The addiction – Debuchy fuelled

Oh, hello again, how are you? Been busy over the last 24 hours? Been refreshing Twitter/NewsNow Arsenal feed to hope to see something about incoming transfers?

Yeah, me too.

The problem I have with this obsession though, is that after a while the thrill of the chase for a new player begins to wear off. I suppose it’s like any addiction really, the more you do it, the number the original thrill becomes. I’ve read so many different re-hashed versions of the Sanchez story, that I’m now pretty much immune to anything that happens, I reckon anyway. When he’s standing next to Arsene holding up an Arsenal shirt I’ll probably do a bit of a shrug and wonder who we’re after next.

(I blatantly won’t by the way. I’ll be just as giddy as when Johnny Cochrane told me to turn on the TV and go to Ceefax page 302 because we’d just signed Sol Campbell)

That ‘next’ person might actually happen before all of the Sanchez shenanigans are completed, as people started to get a little bit chattery online at the fact that Matthieu Debuchy had removed all references to Newcastle United on his social media accounts. Honestly, it’s come to something when we’re all taken in by small glitches in the Matrix like that, hasn’t it? Football fans are masters of putting two and two together to make the Sistine Chapel. I’m just as guilty though, I’ll have you know, as I saw Giroud’s random tweet which linked to the Twitter account of the Government of Monaco and asked myself the question “why is he doing that? What does he mean? Has someone from Monaco spoken to him? Tapping up? GET UEFA INVOLVED SO THEY CAN DO NOTHING ABOUT IT BUT WE CAN ALL GET OUTRAGED AT THE BRAZEN NATURE OF THE CASH-RICH CLUBS!

Imagine if you were a footballer that literally didn’t give two sh*ts, you could constantly mess with the minds of fans like some sort of social media puppeteer. But then again, you would probably be Joey Barton, and nobody needs that.

As for Debuchy, I would have no problem at all with him at the club, as a solid replacement for Sagna. Premier League experience, French international and if he was playing in a better defence, who knows how much he could step up. As with all Arsenal fans these days though, I’m not so sure about the fee, what with me being an amateur accountant and also contributing to approximately 0.00000001% of the transfer indirectly through my season ticket and other promotional merchandise items purchased during the season.

I think he’d be a solid signing, and would be the right age for Jenkinson to feel like he could displace the Frenchman within the next couple of years, so as not to de-motivate him from pushing for that slot. His stats stack up ok as well, although I won’t bother to reference them as they were being banded about around Twitter last night following a Sky Sports comparison between Debuchy and Sagna.

Before anyone goes Debuchy bashing about him at Newcastle, let’s also not forget he was in a team under the influence of Pardieu, who essentially looked like they weren’t trying for large swathes of last season. So just because your manager is the biggest tool in the idiot box, doesn’t mean that your stock as a player should be low, in fact if anything we should be praising him for even remotely bother under the gimp that is Ashley’s pet.

Heck, after Mike Ashley’s company made the faux pas over the kits being on their website too early, Dick Law should be able to start his opening discussions with “Now Mikey, that was a naughty little thing you did there, wasn’t it? That’s a paddlin’. And then, let’s talk about a discount on your right back…”. Works for me!

Anyway, there’s the square root of bugger all going on right now, but tonight is a fun game as Brazil take on Colombia and France vs Germany makes the first stage of quarter finals. I fancy the Colombians to cause an upset. Brazil have just about used up all of their luck in this competition through the group stages and the penalty victory against Chile and the Colombians have man of the tournament Rodriguez banging in goals for them at the moment, so I’m going for an upset there. The second game will be harder to call, but I have a sneaky suspicion that the Germans – despite not really clicking yet – will do what’s needed to progress. Either way, there’s a handful of our players who will be getting on the plane home this weekend, as we’re pretty well represented on both counts in that game.

That’s enough jibber-jabber from me for one day. I’ll see thee in the morrow.

To Cesc, or not to Cesc, please don’t ask me the question!

I’m in a bit of a quandary right now. Having seen the rumours of Cesc Fabregas potentially leaving Barca beginning to hot up, the dilemma I feel must certainly be one that you are party to as well, right?

The dilemma is, of course, whether or not Arsenal should activate the return clause that sees the Catalan born midfielder return to the club that made him the superstar he currently is. Should Arsene, and Arsenal, grasp the opportunity of reuniting one of it’s adopted sons?

The first question that reverberates around my head is ‘do we even need him any more?’ and the answer that keeps coming back isn’t a straightforward ‘yes’. After all, in the middle of the park we are gifted with so many options right now, that another midfielder is going to make it seem quite a congested place. We’re hardly going to evolve our formation into a 2-6-2 approach were we to sign Cesc, are we?

I know of course there is the argument that you can never have enough quality, so if a world class player becomes available you should go out and get him, but there are surely other areas that need strengthening first? Mind you, when we all thought the club were going to go all out for a striker last summer, we ended up with the deliciousness that was Mesut Özil. That was an amazing signing and lifted the club to such an extent that I’m convinced it resulted in helping our ten game winning streak.

So given that Cesc is a great player, should we take up the buy back option? Again, I’m still not sure. This being Arsenal, we know that there are a finite amount of resources available to Le Boss, so what we really want to see is the business being done in the key areas for strengthening before we start to look at what I would call ‘luxury’ players i.e. Players in positions where we’re already covered. If we take the assumption that Arsenal have £100million to spend this summer, there needs to be an apportion of that spent on a right back, defensive midfielder and a striker at the very least. If you believe what is being written about Cesc being valued at £30million, that leaves a ‘war chest’ of £70million. You might find a right back for £10million, perhaps a defensive midfielder for £15-£20million, which leaves £40million for a striker. Sounds feasible, but what about another goalkeeper? Or a central defender if we lose Vermaelen? That’s an extra £15million at least I would have thought, to cover those two positions, which means you’re looking at you’re pot of cash for a striker dropping down to £25million.

Still sounds achievable, I know, but I simply cannot see Arsenal spending all of their pocket money in one summer. I’ve spoken to a few Gooners on this subject, as well as listened to the excellent Arsecast Extra and the general consensus I’ve heard is that Arsenal will spend between £40-£70million tops this summer. If half of that is on Fabregas, we’re not going to address all of our problem positions with the right level of quality, are we?

The footballing world has become a smaller place and Arsene and his team of scouts can no longer scour the African plains to find themselves hidden gems. The chances are Chelski have already snapped them up and sent them on loan for the last three years.

But coming back to the Cesc dilemma, I’m also reminded of a conversation I had with a friend about the attitude of the Spaniard in his last season at the club, which doesn’t exactly fill me with glee. I’m not an ‘ITK’ wannabe and I certainly don’t like sounding like one, but somebody quite senior within Arsenal told my friend that his attitude with the club in that last season was appalling. He sulked, he moped and despite the public displays, behind closed doors he was a different person. I almost didn’t want to hear that story when I first found out. I mean, Cesc has been our hero and built this reputation as a lover of Arsenal, but when I heard that story (and I am 100% convinced of its legitimacy given where it came from) it tainted his legacy at the club and has made me question whether I’d want him back at all.

But then there’s also this irrational part of me that thinks ‘we HAVE to get Cesc back, if anything to avoid him joining another Premier League team’. It’s the kind of illogical prerogative you are allowed as a football fan I guess. I would rather the club spend £30million on a player in a position that we are pretty fully stocked in, just to make sure it doesn’t strengthen our rivals as much, which is especially crazy given my concerns regarding having a pot big enough to fritter away that sort of cash.

The counter argument to that is of course that Barca already still owe us cash from the Fabregas deal. It’s probably only £5million odd, plus the fact we have a but back option of £25million, so we could pay as little as around £20million. Which suddenly makes the deal a little bit more attractive I suppose.

Arrrgggh! Can you tell how conflicted I am in today’s blog? I have just as many ‘for’ as ‘agin’ points on this potential transfer!

Ultimately I will have no impact whatsoever on what happens and Arsene will be the one that makes the decision, to which I will support and cheer him on as much as I can, I just hope he makes the right decisions in other areas of the pitch too. I’ll leave it in his hands then. And if he calls me for advice, I’ll get the Management to answer and tell him I’ve just popped to Sainsbury’s.

Catch you tomorrow.

Season review: did the attack cost us the league?

Today’s blog is my final one of the season for an overall review of specific areas of the team and, whilst the first three were relatively lengthy, I don’t feel like making this a ‘War and Peace’ analysis of the front line.

This is mainly in part down to the fact that the ‘feel good factor’ still exists amongst Arsenal fans. We’ve won the FA Cup just over a week ago, we’ve celebrated the 25th anniversary of Anfield 89 yesterday, and the spirits every seem to be high. So I’m loathed to take on board too much negativity and dish it out to you in any kind of volume at such a good time to be a Gooner.

Let’s also not forget the fact that this season has already seen a concentrated and rather drawn out series of collective sighs when talking about our front line, as we have seen a league title slip from our grasp, due to a manager unwilling to strengthen in that much needed position for two transfer windows. Where he once collected strikers, he now covets creative midfielders, so it seems.

Everyone has talked enough about the issues, including myself, so I’m going to try to focus on the positives of our front line. Because there are positives. Injury aside, Theo Walcott looked like he could continue his fantastic form of 2012/13, had injury not struck him after being played so intensively when back from injury. His season may have been ‘cameotastic’ in the most part, but he still contributed to some good displays during that period of time, which should bode well for next season. It would be a delight to see what he and Özil could achieve together if given an extended run of a dozen or so games. He has the pace, he has the finishing ability and whilst Santi did excel in the Özil role before Mesut’s arrival, we’ve already seen (right at the beginning of the season) what could happen when Theo and Mesut are put together. Think Sunderland away, where Theo was put through three times in the first half and had he had his scoring boots on that day, it would have been a rout.

Perhaps that feeling of ‘what might have been’ is a common theme across all of our front line. After all, the Ox was a preferred starter on the right wing for the first game of the season against Villa, which was a heck of a statement by the manager that he thought the season might be a good one for him. Who knows what kind of Ramseyesque form Oxlade-Chamberlain might have exhibited had he not picked up that knee ligament injury. As it was, he returned to the team and put in some stellar displays at an important time, dominating both Cyrstal Palace and Bayern Munich away games. Arsene says he will become a central midfielder eventually, and we certainly have seen evidence of that, but I suspect his punctuated season last time out May have extended his apprenticeship in the attacking three positions and we’ll see more of him there next season too.

On the left we have flitted between Cazorla and Podolski throughout the season, both square pegs in round holes to a degree, but both able to play that position to some effect. Cazorla’s flexibility affords him the ability to be effective in any of three positions across the attacking four (if you include the Özil ‘in the hole’ role) but we’ve also seen that his flexibility has allowed Mesut to move around the pitch more freely at times. I think to that Everton FA Cup match when Santi found himself in the centre supplying Özil on the left for the first goal, or the cup game against the Spuds when he leathered in Gnabry’s pass whilst timing his run to appear on the left.

Podolski is an entirely different enigma and one that I don’t think any Arsenal fan will ever understand. He is 100% end product and that is both delightful and infuriating in equal measure. Arshavin was a bit like that; an ‘all or nothing’ style player but, unlike the German, he was nowhere near efficient enough and after a couple of seasons was soon feeling the burden of crowd disappointment on his shoulders. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to Poldi. We all love his personality, his goals, his style when scoring. In fact, if you’re like me you’re praying that he could just give an extra 30% more to his game, he’d be one of the worlds best. It doesn’t have to be through technical ability – we know he doesn’t have that in spades – but even if it was in application and a bit more drive, he’d quickly find himself undroppable by the manager. Still, he’s shown us some fantastic goals and he is certainly a scorer in big games too, as he’s proved in his two seasons at the club. I hope he stays for next season, as he most certainly does have a place, especially with the return he gives the team in goals.

So, finally, let’s have a look at the position at the top of the tree. Currently held by Olivier Giroud but with small cameos from Bendtner and Sanogo. And when I say small, I really do mean small. Bendtner has played in a tiny proportion of games and still managed to score, but Sanogo is yet to break his duck, despite looking a bit of a gangly handful at times. Oddly enough, his overall performances haven’t been that bad, he just looks like he is nowhere near ready for the first team and one hopes that this little foray into the starting eleven fold hasn’t damaged his confidence. It doesn’t seem to have. He seems to be a confident sort of chap. Not Niklas Bendtner confident, thankfully, but enough to ensure his mind remains strong in the face of adversity. As for Bendtner, he helped set us on the way to victory against Hull, but ultimately this season has been more about finding out which stupid stunt he has pulled off this week and quite frankly, most of us are glad to see the back of him.

So to Giroud my thoughts now turn as I wrap up this blog. Yet another enigma in our side. A player capable of that deft touch and finish against West Ham only four odd weeks ago, yet still able to drag the ball wide from just outside the six yard box, as I seem to recall him doing against United at home. He is a strong centre forward who looks like his hair holds him up in the wind when the ball is put in front of him to chase, but he has still managed to convert twenty-two of his chances this season. There will be many that will question whether any half decent striker in that Arsenal team wouldn’t be able to bag between 15-20 goals a season, but I think that does a bit of a disservice to him, as he is not just a goalscorer within the team. His deft back heel to give Ramsey his cup winning goal is testament to the additional role as supplier that Giroud plays. He is certainly not without his faults, and I certainly hope priority number one is for another player to compliment his attributes rather than match them with some improvement, but to look at his season as a whole and not agree that he has improved would be wrong in my opinion.

Of all of the areas of the pitch where the team did not quite match what is expected of them, the front three would be one that I would point out as being the stand out this season just past. It has by no stretch of the imagination been an outright failure, to say such things would be incredibly harsh, but it has not quite delivered enough to give us the league title that we all craved so much but ultimately fell short.

More pace needed. That’s for sure. Injuries may have robbed us of that at times during the season, but the failure to address that at a time when we could have done so in January should go down as one of Arsene’s major mistakes of the season. Sure, the addition of a pacey striker would not have led to us conceding less goals in some of those big games, but you don’t need to win all your big games, as victories against Swansea, Stoke and Southampton earlier this year would have given us the extra seven points to be level with the Champions.

Some positives, but certainly some addressing of the faults is needed in the summer, if we are to win the league. See you tomorrow.

Nothing can take away the special feeling of the FA Cup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus du Sautoy

Don’t be satisfied with where we’re at, but be contented with consistency

I watched yesterday’s game between Everton and Moneychester City with quite some interest, as I’m sure you did too, because the outcome would most definitely have a bearing on our season and also on today’s game as well. The eventual result was one that has afforded us an afternoon in the sunshine watching The Arsenal taking on West Bromwich Albion knowing that the result, short of providing a welcome sign off to the home fans this season, is relatively meaningless.

It will add a little bit of carnival atmosphere to The Emirtaes today methinks, knowing that the bare minimum standard that Arsene Wenger sets has been achieved for what is now the seventeenth season in a row under Arsene Wenger. And whilst I like many other Arsenal fans, facetiously cheer our ‘fourth place trophy’, there is no denying that the consistency of what is now deemed as a ‘bare minimum’ is still being achieved. That we have even got ourselves into this position that we’ve left it until the last couple of games before the end of the season, given that six weeks ago we were all looking at a possible title tilt, should probably just be saved for another blog discussion when the season has ended and the dust has settled.

For now, let’s just be contented with the fact that we have Champions League Football back at the Emirates in 2014/15, hopefully going beyond a two-legged affair in August.

So what should Le Boss be doing with his team selection today then, given that he doesn’t have to field a strong side to secure Champions League football? Should he go all rookie and field a team of squad players, or should he tell the first team to go out there and secure two wins in the final league games of the season to pick up 79 points and look back on this season as a mild improvement on last by way of points tally, if not actual league position?

I’m in favour of a full strength squad today actually, and I think Arsene will provide that to the last home crowd of the season, as a send off and hopefully a continuation of our recent form. The return of Ramsey and Ozil has shown a notable shift in our fortunes and we’ve looked like a team driven by purpose in the last stages of this Premier League campaign. Momentum is everything in football and Wenger is long enough in the tooth to know the importance that two more wins will give to the spring in the step of the team come Cup Final Day. Heck, even the Invincibles great run started the season before we actually went unbeaten, so if ever you want to take your cue from a successful formula, that team would be it.

Our form has been superb of late. Three goals on the last three occasions and, although I’m not usually one to make specific scoreline predictions, I do fancy a win by three clear goals today. Perhaps a 3-0 or a 4-1. Against Newcastle the team got the goals to effectively seal off the first half and then topped up the goal difference in the second, never really getting out of second gear, so I sense that we might see a similar game today. The back four will most likely remain the same barring perhaps a role for Jenkinson to replace the injured Sagna (perhaps an early indicator of what we’ll see next season) and I would have thought Ramsey and Arteta will form the basis of the deeper lying midfield positions. In front of them will be a trio of Cazorla, Ozil and Podolski with Giroud most likely to start-up front.

It’s a team that would make sense to me. There’s no need for resting players with over ten days to go until the final. Even if the match was in a week’s time it still shouldn’t make too much of a difference. When you’re playing in a high stakes match and you’ve had a week off to prepare, you can’t really have any excuses for fatigue or motivation. So I think we’ll almost certainly see the strongest side possible, with Arsene making use of his three subs on the usual 75 minutes, which will mean exits for Poldi, Mesut and Olivier (you heard it here first!).

As for West Brom, they will probably feel that they’ve done enough to stay up this year and I’d probably agree to that, especially with there now only being one relegation spot that will swallow a team next week. Norwich won’t get any change from Chelski today, which will mean they must beat us on Sunday week and hope Sunderland slip up next week. But with that extra point that West Brom have, they have a degree of security that should ensure that today isn’t life or death, so it wouldn’t surprise me if today’s game has a real ‘end of season’ feeling to it.

Our form is good, the ‘feel good’ spirit seems to have returned to the squad and the players are showing that they’re up for this final push and hopefully the cup final in two weeks time. Things are looking much rosier for The Arsenal right now. Let’s hope they give us a nice send off at lunchtime.

Catch y’all tomorrow.

Can the real football philosophy please stand up

Hello! Me again…How’s it going? Lots of strange, when I say strange I mean frustrating, things have happened to Arsenal in recent weeks and Chris has covered them perfectly. I wouldn’t expect anything less. We’ve finally got nothing to really fight for, so we decide to turn up in typical Arsenal style.

I’ve finally got something to write about, so…It’s okay, you don’t need to say anything. But let’s not pretend you haven’t missed me either (Ed: I missed you Ben, I missed you. Chris)

We witnessed the recurring ‘evolution’ in footballing styles debate after the Champions League semi finals this week and the overreaction that comes with it. You can almost set your alarm clock to it. It’s that regular.

Football goes in cycles and unfortunately for Bayern theirs at the tip top level came to an end – In such emphatic style.

It was interesting what Carlo Ancelotti said after the heavyweight bout:

“Tiki-Taka isn’t dead, football doesn’t die”

– when a different style comes out on top the media decide to slaughter said manager and the style. I remember watching a World Cup finals when I was younger. David Beckham spent the majority of it on his arse, hypothetically speaking. It was claimed all wide-men needed pace, and without it, they are as useful as a chocolate teapot. Poppycock.

Gary Neville optimised the irrational debate Tuesday night on Twitter. To be quite honest I thought he’d had a few extra large sherbets. He came out with something along the lines of “we don’t need any of this tippy tappy stuff…Pace, power, that’s what we [Untied] are all about”.

To be honest, I think he’s just pining for Ronaldo. Get an early night next week Gary…

The downfall to these cycles comes down to a combination of things; A team stamping their mark/philosophy on a game better than the opposition; Also, if either team are in transition. At the highest level it’s all about fine margins. If a certain players quality, or an officiating decision positively or negatively effects the game, it gets the cogs moving and the magic begins.

We saw how the finest margin completely swings a game. Firstly poor defending led to the flood gates opening at the Alianz Arena. Then a ‘Strikers Challenge’ cost Chelsea late on in the second half. I wanted to say just, regarding Bayern and Madrid but Real tore Bayern a new one. Chelsea’s downfall was self inflicted in my opinion. Jose went far too defensive in the both legs and that backed them into a corner. Eventually costing them a route to the final. Mourinho gets a lot of praise for his tactical prowess, but he got that drastically wrong.

I say transition because Jupp Heynckes had Bayern playing absolutely monstrous football last term. The same football that beat Barcelona, the previous champions 7-0 on aggregate. *cough cough* end of a cycle.

Taking a step back and looking at it – it seems strange that Bayern hired a manager who played a style of football they completely destroyed a year before?

I’m not even going to dare to say it was a mistake hiring Pep Guardiola, because it’s PEP GUARDIOLA. The man is a marvel, an innovator. They went unbeaten on route to the title. He has them playing scintillating football blowing teams off the park. What is clear though, he has tried to change them too quickly, which has cost them at the top level.

I imagine when he manages to get all the pieces of his puzzle SHIT WILL GO DOWN. Lewandoski being the first piece. We’ll see a more clinical, complete, Bayern.

The Polish international strengths are his versatility and ability to score goals in a number of ways. You could argue he possess key attributes of Muller, Mandukic and Gotze – that special element Pep’s football needs too really make it purr. Lewandoski can run into channels, slip past defenders. Beat players one-on-one or hold up play in the attacking build-up. He can also score from distance and poach goals inside the box. Also very comfortable in cramped areas.

There’s no way to get away from the fact that Pep hasn’t achieved the same things Heynckes did. But even the most marvellous managers can take time to achieve their goals. That’s the risk you get when hiring a new manager. The task Isn’t as easy as it seems and a bedding in time needs to granted. We’ve seen closer to home with Manchester United, they [SAF] hired a manager who was similar to Sir Alex, rather than a manager who fits the style of football they believed in.

Only time will tell if Guardiola will achieve Über success with Bayern, and if United will turn things around. *whispers* they will…

Granted we are dealing with different variables but Arsenal, please take note and learn from the mistakes of others.

Focusing on Arsenal and carrying on the theme of transition. Looking at the transfer window ahead – Do we (A) fix a style and get players to enhance it, or (B) get players who you can & decide style around them.

It’s something I struggle to decide with. I can see the positives in both concepts. But in the same swing of my preverbal bat It’s something completely out of my control so why bother? BECAUSE I LOVE IT dear reader, so come be hyperthecial with me.

We have a summer of firefighting ahead. I.e. backup goalkeeper, a right-back and possibly a centre half assuming all of the rumours are true. That’s even before we begin the hunt for STRIKER2014 2.0.

I think what’s key this summer is for Arsène to sign the players he thinks will balance the squad, rather than just appeasing the fans making it rain with large sums of money.

He’s in a tricky situation, does he throw money at 2 magnificent players. Or does he fill the squad adequately?

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,

Ben.

Diaby returns, but Arsenal has changed

So here we are, arrived at St George’s Day, where the good people of England celebrate their patron saint by indulging in that most fanciful of things: going to work as if it was a normal day. Because it essentially is. You’ve gotta love our sense of nationalistic pride, eh?

I’m sure John Terry is celebrating his Britishness with his white cloak and pitchfork. After all, he helped to snooze-fest his team last night with one foot in the final after a bore-draw with Athletic Madrid, who were stifled by Jose and his double-decks ring by the sounds of it. Thankfully I had a football free evening which meant I don’t feel I’ve lost a small part of my life this morning. But chastise as we may, if they scab the Champions League trophy again, we’ll all be admitting we’d take a dose of ‘boring-boring Arsenal’ for that particular piece of silverware.

Of Arsenal, there is relatively little news to speak of, such is the length of time that remains before we play Newcastle on Monday night. There’s plenty of transfer gossip talking about Karim Benzema but, as much as I’d like to preach to you that I won’t get caught up with it in the summer, I inevitably will. So I’ll try not to peak too early by talking in great detail about any more possible signings before the season finishes. Besides, there is still plenty of work to be done and we need to secure top four and win ourselves a trophy before we can start getting all speculative on what acquisitions will be made during the close season.

The most substantial bit of Arsenal-related stuff that occurred yesterday was the return of Abou Diaby, who after 400 odd days out injured, has finally graced some green turf (warts and all if you saw the picture of the scar on his knee). It’s a welcome sight for one of the most injury prone footballers I have seen in my time on this here earth. I’m told he’s now made of 67% silicone/titanium hybrid materials and sleeps within a cryogenic chamber every night to delay the ageing process on a body that resembles a 78 year old man rather than a footballer just the other side of 25.

It’s ground that has been gone over a million times, but it’s a shame that a promising career was reduced to rubble and with just a year left on his contract, this really is last chance saloon for the Frenchman. He’ll probably not make any games this season I would have thought, but a good pre season and an injury-free summer will stand him in good stead for trying to make an impact on this Arsenal team come August.

The only trouble he’ll have is actually getting in to the team. Arsenal has moved on. We’ve signed and bought through replacements in midfield and even a fully fit Diaby would struggle to get into this Arsenal team I’d wager. He certainly couldn’t replace Özil or Ramsey – the most likely positions he’d adopt – and I’m not so sure of his defensive capabilities, so I wouldn’t think he’d fit the defensive midfielder-style role at the club. At a push he could be a square peg in a round hole occupying one of the wide attacking positions, but that would surely only be a temporary thing in light of injuries sustained to other players, no?

We’ve all seen his talent, hopefully he can stay fit, but even if that does happen for the whole of next season (stop laughing) I still think he’ll be looking for a new club at the end of it. The question would then be asked who might take a Kieran Dyer-esque punt on a player who spends more time on the treatment table than the professional green playing fields of England and Europe?

But that’s a debate to ponder long into the future. Let’s worry about How to solve a problem like Diaby when we have a problem to solve. At this moment in time it’s just good to see him back playing football.

Right, well, I’m off to…err…not celebrate St George’s Day and work. See you tomorrow.

Abject Arsenal are in trouble

Hold on tight, strap yourself in and mentally prepared yourself, because today’s blog isn’t going to be pretty.

Yesterday I sacked off a match preview because, after a night on a Monopoly bar crawl, I couldn’t really be arsed to write anything an hour or so before kick off. Hey, it happens, but the consequences of that are minimal to anybody.

Arsenal must have taken the same approach, because they couldn’t really be arsed yesterday either, the result of which was an all too familiar capitulation in a big game in which we needed to see a spark from the players. We got nothing. Literally nothing from the team. Actually, that’s not quite true, because we did get a fabulous dismally of misplaced passes, lack of pace and creativity and effort across all aspects of the pitch.

Let’s give Everton some credit first though. They hassled, pressed, hurried and looked hungry. They were hungry for a Champions League spot and had a clear line of sight towards what they wanted to get by putting an Arsenal side to the sword that quite frankly looked like they were all practicing for a ‘who can be the least arsed’ competition.

I’m getting tired of this. I think it was Le Grove that said on Twitter last night ‘let’s be honest, did anybody not expect this?’ and I have to echo those sentiments I’m afraid. Nobody does implosion like this Arsenal team. And, by golly, haven’t they had enough practice at it this season?

I’m getting tired people. I’m tired of talking about the same frailties. The defence which looked so solid for so long now looks like a rickety old fence that you could just give a nudge to before it falls over. It offers little protection to Szczesny and the result was a defensive lapse after defensive lapse. We lost 3-0 but there were plenty of other times that we were cut apart and you do have to wonder whether or not we were blinded by Vermaelen’s goals in his first season at the club, because his regression has been staggering over the last two years. He’s been ok filling in for Koscienly in the most part, but he was terrible at times yesterday, ball watching for the first goal, flailing a leg for the second and generally looking like a lost boy.

What makes me sad is that it doesn’t look like the manager can motivate the players any more. How else can you explain a game in which the team had a week off to prepare and yet still looked like they were running through treacle. We can talk about ‘tired lets’ and ‘fatigue’ until the cows come home, but I’ve seen a few teams over the last couple of weekends who have played just as many games as our players and yet they don’t look nearly as lethargic. A week! They had a week to be ready for this?

But herein probably lies the crux of the matter, the main area of focus and root cause of the problem: the manager. We all know he doesn’t look at the opposition and adapt his game to suit. We know he likes to send his players out with their own game plan and to play ‘Arsene’s Way’. But the trouble is, the only teams that could play that way were ones that had the best players in most positions, across the whole park. Intelligent players who had the ability to be given freedom of the park and express themselves. This Arsenal team isn’t good enough to do that. Sure, Arsene can rightly point to injuries and say that with those players fit we’d be challenging, but they’re not fit! So when you haven’t got the best players at your club available, you have to try something different, hence why looking at your opponents and changing your style to suit would make sense in light of so many first choice players being out.

But not Arsene, oh no, he sends his team out with the same instructions, the same expectations, yet expects different results. I believe Einstein famously said that is the very definition of insanity.

Arsene got out-tactic’d yesterday. Big time. He got shown that unless you have the 11 best players in their position in the league, you ignore the opposition at your peril. Martinez knew the joy Lukaku would get if he played out wide and so put him on the right and told him to wreak havoc. And he did. And there was no response from our manager, who is looking like he is showing his age from a footballing perspective. Modern football has moved on, Arsene, sadly hasn’t.

There’s not one player that started yesterday that can come out of the game with their head held high. The closest one that got to that was Sagna, yet he was guilty of dwindling on the ball too long and conceding possession which led to the third goal.

I don’t want to start singling out players, but after his woeful attempt at trying to look like a centre forward yesterday, I’m finding it hard not to mention a player who is called ‘the lamppost’ by some of the fan-base because when the ball hits him it bounces off in any direction. He was well into double figures of losing the ball when he was hauled off for Sanogo yesterday. Sanogo having that ‘X-Factor’ from the bench that we were looking for of course. Or rather, Sanogo being the only attacking player available because of the managers negligence to strengthen last summer or this winter.

Arsene said after the game that he cannot question the teams spirit. I hope that’s just talk for the papers, because I’m sorry Arsene, but that’s exactly what you should be doing right now. There was precisely 0% spirit in that team yesterday. We could have played for a week and we still wouldn’t have scored. There was a total lack of effort from the first minute until the last and I am just thankful that the Ox and Rambo came on and looked lively, because that will at least give us some home that there is some pace that can be injected into the side.

We’re on the ropes here people.

Heh, wouldn’t you know it, as I’m writing today’s blog my train has stopped outside Wembley Park station, as if to serve as more of a reminder of what lies in store next weekend. The players found it very difficult to motivate themselves for a Champions League spot showdown, so what makes any of us think they’ll be motivated for a cup semi one? Wigan fans, players and management must have been rubbing their hands together with glee having watched that shower of the proverbial yesterday, because now not only are they going into a game with nothing to lose, but they’ll be doing it against a team that looks as strong as a Rich Tea biscuit slam-dunked into a cup of tea.

If we lose next weekend, it will be almost impossible to argue a case for the managers defence, because if all we have to play for come May is another ‘fourth place trophy’, then all you can say is that he is now treading water with this team at best.

That’ll do for today. Perhaps some more thoughts tomorrow.>

Fullbacks are key to winning football matches

Morning you wonderful people, Chris here, but taking a back seat today to give Ben the floor. I know you’ll be extra nice to him, for no other reason than he’s an extra nice bloke, which he is.

Since I started watching Arsenal we’ve always had very good fullbacks. I’ve seen a number of formations, setups – from 5-3-2 to the current 4-2-3-1. As time passes football develops and roles progress, which ends up putting more emphasis on tactics. We’ve seen football clubs change and create a new football philosophy – Everton being the prime example. Which brings fresh ideas and leads to upping the performance levels of the given league they are operating in.

We’ve seen a shift in responsibilities in the fullback position from being a more solid, dependable (i.e. Lee Dixon) type, to a player with pace and being a lot more positive with and without the ball (i.e. Kieran Gibbs). Also, we’ve seen the modern day fullback needing the intelligence and ability to read the game, especially the offensive side.

The way the game is developing fullbacks are being used as auxiliary forwards. We’ve seen a lot of the major forces in European football get rid of the so-called ‘traditional winger’. You could argue the winger has lost it’s place in the modern game. Since the current adoption of the inside-forward, and the attacking playmakers, there has been a tendency of a lot of teams narrowing their forward line.

The way Arsenal and the majority of Europe’s top teams play has been transformed – two strikers are rarely used anymore. The second is dropped in between the lines to help link up attacking play and help flood the midfield for possession reasons. Midfield shape has also changed. This has shifted the focus of play onto the fullbacks and a lot of teams play with three in midfield. Barcelona and Ajax are good examples of this, their full-backs are so far up the pitch that the defensive midfielder – Sergio Busquets and Daley Blind respectively – become a third centre back. This leaves the fullbacks as the only players on the pitch with any real space.

If you add that to the wingers playing on opposite wings, i.e. Robben and Bale (when he was at Spurs) and things can become very compact. To ensure width isn’t lost, full-backs are licensed to get forward and support the attack, therefore creating space for others.

As we’ve seen recently, the main benefit of adventurous fullbacks is to allow teams to have two extra players in attack. Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and now Bayern Munich utilised this well as have Spain throughout their recent domination.

It’s seen in the way he likes his team to build the play, he overloads and isolates the opposition fullbacks with the ‘winger’ in possession of the ball (or vice versa), and the fullback goes flying round the outside. At times it’s simply impossible to defend against.

Certain players are being instructed with various responsibilities within their standard duties. Some of these are fresh in my mind because I’ve been lucky enough to see them live – Pep Guardiola used Victor Valdez as ball playing option at the back. Javi Martinez at Bayern has a very disciplined role but he needs to be able to play through the lines as a third centre back or in midfield. The level needed for each players is slowly creeping up.

We saw from Thomas Vermaelen in the second leg against Bayern who defensively did very, very well. On the other hand, offensively, he offered little to nothing. The modern fullback has many duties to perform. It is no longer enough to leave an opposition winger battered and bruised on the floor.

A modern fullback must offer a huge attacking threat. He must have the ability to make a pinpoint pass, or deliver a perfect cross. He must possess pace, he must have discipline and most importantly, superb positional sense. This is also needs to be complimented by endless stamina to continually get up and down the pitch.

Steve McManaman famously said the first bit of Spanish he actually learnt when he moved to Real Madrid was ‘cover me’ as Salgado, his fullback, flew past him.

Arsene Wenger has always seen the importance of the fullback. He inherited two of the best in the business – Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn. He eventually replaced them with Ashley Cole – who started out as a centre forward in the youth side, and Lauren, a ball-playing midfielder he signed from Spain. From the outside looking in it seems he opted to put more offensive players into those positions, which demonstrates how important the role is.

It will be interesting to see how a team will successfully counter this within culling their attacking threat.

One thing for sure is that the attacking fullback will be a constant but the role is ever evolving. Top sides field their most creative players in wide attacking positions and there is perhaps a need for full-backs to be strong(er) defensively, but only time will tell.

Arsène will have a very tough decision to make in the summer (If Sagna leaves). He has Jenkinson who is a decent player but not near Sagna’s standard. If he can have a good run of games he could be good player. Will he settle for good? He has Bellerin who offensively is very good and, in my opinion, the epitome of the modern fullback. Although question marks will remain over his defensive stability until he gets a run of games in the first team to prove otherwise. If Arsène does go into the market for a new addition, then spending a lot money on one will be completely justified in my opinion. It is a major part of the modern game and needs to be respected.

As things stand, Bacary Sagna seems to be closing the curtain on his Arsenal career. You know how these things work, as soon as I press the publish button, things will change. If he does leave then it’s going to leave a massive hole in our lineup. He’s been marvellous for us and I wouldn’t begrudge him a move after all the wonderful service he has given us. Whatever he decides, all the best Bac. Up The Arsenal!!

Cheers for reading,

be happy,

Ben

This ones a freebie in my eyes

Hopefully I can approach today’s match preview blog in a slightly different manner to that of my online Gooner counterparts when I say:

We’ve already won tonight.

The victory may not be tangible, it may not see us into the quarter finals of the Champions League, but after the whole world and most of Goonerdom has written the team off, anything else other than a 6-0 thrashing will be a moral victory of sorts I believe. Nobody expects us to turn over a two goal deficit against a Bayern Munich team who appear to have found a glitch in the game, a quick FIFA style cheat if you will, that has seen them absolutely rip apart the German league like it was the Scottish Premier. So if defeat does indeed hit us tonight, then the whole world will just shrug and say ‘move along’ as if it would be expected. If it happens, hopefully the Arsenal players will be able to do the same, because there are still a plethora of massive games in the coming weeks that they can make amends for any cup exit tonight.

There’s no doubt the FA Cup victory at the weekend has also totted up some goodwill points amongst Arsenal fans as well. Exit at the weekend, followed by defeat over two legs and exit tonight, would have left us all in a pretty gloomy place. But knowing that silverware is still in our grasp whatever the consequences of defeat tonight should be used as an instant confidence adrenalin shot should we drop out to the reigning European Champions.

So I’m approaching today’s game as a ‘freebie’. The damage was done at the Emirates with a sending off that really shouldn’t have happened and as a fickle football fan, I’m using that ‘get-out’ to shrug off any exit. We were shafted by referees again dontcha know?

As for the team, there was some good news and some bad news delivered by Le Boss yesterday. I’d have loved him to have delivered it in that fashion, asking the assembled hacks which one they wanted first, but the upshot was that whilst Koscienly is fighting fit again, Gibbs unfortunately has succumbed to an ankle injury. Again, in the spirit of my nonchalant nature towards this game, I offer a simple ‘meh’, but where the ‘meh’ becomes an ‘oh no’ is whether or not he makes it back for Sunday’s trip to Spudland. We will need a fully fledged left back available for the trip to ‘them’ and with Nacho still not close to fitness, I’m going to be doing all kinds of voodoo shizzle in the hope that he can make it at the weekend.

The question for tonight remains which of the current square pegs has the most rounded edges for Arsene to pick at left back? Does he opt for left footed Vermaelen, who clearly has more experience than putting Jenkinson at right back and telling the versatile Sagna to give it a go at left back? Last season Jenkinson played in the Munich game I believe and he performed well. Given Vermaelen is clearly a bit rusty and has shown he’s uncomfortable at left back, it’s hardly a ‘no-brainer’ to put him in, although if we do need a bit more experience and strength in defending set pieces and corners, you’d think his role in the team could come in handy.

It’s a dilemma that is Arsene’s to ponder, but, I guess that is why he’s paid the VERY big bucks.

The rest of the team will probably line up as a full strength unit. With the Spuds playing Benfica on Thursday, I’d be surprised if Tim ‘the Gooner’ Sherwood didn’t pick his strongest team, which means that Arsene could probably do the same knowing they’ll be just as fatigued at the weekend as our players are. So I’d expect to see a midfield of Flamini, Arteta and Özil, with Cazorla, Giroud and the Ox taking the attacking and flanked positions. Perhaps he’ll opt for Gnabry as that unknown factor and a player who’ll want to show what he’s made of in the attacking positions, but I think the form of the Ox and Cazorla carried over from Saturday warrants their inclusion.

If some sort of miracle is to be achieved, we’ll need to see another performance where there are four or five options for man-of-the-match tonight. Against arguably the best team in the world, you wouldn’t have thought it would happen, but stranger things have.

As for Bayern, well, take your pick from the array of world class talent they have. Ribery is now fit to play and so I’d expect he’ll get a start, so with Robben on the other flank, Guardiola just needs to decide who in midfield should play out of Garcia, Goetze, Kroos, Muller, Alcantara, etc, etc, the list goes on…suffice to say he’s spoilt for choices!

Anyway, wherever you are, however you watch the game, try to enjoy it. It’s why we want to be in competitions like this and not lining up against FC Dnieghausgdindbavxgskakxbsjskdb of Haifbrhskxnslsndi like them other lot along the Seven Sisters Road.

Catch y’all tomorrow.