Arsène’s stability wall protecting the Premier League trophy

Life is short. I seem to recall that it wasn’t long ago that I was up north at Uni surrounded by Scousers and Mancs, whilst Arsène and Arsenal were doing me big favours by going unbeaten and giving me all manner of bragging rights amongst mates, one of whom was such a bitter United fan that he refused to acknowledge Arsenal were champions in 03/04 until the trophy had physically touched an Arsenal players hands on the final game of the season.

It was bliss. There was also just one Chelski fan in my large collective of Uni mates, as well as no City fans whatsoever. 

I took it for granted that we were the best team – arguably in the world at that stage – and when one guy said to me “your team won’t be that good forever. One day you’ll be like me and have to endure finishing a few places below first”, I mocked him with a “nah, not under Arsène mate” retort that in hindsight might have been steeped in fate and karma now that we look at the subsequent decade after The Invincibles.

But hey, when you’re young and impetuous, you think you’re team is indestructible and you say things that you look back on and think are naive. It happens.

Why do I bring all this up? Well, it’s Arsène again, really. If you read my utterances more regularly (firstly, more fool you, because most of what I say is drivel. But thanks anyway) you’ll know I’ve hardly been a complete Wenger convert since I started this blog, but the respect for the man and his achievements have always been there. However, having read his comments on the increased stability in the playing staff at the club which have appeared on the official site, I am once again reminded of the younger and more dynamic version of Le Boss who guided us to victory in those early years.

That Arsène was a ahead of his time. That Arsène was full of quips and there was something about him. He just seemed more effervescent. There was something in his eyes, a glint, something that made a younger incarnation of myself comforted that “it’s okay, he got this”. That Arsène seemed to have slowly eroded away over time, as he was weighed down by fan expectation for a reunification with the “good old days”, whilst struggling with the self-imposed Arsenal austerity.

What I’m saying is nothing new to you. You’ve read it all before on countless other blogs and from far more eloquent people than myself. But with the shackles now off and him in a position to build a squad bigger and deeper than ever before, I am starting to get the comfort back, which is pleasing me no end I can tell you. 

Perhaps it’s that pre-season excitement that is acting as an anaesthetic, but I feel like finally Arsène believes himself that we can compete. We’ve had sporadic campaigns in which we’ve competed, like in 2007/8 and 2013/14, but the depth of the squad has always lacked in that one position in which we needed it. This upcoming season, I don’t think we’re lacking in any position in order to compete, I really don’t. I’m not saying getting a Karim Benzema or super-mega-awesome-ball-busting-DM wouldn’t improve us further – you can always get better – but based on what I saw last season towards the second half of it, we should have enough to at least compete.

That’s what we’ve always wanted. To have the team compete. I mean really compete. Taking a challenge all the way to the final weeks. And we’re there now. We’re there because we have stability. We swat away rumours about players like Özil with a simple wave of our collective hands. We talk about not being 100% sure what our best team is and, even if you think you know what the best Arsenal team is, I bet you that I could find at least half a dozen other Arsenal fans instantly who would disagree with you. 

That’s what stability brings. It brings consistency. Of personnel, of confidence in the players, of team unity and of belief. By not offloading our star players for at least the previous two summers, the squad strength has been slowly built up, brick-by-brick. No more Jenga-style pulling away of a supporting block and seeing the whole thing wobble/collapse. Nope, we’ve build ourselves quite a wall and it’s strong. Let’s just hope it’s strong enough to keep the others away from that Premier League trophy. 

I think – nay, believe – it is. It could be even stronger with additions, but I believe it’ll hold, so too does Arsène I suspect. If he finds a stronger brick – probably a breeze block or something sharp to put on top like barbed wire – then he may top up the wall. But let’s just be happy that we have a decent looking one without any holes in, eh?

I am. And I hope to be telling a certain scouser (if I can find him), that it turns out he was right, I was wrong, but I’m right again now. Some people will never learn their lesson you know.

Movement on players, but is it the ‘right’ players at Arsenal?

Mattieu Flamini to Galatasaray and Wojciech Szczesny to Roma on a one year deal, it seems, if the rumours across multiple newspapers and on radio shows are to be believed.

Firstly the Flamster who, if we’re all honest, probably knew his time was up at the club. The fact we’re picking up a fee for a player who we got on a free transfer and was probably expected to play only a handful of games, is pretty astute from Le Boss. 

Yesterday I talked about the need for adaptable players and it’s clear that as a player his adaptability whilst not that bad (we all know he can play at full back, having done so during the Champions League when we reached the final), does little to make up for his clearly limited technique. He’s a bulldog with plenty of bite, but if you want him to shepherd sheep or fetch your paper, it just wouldn’t work. He’d most likely chew the paper to within an inch of its centre. Then go after your slippers for dessert.

But he’s proved to be a useful transitional player, adding a bit of depth to the midfield, as well as a bit of bite. And this time he’ll leave the club with our blessing.

As for Woj, this transfer which I found out about via the radio last night, doesn’t feel as good for me. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that a loan deal to get him game time won’t be better for him than sitting on the bench all season, but you just get the feeling that the second he departs, our shiny new signing might just develop glass ankles. Or wrists. That’s what tends to happen at Arsenal, you see. 

Perhaps a change of scenery would do him good. Perhaps a year in Italy will help him improve as a ‘keeper. But talk of Roma negotiating an option to sign the player at the end, suggests that his time is up and it will be Ospina who will play understudy to Cech, which I don’t necessarily think is the best option for Arsenal Football Club. Mainly because I think Szczseny is the better ‘keeper. He’s certainly the more attractive option for other clubs to go after. The age difference between Szszcesny and Ospina is one year and the Colombian played in a World Cup last year and the Copa America just a month ago, so he has been in full view of the world’s football clubs, yet Szczesny who was Arsenal’s number two and is also Poland’s number two has got a concrete offer in. Doesn’t that strike you as odd.

It does to me. 

I think Szczesny is the better ‘keeper and by letting him go instead of Ospina I think we’re weakening our reserve options somewhat. I know there was talk of Everton being interested in Ospina, but until something more concrete comes in, all it looked like from where I’m standing is paper chatter and nothing more, so to me it just looks like we’re trying to get one of the two out the door as quickly as possible. 

I have nothing against Ospina. He did ok at times last season. But that’s just it. Okay. Not spectacular. He didn’t really save us games, if you’ll excuse the unintended pun. He just did what you’d expect from your ‘keeper. The bread and butter. Szczesny form may have tailed off last season, but the season before that he showed he was capable of keeping us in games, to which I still think he’s capable of and it’s why I was kind of hoping we could solve a problem by giving Ospina a new home. But it appears that will not be the case.

Perhaps I’m getting overly worried when the reality is that we’ve already made an upgrade in goal and are likely to see Ospina rarely in the upcoming season. Only time will tell. But I just can’t shake the feeling that ditching the Pole isn’t in the best interests of the club from an ability perspective. Unless its got nothing to do with ability and everything to do with attitude and Arsène’s finally had enough. 

One things for sure; if Wojciech never plays for the Arsenal again, that crafty ciggie in the showers will go down as one of the most career defining puffs anyone has ever had.

Laters peeps.

Player adaptability will win Arsenal the league

Whilst hearing the news yesterday about Mattieu Flamini and his probable departure this summer (to Bastia or Galatasaray, depending on who you believe), I began to ponder Arsène’s next move in the fabled ‘DM’ position. It’s an interesting one because there is no simple hard and fast answer. There are so many different options open to Le Boss that a retort of “go buy another DM for £25million” seems a little bit like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, in my opinion.

I put the question out on Twitter as to what we should do: fast track Bielik, give Chambers some time to bed in or sign another player. The answers I got – including another intriguing alternative of moving Santi in as Arteta’s eventual replacement – all seemed sensible enough and I like the idea of Santi playing a bit deeper. But there was one point that I do find a little frustrating and mentioned it to a few guys online, which is that some people do tend to get bogged down in the idea of needing a perfect replacement for when a players time is up.

Perhaps I’m becoming a little bit old fashioned, delving into the recesses of my mind to when football was a far simpler sport, but I don’t seem to recall that the football of 25 years ago required exact players for exact positions, did it? Am I being too steeped in the halcyon days of when players played in a 4-4-2 and had to adapt to positions to get in to the team?

I don’t think so. I think that players who played in midfield were midfielders and could do a multitude of roles. A player who played in the centre of the park could be a good tackler, decent in possession and also distribution. Good players can have multiple attributes, surely? That’s what the piece I’ve highlighted above kind of gets at. Arteta has been intelligent over his career enough to be moved around from attacking midfielder, to left midfield and now he finds himself with more defensive duties, because he’s intelligent enough to play that role. He is a midfielder. He can do pretty much everything. Just like the blog mentions, so it seems, can Santi. 

That’s what Arsène should be looking for if he’s going after another midfielder. Not a tough tackling ‘DM’, but a player adaptable and intelligent enough to play multiple positions if required. In short, a ‘midfielder’. 

But I don’t think we need another midfielder. I think we have those players and I think if Jack and Rambo are intelligent enough like Santi, they should be able to adapt their games so that they can play in a multitude of different styles and shapes in the middle of the park. That’s what we should be looking at doing; cultivating our existing midfielders to play in more defensive positions, so that we have more options for cover. There’s no point spending £25million on a back up enforcer type. Not if we’re putting our faith in Coquelin, which it looks like the manager is doing.

I realise that’s probably not what a lot of people want to hear. People are looking for us to have the perfect mix of 25 players who play a certain way and are interchangeable in exact positions and until recently I’d have agreed with you, but you can’t keep players happy like that, I don’t think. If a player plays in a certain position and is not adaptable, his game time is likely to be limited, which means when he is called upon he will most likely take a few games to get up to speed with the ebb and flow of a Premier League match. We’re at the stage now where we can’t really afford to be bedding in players and affording them half a dozen games to play themselves into a bit of form, not if we want to compete for the league, so what you need is a core of players who could feasibly play in multiple positions so that their chances of game time and finding form are improved greatly. Just look at Monreal last season. I’m convinced that the reason he was able to win the left back spot from Gibbs was because he had played regularly in the team as a centre half. It was not a natural position for him and he readily admitted that, but he had the ‘feel’ of the games on a regular basis and as a result was able to take advantage of little injury niggles to Gibbs which saw the young Englishman become a bit-part player towards the end of the season.

I’m telling you folks, it’ll be a collective of adaptable players that can spot in when the injuries and suspensions come, who will play a massive role in determining whether we can win the league.

Even new boy Petr Cech has touched on that by talking about the players in a number of different positions all fighting to get in to the team. He’s asked about a number of differences between the two clubs he’s played at in England and whilst he talks about the team spirit, the ‘little details’, etc, it was the statement about having lots of players to play all positions that really stuck out to me – probably because it was whilst I was thinking about the need for us to have adaptable players all over the park. The days of the Arshavin’s only really being effective if he’s played in a certain position are over, my friends. We need a balance now and I think we’ve got it. Sure, there are one or two players who really only have one position – Giroud, Mertesacker, the ‘keepers, but they are not the majority of this squad and so I think we can cope with the odd player who has a fixed role in the team.

Yep, I’m excited about this upcoming season. For me it represents a balanced team with all of the boxes already ticked to compete for the league. I’m being serious when I say that I haven’t been this excited about a season since 06/07 When we signed Rosicky and we’re starting to build the team that should have won the league in 07/08. Let’s hope this current crop can get over the line.

Transparency on contracts helps everyone, Theo

It’s a start to a new working week for me and, with the players touching down on UK soil within the next day or two (I’m sorry, I don’t keep a GPS signal on their movements, I’m afraid), the countdown to the start of the Premier League will begin.

I’m also led to believe that Theo will sign his new deal but, having heard him speak about it over the last day or so, it appears we may see a bit of a dragging out of the contract situation. 

He’s giving plenty of positive vagueries about his situation which sound like they’re in place to keep everyone guessing for the immediate future. The first time around that this happened we all knew the score; Walcott had seen plenty of his fellow top level stars depart over a number of seasons, he’d become one of the big names and wanted a bumper deal to stay. He dressed up the whole ‘I want to play as a central striker’ thing as a bit of a smokescreen, but given that has happened few and far between, yet he still signed the deal in the end, I’d go as far to suggest the power of an extra ‘0’ helped shape his decision making.

And it’s because of what transpired last time that at least we’re all well aware of what could happen. So if Walcott’s camp do drag out this particular saga, then we’ll know what will happen up until about January next year.

But here’s the thing: we don’t feel as vulnerable this time. This doesn’t feel like a situation which, if it all turns a little sour, will be to the extreme detriment of the club. Not like last time. Last time we’d been dragged through the contract extension brambles on our backsides and it was all a bit stingy and raw. We’d had Nasri and That Dutch Bloke who played the game that we ultimately lost. But this time we have a new batch of stars who have even managed to keep Theo out since he returned from injury. Don’t want to sign a new deal lad? That’s no problem, but we’ll just see how we get on without you for a while, just in case. If that’s alright?

The back end of last season saw Theo’s camp talking through the press about him wanting to sign, but needing more reassurances that he will play, because at the time he wasn’t even getting a look in. That’s the kind of comments I’d expect from any player who isn’t playing and it made sense. But suddenly the comments about playing centrally don’t appear to be there. Suddenly it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t play centrally, as long as he plays?

It’s all a game. That’s all that this situation shows to us all. It’s a game to maximise the financial returns of the players and agents. But hey, I understand that, you understand that, we’ve all come to accept it. So why does everyone continue with the masquerade that it’s anything else? Let’s all just bring it out in the open and be honest with each other. Theo wants more money, Arsenal see his value as £x, which means until the two parties meet in the middle there will continue to be this stand off.

For my part I’d love Theo to stay. He’s a goal scorer, he has attributes in the team that others do not, plus he always comes across as a decent bloke both on and off the field. I’d rather he stayed with Arsenal, but if he decided the moolah is greener on another patch of grass, then so be it.

dominant Arsenal display and selection based on opposition – love it

First bit of silverware of the season sorted. Lifting the Barclays Asia Trophy is apparently a good omen for a team as both City and Chelski have clinched the pre-season friendly competition in the past, so whilst we have to take such superstitions with a pinch of salt, as this is a time in the year in which hopes are high and expectations are higher we can certainly read more in to this victory. Heck, I’m chalking it down as a cast iron guarantee of a marker that we’re winning the Premier League next season.

The side Arsène put out was a strong one too, with Cech making his debut alongside a back four of Gibbs, Chambers, Koscielny and Bellerin. In front of them Arsène opted for a Santi-Rambo midfield and Özil floating in his usual number 10 role. Having talked up Jack as a wide man he played with Theo and Giroud up top and I have to say it was a pleasing and utterly dominant performance. Whether or not that is because we have players that are further ahead in their preparations than Everton, or whether or not the fact it was essentially a home game given the amount of support we had compared to Everton, I don’t know. 

What we do know, however, is that Arsenal looked in control and very confident against a Premier League opposition who have always caused us a few headaches. Santi was in sparkling form as the deep lying playmaker and his goal was one of jinky delightfulness, weaving his way one way, then the next. He was the man with which a lot of the good stuff flowed and it augurs well for the season ahead that we have him looking like he’s in such good form.

I found it interesting that Arsène decided against having Coquelin sitting in front of the back four yesterday and whilst we can’t read too much in to a pre-season friendly, I hope this is the start of us seeing Arsène pick his first eleven based on the strengths of our team in countering the strengths of other opponents. If we’re playing Moneychester City away, for example, you just know that we’re going to have to do a lot more defending than an Everton or Stoke away. So it makes sense to set your team up to negate the oppositions strong points by playing somebody like Coquelin in games where you might have somebody like David Silva set up to run the show.

Yesterday Everton were on the back foot from the start and so sitting a defensive midfielder alongside a back four who are having little to do is a bit of a pointless exercise. So with all of Santi, Rambo, Jack and Mesut in the starting XI, we were able to control possession more and dominate the ball in the middle of the park as well as the zone in front of the attacking players.

The other goals we scored were an indication of Theo’s sharpness but also him at his best; running in behind defenders and finishing quickly. That’s what we missed for a lot of last season and that’s what I think we’ll see more of next season. Should Walcott stay fit of course.

Mesut’s goal was perhaps an indication that he is going to find himself in more forward lying positions this season and is going to try and take his chances more, with a good finish inside the box.

Overall we have to be happy with the game and although it had the air of a pre season friendly, we still dominated and did what was needed, so we’ve got to be glad of that. What should also be filling you with excitement is the depth of the squad too. Yesterday’s starting XI was missing Monreal, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Debuchy, Coquelin, Arteta, Rosicky, Welbeck, Alexis, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gnabry. We have such depth that it really is quite staggering and it’s why I’m really not stressing too much over the summer about transfers. And neither should you. Let’s enjoy this time. Next week we go for trophy number 2, The Emirates Cup!

One heck of a tour, one Hect of a player

Today will be an interesting test for the team because, as Arsène described at his pre-game presser in Singapore, both Everton and Stoke were really up for their game and there were plenty of ‘committed’ tackles going in.

You hear things like that and the first thing you think of as a fan is “I really hope they go easy. It’s only a friendly” because as much as you want the matches to be a bit competitive so the team can get up to speed on their fitness, the last thing we need is to start the season missing players, we’ve already lost Alexis and Rosicky remember.

So whilst I’m looking forward to seeing a more senior XI playing this afternoon (UK time), I hope everyone remembers the real thing doesn’t start for at least a couple of weeks.

The tour appears – by and large – to have been a success and whilst Le Boss is surprised by the facilities, passion, volume of fans, etc, I don’t think there’s many of us online who had the same amount of surprise when seeing the turn out for the friendlies and the kit launch. Football is big business these days and Arsenal are a global brand with a massive online community – the biggest – so for those fans out there who don’t get to travel to see the real thing in the Premier League, this is a great opportunity that they were always going to take. I salute those Asian fans. We are all one big community and I’m glad you got your opportunity to get up close and personal with the players.

As for those players, Arsène has laid down a challenge for Bellerin and with him about to sign a new deal after an exceptional season, this season could be even bigger for him than last. I’d expect Debuchy to start the season as first choice, but if the young Spaniard manages to de-throne the Frenchman by having another consist set of performances, we could be looking at quite a player on our hands. At his age he has all the potential to become a bit of a Lee Dixonesque style legend at the club. As long as he doesn’t do lobbing his own ‘keeper from 30 yards against Coventry!!

He seems to have his head screwed on right though. He comes across very well in interviews and has said about how he himself still has trouble seeing himself as one of the first team squad. Let me tell you Hect, you better believe it because you have some massive potential, my friend.

So too, if you believe Arsène, does Yaya Sanogo. He joins Ajax on a season long loan which was confirmed yesterday by both clubs and the tall Frenchman was pictured in the Ajax kit signing a loan deal for 2015/16. I admire Arsène’s belief in the player and who knows, playing with a better calibre of players, in the Champions League, as well as being under the tutelage of the Master Dennis Bergkamp, he may turn in to that player Arsène believes. But with rumours of Benzema not going away (much will also be made of the comments by Arsène when he said “not at the moment” when directly asked), you can’t help but think that his opportunity may not be made available at the club. Football is often a game of fortune when it comes to players breaking through – Bellerin and Coquelin the prime examples of that – and you just wonder whether the availability of another megastar might end up signalling the end of Sanogo’s chance at the club. Let’s hope Arsène’s right and he does do the business at Ajax though, because it’s always nicer to see young players come through, in my opinion.

The perils of recorded Arsenal games and the lure of home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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