Lacklustre draw isn’t the end of the world

I’m not quite sure how I feel about yesterday’s 0-0 away draw to Besiktas in Istanbul last night. I mean, it’s good that we don’t have any kind of deficit to overcome in the second leg at home last night, but at the same time there are a couple of things that are nagging at me at the moment about the performance.

Obviously we didn’t play well. You and I both watched the game and we both know that. At the start of the season and with a few new players in the team it’s always going to take time to slip into a rhythm. But there were just a few additional warning bells that sounded with me, so I thought I’d pick them out for you, then perhaps round off with a bit of perspective, because ultimately it’s not doom and gloom and with a decent performance at The Emirates we should be able to progress to the group stages of The Champions League.

So, some of the elements of yesterday’s game that worry me: Olivier Giroud. Now, you won’t get me shouting from the rooftops that he’s a terrible player and we should slap £80millon down for Falcao, because it’s not a realistic option and quite frankly would be a waste of hot air if I did. Giroud is a decent £15million striker who will get us around 20 goals a season if he plays most of the games. But what he does need to bring to the team is that ability to bring others into play. That strength to receive the ball, hold off a defender and bring others into play. We’ve seen him do it last season and I’m sure he’ll be doing it this season. Having said that, yesterday was clearly not one of those nights that he was effective, because he offered very little throughout the duration of the game. His hold up play was poor, his pass completion in finding teammates was woeful, and his finishing was wayward. We know that he fluffs his lines occasionally on the finishing, which I’ve come to accept as one of his limitations, but the hold up play and ability to find a teammate like Ramsey, or either of his wide men, is something that just wasn’t there.

There will be people calling for Alexis through the centre, or for a new signing like Cavani, but to my mind that simply shifts the longer term issue. Arsene has clearly decided – and I’m happy to be proved wrong here and am open to opinions – that he wants a strong striker who can bring the pacey wide men and midfielders into play. It’s one of the reasons why Ramsey can be given more licence to get in the box to bang in the goals. So whilst I’d love another striker to come in, I just don’t think it will happen, because Arsene likes keeping harmony in the team and he won’t replace Giroud with an upgraded version of a target man. Not when he also has clear faith in developing Sanogo. So we have to deal with it. But what we do expect from him – if goals are not his strong point – is more link up play and that is what let him down yesterday.

Besiktas were alright, but nothing more than that. In fact, I’d probably put them more in the category of a side with the same level of ability as Crystal Palace, which gives you an idea why I think we should be disappointed. Like Palace, Besiktas pressed higher up the pitch (although as the game at the weekend wore on Palace were penned back further. I make the comparison based on a Palace side we could have played if the game was at Selhurst Park), were a little profligate in front of goal and had they had a little bit more quality about them in the final third, we’d be licking our wounds this morning and wondering how we’re going to qualify into the Champions League proper this morning. So I’m glad we don’t have that concern this morning, only the concern of a poor performance from some of the players, and the senior ones at that.

Santi Cazorla was another player whose absence in the second half was worrying. I thought he was poor against Palace and gave the ball away too easily. Yesterday he gave the ball away a couple of times. Not as many as the weekend, but it was his lack of time on the ball which was indicative of our overall performance yesterday. At one stage in the second half, I wondered if he was still on the pitch. I said as much on Twitter, to which somebody responded to say they’d just started watching the match and didn’t realise he was playing for ten minutes.

I know his natural position is not out wide left, but he has played there on a number of occasions last season, so I wouldn’t expect him to be be so lacklustre in a position he knows so well. One of the frustration I’ve laid at Wenger’s door before, is his unwavering belief in hierarchies within teams, but also his favourites. He does like to continue playing out of form players some times and, you have to say that another performance like last nights for the diminutive Spaniard at Everton, and you’d expect him to be dropped. However, I suspect he’ll be given more leeway than someone like Poldi would be given. I hope Santi can turn in a grand performance against the Toffees on Saturday, because he’s a fantastic player who has given us so much joy over the last two years, that I’d love to see him continue to weave his way through defences again. So let’s chalk this last week down to a bit of early season rustiness and move on, shall we?

There might be one or two that have a bit of a finger-wagging session in the direction of Jack today, but actually I thought he did ok. He wind some tackles, got stuck in to the opposition and showed that he wasn’t afraid to through his short but stocky frame about, as well as try to bring something to the attack. I’d certainly like to see more from him. What I’d like to see less of is the silliness of Rambo’s sending off. Yes, it was a very soft second yellow to receive, but with a crowd on his back – not to mention the Ice Road Trucker wannabe Slaven Bilic yelling at him every thirty seconds – it was a foul Rambo didn’t need to make. I guess it pretty much summer up an evening in which we were laboured and unconvincing.

He’ll serve a ban now for the return leg, which will be a massive blow, but we have cover in that part of the pitch thankfully. Well, we do right now, but if we keep picking up injuries like Arteta’s yesterday then we’re going to find ourselves patching up Ray Parlour to get back into the side. I sincerely hope that Arteta is not out for a prolonged period of time, because whilst Flamini can slot in to the role of marshalling the space in front of our defence, after that we’re getting into Coquelin territory who, whilst I rated highly before he went on loan last season, is clearly not in the managers plans and will most like be sold on within the next couple of weeks.

The injury list is already mounting. Gibbs, Arteta and Ospina are out, Koscienly is being patched up to play, Mertesacker, Özil and Poldi won’t be match fit and Giroud still doesn’t look match fit. It’s hardly the amazing start to the season that we all wanted, but hey, remember how I said I would try to shove in some perspective? We’re only two games in and we haven’t suffered any confidence sapping defeats yet. In fact, quite to the contrary, we have two wins (if you count the Community Shield) and a draw and whilst everyone is salivating over Chelski at the moment, let’s not forget that they played a newly promoted team who I think we’re a bit over-awed by the occasion and will also most likely be one of the teams that is down the bottom of the league at the end of the season.

Also, let’s be positive about the contributions of our newbies. Calum Chambers, ladies and gentlemen, Calum Chambers. To quote a Championship Manager phrase, I am simply ‘running out of superlatives to describe his performances’. He’s such a talent and once again showed what a purchase Arsene has made by bringing in this kid. I can totally see why Southampton fans were more disappointed to lose Chambers than Shaw. Per still comes straight into the side for me, but Chambers will push him all the way for a starting spot, which is great to see.

Debuchy was, well, Debuchy. He was good going forward, look decent defensively and gave another seven out of 10 performance. As did Monreal. He does get caught out once or twice and there will be times against better opposition that he’ll need more support from whoever plays in front of him, but he performed well and with Gibbs out should get more game time over the coming weeks.

Alexis was also more impressive too. He troubled the Besiktas left back with his pace, played a couple of decent balls in for the off-key Giroud, plus he was combining a little better with the midfield than I thought he did on Saturday. With each passing game you can see him improving his understanding with his teammates, which can only be a good thing.

Right, that’ll do for one day I think, because you’ve probably had enough of my rambling. I know I have. See you when I see you.

No blasé attitude towards Besiktas

Morning/afternoon,

I won’t labour this point too much, but Cesc Fabregas in a Chelski shirt is now 100% reality, after I spent the summer ignoring the fact, hearing that he helped to orchestrate Chelski’s victory at Burnley leaves a sour taste in my mouth. He’s going to be a great player for that lot and it’s going to hurt us to see it. No matter what any Arsenal fan says, it will grind our gears and pull on the emotive heart strings, especially if he keeps his assisting ways at the club.

I don’t want to dwell on that lot though – they are as worthy of attention as a Luis Suarez admission of guilt and promise not to repeat offend – so we look forward to the Champions League and to our tricky encounter this evening against Besiktas.

Arsène has been stressing the importance of this match to the media and, with our place at the top table at stake, it is essential that we get off to a good start tonight. Knockout football in the Champions League is always tough regardless of the opposition. There is a lot of pressure to perform over two legs, but if you fudge the first leg up, it leaves you with a mountain to climb in the second.

Remember when we played Bayern Munich about seven years ago? The first leg was in the Allianz Arena (not sure if it was called that back then) and we went down 3-1. The second leg was helped with a Thierry Henry goal, but we went out on goal difference, despite battering Bayern for the second game. That shows you how important the first leg is. Besiktas know that a win with a two goal margin will mean that they are in the driving seat and can pretty much do what Palace did on Saturday and barely venture outside of their half at The Emirates.

Conversely, a victory in Istanbul tonight, would put Arsenal in a very promising position for the second leg and certainly see us as overwhelming favourites to qualify.

I must admit to being a bit blasé about the qualifying round. Our consecutive successes – and seemingly always at the expense of European teams with good pedigree – has made a simple Arsenal fan like me believe that I’ll be seeing Champions League group stage football in about a months time. But that’s a very dangerous way to think, Christopher, because that kind of thinking ends with a nasty shock if what is expected doesn’t happen. It is not unconceivable that defeat tonight leads to further disappointment next week, but I have to remain positive, because in my superstitious manner that I have I believe that my own power of positive thinking has some bearing on the outcome of tonight’s game.

Thankfully, despite being a tad bit over-expectant, it doesn’t appear as if the players are taking this game lightly. Certainly not if you hear the rhetoric from Le Boss. Sure, we have some injury problems going in to the game, but the squad that is available to the manager should still be good enough to get a result. Rambo has continued his fine form with a goal at the weekend, Chambers and Debuchy have slotted in well enough, and I think we all know that we’ll get more from Sanchez as he becomes fitter.

I don’t know how the manager intends to line up the team, but with Koscienly struggling with a hammy, I suspect Big Per might just replace him in defence. Per and Chambers at the heart of the defence will be interesting. The reason Koscienly dovetails so well with either of them is that Kos is the man with the recovery pace, where as it appears from the initial look of Chambers, he does not have as much pace (even though he makes up for it in his positional play). So how those two might operate – if Kos can’t shake off his injury – will be good to see so early in the season.

They’ll be up against a familiar face in Demba Ba, who has apparently been scoring for fun since his arrival from Chelski, but perhaps more worrying is the pace that he possesses. If he is up against Per and Chambers then it will be essential that he isn’t given plenty of green grass to run in behind tonight. To do that it will mean stifling some of the midfield creativity of another familiar face in Ozyakup, who we sold to Besiktas a couple of years ago and appears to be making a decent fist of a career in Turkey. I am no expect on Turkish football, because that’s where my knowledge of the opposition ends I’m afraid, but I suspect that the least we’ll get from the game tonight is a super-charged team backed by a partisan home crowd. We need to establish ourselves early and ensure that Besiktas’ initial excitement and drive is negated by some good football from the lads.

I suspect we’ll see a midfield that is identical to the weekend, then a front three which will also include Alexis and Santi, but it’s the centre forward position that will be interesting. Sanogo was little more than a footnote on Saturday and it was obvious how much more dangerous we looked when Giroud and The Ox were on the field. So I am hoping that Arsene opts for the more experienced Frenchman. I’d like to see The Ox given the nod ahead of Cazorla – who I thought was poor on Saturday – as it provides that direct running and a bit more pace than the Spaniard. It would also be good to see what Joel Campbell can do in attack and, had there not have been knocks to Gibbs and Jack on Saturday, I wonder if Arsene would have thrown him in then, so maybe we’ll get a look in tonight.

Keep those fingers crossed and hope for a great performance tonight.

See you tomorrow.

The Arsenal matchday begins. I love it

It’s here! It’s finally here! The football fans equivalent of Christmas Day! Opening day of the season!

Yes folks, football is back, the void shall shortly be filled with wonderful wonderful Arsenal. After the FA Cup awesomeness, the World Cup entertainment, the pre season preparation and the belly chuckling smashing of Moneychester City, we have the real stuff. It’s Arsenal vs Crystal Palace at The Emirates.

I’m so excited I could make a high pitch noise that only dogs can here. Are you excited? Yeah, ya are.

I love everything about the first game of the season. I love the build up. I love the meet and greet of old compadre ‘s that you haven’t seen for a quarter of a year. I love the sup of that first pint in your chosen pub of choice. I love the speculation of who will start. I love the frantic refreshing of one’s Twitter account to find out the actual team news. I love the ACTUAL team news. I love the walk to the stadium. The small of hot dogs and smoke. The noises and general hustle and bustle. I love the approach to the stadium as it rises from in betwixt buildings from the distance. I love the gradual filling of the stadium. The nudging and shuffling to get inside our cathedral. We are worshippers without our weekly fix for three months. We need to fuel our addiction and I am desperate to get inside that home of The Arsenal and see our heroes trot out. I love the purchase of that first programme. Reading the captain’s notes (a fresh new one after the departure of Vermaelen) and getting some insight from Le Boss. I love the smell of that new programme as well. A freshly printed piece of history unfolding on this very day. The start of the 2014/15 season.

I love the meeting of my new season ticket partner, who this year will be a lad I used to play football with for the cub scouts, Tom. He’s a sound chap along with his brother chap and I’m pleased I get to reconnect with the guys throughout the season, as they’re almost as mad as me about The Arsenal. Almost.

And I love the beginning of it all. I love the expectation that this will, finally, be our season. Sure, every fan has that feeling right now as I type today’s blog first thing in the morning and slightly hung over, but we genuinely have cause for optimism this season. We have a squad that has, for two summers running, been unblemished in terms of key player departures. We have strengthened in the sharp end of the pitch with the excellent addition of Alexis and we have filled the void left by Sagna with a more than capable replacement in Debuchy. In defence we have the potential of Chambers to get our long-term excitement captured and whilst we are all a little worried about how lightweight we are in terms of the numbers at the back, the very fact that Arsene has openly admitted he’s still looking is music to all of our ears.

In terms of today’s game, the confirmed fitness of Koscienly is a massive relief, as it ensures that the side that lines is strong enough to avoid having any plasters stuck to it, or square pegs in round holes! The back five will essentially be the same as the players that started the Community Shield and that certainly looks strong enough from my perspective to keep Palace at bay. I suspect Arteta will sit at the base of the midfield with Rambo and Jack playing the role as box-to-box runners across the field. It’s an inverted double pivot and worked a treat on Sunday so I’m hoping the same happens today. With Mesut Ozil out of the team it’s a chance for Jack to stake a place in the team and whilst I think Mesut will eventually come in when he’s fully fit, it’s still a good chance to see what an injury free pre-season has done for the lad from near Stevenage.

In attack our front three will almost certainly include Alexis and Cazorla, but surprisingly there still remains a question mark up top with either Sanogo or Giroud the option. Personally, I’d be throwing Giroud in, because he’s the better player and will certainly be full of confidence after his excellent goal against City. However, fitness will be the key and so I wonder if Arsene might make a statement to the older of the Frenchmen by giving Sanogo the nod. Let’s face it, with the pace we have in our team, the need is there for a target man that can hold up the play and bring others in, not necessarily just score the goals. Sanogo might not do the latter, but he’s certainly big and strong enough to do the former.

Conventional wisdom should suggest that Palace are all over the place today. Managerless, rudderless and now seen as an established Premier League team, they are now longer seen as the surprise package in the Premier League. Keith Millen will be under no illusions of the difficulty of the task today, but I still expect Palace to set up the way Pulis would have set them up, difficult to beat and happy to perch on the edge of their box. Jedinak is their defensive midfield talisman and I think he’ll be pulling the back eight together as tightly as possible to deny our midfielders and attackers space. On Sunday Jack was given the freedom of Wembley by the City midfield and defence and I don’t expect he’ll get the same luxury today. So the victory will be down to our we can unpick the lock that will be the Palace defence. One suspects that patience will be the biggest virtue of the day.

If we need it, we have the quality on the bench with The Ox, Rosicky, of perhaps even Joel Campbell to try something different, but I’m hoping that we have a goal in the first half to make sure we have a more comfortable afternoon.

Up the Arsenal. You love it. I love it. We love it. Enjoy it today.

Embracing every advantage

Happy Friday you sexy Gooners!

Well, where to start today, eh? How about last nights breaking news that the most irritating tracksuit-wearing, baseball-cap loving, rugby-football adopting manager has thrown a diva-strop and walked out of Crystal Palace?

If I’m completely honest here, the only reason I am even penning half a thought towards that irksome individual, is due to the close proximity of a certain opening game of the season in which The Eagles visit our home turf on Saturday. Otherwise, it’s fair to say his name wouldn’t even be a footnote in today’s blog, especially as I have no idea how to create footnotes in WordPress.

Quite what his departure – oddly not actually official yet but effectively true what with every media outlet reporting it as such – will do to the Crystal Palace team I’m not sure. It’s quite easy to make an assumption that Palace will throw down their weapons tomorrow evening, but football is never an easy linear equation, so I’m still not expecting anything but a difficult game in which the opponents are extremely tough to break down.

Perhaps their Chairman Steve Parish is secretly an Arsenal fan, because I seem to remember a similar scenario with Ian Holloway just before we visited Selhurst Park last season, so maybe Parish is looking to hand any psychological advantage to The Arsenal that he can?

If I sound a little but too gleeful at the prospect of Palace potentially being rudderless, then I apologise, but in many ways I’m a petty, petty man, and any advantage that the team I support can gain is a-ok with me. It’s why I secretly fist-pump when a player gets sent off when we are playing that team a week of two weeks behind. And although you never wish injury on any person playing the game (well, maybe), there are times where an injury to a rivals key player has been greeted with a comment of “that’s a bit of a touch” from yours truly.

I am somebody who will embrace an advantage for Arsenal like a comforting hug from a parent after you’ve opened up your knees because you we’re slide tackling on gravel that time.

We should have enough to beat Palace without the circus that is now engulfing their club, but this little bonus for us is always handy, so I’ll take it.

What we all really need now is for Arsène to give us an update this morning which includes the words ‘Koscienly’ and ‘fit’ or ‘available for selection’, because he’s the one doubt from last weekend that we really could do with having back. With Chambers performing admirably in place of the German party animal Mertesacker, we looked assured enough, but despite the apparent limitations of the opponents tomorrow, we could really do without the worry that our back four will be fullbacktastic in it’s composition.

An almost inevitable section of the press conference will be dedicated to the prospect of transfers, for which we will get the inevitable “we are not close to signing anybody” commentary from Le Boss which will infuriate some, worry others and cause a bit of shoulder-shrugginess from the most of us. The important thing is that we have enough about us this season to be very excited for the nine months ahead and anything else is just added bonus to the good business already secured. I concede we do need another centre half though, so pull you’re finger out Arsène!

There’s some mutterings of Edison Cavani that appear to be doing the rounds, but I see that as nothing but paper talk, because he’s not looking for another striker and I fully expect the door to be closed on that line of questioning should the hacks decide to go down that route.

There really doesn’t seem to be that much more happening at the moment, other than the Ox’s 21st birthday, so I’ll wish him well wherever he is at the time of me writing this, and do the same to you.

Adios amigos.

Vermaelen legacy in tact, as we prepare for excitement of new season

Before I delve into the thoughts of what may transpire come 3pm later at Wembley, there’s the small matter of the confirmation that our Captain Thomas Vermaelen, has departed our rainy shores for the sun of Catalonia. Last night Arsenal confirmed his move to Barcelona and Vermaelen was pictured outside the Nou Camp with the obligatory ‘thumbs up’ standing next to the ‘Mes que un club’ sign.

I said as much on Twitter last night, but let’s be honest about this folks, losing this captain doesn’t feel half as bad as losing the last two. Plus, we get the added bonus of all still getting to like him and wish him well on other shores, for this was the best possible scenario for all stakeholders involved in this transfer.

For Vermaelen, he gets an opportunity to get more game time at a big club, where hopefully he’ll be challenging for trophies. It was clear he is at an age where he needed to play (as Arsene said) and he is good enough to be a first team regular. I’m still not sure whether that will still be Barcelona – they’ve just spent a wedge on another centre half from Valcencia, plus they have Pique, so whether he plays all the time I’m not sure – but I think given their likelihood to rotate a bit more than ours, it’s a decent move for him.

It’s a decent move for us fans as well. It’s blatantly obvious that United were sniffing around him and, whilst Vermaelen may still come back in a Champions League encounter to haunt us, at least we know he won’t be on our screens on Match of The Day, or rocking up at The Emirates twice a season (minimum) in the league. We get to give him our blessing and say “thanks for the memories and good luck”.

For the club it is good because they have given themselves enough time to find a replacement, but the fact that they’ve got £15million for a player that hasn’t played much in the last 18 months and has just a year left to run on his contract is an absolutely brilliant piece of business. Arsene can have a root around for a good centre half now to challenge Per and Kos (like he has in Ospina for Szczesny) and with Chambers as another option we can hopefully have a bit more depth in an area that has worried us for most of last season.

Yep, this was good all round, which hopefully is what we feel come 5pm this afternoon when the Community Shield draws to a close.

We all know it’s a friendly and it doesn’t really mean that much in the grand scheme of things, but it would still be nice to get one over on the Petro dollars, wouldn’t it? The papers have tried to spice things up by making comments designed to instigate outrage from Arsenal fans from a certain non-World Cup going football mercenary (who admitted money played a factor in his decision to leave Arsenal in that interview), but having read through the comments myself, it’s hardly a direct kick in our faces, so I’m a little bit ‘meh’ about it all if I’m honest. Nasri gave Arsenal a decent six months and then moved on for more cash and that’s pretty much all I can be bothered to say about that. It doesn’t really matter what anybody states about how Arsenal won’t be the main threat this year, because people said the same thing last year and we proved most people wrong by and large.

The line ups today will be intriguing. Pellegrini has already said that a host of City players (Company, Zabaleta, Sagna, Lampard, Aguero) will be missing today, so it will be interesting to see what a City side that is ravaged by injuries similar to what we’ve had in recent seasons, would look like. With Boyata and Nastastic at the heart of the defence they have some power and a bit of pace, but City aren’t I callable and I hope that we can through a few curveballs their way today.

As for us, Arsene has already given us a warning that the team aren’t 100% ready yet, which is why Olivier Giroud may not get a starting berth up top and in centre half Chambers might be thrown in at the deep end, but given the depth of squad we have this season, I’d still expect a strong line up to give Moneychester Citeh a run for their money. Szczseny in goal behind a back four of Debuchy, Chambers, Koscienly and Gibbs looks solid enough and with Flamini, Arteta and Ramsey all players that haven’t partaken in the World Cup you’d expect two of that three to be fresh enough and fit enough to start. I’d expect to see Santi Cazorla – slight chunkiness from the Emirates Cup aside – to play in the Mesut Özil free role, sitting behind a front three that should include Alexis Sanchez up top I think. Unless of course Arsene opts for a target man in Sanogo and Alexis/Campbell to play just off four-goal Yaya. If Sanogo is as impressive as he was last weekend, we can certainly expect the pace either side of him to profit from his hold up play.

What am I saying?! There isn’t even a place for The Ox?? He could start in the central midfield role or out wide with Alexis moving to centre forward too. He’s looked impressive in pre-season and I think he’s due a good one in 2024/15, so it’s certainly feasible that he’ll get the nod this afternoon. I also haven’t mentioned Rosicky, who Arsene loves and whose energy is always important in dictating the tempo of games.

The very fact that we have so many options, not to mention with the Germans still missing from it as well as Theo we have more options, fills me with so much excitement I want to run screaming with joy down my street in the rain. And I hate the rain.

This afternoon can be shrugged off or used as a confidence booster ahead of Palace next weekend, but whatever the result, I’m starting to get really excited for this season.

Come on you reds!

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.