perhaps. When you are younger you worry less about why things happen and more importantly, how they happen. I was a happy teenager when Tony Adams broke through the Everton defence at Highbury to hammer home our third goal and secure the 98 league title. I hadn’t watched as many games that season, I knew the first thirteen or fourteen players in the squad but not the ones on the periphery, so I wasn’t worried about multiple injuries in the same position.

Is it the access and exposure to more football than ever before? In 98 there was nowhere near as many games to watch unless you went to all of them. Not coming from a football mad family, that was always difficult for me, so I relied on TV coverage. The Arsenal website will have been little more than a place to house the teams fixtures and results, so the daily feed of content back in 98 would have been a rarity.

And social media didn’t even exist. To many, this would have been a grand time, and I’m in no doubt that it has had a contributing factor to the increase in tension amongst the Arsenal fanbase. How can it not? I mean, if you throw that many opinions (everyone’s got one, and each one differs from the next) into one centralised place, you’re bound to get some friction. I’ve found in my life that anger fuels anger, which means if a number of people are getting angry, the chances are that it will just build and build like a pressure cooker. People fuel off of each other, mob mentality takes over and you get an explosion of arguments and disagreements.

But I must not besmirch the invention of social media’s after all, it has also done so many good things for me, like introduce me to so many people at The Arsenal that I see on match days. Without Twitter, I’d still be turning up to games five minutes before they start, watch the match, then go home. It’s bloody hard walking into a pub full of people and randomly start interjecting into a circle of friends talking about the game ahead. So having the ability to meet people you sort of already know through conversations online has been a blessing for me personally.

But still, I do wish we could somehow go back to a time where there was less animosity amongst people with so much in common, although I accept that this is an unlikely situation now.

Or am I wrong? Has football always been like this? Have Arsenal fans throughout the ages always moaned about the lack of signings? Or targets missed? Has there always been people with an unwavering support of the manager, locking horns with those that want to see him out of the door quicker than you can whistle the theme to The A Team?

Don’t know. But I’d like to. Why don’t you tell me?

See y’all tomorrow.

Arsenal to come with a health warning

Seat of your pants. Skin of your teeth. Edge of your seat.

Being an Arsenal fan should come with a health warning approved by the Chief Medical Officer of the British Government, or something.

Yesterday’s game was far, far too early in the season to be that nerve-wracking, but ultimately let me pepper today’s blog with the fact that we are in the hat for the Champions League and, with our consecutive Champions League entry confirmed for the 17th time, it ensures we remain in Pot 1. Much to the dismay of the Liverpool friendly national media.

But by golly, we don’t half make it hard for ourselves, don’t we? With no away goal to speak of from the first leg (unlike in most previous seasons), it made the mathematics of yesterday evening really quite simple: win and score goals. Le Boss named the same side that started the game against Everton and in the first fifteen minutes you could tell that the home comforts of The Emirates made the team happier than when on Merseyside last weekend. We popped the ball around quite well, controlled position in the early stages and I thought that it was a patient and probing display. For about thirty minutes. Thereafter, it was almost as if a nervous button was pressed by both fans and players alike, and Besiktas grew into the game a little more.

On Twitter I described Besiktas as essentially a ‘Turkish Crystal Palace’, as their game plan appeared to be to frustrate Arsenal, ensure as many black shirts sat in and around the edge of their own penalty box rarely venturing forward with any numbers to attack. As was the way with teams from overseas they liked an occasional nudge, but fell to the floor when touched, epitomised no better than in the second half with a really quite farcical semi rollie-pollie action from one of the Turkish players. Unfortunately we had an abysmal referee, who I’ll come to shortly, so the theatrics were tolerated more frequently than they should have been.

But anyway, the Turkish Crystal Palace, which is probably doing a little bit of a disservice to our opponents. After that first 30 in which they frustrated, there were signs of a good passing team that were clearly set up with a game plan to counter, which if I’m honest could have worked had Debuchy been pulled up on his clear foul inside the box in that first half. Lucky boy. Well, temporarily lucky boy, as we were to find out in the second half as perhaps some karma came back to haunt him for being sent off for a perfectly good tackle in the middle of the pitch with 20 minutes to go.

That sending off made for a very nervy finish to the game, but not as nervy as it would have been had Alexis not got his scoring tally off the mark with a smart finish in the dying embers of the first half. The excellent Wilshere’s exchange with Cazorla (I think) on the edge of the Beisktas box almost found Jack, but he let the ball run for the newbie, who slid the ball underneath the ‘keeper. It was just rewards for a first half in which we’d dominated pretty much all stats.

In fact, given how nervous you and I were throughout yesterday’s match, you do wonder why on earth our opponents failed to muster a shot on target in the entire game. I guess it shows that whilst situations often appear fraught with worry at the time, from a neutrals perspective Arsenal were rarely troubled in defence, to which we have to give credit to the back five. There were some balls over the top that perhaps a better midfield maestro would have found Demba Ba more accurately with, but the limitations of the Turkish Cup winners were clear to see.

Defensively, I thought the two stand out players were our full backs. Debuchy looks like he had been playing at the club for five years, whilst on the other side, Monreal has been a solid performer since called upon in the first weekend of the season. To have a player like that waiting I the wings when Gibbs is out of action is fantastic and Nacho’s performances have left few of us lamenting Gibbs’ broken body so far this season.

In midfield, I thought Jack was brilliant, at the heart of everything we did well with his all-action style. I’ve seen a few people comment that the shackles were released with Ramsey being absent which I think I’ve commented on before, but rather than get into any ‘they can’t play together’ debate today, I think I’ll just focus on the returning to his old self – even if only one game so far – for our Jack.

Unfortunately, that’s where the stand out performances finish, because in the final third I thought we were pretty poor, as in that defensive midfield role that the Flamster occupied. I don’t know whether or not he’s quite match-fit enough yet, but Flamini gave the ball away carelessly a number of times and he didn’t seem to win as many tackles as he normally does. He did win some tackles – he always does – but it appears to me that if he’s not getting carded he’s obviously not feeling himself, which was the case yesterday. Hopefully he’ll have a good game at the weekend to arrest any concerns that he’s already peaked in his career and is now in the descent.

I thought Özil had a quiet game and, perhaps it’s still because he is finding his rhythm again or perhaps because he has been deployed on the left a couple of times already this season, but he flitted in and out of the game. As did Santi. He was anonymous at Everton and I’m starting to get worried about his form. He’s often deployed in that position out wide on the left, which isn’t his best, but he does go very quiet for large swathes of the game and I feel like I’m noticing it more and more.

The Ox was also a little more quiet than he has been, but he’s still a young lad, so there’s no point chastising a performance. He’s still a dangerous and creative outlet and, had he capped the night off with a goal towards the end when he found space from an Özil cross, we’d probably all be saying something different. Such is how the narrative can shift with goals.

That’s why Alexis’ performance can be viewed as a successful one. Score. Check. Close down and show a willingness to give everything for the team. Check. Demonstrate some good ball control and retention. Check. But there were still sit some instances where you could tell that he wasn’t 100% ready and occasions when his feet were not in tune with the rest of his body. There’s no need to panic though, as it was nowhere near as Gervinhoy as it could have been, so I’ve no doubt as he becomes more aware of his own teammates styles and also now that he is off the mark with a goal, the rest will come.

We did lack a cutting edge in the final third though. For all the gnashing of teeth and exasperation of some sections of the fanbase (I’m guilty of this too I’ll admit) when the Frenchman misses a guilt-edge chance, the next four months will I’m sure provide us all with a clear indication of what he brings to the take, as a focal point of our attacks. Alexis likes to drop deep to collect the ball and as a result it leaves us with no options if we want to move from front to back quickly like we can with Olivier in the team. The result is that unless one of the wide players slots in centrally when Alexis comes deep, we may find it difficult to get ourselves out of bother with longer passes to put us on the front foot. Again, probably another discussion for another day, so I’ll not dwell on it too much.

What the Giroud injury does however, is emphasise that Arsène simply must strengthen within the next five days. We must get a defensive minded midfielder who can play at centre half as an absolute minimum, but now we must be seriously looking at bringing in a player who can play as a focal point in attack. To go into half a season with Sanogo as your main target man is not something you’d expect a team with title aspirations to have. So I would expect Arsène to act. But hey, he rarely does what most of us think is the obvious, so we wait and see what happens.

Before I knock today’s blog on the head, a special mention must go out to the Portuguese, card-happy referee who wrongly dismissed a Besiktas penalty, fell for every soft foul by a Besiktas player, incorrectly sent off Mathieu Debuchy and gave Szczesny a booking for taking an extra five seconds on a goal kick. He did this on the first attempt by Szczesny. Somewhere in London at his home, Julian Speroni will have been laughing his socks off. The only shocker of the day was that a ref so content to book everyone, missed the man who is always booked: Flamini.

And on that bombshell, I shall bid you adieu.

Points first, pretty football second

Howdy fellow Gooner, how is your weekend shaping up? Good? An Arsenal win certainly helps, doesn’t it?

I’m in a good mood on a Sunday morning as I write today’s instalment of my football musings. Draped in my Arsenal dressing gown, tapping away the day after an opening day of the season, watching the Sunday Supplement crew savage United and leave us relatively unscathed. It’s quite nice to have the media not giving us a pasting. Hopefully we can repeat last seasons form up until February with a different ending to March, April and May.

The season is now well under way and The Arsenal are on the board with the first three points of the season. It may not have been from the vintage collection of performances, but it was a performance that got results, which given our recent opening day history that’s nothing to be sniffed at. Palace were always going to be difficult to break down and, regardless of what anybody might say about the disruption of Pulis leaving just days before the game took place, the team had clearly worked hard on their game plan of frustration, it nearly paid off too. Pulis may not have been track-suiting his way around the dugout, but that was his team out there.

I actually thought we started quite brightly. The movement seemed ok and the retention of the ball was alright. The passing radar seemed to be a little wayward but there are always kinks to be ironed out on the opening game of the season. Arsene’s surprise inclusion of Sanogo had a few eyebrows raised and there’s clearly something that he sees in the young Frenchman, because he’s giving him plenty of opportunity to prove himself. Unfortunately, I am not quite seeing what Arsene sees, because what I saw was a young and raw player whose first touch isn’t that great. Le Boss clearly wants to see a big, strong, powerful target man leading the line, which is why Sanogo was given the nod. I can only assume Giroud still isn’t 100% fit, but he’ll only get that way with games, so at some stage he’ll have to throw him in from the start.

So we looked okayish, but lacked a little bit of bite in the final third in the first half. Palace defended well as a unit and sat relatively deeper, with Speroni given the freedom to waste up to five minutes a half with every opportunity that he was presented with. It really is a bugbear of mine actually. Yesterday it became so farcical that at one stage Aaron Ramsey was using his fingers to show referee Jonathan Moss how long the Palace ‘keeper was taking. All Moss had to do was to have a quiet word in the first fifteen minutes – when the time wasting began – with Speroni and tell him he’d book him if he persistently time wasted and all of that would have been avoided. But nope, he allowed it to carry on and it became a joke towards the end.

But it was Rambo who had the last laugh anyway, with a poachers finish in the dying embers of the match. Oh how is would have loved to have been able to whisper “time waste all you want now mate” in his ear after we scored that late winner. They always feel the sweetest when they’re scored so late with little time to reply, so it feels extra groovy this morning that we’re off and running.

As you and I both know, it didn’t all go to plan yesterday, especially in the first half. With the towering Hangeland clearly a danger from set pieces, you’d have thought we’d spend a bit more time working out who and how to mark him better. But alas, our zonal marking was another root cause of our own dismay and Hangeland was able to run in a straight line in the box to nod the ball in at the back post. Quite why we decided we don’t need men on it is beyond me. When I first started playing football, it was one of the first bits about defending that I was taught, so quite why it isn’t the most natural and unspoken law of basic football defending in the professional game is a bit beyond me if I’m honest.

But if we were to fall foul of shoddy defending, then so were Crystal Palace, as our first half injury time goal from Koscienly but floated across from Alexis was well delivered and well timed. It was just the tonic needed before halftime.

The second half was similar to the first. We stuttered a bit and our fluency that was so evident against Moneychester City wasn’t quite there, with Santi Cazorla of all people looking the most bereft of form and confidence based on yesterday’s game. He was off-key all game; misplaced passes, losing possession and not as spritely as we’ve come to expect. It wasn’t just him though, Jack seemed slightly wayward in finding red shirts at times, and when he came on the Ox was not at his best. However, there’s one thing that this Arsenal team has that teams of the recent past lacked a little, which is the belief that they will get the result. It’s easy to speculate, but an Arsenal of four years ago probably wouldn’t have been able to make that second breakthrough. We’d have huffed and puffed, but there’s no way the house would have been blown down, so seeing Rambo nick it in injury time was not only a relief of the points, but a belief that the players back themselves to have a good season too. After all, the tired footballing clichés of ‘never giving up’, ‘winning whilst playing badly’ and ‘the best teams always score late goals’ are already being pointed in the direction of Arsene’s charges this morning.

Let’s have a paragraph of praise for Chambers as well though, eh? What an assured performance from one so young. He looks as composed as a 29 year old, not one that’s 19. There will be tougher tests to come for him in an Arsenal shirt, but this particular one was passed with flying colours, which will give every Gooner satisfaction that the heart of the defence has some depth. We still need another body, but the signs are positive for this young lad, which is great to see.

Debuchy also had a decent game and proves that when you buy proven experience in the Premier League you get instant results, which is why there’s not too many of us that should be too concerned with Alexis’ indifferent game. He’s still finding his feet in a new league, has to get used to our style of play, so I’m not too worried.

I also thought Monreal did well too, which is just as well, because if Gibbs has a hamstring injury then the Spaniard will be needed for the next few weeks. I suspect he’ll get a few games to stake a regular first team spot, so let’s hope he replicates yesterday’s performance on Tuesday night against Besiktas and beyond.

Roll on Tuesday. And thank Bergkamp the football’s back!