My Champions League tips, as Per flags down a bus

Forget hyperbole of Wayne Rooney being ‘back’ after he scored a hat trick against an underwhelming Club Brugge yesterday evening, today is all about the Group Stage proper and finding out who we’ll see rocking up at the Emirates from Seltember.

We’re in Pot 2, which means that we’ll certainly not face Real Madrid, Porto, Atletico, Valencia or Leverkusen, but it does mean we’ll get one of the ‘big boys’.

I say ‘big boys’, but whilst Pot 1 features league winners like Chelski, Barcelona, Bayern and PSG, it also has Benfica, Zenit and PSV, so there’s an outside chance we could still be favourites for the group even though we’re not seeded as one of the best any more.

The seeding is a bit farcical anyway, because it effectively guarantees teams like from leagues where most of the opposition are cannon fodder every weekend, a seat at the top table and a status that doesn’t really befit them. I’d wager it’s a lot harder to finish third in the Premier League than it is to top the Portuguese Super Lig, or whatever the devil they call it. But I guess “Them’s is the rules” and we have to abide by them.

I fancy us to get Bayern or PSV again. That seems to be the standard in the Champions League, that you play teams that you feel like you play every year. A decent draw of teams we’ve hardly ever played would be Benfica, Lyon and BATE Borisov, but I suspect we’ll end up with a group of death including Barcelona, Roma and Wolfsburg. Hey, at least we could all hail the return of The Lord so that would be something to all get our ceremonial pray mats out over.

The draw will happen at 4.45pm UK time, which probably means the UEFA doors will open at midday and much padding will ensue. Pointless ceremonies for all not there, but I’d imagine if you get to go, it beats a day at the office. Maybe I’m just bitter.

What I’m not bitter about, however, is the fact that I get to head up north tomorrow evening to spend the weekend with the in-laws. They just happen to live in Newcastle so hey, the coincidence is welcome by this here Gooner. 

We’ll probably get Arsène’s press conference today, because he and the team are hitch-hiking their way up to the St James’ Sporting Direct Arena of Wonga @ Newcastle stadium, which is why he has to do his pre-match press conference early. Per and Cech are already walking along the A1 looking to flag down a big enough, empty enough bus with which to pile in to. It’s because they’ve got the longest arms and thumbs, you see.

The big news will be on who is available and whether we’ll get another dose of Chambers and Gabriel. If we do get that confirmation, I’d expect them to be better for their second half performance, but I would of course rather see at least one of our Big German or Bart Simponsesque Frenchman available. Monday night showed us the importance of that experience and even if Big Per is available (which I would suspect would see Chambers drop to the bench instead of Gabriel), I think his calming influence would be well felt at the back, despite what some of the naysayers say about him.

I don’t get it you know. The whole ‘Per is sh*t’ rubbish I mean. He’s not blessed with pace, can be cumbersome at times, but he’s been a solid defender since he arrived at the club and his positional sense and organisation of his teammates is an important part of his game that gets overlooked. Just because he isn’t making ‘Hollywood tackles’ – if there is such a thing – doesn’t mean that he isn’t adding value to the team. People need to spend more time watching the play and less time watching and listening to the pundits methinks.

Anyway, hopefully he’s back and hopefully the problem with Koscienly is a short term issue, because we could do without him being sidelined for a prolonged period of time.

We could also do with more goals, something that dear old Mesut has said he’s going to do this season, by being more selfish. By all means my old mukka, if you could just rifle a few more in when you’re put through rather than square the ball, that’d be grand. But as long as Özil continues to dictate games like Crystal Palace away and the second half at Liverpool, then that’ll do too, because he’ll create plenty of chances for others to fluff up. I’m kidding! Jeez, don’t get all touchy and sensitive, ok?

That’s all there is for now. We wait with baited breath on both Le Boss’s words and our Champions League fate. Let’s hope it’s not one that will have us rueing our luck.

Play Walcott and don’t go back to square one

With Chelski and City both picking up the wins that I expected they would yesterday, it adds a wee bit more pressure on us to perform this evening against a Liverpool team who will be buoyed by their own results, if not the way in which they played in those games.

Liverpool represent a serious challenge to our title credentials, because we need to prove that we can beat all of our rivals, as well as being flat-track bullies by beating the so-called ‘smaller’ teams.

I was at a wedding yesterday and I was asked by a Liverpool fan what I thought the score would be. One of the difficult things about the start of the season is that you have no real form or frame of reference to make an educated guess with a question like that. We’ve seen abject failure in the form of West Ham at home, then redemption of sorts with a strong first half performance against Palace and then holding on to the three points, so it’s hard to really talk about any kind of ‘form’.

I mentioned it yesterday, that this time of the season is more about building momentum and dealing psychological blows, rather than the importance of the three points. I think the fact that I couldn’t properly predict a result to the Scouse fan, shows that too.

I suspect we’ll line up exactly the same way in which we played against Palace. I don’t like seeing Ramsey operating as a wide forward, but I think Arsène is desperate to get him in to the team by hook or by crook, so I see it as inevitable that he’ll play. Cazorla and Coquelin have both been good enough in the middle not to be dropped and with Özil running the show against Palace in the number 10 role last Sunday, he’ll be expected to do the same again. The defence picks itself at the moment and with Alexis now back to a bit of fitness and ready to rock and roll, the only real decision for Le Boss is whether or not he opts for the target man in Giroud, or the pace of Walcott.

To an extent, I hope Arsène makes his decision based on who he thinks will cause the greatest threat to Liverpool, rather than just start Giroid out of some kind of hierarchical based thought process. Liverpool have played with three at the back and wing backs in the last two years at The Emirates and we’ve been pretty comfortable in 2-0 and 4-1 wins, but I doubt Rodgers will play the same way tonight. I suspect he’ll play four at the back and look to win the midfield battle with Henderson and Milner being the chief protagonists, then looking to play Coutinho as a number ten behind Benteke. Defensively they’ll most likely have Lovren and Skyrtel at the back and neither are blessed with astronomical pace. So I do wonder if playing Theo might be a consideration. He will force Liverpool to sit deeper defensively and hopefully that would leave the midfield to drop deeper to receive the ball, which would isolate Coutinho and Benteke. We’ve seen from successive victories against Villa last season that if you isolate Benteke he will cut a lonely figure up top, so it will be important for us to try and replicate that because if we don’t, he’ll inevitably be a handful.

Two wins on the trot would allow us to start thinking about putting a run together. A draw means we haven’t really got anywhere, but haven’t lost, which really would feel like we’re back to square one. I hate square one. Square one sucks.

Stay away from square one Arsenal.

Hoping Welbeck doesn’t go full Rosicky with his injury

Last night I woke up just before midnight to the most brain-stabbingly painful headache at the back of my bonce, I thought my head was going to explode like I was on the Mars surface in Total Recall.

I suspect it was just my body rejecting the 6,624,253rd rumour about Benzema signing. There’s only so much a gooner can take you know?

Anyway, what with people continuing to lose their sh*t over Ottamendi (position we didn’t need to fill) and Pedro (position we didn’t need to fill), I figured taking some time away from football was the best option last night. It was clearly the right choice.

The only real news about Arsenal was the stories of Arsène talking up the qualities of Wellington Silva – something you’d expect given that he wants to give him belief he can make it at the club – at Bolton and I for one will be glad to see him. It will be nice to occasionally switch on to some Championship football with vague interest now and again. Heck, I might even stay up for Manesh on a Saturday evening, maybe.

The current teams news…well…isn’t really team news at all, with Welbeck, Wilshere and Rosicky all still injured and only Wilshere looking like potentially being back any time soon. I have to say the Welbeck scenario is starting to have me worried though. It feels very Rosickesque or Vermaeleny in the whole “we’re not entirely sure why it’s taking so long for his knee to heal” situation. Poor old Tomas ended up missing a season and because of the length of the injury the club had moved on when we finally did get him back. He’s showed signs of the Rosicky pre-injury since then, but he’s never been the same player, which is what concerns me about Welbeck. The longer this goes on, the more likely it feels that he might end up being worse off in the long run. The likelihood that we move on as a club too, is also a possibility and if that happens, it would be a shame for Danny.

I like him. He’s a versatile player, his application and effort is top notch and if only he could have a better final finish on him, he’d probably have usurped Giroud at the top of our formation.

Let’s just hope Arsène sheds a little bit of light on the issue in his pre-match update later today, with that update being a “guys, chill, it’s fine. He’ll be back in no time and he’ll be the same as before”.

Other than that it’s pretty quiet. It’s a bit of a ball ache that we have to wait until Monday before seeing The Arsenal, because it basically means a non-football weekend, even if it does make next weekend more fun because we get two games in a week. Oh what I wouldn’t give for a 3pm kick off. It’s perfectly placed in the day for a few lunchtime beers, whilst still getting home in time for dinner, a nice evening and Match of the Day. Assuming Arsenal have won, of course. But we have to embrace what football supporting life is like these days, I suppose, despite how much it winds us all up.

Right, that’s me for the day, because I’m not speculating about potential players arriving or leaving for that matter. 

See you peeps in the morrow.

Victoria Concordia Crescit – never been more applicable than now

The official dot com site must be as excited about the return to football as us lot, because despite the fact that Arsène’s presser isn’t until a little later this morning, we have a veritable smorgasbord of stories to pour over before Le Boss even takes centre stage.

Thankfully, they’re all positive, unlike the news on Jack’s injury yesterday. The team news appears to be good, with Welbeck and Rosicky back in ‘progressive’ training today, which I for one am thankful for because I’d probably recommend they refrained from ‘regressive’ training. Ahh Shad and his revolutionary fitness and condition ideas, eh?

The return of Alexis and his perpetual motion is also well timed and, whilst I’ve heard a few whispers about him being saved for the month of August, if he’s not at least on the bench by the time Liverpool at home comes around I’d be stunned. I mean, the guy was doing sprint work on holiday for crying out loud, so he won’t be able to be kept at bay for too long. He probably runs in his sleep. It’s a good job he’s got plenty of money and a small frame, because he could afford a bigger bed so as not to injury his lady friend or his dogs.

With or without our Chilean Energiser Bunny, we’ve still got a hatful of options, but the fact he has such desire to return really is pleasing to see. Last season the other players took note and I think they’ll all be trying to have some of his special mojo rubbing off on them, so if it means we’ll have players who are running that extra hard for feel that he’ll make them look bad, then I’m all for it. That’s what competition does for players; they all want to up their game and in a season where one or two pundits are even tipping us for glory, we need all of the drive and determination from the players that we can get.

We also need unity. Arsène had another say about the signing of Theo and Santi and the video was released on the official site yesterday with him talking about the continuity and importance of it to a team. You only have to look at Sven Goran-Erikson’s City, or AVB’s Spuds, or Brendan’s Scousers to see how bringing about root and branch changes to a squad comes with complications. Players don’t know what runs are being made, there might be confusion over positions defensively and sometimes partnerships just don’t work, so I’ll be if you asked ten managers in the Premier League they’d all tell you they’d prefer a settled squad above any amount of transfer dealings. 

Santi and Theo’s signatures were vital to show that The Arsenal is now a collective of people all in it ‘for the long haul’ and wanting to grow together to be successful. Victoria Concordia Crescit folks, Victory Through Harmony. Both seem really pleased too. Whether it’s Theo talking about Arsenal as his second home, or Santi talking about how Arsenal is the perfect place for him, the sense I get as an Arsenal fan is that all of the players are pulling in the same direction. With characters like Gallas and Bendtner six years ago, how can you say that was true for us back then, eh? You can only build friendships, partnerships, understanding and a collective bond with time. It’s only in the last couple of seasons that this kind of comradeship has had the opportunity to grow. The seed was planted three years ago and it’s taken a while for the flower to grow and show its colour.

As for today’s presser, no doubt Arsène will once again be asked about Benzema, no doubt he will once again dismiss it, but I hope we get more positivity about the balance and harmony in the team. That’s what I want to hear from today’s presser, because ahead of the new season, I’m one excited Gooner.

a jolly Mr Positive is enjoying seeing competition at Arsenal breeding winners

Rafa Benitez is obviously a little worried that Karim Benzema’s head is going to be turned by the mighty Arsenal. It’s the only explanation for the repeated denials that he’s going nowhere. But you know Rafa, as Arsène used to find out, sometimes it’s better to let an unhappy player go elsewhere to fulfil his dreams.

Of course I’m being tongue-in-cheek, but that’s just because I’m in a jolly good mood, because at the end of this meaningless, footballess summer we’ve had, there is a light. That light is the Premier League and it starts for us on Sunday at 1.30pm. But there is a little part of me – a really teeny-weeny part – that wonders if there is no smoke without fire here you know. It all feels very much like there are balls in the air and Arsenal are just waiting for them to drop so they can catch one of them.

Right now, Benzema is not for sale, but if after two games he’s not been featuring because Rafa is playing Ronaldo up top, then I just wonder, you know? We had to be patient for Mesut.

Of course I’m also jolly because despite my gaze being averted by clearly a very good footballer being linked, I still firmly believe that we have the squad deep enough to cope with this season on multiple fronts. Nothing has changed my mind. In fact, games like the weekend only serve to enhance my belief. In the pub beforehand I had my colleagues chortling at my expense when I told them I would be ‘Mr Positive’ this season, mainly because that’s not normally my approach pre-game. I can wake up on a Saturday morning feeling confident, but usually by the time I’ve finished my blog and am on the Met Line to the Emirates, I’m a quivering bag of nerves. Regardless of the opposition.

So to hear me extolling the virtues of this team must have made all of my compatriots smile on Sunday. Still, I shall not waver though, because we are  good enough to win this league. Don’t let the so-called ‘experts’ tell you Chelski were jaded, we’re not up for it or any other kind of excuse, because you can be damn sure we wouldn’t have got the same, should we have lost. Perhaps they were a little more tired than us, but I don’t buy that as an excuse. When we get to February and we play a team away from home, having just played midweek in the Champions League, do we expect the team not to win? Nope. We have a squad, we have good players and if we play Leicester away having played Dortmund or Lyon in Germany or France a few days earlier, tiredness doesn’t count. At a big club you’re not allowed to be tired. Tiredness doesn’t win trophies.

So that’s the approach I’m taking. The if a player is looking jaded then Arsène has to rotate. Big Per was interviewed after the game at the weekend and said that players will have to get used to not playing because of the size of the squad. Indeed they will. But they will have to get used to being rotated too, then taking their chance when it comes there way, which by all accounts should hopefully mean that we get better performances. If Danny Welbeck gets a chance up top when becomes back from injury, he knows he’s got to take it, or fear losing his place. If Big Per has a shaky game, he needs to look over his shoulder because there will be two players with their arms raised shouting “Me Sir! Me Mr Wenger! Pick me!”. Competition will breed winners. We need winners.

I think Arsène is going to rotate more than ever before this season. I think he’s going to listen to those around him monitoring the data and the fitness levels of his team. But more importantly than ever, as emphasised by the teams approach at the weekend, I think he’s going to pick a side designed to exploit weaknesses in the opposition. He alluded to it when he talked about playing at do ahead of Giroud to get in behind Cahill and Terry. That’s a manager who is finally watching the opponents, even if it’s only in big games, which is fine by me.

But equally important, I think, is that finally the players can be trusted. It has long been a spoken belief that Arsène lets his players make in-game decisions. He sets them up, gives them their instructions, then leaves them to play out the game, hoping that they will be intelligent enough to react to situations. It’s like the anti-Mourinho, who will micro-manage every aspect of the team both pre and post game. The problem Arsène has had historically though, is that you’d have to question whether some of the players were intelligent enough ‘in-game’ to manage the situation.

I believe they are now. I think that has been further evidenced from the weekend. Arsène hinted at it in his post-match commentary, talking about how he felt the team became a little more apprehensive and defensive than normal. Perhaps I’m reading in to it a little too much, but it sounded to me as if the teams natural cautious approach after we’d scored, was one in which he did not instruct. If that truly is the case, then Arsène can be pleased that he has players who are intelligent enough to know the dangers of the opposition and act accordingly. Let’s hope we see no more gung-ho football of seasons past. That type of football doesn’t win leagues.

So all in all I think it’s a good time to be a Gooner. An exciting time. Roll on Sunday.

Doing a job that upsets Jose: marvellous

One of the most pleasing outcomes of yesterday’s victory over Chelski was, for me, the response of Jose Mourinho. This is a man who has no qualms over having pops at other managers with whom he does not have a good relationship with, so to see him frustrated enough to bemoan Arsenal’s tactics yesterday, was music to my ears.

We did a job on Chelski. We actually did a job. We matched them – probably bettered them – in the first half and then controlled the game in the second. Forget Jose’s claim that we abandoned our philosophy, because footballing philosophy has always been an irrelevance to a man such as him so when Arsenal adapt to a team and the result is a deserved victory, I find it quite amusing to hear his protestations.

But enough about that odious man. He’s already made part of my blog about him. That’s exactly what he wants; for everybody to be talking about him and not the result because the result was perfect.

A clean sheet, a perfect strike from The Ox, as well as signs that this Arsenal team can mix it with the best of them. As champions, you have to call Chelski that, even if it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

We did what Chelski have done to us over the years with Mourinho in charge. We suffocated them. Stifled them. Made life difficult. Think back to the game; Cech made one good save from a free kick just outside the box, but do you remember him getting us out of any major issues by pulling off wonder save after wonder save?

Nope, me either. That’s probably because our back four performed excellently, especially the impregnable Laurent Koscienly, who made interception after interception and tackle after tackle. Neither Loic Remy or Falcao had any major impact on the game thanks in part to the work of Big Per and Kos. Having had a decade of defences that cause me worry, the feeling will take some time to shake, but more performances like that yesterday and I’ll start to feel more comfortable that we can hold on to leads against big teams.

That’s what this game will also do for this Arsenal team; build more belief that we can compete. Big games between those teams that profess to be title contenders are always tight. They tend to be decided by the odd flash of genius or a single lapse in concentration. For too long we’ve had games against the other big teams in which it hasn’t been close enough for us to compete. Yesterday’s result will hopefully have an impact in terms of belief and confidence that we can and we are competing in those tight games again.

The inclusion of Bellerin at right back was an interesting one and perhaps shows that Arsène is adopting the ‘puppet effect’ as Dave puts it – one quick and pacey full back to push forward whilst the other one sits – giving us more defensive cover. But also by having Monreal/Bellerin vs Gibbs/Debuchy, it ensures that two more attCk minded full backs won’t leave us caught out. Some much needed pragmatism from Arsène that will hopefully serve us well during the season.

The midfield of Coquelin holding, breaking up the play, alongside Santi pulling the strings, worked well at times, but our ball retention could have been a little better. It’s times like yesterday – when the passing is a little off – that we need players like Santi to have the ball more than any other, because he’s usually the player who can retain possession better than anyone. He is going to be important for us this season. I’m convinced of that.

Mesut took a bit of time to warm in to the game, probably because he found his space closed down quite frequently from a Chelski side who clearly didn’t want him pulling the strings, but he still had an impact, switching the play to Theo before the striker found The Ox to hammer home. I found it pleasing to see that Özil and Ramsey were quite fluid in their movements yesterday. Neither occupied the left or central too much I felt and, given that we faced the best opposition we’re going to face this season, I think it bodes well for us. Both players will find more space against the ‘smaller’ teams and I think we’ll see their impact a lot more than the patches we saw yesterday. We defended well yesterday and so the game of those two players had to suffer as we held our collective defensive shape, but that won’t be the case for the whole season. I’m sure of it.

Up top Arsène featured both Giroud and Walcott and although I could understand the logic of Theo up against two slower centre halves in Terry and Cahill, for me it didn’t quite work as well as when Giroud came on. He’s a more polished striker in terms of his overall game compared to Walcott and you could tell by the way he peeled off the centre backs and nearly scored at the back post within a few minutes of coming on. He should really have scored late on when standing seven or eight yards from goal, but thankfully that miss didn’t come back to haunt us.

I’d been saying all weekend that this game was nothing more than a posh friendly and I still haven’t changed my approach, but with confidence and belief in the squad looking high at the moment, this performance can still be used by the manager and players to keep them riding high until we play West Ham. The game yesterday will count for nothing if we don’t show up against The Hammers, but we’ve given ourselves the best possible preparation to make sure we’re ready, so let’s hope this is just the start of something special.

We’ll get victory through harmony – the players believe it

Stability is a place called Arsenal these days. With the announcement that Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla have both renewed their contracts with a four and three-year deal respectively, we have seen two of the recently unanswered questions be unequivocably dealt with by the club. In terms of keeping the continuity of the squad together, only the inking of a new deal of Nacho Monreal is left to ensure that this is – in theory (because we all know that contracts can be exited via buy outs from other clubs in the form of transfers) – a collective of players that we should be able to grow together for many years to come.

I’ve been saying this for quite a bit of this summer, but this is a squad that I personally feel very happy with. They have not been taken apart through transfer saga’s or contracts being run down, instead Arsene and the Arsenal staff have augmented the team with better players. World class players. Whilst many clubs like Liverpool have been overhauling their squad for a couple of seasons, we have seen relatively little player inwards movement, because we simply haven’t needed it. You build a beautiful and delicious cake with time and a careful hand, not by chucking all of the ingredients into a blender and hitting warp speed four.

This is a squad who are going to grow together. I feel it. Silly videos like the one in the swimming pool when they were all together heading it may all look like nothing, but I’m sure they give us a window into squad harmony and morale. Everyone seems to be pulling in the right direction. Everyone wants success.

Theo knew that. That’s why this contractual saga of his hasn’t lasted very long at all. He’s at an age where ambition is essential. He needs to feel like he can win things and the apparent ease in which this has happened (although I’d bet the negotiators on both sides will probably say that it wasn’t that easy when you were on the inside!) shows that he feels he can. He’s 26 years old and having spent 10 years at Arsenal, he probably feels like this is the best possible time to be picking up medals. I hope he’s right. We all do.

We’ve all got the bug you see. We’ve had two year’s of the FA Cup and now we want more. Our thirst has not been quenched, it has only been abated. We want bigger. We need better. The players are the same and you can sense it in what they are all saying. The way they are talking about the club has the sound of those that really believe it and in sport belief is as important as experience, confidence and technical ability. The players all have technical ability. We’ve got a squad bristling with it. But perhaps over the last ten years the belief has not been to the level it is now. That belief has come with trophy wins in the last two seasons and with those trophy wins we also have players who know how to win things. They know how to get over the line.

Cazorla too has been rewarded with a new deal. He’s thirty years old and the club have signed him up for another three years I believe. That shows you just what an impact our tiny little Spaniard has had. I think he still had a year or so to run on his deal and so Arsenal could have got to next summer and given him a one year extension, but they have decided that he’s a guy that we should keep around for a few year’s to come. Let’s not forget that Santi was a player who has been linked with moves back to Spain even as soon as a few weeks ago. He’s always said he would like to go back and finish his career in Spain, but his style and the way he plays probably means he could be playing well in to his late thirties, so him sticking around for another three years can only be a good thing. Like Theo, he has probably seen the potential of this team and is hungry to realise his dreams by picking up more medals with Arsenal.

It’s a commitment from Santi in his belief, but it’s also a commitment from the club too, which I think has to be applauded. The club recognise what an impact he has. His close control, his ability to retain possession, his new-found position of a deep lying playmaker, all of this last season was a vitally important cog in the machine that was churning out victory after victory post-Christmas 2014. His resurgence in the team (let’s not forget that people thought it might be the end of his time this time last year) has coincided with the team’s performance and if we’re going to win the league this season, we’re going to need Santi in the team.

What his and Arteta’s signatures does, is do something that perhaps Arsenal have been accused of not doing in the past, which is successfully pairing the need for youth, players in their prime and those with experience that can take the younger players under their wings. Balance. Harmony. Victory through it all. That’s what The Arsenal’s successful history has been built on and that is how we can win that Premier League trophy again.

I’m excited. Bring on the Premier League. Let’s see how far this team can take us.

Less swagger, more resolute, better Arsenal

Two trophies in as many weekends and a chance next weekend to make it three in a row, against the so-called unbeatable Mourinho, means we’re all riding pretty high at the moment. For preseason that is.

Yesterday’s Emirates Cup victory and subsequent lifting of the trophy may not have had the swagger of Saturday’s performance, but it still showed a resolution and steel to this Arsenal squad that we should all be pleased with, even if it was only a friendly. 

In Wolfsburg we had opponents who finished second in the Bundesliga and had won the German Cup, so anybody suggesting they should be football fodder for the team, would have had a bit of a surprise on them. De Bruyne and Schürrle as creative outlets and The Lord up top are a decent enough threat to pose, so perhaps we should have been less surprised by their opening half of dominant pressure, than we actually were. 

But much like the criticism of Arsenal that has been levelled historically, Wolfsburg only once or twice tested Cech and in the main, we looked relatively comfortable at the back I thought. The Germans had lots of possession, but less cutting edge, it seemed.

We should probably also look at the selected XI that Arsène chose as another explanation as to why we couldn’t really get any fluency in to our game. Sure, we had Mesut and Santi to pull the strings and there were definitely enough first teamers out there for us to look a little more polished, but it didn’t quite click without players like Ramsey to keep us going with his energy and movement at the top and bottom of the pitch. That’s what it felt like to me, anyway.

Özil only played the first half, but he looked the most threatening to score and I think you can certainly say with some comfort, that he’s ready to make a big impact this season. He’s dictated some of these friendly games and even bagged some goals, so if he can carry that in to the real stuff this season, we’ll all be the beneficiaries. 

The other star of the show went to Jeff Reine-Adelaide, the 17-year-old wonderkid whose lit up the Emirates Cup this season. His close ball control and ability to dart in between an opponent or two, had me at times thinking of some sort of Paddy and Wilshere hybrid, but I need to temper the praise a bit for a player who I didn’t really even know existed before this weekend. He was influential in Walcott’s second half goal and although many speculated over a loan move after the match, Arsène’s comments about him needing to train with the first team before that were interesting, because it’s clear he sees big things for him.

I don’t think Arsène will be thinking that he’ll be a regular starter and I would be surprised if we were to see him even make the bench against West Ham in a couple of weeks, but Wenger’s comments did make me wonder about how he likes to mould his players, ensuring that ‘The Arsenal away’ is ingrained in them before they are let out on loan. Perhaps he feels that a season at a Bolton or a Hull City, for example, would only serve to give him experience and not the technical requirements he’d need to operate in our team. Arsène’s Arsenal play neat, quick-paced interchanging of passes and perhaps he feels that young Reine-Adelaide would be better served learning that way before gaining first two experience elsewhere on a regular basis.

Let’s see what he does about Reine-Adelaide’s future. 

One player whose future looks to be coming to a positive conclusion, is that of Theo Walcott, who Arsène admitted is ‘close’ to agreeing a deal. The rumours started over the weekend that it had been done and with Le Boss making such an admission as he did, you’d like to think it’s all but dusted too, which I have to say will feel relatively painless compared to last time. It’s certainly fair to say the circumstances and situation the club is in makes a difference, but I was still expecting this to go on for some months now, so the fact that both parties seem to have reached an accord means it’s one more piece of the Arsenal puzzle moving in to place. 

For all the media bluster and fan chomping for a new signing of two, at least we have the balance and the harmony of the team at a point where we can all be happy that we will compete, which is all any of us want anyway. 

So we’re in a good place. Preseason has been positive, the team are playing positive, we’re looking like we could give Chelski and City a run for their money. This time next week we may have even broken the hoodoo of José over Arsène too. You never know.

The perils of recorded Arsenal games and the lure of home

Welcome to Friday. I don’t know about you, but it’s a week that certainly has dragged for me. Is it because there is no football on? Is that what it is? No football, plus no real mega exciting news to speak of, equals slow-diddly-oweness. I guess there was some football on Wednesday, but I was at work so it wasn’t really something I could ‘look forward to’ so to speak. And as much as I try with recorded games that you watch after the event, it’s never quite the same, is it?

I always get a little bit too remote control trigger-happy. Throw ins, corners, stoppages in play; they all get fast forwarded. Which then completely ruins the ‘live’ experience and thrill. It’s also the unknown factor of watching it live. When you and I are watching The Arsenal live, wherever we are, we’re all in the same boat and we experience the same nerves. But we also experience the same adrenaline. All of that gets washed away when you know the result. I’ve tried to avoid all fonts cat with humans that might divulge that information in the past, but in the end it never really works out, so I gave up on that a long time ago. It’s a bit like the people on the news who say “if you don’t want to know the result, look away now”, then within a second they both say and show the result. How the devil are you supposed to react that quickly? Especially if you’ve been inebriated all day!

Anyway, tomorrow will feel a little bit more like things are getting back to the norm, because it’ll be a 1.30pm kick off UK time, plus a Saturday so I can watch the game without having to do that ‘work’ thing that gets in the way of live. And it’s another Premier League club in the shape of Everton, so that will help to trick my brain into feeling like we’re getting backflip the norm.

Why can’t they just pay us to be Gooners, eh? 

Ahh, right, yes. Because that would make us players. And probably bankrupt the club. But it’s a nice idea. Maybe I’ll write to Ivan. If you don’t buy a ticket n’all that…

There seems to be a bit more rumbling about Nacho Monreal to Bilbao. More than many of us would like it has to be said, but I do find it staggering (if true) that a club can hold so much sway over a player just because it’s in a certain region. It’s like Bilbaoan (did I get that right?) people don’t realise that if you’re a footballer, you’re supposed to be greedy and a little bit simple, but gifted with a spherical thing at your feet. The move is baffling in the extreme. If Nacho wants to go back to the club one day then you can understand it, but having just spent two years unseating Gibbs from the left back slot at one of the biggest clubs in Europe, why would you decide to join a mid table team? It’s like Gareth Bale leaving Madrid for Swansea because he misses the high levels of unemployment and people drinking Special Brew on the street at 11am on a Tuesday. 

I just don’t get it. But then again, I am from London and there perhaps aren’t the same ties as there are for the Spanish region, or even the rest of the UK I suspect. I mean yes, you’ve got the Geordies and the Mackems who are all football mad and one-club cities, but players don’t feel an unexplainable draw to the club whatever the circumstances. Just look at Jordan Henderson moving to Liverpool as a case in point. Or Andy Carroll to Liverpool too, for that matter.

Perhaps it’s got something to do with the fact he’s only got a year left on his deal and he’s angling for another three years, where as Arsène would probably only be angling for a one year extension given that he’ll be 30 in February next year. I’d offer him three. He’s deserved it and besides, having reached the tender age of 32 myself, I’d like to think he’ll still be useful when he hits my age.

Anyway, all of this could very well be Spanish tabloid mischief making, so I should probably just forget about it and think more about how exciting it will be when Big Per and Arteta lift the Premier League trophy in May next year.

As for what else is happening, well, there isn’t really anything of note. There’s more rumblings about Benzema but really, are we going to head down that well trodden route? I’m bored of it already, so I know you must be too.

And with all this in mind, I say my good day to you and hope that tidings find you well. 

Chuba to ‘Kane’ it up?

Happy Thursday fellow Goonerite. And lo, we have some actual football to talk about! 

Yep, pre-season is officially underway and kicked off yesterday with a 4-0 romping of those world beaters known as the Singapore XI, with goals between Chuba Akpom and Jack Wilshere ensuring that it will be more realistic for the lazy of us to watch the final on Saturday. Why? Well because the final is on at 1.30pm, where as the third/fourth place playoff is at around 11am, I believe. It’s a relief because let’s face it, if you’re in the UK and you’re a somewhat lazy Arsenal fan like me, there’s an outside chance you might not make that.

Accuse me of disloyalty or not having enough passion, but these friendlies are so stop-start they can hardly be classed as thorough entertainment and the fact that they don’t actually mean much, pretty much compounds the whole issue of having to get up early to watch.

But anyway, we don’t have to worry about that, or our striking problems ever again, because Big Chuba is on hand to break his way into the first team, giving Arsène the delightful opportunity to close the doors at London Colney and declare: “we’re full mate, you’re not coming in” to any more players.

Of course we all know the reality is that bagging a hat trick against a Singapore XI is a little different to doing it in the Premier League against Moneychester City, or on a cold Tuesday in Stoke (had to get at least one irritating cliché in there), but what it will do is give Chuba confidence that he belongs amongst his fellow first team pros. There are high hopes for him and although I still suspect a loan deal is in the offing before the window shuts, it is nice to imagine that he could be this seasons Coquelin, isn’t it? I mean come on, you’re not one of those so hungry for a thrill that only a £40million striker will quench your football thirst, are you?

Think about how much fawning the media did over Kane last season? Then imagine that Chuba can make people think ‘Kane who?’ with a fantastic season?

I know, I know, we probably shouldn’t be gambling a season of potential Premier League glory on an unproven striker, but we won the league with relative unknown Anelka, so why not at least dream a little? It’s far more preferable than the whole “SIGN ALL THE PLAYERS!!!!!!” Mentality that some people have. You’ll probably live longer too.

Besides, Arsène hasn’t ruled out any signings like he’s been known to in the past, so if you do fall in to the latter camp you can take a chill pill. I think if a megastar becomes available, Arsène will go for it, because we’re in a position where we need cherries on top and not sponge or jam in our cake. Or some sort of other metaphor that probably works better. I’ll let you have a go at that one.

In terms of the other positive performances yesterday, I can only go on the written word that I’ve read, because I haven’t managed to watch the whole game yet. But by all accounts it appears that Jack had a good game and his apparent ‘burst’ has returned, as noted by the manager post game, so that’s a positive sign for the upcoming season. What Jack might not have wanted to hear from Le Boss is that he may have to ply his trade out wide at times this season, on account of the overwhelming number of players whose best position is central. We’ve already seen it last season with Rambo playing wide right and, given Arsène’s comments yesterday, there’s part of me that wonders whether or not the start of the season will see Wilshere crop up on the left hand side of the front three.

I hope not. Not because Jack isn’t a good player or I don’t want to see him play, but because I think we have better and more creative options to replace Alexis at the start of the season, as he recovers from the Copa America. I think Welbeck or The Ox are more naturally suited to those attacking positions and with the team we have and the depth that now exists in the squad, it would be worrying for us to see Arsène going back to old habits and putting square pegs in round holes to accommodate players.

Anyway, there is still plenty of pre season to try and dissect Arsène’s thinking from a tactical and personnel perspective and as we’ve all learnt by now, what Arsène says in the media should sometimes be taken with a pinch of salt. The game yesterday was full of subs as expected and when friendlies are as bitty as that game apparently was yesterday, you can’t really make any half-decent judgements on the team for the upcoming season.

So that’s pretty much it from me for today. My train approaches a big black hole, so I’ll sign off and say “see ya tomorrow”.